Goodness in Illegality

13 11 2014

America and the West, often times in very confused manner, discusses and argues about what things should be legalize, what activities should be banned, etc. The rights and wrongs of a peaceful society colors itself gray, and the relationship of law to higher morality is channeled through much fog. But in a place where rights, any rights, are hard to come by, things start to become naturally clear. A CNBC article titled “How Millennials are shaking North Korea’s Regime” by Heesun Wee reminds us that not all laws are right and not all illegal activity is wrong. It rings true of what once was made clear in this western land by Dr King, Jr, in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:

One may want to ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all”

The black market seems to have been growing and is becoming of potential agent of change from the outsiders perspective. This coupled with the growth of technology, smuggling of pop culture into the North seems to have created fertile soil for change. Even the passing of a generation have contributed to this ‘perfect storm’, where the younger generation no longer remembers any goodness of the NK regime and decreases their loyalty towards country and leadership. There is a hole growing in the hearts of the younger people in NK and individualism is filling it, perhaps even hope. One defector describes:

“The black market generation is someone like me, who experienced the black market when they were young. They never received any rations from the government. They have no memories of the good life,” Park said. “My generation, they’re not really worshiping the Kim regime sincerely, just pretending. That’s what we call the black market generation.”

Wee reminds us though that there still is another factor to keep in mind, which is the political and economic connectedness between the countries of East Asia. North Korea’s economic relationships that would seem legal if transplanted into another country is the very power that perpetuates the totalitarian regime, and it seems that in many ways China is quite an accomplice:

A U.N. panel found a “mature, complex and international corporate ecosystem” of foreign-based North Korean firms and individuals to evade scrutiny of assets, financial and trade dealings. North Korea is experienced in using foreign-based individuals and shell companies—engaged in legitimate business—to mask illicit activities associated with sourcing nuclear, ballistic missile and other weapons of mass destruction.

Even on a refugee issue, it is a well know that China’s repatriation of escaped NK refugees has come under scrutiny. It seems obvious that the human rights issue in NK is inescapably tied to China’s interests and actions. It is difficult to tell if a top-down approach will being about change in both China and NK, it seems rather more likely that, NK’s ‘Arab spring’ will come through a continued infiltration of illegal technology and culture.

Video from CNBC article: (

For North Korean millennials still inside the country, black markets remain a part of their everyday lives. And while there’s no Twitter, YouTube or Facebook to spark mass unrest, pared down technology like laptops, radios and USB sticks are making their way inside, and being shared and discussed. It’s this powerful concoction of outside information and market activities that is fueling incremental transformation. And the younger generation is only getting older and wiser to the ways of the outside world.

“What it adds up to is this really significant social change whereby the North Korean millennials, or as we also call them the North Korean market generation, have this quite different relationship with the North Korean regime than their parents,” said Park of Liberty in North Korea. “In the long term, this looks like it’s going to be a really important factor for change.”

All this is hopeful and good news as one wishing for the country to open, but for the church, one cannot just sit around idle. The once strong Juche ideology of NK is growing weaker as the generation is changing and as great as economics and materialism can be a mechanism towards political restructuring, the church must prepare itself to fill this hole. Such will not only require sharing the gospel, it will take tangible and sacrificial filling of need, if and when there is an outflow of people growing in desire for a ‘better world.’




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