“You’d better watch out, you’d better cry. You’d better pout, I’m telling you why: North Korea is punishing insincere mourners” – The Huffington Post

According to the Daily NK – a South Korea publication opposing to North Korea, apparently, the government decided to punish anyone who either did not participate in the gatherings to mourn the death of Supreme leader Kim Jong Il, or “did participate but did not cry and did not seem genuine”. Imagine yourself being arrested and sent to labor-training camp for 6 months due to coming off as insincere enough or not mourning enough. Daily NK can be biased since it is South Korea-based, but believe it or not, anything can happen in North Korea

Tears of joy or grievance??

    Speaking of globalization, people say foreign investment, unrestricted flows of goods and services, less unemployment, all of which lead to an increase in GDP; others also see inhuman labor practices, exploitative working conditions and low wages. Yet, it is impossible to deny its importance concerning the economic development of nations. With regards to the matter of globalization, North Korea, however, is an extreme case. Currently under the leadership of Kim Il Sung, North Korea is the most isolated and least globalized country in the world, also famous for its absolute rejection of foreign investment and discouragement of foreigner visits. Is North Korea government trying to protect the rights of its citizens by refusing to be influenced by other countries? Or does this anti-globalization tendency actually mean the breach of human rights?

Globalization or not, let’s take a look at both Koreas. In 1953, at the end of Korean War, both nations were equally poor, third world dictatorships.  What happened afterwards? South Korea chose the road of industrialization, with cheap labor workforces to attract investment from foreign companies. By 1987, dictatorship was gone in South Korea due to the positive influence of globalization. Economics rapidly improved; educations, standard of livings gradually turned to a fresh page. North Korea went the opposite direction with its isolation and self-dependence policies. Since then, its citizens have been suffering from extreme shortage of powers, manufactured goods, prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions. The only escape from starvation has been large-scale international food aid deliveries. Massive economic inefficiency and extremely political corruption have always been a huge issue. The closet to globalization they have come to is exporting military arms, weapons, drugs and human trafficking. Looking at the CIA’s factbook, South Korea has a GDP per capita of $30,200 (45th in the world) while North Korea settles for $1,800 (195th in the world) in 2011. The daily energy consumption of North Korea is less than that of a medium-sized South Korean town.

No matter how we look at the issue, we cannot help but wondering how North Korean citizens feel about the way their government has been treating them. Do human rights exist in their society? Or are they completely blind to the fact that under this regime, they are suffering from severe deprivation of human rights? Without globalization, the issue of human rights in North Korea “is extremely difficult to assess due to the secretive and closed nature of the country”. All activities in the country are fully controlled by the government; whoever dares to criticize will be detained. The government claimed that due to the country’s socialist nature , there has never been any human right issue and citizens are fully faithful to the system. Despite intervention from NGOs and other countries, the government even alleged that “those who make allegations about human rights in the country are interfering in the country’s internal affairs and trying to force down their values”. How true is this claim?

Obviously, the fact that citizens are being punished severely for “not being sincere enough” speaks something about the extent of their freedom of expression. Yet, freedom of speech is one thing; the right to live is another story. Until now, there has not been any exact statistic on the number of North Korean people who have starved to death. Human rights do not only mean social and political freedom; the most basic human right is the right to living, or the right to feed, clothe and support themselves in order to survive. Can they even dream of having freedom of speech when they are hardly able to survive? How can North Korean citizens be expected to have other rights if they are barely even granted with the right to live in their own society?

North Korea is certainly the only extreme case of anti-globalization. Looking at its current state, it is reasonable to say that despite the negative effects in terms of bad labor practices and exploitation, there really is no alternative to globalization with regards to a country’s growth. The key to make it work better is to find a solution to mitigate these negative sides of globalization.

After all, one North Korea is more than enough.


8 responses »

  1. Kate says:

    I remember the day that Kim Jong II died last semester. I was sitting with my host mom in our living room as the news stations started showing videos of thousands of North Koreans crying their eyes out and “grieving” the death of their nation’s leader. I had a hunch that many of those people were putting on an act for the camera, but I had no idea that people would be arrested and/or sent to labor camps for not being sincere or genuine in their mourning.

    North Korea has always been recognized as a “secretive” nation that chooses to isolate itself from the rest of the world. This “isolation,” however, not only has severely hindered its economic growth, but it prevents North Koreans from receiving basic human rights. I believe that many citizens are aware that the government is violating their human rights, but they refuse to speak up in fear of being severely punished. Due to the secretive identity of the country, even if a group were to rebel against the dictatorship, the news would not be leaked past the North Korean media. Since the nation (under Kim Jong II) ruled with an iron fist, it would never admit any flaws within its economic, political, and social systems (even has the majority of its population is starving).

    With a new leader in Kim John Un, the world can only hope that he will allow some globalization to be brought into North Korea. As a large man (I would not be surprised if he is the fattest man in North Korea), he hopefully will provide insight into establishing more practical ways to feed his starving people (other than through international assistance). Unfortunately, the world should not hold its breath anytime soon.

    • Cheryl says:

      I felt the same way when I read the news and saw the pictures of thousands of people bawling their eyes out for their Supreme leader. There must be citizens who are aware that their rights have been violated against, but too afraid to stand up and do something about it, which speaks a lot about how inhumane the North Korea government is. But in a country where media and internet are banned, and foreign visitors are discouraged, there are also people who are completely blinded from the outside world and became brainwashed by the government into staying faithful to them. Nowadays, the regime has been increasingly seen more as a source of hardship and unsustainability, rather than protecting its citizens, so I think that its collapse is bound to happen sooner or later. And once it starts to go down, it will crumble really fast

  2. Sarah says:

    I think that looking at North Korea and South Korea in terms of the effects of globalization is a perfect case study. Here you have two countries that were once together as one with similar populations, cultures and tradition. However there is one problem when trying to analyze the effects of globalization on the two countries, accurate and real information is very hard to come by about North Korea. We don’t know what information they receive about the rest of the world and we don’t know what is really going on inside the country. This brings up the thought of “what they don’t know can’t hurt them”, so is it better for the citizens to not know much about the outside world so they don’t know what they are missing out on? Or is more harm being done to the people of North Korea, in terms of basic human rights, by isolating them from globalization and the rest of the world? Cheryl brings up a good point about citizens being punished for not being sincere enough. If they are being punished for not showing emotion, what else are they being punished for? The outside world really has no grasp on how severe the situation and punishment is in North Korea. It could be that the conditions are even more brutal than anyone could ever imagine, but that the images we do see coming out of North Korea are all part of a strategic PR plan to make the rest of the world stay uninvolved.

  3. Jordi says:

    North Korea seems like such an extreme example of a closed, totalitarian society, it is hard for me to see it as you depict here: the poster child of not adopting globalization with no strings attached.

    I would be more interested in seeing China, S Korea, Singapore, Viet Nam, and perhaps a few other countries compared. I know some of them pursued development through protecting industries to enable them to sell in foreign markets. Compared to countries that open up their internal labor markets, like Indonesia, it may be that the ones that pick and choose their globalization instead of simply accepting whatever the pro-globalization advocates desire actually do more for their overall population even if they produce fewer super-wealthy local elites.

    Meanwhile, how can we not feel for the long-suffering people of N Korea?

    • Cherylngn says:

      Countries like China, S. Korea, Singapore or Vietnam have been way more opening to globalization. In Vietnam, for example, you can easily find people drinking Coca Cola on the street, kids watching stuff on Disney channel, stuff like Iphone or Ipod is like a must-have especially for young people. You can see English advertisement everywhere, and the foreign trend is spreading so fast that people are worried about foreign dominance in our culture.
      People talk about how Vietnam is the next China; more and more foreign corporations are moving productions to Vietnam due to cheap labors, so as you mentioned, Vietnam is similar to Indonesia in terms of opening up internal labor markets. Even here in the States, you can find lots of clothing products that are made in Vietnam. The government is still a single party state, since they prefer staying unchanged in order to maintain social and political stability, which is definitely not the best approach. But globalization has always been a key objective on the government’s agenda, so I believe Vietnam is on the right track to reach middle-income country status in the coming years.

  4. Jordi says:

    Among the various so-crazy-you-laugh facts about North Korea is that while his people starve by the millions, he had time to build an amazing waterslide!

    Who doesn’t live a twisty water slide?

    Anderson Cooper reports that amateur sleuths found it while scanning satellite images.

  5. I believe our next step in achieving international peace is being partially blocked by North Korea. This communist isolated anti-globalization country is no good to the overall atmosphere in our world due to its recent activity of threats to destroy South Korea’s government as well as nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests. This article clearly depicts North Korea communist government strips their own people’s human rights. If their government does not even care for their own people, what will stop them to threaten the rest of the world? North Korea is halting our progress toward globalization and although a solution is far beyond our control the only thing we should be doing is observing and being educated on North Korea’s future motives and intentions.

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