Thursday, December 22, 2011

North Korea will shift to collective rule

North Korea will shift to collective rule from a strongman dictatorship after last week's death of Kim Jong-il, although his untested young son will be at the head of the ruling coterie, a source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing said.

The source added that the military, which is trying to develop a nuclear arsenal, has pledged allegiance to the untested Kim Jong-un, who takes over the family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since it was founded after World War Two.

The comments are the first signal that North Korea is following a course that many analysts have anticipated -- it will be governed by a group of people for the first time since it was founded in 1948.

The situation in North Korea appeared stable after the military gave its backing to Kim Jong-un, the source said. "It's very unlikely," the source said when asked about the possibility of a military coup. "The military has pledged allegiance to Kim Jong-un."

North Korea's collective leadership will include Kim Jong-un, his uncle and the military, the source said. Jang Song-thaek, 65, brother-in-law of Kim Jong-il and the younger Kim's uncle, is seen as the power behind the throne along with his wife Kim Kyong-hui, Kim Jong-il's sister. So too is Ri Yong-ho, the rising star of the North's military and currently its most senior general.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Premature to predict a Pyongyang Spring

What does Kim's death mean for East Asia and for the United States?

This is a region that matters. East Asia is the world's major economic hub and a focal point of the Obama administration's global strategy. The 38th Parallel that divides North and South Korea is, moreover, a major geopolitical fault line. On one side is North Korea, backed by China. On the other is South Korea, bound by alliance to the United States. Nowhere, save Taiwan, is regional conflict more likely to embroil the world's sole superpower and its Chinese challenger.

The question is this: Does Kim's death make regional and world politics more or less stable? The future is unknowable, but some perspective may help us to gauge the stakes, especially insofar as American interests are concerned.

We should beware appealing but misleading analogies. It would be premature to predict a "Pyongyang Spring." North Korea is a regime quite different from Hosni Mubarak's Egypt. A Stalinist relic of the Cold War, North Korea is authentically totalitarian -- not just authoritarian -- and far less vulnerable than was Egypt to the challenge of civil society.

The passing of a dictator who has ruled for three decades will be traumatic nonetheless. South Korea and the United States should be prepared for a phase of uncertainty, even testing, across the 38th Parallel.

The more interesting question, though, is where the regime's new masters will go over the medium to long term. The fact is that North Korea has backed itself into an unfavorable corner. It is poor, benighted and dependent on China, its mighty patron. The change in leadership may yet provide an opportunity to plot a new course. Here, the key issue will be how Kim Jong Un positions himself in relation to Beijing. China's rise has, after all, sent other East Asian countries scattering toward Washington. 

--Daniel Sargent, assistant professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

North Korea and China remain as close as lips and teeth

When Kim Jong Il last visited China to  introduce his heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, to the Chinese senior leadership , he also asked for continued economic and military aid and political support. China-North Korean ties are so close they are frequently described "as close as lips and teeth."

Read more

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Jong Il dies

The leadership of North Korea appeared to pass to a third generation of the Kim family Monday after the weekend death of Kim Jong Il, who ruled the reclusive Stalinist state since 1994.

The man known as the "dear leader" died of a heart attack Saturday at age 69, state news outlets announced Monday. The ruling Worker's Party declared the youngest of his three sons, Kim Jong Un, the "great successor" to his father's mantle.

The news of his death spurred South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North more than five decades after their 1950-53 conflict, to put its military on high alert. But across one of the world's most heavily fortified borders, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak told his citizens "to go about their lives" in the meantime.

On North Korea's state television network, a tearful anchor broke the news Monday morning. The news was followed by scenes of similarly emotional residents of the capital Pyongyang.

The network said Kim died of "overwork" while "dedicating his life to the people." And the official news agency KCNA said Kim suffered "great mental and physical strain" while on a train.

KCNA acknowledged that Kim had been treated for "cardiac and cerebrovascular diseases for a long period." He suffered a heart attack on Saturday.

Know your Kim's

Monday, December 05, 2011

December 9 Worldwide Demonstration Protesting Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea

On December 9 -- the 63rd anniversary of the United Nations Genocide Convention -- a call has gone out to organize protests and hunger strikes in front of DPRK/PRC/UN offices worldwide. There are three main objectives of these international protests to take place on December 9:

1) To bring unprecedented pressure upon not both North Korea and the international community to meaningfully address the horrific crimes being perpetuated systematically by North Korea.
2) To influence and awaken global public opinion to the real, genocidal nature of the North Korean regime.
3) To create a watershed movement for the liberation of NK itself.

Protests confirmed this far include: 
New York City
12:00pm: Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan, silent march to DPRK Mission to the UN
1:00pm: Demonstration at DPRK Mission to the UN
Speech by North Korean Defector Activist Ji Seong Ho (President of NAUH)
ent Coordinator: 

Seoul, Republic of Korea
3:00pm ~ 4:00pm: Demonstration at Seoul Station Plaza
4:00pm ~ 5:00pm: March to UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees)
7:30pm ~ 8:30pm: Candlelight rally in Seoul Plaza
Event Coordinator: 

Berlin, Germany
3:00pm ~ 6:00pm: Demonstration at the Brandenburg Gate
Event Coordinator: 

Tokyo, Japan
12:00pm ~ 12:50pm Demonstration at Hachiko Square in Shibuya, Tokyo
1:30pm: Demonstration at Chongryon
Event Coordinator: 

London, UK
1:00pm ~ 3:00pm Demonstration at North Korea Embassy
Event Coordinator:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The nuclear lesson from North Korea and Libya

So the Libyan rebel forces, aided by the massive military power of the United States and NATO, have cast Muammar Qaddafi onto the rubble heap of history.
As pundits contemplate the lessons that other states may take away from this undertaking, it may surprise one to learn that perhaps the shrewdest of those pundits has been none other than the "volatile," "unpredictable," and "irrational" leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Il.

Just days after NATO commenced its "enforcement" of a UN-authorized "no-fly zone" by launching cruise missiles directly at Mr. Qaddafi's house, an anonymous North Korean Foreign Ministry official stated that "The Libyan crisis is teaching the international community a grave lesson."-- Qaddafi should have held on to his nuclear weapons program.

If Libya had possessed the capability, oh, to obliterate a major American military base in Italy, or to vaporize an entire American "carrier battle group" off the southern coast of France, it almost certainly would have dissuaded Washington (not to mention Rome and Paris) from military action. If the Libyan regime wanted to ensure its own survival, then, just like North Korea, it should have developed a nuclear deterrent – small, survivable, and just lethal enough to inflict unacceptable damage on any aggressor.

But instead, Qaddafi was seduced by the siren song of the West. Give up your weapons of mass destruction, they said, and we will welcome you into the international community.

No such fate awaits North’s Korea’s Kim. Volatile, irresponsible, and loathsome though his regime, he holds in his hands the royal flush of a nuclear deterrent.

-Tad Daley, author of “Apocalypse Never: Forging the Path to a Nuclear Weapon-Free World”

Monday, October 10, 2011

Kim Jong-un portrait to hang alongside his father and grandfather’s?

In one week, North Korea will celebrate the 85th anniversary of the founding of The Down-with-Imperialism Union by Kim Il-sung, the father of the country's current leader Kim Jong-il.

But the current focus in the Democratic People’s Republic is not on the current father, but on the son, Kim Jong-un -- the North Korean heir-apparent. "He is now performing the role of successor," Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in South Korea, told AP. "He has virtually cemented his status as the next leader."

Kim Jong-un burst onto the international spotlight last year when he was made a four-star general and the vice chairman of the Communist Party's military commission. Since then, Kim has been pushed into the public's consciousnesses in North Korea, where he is depicted as an intelligent, strong-willed future leader.

Kim Jong-un reportedy takes the helm of the country when Kim Jong-il is away on official state trips and he is also said to be in control of the military.

On Monday, Kim Jong-un was seen sitting next to his father during a Party Foundation Day military parade, the holiday celebrating the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea.

There have also been poems and lyrical ballads composed to praise his Kim Jong-un's leadership abilities, and the government has printed 10 million official portraits of him, according to BBC. The images could soon very well hang beside those of his father and grandfather.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

North Korean refugees flown to Seoul from Japan

Nine North Koreans who defected to Japan have been flown to South Korea for resettlement.

The group was put on a flight out of Japan on Tuesday. Japanese authorities said they had requested to be sent to South Korea, and Tokyo decided to honor that request for humanitarian reasons.

The nine said they departed North Korea on September 8. By the time they were spotted by Japan's Coast Guard about a week later, they had only a small amount of rice, some pickled vegetables and snacks, and had run out of drinking water.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

North Korean defectors sail to Japan

Japanese Coast Guards found a eight-meter wooden boat Tuesday morning drifting off Japan's western coast with nine men, women and children on board claiming they are from North Korea, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

A fisherman saw the boat drifting about 25 km (15 miles) off the coast of Noto peninsula of Ishikawa prefecture, West Japan, and reported it to authorities.

It is rare for North Korean defectors to sail to Japan's coast. According to Coast Guard records there have been only two other cases. One was in 2006, when four North Korean men and women floated to northern Japan. The other was in 1987, when a family of 11 drifted to west Japan.

Monday, August 01, 2011

North Korea calls for fresh six-party talks

North Korea reiterated its call Monday for a resumption of six-party talks without preconditions, its state-run news agency reported from Pyongyang.

The call follows a rare visit to the United States by North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kae-Gwan, who met with senior U.S. officials last week. It was the first direct meeting between North Korean and U.S. officials since North Korea pulled out of six-party talks in 2008.

In addition to the United States and North Korea, the six-party talks involved China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. The goal was nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea has called for the resumption of six-party talks without preconditions before. The United States and South Korea, however, have insisted on some tangible demonstration that North Korea is serious about denuclearisation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently, for example, that the United States hoped to determine in its meetings with the North Korean foreign minister whether North Korea is ready to "take concrete and irreversible steps toward denuclearisation."

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

On the Debate of Aid to North Korea

An opinion offered by Kim Yong-soon, research fellow at the Institute of East and West Studies, Yonsei University:

There have been many voices heard from both in and outside of the South Korean government advocating the resumption of aid to North Korea. The debate between the doves and the hawks has raged on ever since the peninsula was divided in 1945. 

The possibility of resuming aid to North Korea begs the question of “to whom are we sending our aid to?” Is the aid going to the North Korean regime or is it going to the North Koreans who are in dire need of such aid? Neither the South Korean government, nor anyone else, can verify, let alone designate, where the aid is going to.

It is conventional wisdom that the aid is in fact going to the areas and people that the North Korean regime will designate, leaving the donors powerless to attach any means to enforce measures that ensure that the aid goes to the people that are in need. 

Thus, the aid originating from South Korea has not served its twin goals of relieving the dire situation of the North Korean people and obtaining the ability to influence North Korea in any positive way, and has remained symbolic at best. 

The only goal that the aid has served is the self-satisfaction gained by those that have advocated continuous aid to the North with vague hopes of reaching out to the ordinary North Koreans.

EU sends food aid to North Korea

The European Commission announced that it would provide 10 million euros ($14.50 million) of food aid to North Korea despite South Korean opposition and US doubts as to the veracity of Pyongyang's calls for help.  

The European Commission said it was convinced that the North's pleas for help were genuine after a team of experts reported seeing in June severely malnourished children in hospitals and nurseries where no treatment was available.

"The purpose of this aid package is to save the lives of at least 650,000 people who could otherwise die from lack of food," European Union Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said.

The EU's decision comes as Washington also weighs resuming food aid to the North, after suspending its shipments in 2008 in a monitoring row.

Analysts said any resumption of US aid would annoy Seoul, which stands firmly against sending food to its neighbor.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

On North Korea being named to chair UN's Conference on Disarmament

The naming of North Korea's Ambassador So Se Pyong as chair of the UN's Conference on Disarmament drew sharp criticism from Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird. 

"North Korea is simply not a credible chair of a disarmament body," he said of the bellicose nuclear-armed state, which faced UN accusations as recently as May of trading missile know-how with Iran. Baird said the appointment was "unacceptable" given North Korea's "efforts in the opposite direction." 

Meanwhile, another veteran Canadian diplomat, Marius Grinius, used his farewell address to the conference to congratulate the North Koreans! Grinius went on to recall his memories of visiting Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The fact the UN reports that other ambassadors — including Britain's — also welcomed the appointment of the North Korean illustrates the make-believe world that defines the UN, where diplomats of even the most heinous regimes are routinely treated as respected equals. It implies that a disconnect exists between the internationally based members of the bureaucracy, and the government.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Five North Korean students enroute to US

Five North Korean defectors, now  students in college, will soon experience the American way of life. This is thanks to the concerted efforts by the U.S. Embassy, the Ministry of Unification, and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

The five North Korean defectors presently in South Korean universities have qualified to participate in the W.E.S.T. (Work, English Study, and Travel) program. The five are scheduled to leave in July, according to the ministry officials. 

Generally, students would have five months of English language education, 12 months of internship, and one last month of traveling. The five will go through a modified program on a trial basis, staying for five months of English lessons and an additional month of work.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Anti-Government Graffiti in North Korean capital

Anti-Kim Jong Il graffiti was found on the wall of a college in Pyongyang. And then the government locked down the entire capital to hunt for the culprit.

The graffiti, found June 24th on a wall at Pyongyang Railroad College reportedly called Kim Jong Il "a dictator who starved people to death." Not exactly Banksy, but it gets the point across.

NK Daily talked to a Chinese trader about the investigation: According to the trader, the authorities launched the search for the person responsible via a joint investigation team including the National Security Agency and People's Safety Ministry, specifically targeting students and people from other provinces. They established road blocks on the roads linking Pyongyang Station and West Pyongyang Station, Pyongyang-Pyongsung, Pyongyang-Wonsan and Pyongyang-Kanri, then began questioning all passers' by.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

North Korean defectors offered internships in Seoul

Dozens of North Korean defectors will be offered internships at several major companies in an effort to help them find jobs and adapt to life in the South, the Unification Ministry said yesterday.   

Under the program, about 20 North Korean college students and graduates living in the South will work as interns at banks, including HSBC and SC First Bank, and several big European firms. 

A further 20 North Koreans will work at South Korean small and medium-sized companies, it said, adding the interns could receive $740 or more every month. 

In May, the British embassy in Seoul launched a program to provide English-language skills and work experience to North Korean defectors.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

South Korea building new refugee center for North Koreans

South Korea is building a new facility to house North Korean defectors arriving in the country.

Most defectors - who include economic migrants and political refugees - spend their first three months in a government center known as Hanawon. They are taught the skills they need in a capitalist country - such as how to work cash machines, or get a job.

The government has already extended the time that new arrivals must spend in the facility from two months to three. The current facility has already been expanded, and now holds 1,000 people. The new centre will have room for 500 more.

Seoul says almost 3,000 North Koreans arrive each year and the current center is danger of becoming overcrowded.

According to the Unification Ministry, it will offer retraining programs for new arrivals, to help North Koreans compete for jobs. Fewer than half of all North Koreans find work in the South - and many who do end up in menial low-paid jobs.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Defectors highlight abuses in North Korean prisons

A group of 14 North Korean defectors filed a petition with South Korea’s human rights watchdog over abuses they allegedly suffered in two North Korean prisons, a spokesman said.
The petition comes as Seoul’s National Human Rights Commission collects cases of human rights violations in the communist state as part of a campaign to improve rights conditions in the North. 

Of the group, eight claimed they had suffered severe abuses at the Jongori prison in the northeastern city of Hoeryong and six others said they were mistreated at a prison in the southwestern county of Jungsan. 

One case involved a woman, who fled to China to escape hunger only to be captured, repatriated and imprisoned at the Jongori prison. She was pregnant when she was jailed. “She was forcibly injected for abortion but the baby came out alive. Then prison guards killed the baby,” Secretary General Kim Hee-Tae of the Meeting of Promotion for North Korea Human Rights said.  

In another case, a defector alleged he had seen around 800 dead bodies during an 18-month jail term in the Jungsan County prison between 2000 and 2001. Deaths were caused by malnutrition, disease and mistreatment at the prison, he said, where up to 4,000 prisoners were held, four times its capacity. 

South Korea’s conservative government has abandoned the previous liberal administration’s strategy of quiet diplomacy and decided to turn up the heat on North Korea over its human rights situation.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

North Korean prostitution feeds families

It has been a growing phenomenon that young women in North Korea have become involved in prostitution to survive.

They do whatever it takes to feed their family, from toiling in a patch of field, to trading, or to becoming a maid. However, there are still days that pass without food. If a woman in such a situation winds up “selling her flower,” a euphemism for selling sex, no one can blame the woman for her immorality.

A woman’s body often becomes a means of survival. The poorer the society, the more unequal is the status of women, and women’s body easily ends up falling into an instrument to provide sex in return for payment. North Korea is no exception.

Pyongyang has become home to restaurants that serve food normally during the day and change to houses of prostitution at night. Officially, the restaurants belong to government establishments, but the real owners of these restaurants are commonly powerful party cadres or wealthy foreign trade officials. 

These establishments are generally frequented by wealthy or powerful men, but judiciary officials are by far the most numerous. Illegal activity would not be possible if not for these officials, and women are instructed to serve them almost on a daily basis. According to one manager of a restaurant in Pyongyang’s Daedong River District, “Most of the young women working at our restaurant are poor and they all want relationships with those who come by the most frequently, the party cadres, businessmen or wealthy men. They all prefer men who they can carry out a long-term stable relationship with, not the men who are just looking for a one-night stand.’

A Pyongyang City Party official interviewed does not pay much attention to government crackdowns. “Once or twice each year, the government conducts crackdowns on prostitution saying it will punish the capitalist elements agitating and polluting society. However, just surviving these crackdowns is all you need to do to walk away scot-free.” 

Monday, June 20, 2011

US assessment team concludes North Korea is not suffering from food crisis

The Dong-a Ilbo reports that the U.S. has tentatively concluded that North Korea is not suffering from a food crisis though certain areas in the Stalinist country do have food shortages. 
This conclusion is based on the visit by a U.S. team for food assistance to the North led by Robert King, U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights, said a South Korea diplomatic source Sunday. 

“Though the U.S. has yet to release an official report on the visit, it made a preliminary judgment based on the results of the assessment team’s trip that the North has no comprehensive food crisis,” the source said. 

Based on the judgment, Washington is known to believe that food assistance is necessary for certain regions in the North where food is in short supply. 

The U.S. will make a final decision on sending food assistance to the North by putting together the results of the U.S. visit and those of European Union officials to the Stalinist country between June 6 and 17. 

Dong-a Ilbo

Friday, June 17, 2011

North Korea demands the return of latest defectors

North Korea has demanded the return of nine of its citizens who defected by boat and warned that cross-border relations would suffer otherwise, Seoul officials said.

The North's Red Cross sent a message to its South Korean counterpart to demand the return of the nine immediately. Failure to do so could further damage relations, the message added.

The latest incident comes at a time of high cross-border tensions, after the North announced it was breaking all contacts with the South's government. However, one analyst said he did not believe the latest defection would seriously aggravate the situation.

"The North cannot help but demand their return, as usual, but it will have to swallow (the situation) as the nine came to the South of their free will," said Kim Yong-Hyun, of Seoul's Dongguk University.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nine North Korean Defectors Brave Sea Passage to Seoul

Nine North Koreans defected to South Korea on Saturday by crossing the disputed maritime border.

A government source said a 50-year-old man, his 42-year-old brother and their family members boarded an engineless boat and crossed the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border, at around 6 a.m. on Saturday. The group, which consisted of three men, two women and for children, waved to onlookers and expressed their desire to defect when they drifted into the waters off the west coast and were spotted by the South Korean military. "All of them have expressed their intention to defect to the South," the source added.

The group left Haeju, Hwanghae Province on Friday night after having planned their escape for some time and preparing a boat for their escape, the source said. The fact that the defectors were all part of a large family enabled them to maintain the level of secrecy needed for such an operation.

The source added that the group sought out chances to escape as they fished off the coast of Haeju on Wednesday of last week. They decided to defect in order to escape the harsh economic conditions in the North.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

North Korean defectors decry 2000 North-South agreement

JoongAng Ilbo reports twenty North Korean defectors will gather today at the Korea Press Center building in Seoul to denounce the June 15 North-South Joint Declaration signed by former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000. 
Seven of the defectors carry doctorate degrees and 10 more are on track to earn a doctorate. They will hold an academic symposium to concentrate on the agreement and how to democratize North Korea.

“The summit meeting between North and South Korea in June 2000 and the joint agreement brought great joy,” the group said in a press release. “But Kim Jong-il threw away his promise of visiting Seoul, which was atop the list for the agreement to be upheld. There are still those in the South who carry on as if the agreement is a bible for reunification.”

More than 600 North Korean defectors will sign a petition supporting the North Korean Human Rights Act, which has been pending in the National Assembly, and ask for improved human rights in North Korea.

Monday, June 13, 2011

North Korea successfully test fires Short-Range Missile

North Korea's test launch of a KN-06 surface-to-air missile into the West Sea early this month appears to have been successful, Chosun Ilbo quotes South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin as saying.

The KN-06 is a surface-to-air missile that shoots down enemy fighters. Unlike previous North Korean missiles, such as the KN-02 inter-continental ballistic missile that follows an arch-like trajectory, the KN-06 is stored in a launching tube and fired vertically toward a flying target. The KN-06 is apparently capable of hitting targets up to 150 km away. Each launcher truck can hold two to three missiles.

Kim also confirmed a report by AP last month claiming that North Korea was nearing the completion of a second long-range missile base in Tongchang-ri, North Pyongan Province.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

North Korean defectors suggest 30,000 NK electronic warfare specialists

The Korea Herald reports the North Korean military has 30,000 electronic warfare specialists with capabilities rivaling those of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, citing defectors and other sources.

The U.S. broadcaster’s report titled “North Korea’s cyber army gets increasingly sophisticated,” came after a series of cyber attacks on key government and corporate websites in South Korea, which Seoul officials believe were masterminded by the communist state.

“Defectors say that the regime now culls the brightest students from the nation’s universities and funnels them into special secret schools that concentrate on hacking and developing cyber warfare programs targeted at South Korea,”
the report said.

Pointing out that among the most frequent visitors to U.S. military web sites are computers traced to North Korea, it said the North could pose a serious threat to U.S. military networks.

“In fact, South Korea’s intelligence agencies now believe that North Korea has the capability to paralyze the U.S. Pacific Command and cause extensive damage to defense networks inside the United States,” the report said.

Citing one defector, who was an officer in the North Korean electronic warfare command, the report said, “The heart of the effort is centered at Automation University, where 100 to 110 hackers a year are trained in advanced electronic espionage every year.”

Kim Heung-kwang, who defected to the South in 2004 after working as a professor at a computer technology university in the North for 20 years, said that the North was focusing on cyber and electronic warfare capabilities as it can cause massive damage to its enemy at low cost. “Cyber warfare capabilities are asymmetrical ones that can shake up the centerpiece of the South Korean society. The cost of establishing and running cyber warfare facilities is very low while its impact is great,” he told The Korea Herald.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chinese companies posed to jump-start North Korean economy?

In the aftermath of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's visit last month, Chinese companies in recent days have held a series of low-key groundbreaking ceremonies across the border for projects designed to jump-start the moribund North Korean economy.

The North Korean regime, largely out of desperation, has leased parcels of its territory to the Chinese. This includes ports at the northern tip of the country that will give China access to the Sea of Japan through North Korea for the first time in 150 years.

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan and Jang Song Taek, Kim's brother-in-law, attended a groundbreaking ceremony for an industrial park on Hwanggumpyong, an island on the Yalu River, that is supposed to take advantage of Chinese capital and cheap North Korean labor.

Businesspeople working in North Korea say a similar ceremony was held Thursday at Rajin, the seaport where Chinese companies are building another industrial zone, as well as a new road that leads to the port.

A lack of publicity in China about all this may reflect Beijing's ambivalence about doing business with an unreliable neighbor and a desire to avoid international criticism for propping up a nuclear-armed country with an abysmal human rights record.

For the North Korean regime, the deals with China look like an easy fix for its tangle of diplomatic and economic woes. Kim Jong Il has set 2012, the centennial of the birth of his father, Kim Il Sung, as a deadline for North Korea to become a "strong and prosperous nation," the government's latest propaganda slogan.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

EU team visits North Korea to assess food aid needs

VoA reports a team of European officials is traveling in North Korea to assess the need for food aid. The five-member team flew to North Korea from Beijing on Monday and is expected to remain until June 17, visiting both the countryside and the capital, Pyongyang.

The five are members of the European Union's humanitarian aid agency. The head of the team, Marco Capurro, told Japan's Kyodo news agency the group expects to discuss its findings with international agencies and with members of a U.S. team that just completed a similar mission.

The head of the U.S. team, human rights envoy Robert King, said his group still has not decided whether food aid is warranted. He said that even if there is a need, North Korea must find a way to assure donors that it will go to those most in need.

United Nations food agency teams recently reported that more than one quarter of North Korea's population is in urgent need of food aid.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

North Korean defector appointed to high-level S.Korean post

South Korea says it has decided to appoint a North Korean defector as head of a government research institute. It would be the highest South Korean government job that a North Korean refugee has ever taken.

The Unification Ministry in Seoul said in a statement Tuesday that economist Cho Myung-chul will be formally appointed as chief of the ministry-affiliated Education Center for Unification later this week.

Media reports say Cho taught at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung University and defected in 1994. Cho currently works at Seoul-based Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.

Monday, June 06, 2011

North Korea turning the tables

It did seem like a fun idea at the time. Why not hoist huge photos of Kim Jong-il and son and heir Kim Jong-eun and have young South Korean army soldiers fire away at them for target practice? … It just didn't strike the North Koreans as funny. No sooner did they get word about it than they were off on a rhetorical bender, promising the same "retaliatory military strikes" that they have said they will deploy against those so bold as to launch the dreaded balloons.

The North Korean language in the case of the use of images of the Dear Leader and son was particularly harsh. The Korean People's Army and the Worker Peasant Red Guards "will launch practical and overall retaliatory military actions to wipe out the group of traitors at a stroke," said a military spokesman. On top of that, the spokesman called on "South Korean puppet authorities" to apologize "for the hideous provocation" and to "guarantee" it would never happen again.

The bottom line is the North now has another avenue that it's pursuing in search of aid and empathy. This one, it seems, is far more promising for Pyongyang and infuriating to Seoul than the revelation that Lee would like to follow the footsteps to Pyongyang of the two previous presidents whose soft-line "Sunshine" policy he has gone to great lengths to reverse.

North Korea's ace is the relationship that its skilled negotiators appear to have struck up with the US envoy on human rights to North Korea, Robert King. His quick trip there, on a "fact-finding" mission about the North's need for food and other forms of aid, was only the beginning. A North Korean official, King said, specifically invited him back to talk about "human rights," and he's "looking forward to the opportunity". In other words, while spurning President Lee's hesitant overtures in no uncertain terms, North Korea is happy to chat it up with a representative of the regime that's seen as pulling the strings on the South Korean marionette. 

--Donald Kirk writing in Asia Times

How do the North Koreans manage to con the Americans so easily?

The question South Koreans are asking, as they've asked regularly over the years, is how do North Korean negotiators manage to con their American interlocutors so easily. Here's a regime that has time and again rejected, deflected and derided any attempt at confirming the most egregious violations of human rights, and US Envoy Robert King apparently thinks he's going to get somewhere by accepting another invitation to Pyongyang.

King's got South Korean officials extremely nervous, if not infuriated, by giving the impression that he really thinks he's going to get anywhere in talks with the North Koreans. The whole goal of the North Korean game, they believe, is to dig a ditch between North Korea and the US - and relegate the South to the role of the "puppet" to whom there's no point in talking about much of anything.

King himself finally acknowledged what had been clear for some time, that South Korea really opposes US moves to resume providing food and fertilizer to North Korea. The US cut off aid in tandem with the South in the early months of Lee's administration, but pressure is mounting fast for a shift in US policy.

If North Korea can get King to come back on the pretense of talking about "human rights", it's a safe bet the North Koreans will come up with a scheme for addressing what King has called "our serious concerns about monitoring and outstanding issues related to our previous food program".

Among these issues is what the North Koreans did with 20,000 tons of food that the few Americans who were there never got to monitor as promised. They were ordered out of the country more than two years ago before that food was ever distributed. Another issue is the North Koreans don't want any Korean speakers on the American team - no need to have these interlopers snooping around chatting casually with someone with an inkling of what's going on.

--Donald Kirk  writing in Asia Times

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Time for Implementation of the North Korean Human Rights Act

Excerpts of a testimony by Robert King, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues: 

My position exists because North Korea remains one of the worst human rights violators in the world. State security forces reportedly commit severe human rights abuses and subject political prisoners to brutality and torture. Elections are not free or fair; the judiciary is not independent; and citizens are denied freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. In addition, the DPRK imposes severe restrictions on freedom of religion and freedom of movement. Finally, we hear continuing and widespread reports of severe punishment of repatriated asylum seekers and of trafficking of women and girls across the border into China.

In my recent trip to Pyongyang, I engaged directly on human rights issues with Kim Kye-gwan, First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, and other high-level officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This was the first time the United States’ Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues was granted entry to the DPRK and the first time we were able to engage in a direct dialogue about ways in which North Korea can improve its human rights record. This is a significant first step.

We have made no decision on whether we will provide food aid to North Korea. … The DPRK must first address our serious concerns about monitoring and outstanding issues related to our previous food aid program, which North Korea abruptly suspended in March 2009 and our humanitarian personnel were ordered to leave the country and forced to leave behind approximately 20,000 metric tons of U.S. food items.

In visits to North Korean resettlement and assistance centers in the ROK, including Hanawon, I have seen the extent to which the ROK has invested in providing opportunities to the 21,000 North Koreans they have resettled. I have learned from North Korean refugees themselves, about the grim conditions inside the DPRK and their often perilous journey in seeking a better life in the ROK.

Editor's Note: In more than 6 years since the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, the United States has resettled only 120 North Korean refugees and their families.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

North Korean defectors to visit US

Yonhap - A group of five North Korean defectors currently enrolled in South Korean colleges will visit the United States on a U.S. government-sponsored program. The five North Koreans will likely head for the United States next month, according to the official from Seoul's Unification Ministry.

"The U.S. Embassy in South Korea and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology selected the five students in April for the West program," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Under the student exchange program, South Korean students can visit the United States for up to 18 months -- five months of mandatory language programs plus internships up to one year long at U.S. companies, followed by one month reserved for travel. Thousands of students have visited or are visiting the United States under the program since its launch in early 2009, but no one originating from North Korea had been offered the chance until now.

"The ministry will consider extending the program to more North Korean defectors," a ministry official said, adding there are currently about 850 college students here who defected from North Korea.

Friday, June 03, 2011

South Korea acknowledges secret talks with North Korea

South Korea's government on Thursday admitted it held secret discussions with North Korea last month. And South Korean president Lee Myung-bak is facing criticism across the domestic political spectrum for the talks, which were revealed by Pyongyang.

On Wednesday, North Korea claimed three South Korean officials "begged" for a summit between leaders of the two countries and offered bribes at secret meetings in Beijing last month. 

Unification Minister Hyun In-taek on Thursday confirmed to lawmakers the clandestine encounter did occur. Hyun says there was no attempt by South Korea to arrange a leaders’ summit. Rather the secret talks were intended to press North Korea to apologize for last year's military provocations, which Seoul insists is a prelude to improving the chilly relationship.

Marcus Noland, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute of International Economics and the East West Center in the United States, says, "Really the story is not that the South Koreans were talking to the North Koreas - just like the Chinese and Americans are - but rather that the North Koreans chose to publically embarrass him just like they had done to a previous delegation of international statesmen that tried to reach out and open up some doors."

Some western intelligence analysts say this signals a new, dangerous phase in inter-Korean relations. The analysts say the recent statements from the North could mean it is willing to take some sort of military action in response to any perceived provocations by the South. Noland, an economist who closely follows North Korea, agrees with that scenario.


Thursday, June 02, 2011

North Korean defector claims North grooming hackers

JoongAng Ilbo reports North Korea is bulking up the ranks of its cyberwarriors, and is even sending them overseas to study the dark art of Internet hacking, according to a representative from a group of North Korean defectors.

Kim Heung-kwang of the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a group known for reliable information, said yesterday that North Korea has increased its number of cyber terrorists to 3,000, up from around 500 in the past.

Kim said those who show talent in computer skills are detected at a young age and sent to a special middle school in Pyongyang to be groomed in the art of cyber attacks.

“These young, gifted students are placed in the best environment possible and once they graduate from school with the highest scores, their families are brought to Pyongyang to live with them,” Kim said.

The students are then sent to Kim Il Sung University or the Kim Chaek University of Technology to further their computer studies. Once in that training, the future hackers are sent to study abroad, Kim said, and by the time they return, the hackers are in their 20s.

Kim said North Korea realized that building the ranks of cyber warriors “costs less money than to train Army or Air Force soldiers.”

North Korea has been blamed for several recent South Korean cyber security breaches, including the hacking Nonghyup Bank servers.  The South Korean military believes that North Korea was behind spam e-mails sent to high-ranking South Korean military officials that unleashed a virus into the recipient’s computer and extracted personal data and information.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More on release of American missionary Jun Young-su

Official reports from the Korean Central News Agency has said that Jun Young-su, 60, of Orange County, California, was released by North Korea on humanitarian grounds. The reports stated: “The investigation proved that Jun committed a serious crime … which he frankly admitted himself.”

Pyongyang did not report under precisely what charges it was holding Jun under, however it is understood that he was accused of attempting to spread Christianity in North Korea.

American citizen Jun Young Su (R)

Visiting U.S. delegates had called for Jun’s immediate release, with the calls climaxing with the visit of Robert King, the U.S. envoy for North Korean Human Rights. He was successful in overseeing the final details of Jun’s release.

Other high profile names to add their weight to calls for Jun’s release were former U.S. President Carter, and the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham.

Sam Kim, the executive director of the Korean Church Coalition (KCC), an NGO advocating for human rights on behalf of North Koreans, has released a statement greeting the release. He said, “While we are thankful for Missionary Jun’s release, there are millions who are still living in North Korea and there can never be peace on the Korean Peninsula when half of Korea remains in bondage, in darkness and under religious persecution. Kim emphasized that “no person should be arrested for simply exercising his religious beliefs”.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Kim Jong-il completes his third visit to China in a year

The China Daily reports Kim Jong-il’s week-long trip to China “sends a strong signal to the outside world that the two will make joint efforts to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

Kim Jong-il paid a visit to China from May 20 to 26, his third visit to China in a year, a clear indication that China and the DPRK maintain frequent high-level contacts. During Kim’s visit, President Hu Jintao and other state leadership held talks on issues of mutual concern ranging from bilateral ties to the situation on the peninsula.

Beijing supports Pyongyang’s efforts to improve people’s livelihoods and promote economic and social development and is willing to share experiences with Pyongyang on many facets of nation building and development.

China’s stance is that the six-party talks should be revived at an early date. Launched in 2003, the six-party talks include China, the DPRK, the United States, the ROK, Japan and Russia. The talks, the only platform for discussing security matters on the peninsula in East Asia, have been suspended since December 2008.

During his visit, the DPRK leader reaffirmed his support for denuclearization on the peninsula, an early resumption of the six-party talks and improving inter-Korean relations.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

American freed by North Korea without aid promise, US says

North Korea freed an American it held for a half year for reportedly proselytizing. US envoy, Robert King, accompanied Eddie Jun on a flight from the North Korean capital. After Beijing, Jun flew to Seoul where he told reporters he would have a medical checkup.
Jun, a Korean-American from California who traveled to North Korea several times and had business interests there, was arrested in November, with the North's official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, saying he was accused of committing a serious crime. Pyongyang didn't provide details, but South Korean press reports say Jun was accused of spreading Christianity. 

North Korea officially guarantees freedom of religion but often cracks down on Christians, who are seen as a Western-influenced threat. The distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services can mean banishment to a labor camp or execution, defectors have said.

King, the U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights, traveled to Pyongyang this week with specialists to assess the severity of the latest of North Korea's chronic food shortages, tried to quash any speculation that the U.S. had offered aid to obtain his freedom.

Friday, May 27, 2011

American Eddie Yong Su Jun freed by North Korea

An American detained by North Korea since November has been released, state-run news agency reported Friday, following a four-day visit by a U.S. delegation assessing the country's food shortages.

Eddie Yong Su Jun, a Korean-American businessman, was detained for "committing a crime" against North Korea after entering the country, state-run KCNA reported. Jun admitted his crime during an investigation, the news agency said, but it did not specify what crime he allegedly committed.

Jun's release follows a visit by special envoy for North Korean human rights, Robert King, and the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Jon Brause, to assess food shortages that have left thousands starving after floods and harsh weather devastated North Korea's crops.

The news agency also said former President Jimmy Carter asked North Korea to pardon Jun.

In 2010, Carter helped secure the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a U.S. citizen who was fined about $600,000 and sentenced to eight years of hard labor for crossing over the Chinese border into North Korea. Gomes was also a Christian activist.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Making it difficult for North Korea defectors to send funds

The Korean Herald reports North Korean defectors are strongly opposing a South Korean government plan to require them to gain approval before making remittances to relatives in the cash-strapped state.They say that the approval process could put them and their loved ones in the North in dangerous situations and make brokers demand more money for delivering funds. They also say that since their remittances are made through “complicated multi-layered” procedures, it would be difficult to detect those sending money without approval.

“We have been scrimping on food, clothes and others to send some of the hard-earned money ― at most 1 million won ($917) ― to help our family, not the North Korean regime. The approval system is wrong,” a 43-year-old North Korean defector, who has taken asylum here since 1997, told the Korea Herald, declining to be named.

He also pointed out that the planned system may not be effective. “All these have so far taken place secretly. Who would ever like to willingly tell the authorities about their remittances at the risk of revealing their identities and those of their relatives in the North? One out of 10 may be willing,” he said.

North Korean defectors usually send their money through ethnic Chinese people here, who ask their Chinese relatives or acquaintances inside the North or near the North Korea-China border to deliver the money. The brokers are known to take 30 percent of the total remittances.

According to a survey by a private Seoul-based group, which was released early this year, nearly half of North Korean defectors here have sent money to their families in the North.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

US human rights envoy visiting North Korea

U.S. human rights envoy Robert King has begun a week-long visit to North Korea to assess the country's food shortage and a possible resumption of U.S. food aid.

King, the first U.S. official to visit North Korea in 17 months -- and the first by a human rights envoy since 2004 -- arrived to little fanfare. He has been highly critical of North Korea's record on human rights. In January last year, during his first trip to Seoul after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate in his post, King said the North was "one of the worst places in terms of the lack of human rights." He also said human rights issues will play a part in any agreement with the United States.

King is to remain in Pyongyang until at least the weekend, although some of the delegation may stay longer if they decide to travel to remote parts of the country.

"We will be making a decision on [resuming food aid] over the next few days," U.S. Envoy to South Korea Stephen Bosworth said.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Not apparent if Heir Apparent Kim Jong-un visiting China

South Koreans pay close attention to the movements of the leadership of North Korea, perhaps the world's most secretive regime.

Midst the conflicting accounts of whether Kim Jong-il's heir apparent son, Kim Jong-un, accompanied his father to China on Friday, The Korea Herald reports that a source in a Chinese border city confirmed the junior Kim Jong-un’s presence. The junior Kim appeared to be heading to Mudanjiang in northeast China after arriving in the Chinese border city of Tumen early Friday morning, the source in Tumen told Yonhap News Agency.

Open Radio for North Korea, a South Korean NGO partly staffed by defectors from the North, and who maintains a network of informants in North Korea, reports: "I checked through my sources, and one had heard from a military officer working at the border yesterday that there was some kind of 'emergency' along the border," said Ha Tae-kyung, the organization's president.

"According to that military officer, it was Kim Jong Il who is going -- not his son."

The term of Chinese President Hu Jintao's term is set to expire next year, prompting some to anticipate greater diplomatic interchange between Beijing and Pyongyang as Kim seeks to forge relations with the incoming leader.

"Kim Jong Il wants to get something from South Korea or the U.S. or China -- economic aid or security assurances -- but at the moment he is not getting anything and China is preventing North Korea from further provocations," said Choi Jin-wook of Seoul's Korea Institute of National Unification. "Kim wants to know what China is going to do for them."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

North Korean cyber army increasingly sophisticated

South Korea’s intelligence agencies now believe that North Korea has the capability to "paralyze the U.S. Pacific Command and cause extensive damage to defense networks inside the United States,” Fox News reported Tuesday. According to Washington and Seoul, their abilities rival those of the CIA, it said.

Among the most frequent visitors to U.S. military websites, according to the U.S. Defense Department, are computers traced to North Korea, the report said.

The North Korean military has amassed as many as 30,000 electronic warfare specialists and they have become the elite core of the military, Fox News said, quoting defectors.

Defectors say that the regime now culls the brightest students from the nation’s universities and funnels them into special “secret” schools that concentrate on hacking and developing cyber warfare programs targeted at South Korea, the broadcaster said. At one secret school, security is so tight that only one outsider ― dictator Kim Jong-il ― is allowed to drive onto the campus.

According to Jang Se-yul, a defector who attended one of the schools and was an officer in the North Korean electronic warfare command, the heart of the effort is centered at Automation University, where “100 to 110 hackers a year” trained in advanced electronic espionage every year often, Fox News said.

“Modern war is electronic warfare. Victory or defeat in a modern war depends on how to carry out electronic warfare,” Kim told his military several years ago. Kim has since made cyber warfare a top, though secret, priority of his paranoid regime, it said.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Report highlights North Korean abductions

A new report detailing North Korea's decades-long policy of abducting foreign nationals has been published by a US-based human rights group. The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea says more than 180,000 people from 14 countries have been taken.

The vast majority of these cases are not typical abductions. They involve prisoners not returned after the 1950-53 Korean War and Japanese who settled in North Korea but were never allowed home. Other reports highlight North Korea's foreign operations - including a Japanese college student and his girlfriend snatched from a beach in Japan by North Korean agents.

The figure includes more than 3,000 South Korean fishermen forcibly towed into North Korean waters and students in European cities - including London, it says - lured to the secretive state with the promise of jobs and then denied permission to leave.

The figure of 180,000 is much larger than usually quoted because researchers have added together all the groups that may have been affected by North Korea's alleged practices.

Some abductions, they say, are apparently a bid to train its intelligence agents, but the report also cites more recent claims that North Korean agents are targeting those in China's border areas who are suspected of helping their people escape the closed state.

The allegations are almost impossible to verify.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Debate over food shortages in North Korea continues

The U.N. says hunger is driving some North Koreans to eat wild grass, and humanitarians are pressuring the U.S. and South Korea to send food. But South Koreans who study the North say the crisis has been overstated.

American televangelist Franklin Graham, who has warned of famine and joined calls for more food aid, arrived in the North Korean capital Tuesday to discuss possible contributions from a Christian charity.

After a visit there last month, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter blasted Washington and Seoul on the issue. "One of the most important human rights is to have food to eat, and for South Korea and the U.S. and others to deliberately withhold food aid to the North Korean people is really a human rights violation," Carter said.

The U.N. in March called for more than 430,000 metric tons (474,000 tons) of food aid to fend off disaster, and activists want the U.S. and South Korea to override any political reasons for not giving.

"It is an exaggeration to say there is a looming crisis," said Kwon Tae-jin, a South Korean expert on North Korean food and agriculture.

Figures for the North's food production are likely to undercount the total, said the Daily NK, a Seoul-based media outlet that specializes in the North and has sources inside the country. Many collective farms in the North underreport their food production to the central government so they can sell extra food to raise money for fertilizer and farm equipment, Daily NK said in a report posted online.

There also are suspicions Pyongyang is exaggerating shortages and seeking food donations in part so it can devote more resources to its campaign to build a prosperous society during the 2012 centennial of the birth of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

The U.N. report from March paints a stark picture: More than 6 million North Koreans, about a quarter of the population, need urgent international food aid. The World Food Program said last month it is launching an emergency operation to help feed 3.5 million hungry people in North Korea.

Activists say that if food is sent and if the North allows outsiders to properly monitor it, the aid generally gets to the intended recipients.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Only 101 North Korean refugees accepted by US over 5 years

The United States has received 101 North Korean refugees during the past few years under legislation to help improve human rights conditions in the reclusive communist state and accommodate North Korean refugees, statistics showed Saturday.

US Immigration admitted 73,293 people in total to the U.S. as refugees in 2010.

South Korea has received more than 20,000 North Korean defectors.

The US total breaks down to 9 for 2006, 22 for 2007, 37 for 2008, 25 for 2009 and 8 for 2010, according to figures released Saturday by the Office of Immigration Statistics at the Department of Homeland Security.

The North Korean refugees were admitted into the U.S. under the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which calls for the provision of financial aid to help improve North Korea's human rights and accept North Korean defectors into the U.S.

In 2008, Congress approved the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act for another four years, calling for "activities to support human rights and democracy and freedom of information in North Korea," as well as "assistance to North Koreans who are outside North Korea," and 12-hour daily broadcasting to North Korea.