Saturday, February 28, 2009

Television in North Korea, and South Korea

Recent North Korean defectors say that in North Korea, the typical resident might watch half an hour of television news about how Kim Jong Il, the national leader, spent his day. They might spend another hour watching popular dramas, often involving the fate of the nation - assuming the electricity supply allows.

But in their first 6 to 12 months in South Korea, they said, they spent at least three hours a day watching television: talk shows, reality shows, quiz shows. They said they paid closest attention to news and dramas, because they thought these provided the most useful portrayals of South Korean society.

The hope was that by using television to study the differences between the two countries before daring to face actual South Koreans, they could reduce the chances of embarrassment.

For example, Kim Heung Kwang, 49, a former computer science teacher said it was only by watching a television movie that he learned that a host should offer his guests a drink.

"Not only must I offer something to drink," he said, "but ask if they want coffee or tea and whether they want sugar or milk, and then how many spoonfuls."

Friday, February 27, 2009

Mobile phones more visible in North Korean capital

Mobile phones are becoming more visible in reclusive North Korea following the launch of a new network by an Egyptian telecommunications company. But North Korean consumers aren't able to use them to call outside the country — or even beyond the capital of Pyongyang.

Still, the Koryolink system's launch marked the first time that North Koreans have been allowed to use cell phones since a previous, short-lived mobile service was shut down without explanation in 2004. It had more than 6,500 North Korean users as of mid-February, according to Koryolink officials.

Mobile phone use in North Korea — probably the world's most tightly controlled country — comes with restrictions. Phones do not allow contact with the outside world, or with the special telephone networks that foreigners are normally permitted to use inside North Korea.

A phone now costs 240 euros ($304) for a package including a Chinese-made Huawei mobile phone handset, a SIM card, and network subscription — 100 euros less than the previous price. The euro being the preferred hard currency for settling prices of many goods and services in North Korea.

[International Herald Tribune]

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obama administration on North Korea

As the new Barack Obama administration reviews its way forward with North Korea, they released a scathing report based on the State Department’s 2008 global report.

"North Korea's human rights record remained abysmal," the State Department said, in some of its harshest criticism of any country.

"While the regime continued to control almost all aspects of citizens' lives ... reports of abuse emerged from the country with increased frequency," it said.

North Korean authorities are believed to have carried out "numerous" arbitrary killings, including of perceived opponents of the regime, defectors and possibly citizens who only made contact with foreigners.

Some of the most grisly accounts involved women caught trying to flee to neighboring China - essentially the only foreign gateway for North Koreans seeking to exit one of the world's most impoverished countries.

[Agence France Press]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Successor in North Korea will be chosen by “god”

Numerous news reports and commentary based on the heir appointment for Kim Jong-il continue to emerge, citing various experts on the matter.

In the Old Testament of the Bible, there is a similar and equally puzzling heir selection story, about how God chose a successor to King Saul. God delegated the task to the prophet Samuel, telling him that the new king would be found among the sons of a man named Jesse. So, Jesse brought his sons and made them pass before Samuel one by one.

When Samuel saw the tall Eliab, the oldest son, he thought: "Surely this must be the one." But God warned Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him." Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. All of them were rejected.

And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all the young men here?" Jesse said, "There remains yet the youngest, keeping the sheep in the field." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Bring him here."

Jesse hadn't summoned the youngest because he didn't think the youngest was "king material". But he was wrong. When David was brought in front of Samuel, God told the prophet: "Anoint him; for this is the one!"

In North Korea, Kim Jong-il is a god. He has three sons. Numerous prophets outside North Korea have looked to their oracle bones, giving their human inclination of who would be the next leader of the kingdom. Each of the three sons has been seen as the heir, at least once.

Maybe it will be one of the three sons. Maybe, it will be a surprise. "God" hasn't spoken yet.

[Excerpt of an article by Sunny Lee, Asia Times]

Monday, February 23, 2009

US rights groups dismayed by Clinton

US human rights groups were furious that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to be letting China off the hook on her current visit to Beijing. Her remarks have been widely interpreted in the US as a signal that she is prepared to put human rights on the back burner.

A spokesman for Amnesty International USA said he was “shocked and extremely disappointed” by Clinton’s remarks. “The United States is one of the only countries that can meaningfully stand up to China on human rights issues,” the spokesman said. “But by commenting that human rights will not interfere with other priorities, Secretary Clinton damages future US initiatives to protect those rights in China.”

Sophie Richardson, a director of Human Rights Watch, said: “Secretary Clinton’s remarks point to a diplomatic strategy that has worked well for the Chinese government — segregating human rights into a dead-end dialogue of the deaf.”

[Taipei Times]

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A clear message that Commerce is more important than Human Rights

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broached the issue of human rights with Chinese leaders, but emphasized that the world economic and other crises are more pressing and immediate priorities.

"Human rights cannot interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises," Clinton said in talks with China's foreign minister.

This stated principle would seem to include the topic of China’s treatment of North Korean refugees.

With China being the world's top holder of U.S. debt, not to speak of being North Korea’s largest trade partner, a sad reality prevails.

Know Your Kims

Know Your Kims

Kim Il Sung - founding “Great Leader” of North Korea. Died in 1994 at the age of 82

Kim Jong Il (67). Present-day “Dear Leader”, who was introduced as successor in the 1970s

Kim Jong Nam (37 or 38). First son, has been seen in Macau and Paris, sometimes in the company of young and glamorous blondes

Kim Jong Chul (28). Middle son, affectionately treated by his father, but regarded as too soft-hearted and effeminate

Kim Jong Un (26). Youngest son, probably to be anointed heir to Kim Jong Il

Friday, February 20, 2009

Kim Jong Un, North Korean Successor?

The question remains if Kim Jong Il’s youngest son will be officially appointed as his successor, as reports indicate. The youngest son has registered as a candidate for the elections on March 8, Yonhap news agency suggest the registration means the process of designating the leader's successor has started. Even if this is the case, it is still possible that Jong Un may eventually serve as no more than a figurehead while real power lies with older and more experienced leaders.

Jong Un was born on January 8, 1983 and, as the youngest of three known sons of Kim Jong Il, he might have been expected to remain subordinate to his older brothers, in keeping with Confucian tradition. Jong Un, and his brother Jong Chul, 28, were born to Koh Young Hee, a Japanese-Korean dancer.

He, like his brothers, was educated at an exclusive private boarding school in Bern, Switzerland. According to Kenji Fujimoto, a Japanese who worked as personal sushi chef to Kim Jong Il and knew both the young “princes” well, it was obvious from his childhood that Jong Un would eventually take over from his father. “The older brother, Jong Chul, had the warm heart of a girl,” he told The Times. “The younger prince, Jong Un, was a boy of inner strength.”

As teenagers, the boys played basketball and, even after casual games among friends, Jong Un would coach his teammates and analyze the successes and failures of their matches. Jong-un is said to be fiercely competitive and cannot stand to lose.

Chosun Ilbo reports that since 2002, Jong Un studied military science at the Kim Il Sung Military University, which trains military leaders. He is said to have received private tutoring as well by inviting academics to teach him at home. Due to the stress from the death of his mother, Jong-un is also rumored to have grown fat, weighing 90 kg at only 175 cm tall. He is also rumored to have developed diabetes and high blood pressure, traits he inherited from his father. There were rumors that he suffered a motorcycle accident last year.

Lastly, a factor not to dismissed, Fujimoto said Jong-un resembles his father both in his facial features and his physique.

Endless North Korean diplomatic loop

U.S. Secretary of State Clinton, in her her maiden swing through Asia, chided North Korea: "North Korea is not going to get a different relationship with the United States while insulting and refusing dialogue with (South Korea)."

"We are calling on the government of North Korea to refrain from being provocative and unhelpful in a war of words that it has been engaged in because that is not very fruitful," she told reporters at a news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan.

Claudia Rosett, writing in Forbes, reminds us:

"In the 15 years since Kim Jong Il succeeded his Stalin-installed father, Kim Il Sung, the country's dynastic regime has proven one of the most monstrous and illegitimate on earth. And yet, America returns again and again to the bargaining table--haggling, bribing and thus dignifying and fortifying the government that is the source of both North Korea's agonies at home and its threats abroad.

" Pyongyang's routine is to commit to ending its nuclear habit--It's easy to quit! They've done it before!--rake in aid, cheat on the deal and repeat. So runs the endless diplomatic loop."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dissent in North Korea?!

Can you name a single democratic dissident currently active inside North Korea? Just one? Is there any North Korean equivalent to Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi? Is there a North Korean Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa or Nelson Mandela? Is there any parallel to any of the dissidents who agitated openly for years in South Korea to bring about the 1988 switch from dictatorship to democracy in Seoul?

OK, it's a trick question. In North Korea, there is no one who can be named.

That's not because all North Koreans are happy with a government that brutalizes and starves them by the millions while building missiles and nuclear weapons. It's because anyone who might become known inside the country as a dissenter from the tyrannical Kim Jong Il and his gang would have to immediately flee or face oblivion. The alternatives would not include house arrest or high-profile prison time.

North Korea's government replies to any suspected lapse of total loyalty either with execution or consignment to the prison camps, where Kim Jong Il's enemies and their families disappear from the rest of human ken.

Reporters Without Borders, in its 2008 annual report, reminds us that for the deed of having made phone calls abroad without permission, a North Korean director of a state company was "executed by firing squad in 2007." The same report also mentions a journalist, Song Keum-chul, working for North Korea's wholly state-owned and controlled television network, who "was sent to a concentration camp at the end of 1995 for having set up a small group of critical journalists and nothing has been heard of him since."

[Claudia Rosett, Forbes]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kim Jong-il 's succession and the women in his life

Kim Jong-il has declared discussion of his successor off limits, despite reports that the women in his life are plotting on behalf of their favorites.

Kim's sister, Kim Kyung-Hee, who is close to him and whose husband is one of the most powerful men in the regime, is said to be supportive of the dictator's oldest son, Jong-nam. A report in South Korean media suggests his personal assistant, widely believed to be his mistress, backs one of the other two. Jong-woon, 26, is said to be the personal favorite of his father.

None of his three sons was born to his official wife, Kim Yong-suk. He is believed to have had two daughters with her, one of whom, Kim Sul-seong, 34, is the most trusted legitimate confidante among Kim's immediate family circle. She is a deputy director in charge of personnel in the ruling Workers Party, but is unlikely to win the highest office: "North Korea is not yet ready for a woman leader," according to one North Korean official.

Kim prefers to leave the succession in the capable hands of the National Defense Commission while he struggles with settling the security and economic problems besetting his country.

According to a plan drawn up in late 2007, Kim will be able to think about his successor only after relations with the United States have been normalized and he has more confidence in how the country is likely to develop.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

More propaganda leaflets and money float into North Korea

South Korean activists floated their propaganda leaflets towards North Korea from the Freedom Bridge south of the DMZ on the 67th birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. A dozen or so South Korean activists sent 20,000 leaflets and North Korean won banknotes, the highest denomination, attached to two helium balloons.

The leaflets include a list of South Koreans abducted by the North, an article urging repatriation of the victims, speculation about Kim's health, and a message to the North. "We're sending these leaflets and money as a symbol today," said Choi Sung-yong, president of Family Assembly Abducted to North Korea.

Also present at the event was Suzanne Scholte, who heads the Defense Forum Foundation.

The South Korean Unification Ministry has urged the activists to desist, saying they could provide the North with an excuse to "escalate the situation."

But Choi was unrepentant. "It isn't because of the leaflets that inter-Korean relations are strained."

[Chosun Ilbo]

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Possible olive branch to US by North Korea?

North Korea is ready to improve relations with “friendly” countries, the communist country’s No 2 leader said on Sunday ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Asia.

“We will develop relations with countries that are friendly toward us,” Kim told a national meeting held as part of celebrations on the eve of the 67th birthday of leader Kim Jong Il, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The remark by Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s ceremonial head of state, could be an olive branch to Washington before Clinton’s trip – even though it came amid reports the North is gearing up to test-fire a long-range missile in an apparent attempt to grab President Barack Obama’s attention.

Clinton departed on Sunday on a trip to Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China.


Education of North Korean defectors in Seoul

Kim Heung Kwang, 49, a former computer science teacher now living in Seoul said it was only by watching a television movie that he learned that a host should offer his guests a drink.

"Not only must I offer something to drink," he said, "but ask if they want coffee or tea and whether they want sugar or milk, and then how many spoonfuls."

To alleviate their confusion, a Newspaper in Education program to encourage young people to read was introduced a year ago at Setnet High School, an alternative school for North Korean defectors. There, they can ask an instructor to explain concepts they encounter in newspaper pages.

"What is business and sales?" asked Park Jeong Hyang, 18, during a Setnet class.

"Amateur? Is that something to do with sports?" asked Mah Gwang Hyuck, 23.

"Can you explain what marketing is again?" asked Kim Su Ryun, 18.

Especially troublesome are the loan words, mostly derived from English, used in almost every sentence, and South Korean words not used in the North. But perhaps even more difficult to understand is the media's role in South Korea.

[The Korea Herald]

Friday, February 13, 2009

200 refugees from North Korea recently resettled in Japan

About 200 refugees from North Korea have settled in Japan in recent years with most of them being Korean-Japanese who moved to North Korea from Japan some decades back.

Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki says, “There is a every reason to believe that the number of these refugees will increase substantially in the near future, as economic collapse and foot shortages lead growing numbers to make the dangerous journey out of North Korea.”
However, the Japanese government has no clear policy on the issue, and offers no assistance to the refugees as they struggle to readjust to life in Japan.

A total of 600,000 Koreans live in Japan and a substantial number of Zainichi Koreans (Koreans who have lived in Japan since the colonial period and their descendants) are critical of the South Korean government and either identified themselves more closely with North Korea, or defined themselves as nationals of a yet-to-be created reunited Korea.

“Former Zainichi Koreans are now escaping from North Korea across the border into China and seeking to go back to Japan by various routes,” the professor said.

[The Korea Herald]

Thursday, February 12, 2009

UK Lord: More focus needed on North Korean rights abuses

The international community’s exclusive focus on the North Korean nuclear threat is a mistake, a British legislator said Wednesday, charging that the issue has overshadowed the country's human rights violations.

"We have made a mistake in the last 10 years in being so obsessed by the nuclear question that we have forgotten the human rights issues," Lord David Alton -- who has chaired a committee in the House of Lords on North Korea since 2004 -- told a human rights symposium at South Korea's National Assembly.

"We need a Helsinki process, with a Korean face," said Alton, who emphasized that in that accord nuclear issues and human rights abuses were addressed simultaneously. The Helsinki Accord, which was signed in 1975 and aimed to reduce tensions between the West and the Soviet bloc, raised the profile of human rights in world affairs, provided a forum for dissidents in the East and helped reduce abuses.

Shin Dong-hyuk, who also spoke at the symposium, called the human rights situation in the country dire. “There are 200,000 people still imprisoned in gulags in North Korea, constantly tortured and put to forced labor until they die of diseases and hunger,” said Shin, who was born in a North Korean prison camp and later defected.


Media distorts North Korean defectors’ outlook of the South

After she defected to South Korea from North Korea in 2006, Ahn Mi Ock was shocked to learn that most South Koreans lived in small apartments. Ahn, 44, had fully expected that once in the South she would enjoy the same luxurious lifestyle portrayed in the television dramas she had watched on smuggled DVDs. It had not occurred to her that the fashionably dressed characters sipping Champagne in the gardens of stylishly furnished houses were not, well, average South Koreans.

In their first 6 to 12 months in South Korea, North Korean defectors tend to spend at least three hours a day watching television: talk shows, reality shows, quiz shows. They said they paid closest attention to news and dramas, because they thought these provided the most useful portrayals of South Korean society. The hope was that by using television to study the differences between the two countries before daring to face actual South Koreans, they could reduce the chances of embarrassment.

"But I stopped watching television dramas, because it was getting in the way of my relating to the South Korean people," says defector Kim Heung Kwang.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Activists urge Clinton to stress human rights in North Korea

South Korean activists urged the U.S. secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton not to overlook North Korea's dismal human rights record during an upcoming visit to Asia likely to heavily focus on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

The reclusive North has frequently been accused of human rights abuses — including torture and public executions — but denies engaging in such practices and has bristled at outside criticism, calling it part of a U.S. plot to topple its regime.

South Korean activists and North Korean refugees held a peaceful rally near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul and read out a letter to President Barack Obama calling for Clinton "to meet North Korean defectors for just five minutes if possible" and raise the issue in Washington.

The letter asked that U.S. non-humanitarian assistance to the North be made conditional on the improvement of the communist regime's human rights record. It also asked that Obama recommend to China that it not send home North Koreans who flee there.


Increased remittances to North Korean families

There are 15,000 North Korean refugees settled in South Korea, and the number who remit money to their families in the North is rising. (And to that should be added 20,000-30,000 of the 100,000 North Koreans estimated to live in China.)

Remittance routes are clandestine. Money is remitted to a Chinese broker, who contacts another in North Korea, who pays the recipient with his own money and settles the account with the Chinese broker later, leaving no documented trail.

Keeping in mind that an avaerage salary for a North Korean worker is between W2,500 and 3,000, $1,000 is the equivalent of 100 years' worth of earnings and buys two apartments in places like Chongjin, North Hamgyeong Province, or Hamhung, South Hamgyeong Province.

"In the past, strict punishment of the families of refugees under a guilt-by-association system was effective as a means of discouraging escape,” one refugee says. "Now, leaving them alone helps maintain the system. If neighbors are expelled on account of being families of escapees, rumors make everyone uneasy."

If this happened to large numbers, it could increase unrest, leading to a mass exodus, and even the hard core of supporters could turn against the regime.

Accommodating more refugees and letting them support North Koreans in a natural way could prove genuine support to North Korea, refugees say, because the cash flowing into the lowest rung of society functions as a powerful force for opening.

[Chosun Ilbo]

Monday, February 09, 2009

Committed to get information to North Korea

Kim Seong-min, who runs Free North Korea Radio based in Seoul, was sharing the experience of his clandestine radio broadcasts with members of exiled media from Burma, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Gambia, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Tunisia and Iran.

"You need a North Korean accent to be credible and convincing," explained Kim Seong-min. He said the voice of a South Korean announcer does not work as it would be viewed automatically as propaganda.

In the past five years, the radio station has been condemned by the North Korean government 21 times, including several assassination attempts and bombing threats against him and his office.

Kim told about his escape from North Korea's army and the transformation he went through to become a radio journalist. "When I was in the army, I listened to foreign broadcasts.”

He defected to South Korea via China in 1999. "We have families and relatives inside. We want to give them information from this side."

[The Nation – Thailand]

Sunday, February 08, 2009

North Korean defectors arrested in Myanmar now in Seoul

A group of North Korean refugees arrested in Myanmar last year for illegally entering the country arrived in South Korea this week, Radio Free Asia reports.

The 19 defectors -- 15 women and four men -- were apprehended in December of last year by Myanmar authorities while en route to South Korea from China. They were later released into Thailand.

Three departed from Thailand two weeks ago and the remaining 16 left the country this week, Radio Free Asia said, citing an official working at a defector relief agency in Thailand.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Economics major motivation for North Korean defectors

A majority of North Korean defectors fled their homeland due to economic woes rather than seeking political freedom, a survey finds.

Conducted by Marcus Noland, senior fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, the survey showed that 56.7 percent defected to the South due to economic problems, while 27 percent fled seeking political freedom.

The survey of 300 North Korean defectors now living in South Korea also showed that almost all believed food aid from outside went to government officials and the military.

[Yonhap News]

Friday, February 06, 2009

Allied strategy needed for North Korea

The United States and South Korea should adjust their alliance to achieve the peaceful unification of Korea peacefully and patiently over time. Features of the new alliance strategy should include:

- Mutual allied commitments to the defense of South Korea and the United States as vital national interests.
- Mutual allied commitments to conduct transparent, verifiable and mutually beneficial transactions with North Korea on trade, economic assistance, and humanitarian aid.
- Increased efforts to educate and inform North Koreans about their plight compared to other countries.
- Increased humanitarian measures to assist North Korean refugees in China and elsewhere.
- Amnesty and re-education for North Koreans who have helped perpetuate a cruel system of governance and the suffering of the North Korean people. Amnesty is essential to encourage North Koreans in positions of authority to work toward the envisioned end state.

[Excerpt of an article by Paul Chamberlin, Washington Times]

Thursday, February 05, 2009

North Korea worst country for religious persecution

North Korea retains its grip as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world.

According to Open Doors' 2008 World Watch List, North Korea is ranked Number 1 for the seventh year in a row. Christians are persecuted constantly under the communist government, which denies human rights to its citizens.

"It is certainly not a shock that North Korea is Number 1 on the list of countries where Christians face the worst persecution," says Carl Moeller, President/CEO of Open Doors USA. "There is no other country in the world where Christians are persecuted in such a horrible and systematic manner.

The World Watch List is compiled from a specially-designed questionnaire of 50 questions covering various aspects of religious freedom. A point value is assigned depending on how each question is answered.


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

U.S. North Korean policy should focus on human rights

Human rights issues should become the central principle of U.S. policy toward North Korea, director of the nongovernmental organization U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea told the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, also an associate dean of the Jewish human rights group Simon Wiesenthal Center, told reporters that diplomacy focused on denuclearization has failed to produce results during the two previous U.S. administrations.

"We really haven't made great progress despite all the efforts made," and indicated U.S. President Barack Obama should shift tactics.

Cooper pointed out that leverage of human rights issues by the U.S. bore significant fruit in ending the Cold War, with small steps ultimately setting the stage for deconstruction of the Soviet bloc and an end to nuclear fears.

[The Japan Times]

Monday, February 02, 2009

U.S. Experts to visit North Korea

Seven former government officials and academics from the United States were en route to North Korea Monday in the first major civilian visit from Washington under the Obama administration, a report said.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the group includes former US ambassador to Seoul Stephen Bosworth, reportedly a candidate for the post of special envoy to Pyongyang, and others who could help shape President Barack Obama's policy.

The trip was scheduled a year ago and appears to be part of routine academic exchanges, he said.

The group also includes Jonathan Pollack, a professor of Asian and Pacific studies at the Naval War College, former Assistant Secretary of State Morton Abramowitz, and Leon Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council, Yonhap said.


Sunday, February 01, 2009

North Korea seeking attention from Obama

Sharpening its rhetoric, North Korea is trumpeting its refusal to honor accords designed to keep the peace with South Korea — particularly along a disputed maritime border that has long been a flashpoint.

But the real focus of North Korea’s warning Friday may well be Washington. The White House is still reviewing US policy on North Korea — one item on a long list of foreign and domestic issues clamoring for Barack Obama’s attention.

An impatient Pyongyang seems to be trying to move itself to the top of Washington’s foreign policy agenda by warning that the two Koreas are at the brink of war because of the hard-line stance of South Korea’s pro-US president.

Kim Jong Il, a leader with a flair for drama, knows the value of a naval skirmish or a well-timed missile test to remind the world that his country may be poor but still has the power to cause trouble if it doesn’t get its way.

[The Peninsula]