You can make a difference in North Korea. Here’s how

North Korea

Random Institute (Random Institute, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Geoffrey See, Founder, Choson Exchange


Just over a decade ago, I visited North Korea for the first time as a tourist. This was in 2007, one year after North Korea’s first nuclear test. The country was on heightened alert; paranoia was in the air.

Travelling out of the country by rail, we tourists were warned not to take photos from the train. I ignored the warnings. One of the guides saw me taking photos and told me to put my camera away. Hours later, as we neared the border with China, the train stopped. I saw the same guide walking down the train aisle with four soldiers. He was asking, “Where is the Singaporean?” I was scared. When they reached me, they told everyone else to get off the train except for me. After more than an hour of questioning, the rest of the passengers were allowed back on and the train continued its journey into China.

I left North Korea first feeling afraid that I had gotten my tour guides, who were good people, into trouble; then I was angry that this world where the Cold War had never ended could still exist – a world marred by mutual suspicion and distrust. But I did not realize that trip would later lead to more than a decade of work with non-profit Choson Exchange, training North Koreans in economic policy, entrepreneurship and business.

 A Choson Exchange training session in North Korea

Image: Choson Exchange

We all see North Korea through various lenses: through the US-North Korea nuclear stalemate, as a national cause for unification, as a human rights and humanitarian crisis, as a “crazy dictatorship”, or as an impoverished state. But after more than a decade in which we have taken close to 200 volunteers to North Korea to train more than 2,000 North Korean researchers, policymakers, entrepreneurs and businesspeople, I have found a country that – as difficult as it is to work with – is full of individuals with aspirations, ambition, entrepreneurship and ideas. Strange as it might be to some, many of the Koreans we interact with – elite or otherwise – debate and disagree on policies; they want their countrymen, families and children to live better lives; and they hope to travel. It is not a monolithic country. People we teach in one department, company or province have different ideas about what reforms are needed to better the economy, or how their country should interact with the world.

Because this is a country of individuals, every person with whom we engage makes a difference. It is easy to believe that North Korea is such a massive geopolitical challenge that only the governments of the United States, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan can tackle it. But individuals can make an impact at a grassroots level that collectively makes a difference. Many years ago one of our volunteers, a lawyer, visited North Korea to share his expertise in business law, and a local asked him what was meant by the rule of law. Excited by his stories about negotiating joint-ventures (how many lawyers get a rapt audience of a hundred for a workshop on memoranda of understanding?), she said she wanted to be a lawyer and asked if we could bring the study guide for the US law school entrance exam. This North Korean, then a fresh graduate, also said that talking to him had changed her opinion of foreigners.

 

We built a network of volunteers to run these programmes in North Korea because we believe that individual grassroot connections can collectively make an impact on the big issue of North Korea’s place in the world, and the myriad of new challenges that will come if the US and North Korea repair their relationship, or if the country opens up or reunifies with South Korea. We want to encourage individuals like you to bring creative solutions to the North Korean issue, to connect with other locals and to engage this challenge in any number of ways. And we believe your ideas and actions will help us resolve this globally important Cold War legacy.

Andrew Kim, who ran the CIA Korea Mission Center and initiated the current rounds of US-North Korea talks, said: “The conflict is not only about denuclearization, it is also about redrawing the geopolitical and geo-economic map for North Korea… Imagine how a successful outcome of the current negotiations would positively impact the people of North Korea, the Korean Peninsula as a whole, the entire region, and the entire world in three to five years.”

It is a global issue, but not one that just belongs to politicians and government officials. This is an issue in which every one of us can make a difference.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

UN chief sends condolences to families of Malawi flood victims

Food safety: Enhancing consumer trust in EU risk assessment and authorisation

This company helps women to become solar entrepreneurs

Continuing incarceration of women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, ‘reprehensible’: UN experts

7 simple steps we can all take to reduce food waste

Globalization is changing. Here’s how your business can adapt

The rise and rise of media on your mobile phone – in one chart

The impact of COVID-19 on the life of the elderly

UN spotlights digitization of audiovisual archives to preserve human history on World Day

Central Africans ‘need our help now’: UN’s deputy relief chief

UN human rights report cites ‘multiple root causes’ of deadly Chile protests

3 important lessons from 20 years of working with social entrepreneurs

Employment: Commission proposes €1.6 million from Globalisation Adjustment Fund to help 400 workers made redundant in Carrefour Belgique

Support ‘winds of change’ in DR Congo to consolidate positive developments, urges UN mission chief

What we take for granted: The EU is not perfect

Healthcare workers’ safety: a forgotten necessity

As COP25 goes into the night, Guterres calls for more climate ambition

European Commission registers Χαλλούμι/Halloumi/Hellim as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)

G20: Less growth, more austerity for developing countries

Germany resists Macron’s plan for closer and more cohesive Eurozone; Paris and Berlin at odds

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “Chinese economy has great potential, resilience and ample space for policy adjustment”, China’s Vice President Li Yuanchao reassures from Davos

Millions denied citizenship due to ideas of national, ethnic or racial ‘purity’: UN rights expert

Paris, Washington, IMF against Berlin and ECB on money and interest

Myanmar: New UN envoy offers to serve ‘as a bridge’, recognizes ‘positive steps’ over Rakhine state

Guinea-Bissau spotlights threats of organized crime, Sahel terrorism in speech to UN Assembly

COVID-19: What you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic on 4 January

Palm Oil: With Malaysia cracking down on production, what’s the alternative?

A Monday to watch the final act of a Greek tragedy; will there be catharsis or more fear?

Data exchanges: Strengthening Europol cooperation with non-EU countries

Migration and rule of law on next ACP-EU Parliamentary Assembly agenda

Violence on the rise in Darfur following Sudan military takeover, but UN-AU peacekeeping mission maintains ‘robust posture’

This is why retail is such a sore point in India-US trade relations

President David Sassoli to visit Skopje: “Remain on the European track”

Former Chilean President Bachelet put forward by UN chief as next High Commissioner for Human Rights

How to keep essential value chains moving during the COVID-19 crisis

Mergers: Commission opens in-depth investigation into proposed acquisition of Metallo by Aurubis

A small group of world leaders are standing together against inequality

EU budget 2019 approved: focus on the young, innovation and migration

Forget 2009, this is the real credit crisis of our time

Energy Union: deals on efficiency targets and governance

UPDATED: Thousands flee fighting around Libyan capital as Guterres condemns escalation, urges ‘immediate halt’ to all military operations

New seat projections for the next European Parliament

The new era of Matriarchy?

4 ways to keep the momentum rolling on mental health

Services are the hidden side of the US-China trade war

Spring 2019 Economic Forecast: Growth continues at a more moderate pace

Visa-free access to the EU for UK nationals and to the UK for EU nationals

Top officials say UN will support Bahamas’ rescue, relief efforts as Hurricane Dorian churns in Atlantic

Budget Committee backs €2.3 million worth of aid to help 550 redundant media workers in Greece

Human rights on film: International festival celebrates mobile phone films for a cause

EU fight against tax-evasion and money laundering blocked by Britain

World Population Day: ‘A matter of human rights’ says UN

Ahead of UN summit, leading scientists warn climate change ‘hitting harder and sooner’ than forecast

The invisible L word: the struggles to achieve SRHR, as HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment for lesbian population

To solve the climate crisis, we need an investment revolution

‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ clean-up project launches trial run: UN Environment

Parliament votes reform for better European Co2 market but critics want it sooner than later

How COVID-19 accelerated the shift towards TradeTech

Why the UK government must do more to boost green revolution

On Brexit: the outcome of UK elections next May to be based on false promises?

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s