Kim Ga Young
The introduction of foreign information is seen as an important way to influence North Korean society. Recognizing this, the North Korean regime has launched counter-operations warning young people about the dangers of foreign culture and ideas. Recent government media has warned against both official and unofficial contact with the outside world, discouraging cooperation and exchange.
North Korea’s Party-run publication, the Rodong Sinmun, published an article on November 3 entitled, “Let’s thoroughly crush the scheme to culturally inject imperialist ideology.” The editorial argued that young people are the primary target of these efforts.
“If the youth are thoroughly exposed to these ideological efforts, they can easily become caught up in delinquent trends and become a social problem. The youth are adventurous and sensitive to new things, so we need to show deep concern for these ideological efforts,” the article notes.
Many analysts refer to North Korea’s youth as the “Jangmadang [market economy] Generation,” and share the view that this demographic is minimally loyal to the regime and most interested in capitalist culture. For this reason, outside information is seen as a powerful agent for change in North Korean society.
North Koreans are able to access South Korean and foreign products and DVDs/USBs loaded with outside content through the marketplaces and in northern regions near the Sino-Korean border. In addition, some are able to tune in to radio broadcasts that inform them of events in North Korea and the world.
In response, the authorities are ramping up efforts to actively block such information. Securing the support of the younger generation is seen as essential for the continued stability of the regime.
In relation to this development, top-level North Korean defector Thae Yong Ho recently traveled to the US where he spoke on the topic at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), noting that it is “common knowledge that now [the] North Korean population watch[es] South Korean movies and dramas.” This has served to weaken the regime’s power base and the power of national propaganda, thereby “making it possible to think about a civilian uprising in North Korea.”
As the consumption of outside information continues to grow and loyalty declines in North Korea, the authorities are focusing their national consolidation efforts on the Jangmadang Generation.
“If the imperialist ideology and cultural infiltration is allowed to continue, it will spoil the system and bring about our end. The tragic reality is that many socialist states have collapsed, and this is proof [of the danger of outside information],” the Rodong Sinmun article states.
“[The imperialists] make exchanges and cooperation look appealing on the surface, but beneath this, there are open and concealed means being undertaken to circulate reactionary ideology.”
According to testimonies from numerous defectors, the North Korea-Chinese trade relationship, both formal and informal, is said to be a major source of the so-called “capitalist wind,” which introduces foreign products, information, and cultural content into the North.
Analysts say one purpose of the Kaesong Industrial Complex – an industrial park previously jointly operated by North and South Korea – was to show the South Korean way of life to North Korean workers, in the hopes that they would come to believe that the South Korean system was superior. The Moon administration has invited the North to participate in other kinds of exchange programs, but the North has yet to accept.