Category Archive: South Korea

Jul 15

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, SK, and how inter-Korean relations are affected.

God forbid...

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.

Source: The Korea Times / One Free Korea

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/880

Jul 15

Mt. Kumgang resort negotiations break down as North refuses to deal with SK government.

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.

Source: Reuters / The Chosun Ilbo

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/877

Jul 08

100,000 strong rally in Pyongyang in protest of Lee Myung-Bak’s SK government.

image

From the AP:

North Koreans gathered Monday at a massive rally in Pyongyang to denounce the conservative government of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak as a "group of unparalleled traitors."

More than 100,000 citizens, soldiers and senior government and army officials flocked to Kim Il Sung Square, according to footage from Associated Press Television News in Pyongyang.

Signs carried slogans praising North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and the country’s "military first" ideology.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted General Jang Jong Nam as saying that "there remains between the North and the South only physical settlement of returning fire for fire."

The North has lashed out with increasing frequency at a Seoul government that has halted unconditional aid and linked South Korean assistance to progress in North Korea’s nuclear disarmament efforts.

In late June, North Korea’s military vowed to retaliate for anti-Pyongyang signs posted at front-line South Korean army units.

How do you make 100,000 of your Pyongyang citizens coordinate parades and chants decrying a “traitorous” South Korean government, completely out of the blue? You tell them to.

Source: Associated Press / KCNA

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/862

Jul 04

The current food situation in North Korea–and why no one knows much about it.

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.

From ABC:

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 first place to look for humanitarian aid should be the United Nations’ World Food Program. Joshua Stanton on his blog One Free Korea hosts an interview with Marcus Pryor, the spokesman for WFP Asia. It’s hard to disagree with Stanton and his suspicion of WFP’s monitoring rigour. For more perspective from a World Food Program monitor in the late 90s towards the end of the ‘Arduous March’, read Erich Weingarten’s story of his first aid monitoring trip in North Korea on 38 North. It’s well worth the read on exposing the dilemma facing inspectors who are unable to interact with anyone or anything the government doesn’t present them with.

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.

Source: ABC / One Free Korea / World Food Program /Yonhap (1) (2) / Associated Press / Christian Science Monitor

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/859

Jun 29

North Korea–a (brief) month in review. Regular updates to resume!

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.

Source: DailyNK / The Huffington Post / The Telegraph c/o @freenorthkorea


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.

Source: Yonhap / Korea Herald


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.

Source: Kyodo News / Reuters


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!

Source: Yonhap


“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.

Source: KCNA (1) / Yonhap


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!

Source: North Korea Tech


And we’ll finish up for now with KCNA video of KJI’s May trip to China. He’s certainly using his left arm a lot more these days.

Source: stimmekorea’s YouTube

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/847

May 30

Korean-American businessman “Eddie” Jun Yong-Su released from detention in North Korea.

US Human Rights Ambassador Robert King leaves Pyongyang with freed Korean-American prisoner Jun Yong-su.

Korean-American businessman “Eddie” Jun Yong-Su was taken prisoner in North Korea in November 2010. Though the charges against him were never formally announced, it is believed that while doing business in the North, he performed underground missionary work, a dire crime in the oppressive DPRK. His captivity was not publicized until March 2011, and many expected former US President Jimmy Carter (on a diplomacy mission on behalf of The Elders) to return to the US with Jun, but this did not happen.

Ambassador Robert King, the US human rights envoy for North Korea, was able to secure Jun’s release during a visit to Pyongyang to discuss chronic food shortages. State run media outlet KCNA released an image (pictured) and a statement that Jun was being released on “humanitarian grounds”. Jun parted ways in Beijing, heading home to Seoul while King returned to the US. From Korea JoongAng Daily:

Upon arrival in Beijing, King confirmed the release of Korean-American Jun Young-su by North Korea. Although the two were on the same flight out of North Korea, Jun was not seen at Beijing Airport’s arrival gate. Later, he showed up in Seoul. Jun’s release came a day after North Korea said it decided to set him free on “humanitarian grounds.” Jun was arrested in November for committing an “unspecified crime” against the North, according to North Korean media reports.

Jun was met at Incheon International Airport by U.S. Embassy and South Korean officials and headed to a hospital for a medical checkup. Dressed in a black jacket and casual trousers, he appeared relatively healthy.

“I have to go to hospital. Let me talk later,” Jun briefly told reporters.

Earlier in Beijing, King, the U.S. envoy on North Korean human rights, told reporters, “We are very happy to report that Mr. Jun, the American citizen being held in Pyongyang, has been released. We are also delighted that in a day or two he will be back with his wife and family.”

Jun is the fifth American taken prisoner and then released (often to a prolific American political figure) in 3 years. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were captured and held for nearly 5 months in 2009 for trespassing over the border while shooting a documentary about North Korean defectors in China. They were brought back to the US by former US President Bill Clinton. Robert Park crossed the frozen Yalu River border on Christmas Day 2009 on a mission to spread Christianity in the North, and was later sent back to America in February 2010. Before Park’s release, his colleague Aijalon Gomes also crossed the border and was arrested – he was brought back in August 2010 by former US President Jimmy Carter.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee both authored books about their experiences, and Laura Ling went on the talk show circuit to describe her experiences. The male prisoners, however, seem to return with great mental trauma and rarely speak publicly. Robert Park has done a few interviews in between stays at a mental hospital. Aijalon Gomes has been quiet since his return. Jun’s only quote refers to needing to go to the hospital though looking in good health otherwise, so it remains to be seen whether we will hear about his treatment in North Korea. And then there’s the story of Evan Hunziker, who in 1996 was arrested while swimming nude in Yalu River. Governor Bill Richardson was able to secure his release, but Hunziker commit suicide just one month after returning to the US.

Source: Korea JoongAng Daily

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/838

May 30

Kim Jong-Il’s week-long whirlwind tour of China a lesson in economic reform.

Kim Jong-Il shakes hands in Beijing with Chinese President Hu Jintao

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.

imageKim 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.

The full details of the tour are best described by the North Korea Leadership Watch blog. The coverage includes candid photos, charted routes overlaid on Google Earth and other great detail from all the right sources, including Yonhap, The Chosun Ilbo, Xinhua, DailyNK, the Hankoryeh, and more. Start here and work your way through, if interested.

Source: North Korea Leadership Watch

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/835

May 19

North Korean defectors win settlement from South over leaked identities that compromised family safety.

From the AP:

A South Korean court on Thursday boosted the amount the government must pay a group of North Korean defectors who say a leak of their identities led to retaliation against their families in the North.

Five North Koreans who arrived in South Korea in 2006 said 22 family members left behind in the North were probably sent to political prisons after Seoul leaked their defections to the media. The defectors had sought $1 million in compensation from the South Korean government.

In October, a Seoul district court ordered a combined compensation of $50,620, citing the leak of personal information. But it ruled there wasn’t enough evidence of the alleged punishment of family members. The defectors appealed.

The Seoul High Court ruled Thursday that the government must pay $110,500, citing the North Koreans’ distress about the possibility of reprisals, even though there wasn’t confirmation that their family members were punished.

"There is not enough evidence that they were all executed or detained in political prisons," presiding Judge Roh Tae-ak said in the verdict. "But there is believed to be a considerable probability that serious harm may have happened to some of their family members."

The judge said the government must use the case to improve protection of defectors.

Lee Gwang-su, the defector who spearheaded the legal action, said he wasn’t satisfied with the compensation but hadn’t decided whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Lee, a 42-year-old former city official in the eastern North Korean coastal town of Wonsan, said he fled North Korea by boat in March 2006 with his wife, two sons and a friend looking for political freedom. His group initially attempted to go to Japan with the goal of eventually moving to the United States, but a violent storm and high waves pushed the boat to South Korean shores.

Lee, who now lives in California, said he believes his family members have been detained in political prison camps in the North.

"There is no other place where they can be sent. The fact that their family members defected to an enemy state makes them a subject that must be gotten rid of," he said after the verdict. "People who live in North Korea know that."

I don’t know what to say about this. On the one hand, the identity leak could very well have implicated the families in the North and doomed them to a life sentence in prison labour camps. On the other hand, the South is correct in that there is no evidence other than anecdotal that this might have occurred. $110k split 5 ways isn’t a whole heck of a lot of money in the end. But don’t all defectors know that they’re risking their family security when they choose to defect?

Source: Associated Press

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/830

May 12

North Korea responds to South Korea’s nuclear summit invitation: Nope.

As discussed previously, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak offered an invitation to Kim Jong-Il to attend the Nuclear Security Summit, a meeting of world leaders with the ambitious goal of global denuclearization set to kick off next March in Seoul. The North responded indirectly through its KCNA news, and it remains to be seen if they will respond personally. From DailyNK:

A spokesperson for North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland (NKCPRF), in an interview with the Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) yesterday, chastised President Lee as a “traitor” and proclaimed, “Asserting denuclearization as a precondition for dialogue is a rash attempt to fulfill its ambition to invade the North along with the United States, having disarmed us.”

“From the government’s perspective, it is rather saddening that they would brand President Lee a ‘traitor’,” the official commented. However, he added, “From the perspective of the government, there seems to be no value in dealing with North Korean slander delivered through the NKCPRF.”

The North also criticized President Lee’s proposal for another reason, namely that “the South talks about holding nuclear summits and such like, having made South Chosun the world’s biggest outpost of nuclear war and arsenal of nuclear weapons.”

Currently, the South Korean government is awaiting a formal response from North Korea on the Berlin proposal, which calls on it to cast aside its nuclear weapons in order to gain entry to the Nuclear Security Summit.

The Ministry official concluded, “Though we are awaiting a response from the North, we, as of yet, see no great difference. We can be sure that there have been no actual changes that move towards nuclear disarmament.”

“Rather saddening that they would brand President Lee a ‘traitor’”? KCNA calls him that a dozen times a day!

Source: DailyNK

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/826

May 12

Table tennis, anyone? North and South Korea invited to form joint team for international tournament.

North Korean Li Bun-Hui & South Korean Hyun Jung-Hwa, the 1991 World Table Tennis champions.

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.

Source: Yonhap

Permanent link to this article: http://www.openingupnorthkorea.com/archives/825

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