Update 2018 – Relations between North and South Korea have improved over the past year to the point where North Korea has now re-set its clocks to be in sync with its southern neighbor.
In yet another bizarre move by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, official time in Pyongyang will officially roll back 30 minutes on August 15th. While not unheard of in the annals of geopolitics (New Delhi and Islamabad diverge by half an hour as well), the move is a decidedly cold war maneuver that matters little to the rest of the world.
Re-jiggering airport information will be relatively easy with so few flights in and out of the capital. Train schedules need little adjustment considering the extremely limited service with China, its only ally (loosely defined).
Why is Kim asserting his right to bend the space-time continuum above the 38th parallel north to the Yalu and Tumen rivers? After executing high ranking leadership and family members it appears that he still needs a symbolic boost to assert a Kim 3.0 leadership. Harkening back to a World War II propaganda cliché he’s freeing North Koreans from the legacy of Japanese imperialism. Little else seems to have changed in the isolated and perpetually dark-after-dusk hermit kingdom.
If waking up to best of 1960’s-styled patriotic music on the government-controlled radio station weren’t enough, the capital’s citizens now sacrifice a ceremonial 30 minutes so the country can exist in a time zone of Kim’s own making.
Unfortunately this will do little to counter endemic poverty, international isolation and the ignominious title of being the only country left in the world still fighting a last century war (if the Iran nuclear deal actually goes through).
Arm-chair criticism aside some change is in the air. Reuters has an official Pyongyang bureau and even the North Korean embassy in Beijing, once a mysteriously inaccessible outpost, has opened its doors to journalists (no questions allowed during press briefings, however).
It looks like Kim wants to engage with the outside world, if only on his own terms and largely with the same missile-rattling and provocations marking over half a century of mistrust. Most recently North Korean soldiers planted wood cased landmines on the South Korean side of the demilitarized zone resulting in two serious injuries to ROK soldiers.
And yet the Kaesong Industrial Complex keeps churning out near slave labor-produced goods where workers, despite agreements to the contrary, receive wages only from the North Korean government and not their South Korean employers.
Manic engagement remains the norm. Hard currency continues to flow north while the DPRK attacks one of its only business partners, no matter what time it is.
In homage to the title of this blog post here’s the 1969 hit by Chicago.