Tuesday, December 20, 2005

One Reactor, Two Reactor, Three Reactor, Fore!?

Avid readers of the sections of the newspaper that are only going to affect our lives if government is made "small enough to drown in a bathtub" will already know that North Korea has launched its newest gambit in it's cataclysmic game of Russian Roulette.

Sure, North Korea is a bit rough around the edges, but it has to have some degree of sophistication--how else would it be getting the resources and know-how to re-start two of it's reactors, not to mention BUILD a new, more technologically capable one. One surprising element of the announcement isn't that the North Koreans are exposing their lemming-like cliff-diving urges, but that Japan had such a strident response.

The normally staid and reserved Japanese Foreign Ministry came out with such a searing criticism.

"It is going to be suicidal for North Korea to pursue that course. This is going to undermine the whole rationale of six-party talks."
While the Japanese tend not to be overly fond of North Korea's regime, they don't often come out and talk of something as suicidal. It may be a normal way to describe a really stupid 4th and short play-call on Monday morning, but not Japan's Foreign Ministry.

There's something more interesting happening in North Korea than just new reactor construction however, and this hasn't drawn nearly the same kind of Foreign Ministry response from the international community.

And it might be much more important for the long term growth, happiness, and international integration of North Korea into the international community: A GOLF COURSE.

While I admire the confidence of a country whose economy isn't conducted in cash or currency to try and develop a tourist trade, I have a question that is a bit more of a challenge to answer: between building nuclear plants and golf courses, where is North Korea getting the money? They don't really produce good for export (I mean, why export when you don't use money), they don't have tourism to bring in money (2 flights a week from Beijing), when the rare North Korean is allowed out of the country...say to the U.S. for a major meeting...when they go shopping they bring home aspirin, not Gucci. None of these are signs of a country in any way capable of financing these projects.

So what gives? Where is the money coming from?

When I left China--granted, 2.5 years ago--one of the major causes of concern in Jilin province was the influx of heroin into the province. Heroin? What? Isn't that all down in the golden triangle, thousands of miles to the south or in Afghanistan? Well, it used to be. Many of the provincial authorities in Jilin are much more concerned with the influx of heroin from North Korea. A combination of rising affluence and growing displacement have led to large increases in drug addiction China's North East in the past few years. And almost all of the drugs, apparently, are coming from North Korea.

Which leads to the next question: Why is China seemingly so complacent on North Korea's burgeoning drug-trade, when it is the Chinese themselves who are paying for the consequences? The last time China was well-known for it's opium dens-- the 19th century--it was because foreign businessmen (Americans and Brits, mostly) kept bringing in opium and selling it to Chinese. Get a Chinese talking about it at the right time, and you can just see the anger rise as the indignity of it wells up.

So is drug importation by "poor-neighbor" Asians better than by rich barbarian Anglos? The short answer is probably, "yes. no." Clearly, short answers aren't going to work.

My guess is that the drug trade in North East China is A. under close government and/or military scrutiny; B. providing huge profits for the units (or commanders) involved; C. is seen by the Chinese as the only life-line North Korea's starving people and decayed regime have before collapsing into a chaos that would be worse for North Korea than the present situation, and disasterous for China.

As always, China's self interests are served by the policies they pursue. A collapsed North Korea will send refugees pouring across the border into parts of China that are not economically prepared to deal with an influx of millions of moderate- to low-skilled workers; the region already has enough of those in the form of the people that haven't already fled south as intra-Chinese economic migrants.

A few drug addicted/AIDS infected Chinese as a result of the North Korean drug-trade seems a small price to pay in order to buy time to try and find other means of getting North Korea to be less of a "problem child" and more of a rule-follower on the international stage.

Which still hasn't answered the question: How can North Korea afford construction at 3 reactors AND a golf course (I mean, even if Tiger doesn't design it, it probably wont come cheap)??? Without any basis for fact, here's my guess: N. Korea's pouring almost everything it has into the reactors. On the international bargaining stage it has created, the reactors (or threat of them) is all that's left for NK. The Golf Course then? Actually, it's answered in the story...funny what I get from reading past the first paragraph...
Even as he spars with the United States over nuclear weapons, President Kim Jong Il has handed two areas totaling 800 square miles to South Korean businessmen on the gamble that allowing foreigners to frolic on the beach, play golf and open factories will generate hard currency without undermining the rest of his self-proclaimed "socialist paradise."
But even politically this is a gamble. If it succeeds, Kim Jong Il has created a precedent of basically granting rights to foreign companies to come in and profit without paying much for the territory they need (can you say Manhattan?). If it fails, (as I'm guessing it will because who wants to volunteer to become a hostage?), it means MAJOR setbacks for North Korea's quest to earn hard currency and legitimize it's governement.

1 comment:

alektra said...

And this was my first reaction when I read about the reasoning behind it. It took a while to get a reaction, because I just was slack-jawed at the logic, but here it is:

How sexist. How can it be a socialist paradise if they're trying to build the economy based on golf, the #2 boys' club? (#1 being stripclubs, of course)

And yes, I know women can golf. They can go to strip clubs, too. It just seems to make their coworkers uneasy.