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Category: North Korea (page 2 of 98)

Dancing and Parody Power


The PRC wants soft power; wants Kung Fu Panda – can’t get their heavy, bloody hands on it, however some Chinese do parody pretty well and much to North Korea’s discomfort.

Surprise — North Korea detains another American tourist

I’ll give North Korea this: when they find something that works, they stick with it.

Apparently, this is the third tourist North Korea has arrested in the last six months. My sympathies go out to the poor schmucks who work at North Korea’s tourism board—this can’t be making your job any easier.

For what it’s worth, if the reports on this one are true, I’m not all that sure I want the State Department to try to get him back:

“A relevant organ of the DPRK put in custody American Miller Matthew Todd, 24, on April 10 for his rash behavior in the course of going through formalities for entry into the DPRK to tour it,” the KCNA said.

Miller ripped up his tourist travel certificate and declared “he would seek asylum,” adding that ”he came to the DPRK after choosing it as a shelter,” the KCNA said, which described his actions as a “gross violation” of legal order.

The North Korean government detained Miller “after taking a serious note of his behavior, and is now investigating the case.”

Rather rude of the North Koreans to announce the detention while President Obama was in town. Still, I suppose it was a better than a nuclear test.

Odds & Ends in the News . . .

Other odd  or interesting bits in the news as of late:

The penis patrol is on alert for adultery again: South Korea has banned the Korean Ashley Madison website that offers a way for married people to meet since South Korea still has a 1953 statute that criminalises adultery.  The website owner, Noel Biderman believes the law is “hopelessly outdated” but still heeded legal advice not to attend the South Korea launch in person.  For those that might wonder why people would visit such a site, this GQ piece was pretty much to the point and interesting.  The power of scent is not to be underestimated.

South Korea and Japan have held senior-level discussions on Korea’s “comfort women” and have discussed the need to put this issue behind both countries for the sake of future relations.

OK, maybe the military has got a problem: President Park

President Park rebuked the Korean military today for having holes in its air defense and ground patrol net.

Gee, you think?

This comes after it was discovered that yet another North Korean drone had crashed in Samcheok, Gangwon-do in October of last year, suggesting that North Korea has been running drones over South Korea for at least several months now. The Samcheok drone crashed about 130 km south of the DMZ, a fact that worries the Ministry of Defense as this suggests the North has drones that can fly over important military facilities like the US military hub in Pyeongtaek/Osan and the South Korean airbase in Suwon.

Interestingly, even though a local had discovered the Samcheok drone soon after it crashed, he only decided now to tell military officials of their find. He’d even downloaded the photos from the drone’s on-board camera, which, unsurprisingly, was a Canon, as all lovers of freedom use Nikon:

The last man who found the drone reported the incident to the government on Thursday.

He told the military the drone crashed into the mountain on Oct. 4, 2013, while he was gathering medicinal herbs nearby. He said it was equipped with a Canon camera, but he discarded the camera when he found it was wet with water.

The man apparently took the camera’s memory chip out, erased it and used it himself.

He told the military that it had contained photos of the Gwangdong dam in Samcheok and some beaches assumed to be on the east coast.

Has anyone considered that what we’re dealing with here is a North Korean general indulging in his hobby of landscape photography?

Complaints about South Korea’s lax defense of what is arguably the world’s most militarized frontier are not exactly new, as readers of this humble blog well know. That a North Korean drone spent 20 seconds hovering over Cheong Wa Dae snapping photos, however, IS new. If you read Korean, Yonhap has a write-up on the North Korean drone fleet, including one drone based on, oddly enough, an old US-made drone given to the North Koreans by the Syrians.

Anyway, it does make you wonder if the South Koreans are flying drones over the North. One hopes they are, especially considering that South Korea possesses some of the world’s top UAV technology. Seoul also recently announced it was developing a “Korean version of the Predator” to reach our and touch North Korean military facilities should the need arise.

Read more about North Korean drones here at One Free Korea.

North Korea crap

- North Korea will conduct large-scale naval gunnery drills near the West Sea NLL. The North has declared it will conduct drills in seven spots along the NLL, in effect turning all the waters north of the line into an artillery range. South Korean authorities have told fishing boats to stay far away from the NLL just in case North Korean shells start falling south of the line, which has happened before.

UPDATE: North and South Korea now firing shells into each others water after North Korean shells fell south of the NLL. No word on how many fish have been killed so far. On a more serious note, it seems the islanders on Yeonpyeongdo have taken to shelters. Probably smart—you can never rule out North Korea raining a few shells on a West Sea island just for shits and giggles.

– North Korea is threatening to nuke itself again. And they don’t like ongoing joint Korea—US drills (and I suppose large-scale amphibious landing drills involving thousands of Korean and US marines might give Pyongyang pause):

The North also took aim at joint South Korea-U.S. military drills, accusing Washington of “madcap nuclear war exercises” and vowed to conduct war drills itself.

The ministry claimed to have “unimaginable” moves planned should the U.S. continue to provoke it.

“Madcap” is a word we just don’t use enough anymore, so good on the North Koreans for bringing it back.

It might be interesting to note—well, OK, it really isn’t—that North Korea’s bluster comes right after President Park unveiled the so-called Dresden Doctrine, which calls for expanding exchanges between the two Koreas and lots and lots of economic assistance if Pyongyang gives up its nukes. As Donald Kirk points out, it’s not as if we haven’t heard previous South Korean presidents offer much the same, and given what happened to Libya and what’s happening to the Ukraine, I’m guessing North Korea is, if anything, even less inclined to give up its nukes that at any time previously. I also wonder if the North noticed that Park made her speech in a) a country that reunified after one side got absorbed into the other and b) in a city most famous for getting firebombed by the United States and Great Britain.

Back to the nuke test threats, though. According to Jeffrey Lewis (a.k.a Arms Control Wonk), director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Pyongyang could be preparing to conduct regular tests:

“The old way was that we thought of the North’s test as ‘atomic temper tantrums’ — they’d do one-offs every few years to show us how angry they are. But to me, it looks like they’re getting ready to do a lot of tests over the next few years,” Mr. Lewis said in a phone interview.

Possibilities, he said, include simultaneous tests, conducting a nuclear test in a shaft rather than in a tunnel, or most seriously, an “atmospheric test” — such as detonating a nuclear device from a tower, or using a live warhead on a live missile.

“The universe of bad things they could do is pretty big,” Mr. Lewis said. “The main takeaway is that they’re moving away from ‘stun’ and using the tests to develop the military capabilities that they know they want.”

Atmospheric tests? OK, that would grab my attention.

Andrei Lankov: North Korea can feed itself

Surprise, surprise, by and large yes says Andrei Lankov.  We here at TMH haven’t quoted or linked to Dr. Lankov for awhile since his regular Korea Times column ceased.  It doesn’t mean he isn’t eminently quotable or linkable.  It’s just been harder to find his latest musings without a regular column to go to.

Andrei appears to be freelancing more nowadays: Asia Times, Russia Beyond the Headlines and Al Jazeera.  Yes, Al Jazeera.  Andrei’s latest piece is in today’s Al Jazeera editorial section where he makes the claim that North Korea isn’t starving and can in fact feed itself:

One of the most commonly cited cliches is that North Korea is a “destitute, starving country”. Once upon a time, such a description was all too sadly correct: In the late 1990s, North Korea suffered a major famine that, according to the most recent research, led to between 500,000 and 600,000 deaths. However, starvation has long since ceased to be a fact of life in North Korea.


The gradual improvement in the food situation is closely related to changes in other areas of North Korea’s economic life. Contrary to what a majority of lay people tend to believe, the last decade has been one of moderate economic growth north of the DMZ.

Uncle Sugar set to play schoolyard monitor at a side-meeting at the Hague

to quote from a comment by the commenter Wedge , Obama has persuaded president Park to hold a three way summit during the tea breaks of the Nuclear Security Summit in the city of the Hague next week.

Here is the BBC article in English and here is the link to a Segye Ilbo news article (in Korean) after the announcement was made. Interestingly, the Segye Ilbo’s take on the fact that the official announcement came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and not directly from the Blue House, could be due to Park trying to “downplay” the event. It’s understandable, if I had been on the world news media saying “I won’t I won’t I won’t (meet him) ” I would feel a little peevish at saying “aw alright then I will.”

Park’s meant to have softened up a bit within the last few days since Abe’s announced not to revise the Kono statement. He’s a funny one as well – “I might I might I might (revise it)”- “oh alright then I won’t.”

That’s why we still need Uncle Sugar.

Interestingly, when I did a quick news search in English at the start of writing this post, the top news link hits were the Chinese sources. They are obviously very interested to snoop at what’s being said at this water cooler gathering behind their backs.
North Korea, *should be* too as it probably concerns them as well, but the way they fit in the picture in my head is still the big fat slow-witted kid playing by himself in the corner, killing ants with a stick.. oblivious to all of this..

Lately, Japan has been seen talking to this fat slow kid more so than usual. The primary topic they want to bring up is the Japanese abductees as usual, but I think it might just be because they were getting the silent treatment from the fat kid’s sister, that they “might as well talk with the dim brother, see if they get anywhere”.
The very strange relationship between Japan and North Korea, Continue reading

N. Korean ‘Red Star’ Linux desktop images

Wanna download some of the official wallpaper images of North Korea’s Red Star Linux distro? Some of them blow—to be fair, so do many of the desktop images that come with Ubuntu—but this sunrise shot from Mt. Baekdusan is quite nice—like how the photographer didn’t center the lake like 99% of folk (including myself) would have done.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, the Big Man himself apparently uses an iMac. This should come as no surprise—if the Red Star desktop images are anything to go by, somebody up there is using Photoshop.

If you’re going to sneak into North Korea, please be prepared to martyr yourself

North Korea has captured a South Korean missionary who sneaked into North Korea. And yes, he’s confessing to working for the NIS on North Korean TV:

Mr. Kim said he was caught with Bibles and other religious literature and had received money from South Korea’s intelligence agency.

“I followed instructions from them and arranged North Koreans to act as their spies,” Mr. Kim said, according to the Associated Press, which reported on the event from Pyongyang.

Mr. Kim said he set up and used an underground church in the Chinese border city of Dandong as an intelligence hub for the South’s spy agency. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said it had no relation to Mr. Kim or the alleged underground church.

There’s an Australian missionary in captivity up North, too. And then there’s Kenneth Bae.

Look, I know I may have seen unnecessarily hostile to missionaries in the past, so let me say that no, I don’t think they deserve to die, and yes, I agree that it’s barbarous to treat missionary activity as an act of hostility against the state.

In fact, the only thing I really ask missionaries is that if they intend to sneak into North Korea, make sure you’ve got the stones to accept martyrdom. And whatever you do, please—for the love of the Baby Jesus—don’t go on North Korean TV after you get caught to beg for your life. When the French missionaries got caught by Heungseon Daewongun illegally proselytizing, you didn’t see them crying that they were French intelligence agents, did you? No, they took their martyrdom like men.

Sure, gratefully accepting death for your Lord isn’t easy, but anything less and you’re just giving the other side propaganda points and putting your government in a difficult situation. So if you’re not willing to meet your Maker, stay north of the Yalu.

UPDATE: To be fair, God did say to be fruitful and multiply:

So, what does the Hani think of the UN report on North Korean human rights?

Well, for those who accuse the Hani and its readers of being communists—and you know who you are—please know that in an editorial, the Hani warned Pyongyang that “the only way…to free itself of the stigma of being the world’s worst human rights abuser is by changing its flawed system and practices“:

This would involve following the report’s recommendations to close the political concentration camps, stop discriminating based on family ancestry, end surveillance of citizens, guarantee the freedom of movement, and protect refugees.

OK, that’s the good part. Now here’s the bad part:

The South Korean government must cooperate with North Korea so that it can adopt measures for actually improving human rights conditions. Considering that North Korea’s greatest concern is insecurity about its regime, the initial priority should be placed on expanding humanitarian aid, along with exchange and cooperation in the private sector.

After progress has been achieved in inter-Korean relations, it will be possible to set up a joint committee to discuss human rights issues. Needless to say, the most important thing of all is for North Korea to have a forward-looking attitude.

So, basically the best way to get North Korea to stop being the “world’s worst human rights abuser” (the Hani’s words) is to give them food and money.

I’m also guessing the North Koreans will perceive a contradiction between address their stability concerns and getting them to open up and be nice.

A Vacuum Denied – The Continuing Unholy Brotherhood of the DPRK – PRC Alliance

DPRK_prisonersThe U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has refered the DPRK (North Korea) to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), this after a U.N. report was released that gives detailed evidence of Crimes against humanity in the DPRK. UN Investigators state that “North Korean security chiefs and possibly even Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un himself should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities”. (link) Here are some media links to articles regarding the report (The Atlantic) (Business Insider).  As per the UN Commission on Human Rights response to this report:

. . . Australian Michael Kirby, the commission’s chairman, penned a letter to Kim dated Jan. 21 warning that the report would call for a referral to the ICC “to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for the crimes against humanity,” as found in the yearlong investigation. When asked how many North Korean officials may have committed the crimes against humanity, Kirby told reporters in Geneva Monday that the number “would be running into hundreds,” without naming specific names. (link)

Despite this recommendation to prosecute DPRK leadership for crimes that are similar to what occured in Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied territory during WWII, The PRC has come out as being opposed to such action:

. . . Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, called the report “unreasonable criticism,” raising questions as to whether Beijing will use its United Nations Security Council veto power to block any action on the matter.
“We believe that politicizing human rights issues is not conducive toward improving a country’s human rights,” Ms. Hua said. “We believe that taking human rights issues to the International Criminal Court is not helpful to improving a country’s human rights situation.” (link)

Of course, the main long-term supporter for the DPRK is China and the PRC has had its own problems with human rights issues and has, in turn drawn justifiable criticism for its unwillingness to acknowledge the criminal acts against humanity that have occurred in the DPRK.  As per the UN panel that was charged with reviewing the evidence against the DPRK, they find that China has been an enabler in this affair as well:

. . . Despite the gross human rights violations awaiting repatriated persons, China pursues a rigorous policy of forcibly repatriating citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who cross the border illegally. China does so in pursuance of its view that these persons are economic (and illegal) migrants, however, many such nationals of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea should be recognized as refugees fleeing persecution or refugees sur place. They are thereby entitled to international protection. In forcibly returning nationals of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China also violates its obligation to respect the principle of non-refoulement under international refugee and human rights law. In some cases, Chinese officials also appear to provide information on those apprehended to their counterparts in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. . . (link)

Naturally, since the PRC is a member of the UN’s Security Council, they can veto any attempt by the UN to take action against the documented crimes committed by DPRK leadership.  Despite China’s rejection of the UN panel’s report and the recommendation to prosecute DPRK leadership, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) supports and welcomes the UN panel’s report, exemplifying the stark difference in politics and ethics that separates both China and North Korea from the rest of the world community.

A direct link to the UN panel’s report is here, complete with disturbing drawings made by a former North Korean prisoner.  They do remind one of the Nazi Death camps.

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

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