Sunday, January 02, 2005
ECONOMIC CHANGE IN P’YÔNGYANG?
If street vendors are any guide, perhaps so.
North Koreans perch in ground-floor apartment windows selling dumplings and cakes, smoked fish, beer and soft drinks, said Leonid Petrov, a fellow at the Korea Foundation in Seoul who visited Pyongyang in August.And, there are small signs of changes in mind-set as well:
People sew or repair clothes from small workshops. At night, vendors set up pojangmachas -- small tents selling street food that are a frequent sight in Seoul.
In markets, vendors hawk Chinese noodles and candy, clothes, bags and boots, Petrov said.
People also can buy secondhand computers and are increasingly going online to chat on the country's internal version of the Internet that is blocked off from the outside world.
"Everything is on sale in North Korea," Petrov said.
New restaurants are springing up in Pyongyang, where business-savvy owners offer dishes on the house and discounts for return customers -- part of a new sense of entrepreneurship that has emerged in the past year, said Kathi Zellweger of the Catholic charity Caritas, who has visited North Korea 47 times -- the last time in September.But, before we get too excited, some words of caution:
"Before, people had no idea about costs or prices. Now, it's dinner table conversation," she said.
The changes also have yet to make much of an impact outside the capital, and government spending still is heavily focused on the country's vast military.
Analysts differ on whether the opening of North Korea's economy amounts to a real change in the isolated regime's thinking or is just a reaction to people taking matters into their own hands to survive.