In the News – New North Korean Leader Faces Uphill Struggle


In the News – New N.Korean Leader Faces Uphill Struggle

New North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will have a tough road ahead now that his father Kim Jong-il is buried and the real job begins. So far he has only had to follow protocol and look sad by his father’s coffin, but the impoverished country faces a host of problems, especially in its dealings with the international community.

Kim Jong-il elicited some grudging respect for the expert way he played the international community. His brinkmanship tactics involved threats and nuclear development, alternating with negotiations and concessions to extract aid. But Jong-un has no foreign-policy experience. “Only those who know where the brink is can play the brinkmanship game,” one diplomat said. “But Kim Jong-un probably has no idea where the brink is.”

North Koreans react during late leader Kim Jong-ils funeral procession in Pyongyang on Wednesday. /AP-Newsis

North Koreans react during late leader Kim Jong-ils funeral procession in Pyongyang on Wednesday. /AP-Newsis

The void left by Kim Jong-il’s death is even bigger in relations with China, which is North Korea’s sole lifeline. “The Chinese leadership has had difficulty with Kim Jong-il’s brinkmanship tactics,” a source in China said, but he was always able to extract more aid and investment because Beijing preferred the status quo and he tended to highlight the “blood ties” between the two countries, which count for a great deal in Confucian societies. Kim Jong-un, by contrast, will now have to deal with Chinese leaders who are three to four decades his seniors.

And North Korea urgently needs money to pay for celebrations of regime founder Kim Il-sung’s centenary if it is to keep an increasingly restive and starving population in line. “People have high hopes for what the party will give to them” on Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday on April 15 next year, a source in North Korea said. “If the special rations are way below people’s expectations, there could be an outburst of pent-up discontent.”

The North Korean regime has been living on borrowed time with constant promises of a big party in 2012, when it had vowed to become a “powerful and prosperous nation.” Kim Jong-il tried to trade a halt in uranium enrichment for 240,000 tons of food assistance from the U.S. before his death.

“People’s dissatisfaction didn’t mean much under absolute rule,” a North Korean source said, “but things may change in the future. Kim Jong-un’s immediate priority will be begging for rice for next year’s promised feast.”

Original article can be found here.

In the News – North Korean Heir Leads Funeral of Kim Jong Il


In the News – North Korean Heir Leads Funeral of Kim Jong Il

PYONGYANG, North Korea December 28, 2011 (AP)

North Korea carried out a meticulously choreographed funeral for late leader Kim Jong Il on Wednesday and affirmed that the country was now in the “warm care” of his young son, extending the Kim family’s hold on power to a third generation.

Footage broadcast on North Korea’s state television showed Kim’s youngest son and successor Kim Jong Un walking next to his father’s hearse as it made its way slowly through cold, snowy Pyongyang. Dressed in a dark overcoat, he bowed his head slightly against the snow, and raised his right arm in salute.

Walking behind was Jang Song Thaek, Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law and a vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission who is expected to play a crucial role in helping Kim Jong Un take power.

Tens of thousands of mourners stood in heavy snow as they passed by. Soldiers stood in lines with their heads bowed.


Kim Jong Il, who led the nation with an iron fist following his father Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994, died of a heart attack Dec. 17 at age 69, according to state media. Kim Jong Un is already being hailed as the “supreme leader” of the party, state and army.

A private ceremony is believed to have been held earlier Wednesday in the inner sanctum of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace with Kim Jong Un and top military and party officials.

Foreign dignitaries in the city had been asked to gather at a sports stadium shortly before noon to be taken to Kumsusan to see the hearse pass at the start of the funeral procession through Pyongyang, according to a diplomat who asked that her name not be used due to the sensitivity of the details.

The young Kim made his public debut just last year with a promotion to four-star general and an appointment as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party.

But in the days since his father’s death, the campaign to install him as the next leader has been swift, with state media bestowing him with new titles, including “great successor,” ”supreme leader” and “sagacious leader.”


Associated Press Korea bureau chief Jean H. Lee and writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report. Follow Jean H. Lee at

Original article can be found here.

In the News – North Korea Paints a Picture of Stability


In the News – North Korea Paints a Picture of Stability




SEOUL—North Korean state media in recent days have showed Kim Jong Eun, the country’s presumed new leader, in the company of generals with long personal ties to his late father Kim Jong Il, in what appears to be an attempt to signal a stable transition in the authoritarian regime.

As North Korea goes through its second father-to-son transfer of power, questions have focused on whether the younger Mr. Kim has the all-important support of the upper ranks of the military, which the country’s opaque political structure makes difficult to gauge. But the state media images, along with announcements in the country’s biggest newspaper from Saturday to Monday bestowing the young leader with several new titles, are seen as further moves in the apparent process to give the family succession an air of legitimacy.

In one often-shown picture over the weekend, Mr. Kim stood between Gen. Ri Yong Ho, who went to military school with his father, and another general who put down the only rebellion Kim Jong Il is known to have faced.

Gen. Ri, who stood on Kim Jong Eun’s right in the weekend photo, went to school with his father Kim Jong Il and was the same age. As well, Gen. Ri’s father fought alongside Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il’s father and Kim Jong Eun’s grandfather, against the Japanese in World War II. Gen. Ri’s father later became the Kim family doctor.

Standing on the left in the weekend photo was Kim Yong Chun, who around 1995 or 1996 warned Kim Jong Il of a rebellion in a military unit in North Korea’s remote northeast, and led a harsh crackdown that is believed to have resulted in the deaths of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of soldiers. Kim Jong Il kept the general close to him since that crackdown.

Among the top generals, Gen. Ri is widely considered by outside analysts as the figure whose actions and fate will play a major role in determining Kim Jong Eun’s success with the military, and perhaps his ultimate ability to maintain power

On Sunday, Jang Song Thaek, the brother-in-law of Kim Jong Il who was his chief political lieutenant for the last five years, added to the image of unity by appearing in a military uniform rather than a business suit. He has also held a military title since June 2010.

Separately, the new leader dealt for the first time with a high-profile group of South Koreans, the widows of a former president and business executive who came to pay condolences over the death of Kim Jong Il.

The visit by former first lady Lee Hee-ho and Hyun Jeong-eun, chairwoman of the Hyundai Group, is the only one during the memorial period that has been officially approved by governments in both countries, which technically remain in a state of war. Ms. Lee’s husband, Kim Dae-jung, as South Korea’s president from 1998 to 2003, reached out to Kim Jong Il and, backed by funds and investments from Ms. Hyun’s husband Chung Mong-han, staged the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.

The widows, accompanied by a small group of relatives and associates, arrived Monday afternoon and were scheduled to return to South Korea on Tuesday morning.

Mr. Kim, who is just 27 or 28 years old, is far less experienced in the byzantine organizations of the authoritarian regime than his father was when he took over from Mr. Kim’s grandfather 17 years ago. For that reason, analysts expect North Korean authorities in coming weeks to stage an event to give Mr. Kim more titles.

For now, North Korea’s biggest newspaper, Rodung Shinmun, has started promoting him as “supreme commander” of the military and chief of a major committee in the main political party. TV and photo images on North Korean state media have repeatedly shown Mr. Kim surrounded by loyalists, many with ties to his family stretching back a generation or more.

“Most of the top generals and key party leaders, their family ties with the Kims go back to World War II,” said Bruce Bechtol, a professor at the Center for Security Studies at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas.

Also spotted in TV images with the younger Mr. Kim this past week are Gens. O Kuk Ryol and Kim Kyok Sik. Gen. O runs North Korea’s special forces, which account for about 25% of its one million-person military, and was close to Kim Jong Il since childhood, when his mother took care of Mr. Kim and his sister after the death of their mother. Kim Kyok Sik, another family friend and leader of forces on the inter-Korean border, is believed by analysts to have directed the 2010 attacks on the South Korean warship Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island, which is controlled by South Korea.

At the same political conference in September 2010 where Kim Jong Il officially revealed Kim Jong Eun to the North Korean public, he promoted Gen. Ri to vice marshal. Just a few weeks later, Gen. Ri took the No. 2 spot behind Kim Jong Il on the National Defense Commission, North Korea’s most powerful organization, following the death of a general who had also served with Kim Il Sung.

This year, Gen. Ri appeared with the two Kims at approximately 60 public occasions, according to a count by an American graduate student, Luke Herman, published at the web site NK News.

The North Korean regime is structured so that the dictator stands at the intersection of three competing forces: the political party, the military and a state security department that monitors loyalty.

Each of the three has some power over the others. For instance, the party must approve any military appointment above the level of brigadier general. And the system discourages individuals from seeking to replace the man in the middle.

“I don’t think anyone in the elite would try to grab power because there is a well-established check-and-balance system,” said Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University. “It would be suicidal.”

Original article can be found here.

Decoding Images from North Korea

This footage, seen by countless Americans on YouTube, leaves many with images that are easily misunderstood and are not easily decoded. To the common viewer, it most likely underlines the assumptions that Westerners already have of North Korea—that Kim Jong Il’s citizens loved him and Kim Il Sung and that the citizens have the same goals and ideals as the government. This footage, however, just like the propaganda videos broadcasting happy civilians, is state controlled, and therefore requires another look. The ultimate question is whether or not this act of grieving is voluntary or not, shedding light onto the real loyalty and culture of the citizens. Continue reading

In the News – Kim Jong-il Son Cleared as Top Military Commander


In the News – Kim Jong-il Son Cleared as Top Military Commander

Published: December 24, 2011

Yao Dawei/Xinhua, via Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea broadcast television footage on Sunday of the top military brass flanking the country’s young new leader, Kim Jong-un, as they paid their respects to Mr. Kim’s father, who died of heart attack a week ago, and vowed their allegiance to his chosen successor.

Among the officials there was Jang Song-taek, Mr. Kim’s uncle and a vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, whose role as the young successor’s caretaker has been magnified during the transition. Mr. Jang, 65, in what was said to be his first public appearance in a military uniform on state television, wore a general’s insignia.

On Saturday, the generals visited the Kumsusan mausoleum, where the senior Mr. Kim lay in a glass coffin. North Korea’s state-run media also published an entreaty to Kim Jong-un the same day to become “supreme commander” of the military. That official plea, along with the television footage of the generals and Mr. Jang’s appearance in a military uniform, signal that the military is spearheading Mr. Kim’s succession. Continue reading

In the News – Kim’s death could herald N. Korea’s opening: experts


In the News – Kim’s death could herald N. Korea’s opening: experts

SEOUL, Dec. 22 (Yonhap) — With a young and foreign-educated leader taking over the helm of North Korea following the death of his father Kim Jong-il, experts cautiously predict that he might take steps toward economic reform and opening, reaching out to the outside for economic cooperation.

But skeptics still do not believe that Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of deceased Kim, could muster enough power to push through marked changes to the nation’s economic stance, considering his relatively weak power base and the country’s age-old separation from the world. Continue reading

In the News – Buzz Over Who’s Not in North Korea Picture(s)


In the News – Buzz Over Who’s Not in North Korea Picture(s)

Published: December 22, 2011

Korean Central News Agency, via Agence France-Presse - Getty Image

SEOUL, South Korea — Researchers scrutinizing North Korea’s official images and lists of mourners paying respects to Kim Jong-ilhave noticed two conspicuous absences: the elder brothers of Kim Jong-un, the appointed heir.

They have also been buzzing about the appearance of Kim Ok, one of Kim Jong-il’s closest aides, who has served as the North’s de facto first lady since Kim Jong-un’s mother died in 2004. She showed up on Wednesday in the North’s press coverage of mourners at the Kumsusan mausoleum in Pyongyang, the capital, where Kim Jong-il’s body has been on display in a glass coffin since the official announcement of his death on Monday.

Identifying the mourners and absentees in the world’s most closed society is one of the few ways available to outsiders trying to solve the mystery of the unfolding succession in Pyongyang. They are looking for any clues about whether Kim Jong-un, the second son of Kim Jong-il’s third wife, will be able to assert control over the monolithic dictatorship established by his father and grandfather. Continue reading

North Korea: the Modern Day Grinch?

With Christmas just days away, the streets here in South Korea seem even more crowded than usual. There are people rushing around doing their Christmas shopping and Christmas carols playing at every store you pass. There’s just something about this time of year that makes the world seem more at peace, more joyful. It’s a time when we can forget our troubles and just enjoy the company of the people we love. Or even just enjoy the time away from work.

But there is at least one place that I can think of that won’t be enjoying the same things that you and I will be enjoying this Sunday. Continue reading

Kim Jong Il: DEAD

No matter where you were in the world today (December 19, 2011) you probably heard about the death of Kim Jong Il. North Korea’s official statement is that Kim Jong Il died of fatigue on Saturday, December 17th at 8:30 am on a train. For me, I was at work when I first heard about it. I work at an NGO in South Korea that deals specifically with North Korean issues and we keep close tabs on any new shifts within the rogue country, such as keeping an eye on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) television station, the North’s official source of news. And it’s thanks to this careful observation that we were able to hear about the death of Kim Jong Il, “the Dear Leader.” Continue reading

Unification: Not Only the Future but Also the Present


In my last article, I discussed the various different groups of defectors entering South Korea before and after 1994. In this article, I intend to go over the difficulties defectors experience in adjusting to South Korean society so that others may understand how the successful or unsuccessful integration of North Korean defectors is a reflection of the future of a unified Korean peninsula.

In my previous article, I had looked to Yoon In-Jin’s thesis North Korean Diaspora: North Korean Defectors Abroad and in South Korea for information on the diversification of North Korean defectors in South Korea. Yoon continues with a description of the stages of adjustment that defectors experience while in South Korea. After defectors undergo investigation through the Intelligence Command under the followed by rehabilitation and education at Hanawon centers, refugees are put under the guidance and protection of police officers for one or two years as of 1999. Yoon argues that the training that refugees receive at Hanawon and the guidance they receive from officers does not suffice their need for help to adjust to life in South Korea materially and mentally. Continue reading

“Why are you here?”: The Quintessential Question about North Korean Human Rights

The Interns this summer for the Ministry of Unification, especially the foreigners, were always met with some intrigue as to how we learned about the issue of North Korean Human Rights, Unification of the Korean Peninsula, and why we decided to get involved. Since many of us had learned about the issue through our Korean friends or student organizations back in the states, I had not realized what a unique position we were in as American ambassadors on the topic due to the specificity of the issue. However, to other interns and me, it hadn’t seemed like such a niche topic at all. Rather, it was something that was connected to American history and was a general area of interest for those committed to protecting human rights and liberties. I had only formally learned about North Korea in the context of it being a national security threat to America, but it also seemed to be, equal to Africa and other regions that are the center of charity and social entrepreneurship against poverty and starvation, an area that deserved attention for the low living standards of its citizens. Continue reading

Concealed by the Falling Snow

Case NSD460 of 2005 (Australian Court Review)

Today it is my hope to bring to you the joy that comes from reading an Australian court record.

I provide brief highlights, but if you have more time, the whole document makes for fascinating reading.

This, then, is a glimpse into the life in North Korea, and the escape from it, of an applicant for asylum. Continue reading

In the News – U.S. lawmakers ratchet up pressure on N. Korea


In the News – U.S. lawmakers ratchet up pressure on N. Korea

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (Yonhap) — U.S. lawmakers will step up efforts this week to put more pressure on North Korea through legislation calling for the repatriation of Korean War prisoners and toughening sanctions for its alleged proliferation activities, congressional officials said Sunday.

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives will put to a floor vote a resolution calling for the release of American and South Korean prisoners of war (POWs) and civilian abductees still in North Korea after the 1950-53 conflict. Continue reading

In the News – Korea’s 1st N. Korean Studies Dept. Faces Shut Down


In the News – Korea’s 1st N. Korean Studies Dept. Faces Shut Down

Dongguk University, the first Korean university to establish a major in North Korean studies, has laid out plans to possibly remove the department altogether.
If the university follows through with the plans, it would continue North Korean studies only as a liaison subject that students can take in conjunction with their first major starting from 2013.
It means the school will no longer offer North Korean studies as a major. Continue reading

In the News – Former aid official says N. Korean children suffer from poor diet


In the News – Former aid official says N. Korean children suffer from poor diet

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 30 (Yonhap) — Many North Korean children are stunted due to chronic malnutrition, a former aid official said Wednesday, the latest sign of food shortages in the communist country.

The North has relied on foreign handouts since the late 1990s when it suffered a massive famine that was estimated to have killed 2 million people. North Korea also suffered from devastating floods earlier this year, which experts have said may worsen the country’s food shortages.

Katharina Zellweger, who led the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development in Pyongyang for five years until September, said North Korean children need a balanced diet, though the public rationing system has been very up and down. Continue reading

On the Streets of Insadong

With my heart pounding, I looked apprehensively at passersby in Insadong as I stood on the street with a sign around my neck. To create a promotional video for the Public Relations department of the Ministry of Unification (MOU), Kelly, Jay, and I decided to conduct a survey on reunification and MOU to both foreigners and Koreans. However, this was easier said than done, especially because I had no such experience of approaching strangers and asking them to answer questions. Continue reading