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16 December 2010 / SP

Biweekly News Brief – 16 Dec 2010

NK Internal

  • The post-Yeonpyeong Island attack atmosphere has caused a rise in market prices in NK due to decreased circulation of foreign currency and reduced trade with China.
  • PSCORE says SK pop culture, dvds and tv dramas are gaining popularity in NK. Defectors say that a majority of NKs have seen images of SK through such media. NK Intellectuals Solidarity reports that 1200 NKs have been jailed for watching SK TV shows in the city of Kaechon.
  • Radio stations based in SK that broadcast information into NK are struggling through lack of SK govt support and funding.
  • The Kaesong Industrial Complex is still operating, but businesses are suffering.

Food Aid and Food Security

  • KOTRA reports that food imports from China are down 7.5%, while fertilizer imports are up 162% for the first 8 months of this year, compared to the same period last year. NK trade with China is up 26.7%.
  • A long over-due effort to improve environmental management and reduce the risk of flooding is underway with projects to plant fruit and nut trees on hillsides.
  • A wikileaked cable has info from a leading HR worker on the difficulties of navigating NK’s various institutions. It also details how the NK govt used family reunions between Korean-Americans and NKs to make money, and suggests using an Eric Clapton concert in Pyongyang to build good will with the NK govt.
  • Another piece by Erich Weingartner, recounting his days working for the WFP in NK.

Refugees

  • NK refugees in the South are playing a bigger role in helping relatives get out of China by working with brokers and missionaries. Some female refugees resort to the sex trade to raise the money to help their relatives.
  • A piece on NK refugees’ struggle with identity in the South.
  • PSALT has launched a scholarship programme for NK refugees living in the US.
  • The North Korean People’s Liberation Front, a NK defector group, is calling on the SK govt to create a special military reserve force made up of defectors. The group has also sent balloons carrying anti-regime leaflets into NK. Another NK defector conference has called on defectors to play a bigger role in overthrowing the NK regime.
  • The wikileaks cables have revealed info on 3 high level defectors – the first secretary of the Youth League in Ryanggang Province Sol Jong-sik, the chief of an overseas diplomatic mission in NE Asia, and the former head of a NK state trading company. A NK restaurant manager in Nepal has also apparently recently defected. Such defections may increase because of demands for increased remittances to the NK govt and uncertainty over political patronage around the succession.

International Politics and Security

  • After a ROK-US-Japan trilateral meeting in Washington DC, SoS Clinton said that NK ceasing its ‘provocative behaviour’, improving relations with SK and taking concrete steps towards denuclearisation are preconditions for resuming the SPT. China was not invited to the meeting. NK says it supports dialogue including the SPT but will never ‘beg’ for it, ie. they will not make concessions prior to dialogue.
  • Obama also called on Hu to use China’s influence to restrain NK. Hu again called for the resumption of dialogue.
  • SK’s new defence minister said SK would respond to further NK attacks on civilians with air strikes, after domestic criticism over the perceived weak response to the Yeonpyeong Island attack. SK held its biggest ever nationwide civilian evacuation drill (photos) and will resume live-fire artillery drills from Yeonpyeong Island in the next few days.
  • NK again asserted its sovereignty over the disputed Yellow Sea waters. If the NK govt desires more military confrontations to secure the succession and/or internal stability they have a ready arena in the Yellow Sea.
  • The ICC has opened a preliminary investigation into whether the Yeonpyeong Island attack and Cheonan sinking constitute war crimes under the jurisdiction of the court. The SK govt welcomed the investigation.
  • In this piece Siegfried Hecker discusses NK’s nuclear programme and calls on the USG to address NK’s fundamental insecurity in order to make progress with NK on denuclearisation. SK and US officials have revealed they suspect NK may have 3-4 additional undisclosed uranium enrichment facilities. There are signs NK may be preparing for another nuclear test.
  • The USG’s policy of ‘Strategic Patience’ is failing, and there are increasing calls for a change in policy. It seems that negotiating with NK is the worst policy option… except for all the others. The USG is constrained by its decision to stick closely behind SK, where President Lee looks in no mood to resume dialogue. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson accepted an invitation to make his 8th visit to NK (in an unofficial capacity) in an attempt to ease tensions.
  • A useful summary of info gleaned from wikileaks cables – Chinese business in NK, NK desire for dialogue with US, President Lee’s approach to NK.

Misc.

  • US and SK have finally agreed an FTA that now needs to be ratified by Congress and the SK National Assembly.
  • A legal battle between siblings in NK and SK over an 8.7 million USD inheritance could spur legislation to deal with post-unification disputes around inheritance and double marriages.
  • Joo Il Kim, President of European North Korean Residents Society, criticised China and the Sunshine Policy in the FT.
  • KCNA propaganda misfire – KJI keeps “boxes of medicine piled up” in his office along with equipment and “valuable things even big hospitals lacked”, but “as a token of KJI’s deep concern for the country’s sports development” he suggested they be sent to “a gymnasium under reconstruction” (instead of a hospital?).
  • A handy list of North Korean websites (KCNA et al).
  • New bike tours in NK!
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