Open Sources, August 21, 2012

SO PARK GEUN-HYE HAS WON THE NOMINATION, as we knew she would all along. I wish Ms. Park the best of luck. This isn’t because I’m an especially great fan; Ms. Park has shown an authoritarian mindset and a lack of vision about achieving unification, as opposed to maintaining deterrence. It’s because Ms. Park is smart, tough, and would be an effective executive if — if — she can resist the temptation to overreach, and because the alternatives are so goddamn atrocious.

One bad sign for Ms. Park is that she’s running on issues like income inequality and engaging North Korea. If that’s what Ms. Park’s pollsters say the voters really care about this year, she can’t outcompete the Democratic Party on those issues, and she certainly won’t win an election that becomes a referendum on Lee Myung Bak. What I infer about Park’s polling is not only a bad sign for her, it’s also another sign that the current U.S.-ROK alliance is past its sell-by date. It certainly seems illogical to me that so many South Koreans blame Lee Myung Bak for the deterioration in relations with the North — each step in that direction is attributable to some North Korean outrage — but unfortunately, between 30 and 50 percent of South Koreans are pathologically incapable of holding North Korea responsible for anything. Fair enough. It’s their country to throw away, although I doubt Park would let things come to that if she’s elected:

“I, Park Geun-hye, will not tolerate any action that damages our sovereignty or threatens our safety. We won’t be content only with maintaining peace but we will work to establish a new framework for sustainable peace on the Korean peninsula and cooperation in North Asia,” she said.

Fortunately for Ms. Park, South Korea’s election won’t be decided on big issues that concern readers of this site, because she shows no sign of a vision for addressing them. Unfortunately for Ms. Park, the election will be decided on small things that shouldn’t decide elections, but usually do — Dokdo, gaffes, the relative balance of scandals, or an isolated act of idiocy by a soldier who (as we’ll learn after the fact) shouldn’t have had off-post pass privileges at all.


IS KCNA CITING A MADE-UP NEWSPAPER? Here’s how a recent story from KCNA, the world’s least credible news service, begins:

Ro Kil Nam, representative of an Internet paper of Koreans in the U.S. “Minjok Thongsin”, released an article on the 59th anniversary of the victory of the Korean people in the great Fatherland Liberation War.
The article said:

It is known to world people that the Korean War was ignited by the U.S. imperialists. The U.S. imperialists have committed all sorts of crimes in south Korea since they divided the Korean nation into two parts. [KCNA, Aug. 3, 2012]

So having searched in vain on the interwebs for “Ro Kil Nam” and “Minjok Thongsin,” I’m coming up with bupkes. Maybe one of you can enlighten us with your superior research skills and find something other than multiple references to this cryptic source by KCNA. Or — just thinking out loud here — maybe some well-funded international news service that harbors a close relationship with KCNA can ask a KCNA editor or correspondent to enlighten us!


NORTH KOREAN PERESTROIKA WATCH: Kim Jong Un hands out medals to North Korean gunners for shelling a South Korean fishing village. I’m sure that must be Lee Myung Bak’s fault somehow, so it needn’t interfere with the narrative that North Korea is reforming.  Why, according to some of our most brilliant diplomats and analysts, North Korea has been totally stoked about reforming and opening itself to the world since 2003, and just look what a difference it’s made!


I SEE THAT ROBERT HAS BEATEN ME TO linking this great piece by Andrew Salmon, but I agree that it’s well worth a read. Still, it gives me some pause that Chris Green doesn’t invest much confidence in the claims of Kim Young-Hwan, who claims to have contacted an underground democratic organization inside North Korea. Maybe Chris will enlighten us?


SEVERAL NORTH KOREAN WORKERS HAVE DISAPPEARED in China, according to the Chosun Ilbo. The North Korean regime sent the workers to China, probably as part of a labor-rental arrangement under which the regime keeps a large share of the workers’ wages. The workers sent abroad under such arrangements are typically members of the elite with family members left behind in North Korea, under the state’s watchful eye. North Korea was recently reported to have scaled back or ended a program that rented loggers to timber companies in Siberia because of a rash of defections.


  1. On the whole, I quite liked Andy Salmon’s Korea Times piece, though I would suggest what Kim Young Hwan said was a little more nuanced than what came across in the oped.

    I recommend watching the press conference that Salmon based his column on (Salmon asked some of the best questions). I spent much of the afternoon trying to make the Youtube video more user-friendly for non-Korean speakers so they can skip ahead to the next English part. Didn’t quite finish that yet, but between the jump links in the file and the list of questions and timestamps below the video, you should be able to find what you want without watching the whole 1hr 42min! Ah yes, the link:

    Btw Josh, I’m not sure how you can question Kim Young Hwan’s credibility based on Chris pointing out a news article ( speculating about what he had been doing in China before being caught was false. It was the *speculating* that Chris said was off target. KYH said at his press conference July 25 (shortly after that article came out) that he did not try to arrange a high-level defection.

    Perhaps you meant instead to link to Salmon’s news article (, in which Chris was quoted? But again, I recommend you watch the press conference and get it from the horse’s (or translator’s) mouth first — and then, of course, feel free to have at!

  2. Blimey…three new posts on the One Free Korea website in as many days since I last checked !

    Have you been ill ?

  3. I agree with Dan. I can say with absolute certainty that Kim was not in China to execute a high-level defection.

    However, if, as Dan speculates, you intended to link the Andy Salmon article in seeking to hear more of my views, then we are talking about something much weightier. First of all, I agree with Dan that what Kim said in the press conference was not as definitive as what Andy reported, although Andy was not misrepresenting at all. My point, however, is not that.

    Simply, my point is that even people working for Daily NK inside North Korea are considered to be enemies of the state from the North Korean perspective, and probably as freedom fighters from Kim’s own perspective. As such, Rimjinggang is a group presumably in need of his support, as is Daily NK and, quite possibly, some more about which I know not. But they are surely small and surely very ad hoc; so, my expression of surprise at what Kim said stems mostly from the fact that I have a very different views of what constitutes a ‘movement for democratization’: Daily NK reporters, for example, fall outside it.

  4. So if you disagree with Kim’s assertion about the high-level defection, how does that affect the credibility of his other statements?

    That was my point. Glad you joined in to explain your views.

  5. KYH says he wasn’t in China to arrange a defection, Chris says KYH wasn’t in China to arrange a defection. Where’s the disagreement?

  6. As I said above, he was asked about that and he said it wasn’t true.

    From the Chosun Ilbo article: “A diplomatic source in Seoul on Sunday said that he was told that Kim tried to get a key North Korean official to defect but failed.”

    An unnamed source citing at best second-hand info.

    Anyway, for a fascinating read about Kim Young Hwan’s past (talking to Kim Il Sung, stoking anti-US sentiments in SK, etc.), see this NY Times piece from a couple days ago:

    Not to get too advertise-y, but anybody who lives in Seoul can come hear KYH speak, we’re just finalizing a talk he’ll be giving (with English translation) in a few weeks. Details will be coming on the NKnet website ( / Facebook page.

  7. There is no underground democratic organization in North Korea. As Prince Harry would say ‘nothing to see here !’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *