Weekly News Brief – 6 June 2011
- NK and China recently agreed to develop Rason and Hwanggumpyong Island into an industrial belt with free market practices.
- NK Govt: Less than 10% of NK judges, 10% of high level Govt officials, and only 4.7% of the diplomatic corps are women. After a divorce, custody of the children generally goes to the mother, and child maintenance from the father is set at 30%.
- The NK Govt formed a special riot control force late last year armed with pistols and batons. State Security officials are also apparently being replaced as KJU appoints his supporters into key positions.
- The NK Govt is struggling to persuade more of its citizens to quit smoking.
- KCNA announced that NK had launched a massive construction project around the Mansudae area of Pyongyang – home to the huge KIS statue.
- As they become more aware of the economic gap between NK and SK, more NKoreans hope for a Seoul-led unification.
- ORNK: NK uses ‘hostesses‘ in hotels in an attempt to secure more investment from foreign businessmen.
FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY
- UN FAO: Winter wheat, spring barley and spring potato harvests in 2011 are estimated to be lower by about 232 000 tonnes than earlier estimates due to the severe winter. Rise in international prices of cereals has reduced the country’s ability to import needed quantities. Chronic food insecurity continues throughout the country. Also, IFRC flood relief operation final report.
- A NKorean official admitted to a UN committee that many women are entering China to seek food.
- Amb. King: “I candidly discussed the monitoring terms that would be necessary for the United States to provide food assistance to the DPRK… We are carefully reviewing our findings [on food needs] and coordinating closely with our partners in advance of a decision… the DPRK must first address our serious concerns about monitoring and outstanding issues related to our previous food aid program, which North Korea abruptly suspended in March 2009.” King added that if they did provide aid they would provide food that was harder to divert and less desirable for the elite and military, which means no rice. King also recognised that the SK Govt “would prefer that we not provide assistance.”
- CFR’s Snyder: Any U.S. decision to provide food aid to the country should be accompanied by steps to minimize moral hazard (video).
- Jhe Seong-ho: South Korea’s Internal Division over Humanitarian Aid to North Korea and North Korean Human Rights.
- SK’s Unification Ministry opened a 24 hour call centre to assist NK refugees settling in the South. Counsellors will handle queries on job searches, the law, medical services, housing, education etc.
- Amb. King: Since 2004 the US has resettled 120 NKorean refugees and their families. USG continues to urge China to not forcibly return NK refugees, and urges China to cooperate with the UNHCR, including allowing access to NK asylum seekers. Republican Congressman Chris Smith has submitted a bill that would restrict entry to the US for Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses, including the forced repatriation of NK refugees.
- A USG sponsored student exchange program for SK students has been expanded to include young NK refugees. Five defectors enrolled in SK universities will join the program next month.
- NK is set to hold ‘elections’ in June. Sources say that election times are used to punish the families of defectors whose absence is discovered through their non-participation. (2009 election photos).
- The NK Govt is cracking down on female defectors by restricting women’s movement near the border.
- The NK Govt is investigating soldiers suspected of helping people to escape across the border, apparently under a decree signed by KJU. This has reportedly led to two guards themselves fleeing into China.
- Amb. King gave testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Implementation of the North Korean Human Rights Act. King recently engaged directly with First VFM Kim Kye-gwan on HR issues. He said the NKoreans were willing to look into some of the issues raised and Kim Kye-gwan invited him back to NK to have further discussions on HR.
- King has met with over 90 organisations that deal with NK HR issues. In FY 2010 the USG spent 8.5m USD on a ten-hour-daily schedule of VOA and RFA broadcasts into NK. Reports indicate that NKoreans are listening to foreign broadcasts in increasing numbers.
- SK lawmakers continue to wrangle over the NK Human Rights Act, with some now proposing revising it to a ‘NK Welfare and Human Rights Act’, and adding a provision on economic aid to NK which would be favoured by the opposition Democratic Party but unpopular with the ruling GNP.
- Freedom House once again named NK as among the ‘worst of the worst’ for human rights.
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY
- NK burned its remaining bridges with LMB by revealing embarrassing details of secret contact that was aimed at improving N-S relations. NK’s National Defence Commission expressed anger that a Chonghwadae spokesman had first spread ‘rumours’ about the secret contact and claimed that the SK Govt ‘begged’ for something that could pass for an apology to the SK people, and showed off “enveloped money to lure someone but suffered shame”. They added that they “won’t talk to the LMB group of traitors any more” (full KCNA statement). NK also lashed out over reports that SK army units were using images of KJI for target practice – “a thrice cursed criminal act of hurting the supreme dignity of the DPRK… nothing but hysteric spasm hard to imagine with a normal brain”. A threat to close an East coast military hotline to SK turned out to be rather empty though as the line has been down since last year. There was no threat to close the more important West coast line.
- This may represent the hardliners in the NK Govt asserting themselves, after the ‘peace offensive’ of the last few months yielded nothing. In this case another provocation may be forthcoming (missile or nuclear test). Coming so soon after KJI’s China trip, this move may also be a slap in the face to China, whose leaders presumably encouraged KJI to repair relations with SK – a warning to China that if they don’t get the required assistance, things could get even worse. It may also reflect a recognition by KJI that there is no scope for getting anything out of LMB, and by embarrassing him publicly he may be trying to influence SK domestic politics and increase the likelihood of a pro-engagement SKorean president being elected next year. Lastly, it could be an attempt to split the US from SK, by making a deliberate step backwards in inter-Korean dialogue right after taking a step forward in dialogue with the US, who they may perceive as having some appetite for engagement.
- The SK Govt acknowledged that the secret talks had taken place but denied the accusation of bribery and said they were aimed at making NK give an apology, and that the door to talks remains open. SK NGOs are still permitted to go to NK.
- The Obama administration is said to have tapped Sung Kim to be the next US ambassador to SK. If confirmed he will become the first Korean-American in the role. Sung Kim was born in SK and has served as special envoy to the SPT since 2008.
- Daily NK on ‘No. 91 Office’ – NK’s cyber warfare HQ. And IBT on the subject.
- Italy foiled a NKorean attempt to buy tap-dancing shoes in breach of a UN ban on luxury imports.
- SK public discontent against the US is growing because of revelations that the US army in the past sprayed defoliants over the DMZ and buried chemicals at US army bases in SK, causing environmental damage.
- Kang: In DC 90% of key policymakers think isolating and punishing NK is the way to go, but adding pressure is counter-productive, and the US should instead provide food aid. The regime is stable now but if KJU takes over and makes some big mistakes, the regime could become vulnerable very quickly.
- Historian Bernd Schaeffer on NK-East German relations in the late 1980s. Includes NK’s resistance to reforms and the bizarre revelation that in 1989 the NK Govt was concerned about an IRA attack in NK.
- KCNA Video: Kaeson Youth Park (the music is great). Another video shows luxury leisure facilities, spa, swimming pool and restaurant in Pyongyang (less great music).
- Photoset with some great portraits of Pyongyangites. Photo journal and travelogue of Sophia Michelen, 23 year old in NK.
- Pro-NK Chongryon schools in Japan have been forced to alter their textbooks in order to receive local govt funding.
- Police in Dandong, on the Chinese side of the border with NK, detained 10 Chinese people for smuggling meth into the country from NK.
- June DPRK Business Monthly.
- KCNA headline of the week: “S. Korean Reptile Media Hit for Spreading Misinformation”
- NK TV broadcast on KJI’s trip to China.