Archive for November, 2006

DPRK invites ROK Buddhist leader to Pyongyang

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

N. Korea invites S. Korean Buddhist leader to Pyongyang
From Yonhap

North Korea has invited the head of South Korea’s top Buddhist sect, the Jogye Order, to visit Pyongyang before the end of the year, officials at the Buddhist order said Wednesday.

North Korea made the invitation to Ven. Jigwan during a ceremony commemorating a renovation of a temple at North Korea’s Mount Geumgang on Sunday, but he replied it would be difficult this year due to his tight schedule, the officials said.


Hyundai Asan may reduce jobs, wages at Kumgang tour

Monday, November 20th, 2006

Joong ang Daily

Hyundai Asan Corp., a South Korean company spearheading inter-Korean economic projects, said yesterday it is considering slashing jobs or wages at a scenic North Korean mountain resort that has been opened to Koreans.

The restructuring underscores how Hyundai Asan is struggling with a falling number of tourists to Mount Kumgang on North Korea’s east coast amid growing security concerns over the communist neighbor’s nuclear test in early October.

North Korea has opened the mountain to Koreans since 1998 as part of the South Korean government policy of engaging North Korea and helping Pyongyang’s moribund economy.

“The number of tourists is sharply falling to less than 100 people a day, due to the North’s nuclear test and seasonal factors,” said Hyundai Asan Chief Executive Yoon Man-joon, who was visiting the mountain resort to mark the eighth anniversary of the tourism project.

“We are now studying a number of ways to narrow losses, including a reorganization of the workforce,” he told reporters.

After the North’s missile tests in July and nuclear test last month, the tourism project is now facing its biggest challenge with the daily number of tourists dropping as low as 80, Hyundai Asan officials say. Hyundai Asan is delaying its plan to open the inner part of the mountain to South Korean tourists to March or April next year because of the falling number of tourists, Mr. Yoon said.


China unfreezes some DPRK bank accounts

Monday, November 20th, 2006


China has lifted its freeze on some North Korean accounts in a Macau bank which have allegedly been involved in money laundering and other financial irregularities for Pyongyang, a diplomatic source said Monday.

China ordered its banks to stop engaging in financial dealings with Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in the Chinese territory of Macau, after the U.S. gave its financial institutions similar instructions in September 2005. The sanctions led to the freeze of about US$24 million of the North’s holdings.

U.S. does not confirm report of unfrozen N.K. account, reaffirms talks within 6-party context

U.S. officials deferred to Chinese authorities on Monday to confirm whether Beijing has released some of the North Korean accounts frozen for alleged illicit financial activities.

At the same time, they reaffirmed that the U.S. is ready to address the issue at the six-nation nuclear talks when they resume.



Sunday, November 19th, 2006

I just got back from visiting Turkmenistan with Koryo Tours.  I had a great time and have managed to identify most of the things I saw on Google Earth.  If you would like to live my vacation (via satelite images that are a couple of years old) click here (Updated on 12/30/2006) to download them onto your own Google Earth.



Mount Kumgang tour sales down 20 percent in 2006

Saturday, November 18th, 2006

Joong Ang Daily

Eight years have passed since the first tourist from South Korea entered North Korea to explore Mount Kumgang, one of North Korea’s most scenic mountains, but the picture at Hyundai Asan, operator of the tour program, is not so picturesque.

Demand for the tour has plummeted after North Korea’s nuclear weapon test last month.

Only 22,000 tourists visited Mount Kumgang in October, a popular fall season. Originally, 40,000 made reservations but almost half canceled because of the nuclear test.

For the first 10 months of 2006, a total of 226,000 tourists have visited the North Korean mountain, 20 percent less than the previous year and well below the company’s target of 350,000 for this year.

“Next year the tour area will be expanded to inner-Kumgang, and a golf course will be ready in May. We expect to attract more tourists,” said an official from Hyundai Asan.

Meanwhile, two conservative citizen groups, Right Korea and the Citizens’ Coalition to Stop Nuclear Development of North Korea, rallied Thursday. They want the tours stopped, saying it is a source of foreign currency for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.


Sanctions may hurt Kim’s “gift politics”

Friday, November 17th, 2006

World Peace Herald
Lee Jong-Heon

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has recently recognized the academic works of dozens of local scholars by presenting them with wrist watches as part of his “gift politics.” But this policy may not last much longer when the international community implements the U.N. sanctions resolution slapped on North Korea following its nuclear test last month.

According to the (North) Korean Central News Agency, a total of 26 professors and officials at the country’s prestigious Kim Il Sung University were awarded the watches inscribed with the captions, “Gift of Great Leader Kim Il Sung,” in reference to the country’s founding leader and father of the current leader Kim Jong Il.

The award was part of Kim’s unique ruling technique of using gifts to keep a key group of supporters in his hands.

Under the “gift politics,” Kim has provided wrist watches and other luxury goods to his aides and ruling elite members to reward their unconditional loyalty toward him. Most of the luxury items were made outside of North Korea, in places such as Japan or Switzerland, according to North Korean defectors and intelligence sources.

Gifts for loyalists also include cars, pianos, camcorders and leather love seats, among others.

But the North Korean leader may no longer use the “gift politics” because U.N. members have moved to impose bans on shipments of luxury goods — including cars and wrist watches — in a bid to obstruct the personal consumptions of Kim Jong Il and his ruling elite.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1718 after the North’s nuclear test last month, calling for all U.N. members to impose wide-ranging sanctions on the communist country, including a ban on exports of luxury goods as well as large conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction.

In line with the U.N. resolution, Japan’s Cabinet this week approved bans on exports of 24 kinds of luxury goods to North Korea, including cars, wrist watches, alcohol, cigarettes, jewelry, perfume and caviar.

The list also includes beef, tuna fillet, cosmetics, leather bags, fur products, crystal glass, motorcycles, yachts, cameras, musical instruments, fountain pens and works of art antiquities. The total export value of the 24 items was about $9.2 million in 2005.


China says oil still goes to the North

Friday, November 17th, 2006

Joong Ang Daily

China has not cut off oil supplies to North Korea, nor will it stop oil and food assistance to its ally as a means of exerting political pressure, Chinese officials were quoted as telling a group of U.S. scholars.

The Americans in the group also said Wednesday that Chinese officials seemed to have a different understanding from the North Koreans about how U.S. financial sanctions would be dealt with at the next round of six-nation talks.

The Chinese reportedly said they were “surprised” that Pyongyang had told the group it expected those sanctions to be lifted.

Siegfried Hecker, a visiting professor at Stanford University, said he asked Chinese foreign ministry officials if Beijing had cut off heavy fuel oil to North Korea as reported.

“The answer was that China did not cut off heavy fuel oil to North Korea. That’s the direct answer that we received,” he said at a news conference.

Mr. Hecker was part of a four-member delegation that was in Pyongyang Oct. 31-Nov. 4. He is a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a U.S. nuclear weapons center, and has visited North Korea three times.

The other members of the team were Jack Pritchard, former U.S. point man on North Korea policy and now head of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, D.C.; Robert Carlin, a former North Korea analyst now at the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization; and John Lewis, a Stanford University professor.

There was speculation that Beijing had ended the fuel aid to the North in September, when Pyongyang showed signs of preparing for its first nuclear test. The aid suspension was believed to be China’s way of pressing its ally to forgo the test.

Mr. Hecker said Chinese officials were clear that Beijing did not and would not stop fuel and food donations, arguing that North Korea would only “grow stronger” if pressured.

The team arrived in North Korea on the day the communist regime, after a year’s boycott, agreed to return to the six-nation nuclear talks that also involve South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

Pyongyang left the table to protest punitive measures taken by the U.S. Treasury against Macao’s Banco Delta Asia for allegedly laundering money for the North.

North Korean officials told the American visitors that they expected discussions and a conclusion of the sanctions issue at the next six-party talks, according to Mr. Pritchard.

But Chinese officials, when told of Pyongyang’s position, “expressed some surprise,” Mr. Hecker said.

“They indicated, obviously, differences of opinion as to what was agreed on,” he said.


China Eyes Mt. Pektu IV

Friday, November 17th, 2006

China won’t unilaterally seek World Heritage status for Mt. Paekdu: Chinese Amb

China’s top envoy to South Korea said Friday that his country will consult with a concerned country before seeking UNESCO World Heritage status for Mount Paekdu on its border with North Korea.

The remarks by Ning Fukui came amid growing concern that China has taken steps to solidify its historical claim over the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula, nearly half of which is in Chinese territory.

Joong Ang Daily
China tries to ease Paektu concern

China’s top envoy to South Korea has said his country will consult with a concerned country, apparently referring to North Korea, before seeking World Heritage status for Mount Paektu on its border with the North, embassy officials said Friday. The World Heritage list is maintained by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The remarks by Ning Fukui came amid growing concern that China has taken steps to solidify its historical claim over the highest peak on the Korean Peninsula, nearly half of which is in Chinese territory.

“Even though China will put Changbaishan on the World Heritage list, it will do so in consultation with a concerned country,” the ambassador said in a speech during an academic forum at Seoul National University on Thursday, using the Chinese name for the mountain.

He did not directly mention North Korea during the speech, but has previously suggested several times that North Korea is the concerned country on the Mount Paektu issue.

In September, Beijing issued a directive to about a dozen hotels operating there, including four run by South Koreans and one by an ethnic Korean resident of Japan, to close their businesses and leave by the year’s end. The move was part of an initiative to make the Paektu area a World Heritage site nominated by Beijing, critics said.

In related news, northeastern Jilin Province, which administers the Chinese part of the mountain, unveiled an ambitious plan Friday that would make the mountain a 5A scenic spot, the highest of China’s tourism zone levels. China is bidding to host the 2018 Winter Olympics on its side of the mountain.


DPRK and Iran discuss trade options

Thursday, November 16th, 2006


N. Korea’s assembly chairman holds talks with Iranian FM

Choe Tae-bok, chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly, held a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manucherhr Motaki in Teheran on Wednesday and discussed ways of promoting bilateral cooperation, Iran’s state-controlled media said Thursday.

Choe visited Teheran to attend the 7th general assembly of the Asian Parliaments for Peace.


Defectors to Exceed 10,000

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Preparations Needed for Their Explosive Increase
Korea Times

The number of defectors from North Korea is expected to exceed 10,000 shortly, according to the concerned authorities. As of the end of September, the total number of defectors here stood at 9,140. However, considering some 700 defectors are waiting to make an entrance at Korean consulates in Thailand, Mongolia and China, it is only a matter of time to see their number exceed 10,000. Because of this, people have no choice but to ask the government if it is really prepared to absorb them into our society.

Their re-settlement here seems to be neither easy nor smooth. A recent report states the number of those having problems due to their failure to settle here is increasing. It may be true for the government that their arrival in growing numbers is not always welcome. At the height of inter-Korean confrontation in the 1960s through 1980s, defectors were received here with a hero’s welcome, and were guaranteed a large amount of money and other fringe benefits on re-settlement.

But, the situation changed in the 1990s when the number of arrivals began to rise. With the growing mood of inter-Korean reconciliation, the political significance of their arrival has come to be greatly devalued. Their status has been undeniably demoted to mere refugees, who escaped the Stalinist state in search of better lives. The number of defectors, which stood at about 600 in 1989, has increased by more than 15 times to about 10,000 over the last 17 years.

According to concerned authorities, more than 1,000 people from the North have made their way here every year since 2002. Their arrival is no longer considered news by the media here. The defectors are known to have much difficulty in assimilating themselves to the capitalistic way of living. The amount of money given to help them settle here has dwindled greatly compared to that in the past.

It is almost impossible for them to find decent jobs to support themselves, especially when unemployment is rising. Due to the utter difficulty of living here, a growing number of defectors are found to have committed crimes. The number of crimes committed by them due to the difficulties of living stood at 54 in 2001, but increased to 89 in 2002, 90 in 2003 and 93 in 2004.

There are even those, though small in number, who leave South Korea due to the economic difficulties they have experienced. What worries people is that political or military upheaval in the North could cause tens or hundreds of thousands of southbound refugees. The government is asked to seriously think what it can do about the matter before the situation drifts beyond the point of no return.