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Friday, April 24, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 18 - 24 April 2009

Last US Official leaves North Korea
  • The last US official in North Korea involved in the management of the disablement operation of the Yongbyon nuclear facility left the country on Saturday, 18 Apr (KST). The official returned to Washington via Beijing.
  • The departure of the US State Department official came a day after four US nuclear experts who were at the Yongbyon nuclear complex left the country due to North Korea’s expulsion order.
  • Note: The four IAEA inspectors left North Korea on Thursday, 16 Apr (KST).

Director General of the IAEA says North Korea is a nuclear-armed state
  • Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the IAEA, was quoted as saying it is “a matter of fact” that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, “I don’t like to accept any country as a nuclear weapon state. [But] we have to face reality.”
  • According to the press reports, ElBaradei counted North Korea among nine nuclear powers in the world.
  • ElBaradei’s reported view on North Korea stands in contrast to those of South Korea and the United States.
  • South Korea downplayed ElBaradei’s statement and vowed launch an international campaign aimed at frustrating North Korea's ambition to become a nuclear state.

Secretary Clinton calls on North Korea to return to Six-Party Talks
  • “We have made it clear that we are prepared to resume the Six-Party Talks,” Secretary Clinton told a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
  • “The Chinese and Russians, the Japanese and South Koreans have equally made that clear. As you know very well, the North Koreans have not demonstrated any willingness to resume the Six-Party process,” she said.
  • Pyongyang has claimed to be a nuclear state since it detonated a nuclear device in its first-ever nuclear test in 2006.

South Korean foreign minister urges North Korea not to worsen situation and rejoin the Six-Party Talks
  • South Korea's foreign minister Yu Myung-hwan urged North Korea on 23 Apr to stop raising tension and rejoin the Six-Party Talks on its nuclear program.
  • "I can't help expressing serious concern that North Korea is rejecting the international community's agreement and further damaging all the accomplishments in the Six-Party Talks," Yu said during his monthly press briefing.
  • The UNSC’s 15 member states, meanwhile, are working on a list of North Korean goods and entities to face sanctions as a follow-up to its earlier presidential statement - a sanctions committee is supposed to finalize the list by 24 Apr.
  • About a dozen North Korean companies engaged in the trade of weapons of mass destruction and related materials are expected to be subject to the measure.

China disavows nuclear energy cooperation with North Korea
  • China on 20 Apr disavowed any kind of cooperation with North Korea in nuclear energy development, and urged a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear disputes.
  • "China has never had any cooperation with North Korea in nuclear energy development," Wang Yiren, head of China's Atomic Energy Authority, told reporters at a nuclear energy conference in Beijing.
  • Wang said China had always endorsed peaceful solutions, such as dialogue and negotiation, to resolve nuclear issues on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea says nuclear war only a matter of time
  • North Korea said on 17 Apr the outbreak of a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula is only a matter of time due to what it claims are efforts by South Korea and the United States to bring it to its knees by force.
  • The bulletin was issued by the Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a state organization that handles inter-Korean relations.
  • The accusation was aimed at a recent inspection of the South Korean and US Air Forces by the American commander of Combined Forces Command, Gen. Walter Sharp, and his South Korean deputy, Gen. Lee Sung-chool
  • An official at the CFC dismissed the accusation as groundless, saying the recent flight by CFC commanders was only part of a routine inspection.

Rodong Shinmun says Kim Jong-il “confesses fatigue due to economic drive”
  • North Korea’s party mouthpiece said on 17 Apr Kim Jong-il has confessed he's struggling with the grinding pace of his activities but keeps pushing himself onwards out of responsibility for the fate of his homeland.
  • The 67-year-old leader, now back in control after a reported stroke last summer, has significantly increased his economy-related visits this year, making 49 such trips as of Friday, 17 Apr, compared to 19 last year and 17 in 2007.

North’s military strengthens its grip
  • South Korean intelligence source said, North Korea’s military has bolstered its authority over several key policy-making issues after a major restructuring of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party.
  • The moves, experts say, create a bit of a power shift by eroding the influence of the North’s ruling party in several areas, including matters involving the South.
  • The restructuring also diminishes the roles of some party members who have taken a more conciliatory stance on affairs with the South - a source said the changes could explain a recent increase in bellicose statements coming from the North.
  • According to sources, the Workers’ Party has moved its operations department to the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, which handles management and operational control of the North Korean military.
  • “Though it has been in the party’s organizational tree, the operations department had been essentially carrying out military tasks,” a source said - the operations department is responsible for managing espionage agents.
  • “When the department head, O Kuk-ryol, was named a vice chairman of the National Defense Commission in February, the department itself was shifted to the armed forces ministry in what seemed to be a logical step,” the source said.
  • In another change, the party’s research department and external liaison department will now be under the control of the National Defense Commission.
  • The research department collects intelligence on South Korea and other nations, while the external liaison department is responsible for training and dispatching agents.
  • Only the Unification Front Department remains within the Workers’ Party to handle inter-Korean dialogue and the North’s policy on the South, and experts say it has lost much of its influence.

Russian foreign minister Lavrov has arrived on 23 Apr for a two-day visit to North Korea to discuss bilateral relations and the North Korean nuclear program
  • Russia has repeatedly called on North Korea to get back to the negotiation table.
  • There are no signs of a breakthrough in the crisis over the Six-Party Talks on North Korea's denuclearization; a Russian news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying after his talks with his North Korean counterpart Thursday, 23 Apr.
  • ''We don't expect any breakthroughs yet. It's a difficult process,'' Lavrov was quoted as saying - Lavrov arrived in Pyongyang earlier Thursday, 23 Apr.
  • Russian media also quoted Lavrov as saying the countries involved in the process should not yield to emotions.
  • ''All the parties involved in the process must focus on the necessity to seek the solutions that would allow for resuming this process,'' he was quoted as saying.
  • According to the news agency, Lavrov will also meet with Kim Yong-nam, the country's number two and president of North Korea's parliament, and may also meet with Kim Jong-il during his stay in the country.
  • North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency reported that Russia and North Korea signed a plan for cultural and scientific exchange Thursday - Lavrov is to visit South Korea after his stay in North Korea.

Seoul caught in ‘PSI trap’ and foreign minister says “leave the decision to the government”
  • On 22 Apr, South Korea reaffirmed its intention to fully join the US-led counter-proliferation regime, but remained undecided about the timing and conditions.
  • Seoul had deferred its declaration of full membership in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) until after talks with North Korea over their joint industrial complex in the city of Kaesong.
  • On 23 Apr, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan reiterated that the government would "handle" the issue of formally announcing full membership in the PSI, "Please leave that matter to us," Yu said.
  • South Korean officials had reportedly said the government would issue the announcement sometime over the weekend.
  • Regarding the latest confusion over the announcement date, the minister said it was a misunderstanding caused by excessive media exposure.
  • Yu added that the decision was revealed much too prematurely, before last-minute policy adjustments could be made.

North Korea’s ‘missile factory’ used Japanese parts
  • A former senior Indian official said on 18 Apr that Japanese precision tools and steel were founf in missile-making equipment taken from a North Korean freighter detained at an Indian port in June 1999 while en route to Pakistan.
  • While North Korea is known to have provided missile knowhow to Pakistan in return for nuclear weapons technology, this is the first concrete example of how Japanese equipment has played a part in North Korea's proliferation of missile technology.
  • Indian authorities believe North Korea acquired the Japanese products through China or other countries.
  • At India's request, the US, Russia, South Korea and other members of the Missile Technology Control Regime, an informal association of countries seeking to curb missile proliferation, sent experts to examine the ship's cargo.
  • By analyzing Korean-language documents and sensitive equipment confiscated, the MTCR experts concluded the ship was carrying missile-assembly equipment and missile parts - engineering diagrams of missiles were also found.
  • The ship's 44 crew members were detained by Indian authorities and later repatriated to North Korea.

North Korea says it will try detained US journalists
  • North Korea said on 24 Apr that it will put on trial two US female journalists detained near its border with China on 17 Mar, announcing that its investigation into their “crimes” has been concluded.
  • The journalists – Euna Lee and Laura Ling – were filming a documentary about the plight of North Koreans fleeing the country into China when they were arrested by North Korean border guards.
  • On 31 Mar, Pyongyang said that an investigation was under way and that it was preparing to indict them on charges of illegally entering the country and engaging in unspecified “hostile acts.”
  • “A competent organ of the DPRK concluded the investigation into the journalists of the United States,” the official Korean Central News Agency said in a two-sentence report.
  • “The organ formally decided to refer them to a trial on the basis of the confirmed crimes committed by them,” it said, without specifying charges.

South, North Korea quickly ends first talks; North Korea says it will reconsider the terms of Kaesong Industrial Complex
  • South and North Korean officials met at Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) on Tuesday, 21 Apr, for their first talks in more than a year, but the meeting ended quickly, the South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Ho-nyoun said.
  • After a delay of more than 12 hours due to procedural disputes, the talks lasted only 22 minutes.
  • North Korea told the South that it will consider ending benefits for South Korean firms at the KIC, including low wages for North Korean employees, a South Korean government source said.
  • South Korea said it will carefully review North Korea’s demand to raise land use fees and revise contracts at the KIC.
  • The proposed measure, if actualized, is expected to deal a serious blow to more than 100 South Korean firms operating in Kaesong.
  • Under a contract signed between Hyundai and the North Korean government in 2000, South Korean firms pay their North Korean employees between 70 – 80 USD on average a month, by the wages are wired directly to North Korean government.
  • The annual wages last year amounted to 26 million USD, according to the South Korean Ministry of Unification data.
  • North Korea also said it will begin charging land fees starting next year – North Korea initially set a 10-year grace period on rent when the complex opened, allowing the South Korean firms to use it land in Kaesong for free until 2014.
  • On 22 Apr, South Korean government said it would consider holding further talks with North Korea on the KIC but was still reviewing demands the North made during a short meeting the day before.
  • According to a Blue House source, the North said on 21 Apr that it wanted to meet with the South again within a week; the source said the North urged the South to set the next date “as soon as possible.”
  • On 24 Apr, North Korea warned it may take “stronger measures” against South Korean firms operating in the KIC unless Seoul responds favorably to its latest demands to revise key operational contracts of the complex.
  • North Korea also said that all preferential treatment offered to South Koreans in Kaesong could possibly be reconsidered as long as the South Korean government’s pro-US “confrontational” policies continue to endanger the inter-Korean cooperation project.
  • Note: There has not been any open source reporting on the date of next meeting between the North and the South.

Diplomats from both Koreas to sit at Havana Forum
  • The Movement of Non-Aligned Countries (NAM) will be held in Havana from 27 – 30 Apr.
  • North Korea is a member of the organization of 118 states.
  • South Korea said it will dispatch a director general-level official at its foreign ministry as an observer to attend the opening and closing ceremonies only – South Korea has taken part in the meeting since 1997 as a guest.
  • "There is a possibility that North Korea will use the upcoming meeting to protest the international community's punitive step, reiterating its stance that the launch was aimed at sending a satellite into orbit," a South Korean foreign ministry official said.
  • South Korea will try to counter the North's move to include its claim into a formal statement to be issued at the end of the meeting, the ministry's spokesman, Moon Tae-young, said in a press briefing.

Chinese fishing boats return near tense Korean sea border
  • Chinese fishing boats have returned to waters near the Koreas' western sea border, where North Korea has repeatedly warned of an armed conflict with the South.
  • Chinese boats disappeared from the area earlier this year when North Korea said it would no longer respect the Northern Limit Line (NLL) that had served as a de facto West Sea (Yellow Sea) border with S. Korea for decades.

South Korea and Japan sign defense pact
  • The South Korean Ministry of National Defense said that South Korea and Japan signed a letter of intent on bilateral defense cooperation on 23 Apr, the first formal military pact between the two neighboring countries.
  • Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee signed the letter with his Japanese counterpart Yasukazu Hamada.
  • According to the ministry, the letter covers goodwill exchanges of top defense officials and military units from the two nations, exchanges between defense institutes, institutionalization of joint search-and-rescue operations, reciprocal visits by aircraft and naval ships, and joint international peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

Commander of US Forces Korea raises concerns over North Korean artillery threat
  • Commander of US Forces Korea (USFK) said on 22 Apr that North Korea possesses "the world's largest artillery force" that could wreak havoc on Seoul should the communist state decide to provoke a full-fledged conflict.
  • The comments by GEN Sharp come as tension rises on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea reminded South Korea last week that its densely populated capital is "only 50 km away" from the border, suggesting its vulnerability.
  • Speaking to a group of business leaders, GEN. Sharp disclosed in a presentation in Seoul that North Korea is believed to have 13,000 frontline artillery guns that could "rain on Seoul" and maintain 80,000 special forces.
  • GEN Sharp said, "North Korea has an old but very large military that is positioned in a very dangerous place, very close to the Republic of Korea."
  • "They have a very large special operating force. It has the world's largest artillery force that is positioned as far south as possible and that can rain on Seoul today."
  • GEN Sharp said his forces and South Korea are prepared to "fight and win" at any moment, stressing they "have operational plans prepared in order to be able to meet any contingencies.

GEN Sharp signals 'allies prepared for North Korean instability’
  • GEN Sharp signaled on 22 Apr that the American and South Korean militaries are becoming better prepared to face instabilities in North Korea.
  • "We are working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman GEN Kim Tae-young ... in case there is great instability in North Korea and are we prepared for that," GEN Sharp said during a speech at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
  • Further stressing that the US will continue to provide security after the 2012 transfer of wartime operational control, GEN Sharp said the Mutual Defense Treaty will remain effective so that Seoul will remain under Washington's nuclear umbrella.
  • The commander stressed that the United States and South Korean militaries, although separated after the April 2012 transfer, will continue to operate according to the same military operation plan.
  • Once the control transfer is completed, the South Korean military will assume the leading role in national defense.
  • The commander said the US – South Korea alliance has actually become stronger following North Korea's missile launch on 05 Apr.
  • GEN Sharp said, "With that launch, the alliance is stronger today than before the launch. We practice on a daily basis on how to prepare for any type of crisis on the peninsula."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

In and Around North Korea: 11 - 17 April 2009

I've missed posting these weekly posts for the past two weeks, and for that I do apologize; however, it's been an interesting few weeks, and I think I have more than ample reasons that I could name why it's been so interesting. You know, like....Taepodong-2 ballistic missile... Six-Party Talks (or lack there of), etc.

Anyway, without further due, here's this week's wrap up...

North Korea withdraws from Six-Party Talks in Response to the UNSC presidential Statement

  • Responding to the United Nations Security Council’s presidential statement condemning its recent rocket launch, North Korea announced on 14 Apr that it will resume its nuclear weapons program and will never again take part in the Six-Party Talks.
  • North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement through the state-run Korean Central News Agency “flatly rejecting” the UN statement, which was unanimously adopted at a meeting on 13 Apr.
  • “[North Korea] will take the measure for restoring to their original state the nuclear facilities which had been disabled under the agreement of the Six-Party Talks and putting their operation on a normal track and fully reprocess the spent fuel rods churned out from the pilot atomic power plant as part of it,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry statement said.
  • “Now that the six-party talks have turned into a platform for infringing upon the sovereignty of [North Korea] and seeking to force [North Korea] to disarm itself and bring down the system in it,” the statement continued.
  • “[North Korea] will never participate in the talks any longer nor it will be bound to any agreement of the six-party talks,” it said.
  • The international community, including the five Six-Party Talks participating countries, has urged North Korea to reverse its decision and return to the Six-Party Talks swiftly.

North Korea Orders IAEA and US Nuclear Monitors in Yongbyon to Leave

  • On 14 Apr, North Korea ordered ordered U.S. nuclear experts engaged in disablement of nuclear facilities in Yongbyon and International Atomic Energy Agency staff monitoring the work to leave the country.
  • The order was issued a day after the UN Security Council adopted a statement condemning North Korea's recent rocket launch, which prompted the North to vow to further reinforce its nuclear deterrence and withdraw from the Six-Party Talks.
  • In Vienna, the IAEA announced later that its personnel have been denied further access to the Yongbyon facilities and asked to leave the country ''at the earliest possible time.''

  • Pyongyang also informed the IAEA that it has decided to reactivate all facilities and go ahead with the reprocessing of spent fuel, according to the IAEA.
  • On 16 Apr, the IAEA monitors departed North Korea and the US inspectors left the Yongbyon nuclear facility for Pyongyang.

Top North Korean Legislator Warns of Punishment against America and South Korea

  • On 14 Apr, Kim Yong Nam, top legislator of North Korea, warned that his country would mete out "unmerciful punishment" if the United States and South Korea "start a war."
  • "Grave obstacles are lying in the way of the country's reunification due to the reckless moves of the conservative authorities in America and South Korea for a war of aggression against the DPRK," Kim said.
  • He warned that if the United States and South Korea ignite a war, all the DPRK people would display the invincible spirit and powerful war deterrent for self-defense and mete out "merciless punishment."

North Korea Marks Anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s Birth amid Tensions

  • North Korea celebrated the 97th birthday of its late founder, Kim Il-sung, on 15 Apr as regional tensions mounted after its withdrawal from nuclear disarmament talks.
  • At one of the gatherings, Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and North Korea's ceremonial head, accused the South Korean government and the United States of attempting an invasion against the North.
  • "If the US and the anti-reunification aggressor forces of South Korea ignite a war on this land in the end," Kim Yong-nam said, "all the service persons and people will display the invincible spirit and powerful war deterrent for self-defense and mete out a merciless punishment to the provocateurs and accomplish the historic cause of national reunification."

Rodong Shinmun releases Photos of National Defense Commission for the First Time

  • On 16 Apr, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency obtained a copy of 10 Apr issue of the North Korean party newspaper, Rodong Shinmun, which carried, in an unprecedented move, photos of all members of North Korea’s National Defense Commission that was elected on 09 Apr.
  • Rodong Sinmun ran color photos of Kim and other National Defense Commission members on its front page, in a break from its tradition in which only a few important figures were publicized. Analysts said this unprecedented move may suggest a significant rise in the Commission’s status within the North Korean regime.
  • Kim Jong-il began his new term as chairman of the National Defense Commission in a parliamentary meeting on 09 Apr, when he also named 12 other members of the commission, including his brother-in-law, Chang So’ng-t’aek (Jang Song-thaek).
  • Analysts in South Korea said Chang’s advance to the commission, which was previously dominated by senior military officers, indicated the North Korean leader has groomed the husband of his only sister Kim Kyong-hi as a “number two man.”
  • Seoul officials said Kim has considerably bolstered the National Defense Commission, increasing the number of its members to 13 from eight and bringing in new members from outside the military.

Japan, US Call For Freezing Assets of 14 North Korean Entities

  • Japan and the US submitted their respective lists of entities that should be subject to the UN sanctions.
  • All of the 14 groups are already subject to sanctions implemented by either or both of the countries on their own.
  • Of the 14 North Korean organizations, 11 were named by both Japan and the United States, including exporters of equipment related to ballistic missiles, the sources said - the three other entities were named only by Japan.
  • The 11 entities that were on the US list were Korean Mining Development Trading Corp., Korea Yongbong General Corps, Tanchon Commercial Bank, and eight subsidiaries of Korean Mining Development Trading Corps. and Korea Yonbong General Corp.
  • The Sanctions Committee is set to designate target North Korean entities based on the Japanese and US lists.
  • It remains to be seen whether the committee can obtain consent to the Japanese and US lists from all of its members, including representatives from China and Russia.
  • Once the designation is agreed, all UN member states will be obliged to freeze assets of target organizations.

UNSC Unanimously Condemns North Korea Launch in Presidential Statement

  • The U.N. Security Council adopted a nonbinding presidential statement on North Korea's 05 Apr rocket launch, which unanimously ''condemns'' the action as a ''contravention'' of a resolution banning North Korea from all missile-related activities.

  • The statement was a weaker response to the rocket launch, which was seen widely as a disguised test-firing of a long-range ballistic missile, than a binding Security Council resolution Japan had intensely lobbied for but failed to persuade other council members to support in the wake of strong opposition from China and Russia.
  • The presidential statement said the Security Council ''condemns'' the launch and the action is ''in contravention of Security Council Resolution 1718."
  • That wording is stronger than the expression of regret China had earlier insisted on using in the statement.
  • The statement said North Korea “must comply fully with its obligation under Resolution 1718,” adopted in October 2006 following its nuclear test - it also demands North Korea ''not conduct any further launch."
  • It "calls upon all member states to comply fully with their obligations under Resolution 1718," which bans North Korea from all ballistic missile activity and calls for the international community to stop trading weapons and luxury goods with North Korea.
  • The statement requests that the Security Council sanctions committee established to deal with Resolution 1718 designate additional goods subject to a trade embargo against North Korea and entities whose assets are to be frozen due to suspected activities related to nuclear weapons and missile development.
  • It asks the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea to report to the council by 24 Apr on the companies, items, and technologies to be added to the list.
  • If the committee fails to act, it says the security council itself will then come up with a list by 30 Apr.
  • The statement also calls for an early resumption of the Six-Party Talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
  • Beijing had initially proposed a nonbinding press statement, which is even weaker than a presidential statement as it is read out only to the press by the Security Council president.
  • In the wake of the stalemate with Japan, China proposed a presidential statement, which is read out inside the global body's chamber.
  • The Security Council issued a press statement after North Korea test-fired an intermediate-range Taepodong-1 ballistic missile in Aug 98.
  • The council adopted a resolution demanding that North Korea suspend all missile-related activities after it launched seven ballistic missiles including a Taepodong-2 missile in Jul 06.
  • Countries involved in the Six-Party Talks, with the exception of China, were supportive of the statement.
  • In response to the UNSC presidential statement, on 14 Apr, North Korea announced that it will withdraw from the Six-Party Talks and restart its nuclear development programs.

South Korea says Nine North Korean Ships Subject to PSI in International Waters

  • A total of nine North Korean ships are subject to possible inspection if they pass through international waters, as they are registered with countries affected by a US-led anti-proliferation drive, Seoul officials said on 14 Apr.
  • Among ships operated by North Koreans, only nine of them are registered with applicable nations - Belize and Mongolia - and thus are subject to PSI operations in international waters, government officials said.
  • North Korea's other internationally-registered vessels are checked in with Cambodia, China and Honduras, which are not PSI members and do not have ship-boarding pacts with the US, the officials said.
  • In territorial waters, however, PSI participants may examine any suspicious North Korean ship regardless of its registration.
  • The PSI has 94 member states, including 15 core countries – Russia and Japan are full participants.
  • North Korea has warned it would regard South Korea's entrance into the PSI as a declaration of war.
  • Seoul and Pyongyang signed a bilateral shipping treaty in 2005 to allow commercial ships to use their territorial waters.
  • Under the agreement, they may stop and interdict ships suspected of carrying illegal materials but can only expel them in case of violation – the PSI grants the right to seize violators.

North Korea Eliminates Symbolic Agency

  • A North Korean agency dealing with inter-Korean economic cooperation appears to have been removed.
  • Following North Korea's cabinet reshuffle at the first session of the Supreme People's Assembly on 09 Apr, most ministers and heads of government agencies were retained during the opening session of the assembly.
  • But the National Economic Cooperation Federation was not on the list of ministries and agencies.

South Korea says North's detention of South Korean Worker 'Serious'

  • South Korean government views North Korea's prolonged detention of a South Korean worker as "serious" and will consider taking action should North Korea continue to refuse access to him, a spokesperson said on 13 Apr.
  • North Korea detained the employee of Hyundai Asan Corp. on 30 Mar in Kaesong, where a joint industrial complex developed by the South Korean company is located.
  • South Korean officials said the detained worker should not remain isolated and that he has the right to be represented by an attorney under inter-Korean accords on joint economic ventures. The accords guarantee "basic rights" for South Korean workers detained by the North.

South Korean Activist send Leaflets to North Korea

  • North Korean defectors floated leaflets across the inter-Korean border into North Korea on 15 Apr, calling for the ousting of leader Kim Jong-il as North Korea marked the 97th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birthday.
  • Nine defectors shouted "Down with Dictator Kim Jong-il!" as they released ten huge balloons carrying 100,000 flyers at Imjingak in South Korea, just south of the Demilitarized Zone.

North Korea Lacks Financial and Technological Abilities to Build Light Water Reactor

  • North Korea has threatened to build light-water nuclear reactors again but most experts believes Pyongyang is bluffing to gain an advantage in negotiations with the United States. This is because the North has no economic or technological capacity to build such a reactor on its own.
  • Jun Bong-keun, a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul, told Dong-A Ilbo on 14 Apr, "North Korea has no capacity to build a light-water nuclear reactor on its own. It is also impossible in many respects for the North to purchase and operate light-water reactor parts from other countries."
  • Above all, the construction of such reactors requires state-of-the-art technology, something which the North sorely lacks, Jun said. Only the US, Japan, Russia, France, and South Korea has the technological capacity to build light-water reactors, he added.

South Korean Media Criticize Repeated PSI Delay, Claim Moderates Prevail

  • On 16 Apr, South Korean dailies across the political spectrum chided the government for putting off the announcement of its full participation in the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) for the third time since North Korea's 05 Apr rocket launch, with some raising concerns about the negative impact it may have on the government's image.
  • The South Korean government's official stance was that the announcement was put off to "finish internal procedures and consultations with related countries." However, most dailies speculated that it actually owed to concerns over further aggravation of inter-Korean relations, the safety of the US and South Korean nationals detained in North Korea, the possibility of Pyongyang restricting or closing the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and the significance of 15 Apr for North Korea.

South Korean War Ship begins Convoy Duties off the Coast of Oman

  • The 4,500-ton Munmu the Great, carrying a crew of 300, started escorting a 12,000-ton South Korean cargo vessel, Pine Galaxy, in the Gulf of Aden, said Col. Lee Hyoung-kook of the South Korean JCS overseas troop deployment bureau.
  • The destroyer is able to protect up to six vessels at a time but will normally escort one to three ships, he said.
  • About 500 South Korean cargo ships sail throughout the piracy-stricken Gulf of Aden every year, and some 150 of them are categorized as vulnerable to hijacking given their size and speed, he added.
  • Last month, South Korean dispatched the Cheonghae Unit to the coast off Somalia, the first-ever overseas naval deployment.
  • The Korean contingent consists of the KDX-II destroyer, a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter, rigid inflatable speedboats and 30 UDT/SEAL forces and an explosive ordinance disposal team among its personnel.

  • The KDX-II destroyer is equipped with a Mk. 45 127mm gun, Harpoon ship-to-surface missiles, RAM Mk 31 ship-to-air guided missiles, a 30mm Goalkeeper system for engaging sea-skimming anti-ship missiles and torpedoes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hang on folks...here we go again...

So, the "good guys" were all congratulating each other on a job well done after formally announcing the adoption of the UNSC Presidential Statement condemning North Korea for launching its rocket on April 5th. The "bad guy" in this story, of course comes back with "I am going to take all my toys and go home, and you can't stop me." routine. Does this sound somewhat familiar? It should be. We've been down this road many, many times before.

So, North Korea announced today that it will pull out of the Six-Party Talks and will begin working on its nuclear program again (like it has ever really stopped -- at least we have no idea that it has ever really stopped).

This is not same lyric different tune...even the tune is the same....

Things are getting more and more interesting over here...we'll see what all shakes out at the end.

Well, due to some time constraints, I have to stop here today. More on this later, so stayed tuned.

Minerva could do 18 months in prison

Remember Minerva? No? Remember the blogger, supposedly a 31-year-old who self-taught economics and predicted the collapse of Lehman Bros? OK…well, anyway, he could face up to 18 months in jail if the Korean prosecutors office has it its way.

Minerva’s (his real name Park Dae-sung) crime: “falsely reporting that South Korea had barred banks from purchasing US currency.” Apparently the blogger will find out his fate on April 20th for posting the “inaccurate” story, which the prosecutors claim undermined the country’s credibility. Read The Associated Press report here.

I have to say, Minerva was just another blogger. I surf and read numerous blogs daily, and I even have a blog of my own. Some blogs are better than others, and some are very insightful, of course, written by some of the most renowned experts in their fields, but we all know we can’t believe everything we read or see on the Internet. I’ve posted some analytical pieces on my blog before and I intend to continue to do so in the future. I also expect the blogs I read everyday to continue to provide me the valuable insights. So, what happens when some of us get it wrong one day? I wonder what the Internet police will do then. Though I figure the Internet police will probably let us be. After all, matters of regional security, such as North Korean long-range missile program or the continuous expansion of Chinese influnce throughout Asia, and things like terrorism or pirates on the high seas are not that important when compared to something that hits much closer to home…like...wallet and authority.

Now, I, of course, don't think Park is really the blogger Minerva, but that is a whole different story that requires much more time and much, much, much more alcohol before I even think about touching...

Monday, April 6, 2009

So...the satellite is not in orbit...but the rocket worked...

It seems that the North Koreans have failed to put the satellite, Kwangmyhongsong 2, into orbit yesterday. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the US Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) officials said in a statement that North Korea launched a Taepodong 2 missile was launched at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 04 (11:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 05 Korea Standard Time), but no object entered orbit (contradicting the North Korean claim that the satellite entered orbit at 11:29:02 a.m. on Sunday). The statement said, “Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan (East Sea). The remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean. No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan…NORAD and USNORTHCOM assessed the space launch vehicle as not a threat to North America or Hawaii and took no action in response to this launch.”

Whether the North’s satellite was successfully deployed or not, one thing is for sure – North Korea now knows that it has the technology to build a working long-range ballistic missile, which should elevate the North’s worth among countries such Iran, Syria, and the like. Oh, just in case you were wondering, Iran officially denies it had any involvement with North Korea on the development of the said missile technology – who would have thunk it.

And on an interesting note, North Korea’s official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) announced on Monday, April 6, that Kim Jong-il visited the satellite command center Sunday to observe the launch of the North Korean rocket, and celebrated the successful orbiting of a communications satellite. KCNA said, Kim Jong-il, accompanied by Secretary Jon Pyong Ho and First Vice-Department Director Ju Kyu-chang of the central committee of the North Korea's ruling Workers Party, expressed great satisfaction over the scientists and technicians who "successfully launched the satellite with their own wisdom and technology." It said that Kim also stressed "the need to bring about a new turn in conquering outer space and making peaceful use of it."

Along with its announcement, KCNA also released a photo of Kim Jong-il, which was supposedly taken at the General Satellite Command and Control Center on April 5, where Kim watched the rocket launch from beginning to the end.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rocket Launch: North Korea's Latest Attempt at Blackmail

Today at 4:22 p.m. (Korea Standard Time), North Korea confirmed its rocket launch earlier that morning, saying that "communications satellite Kwangmyongsong 2 (Bright Star 2)" has successfully entered into orbit. North Korea stated that the rocket was launched at 11:20 a.m., and the satellite entered orbit at 11:29:02 a.m. Although North Korea stated this afternoon that the rocket was launched at 11:20 a.m., the South Korea Presidential Office announced this morning at 11:46 a.m. that the rocket was launched at 11:30:15 a.m. during a post-launch press briefing. As of now, the South Korean Yonhap News Agency says the "neighboring countries monitoring the launch have "no evidence yet" to prove North Korea's claim, according to a senior Seoul official said on condition of anonymity."

At 4:22 p.m., North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released a report that stated, "Scientists and technicians of the DPRK have succeeded in putting satellite Kwangmyongsong 2, an experimental communications satellite, into orbit by means of carrier rocket Unha 2 (Milky Way 2) under the state long-term plan for the development of outer space." The KCNA report claimed the three-stage rocket Unha 2 blasted off from a launch pad located in Musadan-ri, North North Hamgyeong Province, (on the country's northeast coast) at 11:20 a.m. and put the satellite safely into orbit 2 seconds past 11:29 a.m. The report also said that the Kwangmyongsong 2 satellite is now following an "elliptic orbit, at the angle of inclination of 40.6 degrees at 490 km perigee and 1 426 km apogee," adding its cycle is 104 minutes and 12 seconds. The KCNA said, "the satellite is going round on its routine orbit. It is sending to the earth the melodies of the immortal revolutionary paeans Song of General Kim Il-sung and Song of General Kim Jong-il and measured information at 470 MHz. By the use of the satellite the relay communications is now underway by UHF frequency band." It added, "the carrier rocket and the satellite developed through our indigenous wisdom and technology are the shining result of efforts to develop the nation's space science and technology on a higher level." The KCNA report also said today's space launch will boost the country's campaign to build a strong nation by 2012 as it "seeks to become a great, prosperous and powerful nation" by that year -- 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il's father. It added, "this is powerfully encouraging the Korean people all out in the general advance."

According to a Yonhap report, a South Korean government official stated, "the South Korean government assumes the North Korean rocket was a space vehicle, not a missile, but it is not yet known whether it was carrying a satellite and whether it entered orbit as North Korea claims." He also said, "it has not been confirmed yet whether the North Korean report is true or not."

Today's launch itself has been in development since February 3, when the South Korean Yonhap news reported that North Korea is preparing to test fire its long-range missile. North Korea's position has been that it is launching an experimental communications satellite. Japan, South Korea, and the United States have been insisting that the North Koreans are using the rocket launch as a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test. World Leaders (with the exception of the Chinese -- China said "it has taken notice of North Korea's rocket launch," and it urged all relevant parties to maintain "cool-headedness and restraint."urges all parties to maintain restraint over the matter." -- and the Russians) have criticized the launch as being provocative and in violation of the UNSC Resolution 1718, which expressly prohibits North Korea from conducting ballistic missile-related activities of any kind.

Looking back, we can link today's event to January 13, 2009, when a spokesman for the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that the US should first normalize relations with North Korea as a precondition for its denuclearization and that it will hold onto its nuclear weapons as long as the US backs South Korea with its own atomic arsenal. The statement also demanded that if “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the issue to be settled only when the DPRK shows nuclear weapons,” then North Korea must be able to also verify the presence of nuclear weapons in South Korea as well and that the same rule should be applied to US troops stationed in South Korea. I have to believe that today's event was planned well before January 13, but I really think this was the first glimpse of North Korea's well planned campaign to conduct today's launch. I wrote about the likelihood of North Korean ballistic missile test in a piece I wrote and posted on my blog earlier this year.

Really, to me, when I look at today's event, the core of the issue is not whether North Korea launched a satellite or tested a ballistic missile. The core of the issue is that North Korea is behaving this way to blackmail the United States and the international community so that it can benefit from it.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

From Korea Report: "We Are One!"-- Really?

Korea Report posted a segment on April 1st titled "We Are One!" Here's what it says:

"We Are One!"

The phrase in this large banner that unfolded in the inter-Korea, pre-World Cup soccer match in Seoul says "We are one!" -- indicating the desire for the Koreans to be reunified, despite the current chill in inter-Korea relations. To Koreans, although these inter-Korea sporting matches lend themselves to international competitions with fierce rivalry, they also provide opportunities to ponder the need for reconciliation and reunification of Korea. [Photo from The Voice of the People]

I wanted to stay clear of this, but this one, I just could not stay away. The above posting says "...indicating desire for the Koreans to be reunified..." Let's stop and think for a moment what this posting is actually saying. I have no doubt that both North Koreans and South Koreans would like to have an unified Korean Peninsula; however, I have grave doubt that those who live north of the DMZ see themselves as being one people with those who live in the South. It leads me to wonder...did anyone from the South ask a North Korean lately if he/she feels like they are one people (off the TV cameras and away from the media, I mean).

South Koreans tend to look at North Korea with feeling of nostalgia and have a misplaced belief that North Koreans are long lost cousins who have lost their ways who needs saving from the South. They do not recognize North Korea as a separate entity, and tend to be more emotional rather than rational (of course, I can understand why that would be).

North Koreans, on the other hand, see themselves as their own people, with their own unique history, heritage, and culture. When North Koreans talk about North and South Koreas, they talk about them in terms of two completely independent countries with two completely different forms of government that happen to share a common language and history prior to 1948.

Looking at the inter-Korean relationship from a third-party point of view, it is easy to see why South Koreans can never be in the "driver seat" when it comes to the inter-Korean issues. Inter-Korean relationship and policies can never achieve their desired effects as long as the South Koreans insist that North Korea is a long lost part of themselves and insist on dealing with the North with emotion rather than rational thoughts. Faster the South Koreans admit to themselves that the North and the South is NOT one (and that North Korea does not see itself as being a cousin/brother/friend of South Korea); that they have vast gaps in all areas that they have to work out before they can ever become one; faster it will be for South Koreans to be able to start examining critically the issues related to the future of the inter-Korean relations and begin working toward solutions that will be beneficial over the long term for both sides.

I guess the Korea Report posting on this subject is correct about one thing after all -- It did give me a chance to stop and think, albeit for a very short period of time, about the future of inter-Korean relations and the future of the Korean peninsula.

Now, as for the media outlet cited by the Korea Report (The Voice of People), that is a whole different subject that will require too many alcoholic beverages to be consumed before I would even want to touch it. So, you'll have to find out on your own about what kind of outlet it is for now (the outlet's web address is on the photo).