Archive for November, 2010

New Pyongyang management law aims at modernization

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 10-11-30

North Korea has recently revised the Pyongyang City Management Law in order to support ongoing modernization efforts by increasing the management and operational authority of the Cabinet and of the State Planning Committee. On October 21, the Cabinet newspaper ‘Minju Chosun’ ran an article emphasizing the need to ensure that necessary capital and supplies were guaranteed for the construction of 100,000 new residences in Pyongyang and now it appears the North is backing up this modernization drive with the law.

The legal code was revised in accordance with Order No. 743, passed down by the standing committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly on March 30 of this year, but was just recently made public in South Korea. What stands out in this newly revised law is that the central government has strengthened its hold on management and operations within the city.

Article 47 of the city management law states, “The Cabinet must naturally take control of and supervise Pyongyang management operations,” and Article 48 stipulates that the State Planning Committee and the Pyongyang People’s Committee establish and strictly follow detailed plans for each sector of management operations within the capital city. Article 47, of the former law (enacted on 26 Nov. 1998), which covered management projects within Pyongyang, was removed while five new articles were added. Article 17 covers housing construction, Article 27 covers management of street lighting, Article 43 covers the delivery of publications, Article 46 stipulates basic working conditions, and Article 51 guarantees that goods will be produced for Pyongyang markets.

Article 17 stipulates that “the construction of housing must completely guaranteed,” and Article 51 states that planning for and production of commercial goods for Pyongyang must be ensured “without fail.” Housing, goods, electricity, capital and other necessities for the modernization of Pyongyang have now been essentially legally guaranteed. New housing in the capital has been a priority for the North, with construction already underway and plans for 30,000 additional units next year and 35,000 more in 2012. In order to show off these new renovations day and night, Article 27 calls for the “logical installation of street lights” to brighten walkways, roads, and national monuments. The new legal revision appears to be yet another step toward shoring up the framework for establishment of a ‘Strong and Prosperous Nation’ and transition of power to yet a third generation of Kims.

The new law reinforces Pyongyang’s centrality in North Korea’s revolutionary ambitions, referring to the capital as “the home of Juche,” “the heart of the Korean people,” and “the face of the nation.”


Lankov on the shelling of Yonpyong

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Andrei Lankov has written a short unpublished paper on the current situation in Korea which places the current events into some context. I have posted the full article below. I have also created a PDF of this document which you may download here.



Andrei Lankov

So North Korea did it again. In late March a North Korean submarine sunk a South Korean warship. This time North Korean policy planners decided to try something new. On the afternoon of the 23rd November, North Korean artillery began to shell the South Korean island of Yeonpyeon which is located in the disputed waters to the west of the Korean peninsula (though, the North Koreans have not claimed the island itself).

Since the incident took place when military exercises were being conducted in the area by the South Korean military, there have been suggestions that some South Korean mistake – like an incidental shell landing to the north of the border – provoked such a reaction. It is not completely impossible, but unlikely: both the unusual intensity and length of fire (the North Korean batteries fired about 150 shells) seems to indicate we are dealing with a well planned operation.

As one should expect, the international media immediately reacted to the news by running huge headlines to the effect of the Korean peninsula being ‘On the Edge of War’. This probably helps them increase to newspapers’ sales and advertisement revenues, but this is inaccurate, since a war on the Korean peninsula is highly unlikely (as we will see below). However Yeonpyeong Island incident may indicate that we are entering a new phase of the never-ending ‘North Korean crisis’.

Why did they do it?

The media usually describes incidents like these as ‘provocations’; however in this particular such description is not correct. By definition, a ‘provocation’ is an act which is designed to lure the opposite number into an overreaction or some unreasonable actions, but this is not the North Korea’s aim this time (on the contrary, the North Korean strategists known perfectly well that no reaction whatsoever is likely to follow). Essentially we are dealing with a premeditated diplomatic gesture conducted in a somewhat unorthodox way, through the use of heavy artillery.



DPRK Wikileaks story index

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Below I am indexing media coverage of Wikileaks stories involving the DPRK:

2011-10-7: Jordanian bank tied to illicit weapons trade.

2011-9-13: As ties between the DPRK and Myanmar continue to grow, it is becoming more difficult for defectors to transit to South Korea.

2011-9-11: The Guangdong Development Bank, a mainland lender partly owned by the U.S. bank Citigroup, had banking ties with a North Korean arms dealer in 2009, according to a cable sent by the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong in July 2009, The South China Morning Post reported Saturday, quoting information provided by the Wikileaks.

2011-9-8: Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jeong-eun said Kim Jong-il believes the 2004 train station explosion in Ryongchon assassination attempt.

2011-9-6: U.S. prepared to intercept N. Korean missile: cable

2011-9-5: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il expressed distrust of his country’s major economic prop China during a 2009 meeting with a visiting South Korean businesswoman, according to a US diplomatic cable.

2011-9-5: Myanmar, North Korea traded rice for arms: US cable

2011-9-3: Sudan negotiating purchase of missiles from North Korea

2011-9-3: US State Department urged China not to sell steel to the DPRK.

2011-8-3: Cambodian government worked with US and South Korea to quietly process North Korean defectors

2011-6-1: US tried to get Canada to finance oil donations to DPRK.

2011-4-11: China and US held DPRK intelligence talks.

2011-1-18: Did Iran pay the DPRK through a South Kroean branch?  The bank says no.

2011-1-6: U.S. Ambassador Feels Heat from WikiLeaks

2011-1-5: Chinese criticize DPRK currency reform.

2011-1-4: Kim Jong-il told a visiting South Korean businesswoman in 2009 that he had ordered the removal of a missile launch scene fromthe Ariarang Mass games because “Americans did not like it.”

2011-1-4: Former Chinese ambassador to Seoul, said today’s North Korea was similar to China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s and dealing with officials there required that he “mentally reset his personal clock by thirty years.”

2010-12-19: WikiLeaks cable: Winston Peters condemns N Korea missile tests

2010-12-9: DPRK-Myanmar nuclear cooperation: here, here, and here.

2010-12-11: DPRK-US family reunions are extortion (Guardian)

2010-12-5: Nothing new in NK leaks (Andrei Lankov)

2010-12-3: Top-Level Defectors from N.Korea Identified (Choson Ilbo)

2010-12-3: N.Korea ‘Fattens Up’ People for Family Reunions (Choson Ilbo)

2010-12-2: North Korean diplomat: Six-party talks are dead (Foreign Policy)

2010-12-2: North Korean’s Earning $1 Per Month!

2010-12-1: WikiLeaks: Mongolia passed North Korea message to U.S. (CNN)  Brookings also published information on the Mongolia-DPRK relationship.

2010-12-1: Singapore disapproves (Straits Times)

2010-12-1: China Blocks Wikileaks (Sky News)

2010-11-30: Cheong Wa Dae denies reports of considering N. Korean regime change (Yonhap)

2010-11-30: What WikiLeaks Cables Reveal About North Korea (The Atlantic)

2010-11-29: North Korea Keeps the World Guessing (New York Times)

2010-11-28: Is there an Iran-NK missile link?  Russia says no. Experts question the idea.


DPRK laborers leaving Russia

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

According to the Independent:

A mass exodus of North Korean workers from the Far East of Russia is under way, according to reports coming out of the region. As the two Koreas edged towards the brink of war this week, it appears that the workers in Russia have been called back to aid potential military operations.

Vladnews agency, based in Vladivostok, reported that North Korean workers had left the town of Nakhodka en masse shortly after the escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula earlier this week. “Traders have left the kiosks and markets, workers have abandoned building sites, and North Korean secret service employees working in the region have joined them and left,” the agency reported.

Russia’s migration service said that there were over 20,000 North Koreans in Russia at the beginning of 2010, of which the vast majority worked in construction. The workers are usually chaperoned by agents from Kim Jong-il’s security services and have little contact with the world around them. Defectors have suggested that the labourers work 13-hour days and that most of their pay is sent back to the government in Pyongyang. Hundreds of workers have fled the harsh conditions and live in hiding in Russia, constantly in fear of being deported back to North Korea.

“North Korea’s government sends thousands of its citizens to Russia to earn money, most of which is funnelled through government accounts,” says Simon Ostrovsky, a journalist who discovered secret North Korean logging camps in the northern Siberian taiga. “Workers are often sent to remote locations for years at a time to work long hours and get as little as three days off per year.” Now it appears that some kind of centralised order has been given for the workers to return home.

Russia’s Pacific port of Vladivostok is thousands of miles and seven time zones from Moscow, but only around 100 miles from the country’s heavily controlled border with North Korea. In 1996, a diplomat from the South Korean consulate in the city was murdered with a poisoned pencil, in what was widely believed to be a hit carried out by the North’s secret agents. There are even two North Korean restaurants in the city. It is not known how many of the workers in other Russian towns have been called back to their homeland this week, or whether the exodus is permanent or temporary.

Last week the Daily NK reported that workers were increasingly leaving their jobs because increasing amounts of their salaries were being confiscated by the North Korean government.

Read the full story here:
Expats recalled as North Korea prepares for war
The Independent
Shaun Walker


DPRK strengthens control mechanisms with revised law on the people’s economy

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

NK Brief No. 10-11-26-1

North Korea has recently revised its law governing the planning of the People’s Economy, significantly strengthening the state’s ability to oversee and control economic activities throughout the country. The South Korean Ministry of Unification recently released the contents of the law, which the North revised on April 6, as well as details of two laws created by the Supreme People’s Committee Standing Committee on July 8; the Law on Labor Protection (Order 945) and the Chamber of Commerce Law (Order 946).

The new law on economic planning contains seven new articles, but since the details of the August 2009 revision were never made public, it is unclear when the new articles were added. What is clear, however, is how different the new law is when compared to the Law on Planning the People’s Economy that was passed in May, 2001 and the Economic Management Reform Measure enacted on July 1, 2002, both of which significantly boosted the autonomy of business managers and eased government restrictions on economic activity.

With the July 1 Measure, the authority of the National Economic Planning Committee was downgraded, central allocations were graduated based on managerial autonomy and profits, the central rationing system was dismantled, and wages were increased. While the economic planning law of 2001 and the July 1 Measure of 2002 eased restrictions on, and oversight of, the people’s economy, the newly-revised law strengthens state control. The new law appears to not only return but also bolster the central control mechanisms that were eliminated by the 2001 law.

Article 16 of the new law states that the planned economy will be based on prepared figures, while Article 18 states that enterprises, organizations and companies will operate on the principle of ensuring regulated numbers, and Article 24 requires the people’s economic plan, drafted by the Cabinet, State Planning Organization, and regional authorities, to be broken down in detail, by timeframe and indexes, and distributed to enterprises, organizations and companies by the end of October. The planning law passed in 2001 called for economic plans to be drawn up based on production statistics provided from ‘below’ and passed up through chains of command (Article 17), but this has been eliminated from the new law.

With the revision of the law on labor protection, North Korea has added more specific language to Article 12 of the ‘Socialist Labor Law’, which was established in April 1978. Article12 of the Law on Labor Protection states that the protection of laborers’ work is the primary demand of the socialist system, which sees the people as the most precious resource. The law strengthens the role of the state in protecting laborers, and identifies ‘difficult and strenuous’ jobs, including mining, fishing, and earthquake investigation. Workers in these fields are to be given favorable treatment, including the issuance of additional clothing, food and other rations.

In addition, the law covers the installation and maintenance of safety equipment, the issuance of protective gear, and additional protections for female workers. It also restricts work to eight hours per day and guarantees holidays and time off, health care, and protection of property. These and other articles in the law increase state management of workers, but defector testimonies paint a different picture. Most workers save their wages with the assumption that they will have to pay bribes, medical costs and other expenses out-of-pocket.

The law on commercial activity further details the ‘Chamber of Commerce Regulation’ handed down by the Cabinet in 2008. The law covers a range of duties and rights regarding commercial operations, including contracts and operations regarding joint ventures with foreign firms; legal letters of confirmation, certificates of country of origin and other paperwork related to trade issues; as well as exhibitions and conventions held in conjunction with foreign businesses.


Yonpyong Island saga (UPDATED)

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Click image for larger version

UPDATE 70 (2012-3-6): According to Yonhap, the DPRK has replaced the KPA commander responsible for the shelling of Yonpyong:

The head of a North Korean army unit responsible for shelling South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 has been replaced by the country’s vice defense minister, the North’s state media confirmed Tuesday.

General Kim Kyok-sik, who headed the 4th Army Corps of the Korean People’s Army starting in February 2009, is believed to have led the deadly attack on Yeonpyeong that killed four South Koreans, including two civilians.

The front-line unit near the inter-Korean sea border in the Yellow Sea is now headed by Pyon In-son, vice minister of the People’s Armed Forces, according to North Korean media reports of his appearance on state television Monday.

Kim has often been spotted at events unrelated to the unit since late last year, spurring speculation that he may have been replaced.

During the broadcast by the (North) Korean Central Broadcasting Station, Pyon was introduced as commander of the 4th Army Corps, in effect confirming the replacement. Pyon served as vice defense minister starting in December 2010, and was included in the North’s 232-member commission for the funeral of former leader Kim Jong-il last December.

“The hearts of my corps’ soldiers are boiling with hatred for the Lee Myung-bak group of traitors and determination to get revenge,” Pyon was quoted as saying on air. “Be it Cheong Wa Dae or Incheon, we will immerse them all in a sea of fire and not let a single member of the group of traitors survive.”

North Korea has frequently denounced South Korea’s conservative President Lee Myung-bak as a “traitor,” accusing him of aggravating inter-Korean ties.

UPDATE 69 (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 68 (3/31/2011): KCNA publishes statement by NDC.

UPDATE 67 (1/26/2011): Int’l Criminal Court asks North Korea for info in war crimes probe

UPDATE 66 (1/14/2011): Joseph Bermudez in 38 North discussing the island shelling.

UPDATE 65 (1/12/2011): DPRK opens Red Cross hotline to ROK

UPDATE 64 (1/6/2011): South Korea’s Military Lowers Surveillance Alert to `Normal,’ Yonhap Says

UPDATE 63 (1/4/2011): Japan, South Korea to discuss defense ties and N.Korea

UPDATE 62 (12/29/2010): ROK  to create joint forces command

UPDATE 61 (12/29/2010): ROK’s President Lee calls for return to talks.

UPDATE 60 (12/29/2010): North Korean Air Force increases training flights

UPDATE 59 (12/25/2010): DPRK airs television show about Yonpyong shelling. The LA Times has more.  They have reportedly also distributed other domestic propaganda.

UPDATE 58 (12/21/2010): North Korea makes gestures toward calm after South’s drills

UPDATE 57 (12/23/2010): Joseph Bermudez analyzes the attacks in the two most recent issues of KPA Journal: November 2010, December 2010.  Bermudez was also interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE 56 (12/22/2010): ROK prepares for largest ever artillery drill

UPDATE 55 (12/21/2010): DPRK deploys more missiles along west coastincluding decoys.

UPDATE 54 (12/16/2010): Gordon Flake on the DPRK shelling of Yonpyong and LEU program: Part 1, Part 2

UPDATE 53 (12/21/2010): Yonpyong residents return home

UPDATE 52 (12/21/2010): White House Rejects New Talks With North Korea

UPDATE 51 (12/20/2010): DPRK agrees to allow nuclear inspectors back into country. A chronological listing of stories related to the DPRK’s LWR and LEU facilities is here.

UPDATE 50 (12/20/2010): South Korea concludes military drillDPRK does not immediately respond.

UPDATE 49 (12/20/2010): UNSC meeting deadlockedRussia distanced itself from China.

UPDATE 48 (12/18/2010): DPRK warns it will attack ROK if it test-fires artillery from Yonpyong.

UPDATE 47 (12/18/2010): UN Security Council Schedules Emergency Meeting on North Korea

UPDATE 46 (12/19/2010): Bill Richardson reports on his trip to the DPRK. KCNA reports he brought gift.

UPDATE 45 (12/16/2010): Andrei Lankov offers thoughts on the escalating tensions between the two Koreas. Here too.

UPDATE 44 (12/16/2010): South Korea announces new military drill

UPDATE 43 (12/16/2010): Bill Richardson goes to North Korea

UPDATE 42 (12/15/2010): South Korea Practices for worst-case attack

UPDATE 41 (12/14/2010): Victor Cha calls for increasing US troop levels

UPDATE 40 (12/13/2010): NDPRK threatens ROK with nuclear war

UPDATE 39 (12/13/2010): ROK’s army chief resigns

UPDATE 38 (12/13/2010): ROK resumes live-fire drills

UPDATE 37 (12/11/2010): DPRK made few concessions to Chinese envoy

UPDATE 36 (12/10/2010): NKorea sends top diplomat to Russia amid tensions.  DPRK announces 2011-2012 plan for exchange between the foreign ministries of the DPRK and Russia.

UPDATE 35 (12/10/2010): Gas Masks for All Residents in 5 West Sea Islands

UPDATE 34 (12/10/2010): China affirms DPRK ties with ‘candid’ official visit

UPDATE 33 (12/09/2010): S.Korea council plans to turn ruins of shelling into park

UPDATE 32 (12/8/2010): DPRK claims waters around Yongpyon

UPDATE 31 (12/6/2010): Victor Cha sees war as a possibility

UPDATE 31 (12/8/2010): Japan to raise armed forces mobility to boost defense

UPDATE 30 (12/8/2010): NK Fires Artillery Shells into Own Yellow Sea Waters

UPDATE 29 (12/7/2010): International Criminal Court (ICC) reviewing actions by DPRK

UPDATE 28 (12/7/2010): ROK to make islands near DPRK ‘fortresses’

UPDATE 27 (12/6/2010): ROK, US, Japan reject 6-party talks on DPRK

UPDATE 26 (12/6/2010): ROK to spend 30 billion won to support artillery-hit islanders

UPDATE 25 (12/6/2010): ROK government advised to expand military forces.

UPDATE 24 (12/6/2010): South Korea Begins Firing Drills Amid North Korea’s War Threat

UPDATE 23 (12/2/2010): US and Japan conduct joint military drills. More here.

UPDATE 22 (12/3/2010): SKorean jets will bomb North if it attacks again.  Apparently the South Korean army soldiers are terrible shots.

UPDATE 21: (12/2/2010): Kaesong businessmen urge support for the industrial zone.

UPDATE 20 (12/2/2010): Satellite imagery of Yonpyong.

UPDATE 19 (12/1/2010): Choe Thae-bok in China.

UPDATE 18 (12/2/2010): DPRK boosts military capacities near DMZ

UPDATE 17 (12/2/2010): ROK Military suggests counterfire caused ‘many casualties’ in N. Korea.

UPDATE 16: Lankov on the shelling.

UPDATE 15 (12/1/2010): UNSC unable to pass resolution condemning attack.

The standoff over what language on North Korea that China, Russia, the United States, Britain and France — and South Korea and Japan — could accept highlights the way Beijing’s increasingly aggressive defense of its allies may lead nations to bypass the Security Council as a forum for action.

UPDATE 14 (11/29/2010): DPRK strengthens coastal battery

UPDATE 13 (11/29/2010): ROK government mulls making Baeknyeong a forward deployment base

UPDATE 12 (11/29/2010): After issuing warning, Seoul cancels artillery drill on disputed isle

UPDATE 11 (11/30/2010): 49 ROK trucks allowed to restock Kaesong Industrial Zone on 11/29.

UPDATE 10: ROK will abandon policy of not responding militarily to the DPRK’s activities.

UPDATE 9: DPRK accuses ROK government of using Yonpyong Island residents as human shields and deploys surface to surface missiles in the Yellow Sea as US/ROK military drills underway.

UPDATE 8: Yeonpyeong Island designated as ‘control zone’ for military.  Military pushes to increase budget for defending western islands.

UPDATE 7: China calls for summit of 6-party talk nations (CNN).  South Korea cool to proposal.

UPDATE 6: US response:

1. US calls on China to reign in DPRK

2. US sends aircraft carrier to the West Sea

3. US and ROK begin military exercises

UPDATE 5: South Korea’s response:

1. South Korean defense minister let go.  The new defense minister will have new duties.

2. South Korea reassesses its defenses

3. South Korea reassesses rules of engagement with DPRK

4.  Residents evacuate Yonpyong.  More from the Wall Street Journal.

5. South Korea retrieves DPRK aid from China.  You can read more about this aid here.

6 South Koreans photographed new construction of NK artillery site.

7. South Korea bans workers from entering DPRK

8. Moddy’s keeps ROK credit rating at A1

9. ROK bond buyers switching to corporate notes after yield on sovereign debt fell below inflation

UPDATE 4: North Korea’s response:

1. North Korean Envoy to the UN: They [South Korea] Started It

2. (KCNA) KPA Supreme Command Issues Communique

3. (KCNA) Statement Released by Spokesman of DPRK Foreign Ministry

4. Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un visited Ryongyon County just before shelling

5. Uriminzokkiri demands revival of Kumgang tours

UPDATE 3: Andrei Lankov offers his opinion in CNN:

This time, North Korean leaders merely reminded Seoul that they are capable of making a lot of trouble if their demands are ignored.

A week earlier, a similar message was delivered to Washington, albeit in a less violent manner: A group of visiting American nuclear scientists was shown a state-of-the-art uranium enrichment plant.

This is a reaction to the current U.S. policy which is known as a “strategic patience,” and to somewhat similar approach of Seoul.

In essence, the “strategic patience” policy implies that the U.S. will not provide any concessions until North Korea demonstrates its “sincere willingness” to denuclearize — something which is not going to happen, actually.

The right-leaning government of South Korea has adopted the same approach. It decided not to increase the amount of unilateral and unconditional aid to the North — which has grown dramatically under the earlier leftist-nationalist administrations — unless North Korea makes some concessions, too.

Washington and Seoul expected that sooner or later the international sanctions will start making an impact on North Korea, so it will have to accept their demands and become a bit more reciprocal. Otherwise, they were in no hurry to deal with Pyongyang.

However, Pyongyang leaders have grown quite impatient with “strategic patience.”

Sometimes this is explained as a testimony that sanctions are beginning to bite, but this seems to be a wishful thinking: If anything, the food situation in North Korea is better than it has ever been in the last 16 years (albeit still bad by the standards of the modern world), and the North Korean military is not short of money, as their new and shiny uranium enrichment facility demonstrated.

Nonetheless, it appears that North Korea would like to squeeze more aid from Washington and Seoul largely because they do not want to be too dependent on China which now is the nearly sole provider of aid.

So, North Korean strategists chose to hit the weakest spots of both major donors. Americans worry about proliferation, so they were shown that Pyongyang’s nuclear program is advancing fast.

The South Koreans have a different vulnerability. Their efficient but outward-oriented economy depends on the whim of the international markets. Incidents like Yeonpyeong Island shelling are likely to scare markets, which damages the economy, and voters are likely to eventually blame the government for this damage.

The South Korean voters are remarkably indifferent to North Korea, but they are not going to be happy about economic troubles, so a government must know how to keep North Korean regime reasonable or face problems during the elections.

It is often stated that the incident has a lot to do with the succession issue in Pyongyang. Perhaps, the unusually violent nature of shelling is indeed related to North Korea’s domestic policy. Kim Jong Eun, recently promoted to four-star general, needs the support of the old generals (real ones,) so this might be his way to show himself as a tough warlord, not a spoilt brat who spent his youth in Swiss schools.

However, this is not the major reason: The succession politics might have made the incident more violent than it would be otherwise. But something like this was bound to happen.

This fits well into North Korean established pattern of actions. When Pyongyang believes that more aid and concessions can be extracted, it first manufactures a crisis and then, when tensions are sufficiently high, suggests talks in order to get paid for returning to less dangerous behavior.

Will the crisis lead to a war or prolonged confrontation? Most certainly, not, and North Koreans know it. Neither the U.S. or South Korea are going to start a war. They will win, but the price – especially for Seoul — will be prohibitively high.

Surgical strikes against military installations will not help, either. The lives of common North Korean soldiers are expendable, and their death will have no impact on Pyongyang’s policy.

So, it seems that South Koreans will bite the bullet and, after a healthy portion of the face-saving rhetoric, return to the business of usual.

But it is also likely that in few months time the North Koreans will repeat the lesson. They want to show that “strategic patience” is not an option in the long run, and they seem to be right.

UPDATE 2: CNN publishes theories on why the DPRK has behaved in this manner.

UPDATE 1: BR Myers notes that this is the first artillery attack on a civilian population since the Korean War (NPR).

According to the Wall Street Journal:

North Korea fired artillery rockets at a South Korean island near a disputed western maritime border Tuesday, in a clash that killed two South Korean marines and set numerous buildings on fire.

A South Korean military unit on the island, called Yeonpyeong, returned fire, while military officials scrambled fighter jets. In addition to the deaths, at least 16 more were injured, military officials said. Three civilians were injured, and the island’s 1,200 residents were sent scrambling for bomb shelters.

“The whole neighborhood is on fire,” island resident Na Young-ok said from a bomb shelter about an hour after the shelling began. “I think countless houses are on fire, but no fire truck is coming. We have a fire station but the shots are intermittently coming.

Video captured by closed-circuit monitoring cameras on location showed people scrambling out of buildings as explosions rocked the island.

The attack comes after relations soured dramatically between the two Koreas over the past two years, as North Korea’s totalitarian regime became angered at South Korea’s decision to cut off economic assistance unless it ends its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The issue of North Korean nuclear weapons intensified over the weekend after the revelation that Pyongyang had already installed thousands of centrifuges to produce nuclear fuel at its Yongbyon nuclear facility

The exchange of fire also comes less than two months after North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il began a process of transferring power to his son Kim Jong Eun, a process that analysts have said is likely to be volatile as the younger Kim grapples for authority over the North’s military.

“The attack is a sheer act of provocation. Moreover, shooting indiscriminately on civilians cannot be forgiven,” said Hong Sang-pyo, spokesman for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. “Our military reacted immediately according to our combat rules. We will act sternly against any more provocation. North Korea should take the responsibility for this.”

North Korea’s official media late Tuesday said South Korea’s military fired artillery into water on the North’s side of the maritime border while conducting a drill, and that it fired the artillery at Yeonpyeong island in response.

The U.S. condemned the attack and called on North Korea to “halt its belligerent action.” “The United States is firmly committed to the defense of our ally, the Republic of Korea, and to the maintenance of regional peace and stability,” the White House press secretary said in a statement, referring to South Korea by its formal name.

The European Union also condemned the North Korean attack. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, called on the “North Korean authorities to refrain from any action that risks further escalation and to fully respect the Korean Armistice Agreement.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China, North Korea’s main benefactor, called for peace and stability. “We hope all involved parties will do more to promote peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Hong Lei said during a regular news conference.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered the government “to do their best to collect information on the situation and be prepared for any kind of unexpected incidents.”

The attack roiled financial markets in Asia, briefly sending the U.S. dollar sharply higher before it gave back some gains, on a flight from what are considered riskier investment. The Bank of Korea convened an emergency meeting to discuss the effect of the attack. Several financial analysts quickly issued reports that said they didn’t expect South Korea’s stock market to be impacted.

A spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff said “scores of rounds” were fired by the North. The artillery was fired from positions south of the North Korean city of Haeju.

The attack came without warning at 2:34 p.m local time and lasted for 65 minutes, military officials said. About 250 residents escaped the island in fishing boats and arrived in the port city of Incheon two hours later. As the sun set three hours after the attack, fires continued burning in numerous homes and buildings and smoke covered the island, according to people there and on a nearby island called So-yeonpyeong.

The attack adds to a list of more than 30 fatal or life-threatening attacks by the North against the South—including plane bombings, assassinations and naval skirmishes—since the two countries fought the Korean War in the 1950s. Most recently, a South Korean warship sank in March about 40 miles west of the island struck Tuesday. South Korea blamed North Korea for the sinking, citing an exploded torpedo it found and other evidence.

Some units of the South Korean military had been training in waters near the two islands. However, the North routinely complains about the South’s exercises.

The attack shocked South Koreans, who have become accustomed through the years to brash statements and other provocations by North Korea.

“If this leads to any other provocation, it really will be disturbing in many ways,” Song Young-min, an insurance consultant who is in the military reserve, as he watched the news on his cellphone in downtown Seoul.

“It was shocking, scary as well. I even thought of a possible war,” said Park Jung-jin, a banker. “I still believe it won’t go that far, but the news on all that firing and shooting was definitely the most striking North Korean provocation that I’ve heard of so far.”

Lee Eui-sup, who works at South Korea’s National Pension Service, said he immediately suspected the firing was caused by the instability inside the North’s leadership due to the succession process. “It is a serious problem but will soon disappear as it usually does, I believe,” Mr. Lee said.

From the island of So-yeonpyeong, residents watched as the rockets hit the larger Yeonpyeong island. Some sent photos and cellphone videos of the attack to South Korean TV stations. “When I heard the artillery, I thought it was a usual military exercise, but then I noticed the fire and smoke,” said Lee Seung-yeon, a resident on the smaller island.

The two Yeonpyeong islands are the easternmost of five small islands that are within close firing range of North Korea. All are just a few kilometers away from the maritime border known in South Korea as the Northern Limit Line, or NLL, that was drawn up by the United Nations after the end of the Korean War in 1953.

The North has objected to the line since the early 1970s, arguing in part that the line forces its ships to take lengthy detours to international shipping lanes. Its objections intensified in the 1990s and led to two deadly skirmishes in the area in 1999 and 2002.

In 2007, leaders of the two Koreas agreed to turn the area into a “peace zone.” That vaguely worded agreement was struck just ahead of a South Korean election by an outgoing government and never implemented. It was interpreted in North Korea as erasing the maritime border and in the South as keeping it.

And China’s response according to Bloomberg:

China expressed “concern” over reports that North Korea fired artillery shells that struck South Korean territory and called for parties involved to work harder to promote peace and restart multinational talks.

“We have taken note of the relevant report and we express concern over the situation,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing today. “We hope the relevant parties do more to contribute to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.”

Hong said that officials are aware of claims by a U.S. scientist that North Korea had revealed to him a “stunning” new uranium-enrichment plant. The descriptions by the scientist underscore the need to restart six-nation talks on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Hong said.

“China unswervingly promotes denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula,” Hong said. “We have taken note of the relevant report. It is China’s consistent and firm position to realize denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and consultation. What is imperative now is to restart six-party talks.”

South Korea scrambled fighter jets and returned fire after North Korea lobbed dozens of shells into its territory, injuring four soldiers, Yonhap News reported today.

A South Korean Defense Ministry official, who declined to be identified, confirmed the shelling, without giving any further details. The military has been put on high alert and will “respond strongly” to further provocation, he said.

Stocks were down slightly in response to the news.  According to Bloomberg:

Stocks sank, dragging the MSCI Emerging Markets Index down the most in five months, while the dollar and the Swiss franc rallied as fighting broke out between North and South Korea and concern grew Europe’s debt crisis will spread. Metals slid as China’s banks approached lending limits.

The MSCI gauge of stocks in developing nations lost 2.3 percent as all 10 industry groups retreated, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slid 1.1 percent at 9:39 a.m. in New York. The dollar and franc appreciated against most peers. South Korean won forwards slipped the most in six months. Ten-year Treasury yields sank six basis points, the Irish yield jumped 27 basis points, and a gauge of European sovereign debt risk rose to a record. Copper and zinc slumped more than 1.6 percent.

U.S. equities followed European shares lower after South Korea scrambled fighter jets and returned fire following North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong island. China’s biggest banks are close to reaching annual lending quotas and plan to stop expanding their loan books, according to four people with knowledge of the matter. Greece will need to make an “extra effort” to cut its deficit to receive more emergency aid, European Union and International Monetary Fund officials said.

“We’re in this very fragile growth state,” said Matthew Kaufler, a Rochester, New York-based money manager at Federated Investors Inc., who helps oversee $341.3 billion. “When you have these other issues — the sovereign-debt crisis in Europe, concern about Chinese growth, geopolitical unrest in North Korea and a massive insider trading scandal — that’s going to undercut confidence. That all is overshadowing the latest economic data points in the U.S.”

On a related note, I have done my best to keep up with Cheonan stories here.

Read the full stories here:
North Korea Fires Rockets at Island
Wall Street Journal
Evan Ramstad and Jaeyeon Woo

China Voices Concern on N. Korea Artillery; Calls for Dialogue
Michael Forsythe

Stocks Fall on Korea Clash, Europe Debt, China Lending; Dollar Strengthens
Stephen Kirkland


Nuclear test no. 3?

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

The Japanese and South Korean media have asserted that the DPRK is potentially preparing for a third nuclear test. I have no idea if this is the case, but the North Koreans certainly want us to see them conducting activities at their test site in Kilju county. Below I have placed some pictures of the area from both Google Earth and Digital Globe (taken  at different dates) of the test site:

Tunneling Activity:

Image data: Location: 41°16’34.70″N, 129° 5’16.99″E.  Dates: 2005-2-15, 2009-10-9, 2010-10-16. The top two images are from Google Earth. The image on the bottom is from DigitalGlobe.

New Vehicles:

Image Data: Location: 41°16’41.21″N, 129° 5’14.97″E.  Date: 2010-10-16.  Source: DigitalGlobe.


More DPRK loggers reportedly running away

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

According to a former North Korean logger in Russia, instances of forestry workers running away from a “Forestry Mission” program organized by North Korea’s Forestry Ministry in the Russian Far East are increasing due to excessive salary deductions currently being imposed by the North Korean authorities.

Song Ki Bok, a 48-year old former logger who now lives in South Korea told The Daily NK on November 18th, “The Forestry Mission takes 70% of monthly salary in the name of Party funding. Who would want to work there when all the money you earn from working yourself to death is taken from you?”

Prior to 2008, North Korea took 30% of the North Koreans’ wages for “Party loyalty funds”. However, after sanctions put in place by the international community following the first North Korean nuclear test began to bite, the amount was increased to 70%.

The North Korean forestry workers do hard physical labor. Depending on the intensity of their work, they receive just $40 to $100 per month.

Therefore, once 70% is deducted as Party funds, the take-home pay of the worker is between $12 and $30. As a result, workers cannot even dream of wiring sums back to family in the North. They just deliver what cash they can gather via colleagues returning home.

Worse yet, with this kind of swingeing monthly deduction, many workers cannot even recover the bribe they had to offer Party officials in order to be sent to Russia in the first place. For example, the total amount Song ended up paying was nearly $400.

Before escaping from the forestry program, Song saw a monthly salary of $30, meaning that even if he had saved every penny he earned for a year he still would not have recouped the $400 he paid out in bribes.

In the beginning, he was buoyed by the ‘Russia Dream’. The family of a worker in a foreign country traditionally lives in better conditions than most people. Therefore, Song went to Russia in the belief that if he worked hard for three years, he could make 10 years of a North Korean working man’s salary; however, the reality was as harsh as the bitter cold of Siberia.

The Forestry Mission in Russia; Kim Jong Il’s hard currency provider

According to Song, there are 17 forestry sites in Russia which employ North Koreans. Depending on the size of the camp there are differences; however, approximately 1,500~2,000 North Koreans work at each.

The major activities of the Party Committee in each camp are surveillance and the collection of Party funds. A manager, Party secretary and an agent from each of the National Security Agency and People’s Security Ministry are assigned to each site, and 15 administrative officers below them manage operations.

The life of workers is the same as it would be if they lived in North Korea. They must partake of weekly evaluation meetings, and food is provided by distribution. They plant potatoes and wheat in cleared areas near their digs to supplement the insufficient state provisions.

If workers leave without permission, they are punished upon their return. If the crime is grave, the worker might be summoned to North Korea for reeducation.

Song commented, “Sometime people leave the camp to go hunting to earn money. They can only escape punishment by bribing the management.”

In total, the amount gathered in the name of Party funds by the North Korean authorities from each camp can exceed $140,000 per month. Calculations suggest that the annual North Korean government take from the program exceeds $25 million.

However, this harsh Party policy is driving escapes, according to Song, “Since most of their monthly salary began to be taken away as Party funds, the number of workers escaping started to increase. Just from those I know, the average has reached 30 workers per a year.”

Song, describing the harsh working conditions at the site, said, “In 2006, a wood cutter from Dukcheon in South Pyongan Province who had frostbite in both feet at work didn’t receive treatment in time. In the end, they had to cut off both his legs. His co-workers, who could not ignore the situation, raised it with the Party Committee there; however, not only was this opinion ignored, but the wood cutter was sent home with the explanation, ‘It was an accident caused by my own carelessness’.”

“The life of a forestry worker fighting against cold which can reach -40˚C in winter is unspeakably tough,” Song said. “Meanwhile, they don’t even receive a proper month’s salary, which reduces their will to work.”

“If a worker escapes, in the end he has no choice but to head to South Korea. When I think about those of my colleagues who couldn’t come to South Korea with me, it is still hard to sleep at night.”

Read more about logging camps in Russia (including satellite imagery) here and here.

Read the full story here:
Runaway Loggers on the Rise Due to Wage Cuts
Daily NK
Kang Mi Jin


DPRK lifespans lag RoK’s

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

According to Yonhap:

North Koreans are expected to live 11 years less than the average South Korean due mainly to malnutrition that adversely affects births and causes more people to die earlier than normal, a government report showed Monday.

The Statistics Korea report, based on data released by the United Nations and Pyongyang, showed the life expectancy for an average North Korean at 69 years, lower than numbers reached in the communist country in the early 1990s before it was hit by devastating famine.

The life expectancy for men reached 64.9 while that for women was 71.7 years. This is 11.3 years and 11.2 years less than this year’s life expectancy of South Korean men and women, respectively.

“Generally, the population has not fully recovered from the famine and hardship, although conditions have improved in the past few years,” a statistics official said.

He said estimates revealed that there may have been a “population loss” of around 610,000 for a decade after the mid-1990s, caused by a higher number of deaths and people shying away from having babies.

The official said up to 480,000 more people may have died compared to what was normal during the 1994-2005 “slow-motion famine” period when the country could not properly feed its people.

Newborn baby numbers fell by an estimated 130,000 vis-a-vis natural increase rates in the 1995-2004 time frame, as fewer people married and couples put off giving birth during hard times, he said.

The latest statistical report, however, said that despite chronic food shortages, North Korea’s population managed to post steady growth in the last two decades.

As of this year, the population is estimated to be 24.19 million, up 0.5 percent from a year earlier. Before 1997, the population grew more than 1 percent on-year, but gains have become stagnant since 1998, staying under the 1 percent mark.

This year’s numbers make North Korea the 49th most populous country in the world, compared with 26th-ranked South Korea, whose population reached 48.88 million.

The statistical report, meanwhile, showed the number of economically active people in the North between the ages of 15 and 64 reaching 16.58 million this year, with the number of men being smaller than women.

The median age of the population stood at 30.1 years for men and 33.7 for women, five or six years younger than numbers for South Korea. The country effectively became an “aging society” in 2003 with the number of people over 65 hitting 7.2 percent of the total population and should be an “aged society” in 2033 with 14.5 percent of the population over 65 years old.

The report predicted that North Korea’s population will peak at 26.54 million in 2037, compared to South Korea’s peak population that is expected to be reached in 2018, when there may be some 49.34 million people living in the country.

If both South and North Korean populations are combined, the number would hit its peak in 2027 with 75.06 million people living on the peninsula, the report said.

Read the full story here:
N. Koreans expected to live 11 years less than S. Koreans: report


DPRK builds hundreds of cell towers, expands distance education opportunities

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 10-11-22-1

The Chosun Sinbo reported on November 15 that North Korea has erected hundreds of cellular signal towers throughout the country, providing phone service to every province, city, and town in North Korea. According to the report, the expansion of the North’s 3G network has really taken off in 2010, and the number of subscribers within the country has grown 2.5 times in the latter half of the year, as has the available coverage area.

This initiative has focused on setting up hundreds of cell towers near major highways, cities, and industries important to economic advancement. It was also reported that industry insiders had revealed that not only towns, cities, and provinces were targeted for the expansion of cellular service, but that there was a plan to erect towers in the back country, as well, and that authorities aimed to extend service to every village in the country by next year.

To this end, the Chosun Sinbo reported, the Pyongyang-based DPRK-PRC JV Checom Joint Venture Company has set up a “flow manufacturing process and is producing hundreds of high-performance cellular phones each day” and, “Related sectors are testing new devices and actively working on a project aimed at modifying the operating software to suit the needs of North Koreans.”

The paper also reported that North Korea’s academics and scientists collaborated to develop such a system in a short time, and that the system was also integrated into the nation’s Intranet. This system is different from the previous configuration in that videos, recordings, and text messages can be sent both ways, so that the system better supports an exchange of information rather than merely a transfer.

The paper emphasized that by providing distance education service to every local academic office, city and town library, and science and educational facility, the North has enacted a state-of-the-art, nationwide education system. In addition, by providing the infrastructure for real-time interactive lectures, workers and children in every region of the country can easily pursue their education by actively participating in a wide range of lectures.