Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Radios in North Korea

One might expect North Korea to be the target of outside Korean-language stations. After all, it is one of the few despotic regimes whose survival still largely depends on myths about the country's situation and its place in the world.

[Not so long ago] If North Korean citizens purchased a radio in one of the country's hard-currency shops, which accepted foreign cash and had a wider variety of items, or when overseas, it had to be submitted to police where technicians would "fix" (disable) it, making sure its owners could only listen to ideologically wholesome programs about the deeds of their Dear Leader - Kim Jong-il.

Things started to change in the mid-1990s when the border control collapsed and crowds of refugees and smugglers began to cross the North Korean-Chinese border. Among the many goods they brought back were small radios. Unlike the 1950s-style bulky radios produced in North Korea, these new transistor radios are small and easy to hide.

A survey of North Korean defectors found that 45% had listened to a foreign broadcast prior to fleeing the North. [Among the] stations to specifically target the North Korean audience ... is Radio Free Asia (RFA), a version of Radio Free Europe that once broadcast into East Europe - the segment that targeted the former USSR was known as the Radio Liberty.

[Excerpt of an article in the Asian Times by Dr Andrei Lankov, a lecturer in the faculty of Asian Studies, China and Korea Center, Australian National University]

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Internet Black Hole That Is North Korea

The tragically backward, sometimes absurdist hallmarks of North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-il, are well known. There is Mr. Kim's Elton John eyeglasses and strangely whipped, cotton-candy hairdo.

North Korea is an impoverished country where televisions and radios are hard-wired to receive only government-controlled frequencies. Cell phones were banned outright in 2004. In May, the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked North Korea No. 1—over also-rans like Burma, Syria and Uzbekistan—on its list of the "10 Most Censored Countries."

That would seem to leave the question of Internet access in North Korea moot. While other restrictive regimes have sought to find ways to limit the Internet—through filters and blocks and threats—North Korea has chosen to stay wholly off the grid.

Julien Pain, head of the Internet desk at Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based group which tracks censorship around the world, put it more bluntly. "It is by far the worst Internet black hole," he said.

To the extent that students and researchers at universities and a few other lucky souls have access to computers, these are linked only to each other—that is, to a nationwide, closely-monitored Intranet—according to the OpenNet Initiative, a human rights project.

But how long can North Korea's leadership keep the country in the dark? Writing in The International Herald Tribune last year, Rebecca MacKinnon, a research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, suggested that North Korea's ban on cell phones was being breached on the black market along China's border. And as more and more cell phones there become Web-enabled, she suggested, that might mean that a growing number of North Koreans, in addition to talking to family in the South, would be quietly raising digital periscopes from the depths.

[Excerpt of an article by Tom Zeller Jr., NY Times News Service]

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Sunshine Policy and why Seoul is soft on North Korea

No country today is as misunderstood as North Korea. Journalists still refer to it as a Stalinist or communist state, when in fact it espouses a race-based nationalism such as the West last confronted during the Pacific War.

Pyongyang's propaganda touts the moral superiority of the Korean race, condemns South Korea for allowing miscegenation, and stresses the need to defend the Dear Leader with kyeolsa, or dare-to-die spirit--the Korean version of the Japanese kamikaze slogan kesshi.

North Korea espouses an awareness that Seoul will continue providing food and financial support no matter what happens. This support is not meant to expedite unification, which South Koreans are happy to put off indefinitely. Nor has it much to do with concern for starving children; by now everyone knows where the "humanitarian" aid really goes. No, the desire to help North Korea derives in large part from ideological common ground.

South Koreans may chuckle at the personality cult, but they generally agree with Pyongyang that Koreans are a pure-blooded race whose innate goodness has made them the perennial victims of rapacious foreign powers. They share the same tendency to regard Koreans as innocent children on the world stage--and to ascribe evil to foreigners alone. … Seoul pursues its sunshine policy with respect for Pyongyang.

The relationship between the Koreas can therefore be likened to the relationship between a moderate Muslim state such as Turkey and a fundamentalist one like Iran. The South Koreans have compromised their nationalist principles in a quest for wealth and modernity, and while they're glad they did, they feel a nagging sense of moral inferiority to their more orthodox brethren. They often disapprove of the North's actions, but never with indignation, and always with an effort to blame the outside world for having provoked them.

To be sure, there was public anger at Kim Jong Il when his nuclear test made stock prices drop in Seoul, but it dissipated the moment the U.S. began talking sanctions. Seoul has since made clear that the nuclear issue will have no significant effect on its sunshine policy. This earns it no goodwill from the North, mind; between soft-liners and hard-liners, sympathy can only go in one direction.

North Korea is not a communist country with ideological and sentimental reasons to listen to China and Russia; it is a virulently nationalist state that distrusts all the other parties at the six-party talks table. And though the rhetoric of a "concerted front" against North Korea has proved to be just that, it has sufficed to heighten South Korea's sense of solidarity with the North.

The U.S. has urged Beijing to bring more pressure to bear on the North. But if America can do nothing with its own ally, it can hardly expect the Chinese to do more with theirs.

[Excerpt of a Wall Street Journal editorial, by B.R. Myers, a North Korea researcher at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea]

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Five points about North Korea from Davos

An engaging discussion took place at Davos on the military threat posed by North Korea. A team of policy makers - including the special adviser to the Japanese prime minister and a very impressive analyst from the Chinese army - spoke more frankly than perhaps they had intended to do. Five points that emerged:

One: Korea's nuclear aims frighten the west, but they are not the top concern of the country's neighbors. They are much more worried about the country's political collapse than they are about nuclear attack. That means stability, not confrontation, should be the aim of all policy. Treat North Korea like a rat in a trap, said one panelist, and it will bite.

Two: we know much less about North Korea than we would like - the parallel with Iraq before the invasion is striking. US intelligence gathering relies on satellite images and information from exiles. Both are misleading.

Three: the US needs a consistent regional policy, not an isolationist or unpredictable one. The US plan of sanctions on North Korea will cause chaos. But if the US pulls out of the region, Japan and South Korea will both develop nuclear weapons. Japan's is only a few weeks' work away.

Four: North Korea is really China's problem. Beijing props up Kim Jong Il, but can't control him. China does not want a reunified Korea extending US influence north (and South Korea could not cope with the costs of it). The country does not want a nuclear North Korea, nor a collapsing one.

Five: the next global military battle may be in space. China intends to match the US's development of space weapons step by step - and tested one last week. The country's leaders will not allow the US the exclusive power to destroy satellites, and so control all global electronic communication, just as the proliferation of nuclear weapons became inevitable once the US had developed and deployed one in 1945.

[Excerpt of an article by Julian Glover, The Guardian]

Saturday, January 27, 2007

North Korea helping Iran with nuclear testing?

North Korea is helping Iran to prepare an underground nuclear test similar to the one Pyongyang carried out last year. Under the terms of a new understanding between the two countries, the North Koreans have agreed to share all the data and information they received from their test last October with Teheran's nuclear scientists.

A senior European defense official told The Daily Telegraph that North Korea had invited a team of Iranian nuclear scientists to study the results of last October's underground test to assist Teheran's preparations to conduct its own — possibly by the end of this year.

There were unconfirmed reports at the time of the Korean firing that an Iranian team was present. Iranian military advisers regularly visit North Korea to participate in missile tests.
[Excerpt of an article by Con Coughlin, The Daily Telegraph]

North Korea [responded today by expressing] outrage at a British newspaper's report that Pyongyang was sharing its nuclear weapons technology with Iran, dismissing it as a "bid to mislead public opinion."

"Their assertion is nothing but a sheer lie and fabrication intended to tarnish the image of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] by charging it with nuclear proliferation," a spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry, quoted by the state-run KCNA news agency, said Saturday.

UN Agency defers North Korea programs

U.N. Development Program agreed not to approve new projects in North Korea until an external audit addresses U.S. allegations that the agency has funneled millions of dollars to the communist regime in violation of United Nations rules.

U.S. deputy ambassador Mark Wallace alleged Friday that the UNDP's North Korea operation had been run "in blatant violation of U.N. rules" for years. He demanded an outside audit focusing on concerns that development funds had been used by Pyongyang for "its own illicit purposes."

The audit, announced Monday by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is expected to last three months.

UNDP assistant administrator Ad Melkert said the agency also agreed to end cash payments to the North Korean government and local suppliers and to stop hiring staff recruited by Pyongyang.

UNDP spokesman David Morrison said the agency has spent about $3 million annually in the last 10 years on programs in impoverished North Korea, in addition to about $600,000 in office costs, which include local salaries and supplies. The programs focus on food production, rural and environmental sector management, economic management and social sector management.

Morrison said UNDP international staff have visited nearly all their project sites in the past two years to ensure funds are being used appropriately.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Watch for British documentary on US defector to North Korea

In the 1960s four US soldiers separately defected to North Korea, and were little heard from again. Now one - the last known former American GI left in the country - has spoken for the first time to British documentary-makers.

James Dresnok is something of a celebrity around the North Korean capital Pyongyang, his home for the last 44 years. Unmissable thanks to his 6ft 5in height and bulky frame, the 64-year-old has appeared in North Korean films, taught English at university and been a propaganda hero for the Communist nation.

"I have never regretted coming to [North Korea]. I feel at home," he says, in the documentary Crossing the Line, which premiered at the US Sundance Film Festival on Monday.

James Dresnok was a 21-year-old army private when he decided to leave his post in South Korea one August afternoon in 1962 to cross into the North. Three months earlier, Private Larry Abshier had become the first known US soldier to defect to the North, while patrolling the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas. In the three years that followed, Specialist Jerry Parrish and Sergeant Charles Jenkins would follow Abshier and Dresnok across the border.

A joint bid for asylum at the Soviet embassy in 1966 was rejected and the four were forced to undergo intense re-education, which included learning North Korea's official Juche ideology.
It was at that point, Mr Dresnok says, that he decided he would try to fit in. "Man is the master of his life, and little by little I came to understand the Korean people," he said.

UK documentary-maker Daniel Gordon and his Beijing-based co-producer Nick Bonner touch on the four defectors, but the focus is undoubtedly on James Dresnok who is filmed fishing, going to a restaurant, the opera and having a medical check-up.

"I found him a fascinating guy," Daniel Gordon says. "He has had such a unique experience of life. ... It is hard to understand from our perspective why an American soldier would choose to make his life in arguably the biggest US-hating nation on earth."

Mr Dresnok admits he lives a privileged life by North Korean standards, confessing that he got rice rations during the deadly famines of the late 1990s while others were starving. "The government is going to take care of me until my dying day," he tells the documentary team.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

World view of US handling of North Korea

A new BBC poll released, which polled more than 26,000 people in 25 countries, found:
Only 30% of worldwide respondents approved of Washington's handling of North Korea's nuclear program (compared to 54 percent who said they disapproved).

50 % of U.S. respondents in this same poll said they approved of the government's handling of North Korea's nuclear program.

49 % of worldwide respondents overall believe the U.S. is playing a "mainly negative" role in the world today.

Whereas with respondents from the States:
57 % of U.S. respondents in this poll said the country's overall influence on the rest of the world was "mainly positive."

[Source: Survey conducted by Steven Kull, director of the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) which, along with Canada-based Globescan.]

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

North Korea’s "Idolization" absorbs large part of National Budget

The actual amount of money allocated for the idolization of the Great Leader is not clear. However, when we look at the number and size of these idolization figures springing up all over North Korea, the fact that these represent a large dedicated portion of the national budget can be easily ascertained.

The amount of money spent on statues and anniversary celebrations for Turkmenistan’s deceased leader Nayajopuna, or on Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, are no match for the amount spent on Kim Father and Son. When Kim Jong Il made his appearance on the scene as successor in the 70’s, within 10 years the entire nation was covered with statues, and even today construction has not stopped.

Recently, historical monuments to Kim Jong Il’s great deeds have been constructed. at Jakangdo Weewon Electric Power Plant, North Pyongan Province Changsong County, Yupyong; South Hamkyong Province Yonpo; North Pyongan Province, Hyangsan County, Sangso-ri; and Yomju County Yongbok-ri, Bakchon County, Dansan-ri.

At recently constructed monuments, mosaics of Kim Chong Sok (Kim Jong Il’s birth mother) made of colored glass, tiles, and natural stone are prevalent.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Il is not spending money without cause in creating this idolization propaganda. The reason that the construction of these monuments has not stopped, even during a period of economic crisis, is because his intention is to use the vulnerabilities of citizens and young people to induce a spirit of sacrifice as they gaze on the Great Leader and the General (Kim Jong Il)

[The Daily NK]

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

North Koreans freezing to death

Lying among the simple wooden huts and burnt remnants of wooden furniture, they found the bodies of 46 North Korean villagers, including women and children, all of whom had frozen to death. Cut off from the outside world by one of the harshest winters in many years, the villagers had suffered a macabre fate that has exposed both the desperate poverty and callous misrule blighting the Stalinist state.

More than 300 people are thought to have perished from cold so far this winter in North Korea's mountainous north, victims of temperatures as low as -30C and of an arrogant ruling clique.
In a country notorious for its secretiveness, the regime of President Kim Jong-il has made no mention of the deaths. As the rest of the population struggle to stay warm, 50,000 members of his ruling elite continue to live in splendid isolation in a compound in central Pyongyang – enjoying the benefits of hot water, central heating and satellite television.

Elsewhere in the city, though, the scene could have been lifted from the pages of a Charles Dickens novel. The air is thick with the smell of coal dust, as families light fires on the floors of their apartments to keep out the bitter, cold winds that blow south from Siberia.

Outside Pyongyang, the situation is yet more desperate. A six-mile drive from the city, poor farmers trudge through the snow with bundles of brushwood on their backs.A massive process of deforestation, begun in the 1990s by Kim Jong-il's father and predecessor, Kim il Sung, has resulted in huge swathes of forest being chopped down to clear land for farming. The disastrous policy led to large-scale soil erosion, believed by many to have been a leading cause of mass famine of the 1990s, when up to three million people starved to death.

[Excerpt of an article by Sergey Soukhorukov, The Sunday Telegraph]

Monday, January 22, 2007

UN chief modifies North Korea funding

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has called for an urgent inquiry into all of the activities of UN funds and programmes around the world. It follows US claims that lax controls in the UN Development Programme (UNDP) may have led to millions of dollars being siphoned off by North Korea.

The UNDP is to stop payments to North Korea in dollars or euros, and only deal in the local currency, the won. The US fears money is being shifted into Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

The change in how North Korea receives UNDP payments will come into effect in March.

Critics of the UN within the US Congress and media have already been saying that the situation in North Korea amounts to yet another example of the abuses made possible by the lack of accountability within the UN system.

Ban Ki-Moon has pledged to restore the highest ethical standard to the UN.


Sunday, January 21, 2007

North Korean activist Steve Kim

American Steve Kim, a furniture importer from Huntington, N.Y., has been in prison in China since September 2003.

Steve Kim was sentenced to five years for smuggling aliens. Mr. Kim, who is of Korean ancestry and is a Christian, became aware of the plight of the refugees during business trips to China. He funded two safe houses and paid for refugees' passage on the underground railroad.

Beijing refuses to grant him parole, saying foreigners are not eligible. His wife and three children have passed their fourth Christmas without him.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Indicator of North Korean Food Shortage

On New Year's Day this year, North Korea skipped giving extra food rations to its people, except the elite citizens of Pyongyang, a South Korean aid group [Good Friends] says a possible sign the country's food situation may be worsening.

New Year's Day is a major holiday in North Korea and the communist regime doles out special rations to its hunger-stricken population of 23 million.

Citizens in the capital of Pyongyang received three days of extra rations and more special rations were given to medium-level government officials living there, the group said.

Early this month, a North Korean Agriculture Ministry official claimed that the country's grain production last year was not bad and the country was not facing any impending food crisis, according to a pro-North Korea paper in Japan.

[Associated Press]

Friday, January 19, 2007

Christians Dream of 2nd Pyongyang Revival

The Korean Christian community is bustling with plans to celebrate the 100th year of what is known as the Pyongyang Revival of 1907.

It is not easy for the contemporary non-religious to imagine _ especially in times like this, when the name Pyongyang immediately evokes images of nuclear bombs and missiles _ but Western missionaries who were active in Northeast Asia in the early 20th century once called the North Korean capital the Jerusalem of the East.

It started with a Bible study that took place in Changdaehyun Church in Pyongyang. During the night of Jan. 14, 1907, pastors and ordinary Christians participating in a Bible study started to pour out their guilt in public, at the same time zealously repenting with tears. The wave of repentance lasted until the next day, and the religious fervor soon spread. The event touched off a massive conversion to Christianity and established organized Christian groups across the nation.

The growth in the number of pastors caused by the Pyongyang Revival led Christians to play a leading role in Korea’s independence movements, including the March First Movement in 1919.
For the Korean Christian community, the events currently taking place to mark the anniversary of the Pyongyang Revival are not only about remembering history. They are about facing challenges and making changes necessary for a second revival.

Park Young-shin, an expert on the sociology of religion and professor emeritus at Yonsei University, said “Korean Protestant churches have been losing ground because they lost holiness and are siding with materialism and the economy.”

“I don’t think we should be looking back so much to the past revival, but God wants us to regroup, fulfilling his future vision for Korea and for the rest of the world,’’ said Peter Wagner, president of Global Harvest Ministries and honorary co-chairman of Transformation 2007, in the conference’s opening session.

In the meantime, several South Korean churches are trying to reach out to the North, where the Pyongyang Revival is unlikely to be celebrated under the Stalinist Kim Jong-il regime.

[The Korea Times]

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kim Worship 2.0

Like a computer software firm updating program versions, the North is steadily updating its ideology to make it relevant. This practice of mass control by in-your-face ideology has been laughed off in much of the world, including China. But North Korea is increasing its ideological cult worship.

After the Oct. 9 nuclear test, for example, banners sprang up over North Korea stating "We are a country with a nuclear deterrent." Kim's test feeds a national pride that is part of the propaganda drilled into Koreans from birth: that Kim alone can fend off the US and Japanese enemies.

"The cult of personality campaign is more extensive today than in 1985," says former South Korean foreign minister Han Sung Joo, who visited Pyongyang this past October, and in 1985. "Unlike the Stalin and Mao personality cults, there is a deification and a religious emotional element in the North.

“The twinned photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are everywhere. Every speech says Kim Il Sung is still alive. I think if I stayed another two weeks, I might even see Kim Il Sung. The country worships someone who is deceased, as if he is alive."

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Marquand, The Christian Science Monitor]

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

North Korea contributes to 'Doomsday Clock' moving forward

The world has nudged closer to a nuclear apocalypse and environmental disaster, a trans-Atlantic group of prominent scientists warned Wednesday, pushing the hand of its symbolic Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight.

It was the fourth time since the end of the Cold War that the clock has ticked forward, this time from 11:53 to 11:55, amid fears over what the scientists are describing as "a second nuclear age" prompted largely by atomic standoffs with Iran and North Korea.

But the organization added that the "dangers posed by climate change are nearly as dire as those posed by nuclear weapons."
The Chicago-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, founded in 1945 as a newsletter distributed among nuclear physicists concerned by the possibility of nuclear war, has since grown into an organization focused more generally on manmade threats to the survival of human civilization. "As scientists, we understand the dangers of nuclear weapons and their devastating effects, and we are learning how human activities and technologies are affecting climate systems in ways that may forever change life on Earth," said Stephen Hawking, the renowned cosmologist and mathematician.

"As citizens of the world, we have a duty to alert the public to the unnecessary risks that we live with every day, and to the perils we foresee if governments and societies do not take action now to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change."

The bulletin's clock, which for 60 years has followed the rise and fall of nuclear tensions, would now also measure climate change, the bulletin's editor Mark Strauss told The Associated Press.

It came closest to midnight -- just two minutes away -- in 1953, following the successful test of a hydrogen bomb by the United States. It has been as far away as 17 minutes, set there in 1991 following the demise of the Soviet Union.

[Associated Press]

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

More on Kim Worship 2.0

Kim Jong Il has upgraded his deification strategies to strengthen the family cult system. Western reports often detail Korea's unique "juche ideology" - a theology of Kim worship, repeated hourly and daily, reminding Koreans they are insolubly bound to the Kim family and must erase foreign influence from their minds.

Yet juche is a subcategory of a far more encompassing umbrella of deification known as woo sang hwa, or idol worship. In North Korea, woo sang hwa contains all the aspects of cult worship. [North Korean] socialism makes "family loyalty," with Kim at the head, the supreme good - a major deflection from communism.

Kim-worship in the North is a vivid - and inescapable - spectacle to behold, say visitors. Thousands of giant "towers of eternality" to Kim scatter the landscape. Special "Kimjongilia" crimson begonias are tended in family gardens. Kim's media calls him variously the "Guardian Deity of the Planet," and "Lodestar of the 21st Century."

In 2002, Korean mass dances known as Arirang, featured 100,000 flag wavers (and was described in state media as the "greatest event of humankind.") Many loyal Koreans bow twice daily to Kim pictures that sit alone on the most prominent wall of their homes.

Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the Korean cult project is its recent veering toward race and ethnic solidarity, say Kim watchers. His main appeal to his people today, a push that rarely gets attention outside the North, is to the racial superiority of a people whose isolation and stubborn xenophobia supposedly makes their bloodlines purer. Since the 1990s Kim has more fervently claimed lineage to the first ancient rulers of Korea, a move intended to place him in a position of historical, if not divine, destiny as leader of the peninsula.

[By Robert Marquand, The Christian Science Monitor]

Monday, January 15, 2007

Another North Korean Refugee’s Story

One young man, who asks that his name not be used for fear of retribution on family members still at home, spent time in the North Korean gulag, after being captured in China and repatriated. He was tortured, he says--rolling up his trousers at a recent press conference to display the scars on his legs.

One morning at roll call, he recounts, one of his cellmates, a man who had been badly beaten during the night, was too sick to get out of bed. The guards ordered the prisoners to carry the injured man into the woods and bury him. "I keep thinking, maybe he would still be alive if we hadn't buried him," the escapee says.

The name of the dead man was Kim Young Jin. The name of the prison is Chong Jin. Says the man who escaped: "I am very glad to be here, and tell the people how life in North Korea really is."

[Excerpt of an article by Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal]

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Monster bunnies to save North Korea from starving

Karl Szmolinsky from Eberswalde, in the east of Germany, has been given a contract by North Korea to supply giant rabbits to help to boost meat production in the reclusive Communist country, which is suffering severe food shortages. The only problem is that such huge rabbits consume vast quantities of food themselves as they grow.

Mr Szmolinsky was contacted by the North Korean Embassy in Berlin in October. He said that an attaché at the embassy came to his home and asked to see his rabbits. The diplomat was so impressed that he placed an order for eight females and four males, which were shipped to North Korea a few weeks later at a price of € 80 each.

“They want to boost meat production. They’ve arranged for me to go to Pyongyang in April to advise them on setting up a breeding farm,” Mr Szmolinsky, who is 68 next month, told The Times.

[The Times]

Friday, January 12, 2007

Short Facts about North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il

* Was born in Siberia in 1942 or 43.

* Is 5-foot, 3-inches tall and wears 12-centimeter (4.7 inch) high platform shoes.

* Has only been heard by North Koreans once, in 1992, in a national broadcast. He said: "Glory to the heroic soldiers of the People's Army."

* Has never appeared speaking live on TV in North Korea.

* Averages about 150 visits per year to schools, military bases, factories.

* Has the world's fifth-largest army.

* Gives his top generals loyalty tests.

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Marquand, The Christian Science Monitor]

Thursday, January 11, 2007

North Korean Education: from 7 years old, “Become the Dictator’s Soldier”

The Daily NK examined a North Korean 1st grade elementary school language textbook published in 2005. The 1st grade elementary school language textbook is similar to textbooks in South Korea, focusing on reading skills, writing and acquisition of basic vocabulary.

However, … 80% of the content in North Korean textbooks focus on idolizing Kim Il Sung. Excluding three classic tales such as ‘The ant and the grasshopper’, the book uses [idolization of] Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il to improve reading skills.

Irrespective of being a textbook for 1st graders, warlike expressions such as ‘Let’s become [Kim Jong Il’s] heroic army’ and ‘Strike the Americans with kid tanks’ frequently appear in the books.

Only 7 years old! The truth is North Korean children are taught to become the leader’s gun and bombs from their first day of school throughout life.

[The Daily NK]

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

North Korea escalates 'cult of Kim'

North Koreans are taught to worship Kim Jong Il as a god. In a manner unique among nations, the North exerts extraordinary control through deification - a cult ideology of complete subservience - that goes beyond the "Stalinist" label often used to describe the newly nuclear North.

In a time of famine and poverty, government spending on Kim-family deification - now nearly 40 percent of the visible budget - is the only category in the North's budget to increase, according to a new white paper by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in Seoul. The increase pays for ideology schools, some 30,000 Kim monuments, gymnastic festivals, films and books, billboards and murals, 40,000 "research institutes," historical sites, rock carvings, circus theaters, training programs, and other worship events.

In 1990, ideology was 19 percent of North Korea's budget; by 2004 it doubled to at least 38.5 percent of state spending, according to the white paper. This extra financing may come from recent budget offsets caused by the shutting down of older state funding categories, says Alexander Mansourov of the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu.

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Marquand, The Christian Science Monitor]

Monday, January 08, 2007

How Kim Jong Il controls North Korea

Kim Jong Il has astutely nullified a dawning realization among his people that the world beyond North Korea's borders is a better place.

He's even created a new image for himself at home - not as a towering patriarch - but as a figure of sympathy, a beleaguered, America-taunted leader who eats soldier's gruel and deserves care by the masses. He's played a smart propaganda game in South Korea, where some elites admire him as a nationalist torchbearer for "true Korean-ness," and for outwitting the great powers.

Kim reportedly micromanages the entire country. North Korea has the world's fifth-largest army. His state is a hermetically sealed cult that allows no debate; even top generals and their extended families undergo loyalty tests. A half-dozen concentration camps hold 200,000 inmates, a dozen intelligence units spy on the people and each other.

One side of Kim only now emerging is how closely he stays in touch with the people. The Dear Leader is on the road, working the crowds, a great deal. Studies of Korean media show Kim averages about 150 local visits a year. He may not make live televised speeches, but he's at a school, a factory, a farm, a military base - every three days. (He shows up at a military unit once a week.) This suggests a populist streak.

"When someone you worship comes to your factory, it's a personal connection. We tend to overlook this simple fact," says Alexander Mansourov of the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. who has tracked Kim's appearances. "Kim knows the local leaders, the opinion makers, the local cadres. He's not in a fishbowl. He may be a dictator, but he's also a populist."

Kim also appears today to be intensifying his ethnic nationalist message: Korea is different, special, unique, pure - and must remain so.

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Marquand, The Christian Science Monitor]

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The tactical skills of Kim Jong Il

As Kim Jong Il continues to elude efforts to constrain his nuclear program, a grudging regard for the North Korean leader's tactical skills is rising.

As a leader, Mr. Kim was once thought to be over his head. But 12 years after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, the son is showing brilliance as a dictator. Some experts say that Kim, in his own way, may be shrewder than the father who built the nation.

"Kim was in many ways dealt a weaker hand than his father, but he has played it better," says Brian Myers, a North Korea specialist at Dongseo University in Busan, South Korea.

Certainly, Kim has become a skillful player on the world stage. He retains firm hold of the most totalitarian state on earth. His nation has survived an epic famine.

"Why shouldn't Kim be seen as extraordinary?" asks Alexander Mansourov of the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. "He's poked his finger in the eye of the US hegemon. He's tested missiles and nukes. At home he's more popular than ever."

"I used to think Kim was irrational and unrealistic," says Lee Jong Heon, who has just published a structural analysis of the North at Chung-Ang University in Seoul. "But when you study his moves, he has kept a grip on the people, and he now heads one of eight nuclear nations. He's been highly rational from his standpoint."

[Excerpt of an article by Robert Marquand, The Christian Science Monitor]

Saturday, January 06, 2007

North Korea says “No food crisis”

North Korea has no serious trouble feeding its people despite heavy floods and sanctions by "enemy states" Japan and the United States, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper said last week, quoting an agricultural official of the North. "It is not a satisfactory production level relative to our goal, but the problem of feeding the people is in no way at a serious level," Kim Kyong-il of the North's agricultural ministry was quoted in the Choson Sinbo newspaper as saying.

The paper is published by an association of North Korean residents in Japan with reports from Pyongyang, and is seen as carrying the official voice of the North.

Even in a good year North Korea does not produce enough grain to feed its people.


North Korean starvation made worse by flooding

United Nations aid agencies warned of an impending food crisis in North Korea where summer flooding destroyed crops and worsened a chronic shortage of grain.

"The situation is indeed critical," Simon Pluess, spokesman of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), said. "About a third of the population never eats enough and half of the population goes for periods in the year when they have an insufficient food intake."

North Korea has still not recovered from famine in the 1990s that experts say killed about 2.5 million people, or 10 per cent of the population.

The reclusive country is estimated to be facing a cereal deficit of at least a million tonnes for 2007. The WFP is feeding only 700,000 of the 1.9 million North Koreans it has identified as needing aid.

"The situation is likely to translate into increased malnutrition rates," Mr Pluess said. Analysts believe North Korea cannot produce enough food for itself even in the best crop years, and much of the food is diverted to the military.

Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the UN Children's Fund, or UNICEF, said severe flooding in four provinces had "decimated" food production in North Korea.

[The Scotsman]

Friday, January 05, 2007

With countrymen like this, who needs enemies?!

A fisherman abducted by North Korea 31 years ago is finally on his way home to South Korea on Friday. But Koreans flew into an uproar Thursday as they learned of the manner in which the South Korean consulate in Shenyang responded to his initial desperate pleas for help after he fled the Stalinist country.

Hiding in a safe house in China, Choi Wook-il (67) and his wife from the South, Yang Jeong-ja (66), dialed the consulate to beg for help. "I am Choi Wook-il and I was a crew member of the trawler Cheonwangho abducted to the North from the East Sea in 1975. Since that time I have been living in the North but I resolved to return home and escaped. I am in China now. Can I talk to the consul?"

The response from a female employee: "We only deal with cases and accidents involving South Koreans in the three provinces in Northeast China, and we don't address any North Korean defector issues."

When the couple called again and asked for the person in charge of defector issues, the same woman got on the line. "You just called a moment ago," she scolded.

Only after Yang described their urgent situation did she gave them the mobile phone number of the proper official. But the official handling defectors proved equally unhelpful, demanding to know who gave them his phone number.

The Foreign Ministry posted an apology on its website late Thursday night after coming under fire thanks to the broadcast of a video clip of the consular employee's dealings with Choi. On Friday morning, a government official said Choi has been handed over to the South Korean side and is expected to arrive in Seoul soon.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

15 North Korean refugees arrested in Thailand

Taipei Times reports that Thai police have arrested 15 North Koreans for illegally entering Thailand.

Police found the North Koreans in a bus in Chiang Rai, around 800km north of Bangkok, following a tip-off from someone on the bus, they said.The group had 10 women, three men and two young boys.

Serious food and energy shortages have made more and more North Koreans leave their country, and many of them have been going to northern Thailand after crossing through China and Laos.

The number of North Koreans arrested for illegal entry into Thailand last year jumped from 50 in 2005 to more than 400 in 2006.


North Korea's Foreign Minister Dies

Paek Nam Sun, North Korea's foreign minister and the country's top diplomat for nearly 10 years, has died at the age of 78, official media reported Wednesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il expressed his condolences, the North's Korean Central News Agency reported. The one-sentence dispatch did not elaborate on when or how Paek died.

Paek has been the North's premier diplomat since 1998. News reports have said he was suffering from an unknown illness. It was unclear who would succeed him.

Paek's death was not expected to change North Korea's foreign policy because the North's Foreign Ministry usually implements policies that have been crafted by the ruling Korean Workers' Party. Power is heavily concentrated in Kim's hands, and state officers stray from the official line at their peril.

Paek's career is the story of an elite loyalist who rose steadily through the government layers over the decades. He was born in 1929 in North Hamgyong, a province on the Chinese and Russian borders that is home to a coal mine notorious for forced labor as well as a key missile base.

[Associated Press]

Monday, January 01, 2007

Gold is North Korean Loophole

North Korea plans to use the London gold market to get around financial sanctions imposed by the international community, it was reported.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has relisted North Korea's central bank with the London Bullion Market Association and plans to sell gold through London once the country gets a regular supply from its outdated mines, The Times of London reported.