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Korea – 15 years after the war: A model for other developing countries

Orientering August 24, 1968


The 27. July 1953 – well over 15 years ago – ended the Korean War. Except for the first few months after the ceasefire and the division of land along the 38. latitude, has heard little about the development of the northern part of the country – the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. From the South, news from the US press has occasionally come up with news of positive economic development, while the North has only been mentioned in side sentences – and preferably as a contrast to the positive democracy that must have developed in the South.

In recent years, however, North Korea has again been featured in the newspaper headlines. First in 1965, when the South Korean and Japanese governments signed the so-called normalization agreement, then this year, when South Korean agents kidnapped South Koreans in West Germany who should have spied for North Korea, and finally in connection with the launch of the US spy ship Pueblo in Korean territorial waters. 

But the economic development of the People's Republic of Korea is little known in ours as in other western countries.

Economic wonder

Korea used to be a prominent agricultural country – and it still is. But the economic development has led to a strong transformation of North Korean society. By the liberation in 1945, 76 percent of the population worked in agriculture – today 40 percent. Today, the industry accounts for 75 percent of gross domestic product, compared to just 25 percent in 1945.

Industrial development made a strong jump in the five-year plan period 1957–60. The value of industrial production increased 3,5 times during this period, while the production equipment and consumables had a corresponding increase. During this period, the average annual increase in industrial production was 36,6 per cent. Later, the increase in industrial production has stabilized at about 18 per cent, but this year one expects an increase of 25 per cent. Experts expect the People's Republic of Korea to be industrially at a significantly higher technical level than China.

This in itself is startling, but what first and foremost gets the British economist Joan Robinson, who has visited the country, to speak of the fact that the Korean miracle far exceeds all other so-called economic miracles, is the development of agriculture. South Korea was originally the entire country's grain chamber, while the North had the smallest of industry after the US "United States Forces" bombing in 1953. In the North, land reforms have been carried out so that today's agricultural units consist of 80- 300 families on 500 acres. With the major development of technical aids, irrigation systems, fertilizers, etc., food production has increased by approx. 20 percent annually, so North Korea is not only self-sufficient today with agricultural products, but is an exporter of rice.

development Model

Ex-country experts have recently turned their eyes to North Korea as a model for developing countries. Pierre Jalie calls in the book Developing countries in the world economy North Korea is the foremost country in the socialist camp, both in agriculture and undoubtedly in industry. The same author estimates that North Korea produces 56 percent more food per head than China.

North Korea has achieved an economic surplus through agriculture, which has been used for a planned expansion of the country's industrial potential. Contributing to the formation of this surplus has been the egalitarian income policy – an engineer can earn a maximum of 10 times more than the basic income – and a central planning that has enabled the rational use of production resources. Seasonal unemployment is practically gone, including other forms of unemployment and underemployment. 49 percent of the workforce are women, while women make up 51 percent of the population. 

The strong economic growth has been followed by a systematic development of social care and the school system. The health care is free, as are the many kindergartens – and also schooling which is mandatory from 7 to 16 years. The retirement pension represents about 50 per cent of salary whether one continues to work or not. The working day is 8 hours, 6 hours for heavy and hazardous work, and the holiday is 14 days or one month for heavy workers.

Remarkably, all this is achieved with a very high population growth, about 3 per cent per year.

"Korea makes the Berlin Wall look like a reef." South Korea has also experienced growth in industrial production, but growth is concentrated on the light industry. For example, South produces only 10 percent as much steel as North. South Korea's economy is an import economy while foreign capital is encouraged by cheap labor for industrial investment. Currently, South Korea has large revenues as a result of the Vietnam War.

Officially, there are approximately 700 unemployed people in South Korea, but Observer claims on April 000, 16.04.67 that the number of unemployed and underemployed persons is probably close to a quarter of the unemployed.

Strictly speaking, no relationship between South and North Korea exists, because, as Observer says, "the South Korean government will not risk closer contact until it is more confident of its own internal stability and economic strength." In order to prevent contact with the North, the provisions of the National Security Act are implemented hard-handed. The law prohibits any actions or words that "can lead to results that benefit Communists." This law, according to Observer, has primarily been used to prevent any serious discussion of relations with North Korea. Observer's conclusion is that Korea makes the Berlin Wall look like a reef – and this iron blanket is due to South Korea.


The North Koreans themselves claim that the year 1956 was decisive for the successful economic development, 28.12.55, the president of the Korean Workers' Party, Kim Il Sung, presented a new political line that gradually became applicable to all sections of Korean social life. This policy and principle on which it is based is known by the name of Juche.

Kim Il Sung has defined Juche as follows:

"By the creation of Juche, we believe that we must adhere to the principle of solving all the problems associated with the revolution and the reconstruction of the country in accordance with the conditions in our country, and mainly by our own forces." (Kim Il Sung On the Socialist Construction in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Revolution in South Korea).

This principle, which is not unknown in Eastern Europe – the last term used in the Danube Declaration – was used in North Korea. The historical traditions and geographical conditions in this country have become the guiding principle for everything that is done, and not the experiences and methods that have been developed in other countries. In a revolutionary struggle, the Koreans claim, there can be no fixed formulas or examples blindly followed and mechanically copied. Historical experience has taught Koreans that one cannot avoid a number of mistakes and defeats if one blindly relies on foreigners' assessments of conditions in their own country. "We must not act on orders or instructions from others, but resolve all issues in accordance with our own judgment," says Kim Il Sung.

Juche meant that North Korea made every effort to become financially self-sufficient. The five-year plan 1957-60 was based on the Juche principle. Of course, the country deals with other socialist countries (and preferably with others), but the entire economy is built on independence and independence. Only in this way, the Koreans argue, can the inequalities between nations be removed, and only then can the country successfully build socialism to gradually transition to communism.

Juche is also the guide for the foreign policy of the People's Republic of Korea, and the Koreans emphasize that in international conditions the principles of full equality, independence and mutual respect must be followed. What it means when the nearest neighbor is called China is easy to understand.

The Juche principle is fundamental to understanding Korean politics. It is followed in all circumstances. Solutions other countries have come up with are only used where they are compatible with Korea's own situation. Even in the question of the reunification of the country, the North Koreans claim this principle. Foreign powers should not be the driving force in the reunification. It should be the Korean's own work. 

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