Open Sources, December 3, 2012

VIDEO:  A wooden boat with fading Korean characters painted on it washes up on Japan’s West Coast.  Aboard are the decomposing bodies of five men.

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WHERE HAS THE U.S.S. PUEBLO GONE?

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I, FOR ONE, FULLY SUPPORT THEIR DECISION:  North Korea to confiscate property from companies at Kaesong that fail to pay punitive taxes.  Good luck attracting more investment with that strategy!

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NORTH KOREAN PERESTROIKA WATCH:  According to an unverifiable report attributed to “sources,” North Korea has replaced its Defense Minister with Kim Kyok Sik, who according to other unverifiable reports, was responsible for the 2010 Cheonan and Yeongpyeong attacks.

I’ll give credit where it’s due here:  this appears to be a case of the AP’s Jean H. Lee obtaining information from not-officially-approved diplomatic sources in Pyongyang.  If the report is true, however, it hardly suggests that Kim Jong Un is a reformer, and whether you see this as a sign of regime stability may depend on your perspective.

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I’LL SUMMARIZE FOR YOU:  Many meetings, no tangible accomplishments.  It’s a sad thing when the report of the Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea draws hardly any interest from this site, and it’s one of the most troubling signs for the future of this administration’s policy that his work is absorbed into the greater diplomatic priorities of the East Asia Bureau.

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MEANWHILE, AT THE RECENT ASEAN SUMMIT, Lee and Obama called for North Korea to cut back on the atrocities:

“The North Korean nuclear issue is a priority issue. However, from the standpoint of more than 20 million North Korean people, human rights and freedom are also pressing and significant issues,” Lee told the meeting, according to his office.

“I take this opportunity to once again call on North Korea to focus on improving the human rights and lives of North Korean people by abiding by international conventions and joining the international community,” he said.

Obama issued a similar appeal in a speech during a landmark visit to Myanmar a day earlier, urging the communist nation to “let go of your nuclear weapons, and choose the path of peace and progress.”

“If you do, you’ll find an extended hand from the United States of America,” he said.

The problem with offers like these is that in practice, we tend to get the sequence backwards.

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I THINK BURMA HAS SHOWN ENOUGH SIGNS of reform to merit changes in U.S. policy and some relaxation of sanctions, but I’m still cautious about the sincerity of its leaders and the judgment of our diplomats, and stories like this one suggest that my caution is justified:

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported North Korea tried to ship materials suitable for uranium enrichment or missile development to Myanmar via China. It said Japanese authorities seized metal pipes and high-specification aluminum alloy at U.S. request when the ship docked in Tokyo in August.

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THE MARKET FINDS A WAY:  I’m still having trouble making sense of why North Korea ever allowed any of its citizens — even carefully pre-selected ones — to get cell phones, and it’s a hopeful sign that not-so-pre-selected North Koreans are finding ways to get them, too.

 

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