By Deirdre Griswold
Published Jan 17, 2010 8:39 PM
This year’s economic plans in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will put greater emphasis on the development of light industry and agriculture, promising a surge in the living standards of the people.
An outline of these plans was contained in a joint New Year’s editorial that appeared in the DPRK’s three leading newspapers: one representing the party, one the youth and one the army.
For almost a decade, at great sacrifice, the DPRK has had to allocate a large amount of its resources to building up its means of defense. This emphasis took on special urgency when, in January 2002, former U.S. President George W. Bush arbitrarily added the DPRK to the propaganda invention he called the “axis of evil.” Such a pronouncement by the commander-in-chief of the world’s largest military power could only be interpreted as a threat to attack Korea.
At the time, the Bush administration had already embarked on a war in Afghanistan and was threatening to invade Iraq, another country on Bush’s “axis.” Hundreds of billions of dollars were being added to the budget for the Pentagon and other agencies of U.S. aggression and intervention around the world.
The DPRK had to take the threat seriously.
From 1950-53, hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops had invaded Korea and fought a war there against the People’s Liberation Army of the DPRK. The Korean soldiers were bolstered by a million Chinese volunteers, who came across their common border to fight alongside their Korean comrades. Both the Koreans and the Chinese were defending revolutions that had begun in their countries decades earlier, when the masses of people suffered under Japanese troops and puppet regimes. Sweeping to victory when World War II ended in Japan’s defeat, the Korean revolutionaries soon had to fight a second war for national liberation and social justice — this time against U.S. imperialism.
Virtually no family in Korea was left untouched by that war. Millions of civilians and soldiers were killed. At the end, the U.S. continued to occupy the south militarily — and still does. This division of Korea and the constant pressure on the north have been a drag on its economy ever since.
Despite all this, industrialization in the DPRK began almost immediately after the armistice in 1953, and its economy soon outstripped the U.S.-occupied south. Living conditions for the people rose quickly. Ever since, the socialist system of the DPRK has been able to provide quality free, universal medical care and education to its people.
However, much of this progress was cut short in the 1990s. Not long after the fall of the Soviet Union, which had been an important ally and trading partner of the DPRK, the legendary leader of the Korean Revolution, Kim Il Sung, died. The country then experienced several years of the worst weather of the century, when floods ruined much of its agricultural land and swept away bridges, hydroelectric dams and other important infrastructure.
Add in the increased threats from the U.S., including economic sanctions that still continue, and it is clear that this has been a very difficult period for the Korean people, but one in which their resolve to defend their socialist state has never wavered.
In recent years, the DPRK has announced its ability to defend itself not only with a superbly trained and motivated army but with nuclear weapons. It has staged underground nuclear tests and launched several missiles that could send a warhead thousands of miles if Korea were attacked. Last year, Pyongyang announced it had put a communications satellite in space, launched by its newly developed Kwangmyongsong-2 missile.
Underlying these military achievements is the DPRK’s progress in rebuilding its scientific-technological base on a higher foundation. The joint statement points to its success last year in perfecting new steel-making techniques at the Songjin Steel Complex and in achieving “cutting-edge” computer-guided machinery.
The DPRK registered growth in its economy last year, even as the economy of the south was contracting because of the world capitalist crisis. The joint New Year’s statement credits the unity of the people with the Workers Party of Korea and its leader Kim Jong Il for having turned the situation around so dramatically.
Now the DPRK is poised to take a leap forward in providing more and better consumer goods and services.
At the same time, it is calling for the U.S. to drop the sanctions and join it in signing a peace treaty ending the Korean War. Only an armistice exists — which Washington uses as the basis for keeping some 30,000 U.S. troops in southern Korea to this day. Pyongyang is also calling for Washington to join it in hammering out an agreement to create a nuclear-free Korean peninsula — a reminder that the DPRK was under the shadow of U.S. atomic weapons for more than half a century before it attained a nuclear deterrent of its own.
Griswold has visited both the DPRK and south Korea a number of times.
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