December 27, 2011 11:48
Dr. John Linton, the director of International Health Care Center at Yonsei University's Severance Hospital in Seoul, has visited the North Korea 23 times since 1997.
Also known by his adopted Korean name In Yo-han, Linton on Friday told the Chosun Ilbo striking changes are underway in Pyonyang. "When I went there recently, I found the Ryugyong Hotel, a 105-story skyscraper which had been a skeleton for the past 20 years, suddenly covered with windowpanes and construction almost complete."
Linton visited the North for five days in May. "I was surprised to see many young people talking on mobile phones in the streets of Pyongyang," he said. "The streets used to be shrouded in darkness at night, but this time I saw nearly all street lights on and I even some neon signs."
The reason seems to be new-found liquidity as a result of trade with China, he said. He predicted that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's death could provide an opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations.
"Kim Jong-un, who will lead the North in the future, and some new-generation North Koreans have studied abroad and are familiar with computers and other electronic gadgets," he said. "This could lay a promising groundwork for change in the North."
But South Korea and the U.S. have very little understanding of the North, he said, and urged South Korea to take good care of Korean-Chinese people and North Korean defectors.
"North Koreans' main sources of news about South Korea are defectors and Korean-Chinese people who have worked here. If they tell their relatives in the North that South Koreans are well off but South Korea is a tough place to live, it will be difficult to inspire changes there from the bottom up."
The South Korean government's decision not to send an official delegation to Kim Jong-il's funeral, he said, was wrong. "No matter how hostile your neighbor was when he was alive, it's a kind of Korean tradition that anything is forgiven and accepted at funerals," he said. "A condolence visit by the South Korean government could provide an opportunity for thawing inter-Korean relations."
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