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.
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.
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.
The United Nations Conference on Disarmament, a forum of 65 member countries dedicated to negotiations of disarmament (North Korea’s strong suit) just got a new president—due to an antiquated rule stating that presidency is rotated among all member states alphabetically. So Se Pyong, pictured centered above, is the North Korean ambassador heading the conference. From Canada.com:
Nuclear-armed North Korea has assumed the presidency of a key United Nations disarmament body — despite facing UN Security Council sanctions over its weapons programs.
The development comes in the same week the UN defended its decision to support Iran’s holding of an international "anti-terrorism" conference — which saw participants declaring that Western powers were the international terrorists.
UN officials point out that North Korean ambassador So Se Pyong takes on the presidency of the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament under rules that say the chair will rotate among all 65 member states in alphabetical order.
But critics said Wednesday the rules should be changed when they allow the body — whose mandate is in part to push for world nuclear disarmament — to be led by a country that the West considers to be an international nuclear renegade.
So Se Pyong said during an address Tuesday he was "very engaged in moving the conference forward," and would use his four working-weeks of presidency to seek "constructive proposals" that would strengthen the "work and the credibility" of the conference.
Makes for a great sensationalist piece, but the duration of presidency is only four weeks and given the efficacies of bureaucratic process and international bickering, that doesn’t seem like much time to do a lot of damage. But what do I know.
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!
Korean-American businessman “Eddie” Jun Yong-Su was taken prisoner in North Korea in November 2010. Though the charges against him were never formally announced, it is believed that while doing business in the North, he performed underground missionary work, a dire crime in the oppressive DPRK. His captivity was not publicized until March 2011, and many expected former US President Jimmy Carter (on a diplomacy mission on behalf of The Elders) to return to the US with Jun, but this did not happen.
Ambassador Robert King, the US human rights envoy for North Korea, was able to secure Jun’s release during a visit to Pyongyang to discuss chronic food shortages. State run media outlet KCNA released an image (pictured) and a statement that Jun was being released on “humanitarian grounds”. Jun parted ways in Beijing, heading home to Seoul while King returned to the US. From Korea JoongAng Daily:
Upon arrival in Beijing, King confirmed the release of Korean-American Jun Young-su by North Korea. Although the two were on the same flight out of North Korea, Jun was not seen at Beijing Airport’s arrival gate. Later, he showed up in Seoul. Jun’s release came a day after North Korea said it decided to set him free on “humanitarian grounds.” Jun was arrested in November for committing an “unspecified crime” against the North, according to North Korean media reports.
Jun was met at Incheon International Airport by U.S. Embassy and South Korean officials and headed to a hospital for a medical checkup. Dressed in a black jacket and casual trousers, he appeared relatively healthy.
“I have to go to hospital. Let me talk later,” Jun briefly told reporters.
Earlier in Beijing, King, the U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights, told reporters, “We are very happy to report that Mr. Jun, the American citizen being held in Pyongyang, has been released. We are also delighted that in a day or two he will be back with his wife and family.”
Jun is the fifth American taken prisoner and then released (often to a prolific American political figure) in 3 years. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were captured and held for nearly 5 months in 2009 for trespassing over the border while shooting a documentary about North Korean defectors in China. They were brought back to the US by former US President Bill Clinton. Robert Park crossed the frozen Yalu River border on Christmas Day 2009 on a mission to spread Christianity in the North, and was later sent back to America in February 2010. Before Park’s release, his colleague Aijalon Gomes also crossed the border and was arrested – he was brought back in August 2010 by former US President Jimmy Carter.
Laura Ling and Euna Lee both authored books about their experiences, and Laura Ling went on the talk show circuit to describe her experiences. The male prisoners, however, seem to return with great mental trauma and rarely speak publicly. Robert Park has done a few interviews in between stays at a mental hospital. Aijalon Gomes has been quiet since his return. Jun’s only quote refers to needing to go to the hospital though looking in good health otherwise, so it remains to be seen whether we will hear about his treatment in North Korea. And then there’s the story of Evan Hunziker, who in 1996 was arrested while swimming nude in Yalu River. Governor Bill Richardson was able to secure his release, but Hunziker commit suicide just one month after returning to the US.
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?
As discussed previously, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak offered an invitation to Kim Jong-Il to attend the Nuclear Security Summit, a meeting of world leaders with the ambitious goal of global denuclearization set to kick off next March in Seoul. The North responded indirectly through its KCNA news, and it remains to be seen if they will respond personally. From DailyNK:
A spokesperson for North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (NKCPRF), in an interview with the Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) yesterday, chastised President Lee as a “traitor” and proclaimed, “Asserting denuclearization as a precondition for dialogue is a rash attempt to fulfill its ambition to invade the North along with the United States, having disarmed us.”
“From the government’s perspective, it is rather saddening that they would brand President Lee a ‘traitor’,” the official commented. However, he added, “From the perspective of the government, there seems to be no value in dealing with North Korean slander delivered through the NKCPRF.”
The North also criticized President Lee’s proposal for another reason, namely that “the South talks about holding nuclear summits and such like, having made South Chosun the world’s biggest outpost of nuclear war and arsenal of nuclear weapons.”
Currently, the South Korean government is awaiting a formal response from North Korea on the Berlin proposal, which calls on it to cast aside its nuclear weapons in order to gain entry to the Nuclear Security Summit.
The Ministry official concluded, “Though we are awaiting a response from the North, we, as of yet, see no great difference. We can be sure that there have been no actual changes that move towards nuclear disarmament.”
“Rather saddening that they would brand President Lee a ‘traitor’”? KCNA calls him that a dozen times a day!