A Canadian journalist in Pyongyang reports on visiting an experimental capitalistic market in North Korea:
A silent but significant change is taking place in the southern suburbs of Pyongyang. Throughout the day, a steady stream of shoppers comes to the Tong II market to buy scarce consumer goods. The scene is truly revolutionary for this closed communist state. Tong II is an organized, private market. Enclosed in a large structure, thousands of North Koreans search for goods ranging from televisions to food, from foreign cigarettes to shoes. They move from stall to stall. Merchants, registered with nametags, sell their goods. Unlike the state stores, there are no shortages here. Food is in abundance; so is clothing and electronic merchandise. The prices are also much higher than in state stores. Tong II -- "reunification" in Korean -- is North Korea's first formal experiment with limited capitalism.
It took five days of negotiations with officials just to get permission to see the market. Once allowed in, no photos or video of the commerce were allowed. "Maybe in September," officials said, an indication of their unease with this new reality.
And the source of this radical idea? Would you guess China?
Chinese citizens can enter North Korea without visas. Ironically, this is because they are fellow communist states. The Chinese, however, are bringing in vigorous capitalism. Apart from the goods sold in Tong II, Chinese and North Koreans are collaborating in less-formal business relationships. They are "illegally" selling mobile phone services near the frontier. When foreigners arrive in North Korea, they must deposit mobile phones with the authorities. All North Korean cell phones are monitored, but the Chinese cells give North Koreans an opportunity to speak to the outside world without being intercepted. Local officials admit this is a "major problem."
North Korea is without a doubt the most closed society in the world today, with leader Kim Jong Il elevated daily to its people to god-like status. If he takes a cue from the success of China in implementing captialistic reforms, how long can he maintain control over what his citizens learn about the outside world?
China has managed to retain its one party system so far, but with access to technology it becomes more of a challenge to limit outside information to the public. Could this be the first crack in the dam to freedom for the people of North Korea?
This is really a stunning story if this change takes hold. Read the whole thing and scroll up and down for more news from North Korea.