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Politics & Current Affairs

What Do We Really Know about Life in North Korea?

Much of what we know about the world’s most ostracized country comes from a clandestine network of some 200 informants that communicate via cell phone to a news agency in Seoul.

What’s the Latest Development?

Even career observers of the country were surprised by Pyongyang’s April 13 missile test which flagrantly violated a diplomatic agreement made just a month earlier. What little we do know about the country comes through channels like the Daily NK, an online publication which communicates with a network of some 200 informants inside North Korea. Kim So Yeol, a reporter for the Daily NK, communicates by cell phone when informants are near the Chinese border, where North Korean cell phones receive reception. The Daily NK was established in 2004 and is funded mostly by the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy.

What’s the Big Idea?

Despite widespread poverty and chronic malnutrition, what remains largely a mystery is the degree to which citizens remain satisfied with their leadership. Kim said, “there is evidence that public disquiet has risen in the few months since Kim Jong Un succeeded his father, Kim Jong Il.” So might we expect an uprising similar to the Arab Spring sometime soon? No, said Kim. “The system watches over each person individually—all they can do is flee, so I expect there to be more defections. But there aren’t even the beginnings of a Middle East-style democracy movement.”

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