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21 March 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 20 Mar 2011


  • NK will convene its Supreme People’s Assembly on 7 April, raising speculation on whether KJU will use the opportunity to solidify his power base. The Govt is pushing ahead with the succession plan, trying to borrow legitimacy for KJU from the ghost of KIS.
  • NK dismissed its Minister of People’s Security “due to illness”.
  • Traditional patriarchy in NK makes women vulnerable to violence, especially in the home, and the police turn a blind eye to domestic violence. Violence against women is also said to be notorious in the construction industry and rape happens in the military where women have no recourse of action. Continuing the theme, 38 North have an interview with Dr. Hyun, NK refugee and head of NK Intellectuals Solidarity, on the status of women both inside NK and after they defect.
  • The NK Govt, apparently spooked about the scale of the Japanese disaster and worried about their own capacity to deal with such a crisis has been informing its citizens how to respond in the event of an earthquake. Part of this advice included telling citizens to use pets as early-warning systems for earthquakes. KCNA also reported that a message of sympathy was sent to the Japanese people (on the same day as reporting a 20% increase in domestic violence in Japan in 2010).
  • Lankov on drugs in NK: around 2005-2006, areas near the border with China had a dramatic upsurge in drug use, and drug production increasingly became a private enterprise, particularly meth. Often Chinese partners provide the raw materials while NKoreans use their territory as a safe haven to process the drugs (officials are paid off with bribes). Lankov has another piece expanding on his argument that economic growth in NK might hasten political change there.
  • Gold mining in NK is dangerous and often done illegally, but officials take bribes to turn a blind eye.
  • The international community should use a variety of means to increase the information flow into NK, including mid-level technology of short-wave radios, leaflets and TV broadcasts. Information can also be designed to be useful in improving the lives of ordinary NKoreans.
  • Nick Bonner discusses his tour company that took 1,300 tourists to NK last year. KCNA reports that the number of tourists is likely to increase this year, as various new programs have been prepared including NK’s first ‘large-scale magic performance’.


  • FAO: Severe winter is expected to affect winter wheat and spring potato harvests in 2011 and increase the food deficit further. Rise in international prices of cereals, especially maize, is said to have reduced the country’s ability to import needed quantities. Chronic food insecurity continues throughout the country.
  • Noland: Heading into the lean months of mid-2011, domestically produced supply will be down relative to last year. Humanitarian aid is needed and should be divorced from politics. We should not punish poor families or school children [in NK] for the behavior of a govt over which they have no influence.
  • Haggard backgrounder on food security: FAO crop assessments tend to overstate levels of distress, but harsh weather conditions and flooding over the last year and information from a NGO assessment paint a dire picture. NK had planned to purchase 325,000 metric tons of food on the global market this year, but rising prices have reduced that estimate to 200,000. Only a fraction of this amount has been purchased thus far. The likelihood that North Koreans will go malnourished is not a fantasy; it’s happening as we dither.
  • Abramowitz and Cohen also advocate for the provision of food aid: Years of experience of US NGOs in NK have enabled them to develop sophisticated tracking systems to ensure aid reaches intended recipients. Aid does not affect military spending – that is prioritised over all else regardless. Policy of withholding aid from starving people to help engineer regime collapse is untenable. Lastly, aid could help open doors to wider diplomacy.
  • Daily NK reports that the NK military is systematically procuring rice from the markets, offering Party membership as an incentive.


  • NK relented and agreed to the return of 27 out of its 31 nationals held in SK, leaving 4 defectors in SK, but demanded they be returned by boat instead of at Panmunjom. SK agreed to this but engine failure delayed their return. They will likely be returned this coming week. NK has not reported any news about the 31 drifters domestically, despite a rigorous external PR campaign through uriminzokkiri.
  • Citizens Alliance for NK HR concluded a year-long survey of 120 NK refugees in SK, finding that 80% feel satisfied or very satisfied with life in the south, but just 43% ‘feel welcomed’. 75% reported difficulties from language differences.
  • NK refugee Jung Sung-san talks about his film-making.


  • The North Korean Human Rights Violations Center and North Korea Human Rights Depository opened in SK. The center will formally launch an investigation into the claims of a group of NK refugees and relatives of abductees who filed a petition against KJI for HR abuses.
  • Democracy Network Against NK Gulag submitted the names of 254 people believed to be held in NK’s political prison camps to NK’s mission to the UN in Geneva. Former camp inmate Jung Gwang-il testified about his experiences in Yodok and called for an investigation into the prison camps at the Geneva Summit for HR and Democracy.
  • Release International launched a campaign calling on NK to protect the HR of Christians.
  • US envoy for NK HR issues Amb. King was in Geneva for a session of the UN HRC, and also had meetings at the European Parliament and EC.


  • NK restated its willingness to restart the SPT, including discussions on its uranium enrichment programme. SK rejected the move, again saying NK must show its commitment to nuclear disarmament through actions, not words. The USG also repeated their position that SPT resumption is contingent on an improvement in N-S ties and concrete action by NK to show their commitment to denuclearisation. The G8 Foreign Ministers denounced NK’s UEP as a violation of UNSC resolutions (NB. China is not in the G8).
  • The NK Govt reached out to SK with the suggestion of conducting joint research on the danger of eruption of Mt. Baekdu (highest mountain in Korea, located on border with China). SK is likely to agree. SK politicians have also voiced concern about what a natural disaster could do to NK’s nuclear facilities.
  • NK accused US troops of trespassing into the DMZ and even partying inside it(!).
  • SK Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said NK is not as politically unstable as previously thought, as Pyongyang’s control has tightened.
  • Monthly production at the Kaesong Industrial Complex exceeded 30 million USD for the first time since the sinking of the Cheonan ship one year ago.
  • The Japanese earthquake/tsunami may help Japan improve political relations with SK, as the public mood has shifted in SK with historical animosities set aside and SKoreans donating millions to the victims. Many SKoreans have been deeply impressed with the dignity of the Japanese people at their time of crisis. Even SKoreans demanding reparations for Imperial Japan’s use of ‘comfort women’ (sex slaves) have interupted their regular protests at the Japanese embassy in order to pray for the victims.
  • Finneman of KEI describes NK’s ‘very effective’ manipulation of China, although notes that ‘China gives NK a fraction of what it demands, in food, fuel, and military support’. She advocates that the USG should cooperate with China on economic projects in NK, to alleviate Chinese fears of NK collapse.


  • NK gymnasts will be barred from the 2012 London Olympics for age falsification, despite their reform efforts and banning the officials they blamed the error on.
  • NK sent a floral wreath to Hyundai Group on the 10th anniversary of the death of its founder. KJI also praised Chung Ju-yung for his efforts at reconciliation and cooperation. This comes at a time when Hyundai Asan is struggling because the poor state of inter-Korean relations has hit its revenue.
  • Film studio MGM is digitally changing a whole set of villains in its ‘Red Dawn’ remake from Chinese to NKorean, to avoid offending that huge market. Non-western markets are increasingly important for Hollywood studios–Chinese box office is worth $1.5 billion/year and is growing at rate of 3 cinema screens/day–and this will increasingly affect story-lines and characters cast. Expect more films and video games casting no-dollar NKoreans as the bad guys, at least until KJI can target the LA area with ICBMs.
  • Valuable feedback from a well informed reader notes that last week’s item about the Rumsfeld paper documenting 69 NK citizens serving in the US military probably reflects either Korean-Japanese with NK passports or Pentagon clerks mixing up North and South Korea(!).
  • A tourist shot a nice video of Pyongyang on his Canon 5D (apparently his minders didn’t realise it shot video).
  • NK toys: Lego.

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