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23 May 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 23 May 2011

NK INTERNAL

  • KJI is looking healthier. A packed schedule during his current trip to China may confirm this. But he also made the Time list of top 10 abusers of power.
  • The Workers Party of Korea is appointing large numbers of delegates in their 20s and 30s in an apparent generational shake up of the Supreme People’s Assembly. The moves may be designed to ease the succession of KJU, who is in his late 20s.
  • One of KJI’s close associates, vice minister of the National Security Agency Ryu Kyung, is reported to have been executed or exiled, possibly in connection with the succession.
  • Report of a public trial in Sinuiju. Nine people were tried on 28 April for crimes against ‘socialist culture’ including watching and listening to SKorean movies and songs, and prostitution. The Daily NK reports that the NK Govt is currently trying to cultivate a climate of fear whilst clamping down on dissent. Video of the public trial was shown on MBC in SK.
  • Koryolink, NK’s only official mobile phone network, now has over 500,000 subscriptions (just over 2% of total population). 100,000 were added in Q1 2011, but quarter on quarter growth slowed for the first time since Q3 2009. Average revenue per user is also decreasing as the service expands to less wealthy users. A multimedia messaging service was added in January, and in February ‘Euro Pack’ recharge cards that can only be paid for in Euros were introduced to boost foreign currency earnings. Full report here. Daily NK reports that prices for handsets are falling. The NK Govt is reportedly adding regulations to make it harder to use smuggled Chinese handsets in NK.
  • Daily NK on drug use in NK.
  • KCNA pictures of the 14th Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair.
  • Pyongyang University of Science and Technology has added 100 students, taking them up to around 260. PUST was founded by evangelical Christians based in the US and SK, instruction is in English, and students have access to a censored internet.  

FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY

  • US Special Envoy for NK Human Rights Issues Amb Robert King will visit NK this week to discuss NK’s request for food aid, and human rights issues. The US delegation will also conduct field evaluations of food shortages. Amb King’s active participation may help shield any decision to provide food aid from Republican criticisms.  
  • Jimmy Carter and Martti Ahtisaari found no-one at State Dept willing to be briefed on the Elders’ recent trip to NK. The Elders continue to call for a resumption of food aid.
  • Rumsfeld would unsurprisingly prefer regime change to food aid.
  • The SK Govt still has no immediate plans to resume large-scale food aid to NK. The SK Govt still openly politicises food aid and links it to the NK Govt taking responsibility for the 2010 attacks. Unification Ministry: “Decisions on large-scale aid funded by the government would be made not only on the basis of humanitarian situations in North Korea (DPRK) but also on our assessment on inter-Korean relations in general.”
  • A SK Christian group without authorisation from the SK Govt sent 172 tons of flour worth 91,700 USD to NK through China.
  • The EU is also considering sending a food needs assessment team to NK.
  • The WFP’s DPRK director said that the NK Govt has given the WFP new monitoring powers including checking market prices in rural and urban markets, and called on SK to provide food aid.
  • Russia has agreed to send 50,000 tons of grain to NK after bilateral discussions.
  • Fox News reports from NK on the food shortages again (video and transcript). Highlights the lack of agricultural equipment, and has an interview with Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse. Also shows view of China from NK side of Yalu River.
  • Good Friends newsletter: special edition on food security and food aid.
  • SK conservative newspaper JoongAng Ilbo editorial argues for food aid. The Economist also argues for food aid, and engaging NK in talks. Tim Peters argues for food aid to be sent through NGOs rather than Govt programs.
  • Der Spiegel: The head of German relief organisation Cap Anamur recently visited NK at the invitation of the NK Govt. “The people are starving. They have nothing left to eat. For the rural population and orphans, the shortage of food will become a real threat during the coming weeks.” Cap Anamur has already sent 200 tons of rice to NK. The Chinese refused to sell them the rice so they had to procure it from Thailand.
  • Global cereal prices are up 71% on April 2010.

REFUGEES

  • Independent (UK) article on the journey of NK refugees from NK, through China and SE Asia to SK. Infographic: The Refugee’s Journey.
  • The Japanese media reports that Japanese diplomatic missions in China will stop protecting NK refugees under pressure from the Chinese Govt. China recently allowed 5 NK refugees passage out of China to Japan, reportedly in return for Japanese assurances not to provide shelter for further refugees. After China increased the security around diplomatic missions around 2002, Japanese diplomats met refugees elsewhere and took them into the mission personally. Over 100 refugees have gained passage to Japan through its diplomatic missions to date.
  • The number of NK refugees in SK at the end of April reached 21,294. Ministry of Unification data shows that 55% cite difficult living conditions as the main reason for leaving NK, while 7% cite discontent with the political system or fear of punishment. Refugees consider SK Govt support to be satisfactory, but many still find it hard to adjust.
  • Around 70% of NK refugees in SK come from North Hamgyeong Province, which borders China on the eastern side of the peninsula (13,583 people). Only 2.9% come from North Pyongan Province, which borders China on the western most side. The discrepancy is reportedly partly caused by different levels of security.
  • The British Embassy in Seoul launched its ‘English for the Future’ program to help NK refugees adjust to competitive SK society by providing English language education, internships with corporate and media sponsors, and a scholarship for postgraduate study in the UK. Amb Martin Uden blogs about it here.
  • Interview with Park Jung-bum, SK director of ‘The Journals of Musan’, a film that portrays the struggle to adjust by a NK refugee in SK. English trailer. Info.
  • NK refugees report suffering from increased stress at times of inter-Korean tension, as some SKoreans associate them with the NK Govt.
  • Lee Gwang-su, three family members and a friend were awarded 111,000 USD in compensation from the SK Govt over claims that 26 of their relatives in NK were sent to political prison camps after SK Govt officials leaked details of their identities after their defection in 2006.

HUMAN RIGHTS

  • An associate of Eddie Jun, the American citizen who has been detained in NK since November 2010, claimed that he has been heavily beaten during the investigation into his underground church activities. According to the associate, the investigation has resulted in 2 underground churches being discovered, 3 executions and tens of arrests. The USG however has said that Eddie Jun is being treated fairly. The same source also claims there are 40,000 underground Christians in NK, including those in political prison camps.
  • Barry Devolin MP will soon introduce a motion on NK Human Rights to the Canadian Parliament.
  • US and NKorean Red Cross officials have met to discuss family reunions for Korean-Americans separated from family members in NK.

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY

  • KJI is reportedly in China. Initial reports suggested that his son and successor KJU was making a long-rumoured trip to China, but the latest reports suggest KJI is travelling without his son. This will be KJI’s third trip to China in around 12 months. Wen Jiabao reportedly told LMB that China had invited KJI to learn about China’s economic development. Some Chinese netizens are already complaining about the inconvenience caused by KJI’s insistence on travelling by train.
  • The director of Russia’s intelligence agency led a Russian delegation to NK and reportedly met with KJI. If true, KJI would be breaking diplomatic norms by meeting someone of a considerably lower level. Talks covered economic cooperation, nuclear weapons and food aid.
  • China’s MFA criticised a UN report saying that Iran and NK have cooperated on ballistic missile technology, claiming that “China is conscientious and responsible in enforcing SC resolutions”. China is suspected of being a trans-shipment point for illicit trade between Iran and NK. Japanese media reports that there are over 200 NKorean engineers in Iran working on nuclear and missile programs. The UN report also states that NK has continued exporting missile systems to numerous customers in the Middle East and South Asia, and is getting better at circumventing international sanctions.
  • ICG’s Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt: Multiple actors influence China’s NK policy, and there is more pluralism of views than before. The International Liaison Department of the CCP is becoming a more important influence on NK policy.
  • Retired US General Robert Gard examines the history of negotiations with NK and argues “however dim the prospect for success, the only realistic option is to pursue dialogue and negotiations with North Korea to try to persuade the regime to give up its nuclear weapons.”
  • A senior US intelligence officer warned that NK’s missile program will eventually yield systems capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the US.
  • Shanghai-Pyongyang flights are increasing to meet a rise in demand from Chinese tourists.
  • The SK Govt seems to lack basic information on SK companies doing business with NK.

MISC.

  • Animated penguin diplomacy? Turns out mega-hit cartoon character ‘Pororo the little penguin’ was originally the product of a N-S collaboration during the Sunshine Policy. NK animation is pretty good.
  • Greta Van Susteren of Fox News blogs about being confronted by a NKorean Vice FM about the Fox News report on NK drug exports. Video report here. Blog with photo of emaciated ox here.
  • NK diplomats in India are being investigated for involvement in a luxury car smuggling case worth 92m USD. Overseas diplomatic missions are reportedly responsible for raising their own funding. Coupled with diplomatic immunity and diplomatic pouches, this is hardly a recipe for legitimate business dealings.
  • The SK Govt is partnering with the WFP to introduce a crucial driver from its own successful economic development to developing countries (pilot projects in Nepal and Rwanda). The Saemaul Undong or ‘New Village Movement’ will be adapted and rolled out through WFP food-for-work projects aimed at building essential infrastructure, building resilience against climactic shocks, and reforming agriculture. This is exactly what NK needs.
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