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.

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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 – N.Korea Pours Cold Water on Reform Hopes

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In the News – N.Korea Pours Cold Water on Reform Hopes

North Korea on Sunday poured cold water South Korean hopes of a changing political climate in the North. The South Korean government and media had cautiously interpreted recent changes in the North as the first signals of reform and opening.

But the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said, “Our dynamic reality is earning admiration from the entire world. A group of traitors in the South interpret our situation to their own advantage and calling it ‘attempts towards reform and open door policy’ and ‘signs of political change.'”

According to the official KCNA news agency, a spokesman for the committee said the South Korean government aimed to create a negative image of North Korea by talking of possible regime change and reforms. “South Korea has the treacherous objective of spreading the delusional idea of reunification, with the South ‘absorbing’ the North.”

Meanwhile, the North’s National Defense Commission issued a statement on Sunday warning of a “strong physical attack” on South Korea and the U.S. in retaliation for an alleged plot to blow up statues of past leaders in the North.

Original Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article 

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

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

By Ju-min Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STARTLING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEAR OF REFORM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article

In the News – N.Korea Tries Out Agricultural Reforms

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In the News – N.Korea Tries Out Agricultural Reforms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Article 

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

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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

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

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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 – Clinton says U.S. willing to work with North Korea if it reforms

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In the News – Clinton says U.S. willing to work with North Korea if it reforms

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) gestures as she speaks next to China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan at the joint statement reading for the closing of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing May 4, 2012. Clinton told Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday that relations between their two countries were the strongest they had ever been, even as the two countries are engaged in a spat over China's treatment of a blind dissident. REUTERS-Jason Lee

By Andrew Quinn

BEIJING | Fri May 4, 2012 9:01am EDT

(Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday that the United States was willing to work withNorth Korea if it changed its ways, and also said more pressure should be brought to bear on Sudan and Syria.

Speaking in Beijing at the end of two-days of high-level meetings overshadowed by a crisis over a Chinese dissident who had sought refuge at the U.S. embassy, Clinton sought to underscore that Washington and Beijing could still work together on key international issues.

“We see two nations that are now thoroughly and inescapably interdependent,” Clinton said in prepared remarks in the closed door meeting.

On North Korea, where the United States wants China to put more pressure on the isolated nation’s leadership to reign in its nuclear ambitions, Clinton said Washington was still willing to work with Pyongyang if it changes its ways.

“The new leadership in Pyongyang still has the opportunity to change course and put their people first. If they focus on honoring their commitments and rejoining the international community, and on feeding and educating their citizens, the United States will welcome them and work with them,” she said. Continue reading

In the News – Defense reform bills fail to pass in parliament

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In the News – Defense reform bills fail to pass in parliament

SEOUL, April 20 (Yonhap) — A South Korean parliamentary committee dealing with national defense failed Friday to pass a set of reform bills aimed at bolstering military readiness against North Korean provocations, as the meeting lacked a quorum.

Only six of the minimum nine lawmakers needed to reach a quorum attended the meeting of the National Defense Committee, making it unlikely the bills will pass in the outgoing National Assembly before its term ends next month. The committee has 17 members.

The reform plans centered on making the military’s command structure more efficient, and giving the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff more power to control the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Reforming the military has been one of the government’s top policy goals, especially since North Korea’s two deadly attacks on the South in 2010.

“(We) tried to pass urgent bills such as those related to defense reforms during our final meeting today, but it is regrettable that the meeting could not proceed smoothly due to the aftereffects of the April 11 parliamentary elections,” said Rep. Won Yoo-chul of the ruling Saenuri Pary, who chairs the committee.

The defense reform bills had been pending in parliament for 11 months mainly due to fierce opposition from opposition parties over their possible destabilizing effects.

 

Original article can be found here.

Prospects of an Open Economy in North Korea

One of thousands of statues of Kim Il Sung in North Korea? Nope, this is a statue of Mao Zedong in Chengdu, China (photo from ArianZwegers)

Since Kim Jong Il’s death many articles have explored the likelihood of an open North Korea. Everyone hopes that the recent change in person in North Korea’s leadership might be synonymous with a change in governance. The media attention might also be the result of attempts to capitalize on more exciting angles on North Korea, but let us explore the possibility that maybe we are sensing something about to happen; maybe the change in leadership might herald a new day for North Korea.

The Atlantic has an interesting piece on the historical precedent in China of movement from Communist dictatorship to economic opening. China in 1976 was in a similar position to North Korea’s in 2012, coming off of the death of Mao Zedong to his hand picked successor, revealed only just before his death: Hua Guofeng. The thought is that Kim Jong Un is a near-perfect analogue to Hua Guofeng Continue reading

In the News – Kim Jong Nam Says N.Korean Regime Won’t Last Long

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In the News – Kim Jong Nam Says N.Korean Regime Won’t Last Long

Former North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il’s eldest son Jong-nam has said the isolated regime will eventually fail with or without reforms. The comment appears in e-mail conversations exchanged over seven years between Kim Jong-nam and a Japanese journalist and obtained by the Monthly Chosun.

The nearly 100 e-mails were sent from 2004 until December last year to Yoji Komi, an editor at the Tokyo Shimbun daily. The two also spoke in person in January and May last year. Continue reading

In the News – Kim’s death could herald N. Korea’s opening: experts

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In the News – Kim’s death could herald N. Korea’s opening: experts

SEOUL, Dec. 22 (Yonhap) — With a young and foreign-educated leader taking over the helm of North Korea following the death of his father Kim Jong-il, experts cautiously predict that he might take steps toward economic reform and opening, reaching out to the outside for economic cooperation.

But skeptics still do not believe that Kim Jong-un, the youngest son of deceased Kim, could muster enough power to push through marked changes to the nation’s economic stance, considering his relatively weak power base and the country’s age-old separation from the world. Continue reading