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

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Basketball in North Korea: Brunch with Luke Elie

CNN Luke Elie North Korea Basketball Video

Last month I introduced to you Luke Elie. You might have seen him in the news recently because he’s been quite a sensation since his trip to North Korea. He’s been extremely busy with all of the interview requests from big name news outlets like CNN, but I managed to bribe him into meeting me for brunch. Coming from experience, connections and food will go a long way.

When he asked me what I’d like to ask him in regards to his trip to North Korea, I told him that I had no interest in the politics of it. There is plenty of information out there on the politics of North Korea and its current state and I didn’t think that it would be necessary to add another redundant article to that list. What I was curious to hear about was his personal experience and interactions with the North Koreans he met while there.

I also didn’t want our meeting to be a stiff interview but instead wanted it to be just friends getting together to catch up… which will then result in an article. But let’s not linger on that. We met at Itaewon in Seoul, or the foreigners’ district, on a rainy morning and ate at a restaurant that specializes in brunch foods. We sat down and just started to talk. I told Luke what I had been up to since high school, which is when I last saw him, and he told me his story about how he ended up going to North Korea. I felt like it was a fair deal. Continue reading

In the News – N.Korean Army Chief ‘Refused to Go Quietly’

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In the News – N.Korean Army Chief ‘Refused to Go Quietly’

A gunbattle broke out when the North Korean regime removed army chief Ri Yong-ho from office, leaving 20 to 30 soldiers dead, according to unconfirmed intelligence reports. Some intelligence analysts believe Ri, who has not been seen since his abrupt sacking earlier this week, was injured or killed in the confrontation.

According to government officials here, the gunbattle erupted when Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, the director of the People’s Army General Political Bureau, tried to detain Ri in the process of carrying out leader Kim Jong-un’s order to sack him. Guards protecting Ri, who is a vice marshal, apparently opened fire. “We cannot rule out the possibility that Ri was injured or even killed in the firefight,” said one source.

Choe is believed to be the right-hand man of Jang Song-taek, the uncle and patron of the young North Korean leader. He made his career in the Workers Party rather than the army. After being appointed director of the bureau, Choe repeatedly clashed with Ri, who came up as a field commander, prompting Choe to keep Ri under close watch and apparently triggering an internal probe targeting the army chief.

The military had grown tremendously in power under former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s “songun” or military-first doctrine, and military heavyweights like Ri who grew in stature during this period were considered threats to the young North Korean leader.

“The firefight has still not been 100 percent confirmed,” said a government official here. “It may take some time for us to gain a clearer picture of what happened.”

Original Article

China, Refugees… and Repatriation?

If you’ve been on our blog during the past few months, you may have noticed the news articles about the North Korean refugees being held in China. These refugees have gotten international notice from human rights activists, politicians, and celebrities alike but unfortunately it may not make a difference.

Let me give you some background information on this incident. Early in February, Chinese officials arrested a group of North Korea refugees who had crossed the Sino-Korean border in order to escape the grips of the North Korean government. This issue was first exposed to the world on February 14th through Donga News. It is believed that China eventually arrested 31 refugees and their fate has been up in the air since then. Among those captured, it is said that there are young children and maybe even an infant. Many of these people have family waiting for them in South Korea, family members that can do nothing but wait for their safe arrival. Continue reading

In the News – China Urged to Change Course on N. Korean Defectors

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In the News – China Urged to Change Course on N. Korean Defectors

Photo: AP A North Korean defector holds a banner during a rally for North Korean refugees who were repatriated by the Chinese government, in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. (2011 File)

China is facing growing calls to stop the repatriation of dozens of North Koreans who recently fled into China and are being held by authorities. China says it has the right to send them back, calling them “economic migrants.”  But human rights activists say the detainees could face torture and execution, if they are returned to North Korea.

U.S. lawmakers held a hearing on Monday to highlight the urgency of the situation.

Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey and head of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said that in recent weeks Chinese authorities have detained dozens of North Koreans who have fled to China. Continue reading

In the News – U.S. urged to link N. Korean defectors’ fate with food aid

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In the News – U.S. urged to link N. Korean defectors’ fate with food aid

WASHINGTON, March 5 (Yonhap) — The Barack Obama administration should tie any food aid to North Korea with its handling of defectors fleeing their totalitarian and hunger-stricken homeland, a U.S. congressman said Monday.

“It’s unclear whether or not the Obama Administration’s food aid to North Korea – some 240,000 metric tons per year – contains any conditions or links to the refugees. It should,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who chairs the Congressional Executive Commission on China, said at a hearing on China’s forced repatriation of North Korean defectors. Continue reading

In the News – S. Korea keeps up pressure on China over N. Korean defectors

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In the News – S. Korea keeps up pressure on China over N. Korean defectors

SEOUL, March 2 (Yonhap) — South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan urged his Chinese counterpart Friday to deal with North Korean defectors held in China in line with international rules, pressing Beijing not to repatriate them to their homeland where they face severe punishment and even death.

Kim made the request to the visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi when they held talks in Seoul that focused on a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, Seoul officials said.

“During the talks, Minister Kim emphasized that China should respect international laws in dealing with the issue of North Korean defectors, based on a humanitarian perspective and the principle of no forced repatriation,” said a senior Seoul official who took part in the talks. Continue reading

In the News – U.S. activists urge China to stop repatriation of N. Korean defectors

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In the News – U.S. activists urge China to stop repatriation of N. Korean defectors

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, March 1 (Yonhap) — A group of U.S.-based human rights activists staged an eye-catching protest rally Thursday right in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, demanding Beijing stop the forceful repatriation of North Korean defectors.

In a street performance, a participant, wearing the uniform of Chinese security officials, dragged two women, with their faces masked and hands tied with ropes. Continue reading

A North Korean Restaurant in the Least Likely of Places

Going to North Korea is no easy thing. It’s not somewhere that you can just hop on a plane and go to. Even with North Korea’s recent tourism ventures, not just anybody can go because it’s so pricey. It costs almost $2000 per person for a three night standard package and this doesn’t include all of the other expenses such as the plane ticket to China. But even if you could afford the trip to North Korea, they don’t just accept all tourists. They’re extremely selective and wouldn’t let me in, for instance, because of the work I do here in South Korea for human rights

However, there is a place that you could go to for the North Korean experience. But it’s not in North Korea. It’s in Cambodia, of all places.

Continue reading

In the News – New North Korean Leader Faces Uphill Struggle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original article can be found here.