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Category: Inter-Korean Issues (page 1 of 39)

Andrei Lankov asks what North Koreans really think about South Korean dramas

If one were to believe many news reports about North Korea, one may be forgiven for having the impression that the starving masses there long for a glamorous life in the South and are highly envious of their southern neighbors.  Well, the truth may be a little more complex.

The eminently readable and relevant Andrei Lankov asked the same question and came up with a highly textured answer.  In short, the Northerners are in fact impressed by Southern prosperity, but are also appalled by the violence, sex and greed exhibited in the dramas.

At first glance, it seems that North Koreans are bound to be admiring and envious of their South Korean brethren, whose income and living standards are so much higher and whose lifestyle is so much more comfortable….

[...]

The picture of the South within North Korea is a bit more complex, though. While admiring the almost unbelievable prosperity of the South, viewers are also exposed to many of the negative aspects of South Korean society.

[...]

… a number of North Korean viewers have come to the conclusion that South Korea must be a very violent place where police shoot suspected criminals more or less at random…

[...]

… casual sex, let alone sex as a means by which to advance one’s career or make some other type of gain, is considered morally despicable by… [North Koreans] . When they encounter a depiction of casual sex and one-night stands in South Korean movies, this confirms their belief in South Koreans’ low moral standards.

Very interesting read.  Dr. Lankov never disappoints.

Pyongyang’s Non-(?) Reaction, North Korean Catholicism(!), and Lankov

Solidifying North Korea’s already dominant position as the more comically entertaining of the two Koreas, Pyongyang reacted to speculation that the three short-range rockets fired off the east coast before Francis’s arrival and the two launched shortly after were in reaction to the Pope’s visit:

“We don’t know and in fact have no interest at all in why he is traveling to South Korea and what he is going to plot with the South Korean puppets,” Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim In-yong, a North Korean rocket scientist, as saying in reference to the pope.

The real question, the report quoted Mr. Kim as saying, was: “Why of all the days of the year, as numerous as the hairs of a cow, did the pope choose to come to the South on the very day we had planned to test our rockets?”

Reading between the lines, I see that North Korea has developed, to what diabolical end I do not know, a strain of nearly hairless cow with precisely 365 hairs in most years.  I will continue to monitor North Korean media for references to Kim In-yong or infer in lack thereof that Mr. Kim and his kin got sent to gulags for letting slip state secrets in South Korea’s most widely read English-language blog dealing with Korea-related topics.

Surprisingly (certainly to me), the Catholic Church does have a presence in North Korea.  Known as the “silent church”, Pyongyang has sanctioned one Catholic church, which has no official ties to the Vatican and is led by an itinerant South Korean Father John Park who has traveled to Pyongyang once a year since 2000 to celebrate mass.  The State maintains strict controls, and I doubt that Father Park administers the sacrament of confession:  “a confidential one-on-one conversation between a South Korean — even if that person is a priest — and a North Korean is impossible and both could be accused of espionage.”  North Korea has not a single priest residing in the country.  The United States claims North Korea’s few state-run churches exist only for the appearance of religious freedom.

As for numbers, the United Nations estimates about 800 Catholics in North Korea while North Korea’s state-run Korean Catholic Association asserts about 3,000 “registered Catholics.”  I wonder the reason for the North’s higher number, especially given that the regime is officially atheist.

Members of North Korea’s religious groups and the groups themselves are often criticized as being fake.   Here’s MH favorite Andrei Lankov’s take:

“The North Korean government is tolerant of a small controlled religious presence within the country or is willing to fake such presence,” said Andrei Lankov, an associate professor in social sciences at Kookmin University in South Korea.

“Even if some members are true believers, they are selected by the government. The police authorities, the secret police, is checking your background,” he said.

North Korea’s constitution does allow its people to practice religion. However, in the same constitution, it also says it won’t allow it to be “used for drawing in foreign forces or for harming the State or social order.”

Dr. Lankov concluded, “from their (North Korea’s) point of view, it is a very real threat. Right now, Christianity seems to be their most dangerous ideological challenge to the existing regime.”

I would like to ask him whether Christianity in general or Catholicism specifically is the threat.  We have seen in our lifetimes the irresistible political force, even to the Soviet Union and a well-backed Communist state and party, that the Catholic Church and pope can be.  I wonder could the next pope be Asian or even Korean?

For the Pope’s final mass on Monday for “peace and reconciliation for the Korean peninsula”, Vatican representatives had invited North Korea to send a delegation.  North Korea rejected the invitation.  The state-run Korean Catholics Association cited the annual joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces as the reason for rejection.  Apparently as fervently as they might feel about the Pope, North Korean Catholics feel even more so about the annual joint military exercises.

A New Era in Korea – Minus the American Influence

President Xi of the People’s Republic of China, and a large entourage of Chinese businessmen (Alibaba, Baidu), are currently visiting South Korea. The PRC is hoping for improved business ties but this time, there is, IMHO, the possibility of a sea change on the Korean peninsula.

Why and how?

China wants to change that status quo – they want to do so through money and through a redefinition of regional security – without American influence.

First, in business, China is proposing the foundation of a $50 billion “Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”, first proposed by President Xi in October 2013, during a tour of Southeast Asia. This bank would have the PRC holding a fifty-percent stake in this bank and has hinted at benefits to those nations that participate and Xi’s visit to Seoul, currently under way is very much about the benefits to South Korea. (we will get to what South Korea might actually want from joining this venture shortly). South Korea has expressed an intent to become an offshore trading centre in Chinese currency (renminbi) and this current meeting is expected to address this as well.
For South Korea, this is useful and important since South Korea’s two-way trade with China was $229 billion last year, exceeding the combined value of South Korea’s trade with the U.S. and Japan. Xi told reporters after the 2013 summit that the two countries will strive to boost their trade to top $300 billion (cite). This trade has been hampered by the fact that both countries transactions have been based in US Dollars (because the Yuan and Won are not directly traded) which costs more and reflects the indirect influence of things American in Asia. A statement from South Korea’s finance ministry and central bank said the South Korean won will become directly exchangeable with the yuan, joining major currencies such as the U.S. dollar, Japanese yen and euro that are convertible with the Chinese currency. The decision also makes the yuan only the second currency after the U.S. dollar that is directly convertible with the won. (cite)
China has also given consent to South Korea’s investment of tens of billions of yuan (billions of USD) in Chinese bonds and stocks. The PRC Government is encouraging businesses to invest in Korea as well. Chinese investors are highly interested in cultural content, software and real estate development, thus would explain the drive by the Korean side to have Chinese investment in the so far failed Saemangeum Project (cite) or the attempt at luring Chinese investment in the Yeosu – Dadohae Haesang National Park area, as well as some yet to be announced projects.

There is also the issue of the recent Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the PRCs desire to exclude powers – such as the U.S. – from regional security, suggesting an arrangement, guided by the PRC that is more than a little reminiscent of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere plan of Showa Japanese origin. As reported in The Diplomat:

Xi called for the creation of a “new regional security cooperation architecture.” He proposed that CICA become “a security dialogue and cooperation platform” for all of Asia, from which countries can explore the possibility of creating a regional security framework. He further indicated that China would take a leading role in exploring the creation of a “code of conduct for regional security and [an] Asian security partnership program.”
In promoting China’s vision for a new regional security framework, Xi took specific aim at the basis for the current status quo: military alliances. Xi tied such alliances to “the outdated thinking of [the] Cold War.” “We cannot just have security for one or a few countries while leaving the rest insecure,” Xi said. “A military alliance which is targeted at a third party is not conducive to common regional security.” Xi in turn offered an alternative vision for Asia, one based on an all-inclusive regional security framework rather than individual alliances with external actors like the United States.” (cite )

The real horse dealing that is not hinted at in the Korean press (which has been very quiet yet unmistakably pro-Chinese) is how will the PRC, under Xi, will resolve the issue of reunification between the two Koreas. The South Korean Government reportedly wants substantial help from Xi for making reunification a reality – in both financial aid and in the momentum that can only come from the DPRK’s only substantial supporter. Though many believe that the PRC will likely not destabilize the DPRK, if the ROK buys into the Chinese sphere of financial and political influence, rejects the American presence in the region and further guarantees their responsibility in dealing with the potential North Korean refugee problem, I honestly don’t see how a belligerent DPRK could possibly avoid change and reunification with the southern half since it would be a matter of survival to do so.

I suppose this is logical; solving Korea’s problem long-standing problem with the north and the cost of unification, while resulting in the exit of America’s influence in Korea and pushing the US further out of the region and likely gaining more support for the egregious regional claims made by the PRC. There is little America can do about this too, since the Chinese have the means to deliver the reality of unification to South Korea and whereas the U.S. can not.

Looking into a Sino-Korean future; also worrisome is the shortage of personnel to staff the larger Korean projects and the increased likelihood that more Chinese will see living and working in Korea as business ties and opportunities grow in the future. What impact this will have on Korean society remains to be seen and considering the tremendous potential influx of money into Korea, the Korea of fifty years from now will likely be a very different one from what we observe today in terms of world view and its relationship with Europe and the US.  Some may even talk about Korea as being a Chinese colony, wistfully remembering the days when their elders talked about how Korea was really an American colony.

N. Korean threats and more Pyongyang Kremlinology

Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin is warning that North Korea might act out early next year:

“There is a high probability of the North launching various kinds of provocations between late January and early March,” ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok quoted him as saying during a video conference with military commanders. “We have to prepare for both provocations and an all-out battle to strike back against the commanding forces of the North.

That last part reads a lot better in Korean:

“국지도발과 전면전 위협에 동시에 대비하면서 적이 도발하면 지휘 및 지원세력까지 강력하게 응징해서 도발 의지를 완전 분쇄해야 한다”고 강조했다.

I.e., if North Korea launches a provocation, we’ll hit not only the source of the attack, but also support and command units. Basically a restatement of previous South Korean warnings.

Kim also said the execution of Uncle Jang marks an important “turning point” for the North, suggesting that while it might solidify the leadership temporarily, internal instability would grow.

The opposition Democratic Party was a bit suspicious as to why the minister would worry the public so when there are no signs North Korea is up to anything unusual (OK, that’s not entirely accurate). To be fair to the DP, they have reason to be suspicious—the Defense Ministry is set to announce the interim results of an investigation into allegations its cyber-warfare command joined hands with the NIS to engage in an online smear campaign against DP candidate Moon Jae-in in last year’s presidential election.

Anyway, if you’re into whatever they call Kremlinology for Pyongyang (there was a great word for this, but I can’t seem to recall it), the ceremonies to mark the second anniversary of the passing of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il are producing a ton of it in the South Korean press. This piece in the Dong-A sums up the most notable observations, including the rise of Choe Ryong-hae, head of the KPA’s political bureau:

The North’s Korea Central TV station broadcast live the memorial ceremony for about one hour from 11 a.m. on Tuesday. At the leadership platform, Kim Yong Nam, executive chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, and Choe Ryong Hae, director of the Korean People`s Army General Political Bureau, were sitting on both sides of the North’s leader Kim Jong Un. On the first anniversary event last year, Choe Chun Sik, the director of the second natural science institute who contributed to the launch of a rocket, was sitting between Kim and Choe Ryong Hae. Considering that Kim Yong Nam is a post of formality who externally serves as the head of state, the new seating arrangement suggests that Choe Ryong Hae positioned himself as the undisputed No. 2 man since Jang’s execution.

Notably, Choe Ryong Hae is distancing himself from Jang by underscoring his family’s loyalty to the family of Mount Baekdu (Kim Jong Un) that has lasted for generations. Choe Ryong Hae’s father, Choe Hyon, jointly staged anti-Japanese independence fight as communist with North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, and is a figure admired in the North for his lifetime royalty to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Choe was especially mouthy yesterday, swearing not only undying loyalty to KJU, but also promising to rain fire and brimstone on Seoul if it attacks. Needless to say, that grabbed the Chosun Ilbo’s attention.

Nobody really knows what the long-term impact of Jang’s execution will be in terms of North Korea’s internally stability. It hasn’t done much for Pyongyang’s international image, though. Heck, even Bruce Cumings was appalled. One guy who’s not letting the bad press keep him away though is Dennis Rodman, who’s back in Pyongyang to help train North Korean basketball players.

Needless to say, you should all be reading Joshua Stanton at One Free Korea on a daily basis now. His comments on Uncle Jang’s wife—who doesn’t look like she’s going to get axed any time soon—are rather poignant:

For years, I’d heard from a well-connected South Korean friend that Kim Kyong Hui and Jang were in a Clintonian marriage, and that their estrangement was a bitter one. I’d even heard that she was the more powerful of the two spouses (she certainly is now). The Joongang Ilbo, citing the Asahi Shimbun, says that Kim divorced Jang shortly before his execution. This report, citing South Korean sources, says that Jang and Kim’s “only daughter committed suicide in 2006 while studying in Paris.” What a sad life she must have lived, and she was one of the “lucky” ones.

Some day, a South Korean “drama” producer is going to make a lot of money on this. It’s like “The Borgias” meets “The Killing Fields.

photo credit: bryanh via photopin cc

UPDATE: About that word I couldn’t remember…

Lil’ Kim’s Island – Good Tequila, Good Times

tequilashotglassForget all the negative, political hype, Kim JongUn has a nice island, knows how to treat friends and is trying to slowly make new connections within an old system.  Dennis Rodman knows.  He knows Kim and they’re friends.  Forget all that negative hype from South Korea because Kim is “a ‘good guy’, a ‘good-hearted kid’ who offers the best tequila to his guests on his private island.  South Korea should commission the Rodman to help with their diplomacy and to bring together all the good tequila and private islands from the north and south together for good times and for a possible “Simon Sez – II” movie.  I wonder why the South Korean Government has not done this already considering they were seriously thinking of spending 7.8 billion USD on jets that few people like or can afford.  Surely inexpensive, though odd, approaches to solving problems are worth considering?

The article from the Guardian is here.

So, that’s what happened to those transcripts

Also not surprising:

About a month after the 2007 presidential election, former President Roh Moo-hyun ordered his aides to discard the original transcript of his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at a Pyongyang summit, according to an exclusive report by the JoongAng Ilbo.

And more records were deleted by the president around the time he left office, the report said.

From Roh’s electronic records system, prosecutors have recovered a document showing he ordered aides to delete the original transcript of the summit meeting after the 2007 presidential election, which was won by a large margin by Lee Myung-bak of the Grand National Party, which was the opposition during Roh’s term.

Now, to be fair, former President Roh probably shouldn’t have had to worry about somebody leaking those transcripts, but alas, that’s exactly what he needed to worry about and exactly what transpired.

Noted – Roh Did It After All

President Roh  had the electronic record of the 2007 inter-Korea Summit deleted . (not to mention other missing things).

Two Koreas agree to working-level talks on Kaesong

Might the left wing’s favorite Third World sweatshop live on? I guess we’ll soon find out:

The two Koreas on Thursday agreed to hold this weekend working-level talks on reopening a joint industrial complex in the communist country that remains suspended for nearly three months, the government said.

The Ministry of Unification said that the government-to-government meeting will be held at Tongilgak, an administrative building on the North Korean side of the neutral border village of Panmunjom, at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

A three-member delegation from each side will attend the meeting, the first of its kind since the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North’s border city of the same name came to a halt in early April amid high military and political tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

According to Yonhap, experts in Seoul aren’t especially optimistic that talks will produce much of anything—the South is likely to demand changes that would reduce Northern control over the complex, and the North is likely to demand the complex be restarted first and safeguards be discussed at a later date.

Frankly, I’d rather Seoul just let the thing die. Not to dismiss the potential for revolutionary change of thousands of Choco Pies flooding into North Korea, but really, aside from making the North money and giving Pyongyang potential hostages, I’m not sure what Seoul gets out of it. One could argue it gives the South leverage over the North, I suppose, but it seems that South Korean “leverage” over the North always ends up as North Korean leverage over the South.

A bit more about NLL Transcript-Gate

- Yonhap notes that the release of the transcripts could have a negative impact on South Korean diplomacy not only with North Korea—-which can’t be happy about this breach in diplomatic protocol—but also with Seoul’s other diplomatic partners, all of whom have to worry now that things they say behind closed doors will eventually be aired to the public when politically expedient. Will the opposition one day respond by releasing transcripts from summits between LMB/PGH and US/Japanese leaders? Who knows…

– The Chosun Ilbo’s TV station notes that the foreign media are noting Roh’s anti-American and anti-Japanese statements. I’m not sure if that’s true, but perhaps it should be, especially with zingers like these. My personal favorite was “우리는 미국에 의지해온 친미국가라는 것은 객관적 사실”이라며 “역사적으로 형성되어 온 것으로 하루아침에 미국과 관계를 싹뚝 끊고 북측이 하시는 것처럼 이런 수준의 자주를 하는 것은 불가능.” Like North Korea’s “수준의 자주” was a good thing. Not as Uriminzokkiri-esque as the passage I quoted here, but still pretty telling, I think. As was this:

이후 ‘제일 미운 나라’, ‘동북아 평화 해칠 국가’를 묻는 여론조사에 당시 국민 상당수가 ‘미국’을 꼽았다는 점을 강조하며 “이러한 것이 우리민족이 자주적으로 문제를 풀어나갈 수 있는 환경의 변화”라 말한 것도 이런 맥락이다.

– Oh, not that it has anything to do with Roh Moo-hyun or the NLL, but I’ve posted some photos of Sunday’s “supermoon” over Seoul on my Tumblr. The visibility was shite, and the best I’ve got in my bag is a 200mm, but blah photos are better than no photos.

Roh agreed to abandon NLL: National Assembly intel committee lawmakers

Saenuri Party lawmakers on the National Assembly intelligence committee say they’ve read the sections of the conversation record from the 2007 inter-Korean summit where President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il discussed the West Sea NLL, reports the Chosun Ilbo.

And more to the point, they say Roh made a statement that suggested he wanted to abandon the NLL. To sum up, Roh said he agreed with Kim that the NLL needed to be changed and called for it to be turned into a “zone of peaceful cooperation.” Kim responded by suggesting Roh abandon its laws regarding the NLL so that the two sides could enter working-level discussions on creating said zone, to which Roh said, “Yes, fine.”

They also said the sanctions the US placed on BDA in 2005 were a “clear American blunder.” Best of all, Roh also told Kim that if you poll South Koreans, the country they hate the most is the United States. When asked which nation threatens peace the most, South Koreans respond with the United States at No. 1, Japan at No. 2 and then North Korea.

Lovely.

Much, much more here. The stuff in these documents come from NIS reports in 2009 when the LMB administration was secretly preparing for a possible summit with the North. Wanna play a game? Guess which leader said the following about the BDA sanctions, Roh and Kim Jong-il:

“분명히 얘기를 하는데… BDA 문제는 미국의 실책인데… 북측에 손가락질하고 북측보고 풀어라 하고, 부당하다는 거 다 알고 있습니다.… 뭐 제일 큰 문제가 미국입니다. 나도 역사적으로 제국주의 역사가 사실 세계 인민들에게 반성도 하지 않았고 오늘날도 패권적 야망을 절실히 드러내고 있다는 인식을 갖고 있으며 저항감도 가지고 있습니다.”

If you guessed Roh, you would have guessed right. Among other things, Roh also apparently expressed a desire to build a light water reactor for the North instead of the United States, bragged about sinking OPLAN 5029, and much, much more. Oh, and as for Kim Jong-il supposedly agreeing to the stationing of US troops in Korea during the 2000 summit with Kim Dae-jung, what KJI actually said appears to be more along the lines of “the US troop presence is useful because I can use it to drum up anti-American sentiment at home.” Which is remarkably frank, but also not the line of steaming BS the DJ administration tried to sell the South Korean and American publics.

PS: Yes, the reason the Chosun is going big with this is probably to distract the public from the ever growing evidence that the NIS was engaged in some serious nonsense during the last presidential election. It’s still fun reading through this stuff, though.

President Park commanded operation to move defectors to ROK embassy in Laos

On June 4, President Park—from the war room in a bunker underneath Cheong Wa Dae—took direct command over an operation to move 18 North Korean defectors hiding in safe houses in Laos to the South Korean embassy in Vientiane.

In order to keep the op quiet, the 18 defectors were broken up into small groups which were moved to the embassy over the course of the entire day. Park reportedly stayed in the bunker for the entire operation.

Park is said to have ordered the defectors moved to the embassy after judging the situation in Laos unsafe for the defectors.

Korean diplomats have come under fire recently, accused of lackadaisical handling of North Korean defectors hiding in their host nations.

Inter-Korean talks in Seoul next week

North Korea surprised everybody by proposing working-level talks with the South to discuss Kaesong and Kumgangsan yesterday, and the South—also surprisingly, IMHO, accepted right away, proposing ministerial-level talks in Seoul on June 12.

North Korea left it to the South to choose the time and place, which was also unusual.

Seems like most parties in the South are pretty happy about the proposed talks, although the conservatives are going into this with a (IMHO) healthy dose of skepticism. Frankly, I’m not really sure what there is to discuss—but then again, I didn’t think the closures of Kaesong and Kumgangsan were bad things. As long as there were no preconditions attached to the talks, though, I suppose it doesn’t hurt to hear what the North Koreans have to say.

UPDATE: North Korea is now calling for preliminary working-level talks in Kaesong on June 9. They also said they’ll open up the Panmunjeon communication channel. It should also be noted that judging from the what the Chosun quoted, the North was rather polite about it.

North Korea goes the hostage route

Hey, it works for the Somalis.

North Korea is holding seven South Korean staff of Kaesong Industrial Complex to work out “unpaid wage and tax issues.”

President Park said a funny about Kaesong:

President Park Geun-hye lashed out at Pyongyang’s defiant decision on temporary suspension of the complex.

“All the people in the world watched through television that our workers were returning from the complex, desperately trying to bring even one more thing from it,” Park said yesterday. “Now, in a situation where all of the agreements between us are nullified, who in the world will invest in North Korea?”

The question should have been, “Who in the world should invest in North Korea?”

But I digress. In addition to the Kaesong Seven, North Korea is also threatening to put on trial Korean American tourist Kenneth Bae, who has been detained in North Korea on unspecified charges since November.

Kaesong still being evacuated

In case you care, because I sure as hell don’t:

South Korea is set to pull out all remaining personnel from an inter-Korean industrial complex in North Korea on Monday in a move that will effectively sever the last economic link between the two countries.

The Ministry of Unification said 50 South Korean nationals were to leave the Kaesong Industrial Complex for Seoul after 126 people returned home on Saturday.

Seoul announced Friday that it will withdraw all of its people after the North ignored the deadline for talks aimed at normalizing operations that have been suspended since April 9 when Pyongyang ordered its 53,000 laborers not to report to work. It took the action, citing South Korean provocations and insult against its national dignity.

If the withdrawal takes place at 5 p.m. as planned, there will be no workers left at the joint venture that first started churning out products in late 2004.

The Foreign Minister says the window of dialogue is still open, however. As The Daily Show’s John Oliver recently said to former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, whoopty-f–ing do.

At any rate, the Kaesong pullout has provided us at least the amusement of seeing things like this.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s Rodong Shinmun warned today that if the South continues to aggravate the situation, the North would be the first to take a final and decisive measure regarding Kaesong. Said article also said the North did not throw the South Koreans out of Kaesong or close it down completely out of consideration for the South Korean companies there.

BREAKING: Seoul to advise remaining South Koreans to come home from Kaesong

Yonhap (via the Chosun Ilbo) is reporting that the government will issue a statement advising that those South Koreans remaining at the Kaesong Industrial Complex return home.

Quoting a government source, Yonhap said this is the “grave measure” Seoul warned about.

The Unification Ministry is issuing the statement now—see Steve Herman’s Twitter feed for the minute-to-minute.

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