NEW YORK, May 5, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- In 2016 Michael Pembroke travelled to North Korea with a British expert on artificial intelligence, a retired Norwegian professor of economics and a German economist and internationally renowned expert on North Korea. Pembroke was there for his next book Korea: America's First Failed War with China.
As he explains, Pyongyang is not North Korea. It is a bubble of modern towers, state-of-the-art museums, science palaces, sporting venues, amusement parks and public gardens. The people who live there are the privileged elite. Most have housing and desirable jobs. They support the regime because the regime supports them. Their rewards and inducements have so far insulated them from economic hardship and the effect of sanctions. Their improbable benefits include a beach resort on the east coast and several ridiculously luxe ski resorts in the mountains near Wonsan.
Outside Pyongyang, it is not all bad. Pembroke's group saw numerous indications of increasing small-scale market activity. This unofficial grey economy constitutes as much as thirty percent of the national economy. The Seoul-based Bank of Korea estimates that there has been moderate economic growth in North Korea in recent years. The trade in illicit goods - counterfeit currency, cigarettes, fake pharmaceuticals and narcotics - is part of the picture. But the arms trade is not what it used to be - a direct result of more extensive scrutiny of shipping movements and sanctions.
As Pembroke acknowledges, all may change in the coming year. Nothing is certain. The determination of China's President Xi to enforce United Nations sanctions will probably make a significant difference. And an oil embargo could well be crucial. But the prospect that North Korea will surrender its nuclear and missile arsenal in response to threats, coercion and sanctions is minimal to non-existent.
In Pembroke's view, the only way forward is direct engagement between Washington and Pyongyang. He thinks that there is much that the US could put on the table in return for a denuclearized Northeast Asia – its military bases in South Korea, the annual provocative war games and a peace treaty to end the war.
Pyongyang wants engagement and respect; it wants regime security and state survival; and it wants a peace treaty to end the 70-year war and remove the threat to its existence. Until now, the military mindset in Washington has remained unshakably opposed. Only the mercurial Trump possesses the lateral thinking that could change that.
Diplomacy is not a morality play. Everyone knows that North Korea has its political prisons. But China is the world's top executioner and the United States has the world's highest incarceration rate. No good will come of a policy of non-engagement with North Korea. And be warned - China and Russia have vital economic and strategic interests in Northeast Asia. They do not welcome the heavy American military footprint in the region. And there are already slight signs of an emerging accommodation between Russia and North Korea.
[Michael Pembroke is a writer, historian and Sydney-based Supreme Court judge]
To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit:http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/michael-pembroke-inside-north-korea-300452269.html
SOURCE Michael Pembroke