Weekly News Brief – 11 July 2011
- NK state media reported that 100,000 citizens held an anti-LMB rally in Pyongyang. KCNA pictures and video suggest the rally was not organised spontaneously through twitter. Mass rallies followed in each NK province through the week, with accompanying anti-LMB rhetoric being worryingly violent and sustained. NKoreans also paid respects to KIS on the 17th anniversary of his death.
- Interview with Haggard and Pinkston on political change and the succession in NK.
- RFA: From January to May, NK imported 229 Swiss watches worth 45,500 USD. Separately, a NKorean man was arrested in Japan for illegally exporting luxury cars to NK.
- A combination of a rumoured summit cancellation and a lack of reports on KJI’s on-site inspections lead to rumours of ill-health. However KJI recently provided field guidance to Pyongyang Central Zoo, which he hoped would “help visitors widen knowledge about animals and nurture the spirit of socialist patriotism”.
- NK plans to allow mobile phone and internet usage by visitors to Mount Kumgang.
- ORNK: Govt officials are increasingly acting as loan sharks to private businesses in NK.
- Daily NK: Illegal ‘grasshopper’ markets are increasing all over NK, amid signs authorities are becoming more lenient.
- Crossing, a SKorean film about a NKorean family separated by death and defection, is reportedly popular on the black market in NK. ORNK: SK dramas and films are becoming so popular in NK that NKoreans are even copying SKorean expressions.
- NK soldiers are reported to have been caught watching SK dramas, and one officer was caught selling bootleg porn DVDs.
- Daily NK partially confirms last week’s story of the mobilisation of students on construction projects, but says the order does not amount to a full nationwide shutdown of universities, with some regional universities unaffected.
- NK has unveiled new election posters.
FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY
- Haggard and Noland argue that the WFP probably overestimates NK food shortages, but nonetheless conclude that the food security situation is “bad, very bad.”
- Prof Kang on the food aid dilemma.
- NKNET refugee survey on perceptions of food aid. 42% said the present food shortages were worse than the late 1990s, but 75% said that SK should not provide aid. Defectors say that in the past, most aid has been diverted to the military and elite.
- Rice prices have quadrupled this year, according to KDI. The rise has mostly been caused by a slump in the NK won.
- The EU is reportedly sending 50 Korean-speaking aid monitors to check the distribution of its 10m EUR aid donation. The EU aid is described as a “one-shot operation” targeted at 650,000 people for the next couple of months, with “no intention” of resuming large scale food aid. KCNA reported on the aid, saying it would “expand and develop bilateral cooperation.”
- The USG is still undecided on food aid, citing concerns about monitoring and the true state of the shortages, but said that they “understood” the EU’s decision. Pinkston: “My sense is that there are so many other issues on the agenda in Washington… and I think there’s not much political will to provide aid and assistance.” A new CRS report suggests that Obama administration officials are divided on the issue, which is being politicised.
- SK still has no plans to resume aid. A UM spokeswoman said that aid resumption depends on inter-Korean ties as well as NK’s needs.
- The WFP warn that as their NK operation is only 25% funded they will not be able to provide aid to as many NKoreans as planned. They said they have negotiated “unprecedented access and flexibility in terms of monitoring.”
- India’s 1m USD donation of food aid arrived in NK, watched by India’s amb. to Pyongyang.
- In a sign of desperation, the NK Govt asked AlertNet (a service of the Thomson Reuters Foundation) to help mobilise humanitarian aid for NK.
- Rudiger Frank advocates strongly for food aid.
- NK’s food security situation was a trending topic on reddit.
- The number of NK refugees arriving in SK since start of the year is up 14% on same period last year. Figures show there are more chain defections, more family defections, and more rapid transits through China – a result of crackdowns.
- “Life on the Other Side: A North Korean’s Account of Life in South Korea” – by Lee Hyeon-seo.
- BBC: NK border crackdowns are pushing up prices for people smugglers. Crackdowns in China are also reportedly leading to inexperienced brokers taking on bigger risks for bigger rewards.
- SK will soon begin construction on its second resettlement facility for NK refugees, scheduled for completion by the end of 2012.
- Regional Hana Centers, which help NK refugees after they have left Hanawon, are reportedly lacking in funding and support.
- A man in his 20s has become the first NK refugee to get US citizenship.
- The new chairman of the GNP vowed to force through the NKHR Law, regardless of opposition from rival parties.
- NK’s Rodong Shinmun criticised conservative forces in SK for pushing the “human rights issue”, which they frame as an attack on NK’s system.
- SK students’ campaign to raise awareness of NKHR.
- Testimony of a former NK soldier and party member.
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY
- UNSG Ban Ki-moon called on SK to take a “bolder approach” to improve N-S ties. In his second and final term as SG, Ban may now feel less constrained to get involved in inter-Korean issues.
- NK responded positively to a SKorean proposal of talks to settle a dispute over SKorean assets at Mount Kumgang seized by NK. They will meet this week.
- As the GNP is concerned about the polls, LMB could be pushed to soften his stance towards NK for the last part of his presidency. There are signs that LMB is indeed starting to soften his stance. However there are still hardliners like Cho Myung-chul, former Pyongyang professor and current head of SK’s Education Center for Unification Center, who said that the NK regime “is certain to collapse” and the SK Govt’s goal should be hastening that collapse.
- SK prosecutors are investigating 11 people on charges of establishing an anti-state organisation under orders from NK. One of the members had been involved in a campaign to halve tuition fees, triggering criticism that the Govt is attempting to stifle opposition.
- Average monthly NK exports to SK fell to 1m USD, from 40m USD before sanctions were implemented following the Cheonan attack. This does not include activity at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. However average monthly NK exports to China have increased from 50m to 130m USD, more than making up the difference.
- McAfee Labs said that cyber-attacks in March 2011 and July 2009 were almost definitely launched by the same group, suspected to be NK or its sympathisers. The attacks were designed to target US and SK Govt websites and SK banks for exactly 10 days, and appear to have been designed to test and observe response capabilities.
- Russia’s Gazprom sent a delegation to Pyongyang to discuss oil, gas cooperation and “other issues of bilateral concern”.
- Haggard: It is in China’s interests to quietly pressure NK to refrain from provocations and to reform. China’s dilemma is that if it fails to push Pyongyang, they could continue provocations, threatening regional stability, but if they push too hard NK could collapse. The Chinese position boils down to “give me sanity, but not now.”
- KJI and Hu Jintao vowed to strengthen ties in an exchange of letters marking the 50th anniversary of the PRC-DPRK friendship treaty.
- DongA Ilbo: China is cracking down on NK’s drug trade, reportedly with cooperation of SK intelligence officials. KCNA called this report a “whopping lie” and implicitly accused the SK Govt of using the “drug issue” to try to discredit NK and discourage other countries from providing aid.
- AQ Khan released a letter purportedly detailing how Pakistani military officials sold HEU technology to NK in 1998. Pakistani officials claim the letter is fraudulent and claim AQ Khan was a rogue agent. US intelligence officials doubt that Khan could have been acting alone. Longer analyses here and here.
- Israeli Govt sources accused NK of helping Iran to develop its military nuclear program, amid wider signs of deepening cooperation.
- Exit interview with Gen. Sharp. More here.
- Aidan Foster-Carter discusses the history of secret N-S talks, and laments LMB’s NK policy: “Lee’s rigid approach to the North appears both fatally flawed in theory—with its totally unrealistic insistence on denuclearization as a first step—and amateurishly bungling in practice.” Leon Segal: The Obama administration has left its NK policy “hostage to Seoul, which was doing its utmost to impede negotiations.”
- 80,000 to 90,000 SKoreans are registered with the Korean Red Cross in the hope of being able to meet their relatives in the north, but as they are aged 70-100, each year 4,000 to 5,000 pass away without fulfilling that wish.
- They’ve been accused of running illegal casinos, partaking in illegal trade in booze, drugs and fast cars. Now a cash-strapped NK embassy has been accused of running a youth hostel.
- SK’s Pyeongchang was awarded the 2018 Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang is in Gangwon Province, which shares a border with NK, but is further away from the DMZ than Seoul is. SK’s ruling and opposition parties agreed on efforts to form a united Korean team for the games. DP leader Sohn said that the Pyeongchang Olympics should provide the basis for inter-Korean cooperation, exchanges, and eventual reunification. The Olympics will be opened by the 18th President and closed by the 19th.
- Two members of NK’s women’s World Cup team tested positive for anabolic steroids. The team were eliminated anyway.
- Japan will allow NKorean IOC member Chang Ung to visit Tokyo for an Olympics related meeting. He will be the first senior NK Govt official to visit Japan since Kim Kye-gwan in 2006.
- Geoffrey See on the challenges of providing scholarships to deserving young NKoreans to study overseas.
- Koryo Tours and Political Tours are teaming up to launch a new kind of political tour of NK. The first tour will be led by Jim Hoare, former Chargé d’Affaires of the UK’s embassy in Pyongyang. KCNA tourism promotion video.
- The Philippines donated computers and books to a middle school in Pyongyang.
- Brilliant collection of colour photographs of the Korean War.
- KCNA headline of the week: DPRK to Contribute to World Food Security.