What’s The Latest News From North Korea?
Despite being on the news constantly, North Korea remains a bit of an enigma to the rest of the world. The closed-off nation rarely allows outsiders in and citizens themselves have limited access to the internet and even information within the country. Thus, it’s not always easy to piece together the politics and news from North Korea, but recent developments have shone an even brighter spotlight onto the nation.
At the center of the latest news from North Korea is their increasingly positive relationship with the US and surrounding countries in the region. US president Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, who famously met in Singapore in 2018, have publicly promoted the idea of denuclearization and peace. South Korea too has become increasingly open to peaceful cooperation with North Korea, though this progress has been measured.
The most visible example of progress is the dismantlement of parts of a military site in the north of the country, which both US and International inspectors concur to be a show of intention. Both US and South Korean intelligence suggests that North Korea is in the process of closing down a missile testing site, and that the relationship between the two countries is improving. Furthermore, a series of stories about North Korean defectors have emerged in recent years that activists claim show a real softening of North Korea’s approach towards its citizens.
Economically, North Korea remains largely dependent on its ally, China. This dependence has raised concerns over the amount of influence China wields over the delicate political situation of North Korea–US relations, with China’s own competing interests at stake. In addition, North Korea is often accused of deviating from economic sanctions imposed on it over its nuclear program.
Still, the tipping point in terms of geopolitics came recently when North Korea was included in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit, which some analysts view as a symbolic gesture towards improving relations. Other world leaders hope that these tensions can be diffused by a mutually respectful dialogue between the countries, which could open more diplomatic doors.
The United Nations too has put a lot of focus on the human rights situation in North Korea, stressing that international pressure is needed to improve the lives of North Koreans. While most of the world focuses on their nuclear weapons, North Korea’s human rights record remains one of the worst in the world.
Overall, the news from North Korea has been mostly positive in recent months, although many analysts remain wary of the political situation as it is still fraught with potential points of contention. North Korea continues to remain enigmatic and for the time being, there is significant investment of time, energy and resources being put in by the international community in hopes of lasting peace and prosperity in the region.
Rights and Freedoms
North Korea has some of the worst human rights and freedom records in the world. It is estimated that up to 120,000 political prisoners are being detained in reeducation camps, with torture, abuse and even execution of those protesting the authoritarian regime being common. Citizens are constantly under surveillance, with freedom of speech and press heavily restricted, although some citizens have found brave and creative ways to circulate information and news through smuggled devices.
Bit by bit, however, North Korea is starting to open up more in this area, although much more still needs to be done. This year has seen the release of a small number of prisoners, including a senior political prisoner, helping to provide some sense of hope to North Koreans.
The North Korean government has also slowly begun to move away from the traditional three-generation punishment system, where crimes or missteps reported by citizens would extend to three generations. This system was famously brought to attention in 2017 when a North Korean defector revealed her story of trying to survive in North Korea with her children.
North Korea also celebrated its first Day of Freedom this summer, a day not seen as a holiday but instead a celebration of culture, art, and music. While the day was not widely publicized by the North Korean government, citizens managed to spread information about it word of mouth and social media.
On the other hand, it remains to be seen if deeper legal reforms that could really bring about meaningful change do indeed take place in the near future.
North Korea continues to remain largely dependent on its ally China for much of its economic needs. Recent economic reforms have seen the North Korean Won grow stronger than its pegged Chinese Yuan, with North Korea now able to export goods to other countries for its own financial gain.
These exports have been largely to smaller countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines, who are willing to overlook sanctions in favor of putting food on the table. It is estimated that these exports bring in US$200 to US$250 million a year in hard currency and foreign exchange, indicating a degree of economic stability.
International aid and investments have also been trickling into North Korea in the form of humanitarian assistance, economic aid, and investments in often resource-rich projects such as forestry, fisheries and infrastructure. North Korea has also been expanding its foreign currency reserves and businesses in recent years, with some Chinese investors even opening private companies in the country.
As of yet, however, most of these investments remain largely small-scale and foreign investment is still considered a sensitive topic. Many analysts agree that reform in the area of foreign investment is essential if North Korea hopes to improve its poverty and low development levels.
Relations with South Korea
The news from North Korea wouldn’t be complete without taking into account the latest developments in relations with its southern neighbor, South Korea. Initiatives by both countries to improve ties through cooperation and open dialogue have been taking place since early in 2018.
South Korea has also been engaging in business and trade with North Korea, some of the most visible being the Kaesong industrial complex and the Gaeseong resort, two projects which were both eventually stalled. South Korea has also been providing food to North Korea, as well as over US$1.3 billion of development aid, although a lot of this aid is yet to be released due to the nature of the regime.
Further, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has proposed an international railway connecting the two countries. Project reports indicate that the project could cost up to US$35.2 billion and could open up officially for use in 2035. The project could act as a much-needed economic lifeline for both North and South Korea and open up the North for the world, although again, the feasibility of this project is debatable given the politically sensitive situation.
The Digital Landscape
One of the more hidden and yet more fascinating aspects of North Korea is its use of technology and the internet. As one of the most isolated, closed off nations in the world, North Korea remains one of the least connected countries in the world. It is estimated that only between 5% and 15% of the population has access to the internet, and the most common access point is the intranet, a closed-off network of internal websites.
Still, North Korea has found ways to use technology and the internet to support a system of authoritarianism. Aside from monitoring their citizens online, North Korea has also been involved in some of the world’s most notorious cyberattacks and money laundering schemes. These attacks have targeted banks, news and entertainment organizations and even cryptocurrency.
At the same time, know-how about developing and existing technology has been exported to countries such as Libya, Iran, and Syria, who are looking to North Korea for advice. While North Korea does continue to remain a technologically underdeveloped nation, it is slowly but surely organizing its resources to better leverage the global digital landscape.
Overall, the news from North Korea has been almost entirely positive in recent months. With negotiations, diplomatic trips and speeches, the country is slowly building bridges with the international community and opening up its economy and human rights laws. While there is still a long way to go, the latest news from North Korea makes for an encouraging outlook.