Weekly News Brief – 06 Jan 2011
- Lankov reports on the great relaxation of restrictions on freedom of movement in NK and movement across the border with China over the last few years.
- The NK govt ‘bent its rules like Beckham’ to show the first western produced live-action film (Bend it like Beckham) on NK televistion, to mark 10 years of diplomatic relations between the UK and DPRK, although the film was edited down from 112 minutes to 1 hour.
- Methamphetamine use among young people has been high for years and shows no sign of declining, and it is even being given as a birthday gift among teenagers.
- The Daily NK reports on the growth in illegal street trading in NK, including sales of SK goods, and the systematic extortion by agents of the People’s Safety Ministry that makes it possible. Statistics Korea also reports on the increasing popularity of SK products in NK, particularly SK TV dramas and films in major cities and border areas, with many watching on mp3 players or laptops. 1 Gig mp3 players sell for 60,000 NK won (419 USD) while a used laptop costs about 2 million NK won. Memory chips with 2-3 movies cost 5,000 to 10,000 NK won. Other SK products such as shampoo, rice cookers, and necklaces also sell well among those that can afford them. Skinny jeans are also apparently the latest fad in Pyongyang.
- The NK govt has rewritten regulations to make it easier for KJU to take control of the state.
- NK may be diverting some military budget to develop light industry, to make progress towards its aim of becoming a ‘powerful and prosperous nation’ by 2012, KIS’s 100th birthday.
Food Aid and Food Security
- The WFP’s Asia regional director warned that its NK aid programme is likely to close within 6 months because it is 80% unfunded. Some donors are reluctant because of restrictions on WFP aid monitoring, including a ban on the use of Korean speakers and limits on freedom of movement. However the WFP is confident aid is not being diverted because it is mainly distributed through civil institutions.
- The WFP wants to raise 50 million USD per year for NK, which has a 1 million ton food shortage, and is again appealing for donations from the international community through its NK country director. VOA journo Steve Herman tweets that Russia donated 3 million USD to WFP NK programme last month.
- The North Korean Refugees Foundation will launch a 24 hour hotline for NK refugees struggling to adapt to life in the South.
- 4,000-5,000 long term North Korean settlers live in China with resident alien cards. Applications from this group for Chinese citizenship has surged since media reporting of a successful application by a former NK resident. The Chinese govt may have granted citizenship to some NKs without demanding a certificate issued by the North but is now making it harder again due to the surge in applications.
- Female NK refugees in SK have a higher danger of becoming victims of domestic violence, possibly due to NK society’s more patriarchal customs.
International Politics and Security
- NK state media has again called for resumption of ‘wide-ranging dialogue’ with SK political parties, organisations and authorities, unconditionally and with ‘anyone anytime and anywhere, letting bygones be bygones’ and also made a strong appeal for an end to ‘mud-slinging and provocative acts’ between the Koreas.
- President Lee stated in his new year’s address that peace talks remain an option, but nonetheless the latest overtures from NK have been rebuffed by the SK govt as propaganda. SK wants actions and not just words, and is looking for apologies for the Cheonanham and Yeonpyeongdo attacks, an end to ‘military adventurism’ and concrete steps towards denuclearisation.
- The USG has stated they are open to multilateral and bilateral dialogue, but is still publicly sticking close to SK and has left the ball in NK’s court saying it is up to them to first show that such dialogue will be constructive.
- After a series of high level meetings with US officials where NK was one of the major agenda items, China once again called for the early resumption of SPT.
- A Chinese state-run company has agreed to invest 2 billion USD in NK’s Rason free trade zone, to build the northeastern NK city into the ‘biggest industrial zone in NE Asia’ over 10 years. China is already using the port at Rason for shipping.
- SK and Japan may begin to strengthen military cooperation (difficult for historical reasons on SK side).
- SK’s Unification Ministry and President Lee have stepped up talk of preparing for reunification and promoting the human rights of NK’s people.
- Eurasia Group labels NK as one of the top 10 political risks for 2011, with NK judged to be likely to take further provocative steps against SK due to the leadership transition in Pyongyang.
- Selig Harrison op-ed on China’s NK calculations.
- 2010 saw a peak of 161 field trips and public appearances by KJI, meaning many more pictures of KJI looking at things.
- KCNA has a fancy new website with video news.
- The Economist examines the challenge of Korean reunification.
- The Pyongyang Project aims to promote educational exchange between the US and NK.