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16 August 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 16 August 2011

NK INTERNAL

  • Several pieces on NK’s nouvelle rich. Lankov: The new rich are high-level officials and entrepeneurs who disguise their private operations under the cover of a state agency – possible because of widespread corruption. They buy houses and household appliances including flat-screen TVs and large fridges. To overcome power cuts they may strike a deal with a local military commander or manager of the local power grid to gain illegal connections to secure electricity sources. Many of these nouvelle rich fear getting on the wrong side of the authorities as many of their activities are illegal, and the growth of the private economy erodes the control and authority of the central govt. However unification may also not be in these people’s interests as they may lose out in the resultant upheaval and competition from SKorean businesses. A KEI blog piece describes steets in Pyongyang filled with people and cars, the availability of foreign consumer goods, machinery, wifi and touch-screens at KIS University, and suggestions of a growing wealth gap between this privileged group and the suffering masses. Kyodo: Pizza, espresso, and European brand-name clothes and accessories are gaining popularity with the new rich in Pyongyang. Tour-operator Walters Keats also says Pyongyang is showing signs of economic progress, and talks of a renewed sense of confidence. However Haggard says that anti-market policies have shrunk the number of market retailers and the middle class, and concentrated wealth in the hands of powerful wholesalers.
  • There are over 660,000 mobile phone users on the official Orascom/koryolink network – more than triple the number of users 12 months ago. NK’s uriminzokkiri propaganda-portal launched a smart phone-optimized version of their site ‘to celebrate 66 years of independence’. The site even has videos and pictures purportedly created by NKorean students and citizens. koryolink is also expected to launch a 3G service for iPad this autumn. Presumably its only a matter of time before the ‘Juche app’ comes out.
  • Hidden camera footage of a market in Pyongyang: Unliscenced traders resist being moved on by an inspector. English transcript here.
  • KCNA: Typhoon Muifa killed or injured at least 10 and damaged thousands of hectares of cropland. UN FAO: The floods hit NK in its main cereal producing regions. The EU has donated 200,000 EUR to the IFRC to repair flood damage in NK.
  • Rodong Sinmun acknowledged NK’s economic difficulties but rejected pressure to reform or open up: “‘Reform’ and ‘opening’ much touted by the imperialists and reactionaries are not ‘a remedy’ for the DPRK to weather its economic difficulties or to revitalize its economy.”
  • Students who have rich parents in the Party are avoiding being mobilised on construction projects by paying 100 USD to their university every month. Rumour has it that the work could last for a year, causing anxiety in less-affluent households.
  • SK intelligence officials have reportedly determined that NK’s defence minister has been sidelined in the succession process because of rivalries between his supporters and KJU’s younger supporters in the military. However it could also be because he is old and ailing.
  • Kim Myong-chol: “The Korean people, the Workers’ Party of Korea, government and the Korean People’s Army consider Kim Jong-eun a manifestation of the founding father, Kim Il-sung that effectively keeps him alive and in charge for ever.” The NKorean propagandist also credits KJU with installing the country’s 3G mobile phone network.
  • KINU: The NK Govt, worried about Arab Spring-style social unrest, is reportedly instructing regional police stations to be lenient towards people trying to make a living in the markets and is stepping up surveillance on university students.

FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY

  • NK imported more corn and less rice from China in H1 2011 compared to H1 2010, in efforts to make up for food shortages with little cash. They also increased imports of fertiliser. Burma is also reportedly selling 160,000 bags of low-quality rice to NK.
  • UNSG Ban Ki-moon called for food aid to NK to be depoliticised.
  • Russia will send 50,000 tons of grain to NK to help it deal with floods and food shortages.
  • SK offered aid including nutritional foods for infants, biscuits and instant noodles to help NK recover from the floods. The aid list includes 1.92 million choco pies.
  • There is still no news on the USG’s decision on food aid to NK. Amb.-nominee Sung Kim’s nomination as new US ambo to SK may be being held up because at least one Republican senator is seeking an assurance that the US will not provide food aid.
  • WFP video – WFP’s field monitors have noticed a worrying number of children being brought into hospitals showing clear signs of malnutrition.

REFUGEES

  • Daily NK: Various sources suggest that crackdowns on smuggling and defections have increased through the first half of this year on the orders of KJU. The latest crackdown is reportedly being carried out by officers with the authority to execute people who fail to cooperate.
  • NK has also reportedly installed surveillance cameras and barbed wire along parts of the border to stem the flow of defectors and smugglers. KJI reportedly made a trip to Sinuiju in early July and criticised the residents for being influenced by capitalism.   
  • Interview with Danny Lee.

HUMAN RIGHTS

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY

  • SK fired artillery shells into waters near the disputed West Sea maritime border after they detected NK shells being fired. NK claimed they did not fire any shells and said the blasts heard were just construction work.
  • The Economist on NK’s hackers and SK’s accusations they used their skills to illegally make money from online games. KCNA denied the allegations and accused SK of using “cheap gimmicks”.  
  • This week US-ROK military exercises will practise locating and destroying NK WMD. NK called for their cancellation to help denuclearise NK and end the Korean War.
  • The SK military rescued four NKoreans from two sinking boats in the West Sea. They were briefly questioned and sent back the following day. Another drifting NKorean fishing boat was refueled and returned back straight away. This contrasts with an episode earlier this year when SKorean officials questioned 31 NKorean accidental drifters for nearly a month before sending 27 of them back to the north.
  • SK intelligence officials believe NK is plotting to assasinate SK’s defence minister.
  • NK said it is considering holding a reunion for Korean-Americans and their family members in NK. The USG also voiced their support for reunions.
  • NK is trying to attract more tourists by opening a new air route with Malaysia. Air Koryo is also increasing its flights from Shenyang, China.
  • Russian FM Lavrov said NK is ‘positive’ about an overland gas pipeline connecting Russia with SK via NK.
  • Sebastian Strangio on NK-Cambodian relations through history.
  • Haggard, Lee and Noland paper on China-NK cross-border exchange.

MISC.

  • NYT piece on the difficulty of reporting on the information black hole of NK.
  • Lankov on the first breaches in NK’s information blockade – back-firing propaganda regarding the 1980 Kwangju uprising and the story of pro-North student Im Su-gyong, through which NKoreans learned that SK was far more affluent than they had been led to believe and was soft in dealing with internal opposition. Lankov therefore supports all exchanges with NK, even those conducted on Pyongyang’s terms.
  • Brian Myers on NK: “You get the impression of a nation that is still cohering… It is not simply because of repression, but because the regime still manages to inspire people.” Myers is currently researching how pan-Korean nationalism undermines state patriotism in South Korea.
  • The number of people convicted for breaking the National Security Law in SK has increased by 25% under LMB to an average of 87 per year. One example is a 49 year old man sentenced to one year in jail for making an unauthorised visit to NK and keeping KIS’s memoirs.
  • Dutch tourist Willem van der Bilj has returned home after reportedly being detained in NK, possibly for taking unauthorised photos, and forced to sign a confession. An op-ed piece credited to him appeared in the Pyongyang Times praising NK’s democracy.
  • Barbara Demick at the Oslo Freedom Forum (youtube video).
8 August 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 8 August 2011

NK INTERNAL

  • KCNA: “Flood damage gets serious”. Reports 30 dead, over 6,750 homes destroyed leaving 15,800 homeless. 48,000 hectares were submerged, “seriously affecting this year’s grain output”. NK’s PM was dispatched to inspect the damage. KCNA reported South Hwanghae Province was hardest hit. The IFRC estimated 28,000 homeless. To make matters worse, super typhoon Muifa also struck Sinuiju on 8 August. IFRC map of floods. KCNA photos here.
  • NK state trading companies are using NKorean computer experts based in China to create illegal software that makes money from online games. 6m USD was made over the last 18 months selling game items such as digital weapons (old habits die hard).
  • CIA estimates the life-expectancy of the average NKorean to be 68.9 years, placing it at 149th among 222 countries.
  • Lankov: NK collapse is just a matter of time, but in the face of popular uprising the NK elite will fight hard to maintain the system because they don’t believe they have a place in a post-transformation Korea. They might also opt to accept the intervention of China to create a China-controlled satellite regime. Lankov therefore advocates for a general amnesty to be promised to the NK elite when a crisis starts.
  • NK’s youth organisation has reportedly stepped up its idolisation of KJU to consolidate support for the succession among young people.
  • RFA reports that its website was accessed by someone inside NK, but it might have been a foreigner. The NK Govt has reportedly recently allowed university students to use the internet for educational purposes.
  • The Arirang Mass Games opened in NK. It is reportedly criticised by NKoreans as wasteful.

FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY

  • SK said it would provide 5m USD worth of flood relief to NK, but rejected a request to provide food and cement.
  • The IFRC said they will provide 590,000 USD worth of flood-relief aid to NK. Operation details here.
  • The SK Govt approved a shipment of anti-malaria supplies from the Korean Sharing Movement to NK.
  • WFP video of food aid in NK.

REFUGEES

  • Harry W. S. Lee on China’s NK refugee dilemma.
  • Daily NK: Despite crackdowns, defections into China are increasing. KJU has therefore sent troops from the Escort Bureau – ordinarily assigned to protect the Kim family – to patrol the border area. Border guards are said to be unhappy with KJU’s decree to shoot any suspected escapees.
  • Piece on NK refugees in Cambodia based on wikileaked cables. Documents the Cambodian Govt’s quiet cooperation in allowing NKoreans to travel on to SK circa 2006-2008.

HUMAN RIGHTS

  • Current state of play with SK’s NKHR bill, with the differences between the DP and GNP’s versions.
  • Human Rights activists protested NK’s chairmanship of the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
  • Citizens’ Alliance chairman Yoon Hyun interview. NKHR have helped, directly or indirectly, 350 refugees get to SK. They are also organising a benefit concert for NK refugee students in SK on 27 August.

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY

MISC.

  • The SK Govt has blocked the website of UK-based Koryo Tours under the archaic National Security Law.
  • Mike Chinoy on journalism from inside NK.
  • Geoffrey See: Why NKoreans deserve opportunities to study abroad.
  • Daily NK: NK is decreasing its logging operations in Russia due to decreasing profitability, but is increasing its involvement in construction projects. NK is said to have sent tens of thousands of workers to Russia.
  • NK agreed to allow some Korean-Americans to exchange mail with relatives inside NK as part of a trial.
  • NK’s propaganda unit has reportedly been brought in to build a monument or museum near the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia. NK earned 160m USD through such projects over the last decade.
  • Piece on Air Koryo.
  • The ‘Korea Unification Project’ creates a vision of a unified Korea through ‘augmented reality’ on smartphones.
1 August 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 1 August 2011

NK INTERNAL

  • Torrential rains lashed the Korean peninsula this past week, claiming 59 lives in SK. KCNA reported thousands of homes, schools and public buildings were destroyed in NK.  IFRC reported 6,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes. South Hamgyeong and North and South Hwanghae Provinces were reportedly heavily affected. Damage in NK is likely to be even worse than SK because of the lack of tree cover, weaker infrastructure and lower disaster response capabilities. The Govt has requested assistance and the IFRC, WHO and UNICEF have started releasing relief supplies. KCNA also reported that Hu Jintao expressed his sympathy and that the Chinese Red Cross will provide relief aid. The floods washed some NKorean landmines into the south and forced NK to scale down planned military exercises, apparently so they could mobilise troops on restoration work.
  • Lankov takes a look at the Rodong Shinmun.
  • KCNA: The results of recent local elections “demonstrated the might of the single-minded unity of the revolutionary ranks…” 28,116 deputies were elected, all apparently representing the Workers’ Party of Korea. Daily NK: Election posters were vandalised with LMB’s name daubed on them.
  • KCNA: Preparations for the Arirang performances have finished.
  • Daily NK: A beautification campaign preparing for the 2012 celebrations has angered residents in Yangkang Province, as it orders all fences over 2m in height to be destroyed. Residents say they need high fences to deter thieves.
  • KCNA report on Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm in Pyongyang. And another report on KJI’s trip to a supposed LCD TV factory. KCNA omitted the fact that the world’s top two flat-screen makers are SK’s Samsung Electronics and LG Display.
  • Chosun Ilbo: The mobilisation of 100,000 students on construction projects will be wasted because there is a lack of money and materials, not manpower.
  • Daily NK: Residents of N. Hamgyeong Province are out in force catching leeches to sell to smugglers who sell them in China, where they are said to be increasingly used in traditional medicine.
  • Daily NK on the effects of SKorean media on NK society.
  • A report from Chosun Exchange suggests that NK is modelling its legal framework governing FDI on China’s example.
  • A NKorean refugee recounts vacations in NK.
  • Sydney Morning Herald piece on NK futures.

FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY

REFUGEES

  • Song Byeok, NKorean propagandist turned protest artist, recalls watching his father drown while trying to escape across the Tumen River into China.
  • Tim Peters says that the unrest in the Middle East has led China and NK to tighten their border controls.
  • Piece on Sam Han’s lobbying efforts to pass the NK Refugee Adoption Act of 2011 in the US.

HUMAN RIGHTS

  • A group of UK Parliamentarians wrote to their SKorean counterparts to urge them to pass the NKHR law, after advocacy from the head of ORNK while he was in the UK.
  • Release International collected 20,000 signatures from British Christians calling for religious freedom in NK, and presented the petition to the NKorean embassy in London.

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY

  • NK VFM Kim Kye-gwan met with Amb. Bosworth and other USG officials at the US Permanent Mission to the UN on Thursday and Friday. Amb. King, special envoy for NKHR issues, joined the meetings on Friday but may have only attended the luncheon. The US downplayed the meetings as “exploratory” talks aimed at determining whether NK is prepared to fulfil its commitments, but both sides described the talks as “constructive”. The US said they will consult SK and other SPT nations before deciding on next steps. SK officials downplayed expectations, emphasising that there would be no rush to restart the SPT. Japan may also seek bilateral talks with NK before the resumption of the SPT. Japan has already reportedly engaged in secret talks with NK. Haggard: We have a long, long way to goJohn S. Park: time to engage seriously is running out because SK and US presidential elections and China’s succession all occur in 2012.
  • KCNA called for the conclusion of a peace agreement, calling it the first step for settling the nuclear issue. Kim Myong-chol, NK’s unofficial spokesman, elaborates on NK’s view of the need for a peace treaty but also says it is too risky to trust the “fox-like Americans” and lose NK’s nuclear and long-range missile capabilities, pointing to the example of Libya. He also refers to the “Kim Jong-il/Kim Jong-eun administration”.
  • NK said a US missile shield in Europe would “spark a new nuclear arms race”.
  • SK and China held inaugural strategic defense talks. The two countries have agreed to hold joint search and rescue drills between their navies, a sign of political will on both sides to improve relations between their militaries.
  • NK announced it would start the ‘legal disposal’ of SKorean assets at the Mount Kumgang resort, but also invited SKorean businesses to NK to register under a new tourism law.
  • Joel Wit and Jenny Town advocate for concerted negotiation efforts to at least stop the expansion of NK’s nuclear arsenal.
  • Haggard: The difference between Chinese and SKorean economic engagement with NK is that, ironically, the SK Govt gets much more involved in trying to make business profitable for SKorean firms, while the Chinese tell their firms they are on their own.
  • Joshua Pollack: Once a significant cash crop for NK, missile related sales have declined as a result of western pressure on importers to cut ties with NK and the rise of alternative potential suppliers.  
  • Sunny Lee on China-NK relations: For the foreseeable future China will be status-quo oriented, will not pressure NK, and will shoulder outside criticism in defending NK if its national interests are at stake. Sungmin Cho also argues that pressure from the US and SK on NK forces China to hug NK even closer.

MISC.

  • Inside VOA’s Korean Service. NK’s attempts to jam the service are reportedly “only marginally effective” because it takes a lot of electrical power.
  • SK has announced a crackdown on abuses in its military after a spate of incidents drawing negative publicity including suicides and a shooting rampage in the Marine Corps. 82 members of the SK military took their own lives in 2010, compared to 48 killed by NK hostile action (average suicides per year over last 5 years = 79). In the last two years 940 marines have been hospitalised for injuries reportedly inflicted by their peers.
  • SK detained five SKoreans on charges of forming an anti-state organisation and spying for NK. SK’s intelligence officers are reportedly investigating several figures in academic and political circles, including opposition party figures.
  • A SKorean Govt official suggested that the NK Govt may be interfering in cases where NK citizens seek to inherit assets of relatives who died in SK. A new law seeks to prevent NKoreans from transferring assets out of SK, although it would grant ownership to them. Lankov warns that if it is not dealt with in good time, after the absorption of NK into the South claims on land in NK by descendants of former landowners could turn into a politically explosive issue.
  • The Korean Institute for National Unification (a Govt-funded think tank) released a study forecasting that real unification costs could be just 1/10th of current estimates, and that the marriage of SK capital and technology and NK labour and natural resources could produce an economic powerhouse, as well as bring regional benefits.  
  • Daily NK: The dynastic succession to KJU is unpopular with many members of Chongryon – the (pro-NK) Association of Korean Residents in Japan.
  • KCNA on Taekwondo diplomacy: Reports a demonstration where a young male NKorean taekwondo practitioner defends an American girl from three ‘gangsters’. “The demonstration tour showed the DPRK and the US people have great potentials of understanding and cooperation.”
  • And finally, this may be one of KJI’s daughters.
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.

18 July 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 18 July 2011

NK INTERNAL

  • KCNA: Torrential rainfall caused damage to farmland, mines, and transport infrastructure. In a sign that NK is trying to maximise sympathy and possible aid by highlighting the situation, AP determined a KCNA photo of flooding in Pyongyang to have been photoshopped.
  • DongA Ilbo: Hardliners have reportedly purged 30 officials who participated in N-S bilateral dialogue through executions or staged traffic accidents.
  • SK’s YTN claimed KFC is to open a store in Pyongyang with an official supply of Coca-Cola. A Coca-Cola representative denied the story and the President of NK’s Chosun Daepoong Group also dismissed it as ‘nonsense’. KFC has yet to make a response.
  • Hot on the heels of the AP, Reuters signed an agreement to feed video from Pyongyang for distribution to its clients worldwide.
  • Daily NK: Authorities are cracking down on SK products, reportedly causing resentment amongst market traders. ORNK: SKorean ‘chamisul’ soju is gaining popularity in NK.
  • Interview with Jiro Ishimaru on citizen journalism in NK. Interview with Ha Tae-kyoung of ORNK: NK business people are keen to hear outside news that might affect their business, for instance international sanctions or food aid decisions. VOA commended the Korea Meteorological Administration’s work in helping to broadcast weather forecasts into NK.
  • Shin Ramyun noodles, Choco-pie and SKorean coffee mix are becoming popular at the markets in Kaesong after leaking out of the KIC. There are currently 46,420 NKorean workers at the KIC making a minimum wage of 60.78 USD/month, although the majority goes to the NK authorities. Workers will get their annual 5% rise next month.
  • A Rodong Sinmun oped calls on the NKorean people to have ‘faith’ in the revolution.
  • RFA: The NK Govt is collecting money from the public to plug funding gaps in its project to build 100,000 homes in Pyongyang.
  • NK authorities are mobilising students to collect medicinal herbs to sell abroad and earn foreign currency.
  • Piece on the ‘Blogger of Pyongyang’, a Russian student at KIS University. Unlike tourists, foreign students can explore Pyongyang without a guide. Part 2.  
  • KCNA reports that the Tobacco Substitutes Exhibition in Pyongyang is helping NKoreans to quit smoking. Contrast with Marcus Noland’s piece on NK’s production and trade of drugs.

FOOD AID & FOOD SECURITY

  • Haggard and Noland provide a useful summary on the food aid situation. including USG considerations on the issue.
  • Interview with four defectors inYanji: Reports of people eating grass and of deaths from starvation. The food crisis is partly blamed on the currency revaluation, from which the black markets have still not fully recovered. A female defector says people complain among their friends but are careful not to be heard by people with ‘political power’. Another defector says that the outside world should send aid to NK because although it will be sold on the market and the people will get very little, it will be enough to help the people survive.
  • China and Sweden will donate 1m and 1.6m USD respectively in food aid through the WFP. WFP vignette on its work in NK. Sweden also plans to donate almost 3m USD in medical aid. Sweden has donated 7.36m USD in aid to NK so far this year.
  • A NK radio broadcast carried a statement by a NK official saying that NK’s farmers will “serve to send more rice for our military, which will strike open the head of the traitor and enemy, Lee Myung-bak.” The comment was deleted from subsequent reports, possibly out of fear it could affect decisions on food aid to NK.
  • SKorean NGOs hope to send 4b KRW (3.77m USD) worth of flour, food, medicine and blankets to NK in response to NK’s floods. JoongAng Ilbo interview with Lighthouse Foundation, a SKorean NGO providing aid to NK.
  • Japanese lawmakers asked the USG not to provide food aid to NK, fearing it would ease the pressure on the abduction issue. The Japanese Govt has identified 17 citizens as having been abducted by NK, of whom 5 returned to Japan in 2002.
  • Roberta Cohen calls on the USG to make a decision on food aid, calls on China to play its part in providing aid, and calls on all govts to develop uniform standards for monitoring aid in NK and to condition aid on the NK Govt undertaking economic reforms. Morton Abramowitz also calls on the USG to stop dithering and provide aid.
  • Glyn Ford on the EU’s response to NK’s food shortages.
  • World Vision’s Park Jong-sam also advocates for food aid, recalling his own experience of hunger and poverty after the Korean War.

REFUGEES

  • New ICG report on experiences of NKorean refugees in SK. Highlights the need to deal better with the physical and mental health problems suffered by refugees, the need for better cooperation between NGOs, religious groups and the Govt, the need for better research and evaluation of resettlement assistance programmes, and the need for policy to be insulated from political volatility.
  • Haggard on NK refugee terminology.
  • NK refugee Kim Gyu-min has directed a film called ‘Winter Butterfly’, which depicts the “reality of life in NK.”
  • According to UNHCR data, 581 NK refugees have been granted asylum in the UK (does not include outstanding applications).
  • ORNK reports that KJU has ordered a crackdown on defections.

HUMAN RIGHTS

  • Testimony of prison camp survivor Kim Hye-sook: “I saw prisoners turned to honeycomb by the bullets.”
  • Kang Kyung-hwa, UN Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights (and ROK national), has called on NK to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms such as the Special Rapporteur.
  • NK criticised SK’s 2011 White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea as a “politically-motivated unpardonable provocation against the inviolable system and dignity of the DPRK”.  

INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY

  • France, one of only two EU nations yet to normalise relations with NK (along with Estonia), is to open a liaison office in Pyongyang to handle cultural cooperation projects.
  • There was another flurry of meetings between NKorean and Chinese officials to mark the 50th anniversary of the DPRK-PRC Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance.
  • US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mullen called on China to rein in NK to prevent further provocations, saying provocations “now are potentially more dangerous than they have been in the past.”
  • After five meetings SK and NK officials failed to reach agreement on how to deal with SK assets at the Mount Kumgang resort.
  • The SK Govt is working on the details of mechanisms to build up a unification fund of up to 50 trillion KRW (47b USD) over the next 10-15 years. Lankov on SKoreans’ changing (but not publicly expressed) attitudes towards unification. The executive VP of the National Advisory Council for Democratic Peaceful Unification said that one of the council’s main duties was to “form a national consensus over the essentiality of unification”.
  • SK and US marines held their first joint drill around Baengnyeong Island, in the area of the disputed Yellow Sea maritime border. SK is also adding 10 more cutting-edge PKG-class vessels to boost the ROK Navy’s capabilities in the area.
  • NK and Syrian officials met to discuss means of expanding bilateral cooperation in the areas of oil, agriculture, investment, and media.
  • Canada is boycotting the UN’s Conference on Disarmament because NK is the current chair under the alphabetical order rotation system commonly used at the UN. The Conference on Disarmament has little significance so boycotting it is a bit of an empty gesture, possibly aimed at a domestic audience.  

MISC.

  • SKorean prosecutors acting under the archaic National Security Law are investigating a 79 year old man for posting pro-NK articles on a blog. KCNA noted the blogger’s support.
  • Five members of the NK women’s world cup team have tested positive for steroids. The NK team doctor claimed the result was caused by ‘musk deer gland’ given to players after they were struck by lightning. Deer oh deer.
  • NK’s IOC representative reportedly responded positively to the suggestion of jointly hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics in some way, but the IOC President threw cold water on the idea. A single Korean bobsleigh team may be in the offing.
  • KCNA video of Pyongyang Department Store Number 1 (with amazing music).
  • The art of Song Byeok.
  • NPR podcast on NK’s economy.
  • EU-SK trade has already increased since the FTA took effect two weeks ago.
11 July 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 11 July 2011

NK INTERNAL

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.

REFUGEES

  • 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.

HUMAN RIGHTS

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.”

MISC.

  • 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.
4 July 2011 / SP

Weekly News Brief – 4 July 2011

NK INTERNAL

  • 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.

REFUGEES

HUMAN RIGHTS

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…

MISC.

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