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11 February 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 10 Feb 2011


  • In a sign of increased desperation, NK ordered 40 of its embassies to appeal directly to foreign governments for food aid, starting in December. In London the Foreign Office confirmed that the NK embassy had requested food aid, but said that any decision would be based on assessments being carried out by the WFP/FAO.
  • The WFP’s current program is 80% underfunded. Donor fatigue has led to annual aid to NK drop to $4.50 per person, compared to an average across other low-income countries of $37 per person (these being March 2010 figures – a UN OCHA official put the figure at less than $1 per person in NK for 2010).
  • NK also requested food aid from the US in contact with Amb. Robert King through the New York channel (its Permanent Mission to the UN). NK Deputy Permanent Representative Han Sang-Ryol reportedly told King that NK was willing to allow monitoring of the food aid “as much as the US wants”. US food aid to NK was stopped in March 2009 because of a dispute about monitoring. The USG has no immediate plans to resume food aid but is said to be discussing the issue internally. They are also likely discussing the resumption of food aid with the SK govt, who they don’t want to get too far ahead of. The SK govt does not seem to have much appetite for resuming food aid and recently rejected a request by the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea for permission to visit NK.
  • King reiterated that US policy on humanitarian aid is “based on need and no political consideration should be involved”. However in practise past decisions on food aid appear to have been designed to influence negotiations on security issues.
  • CIA assessment of impact of flooding on agricultural output in NK judges the impact of July 2010 heavy rains and Sept typhoon on staple crops and infrastructure to have been relatively minor, and far less than events of 1996 and 2007.
  • NK reportedly lifted restrictions on exports of mineral resources to China in the 2nd half of 2010 in order to buy more Chinese rice and corn, and look set to increase trade in mineral resources which already account for 30% of exports to China.


  • The SK govt estimates only 4 million NKs live on govt rations and the other 20 million (83%) rely on the markets.
  • A crackdown against ‘anti-socialist elements’ in border regions has reportedly been ordered by KJU, targeting drug smuggling, illegal border crossings, illegal mobile phone usage and contact with foreigners.
  • Daily NK interview with NK woman – money lenders are thriving since the currency revaluation; it is said that KJU will reunify the Korean peninsula; people have no interest in the Yeonpyeong Island shelling or whether a war breaks out or not; recent boder security has been tight.
  • NK has notified the UN’s FAO of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the country.
  • Everard, former UK ambassador to NK, on the development of NK’s markets and the ideological and political challenge they pose to the govt.


  • NK refugees in SK are sending $10 million per year to their families in NK, contributing a major slice to NK’s underground economy (SK govt estimate, equivalent to $500 per refugee per year). Remittances are arranged by brokers in China and NK, who take a commission of 30% or more. Other estimates of remittances are even higher, and it is alleged that only ½ the money sent reaches its intended recipient, and the remittances are also subject to extortion by NK National Security Agency agents.
  • A NK refugee couple in their 50’s have been granted refugee status in Israel.
  • 31 NKs whose boat drifted into SK waters have apparently expressed no desire to defect.
  • The crime rate among NK refugees in SK is 9.1%, compared to the SK average of 4.3%. Of 48 NKs in jail as of June last year, 17 people were convicted of drug crimes, 12 were convicted for other types of violence and 10 for murder. The high proportion of drug related crime may be due to refugees’ former use of drugs for pain relief in NK or involvement in drug smuggling on the PRC-DPRK border.
  • Three NK refugees have been selected for the US State Dept’s International Visitor Leadership Program.
  • NK refugee Choi Young-Hee became a match-maker in SK, matching hundreds of SK bachelors together with NK female refugees (video).


  • In an interview with Yonhap, US special envoy on NK HR issues Amb. Robert King said that human rights will be a “factor” that will affect US-NK relations and that he hopes the matter will be discussed if the SPT are reopened. However he refused to call improvement in NK’s HR records a “precondition” for progress in US-NK ties. King also advocated for greater exchanges with NK: “One thing that is important in terms of breaking down the information monopoly is being able to have exchanges with North Koreans and I think it’s important that we engage North Korea and have opportunities.”
  • SKs National Human Rights Commission will set up the North Korean Human Rights Violations Reporting Center and the Hall of North Korean Human Rights Violation Records in order to collect information on and record NK HR abuses, with the ultimate aim of improving NK HR.


  • SK and NK colonel-level talks broke down with a walk-out from the NK side and no progress made towards holding high-level talks. NK officials were unwilling to admit responsibility for the attacks of 2010, which is a SK condition for holding high-level talks. NK’s military said it will no longer meet with SK ‘scoundrels’, accusing the ‘group of traitors’ of having no wish of improving N-S relations. SK left the door open for military talks but at the same time backed away from potential Red Cross talks on humanitarian issues. The US and China are still keen for inter-Korean talks to go ahead, so they may resume at some point, but if the Korean parties are less keen on making progress than the US and China then its hardly a recipe for progress.
  • China’s investment into NK was a reported $98 million between 2003 and 2009, relatively small compared to $473 into Vietnam and $730 million into Myanmar over the same period. The majority of Chinese investors were small and medium private enterprises, and provincial/prefecture/municipal-state-owned enterprises. The majority of them come from Jilin and Liaoning, which share the border with NK, also contributing to the economic development of China’s northeastern rust-belt.
  • Noland argues that China may account for little more than 30% of NK’s foreign trade, rather than the 70% that is the commonly accepted figure.
  • Thirteen cities in NE China, headed by Dandong and Tonghua, have announced plans for a Yalu River Basin economic cooperation zone. All of these areas trade with NK.
  • The UNSC is scheduled to discuss the NK nuclear issue, including its uranium enrichment program, on Feb 23.
  • Mike Chinoy makes the case for the SPT – ‘strategic patience’ has brought a missile and nuclear test, unveiling of a new uranium enrichment plant, and the Cheonanham and Yeonpyeong Island attacks, while the history of the SPT suggests that some things can be accomplished at the negotiating table.
  • Leon Segal on insights gained from wikileaks on LMB’s hardline policy towards NK.


  • KCNA mentions Egypt! Unfortunately it was just to say that KJI’s work “Our Socialism Centred on the Masses Shall Not Perish” was published there on Feb 1. Great timing.
  • Other pieces on NK’s relations with Egypt here and here.
  • Haggard summarizes (video) ‘Witness to Transformation’ and puts it into the context of current political developments in NK.
  • Kang on why he doesn’t worry about Chinese territorial ambitions south of the Yalu and why he isn’t surprised China doesn’t have more influence on NK, via the help of a nifty comparison with US-Mexican relations.
  • Another NK photoset. And photos and video of bowling in Pyongyang.



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