Google Reader is a wonderful tool for keeping all of my North Korea-related news/blog feeds in one spot. Going through these articles every morning is akin to reading the newspaper. Below are the last 20 stories I wanted to share with you.
2013-05-06 @ 13:22:44 EDT – Taiwanese arrested over DPRK weapons shipments – North Korean Economy Watch
2013-05-22 @ 11:38:53 EDT – New residential construction project underway in Chongjin – NK News - North Korea News » Featured Content
2013-05-23 @ 07:29:32 EDT – 'N. Korea Presumed to Have Used New Multiple Rocket Launchers' – [KBS WORLD RADIO] NEWS | Inter-Korea
2013-05-22 @ 17:07:26 EDT – Minuteman III Operational Test Launch – New Subscription Videos for ReasonableMan42
2013-05-23 @ 13:05:30 EDT – North Korea – Yanggakdo Hotel – Abandoned Kansai
2013-05-21 @ 14:53:16 EDT – Eternal Recurrence: North Korean Iconography – SINO-NK
2013-05-21 @ 09:25:13 EDT – Exclusive: More pics from the first Western tourist in Sinuiju – NK News - North Korea News » Featured Content
2013-05-20 @ 17:35:01 EDT – Kim Jong Un Visits Mt. Myohyang Children’s Camp – North Korea Leadership Watch
2013-05-20 @ 09:19:39 EDT – NK Launches Fifth Short-Range Missile – DailyNK - Brightening the future of Korea
2013-05-20 @ 02:26:08 EDT – N. Korea Deploys Rockets in Islets Near Front Line – [KBS WORLD RADIO] NEWS | Inter-Korea
2013-05-21 @ 08:51:03 EDT – North Releases Captured Fishing Vessel – DailyNK - Brightening the future of Korea
2013-05-20 @ 07:59:00 EDT – MONDAY MOVIE: In celebration of the lovely traffic ladies of Pyongyang! – Koryo Tours's Facebook Wall
2013-05-20 @ 23:53:53 EDT – North Korea – Arch of Triumph – Abandoned Kansai
2013-05-17 @ 18:06:07 EDT – New 1st Vice Defense Minister Appointed – North Korea Leadership Watch
2013-05-19 @ 10:43:55 EDT – North Korea Fires Short-range Missile into East Sea for 2nd Day – [KBS WORLD RADIO] NEWS | Inter-Korea
2013-05-18 @ 07:13:30 EDT – N.Korea Fires Short-range Missiles Toward the East Sea – [KBS WORLD RADIO] NEWS | Inter-Korea
2013-05-19 @ 13:11:24 EDT – North Korea Conducts 2nd Day of Missile Firings; Will this End the Provocation Cycle? – ROK Drop
2013-05-18 @ 13:50:54 EDT – North Korea – Air Koryo – Abandoned Kansai
2013-05-16 @ 23:00:11 EDT – Symbolic Truth: Epic, Legends, and the Making of the Baekdusan Generals – SINO-NK
– Source: 2013-05-23 @ 18:11:10 EDT – SINO-NK –
Choe Ryong-hae swoops in from the land of Facebook and Instagram uploads to meet Wang Jiarui, head of China’s International Liaison Department | Image: Rodong Sinmun, May 23, 2013
A special envoy departs for Pyongyang, stealing a march on a growing line of leaders waiting for their own audience in Beijing. With the arrival of Choe Ryong-hae, two allies that have been at their dysfunctional best for months now appear to be jaw-jawing their way onto a slightly different footing. It’s hard to say what will come of it, but if anyone can appraise the Chinese perspective, it’s Sino-NK analyst Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, who recently turned out more top class analysis at China-US Focus. And with music, too!- Christopher Green, Co-editor.
A Choe in the Land of La La: Reviving China-North Korea Relations
by Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga
The Special Envoy Is in Town | Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae’s visit to Beijing provides a good opportunity to reappraise the current status of China-North Korea relations as pundits attempt to guess the narrative, tone and substance of talks between the Chinese government and Choe. With Chinese media emphasizing Choe’s desire to ameliorate relations, very little specific information about his delegation’s conversation with CCP Central Committee Standing Committee member Liu Yunshan was forthcoming.
Just how bad are China-North Korea relations right now? What can Choe possibly expect to receive from Beijing after the North’s continued blatant disregard for Chinese calls for calm and restraint, even just last weekend with the launch of six short-range rockets from its East Sea coast? What can we read into Choe’s visit, and will it finally lead to a Kim Jong-un visit to Beijing? Following in the tradition established by Marcus Noland, Sino-NK has decided to set this essay to music, because only Stevie Wonder could possibly capture the multi-faceted relationship that China and North Korea share. In a song about asking for forgiveness, no less.
Like a fool I went and stayed too long,
Now I’m wondering if your love’s still strong.
Dressing Up for a Dressing-Down | Most importantly, this trip represents the first high-level discussion between the two governments since Chinese Politburo member Li Jianguo traveled to Pyongyang last November in a failed attempt to dissuade Kim from conducting his December missile test. Prospects had seemed bright for relations between the two new leaders after Kim’s talk of reforms in June last year (6.28방침; June 28 Directive) and Jang Song-taek’s economics-heavy visit in August, but Kim’s congratulatory message on the occasion of Xi assuming the top post in Beijing now seems perfunctory. Relations between the two countries deteriorated with the December test, and have yet to improve.
Aside from Liu Yunshan, Choe has also met with Wang Jiarui, head of the International Liaison Department and primary Chinese interlocutor with the North Korean regime. Notably, though, he is apparently not scheduled to meet with Xi Jinping, after Jang Song-taek met with China’s previous leadership team on his visit last year.
Choe must have flown in prepared to answer for the North’s actions and receive an undiplomatic dressing-down from his Chinese hosts. Under Xi, China has adopted its strongest response to the North’s provocations since Hu Jintao called the North’s first nuclear test “flagrant” in 2006. China condemned both the December 2012 missile test and February 2013 nuclear test, and allowed tougher sanctions for both, the first time the North has been sanctioned for a missile test and the first time that specific luxury items have been defined in the sanctions. China also cooperated to an unprecedented extent with the United States to draft UN Security Council Resolution 2094 in response to the nuclear test, although Beijing undoubtedly still worked to limit its scope. China is still not fully enforcing existing sanctions, either, but has at least signaled a greater willingness to do so, notably with the Bank of China’s decision to cut ties with the DPRK’s Foreign Trade Bank (with a slight nudge from U.S. unilateral sanctions).
Yet Xi has also made it clear that China will not abandon North Korea, and that China does not appreciate the United States using the North’s actions as an excuse to build up military presence in China’s backyard. Xi admonished an unnamed country, saying “no one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains,” while Premier Li Keqiang said, “Provocations on the Korean Peninsula will harm the interests of all sides and it is the same as picking up a rock to drop it on one’s feet.” While the background suggests the comments were aimed at North Korea, they could equally have been a warning to the United States to avoid exploiting the North’s actions for U.S. gain in the region.
Then that time I went and said goodbye,
Now I’m back and not ashamed to cry.
Choe shakes hands with Liu Jieyi, Wang’s deputy at the International Liaison Department | Image: Rodong Sinmun, May 23, 2013
Bilateral Action Everywhere You Look | Choe’s visit comes against the backdrop of increased diplomatic activity across the region. The United States and China have finally set a date for Xi Jinping’s first meeting with President Obama, so Kim knows he will be a topic of discussion early next month. The same can be said of the second half of June, when President Park Geun-hye of South Korea comes to town. Indeed, South Korean commentators have been quick to point out that Choe has, for want of a better term, “pushed in.“
Recent visits by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey yielded nothing more from Beijing than ambiguous platitudes and the hosts’ “assurance that they are working on it,” but the talks were important and likely worried Kim that his patron may finally be growing tired of North Korea’s tantrums. Conversely, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a delegate to Pyongyang last week in an effort to revive discussions between the two nations, offering a reminder to all that North Korea also has other options besides Beijing and Washington, and that Japan, which has its own issues with China, is still a player in the ongoing Korean drama. China’s reception of the Japan-DPRK talks was rather cold, suggesting that North Korea was simply playing Japan for a fool, and uninterested in a broader regional detente.
Here I am baby,
Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m yours.
(You got my future in your hands.)
So, where does this leave Choe’s visit? Choe will likely cover the typical range of topics favored by North Korea—stronger economic cooperation and smoothing over political differences. He will seek to reaffirm Chinese interest in the special economic zones along the border the two share, and possibly request access for more North Korean workers in northeast China now that Kaesong has closed. He may also ask for food aid, although North Korea’s harvests are said to have improved this year. Chinese media have been bolder than ever in linking North Korea’s parlous food situation with the government’s desire to test weapons, but this surely won’t stop the request.
Equally if not more importantly, he will also seek a summit meeting with Xi, something that is badly needed to feed the propaganda mill back in Pyongyang. Kim is marketed domestically as a great world leader, but this mythical fire burns fuel fast. In other words, Kim needs Xi’s handshake.
In return, Choe’s hosts will likely embark upon a frank discussion of China’s frustrations with North Korea and opposition to their nuclear program, along with strongly suggesting the utility of a return to the Six-Party Talks and economic reforms. Beijing is still interested in economic cooperation, but may also see it as leverage to force some concessions from Pyongyang.
The public agreements released at the culmination of Choe’s visit will be a good gauge of China’s appraisal of the relationship going forward, as well as Xi’s willingness to forgive (if not forget) the North’s intransigence over the last five months. If Choe can return to Pyongyang with a public reaffirmation of continued cooperation over the special economic zones, which both sides want, this is a win for the North and likely the bare minimum for Chinese support. If Choe can secure more food aid, this would be an even bigger win and would again reaffirm China’s commitment to the survival of the Kim regime, though it was never actually in question. In return, China would be pleased for the North to voice a willingness or at least openness to return to the Six-Party Talks, but that is unlikely to happen. China may also ask for an apology for the second kidnapping of Chinese fisherman by North Korea in a year, but the North Korean government is unlikely to openly admit responsibility.
I’ve done a lot of foolish things,
That I really didn’t mean, didn’t I?
Summitry Over the Rainbow? | Realistically, an announcement of an upcoming Kim visit to Beijing would be a surprise, albeit not a shock, but rumors of a visit for later this summer or fall will circulate in the South Korean press regardless once Choe returns to Pyongyang. We must remember that this is not an outlandish concept: while the United States has to have a cooling down period between North Korean provocations and U.S.-DPRK talks, China has no shame in inviting the Kim family over for tea—indeed, Kim Jong-il’s first of three visits to Beijing towards the end of his life was a mere month and a half after North Korea sank a South Korean naval corvette, killing 46 sailors.
While Xi Jinping and the Chinese government are undoubtedly and understandably frustrated with North Korea, China’s decision to continue supporting the North requires some amount of high-level dialogue merely to keep the relationship going. At a minimum, this visit revives that dialogue and seeks to put the relationship on a firm footing—an unfriendly and dysfunctional union of no better alternatives. Watching from afar, the United States, South Korea and Japan must hope that relations between the two communist allies improve enough for Beijing to regain some leverage over North Korea and restart efforts to encourage economic reform under Kim Jong-un.
Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, “Bargaining Over North Korea,” CHINA-US Focus [online], May 21, 2013.
– Read the full story @ SINO-NK –
^^ Back to top ^^
According to the FBI:
Taiwanese Father and Son Arrested for Allegedly Violating U.S. Laws to Prevent Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
U.S. Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Illinois
May 06, 2013
CHICAGO—A resident of Taiwan whom the U.S. government has linked to the supply of weapons machinery to North Korea, and his son, who resides in suburban Chicago, are facing federal charges here for allegedly conspiring to violate U.S. laws designed to thwart the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, federal law enforcement officials announced today.
Hsien Tai Tsai, also known as “Alex Tsai,” who is believed to reside in Taiwan, was arrested last Wednesday in Tallinn, Estonia, while his son, Yueh-Hsun Tsai, also known as “Gary Tsai,” who is from Taiwan and is a legal permanent resident in the United States, was arrested the same day at his home in Glenview, Illinios.
Gary Tsai, 36, was ordered held in custody pending a detention hearing at 1:30 p.m. today before Magistrate Judge Susan Cox in U.S. District Court in Chicago. Alex Tsai, 67, remains in custody in Estonia pending proceedings to extradite him to the United States.
Both men were charged in federal court in Chicago with three identical offenses in separate complaints that were filed previously and unsealed following their arrests. Each was charged with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States in its enforcement of laws and regulations prohibiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, one count of conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by conspiring to evade the restrictions imposed on Alex Tsai and two of his companies by the U.S. Treasury Department, and one count of money laundering.
The arrests and charges were announced by Gary S. Shapiro, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Cory B. Nelson, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI; Gary Hartwig, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Chicago; and Ronald B. Orzel, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement, Chicago Field Office. The Justice Department’s National Security Division and Office of International Affairs assisted with the investigation. U.S. officials thanked the Estonian Internal Security Service and the Estonian Prosecutor’s Office for their cooperation.
According to both complaint affidavits, agents have been investigating Alex and Gary Tsai, as well as Individual A (a Taiwanese associate of Alex Tsai) and a network of companies engaged in the export of U.S. origin goods and machinery that could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction. The investigation has revealed that Alex and Gary Tsai and Individual A are associated with at least three companies based in Taiwan—Global Interface Company Inc., Trans Merits Co. Ltd., and Trans Multi Mechanics Co. Ltd.—that have purchased and then exported, and attempted to purchase and then export, from the United States machinery used to fabricate metals and other materials with a high degree of precision.
On January 16, 2009, under Executive Order 13382, which sanctions proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Alex Tsai, Global Interface, and Trans Merits as proliferators of weapons of mass destruction, isolating them from the U.S. financial and commercial systems and prohibiting any person or company in the United States from knowingly engaging in any transaction or dealing with Alex Tsai and the two Taiwanese companies.
In announcing the January 2009 OFAC order, the Treasury Department said that Alex Tsai was designated for providing, or attempting to provide, financial, technological, or other support for, or goods or services in support of the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), which was designated as a proliferator by President George W. Bush in June 2005. The Treasury Department asserted that Alex Tsai “has been supplying goods with weapons production capabilities to KOMID and its subordinates since the late 1990s, and he has been involved in shipping items to North Korea that could be used to support North Korea’s advanced weapons program.” The Treasury Department further said that Global Interface was designated “for being owned or controlled by Tsai,” who is a shareholder of the company and acts as its president. Tsai is also the general manager of Trans Merits Co. Ltd., which was designated for being a subsidiary owned or controlled by Global Interface Company Inc.
After the OFAC designations, Alex and Gary Tsai and Individual A allegedly continued to conduct business together but attempted to hide Alex Tsai’s and Trans Merit’s involvement in those transactions by conducting business under different company names, including Trans Multi Mechanics. For example, by August 2009—approximately eight months after the OFAC designations—Alex and Gary Tsai, Individual A, and others allegedly began using Trans Multi Mechanics to purchase and export machinery on behalf of Trans Merits and Alex Tsai. Specifically, the charges allege that in September 2009, they purchased a Bryant center hole grinder from a U.S. company based in suburban Chicago and exported it to Taiwan using the company Trans Multi Mechanics. A Bryant center hole grinder is a machine tool used to grind a center hole, with precisely smooth sides, through the length of a material.
The charges further allege that by at least September 2009, Gary Tsai had formed a machine tool company named Factory Direct Machine Tools in Glenview, Illinois, which was in the business of importing and exporting machine tools, parts, and other items to and from the United States. However, the charges allege that Alex Tsai and Trans Merits were active partners in Factory Direct Machine Tools, in some instances procuring the goods for import to the United States for Factory Direct Machine Tool customers.
Violating IEEPA carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine; money laundering carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine; and conspiracy to defraud the United States carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. If convicted, the court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Patrick Pope and Brian Hayes.
The public is reminded that a complaint is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Housing renovations in Pyongyang have received plenty of attention in the DPRK’s official media, with the above KCNA photo a good example. However, a large-scale redevelopment in Chongjin, the distant capital of North Hamgyong province, has received no official coverage in North Korean media.
Ironically, the only news outlet to have reported on the drastic changes to downtown Chongjin has so far been the Daily NK, which published rumors of mismanagement and political cronyism at the project in August of 2012.
With satellite imagery recently made available on Google Earth we can now confirm that a large scale residential complex is in fact underway in Chongjin’s Pohang District – and has been for well over 18 months.
Here is a 2006 satellite image of Chongjin (before):
A 2006 satellite image of Chongjin (before)
A February 14, 2012 satellite image of Chongjin shows that construction is underway:
Because the above picture was taken at such an early stage of construction it is difficult to say what exactly the plan for the area is. But we can add context to the imagery with this anonymous tourist picture taken of an architectural model of the development area:
Though this model should be understood as a conceptual tool, not a blueprint, it clearly shows the construction of a widened green boulevard extending south from the Kim Il Sung statue towards the East Sea.
On the northern end, the boulevard is flanked by new high-rise apartments, a theater, and a health complex.
On the southern end, the Chongjin Youth Park has been expanded west–occupying land that is now utilized by the Chongjin Steelworks Enterprise, with a large, circular fountain installed.
Before dismissing this merely as a plan, it is worth noting that newly available satellite imagery of the construction site confirms many of these details – even at this early stage of construction.
On the north end of the development zone, we can see that many residencies have been cleared, and the foundations are being laid for approximately ten buildings. Seven of them appear to be apartment buildings approximately 55 m (60.56 yds) x 21.01 (22.98yds).
The pattern of these new residential apartment blocks matches the pattern of new high-rises in the conceptual model.
In the southern-half of the development area, it appears that the Chongjin Steelworks is being disassembled along its eastern border and the land is being flattened. This is consistent with the architect model which shows a park and new pond in this area. The northern section of the Chongjin Youth Park has also been leveled to presumably make way for a new theater.
North Korea’s fetish for “catch-up” modern housing is nothing new. Older North Koreans have lived through many modernization drives that have sought to raise the standard of living for some targeted group. Though these buildings appear more “modern” from the outside, the actual process of construction has not changed in decades. Most work is done using manual labor by drafted work teams (non-specialists).
At the time of writing it is unclear where the additional electricity and other utilities required to support these homes will come from.
1. See coverage in the Daily NK on this construction project here.
A military official in South Korea says that short-range projectiles recently fired by North Korea are presumed to be rockets fired from new 300-milimeter caliber multiple rocket launchers.
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was launched during an operational test at 6:27 a.m. on May 22 from Launch Facility-4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch had originally been scheduled for April, but was but coincided with heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. Department of Defense delayed the launch to prevent it from being misinterpreted by North Korea. VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile was launched during an operational test at 6:27 a.m. here Wednesday from Launch Facility-4 on north Vandenberg. The launch, originally slated for 3:01 to 9:01 a.m. Tuesday, was rescheduled due to a range safety instrumentation issue. "I am proud of our team," said Col. Brent McArthur, 30th Space Wing vice commander and the launch decision authority. "Because of their professionalism, discipline and intense focus on mission assurance, we saw a safe and successful launch this morning."
From: Martyn Williams
|Time: 01:08||More in News & Politics|
– Source: 2013-05-23 @ 13:05:30 EDT – Abandoned Kansai –
The Yanggakdo International Hotel is North Korea’s biggest and most popular hotel. Well, until they finally open the Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang’s most famous unfinished building for more than two decades; named after an old name for Pyongyang itself, meaning “capital of willows”. The Yanggakdo Hotel on the other hand is named after the island it is on, Yanggak – located in Pyongyang’s main river, Taedong. Nicknamed “Alcatraz of Fun” due to the fact that foreign guests are not allowed to leave the Yanggak Island, the hotel features several restaurants and bars, a couple of shops (books, alcohol / imported food / local cigarettes, postcards / stamps, …), a tailor, a Chinese run casino basement and a Korean run basement with a three lane bowling alley, billiard tables, a pool, a karaoke bar, a massage parlor and much more.
Built from 1986 to 1992 by a French company called Campenon Bernard Contruction Company (now: Vinci) the Yanggakdo Hotel and its 1000 rooms (spread across 47 floors) opened in 1995; though you can imagine that half of the hotel is not used, given that there are less than 50000 tourists visiting all of North Korea per year – and there are several other hotels in Pyongyang, like the Koryo Hotel, the Sosan Hotel, the Ryanggang Hotel and the Chongnyon Hotel. Looking at the itineraries of several travel agencies it seems like the Yanggakdo Hotel is extremely popular to house the 3500 Western tourist per year. Probably due to the fact that it is located on an island – which means that they can prohibit random contact with locals without having to lock up people at the hotel.
Contrary to many other travel reports you are actually allowed to leave the Yanggakdo Hotel. Most people prefer getting drunk or getting some sleep after doing sightseeing for 12 to 14 hours a day, but on two evenings I decided to stroll around a bit – which admittedly requires some balls as the area doesn’t have any signs and potentially interesting places, like the tip of the island, are not easy to find; and at night you need a flashlight, too…
The first time I went for a walk I was the only member of my tour group at the Yanggakdo Hotel as the rest of them decided to have dinner at a pizza restaurant at Pyongyang – so I decided to go back to the hotel and have Korean food for dinner with the other May Day Long Tour group. I like pizza as much as the next guy, but I didn’t come to North Korea to eat pizza… (And although the restaurant was generally praised before the group went, my fellow travelers seemed to be a bit disappointed afterwards.) Poor Mr. Kim had to come with me to the hotel, too. You know, just in case… (One of those situations you can interpret both ways. Depending on your attitude you can claim had he had to go with me to keep an eye on me – or you can say it was a form of service, just in case I needed something. We actually parted in the lobby right after the arrival, even before dinner, where Mr. Kim did something tourist guides never do – he gave me his room number in case I had a question.) Since the pizza restaurant took more time than my Korean dinner at the hotel I told Mr. Kim that I wanted to go to the tip of the island to take some night shots of Pyongyang while waiting for the rest of my group to arrive – no problem.
Getting to the tip of Yanggak Island wasn’t that easy, especially at night, since entrance of the hotel is on a much higher level and there are no hints on how to get there. Luckily I met two of my dinner companions on my way there, so somehow we made it after a couple of minutes and several concrete staircases, narrow paths and dark corners. The view from the tip of Yanggak Island is absolutely gorgeous and totally worth the hassle of getting there, so I took a couple of photos and left when the wind got too cold to being outside with just jeans and a T-shirt.
The next night I went there again. This time prepared, i.e. wearing a jacket. I took the exact same route as the night before (*and marked it on the GoogleMap I created*), but this time I didn’t mention it to anybody and I was without company – to my surprise I triggered an alarm on the eastern side of the Yanggakdo Hotel. Sound, light, guard with a flashlight coming outside through a door. Since I didn’t do anything wrong I kept walking and the guy didn’t even try to make contact, but it felt kinda weird. On my way back I kept as far away from the building as possible without stepping on the grass – nevertheless I triggered the alarm again, with the exact same result. It was an interesting experience, because until then I didn’t feel surveillance at all. Especially after the two days in Beijing, where they have security checks at every train and subway station plus countless cameras everywhere. I don’t think I ever saw “security cameras” anywhere in the DPRK except for a couple of days later at the DMZ. But this little episode proofed that just because you don’t see surveillance it doesn’t mean that there is none – and it made me wonder if and how the system would kick in if I would have gone in the other direction, towards the Yanggak Bridge, which marks the southern limit of freedom on Yanggak Island…
(Please *click here to get to Abandoned Kansai’s North Korea Special* and *here for a map about the tour at GoogleMaps*. If you don’t want to miss the latest article you can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)
– Source: 2013-05-21 @ 14:53:16 EDT – SINO-NK –
Kim Jong-il and the Unha-3, painting, Feb. 14 2013. Note how the thrust of the rocket lifts the leader’s famous jacket. Image via DPRK Instagram
Eternal Recurrence: North Korean Iconography
Politics leans inevitably upon symbols, and nowhere is this more true than in North Korea. The state generates iconography in profusion, rotating around the leadership whose sacred bodies are hovered around by note-taking acolytes, honed in glorious repetition, and manipulated for audiences both domestic and international. A leader, or a clique, in the process of ruling must be adept at deploying imagery, not least because it can confuse (if not awe) outsiders while cultivating a sense of pride of association amid domestic viewers. The body of the leader is the body of state; there can be no DPRK — indeed, no Korean revolution — without Kimist leadership, whose historical inevitability is reinforced at every turn.
Fortunately, those of us who live outside of the national body of the DPRK are not without analytical tools to describe and analyse that country’s presentational narratives. Participants in a recent “Engage Korea” conference at Oxford were particularly stocked with insights by Dr. Heonik Kwon, the Cambridge University professor overflowing with with bon mots on kingship, commemoration, and legacy politics in the DRPK. In a new piece for e-IR based upon his conference presentation, Kwon notes how the North Korean state is now engaged in efforts at parallel commemoration:
How can North Korea’s current third-generation leadership relate to the proud, sovereign legacy of the first generation and the ambiguous, instrumental legacy of the second?
The answer seems, so far, to center on a certain parallelism. Kim Jong-il has become, posthumously, the eternal Chair of National Defence Commission—a powerful position in the combined hierarchy of the Workers’ Party and the People’s Army which he had kept during his rule (Kim Il-sung had become, after his death, the eternal supreme leader and head of state). He is honored with a song “The Great General is forever with us,” just as was Kim Il-sung, after his death, with the song “The Supreme Leader is forever with us.” Numerous memorial projects have been completed, which typically depict the two leaders together as the eternal guardians of revolutionary North Korea. This way, the legacies of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are made to coexist in parallel with each other.
As Rudiger Frank noted in a now-classic essay researched in Pyongyang and entitled “North Korean Ideology after April 2012: Continuity or Disruption?“, the method of overlapping the Kims is not entirely without peril.
Today, two key memorial projects are finally linked: the high-tech weapons programs, and the statues of Kim Jong-il. The first of these does not so much belong to Kim Jong-un as it does to his father (and, as a radically substantial new Chinese history journal essay argues, to Kim Il-song). However, the statues of Kim Jong-il do belong very much and very fully to Kim Jong-un’s era. Both the rockets and the statues are manifestations of the successor’s loyalty to the behest of his father and his further intent to institutionalize songun chong’chi, or “military first politics.”
The amount of care taken in creating these statues and protecting them from possible harm – even in a warfare scenario, the relics are to be safeguarded foremost – is significant. It is also clear that Kim Jong-un himself takes a great personal interest in their creation, often making trips to the Mansudae Art Studios to supervise the evolving iconography of his predecessors.
This past week, observers were treated to the mind-bending spectacle of Kim Jong-un striking a pose in perfect harmony of an image which he himself had commissioned of Kim Il-song. The entire tableaux appeared to have been created precisely to call attention to the present young commander’s to the portrait of the dictator as a young man, Kim Il-song in the Korean War, with his love of giant maps and appropriately giant gestures, a man (the subject of the sentence, like the subject of this North Korean art, now being perfectly and suitably ambiguous, so long as it evokes genius and Kimist charisma) being tested not simply by war shadows but by the stresses of depicting war, which as everyone knows is rather stressful.
About as intentional as it gets: Kim Jong-un directing portraiture of his grandfather (his reflected self) at the Mansudae Art Studio, May 13, 2013 | Via Rodong Sinmun
When it comes to depictions of conflict, care in depiction is paramount. Take, for example, the example of Choe Hwi (seen wearing black above, and navy blue here, with a First Lady whose Dior handbag is a kind of talisman against her “reincarnated Kim Jong-suk” persona). Choe worked in the late 1990s and early 2000s as head of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League, and he now appears to have emerged as a successor-figure to the octogenarian chief regime propagandist Kim Ki-nam. Choe Hwi has a lot to say about statues, monuments, and inscriptions, as well as the functional need of university students to bow to such icons. As he, a man sensitive to such things who prefers black, would surely agree, the choice of clothing matters. Thus:
A new ream of statues of Kim Jong-il was unveiled in February 2012, just in time for the Dear Leader’s 70th birthday. (He had, of course, inconveniently died but three months prior to that milestone, being wrapped within the tunneling fervor of one last speed campaign.) Even on his equestrian monstrosity, amid that wave of statuary, the leader was primarily depicted wearing vinylon and/or a trench coat. As for Kim Il-song, he lost his Mao suit for a Western suit and tie, and had glasses and a rictus smile added, presumably to depict his satisfaction at having seen the fruition of his dream for a powerful and wealthy DPRK, or just to look better for his Economist cover.
However, in the leadup to Kim Jong-il’s 71st birthday in 2013 (the second such anniversary which had to celebrated without the Dear Leader being present, and thus unable to protest), a new design for Kim Jong-il’s clothing was added to the most famous of the statues.
A combination photo shows bronze statues of North Korea founder Kim Il-sung (L) and late leader Kim Jong-il at Mansudae in Pyongyang, in these photos taken and provided by Kyodo on December 2012 (top) and February 10, 2013. Reuters/Kyodo, via Huffington Post.
At the time, I speculated that the apparent “breeze from below” lifting up the corner of Kim Jong-il’s blazer was in fact a reference to the country’s third underground nuclear test. Now, a painting from the Mansudae Art Studios (seen at the top of this essay) would appear to argue that the lift under the parka is in fact a completely unsubtle nod to the country’s missile test.
Lest this interpretation be seen as far-fetched, consider that Kim Jong-un as recently as May Day had been explicitly likening Kim Jong-il’s favorite band (the Unhasu Orchestra) to a nuclear bomb, and that the program at that event was completely suffused with Kim Jong-il melodic memorabilia. And the same resonance (obvious to North Korean observers) was true for the DPRKs own coverage of the Unhasu Orchestra and its visit to Paris in 2012, as this piece edited by Max Fisher argues.
For North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and its missiles, therefore, would also mean that it would need to change its statues, and the way it talks about its deeply-entrenched musical and artistic cultures.
To turn a brilliant sentence by Jeffrey Lewis completely on its head, it is we who would thereby demand “the destruction of both the past as well as the future” by removing the nuclear underpinnings that are presently evoked in the sculpted bronze and sculpted melodies which Pyongyang has been producing in such abundance. The art, in a word, would become meaningless.
The king’s two bodies may be dead, but the struggle to depict their living legacies — elemental, spiritual, exploding and genetic — remains very much in effect.
Blog by: Adam Cathcart
– Read the full story @ SINO-NK –
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NEW YORK CITY – Yesterday, Koryo Tours general manager Simon Cockerell was the first-ever western tourist to visit the North Korean border town of Sinuiju.
A colorful welcome to town by the local tour office in Sinuiju
There is quite a bit of cross-border trade — Sinuiju is a mere 900 meters across the Yalu River from its Chinese neighbor, Dandong — and Chinese travelers have long been permitted to make day trips, so, as Cockerell pointed out in a telephone interview upon his return to his home base in Beijing, “It wasn’t like when Columbus landed in the New World.”
View from under the Friendship Bridge at the North Korean end. The ruins of the previous bridge destroyed by USAF bombing in the Korean war can be seen.
“At the same time,” he told me, “my local guide/translator, who spoke English quite well, had never met someone who wasn’t either Chinese or Korean before. When I asked her, ‘How’s it going?’ she looked at me and said, ‘You have very blue eyes…’ So, there was a bit of that, too.”
Residential buildings in Sinuiju south district
Cockerell was in Sinuiju, North Korea’s sixth-largest city, on, as he as he described it, “a reccy,” in advance of Koryo’s upcoming inaugural trip in with a group. He did, in fact, once spend an afternoon stranded in Sinuiju in 2004 when his train couldn’t get him to Pyongyang. But, until 24 hours ago, he hadn’t actually explored it himself.
“I’ve passed through Sinuiju on the train probably 100 times, but had never been out into the city before,” Cockerell told me. “It was always a little frustrating — Chinese tourists have been going there for years, so the infrastructure exists for visitors. This is something we’ve believed could happen and it’s finally paid off.”
Sinuiju railway station — usually seen only from the drabber backside, by tourists on the train waiting to cross the border back into China.
Railway station square — not so busy in the morning, but when a train arrives it becomes much busier as local passengers line up in the square to get onto the platform
Road leading from the railway station into the centre of town
Though certain North Koreans in the area travel back and forth between Sinuiju and Dandong for business, those who enjoy this particular luxury do so within certain parameters.
“You go because you need to, not because you wake up in the morning and fancy a trip to Dandong,” Cockerell said. However, the differences between gritty Sinuiju and booming Dandong — with its big, modern tower blocks easily visible from the riverbank — are “clear to anyone with eyes.”
View from Sinuiju southern district across rice fields to the newly built towers of Dandong new-town in the distance
Cyclists travelling from the south district to the central area pass large propaganda slogans
Family crossing the road in the centre of Sinuiju
Pedestrians near the Sinuiju immortality tower
Ditto. The tall buildings in the background are in central Dandong, across the 900m wide Yalu (Amnok) river
In the foreground is Sinuiju folklore park, part of which is undergoing renovation. The building behind is the Amnokgang Hotel, used by Chinese and local businesspeople, visiting NGO staff, etc.
A man-purse, or “murse,” Cockerell picked up in Sinuiju. “I asked the shopgirl in Chinese if this was for a woman. She looked at me like I was an idiot and said, no, it’s for a man. I’ve never owned a man-purse, but now I do. I guess as men’s purses go, it looks alright.”
Koryo Tours will be offering day trips to Sinuiju from Dandong, as well as Sinuiju add-ons to their Pyongyang tours. “We’re very excited to open Sinuiju up to tourists,” Cockerell told me. “This is a chance for people to see something quite different.”
Kim Jong Un (1) and his wife Ri Sol Ju (2) interact with children campers during a commemorative photo session after KJU toured the Mt. Myohyang Children’s Camp in North P’yo’ngan Province on 19 May 2013 (Photo: Rodong Sinmun)
DPRK state media reported that Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) and his wife Ri Sol Ju (Ri So’l-chu) visited the Myohyangsan (Mount Myohyang) Children’s Camp in North P’yo’ngan Province on 19 May (Sunday). KJU’s last reported public appearance was his visit to Ryongmun Liquor Factory. Attending the visit to the children’s camp with KJU and RSJ were VMar Choe Ryong Hae (Director of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] General Political Department), Choe Hwi (Senior Deputy [1st Vice] Director of the Korean Workers’ Party [KWP] Propaganda and Agitation Department) and Pak Tae Song (Deputy KWP Department Director). KJU began his visit to camp looking at a stone monument of a quotation by KJU’s paternal grandfather, late DPRK President and founder Kim Il Sung. According to KCNA, Kim Jong Un noted that “Kim Jong Il proposed on number of occasions the task for successfully rebuilding the children’s camp and personally examined its design in the last period of his life” and he “underscored the need to newly build the camp to be proud of in the world as early as possible and thus carry out without fail the behest of Kim Jong Il who made so much effort to provide a better camp to children.”
Kim Jong Un (1) and his wife Ri Sol Ju (2) pose for a commemorative photograph with campers, employees and officials at Mt. Myohyang Children’s Camp on 19 May 2013 (Photo: Rodong Sinmun).
Kim Jong Un and Ri Sol Ju toured the camp where they saw “bedrooms, the room for disseminating knowledge about camping, room for the Children’s Union, room for cultural information service, room for the preservation of gifts, music room, dinning room and hall to learn in detail about children’s camping.” According to KCNA, Kim Jong Un said “to build the camp as required by the era of Military-First politics (So’ngun) is an important work for realizing the lifelong desire of the great Generalissimos Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il who did everything for the children as their tender-hearted father all their lives. He called for newly building the camp instead of remodeling it.” Referring to the songs “We Are the Happiest in the World” and “General to Front, While Children to Camps,” Kim Jong Un said “I remember the loving care shown by the Generalissimos for posterity whenever I listen to those songs. There is a mountain of work to be done for building a thriving nation, but we must not spare investment in the building of camps. It is the determination of the party to excellently remodel not only this camp but all other camps, children’s palaces and children’s houses across the country.”
According to KCNA, Kim Jong Un also remarked that “when remodeling camps across the country, it is necessary to spruce up camps at the foot of mountains to match their landscape and those camps on seaside to do its landscape, and to this end it is important to work out designs well.” KJU also “noted that the main objective of the revolution being made despite manifold difficulties and trials is to bring happiness to the children and it is necessary to enable them to lead a happy life with no more desire in the world.” Kim Jong Un met with some of the campers and posed for commemorative photos with them.
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