January 1, 2002｜Korean Peninsula
Senior Adviser, The Federation of Korean Industries (ROK)
Along with a Christmas card from a friend, I received a newsletter addressed to the congregation of a Korean church in Texas. One of the articles it contained dealt with the experiences of a missionary in the DPRK. I fancied that I myself already knew about the harsh situation in the DPRK, but I was surprised when I read this article. The devastation in the DPRK is much worse than I had imagined. I would like to quote a few passages from the article.
“You, at least, may be able to live and not starve to death…”
These were the parting words of a mother who sold her young daughter to someone on the Chinese side.
For example, in the DPRK, cows cannot be used for food at all, but are controlled by the army for use in transporting munitions. The working life of a cow is 16 years, after which they are disposed of once permission has been granted by the army.
“Now, in provincial cities other than Pyongyang, the soldiers, teachers and safety personnel who should maintain law and order do not have the wherewithal to devote themselves to this, because it is as much as they can do to fend for themselves. Excluding soldiers and party cadres, 90% of the The DPRK population – 17 million people – is unemployed, even though they ostensibly have work … The transportation conditions are shocking. With poor-quality coal as fuel and antiquated locomotives and rails, a speed of 10 km/h is about as fast as it can go. … It takes 7 days to get from the Tumen River area to Chongjin. …”
“For the average inhabitant of the DPRK, the bicycle is the best means of transport. A Chinese-made bicycle is a valuable item and a registration number, permission to ride it, and a “driving license” are required. Moreover, a set “cycling tax” must be paid each year. …”
There is a desperate shortage not only in terms of food and means of transport, but also with regard to fabric for making clothes. The synthetic fiber industry, which uses petrochemicals, has not developed at all.
There are some sad stories with regard to this.
Kim Il Sung extended a hearty welcome to those of his compatriots who were scholars or scientists overseas. One of those people was Dr. Lee Sung Ki, who discovered vinylon in 1938 at Kyoto University. Dr. Lee created carbide and vinylon fibers by baking domestically-mined limestone. Kim Il Sung was very pleased and, declaring this to be a scientific application of the juche (self-reliance) philosophy, praised Dr. Lee as a national hero. However, as a fiber for making clothing, the vinylon of that time was not very resistant to water and did not retain a lot of heat. The clothes would have been fine in a tropical region, but were not suitable for the northern climate. Furthermore, a great deal of power was required to make vinylon from carbide, and the poor profit margin was the biggest weak point. However, unhappily, it was not possible to question the lack of economic efficiency of vinylon, the fruit of Kim Jong Il’s juche philosophy.
How can the regeneration of the DPRK’s economy be “ignited”?
Even under the present harsh conditions, it seems that education alone is quite active. For human resources that have received education, the desire to extricate themselves from poverty is sufficient – this is exactly the same as the situation in the ROK in the 1960s. The problem is what kind of “ignition” can be provided to spark the initiative of the people of the DPRK, but in essence it is simple. They merely need to be provided with a desire. The provision of a reward commensurate with their labor – that is what is lacking in the DPRK.
In the process of writing this piece, I heard the delightful news that the DPRK ladies’ soccer team beat strong competition in the form of the Japanese and Chinese teams.
“Here’s to the people of the DPRK!”
[Translated by ERINA]