One of the standard phrases used when speaking of the DPRK (North Korea) is ‘hermit kingdom’. It is meant to portray a country entirely closed off from the world. You can neither enter nor leave, so the assumption goes, and no country or individual in their right mind would want to engage with the DPRK.

I am not quite sure of the source of this idea. To be sure, hostile countries find it impossible to spy on the DPRK, which is not a bad thing. But as for getting in and out of the country, this is quite easy to do. Any number of tour operators can get you there, and you can go to study, teach for a while, and so on.

International relations? Let’s take a sample of some of the latest activities:

In a report on congratulations to Xi Jinping’s election for a second term as president of China, who should be first on the list? Kim Jong Un. Others of course appear, all of them specifically important Asian partners – including Shinzo Abe from Japan.

The Pyongyang Times reports from Mongolia one of the many events – a photo exhibition – celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and the DPRK.

Then there is the ongoing relationship with Nepal, as also with Cuba, Syria, Iran, Mozambique, Nigeria, India, Egypt, Cambodia, Bulgaria, The Netherlands, Singapore, New Zealand  … Russia particularly has regular interaction with the DPRK, with a Russian delegation recently visiting. Of course, we find regular participation in international sporting events, such as football, wrestling, acrobatics and the Olympics.

But the connections with Sweden are perhaps the closest for any country that counts itself as part of Western Europe and the North Atlantic. Diplomatic relations began in 1973, with embassies opened in 1975. They have been close ever since, with the DPRK foreign minister heading for Sweden a couple of days ago to ‘exchange views on bilateral relations and issues of mutual concern’, as Rodong Sinmun puts it.

A ‘hermit kingdom’? Hardly.



In his book on China’s ethnic minorities, Colin Mackerras writes in regard to Tibet: ‘However, what strikes me most forcefully about the period since 1980 or so is not how much the Chinese have harmed Tibetan culture, but how much they have allowed, even encouraged it to revive; not how weak it is, but how strong’. But cultural realities can never be separated from economic questions, especially in light of the Chinese Marxist emphasis on the human right to economic wellbeing.

What do Tibetans themselves have to say about all this. An insight is provided by Tibetan delegates as the two sessions of parliament this year in Beijing. As the Global Times reports:

Kelsang Drolkar, a deputy of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and a village Communist Party chief in Chengguan district of Lhasa, told the Global Times on Monday that she was glad to see Tibet has not become a forgotten area when the country is moving forward to a moderately prosperous society.

National policies, as well as support from other regions across China, have helped the region achieve tremendous changes in the medical, economic and education sectors, and made local people “live a happier and safer life,” she said.

Tibet registered 10 percent GDP growth year-on-year last year, marking the 25th straight year of double-digit growth. Its GDP reached 131.06 billion yuan ($20.5 billion) in 2017.

In 2018, Tibet set a target to achieve GDP growth of about 10 percent, with an 18 percent increase in fixed-asset investment as well as increases of more than 10 percent and 13 percent for urban and rural per capita disposable incomes respectively, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

In 2013, the average yearly income in her village was 10,540 yuan per capita. That number almost doubled last year to 19,550 yuan, Drolkar said.

The Chengguan district has implemented a 15-year compulsory education system from kindergarten to high school. Last year, 93 students from the district were admitted by universities across China, with government covering most of their tuition, Drolkar said.

Bilingual education in schools also contributes to ethnic unity in the region, as learning Putonghua helps Tibetan people understand more about the country and its policies, she said.

Other NPC deputies from Tibet praised past legislative work on national security.

“Laws on national security, counter-espionage, anti-terrorism, activities of overseas NGOs, cybersecurity and national intelligence have provided significant legal support to safeguard national security and the country’s core interests,” Sodar, an NPC deputy and head of Tibet’s higher people’s court, said at a Monday group discussion during the ongoing session of the NPC.

The legislation also provided powerful legal support to combat separatists, terrorists and the Dalai Lama clique, said Sodar.

Tibet had a prospering economy in 2017, with about 44,000 new market entities established in the region, according to local authorities.

The figure brought the total number of registered businesses in the region to 227,000, a year-on-year growth of 19.1 percent, according to Xinhua.

The DPRK newspapers are full of stories concerning the celebration of international women’s day yesterday. KCNA has half a dozen reports, on a celebration at the People’s Palace of Culture, calls to continue displaying revolutionary mettle, the history of Juche-oriented women’s movement in a socialist country, and so on. Rodong Sinmun has an editorial on the theme, while the Pyongyang Times has a fascinating article from which I quote:

A ray of hope flickered for Korean women when President Kim Il Sung started the Korean revolution.

As he embarked on the road of revolution in his early years, he blazed a trail for a Juche-oriented women’s movement, regarding them as a powerful force that turns one of the two wheels of the revolution.

He specified the empowerment of women in the 10-point Programme of the Association for the Restoration of the Fatherland during the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle, and made sure that a women’s union was formed prior to other social organizations and proclaimed the Law on Sex Equality after Korea’s liberation, thereby enabling women to participate in social and political life and economic and cultural life on an equal footing with men.

Thanks to the President’s benevolent affection and trust, Korean women could perform admirable feats for the Party, revolution and country at every period and stage of the revolution, including the periods of a new country building, the Fatherland Liberation War, postwar reconstruction and great Chollima upswing.

Today they lead an independent and creative life as masters and players of the country in accomplishing the revolutionary cause of Juche under the warm care of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.

They take a large proportion of deputies to the people’s assemblies at all levels and render distinguished services to the building of a powerful socialist nation.

As they find their happiness in the country’s prosperity they give full play to their patriotic devotion, creativity and talents in all fields including national defence and building of a socialist economic giant. Their heroic exploits are incorporated in groundbreaking scientific and technological hits, achievements in light industry, agriculture and other economic sectors, sports and art and literature as well as lots of monumental structures including the Paektusan Hero Youth Power Station and large-scale animal husbandry base in the Sepho area.

In the unprecedentedly arduous campaign to defend socialism and the present struggle to build a socialist power, Korean women have played their part in building happy families and bringing up their children to be pillars of the country with warm love and infinite devotion, smiling all hardships away, and volunteered to become spouses of disabled soldiers, adopt orphans and support childless old people.

As there are commendable women emitting fragrance all across this land, Korean socialism is firm and steady and the cause of building a powerful socialist country advances with great vitality.

To which may be added sections from other articles:

All women in the country enjoy respect and love as a powerful force pushing one of the two wheels of the revolutionary chariot and flowers of the country and the times for their important role in various sectors of social life.

Among them are servicepersons who defend the country with an ardent patriotism, officers’ wives who share the same destiny with their husbands in safeguarding the country, deputies to the state power organs, party officials, managers, scientists, actresses and innovators who dedicate their all to the prosperity of the country.

And many laws and social policies like the law on protection of women’s rights and socialist labor law have been enacted to guarantee their rights in the DPRK.

The Korean women’s movement has taken only the road of victory as a revolutionary and militant movement generation after generation and prided itself on being an example of the movement of world progressive women.

Let all women powerfully demonstrate the revolutionary mettle of the Korean women in the all-people general offensive towards the grand festival in September, single-heartedly united around the Party.


As part of my preparation for the second chapter of my book on the socialist state, I am following good Chinese practice: to work carefully through the work of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, before dealing with Chinese developments. Having completed my study of Marx – with some real surprises (summarised earlier) – I am working through all of the relevant material by Engels. Apart from the usual stuff people quote, from Anti-Dühring and Origin of the Family, on the ‘dying away’ or ‘withering away’ of the state (the term was coined by Engels only late in the piece), I have been drawn to his material from the late 1880s on the role of force. He broached this topic in Anti-Dühring, only to feel the need to return to it. The term is crucial for a number of reasons: Gewalt means force, power and violence; it becomes more central as Engels’s approach to the state develops; and it is borrowed (unacknowledged) by Weber in his definition of the modern bourgeois state.

What does Engels have to say about Gewalt. The most insightful work is ‘The Role of Force in History’ (1887), which is a worthy complement to Marx’s ‘Eighteenth Brumaire’. Engels gives the German side of the story, focused on Bismarck, whom he constantly compares to Napoléon III (Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte). Here we find analyses of sovereignty in the modern bourgeois state; how such a state attains a distinctly bourgeois form even when the bourgeoisie does not have direct political power (so the state is not merely a somewhat neutral weapon in the hands of the bourgeoisie); and indeed how military matters are important, drawing from his earlier and insightful military analysis.

But for now I am interested in his observations concerning the developments of bourgeois democracy, with all its constraints and limitations:

If this demanded that the Prussian constitution be treated a bit roughly, that the ideologists in and outside the Chamber be pushed aside according to their deserts, was it not possible to rely on universal suffrage, just as Louis Bonaparte had done? What could be more democratic than to introduce universal suffrage? Had not Louis Napoléon proved that it was absolutely safe – if properly handled? And did not precisely this universal suffrage offer the means to appeal to the broad mass of the people, to flirt a bit with the emerging social movement, should the bourgeoisie prove refractory? (MECW 26, p. 477)

This has already gone beyond what might have been expected: another step towards Korean reunification. As multiple sources report in the two Koreas, a high level delegation from the south has recently concluded a two-day visit to the north. This is the third such event in the last couple of months. They met with Kim Jong Un and other leading officials and put everything on the table.


As KCNA reports: (also here):

Shaking hands of the special envoy and his party one by one, respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un warmly welcomed them to Pyongyang.


Jong Ui Yong courteously conveyed a personal letter of President Moon Jae In to the Supreme Leader.


The members of the special envoy delegation presented gratitude to the Supreme Leader for having dispatched high-level delegations and various large-scale delegations with the 23rd Winter Olympics as a momentum to ensure its successful holding.

Expressing thanks for this, Kim Jong Un said it is natural to share the joy over an auspicious event of fellow countrymen of the same blood and help them. The recent Winter Olympics served as a very important occasion in displaying the stamina and prestige of our nation and providing a good atmosphere of reconciliation, unity and dialogue between the north and the south, he added.


Then he had an openhearted talk with the south side’s special envoy delegation over the matters arising in actively improving the north-south relations and ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

He repeatedly clarified that it is our consistent and principled stand and his fixed will to vigorously advance the north-south relations and write a new history of national reunification by the concerted efforts of our nation to be proud of in the world.

After being told about President Moon Jae In’s intention for a summit by the special envoy of the south side, the Supreme Leader exchanged views and reached a satisfactory agreement.


He gave an important instruction to the relevant field to rapidly take practical steps for it.

He also had an exchange of in-depth views on the issues for easing the acute military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and activating the versatile dialogue, contact, cooperation and exchange between the north and the south.

The talk proceeded in a compatriotic and sincere atmosphere.

The dinner afterwards was also celebrated in a ‘warm atmosphere overflowing with compatriotic feelings’.


What, exactly, is a ‘satisfactory agreement’? Moon Jae-in’s office clarified, after the southern delegation returned:

  1. A summit next month between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in, to be preceded by discussions over a ‘hotline’: ‘The South and the North have agreed to set up a hotline between their leaders to allow close consultations and a reduction of military tension, while also agreeing to hold the first phone conversation before the third South-North summit’.
  2. The topics: denuclearisation, believe it or not, which also entails that ‘military threats against North Korea removed’ and the safety and security of the state ‘be guaranteed’.
  3. A promise from Kim Jong Un ‘not to use not only nuclear weapons but also conventional weapons against the South’.

Obviously, these developments were unexpected only a few months ago. But Moon Jae-in has perhaps an even more delicate diplomatic task, given the fact that 20-30,000 US forces occupy the south. So, on the one hand he stresses the need for US-DPRK talks (to which the north has agreed) and the need to keep ‘sanctions’ in place with the aim of full denuclearisation. But as he does so, he also observes:

The dismantlement of the (North’s) nuclear program is the end goal. But given that the immediate dismantlement of it may be difficult, I think we can go through a certain road map before reaching that dismantlement stage.

In other words, we’ll get on with talks aiming at reunification and peace on the Korean peninsula even if the aims of others are a long way off. Or, as the Unification Minster of the south put it, the ‘government will utilize the current momentum to develop inter-Korean ties in a stable manner and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula’.

Meanwhile, what is the USA doing as all this happens? It is largely reduced to flapping at the sidelines, with Trump employing the great diplomatic tool of twitter as a sign of sheer uselessness. But these developments have a history, apart from the consistent north Korean policy of reunification, without outside interference, peacefully and through a federal system. Already at the ASEAN summit last year, the USA was sidelined. Asian countries realised that the USA is in serious decline and no longer a major player, so they began finding ways to solve their own problems. Clearly, Kim Jong Un has seen the opportunity to act on long-standing policy in the north – as his new year statement made clear. But so also has Moon Jae-in, once the bluster from the US passed. It seems as though the Koreans are genuinely trying to deal with their own problems.

Now, all of this may not lead to anything, but I do find that I get more optimistic as I get older. So it seems that Kim Jong Un may well be a greater statesman than many might have expected.



Since it is difficult to get concrete details about the two sessions of China’s parliament underway at the moment, here is a table with Premier Li Keqiang’s proposals for targets in 2018:

The all-important ‘two sessions’ (lianghui) are underway in Beijing. These are the National People’s Congress (NPC), the highest law-making body in China, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which provides advice and recommendations to the NPC. You can watch a brief video about the two sessions of 2018 here. These two sessions are perhaps even more important this year after the landmark 19th congress of the CPC in November of 2016.

During the first session of the CPPCC, Xi Jinping and others met with representatives from other political parties, those without party affiliation and returned overseas Chinese. Among other items, Xi stressed the following (quoting from Xinhua News – see also a later piece in the People’s Daily):

President Xi Jinping Sunday called the system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) “a great contribution to political civilization of humanity.”

It is “a new type of party system growing from China’s soil,” said Xi …

Xi said the system is new because it combines Marxist political party theories with China’s reality, and truly, extensively and in the long term represents fundamental interests of all people and all ethnic groups and fulfills their aspiration, avoiding the defects of the old-fashioned party system which represents only a selective few or the vested interest.

The Chinese system is new, Xi said, because it unites all political parties and people without party affiliation toward a common goal, effectively preventing the flaws of the absence of oversight in one-party rule, or power rotation and nasty competition among multiple political parties.

The Chinese system is new, Xi said, also because it pools ideas and suggestions through institutional, procedural, and standardized arrangements and develops a scientific and democratic decision making mechanism.

It steers away from another weakness of the old-fashioned party system, in which decision making and governance, confined by interests of different political parties, classes, regions and groups, tears the society apart, he said.

Fitting China’s reality and fine traditional culture, it is “a great contribution to political civilization of humanity,” he said.

Xi said upholding the CPC leadership was not meant to do away with democracy.

Instead, it aims to create a form of democracy that is broader and more effective, he said.

The CPC-led system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation stresses both the CPC leadership and socialist democracy which features political consultation, participation in the deliberation of state affairs, and democratic supervision, he said.