Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

Radio ownership in DPRK

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

From Daily NK:
Only Job in the World… North Korea, ‘Person Who Removes Fuses on Radios’
Ha Tae Kyoung, Open Raido for North Korea

In order to stop the inflow of foreign information entering North Korea, irrespective of how a person obtained a radio, they must report ownership to the People’s Safety Agency (police). This radio is then locked onto North Korea’s official and only broadcasting channel. To fixate the channel the solder is completely removed. So to speak, the only radio station that North Koreans can legitimately listen to is this fixated broadcast.

The majority of the time, this radio station broadcasts songs about the leader and as a result is very boring. Even the TV like the radio is uninteresting as it is fixated on one channel and similarly broadcasts songs about the leader. However, this is not to say that there are many books in North Korea. A defector from Pyongyang once said that there are only 3 bookstores in Pyongyang. Even at these bookstores there are few books and of the few, the books are related to Kim Il Sung propaganda. Furthermore, tapes, movies and drama DVD’s are scarce. No wonder North Korean people find it difficult to spend their leisure times pleasantly.

Recently, the number of people listening to foreign radio programs during their leisure times has increased. Firstly, in order to listen to foreign radio programs the wires fixed onto the radio frequency must be removed. Thus experts are called to open the fuses and as a result, this job is becoming more and more popular. To remove the fuses it costs about North Korean 18,000won. This roughly converts to US$6~7. Taking into consideration that an official North Korean public servant earns about 2~3,000won ($0.67~1) a month, this is a substantial amount.

The reason that the fee is this expensive is not because of high technical skills that are involved in opening the fuses but because of the risk that leads to punishment. Lately in North Korea if a person is caught listening to foreign broadcasts, not only is the radio confiscated but the person is sentenced to 1~3months of forced labor. Compared to the past where people were sent to gulags, the punishment has eased dramatically. One of the reasons that punishment has eased is because of the increasing number of listeners to foreign radio.

Nonetheless the punishment for a person who opens fuses would undoubtedly be significantly greater than a person who listens to the radio. Hence the fee to remove the fuses continues to rise.

When will the day come where North Korea will be able to freely listen to foreign radio programs? Would change come during the time Kim Jong Il is in power? The more desirable condition would be where North Korean people can freely listen to foreign radio programs and the job of removing fuses vanishes. If this case is difficult to achieve in the near future, accordingly it would be better to anticipate North Korean authorities alleviating the punishment on people listening to foreign radio broadcasts. Then, at least the fee of removing fuses would substantially reduce.


DPRK citizens listening to KBS

Monday, August 14th, 2006

From the Daily NK:

Pyongyang Residents Secretly Watch KBS 9pm News
“On the Second-Hand TVs Imported from Japan” 
By Kwon Jeong Hyun, Dandong of China

It was found that Pyongyang residents in North Korea have secretly watched KBS 1 TV on high-fidelity receivers smuggled from China and TVs made in Japan.

The North Korean government has prohibited the North Korean people from watching South Korean TV programs. In order to prevent TV or radio waves from South Korea, it has done blanketing. Yet, it has been know that such control have not prevent the North Korean people from secretly watching KBS 1TV programs including 9pm News, and rather such trend has been spreading all over Pyongyang.

On the 30th last month, Kim Jin Ho(pseudonym, 42) staying in China to see his relatives said that, “Receivers smuggled through trucks from China are sold at 120 to 150 yuans (45,000 to 56,000 won of North Korea)at Jangmadangs “, adding “Quiet many people watch South Korean TV programs in Pyongyang”.

Kim told that, “Because of control of the government, people can not see soap dramas. They just usually watch 9pm news to know the trends of the world”, and “Family members and friends talk about them together”.

Kim said that receivers to receive the South Korean TV programs are 3m high and have two-edged looked like bones of fish. Kim said he is watching through the receivers only at night. The receivers are called ‘yagi receiver’, which are usually used as territory receivers. Given that the yagi receivers that have been used in the 70’s and 80’s are impossible for satellite broadcasting, people have received KBS program waves over the truce line.

Park Gi Chang(pseudonym, 34) from Pyongsung, South Pyongan province, said that, “Now if one does not know the trends of the outside world, he or she can not join the conversation” and “We can know about what the North Korean government did”. However, Park said that because of the strict control of the government, we have to be careful.”

Park said that, “I have watched KBS programs on a receiver purchased at Jangmadang after I saw my relatives seeing the programs in Pyongyang.”

Because North Korean TV standard is PAL(Phase Alternating Line) different from NTSC(National Television System Committee), we can not still see the South Korean program on the North Korean TVs. Seeing South Korean programs is possible only on the TVs made in Japan and China. Japanese TV standard is NTSC.

In addition, recently it was known that PAL and NTSC TVs are imported from China and Japan.

North Korean has imported TVs made in Hitachi, Japan since the 80’s in bulk. Some second-hand TVs had often been imported into North Korean, which were replaced by receivers only for North Korea.

A staff in charge of KBS broadcasting transmission said that, “No-person head end or transmission tops around the truce line area send electronic waves, which are possible to reach at Pyongyang”, and “it is surprising that we do not send electronic waves toward North Korea. But Pyongyang residents have received them”.

A researcher at a electronic waves research center under the Ministry of Information and Communication stated that, “Generally, waves sent towards Seoul reach at Cheonan or even Dangjin, the nearly southernmost part of S.Korea”, and “given the nature of waves, North Korea can not prevent the waves from South Korea”.

Kim Gi Hyuk, defector Producer of Free North Korea Broadcasting, said that, “I can remember that in Hoicheon, South Pyongan province, I watched a news announcing that Hwang Jang Yop came to South Korean as a political asylum, and saw a South Korean car advertisement through the receiver”, and “on the rainy day, the waves were better caught in the receivers”.

A staff of VideoLap, a video specialized company, said that, “If TVs’ standard is PAL, screens turn into black so we can not totally watch programs. However, sometimes the TVs work well”.

A government official briefly mentioned, “I heard that some North Korean people watch South Korean TV programs”.

The North Korean people have gotten world news on the broadcastings such as RFA or Korean Social education broadcasting. Furthermore, VCD and TV programs have been spreading. It has made the North Korean people free from informational isolation of the past.


North Koreans turned on but tuned out

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

Asia Times
Andrei Lankov

One might expect North Korea to be the target of many outside Korean-language stations. After all, it is one of the few despotic regimes whose survival still largely depends on myths about the country’s situation and its place in the world.

However, almost no outside broadcasting targets North Korea.

Until the mid-1990s, it didn’t make sense to broadcast to North Korea. Authorities since the 1960s had dealt with the “foreign broadcast problem”, which created so much trouble for other communist regimes, by outlawing all radios with free tuning. Radios sold in North Korea had fixed tuning and thus could receive only three or four official channels.

If North Korean citizens purchased a radio in one of the country’s hard-currency shops, which accepted foreign cash and had a wider variety of items, or when overseas, it had to be submitted to police where technicians would “fix” (disable) it, making sure its owners could only listen to ideologically wholesome programs about the deeds of their Dear Leader – Kim Jong-il.

This ban was enforced with remarkable efficiency. It was largely entrusted to the heads of the “people’s groups” or inminban, to which all North Koreans belong. Typically, such group consists of 30 to 50 families living in the same block, and is headed by an official. These low-level officials were required to regularly check all radios in their neighborhoods, making sure that they could not be used to listen to foreign or, more likely, South Korean broadcasts.

The punishment could be harsh. One official said in the 1980s she discovered that a family in the neighborhood under her supervision had a radio that could tune into foreign broadcasts. She duly reported her discovery, and the family was immediately exiled to the countryside.

Only a few elite families as well as some soldiers had access to radios that were not tampered with, and even they took great risks when they listened to a South Korean broadcast.

But this is no longer the case.

Things started to change in the mid-1990s when the border control collapsed and crowds of refugees and smugglers began to cross the North Korean-Chinese border. Among the many goods they brought back were small radios. Unlike the 1950s-style bulky radios produced in North Korea, these new transistor radios are small and easy to hide. Though every North Korean house is still subject to periodic random searches, chances of finding such a small item are low. Furthermore, officials lost their earlier zeal and started to accept bribes.

In December, a survey of defectors found that 45% had listened to a foreign broadcast prior to fleeing the North. The willingness to defect could mean a person is more inclined to listen to a foreign broadcast, but it might be the other way round as well: information received from outside might prompt the decision to flee.

At any rate, North Korea is not a radioless country any more and its citizens could find out what is going on in the world and in their own country.

But apart from South Korea’s state-owned Korea Broadcasting System (KBS) – which is officially known as the “social education radio” and does its best to be as inoffensive as possible for fear of “irritating” Pyongyang – three stations specifically target the North Korean audience.

The first and most important is Radio Free Asia (RFA), a version of Radio Free Europe that once broadcast into East Europe – the segment that targeted the former USSR was known as the Radio Liberty. RFA began Korean-language broadcasts in 1997 when the South Koreans withdrew from the airwaves. Currently, broadcasts are four hours daily. With its current staffing, it can produce only two hours live, which is then repeated. Unlike KBS, RFA does raise tough questions.

Another station is Free North Korea (FNK), launched as a small online station whose writers and announcers are North Koreans living in the South. From December, FNK began using transmitters in Russia. However, Moscow is as unenthusiastic as Seoul about prospects of an “unstable” North Korea, so FNK had to move its transmitters to Mongolia.

From the beginning, FNK had to deal with problems. The pro-Pyongyang lobby staged noisy rallies in front of the building where the station was located, so it had to move to two windowless rooms in the basement of an unremarkable building on a distant outskirts of Seoul. Wages are small, and some contributors work for free. Few, if any, are professional radio journalists and the shortage of funds means FNK stays on air only one hour a day.

Still, even its limited presence gets under the skin of Pyongyang’s officials, who refer to FNK broadcasters as “traitors, lackeys of the American imperialism, slaves of the conservative forces” and demand they be removed from the airwaves.

The third station is Voice of America (VoA), but true to its name its focuses on promoting America’s image in both Koreas. The station does some critical reporting about North Korean affairs, and surveys show that some defectors listened to VoA before they left North Korea. However, because the topics of VoA programs are largely about the US, its appeal is somewhat limited (especially in a country whose population has been educated to believe that the US is the embodiment of evil).

Thus, while North Koreans want to know more about the outside world, they are still limited when they switch on their smuggled or illicitly repaired radios. Most of the time the air is clear of any subversive messages that would upset their leaders. Even if they listen to RFA or FNK, the stations cannot tell them too much because air time is short and the broadcast offerings limited.

Many observers talk about the “North Korean problem” and a huge amount of money is spent on the issue. Jay Lefkowitz, US special envoy for human rights in North Korea, has suggested increased radio broadcasts on world events and in support of Korean defector groups as key ways to empower the North Koreans. And some members of the US Congress have proposed increasing broadcasts by American-funded radio stations to 24 hours a day and dropping radio receivers into North Korea by balloon.

Still, radio, the easiest and cheapest way to bring about change from within North Korean society, is not utilized to any significant extent. North Koreans who want to learn even the most basic facts about their society and the world are kept in the dark not only by their own government but by the rest of the world as well.

When they want to learn what is going on, they have to rely on North Korean newspapers. They know only too well that these newspapers lie, but nobody gives them much of an alternative.


South Korean dramas “permitted” in Sinuiju

Friday, June 2nd, 2006

From the Daily NK:

In North Korea, South Korean dramas are confidentially distributed through VCDs(‘Flat eggs’, as the Cds are known).  Previously, North Koreans were only allowed to watch films from the DPRK, China and USSR.  Posessing VCDs was also illegal.

According to Mr. Lee, a Chinese-North Korean who often visits Shinuiju, “Recently, Kim Jong Il has allowed North Koreans to see films only on the flat eggs(CDs) produced by Hana Electronic [the state-owned production monopoly]”. He added “Hana Electronics VCDs are all North Korean movies, Chinese movies featuring fighting with Japanese soldiers, and the Soviet Union movies”.

However, North Koreans are enthusiastic about South Korean dramas such as Love Song in Winter and Autumn Story and obsolete Western movies Rambo and ‘Bruce Lee’.

Mr. Lee said that “Recently South Korean dramas have been distributed widely, and because North Koreans see religious activities and adult materials through the flat eggs(CDs), the North Korean government dispatched an extensive censors group to crack down them”.

In North Korea, every kind of VCD was prohibited. However, realizing that North Koreans took pleasure in secretly watching the widely distributed VCDs, the North Korean government changed its policy and “partially” allowed its people to watch.

Mr. Lee said that, “These days, the punishment for [watching videos] has lightened, so watching VCDs except religious materials is just fined or orally warned”, adding, “The government does not take violators to political prison camps, but maybe Nodon Danryeondae (Labor facility), or Gyohwaso (long-term labor camp)”. Subsequently, he said that, “Because all officials of the National Security Agency and officials of the People’s Safety Agency see the dramas, the government can not unconditionally prevent from watching like the past”.

He said that, “Recently, the numbers of religious people have increased, and because of it, some people were caught watching religious films”, and “It is hard to survive in the religious cases”.

Meanwhile, shortwave radios are illegally traded at around 2,000 won($0.67) at Jangmadangs. Until 3 or 4 years ago, the government had carried out the reporting system about the illegal trades, but after the news that South Korea and the U.S sent radios, the trades at Jangmadangs were officially inhibited.

Now it was known that the small radios sold in secret are carried in through smuggling vessels generally in Jagangdo province, North Korea.  financial problems are resolved, a broker is introduced and guidance to an exile route is given.


Last one to leave, don’t forget to turn out the lights

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

North Korea is promoting energy efficient light bulbs!

From UPI:

North Korean television has aired a program highlighting the benefits of energy-saving light bulbs.  Earlier this month, Korean Central Television showed a six-minute segment titled “Compact Light and Our Life” as part of the “Science and Technology Commonsense” program.

During the show, the announcer spoke of the benefits of energy-saving bulbs and told the audience that “compact light saves a lot more energy compared with normal white glow lamp or fluorescent lamp … compact lamps last longer than white glow lamps or fluorescent lamps.”

In interviews for the program, Yu Yong-hi, chief member of the Ministry of Power and Coal Industries, and Kim Kwang-il, of the Power and Remote Control Institute, spoke highly of the benefits of energy-saving bulbs, and explained how to use them most efficiently and safely.

A video still read: “Electricity saving, about 80 per cent compared with 100watt white glow lamp, about 50 per cent compared with 40W fluorescent lamp.”

Encouraging North Koreans to use energy-saving light bulbs, the program ended with a testimonial to the contribution made by energy-saving bulbs to the cultural lives of the North Korean people.


Foreign Radio Broadcasts in DPRK

Sunday, February 5th, 2006

Here is a list of organizations that are broadcasting into the DPRK:
1. Open Radio for North Korea  
2. Radio Free Asia
3. Voice of America
4. Social Education Broadcasting of KBS (schedule)
5. Radio Free North Korea (offical web site)

From Daily NK

Official statistics on the size of the DPRK audience that listens to foreign radio broadcasts are not available. The only way to get this information is to estimate based on the number of North Korean refugees who claim to have heard foreign radio broadcastings. Fortunately, a survey conducted by three broadcast companies who broadcast in North Korea- Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and the Social Education Broadcasting of KBS- shows the ratio of listeners among North Korean refugees.

This survey verifies that there are people who listen to foreign radio broadcasts, but the statistics were announced, not printed, and are unavailable.  It is possible that the results are inflated.

However, a more reliable survey was recently released. The Korean Press Foundation conducted a survey of 319 North Korean refugees who made it to South Korea within the last two years. 304 respondents provided valid responses. Among these 304 respondents, 13 people, 4.27%, have listened to foreign short wave radio broadcasts and 34 people, 11.2%, have listened to the foreign medium wave radio. This is quite a significant proportion.

Considering the possibility that North Korean refugees had listened to the radio more often than other North Korean citizens, let’s assume that one percent of the North Korean population listens to foreign programs. Out of a total population of 20 million, it means that there are 200,000 listeners. We can’t say this is a small number.

Then how do North Koreans get radios?

The radios recently sold in North Korea are made in China. Most Chinese radios have a function to receive a short wave, since countries with a huge territory usually use short wave. By contrast, a country like South Korea with a small territory does not need to use short wave. FM or AM is enough. As a result, short wave radios are hard to find in South Korea.

Big countries such as Russia, China, and the US use short wave to send signals over long distances. Therefore, it is easy to find short wave radios in those markets. Short wave radios in China are currently flooding into North Korea.


Controlling Internet Café in North Korea

Wednesday, July 13th, 2005

Daily NK
Yang Jung A

Pictures of the “Information Technology Store,” also known as “internet café” in other parts of the world and the “study guide” used by the Party members and workers to control circulation of South Korean soap opera DVDs were revealed to the public for the first time.

Rescue! The North Korean People Urgent Action Network (RENK), a Japanese North Korean human rights NGO and Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet) together held a press conference and revealed three pictures of “Information Technology Store,” and a study guide with the title, “About Completely Destroying Enemies’ Maneuvers to Spread Conspicuous Life Style.”

The pictures and documents revealed at the conference were obtained by Kim Man Chul (pseudo name), the same staff of RENK who took pictures of Japanese food aid sold in the open markets in North Korea in May. It was known that pictures Kim provided RENK were taken by not himself but others inside North Korea.

Existence of Internet Café in North Korea Not Connected to the Outside World

The revealed pictures contain scenes of outside of the store that says, “Information Technology Store,” inside of the store and the boys playing computer games. This internet café is located in Chungjin, North Korea.

Han Kihong, director of NKnet stated, “The “Information Technology Store” is similar to an internet café, and computer classes are also provided at the price of 20,000won per month (average monthly wage of a worker is 2,500~3,000won). It is known that internet connection is good for computer games and email but only connects within North Korea, and the connection does not reach to outside information.”

Mr. Han said, “The “Information Technology Store” has state permission and operate as individual business or small enterprise. Since the price is so expensive, common people would not be able to enter.”

“The computers in the “Information Technology Store” are used computers brought in from China but due to the severe energy situation, in case electricity is cut off, it has its own electricity generator,” added Mr. Han.

The “study guide” presented to the reporters contained critical writings that characterizes circulation of South Korean soap opera DVDs, music CDs, or radio broadcastings as unsound and demoralizing and ways to fight against such conspicuous life style.

Appeasement Outside, Stricter Control of the People Inside

Mr. Han explained, “Recently there have been presuppositions that North Korea pursues appeasement outside and reformation inside thanks as the result of the frequent inter-Korean talks. However, this document (study guide) is the evidence that North Korean government is strengthening the level of control of the people from the outside world.”

This “study guide” also include criticism on Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcastings, which states, “It (RFA) is a kind of cultural interference of the US to invade and dominate Asia” and showed how much it is alert about RFA’s influence.

About this kind of phenomenon, Mr. Han said, “Until 2000, social and educational broadcasting of KBS were popular among the North Korean people, now they trust FRA much more as reliable news source.”

The study guide also emphasizes importance of fighting against outside influence in every parts of living including hair style, manner of greetings, and eating habits. The government of North Korea is ultimately trying to strengthen internal control.

Lee Young Hwa, director of RENK, criticized the North Korea government at the conference saying, “Kim Jong Il’s conspicuity of controlling hair style and eating habits of the people who are starving to death is a maneuver that must be completely destroyed.”


Trading Ideals for Sustenance

Monday, July 4th, 2005

Los Angeles Times
Barbara Demick

For most of her life, Kim Hui Suk had spouted the sayings of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung and never for a moment harbored a doubt: Capitalists were the enemy. Individualism was evil.

But then disaster rained down on her hometown, Chongjin, on North Korea’s remote east coast. Factories ran out of fuel. Food rations stopped. Watching her family slowly succumb to the famine — her mother-in-law, husband and son eventually would die of starvation — Kim realized she had to change.

Once a stickler for following the rules, she bribed a bureaucrat so she could sell her apartment. Then, with no business skills other than the ability to calculate on an abacus, she used the proceeds of the sale to set herself up in a black market business, hawking biscuits and moonshine she brewed from corn.

Kim could have been sent away for life for such crimes. But obeying the rules would have meant a death sentence.

“The simple and kind-hearted people who did what they were told — they were the first to die of starvation,” said Kim, a soft-spoken grandmother who now lives in South Korea and has adopted a new name to protect family members still in the North.

The famine that killed 2 million North Koreans in the mid-1990s and the death of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, in 1994 sparked vast changes across the secretive communist country.

Markets are springing up in the shadows of abandoned factories, foreign influences are breaching the borders, inflation is soaring and corruption is rampant. A small nouveau riche class has emerged, even as a far larger group has been forced to trade away everything for food.

This is the picture of life in North Korea as painted by more than 30 people from Chongjin, the nation’s thirdlargest city. Some are defectors living in South Korea. Others were interviewed in China, which they had entered illegally to work or beg. Accounts of aid workers and videos taken illegally in Chongjin by disgruntled residents were also used to prepare this report.

Although the North Korean regime has a reputation as the ultimate Big Brother, people from Chongjin say the public pays less and less heed to what the government says. There is little that might be called political dissent, but residents describe a pervasive sense of disillusionment that remains largely unspoken.

“People are not stupid. Everybody thinks our own government is to blame for our terrible situation,” said a 39-year-old coal miner from Chongjin who was interviewed late last year during a visit to China. “We all know we think that, and we all know everybody else thinks that. We don’t need to talk about it.”

Kim Sun Bok, a 32-year-old former factory worker who came to South Korea last summer, said the country was “changing incredibly.”

“It is not the same old North Korea anymore except in name.”

Just a decade ago, when people in Chongjin needed new trousers, they had to go to government-owned stores that sold items mostly in drab browns or a dull shade of indigo. Food and other necessities were rationed. Sometimes the government permitted the sale of home-grown vegetables, but even a hairbrush was supposed to be purchased from a state-run shop.

Today, people can shop at markets all over Chongjin, the result of a burst of entrepreneurship grudgingly allowed by the authorities. Almost anything can be purchased — ice cream bars from China, pirated DVDs, cars, Bibles, computers, real estate and sex — for those who can afford the high prices.

The retail mecca is Sunam market, a wood-frame structure with a corrugated tin roof that is squeezed between two derelict factories.

The aisles brim with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, scallions, watermelons and cabbage, as shown by rare video footage taken last year by the Osaka, Japan-based human rights group Rescue the North Korean People. Everything else comes from China: belts, shoes, umbrellas, notebooks, plates, aluminum pots, knives, shovels, toy cars, detergents, shampoos, lotions, hand creams and makeup.

Each of Chongjin’s seven administrative districts has a state-sanctioned market. Sunam, the city’s largest, is expanding, and some say it has a wider variety of goods than the main market in Pyongyang. Many vendors wear their licenses pinned to their right breasts while the obligatory Kim Il Sung buttons remain over the heart.

Although markets have been expanding for more than a decade, it was only in 2002 and ’03 that the government enacted economic reforms that lifted some of the prohibitions against them. Most of the vendors are older women such as Kim Hui Suk, a tiny 60-year-old with short, permed hair and immaculate clothing.

She was working in the day-care center of a textile factory in the early 1990s when production ground to a halt. Men were ordered to stay in their jobs, but Workers’ Party cadres at the factory started whispering that the married women, or ajumas, ought to moonlight to provide for their families.

“It was clear that the ajumas had to go out and earn money or the family would starve,” Kim said.

She first tried to raise pigs, locking them in a shed outside her downtown apartment building and feeding them slop left over from making tofu. But the electricity and water were too unreliable to keep the business going.

In 1995, Kim sold her apartment in the choice Shinam district and bought a cheaper one, hoping to use the proceeds to import rice from the countryside. But that too failed when she injured her back and couldn’t work.

The family’s situation became dire. Her husband’s employer, a provincial radio station, stopped paying salaries, and food distribution ended. In 1996, her mother-in-law died of starvation, and her husband the following year.

“First he got really, really thin and then bloated. His last words to me were, ‘Let’s get a bottle of wine, go to a restaurant and enjoy ourselves,’ ” Kim recalled. “I felt bad that I couldn’t fulfill his last wish.”

In 1998, Kim’s 26-year-old son, who had been a wrestler and gymnast, grew weak from hunger and contracted pneumonia. A shot of penicillin from the market would have cost 40 won, the same price as enough corn powder to feed herself and her three daughters for a week. She opted for the corn and watched her son succumb to the infection.

But Kim did not give up. She swapped apartments again and used the money to start another business, this time baking biscuits and neungju, a potent corn moonshine. If buyers didn’t have cash, she would accept chile powder or anything else she could use.

“We made just enough to put food on the table,” said Kim.

Much of Chongjin’s commerce is still not officially sanctioned, so it has an impromptu quality. Money changes hands over wooden carts that can be rolled away in a hurry. Those who can’t afford carts sell on tarpaulins laid out in the dirt.

Fashion boutiques are slapped together with poles and clotheslines, enlivening the monochromatic landscape with garish pinks and paisleys. Some clothes have the labels ripped out and vendors whisper that these items came from araet dongne or the “village below,” a euphemism for South Korea, whose products are illegal in the North.

Shoppers can buy 88-pound sacks of rice emblazoned with U.S. flags, and biscuits and corn noodles produced by three factories in Chongjin run by the U.N. World Food Program — all intended to be humanitarian handouts.

Some people cut hair or repair bicycles, though furtively because these jobs are supposed to be controlled by the government’s Convenience Bureau.

“They will bring a chair and mirror to the market to cut hair,” Kim said. “The police can come at any moment, arrest them and confiscate their scissors.”

Another new business is a computer salon. It looks like an Internet cafe, but because there’s no access to the Web in North Korea, it is used mostly by teenagers to play video games.

More products are available, but inflation puts them out of reach for most people. The price of rice has increased nearly eightfold since the economic reforms of 2002 to 525 won per pound; an average worker earns 2,500 won a month — about $1 at the unofficial exchange rate.

World Food Program officials in North Korea say the vast majority of the population is less well off since the economic changes, especially factory workers, civil servants, retirees and anybody else on a fixed income. But there are those who have gotten rich. Poor Chongjin residents disparage them as donbulrae, or money insects.

“There are people who started trading early and figured out the ropes,” said a 64-year-old retired math teacher who sells rabbits at the market. “But those of us who were loyal and believed in the state, we are the ones who are suffering.”

If Chongjin’s economic center is Sunam market, its political heart is Pohang Square, a vast plaza dominated by a 25-foot bronze statue of Kim Il Sung.

The grass here is neatly mowed, the shrubbery pruned and the pavement in good repair. Even when the rest of the city is without electricity, the statue is bathed in light. Across the street, a tidy pink building houses a permanent exhibit of the national flower, a hybrid begonia called Kimjongilia, named for current leader Kim Jong Il.

Since the practice of religion is barred, Pohang Square stands in as a spiritual center. Newlyweds in their best clothes pose for pictures, bowing to the statue so that their union is symbolically blessed.

When Kim Il Sung died on July 8, 1994, half a million people came to Pohang Square to pay their respects in the pouring rain and stifling heat. But among the adoring multitudes, there were malcontents.

One was Ok Hui, the eldest daughter of entrepreneur Kim Hui Suk. Though she dutifully took her place in the throng, any sadness she felt came from a foreboding that Kim Jong Il would be worse than his father.

“I went day and night along with everybody else. You had to…. But there were no tears coming from my eyes,” recalled Ok Hui, now 39, who did not want her family name published.

Ok Hui worked for a construction company’s propaganda unit, a job that entailed riding around in a truck with a megaphone, exhorting workers to do their best for the fatherland. But she didn’t believe what she preached.

Her father had taught her to doubt the regime. As a reporter and member of the Workers’ Party, he knew more about the outside world than many people and realized how far North Korea lagged behind South Korea and China.

“He and his friends would stay up at night when my mother was out, talking about what a thief Kim Jong Il was,” Ok Hui said.

Her mother, though, remained a firm believer. “I lived only for the marshal. I never had a thought otherwise,” said Kim Hui Suk. “Even when my husband and son died, I thought it was my fault.”

Ok Hui and her mother frequently clashed. “Why did you give birth to me in this horrible country?” Ok Hui remembers taunting her mother.

“Shut up! You’re a traitor to your country!” Kim retorted.

“Whom do you love more? Kim Jong Il or me?” her daughter shot back.

The regime was probably less beloved in Chongjin than elsewhere in North Korea. Food had run out in its province, North Hamgyong, earlier than in other areas, and starvation rates were among the highest in the nation.

Chongjin’s people are reputed to be the most independent-minded in North Korea. One famous report of unrest centers on the city. In 1995, senior officers from the 6th army corps in Chongjin were executed for disloyalty and the entire unit, estimated at 40,000 men, was disbanded. It is still unclear whether the incident was an attempted uprising or a corruption case.

Chongjin is known for its vicious gang wars, and it was sometimes difficult to distinguish political unrest from ordinary crime. There were increasing incidents of theft and insubordination. At factories, desperate workers dismantled machinery or stripped away copper wiring to sell for food.

Public executions by firing squad were held outside Sunam market and on the lawn of the youth park, once a popular lover’s lane.

In a village called Ihyon-ri on the outskirts of Chongjin, a gang suspected of anti-government activities killed a national security agent who had tried to infiltrate the group, former kindergarten teacher Seo Kyong Hui said.

“This guy was from my village. He had been sent to inform on a group that was engaged in suspicious activities,” she said. “They caught him and stoned him to death.”

Work crews went out early in the morning to wash away any anti-regime graffiti painted overnight, according to human rights groups, but most people were too scared to express their discontent. Badmouthing the leadership is still considered blasphemy.

To discourage anti-regime activity, North Korea punishes “political crimes” by banishing entire families to remote areas or labor camps.

“If you have one life to live, you would gladly give it to overthrow this government,” said Seo, the teacher. “But you are not the only one getting punished. Your family will go through hell.”

Even as Kim Jong Il’s regime weakens, many of its stalwarts are growing richer. Many of Chongjin’s well-to-do are members of the Workers’ Party or are connected to the military or security services. In the new economy, they use their ties to power to trade with China, obtain market licenses, extract bribes and sell bureaucratic favors.

“Those who have power in North Korea always figure out ways to make money,” said Joo Sung Ha, 31, who grew up in Chongjin and now works as a journalist in Seoul.

Joo was the pampered only son of a prominent official, and his family lived in Shinam, in the city’s northern hills overlooking the ocean. By the standards of South Korea or China, the single-family homes with lines of fish and squid drying from the roofs are nothing special. But for North Koreans, these are mansions.

The Joo family had a 2,000-square-foot cement-block house and a walled garden about twice that large. The garden proved crucial in protecting the family against the famine, though they had to contend with hungry soldiers who would scale the walls and steal potatoes and cabbages.

North Korean families like to measure their status by the number of wardrobes they own, and Joo’s family had five — plus a television, a refrigerator, a tape recorder, a sewing machine, an electric fan and a camera. They didn’t have a phone or a car — at that time those were unthinkable even for a well-off family — but they did have a bicycle.

“The appliances were of no use after the electricity ran out,” Joo said. “The bicycle was the most important thing, because the buses and trams stopped running.”

Joo attended the best elementary school in Chongjin, the city’s foreign language institute, and eventually the country’s top school, Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. He never met a native English speaker in the North, or any foreigner for that matter, but he trained his ear with videotapes of the BBC and banned Hollywood films.

“I sometimes watched ‘Gone With the Wind’ twice a day. Anybody else would have been arrested for watching Hollywood movies,” he recalled.

Joo’s glimpses of Western culture eroded his loyalty to the system. “I saw myself 20 years down the road in the prime of my career and North Korea would be collapsing,” he said.

While many of his classmates went to work for the regime’s propaganda news service after graduating, Joo arranged to return to Chongjin, where he taught high school until he escaped in 2001.

“The people from our neighborhood couldn’t understand,” said Joo, who stays in contact with his family. “They thought I had everything.”

Kim Hye Young, an actress, was also a child of privilege. Her father, Kim Du Seon, was an official of a trading company that sold mushrooms and fish in China. He learned how to navigate the bureaucracy, using his connections with the army and security services.

“If one of [the officials] had a wedding in the family, they would come to me for a couple of cases of wine,” the older Kim said.

As trade with China became more important, the family prospered. They took drives in a company car and ate at Chongjin’s nicest restaurant.

Growing up, Kim showed a flair for theater, and through her acting became a member of the elite in her own right. Her best-known role was in a play called “The Strong and the Righteous,” in which she portrayed a spy who sacrifices her life for North Korea.

When the production won first place in a Pyongyang drama festival in 1996, she got to meet Kim Jong Il. Still breathless with the memory, she said the leader shook her hand and gave her a fountain pen.

“I knew that I, as an actress, had an important role to promote the ideology of my country,” Kim said.

Kim and her sisters were largely oblivious to the famine, and their mother said she took pains to shelter them.

“My daughters don’t know to this day how many children in our neighborhood starved to death,” said her mother, Choe Geum Lan. She also didn’t tell them that their father, as a result of his business trips to China, had become increasingly pessimistic about North Korea’s future.

In 1998, when Kim was home from Pyongyang on vacation, her parents told her the family was going to visit an aunt in Musan, a city near the Chinese border. It was not until they had crossed to the other side that Kim and her teenage sisters, were told they had defected.

Kim, now 29 and advertising toothpaste on South Korean television, is one of the few defectors who says she didn’t want to leave.

“I was content with my life,” she said.

Today, North Korea’s elites are even better off, buying telephones for their homes and even cars.

“For $4,000 or $5,000, anybody can buy a car now. It used to be that you weren’t allowed to register your own car. We couldn’t dream of it,” said Kim Yong Il, a defector from Chongjin who lives in Seoul.

Recently, he arranged to have a computer smuggled from China to his relatives in Chongjin. North Korea’s state-run companies don’t have computers, so they’re eager to hire people who do. “If you have a computer, you can get a job,” he said.

Visitors have been shocked to glimpse the new conspicuous consumption in Chongjin.

Jeung Young Tai, a South Korean academic who was in Chongjin delivering South Korean government aid, noticed a paunchy man standing in front of the Chonmasan Hotel next to a new Lexus.

And at a hot spring in Kyongsong, on the city’s outskirts, he saw a woman carrying a lap dog — a striking sight in a country where there is so little food that the only pets usually are goldfish.

“You get the sense that there is a tremendous gap between rich and poor and that the gap is growing,” Jeung said.

The flip side, of course, is that the poor are getting poorer.

In Chongjin, those at the very bottom of the heap can be found at the train station.

The cavernous building boasts a large portrait of Kim Il Sung above the entrance and a granite-faced clock that rarely tells the right time. In front is a vast plaza crammed with people waiting for trains — sometimes for days, because the trains have no fixed schedules — and people waiting for nothing at all.

These are the homeless, many of them children. They’re called kotchebi, or swallows, because they wander the streets and sometimes between towns in search of food. Many gravitate to Chongjin station, because it is a major hub and the travelers have more to give.

A video shot last year by a military official and sold to Japan’s NTV television captured barefoot children near the station in torn, filthy clothing fighting over a nearly empty jar of kimchi. One boy scooted along the pavement on his buttocks; the narrator said his toes had been eaten away by frostbite.

Kim Hyok knows how easy it is for a child to end up at the station; he spent the better part of two years living there.

“If you can’t find somebody or they left their home, chances are you can find them at the station,” said Kim, now 23 and resettled in South Korea.

Kim’s mother died when he was a toddler, and he was raised by his father, a party member and an employee of a military unit that sold fish in China. During his early childhood, Kim, his father and elder brother lived in relative comfort in a high-rise apartment in the Sunam district.

When the government stopped handing out rations in 1993, Kim’s father used his connections to place his sons in an orphanage 60 miles away.

Kim, who was about 12 at the time, wasn’t sorry to be sent away. It was considered a privilege because the orphanages had food.

In 1997, just before his 16th birthday, Kim “graduated” from the orphanage. He caught a train back to Chongjin, but when he got to his neighborhood, things looked unfamiliar. The electricity was off. Many apartment buildings had no glass in the windows and appeared vacant.

Climbing the eight flights in pitch dark to his family’s unit, he heard a baby crying and wondered whose it might be. Confused and scared, he knocked on the door.

A young couple opened the door and told him his father had moved long ago but left a message: Look for him at the train station.

The phenomenon of vagrancy is testament to how much North Korea has changed. Before the famine, the government controlled people’s movements so strictly that they could not dream of visiting a relative in a nearby town without a travel permit, let alone selling their homes. Not showing up for work could bring a visit from police.

But as people embarked on increasingly desperate hunts for food, families broke apart. With few telephones and a barely functional postal service, parents and children became separated.

“People just started wandering around because they were hungry,” Kim said. “They would sell their apartments for a few bags of rice.”

Kim never found his father. He also never found his brother, who had left the orphanage a year earlier.

With no place to go, Kim ended up at the train station. By night, he slept squeezed into a narrow space designed for a sliding iron gate. By day, he loitered near the food vendors on the plaza. He often worked with a gang of other kids — a few would topple a vendor’s cart and the others would scoop up whatever spilled.

“If you’re not fast, you can’t eat,” said Kim, who even today in South Korea bears the signs of chronic malnutrition, with a head that looks oversized on a shockingly short frame.

Kim began hopping the slow-moving trains that pass through Chongjin on their way to the Chinese border. Once on board, Kim would scramble up to the top of a car, flatten himself to avoid the electric lines above and, using his pack as a pillow, ride for hours.

At the border, he would wade across the river to hawk the items in his pack: household goods on consignment from Chongjin residents, who were selling off their possessions.

In 1998, Kim was arrested by Chinese authorities, who do not recognize North Koreans as refugees. He was sent back to North Korea and spent two years in a prison camp before escaping again in 2000 to China, where he was eventually taken in by missionaries and brought to South Korea.

For every homeless person who survived, many more likely died. Kim Hui Suk recalled a particularly ghoulish scene at the train station.

“Once I saw them loading three bodies into a cart,” Kim said. “One guy, a man in his 40s, was still conscious. His eyes were sort of blinking, but they still were taking him away.”

Although the ranks of the homeless have thinned since the height of the famine, North Korean residents say their numbers are still considerable.

“If somebody disappears, you don’t know whether he dropped dead on the road or went to China,” the coal miner said.

About 100,000 North Koreans have escaped to China in the last 10 years. Many have ended up returning to North Korea, either because they were deported or because they missed their families. They often bring back money, goods to trade and strange new ideas.

Smugglers carry chests that can hold up to 1,000 pirated DVDs. South Korean soap operas, movies about the Korean War and Hollywood action films are among the most popular. Even pornography is making its way in.

This is a radical change for a country so prudish that until recently women were not permitted to ride bicycles because it was thought too provocative. Seo Kyong Hui, the kindergarten teacher, said that when she left North Korea in 1998, “I was 26 years old, and I still didn’t know how a baby was conceived.”

Even today, women are prohibited from wearing short skirts or sleeveless shirts, and both sexes are forbidden to wear blue jeans. Infractions bring rebukes from the public standards police.

But it is a losing battle to maintain what used to be a hermetic seal around the country. Just a few years ago, ordinary North Koreans could make telephone calls only from post offices. Dialing abroad was virtually impossible. Now some people carry Chinese cellphones and pay for rides to the border to pick up a signal and call overseas.

Smugglers also bring in cheap Chinese radios. Unlike North Korean radios, which are preset to government channels, the Chinese models can be tuned to anything, even South Korean programs or the Korean-language broadcasts of Radio Free Asia.

In the past, being caught with such contraband would land a person in political prison. Nowadays, security personnel will more likely confiscate the illicit item for personal use.

When a policeman caught Ok Hui, the entrepreneur’s daughter, with a Chinese radio in 2001, the first question he asked was, “So how do you work this thing?”

She wrote down the frequencies for South Korean radio stations.

“Don’t you have earphones so you can listen without anybody hearing you?” the officer then demanded.

North Korea instructs its citizens that the country is a socialist paradise, but the government knows outside influences can puncture its carefully crafted illusions.

“Bourgeois anti-communist ideology is paralyzing the people’s sound mind-set,” warns a Workers’ Party document dated April 2005. “If we allow ourselves to be affected by these novel ideas, our absolute idolization for the marshal [Kim Il Sung] will disappear.”

Among those who make it to China, many describe a moment of epiphany when they find out just how bad off North Koreans are.

Kim Ji Eun, a doctor from Chongjin, remembers wading across the partially frozen Tumen River in March 1999, staggering to a Chinese farmhouse and seeing a dish of white rice and meat set out in a courtyard.

“I couldn’t figure it out at first. I thought maybe it was for refrigeration,” recalled Kim, who now lives in South Korea. “Then I realized that dogs in China live better than even party members in North Korea.”

Many Chongjin residents who are caught trying to flee the country end up back in the city, behind the barbed wire of Nongpo Detention Center.

It sits near the railroad tracks in a swampy waterfront area. Prisoners are assigned back-breaking jobs in the nearby rice paddies or brick factory, where the workday begins at 5 a.m.

Ok Hui was one of those who served time in Nongpo. A rebel by nature, she had become fed up with North Korea and a difficult marriage.

In September 2001, during one of several failed attempts to escape, she was arrested in Musan and brought back to Chongjin by train. Guards tied the female prisoners to one another by tightly winding shoelaces around their thumbs.

In Nongpo, the inmates bunked in rows of 10, squeezed so tightly together that they had to sleep on their sides. Newcomers sometimes had to bed down in the corridor near overflowing toilets. Meals consisted of a thin, salty soup, sometimes supplemented by a few kernels of raw corn or a chunk of uncooked potato.

“The walls were very high and surrounded by wire,” Ok Hui said. “One woman tried to climb the wall. They beat her almost to death. You can’t imagine. They made us stand and watch.”

One day, when she was assigned to work in the fields, she spotted an old woman. She took off her underwear and offered it to the woman in exchange for sending a message to her mother. Underwear is scarce in North Korea, so the woman accepted and agreed to send a telegram to Ok Hui’s mother.

With her market earnings, Kim Hui Suk bought 10 packs of cigarettes for a security official to arrange her daughter’s release.

Some days later, the prison administrator came to talk to Ok Hui and other female prisoners who were picking corn. They were all due to be freed shortly, and the administrator urged them to resist the temptations of capitalism and imperialism, and to devote themselves to North Korea.

Then, he asked for a show of hands: Who would promise not to run away again to China?

Not a single woman raised her arm.

“We were all just thinking that our whole lives we had been told lies,” Ok Hui recalled. “Our whole lives, in fact, were lies. We just felt this immense rage toward the system.”

The prison administrator looked at the women squatting sullenly in silence in the cornfield.

“Well,” he said, “if you go again to China, next time don’t get caught.”

Forty days after her release, Ok Hui escaped again to China and made her way to South Korea. She used $8,000 in resettlement money from South Korea’s government to pay a broker to smuggle her mother out of North Korea. Today Ok Hui works in a funeral home and her mother as a housekeeper.


North Korea Development Report 2003/04

Friday, July 30th, 2004

KIEP has published the North Korea Development Report 2003/04 (follow the link to download all several hundred pages!)

Summary: As a result of North Korea’s isolation from the outside world, international
communities know little about the status of the North Korean economy and its
management mechanisms. Although a few recent changes in North Korea’s economic system have attracted international interests, much confusion remains as to the characteristics of North Korea’s recent policy changes and its future direction
due to the lack of information. Therefore, in order to increase the understanding of readers in South Korea and abroad, KIEP is releasing The North Korea Development Report in both Korean and English. The motivation behind this report stemmed from the need for a comprehensive and systematic investigation into North Korea’s socio-economic conditions, while presenting the current status of its industrial sectors and inter-Korean economic cooperation. The publishing of this second volume is important because it not only supplements the findings of the first edition, but also updates the recent changes in the North Korean economy. The topics in this report include macroeconomics and finance, industry and infrastructure, foreign economic relations and inter-Korean economic cooperation, social welfare and science & technology.

This report also covers the ‘July 1 Economic Reform’ launched two years ago and
subsequent changes in the economic management system. The North Korea
Development Report helps to improve the understanding of the contemporary North
Korean economy.
Table of Contents  
Part I Macroeconomic Status and Finance
Chapter 1 Current Status of the North Korean Economy and Its Prospects
Chapter 2 National Financial Revenue and Expenditure
Chapter 3 Banking and Price Management

Part II Industrial Management and Problems
Chapter 4 The Industrial Sector
Chapter 5 The Agricultural Sector
Chapter 6 Social Overhead Capital
Chapter 7 Commerce and Distribution Sector
Chapter 8 The Defense Industry

Part III International Economic Activities
Chapter 9 Foreign Economic Relations
Chapter 10 Special Economic Zones
Chapter 11 Inter-Korean Economic Relations

Part IV Social Security and Technology Development
Chapter 12 Social Security and Social Services
Chapter 13 Science and Technology Sector

Part V The Recent Economic Policy Changes
Chapter 14 The Contents and Background for the Recent Policy Changes
Chapter 15 The Features and Problems of the Recent Economic Policy Changes
Chapter 16 Prospects and Future Tasks of the July 1 Economic Reform  


Infiltrators of North Korea: Tiny Radios

Monday, March 3rd, 2003

From the New York Times
James Brooke
March 3, 2003 

As the Pentagon studies moving tons of military hardware within striking range of North Korea, some say the weapon most feared by the Stalinist government there may be a disposable radio the size of a cigarette pack.

“Little throwaway radios, you listen, you throw away — the smaller the better, the more disposable, the better,” said Pastor Douglas E. Shin, a Korean-American human rights activist who advocates smuggling thousands of tiny radios capable of receiving foreign broadcasts into the North.

The radio smuggling is part of a growing public and private effort, including foreign radio broadcasts, to crack an information monopoly in the North that has helped keep the Kim family in power for nearly 60 years. So tight is the information blackout that defectors report that they believed that their country — one of the world’s poorest — was wealthier than South Korea and that the United States donated rice as a form of tribute to the powerful Communist state.

In January, in a bid to emulate the experience of East Europeans in the cold war, Radio Free Asia and Voice of America doubled their hours of Korean-language broadcasting into North Korea. In February, Radio Free Asia joined Voice of America in broadcasting into North Korea on medium wave, a bandwidth accessible with cheap AM radios.

But the first challenge, skeptics note, is that few people in the North have the radios — or the courage — to listen to foreign broadcasts, something that advocates of the tiny disposable radio say they are determined to change.

Under threat of severe penalties, the vast majority of North Korea’s 22 million people are not allowed any contact with the outside world — letters, telephone calls, travel, radio or television programs.

All citizens are required to register their radios with the local police. On registration, foreign-made radios are tuned to the state radio frequency, soldered into place, and sealed. The police then make unannounced inspections of households with foreign-made radios to verify that they have not been tampered with.

“A lot of people in the White House believe the Iron Curtain came down because U.S. government radio supplied the information that created the Velvet Revolution,” said an American diplomat here, referring to Czechoslovakia’s revolt against Communism. “But in the case of North Korea, is it the sound of one hand clapping? Is it getting in there?”

Advocates of smuggling radios into the North, mostly human rights and Christian church groups, say their effort is aimed at ensuring that someone is indeed listening. Even if only a tiny elite tune in, they say, the effect can be powerful.

“The populace will suffer a kind of psychological collapse when they learn what has been done to them and what the real world is really like,” predicted Radek Sikorski, who grew up listening to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe in communist Poland and now works at the American Enterprise Institute.

“Control of information,” he said, “is absolutely crucial to the survival of this regime because the system is based on lies.”

In a recent manifesto , Mr. Sikorski joined 16 American policy makers in demanding that the Bush administration tie talks with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program to an opening on human rights, including freer information.

Citing the impact of the Helsinki Agreement of 1975 in undermining the Soviet Union and its East European allies, the group called for “significantly expanding the current, scandalously inadequate Korean-language Radio Free Asia broadcasts.”

Already, in a small office rented on the seventh floor of a Seoul newspaper building, Radio Free Asia broadcasters try to bring to North Koreans four hours of news a day.

“North Korean people are not told the truth, so somehow we have to be surrogates, to tell them what is going on,” said Ahn Jae Hoon, who was born in Pyongyang, North Korea, and became director of the Korean branch of Radio Free Asia in 1997, after 26 years at The Washington Post.

The reports are clearly aimed at undermining the leadership of Kim Jong Il. Some broadcasts report on food and power shortages, others on the image of North Korea as isolated and weak abroad. Still other reports discuss military dissatisfaction and coup attempts in the 1990’s, and the fact that Mr. Kim insists that all soldiers be disarmed before he visits a military unit.

The radio also gives practical information for defectors — how to contact missionary groups in northern China, how to dress and behave to escape arrest and deportation to North Korea.

In contrast, under Seoul’s “sunshine policy” of reconciliation, South Korea’s state-owned Korean Broadcasting Service increasingly airs programs intended not to provoke the North and to promote peaceful coexistence on the peninsula.

On Saturday at a national park near Kosung, North Korea, two park guides spoke dismissively of foreign broadcasts. “Why would we want to listen to radio from the South? No one is stopping us from listening, but we don’t want to anyway,” said Kim Dong Chul, 31. “The music is not our style and the news is not for us. It’s for the people in Seoul.” Another guide, a 26-year-old man who declined to be identified, said, “I don’t have enough time in a day to listen to our radio, and then to listen to radio meant for other people.”

The guides are largely chosen for their political loyalties, because they come in contact with large numbers of South Korean tourists.

Backers of foreign broadcasts, however, say more and more North Koreans are finding ways to tune in.

As trade with China increases and radio prices fall, some North Koreans now buy two radios, but register only one with the police, defectors say. In a country wracked by power shortages, government jamming is spotty. Also, some North Koreans dare to tinker with state-supplied radios, defectors add.

Still, for now, foreign broadcasting is largely limited to North Korea’s elite.

In 1999, Mr. Ahn said, a survey commissioned by Radio Free Asia found that one of 12 “elite” defectors polled had listened to Radio Free Asia. A similar survey in 2001 found that the proportion had risen to 6 of 12.