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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.

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- 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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In and Around North Korea: 25 - 31 December 2008

  • The fate of Christopher Hill, U.S. lead negotiator in the North Korean nuclear talks, is attracting keen interest in South Korea as the Bush administration nears the end of its term. The Korea Herald reported that analysts and diplomats in Seoul initially expected that Hill would leave his position with the launch of Barack Obama administration; however, according to a Seoul diplomatic source, “The new U.S. government is likely to create a new ambassadorial post solely responsible for tackling the North Korean nuclear issue. Hill is among the strong candidates for the new post." There has not been any confirmation to the validity of this report.

  • U.S. New and World Report reported in its latest December issue that it appears likely that North Korea has high hopes for the incoming Barack Obama administration in Washington. The reclusive regime may be under the impression that it could get better deals and incentives, including more economic and fuel aid for continuing to dismantle its nuclear programs, from the new progressive U.S. government, according to the report.

  • The Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, a think tank under the ROK foreign affairs ministry, stated in a report that Pyongyang will take a wait-and-see approach to determine the policy of the Barack Obama administration but then may raise the threat of missiles and a second nuclear weapon test in order to gain incentives. Such a strategy, however, is unlikely to draw compromises from Washington as US President-elect Obama may then toughen his position, it said. The new president will also be occupied with the ongoing economic crisis and pressing foreign policy issues such as the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and Iran's own nuclear ambitions, it said. "The Obama administration is expected to be strongly determined to hold sincere and direct negotiations, but it will also be very strict on the principle of denuclearization," the report said.

  • A senior North Korean diplomat warned Monday that his government will suspend disablement of its nuclear facilities unless Japan fulfils its obligation to provide North Korea with energy assistance under a six-party deal. ''Unless Japan implements the heavy fuel assistance, the (disablement) activities will be suspended,'' the Beijing-based diplomat, who is a participant in the six-party talks, was quoted as saying by Japanese parliamentarian Yoshihiro Kawakami after their meeting in the Chinese capital.

  • On 28 Dec, KCNA reported Kim Jong-il inspected two military units. On 29 Dec, KCNA reported Kim attended an orchestra performance. According to the ROK Ministry of Unification data, Kim appeared in public more in December than he has before – 13 times, which is nearly twice as many monthly visits as in 2007. North Korea reported 97 inspection tours by Kim as of 29 Dec, compared to 87 in 2007, the ministry said. This year's visits were concentrated in the first and last months of the year.

  • The Institute for National Security Strategy, a subsidiary of the National Intelligence Agency, reported that North Korea is expected to hold general elections for its legislature in July and August 2009 to replace senior politicians with up and coming ones, preparing for an era without its supreme leader Kim Jong Il. The report also predicted the North will create another ideology to prepare itself for a post-Kim era and its military-first ideology will gradually lose support.

  • Yonhap cited several North Korea experts in a report that the new U.S. administration may move faster than expected to deal with North Korea in its inaugural year, but Pyongyang's attitude will set the tone for the overall process. The current stalemate in the six-way talks on the North's nuclear program is almost certain to be inherited by President-elect Barack Obama, who will enter the White House in just three weeks. The Center for American Progress, an emerging think tank connected to the Obama camp, recently proposed that Obama send a presidential envoy to Pyongyang within 100 days of taking office. Washington pundits point to Albright, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and retired Defense Secretary William Perry as possible candidates.

  • STRAFOR, a private intelligence-consulting firm based in Austin TX, reported on Chinese views and reactions of three likely scenarios for how a North Korean succession would play out when Kim dies.

  • In the first scenario, Kim falls into a state of decline; he cannot carry out the day-to-day functions of the government, and winds up operating from behind the scenes through proxies. Beijing’s concern is that this scenario could see wild policy swings from Pyongyang as various proxies compete for favor and influence with the ailing Kim.

  • The second scenario, which Beijing views as the least likely, is one in which Kim’s death triggers a rift in the security apparatus in North Korea. In this worst-case scenario, China would seal its border with North Korea and potentially even intervene militarily to “stabilize” North Korea under the auspices of the United Nations.

  • The third scenario, which China sees as most likely when Kim dies — and the one for which Beijing has begun taking steps in preparation — is the establishment of a military leadership that places one of the Kim sons in a position of figurehead power. In this case, Beijing assesses the chances of unrest spilling onto the streets as low.

  • Henan Yima Coal Mining Group, a major coal miner in Central China's Henan province, plans to invest in a 10-million-ton coal mine and a 1.2-million-ton coal chemical project in North Korea. Yima Group reached an agreement on Dec 12 with the Anju Coal Mining Association, North Korea’s largest coal mining enterprise with nearly ten coal mines, to develop the two projects, according to a statement on its website.

  • The start of mobile phone service in Pyongyang, North Korea, which was planned for spring 2008, was delayed for over half a year due to the development of a wiretapping system, a Beijing diplomatic source revealed to Mainichi Shimbun. It is believed that the North Korean authorities aimed to contain the leakage of top secrets and criticisms toward the regime through the development of the wiretapping system, and thoroughly implement the management of the service so that it would not affect the Kim Jong-Il regime.

  • On 27 Dec, the Voice of America reported food aid from the US government will arrive in North Korea on 03 Jan 09, quoting a NGO official. The official, who asked to remain anonymous, was quoted as saying that the “Easter Star” was en route to the reclusive country with 21,000 metric tons of corn and will soon arrive at the port of Nampo. It will be the sixth shipment of the 500,000 metric tons of promised food aid. In May, the US agreed to resume the aid in June for 12 months. The US has given 143,000 metric tons of food assistance so far, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington last week. The NGO official also said 4,940 metric tons of a corn-soya blend and corn oil will be separately shipped to North Korea in mid-January as the seventh shipment, and NGOs will distribute them in the same regions.

  • The State Department said on 30 Dec that the latest batch of humanitarian food aid will arrive in North Korea on 2 Jan despite friction over the issuance of visas for Korean speaking U.S. staff monitoring food distribution. "The lack of sufficient Korean speakers on the WFP program is one of the key issues in ongoing discussions," it said. "The issuance of visas for Korean-speaking monitors for the WFP program is another issue currently being discussed, along with other technical issues." The spokesman reiterated that the U.S. government needs to assure transparency in the distribution of the food aid amid allegations that much of the food aid might have been funneled to the military and the power elite. Millions are said to be suffering from food shortages in the North due to chronic floods and failed policies.

  • The US intelligence community has concluded that North Korea could export intercontinental ballistic missiles or technology to Iran over the next year. North Korea has been assisting the medium- and intermediate-range missile programs of Iran and Syria. Officials said Pyongyang has also sought to export ballistic missile systems to Libya, Sudan and Yemen.

  • A Japanese public security insider says, "The United States is now strictly monitoring the exquisitely made counterfeit $100 bills, which first appeared as counterfeit bills commonly known as 'Super K.' "That is because the United States cannot deny the possibility that, not only simply to make money, North Korea will carry out 'counterfeit currency terrorism' to bring down confidence in the dollar by taking advantage of this lack of confidence in the dollar, and scatter around a large quantity of counterfeit $100 bills."

  • A ROK government official said on 30 Dec, the ROK is considering offering incentives for North Korea in exchange for the return of war prisoners and civilians held in the North. More than 1,000 South Koreans -- soldiers captured during the 1950-53 Korean War and fishermen abducted during the Cold War era – are still detained in North Korea, Seoul officials claim. Pyongyang has denied holding any of them against their will. Seoul has repeatedly proposed a cash deal with Pyongyang for their return, but it has not been accepted. In a 2009 policy briefing, the Unification Ministry plans to propose that Seoul renew its efforts for their return, said ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In and Around North Korea: 20 - 24 December 2008

  • U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on 21 Dec that six-party talks are the only way to achieve North Korea's denuclearization, citing Pyongyang's common strategy of exploiting division in the international community, according to Yonhap News. "A lot has been achieved" in the multilateral talks over the past half year,'' the outgoing secretary said on NBC's Meet the Press, including the shutdown of the North's main nuclear reactor, presentation of its nuclear list and blowing up of the cooling tower of the North's main nuclear reactor. "I think more will be achieved, but it's really only going to be achieved in the context of the six parties, because if you don't have China and South Korea and Russia and Japan at the table, too, then the North can play the game that they used to play of getting benefits from other parts of the international community and refusing to carry forward on its obligations." Rice rebuffed criticism that North Korea had "played" the U.S. in refusing to agree to a verification protocol on its nuclear facilities in the waning weeks of the Bush administration, saying, "Of course we didn't trust them."

  • New Zealand has joined Australia in putting on hold offers to provide North Korea with fuel oil following its failure to agree in writing to ways of verifying information it has provided about its nuclear programs, a New Zealand government spokesman told Kyodo News on 19 Dec. A press secretary for Foreign Minister Murray McCully said New Zealand dropped the offer in the wake of the failure of last week's six-party talks in Beijing to yield a protocol that would commit North Korea to allow such scientific verification measures as taking samples from its nuclear facilities. The move follows Australia's overnight announcement that it has suspended its offer to contribute fuel oil to North Korea.

  • The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) should build a powerful deterrent to U.S. dominance of world affairs, the official Rodong Sinmun daily said on 22 Dec. The United States, while talking about "nuclear disarmament" on the Korean Peninsula, is still seeking modernization of its nuclear weapons, the newspaper said in a commentary. "The U.S. imperialists' moves for the modernization of nuclear weapons compel the Korean people to heighten their revolutionary vigilance and the DPRK to build a powerful deterrent to cope with them," it said. Without a strong military deterrent, no country can safeguard its national security and strategic interests, it added.

  • North Korea renewed its claim on 23 Dec that it is already a nuclear power, snubbing South Korea's denial of the status as a useless attempt to change the reality. Rodong Sinmun said in a commentary that Seoul bears the blame for strained inter-Korean relations and declared North Korea to be a nuclear state that conducted a successful atomic bomb test in 2006. Seoul maintains that the North will never be recognized as a nuclear state, as the term only refers to nations who already possessed nuclear capabilities when the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was adopted in 1970.

  • A national meeting was held at the April 25 House of Culture here Tuesday to mark the 17th anniversary of leader Kim Jong Il's assumption of supreme commandership of the Korean People's Army [KPA]. Vice Marshal of the KPA Kim Il Chol, minister of the People's Armed Forces who is member of the National Defense Commission of North Korea, in a report made at the meeting said that a grave situation is prevailing on the Korean Peninsula due to the hostile policy of the US imperialists and their followers toward North Korea and their frantic moves to ignite a war of aggression against it. He also stated, “North Korea’s revolutionary armed forces have already made a solemn declaration that they would counter the enemies' slightest moves for ‘preemptive attack’ with more rapid and powerful advanced preemptive strike of our style. The pro-American warmongers of south Korea hell-bent on igniting another war had better stop their rash acts, bearing in mind that Korean-style preemptive attack based on striking means unimaginably more powerful than nuclear weapons will prove to be the most decisive and merciless strike based on justice as it will not merely turn everything into a sea of fire but reduce everything treacherous and anti-reunification to debris and build an independent reunified country on it. Should the US hard-line conservative forces and the bellicose forces of south Korea dare ignite another war of aggression against North Korea, the revolutionary armed forces of North Korea will mobilize all the military potentials reinforced by dint of songun [military-first] and remove the main source of war from the peninsula and thus accomplish the historic cause of national reunification without fail.”

  • South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities believe North Korean leader Kim Jong-il did make the semi-public appearances the North has been reporting in recent weeks, despite ill health apparently brought about by a stroke. A senior South Korean intelligence officer on 21 Dec said Kim's personal armored train did travel to the areas where Kim was said to have made the visits. "Based on the information we gathered, we think it is highly likely that he actually visited these cities," he said. Both South Korean and US. intelligence agencies reconnoitered the movement of Kim's personal train with the KH-12 satellite, the U-2 scout plane, and South Korea's Kumgang spotter plane, and confirmed that the train was moving.

  • North Korean media claimed that Kim Jong-il made year-round inspections "without rest," not mentioning the months-long interval during which Kim went unseen amid rumors of his ill health. Kim made a total of 91 public appearances this year as of 24 Dec, slightly up from the 86 appearances he made in 2007 but continuing a downward trend in the reclusive leader's public activities in recent years. Seoul and Washington officials say Kim suffered a stroke in mid-August and is now recovering. Kim "is alive, and he remains in control of the North Korean government," Adm. Timothy Keating of the U.S. Pacific Command said last week. "Since he guided on the spot the workers in their work for constructing the Ryesonggang Power Station on a cold and windy day in the beginning of the year, he has covered without rest the road of field guidance," the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on 23 Dec. "He has continued on-the-spot guidance without interruption defying the intense cold of the midwinter and the blazing sunlight and rainy days of midsummer," it said. The number of Kim's inspections peaked with 123 visits in 2005, after which he has appeared less frequently in public. In 2006, his public activity was reported 99 times, followed by 86 in 2007. This year, six of the 91 visits were reported last week.

  • After enjoying a minor boost in 2008, North Korea's troubled economy is forecast to be further weakened in the face of shrinking ties with its major business partner China, a South Korean research institute reported on 22 Dec. North Korea has set the year 2012 as the target year for the take-off of its economy so that it can celebrate the 70th birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The North Korean economy has been pulling itself up from economic shrinkage to maintain a steady gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2008.

  • According to the sources, North Korea is considering returning some South Korean war prisoners or civilian captives to the South through the border village of Panmunjeom or deporting them to a third country such as China. In return, North Korea suggests South Korea cooperate on a raft of inter-Korean economic projects such as the construction of a steel mill in Musan, a petrochemical industry park in the Najin-Sunbong area, food plants, a housing complex in Pyongyang and a road between Pyongyang and Shinuiju. In particular, the North has expressed hope for the South's participation in the Pyongyang housing project, which is spearheaded by Jang Song-taek, brother-in-law of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, sources said. Jang, who has reportedly emerged as the most powerful figure in the North, has pushed for building 100,000 houses in the North's capital city. Seoul sees the North's proposal as a step forward, sources said. It has begun work to identify details of the proposal, they said. However, Seoul's Unification Ministry, however, officially denied the North Korean proposal. "I've not heard of it," ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun told reporters.

Friday, December 19, 2008

In and Around North Korea: 13 - 19 December 2008

  • The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on 16 Dec the current administration will keep trying to get North Korea to make written commitments on inspection of its nuclear programs until President George W. Bush leaves office on 20 Jan. Six-nation disarmament talks in Beijing ended in a stalemate on 11 Dec over the North's refusal to put into writing any commitments on inspecting its past nuclear activities. The failure of the talks blocked progress on an aid-for-disarmament agreement reached last year. The US stated on 11 Dec it would suspend all heavy fuel oil aid to North Korea until North Korea agrees to a verification plan. On 12 Dec, North Korea said, however, via its official news agency KCNA, that “positive progress” had been made at the six-party talks, especially on implementing a disarmament-for-aid deal. On 13 Dec, North Korea's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye Kwan, hinted that Pyongyang will slow disablement work at its key nuclear complex if there is a halt in the heavy fuel oil shipments promised in exchange.

  • The latest cacophony of the six-party talks comes from the US statement that the six-party talks participants have agreed to suspend the fuel aid to North Korea due to failed talks on verifying the North's nuclear operations. The US stated North Korea’s five negotiating partners (China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the US) have agreed to halt energy aid to North Korea unless the regime agrees to steps for verifying its past nuclear activities; however, on 15 Dec, the South Korea said China, Russia, and South Korea will continue their delivery of heavy fuel oil to North Korea despite the failure of the latest round of six-party talks, contradicting the US statement. The South Korean foreign ministry spokesman Moon Tae-Young said Russia is pushing to provide 50,000 tons of fuel oil and China plans to deliver 99,000 tons by the end of January to complete their shares of the assistance. By 17 Dec, however, the US threat to stop energy aid to North Korea seemed to be gaining ground with other parties as well as it became clear that a threat to stop energy aid to North Korea may be the only way to pressure the North after it was struck from the US State Sponsors of Terrorism List. Some 395,000 tons of heavy oil that had been promised to North Korea remains to be shipped. On 13 Feb 07, the five negotiating partners agreed to offer North Korea a total of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil, with each country contributing 200,000 tons, depending on progress in denuclearization. About 60 percent has been sent. The US has sent 200,000 tons and Russia 150,000 tons. Korea and China have each provided 145,000 and 100,000 tons of raw materials instead, as agreed last year. Japan has refused to participate citing the unresolved issue of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals.

  • On 15 Dec, the US said it will continue to raise the issue of North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens decades ago at multilateral talks on the communist state's denuclearization. Danny Russel, director of the Office of Japanese Affairs at the State Department, also supported Japan's decision not to join four other parties in providing the North with heavy fuel oil promised under a nuclear deal.

  • Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao on 16 Dec said that the current main task of the six-party talks for the Korean nuclear issue is to implement the second-phase actions in a comprehensive and balanced way. A journalist asked during a regular news conference: the US State Department deputy spokesman recently said that the process of non-nuclearization has reached a deadlock as North Korea had refused to accept the nuclear verification protocol. The US side holds the view that it will suspend fuel assistance to North Korea until North Korea accepts the nuclear verification protocol. What is your comment on that? Liu Jianchao said that the six-party talks is an ongoing process and it is a common understanding among all parties to promote this process in a progressive manner. The main task for the current phase is to implement the second-phase actions in a comprehensive and balanced way.

  • North Korea condemned Japan on Tuesday (16 Dec) for "irresponsibly" failing to provide energy aid it promised under a nuclear deal. Japan refuses to pay its share of the cost unless Pyongyang fully addresses concerns about Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 80s. Australia and New Zealand have been approached to make up for the shortfall of about 200,000 tons of fuel oil. Japan has reportedly said it does not oppose the countries' participation in energy provision.

  • North Korea has been putting out almost daily diatribes against the outgoing Bush administration while keeping a discreet silence about president-elect Barack Obama, evidently still hedging its bets about the next US government. When Washington hinted at halting energy aid to North Korea immediately after the collapse of six-party talks on denuclearization last week, the official Rodong Shinmun on Saturday (13 Dec) said the best thing for the Bush administration was to “shut up and leave the White House in silence now that is all there is left for it to do.” It said all the Bush government has done over the last eight years “is create trouble in the world, commit wrongdoings in its every endeavor, and bring about disaster.” But about the verification protocol for its nuclear declaration, over which the talks collapsed and which the next US government will now have to deal with, North Korea drew a veil. After the six-party talks ended, the KCNA said nothing about the verification process, giving the impression that the talks ended fruitfully and saying the six countries agreed to complete delivery of 100 tons of heavy fuel oil as part-reward for the denuclearization process. Nor did North Korea blame the U.S. for the rupture of negotiations. A South Korean government official said, “It seems North Korea doesn’t want to make a negative impression on the new U.S. president right from the start.” On the day Barack Obama won the US presidential election, North Korea sent its Foreign Ministry’s America chief Ri Gun to the US and had him establish contacts with officials in the Obama’s camp. It has also so far made no negative comments about Obama. Baek Seung-joo, of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said, “North Korea seems to be cautiously studying the Obama administration before the real negotiations on nuclear weapons begins.”

  • The French neurosurgeon who treated Kim Jong-il in October said Kim suffered a cerebral hemorrhage but did not undergo surgery and is recovering, in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro. Meanwhile, French intelligence services reportedly checked with a heart surgeon from Lyons who visited the North to treat Kim back in 2004 whether he brought back a blood sample with him and whether Kim had contracted AIDS. Le Figaro carried a full-page feature on Thursday on the secretive treatment of the top-class families of North Korea. Under the title "These French Doctors at Kim Jong-il's Bedside (Ces medecins francais au chevet de Kim Jong-il)," the daily reported the behind-the-scenes stories. in November, 1991, when Kim Il-sung had a heart attack, North Korea took a heart surgeon from Lyons to Pyongyang, and North Korean diplomats in Switzerland sent a pacemaker for his operation to the North in a diplomatic pouch.

  • North Korea stepped up its campaign to prove leader Kim Jong-il is well and in control by showing him looking at an electronic copy of a newspaper dated Tuesday in a series of photos released through its official media. US and South Korean officials have said Kim Jong-il suffered a stroke in Aug 08, raising questions about leadership in North Korea and who was making decisions about the its nuclear program. Despite re-emerging in early Oct 08 in official media reports about making public appearances and seen in undated photographs, there had been no definite and up-to-date image that showed the reclusive leader in good health. In the series of photographs released by KCNA news agency, Kim is seen inspecting a library in the northern Jagang province and looking at a computer monitor displaying an electronic copy of the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper dated 15 Dec. Public appearances by Kim, as well as his health, are held in such secrecy that their exact location and the timing are almost never disclosed, even after the event.

  • Kim Jong-il inspected a steel company, North Korea’s news agency said Thursday, 18 Dec, reporting rare consecutive days of tours to apparently deny rumors of his failing health. Kim "gave field guidance to the February General Steel Enterprise" in Jagang Province, the North's remote northern region, the Korean Central News Agency said, giving no date for the visit. Just a day earlier, the agency said Kim had visited an electronics research center, a library and a pharmaceutical plant. It was Kim's first serial inspections since rumors of his deteriorating health broke in mid-August.

  • Egypt's mobile carrier giant Orascom Telecom Holding launched a third-generation mobile phone network in North Korea, the country's first such system, on Monday, 15 Dec. The company, the largest mobile network operator in the Middle East and Africa, had been working on construction of the network's infrastructure with the goal of starting its service this month. A ceremony was held in Pyongyang to mark the occasion, attended by Orascom chairman and chief executive officer Naguib Sawiris as well as senior North Korean officials, including Vice Premier Ro Tu Chol and post and telecommunications minister Ryu Yong Sop. Orascom has said it intends to cover Pyongyang and most of the country's major cities during the first year of service. Subscriber fees had yet to be announced. Paik Hak-soon, an expert on North Korea at South Korea's Sejong Institute, a policy think tank, said only elites will likely have access to the network, at least in the beginning. Traders and people involved in the economy may also be allowed to use it, Paik said.

  • Orascom Telecom Holding SAE opened a bank in North Korea, on 16 Dec, one day after becoming the first mobile- phone company to invest in the Stalinist state. Orascom Telecom, the Middle East’s biggest wireless company, opened Ora Bank in Pyongyang in the presence of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Naguib Sawiris, a company official said on condition of anonymity. Ezzeldine Heikal, who is also head of Koryolink, Orascom’s North Korean mobile-phone network, was appointed president of the bank, the official said without providing further details. Orascom Telecom is trying to make up for a slowdown in Pakistan and Bangladesh by investing in one of the world’s most isolated countries. Orascom joins OAO Russian Railways and Emerson Pacific Group among a handful of companies in reclusive North Korea, where the economy has been ravaged by famine and U.S. sanctions over its nuclear program. Ora Bank is a joint venture between Orascom Telecom and North Korea’s state-owned Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s official news agency reported today. The director of North Korea’s central bank Kim Chon Gyun and Egypt’s ambassador to Pyongyang Ismail Abdelrahman Ghoneim Hussein, were also present at the opening ceremony.

  • North Korea is set to remove inoperative foreign companies from a faltering special economic zone, officials said on 16 Dec, following a report that some Chinese firms have already been told to leave. South Korea's unification ministry said the North in October conducted a probe into companies that exist only on paper but do not invest in the Rajin-Sonbong zone. The zone was created in 1991 on the communist country's northeastern tip bordering Russia to attract foreign investment and build a logistics hub, but Seoul officials say it has largely failed.

  • North Korea has clamped down on fast-growing free markets for fear they could undermine the communist state's power over its people, analysts and observers say. The regime in late November banned general markets which sell consumer goods from early next year. It severely restricted the operations of food stalls, according to The Daily NK web newspaper and other analysts. The markets sprang up after the famine years of the mid-to-late 1990s, when the official food distribution system broke down and people were forced to trade and to travel around the impoverished nation to survive. In 2002 the country introduced limited reforms. Controls on prices and wages were loosened, workers were granted material incentives and the role of the private markets was accepted. But in Oct 05, apparently fearful of relaxing its grip, the regime banned private grain sales and announced a return to centralized food rationing in some areas. Analysts say the private markets have grown because the centralized command economy cannot do its job.

  • North Korea needs urgent food aid worth 346 million USD to help millions of people get through the new year, the World Food Program said on Wednesday, 17 Dec, in an appeal for worldwide donations. The U.N. food agency said in a report that the requested donation is necessary to help feed 5.6 million North Koreans, nearly a quarter of the country's population, who need outside assistance next year. The agency urged countries to "step up and allocate to urgent hunger needs a fraction of what is proposed for financial rescue packages to address the global economic downturn."

  • The latest US shipment of food aid to Pyongyang will arrive in North Korea within the month after a four-month lull, Voice of America said Thursday, 18 Dec, quoting a Washington official. Some 21,000 tons of corn, the sixth batch of US food aid to the North, are scheduled to arrive within two weeks, according to the quoted US State Department official. The shipment will be the first since the US halted food aid to the communist regime in August.

  • North Korea reaped 4.3 million tons of grain in 2008, up 7 percent from the previous year thanks to improved weather conditions, South Korea's Rural Development Administration (RDA) said on 18 Dec. North Korea had no major typhoons in the summer, which helped increase its harvest by 300,000 tons, the RDA said in a statement. The country's rice harvest increased by 330,000 tons to nearly 1.9 million tons, while corn production dropped by about 50,000 tons to 1.5 million tons due to an early drought, it said. North Korea also produced 160,000 tons of soy beans, 510,000 tons of potatoes and 240,000 tons of barley and other grains, it said. Hah Woon-gu, a RDA researcher, said although North Korea had a good year, the harvest was still less than what the North had averaged in previous good years. "This is still insufficient to feed North Koreans," Han said. North Korea did not receive large-scale fertilizer aid from South Korea this year due to political wrangling, which cut into agricultural production. Relief agencies said food prices had increased in North Korea in recent months, making it even more difficult for the poorest people in the destitute country to obtain enough to eat.

  • Foreign and defense officials in Seoul reiterated Monday, 15 Dec, that the United States does not accept North Korea as a nuclear power, spurning media speculation about a possible change in the U.S. stance toward the North's nuclear capability and status. Subsequently, it was also found that US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in a magazine interview that he believed North Korea has built several nuclear bombs. Defense officials and analysts here are paying keen attention to Gates' remarks because it was the first time that a defense leader either from the United States or South Korea has said North Korea succeeded in making nuclear bombs. They also raised speculation that the US government is moving to change its position on North Korea's nuclear status. Earlier this week, controversy erupted after it was found that an annual US defense report categorized North Korea as one of the nuclear powers in Asia, alongside China, India, Pakistan and Russia.

  • North Korea appears to have succeeded in developing small nuclear bombs light enough to be loaded onto conventional missiles, posing threats to neighboring states even greater than large weapons, Rep. Kim Hak-song of the Grand National Party said on 16 Dec. "The US government says North Korea could have produced seven to eight nuclear weapons while South Korea says it could have up to seven. These estimates are correct if we consider that it takes 6-7 kilograms of plutonium to make a 20-kiloton warhead," Kim said at a security forum organized by the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. "But I think differently. If North Korea has succeeded in developing small-size nuclear warheads, it takes not 6-7 kilograms but 2-3 kilograms of plutonium to make each nuclear weapon, and if that is the case, the North could have produced over 20 nuclear weapons," he said.

  • The development of nuclear arsenals by both Iran and North Korea could lead to "a cascade of proliferation," making it more probable that terrorists could get their hands on an atomic weapon, a congressionally chartered commission warned on Tuesday, 16 Dec. "It appears that we are at a 'tipping point' in proliferation," the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States said in an interim report to lawmakers. The report also called for closer cooperation among nuclear powers and the international nuclear watchdog agency.

  • South Korea said on 14 Dec it will use about 1.51 trillion won (US$1.10 billion) in 2009 to facilitate economic and humanitarian exchanges with North Korea, including 400,000 tons of rice aid to the impoverished state. The amount represents an 8.6 percent increase from the 1.39 trillion won earmarked for the inter-Korean cooperation fund this year, the Unification Ministry said. The National Assembly on 13 Dec passed a 284.5 trillion won budget bill for 2009.

  • South Korean companies have started to cancel plans to build factories at the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea as concerns mount about deteriorating inter-Korean relations, a South Korean opposition lawmaker said on 16 Dec. Rep. Chung Jung-bae's office said that since October, seven companies have decided against setting up operations at the complex located just north of the demilitarized zone. While two made the decision based on mounting losses in their businesses in the South, the rest expressed deteriorating conditions under the Lee Myung-bak administration as the main cause," an aide to Chung said.

  • Lt. Gen. Kim Yong-chol, a senior official of North Korea’s National Defense Commission, made a two-day visit to the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) starting on 17 Dec amid speculation that Pyongyang may impose further sanctions on the joint industrial complex. He held talks with South Korean businessman in order to convey the meaning of the 1 Dec measure, to check how it has been implemented and to look into the current situation of the KIC. After his two-day visit, Kim said that “North-South relations are frozen at this moment,” and that “if there’s no change of attitude by the South, current measures will not be lifted.” Some experts believe that even though the military official gave no direct warning of new sanctions, the inspection itself carries the hint that Pyongyang is will to further curtail operations in Kaesong. Experts generally agree North Korea will not go to the extreme of shutting down the joint complex, which would deter foreign investors and dramatically heighten tension in the border region.

  • North Korea’s Ministry of State Security said in a statement on 18 Dec that it had arrested a North Korean on a “terrorist mission” ordered by a South Korean intelligence organization “to do harm to the top leader” of North Korea. The North’s agency identified the arrested man’s family name as Ri and said he was tasked with gathering information about Kim Jong Il’s movements. The North’s statement also said authorities recently arrested unspecified agents who tried to gather soil, water, tree leaves and dust in the country’s major munitions industrial area to gather information on its nuclear program. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service stated it was checking the claim.

  • On 15 Dec, North Korea’s state media urged its people not to “betray” the communist regime, stressing the importance of “comradeship.” The Rodong Sinmun editorial stated that “The inalterability of comradeship is clearly shown at the time of radical transition in political status,” and that “people who cherished their faithfulness to comrades won fame as revolutionaries, but those who failed to do so fell onto the path of treachery.” The call came amid reports of Kim Jong Il’s health and escalating tensions with South Korea and the United States. The North’s media has recently put more emphasis on the “unity of the people” in an apparent effort to tighten ideological control and quell internal anxiety over the health of Kim.

  • A U.N. General Assembly plenary session on 18 Dec (19 Dec KST) adopted a resolution demanding that North Korea improve its human rights situation, including immediately returning abduction victims to their home countries. The assembly passed the resolution by a vote of 94 to 22 with 63 abstentions, marking the fourth year in a row that a resolution was adopted seeking concrete action from North Korea on its human rights situation. The resolution was led by Japan and European Union members. This year, South Korea joined for the first time in sponsoring the resolution.

Friday, December 12, 2008

In and Around North Korea: 5 - 12 December 2008

  • 6PT negotiators failed to achieve their goal of documenting ways to verify North Korea's nuclear programs after four days of talks in Beijing, with envoys saying there were still significant gaps to be bridged. No date was set for the next meeting of the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, though a chairman's statement was issued saying that the multilateral negotiations will be held ''at an early date.'' ''Unfortunately, we were not able to complete some of the things we wanted to do,'' top U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill told reporters at Beijing's international airport shortly before his departure. ''Ultimately, we were not able to get an agreed verification protocol,'' he said.

  • Envoys from the U.S. and its allies failed to coax North Korea into agreeing on sampling and other scientific measures necessary to inspect its nuclear facilities, darkening prospects for any new deal. This week's six-nation talks, which started on 08 Dec, are one of the last opportunities for the Bush administration to save a troubled aid-for-denuclearization deal it signed in 2007, despite strong opposition from hard-liners in Washington. "We didn't make any progress today," top U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill told reporters after the third-day marathon session focused on a Chinese-presented draft of a verification protocol. "We've had considerable discussions about the issues, and I can't say there were any breakthroughs."

  • The six-party talks hit a major hurdle on 10 Dec with North Korea saying it has no plans to allow inspectors to take samples from its nuclear facilities as a means of verifying its nuclear information. North Korea said it could not accept sampling as it would infringe upon its sovereignty under the current situation when there is no trust between North Korea and the United States. The comments came as delegations from North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia met for the third day in Beijing in a bid to document verification methods as part of North Korea's denuclearization, South Korea's top nuclear envoy Kim Sook said. He quoted North Korea as saying in the meeting that it will allow only field visits, checking of documents and interviews with technicians as methods of verification.

  • North Korea won't link the current aggravation of its relations with South Korea with the denuclearization of the peninsula at the meeting of the heads of delegations of six nations opening on 08 Dec, a North Korean diplomatic source has told Interfax. "These are two absolutely different unconnected problems and their solution does not depend on each other," the source said. "At the upcoming meeting of the heads of delegations the North Korean side does not intend to discuss bilateral relations with Seoul or the question of abducted Japanese with the delegation Japan because they are unrelated to the main subject of the talks on denuclearizing the peninsula," the diplomat said.

  • The United States said it will support Japan raising the issue of North Korean abductions in the multilateral forum on ending Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. "The issue of abductions needs to be dealt with," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "We will continue to work with them -- the six-party framework to -- with the Japanese to find some answers to the questions that they have and try to help bring some closure for those families that have been waiting years, if not decades, for answers." The remarks come as Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state, attends a fresh round of the six-party talks in Beijing in a last-minute effort to conclude an accord on the disablement of the North's nuclear facilities in the Bush administration's waning weeks.

  • Korean Central News Agency reported on a 10 Dec Rodong Sinmun signed commentary: “In order to implement its Asia-Pacific strategy for aggression, the U.S. seeks to bind countries in the region to its military alliance and knock into shape a new NATO type military bloc of Asian version and make the best use of it. To this end, the U.S. is stepping up the arms buildup in the Asia-Pacific region and hastening the formation of the military alliance with the countries in the region. The DPRK is made the main target of its preemptive attack and herein lies the purpose of its military steps. The U.S. warlike forces would be well advised to face up to the trend of the times and give up the military hysteria disturbing dialogue and peace.”

  • Minju Joson reported, “A report forecasting the world situation up to 2025 recently released by the National Intelligence Council [NIC] of the United States is drawing people's attention. Based on forecasts of various challenging natural, political, economic, and military problems to be faced by humankind in the future, the report pronounced the bankruptcy of the United States' hegemonic policy and predicted that the world would advance toward the direction of multi-polarization in the future. It is as clear as day that the financial basis of the United States blasted by the world will crumble and how the "leading status" of the United States, which is failing to play any role in the challenges faced by humankind, will end up in the near future. The "declaration" of the incumbent leaders to "display before the world the strength and authority" of the United States is shaking aimlessly like a fallen leaf before the wind in the last stage of their rule. The reality shows once again that it is a natural law-governed process of the development of history to advance toward a multi-polarized world, not a world controlled by a specific country.”

  • Rodong Sinmun reported, “There is a saying about a thief crying stop thief. This saying can be applied to the words and actions of the Lee Myung-bak gang that is letting loose all sort of spiteful words in order shift the responsibility for the breakdown of North-South relations to someone else. The traitorous gang's defense of its "policy toward the North" and the far-right, conservative organizations' act of scattering anti-Republic leaflets, too, cannot be overlooked. The crimes of the Lee Myung-bak ring can never be forgiven, and thus it will have to pay a hundred- and a thousand-fold price for the crimes.”

  • The Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland issued its information bulletin No. 944 on 06 Dec denouncing the conservative authorities, the Grand National Party and other ultra-right conservative forces of south Korea for resorting to base moves to evade their responsibility for having pushed the inter-Korean relations to a stalemate. The bulletin denounced the moves of the puppet authorities and conservative forces to shift the blame for the present situation onto the DPRK as another grave provocation against it as they are a premeditated intrigue to conceal the crimes committed by them as the arch criminal who deteriorated the inter-Korean relations and realize their ambition for achieving "unification through absorption" and their strategy for a war of aggression against it under the signboard of "dialogue". The Lee Myung-bak group has only advocated "closer alliance" with foreign forces, while categorically denying the agreement common to the nation. One can hardly expect the genuine development of the inter-Korean relations, to say nothing of the dialogue between the authorities, as long as such group of traitors is allowed to stay in power. The DPRK will continue to follow the future attitude of the Lee Myung-bak group.

  • Korean Central News Agency reported on 11 Dec that Kim Jong Il, general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea and chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission, provided field guidance to the rebuilt Sariwon Chicken Farm and the Migok Cooperative Farm in Sariwon City. The agricultural front is the main front of weighty importance in solving the problems of clothes, food, and housing for the people, he said, stressing the need for the entire Party, the whole country and all the people to keep concentrating efforts on farming and thus bring about an epochal turn in agricultural production. He also visited Minsok (folklore) Street built in the city of Sariwon.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s special train has remained idle over three months, according to analysts who observe the reclusive communist nation through satellite photos, fueling speculation that Kim is still too ill to make long-distance trips. Pyongyang’s has made several apparent attempts to dismiss concerns by releasing Kim’s photos through state media to prove his good health. “Kim’s train never left Yongsong train station near Pyongyang since reports about the ailing leader spread outside world in late September,” a South Korean source said, hinting that Kim may have never left the North’s capital city.

  • Regarding a report on the Chosun (North Korea) Central News Agency stating that Kim Jong Il recently visited Shinuiju, a source from Shinuiju informed the Daily NK, “A Number 1 Event (a welcoming event for Kim Jong Il “onsite inspections”) was held on November 24, but we are not sure whether or not the General (Kim Jong Il) appeared.” A North Korea tourist, who came out early in December through Shiuiju to China, explained that during Kim’s stay in the city, all public transportation, buses and trains, are stopped and all kinds of activities are banned. However, on the day that it was known that Kim stayed in Shinuiju, the tourist said “there was nothing special at that time.”

  • Cheong Seong Chang, a North-South relations researcher at the Sejong Institute, asserted in his report, “Predictions for North Korean power structure change in the post-Kim Jong Il era,” that “There is a limit to Director of the Ministry of Administration of the Chosun (North Korea) Workers’ Party Jang Sung Taek’s domination over the North Korean military, although he is on the inside track to take power.” Cheong pointed out that, “Jang Sung Taek has a good reputation with the authorities and administrative power over the National Security Agency (NSA) and the People’s Safety Agency (PSA), so he is in a better position to grasp power in an emergency. However, he does not lead the military.” “For now, there is no one who holds real power over the Party, the military and the government, so whoever gets the power after Kim Jong Il’s death can’t hope to have concrete influence as Kim Jong Il currently does,” he said. He predicted that, “It is hard to imagine that the North will change its system into a collective leadership system just like the Chinese have. Therefore, in the post-Kim Jong Il era, the system may be relaxed a bit more than the current system, nevertheless concentrating power in the Party and the country in an individual dictatorship.”

  • Tokyo TBS Television in Japanese, during its regularly scheduled "Hodo Tokushu NEXT" program at 0912 GMT on 6 December, carried an approximately 30 minute-report on the DPRK succession issue. This report claims to have obtained a video of young Kim Jong Il, which it says was not made to public before. The program does not say how or when this "secret video" was obtained. In one segment, the program focused on the eldest son, Kim Cho'ng-nam, as a succession candidate. Another segment was about the second son, Kim Cho'ng-ch'o'l. The program says that some in the DPRK pushed Cho'ng-ch'o'l as the successor by deifying his mother, Ko Yo'ng-hu'i, but this move was temporary. The program repeats that Kim Jong Il was chosen as a result of propaganda that lasted over 20 years. Therefore, no news about the DPRK's preparations to support the successor shows there is no serious move for the succession at this point. The program notes that two months ago, Rodong Sinmun carried an article that said the third and fourth generations now bear responsibility for revolution. It went on to mention the fifth and sixth generation "for the first time," showing "the WPK's concerns over the instability of the regime," according to sources.

  • Orascom Telecom, the largest Arab mobile operator by subscribers, said on 10 Dec it would start mobile services in North Korea next week. "For the first time citizens will have access to mobile service on Dec. 15," an Orascom spokeswoman told Reuters. "It will be open to everyone." Orascom said earlier this year it had successfully tested its network and would start mobile services before the end of 2008. Orascom had said it expected a couple of million subscribers for the unit, in which the North Korean government holds a 25 percent stake, in the first three or four years.

  • North Korean authorities recently announced the intention to sell all industrial products in state-operated stores, soon after announcing the revised “10th-day famers markets,” which open only on the 1st, 11th and 21st of every month, starting from next year. According to an inside source in North Hamkyung Province, a new instruction on the sale of industrial products in state-operated stores was introduced during the latest cadres’ lectures. As rumors of the large-scale entry of Chinese goods onto the market due to Chinese loans circulate among people, there has been in a flutter in the market. He said, “Due to the jangmadang, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. And, because money is not flowing within the regime, the authorities are getting rid of private sales to revive the banks so as to recover the regime economy... It seems the state-controlled economy will become better next year” he added. The source reported that there have been heated debates on this decision among North Koreans. The source in the end expressed concern because workers began “explicitly complaining about cadres who only fill themselves up. I personally think that there will begin a massive war within the markets starting from New Year’s Day”.

  • International media have been reporting that the political situation in North Korea has become turbulent, yet residents of the city of Dandong on the China-North Korea border who are eyewitnesses say that border trade between the two countries has certainly not stopped, and that travel between the two countries goes on as normal. A manager surnamed Li at the Dandong office of China International Travel Service on Shiwei Road in Dandong said that as long ago as 5 October they received a notice from the North Korean Travel Service saying, "As of 11 October, North Korea will temporarily stop receiving Chinese tour groups. The date on which tours will resume has yet to be determined. The North Korean National Tourism Administration will send Dandong Travel Service a formal notice two days from now; that is, after the holiday period in China." But groups fly back and forth between Shenyang and Pyongyang as usual.

  • Leonid A Petrov, PhD, a research associate at the Division of Pacific and Asian History Research School of the Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University, stated North Korea is heading for a major retreat, back to "military communism". Only those elements of a market economy which are necessary to keep the country afloat are being preserved. The economic policy of partial liberalization, which started in July 2002, waned in mid-2005 and is now history.

  • Around 40 percent of the population of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), an estimated 8.7 million people, mostly young children, pregnant and nursing women and the elderly, will urgently need food assistance because of an expected cereals deficit in the coming months, the UN’s Food and Agricultural organization (FAO) and World Food Program (WFP) said in a joint report on 008 Dec. Despite favorable climate conditions during the past growing season, the country's agricultural production will not meet basic food needs this year, according to the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission report. The joint mission visited the DPRK from 9-24 October 2008; it was the first such comprehensive field assessment mission since 2004.

  • The State Department said on 09 Dec it plans to send a group of officials to North Korea to assure transparency in the distribution of food aid to North Korea as a prerequisite to implementing its pledge to funnel up to 500,000 tons of food. "So we're going to try to send some additional personnel to North Korea in an effort to make it work so that we can assure ourselves that we are fulfilling those dual responsibilities," spokesman Sean McCormack said. He was talking about the difficulty in both securing transparency in the food distribution and meeting the urgent humanitarian needs of the impoverished communist state. The U.S. wants the food to go to the truly needy rather than the power elite or black market.

  • America's Radio Free Asia reported on 09 Dec that internet company Google and online video site YouTube promised to cooperate in promoting the human rights of North Koreans and democratization of the nation via internet broadcasting. An official at the U.S. State Department reportedly said, "It is important to use the Internet to promote North Korean's human rights."

  • A North Korean woman trying to defect has been staying in a third country after escaping from an inter-Korean industrial complex in the border city of Kaesong where she used to work, a South Korean activist here said on 10 Dec. The 27-year-old woman, whose identity was withheld for her safety, fled Kaesong in late September and has since asked for help to travel to South Korea, according to Kim Yong-hwa, who leads a Seoul-based civic group advocating for the human rights of North Korea defectors. This is the first known defection of a North Korean worker at the Kaesong industrial complex, where about 36,000 North Koreans are employed by dozens of South Korean factories operating under the tight control of Pyongyang authorities.

  • As the scattering of leaflets by defector organizations becomes a major issue, the possibility that pro-North Korea figures will send leaflets containing critical messages about defector organizations to the North has generated significant interest. "Pro-North Korean regime organizations also will disseminate leaflets. They ought to capture the reality of defector organizations that distribute leaflets and send them to the North. Like them, we will attach leaflets about defector organizations to hydrogen balloons and send them to the North." He then said, "We cannot disclose the specific time we will send them at this time. Even if legal issues result and our reputation is damaged due to the contents, we will do this for the future of the 70 million of our nation."

  • Conservative activists in South Korea said on 05 Dec they will temporarily suspend sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the inter-Korean border, going along with Seoul's effort to temper friction with the communist neighbor. The spreading of the leaflets has become yet another bone of contention between the two divided countries, with North Korea sharply restricting passage across their shared border in retaliation. "Under the ruling party chairman's request, we have decided to stop sending flyers for the time being and observe changes in North Korea's attitude," said an alliance of civic groups, including the Fighters for Free North Korea, in a joint statement. "This decision has nothing to do with North Korea's threats or the pro-Pyongyang force in the South." Chairman Park Hee-tae of the ruling Grand National Party met with activist leaders earlier Friday, asking them to halt sending the anti-Pyongyang leaflets for "a bigger goal" of mending ties with the North. It was the conservative party's first official move regarding the issue.

  • South Korea's foreign minister on 10 Dec reinforced U.S. officials' response to a recent defense report listing North Korea as one of five nuclear powers in Asia, saying it was "evidently in error." The report, released by the U.S. Joint Operation Command under the Defense Department last month, categorized Pyongyang as a nuclear state along with China, India, Pakistan and Russia, triggering concerns that Washington may be poised to acknowledge Pyongyang as a bona fide nuclear power. The foreign minister stressed that Seoul and Washington's position of not categorizing the North as a nuclear power remains unchanged.

  • North Korea will never be recognized as a nuclear state despite its continued ambitions, as the term only refers to nations who already possessed nuclear capabilities when an international non-proliferation treaty was adopted, South Korea's defense minister said on 11 Dec. The remarks come one day after a report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command categorized the communist North as one of five nuclear powers in Asia, along with China, Russia, India and Pakistan. The U.S. State Department has dismissed the categorization as a simple mistake, saying, "That is not our national policy. And the document they referenced does not represent the official views of the United States." Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee, however, noted Pyongyang may try use Washington's mistake to its advantage and promote itself as a nuclear power.

  • North Korea is unlikely to shut down a landmark joint factory park with South Korea despite its anger over largely political issues, the chief executive of one of the firms operating there said on 05 Dec. "Closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex: South Korean businessmen do not buy that story," Yoo Chang-guen, president of SJ Tech Co. and vice chairman of an association of companies operating at the special zone in North Korea, told reporters. Starting this month, however, North Korea has cut the number of South Koreans allowed access, ended a largely symbolic cargo train service, tightened border crossings by vehicles and suspended tours run by a South Korean company to the city of Kaesong. Lee Im-dong, an official with the business association, said North Korea has taken steps to consider the needs of the South Korean businesses, such as ensuring that goods can still cross the border by truck. He said the recent North Korean restrictions have still hurt the firms because customers have grown skittish about ordering products made at the complex.

  • South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on 05 Dec renewed his call on North Korea to restart inter-Korean governmental dialogue to pave the way for "genuine reconciliation," according to his spokesman. Meeting with key members of the National Unification Advisory Council, Lee also said his government will always stand ready to extend humanitarian assistance to North Korea's beleaguered people. "South and North Korea have to meet again for dialogue. The North will eventually realize our genuine attitude through dialogue," Lee was quoted by presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan as saying at the meeting. "I don't have any intention to politically utilize inter-Korean relations. My government will do its best to pave the way for true reconciliation and co-prosperity between the two Koreas."

  • South Korean companies at North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Complex will demand that their government compensate them for lost revenue if inter-Korean relations continue to deteriorate. About 130 South Korean firms with factories in the cross-border business zone say sales dropped by 60 percent last month due to escalating tension between the two Koreas. A committee representing manufacturers in Kaesong estimates they have incurred a total of W110 billion (US$1=W1,478) in business losses from September through November.

  • A local expert in inter-Korean relations said on 11 Dec a social contract is necessary to solve conflict regarding North Korea policies among South Koreans. As the communist state severed ties with South Korea in retaliation to Seoul's tougher stance, discord over solutions have deepened among South Koreans. “It is important to proceed with a North Korea policy based on public consensus,'' said Cho Han-bum, a director at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. ``To achieve public consensus, the government has to consider adopting a social contract on unification.'' The suggestion was made during a seminar hosted by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, a civic group in which more than 200 political parties, religious groups and civic groups participate to help facilitate South-North unification.

  • Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently turned down an invitation from North Korea to visit Pyongyang, a senior South Korean lawmaker said. Ri Gun, director general of the North American Affairs bureau at North Korea's foreign ministry, extended the invitation in early November at a seminar in New York, Rep. Cho'ng Mong-chun [Chung Mong-joon] of the ruling Grand National Party told South Korean correspondents here. Kissinger in essence rejected the proposal by conditioning it on a pledge from North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and to allow him to travel as an official presidential envoy, said Chung.

  • South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan has canceled his visit to Washington next week for "strategic dialogue" with his American counterpart Condoleezza Rice, a ministry official said on 05 Dec. Yu and Rice had planned to meet on Dec. 8 to coordinate the allies' policy on the North Korean nuclear crisis and other global issues. "The South Korean side asked for the meeting to be indefinitely postponed due to Minister Yu's busy schedule here. For example, next year's budget plan has yet to be passed through the National Assembly," a ministry official told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.

Friday, December 5, 2008

In and Around North Korea: 26 November - 4 December 2008

  • U.S. chief nuclear envoy Christopher Hill met with his NK counterpart Kim Kye-gwan in Singapore on 04 Dec, saying they had substantive talks focused on verification of the NK’s nuclear activities. “We have reviewed the major issues that we have all been working on. It is disablement, the fuel oil and the issue of verification of their declaration, "Hill told reporters after their meeting. Analysts said this meeting was expected to "set the tone for Beijing", Kyodo News said in an earlier report. Hill has been criticized by conservatives in Washington for being too flexible with North Korea and not obtaining detailed information from Pyongyang about its suspected program to enrich uranium for weapons, or for proliferating technology to countries such as Syria.

  • South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said "I anticipate they (the United States and North Korea) would maximize efforts to reach an agreement". Asked whether failure to work out an agreement in Singapore would derail the six-party process, the minister was quoted as saying that "the United States, North Korea and other countries in the six-party framework have appreciated the usefulness of the six-party talks, and the next US administration led by President-elect Obama supports the talks".

  • The U.S. State Department's top official on nuclear verification Paula DeSutter stressed on 26 Nov that sampling should be guaranteed in a six-party agreement on ways to assess Pyongyang's nuclear capability. "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."

  • South Korea, the United States and Japan agreed to finalize the disablement of North Korean nuclear facilities by March 2009, Seoul's top nuclear envoy said. The chief nuclear negotiators from the three nations agreed at a meeting in Tokyo on 03 Dec to fine-tune their strategies ahead of the next round of six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions. The talks are likely to be held in Beijing on 08 Dec.

  • Rodong Sinmun on 02 Dec stated “it is the firm and unwavering stand of our Republic to counter the "preemptive attack," which the US imperialists made its main mode of striking us, with a more powerful and advanced preemptive attack of our own style. The preemptive attack of our own style, a powerful and mighty military operation beyond imagination, will make the combined military operations plan of the United States and Japan powerless. Nobody can predict the method of strike of our own style and its might and it will be resolute and merciless to the aggressors. Availing ourselves of this opportunity, we would like to serve a strong warning to the Japanese reactionaries. The desperate efforts made by Japan to start a reckless war against our Republic, crying out for "closer alliance" with the United States in a bid to gain something, will be an act of self-destruction as foolish as jumping into the fire with fagots on its back. Japan would be well advised to bear this in mind.”

  • Rodong Sinmun on 01 Dec stated “with no rhetoric can the Lee Myung-bak ring avoid the criminal responsibility for having pushed North-South relations into a crisis of complete shutdown or cover up the anti-reunification and bellicose true colors of those keen to harm fellow countrymen at any cost in league with outside forces. Our principled stand is firm and invariable. We are always faithful to our words and we do not make any empty talk. The fate of North-South relations entirely depends on what attitude the authorities of the South side adopt toward them [declarations]. If the Lee Myung-bak ring continues to maliciously cling to its confrontational racket against the Republic, swimming against the current of the 15 June reunification era, it will be made to take full responsibility for all the grave consequences to be entailed.”

  • KCNA reported on 02 Dec “the south Korean puppets are contemplating revising the "national defense reform for 2020" as a dangerous plan for arms buildup, while spreading rumor of "threat from the north." This is prompted by their bellicose scenario to realize at any cost their wild ambition to invade the north in collusion with foreign forces by attaining their goal for beefing up the ultra-modern armed forces earlier than scheduled and pushing ahead with it under a more carefully worked out plan.” It went on to say “the catastrophic crisis of the inter-Korean relations bears a close resemblance to the situation on the eve of a war. The Lee group would be well advised to stop the reckless arms buildup at once, mindful that the provocative acts will only further bedevil the inter-Korean relations and entail disastrous consequences.”

  • North Korea released more pictures of leader Kim Jong Il visiting a military unit. Photos including one showing him clapping, in an apparent attempt to dispel rumors that a stroke left him partially paralyzed.

  • KCNA reported on 03 Dec that Kim Jong Il visited the recently renovated Central Zoo in Pyongyang and oversaw operations there for “a long time.” The report did not specify exactly when the visit took place, but said the renovations were completed on 09 Nov, indicating he may have been there in the past month. It was the first time the KCNA had reported that Kim visited the local landmark.

  • The Mainichi Daily News reported on 01 Dec that a move to have the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il succeed him as the reclusive country's next leader failed due to a power struggle within North Korea's ruling party late last year.

  • Chang Song Taek, 62, a high-ranking official at the Worker's Party of Korea, asked fellow party official Lee Je Gang to agree to endorse Kim's eldest son, Kim Jong Nam, 37, as his successor around the end of last year.

  • However, Lee rejected Chang in favor of Kim's second son, 28-year-old Kim Jong Chol instead, according to sources close to the North Korean government.

  • The failed agreement between Chang -- Kim Jong Il's brother-in-law -- and Lee -- a senior aide to Kim -- has reportedly thrown the party into disarray over who will succeed Kim Jong Il, whose health is reportedly deteriorating.

  • A 20 Nov article in the Tokyo Shimbun translated on 01 Dec stated that exports from North Korea's Musan mine (Musan County, North Hamgyo'ng Province), which boasts of the largest deposit of iron ore in Northeast Asia, and exports of rice from China to the DPRK had stopped since September. According to several related sources, the traffic of cargo trains between the two countries has also stopped since the beginning of November. The reason for this "strange occurrence" in PRC-DPRK trade is unknown, but certain pundits suspect that this is linked to rumors of General Secretary Kim Jong Il's illness.

  • Kyodo News reported that Singapore and North Korea signed an investment guarantee agreement on 02 Dec as Pyongyang pitched for investment from the city-state. The agreement was signed by Singapore's Trade and Industry Minister Lim Hng Kiang and North Korea's Foreign Trade Minister Ri Ryong Nam on the last day of his three-day official visit to Singapore. It promotes bilateral investment flows by protecting investors and their investments through nondiscriminatory treatment, compensation in the event of expropriation or nationalization of their investments, and free transfer of capital and returns from investment, Lim's ministry said in a statement.

  • Amidst the stumbling of South Korean enterprises in the Kaesong Industrial Complex as a result of the 01 Dec restrictions, the assertion is that a “Shinuiju Special Zone” is on the way.
    • Forum for Inter-Korea Relations representative Kim Gyu Chul held a press conference in Seoul on 01 Dec and released a piece of North Korean special data, which was purchased in March from a foreign consulting company in China, about developing a special zone in Shinuiju. According to Kim, North Korea has a plan to build a special economic zone in the Shiuiju and Wihwado region, on around 83.772 hectares of land.

    • "During the period of the current South Korean administration, North Korea will minimize reliance on the South's economy, increase reliance on China, and is planning to promote economic relations with the U.S., the E.U. and Russia," he stated.

  • Mobile phone service will be launched this month in North Korea but it is unclear who will be allowed to use it in the secretive communist state, a news report said on 04 Dec. The service is due to begin in Pyongyang on 10 Dec, US broadcaster Radio Free Asia said in a Korean-language website report which quoted a Chinese trader operating in the country. The broadcaster said the service will gradually expand to other parts of the country, with mobile handsets costing 700 dollars. This would make them too expensive for all but a tiny minority. Radio Free Asia said it was not known whether the new service would be restricted to communist party officials. Egypt's Orascom Telecom announced in January it had won the right to offer the mobile service and said it would invest 400 million dollars in the project.

  • Officials at South Korea’s Ministry of Strategy and Finance said that the government plans to establish a 9.9 billion won ($6.7 million) trust fund in the World Bank next year in the form of a "Fragile States Fund," through which South Korea plans to provide organizational development assistance. "Since North Korea is not a member of the World Bank, we cannot help North Korea directly," an official of the ministry said. He noted that the fund would not target the North only, but "If there is some progress in North Korea's opening up and it becomes a member of the World Bank, the fund could be directly used to help the North," he added.

  • KCNA reported that the DPRK categorically rebuffs and condemns an anti-DPRK resolution on human rights which was “railroaded through the meeting of the 3rd Committee of the 63rd UN General Assembly.” This "resolution, fabricated by Japan and the EU with a political motive to tarnish the image of the DPRK in the international arena, is peppered with lies and fabrications.” The article went on to say “That was why the majority of the UN member nations said no or abstained from voting, questioning the resolution as it was a vivid manifestation of politicization and double-dealing standards in dealing with a human rights issue.”

  • The director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency said “U.S. intelligence agencies have numerous indications of close cooperation between Iran and North Korea on developing ballistic missiles.” Air Force Lt. Gen. Trey Obering told reporters that a recent Iranian missile test was one sign of Teheran-Pyongyang missile cooperation.

  • South Korea will complete the withdrawal of hundreds of its nationals from North Korea on 04 Dec after the communist nation ordered them out. The North earlier demanded that, starting this week, the number of South Koreans working at the joint industrial and tourism zones in Kaesong and Mount Kumgang be halved to 880 and 100, respectively. The communist nation said the cutback is part of its initial retaliatory measures on Seoul's hard-line policy toward Pyongyang. The last group of about 50 staffers, including 23 Chinese, are scheduled to leave the two North Korean areas in the afternoon, according to Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for Seoul's Unification Ministry dealing with North Korea.

  • Activists from groups who regularly send balloons carrying flyers to North Korea clashed on 02 Dec with tens of opponents from liberal groups protesting against the campaign as they attempted to launch a new batch of balloons at a port near the western sea border between the two Koreas. One activist was hospitalized after being hit on the head with a wrench wielded by a protester. The clash underscored South Korea's deepening ideological divide over sensitive political and social issues. Conservatives claim leafleting is an effective means of helping North Koreans see the truth in a country where the use of radio and television as well as the internet is limited. Liberals, to the contrary, believe it would only enrage North Korea and result in deteriorated ties.

  • Conservative South Korean activists resumed sending propaganda leaflets into the North on 03 Dec and, in contrast to the previous day, there were no clashes with leftwing organizations trying to prevent them. Ten members of Family Assembly Abducted to North Korea and Fighters for Free North Korea floated 10 large balloons carrying 100,000 propaganda leaflets from the Bridge of Freedom at Imjingak Park in Paju, Gyeonggi Province. Attached to the leaflets were 1,000 US$1 bills.

  • Radio Free Asia said on 03 Dec that North Korea has mobilized its troops to collect anti-communist leaflets distributed by South Korean civic groups off its western coast. The report said Pyongyang’s intelligence agents are monitoring residents in the area and punishing those who read or keep the leaflets.

  • South Korean troops are on guard against any military provocation by North Korea after the communist state ordered a border clampdown amid worsening ties, the defense ministry said on 03 Dec. The North on 01 Dec imposed strict border controls and ordered the expulsion of hundreds of South Koreans working at the Kaesong joint industrial estate, in protest at what it calls the Seoul government's confrontational policy. It also halted a cross-border cargo rail service and a popular day tour. "In response to the North's 01 Dec measure, surveillance and control operations are being stepped up against (any) naval attacks and attempts to kidnap fishing boats," the ministry said.

  • South Korea’s Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun, Democratic Labor Party Chairman Kang Ki-kap, and Renewal of Korea Party Chairman Moon Kook-hyun held an “urgent meeting” on 30 Nov in the National Assembly member office building to discuss ways to deal with what they defined as a crisis in relations with North Korea. During the meeting the leaders of the three opposition parties decided to adopt a four-point joint resolution. “The leaders of North and South Korea agreed to the June 15 Joint Statement and the October 4 Summit Declaration and the United Nations supported them unanimously. The (South Korean government) must clearly state that it intends to carry out the agreements. It must scrap its unrealistic Vision 3000 plan and change its North Korea policy to be one of reconciliation and cooperation,” the statement said.

  • ROK Minister of National Defense Lee Sang-hee said on 03 Dec that if an emergency situation or political instability takes place in North Korea, South Korea must use all means necessary to prevent any potential negative influence from China.

  • South Korea on 03 Dec accused North Korea of breaching every existing military agreement between the two Koreas, blaming the communist nation for what is now a nearly defunct relationship between the two. The accusation comes two days after the communist North virtually shut down the passage through the inter-Korean border, reducing the number of South Koreans allowed to cross it from nearly 10,000 a day to only 1,500. "North Korea has breached or failed to honor most of agreements reached between the South and the North in military affairs," the defense ministry told the special committee of the National Assembly on inter-Korean relations.

  • South Korea has delayed a costly plan to send naval ships to pirates-infested Somali waters, officials said on 28 Nov as the country continues to reel from the global financial crisis. The South Korean government had initially planned to seek parliamentary approval before the year's end for the motion, which calls for the dispatch of a stealth destroyer and Navy forces to patrol the dangerous coastal waters off the African country. Several South Korean commercial ships have fallen victim to piracy in Somali waters in recent years.

  • The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution allowing member states to continue fighting pirates off the coast of Somalia for another year. The resolution also offers support for a European Union anti-piracy mission that launches next week. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more. The U.S.-drafted resolution authorized states to continue taking all necessary means to combat piracy - including the use of force.

  • The U.S. Congress recommended on 02 Dec that the incoming Barack Obama administration give priority to stopping the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, fearing their armament will jeopardize the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. "As a top priority, the next administration must stop the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons programs," a congressional research report said. "In the case of North Korea, this requires the complete abandonment and dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs."