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CNN Today

North Korea Exhibits Intriguing Signs of Change

Aired October 23, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: After a half century in Cold War isolation, an ice-breaker in North Korea. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the history books today, becoming the highest- ranking U.S. official to visit Pyongyang. She held unprecedented talks with Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Their three-hour meeting could pave the way for President Clinton to visit North Korea after the U.S. election.

Washington wants Kim to abandon his missile programs and take steps to get off the U.S. list of nations that sponsor terrorism. In turn, North Korea could get considerable Western aide and loans.

Kim treated Secretary Albright to a mass parade by 100,000 performers at a sports stadium. Another 100,000 people in the stands gave the pair a standing ovation. If the show was meant to impress, it worked. Albright called the spectacle "simply amazing."

This thaw extends beyond the diplomatic level. There are subtle signs that ordinary North Koreans are warming to the West.

Here's CNN's Mike Chinoy from Pyongyang.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE CHINOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the capital of what has often been described as the "hermit kingdom," there are intriguing signs of change. Take, for example, the bicycles in the streets. Not long ago, the North Korean regime banned private ownership of bikes. Now they're everywhere, a sign of gradual relaxation in this most rigid of societies.

Citizens still wear their pins with the face of the late President of Kim Il Sung, but a visitor sees more modern, Western- style clothing now. In stores, crowds of shoppers line up to buy a range of goods that simply weren't available a few years ago.

On the capital's imposing but long empty boulevards, there is traffic following again. The trams are packed. There's a sense of bustle and activity not evident when I visited here at the height of the food shortages in 1997 and '98. The changes in the quality of life and in the popular mood are largely the result of a vast influx of international aid, as North Korea has began to open its long-closed doors to the rest of the world. Flights on the national carrier, Air Koreo (ph), are packed these days, foreign aid workers, diplomats and business people coming in, more and more North Koreans going abroad.

DOUG BRODERICK, WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: Since I've been here, and as I've said, I see there's more of an openness. So I definitely feel that this openness, hopefully and gradually, will continue to grow.

CHINOY: The thaw has, however, been strictly controlled. Privileges such as access to hard currency and imported consumer goods, sold in specialized shops like these, or access to outside information or the right to interact with foreigners remain limited to the politically reliable elite.

This is still a country where mass indoctrination remains a feature of daily life. Even so, diplomats and aid workers say more information from abroad is filtering in and, almost imperceptibly, attitudes here are changing.

(on camera): In a society as regimented as North Korea, change is going to come slowly. But there seems little question that change is indeed in the air here now.

Mike Chinoy, CNN, Pyongyang, North Korea.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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