Monday, August 31, 2009

Nine North Korean refuges arrested in Northern Thailand

The Nation (Thailand) reports that nine North Korean refugees were arrested at the bus terminal in Lampang in northern Thailand on Sunday night, police said.

Three of them are children and the rest are adults appearing between 20 to 40 years old. They were about to board a bus to Bangkok when they were arrested at 7 pm.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Working for North Korea is dangerous, even for a high-performance diplomat

For the most skilled and toughest North Korean negotiator, the task of pushing the line while remaining on cordial terms with the man across the table carries inherent risks. A change in policy may be fatal. One mistake, and you may never live to make another.

Take Kim Kye-Gwan, the North Korean vice foreign minister with whom Christopher Hill spent years cozying up to when Hill was US nuclear envoy and assistant Secretary of State for Asia and the Pacific. Kim got Hill to sign on to two deals in 2007 under which North Korea agreed in careful detail first to disable and then dismantle its entire nuclear program. All the US had to do was remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism - something former president George W Bush was glad to do in his waning months in office.

So what is Kim's reward for all his success in bamboozling the Americans into thinking they had succeeded in getting North Korea to give up its nukes? He seems to have disappeared, and nobody has a clue as to whether he's dead or alive, working on a chicken farm or sent to a prison for re-education. Analysts here believe Kim may have become a scapegoat for hardliners in the ascendancy in North Korea.

Bruce Bechtol, professor at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College in Quantico, Virginia, says the purges have accompanied a shift in the political winds. An example is that of Choe Sung-chol, who as vice chairman of the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee was responsible for dealing with South Korea. He was reportedly "languishing on a chicken farm" in January while undergoing "revolutionary training" - before he was reported executed.

Choe committed the grave offense of making "wrong predictions" about the policy of Roh's conservative successor, Lee Myung-bak, elected president by a landslide two-and-a-half months after the summit.

Among the first in the line of fire, beside negotiators all too visibly involved in dealings with the US and South Korea, have been those attempting to escape across the Yalu and Tumen river borders to China.

One experienced source for that perception is Tim Peters, director of Helping Hands Korea which has years of experience aiding escapees. "The penalties are getting stronger," Peters has been quoted as saying. The government is even refusing to issue passports to those who need to go to China and elsewhere on normal business.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Lonely Life of a North Korean in the South

After arriving in South Korea, Chol, a defector from North Korea, completed her indoctrination and moved into a new, government-provided, one-bedroom apartment in Seoul. She was 24, with no relatives or friends in the South.

"When I walked into my apartment, I smelled the freshness of a new carpet, and somehow I felt so utterly alone," said Chol, who asked that her full name not be used to protect her family in North Korea. "I spent a lot of time alone in that apartment, drinking too much and thinking to myself, 'How can I make it?' "

She struggled to speak Korean as it is spoken in the South, with a slang that is infused with hundreds of words borrowed from American English. "Language was a real problem," she said. "Sometimes I would insult people without intending to do so."

With the help of a government scholarship, she received a degree in hotel management from Sejong University in Seoul and found a steady job.

But she says her life is still lonely. She has not been on a date since arriving in South Korea.

And she is still paying off the brokers who helped her cross the Tumen River into China, where she lived a life of a refugee, and then on through Burma and Thailand to Seoul. (Brokers typically charge $1,500 to $6,000 to lead defectors to South Korea.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Financial Cost of Uniting North and South Korea

In a report on the effects of inter-Korean economic integration, the Korea Institute of Public Finance said if North and South Korea were to be unified in 2011, it would be possible to secure financial sustainability if the tax burden ratio was raised by about 2 percentage points for 60 years after unification.

South Korea's stood at 20.8 percent in 2008, so if unification should take place in 2011, it would be necessary to raise the ratio to about 23 percent to prevent financial failure, the report projects. That translates into about 10 percent more tax for 60 years.

The burden would be caused by the income gap between South and North Korea. The income of South Koreans was 7.4 times higher than that of North Koreans in 1992, but the gap grew to 17 times by 2007.

If South Korea's birthrate remains low and the two Koreas should be unified quickly, South Korea's ratio of population compared to North Korea will shrink and the South would bear a heavier financial burden for unification, the report predicts.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Predictable" North Korea has placed the onus on Washington's shoulders

North Korea can also be predictable. Since at least the early 1990s, Pyongyang's relations and level of engagement with its neighbors and with Washington have swung wildly from outright hostility toward rapprochement and back again. No matter how tense things get, Kim Jong Il (like his father Kim Il Sung before him) always steps back from the ledge and tries to re-engage.

Historically, the North's intention has been to evoke a "euphoric reaction in its opponents for simply returning to the previously unacceptable status quo," says Bruce Klingner, former deputy head of Korean analysis at the CIA.

That status quo now consists of a full-bore pursuit of a nuclear-weapons program — despite a pledge to cease and desist at the so-called six-party talks held during the Bush Administration — as well as a long-range missile development program that continues despite a U.N. resolution calling for its end.

The North, moreover, has already attached an important condition to its re-engagement: last week, its diplomats told New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under Bill Clinton, that Pyongyang would return to the negotiating table only if it could deal directly with the U.S. and not the other countries involved in the six-party talks.

The North, in other words, has now successfully placed the onus on Washington's shoulders. How will the U.S. respond?

One important difference: Kim Jong Il has been sick, and has apparently taken steps to arrange a dynastic succession for his youngest son, Kim Jong Un. It's possible that Kim may want to do a deal once and for all. Suffice to say that the Obama Administration has little choice but to see whether that's true.