Good Friends reports that swine flu has broken out in the northwestern border city of Sinuiju. In addition to testimony from a mother, including rumors of a quarantine of Kaesong, the report describes that medicine sales have been halted on account of the recent currency revaluation.
This report from Daily NK describes how piles of the old currency were being used by arsonists to light up old buildings in an unspecified North Korean city.
The same report describes the anxiety of woman traders in Sinuiju distraught by the currency revaluation:
According to another source in North Pyongan Province, one Ms. Jang, a woman in her 40s living in Yeokjeon-dong, Shinuiju who lives by trading cosmetic products, got such a shock from the news of the redenomination that she became delirious and started yelling criticisms of the authorities, so officials from the National Security Agency had to arrest [her].
The major Chinese news outlets have been quieter today on the currency front, having expressed some disapproval already. However, there has been some interest by Chinese press and readers in a South Korean television series that depicts North Korean spies.
The series has come in for incredible mockery in China because the attire of the agents resembles that precisely of Keanu Reeves in “The Matrix” (talk about dilemmas of globalization!) and, more to the point, because the height of the actors portraying the agents. Quoting the unnamed masses in South Korea, the Huanqiu Shibao states that “Everyone knows that North Korean men are 10cm shorter than South Koreans.” It’s bad enough to be North Korean in China, but this kind of thing adds insult to injury, which I’m quite certain continues on this comments board.
Of course, Chinese opinion on North Korea is anything but monolithic, and the CCP’s lightening of restrictions on Chinese scholars does not axiomatically mean that Chinese scholars will now stand up and condemn North Korean dictatorship. And Chinese scholars can always publish outside of China. Thus we have Qiao Yuchi [乔禹智], director of Korean economic research at Peking University, writing in the Chinese version of Chosun Ilbo of his optimism for North Korean economic reform.
Qiao scrolls through a number of ideas, including the notion that North Korea “possesses the advantage of the late comer” to socialist economic reform and can benefit from the wisdom of Eastern Europe, Mongolia, Vietnam, and China in this regard.
Some new information is also included:
When Wen Jiabao visited Pyongyang, he was accompanied by the North China Development and Reform Commission and the Secretary of Commerce, people who had the ability to decide to complete the investments worth several billion American dollars, but in fact, they did not sign any investment agreements with the North. The two sides announced just something that doesn’t make much sense: agreements on tourism and IT. In this writer’s opinion, it is very likely that North Korea had no person who could properly engage with negotiations along with China, so the two sides did not engage in dialogue.
That’s awfully interesting, isn’t it?
In conclusion, Qiao presents a new metaphor:
It can be said that North Korea is like an iceberg above water; if the initial economic change is too fast (reform and opening up), it becomes very difficult for the iceberg to maintain its shape (political system); if the initial changes melt too slowly (economic sanctions on North Korea), the next time the economic reforms will need even greater efforts, and moreover the submerged part of the iceberg (the lives of the local residents) will also remain frozen. Presently what is needed is what the Daoists call “Tai chi.”
Perhaps Tai chi is needed, but the people on the bottom of that iceberg would probably settle for more protein and a stable currency.
Finally, the Dandong newsline on China’s northeastern border doesn’t appear to have any comment yet on the swine flu in neighboring Sinuiju, but there is this summary from the city’s United Front work bureau on the struggle against counterfeit currency. This kind of thing is only going to get worse, it seems, on account of the North Korean revaluation. As always, the winds from North Korea remain cold, but this time, they bring waves of fluttering and useless blue bills.