North Korea will host an international blockchain conference in October, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap. The report cites a radio broadcast from US-based Radio Free Asia as the source of the information.
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According to this report, the conference will begin on the 1st of October in the capital city of Pyongyang, and will run for two days. On the 3rd, industry experts will meet with North Korea’s business leaders.
An anonymous source told Radio Free Asia that North Korea’s motive appears to be to “show off” its technological capabilities.
If true, this is an exciting development on the international stage. North Korea is ruled by one of the world’s few remaining Stalin-style dictatorships, and an international conference could mean that the regime is moving towards opening up.
Glasnost and paranoia
North Korea has been involved in cryptocurrency on a state-sponsored level as a way of circumventing economic sanctions levied upon it by the international community, as we have seen happen in Venezuela and Turkey.
The state has also developed a feared army of hackers who have perpetrated large-scale cyber attacks on foreign soil, despite the country having internet connectivity equivalent to that of “a small corporate office”, according to the South China Morning Post.
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For example, 2017 saw North Korean hackers blamed for a $7 million heist on South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Bithumb, an $81 million theft from the Bank of Bangladesh, and for infecting hundreds of thousands of computers in 150 countries with ransomware called ‘WannaCry‘. Only last week, Russian internet security company Kapersky Labs reported that a North Korean hacking team called the Lazarus Group implanted a virus called ‘AppleJeus’ at an unspecified cryptocurrency exchange.
Politics or economics?
Radio Free Asia, which reported the information, is a nonprofit broadcasting corporation based in Washington DC. Its stated mission is “to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.” It is currently funded by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is an agency of the US government.
It was founded in the 1950s as an anti-communist propaganda arm funded by the CIA, and was relaunched by Congress in 1996 under the International Broadcasting Act of 1994 as “a new broadcasting service to people of the People’s Republic of China and other countries of Asia…[that] would enhance the promotion of information and ideas, while advancing the goals of U.S. foreign policy.”
At the time, the management of the station had wanted to re-name it the ‘Asia-Pacific Network’, considering the original name to be antagonistic, but Republican lawmakers insisted on keeping the original name, according to the LA Times.
Its Chinese and Vietnamese language broadcasts are blocked by those governments. A North Korean representative complained to the UN in 2009 that the US is using this agency to wage psychological warfare.
This conference, if it is indeed happening, shows that political change in North Korea, if it comes, will be the result of economic forces rather that political propaganda, as was the case with the USSR thirty years ago.