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2 November 2010 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 02 Nov 2010


  • USIP NK health discussion – with the international community’s continued focus on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, humanitarian concerns for the North Korean people remain largely overlooked. For children in the country, diarrhea and respiratory problems are the major causes of death. Many people have tuberculosis, are malnourished, and have hepatitis. South Korea has also seen an increase in tuberculosis and other diseases in tandem with the decreasing quality of North Korea’s health services, and this may be linked to migration.
  • NK authorities are increasingly concerned with a rise in prostitution and use of illegal drugs. These are driven by the poor state of the general economy and the increasing prevalence of the informal economy. Attempts to crack down are hindered by corrupt officials making money from these illicit industries.
  • There is a burgeoning animation industry in Pyongyang. North Korea is also keen on developing computer games, cell phone applications and banking systems for clients from the Middle East. NK IT industry workers are given far more freedom to travel than other people so that they can learn new skills. There is a fear that alongside a legitimate IT industry NK is also developing a sophisticated cyber warfare capability, with SK’s spy cheif recently claiming that NK has a force of 1000 highly skilled hackers.
  • NK sources and satellite pictures show a boom in luxury villa construction in NK. There are 33 luxurious villas in beautiful mountainous areas and along the coasts of North Korea. Since 2008, 13 out of 33 sites have been under maintenance work, compared to a normal rate of 2-3 per year. There are also 28 stations for the exclusive use of KJI. It is speculated that the extent of the construction and remodelling means that Kim Jong Eun is set to use the villas in the future. The construction of three of the facilities and associated railroad will cost a total of around $180 million dollars, enough to buy 600,000 tons of corn which could feed 2.3 million North Koreans for two months.
  • The Guardian has a piece on ordinary life in Pyongyang.


  • The WFP estimates that NKs food shortage this year will be 1 million tons. The head of the WFP called for international assistance to make up the 78% shortfall in funding for the WFPs operation to feed 600,000 children and pregnant women in NK.
  • NK requested 500,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertiliser in return for making the family reunions a regular occurrence, demonstrating both the economic and moral bankruptcy of the NK regime. About 20,800 Koreans have been brought together briefly since the reunion programme began in earnest in 2000. But more than 80,000 people in the South alone are still waiting for their turn. In addition to the aid request, NK links the issue to a resumption of commercial cross-border tours to Mount Kumgang, that once earned NK millions of dollars per year. The already scheduled family reunions went ahead. And it was good.
  • South Korean-born, London-based George Rhee has 3 bakeries in NK that provide 2500 steamed buns daily for pupils in 20 schools in NK. Making sure the bakeries are sufficiently supplied with flour and other essentials is a logistical and bureaucratic nightmare. The 3 bakeries cost around 25,000 USD per month to run in total. SK based charities were pulled out of NK by President Lee after the Cheonan sinking, but Rhee’s charity was not affected as it is UK-based. Photos.
  • Interesting account of one man’s experience working with the WFP and NGOs in NK starting in 1997. This is the first of 3 parts.


  • At a UNGA Human Rights discussion, several countries urged the DPRK to allow a visit by Marzuki Darusman, the new UN Special Rapporteur on DPRK Human Rights. The DPRK does not recognise the mandate of the special rapporteur and accused the EU, US and Japan of using HR resolutions as political tools in response to the DPRKs withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The DPRK representative shed crocodile tears about the end of EU-DPRK dialogue on HR, saying that before the 2003 EU sponsored DPRK HR resolution they had had 1.5 years of regular human rights dialogue with the EU.
  • Robert King, US Special Envoy for NK Human Rights Issues, said “We would ask the new special rapporteur for his thoughts no what more the international community can do to help the people provide for themselves and what more the donor community can do to make sure resources reach the most vulnerable parts of the population. The United States is particularly concerned about the plight of North Korean refugees and asylum seekers… Improving conditions in the country requires an innovative and collaborative approach.”
  • China stated that they oppose country-specific human rights resolutions and mechanisms as they cause unnecessary confrontation, and called for more humanitarian assistance for NK, in line with their interest in stability on the Korean peninsula.
  • The latest UN SG’s report on DPRK HR has been released. The report says there continue to be reports of public executions, political prisoners held under harsh conditions, and the use of torture, forced labour, and ill treatment of refugees or asylum-seekers repatriated from abroad. North Koreans continue to suffer from chronic food insecurity (exacerbated by poor predicted rains this year), high malnutrition and severe economic problems.
  • Lord Alton and Baroness Cox returned from their third visit to North Korea, and called on the international community to facilitate a peace conference to turn the Korean armistice into a permanent peace agreement. They are also advocating engagement with North Korea to address human rights, in a process similar to the Helsinki Process initiated by Thatcher and Reagan with the Soviet Union.
  • Baroness Cox said: “During our visit, we raised important concerns, and we also saw some small, incremental signs of change in North Korea. We believe these changes, particularly in education, health care and the economy, should be encouraged by increased cultural and educational exchanges, and greater access to the country for international humanitarian organisations.”


  • As if to reinforce the misgivings about Xi Jinping (China’s next leader), on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Chinese involvement in the Korean War he described that war as “a great victory gained by the united combat forces of China’s and the DPRK’s civilians and soldiers, and a great victory in the pursuit of world peace and human progress,” and said that the Chinese people will never forget the friendship — established in battle — with the DPRK’s people and army.
  • For the first time in years the two Korea’s traded gunshots over the land border between N/S. No casualties were reported. This could have either been a local unplanned incident or perhaps more likely a response to the South’s refusal to hold N/S military-level talks, which was denounced by NK, who said hours before the shots were fired “The army of the DPRK will counter the south side’s reckless provocative act of openly shunning the implementation of the inviolable bilateral agreement with a merciless physical retaliation.” There is a well founded fear that NK will try to do something to disrupt SKs hosting of the G20 Summit on 11-12th November. Washington has pressed Beijing to use its leverage over NK to dissuade it from any provocative acts.
  • The Congressional Research Service report on implementation of UNSCR 1874 was published. Senator Luger: “the findings include a stark reminder that U.S. and China interests regarding North Korea are largely incongruent. While the United States presses for elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, China’s primary focus is on preserving regional stability.” The report notes further that “China’s primary interest in the DPRK is to maintain the status quo and regional stability while diminishing the economic distress pushing NK refugees into its northern border region.”  China’s exports of $212.2 million in luxury goods to North Korea in 2009 constituted almost two-thirds of reported trade in luxury goods. CFR’s Snyder advocates that “The future of North Korea must become a much higher priority issue on the U.S.-China agenda” and also that “it may be time to think harder about policy options in dealing with North Korea that minimize dependence on Chinese cooperation.”


  • Anatomy of an Adoption Crisis – article documenting State Dept thinking and weaknesses in dealing with a Vietnamese adoption crisis, where concerns about corruption and baby buying lead to a blanket ban on all American adoptions from Vietnam.
  • Noko Jeans are a bunch of trendy Swedes that sell designer jeans made in NK. They have a bunch of cool photos from NK and a funky video of their factory. If the Swedes ran the world, everyone would wear designer jeans and there would be enough meatballs for everyone.
  • Kim Jong Il likes looking at things. No he really does. And if you were wondering, this is what all those men standing behind KJI are writing down in their little notebooks. On a serious note, notice that KJI is wearing his jacket nearly the whole time, even in places indoors that should be warm enough. This shows that they cannot turn the heating on in these factories, classrooms, shops etc even for a planned visit by the dear leader. The regular workers, students etc must be freezing.

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