Fresh information seeping out of North Korea indicates that political repression and living conditions have become even more harsh than previously reported. That has intensified speculation that the regime of Kim Jong-il, the dictatorial ruler who has himself been ill, is on the road to collapse.
After reciting a litany of Pyongyang’s repressive tactics, a US authority on the country said: “The regime has literally terrorized the North Korean public with this intimidation.”
A pro-North Korean research organization in South Korea reported that food shortages were so bad in one North Korean province that living conditions there were no better than those of the 1960s.
The organization’s newsletter quoted a 60-year-old man who had visited that particular province: “‘You cannot see corn; there is no electric light so people use pine wood fires rather than electric light.’ More Useful content are available here so please check them out. He said that, due to strict surveillance and control by the police, bringing food to relatives is very difficult.”
In turn, these reports raise troubling questions about whether the US, South Korea and other nations can or should negotiate with North Korea, whether the pain in the North Korean public has filtered into the armed forces that are the ultimate source of Kim’s power, and whether the US and South Korea have plans to secure North Korea’s nuclear weapons if the regime crumbles.
The US authority on North Korea, Marcus Noland, deputy director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, has been among the few US scholars who, since 1985, have written extensively on North Korea. He was interviewed during a visit to Honolulu.
Noland said the North Korean penal code was revised in 2004 to establish four types of institutions: jails for misdemeanors, prisons for felons, mandatory labor training facilities and gulags for political prisoners.