Archive for April 2009

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Korean Word of the Day: 막무가내

This word, pronounced mak-mu-ga-nae, roughly translates to that most untranslatable of Yiddish words:  chutzpah.

On Tuesday, North Korea had the chutzpah to demand (막무가내로 우기다) that the U.N. Security Council apologize for the flaccid non-binding presidential statement it offered in lieu of any meaningful enforcement of the two Security Council resolutions North Korea’s recent missile test violated:

The UNSC should promptly make an apology for having infringed the sovereignty of the DPRK and withdraw all its unreasonable and discriminative “resolutions” and decisions adopted against the DPRK.

North Korea’s very ridiculousness can be (if this is the right word) disarming.  It’s hard to take a man, even a democidal tyrant, seriously when he resembles an unkempt fishwife or when his state media has a fondness for peculiar words like “brigandish.”  This dismissive consequence of ridicule has a way of obscuring the depth and scale of Kim Jong Il’s brutality, a case of mass political cleansing that has had no equal in this world since Pol Pot’s overthrow.

But at least we’ll be spared the sight of Kim Jong Il’s face on coffee mugs and tote bags.  A million deaths is a statistic, but a bad haircut will not stand among the right-thinking.

Study: N. Korea Reduced Public Executions in Reaction to S. Korean Criticism

Does Kim Jong Il care what South Koreans, Americans, or other earthlings say about his regime?

Citing interviews with about 50 North Korean defectors who fled their homeland between 2007 and 2008, the Korea Institute for National Unification said in a report that North Korea appears to be mindful of criticism from the international community about its human rights condition and has responded with limited changes.

According to the annual report “White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea 2009,” those interviewed said they had witnessed fewer public executions than before. The report also noted changes in the legal system in recent years in favor of human rights, such as a 2003 law on the protection of the disabled and revisions to the criminal law in 2004 and 2005 stiffening requirements for permission to interrogate or arrest individuals.

“North Korea appears to be reacting sensitively to criticism from the international community,” Kim Soo-am, a research fellow at the think tank and major author of the report, told reporters.

“Adjusting its legal system and reducing public executions, North Korea appears to be trying to find a way to reduce international criticism in a way that will not threaten the regime,” he said. [Yonhap]

There are several problems with this conclusion. First, there are no reliable before-and-after data to show that North Korea’s atrocities have actually declined. Second, even if such data did exist, this could easily be a case of coincidence being confused with causation.

That said, there are sound reasons not to dismiss this report completely. North Korea certainly puts on a harsh reaction to criticism of its system in its external media. That’s mostly for external consumption, but it’s hard to believe that a regime so obsessed with the creation of gauzy utopian illusions doesn’t care about how it is perceived. Otherwise, the people who write those KNCA screeds could just as well be put to work growing cabbages or tapping phones.

Close observers of events inside North Korea will tell you that foreign criticism sometimes has a discernible impact on how North Korea treats its own people. Part of that may be that foreign criticism makes its way inside North Korea these days.

Lisa Ling, take heed: silence isn’t going to help bring your sister home. Unleash the furies.

It’s North Korea Freedom Week

The list of events this year looks extremely interesting. For most of these, you have to be in Washington D.C. I only wish I had time to attend more of these. More here. One that I’d especially like to attend is a screening of “Kimjongilia,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Calls for the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee will also be heard, but so far, Lisa Ling is maintaining her public silence. Sort of.

Their families and acquaintances plan a candlelight vigil on Tuesday in front of the headquarters of Current TV, where the two were working, in San Francisco.

Lisa Ling, Laura Ling’s sister and herself a TV personality, told reporters, “This has been an incredibly difficult time for us. Please understand that due to the extreme sensitivity of the case, it is vital for our families to stay quiet. Please know however, that when you are out there holding those candles, that we are there with you with fires lit in our hearts.” [Chosun Ilbo]

But as we now know, the State Department is telling the families that it’s vital to stay quiet because the State Department is more interested in “bigger issues” — like rolling the stone up the hill again — than in protecting American citizens.

For those of you in the San Francisco Bay area, there will be a candlelight demonstration in Fair Oaks tonight from 7 to 8.

[Update:  There will also be a vigil in Santa Monica tonight at 7, where Ocean Park Boulevard meet the beach.]
At this point, it scarcely matters where Laura Ling and Euna Lee were caught. Wandering across the border would not justify such a lengthy detention, and it’s clear that North Korea continues to detain them in exchange for some sort of political, economic, or diplomatic concession. That makes this terrorism.

Kaesong Death Watch

There’s enough bile circulating in my veins as it is, so it’s a burden lifted to read reports like this, via G.I. Korea, and have the confidence that the behavior will be terminated and deterred in due course. These days, Kaesong isn’t shipping much merchandise, but a lot of karma is about to arrive on some manufacturers’ loading docks.

Exhibit A: Amid North Korean demands to increase “wages” for Kaesong workers — the workers themselves probably see little or any of the money — panicky South Korean investors are appealing to their government to insure the free flow of freight traffic and the release of a South Korean employee still being held by the North Koreans. It’s hard to see what the South Korean government can really do about this.

Exhibit B: Inter-Korean trade in March 2009 was a full 30% lower than it was in March 2008.

The two Koreas exchanged goods and services worth US$108.74 million over the last month, down 31.1 percent from $157.9 million in the same period in 2008, the data from the Unification Ministry said.

North Korea sealed the border three times in March, disrupting South Korean production in a joint industrial complex in the North’s border town of Kaesong. Pyongyang imposed the ban in retaliation against a joint military exercise South Korea staged with the United States from March 9 to 20 south of the border. [Yonhap]

The latest convenient excuse was an annual military exercise. Even in March 2008, Kaesong’s output fell far short of early predictions about its potential.

27 April 2009

ROH MOO HYUN takes the Fifth.

NO WORSE THAN HAVING THEM THERE, I guess: The Economist calls for proceeding with six-party talks without the North Koreans. I happen to be a supporter of continuing this charade, but only because charades have cosmetic value.

CITING SOUTH KOREAN INTELLIGENCE SOURCES, the Joongang Ilbo reports that the North Korean military is reasserting itself “over several key policy-making issues” in a restructuring of the ruling Worker’s Party. This would dial back a trend reported last year, in which the the civilian party leadership gained at the military’s expense. Or, all of this could be bullshit….

A CAUTION THAT ALSO APPLIES to fresh reports that Kim Jong Un is being groomed for succession. Far too slowly to take power before his old man goes to the big meat locker, if you ask me.

North Korea marked the 77th anniversary of its military on Saturday with vows of a ‘merciless strike’ against the United States and its allies, which it accuses of attempting an invasion.” Thank goodness they’re not in league with the terrorists anymore.

IT ISN’T COWBOY DIPLOMACY when a Democrat does it:

Responding to North Korea’s purported reactivation of its plutonium-producing facilities, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday that Washington wants dialogue with Pyongyang, but the communist country should first retract its brinkmanship. “We’re not going to be blackmailed by the North Koreans,” Clinton said during her surprise visit to Baghdad. [Yonhap]

Good for her for saying it, but let’s see if events bear that out.

Deputy Chief of Mission at U.S. Embassy in Seoul Calls Laura Ling and Euna Lee “Stupid”

ling-lee.jpgI wonder how many years of studying international relations it would take a guy like me to become a suave, smooth-talking ambassador of American values like this guy:

A US diplomat in Seoul has shocked a group of visiting Congressional staff members by allegedly making highly insensitive comments about two journalists — Taiwanese ­-American Laura Ling and Korean-American Euna Lee — now facing serious criminal charges in North Korea.

William Stanton, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in South Korea and a candidate for the next director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), is said to have told the visitors during a briefing that the two young journalists were “stupid” and that their case was “distracting from bigger issues. [Taipei Times, William Lowther]

First, let me get one thing out of the way: I am absolutely, positively not related to this person. Second, let me posit that this statement is proof that William Stanton has absolutely no idea what the “bigger issues” are.

Congressional sources said most of the nine visitors — all in their 20s and on a training trip to Asia — were particularly distressed because both Ling and Lee could be sentenced to long prison terms and there is strong evidence they did nothing wrong.

At least one of the visitors was so upset about Stanton’s attitude that he wrote a memorandum to a member of Congress giving full details of the briefing, including Stanton’s statements.

The memorandum has become a topic of hot discussion among senior Congressional staff and a copy has been sent to the US State Department. No officials would comment on the situation last night and it is not known if it will lead to a formal inquiry.

The Taipei Times reports that William Stanton has been the subject of previous complaints, but doesn’t specify what for. Oh, and did I mention that he’s believed to be at “the top of the short list for [American Institute in Taiwan] director,” our de facto ambassador to Taiwan and quite possibly the most diplomatically sensitive post in existence? Shockingly, he is “known for his strong support for Chinese policies” and accused of having “impeded internal reports critical of the Chinese regime.” What? You mean in our State Department? Tell me it isn’t so.

William Stanton isn’t the only one in the embassy with that contemptuous view. According to a memo written by one of the staffers, the Seoul Embassy Political Counselor, Joseph Yun, chimed in to say that because of Ling and Lee’s captivity, the United States would now “have to raise thousands of dollars,” presumably in ransom money. (Thousands? Yet again, State underestimates North Korea’s negotiating chutzpah. Surely Kim Jong Il knows how promiscuously we’ve been bailing out insolvent empires lately.)

The families of Laura Ling and Euna Lee have also heard William Stanton’s comments, and now, of State’s true rationale for having “advised [the families] to keep low profiles and not to talk about the case.” State must dread the idea that Lisa Ling could get this story wide media exposure through The View, Oprah, or any number of outlets. State had even promised the families that the North Koreans would release Ling and Lee as part of an April 15th amnesty for Kim Il Sung’s birthday. Astonishingly, our diplomats had believed North Korean “assurances” that it would be so. Tough luck.

The Taipei Times report also says, without offering further detail, that “[t]here is evidence that the North Korean guards crossed the river and grabbed the women on the Chinese side, forcing them into North Korea at gunpoint.” I’d like to know what Lowther has heard, but here’s what a knowledgeable reader told me: Ling and Lee’s Chinese driver was a North Korean operative who led them into a trap — a suspected North Korean plot to take American hostages. Such a plan could only have been approved by Kim Jong Il himself, and was almost certainly meant to shield North Korea from the diplomatic consequences of its then-planned missile test. The main purpose would have been to take the measure of the Obama Administration, and of that, mission accomplished. I don’t doubt that a second North Korean motive was payback for Lisa Ling.

My source tells me that the Chinese cameraman has since disappeared.

If the report is true, it would fit each and every element of the U.S. Code’s definition of international terrorism.

It’s fair to say, then, that the circumstances under which Ling and Lee ended up in North Korean captivity are far from clear. So if William Stanton doesn’t know the circumstances under which these women were seized, we can only assume that what he really means to describe as “stupid” is the act of trying to report the truth of a grave and underreported humanitarian crisis. Would he have said the same about journalists killed or taken hostage while reporting in Iraq? Would the media have let him get away with that?

Regardless of the circumstances of Ling and Lee’s seizure, it’s a strikingly callous thing for a “diplomat” to say, and it’s one for the books as an example of simple diplomatic incompetence. The Chinese will now understand that their “good offices” need not be expended on obtaining the release of two American citizens who may have been seized from their territory. Even assuming that Lee and Ling had intentionally crossed the border — which seems exceedingly unlikely — any North Korean justification for holding them as prisoners ended hours after their detention.

One person who could help us get to the truth of the matter is the Current TV cameraman, who managed to escape. Like everyone else associated with Current TV, he’s suspended his dedication to fearless truth-telling.



Hat tip: Curtis.

Current TV has gone so far as to scrub its site of all postings referring to Ling and Lee. Current TV is doing this, of course, on the advice of our State Department, which would be the same State Department that has been so effective in resolving North Korea’s human rights atrocities, nuclear weapons program, threats to nuke Seoul and Tokyo, proliferation, and defiance of U.N. resolutions. The futility of “quiet diplomacy” isn’t helping to bring Laura Ling and Euna Lee home, either:

Is this what happens when information becomes more democratic? No one’s willing to step up? If you work for a viewer-supplied TV cable network, does that mean no one has your back?

This does not help the argument that the value of large news organizations is dwindling to nothing in favor of small entrepreneurs. There’s no encouragement for 2.0 reporting when its practitioners can disappear into the gulag with no one to fight for them.

Maybe there are furious back door efforts going on and these two reporters aren’t just pawns in the overarching political drama of North Korea’s imminent launch of a long-range missile. CNN, where Wikipedia says Ms. Ling’s sister works as a reporter, and other news outlets report that a Swedish diplomat is hot on the case.

But that shouldn’t stop some public uproar. Do we have to ask Google to go in there and flex a little muscle on behalf of the free flow of information? [Phil Bronstein, Huffington Post]

If there is any good news to this story at all, it’s the fact that this confession of breathtaking moral retardation may block one incompetent’s rise to a position of potentially catastrophic responsibility. The more distressing news is that Kim Jong Il has learned a lesson from the Mohammad Cartoons controversy: that all the talk we sometimes hear about the courage and independence of the news media is just that — talk. When faced with a challenge to their reporting of a legitimate news story that demands real courage, the media kneels before terrorists, and our government treats freedom of information like an encumbrance to its pursuit of bigger deals.

Hat tip to a anonymous reader.

North Korea’s Indictment of Laura Ling and Euna Lee Is Meant to Terrorize Journalists and Paralyze Our Government (And It’s Working)

Someone wake up Al Gore and tell him Manbearpig has two of his reporters:

North Korea said Friday that it had decided to indict two American journalists who have been detained for more than five weeks on charges of illegally entering the country and committing “hostile acts.

“Our related agency has completed its investigation of the American journalists,” North Korea’s state-run news agency, KCNA, reported. “It has formally decided to put them on trial based on confirmed criminal data. [....]

North Korea has said that it would allow the reporters consular access and treat them according to international law. Amnesty International has said it doubted that they will receive a fair trial, given the North Korean judicial system’s lack of independence or transparency. [N.Y. Times]

Nice of Amnesty to put in a token appearance now and then when they’re not too busy fluffing Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s pillow. Now if only they decided to get vocal about North Korea’s attempt to reenact the Holocaust. Note also that someone in the MSM has finally picked up on what OFK readers caught almost immediately:

Ms. Ling, 32, is the younger sister of Lisa Ling, a television journalist who reported undercover in North Korea for National Geographic in 2006. In the piece, “Inside North Korea,” Lisa Ling posed as part of a medical team that used a hidden camera; her report exposed some of the hardships of living in North Korea and criticized the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il.

Purely coincidental, of course. You can watch Lisa Ling’s documentary here.

A Facebook group with about 2,400 members has sprung up to show support for the women and members have pledged to hold several rallies: one at the MSNBC studios in New York next month and two next Tuesday, one outside Current TV’s office in San Francisco and the other at the high school that Laura Ling attended in California.

There are actually two large groups, one with over 500 members and one with over 2500 members, and if you can figure out how to post a link in the comments, please do. For the record, I haven’t heard a peep from Gore, Obama, or Clinton since Euna Lee and Laura Ling were first grabbed at the border.

A message to Mr. Gore’s spokeswoman on Friday was not immediately returned. In addition, Current TV has removed content relating to the capture of Ms. Ling, a reporter, and Ms. Lee, an editor, on its web site.

No doubt, they’re believers in the kind of quiet diplomacy that proved so wildly successful for South Korea. No doubt, Ling and Lee can go free for the right price or concession from us.

I swear, they have a word for that kind of tactic.

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Thank goodness for that, because our government has absolutely no idea how to deal with terrorism. Maybe they should mobilize the New York Philharmonic again.

23 April 2009

RISING CRIME against the “upper classes” and “party officials” in North Korea’s border regions.

THAT’LL TEACH ‘EM: Behold the dreaded awesomeness of European diplomacy!

A FEW DAYS OLD, but here’s some idea of the emerging policy paralysis in the Obama Administration. I’m starting to believe that the Obama Doctrine will be, “Never make a decision.”

THE SEAL MEN of Seoul. I’d say my main question was answered:

Kim doesn’t crawl in his “off” hours. He can walk fitfully with crutches. He lives in a first-floor apartment on the outskirts of Seoul. At 7 a.m. each day, before the morning rush, a disabled friend who can drive drops Kim off at his chosen spot. He spends the next 10 hours in a rough-hewn horizontal world. “I know I look pathetic,” he says. “But if I used my crutches, nobody would give me money.”

OFF TOPIC: Eric Cartman joins the Somali pirates.

North Korean Military Service Loses Its Luster

In Hoeryong, a group of North Korean children has been sentenced to a life of laboring on collective farms for refusing to join the army:

As a result of a first-of-its-kind refusal to sign an army enrollment petition, students soon to graduate from a middle school in Hoiryeong, North Hamkyung Province have been ordered by the Party to work on collective farms for life.

Furthermore, during this process the parents of some of the students protested after the children of government officials in Hoiryeong were granted exemptions from the same order.

The incident occurred at the Osanduk Middle School in early February. The Army Mobilization Department had urged graduating middle school students to sign the “People’s Army (KPA) Enrollment Petition,” stressing that “America and South Chosun puppets are taking provocative wartime measures. [Daily NK]

Military service used to be desirable and genuinely voluntary in North Korea. Until recently, it was seen as a meal ticket and a route to higher social status. Apparently, those days have even passed in a bleak backwater like Hoeryong.