North Korea is increasingly attracting world attention because of its recent missile launch and the issue of who will succeed Kim Jong-il. These issues should motivate us to step up our efforts to discover what is happening inside North Korea and how the common people are doing there.
The flood of news about the missile launch, which usually depends on official North Korean announcements, helps hide signs that the badly weakened Kim Jong-il regime cannot afford to feed its soldiers and that the majority of common people see their leader’s policies as failures. I believe that, to deal with North Korea, it is increasingly urgent to focus on the real picture there, rather than possibly over- or under-estimating the regime.
North Korea suffers from a serious ailment. All the neighboring countries in East Asia, as well as the US are very well aware that the country’s illness is critical, and they are willing to help North Korea. They hope for the nation to become a healthy, normal country as soon as possible. However, none of the concerned countries has been able to identify the cause or locate the wound. Therefore, they have not yet been able to properly diagnose or treat the condition.
Although the international community is very willing to find the cause of this serious illness, the patient, North Korea, will not disrobe, nor even allow its pulse to be taken.
The North Korean regime has confined itself inside a deep hole, with no sign that it wishes to come out. The regime, completely isolated from international society, is unlikely to heal itself without outside help.
What is needed first is a proper diagnosis of the illness. This requires that highly accurate, reliable information on the internal condition of North Korea be consistently supplied to the outside world. A diagnosis based on inaccurate or inadequate information could lead to a misdiagnosis, leading to a delayed cure or even a worsening of the illness.
This is why I decided to plant the seeds of journalism in North Korea.
North Korea is currently going through a dramatic change. During the past 15 years, the commercial transactions started by common people after the economical failure of the nation have enormously developed with a resultant rapid growth of market economy.
Concurrently with the growth of the market economy, more people are beginning to go for self-sustained living. More people think for themselves, make their own decisions and take action. In other words, the people's way of thinking and their sense of values are significantly changing.
The magazine features comments from common people in North Korea collected by Rimjingang reporters living underground while in the country. The comments represent true public opinions of the people living under this tyranny.
These public opinions may help provide the materials to help reach a proper diagnosis of the serious illness of the North Korean society.
Go here to read a brief introduction of Mr. Jiro Ishimaru and the “Rimjingang” magazine.
Even while North Korea still has many helplessly starving people, a growing number of individuals have begun to take matters into their own hands, setting up to sell small goods along roadsides or under bridges. They are seeking a private income for survival in response to the collapse of the government's economic policy.
To discourage the spread of private selling, the government has set up public markets for small merchants, such as the one shown below.
The owner of each 1-sq-meter booth sells food in a publicly-run market in Kang-dong, a suburb south of Pyongyang.
(Photo by Chang Jung-gil, a reporter with Rimjingang, the magazine published by Jiro Ishimaru, Asiaoress.)