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19 October 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 19 October 2011

NK INTERNAL

  • Lankov on the NK leadership’s “technological fetishism”, a belief shared by Stalin and Mao that economic stagnation could and should be overcome by pursuing technological wonders rather than reform. This explains why the NK Govt promotes CNC technology, allows a rapidly growing mobile phone network, and even promotes ownership of personal computers, all despite the long term threat that such technologies may pose to the regime. Related: KCNA video showing off a DVD factory in NK, and a KCNA report on KJI visiting the “technologically updated Tudan Duck Farm”.
  • Orascom/koryolink is reportedly set to introduce an internet service to its 3G network, initially only for resident foreigners. Handsets reportedly currently sell at 50 EUR (69 USD).
  • Daily NK: NSA officials are extorting bribes worth hundreds of dollars from families receiving remittances from relatives who have defected to SK.
  • FT on the marketisation of NK’s economy. Also reports strong resistance by citizens against officials who wanted to demolish their balconies that were being used to grow vegetables. As the FT covers the revival of a capitalist market economy in NK, NK state media is reporting that capitalism is fading from history in the rest of the world.
  • Daily NK: NK authorities are demanding 150,000 won from market traders in Hamheung to support construction projects in Pyongyang (photo). Daily taxes on market traders range from 300-500 won, so the 150,000 won ask is reportedly being met with incredulity. In Hyesan, Yangkang Province, traders are being asked for 100,000 won. However apart from these demands, official market controls are only being lightly implemented.
  • Daily NK: 300 families in Yangkang Province and 150 families in N. Hamgyeong Province (both border provinces) will reportedly be sent into rural exile following a crackdown on the use of Chinese cell phones, drug production, watching SK media, smuggling and defections.
  • Daily NK: The regime provided a ‘special distribution’ to Pyongyang citizens on the occasion of the 66th anniversary of the founding of the KWP, advertising it as coming from the benevolence of KJU.
  • Daily NK interview with a farm worker. Covers the struggle to get enough food, knowledge of SK, perceptions of KJU, and religious freedom.
  • Plaques commemorating on-site inspection visits from KJU are emerging alongside plaques for KIS and KJI.
  • LA Times on recent reports of porn, prostitution and infidelity in NK.
  • NYT on NK’s Rason SEZ. The NK Govt is trying to attract FDI into these zones, but they represent attempts raise funds under tight central control rather than real attempts to reform. Related: The SK Govt has asked China and Japan to refrain from investing in NK’s Mount Gumgang resort.

FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY

  • Daily NK: Rice prices have risen to above 3,000 won/kilo in at least two provinces, the highest price since the Nov 2009 currency reform. The high price is blamed on a poor harvest due to bad weather and a depreciation of the won against the Chinese Yuan.
  • The UN’s Valerie Amos is in NK to assess to food shortages.
  • Eberstadt: The international community should provide humanitarian aid to NK conditional on a programme of intrusive monitoring and control over distribution.
  • US NGOs have accused the USG of playing politics with food aid.
  • Guardian: NK’s food crisis in pictures.

REFUGEES

  • The SK Govt is still talking with the Chinese Govt to try to stop it repatriating a group of NK refugees. One detainee with SK citizenship has reportedly been released. The issue has caused public protests in SK and the US.
  • Chinese NK expert Zhu Feng on China’s policy towards NK refugees: “The problem is that if China refuses to repatriate that would signal that Beijing wants to bring down the North Korean regime… such repatriation is cold blooded, and it’s a big embarrassment… China’s policy implementation in this regard always keeps one eye open the other eye closed. Officially, we will repatriate, but in practice we keep the net quite loose.”
  • NK artist based in Egypt who had been making money for the NK Govt defected to SK via its embassy in Cairo after witnessing the fall of Mubarak, although he reportedly was already avoiding the surveillance of the NK embassy before that.
  • It is reported that a Korean Workers’ Party secretary who defected in 2009 is now working for the SK National Intelligence Service.
  • A SK lawmaker quoted NIS chief Won as saying that NK refugees frequently suffer from tooth decay, hepatitis, and TB (all associated with malnutrition) as well as sexually transmitted infections because women in border regions are engaged in prostitution or get trafficked.
HUMAN RIGHTS
  • Daily NK on the story of Dr. Oh Gil-nam, whose wife and daughters ended up in Yodok political prison camp in NK. The story is finally gaining traction in SK, and is to be made into a film.

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY

  • LMB completed a state visit to the US. The nomination of Sung Kim as ambo to SK finally passed through the Senate. Congress also approved an FTA with SK, but it is yet to pass through SK’s National Assembly. The US-ROK relationship is at a historic high and LMB and Obama presented a united front on NK policy.
  • Obama also said, in response to a question at the joint press conference, that he would not predict when NK would collapse “on itself”, but that “what we’ve seen also is that human spirit eventually will defeat repressive governments.” KCNA seized on the comments to say that the US is dreaming of NK collapse, validating NK’s Songun policy and nuclear deterrent.  
  • PBS video: Cha and Carlin on the nuclear negotiations and the Obama administration’s approach to NK. More from Cha here. Snyder on US-ROK relations and NK policy.
  • The USG and NK Govt will reportedly hold talks in Geneva next week aimed at restarting the SPT. Career diplomat Glyn Davies will reportedly replace Bosworth as pointman on NK, and will take on the role full time (whereas Bosworth maintained a career in academia during his term).
  • US and NK officials also began talks in Bangkok on resuming efforts to recover war remains, after a 6 year break. Joint recovery of war remains is seen as a confidence building measure.
  • Chinese vice premier Li Keqiang will visit NK and SK in quick succession to try to add to the momentum towards restarting the SPT.
  • The SK Govt will allow companies in the Kaesong Industrial Complex to resume construction projects that had been on hold since the 2010 attacks. NK workers at Kaesong are now reportedly asking to be given cash or instant noodles instead of Choco Pies. This could be because of pressure from the regime, or it could be because they are sick of eating Choco Pies.
  • NK has agreed to send players to compete in a table tennis tournament alongside SK players.
  • KCNA denounced SK Unification Ministry’s “anti-DPRK broadcasting”.
  • SK spy chief Won Sei-hoon reportedly told lawmakers that SK has arrested several NK agents for plotting to assassinate anti-Pyongyang activists. Won is also concerned about the shoddy and rushed construction of high-rise buildings in Pyongyang.
  • Lankov on Russia-NK trade, Russia’s use of cheap NK labour within its borders and the gas pipeline.
  • Japanese PM Noda cited China’s military expansion and NK’s repeated military provocations in his calls for Japan’s Self Defense Forces to stand ready for future national emergencies.
  • NK’s uranium enrichment program may bigger than previously thought. Jeffrey Lewis on NK nuclear tests. NK was observed moving missiles and fighter jets closer to the border with SK in the tense West Coast area, however the NK air force has reportedly been shown to be in a state of disarray. SK’s Defence Minister said that SK fighter jets could cross the border in the event of a NK provocation.
  • The USG is engaging the Burmese Govt amidst their reforms and discussing with them the need for transparency in their relationships with other countries, particularly NK. If Burma’s rapprochement with the US and others continues, the Burmese may be ready to jettison their relationship with NK.  

MISC.

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