Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Economic Boycott Impels Concessions in North Korea

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Economic Boycott Impels Concessions in North Korea

Article excerpt

THIS giant port and steel complex on North Korea's east coast, where industrial fumes paint the sky in hues of pink, black, white, and orange, is looking less and less like the "worker's paradise" it was supposed to be.

The harbor has become nearly empty of ships and the steel plants are short on fuel. And despite propaganda posters that try to persuade people they have "nothing to envy," food is scarcer than in the past and workers are told to put in extra time because the economy has hit the skids.

"North Koreans are physically tired," says a Western diplomat in Pyongyang. "An economic decline is forcing the regime to make the people work harder."

The decline, estimated at more than 3 percent last year, also helps account for the fast-changing attitude of North Korea toward rival South Korea, the West, and its own nuclear program.

"The changes are for our own survival and to keep up with the world trend," says Kim Dal Hyun, North Korean deputy premier for external economic cooperation. "We plan to deal with capitalist countries and to internationalize our economy."

Since being cut off from the economic succor of the Soviet empire last year, the communist government in Pyongyang has tried to win aid and investment from free-market nations but has been stymied by a boycott led by the United States, South Korea, and Japan.

"Such pressure goes against the new way of thinking in the world, and it is like the cold-war domination," says Song Rak Un, head of the North American department in North Korea's Foreign Ministry.

The US and its allies are withholding economic help in order to halt the North's alleged nuclear weapons project, which threatens stability in northeast Asia. Having learned lessons from Iraq's evasions of nuclear inspections, South Korea and the US are demanding that the North follow a two-track inspection of nuclear sites.

The primary inspections would be conducted by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As a back-up, the two Koreas would hold mutual inspections of each other's nuclear sites, whether civilian or military. North Korean officials say they do not believe statements that the US withdrew nuclear weapons from South Korea last year.

Both the economic boycott and the loss of barter trade with socialist states have forced North Korea to give in to demands for inspections as well as on other issues, such as signing a nonaggression pact with the South and promising to allow cross-border visits of families separated by the 1950-53 war that divided the peninsula.

On May 4, the North provided the IAEA with a 100-page description of its nuclear plants at Yongbyon, about 60 miles north of Pyongyang, opening the way for inspections within a few weeks. And in high-level meetings with South Korea May 6-8, the North made a verbal promise to agree on mutual inspections by mid-June. …

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