A Korean defector-run website reported on 16 June that absenteeism is rising at a mine in North Pyongan Province, North Korea because workers aren’t getting their state-issued supply of food [and there is no other supply of food]. Why is this news important? Two reasons:
- We know about it. It took years for details on the depth of North Korea’s mid-1990s battle with mass starvation to emerge. Now, thanks to cell phones and defectors with contacts in the North willing to risk death camps, the outside world’s timeline has shrunk to weeks and days. Historical writing is interesting, real-time information is useful. Knowledge of current conditions inside the North allows the outside world, including, of course, the U.S. and South Korea, to craft more accurate policies, ones that target the regime’s weaknesses and hopefully prove more successful in achieving outside goals.
- Miners have long been among the most valued and rewarded members of North Korean society. If even they are suffering, then the degree of current economic difficulties in the North is severe and approaching the mid-90s low point. Starvation, troubles in the showcase mining industry, an ill leader, and an approaching dynastic succession, not to mention nuclear weapons and a relatively advanced missile development program, all combine to point toward an especially unsettled near-term future for North Korea, the Korean peninsula, and northeast Asia.