Monday, January 31, 2011

Kim Jong-il's eldest son speaks out against North Korea hardliners

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's eldest son, Kim Jong-nam (39), says North Korea should abandon the "Songun" or military first doctrine, and pursue reforms and open up.

He also commented on the North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, referring to the waters surrounding the South Korean island as a "battle zone," and said there are "forces" in the North Korean regime who are trying to use the attack to justify the Songun doctrine and nuclear weapons. 

It is unclear whether his father is part of those "forces," but Kim Jong-nam's comments read like a denunciation of the retrograde hawks taking over key positions within the North Korean regime. 

He urged his half brother Jong-un to handle inter-Korean relations wisely so that tragedies such as the artillery attack on Yeonpyong Island do not happen again. He expressed hope that Kim Jong-un will become a leader respected by his people, adding that he was not trying to challenge or criticize him and that he wished the North could stabilize politically and recover economically.

He said his younger was chosen to succeed his father to "stabilize the framework of the nation." But he warned "Instability in North Korea will lead to instability in the surrounding region." 

Chosun Ilbo

Sunday, January 30, 2011

North Korea deemed 'most dangerous for Christians'

For the third year running, North Korea was ranked the world's worst persecutor of Christians, according to a report that was examined by the Council of Europe.

Hundreds of Christians were arrested in North Korea in 2010, with some killed and others sent to concentration camps, according to the report by Protestant evangelical group Open Doors International (ODI).

Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia ranked just below Pyongyang in the 50-nation ranking of violence perpetrated against Christian communities, according to Open Door's latest World Watch list.

The report was examined on the sidelines of a parliamentary debate at the 47-member Council of Europe on violence perpetrated against Christians in Near and Middle Eastern nations.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Easier to work with Kim Jong Un than his father, Kim Jong Il?

In preparation for his presidential bid, Barack Obama pursued this vein and wrote "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream." In his State of the Union speech this week, Obama proposed that we build momentum with investment in research, education, technology and infrastructure.

The challenge is the projected deficit for 2011 stands at $1.5 trillion, and the government will need to borrow 40 cents for every dollar it spends.

Our third-largest budget item is the military. We can no longer afford to serve as the global policeman. The American Dream 2.0 requires awareness that our fiscal and military resources are not limitless and that our moral authority has been called into question. As a country we have no choice but to seek global solutions in partnership.

What about North Korea? Will it be easier to work with Kim Jong Un than his father, Kim Jong Il, if the young man weathers the transition to power?

Honolulu Star-Bulletin

Friday, January 28, 2011

Public Sector Jobs for North Korean Defectors

Chosun Ilbo reports the South Korean government will set a 1-percent quota for North Korean defectors in administrative assistant jobs at public agencies. The government assumes that about 3,000 North Koreans arrive in South Korea on average every year and have a hard time adapting to their new environment partly due to difficulties finding jobs.

A Ministry of Public Administration and Security spokesman said the government "decided to take the lead in hiring North Korean defectors to raise awareness of them and encourage private companies to follow suit."

The ministry plans to ask former and current public servants to serve as mentors for defectors and give them a training course through which they can develop their skills.

According to the ministry, the total number of defectors is expected to exceed the 30,000 mark in 2013.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

North Korea cell phone users top 300,000 in 2010

The number of cell phone subscribers in North Korea grew more than fourfold in the year through September, according to an Egyptian carrier operating in the country. Subscribers can communicate across about 70 percent of the country's residential areas now that sufficient base stations have been built, according to the sources.

Orascom Telecom Holding said it had more than 300,000 subscribers in the country in September, compared with about 180,000 in late June and about 70,000 at the end of September 2009. The carrier began operating the service in North Korea in late 2008.

Although the spread of cell phone use could loosen Pyongyang's grip on information control, officials are reluctant to close down the business because it brings much-needed cash to a state-run company that holds a 25-percent stake in the cellular network, sources close to Pyongyang said.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

North Korea reportedly executes 2 over S. Korean leaflets

A man and a woman caught reading South Korean propaganda were executed in North Korea Monday, activists reported.

The people executed were a 45-year-old woman accused of reading a propaganda leaflet and failing to report it, and a regional military officer charged with pocketing the money sent along with the leaflets, The Chosun Ilbo reported.

Choi Sung-yong, the head of Family Assembly Abducted to North Korea, said North Korean security services collected about 500 people and forced them to watch the execution.

Choi said the families of the two people were sent to a camp for political prisoners in South Pyongan province. And he added, "It seems North Korea is stepping up monitoring and crackdowns on people who read or listen to anti-communist propaganda to ensure the hereditary transfer of power" from Kim to his son Jong Un.

North Korean defectors said people who handle anti-communist leaflet are required to notify authorities.

[United Press International]

Monday, January 24, 2011

Historic cold could hamper North Korea food production

North Korea’s state media said the harsh winter that has hit the peninsula has caused hardship for “the people’s lives” and could severely affect spring farming activities. 

"This is the first time since 1945 that the maximum daytime temperature has remained below zero for nearly a month," the KCNA quoted an official as saying. 

On Jan. 16, the mercury dropped to 18.2 degrees below zero in Pyongyang and other parts of the country, a mark some 5 to 10 degrees colder than in normal winters, it said. 

South Korean humanitarian aid groups project that the harsh conditions are severely compounding existing malnutrition and shelter problems. 

Vismita Gupta-Smith, an official of the World Health Organization which operates an office in Pyongyang, added that the WHO has been informed that the North’s public health ministry has “intensified its disease surveillance efforts to timely report any unusual incidence or occurrence of disease.” 

Any effect of the cold on the spring farming season would come at a particularly inopportune time: the United Nations recently estimated that some 5 million North Koreans will face food shortages this year as the impoverished country continues to struggle with a lack of staple grains.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

North Korea issues first mention on Obama-Hu summit

North Korea's official news agency issued a report on recent talks between President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao. The Korean Central News Agency said that a joint statement issued after the talks stressed the importance of improving relations between the two Koreas and called for dialogue.

It said the statement also urged an early resumption of six-nation negotiations on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

The brief dispatch was North Korea's first report on the summit and contained no commentary.

It comes two days after South Korea decided to accept a North Korean proposal for high-level defense talks.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Little progress from US-China summit while China continues investment in North Korea

On the subject of North Korea, all that emerged is President Obama saying he and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed that North Korea must avoid further provocations.

In a joint statement, Obama and Hu appeared to set aside recent rancor over North Korea, which caused alarm with the shelling of a South Korean island and claims of new nuclear advances. But it offered no new ways to contain Pyongyang. So all in all, no breakthroughs.

Meanwhile, a Chinese firm says it wants to invest US$2 billion in North Korea's Rajin-Sonbong region, which the North has been trying to develop as a special economic zone.

Rumors also circulate in northeastern China that a real estate firm in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture is likewise considering investing in Rajin-Sonbong.

A local source said, "According to rumors circulating in the North, the Stalinist country has finished attracting investment amounting to $10 billion in the Rajin-Sonbong region and tangible results will come out in March or April.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Defector Offers Insights into North Korean Arms Buildup

North Korea began building centrifuges to enrich uranium in the late 1990s, a high-ranking North Korean defector said Tuesday. "There is a factory in Huichon, Jagang Province that builds centrifuges," the defector said.

There are fears that centrifuges manufactured in Huichon could have been moved to the nearby Yongbyon nuclear facility north of Pyongyang. Huichon is just 57 km from Yongbyon and the two cities are connected by road and railway.

In November North Korea took U.S. nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker to a facility in Yongbyon that contained around a thousand centrifuges. U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials believe that the centrifuges were made elsewhere.

A North Korean source said, "It takes a considerable amount of electricity to operate centrifuges. There are suspicions that North Korea wants to turn Huichon into a uranium enrichment center after completing the hydroelectric plant." The senior defector said North Korea is incapable of producing the engines that are a crucial component of centrifuges and had to import them from Japan, France and Russia.

Turning to the North's existing nuclear weapons, the defector said their efficiency still needs to be improved, so North Korea will try to boost its nuclear capability by conducting a third nuclear test. 

"There is almost no chance that North Korea will start a war at this point," he added. "High-ranking North Korean military commanders know their country is incapable of sustaining a war."

Chosun Ilbo

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

North Korea Freedom Coalition Candlelight Vigil to remember North Korean refugees

On the occasion of the White House State dinner that President Obama will host for President Hu Jintao of the People's Republic of China on January 19, 2011, the North Korea Freedom Coalition cordially invites you to join us for a Candlelight Vigil to remember the North Korean refugees who have been repatriated against their will  by the Chinese authorities to North Korea to face certain torture, certain  imprisonment and even death for fleeing their homeland.  

We will begin gathering at Lafayette Park at 6 pm on Wednesday, January 19, 2011, for the candlelight vigil at 7 pm.  We will walk in front of the White House for a quiet ceremony carrying a coffin to remember all those who have died because of this policy, and we will read  THE LIST of all the names known to us of the North Korean refugees who have  been forced back to North Korea.  Special guests will include North Korean defectors.

[Besides your attendance] there are two ways that you can help:
1) please send your letters -- both personal appeals and letters from  NGOs are welcome -- to President Hu to stop repatriating the North  Korean refugees.
2) please consider a donation in support of this event by donating to the North Korea Freedom Coalition.

 Acta Non Verba,
 Suzanne Scholte
 and the North Korea Freedom Coalition

Allegation refuted of Chinese troops being stationed in North Korea

An article in the People’s Daily China has categorically denied the Chosun Ilbo newspaper report which rumored that Beijing is in discussions with Pyongyang about stationing troops in a North Korean port.

"China has neither the plan nor the conditions to deploy troops in other countries," said Zhang Zhaozhong, a military expert at the PLA National Defense University.

There are only several conditions under which Chinese troops will be stationed in other countries, according to the Chinese Defense Ministry's official. And that includes for peacekeeping missions and disaster rescue efforts approved by the UN.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mr Hu goes to Washington

Chinese President Hu Jintao goes to Washington this week for a crucial summit with his US counterpart Barack Obama which will try to smooth the rocky relationship between the world’s two biggest economies, while trying to move beyond a long-running currency stand-off and nagging trade issues. This is Hu’s first official state visit to the United States and it highlights the changing power structures in the global economy, as China matches its growing economic might with increased political influence on the world stage.

Political discussions will be tricky, as both disagree sharply on how to resolve the nuclear crisis with Chinese ally North Korea. Obama is likely to urge Hu to increase pressure on North Korea.

Chinese vice-foreign minister Cui Tiankai insisted China and the US “have broad common interests and share the same goal on the Korean nuclear issue”.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

China to station troops in North Korea: report

China is in discussions with North Korea about stationing its troops in the isolated state for the first time since 1994, the Chosun Ilbo reports. 

The South Korean newspaper quoted an anonymous official at the presidential Blue House as saying that Beijing and Pyongyang recently discussed details of stationing Chinese soldiers in the North's northeastern city of Rason. The location gives access to the Sea of Japan (East Sea), while a senior security official was quoted as saying it would allow China to intervene in case of North Korean instability.

"The worst scenario China wants to avoid is a possibly chaotic situation in its northeastern provinces which might be created by massive inflows of North Korean refugees," Seoul's International Security Ambassador Nam Joo-Hong was quoted as saying.

China's defense ministry declined comment to AFP on the matter.

Chinese troops left North Korea in 1994, when Beijing withdrew from the Military Armistice Commission that supervises the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean war.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Attempted assassin of top North Korean defector Hwang Jang-yop jailed

A South Korean court has jailed a North Korean spy for 10 years for plotting to assassinate North Korea’s high-ranking defector. 

The 46-year-old would-be assassin, identified only as Lee, admitted he was sent to murder Hwang Jang-yop. Lee says he was trained by Pyongyang's top espionage unit and posed as a defector to enter the South with the mission to kill Mr Hwang.

But he was arrested during routine questioning given to all defectors by South Korean authorities.

Hwang Jang-yop was a former tutor to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. Mr Hwang, 87, defected to the South 14 years ago. He died late last year in Seoul from natural causes.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Skepticism on North Korean stance on peace negotiations

Speaking at a news conference in Japan, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there was a "common interest" between the US, China, South Korea and Japan in securing peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

And he stressed that it is time for North Korea to get "serious" about negotiations for peace. "There must be concrete evidence that they are finally serious about negotiations," Mr Gates said of the leadership in Pyongyang.

North Korea has offered talks, and the reopening of tourism and industrial projects in recent days, but South Korea, the US and Japan have responded skeptically.

Speaking in Washington, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen said North Korea posed "an evolving threat, not just to the region but to the United States specifically".

Mr Gates was in China for 4 days, is presently in Japan and heads to South Korea on Friday.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Five North Korean defectors killed after pursuit across Chinese border

North Korean border guards have reportedly shot dead five North Korean refugees after pursuing them across the frozen Yalu river, which forms a natural border with neighboring China.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that border guards pursued seven refugees across the river into China. “Five of them died instantly under intensive gunfire by North Korean border guards who had run after them and the two others were wounded and taken to the North,” the paper said. The reports indicated that the guards dragged the bodies and the injured back across the border with permission from Chinese authorities.

This is the first time in years there have been reports of defectors being shot. In fact North Korean border guards have never shot defectors once they had reached the Chinese side. The paper suggested the guards could have been given new directives on dealing with would-be defectors.

Many North Korean defectors escape through China, finding sanctuary with ethnic Koreans in the border regions of China, and then make their way to South Korea. In some cases China has returned defectors, leaving them to an uncertain fate. In general the area is like many border regions – deeply porous and difficult to monitor. Moreover, there is considerable traffic, both trade and human, across the frontier.

Irish Times

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tough talk on North Korea from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicted within five years North Korea will have a limited ability to deliver a weapon to U.S. shores using intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The risk of war on the Korean Peninsula is also rising because South Koreans are fed up with provocation and harassment from the North, Gates added to reporters in China, where he is currently visiting.

"We consider this a situation of real concern and we think there is some urgency to proceeding down the track of negotiations and engagement," he said.

U.S. officials have said North Korea's increasingly bellicose behavior over the past year is probably part of a plan to establish the military bona fides of leader Kim Jong Il's son as his chosen successor. North Korea regularly denounces the United States and accuses it of wanting to destroy the country, but it poses the most direct threat to its neighbor South Korea, a U.S. ally.

Gates said he wants to see North Korea take specific steps, such as a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, to show that it is serious about disarmament talks. Gates said he wants to make sure North Korea is not rewarded for brinksmanship. He said the North has a pattern of bargaining by provoking a crisis, "and then everybody scrambles diplomatically to try and put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I don't want to buy the same horse twice."


Sunday, January 09, 2011

Celebration of North Korea’s heir apparent's birthday

North Korea’s heir apparent celebrated his first birthday Saturday since making his public debut.

There is no indication that the birthday of Kim Jong-Un -–January 8-- has been designated as a public holiday in the communist state, which is immersed in a personality cult built around its founding family. 

Pyongyang’s propaganda machine gave no indication as to whether the country was celebrating the younger Kim’s birthday as a public holiday, with North Korean 2011 calendars indicating that January 8 is an ordinary Saturday. 

A South Korean official said Thursday that North Korea had arranged low-profile celebrations. But PSCORE, an anti-Pyongyang activist group, quoted sources in the North’s northern city of Musan as saying that goods such as soap, underwear and liquor were being transported by train to be handed out to people on the birthday. 

South Korean hackers apparently celebrated the birthday of Kim Jong-Un in their own particular fashion!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

North Korea's Twitter account hacked

The North Korean government's official Twitter account appears to have been hacked, with the feed calling for an uprising to remove the leaders from power. 

The microblogging site ranted to its 11,000 followers about huge spending on nuclear weapons and leader Kim Jong-il's lavish drinking parties while 3 million people are starving and freezing to death.

The country's official YouTube site also seemed to have been hacked, with a cartoon being posted showing Kim Jong Un, the son of the leader, driving in a sports car and running people over.
The tweets, in Korean, were unlikely to harm the internal image of the country, as internet access is widely prohibited. However, the hacking will come as an embarrassment to the regime – especially as Saturday was thought to be the birthday of Kim Jong Un, the man believed to be poised to take over.

One tweet from @Uriminzok on Saturday read: "Let's create a new world by rooting out our people's sworn enemy Kim Jong Il and his son Kim Jong Un!"

Though it remains uncertain who coordinated the breach, South Korean citizen media sites and the Yonhap news agency attributed the scheme to South Korean hackers.

Friday, January 07, 2011

China military domination

China is using the profits from its export trade with the US to fund what is likely to become a military challenge to American dominion over the waterways of Asia and the Pacific.

With its growing resources, Beijing is claiming a vast maritime arc from Korea to Indonesia long dominated by the US Navy. 

In August, after Washington expressed a “national interest” in the South China Sea and conducted naval exercises there to reinforce that claim, Beijing's official Global Times responded angrily, saying, “The US-China wrestling match over the South China Sea issue has raised the stakes in deciding who the real future ruler of the planet will be.”

Amid growing tensions, the Pentagon reported that Beijing now holds “the capability to attack… [US] aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean” and target “nuclear forces throughout… the continental United States.” By developing “offensive nuclear, space, and cyberwarfare capabilities,” China seems determined to vie for dominance of what the Pentagon calls “the information spectrum in all dimensions of the modern battlespace.” 

To check China and extend its military position globally, Washington is intent on building a new digital network of air and space robotics, advanced cyberwarfare capabilities, and electronic surveillance.  By 2020, if all goes according to plan, the Pentagon will launch a three-tiered shield of space drones—reaching from stratosphere to exosphere, armed with agile missiles, linked by a resilient modular satellite system, and operated through total telescopic surveillance.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

U.S. envoy voices hope for "serious negotiations" with North Korea

Stephen Bosworth, U.S. envoy on North Korea (DPRK), said he hopes "serious" talks over Pyongyang's nuclear program will soon begin.

"We look forward to being able to launch those at a reasonably early time," the envoy, who arrived in Seoul Tuesday afternoon, told reporters at the Incheon International Airport.

He is seeking to "consult and coordinate positions" of the countries involved in the stalled six-party talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear program, the envoy said, adding he is expecting "more listening than talking." He will also visit China and Japan on this trip.

The envoy's trip is expected to lay foundations for the upcoming meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington later this month.

The flurry of diplomatic activities come after Pyongyang, which once declared the six-party talks dead, expressed its will to return to the negotiating table while claiming it has developed a new, highly sophisticated uranium enrichment facility.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Catholic Cardinal urges North Korea to improve human rights

Cardinal Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk has called on North Korea to take measures to improve the human rights and living conditions of its people.

“North Korea is restricting freedom and truth while failing to provide the people with rights to live humanly without worrying about survival,” Cheong said in an exclusive New Year interview with The Korea Times.

He urged North Korean leaders to exert efforts to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula and make its people happier.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

North Korea enters 2011 on a digital platform

It used to be that if you wanted propaganda from North, the official Korea Central News Agency was your destination. But sometime this past year, the hermetic Stalinist ruling clique decided that sort of online communication was too archaic and one-way.

So now North Korea has a YouTube channel and Facebook, Flickr and Twitter accounts to promote the glory of its homebrew “Juche System” ideology.

Pyongyang didn’t make that decision because of its fondness for tweeting. South Korea has an aggressive effort to block its citizens from accessing the North’s Korean-language online content. To break past the firewall, the North jumped into social media last summer, according to U.S. intelligence. The move was announced by a North Korean website called Urminjokkkiri that’s administered out of China. (Here’s its English-language edition.) 

South Koreans visiting Urminjokkkiri can find a link to proxy router programs to help them evade the firewall, according to the August report from the Director of National Intelligence’s Open Source Center, “suggesting a connection with efforts to neutralize South Korean censorship.” 

Pyongyang’s official Twitter account — which has over 10,000 followers — uses TinyURL links, so users don’t get directed to blocked North Korean web addresses.

The YouTube channel is filled with typical North Korean fare: gaunt-looking technicians at factories demonstrating their latest computerized controls; miners extracting endless trays of coal to an accordion-heavy soundtrack; ceaseless military parades. They appear to be clips from state television.

Same goes for the other social-media efforts. The North’s Flickr page is heavy on shots of flash-card dancing and joyful fireworks explosions, with heavy emphasis on the illuminated streets of Pyongyang  — to refute the image of the country as an impoverished, electricity-starved prion-state. Curiously, its Facebook page is pretty barren, except for links to its other propaganda and social-media sites.

[Excerpts from Spencer Ackerman, Wired]