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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
The PRC wants soft power; wants Kung Fu Panda – can’t get their heavy, bloody hands on it, however some Chinese do parody pretty well and much to North Korea’s discomfort.
I’ll give North Korea this: when they find something that works, they stick with it.
Apparently, this is the third tourist North Korea has arrested in the last six months. My sympathies go out to the poor schmucks who work at North Korea’s tourism board—this can’t be making your job any easier.
For what it’s worth, if the reports on this one are true, I’m not all that sure I want the State Department to try to get him back:
“A relevant organ of the DPRK put in custody American Miller Matthew Todd, 24, on April 10 for his rash behavior in the course of going through formalities for entry into the DPRK to tour it,” the KCNA said.
Miller ripped up his tourist travel certificate and declared “he would seek asylum,” adding that ”he came to the DPRK after choosing it as a shelter,” the KCNA said, which described his actions as a “gross violation” of legal order.
The North Korean government detained Miller “after taking a serious note of his behavior, and is now investigating the case.”
Rather rude of the North Koreans to announce the detention while President Obama was in town. Still, I suppose it was a better than a nuclear test.
Other odd or interesting bits in the news as of late:
The penis patrol is on alert for adultery again: South Korea has banned the Korean Ashley Madison website that offers a way for married people to meet since South Korea still has a 1953 statute that criminalises adultery. The website owner, Noel Biderman believes the law is “hopelessly outdated” but still heeded legal advice not to attend the South Korea launch in person. For those that might wonder why people would visit such a site, this GQ piece was pretty much to the point and interesting. The power of scent is not to be underestimated.
South Korea and Japan have held senior-level discussions on Korea’s “comfort women” and have discussed the need to put this issue behind both countries for the sake of future relations.
President Park rebuked the Korean military today for having holes in its air defense and ground patrol net.
Gee, you think?
This comes after it was discovered that yet another North Korean drone had crashed in Samcheok, Gangwon-do in October of last year, suggesting that North Korea has been running drones over South Korea for at least several months now. The Samcheok drone crashed about 130 km south of the DMZ, a fact that worries the Ministry of Defense as this suggests the North has drones that can fly over important military facilities like the US military hub in Pyeongtaek/Osan and the South Korean airbase in Suwon.
Interestingly, even though a local had discovered the Samcheok drone soon after it crashed, he only decided now to tell military officials of their find. He’d even downloaded the photos from the drone’s on-board camera, which, unsurprisingly, was a Canon, as all lovers of freedom use Nikon:
The last man who found the drone reported the incident to the government on Thursday.
He told the military the drone crashed into the mountain on Oct. 4, 2013, while he was gathering medicinal herbs nearby. He said it was equipped with a Canon camera, but he discarded the camera when he found it was wet with water.
The man apparently took the camera’s memory chip out, erased it and used it himself.
He told the military that it had contained photos of the Gwangdong dam in Samcheok and some beaches assumed to be on the east coast.
Has anyone considered that what we’re dealing with here is a North Korean general indulging in his hobby of landscape photography?
Complaints about South Korea’s lax defense of what is arguably the world’s most militarized frontier are not exactly new, as readers of this humble blog well know. That a North Korean drone spent 20 seconds hovering over Cheong Wa Dae snapping photos, however, IS new. If you read Korean, Yonhap has a write-up on the North Korean drone fleet, including one drone based on, oddly enough, an old US-made drone given to the North Koreans by the Syrians.
Anyway, it does make you wonder if the South Koreans are flying drones over the North. One hopes they are, especially considering that South Korea possesses some of the world’s top UAV technology. Seoul also recently announced it was developing a “Korean version of the Predator” to reach our and touch North Korean military facilities should the need arise.
Read more about North Korean drones here at One Free Korea.
- North Korea will conduct large-scale naval gunnery drills near the West Sea NLL. The North has declared it will conduct drills in seven spots along the NLL, in effect turning all the waters north of the line into an artillery range. South Korean authorities have told fishing boats to stay far away from the NLL just in case North Korean shells start falling south of the line, which has happened before.
UPDATE: North and South Korea now firing shells into each others water after North Korean shells fell south of the NLL. No word on how many fish have been killed so far. On a more serious note, it seems the islanders on Yeonpyeongdo have taken to shelters. Probably smart—you can never rule out North Korea raining a few shells on a West Sea island just for shits and giggles.
– North Korea is threatening to nuke itself again. And they don’t like ongoing joint Korea—US drills (and I suppose large-scale amphibious landing drills involving thousands of Korean and US marines might give Pyongyang pause):
The North also took aim at joint South Korea-U.S. military drills, accusing Washington of “madcap nuclear war exercises” and vowed to conduct war drills itself.
The ministry claimed to have “unimaginable” moves planned should the U.S. continue to provoke it.
“Madcap” is a word we just don’t use enough anymore, so good on the North Koreans for bringing it back.
It might be interesting to note—well, OK, it really isn’t—that North Korea’s bluster comes right after President Park unveiled the so-called Dresden Doctrine, which calls for expanding exchanges between the two Koreas and lots and lots of economic assistance if Pyongyang gives up its nukes. As Donald Kirk points out, it’s not as if we haven’t heard previous South Korean presidents offer much the same, and given what happened to Libya and what’s happening to the Ukraine, I’m guessing North Korea is, if anything, even less inclined to give up its nukes that at any time previously. I also wonder if the North noticed that Park made her speech in a) a country that reunified after one side got absorbed into the other and b) in a city most famous for getting firebombed by the United States and Great Britain.
Back to the nuke test threats, though. According to Jeffrey Lewis (a.k.a Arms Control Wonk), director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Pyongyang could be preparing to conduct regular tests:
“The old way was that we thought of the North’s test as ‘atomic temper tantrums’ — they’d do one-offs every few years to show us how angry they are. But to me, it looks like they’re getting ready to do a lot of tests over the next few years,” Mr. Lewis said in a phone interview.
Possibilities, he said, include simultaneous tests, conducting a nuclear test in a shaft rather than in a tunnel, or most seriously, an “atmospheric test” — such as detonating a nuclear device from a tower, or using a live warhead on a live missile.
“The universe of bad things they could do is pretty big,” Mr. Lewis said. “The main takeaway is that they’re moving away from ‘stun’ and using the tests to develop the military capabilities that they know they want.”
Atmospheric tests? OK, that would grab my attention.
Surprise, surprise, by and large yes says Andrei Lankov. We here at TMH haven’t quoted or linked to Dr. Lankov for awhile since his regular Korea Times column ceased. It doesn’t mean he isn’t eminently quotable or linkable. It’s just been harder to find his latest musings without a regular column to go to.
Andrei appears to be freelancing more nowadays: Asia Times, Russia Beyond the Headlines and Al Jazeera. Yes, Al Jazeera. Andrei’s latest piece is in today’s Al Jazeera editorial section where he makes the claim that North Korea isn’t starving and can in fact feed itself:
One of the most commonly cited cliches is that North Korea is a “destitute, starving country”. Once upon a time, such a description was all too sadly correct: In the late 1990s, North Korea suffered a major famine that, according to the most recent research, led to between 500,000 and 600,000 deaths. However, starvation has long since ceased to be a fact of life in North Korea.
The gradual improvement in the food situation is closely related to changes in other areas of North Korea’s economic life. Contrary to what a majority of lay people tend to believe, the last decade has been one of moderate economic growth north of the DMZ.
to quote from a comment by the commenter Wedge , Obama has persuaded president Park to hold a three way summit during the tea breaks of the Nuclear Security Summit in the city of the Hague next week.
Here is the BBC article in English and here is the link to a Segye Ilbo news article (in Korean) after the announcement was made. Interestingly, the Segye Ilbo’s take on the fact that the official announcement came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and not directly from the Blue House, could be due to Park trying to “downplay” the event. It’s understandable, if I had been on the world news media saying “I won’t I won’t I won’t (meet him) ” I would feel a little peevish at saying “aw alright then I will.”
Park’s meant to have softened up a bit within the last few days since Abe’s announced not to revise the Kono statement. He’s a funny one as well – “I might I might I might (revise it)”- “oh alright then I won’t.”
That’s why we still need Uncle Sugar.
Interestingly, when I did a quick news search in English at the start of writing this post, the top news link hits were the Chinese sources. They are obviously very interested to snoop at what’s being said at this water cooler gathering behind their backs.
North Korea, *should be* too as it probably concerns them as well, but the way they fit in the picture in my head is still the big fat slow-witted kid playing by himself in the corner, killing ants with a stick.. oblivious to all of this..
Lately, Japan has been seen talking to this fat slow kid more so than usual. The primary topic they want to bring up is the Japanese abductees as usual, but I think it might just be because they were getting the silent treatment from the fat kid’s sister, that they “might as well talk with the dim brother, see if they get anywhere”.
The very strange relationship between Japan and North Korea, Continue reading