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

Russian Help on Iran Less Promising on Syria, Ukraine

US-Russian collaboration to secure a deal on Iran's nuclear program has raised hopes of closer cooperation on other world issues More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe More

US-Ethiopia Relationship Strong, But Complicated

While Ethiopia serves as a valuable security ally and a bulwark against terrorism - the U.S., is a major aid donor and economic stimulator More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backersi
X
Michael Bowman
July 26, 2015 8:44 PM
Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Underground Streetcar Station In Washington, DC, to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Rise in HIV Infections Worries Ugandan Officials

Uganda had the third-highest number of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa last year, reversing its reputation for successfully tackling the epidemic in the 1990s. Although the percentage of people living with HIV/AIDS is still half of what it was in the 1980s, the increase in new infections is worrying to health workers. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs