Book review: “Europe – North Korea. Between Humanitarianism And Business?”

The book Europe-North Korea. Between Humanitarianism and Business?, edited by Myung-Kyu Park, Bernhard Seliger and Sung Jo Park and published by Lit Verlag, was published in 2010. It is a series of articles by exceptional scholars concerning the current situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and its relations with the European Union.

The findings of the study are based on extensive research carried out by numerous researchers who have prominent experience in the field on North Korean science. The book is a compilation of various articles. The expertise of the contributors is beyond doubt, and so it is no surprise that the quality of the individual articles is usually very high. Many of them are regular visitors to North Korea, and therefore some of their remarks are based upon constructive first-hand testimonies.

The book is composed of an introduction and of four sections, wherein the authors explore different aspects of the cooperation between North Korea and the European Union. The book presents the current situation of international relations between North Korea and the European Union. The authors intend to present the current situation inside North Korea, as well as the role of the European Union in the development of the Pyongyang regime .

The first part, entitled ‘Human Rights, Humanitarianism’, presents a short overview of the question of human rights in North Korea and the role of European organizations in North Korea. Human Rights are one of the most important political expressions of our century. Thanks to an excellent interdisciplinary approach, Myung-Kyu Park, Peter M. Beck, Nicolas Reader, Sung-Jo Park and Dae-Soon Kim show that during recent years, European humanitarian organizations have played a leading role in North Korea. These organizations are also very active in the field of economical training for the North Korean population. The authors report that there is a transition from humanitarian to development assistance in North Korea. Since the food shortage in North Korea is systematic, international aid is necessary. The authors also mention that NGOs should participate in the construction of a self-reliant North Korea, in order to limit the role of these organizations in the long term. Based upon North Korean testimonies, Humanitarian organizations should cooperate with North Korean institutions.

In the section entitled ‘Economic, Political and Ideological Relations between East/West Germany and North Korea and their legacies’, there is a presentation of the prospects and limits of cooperation between Germany and North Korea. the authors Kolja Naumann, Bernd Schaefer and Soon Hyung Yi discuss the evolution of the German economic system and its consequences for cooperation with North Korea. They are especially interested in the question of integrating new German technologies into the North Korean market. The authors are also in favor of promoting cultural and educational diplomacy between Germany and North Korea. They insist that North Korea’s future elites should be educated in countries (such as Germany) which have historical links to North Korea.

The third part deals with some institutional problems which North Korea is facing. The first two articles, ‘Capacity Building for Economic Change in North Korea: The Experience of the Hanns Seidel Foundation’, prepared by Bernhard Seliger, and ‘Specific Structural Features and Future Development Perspectives of the South Korean Gangwon Province’, written by Peter Jurczeka, concern direct contacts between North and South Korea. According to both authors , the complicated relations with North Korea are influencing the development of the province of Gangwon. The authors emphasize that the economy of North Korea is more liberal than in the past. The next articles, ‘Building Up North Korean Foreign Trade Institutions from the Scratch: Lessons from New EU States and ‘The Role of Capacity Building’, prepared by Ralph Wrobel, and ‘Creating a Good Bank for North Korea (and a Bad Bank Within It) – Creative Capacity-Building as a Domain for Asian-European Cooperation’, also prepared by Bernhard Seliger, focus on the financial and commercial institutions of North Korea. In these papers, forecasts concerning the banking system of North Korea are presented. The barriers and limits of the development of the North Korean financial system are also analyzed. The authors stress that sanctions against North Korea are limiting cooperation as well as the development of the banking system in North Korea. For example, we learn that it is impossible to write letters to financial institutions in North Korea.

The fourth part of the book is entitled ‘Investments, Business and Business Schools’. The key aspects of the North Korean economy are presented here (especially the raw materials and tourism sectors). Furthermore, some economical and business North Korean schools are described as being attached to the Korean Workers’ Party and to the North Korean Army. These North Korean educational institutions are especially ?prominent in regions where foreign direct investment (FDI) is important. These business institutions (such as the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology [PUST]) were founded in cooperation with foreign entities. The lecturers are not only from North Korea but also from abroad (South Korea, the United Kingdom, etc.). The Rajin Business University (RBU) is also an important entity. Less famous than the PUST, the RBU especially is  educating the future leaders of North Korea’s Special Economical Zones which are attracting FDI. The scholars who prepared this part of the book claim in a concise paper that the future leadership of North Korea will not be attached to the previously mentioned political structures. Nevertheless, in my opinion this seems to be rather unlikely, at least in the short term. The articles included in this book provide an interesting and valuable snapshot of a period when only a few experts realized that North Korea was indeed reforming itself. The editors were able to recruit a number of relevant political figures to contribute the volume. Their contributions are not primarily of empirical or analytical value, but most importantly reflect the perception of North Korea by the decision-making elite in Europe. It should be mentioned that the above-average price of the book has to be lamented, particularly from the perspective of young scholars. It should be also added that the viewpoint of a North Korean author would also be valuable, but this is missing from this series of articles.

This volume is certainly not the last word on North Korea in the world economy. The book definitely has to be recommended, in particular for those who already possess a basic knowledge of North Korean affairs (especially on the North Korean economy). For students who are focused on North Korea, it is a valuable and rich source of readings on important issues such as relations between North Korea and Europe. Therefore, I would like to recommend this book as one of the best ways to understand the relations between Europe and North Korea. Nevertheless, on one point I would still caution the reader. The North Korean regime still follows totalitarian policies, and the apparatus of terror is still existing in North Korea. The regime still preaches the virtues of the Kims’ system. In order to supplement their information, readers should also have a global view of North Korean society, and so I would like to invite them to read Evadés de Corée Du Nord, a constructive book about North Korean society prepared by Juliette Morillot and Dorian Malovic, two French journalists who also visited North Korea often.

Myung-Kyu Park, Bernhard Seliger, Sung-Jo Park (Eds.). Europe – North Korea. Between Humanitarianism And Business?, Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2010, 327 pp.

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Nicolas Levi

Analyst on North Korean issues

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