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Last week, North Korea announced that several “spies,” possibly including a foreign national, had been caught. The Daily NK informs us that North Korea’s National Security has claimed credit for the arrests. The news site speculates about the identity of those arrested and prints an interesting backgrounder on the National Security Agency, which is also responsible for the horrific conditions in North Korea’s concentration camps.
If the report is true, rather than a fictionalized account meant to whip up popular vigilance against foreign enemies, some brave people may have risked all and lost. We can be fairly certain of what their fate will be:
Recently, North Korea has taken to executing people in public. Having accepted that it is no longer loved, the regime now aspires only to be feared. The execution you just saw happened in March 2005. Three people were shot for making contact with the outside world, most likely missionaries or defection brokers.
It would be especially sad if those arrested were part of the nascent resistance network that brings us its remarkable “guerrilla camera” footage, such as this footage of Camp 15, the concentration camp at Yodok.
In the escalating clandestine war between the regime and those who would subvert the lies on which its survival depends, however, the regime seems to be losing the wider war. Nowhere is the erosion of the regime’s control more consequential than the losing battle to control its borders.
The Daily NK now brings us dramatic evidence of just how deep the regime’s troubles really are, in the form of a video of North Korean border guards smuggling across the Yalu River. The man you see here crosses the river on an inner tube, where he is greeted by a uniformed border guard and hands the guard a bag the size of a potato sack. All of this happens in broad daylight. You can hear the sound of horns honking, presumably on the Chinese side of the river. Slow to load, but still a must-see.
I’ve previously posted about low morale and indiscipline among North Korean border guards, including a recent mass desertion. Corruption is reportedly rife among the poorly paid border guards, but for the regime, the most unforgiveable offense was the appearance of two of the deserters in an interview for a Japanese television station. For the right price, it seems that you can get just about anything into North Korea, which opens up more subversive possibilities than I care to list here. A few years ago, finding a way through Kim Jong Il’s information blockade would have required some extraordinarily (any maybe excessively) creative thinking. Today, ordinary means seem sufficient to reach people in most areas of the country, though not with large quantities of food or other supplies.
How much good will an expensive new border fence do if those who should be guarding it are looking for ways under, over, and around it? Probably not much. If the guards are on the take, the cost of building that fence would be just one more small cut that bleeds the regime white. If every citizen, train, and truck is a potential carrier of subversion, the regime will be forced to spend more of its limited resources on internal control until the cost of stemming the spreading discontent breaks it.
Unless the next South Korean government continues Roh Moo Hyun’s geometric escalation of inter-governmental aid, the erosion of the system’s capacity to sustain itself will accelerate. Indeed, Roh’s election may well have that delayed Kim Jong Il’s Ceaucescu Moment for several years. The cost in human life of delaying that moment may be incalculable.