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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ensuring the survival of the regime

Yonhap News Agency of South Korea obtained a copy of the latest North Korean constitution, which was apparently passed in April of this year, on 28 September. There were some significant reported changes in the constitution when compared to the previous versions, and these changes have been described in numerous media reports and blogs. Well, here's our take on this matter:

1. Article 3: "The DPRK considers the Juche idea and Songun (military-first) idea, which are a man-centered worldview and a revolutionary idea for achieving the popular masses' independence, to be the guiding principle of its activities."

2. Article 8: "The social institution of the DPRK is a man-centered social institution where the masses of working people are masters of everything, and everything in society serves the masses of working people. The state shall protect and preserve the interests and protect the human rights of the working people, including workers, farmers, soldiers, working intellectuals, who were emancipated from exploitation and oppression and have become the masters of the state and society."

The term songun (military-first) has been added to Article 3, signifying the importance of the North Korean military in overall political structure of the country. The addition of the word songun essentially elevated the military-first ideology to the same level as Kim Il-sung's juche ideology. In Article 8, the word soldiers has been added to the list of population segments whose rights are guaranteed by the state. These changes further show Kim Jong-il regime's power base is the military and the military loyal to Kim Jong-il is what will sustain and keep the regime stable, both now and through the succession process.

Also in Article 8, the new constitution mentions, for the first time, that "the state shall protect and preserve the human rights of the working people..." It is probably safe to say that no one, to include those in North Korea, actually believes this change is nothing more than just words. These words, however, do play a significant role in politics external to North Korea. North Korea's abysmal human rights record has been one of the favorite issues the international community would hold over North Korea to, in the minds of the North Korean strategists, unfairly repress North Korea and threaten its sovereignty. This change seems to be a sort of a preemptive strike at the international community to counter the world's criticism. Of course, the North will undoubtedly point to this and tout it as one of the significant changes it has implemented to become a responsible member of the international community in any and all future negotiations (whether the bilateral or multi-lateral).

3. Article 29: "Socialism is built by the creative labor of the working masses. ..."

4. Artile 40: "The DPRK shall thoroughly carry out the cultural revolution and, thus, make all people socialist builders who have profound knowledge of nature and society and a high cultural and technical level, and intellectualize all of society."

Perhaps one of the most significant change to the North Korean constitution is that the word Communism was dropped from its constitution all together, as seen in Articles 29 and 40. It is certainly possible that Kim Jong-il has finally admitted to the fact that Communism, with its accompanying centrally planned economic system just is not going to help it get out of the economic quagmire it is in, and that Kim wants to distance himself and North Korea from the economic system of the Communist world, past and present.

Another possible reason is that the dropping of the word Communism was aimed at China - a prod at the Chinese and those among the North Korean elites who are of the opinion that North Korea should emulate China's economic reform policies.

Yet another possibility is that it was a strategy designed to appeal to the US and other Western powers (the West) in order to gain more favorable position in its future negotiations rather than an earnest desire to abandon the Communist ideology - particularly since North Korea is not truly a Communist country to begin with. So what does dropping the term Communism have to do with negotiating with the West? We would contend that there are a lot of people who came of age during the Cold War who are in positions of power in the governments in the West, and the words like Communism and Communist are still met with almost an allergy-like reaction of repulsion. We also contend that North Korea, through its shrewd observation of the world affairs, understands this very well. It has also observed that much of the West European countries practice socialism of varying degrees. Therefore, by dropping the word Communism and aligning itself as a socialist country, North Korea can claim that it is nothing more than another socialist that deserves to be treated as equals by the governments of the West as they would treat each other.

Inclusion of the term human rights and deletion of Communism from its constitution seems to be a carefully calculated strategic move that are designed to potentially provide North Korea some political capital in future dealings with the international community.

5. Article 100: "The chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC) is the supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)."

Article 100 not only codifies the role of Kim Jong-il as the supreme leader of North Korea, but it solidifies the role of the military as the central power of the North Korean political apparatus. Along with the changes in Article 3 and 8, this clearly shows Kim Jong-il's move to ensure the survival of the current regime.

Another significance is that this constitutional establishment of supreme leadership position seems to be similar to the changes Kim Il-sung made in 1972 - when Kim Il-sung was laying the groundwork for te succession on Kim Jong-il. In fact, much of the language used in the latest constitution to describe the responsibilities of the NDC chairman seems to be taken directly from clauses of the 1972 constitution.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Korean Peninsula Today, 25 September 2009

  • The US Deputy Secretary of State Steinberg is scheduled to arrive in South Korea next Tuesday (29 September)

  • The South Korean President Lee and the Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama reaffirmed the necessity of maintaining current international penalties on North Korea while urging the North to return to the Six-Party Talks

Poster with the successor's name sighted

A photojournalist who goes by the handle hanming_huang took this photo and posted to Flickr. The photo is of a public propaganda poster in North Korea praising Kim Jong-il's third son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Un. According to the metadata of the photo, it was apparently taken in Wonsan, North Korea, on 18 September and posted to Flickr on 22 September.

There have been reports of posters like the one hanming_huang posted appearing throughout North Korea for the past few months, but this seems to be the first actual photo of one seen outside of the country. The poster has the words to the song Footsteps at the bottom. Footsteps reportedly is a song used to buildup Kim Jong Un's cult of personality.

The appearance of this poster comes in the wake of recent conflicting media reports regarding the issue of succession.
  • A Yonhap News report confirming Kim Jong Un's designation as the successor dated 13 September

  • A Kyodo News report citing Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly, denying any succession process is ongoing in North Korea dated 10 September

  • A Daily NK report explaining the reasons for the succession process being halted dated 09 September

  • A Daily NK report claiming the succession process has been halted dated 08 September

  • An AFP report stating Kim Jong-il has suspended the succession process dated 05 September

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Asia News Brief for 24 September 2009

  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Obama administration will engage (Reuters) in direct, high-level negotiations with the military junta of Myanmar. Clinton, speaking at the United Nations, said U.S. sanctions on Myanmar would remain in place, but that the United States would push the Asian state to implement democratic reforms.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Asia News Brief for 23 September 2009

  • Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told the UN climate change summit that Japan will make a 25 percent cut (Japan Today) in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. Hatoyama also said Japan can provide financial and technical support for developing countries to reduce emissions.

  • Maj. Gen. Nyan Win, Myanmar's foreign minister, quietly visited Washington late last week, the Washington Post reports. Nyan Win met with members of Myanmar's embassy, a U.S.-Asian business council and Sen. James Webb (D-VA). It was the first visit of a foreign minister from Myanmar in nine years.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Northeast Asia News Brief for 21 September 2009

  • An international piracy monitoring agency, the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, says piracy in the South China Sea has hit a five-year high (Xinhua) so far this year. In the latest such attack, on Saturday, six pirates robbed the crew (BBC) of a tanker off Indonesia.

  • Newsweek and Foreign Policy reported China has been hoarding minerals needed for the development of green technologies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

US Department of State Daily Press Briefing Summary for September 16 (17th here in Korea)

Below is the summary of the US Department of State daily press briefing relevant to Northeast Asia:


  • U.S. congratulates the Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama on his appointment to Prime Minister in Japan
  • U.S. looks forward to talking to the new government
  • Government of Japan has to make its own decisions based on its own national interests
  • Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Campbell will be in Japan tomorrow (17 September)
  • Government of Japan to determine what kind of contribution they want to make to the war in Afghanistan

  • Secretary Clinton has no plans to meet with North Korea at UNGA
  • Bilateral talks would have to be in the context of our multilateral forum Six-Party Talks
  • John Podesta was in NK in a private capacity and had no message from the administration
  • U.S. focus is on restarting this multilateral context and the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula

Turkmenistan-China pipeline to open in December

A 7,000 kilometer (4,350 mile) natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China will start operations in December, Turkmenistan's head of state announced Wednesay.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said in a nationally televised address that the gas pipeline, for which work started in 2007, would be inaugurated on December 15.

China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) has signed a 30 year accord to import up to 30 billion cubic metres of gas a year through the pipeline.

China has signed several major deals to get new energy imports from Central Asia.

Source: AFP

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Korean Peninsula Today, 09 September 2009

Today’s Korean peninsula reporting is highlighted by:

  • China and Russia’s call for resumption of the Six-Party Talks.

Northeast Asia News Brief for 08 September 2009

Japanese Prime Minister-elect Yukio Hatoyama pledged a 25 percent cut (Japan Today) in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, more than his predecessor Taro Aso, who had agreed to an 8 percent decrease.

Taiwanese Premier Liu Chao-shiuan resigned amid heavy criticism (Taipei Times) of the government's slow response to last month's Typhoon Morakot, which devastated parts of the country and killed at least six hundred people. Wu Den-yih, the secretary general of Taiwan's ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), will replace Liu (CNN).