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3 February 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 03 Feb 2011


  • Kim Jong-nam, eldest son of KJI, claimed in an interview that his father never wanted a dynastic succession but had to settle for it to ‘stabilise the internal system’. In another interview he advocated for reform but admitted that reform and opening could bring about systemic collapse.
  • There are rumours of an impending solo visit by KJU to China.
  • KJI held a rare meeting with a foreign businessman, talking with the head of Egyptian company Orascom, NK’s mobile phone network operator. As of Sept 2010, the network had over 300,000 users in NK and the fugure is expected to hit 1 million this year, according to a Chinese report.
  • In an interview with the Daily NK Marcus Noland talks of the danger that the markets in NK pose to the govt.


  • Noland blog: international assistance to NK in 2010 was 20.6 million USD, less than half of what it received in 2009. There are credible rumours of NK seeking food assistance from WFP and US (Deputy Sectretary of State Steinberg apparently confirmed this to the SK FM), as well as the current rapprochement with SK being aimed at securing economic assistance. However NK is not heading for a famine on the mid-1990’s scale. And the US has no plans to resume food aid to NK.
  • A pro-NK Japanese newspaper has reported that NK has suffered its coldest winter since 1945 (SK is also having a ridiculously cold winter as some of you know too well). The prolonged and extreme chill could threaten grain production. SK aid groups are concerned the harsh winter could be causing significant numbers of deaths.
  • SK NGOs operating in NK have been squeezed by SK govt restrictions after the Cheonan sinking, leading to 16 NGOs folding. European NGOs are trying to plug the gap. However SK NGOs are hopeful of being able to resume operations in NK if the current shift towards dialogue continues.
  • According to the Good Friends NGO rice prices in NK have soared to 3000 won/kg, due to the forced military collection and high values of USD and RMB. Another source claims that rice prices dropped from 3,300 won/kg to 2,000 won/kg in the space of 6 days, and that the RMB also fell from 520 won to 400 won, as rumours prompted merchants to stockpile rice and then suddenly release it, and also that rice collected for the military was also being siphoned off and sold, lowering prices.
  • USIP brief – examines NK’s food shortages and deterioration of public health and their effects on migration.


  • The SK govt is setting a 1% quota for NK refugees in public sector administrative jobs, in order to provide more employment opportunities for NKrefugees. They hope the private sector will follow suit. NK refugees make up around 0.04% of the SK population. The govt assumes a rate of around 3,000 arrivals per year meaning there will be 30,000 NK refugees in SK in 2013.
  • Refugees can feel the pain of separation from their families even more over holidays such as Solnal / Lunar New Year (video).


  • UN Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman is meeting with Japanese officials, civic groups, families of abductees and NK refugees to gather evidence on NK HR abuses. He called on NK to settle the abduction issue and raised the possibility of international criminal liability for those responsible. Darusman has, again, not been granted access to NK.
  • Interview with chief of planning for SK NGO NK Gulag.
  • Human Rights Watch have released their country report on North Korea for the year of 2010, available here.
  • The SK National Assembly has cut the National Human Rights Commission’s budget allotted to tackling NK HR issues by a third. The Commission will now have less money for interviewing and studying the cases of NK refugees.
  • Story of Hye Sook Kim, who lived much of her life in a concentration camp.


  • NKs Supreme People’s Assembly proposed talks with SK’s National Assembly in order to reduce tensions.
  • SK conceded to NK calls for earlier military talks; colonels from each side will meet Tuesday 8th Feb to prepare for higher level military talks. SK is being encouraged by the US as well as China to engage with NK. LMB also raised the possibility of a third inter-Korean summit happening ifNK improves its attitude.
  • SK govt officials are at loggerheads over NK policy, with the Unification Ministry pushing for the linkage of denuclearisation and inter-Korean talks while the Foreign Ministry wants to deal with the issues separately. This is clearly a danger of having multiple ministries with their fingers in the foreign policy pie.
  • US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen said Chinese leaders expressed renewed commitment to containing NK following Hu’s visit to the US. In previous statements, Mullen has accused Beijing of giving NK “tacit approval” for acts of aggression against SK.
  • New ICG Report: China and Inter-Korean Clashes in the Yellow Sea. Argues that Beijing is undermining both its own interests and regional security by downplaying NK’s deadly behaviour in the Yellow Sea.
  • A UN panel of experts briefing the UNSC said that NK may have further secret atomic facilities and called for better implementation of sanctions.


  • KCNA story of the week – The animal circus at Central Zoo where ‘dogs do sums’ and monkeys ‘balance on piles of chairs’ and ‘put on flying hats’. KJI recently visited the zoo and ‘gave precious instructions to it’. I wish I was making this up.
  • Another good photoset from NK.
  • New USKI Publication – Silent Partners: Chinese Joint Ventures in North Korea. ‘Chinese financial investments in the DPRK are geopolitically significant not only in terms of Chinese strategic interests but also for South Korean aspirations to unify the peninsula.’
  • Petrov on a NK art exhibition in Moscow.
  • WSJ – Defector Reflects On North Korea Through Art.
  • Ever wonder about comedy in NK?

The events in Egypt have many people asking where will be next. Sadly NK is at the bottom of the list. It is unlikely that many NKs will have any idea what is happening in Egypt yet (unless at some point NK state media decides to produce a dry report with massive anti-US spin), and virtually none will have been able to be inspired by images or video of the protests. This underscores the need for increasing efforts at information dissemination into NK, and improving NK citizens’ capacity for horizontal communication, with the goal of bringing about the eventual emergence of a civil society force that can put pressure on the govt to reform and address the grievances of the people, if not force its collapse. Unfortunately we are a long way from seeing the NK citizens lose their fear of the state security apparatus in the way that the Egyptians have over the last few days. However also note the massive failure of political analysts to predict or foresee this upheaval in Egypt or other parts of the Arab world; it is easy to be blindsided by such developments, especially with the internet and mobile communications (where available) making social movements of all kinds faster and cheaper.


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