Ottawa Round Table Part 4 – CanKor Brain Trust on the Current Situation in the DPRK

CanKor Brain Trust on the Current Situation in the DPRK

by Paul Evans, Victor Hsu, Hazel Smith, Hark Kroll, Jeremy Paltiel and Jack Kim

Ottawa Round Table on Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context, 5 March 2012

Q: What dangers and opportunities can you foresee in the evolving situation?

Paul Evans, Professor, Liu Institute for Global Issues; Director, Institute of Asian Research, UBC:

Why assume that the KJU era will be any different? My only glimpse into the fog is the signal from the group that attended the six-month training program here that it was business as usual for a second phase, with no changes expected. I had dinner with a DPRK diplomat in Bangkok as part of an ARF meeting and more or less out of the blue he asked me how the UBC training program had gone and how we could find ways to get more DPRK students to Canada in future. Really out of context and it may be that he only guessed at a connection and my interest by seeing my card. But…

Victor Hsu, Visiting Professor, School of Public Policy and Management , Korea Development Institute (KDI), Seoul:

From my perspective, assuming that ROK maintains its current attempt to reverse the LMB policy, opportunities are going to increase. I don’t believe there will be any continuation of refusal to provide humanitarian aid. Both main parties in ROK are framing renewed engagement, as is the USA. EU will follow suit.

Hazel Smith, Professor of Resilience and Security, Cranfield University, UK:

The DPRK government is far from unique in being culpable of poor governance and failing to meet the food needs of its people. Arguing that the DPRK humanitarian and food crises are unique is wrong in advocacy terms because it reinforces the politicisation of aid to the DPRK in its emphasis on the ‘exceptionally awful’ case of the DPRK.

The reasons for food shortages and economic failure in the DPRK are prosaic. Like very large numbers of governments, the DPRK government lacks oil (to generate revenue), suffered the withdrawal of external subsidies, has an obsolescent economic infrastructure in every respect, and is governed by a non-democratic, economically illiterate and inept government. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Expect a Pyongyang Spring Sometime Soon, by Hazel Smith

[CanKor Brain Trust member Hazel Smith published this travelogue in the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) PacNet Newsletter #60 on Friday, 8 October 2011. Dr. Smith is Professor of Security at Cranfield University, UK. Her books include North Korea: History, Politics Economics, Society (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming); Reconstituting Korean Security (UN University Press, 2007) and Hungry for Peace: International security, Humanitarian Assistance and Social Change in North Korea (USIP Press, 2005). –CanKor.]

Pyongyang restaurant for the well-to-do (Photo by Erich Weingartner)

Walking the streets of Pyongyang after an absence of eight years it’s easy to be seduced by a superficial optimism that things have changed for the better. Apartment blocks and streets are lit at night. New shops and restaurants catering for local people are thriving. Traffic, including private cars, though hardly at the level of Seoul or Beijing, is a constant on Pyongyang’s streets which at last have a traffic light system that works.

The pyramid-shaped ‘Ryugyong’ hotel, the long-neglected and still tallest concrete building in the world, whose 330-meter spire disappears into overhanging rain clouds, built in the late 1980s but left for 20 years to decay, is being clad with glass imported from China. The temporary fence of the building site surrounding the structure is covered with Socialist Realism depictions of women workers with fists held high proclaiming progress toward completion.

Even 10 years ago the shops available to the city’s 3 million inhabitants could be counted on one hand; the city streets were almost silent and usually pitch black at night, with apartment blocks seldom displaying more than flickering and muted light from torches or candles after dark. Construction had all but stopped in every part of the city. Read the rest of this entry »

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