New Internationalist

North Korea

Issue 158

new internationalist
issue 158 - April 1986

COUNTRY PROFILE

North Korea
Map of North Korea KOREA for many of us calls up the image of the hit TV series M*A*S*H, with easy-going Hawkeye and friends ministering to the wounded in between swigs of home-brewed Martini.

That was South Korea, of course, slugging it out courtesy of the US military machine, against the Soviet-backed Commies in the North. But war is not new to the region. In the 17th Century the conquering Manchus subjugated the area when they set up China's Ching dynasty. Early this century Japanese ascendancy replaced Chinese and continued until 1945. Then Korea was sliced into two military zones, Soviet-flavoured in the North and American in the South.

This conflict of interest led to the civil war in the 1950s. The bitter fighting resulted in the deaths of nearly three million people and the permanent stationing of some 40,000 US troops in the Republic of Korea (South).

No doubt this overwhelming US presence helped legitimise North Korea's closed- door policy of juche (self-reliance). Foreign trade was shunned and even contacts with the country's ideological supporters, the Soviet Union and China, were kept to a minimum.

Self-sufficiency seemed to work. The economy has grown, helped by Soviet aid harnessed to the country's abundant natural resources of iron ore, coal and other minerals. North Korea is virtually self-sufficient in food, growing rice and maize as well as a range of vegetables.

Photo: Camera Press Once on an even keel, North Korea began to look beyond its borders, courting the West through a new law on foreign investment. This move is seen as a victory for the progressives over conservatives, and could indicate a division in the leadership over the country's direction.

Certainly the leadership will be changing soon. At 74, Kim Il Sung, next to Japan's Hirohito, is the last of the world's wartime leaders. At home he is the 'Great Leader'. His son and heir, Kim Jong Il, known as 'Dear Leader', is credited with everything from good harvests to increased tractor output.

Patching up old quarrels with the South seems to be part of the new approach. The recent offer of economic aid for South Korean flood victims was surprisingly accepted by the Seoul government, paving the way for proposals on economic meetings between the two countries.

But sadly it looks as if they may fall out over the Olympic Games, due to take place in Seoul in 1988. The attempt to send a joint Olympic team to Los Angeles in 1984 ended in rancour. North Koreans now feel that to hold the Games in Seoul would be to crown 'the traitor Chun' (South Korea's president Chun Doo-Hwan) 'with the laurel wreath'. The Korean stage looks set to be a battleground again.

Simon Holberton

Leader: President Kim II Sung

Economy: GNP per capita $US 1130 (USA $14,100)
Monetary unit: Won
Main exports: Magnesite, talc metals, gold, silver and grain

People: 19.6 million (USA 234 million)

Health: Infant mortality 30 per 1,000 live births (USA 11 per 1,000)

Culture: Modern culture influenced by Russian and Chinese forms
Language: Korean is official language


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Most enterprise is state or collective

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Soviet aid but basically has gone it alone

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Women encouraged to work as equals with men

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[image, unknown] A one-party communist state. Close Soviet / Chinese links but now looking at West

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Believed to be almost 100%

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Widespread repression

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Males (63 years) Women (67 years); Av. 65 years
(USA 74 years)

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