(Dr Andrei Lankov is a lecturer in the faculty of Asian Studies, China and Korea Center, Australian National University. He graduated from Leningrad State University with a PhD in Far Eastern history and China, with emphasis on Korea, and his thesis focused on factionalism in the Yi Dynasty. He has published books and articles on Korea and North Asia.)
Read here original by Andrei Lankov in Asia Times
North Korea is living through a foreign language boom. Learning languages has always been a good way to secure lucrative and prestigious jobs in the country, but in past one had to specialize in Russian, French or English.
These days, Chinese is becoming the most popular choice, more or less equal to English.
And it would appear young and ambitious North Koreans are making the right decision.
The Chinese presence in North Korea is growing fast.
This growth in the Chinese presence is seen by Seoul with certain unease. The scale of activity is unprecedented, and it is well known that trade with or investment in North Korea has seldom been profitable. Throughout the 60-year history of this peculiar place, most trade with Pyongyang has been politically motivated.
South Korean officials, journalists and academics in the last two years have begun to talk about China's "neo-colonial push" toward North Korea.
There are reasons for this suspicion. China has both serious incentives to keep North Korea afloat, and the ability to do so.
Importantly, China has the means to support the North Korean regime.
After all, one or two billion dollars a year are sufficient to keep Pyongyang afloat. This is a large sum, but quite affordable for China.
If North Korea receives such a regular subsidy, in all probability it will try to re-start the former system of complete state control and rationing of consumer goods.
Even though this is incompatible with economic growth, it will help keep the populace both alive and obedient.
There are growing worries that Chinese involvement will not be limited to just shipping trainloads of grain and fertilizer to prevent the North Korean government from collapsing.
More direct involvement in the event of a crisis is possible, up to the point of installing a pro-Chinese government in Pyongyang, according to some observers.
These fears are not necessarily paranoid: if anything, South Korean public opinion is rather pro-Chinese these days.
The existence of prosperous and democratic South Korea means that a complete collapse of the North Korean system will probably lead to a German-style unification.
If this were to happen, the people who run the North now will have no chance of keeping their privileges, and perhaps have reasons to worry about their lives.
Despite recent relaxations, their rule is brutal, and their past deeds, when exposed, are likely to produce cries for revenge.
It is physically impossible to persecute all North Koreans officials, but it is clear that they will not be able to keep their privileged position in a post-Kim Jong-il era.
For the North Korean elite, China might appear to be the lesser evil than their "compatriots" in the South.
China is not famous for its concern for human rights or democracy, and if Beijing establishes in North Korea a sort of friendly dependent government, one can be sure that no questions would be asked about the past of North Korean bureaucrats employed in the new system.
It is clear that, in Beijing, the temptation to keep North Korea under control is high.
Certainly, active intervention in North Korea will undermine the remarkable goodwill toward China, which can be seen among many neighbors as the rising giant.
So, it is more likely that the Chinese will avoid political adventurism and limit themselves to gaining economic advantages in the northern part of the Korean peninsula.
At any rate, it seems that the youngsters flowing to the Chinese language departments in North Korean schools and colleges are making a reasonable choice.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005