Informal markets help N. Korea survive: expert
Published : Jul 20, 2011 - 09:01
Updated : Jul 20, 2011 - 09:01

North Korea has been able to survive unaffected by Arab Spring-style political unrest due to its tolerance for "inconsistencies" like informal markets within a communist state, a top North Korean expert said Tuesday.

"What makes North Korea still viable and function? We can see all kinds of gaps in this system and one of them is informal markets," Stephen W. Linton, chairman of the Eugene Bell Foundation, said in a seminar here organized by the U.S. Institute of Peace.

He has visited North Korea more than 50 times, most recently in April. His foundation provides medical humanitarian assistance to rural North Korea.

Linton said he has not seen any sign of unrest there.

He was delivering a keynote speech at the forum to shed light on unauthorized markets that have thrived especially in the reclusive communist nation's border areas.

He pointed out that such informal markets have helped fill the gaps between the North's idealistic state-controlled economy and the realistic needs of ordinary people.

"This society would rather tolerate inconsistencies and attempt to organize these inconsistencies on a piecemeal basis than risk itself to another great plan," he said. "North Korea's toleration for inconsistencies is perhaps the secret of its success."

Other experts at the forum agreed that the North's regime is condoning the expansion of a market economy.

"The regime has jumped on the bandwagon of market expansion,"

said Park Hyeong-jung, senior researcher at Korea Institute for National Unification, based in Seoul.

He said state agencies have become dominant players and its agents are the main beneficiaries.

Park, however, said the North's regime has reached a point of political risk from the increased market activities.

Park In-ho, president of DailyNK, an Internet North Korea news service, said it has become impossible for the Kim Jong-il regime to stop the expansion of its market economy.

It is now just letting market activities proceed within the controllable boundary, he said. (Yonhap News)