IN A fast-changing region, one thing has long been a constant: the utter disregard that the mafia dynasty ruling North Korea evinces for the welfare of ordinary people. So growing evidence of liberalising reforms in North Korea is tantalising.

“Reform” remains a taboo word in the North. But new measures in the countryside appear to sanction people farming for the market rather than for the state. It represents a tacit abandonment of state collectives in favour of family farming, and seems already to have had an effect. For the first time in decades, North Korea grew nearly enough to feed itself last year. Thanks to better harvests, the North Korean economy could grow by 7.5% this year, compared with annual growth of little more than 1% for a decade, reckons the Hyundai Research Institute, a think-tank in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Asia’s basket case could prove to be its fastest-growing economy.

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