NORTH KOREA by Paul French


State of Paranoia: A Modern History
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A thorough probing of the ongoing causes behind North Korea’s “march of misery.”

There is no shortage of recent works by Westerners attempting to crack the deeply insulated pariah state of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, most notably Andrei Lankov’s The Real North Korea and Victor Cha’s The Impossible State. Yet Shanghai-based Asia commentator French (Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China, 2012, etc.) offers excellent insight into the economic machinations that have kept the Kim dynasty afloat since 1948 despite catastrophic cycles of industrial collapse, famine, nuclear brinkmanship and military oppression. One of the last Cold War holdouts, the DPRK, unlike China, is so entrenched in its guiding philosophy of Juche, or self-sufficiency, that it has been unable to instigate the same kinds of economic reforms as China. Not without trying: French carefully looks at the North Korean attempts, under Kim Jong-il and the watchful eyes of the Chinese, to instigate some much-needed reforms in 2002—e.g., price reforms and the ending of the public distribution system, along with the implementation of a special economic zone, Sinuiju, which failed largely due to the lack of any infrastructure in the area. The wasteful and absurd policies of the rigid command economy mean there is no room for the development of private enterprise. Coupled with the discouragement of foreign investment, outmoded industry, unwise agricultural systems and underutilized natural resources, French sees the recipe for repeated economic stagnation and decline, forcing the DPRK to rely on subsidies from the Soviet Union (while they lasted) and China. As long as the Kim leadership pursues its “military first” campaign, thereby spending its precious resources on a huge standing army rather than feeding its own people or engaging diplomatically, the “drip-feeding” by the West will be its only sustaining option.

An astute work that examines all facets of this Orwellian state.

Pub Date: May 27th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-78032-947-5
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Zed Books
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2014


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