Jul 28

Can Economic Sanctions Drive Democratic Change in North Korea?

Written by dewang on Tuesday, July 28th, 2009 at 8:05 am
Filed under:-mini-posts, General, politics |
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Few threads ago, I brought to FM readers attention that WSJ had held a “debate” between two Indian nationals (college-age students in fact) on whether economic sanctions can drive democratic change in China.  The “debate” turned out to be pretty ignorant – so WSJ essentially pushed it aside (I think that was their reason) – WSJ readers bashed the debators – and – handful of FM readers (those commented anyways) agreed that the debate was indeed ignorant.

In that thread, Allen suggested the idea of us FM readers debating this same question with some other country.  So I took the suggestion of North Korea from another reader:

Can Economic Sanctions Drive Democratic Change in North Korea?

To make this interesting, I have volunteered the following teams:

YES: JXie, Allen, huaren

NO: Wukailong, raventhorn4000, Steve

I thought I remind everyone of the following:

  • FM readers are welcome to participate.  I arbitrarily assigned the teams because these FM participants commented on my original thread.  I wanted to put weight on both sides.
  • Please remember that the YES and NO teams may not necessarily personally believe their argument.  We are doing this in the spirit of debating and learning.
  • Please keep FM rules in mind, and no racist or disparaging remarks about anyone.

Finally, and most importantly, if you are Korean (both Korea’s), Japanese, Russian, or know of people with background from those countries, please spread the “word” out.

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52 Responses to “Can Economic Sanctions Drive Democratic Change in North Korea?”

  1. Allen Says:

    North Koreans are suffering. They live on pennies a day. Boys and girls go without heaters throughout winter. Men dig up dried up grass in the winter and feed their family thin grasshoppers in the summer for sustenance. Before Korea was split and before the Japanese invaded, the northern part of Korea had more people and more economic activity than the south. Now the South has some twice the population of the north, and gazillion times the economy.

    The North does feel a real threat from the world – most immediate from the U.S., and more long term from Japan. With all the posturing from the U.S. (nuclear weapons pointed 24 hours a day at N Korea, troops stationed at its border, vindictive such as “evil” “childish” “irresponsible” etc. thrown 24 / 7 at N Korea, etc.), no wonder the North feels it is at a state of war. And being in a state of war is not the best times to become democratic!

    However, the North Koreans are not irrational babies like Clinton may assume. If enough economic pressure is given – together with economic carrots – the gov’t in N Korea will collapse. The North Koreans know that they cannot win a war if their economy continues to tank. Economic sanctions will ensure that their economy will tank.

    So YES – at the risk of making things too simple – harsh economic sanctions will eventually bring about democratic change. However, just don’t expect a democratic Korea to be pro-American or pro-West. The democratic gov’t of Korea will be like that of Iran, or Russia, or Hammas. They will have popular support – YES – but as such, they will fight for the survival of the Korean People – perhaps harder than the Kim regime currently does!

  2. hongkonger Says:

    Well said Allen: “just don’t expect a democratic Korea to be pro-American or pro-West. The democratic gov’t of Korea will be like that of Iran, or Russia, or Hammas. They will have popular support – YES – but as such, they will fight for the survival of the Korean People – perhaps harder than the Kim regime currently does!”

    Remember Jon Halliday ? You know the guy who co-wrote that fiction on Mao with his Chinese wife ? Anyway, here’s Halliday’s former writing partner, Gavan McCormack, Emeritus professor at Australian National University in Canberra. And this is McCormack’s write up on N.Korea.

    History Too Long Denied: Japan’s Unresolved Colonial Past and Today’s North Korea Problem

    by Gavan McCormack


  3. TonyP4 Says:

    For the less of two evils, sanctions are better than military invasion.

    The folks who suffer most are the common citizens.

  4. Charles Liu Says:

    Tony, I’m not so sure. The Iraq sanctions (spanning both Democratic and Republican administrations) by some estimate killed 500,000 Iraqi children.

    This kind of vitriol can end up targeting China frightens me. Imagine all the death and destruction we’ve dawned on the Iraqi people and how it would be amplified with a population of 1.3 billion.

    Those of us weary of the rising anti-Chinese sentiment have no choice but be vigillant and speak out, for the Chinese are voiceless in our society.

  5. Steve Says:

    Allen, your description of North Korea and the harshness encountered by the people there is apt and accurate. But why are they suffering? Surely it has nothing to do with a war fought over 50 years ago, a war that was started by their unprovoked attack on South Korea. By the end of that war, both North and South Korea were desperately poor. Could it be because North Korea lined itself up with the USSR and the PRC? Hmm… neither of those countries are desperately poor, no one is starving and in fact, China’s economy is booming. Then why are North Koreans starving? Is it from current economic sanctions?

    Why don’t we look at economic sanctions that have been in place around the rest of the world and see the results they have wrought. Cuba undergoes economic sanctions from the United States though no one else is involved. Therefore, they can trade with the rest of the world so they shouldn’t be very hard hit. What good do these sanctions accomplish? Cuba still has a primitive economy though they can trade with the rest of the world. The Cuban government is firmly entrenched and in fact, much of their entrenchment is due to their being able to blame the USA for their economic problems. The Castro brothers have maintained power all these years. Even Cuban expats living in Florida, who are the reason those sanctions stay in place, are rethinking the idea and there’s hope the sanctions will be dropped in the near future. Did sanctions cause political change in Cuba? I think we’d all agree that they did not.

    We had sanctions in place against Iraq before and after Desert Storm and until the American invasion. Did they work? Well, as Charles has pointed out, many suffered from their effect. Did they cause a political change? No, that was done militarily. In fact, and this is also the case in North Korea, the ones who suffered least were the military and government cadres. Economic sanctions always hurt the poorest people. Were the sanctions airtight? Again, they were not. Russia, Europe and others continued to trade with the Iraqi government because the profits were huge. In fact, an economic sanction is no different from a drug sanction or prohibition. When something is restricted, you lose ALL ability to control it in any way. Nothing is regulated but if there is profit in fulfilling a need, that need will eventually be fulfilled.

    Now let’s look at North Korea. North Korea has been under sanctions for many, many years. The one major trading partner they have is China. They are completely dependent on China for fuel. They need China for food. This isn’t a 50/50 proposition as China gets very little in return except for having an ally on one of their borders. As has been shown in recent events, China can’t control the North Korean government any better than other countries. Because of China’s already massive food export industry, starvation should never occur in North Korea if North Korea had the ability to trade for such food.

    So what is North Korea’s strategy? The official strategy is “juche”. What does this mean? It means that North Korea is self sufficient in all matters. Though the practical reality is different and North Korea is very much dependent on Chinese trade, this has never been admitted by the government. Juche is taught from the earliest grades in school and is drummed into the people. Refugees have admitted that every North Korean they knew believed in juche and thought the Korean system was the most successful in the world. That is, until they left North Korea and saw the rest of the world.

    North Korea believe the most effective form of diplomacy is brinkmanship. “In February 2007 it agreed to eventually dismantle its nuclear program. In June 2008, the Bush administration removed North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism after Pyongyang submitted a 60-page report on its nuclear program. But the progress collapsed in December of that year when Pyongyang refused to accept terms proposed by the United States for verification.” (NY Times)

    This type of negotiation has been going on for decades. Economic embargo is placed on North Korea but when famine strikes, food is donated by western countries to feed the people. The food ends up feeding the government and military. A deal is reached with foreign governments to dismantle the nuclear program. Foreign governments send all sorts of aid to North Korea in anticipation of their holding to the deal. After receiving the aid, North Korea refuses to implement their treaty obligation and everything is back to square one except that North Korea used the aid to allow the economy to survive. They did this with South Korea even when the South Korean government was very pro-North Korea. This effectively undermined the South Korean government, losing them the popularity they enjoyed.

    China has the ability to impose economic sanctions that can badly hurt North Korea. But North Korea knows that China will not actually impose those sanctions. Why? Firstly, if North Korea collapses, millions of North Koreans are predicted to seek asylum in China, creating a logistics and economic nightmare for the CCP. Secondly, a collapse of the government would probably lead to a unified Korea under the leadership of Seoul, which is unacceptable to Beijing because of the alliance between South Korea and the United States with Japan in that camp. China does not want that presence on their direct border. So China doesn’t have many options and Pyongyang knows that.

    If China imposed sanctions, there would be massive starvation of whom the vast majority would be poor peasants, people would freeze to death in the frigid North Korean winters, the government would turn antagonistic towards the Chinese government, and the chance of a rogue nuclear missile strike would be greatly increased. So if the government did not collapse, sanctions would still cause massive problems for China and the number of refugees would also be enormous.

    Sanctions have been patently unsuccessful in provoking government change. Sanctions leak like a sieve. Sanctions allow incompetent governments to blame outside forces for internal problems. Sanctions simply do not work.

    The best sanctions are ones that are narrowly targeted to specific industries in order to maintain a technological gap. Those have limited objectives and at best, limited results. Full sanctions, rather then driving democratic change, would actually inhibit it. When attacked by outside forces, the nature of people is to unite behind current leadership, no matter how incompetent that leadership might be.

  6. Charles Liu Says:

    Steve, “But the progress collapsed in December of that year when Pyongyang refused to accept terms proposed by the United States for verification.”

    Um, there’s a counter POV to this – Bush Administration pulled a “WMD” on North Korea and subsquently pushed North Korea out of NPT:


    “… [George] Tenet had also produced a highly classified NIE on North Korea’s nuclear programs.

    According to Hersh, the highly-classified DPRK NIE “made the case” that North Korea had violated – right under the noses of the IAEA inspectors – both the NPT and the Agreed Framework by secretly obtaining the means to produce weapons-grade uranium.

    So, just before going to Congress with the Iraq NIE, seeking the authority to invade and occupy Iraq, Bush used the DPRK NIE to justify the unilateral abrogation of the Agreed Framework.

    what China and Russia have been attempting to do, since 2005, via the Six-Party talks, is to help clean up the mess Bush-Cheney-Bolton made on the neighboring Korean peninsula.”

    And resumption of talk since? Even neocon pitbull John Bolton have said it’s a failure.

    I can’t understand why anyone would still advocate going down the same road of economic sanctions, matters not how narrowly treaded, when we have time and agan seen the fruit of our actions. And on what basis should we impose sancton? After North Korea withdrew from the NPT, it is no longer under any international obligation.

  7. Steve Says:

    @ Charles: This is a debate. Are you joining the “NO” team? Just curious. You may want to revisit huaren’s Point #2. 😉

  8. Otto Kerner Says:

    Steve is on the right track. Personally, I’d bet that the North Korea situation could be resolved quickly if the United States would get out of the way. What has to happen is that South Korea and China become allies against Pyongyang. Without China, Pyongyang has no supporters and no means of supporting itself. There needs to be a new military government in the North led by someone who will play team ball. The country would become formally “reunified” with its capital in Seoul, but the north would continue to be governed under the closest thing they can manage to the PRC system — which is not perfect, but is vastly more humane than Juche. This arrangement would be termed a “transitional” period, during which the north is a “special administrative area” in the process of “integrating” with the rest of the ROK, but in reality the division would last as long as long as it is politically necessary, i.e. until Beijing decides it’s over. Family reunification and other population movement from the north to the south would be allowed to the extent that Seoul wants it.

    This result, which would simultaneously resolve the humanitarian crisis of the North Korean public and the danger of war, would require a close working relationship between Beijing and Seoul, and that kind of relationship is basically impossible as long as there are lots of American soldiers in South Korea. Like Steve says, the last thing the Chinese governmnent wants is to wake up with American military basis right on their border. I could definitely imagine Beijing implementing part of this plan unilaterally, by trying to replace the Kim dynasty with someone much more sensible, but it would be a lot trickier to do while American forces are still in Korea.

  9. Wukailong Says:

    @Steve (#7): Charles is on our side in this debate. At least that’s the conclusion I draw after reading:

    “I can’t understand why anyone would still advocate going down the same road of economic sanctions, matters not how narrowly treaded, when we have time and agan seen the fruit of our actions. And on what basis should we impose sancton? After North Korea withdrew from the NPT, it is no longer under any international obligation.”

    The fruit of “our” (in this case, the US) actions are indeed, as you and others have pointed out, that there’s an antagonistic government in place that’s hell-bent on proving its importance by firing missiles and developing nuclear bombs. I don’t agree NK is a “failed state” – it has been firmly in place since the starvation during the 90s. It will continue to be that way because citizens can’t leave the country and believe the rest of the world is even worse.

  10. Wukailong Says:

    As a side note, I sympathize with what Charles Liu wrote in #4: “This kind of vitriol can end up targeting China frightens me. Imagine all the death and destruction we’ve dawned on the Iraqi people and how it would be amplified with a population of 1.3 billion.”

    Of course I don’t think it would ever happen (neocons might consider attacking Iran… But I wonder if anyone on the ground supports the idea), though it’s certainly important to guard against it. What would a military conflict between the US and China look like? I can’t imagine the US being successful in an invasion. They could probably bomb important infrastructure and take control of a group of cities, but after that it would break down. Historically, no country of China’s size have ever been successfully occupied.

  11. Steve Says:

    @ Wukailong #9: I meant to write NO but I wrote YES, stupid me. I changed it and now Charles is on our NO team. Welcome, Charles!

    @ Wukailong #10: No one will attack China and no one will attack the USA. Hasn’t China been occupied historically? Didn’t the Mongols do it? Regardless, if North Korea bombs some country unilaterally, I can’t see China coming to their rescue. The neo-cons, in my opinion, have disgraced themselves so badly in the Bush administration that their glory days (if they ever had any) are over.

  12. Raj Says:

    It’s highly unlikely. First, even if there is a change of government it will still be repressive and not democratic. Arguably even a revolution would not lead to democracy because few North Koreans have any understanding of the concept.

    Second, economic sanctions would not cause the government to collapse unless South Korea and China joined in. Even if the government did collapse, why would its replacement be any less repressive? There is no credible opposition in North Korea – what groups remain would not be allowed anywhere near power.

  13. METAL Says:

    The North Koreans could do themselves a great favor by declaring their nation a constitutional monarchy and the establishment of the Kim dynasty. The loyalty to the leader will become the loyalty to the royal family, which is more enduring. The name of country can be changed to the Kingdom of Korea and private property rights be restored. The country should start promoting trade and investment with nations that it trusted more, like China. This way North Korea will become a truely productive and united nation because the Korean people are industrious, and other nations will seek opportunities in North Korea.

  14. Allen Says:

    @Raj #12,

    Maybe we are getting bogged down by definition of “democracy” again. Do you have a narrow or broad definition of democracy? Would governments of Russia, Iran, and Hammas be considered to be democratic or not?

    I am taking democratic to mean simply a government that allows more people’s participation – mainly through elections of their leaders. If that’s so – why do you insist on North Koreans lack of understanding of and ability to implement such a concept?

  15. huaren Says:

    I agree with Steve’s point that economic sactions against North Korea are driven primarily by U.S. and Japan, and vast majority of the world, China, South Korea, Russia, EU, and others continue to trade with it. In fact, 150+ countries have formal diplomatic relations with North Korea. It is accurate to say that the economic sanctions itself has been a complete failure.

    Even the CIA estimates about $30billion for North Korea’s 2008 GDP. At 23 million or so citizens, that equates to more than $1000 (USD, btw) in per capita GDP – not bad by any measure. So, yes, if the narrowly applied economic sanctions by the U.S. and Japan continues, North Korea would continue to grow – in fact at a faster pace than U.S. and Japan for the forseeable future!

    China has helped North Korea a lot with infrastructure in the last decade, during a period where North Korea exported primarily in raw materials – including lots of gold to Europe. North Korea is in the midst of developing light industry – similar to other Asian countries latching onto China’s growth.

    So the question is how to get North Korea leaders today to take the poison pill?

    1. They must believe a true global economic blockade can happen and, preferrably they need to taste it at least once for some short period of time.
    2. They must then be convinced about the benefits of capitalism.
    3. They must be allowed to set a time-table for reform workable for them – and oen that the world must be supportive of.
    4. There must be a “grand” plan at the world level which offers a vision for survival of all nation states today – one that the North Korean leaders can see that everyone is trying to work towards over time.

    When enough economic progress is made, I think democratic reform will naturally occur.

    If Obama cures all ills of the U.S. economy, make right some of the key U.S. “wrongs” on the world stage, then during his 9th and 10th year as president, he could conceivably get all 4 stars to line up.

    I’d like to go off and think seriously about #1. I think the key is how to incent South Korea, China, Russia, the EU, India, Brazil, and Singapore to go along on this one. Japan is obviously in lock-steps with U.S. on North Korea.

  16. huaren Says:

    This seems to be a good blog about North Korea’s economy:

    North Korean Economy Watch

  17. Raj Says:


    First, there is no “government of Hamas” because Hamas is not a state. From what I understand Hamas is not democratic in the way it governs Gaza – you’re with them or against them (and God save you if you’re against them). As for the Russian and Iranian administrations, they are duty-bound by law to have elections. The way they use their power is not democratic at all, so no they are not democratic either.

    Second, it’s not about getting bogged down with a definition. Words are abused far too often to justify the unjustifiable. If you mean political change, say political change. Having some form of public participation in politics is not democratic if the restrictions they face are far more severe.

    Third, what element of real public participation in North Korean politics has there been for over half a century? If there is any it’s purely for propaganda purposes. But more importantly there’s not even the level of interaction you have in China because North Korea is a dictatorship. There is and never has been an alternative to the Kim family.

    How would North Koreans understand, let alone desire, public participation in politics? Haven’t you heard about the trouble most North Koreans who make it to South Korea have, specifically in adapting to a society where they can and must make decisions about everything in their lives? One moment the State is making all their decisions for them and the next they’re told to get on their bike. If they find it hard to adjust to taking responsibility for themselves, how on earth would they grasp and accept the concept that they would have input on decisions for the entire country?

    By the way, if we’re talking about North Korea does this mean this blog is no longer about China exclusively?

  18. Allen Says:

    @Raj #17,

    This is a blog about China. This thread was created to make fun of the WSJ columns by two Indian college students by mimicking them….

  19. Raj Says:

    Allen, so you’re saying anything’s game if it’s making fun of others?

  20. huaren Says:

    How does the U.S. and Japan incent rest of the world to form an effective economic blockade?

    Russia: stop Nato expansion and honor the nuclear weapons reduction treaties signed with the Soviet Union.

    China: I think the pricetag is probably around $5-10 billion or insure China’s portion of U.S. debt against USD inflation.

    South Korea and rest of Asia: get the Japanese government to own up to her recent history. I think this will be very healthy for the whole of Asia as well as for Japan.

    Rest of the World: add another $50 billion to the price tag

    The U.S. spends about $100 billion on Iraq. Could someone confirm? Between the U.S. and Japan, $50billion to $75billion is very doable.

  21. huaren Says:

    Hi Steve, #5,

    So, I believe I addressed your points about ineffectiveness of the existing economic sanctions.

    I agree with your point that China is not interested in seeing a total collapse of North Korea. And I agree with you, as long as U.S. has troops in South Korea, China (and Russia) would not want a united Korea to continue to host U.S. troops.

    The point is that the economic sanction should not be used as a tool for the destruction of the state. Rather, it is something the North Korean leadership should view as something that will hold them back so they will not be able to catch up to the rest of the world.

    I believe their current view is that they can catch up – no question about it. So the economic sanction as a tool needs to clamp this hope.

    Given what I think the purpose of such sanctions ought to be, those doing the sanctioning ought to ensure the population doesn’t starve or freeze to death. Sure, use international food aid and other means.

  22. huaren Says:

    Hi Allen, #1,
    Let’s go for the home run. YES. And also a U.S. friendly North Korea. 🙂

    Hi hongkonger, #2,

    Thx for the great link! There’s a lot of chickens and eggs in the current situation with that region.

    U.S. in so much debt so is very much interested in having Japan militarize to some extent to shoulder the cost of U.S.’s military strategy around the world. Obviously, the U.S. helping Japan to “properly” reconcile with her neighbors makes stationing troops in Japan harder.

    Frankly, if you are Russia or China, one view is they’d prefer USA to continued to be “taxed” by her military, as long as the USA remains relatively “low enough” on the belligerence part.

    Hi TonyPr, #3,

    I’ll chalk you up for “YES”.

    Hi Charles, #4,

    I’ll chalk you up for “NO”.

    Hi Otto, #8,

    Very interesting idea!

    China has a stated policy of not interfering in the domestic affairs of other states (okay, relatively speaking.) However, regime change is definately not in their stomach.

    I suppose they can make an exception – Russia would strongly support too – if U.S. would be willing to pull out of South Korea allowing South Korea to share beds with China and Russia.

    Hi Wukailong, #9,

    I think it is only a matter of time when South Korea has enough technology to take over all the T.V’s in North Korea – just directly beam in there how backwards North Korea has become. North Korean leaders firing missiles to gain support won’t work after that.

    Agreed with your #10.

    Hi Raj, #12,

    Your second paragraph – my argument for economic sanction is that its purpose should not be to destroy the government – rather to get it to reform.

    Hi METAL, #13,

    That’s an interesting idea. But I rather bet Kim is interested in developing North Korea into a modern and powerful state, and therefore, for the sake of this debate, YES on economic sanctions. 🙂

  23. Charles Liu Says:

    Another point worth exporing is the contrast between East/West Germany and North/South Korea.

  24. Steve Says:

    The North Koreans are not suffering. They are the happiest, most resourceful and proudest people in the world. It is the U.S. imperialist aggressors who had boasted of being the ‘strongest’ in the world who sustained the bitter fiasco in the Korean War.

    President Kim Il Sung shattered the myth of U.S. imperialists’ ‘mightiness’ which has led to the beginning of their downhill turn. Their notorious generals suffered a disastrous defeat in the war.

    These days, the U.S. imperialists are sinking quickly, their broken economy is no match for the North Koreans’ juche spirit. As Koreans all sing the praises of their enlightened dear leader Kim Jung Il, their unconquerable army marches forward to strike fear in the heart’s of their enemies.

    Sanctions? How can a despicable government with a Secretary of State who uttered a spate of vulgar remarks unbecoming for her position everywhere she went since she was sworn in, hope to dampen the revolutionary spirit of such brave and noble people led by their heroic leader? Clinton is by no means intelligent and is a funny lady. Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping. It is obvious that she is no more than an official of the most tyrannical dictatorial state in the world. Such woman bereft of any political logic is not the one to be dealt with by the North Koreans.

    And so-called ‘president’ Obama? He is just a political dwarf, human scum or hysteric. His hands are stained with the blood shed by so many people. He is, indeed, a human butcher and fascist tyrant who puts an ogre to shame.

    It is the sanctions put forward by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that have brought the U.S. economy to its knees. All the U.S.’s economic sanctions have done is cripple their own economy. To attempt to change the perfect government of North Korea can only be taken as a madman’s nightmare.

    (If anyone is confused by this post, please see Allen’s Comment #18) 😛

  25. Charles Liu Says:

    Thank you Steve for illustrating the point extereme views are never the truth.

  26. phil Says:

    to steven

    if the usa is the big loser and north korea is big boy, why does america have the highest (i beleive..though not sure) intake of immigrants in the world? why would people want to go to this dehumanizing american country rather than that paradise, just and proper location labelled north korea…or even south korea for that matter in the same numbers?must solely be unjust bias marketting? or maybe location location location?

    the person insults on people you personally don’t know brings you a lot of street credit dude…….

  27. Steve Says:

    @ phil #26: I think you need to re-read Allen’s comment #18. It was a joke! 😛

    This is a debate where we are representing one side or the other, not our own personal viewpoints. I used actual language that the North Korean government has used in the past to frame the argument. Since this isn’t what we normally do but is an experiment, I can understand why it might have been confusing. If you read the original entry, huaren framed the two sides as teams and other bloggers could come in on one side or the other.

  28. tw Says:

    It could be that the western world and the eastern powers don’t really know what to do with N Korea. Perhaps their presence creates an uncertain element in a more or less Chinese dominated area of the world. Perhaps the importance of North Korea lies in its position as a volatile military power in the region, to be used for leveraging and gain in the machinations of the powerful countries.

  29. huaren Says:

    Hi Steve, #24,

    Ha ha ha. Pretty hilarious. I didn’t know the North Koreans know of ogres. 🙂

  30. huaren Says:

    Hi tw, #28,

    I actually feel guilty talking about the North Koreans, even though we are having this facetious debate.

    Kind of sad, but I hope they join the world soon. They were one of the physical victims of the Cold War, not too long following the Japanese invasion in WW2.

  31. Wukailong Says:

    @Steve, huaren: “who puts an ogre to shame”

    I remember this particular line. That was great, though the lines about Hillary isn’t that bad either:

    “Her words suggest that she is by no means intelligent. ”

    “Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.”


    I read somewhere about the problems facing North Korean language students. On the one hand, the best among them learn impeccable English, German or whatever, but they rarely understand the cultural backgrounds of the concepts they’re using. Talking about the “Great Leader” in German, for example, is something probably only a North Korean could think about.

  32. Wukailong Says:

    Here’s a longer compilation of North Korean rhetoric skills:


  33. raventhorn4000 Says:

    A moment of truth aside from all the jokes:

    What we should realize is that no one is searching for “democracy” for North Korea at this time. We are all merely looking for a “stable transitional government” for North Korea, which would drop its nuke programs and open up for economic reforms, without disastrous political changes.

    But what North Korea will transition to, is another question.

    Economic sanctions, simply will not work on a nation already so poor. That is an acknowledge fact of diplomacy among many nations.

    US and Japan might threaten to sanction North Korea, ultimately they would not do it, if North Korea respond harshly.

  34. Wukailong Says:

    @raventhorn4000 (#33): Good point. Perhaps we should change the theme of the debate to “Can Economic Sanctions Drive Liberalization in North Korea?”, though I would say that China has had a lot of democratic change since the reforms began. What I believe the world would hope for is Chinese-style reform in NK. This article from Daily NK discusses whether such reforms are possible for North Korea:


    In short: as long as NK is ruled by one man and one man only, it can’t really reform in any meaningful way.

  35. Steve Says:

    @ R4K and Wukailong: Brilliant!! It’s become obvious (at least to me) that the NO team has triumphed. Who has rendered this verdict? Why, the NO team has! That’s how they make decisions in North Korea so it applies here. 😉

    Seriously, I don’t think the USA or Japan can really harm North Korea because they are so used to doing with practically nothing. Their lifeline is China and China only, so the only country that can impose meaningful sanctions is China. Since this isn’t going to happen, if we move beyond the debate’s narrow confines, the big question would be “What if anything can drive liberalization in North Korea?” At the present time, I don’t believe anything can drive liberalization because if North Korea opens itself up to the rest of the world, the North Koreans themselves will find out they have been lied to for decades and the government could fall.

    Right now, with the imminent death of their leader, the government is being extra cautious and when the leadership change takes place, the new Supreme Leader will be very young and inexperienced, so he might not even have control of the government apparatus. It’s a dangerous time and I’d expect the country to be even more xenophobic until the new government is stable and confident.

  36. Steve Says:

    I just wanted to thank Wukailong for arranging Bill Clinton’s trip to North Korea (the Swedes are good at this) and R4K for taking care of all the legal arrangements. I just came along for the ride. Once again, the NO team has positively shown that economic sanctions do not work and diplomacy is the only way to satiate the North Korean government, especially if you satiate them with economic aid and good cognac. 😛

  37. huaren Says:

    Nope, Steve. Show me $50-75 billion is tough to come by!

  38. Steve Says:

    @ Huaren: $50-75 billion is pocket change to the Obama administration. Want to trade in your clunker for new high mileage car? Here’s CASH!

  39. huaren Says:

    Hi Steve – did you “slip?” 🙂

    Ok. YES team wins. Apply the pocket change, then I think we will have an effective sanction.

  40. Allen Says:

    Raj #19,

    You are going to get some of us in trouble with admin if you keeping pushing me like that! 😉

    I think originally we were doing this to make fun of WSJ. But that doesn’t mean the discussion here cannot be serious. Even as we discuss N Korea (limited digression), our differing world views may still elicit interesting disagreements.

    My position on N Korea (in comment #1) was assigned. I actually do not have a strong position whether sanctions will drive democratic change, but I know that my last statement is a world-view based statement – i.e. I am thinking: is democratization necessarily good; if so, why do democracies (you know, supposedly responsible stakeholders in the international community, etc.) not necessarily produce pro-Western governments; what does that say of Western governments?

    Anyways – I think this thread is a joke in some ways. But it nevertheless can (and has) lead to glimpses of meaningful discussions on our world views….

  41. Steve Says:

    Sorry Huaren, Bill Clinton already gave them the money this morning for releasing those two girls. No sanctions need apply. The North Korean leadership is sipping the bubbly tonight. The NO team wins!

  42. Allen Says:

    Engagement over sanctions as the righteous path … to effect change in Iran.


  43. Wukailong Says:

    Speaking of digressions, it’s probably not news by now that Bill Clinton succeeded in North Korea. I can’t help but think, though – would it be possible for a leader from another country to go and court the US president to release a prisoner? If Gary McKinnon truly gets extradited to the USA, is the next step for the British PM to go there and ask the authorities to send McKinnon back to the UK?

    The Gary McKinnon case:


  44. miaka9383 Says:

    I don’t understand the whole demanding for release of these prisoners… they entered the country illegally and did something wrong. They even admitted that they did. Why shouldn’t they suffer the consequences?

  45. Steve Says:

    @ miaka: I understand where you’re coming from. Why would anyone deliberately cross the border into North Korea when it’s no secret what would happen to you if you did? To set them free, the USA had to offer some sort of concession that has far more impact than two people. It’s the same thing in Iran right now. Three people go to Iraq and camp near the Iranian border, then wander into Iran where now we’re supposed to get them out? How could anyone be so stupid as to wander into Iran? I don’t have much sympathy for them; in fact, I have absolutely no sympathy for them.

    On the other hand, those two girls should get a minimum sentence or just a fine and not 12 years hard labor. Now that they’re back in the States, we can find out exactly what happened to them when they were captured. Still, I find it ridiculous that a country’s foreign policy should be held hostage on account of a couple of people deliberately breaking the laws of another country.

    I hadn’t heard about Gary McKinnon before but he seems to be autistic and as far as I can tell, he didn’t do anything evil so while he ought to be watched, I can’t see what good jail would do. But if he were extradited and then the PM asked for him back, that seems kinda weird since it’d be easier to just negotiate beforehand and avoid the exchanges.

  46. TonyP4 Says:

    Questions for Clinton on his rescue mission.

    1. If the ladies were not that good-looking, do you still go?

    2. Did you go because your wife asked you to or she gave you a break to have more opportunity?

    3. Did you bring your intern?

    For your entertainment, http://tonyp4joke.blogspot.com/2009/02/how-to-save-airline-industry.html

  47. Wukailong Says:

    @TonyP4: I’ve always wondered what was in this for North Korea. Now I’m beginning to wonder if it’s one playboy meeting another so they can exchange experiences and advice… 😉

  48. Steve Says:

    @ Wukailong: Clinton brought a case of cognac and Kim supplied the girls. Kim kept saying something about “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. 😛

  49. huaren Says:

    Steve – I am finally caught up on the Clinton rescue of the reporters. I thought he left the money in the hotel – the North Koreans were looking for some respect and he sincerely apologized.

    Guys, btw, for Bill Clinton to be able to go to North Korea and get the reporters released says a lot:

    Still there is a tremendous amount of respect for the USA even though the relationship is terrible. Imagine if the reporters are citizens of some really weak country who the North Koreans consider enemy.

  50. Steve Says:

    @ Huaren: Think of it like credit. If you have good credit, you pay less. If you have bad credit, you pay more. If it was from some weak country, they’d have to pay more in concessions. Hey, business is business.

    Clinton left the money in the hotel lock box but while he was talking with Kim, it mysteriously disappeared. Oh well… crime happens. 😉

  51. Nimrod Says:

    You guys may be interested in this article, which tiptoes around the issue of trade between China and North Korea.


  52. raventhorn4000 Says:


    You know I had nothing to do with the trip.

    and the Supreme Leader had only one real question for Clinton: “How did you get away with it?”

    Clinton replied, “The fine art of lying is a qualification for presidency.”

    And then he added, “which is why I am here.”

    *Which means now, we will never know what he said in North Korea.

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