22 July 2019
Given the right circumstances, North Korea has the potential to become a new 'Asian Tiger', according to an expert. Photo: Reuters
Given the right circumstances, North Korea has the potential to become a new 'Asian Tiger', according to an expert. Photo: Reuters

The ‘real’ N Korea through the eyes of a German scholar

Books on North Korea have been growing in number, with some of them based on real facts, and some written in a sensationalist way.

Recently, a publication titled Nordkorea: Innenansichten eines totalen Staates (English translation: North Korea: Inside View of an Absolute State), written by academic and Korea expert Rüdiger Frank caught my attention.

As a world-renowned economist specializing in East Asian issues, Rüdiger Frank, who was born and raised in the former East Germany, had been studying North Korea for nearly 25 years before he started working on this book.

After the German reunification, Frank spent a substantial period of time learning Korean at the Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, North Korea during the 1990s.

Apart from his unique credentials, what really makes his book outstanding on this subject is that Frank has turned conventional wisdom about North Korea on its head, and provided readers with a radically different perspective.

For example, unlike many other academics who insist that the North Korean economy is on the verge of collapse, Frank believes the country actually has potential for becoming the new “Asian Tiger”.

He even points out that in time, North Korea might outdo the South in terms of economic growth, thanks to its rich natural resources and its relatively smaller population.

Meanwhile, contrary to the prevailing views among many experts, Frank — who currently serves as Professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna and Head of its Department of East Asian Studies — doesn’t see North Korea’s current leader Kim Jung-un as a lunatic at all.

Instead, he thinks the young Kim is in fact a master of brinkmanship who is highly pragmatic, and who would always be rational before making any provocative move.

As far as the prospect of unification between the North and the South is concerned, Frank believes that both Seoul and Pyongyang are going to have a bumpy ride on the issue of reunification, which would definitely prove a very delicate and daunting task.

However, he is confident that as long as there is a “dream”, there is a way, and that reunification would happen eventually.

Frank has cited a lot of solid facts and figures, as well as what he actually saw in North Korea, in his book to support his arguments. That is the reason why his book carries a lot more weight than other similar works.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Mar 1

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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