Is Kim Jong Un Opening Up North Korea?

Fashion, honesty, markets hint at small changes in Pyongyang

By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 15, 2012 9:57 AM CDT

(Newser) – Considering Kim Jong Un has spent much of the first months of his reign test-firing long-range missiles, threatening to kill South Korea's leaders, and generally being bellicose, could it be that the young dictator is actually ready to open North Korea? At least a little? Der Spiegel thinks so, noting several changes in how Pyongyang goes about its odd, authoritarian business. For example, even though North Korea ignored world opinion with the missile launch in April, it also fessed up right away that the rocket was a dud—an embarrassing admission that Kim Jong Il's North Korea never would have made.

In addition to Kim Jong Un's attending a concert with Disney characters and Western music, there are small reports that the country is relaxing its control in other ways. People are allowed more stylish clothes and hairstyles, often mimicking trends from South Korean soap operas. More imported clothing has been turning up in the country's small, private markets, and those markets have been allowed more flexible opening times. And while radios and TVs must still be tuned to official state channels, DVD players are allowed (there's even a DVD player factory in Pyongyang), unofficially allowing in popular Western and South Korean movies and music. But the increased flow of information may have a price, says one expert: "In five to 10 years, the majority of the North Korean population will have learned that they live in a very poor and unusually repressive state."

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un waves at the end of a major military parade to mark 100 years since the birth of the country's founder and his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.   (Getty Images)
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