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Category: North Korea (page 1 of 98)

N. Korea unilaterally lifts wage increase limit at Kaesong

If you’re a South Korean business with a factory at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, I hope you’ve stocked up on your K-Y Jelly:

North Korea has removed the legal limit for wages paid to its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the North’s propaganda site said Saturday, a move that could cause tension with South Korea, which co-runs the industrial park with the reclusive regime.

The North revised the Act on Kaesong Complex laborers late last month, scrapping the upper ceiling for workers’ wages, according to Uriminzokkiri, one of the country’s major propaganda sites.

The site also said that raises will be set every year by the supervisory committee overseeing laborers at the complex.

According to the Asia Gyeongje, the Uriminzokkiri article said the North changed 10 provisions in the Kaesong worker regulations, although the scrapping of the wage increase ceiling was the only one specified. Presumably, one would imagine, to make sure the South Koreans didn’t miss it.

Needless to say, there is concern that the North Koreans will place more pressure on South Korea by demanding high salary hikes at Kaesong in future negotiations, and Seoul has condemned the labor regulation move as unilateral (see link above). The labor regulations as they existed before, agreed upon by both Koreas in 2003, placed a 5% ceiling on annual raises to the minimum wage paid to North Korean workers at Kaesong, which currently stands at US$70.35 a month. Businesses in Kaesong say, however, they pay over US$150 a month when you take into consideration overtime and incentives. Interestingly, they also complain that costs increased as they replaced the South Korean-made Chocopies they’d been giving out as snacks with North Korean-made snacks, a fact that probably tells you everything you need to know about North Korea’s economy.

To be frank, I don’t feel especially bad for the South Korean firms at Kaesong, especially since every time I hear the Kaesong business owners’ association open its mouth, it’s to do things like call for a lifting of sanctions on the North or demand an end to ballooning leaflets. The progressive Seoul Shinmun ran an editorial condemning the North’s move, further evidence of the strange bedfellows Kaesong brings together.

To make this more interesting, the North’s announcement via Uriminzokkiri came just before Seoul making it known that it was considering offering incentives to Pyongyang (i.e., paying the North off) to restart the family reunion program.

IS playing with looted North Korean gear: NK News

Want to see North Korean tank equipment in action without igniting Korean War II? Well then, check out Syria:

Perhaps the most notable impact of the DPRK’s arms industry on Syria can be found in Syria’s once enormous tank fleet. Namely, the DPRK upgraded hundreds of Soviet-made T-54 and T-55 tanks for Syria in the late ’70s and early ’80s, with some even seeing use in the 1982 Lebanon War.

Although the entire T-54 fleet (including the examples upgraded by North Korea) was presumably retired years ago, the T-55s certainly were not and nowadays a tank spotted in the northern half of Syria shows marks of the DPRK’s military influence more often than not. The T-54s themselves were stored in depots for most of the civil war, but as more and more armor has been destroyed and shortages grow, an increasing number are being brought back into service.

After a large number of tanks were captured at the northern stronghold of Brigade 93 – an armored unit of the 17th Division of the Syrian Arab Army at Raqqa – the Islamic State became a major operator of T-55s upgraded by North Korea, and subsequently used them in the assault on Kobanê. This was not the first case of Pyongyang’s equipment ending up in unintended hands, however, as a MANPADS (man-portable air-defense system) of North Korean manufacture seen at Kshesh airbase testifies.

Read the rest on your own—it’s quite interesting.

And BTW, just how happy are you that the Israelis took out that North Korean-built reactor in Syria NOW?

And if you haven’t read it yet, this is a good primer on North Korea’s involvement in the Mongolian clusterf*ck that is the Syrian civil war. I also recall reports that Assad had brought in North Korean pilots to help in the war effort, which, if true, would not be the first time North Korean pilots have flown for the Syrians.

Seth Rogen and James Franco’s culinary crime against humanity

Behold, the “Korean barbecue” lasagna:

Layers of bacon, short ribs, pork, beef, kimchi, pajon and gochujang and coming in at 33,083 some odd calories, this monstrosity is evidently an attempt to promote their new movie, coming out on Christmas day in the States.

To THAAD or not to THAAD? That is Korea’s question.

What is THAAD?  It stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and it’s essentially a province/state, small country-wide anti-ballistic missile defense system.  It apparently has a range of 2,000 kilometers and the U.S. is offering it to both Japan and South Korea.  So what?  Well, the Chinese don’t like it.

(Image from JoongAng Ilbo)

Although the U.S. says it’s to protect South Korea and Japan against possible missile attack from North Korea, the pure raw capabilities of the THAAD system would indicate that the defensive target isn’t just North Korea.  The long-range THAAD missiles, along with their powerful X-Band radars, if deployed in both South Korea and Japan, offers a multilayered anti-ballistic missile defense that could theoretically render a sizable chunk of China’s ballistic missile arsenal obsolete.

Earlier this year the U.S. delivered the enormous X-Band radar that helps power the THAAD, to Kyoto, Japan and the PRC was not pleased.

The spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, said “the deployment of anti-missile systems in the Asia-Pacific and seeking unilateral security is not beneficial” to regional security. In an apparent reference to the Washington’s often quoted excuse of protecting against North Korean antagonism, Hu said the deployment should not be an “excuse to harm the security interests of other countries.”

The Chinese have given rather ominous warnings to South Korea not to adopt THAAD:

China has told South Korea that joining the U.S. missile defense system would cross a “red line” in their bilateral relationship.

And the PRC’s ambassador to South Korea Qiu Guohong:

“The THAAD would have a range of around 2,000 kilometers, which goes beyond the goal of countering missiles from North Korea,”

[…]

“The deployment of the THAAD will badly influence the relations between South Korea and China … It would harm China’s security system,”

Cross a “red line?”  Badly “influence” relations?  Uh, oh.  That doesn’t sound good.  South Korea, for their part, says they are not interested in THAAD because they are apparently developing their own anti-ballistic weapons system.

In Oct., 2013, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said South Korea would “definitely not join the U.S. missile defense system,” citing the associated costs and plans to develop South Korea’s own, similar system.

And that would be the so-called KAMD (“Korean Anti Missile Defense“) system, a mix of  Patriot  PAC-3 missiles, SM-6 and perhaps SM-3 missiles,  guided by the Israeli Green Pine radar.  There is also an apparent “indigenous” Korean anti-ballistic missile in the works, which may be similar to an Israeli Arrow type missile.

Publicly, this has been what the Korean government has said about why they may not adopt THAAD, but some Koreans are taking China’s tough talk seriously.  One of Korea’s most popular best selling authors, Kim Jin-myung, suspended all this other projects to rush and write a new novel titled “THAAD.”  According to Kim:

If it accepts the U.S. calls to deploy the anti-ballistic missile system here, he predicts, this will cost the country its No. 1 trading partner. China remains suspicious of the U.S. motive to deploy THAAD on the Korean Peninsula because it will nullify its ballistic missile system.

[China] reportedly believes that the United States seeks to encircle it.

If South Korea rejects the U.S. calls, Kim claims, it will not only lose its closest ally but also may face a catastrophic circumstance — a war on the peninsula.

A “war on the peninsula?”  A bit of hyperbole IMHO, but Kim Jin-myung says he’s not going to take a side in his novel.  He just believes there should be public discourse and concensus before the Korean government makes a decision on THAAD.

South Korea’s traditional ally the U.S. or China?  Not saying the choice is between the two here, but the choice for South Korea is getting increasingly more complex, especially in light of China’s growing economic power and influence.

(Graphic from the WSJ).

NOTE

Russia doesn’t like THAAD in Korea either.

 

The Korean government’s $500 billion tax-free reunification plan

No, weed is not yet legal in Korea and yes, you heard correctly.  Tax-free.

ED-AL440A_ebers_G_20100429180037

(Image from Abihollow via iamkoream.com)

According to Korea’s top financial regulator, Shin Je-yoon, Chairman of the Financial Services Commission (“FSC”), it will take 20 years and $500 billion USD to satisfactorily integrate North Korea into the south.  Now, this won’t be a perfect one-to-one integration mind you, but an attempt to get the north up to a level where it can operate at some workable and complimentary level with the south.

FSC’s blueprint added that the estimated sum would be sufficient to increase North Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita from last year’s $1,251 to $10,000 in 20 years. North Korea’s current GDP total of $31 billion is equivalent to South Korea’s 1971 GDP and just 2 percent of its GDP from last year.

Okay, if not taxes, then where would all the money come from?

According to Yonhap:

The FSC said state-run policy financing agencies, including the Korea Development Bank (KDB) and Korea Exim Bank, will play a major role in raising the funds, as Germany’s government-owned development bank, or the KfW, did 24 years ago.

The state agencies will take responsibility for up to 60 percent of the total expenses by running development projects in North Korea, while the rest will be raised by collecting overseas development aid (ODA) and private and public investments.

The Hani was a little more detailed:

In order to raise these funds, the government proposes to have public financial institutions find between US$250 billion and US$300 billion, 50% to 60% of the total, and to allow the private sector to invest between US$107.2 billion and US$186.5 billion in special economic zones and projects with guaranteed profitability.

The government also predicts that it can put US$100 billion of the US$330 billion in tax revenues it collects during the economic development of North Korea to use as funds for further development. These figures were calculated using the South Korean tax rate of 26%, under the assumption that North Korea will experience an average of 8% yearly growth during the first decade of development and 10% of yearly growth during the second decade. In addition, the government believes that it can secure US$17 billion of funding through overseas development aid (ODA) from other countries.

I don’t know.  Sounds a little voodoo to me and it assumes that people would want to invest in the north and that the north’s population would be stable and productive enough to draw some tax revenue to cover the spread.  Still, $250-300 billion is a lot of debt to raise and plunge into the 1960’s era relic that is today’s North Korea.

It must be said that the $500 billion estimate is at an overly optimistic the lower end of a range of assessments.  The upper range being $5 trillion.

The DPRK vs. The World

Yesterday, the UN voted for a resolution that condemns North Korea for human rights abuses and for the first time recommends the prosecution of its leaders for crimes against humanity at theInternational Criminal Court.  The only question I have is will the DPRK’s long-standing mentor and supporter – the PRC – or the original instigator of trouble in the region – Russia – stand up and defend the backshooters?

As quoted in the linked article:

“If they want to be seen defending the human rights record of the worst human rights offender on the planet, let them do so in public and pay a price” (Sue Mi Terry, a senior research scholar at the Columbia University Weatherhead East Asian Institute and a former intelligence officer with the United States government, who specializes in North Korea.

Languages spoken in North and South Korea diverging?

Perhaps, so.  Well, when a language has been separated for 66 some odd years, there is a danger of that happening.

Apparently, North Korean defectors are complaining that the language spoken in the South has enough differences that it makes integration more difficult.  One defector claims that the language of the South is “completely different.”

This issue isn’t a new one.  There have been attempts by various individuals to come up with joint dictionaries, but the two governments haven’t been as cooperative.

Aside from difficulties for North Korean defectors is the larger issue of divergent diplomatic language.  The North have a different academic heritage than the South with many Soviet and German Marxist loan words entering their scholarly vernacular, whereas the South has kept many Japanese derived Chinese academic words and have adopted many German legal terms and English loan words.  The North has “purified” their language of Sino-Japanese words and haven’t adopted any English loan words (except for those that may have entered via the Russian route).

 

Breaking News: N. Korea fires at leaflets ballooned into North; shells land in South

I wish I could tell you more, but all we have is the breaking Yonhap headline which says North Korea just fired at the folk sending balloons with leaflets into the North, with shells apparently falling in the South.

North Korean delegation visits Incheon, but no meeting with the president

We got some unexpected visitors in town today, it seems:

North and South Korea have agreed to hold another round of high-level talks after a top-level Northern delegation, including the men thought to be second and third in command behind Kim Jong Un, paid a surprise visit to the South on Saturday.

The unusual and unannounced trip — the first such high-level visit in more than five years — comes at a time of intense speculation about North Korea’s leadership, given that Kim, the third-generation leader of the communist state, has not been seen in public for a month.

[…]

“It’s a big deal, it’s really a big deal, because it’s completely unprecedented,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea scholar who studied in Pyongyang and now teaches in Seoul.

Far be it from me to be skeptical about anything Lankov says—he’s one of the few people I actually listen to when it comes to North Korea—but I’ll believe it’s a big deal when I see something big come out of this. Which, of course, is a possibility.

NoCut News reports, however, that this time, the high-ranking delegation—led by Korean People’s Army and vice chairman of the National Defense Commission Hwang Pyong-so—were unable to visit Cheong Wa Dae for a chat with President Park Geun-hye. Which is unfortunate, says NoCut News, because it had become almost usual practice for high-ranking North Korean officials to talk with the president when they visit the South.

The North Korean delegation said they’d come to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games and that they simply did not have time to stop by Cheong Wa Dae, but NoCut News, quoting various experts, says this was likely just an excuse. Either they didn’t like what they heard during their talk with South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae and Cheong Wa Dae National Security Advisor Kim Kwang-jin, or they had no intention to visit President Park in the first place. It could also be that it would have looked odd for a high-ranking delegation to pay a courtesy call on President Park when Pyongyang has focused much of its energy recently on launching personal attacks on her.

For what it’s worth, Unification Minister Ryoo apparently asked one of the North Korean officials how North Korean leader Kim Jong-un—who hasn’t been seen recently—was feeling, and was told he was just fine. Which, for all we know, could mean he’s already dead.

Oh, and the North Korean delegation stood during the South Korean national anthem when it played during the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. Which was nice of them. I’m guessing they didn’t visit the MacArthur Statue in Freedom Park, though.

Kim Jong-un’s “gravity” is starting to cause problems

Back when Kim Jong-un was just a kid in a foreign school in Switzerland, he was a skinny boy who liked to mercurially run around basketball courts.  Jong-un’s dad, the former Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, told his son that in order to rule he needed a “leader’s gravity.”  So, they fattened the boy up to be the round mound of rebound that he is today.

Unfortunately, this is evidently creating problems.  Health problems at the merry old age of 31?  The guy’s been out of public view for three weeks, even missing a session of parliament for the very first time.  The rumor is that Jong-un may have gout because he was walking with a pronounced limp the last time he was seen publicly.  Gout?  Isn’t that just for old people who eat too much rich food and drink too much beer?  In any case, even North Korean TV is admitting that the Dear Leader may be feeling a little under the weather as of late.

The dude is fat.  Probably far fatter than a healthy man his age should be.  One weird rumor says his weight is ballooning due to his addiction to Swiss Emmental cheese.

Well, Mr. Dear Leader I hope you eat shit and die get well soon.

 

Do North Korean refugee women dream of finding their perfect South Korean meal ticket husband?

What usually comes to mind when one thinks of North Korean women?  Those pretty cheerleaders that the North occasionally send out to international sporting events?  Women who, by very nature of being malnourished, being an average of 2-3 inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts?  Prettier than average Korean women in line with the Korean saying, “남남북녀” (“Namnam buknyeo”), or in English “Southern men [are handsomest], [and] northern women [are prettiest].”

Well, according to The Hankyoreh, at least one matchmaking agency has drawn some cartoons to expound their own stereotypes of apparently economically desperate North Korean women refugees looking for South Korean husbands to take them away from their destitution.

(Image from The Hankyoreh)

The blog Korea Exposé offers interesting English commentary:

A North Korean woman, alone in her cheap government housing, asks, “I want to get married. Where is my love?” She daydreams of being only in her underwear, straddling her ideal South Korean man, and calling out to him in affection, “My dear husband.”

That controversial advertisement by a matchmaking firm specializing in bringing North Korean defector women and South Korean men together was abruptly pulled late last month amid a firestorm of criticism at the way it depicted North Korean women as lonesome, sexually charged, and desperate.

Added bonus?  The same match making agency put out another cartoon explaining the, uh, “benefits” of having children with North Korean women:

(Image from The Hankyoreh)

No brown interracial children!

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.

So, You Got State Secrets and A Coffee House, Eh?

What passes for the state security apparatus in China is now holding a Canadian couple for stealing state secrets about national defence and the military”.  The couple in question are running a coffee shop in Dandong (Peter’s Coffee House), right on the border with North Korea.

Apparently they host an English table every Friday and have entertainment – as well as steal state secrets.

Their customers seem to agree that Peter’s Coffee House has the tastiest secrets in the region:

“We stopped in to Peter’s Coffee House while on a walk along the Yalu River, to grab a bite for lunch, and were pleasantly surprised. The owner and his staff were all friendly and helpful, and the food was great.”

The owners of the secret coffee house – Kevin and Julia Garratt – are baffled by the Chinese security service’s claims and, according to their son, the charges are “absurd” and made “absolutely no sense”.  A good Reuter’s article on this is here.

Why am I not surprised?

Who said North Korea lacked a sense of humor?

Hwang Pyong-So, the director of the North Korean military’s General Political Bureau, has threatened to nuke the White House and the Pentagon:

A senior North Korean military official on Sunday threatened to launch a nuclear strike on the White House and Pentagon, according to Agence France-Presse.

“If the US imperialists threaten our sovereignty and survival … our troops will fire our nuclear-armed rockets at the White House and the Pentagon — the sources of all evil,” Hwang Pyong-So said in a speech in Pyongyang during a military rally.

Hwang is director of the military’s General Political Bureau.

You know what the problem with North Korea is? They never threaten to nuke something good. Like your local DMV or the IRS. Or Boston.

Anyway, the US State Department shrugged off the threat. In fact, in the department’s latest press briefing, they hardly mentioned it at all (and only at the very end). Apparently, there’s more important stuff going on in the Levant and the Ukraine.

Speaking of North Korea and the Levant, though, a report in the Telegraph suggests Hamas might be hitting the North Koreans up for missiles and communication support:

Hamas is attempting to negotiate a new arms deal with North Korea for missiles and communications commitment that will allow it to maintain its offensive against Israel, according to Western security sources.

Security officials say the deal between Hamas and North Korea is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and is being handled by a Lebanese-based trading company with ties to the militant Palestinian organization.

Hamas officials are believed to have already made an initial cash downpayment to secure the deal and are hoping that North Korea will soon begin shipping extra supplies of weapons to Gaza.

One suspects North Korean cargo ships may begin experiencing a series of catastrophic accidents as certain individuals begin disappearing from the streets of Beirut.

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