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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More