Weekly News Brief – 27 June 2011
- The chances of severe floods again plaguing NK during the rainy season appear high. Typhoon Meari was expected to hit the peninsula on Monday, causing heavy rainfall and possible flooding in Southwestern NK and Northwestern SK. At least 9 people have already been killed in SK. ORNK reports that due to poor quality building materials, flood defences regularly collapse after the first heavy rains in NK.
- Yonhap reports that NK has increased imports of Chinese anti-riot gear and created a special police task-force to deal with potential riots. Defectors speaking to the Daily NK cast doubt on this report, saying that if a riot broke out in NK the state would just break it up with live ammunition instead of using standard riot control methods like tear gas. SK’s National Intelligence Service reportedly briefed SK lawmakers that NK had indeed set up a special police task-force and had purchased anti-riot equipment from China. Small outbursts from the public have been observed in NK, usually in markets after products were confiscated, though they have not amounted to large protests.
- An alleged June 2009 police manual has an emphasis on crimes involving food, and also details 5 cases of cannibalism, widespread use of US$, and people being caught making copies of SKorean DVDs and CDs.
- Daily NK: ‘anti-socialist crackdowns’ ordered by the central Govt can actually have the effect of increasing smuggling because they strengthen collusion between corrupt officials and smugglers.
- Rimjin-gang: Use of illegal Chinese mobile phones in border regions is punished by 5-7 days in custody and a 1 million won fine if caught calling SK or 400,000 to 600,000 won fine if caught calling China. 1 million won = 393 USD = about half a ton of rice. Meanwhile, “cell phones are all the rage in Pyongyang”.
- KJI has reportedly pulled a much-hyped historical drama off the air before it finished its run after it was received badly, partly because NKorean tastes have become ‘more refined’ due to the influx of SK dramas. Daily NK: SK dramas and music are penetrating deep into NK, breaking through the propaganda and affecting fashion.
- The NK Govt is considering whether they need initiatives for reform and opening up, according to Chinese Vice FM Cui Tiankai. However Lankov says the NK Govt wants to develop special economic zones to generate hard currency but also wants to minimise their impact on NK society. Chinese Korea expert Zhang Liangui also thinks that NK is still against the idea of reform and opening-up.
- Good Friends: Prostitution is widespread in Pyongyang restaurants, and increasing numbers of NKorean women have to sell their bodies to buy food.
- Many NKoreans are using meth in place of medicine, and the problem is so widespread that anti-drug posters have reportedly been seen in Pyongyang. NKorean meth is also increasingly flooding into Yanji in Jilin Province, China. Chinese authorities are said to be cracking down on NK officials involved in drug smuggling.
- RFA: Opium poppy cultivation is thriving in NK. Govt-run poppy farms pay their workers well, and students are mobilised to work on the farms during their spring break.
- KBS reports on a NK campaign against shaking hands because it is not a traditional ‘Korean’ style way of greeting someone (this type of campaign has also been reported in previous years).
- A lack of building materials is forcing the Govt to slash plans to build 100,000 new homes in Pyongyang, part of efforts to create a ‘strong and prosperous state’ by 2012 that were reportedly described as a KJU initiative in official propaganda.
FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY
- The USG is reported to have tentatively judged that there is no comprehensive food crisis in NK, but certain regions do need assistance. The delegation led by Amb. King also reportedly failed to agree on the terms of aid monitoring with the NKoreans. Clinton said that the decision on food aid is on hold due to concerns over monitoring. The SK Govt reportedly asked the USG not to provide food aid to NK until they agree to inter-Korean talks.
- A CRS report states that the US has provided over 1.2b USD in aid to NK since 1995 including food, energy and medical supplies. Last year the US gave 600,000 USD worth of medical supplies to help with flood relief. Analysis of report here, full report available here.
- Valerie Amos: The UN has received less than 20% of the 210m USD it believes is needed to ensure NKoreans have enough to eat.
- Erich Weingartner recounts his first experience of aid monitoring for the WFP in NK. Recommended read.
- Konrad Mathesius argues that food aid, including to the Korean People’s Army, is ‘necessary and just’.
- An editorial in the conservative daily Chosun Ilbo argues that the SK Govt should provide food aid to NK in order to gain moral backing for its “principled approach” to Pyongyang.
- Asia Press (Rimjin-gang) hidden camera footage from NK provides insight into the extent of the food shortages, with a soldier saying that half of the soldiers in his troop are malnourished. Also according to Asia Press, the number of kotjebi (beggar children) has increased since the currency reform in November 2009, and this year’s food shortage is the worst since the late 1990’s, although it appears that large amounts of food are being sold in the markets for those that can afford it. The Public Distribution System reportedly ran out of food in the second half of June.
- Asahi newspaper: 40% of infants in NK are malnourished.
- The SK Govt is building a new resettlement centre to cope with the growing stream of NK refugees, as Hanawon is on the verge of overcrowding. The Govt will also offer a more diverse range of training courses for refugees based on their previous work in NK. More than 21,700 NKoreans have now made it to SK.
- In a programme jointly coordinated by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in Korea and the Unification Ministry, European companies are offering internships to NK refugees, with the long term aim of developing future leaders within the NK refugee community.
- UNHCR Global Trends 2010: NK refugees are increasing year-on-year. In 2010 917 NKoreans became refugees in foreign countries (excluding SKorea) and 277 applied for asylum. 120 NKoreans have resettled in the US, as of May 2011.
- Tragic story of an apparent murder-suicide in a NK refugee family living in Rochester, NY.
- SK high school students have formed a support group that visits NK refugees who are patients in the National Medical Center. The refugees rarely have visitors as many of them left their families behind in the north.
- Short Pulitzer Center piece on NK refugees hiding in China.
- The European Parliament is to hold a forum on NKHR conditions. There will also be discussions on food aid.
- Ha Tae-kyoung of ORNK and prison camp survivor Kim Hye-sook called on Germany to be more active in calls to improve NKHR, and also called for increased radio broadcasts into NK to give the people hope. There was also a protest outside the NK embassy in Berlin. The activists will hold further meetings in London and Prague.
- 14 NK refugees filed a petition with the SK HR watchdog over abuses they suffered in two NK prisons, including a failed forced abortion followed by murder of the baby.
- NK refugees launched balloons carrying 100,000 anti-Pyongyang leaflets, DVDs and dollar bills into NK.
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY
- US Sen. Kerry wrote an op-ed describing current US policy on NK as “inadequate” and calling for the use of humanitarian aid and joint recovery of US soldiers’ remains as stepping stones for improving relations, leading to direct engagement. Outgoing US Amb. Stephens used a Memorial Day ceremony to pay tribute to former SK President KDJ’s “vision of eventual reunification through reconciliation” which was implemented through the Sunshine Policy that has since been renounced by LMB (speech here). Sung Kim, soon to be approved as the next US amb. to SK, is expected to play a key role in managing relations with NK and provide a boost to public diplomacy because of his Korean heritage.
- Under probable pressure from an Obama administration keen to resume dialogue, the SK Govt appears to be delinking their demand for an apology for the 2010 attacks from making progress in denuclearisation talks. This had been a major obstacle to progress in talks. The USG and SK Govt however reaffirmed the need for improvement in inter-Korean relations as a precondition for restarting the SPT.
- LMB said that the Chinese Govt informed him that they had warned NK that SK would retaliate if they carried out another provocation, and that China would not assist NK in such an eventuality.
- In one sign of the worsened inter-Korean relations, NK state media increased their attacks on LMB from 64 in May to 166 in June.
- KJI may meet with Medvedev in Vladivostok this week.
- LMB said that SK should always be prepared for unification, as it ‘could come unexpectedly early or much later than expected, but it will definitely come’. The SK Govt is considering ways to create a fund to cover the costs of unification. At an event to mark the 61st anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War LMB also said that NK should develop its economy through reform and open-door policies. SK political parties differ on NK policy, but the general public is much more concerned about domestic issues.
- The Japanese Govt called on China to strengthen its role in getting the SPT back on track. The US also called on China to urge NK to deal responsibly with SK and refrain from further provocations.
- Interesting Al Jazeera report on the NK Govt’s efforts to train bright young students to become hackers. Hackers have access to information about the outside world but their relatively good living conditions and pride at being part of the elite temper any temptation to defect. NK is ‘fascinated’ with cyberwarfare as it is cost effective, they already boast good human resources in IT, and NK is largely immune to attack as their servers are not connected to the internet whereas a major attack on other countries could cause chaos. More of this in part 2.
- NK might have developed a super EMP bomb that could destroy SK’s telecom and electricity grids. NK is also close to testing an ICBM, according to Jane’s Information Group.
- SK will hold military drills near the DMZ this week. The USG has reportedly expressed concern at the risks of escalation caused by SK’s more aggressive deterrence strategy formulated after the attacks of 2010, highlighted by last week’s accidental firing at a civilian plane.
- The SK Govt is planning to open an open-source information centre next year that will collect media reports, press releases and announcements by international organisations related to NK.
- A survey of SKorean middle and high school students revealed that if war with NK broke out 44% would “flee the country” and only 15% would “join the war or help the country in other ways”.
- NK sent a delegation from its state news agency KCNA to the US.
- Piece on US-NK educational exchanges.
- Slate Magazine on NK’s comic book propaganda. NK comic propaganda about Bush 43. And yet more NK propaganda pictures.
- Photoset: Daily life in Pyongyang.
- NK’s spy chief orchestrated the capture of US journos Lee and Ling.
- Reflections from a British veteran of the Korean War. Unseen footage of the Korean War including war orphans, aid delivery, Gojaedo POW camp, preparations for an election etc.
- NK pop song about a city girl getting married to a rural chap.
- WSJ on NK sanctions and Pororo the animated penguin.
- The NK women’s football team thrashed England 3-0 in a warm up for the women’s world cup. The women’s team is apparently starring in a ‘reality TV show’ on NK state television, as far as NK state television has ‘reality TV’ (clip here). The men’s Olympic team, however, were knocked out of the third round of Asian Qualifying by the UAE thanks to a controversial penalty decision.