I have just come across this great piece by B.R. Myers which echoes what I’ve been saying and thinking about the argument that visiting and engaging with North Korea will make a positive difference in the country. Here is the link. http://www.nknews.org/2014/01/subverted-engagement/
This is something that I’ve discovered that many people who want to visit North Korea actually believe. I don’t totally disagree with the concept, I think that engagement with the outside world would help, but I don’t think that engagement that is strictly managed by the state is the kind that will be making a big difference. I have known people who have gone on the trip, and while they have found it worthwhile, it is stage managed to a huge degree.
Seeing foreigners paraded around Pyongyang, seeing them bow to a giant statue of Kim Il Sung, all of this just reinforces what people in North Korea have already been told to believe. Even foreigners are in awe of the god king. Even aid workers have this issue, where even though the state carefully manages the aid so that it goes to politically sound people instead of people in need, and even though aid workers are not allowed to work freely and track the aid, they continue to insist that their engagement is working and helping the people, as opposed to the regime.
The engagement that works isn’t the engagement that is carefully managed by the regime, but it is the unregulated stuff, the sneak listening to South Korean or Chinese radio, or watching foreign dramas that North Korean defectors speak of, not seeing an American or European in a tour group.