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- The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author's (or the author(s) of the original articles), and do not reflect, in any shape, way, or form, the official policy or position of the author's employer (current or former) or any other organization.

- Information contained on this blog is entirely derived from unclassified open source information, and is based exclusively on the content and behavior of selected media.

- Please note that some of the postings will provide only information with no comments or analysis while other postings will have comments and/or analysis.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In and around North Korea: 21 - 26 November 2008

  • The next round of six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs will be held on 08 Dec in China, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. The talks have been stalled for months over how to verify North Korea's nuclear facilities as presented by the reclusive country in June as part of a nuclear deal signed by the six parties in the multilateral talks.

  • On 25 Nov, Robert Wood, the US State Department spokesman, said the US is arranging a trilateral meeting with South Korea and Japan to prepare for a fresh round of six-party talks early next month to discuss how to verify North Korea's nuclear facilities. Robert Wood said, "I know we are trying to arrange a trilat meeting, you know, before the six-party Heads of Delegation meeting."

  • Russian deputy foreign minister Alexei Borodavkin told Interfax on 25 Nov that changing the current format of the six- party talks on North Korea's nuclear problem would be unreasonable. "We believe that the existing six-party format is optimal. Any attempts to change it may have a negative effect on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." It was reported earlier that North Korea demanded that Japan be excluded from the six-party talks for refusing to meet its obligations to supply fuel oil to Pyongyang.

  • The U.S. State Department's top official on nuclear verification stressed on 26 Nov that sampling should be guaranteed in a six-party agreement on ways to assess Pyongyang's nuclear capability. Paula DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance, and implementation, hinted, however, at some flexibility in the format, saying, "it is not unusual for us to have a primary document with common understandings and a secondary document." "Sampling is a very normal part of many arms control agreements, especially on nuclear programs," she said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. "And obviously, analysis happens not on site but back at laboratories specially designed to do the work." DeSutter, on a trip to the ROK to attend a U.N. disarmament seminar, said she will dispatch one of her senior staff to the upcoming six-way talks on the North Korean nuclear issue to ensure that sampling will be included in the verification protocol.

  • The Rodong Sinmun reported in a signed article on 25 Nov that “the Lee Myung-bak group's moves for confrontation with the DPRK are, in essence, acts against reunification and the worst acts of treachery as they are ultimately aimed to provoke a war of aggression against the DPRK.”

  • The Minju Joson reported in a signed commentary on 25 Nov “the U.S. is contemplating transferring about 8 000 marines present in Okinawa and their families to Guam and converting it into a military fortress in the Pacific in the period from 2010 to 2014. This means the U.S. declared at home and abroad its intention not to change its policy of military intervention and engagement in the Asia-Pacific region even in the years to come.”

  • The Rodong Sinmun reported on 25 Nov that “war is an indispensable means of survival and one of the major links in politics for the United States. Almost all wars, large and small, fought during and after the Cold War period broke out with direct or indirect US intervention. The Korean war of the 1950s was also provoked by the United States. Today, the United States is again trying to provoke a new Korean war in collusion with its minion forces. Indications of that happening are becoming clearer with each passing day. Recently, the United States began, with Japan, the work of conducting a sweeping reexamination of the ‘joint operation plan’ in anticipation of an ‘emergency’ on the Korean peninsula.”

  • Japan’s Mainichi Shimbun reported on 26 Nov, a Chinese source well versed in the situation in North Korea revealed on 25 Nov that Kim Jong-il had had another stroke in late October, and his health was so deteriorated that an emergency operation had been considered. However, it is not known whether KJI underwent another operation. Piecing together comments made by diplomatic personnel in Beijing, there seems to have been a respite in KJI's illness. It has been viewed that KJI had a stroke in August, but was recovering with some after-effects. The official stated KJI was hospitalized in mid-August for emergency treatment for a worsened chronic heart-disease condition. Results of the detailed examination showed that a blood clot in his heart went to his brain and obstructed a blood vessel [in the brain]. Neurosurgeons from China and France were said to have been sent to North Korea, and that a few days later a French neurosurgeon performed an operation.

  • North Korean radio announced Kim Jong Il visited a cosmetics factory and a machinery plant in Sinuiju. He congratulated workers at the Nagwon Machine Complex on completing the year's production quota by the end of October.

  • South Korean and Japanese media have noticeably highlighted the prospects of a future collective leadership and the growing role of Kim Jong Il's close confidants -- Chang So'ng-t'aek and Kim Ok – in succession dynamics since rumors of Kim Jong Il's ill health resurfaced in early September. By contrast, media have taken a more ambivalent attitude toward Kim Jong Il's three sons, discussing the possibility of hereditary succession only with the support of Kim Jong Il's inner circle. This media shift in focus underscores the growing view among North Korea watchers in the ROK and Japan that, whether North Korea adopts a collective leadership or chooses to continue the "monolithic leadership system" for a third generation, no one person is likely to exercise the absolute power wielded by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Since early September, when rumors of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's serious illness resurfaced, South Korean and Japanese media have given extensive coverage to a possible collective leadership in the future. While media remain divided over who would be at the helm of such a system, most such reports suggest leadership by the military, specifically the National Defense Commission (NDC) – the supreme military organ of the state which oversees all military and defense affairs -- is plausible in a post-Kim Jong Il era.

Small number of South Korean media reports, however, cited authoritative pundits on the party's ostensibly superior stature and hence the probability of a party-centered collective leadership.

Since many high-level civilians and military leaders hold titles in both state and party organizations, ROK and Japanese media have reported, though infrequently, on the possibility of a collective leadership led jointly by the different branches of government.

  • Korean Central Broadcasting Station reported on 25 Nov a Korean People's Army Air Force delegation led by Colonel General Ri Pyong-chol, commander of the Air Force, returned home on 25 Nov after visiting Cuba. KPA general-grade officers and officers received the delegation at the airport.

  • North Korea is playing a double game in inter-Korean and international relations, taking care of lucrative deals while appearing more hard-line in its policy. On Monday, North Korea announced it is stopping package tours to Kaesong and cutting inter-Korean railway service, but permitted continued operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Pundits say this is because the North cannot afford to lose the money it makes from the industrial park. The complex employs 33,688 North Korean workers earning US$70 a month. That alone means W43 billion (US$1=W1,502) a year. With other added value included, the annual economic effects the North gains from the industrial park are estimated at between W250 billion and W300 billion. Kaesong package tours made the North W16 billion last year, but if the urgent aim is to pressure the South and bolster the regime, Pyongyang seems to have decided that stopping the tours is the lesser of two evils. In the nuclear negotiations, the North is also thoroughly calculates the economic benefits. While rejecting sample collections as "banditry," the North has agreed to resume the six-party talks in December because it can get economic and energy aid only if it attends the talks. On the international stage, the North recently rejected the UN human rights resolution, calling it "a scheme to change our system by coercion." Nonetheless, the North requested emergency food aid to the World Food Programme and got a promise of 600,000 tons in aid, worth about W650 billion. Though it has never admitted the UN special rapporteur on North Korean human rights, Pyongyang has allowed WFP officials to monitor food distribution by visiting anywhere in North Korea.

  • According to Sankei Shimbun Online Japanese Morning Edition of 25 Nov, Iranian and Syrian delegations visited North Korea in late Oct to promote nuclear development. The article reported that according to a source well-versed in North Korea's nuclear issue, North Korea, Iran, and Syria seem to have discussed a tripartite joint training project for technicians who work at nuclear facilities. The source points out that the joint training project started in late 2006.

  • On 24 Nov, North Korea’s delegation to the North-South general-level military talks notified the South Korean side, that due to the South’s blatant acts of destruction of all North-South agreements, it will take the following important measures beginning from 01 Dec:

    1. North Korea will selectively expel resident personnel and vehicles of relevant offices of the authorities and enterprises in the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mt Kumgang Tourism District, and cut off their overland passages through the MDL.

    2. North Korea will completely cut off the tour of Kaesong by the South side's personnel that has been conducted through their passage of the MDL in the West Coast area under the control of the North and South.

    3. North Korea will disallow the operation of the South side's train that has run between Pongdong and Munsan and close again the MDL that was opened.

    4. North Korea will also strictly restrict the passage of all the South side's personnel through the MDL to enter and leave the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mt Kumgang Tourist Zone under the name of visit, economic cooperation work, and the like.

    5. North Korea will impose stricter order and discipline on passage and entry into the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the Mt. Kumgang Tourist District, and strong sanctions will be applied to violators.

  • On 26 Nov, Dong-A Ilbo reported, the ROK government has started to pull out South Koreans from the joint industrial complex in Kaesong and consider how to compensate businesses operating in the complex. The ROK government formed a task force comprised of working-level officials at the Unification Ministry on 25 Nov and began preparing for the withdrawal of South Korean staff as demanded by the North. Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun told reporters, "The safety of the people working and staying at the complex is the top priority. The Kaeso'ng Industrial District Management Committee and companies whose staff were requested to leave the complex by the North are now in talks with the North on the number of personnel to be pulled out and the schedule." As of 25 Nov, 1,592 South Koreans were in the North Korean border city, including 38 workers on the management committee; 750 staff at 88 small manufacturers; 50 volunteers at 13 community work facilities; 201 workers employed by nine construction companies; and 553 staff at Hyundai Asan Corp. and other partner companies. If the government complies with the North's demand, some 500 South Korean workers will be pulled out from the complex, leaving behind 750 staff at manufacturers. In a related move, the ministry and the Small and Medium Business Administration are seeking to assess the damage to businesses operating in Kaesong and respond to a growingly hostile North Korea. The ministry will hold an advisory committee meeting of North Korean experts 08 Dec on handling the issue. Measures under consideration are encouraging companies at the complex to join a damage compensation program; introducing a collective purchase system to cope with a cut in orders from partner companies; and providing liquidity to prevent a credit crunch, according to ministry officials. The damage compensation program will require the government to absorb 90 percent of the losses (up to 10 billion won or 6.7 million U.S. dollars) stemming from the North's breach of contracts or expropriation of investment funds if companies sign up for the program for a fee.

  • Hyundai Asan is in shock after North Korea announced it is stopping package tours to the city of Kaesong from Dec. 1. That means all tourism to North Korea stops for the first time in 10 years. The fatal shooting of a South Korean tourist in July already forced the company to halt tours to Mt. Kumgang. Suspension of the Kaesong tours, however, could cost Hyundai Asan up to W2 billion per month in addition to the W80 billion lost from the Mt. Kumgang tours.

  • South Korean activists said on 25 Nov they will continue sending propaganda leaflets over the border into North Korea despite the communist neighbor's threats and Seoul's pleas to stop sending them. "We at one point had decided to suspend our activities of sending leaflets for the time being but reversed the decision after the North's announcement," Park Sang-hak, head of Fighters for Free North Korea, a Seoul-based group of North Korean defectors.

  • North Korean authorities have begun tightening control over government officials and citizens, taking such steps as confiscating Japanese cars from senior government officials, at a time when the deterioration of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's health has been reported, a South Korean newspaper has reported. According to the Dong-a Ilbo, the authorities began seizing Japanese cars possessed by senior government officials from Thursday, 27 Nov. The North Korean regime also announced that it will close down markets around the country used by citizens to sell commodities and clothes from next year. Some observers say the movements are initiated by Chang Sung Taek, head of the Workers' Party of Korea's administrative department, who is rumored to wield power in the country now instead of Kim, to enhance his prestige. According to the Dong-a Ilbo, North Korean authorities are seizing cars and microbuses made in Japan. About 80 percent of the cars used in North Korea are Japanese, but the authorities have been relentless in seizing cars from many people, including senior government officials. The pretext for the confiscation is unknown. The newspaper says there are several possible reasons, including the deterioration of Japan-North Korea relations and moves to boost business for the factories of Pyeonghwa Motors Corp., which is an affiliate of the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of Christianity, or the Unification Church. The markets in question were established in 2002 as part of Pyongyang's economic policies. Citizens gather at the markets to sell commodities, clothes and food. However, the authorities are planning to close them down and only allow markets that sell agricultural products, which existed before 2002. The only products people will be allowed to sell from 2009 will be agricultural products cultivated on surplus farmland. Citizens will be required to sell commodities and other products through government-run shops. Kim has ordered the seizure of Japanese cars twice before, including in January 2007, but the attempts have failed because the government officials in charge of the policy were also using Japanese cars. In addition, North Korean authorities reportedly have tried many times to close the people's markets, regarding them as a hotbed for capitalism to spread. However, all such attempts have failed.

  • Radio Free Asia reported that the North Korean state orchestra may hold a performance in New York City this coming March. The performance will be in response to the one given by the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang earlier this year.

  • On 26 Nov, the ROK Defense Ministry stated the U.S. program to keep munitions as war reserves in South Korea will be terminated next month more than three decades after it was established as a deterrent against North Korea. Nearly half, or some 260,000 tons, of U.S. ammunitions stockpiled here under the War Reserve Stocks for Allies (WRSA) program will still be maintained and used by South Korean forces. The rest will be shipped back to the United States by 2020. Seoul and Washington signed an agreement last month for the sale of the WRSA ammunition to South Korea for a little over 270 billion won (US$184 million). "Even though the WRSA program will be terminated, the two countries will continue to maintain a system under which they will support each other's ammunition needs," the ministry said in a press release. A ministry official later said the transfer of WRSA ammunitions to South Korea will be completed before the end of the year. The U.S. program was initiated in 1974 in order to have enough munitions and supplies ready for the combined forces of South Korea and the United States in times of need. Washington decided in 2006 to terminate the program due to rising maintenance costs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

North's decision on Kaesong

The buzz here in Korea today is an announcement North Korea made yesterday about its plan to close all overland passages over the demilitarized zone, freeze the Kaesong day tours, stop the "train to no where", and expel most of the South Korean managers and vehicles from the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Naturally, opinions abound from the North Korean watchers and the media on what all of this means and just what exactly is going on in North Korea. I am certain most of yo have heard/read about most of them already, so I am not going to bore you with the details of what everyone has said.

I just have a few small points to say. To me, North Korea's latest move seems to be nothing new. It is simply a continuity of what it has done so well since its inception - saber rattling, brinkmanship, and manipulation.

Let's take a look at what's going on around North Korea right now:
  1. The current US administration seems to be willing to go along with North Korea more so that it could hand the problem over to the next administration and have a graceful exit;
  2. From where North Korea is standing, the US president-elect and his administration looks like they will most likely adapt a more accommodating position - give the "complaining child" what he wants and he will be quiet - and are more likely to engage North Korea one-on-one - and probably end up giving North Korea more of what it wants;
  3. and South Korea is not "playing nice" and North Korea is not getting all the benefits it once enjoyed. Not only that, North Korea can't seem to get the South Korean government to change its mind.
So, if you just look at things from these three points, what would you do if you were North Korea? I know what I'd do...I'd do something to keep the pressure on both the US and South Korea, and use the US to make South Korea change its position on the North. So, Let's see...
  1. "Make as much noise" as possible to force the US to exert at least some of its energy and attention on North Korea since everyone knows (to include North Korea) North Korean problem has not been, and probably will not be anytime soon, the top priority for any US administration. And since North Korea wants to have relations with the US - because it knows what that could mean for its economy - keeping the US actively engaged in Northeast Asia, especially in North Korean issues, is paramount. One way to achieve this....the nuclear program verification process...what better way to keep the US' attention focused on North Korea than this? Stall as long as possible...give in a little bit at the last moment to keep the process going...and get as much free stuff as possible from the US, its neighbors, and the international community. Stunts like Kaesong is another way to keep the US' attention. What's the message? Simple..."See...we are really, really mad and we really, really mean it. This is what we do to those who doesn't listen to us...so you have to be nice, listen, and do what we want you to do."
  2. The message to the South Koreans is really simple..."Since you are not doing what I want you to do, I am taking my toys and going home. Besides, who needs you anyway? I can go play with the Americans. Besides, you are not the one who hold the key to the foreign aid anyway." I know this seems very oversimplified, but sometimes things are not as complicated as they seem (at least I think so). After all, the foreign aid of oil and food will continue to flow regardless of the North's relationship with the South, albeit at a reduced rate.
  3. And finally, since threatening to "taking the toys and going home" didn't quite work, you actually pick up your toys and start walking away (looking back once in a while)...hoping that the US will intervene, pull South Korea aside, and say, "just restrain yourself and give in just a little to what the North wants. North Korea will then be happy, and everything will be better." Of course, North Korea is betting that if it all works out, it will continue to get what it wants from South Korea...not to mention all the other countries it was receiving aid from anyway. If it doesn't, it's so sad that it won't receive anything from South Korea, but it still can get things from everyone else...not to mention that it can still pursue bilateral relations with the US.

So, putting all of this together, the North Korean end state is simple..."what can we do to draw the US into an engagement policy, leading eventually to a normalization of relations, while isolating South Korea from this entire process?"

Of course, I could be totally wrong and all of this could just be a move to impose control back over its own people because North Korea has perceived there has been too much exposure to the outside world.

Well, that was my two cents worth to be added to all the other view points on this matter. Just take it with a grain of salt...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

In and around North Korea: 14 - 20 November 2008

  • A high-ranking South Korean government official said the six-party nuclear talks should resume before Christmas although China, the chair country of the six-party talks, has not yet proposed a date. The official also played down the North Korean Foreign Ministry's statement that Pyongyang will not allow the taking of samples from its main nuclear complex for nuclear verification. The official said that the next six-party talks should reschedule economic and energy aid to the North and set the speed of the disablement process. Seoul, as chair of the six-party energy working group, will consider raising the funds internationally to make up for Tokyo’s refusal to provide energy aid worth 200-thousand tons of heavy fuel oil.

  • North Korea has agreed to allow international inspectors to take samples from its main nuclear complex, but only after it enters the next phase of the often-troubled denuclearization process, a news report said on 19 Nov. North Korea and the United States reached the verbal deal early last month when Washington's chief nuclear envoy Christopher Hill visited Pyongyang to discuss ways of verifying the reclusive nation's June declaration of its nuclear stockpile, according to the ROK Kyunghyang Shinmun.

  • President Bush is to have bilateral meetings with both the president of South Korea as well as with the prime minister of Japan, a senior official said in a background briefing on Bush's attendance at the annual APEC forum in the capital of Peru. “The president will express appreciation for the highly constructive roles both nations continue to play in the six-party talks and will discuss the ways to move that process forward," the official said. President Bush is expected to also meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao, where he will express "appreciation for China's leadership on the North Korean denuclearization issue," the official said. "And they will discuss the importance of an early six-party talk’s heads of delegation meeting, to reach final agreement on North Korean verification."

  • The Dec issue of the Monthly Chosun magazine reported that the ROK government intercepted and examined what appears to be the brain scan images of Kim Jong-il that were sent to France from North Korea in mid-August of this year. The consensus of the medical team that examined the images was that, “it would be difficult for him [Kim Jong-il] to last for more than 5 years." According to a government official who informed the magazine, the ROK intelligence agency was able to obtain the brain scan images of Kim, who had a stroke, which was emailed from North Korea to a French medical team for consultation.

  • Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) announced on 15 Nov that Kim Jong-il (KJI) attended an art performance given by the soldiers of the Navy Unit 155, KPA Unit 833, and KPA Unit 1313 who participated in the 32nd art festival of servicepersons of the KPA. It stated that KJI “warmly waved back to the enthusiastically cheering performers and congratulated them on their successful presentation.” It also added there were several high ranking KPA leadership in attendance. KCNA, however, did not release any photographs of KJI at the event.

  • North Korea appointed a new ambassador to Iran, the North Korean radio reported on 16 Nov. The new Ambassador is known to have served as the North Korean Consul at Karachi, but no other information was revealed.

  • The volume of border trade between North Korea and China has plunged in the wake of the global financial crisis, the Hong Kong daily Ta Kung Pao said on 19 Nov. Trading in the markets approved by the Chinese government along the border has effectively stopped, the report said. Such trading is also not categorized as international trade.

  • Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) on 19 Nov signed a loan agreement in Pyongyang with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, whereby KFAED is to provide KD 6.2 million (some USD 21.7 million) to assist in the financing of Pyongyang City Wastewater Project, KFAED reported. The agreement was signed by North Korean Vice Minister of Municipal Management Li Gang Hui and KFAED Deputy Director-General Hesham Al-Waqian.

  • The U.S. relief agency Mercy Corps is preparing to send a sixth shipment of food aid to North Korea. A ship carrying 25-thousand tons of food will leave the U.S. in mid-Dec and is scheduled to arrive in the North in Jan. The official said that the fifth U.S. shipment, made up of some 25-thousand tons of corn and beans, will arrive in the North this week.

  • A new group formed by North Korean defectors announced on 19 Nov that North Korea's prison camps hold about 300,000 people and authorities hold annual mass executions of inmates seen as defiant. Torture and sexual violence are also rampant at the camps, said An Myong-Chul, a 40-year-old former camp guard who defected to South Korea 10 years ago. "Every year at around this time North Korea executes up to 20 inmates at each camp," he said at a ceremony to launch a group called the Campaign for North Korean Freedom.

  • According to the Moscow Russkiy Reporter, Russian missile designers suspect their colleagues who left Russia during the 1990s have helped North Korea develop its missile program. "Countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, or the DPRK can scarcely expect success in this field without involving foreign specialists." Of the countries named, it is North Korea that has thus far achieved the greatest success in the missile construction field. For instance, Pakistan and Iran have purchased from it the manufacturing technology for the Nodong short-range (up to 1,500 km) strategic missile.

  • The Washington Times reported that United Nations nuclear inspectors confirmed the Syrian facility bombed by Israeli planes last year bore multiple hallmarks of a nuclear reactor, and the ruined site was contaminated with uranium. The report stopped short of declaring the Syrian facility to be a nuclear reactor, noting that Damascus had taken extensive steps to sanitize the site before officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency were allowed to visit. But agency officials said Syria had failed to provide blueprints or other documents to support its claim that the destroyed building had a non-nuclear purpose. A senior U.N. official, describing the finding, said the soil samples contained "significant" amounts of uranium in a form that clearly suggested human manipulation. The uranium was not enriched but had been "chemically processed," official said. Some nuclear reactors, such as the Yongbyon reactor built by North Korea, use a form of processed uranium that has not been artificially enriched. U.S. intelligence officials say North Korea assisted Syria in constructing their facility, which closely resembled the Yongbyon reactor.

  • Families of South Koreans abducted by North Korea sent thousands of balloons carrying anti-communist flyers near the inter-Korean border on 20 Nov, despite the government's warning a day earlier. South Korean authorities decided on 19 Nov to crackdown on local activists spreading anti-North Korean propaganda leaflets across the inter-Korean border in an apparent bid to appease an angered Pyongyang. "The government will make aggressive efforts to persuade civic groups to refrain from scattering leaflets. The related authorities will cope with such activity within legal boundaries," Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said.

  • South Korea expressed hopes on 17 Nov for the resumption of cross-border tours to Mount Geumgang on North Korea's eastern coast as the two sides mark a gloomy anniversary this week of the launch of the now-suspended business. A ferry carrying South Korean tourists set historic sail toward the scenic mountain on 18 Nov 1998 as a token of burgeoning inter-Korean reconciliation. But the tour program has been idle for months following the 14 Jul shooting death of a South Korean housewife visiting the area by a North Korean soldier.

  • North Korea on 17 Nov labeled South Korea's recent proposal for inter-Korean dialogue as “hypocritical,” claiming the proposal is nothing but an attempt to evade responsibility for the worsening relationship between the two Koreas. In an apparent response to Seoul's call to resume inter-Korean dialogue, the North's Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper published by its ruling Workers' Party, on Monday claimed the proposal is nothing but an attempt to redirect public criticism over shattered inter-Korean ties toward Pyongyang.

  • Hyundai Asan CEO Cho Kun-shik said on 18 Nov the South Korean company's Gaeseong tour program in North Korea was still intact. Cho said that North Korean officials did not mention anything negative or hostile about the Gaeseong tour program.

  • Numerous recent open source reporting stated that the PRC may be in the process of quietly preparing itself to cope with a crisis situation on their border with NK. Reports include the PRC military build ups in the region, local authorities implementing contingency plans, stoppage of Chinese visitors into the DPRK, and rigorous ID checks of North Korean-Chinese or NK nationals in China traveling to NK by train. The PRC and the US governments have both denied any knowledge of these reports. In response to questions on these topics; the PRC Foreign Ministry spokesman replied “I have not heard of any unusual circumstances on the China-DPRK border…I haven't heard of any abnormal circumstances on the border between China and North Korea." Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman of the US Department of State stated, “I hadn’t heard that…I need to take a look at the reports and follow up on them before I can give you any comment” during a daily press briefing when asked about the validity of the reports on Chinese troop movements. The governments of NK and the ROK have remained silent on these topics.

  • A panel from the National Intelligence Council released their Global Trends 2025 report on Thursday (US Eastern Standard Time). The predictions include "We see a unified Korea as likely by 2025 and assess the peninsula will probably be denuclearized, either via ongoing diplomacy or as a necessary condition for international acceptance of and cooperation with a needy new Korea."

  • According to an unnamed ROK military official, the ROK Navy will send the KDX-II Type Gang Gam Chan Class Destroyer to the Gulf of Aden to protect Korean ships from Somali pirate attacks. The Gang gam Chan is expected to carry members of the special Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) and (Sea, Air, Land) SEAL teams, as well as two Lynx helicopters. The deployment date was not released.

South Korea takes steps to protect its shipping

The South Korean Navy announced, unofficially - under condition of anonymity, it will send the ROKS Gang Gamchan, DDH 979 - KDX-II type Chungmugong Yi Sunshin class destroyer, into the Guld of Aden to protect Korean ships navigating through the area from pirate attacks.

The Gang Gamchan is expected to carry two Lynx helicopters members of special UDT (Underwater Demolition Teams) and SEAL (Sea, Air, Land) teams, who will conduct operations against the pirates if the necessity arises.

When the South Korean naval vessel arrives at the Gulf of Aden, it will be joining a flotilla of other naval vessels from countries such as the US, the UK, Russia, India, and France. To my knowledge, the South Korean Navy has deployed to international waters before for various combined exercises with foreign partners, but this deployment will be the first of its kind for South Korea and the South Korean Navy - deployment of a warship into international/foreign territorial waters for an operational mission.
Some facts about the KDX-II type Chungmugong Yi Sunshin class destroyers:
The lead ship of this class, ROKS Chungmugong Yi Sunshin, was launched in May 2002 and commissioned in December 2003. Chungmugong Yi Sunshin class destroyers are a part of the Republic of Korea Navy's shipbuilding program named "KDX-II", which paved the way for becoming a blue-water navy. The design of the hull was licensed from the German IABG company. Currently, there are 6 ships of this class in service.
The ship has a 32-cell strike-length Mk 41 VLS for SM-2 Block IIIA area-air defence missiles, one 21-round RAM inner-layer defence missile launcher, one 30 mm Goalkeeper close-in weapon system, one Mk 45 Mod 4 127 mm gun, eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles and two triple 324 mm anti-submarine torpedo tubes.

Electronics suite includes one Raytheon AN/SPS-49(V)5 2D long-range radar (LRR), one Thales Nederland MW08 3D target indication radar (TIR), two Thales Nederland STIR240 fire-control radars with OT-134A Continuous Wave Illumination (CWI) transmitters, an SLQ-200(V)K SONATA electronic warfare system and a KDCOM-II combat management system which is derived from the Royal Navy Type 23 frigate's SSCS combat management system. BAE Systems WDS Mk 14 originally developed for the US Navy's New Threat Upgrade evaluates threats, prioritizes them, and engages them in order with SM-2.

On the 4th unit, ROKS Wang Geon, the 32-cell Mk 41 VLS is moved to the left and an indigenous VLS for a "Korean VLA" is installed on the right. The ship's forward part is spacious enough to take a 64-cell Mk 41 VLS.
Ships in Service:

General characteristics:
Displacement: 4,400 tones - 5,520 tons fully loaded
Length: 150 m
Beam: 17 m
Propulsion: CODOG
Speed: 30 knots (56 km/h)
Crew Complement: 300

Monday, November 17, 2008

What's going on at the North Korean - Chinese border?

Numerous recent open source reporting stated that the PRC may be in the process of quietly preparing itself to cope with a crisis situation on their border with NK. Reports include the PRC military build ups in the region, local authorities implementing contingency plans, stoppage of Chinese visitors into the DPRK, and rigorous ID checks of North Korean-Chinese or NK nationals in China traveling to NK by train.

The PRC and the US governments have both denied any knowledge of these reports. In response to questions on these topics; PRC President Hu Jin Tao replied “I have not heard of any unusual circumstances on the China-DPRK border.” When asked about the reports of closing the border, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "I haven't heard of any abnormal circumstances on the border between China and North Korea." Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman of the US Department of State stated, “I hadn’t heard that…I need to take a look at the reports and follow up on them before I can give you any comment” during a daily press briefing when asked about the validity of the reports on Chinese troop movements.

The governments of NK and the ROK have remained silent on these topics.

Border Closing: Several news sources have reported that
sometime in Oct, NK began restricting overland border traffic with the PRC. A representative of a travel agency in Dandong, China, said, "Since
mid-October, it has been possible for Chinese tourists to travel to North Korea only by air from Beijing and Shenyang in Liaoning Province." A Chinese railroad official in Dandong said freight trains were still able to cross into North Korea.

The travel agent added, “ID checks have also become more rigorous for North Korean-Chinese or NK nationals in China traveling to NK by train” and "It's unprecedented that NK is now allowing only air travel from
Dandong even though the annual quota for Dandong has not been used up yet." There are reports that travel by train from Hunchun City, Jilin Province, on the eastern border has also been suspended, but this maybe due to the annual allocation of travelers set by North Korea having been met for this area.

The customs office in Dandong, the biggest trade channel for NK,
was closed from 20 Dec last year until early Jan, but it will close on 10 Dec this year. Chinese tourists' air travel to NK, too, will likely be suspended from at that time as well.

NK experts in China speculate that the measures might be related to Kim Jong-il's worsening health or an internal change in NK. They said, however, "We haven't heard anything from the NK authorities as to why this is happening."

Park Young-ho of the ROK’s Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) said, “By restricting the flow of Chinese visitors, NK seems to be trying to have a firmer grip on its internal situation, especially with Kim Jong-il’s suspected health problems receiving global attention.”

When asked about the reports of closing the border and a PRC military buildup in the area, the PRC Foreign Ministry spokesman said, "I have not heard of any unusual circumstances on the China-DPRK border...I haven't heard of any abnormal circumstances on the border between China and North Korea."

Troop Buildup: The Financial Times reported that according to US officials, the Chinese military has boosted troop numbers along the border with North Korea since Sep amid mounting concerns about the health of Kim Jong-il.

One official cautioned that the increase in Chinese troops was not dramatic”, but he said China was also constructing more fences and
installations at key border outposts.

Additional reporting included the unnamed US officials stating that the Chinese Army was increasing troop numbers in apparent preparation for a possible influx of refugees due to instability, or regime collapse, in North Korea.

In response, the Chinese embassy spokesman in Washington said he was unaware of any increased deployments. Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman of the US Department of State stated, “I hadn’t heard that…I need to take a look at the reports and follow up on them before I can give you any comment” during the daily press briefing on 13 Nov when asked about the validity of these reports.

Preparations: According to a document posted on the PRC official website portal of the Yanbian Korean Nationality Autonomous Prefecture People's Government in Jilin Province near the NK border, “the emergency management in the border region should be concentrated on beefing up intelligence and information collection, controlling illegal immigrants from the DPRK and security management, and strengthening the ability to manage and control the situation, thereby raising the level of emergency management in the border region.”

The document highlighted that “information collection should be focused on the `three possibilities’ – NK’s wavering determination on denuclearization, occurrence of unexpected incidents in particular areas, or a massive influx of NK personnel.”

Given the absence of verifiable data and corroborating information, it is difficult to assess the validity of reporting on these subjects; however, if these reports are accurate, it indicates the PRC is concerned about the possibility of a sudden flow of refugees from NK. Most likely, this sudden influx would be a result of internal instability or regime collapse in NK brought on by a power vacuum or struggle in the wake of Kim Jong-il, due sickness or death, not being physically able to continue to control the country.

While there is reporting that suggests Kim Jong-il has recently suffered a stroke, possibly two, there is no open source reporting that the NK government is experiencing stability issues.

The PRC is probably taking precautionary steps in light of rumors of Kim Jong-il’s illness and the eventuality that the NK’s leader will one day no longer be in power and NK may fall into an unstable situation or even collapse.

Interesting Korean magazine article about Kim Jong Il's health

A South Korean magazine, Monthly Chosun, published a very interesting article in its December 2008 issue. The article was titled, "National Intelligence Agency: Kim Jong Il's Brain Scan Acquired, Stroke Confirmed" (original published in Korean). The article was a series of interviews with the South Korean government sources where they relayed that the South Korean intelligence agency was able to acquire Kim Jong Il's CT and MRI scans that showed he suffered from a stroke.

The article reads like one of those Mission Impossible episodes, and I don't know how true it is, but I thought it was very interesting.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

In and around North Korea: 7 - 13 November 2008

  • South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported on 08 Nov that NK has slowed its nuclear disablement work at Yongbyon Nuclear Facility to a “snail’s pace”, removing only 15 fuel rods per day (down from 30 per day in the past). NK said it reduced its pace recently because shipments of energy aid were slow in coming. On a separate report, from Kyodo News, a US government source stated on 10 Nov that the US plans to provide 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to NK by the end of this month although it is Russia's turn to provide the energy aid. The US source told Kyodo News that the sequencing is no longer important and that US heavy fuel oil may be arriving in NK faster than Russia's. On 12 Nov, Deputy US Department of State Spokesman Robert Wood stated during the daily press briefing that the US has shipped 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil to North Korea on two different shipments, which will arrive in North Korea in late November and early December 2008. (Last week, the US provided the NK with 50,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil. As of today, China, the Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United States have provided a total of approximately 500,000 tons of energy assistance. This includes heavy fuel oil and non-heavy fuel oil equivalent energy assistance.)

  • North Korea denied Washington's announcement that it agreed to allow its partners in the 6PT to take samples to verify its nuclear declaration. “The North has never agreed on sampling, but only allowing inspectors to access its nuclear facilities, discuss documents on its atomic program and interview people related to the nuclear plans, the country's foreign ministry said in a statement.” On 12 Nov, Deputy Department of States Spokesman Robert Wood stated NK had agreed last month that experts could take samples and remove them from the country for testing during the daily press briefing.

  • The South Korean Foreign Minister said on 07 Nov the next meeting of the 6PT may be held in early December, not in November as expected. Major diplomatic events already scheduled for Nov (such as APEC, global financial summit, and The Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue) and China’s expression that it is not ready for the next round of talks may push the 6PT to early December.

  • South Korea’s No. 2 nuclear negotiator met with Frank Jannuzi, a Korea policy adviser for the US president-elect, to discuss the NK nuclear issue. A government official said a broad range of issues were covered, with both parties seeing eye to eye on their basic position on the North. Although it's not certain what post Jannuzi will be given in the incoming administration, government officials say he seems to have a very similar view on NK policy to the ROK’s, especially that the nuclear issue must be solved through the six-party framework.

  • In a commentary carried on 12 Nov by NK’s official Rodong Sinmun daily newspaper, it stated “The US nuclear commitments to Japan and the ROK made the prospect of settling the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula dimmer.” It also blasted the US defense secretary's remarks of providing Japan and the ROK with a nuclear umbrella and upgrading of nuclear weapons. It said the North’s development of nuclear weapons was a response to the US nuclear threat. "It is the invariable stand and principle of action of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) to react to confrontation with confrontation and respond to dialogue with dialogue," the commentary said.

  • Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki arrived in Pyongyang on 12 Nov on the second leg of his Asian tour. Heading a high-ranking delegation for his one-day visit, Mottaki exchanged views over important regional and international issues, though no specifics of the meeting were released.

  • The ROK called for Iran to step up efforts to allay international concerns about its nuclear program. Iran’s Foreign Minister arrived in Seoul on 13 Nov for a one-day stay after visiting Pyongyang, where he met with NK Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun and NK’s number two leader, Kim Yong-nam. The ROK Foreign Minister did not provide details on whether the two sides discussed Pyongyang's stance on the troubled denuclearization process, but added “The Iranian foreign minister stressed that his country is pushing for a nuclear program for peaceful purposes."

  • The Japanese TBS Television aired on 10 Nov that a US intelligence official in South Korea stated that the US has obtained information Kim Jong-il had suffered a second stroke sometime in Oct, which disabled his left arm and leg and affected his speech. The French neurosurgeon’s visit to Pyongyang from Paris, via Beijing, matches the timing of the apparent second stroke. The ROK’s Ministry of Unification refused to comment on the report while the National Intelligence Service rejected the Japanese report.

  • The British The Times reported on 07 Nov that there were growing suspicions that recently released photographs of Kim Jong-il by NK authorities may have been a result of digital trickery, citing differently-angled shadows and mismatching pixels. However, the French AFP reported that according to a ROK National Intelligence Service spokesman and a Unification Ministry spokesman, the latest photographs, released on 05 Nov, were believed to be genuine and that there was no evidence to suggest the photographs were doctored.

  • A Senior Researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy said “Jang Sung Taek, Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law, was in charge of the Ministry of Administration of the Korean Workers’ Party as Director, but he had not gained control of the military. However, if he has risen to the position of controlling the military as the First-Vice-Director of the Guidance Department, then he can be seen as the second most powerful figure in NK. Kim Jong-il is said to have temporarily endowed him with the authority of second-in-command, in charge of managing domestic and international crises.

  • A report on world population has demonstrated the wide social and economic gaps between South and North Korea. According to the report released by the United Nations Population Fund and the Planned Population Federation of Korea on 12 Nov, the two Koreas showed the biggest discrepancy in the area of welfare. The report revealed the ROK’s infant mortality rate is lower than N’s and South Koreans live longer than their counterparts in the north.

  • NK reported on 12 Nov that it officially informed South Korea that the Korean People’s Army will “strictly restrict and cut off” all the overland passages through the Military Demarcation Line on 01 Dec, citing the ROK’s failure to stop the release of propaganda leaflets into the north and its failure to adhere to the 2000 and 2007 agreements (declarations on eventual peaceful unification, confidence-building measures, economic cooperation, and a permanent peace mechanism). The report further stated “The south Korean puppet authorities should never forget that the present inter-Korean relations are at the crucial crossroads of existence and total severance.” The ROK on 13 Nov urged NK to engage in dialogue, one day after the north announced it would shut down all overland passages across the border. Seoul's call for talks came from the Defense Ministry in a one-page reply to the North's message, expressing the government's deep regret over Pyongyang's threat to close the border from the beginning of next month.

  • CEOs of the ROK businesses at the inter-Korean industrial complex in the NK city of Kaesong (Gaeseong) met with the ROK Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong on 13 Nov to discuss operations at the industrial site. They reportedly asked the ministry to persuade civic organizations to stop dropping leaflets on NK.

  • NK announced on 12 Nov it was closing its Red Cross liaison office and all direct telephone links at the truce village of Panmunjom in retaliation against Seoul's "confrontational" policy. Inter-Korean relations have worsened since the conservative, pro-US, ROK President Lee Myung-bak took office in Feb, pledging to link inter-Korean relations to NK's nuclear disarmament. The statement said the closure of the Red Cross channel will lead to a full suspension of humanitarian programs that arrange temporary reunions of family members who have been separated by the inter-Korean border since the 1950-53 Korean War.

  • NK looked to be further isolating itself with reports on 13 Nov that it was restricting travelers from major benefactor China and ignoring calls to lift a threat to close its border with the South. The measures came amid widespread speculation that NK's 66-year-old leader Kim Jong-il may have suffered a stroke, raising questions about his hold on power and who was making decisions about the country's nuclear weapons program.

  • The Financial Times reported that the Chinese military has boosted troop numbers along the border with NK since September amid mounting concerns about the health of Kim Jong-il, according to US officials. One official cautioned that the increase in Chinese troops was not “dramatic”, but he said China was also constructing more fences and installations at key border outposts. Wang Baodong, the Chinese embassy spokesman in Washington, said he was unaware of any increased deployments.

  • On an official Chinese government website, leaders of Antu County near the NK border outlined emergency management measures in order to control any contingencies on the border. Measures included beefing up intelligence and information collection, controlling illegal immigrants from NK, security management, and strengthening the ability to manage and control the situation.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

North Korea's latest Tantrum...Closure of Kaesong Industrial Complex?

Yesterday, citing South Korea's failure to stop the leadlets and its failure to adhere to the 2000 and 2007 agreements (declarations on eventual peaceful unification, confidence-building measures, economic cooperation, and a permanent peace mechanism), North Korea announced "“we officially inform the south side that the actual crucial measure taken by the Korean People’s Army to strictly restrict and cut off all the overland passages through the Military Demarcation Line will take effect from December 1 as the first step in connection with the above-said development” and “The south Korean puppet authorities should never forget that the present inter-Korean relations are at the crucial crossroads of existence and total severance.” This comes after months of harsh rhetoric and threats to close down the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) . The north labels the leaflets as a smear campaign directed at its leader Kim Jong Il and warns it could lead to a military confrontation.

Facts on the KIC: A ground-breaking ceremony was held in Kaesong on June 30, 2003, for the construction of the KIC, one of the biggest inter-Korean economic projects. Planners intended the KIC to be not only a model of inter-Korean economic cooperation but also to contribute to the economic growth of the North and the South. The KIC is run by a South Korean committee that has a fifty-year lease which began in 2004. The park is expected to be complete in 2012, covering 25 square miles and employing 700,000 people. According to Yonhap News, 83 South Korean firms are operating in Kaesong employing approximately 35,000 North Korean workers.

Facts on the Kaesong City Tours: The city of Kaesong is a historically significant site for both Koreas. It served as the capital of the Koryo dynasty from 918 - 1392. The major tourist attraction is the many historic monuments from that era that have survived and it is not
surprising that history teachers form a large part of the visitors.

The Current Problem: Groups of North Korean human rights campaigners and defectors have launched hundreds of thousands of
balloon-borne leaflets into North Korea. The leaflets describe North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a "devilish killer who views his people only as slaves." They say Kim Jong Il is the sole reason for North Korea's hunger and poverty. They also include information on the failing health of Kim and outline his family tree, which includes many children by different women; something frowned upon in conservative North Korea.

North Korea angrily decries the leaflets as a smear campaign against its leader Kim Jong-Il and has asked the south to put an end to the distribution of the leaflets, but they continue. The continued release of the leaflets has put a strain on already tense relations and resulted in the north threatening the expulsion of South Korean workers and the closure of the KIC. On November 12, North Korea announced it will close the overland border between the two countries on December 1st, thus setting the stage for making good on their threats.

North Korea Threatens Closure of the KIC: North Korea has called the leaflet campaign “psychological warfare,” and “a smear campaign against Kim Jong Il.” It says the failure of the South Korean government to halt the spread of the leaflets amounts to tacit approval and has threatened to expel all South Koreans and shut down the KIC, sever all ties with the south, and warns that it risks provoking military confrontation.

North Korea began its current spate of threats during a meeting of military officials from the two Koreas in Panmunjom on October 2nd. This was the first inter-Korean military dialogue since the Lee Myong Bak administration came into power. The meeting lasted only two hours and ended without any significant progress after the North's delegates warned of "grave consequences" for Seoul's spreading of propaganda leaflets. Pyongyang's delegation stated the consequences could include the barring of South Koreans from the North through the inter-Korean
border and the eviction of all South Koreans from the KIC as well as the South Koreans from the Mount Geumgang resort in the east.

Five days after a release of leaflets on October 10th, the Rodong Sinmun, a newspaper published by the North's ruling Workers' Party, carried a commentary with a new threat, "If the group of traitors keeps to the road of reckless confrontation with the DPRK (North Korea), defaming its dignity despite its repeated warnings, this will compel it to make a crucial decision including the total freeze of the North-South relations.” Leaflets were again released on October 27th and again on November 5th, each release followed by renewed threats from the north.

On November 9th, a five-member delegation, led by Lieutenant General Kim Yong-Chol, top policy maker at the National Defense Commission chaired by leader Kim Jong-Il, conducted an unprecedented inspection of the KIC, collecting information on infrastructure and South Korean firms there. South Korean managers reported "They asked some odd questions. They asked, for example, how long it would take for us to pull out," and “They did not show an amicable attitude either, saying they did not visit there just to give out business cards and they had nothing to talk about.”

South Korean Reactions: Seoul has asked the groups to refrain from sending propaganda leaflets in an apparent gesture to placate the north; however, the groups have continued sending the leaflets. Although the two Koreas agreed to cease propaganda activities in high-level military talks held in 2004, South Korea states it does not have the power to prohibit private citizens from releasing the leaflets.

The South's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, played down the threats, saying they do not reflect North Korea's official position. Experts on North Korea opined that the threats are “based on the assumption that South Korea will get so scared that it will somehow find a way to stop the civic groups from floating their balloons containing anti-Pyongyang leaflets.” However, a former South Korean unification minister said “North Korea is likely to act on its threat to partially evict South Korean firms from the inter-Korean joint industrial complex and Seoul needs to have measures ready for such developments.”

This announcement seems to have taken Seoul by surprise in the swiftness of its coming. Seoul probably expected something similar in the future, as evidenced by a meeting planned for tomorrow between representatives of the KIC companies and Unification Minister Kim Ha-Joong, in which the representatives are planning to ask the minister to halt the spreading of leaflets and to request contingency measures if Kaesong is shut down.

If the overland route is closed, it will mean South Korean companies in the KIC will, at least temporarily, have to shut down operations. It is also likely the north will make good on another threat and expel South Korean personnel from the KIC.

In response to this announcement, a spokesman for Hyundai Asan, the company which operates the KIC and also operates day trips to Kaesong City, stated he doesn’t expect the tours to be affected by this announcement. But given the level of seemingly genuine anger over the leaflets and the level of threats, the inspections, and now the announcement, it seems likely the closing of the border may be just the first step in ending, at least temporarily, North Korea’s cooperation in the KIC and will include suspending the tours.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama Aides Meet with North Korean Officials

Well, this did not take long at all....

North Korean officials and U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s Korean affairs advisers have held their first meeting.

Director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s U.S. affairs bureau, Ri Gun, is visiting New York to discuss the nuclear verification issue with the U.S. His delegation on Saturday attended a conference of Korean Peninsula experts hosted by the U.S. National Committee on American Foreign Policy. The North Korean officials listened to presentations on a range of topics, including Washington’s foreign policy stance during the presidential transition and the normalization of U.S.-North Korean ties.

The U.S. President-elect’s chief aide on Korean Peninsula policies, Frank Januzzi, also attended the conference. The National Committee says the event was held to introduce the new U.S. administrative officials to North Korea, pave the way for the six-way nuclear process and boost bilateral understanding of pending issues.
The committee confirmed the attendance of former U.S. officials, including ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and ex-Ambassador to Seoul Donald Gregg. But it refused to comment on whether new administrative officials attended the meeting. [KBS Global]

Frank Januzzi's past record on North Korea should give everyone some indication of the direction of President Obama’s North Korea policy. Januzzi is a believer in the philosophy that if we only understood North Korea better we could get it to change.

North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear ambitions anytime soon since that is its single largest bargaining chip with the US and the world. Its leaders will continue to employ the policy of extortion - which has worked amazingly well so far - and attempt to change the US rather than them changing. After all, North Korea is not the ones who are anctious about having a nuclear program....the US is.

I guess we'll just have to see how Januzzi will handle things this time around.