Sign Up

North Korea: Shedding Some Light

What information is available on the last Stalinist vestige North Korea?

November 12, 2002

What information is available on the last Stalinist vestige North Korea?

Hardly anything gets into North Korea except foreign aid. Still less gets out, except for defectors — and rumors about how dreadful things are in this last Stalinist bulwark. Secrecy bordering on paranoia surrounds everything North Korean. Our Globalist Factsheet explores what little we know about one of the globe's blind spots.

How oppressive is the Pyongyang regime?

As of 2002, there are an estimated 200,000 political prisoners — or about 1% of the population — in North Korea.

(Time Asia)

Beyond the 'axis of evil', what other grouping is North Korea part of?

As of 2000, the only countries that have recently passed power from father to son are North Korea, Jordan and Syria.

(New York Times Magazine)

Is there another, more worrisome club, it belongs to?

As of March 2002, seven nations — China, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia — have medium-range ballistic missiles.

(Carnegie Endowment)

Why are missiles not only important for the North Korean military?

As of 2001, up to 40% of North Korea’s exports are missiles which generate as much as $560 million in income.

(Far Eastern Economic Review)

How large is its military?

As of 2003, with 1 million troops North Korea’s army is the third-largest in the world after China and the United States.

(Washington Post)

What characterized the economic development of North and South Korea after 1953?

Immediately after the Korean War, the economies of North and South Korea were about equal in size. As of February 2002, however, South Korea’s per capita GDP is ten times that of North Korea.

(Harvard University)

Why should South Korea be cautious about a possible reunification?

As of 2000, if the two Koreas were united, the cost of bringing the North’s labor productivity to just half the level of the South’s was estimated to be as much as $1.2 trillion.

(Goldman Sachs)

In what shape is North Korea's industry?

As of 2002, North Korean state enterprises often run at only 20% of their capacity, with many industrial plants either useless or obsolete.

(Far Eastern Economic Review)

How does North Korea make ends meet?

As of 1999, the 750,000 Koreans living in Japan send an estimated $600,000 to $1 billion a year in cash and goods to North Korea — a major source of North Korea's capital.

(New York Times)

How much can you buy for a North Korean won?

As of 2002, North Korea’s currency is overvalued at 2.2 won to $1. On the black market, the exchange rate is more like 200 won against $1.

(Far Eastern Economic Review)

How mobile are North Koreans?

As of 2002, there were just 3,000 passenger cars in North Korea — compared with over 9 million in South Korea.

(New York Times)

How mobile is the country's leader?

Since Kim Jong-Il took over power in North Korea in 1994, he has taken only three foreign trips — one to Russia and two to China.

(National Public Radio)

What is a record for Kim Jong-II?

In 2001, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s train journey from Pyongyang to Moscow took nine days — making it the longest official journey ever undertaken by a head of state in modern history.


In which area does North Korea outperform the United States?

As of 1998, 25% of the members of the North Korean People’s Assembly are women — a higher proportion than in the United States Congress.

(United Nations)

Does the United States and North Korea have a "special relationship"?

Between 1994 and 1998, North Korea received $249.6 million in aid from the United States — more than any other Asian country. Of this, $219.5 million — or 88% of the total — was in form of fuel oil and food aid.

(Washington Post)

How long did it take for U.S. and North Korean representatives to meet?

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s July 2000 meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun was the first meeting by a U.S. secretary of state with a North Korean foreign minister since the Korean War armistice nearly 50 years ago.

(Washington Post)

What does poor North Korea have in common with the economic powerhouse Singapore?

As of 2001, Singapore has been ruled uninterruptedly for 40 years by Lee Kuan Yew’s People’s Action Party — a power record matched only by North Korea’s Worker’s Party.

(Time Asia)

What needs to be done to get anywhere near a market-driven economy?

As of 2002, it is estimated that workers’ wages in North Korea need to be increased 10- or 30-fold in order to support the phased abandonment of the ration coupons that have been handed out for decades to pay for food.

(Far Eastern Economic Review)

And finally, who is actually in charge of the country?

As of 2002, North Korea’s former leader — the father of current leader Kim Jong-Il — Kim Il Sung is still the official president — even though he died in 1994.

(Time Asia)