You heard it here last – Dear Leader and Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, Marshall Kim Jong-Il died early Monday according to state-run television KCNA.
He apparently died on his private train, due to “physical and mental overwork”. Heart complications on his usual “on-the-spot guidance” tours are to blame. It will be fascinating to see what the weeks ahead hold for the DPRK: The crash succession of Kim Jong-Un, potential power struggles, glorification and state funeral arrangements, and the future of foreign policy to the reclusive state.
Last.fm is host to a North Korean music channel, featuring 16 music videos (many in karaoke format, invite your friends!). “MARSIANSKA”, the administrator of the page from Finland seems a tad pro-Pyongyang, but the collection of music and videos is impressive nonetheless.
As the post history of this site may suggest, I’d taken some time away from the aggregation of North Korea-related news to this blog. It really wasn’t turning into what I wanted it to be, I wasn’t enjoying doing it, it became more labour than love to regurgitate the same stories that much more articulate and educated people were already writing/reporting on. I didn’t want this site to become a "dumbed-down" version of the news, but that’s what it inevitably turned out to be.
Where do we go from there? Well, I certainly still want to share the news and stories coming out of the DPRK with everyone. And over the past 13 months of operating this site I have learned a lot, read a lot, learned the who’s who, the what’s what and the where’s where (?) of North Korean journalism on both sides of the hemisphere. I had accumulated a lot of resources. I needed to make it easier to share.
A new feature you’ll see in the menu at the top is the "Shared Articles" section. When I’m going through the hundreds of items that pop up in my Google Reader subscriptions each day, I’ll share the stories and they will show up on that page. I’ll be using my Twitter account as well to share a lot of these sources directly. So that’s one change.
I have greatly overhauled the Links section of this site. I think there are a lot of good resources there for both the newly interested and the seasoned watcher. I’ve updated the Books and Documentaries/Videos sections as well. These sections will always be works in progress.
For the main site, rather than share the daily news (unless it’s really blockbuster), I’m going to post interest stories.. whether they are mine or someone elses. Profiles of a featured blogger/Pyongyang watcher, information about specific DPRK topics such as the state of food aid, military assets, satellite imagery analysis, leadership profiles, offbeat articles, Youtube videos… these are the things you will see more of on the front page.
So, here is a video of two North Korean children executing a flawless drum duet:
Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/1019
Five North Korea players have tested positive for steroids at the women’s World Cup, soccer’s biggest doping scandal at a major tournament in 17 years. FIFA President Sepp Blatter said Saturday that after two players were caught during the tournament this month, FIFA tested the rest of the North Korean squad and found three more positive results. "This is a shock," Blatter said at a news conference. "We are confronted with a very, very bad case of doping and it hurts." Meanwhile, Colombia’s reserve goalkeeper Yineth Varon been suspended for failing an out-of-competition test just before the World Cup in the wake of undergoing hormonal treatment. It was the first doping case in the history of the women’s World Cup. FIFA annually spends some $30 million on 35,000 doping tests. Despite the cases at the women’s World Cup, "doping really is a marginal, fringe phenomenon in football," Blatter said. The last doping case at a major event came at the men’s 1994 World Cup in the United States, when Diego Maradona was kicked out after testing positive for stimulants. FIFA has already met with a North Korean delegation and heard arguments that the steroids were accidentally taken with traditional Chinese medicines based on musk deer glands to treat players who had been struck by lightning on June 8 during a training camp in North Korea. The case will be taken up by FIFA’s disciplinary committee. Players, male or female, face a ban of up to two years for such infractions. Defenders Song Jong Sun and Jong Pok Sim tested positive for steroids after North Korea’s first two group games and were suspended for the last match. The team was eliminated in the first round after losses to the United States and Sweden and a draw with Colombia. Blatter said the North Korean federation "wrote to us and they presented their excuses. They said that a lightning strike was responsible for this." The names of the three other players would only be made public at a later stage, FIFA said. The gland in question comes from musk deer living in a large swathe of Asia from Siberia to North Korea. The hairy 4-centimeter gland is usually cut open to extract a liquid that is used for medical purposes. Doping officials have been concerned about such naturally occurring substances in recent years. During the run-up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FIFA’s concerns focused on African plants that could players an unfair advantage by providing energy boosts or helping to heal muscle injuries. FIFA investigators who discovered evidence of doping in the North Korean samples were in uncharted territory as such steroids had not previously been encountered. Experts from the World Anti-Doping Agency were called in to confirm the breach of doping rules. "It was very complex," FIFA’s chief medical officer Jiri Dvorak said. He added that the medical officer of the North Korea team provided a sample of the medicine to help their analysis. The musk gland extract "it is not part of the world of doping," Dvorak said. "It is really the first case in which this has been discovered." The North Koreans first mentioned the lightning incident after losing their opening match to the United States. When North Korean officials were asked later, they refused to elaborate on the circumstances. North Korean coach Kim Kwang Min said after their first match against the United States that "more than five" players were sent to the hospital. Goalkeeper Hong Myong Hui, four defenders and some of the midfielders were the players most affected, Kim said. "The physicians actually said the players were not capable of playing in the tournament," Kim said through an interpreter. Dvorak said the information was still sketchy. "We saw some pictures with ambulances and saw that some players were taken from the pitch, but that is all we have," he said. FIFA also got information from North Korea about the initial hospital treatment of the players and "this very first report did not include the traditional Chinese medicine," Dvorak said. The tournament ends Sunday with the final between the United States and Japan.
As usual, the North Korean story is sketchy: after embarrassing losses at the WWC, the coach decides to tell press that some of the team had been struck by lightning (!) weeks earlier. Press is surprised that this wasn’t brought up earlier, and the Oh-Those-Zany-North-Koreans Story-of-the-Week goes viral. Then some of the team members test positive for steroids, and we have an excuse that deer musk gland extract, certainly a medicine unknown to most knowledgeable of performance enhancing drugs is to blame. An admirable underdog story of an injured team fighting against all odds to compete, or an elaborate attempt to spin bad news into good for the North Koreans cheering back home?
The above photo, acquired by Martyn Williams of North Korea Tech (I seem to be linking him a lot, lately!) appears to show North Koreans struggling with dangerously high flood levels as a result of a battering on rain storms. Associated Press had hosted the image for others to buy rights to for news publications, but later yanked the image with the following reason:
EDITORS AND LIBRARIANS PLEASE ELIMINATE FROM YOUR PHOTO SYSTEMS AND ARCHIVES AP PHOTO TOK801 TRANSMITTED JULY 16, 2011. THE CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN DIGITALLY ALTERED AND DOES NOT ACCURATELY REFLECT THE SCENE. NO OTHER VERSION OF THE PHOTO IS AVAILABLE.
A full sized version of the image was at one point available (for a price), but is no longer available now. From the smaller version above, the image does appear off – peoples legs cast vague shadows though the tree trunks to the left are clear and dark. These people are trudging through thigh-high water but their pants appear completely dry above the waterline.
North Korea’s state-run news outlet KCNA provided the image, as part of its new licensing deals with Associated Press and Reuters. As many had predicated already, this new relationship seems to accomplish little else other than spread Pyongyang’s propaganda to a much larger audience. In this case, the potential for making weather conditions seem more severe than reality might help encourage support for emergency food and rescue aid.
PyeongChang, South Korea was recently awarded the Winter Olympics in a landslide vote from the International Olympic Committee. As has happened in the past for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, the suggestion has been made from both sides (that is, the left-wing opposition in the South and the desperate for foreign currency North) that some events and teams be shared jointly to represent a Korean peninsula “striving” for peaceful reunification. The Lee Myung-Bak South Korean government is playing it off with no serious consideration. From The Korea Times:
South and North Korea must resolve pending safety issues before discussing the potential of co-hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in PyeongChang, a government official said Wednesday. Seoul has said it is open to related discussions but not actively looking into the matter. Any such move would need the approval of the International Olympic Committee, which observers say is highly unlikely. "It’s possible as an idea,"Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo told reporters. "But for co-hosting to be possible, security issues of people going to North Korea needs to be solved. We’re not considering or examining anything seriously at the moment." She stressed, however, the importance of talks over a stalled joint tourism project in Mt. Geumgang in the North, which discontinued after the 2008 shooting death of a South Korean visitor. The remarks followed a statement by Jang Ung, a North Korean member of the International Olympic Committee, who told reporters in Tokyo that the North hopes to share events with PyeongChang. The host city is located in Gangwon Provice, which straddles both South and North Korea. It was the first reaction from a North Korean official after PyeongChang beat out Munich of Germany and Annecy of France last week to win the rights to host the 2018 Winter Games. The successful bid set off a flurry of activity among lawmakers, with ruling and opposition parties agreeing to make efforts to field a unified Korean team and jointly train athletes. Rep. Sohn Hak-kyu, chairman of the opposition Democratic Party, said Monday he would explore ways to co-host the event. Bahng Tae-seop, a North Korea watcher at the Samsung Economic Research Institute, said the stepped up security at that time would force the North to make an important decision regarding the Games. "The South Korean military, as well as the U.S. military, will need to prepare against threats such as terrorism given the international scope of the event,"he said. "That will be seen as a threat against the regime. It will be a matter of rational choice — accepting any chance to co-host, remain silent or, in the worst case, resort to more bad behavior."
Joshua Stanton, of One Free Korea, has a cynical analysis held by most Pyongyang observers (not excluding myself). He believes the South Korean posturing is simply to please the left-wing opposition party, who strive for peace and unity with their Northern kinsmen. The North apparently support this idea as well, however in the 1988 Olympics their excessive demands for co-hosting events and opening ceremonies met in a complete breakdown in negotiations resulting in a boycott by several other socialist countries. And according to a Gallup poll, nearly 3/4s of South Koreans agree that the DPRK should certainly not be involved.
In July 2008, a 53 year old South Korean woman, on one of Hyundai Asan’s tours in the Mt. Kumgang resort jointly run by North and South Korea, was shot dead by North Korean soldiers for allegedly wandering too close to a military installation. South Korea demanded a full investigation which was vehemently denied by the North, and since then the resort has been left in a state of limbo. Three years to the date, discussions between the rival nations continue to break down as the North refuses to concede to the South’s demands for an investigation, apology, and guarantee of safety for tourists. Minor and temporary agreements have been made during this time, such as utilizing the resort’s facilities for Red Cross reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. More recently, the North has resumed tours without the South, and has seized many of the facilities and assets that received heavy investment from Hyundai Asan. From Reuters:
North Korea refused on Thursday to back down on its threat to strip a South Korean company of its assets to run tours to a joint resort as talks broke down over a three-year row amid security tensions between the rivals. The dispute over the Mount Kumgang resort on the isolated North’s east coast is the latest of a list of issues underscoring the depth of soured relations on the peninsula that involved the sinking of a South Korean navy ship last year and bombing of a populated island by the North. A team headed by South Korean Unification Ministry officials crossed the military border into the mountain resort to try to stop Pyongyang from seizing the assets of a South Korean tour operator at the resort. North Korea gave a new deadline of July 29 for the South Korean tour operator Hyundai Asan to pull out or have their assets seized and disposed of, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said after the meeting ended in a deadlock. Last month the North said it had revised a law overseeing the joint tourism project, effectively ending Hyundai Asan’s contract to exclusively run all cross-border tours to the resort. … Earlier this month, the North gave investors from the South until July 13 to come to the resort to sort out their assets or risk Pyongyang taking steps to seize and dispose of them. An expert on the North, Stephan Haggard of the University of California, said the North has pushed its threat on Kumgang too far and the South is unlikely to separate it from the rest of the rivals’ bitter ties. "I think it will be very difficult for the government to sanction or reopen it," he said.
According to The Chosun Ilbo, Hyundai Asan has taken heavy losses amounting to nearly $400 million USD over the past 3 years.
Hot on the heels of the announcement that the Associated Press is expanding its facilities in Pyongyang, Reuters has now also announced that it will be setting up a satellite dish for video and text distribution overseas. From the Reuters press release:
The new agreement will provide Reuters access to news video from North Korea via satellite for timely distribution to broadcasters and publishers around the world. The Reuters News Agency will be the first international news organization to have a full time satellite dish in North Korea, delivering clean news video content in addition to the text and pictures covered by a previous agreement – a significant benefit to broadcasters across the globe.
“We know the world’s broadcasters are seeking more news from North Korea, and this agreement will ensure our clients have a regular supply of up to the minute video stories from Pyongyang and across the country,” said Chris Ahearn, president of Reuters Media.
The agreement with KCNA covers both breaking and feature news video, and marks a significant expansion by Reuters in delivering news from one of the world’s most important datelines. As part of the arrangement Reuters will also be providing editorial training and KCNA will facilitate regular visits to North Korea by senior Reuters journalists.
North Korea Tech blogger Martyn Williams notes that Reuters has already been broadcasting video from the state-run KCNA since July 7th of this year. While some may get excited at the prospect of North Korea opening up its news coverage to a larger international audience, and allowing foreign journalists to operate within Pyongyang, from the North’s perspective it is probably a great way to generate foreign currency and get its propaganda to the outside world. In the past year, Pyongyang has also launched a new media campaign involving Twitter, Youtube and several attempts at a Facebook page.
France, the only nation in the European Union to have no diplomatic relationship with the DPRK, has announced that it will be opening a “cultural cooperation” office in Pyongyang. From the AFP:
France will open a cooperation bureau in North Korea, Le Monde newspaper said Tuesday, but underscored that Paris was not launching diplomatic relations with the reclusive Stalinist state.
A senior French diplomat is currently in Pyongyang where he "will present to the North Koreans" the future French representative, the daily said, identifying him as Olivier Vaysset, a diplomat who has worked in Singapore.
"The opening of this office does not signify that France is opening as such diplomatic relations with this totalitarian country," it said but added that it could serve as a "diplomatic intermediary."
The proposed office will handle cultural cooperation, it said.
The French embassy in Seoul declined comment on the report, saying any comment would have to come from Paris.
The then-French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said in March last year his country would not establish diplomatic relations with the North but would open an office to support non-governmental groups.
"We are not going to open an embassy, certainly not," Kouchner told a news conference in Tokyo. "Open an office, yes, in order to help the NGOs there."
France is the only major European Union member that does not have diplomatic ties with the communist state.
Paris has argued that the human rights situation must improve and has cited concerns over nuclear proliferation.
French special envoy to Pyongyang, Jack Lang, visited the North in November 2009. He said afterwards that France had offered to forge permanent cultural links with North Korea but not full diplomatic ties.
It’s been an especially belligerent last couple of years for North Korea. Tensions on the peninsula caused delays for establishing the cultural office, but the project seems to be back on the table.
How do you prepare for the Women’s World Cup with significantly less practice playing against other international teams than your opponents? Pump your athletes full of ‘roids. Two defenders, Song Jong-Sun and Jong Pok-Sim tested positive for use of anabolic steroids. From the AFP:
The pair were removed from the lineup for North Korea’s goalless draw with Colombia in Bochum on Wednesday, but after the Group C game, the remaining 19 players in the squad were all tested by FIFA.
"This is a unique event at the World Cup, but if there are two positive samples in a team it means we have to investigate," said Dr. Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s chief medical officer.
"This is a very sad day."
The pair have been provisionally suspended and their B samples have been sent for testing by FIFA.
According to SID, an AFP subsidiary, the North Korean team left Germany early on Thursday morning having been eliminated after the group stages.
Theo Zwanziger, president of the German Football Federation (DFB) was scathing in his criticism of the North Koreans.
"This incident underlines the impression of the inhumane system in North Korea where attempts are made to give athletes success by any means possible," he said.
"Success which can then be used for government propaganda."
But Zwanziger acknowledged FIFA’s testing methods are catching athletes who use steroids.
"It is a positive that FIFA’S testing procedures seem to be working in the fight against doping," he said.
The two North Korean players were tested after the first two games against the United States and Sweden.
Their samples were examined at the World Anti-Doping Agency laboratory in Kreischa, east Germany, and then at the German Sport University in Cologne.
In total, there have now been three failed doping tests at the World Cup after Colombian player Yineth Varon failed an out-of-competition test in in Leverkusen on 25 June.