North Korea’s International University

A trail of thirtyish couples with coffees in hand floated on the streets this morning, like wood planks and barrels from a wreck at sea. Gradually their density increased as I approached a hulking shape looming through the fog, which turned out to be an elementary school releasing parents with free coffees as they returned to their now-childless homes.

It’s back-to-school season in America.

North and South Korea both operate on different school calendars; for them, the school year begins in spring. When I taught English in South Korea, the school year ended in December and started again in early March. North Korean schools start about a month later at the beginning of April.

The difference is probably hard to imagine for most Americans; it conflicts with our whole concept of summer as a time of vacation, of idleness and play, of long days to fill with things other than school.

But for all the difference, going back to school is pretty much the same in spirit everywhere. Kids still have that anxious, excited energy to them and haven’t yet rediscovered the boredom of regular school days. And parents still want to take photos with their darlings before leaving them.

Parents take photos with their children on the first day of school at Pyongyang Middle School No. 1 on April 2, 2012. (Photo credit AP Photo / Jon Chol Jin). 

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Now On My Way to Meet You

The talk/talent show is a familiar genre on the giant flat-screen TVs that seem to twitter from every branch in South Korea. Sprinkled liberally with canned laughter, sound effects too cutesy for Western ears, and snarky commentary delivered by subtitles in egregious typefaces, the shows seem odd to a Westerner, but are popular fare on public TVs in restaurants, coffee shops, and spa locker rooms.

A new iteration called “Now On My Way To Meet You” (이제 만나러 갑니다) puts North Koreans on the screen, seeking to offer grounds for common connection between South Korean audiences and the North Koreans living among them as defectors.

Participants Shin Eun-Hee and Shin Eun-Ha smile on the set of “Now On My Way To Meet You”. Photo credit CHANNEL A @ tv.ichannela.com.

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Western Authors and North Korea

Perhaps a few generations ago most Western societies looked upon North Korea with fear and trepidation, having been raised in a time that identified North Korea as a threat during the Cold War. However, now it seems that the image of fear has been replaced with one that revolves around a fascination with devastation and morbidity. The recent popularity of novels written by Western authors about North Korea, such as Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the Westand Brandon W. Jones’s All Woman and Springtime, reveals the growth of the West’s captivation with the tales of the dark lives that the people of North Korea lead. The recent surge of new information coming from novels, which give the West a look into the enigmatic and mysterious self-enclosed world that is North Korea, may not necessarily be written with the intention of shocking and disturbing readers. But many seem to be written with the implication that they are exposing the ugly side of North Korean politics and society. Continue reading

The Coalition for North Korean Women’s Rights: Part II

 

Before looking into the individual experiences of the women of the Coalition for North Korean Women’s Rights, it is worthwhile to explore North Korean society, the women’s struggles within that society and also in China. Notorious for male dominance and paternalism, North Korean society relies on women to sustain the system that has been in place since the leadership of Kim Il Sung. Although Journey for Survival indicates that women became a larger part of the economy after the financial crisis of the 1990s, the testimonies that follow its introductory pages reveal that violence has been projected against them both while they lived in North Korea and when they journeyed abroad in search of food and work to provide for their families.

According to Journey for Survival, most defectors come from Hangyeongbuk-do and Yanggang-do because these regions, which are closest to the border between North Korea and China, are the first victims of any standstill in the distribution of food. This is especially because the region is home to people from the lower classes. Consequently, most of the early defectors originated from this area; however, as of late, members of the middle class have also started to migrate in search of something new because information about possible escape routes have spread and the opportunity for a different kind of life in South Korea has grown more attractive to the masses (Journey for Survival, 14). Continue reading

The Coalition for North Korean Women’s Rights: Part I

 

During last summer’s Ministry of Unification internship program, we interns visited a small local clothing factory where some of the North Korean women who recently defected have found work after getting adjusted to life in South Korea. While visiting the factory, we got a look around the workstation. There were a few stations set up for sewing with rows of sewing machines, large tables for cutting, and poles hanging with new coats for the upcoming fall and winter seasons. The organizers of the fieldtrip also told us a little more about the increasing number of women who have been defecting from North Korea. It was still difficult for me to keep up with the spoken Korean language, but, fortunately, they also supplied us with small books describing the women’s journeys from North to South Korea in both Korean and English. The small books, Journey for Survival: A Report on Female North Korean Refugees and Human Trafficking,were published by the Coalition for North Korean Women’s Rights explaining their humble origins and including a collection of testimonies from coalition members. Continue reading

In the News – Fewer N.Korean Defectors Come to S.Korea

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In the News – Fewer N.Korean Defectors Come to S.Korea

The number of North Korean defectors arriving in South Korea in the first half of this year dropped to half that of the same period last year. According to the Unification Ministry on Thursday, 751 defectors arrived from January to June, down 45.4 percent from 1,375 on-year.

The number of defectors arriving here mostly rose every year since 2001, when it first exceeded 1,000. The figure only dropped in 2005, by 27 percent, and in 2010, by 19 percent. But this is the first time that the number has fallen so drastically

A tougher crackdown by the North Korean regime seems to be the main reason. A ministry official said, “Around the time of former leader Kim Jong-il’s death late last year, more guard posts were set up along the North Korea-China border, and the brakes were put on North Korean border guards taking bribes to turn a blind eye to defectors crossing the river.”

“Since the North imported electromagnetic wave detectors from Germany last year, it has been difficult to make phone calls to anybody in the North,” points out Kim Hee-tae of Group for North Korea Human Rights, an NGO helping defectors. “The broker’s fee for arranging a defection has increased by more than 50 percent.”

Until last year, about equal numbers fled to China in search of food or traveled to a third country right after escaping the North with the help of their families or acquaintances in South Korea.

But now more than 80 percent who arrive here fled to China in search of food first and then come to Seoul later, suggesting that the regime’s crackdown has crippled South Korean NGOs’ organized assistance, and only those who had already fled and lived in China manage to get to South Korea.

China’s crackdown on illegal aliens this year also probably plays a part.

Original Article 

In the News – UN: North Korea needs immediate food aid due to flood

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In the News – UN: North Korea needs immediate food aid due to flood 

UNITED NATIONS –  North Korea needs immediate food assistance after heavy rains killed scores of people and submerged vast swaths of farmland, a U.N. office said Thursday.

That assessment was released by the U.N. resident coordinator’s office in Pyongyang following visits to flood-stricken areas in North Korea earlier this week. Floods caused by two storm systems last month killed at least 119 people and left tens of thousands homeless, according to the North’s state media.

The United States said it would consider a request for assistance but has not received one, and it was not aware of Pyongyang making such requests to other states.

“If requested, it would be something that that we would carefully evaluate but we are not at that point,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told a news conference in Washington Thursday.

The flooding, which occurred on the heels of a severe drought, renewed concerns about North Korea’s ability to feed its people. In June, the U.N. said two-thirds of the country’s 24 million people are coping with chronic food shortages.

Thursday’s U.N. report said torrential rains caused severe damage to homes, public buildings, infrastructure and farms, affecting maize, soybean and rice fields. The worst-hit areas are Anju city and Songchon County in South Phyongan Province, as well as Chonnae County in Kangwon Province, where residents are in dire need of emergency food aid, it said.

Some 36,000 families in Anju do not have access to clean water; wells are contaminated due to overflow of pit latrines and open drainage, raising the risk of a diarrhea outbreak, the report said. A city official told The Associated Press earlier this week that it was the worst disaster in Anju’s history.

North Korean officials are asking for food, fuel, medicine, water and purification supplies, while farmers are requesting seeds and fertilizer for the next season, the U.N. said.

Aid groups have donated emergency supplies, including the British-based charity ShelterBox, which dispatched 270 tents to North Korea, according to Howard Chang, a spokesman for Rotary International, who provides funding to ShelterBox.

The U.S. government gave $900,000 in relief supplies for North Korea after deadly floods last year. A subsequent plan this year to send 240,000 tons in food aid in return for nuclear concessions was scuppered when North Korea tested a long-range rocket in April. Washington said that step undermined confidence that North Korea would stick to its agreement to allow proper monitoring of food distributions.

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In the News – N.Korea’s Island Dream Dead in the Water

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In the News – N.Korea’s Island Dream Dead in the Water

A joint project between North Korea and China to develop the North’s Hwanggumpyong Island looks dead in the water. Japanese media already reported last month that the project has been stalled due to differences over details since a groundbreaking ceremony in June last year, and on Sunday the Asahi Shimbun said it was suspended last month.

“Plans for the project have been announced since 2010, but nothing has come of them because China doesn’t think it’s economically viable,” according to a diplomatic source here.

The plan to develop the island was a pipe dream from the start. The biggest problem is that the area is inappropriate for an industrial complex.

A child carries lumber along a farm road on Hwanggumpyong Island in North Korea on June 11.
A child carries lumber along a farm road on Hwanggumpyong Island in North Korea on June 11.

“The island was created from deposits by rivers, so the foundations are weak and susceptible to floods,” Cho Bong-hyun of the IBK Economic Research Institute said. “You’d first have to build flood walls and raise the ground by 3-5 m. North Korea wants China to do that, but Chinese companies just aren’t interested.”

Beijing reportedly asked Chinese businessmen several times to travel to the North and attend Pyongyang’s investment presentations, but they said that unless the North takes care of the foundation work, the project has no business value, a government official here said.

The island’s proximity to Dandong is another reason for Beijing’s lack of interest. China is already developing a new city and an industrial zone there and would rather focus investment on its own projects rather than across the border.

Original Article

In the News – Beijing Asked Seoul to Stop Help for N.Korean Defectors

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In the News – Beijing Asked Seoul to Stop Help for N.Korean Defectors

China asked Seoul to make sure that South Koreans stop engaging in “organized activities” there to help North Koreans escape if South Korean activist Kim Young-hwan was to be released. Kim was tortured during his 114 days in Chinese detention for helping North Korean refugees.

A senior diplomatic source here on Wednesday said China attempted to make Kim’s release contingent on South Korea putting a stop to activists’ help for North Korean defectors in the three northeastern Chinese provinces.

“China threatened not to release Kim unless Seoul promises to stop organized assistance for North Korean defectors, but the South Korean government declined,” the source added.

A senior South Korean government official confirmed the story.

China is worried about the activities of South Korean NGOs helping North Koreans in the provinces adjacent to North Korea. Chinese police fear that North Koreans could escape en masse if organized assistance increases.

There is also speculation that the North Korean regime has asked Beijing for help. After Seoul declined to meet its demand, China reportedly decided to deport Kim after a visit to Seoul last month by Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu.

Seoul has been seeking a consular agreement with Beijing to increase protection of South Korean citizens for a decade, but progress has been slow. According to the Foreign Ministry, talks kicked off in May 2002 and were convened on three more occasions — in January 2007, January 2010, and December 2011 — but the gap in opinions remains wide.

Seoul made consular agreements with the U.S. in 1963 and with Russia in 1992. A ministry official said, “Even if there’s no bilateral consular agreement with China, there won’t be any big problem if we stress the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to which most countries including China and Korea are signatories.”

Original Article 

In the News – S. Korean activist seeks to prove torture through medical checkup

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In the News – S. Korean activist seeks to prove torture through medical checkup

SEOUL, Aug. 2 (Yonhap) — A South Korean human rights activist who has accused Chinese security agents of torture during his four-month arrest said Thursday he will prove his claims through a medical checkup amid Beijing’s denial of the alleged abuse.

The dramatic story of Kim Young-hwan, who was expelled from China and returned home on July 20, has taken another turn in recent weeks following his revelations of torture under Chinese detention.

The 49-year-old activist recently described the beatings, electric shocks and sleep deprivation he endured during the early days of his arrest in northeastern China, exposing the Seoul government to criticism about its lack of action against Beijing.

Kim was arrested on March 29 on suspicion of endangering China’s national security, a charge believed to be related to the activist’s efforts to help North Korean defectors in China and promote human rights in the North.

China’s foreign ministry has rejected the allegations of torture, saying the investigation went according to law.

“Externally, there doesn’t seem to be any scars remaining,” Kim told Yonhap News Agency in a phone call. “I plan to get a medical checkup.”

Formal evidence of the alleged torture is expected to help Kim in the event that he decides to sue the Chinese government or take the case to the United Nations.

South Korean human rights activist Kim Young-hwan (Yonhap)

Lee Kyu-ho, a 41-year-old Korean-Chinese, said he moved to South Korea in 2010 after having worked as a Chinese security agent from 1995 to 2002, and witnessed similar violence by Chinese authorities at the time.

“In 1996, we took into custody a male North Korean defector who appeared to be in his late 30s or early 40s, and during the investigation, I kicked him with my heels and beat him with an electric rod,” Lee said in an interview with Yonhap.

“I was infuriated when I heard about the torture Chinese authorities used against Kim Young-hwan and decided to blow the whistle out of guilt about my past actions.”

Kim’s detention drew public attention due to his personal background.

He is a former South Korean proponent of North Korea’s guiding “juche” philosophy of self-reliance who later renounced his pro-North Korean ideology and became active in projects to raise awareness about the North’s dismal human rights record.

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In the News – South Korea Rejects North’s Terrorism Allegations

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In the News – South Korea Rejects North’s Terrorism Allegations

South Korea is calling “ridiculous” a North Korean claim that activists based in Seoul are behind alleged acts of sabotage in the North.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry says police and the National Intelligence Service are taking necessary measures to protect four people, including a freshman lawmaker, threatened by Pyongyang.

In an unusual announcement Tuesday, North Korea accused the four people of plotting to blow up statues and commit other acts of attempted terrorism.  It said they would not be able to escape merciless punishment.

Ministry spokeswoman Park Soo-jin says there is no truth to the North’s allegations and they do not merit a response.

Park says Pyongyang is making groundless charges that defectors from North Korea are engaged in kidnappings and terrorism.

One of those named by North Korea is Cho Myung-chul, a defector and freshman lawmaker (from the ruling Saenuri Party) who says he feels devastated by the allegation.

Cho tells reporters at the National Assembly this is a brutal pronouncement from Pyongyang and he says its threats against those in South Korea are inexcusable.

Two other defectors, Kim Song-min, the founder of Radio Free North Korea, and Park Sang-hak, who floats leaflets by balloons to North Korea, were threatened by Pyongyang along with high-profile activist, Kim Young-hwan.

Kim Young-hwan was formerly the leader of an underground leftist party, and a long-time polarizing figure on the Korean peninsula. In the 1980s he helped lead demonstrations against the dictatorship then in power in Seoul. He was imprisoned in South Korea for two years. In 1991 he was smuggled twice by submarine to North Korea to meet the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung. But he later became a fierce critic of North Korea’s repressive system.

In the statement broadcast by Pyongyang radio Tuesday  Kim was singled out as a “heinous nation-selling bastard.”

Kim Young-hwan and two colleagues were arrested in China on March 29. They were held there until July 20 on charges of endangering national security.

Kim has told local media Chinese security officers tortured him with a cattle prod and threatened to send him to North Korea.  He says that as a condition for his release, his captors tried to force him to sign a statement denying any mistreatment and admitting he violated Chinese law.

Kim says he wants the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to look into his allegations. He says he also plans to file civil lawsuits against Chinese authorities.

Kim has said he was visiting the country merely to collect information on human rights in North Korea and to aid refugees from the North who are in China. He has denied reports he was also attempting to set up the defection of a senior North Korean official.

South Korea’s foreign ministry, facing pressure from rights groups, announced Tuesday it plans to interview about 600 other citizens to determine whether they were also mistreated in Chinese jails.

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In the News – China Must Investigate Torture Claims

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In the News – China Must Investigate Torture Claims

China on Tuesday flatly denied torturing a prominent South Korean activist who was detained in Dandong for 114 days for helping North Korean defectors. China claims no laws were broken during its investigation of Kim Young-hwan and his rights were not violated.

The claims contradict Kim’s own account in an interview with the Chosun Ilbo on Monday, where he said he could smell his flesh burn as Chinese security agents tortured him with a cattle prod.

Kim vividly recalled the brutal torture he suffered in the Chinese prison. “Three state security agents checked my blood pressure and collected a blood sample on April 15 and then proceeded to torture me with a cattle prod from that evening until the early hours of the following morning,” Kim said. “They put the cattle prod, wrapped with electrical coils, inside my clothes and placed it on my chest and back,” he said. “It is hard to describe the pain I felt. It felt like being electrocuted continuously.” Kim added he suffered continuous blows to his face and they stopped only when his entire face was bloody.

He said he was also deprived of sleep from April 10 to 15 and was forced to wear handcuffs and stand for 10 hours straight. “That left my hands paralyzed for more than a month,” Kim said.

Kim’s account of getting a medical check-up before being tortured suggests meticulous planning by Chinese security agents. There are accounts that Chinese agents warned him not to talk about the torture he suffered in Dandong.

When confronted with such a vivid account of torture by a victim, the first thing to do would be to investigate whether those allegations are true. It is simply irresponsible of Beijing to deny them. Perhaps according to Beijing’s standards, the torture Kim suffered is par for the course and represents no great violation of a prisoner’s rights.

But as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China also signed the UN Convention against Torture. It should find out whether any other permanent member of the Security Council has rejected calls for a probe into allegations of torture of a foreign national. Even a superpower like China can lose global respect that way.

Kim said he wants no financial compensation but simply an apology from China. It is not a huge request to make. But if Beijing rejects it, the only thing left to do is to conduct a joint investigation through the UN Human Rights Council and appeal to the international community. If human rights groups around the world join hands to pursue the truth, even China would feel the heat.

Original Article

As One: more than a movie

 

With the 2012 London Olympics currently in progress, I thought I’d write about sports. Just in time for the international event, a movie was released this past May simply titled As One. It is based on the true story of Korea’s first unified sports team since the division, an event that brought patriotism and hope to the entire Korean Peninsula.

In February 1991, North and South Korean officials met at Panmunjum at the North-South border to make agreements on forming a unified soccer and table tennis team. Everything was decided on at this meeting. The flag was to be the unification flag, a blue Korean peninsula on a white background, and the anthem was to be the famous Korean folk song Arirang. And in April that same year, both the North and South Korean table tennis teams left for Japan to participate in the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships as the first ever unified Korean team since the division of the peninsula. History was in the making. Continue reading

In the News – Gov’t vows efforts to deal with S. Korean activist’s alleged abuse in China

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In the News – Gov’t vows efforts to deal with S. Korean activist’s alleged abuse in China

SEOUL, July 30 (Yonhap) — South Korea is taking the claims that a rights activist from the country was severely tortured while under detention in China seriously, and will do everything it can to verify the claims and ensure the safety of its citizens, the presidential chief of staff said Monday.

The 49-year-old activist Kim Young-hwan was expelled from China and returned home on July 20 following his 114-day detention on suspicions of endangering the country’s national security, a charge believed to be related to his campaign to help North Korean defectors and other human rights activists.

Kim publicly admitted last week that he suffered from both physical abuse, including electrical shocks, and sleep deprivation during his detention.

“The government and the presidential office are taking the matter seriously,” said Ha Kum-loul, the chief of presidential staff during a plenary session at the National Assembly, responding to a ruling party lawmaker calling on the government to take more proactive actions against China over the issue.

South Korea’s foreign ministry has come under fire for failing to take proper diplomatic actions against China when it first learned of the alleged abuse of a prominent activist in Chinese custody.

“The government spares no efforts to find cold facts with the Chinese government. We will do everything possible to protect the lives and guarantee the safety of our people and human rights activists, though whether to bring the matter to the United Nations has not been discussed yet,” Ha said.

Also on Monday, the activist disclosed fresh details of the alleged torture and ill-treatment.

“Beating and electrical shocks continued for five to eight hours from the night of April 15 until dawn on the following day,” Kim told Yonhap News Agency shortly before heading to the National Human Rights Commission, a state rights watchdog in Seoul, to testify.

“For seven days starting April 10, I was forced to stay awake all day long, and physical pressure began on the sixth day,” he said.

The Chinese authorities even had him sleep while seated on a chair in handcuffs during one entire month of interrogation, he claimed.

Original Article

In the News – N. Korean visitors to China rise drastically since last year: data

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In the News – N. Korean visitors to China rise drastically since last year: data

SEOUL, July 29 (Yonhap) — The number of North Korean visitors to China increased drastically since then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s tour of the North’s biggest communist ally early last year, Chinese government data shows.

The data on the entry of foreigners obtained Sunday by Yonhap News Agency showed that 152,000 North Koreans entered China in 2011, a sharp rise from 116,000 the previous year. Out of the total, 114,000 were businessmen and laborers.

The comparable figures were 116,000 in 2010, 103,000 in 2009, 101,000 in 2008, 113,000 in 2007 and 110,000 in 2006.

The sharp rise is attributed to the visit to China by late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in May last year, apparently to enhance bilateral economic cooperation.

The Beijing government said at the time that Kim was invited “so he could have the chance to grasp the developments in China and make the most of them for the development of North Korea.”

The number of North Korean visitors to China will likely increase further this year as China has received 88,000 North Koreans for the first six months this year alone.

The statistics comes amid reports North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-un, who took over from his father Kim Jong-il after the senior Kim’s sudden death in December, might soon come up with measures for economic reform.

The young Swiss-educated leader has often stressed the need to catch up with global trends in upgrading the country’s industries.

His father was rarely reported to be talking about global trends and instead focusing on “juche,” or self-reliance, ideology during a 17-year iron-fist rule of the impoverished state with nuclear ambitions.

The 28-year-old Kim recently sacked the chief of the North’s 1.2 million-strong Army, has been seen with his wife at official functions and has had North Korean troupes perform in Western style costumes.

Original Article 

In the News – North Korea Hunger Worsens Despite Talks Of Economic Reform

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In the News – North Korea Hunger Worsens Despite Talks Of Economic Reform

By Ju-min Park

SEOUL, July 27 (Reuters) – Talk that North Korea’s young leader plans to reform the broken economy is already having an impact. It’s helping send rice prices even further out of the reach of most families in one of the world’s most under-fed societies.

Seo Jae-pyoung, a defector who now lives in South Korea, spoke this week to a friend in the secretive North who had furtively called him by mobile phone from a mountain-side to plead for cash to be smuggled across to help.

“He couldn’t cope with the high prices, saying rice prices had shot up … and he is running out of money,” Seo told Reuters.

“It shows that the economic situation is seriously worsening…I feel that…(it) has already reached the critical point and (leader Kim Jong-un) may know that without reform or openness, the regime is not going to last long.”

One of the reasons he and others gave for the price increase was rice hoarding by middlemen hoping that talk of reform would materialise into a chance to turn a profit.

A source with ties to North Korea and its chief backer, China, told Reuters last week that the North is gearing up to experiment with economic reforms.

Evidence is hard to come by in the almost hermetically sealed and suspicious state, where casual contact with outsiders can mean imprisonment. And because it usually takes defectors many months to make their way out of the North to a country where they can speak openly, information can be out of date.

But some of the defectors Reuters spoke to in Seoul said they were in clandestine contact with people inside the North. Reuters also spoke to foreigners who had gone to North Korea in recent months under government-sponsored visits.

The overall impression was that in the about seven months Kim Jong-un has been in office, there have been few tangible changes inside a country which is now, since Myanmar’s decision to open up, Asia’s last pariah state.

“I’ve not heard anything to suggest any improvement for the rank and file there. And in some sectors, things continue to slide,” said one Christian activist with Helping Hands Korea, which works with refugees fleeing the North.

Kim, thought to be in his late 20s, is the third generation of a family dynasty that has ruled North Korea since its founding. He took over when his father Kim Jong-il died in December.

With international sanctions over weapons programmes, and the insistence of the Kims on food and resources going to the military first, the general population has been on the edge of starvation for decades.

STARTLING

The effects of such prolonged meagre diets is one of the startling images of North Korea, making the chubby leader Kim stand out even more against his subjects.

“What’s strikingly obvious is peoples’ stunted growth, they’re all very short for their age,” said one humanitarian worker who visited the North earlier this year.

“There’s always going to be a food shortage, The problem is, what they can produce, the best always goes to the best (top of society).” That elite refers especially to the military, estimated at 1.2 million out of a population of 25 million.

According to North Korean defectors who still keep in touch with family and friends and Daily NK, which monitors conditions in the reclusive state, the price of 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of rice in the market was estimated to be at least one month’s salary.

But that, said one defector, is meaningless because the cash-starved state, the main employer, rarely pays salaries.

“Even if you are employed by the state, you do business in the market. If you are an office worker, you do business in the market in the afternoon … There’s no way other than this to make it there,” said the woman, in her 30s, who asked not to be identified because she feared reprisals against family members still in the North. She fled the North late last year.

“Basically, many people are doing restaurant business or selling things on credit and pay off credits later. There is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Pyongyang has enough supplies but other areas fall short. So it is completely up to an individual’s effort. If you try hard to make money, you can survive. But if you don’t, you struggle,” she said.

She and other defectors said the authorities had been tightening their watch on the border with China, about the only route for escape. The dangers of crossing the border are compounded by the very high risk of being sent back to the North by Chinese authorities to face imprisonment or even execution.

FEAR OF REFORM

North Korea has dabbled with reforms over the years but never stuck to them, forced to rely increasingly on China to prop up a rusting industry and broken infrastructure.

Most recently, in 2009, it orchestrated the re-denomination of the currency, a move deemed so catastrophic that the official who initiated it was reportedly executed.

None of the defectors Reuters spoke to believed the leadership would dare allow reforms that damage its grip. Some thought the Pyongyang elite had been scared by the disastrous 2009 experiment.

Analysts say this fear of reform explains why the Kim dynasty has stuck so rigidly with a system that ensured the country was excluded from any benefit of being at the centre of the world’s most rapidly growing region — China, Japan and South Korea.

While their economies have surged, North Korea’s has shrunk. Once wealthier than the South, its economy is now less than three percent of South Korea’s. Its population is half the size.

“I think even if it loosens up, it would only be partial. If it fully opens, the regime will collapse. People began to not trust the regime after the currency reform in 2009,” said the woman defector who said she fled because she could no longer tolerate the constraints on her life.

Kim Yong-hwa, a defector who heads the NK Refugees Human Rights Association on Korea, was equally dismissive.

“Is North Korea is planning to reform and open up? I think the foreign press is over-reacting. The only thing Kim Jong-il left to Kim Jong-un is debt. He has no funds to run the regime.” (Additional reporting by Jack Kim and Choonsik Yoo in Seoul, and reporters in Beijing, Bangkok and Singapore, writing by Jonathan Thatcher; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Original Article 

In the News – N. Korean leader Kim goes on outing after introducing wife

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In the News – N. Korean leader Kim goes on outing after introducing wife

SEOUL, July 27 (Yonhap) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has attended a music performance together with his recently unveiled wife, state media said Friday, their first reported outing since the wife’s identity was revealed to the outside world for the first time earlier this week.

The wife has been a focus of speculation since earlier this month when state media began showing her closely accompanying the young leader during a series of public appearances without identifying who she was.

The North’s media identified her as the leader’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, on Wednesday. Seoul’s intelligence agency said the 23-year-old Ri, who is believed to have been educated in music and sang in a national orchestra, married Kim in 2009 and may have a child with the leader.

On Friday, Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the couple viewed a music performance by the music band of the country’s police force Internal Security Forces held in Ponghwa Art Theatre in Pyongyang a day earlier.

The singing and dance performance was held to celebrate victory in the Korean War, the North Korean holiday that marks the July 27 truce in 1953 that ended the 1950-53 conflict.

“The performers sang of the undying feats of Kim Il Sung, who wrought miracles of history by defeating the most atrocious U.S. imperialists in the war,” KCNA reported.

Kim expressed great satisfaction over the performance, which extolled the country’s Songun, or military-first, revolution, it said.

Original Article 

In the News – N.Korea Needs Bold Reforms to Feed Its People

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In the News – N.Korea Needs Bold Reforms to Feed Its People

North Korea has embarked on agricultural reforms, reducing basic farming units in some areas from the present 10 to 25 people to family units of just four to six, and increasing cash crops the farmers can sell in the market. These and other agricultural measures announced late last month appear aimed at boosting crop output through incentives.

There are unconfirmed reports that the agricultural reforms are being carried out on a trial basis in three provinces, with 30 percent of grain output being allotted to individuals.

North Korea has no choice but to bring about fundamental changes to farming if it wants to stop turning cap-in-hand to other countries to feed its people. In 1978, China scrapped its collective farming system, which North Korea emulates, and allowed family units to profit from their crop yields depending on output. Seven years later, incomes in farming communities had risen 2.5-fold. North Korea must waste no time in walking down that path.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged in a speech in April this year that he would make sure his people will never starve again. “It is our party’s resolute determination to let our people… not tighten their belts again and enjoy the wealth and prosperity of socialism as much as they like,” he said. The state media quoted Kim as vowing to build “an economically powerful state” and strive for the “improvement of the people’s livelihood.” The latest measures appear to reflect these pledges.

But North Korea announced similar reforms in 1997 that were also to have cut the size of each communal farming unit to seven to eight people and lowered the quota of crops that had to be submitted to state coffers. In 2002, the North announced measures to increase the amount of land farmers could use to produce crops they could sell in the market. But the regime each time scrapped the reforms shortly afterward because they had unwelcome side effects and purged the officials in charge of them.

The regime feared that the changes would cause the communal farming units to collapse entirely and undermine the state’s far-reaching network of informants and minders that had been keeping a close watch over the populace.

North Korea’s foreign policy in the coming months and years will be a good gauge of whether the latest reforms are temporary measures aimed at appeasing an increasingly disaffected population or whether they signal the start of major changes. The North will face severe limits to improving its economy as long as the international community upholds sanctions. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un must realize that he will never be able to feed his hungry people through window dressing.

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In the News – Romney camp views China as key to resolving N. Korean issue

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In the News – Romney camp views China as key to resolving N. Korean issue

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, July 25 (Yonhap) — Former Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive presidential candidate of the Republican Party, believes China holds the key to resolving the North Korea problem, a close aide to Romney said Wednesday.

“North Korea is a tremendously difficult problem,” Rich Williamson, senior adviser for foreign and defense policy for Romney, said at a forum in Washington.

He said the Romney camp recognizes that China is “the leverage point” to try to change North Korea, armed with nuclear weapons and various missiles.

“As you know, North Korea is sustained by Beijing’s food support,” he said, citing Washington’s years of efforts to put more pressure on North Korea through China.

He pointed out Romney has not outlined the details of his strategy on Pyongyang yet, but hinted that he supports the six-party talks on the communist nation’s nuclear program.

“On a bipartisan basis there has been support for the six-party talks,” he said.

Williamson, who served as U.S. special envoy to Sudan during the George W. Bush administration, was debating with Michele Flournoy, former under secretary of defense for policy.

Flournoy represented the Obama government in the session hosted by the Brookings Institution on the foreign policy agendas of the two sides.

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In the News – N.Korea Tries Out Agricultural Reforms

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In the News – N.Korea Tries Out Agricultural Reforms

North Korea has embarked on agricultural reforms, reducing some collective farming units and increasing cash crops the farmers can sell in the market.

According to an informed source, basic farming units in some areas have been cut down from the present 10 to 25 people to family units of just four to six. These and other agricultural measures were apparently announced late last month.

The source said a set amount of land, farming equipment and fertilizer have been distributed to family units, and they have been given greater rights to sell their crops in order to motivate them. Until now, the regime allowed farmers to sell only surplus crops raised on communal plots, but output always fell below targets.

“The measures appear to allow North Korean farmers to hand over a set ratio of their crops to the state and dispose of the rest as they wish,” said one high-ranking defector from the North.

North Korea set up a collective farming system in 1958, but the structure virtually collapsed due to devastating famines during the mid-1990s. The regime now apparently allows some factories to sell surplus output as well.

“Since last week, North Korean broadcasts have announced that leader Kim Jong-un has decided to undertake economic reforms to radically improve the lives of the people,” the Daily NK, a website specializing in news about North Korea, reported quoting a source in Chongjin. The area, on the North’s border with China, was one of the worst-affected areas during the famine.

“Agricultural reforms are being carried out on a trial basis in three counties, and 30 percent of grain output will be allotted to individuals,” the source said.

Some see the measures as a precursor to full-fledged economic reforms by North Korea, but a South Korean intelligence source was more cautious. “To my knowledge, no other developments have been detected yet other than the agricultural reforms being implemented in certain areas,” the source said.

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