Saturday, January 31, 2009

The real impact of North Korea ending agreements with Seoul

Likely little will change as a result of North Korea’s rhetoric. Such a statement does not carry much weight because North Korea has already cut off almost all contacts with the South over the past year in anger at the tough stance of the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak.

The North has been lashing out at Lee for months, only to find its vitriolic barbs mostly ignored by Seoul. The latest statement may reflect its frustration.

The North has threatened military action over a disputed sea border, off the west coast of the peninsula, that has been the scene of deadly naval clashes in the past.

But it may be hesitant to spark another battle after its navy was outgunned by a superior South Korean force during the last skirmishes in 2002. Since then, the North's Soviet-era navy has become more obsolete, while the South has increased its firepower and technology.

[The Guardian]

Friday, January 30, 2009

When North Korean defectors finally reach South Korea

Nothing prepares North Koreans for the impact of Seoul, the hypercompetitive, prosperous, fast-paced life, a world more complex and foreign than any the refugees had encountered.

A North Korean who had been living in Seoul for two years summed up the culture shock: "The difference between North and South is like jumping ahead a century."

After being debriefed to make sure they're not spies, defectors are sent to Hanawon, a high-security facility south of Seoul, where for two months they receive mandatory instruction in South Korean culture and practical matters such as taking the subway and opening a bank account. They're granted South Korean citizenship, paid a settlement bonus of roughly $5,000, with small monthly installments to follow, and provided a housing allowance and employment incentives.

In the mid-1990s the few dozen defectors arriving each year were elite members of the military or Communist Party from Pyongyang who brought valuable intelligence. With rare exceptions, today's defectors are farm laborers, factory workers, and low-level soldiers and clerks from impoverished regions. What they bring mostly are problems. Compared with the average South Korean, they are markedly less educated and skilled. Having experienced years of malnutrition and the pain of seeing family members die of starvation, many suffer from serious physical and mental illnesses.

Because of these handicaps, says Andrei Lankov, a North Korean expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, the defector population is in danger of "becoming a permanent underclass." Their life in the South is immeasurably richer and freer, but they crave a sense of belonging. "Most South Koreans are indifferent to their plight," Lankov said. "And to not have your suffering recognized is an almost unbearable form of violence."

[Excerpt of an article by Tom O'Neill, National Geographic]

Thursday, January 29, 2009

South Korea says No to North Korean currency in propaganda packages

The government on Wednesday said it will not permit activists to send North Korean won to the North attached to anti-communist propaganda leaflets.

Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun told reporters that activists who do so without the minister's permission would violate Article 13 of the South-North Exchange and Cooperation Act. This carries a prison term of up to three years or a fine of up to W10 million (US$1=W1,378).

The president of Family Assembly Abducted to North Korea, one particularly active group, expressed dismay. "How can the government prevent North Korean defectors from sending money to their families in North Korea?" Choi Sung-yong said. He vowed to continue the practice regardless of punishment.

The activist groups, which also include Fighters for Free North Korea, have so far attached U.S. dollar or Chinese yuan bills to leaflets they float across the border tied to helium balloons. But they announced that as of next month they would also send 5,000 North Korean won bills, the largest denomination banknote and equivalent to about US$1.50.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

U.S. should prepare for sudden North Korea changes

The Council on Foreign Relations said that although North Korea defied predictions in the 1990s that it would collapse after the death of its founder, economic meltdown and a deadly famine, the state remains weak and vulnerable.

Change scenarios range from an orderly transfer of power from leader Kim Jong-il to a successor to a possibly violent struggle for power between military factions to a breakdown in political authority that would sow chaos in a country believed to have nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and with millions of armed troops, it said.

"The stakes are simply too high and the risks too great for U.S. policymakers to assume that this will not happen any time soon. ... Kim Jong-il's condition may actually be much worse than press reports suggest and that his capacity to govern -- if it hasn't already been seriously compromised -- may be short lived," said the report.

China and South Korea could end up competing for influence in a post-Kim North Korea, while a humanitarian crisis that spilled refugees over their borders would increase pressure on Beijing and Seoul to intervene, said the report.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Carter says North Korea will give up Nuclear Weapons

Former President Jimmy Carter said he believes North Korea would be willing to give up its nuclear weapons for U.S. diplomatic recognition, a peace deal with South Korea and America, and if it got new atomic power reactors and free fuel oil.

"It could be worked out, in my opinion, in half a day," Carter said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press.

Last week, North Korea's Foreign Ministry said it would give up its nuclear weapons only if Washington establishes diplomatic relations with the regime and the U.S. ceases to pose a nuclear threat to the North -- an apparent reference to Pyongyang's long-standing claim that American nuclear weapons are hidden in South Korea. Both Seoul and Washington deny the accusation.

Carter's and Clinton's deals to dismantle the North Korean nuclear program -- then consisting of reactors with only a theoretical weapons-building capacity -- were shelved when President George W. Bush took office in 2001. "When Bush came in he threw that in the wastebasket, and it started all over with the 'Axis of Evil,' and so therefore they began to reprocess their (nuclear) fuel," Carter said.

[Fox News]

Monday, January 26, 2009

North Korean defection is daunting, so is starting a new life

A frigid November day pressed against the windows of a shabby apartment building in the Chinese city of Yanji, ten miles from the North Korean border. Three stories up, footsteps stopped outside a door. At the sound, two young women hurried to a back room and shrank against a wall. Then came a knock. The women, defectors from North Korea, bowed their heads, expecting the worst. If the Chinese police found them without identity cards, they would be deported in handcuffs and chains. Back in North Korea, they would be sentenced to years of hard labor in a prison camp.

Their former boss, the Korean-Chinese owner of an Internet sex operation, was hunting them as well. For the past year the two young women had been held in a room as virtual prisoners, forced to "talk dirty" and take off their clothes in front of a camera for online clients in South Korea. The night before, Christian missionaries had helped them escape and brought them to this safe house.

The knocking continued. A man called out, "Are you there? Open up." White recognized the voice: It came from one of their rescuers. She rushed to the door and fumbled it open. Standing there was a thin man with an awkward smile, holding up a cooker and a bag of rice. "You must be hungry." Bowing in greeting, the women led him into the kitchen. Soon the room filled with their chatter. The missionary also brought a message: "Be ready to leave soon. The call just came."

Thousands of such North Koreans are hiding in China, most in cities and villages along the remote 900-mile-long border between the two countries. Uncounted others have come for a few months and then slipped back to North Korea with food and money. Yet many stay on, unable or unwilling to return to their cruel homeland. They are left with two desperate choices: Keep hiding—often as prisoners of exploitative employers—or embark on the Asian underground railroad, a perilous journey by foot, vehicle, and train across China and Southeast Asia. Confronted with an obstacle course of checkpoints, informants, and treacherous terrain, numerous defectors have been caught. But aided by a small band of humanitarians and by smugglers charging $3,000 and up, some 15,000 have reached safe haven, most often in South Korea. There, traumatized and barely skilled, they face the most formidable challenge of all: starting over.

[National Geographic]

Saturday, January 24, 2009

UNDP returning to North Korea

A U.N. aid agency that left North Korea two years ago amid U.S. charges of financial mismanagement will resume work there later this year under a decision this week by its board, officials said on Friday.

The U.N. Development Program's executive board gave the green light for UNDP to return to North Korea after considering a report by the agency that proposed tightening up hiring and payment procedures to address critics' concerns.

The report said programs that UNDP would resume included rural energy development, wind power promotion, seed production and reduction of post-harvest losses in North Korea, which has suffered from flooding and famine in recent years.

A U.N. audit, the external review and a separate U.S. Senate subcommittee inquiry found that UNDP had made mistakes, but did not substantiate the main U.S. charge of funding suspect North Korean bodies, which the agency strongly denied.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Hunger and health statistics on North Korean children and mothers

North Korea possesses a Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) and the CBS has worked with international aid agencies to collect information that the latter need in a key area: hunger and its human consequences.

Since the last survey in 2002, the proportion of young children chronically malnourished (stunted) is down from 42% to 37%. Acute malnutrition eased from 9% to 7%. But those underweight rose from 21% to 23%. Though for children under the age of two, those most at risk, this fell from 25% to 21%.

One in five children had diarrhea, and one in eight showed symptoms of acute respiratory infection. Mothers appear to have made no progress: a third were anemic and malnourished, the same figure as two years ago.

Much depends on where people are living. Things are less bad in Pyongyang and in the southwestern Hwanghae farming region as compared to the bleak northeasterly Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces.

Even at the national level, the more than one-third (37%) of North Korean's under six who are stunted - and especially the one in eight (12%) who are severely stunted - will remain so.

[Source: Aidan Foster-Carter, senior research fellow in sociology, Leeds University, England.]

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Identity win for North Korea refugees

North Korean refugees now living in the South have won the right to avoid identification as such in their official papers. It had previously been possible to infer someone's origin from the number.

The Unification Ministry in Seoul, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said they would now be allowed to change their social security numbers.

In a survey carried out three years ago, two thirds of North Korean defectors said they had faced workplace discrimination over their background.

South Korean-born citizens are given numbers associated with their birthplace. But North Korean refugees have until now been allocated numbers based on the area code of the heavily-guarded Hanawon resettlement centre near Seoul. The centre is used to educate North Koreans about life in the South and help them to integrate into South Korean society.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that the change in law also made settlement grants available to defectors who have stayed abroad for more than 10 years after leaving North Korea.

More than 15,000 defectors have arrived in South Korea since the Korean war of 1950-53, said Yonhap.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Ratcheding up South´s hardline policy toward North Korea

South Korea's hard-line president tapped a hawkish security expert to head the ministry in charge of relations with Pyongyang, a move bound to ratchet up already heightened tensions with the communist regime.

Hyun In-taek, a UCLA-educated professor who helped shape Lee's campaign platform in 2007, was nominated to head the Unification Ministry as part of a Cabinet reshuffle.

The international diplomacy expert is known to be critical of the reconciliatory "Sunshine Policy" espoused by Seoul's previous liberal leadership, noting that pouring aid into the North unconditionally did not stop the regime from testing a nuclear bomb in 2006.

He helped develop the president's position of standing firm with the nuclear-armed North in demanding reciprocity — a stance that has earned Lee the slur "human scum" and "traitor" in state-run North Korean media.

On Monday, the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper reiterated the military's warning that it will respond to any South Korean aggression with "one strike" capable of annihilation.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundance documentary aims to lift veil on North Korea

North Korea's prison system and the cult of personality surrounding the Stalinist nation's leader Kim Jong-Il are the subject of a documentary screening at the Sundance Film Festival.

Director NC Heikin's film "Kimjongilia" aims to lift the veil on the most isolated country on earth and offers a vignette of North Korean leaders Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il.

Heikin interviewed more than a dozen survivors of North Korean jails for the feature, which is also interspersed with archival footage of propaganda films and original scenes that illustrate daily life.

"It's a big, untold story on human rights. I want to get the word out that people are suffering," Heikin told AFP.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kim Il Sung ideals on America live on in North Korea

As speculation of a successor continues, to North Koreans, the ideals Kim Il Sung set forth still live on. Most wear a portrait of his country's "eternal leader" Kim Il Sung pinned over his heart, a sign of allegiance to a man dead for years.

In addition to clinging to the hope of "Juche"--Kim's religion of self-reliance--North Koreans also are bound together by a common enemy --- America.

North Korea maintains the fourth-largest army in the world in a constant state of readiness. World War II-style propaganda billboards depict a fist smashing into North America. North Koreans think of Americans as the "imperialists" who caused the division between North and South.

In contrast, most Americans rarely give North Korea much thought.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sushi chef had it right on Kim Jong Il succession

Until recently, North Korea's Kim Jong Il - reclusive, eccentric and mercurial - has revealed little about who might succeed him as leader. Kim has had at least four children with three women, but none has emerged as the obvious candidate to take the world's first communist hereditary dynasty into a third generation.

The eldest son, 37-year-old Jong Nam, was long considered Kim's favorite - until he tried to sneak into Japan using a fake Dominican passport in a bid to get to Tokyo's Disney resort in 2001.

His second son, 27-year-old Jong Chol, is believed to have spent part of his school years in Switzerland. He reportedly was appointed to a high position in the Korean Workers' Party last year, making him a likely candidate.

But Kenji Fujimoto, who says he was private sushi chef to Kim for 13 years, always claimed the "Dear Leader" believed the second son is too soft and instead favored his youngest son, Jong Un, 24, who apparently looks and acts just like his father.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

3rd son to succeed Kim Jong-Il?

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has nominated his third son as successor and informed the ruling communist party leadership of his choice, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported on Thursday.

The nomination of Mr Kim Jong Un, 24, was totally unexpected even among party leaders, Yonhap said, quoting 'well-informed intelligence sources'. Analysts have said previously Jong Un was not in the running.

Mr Kim Jong Un was born to the leader's third wife, Ms Ko Yong Hi, who reportedly died of breast cancer in 2004. He was educated at an international school in Switzerland but holds no key official posts.

Senior party officials were surprised at the leader's decision, Yonhap said, adding Mr Kim might have pushed ahead due to anxiety about his health.

Mr Jeung Young Tae of the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) said analysts should closely watch a March 8 parliamentary election to see whether Jong Un is appointed to the powerful National Defence Commission. “If that's the case, we can safely say North Korea has started grooming Jong Un as the heir-apparent to his father,” he told AFP.

[Straits Times]

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Abducted, escaped, and now held in China

The family of an abducted fisherman who escaped from North Korea into China last year urged the South’s government to push Beijing for his immediate return in what officials describe as a “unique case.”

In 1975, Yun Jong-su was abducted by North Korea along with 32 other crewmen aboard the fishing boat Cheonghwang-ho while operating in the East Sea.

Yun, who married an ethnic Korean from Japan, fled the communist state alone in May last year and has since been under the protection of a South Korean consular office in northeastern China. Yun’s wife and daughter were arrested by North Korean authorities while trying to flee with him, said Yun’s brothers, who live in South Korea.

The Chinese government has not allowed Yun to come to Seoul, unlike other abductees and Korean War prisoners who are usually sent to the South in less than three months, officials and activists say.

“He was taken [to North Korea] in his early 30s, and he’s now in his late 60s,” his younger brother, Yun Ju-ok, said during a visit to Seoul’s unification and foreign affairs ministries to lodge a protest.

Seoul officials could not comment on why China was barring Yun from leaving the country.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

North Korea low priority to Obama Administration

The new U.S. government under Barack Obama is expected to take a different approach to the North Korean nuclear problem from the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. He and his diplomatic and security team believe that the six-party talks on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula launched in 2003 has made some progress, and a channel for dialogue with North Korea is open.

For these reasons, Obama and his team think the North Korean issue is not as urgent as what is going on in Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. In an interview with Time magazine at the end of last year, Obama did not mention the North Korean issue as one of the grave concerns on his diplomatic and security agendas.

One official close to the Obama camp said, “There is nearly zero possibility that the North Korean issue will make it to the top 20 in the priority agendas of the Obama administration this year.”


Monday, January 12, 2009

North Korean forecast: "Upheavals ..Two big stars will fall" in 2009

Having developed a reputation as someone who has visions of the future, the 61-year-old head of Hooam Future Institute, Cha Kil-jin, offers a glimpse into the near future.

"North Korea, a master at the tactics of brinkmanship, will undergo upheavals triggered not by external factors but by an internal collapse," he stated. "In 2009, a stepping stone that may lead to unification will appear."

According to Cha, "two big stars will fall" in 2009. By two stars, he means two influential leaders. Though Cha did not reveal who those two stars are, one potential interpretation would include North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il.

In regards to North Korea, Cha stated that "an event will occur that will serve as both a crisis for [South Korea] and as an opportunity for unification."

Cha also predicted that there would be a shift in power away from the Atlantic Ocean and towards the Pacific Ocean. "The Atlantic powers, represented by Great Britain and America, are giving way to the Pacific powers. In the approaching age of the Pacific, Asia will rise as an alternate power to America," he stated, hinting that China would play a central role.

[Korean Herald]

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

North Korean Govt Shakeup Continues

The North Korean regime has carried out a sweeping Cabinet overhaul, replacing at least nine ministers and making some changes to key positions in the People’s Army and the Workers' Party.

"We have learned that the heads of the commerce, finance, and fisheries ministries and the National Economic Cooperation Committee have been dismissed, but we have not yet confirmed the names of the new ministers," a Unification Ministry official said.

In the confirmed ministries only, the leadership sacked at least nine out of 37 ministers, or 25 percent.

"Economic recovery and firm control over the political system are a must to consolidate the power that will be handed to any successor of leader Kim Jong-il," a South Korean official said. "The large-scale Cabinet reshuffle seems to have been carried out with the succession in mind."


Monday, January 05, 2009

North Korea reshuffles two policy maker cabinet ministers

North Korea has sacked two top officials, including a once key aide to leader Kim Jong-Il, blaming them for worsening cross-border ties with South Korea, the JoongAng Daily reported on Monday.

Yu Yong-Sun, a 68-year-old Buddhist leader, has replaced Choe Sung-Chol, deputy director of the United Front Department of the North Korean Workers' Party, an influential state organization, the said.

Mr Choe has stepped down because of his failure to accurately assess South Korea's presidential election in December, 2007, and the direction of inter-Korean relations, it said. Choe, once deeply trusted by North leader Kim Jong-Il, played a crucial role in arranging the second inter-Korean summit in 2007, the daily said.

It quoted an unidentified government official as saying Kwon Ho-Ung, the North's chief negotiator for high-level talks with South Korea, also stepped down and has been put under house arrest.

ChosunIlbo reports that Kim Kyong-ok is the newly-named first deputy director of the ruling party's Organization Guidance Department that controls the party, Army and administration, under Kim Jong-il.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

China and North Korea in new diplomatic dance

North Korea and China are showing growing signs of cementing stronger political ties this year in what experts say is an effort to secure a better position in the upcoming diplomatic dialogue with Barack Obama’s new U.S. administration.

The two countries have made moves to forge a closer alliance since last year. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, China’s second most powerful official, made an unusual visit to Pyongyang last year. Kim pledged Pyongyang would “never breach trust with China” when another high-profile Beijing official, Wang Jiarui, visited North Korea. Kim also made a personal visit to the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang.

Chun Hyun-joon, senior researcher at Korea Institute for National Unification, said North Korea plans to use its close political relations with Beijing as a “negotiating card” during the upcoming nuclear talks with Washington. “They probably want to send the message that ‘we have a strong backer called China behind us,’” said Chun.

Because of currently frozen inter-Korean relations, Pyongyang has reason to approach Beijing also a possible source of aid, according to Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University.
“China has long been prioritizing relations with the South while alienating the North,” said Lee Tae-hwan, a researcher at the Sejong Institute. “But now such a tactic is about to change as Beijing seems to be poised to handle the two Koreas equally.”

[JoongAng Ilbo]

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Activists Resume Propaganda into North Korea

After a month of voluntary suspension at the request of the government and the ruling party, Christian activists resumed sending anti-communist leaflets to North Korea.

An association of 24 conservative civic groups gathered in Imjingak Plaza in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, to attach leaflets to large balloons to send to North Korea.

The leaflets contain criticisms of the North Korean regime, depicting the dire food shortage in North Korea compared to the luxurious life of its leader, Kim Jong-il. Some nightscape pictures of Seoul and Pyongyang, and food aid to North Korea, were also included.

Choi Woo-won, co-leader of the association, said, “The Sunshine Policy is obviously a failure since millions of North Koreans have died of starvation despite several billion tons of food aid by the South Korean government over the last 10 years. The Unification Ministry also does not have any right to prevent civic groups sending leaflets.”

[Chosun Ilbo]

Friday, January 02, 2009

U.S. allots quota that applies to North Korean Refugees

The U.S. has set a quota of refugees at 80,000 for 2009, 19,000 of them from East Asia, including North Korea, China, Tibet, and Burma. It is to give priority to 100 refugees from the region who want to join their families who are already in the U.S.

How many North Korean refugees will be accepted is not specified, but they are to come under the Priority-1 Group, where each refugee will be screened individually, and Priority-3 Group, where refugees will be given priority in joining their families who are already in the U.S. Some 600 refugees will be let in under Category P-1 and 100 under Category P-3.

The report expresses grave concern about human rights of North Koreans both in the Stalinist country and in nearby countries like China.

Since the U.S. first accepted a North Korean refugee under the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, a total of 75 North Korean refugees have settled in the U.S.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Thursday, January 01, 2009

North Korean refugees in Burma released

Burmese officials have released the 19 North Korean defectors from detention and indications are that they will be sent to neighboring Thailand.

An official was quoted as saying, "A court in Tachileik ordered (Wednesday) that they be expelled under the immigration act," he said, referring to an eastern Myanmar town near the Thai and Laotian border area.

The nineteen North Korean defectors were trying to make their way to South Korea by passing through China and Southeast Asia. They were detained in Burma in early December and faced charges of illegal immigration.

Thailand is widely considered one of the more politically favorable destinations for North Korean defectors hoping to reach the South.

South Korean officials have said the group will be allowed to go to South Korea.