Archive for September, 2010

UK names new ambassador to Pyongyang

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

According to Yonhap:

Britain has named a female career diplomat as its next ambassador to North Korea, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Tuesday.

The office said Karen Wolstenholme has been appointed as its envoy to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is the official name of the communist country. She is to succeed London’s current ambassador to Pyongyang Peter Hughes in September 2011.

Wolstenholme joined the foreign office in 1980 and was previously posted to Moscow, Brussels and Wellington.

She headed various regional teams from 2003 before being named First Secretary, Deputy UK Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons based in the Hague in 2007.

I wish Mr. Hughes all the best in the future.

Read the full story here:
Britain taps woman as next ambassador to N. Korea


Kim Jong-un named to KPA and KWP-CC, and Central Military Commission

Monday, September 27th, 2010

UPDATE 4: Photos of the aspiring leader have been made public. has all of them here.

UPDATE 3: Just for fun…there appears to be at least one other “Kim Jong-un” in North Korea.  It will be interesting to see if he has to change his name (if he is still alive)!  Here is a KCNA story from April 23, 1997:

Press review
Pyongyang, April 23 (KCNA) — Papers here today frontpage reports that Secretary Kim Jong Il sent thanks and gifts to workteam members of the no. 7 excavator operating in Kumsan pit in Ryongyang mine for their collective innovation and thanks to servicemen and their families for setting examples in army-people relations. Reported in the press is the news that a monument to on-site guidance of Secretary Kim Jong Il, Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, was erected at the unit that defends Cho Islet, a forward military post on the West Sea of Korea. Rodong Sinmun carries a letter sent to Secretary Kim Jong Il by participants in the meeting of senior officials of progressive parties of different countries held in Moscow to mark the 85th birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung as well as a statement adopted at the meeting. Minju Joson comes out with an article headlined “Our General always stands on Height 1211”. Conspicuous in Rodong Sinmun is an article titled “devotedly defending headquarters of revolution is foremost mission of people’s army”. The paper gives nearly one whole page to the lyric epic “Supreme Commander and his vanguard soldiers” which is dedicated to heroic soldiers. The Swedish Government decided to take a humanitarian measure for Korea, the press reports. Rodong Sinmun runs an article “Korean-style socialism is the best”, written by Kim Jong Un, who came over to the northern half of Korea while serving in the south Korean puppet army. Papers comment on the disclosure of Kim Young Sam’s bid to conceal the truth as regards the “investigation” into the Hanbo incident. An article of Rodong Sinmun says that the south Korea-stationed U.S. forces’ possession of depleted uranium bullets proves that their moves for war reached an extremely grave phase. Seen in Minju Joson is an article on the triangular military tieup of the U.S. and Japanese reactionaries and the south Korean puppets.

UPDATE 2: Kim Jong-un was also named to the Central Committee of the Korean Worker’s Party.  According to KCNA:

Members and Alternate Members of WPK Central Committee
Pyongyang, September 28 (KCNA) — The following are members of the WPK Central Committee: Kim Jong Il, Kang Nung Su, Kang Tong Yun, Kang Sok Ju, Kang Phyo Yong, Kang Yang Mo, Ko Pyong Hyon, Kim Kuk Thae, Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Kyong Ok, Kim Ki Nam, Kim Ki Ryong, Kim Rak Hui, Kim Myong Guk, Kim Pyong Ryul, Kim Pyong Ho, Kim Song Dok, Kim Song Chol, Kim Jong Gak, Kim Jong Suk, Kim Jong Un, …

Mike has a good summary here.

UPDATE 1: Kim Jong-un has been named to the KWP Central Military Comission.  Kim Kyong-hui has joined th  According to Bloomberg:

Kim Jong Un was elected one of two Central Military Commission vice chairmen at a Worker’s Party of Korea meeting yesterday, a day after he was made a four-star general, the official Korean Central News Agency said. He also joined the party’s Central Committee, though not the more elite Politburo, at a meeting yesterday. His father’s sister, Kim Kyong Hui, was given several high-ranking posts, including politburo membership, KCNA reported.

The Kim family’s tightening grip on the military and party hierarchy underscores the challenge of transferring power to a son who had never before been mentioned in a KCNA dispatch. Kim Jong Un faces an increasingly disgruntled public in an economy squeezed by United Nations sanctions targeted at its weapons programs and a bungled currency revaluation.

“Even Kim Jong Il must be wary of public criticism should his son fail to improve economic conditions,” Paik Hak Soon, director of inter-Korean relations at the Seongnam, South Korea- based Sejong Institute, said before the commission appointment. “Domestic political stability will be Kim Jong Un’s key focus.”

Kim Jong Il, 68, was re-elected as party chief, general secretary and chairman of the military commission, KCNA said.

China’s President Hu Jintao congratulated Kim Jong Il on his re-election, pledging to strengthen ties with his country’s communist neighbor “to a higher level,” the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported today, without mentioning the son. Kim Jong Il made an unprecedented two trips to China this year, prompting speculation he was seeking endorsement of the power transfer from his nation’s main political and economic ally.

Here is the original KCNA story:

Central Military Commission Organized
Pyongyang, September 28 (KCNA) — The Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea is as follows:

Chairman Kim Jong Il, Vice-Chairmen Kim Jong Un and Ri Yong Ho and Members Kim Yong Chun, Kim Jong Gak, Kim Myong Guk, Kim Kyong Ok, Kim Won Hong, Jong Myong Do, Ri Pyong Chol, Choe Pu Il, Kim Yong Chol, Yun Jong Rin, Ju Kyu Chang, Choe Sang Ryo, Choe Kyong Song, U Tong Chuk, Choe Ryong Hae and Jang Song Thaek.

ORIGINAL POST: Kim Jong-un and Kim Kyong Hui named 4-star generals in KPA.  According to Yonhap:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has made his third son a military general in the clearest signal yet that Kim Jong-un is on track to becoming the next leader of the nuclear-armed communist state.

The promotion was announced early Tuesday through the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), just hours before North Korea was to hold its biggest political convention in three decades.

At the conference drawing top Workers’ Party delegates from across the nation, Kim Jong-un, whose name has never been mentioned in public and believed to be no older than 28, could be given other political posts, including one with the Politburo.

The KCNA report said Kim Kyoung-hui, the 64-year-old sister of Kim Jong-il, has also been promoted to a four-star general along with Choe Ryong-hae, a long-time aide to the Kim dynasty.

Kim Kyoung-hui, who oversees the country’s light industries, has recently emerged as a possible caretaker for a hereditary power transfer because Kim Jong-un lacks experience and support.

Her name was mentioned before Kim Jong-un’s in the KCNA dispatch.

Kim Jong-il, 68, is widely believed to have suffered a stroke in the summer of 2008 and since tried to make his third son his successor in what could be the communist world’s first back-to-back father-to-son power transfer. Kim took over the regime when his father and North Korean founder Kim Il-sung died in 1994.

Kim Jong-il officially became successor to his father in a Workers’ Party gathering in 1980. In a directive numbered 0051, Kim named a total of 39 generals on Monday, the KCNA said. Six of them, including Kim Jong-un and Kim Kyoung-hui, were four-star generals.

“The appointment clears the way for Kim Jong-un to forge deeper ties with power elites,” a South Korean Unification Ministry official said on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said in a briefing in New York that his country is “watching developments in North Korea carefully.”

“North Korea has now made it official,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said. “It is certain that Kim Jong-un will be named to a high-level Workers’ Party post in the upcoming convention.”

The KCNA said Kim Jong-il “firmly believes that the commanding members of the People’s Army will continue to support the leadership of the party and complete the revolutionary exploit that was first begun in Mt. Paekdu,” which symbolizes the Kim dynasty.

In a separate dispatch, the KCNA said Ri Yong-ho, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, was promoted to the rank of vice marshal in a possible sweetener for the military class, whose support is crucial for Kim Jong-un to solidify his power.

Kim Jong-un was educated in Switzerland during his teens and is believed to resemble his father in appearance and personality. He has been shrouded in secrecy, and photos of him are extremely rare.

It remains to be seen whether the North’s official television media will unveil Kim Jong-un in its footage of the Workers’ Party convention on Tuesday.

“For one thing, blood is stressed much more in North Korea as something that defines character,” Brian Myers, a professor of international studies at Dongseo University in Busan, said in comments e-mailed earlier. “In a culture where myth and charisma are so important, the masses need a hero figure in the ‘glorious Paekdu tradition,’ not a faceless bureaucrat or a group of army officers.”

So there are several “big” stories in KCNA today.  Kim Jong-un’s (son of KJI) and Kim Kyong Hui’s (sister of KJI) promotion to KPA general and Kim Jong-il’s “re-election” as general secretary of the Worker’s party.  Here are the stories:

Kim Jong Il Issues Order on Promoting Military Ranks

Pyongyang, September 27 (KCNA) — General Secretary Kim Jong Il on Monday issued Order No. 0051 on promoting the military ranks of commanding officers of the KPA.

He said in his order that all the servicepersons of the People’s Army and people are now significantly celebrating the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea with unbounded reverence for President Kim Il Sung who made a new history of building a revolutionary party in the era of independence and strengthened and developed the WPK into vanguard ranks of revolution with high prestige and invincible might.

He stressed that the WPK born from the deep and strong roots struck in the anti-Japanese revolution has honorably discharged its mission and duty as a political staff of the Korean revolution since the very day of its founding and performed immortal exploits to shine long in the history of the country.

The KPA is demonstrating its might before the world as a powerful revolutionary army of Mt. Paektu after growing to be a strong army of the leader and the party, devotedly defending the headquarters of the revolution with arms and performing heroic feats to shine long in history in the defence of the country and building of a thriving socialist nation, he noted.

Expressing the firm belief that the commanding officers of the KPA who have grown up under the care of the party and the leader would creditably discharge their honorable missions and duties as the mainstay and main force of the revolution in accomplishing with arms the revolutionary cause of Juche which started in Mt. Paektu, remaining true to the Party’s leadership in the future, too, he issued an order on promoting the military ranks of KPA commanding officers on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the glorious Workers’ Party of Korea.

It is noted in the order that the military ranks of Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Jong Un and Choe Ryong Hae and three others are promoted to general, the military rank of Ryu Kyong to colonel general, the military ranks of Ro Hung Se and Ri Tu Song and four others to lieutenant general and those of Jo Kyong Jun, Jang To Yong and Mun Jong Chol and 24 others to major general.

Here is the story about Kim Jong-il’s re-election as general secretary.

Additional Information:
1. Here is coverage in the Washington Post.

2. Here is coverage in the New York Times.

3. Here is an article in the Taipei Times on Kim Kyong Hui (Kim Jong-il’s sister).

4. Here is a post about the first known (in the West) official mention of Kim Jong-un’s name in the DPRK–not in the official media.

5.  Here is information from Bradley Martin and Mike (NK Leadership Watch) on Choe Hyong-rae.

6. According to the Daily NK, North Koreans were not at all surprised by the announcement.

7.  The Daily NK has information on Ri Yong-ho.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean leader names his youngest son as general
Sam Kim


Myanmar-DPRK collaboration

Monday, September 27th, 2010

There is an interesting article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

Article Highlights
1. The idea that North Korea and Myanmar are collaborating on a nuclear weapons programs represents only one possible scenario among several that deserve closer examination.

2. Myanmar’s goal might be to improve its missile program or trade in illicit technology rather than build nuclear weapons.

3. Myanmar’s receipt of illegally-exported or questionable dual-use items should cause the international community to reexamine export controls and policies specific to trade with the Southeast Asian country.

Article Text:

Is Myanmar developing nuclear weapons, perhaps with the help of North Korea? That worrisome possibility, prompted by Myanmar’s receipt of dual-use technology via an illegal North Korean procurement network, has garnered considerable speculation. Compelling evidence amassed in reports published this year by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), Jane’s Intelligence Review, and Al Jazeera indicates that, as the ISIS report put it, “There remain sound reasons to suspect that the military regime in Burma [Myanmar] might be pursuing a long-term strategy to make nuclear weapons.”1

The possible existence of such a program cannot and should not be discounted, but it is far from the only explanation that can account for Myanmar’s unusual imports. The dual-use technology sent to Myanmar — including a cylindrical grinder and magnetometer — are considerably beyond the country’s current technical capabilities, according to the DVB report. Such sophisticated devices, which could be used to produce nuclear- or missile-related parts, may point to a well-planned, long-term nuclear weapons program, perhaps assisted by North Korea.

However, alternate explanations also warrant consideration to better understand the nature of DPRK-Myanmar trade in such technologies. Plausible alternative scenarios include the use of Myanmar as a transshipment hub for items ultimately destined for North Korea, an evolving conventional missile program, procurement errors or other planning missteps, or some combination of these possibilities.

Myanmar as a transshipment hub. In late 2009, the Yokohama District Court in Japan found the president of Toko Boeki (a small Tokyo-based trading company) guilty of coordinating illegal WMD-related exports to Myanmar.2 Investigators determined that Toko Boeki had acquired cylindrical grinders and a magnetometer at the behest of New East International Company, a North Korean front company based in Hong Kong.3 Although New East International directed Toko Boeki to deliver the equipment to Myanmar, it is possible that the devices were not intended to remain there; Myanmar may have been a transfer point before the goods were shipped to another location — perhaps even North Korea.

Indeed, Myanmar has distinct advantages to North Korean procurement networks that want to circumvent sanctions and illegally divert dual-use equipment to Pyongyang. (See Editor’s Note.) Although it is also subject to sanctions, Myanmar is not as isolated as North Korea, and legitimate shipments originating from Japan, for example, can provide suitable cover for WMD-related deliveries.

In addition, Myanmar’s flourishing illegal trade networks — including drug and human trafficking — represent a familiarity with the kind of knowledge required to covertly transship deliveries to countries with more advanced WMD programs (such as North Korea). The rampant corruption associated with the military regime further enables illicit trade.

The revival of diplomatic and military relationships between Myanmar’s ruling junta and Pyongyang is another reason to consider whether North Korea, and not Myanmar, may have been the final destination for the dual-use equipment.4 Chartered or diplomatic air transport, necessary to ferry officials between capitals, is less susceptible to interdiction, offering an ideal conduit for the transfer of some types of dual-use equipment from Myanmar to North Korea. A UN panel of experts on Resolution 1874 (which strengthened sanctions on North Korea after its second nuclear test) highlighted such a scenario in a May 2010 report PDF, suggesting that Pyongyang may turn to illicit air cargo shipments as a preferred mode of transport for its illegal trade.

A conventional missile program. Myanmar may be an ideal transshipment hub, but reports from ISIS and DVB indicate that dual-use machine tools from Japan and Europe are not simply being stored in Myanmar, but also used there. This could indicate that the devices may actually be intended for use in Myanmar’s indigenous missile program.

Although Myanmar’s overall technological development appears limited in comparison with North Korea, the majority of the questionable dual-use items received by Myanmar may truly be for its own missile development effort. Acquisition of conventionally armed short- and medium-range ballistic missiles would provide the junta with a significant strategic advantage over regional and domestic rivals, and short-range missiles could be useful to fight insurgent groups that challenge the junta’s authority.5

Further, Myanmar’s defense industry already produces artillery and mobile rocket launchers, and the country reportedly has spent more than a decade improving its missile production capabilities.6 This practical experience could facilitate Myanmar’s eventual creation of larger missiles, such as Scarabs or early Scud derivatives. Myanmar cannot yet produce these missiles, but the equipment identified in the Toko Boeki case and in the DVB report could be used to help it develop more advanced missile designs.

Alternative scenarios. It is also possible that, after some of the questionable dual-use equipment had already been received, a North Korea-Myanmar proliferation relationship fell into disarray due to the enormous complexity that plagues all WMD programs. Payment disputes (similar to those PDF that held up Myanmar’s negotiations with Russia for a 10 megawatt research reactor) could be one cause.7 Myanmar’s acquisition of equipment beyond its technical capabilities could also be explained by a procurement error or an overestimation of indigenous know-how, as the DVB report acknowledges. In 2002, Myanmar expressed interest in buying a mini-submarine from Pyongyang, according to Jane’s, but abandoned the idea due in part to its lack of expertise.8

The transfer of such advanced equipment could also be an example of aggressive sales of unsuitable technology to a naïve junta, similar to Geoffrey Forden’s suggestion that North Korea has been selling subpar missile technology to states in the Middle East. It is also plausible that a core group of scientists has the ear of the junta — as well as its funding — and may have over-promised deliverables. These scientists might include U Thaung, the pro-nuclear energy minister of science and technology, and Ko Ko Oo, who is director general of the Department of Atomic Energy and former director of the Department of Technical and Vocational Education (DTVE). The two departments shared the same address, phone number, and fax number until Myanmar’s capital was moved to Naypidyaw, and the DTVE is an end-user of some of the questionable dual-use equipment that Myanmar has acquired, according to ISIS.9

Another possible scenario is that Myanmar could be “warehousing” devices for North Korea under a barter agreement that allows Myanmar to train personnel on the dual-use equipment (and thereby gain valuable hands-on experience with the devices) before it is ultimately moved to North Korea. It is possible that Myanmar may even be viewed as an offshore production hub for transfer of items to North Korea or other interested parties. Sanctions make it nearly impossible for Pyongyang to acquire controlled, technically advanced equipment that requires installation and maintenance by foreign technicians; North Korea and Myanmar may have therefore collaborated to purchase the equipment, install it in Myanmar, and use the machines to produce advanced missile or nuclear parts that could then be more easily routed via air cargo to North Korea (or elsewhere).

Conclusion. The possibility that Myanmar is pursuing a nuclear weapons program is just one of many potential explanations for its importation of technologically advanced dual-use items. The alarming prospect of a nuclear-armed Myanmar cannot be ignored, but neither should it prevent the assessment of other feasible scenarios. More research is needed to determine precisely why Myanmar received questionable dual-use items and to discover their final destination, if Myanmar is a transshipment point. Export control regimes should take note of the potential for diversion of dual-use items through Myanmar, and to protect regional stability, governments in Asia should reexamine their trade policies toward the Southeast Asian country.

Read the full article here:
North Korea and Myanmar: A match for nuclear proliferation?
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Catherine Boyle, Melissa Hanham, Robert Shaw


Paul White published September 2010 DPRK Business Monthly

Monday, September 27th, 2010

You can download the PDF here.

Topics discussed include:
Kim Jong Il Praises China’s Economic Advance
“NK Keen on Investment in Mining”
DPRK Pavilion Day Marked at Shanghai Expo
NGO Initiatives in DPRK: Triangle Génération Humanitaire (France)
Choson Exchangers Train NK in Finance, Economics, Law
ROK Civic Bodies Seek to Help NK Flood Victims
Seoul’s NK Trade Ban Hits ROK Firms Hard
Can North Korea embrace Chinese-style reforms?
Pyongyang Night Life Buzzing
Hamhung Makes Economic Strides
Pomhyanggi Cosmetics Enjoy Popularity
P’yang Hosts International Film Festival
New Numerical-control Machine Tool
Climate Map to Aid Agriculture
New Rice Strain Suitable for Double Cropping
Online Medical Service Working Well
NK’s New Money-Making Venture: Video Games
Day-care Center Opens for Kaesong Complex Children
Seoul to Allow More of its Citizens to Work at Kaesong


Delegates arrive in Pyongyang for WPK conference

Monday, September 27th, 2010

North Korea has released official photos of the delegates arriving at the Pyongyang train station for tomorrow’s party conference.  I have posted them below.  All photos via

Caption: A man walks past a sign in Pyongyang September 26, 2010. North Korea’s ruling party will hold its biggest meeting in decades on September 28 to pick a new leadership, state media reported on September 21, and likely anoint an heir to the dynasty as Kim Jong-il’s health deteriorates. The sign reads, “Congratulations. Conference of the Worker’s Party of Korea”. Picture taken September 26, 2010.

Caption: In this photo released by Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service, delegates to the ruling Worker’s Party meeting make their way upon arriving at Pyongyang station, North Korea, on Monday Sept. 27, 2010. North Korea holds its biggest political meeting in decades Tuesday, amid intense speculation that members of leader Kim Jong Il’s family will assume key positions in the ruling party to solidify their rule for another generation.

Caption: Party delegates from rural areas arrive to attend a meeting of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea in Pyongyang September 26, 2010, in this picture released by North Korea’s KCNA news agency on September 27, 2010. North Korea’s ruling party will hold its biggest meeting in decades on September 28 to pick a new leadership, state media reported on September 21, and likely anoint an heir to the dynasty as Kim Jong-il’s health deteriorates. Picture taken September 26, 2010.

Caption: Party delegates from rural areas arrive to attend a meeting of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea in Pyongyang September 26, 2010. North Korea’s ruling party will hold its biggest meeting in decades on September 28 to pick a new leadership, state media reported on September 21, and likely anoint an heir to the dynasty as Kim Jong-il’s health deteriorates. Picture taken September 26, 2010.

Additional Information:

1. The New York Times covered the arrival.  Read the story here.

2. Mike has more at NK Leadership Watch.


“Rubber-stamping” party conference update

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Andrei Lankov writes in the Korea Times:

So, the third conference of the Korean Workers Party is officially scheduled to open on Tuesday ― at least, this is what the North Korean media reported last week.

The conference is expected to announce the new leadership which, at all probability, will include Kim Jong-il’s third son and his likely successor Kim Jong-un. The young man, now in his late 20s, will be formally introduced to the people and, perhaps, formally anointed as a “genius of leadership, fully capable of continuing the great Juche revolutionary tradition” (I am not sure about wording, but it will be flowery enough).

However, why do they need a party conference to have this announcement? Yes, it is true that Kim Jong-il himself was once anointed by a party congress (an enlarged version of a party conference) in 1980. But, on the other hand, when Kim Jong-il’s final promotion to the supreme leadership after his father’s death and three years of mourning took place in 1997, the North Korean autocrats did not bother to hold a conference or congress.

The coming conference might be another signal of a trend which was discussed by Pyongyang watchers recently: after years of relative neglect, Party is beginning to make a comeback.

Indeed, North Korea was initially established to be a typical Leninist party-state. In such a state, the Central Committee, as party’s central headquarters were known, controls everything and is clearly above the government, even though the Constitution does not even have references to such institutions as “Central Committee” or “Politburo.”

On paper, the Central Committee is a group of few hundred top bureaucrats who are elected by a party congress or party conference and who are supposed meet a few times a year to have the so-called “plenary session,” and also to elect a small permanent standing committee, known as Politburo.

However, as many other formal arrangements, those are seriously misleading. To start with, party congress or conference does not really elect candidates, but obediently and unanimously (always unanimously) vote for a pre-arranged list. Second, the infrequent ‘plenary sessions’ of the Central Committee are formal and ritualistic affairs, where participants sometimes hint at real issues but much more frequently spend time professing their loyalty to the current leadership. A communist state is run not by the “Central Committee” as such, but by its “Secretariat,” a large bureaucratic institution, whose top officials are appointed by the Politburo and/or party’s leader.

So, the top bureaucracy in a communist state is self-appointed. Politburo and its top leader appoint the Secretariat officials who are managing the country and those, in turn, appoint officials at lower levels. Usually, it is the top leader who makes most important decisions, but if a leader is weak, or absent, or just died, the Politburo (about dozen people, usually) can act as a collective dictator.

If the country is run by Politburo and Secretariat bureaucrats alone, why does it need to held congresses and the Central Committee “plenary sessions”? This is a good question. In the Soviet Union by some reasons they never asked this question and continued with the meaningless routine of congresses and plenary sessions.

In North Korea the leaders showed themselves to be more pragmatic and for a while it looked as if they decided to get rid of these formalities altogether. The last congress took place in 1980. The last party conference took place in 1966. It seems certain that after the death of his father in 1994, Kim Jong-il never even bothered to call a plenary session of the Central Committee and run the country via party bureaucracy which he appointed at will and with complete disregard for formalities.

And now we see the revival of the old (and, frankly, purely decorative) tradition. Why is it happening? The most likely explanation is that the old guard, the North Korean aging top bureaucrats, now have to think what will happen after the death of Kim Jong-il whose health seems to be deteriorating fast. Their major worry is, first, how to keep the country under control and, second, how to preserve one’s own power and privilege.

If this is the case, an existence of formally “elected” and hence more legitimate Central Committee will help. It is also remarkable that the person who seems to be best positioned to become the Prince Regent, Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law Cang Song-taek, is clearly a party man who cannot rely on the military to legitimize his power.

So, it is possible that in the next few years we will see a lot of the good old political shows, which the world has not seen since the collapse of the communist bloc. We will see party congresses, and Central Committee plenary sessions, and a lot of “elections” (with pre-arranged results). The party might be coming back, even though it is not clear whether it will make any difference as long as the actual policy is concerned.

Previous posts on the delay in the conference opening can be found here.

Read the full story here:
Rubber-stamping session
Korea Times
Andrei Lankov


Rason: beyond Pyongyang lies a different world

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Michael Rank writes in the Guardian:

If Pyongyang is North Korea’s showpiece city – albeit an empty and forbidding place – then the country’s interior is something else altogether.

In this desolate city [Rason] 800 kilometres from the capital, the main square turns to a sea of mud in the rain, and there are no street lights so it’s impossible to avoid the puddles at night.

Rason is 50km from the border with China, over a twisting dirt track through the mountains, but it could be another planet.

The cities on the Chinese side are frenetic with activity, skyscrapers sprouting like mushrooms in the rain and traffic jams unavoidable. Rason couldn’t be more different, stuck in a Stalinist time warp. Traffic chiefly consists of ox carts and Chinese lorries. Roads are repaired by teams of workers armed with shovels and picks.

Tourists are a rarity, just 20 so far this year and none at all in 2009, according to Simon Cockerell of Beijing-based Koryo Tours, which specialises in travel to North Korea.

Officially this is a “free economic and trade zone”. In practice that special designation doesn’t appear to make much difference.

The overwhelming majority of those who do venture in are Chinese, many of them lured by the area’s only apparent growth industry – a glittering casino and hotel built by a Hong-Kong multimillionaire.

The Emperor casino was supposed to have shut its doors in 2005 after a senior Chinese transport official gambled away more than 3.5 million yuan (£340,000), much of it public money.

But a few dozen Chinese were observed gambling in the smoky windowless rooms on the top floor of the venue on a recent evening.

Near the casino there is a small island that is linked to the mainland by a short causeway where tourists can relax over a seafood lunch consisting of raw sea urchins, chargrilled octopus and squid washed down with Chinese beer.

Not that Rason is awash with produce. In the 1990s, an acute famine killed many thousands. Although the worst is over, millions continue to go hungry and in Rason a British- charity, Love North Korean Children, makes enormous efforts to ensure that children in the area get enough to eat.

The charity feeds 2,500 children a day, and the youngsters in the Hahyeon nursery school looked well nourished when this reporter visited. But George Rhee, the charity’s founder and powerhouse, stressed that without the steamed buns his bakery provides “all these children would go hungry”.

Rason’s remoteness means it is easier to evade the central government’s relentless grip and benefit from trade, legal and illicit, with nearby China.

North Korea officially maintains the fiction that all economic activity is state-run. It therefore bans foreigners from visiting private markets which help to relieve dire shortages of even staple foods.

Yet during our visit, the Guardian was encouraged to shop in the market for crab for supper, which was cooked in a local restaurant. Apart from seafood, the market also sells cigarettes and alcohol imported from China.

For travellers who like to learn about their surroundings from the locals, North Korea is probably not the best destination.

The Guardian was closely manmarked by minders and ignored by locals. Local officials have been hoping to attract more tourists to Rason by building a golf course and racetrack, but it is hard to imagine these ever materialising in such an isolated and impoverished location.

Read the full story here:
North Korea: beyond the capital lies a different world
The Guardian
Michael Rank


Choson Exchange Update

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

According to Choson Exchange:

Post-Lecture Brief on North Korea’s Economy/Business Environment

This is our report from our lecture series on Finance and Economic Strategy in Pyongyang. It captures things we learn that will enable us to provide better training, and helps to inform readers on North Korea’s business and economic environment. Highlights are below.

Need and demand for skills upgrading: Lecturers agreed that there is a strong need for training as participants’ financial knowledge and skills, with a few exceptions, are shallow. This is also reinforced by our survey findings. More importantly, participants expressed strong interest in further training programs, which is not always the case in North Korea.

Managing Knowledge-Based Economies & FDI of key interest: Based on discussions with participants, knowledge-based economies and the management of FDI inflows are of great interest to our audience.

Newly-formed economic institution non-operational as yet: An institution meant to play a key role in economic development and was formed in recent years have not yet become operational.

Choson Exchange also received some coverage in the Korea Times:

While the outside world has been keen to know what was going on inside North Korea regarding the unfulfilled high drama of a key Workers’ Party conference, a group of foreigners actually stayed in Pyongyang during that time, meeting with top officials such as Choe Thae-bok, secretary of the Workers’ Party Central Committee.

“Choe Thae-bok highly commended our work and sent the president of Kim Chaek University and the vice president of the State Academy of Sciences to meet with us privately,” said Geoffrey See, a Singaporean, who led an international group of 11 people, hailing from the United States, the U.K., New Zealand, China, and Malaysia.

Besides the group’s diverse country representations, their academic credentials are also pretty impressive. See is a recent Yale graduate. The others are from universities such as Oxford, M.I.T, and University of Chicago.

They were not in North Korea for political purposes, but their presence attracted enough attention from North Koreans. Reporters from the North’s official Korean Central News Agency also tagged along with them.

Apparently, the North Koreans were quite impressed by their academic backgrounds too. “The North Korean official would introduce us to others by saying: `This person is from this university.’ And people would respond: ‘Oh, I heard about the name of the school!’” See said.

What See and his friends are doing now may not hit the international headlines. But it’s potentially a very significant step that may have a lasting implication for the future of the world’s most isolated nation.

See is the director of the Choson Exchange, a non-profit organization that provides training to North Koreans in international finance, economics and law.

“North Koreans need some kind of help in these areas,” See said in an interview at a coffee shop in Beijing Friday afternoon.

In Pyongyang, See and his group members taught North Koreans how to use computers for e-training in finance. They also offered lectures on the U.S. subprime crisis and the possibility of the Chinese yuan as an international trade settlements currency.

Although North Korea is under international sanctions, what See’s group does is not illegal as they only offer educational training and don’t do business with North Koreans.

In interacting in an “up-close and personal” manner, See and his group discovered something surprising. “The North Koreans were actually quite sophisticated people. They know what’s happening in the outside world,” said a financial analyst who went to Pyongyang with See, but preferred not to be identified.

All people in the Choson Exchange work on a volunteer basis. For their North Korean trip, they bought their own airplane tickets, and paid for meals and lodgings too. They also have full-time jobs as bankers, consultants, lawyers and Ph.D. students.

Naturally, a question arises as to “why” they do all this?

“We get this question a lot,” said See. “Very few outside people are involved in North Korea today. We want to provide training and make a greater impact,” he said.

“The financial institutions we met are very keen to have us train them and help build the institutions ― especially the newly formed State Development Bank. There is an incredible demand for training,” See said.

Ultimately, the members of the Choson Exchange want their efforts to be part of a greater humanitarian engagement crusade to help North Korea to become integrated into the international community.

Adventurism and personal intellectual curiosity about the “veiled country” was part of their drive as well. “North Korea is opaque, which makes it even more interesting. It fascinates me,” said the financial analyst.

While being frank about their motivations, they were also cautious about not to be seen as naive either. “We don’t want to be seen as a young and idealistic bunch,” said See, who will spend several months at the Kim Il-sung University starting from March next year to share Singapore’s economic development model.

While they are committed to a long and determined effort, they are financially crunched. “What we need most at this time is more funding. We need at least two full-time staffers who will manage our administrative work,” said See, who also hopes to sponsor some North Koreans for overseas training programs.

It’s not clear whether See’s effort of helping North Korea to “come out” will work eventually.

“We don’t assume that they will open up,” See said. “But if you don’t try, you never know.”


Conference of WPK to Be Held Sep. 28

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

According to KCNA:

Pyongyang, September 21 (KCNA) — The Preparatory Committee for the Conference of the Workers’ Party of Korea made public as follows as regards the party conference:

The meetings of delegates of the party committees of the Korean People’s Army and provincial (political bureau), city (district) and county party committees took place to elect delegates to the conference of the WPK against the background of a high-pitched drive for effecting a new great revolutionary surge now under way on all fronts for building a thriving nation with the historic conference of the WPK and its 65th birthday approaching.

The meetings of delegates of the party committees of the KPA and provincial (political bureau) party committees elected General Secretary Kim Jong Il as delegate to the conference of the WPK representing the unanimous will of all the members of the party, servicepersons of the KPA and people.

The meetings elected working people and officials who have displayed patriotic devotion at the work sites for effecting a fresh revolutionary surge, remaining intensely loyal to the party and revolution as delegates to the conference.

The meetings once again powerfully demonstrated the might of our revolutionary ranks in which all the servicepersons and people are single-mindedly united around the headquarters of the revolution headed by Kim Jong Il.

The conference of the WPK for electing its supreme leadership body will take place in Pyongyang on Sept. 28.


Caleb Mission

Monday, September 20th, 2010

According to Voice of America:

A little-known South Korean Christian group is doing its best to expand what outsiders know about neighboring North Korea. The Caleb Mission has gained some recognition in recent months for releasing clandestine video of life inside the reclusive North. And now it has provided VOA with what it says is a secret North Korean military manual that regional security analysts consider authentic.

One of South Korea’s smallest and most obscure religious communities is making a name for itself by providing rare glimpses of life inside North Korea, and revealing some of its secrets.

Reverend Kim Sung-eun runs the Caleb Mission in Cheonan, about 80 kilometers south of the capital, Seoul. His wife, he says, is a former lieutenant in North Korea’s army. She is one of 30 or so defectors from the North who are frequently seen at the mission.

Kim says he is in regular contact with collaborators inside North Korea. Some secretly videotape what is going on in the country, which is virtually sealed off from the outside world. Others, he says, smuggle out official documents.

The pastor gave VOA a partial copy of what appears to be a 2005 North Korean military manual that details electronic warfare countermeasures, such as using radar-absorbing paint to camouflage jets and ships.

He did not go into detail about how the Caleb Mission acquired the manual, but U.S. and South Korean officials who have seen it consider the document authentic.

A South Korean newspaper also has obtained part of the manual and has reported on its contents.

Kim says they decided to release the manual because their colleagues inside North Korea are taking great risks by working on their projects. Thus, he explains, he wants to see some recognition for their efforts.

Daniel Pinkston, a long-time North Korea scholar and an analyst in Seoul for the International Crisis Group, considers the document important. “It’s certainly useful for analysts on the outside. And I would agree anyone in North Korea, any KPA (Korean People’s Army) soldiers or officers who would smuggle such a document out of the country, if they were to be caught, would suffer serious consequences. It would be a great risk to them, of course,” he said.

In communist North Korea, those suspected of disloyalty face imprisonment. Convictions for treason or espionage – and many lesser offenses – usually mean a death sentence.

At Caleb Mission, Kim says he has or can gain access to other sensitive materials, including videos and documents, but he needs to provide compensation to those who risk their lives to provide it.

He hopes that by releasing the information more widely in South Korea, he can generate funds to pay his collaborators in the impoverished North.

Kim says he has information detailing North Korean-sanctioned manufacturing and exporting of illicit drugs and the country’s extensive network of internment and re-education camps for political prisoners.

The U.S. State Department has warned in the past that North Korea was involved in drug trafficking.

Analyst Pinkston says the apparent willingness of North Koreans to provide such documentation – whatever the motives – could be a significant signal of societal change. “If we see more of these things coming out – materials, information, people – especially from the military, then that could be a sign of some breakdown in discipline and control. I’m not saying that’s the case here,” he states, “but when we do see these things coming out, that’s something we have to think about.”

North Korean media unfailingly praise Kim Jong Il and his father, the country’s first leader, creating a personality cult that dominates the government. The state controls almost all aspects of life, including food supplies, access to the media and employment.

Human rights groups consider North Korea to be one of the most repressive nations in the world. The government also has struggled for nearly 20 years to feed its people. After the collapse of communist governments in Europe, which had supported the North financially, its economy has nearly collapsed and it relies heavily on international food aid to avoid mass starvation.

Change, however, could be coming to North Korea. A rare meeting of the ruling Workers Party is expected to start soon to fill leadership slots. Many North Korea experts believe supreme leader Kim Jong Il will name his third son, Kim Jong Un, to a prominent post as part of grooming him to be his successor. The son is believed to be about 27 years old and has yet held no official position.

There are reports, however, of growing dissatisfaction among North Koreans about passing power to a young, little-known member of the Kim family.

The country faces renewed food shortages and continuing economic instability. In addition, its people are increasingly aware – through clandestine exposure to outside news media – of the huge gap between their country and most of the rest of the world, especially neighboring South Korea.