In the News – S. Koreans to file suit against N. Korean leader in int’l criminal court

Aside

In the News – S. Koreans to file suit against N. Korean leader in int’l criminal court

SEOUL, July 25 (Yonhap) — A South Korean private committee said Wednesday that it will file a lawsuit against North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with the International Criminal Court in September.

The move is designed to put pressure on the communist country to repatriate the hundreds of South Korean soldiers taken prisoner and the remains of those killed during the 1950-53 Korean War, said Park Sun-young, a former lawmaker who has championed the rights of North Korean defectors and South Korean prisoners of war (POWs).

The committee, which calls for the return of the South Korean POWs, also said it plans to present a petition to the United Nations Human Rights Council on the issue in the fall, said Park, one of about 50 committee members.

“The pressure will be enormous,” Park said after a news conference in the National Assembly as she vowed to make efforts to try to bring home aging former South Korean soldiers.

South Korea estimates about 500 POWs are believed to still be alive in the North. Pyongyang denies holding any POWs and claims former South Korean soldiers voluntarily defected.

Park claimed former South Korean soldiers toil in mines in the North, citing testimonies of some of the 56 former POWs who escaped to the South after spending decades in the North.

The war ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically still at war.

She also said the committee plans to upload testimonies of former South Korean POWs to YouTube to raise international awareness of the issue.

Choi Eun-suk, a North Korea legal expert at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University, said he did not think it is impossible to pressure the North to return former South Korean soldiers. He did not elaborate.

Original Article

In the News – Rights activist says North involved in his detention in China

Aside

In the News – Rights activist says North involved in his detention in China

SEOUL, July 25 (Yonhap) — A South Korean activist said Wednesday North Korea was certainly involved in his four-month detention in China, indicating close cooperation between the two allies in their efforts to root out defector assistance and human rights activities in China.

About one week after he was deported from China following a 114-day detention on charges of endangering China’s national security, the 49-year-old activist Kim Young-hwan recounted in a press conference how he was unexpectedly arrested by a Chinese intelligence unit and detained under brutal treatment, as well as how the North was involved in his ordeal.

The North Korea-sympathizer-turned-human rights activist said the taxi he was riding in Dalian, a Chinese city near North Korea, was stopped by Chinese intelligence agents. He was taken by them right away on March 29, one week after he went to China to discuss cooperation on North human rights improvement and assistance for North Korean defectors with other activists there.

Without telling him why he was arrested, Kim was brought to the intelligence agency’s detention facility in Dandong and spent one month there under brutal conditions, including sleep deprivation, before being moved to another prison.

“They did not tell me what charges I was under, but ordered me to confess all I know (about human rights activities in China),” Kim told the press conference.

Having done nothing against China nor tried to dig out information about the country, “I could not understand why they were so brutal to me,” said the activist who led local efforts to assist North Koreans defecting to the South as well as shore up human rights protection in the reclusive communist country.

He said he is “certain” that the North’s spy unit, State Security Department, played a major role in the detention of him and several other fellow South Korean and Chinese activists who were taken by the Chinese intelligence unit along with him.

“The motive of this incident seems to be very much related with the State Security Department, I think,” Kim said.

“For the first three or four days following the arrest, they did not know who I was,” he said, adding that they later seemed to get the idea from information provided by the North’s intelligence agency. “I think they were in cooperation.”

The crackdown attempt by China, the first of its kind in trying to charge a foreigner with endangering the country’s national security, appears to be part of the country’s efforts to set off alarm bells for those working in China to help North Korean defectors or improve human rights there, activities irritating to the North as well as its closest ally China.

“This was thought to be the case, given that the Chinese government requested Seoul help stop North Korean defector assistance activities (by activists in China),” said Saenuri Party lawmaker Ha Tae-kyung who attended the conference following his efforts to free the detained activist.

“China may have thought we posed high potential risks because we had done underground activities for a long time without being caught,” Kim said, referring to his past experience as a pro-North activist while in college.

The three other activists, caught together with Kim, spent more than a decade collecting information on the status of North Korean human rights and helping North Koreans defect safely to the South, without being detected, Kim also noted.

However, he refused to specifically elaborate on how brutally Chinese intelligence agents treated him and what activities he was leading in China, citing sensitivities involved.

“I was very resentful at first and eager to expose the dismal human rights conditions in China,” he said, referring to 13 hours of forced labor he had to shoulder during the early stage of his imprisonment, low-quality food, the short time allowed for meals as well as the small prison space.

“Talking about the specific experience may shift the attention away from North Korean human rights conditions from those in China, which are fundamentally in a different (better) stage from the North and improving,” Kim said.

And exposing our specific activities there may negatively impact those being led by other activists and organizations, he said.

“I give my thanks to the government, citizens and those who helped me out (of the detention) and vow to dedicate myself more to North Korea human rights and democratization there.”

Kim Young-hwan, now a senior researcher for the Seoul-based civic group Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, was a former South Korean proponent of North Korea’s guiding “juche” philosophy of self-reliance, but later renounced his pro-North Korean ideology and became active in projects to raise awareness about the North’s dismal human rights record.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex and FTAs

 

Since taking an international trade class at Wellesley this year, I found myself paying more attention to trade-related news, especially businesses between the two Koreas. It wasn’t all that unapproachable and boring as I thought it would be before taking the class; now that I understand some of the terms and basic concepts behind international trade, reading about current events became a lot more enjoyable. One of the news items that caught my eye recently was the Kaesong Industrial Complex and its status in the Korea-China FTA.

Last month, South Korea and China started their process of free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations. China, which is currently South Korea’s largest trading partner, obviously has a great impact on Korea’s economy. In this sense, the decision to give preferential tariff on goods produced in designated outward processing zones (OPZ)* such as Kaesong Industrial Complex as part of the Korea-China FTA carries significance. This acknowledgement means that items partially or wholly produced in Kaesong by South Korean businesses would be categorized as South Korean in origin. This is meant to offer bigger business opportunities for corporations, which will contribute to peace between the two Koreas. Continue reading

In the News – Activist ‘Tried to Organize High-Level Defection from N.Korea’

Aside

In the News – Activist ‘Tried to Organize High-Level Defection from N.Korea’

A South Korean activist who returned home on Friday after 114 days in Chinese detention apparently attempted to set up the defection of a senior North Korean official. Kim Young-hwan will hold a press conference on Tuesday to reveal the circumstances surrounding his arrest in China.

A diplomatic source in Seoul on Sunday said that he was told that Kim tried to get a key North Korean official to defect but failed. This official is “someone who starkly represents the reality of human rights abuses of North Korean refuges, and his presence is a thorny issue in China,” the source added.

A senior South Korean official said, “China demanded that Seoul prevent South Korean activist groups from setting up organized escapes from North Korea in return for releasing Kim.”

But the South Korean government reportedly said it cannot intervene in every single activity of non-governmental organizations.

China also suspects that South Korean intelligence agents were involved with Kim’s activities. This may be the reason why China accused Kim of “endangering national security,” a term China often uses in espionage cases.

Some in the government believe that Kim attempted to unite scattered cells of resistance across North Korea.

Original Article

In the News – Freed activist renews efforts to help N.K. human rights

Aside

In the News – Freed activist renews efforts to help N.K. human rights

Kim Young-hwan, the prominent anti-North Korea activist freed Friday from detention in China, pledged to continue his fight for democracy and human rights in the communist country.

Kim, 49, and his three colleagues arrived in Seoul on the same day China expelled them after 114 days of detention. They were arrested on March 29 in the northeastern border city of Dalian apparently for helping North Korean refugees. They were charged with “endangering national security.”

“The reality in North Korea is that it is suffering from a brutal dictatorship and horrendous human rights situation,” Kim told reporters upon arrival at Incheon International Airport.

“At a time when far-away countries strive for North Korean human rights and democratization, as a fellow Korean it is my right and duty to do so.”

Kim Young-hwan gestures on his arrival at Incheon Interna­tional Airport on Friday. (Yonhap News)

Kim’s detention attracted heavy public and media interest for his dramatic life. In the 1980s, he was a pro-North Korea movement leader playing a key role in disseminating Pyongyang’s philosophy of “juche,” or self-reliance.

He turned to activism against the coercive regime’s human rights abuses in the 1990s and is currently a senior researcher for the Seoul-based Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights.

The other crusaders are Yoo Jae-gil, 43, Kang Shin-sam, 41, and Lee Sang-yong, 31.

His release may place North Korea under greater pressure over human rights issues amid growing international criticism over its harsh punishment of repatriated defectors and political prisoners, observers say.

China, the North’s lone major ally, has also been blamed for deporting North Korean asylum seekers despite the torture, labor camps or public executions they face back home, calling them “illegal economic migrants.”

With Pyongyang’s tighter border control and China’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, however, concerns have arisen that North Korean defectors hiding there could become more exposed to abuses.

Open Radio for North Korea reported early this year that about 20,000 additional North Korean soldiers have been mobilized to border regions, warning severe penalties for those who get caught fleeing.

In March, Beijing launched a nationwide crackdown on foreigners who illegally crossed borders, gained jobs and overstayed their visas.

More than 23,500 North Koreans have sought asylum in the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to the Unification Ministry. The figure steadily rose each year from 1,383 in 2005 to 2,927 in 2009, although it slid to 2,376 in 2010 due to strengthened border security.

In the State Department’s report on human rights in 199 countries released late last month, North Korea was rated as “extremely poor” and remained at the bottom of the agency’s list along with China, Iran, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Belarus.

The North has rebuffed accusations of its rights abuses, which it bills as an attempt to oust its government.

Original Article

In the News – What’s unknowable about N. Korea

Aside

In the News – What’s unknowable about N. Korea

By Tong Kim

As the inner group of the new North Korean leadership is inaccessible, it is impossible to know how and what decisions are made in the North. We only learn about them after they are officially announced. We struggle to understand what led to the decisions and to figure out what the meaning of them is, often without reliable evidence and only through speculative deduction.

Few people outside the leading group knew about the death of Kim Jong-il in December before it was announced. Before Pyongyang’s July 16 announcement, nobody in the South or elsewhere knew there would be a sudden dismissal of Vice Marshal Ri Young-ho as the chief of the KPA General Staff, who was designated by the late leader to solidify military support for Kim Jong un’s succession.

Nobody knew that unknown four-star General Hyon Young-chol would be promoted to vice marshal the day after to replace the powerful Ri, who was stripped of all positions “due to poor health.” We feel the futility of expensive intelligence services. Only in the wake of the announcements have some “experts” eagerly espoused a theory of a “power struggle.”

When Pyongyang announced at 11 a.m. July 18 that there would be “an important announcement” to be made at noon that day, nobody knew what it would be. President Lee Myung-bak called a special national security meeting to watch for any possible emergency development in the North. He may have been given a wrong assessment.

Following the news of a military power shakeup in Pyongyang, Lee was quoted as saying: “From various indications, we know unification is not very far. Unification indeed is nearing.” The insinuation of this statement and its timing turned out to be hollow.

In the meantime, a familiar practice of speculation began. Some believed the North might announce a further change of the power structure. Others thought it might declare a plan for a third nuclear test or other military provocations. There was also concern about the impact of the unknown announcement.

To the disappointment of those who were looking for clues leading to the unraveling of the North Korean regime, the announcement was about adding a new title of “marshal of the DPRK” to Supreme Commander Kim Jong-un, who was a general while some of his subordinates were vice marshals.

Kim holds four other titles: first chairman of the National Defense Commission (NDC), first secretary of the Workers’ Party, chairman of the party’s Military Central Commission (MCC), and standing member of the five-member Politburo. Kim’s promotion to marshal was recommended concurrently by all these three commissions and the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

We still don’t know the real reason for firing Ri, who was a politburo member and the vice chairman of the MCC. But most believe it was not because of a health problem.
Ri and Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, director of the General Political Bureau, a member of the NDC and also vice chairman of the MCC, were regarded as two pillars of power supporting Kim’s system.

We rely almost exclusively on open sources and their analyses to understand what’s going on inside the North. We determine the power ranking of those closely associated with the leader by spotting where they stand in line for group photos and even from the order of names in the list of a state funeral committee. We observe who accompanies the leader and how often for visits to military units and other places. We follow membership and ranking of civilian and military leaders in key organizations.

Since Kim Jong-un became the leader of the North, there have been some significant changes in the power relationship between the competing agencies, shifting toward a balanced position between the party and the military. Under the military-first policy of Kim Jong-il, KPA generals were given more political and economic benefits than the civilian leaders.

Some observers are looking for positive signs revealing that North Korea is moving to reform its policy and moderate its behavior. They are inclined to believe Kim Jong-un is shifting from a military hardliner policy of confrontation to an economic policy of feeding the people. These observers make a plausible argument that with the latest development, Kim has completed the consolidation of his power base to rule in his own style, without pressure from a particular individual or group.

During the seven months Kim Jong-Un has been in power, many suspect that his leadership has been unstable because of his unproven leadership ability, young age and inexperience, lack of respect from the military establishment and the North’s chronic economic difficulties. Some of them still believe he may not last very long. But we don’t know.

North Korea specialists are like “blind men trying to assess an elephant.” As an observer, I must confess that I am also a blind man, despite having visited the North 19 times and met with North Koreans for more than a decade elsewhere in the world. I still don’t know what the North Koreans have in mind. I read writings by other blind men mostly for amusement and to stir my imagination.

From a historic perspective, North Korea was always part of a dynasty ― except for the 36 years of Japanese rule. The people survived several cycles of “seven years of famine,” fought back massive invasions by the Mongols and the Japanese and overcame a fratricidal war. The North is not likely to collapse soon. What’s your take?

The writer is a research professor of the Ilmin Institute of International Relations at Korea University and a visiting professor at the University of North Korean Studies. Reach him at tong.kim8@yahoo.com.

Original Article

In the News – North Korean Economic Reform: It Could Work Very Well If They’ll Let It

Aside

In the News – North Korean Economic Reform: It Could Work Very Well If They’ll Let It

It’s extremely difficult to get hard facts out of North Korea: we’re all peering through a cloudy looking glass dimly at whatever rumour we can find. The latest is that there is going to be some move towards economic reform in thecountry. My belief is that it would work very well: if only they allow it.

Impoverished North Korea is gearing up to experiment with agricultural and economic reforms after young leader Kim Jong-un and his powerful uncle purged the country’s top general for opposing change, a source with ties to both Pyongyang and Beijing said.

The source added that the cabinet had created a special bureau to take control of the decaying economy from the military, one of the world’s largest, which under Kim’s father was given pride of place in running the country.

I say this for two reasons. The first being the obvious one that it’s actually terribly easy to produce economic growth when you’re starting from the low point of economic autarky and rigid communism. As China found when it first started to get rid of the stupidities of Mao’s time, just allowing the peasants a little land and the freedom to market their produce gets things moving very nicely indeed. From the low base at which they’re starting 5% or more economic growth a year isn’t the result of actively doing anything at all. It will come purely from ceasing to stop people doing what they already wish and know how to do.

The second reason comes more from personal experience. When I was living in Russia in the 90s I had some interaction with a number of North Koreans. The most absurd two meetings of my life come from this period. In one I tried to explain to three North Korean Generals why it was necessary for me to have a Letter of Credit before I shipped something to the country. The idea that I did not trust the State was just a concept that couldn’t be got over to them. That I might want a guarantee that I would get paid, over and above well, just trusting that I would, could not be squeezed into their minds. That little attempt at international capitalism by myself ceased when others were convinced about the financing need but Standard Chartered, the country’s bank in Singapore at the time, refused to raise the LoC for the needed $250,000. Imagine: a country not being considered credit worthy for a mere $1/4 million.

The other was going into the North Korean Embassy there in order to hand over a bribe commission payment over another little adventure. Walking past the mural of Kim Il Sung to hand over $10,000 in cash was just too bizarre. I should perhaps point out that all of this took place back when it was legal to trade with North Korea: also when it was legal for an Englishman to bribe pay a commission to an official of a foreign state.

What I took from that second experience was that, while perhaps a little uninformed about the details of capitalist practice (unlike the Generals, who were entirely ignorant) there were indeed North Koreans in the administration who were entirely competent at the basic idea and indeed eager to take part in it. Which leads me to the conclusion that at least some of them, if given the freedom to do so, will start doing that capitalist and market thing of buying and selling and producing. It’ll be fairly red in tooth and claw I’m sure but absolutely any other economic system would be, will be, better than the abject penury that the country is stuck in now.

Original Article

In the News – With crackdown, N. Korea puts a hold on defectors

Aside

In the News – With crackdown, N. Korea puts a hold on defectors

By , Published: July 21

SEOUL — With tighter border security and harsher punishments for those who cross into China, North Korea has forced a swift and drastic drop-off in defections this year, according to aid groups and South Korean officials.

The crackdown, they say, coincides with the rise of new leader Kim Jong Eun, and suggests that his authoritarian police state is not only worried about people leaving the country, but also strong enough to stop them.

As many as 20,000 additional soldiers have been dispatched to the Chinese border, according to Seoul’s Open Radio for North Korea, which has a network of contacts in the North. Those guards, threatened with punishment of their own, have become less willing to take bribes from would-be defectors, other aid groups say.

As a result, outside experts say, the number of North Koreans entering the South after a circuitous journey through China is plummeting.

Last year, 2,706 North Koreans came to the South. During the first half of this year, there have been only 751 — a 42 percent decline compared with the same period a year earlier.

The unprecedented drop off reverses a 15-year trend. The downturn is especially jarring because it challenges an underlying assumption held by many analysts in the South that the North would face an ever-mounting problem keeping people within its borders. Indeed, after the North’s famine in the mid-1990s, the number of defectors arriving in the South rose exponentially — from fewer than 100 in 1997 to more than 1,000 in 2002 to nearly 3,000 in the past few years, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification. Continue reading

In the News – S. Korea says it’s too early to judge N. Korean leader’s intention

Aside

In the News – S. Korea says it’s too early to judge N. Korean leader’s intention

(ATTN: UPDATES with PM’s comments on military pact with Japan at last 5 paras)
SEOUL, July 19 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s prime minister said Thursday it is too early to judge whether North Korea will move toward reform and openness, despite Pyongyang’s recent embrace of American cultural icons.

North Korea’s state media showed Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh taking the stage during a concert for new leader Kim Jong-un earlier this month, a rare move by the isolated nation that has tried to keep a tight lid on American culture.

Performers danced while clips of Disney movies such as “Beauty and the Beast,” “Snow White” and “Dumbo” played on a paneled backdrop for the show in Pyongyang.

Kim has also made a spate of inspection tours that are closely related to his people’s livelihoods in recent months, including an amusement park, a zoo and shops.

Yoo Ki-june, a lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party, said Kim’s moves could be a message to the United States and China that he is interested in embracing reform and openness.

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said the North’s new leader has displayed moves unseen in the North in the past.

“Still, it’s too early to judge whether there will be a substantial change and whether (North Korea) will move toward reform and openness,” Kim said in a parliamentary session.

Kim said South Korea is making efforts to ensure the North abandons its nuclear weapons program and moves toward reform and openness. Kim also said China and the international community could play a role in nudging North Korea toward such openness.

Last year, Kim Jong-il, the late father of the current leader, toured major economic facilities in China, triggering speculation that the senior Kim was interested in following in Chinese footsteps.

China has been trying to coax its impoverished ally to embrace reforms similar to those that lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty and helped Beijing become the world’s second-largest economy.

North Korea ruled out any policy changes following the December death of long-time leader Kim Jong-il.

Separately, Prime Minister Kim also said that a controversial military pact with Japan should not be repealed despite public criticism for cooperating with the former colonial ruler.

The South Korean Cabinet approved the pact behind closed doors, drawing public anger and harsh bipartisan opposition from the National Assembly. The resistance eventually forced the government to delay the signing of the deal with Tokyo at the last minute.

“If we inform people of the precise content of the military pact, they will think it is helpful and necessary for the national interest,” Kim said, while saying “No” to a demand by an opposition lawmaker that the government scrap the accord.

Earlier Kim and Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan offered an apology for not informing the National Assembly of the agreement, but the main opposition Democratic United Party called for the dismissal of the prime minister over the government’s mishandling of the agreement.

“I’m not clinging to my post but I think it’s not appropriate for a prime minister or foreign minister to step down at this moment,” Prime Minister Kim said.

Original Article

In the News – 1st China-DPRK film to screen in China

Aside

In the News – 1st China-DPRK film to screen in China

BEIJING – The first film co-produced by China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will be screened in China from August 3, its producers announced here on Monday.

The film, “Meet in Pyongyang,” is also the DPRK’s first co-production with a foreign country since it was founded in 1948.

Setting in modern-day Pyongyang, the DPRK capital, it tells the story of a young Chinese female dancer, majoring in Korean folk dance, meeting a Korean counterpart in an exchange program and quickly befriending her, said China’s Shirzat Yakup, who co-directed the film with Kim Hyong Chol from the DPRK.

The Chinese girl goes onto encourage and assist the Korean dancer to pursue her love of a young Korean man.

“Meet in Pyongyang” captured the interests of audience and critics at the Shanghai International Film Festival in June, as it offers a rare glimpse of the contemporary DPRK capital and features an encounter of two young people from different backgrounds having different ideas about art and life.

The film has drawn an enthusiastic response since its premiere in the DPRK on June 27.

Chinese actress Liu Dong, who plays the Chinese dancer, told media at the premiere in Pyongyang that she was impressed by the professionalism and artistic virtue of DPRK dancers and film workers.

The two countries’ film industries have cooperated in various ways and achieved great progress over the past few years, said Li Wei, deputy director of China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, at the press conference.

To advance the traditional friendship between Chinese and DPRK people, filmmakers in the two countries should maintain regular exchanges and jointly present more excellent work, Li suggested.

“Meet in Pyongyang” opened the door of co-production between the two countries, added Pak Chun Nam, DPRK vice minister of culture, at the same press conference.

DPRK filmmakers will work with Chinese counterparts to create more quality works, he vowed, adding that filmmaking in DPRK has moved into a new stage with the application of digital filming technologies.

With “Meet in Pyongyang” as a successful example, film administrations in the two countries can further cooperate in production, technological upgrade and screening, Pak Chun Nam said.

DPRK films had a large following in China some decades ago. For example, “The Flower Girl,” released in 1972, is fondly remembered by many Chinese older citizens.

 

Original Article

In the News – N. Korean leader’s brother advised not to criticize power succession: report

Aside

In the News – N. Korean leader’s brother advised not to criticize power succession: report

Jang Song-thaek told Kim Jong-nam to refrain from making comments critical of the power succession to foreign media, Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper reported from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, citing an unidentified source on North Korean affairs in Macao.

Kim Jong-un took over the communist country following the December death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong-il, marking the second hereditary power transfer in the North. The late Kim also inherited power upon the 1994 death of his father, the country’s founder Kim Il-sung.

Jang, who has long been considered a key official in helping the new leader consolidate power, gave the recommendation to Kim Jong-nam during Kim’s trip to Pyongyang in May, the Yomiuri newspaper said.

Still, Jang is believed to be on good terms with Kim Jong-nam, who has expressed doubts about his younger brother’s grip on power.

Jang, who is married to the late leader Kim Jong-il’s younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui, is believed to be wielding a strong influence in state affairs as he serves as vice chairman of the powerful National Defense Commission, once headed by the late Kim.

In January, Kim Jong-nam told the Tokyo Shimbun in an e-mail that he had “doubts about how a young successor with some two years (of training as heir) can retain the 37 years of absolute power” wielded by his late father.

Kim Jong-nam also said “it is difficult to accept a third-generation succession under a normal reasoning” process.

Kim, believed to be in his early 40s, has made critical comments to mostly Japanese media in recent years. He has been reported to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the Chinese enclave of Macao after apparently falling out of favor with his father for attempting to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001.

Original Article

In the News – Young North Korean Defectors Struggle in the South

Aside

In the News – Young North Korean Defectors Struggle in the South

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Seong-cheol is a survivor. He left his home in North Korea at the age of 8 for a Dickensian existence, begging on the streets with a pack of boys when famine struck and his parents could not feed him. By his account, he endured several stays in brutal North Korean and Chinese prisons for attempting to cross the border into China.

Kim Kyeong-il, using cellphone, is president of a support group for North Korean-born students at Yonsei University in Seoul.

But when he finally made it to South Korea, and freedom, Mr. Kim faced an obstacle that even his considerable street smarts could not help him overcome. He had placed into a university under a new affirmative action program, but was haunted by the deprivations of his past and quickly slipped behind South Korean classmates who had already made it through years of an extremely competitive education system.

“I just couldn’t shake the memory of hunger from my mind,” said Mr. Kim, 26, who dropped out after just one semester and fell into a deep, alcohol-fueled depression.

Mr. Kim is part of a growing number of defectors who are making their way south — the number has increased sevenfold to 23,000 in the last decade — and posing a growing challenge for South Korea. Attempts at integration, including government-run crash courses on life in the capitalist South, have had mixed results, leaving many North Koreans unable to adapt to South Korea’s high-pressure society or overcome their stereotype as backward country cousins.

The government had hoped that education might close the chasm, offering piecemeal steps over the last decade that evolved into a full-fledged affirmative action program, which gives young North Koreans the chance to bypass grueling entrance exams to enter top universities. Now, even that stopgap measure appears to be failing as large numbers of North Koreans are dropping out, creating new worries that they and other defectors could become part of a permanent underclass.

“These children are simply not equipped for South Korea’s fiercely competitive society,” said Shin Hyo-sook, a specialist in education at the North Korean Refugees Foundation, a newly created government research institute. “They suffer identity issues due to their extreme experiences.” Continue reading

In the News – Insight: A secret plea for money from a mountain in North Korea

Aside

In the News – Insight: A secret plea for money from a mountain in North Korea

SEOUL (Reuters) – In May this year, a North Korean defector in her 40s took a call from an unknown number at her office in the South Korean capital Seoul.

It was from her brother, who she had not seen for more than a decade, calling illegally from North Korea after tracking her down.

He was speaking from a remote mountainside near the border with China, and was in dire need of money to help treat another sister’s late stage cancer, she said.

Accompanied by a Chinese broker, the brother had spent five hours climbing up the mountain, avoiding North Korean security and desperately searching for a signal on a Chinese mobile telephone. Contact with anyone in the South is punishable by death in North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated states.

The broker was part of a growing group of people, mostly Chinese of Korean descent, who use ties on both sides of the border to funnel money to the North, an illegal and highly dangerous operation.

At first, the defector in the South suspected a trick and demanded the caller answer a question that only her brother could know the answer to.

“I asked him to tell me the name of the train station where we were separated. I am now 40 and we were separated when I was 26,” she said, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals against her family. “Then he said he needed money.”

Next morning, she wired 15,000 yuan ($2,400) to the broker’s account at a bank in China, near the border. His wife confirmed receipt of the funds, informed her husband, and the defector’s brother got money in North Korea, a state where the average income is estimated at just $1,200 a year.

Brokers typically charge up to 30 percent fees for such transactions, but by and large, they work well.

“I heard it only took 15 minutes for my brother to get the money (after funds were wired),” said the defector, who is officially listed as dead in North Korea. “Two days later, my brother called me back saying ‘Thank you. We will spend your money wisely’.”

The woman is one of the 23,000 defectors living in South Korea, with which the North remains technically at war after an armistice ended the 1950-1953 Korean War. Continue reading

In the News – China likely to release S. Korean activist soon: source

Aside

In the News – China likely to release S. Korean activist soon: source

SEOUL, July 10 (Yonhap) — A South Korean activist held in China for allegedly helping North Korean defectors there is likely to be released soon following months of pressure from Seoul and civic groups, a diplomatic source said Tuesday.

The release of Kim Young-hwan, a senior researcher for the Seoul-based civic group Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights, is likely to come before or after the visit of Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu to Seoul later this week, the source said on condition of anonymity.

Kim, 49, was one of four South Korean activists arrested in the northeastern Chinese city of Dalian on March 29. The group is accused of endangering China’s national security, a serious charge that carries heavy punishment, but no further details have been made available, according to officials in Seoul.

It is believed the detentions are related to the activists’ efforts to help North Korea defectors hiding in China and improve the North’s human rights conditions and other activities Pyongyang considers an affront to its totalitarian regime.

“It is common sense to expect (China) to resolve the case of Kim Young-hwan before Minister Meng’s visit to Seoul,” the source said. “If Kim is indicted and his activities become known, this could create a stir, so China is likely to release him first and then deport him.”

Meng is scheduled to arrive in Seoul Thursday for a three-day visit, during which he will meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan among other officials, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.

China is a key ally of North Korea and typically repatriates North Korean defectors caught within its borders. Activists and lawmakers in South Korea and other countries have recently stepped up pressure on Beijing to stop the forced repatriation, and release the South Korean detainees.

A senior ministry official said the government has not been informed of an exact timing for their release, although it continues to be in talks with Beijing.

“There are often ‘gifts’ during a high-level visit from China, and I understand that the recent atmosphere in China (regarding the issue) isn’t bad,” said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Kim, the activist, is a former South Korean proponent of North Korea’s guiding “juche” philosophy of self-reliance. He met with the North’s founding leader Kim Il-sung in 1991 after sneaking into the North via a North Korean submersible.

However, he later renounced his pro-North Korean ideology and became active in projects to raise awareness about the dismal human rights record in North Korea.

Original Article

Escape Art and Propaganda: Part I

In all of the novels that I have read about dystopias, art and literature always suffer a blow in some way. So, having grown up in a post-Cold War society that has taught me to associate its remnants with the dystopias of the literature required for a trimester of high school English, I wondered in what ways art and literature may be restrained in North Korea. Looking for signs of self-expression, I came across the artist Song Byeok, a former propaganda artist who defected from North Korea and continues to produce art in South Korea. In Paul Ferguson’s CNN article on the success of Song’s exhibition this past winter, I learned that, despite being a full member of the communist party of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Song Byeok also suffered from the food shortages and famines of the late twentieth century, which forced him to cross the Tumen River in search of food in China. In need of food, he and his father attempted to cross the river together. Unfortunately, his father drowned in the act. Though a devoted party member who openly praised the North Korean people and culture as superior, Song still faced confinement in a North Korean detention center after authorities caught him searching the river for his father’s body. Not receiving understanding from those who had captured him after the death of his father, Song decided to defect. Continue reading

Interview with Andy (March 20th, 2012) on his August 2011 visit (10 days long)

On a sunny afternoon, I sat down with Andy. I met Andy during my visit to London over spring break, when I was visiting my sister who works for a consulting company. Andy recently graduated from Oxford University, where he studied Politics, and he recently started working with my sister at a consulting firm based in London. When I first met him Andy struck me as a well-travelled person; the type of guy who would mention a new place he visited every time you strike up a conversation with him. But one of the most interesting places that he had been to recently included Pyongyang. For 10 days last summer (August 2011), Andy travelled to North Korea with a group of other tourists. I had actually never met anyone who had been to North Korea for pure tourism purposes. I was curious to hear about his perspective on the country, and also his experiences during the trip.   Continue reading

Eruption at Mt. Baekdu

There has been some concern lately regarding Mt. Baekdu and the possibility of its eruption. Volcanologist Hiromitsu Taniguchi claims that there is a 99% chance that Mount Baekdu will erupt within the next two decades. If it erupts, he says that it will be similar to the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in the United States. This eruption was rated as 5 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) and Taniguchi predicts that Mt. Baekdu will reach a 4 or 5 on the VEI. Eruptions designated as having a VEI of 5 or higher are considered “very large” explosive events, and occur worldwide on an average of only about once every two decades, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, a scientific agency of the U.S. government.”

As you can imagine, such an explosion could be detrimental to both North and South Korea, and even the surrounding countries. After the tsunami in Japan last year, North Korea requested to hold talks with South Korea regarding the volcanic activity but the two have failed to hold any further talks or conduct an on-site survey of Mount Baekdu since then. The volcano last erupted in 1903. Continue reading

In the News – Cartwright: Neighbors must pressure N. Korea

Aside

In the News – Cartwright: Neighbors must pressure N. Korea

By Marcus Weisgerber – Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Jun 27, 2012 11:56:58 EDT

The United States should take a back seat to China and South Korea when it comes to applying pressure on North Korea, according to an influential, retired Marine Corps general.

“We could probably do a substantial amount of solving the problems of North Korea if we would let South Korea and China work the problem,” said retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, who retired last year as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Cartwright’s comments came Tuesday during a presentation at an event sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

“Once you start to introduce commerce, risk equations change substantially,” he said, noting both China and South Korea have built roads and rail lines up to the North Korean border.

“But as long as we’re there, it looks like a wartime footing. We’ve just got to think our way through how to do this,” he said.

The U.S. has about 28,000 troops based on the Korean Peninsula.

Cartwright, who since his retirement has been outspoken on defense issues such as nuclear deterrence and cybersecurity, said the United States should partner with China to make sure nations in the region “are taken care of, that they have access to goods, that they can move their goods.”

“We’re better off solving these problems if we do so with China,” he said.

Cartwright said there needs to be an authoritative venue that could address nations’ claims of natural resources under the South China Sea.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – S. Korea, Japan set to sign military pact Friday: official

Aside

In the News – S. Korea, Japan set to sign military pact Friday: official

SEOUL, June 28 (Yonhap) — South Korea is set to sign a military pact with Japan on Friday, marking the first military agreement between the two historical rivals, a senior Seoul official said Thursday, despite lingering bitterness over Tokyo’s colonial atrocities.

Japan notified South Korea that its Cabinet would approve the pact Friday and the signing will be made in Tokyo immediately after the endorsement, the foreign ministry official said. South Korea’s Cabinet already approved the pact on Tuesday.

The pact, named the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), allows Seoul and Tokyo to exchange delicate military intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs as well as information about China, Seoul officials said earlier.

“If things go as planned, the two nations will sign the pact on Friday,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said he could not confirm the notification from Japan, but conceded the deal could be signed on Friday.

“I think signing of the pact will be possible tomorrow afternoon if there is no particular problem,” Cho told reporters during a press briefing.

Cho denied media speculation that South Korea was prodded to sign the agreement by the United States, which has urged Seoul and Tokyo, its two closet Asian allies, to strengthen military ties amid growing hostility from North Korea and the rise of China.

However, the spokesman stressed the need to increase three-way military cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.

“Many people would agree in principle that Korea-U.S.-Japan cooperation is important in terms of our security, but it is not the truth that the pact has been hastily pushed,” Cho said.

About 28,500 U.S. troops, mostly ground soldiers, are stationed in South Korea and more than 35,000 U.S. troops, mainly consisting of navy, air force and marines, are stationed in Japan.

Ministry officials said the U.S. forces in Japan would become a rear guard for the U.S. forces in South Korea in case of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula.

Officials said the pact with Japan is taking aim at the rise of China, allowing Seoul and Tokyo to share sensitive military information about Beijing.

Since early 2011, Seoul and Tokyo have been in talks to forge two military pacts, the GSOMIA and an accord on military logistics called the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA).

Seoul decided to shelve the ACSA, which could allow Japanese troops to enter South Korean territory, because of its sensitivity.

However, the official hinted at going ahead with the military logistic pact with Japan.

“Talks on the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement have been shelved because more time is needed for further consultations,” the official said.

South Korea’s ambassador to Japan, Shin Kak-soo, and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba are likely to sign the military intelligence pact in Tokyo on Friday, according to the official.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin had planned to visit Japan last month to sign the GSOMIA but put the visit on hold due to some territorial and other unresolved issues that have arisen from their shared past. Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45.

Military cooperation is one sensitive area that needs to be addressed in Seoul-Tokyo relations, but the two nations have lately agreed on the need to expand cooperation in the defense sector in the face of increasing military threats from North Korea, especially after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Many Koreans still harbor deep resentment toward Japan because of its brutal colonial rule. A series of disputes over history and territorial issues stemming from the colonial rule have plagued relations between the two countries for decades, though they are key trading partners for each other.

A North Korean propaganda media outlet criticized the South Korean government for moving to sign the pact with Japan, calling it an “unpatriotic act.”

The article posted on Thursday on the Uriminzokkiri (Among our People) Web site run by North Korea claimed that, “There is an urgent reason for South Korea to sign a military pact with Japan. That is the pressure from the United States.”

The article also described the pact between South Korea and Japan as a “confrontation and cooperation agreement” against North Korea.

Original article can be found here.

In the News – China to Reconsider N.Korean Investment Program

Aside

In the News – China to Reconsider N.Korean Investment Program

China has told North Korea that it will reconsider a dubious development project on North Korea’s Hwanggumpyong island.

The island located on the border between China and North Korea was designated a special economic zone last June. North Korea promised to lend the island to China for 50 years so Beijing can foster IT, tourism, light industry and modern agricultural industry there. In return for the development project from Chinese investors, North Korea would give China access to its Rajin port on the East Sea.

However, the Chinese government told North Korea last month that it will review the project from the scratch, apparently because it believes the island has little business value. North Korea’s rocket launch in April despite Chinese protests may also have provoked the rethink.

 

Original article can be found here.