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Korea: The Lights Are Going Out

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May 16, 2019:

The failed February 28 peace talks in Vietnam had more impact than generally believed. This meeting between the American and North Korean leaders had some serious, and largely secret, side effects that North Korea tried to conceal from its own people. There were apparently more high-level North Korean officials working overseas who quietly defected because the Vietnam talks failed. These defections often do not become public for months because the Western nations providing asylum want to quietly question the defector first to obtain any information that requires quick and sometimes covert response. That means new information on the North Korean smuggling and overseas fundraising operations. In 2019 the crackdowns on these have been more intense and effective. In response, North Korea has ordered crippling levels of surveillance for those running smuggling operations and for secret police officials working in China. These high-ranking North Korean defectors apparently felt that the peace negotiations to end the sanctions were not going anywhere. As a result, the economic and political situation in North Korea was getting a lot worse and those with the means to get out were getting nervous. 

An example of how bad things are for North Koreans in China is that fact that since March seven North Korean secret police (MSS) commanders stationed in northeast China have defected. This string of defections was triggered in March when a crackdown was ordered on MSS personnel serving in China because three of them had defected. These three acted after they found that their secret bank accounts in China (where they stashed cash obtained from bribes and other illegal activities) were under observation by Chinese and North Korean authorities. North Korea sent a larger team of agents to China with the order to apprehend the three MSS defectors “dead or alive.” This panicked other corrupt MSS officials who decided it was time to run. There will apparently be more defections as North Korea seeks to crack down on corrupt officials stationed in China. The key problem here is those North Koreans working in China are working on raising cash for the North Korean government or arranging the smuggling of key items.

Another factor in all this is the growing incidence of senior officials are being reported by subordinates to corruption investigators. The arrests and prosecutions of senior officials are visibly higher. Because so many officials have taken bribes and have assets hidden away (preferably outside the country) few people are above suspicion. Visible signs of growing corruption are more common. For example theft from factories and government facilities by workers and managers is becoming more brazen and many factories have had to be shut down because the theft was so extensive that the factory could no longer produce anything. These shutdowns are often blamed on the sanctions but anyone close to the failing facility knows better.


Just Saying No


One item that is not in short supply is angry North Koreans. There are more and more incidents of outright refusal by North Koreans to comply with government demands for free labor, especially under unhealthy conditions. In remote work sites, the government supplied living quarters are unheated and poorly equipped. Food supplies are meager and these conditions are made much worse during cold weather months. This sort of defiant behavior was considered unthinkable a few years ago but now the government is faced with so much resistance, most of it more subtle, that local security officials have been reluctant to crack down on a large scale.

The increasing corruption among government officials has reached the point where the victims (most North Koreans with any cash) are becoming more reckless and public with their anger over the constant bribe requests from police and local officials.....(Snip)


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