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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.

Friday, January 30, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 24 - 30 January 2009

  • Xinhua news agency reported that Kim Jong-il said, on 23 Jan, he wanted a nuclear free Korean peninsula, declaring his willingness to work with China to push forward the six-party process. Kim stated, “the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is committed to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and hopes to live in peace with all other sides. … We don’t want to see tension emerge in the situation on the peninsula, and we are willing to strengthen coordination and cooperation with China and push forward the six-party process without interruption.” The United States welcomed the remarks. The US State Department spokesman Robert Woods said, “That’s a good thing. I mean, if you go back to September 2005, the North Koreans to take a number of steps toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So we hope to see the North adhere to what it agreed to.” South Korea also welcomed Kim Jong-il’s reported commitment.

  • Former President Jimmy Carter said Monday (26 Jan) he believes North Korea would be willing to give up its nuclear weapons for US diplomatic recognition, a peace deal with South Korea and America, and if it got new atomic power reactors and free fuel oil. "It could be worked out, in my opinion, in half a day," Carter said in an interview Monday (26 Jan) with The Associated Press.

  • The US Secretary of State Clinton said Tuesday (27 Jan) that six-party talks are "essential" to ending North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions and that North Korea's nuclear proliferation should be resolved quickly through direct diplomacy of the US if necessary. Secretary Clinton said in her first news briefing since taking office on 22 Jan that "With respect to North Korea, the six-party talks are essential," adding the multilateral talks have been "a useful forum for participants to deal with the challenge of North Korea's nuclear program, and the other issues that are part of the North Korean agenda."

  • Top South Korean and Japanese nuclear negotiators on Thursday (29 Jan) discussed how to advance the stalled six-way talks on the North Korean nuclear program, officials here said. Seoul's envoy Kim Sook and his counterpart Akitaka Saiki had a luncheon meeting in Seoul. "They had wide-ranging exchange of opinions on the six-way talks," foreign ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said. He refused to elaborate, saying related officials will later provide a separate press briefing on the talks.

  • A new round of six-party working group talks on the establishment of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula is expected to be held next month in Moscow, a foreign ministry official said Wednesday (28 Jan). The expectation comes with reports that Russia's chief nuclear negotiator, Alexander Losyukov, is visiting Pyongyang. The peace regime working group is one of the five working groups which the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia agreed to create in 2007 to resolve the deadlock over the North's nuclearization issue.

  • North Korea said on Friday (30 Jan) that it is scrapping all political and military agreements with South Korea and declared a western sea border void, sharply raising tensions and the possibility of a naval clash. The move revived tensions of the Cold War era, trampling a landmark accord that the Koreas reached in 1991 to prevent military clashes and boost reconciliatory efforts. Seoul expressed "deep regret" and urged Pyongyang to agree to dialogue. North Korea blasted the South Korean government and said the hard-line policies of Lee Myung-bak forced it to scrap the accords. "The group of traitors has already reduced all the agreements reached between the north and the south in the past to dead documents," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a body handling inter-Korean affairs, said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). "Under such situation it is self-evident that there is no need for the DPRK to remain bound to those north-south agreements," it said.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-il enjoyed a performance given by the North's state merited chorus on the occasion of the lunar New Year, which fell on Monday (26 Jan), its state media reported on Tuesday (27 Jan). According to the North's KCNA, the performance “truthfully represented the unshakable faith and will of the army and people to accomplish the revolutionary cause of Juche (self-reliance)" under the leadership of Kim Jong-il. After the performance was over, Kim reportedly expressed the expectation and conviction that all of them would conduct dynamic revolutionary art activities and thus fully display the might of buglers in the Songun (military first) era.

  • Kim Jong-nam (38), the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, last Saturday (24 Jan) said his father alone determines who succeeds him. Kim Jong-nam made the remark in Beijing. It was his first comment on the sensitive issue of who will succeed the ailing leader, from whom he is said to have been estranged.

  • Kim Yong Il, prime minister of North Korea, said 22 Jan that North Korea is willing to further strengthen economic and trade cooperation with China. Kim Yong Il made his statement during his meeting with Wang Jiarui, head of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

  • Yonhap news agency reported on 23 Jan the United Nations will soon resume development projects in North Korea, nearly two years after it suspended work in the communist state over suspicions that funds were being misappropriated. The executive board of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) made the decision after North Korea agreed to guarantee independent auditing and to alter the methods for payment and selection of North Korean staff, the source said on customary condition of anonymity. "We expect the UNDP will resume its projects during the first half of the year with a UNDP office reopening (in Pyongyang) in March," the source said, expressing hope the office would coordinate projects involving the World Food Program, UNICEF and other U.N. organizations in North Korea.

  • A United Nations committee questioned North Korean officials on 23 Jan about the communist country's policy on protecting the human rights of children in the country, the first such session since 2004. The one-day session on North Korea conducted by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva is the third of its kind after similar sessions in 1998 and 2004 looking into malnutrition, infant mortality and budget cuts related to children's welfare. The committee's review is expected to become a guideline for a possible resolution on North Korea's human rights if it is put to a vote at the U.N. General Assembly later this year.

  • The United Nations envoy on human rights in North Korea said Tuesday (27 Jan) that the entire United Nations should work together to improve the "grim" situation in the hard-line communist nation. "I ask the total U.N. system to act, on the basis of graduated pressures, graduated influences," Vitit Muntarbhorn said in Tokyo.

  • KCNA reported on 23 Jan that “A special investigation committee for nuclear weapons management and examination of the U.S. Department of Defense recently made public a report designating the DPRK as a nuclear weapons state. The report said that the DPRK has not only several nuclear weapons but a missile system capable of delivering them. Commenting on this, foreign press reports said that the report put the DPRK in the same category as that of India and Pakistan recognized as unofficial nuclear weapons states.

  • North Korea is preparing to send a satellite into space in the coming months from its brand new rocket launch facility on the west coast, posing yet another serious challenge to global security, an American expert in Seoul said Thursday (29 January). If conducted, it would be provocative because such a long-range rocket is a dual-use technology that can be used for inter-continental ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, according to Daniel Pinkston, senior analyst at the Brussels-based security think tank International Crisis Group. He said North Korea has almost completed the construction of the cutting-edge facility in its northwestern hinterland. He cited satellite photos and testimonies by several experts on missile and space program. "It is much more extensive than the former launch facility in Musudan-ri on the east coast," he told Yonhap news agency in an interview. "I understand North Korea could launch a rocket from the facility as early as this spring if the Paektusan-2, more commonly known as the Taepodong-2, is ready for testing."

  • South Korean President Lee Myung-bak Friday (23 Jan) called on the military to be fully prepared to counter any provocation from North Korea while adding the nation's top priority is securing peace and reconciliation between the divided Koreas. The call comes less than a week after the North's Korean People's Army (KPA) said it would now take an "all-out confrontation posture" against the South.

  • The South Korean government announced on Wednesday (28 Jan) it will not allow local activists to bring in North Korean currency for the purpose of resending it to the North along with anti-communist leaflets. "The government's position is that it should not permit bringing in North Korean bills, due to concern that it may damage the order of inter-Korean exchanges," Kim Ho-nyoun, spokesman for the Unification Ministry handling North Korea affairs, told reporters.

  • South Korea’s Unification Ministry is drawing up an extensive list of South Koreans believed to have been kidnapped by North Korea. Families of abductees have long demanded that the government make more of an effort to have their loved ones returned. Their fates, however, have remained largely unknown for decades. According to unnamed government officials, the Unification Ministry formed a special two-man task force to create a database on the abductees. They said the move is aimed at being “better prepared for possible negotiations on the abductees with the North.”

  • North Korean citizens observed the Lunar New Year holiday on Monday (26 Jan), exchanging well-wishing remarks and playing folk games, as the nation continued traditional celebrations despite deep economic woes. State-run media portrayed citizens greeting the holiday as "vivacious" and "optimistic," reporting on various festive sights in Pyongyang including a bustling souvenir shop, a children's folk games contest and neon signs sparkling downtown.

  • The new US administration is reportedly considering New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and former U.S. ambassador to Seoul Stephen Bosworth for the post of special envoy to North Korea.

  • North Korea issued on 21 Jan a relatively positive report on President Obama's inauguration, apparently signaling its willingness to engage the new US Administration. Suggesting trouble ahead for the Six-Party Talks and inter-Korean relations, however, the message came in the wake of two authoritative North Korean pronouncements that appear designed to solidify its negotiating positions with the United States and South Korea.

  • South Korea will deploy remote-controlled mines along its heavily fortified border with North Korea by 2013, a defense ministry spokesman said Tuesday (27 Jan). Bids have been invited for the development of the new mines called "spider bombs," the spokesman told AFP. The border is often described as the world's last Cold War frontier. Some 660,000 South Korean troops and 28,000 US troops are deployed in the South to counter the potential threat from the North's 1.1 million-strong military. South Korea plans to reduce the number of troops to 500,000 by 2020.

  • The United States must step up work with Asian allies and regional powers to be ready to cope with sudden change in nuclear-armed North Korea, the Council on Foreign Relations warned on Tuesday (27 Jan). The Council on Foreign Relations said that although North Korea defied predictions in the 1990s that it would collapse after the death of its founder, economic meltdown and a deadly famine, the state remains weak and vulnerable.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 17 - 23 January 2009

  • South Korea's deputy chief nuclear envoy, Hwang Joon-kook, said Tuesday (20 Jan) that North Korea maintains its hard-line position on denuclearization as he returned from a rare trip to Pyongyang. He stated his discussions with North Korean officials in Pyongyang were confined to technical aspects and that he was limited in whom he could meet. Hwang added that he also visited the North's main nuclear site in Yongbyon for discussions on discarding unused fuel rods stored at the facilities. Hwang led a team of South Korean officials and civilian nuclear experts on a fact-finding mission to decide whether to buy the fresh rods. His team arrived in Pyongyang last Thursday (15 Jan) and returned to Seoul on Tuesday (20 Jan).

  • Selig Harrison, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, a policy institute in Washington D.C., said a senior North Korean officials had told him this week (week of 11 – 17 Jan) that 30.8 kg (68 pounds) of plutonium their government had listed as part of a preliminary disarmament agreement had been "weaponised" -- incorporated into warheads or other arms. The North Korean claims could not be verified, Harrison said, but they underscored a hardening of the state's position even as it made offers of cooperation to Obama. Harrison also stated that Pyongyang officials were vague about what weaponisation meant, but it appeared most likely the plutonium would be fitted in missile warheads.

  • North Korea said Saturday (17 Jan) its priority is to build up its "nuclear deterrent force" to protect itself and not to normalize diplomatic ties with the United States. The cryptic statement was the first to lay out the communist nation's nuclear stance since the last round of international disarmament talks stalled in Dec 08. North Korea "can live without normalizing the relations with the U.S., but not without nuclear deterrent," a foreign ministry statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency said. It added that the North plans to "boost the nuclear deterrent in every way to more firmly defend the security of our nation." On Tuesday (20 Jan), however, the Japan-based Choson Sinbo – considered a mouthpiece of Pyongyang – said in a story posted on its Web site hours before President Obama's inauguration that North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear weapons if President Barack Obama agrees to conditions imposed by the communist regime, including establishing formal diplomatic relations between the two countries. Choson Sinbo also noted that the North was waiting to see what position the new president would take on the nuclear standoff.

  • Russia does not acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear power and will continue working with regional countries to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear drive, Moscow's envoy said Wednesday (21 Jan). Glev Ivashendsov, Russian ambassador to South Korea, said regional stability is "crucial to Russia's economic development," as Moscow is pushing for natural resources development in Siberia and the Far East.

  • Russia will complete later in January its fuel shipments to North Korea under international agreements, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday. Russia is to supply a total of 200,000 metric tons of fuel to North Korea as part of a denuclearization deal. Moscow hopes that in exchange for heating oil deliveries Pyongyang will complete the phasing out of its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

  • The new Barack Obama administration will get rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs "through tough and direct diplomacy," the White House said Wednesday (21 Jan). The administration plans to "use tough diplomacy – backed by real incentives and real pressures – to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to eliminate fully and verifiably North Korea's nuclear weapons program," according to a foreign policy agenda posted on the White House Web site. The Web posting comes one day after Obama said in his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday that "with old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat."

  • A spokesman of the North Korean People's Army General Staff issued a statement on Saturday (17 Jan) announcing that because the Lee Myung-bak government of South Korea has continued to carry out a hostile policy toward North Korea, North Korea will conduct "all-out confrontation" against the South. Subsequent to North Korea’s announcement of five measures on 01 Dec 08 regarding North-South relations, including stopping tourism in Kaesong, the two countries' relations met with another "cold weather" at the beginning of the New Year. The situation on the Korean Peninsula has drawn the widespread attention of global public opinion.

  • In the wake of a 17 Jan North Korean People's Army General Staff spokesman's statement on inter-Korean relations, the North Korean media have given extensive coverage to domestic reaction. While the North Korean media typically follow up major pronouncements or events by carrying domestic reaction, the reaction to the latest statement is worth noting due to the aggressive and graphic language not often observed in the North Korean media.

  • Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS) reported on 17 Jan that Kim Jong Il gave on-the-spot guidance to Mt Yongak Recreation Ground which has wonderfully been built as a recreation and resting place for the people. Accompanying him were Comrade Chang So'ng-t'aek, department director of the WPK Central Committee, and Comrades Chu Kyu-ch'ang and Ri Chae-il, first vice department directors of the WPK Central Committee, and KPA Generals Comrades Hyo'n Ch'o'l-hae and Ri Myo'ng-su.

  • KCBS reported on 17 Jan that Kim Jong Il inspected a subunit under KPA Unit 2752 honored with the title of O Chung-hu'p Seventh Regiment. He acquainted himself with the unit's performance of its duty and then watched the soldiers in training. He was accompanied by KPA Generals Comrades Hyo'n Ch'o'l-hae and Ri Myo'ng-su and commanding personnel of the army.

  • Wang Jiarui, head of the CPC International Liaison Department is visiting North Korea in a trip coinciding with the inauguration of the new US administration. Wang met with Kim Jong-il on 23 Jan, the North Korean Cabinet Premier Kim Yong Il met on 22 Jan, and with Choe Thae Bok, alternate member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the central committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea on 21 Jan. Wang meeting with Kim was Kim’s first reported appearance before foreign media since he reportedly suffered a stroke in Aug 08.

  • A Japanese NGO involved in human rights issues concerning North Korea revealed that since last fall some senior North Korean officials have begun calling Kim Cho'ng-nam, 37, the eldest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, 66, "Morning Star General." If the honorific "General" is being used, it is directly connected to the succession issue. On the other hand, a South Korean news agency reported on 15 January that Kim Jong Il's third son, Kim Cho'ng-un, 25, had been named the successor. Some view this as evidence that an information war between the parties backing the respective sons is heating up. Triggered by Kim Jong Il's health problems, are maneuverings about the North Korean succession problem really picking up?

  • North Korea's trade with China has shown steady growth in recent years, surpassing US$2 billion last year, while its deficit has grown in tandem, customs officials in Beijing said Monday (19 Jan). Cumulative trade volume from 2003-2007 reached $7.6 billion, with North Korean exports valued at $2.5 billion, resulting in a trade deficit of $2.6 billion on the North Korean side. Bilateral trade continued to grow from $1.6 billion in 2005 to $2.1 billion in the January-October period in 2008, with data on the final two months yet to be collected.

  • More North Koreans are using a cellular phone service provided by an Egyptian company starting Dec 08, according to the Radio Free Asia (RFA) Tuesday (20 Jan). As people in Pyongyang and the provinces begin to use the phones, North Korean authorities are strengthening controls over the service in a bid to prevent information leakage, the station reported.

  • Sources revealed to Yomiuri Shimbun on 20 Jan that North Korea is planning to make Wihwa Island on the Yalu River on the PRC-NK border a free trade zone, where Chinese people can travel to visa free. Wihwa Island is in vicinity of Sinuiju. The plan seems to reflect North Korea’s intention to enhance border trade with China to bring in foodstuffs and other goods. Also, moves such as this to beef up the PRC-NK trade relations are seen as North Korea’s attempt to put the brakes on the ROK's Lee Myung-bak administration, which advocates a review of the nation's conciliatory policy toward North Korea.

  • The most recent US National Intelligence Council report (titled Strategic Implications of Global Health, dated December 2008) stated chronic food shortages will considerably reduce North Korea's pool of military recruits in the coming years, with nearly a quarter of young adults unfit for service due to malnutrition-related mental disabilities. The famine of the 1990s has caused severe cognitive deficiencies among young North Koreans. According to the report, the rate of disqualification will peak in the 2009-2013 period, during which an estimated 17-29 percent of potential North Korean recruits born during the 1990s famine will reach military age.

  • The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday (16 Jan) sanctioned a married couple in Taiwan, Alex H.T. Tsai and his wife, Lu-Chi Tsai Su, and two firms they run, Global Interface Company Inc and Trans Merits Co. Ltd., for illicit sales to a North Korean firm, Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, accused of proliferating weapons of mass destruction to Syria and Iran in 2008. A Treasury spokesman declined to identify what materials and equipment the firms sold to North Korea.

  • South Korea's unification minister-designate, Hyun In-taek, said Monday (19 Jan) he will work more closely with the United States in dealing with North Korea, as he prepares to take over amid the worst inter-Korean relations in a decade. Hyun, a university professor named as Seoul's top policymaker on Pyongyang, sounded tough in line with President Lee Myung-bak's hard-line stance toward the communist state, a departure from his moderate predecessor who focused on persuading North Korea to engage in talks. Unlike major North Korea experts, Hyun prioritizes South Korea's alliance with the U.S. over reconciliation with North Korea and advocates international consensus as the starting point in dealing with Pyongyang. Critics say his approach neglects the unique nature of the communist state that they believe is a key to drawing Pyongyang's compromises.

  • Kim Ki-mun, head of the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business, said Sunday (18 Jan) that the global economic slowdown has forced local companies to cut jobs for North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Kim stated that companies operating in the complex have been hit hard by falling orders from large conglomerates and tightened border controls that went into effect Dec. 1 and that South Korean companies have started asking workers to take un-paid leave in an effort to save costs.The carrot-and-stick approach is an old tactic to induce good behavior by offering a combination of rewards and punishment. Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, known as a tangerine-producing area, chose the fruit over a stick in a bid to help warm icy inter-Korean relations. This month, it sent 300 metric tons of tangerines and 1,000 tons of carrots to the famine-hit communist state.

  • According to an interview filed by Democratic Voice of Burma correspondent Naw Say Phaw, the State Peace and Development Council is building an armament factory with the assistance of North Korean technicians.

  • South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers will hold talks here next month to follow up on the latest summit agreement by their leaders, a Seoul government official said Friday (16 Jan). "Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone suggested a two-day trip to South Korea around Feb. 11 for a meeting with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan," a foreign ministry official said, asking not to be named. "The two sides are in consultations to set a date." The foreign ministers will discuss ways to implement the summit agreement reached earlier between President Lee Myung-bak and his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso.

  • South Korea's Cabinet on Tuesday (20 Jan) approved a government plan to send a naval ship and forces to waters off Somalia to protect international commercial vessels from pirates operating off the coast of the East African nation, government officials said. Following the Cabinet approval, the Lee administration will present a motion to a special parliamentary session scheduled for February to allow the naval operation until the end of this year, they noted.

  • As millions gathered around Capitol Hill to celebrate the inauguration of the US President Barack Obama, North Korea chose to exercise peace in the sea frontier it had days earlier threatened to shatter. Its troops stayed low-key, South Korean soldiers on an elevated vigil said, and the waters that separate the two Koreas in the west remained calm despite earlier threats by the North to defeat any opposition to its claim over a disputed West Sea (Yellow Sea) border.

  • Don Oberdorfer, a leading expert on North and South Korea, says there are no clear signs yet that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is too ill to run the country. "We would know if he were in such a state that he could not function and he couldn't give any instructions," Oberdorfer said. "Things like that trickle out of the North. That's not been the case." He said he believes the Obama administration will step up diplomacy on North Korea but doubts there will be major initiatives in the short term. "The administration has got lots of things on its plate" and this "is not an issue where you can get any early returns. I remain skeptical it's going to be a major item."

Friday, January 16, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 10 - 16 January 2009

  • A spokesman for the NK Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on 13 Jan that the “Wrong views and assertions were floated in the United States recently to create the impression that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the issue to be settled only when the DPRK shows nuclear weapons.” The spokesman stated that the US should first normalize relations with Pyongyang as a precondition for its denuclearization and that it will hold onto its nuclear weapons as long as the US backs the ROK with its own atomic arsenal.

  • Particles of highly enriched uranium have been detected from a high-strength aluminum pipe North Korea submitted to the U.S. government as a sample, senior U.S. officials and other sources said Wednesday (14 Jan). U.S. intelligence authorities are paying attention as it might prove to be evidence of North Korea's nuclear development, which Pyongyang admitted to in 2002, but later denied. The aluminum pipe is a component the U.S. government believes North Korea imported from Russia as part of a centrifuge separator to concentrate uranium in Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development program. North Korea invited U.S. government officials to its military facilities in 2007, when Pyongyang submitted a section of aluminum pipe, explaining to a U.S. delegate that the device was used for conventional weaponry. However, Paula Desutter, U.S. assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, said in an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun that an unexpectedly large amount of uranium particles was found attached to the pipe.

  • South Korea rejected Thursday (15 Jan) a North Korean demand to adopt a mutually verifiable deal to confirm the possession or presence of nuclear weapons in each other's territory. North Korea, under increasing pressure from regional powers to agree to a verification regime on its nuclear declaration, insisted Tuesday (13 Jan) that the same rule should be applied to U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. South Korea rejected the North's demand as "distorted."

  • A South Korean team visited North Korea on 15 Jan to discuss buying unused fuel rods from its plutonium-producing reactor as part of a nuclear disarmament process. Deputy chief nuclear envoy Hwang Joon-Kook will lead a delegation of officials and nuclear technocrats as South Korea has expressed interest in buying the rods for its nuclear power plants. The delegation will check “technical and economic” aspects of possibly buying the rods. North Korea said that it has some 14,000 unused fuel rods, each one measuring about 60 cm long at the Yongbyon nuclear complex. The total amount is reportedly equivalent to 100 tons of uranium.

  • Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak confirmed in their meeting on 12 Jan that their countries will closely cooperate in pursuing denuclearization of North Korea. Aso told Lee that close cooperation of Japan, South Korea, and the United States is important as North Korea may view the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama as a good opportunity to maneuver to split the unity of the three nations.

  • Korean Central Broadcasting Station reported on 14 Jan that “according to South Korea's Yonhap News on 13 January, the US Seventh Air Force occupying South Korea proclaimed that it will wage a military exercise testing combat capabilities in preparation for somebody's invasion. The majority of the 8,500 or so members of US Air Force units occupying South Korea, including the Osan and Kunsan US military bases, will reportedly participate in this war exercise; the US Army's Patriot missile unit will reportedly be mobilized as well. The warmongers disclosed that, through various war exercises, they will check the US Air Force's wartime combat mission performance capabilities, including ground target attack [capabilities]. In the meantime, the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade of the US forces occupying South Korea is also planning to conduct a simulated missile firing exercise. What is grave is that these war exercises are preliminary exercises for Key Resolve, a South Korea-US joint military exercise, which will be staged this Spring. The fact that an official of the US Air Force occupying South Korea publicly clamored that their primary mission is to make sure they are ready to beat back a North Korean attack vividly lays bare the belligerent nature of these war exercises. Right now, the US imperialist aggressors are driving the Korean peninsula's situation to a crisis from the outset of the year by being crazed with war exercises hypothesizing northward aggression, in parallel with large-scale arms buildups of US forces occupying South Korea.”

  • KCNA reported on 12 Jan that “the U.S. Defense Department started deploying three squadrons of the latest type F-22 called prototype fighter in the 21st century in the Asia-Pacific and Global Hawk in the U.S. Air Force base on Guam. The report further states that the U.S. unprecedented moves to hold air supremacy of its strategic forces indicate its full-fledged adventurous military actions to retain an unchallenged upperhand of strength in the Asia-Pacific.” This is the first mention by DPRK media of the actual deployment of the F-22 prototype fighter and Global Hawk at a U.S. Air Force base on Guam.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has recently designated his third son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor and delivered a directive on the nomination to the Workers' Party leadership, sources well-informed on North Korea said Thursday (15 Jan). The decision by the elder Kim comes earlier than expected and was likely driven by his poor health condition after suffering a stroke last August, multiple intelligence sources said. Kim's 68th birthday is next month. If actualized, the junior Kim's succession would be the second father-to-son power transfer in the communist country, unprecedented in modern history. "(Kim) delivered a directive around Jan. 8 that he has named Jong-un as his successor to the leadership of the Workers' Party," one of the sources told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity.

  • There is little possibility of a regime collapse in North Korea despite doubts over leader Kim Jong-il's long-term viability and growing social distress, a Seoul think tank said. "Protracted economic woes have weakened social discipline and stirred discontent among North Korea's citizens, but the predominant view is that it is an overreaction to read these as signs pointing to North Korea's collapse," the Korea Institute for National Unification said in a report.

  • North Korea's recent announcement of impending legislative elections suggests the first session of a new term of the country's legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), will officially open sometime in April with Kim Jong Il in attendance. While North Korea's announcement of the planned 8 March 12th SPA elections omitted any mention of when the new term would start – as is standard practice – if past precedent holds, North Korea should open the first session of the 12th SPA in early April.

  • According to an unnamed US Intelligence source on 14 Jan, North Korea appears be working to build collective leadership, with the eldest son Kim Cho’ng-nam as the national leader as a mere formality, to prepare for a contingency involving Kim Jong-il. The system centers three persons from the Kim family, the Workers Party of Korea (WPK), and the Korean People’s Army. The report also states that Chang So’ng-t’ae’k, who is the director of the WPK Administrative Department, is a central figure in building collective leadership and that it is highly likely that the system to succeed Kim Jong-il will practically become the “Chang” regime.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has visited a silk yarn and gum factory in Pyongyang to urge workers to enhance production and quality, the North's state-run media reported Thursday (15 Jan). The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim visited the silk yarn factory and after praising workers called for redoubled effort to raise production to world-class levels. He also said more should be done to modernize production facilities and research on silkworms to increase output. The report added that the reclusive leader visited a gum factory in the capital city and talked to workers there along with high ranking officials from the Worker's Party of Korea.

  • KCNA reported on 14 Jan that Kim Jong-il inspected machinery plants as part of his stepped-up economic drive. Kim gave field guidance to the Taean Heavy Machine Complex and the Kum Song Tractor Plant. Accompanying him were Pak Nam-ki, department director of the WPK Central Committee, and Ju Kyu Chang and Ri Jae Il, fist vice department directors of the WPRK Central Committee.

  • On 11 Jan, Yonhap reported that North Korea recently opened a consulate branch office in Dandong, a major Chinese city bordering North Korea. According to an unnamed source, the move signals the North’s intention to increase its product procurement from China through brisker border trade and strengthen its consular affairs amid a growing North Korean population in the Chinese border city.

  • North Korea began preparing for its parliamentary elections next month by forming an election watchdog. The Supreme People’s Assembly set up an election committee and named Yang Hyong-sop, vice president of the Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium, as the committee chair, KCNA said in a two-sentence statement on 12 Jan.

  • According to a statement by Good Friends, a South Korean aid group, on 14 Jan, North Korea has postponed for six months a planned clampdown on market trading for fear of provoking widespread public resistance. North Korea, in late November 2008, announced plans to ban general markets that sell consumer goods from early 2009. The plan decreed that farmers’ markets known as “jangmadang” would be allowed to operate just three times a month and could sell only vegetables and certain other farm products, while staples such as rice and corn were to be sold only at state distribution centers.

  • The United States delivered its latest batch of food aid to North Korea, according to a Voice of America report on 10 Jan. The 21,000-ton shipment, pledged under the six-nation denuclearization deal, had been scheduled to reach North Korea earlier, but was delayed until 8 Jan due to bad weather. The latest food aid will be distributed to 25 regions in North Korea under the monitor of a group of civic organizations.

  • Australia granted $3.75 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea. Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith stated the funds comprised $2 million for the World Food Program for emergency food for North Korea, $1 million for UNICEF for emergency water and water sanitation supplies and $750,000 for the Red Cross.

  • In the middle of hearsay circulating in North Korea that food production for 2008 was the highest since the arduous march in the late 1990s, a high-level party official in Yanggang Province has announced to the citizens that food provisions will be normalized shortly. A source from Yanggang Province said in a phone conversation with The Daily NK on 13 January: "In our chuch'e Agricultural Method lecture, which was given nationwide for three days starting 26 December, a Yanggang Province party official emphasized that the state will shortly normalize public provisions."

  • The U.S. State Department said on 12 Jan that Pakistan has provided nuclear technology to North Korea to help the communist state build a uranium-based nuclear program. The department said Pakistan’s A. Q. Khan and his associates provided centrifuge designs, equipment and technology to North Korea.

  • Exports of North Korean missiles and other weapons rose in value to about 100 million dollars, or more than 10 percent of total exports, last year mainly due to tensions in the Middle East. According to a South Korean news report, an unidentified Seoul government official stated that progress in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks helped North Korea sell more weapons as purchasers felt less political burden in buying such weapons as the talks had made some headway. The Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America were said to be export destinations.

  • A North Korean weapons specialist, who is working in a secret nuclear project being implemented in Central Burma by North Korea and the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military government, passed away in Meiktila. He died on 9 January. The authorities sent the North Korean national to Meiktila Military Hospital because he was suffering from severe migraines but he died on the way, according to a hospital staff who does not wish to be identified. The name of the deceased is still unknown but he was cremated at 0703 on 11 January at the Myindawgan Cemetery with the assistance of Yan Aungmyin Free Funeral Service Society in Meiktila, according to a resident of Meiktila.

  • Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung on Thursday (15 Jan) echoed calls by North Korea on the Seoul government to honor and abide by previous bilateral agreements. "It is the obligation of an incumbent president to carry out and respect official international agreements signed by his or her predecessors," Kim said in a meeting with foreign news correspondents in Seoul. Kim urged current South Korean President Lee Myung-bak to honor an agreement reached at the first-ever inter-Korean summit between himself and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000. He also demanded Lee acknowledge another deal signed in 2007 between the North Korean leader and Lee's predecessor, Roh Moo-hyun. The former president, however, also called on the communist North to halt its criticism of the South Korean head of state. "They have to understand that the South Korean people do not condone such reckless criticism ... Their behavior is counterproductive and has gone too far," he said.

  • A group of South Korean information technology experts and businessmen will visit North Korea next month on a rare trip to the communist country amid frozen cross-border exchanges, organizers said Thursday (15 Jan). The 80-member group is scheduled to tour North Korea's major IT centers and hold a joint software exhibition during its Feb. 7-11 visit, said the non-governmental South-North Cooperation for IT Exchange. They also plan to donate 5,000 IT books and journals to the North.

  • South Korea’s police beefed up security for North Korean defectors sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets to the North amid warnings from the communist state and increasing personal threats. The defectors said they are receiving a growing number of threatening phone calls and that South Korea’s National Intelligence Service and the police have recently increase the number of security guards for them.

  • The provincial government of Jeju Island will go ahead with its annual shipment of tangerines and carrots to North Korea despite the central government’s refusal to pay part of the cost. The Jeju government decided to send a smaller shipment of aid this year – 300 tons of tangerines and 1,000 tons of carrots worth about US $441,176 – to North Korea starting on 16 Jan. Jeju Island has sent more than 10,000 tons of tangerines and carrots to North Korea every winter since 1998, with the central government paying for about half the cost.

  • North Korea has called on the United States to sign a peace treaty that would formally put an end to the Korean War of 1950-1953 and replace a truce agreement that is still in effect. "If the United States does not intend to attack our country it should have no reasons to refuse from concluding a peace treaty," the Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the Central Committee of Korean Workers' Party, stressed on Thursday (15 Jan). In the past Pyongyang had repeatedly made similar proposals to the United States, however the Bush administration turned them down as "premature," stressing that it will not consent to the conclusion of a peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula before North Korea's denuclearization. The present call of the North has been made 5 days ahead of the inauguration of US President-elect Barack Obama.

  • The incoming Barack Obama administration should be ready for early challenges from North Korea as it tries to test Obama and sunder the six-party talks over the North's nuclear ambitions, President George W. Bush's top Asia adviser said on Wednesday (14 Jan). Dennis Wilder, senior adviser for Asia on the National Security Council, also said doubts remained about the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, despite recent efforts to show that he had recovered from a suspected stroke last August. "The North's best act is to try to create the conditions of crisis in order to renegotiate with the United States and the new team will have to be ready for that," he told reporters and scholars at a Washington think tank. "Part of the North's goal will be to see if they can split this five-party consortium that has been created," said Wilder of talks in which China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States have tried to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for aid and diplomatic benefits. Any renewed North Korean brinkmanship would also be designed to "see just what the new leader of the United States is made of," he added.

  • The United States turned down an offer by North Korea to dispatch its nuclear envoy to Washington following the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama on 20 Jan. North Korea delivered a message in Dec 2008 through its United Nations mission office in New Yokr that it could send Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan as a representative to the inauguration ceremony. One unnamed source stated that North Korea appeared to offer the proposal to test the political waters in the new U.S. administration.

Friday, January 9, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 01 - 09 January 2009

  • Yonhap reported that Kurt Campbell, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense, has been named to replace Christopher Hill as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under the incoming Obama administration. State Department deputy spokesman, Gordon K. Duguid, said he could not officially confirm if Campbell has been named, just saying personnel affairs involving officials below the level of undersecretary will be made a bit clearer next week. Jeffrey Bader, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution, will likely serve as senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council. Frank Januzzi, a key foreign policy adviser for the Obama's campaign, will either be Campbell's deputy or work for the office of Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, the sources said.

  • During NHK’s regularly scheduled “Ohayo Nippon” program, aired on 05 Jan, there was a report on the Six-Party Talks and North Korea’s nuclear program that stated that there were grounds for Japan to be concerned about whether it can closely coordinate with the US on the stance towards North Korea. The reporter explained that Japan, South Korea, and the US compiled a secret document in Dec 08 on rules on verifying North Korea’s nuclear program. The reporter stated that that it has become clear that Assistant Secretary Hill showed the secret document to North Korea, and that Hill and Kim Kye-Kwan of North Korea has developed a very close relationship. The reporter said, “Hill’s behavior has made the Japanese side very distrustful.” That being the case, she said, the Japanese government is closely monitoring who the new US administration will pick to deal with the North Korean issue.

  • U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer indicated on 8 Jan that the U.S. will continue to address North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese nationals after the launch of the new administration under President-elect Barack Obama.

  • KCNA reported that a Pyongyang mass rally took place at the Kim Il Sung Square Monday to respond to the letter of the employees of the Chollima Steel Complex and carry through the militant tasks laid down in the joint New Year editorial. Attending the rally were Kim Yong, Choe Thae Bok, Yang Hyong Sop, Kim Jung Rin, leading officials of ministries, national institutions and working people's organizations and others including over 100,000 citizens.

  • KCNA referenced a signed article in the Rodong Sinmun on 8 Jan stating that all Korean at home and abroad should dynamically wage the nationwide struggle to frustrate the reckless moves stepped up by the bellicose forces at home and abroad to threaten the peace of the country and push the military tension on the Korean Peninsula to an extreme phase, obsessed with the wild ambition to invade the north. The article further states the Korean nation can achieve neither durable peace of the Korean Peninsula nor the independent reunification, peace and prosperity of the country unless an end is put to the U.S. military presence in south Korea.

  • KCNA reported that Kim Jong Il inspected Unit 1489 under the Artillery Command of the KPA and watched the firing training of its artillery pieces. He was greeted on the spot by Col. General Ri Jong Bu, artillery commander of the KPA, and other general officers and commanding officers of the unit. He was accompanied by KPA General Kim Jong Gak, first vice-director of the General Political Department of the KPA, KPA Generals Hyon Chol Hae and Kim Myong Guk and other commanding officers of the KPA and leading officials of the society including those of the C.C., the WPK.

  • Chosun Ilbo reported that North Korea has reshuffled two cabinet ministers and appointed a new man to a key post in the Workers' Party. North Korean state media reported that Kim Tae-bong was appointed new metal industry minister and Hur Tack new power industry minister. They replace Kim Sung-hyun and Pak Nam-chil. Kim Kyong-ok as newly-named first deputy director of the ruling party's Organization Guidance Department that controls the party, Army and administration and is headed by leader Kim Jong-il. According to the report, it is rare for reshuffles to be announced separately. The new economic appointments may be related to the emphasis on "economic recovery" in a New Year's statement released in the state media last week that is the closest the North has to an annual message from Kim Jong-il, a government official here speculated. Little is known about the newly appointed ministers.

  • According to a KCNA report on 7 Jan, North Korea will hold parliamentary elections in March, a move that follows an economy-centered Cabinet shakeup and is likely to affect the military. The Presidium of Supreme People’s Assembly announced its decision on 6 Jan to hold the 12 representatives election on 8 Mar. North Korea was expected to hold the elections in 2008, when the assembly members’ five-year term expired; however, they did not take place as rumors circulated on Kim Jong-il’s health. According to a report by the Institute for National Security Strategy, a South Korean state-run think tank, economic pragmatism may emerge to lay the groundwork for the post-Kim Jong-il era and replace the military-first policy, and that North Korea may promote young economic elites in the coming election.

  • n 7 Jan, DPRK central radio referred to Pak Yong-p’al as the “chairman of Kaesong Municipal People’s Committee,” suggesting that he has been promoted from his former position as the “chairman of So’hu’ng County People’s Committee.” Pak appears to have replaced Kim Il-Ku’n who held this position since June 2003. According to OSC, this appears to be North Korean media’s first mention of Pak in such a capacity.

  • Yonhap reported that the recent launch of North Korean mobile service by Egypt's Orascom Telecom -- the biggest foreign investor yet in the communist state -- came under the baton of Ri Chol, the North Korean ambassador to Switzerland, a source said Tuesday. Ri, who is also known as the manager of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's secret funds abroad, played the middleman in Orascom's deal with Pyongyang in December to invest US$400 million over the next three years, the source well-versed in North Korean affairs said on condition of anonymity.

  • According to the U.S. Department of State, the next shipment of food aid (totaling 21,000 metric tons) is expected to arrive in North Korea by the end of this week, with its delayed arrive due to recent rough seas. The shipment will be distributed by U.S. NGOs.
  • A group of South Korean farmers will send 175 tons of rice to North Korean on 7 Jan amid damaged inter-Korean relations. The Korea Peasants League said they had arranged to have a ship collect rice from across the country at ports along the west coast and that the ship will likely arrive at the North Korean port of Nampo on 8 Jan.

  • The ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade [MOFAT] unified the variant versions of the terms used thus far for North Korean escapees to mean “refugee” in English, as in “North Korean Refugee.” MOFAT concluded that the term “refugee” was more appropriate than “defector” – a person who leaves for political reasons – or the more general, “asylum seeker,” as the term contains the inherent meaning that these people require protection from having left North Korea for political or economic reasons.

  • A total of 2,809 North Koreans arrived in South Korea during the past year, bringing the cumulative number of North Korean defectors here to over 15,000 and reflecting a slowdown that was partly caused by tightened border controls in China, the Unification Ministry said 5 Jan. The 2008 figure is up 10 percent from a year earlier. The increase was 26 percent and 46 percent in 2007 and 2006, respectively, according to ministry data. A total of 15,057 North Korean defectors have arrived in the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, a large number of which came starting in the late 1990s, according to ministry data.

  • Noh Su-min, the biographer of the last surviving bomber of Korean Air flight 858, dismissed recently resurfaced claims that the incident was in fact a plot by South Korean agencies. Noh said Kim Hyun-hee was “definitely” a North Korean agent. It was the first comment on the matter by Noh, who had been avoiding the press since the issue made fresh headlines amid allegations that the previous administration encouraged a revisionist conspiracy theory of the 1987 incident.

  • The ROK Unification Ministry urged Pyongyang on 5 Dec to stop making hostile and inflammatory comments against the South after North Korean authorities and their state-controlled media issued New Year’s commentaries that strongly rebuked the Lee Myung-bak administration. Unification Ministry Spokesman Kim Ho-nyun said that these inflammatory commentaries violate inter-Korean accords that call on governments not to interfere in each other’s internal matters.

  • ROK President Lee Myung-bak requested through a telephone conversation on 3 Jan with U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for the U.N to contribute its efforts to improve South-North ties.

  • ROK activist groups will attach N. Korean currency to anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent into North Korea, replacing US$1 bills following rumors that citizens found with the notes are arrested.
  • Over 300 South Korean leaders, ranging from the defense minister to Army, Air Force, and Navy brigadier generals, assembled at Gyeryongdae, about 150 km south of Seoul, and shared their views on ways to coordinate their combat specialties against North Korea. The discussion, the largest ever in scale, is a follow-up to a 2009 policy report presented by Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee to President Lee Myung-bak in Dec 2008 that called for improved operational readiness against North Korea and closer ties with the U.S.

  • The Sentaku, a Japanese monthly journal covering political, economic, and foreign affairs, reported that according a military attaché source at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, “The Hu Jintao administration’s budget includes spending to construct bridges at five locations on the Yalu River.” China has already built a bridge over the Yalu River which connects Dandong City, Liaoning Province, and Sinuiju in response to North Korea’s project to build a large-scale distribution park in a special economic zone in Sinuiju. However, China is reportedly trying to build “military bridges” at five locations under the screen of the distribution park construction project amid Kim Jong-il’s health concerns. The report states that in the event a succession race intensifies and develops into a civil war, there is a possibility of refugees suddenly fleeing toward China and that the five bridges would facilitate an operation to get the Chinese military to rush into North Korea should such an event occur.

  • Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the long-running, often acrimonious and currently stalled nuclear disarmament talks among the Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia have allowed envoys to pressure the North to follow through on its 2007 agreement to give up its nuclear program in return for aid and concessions. But "North Korea will test the new administration by once again trying to split the six parties and renegotiate the deal, he said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. “When its efforts to do so fail, North Korea will need to accept a verification agreement so we can verify the disablement and then dismantlement of that country's nuclear capabilities.”

  • President Lee Myung-bak will hold a summit with Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso on 12 Jan to exchange views on a wide range of issues, such as ways to maintain and develop Korea-Japan relations and boost substantial cooperation in the economic sector. Other issues include the continued dispute over North Korea’s nuclear ambition and increasing the countries’ cooperation on international issues.