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13 January 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 13 Jan 2011

NK Internal

  • KJU’s birthday was not marked with much visible fanfare in NK, although state media did broadcast an hour long propaganda piece aimed at justifying the succession.
  • NK had 60 confirmed public executions in 2010, triple the number in 2009. The increase could be attributed to efforts to maintain control after the botched currency revaluation (late Nov 2009) or complaints about the succession. KJU is rumoured to be ordering a crackdown. Warnings state that people using Chinese mobile phones or illegally circulate dollars face public execution.
  • Daily NK reports increased complaints about KJI and KJU within NK, due to food shortages, strengthened govt regulations and more ideological lectures. The source also reports that the hardships are motivating people to flee to China.
  • NK reportedly purged 200 senior officials in December, particularly those loyal to Jang Song-taek and O Kuk-ryol.
  • Sunny Lee on the wishful thinking of NK collapse speculation.
  • NK is inviting amateur golfers to a golf tournament in an apparent attempt to raise foreign currency.
  • NK beats Japan and SK in 3G phone network adoption. But thats because they are not allowed to subscribe to 2G. Snazzy propaganda video on NK’s 3G network here.

Refugees

  • Interview with Marcus Noland on his forthcoming book based on defector interviews. “Most [refugees], in a clinical setting, would probably be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.” Noland also discusses the bottom-up marketisation of NK’s economy, and its corrupt penal system. “The market is emerging as a kind of semi-autonomous zone of social communication and potentially political organizing. And in that sense, the regime is right to fear the market.”
  • Interview with Joseph, 20 year old NK refugee living in the US.
  • Scholte, chairwoman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition has urged Obama to use his summit with Hu to request China ends its policy of detaining and repatriating NK refugees.
  • Piece on Mike Kim, activist who helped NK refugees in China and founded the NGO Crossing Borders.

International Politics and Security

  • Lankov on NK blackmailing strategy towards SK and US, and the reasons for US’s ‘strategic patience’ and SK’s hardline approach. NK leadership has little to lose from staging provocations with which it hopes to turn SK public opinion against the hardline approach, while SK govt is overconfident in the power of deterrence, creating a recipe for further crises in 2011.
  • US Defense Sec Gates said that NK is within 5 years of developing a missile capable of hitting Alaska or the West Coast. The comment came soon after Gate’s meeting with Hu Jintao and may have been aimed at underlining that the USG does not consider NK to just threaten the region but also has the potential to threaten the US directly. The concern was repeated by Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gates also called on NK to announce and follow a moratorium on further nuclear or missile tests as another condition for the US returning to international talks.
  • China’s VFM Cui said that the US and China “share broad interests and goals” on the Korean peninsula and again called for the resumption of negotiations.
  • Gates also met with Japanese PM Kan, NK’s nuclear program was again high on the agenda.
  • NK again called for resumption of dialogue, saying it wants to talk about economic cooperation with SK. SK will only talk if NK acknowledges its sinking of the Cheonan and attack on Yeonpyeong Island, as well as confirm its commitment to denuclearisation. However the Red Cross hotline at Panmunjom has been restored after an 8 month break.
  • On Jan 8, KJU’s birthday, Uriminzzokiri’s website, twitter feed and youtube account were hacked by a group probably in SK, with anti-regime postings replacing official NK propaganda. The attack was claimed by users of SK forum ‘DCinside’, a website that was attacked by NK or an NK-aligned group on Jan 6. The NK govt confirmed the attack on its official site and warned of ‘grave consequences’. Cyber attacks by private groups in SK have the potential to become another hard to control variable in N-S relations.
  • SK’s influential conservative daily Chosun Ilbo called for SK to develop its own nuclear weapon capability. Growth in this sentiment will unnerve China (fears of a regional arms race and Japan getting the bomb) and the US (damage to Obama’s push on nuclear non-proliferation).
  • SK public opinion has also shifted since the Yeonpyeong Island attack so that more SKs are now pro-unification.

Misc.

  • Photoblog of xmas and new years celebrations in NK.
  • Video – Pyongyang Seoheung Elementary School 3rd year computer class. Lesson 1: draw a flag. Clearly no ordinary school even for Pyongyang, it is also famous for producing great dancers.
  • David Kang on China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy.
  • B. R. Myers on NK’s online propaganda campaign.
  • A comparison of NK and SK economies – SK 37 times larger, 200 times more total trade. This piece also describes a fall in NKs foreign trade from 2008 to 2009.
  • SK has blocked access to NK websites, and has arrested a man for praising NK on twitter. Poor show from a ‘modern democracy’.
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