Last week, a collection of smuggled clips of daily life in North Korea was released by Australian media outlet ABC. The footage was only available for 24 hours, but other mirrors exist such as the one embedded below.
Shot over several months by an undercover North Korean journalist, the harrowing footage shows images of filthy, homeless and orphaned children begging for food and soldiers demanding bribes. The footage also shows North Koreans labouring on a private railway track for the dictator’s son and heir near the capital Pyongyang. Strolling up to the site supervisor, the man with the hidden camera asks what is going on. "This rail line is a present from Kim Jong-il to comrade Kim Jong-un," he is told. The well-fed Kim Jong-un could soon be ruling over a nation of starving, impoverished serfs. The video shows young children caked in filth begging in markets, pleading for scraps from compatriots who have nothing to give. "I am eight," says one boy. "My father died and my mother left me. I sleep outdoors." … In the footage, a party official is demanding a stallholder make a donation of rice to the army. "My business is not good," complains the stallholder. "Shut up," replies the official. "Don’t offer excuses." It is clear that the all-powerful army – once quarantined from food shortages and famine – is starting to go hungry. "Everybody is weak," says one young North Korean soldier. "Within my troop of 100 comrades, half of them are malnourished," he said.
The source of these images is AsiaPress’ Rimjin-gang magazine. The project employs citizens journalists in North Korea who receive hardware like cellphones or digital cameras and training on how to use them, and smuggle the images captured back across the border.
The situation is perpetually bleak, but an international debate over how to, or even whether to, support North Korea with humanitarian food aid rages on.
The Christian Science Monitor echoes the sentiment from the US and South Korean leadership, which both agree that North Korea cannot adequately guarantee that food is going to the right places, and therefore should not receive said food aid. The South Korean government has also maintained its stance that it will not be providing its rival brother with aid.
China has been importing grain in greatly increased numbers in the past year, not as aid, but presumably at a greatly discounted rate. Chinese-DPRK relations are at a high right now, following a highly publicized meeting between Kim Jong-Il and Chinese President Hu Jintao, as well as the establishment of many new economic ventures between the neighbour countries.
The European Union has announced a 10 million Euro ($14.5 million USD) aid package as well. From the Associated Press:
"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," Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement.
EU experts on a recent mission to the country determined that state-distributed rations, which provide food to two-thirds of North Koreans, have been cut by more than 60 percent, to about 400 calories, the EU said.
Even severely malnourished children in hospitals and nurseries are not getting any treatment and many citizens have grown so desperate that they are eating grass, the EU added.
A nice gesture, but the intention is for the aid to be “strictly monitored” by the existing unreliable methods employed by the WFP.
Can there ne any reasonable way to monitor the distribution of aid in North Korea? This is likely impossible with the current, long-standing regime, where anywhere and everywhere can be made to be off limits to foreign eyes. A destabilized North Korea is probably the first step required to see that the people most in need receive vital nutrition.
How quickly times gets away from you.. the labourious process of buying, packing up and getting ready to move into a new house has consumed much of my free time that might otherwise be spent maintaining this website. But I digress… here’s a small selection of what’s been going on over the past few weeks.
Pyongyang undergoing massive renovations in time for 2012, university students put to work until April 2012
2012 is an important year for North Korea for many reasons. Mainly, it is to celebrate the 100th birthday of the DPRK’s perpetual despot Kim Il-Sung, which could very well be the biggest birthday bash the Great Leader has ever had thrown on his behalf. There is also a great burden on grandson Kim Jong-Un, who is allegedly involved in many of the preparations and tasked to help forge the "strong and prosperous nation" by 2012. One massive undertaking is the renovation of the famous Mansudae area of Pyongyang, home to the giant bronze statue of Kim Il-Sung and numerous landmarks. Huffington Post has a summary:
"The central part of Pyongyang will be refurbished according to the requirements of this new century and the demand of modern times by 2012," Yun Sok Chon, head of the Institute of Pyongyang City Design, told APTN.
The building project in Pyongyang’s Mansudae area will include a new theater, apartment blocks, restaurants, shops and a 10-hectare (25-acre) park area, the Korean Central News Agency reported earlier this month. KCNA said the project "will change the appearance of the capital city beyond recognition."
In the past two years, three other high-profile apartment projects have been completed in Pyongyang.
Authorities have not made public the cost of the Mansudae project, exact statistics of its scale or the resources involved. But it is part of the biggest construction work in Pyongyang since the development of a new town area called Tongil Street in the 1990s.
Ambitious project. Given a constant shortfall of construction supplies, at least they seemed to have solved a labour shortage. UK news outlet The Telegraph reports that students are being conscripted to work construction sites in major cities and deal with agricultural problems as well:
Pyongyang has told the North Korean people that the nation will have achieved its aim of becoming "a great, prosperous and powerful nation" in 2012, which marks the 100th anniversary of the founder of the reclusive state, Kim Il-sung. In addition, Kim Jong-il will turn 70 in February and the "Dear Leader" hopes to be able to transfer his power and an economically stronger nation to his son and heir-apparent, Kim Jong-Un. Reports in South Korea indicated that the government in Pyongyang on Monday ordered all universities to cancel classes until April of next year. The only exemptions are for students who will be graduating in the next few months and foreign students. The reports suggested that the students will be put to work on construction projects in major cities while there are also indications that repair work may be needed in agricultural regions that were affected by a major typhoon recently. Analysts in Japan claim there may be other reasons behind the decision to disperse the students across the country. "One reason is that there is a possibility of demonstrations at university campuses," said Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University and author of a number of books on the North Korean leadership. "The leadership has seen the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in Africa and it is very frightened that the same thing could happen in North Korea," he said. "They fear it could start in the universities." Professor Shigemura also said that North Korea has purchased anti-riot equipment from China in recent months, including tear gas and batons, while there has been an increased police presence at key points in Pyongyang in recent months.
China has since denied supplying North Korea with riot gear to deal with potential domestic protests, a la the revolutions in the Middle East. It’s not uncommon for the DPRK to draft its students into labour when times are tough. However, the DailyNK and other North Korean observers believe the project is doomed to failure, and all except for Kim Jong-Un will be punished as a result.
Groundbreaking ceremonies and construction of Special Economic Zones between North Korea and China
This project has been mentioned a few times, the most recent being unexplained delays in the groundbreaking ceremonies for new Special Economic Zones designed to encourage trade between North Korea and China and possible economic reforms for the hermit kingdom. From Yonhap:
North Korea and China on Wednesday broke ground on a border island to develop it into an economic zone, spurring speculation that Pyongyang may embrace Chinese-style economic development to try to revive its faltering economy. The groundbreaking ceremony came on the heels of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s weeklong trip to China in May to study the neighboring country’s spectacular economic development, his third trip to China in just over a year. Beijing has been trying to lure its impoverished ally to embrace the reform that lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty and helped Beijing’s rise to becoming the world’s second-largest economy. On Wednesday, some 1,000 people from North Korea and China, including Kim’s brother-in-law, Jang Song-thaek, and Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming, attended the ceremony on Hwanggumphyong Island in the Yalu River that separates the two countries. Several dozen giant advertising balloons were floating in the air as a military brass band played festive songs, and hundreds of doves were released at the ceremony. The messages on the balloons read "North Korea-China friendship and joint development" in a symbolic gesture for their commitment to the project. The two sides also reportedly signed a deal on the joint development project, including lease terms on Hwanggumphyong. No details were immediately available. The massive ceremony came two days after Pyongyang said it will turn the Hwanggumphyong and Wihwa islands into the economic zone to boost friendly ties with China and expand and develop external economic relations. The North’s parliament said Monday that the development of the zone will start from the Hwanggumphyong district.
Check the Korea Herald link below for more technical detail on the projects. Hopefully these economic zones don’t have the same underwhelming results as similar SEZ projects in the past.
Speculation, then cancellation, of a Kim Jong-Il summit with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev
Speculation was rampant throughout the month of June that Kim Jong-Il would again be leaving North Korea via his private train to meet Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. The meeting was rumoured to occur on either June 30th or July 1st in the Russian city of Vladivostok, just 130km from the North Korean border. From Reuters:
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) – Russian authorities are preparing for a possible visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, a local official in Russia’s Far East said on condition of anonymity on Monday.
"We are making preparations," said the local official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The official declined to give any details about the trip other than that Kim was expected to travel to Russia’s Far East, which borders North Korea, in an armored train.
When asked if Kim was due to visit, the governor of Russia’s Far Eastern region of Primorye, Sergei Darkin, told reporters in Moscow: "I cannot comment on what presidents of other countries plan to do. You will soon find out."
A couple of days later, according to Japanese news outlet Kyodo
North Korea has called off a plan for its leader Kim Jong Il to hold a summit with Russian Dmitry Medvedev in this Russian Far East city on Thursday, multiple Russian government officials told Kyodo News on Wednesday.
Among the reasons given by the North Korean side for canceling the trip, in which he was expected to cross the border by rail Thursday and arrive in Vladivostok within the day, was that Kim’s health was not in the best condition to travel, they said.
But according to the officials, the cancellation came after the two sides failed to narrow differences over the summit agenda.
Kim was looking better than he has in years during his China visit (see video at the bottom of this article), but perhaps he’s taken a turn for the worse? Perhaps this will get rescheduled soon.
A new resettlement facility for North Korean defectors in South Korea, the third of its kind
In November last year, South Korea announced it had taken in its 20,000th defector from North Korea. This number has been steadily increasing since, now up to 21,700 in total, and putting pressure on the educational facilities that aim to integrate North Koreans into the unfamiliar capitalist way of life. Yonhap says:
The move is the latest reminder that the flow of North Korean defectors isn’t letting up despite Pyongyang’s harsh crackdown on escapees. Seoul is now home to more than 21,700 North Koreans. South Korea has already been running two other resettlement centers, known as Hanawon near Seoul to help the defectors better adjust to life in the capitalist South. Still, the government will break ground for another resettlement center in Hwacheon on July 7 as the two current facilities are running at full capacity, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo told reporters. The area is about 118 kilometers northeast of Seoul. She also said the government is planning to offer re-education for former North Korean teachers, doctors and other experts in the new resettlement center to be built by the end of 2012. The announcement comes amid the latest dispute between the two Koreas over nine North Koreans who defected to the South earlier this month. Seoul has indicated it will not return the North Korean defectors despite the North’s request for repatriation. The North usually claims South Korea kidnaps its citizens, charges that Seoul denies.
A temporary solution to hopefully a temporary problem… 21,700 down, 23,978,300 to go!
“Secret” meetings between South and North Korea for a proposed summit revealed
This is already old news, but reveals the tumultuousness and communication breakdowns that occur regularly in inter-Korean politics. On June 1st, North Korea’s state run media outlet KCNA loudly announced that South Korea was secretly attempting to bribe North Korea to a summit meeting in April:
It is a sheer lie that at the Beijing secret contact the south side briefed the DPRK side on the "real intention" reflected in the "Berlin proposal" made by traitor Lee. Now that the Lee group let the spokesman for Chongwadae open to public the above-mentioned secret contact first on the basis of fabrications and is busy floating nonsensical stories, the DPRK side has no option but to clarify it as it happened. Finding it hard to evade the responsibility for having driven the inter-Korean relations to catastrophe, the Lee group was aware that the crisis in the closing period of its rule might further deepen due to the situation. Hence, entering April the group made repeated requests to "hold a secret contact for the ‘summit talks,’ saying it would no more talk about ‘Cheonan’ warship sinking case and Yonphyong Island shelling case." And it made poor excuses that what matters is that Lee’s "policy towards the north" is "misunderstood" by the north and the south, in fact, stands for the improvement of the north-south relations. Kim Chon Sik, chief of the policy room of the puppet ministry of unification, Hong Chang Hwa, director of the intelligence service, and Kim Thae Hyo, senior presidential secretary for foreign strategy of secretariat of Chongwadae, and others came out to the venue of the secret contact that started on May 9. They, however, began playing jugglery to wrest apology from the DPRK side, asserting that the above-said cases were "mountains to be crossed with wisdom" for the improvement of the south-north relations. This was a breach of the promise made to the DPRK side earlier. When it declared that it was preposterous to say the word "apology" over the cases with which it had nothing to do and just measures for self-defence, they asked it to put forth "a compromise proposal" to be declared before the world, the proposal which cannot be interpreted as apology, when viewed by the north side but as apology when viewed by the south side. They implored the north to "make a little concession". When the DPRK side told them to go back to Seoul at once, saying it is not necessary to discuss the issue of the summit talks in which unreasonable "apology" raised as a pre-condition, they tried hard to keep the contact going on at any cost, saying that it would not be long before Lee Myung Bak’s tenure of office would end, the present authorities are hard pressed for time and it is more favorable to push forward the inter-Korean relations by joining hands with the conservative forces, in stead of doing so with the progressive forces. Noting that a program for all events for the opening of the "summit talks" has already been worked out, they said that depending on the settlement of the issues of the two cases, they expected to open ministerial talks for the "summit talks" late in May to announce agreed points, hold the first round of the "summit talks” in Panmunjom late in June, the second one in Pyongyang two months later and the third round of the "summit talks" during the summit for nuclear security slated to take place in March next year. They earnestly begged the DPRK side to take this embarrassing situation into consideration.
On June 9th, KCNA had more to say regarding alleged bribes to encourage North Korea to the summit:
When the contact was on the verge of a rupture, Hong Chang Hwa took out enveloped money from a suitcase at the order of Kim Thae Hyo, who was going to give it to us. We rejected it at once, and Kim blushed and got irritated. Hong hurriedly put the money into the suitcase in an awkward movement and left without exchanging proper parting words with our delegates.
At first the group of traitors asserted that there was no case of enveloped money. But now it distorts the fact by claiming that the money was for expenses to be paid traditionally by the sponsor of contact rather than "reward" for leading the contact to "summit talks".
If it is usage for a party sponsoring any talks to pay necessary expenses as asserted by the south side, why didn’t the south side present the enveloped money at the time of the two preceding rounds of contact?
The south side was well aware that the DPRK embassy provided lodging and boarding and vehicles. Then, was it going to pay the embassy the said enveloped money for living expenses during its stay? Its far-fetched assertion has gone far.
Of course, South Korea has an opposing view of how these discussions went down. From Yonhap:
South Korea’s point man on North Korea said Wednesday that Pyongyang first proposed a secret meeting that has become the latest hurdle in inter-Korean relations.
The two Koreas have accused each other of distorting the facts of their secret meeting in Beijing in May after Pyongyang revealed details of the meeting earlier this month.
The North claimed Seoul negotiators had "begged" for three inter-Korean summits and offered an envelope of cash as an inducement, allegations dismissed by Seoul.
South Korea said the meeting was designed to get North Korea to apologize for its two deadly attacks on the South last year, as part of Seoul’s efforts to break the current impasse and put inter-Korean ties back on track.
"It was North Korea that made the offer for the unannounced contact," Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said in a parliamentary session.
He said the North’s disclosure of the meeting was aimed at getting Seoul into trouble and splitting public opinion in the South.
Many Pyongyang observers point out that the North has possibly decided to simply wait out Lee Myung-bak’s term in office, as his term is nearing an end and a shift in North Korean policy may be imminent with a new government.
A nice write-up from Martyn Williams about North Korea’s IP addresses
The amazing (and pleasantly niche) blog North Korea Tech has an interesting piece detailing North Korea’s IP address blocks managed in Thailand and China. A good place to start if you suspect the North Koreans of invading your PC!
The big story of the past week was North Korean leader’ Kim Jong-Il’s sudden and long visit to China. As is his M.O., Kim travelled by private armored car. The trip was unannounced and caused rampant speculation among Pyongyang-observers that the occupant was actually leader-to-be Kim Jong-Un, off to meet Chinese leadership in much the same was his father prepared for succession in 1983. China officially announced that Kim Jong-Il was in the country, but was secretive about his agenda and whereabouts. KCNA, North Korea’s state-run media outlet, also made the rare move of publishing that the Dear Leader was in China—such announcements are usually not made until he is safely returned home.
Kim travelled with an entourage of 70 senior officials, including de facto second-in-command Jang Song-Thaek, and Kim Jong-Il’s fourth wife, Kim Ok (pictured). The trip seemed entirely economic based, and possibly set up to be a crash course on Chinese economic reform that the Chinese have been pushing North Korea towards for years.
Here’s the rough summary of the events over the 7 day and over 6000km trip:
Kim Jong-Il’s armored train crosses border at Chinese city of Tumen at 6:20AM local time.
Changchun – Kim does an inspection trip to automobile manufacturing plant.
Mudanjiang City – Kim visits a site honouring his father, Kim Il-Sung for his guerilla efforts against the Japanese.
Mudanjiang City – A welcome party is held for Kim and entourage, with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo as host.
Yangzhou – Kim tours an economic development zone.
Yangzhou – Kim stays in a luxurious state guesthouse.
Yangzhou – Dinner & theatre with former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, of which both Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il have had good relations with.
Nanjing – Kim Jong-Il visits a Panda Electronics store.
Beijing – Kim Jong-Il and Chinese leader Hu Jintao meet for a summit.
Beijing – Kim demonstrates a desire to return to Six Party Talks aimed at dunuclearizing Korea.
Beijing – Kim notes for the third time (and on his third trip to China in a year) the desire for strong relations between the countries to be passed to the "younger generations".
Beijing – Hu issued a 5 step proposal that can basically be summed up: increase communication between the two countries, and the support and cooperationg between DPRK and China can continue, and cooperation on crucial international and regional issues (ie. stop attacking the South).
Beijing – Kim invites Hu to North Korea, which is accepted.
Beijing – A banquet is held in honour of Kim.
Beijing – Kim’s train departs Beijing on Thursday at 2:00PM.
Dandong – Kim returns to North Korea by train, and is welcomed at the border by son Kim Jong-Un, sister Kim Kyonng-Hui and other senior officials.
It seems to me that there was a lot of empty agreement coming from the North on opening up with economic reforms. In turn, China seemingly didn’t make any multi-billion dollar commitments to the North either, which is likely what the DPRK Leader was hoping for. Groundbreaking ceremonies were set to kick off May 24th for the Hwanggumpyong joint econonomic zone (discussed earlier) on the Yalu river bordering the two countries, as well as for new development projects in the Northeastern Rason economic zone. However, these ceremonies were cancelled and I’m unable to discover whether these plans are simply on hold or headed to another fate.
Are the Chinese protecting North Korea? Or is this a calculated move to avoid backlash for allowing illegal shipments through their country? AP reports:
China blocked the release Friday of a report by U.N. experts accusing North Korea of violating U.N. sanctions that ban the export and import of ballistic missile and nuclear-related items as well as conventional arms and luxury goods.
China’s U.N. Ambassador Li Baodong told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the Security Council to discuss implementation of two rounds of sanctions against the North that Beijing is "still studying that report."
The report by the seven independent experts appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to monitor implementation of sanctions was sent to the 15 Security Council members for their approval by Tuesday morning. Diplomats said China was the only country that objected to its immediate release.
Britain’s deputy U.N. ambassador Philip Parham said there was "pretty broad support" for the report in the council but China had problems with it.
The panel’s first report, in May 2010, was also held up by China, which has close ties to North Korea. It was finally released in November after Beijing dropped its objections.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a faxed statement that "China is earnest and responsible in implementing Security Council resolutions." She said the panel’s report "does not represent the Security Council’s position" nor the position of the council committee that monitors sanctions against North Korea.
The report, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, said North Korea remains "actively engaged" in exporting ballistic missiles, components and technology to numerous customers in the Middle East and South Asia in violation of U.N. sanctions.
The panel said prohibited ballistic missile-related items are suspected to have been transferred between North Korea and Iran on regularly scheduled flights of Air Koryo and Iran Air, with trans-shipment through a third country that diplomats identified as China.
It also said North Korea has completed — or is about to complete — construction of a second launch site for long-range rockets on its west coast close to Tongchangdong which could be used for ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. sanctions. It said the installations appear "bigger and more sophisticated" than the original site on the east coast used for the 1998, 2006 and 2009 Taepodong missile launches.
The Security Council imposed sanctions against North Korea after its first nuclear test in 2006 and stepped up sanctions after its second test in 2009 to try to derail the country’s rogue nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The second round strengthened an arms embargo, authorized ship searches on the high seas for suspected banned items, and ordered an asset freeze and travel ban on companies and individuals involved in the country’s nuclear and weapons programs.
While U.N. sanctions haven’t stopped the North’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs or its arms trading, the panel said, "they have made it more difficult and expensive for the country to pursue these."
But North Korea has exploited loopholes and other vulnerabilities in shipping and transportation practices and has become increasingly sophisticated in establishing shell and front companies and offshore financial agents, and in using multiple affiliates and aliases to mask individuals and companies subject to sanctions, it said.
As an example, the panel said information has recently come to light that Union Top Management, the shell company registered in Hong Kong that chartered an aircraft impounded in Bangkok last December with 35 tons of arms, planned five different fights. The Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane flying from the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, with the arms was the first flight, it said.
Portugal’s U.N. Ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral, who chairs the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea, told reporters he believes the allegations in the report "are indeed serious."
He said he expects the committee to informally discuss the panel’s findings and recommendations.
According to the panel, North Korea announced several major escalations in its nuclear program during the past year: the weaponization of separated plutonium, revelation of a uranium enrichment program, construction of a light water reactor, and announcement of a program to develop nuclear fusion technology to obtain "safe and environment-friendly new energy."
The panel made 24 recommendations on improving monitoring of sanctions and oversight of their implementation and strengthening measures to prevent the export and import of banned items including enhanced cargo inspections and customs vigilance.
The panel said North Korea should be "compelled" to abandon its uranium enrichment program, saying it believes the government’s aim in starting it was primarily for military purposes. North Korea should also abandon construction of a new light water reactor, which it is using as justification for the uranium enrichment program, it said.
Nothing really new here, aside from the allegations that China has turned a blind eye to the weapon sales between Iran and the DPRK. North Korea has been frequently suspected of, and I would imagine guilty of, selling weapons to Iran, Libya, and Burma. Could an increased round of sanctions from the UN really help in any meaningful way?
Something to keep an eye on, North Korea and China are quickly developing a free trade zone on the Yalu river that separates the two countries. I don’t have any specific details, but it seems likely that it will be close to the Friendship Bridge (and Broken Bridge) connecting the Chinese city of Dandong to Sinuiju in North Korea. From AFP:
North Korea and China will start work on developing a river island on their border this month, a report said Tuesday, amid an international drive to coax Pyongyang back to nuclear disarmament talks.
The two countries plan to hold a groundbreaking ceremony on May 28 for development of the island on the Yalu River, the South’s Yonhap news agency said.
Pyongyang has reportedly worked out a special law to set up a free trade zone on the island, which is separated by a narrow waterway from the Chinese city of Dandong.
The North’s state media disclosed a deal last year to build a new cross-border bridge on the Yalu River as part of a major economic package announced by Beijing.
The two sides have agreed to turn the island into a base for logistics, tourism and manufacturing that would be linked to China’s industrial complex to be built in Dandong, Yonhap said.
Of course, this sort of free economic zone has been experimented by North Korea in the past, but ultimately their demanding conditions and a typically poor return on investment from foreign interests has met with mediocre results. Existing free trade city Rason was an experiment with Russia and China (the countries sharing a border with Rason in the northeast) that was mostly a failure, businesses and deals exist but are not profiting either side. Development is allegedly picking up in that city as well, but this new island will be something to keep an eye on (keep updating, GeoEye!)
Two unrelated stories, but light enough on details to keep to one post.
Jimmy Carter returning to Pyongyang for talks with other former world leaders
A delegation formed by “The Elders”, a group of former world leaders whose mission statement is to promote peace and address human suffering will apparently be visiting Pyongyang next month. Details are sparse and are only sourced to “diplomatic sources in Seoul”. The delegation is alleged to consist of (nabbed from Wikipedia):
Quite a team! No word on their exact objectives or itinerary. More details will follow as they become available. Jimmy Carter, of course, is known for his diplomatic efforts diffusing the North Korean nuclear crisis in the early 90s. More recently, he travelled to Pyongyang to secure the release of Aijalon Gomes, and expected to meet Kim Jong-Il who instead took an impromptu trip to China (possibly to secure Chinese backing of DPRK leadership succession to his son, announced a few weeks later).
Nine North Korean refugees arrive by boat in South Korea
This is a developing story with very few details. May be several days before we hear anything new about these would-be defectors. An unnamed official is quoted as saying the following:
"The Coast Guard is investigating nine North Koreans who claimed to be refugees. They arrived late Thursday at the port of Gunsan after crossing the Yellow Sea (from China)"
All North Korean defectors are interrogated and investigated when entering South Korea. This serves as a wise precaution, as the strategy of deploying North Korean spies in the South by having them pretend to be defectors has occurred in the past. Given the heroic entry from China’s Yellow Sea, hopefully they are Koreans fleeing a bad situation for a better life in the South.
Mt. Baekdu (aka Mt. Paektu), Korea’s tallest mountain and the setting for much of North Korea’s mythology (such as Kim Il-Sung’s guerrilla warfare staging grounds and the alleged birthplace of Kim Jong-Il) is peaking the interest of scientists on both sides of the Korea peninsula. In the midst of the Japan’s devastating earthquake, and after seismic activity in recent years, North Korea has asked the South for assistance in assessing the volcano’s status. South Korea has sent back a message agreeing in principle that cooperation is necessary. A meeting on March 29th between volcano experts has been proposed, but North Korea has yet to comment.
Mt. Baekdu is split down the middle on the Chinese/North Korean border and is known as Changbai in China. The move is seen by North Korea experts to be a push on both sides to open communication channels between the rival states.
You might recall in early February the story of 31 North Koreans that accidentally drifted on their boat into South Korea (at contested border island Yeonpyeong), recently shelled by North Korea), at what was then presumed to be a defection attempt. The group was adamant that defection was not their intention, and that they had washed up by mistake. Now apparently, 4 of the group do wish to defect to South Korea, and their wishes are being honoured. South Korea will repatriate only 27 of the North Koreans, despite demands from the North that all 31 be delivered back immediately.
The four defectors consist of two men, and two women. The remaining 9 men and 18 women will be returned to the DPRK by way of the Panmunjom DMZ border village. The wooden boat they arrived in, which departed from the North Korean port city of Nampo, will also be returned to North Korea. The transaction is supposed to occur this Friday.
Speculation is abound (when isn’t it?) that the North will react harshly to only some of the stranded North Koreans being returned. This comes during a time of escalated tensions, as the North threatens “all out war” in retaliation for annual war games and simulations run by the South Korean and American militaries. As of November 2010, 20,000 defectors reside in South Korea, most going through China to get there.
I’m going to share a somewhat longwinded rant that I posted on the news aggregation website Reddit. A number of popular posts were excitedly discussing the possibility of revolution in North Korea, while basing most of their claims on wild speculation and sometimes outright false information.
One of the top stories in /r/WorldNews, with over 1500 comments is the hype surrounding a certain article that citizens in North Korea are staging unprecedented public protests against the Kim Jong-Il regime. The original article is here: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/MB25Dg01.html
The Asia Times article cites most of its information from the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s most popular newspaper. I can’t find the article they speak of, but there’s plenty of alternative stories on the English Chosun site. This SK professor makes some good points:
Discontent: It’s been a harsh winter, and North Koreans are once again very hungry. Rations aren’t being distributed properly, because the international food aid on which the country has been dependent for decades is all sparse. What does come through is coming from China, and is primarily reserved for the military and the elite.
Easier access to information: Word is getting out about just how deplorable the North Korean situation really is to its citizens. Cellphones are becoming more widespread, though strictly compartmentalized with no outside access. People close to the SK or Chinese borders are sometimes able to get a signal from those countries and communicate with the outside world. South Korean television shows and anti-regime propaganda videos are finding their way into peoples hands.
Chinese influence: Information is exchanged during trading sessions. I wouldn’t put too much stock in this information spreading quickly or very far.
First let me get into a little bit about how North Korean society is structured. Pyongyang, the capital, is where most of the elite and those most loyal to the party can live. It is considered a great reward to be moved from one of the provinces into the capital. They get first dibs on pretty much everything. A far cry from the luxuries we take for granted, but idyllic in the eyes of most North Koreans.
Flattery will get you everywhere in the DPRK. Young people aspire to serve in the military, for a 10 year period, just for the shot at getting a good job and becoming a party member. Anything you say against the regime will very likely put you into a labour camp. Once you’ve served time in the labour camp, you’ll either die or get shipped to one of the crummier provinces, never to rise in rank again. It really doesn’t take much for this to happen. Almost all military defectors in South Korea have done so because they realized their "careers" were in ruins for good. The Kim Jong-Il regime, like his father’s (Kim Il-Sung) before him, doesn’t take any shit.
I’m sure every Redditor has read George Orwell’s 1984. Kids ratting out their parents. Neighbours throwing neighbours under the bus for an offhand comment, or something trivial such as not dusting the portraits of the Great and Dear leaders in their households. Spies are literally everywhere in North Korea, and for the most part, people are absolutely terrified to speak out. So they put on a smile and continue worshipping the Kim personality cult. When you get in trouble, typically your entire family goes with you, effectively "purging the bad blood". Many North Koreans fear more for their families lives than their own, so behave accordingly. It is truly a dictatorship based on fear.
Still there is a fierce nationalism in the country. From birth, North Koreans are taught to hate the USA and Japan. To a lesser degree, South Koreans, but in that case mostly just the "puppet" capitalist government that they teach is the cause of the North’s repression. The North is a mountainous region with many natural resources, but difficulty growing their own crops. The South is plentiful in farmland and food, but imports most of their natural resources. Korean reunification has been the ultimate goal since the end of World War II, or so either side would have their citizens believe. They would be a powerhouse if they could reunite, and the American military is blamed for keeping them divided. China props up the DPRK because they too are resentful of the strategic military positions the Americans have on the Korea peninsula. This was Kim Il-Sung’s goal, and all of the shortfalls in North Korean history are said to be an ongoing battle in a long running revolution for Korean supremacy.
Here’s another article about one of the protests in Sinuju, a border town near China. The protests were sparked by police cracking down on markets, which are typically ignored but technically illegal in the country. Many count on these markets to survive, as they are not receiving food from the state as they’re supposed to. When the police crack down on these markets, and there are no alternatives to food, people get understandably angry. But the protests were quelled pretty quickly. People were probably killed and injured. Many others and their families probably trucked off to labour camps never to be heard from again.
That being said, sometimes protests are allowed to happen. DPRK attempted a grand currency reform in late 2009 which screwed a great deal of the population out of any money they had in their savings accounts. Since Kim Jong-Il’s songun or military first politics are centered around strengthening their forces, the people can be convinced that the poor economic decision was the result of poor high level decision making outside of Kim’s scope. Demonstrations were held, citizens were not punished. The regime said "yes, this was a mistake, and now were are executing the people responsible", and that’s what happened.
When Kim Il-Sung had tapped his son to be successor, party members loyalties were put to the test. Many adored Kim Sr. but questioned the leadership capabilities of his reckless son. Thus, a lot of purging occurred where dissenting party members were executed or demoted, and key supporters were put in the vacant positions. Much of the leadership of North Korea are directly related to the Kim family, or to the original families that fought alongside Kim Il-Sung’s guerilla struggles against Japan (which he is largely lauded for achieving Korean independance, though history indicates his true impact was minimal). Kim Jong-Il is getting old and his health is questionable, and so in turn he is propping up his son, Kim Jong-Un for succession. This means a whole new round of purges, a tighter crackdown on defectors and malcontents, and more credit to Kim Jong-Un for anything nice that happens in North Korea. Jong-Un is allegedly to continue his father’s military-first policy, but is also being heralded as brining about the dawn of "CNC" or Computer Numerical Control– basically the automation of manufcaturing the improve the quality of lives of North Koreans. Part of this is the distribution of cellphones, computers and digital technology, though obviously cut off from the rest of the world.
South Korea’s just as in the dark about North Korea as the rest of the world. Yes, the SK government marked Kim Jong-Il’s birthday on the 14th by launching propaganda balloons filled with anti-regime pamphlets, shortwave radios, DVDs, etc. This is nothing new and will not bring about a revolution. South Korea has been launching these balloon propaganda campaigns for decades. It wouldn’t surprise me if North Koreans, seeing these balloons heading for their town don’t go into their houses and shut the doors. If you find a balloon, you must turn it over to the authourities. If you read the contents you will be punished. If you keep what’s in it, you’ll be punished. If you see someone else reading the material and don’t report them, you will be punished.
Here’s another article from the Korea Times about how Seoul has stated that there are no signs that the North Koreans are staging widescale protests. The protests are small, and localized, and have no chance of growing beyond that. People are not allowed to travel between provinces at will, and there are military checkpoints all over the country.
Sorry for this long-winded rant. In a nutshell, North Koreans can’t revolt because they lack the ability to organize. There are no mass communication tools available to them. There is a great fear of repression from the authourities. The only real opportunity for change in North Korea will be the death of Kim Jong-Il, and this must happen sooner rather than later, or Kim Jong-Un’s grip will become as strong as his father’s. The coup would happen at a high military level, and as I mentioned before, many of these people are family to the Kim dynasty. I’m going to stop now, I could probably go on for hours.
New digging activity at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in northeast North Korea seems to indicate that another possible test of a nuclear detonation may occur within months. Several tunnels are being excavated in the same area where previous tests in 2006 and 2009 occurred. Activity at this site was reported in October of last year as well.
North Korea is also nearing completion of a more sophisticated intercontinental ballistic missile launch facility. The new facility, in North Pyongan province, is alleged to be far superior in utility to its predecessor Musudan-ri. Capabilities include an underground fueling facility, and rail-track missile loading system for fast deployment of missiles without satellite surveillance from its opponents. Also unlike the eastern launch site, a US/SK airstrike on the facility would likely cause Chinese outrage, as the facility is just 70km from the North Korea/Chinese border.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has stated that the North Koreans could have long range ICBM capability within 5 years, which could theoretically mean a nuclear missile could be sent as far away at the United States. A third nuclear test could be just the provocation North Korea is seeking in order to bring about a resumption to Six Party Talks, and resume food and material aid that a starving and economically sanctioned North Korean population desperately needs in this particularly harsh winter.