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26 July 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 25 July 2011

NK INTERNAL

  • KCNA: 99.97% of voters participated in local elections. KCNA predicted that the Workers’ Party of Korea might do well in the vote.
  • AP’s journos have gained unprecedented access inside the country. Jean Lee portrays a country in transition, saying she witnessed drivers leaping out of cars to argue with police officers trying to reroute traffic.
  • AP on Pyongyang’s “small but growing digital world”: IT is a hot topic in NK, and NKorean programmers have even developed games for Facebook, the iPhone and iPad, Wii and Blackberry.
  • The Rodong Sinmun criticised the USG’s support for “underground internet” (better known as ‘internet in a suitcase’), belying concerns that the US will use such initiatives to spread “political instability in anti-imperialist and independent countries”. Perhaps someone in Pyongyang watched the recent New America Foundation discussions on the topic.
  • KCNA: Over 30 coal mines suffered damage from heavy rainfall, with hundreds of thousands of tons of coal lost. Bridges and railways were also reportedly destroyed by the floods and landslides. A recent WFP mission also witnessed widespread flooding and damage to farmland in Wonsan and Hamhung.
  • The British Council plans to expand its English education program in NK from 3 to 6 universities.
  • Daily NK has market price information and says the cost of living in Pyongyang has more or less returned to pre-currency reform levels, albeit with lower trade volume and traders still avoiding holding onto cash.
  • Daily NK: Hooded sweatshirts, sleeveless shirts and one-piece dresses are becoming popular in Pyongyang, but inspections force people to wear “inappropriate” clothes only at home. Authorities appear to have relaxed restrictions on accessories such as earrings and bracelets.
  • SKorean officials accused the NK elite of importing luxury goods including Armani, Hennessy Cognac, Marlboro, and even flying in McDonald’s meals from China. NK has reportedly spent 10m USD on luxury goods from Jan to May this year, with alcohol imports nearly doubling on the same period in 2010.
  • A Pro-NK Japanese newspaper said NK has 20 million tons of rare earth minerals. The NK Govt may be considering joint development projects with other countries.
  • Blogger in Pyongyang part 3.
  • KCNA: NK amended its trademark law in order to defend copyright and economic growth.
  • An increasing number of NKoreans are willing to sell sensitive information for money, providing more work for information smugglers.

FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY

  • AP piece on the food shortages in NK (recommended).
  • The SK Govt has authorised NGOs to send 300 tons of flour to NK, the first time flour shipments have been authorised since the 2010 attacks. The Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation plans to provide a total of 2,500 tons of aid to NK.
  • Further details on the EC’s food aid to NK: the 10m EUR amount represented the maximum amount the EC was able to give without going back to member-states for approval.
  • Al Jazeera video: US yet to decide on NK food aid.
  • Rudiger Frank argues that the diversion of food aid does not matter because in the end it lowers market prices and helps the poorest among the NKorean people.

REFUGEES

  • SK police have uncovered 26 companies employing 1,000 female NK refugees and Korean-Chinese women working in China in sex-chat websites.
  • Eight SK companies were accused of scamming the Govt to illegally receive subsidies designed to increase employment for NK refugees.
  • The UM and North Korean Refugees Foundation are conducting the first comprehensive survey of NK refugees in SK, focusing on the education of young refugees.

HUMAN RIGHTS

  • NKHR Record Depository / Database Center for NKHR: NK is holding over 138,000 people in detention facilities. About 130,500 people are being detained in 5 political prison camps and the rest are kept in between 182 and 490 detention centers. The report was based on interview with 13,000 defectors and also reveals the terrible conditions of NK prisons and detention centers.
  • Fiona Bruce MP tabled an Early Day Motion at the UK Parliament to call on the UK Govt to support a UN Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity in NK and to urge the NK Govt to abolish its prison camps.
  • SK’s White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea notes public executions have increased since 2007 in a bid to tighten internal control. However there have also been signs of improvement in the criminal justice system, with court appeals being accepted in some cases (White Paper available in Korean here).
  • NK’s Rodong Sinmun criticised the White Paper. KCNA also criticised SK’s NSL.
  • UK FCO’s report on human rights and democracy in NK, with Q2 2011 update.

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY

  • The nuclear envoys of NK and SK held bilateral talks for the first time ever on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Bali. The talks were followed up with talks between the foreign ministers of NK and SK. NKorean nuclear negotiator VFM Kim Kye-gwan will subsequently meet Amb. Bosworth and other USG officials in New York this week in efforts to restart the SPT. Kim’s US trip has been prepared for a while and SK may have been pushed to engage with NK at the ARF in order to achieve the right sequence of talks. It is also interesting to note that this N-S dialogue comes less than 2 months after NK scuppered secret N-S talks and promised to “no longer deal with the LMB group”. Possible factors in the breakthrough include 1) SK dropping their precondition of an apology for the 2010 attacks; 2) The draw of imminent bilateral talks with the US (and hope of affecting food aid decisions) being too strong; 3) Chinese pressure on NK and US pressure on SK; 4) Pro-engagement forces in Pyongyang possibly asserting themselves.
  • Secretary of State Clinton called on NK to take further conciliatory moves towards SK and said NK would not be rewarded merely for talking. Even if the talks restart, the expectations of real progress on the nuclear issue are low. However the US and China may prefer a period of dialogue as it at least lowers tensions and reduces the likelihood of provocations.
  • KCNA did not report on inter-Korean contacts at the ARF, but did report that Kim Kye-gwan had been invited to the US.
  • On the back of the inter-Korean thaw, SK proposed new talks with NK on how to deal with SKorean assets at the Mount Kumgang resort, and signalled they could also discuss the resumption of the tourism program.
  • NK’s nuclear envoy reportedly proposed four-way nuclear talks that would effectively take Japan and Russia out of the SPT. SK did not agree with the rationale for reducing changing the SPT format.
  • Gazprom reportedly plans to supply NK with gas if they agree to shut down their nuclear programme.
  • SK businesses that incurred losses since the SK Govt moved to restrict inter-Korean trade following the Cheonan sinking plan to take legal action and demand that the sanctions are lifted.
  • IISS report on NK Security Challenges: The succession could make NK even more dangerous as the Kims rely heavily on the military and state-security apparatus to secure the power transition. Chinese policy has also moved sharply to prop up the regime and strengthen ties at all levels.
  • A US Army War College report argues the US should engage Pyongyang. KCNA endorsed the report just a week after its release.
  • NK reportedly tested a rocket engine in October 2010, and is laying rail tracks to a new missile testing site. Nonproliferation Review report: 40% of missiles imported by developing countries since 1987 came from NK.
  • Australia’s FM Rudd said NK’s nuclear weapons and missile programs are a threat to Australia.
  • NK criticised the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian US-ROK military exercises due to begin next month. KCNA noted international criticism of the US’s sub-critical nuclear tests. Such tests do not produce nuclear explosions, but are aimed at improving the US’s nuclear deterrent.
  • Sunny Lee on China-NK relations.
  • Andray Abrahamian: LMB’s ‘unification tax’ is designed as a psychological reminder to SKoreans that unification will happen someday.
  • Japanese media reported that Japanese and NKorean officials met in China to discuss the abduction issue.

MISC.

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