Paul French, author of North Korea: State of Paranoia: A Modern History explains in the Deutsche Welle, North Korea is slowly changing, against the will of its ruling elite. Its citizens know more than ever what is happening in China and South Korea.
It has changed over time. When I first went, there was a bit of [being treated like an] alien. But over time, things have changed. There is now an awful lot of contraband and pirated information, particularly from South Korea, and from China as well: soap operas, films on DVD. I’ve also seen a lot of memory sticks coming into the country that have whole editions of television series, magazines and books downloaded on them. So, compared to a decade ago, most North Koreans have much more of an idea of what life looks like in South Korea as well as in China. Of course that has political implications, because now they are aware of the fact that things are perhaps not quite as good as their leaders told them they were.
Could this also be the beginning of the end of this system, if citizens are getting a glimpse of what is actually happening outside of North Korea?
That certainly seems to be a fear that many people have. A document was recently leaked showing that both the Chinese and the South Koreans are at the moment ramping up preparations for what they perceive could be a very sudden change, which is mostly thought of as a political coup followed by a period of complete economic collapse, which will cause all sorts of problems.
Kim Jong-un, who is rather young and not that experienced, has taken over from his father, Kim Jong-il. Despite some pretty heavy purging, including his uncle, and trying to put his stamp of authority on the government in the way that his father and his grandfather – the first leader of North Korea, Kim Il-sung – did, it hasn’t really worked. He hasn’t managed to consolidate power. There have always been tensions between the Kim family and the military, and it seems that both Beijing and Seoul, who know the place best, are worried that there could be some sort of catastrophic incident, a coup or something, that could plunge the place into chaos.
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