In the News – North Korea Denies Reform Effort

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In the News – North Korea Denies Reform Effort

SEOUL — North Korea is rejecting speculation any economic reform is getting underway in the reclusive and impoverished country.

Pyongyang is making it clear it considers unacceptable any assertions from officials in Seoul and foreign media that policy change, reform or opening of the country has begun.

Quoting an unnamed spokesman for a North Korean group, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, a television announcer declared that what he termed “ridiculous rhetoric” by South Korean officials reveal their “ignorance and sinister intention” against the North.

The announcer said the United States and South Korea, after decades of advocating reform and opening to impose their “corrupt” system, now seem “preoccupied by hallucinations that such a move is taking place” in North Korea.

A prominent defector from the North, Lee Yun-keol, says the late leader Kim Jong Il, expressed in his will that the words “reform” and “opening” will not be used.

Lee, chairman of the North Korea Strategic Information Service Center in Seoul, says the authorized phrase from Pyongyang is “economic reform management system.” But Lee says this change is not meant to make life better for the masses, but rather to benefit the privileged class. He says, for its survival, the North’s leadership knows it must maintain the military-first policy because any true reform or opening would cause chaos for the government.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s powerful National Defense Commission is issuing a separate warning to Washington. This comes after repeated accusations in recent weeks that the United States is behind an alleged plot by agents in the North to sabotage national monuments and statues.

The defense authority in Pyongyang said it would launch a physical counter-offensive to render ineffective America’s strategic bombers and carrier strike forces.

Lee, who was a researcher at a North Korean state organization charged with extending the lives of the country’s leaders, is not worried by this rhetoric.

Lee believes the threats are just a ploy to get more food aid and other desperately needed support from the outside world. Although North Korea is well-armed, Lee says its leaders are actually afraid to start a military conflict and do not have the economic resources to support a war.

North Korea has the world’s fourth-largest standing army. It has never signed a peace treaty with the South following the three-year Korean war, which ended
in 1953 with an armistice that both sides have, over the years, repeatedly accused the other of violating.

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

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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 – Clinton urges China to stop repatriation of N. Korean defectors

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In the News – Clinton urges China to stop repatriation of N. Korean defectors

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, March 9 (Yonhap) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear Friday that her government is opposed to the forceful repatriation of North Korean refugees, a breach of international agreements.

“We urge every country to act according to international obligations,” such as the 1951 U.N. refugee convention and the 1967 protocol, Clinton said in a joint press conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan after their talks at the State Department building in Washington.

She was responding to a question on China’s policy of sending back North Korean defectors to their authoritarian and impoverished nation. Recently, China has repatriated around 30 North Koreans, according to human rights activists, although there is no government-level confirmation. Continue reading

In the News – 2 Koreas to Debate N.Korean Defectors at UN

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In the News – 2 Koreas to Debate N.Korean Defectors at UN

The UN special rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, Marzuki Darusman, will preside over an international debate on North Korean defectors in Geneva on Monday with officials from North and South Korea and China attending. This is the first time the three countries will be discussing the issue at an international forum.

According to a government source, Darusman will report on his investigation of the human rights situation in North Korea at the forum attended by 47 representatives of UN Human Rights Council member nations. The government plans to point out the problems with the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees from China and urge the international community to prevent it.

North Korea and China are expected to press their claim that the defectors are in fact economic migrants who have temporarily crossed the border illegally and are no refugees.

The UNHRC plans to adopt a resolution on human rights in North Korea on April 22 or 23 calling for a halt of torture and other abuses of repatriated defectors.

Original article can be found here.