North Korea’s trade with China gained 4.4 percent from a year ago in the first nine months of this year, new data showed Tuesday, raising questions about the effectiveness of sanctions put in place to punish the North for conducting its third nuclear test earlier this year.
Trade volume rose to US$4.69 billion between January and September from $4.49 billion for the same period last year, according to the data released by the China Customs Information Center.
The data, seen by Yonhap News Agency, showed that North Korea’s exports to China jumped 9.4 percent to $2.09 billion during the nine-month period, while its imports from China fell 2.3 percent to $2.6 billion.
A South Korean diplomatic source in Beijing suspected that North Korea’s shortage of hard currency might be a factor for the decline in imports.
“North Korea’s lack of foreign currency may be partly attributable to the fall in imports of Chinese goods,” the source said on the condition of anonymity.
During the first nine months of this year, North Korea’s imports of Chinese crude oil, however, rose to 415,000 tons, compared with 402,000 tons for the same period last year.
China did not export crude oil to North Korea in June and July this year, but resumed crude exports in August, according to the source.
In August and September, China exported 165,000 tons of crude oil to North Korea, the source said.
Read the full story here:
N. Korea-China trade up 4.4 pct in Jan.-Sept. despite sanctions Yonhap
Bulgarian wines conquer an unusual new market: Two of our wineries will now export their products to the despotic North Korea, Standart daily reports, citing Executive Agency on Vine and Wine head Krasimir Koev.
One of the companies is Brestovitza, the first cooperative winery with 450 growers. The second firm that will export to the Communist country is from Dobrich. Our companies will pour the Asian country with red wines.
Bulgarian wines are also sought after in the other two new and fast-growing markets in North Korea’s region: these are China and Vietnam. Three BG companies have already taken a strong position in Vietnam, while 16 wineries are exporting to China. It is expected that this number will increase after an upcoming wine expo in Shanghai, where many of the Bulgarian companies will have the chance to attract new buyers from the Asian giant.
The Russian market is also about to take on large amounts of BG wines. Though it is a traditional niche for Bulgaria, but now the Bulgarian manufacturers will have to fill a new gap after it was revealed that Russia banned the import of wine from Moldova.
The Bulgarian wine sector is developing very well: only this year four new wineries were opened and one additional is expected to be started soon in Yambol, Krasimir Koev noted.
Read the full story here:
Bulgaria to export wine to North Korea Standart News
UPDATE 21 (2014-11-8): Kenneth Bae has been released. According to the New York Times:
Mr. Bae and Mr. Miller’s plane touched down Saturday night, backlit by a nearly full moon dimmed by fast-moving clouds. Mr. Bae emerged first, and was swarmed by about a dozen relatives and friends. He paused for hugs then continued inside, out of sight of the row of news cameras lined up about 100 yards away. After a few minutes, Mr. Miller came out, greeted by a smaller welcoming committee.
At a news conference, Mr. Bae thanked the Obama administration, officials in North Korea and everyone who prayed for him and his family while he was detained. “I just want to say thank you all for supporting me and lifting me up at the same time that I was not forgetting the people of North Korea,” he said.
Speaking of his ordeal, he said, “I learned a lot. I grew a lot. I lost a lot of weight, in a good way.” Some people in the room chuckled. “I’m standing strong because of you,” he added.
UPDATE 30 (2014-8-13): Kenneth Bae has been sent back to prison. According to the Voice of America:
American missionary Kenneth Bae has been transferred to a North Korean labor camp from a hospital, despite U.S. concerns that his health is worsening.
In an email sent to VOA’s Korean Service, a U.S. State Department official said Bae was transferred to a labor camp immediately after being discharged from his hospital on July 30.
“We remain gravely concerned about Bae’s health, and we continue to urge [North Korean] authorities to grant Bae special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds,” the email said.
The State Department official also asked for Bae to be moved back to the hospital in the interim.
The statement comes after Bae received a visit at the labor camp this week by officials from the Swedish embassy, which represents U.S. interests in North Korea in the absence of diplomatic relations between Washington and Pyongyang.*
The consular visit to Bae is the 12th such meeting since his arrest in November 2012 and the first in almost four months.
North Korea sentenced Bae to 15 years of hard labor in April 2013 for “hostile acts” against the regime. The Christian missionary was arrested while leading a group of tourists in the northern city of Rason.
Bae was sent to a hospital a year ago and stayed there through this past January. When his health worsened due to hard labor, he was hospitalized at the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital on March 29. The hospital was built in 1986 to treat foreigners in the country.
The Chosun Shinbo, a pro-North Korea newspaper in Japan, interviewed him late last month. The 46-year-old told the newspaper he would be sent back to a labor camp in the near future despite a worsening heart condition.
*To the best of my knowledge, I am unaware of the Swedes visiting Bae in prison. My sources inform me that these meetings generally take place in one fo the hotels in Pyongyang.
UPDATE 29 (2014-7-31): Kenneth Bae has done an interview (in Korean) for the Choson Sinbo. The interview took place at the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital in the Munsu-dong diplomatic compound.
UPDATE 28 (2014-2-9): For a second time, North Korea has rescinded an invitation for a special American envoy to visit Pyongyang.
In blocking the trip by Ambassador Robert King, Washington’s special envoy on North Korean human rights, North Korea again appeared to blame the tensions it said were caused by military exercises that the United States and South Korea are scheduled to begin this month.
Also, Mr. Bae has given another interview to the Chosn Sinbo. You can see it here:
Mr. Bae, speaking on Friday to a pro-North Korean newspaper based in Japan from his penal labor camp outside Pyongyang, said he had heard that Mr. King was to visit North Korea as early as this week to discuss his fate.
He told the newspaper, Choson Sinbo, that Pyongyang had extended an invitation to Mr. King. North Korea abruptly canceled a similar invitation for Mr. King in August, citing the military exercises as its reason.
The exercises are “transparent, regularly scheduled and defense-oriented,” Ms. Psaki said. “These exercises are in no way linked to Mr. Bae’s case. We again call on the D.P.R.K. to grant Bae special amnesty and immediate release as a humanitarian gesture so he may reunite with his family and seek medical care.”
She said Washington maintained its longstanding offer to send Mr. King to North Korea. Separately, under a request from Mr. Bae’s family, the Rev. Jesse Jackson offered to travel to Pyongyang on a humanitarian mission to help win Mr. Bae’s release, she said.
A resident of Washington State, Mr. Bae was arrested after he entered North Korea through the northeastern city of Rason with a group of visitors in November 2012. Using a tourism business as a cover, he was trying to build a covert proselytizing operation in Rason, according to a videotaped sermon he gave at a St. Louis church in 2011.
Mr. Bae was convicted of plotting to “destroy our system through religious activities against our republic,” according to North Korea’s authoritarian government, which has been in a suspended state of war with the United States for more than 60 years.
He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.
Mr. Bae, who had been convalescing in a Pyongyang hospital since the summer with various health problems, was transferred back to the penal work farm about three weeks ago, according to his family and Choson Sinbo.
UPDATE 27 (2014-1-20): Kenneth Bae has been brought out to make a public plea for help. According to the Associated Press:
Kenneth Bae, made the comments at what he called a press conference held at his own request. He was under guard during the appearance. It is not unusual for prisoners in North Korea to say after their release that they spoke in similar situations under duress.
Wearing a gray cap and inmate’s uniform with the number 103 on his chest, Bae spoke in Korean during the brief appearance, which was attended by The Associated Press and a few other foreign media in Pyongyang.
Bae, the longest-serving American detainee in North Korea in recent years, expressed hope that the U.S. government will do its best to win his release. He said he had not been treated badly in confinement.
“I believe that my problem can be solved by close cooperation and agreement between the American government and the government of this country,” he said.
Bae was arrested in November 2012 while leading a tour group and accused of crimes against the state before being sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. He was moved to a hospital last summer in poor health.
He made an apology Monday and said he had committed anti-government acts.
Bae said a comment last month by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had made his situation more difficult.
“The vice president of United States said that I was detained here without any reason,” Bae said. “And even my younger sister recently told the press that I had not committed any crime and I know that the media reported it.
“I think these comments infuriated the people here enormously. And for this reason, I am in a difficult situation now. As a result, although I was in medical treatment in the hospital for five months until now, it seems I should return to prison. And moreover there is greater difficulty in discussions about my amnesty.”
“We shouldn’t take Kenneth Bae’s comments merely as his own,” said Kim Jin Moo, a North Korea expert at the South Korean state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses in Seoul. “The reason why North Korea had Kenneth Bae make this statement … is that they want Washington to reach out to them.”
“Bae’s comments are an appeal to Washington to actively persuade Pyongyang to release him,” Kim said.
Pyongyang, January 20 (KCNA) — An American criminal, Kenneth Bae, was interviewed by local and foreign reporters at the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital Monday at his request.
He said he called the press conference to clarify some facts.
Over the past 15 months he, through meeting with officials of the Swedish embassy and calls and correspondence with his family, he correctly informed the U.S. government and his family of his criminal acts and humanitarian measures taken by the DPRK government in his behalf, he said, adding:
But some media are spreading misinformation about me and launching smear campaign against the DPRK, driving me into a difficult situation.
For example, the U.S. vice-president, at a press conference over the release of another U.S. citizen, Mr. Newman, in December last year, claimed that I have been detained here for no reason.
Some time ago even my sister reportedly told reporters that I am not guilty. I think such facts enraged people here.
This is why I am in a puzzle.
Over the past five months I have been hospitalized, but now I am afraid I may be sent back to the labor camp. Worse still, I am afraid the pardon for me becomes more difficult.
To cite another example, I was told that some media reports alleged that the DPRK is a “human rights violator”, its human rights records are not good and that I have been treated unfairly.
What I would like to clarify here now is that there has been no human rights abuse and no unfair, severe act for me.
The DPRK government has done every possible thing for me from the humanitarian point of view. It allowed me to contact with the Swedish embassy and have correspondence and calls with my family. It also gave me an opportunity to meet my mother here and offered me a medical service at the hospital when my disease got worse.
I, availing myself of this opportunity, call on the U.S. government, media and my family to stop link any smear campaign against the DPRK and false materials with me, making my situation worse.
I hope that I will be pardoned by the DPRK and go back to my family. I request the U.S. government, media and my family to pay deep concern and make all efforts to this end.
Bae gave answers to questions raised by reporters.
Kenneth Bae marked a dubious anniversary over the weekend: it has now been one year since the U.S. citizen and Christian missionary was arrested and detained in North Korea.
That makes Mr. Bae the first known U.S. citizen to be detained longer than a year since the Korean War, according to the National Committee on North Korea, which has tracked the fates of this small circle of detainees.
It also raises questions about why Mr. Bae remains inside the country, much longer than Pyongyang tends to hold its U.S. prisoners. (Even the crew of the USS Pueblo, the U.S. Navy vessel captured by the North in 1968, was released after about 11 months.
The mother of Kenneth Bae, the U.S. citizen being detained in North Korea, finished a five-day visit to Pyongyang on Tuesday, but came away with little clarity on when her son might be freed.
In a statement released by the family, Myunghee Bae said that she was able to visit Mr. Bae three times during her stay, and that her son’s health had improved.
But she said the visit also made her “more anxious than ever to bring him home,” pleading with the U.S. authorities to “do everything in their power” to get her son out of North Korea.
While she was careful to thank the North Korean authorities for “generously” allowing her to visit, Mrs. Bae said “it broke my heart to leave him behind,” adding that “the pain and anxiety continue to carve a deep scar on all of our hearts.”
North Korea watchers and those in the diplomatic community have struggled to explain the North’s apparent unwillingness to release Mr. Bae, who has already been detained in North Korea longer than any U.S. citizen in recent memory.
North Korea gave an official reason for the sudden Aug. 30 cancellation of a planned by visit by US State Department special envoy for North Korean human rights Robert King, saying the decision was made because the US “sent out B-52 strategic bombers on the Korean Peninsula.”
The move is being read as a sign of displeasure with Washington refusing to accept Pyongyang’s offer of direct dialogue and demanding “good faith” steps on denuclearization.
The Korean Central News Agency quoted a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson denouncing the US’s actions in an Aug. 31 talk with the press.
“We had planned to accept the special envoy visit by the US from a humanitarian standpoint and hold serious discussions here on the American currently undergoing reeducation,” the spokesperson reportedly said, referring to US citizen Kenneth Bae, who is currently serving time at a North Korean reeducation camp.
“The US has continued sticking its B-52H strategic bombing in the skies over the Choson [Korean] Peninsula for nuclear bombing drills [during South Korea-US joint military exercises]. By doing this, they instantaneously destroyed a long-awaited climate in favor of humanitarian dialogue,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.
But experts said that the B-52 was likely to have been only a pretext for the discussion, and that the real aim was to deliver a message of displeasure – or warning – after the US failed to respond in “good faith” to Pyongyang’s dialogue overtures.
UPDATE 22 (2013-8-29): According to the Hankyoreh:
A US special envoy on North Korean human rights issues will visit Pyongyang on Aug. 30 to seek the release of Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American currently imprisoned in the country.
The visit by Robert King is the first official trip to North Korea by a senior US official since Kim Jong-un took power, and could mark a turning point in improving North Korea-US relations.
On Aug. 27, the US State Department issued a short, three-sentence press release about the visit but did not hold separate briefing on the issue. The release said that King would “request the DPRK [North Korea] pardon Mr. Bae and grant him special amnesty on humanitarian grounds so that he can be reunited with his family and seek medical treatment.”
King, who is currently in Japan after visiting China and South Korea, plans to board a military aircraft at a base near Tokyo for a two-day visit to Pyongyang. He is expected to return with Bae.
A senior U.S. envoy will travel to North Korea this week to seek the release of an American sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in the authoritarian country, the State Department said Tuesday.
The visit by Bob King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, will be the first public trip to North Korea by an administration official in more than two years and could provide an opening for an improvement in relations severely strained by Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said King will request a pardon and amnesty for 45-year-old Kenneth Bae on humanitarian grounds. Bae, a tour operator and Christian missionary, was arrested in November and accused of committing “hostile acts” against North Korea. He suffers multiple health problems and was recently hospitalized.
King is traveling at the invitation of the North Korean government. He will fly to Pyongyang on Friday from Tokyo on a U.S. military plane, and fly out on Saturday.
“We remain deeply concerned about the health and welfare of Kenneth Bae, the American citizen currently detained in North Korea,” the White House said in a statement. “We urge the government of North Korea to grant special clemency to Mr. Bae immediately and allow him to return home with Ambassador King.”
When King last visited North Korea in May 2011 to assess the impoverished North’s food situation, he came home with Eddie Jun, the last American to be held then freed by Pyongyang. Jun, a Korean-American from California, was arrested for alleged unauthorized missionary work during several business trips to the country. He was released on humanitarian grounds.
Bae’s sister revealed earlier this month that he was moved from a labor camp to a hospital after losing more than 50 pounds. Terri Chung, of Edmonds, near Seattle, says her brother, a father-of-three, suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain. He was born in South Korea and immigrated to the U.S. with his parents and sister in 1985. For the past seven years Bae has been living in China, Chung says.
According to U.S. officials, Washington first made its offer to send King to North Korea several weeks ago, but Pyongyang only recently took them up on the offer. Pyongyang has yet to declare it will release Bae.
UPDATE 20 (2013-8-11): Kenneth Bae transferred to hospital. According to the Telegraph:
Bae’s sister Terri Chung said that her brother had until recently been held at a prison for foreigners and put to work ploughing and planting fields.
However, he is suffering from a range of health problems including an enlarged heart and chronic diabetes as well as back and leg pain, necessitating his transfer to a state hospital, she said.
Chung said she learned of her brother’s transfer from the Swedish ambassador to North Korea, who visited Bae on Friday. The ambassador, who has met with Bae a handful of times since his detention, has been his only foreign visitor, Chung said.
UPDATE 19 (2013-7-19): Kenneth Bae is writing letters home. According to the New York Times:
The family of Kenneth Bae, the American sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea, received letters from him in the mail for the first time this past week, telling them that his health is worse and asking them to press the United States government to help secure his release, Mr. Bae’s sister said Friday.
North Korea experts said the message of the handwritten letters — and their method of delivery, which could not have happened without North Korea’s approval — suggested that the authorities there were open to the idea of negotiations on Mr. Bae. That had seemed remote three months ago when he was found guilty of committing “hostile acts” against the government.
North Korea said Mr. Bae, 44, was a Christian missionary who had sought to build a clandestine proselytizing base in the country, where the Communist government regards missionary work as sedition.
The possible opening in Mr. Bae’s case came against a backdrop of other indications that North Korea, despite its harsh public language toward the United States, is pursuing multiple ways of pushing for direct contact after months of threats and new weapons tests. So far, the Obama administration has resisted the overtures.
Mr. Bae’s sister, Terri Chung, said in a phone interview from her home in Edmonds, Wash., that Mr. Bae had been able to communicate a few times during his imprisonment, which began with his arrest in November, though those contacts were through intermediaries acting on behalf of Sweden’s ambassador in North Korea, who monitors American interests. Then weeks went by with no further word.
“This past week, we were surprised to receive a packet of letters from Kenneth through the U.S. Postal Service, bearing a Pyongyang postmark,” she said. “The packet contained four letters, dated June 13th, addressed to his wife, his mom, me and his supporters.”
She said that “all the letters contained the same message — Kenneth’s health is failing, and he asked us to seek help from our government to bring him home.”
Ms. Chung said her brother suffered from diabetes, an enlarged heart and back problems.
She declined to share the letters but said the family had conveyed their contents to officials at the State Department. Patrick Ventrell, a State Department spokesman in Washington, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Mr. Bae was sentenced at a time of particularly high tensions between the United States and North Korea over the North’s nuclear weapons program under its young new leader, Kim Jong-un, further complicating any possible diplomatic efforts aimed at securing Mr. Bae’s release.
North Korea said that Mr. Bae had been working as a Christian missionary with the aim of overthrowing the North Korean government. In a video of an hourlong talk, given to a Korean church in the United States in 2011 and posted online, Mr. Bae detailed his activities inside North Korea.
The postmark on Mr. Bae’s mailed letters to his family suggested they were written at about the same time that the North Korean authorities had permitted a pro-North Korea group based in Tokyo, Choson Sinbo, to interview him in prison. A videotape of that interview, broadcast July 3 on CNN, showed Mr. Bae looking distressed and thin, his head shaved, dressed in a stained blue jumpsuit with his prison number, 103. His message was similar to those in the letters: an appeal for the United States government to help secure his release.
“Although my health is not good, I am being patient and coping well,” Mr. Bae said in that interview. “And I hope that with the help of the North Korean government and the United States, I will be released soon.”
In what appeared to be an effort to show the outside world that the North Korean penal authorities had been treating him well, Mr. Bae was seen seated in a comfortable cell with a radiator and a window. The video also zoomed in on what was described as his daily work schedule, posted in Korean and English, showing he was given three meals and had four rest breaks in between field labor. No other inmates were seen at the prison, and its precise location was unclear.
Diplomats who have dealt with North Korea said the unspoken message in both the video and the letters was that the North Korean authorities wanted to see more publicity about Mr. Bae as part of their broader effort to seek direct contact with the United States government.
UPDATE 18 (2013-7-3): The DPRK has released video footage of Kenneth Bae and an interview. See CNN and NK News.
UPDATE 18 (2013-5-15): Kenneth Bae has been transferred to a prison. According to KCNA:
American Citizen Begins His Life at “Special Prison”
Pyongyang, May 15 (KCNA) — Pae Jun Ho, an American citizen, started his life at a “special prison” on Tuesday.
Pae was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor for his anti-DPRK crime, an attempt to topple the DPRK, at the trial held on April 30, according to Section 60 (an attempt at state subversion) of the DPRK Criminal Law.
DPRK Supreme Court Spokesman Exposes Crimes of American Pae Jun Ho
Pyongyang, May 9 (KCNA) — A spokesman for the Supreme Court of the DPRK gave the following answer to a question raised by KCNA Thursday as regards the assertion made by the U.S. government and media about the alleged unreasonable legal action taken against American Pae Jun Ho who committed crimes against the DPRK, claiming that he was not tried in a transparent manner and it was trying to use this issue as a political bargaining chip:
Pae set up plot-breeding bases in different places of China for the purpose of toppling the DPRK government from 2006 to October 2012 out of distrust and enmity toward the DPRK. He committed such hostile acts as egging citizens of the DPRK overseas and foreigners on to perpetrate hostile acts to bring down its government while conducting a malignant smear campaign against it. He was caught red handed and prosecuted while entering Rason City of the DPRK, bringing with him anti-DPRK literature on Nov. 3 last year.
Pae visited different churches of the U.S. and south Korea to preach the necessity and urgency to bring down the DPRK government. He was dispatched to China as a missionary of the Youth With A Mission in April, 2006. After setting up plot-breeding bases disguised with diverse signboards in different parts of China for the past six years, avoiding the eyes of its security organs, he brought together more than 1 500 citizens of the DPRK, China and foreigners before whom he gave anti-DPRK lectures. He invited even south Korean pastors hell-bent on the moves to escalate confrontation with compatriots to give lectures for malignantly slandering the Juche idea of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the socialist system in the DPRK and instigating them to the acts to bring down its government.
He planned the so-called “Jericho operation” to bring down the DPRK through his anti-DPRK religious activities from December 2010 to March 2012. In order to carry out the plan he infiltrated at least 250 students who had been educated at the plot-breeding bases operated by him into Rason City under the guise of tourists. He failed to set up an anti-DPRK base at Rajin Hotel in Rason City.
He collected and produced several anti-DPRK videos to make the false propaganda sound plausible and showed them many people in a bid to egg them onto activities to bring down the DPRK government. He bribed Song Je Suk and other citizens of the DPRK on foreign tours in an effort to get them involved in activities to topple the DPRK government. He dared commit such hideous crime as hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK.
The DPRK Supreme Court held a trial of Pae at its court behind closed doors on Apr. 30, 2013 at his request in accordance with Section 270 of the DPRK Criminal Procedure Law.
As he refused pleading, the court did not allow the presence of a counsel, pursuant to Section 275 of the above-said law.
In the course of hearing Pae admitted all his crimes and they were clearly proved in an objective manner by evidence and testimonies made by witnesses.
The court sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor in consideration of candid confession of his crimes though they are liable to face death penalty or life imprisonment for an attempt at state subversion according to Section 60 of the DPRK Criminal Code.
Pae will be fully guaranteed the right as a prisoner according to the DPRK law while in jail.
Pyongyang, May 2 (KCNA) — A trial of Pae Jun Ho, an American citizen, took place held at the Supreme Court of the DPRK on April 30. He was arrested while committing hostile acts against the DPRK after entering Rason City as a tourist on Nov. 3 last year.
The Supreme Court sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labor for this crime.
Pyongyang, April 27 (KCNA) — The preliminary inquiry into crimes committed by American citizen Pae Jun Ho closed. He entered Rason City of the DPRK on Nov. 3 last year for the purpose of tour and was arrested for committing crimes against the DPRK.
In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it. His crimes were proved by evidence.
He will soon be taken to the Supreme Court of the DPRK to face judgment.
UPDATE 11 (2013-1-28): In the Korea Herald, Namkung refers to serious charges leveled against Mr. Bae:
“My understanding is that he has been accused of serious crimes including plotting to overthrow the regime and assassinating the leadership,” Namkung said in an email interview.
“Richardson’s hope was to see the detainee, Kenneth Bae, and if possible, bring him home. However, North Korea was not cooperative in this regard.”
For weeks, North Korea has refused to allow the United States government to contact a Korean-American man detained in the communist nation, the State Department said Friday.
“As we said about three or four weeks ago, we had contact through our Swedish protecting power. We have not been able to have another contact since then. We continue to ask,” department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.
She was responding to a question on Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American tour operator who was arrested by North Korea’s security authorities in early November.
UPDATE 9 (2013-1-11):Retuers reports that Richardson delivered a letter for Bae:
Richardson was unable meet with Korean-American Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old tourist who was detained in North Korea late last year, but he said he was able to give a letter from Bae’s son to authorities.
“I delivered the letter to North Korean officials,” Richardson told Reuters on Friday. “They said they would provide that to him.”
UPDATE 8 (2013-1-10): KCNA reports that the Richardson delegation has left the DPRK:
Delegation of Google Inc. of U.S. Flies Back
Pyongyang, January 10 (KCNA) — The delegation of the Google Inc. of the U.S. headed by Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico State, left here on Thursday.
No reports of any meetings were reported while the delegation visited the DPRK.
The delegation did hold a press conference at Beijing Capital Airport. Bloomberg reports:
“As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world,” Schmidt told reporters today at the Beijing airport after the visit to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. “The government has to do something — they have to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government in North Korea has not yet done. It is time now for them to start or they will remain behind.”
Schmidt said that North Korea’s existing mobile-phone network, operated in a joint venture with Orascom Telecom Media & Technology Holding SAE, could be retooled to offer Internet access. There are about 1 million phones on the network, Schmidt said.
“It would be very easy for them to turn that on,” Schmidt said.
Mr. Richardson said he told North Korea’s top vice minister for nuclear negotiations that Pyongyang should temper its nuclear-development efforts. “We need dialogue on the peninsula, not confrontation,” he told reporters. He also said he pushed Pyongyang for a moratorium on ballistic-missile tests, and that officials responded by insisting that the recent satellite launch was for peaceful reasons.
“I must say I personally disagree,” he said.
Mr. Richardson also said he pressed North Korean officials about an American who is being detained there, and was encouraged by their statements that judicial proceedings will begin soon and that the detainee’s health is good. It wasn’t clear whether Mr. Richardson’s delegation met with the detainee, 44-year-old Kenneth Bae, held since late last year on unspecified charges.
UPDATE 7 (2013-1-9): The Richardson delegation visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun. There are no photos or videos of this trip. No doubt Gov. Richardson would be nervous about pictures of him paying homage to the memories of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
UPDATE 6 (2013-1-9): KCNA reports that the Richardson delegation is touring Pyongyang:
Delegation of Google Inc. of U.S. Tours Pyongyang
Pyongyang, January 9 (KCNA) — A delegation of the Google Inc. of the U.S. headed by Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico State, Wednesday visited the Grand People’s Study House here.
The guests went round several reading rooms and lecture rooms, being briefed on the fact that people and students acquire knowledge about modern science and technology and improve their cultural attainments at the study house.
They also visited the E-library of Kim Il Sung University, Korean Computer Center, etc.
The visit to Kim Il-sung University was featured on the 1-8 evening news. See it here.
The visit to the Grand Peoples Study house was featured on the 1-9 evening news. See it here.
Schmidt and Cohen chatted with students working on HP desktop computers at an “e-library” at the university named after North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. One student showed Schmidt how he accesses reading materials from Cornell University online on a computer with a red tag denoting it as a gift from Kim Jong Il.
“He’s actually going to a Cornell site,” Schmidt told Richardson after peering at the URL.
Cohen asked a student how he searches for information online. The student clicked on Google — “That’s where I work!” Cohen said — and then asked to be able to type in his own search: “New York City.” Cohen clicked on a Wikipedia page for the city, pointing at a photo and telling the student, “That’s where I live.”
Kim Su Hyang, a librarian, said students at Kim Il Sung University have had Internet access since the laboratory opened in April 2010. School officials said the library is open from 8 a.m. to midnight, even when school is not in session, like Tuesday.
While university students at Kim Chaek University of Science and Technology and the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology also have carefully monitored Internet access — and are under strict instructions to access only educational materials — most North Koreans have never surfed the Web.
Computers at Pyongyang’s main library at the Grand People’s Study house are linked to a domestic Intranet service that allows them to read state-run media online and access a trove of reading materials culled by North Korean officials. North Koreans with computers at home can also sign up for the Intranet service.
But access to the World Wide Web is extremely rare and often is limited to those with clearance to get on the Internet.
At Kim Chaek University, instructors and students wishing to use the Internet must register first for permission and submit an application with their requests for research online, Ryu Sun Ryol, head of the e-library, said.
But he said it is only a matter of time before Internet use becomes widespread.
“We will start having access to the Internet soon,” he said in an interview last month. He said North Korea is in the midst of a major push to expand computer use in every classroom and workplace.
UPDATE 5 (2013-1-7): Even though this delegation is run by Bill Richardson for “humanitarian” purposes, KCNA is emphasizing the business angle. Here is the KCNA report of the delegation’s arrival:
Delegation of Google Inc. of U.S. Arrives
Pyongyang, January 7 (KCNA) — A delegation of the Google Inc. of the U.S. headed by Bill Richardson, former governor of New Mexico State, arrived here on Monday by air.
Here is KCNA video that has been ripped and uploaded to You Tube:
UPDATE 4 (2012-1-5):Wired published a statement from Richardson’s office which details who is in the delegation:
Governor Bill Richardson will travel to North Korea next week on a private humanitarian mission. The delegation will consist of former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Dr. KA Namkung, Director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen; as well as some staff members.
Since no media is accompanying the delegation, Gov. Richardson will have a press availability at the Beijing Airport on Thursday, January 10th.
UPDATE 3 (2013-1-3): According to Reuters, the US Department of State has criticized the Richardson delegation to the DPRK. According to the article:
The State Department said on Thursday the time was not right for Google Inc Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and former diplomat Bill Richardson to visit North Korea, which drew international criticism for a rocket launch last month.
State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said Schmidt and Richardson would be traveling as private citizens, not representatives of the U.S. government.
“Frankly, we don’t think the timing of this is particularly helpful,” Nuland told reporters, citing North Korea’s launch of a long-range rocket in December. “They are well aware of our views.”
“We are obviously aware of the trip that has been announced,” [Nuland] said, later correcting herself to say that the department was aware of media reports about the trip.
“They are private citizens. They are traveling in an unofficial capacity,” she said. “They are not going to be accompanied by any U.S. officials. They are not carrying any messages from us. They are private citizens and they are making their own decisions.”
On Wednesday, Google did not respond directly to a question about whether Schmidt was going to North Korea, although a spokeswoman’s response suggested a visit would not be for company business.
UPDATE 2 (2013-1-2): According to the Associated Press, Bill Richardson is reportedly headed to the DPRK. Though the article does not mention it, he will likely be working for the release of Mr. Bae. The news of Mr. Richardson’s visit is overshadowed by his travel companion, Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt. According to the article:
Eric Schmidt will be traveling to North Korea on a private, humanitarian mission led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson that could take place as early as this month, according to two people familiar with the group’s plans who asked not to be named because the visit had not been made public.
The trip would be the first by a top executive from U.S.-based Google, the world’s largest Internet search provider, to a country considered to have the most restrictive Internet policies on the planet.
UPDATE 1 (2012-12-21): The DPRK announces it has arrested another American. According to KCNA:
American Arrested in DPRK for Committing Crime
Pyongyang, December 21 (KCNA) — The Korean Central News Agency released the following report on Friday:
American citizen Pae Jun Ho who entered Rason City of the DPRK on Nov. 3 for the purpose of tour committed a crime against the DPRK. He was put into custody by a relevant institution.
In the process of investigation evidence proving that he committed a crime against the DPRK was revealed. He admitted his crime.
Consular officials of the Swedish embassy, which look after interests of the U.S. in the DPRK, visited him Friday.
Legal actions are being taken against Pae in line with the criminal procedure law of the DPRK.
Original Post (2012-12-13): The DPRK is allegedly holding another American citizen. According to the New York Times:
A 44-year-old American citizen has been held in North Korea for a month, a human rights activist in Seoul said Thursday, addressing unconfirmed reports that had circulated in the South Korean news media for several days.
The American, Kenneth Bae, runs a travel company that specializes in taking tourists and prospective investors to North Korea. He had visited the North several times without incident before being detained in early November, according to the activist, Do Hee-youn, who heads the Citizens’ Coalition for the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees, based in Seoul. Mr. Do said he had learned of Mr. Bae’s detention through a mutual friend in China.
South Korean news reports on Thursday said that Mr. Bae, a naturalized United States citizen born in South Korea, was detained after escorting five European tourists into North Korea through the city of Rajin on Nov. 3. The Europeans were allowed to leave the country, the reports said. North Korea operates a free-trade zone in Rajin, which is near the Russian border, but it has had difficulty attracting foreign investors.
Mr. Do said he had few details about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Bae’s reported arrest. The South Korean daily newspaper Kookmin Ilbo cited an unnamed source as saying that Mr. Bae was detained after North Korean security officials found a computer hard disk in his possession that they believed contained delicate information about the country. Mr. Bae was later transferred to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, for further investigation, according to that report.
Mr. Do said that Mr. Bae was interested in helping orphans who beg for food in North Korean markets. “The most plausible scenario I can think of is that he took some pictures of the orphans, and the North Korean authorities considered that an act of anti-North Korean propaganda,” he said.
James Pearson writing in Reuters updates us on the state of the DPRK’s domestic currency:
In a dimly-lit Pyongyang toy shop packed with Mickey Mouse picture frames and plastic handguns, a basketball sells for 46,000 Korean People’s Won – close to $500 at North Korea’s centrally planned exchange rate.
Luckily, for young North Koreans looking to shoot hoops with Dennis Rodman, the new friend of leader Kim Jong Un, the Chinese-made ball actually costs a little less than $6 based on black market rates.
Once reserved for official exchange only in zones aimed at attracting foreign investment, and in illegal underground market deals elsewhere, black market rates are being used more frequently and openly in North Korean cities.
Publicly advertised prices at rates close to the market rate – around 8,000 won to the dollar versus the official rate of 96 – could signal Pyongyang is trying to marketise its centrally planned economy and allow a burgeoning “grey market” to thrive. This could boost growth and capture more of the dollars and Chinese yuan circulating widely so that North Korea can pay for imports of oil and food.
Unofficial market rates could become more widespread following an announcement last month of 14 new special economic zones (SEZs) aimed at kickstarting a moribund economy where output is just one fortieth of wealthier South Korea’s. A spokesperson for the Korea Economic Development Association, a local organization tasked with communicating policy in the new SEZs, told Reuters that exchange rates in the new zones are to be “fixed according to (local) market rates.”
“The official rate for the won is like a placeholder,” said Matthew Reichel, director of the Pyongyang Project, a Canadian NGO that organizes academic exchanges with North Korea. “We all know that the value of the won is not this.”
An estimated 90 percent of economic transactions along North Korea’s border with China are in yuan, an embarrassment for a country whose policy stresses economic independence, and something that reduces the grip that authorities attempt to exercise over its people and economy.
Pyongyang does not publish economic data, but is believed to have run a sizeable current account deficit for years, straining its ability to pay for imports in hard currency.
An attempt in 2009 to revalue the won and confiscate private foreign currency savings prompted protests from market traders and forced a rare policy reversal and public apology from state officials.
“Due to its lack of foreign currency, the North Korean government will have to tolerate black market rates, even if it has difficulty in officially recognizing them,” said Cho Bong-hyun, a North Korea economics expert at the IBK Economic Research Institute in Seoul.
Read the full story here:
Insight: Won for the money: North Korea experiments with exchange rates
The North Korean authorities increased both Party and Chosun Union of Democratic Women’s fees in the run up to this year’s [Chosun Workers’ Party] Foundation Day on October 10th, and demanded that members pay in full and on time going forward. Members of both organizations are supposed to pay a small percentage of their wages in organizational dues on a monthly basis, but systems for payment broke down in the face of the social and political upheaval of the 90s and early 2000s.
“We recently replaced Party membership cards with ones containing images of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il together. That was done in accordance with the revised ‘Ten Principles [for the Establishment of the One-Ideology System],’” the source from Hyesan in Yangkang Province reported to Daily NK on the 31st. “For workers earning 3000 won a month, the base membership fee of 60 won was doubled to 120 won. At the same time as Party cards were replaced, members were told to normalize payment of their dues as well.”
“When they were given the order, a lot of people pointed out that they hadn’t been paying their fees on time because they hadn’t been getting paid on time, either.” The increase means that fees now constitute a total of 4% of a Party member’s basic official salary, although with additions many members are paid closer to 6000 won per month. The Women’s Union monthly fee has risen from 20 won to 50 won, the source reported.
The source also revealed reactions to the news. “Some have welcomed it because they think it may mean a corresponding rise in wages,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see whether that happens; in any case, these things are an attempt to concentrate power over the people in the hands of the Party.”
The source also noted that a great many people have lost their loyalty to the Party anyway. “People’s loyalties have changed, and changing Party memberships won’t do anything to bring it back,” he concluded. “‘Shouldn’t they work to change the people’s hearts, first?’ That is the question. People are Party members in name only.”
Other sources also report that there have been extensive meetings and Party membership conferment ceremonies of late, as well as lectures on the sanctioned method of storing one’s membership card. “The authorities constantly drill into us that Party membership cards must be protected like one’s own life,” the source said. “There’ll probably continue to be strong controls on that, too.”
Read the full story here:
Dues Rise as Timely Payments Decreed Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin
North Korean doctors are being dispatched to the Yanbian Autonomous Korean Prefecture of China in order to bring in much-needed foreign currency, a source has reported.
Lee Wong Jong, the manager of an oriental medicine clinic in Yanji, the capital of the autonomous region, contacted Daily NK on the 1st.
“Most North Koreans in Yanji work in North Korean-run restaurants and IT companies, but lately it’s not been hard to find North Korean doctors, too. These doctors are working legally at Chinese hospitals,” he said.
He continued, “They are obtaining official visas from the North Korean government and moving to China to work. They are not in the country as the result of an agreement between China and North Korea, however. North Korea is providing individual doctors with visas so that they can go and earn foreign currency.”
“I know a North Korean dentist working at a hospital. At the same time, he works to help people like himself who have been granted Chinese visas. He essentially plays the role of an employment agency and helps them find work in other hospitals. Many IT workers have come to China too, and he connects those people with companies and factories, too.”
Lee now fears for his friend, however; “A few months ago I started to see less and less of him, and now he has disappeared without a trace.” He explained, “If the North Korean authorities receive a report that one of their citizens has met with a South Korean they order them to return home, no exceptions.”
On the North’s move to provide visas to its doctors, Lee revealed, “North Korean doctors are not well-regarded in China. No one wants to get treated by a doctor from a backward country, so the authorities can’t form an official agreement with China to send them. Granting visas to individual doctors instead is an unofficial way to bring in foreign currency.”
Doctors are not the only profession to receive permission to work and live in China, Lee explained. “In Yanji there are many North Koreans. You can see young Chinese-Koreans in their early 20s driving around in foreign cars. They manage IT companies that employ North Korean labor, and make good money that way.”
He added, “The number of North Korean workers employed in Chinese firms has skyrocketed over the last few years. They now show no outward signs of awkwardness adapting to life in China.”
Read the full story here:
NK Doctors Working in China Daily NK
Oh Se Hyek
North Korea’s population stands at 24.9 million, the 49th-largest in the world, a report by a United Nations fund showed Thursday.
According to “State of World Population 2013” published by the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), the North Korean population is expected to grow 0.5 percent in the 2010-15 period.
It said that boys born during this five-year period could expect to live an average of 66 years, while the female life expectancy was estimated at 73 years.
The latest findings also said a woman in the communist country is likely to give birth to two children, smaller than the overall average of 2.5 kids for the 202 countries checked.
The UNFPA said that 16 percent of the North’s population were between the ages of 10 and 19. This is just shy of the global average of 16.7 percent, although it is 3 percentage points higher than the comparable figure for South Korea.
In the number of people in the 10-19 age group, the North ranked 118th, with South Korea trailing far behind at 151st, the report showed.
The report said that despite various deprivations affecting the isolationist country, 100 percent of childbirths were assisted by trained medical personnel such as doctors, nurses and midwives.
The findings, meanwhile, showed the maternal death rate in the country at 81 deaths for every 100,000 births, while infant mortality rate reached 28 for every 1,000 children under the age of 5.
The population fund said it based its report on data provided by various U.N. organizations including the United Nations World Population Prospects.
Pictured above (Google Earth): (L) The Chongryon headquarters building in Tokyo. (R) The Chongryon’s Korea University
UPDATE 8 (2013-10-31): According to the Choson Ilbo, Yokohama has cut Chongryon education subsidies:
The Japanese city of Yokohama has decided to stop annual subsidies to pro-North Korean schools this year, citing North Korea’s nuclear test and other provocations, the Tokyo Shimbun daily reported Wednesday.
The schools are affiliated with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan or Chongryon, a Pyongyang mouthpiece.
The education committee in Yokohama informed three of the Chongryon schools in the city last week that they would not be receiving the subsidy of 2.5 million yen set aside in this year’s budget.
They include two primary and one secondary school.
Yokohama Mayor Fumiko Hayashi said she is halting the subsidies as long as the issues of “North Korea’s nuclear weapons development and abduction of Japanese citizens remain unresolved.”
Earlier in February, the Japanese government cut Chongryon schools out of federal subsidies. Seven regional governments, including Saitama and Hiroshima, have followed suit.
Read the full story here:
Yokohama Stops Subsidies for Chongryon Schools Choson Ilbo
UPDATE 7 (2013-6-15):The Economist follows up with a story on the state of the Chongryun schools in Japan:
Japan’s government excluded the schools from a scheme to waive tuition fees in other schools two years ago. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, is now focusing on public funding. Tokyo has led the way, ending its 6m yen ($63,000) annual subsidy to this Korean high school. Local authorities around Japan are following suit. “We’ll survive, but many won’t,” laments the headmaster, Shin Gil-ung.
The funding assault is part of what may be the end-game in a low-level war between Japanese conservatives and the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, known as Chongryon. The organisation, which runs the schools, is North Korea’s de facto embassy and is suspected of involvement in the North’s bizarre abduction of over a dozen Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. The Japanese want the surviving citizens returned. The North Koreans say they are all dead.
The schools and the community they serve are in deep trouble anyway. Thousands of Koreans are abandoning their ethnic identities to take Japanese citizenship. Enrolment at Mr Shin’s school has fallen to 600 students from a high of 2,300 when he attended in the late 1960s. Parents pay for 80% of the institution’s costs; cash from North Korea, once a lifeline, has dried up.
The network of schools in Japan operated by the General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon, saw the overall scale of its government funding shrink by 27% in the year 2009-2010, according to a report today from Sankei Shimbun.
Documents reveal that in 2009, ‘Chosun Schools’ received 549.73 million Yen ($7.2 million) in support, but by 2010 this had shrunk by 147.29 million Yen ($1.9 million) to 424.3 million Yen ($5.5 million).
Chosun Schools have courted controversy in recent times with assertions that have angered the Japanese authorities, in particular stating in history textbooks that “The Japanese authorities are emphasizing the abductees issue to cultivate anti-Chosun discord,” but also by calling the 1987 Korean Air disaster a fabrication.
The greatest reductions in funding were felt in four places; Tokyo, Osaka, Saitama and Fukuoka. Two, Tokyo and Saitama, gave no funding at all during 2010, with Osaka authorities explaining their choice in terms of cutting links with Chongryon as an organization which places portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on the walls of classrooms.
Elsewhere, consistently falling student numbers have also reduced the applicability of central funding for the schools.
UPDATE 5 (2011-6-3): The Chongryun schools seem to have corrected a number of historical points to please the Japanese. According to the Choson Ilbo:
Pro-North Korean high schools in Japan changed textbook entries about North Korea’s kidnapping of Japanese nationals and the bombing of Korean Air passenger plane in 1987 to receive local government funding, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Thursday.
Kanagawa Prefecture on Wednesday said pro-Pyongyang high schools in the prefecture removed from their modern history textbook the sentence “Japan exaggerated the kidnap issue,” and the entry claiming South Korea “fabricated” the bombing was amended to the bombing “occurred.”
The textbook is used in 10 pro-North Korean high schools in Japan. Kanagawa Prefecture added the modified version of the textbook was checked during a survey of high schools as part of a national tuition fee waiver program at the end of May.
Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa said on Thursday, “We agreed to provide 63 million yen of funding to the schools as they promised to use the supplementary book that says North Korea ‘officially admitted’ the kidnapping, and reflect this when the textbook is revised in 2013. Whether we will continue to provide funding after next year depends on the teaching in these schools.”
Kanagawa Prefecture withheld financial assistance to five pro-Pyongyang primary, middle and high schools in the prefecture last year, and demanded modification of history textbooks and transparent management of schools.
Shin Kil-woong, who leads a group of head teachers at high schools run by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Koreans in Japan or Chongryon, said, “We decided to remove the parts on the kidnapping issue to seek understanding from Japanese people.”
UPDATE 4 (2011-3-8): Congryun education subsidies in Japan appear to be on the wane again. According to Kyodo:
Students of a pro-Pyongyang high school in Tokyo called on the government Sunday to include their school in the national tuition waiver program.
The Democratic Party of Japan-led government had planned for the program to cover pro-Pyongyang schools by the end of the current fiscal year through March, but Prime Minister Naoto Kan suspended procedures to expand the program in the wake of North Korea’s shelling of a South Korean island in November.
Pro-Pyongyang schools have close ties with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), which serves as the de facto government mission for North Korea in Japan because of the absence of diplomatic relations.
“We would like to study with the same rights as Japanese high school students,” said Pak Su Gi, 18, in a speech addressed to Kan at a graduation ceremony at the pro-Pyongyang school in Tokyo’s Kita Ward.
The students of the school have been collecting signatures for a petition and held a march in the past year.
“We feel frustrated because our voices have not reached the government,” said Om Ri Hwa, another 18-year-old graduate of the Tokyo school.
The government has since last April waived tuition fees for students attending public high schools in line with the ruling party’s pledge in the August 2009 general election.
UPDATE 3 (2011-2-5): Chongryon schools’ history spin hurt tuition waiver bid. According to the Japan Times:
Flipping through a copy of a recently obtained Korean history textbook used in pro-Pyongyang junior high schools in Japan, journalist Ryo Hagiwara points his finger to a section describing how North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, and his Korean People’s Revolutionary Army defeated the Japanese occupation forces in 1945 and drove them off the Korean Peninsula.
“Well, this reads as if Kim and his army single-handedly liberated the North, but this is not true. It’s a known historical fact that Kim was an officer of the Soviet army’s 88th Brigade at the time,” Hagiwara said.
According to outside historians, the KPRA was a North Korean propaganda term for what was actually the Second Army Corps of a Chinese communist-led force that Kim was a part of during the 1930s and early 1940s before he joined the Soviet army.
“It’s as if students are studying Kim’s biography, not real history,” Hagiwara said, explaining that out of the textbook’s 119 pages, 62 are dedicated to Kim Il Sung and his family.
The expert on North Korea is heading a group translating the textbook into Japanese to highlight its content for the Japanese public. He expects the group’s version to be published later this month.
Hagiwara is a proponent of abolishing all subsidies for these schools, which he claims are giving students distorted history lessons that glorify and instill loyalty to Kim Jong Il’s hermit regime, and have strong ties with an organization with direct links to the dictatorship — Chongryon, the Association of Korean Residents in Japan.
It appears his argument has been gaining ground in recent months following North Korea’s bombing of a South Korean island in November, which prompted the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to temporarily freeze procedures for including pro-Pyongyang schools in its high school tuition waiver program.
Under a law that took effect last April, students at public high schools are exempt from paying tuition. Private schools and other schools equivalent to high schools receive between ¥118,800 to ¥237,600 per student annually, depending on their household income.
Foreign schools and international schools are eligible for the tuition waiver program if they are considered equivalent to Japanese high schools after checks with their home countries, or if their curricula are accredited by international organizations.
But while the DPJ initially planned on including the pro-Pyongyang high schools, the increased tensions in the region in recent months have led Prime Minister Naoto Kan to apply the brakes.
Making things worse for these schools, the increased publicity has prompted several municipalities to review the annual grants they have been doling out to them for decades.
Reports from the education ministry and the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN) show that 27 prefectures have been handing out a total of around ¥800 million a year to pro-Pyongyang schools.
Based on the schools’ enrollment, they would get additional funding of around ¥200 million under the central government’s high school tuition waiver program.
According to the education ministry, 73 pro-Pyongyang schools with an estimated 8,300 students were operating in Japan as of 2009. Of these, 10 were high schools with around 1,800 students in total.
In late January, Osaka Prefecture decided against distributing the ¥200 million in subsidies it has budgeted for fiscal 2011 for the 10 pro-Pyongyang schools within its jurisdiction.
Osaka, which has been providing financial aid to pro-Pyongyang schools since 1974, cited the schools’ reluctance to respond to guidelines the prefecture had set under Gov. Toru Hashimoto as the reason behind the decision. The guidelines include severing ties with Chongryon and removing photographs of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il from classrooms.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which has been handing out approximately ¥24 million a year to 10 pro-Pyongyang schools, has also suspended grants for fiscal 2011.
“Municipal subsidies to pro-Pyongyang schools have been handed out for decades without ever being widely reported, but the controversy over the DPJ’s tuition waiver program dragged it into the spotlight,” said Ryuichiro Hirata, chief executive of NARKN, a nationwide nonprofit organization working to secure the return of people abducted by the North.
Hirata said history textbooks used in pro-Pyongyang schools nationwide are edited and carefully checked in Pyongyang, and he believes Japan would send the North the wrong message if it hands money to its schools while issuing various other sanctions.
According to “Modern Korean History — Level 3,” used in pro-Pyongyang high schools and translated into Japanese and published last year by Hagiwara and his organization, the Association of Experts Against Spending Tax Money on Pro-Pyongyang High Schools, South Korea and the United States were responsible for starting the Korean War.
This claim is contrary to common knowledge that the North Korean invasion of South Korea in 1950 was the direct catalyst.
The textbook also states that the 1987 bombing of Korean Air Flight 858 by two North Korean agents, which killed 115 people, was a conspiracy hatched in South Korea to help Roh Tae Woo win the presidential election.
Lee Young Hwa, an economics professor at Kansai University and a North Korea expert, said it is fundamentally wrong that subsidies are being given to pro-Pyongyang schools, which operate under the guidance of Kim Jong Il’s Korean Workers’ Party.
“Unless Japan is a dictatorship, it should not be spending public money to fund schools operated by the KWP,” Lee said, arguing that such schools should only be allowed to continue operations if they severe ties with the North and operate under the principles of democracy.
But there are many who oppose cutting off grants to such schools because of diplomatic tension, arguing it would violate the children’s right to an education and could foster ethnic discrimination.
Pro-Pyongyang schools have been operating in Japan since the 1950s by Koreans who remained here after being conscripted by the Japanese military during the war, or who came here to work or were brought over for forced labor.
Lee Ji Seon, a 27-year-old ethnic Korean resident of Japan, received his elementary, junior high and high school education at pro-Pyongyang schools in Shizuoka and Aichi prefectures. He now works at a Japanese television station after attending Beijing University and studying in the U.S.
Lee said he believes a healthy society should guarantee freedom of thought and belief, and cutting off subsidies to pro-Pyongyang schools would deprive children of their right to an education.
“What would these children think in the future about Japanese society if they are excluded” from receiving grants, Lee said.
He said that during Korean history lessons, he studied Kim Il Sung’s biography and his battle against the Japanese occupation forces, but said he didn’t feel pressured to assume loyalty to Pyongyang, nor did he feel “brainwashed,” as Hiroshi Nakai, former minister in charge of the North Korean abduction issue, once asserted.
“But what’s notable is that many classes were taught in Korean, aimed at nurturing ethnic consciousness,” he said, claiming that world and Japanese history classes were taught free of any propaganda.
Park Il, an economics professor at Osaka City University’s graduate school, is critical of Japan for its indifference toward international schools in general, and said it is “unbelievable” that municipalities such as Osaka are trying to meddle with the content of textbooks used in pro-Pyongyang schools.
“It’s like overseas Japanese schools being ordered by the respective local governments to revise sections in textbooks that mention the Imperial system,” he said.
“Furthermore, North Korea’s bombing of Yeonpyeong Island is unrelated to students studying in pro-Pyongyang schools — I believe it’s outrageous that public support of education could be cut off due to political friction,” he said.
With the March 31 end of fiscal 2010 and the deadline for granting subsidies for schools approaching, it appears certain the debate will intensify in the weeks to come.
Kim Myung Soo, a sociology professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, said it is likely pro-Pyongyang schools will sue the government if the subsidies for fiscal 2010 aren’t distributed.
Kim, who attended a pro-Pyongyang elementary school in Fukuoka Prefecture before switching over to a Japanese school, said it is essential that Japan work toward fighting racial discrimination and protecting foreign residents and minorities, rather than fostering ethnic divides.
“The government is acting emotionally and based on anti-North Korean sentiment. Cutting off subsidies will only send out the message that Japan doesn’t care about human rights,” he said.
UPDATE 2 (2010-11-10): Apparently Tokyo will not take the Chongryon school curricula into account in determining eligibility for subsidies. According to Japan Today:
The Liberal Democratic Party adopted a resolution Tuesday opposing the education ministry’s policy of not factoring in curricula when considering a tuition waiver for schools catering to pro-Pyongyang Korean residents of Japan.
Shigeru Yokota, whose daughter was abducted by North Korea in 1977 at age 13, also voiced opposition to the policy, saying, ‘‘Giving subsidies to (schools) that provide wrong education will cause trouble in the future.’‘
The main opposition party adopted the resolution at a joint meeting of intra-party panels on education and abduction issues. Yokota, 77, attended the gathering.
The government led by the Democratic Party of Japan has since April waived tuition for students who attend public senior high schools in line with the party’s pledge in the August 2009 general election.
Private and other schools equivalent to senior high schools also receive stipends for their students under the national program, but the pro-Pyongyang schools have so far been excluded, pending the establishment of criteria.
The ministry said Friday it has decided not to make the curricula of the pro-Pyongyang schools a factor in deciding whether they are eligible for subsidies under the tuition waiver program.
The Japanese education ministry has decided to ask pro- Pyongyang high schools in Japan to use Japanese textbooks of politics and economics when the government includes such high schools in its tuition waiver program, government sources said Tuesday.
The decision is apparently in response to concerns expressed by some lawmakers who have claimed that anti-Japan education is being conducted at these pro-Pyongyang ethnic schools for Korean residents in Japan.
The Japanese government is expected to formally approve a proposal by an education ministry panel to include pro-Pyongyang high schools in Japan in its tuition waiver program, possibly this week.
Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Yoshiaki Takaki appeared to have won the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s approval for the move at a meeting with DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada on Tuesday night, the sources said.
Given a law to respect the autonomy of individual schools’ education policies, including those of pro-Pyongyang schools, the Japanese government does not oblige the schools to purchase Japanese textbooks to benefit from the tuition waiver program, the sources said.
But given concerns about the inclusion of pro-Pyongyang schools in the tuition waiver program, the government will encourage students of these schools to use Japanese textbooks and learn the basics of Japanese society, such as the independence of legislative, administrative and judicial powers, they said.
Takaki is expected to require schools benefiting from the tuition waiver program to submit a document proving that money offered under the program was spent to cover students’ tuition, the sources said.
The government intends to formally decide on the inclusion of pro- Pyongyang schools in the tuition waiver program by the end of this year, and if it is decided, students will be eligible for the program, retroactive to April.
Under a law that took effect in April, senior high school students at Japanese public schools are exempt from tuition fees, while private and other schools equivalent to high schools receive between 118,800 yen to 237,600 yen annually per student depending on household income.
Foreign schools, such as international schools, are eligible for the tuition waiver program if they are recognized as equivalent to Japanese senior high schools after checks with their respective home countries, or if their curricula are accredited by international organizations.
But pro-Pyongyang schools have been excluded as, unlike other foreign schools, it could not be confirmed that they were equivalent to Japanese schools as Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic ties.
The education ministry set up the panel to consider the eligibility criteria for the tuition waiver.
According to the education ministry, there are 10 pro-Pyongyang high schools in Japan, with an estimated 1,800 students.
Read the full stories here:
Pro-Pyongyang school wants tuitions waived Kyodo News (via Japan Times)
Recent tension, pro-North schools’ history spin hurt tuition waiver bid The Japan Times
A Japanese daily says schools in Japan run by a pro-North Korean organization will also soon benefit from high school tuition assistance.
The Mainichi Shimbun says that the schools, which currently do not qualify for subsidies due to their disputed curricula glorifying North Korea, will soon be included on a list of institutions that qualify for state tuition assistance.
The ten such schools, which are operated by an organization of Japanese residents of North Korean descent, have a total of 18-hundred students.
Read the full sotry here:
‘Pro-NK Schools in Japan to Get State Subsidies’ KBS
North Korea has revised a law to help the isolated country expand railway cargo cooperation with foreign countries and attract investment, a report said Wednesday.
According to the report by the Korea Transport Institute (KOTI), Pyongyang changed its international railroad cargo law in December 2011 that regulates contracts, damage claims, fares, restrictions and dispute settlements.
The North had created its first railway law in 1987, but this revision marks the first related to cooperation with foreign countries, it said.
“The changes in particular are noteworthy because it outlines investment protection and pledges that the government will legally uphold the rights of investors and their interests,” the transportation institute said.
Pyongyang will take administrative and legal actions against people who obstruct international rail traffic, and promises to take disputes that cannot be settled through negotiations to court or through a binding arbitration process, it added.
The think tank, meanwhile, said that the changes were primarily made to transform the port of Rajin near the Chinese and Russian borders into a regional logistics hub.
Last month the North announced the reopening of a railway service linking Rajin with the Russian city of Khasan. Work on the railway line took five years to complete.
In addition to the railway law, KOTI said Pyongyang has shown interest in attracting foreign investors who will carry out so-called built-operate-transfer contracts, aimed at modernizing the country’s dilapidated infrastructure.
“The move by the North to emphasize profitability reflects signs that the country is becoming more open to the outside world compared to the past,” said Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.
He said such changes aim to entice much needed foreign investment by offering actual profits.