Change in North Korea?

There have been quite a lot of things happening in North Korea lately. Things that have never happened before. Many experts on North Korean issues are saying that these events are signs of change within North Korea that may lead to reform. Others argue that these changes will not be enough to open up North Korea. Of course, I can’t offer any answers to these debates and it is not OneKorea’s purpose to do so. But instead, I’d like to take a look at some of these changes so that you might be able to form an opinion of your own.

A Relatable Leader

Since Kim Jong Un succeeded his father, Kim Jong Il, to be the leader of the world’s most isolated nation in the world, he’s been doing things a bit differently from the way his father liked things done. For one, he introduced his wife to the world. With Kim Jong Il, the leader’s wives were never officially revealed to the world. We may have had some information about them but you would never see them strutting around the country on the arm of their husband. The previous Kim was well known for his secrecy when it came to his personal life. However, this has not been the same for Kim Jong Un so far. We have been seeing Kim Jong Un and his wife in the news quite often lately as they visit various sites together hand in hand such as amusement parks and preschools.

Continue reading

Korean War Armistice Signing Anniversary

Featured

Truce In Korea 1953

This past July 27th marked the 59th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that officially put the Korean War on hold. It was a silent holiday that went nearly unnoticed by the world. However, for those soldiers who lived through the Korean War, this was an important day, no matter what side they fought on, and many gathered to remember and to celebrate.

In North Korea, this day was celebrated with war veterans visiting Panmunjom to pledge their unchanging loyalty to North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un. Fireworks were also fired to celebrate the day. The commemorations are meant to kindle patriotism and loyalty in North Koreans, and especially the young, by showcasing veterans who fought for their country, said Kim Yeon-su of Korea National Defense University in Seoul. Ahead of the anniversary, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its long-standing demand that the United States sign a peace treaty with North Korea to replace the armistice. However, the United States continues to stand by its claim that normal ties will only come after North Korea abandons its pursuit of nuclear weapons and takes other steps towards change. Continue reading

North Korea Plays Frisbee!

Continuing the sports theme, I’d like to talk about Ultimate Frisbee. Or, more specifically, Ultimate Frisbee in North Korea. I know, it’s hard to imagine North Koreans running around throwing Frisbees and engaging in just a friendly competitive game. But it’s true!

North Korea is hosting the International Frisbee Tournament, to be held on August 11, 2012. More than 50 Western tourists will participate in this “Peace Tournament” with no political agendas whatsoever, but to simply have fun and make a good impression on the North Koreans as a Westerner. Continue reading

The Olympics and North Korea

I don’t know about you but I have not been able to get any sleep these past two weeks because of the Olympics. The time difference from London to Korea makes us have to stay up all night to be able to see all of the good games. But, let me tell you. It’s been worth it. South Korea has been doing extremely well, currently ranking 5th. It really is astonishing that a country so small would be doing this well. My parents can’t stop talking about that fact.

But South Korea is not the only Korea that has been doing surprisingly well. North Korea has also been raising a few eyebrows. With four golds and one bronze, North Korea has apparently won the most medals since the 1992 Olympics. And they have even set a new world record for the men’s 62 kg class category in weightlifting. I would say that’s doing extremely well for a country in the state that North Korea is in. Continue reading

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

Why Web Design Matters for North Korea

A revamped design breathes new life into one of the world’s online views of North Korea.

The flag of North Korea is portrayed in a photo of a “card stunt” during the Arirang Mass Games in a screen capture from http://www.korea-dpr.com.

This new one is not actually the official website of the DPRK—that’s naenara.com.kp, which exhibits credentials as the official portal of North Korea by its possession of the top-level domain “.kp” that was officially granted to North Korea in 2007 by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (although the use of the commercial domain signifier “.com” within the URL is curious, it has nothing to do with where the site is actually hosted). “Naenara” means, roughly, “my country.”

Korea-dpr.com, on the other hand, has the familiar “dot-com” ending to it and is hosted on a Spanish server, making it clear that it does not represent a direct connection to North Korea. In fact, the site is run by the Korean Friendship Association, which is headed up by a Spaniard but operated under the auspices of the DPRK’s Committee for Cultural Continue reading

On My Way to See You

There is a new show on Korea’s Channel A called “On My Way to See You”. The show invites female North Korean refugees to talk about the experiences they had as teenagers and young adults in the North. Some of the ladies were performers at North Korea’s national performing arts group in Pyongyang, while others had less privileged lives and witnessed their family members’ deaths to diseases that modern technology could have easily prevent. Kim Jieun, from Youngwon, Pyeongannamdo, had a particularly heartbreaking story about her grandmother.

Continue reading

In the News – Thousands of North Koreans perform updated ‘Arirang’ show with odes to new leader Kim Jong Un

Aside

 

In the News – Thousands of North Koreans perform updated ‘Arirang’ show with odes to new leader Kim Jong Un

PYONGYANG, North Korea — An updated version of North Korea’s elaborate “Arirang” performance has opened in Pyongyang.

Wednesday’s performance featured up to 100,000 North Koreans and debuted routines set to odes to new leader Kim Jong Un. It’s the first “Arirang” since Kim came to power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in December.

The mass performance with dancing and gymnastics is named after a Korean folk song.

Performers this year included children tumbling across May Day Stadium and students who create a huge moving backdrop of images set to music.

Original Article

 

In the News – N.Korea’s New Elite Analyzed

Aside

In the News – N.Korea’s New Elite Analyzed

The North Korean elite of Kim Jong-un’s reign are predominantly male graduates of Kim Il-sung University born in Pyongyang or South Pyongan Province.

According to Unification Ministry analysis of 106 core cadres in the military and Workers Party, 35.5 percent were graduates of Kim Il-sung University, the alma mater of Kim Jong-il, followed by Kim Jong-un’s alma mater Kim Il-sung Military University with 17.7 percent, and Kim Chaek University of Technology with 9.7 percent.

Some 18.6 percent were born in South Pyongan Province, 16.3 percent in Pyongyang, 16.3 percent in North Hamgyong Province, and 14.6 percent in South Hamgyong Province. A whopping 94.3 percent are men.

Only 2 percent of cabinet ministers are women, significantly lower than the 11.5 percent in China and 7 percent in Russia.

While the cabinet mostly consists of relatively young technocrats in their 50s or 60s, the Workers Party remains heavily dominated by loyal apparatchiks in their 60s to 80s. The ministry explained that those who have been loyal to three generations of Kim Dynasty from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-un form the core of the party, but cabinet members seem more practically oriented.

Original Article

In the News – North Korea names Kim Jong Eun ‘marshal’ of the military

Aside

In the News – North Korea names Kim Jong Eun ‘marshal’ of the military

 

BEIJING — North Korea on Wednesday named its young leader, Kim Jong Eun, “marshal” of the military, a preeminent job title that analysts say is designed to reinforce his absolute power and warn off members of senior elites who might question it.

The title appears redundant, because Kim already served as the military’s supreme commander. But the timing of the announcement is significant, outside experts say, coming just two days after the North dismissed a top army leader — perceived hard-liner Ri Yong Ho — and perhaps doubling as a message about Kim’s willingness to shape the 1.2 million-strong military as he sees fit.

What Kim will do with the military remains a fiercely debated question in Seoul and Washington. The issue also holds deep implications for an impoverished country of 24 million that channels its scant resources toward weapons and nuclear technology.

In power for seven months now, Kim has given no clear sign that he will de-emphasize the military or push for the economic reforms that his father and grandfather long resisted. But some experts see a pattern emerging as Kim shuffles the military leadership: He sidelines hard-liners and replaces them with Workers’ Party bureaucrats — precisely the group that had been marginalized under the military-first policy of his father, Kim Jong Il.

“It’s clear there is an internal conflict between the royal family and the military,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea analyst at Seoul’s Kookmin University. He said Kim Jong Eun, joined by his powerful aunt and uncle, has aligned himself with top Workers’ Party members and is “dressing them up in military uniforms.”

Still, Lankov and others cautioned that the changes might not indicate an actual policy shift.

“We tend to believe the military might be hard-liners and party members are technocrats,” Lankov said. “That might indicate a more relaxed policy line, but it’s too early to say. Because people usually fight not over ideas — they fight over yachts and nice houses.”

Since Kim Jong Il’s death in December, North Korea has offered the outside world conflicting evidence that a shift is underway.

The government infuriated its neighbors by launching a rocket, but it also admitted to its own people, in a rare moment of transparency, that the launch had proved a dud. Kim Jong Eun gave two public speeches — something his reclusive father never did — but used them mostly to recite familiar slogans about military power. New apartments are rising in Pyongyang, but recent visitors to the country speak of 19th-century conditions in the vast rural areas — mostly barren land, where oxen are the primary mode of transport.

The picture of Kim’s intentions could become clearer in coming months, analysts say, now that he has his own team of leaders in place. The surprising dismissal of Ri on Monday was attributed to “illness” by the North’s state media, but outside experts interpreted the move as a firing. By booting a senior official whom his father had appointed to oversee the hereditary power transfer, Kim Jong Eun “kicked off the training wheels,” Scott Snyder, of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a blog post.

“I see the dismissal of Ri as the last step of a military shuffle,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea researcher at the Sejong Institute in Seoul. “There is a possibility that Ri had resisted the party’s control over the military.”

Some of the most notable shuffling happened in April at a major national conference. Aside from Kim, who was given a handful of the supreme titles held by his father and grandfather, the clear winner was Choe Ryong Hae, a mid-level bureaucrat who emerged with across-the-board power that brought him into the Kim family’s inner circle.

Choe was also named a vice marshal in the military, unprecedented for a civilian in the ­military-first era, according to Luke Herman, a North Korea leadership expert.

Even before Wednesday’s announcement, there was little reason to doubt Kim’s No. 1 position in military, analysts say. But he officially still held the rank of general, which technically left him below a handful of “vice marshals,” including Ri.

“The whole issue just shows that although Kim Jong Eun is very young, he is eager to prove that he is no longer the puppet controlled by some senior minister reigning behind the curtain,” said Zhu Feng, of Peking University’s School of International Studies. “He’s able to establish his absolute authority in the system and has capacity to govern the country directly.”

Only Kim’s father and grandfather have held military ranks higher than marshal. Founder Kim Il Sung was named generalissimo in 1992, and Kim Jong Il was awarded the title posthumously.

 

Original Article 

In the News – North Korean Shift Is Called Power Play

Aside

In the News – North Korean Shift Is Called Power Play

By EVAN RAMSTAD

Outside analysts called Monday’s removal of the North Korean general closest to Kim Jong Eun the first major power play of the dictator’s young regime, countering earlier media reports from Pyongyang that the official’s ill health had sparked the move.

Early Tuesday, the official Korean Central News Agency reported that Hyon Yong Chol was named a vice marshal of the Korean People’s Army, one of the posts 69-year-old Ri Yong Ho had held.

The change in military chiefs—from a powerful figure known close to Mr. Kim’s father Kim Jong Il to a little-known, though decorated, officer—appears to be a sign that Mr. Kim is exerting more control of the military via his regime’s political party, said political analysts, professors and other North Korea watchers.

The change is the most significant in the North Korean hierarchy since Mr. Kim took power after his father’s death in December.

In another move that now also looks like an attempt to corral the military, Mr. Kim three months ago gave a senior political figure, Choe Ryong Hae, a position on the National Defense Committee, the most powerful organ in the North’s government, and a vice marshal title.

image

Associated Press Mr. Kim, right, with Mr. Ri, left, and military official Choe Ryong Hae.

In a country where all economic decisions derive from a policy known as “songun,” which means “military first,” the appearance that the military’s power is being diminished raises the prospect, though seemingly small at the moment, for significant change.

“Up to now, the military has been the major obstacle to any bold moves in North Korea,” said Moon Chung-in, a South Korean political scientist and engagement advocate who attended the South’s two summit meetings with the North in 2000 and 2007.

The State Department on Monday played down the significance of personnel changes in North Korea and aired skepticism that any major policy changes were under way.

“Changes in personnel absent a fundamental change in direction mean little,” said State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

Still, a number of former U.S. officials who have tracked Kim Jong Eun said they are detecting some potentially profound shifts in North Korea, even if they are skeptical that a cultural revolution is embracing the country.

At the very least, these former officials said, Mr. Kim is further consolidating power and displaying less paranoia than his father did. More optimistic analysts said they believe he could end up surprising the West with his willingness to engage and initiate some overhauls.

China, North Korea’s economic benefactor and closest political ally, has made no comment on the shake-up and its state media have carried bare-bones accounts about it.

The North’s news agency announced Mr. Ri’s fall from power early Monday with only a three-word elaboration—”for his illness.” But analysts pointed to a sizable amount of evidence that Mr. Ri, who was close to the Kim family and perceived to have had a brother-like relationship with the late Kim Jong Il, had been purged from power.

Among that evidence, Mr. Ri has appeared healthy in recent photos and attended an official event with Mr. Kim last week. In addition, North Korea’s elder statesmen and elite tend to hold their titles until death, with aides taking their duties if bad health incapacitates them.

In addition, the North’s Politburo, which approved the removal of titles, met on Sunday, which is rare. And the absence of elaboration or praise of Mr. Ri’s 52-year military career by the North’s media is considered an embarrassment, or loss of face, in Korean tradition.

The new military leader, Mr. Hyon, was appointed a general of the Korean People’s Army in late September 2010 at the same time as Kim Jong Eun and Kim Jong Il’s sister, Kim Kyoung Hui, and three others. Of the six who were appointed then, he was one of two with a military background.

Mr. Hyon that day also joined the Workers’ Party central committee, a group of around 100 people, along with Mr. Kim. In North Korea’s system, the appointment of a military person to a high-level political post is typically a sign of bigger things to come.

After the elder Mr. Kim’s death in December, Mr. Hyon was also appointed a member of the roughly 300-person funeral committee. In the list of members, seen by some analysts as an unofficial ranking of power, he was mentioned around 80th. The younger Mr. Kim was mentioned first and Mr. Ri was mentioned fourth.

Mr. Hyon is relatively little known to outsiders and has rarely been mentioned in the North’s official state media. He first appeared in North Korea’s media in February 2007, when a report described how an army unit he led was awarded the “Order of Kim Il Sung,” one of the highest honors in the North’s military in January 2007. The report didn’t say why Mr. Hyon’s unit won the award.

Since Mr. Kim’s death, the transition of power in North Korea has appeared smooth to the outside world, though the new regime has had little interaction with foreigners and limits information.

It angered several nations in April by firing a long-range missile, in what it said was an attempt to launch a satellite into space. The rocket failed shortly after liftoff.

Mr. Kim, since shortly after the mourning period for his father, has worked to create an image that is like that of his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. He has given two long speeches in public, something his father never did as North Korea’s leader, and, like his voluble grandfather, is often photographed shaking hands, clasping arms and even hugging people.

At the same time, Mr. Kim has taken steps to solidify his grip on power and to appear fully in control, compensating in the view of some analysts for his young age, believed to be 28 or 29. Over the past two weeks, Mr. Kim has been photographed at three events in the company of a young woman who hasn’t been identified by the North’s media. That has fueled speculation that Mr. Kim has married or is depicting himself that way to appear older with a stable life.

“This is the process of building Kim Jong Eun’s system,” said Kim Young-hyun, North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University in Seoul. With the departure of Mr. Ri, “They got rid of a person who has a strong image in the military.”

Until Monday’s announcement, Mr. Ri had been considered one of three people—along with the elder Mr. Kim’s sister and her husband—outsiders view as protecting the younger Mr. Kim from potential challengers.

Immediately after the announcement, the North’s news agency released a story describing a letter Mr. Kim wrote to a unit of the military’s internal-security forces expressing thanks for its role in multiple construction projects. The Korean-language version of the report carried the letter itself, ending with Mr. Kim’s name and his title as supreme commander of the North Korean military.

“Mr. Ri’s control over the army has been considered weak,” said Lee Jong-won, professor at Waseda University in Tokyo. “His abrupt removal may indicate there was some problem in his handling of the military under the new regime.”

Mr. Ri’s influence became clear to outside analysts in 2003, when he was given several political titles and appointed commanding officer of the Pyongyang Defense Command, which is responsible for the defense of the North Korean capital and, just as importantly from a power standpoint, the Kim family. He picked up several other political titles in 2007 and 2009.

At the end of an October 2010 leadership conference where the younger Mr. Kim was first introduced to the North Korean public and the world, Mr. Ri sat between the two Kims in a photograph of the participants in the event. A few days later, he was the highest-ranking person to speak to a crowd of tens of thousands at a military parade in downtown Pyongyang that the two Kims attended.

Mr. Ri was born in October 1942 and was about 18 months younger than Kim Jong Il. The two were childhood friends, according to some biographical accounts. Mr. Ri’s father was a military colleague of Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung, and the two grew up around each other. Mr. Ri walked alongside Mr. Kim’s funeral hearse.

 

 

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 general comes out as mother’s boy

Aside

In the News – Young general comes out as mother’s boy

By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO – In a risky gamble, Pyongyang is resting its hopes for the survival of the Kim regime on one woman – a dead one at that. Struggling to cement his dynastic credentials, young North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun has launched a mass deification campaign for his mother and the first lady of late leader Kim Jong-il, Ko Young-hee, who is believed to have died in 2004.

Since May, Young-hee has been praised as the “Respected Mother”, the “Great Mother” and “The Mother of The Great Military First Korea”, as can been seen in a film and photographs obtained by Asia Times Online this month from Rescue the North Korean People! (RENK), a Japan-based citizens’ group supporting ordinary North Koreans.

The idolization of Young-hee connects a missing link in the blood-heir’s succession over three generations from the country’s founding father Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and to Kim Jong-eun.


Ko Young-hee poses with her husband for a propaganda shot

Experts say the deification campaign is part of accelerated North Korean efforts to mythologize and legitimize its revolutionary tradition. Pyongyang’s official accounts claim this originated in the sacred Mt Paektu, the highest peak in the Korean Peninsula and the birthplace, in propaganda accounts, of Kim Jong-il. (Soviet records show that he was actually born in a village in Russia’s Far East.)

The video of Ko does not mention an inconvenient truth – Young-hee was born in Japan – the brutal colonial ruler of Korea from 1910-1945. She was born in the famous Koreatown, Tsuruhashi, in Osaka, in 1952. Her father, Ko Kyung-taek, made Imperial Japanese Army soldiers’ uniforms in a sewing factory during World War II.

“North Korea needs to cover up the fact that Ko Young-hee was born and raised in Osaka,” said RENK spokesman Lee Young-hwa, adding that her family moved to North Korea only in the early 1960s as part of a repatriation program.


The video and photographs stress that Ko Young-hee had a strong relationship with the military.

Sound and vision
The rare 85 minutes of video footage and 93 photographs of Ko Young-hee for the first time reveal her vivid appearance and voice. In the video and photos, she accompanies Kim Jong-il to military camps, factories and farms. She is seen riding a white horse, following her husband on another white horse.

She inspects a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades with Kim Jong-il, with both wearing the same vintage Courreges sunglasses that became trademark apparel for her husband. They murmured words into each other’s ears and smiled. The video shows a very happily married couple.


This image of Ko Young-hee was likely inspired by the Korean song General on a Galloping White Horse.

In one scene, she visits a barrack and expresses concern about soldiers’ daily lives. She tastes a soldier’s home-made donut, then teaches them how to cook a potato-based donut. In the following days, she sends them sugar and cooking oils.

The movie aims to conjure an image of the “Mother of The Great Military First Korea”, which is the video’s title. The movie uses emotional female narration and a rousing musical score in the classic North Korean style of propaganda.

She is also seen holding a gun, suggesting a strong wife who always protects her husband. This was echoed scenes of Kim Jong-suk, or Kim Il-sung’s first wife and Kim Jong-il’s mother, who was a guerilla and communist politician. The images also showed Ko met many dignitaries abroad, stressing her precious role as the first lady.


Ko Young-hee pictured with an unknown foreigner.

The attempts to establish Ko’s authority also stress the Kim dynasty’s heroic family lineage, which stretches back to Jong-eun’s grandfather’s partisan guerilla activities against Japan in the 1930s.

After Ko’s family moving back to North Korea in the early 1960s, she worked as a dancer for the prestigious Mansudae Art Troupe in Pyongyang, where she met Kim Jong-il. She is believed to have died in Paris due to breast cancer in 2004, which the video also does not mention.


Ko Young-hee pictured with a young Kim Jong-eun.

By sanctifying the late Ko, Kim Jong-eun is trying to underscore his authority as the North’s new leader. The efforts also come as the “young general” has been repeatedly seen with a woman who is believed to Hyon Song-wol, a former singer in a popular group called Bochonbo Electronic Music Band.

However, making it tricky for propagandists there are no photos or scenes of Jong-eun with his parents. RENK’s Lee points out that this was because Kim Jong-eun was studying in Switzerland from 1996 to 2002 when the video was made. In contrast, North Korea has shown many photos of Kim Jong-il with his parents, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-suk.

An ugly truth
It is widely known among Japanese experts on North Korea that Ko Young-hee’s father moved from Cheju Island to Japan in 1929. He worked for Hirota Hokojo, a needlework factory under the control of the Imperial Army of Japan. This means Jong-eun’s grandfather was a collaborator with the Japanese imperialists. This can never be revealed by Pyongyang as it might shock the population.

In addition, Young-hee’s younger sister, Ko Young-suk, and her family defected to the United Sates in 1998 in the middle of the nation’s “great famine”, in which millions of people died of starvation. This makes Kim Jong-eun’s aunt a national traitor. According to the South Korean media, Kim Jong-eun himself has given orders to execute any defectors by a firing squad and their families expelled to internal exile.

Sanctifying Young-hee may provide indirect support for her son, but it is a risky ploy. Information on her birth and family may trickle out to the isolationist country, damaging his legitimacy as national leader. Ko Young-hee’s background continues to be one of Kim Jong-eun’s – as well as North Korea’s – dangerously weak spots.

Original Article

In the News – Who Is Kim Jong Un’s Mystery Woman?

Aside

In the News – Who Is Kim Jong Un’s Mystery Woman?

Sister? Lover? Girlfriend? Wife? Speculation is mounting over the identity of a mystery woman and the nature of her relationship with Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea, with whom she has been spotted on a number of public engagements. The short-haired woman, dressed smartly in a black suit, is thought to be in her 20s.

The South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo speculates that the woman may be his sister, Kim Yeo Jong. “Born in 1987, Yeo Jong is now in her mid-20s,” an article posted on its website read. “She apparently went to a school in Switzerland along with Jong Un in the 1990s.”

However, South Korean intelligence experts have identified the woman as Hyon Song Wol, the former front woman of the Bochonbo Electronic Music Band and a married mother whom they believe is having an affair with the North Korean leader.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the Bochonbo Electronic Music Band produced several hit singles that were “hugely popular among the North Korean masses,” but Hyon “disappeared from public view at the time that Mr. Kim emerged as the heir-apparent to his father Kim Jong Il.” Hyon reappeared in public to perform at a concert in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, in early March to mark International Women’s Day.

Rumors of the affair have reportedly been circulating for some time. Kim Jong Un is believed to have begun a romance with the singer a decade ago, but was forced to end the relationship by his father. She is then said to have married a North Korean army officer and given birth to his child. Nothing is known of the current whereabouts of Hyon’s husband and child, or whether she even remains married.

However, others speculate that the woman is in fact Kim Jong Un’s wife, a view shared by Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in South Korea, an expert on North Korea, who thinks it highly implausible that the Supreme Leader would so publicly reveal his girlfriend. He told CNN that her presence is likely a part of a carefully constructed campaign to appear “much more approachable, humanlike and soft on people” in order to distance Kim Jong Un from his father and predecessor.

Lankov added that Kim Jong Un “travels much more than his father and even [more] than his grandfather. He likes to hug everybody, physically hug. In this regard it’s probable he decided that it might be a good idea to hint that he does have a wife.” If the woman is his wife, then it would mark a significant departure to the secrecy with which his father and grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, cloaked their personal lives. Lankov noted, “When his grandfather’s first wife, if you like, the founding mother of the dynasty, was alive, her name was never, never mentioned in media. Her existence was never even hinted at.”

Likewise, Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo and author of a number of publications on North Korean leadership, told the Daily Telegraph, “It is highly possible that this is his wife and that Kim is trying to show a new style of leadership, of a husband and wife, in North Korea.” Shigemura also observed that Kim Jong Un had been uncharacteristically quiet in the weeks leading up to the woman’s sudden appearance.

Earlier this year he engaged in a large number of high-profile appearances, in an attempt to shore up his position as North Korea’s new leader, following the death of his father in December. It is possible, Shigemura said, that his recent silence could be the result of behind-the-scenes preparations concerning how to publicly introduce his spouse.

The mystery woman was first seen with Kim Jong Un watching a performance of North Korea’s Moranbong band at a theater in Pyongyang on Friday. (The performance included the appearance of various Disney characters, which the Walt Disney Co. confirms were used without its permission.) On Sunday, North Korean state TV showed the woman standing beside the Supreme Leader during a ceremony to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the death of his grandfather.

Original Article

In the News – Disney Characters Perform in North Korea

Aside

In the News – Disney Characters Perform in North Korea

(PYONGYANG, North Korea) — Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh took the stage in North Korea during a concert for new leader Kim Jong Un, in an unusual — and unauthorized — performance featuring Disney characters.

Performers dressed as Minnie Mouse, Tigger and others danced and pranced as footage from “Snow White,” ”Dumbo,” ”Beauty and the Beast” and other Disney movies played on a massive backdrop, according to still photos shown on state TV.

The inclusion of characters popular in the West — particularly from the United States, North Korea’s wartime enemy — is a notable change in direction for performances in Pyongyang. Actors and actresses also showed off new wardrobes, including strapless gowns and little black dresses.

Kim himself established the group that performed, and the changes may be a sign that he is seeking to carve out a different image from his father and predecessor, Kim Jong Il, by easing restrictions on Western culture, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor based in Seoul, South Korea.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency said Kim has a “grandiose plan to bring about a dramatic turn in the field of literature and arts this year.”

Under Kim Jong Il, who died in December, North Korea became well known for its massive Arirang shows, synchronized dance and gymnastics shows involving up to 100,000 people.

This appears to be the first time Disney characters have been included in a major performance in Pyongyang, though Winnie and Mickey have been popular among children for several years. Backpacks, pencil cases and pajamas imported from China often feature Disney characters, and stories such as “Dumbo” have been translated into Korean for North Korean schoolchildren. However, it is unusual to make such images a central part of a North Korean performance and publicize them on state TV.

(PHOTOSDavid Guttenfelder: A New Look at North Korea)

Zenia Mucha, chief spokesperson for The Walt Disney Co., said the use of Disney characters in the North Korean performance was not authorized by the U.S. entertainment company.

“This was not licensed or authorized by The Walt Disney Company,” Mucha told the AP by telephone on Sunday.

U.S. sanctions prohibit the import of North Korean goods to the United States, but do not ban the sales of American consumer products in North Korea unless they involve officials or companies on the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions blacklist.

The performance was staged Friday by the Moranbong band, which was making its debut after being assembled by Kim himself, KCNA said.

The dispatch made no mention of Disney characters, but said the concert included the traditional folk tune “Arirang” as well as a number of upbeat foreign songs.

Kim, who is in his late 20s, has sought to project an image of youth, vitality and modernity.

Early Sunday, he led top officials in paying their respects to his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, at the mausoleum where he lies in state. Kim died 18 years ago Sunday.

Earlier in the year, a quintet of accordionists became a YouTube sensation for their arrangement of “Take on Me,” a pop song by the Norwegian band a-ha.

North Korea and the United States remain in a technical state of war because they signed a truce, not a peace treaty, after three years of fighting in 1953. The foes do not have diplomatic relations.

Original Article 

In the News – Korean War from the Other Side

Aside

In the News – Korean War from the Other Side

The Korean War most of us know is the one suffered in the South. It usually starts with the invasion of Seoul then goes down to Daejon and Gwangju, then there is a counterattack on the Nakdong River and all the way back up to the Yalu River and then down to the 38th Parallel and an uneasy truce.

But Kim Jin Chul (75), who experienced the Korean War in Pyongyang, has a different image embedded in his memory.

The day the Korean War started was an ordinary day. People came and went with great urgency, but Kim and his family were watching out for the chance to go to South Korea. His family had come north because of his grandmother, who was sick in her Pyongsung home, and could not return. His mother said it was actually quite a good thing.

“I knew that a war had broken out when I heard Kim Il Sung’s radio address on June 28th, where he announced, ‘We have captured Seoul after just four days following South Korea’s sneak attack’,” Kim recalls. He didn’t even know what war was, but after hearing from his mother that it is where ‘some people live and some people die’ his heart dropped.

Just seven months after the outbreak of war Kim became an orphan. “I was trembling with fear,” he recalls. “My father and then mother both died in the bombing, but I still waited for them to come back. You have no idea how scared I was waiting for my mother.”

Three days after the outbreak of war, President Truman approved support for the ROK army. On the 29th, the day after North Korea invaded Seoul, the U.S. mobilized B-29 Super Fortresses to bomb major cities including Pyongyang.

Kim and his family went into the nearby mountains to escape. He lived with his grandfather, parents and younger sister in a hut. That August, his father lost his life in the bombing, but they never even found the body.

His mother also died in January the same year. “My mother went to the factory where my father worked to ask for his salary,” he explains. “But she never returned again. One day her body came back to us but we could not recognize her.”

After that, Kim went through three long years of suffering. He lived on handfuls of rice and grass. Even after the Armistice Agreement was signed on July 7th, 1953, his suffering did not stop. He entered elementary school but was mobilized to carry stones and soil to restore sites damaged in the war. We “carried stones and soil across mountains and rivers the whole day except for two hours,” he explains. It was a routine that continued until he graduated from vocational school in 1965.

Thereafter, Kim lived as a worker. His visit to Pyongsung in 1948 had turned into a permanent change of residence. He was still there to feel the pain of starvation in the 1990s, and it took him a total of 64 years to defect and come back home, thinking about how late his arrival had become. Continue reading

In the News – Awards Conferred for Saving Kim Portraits

Aside

In the News – Awards Conferred for Saving Kim Portraits

The North Korean authorities have reportedly handed out medals and awards to the parents, teachers and heads of local youth organizations of a student who supposedly lost her life trying to save portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il from floodwaters.

Rodong Shinmun revealed the story on the 26th, saying that on June 11th a 14-year old girl, Han Hyun Kyung, had to escape her home in a gorge in Shinheung County, South Hamkyung Province after it was flooded during heavy rains. Despite the danger, the piece claimed that she managed to rescue portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il and pass them to her mother before passing away.

The piece then noted, “A total of seven people have been rewarded upon the orders of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly; the student’s teacher, mother and school principal, father and school vice principle, local Youth League leader and middle school Chosun Children’s Union leader.” It also gave the types and levels of the medals and awards conferred on the recipients.

The story comes after recent celebrations in Pyongyang for the 66th anniversary of the Chosun Children’s Union, events reportedly attended by a record number of students from across North Korea. In reports covering the event, the emphasis was placed heavily on inspiring generational loyalty to the regime, something which the conferring of the latest awards is intended to underscore.

This is not the first time that such a story has been reported. A story about a fallen soldier who died saving a soccer ball given by Kim Jong Il from river rapids is another popular example. However, in that case a posthumous title was given to the deceased soldier only, not to his commanding officers or family.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – North Korea Tests the Patience of Its Closest Ally

Aside

In the News – North Korea Tests the Patience of Its Closest Ally

BEIJING — As Kim Jong-un, the young leader of North Korea, consolidates his grip on power, China is showing signs of increasing frustration at the bellicose behavior of its longtime ally.

Since succeeding his father, Kim Jong-il, six months ago, Mr. Kim has quickly alienated the Obama administration and put North Korea on track to develop a nuclear warhead that could hit the United States within a few years, Chinese and Western analysts say.

Most surprising, though, is how Mr. Kim has thumbed his nose at China, whose economic largess keeps the government afloat. For example, shortly after Mr. Kim took over, a Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs, Fu Ying, visited Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, and sternly warned him not to proceed with a ballistic missile test. The new leader went ahead anyway.

Now, the Obama administration and the Chinese government, who warily consult each other on North Korea, are waiting to see if Mr. Kim will follow in his father’s footsteps and carry out a nuclear test, which would be North Korea’s third. The previous tests were in 2006 and 2009.

This month, the North Korean news agency said there were no plans for a third test “at present,” a statement analysts said suggested Mr. Kim was just waiting for a moment that better suited him.

“We have made this absolutely clear to them; we are against any provocation,” Cui Tiankai, another Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs, said in a recent interview when asked about a possible third nuclear test by North Korea. “We have told them in a very direct way, time and again, we are against it.”

Asked why China did not punish North Korea for its actions, Mr. Cui replied: “It’s not a question of punishment. They are a sovereign state.”

China backed sanctions against North Korea at the United Nations Security Council after the first two nuclear tests, he said. “If they refuse to listen to us,” he added, “we can’t force them.”

Mr. Kim’s erratic behavior unfolded early on. In late February, his government signed an agreement with the United States to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, giving hope that he would turn out to be more open to change than his father. But six weeks later, Mr. Kim ripped up the accord and, without informing China, ordered the missile test that Washington viewed as a test run for launching a nuclear weapon.

The missile test, in April, was a failure, but that did little to alleviate concerns within the Obama administration that Mr. Kim was intent on pushing ahead with its nuclear weapons program. “The North is on track to build a warhead that could in a few years hit any regional target and eventually the United States,” said Evans J. R. Revere, a former United States principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Since the failed missile test, Mr. Kim has formalized North Korea as a “nuclear armed state” in the Constitution, another signal that the government has no intention of giving up its nuclear program, Mr. Revere said. With virtually no contact between the United States and North Korea, Mr. Revere argued, it is time for Washington to toughen its approach.

In a series of quick maneuvers, Mr. Kim, whose exact age is not known (he is believed to be 28 or 29), assumed the mantle of power immediately after his father’s death and cast aside early assumptions that his tenure would be a regency largely run by his elderly relatives.

The China News Service, a state-run agency, headlined an article last week: “Smooth transfer of power six months after Kim Jong-il’s death. North Korea enters era of Kim Jong-un.” The top North Korean Army generals, some of them in their 80s, have joined ranks around Mr. Kim, presenting a unified command, said Daniel A. Pinkston of the International Crisis Group in Seoul, who has written a forthcoming report by the group on North Korea.

At a congress of the ruling Communist Party in April, members of the Kim family were appointed to senior positions in the Politburo. The new appointees included Kim Kyong-hui, a younger sister of Mr. Kim’s father. Her husband, Chang Song-taek, also won a spot on the Politburo.

“There are no indications of any opposition to the transfer of power in the party, state or military,” Mr. Pinkston said. “Although many North Koreans are dissatisfied with the government, the barriers to collective action make it very risky and nearly impossible to organize any resistance.”

To recover from the embarrassment of the failed missile test, Mr. Kim unleashed a bellicose warning to South Korea in late April, threatening that a “special operations action” team would “reduce to ashes the rat-like” leadership of President Lee Myung-bak.

In contrast to his taciturn father, Mr. Kim has been seen more in public, particularly with students and children, a propaganda campaign intended to present a more benign image to an impoverished and embittered population.

On the basis of his years at a Swiss boarding school, Mr. Kim was thought by some analysts to be a potential economic reformer. These assumptions have turned out to be misplaced, and the new leader has shown no interest in following the advice of China to open up the economy, even in a modest way.

Despite Mr. Kim’s obstinacy, China keeps the economy from collapsing. Right after Mr. Kim assumed power, for example, China gave North Korea 500,000 tons of food and 250,000 tons of crude oil, according to the International Crisis Group report. That helped overcome what a German aid official, Wolfgang Jamann, said in Beijing on Friday was the worst drought in 60 years. His organization, Global Food Aid, has run a food program in North Korea since 1997.

“If it continues not to rain, it would be a problem,” said Mr. Jamann, who just returned from a trip to North Korea.

So far, though, the aid seems to have prevented disaster. According to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, food shortages, while still grim in many rural areas, do not seem as serious as might be expected, given the drought.

China’s generosity has not bought it immunity against North Korean rancor. More than two dozen Chinese fishermen were held captive for two weeks by North Korea in May. After their release, one of the fishermen described how his boat was boarded by North Korean Navy men brandishing guns.

After “13 days in hell,” the fishermen were released, according to interviews in the Chinese news media. But not before the boats and men were stripped, the men to their underpants, the fisherman said.

Such behavior ignited protests on Chinese Web sites, and normally calm Chinese analysts who follow North Korea said they were infuriated by the indignities. “I was disappointed in our government’s soft line during the incident with the seized boats,” said a Chinese analyst who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of angering his superiors.

Nonetheless, senior Chinese officials “dare not use China’s economic leverage” against North Korea, said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. That is because a collapse of the North Korean government could result in a united Korea allied with the United States, which would be a nightmare scenario for China, Mr. Shi said.

Indeed, as China becomes more concerned about what it sees as the United States’ stepped-up containment efforts against China — including the positioning of more warships in the Pacific — the less inclined it is to help the United States on North Korea, said Yun Sun, a China analyst in Washington.

“China will not help the U.S. and South Korea solve the North Korea problem or speed up a China-unfriendly resolution, since China sees itself as ‘next-on-the-list,’ ” she wrote in an article last week for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Hawaii, where Pacific Command, the arm of the American military overseeing the increased United States naval presence in the Pacific, is located.

And over all, there are unyielding historical reasons for China’s protectiveness toward North Korea, said an experienced American diplomat and expert on China.

“Beijing disapproves of every aspect of North Korean policy,” J. Stapleton Roy, a former United States ambassador to China and now vice chairman of Kissinger Associates, wrote in an article this month, also for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But with long memories of both the Korean War and how Japan used the peninsula to launch its invasion and occupation of much of China from 1937 to 1945, “Beijing has an overriding security interest,” Mr. Roy wrote, “in maintaining influence in Pyongyang and in not permitting other powers to gain the upper hand there.”

Original article can be found here.

Skaters

I’m not a skater. I can’t stay on a skateboard for more than 5 seconds without nearly falling to my death. But I do want to someday buy myself a longboard and learn to conquer it. It’s on my bucket list. So even though I don’t know how to ride a skateboard, I do admire those that do. I think it’s an impressive skill and an artistic means of expression. So imagine my intrigue when I came across an article about skaters in North Korea!

Visualtraveling is a website created by Patrik Wallner with documentaries and photos of skaters of all different nationalities who travel the world and film themselves skating in new environments. Although Wallner is also a skater himself, he mainly films and photographs his friends as they perform the tricks. What’s interesting about these documentaries is that it’s not just a film about skaters doing tricks but the culture of the host country is always what drives the atmosphere of the documentary. He already has several films released that document their adventures in various countries over the past six years. One of which includes North Korea. Continue reading

Kim Jong Un’s First Speech Exalts Military, Unification

Kim Jong Un speaks at a military parade in Pyongyang celebrating the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth on April 15th, 2012, as seen from space. Photo credit Digital Globe, Inc. via MSNBC.

As far as we know, Kim Jong Il, late president of North Korea, spoke publicly one time only during his thirty years in the limelight of his country’s ruling party. When he did, it was a single line. His father, Kim Il Sung, had given a speech during celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the North Korean People’s Army’s establishment; after the speech, the younger Kim stepped to the microphone and voiced his only public sentiment: “Glory to the heroic soldiers of the Korean people’s army!” (see it in this video).

That was in 1992. The Western media heard his voice a few more times; for instance, in this video from 2007. Still, he gave no more speeches that his own country would hear.

Kim Jong Un gave his first public speech on April 15th, during the 100th-anniversary celebrations of his grandfather’s birth. It is the nation’s most important holiday. The younger Kim’s speech was extensive—20 minutes long—and stands in sharp contrast to his father’s reclusiveness.

Yet the content of the speech matches the sentiment shared by his father’s single line almost perfectly. Continue reading