Weekly News Brief – 25 Feb 2011
- Chosun Ilbo quotes sources saying that small pockets of unrest are appearing in NK, with scores of people demanding food and electricity in Jongju, Yongchon and Sonchon in North Pyongan Province (shares border with China). The unrest was said to have been sparked by electricity being diverted to Pyongyang for KJI’s birthday. There are further reports of protests in Sinuiju (also on Chinese border) sparked by a crackdown on the market, with ‘hundreds’ of people clashing with security forces and the military, leaving 4-5 dead.
- It is also reported that China’s Minister for Public Security may have recently been discussing ways to prevent public protests with KJI. The People’s Safety Ministry is reportedly forming provincial riot squads to deal with internal disorder. NK has also recently suspended mobile phone rentals for foreigners, possibly in order to better control the flow of information, and there are further reports of authorities cutting phone lines and increasing surveillance of students.
- The chances of a North African-style revolution are still judged to be low (as are the chances of economic reforms). While there may be pockets of resistance, there is no concerted anti-govt movement on the horizon, no internet or safe and fast means of communication among the citizenry, no large middle class, fewer young people as a proportion of population than in the Arab world, and no living memory of independent social movements.
- Haggard advocates for a people-focused information strategy to be part of US and SK policy towards NK – increasing international exchanges and information flows into the country. Information can force the NK govt to accommodate civil society even if it does not collapse.
- The NK govt is reportedly worried about the news of Arab uprisings trickling in through smugglers on the border with China and spreading through the markets and informal economy. There are also an estimated 5,000 NKs in border regions that use Chinese-made mobile phones with which they can hear of news from the outside world. RFA reports that only high ranking officials have been informed of the Egyptian uprising and were told that it was caused by the failure of economic policy and corruption, and that the US had betrayed Mubarak before he stepped down. A minority party SK lawmaker claimed that the Defence Ministry is dropping leaflets informing NK citizens of the Arab uprisings, along with food, medicine, clothing and other supplies. If confirmed it would mark the first time the SK military has engaged in such propaganda campaigns since 2000.
- If they get to hear about it, the (hopefully impending) fall of Gaddafi could have more resonance with NKoreans than the fall of other dictators due to their increased familiarity with Gaddafi and Libya. There are reportedly 200 NK workers in Libya who haven’t been evacuated. This is most likely due to a lack of capacity to evacuate, but could also be due to the potential threat they could pose by bringing in information about Gaddafi’s fall.
- SK’s Unification Minister Hyun has briefed SK diplomats, saying that KJI’s health situation is neither getting better nor worse, the NK military is showing and using its power by taking over duties from the Foreign Ministry in carrying out high-level diplomatic activities, and that the Kaesong Industrial Complex is the only thing that is doing well economically in the North and NK officials have requested it never be shut down.
- NK has failed to control its Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak: 10,000 pigs and 500 cows have been confirmed infected, with 48 outbreaks over most parts of country.
FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY
- Five US aid groups report that NK is facing severe food shortages, with people again foraging for wild grasses and herbs. NK authorities report that 50-80% of key crops have died because of the harsh winter, and rising global food prices have made importing the shortfall more difficult. The aid groups have made a joint call for international assistance to feed the most vulnerable populations in NK. The UN WFP/FAO are also currently carrying out a needs assessment in NK and are likely to recommend the provision of food aid. NK officials also reported that 80% of crops would fail in Pyongan Province (site of reported recent public protests near Chinese border), although some SK and western officials argue that NK could be exaggerating problems in order to extract more aid, including from China who would be concerned about instability on their border.
- The SK ambassador to the US has said that a prompt resumption of food aid by the US is unlikely and that the US will consult closely with SK on whether to resume aid.
- The Czech Republic have already indicated that they will reject NK’s request for food aid, citing NK’s high military spending.
- Good Friends report that NK is feeding its soldiers on corn instead of rice and that soldiers are suffering from malnutrition, leading to a halt in winter training.
- Selig Harrison makes the case for a resumption of food aid, and also goes further in advocating an approach of long-term energy aid and food aid linked to denuclearisation demands.
- Just over a week after his trip to Pyongyang, KCNA has reported that on 10 February China’s Minister for Public Security called for heightened border security and “building an impregnable fortress for defending the social stability in the border areas.” If reports of social unrest in border regions in NK are true, China and NK may be driven to crackdown on border security for the sake of long-term maintenance of social control.
- A survey has shown that 66% of NK refugees in SK use some of their govt subsidies to help relatives in NK.
- A supplementary school for NK refugee children has opened in southern Seoul. Samheung School is the first of its kind to provide lodging for primary school age children and aims to help the children better adapt to life in the SK education system and wider society. The children also attend a nearby regular primary school but have to overcome difficulties such as having missed years of education in NK and China, lacking in Korean ability due to living in China, the absence of one or both parents and economic difficulties.
- A Seoul court has for the first time granted refugee status to an ethnic Korean Chinese national who helped NK refugees and fears persecution in China.
- A 21 year old NK man crossed straight over the DMZ ‘to escape starvation’, SK officials report he is just 154cm tall and 46kg, compared to the SK average of 174cm/69kg. He was discharged from the NK army last year.
- Former NK soldiers have testified about malnutrition within the army, stealing food from civilians, sexual harassment/assault of female soldiers (sadly far from the only army with those problems), and some suggested that there is a possibility of a North Africa / Middle East style popular revolt in NK.
- NK state media has blasted the SK govt’s initiatives on NK human rights as a ‘smear campaign’ aimed at torpedoing talks. South Korea’s NK HR bill is still stuck in the National Assembly due to opposition from the Democratic Party who think it will be unhelpful and will provoke the NK govt. The delay could threaten the financial viability of civic groups in SK who are also in danger of receiving reduced funding from the US State Dept due to the USG’s budget cuts.
- An exhibition on NK’s political prison camps in Seoul has gained an unprecedented level of public attention, including a visit from SK’s first lady. An online campaign to raise awareness of NKHR by Reporters Without Borders has also been successful. The campaign had been turned away by several leading web portals who apparently feared cyber attacks from SK or NK groups.
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY
- The USG rejected a NK proposal for bilateral high-level military talks last month, saying that inter-Korean dialogue should come first.
- US Pacific Command’s Adm Willard warned that after the breakdown in N-S working level talks and in the context of the succession process, NK could engage in military provocations within months. US National Intelligence Director Clapper said that NK’s nuclear weapons and missiles “pose a serious threat both regionally and beyond”, and indicated that NK is making progress in its ICBM program. Adm Willard added there were no signs NK is preparing a missile test in the short term.
- The SK govt also warned that further NK provocations are possible, and is stressing military preparedness while continuing to demand a ‘responsible attitude’ from NK. The SK military are particularly concerned about a possible NK provocation in response to upcoming joint US-ROK drills. LMB is trying to rally and unify the populace around his NK policy with the slogan ‘a unified citizenry is the best form of defence!’ He reiterated that he is open to an inter-Korean summit, said that he wants to have sincere dialogue with NK this year.
- The US and SK are planning military drills on the islands in the area of the disputed Yellow Sea maritime border. NK are naturally not happy about it. Meanwhile NK released the findings of an investigation by the National Defence Commission into the Yeonpyeong Island attack, repeating its stance that despite their warnings SK fired into NK territorial waters (the disputed waters) and therefore was a SK provocation. The investigation says of the civilian casualties that civilians were “enlisted in the armed forces” and “were in the barracks of the puppet army”. There still seems to be little appetite for N-S dialogue.
- China is again blocking a UN report on North Korea. The report says NK almost certainly has several more uranium enrichment sites in violation of UN sanctions. NK’s nuclear weapons programme is against China’s interests but Beijing wants to deal with it through the SPT rather than the UNSC. China’s deputy nuclear envoy and vice FM visited Pyongyang this week, as Chinese FM Yang visited Seoul, in a concerted Chinese effort to encourage the resumption of N-S dialogue and the SPT. LMB called on China to play a ‘constructive role’ over NK’s nuclear weapons programme.
- NK’s minister of foreign trade Ri Ryong Nam is visiting Russia.
- NK is digging a new tunnel at its nuclear test site which could be ready to use for a third nuclear test after early April. Declassified archives show that SK and US concern over NK nuclear weapon programs go back 40 years.
- Must see new Al Jazeera docu (25 mins) providing insights into the lives of very privileged young North Koreans – Unbom and Yunmi, students at Pyongyang University of Cinematic and Dramatic Arts. If it weren’t for her accent and repeatedly professed desire to please the dear leader, Yunmi could be a student in any university in Seoul.
- A graduate from that same university who defected in 1995 has directed a movie in SK called “Ryanggang Children” – the story of what takes place when a Christmas gift package sent by balloon from SK lands in a remote village in NK.
- KCNA again describes China’s struggle to prevent ‘vulgar and erotic’ information spreading through the internet and mobile phones, but also talks of efforts to “promote markets’ development through production activities”.
- KCNA is also particularly concerned about the prevalence of violence in the US against female ‘American aborigines’. If only they showed as much concern about reports of UN special rapporteurs on NK issues.
- Example of leaflet being sent into NK on balloons by SK activist groups.
- Noland and Haggard outline how Chinese enterprises do business in NK.
- WikiLeaks: In 2008 the Japanese govt admitted its ignorance of NK’s leadership to the USG. Most insights still came from KJI’s former sushi chef. Japan was working to develop its human intelligence capabilities (intel from human sources) to complement its signal intelligence (communication intercepts).
- A new documentary film about the lives of Korean-Japanese who resettled in Pyongyang titled “Goodbye Pyongyang” has been unveiled in Seoul. Inteview with the director.
- Amnesty International condemned the conviction of 8 SKorean members of the Socialist Workers League under the archaic National Security Law.
- Can you imagine a world where NK occupies the US? Neither can I. But the guys that made this computer game can.