Archive for May, 2010

Waiting for an [economic] miracle

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Andrei Lankov writes in the Korea Times:

Kim Jong-il’s recent visit to China was somewhat unusual: instead of going straight to Beijing, Kim visited a number of sites which are associated with China’s economic development.

He went first to the port city of Dalian and spent time there inspecting the harbor and hi-tech centers located nearby (including even a semi-conductor plant operated by Intel). While in Beijing, he continued such visits.

Had this happened a few years ago, we would expect a wave of optimistic speculation: such interest in modern technology would have been interpreted as a sure indicator of North Korea’s readiness to launch Chinese-style reforms. This time, it seems that even the optimists have become tired of making prophecies which never come true.

Nonetheless, the trip once again demonstrated a peculiar feature which the North Korean regime shares with the now-extinct Leninist regimes of Eastern Europe. The Pyongyang leaders have an almost religious belief in the miraculous power of modern technology.

They hope that all their problems can be easily and quickly fixed once a proper technology is found and applied (of course, application has to be done by state). However, the social dimensions of the economic problems are ignored.

It sounds very non-Marxist: after all, the founding fathers of Communism explicitly stated that it is the social structure and property relations, not technology, which determines the economic productivity. But their supposed disciples would never agree that the economic woes of the Communist countries were brought by the less than perfect social system.

This unwillingness is understandable: social change might become dangerous for those who are in power. Therefore they have a vested interest in presenting their system as perfect.

So, if there are problems, those problems should have an easy technocratic decision ― and the only force which can find and introduce such decision is, of course, the regime in power.

When in the early 1950s the Soviet agricultural industry was clearly in trouble, Stalin decided to do something about it. His solution was a program of planting forest strips which would decrease soil erosion.

Stalin was also much interested in the grotesque promises of Trofim Lysenko, a notorious charlatan who was talking about “educating” plants into yielding greater harvest.

Lysenko also enjoyed the support of Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor. Khrushchev’s pet technology was corn production, and insisted that the nationwide switch to this wonder plant would miraculously raise productivity.

However, corn, being a Mesoamerican plant, did not grow well near the polar circle, and plants did not show any sickness of being susceptible to `education’. Russia, once a major exporter of grain, became an increasingly voracious importer of food.

Of course, the problems of the Soviet agriculture were caused not by the insufficient attention paid to corn production. It was the social problems that made the Soviet agricultural system so inefficient: farmers, being badly paid employees of the government-run farms, had no reason to work diligently.

When they toiled the small patches of their own land, which they were legally allowed, they showed a remarkable level of productivity. But this was not what the Soviet government was willing to see.

It was Mao’s China, though, which produced the weirdest examples of belief in wonder technologies. It reached its height during the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s.

Mao wanted small furnaces to be built everywhere: during the Great Leap even schools and farms were required to make their own steel in the backyard furnaces. Predictably, the home-made steel was useless because of the low quality.

Simultaneously, Mao told the farmers to use “close cropping.” Seeds were sown far more densely than normal on the “politically correct” assumption that “seeds of the same class would not compete with each other” (of course, crops were ruined).

The farmers were also ordered to plough two meters deep, since this would “encourage plants to develop extensive root systems.” The result was famine which killed between 20 and 30 million people. However, it seems that Mao and his henchmen never abandoned their belief in miraculous technologies.

North Korea is no different. Its leaders also are firm believers in the power of technology, if this technology is carefully selected by the state and introduced by its agents. Kim Il-sung, being a son of a farming family, paid special attention to the agriculture.

Among other things, he was a great enthusiast for terrace fields. He wanted to transform the barren hills of North Korea into rice-producing areas, and kept reminding his officials that no efforts should be spared to do so.

Predictably, the result was a disaster: in the 1990s terrace fields were washed away by floods while the few remaining became unusable since a large electric pump would be necessary to provide those high-rise fields with water.

Kim Jong-il shares the belief in wonders, but in his case the major hope is modern industrial technology, preferably related to computers (an approach clearly influenced by gadgetry).

The Dear Leader reputedly said that it was a great folly not to study computers, and most of his technological initiatives are clearly related to IT.

Since last year, for example, the Pyongyang streets have been covered with posters which tell about wonders of the CNC technology (in an unusual twist, the English acronym is used). CNC stands for “computer numerically controlled” technology and, to put it simply, describes computer-controlled industrial equipment.

It is remarkable that the present author heard the same slogans many decades ago, in the 1970s. Indeed, the Soviet leaders also had much hope about the CNC and worked hard to introduce it as a cure for the Soviet economy ― with the predictable lack of success.

Therefore, not much should be read from Kim Jong-il’s visit to Intel. He might dream of computer-operated giant plants, but he lives under severe political constraints, and these constraints ensure that North Korea will remain a very inhospitable environment for high technology (apart from some ultra-cool gadgetry for the chosen few, of course).

This might be changed only if the system itself will be changed, but this is clearly not what Kim wants.

Read the full story below:
Waiting for a miracle
Korea Times
Andrei Lankov


RoK to halt all trade with DPRK over sinking of Cheonan

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

According to the Washington Post:

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Monday that his country is stopping all trade and most investment with North Korea and closing its sea lanes to North Korean ships after the nation’s deadly attack on a South Korean warship.

Lee also called for a change in Pyongyang’s Stalinist regime.

The tough measures, announced in an address to his nation, were bound to ratchet up pressure on the isolated Pyongyang government and add a new flash point in U.S. relations with China.

“Fellow citizens, we have always tolerated North Korea’s brutality, time and again. We did so because we have always had a genuine longing for peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “But now things are different. North Korea will pay a price corresponding to its provocative acts.”

Lee then said that “no North Korean ship will be allowed to make passage through any of the shipping lanes in the waters under our control” and that “any inter-Korean trade or other cooperative activity is meaningless.”

A senior U.S. official, traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in China, said the United States will back “all the steps the South Koreans are going to announce.” In an indication of the seriousness with which the Obama administration views the drama between the North and South, home to nearly 29,000 U.S. troops, he added: “We have not faced something like this in decades.” Lee apparently has ruled out military action because he does not want to trigger an all-out war.

The official said that, based on talks over the past two days, Chinese officials have not accepted the results of a South Korean investigation — backed by experts from the United States, Australia, Britain and Sweden — that implicated North Korea in the attack on the 1,200-ton Cheonan that killed 46 sailors. As such, it is unclear whether Beijing will support Lee’s measures or his call, also made in the speech, to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council.

China’s reluctance to agree with the report underscores the challenges the United States faces as it seeks to forge closer ties to Beijing. The U.S. official also noted Sunday that China and the United States still do not see eye to eye on the details of planned economic sanctions on Iran for its failure to stop its nuclear enrichment program. Of specific concern, he said, are disagreements between Beijing and Washington about how investments in Iran’s oil and gas sector will be treated. China has committed to investing more than $80 billion in Iran’s energy sector; tightened sanctions against Tehran could threaten those investments.

Tough options for China

The attack and its aftermath also threaten China’s place in the region and could force it to make an unwanted choice between South Korea and North Korea — two countries that it has handled deftly since normalizing relations with Seoul in 1992. South Korea wants China, which is a permanent member of the Security Council, to back Seoul’s call to take the Cheonan issue to the council. So does the United States, the U.S. official said.

But that could risk hurting Pyongyang, and China appears committed to maintaining the North Korean regime above all.

“For China,” the U.S. official said, “they are in uncharted waters.”

China reacted slowly to the Cheonan’s sinking, waiting almost a month before offering South Korea condolences. Then it feted North Korea’s Kim in May, apparently offering him another large package of aid, Asian diplomats said. China’s attitude has enraged South Korea.

Michael Green, a national security official during George W. Bush’s administration, said the Cheonan crisis highlights just how differently China views its security needs than the rest of the players in Northeast Asia. For years, as China worked with the United States, Russia, South Korea and Japan to try to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs, these differences were obscured. But the Cheonan’s sinking has changed that.

According to Yonhap, the Kaesong Industrial Zone will be spared from the chopping block:

South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said Monday that Seoul will still maintain the joint economic project in Kaesong despite the attack, but will “respond with resolute measures” to any bid by the communist neighbor to undermine the safety of its workers.

“If North Korea ignores our careful consideration to preserve the complex even under current circumstances, and subsequently threatens the safety of our citizens there, we will never tolerate any harm to our citizens,” Hyun said.

Hyun was speaking at a joint press briefing with the foreign and defense ministers following President Lee Myung-bak’s nationally televised speech condemning the North for the ship sinking.

Hyun was apparently referring to the half-year long detention of a South Korean worker in Kaesong last year amid deteriorating political ties between the countries.

Also according to Yonhap, some aid projects will be maintained:

Lee announced his government will suspend all trade and exchange programs with the North except for the Kaesong project, while maintaining minimum levels of humanitarian aid for infants and children living in the impoverished communist country.

“Under these circumstances, any inter-Korean trade or other cooperative activity is meaningless,” the president said, adding that North Korean ships will no longer be allowed to use South Korean waterways as short-cuts.

Yonhap reports:

A suspension of inter-Korean trade would deal a “direct blow” to North Korea by blocking its major source of hard currency needed to govern the reclusive and impoverished country, a Seoul think tank said Monday.

The state-run Korea Development Institute (KDI), however, noted in a report that such a move could fail to achieve its intended goal if other global powers like China do not agree, highlighting the importance of securing international cooperation.

“North Korea’s trade with the South has accounted for up to 38 percent of its total trade volume and makes up 13 percent of its gross domestic product. With the dollars obtained through inter-Korean trade, the North has expanded its businesses with China. It (the trade with the South) also helped Pyongyang to cushion any negative external risks such as sanctions by Japan, while acquiring dollars needed to govern the country,” the report said.

“If we push for a measure to suspend the trade, it could translate into a decline in its trade with China and make it tough to find other business partners as a result, dealing a direct blow to its regime by blocking it from obtaining dollars,” it added.

The report noted that a trade ban by the Seoul government would have a maximum level of impact if China follows suit, which it expects could place Pyongyang under a situation where “it has to think about its life or death.”

Currently, the North depends on South Korea and China for up to 80 percent of its external trade and 35 percent of its GDP, according to the report. Especially, China provides many strategically important materials such as oil to the North.

The report said that if China decides to support the North, it would reduce the overall impact but it will still destabilize its regime in the long term by making it heavily dependent on its closet ally and fast-emerging global economic power.

“It would weaken the regime’s principle not to depend solely on a single country even for its trade based on the so-called juche (self-reliance) doctrine. Also China’s support would prompt opening of the reclusive nation to outside, making it more difficult for the regime to keep its tight grip on domestic market and those who want and push for market opening,” the report said.

“In summary, a political choice by China would have some impact but in the end, a trade suspension with the South would cause a significant amount of pain to the country. We need to have to push for such an action with self-confidence if there is a consensus, while taking diverse efforts to persuade China over such a measure, while establishing an international cooperative framework with the United States and Japan as well,” it added.

Business Week (Bloomberg) reports on the impact of UN sanctions last year:

UN sanctions imposed on North Korea after its second nuclear test in May 2009 caused the North’s international commerce to shrink 9.7 percent last year, according to the Seoul-based Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency. Stripping out South Korea’s one-third share, China accounted for 78.5 percent of North Korea’s commerce, the agency said. North Korea, whose leader Kim visited China earlier this month, doesn’t release trade data.

The New York Times also has good coverage

The full text of President Lee’s speech can be found here.

All previous posts on the Cheonan are here.

Read full article here:
South Korea to halt all trade with North Korea over sinking of Cheonan warship
Washington Post
John Pomfret


Forest degradation deepens around and within protected areas in East Asia

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Biological Conservation, May 2010
Lina Tang, Guofan Shao,Zhengji Piao, Limin Dai, Michael A. Jenkins, Shaoxian Wang, Gang Wue, Jianguo Wuf, Jingzhu Zhao

Download the PDF here.

Forest degradation in protected areas has been monitored around the world with remote sensing data, but degradation processes undetectable by widely used satellite sensors have been largely overlooked. Increased human pressures and socioeconomic development make forest protection more challenging, particularly for forest ecosystems that lie across national borders because of the differences in national socioeconomic policies and conditions within them. Here with Landsat data, Google Earth images, and field observations, we show that, in two adjacent biosphere reserves across the border of China and North Korea, over one half of primary forest landscapes have been deteriorated by exploitive uses, including seed harvesting and systematic logging. The combined effects of detectable and hidden degradation processes have further damaged forest ecosystems in the core areas in the two biosphere reserves, threatening sustainable biodiversity conservation in the region. It is urgent to develop cross-border collaborative conservation strategies that can help combat both detectable and hidden degradation processes at a regional scale.


Friday Fun: North Korean fashion

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

I watch a lot of North Korean television either by seeking out content or receiving it through friends.  I have decided to post some of it to YouTube (apologies to readers in China) so that I can blog about it.  This first clip is from North Korean television (this month) and the subject is women’s fashion.


Click on image to watch the 5 minute television show.

I am not a fashion critic, so let a thousand flowers bloom–but I should add that clothing lies within the portfolio of the KWP Light Industry Bureau which is controlled by Kim Jong-il’s sister.

UPDATE: This video was featured in an article on Radio Free Asia.  It has a lot more information.

While figuring out how to use YouTube I also stumbled on another discussion of North Korean fashion by Suk-young Kim, associate professor of theater and dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Illusive Utopia: Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea and translator of Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor. See her discussion on Youtube by clicking on the image below.



Can North Korea be safe for business?

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Geoffrey Cain writes in Time:

Few investors can boast the one-of-a-kind global pedigree of Felix Abt. Since 2002, the Swiss businessman has found his calling as a point man for Western investments in — of all places — North Korea, where he helped found the Pyongyang Business School in 2004. He also presided over the European Business Association in Pyongyang, a group in the capital that acts as a de facto chamber of commerce. A few years ago, that position led him to help set up the first “European Booth” featuring around 20 European companies each year at the Pyongyang Spring International Trade Fair, an annual gathering of 270 foreign and North Korean companies currently underway in the hermit kingdom until Thursday.

Yet Abt, 55, who lives in Vietnam and therefore won’t be attending the trade fair this year, laments the giant cloud hanging over the country: in recent years, political turmoil on the peninsula has raised the stakes even further for doing business in North Korea — even for the country’s main patron, China. Though investors have always faced the prospect of sanctions, he says, the situation has worsened after the United States ratcheted up sanctions on the government in 2006 on allegations that it was counterfeiting U.S. dollars. And in 2006 and 2009 the Kim Jong-il regime tested two small nuclear bombs, prompting heavier sanctions from the United Nations in 2006. Recently, tensions with Seoul have spiked over the March sinking of a South Korean corvette in waters near the North.(See pictures of the rise of Kim Jong-il.)

Those measures hit home for Abt. While he was running a pharmaceutical company in Pyongyang called Pyongsu in the mid-2000s, he learned that the U.N. Security Council had imposed sanctions on certain chemicals — a move that could have forced him to completely stop manufacturing medicine. Thankfully, he adds, he had already secured a large stock of the substance beforehand. “Whatever business you are involved in,” he says, “some day you may find out that some product or even a tiny but unavoidable component is banned by a U.S. or U.N. sanctions because it can, for example, also be used for military purposes.”

Those dilemmas haven’t stopped Abt. In 2007, he co-founded an information technology firm in Pyongyang called Nosotek, whose 50 or so employees design software applications for the iPhone and Facebook. The venture has already seen its share of success: one of its iPhone games ranked first in popularity for a short while on Apple’s Top 10 list for Germany — though he can’t name the software out of concern for protecting his contractors from bad publicity.(See pictures of North Koreans at the polls.)

For some companies, the stigma of a “Made in North Korea” label matters less than the competitive edge gained from having low overhead costs and a diligent workforce whose wages remain less than outsourcing powerhouses like China, Vietnam and India. In the past, North Korea has attracted the interest of multinational corporations looking for cheap labor in fields as diverse as electrical machinery and cartoon animation. Yet few multinationals show their faces at this month’s fair, a decline from the early 2000s when Abt says they were appearing regularly to look for opportunities in electricity, infrastructure, transportation and mining.

Not all foreign ventures in the North are driven by profit margins alone. The 2005 animated Korean movie Empress Cheung, a popular fantasy film drawn jointly by South and North Korean animators, brought attention to the animation industry in North Korea. Nelson Shin, head of the Seoul-based animation studio that started the project, claims he worked with North Korea for a greater cause than cheap labor. “It wasn’t so much because of cost efficiency as because of cultural exchange between the two Koreas,” he says.

For a country so poor, North Korea has churned out a remarkable number of talented engineers and scientists who fuel some of these small sectors (along with its controversial nuclear weapons program). In the 1960s and 1970s, the government pushed the country to become self-sufficient through development projects, a part of its ideology of “Juche” that promotes absolute autonomy from foreign powers. The communist regime of Kim Il-sung prided itself on its universities and public housing system, in particular. “It was an advance from pre-World War II days,” says Helen-Louise Hunter, a former CIA analyst now in Washington, D.C., who researched North Korea during those decades. “Kim Il-sung was genuinely interested in improving his people’s standard of living, and was off to a good start in a couple of areas compared to South Korea in those early days.”

Yet North Korea fell behind after the South’s own military dictators put their country into industrial overdrive throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Then the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, depriving North Korea of valuable aid. Then came a famine in the mid-1990s that delivered the final blow, leaving up to 3 million people dead and crippling the capacities of the already isolated state.

Today, the pariah regime of Kim Jong-il is allegedly known to raise money through illicit activities like trafficking narcotics and money laundering. But it’s not known how much those activities figure into the country’s GDP of $28.2 billion in 2009 and its $2 billion worth of exports in 2008, the most recent year data is available. “Not that much income comes from illegitimate operations if you mean drugs and counterfeited dollars,” says Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “More come from arms sales, though, but I would not describe this as an illegitimate trade.”

Abt shakes off the image of Pyongyang being the center of a mafia state. He sees himself and other foreign investors as the potential movers and changers of Kim’s hermit regime. “Cornering a country is ethically more questionable than engagement,” he says. “Foreigners engaging with North Koreans are change agents. The North Koreans are confronted with new ideas which they will observe and test, reject or adopt.”

Read the full story here:
Can North Korea Be Safe for Business?
Geoffrey Cain


‘Private’ real estate rentals approved, DPRK real estate management law enacted

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 10-05-19-1

On November 11, 2009, North Korea enacted a ‘Real Estate Management Law’ consisting of six sub-sections and 47 articles. The new law revised the terms for sale and use of real estate, banning the unapproved rental of property and allowing the state to collect a ‘usage fee’ (rent). In addition to the law on real estate management, immediately after the North’s currency reforms at the end of last November, the government enacted or revised a total of 11 laws related to the economy, including the Food Administration Law, Agricultural Law, Goods Consumption Standards Law, and the Labor Law. This raises the question of whether the regime is strengthening its economic control mechanisms.

According to the Socialist Property Management Law of 1996, only ‘enterprises, institutes, and groups’ were allowed the use of properties, but the latest Real Estate Management Law includes individuals as those allowed to use property.

North Korea’s KCNA reported the enactment of the new law on real estate in the middle of last December, but only revealed that “basic issues of real estate’s registration and inspection, use and collection of rents are regulated,” while the more detailed contents were revealed in a three-part series of articles on the Real Estate Management Law that ran in the Minju Chosun, which was published by the Cabinet and Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly between March 17 and April 3.

In North Korea, where all real estate is property of the government, the sale or rent of properties between individuals or groups is, on principle, not possible, but after the July 1, 2002 Economic Management Reform Measure, the regime’s inability to provide housing led to significant growth in the size of the black market for real estate.

On a related note, during the 4th session of the 11th Supreme People’s Assembly, which opened in April 2006, a campaign to assess properties throughout the entire country and establish a system of rent was revealed, after which ‘property usage fees’ were included in the annual national budget.

Ultimately, the enactment of this law on real estate strengthens the state’s control over the socialist economy and over the country as a whole. From South Korea’s perspective, it appears the integrated land tax, property tax and other similar systems are North Korea’s attempt to prepare an important legislative precedent for expansion of the state coffers.

However, the portion of the newly-enacted Real Estate Management Law that really catches the eye is the authorization of ‘individuals’ to rent real estate. While it takes on the form of property leasing, it is also an expanded measure in that it permits individuals to use socialist property. Giving individuals the right to use real estate increases productivity and helps ease the North’s current economic woes.

According to the Minju Chosun, the new law “says one must not buy and sell real estate, and the nature and use of property cannot be changed without permission from the management authorities, so that property cannot be handed over to or lent to other organizations, enterprises, groups or individuals.”

The law also stipulates that a property rents will be paid to a ‘State Pricing Establishment Organization’, and that the intended use for the property must be registered, after which rents will be set in either goods or currency, and if rents are not paid in currency, they can be paid in kind.

In particular, this law stipulates, “Land is not to be abused or used in a way that makes it barren,” and that any historic or revolutionary landmark, or idolation of Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il must be thoroughly protected.

Through a special measure by the Cabinet, a National Real Estate Management Committee was established, and management offices and chains of command were established for the cabinet.


Ling sisters on book tour

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Laura and Lisa Ling have spoken publicly for the first time about Laura’s and Euna Lee’s arrest in the DPRK.

1. Here is their interview with NPR.  It is also the most informative.

2. Here is part of their interview with Larry King on CNN.

3.  Here is their interview with Current TV (Laura’s former employer).

4. Here are all the stories I posted on LAura’s and Euna’s captivity.

The name of their book is Somewhere Inside.


The sinking of the Cheonan

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

UPDATE 68 (2012-8-27): The Hankyoreh reports on a new study (order the study here) that asserts that the Cheonan could have been sunk by an abandoned South Korean mine.  According to the article:

An article has been published in an international academic journal arguing that the explosion that sank the South Korean Cheonan warship in March 2010 may not have been from a North Korean torpedo, but from a mine discarded by the South Korean navy.

This is the second scientific study on the Cheonan sinking published in an academic journal, the first being a seismic analysis published last year by Yonsei University Department of Earth System Sciences professor Hong Tae-kyung. That study supported the findings of the government’s joint investigation team.

In the study published in the international academic journal “Pure and Applied Geophysics,” Korea Seismological Institute director Kim So-gu and the Geophysical Institute of Israel’s Yefim Gitterman wrote that analysis of the seismic waves, acoustic waves and bubble frequency made it clear an underwater explosion took place.

They said the seismic magnitude of the explosion was 2.04, that of 136kg of TNT and equivalent to the individual yield of the large number of land control mines abandoned by the Korean navy after they were first installed in the 1970s.

The findings are noteworthy in that they differ greatly from those of the Civilian-Military Joint Investigation Group (MCNJIG), which found the cause of the sinking to be a North Korean CHT-02D torpedo with a yield of 250kg of TNT exploding at a depth of six to nine meters, producing a seismic yield of 1.5.

Read the full Hankyoreh story here.

UPDATE 67 (4/1/2011): A group of US lawmakers are working to add the DPRK back to the US list of state sponsors of terror.  According to Yonhap:

A bipartisan group of congressmen will soon submit legislation to re-designate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism for its torpedoing of a South Korean warship and shelling of a South Korean border island that killed 50 people last year, sources said Friday.

“I understand Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has almost completed drafting the legislation, and she is likely to submit the legislation as soon as possible,” a congressional source said, adding several other Republican and Democratic congressmen are expected to sponsor the legislation.

Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced similar legislation in May last year but it didn’t pass.

In June, she had wreaths laid at the tombs of the 46 South Korean sailors killed in the sinking of the warship Cheonan in waters near the western sea border with North Korea.

UPDATE 66 (3/31/2011): A member of North Korea’s National Defense Commission has now issued a statement about the Cheonan sinking, as well as a subsequent artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island by North Korean forces eight months later.  According to KCNA:

A spokesman for the inspection group of the DPRK National Defence Commission issued the following statement on Thursday:

One year has passed since warship “Cheonan” sank in the waters off Paekryong Island in the West Sea of Korea.

But the south Korean authorities and military warmongers, hell-bent on the inter-Korean stand-off and steeped in distrust in compatriots, are still linking the warship “Cheonan” sinking case with the DPRK and passing the buck for the Yonphyong Island shelling on it, escalating confrontation with it.

The inspection group of the NDC of the DPRK has already opened to the public the truth of the two cases twice.

At the outset of the occurrence of the “Cheonan” warship sinking case, the DPRK expressed regret at those who suffered the disaster from the viewpoint that they are members of the Korean nation though they were soldiers of the south Korean army who leveled guns at the DPRK.

Nevertheless, the south Korean authorities and military warmongers floated investigation results without any scientific ground and objective nature in a bid to deliberately lay obstacles in the way of achieving national reconciliation and unity and block the way of achieving peace and prosperity desired by all the fellow countrymen.

They have become evermore sinister and brazenfaced in their reckless anti-DPRK confrontation rackets with the first anniversary of the occurrence of the case as a momentum, in particular, only to touch off burning resentment of all the Koreans.

This situation compelled the inspection group of the NDC of the DPRK to re-clarify its principled stand internally and externally.

1. The south Korean authorities and military warmongers should no longer perpetrate such reckless act as linking the “Cheonan” warship sinking case with the DPRK.

Explicitly speaking once again, the DPRK has nothing to do with the case. This means something irrelevant to it can never be anything in which it is allegedly involved no matter how much water may flow under the bridge.

Any attempt to deliberately link the DPRK with the case while shunning this stark reality would only serve as a living testimony that they are only seeking to escalate confrontation with fellow countrymen and deteriorate inter-Korean relations.

The south Korean side walked out of the venue of the preliminary contact for opening the north-south high-level military talks without any patience. But it falsified the fact, claiming that the north was the first to walk out of the venue. They should stop such folly at an early date and no longer link the DPRK with the above-said case.

The further they bedevil inter-Korean relations while spreading the “story about the north’s involvement” full of lies and fabrications, the deeper pitfall of history they will find themselves.

The inspection group of the NDC will probe the truth about the “farce” by issuing the third and fourth statements till the above-said story has disappeared.

2. They should no longer work hard to pass the buck for the Yonphyong Island shelling on the DPRK.

Explicitly speaking, the above-said shelling incident was an unsavory case which occurred as they preempted a provocation against the DPRK.

Had they not preempted firing shells into the inviolable territorial waters of the DPRK, there would not have occurred the shelling on the island.

Various forms of firing exercises and drills targeted against the DPRK have frequently taken place in the areas of south Korea and waters around it for more than six decades since the division of the country. But the army of the DPRK has not taken any physical counteraction against them even once.

Any attempt to conceal the criminal preemptive shelling and shift the responsibility for it onto the other is an act of deceiving not only themselves but all the fellow countrymen and an anti-peace act little short of pulling the wool over the eyes of the whole world.

If they do not want to suffer the same disgrace as they did through the Yonphyong Island shelling incident, they should broad-mindedly halt such shameless act as shifting their blame onto the other and have a proper attitude to settle the issue.

Their oft-repeated talk about someone’s responsibility for the Yonphyong Island shelling would only harden the DPRK’s determination to protect the fair and aboveboard extension of the Military Demarcation Line in the West Sea.

3. The present south Korean authorities and military warmongers should stop the reckless anti-DPRK hysteria under the pretence of the two cases.

They are resorting to anti-DPRK confrontation rackets and reckless psychological warfare, anxiously waiting for “contingency” of someone to occur, and staging various forms of military exercises and drills, stoking a war atmosphere. But they should bear in mind that their much anticipated “contingency” is bound to take place in the south, not in the north.

Their anti-DPRK confrontation hysteria kicked up by them under the pretexts of the two cases is as foolish an act as shaking fist in the back lane after being hit hard in a street.

This is nothing but a thoughtless and traitorous action to calm down the distrust in the two cases shown by different circles of south Korea, settle the ever-growing “discord” in the south, adhere to the nonsensical “theory of principle” in dealing with the inter-Korean relations and stick to the wrong hard-line policy towards the north.

The inspection group of the National Defence Commission regards their anti-DPRK confrontation campaign being staged on the lapse of one year since the occurrence of the warship “Cheonan” sinking case as no more than a farce of “counting the age of a dead child”.

The DPRK wishes more ardently than anyone else to see the tension defused on the Korean Peninsula and achieve peace through the improved relations between the north and the south and this process leading to peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia and the rest of the world.

Precisely for this reason the DPRK proposed on its own initiative comprehensive dialogue and negotiations and has made every possible effort of goodwill to put them into practice.

The reality indicates that the nation is standing at the crossroads of detente and increased tension and peace and prosperity and war.

It is the stand of the Korean People’s Army to have bold dialogue or fight a real war.

The present south Korean authorities and puppet military warmongers should properly understand that they are standing on the crossroads of dialogue and war.

UPDATE 65: Production value at the Kaesong Industrial Zone returns to pre-Cheonan levels.

UPDATE 64: South Korea Abandons Demand for Apology Over Ship’s Sinking

UPDATE 63: DPRK offers samples to refute claims it sank the Cheonan.  According to Reuters:

North Korea offered on Tuesday to provide samples of its torpedoes to refute an international investigation that blamed Pyongyang for the sinking of a South Korean warship earlier this year.

UPDATE 62: Russia will not release its Cheonan report.  Read more in the Korea Times.

UPDATE 61: South Korea has issued another report claiming the DPRK is responsible.  Read about it here, here and here.

UPDATE 60: DPRK torpedo catalog includes name of torpedo exporter.

UPDATE 59: DPRK asked to hold summit before Cheonan incident.

UPDATE 58Russian team casts doubt on Cheonan findings.

UPDATE 57: The Daily NK reports that the alleged North Korean propeller came from Kagam, Kaechon county. 39°32’37.77″N, 125°50’47.24″E.

UPDATE 56: Barbara Demick writes about South Koreans skeptical of the government’s claims.

UPDATE 55: Nautilus Institute publishes inconsistencies in RoK Cheonan report.

UPDATE 54North Korean officials postpone warship talks with US (Washington Post)

UPDATE 53: UNSC condemns sinking but does not blame DPRK.

UPDATE 52: UNSC reaches deadlock.

UPDATE 51: North and South Korean ambassadors to South Africa exchange words at World Cup event

UPDATE 50: South Korea Rejects North on Joint Sinking Probe Idea

UPDATE 49: Cheonan Investigators Presented Wrong Torpedo Diagram

UPDATE 48: John McGlynn brings a skeptical eye to the Cheonan findings

UPDATE 47: Gomes has been threatened over the political fallout resulting from the sinking of the Cheonan.

UPDATE 46: EU Condemns N.Korea Over Cheonan Sinking

UPDATE 45UNSC raises no objections to RoK assessment of sinking.

UPDATE 44: 11 DPRK ships turned away from ROK waters 20 times.

UPDATE 43: South Korea adds regulatory barrier to inter-Korean trade.

UPDATE 42: Hankyoreh: Wide-ranging incompetence and cover-ups took place night of Cheonan sinking, audit reveals

UPDATE 41: South Korea has installed speakers along the DMZ (previously removed under the Sunshine Policy).  There seems to be some dispute about how many.  Korea Times says 2Yonhap says 11.

UPDATE 40: DPRK sends letter to UNSC.

UPDATE 39: Lankov was right.  The Russians are unconvinced. See here and here.

UPDATE 38: Russian experts complete investigation of Cheonan in Seoul but do not release findings. Lankov believes that the Russian government will come to know what actually happened, though their public comments will remain neutral.

UPDATE 37The Cheonan incident may have brought down the PM of Japan.

UPDATE 36: South Korea asks UN Security Council to act.

UPDATE 35: South Korea wants UN to send symbolic message, not increase sanctions.

UPDATE 34: China aims to be impartial.

UPDATE 33: Seoul still waiting for China to send an investigation team to examine the evidence.

UPDATE 32: Japan tightens sanctions.

UPDATE 31: South Korea refutes the DPRK’s counter-claims.  Read more here and here.

UPDATE 30: The South Korean govenrment delays propaganda broadcasts. Private groups continue to send propaganda. baloons.

UPDATE 29: The EU has cancelled a parliamentary delegation to the DPRK.

UPDATE 28: The Military Armistice Commission, under the United Nations Command (UNC), has completed its own investigation into the sinking of the “Cheonan” naval vessel.

UPDATE 27: The Russians have sent a team to Seoul to examine the ROK’s claims.

UPDATE 26: DPRK rejects ROK evidence. According to the AFP:

North Korea has flatly rejected evidence showing it torpedoed a South Korean warship with the loss of 46 lives, saying it does not even own a midget submarine allegedly used for the March attack.

The North’s powerful National Defence Commission (NDC), chaired by leader Kim Jong-Il, held a rare press conference on Friday and denied Pyongyang’s involvement, according to official North Korean media.

Major General Pak Rim Su, director of the policy department of the NDC, said the North does not have a 130-tonne “Yeono (salmon)-class” submarine, which the South says torpedoed its 1,200-ton corvette, the Cheonan, in the Yellow Sea.

“We don’t have anything like a 130-tonne Yeono-class submersible,” Pak was quoted by Pyongyang’s Chungang TV as telling reporters.

A multinational investigation led by Seoul concluded earlier this month that the March 26 sinking was caused by a torpedo attack from the North.

South Korean investigators said a Yeono class midget submarine had intruded into South Korean waters via international waters.

But Pak said: “It does not make any sense militarily that a 130-tonne submersible carrying a heavy 1.7-tonne torpedo travelled through the open sea into the South, sank the ship and returned home.”

But South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted South Korean officials as saying the North’s submarine fleet includes around 10 Yeono class submarines.

Pak also rebutted Seoul’s allegation that salvaged fragments of the torpedo matched design specifications that appeared on brochures the North allegedly sent to an unidentified potential buyer of North Korean torpedoes.

“Who in the world would hand over torpedo designs while selling torpedoes?” he said.

But Yonhap quoted an unidentified senior government official as saying that the South got hold of brochures sent by a North Korean state-run trading company to a potential weapons buyer that contain design specifications of three types of torpedoes.

Senior Colonel Ri Son Gwon dismissed as a “fabrication” a serial number hand-written on a torpedo fragment reading “1 bun” or number one.

South Korea said the serial number handwritten in Korean was strong evidence of Pyongyang’s involvement in the sinking.

“When we put serial numbers on weapons, we engrave them with machines,” Ri said. “We use ‘bun’ only for football or basketball players,” he said.

But South Korean investigators said the North also uses “bun” for numbering things to be assembled, attributing the information to defectors from North Korea.

Pak said the Seoul-led multinational team was not in a position to conduct an objective probe and attacked Seoul for rejecting Pyongyang’s demand to allow its own experts to investigate the cause of the sinking.

Voice of America has more.

UPDATE 25: Daily NK reports that DPRK is not on war footing.

UPDATE 24: China put in awkward position vis a vis South Korea, Japan.  See here, here, and here.

According to the New York Times:

Japan, which already bans trade with the North, said Friday that it would lower the limit on the amount of undeclared cash that could be carried to North Korea to 100,000 yen, or about $1,100, from the current 300,000 yen, or $3,300.

The maximum amount that can be sent to North Korea without being reported to the Japanese government was lowered to $33,000 from $110,000.

According to Washington Post:

A visit last week to Beijing and Seoul by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton served, at least, to put China on the spot. Ms. Clinton rightly pressed the Chinese leadership to consider the commission’s 400-page report. She spoke publicly about the need for “a strong but measured response” to the incident as well as cooperation on the future direction of North Korea, which some experts believe may be unraveling.

China’s best response came Friday when Premier Wen Jiabao, on a visit to Seoul, reportedly told President Lee Myun-bak in a closed meeting that Beijing would not protect the North if it concluded that the North was responsible. South Korean officials took that as a hint that China might not oppose Mr. Lee’s plan to seek a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Kim regime. Yet China has offered no sign that it will take any action of its own to pressure the North, though it has far more leverage than any other country. Indeed, President Hu Jintao hosted Mr. Kim this month — and probably committed to supply him with more aid — even after the naval attack.

In the short term China’s behavior has benefited the United States. Watching Beijing defend the indefensible probably helped the Japanese government settle a dispute with the Obama administration over a U.S. base on Okinawa. It has shown South Koreans as well as people throughout Asia why the United States remains an indispensable guarantor of security in the region.

According to the LA Times:

South Korea and China are projected to do up to $200 billion in trade annually by 2012, according to Wen’s remarks Friday in Seoul; trade between China and North Korea is estimated at $1.5 billion.

UPDATE 23: The Financial Times puts together a list of scenarios which might explain the Cheonan’s sinking. I have paraphrased them below:

Revenge: North Korea wanted revenge for a sea battle in November, when one of its ships was badly damaged.

Succession: Some defectors have said he is trying to associate Jong-eun’s name with major successes in domestic propaganda.

Internal power struggle: Some analysts believe the attack could have been the work of a single rogue commander, possibly vying for patronage as the succession gathers pace. North Korea this month made the highly unusual announcement that it was removing Kim Il-chol, a senior admiral on the National Defence Commission, prompting speculation the navy could have exceeded its authority.

Reversion to hardline ideology: Some scholars say Kim Jong-il had, until last year, been increasingly open to advice from a more liberal faction, advocating market and currency reform. When this backfired, he had no choice but to listen more to Cold War-era ideologues.

Breakdown of command: Perhaps the most worrying of the possibilities is that Kim Jong-il is no longer in full command, possibly because of a stroke the North Korean leader suffered in 2008. This could mean the sinking was either the result of jostling commanders or poor judgment from Mr Kim himself. Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, believes the country has become a “rudderless ship” and that logical decision-making has fallen to pieces, as seen when Pyongyang revalued its currency to disastrous effect late last year.

Distract from economic woes: South Korea’s military intelligence argues the sinking of one of its warships by Pyongyang could distract from hunger and economic failure in the north.

Bitterness about G20 meeting in Seoul: Seoul has been turning its presidency of the G20 group of leading economies this year into domestic propaganda, parading how well it has developed economically since the Korean War of 1950-1953.

UPDATE 22: KCNA posts links to all of the DPRK’s official coments.

UPDATE 21: Lankov explains the inconsistent behavior of the South Korean government.

UPDATE 20South Korea halts all trade with the DPRK over the Cheonan incident.

UPDATE 19:(h/t Aidan Foster-Carter) DPRK military spokesman may be the same individual who led the capture of the USS Pueblo.  According to the Associated Press:

Evidence presented Thursday to prove North Korea fired a torpedo that sank a South Korean ship was fabricated by Seoul, North Korean naval spokesman Col. Pak In Ho told broadcaster APTN in an exclusive interview in Pyongyang.

He warned that any move to sanction or strike North Korea would be met with force.

“If (South Korea) tries to deal any retaliation or punishment, or if they try sanctions or a strike on us …. we will answer to this with all-out war,” he told APTN.

And according to KCNA (2003):

Pak In Ho, an officer and hero of the republic who was the head of the seven-member death-defying corps that captured the ship, briefs visitors on what the ship did, the combat for capturing it and the brazen-faced and crafty nature of the U.S. imperialists.

UPDATE 18: According to Reuters,  the United Nations Command (UNC) has launched an investigation into whether North Korea violated the Korean War armistice.  On Monday, South Korea will bring the case before the UNSC.

UPDATE 17: According to Voice of America,  the DPRK is demanding access to the ROK’s investigation of the Cheonan sinking.  Part of me wonders if the North Koreans even remember Park Wang-ja.

UPDATE 16: According to the Choson Ilbo:

…the submarine and support vessel left the base on Cape Bipagot, around 80 km from Baeknyeong Island on March 23 and maneuvered out of the sight of South Korean and U.S. intelligence. The ship apparently accompanied the submarine to provide support and offer aid in case the sub encountered difficulties. The submarine took a detour out into open seas and arrived in waters to the west of Baeknyeong Island on March 25. There it is believed to have awaited its prey 10 m under the surface for about a day.


Click image for larger version

You can click here to see satellite imagrey of all the DPRK’s south-western naval facilities, including Bipagot.

Also according to the same story in the Choson Ilbo:

The submarine class was unknown until now. The 130-ton sub ranks between the shark (325 tons) and a Yugo class (85 tons). Air Force Lt. Gen. Hwang Won-dong, the chief of the intelligence analysis team, said, the sub “is similar to the shark-class submarine and was built recently for export, equipped with night-vision equipment and other high-tech gadgets, as well as a unique structure to enhance its stealth capabilities.” Intelligence experts say the sub is the same as the three “Ghadir” class midget submarines the North exported to Iran.

Planeman has some terrific information on the sub type.  Check out these pictures from Bluffer’s Guide to Iranian Naval Power: Sub outside, Sub interior.

According to his web page:

Dimensions: L 29m, W 2.75m
Displacement : 120 tons dived
Crew: ?
Endurance: ?
Speed (est): 11kts surfaced, 8kts submerged
Powerplant: Diesel-electric

Armament: 2 x 533mm (21”) torpedo tubes with 2 torpedoes, Skhval rocket torpedoes or ~4 mines. Possibly submarine launched anti-ship missiles but unsubstantiated.

Of North Korean design, the IS-120 Ghadir (Qadir) submarine closely resembles the North Korean “P-4 Class”.

Some models of the Ghadir appear to have conventional cruciform tail fins with conventional propeller instead of the North Korean sub’s unconventional control plane arrangement and co-axel twin propeller. Photos of a production boat however show the unusual under-tail hydroplane position as per the North Korean boats. The coaxil twin props of the P-4 is replaced by a single skewed skrew in the usual place, plus a small ducted skrew mounted above, possible steerable. The exact reasoning for the two propellers is not clear but it is likely that the smaller one is intended for slow/quite running and counter-drift. Its mast and unusual snorkel (which folds backwards into the hull -casing when not in use) is almost identical however. It is possible that there are several iterations of boat with varying tail arrangements and snort-mast stowage (some appear to remain above the deck when folded).

Another charactristic which has yet to be explained is a small container mounted externally on the forward deck just ahead of the sail. This resembles an oil drum. One guess might be compressed gas.

Estimates of the size of this submarine vary greatly but video evidence confirms that there’s barely enough room to stand up in the hull.

UPDATE 15: More media (H/T

North Korea threatens war in English-language radio broadcast: Audio clip on YouTube.

Clinton Condemns Attack on South Korean Ship
New York Times
Mark Landler

U.N. Command to probe whether N. Korea violated armistice
Kim Deok-hyun

Int’l Experts Agree on Cheonan Findings
Choson Ilbo

How Did N.Korea Sink the Cheonan?
Choson Ilbo

UPDATE 14: (5/20/2010) Today the South Korean government officially accused the DPRK of intentionally sinking the Cheonan with a torpedo from a submarine.  Here are a number of stories and documents:

Seoul vows retaliation after confirming N.K. torpedo sank warship
Kim Deok-hyun

Irrefutable Evidence Implicates N.Korea, Says Lee
Choson Ilbo

Cheonan Sinking: Photographic Evidence
Daily NK

Pentagon won’t say ship sinking is an act of war
AP via Washington Post
Anne Flaherty and Matthew Lee

The BBC offers a PDF of the findings of the investigatory panel.  It is available in PDF here.

What’s going on in Pyongyang
Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

UPDATE 13: South Korea to formally accuse the DPRK.  According to the Washington Post:

South Korea concluded that North Korea was responsible for the attack after investigators from Australia, Britain, Sweden and the United States pieced together portions of the ship at the port of Pyeongtaek, 40 miles southwest of Seoul. The Cheonan sank on March 26 after an explosion rocked the 1,200-ton vessel as it sailed on the Yellow Sea off South Korea’s west coast.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because South Korea has yet to disclose the findings of the investigation, said subsequent analysis determined that the torpedo was identical to a North Korean torpedo that South Korea had obtained.

Of the countries aiding South Korea in its inquiry, officials said that Sweden had been the most reluctant to go along with the findings but that when the evidence was amassed, it too agreed that North Korea was to blame. A spokesman for the Swedish Embassy declined to comment.

China has called on both parties to remain calm, but its fence-sitting risks damaging its ties with South Korea, East Asian officials said. “China wants to be a wise giant treating all parties the same,” said a senior diplomat. “But somebody committed murder here. This is ridiculous. This is a barometer for China. We are watching how they respond.”

To that end, South Korea will request that the U.N. Security Council take up the issue in an effort to tighten sanctions on North Korea, the officials said. The United States has indicated it would support such an action, U.S. officials said. President Obama and Lee spoke via telephone on Monday, according to the White House. Lee briefed Obama on the probe, the White House said, and the two “committed to follow the facts of the investigation wherever they lead.”

The Obama administration is also leaning toward relisting North Korea as a sponsor of terrorism, a move that would open the door for even more sanctions that could strike at the heart of North Korea’s economy.

Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told his South Korean counterpart on Monday that Japan would also support taking the issue to the Security Council, the Japanese news media reported Tuesday.

It is unclear whether Beijing would support taking the issue to the Security Council; a senior Chinese official said China would first need proof that North Korea launched the attack.

Analysts said China would be reluctant to take strong measures against North Korea because its main interest is to keep the country intact. North Korea’s collapse would create hundreds of thousands of refugees and probably lead to the emergence of a Western-leaning united Korea on China’s border.

Also of interest….North-East Asia Matters translates a Choson ilbo piece which reports on the importance of some recovered torpedo fragments. According to the report, ” the joint investigation team reportedly was able to retrieve a pair of torpedo propellers in relatively good shape last week in the mud near the location where the Cheonan went down. After comparing the serial number imprinted on the retrieved propellers to a known North Korean sample, the investigation team reportedly found the font and the imprinting style used in the serial number of the retrieved propeller to be a match to the North Korean sample. Read more here.

More updates via
1. Choson Ilbo on the torpedo serial numbers.
2. S. Korea briefs envoys of China, Russia, Japan on warship sinking

Read the full article here:
South Korea to officially blame North Korea for March torpedo attack on warship
Washington Post
John Pomfret and Blaine Harden

UPDATE 12: South Korean Ministries asked to stop DPRK aid.

UPDATE 11: South Korea freezes spending on the DPRK.

UPDATE 10: Bermudez speculates on the DPRK’s submarines.

UPDATE 9: South Korea is examining DPRK trade and investment.

UPDATE 8: Here are the DPRK’s naval bases in the area where the Cheonan sank.

UPDATE 7: Seoul considers how it can respond should the DPRK be behind the sinking of the Cheonan.  It considers resuming broadcasts across the DMZ, reducing imports from the DPRK, and refraining from giving the DPRK a free feed of the World Cup.

UPDATE 6: According to the New York Times explosive residue has been detected on the Cheonan:

“It is true that traces of RDX, a chemical substance used in making torpedoes, have been found,” Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said Monday, referring to a component common to many military explosives. He said that there was “a high possibility” that a torpedo was the cause of the explosion, but that it was also too soon to conclude definitively that it was the cause.

The material was found on the ship’s smokestack and in samples of sand from the site of the sinking, said Rear Adm. Moon Byung-ok, a spokesman for the investigation team. He noted that RDX is also used in making mines.

UPDATE 5: Evan Ramstad writes in the Wall Street Journal how this event could influence the South Korean elections:

As South Korea gets closer to understanding what happened to a naval ship that sank near the maritime border with North Korea last month, the incident is shaping up to be a major influence on a legislative election in June that will be the political event of the year here.

The sinking of the Cheonan patrol ship on March 26 is already the most difficult challenge President Lee Myung-bak has faced since he took office in early 2008. It led to the death of 46 South Korean sailors—the most in a military incident here since the 1980s. And it raised suspicions of North Korean involvement, because it occurred near the inter-Korean maritime border where the South’s navy sent a North Korean vessel back in flames after a skirmish last November.

It also happened as South Korea nears the biennial legislative election on June 2, a vote that comes near the halfway point of Mr. Lee’s five-year tenure and, until the Cheonan incident, appeared likely to be a referendum on his policies and handling of the economic crisis.

“Generally speaking, people have a fairly high level of satisfaction with Lee government, especially over the economy,” says Kang Won-taek, a political scientist at Soongsil University in Seoul. “But people tend to use this election, like the U.S. mid-term election, to send a warning signal against the incumbent government.”

Now, the Cheonan sinking has added a new element. Politicians from Mr. Lee’s ruling conservative Grand National Party and a related faction are staking out a hard line in case North Korea is involved. The leader of a minority conservative party has already called for a military strike.

Meanwhile, opposition politicians, in progressive and nationalist parties, are using the incident to criticize Mr. Lee’s administration, with some seeking the resignation of top military officials.

North Korea stepped into the fray this weekend when its state-run news agency on Saturday relayed a commentary from an unidentified military source that blamed South Korea for the sinking and said Mr. Lee’s government was trying to use it against the North. However, the statement did not explicitly deny North Korean involvement in the sinking.

Last week, a salvage crew raised the stern of the ship from 37 metersof water and investigators found the bodies of 36 sailors inside. The stern sank first, while the bow floated for several hours as 58 sailors clung to it and were rescued.

Mr. Lee and top defense officials have said they won’t be able to determine what caused the sinking until the ship is fully recovered. Another salvage crew will begin lifting the bow, which settled in about 21 meters of water, as soon as Monday.

Survivors say the Cheonan was rocked by an external explosion. A preliminary examination of the stern confirmed that assessment, the military’s chief investigator said Friday, but he added that it will take more time to know whether it was struck by a torpedo or a mine.

If North Korea is found to be involved, Mr. Lee and his party may get a boost in what Mr. Kang called a “rally around the flag effect.” The political scientist added, “At the same time, the Cheonan case shows some poor performance of the incumbent government in military affairs and will lead to some discussion of political accountability.”

If North Korea is found to have caused the sinking, Mr. Lee will face a difficult decision over how to respond. Mr. Lee hasn’t publicly discussed his options, but analysts say they include economic penalties like cutting off more trade with Pyongyang, a return to the use of radio broadcasts to send messages to North Koreans and a variety of military strikes.

On Sunday, South Korean foreign minister Yu Myung-hwan told KBS, a South Korean TV network, that the country will likely first ask the United Nations Security Council to become involved in imposing a penalty if North Korea caused the sinking.

Much of the North Korean commentary released Saturday on the sinking was devoted to its effect on South Korean politics. North Korea’s authoritarian government has for years favored nationalist politicians in the South and has heaped criticism on Mr. Lee since shortly after he took office.

“If public opinion is built to claim that the accident occurred due to ‘an internal factor’ and its cause is not properly clarified, the group of traitors will be held directly responsible for it and, accordingly, will not be able to escape a heavy defeat in the forthcoming ‘June 2 local elections’,” the commentary said.

The language bore the assumption—which is standard in North Korea—that South Korea is actually a wayward part of a country that Pyongyang should run, is governed by traitors to its regime and conducts unfair elections. The commentary went on: “This will lead to the split of the conservative camp including the ‘Grand National Party’ and the weakening of its ruling power, throwing the group into an inescapable predicament.”

UPDATE 4: The Cheonan has been recovered and signs point to an external explosion (torpedo or mine).  According to Reuters (via MSNBC):

The likelihood North Korea sank a South Korean naval ship near their disputed border rose when Seoul said on Friday an external explosion probably caused the ship to split in two, killing dozens.

South Korea’s defense minister said this month the 1,200-tonne Cheonan may have been hit by a torpedo, immediately putting suspicion on North Korea and stoking concerns that the incident could start a conflict on the long divided peninsula.

“Conclusively, after a visual inspection, there is a higher chance of an outer explosion than an internal one,” Yoon Duk-yong, a top investigation official, told a news conference.

UPDATE 3: Aidan Foster-Carter provides context for the sinking.  Read his piece in the Asia Times here.

UPDATE 2: Andrei Lankov offers a rationale for the South Korean government’s handling of the situation.  According to the Herald Tribune (via the New York Times):

On the evening of March 26, Cheonan, a 1,200-ton South Korean corvette, was on patrol in coastal waters near the disputed border with North Korea when its stern was suddenly torn away by a powerful explosion.

The warship sank within a few minutes, taking the lives of 46 sailors. The South Korean government initially assumed the warship was attacked by a North Korean submarine and put its military on high alert.

However, the next morning the South Korean government began to work hard to dismiss or at least downplay the probability of a North Korean attack. President Lee Myung-bak and his officials warned against “premature conclusions” and emphasized that there was no definite evidence linking the Cheonan disaster to North Korea.

They might be right: despite occasional bouts of bellicose rhetoric, North Korea is currently in a negotiating mood (that is, seeking to squeeze more money from the outside world). But the evidence points to an external explosion roughly equivalent to that of 180 kilograms of TNT, so a mine or torpedo are the most plausible explanations.

If so, why is the Seoul government dismissing such an option? There are good reasons for this. If North Korean involvement was established, the Seoul government would face a hard choice: it would have to retaliate or be seen as spineless. This is a lose-lose situation for South Korea, since it has no way of “punishing” the North.

Full-scale war is out of the question. The military balance leaves almost no doubt that a war would be won by the South (with some American involvement), but the price of victory would be unacceptably high.

The Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of South Korea’s population, lies within range of a heavy concentration of North Korean artillery. A massive artillery barrage would leave many thousands dead and devastate vital parts of the country. Any advance north across difficult and heavily fortified mountainous terrain would also be very costly — not to mention the costs of postwar reconstruction.

So nothing short of a massive North Korean attack on major population centers in the South would likely be seen by Seoul as sufficient cause for a large-scale military operation.

Limited actions, such as raids against the North Korean naval and military installations, would make the Seoul government look strong in the eyes of voters, but would create many problems for which the same voters would soon start blaming the government.

Plus, such raids are useless. Kim Jong Il and his henchmen would not lose sleep if they learned that a few dozen North Korean sailors or soldiers were killed in a South Korean attack. In the North, even the death of many thousands is politically irrelevant so long as they are not members of Kim’s inner circle. At the same time, such raids would scare investors away from South Korea and damage its financial rating.

Financial sanctions, such as closing the Kaesong industrial park, a joint South-North economic development, or freezing the few remaining exchange projects, might seem attractive at first glance, but in the long run could be counterproductive. Contrary to some assumptions, the Kaesong park and other exchange projects are damaging for Kim Jong Il, since they represent a potentially dangerous contact with the outside world.

Without any means of retaliating, Lee Myung-bak’s administration may have decided to play down the likelihood of North Korea’s involvement or at least portray it as one of several possible explanations.

Whether North Korea was involved or not, the Cheonan affair is a sober reminder that if North Korea did choose to become aggressive again, not much could be done to counter it. Partial operations might be impressive but are inefficient, and large-scale retaliation would likely be quietly blocked by the South Koreans. This is understandable — they’re the ones who live on the front line.



RoK archaeologists return south after excavating Manwoldae Palace

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

A group of South Korean archaeologists returned home Tuesday after ending a months-long joint excavation of an ancient palace in North Korea, a Unification Ministry official here said.

The 11 archaeologists had teamed up with their North Korean counterparts since March to excavate the remains of Manwoldae, a royal palace of the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392), in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

The group decided to return about three weeks earlier than scheduled because enough progress was made, ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said, dismissing speculation that rising tension on the peninsula forced them to come back.

The results of the excavation will be announced in a seminar later this year, he said. The palace was built over a century ago, and only the ruins of its foundations exist today.

Here is a satellite image of Manwoldae Palace.

Read the full story here:
S. Korea archaeologists return after excavating ancient palace in N. Korea
Sam Kim


DPRK announces another SPA session

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

According to Yonahp:

North Korea will open its rubber-stamp parliament for the second time in less than two months, a session analysts say is likely to be joined by leader Kim Jong-il who recently returned from a trip to China amid rising tension on the Korean Peninsula.

The communist state’s official media reported Tuesday the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) will convene on June 7, exactly a month after Kim returned from his summit meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing.

The last session, which was skipped by Kim, convened on April 9.

The 687-member assembly has not opened twice in one year since 2003. Even then, each session was held by a separate group of representatives, a Unification Ministry official here said.

“The (South Korean) government will closely monitor the upcoming session,” the official said, asking not to be named.

“This should be seen as an extraordinary session at an extraordinary time,” Paik Hak-soon, a North Korea researcher at the Sejong Institute, said. “Kim will likely be present to oversee it.”

Paik was referring to heightened tensions between the divided Koreas since a South Korean warship sank on March 26 near the western sea border with North Korea.

A ranking South Korean defense official said Tuesday investigators have found evidence that points to a North Korean attack on the 1,200-ton Cheonan. Forty-six of the ship’s crew members died when the ship split in half.

“The parliament will also declare its support for economic cooperation projects Kim has brought from China,” Paik said, adding that North Korea fears sanctions on it will tighten if Seoul and Washington conclude Pyongyang is to blame for the ship sinking.

Baek Seung-joo, a researcher from the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, said Kim is likely to call for support for a power succession that has been secretly underway in Pyongyang.

“This will be much focused on domestic politics,” Baek said, discounting the significance of the meeting between the North Korean and Chinese leaders.

“We may see clear moves that indicate Kim’s third son is rising up the ladder,” he said, adding the ship sinking is unlikely to be a major topic as Pyongyang has already denied any link to the incident.

Pyongyang held its first session of the newly elected SPA last year, reappointing leader Kim Jong-il to another five-year term as head of the National Defense Commission, the highest seat of power.

A member of the 13-man commission was retired earlier this month due to his age, and Baek said that opens up room for a cascade of reshuffles that can help pave the way for a power transfer.

The coming session also comes as North Korea remains reluctant to return to stalled six-party talks on its nuclear weapons programs.

Pyongyang says it will rejoin the aid-for-denuclearization talks only if Washington agrees to launch separate talks toward a peace treaty to formally close the 1950-53 Korean War and the United Nations lifts its sanctions on the country.

The six-nation talks include the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan. Kim pledged to work with China to create “favorable conditions” for their resumption in his summit meeting in China, but Seoul and Washington say it depends on the outcome of the investigation into the ship sinking.

Cho Myung-chul, a North Korea researcher at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy in Seoul, said the SPA may issue a statement denouncing any South Korean or U.S. moves linking the sinking to the North.

He noted that the U.S. Senate last week passed a resolution calling for a thorough probe of the incident, while South Korea will announce the results of a multinational investigation later this week.

“The SPA may announce measures and warning against South Korea and the United States,” Cho said.

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N. Korea unexpectedly calls rubber-stamp parliament into session
Sam Kim