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23 November 2010 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 23 Nov 2010

International Politics and Security

  • NK purposefully revealed a uranium enrichment plant that could increase their capacity to produce nuclear weapons and also increases the risk of nuclear proliferation. The move was probably designed to strengthen NK’s hand at future negotiations. The speed with which the plant has been built suggests NK had foreign help and evaded UNSC sanctions to import technologies.
  • In one of the most serious border incidents since the end of the Korean War, NK hit SK’s Yeonpyeong Island with dozens of artillery rounds, killing 2 South Korean marines and injuring 16 soldiers (6 seriously) and 3 civilians.
  • The attack came during an annual SK military drill around the disputed Northern Limit Line maritime border, during which the SK govt reported they fired test artillery shots westwards. NK had protested against the drills the same morning. NK state media claimed SK shot into their waters first and that they had responded with an attack of their own.
  • The domestic politics explanation for NK’s drastic escalation would be that the NK leadership is preparing the internal environment for KJU’s succession, by creating a ‘military victory’ that can be credited to KJU as well as associating him with nuclear accomplishments, thus boosting his credentials.
  • An international politics explanation could be that NK is using these provocations to demand attention from the US in an attempt to force them to the negotiating table where they would hope to extract concessions.
  • Former US envoy Christopher Hill speculated that the NK military may not be taking a ‘whole of government’ approach and may be acting somewhat independently. Other parts of the NK govt have recently been requesting food aid from SK, calling for a restart of inter-Korean tourism, and there have even been rumours of requests by NK for behind the scenes talks on a 3rd inter-Korean summit.
  • The SK military is on its highest non-wartime alert. President Lee has ordered the military to retaliate against further NK attacks on SK territory possibly using air strikes against a NK missile base near Yeonpyeong. The SK govt has suspended flood aid to NK and banned SK citizens from going to NK, including to the Kaesong Industrial Complex.
  • The US will likely stick close to SK while trying to avoid any over-escalations, and will look to China to bring pressure to bear on NK for both their nuclear programme and military provocations. China’s overriding concern, however, is the stability of NK. These two developments are certainly a big test of the US’s policy of ‘strategic patience’ towards NK, but there are no good policy options at the moment.

NK Internal

  • The NK govt changed laws covering economic planning in April and laws governing management of Pyongyang in March in order to tighten centralised state control and to try to shore up the supply of funds for use by KJI.
  • NK is facing the problems associated with an aging society. The proportion of over 65s is 9%, smaller than advanced nations, but larger than in China or the average for developing nations. This is explained as a result of NK women’s active participation in the economy leading to low fertility rates, along with natural and man-made disasters.

Food Aid and Food Security

  • NKs are expected to live 11 years less than the average SK due mainly to malnutrition, according to a government report. “Generally, the population has not fully recovered from the famine and hardship, although conditions have improved in the past few years,” a statistics official said.


  • Television interview with a NK refugee couple resettling in the US.
  • General piece on difficulties for NK refugees in SK in the economist. Whole-family defections are becoming more common because family members left behind are persecuted. 40% of new arrivals come with at least one other family member.
  • The SK Ministry of Unification launched the ‘North Korean Refugee Support Foundation’ (translated name) with a 22 million USD budget to conduct research to improve the resettlement of NK refugees in the South.
  • Lankov discusses the plight of female NK refugees in China, and the differences between ‘sex trafficking’ and ‘normal marriage’.
  • Kang Chol-Hwan discusses a brief history of Hanawon (refugee resettlement institute in SK).
  • NK loggers working in Russia are running away because the NK govt has increased the amount of money it deducts from their salary in ‘party loyalty funds’. There may be as many as 17 forestry sites in Russia employing 1500-200 NKs each.

Human Rights

  • A State Dept report said religious freedom does not exist in NK and that religious activists are among the country’s vast political prisoner population. Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner said that given the communist state’s self-imposed isolation, little leverage can be brought to bear on NK authorities.
  • The UNGA Third Committee approved a draft UNGA resolution on DPRK HR by a vote of 100 in favour to 18 against, with 60 abstentions. The next step will be a vote by the full UNGA, where it is likely to pass (5 DPRK HR resolutions have passed since 2005). The DPRK predictably rejected the resolution as an American political plot and reckless infringement on its sovereignty. Most no votes and abstentions were explained by general opposition to politicised country-specific resolutions, and the argument that the UPR at the HRC is the proper place to address HR concerns.


  • A SK govt white paper claims that the Sunshine Policy of mass aid and engagement of the previous 2 administrations (1998-2008) failed to change NKs behaviour and did not make a difference to the lives of destitute NK people. Current President Lee ended the Sunshine Policy on entering office.
  • A State Dept PRM staffer blogs about bringing Barbara Demick to DC.
  • Four young South Korean rappers have released a song criticising NK.
  • An iPhone app has been released that aims to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in NK.
  • A 13 year old American boy staged a brief peace protest in Tienanmen Square.

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