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.
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!
Inter-Korean table tennis cooperation? Hard to imagine in this high tension period, but it’s happened before… from Yonhap:
The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and the Monaco-based Peace and Sport Foundation jointly announced Tuesday that their Peace and Sport Table Tennis Tournament will invite 10 countries to "encourage dialogue and good relations" between states. It is set for Nov. 21-22 this year in Qatar. Players from different countries that have been historically at odds with each other will form doubles teams. "Organized by the Qatar National Olympic Committee and the Qatar Tennis Table Association, under the leadership of the ITTF and the guidance of Peace and Sport, this is an unprecedented sports event that will break political tensions and unite nations in a way that only table tennis can," the ITTF said in a statement. The two Koreas have been asked to field joint doubles squads, as have India and Pakistan, and the U.S. and Iran. Organizers said they hoped the event will turn athletes into "genuine ambassadors of global peace." The Peace and Sport Foundation added, "Onlookers will include key government officials and diplomats from each of the competing nations, fostering political communication and relations at the highest level." Qatar has also invited China, Japan and Russia. According to the ITTF, the competition will feature men’s and women’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles. In table tennis, the Koreas last formed a joint team at the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba City, Japan, and won the gold in the women’s team event. Adham Sharara, president of the ITTF, said most states, including North Korea, said they’d like to participate in the event. He also said he plans to visit North Korea in June to try to persuade officials there to field doubles teams with South Korea. Kim Choong-yong, vice chairman of Seoul-based Korea Table Tennis Association, said it would hold "a great significance" for forming inter-Korean doubles teams to mark the 20th anniversary of the Chiba City event. "We will have to study the details, but since (Peace and Sport) will be an exhibition match, I don’t foresee a major problem as long as North Korea agrees," Kim said. "There’s really no reason for us to turn down this offer."
It’s been 20 years since the Koreas participated jointly in a table tennis tournament. I don’t hold high hopes for North Korea agreeing, but who knows? It could go a long way in improving diplomacy between the rival states.
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.
I’m going to share a somewhat longwinded rant that I posted on the news aggregation website Reddit. A number of popular posts were excitedly discussing the possibility of revolution in North Korea, while basing most of their claims on wild speculation and sometimes outright false information.
One of the top stories in /r/WorldNews, with over 1500 comments is the hype surrounding a certain article that citizens in North Korea are staging unprecedented public protests against the Kim Jong-Il regime. The original article is here: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/MB25Dg01.html
The Asia Times article cites most of its information from the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s most popular newspaper. I can’t find the article they speak of, but there’s plenty of alternative stories on the English Chosun site. This SK professor makes some good points:
Discontent: It’s been a harsh winter, and North Koreans are once again very hungry. Rations aren’t being distributed properly, because the international food aid on which the country has been dependent for decades is all sparse. What does come through is coming from China, and is primarily reserved for the military and the elite.
Easier access to information: Word is getting out about just how deplorable the North Korean situation really is to its citizens. Cellphones are becoming more widespread, though strictly compartmentalized with no outside access. People close to the SK or Chinese borders are sometimes able to get a signal from those countries and communicate with the outside world. South Korean television shows and anti-regime propaganda videos are finding their way into peoples hands.
Chinese influence: Information is exchanged during trading sessions. I wouldn’t put too much stock in this information spreading quickly or very far.
First let me get into a little bit about how North Korean society is structured. Pyongyang, the capital, is where most of the elite and those most loyal to the party can live. It is considered a great reward to be moved from one of the provinces into the capital. They get first dibs on pretty much everything. A far cry from the luxuries we take for granted, but idyllic in the eyes of most North Koreans.
Flattery will get you everywhere in the DPRK. Young people aspire to serve in the military, for a 10 year period, just for the shot at getting a good job and becoming a party member. Anything you say against the regime will very likely put you into a labour camp. Once you’ve served time in the labour camp, you’ll either die or get shipped to one of the crummier provinces, never to rise in rank again. It really doesn’t take much for this to happen. Almost all military defectors in South Korea have done so because they realized their "careers" were in ruins for good. The Kim Jong-Il regime, like his father’s (Kim Il-Sung) before him, doesn’t take any shit.
I’m sure every Redditor has read George Orwell’s 1984. Kids ratting out their parents. Neighbours throwing neighbours under the bus for an offhand comment, or something trivial such as not dusting the portraits of the Great and Dear leaders in their households. Spies are literally everywhere in North Korea, and for the most part, people are absolutely terrified to speak out. So they put on a smile and continue worshipping the Kim personality cult. When you get in trouble, typically your entire family goes with you, effectively "purging the bad blood". Many North Koreans fear more for their families lives than their own, so behave accordingly. It is truly a dictatorship based on fear.
Still there is a fierce nationalism in the country. From birth, North Koreans are taught to hate the USA and Japan. To a lesser degree, South Koreans, but in that case mostly just the "puppet" capitalist government that they teach is the cause of the North’s repression. The North is a mountainous region with many natural resources, but difficulty growing their own crops. The South is plentiful in farmland and food, but imports most of their natural resources. Korean reunification has been the ultimate goal since the end of World War II, or so either side would have their citizens believe. They would be a powerhouse if they could reunite, and the American military is blamed for keeping them divided. China props up the DPRK because they too are resentful of the strategic military positions the Americans have on the Korea peninsula. This was Kim Il-Sung’s goal, and all of the shortfalls in North Korean history are said to be an ongoing battle in a long running revolution for Korean supremacy.
Here’s another article about one of the protests in Sinuju, a border town near China. The protests were sparked by police cracking down on markets, which are typically ignored but technically illegal in the country. Many count on these markets to survive, as they are not receiving food from the state as they’re supposed to. When the police crack down on these markets, and there are no alternatives to food, people get understandably angry. But the protests were quelled pretty quickly. People were probably killed and injured. Many others and their families probably trucked off to labour camps never to be heard from again.
That being said, sometimes protests are allowed to happen. DPRK attempted a grand currency reform in late 2009 which screwed a great deal of the population out of any money they had in their savings accounts. Since Kim Jong-Il’s songun or military first politics are centered around strengthening their forces, the people can be convinced that the poor economic decision was the result of poor high level decision making outside of Kim’s scope. Demonstrations were held, citizens were not punished. The regime said "yes, this was a mistake, and now were are executing the people responsible", and that’s what happened.
When Kim Il-Sung had tapped his son to be successor, party members loyalties were put to the test. Many adored Kim Sr. but questioned the leadership capabilities of his reckless son. Thus, a lot of purging occurred where dissenting party members were executed or demoted, and key supporters were put in the vacant positions. Much of the leadership of North Korea are directly related to the Kim family, or to the original families that fought alongside Kim Il-Sung’s guerilla struggles against Japan (which he is largely lauded for achieving Korean independance, though history indicates his true impact was minimal). Kim Jong-Il is getting old and his health is questionable, and so in turn he is propping up his son, Kim Jong-Un for succession. This means a whole new round of purges, a tighter crackdown on defectors and malcontents, and more credit to Kim Jong-Un for anything nice that happens in North Korea. Jong-Un is allegedly to continue his father’s military-first policy, but is also being heralded as brining about the dawn of "CNC" or Computer Numerical Control– basically the automation of manufcaturing the improve the quality of lives of North Koreans. Part of this is the distribution of cellphones, computers and digital technology, though obviously cut off from the rest of the world.
South Korea’s just as in the dark about North Korea as the rest of the world. Yes, the SK government marked Kim Jong-Il’s birthday on the 14th by launching propaganda balloons filled with anti-regime pamphlets, shortwave radios, DVDs, etc. This is nothing new and will not bring about a revolution. South Korea has been launching these balloon propaganda campaigns for decades. It wouldn’t surprise me if North Koreans, seeing these balloons heading for their town don’t go into their houses and shut the doors. If you find a balloon, you must turn it over to the authourities. If you read the contents you will be punished. If you keep what’s in it, you’ll be punished. If you see someone else reading the material and don’t report them, you will be punished.
Here’s another article from the Korea Times about how Seoul has stated that there are no signs that the North Koreans are staging widescale protests. The protests are small, and localized, and have no chance of growing beyond that. People are not allowed to travel between provinces at will, and there are military checkpoints all over the country.
Sorry for this long-winded rant. In a nutshell, North Koreans can’t revolt because they lack the ability to organize. There are no mass communication tools available to them. There is a great fear of repression from the authourities. The only real opportunity for change in North Korea will be the death of Kim Jong-Il, and this must happen sooner rather than later, or Kim Jong-Un’s grip will become as strong as his father’s. The coup would happen at a high military level, and as I mentioned before, many of these people are family to the Kim dynasty. I’m going to stop now, I could probably go on for hours.
A new step forward has been taken regarding South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak’s proposal for a reunification tax. Lawmakers on the Grand National Party and opposition sides tabled a draft bill to help save money and alleviate future pressure in the event that reunification occurs between the divided Koreas. The purpose of the money would help buffer high expenses attributed to a regime collapse in Pyongyang. The taxes collected would be used to enhance the livelihoods of North Korean citizens, help fortify crumbling infrastructure, and otherwise get North Korea up to speed with its advanced Southern neighbour.
The bill calls for a 2% increase on income tax, a 0.5% increase on corporate taxes, and 5% on inheritance and donation taxes. 1% of the taxes collected would be used to manage the body tasked with collecting and managing the tax. The potential costs for a Korea unification could number in the trillions of US dollars, so in this blogger’s opinion, there is no time like the present to start banking coin to deal with the looming crisis.
South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak, on a trip to Malaysia to discuss a possible free trade agreement between the two countries, denounced North Korea as “one of the most belligerent nations in the world”. He also made a cryptic comment twice on his trip: “Reunification is drawing near”. Certainly with escalating tensions between the warring states, rampant military exercises and shows of force on both sides, and a proposed Reunification Tax, Myung-Bak’s administration may be readying itself for an inevitable war.
However, if such a war were to be reignited, there would be many years of fallout (figuratively, we hope) on what to do with a 24 million strong population of malnutritioned and ideologically unsound North Koreans. Regime change seems a logical direction for the South, with the rogue state attempting to weaponize it’s nuclear capabilities, an inexperienced son being prepared to succeed his deteriorating father as leader, and a crippled economy still reeling from last year’s currency reform. Would China step in to defend the DPRK? Would Seoul, as has been predicted for decades, become flattened immediately by a barrage from the North? The implications are far reaching, and I’m sure most South Korean citizens would be perfectly content to maintain the “status quo”.
Yet another Wikileaked cable regarding North Korean diplomacy, this one details China’s relationship with the reclusive DPRK. Turns out the relationship isn’t as rosy as many observers might believe, and that China really doesn’t know what’s going on with North Korea at any given time. China has apparently warmed up to the idea of a South Korean led united Korea—just as long as the US military presence doesn’t encroach past the DMZ dividing the two Koreas at the 38th parallel.
China’s vice foreign minister described North Korea as acting like a “spoiled child” in regards to missile tests launched in April 2009. It is also stated that China would be willing to deal with 300,000 North Korean refugees should the other shoe drop eventually. The Guardian, a chief source of many of the “juicier” leaks, has many of the details in the link below. I’ll post the entire cable when I can get my hands on it. The leak is below.
It would be interesting to see the North Korean response to this leak. If legitimate, this could have serious implications on the North Korea-China relationship. China is the only major power considered to be an ally to the Stalinist state, and to lose their support officially could eventually lead to a regime collapse. However, North Korea has endured much worse, so all we can do is wait and see what happens.
Monday, 22 February 2010, 09:32 S E C R E T SEOUL 000272 SIPDIS EO 12958 DECL: 02/22/2034 TAGS PREL, PGOV, KNNP, ECON, SOCI, KS, KN, JA“>JA“>JA, CH SUBJECT: VFM CHUN YOUNG-WOO ON SINO-NORTH KOREAN RELATIONS Classified By: AMB D. Kathleen Stephens. Reasons 1.4 (b/d).
South Korea’s vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-wo tells the Americans that senior Chinese officials have told him that China is fed up with the North Korean regime’s behaviour and would not oppose Korean reunification. Chun says North Korea has already collapsed economically and will collapse politically when Kim Jong-il dies. Key passage highlighted in yellow.
1. (S) Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo told the Ambassador February 17th that China would not be able to stop North Korea‘s collapse following the death of Kim Jong-il (KJI). The DPRK, Chun said, had already collapsed economically and would collapse politically two to three years after the death of Kim Jong-il. Chun dismissed ROK media reports that Chinese companies had agreed to pump 10 billion USD into the North’s economy. Beijing had “no will” to use its modest economic leverage to force a change in Pyongyang’s policies — and the DPRK characterized as “the most incompetent official in China” — had retained his position as chief of the PRC’s 6PT delegation. Describing a generational difference in Chinese attitudes toward North Korea, Chun claimed XXXXXXXXXXXX believed Korea should be unified under ROK control. Chun acknowledged the Ambassador’s point that a strong ROK-Japan relationship would help Tokyo accept a reunified Korean Peninsula. End summary.
VFM Chun on Sino-North Korean Relations…
2. (S) During a February 17 lunch hosted by Ambassador Stephens that covered other topics (septel), ROK Vice Foreign Minister and former ROK Six-Party Talks (6PT) Head of Delegation Chun Yung-woo predicted that China would not be able to stop North Korea’s collapse following the death of Kim Jong-il (KJI). The DPRK, Chun said, had already collapsed economically; following the death of KJI, North Korea would collapse politically in “two to three years.” Chun dismissed ROK media reports that Chinese companies had agreed to pump 10 billion USD into the North’s economy; there was “no substance” to the reports, he said. The VFM also ridiculed the Chinese foreign ministry’s “briefing” to the ROK embassy in Beijing on Wang Jiarui’s visit to North Korea; the unidentified briefer had “basically read a Xinhua press release,” Chun groused, adding that the PRC interlocutor had been unwilling to answer simple questions like whether Wang had flown to Hamhung or taken a train there to meet KJI.
3. (S) The VFM commented that China had far less influence on North Korea “than most people believe.” Beijing had “no will” to use its economic leverage to force a change in Pyongyang’s policies and the DPRK leadership “knows it.” Chun acknowledged that the Chinese genuinely wanted a denuclearized North Korea, but the PRC was also content with the status quo. Unless China pushed North Korea to the “brink of collapse,” the DPRK would likely continue to refuse to take meaningful steps on denuclearization.
4. (S) Turning to the Six Party Talks, Chun said it was “a very bad thing” that Wu Dawei had retained his position as chief of the PRC’s delegation. XXXXXXXXXXXX said it appeared that the DPRK “must have lobbied extremely hard” for the now-retired Wu to stay on as China’s 6PT chief. [NAME REMOVED] complained that Wu is the PRC’s XXXXXXXXXXXX an arrogant, Marx-spouting former Red Guard who “knows nothing about North Korea, nothing about nonproliferation and is hard to communicate with because he doesn’t speak English.” Wu was also a hardline nationalist, loudly proclaiming — to anyone willing to listen — that the PRC’s economic rise represented a “return to normalcy” with China as a great world power.
…China’s “New Generation” of Korea-Hands…
5. (S) Sophisticated Chinese officials XXXXXXXXXXXX stood in sharp contrast to Wu, according to VFM Chun.XXXXXXXXXXXX Chun claimed XXXXXXXXXX believed Korea should be unified under ROK control.XXXXXXXXXXXX, Chun said, were ready to “face the new reality” that the DPRK now had little value to China as a buffer state — a view that since North Korea’s 2006 nuclear test had reportedly gained traction among senior PRC leaders.
…PRC Actions In A DPRK Collapse Scenario…
6. (S) Chun argued that, in the event of a North Korean collapse, China would clearly “not welcome” any U.S. military presence north of the DMZ. XXXXXXXXXXXX Chun XXXXXXXXXXXX said the PRC would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to theUnited States in a “benign alliance” — as long as Korea was not hostile towards China. Tremendous trade and labor-export opportunities for Chinese companies, Chun said, would also help salve PRC concerns about living with a reunified Korea. Chundismissed the prospect of a possible PRC military intervention in the event of a DPRK collapse, noting that China’s strategic economic interests now lie with the United States, Japan, andSouth Korea — not North Korea. Moreover, Chun argued, bare-knuckle PRC military intervention in a DPRK internal crisis could “strengthen the centrifugal forces in China’s minority areas.”
7. (S) Chun acknowledged the Ambassador’s point that a strong ROK-Japan relationship would help Tokyo accept a reunified Korean Peninsula under Seoul’s control. Chun asserted that, even though “Japan’s preference” was to keep Korea divided, Tokyo lacked the leverage to stop reunification in the event the DPRK collapses. STEPHENS
According to the DailyNK: South Korea, who previously hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2002, is bidding to host the 2022 games. The South has modern facility, world class telecommunications infrastructure, terrific transit systems, so how could they lose? Well, in what appears to be a symbolic gesture towards one day reunifying the peninsula, the South has also put forth in their bid that they would like some of the games hosted in North Korea. This may put a damper on FIFA’s ranking of the country to host again, as North Korea is notoriously frustrating to deal with when it comes to joint projects between the two countries. In 1988, Seoul attempted the same tactic to host the Summer Olympics, but North Korea’s demands were deemed too unreasonable, and the North and several other communist countries joined together in a boycott of the games.