Every nation has its priorities and for North Korea it is all about image. Most people see that in terms of North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. But there are other equally important (to the North Korean leaders) issues that get little publicity, and that is intentional. In mid-2017 North Korea ordered its secret police to expand its operations in northeast China (the area just across the northern border) so as to suppress news about the growing number of senior and mid-level officials who are, often with their families, illegally leaving North Korea.
If a free nation builds a border wall it’s to keep people out who aren’t willing to come in legally under that nation’s immigration laws. If a dictatorship builds a wall, whether it’s brick and mortar or by threat of death for any who attempt to leave, it’s to keep people in. Here’s what happened to one family that escaped NK by making it out to China:
The single incident that prompted this new secret police effort was the suicide of one of these families (all five of them). The five took poison after being arrested by Chinese police and facing repatriation to North Korea, where they entire family would probably die anyway but more slowly and painfully. The secret police were ordered to increase efforts to prevent such defections in the first place. That will be difficult because the mood among many North Korean officials can best be described as suppressed (so the secret police don’t take note) panic and increased efforts to escape from the country and get to South Korea.
In North Korea people are so desperate to escape they’d rather die than continue to live under Kim’s oppression:
Senior North Korean officials who have gotten out in the last few years all agree that Kim Jong Un is considered a failure by more and more North Koreans and that his days are numbered, even if China does not step in and take over beforehand. Yet these senior officials report that Kim Jong Un could keep his police state going into the late 2020s. But time is not on his side and the signs backing that up are increasingly obvious. Kim Jong Un has triggered a trend that will destroy him and nothing he does seems to fix the problem. He believes having workable nukes and a reliable delivery system (ballistic missiles) will enable him to extort the neighbors for enough goodies to bail him out. That is a high-risk strategy. Kim Jong Un is betting everything on this and none of the potential victims seems ready to give in and are instead planning to meet nuclear threats with force not surrender. Escalation and intimidation work both ways.
Kim has made himself fat with rich food and ice cream, while his subjects are malnourished and some are literally dying of starvation.
The result is one Kim may not like:
Coming Up Short
North Korea has reduced its physical standards for military service. Previously conscripts had to be 150 cm (59 inches) tall and weigh at least 48 kg (106 pounds). But that standard has been reduced over the last decade to 137 cm (54 inches) and 43 kg (95 pounds).
Meanwhile South Korea is having a growth spurt and within a generation, South Korea managed to transform its economy from one of the poorest to one of the richest in the world.
Does Kim think he can go to war with a bunch of 95-pound, starving 15-year olds? Maybe he should stop hogging all the ice cream his poor country can import.