The Marmot's Hole

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General Cho Young-ja Wants A Picture with Meryl Streep

margaret-cho-golden-globes

General Cho is not amused and wants a picture with Meryl Streep. Naturally, some Rollos were not pleased with the general and called this presentation “racist”

Please click the photo for a sample of General Cho’s anger.

The bad Korean used in the movie The Interview

I saw this movie recently on VOD, not long after Christmas, and I noticed the weird Korean too, but given that it is an American movie and all the Korean actors are Korean American or Korean Canadian, my expectations weren’t high in the first place.

Much of the pronunciation was off.  Diana Bang‘s accent was really off, although at least I thought Randall Park‘s accent was a little better.  The girl singing in the beginning clearly was a Korean-North American (probably taught how to speak Korean by either weekend language school or parents).  Nobody bothered to try and imitate the North Korean accent (which I think is fun to mimic).

So, the blog Kotaku summaries what Michael Han over at Quora had to say about the bad Korean peppered throughout the movie.

The Gibberish Korean of The Interview

What the heck is “모든|,” huh?

According to Michael Han:

Most of the Korean language spoken in the movie sounded like kindergartners speaking. This is often the case with any language used by non-native speakers. There were some supporting characters whose Korean language seemed more natural, but the main characters sounded like they use English as their primary language, and do not use Korean regularly.

Here is an exhibit A: Randall Park (Kim Jong-un in the movie) says these two lines for a subtitle: “I want his severed head on my desk!”

그 새끼 대가리 원해! (geu seki daegari won-hae!)
눈 목을 거야! (noon mok-eur guh-ya!)

Literal translation:
[I] want his head!
[I] am going to eat his eyes!

“[I] want his head” sounds more natural in Korean if it’s translated, “그 새끼 대가리 가지고 와!” (geu seki daegari gajigo wa! / “Bring me his head!”) , because no native Korean speaker would write or say “won-hae” (“[I] want”) in the context of the situation and the expression used.

Diana Bang mispronounces her character’s name in the beginning of the movie as Park Sook-yong and later corrects it to Park Sook-young.  Sook-yong being more of a guy’s name and Sook-young being the correct girl’s name (the Chinese character “龍,” pronounced yong meaning “dragon” and the Chinese character “荣,”pronounced young means “glory”).

The Gibberish Korean of The Interview

받아막다 means “confront (or ram on) to block,” instead it should say 정지 or “Stop” like:

Photos from Kotaku, via YTN or Wikimedia Commons.

News Flash: North Koreans Are Not Idiots

hope

Choe Sang-hun has written a rather obvious article that points out that the only thing worse than living in a murderous, despotic country is having a bad movie made about you while being resigned to live there.

As for good news, Sony is still offline.

The DPRK Is Sloppy Says the FBI

FBI_screenThe FBI’s director has responded to suspicions about where the Sony hack came from by declaring that the FBI’s allegations were made because “the hackers failed to mask their location when they broke into the company’s servers”.

. . . Mr. Comey (FBI Director) said that instead of routing some of the attacks and messages through decoy servers, the hackers sent them directly from Internet addresses in North Korea.

This also gets even more sloppy and stupid according to the article:

. . . senior government officials said that F.B.I. analysts discovered that the hackers made a critical error by logging into both their Facebook account and Sony’s servers from North Korean Internet addresses. It was clear, the officials said, that hackers quickly recognized their mistake. In several cases, after mistakenly logging in directly, they quickly backtracked and rerouted their attacks and messages through decoy computers abroad.

Not all critics of the FBI’s case are placated though:

. . . some of the most vocal critics of the government’s claims, like Marc Rogers, a security researcher at CloudFlare, said they were still not convinced. “If the government had laid out its attribution in the beginning, that may have quelled the criticism, but the evidence that’s been put before me and many of my colleagues is flimsy.

Other articles on this can be found at engadget and wired.

Here a cyberwar, there a cyberwar, everywhere a cyberwar cyberwar

Some major North Korean websites, including Uriminzokkiri, a North Korean cyber university (who knew!) and some other propaganda sites are reportedly still down – all these sites apparently have their servers in China.

Sites using the domain .kp such as the Rodong Shinmun and KCNA and some pro-North Korean sites in Japan and the United States, however, seem to be working properly. Or at least that’s what the news, says – they are blocked in South Korea, so I can’t verify.

Anyway, although nobody is officially taking credit for the attacks, North Korea seems pretty sure who the culprits are, and they are expressing their displeasure in, ahem, earthy language:

In a statement Saturday, North Korea’s ruling body, the National Defense Commission, said Obama was “the chief culprit” for the movie’s release.

“Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds like a monkey in a tropical forest,” an unnamed spokesman for the commission said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

As opposed to monkeys that hang out in temperate forests and Japanese hot spring resorts. Which I’ve always wanted to see.

Anyway, this is not the first time North Korea has used simian comparisons to refer to the American head of state. You’ll recall that in May, the KCNA contributed this bit of reporting around the time of President Obama’s visit to Seoul (see also here):

The Korean only article, comprising the direct opinions of four local North Koreans, said Obama resembled a “monkey“ and that Park, who hosted him during his recent visit to Seoul, was a “whore”.

“How Obama looks like makes me disgusted,” Kang Hyuk, a worker at the Chollima Ironworks Factory said when translated into English.

“As I watch him more closely, I realize that he looks like an African native monkey with a black face, gaunt grey eyes, cavate nostrils, plump mouth and hairy rough ears.

“He acts just like a monkey with a red bum irrationally eating everything – not only from the floor but also from trees here and there…Africa’s national zoo will be the perfect place for Obama to live with licking bread crumbs thrown by visitors,” Kang concluded.

Jung Young Guk of the DPRK Ocean Management Office said the timing of Obama’s visit – so soon after the sinking of the Sewol ferry – was difficult to understand, adding that Obama had a “disgusting monkey look even though he is wearing a fancy suit like a gentleman”.

They also referred to him as a “mongrel,” which on the bright side, at least suggests that in this politically divisive would we live in, there are still things the KCNA and Ted Nugent can agree upon.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, South Korea’s left-leaning Hankyoreh is a bit worried about the North Korea-U.S. cyberwar driving up tensions at a time when they think the two countries should be working to improve relations. Mind you, they do criticize the North for, well, calling President Obama a monkey and, ironically, making “The Interview” more popular with its criticism of it. But they also criticize the United States for concluding the Sony hack and terrorist threats were North Korea’s doing without solid evidence (Marmot’s Hole: fair enough) and criticized President Obama for praising Sony decision to release the film (Marmot’s Hole: OK, whatever). More important, they said if the United States is responsible for the attacks on North Korea’s Internet network (Marmot’s Hole: good luck getting Washington to cop to that – hey, maybe it ain’t – and even if it is those dastardly Yanks, good luck to the North Koreans trying to prove it), Washington will come under international criticism because shutting down an entire country’s Internet network is on a whole different level from the Sony hack and not the “proportional response” promised by President Obama (Marmot’s Hole: Honestly, I’m not sure how much international sympathy North Korea is going to get here).

The right-leaning Dong-A Ilbo, on the other hand, thinks South Korea should develop the hacking capabilities to overwhelmingly retaliate against the North for its suspected hack of the South’s nuclear power plants like the Americans did in response to the Sony hack.

New cyber security laws?

Which brings us to the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) hack, the cyber-incident that’s been of much more important to South Korea. KHNP says its headquarters is still under attack but the country’s nuclear power stations are safe. The state of the nation’s cyber-security, however, doesn’t leave many folk reassured – in an editorial, the JoongAng Ilbo says if cyber-security isn’t isn’t strengthened, we could even see something like what happened in “Live Free or Die Hard.”

Which I thought was cool, because they cited “Live Free or Die Hard.”

Boosting the number of people dedicated to cyber-security is especially urgent, says the JoongAng, particularly as it pertains to Korea’s 32 nuclear plants. Korea has just three folk dedicated to crafting and overseeing cyber-security technology for Korea’s nuclear power plants, just one sixth the recommended number. It has another nine technicians on the ground. The United States, meanwhile, has 40 people overseeing cyber-security for the country’s 105 nuclear power plants, and Britain has 15 for its 31 plants. The paper suggests the military consider building a “cyber-Talpiot” program in which engineering students would work on developing cyber-security technology while doing their military service.

The ruling party, meanwhile, is trying to pass a cyberterrorism prevention law that would create a national cyber safety center to operate under the direction of the NIS. In light of the KHNP hack, the ruling party is particularly keen to get the bill passed as soon as possible, arguing that Korea needs to build a comprehensive national security system – with the participation of both the government and private individuals – at a time when cyber-attacks were growing more sophisticated. The opposition, however, is arguing that the NIS already has a cyber-security center – created in 2004 – that was supposed to be taking care of these problems but dropped the ball. They see the law as an attempt by the government to avoid taking responsibility for its security failure. The root of the problem, they say, is that the people tasked with protecting cyber-security aren’t properly using the regulations and organizations they already have, and perhaps if the NIS’s cyber-security folk weren’t so busy interfering in politics during the last presidential election, maybe cyber-attacks like this wouldn’t have happened. Ouch.

Anyway, the JoongAng Ilbo has an editorial (in English) supporting the legislation, while the Hankyoreh has one against (in English). Read them at your own leisure.

Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy.

The Sony Hack – North Korea Is Not Guilty?

The FBI and President Obama have declared that the DPRK hacked Sony and that a response would be forthcoming, however actual experts in data security point elsewhere, such as the Director of Security Operations for Def Con, who has stated “I am no fan of the North Korean regime. However I believe that calling out a foreign nation over a cybercrime of this magnitude should never have been undertaken on such weak evidence.” (cite)

Then there are the concerns of Bruce Schneier, who also does not believe the FBI has grounds to conclude that the DPRK is responsible.  Considering the problems with trustworthiness, I would tend to give more credence to the individuals, with actual credentials, than government organizations that have records of being less than truthful and biased in their actions.

No Gawker for Kim Jong Un this morning

As the New York Times reported, North Korea is apparently having a really bad Internet day:

A strange thing happened to North Korea’s already tenuous link to the Internet on Monday: It broke.

While perhaps a coincidence, the failure of the country’s computer connections began only hours after President Obama declared Friday that the United States would launch a “proportional response” to what he termed an act of “cybervandalism” against Sony Pictures.

Over the weekend, as North Korean officials demanded a “joint investigation” into the Sony attacks and denied culpability — an assertion the United States rejected — Internet service began to get wobbly. By early Monday, the Internet went as dark as one of those satellite photographs showing the impoverished country by night.

Now, this could be any number of things other than the United States hitting North Korea back, including a server glitch, North Korea preemptively taking its sites down in preparation for a retaliatory cyber-attack, or the North Koreans have only just learned about Kim Kardashian’s ass and have overloaded the one line out of the country.

But if it was a U.S. cyber-attack and you were curious about the legal issues involved, the Daily Beast has got a good roundup of everything you wanted to know about the international legal aspects of cyberwarfare but were afraid to ask.

In case you were wondering, North Korea has just 1,024 official Internet protocol addresses. It wouldn’t surprise me if Ulleungdo has more.

Anyway, North Korea’s websites are reportedly back up and running now. Unless you live in South Korea, of course, where every day is a North Korea blackout day.

Speaking of South Korea…

S. Korean nuke plant hacked

A much more damaging Internet attack has taken place south of the DMZ, where several of South Korea’s nuclear power plants were hacked:

The hacker was able to access blueprints, floor maps and other information on the plant, the South Korean Yonhap News Agency reported Sunday. Using a Twitter account called “president of anti-nuclear reactor group,” the hacker has released a total of four postings of the leaked data since December 15, each one revealing internal designs and manuals of the Gori-2 and Wolsong-1 nuclear reactors run by Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP), Yonhap added. The hacker has threatened to leak further information unless the reactors are shut down.

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corp. also say malicious code was found within the operating network connected to the reactor control system.

As always, North Korea is a suspect, although the authorities also believe the hacker may reside in Hawaii and have asked the U.S. FBI for help. Still, there are plenty of locals who could be responsible, too, and for good reasons. Anyway, KHNP is now running cyber-warfare drills, even as the Hani accuses the government of being more concerned with covering up the attack.

Photo by Adam Mulligan.

UPDATE: Vox takes a really, really good look at the Internet in North Korea. Read it in its entirety on your own, but I’ll give you a sample:

But the third reason is less straightforward. North Korea’s very top elite, the inner core of the inner core, access the internet because they simply don’t live in the same universe as their countrymen. While most of North Korea exists in a propaganda bubble where any outside information is an existential ideological threat and truth about the world is scarce, North Korea’s top elite are perfectly aware of how it all really works. They allow themselves all the comforts: movies, books, internet access, forbidden technology, forbidden luxury goods, and foods and alcohol smuggled in for their pleasure. Kim Jong Un certainly participated in this himself, although it’s also a tool by which he maintains the loyalty of the elite. The country’s elites also do need this information — what’s really happening out there, how the world really works — to run their country, even if they are only running it to keep the cruel, despotic system in place.

Max Fisher also translated North Korea’s most recent rant against the United States and Sony into plain English.

I think they are trying to say they’re upset

Pyongyang tells President Obama to take his proportional response and shove it:

“Surpassing the proportional response declared by Obama, (North Korea) will carry out a ultra-harsh war of reaction targeting the entire U.S. mainland, including the White House, the Pentagon, which are the base of terrorism,” the strategy department of the North’s powerful National Defense Commission (NDC) said in a statement, carried by the official (North) Korean Central News Agency.

This, children, is one of the reasons I just can’t take folk professing understanding of North Korea’s anger over the film seriously. Sure, depicting a sitting head of state’s head exploding isn’t particularly politic. We are talking about North Korea, however, a nation that is to civil international discourse what Malcolm Tucker is to polite discussion among colleagues.

Photo by Tormod Sandtorv.

UPDATE: In the WSJ, John Bolton argues for bringing the disproportional, so to speak, to North Korea:

Obama says Sony hack not an act of war. Which is good, because there might not be much we can do.

President Obama is calling the Sony hack – which Washington believes to be the work of North Korea – an act of cyber vandalism, but not an act of war:

President Obama says in an interview to be broadcast Sunday morning that he did not think the Sony Pictures hack was not an act of war by North Korea.

“I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive,” Obama said on CNN’s “State of the Union with Candy Crowley,” according to a transcript. “We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately, as I said.”

Responding proportionately might be a tad difficult, given that North Korea doesn’t have much in the way of an Internet and placing more sanctions on the country would be the economic equivalent of making the rubble bounce:

President Barack Obama vowed Friday to punish North Korea for hacking a Hollywood studio, but Washington’s options are limited and Pyongyang’s economic weakness is a surprising strength.

No one expects the United States to launch a military strike against a nuclear-armed provocateur, but sanctions against its tiny economy or cyber attacks on its ramshackle Internet would achieve little.

“I’m sure they’re exploring covert options, but also looking at it through the prism of — ‘we don’t want to start an armed conflict on the Korean peninsula’,” said cyber war expert James Lewis.

The United States is apparently asking for China’s help in dealing with North Korean cyberattacks. Somehow, I don’t see that help coming anytime soon.

Over at One Free Korea, Joshua does a good job of outlining some of the options that are available for the enterprising U.S. policymaker interested in sticking it to North Korea, including putting North Korea back on the terrorism list and slapping real sanctions on the North. Read the post in its entirety on your own.

RAND, State Department involvement

Interestingly enough, it appears a North Korea expert at RAND Corporation and some U.S. State Department official screened the film and encouraged Sony to keep the final assassination scene in the film so that when the DVDs make their way to North Korea, some folk up there might get some ideas:

A series of leaked emails reveal that Sony enlisted the services of Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation who specializes in North Korea, to consult with them on The Interview. After he saw the film, including the gruesome ending where a giant missile hits Kim Jong-Un’s helicopter in slow-mo as Katy Perry’s “Firework” plays, and Kim’s head catches on fire and explodes, Bennett gave his assessment of it in a June 25 email to Lynton, just five days after North Korea’s initial threat.

“The North has never executed an artillery attack against the balloon launching areas. So it is very hard to tell what is pure bluster from North Korea, since they use the term ‘act of war’ so commonly,” wrote Bennett. “I also thought a bunch more about the ending. I have to admit that the only resolution I can see to the North Korean nuclear and other threats is for the North Korean regime to eventually go away.”

He added, “In fact, when I have briefed my book on ‘preparing for the possibility of a North Korean collapse’ [Sept 2013], I have been clear that the assassination of Kim Jong-Un is the most likely path to a collapse of the North Korean government. Thus while toning down the ending may reduce the North Korean response, I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the DVD leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will). So from a personal perspective, I would personally prefer to leave the ending alone.”

According to emails, somebody high-up at State Department agreed with Bennett’s assessment, and it also turns out Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human-rights issues, consulted on the film and Daniel Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, talked with Sony about it.

Obviously, this doesn’t make the folk at AntiWar.com very happy:

Imagine how the U.S. and its CIA would respond if a major movie studio anywhere in the world were to make a film centered around the assassination of a sitting U.S. President: especially if a foreign government was involved, pushing for just such an assassination. That North Korea, or any state, might respond with speech-suppressing attacks and threats is not to be excused, but it should be no surprise either. Yet the US was more than happy to help foment a predictable crisis like this, thereby putting its own people at risk. And it did so by surreptitiously penetrating Hollywood to steer it toward using “artistic” existential threats to taunt a nation-state that is such a basket-case that it would only be dangerous to Americans if made desperate by such existential threats. That shows what little regard our “security force” has for our actual security, as compared to pursuing global power politics.

While it wasn’t produced by a major studio, a British filmmaker did do a mockumentary about the assassination of President Bush, which the Washington Post and, apparently, some international film festivals loved. And to be frank, while I don’t think it’s a good thing for studios to make films about the assassination of sitting heads of state (and agree with Adrian Hong that North Korea is no laughing matter), and much less so when the U.S. government is involved, I’d feel a lot worse about it if the country being targeted wasn’t a country whose national pastime used to be trying to assassinate South Korean presidents.

(HT to, well, I’m not really sure what to call you. But you know who you are)

UPDATE: Oh, and North Korea is offering to conduct a joint investigation:

KCNA quoted the foreign ministry as saying: “As the United States is spreading groundless allegations and slandering us, we propose a joint investigation with it into this incident.

“Without resorting to such tortures as were used by the CIA, we have means to prove that this incident has nothing to do with us.”

Oh, I see what they did there. They made a “CIA torture” joke.

Granted, the North Koreans never admit to anything upfront, and I do think it’s very likely that either North Korea or some North Korean front group like Chongryon is behind the hack. Still, I’m far from certain about that, and there’s still plenty of reason to think otherwise.

What U.S.-Cuba ties mean for North Korea

So, what can North Korea learn from Cuba?

That’s what the editorial staffs of the Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo were asking today. And the answer they reached was, essentially, if the North Koreans were to just stop being a-holes, good things might happen for them.

Both papers noted that what made the normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations possible was Cuba’s efforts to undertake economic reforms and promote greater openness. They also note that with Libya, Myanmar and Cuba coming in from the cold and even Iran currently engaged in negotiations with the United States, North Korea was pretty much the only really isolated country left on the planet.

The way to improve relations with the United States is not to threaten them with nukes, but to open up and reform, the papers say. That Cuba was North Korea’s brother in international communism should make Havana’s efforts even more meaningful for Pyongyang.

Of course, other papers suggest that the United States should apply lessons learned with Cuba to North Korea, too. The JoongAng Ilbo – no friends of North Korea, mind you, given that they were cyber-attacked by the North in 2012 – said the United States, as a party to the Korean War armistice, should take a greater interest in ending the Cold War structure on the Korean Peninsula. In particular, it said Washington should drop its insistence on North Korea giving up its nuke program as a precondition to improved relations, and instead make the nuke issue a long-term project to be resolved. It also noted that President Obama admitted the embargo on Cuba, which lays just off the American coast, had failed, suggesting, I guess, that it should also admit its isolation of North Korea had failed, too.

The Hankyoreh also calls on both North Korea and the United States to learn lessons from the Cuban example, and hopes South Korea helps the learning process:

The normalization of relations between the US and Cuba could be an opportunity to change the mood in the international community, which has focused on conflict over cooperation in recent years. In particular, South Korea needs to play an active role so that the goals of addressing North Korea’s nuclear program and normalizing relations between North Korea and the US can be achieved simultaneously. The departure point should be improving inter-Korean relations and resuming the six-party talks.

Marmot’s Notes

Even if the North Koreans were open to learning lessons from Cuba – and I’m not entirely sure they are, given that they’ve had decades to study China and Vietnam and have apparently decided there wasn’t much to learn – I imagine they’d wait awhile to see how developments with the United States play out. Congressional Republicans – whose support President Obama is going to need to lift sanctions against Cuba – and even some Democrats aren’t thrilled about the president’s Cuba surprise. And at any rate, if you’re North Korea, there are lots of lessons to learn, and not all of them point to a happy ending. Pyongyang likely remembers what happened to Muammar Gaddafi, another former Cold War enemy who made nice with the United States only to find himself riding a bayonet after a NATO bombing campaign.

Then there’s the question as to whether the United States can try the same thing with North Korea, or even wants to. With President Obama set to take a major league shellacking from Congressional Republican over Cuba and Ukraine and the Middle East going to shite, the White House could be all out of political capital to spend on foreign affairs. President Obama might also decide to make up for Cuba by taking a tough line against Pyongyang, especially if they really have determined that North Korea was behind the Sony hacking and subsequent threats against U.S. theaters. And outside the United States, improving ties with Cuba seems to be a pretty popular choice, especially among the Western left. You don’t get the same kind of international brownie points for making nice with North Korea, which seems universally disliked, even by Pyongyang’s own allies. Still, the Nobel committee gave Kim Dae-jung the Peace Prize for meeting with Kim Jong-il, so I could be wrong here.

Then there’s the fact that North Korea ain’t Cuba. Cuba was never nearly as isolated, either in terms of its foreign relations or private interactions with the outside world, as North Korea was and is. While both ostensibly communist, they have vastly different histories, cultures and polities, which means even if U.S. trade and interaction with Cuba yields positive results, there’s little reason to believe it would work with North Korea. I suppose this isn’t an argument against at least trying to improve relations with North Korea as long as you a) don’t mind the risk of subsidizing Pyongyang’s nuclear program with U.S. taxpayer money and b) are OK with possibly bankrolling the North Korean regime. But it does breed a healthy dose of skepticism.

Photo by Alex Brown.

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.

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