Archive for November, 2006

Why N Korea’s neighbors soft-pedal sanctions

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

Asia Times

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 has had no impact on the economic activity in the remote northeastern corner of North Korea where Russians and Chinese are building transportation infrastructure for future industrial-development projects. As was planned before the nuclear test, the Russians began repairing a dilapidated railway line, while the Chinese continued with their highway-construction project.

There were no delays in the normal operations of the Kumgang (also transliterated Geumgang) project, a joint tourist venture on the border between two Koreas. Every day many hundreds of South Korean tourists travel about 20 kilometers into the North to visit the picturesque mountains and spend a few days there, leaving their currency in the accounts of the North Korean government. The project has always been a major money-earner for the cash-hungry North. The Americans tried to stop Kumgang operations, but the South Koreans refused, and business continued as usual.

It was reported this month that a number of the North Korean workers employed by South Korean companies in Gaesong industrial park exceeded the 10,000 mark. Gaesong industrial park is the largest cooperative venture between two Koreas. It is the place where South Korean capital and technology use cheap North Korean labor to produce internationally competitive stuff – or at least this is what is supposed to be going on there.

In spite of optimistic talk, so far the project has been a money-losing enterprise for the Southerners, and most companies stay in Gaesong only because their government is willing to back them financially.  Still, Seoul, even when it talked tough, did not do anything to slow down the project. On the contrary, the Gaesong project is growing fast, and so, one might suspect, are revenues it provides to the Pyongyang regime.

By now it has become patently clear. No international sanction regime against North Korea worthy of its name is in place, and there is no chance that such regime will emerge in future. China, Russia and, above all, South Korea do not want to punish North Korea for going nuclear.

China is not happy about a nuclear North Korea, but probably sees it a lesser evil than a unified Korea that is likely to be under US influence and will perhaps even have US military bases. Beijing does not want this. It also does not want a collapse of another state under communist rule – this might be a bad news for domestic propagandists.

And last but not least, in recent years Chinese companies have moved into North Korea, taking over mining and infrastructure, so such gains need be protected as well. At the same time, the North Korean nukes are not seen by Chinese strategists as an immediate problem: the Chinese assume (correctly, perhaps) that these weapons will never target China and will not be transferred to China’s enemies. So for China, keeping North Korea afloat is a strategic imperative.

Russia is not a major player in the Korean game nowadays, but it has some leverage as a potential “blockade breaker”. Without sincere cooperation from Russia, no efficient sanctions regime will be possible, and such cooperation seems unlikely. Moscow does not want the North Korean regime to collapse. The country’s leader Kim Jong-il is potentially useful for numerous diplomatic combinations, and also as a deterrent against the Americans, who are increasingly seen by President Vladimir Putin’s Moscow as dangerous global bullies.

However, it is South Korea whose policy is decisive in these issues. Indeed, in recent years North Korea was kept afloat by generous Southern aid, with some 500,000 tons of grain and a large amount of other supplies being sent north every year. This aid saved countless lives in the North, but it also contributed to keeping the regime in control.

It has been clear for a decade that South Korea, in spite of all the rhetoric, does not want unification to happen too fast or too soon. The German experience demonstrated how vastly expensive unification might become, and Koreans have good reasons to believe that their situation is much worse than that of Germany. After all, the per capita gross national product in East Germany was roughly half of the West German level, while in the case of North Korea, per capita GNP is less than one-tenth of the South Korean level.

Judging by the experience of the 1990s when the North Korean regime was more isolated than now, economic pressures alone will not necessarily lead to its collapse. During the great famine of the late 1990s, between a half-million and a million people starved to death without causing any inconvenience to the regime. There are no reasons to believe that sanctions would achieve much either, apart from producing another famine and many more deaths.

In contrast, the ongoing exchanges bring to North Korea information about the outside world, and this information is subversive by definition, making more and more people wonder whether something should be done about their country’s political and economic system, so clearly inefficient and anachronistic. Thus the current situation surrounding the so-called “sanctions” might be a rare case when the hypocrisy and duplicity of so-called “collective diplomacy” is doing more good than harm.

Early this month a market riot happened in the remote North Korean city of Hoeryong. Perhaps for the first time since 1945, a large group of North Koreans openly and vocally protested an unpopular decision of the local administration. This was a minor incident, but in the long run it might be more significant than all the meaningless invectives delivered by the well-dressed people in the UN Assembly Hall.


Bongsu Church in Pyongyang

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Daily NK
Kang Jae Hyok

Bongsu Church is the first Christian place of worship built during the communist rule.

In September 1988, North Korean regime constructed the two-storey building with 450 seats in Mankyongdae district, Pyongyang, in order to show the country’s ‘religious freedom’ to foreign visitors of the 13th World Youth and Student Festival in 1989.

The construction cost, which was about half a million NK won at that time (equivalent to a quarter million US $), was contributed by ‘Christian believers around the nation and churches overseas,’ according to the Korean Christians Federation of DPRK.

Bongsu Church is consisted of a head minister, one vicar, 8 elders, 14 deaconesses, 5 deacons and about 300 gatherers.

A construction project of a larger chapel is going on, now. The three-storey new building, which is expected to seat more than 1200 attendants, is being constructed thanks mostly to South Korean Presbyterian churches’ donation of about 4 million dollars.

The cost of construction of the church, ten thousand dollars per a square meter, is much higher than that of a luxury hotel in China (about six thousand per m2).

Here is my personal experience of the Church.

I had lived in Pyongyang from 1996 to 1998. During that time, my cousin introduced me Mr. Hong, a forty two-year old official in the Foreign Ministry.

He was living in a quality apartment (in N. Korean standard) and I befriended with him for about a year. Mr. Hong, since he was born in Pyongyang and had resided abroad for a long period of time, did not know much about how people live outside the capital and asked me a lot of questions about local situation.

Hong was a graduate of North Korea’s most prestigious Mankyongdae Revolutionary Academy and studied French at KPA Security College. Since then, he had been assigned as a National Security Agency liaison officer to the Foreign Ministry.

When he married with a daughter of a senior army officer, Kim Jong Il gave him a wreath and a watch, which was a common gesture by Kim to tame party officials. Hong even served as a deputy chief of mission in DPRK Representative Office in Paris for six years.

In February 1997, Hong was appointed to the Bongsu Church. At that time, I thought the ‘Church’ was a type of state-run trade company, because Hong had been expressing his interest in working at trade department.

Hong spent much more ‘foreign currency certificate (exchanged with US dollar bills, can replace domestic currency in NK)’ compared to when he was working for the Foreign Ministry. He often bought me sushi in ‘foreign-currency-only restaurants.’ So I supposed the ‘Bongsu Church’ a huge trading company.

It was only when I defected from the North to Seoul that I figured out what kind of job Mr. Hong had held in Bongsu Church. He was dispatched to the ‘church’ because he was a trusted security agent.

In Seoul, I watched a number of South Korean Christians having service in the Bongsu Church while visiting Pyongyang. Whatever the southern Christian believers’ true intention of attending the chapel is, the fellow ‘Christians’ in Bongsu Church are, in reality, sent by the North Korean government authorities such as United Front Department of KWP and National Security Agency. It is not probable at all for the state-run Bongsu Church to have a true believer, whether of Christianity or any other kind of religion except for the Kim Il Sung/Kim Jong Il cult.


U.S. bans sale of iPods to North Korea

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

USA Today
Ted Bridis

The Bush administration wants North Korea’s attention, so like a scolding parent it’s trying to make it tougher for that country’s eccentric leader to buy iPods, plasma televisions and Segway electric scooters.

The U.S. government’s first-ever effort to use trade sanctions to personally aggravate a foreign president expressly targets items believed to be favored by Kim Jong Il or presented by him as gifts to the roughly 600 loyalist families who run the communist government.

Kim, who engineered a secret nuclear weapons program, has other options for obtaining the high-end consumer electronics and other items he wants.

But the list of proposed luxury sanctions, obtained by The Associated Press, aims to make Kim’s swanky life harder: No more cognac, Rolex watches, cigarettes, artwork, expensive cars, Harley Davidson motorcycles or even personal watercraft, such as Jet Skis.

The new ban would extend even to music and sports equipment. The 5-foot-3 Kim is an enthusiastic basketball fan; then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented him with a ball signed by Michael Jordan during a rare diplomatic trip in 2000.

Experts said the effort — being coordinated under the United Nations — would be the first ever to curtail a specific category of goods not associated with military buildups or weapons designs, especially one so tailored to annoy a foreign leader. U.S. officials acknowledge that enforcing the ban on black-market trading would be difficult.

The population in North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated economies, is impoverished and routinely suffers widescale food shortages. The new trade ban would forbid U.S. shipments there of Rolexes, French cognac, plasma TVs, yachts and more — all items favored by Kim but unattainable by most of the country.

“It’s a new concept; it’s kind of creative,” said William Reinsch, a former senior Commerce Department official who oversaw trade restrictions with North Korea during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Reinsch predicted governments will comply with the new sanctions, but agreed that efforts to block all underground shipments will be frustrated.

“The problem is there has always been and will always be this group of people who work at getting these goods illegally,” Reinsch said. Small electronics, such as iPods or laptops, are “untraceable and available all over the place,” he said. U.S. exports to North Korea are paltry, amounting to only $5.8 million last year.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the trade group for the liquor industry, said it supports the administration’s policies toward North Korea. The Washington-based Personal Watercraft Industry Association said it also supports the U.S. sanctions — although it bristled at the notion a Jet Ski was a luxury.

“The thousands of Americans and Canadians who build, ship and sell personal watercraft are patriots first,” said Maureen Healey, head of the trade group. She said it endorsed the ban “because of the narrow nature of this ban and the genuine dangers that responsible world governments are trying to stave off.”

Defectors to South Korea have described Kim giving expensive gifts of cars, liquor and Japanese-made appliances to his most faithful bureaucrats.

“If you take away one of the tools of his control, perhaps you weaken the cohesion of his leadership,” said Robert J. Einhorn, a former senior State Department official who visited North Korea with Albright and dined extravagantly there. “It can’t hurt, but whether it works, we don’t know.”

Responding to North Korea’s nuclear test Oct. 9, the U.N. Security Council voted to ban military supplies and weapons shipments — sanctions already imposed by the United States. It also banned sales of luxury goods but so far has left each country to define such items. Japan included beef, caviar and fatty tuna, along with expensive cars, motorcycles, cameras and more. Many European nations are still working on their lists.

U.S. intelligence officials who helped produce the Bush administration’s list said Kim prefers Mercedes, BMW and Cadillac cars; Japanese and Harley Davidson motorcycles; Hennessy XO cognac from France and Johnny Walker Scotch whisky; Sony cameras and Japanese air conditioners.

Kim is reportedly under his physician’s orders to avoid hard liquor and prefers French wines. He also is said to own an extensive movie library of more than 10,000 titles and prefers films about James Bond and Godzilla, along with Clint Eastwood’s 1993 drama, In the Line of Fire, and Whitney Houston’s 1992 love story, The Bodyguard.

Much of the U.S. information about Kim’s preferences comes from defectors, including Kenji Fujimoto, the Japanese chef who fled in 2001 and wrote a book about his time with the North Korean leader.


“Defeat of the Military Spirit is Greater Hardship Than Economic Poverty”

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Daily NK
Park Hyun Min

In its editorial on the 27th, the Rodong Shinmun, North Korea’s state newspaper, strongly encouraged the populace on the integrity of Military First policy.

This newsgroup argued “Our invincible revolutionary army will first of all make our country flourish in riches” and “Though many countries have perished because of a weak army, no country has ever collapsed because of starvation.”

This claim has risen amid expectation made by the WFP following North Korea’s nuclear experiment, which predicted that as international sanctions intensify and North Korea exhausts all its autumn harvest in which it is currently living off, by next year April, the country will be hit by sever starvation.

The newsgroup stated “We earnestly hope for prosperity and putting all things aside, it is blatantly obvious that we need to take deterrent forces” and strongly justifying indirectly the nuclear experiment. “Accomplishing prosperity another countries’ way is stupid fantasy. Our revolutionary army is national sovereignty and our military-first spirit is autonomy. This is a historical fact that cannot be changed.”

Further, the newsgroup stated “We are in a generation where today the nation’s economic power is influenced by developments made in national defense” and emphasized “The construction of national defense will soon be economic construction and the power of national defense will soon be economic power. Prioritizing and putting the development of our national defense first is the best way in developing our economy.”

Further claims were made “The greatest tragedy to our nation is not economic obstacles or poverty in a materialistic lifestyle but the defeat of our mind.” This is propaganda as a result of a recent situation for “anti-socialism” that is arising within North Korea and attempts by the regime to control this commotion.

The newsgroup added “The fact that we were successful in conducting a cutting edge nuclear experiment with only our strength and our wisdom simply goes to show the potential of our technological advancement” and “while living at the beginning of a strong military period, supporting Kim Jong Il is the pride and fortune of our people.”


Shinhwa and Baby V.O.X. in DPRK

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

shinhwa.JPGThe South Korean bands “Shinhwa” and “Baby V.O.X” played a show for a North Korean audience in Pyongyang.  The quizical and stern faces from the North Koreans are probably quite different to the throngs of screaming South Koreans the bands usually get at  their concerts.

But here is the truth.  The performances are beyond cheezy.  It is something that might make a twelve-year-old girl think she is actually a princess, but should not be considered “real” art by anyone with an ounce of aesthetic appreciation.  I should know because I have very little.

So the realty is that when watching this video my facial expression was pretty much the same as the North Koreans.  Looks like we have at least one thing in common.  

Here is the video on YouTube – Shinhwa

Here is another video on YouTube – Baby V.O.X


North Korea Makes First Insurance Payout to South

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

Korea Times

A North Korean insurance company compensated a South Korean firm for a car crash at the joint inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea, for the first time, reports said yesterday.

A bus belonging to the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee, which legally belongs to the Stalinist North, and a vehicle of the Korea Land Corp., a state-run company of South Korea, collided at the complex on July 12, according to reports.

The South Korean company had its car repaired in the south, but asked a North Korean insurance company to cover the bill, which was estimated to be around 1.1 million won ($1,160).

After consulting both companies, the North’s insurance company decided the bus driver was responsible for 80 percent of the incident, paying some 840,000 won, which was actually paid in U.S. dollars, to the South Korean company on Sept. 21.

Some 21 South Korean firms operate factories, using cheap but skilled North Korean labor in the complex, which opened in June 2004. The number of North Koreans at the complex exceeded 10,000 last week, according to the Ministry of Unification.


Religion in the DPRK

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

Youtube has a video on religion in North Korea.  They are obviously of the official religious organizations.  The Changchung Catholic Church and the Pongsu Protestant Church are both featured.  I am not sure what the other two organizations are, but one is obviously buddhist.  The fourth I am not sure. 

Here is the video.


Red Cross signs ‘historic’ pact with North

Friday, November 24th, 2006

Washington Times

The international Red Cross signed a “historic” agreement with North Korea this week to help the impoverished country tackle the impact of famine and natural disaster.

The three-year agreement was signed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies on the sidelines of a regional conference in Singapore that ended yesterday.

It is aimed at improving preparedness in the isolated communist nation and bolstering the North Korean Red Cross’s ability to help people vulnerable to disease, hunger and natural calamities.

The federation said it currently assists about 8.7 million people in five North Korean provinces. Under the agreement, projects such as water, sanitation and first aid will be given additional support in places such as Ryonpori, an hour’s drive north of the capital Pyongyang.

Simon Missiri, head of the federation’s Asia and Pacific department, said the agreement harmonized assistance being given by mostly European Red Cross societies to their North Korean counterpart.

The Swedish Red Cross, for example, supports water-sanitation projects, the British assist community disaster-preparedness programs, and the Dutch focus on distribution of drugs to hospitals and clinics.

“So what we did is that in order to harmonize our cooperation we negotiated an agreement where each member commits to support certain programs of the [North Korean] Red Cross,” Mr. Missiri said.

He said the main objective of the accord is to “support the vulnerable people” in the North and build up the capacity of the North’s own Red Cross.

While the situation there was not discussed during the four-day conference here, aid agencies have in the past said many North Koreans are reduced to eating roots because there is little else to live on.

A decade ago, famine killed at least one million people in North Korea, and the country is still reliant on massive international food aid.

After Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons test on Oct. 9, aid and rights groups said they feared the international community would cut back on donations.

At the Singapore meeting, North and South Korean delegates sang together, witnesses said.

It is thought to be one of the rare international meetings in which citizens from the two Koreas, which are still technically at war, let their hair down and allowed music to unify them if only for a fleeting occasion.

During the conference’s final dinner on Wednesday evening delegates from the two Koreas took to the stage and sang a “song of hope,” recalled Winston Choo, Singapore Red Cross chairman and host of the meeting.

“The two delegations stood up and stood side by side as Koreans … They went to the stage. (There) was a big applause,” he said. “In humanitarian work, we have one common aim, that is to help humanity.”


North Korea focusing on developing wind energy

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006


North Korea’s top energy policy is to develop wind energy in a three-stage project planned out to 2020, the country’s officials said in an Asian conference earlier this month.

They claimed they have turned to building hydraulic power stations after the construction of a light-water reactor promised by the international community was suspended.

North Korea is a participant in the Asian Energy Security Workshop sponsored by the San Francisco-based Nautilus Institute and Tsinghua University in China. This year’s meeting was in Beijing on Nov. 5-7, and papers from the conference were recently posted last week on the Nautilus Web site.

South Korea, Russia, China, Japan and Mongolia were also participants.

The paper submitted by the North Korean delegation said building up the wind energy sector is “considered a top priority for policymakers, technicians and managers” in Pyongyang.

North Korea would first construct a prototype wind farm with a 10-megawatt capacity by the year 2010, then build three main wind farms with a capacity of 100 megawatts by 2015, the paper said.

In the third stage ending in 2020, onshore and offshore wind farms would be built throughout the country, it said.

North Korea has already received outside assistance for its wind energy projects, including from Denmark, which provided wind turbines that were installed along the country’s west coast in 1986. The Nautilus Institute funded the installation of a standalone wind energy system in 1998.

The paper cited fund shortages and technological barriers in pursuing the policy, but said “these problems will be gradually solved through the correct policy of the DPRK” and cooperation with the international community.

Ri Yong-ho, an official at the Pyongyang International Information Center of New Technology and Economy, said his country turned to hydraulic power stations after work on the light-water reactor was suspended.

Under the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework, the North was to receive two reactors financed by the international community in exchange for freezing its nuclear activities. The agreement fell through after Pyongyang was accused of hiding a secret nuclear weapons program.

“To cope with this situation, the DPRK began to increase government investment in the construction of hydraulic power stations,” Ri said in his presentation.

“Our future direction for securing energy is the technological upgrading of existing thermal power plants to increase energy conversion efficiency, further construction of hydraulic power stations to raise its proportion, and taking positive measures to develop and use renewable energy, including wind power,” he said.

But no new plants are being built for the time being, Ri said.

The official said Pyongyang was also trying organic matter energy, particularly methane gas.

“For this purpose, professional research institutions for producing methane gas were organized and set to work to continuously renew and develop the technology of gasification and introduce it to productive sites,” he said.


We have strong nuclear power, the world is trembling

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

From the Daily NK:
Kim Young Jin

Inside sources in North Korea revealed that North Korean authorities have recently been attempting to inform citizens through people’s units saying “Now that we are a strong nuclear power, beginning with participating nations of the 6 Party Talks, the whole world is in fear of our nuclear armaments” and that “Once the U.S. financial sanctions is removed, the 6 Party Talks will be promptly resumed.”

The meetings of people’s units comprise of thirty families, receive directives from the district people’s committee and inform it to the members of the meetings. This is a meeting for regulation and control as well as citizens education, which is the unique system for N. Korea, ever existed in the former communist bloc.

An inside source from North Hamkyung province said in an telephone conversation with a reporter on the 19th “Since last 15th 7PM, the meetings of people’s unit have been called in the districts around Hoiryeong, educating citizens on the six-party talks and to ‘abolish anti-socialist trends.’ ”

At a people’s meeting in Hoiryeong, citizens were educated on the justice of North Korea’s nuke experiment and the economic aftereffects of the nuke experiment. An organizer of the people’s meeting in Hoiryeong said “The nuclear experiment has broken all of U.S. North Korea pressure policies and we have successfully shown the whole world that our socialism is good. Now, beginning from the nations of the six-party talks, countries around the world are in fear of our nuclear armaments.”

In addition, appeals were made for citizens to be aware of the U.S. “We are prepared to join the six-party talks at any time as long as the U.S. releases the North Korea financial sanctions. If the U.S. continues to ignore our requests, ultimately we will not sit down and be attacked.”

Next, the leader of the people’s unit encouraged the people by saying “Now, our government is gathering strength to raise our economy and standard of living next year, to the point even the Americans cannot underestimate our sovereignty” and “As long as the U.S. still eagerly watches our sovereignty, we must gather our power to protect our socialism.”

Furthermore, on two occasions Sept 29th and Oct 4th, the leader of the unit announced a declaration in accordance to the “General (Kim Jong Il)’s policy” around the districts of the border to “abolish anti-socialist trends” such as aiding undercover border-crossing, smuggling, secretly listening or importing radios and circulating illegal recorded materials.

This declaration included a clause stating that any person practicing anti-socialist acts will be sentenced to severe punishment according to North Korean law. The clause outlined acts considered anti-socialist as undercover border-crossings through China, smuggling, being in possession and trade of a radio with the purpose of listening to foreign radio broadcasts and being in possession and trade of foreign movies and music CD’s.

In addition, the leader of the people’s unit and a city officer of the Party urged for people to report any acts of anti-socialism seen or heard to the security office and made all the people attending the people’s meeting sign a “written oath.”

This written oath, “Memorandum” by name, is a document signed with a persons name and date which states that the person will not partake in any anti-socialist acts and that any other person seen to be participating in anti-socialist acts will be reported immediately to the security office.

Finally, the source said that in future, the district and town authorities in Hoireyong plans to assign one official to be in charge of 10 people to work in collaboration with the people’s unit to regulate people liaising with China or in contact with foreign movies, music and broadcasting.