Category Archive: Japan

Mar 24

North Korea donates $600k in aid to Japan

The government of North Korea chipped in $500,000 USD, while the Red Cross in North Korea tacked on another $100,000 donation to relief efforts in Japan (specifically ethnic North Koreans living in the country) after an 9.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the north east with tsunami waves. The government’s cash was to assist pro-Pyongyang Koreans, while the Red Cross money was delivered to it’s Japanese counterpart. North Korea and Japan have no formal diplomatic ties.

That is a lot of money these days for cash-strapped North Korea, so one wonders if there is a suggestive gesture in this donation to their Chongryon contemporaries in Japan that they are still a unified people (p.s., send money). Especially given the most recent United Nations report that 6 million of North Korea’s 24.1 million population are currently in urgent need for food assistance. Ethnic North Koreans living in Japan and sending money back to their mother country is a significant portion of North Korea’s income.

Source: Yonhap / North Korean Economy Watch

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Feb 25

Why North Korea isn’t going to overthrow its dictatorship anytime soon


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:

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.


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Nov 29

Wikileaks: North Korea provided advanced missiles to Iran


The latest release from Wikileaks depicts over 200,000 diplomatic cables of intelligence gathering from various US embassies. Of particular interest, a cable dated February 24th 2010 revealed the transfer of 19 ballistic missiles from North Korea to Iran. The missile, the BM-25. is a modified Russian design capable of hitting targets 3200km away and has the potential to be armed with a nuclear warhead. It is believed that neither country is able at present time to construct a warhead small enough to arm a missile. You might recall the BM-25 being driven around during the 65th anniversary celebration parade of the Korean Worker’s Party.

Other interesting details from a separate Feb 22nd Wikileaks release are the revelation of political dissent in the form of a bomb on a train from Pyongyang to Beijing. There are also discussions of a “Cash for Corpses” arrangement for the US to retrieve the remains of MIA soldiers from the Korean War in exchange for money to the DPRK. Posted below is the full text of the Feb 22nd leak for posterity.

Monday, 22 February 2010, 08:54
C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 000290
EO 12958 DECL: 02/23/2030
Classified By: Ambassador D. Kathleen Stephens. Reasons 1.4 (b/d).


1. (C) During a February 3 meeting, National Security Adviser Kim Sung-hwan told EAP Assistant Secretary Campbell the ROKG wished to have discussions with Washington about delaying the planned transfer of wartime operation control to Korea. Kim agreed that turbulence in Sino-American relations meant Beijing would be hesitant to call a new round of the Six Party Talks. It was encouraging, however, that veteran DPRK negotiator Kim Gye-gwan was slated to visit Beijing next week. NSA Kim asserted that Kim Jong-il needed to visit China soon in order to get more economic assistance, as the DPRK’s internal situation appeared to be significantly more unstable. NSA Kim acknowledged it was important to reach out directly to key DPJ officials like Foreign Minister Okada and Finance Minister Kan. The North Koreans, Kim said, were clearly using several different channels to “knock on the DPJ’s door.” President Lee may visit a Korean factory in the United States to help sell KORUS to the American public. Kim suggested that President Obama and President Lee pay a joint visit to the Korean War Memorial in Washington to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. Campbell asked for ROK understanding for U.S. plans to resume MIA remains recovery operations in North Korea. Kim emphasized that President Lee would never “buy” a summit with Pyongyang. End summary.

OPCON Transfer


2. (C) During a February 3 meeting with Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, ROK National Security Adviser Kim Sung-hwan said he wished to have discussions with the USG on the planned April 2012 transfer of wartime operation control (OPCON) to Korea. Kim agreed with Campbell’s observation that it was important for the Korean public to understand that any change that may be considered concerning OPCON transfer timing, and the U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review, would not diminish America’s commitment to the ROK’s security, and should not be so interpreted. China Unlikely to Call New 6PT Round


3. (C) NSA Kim agreed with Campbell’s observation that the current turbulence in Sino-American relations meant Beijing would be hesitant to call a new round of the Six Party Talks (6PT) anytime soon. Referring to POTUS’ upcoming meeting with the Dalai Lama, Kim said the Chinese were “far too sensitive” about the Tibetan spiritual leader’s meetings with foreign officials. A few years ago, Kim related, the PRC had crudely pressured the ROK government into canceling a planned speech by the Dalai Lama at a Buddhist conference on Cheju Island.

4. (C) NSA Kim said he was encouraged by reports that veteran DPRK negotiator Kim Gye-gwan was slated to visit Beijing next week at the invitation of Chinese 6PT chief Wu Dawei. NSA Kim said he understood Kim Gye-gwan might also visit New York. Campbell noted it was important for the DPRK authorities to hear from the Five Parties that Pyongyang’s attempt to shift the focus from denuclearization to a peace treaty was not working.

KJI China Trip and Deteriorating Conditions Inside DPRK


5. (C) NSA Kim asserted that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il needed to visit China soon in order to get more economic assistance. The PRC was in the process of delivering a portion of the food aid promised during Premier Wen’s visit to the DPRK last fall; approximately 6,000 metric tons (MT) of rice and 20,000 MT of soybeans has been delivered, but the DPRK needed a lot more. The situation inside North Korea, he added, appeared increasingly unstable. The North’s currency replacement had created strong resentment throughout DPRK society, Kim said, adding that DPRK Finance Chief Pak Nam-gi had apparently been sacked. Kim asserted there were credible reports of unrest in the North; according to ROK intelligence sources, DPRK police recently found a bomb on a passenger train en route from Pyongyang to Beijing.

U.S.-Japan Relations


6. (C) Kim concurred with Campbell’s assessment that the DPJ

was “completely different” from the LDP and agreed it was important for the DJP to coordinate with Seoul and Washington as it made preliminary overtures to Pyongyang. The North Koreans, Kim said, were clearly using several different channels to “knock on the DPJ’s door.” Kim acknowledged Campbell’s point that it was important to reach out directly to key DPJ officials like Foreign Minister Okada and Finance Minister Naoto Kan.

FTA Prospects


7. (C) It was the ROK government’s view, Kim said, that there might be a window of opportunity to pass KORUS immediately after the U.S. Congressional elections this fall. Kim added that the ROK Embassy in Washington was working on a possible FTA event for President Lee during his upcoming trip to the United States for the nuclear summit. One idea, Kim explained, was to have President Lee visit a Korean factory to help underscore to the American public that the FTA was about creating jobs in America as well in Korea. Campbell praised ROK Ambassador Han Duck-soo for his public outreach on KORUS and noted that the U.S. business community needed to “stop being lazy” and help get KORUS through Congress.

Korean War Memorial Visit


8. (C) NSA Kim asked if, during the April nuclear summit in Washington, it would be possible to have POTUS and President Lee pay a joint visit to the Korean War Memorial. Campbell acknowledged the powerful symbolism for both the Korean and American audience of such a visit during the 60th anniversary of the Korean War, but cautioned that it would be extremely difficult to arrange during the nuclear summit.

MIA Remains Recovery in North Korea


9. (C) Campbell asked for ROK understanding about the U.S. position on resuming MIA remains recovery operations in North Korea. The USG felt strongly, Campbell explained, that this was an important humanitarian issue. Campbell stressed that the U.S. would coordinate closely with the ROK on the issue to “avoid sending the wrong signal” to the DPRK. Pressed by Kim about paying the North Koreans cash to help recover U.S. remains, Campbell agreed it was distasteful; he noted, however, that the United States had made similar payments to the Burmese and Vietnamese governments to facilitate cooperation on MIA issues.

Prospects for a North-South Summit


10. (C) On prospects for a North-South summit, NSA Kim clarified remarks that President Lee made in an interview with the BBC in Davos. Kim said that, beginning last fall, the ROK has had contact with the DPRK about a summit. The North, however, has demanded that Seoul provide a certain amount of economic aid prior to any summit. That precondition was unacceptable, Kim stressed, noting that the Blue House had emphasized to the ROK press this week that President Lee would never “buy” a summit with the North. STEPHENS


Source: New York Times / The Guardian

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