Weekly News Brief – 4 July 2011
- NK is reportedly shutting down its universities in order to mobilise students to work on construction projects until next April, in order to have something to show for the Govt’s ‘strong and prosperous nation by 2012’ rhetoric. Foreign students and those in the graduating class are exempted. RFA corroborates the story, saying that Chinese students studying in Pyongyang have returned home because their campuses are empty. British ambassador to NK Peter Hughes also confirmed that students in Pyongyang had been mobilised to work until April 2012. NK has a track record of mobilising students on construction projects, but if these projects are blighted by a lack of both electricity and building materials and in the end fail to fool the citizenry, such a massive mobilisation of students for 10 months may sow seeds of discontent in the youth of the middle and upper classes more than anything else.
- The Associated Press are opening a bureau in Pyongyang that will serve as a base for text and photo journalists, alongside the video news crew from APTN that has been there since 2006. AP have an agreement to use video from KCNA’s archive, and KCNA and AP will hold a joint photo exhibition in New York. KCNA said that the move will improve bilateral relations.
- Haggard on prostitution in NK.
- Good Friends: NK has tightened controls after a group of refugees fled to SK by boat on June 11. They have restricted travel to border areas and banned small motorless boats along its west coast. Daily NK corroborates this and adds that the authorities are explaining the restrictions as precautions against SK ‘abducting’ more people at sea.
- Good friends also reports that 70 households were rounded up for communicating with family overseas through mobile phones. They were expelled to a remote area and 30 of them were sentenced to re-education.
- KJI’s brother, the perpetual ambassador to Poland, is reportedly under house arrest in Pyongyang because of fears that he might be a threat to the succession.
- Marcus Noland of PIIE and Dong Young-seung of SERI see little chance of NK’s new SEZs marking the start of wider economic reforms, rather they are an attempt by the Govt to earn foreign currency and block further economic activity outside of their control.
- Nicholas Eberstadt on NK’s economy, suggests that big changes in the national leadership would be required to make big changes in economic policy.
- Daily NK reports that anti-KJI graffiti was found on a wall in Pyongyang, leading to a crackdown and travel restrictions in order to catch the culprit.
- Ha Tae-kyoung of ORNK claimed that KJU has plastic surgery six times to look more like his grandfather KIS.
- China has finished the renovation of a hydroelectric power station on the Yalu River. The facility provides power to both China and NK, and is supposed to help control floods.
- Preparations for the Arirang Mass Games are underway (video).
FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY
- The European Commission will provide 10m EUR (14.6m USD) in emergency food aid to NK. “The purpose of this aid package is to save the lives of at least 650,000 people who could otherwise die from lack of food… If at any stage we discover that the aid is being diverted from its intended recipients then the commission will not hesitate to end its humanitarian intervention” – humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva.
- NK food rations have reportedly been cut to as low as 150g per person per day.
- The head of the Swiss aid agency says that serious food shortages are again an issue in NK, and are particularly affecting urban areas. Zellweger also talks about a small business school that Switzerland has opened in Pyongyang, and a programme taking NKorean students to Switzerland.
- NK reportedly imported over 50,000 tons of grain from China in May, up 31.5% on the same period last year.
- Daily NK: The market price of potatoes has risen substantially in recent weeks due to drought and a lack of fertiliser. However the price of rice is reportedly stable.
- Erich Weingartner recounts his experiences with the WFP in NK 1997-1999 here, here and here.
- Joshua Stanton takes a critical look at WFP aid monitoring.
- WFP tells the story of Ri Hyong-gil, an orphan being fed by WFP aid.
- Article about two NKorean ‘brothers’ reunited in SK after 20 years apart.
- Guardian piece on a young female NK refugee’s escape from NK, exploitation in internet sex chatrooms, forced repatriation, and eventual escape through SE Asia to SK.
- Article on NKorean girls and women who are bought and sold in China.
- Chinese citizens in a village near the border with NK have reportedly set up a monitoring system using the internet to warn each other when refugees come, out of fear they would be robbed.
- The Journals of Musan, a film about a NK refugee struggling to adapt to life in SK, won top prize at an Italian film festival.
- The UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on NK held a hearing on NKHR, with testimony from Kim Hye-sook, Kim Joo-il, and Ha Tae-kyoung. Prison camp survivor Kim Hye-sook also had an interview with BBC Radio 4.
- Lee Soo-bok recalls his experience at a reeducation camp in Hoeryong, North Hamgyeong Province.
- Haggard on SK’s stalled NKHR Law.
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY
- NK rejected a SK proposal for bilateral nuclear talks despite SK dropping their demand for an apology for the 2010 attacks before holding any talks. LMB called for N-S dialogue and gave a further signal of willingness to move beyond the 2010 attacks.
- KCNA also lashed out at the SK Govt for making “intentional provocations” after SK media reported that front-line military units were using chants and slogans that insulted the NK leadership, and promised retaliation. They tried to send a message along these lines to LMB through SK’s Unification Ministry, but the UM refused to accept it.
- SK sent a delegation of govt officials and civilian contractors to NK to discuss assets seized by NK at the Kumgang Mountain resort, but the talks collapsed due to disagreement over their format. Amidst this dispute, KCNA reported that Chinese tourists arrived in NK through a newly opened air route from Shanghai and were expected to visit the Kumgang Mountain resort. A UM official said that NK’s behaviour would affect their ability to attract foreign investment in the future.
- Sohn Hak-kyu, leader of SK’s opposition Democratic Party, said that SK should “patiently continue to persuade NK to reform and open up” whilst holding dialogue and boosting exchanges. However Sohn was criticised for his description of DP policy by 2007 DP presidential candidate Chong Dong-young, in signs of disagreement within the DP on NK policy.
- Suk Hi Kim argues for aid and engagement to help prepare for Korean unification.
- KJI sent a congratulatory message to Hu Jintao on the 90th anniversary of the CCP, saying that the friendship “would get stronger generation after generation.” A Liaoning provincial government delegation visited NK and Liaoning governor Chen made similar remarks.
- The Economist on the China-NK relationship: NK may be biting the hand that feeds it, but perhaps not even the mighty China can tell the Kim family what to do.
- A rumoured summit meeting between KJI and Medvedev failed to materialise. Japan’s Asahi newspaper reported that it was delayed rather than cancelled.
- Inter-Korean trade has shrunk 14% in the year since sanctions were implemented in May 2010. General trade and processing trade were heavily affected, shrinking by 76%. However, the volume of trade via the Kaesong Industrial Complex rose 24.2% over the past year.
- Incoming US military commander Gen. Thurman said that the US and SK should prepare for the possibility of regime collapse in NK, pointing to the succession as a possible destabilising factor. Outgoing US commander Gen. Sharp reportedly “conveyed Washington’s concerns” when SK boosted its firepower along the DMZ in May last year in response to the Cheonan sinking. Gen. Sharp also said that if NK attacked, the US and SK “would be able to stop them south of Seoul and then eventually complete the destruction of the NK military.” Reassuring…
- NK assumed the rotating presidency of the Conference on Disarmament at the UN in Geneva. Canada’s ambassador, stepping down from the role of president, criticised the body saying it was “not negotiating anything and had not been for a very long time.” The NK ambassador, for his part, said nearly exactly the same things that any other ambassador assuming the role of president would say.
- NK photoset by Roman Harak (thanks Roman!). Also worth a look: Kernbeisser’s NK photos.
- Fotopedia NK app (for iPhone and iPad), packed full of Eric Lafforgue’s NK photos.
- Search official DPRK Govt sites with North Korea Tech’s DPRK Web Search.
- KCNA reported on China’s minister of public security Meng Jianzhu’s comments on the need to combat “cross-border telecommunication swindles”. KCNA also reported on Iran’s intelligence minister saying that his country is ready to counter US President Obama’s “internet in briefcase” plan (cf. NYT piece on efforts to improve access to the internet and mobile communications in closed societies).
- WSJ on NK paying foreign newspapers to print ‘articles’ praising NK, that KCNA can then point to as proof of the love that the rest of the world has for KJI and KIS.
- NK’s women’s team were beaten by the US 2-0 and Sweden 1-0.
- Swiss champions FC Basel have signed NKorean teenager Pak Kwang-ryong (striker). He joins another new signing, SKorean defender Park Joo-ho (same surname Park, romanised differently). Good old neutral Swiss.
- NK propaganda cartoons from the 1960s.