Hoiryeong Incident: Next Phase of Regime Collapse?

[imText1]The Daily NK reported, quoting North Korean informers, that a platoon of border guards in Hoiryeong district committed a mass defection.

The border guards reportedly escaped the central party’s combined inspection squad’s arrest and were pursued by North Korean agents in Manchuria.

The reliability of the news seems very high since more than one inside-source provided the news. If so, it must be treated as one of the most shocking North Korean news of these days.

So far, the North Korean state has been gradually collapsing through a series of phases. The first phase was the demise of an administrative system, most importantly the food distribution system which began in the early 90’s. Individuals had to legally or illegally seek food by wandering around the country or crossing the Sino-Korean border. Unfortunately, many starved to death.

The second phase occurred in the late 90’s as the previous was finalized and a new system became stable. The so-called new system was never seen or experienced by North Koreans. Bribery became rampant in the food chain and the fundamental of state structure. Though corruption was present in North Korea even before that time period, the level of intensity since the late 90’s could be no match.

Surprisingly, the food chain was relatively stable. First, there was so many people who accepted or had the power to accept bribery. Anybody with even a small amount of authority could be entitled to receive extra cash in their pocket. Since the number of beneficiaries of corruption was huge, there was less dissatisfaction.

Secondly, bribery was occurring in a reactionary structure. Money entered into the lower echelon of bureaucracy then lifted up again and again. So it was deemed safe. Even though the act of dishonesty was caught by security officers, one could always bribe them into safety.

Such systematic corruption in North Korea has remained stabilized. This is noteworthy because in any Third World country extreme corruption usually leads to pandemonium.

However, the mass defection of border guards reveal a huge problem in the seemingly stable food chain of North Korean bribery. The job of a border guard is a very lucrative in North Korea and especially so in Hoiryeong. The guards who defected must have accrued a lot of money, enough to bribe any approaching National Security Agency inspection team. Nevertheless, none of the guards could fend off investigation and they were left with no other option but to escape. How can we explain these turn of events?

Whether or not Kim Jong Il fully comprehends the food pyramid of bribery, he would certainly consider it as violation of his total authority. So Kim might have ordered his most loyal and ruthless bureaucrats or army to crush the fraudulent activities. Therefore, conflict between Kim Jong Il’s divine authority and practicality but corrupted food chain system materialized.

There might not be further defection of other guards. Yet faith in the safety of a bribery structure has been shattered. This could lead to uneasiness among those who partook in the system and accumulated wealth. They can even choose to follow the defected border guards into China along with their cash.

Although the final result of the defection incident has not yet been shown, it indicates a turning point between the second phase and the third of the collapse of the North Korean regime. The reactionary system of corruption has proved to be incapable of coexisting with the ancient regime under Kim Jong Il.

In the third phase of collapse, North Korea’s two opposing structures would contradict each other. Not just between an ancient regime and a food chain of corruption but also between the old system and market, new culture and outside information. Still the battle with systematic corruption would be most decisive, since it relies on people’s living and interest, and the fight would inevitably result in cracks to the current North Korean regime.

Through these cracks, fundamental inconsistency between freedom-seeking North Korean populace and Mafia-like, warlord-style dictatorship of Kim Jong Il would strike the next fatal blow to the regime.

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