By Kang Hyun-kyung
Nearly 1 million North Koreans are reportedly using mobile phones.
Despite this, one U.S. official believes that technology-driven change similar to that seen in some parts of the Arab world last year is unlikely to take place in the “Hermit Kingdom” in the near future.
“It will be very difficult for technology to drive change in North Korea, given the extreme measures that North Korea has taken to create a media blackout,” Alec Ross, a senior advisor for innovation at the U.S. State Department, said in an interview with The Korea Times Friday.
“They have isolated themselves completely from the global economy and from global media. I think it’s very hard for technology to drive change in a place where they are willing to damage themselves economically and isolate themselves in the world by cutting themselves off.”
Ross, who was in Seoul last week for a three-day visit, made the remarks when asked if he saw any possibility that an Arab Spring-like revolution could take place in North Korea.
During his Seoul visit, Ross met government officials and social media influencers to talk and listen about ways to enhance diplomacy through technology and social media.
He said the trip was part of his job to figure out how the State Department can help innovate diplomacy and use social media to communicate with people.
Regarding social media, Ross said it played a certain role in the Arab Spring but it was overstated.
“A lot of people call the Arab Spring a Twitter revolution or a Facebook revolution. I reject that characterization,” he said. “That suggests people rebel because of Twitter or Facebook. I think people rebel because of frustrations with corruption, high food prices, a lack of economic participation and a lack of democracy.”
The U.S. official said social media made the movement faster but was not the source of the revolution.
This time last year, with the popular uprisings spreading across the Arab world, pundits here remained skeptical that such a revolution could take place in North Korea.
They pointed to the North’s lack of social media and the suppression of people’s ability to express their own ideas or hold rallies. Dissidents are sent to prison camps notorious for their inhumane treatment of people and abuses of human rights.
Such factors would make it difficult for North Koreans to organize protests against the regime, analysts said.
About a week ago, President Lee Myung-bak said North Koreans’ growing awareness of the outside world could perhaps be a driver for change in the future.
He said North Korea, not outside forces or foreign countries may be able to change the isolated nation at some point in the future.
Answering questions from senior journalists on March 12 in Seoul, Lee said he believed North Koreans are more likely to change the regime than South Korea.
Lee didn’t elaborate much on this. Given his previous remarks on the same issue, his comments were construed as meaning North Koreans are more exposed to the outside world than in the past. And he hoped their awareness could someday trigger change in the country.