Richard Lloyd Parry in the Times (£) joins the chorus - North Korea starts sowing the first seeds of freedom:
North Korea is preparing to embark on fundamental and politically risky reforms to its communist economic system which promise to bring glimmers of Chinese-style change to the world’s last totalitarian dictatorship.
The reforms, overseen by the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, appear to be an attempt to salvage an economy which has been stagnating for two decades, resulting in chronic energy and food shortages. But new economic freedoms risk destabilising North Korea’s tightly controlled society and overwhelming the government which sets them in motion.
According to foreign academics and diplomats, talk of reform has been swirling for months, after Mr Kim’s succession as leader on the death last December of his father, Kim Jong Il.
Today, the country’s tame parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), gathers for the second time this year; an unusual occurrence which suggests that urgent business is looming.
In the first major result to emerge publicly from today’s extraordinary session of the North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly, compulsory education in the country has been extended from eleven to twelve years.
Hmm. And here's another report from the Daily NK:
Serious food insecurity in Hwanghae Province has not been alleviated since it emerged back in late Spring, according to Ishimaru Jiro, the director of the Osaka-based ASIAPRESS.
Ishimaru researched the issue between the end of August and early September, speaking to North Korean residents and recent defectors from the area. The results, he told Daily NK, suggest that many in the region are suffering from extreme food insecurity and that this is leading to multiple deaths and other social problems.
“This year has seen people starving and suffering from malnutrition in Hwanghae Province more than at any time since the ‘March of Tribulation’,” Ishimaru told Daily NK on the 25th. “With rations having been cut plus natural disasters like drought, flooding and typhoons, coupled to the indifference of the authorities, the situation has become very serious.”
“The cause is natural disasters plus excessive procurement for the army and for the capital,” he went on. “In particular, instead of actively trying to solve the starvation problem the authorities held off on buying food, collected more than in previous years and spent their money on the missile test, April 15th events and the development of an amusement park instead.”
“Kim Jong Eun is only paying attention to his own duties, while neglecting the starving people and their food problems,” he declared. “Currently, the important thing to him is not the people’s right to food, but civilian management and control so as to maintain the regime.”
Ishimaru added that crime rates are increasing as people fight to get enough food. He cited a case of an old man killed for a single head of corn and a number of knife attacks against people guarding their own homes.
“Currently, people in Hwanghae Province say that the dead are morons and those who steal or kill to survive are heroes,” he added, going on, “The number of kkotjaebi [child beggars] in the regional cities of Haeju and Sariwon is rising, and they are causing many social problems.”
That's the reality, now, despite the continued determination by Western commentators to insist that change must be just around the corner, what with the new Swiss-educated leader and his attractive showbiz wife and all. To quote Bruce Klingner:
Is the new North Korean leader willing to significantly alter his country’s policies, including implementing widespread economic reform? Perhaps. Anything is possible and someday pigs may indeed fly.
Update: yes indeed, what a surprise. Somehow those much-heralded economic reforms never arrived:
North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament closed its session Tuesday, the country's state media announced without making reference to economic reforms widely expected to come from the unexpected meeting of legislators.
Approved in the Supreme People's Assembly meeting, chaired by Deputy Choe Thae-bok, were only a compulsory 12-year education system and personnel decisions at its presidium, the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in an English-language dispatch.
The meeting ended with Choe delivering his closing address, KCNA said, diverging from heated media speculation that discussion of a reformist drive would take center stage of the gathering.
Domestic and foreign media closely followed the session with expectations that it would deliberate on its reportedly ongoing push to renovate its agricultural production system.
The country is widely believed to be forging ahead with an agricultural reform to increase farm production and subdue rising food prices.
Widely believed, in the face of all the evidence.