Weekly News Brief – 17 Feb 2011
- 1000 NK workers have been added to the Kaesong Industrial Complex, bringing the workforce up to 46,000. Production at the KIC rose by 26% last year despite the tensions, with production totalling 323m USD.
- Photo of teen wearing Adidas cap sideways in Pyongyang. Nuclear weapons not pictured. Other things don’t change though – jumping on the foreign devil is still fun.
- KJI’s 3 main health problems at age 70 are said to be recovering from his 2008 stroke, chronic renal failure from diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. His birthday on Wednesday was marked with a Kimjongilia festival, swimming and ice skating performances in Pyongyang, and he received birthday presents from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) including a giant porcelain peach bun (symbolizing longevity), a sculpture and 4 DVDs. Among his other crimes, KJI’s birthday completely ruins Valentine’s day in NK.
- A former SK deputy spy chief has speculated that the succession will take 5 years and that there is little chance of any power group betraying KJU. KJU has been named vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, effectively the number 2 spot in NK.
- The SK govt has said that NK has revived its ‘Office 38’ for managing Kim Jong-il’s slush funds. In 2009 it had been merged with Office 39, but it has been revived as a separate entity after apparent difficulties in earning foreign currency.
- Pyongyang has been downsized – an administrative reorganisation has cut 500K from its poulation of 3 million, probably to reduce the financial burden of the ‘showcase capital’.
- In a probable sign of insecurity, NK state media has been emphasising ‘spiritually arming the young’ and warning against materialism, ideological corruption and the ‘sick culture of capitalism’.
- NK is developing an internet strategy of ‘walled gardens’ and ‘mosquito nets’, but the internet is only accessible by 4% of the population. They may eventually take cues from China in dealing with an internet where ‘misinformation’ is disguised as “people’s opinions” and sites spreading ‘erotic and violent information’ have to be blocked.
- In the midst of struggling with its foot and mouth disease flare-up, KCNA is blaming the spread of FMD in Asia squarely on SK, which has had an unprecedented outbreak. NK may face a harder task dealing with FMD partly because of their heavy reliance on oxen in agriculture.
- Radio Free Asia reports that a tank battalion is kept hidden in Pyongyang, ready to quell any uprising.
FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY
- SK’s Ministry of Unification stated that resumption of food aid to NK is dependent on improvements in N-S relations, not even pretending that humanitarian assistance is delinked from politics.
- An association of SK relief groups have appealed to the SK govt for permission to deliver aid such as children’s thermal underwear to NK and has argued against the use of humanitarian aid as a political tool. The SK govt rejected a recent request by the association to visit NK to monitor the distribution of relief supplies to flood victims.
- The WFP and FAO have launched a joint survey of food security in NK, and have reportedly been allowed to visit 30 cities in Jagang and North Gangwon Province that were previously off-limits due to proximity to military installations. The survey will conclude in early March, which will be an opportunity for govts to decide whether to resume food aid to NK.
- Dick Lugar, lead Republican on US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned that food aid to NK should be dependent on proper monitoring. The USG says it has not decided whether to resume food aid.
- Officials from the EU, US and Australia have said that any food aid to NK must be multilateral not bilateral, and will demand far more intrusive inspections to make sure aid is not diverted to the military. Western diplomats are reportedly concerned that denying food aid could lead to NK creating more provocations. UN inspectors estimate that about 5m people – 20% of the population – are malnourished. The total annual food shortfall is consistently about 1m tonnes, but it may be exacerbated by the harsh winter and the FMD outbreak.
- NK and Chinese Security Chiefs met in Pyongyang and signed an agreement on cooperation between the two countries’ security organs. The Chinese Ministry of Public Security also donated unspecified ‘aid materials’ to NK’s Ministry of People’s Security. This is likely related to PRC-DPRK border security. Border security was tightened after a similar meeting in Beijing in December 2009. NK border guards are now said to be able to hunt escapees in China ‘at will’.
- A survey has found 50% of NK refugees’ households earn below 1m won (900 USD) per month, 23% earn less than 500,000 won/month, underscoring the economic difficulties they continue to face.
- 80% of NK refugees in SK fail to stay in any job for 2 years, compared to the SK average of 47%. An over-representation of women in the NK refugee sample may skew this indicator.
- Nearly half of NK refugees have sent money back to their families in NK, according to a survey. Of remittances made last year, 12.5% said they sent less than 500,000 won, 31.7% sent between 500,000 and 1m won, 16.7% sent 1-2m won, 12.5% sent 2-3m won and 12.5% sent more than 5m won. 1m SK won reportedly covers around six months of living costs in NK. As well as money, the contact between relatives in SK and NK sends a ‘wave’ of information and news about capitalist SK into the North.
- A young North Korean man has made a rare and dangerous direct defection across the DMZ into SK.
- 77 NK refugees graduated (video) from Hankyoreh Middle and High Schools in SK, with 37 out of the 43 high school leavers going on to college.
- US special envoy for NK human rights issues Amb. Robert King: supporting NGOs working to improve HR in NK is USG’s priority, and the flow of information into NK by these groups should be encouraged in order to break the control the govt has on its people.
- Seoul-based NGO North Korea Human Rights Database Centre has compiled over 5000 testimonies of HR violations from NK refugees and plans to make a case to the ICC.
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY
- Joint US-ROK ‘Key Resolve/Foal Eagle’ military drills in late Feb/early March will shift emphasis to practising dealing with ‘sudden change’ scenarios in NK, including civil war sparked by a failed transition of power to KJU, public riots, securing WMD, refugee floods, a massive natural disaster, kidnapping of SK citizens in the North, and dealing with Chinese troops that may enter NK in the event of a crisis. SK and the US will also discuss their nuclear deterrence policy next month.
- SK lawmakers joined activists to float 100,000 anti-NK propaganda leaflets on balloons into NK. The leaflets included information about the popular uprisings in the Arab world.
- A minor opposition party lawmaker has called on the SK govt to develop its own nuclear weapons program in order to negotiate with NK on an equal footing.
- NK has called for N-S talks between the two sides’ lawmakers.
- The Economist on SK’s hawkish approach to NK, and its preparations for NK ‘surprises’, including terrorism.
- After the NK delegation’s walk-out from N-S talks, the USG warned NK it will be further isolated if it fails to show seriousness in improving N-S relations, indicating that NK is still a long way from meeting the USG’s minimum conditions for restarting the SPT.
- China’s FM Yang will visit Seoul next Wednesday to discuss NK and its nuclear programme. China shares concern over NK’s uranium enrichment program but thinks should be dealt with through the SPT and not the UNSC.
- NK exports to China reportedly rose by 52% to 1.2 billion USD last year, while Chinese exports to NK rose 21%.
- The number of Chinese tourists visiting NK has increased sharply after China eased 5 year old travel restrictions in July 2010.
- NK state media reported that China supports the power transition to KJU – “Meng warmly congratulated Kim Jong Il upon his reelection as general secretary of the WPK and Kim Jong Un upon his election as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK at the historic Conference of the WPK, hailing the successful solution of the issue of succession to the Korean revolution.”
- A second, more advanced North Korean missile/space launch site appears to have been completed. There are no signs of an imminent missile launch. The USG continues to state its concern with the threat from NK’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.
- Noland: The Yeonpyeong Island attack damaged NK’s economy much more than SK’s, because the Nov 2009 currency revaluation primed people to be wary of the NK won, and the high level of financial repression contributes to thin, underdeveloped markets that are more prone to panics and wild swings in prices.
- Gossip on Kim Jong-chol (KJI’s 2nd son)’s holiday to Singapore. He reportedly attended a concert of his beloved Eric Clapton and bought birthday presents for his Dear Daddy. More gossip on the Kim clan, and if you really love royal court gossip there’s a rumour that KJI has a 4th son, just 7 years old, and that KJC and KJU had kids of their own last year.
- NK state media has unsurprisingly maintained its complete silence about the Egyptian people’s democratic movement.
- A SK soldier in a front-line unit was killed by gunshot wound to head. The military are investigating.
- Footage of KJI and KJU meeting The Chinese Minister for Public Security broadcast on CCTV, shot Monday this week in Pyongyang.
- Bizarre KCNA piece on distance learning in NK, “The study house gives distance lectures under the real-time conversation system whereby varieties of image, sound and information are provided both ways.” Do they mean skype?
- UN rapporteur Frank La Rue has criticised South Korea for restricting freedom of expression.
- A quite incredible story of irrepressible love between a Vietnamese man and a North Korean woman.