Weekly News Brief – 20 June 2011
- NKorean mobile phone users topped 535,000 in March, representing a 420% increase over 12 months.
- Daily NK: Since the currency reform, NKoreans are more comfortable criticizing the state. But they still hold their tongues about the Kim family.
- The make-up of the NK delegation to N-S secret talks suggests the NK military is exerting more influence over inter-Korean dialogue and relations.
- NK will hold elections for the local People’s Committees on 24 July. The process of voter registration is reportedly used to threaten the families of defectors.
- NK is suffering from rapid deforestation as NKoreans continue to cut down trees for fuel and to create farmland. NK has long had a problem with deforestation, which increases the frequency and severity of flooding.
- Daily NK reports on a spate of suicides by NSA agents under investigation for abetting defections and smuggling.
- Lankov: “Very few educated North Koreans nowadays buy the official propaganda message wholesale. They know that the official media lies, and sometimes lies quite shamelessly. While being more or less loyal subjects of their state, they entertain significant (and growing) skepticism about its institutions and the official pronouncements of its leaders.”
- Interesting interview with head of NK Intellectuals Solidarity: NKIS has sent about 300 USBs containing information that ‘defectors found surprising in the south. Copies of Wikipedia entries turned out to be the most popular with NKoreans.
- The Economist on NK’s economy: Perhaps this time might be different?
- WSJ Video: Chinese Road Trip in North Korea.
FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY
- The US House of Representatives voted to block US food aid to NK, in a preemption of the Obama administration’s internal discussions on monitoring issues. The bill must still be voted on in the Democratic-majority Senate.
- A US official said that a decision on food aid would be made “within several weeks” but “discussions required for establishing a system for transparent distribution and survellance of foods will take several months.”
- Daily NK: “Survival is the only goal of NKoreans. No luxury of concerning themselves with politics or future leader KJU.”
- Spring droughts are reportedly threatening the potato harvest, that many people rely on through June and July.
- UN OCHA head Valerie Amos called for urgent international action to help feed the 6 million NKoreans in need of assistance. Only 15% of $210m needed to tackle food shortages in NKorea has been pledged.
- Fox’s Greta called on the USG to consider the NKorean people instead of the NK Govt in decision on food aid.
- Wolfgang Gerstner, head of German NGO Caritas International, urged SK to not politicise food aid to NK.
- Danish NGO Mission East is delivering 52.5 tons of food aid to NKorean children in nurseries and kindergartens.
- An EU food security assessment team completed their trip to NK. “The team visited hospitals, baby homes, schools, cooperative farms, state shops and private markets, as well as individual households to talk with ordinary citizens”. The EC is expected to make a decision on food aid after consulting with the US and SK.
- NK and China are reportedly stepping up their crackdown on NK refugees. 14 refugees were arrested in single operation in Helong, Yanbian.
- NK and China also launched their first joint boat patrol of the Yalu River. Likely to make smuggling and defections more difficult.
- Tim Peters interview: “We are faced with an almost overwhelming flood of second wave orphans” born to trafficked NK women & Chinese fathers.
- Nine NKoreans (3 men, 2 women and 4 children) defected to SK by boat. It appears their intention to defect was clear. NK are demanding their immediate repatriation. The Unification Minister was kept in the dark for five days on the defection, raising questions on SK Govt’s policy coordination.
- Female NKorean refugees aged 20-39 account for more than 60% of all NK refugees in South Korea.
- ‘Super Cop’ Ahn has helped over 100 NKorean refugees settle in SK by finding them jobs and enrolling them in schools.
- Cho Myung-chul, defector and the new director of the Education Center for Unification, plans to use defectors to educate SKoreans about NK, and also plans to utilise social media.
- GNP chief policymaker Lee Joo-young reaffirmed the GNP’s desire to pass the NKHR Law this month. The DP is opposed, and is proposing its own ‘NK public welfare and human rights law’.
- NK state media warned that if SK enacts the NK Human Rights Law, inter-Korean relations will be frozen and visits and contacts will be ended.
- Daily NK: NK passed ‘showpiece’ Human Rights laws on women’s rights and children’s rights. An SK Govt source said “North Korea will use the law for propaganda in human rights dialogue with international organizations.”
- China detained a SKorean reverend at Beijing airport for several hours, reportedly because of his history of campaigning for the human rights of NKorean refugees and Liu Xiaobo.
- The USG named NK and China among 14 nations it wants the UN to hold accountable for alleged human rights violations.
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY
- US Congressional Research Service report: China’s food assistance to NK has declined sharply, from 500,000 tones in 2005 to 100,000 tons in 2009, and Chinese exports of food to NK also dropped sharply over the same period.
- Report on NK-China trade in energy and natural resources. “Whereas North Korean electricity and iron ore exports are sold at sub-market “friendship prices,” Chinese coal and oil products have been sold to North Korea at premium prices. Chinese Customs data suggest that Beijing is taking a pragmatic, market-oriented approach to trade with its reclusive neighbor.”
- Mongolian PM Batbold said his country would try to engage NK and improve relations, aiming to gain access to NK’s ports.
- A US official warned that if NK staged a third nuclear test, additional strong sanctions would be imposed with the support of Russia and China.
- Senior associate at CSIS: By next year NK will have a miniaturised nuclear warhead it can fit onto an ICBM that could hit the US.
- China and Russia agreed to address NKorean nukes within the Six Party Talks. The leaders also called for a reduction in military activities in the region.
- Bosworth: Six Party Talks are still useful for denuclearisation of NK and maintaining contacts with Pyongyang.
- SK lawmaker Park Sun-young claimed that China asked KJU to join his father on his recent trip to China, but that NK refused for unspecified reasons. She claimed that China waned KJU to tour China in order to encourage him to back reform and opening.
- Joel Wit & Jenny Town: Strategic Patience is Strategic Blunder. The Obama administration should reset its NK policy.
- KCNA reported that Kim Jong-il received a CCP delegation in Pyongyang.
- SK military are reported to have deployed surface-to-surface missiles near the N-S border capable of reaching Pyongyang. They have also launched a new defense command to better protect the five SK islands in the disputed West Sea maritime border area. LMB’s accompanying pep talk might have worked too well as SK marines then mistakenly fired at an Asiana airliner coming in to land at Incheon airport, thinking it was a NK jet. No damage was caused as the rifles were out of range.
- 20,000 SKorean Catholics held a Mass to call for an end to N-S hostility, the first of its kind for 8 years.
- Hankyoreh interview with SKorean businessman revealing the shut-down of inter-Korean trade due to the restrictions put in place by LMB.
- SK mulled proposing a FTA to NKorea in 2007. They reportedly valued NK’s natural resources at 6.5 trillion USD.
- CNN video: NKorean Taekwondo demonstration team visits the US. KCNA proudly stated that “a DPRK flag was seen in the hall.”
- A KCNA report on Pyongyang Central Zoo says the ‘pets’ tricks’ program “is crowned with a skipping rope trick performed by dogs together with monkeys.” There’s a youtube hit waiting to happen.
- KCNA reports on a popular sand art performance at Mansudae Art Studio. It might have looked something like this (but with fewer crying Ukrainians).
- KCNA video of quadruplet babies leaving hospital.
- US national history test results showed that fewer than 1/4 of 12th-graders knew China was NK’s ally during the Korean War.
- A Unification Ministry internship was overwhelmed with applications, indicating SK students’ growing interest in N-S relations.
- Ultimate Frisbee anyone? In Pyongyang?