You heard it here last – Dear Leader and Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, Marshall Kim Jong-Il died early Monday according to state-run television KCNA.
He apparently died on his private train, due to “physical and mental overwork”. Heart complications on his usual “on-the-spot guidance” tours are to blame. It will be fascinating to see what the weeks ahead hold for the DPRK: The crash succession of Kim Jong-Un, potential power struggles, glorification and state funeral arrangements, and the future of foreign policy to the reclusive state.
Rumours of the future leader of North Korea’s supposed plastic surgeries were rampant from the moment he was revealed to the world last September. While there’s really no new evidence now, the speculation has been spreading through the media outlets lately. Why? According to the Chosun Ilbo, half brother and once a potential threat to Kim Jong-Il’s succession to leadership, Kim Pyong-Il (the guy in the hat) has been placed under house arrest as well. Purportedly, Pyong-Il has a closer resemblance to the deceased Great Leader Kim Il-Sung, a figure still well respected in North Korean hearts and minds despite a quiet resentment for his son, Kim Jong-Il. The idea behind the surgeries according to the president of Open Radio for North Korea:
"Half the procedures were designed to make his face resemble Kim Il-sung and half were intended to give him the same profile.”
There’s another thing that makes people resemble other people: genetics. However, former personal sushi chef to Kim Jong-Il, Kenji Fujimoto had stated that the Jong-Un revealed to the world last year does not resemble the precocious teenager he recalled from his time there. If true about the surgery, they did a pretty good job. Wonder if those surgeons are still around today?
The Washington Post has an exclusive look at a letter from Jon Byong-Ho, the ranking NK official on weapons importing/exporting (till he was replaced due to old age this past April). The letter is addressed to A.Q. Khan, the infamous man behind Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme who is alleged to have provided nuke technology to North Korea, Libya, Iran and Iraq. The subject in general is a trade-off or bribe of money and jewels in exchange for nuclear technology, while also alluding to an assassination attempt on the North Korean liaison by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. A transcription of the letter in question:
SECRET BY HAND
Dr. A.Q.Khan Ref No. 1998/01
Project Director Date; July 15, 1998
I am hoping you and your family are fine.
Gen. Kang Tae Yun came back with the body of his wife. I am thanking
you for all your support to him. How kind of you to send Mr. Badrul and
Mr. Farooq and arrange the Airforce Boeing plane. I am certain that Gen.
Kang was the target and I have no doubt that the CIA, South Korean
intelligence agents and your ISI were involved. I have come to hear that the
murderer was set free by the ISI after just a short time. Since Gen. Kang's
life is in danger I am sending Mr. Yon in his place. Mr. Yon has served in
Iran, Egypt, Syria and Libya and is very competent.
Gen. Kang told me that the 3 millions dollars have already been paid to
Army Chief Gen. J. Karamat and half a million dollars and 3 diamond and
ruby sets have been given to Gen. Zulfiqar Khan. Please give the agreed
documents, components etc. to Mr. Yon to be flown back when our plane
returns after delivery of missile components.
Excellency, please be accepting our heartiest felicitations on the recent
success of your nuclear tests. It was only possible because of your hard
work and team effort.
Excellency, I am wishing you good health, long life and success in your
Secretary of the Workers Party of Korea,
D.P.R. of Korea
3.5 million dollars and a few fistfuls of gems for the nuclear technology the DPRK threatens other nations with regularly seems a pretty good deal for the military-focused Kim Jong-Il regime. It certainly exemplifies their priorities just past the peak of the North Korean famine of the 90s. All of the named Pakistani officials in the letter have vehemently denied that any bribes for technology were accepted (what else would they say?) but the US has stated that it seems pretty consistent with what they know. From The Washington Post:
Jehangir Karamat, a former Pakistani military chief named as the recipient of the $3 million payment, said the letter is untrue. In an e-mail from Lahore, Karamat said that Khan, as part of his defense against allegations of personal responsibility for illicit nuclear proliferation, had tried “to shift blame on others.” Karamat said the letter’s allegations were “malicious with no truth in them whatsoever.”
The other official named in the letter, retired Lt. Gen. Zulfiqar Khan, called it “a fabrication.”
The Pakistani Embassy in Washington declined to comment officially. But a senior Pakistani official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity “to avoid offending” Khan’s supporters, said the letter “is clearly a fabrication. It is not on any official letterhead and bears no seal. . . . The reference to alleged payment and gifts to senior Pakistani military officers is ludicrous.”
There is, however, a Pakistani-Western divide on the letter, which was provided to The Post by former British journalist Simon Henderson, who The Post verified had obtained it from Khan. A U.S. intelligence official who tracks nuclear proliferation issues said it contains accurate details of sensitive matters known only to a handful of people in Pakistan, North Korea and the United States.
A senior U.S. official said separately that government experts concluded after examining a copy of the letter that the signature appears authentic and that the substance is “consistent with our knowledge” now of the same events. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the allegation.
Olli Heinonen, a 27-year veteran of the International Atomic Energy Agency who led its investigation of Khan before moving to Harvard’s Kennedy School last year, said the letter is similar to other North Korean notes that he had seen or received. They typically lacked a letterhead, he said; moreover, he said he has previously heard similar accounts — originating from senior Pakistanis — of clandestine payments by North Korea to Pakistani military officials and government advisers.
The substance of the letter, Heinonen said, “makes a lot of sense,” given what is now known about the North Korean program.
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.
You’re looking at a side-by-side comparison provided by Yonhap News with images provided by NK state-run media outlet KCNA. On the left is a Kim Jong-Il, during former US President Bill Clinton’s visit to Pyongyang to secure the release of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee. On the right, we have Kim Jong-Il with a Russian delegation taken just two days ago. As you can see, Kim looks a lot less emaciated and is clearly bouncing back from his 2008 stroke which many speculated meant the inevitable demise of the Dear Leader. Notable on the right are Kim’s heeled shoes (which we’ve talked about before) that might demonstrate that he is recovering gradually and will likely not be abdicating the throne anytime soon.
The North Korean leader was photographed and displayed on state-run media outlet KCNA wearing his famous heeled shoes. Kim Jong-Il has been wearing regular flat-bottom shoes in his public appearances since his 2008 stroke, leading many to speculate that the ‘ailing’ leader’s health is actually improving. The heels help give the leader a noticeable boost in height, an aesthetic boost to enforce the personality cult surrounding the otherwise 5’3” Dear Leader.
A report from past December also suggested that he was finally recovering use of portions body after the stroke. KCNA released video analyzed by Chosun Ilbo that seemed to demonstrate Kim using his left arm to slide open a door. His left arm is seen usually hanging limp at his side in virtually every image taken of him since the stroke. Perhaps the succession of power to son Kim Jong-Un will have more time to gestate after all?
On a short stop in Gemany, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak had an interesting proposal for the North. From The Korea Herald:
President Lee Myung-bak said Monday that he was willing to invite North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to the world’s largest nuclear summit to be held in Seoul next year if Pyongyang “firmly agrees” with the international community to denuclearize.
“If the North firmly agrees on denuclearization, I plan to invite Kim Jong-il to the second Nuclear Security Summit next spring,” Lee said during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel here in the German capital. Lee’s proposal Monday was a step forward from what he said a year ago at the first Nuclear Security Summit initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, adding greater pressure to the isolated Kim regime. The North is believed to be enriching uranium, which could be used to make atomic bombs.
Lee said back then that he could invite Kim to the next gathering of some 50 world leaders in Seoul in April 2012 if the North rejoined the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and showed a clear commitment to denuclearization. The latest conditional invitation, however, does not require the North’s return to the NPT, Lee’s secretary for external strategy Kim Tae-hyo said. “It would be necessary for the North to clarify its position through the proposed inter-Korean talks on denuclearization,” Kim told reporters. “Then the detailed time frame for the various denuclearization measures and corresponding economic aid could be discussed through six-party talks.” The presidential aide added that Seoul has roughly discussed the conditional invitation of Kim Jong-il with the White House although it has not informed Pyongyang about it. The remarks came after Lee and Merkel agreed during their talks to strengthen economic ties, especially for the development of renewable energy, and to keep up with ongoing efforts to share Germany’s experience in reunifying the East and West to help South Korea prepare for reunification with the North.
Feels like a big opportunity for Pyongyang. All the North has to do for the invitation to the summit is say they’ll denuclearize, which I’ve done countless times in the past without any real meaning or intent. This hopeful sentiment will resonate with all the higher powers that don’t know any better, and the economic aid will start flowing once more. Then Kim will bail on any agreements and will we’ll all be back where we started. Again. Hope I’m not sounding too cynical here.
Kim Jong-Un doesn’t get a promotion at Supreme People’s Assembly
The Supreme People’s Assembly, constitutionally the most powerful entity in North Korea but in reality a rubber steam parliament for the Korean Worker’s Party under Kim Jong-Il, has convened its first meeting of 2011. Many Pyongyang watchers suspected the SPA would be used as on opportunity to bolster the rank of leader-to-be Kim Jong-Un. Neither Jong-Un or his father Kim Jong-Il were in attendance.
As countries around the world scramble to evacuate their citizens from the chaotic anti-regime uprisings in Libya, North Korea has sent a different message to its own people in the country: Stay there. Pyongyang via their Libyan embassy has ordered the 200+ North Koreans abroad in Libya, likely living there to earn foreign currency to send home, to “follow the measures of the Libyan [Gadhafi] government”. The North Koreans being denied permission to return home has led to speculation that the Kim regime is attempting to quell the spread of information back home regarding the revolutions and uprisings occurring in the Middle East.
The Mt. Kumgang resort, a joint tourism project between Seoul-based Hyundai Asan and the North Korean government, saw over a million South Korean tourists pass through since 1998. However, 2008 the shooting death of a South Korean tourist by a DPRK soldier has had the tours suspended since. Hyundai has paid for much of the facilities and infrastructure at the resort, but now the North has backed out of the agreement between the government and Hyundai Asan. Hyundai had an agreement forged in 2002 giving them land use rights in the majestic mountain region until 2052, but this appears to be a renege on the agreement. The move is seen as a possible ploy by the North to force Hyundai to resume tours (without the condition of allowing a murder investigation for the SK tourism), or encourage Chinese tourism to the resort.
On a side note, I’ll be on vacation for awhile, thus incommunicado and not updating this space. Will get right back to it in a couple of weeks, meanwhile I’ll be catching up on some reading on a sunny beach in Cayo Guillermo.
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