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

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

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Russian Military Chief Says S-400s Deployed Over Korea Missile Tests

Russia apparently has deployed a division of its newest anti-missile defense unit to its far east region near the North Korean border. The official position is that Moscow is worried about North Korea's continued development of its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs. That may be one of the reasons for the deployment, but the other is probably to convey Russia's message that it still is a power to be reckoned with in the Northeast Asian affairs.

Below is an article from AFP from 26 August on this subject:

ULAANBAATAR – Russia is worried about North Korean missile and nuclear tests and has deployed sophisticated air defences in its Far East region to protect against any potential test mishap, Russia's top general said here Wednesday.

"We have an S-400 division there," said General Nikolai Makarov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, confirming that Russia had deployed its most advanced anti-missile defence system near the border with North Korea.

"We are indeed worried about the way testing, including tests of nuclear devices, is being conducted in North Korea," said Makarov, who was accompanying President Dmitry Medvedev on a visit to Mongolia.

"This is happening very close to Russia's borders. We will take certain steps to guard against the possibility of a missile falling" on Russian territory, he told journalists in the Mongolian capital.

In addition to deployment of the S-400 unit, Makarov said Russian defence chiefs were weighing further steps to make sure no North Korean missiles, or pieces of missiles, landed in Russian territory.

"We are now reviewing what more effective steps can be taken to guarantee no rocket fragments fall in the event of a faulty launch."

Editorial: US, PRC Maneuvers Post-Morakot

Taipei Times - By Hoon Ting, Freelance Writer (Originally in Chinese)

In the past, rich or influential people used to keep a small platform next to the entrance to their house to help people get off their horses. President Ma Ying-jeou's initial rejection of foreign aid in the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot and his interaction with the US and China made me think of this platform, which was built to help people get off their high horses.

Ma probably thought criticism of his government's weak disaster relief effort would blow over in a couple of days; instead, his inaction prompted the US to take action. When US transport aircraft and minesweeping helicopters appeared over Taiwan, the USS George Washington, an aircraft carrier from the US' Seventh Fleet, wasn't far away. As if expecting something big to happen, international media scrambled to Taiwan.

There is an international aspect to the flood disaster, and it begins with China.

On Aug. 11, China launched its largest military exercise to date. The exercise mobilized forces in the Shenyang, Jinan, Guangzhou and Lanzhou military regions for almost two months, and it took place near disputed areas, such as near the border with North Korea, Afghanistan and in the South China Sea. It included paratroopers, simulated warfare in complex electromagnetic environments, the Beidou Satellite Positioning System and civilian aircraft. The whole exercise was reminiscent of a preparatory blitzkrieg exercise. This prompted the USS George Washington to move into position: On Aug. 10, it left its home port in Yokosuka, Japan, for its first visit to Manila in 13 years. In San Diego, California, the USS Nimitz set out on a westward journey.

As the US and China were involved in polite formulaic exchanges, one unusual incident after another took place in Taiwan. At the height of the onslaught of Typhoon Morakot on Aug. 8, the former chief of the general staff left on a visit to Beijing; on Aug. 9, an undersea optical cable just off Taiwan was severed in five places, and the US military's Asia Pacific command offered to help Taiwan with disaster relief — not once, but twice. On Aug. 10, several countries offered Taiwan assistance.

However, according to reliable sources, the representatives of the Presidential Office, the Cabinet and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) met and decided to accept Chinese assistance instead. On Aug. 11, the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) exercise began and Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued an urgent telegram rejecting foreign material aid and rescue teams. On Aug. 12, an underwater optical cable was again severed, this time in six places, China rejected a visit to Hong Kong by a Japanese navy vessel, and Premier Liu Chao-shiuan said Taiwan was not rejecting foreign aid, signaling a change in situation. On Aug. 14, US Agency for International Development staff arrived in Taiwan, PLA Major-General Luo Yuan said Taiwan should review its relationship with the US before a cross-strait military confidence-building mechanism was established, and Ma called a meeting of the National Security Council. On Aug. 15, a US C-130 aircraft arrived in Taiwan. On Aug. 17, US helicopters landed in Taiwan and the US State Department rejected the notion that it had to inform China about its activities. On Aug. 18, China's Taiwan Affairs Office said Beijing was still willing to provide rescue helicopters. On Aug. 20, members of the US Congress traveled on a military aircraft to visit Taiwan. And on Monday, the USS Nimitz arrived at Yokosuka.

Regardless of the cause and intent, the Chinese military exercise, the USS George Washington moving into position in the Philippines, the multiple breaks on two separate instances of a Taiwanese undersea optical cable, the Taiwanese government issuing a "very urgent" telegram rejecting foreign aid, Ma's neglect of his responsibility as the commander-in-chief and his refusal to declare a state of emergency, the Ma administration's unthinkable continuous inaction during the height of the calamity and China's "timely" declaration of its attitude are enough to provide the PLA with a reason to come to Taiwan in the name of humanitarianism. From the perspective of the US-Japan Security Alliance, it could also marginalize the alliance and upset the balance of power that has existed in East Asia for the past 60 years.

Looking back at the first week after Morakot, even if the Ma administration has not been colluding with the Chinese government, its arrogance and public detachment, combined with its eagerness to push cross-strait relations, could still send the wrong message to the US, Japan and China and place Taiwan at risk. The US military's eagerness to show the flag in this situation is probably a practical matter of "preventive contact." Whether or not this really is what is going on, we will only know when classified files have been declassified some time in future.

Monday, August 24, 2009

North Korea's Funeral Diplomacy - glimer of hope or an oncoming train?

The State Funeral for the late Former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung was yesterday. Regardless of the different personal views the readers of this blog may have about the late President, we believe that everyone can agree that he was a true statesman and an internationally recognized leader.

Quite certain that a lot of people saw the memorial and funeral services via the television broadcast or the Internet. If not, most would have at least seen the photos of these events.

One of the most memorable photo out of the memorial and funeral services is the photo that I've inserted to the left of this posting - a photo of Kim Ki-nam (Vice-chairman of theCommittee for Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherlandand aSecretary of the North Korean Workers Party) and Kim Yang-gon (Director of the Unification Front Department and Chairman of Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee) paying respect at Kim Dae-jung's alter, placing a wreath Kim Jong-il sent, which they brought from North Korea. The picture clearly shows Kim Jong-il's name (in Korean on the right) and the message of condolence (in Korean on the left).

Needless to say that this is the first time the North had sent a delegation to pay respect to a late South Korean President. But wait, that is not all. The delegation even had a meeting with the sitting South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and the South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In Taek on 23 and 22 August respectively. Reportedly, the North Korean delegation delivered a verbal message from Kim Jong-il to President Lee.

According to Chosun Ilbo, the meeting "led to a consensus between the South and the North on the principle that both sides need high-level government-level dialogue. But it remains to be seen when and at what level such dialogue will be held." According to the same report, President Lee reportedly told the North Korean delegates that the South is willing to talk at any time at any level, including a summit - which has been rebuffed by Cheong Wa Dae (the South Korean Presidential Office). In response, Cheong Wa Dae released a statement saying:

President Lee Myung-bak is fully prepared and ready to hold an inter-Korean summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il if conditions are met, but no such summit has been proposed by either side.

Whether or not substantive discussions occurred during the North-South meetings on the 22 and 23 August, it was significant that those meetings were the first high level inter-Korean governmental meeting that occurred since President Lee took office 18 months or so ago.

No one truly believes the inter-Korean relations will improve over night, and no one really believes this funeral diplomacy by the North is purely out of the goodness of Kim Jong-il's heart and humaness; however, one can't help but be cautiously optimistic. After all, no one really wants the situation to get worse.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New US Ambassador to China Pushes Improved Ties (Chosun Ilbo)

The newly-arrived U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, says his top priority is to take the U.S.-China relationship to "new heights," despite lingering and inevitable differences between the two countries.

Ambassador Jon Huntsman's 23-year-old daughter, Mary Anne, Saturday serenaded journalists with a Rachmaninoff etude. The Huntsman family had just arrived in Beijing less than 24 hours before, so this was her first time playing the grand piano in the ambassador's formal living room.

Huntsman said he is delighted to be in China -- in English and in Mandarin Chinese. He appeared before reporters with his wife, Mary Kaye, and three of their seven children. His two youngest daughters are adopted -- three year old Asha is from India and 10-year old Gracie May is from China.

The new U.S. ambassador acknowledged that in the past, the U.S.-China relationship has been plagued by differences over issues such as human rights.

"Sometimes, when we had difficulties and challenges, the relationship has come to a stop," he said. "And the work hasn't been able to get done. And that's not only unfortunate for people in the U.S. and China, but it's unfortunate for the people throughout the rest of Asia, all of whom depend on a good U.S.-China relationship."

He said he believes the U.S.-China relationship has to transcend the disagreements, which he stressed will always be there, and instead focus on shared interests.

"Specifically, when you look at energy and climate change, regional security and global economy, if we're going to tackle all of those successfully, by definition, we would have risen to new heights," said Huntsman.

Huntsman pointed out that 2009 marks the 30th anniversary of Sino-American ties.

He said U.S. President Barack Obama is set to visit China in November, and that he is confident that by the end of the year, the US-China relationship will be "stronger than ever before."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Backgrounder on China-Pakistan Relations

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) published today a very nice backgrounder on China-Pakistan relations.

China and Pakistan have enjoyed a close relationship since they established diplomatic ties in 1951. Not only was Pakistan one of the first countries that recognized China in 1950, it remained a steadfast ally during China's international isolation in the 60's and early 70's.

China has long provided Pakistan with major economic, technological, and military assistance, including nuclear technology and equipment. Many experts believe as the relationship between the US and India develops further, relationship between Pakistan and China will become closer as well, noting China as being a longtime security partner of Pakistan. Other experts, however, point out that China may be very cautious about being closer to Pakistan out of concern for Pakistan-based anti-Chinese Islamic elements.

Northeast Asia News Brief for 20 August 2009

North Korea-Richardson Meeting: A North Korean delegation met with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (Washington Post) in Santa Fe to demand that the United States engage in bilateral talks with the country. Richardson, who negotiated with Pyongyang in the 1990's, said he was not negotiating officially with the delegation, but was acting as "sort of a liaison."

China: Some thirteen hundred children living near a Chinese manganese factory in central Hunan province have lead contamination (Times of London). The factory, which has been shut down, had never faced any kind of environmental safety regulation since it's opening in May 2008.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Northeast Asia News Brief for 19 August 2009

North Korean Delegation to Attend Kim Dae-Jung's Funeral: North Korea is planning to send a delegation to the funeral of the former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung (Yonhap). Separately, diplomats from North Korea planned to visit Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) today with an "undisclosed agenda," theNew York Times reports.

China: China reduced its holdings of U.S. government debt (Shanghai Daily) by more than 3 percent, or over $25 billion in June, according to new U.S. treasury data. China holds more U.S. debt than any other country.

China-Australia: PetroChina, China's largest energy company, signed a deal to buy $41 billion worth (China Daily)of Australian liquefied natural gas.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung: Major Biographic Ecents

1924: Born in the far southwestern island of Haui, South Jeolla Province.

1943: Graduates from Mokpo Commercial High School.

1948: Becomes chief of Mokpo Daily, based in South Jeolla Province.

1950: Resigns as the head of Mokpo Daily.

1951: Takes office as president of a maritime company, Heungkeuk.

1957: Becomes a member of the central standing committee of the opposition Democratic Party.

1960: Becomes a spokesman for the Democratic Party.

1961: Elected to the fifth National Assembly following victory in a by-election.

1963: Elected to the sixth National Assembly.

1964: Receives a diploma from Seoul's Korea University graduate school in business administration.

1965: Becomes a spokesman for People's Party, named Minjung Party in Korean.

1967: Elected to the seventh National Assembly.

1970: Tapped as presidential candidate for the New People's Party.

1971: Elected to the eighth National Assembly. Named presidential candidate with the New Democratic Party.

1972: Seeks political asylum in Japan and the United States following President Park Chung-hee's declaration of Revitalizing Reforms, known as the Yushin Constitution, which dissolved the eighth National Assembly while extending Park's dictatorial rule that ended with his assassination in 1979.

1973: Kidnapped by a group of South Korean intelligence officials in Tokyo and placed under house arrest.

1976: Arrested on charges of organizing a democratic movement that led to a democratization declaration on March 1.

1979: Released from prison on a special amnesty.

1980: Sentenced to death after being convicted on charges of conspiracy and sedition

1981: Sentence reduced to life imprisonment.

1982: Released from prison after suspension of sentence. Seeks asylum in the U.S.

1983: Founds a research institute on human rights in the U.S.

1985: Returns to South Korea and becomes co-chairman of the Seoul-based consultative committee for democratization.

1987: Runs for the 13th president on the ticket of the Peace and Democratic Party.

1988: Elected to the 13th National Assembly.

1991: Becomes chairman of the New Democratic Party.

1992: Elected to the 14th National Assembly, later runs in the 14th presidential election on the ticket of the Democratic Party. Named a professor emeritus at Moscow University in Russia.

1993: Named professor emeritus at Cambridge University in Britain.

1994: Becomes head of the Asia-Pacific Peace Foundation.

1995: Becomes the president of the National Congress for the New Politics (Party).

1997: Elected the 15th president of South Korea.

1998: Sworn in as president.

2000: Named chairman of the Millennium Democratic Party. Wins the Nobel Peace Prize following the first-ever inter-Korean summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in June.

2001: Awarded Britain's highest award, the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George, by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of his lifelong contribution to enhancing democracy and human rights.

2002: Withdraws his membership from the Millennium Democratic Party, now the Democratic Party.

2003: Steps down as the 15th president of South Korea. Undergoes minor coronary surgery at Yonsei University Severance Hospital in Seoul.

2006: Takes office as chairman of the Kim Dae Jung Peace Foundation for the Asia-Pacific Region.

2009: Passes away at the Seoul Yonsei University Severance Hospital

Former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung Passes


Former South Korean President and 2000 Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae-Jung passed away today at 1:43 PM.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The head of (North) Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee revealed

Yonhap Television News (YTN), reported during its 6 o'clock morning news today, citing “a North Korean media outlet,” that Kim Yang Gon, the head of the Unification Front Department (United Front Department) has been confirmed to be also serving as the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (KAPPC) on 16 August.


According to the report, KAPPC’s last known chairman was Kim Yong Sun, who died in October 2003, and the identity of succeeding KAPPC chairperson(s) had not been known since (for five years 10 months). The report also stated it is not known since when Kim Yang Gon has been serving as the chairman of KAPPC. Apparently Kim Yong Sun, the last known chairman of KAPPC also held a dual position as the head of the Unification Front Department during his tenure.


Sources told YTN Kim Yang Gon reportedly planned the visit of the Hyundai Group chairwoman
Hyun Jung-eun’s visit to the North and personally oversaw the visit as the chairman of KAPPC during her visit.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dell in North Korea?

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on 12 August Kim Jong-il inspected Kim Jong Suk Naval University located in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province. The report did not mention when the visit was actually made, but the South Korean media outlet, Yonhap News Agency, believes the visit was made around Tuesday (11 August) given the timing of the report. This public appearance marks Kim Jong-il's first since meeting with the former President Clinton on 04 August.

Ordinarily, Kim's on-site inspections would be of interest because we can glean a sense of Kim's physical condition, what sector of North Korea Kim is concentrating on, the overall message Kim is trying to convey domestically and internationally, etc. In other words, Kim's on-site inspection news are good for building databases and for doing mid- to long-term analytic projects, but they rarely provide any excitement. This on-site inspection, however, caught our eyes for something refreshingly different. Actually, what caught our eyes had nothing to do with Kim at all. It actually had to do with a small detail we noticed in two of the North Korean released photos of the on-site inspection.

As we looked through the photos, we noticed some computer monitors in the foreground of the two of the photos. We were in awe when we noticed the word "DELL" on one of the computer monitors. Yes, "DELL"!!! Our office uses Dell monitors as well, so, just to make sure, we took a look at the back of our monitors. We found the markings on the back of our monitors to be remarkably similar to those in the photo.

Below are the two photos in question released by North Korea, and a photo of the monitor in our office for comparison.


We couldn't tell if the photos were doctored, but assuming they were not, it is very, very, VERY, improbable that Dell, Inc. is doing any business with North Korea, especially the North Korean Navy. If anything, the North Koreans most probably procured these monitors by way of China.

Regardless, it was fascinating to see an emblem of the American capitalism (or as the North Koreans would say in their rhetoric...bellicose American imperialistic economic policy systemically designed to choke out the revolutionary flame of the Korean people) displayed so prominently in a North Korean military institution.

Very Ironic, indeed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Private markets thrive in North Korea

North Korean economy seems to have been in collapse for perpetuity, and to say that the central government's public distribution system is a failure would probably an Herculean understatement (or at least a gross understatement). The following article from the JoongAng Ilbo examines the ever-expanding size of private markets and accompanying underground economy in North Korea.

I can't remember where I read this, but I seem to remember reading somewhere that the size of underground economic activity in North Korea is about the same size as the official economic activity of North Korea. (Again, don't quote me on this...at least not yet...until I can cite the source where I might have gotten this information...or I could very well be mistaken...I will post the results of that research separately....)

Aside from purely regional interest, one can also glean the human will to survive when faced with adversity from this article.

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The following report has been written with the assistance of Dongguk University’s North Korea research center. A total of 30 North Korean defectors were interviewed in-depth for this article. All of their names have been changed out of consideration for their safety.

North Korea observers have pointed out that recent provocations by Pyongyang, in the form of several missile tests and the country’s second nuclear test, are meant to rally support for reclusive leader Kim Jong-il, whose health has been in question since he was reported to have suffered a stroke last summer, while laying the groundwork for a possible succession by one of his sons, widely believed to be Kim Jong-un.

Apart from going to great lengths to display its military might, the government has also been trying to crack down on the growing number of private markets that have mushroomed within the country, which are seen as a potential threat to the state. Nevertheless, experts say that despite the government’s efforts, the markets and the resultant underground economy have become the most effective way of meeting the daily needs of ordinary North Korean citizens, which the public distribution system for food and supplies has failed to do.

The markets have also given birth to a cadre of wealthy businessmen.

“In the North there are eight wholesale markets and about 300 retail markets,” said Dr. Hong Min, a North Korea specialist at Dongguk University who has visited some of the markets himself. “North Korea is at a stage where the markets and the ruling system coexist.”

Hong said that there are some similarities between the developments in North Korea and the reform measures taken by China in the late 1970s and ’80s, but said that the difference is that in North Korea there is no official blessing from the state.

Of the eight wholesale markets, six are located near the North Korea-China border, with ports nearby that give Chinese businessmen easy access to the North.

The biggest wholesale market is Pyongsong Market in South Pyongan Province, which has 5,000 retail booths. The daily floating population at the market is estimated at 100,000. Due to its proximity to Pyongyang, people from the capital area purchase their goods here, and thus the market is a major factor in determining prices in the capital city.

The wholesale markets are generally dominated by Chinese products.

It’s illegal to sell products from South Korea or Japan, but the demand for them is so great that they continue to be sold.

According to North Korean defectors and experts, the retail markets usually specialize in specific goods. Pohang Market in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, is known as a place for products considered to be luxury items in the North.

North Korean defector Kim Hyo-su, who once did business at the market, said that the medium-sized market had about 1,500 sales booths where secondhand products from Japan could be obtained.

“Party officials and people from the security organs would stop by to buy presents before heading to Pyongyang,” said Kim.

Unlike the pampered ruling class of the North, the majority of North Koreans use the markets to purchase anything from food to everyday items and other goods that the ailing North Korean economy cannot produce.

Observers say that North Korean officials acknowledge the need for the markets, but are keeping a keen eye on a venue they believe could become the catalyst for shaking the roots of the North Korean system.

The market matters

Inside the North’s political classification system, which divides North Korean citizens based on their level of loyalty to Kim Jong-il and the regime, the business class is marked as a suspect “wavering class” and is watched very closely.

The businessmen have to pay for taxes and permits and must refrain from trading in a list of forbidden goods. Prices are controlled by the state and officials monitor the markets constantly. The markets are under the tight control of management offices installed by the state that are in charge of collecting taxes and enforcing the law.

In January, the North attempted to close the big markets down and divide them into smaller units, but had to postpone the plan due to resistance from its citizens, according to several sources familiar with the incident. In April, the state tried to close Pyongsong Market, but failed again.

Attempts to stop the sale of South Korean or American products have also been unsuccessful.

“In the North, South Korean and American products are very popular,” said Han Su-san, a North Korean defector and former senior government official in the North. “People have to see the brand markings with their own eyes, so the merchants show their customers glimpses of the products when asked.”

North Korean defectors say the markets have become a necessary part of the North Korean system.

“Without food distribution, everybody is going to starve. If you stop the markets, it’s like a death sentence,” explained Kim Han-ho, who once did business in Onsung, North Hamgyong Province, and escaped from the North in 2006.

The markets have expanded rapidly since Pyongyang introduced economic reforms in 2002, but people like Dr. Hong dismissed as premature the notion that these markets, which have grown in size and quality, could eventually morph into entities that could lay the groundwork for fundamental changes in the North.

“The markets have grown, but they are not challenging the system itself. The two simply coexist. Nobody wants a change in the system.”

Park Sun-seong, a professor specializing in North Korean affairs at Dongguk University, also pointed out that North Korean businessmen are not the ones escaping from the North.

“They are elements that could pose a threat to the system, but they have accepted the system and built up their wealth,” the professor said.

Bribery rules

In a situation where party officials and security organs are constantly trying to put a lid on the markets, bribes are the order of the day. Security checkpoints and railroad stations situated at key junctions leading to the markets can only be passed by giving bribes to officials, according to statements given by several North Korean defectors interviewed for this article.

Hong Young-hui, a North Korean defector who sold goods at Pohang Market in Chongjin, recalls that when the daughter of the district party secretary went to Pyongyang for a two-week trip, businessmen in the market prepared food, clothing and Japanese products that she could give as presents.

Apart from such occasions, bribes and presents on official holidays are a must, making the party secretary of the area a “king,” in his own right, Hong said. He and other defectors said that people had to pay a premium in order to obtain booths in prime spots of the market.

The exact scope of the population directly or indirectly involved in market activities is unknown but some experts believe that the numbers are quite large.

Professor Park Young-ja of Sungkyunkwan University argued in a recent research study that up to 90 percent of the North’s population was in some way connected to activities linked to these markets because the country has virtually no industrial base or industries in which ordinary citizens can participate. Those sectors are the exclusive domain of the military, which operates on a separate economy.

Capitalizing on the markets, some businessmen have accumulated so much wealth that the bribes are relatively inconsequential.

Lim Han-o, who left the North in 2006 and lived in Onsung, remembered one visit to the apartment of a local businessman who was one of the wealthiest men in the area.

“He had his own phone, which is something that others can only dream of. His apartment was decorated with a South Korean TV, a sofa and a Japanese clothing cabinet,” Lim said. “Electricity is usually scarce but there was an air conditioner running, and it seemed that he was getting electricity from a separate source.”

The grasshoppers

Those who have no means of paying the official fees and bribes operate on the outskirts of the markets. Often dubbed “grasshoppers” in the North, they operate at the markets illegally without permits, but their numbers are so large that it is impossible to crack down on them.

The existence of the markets may also be one reason the food situation in the North is better than most would suspect. The widely held belief is that the supply of food in the North is at dangerous levels - a widespread famine in the mid 1990s was said to have killed tens of thousands of people - and that conditions have continued to deteriorate. But some experts who have dealt with the North personally have painted a somewhat less desperate picture.

“We have contacted various organizations, including the National Intelligence Service and the Unification Ministry here, and asked them for their assessments of the food situation in the North. We got completely different results and nobody really seems to know,” one U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official, who is also familiar with the ongoing nuclear negotiations and has been to the North, cited one visit in which he asked the North Korean authorities to take him to a village that he had chosen at random in order to gauge the food situation.

“I don’t think there was enough time to prepare for our visit and put a show on. What we saw was a normal place with people that looked healthy. Certainly nothing like what you see in some countries in Africa.”

While in capitalist countries money is a sure way to power, in North Korea the wealthy businessmen are at the mercy of the state. Knowing that attracting too much attention can earn them the unwanted scrutiny of the state and bring their lives of comfort to an abrupt end, these businessmen try to hide their wealth as much as possible.

Analysts and North Korean defectors familiar with the circumstances think that the wealth of this particular group was already in the tens of thousands of dollars in the 1990s and has most likely increased.

Recent figures indicate that in the North’s black markets, 30 million North Korean won is equivalent to $10,000. The average monthly income of a North Korean worker is roughly 2,500 won. In a country where electricity, education and medical costs are supposedly covered by the state, the wealth of North Korean businessmen has reached astronomical heights by North Korean standards. The fact that this group has flourished within a system that is notorious for holding political prisoners may be a telling sign of how deeply embedded they have become.

“These businessmen are estimated to be involved in 70 percent of the North’s trade, and they are involved in every aspect of the North’s commercial activities,” Dr. Hong said. “They wheel and deal the money and hand out bribes.”

Interesting blog of a young North Korean defector living in Japan

Found an interesting blog today. The title of the blog is A North Korean Living in Japan: Steps of Hana Lee. The blog is carried on the Asia Press website and has apparently been gaining popularity and has been the object of numerous inquiries from newspapers and television stations in Japan.

According to the blog, the author, Hana Lee (리하나), is a 25 year-old young woman who fled North Korean and arrived in Japan in 2005 (She currently resides in Osaka, Japan). She was certified by a university as possessing the academic qualifications of a high school graduate and has been attending college since this spring.

From a quick peruse of the blog…she writes frankly, discussing about her life in Japan. Her postings are replete with bewilderment, occasional frustration, and agonizing recollections of life in North Korea.

The only downside of this blog is that it is in Japanese. Time to breakout the multi-language electronic dictionary…

Korean Peninsula Today, 12 August 2009

Today’s highlights:

1) The North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il stated, "There will be a major development shortly in the relationship between North Korea and the United States."

2) US State Department spokesman Robert Wood stated that the United States will not reward North Korea for its recent provocations and reiterated calls for Pyongyang to return to the Six-Party Talks

3) US Treasury Department’s designation of Korea Kwangson Banking Corp. (KKBC) for involvement in WMD related activities under the Executive Order 13382

4) The South Korean Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo stated that there were no new developments on the release of the detained South Korean worker

and 5) After a 48-hour probe into the North Korean cargo ship MV Musan's illegal presence in Indian waters, the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard Monday [10 August] handed over the 39-member crew to the local police and intelligence agencies.

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High-Ranking North Korean Official; [There Will Be] 'Major Development Shortly' in the US-North Korea Relationship (Kyodo – Original in Japanese)

Ulaanbaatar, Kyodo – North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yo'ng-il, who is visiting Mongolia, held a meeting with high-ranking officials of the Mongolian Foreign Ministry in Ulaanbaatar on 10 August. Kim said, "There will be a major development shortly in the relationship between North Korea and the United States," hinting that there has been a move toward holding talks between the United States and North Korea. A Mongolian diplomatic source has revealed this on 10 August.

Vice Foreign Minister Kim commented on the Six-Party Talks on the North Korea's nuclear issue, reiterating again that North Korea "decided in the end that the country will not return [to the talks]." In addition, he said that his country "has not denied a dialogue, and if good conditions are fulfilled, a door is opened toward holding talks between the United States and North Korea," according to the source.

North Korea and Mongolia have held vice foreign ministerial-level meetings regularly every year since 2006; the recent meeting marks the fourth. Vice Foreign Minister Kim visited Mongolia on 8 August and will depart the country on 11 August. A Vietnamese Government source said that North Korean officials, including Kim, will visit Hanoi on 12-15 August.

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U.S. not to reward N. Korea for recent provocations: State Dept. (Yonhap)

WASHINGTON – The United States Monday said it will not reward North Korea for its recent provocations and reiterated calls for Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks on its nuclear dismantlement.

"They are not going to be rewarded, as the secretary and president said, for their previous behavior," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said, referring to the pledge by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not to reward the North just because of its coming back to the multilateral talks without taking substantial measures for its denuclearization.

"It's not going to have that kind of a relationship if it continues along -- the behavior along the lines that it's exhibited in the past," he said. "We want them to come back to the table and negotiate based on the commitments that they've made. And the ball, we believe, right now is in the court of North Korea."

Critics have said North Korea has used the talks since their inception in 2003 to buy time to build a nuclear arsenal. Its first nuclear test in 2006 was followed by a second in May.

"I think the president and Secretary Clinton have spoken very clearly on this that the North cannot be rewarded for its past behavior," Wood said. "Simply, what the North needs to do is to live up to its obligations. If you remember, the North signed on to the joint statement from 2005, committing to a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

The six-party deal, signed in September 2005 by the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, calls for the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for massive economic aid, diplomatic recognition by the U.S. and Japan and establishment of a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

Pyongyang, however, has said it will boycott the multilateral talks for good due to U.N. Security Council sanctions for its recent nuclear and missile tests.

Instead, the North has called for direct talks with the U.S.

Washington declined, and threatened to continue sanctioning Pyongyang until it returns to the multilateral negotiations.

"The international community expects the North to live up to its obligations," Wood said. "These are obligations it took freely. And we want to see them come back to the table."

The spokesman noted the North's expressed willingness to have a dialogue and improve ties with the U.S.

"The North has said it wants dialogue, it wants to have good relations with the United States and other members of the international community," he said.

He was talking about the discussions former President Bill Clinton had for more than three hours with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il last week when Clinton visited Pyongyang to win the release of two American journalists held for illegally entering the North.

National Security Adviser James Jones made a similar point on Sunday.

"The North Koreans have indicated they would like a new relationship, a better relationship with the United States," Jones said in an interview with "Fox News Sunday." "They've always advocated for bilateral engagement. We have put on the table in the context of the talks we would be happy to do that if, in fact, they would rejoin the talks."

Jones also said that Kim is "in full control" despite rumors of his failing health after apparently suffering a stroke last summer.

He expressed optimism last week amid allegations that Kim Jong Il proposed a "grand deal" for a breakthrough in the stalled negotiations and improved ties between the sides.

"We certainly hope it could lead to other good things, but we won't know that for a while," Jones told reporters Thursday. "Who knows where the future will lead."

Former President Clinton will likely meet with Obama in the coming days to brief him about his trip, U.S. officials said.

Meanwhile, South Korean and U.S. officials said they have been discus sing a "comprehensive package," a possible breakaway from a six-party deal on the North's denuclearization that calls for action for action in the North's nuclear dismantlement.

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U.S. sanctions another N. Korean bank for WMD involvement: Treasury Dept. (Yonhap)

WASHINGTON – The United States Tuesday blacklisted another North Korean financial institution for its affiliations with North Korean firms and banks already sanctioned under U.N. resolutions adopted after North Korea's nuclear and missile tests in recent years.

In a statement, the Department of Treasury said it has "designated the Korea Kwangson Banking Corp. (KKBC) under Executive Order (E.O.) 13382 for providing financial services in support of both Tanchon Commercial Bank (Tanchon) and Korea Hyoksin Trading Corporation (Hyoksin), a subordinate of the Korea Ryonbong General Corporation (Ryonbong)."

Executive Order 13382 "freezes the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their supporters and prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with them, thereby isolating them from the U.S. financial and commercial systems."

Hyoksin is among five North Korean firms blacklisted by the U.N. Security Council in June under Resolution 1874, adopted after North Korea's second nuclear test on May 25.

Ryonbong was among three North Korean firms targeted by the Security Council in 2006 under Resolution 1718, adopted after the North's first nuclear test in 2006.

The additional listing comes amid growing optimism for a breakthrough in the stalled negotiations over North Korea's nuclear weapons program after the landmark visit to Pyongyang by former U.S. President Bill Clinton last week to win the release of two American journalists held there for four months for illegally entering the North.

Clinton met with reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il [Kim Cho'ng-il] for more than three hours, during which Kim expressed his willingness to have bilateral talks and improve ties with the U.S., according to U.S. officials who debriefed the former president.

U.S. officials dismissed Kim's proposal for bilateral talks, saying those will be possible only within the framework of the six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, which Pyongyang refuses to attend, citing punitive U.N. resolutions.

National Security Adviser James Jones, however, was a bit optimistic about the future U.S.-North Korea ties after the Clinton trip.

"We certainly hope it could lead to other good things, but we won't know that for a while," Jones told reporters last week. "Who knows where the future will lead?"

U.S. officials have, meanwhile, dismissed the Clinton trip as a "private mission," warning the U.S. will continue to sanction the North unless Pyongyang returns to the six-party talks.

In blacklisting KKBC, Stuart Levey, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said, "North Korea's use of a little-known bank, KKBC, to mask the international financial business of sanctioned proliferators demonstrates the lengths to which the regime will go to continue its proliferation activities and the high risk that any business with North Korea may well be illicit."

KKBC is based in North Korea and has operated at least one overseas branch, in Dandong, China, according to the department.

Tanchon, Ryonbong and Hyoksin have already been listed by the U.N. resolution as well as the Treasury Department for their involvement in the North Korean WMD programs.

The Treasury Department accused Tanchon of utilizing KKBC since 2008 to "facilitate funds transfers likely amounting to millions of dollars, including transfers involving Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID)-related funds from Burma to China in 2009."

KOMID is "North Korea's premier arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons," and Tanchon "plays a key role in financing KOMID's sales of ballistic missiles," the department said, suspecting Hyoksin "sought to us e KKBC in connection with a purchase of dual-use equipment in 2008."

In a strategic dialogue here last month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner agreed with their Chinese counterparts to cooperate closely on implementing U.N. resolutions on sanctioning North Korea.

Any sanctions on North Korea, already one of the most heavily sanctioned nations in the world, are seen as ineffective without the full participation of China, North Korea's staunchest communist ally.

China has often been accused of disregarding U.N. resolutions against North Korea, which is heavily dependent on its communist neighbor for food, energy and other necessities.

Beijing is believed to dislike any instability on its border with North Korea as it is gearing up to be an economic power in the coming decades to match the world's superpower, the U.S.

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Hyundai Chief Extends Pyongyang Visit Seeking Worker's Release (Yonhap)

SEOUL – The chairwoman of South Korea's Hyundai Group, visiting North Korea to bring a detained employee home, extended her stay by one day, her company said Tuesday, as progress in the negotiations appeared to have been delayed.

Hyun Jung-eun was scheduled to return home Wednesday after a three-day visit to Pyongyang, during which she was largely expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to win the worker's release.

"We received the message from Hyun's entourage in Pyongyang that her return will be put off until Thursday," a Hyundai spokesman, Kim Ha-young, said over the phone.

The reason for the extension was not immediately known.

It appeared that Hyun has not yet met with the North Korean leader, said Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo. Hyundai requested government approval for the trip extension Tuesday night, and "there are no particular reasons not to approve," Lee said.

Hyun drove across the inter-Korean land border Monday in the wake of former U.S. President Bill Clinton's trip to Pyongyang last week to win the release of two American journalists. Hyun's visit raised hopes that the Hyundai employee, identified only by his family name of Yu, would be released after a detention of nearly four-and-a-half months.

Yu was detained in late March at a joint park in the North's border town of Kaesong on accusations of criticizing the North's political system and trying to persuade a local woman to defect to the South. The 44-year-old with Hyundai Asan Corp., the group's North Korea business unit, had been working at the joint park for years.

In contrast to the American reporters, who were detained for illegal entry in mid-March, North Korea has not allowed Yu any phone calls to his family or access to Seoul officials, only saying an investigation was underway.

In a positive sign, North Korea gave a hearty welcome to the Hyundai chief, opening the land border for her drive to Pyongyang and sending a high-level official, Ri Jong-hyok, to receive her.

Sources in Seoul said Hyun appeared to be staying at the Paekhwawon State Guest House, North Korea's highest-level guest house reserved for foreign heads of state and top dignitaries, judging from the background of a photograph of her released by state media on Monday. Clinton stayed at the same guest house and dined there with the North Korean leader.

Hyun stayed there during visits in 2005 and 2007, when she was granted a meeting with the leader.

The high-profile trips by Clinton and the Hyundai chief have spurred hopes for progress in political relations in the region. Tensions rose after North Korea's rocket and nuclear tests earlier this year, and the U.N. Security Council adopted resolutions to stem the cash flow used to fund the North's weapons program. Pyongyang withdrew from regional denuclearization talks in protest.

Experts say North Korea's key concern is improving relations with the U.S., and to that end it is necessary to mend ties with Seoul.

Hyundai is deeply involved in inter-Korean relations, with several North Korea ventures initiated by its late founder Chung Ju-yung, born in North Korea. But the ventures hit a snag as political ties unraveled after President Lee Myung-bak took office last year with a tougher stance on North Korea's nuclear program and on economic aid.

The South Korean government suspended Hyundai's major tourism program to North Korea's Mount Kumgang in July last year after a female tourist was shot dead by a North Korean solider there.

North Korea closed another Hyundai tour program to the historic border town of Kaesong in December as part of retaliatory steps against the South's hard-line posture.

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Indian Navy, Coast Guards hand over North Korean ship crew to police (PTI News Agency)

New Delhi – After a 48-hour probe into the North Korean cargo ship's illegal presence in Indian waters, the Navy and the Coast Guard Monday [10 August] handed over the 39-member crew to the local police and intelligence agencies.

Navy and Coast Guard sources said here that their investigation did not lead them to any clandestine activities on the part of the crew members and that they had handed over the men to the local police and intelligence agencies for further action.

However, Indian authorities were yet to decide when the cargo vessel, carrying 16,000 tons of sugar, would be allowed to set sail again to its destination in Iraq.

The ship, M V Musan, was found anchored about 65 nautical miles south of Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar, last Wednesday and the Navy and Coast Guard ships carried out an operation, including firing of a round, to force the vessel to accompany the enforcement agencies to the port.

The vessel was on its way to a port in Iraq and had set sail from a Thai port on 27 July. The ship's captain told Indian authorities that the vessel had a mechanical fault, due to which it had to enter Indian waters.