7 things we learned about North Korea from an expert

Narjas Zatat@Narjas_Zatat
Saturday 12 August 2017 13:45
news
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un(AFP/Getty)

With tensions between North Korea's Kim Jung-Un and US President Donald Trump continuing to rise, questions about the possibility of war with the rogue state seem to be everywhere.

Mr Trump has not helped matters with his rhetoric, warning that North Korea faces “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it continues to threaten the US and her allies with missiles.

On the other side of the pond, North Korea’s escalation by threatening to attack US military bases in Guam is not improving the situtaion.

In an effort to clarify the situation, Anna Fifield, Tokyo bureau chief for the Washington Post, focusing on Japan and the Koreas conducted a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything).

In the one-hour session, Ms Fifield, who has made over a dozen trips to North Korea and covered everything from politics to culture there, addressed a number of questions, both debunking misconceptions about North Korea and confirming some theories.

Here are the most important bits:

1. The idea that war between North Korea and America is imminent:

2. The idea that the current tension between the US and North Korea is exceptional

This is a very similar situation to what we've seen before. In fact, in some ways it feels less tense than in April 2013. Then, North Korea actually advised foreign diplomats to leave Pyongyang for their own safety, perhaps an indication that conflict was possible.

3. The idea that the only thing North Korea has is its nuclear arsenal

4. Why has there not been a coup or uprising in North Korea?

5. The idea that the North Korean population is ‘brainwashed’

The indoctrination begins from childhood, with North Korean kids in kindergarten singing about "cunning American wolves" and about the greatness of the North Korean leaders.

No dissent is allowed in North Korea. If you question the legitimacy of the regime in any way or, for example, suggest that Kim Jong Un might not be the best leader for the country, you'll end up severely punished. Severe as in sent to a prison camp and forced to do hard labour.

The North Korean survives through this fear: people are afraid to question the system, let alone rise up, because of the punishment they could face, and their families could face. North Korea often punishes the whole family, not just the ‘perpetrator’.

But increasingly, North Koreans know that this whole system is a lie, that their country is not, in fact, a "socialist paradise." South Korean and other foreign movies are being smuggled into the country, usually on USB drives or micro-SD cards, and almost every North Korean escapee I've met has watched foreign media and knows the outside world is better.

6. The idea that North Koreans are starving

7. The idea that UN sanctions are effective

Depends on what you mean by effective. They might be hurting, but they haven't changed North Korea's behaviour, haven't made North Korea stop testing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. So if the aim of sanctions is to change Kim Jong-un's calculations on his nuclear weapons program (and it is) then no, they have not been effective -- yet.

You can find Anna Fifield on Twitter.

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