“Once You Start Watching, You Simply Cannot Stop”: Part 1 of 3 on Outside Media in North Korea

A screenshot of Lee Min Ho and Son Ye Jin from the first Korean drama your correspondent ever watched, “Personal Preferences.” South Korean dramas are one of the most important sources of new information now becoming available to North Korean citizens. Photo credit MBC.

Typically I scan the web for my information about North Korea. Most of my sources are from Internet news stories, usually in US or Korean media. But now and then I stumble upon a primary source, and they are phenomenally, refreshingly satisfying.

This post comes from such a primary source.

North Korea, according to a new study produced by InterMedia, is experiencing a huge increase in foreign media penetration. The study finds an increased awareness of the outside world, positive perceptions thereof, and a growth of trust between citizens.

Hopeful observers recall the surprising effect of access to technology in the Arab Spring revolts in 2011 and imagine a similar uprising in the future for North Korea. A more logical analysis suggests that any change will be slow. Access to outside media in North Korea is still extremely low; mobile penetration is around 2%, and 80% of North Korean citizens say that word-of-mouth is the most common means of information dissemination in the country. State media comes in a distant second at 40%.

A survey of defectors from and travelers in North Korea provided the authority for the survey. About 650 defectors, refugees, and travelers were interviewed in 2010 and 2011 and the results analyzed in “A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment”. Continue reading

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In the News – U.S. Keeps N.Korea Off Terror Sponsors List

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In the News – U.S. Keeps N.Korea Off Terror Sponsors List

The U.S. government has left North Korea off its annual list of state sponsors of terrorism for the fourth consecutive year.

In the Country Reports on Terrorism 2011, the State Department said Pyongyang is not reported to have sponsored any terrorist acts since the bombing of a South Korean commercial airliner in 1987.

The report, however, re-certifies the North as a country that does not fully cooperate with U.S. counterterrorism efforts under the Arms Export and Control Act.

The OECD’s Financial Action Task Force, which expressed concerns over Pyongyang’s lack of regulation on money laundering and terrorist financing, said the North’s financial system is murky and its compliance with international standards difficult to measure.

Original Article 

In the News – N.Korea Threatens S.Korean Activists

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In the News – N.Korea Threatens S.Korean Activists

North Korea on Tuesday threatened to hunt down defectors as well as South Korean activist Kim Young-hwan, who was detained in China for 114 days for helping them.

“We will in the future, too, never allow those abductors, terrorists and saboteurs who dare hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of [North Korea], encroach upon its sovereignty and threaten the safety of its people to go scot-free even by scouring all parts of the earth,” the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said in a statement.

The statement singled out Kim Sung-min of Radio Free North Korea, Park Sang-hak of activist group Fighters for Free North Korea, Cho Myong-chol, a defector who became a Saenuri Party lawmaker, and Kim.

“The U.S. and the South Korean puppet regime should stop at once the act of luring and abducting [North Korean] people, make an official apology for the hideous politically motivated, state-sponsored terrorism against the dignity of its supreme leadership and sternly punish the prime movers,” the statement added.

The statement comes after a North Korean defector claimed in a press conference in Pyongyang that he had infiltrated the North on a mission sponsored by U.S. and South Korean authorities to blow up statues and monuments.

Original Article

In the News – U.S. ‘concerned’ about N. Korea’s inertia in fighting money-laundering: report

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In the News – U.S. ‘concerned’ about N. Korea’s inertia in fighting money-laundering: report

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, July 31 (Yonhap) — The U.S. government expressed concern Tuesday about North Korea’s refusal to improve its regulatory system against money laundering and terrorism financing.

“The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) remained concerned about the DPRK’s failure to address the significant deficiencies in its regulatory regimes,” the State Department said in its annual report on terrorism. DPRK is the acronym for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The FATF, based in Paris, is an inter-governmental organization designed to develop policies to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.

The Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 revealed that Pyongyang “engaged the FATF to discuss its anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing regulatory regimes.”

While the FATF welcomed the initial engagement, the report said, there were no further contacts.

It was among the fresh issues covered by the report on North Korea, with most of others similar to those in previous publications.

The report reiterated that North Korea is “not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts” since the bombing of a Korean Air flight in 1987 in which 115 people were killed.

In 2008, the U.S. removed Pyongyang from the list of state sponsors of terrorism amid some progress in nuclear talks.

On South Korea, the report said the country’s security authorities have maintained close cooperation with their American counterparts in combating terrorism.

It said the FBI conducted a joint investigation with South Korea’s state intelligence agency and police into an international terrorism subject who had relocated to South Korea.

The South Korean authorities “provided information and monitored the subject until he departed the country.”

Original Article

In the News – N. Korea says will build up nuclear arsenal against U.S.

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In the News – N. Korea says will build up nuclear arsenal against U.S.

SEOUL, July 31 (Yonhap) — North Korea vowed on Tuesday to further build up its nuclear capabilities, accusing the United States of attempting to topple its communist regime.

In a statement carried by the North’s Korean Central News Agency, a spokesperson of the North Korean foreign ministry said the country will counter any U.S. hostility with the utmost resoluteness.

“While talking about the livelihood of people in other countries, the U.S. is blocking our economic development and improvement of our people’s livelihood with its most vicious and persistent anti-republic sanctions,” the statement said.

“And for such a country to say we will be better off once we give up our nuclear weapons only reminds us of a coyote who tells a ram that it will not be eaten if it gives up its horns.”

The statement said the North did not need the U.S.’s support to develop its economy now that it has nuclear capabilities and the means to further build up its stockpile.

“With a rifle in one hand and a banner of industrial revolution in the other, we will surely build a powerful socialist nation while facing the U.S.’s anti-DPRK policies with the utmost resoluteness,” it said. DPRK stands for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The statement comes shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama last week said North Korea, along with Iran, “cannot be allowed to threaten the world with nuclear weapons.”

“It is our firm decision to counter U.S. hostility with stronger nuclear deterrence,” the statement said.

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In the News – Obama issues proclamation on Korean War Armistice anniversary

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In the News – Obama issues proclamation on Korean War Armistice anniversary

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, July 27 (Yonhap) — U.S. President Barack Obama issued a proclamation Friday to commemorate the end of the Korean War 59 years ago, as the Pentagon hosted a formal ceremony to mark the anniversary.

“Today, on the 59th anniversary of the Military Armistice Agreement signed at Panmunjom, we honor all who served in the Korean War, and we pay lasting tribute to the brave men and women who gave their lives for our Nation,” Obama said in the proclamation. Panmunjom is a truce village in the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.

The Korean War ended with an armistice agreement on July 27, 1953, after three years of fierce fighting between the invading North, supported by China, and the South with the help of the U.S. and other U.N.-coalition forces.

“Most of all, we honor the tens of thousands of Americans who gave their lives defending a country they had never known and a people they had never met,” Obama said. “Their legacy lives on not only in the hearts of the American people, but in a Republic of Korea that is free and prosperous; an alliance that is stronger than ever before; and a world that is safer for their services.”

More than 50,000 U.S. service members were killed during the war, according to government data.

Obama called upon all Americans to observe the day with “appropriate ceremonies and activities” to honor Korean War veterans.

He has issued the proclamation each year since taking office in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon held a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to commemorate the anniversary.

Named, “Heroes Remember,” it began with a wreath-laying ceremony to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war
In his speech, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the Korean War is not “America’s forgotten war.”

“Today, thanks to the service and sacrifice of our veterans six decades ago, South Korea has grown strong and independent. South Korea is a trusted ally, an economic power, a democracy, a provider of security in the Asia-Pacific region and other parts of the world. To the veterans of this war: your sacrifice made a difference,” he said.

He pointed out the contrary fate of North Korea, “which remains a dangerous and destabilizing country that is bent on provocation and is pursuing an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction while its people are left to starve.”

Panetta said the U.S. needs to take a crucial lesson from the Korean War, in which lots of troops paid a heavy price due to a lack of necessary training and the right weapons.

“They were sent into a tough fight with little preparation,” he said. “That is a mistake that we will not make again. And that’s why today, coming out of a decade of war, we have put forward a strategy-driven defense budget to meet the challenges of the future.”

The Pentagon may face $500 billion in spending cuts on top of the $487 billion already being implemented.

Congress is stuck in a political deadlock, however, ahead of presidential elections in November.

Panetta emphasized the urgency for the U.S. to beef up combat readiness.

“The world remains a dangerous place, and America must maintain the decisive military edge. We must remain the most powerful military power on the face of the earth,” he said. “With this strategy, we will not only have the strongest military, but make no mistake: we will be ready to deter aggression — anytime, anyplace, anywhere.”

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In the News – Romney camp views China as key to resolving N. Korean issue

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In the News – Romney camp views China as key to resolving N. Korean issue

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, July 25 (Yonhap) — Former Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive presidential candidate of the Republican Party, believes China holds the key to resolving the North Korea problem, a close aide to Romney said Wednesday.

“North Korea is a tremendously difficult problem,” Rich Williamson, senior adviser for foreign and defense policy for Romney, said at a forum in Washington.

He said the Romney camp recognizes that China is “the leverage point” to try to change North Korea, armed with nuclear weapons and various missiles.

“As you know, North Korea is sustained by Beijing’s food support,” he said, citing Washington’s years of efforts to put more pressure on North Korea through China.

He pointed out Romney has not outlined the details of his strategy on Pyongyang yet, but hinted that he supports the six-party talks on the communist nation’s nuclear program.

“On a bipartisan basis there has been support for the six-party talks,” he said.

Williamson, who served as U.S. special envoy to Sudan during the George W. Bush administration, was debating with Michele Flournoy, former under secretary of defense for policy.

Flournoy represented the Obama government in the session hosted by the Brookings Institution on the foreign policy agendas of the two sides.

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In the News – Alleged U.N. sanctions violations divide U.S. Congress, administration

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In the News – Alleged U.N. sanctions violations divide U.S. Congress, administration

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, July 24 (Yonhap) — The Obama administration on Tuesday downplayed allegations that a United Nations agency illegally provided technology to North Korea and Iran.

But the U.S. Congress is still pressing the agency to come clean on its role.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), based in Geneva, is accused of having run a technology-supply project with the two nations, both under U.N. sanctions.

According to media reports, the 185-member WIPO, which promotes the use and development of intellectual property, has provided North Korea with desktop computers, servers, printers and firewalls. It has also allegedly shipped information-technology equipment to Iran.

“Our own preliminary assessment — but we are still seeking more information from WIPO — is that there doesn’t appear to have been a violation of U.N. sanctions,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.

She added the U.S. is still seeking more information from WIPO to conclude its work on the allegations, and the U.N. Security Council will make its own assessment.

“This has now been referred to the sanctions committee for them to make their own determinations, so we will await the views of the respective U.N. sanctions committees,” she said.

The U.S. administration’s approach is contrary to an aggressive congressional campaign against WIPO.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee strongly criticized the organization for refusing to cooperate in its probe into the case.

“Director-General (Francis) Gurry (of WIPO) is obstructing this Committee’s investigation ot WIPO’s transfer of U.S.-origin technology to rogue regimes under international sanctions — a transfer that occurred on his watch,” Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), committee chairwoman, and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), its ranking member, said in a joint statement Tuesday.

They claimed Gurry is obstructing a congressional investigation into the matter and urged WIPO to allow some of its members in charge of projects with North Korea and Iran to attend the committee’s hearing.

Original Article 

In the News – Dossier: U.S. found N. Korea behind 1987 KAL bombing

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In the News – Dossier: U.S. found N. Korea behind 1987 KAL bombing

By Lee Chi-dong, Lee Woo-tak
WASHINGTON, July 18 (Yonhap) — The United States government conducted its own investigation into the mid-air bombing of a South Korean jet in 1987 and concluded it was an act by North Korea, a set of declassified State Department documents shows.

U.S. government officials interrogated Kim Hyun-hui, a self-confessed North Korean terrorist responsible for the bombing of Korean Air (KAL) 858, which killed 115 people, shortly after the incident in November 1987, according to the dossier.

Kim, traveling with a fake Japanese passport through Europe, made a failed attempt to commit suicide shortly before being arrested. She is now living in South Korea as a housewife.

“In a situation we controlled Ms. Kim picked out the photographs of 3 North Koreans who had contacted her under alias in Belgrade and Budapest, 2 in Belgrade one in Budapest,” read a diplomatic cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to Washington in February 1988.

It is among 57 documents posted in June on the department’s website.

“Then 3 photographs were picked out of a collection of 26 shown her. In each case the individual she picked was in fact the photograph of a North Korean investigation department agent posted in that city at the time she was there,” it added. “We consider that part of the compelling independent evidence that she was working for North Korea.”

This file photo shows Kim Hyun-hui is taken out of a plane in South Korea, with her mouth taped, on Dec. 15 1987. (Yonhap)

The document also showed that a bureau affiliated with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency carried out a linguistic analysis of Kim’s statement, “which demonstrates that the words she used are North Korean (dialect).”

The Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) was run by the CIA from 1941 to 2004.

South Korean officials also “strongly suspected” North Korea’s involvement from the beginning of their probe and reached the same conclusion, another document shows.

But the South Korean government, led by iron-fisted President Chun Doo-hwan, did not consider military retaliation, according to the document.

“Chun went on that he would rule out military retaliation at that time,” James Lilley, who served then as U.S. ambassador to Seoul, said in a cable sent in January 1988.

Chun was quoted as saying, “South Korea was in the course of a political transition and had to host the Olympics.”

In his comments attached, Lilley said, “There are Koreans who favor military retaliation but emphatic that Korea would not undertake any military action in the short term.”

In South Korea, there is a lingering controversy over the KAL case.

Some still claim that the Chun administration might have orchestrated the bombing itself to influence the presidential elections in December 1987.

In 1988, meanwhile, the U.S. blacklisted North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism on the basis of the KAL incident.

Washington removed Pyongyang from the list in 2008 in return for its initial move towards denuclearization.

Original Article

Escape Art and Propaganda: Part II

Continuing my first article on the pop art by Song Byeok, a former party member and propaganda artist of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, this article takes a look into one of Song’s notable pieces to explore his relationship to his former homeland and the ideas that one can glean from the image “Flower Children.”

Looking at the image of “Flower Children,” the young girls stand in their school uniform either waving excitedly or smiling at the audience despite the holes in their shoes symbolizing their poverty. Moreover, all of their eyes are closed. Looking more closely at the faces of each individual child, though two or three appear genuinely ecstatic, the other girls have more faces – as they smile and accept or turn a blind eye to the way things are in North Korea, the people have grown weary as their circumstances have yet to change. Paul Ferguson also addresses this painting in his CNN article; Ferguson writes, “The girls in “Flower Children” are waving and posing for foreigners in the way they’ve been trained: brimming with confidence that they live in the world’s greatest country. Song painted them with their eyes closed, blind to the reality of their poverty.” As mentioned in the first part of these articles about Song’s artwork, Song admits that his initial reasons for leaving North Korea temporarily, when his father was still living, revolved around the need for food and work; likewise, most other North Koreans also defect for similar reasons. Continue reading

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

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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 – Disney Characters Perform in North Korea

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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 

Military Service and Support for Unification

South Korean marines train at Baengnyeong Island near the North Korean border. Photo credit Seo Myeong-gon / Yonhap / AP.

South Korea is a little bit smaller than Kentucky, yet it has the sixth-largest standing military in the world. There is only one country that is remotely similar in size with a comparable military: North Korea.

Because the war between North and South Korea is technically still ongoing, military service in both Koreas is compulsory, though only for men. In the South, all men must serve for two years. In the North, it’s ten years. We know instinctively that the North Korean military is drastically different from the U.S.’s, just as almost everything about North Korean society is drastically different from ours. The compulsory service in the South, though, also makes the South Korean military quite different from what we’re used to here, and it affects not only the military itself but also society at large in interesting ways. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Congress needs tough monitoring for NK food aid: Rep. Royce

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In the News – Congress needs tough monitoring for NK food aid: Rep. Royce

By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, June 25 (Yonhap) — The U.S. Senate’s move to ban food assistance for North Korea without a presidential waiver overlooks a more important issue — securing measures for fair and transparent distributions of food donations in the communist nation, a U.S. congressman said Monday.

“My concern is that the compromise reached in the Senate would not lead to effective monitoring of food aid, should U.S. food aid ever be resumed,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) told Yonhap News Agency.

The Senate passed a farm bill last week that includes strict restrictions on giving North Korea food aid.

The five-year farm bill cuts agriculture subsidies and includes an amendment that the U.S. will provide Pyongyang with food aid under the Food for Peace Act only when the president issues a waiver in consideration of national interest.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) initially proposed an amendment to cut off U.S. food aid to North Korea, but Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-Mass) and ranking Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana countered it with their own amendment to leave the door open for the shipment of food to the North.

It still makes it more difficult for the U.S. government to provide food to Pyongyang.

The House of Representatives has yet to reach an agreement on its own version of the farm bill.

“Congress recognizes that food aid to North Korea has often not helped those in greatest need. Instead, it has been diverted to support the North Korean military, and the human rights-abusing government,” said Royce.

In 2011, Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, played a key role in revising agriculture appropriations to prohibits “international food aid to countries that do not provide adequate monitoring and which divert food for inappropriate purposes.”

The U.S. has provided about $800 million in food aid to North Korea since 1996, he noted.

“As the legislative process moves forward, Congress should ensure that any possible future food aid to North Korea be monitored as effectively as possible,”he said.

The U.S. came close to resuming food aid for North Korea earlier this year. But it shelved the plan when Pyongyang fired a long-range rocket in April.

Original article can be found here.

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

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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.

In the News – Romney on North Korea

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In the News – Romney on North Korea

By Tong Kim

Despite U.S. concerns of proliferation and security threats, North Korea is not a critical issue that will affect the outcome of the American presidential election in November. The North is not likely to provoke military trouble serious enough to make a difference during the rest of this presidential election year for either the United States or South Korea.

Since Pyongyang’s failed satellite rocket launch in April that effectively cancelled a Feb. 29 agreement with Washington, the North has shown willingness to forego a third nuclear test and to reengage the United States. From its strategic calculation, the new North Korean leadership under Kim Jong-un seems to have decided to avoid further provocations.

However, it is also unlikely that there would be a breakthrough to the deadlock in inter-Korean relations or a new development that could help remove distrust and hostility between the United States and the DPRK, which has reached the worst level in the 60-year cycle of confrontation and engagement.

The Barack Obama administration knows that there is no satisfactory settlement of the North Korean issue achievable before the election. To protect his reelection chances, Obama would hope that the North does not stir up more trouble. The North appears to be cooperative for its own interests.

The North Koreans likely favor the reelection of Obama over the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, despite their disappointment and frustration with the minimal record of Obama’s North Korea policy.

From Romney’s statements on North Korea so far and in view of the known perspectives of his foreign policy team members, it is easy to understand why North Koreans would favor Obama. A Romney administration would resemble the hawkish George W. Bush administration preferring to rely on military force to resolve international disputes rather than diplomacy.

To appeal to voters, Romney speaks of “another American century,” “an American exception to stay as the sole superpower to lead,” and “a robust military presence in the Pacific.” He does not trust the sincerity of the North Koreans at the negotiating table. He does not talk about engagement or negotiation for non-proliferation but about implementation of verifiable inspections.

When Kim Jong-il died six months ago, Romney argued that the United States should push for regime change on the opportunity of the North Korean leader’s death, calling him “a tyrant who lived a life of luxury while the North Korean people starved,” and who developed dangerous weapons. To bring about regime change and to force North Korea to take a different path, Romney said, “America must show leadership.” In contrast, the Obama administration has called for stability and caution during Pyongyang’s transition.

On the launch of the North Korean rocket, Romney charged that Obama’s “efforts to appease the regime have emboldened Pyongyang.” He said Obama had “no effective response to North Korea’s weapons program and Obama supported “a food-aid deal,” ― a characterization of the Feb. 29 agreement ― “that proved to be as naive as it was short-lived.”

According to Romney’s official campaign website, he “will commit to eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons and its nuclear-weapons infrastructure. A key mistake in U.S. policy toward North Korea has been to grant it a series of carrots in return for only illusory cooperation. Each step the world has taken toward North Korea has been met with further provocations and the expansion of its nuclear program.”

“Romney will reverse that dynamic.” He will make it “unequivocally clear to Pyongyang that continued advancement of its nuclear program and any aggression will be punished instead of rewarded.” Romney will “institute harsher sanctions on North Korea, such as cracking down on financial institutions that service the North Korean regime.”

“He will also step up the Proliferation Security Initiative to constrain North Korean illicit exports by increasing the frequency of inspections of North Korean ships and discouraging foreign ports from permitting entry to North Korean ships.” His people believe “such measures would shut off routes by which the regime supplies its nuclear program.”

A Romney administration would clearly be tougher in rhetoric and attitude, but it does not offer new ideas that could disarm North Korea. Its policy represents a rehash of the hardline aspects of what the previous and present administrations have tried without much success. Romney has yet to offer more specifics on how he can accomplish denuclearization and secure peace and stability in Korea.

Romney says he “will work to persuade China to commit to North Korea’s disarmament,” and “assure China it will not be alone in dealing with the humanitarian and security issues that will arise should North Korea disintegrate …and when the North Korean regime collapses…under the weight of its own economic and political contradictions”

The underlying assumption for this approach is not original. Under Obama’s policy of strategic patience, Washington and Seoul had erroneously anticipated an imminent fall of the Pyongyang regime or its surrender to international pressure to accept the conditions of engagement as dictated by them. The North neither fell nor surrendered.

Like Obama, Romney “will also pursue robust military and counter-proliferation cooperation with our allies and others in the Pacific region.” Similarly, he will also invigorate relationships with South Korea, Japan, and others to increase a collective military presence and cooperation,” to deal with the rising power of China.

The North is unlikely to collapse in the next five years. And, since neither Obama nor Romney seems to have any fresh ideas that will resolve the issue, perhaps, a solution should come from the next government of the South or the new leadership of the North. What’s your take?

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – S. Korean, Russian envoys to discuss N. Korea’s nuclear programs

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In the News – S. Korean, Russian envoys to discuss N. Korea’s nuclear programs

SEOUL, June 25 (Yonhap) — Senior South Korean and Russian diplomats will hold one-day talks this week in Seoul to discuss possible ways to revive the long-stalled six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, a Seoul official said Monday.

Russia’s deputy chief envoy to the six-party talks, Grigory Logvinov, was scheduled to arrive in Seoul later Monday for a three-day visit and hold talks with South Korea’s top nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam on Tuesday, the senior official at Seoul’s foreign ministry said.

“During the talks, Ambassador Logvinov and Lim plan to hold in-depth discussions about North Korea’s nuclear issue and other overall matters with regard to North Korea,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.

They will also discuss “the current state of the Korean Peninsula after North Korea’s failed rocket launch and ways to move forward on the North’s nuclear issue,” the official said.

The visit by Logvinov to Seoul also coincides with the Russian government’s move to write off 90 percent of North Korea’s Soviet-era debt of US$11 billion.

Diplomatic efforts to resume the six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan, were frozen in April when North Korea defiantly launched a long-range rocket.

The North’s failed launch ended a possible deal with the U.S. in which Pyongyang agreed to suspend its nuclear and missile activities in return for food aid by Washington. Such conditions had been considered necessary steps to reopen the six-party talks.

The six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear ambition have been stalled since late 2008. Pyongyang has conducted two nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009.

In Seoul, the Russian envoy is also expected to discuss an ambitious plan to build a natural-gas pipeline from Russia to South Korea via North Korea, the ministry official said.

The gas project, which has been discussed for about 20 years but never has materialized due in part to security tensions, gained momentum after late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il expressed his willingness to permit the envisioned pipeline to go through the nation during summit talks with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in August last year.

Kim died of a heart attack last December, and his youngest son, Jong-un, took the helm of North Korea.

 

Original article can be found here.

In the News – Pyongyang denounces U.S. for firing at N. Korean flag

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In the News – Pyongyang denounces U.S. for firing at N. Korean flag

SEOUL, June 25 (Yonhap) — North Korea vowed Monday to further strengthen its nuclear deterrent to cope with what it called U.S. hostile policy, leveling criticism at the latest South Korea-U.S. joint military drill.

The latest rhetoric came after North Korea’s flag was fired upon during a South Korea-U.S. joint live-fire drill near the border with the North on Friday. The communist nation, which conducted two nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009, has made similar threats in recent years.

“It is an extremely grave military action and politically-motivated provocation to fire live bullets and shells at the flag of a sovereign state without a declaration of war,” the North’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said in an English-language statement carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The unidentified spokesman also claimed the “reckless act” by the U.S. was the most vivid expression of its hostile policy toward the North.

North Korea “will further bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense as long as the U.S. … persists in its hostile policy towards” Pyongyang, the spokesman said in the statement.

North Korea has long used the term, “nuclear deterrent,” to refer to its nuclear arsenal.

The North frequently accuses the United States of hostility toward Pyongyang and plotting with South Korea to invade North Korea.

In March, U.S. President Barack Obama said during a trip to Seoul that Washington has no hostile intent toward North Korea and is prepared to improve relations between the two.

The North’s latest threat comes on the 62nd anniversary of the start of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty. About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to help deter North Korea’s possible aggression.

entropy@yna.co.kr
(END)

 

Original article can be found here.

The Associated Press’s Newest Bureau

Pictures from North Korea:

A North Korean shovels snow at the foot of Mt. Paekdu on April 3, 2012. Photo credit David Guttenfelder/AP.

 

The Associated Press opened their first full news bureau in North Korea in January. This is tremendously exciting to all of us DPRK-watchers who want more, more, more news coming out of the country, and I think it’s partially responsible for the sustained higher media profile of North Korea since Kim Jong Il’s death.

The bureau operates out of Pyongyang. The official opening was planned for December 2011, but the news of Kim Jong-Il’s death broke just as Tom Curley and Kathleen Carroll, respectively AP’s president and executive editor, arrived in the capital city. Everything was postponed for the mourning period, and the official opening of the bureau itself was put off until January 16th. Still, the staffers in Pyongyang—already set up to operate—got straight to work covering the story of Kim Jong Il’s death.

Two North Korean journalists staff the AP bureau full-time; the Korean Central News Agency (the only North Korean news outlet) pledges full cooperation with the AP. This is pretty standard operating procedure for the AP, but it’s very interesting in the news-strangled case of North Korea to hear that some of the stories the AP produces will be developed by North Koreans. However, most of the news stories on AP’s site are produced by Western writers based in Seoul or the US or even Sweden.

The two North Korean journalists are supervised by the AP’s bureau chief for the Korean peninsula, Jean Lee, who makes frequent visits to Pyongyang from her base of operations in Seoul. The AP’s chief Asia photographer, David Guttenfelder, also plays a major role, producing many exceptional photos. These two account for the main coverage accreditation. Continue reading