Strategy Page on the challenges facing the government as the younger generation grows up:
A major source of information about North Korea is obtained by South Korean intelligence experts interviewing the steady flow of refugees arriving in South Korea (via China and the South Korean embassies in neighboring countries like Thailand). For the last decade, over a thousand of these refugees have arrived each year. In the last few years China and North Korea have increased their efforts to reduce that number, which peaked at 2,900 in 2009 and was 1,500 last year. These determined and desperate people keep coming. Separate interviews are compared and checked against each other to obtain an updated and accurate first-hand view of life in the north. This also helps detect the spies North Korea tries (often with success) getting into the south via the refugee route. While the refugees detail the growing decline in living standards up north, it’s also become clear that there is a very real generational shift in loyalties in the north. The generation who grew up during the 1990s famine (that killed about ten percent of the population and starved most of the rest for years) no longer believe in the North Korean dictatorship. Many who came of age before 1990 still do, but for most everyone under 30 the state is the enemy and self-reliance, and not a benevolent dictatorship, is the only way to survive. The North Korean government has been fighting these attitudes more and more, as this generation of unbelievers grows larger each year. The more astute members of the northern leadership see this as a no-win situation. Eventually most North Koreans will be very hostile to the state and more adept at making money in spite of the government, or simply getting out of the country. Most of the leadership is still afraid of enacting Chinese style economic reforms because they believe a more affluent population would seek revenge for the decades of misrule and tyranny. The Chinese say that didn’t happen in China. The North Koreans point out that, as bad as the Chinese communists were in the 1950s and 60s (killing over 50 million people via starvation, labor camps and execution) that was not as bad (proportionately) as what the North Koreans have suffered. Moreover, the North Korean leaders point out that, historically, Koreans have been a bit more excitable and brutal when aroused by misrule. The Chinese say times have changed but the North Korean leaders are not yet willing to bet their lives on that being the case.
The refugees report that most North Koreans understand that the police state up there is strong enough to suppress any uprising now or in the foreseeable future and that the only real threat to the dictatorship is intervention (openly or via a coup) by China. Refugees also report that it’s common knowledge that hundreds of North Koreans have died of radiation poisoning or been born with birth defects because of the uranium mining and working with nuclear materials. The government has responded by offering large cash bonuses to those who will work in the uranium mines. The refugees report in detail many other ways the Kim government abuses their subjects.
I got an emailed link to this story at the Epoch Times, providing an account of former vice-mayor and chief of police Wang Lijun’s attempt to claim political asylum in the American consulate in Chengdu:
What exactly happened on the day Wang Lijun fled to the U.S. Consulate is not yet clear; but speculation and comments abound on China’s Internet. U.S. officials are also leaking information about what happened, and a congressional investigation into the affair has been promised.
Wang is the former vice-mayor and chief of police of the southwestern China megapolis of Chongqing City, and was the right-hand man of Bo Xilai, the city’s Communist Party chief who is known as an ultra-leftist hardliner, and who has been wrangling to win a position on the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the group of nine men who stand at the top of the Party’s hierarchy.
Wang was unexpectedly demoted on Feb. 2 from his posts and reassigned to handle “culture, education, and environmental protection.” On Feb. 5 he talked about the importance of his new job responsibilities at Chongqing Normal University and elsewhere. No one suspected that he would flee to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu the next day.
[. . .]
While what exactly happened in the consulate in Chengdu cannot be confirmed, Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon, citing an unnamed U.S. official, has reported that the Obama administration denied Wang Lijun asylum for fear of upsetting the Chinese regime.
U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations, has promised his subcommittee will investigate the handling of Wang’s case, Gertz also reports.
Strategy Page updates the story about the 17 Afghan military trainees who disappeared from their assigned quarters in Texas while on a language training course:
Now the air force has carefully checked their records and found that at least 46 foreign troops had walked away from their training courses in the last five years. All but two (one from Iraq, another from Djibouti) were Afghan.
These men had disappeared from a U.S. Air Force language school, where they learned enough English so they could attend U.S. military training courses. The media coverage implied that some of these guys could be terrorists, who joined the Afghan military, qualified for training in the United States, and then disappeared once you got there, so they could carry out attacks. But it appears the reason behind the disappearances was economic, rather than ideological or religious.
That does make a lot of sense, from their point of view: going from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the richest, the temptation to stay must be considerable. Of interest to Canadians:
After the first 17 missing Afghans was revealed, American immigration officials went looking for them. They soon reported that they had tracked down at least eleven of the missing Afghans, using just Facebook. These men had gone to Canada, using the military ID the U.S. provided them while in the United States. It’s easier to claim asylum in Canada, a fact widely known in Afghanistan (and often exploited by those leaving the country for a better life in the West.) U.S. officials believed they had located all but two or three of the missing seventeen Afghans, and expected to track down the rest soon.
In spite of the fears of pacifists in Canada, apparently our “warmongering” hasn’t seriously damaged our pre-existing reputation as a soft-touch for refugee claimants.