No Gawker for Kim Jong Un this morning

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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.

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(Image from Abihollow via iamkoream.com)

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

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

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

According to Yonhap:

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

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

The Hani was a little more detailed:

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

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

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

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

The DPRK vs. The World

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

As quoted in the linked article:

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

Languages spoken in North and South Korea diverging?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

(Image from The Hankyoreh)

The blog Korea Exposé offers interesting English commentary:

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

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

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

(Image from The Hankyoreh)

No brown interracial children!