Kim Jong Il, Unplugged Again

First, I’ll just say that I have nothing to say about Eric Clapton that I didn’t say more than two years ago. We’ve already heard Eric Clapton unplugged. The economic unplugging of Kim Jong Il is a more consequential thing, one that I see as closely related to domestic discontent inside North Korea. My suspicion, though it is not yet supported by much direct evidence, is that these recent developments have reduced him to new lows of extortionate desperation.

When I posted the other day about Kim Jong Il’s Austrian shopper, the story mentioned that he’d attempted to purchase yachts for His Dessicated Majesty. This more recent story confirms that the seller was Azimut-Benetti, which cooperated in the investigation of violations of UNSCR 1718 and 1874, and which I first wrote about here. The “shopper,” who was not named but should have been, claims he is merely a businessman, which is what Don Corleone also said if I recall correctly. Maybe the violation of two U.N. Security Council resolutions isn’t malum in se, but the diversion of resources from the starving certainly is.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the foreign exchange ledger, there are several new stories about hard times for the industries that earn North Korea that Earth money it needs to buy all that … infant formula. The Daily NK interviews a former manager of North Korean logging camps in Russia about why so many loggers have defected that the 20,000 of them were recently called home. Separately, the Chosun Ilbo also reports that a North Korean military translator, obviously the scion of an elite family, has defected in Russia:

Choi told Kyodo the North Korean regime “makes people suffer. People are executed or sent to labor camps all the time, and most ordinary people are starving.” He claimed he “wanted to contribute to changing the situation from outside.”

Choi reportedly lived in the Soviet Union in the 1980s between the ages of 13 and 17 years old, when his father worked at the North Korean Embassy in Moscow.

“I was there in January last year when the North Korean government announced Kim Jong-un as the successor of Kim Jong-il in front of high military officials in Pyongyang,” Choi claimed. “Kim Jong-il is going to die in a few years, and it’s impossible for the young and inexperienced Jong-un to rule the country. My dream is to go back to my country, which will be free some day, and live with my family.”

And in Nepal, the manager of the local Pyongyang Okryugwan Restaurant has absconded to India with the contents of the till. Enraged (and probably fearful) diplomats at the North Korean embassy then exerted pressure on the Nepalese authorities, who arrested two South Korean nationals, possibly on “kidnapping” charges. South Korea says it’s negotiating with the Nepalis for their release.

The Chosun Ilbo reports that these restaurants bring in a substantial amount of cash for the regime, but have recently suffered from a rash of defections. I’ve speculated before that they could also serve as a good cover for money laundering. I wonder how much of the stolen money is counterfeit.

I’m beginning to sense a great disturbance in The Force. That sense may change tomorrow, but today, it is that something truly dramatic, horrible, and/or hopeful will surely happen in North Korea, or because of North Korea, in the next six months.

32 Comments

  1. Given your blog is probably the most informed source available to the public on the DPRK, your prediction of something “big” in the next 6 months is chilling…




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  2. Agreed. I read this blog daily, and find it to be the best source available… which makes Mr. Stanton’s prediction unsettling to say the least. As a Korean-American, I do have hopes for reunification sooner rather than later, but the logistical nightmare that would undoubtedly occur thereafter seems nearly insuperable at least with the current policies.




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  3. Jack – I think the logistical nightmare of reunification anywhere in the near term is just about a foregone conclusion. What keeps my up at nights, is the security/defense nightmare that could precede any reunification and what it would mean in terms of the price of blood on the Korean peninsula and well as East Asia regional as well as global security




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  4. I’m trying to race through my last years of university and somehow find a position in the world that will allow me to be on the ground in North Korea within days of a major collapse event. If it happens while I’m still in school well then I’m not sure, I’ll be anxious and lost as to how to get immediately involved. Any ideas on that?




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  5. jhpigott, i completely agree. I’m doubly concerned with what kind of occupation the remnants of the world’s largest special ops forces would find after NK collapse? In the effort to insulate the south post collapse and go the way of “slow” reunification by building up the North’s economy, would it give rise to a mob run northern Korea?

    also, Joshua, if you don’t mind, any recommendations for a 1L at Wash. U who’s becoming more and more disillusioned by the prospects of being a corporate slave? Reading your blog among others and just being engaged with foreign policy in general is fast becoming a passion of mine. Would a quality law school education supplement a potential career in some kind of policy think tank or do you think my time can be better spent elsewhere?




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  6. If North Korea starts collapsing, I hope that the North’s military has sufficient sense not to begin shelling Seoul. I worry that in the chaos and breakdown of the centralized chain of command, some general might take upon himself the decision to set off the artillery aimed at South Korea’s capital. That would give me a lot to blog about here in Seoul, of course, but I might not be the person who posts the final entry on Gypsy Scholar . . .

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *




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  7. Joshua,

    I just arrived in the states Monday, but will be back in Korea next month after having finally made my move back to Seoul. It’s quite interesting that you think something may occur within the next six months. I’ve also had that feeling and like you, view it as something that will likely be horrible, yet hopeful, at the same time. Many think I’m crazy, but I hope to be in Korea (and survive) when the north collapses and will be ready to help in any way possible.

    For the record, while I do not comment very often, I do read your blog daily and I know I’ve turned many, many more onto it as I I recommend others read your site quite often. Especially to those wanting to learn more about the DPRK.

    Thank you (and your regular posters/contributors [Kush, David, Hodges, Dan, and all the others I have missed, but not on purpose]) for keeping us all up to date on the latest and for providing a top-notch blog where those with inquiring minds can come and glean some knowledge on Korea (hopefully One Free Korea! soon).

    Keep up the good, no GREAT work!

    Lord bless!




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  8. Jeffrey,

    I would imagine part of the Kim family regime life insurance policy (if you will) is that they have those generals controlling the some 500 odd artillery pieces (170mm Kosan self propelled howitzers and 240mm MLRS) that can target downtown Seoul deep in their pockets.




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  9. As distasteful as I find this I believe the best way will be to offer amnesty to the NK elites. There could be a massive blood bath after the fall of the Kims with over one million dead a real possibility. One thing that keeps the elites backing the Kims is their fear they will be murdered after the government falls. The six party nations could offer relocation to the top 100 officials with a pension to Vietnam or Laos. This could greatly speed up the fall of the Kims and maybe prevent a war that could kill 100’s of thousands or more.




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  10. Next six months? Something will happen in the next two hours! I just saw Bill Richardson with Wolf Blitzer on CNN from Beijing. They’re preparing to leave for Pyonyang. A New York Times journalist, not named by Wolfi, will accompany them. So maybe we’ll know more soon.




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  11. Jason,

    If you want to assure yourself a spot on the peninsula when or if the collapse happens, you have two options:

    1) Become an EFL teacher (all you need is a heartbeat, a BA, and a passport from an English-speaking country!)

    2) Enroll in a South Korean university.

    The second option would probably be more suitable to your tastes as you can specialize in NK issues, hob-knob with big wigs like Dr. Lankov and B.R. Myers, and you’ll come across opportunities to volunteer and intern at think tanks or organizations like the DailyNK (I’ve seen them occasionally put out calls for summer interns…ask Chris). You’ll also have more freedom to roam about in the event something does occur. Korean universities are pretty generous about scholarships for foreign, and you could legally work up to 20 hours a week during the school year (more during vacations). The downside is that unless your long-term goal is to work in Korean studies, such a degree probably doesn’t have much usefulness.

    Becoming an English teacher assures you a steady income, a free plane ticket, and a place to live, but kids come to school regardless of the geopolitical situation and you might just find yourself trapped in a classroom babysitting while wishing you were in the teacher’s lounge hitting the refresh button on Google News.

    Those are the only two options which guarantee you a place out here. If you want to stay in your home country, you could enroll in a Korean studies program at a local university or try to find some work at an NGO or charity organization like the WFP.

    And if you haven’t started doing so already, I strongly recommend that you start learning Korean. And then learn Mandarin Chinese. Both languages are a pain in butt, however if you are truly interested in NK issues, the pay-offs will be enormous. You’ll have a huge leg-up over other Western experts as a great deal of them surprisingly don’t speak or read Korean. You’ll also be able to out-scoop everyone else as you’ll find that most NK-related news gets published in Korean or Chinese first and there is a lag of several hours or even days between the time the news is published and the time the news gets translated. There is also a ton of material that never gets translated into English. Just look at how B.R. Myers revolutionized our understanding of NK regime dynamics—simply by taking the time to read North Korean literature.

    Jack,

    A law degree might be ok and would certainly give you some versatility, but if your goal is to work in a think tank you’re much better off getting a PhD.




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  12. I sincerely hope that at least one or two of Kim Jong Il’s palaces are spared from destruction. The people of the DPRK deserve to see first hand the opulent lifestyle that their “humble” dear leader has been forced to live in for so long. In fact I would like to see guided tours being given to the populace of his most ornate villas and palaces.




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  13. not a bad idea listener, but how many would still “think” he deserved it? How about making sure they also preserve some of the opulence of 평양 itself as evidence of the harshness the “commoners” have had to endure compared to the party “elites”.




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  14. @ Jeffrey Hodges. Make me an admin then, I’ll try to find time to do it 😉

    Meanwhile, all we have to do is convince enough of the elite that both the regime is going to fall and that they would be better off jumping ship now than wait and see what comes next.

    Always better to be first off the sinking ship, just ask Hwang Jang Yop~




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  15. Chris, I’ve believed that is what we should do for quite some time now. We have to give the norK “elites” a “way” to “save face”. Otherwise, they’ll have no problem dieing for their pride.




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  16. There are other ways to work in SK, but they often require preparing ahead or having chosen the right major and/or career path.

    A work visa, while always a headache, is much easier with a graduate degree (I think one done in Korea is fine, not really sure, certainly one from an English-speaking country is good).

    Fields of study — the usual pertaining to policy, politics, I assume law (esp. international law), etc. Social work is a real need, Mike Kim’s book first clued me in on that.

    The more the degree (even if just an undergrad degree) directly pertains to the field you’ll be working in and/or the more work experience you have in that field in your home country, the easier/more possible the visa is. In hindsight, this is obvious, but unfortunately it wasn’t for me, coming from a liberal arts/it’s what you know mindset. I figured if someone wanted to hire me, that’d be all I needed, but it wasn’t that simple.

    For my visa (a technical one) i think the requirements worked like this:
    -masters in the field or
    -undergrad degree in the field plus 1 (or was it 2?) years of related experience or
    -5 years of work experience in the field

    NGOs pay very, very low in Korea, much lower than in the US.

    If you want to work in NK (even before the fall), I think expertise in agricultural methods or other applied science-stuff is a ticket via NGOs, though I don’t know much about this personally. After the fall, anything needed in building/rebuilding a country, which is a long list indeed. I know one South Korean studying nutrition/nutrition policy with this in mind, another public policy.

    Ditto on learning Korean and if possible, Chinese (the latter if an academic or doing field work).

    For anyone wanting to learn Korean for free over the internet, this program seems very good for complete beginners through intermediate level students (ie, very comprehensive):

    http://korean.sogang.ac.kr

    Note, I did the regular classroom program there (which I highly recommend to Westerners), haven’t actually used this online program, but from what I’ve seen, it looks great.




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  17. Chris, my greatest fear is that my obituary will read “Jeffrey” Hodges. But if I’m gone after the shelling of Seoul, just contact my wife via my email, and she’ll set you up as the new administrator of my blog . . .

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *




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  18. Dan’s advice is good. Some clarification:

    The requirements for an E7 visa (the visa for most jobs except entertainers, EFL teachers, and a few other cases) vary by job, but in most instances a relevant higher degree (MA or PhD), five years of general work experience, and at least two years of relevant work experience are required. Experience in Korea tends to be looked on more highly than experience abroad. Check with Korea Immigration Service to find out about the specific requirements. In some cases, KIS will “bend” requirements depending on the connections of the sponsor, the personal whims of the immigration officer dealing with your case, and your own persistence.

    There is one general exception to the above, however: the above requirements are waived for graduates (BA or higher) from South Korean universities. Of course, eligibility for this waiver is based on your major (polisci majors aren’t eligible to do physics research, for example).

    Finding jobs outside of the field of EFL is not easy. Most expats I know who have E7s found their jobs in-country. A lot of the jobs are posted on university websites that are not accessible to the general public, or are heard about through word-of-mouth. Finally, because of the hassle of getting approval to sponsor an E7 visa, most companies/organizations prefer to hire F visa holders (people of Korean decent, people married to Korean nationals or long-term residents who meet certain requirements).




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  19. Hi Joshua , long time reader, first time coment 🙂
    I think your refering to “North Korea has dug a new tunnel more than 500 m deep at a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri, North Hamgyong Province, intelligence sources said Tuesday.’
    http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2010/12/15/2010121500311.html

    Looks like they are going to have anoter test. This won’t worry the Chinese if its a fizzer but ups the ante if it really goes bang.

    Actually my money was an underwater detonation, looks much better on he propaganda clips.




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  20. Back to the topic, for the first time in history, not only is Kim jong Il unplugged, but finally the final delivering blows to his regime are in finally blooming. I have never wished death upon a 69 year old man, except for him. That is why I have no guilt in hoping he stays alive long enough to be judged by his peers for crimes against humanity, mostly and mainly Koreans. After all Kim Jong Il is innocent by fact of killing non Koreans for the most part. He is however guilty of killing more Koreans than his father ever dreamed. Those nursed in the womb of the Viper pale in comparison to those persecuted.




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  21. The last sentence in the Chosun story linked by Andy C:
    “Former chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill was quoted by VOA as saying that the North’s disclosure of the uranium enrichment plant proves that the regime lied in the six-party talks.”
    North Korea is in trouble now.




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  22. First time I am posting Joshua, I live in Korea and have been reading your amazing blog for over a year and a half. I am planning on Studying at Korea University some more over the next few months and hopefully I can get a job invloved with North Korea.
    I must be honest, the U.S. media overreacts to everything that North Korea does. I do feel however that the news you have been posting over the past few months have been moving in the direction of instability or even signs of a revolution in North Korea. If war happens, the fact that I speak fluent Korean should be a help, but it will be crazy if a war breaks out. I think Kim Jong Il’s is in stable health right now, but if he senses a collapse or a serious problem the chances of war are much more likely.
    I will be a graduate student, studying Korean studies for the next few years. I truly appreciate your blog and it is one of the few sources I trust when it comes to North Korea.
    On a side note how many of you have seen a lot of those You Tube videos, and what are your thoughts on them?




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  23. Increasing defections abroad, especially among people of the elite class of society, which many of the North Koreans abroad come from, is a sign to watch.

    Chinese troops heading to the border is another.

    Top and fairly high mid-level inner government people vanishing then showing up in another country is another. (Some of them showing up in China and being connected with the Kim family in China would be a highly interesting sign…)

    As far as big events, North Korea has fairly quickly – diplomatically speaking – used up all its best cards the last 5 years or so. When the history of contemporary North Korea is written 10 or 20 years after its collapse, I think we’ll find that much of these things — the nuke tests and ICBM tests and opening of the uranium plant and now the blood letting on soil as well as sea — was closely connected with Kim Jong Il’s health concerns —- which means regime survival concerns.

    I predict the next step in the escalation of provocations might very well be an attack against a Japanese (military) ship. The sooner that happens after the artillery attack, the more significant it would be.

    Whatever the “primary” specific catalyst to what we’ve seen the last 5 years or so — I think the most likely cause has been —- fear within the North Korean elite that it is going to collapse in the near future.

    If I weren’t American, and the collapse came while I’m still here in Korea, I’d seriously consider trying to work with organizations moving North to help get things settled and setting up a foundation for future rebuilding. I think the North Koreans are going to have too much trouble stomaching Americans on their soil those early years after collapse. I’d also expect the black market and semi-organized crime and street crime to be rampant, if the borders with the South hold up much, and I’d prefer being a white Canadian or Brit or Aussie to an American in that environment.

    No. If collapse comes soon, I think I’ll work with North Korean refugees who make it South…

    (Which was something I wanted to do (and had started doing a little) this past year before I smashed up my hip…)

    As distasteful as I find this I believe the best way will be to offer amnesty to the NK elites.

    I hate to agree, but I think this is one of the better options for both North and South Korea. It is probably one of a small number of options that give hope North Korea’s collapse will not include a violent strike outward at South Korea and possibly Japan.

    And if we can’t convince the main players to take golden parachutes in mass, if we can pull away a significant number of the elites, it might create enough instability within the right layers of the government to hasten a collapse without a violent outward death strike.

    Since I’ll be moving into Seoul this next year, I’d like to avoid that even more now…




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  24. I’ve watched almost every youtube video I can on North Korea. The documentary about Comrade Joe wasn’t too bad. If you type in North Korea, there are lots of documentaries (many of them very similar) about North Korea, life in North Korea, videos that interview the defectors. There was a French one a while back that was pretty good, because they had some decent access. There was one about a group of foreigners who went to North Korea for a tour and helped support Communism. Most of them were shocked that it wasn’t as great as they thought it would be. Videos like this.
    What do you think of them Joshua? I find them pretty insightful, obviously some of it is a bit repetitive, but overall the information gained has shown me a lot about the country.




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  25. This wall of comments is immensely helpful, and thanks Milton for the tips. I still need to finish reading this page though.




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