The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: North Korea (page 2 of 97)

The Family That Stays Together, Dies Together

It should be no surprise to those familiar with the basics of DPRK-style politics but most of the Jangs are dead up north, “including his children and relatives serving as ambassadors to Cuba and Malaysia”.

How The Worm Turns

The US Government seems to be saying nowadays “we can’t get Kenneth Bae out of North Korea, but we can go after Denis Rodman for “breaking sanctions”.  Who says the US doesn’t do trivial-stupid?

Korean firms sue striking workers in Cambodia/N. Korean-built museum in Siem Reap

Korean garment companies in Cambodia are suing the head of Cambodia’s opposition party and a union for USD 10 million in losses from a strike and subsequent protests. And the Kyunghyang Shinmun doesn’t like it one bit.

Technically, the lawsuit is being raised by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), but the Kyunghyang notes it is Korean companies that have been driving the lawsuit (with Chinese and Taiwanese companies tagging along for the ride—how’s that for cross-strait cooperation!). Unionists have been striking to see their minimum wage immediately doubled to USD 160 a month, and things have been getting ugly, with police killing five protesters and Cambodian special forces being called in to protect a Korean-owned factory.

The Kyunghyang blames Korean garment factories for doing in Cambodia what companies do in Korea—trying to crush labor with big lawsuits. The Kyunghyang is right that this is often used as a way to negate workers’ right to strike, and the ILO has been asking Korea to do something about this for years. I am sympathetic to arguments that sit-down strikes and factory occupations are essentially the illegal seizure of private property, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, according to the Kyunghyang, the protests grew worse—and led to bloody repression—because the GMAC, including Korean companies, refused to negotiate on the wage increase and threatened to move their factories elsewhere. The Kyunghyang worries that the inhumane behavior of some Korean companies overseas might not only harm Korea’s national image, but also bring about something even worse. It also calls on the government to demand that Korean companies in Cambodia respect international standards and universal human rights (Marmot’s note: to be fair to the Korean companies, seeing how they’ve been joined by the Chinese and Taiwanese, it seems they are behaving to international standards, at least as far as respect for labor rights is concerned).

BTW, if you think this has nothing to do with you readers in the States, guess where a lot of this clothing is going:

Nam-Shik Kang, managing director of Phnom Penh-based Injae Garment Co, which employs 3,500, said that despite the new plan, he stood to lose out on profits.

“Our factory currently has a full capacity of orders to fill by February, most of it being material equating to about three million garment pieces. We will send to partners in either Indonesia or Vietnam . . . This is a huge quantity and a very big disaster for us and for others,” said Kang, whose South Korean factory supplies Wal-Mart and JC Penny.

“Even if we ship part of our shipment, about one million pieces, we will incur shipping costs of about $200,000 or even $300,000. And it will not even solve the problem.”

Meanwhile, it appears North Korea’s Mansudae art studio sunk about USD 10 million into building the Grand Panorama Museum near Angkor Wat. North Korea is hoping it might yield profits when it’s done, and at any rate, Pyongyang has something of a special relationship with Cambodia:

At first, it’s hard to imagine why any country would commission an isolated, autocratic government to build a museum of culture in a tourism hotspot. But for Cambodia, whose head of state once called North Korea’s iron-fisted founder “brother”, the news is not so surprising. The mercurial former King Norodom Sihanouk, who in the 1970s was a figurehead for the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, forged a close friendship with Kim Jong-Il’s father, Kim Il-sung, who ushered in a similarly brutal communist regime. Between 1979 and 2006, Sihanouk made numerous retreats to Pyongyang, where he relaxed in a 60-room royal palace and shot amateur films.

The “special relationship”, as it was referred to in a US diplomat Wikileaks cable from 2006, has since faded, following the deaths of both Kim Il-sung, in 1994, and Sihanouk, in 2012. The Cambodian government’s attention has turned to South Korea, the country’s second biggest investor. Nonetheless, Cambodia still holds the dubious accolade of hosting the world’s second highest concentration of North Korean overseas operations, after China.

The country is already home to three outlets of the government-run Pyongyang restaurant chain, and a fourth is on the way. The North Korean women who staff them and perform nightly dance shows are believed to be kept inside, under surveillance, and subjected to gruelling rehearsal schedules. The Kathmandu branch, closed in 2011, was found to be a North Korean spy base. Both the restaurants and Mansudae art studio are believed to be at least partly managed by Kim Jong-Il’s younger sister, Kim Kyong-hui, wife of Jang Song-thaek, who was publicly purged and then executed in December.

China—Pyongyang discord and B.R. Myers on Jang’s purge

What does China think of Kim Jong-un and his “politics of terror”?

The Dong-A Ilbo reports that Beijing is mighty displeased—a diplomatic source in Beijing said that while China looked calm on the outside, inside they were embarrassed and infuriated. Essentially, a 29-year-old tyrant whacking his uncle has turned North Korea into an even more untouchable pariah than it already was. A Cheong Wa Dae official suggests that Jang’s purge was aimed at China—-Beijing was trying to get Pyongyang to return to talks on the nuclear issue, and Pyongyang responded by killing Jang in an attempt to pull China back to its side. China, the United States, South Korea—everybody’s concerned that Kim Jong-un might for a little too impulsive for the international community’s good.

It also noted that none of this bode well for Seoul’s desire to turn North Korea into a “normal country” and reduce its international isolation. Of course, this should come as no surprise—the problem has never been an unwillingness on the part of South Korea to reduce tensions. It’s that you can’t reduce tensions if the North doesn’t want to play along.

Back to China. The previously mentioned diplomatic source said Beijing has repeatedly asked North Korea to send somebody to explain the purge, but Pyongyang has come up with all sorts of excuses not to. Pyongyang also failed to tell Beijing anything about the purge ahead of time, in the face of established bilateral custom. Two nations that ARE communicating, however, are China and the United States—the source says the Beiing—Washington hotline has been very active since the purge. Chinese statements of disinterest are for public consumption only—they’re very worried.

That said, China still views the situation in the North as an ongoing one, and it doesn’t know how things will ultimately work out for Beijing. One Chinese professor told the Dong-A that while some folk considered Jang pro-Chinese, there are no pro-Chinese people in North Korea, really. Another professor, though, said Jang was the outside world’s last chance for reform in North Korea, and China would now be forced to reevaluate its relations with the North. Personally, I’ll believe that when I see it.

The Dong-A also reports something or other about some nice Jewish girl named Emily Ratajkowski who did something or other involving “Blurred Lines” with Alan Thicke’s son.

But I digress.

Fans of B.R. Myers will want to check his interview in New Republic. Here’s just a sample:

I was not all that shocked by the purge itself. Kim Il Sung purged his own brother. Kim Jong Il effectively purged his own eldest son. As for Jang’s punishment, it’s not as wild and brutal as all that. The Chinese execute people for corruption too. The shocking thing is the indiscretion with which the regime has gone about everything. Anyone who still thinks some gray eminence is pulling Kim Jong Un’s strings just doesn’t realize how much long-accumulated mythological capital the latest propaganda has destroyed in a matter of days.

North Korea had prided itself on complete unity ever since the establishment of a “unitary ideology” in 1967. When the regime warned against subversive behaviors it resorted to cartoons with animal figures rather than admit to actual internal disunity. Power struggles elsewhere were gloated over as evidence that only North Korea had leaders whose greatness stood above dispute. The benevolent charisma of the leaders was said to be so irresistible that even representatives of enemy states, like Jimmy Carter and Kim Dae Jung, succumbed to it. And now the North Koreans find out that Kim Il Sung’s own son-in-law and Kim Jong Il’s right-hand man was engaging in crimes since the 1980s? Yet they are still expected to believe in the infallibility of Kim Jong Il’s choice of successor?

photo credit: (stephan) via photopin cc

N. Korean threats and more Pyongyang Kremlinology

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

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

That last part reads a lot better in Korean:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: bryanh via photopin cc

UPDATE: About that word I couldn’t remember…

Jang Song Thaek, lese majesty and more North Korea crap

- Jesus, the the court really let Jang Song Thaek have it in the judgement. Get a load of this language:

판결문은 “개만도 못한 추악한 인간쓰레기 장성택은 당과 수령으로부터 받아안은 하늘같은 믿음과 뜨거운 육친적 사랑을 배신하고 천인공노할 반역 행위를 감행하였다”고 규정했다. 판결문 곳곳에서 장성택을 ‘놈’ 또는 ‘장성택놈’이라고 표현하거나 장성택을 “개만도 못한 추악한 인간쓰레기”, “혁명의 원수, 인민의 원수”,“극악한 조국 반역자”라고 강도높게 비난한 것도 ‘불경죄’에 대한 김정은 제1비서의 ‘심기’를 반영한 것 아니냐는 풀이가 가능하다.

Anyway, the Hankyoreh points Jang’s lese majesty as a reason for his downfall. Analyzing previous photos of Jang at public events with Kim Jong-un, the Hankyoreh notes that Jang tended to act quite rudely—not standing completely attention, clasping his hands behind his back, or having his hand in his pocket. Mind you, that last one can get you in trouble south of the DMZ, too—just ask Bill Gates. In fact, it was behavior like this that led South Korean Pyongyang watchers to believe Jang was super-powerful. In the end, it might have gotten him killed.

– Looking at images of Jang prior to his execution, YTN says it looks like Jang was tortured before his execution. Lovely. (HT to Hullaski Sivart)

– Want to watch Jang’s sentence being read on North Korean TV? Here you go, courtesy Yonhap. The transcript’s there, too, if you’d like to rant along at home, karaoke-style.

– The Pyongyang watchers at Yonhap think Director of the Korean People’s Army General Political Department Choe Yong-hae led Jang’s purge, with Senior Deputy Director of the KWP Organization Guidance Department Jo Yon-jun assisting. Choe—originally Jang’s man—regarded his former benefactor as a barrier to further power, and Jo didn’t like how Jang had weakened the power of the KWP Organization Guidance Department. Apparently both were secretly reporting on Jang’s corruption to Kim Jong-un.

photo credit: John Pavelka via photopin cc

Jang Song Thaek: He Dead

Holy crap, that was fast:

North Korea said on Friday that Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of its leader Kim Jong-un and considered his mentor, was executed for trying to mobilize the military to stage a coup.

Mr. Jang, 67, was executed on Thursday, immediately after he was convicted in a special military court on charges of violating the North’s criminal code, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

“He lost his mind due to his greed for power,” the news agency reported. “He persistently plotted to spread his evil design into the military, believing that he could overthrow the leadership if he could mobilize the military.”

It takes a hard, hard man to execute your uncle. Or a psychopath.

And to make you feel even better this morning, the NYT warns, “[T]he purge had raised worries in the United States and South Korea that Mr. Kim might now lash out at those he considers enemies, possibly staging another nuclear test or instigating a conflict with the South at sea.”

UPDATE: Read Andrei Lankov’s commentary on Jang’s purge here. Here’s something to get you started:

The very recent downfall of Jang Song Thaek – Kim Jong Un’s uncle – is an important event. It can be described as both unexpected but also anticipated. On the one hand, Jang’s displacement has been expected within certain circles for sometime now. On the other hand, the dramatic form this purge took is completely unexpected.

photo credit: bryanh via photopin cc

Chinese nuclear umbrella: first Ukraine, next North Korea?

The JoongAng Ilbo reports that China has just gotten into the nuclear umbrella business, pledging to provide security assurances to Ukraine if it is threatened with nuclear attack.

Now, the English-language Xinhua report on the summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych didn’t seem to mention it, but this English-language summary of a Global Times report does:

The statement consists of six points. In Point one, China promises to provide nuclear security assurances to Ukraine.

It states: “According to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 984 and the Chinese government statement on providing security assurances to Ukraine dated December 4, 1994, China undertakes unconditionally not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine as a non-nuclear country and to provide corresponding security assurances to Ukraine when Ukraine suffers or is threatened with invasion with nuclear weapon.

According to the JoongAng Ilbo report, experts believe the Chinese move may have North Korea in mind. The argument goes that if China is able to provide a credible nuclear umbrella to states like North Korea, it could reduce the need felt by Pyongyang to develop its own nuclear deterrent, and so contribute to regional security.

Honestly, I don’t really think North Korea’s nuclear program is as much about deterrence as it is about shaking down its neighbors and the United States for cash. I’m sure they’d appreciate the Chinese gesture, regardless. It would say something about Chinese diplomacy, though, if out of 193 sovereign states, the first states to get nuclear protection are Yanukovych’s Ukraine and North Korea. Could Syria be far behind?

UPDATE: Tweets Joshua H. Pollack:

photo credit: jamiejohndavies via photopin cc

MUST READ: One Free Korea on purging of Jang Song Thaek

The KCNA has made it official: Uncle Jang is a comrade no more.

The official report accuses Jang and his posse of “anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts.” Among them:

– “gnawing at the unity and cohesion of the party and disturbing the work for establishing the party unitary leadership system”

– “factional acts as dreaming different dreams and involving himself in double-dealing behind the scene”

– “perfidious acts as shunning and obstructing in every way the work for holding President Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in high esteem for all ages, behaving against the elementary sense of moral obligation and conscience as a human being” (ooo, that sounds bad)

– “tried to increase his force and build his base for realizing it by implanting those who had been punished for their serious wrongs in the past period into ranks of officials of departments of the party central committee and units under them”

– “made no scruple of perpetrating such counter-revolutionary acts as disobeying the order issued by the supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army” (Yonhap notes this suggests Jang opposed the closing of Kaesong and December 2012 rocket launch, and his purging might lead to an even more aggressive North Korea in accordance with the desires of the military leadership).

– “throwing the state financial management system into confusion and committing such act of treachery as selling off precious resources of the country at cheap prices, the group made it impossible to carry out the behests of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on developing the industries of Juche iron, Juche fertilizer and Juche vinalon” (well, now we know why Juche vinalon hasn’t been selling).

– “he was engrossed in irregularities and corruption, had improper relations with several women and was wined and dined at back parlors of deluxe restaurants” (Jesus, where did this creep think he was? Yeouido?)

– “he used drugs and squandered foreign currency at casinos while he was receiving medical treatment in a foreign country under the care of the party” (now we know why the late KJI was so sick all the time—he and his brother-in-law Jang spent their weekends in Macao drinking, gambling and snorting blow off Russian strippers’ tits. Or at least that’s what I’d like to imagine they were doing).

The post you really, REALLY want to read is Joshua Stanton’s commentary on the purge at One Free Korea. Read it and its links in their entirety, but if you’re going to take only one thing from it, make it this:

In case you’re wondering what all this means, it means that North Korea’s absolute ruler is a volatile man-child with a small nuclear arsenal and no adult supervision. It means that although South Korea’s National Intelligence isn’t gifted at domestic politics, it is at least a competent intelligence agency. It could also mean that Kim Jong Un has just suppressed a coup by Jang and his followers.

On a related note, Yonhap reports that while Jang is unlikely to be killed—he is Kim Jong-un’s uncle, after all—it is very possible he’ll spend at least a couple of years in a prison camp given the severity of his alleged crimes and the fact that said crimes have now been reported in the North Korean press.

UPDATE: Just in case the warning wasn’t clear enough, North Korean TV ran photos of Jang being arrested. Running photos of high officials getting arrested happens next to never in North Korea—more specifically, it hasn’t happened since the early 1970s:

SSI_20131209154604_V_59_20131209171203

photo credit: leef_smith via photopin cc

About that Jang Song Thaek fellow…

Let’s get this out of the way right now—when I heard that Kim Jong-un might have purged his uncle, this was the first thing I thought of (NSFW, at least with the sound on):

Right, now where were we?

OK, Jang Song Thaek. I’m going to be honest—I have little interest in internal North Korean politics, and even less interest in trying to prognosticate. Because I’m told this is a big deal, however, I will post some links you may find interesting.

– Ye Olde Chosun is reporting that Jang may have been, politically speaking, a dead man walking for over a year now. It also notes, however, that this isn’t the first time Jang has been purged, so we can’t rule out him coming back at a later date.

– The Dong-A Ilbo reports that the purge—and the public execution of Jang’s two aides—are a reflection of Kim Jong-un’s “politics of terror.” King Kim III reportedly has folk executed, purged and demoted on a whim. The North Korean leader apparently has little in the way of impulse control, and you can see it in his personnel decisions, including military appointments. His father’s chiefs of the general staff and defense ministers lasted an average of five years, five months and six years, seven months, respectively. The son’s don’t last a year, and his chiefs of the general staff last just seven months. I get the feeling Kim is something of a Korean Commodus—like many insecure and impetuous young men, he’s a dick, but a dick born into the purple and with absolute power over his realm. And like Commodus, he might not be long for this world.

– The Hani has got a fair amount of analysis—in English—at its website. What I find more interesting is the editorial, which a) suggests that Jang’s removal might reflect a strengthening of Kim’s regime (wishful thinking on the Hani’s part, IMHO) and b) criticizes the NIS for the way in which it released this information. With the NIS nowadays, you never know.

Wacky stuff involving China, Taiwan, Mongolia

Limeys, the Global Times would like you to know your nation ain’t shit—basically, it’s a place to sell cheap crap/illegally immigrate to study and travel in, but not much more:

The Cameron administration should acknowledge that the UK is not a big power in the eyes of the Chinese. It is just an old European country apt for travel and study. This has gradually become the habitual thought of the Chinese people.

The Global Times: keeping it classy, since 2009.

I was half surprised they didn’t include a “bad teeth” joke somewhere in there. But then again, this is China we’re talking about.

To add irony to insult, the editorial ends, “Finally, let us show courtesy to Cameron and wish him a pleasant trip.”

Moving on, the president of Taiwan—which I generally like, except when it’s baseball season—is reportedly so keen to promote cross-strait ties that he wants schools to make clearer that the capital of Taiwan—well, the Republic of China, anyway—is Nanjing, not Taipei (HT to Michael Turton). Which, I didn’t realize, is officially the case. What got me about this story, though, wasn’t that, but rather this:

Under Ma’s leadership, government officials’ interpretation of the nation’s status has been “absurd,” he added, citing the example of Mongolian and Tibetan Commission Minister Tsai Yu-ling (蔡玉玲), who recently said that Mongolia remains ROC territory.

I found this interesting for two reasons. One was that Taiwan actually has a Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission, with a history that goes back to 1636, no less. Note the yak on the commission homepage, and the adorable avatar on the Facebook page.

The other thing that got me was, obviously, that the ROC still officially operates on the premise that Mongolia is part of China. Not that I hadn’t heard it before, mind you. That the ROC still officially claims to rule Mongolia and Mongolia officially recognizes the PRC rather than the ROC has naturally presented some problems in the bilateral relationship, but the two seem to be getting past it:

Ninety-one years after Mongolia’s first declaration of independence, Taiwan did not recognise Mongolia as an independent country; official maps of the Republic of China showed Mongolia as Chinese territory. Relations began to improve in 2002, when the Executive Yuan under a Democratic Progressive Party administration announced that Mongolian nationals would be entitled to visas rather than entry permits when travelling to Taiwan, the same as individuals from foreign countries; however, the Kuomintang-controlled Legislative Yuan criticised the implementation of the decision, as they had not been consulted.[7] Later, representatives of the two governments agreed to open offices in each other’s capitals; Taipei’s office in Ulan Bator was opened in September of that year. Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior then decided to discontinue including Mongolia on its official maps of Chinese territory, and on 3 October 2002, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Taiwan recognizes Mongolia as an independent country.[8] In 2002, the Taiwanese government excluded Mongolia from the definition of the “mainland area” for administrative purposes. In 2006, old laws regulating the formation of banners and monasteries in Outer Mongolia were repealed. However, the official borders of the Republic of China have not been changed to exclude Outer Mongolia[9] via a vote of the National Assembly (as required by the Constitution prior to 2005) or via a referendum (as required by the Constitution after amendments made in 2005). The official status of recognition is currently ambiguous, though in practice Mongolia is treated as an ordinary foreign power.

Interestingly, the ROC also claims Tuva, a Russian-ruled area best known for its throat singing, weird connection to Richard Feynman and, if you’re Mongolian, livestock rustling. What was that, you say? Could I post a video of Tuvan throat singers doing a cover of Joy Division? Why, I’d be delighted:

For a map of the world according to the Republic of China, see here. And for a recent editorial in the Taipei Times about Taiwan, Mongolia and their shared history, see here.

Speaking of things Mongolian, if you haven’t read Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj’s speech to students at Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung University at the end of October, here’s the full text at his official website. It must have raised some eyebrows, and I would have hated to be the translator. In fact, I’d be keen to see a Korean transcript of that lecture, if there is one.

Make Change Or Be Changed – A Shift in The DPRK Hierarchy

oldhead01 Jang Song Taek – the uncle who became the second most powerful man in North Korea and lead the transition from KJI to his son, has been stripped of his position and is now out.  This follows the executions of his two deputies at the administrative department of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea on charges of “corruption and anti-party activities” last month.  Jang was originally one of three top leaders in the DPRK to oversee the transition of power to Kim Jong Un.

The toppling of Jang is expected to lead to more changes in the DPRK hierarchy, if not more mysterious auto accidents or executions.  More on Jang’s history is here.

North Korean Christians call Park Geun-hye gov’t ‘Satan’s gang,’ calls for ‘holy war’

The Korean Christian Federation—North Korea’s official Protestant association—slammed the Park Geun-hye administration yesterday and called on their South Korean coreligionists to rise up in a “holy war” against the government.

Or so said the KCNA. Re-reported by Yonhap.

A spokesman for the federation said (and I’m translating here), “Christians of conscience must boldly rise up in a holy war of righteousness to drive out Satan’s gang, which is turning all of South Korea into a place where fascists run riot and driving the disaster of nuclear war towards Korea while blocking Korean reconciliation and unity.” Or something like that.

In particular, the federation criticized what it called Seoul’s repression of certain dissident religious groups, and in particular the leftist Catholic priest who’s facing charges for, among other things, justifying North Korea’s 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeongdo (a case that probably deserves its own post).

Being a cup-half-full sort of guy, I’ll overlook the irony of North Korea bitching about the persecution of religious groups and instead focus on how this represents a moving example of Protestants and Catholics overcoming their differences to join hands for a common goal.

And a completely unrelated note, Christopher Walken is awesome.

And now about the old American guy in North Korea…

Reuters ran an excellent piece on Merrill Edward Newman, the Korean War veteran who got himself made an honored guest of the North Korean state during a tourist visit. Newman’s no ordinary veteran—he’s a commando who trained anti-communist guerrillas in North Korea during the war:

As autumn descended on a Korean countryside devastated by three years of intense war, a group of anti-communist guerrillas presented U.S. serviceman Merrill Edward Newman with a gold ring. It was September, 1953.

For Newman, the ring became a proud symbol of the role he played as an adviser to a group of battle-hardened partisans who fought deep behind enemy lines in a war that pitted the China- and Soviet-backed North against the U.S.-backed South.

Newman has reportedly issued an apology for crimes against the North Korean state, which some folk take as a good sign… if you think getting bent over by Pyongyang is a good thing.

Honestly, I don’t get the whole North Korea tourism thing. OK, allow me to rephrase that—I get the appeal the world’s most isolated state might have for adventure travelers and those with an interest in Korean affairs. I just don’t think it’s worth it, both in terms of the moral costs of helping bankroll one of the worst regimes in the history of man and the potential dangers of being seized. It should be noted that for North Korea, seizing an American tourist has absolutely no downside—we’re not going to bomb them, and more importantly, they know we’re not going to bomb them. At a minimum, they’ll score domestic PR points and maybe earn a bit of ransom money. If things go really well, they’ll get a visit and an apology from a high-ranking US official, maybe even a former president. For Pyongyang, it’s all upside, baby.

If paying to keep KWP apparatchiks in cognac and KPA generals in plutonium and setting up the White House and State Department for potential embarrassment just to say you’ve been is what you want, go right ahead. I, however, am with Kevin Kim:

I’ve talked with friends and colleagues about those North Korea group tours. You’ll never find me on one of them. I can’t see myself ever—ever—bowing and laying flowers at the feet of the huge statue of Kim Il Sung, or keeping my mouth shut about the depredations of the Kim dynasty. I also have no desire to feed the North Korean economy with my money. Mr. Newman’s reasons for going on that tour are unfathomable to me; even if I heard him articulate those reasons, I’d never understand why he so willingly stuck his head once again inside the lion’s mouth. It’s unfortunate that an 85-year-old vet with more than one medical condition is now effectively a POW inside North Korea’s borders, but I can’t help feeling that Mr. Newman made his own bed, and is now sleeping in it.

Just more evidence that age doesn’t always confer wisdom.

As Joshua Stanton puts it:

The first lesson of this sad episode is, “Stay the fuck out of North Korea.”

The second lesson is be sure to bring the right guidebook, but to understand why, read Joshua’s post along with this one by Marcus Noland, although I take it there’s more coming from Dr. Noland if the end of this post is anything to go by.

The DPRK Wages War on Old Men – Heart Pills and All

Merrill Newman, a retired American businessman that actually fought during the Korean War, was taken off his plane, when leaving North Korea, after having visited on a tour.  North Korean sources claim that Mr. Newman had broken the law and was being detained. (cite) I can only hope that there is some further bizarro twist where Mr. Newman is taken to KJU’s island and is forced to watch basketball and drink good tequila.  Naturally, Mr. Newman will have to drink just a little since he is still taking heart medication, being 85 years-old and all.

I could understand putting irritating missionaries into jail but arresting and 85-year-old American man who was visiting North Korea with a tour group!? I am only glad he was not walking down a scenic beach, like Park Wang-ja, since no one from the DPRK has been held accountable for her murder – yet.

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