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16 November 2010 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 16 Nov 2010

NK Internal

  • Andrei Lankov dismisses recent discussion of NKs collapse as wishful thinking. The regime would disintegrate following either a popular uprising or an open power clash within the elite. At least as long as KJI is in control, the shared fear that internal rivalries will lead to instability will keep disagreements amongst the elite under control. A popular uprising is ruled out because even though many NKs are dissatisfied with the current system, they lack any kind of any kind of civil society organisation and also the crucial belief that resistance is not futile.
  • According to NK Intellectuals Solidarity, NK recently conducted an inspection of regional party officials to root out corruption, including in border patrol officers. 15 officials are expected to be sent to prison camps.
  • DailyNK says the NK govt is allowing ordinary people to visit China again, and is giving credit to KJU for this. Credit is also apparently being given to KJU for an amnesty for 150,000 lower risk prisoners.

Food Aid and Food Security

  • A joint WFP/FAO Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission has reported today that NK will continue to face food shortages despite a relatively good harvest and slight increase in food supply, and has recommended the provision of international food assistance to 5 million of the most vulnerable NKs, amounting to 305,000 tonnes of cereals. “The cereal rations provided by the government through its Public Distribution System (PDS) in 2010/11 would likely contribute about half the daily energy requirements. A small shock in the future could trigger a severe negative impact and will be difficult to contain if these chronic deficits are not effectively managed.” Full report available here.
  • NK media has released a number of articles characterizing western aid as a ‘trap of plunder and subordination’, while emphasizing the military-first policy and Juche. “There is no more stupid and dangerous attitude than to look forward to the imperialists’ aid while failing to see their aggressive and predatory nature. The imperialists’ aid is a trap of plundering and subordination; giving one so as to extort ten or hundred times more.”  This propaganda is particularly pathetic given that the NK govt recently demanded 500,000 tons of rice from SK in return for continuing the family reunions, and criticized SK for only providing 5,000 tons of rice in flood relief.
  • DailyNK has information on market prices suggesting it is going to be a tough winter for NKs, saying that the situation has still not stabilised since the Nov 2009 currency revaluation.

Refugees

  • A 41 year old woman became the 20,000th NK to defect to SK. 2900 defected to SK last year, and over 2000 have defected so far this year. According to the Unification Ministry, humanitarian issues including the food situation is the leading reason cited for defecting, and 70% of those arriving in SK were women. Here is a general piece on difficulties facing NK refugees in SK.
  • Top SK steelmaker POSCO pledged to provide more jobs to NK refugees. Under an MOU signed with the Unification Ministry, POSCO promised to hire more refugees at its “social enterprise” subsidiaries set up in part to help the underprivileged.
  • The Hankyoreh (notably anti-GNP paper) claims that refugees face longer questioning and scapegoating under the Lee administration.

Human Rights

  • Seoul-based NGO Free the NK Gulag has called on UN member sates to adopt a UN resolution on NK HR and establish a UN Commission of Inquiry into HR violation in NK. Their letter contained testimonies from 31 former prisoners, including Shin Dong-Hyuk.
  • A Korean Bar Association survey of 200 NK refugees revealed that 33% felt that the denial of freedom of expression was the worst NK HR violation, followed by unequal distribution of food (11.5%), political prison camps (9%), and arbitrary arrest (7.5%).

International Politics and Security

  • The Seoul G20 Summit finished without a KOR-US FTA, or NK pyrotechnics or even ‘biochemical filled balloons’.
  • Obama signalled a slight softening of stance towards NK and suggested they may rejoin the SPT if NK showed a “seriousness of purpose”. Obama is still firmly behind Lee, and they seem determined to move in step with each other.
  • Scott Snyder contrasts Obama’s characterisation of the Korean War with Xi Jinping’s recent remarks, and suggests this hints the gap between the US and PRC is too big to allow the cooperation necessary to progress in NK denuclearisation.
  • Incoming House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, set to be a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, has called for further UNSC sanctions and pressure on NK in response to a UN panel report stating that NK has exported over 100 million USD worth of conventional weapons and nuclear weapons technology per year in violation of UN sanctions.
  • The UN panel concluded that although there are gaps in enforcement, sanctions have “significantly constrained” North Korea’s arms sales. The NK govt’s constant demands for an end to the sanctions and their desperation to raise foreign currency–including repeated demands to restart inter-Korean tourism at the Gumgang Mountain resort and increased pressure on state trading companies to raise revenue–attests to the pain that the sanctions are causing the govt. NK does not have much to export besides weapons. The continuation of this situation will likely further increase NK’s economic dependence on China, but China may be unwilling to use this leverage particularly in the context of the succession. The report does not lay any blame on the UNSC sanctions for the economic hardships of the NK general population.
  • NK has started construction of a light-water reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear site, and revealed this in a way that suggests it is a move designed to raise the stakes and pressure the US to return to the SPT. The SK govt said NKs construction of a LWR would contravene UN resolutions. KCNA shot back with this gem: “the U.S. is the chieftain and arch criminal posing a nuclear threat to the world and proliferating nukes.”

Misc.

  • The economist suggests that communism may be on its way out in Cuba and advocates outsiders to help further the opening of the Cuban economy and assist its incipient private sector, also lamenting the US’s embargo.
  • Porn diplomacy – a rare combination of words. A Japanese tabloid piece on the rising popularity of Japanese porn in NK. Would that be soft power or hard power?
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