News / Asia

Q&A with Paul French: ‘North Korea, State of Paranoia’

FILE - Kim Jong-un
FILE - Kim Jong-un

North Korea remains a nation of mystery, intrigue and uncertainty to its regional neighbors and the rest of the world. Outsiders are beginning to get a small glimpse inside North Korea as it opens in a limited manner for tourists. Visitors, however, see only what they are allowed to view as the overall North Korean population is sequestered from outside contact.

Paul French, an independent East Asia analyst and author of North Korea, State of Paranoia, told VOA’s Jim Stevenson how apprehension on both sides of the border continues to limit what we know about the Hermit Kingdom.

Q&A with Paul French: 'North Korea, State of Paranoia'
Q&A with Paul French: 'North Korea, State of Paranoia'i
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

FRENCH:  Paranoia seems to be what largely drives the Kim dynasty.  But I think it’s fair to say that we in the West, and also in China, and outside of North Korea are a little bit paranoid about them as well just because we don’t know what quite drives or motivates them.

STEVENSON:  What are some of the myths we’re holding about North Korea at the current time?

FRENCH:  Well, I think the biggest myth, or at least the most dangerous myth that I wanted to deal with in my book, as someone who has sort of visited North Korea on a number of occasions - which is not necessarily an easy thing to do, particularly for Americans of course – is to try and show the ordinary North Korean people and the daily life that they have as difficult and highly politicized and highly regimented and with a lot of surveillance, but that they are essentially normal people. I think that a lot of the North Korean government, we almost see like this robotic nation, the few images we get are always of military parades or something like that, but these are people who get up in the morning and kiss their kids goodbye and go off to work, and the kids go off to school, and so on.

STEVENSON:  North Korea is opening up a little bit in terms of tourism, in terms of hard currency. What do tourists see as normal when they visit Pyongyang and other locations within North Korea?

FRENCH:  It is a little bit like going to Disneyland in a sense, in that, you see exactly what the corporation that runs North Korea wants you to see and nothing else. And anyone that tries to sort of look behind the stage set, or actually talk to the ordinary people if you like, someone will try and stop you from doing that. So they very much want to handle you, they want to guide you around; they don’t want you to have ordinary conversations with people. So in that sense, there is an odd sort of feeling that you’re in one big sort of theme park when you’re there.

STEVENSON:  What prevents the regime in North Korea from reforming while retaining power when it can clearly look over next door at China and see a 35 year blueprint for progress?

FRENCH:  Well, this is becoming more and more of an issue, I think, now as more and more North Koreans, not just the elite, start to see just how wide the disparity has become between North and South Korea. This is way beyond anything we ever saw in – the example that’s always used, East and West Germany – the disparity of course being between Seoul and Pyongyang is almost unimaginable, they’re essentially now two completely different nations.

But again, their response to it has not been to emulate what has gone on in the South, or even to emulate what has gone on in China, which is a good example for them – a lot of market reforms, a lot of more money moving around the system, but [with] the authoritarian party staying in place, [or] regime survival, that they don’t seem to be able to do that. Their response has been to try and lock down and stop people knowing what’s going on outside.

STEVENSON:  It brings us to the prospect for change or collapse and reunification. There is such a wide disparity between the North and the South, would that make reunification even remotely possible?

FRENCH:  Everyone used to talk about it in an East and West Germany sort of way, that the South would have to take on the reunification of the country as the stronger economy, no one is even sure that anyone would even want to do that now. The current thinking, I think, really that is coming out of Seoul and certainly out of Beijing in terms of this, is that if there was any sudden collapse, economic collapse or sudden regime change or coup, the borders would have to be locked down. The DMZ would have to remain in place; there would have to be some sort of effort to bring North Korea up to a certain level before you could actually reopen the border there.


Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Christmas Gains Popularity in Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid