Open Sources, May 30, 2014

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ANOTHER APARTMENT BUILDING in Pyongyang is near collapse, according to the Chosun Ilbo. The report claims that the building’s foundation is settling into the ground, its walls are cracking, and residents are selling their apartments to other families and moving out (which tells you a lot about the state of civic ethics in Pyongyang). I think just about every news service except the AP has now reported something newsworthy about this story.  (hat tip: GI Korea)

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LiNK SUMMIT: This is just about your last chance to register.

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EVENT IN SEOUL:The Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) for Liberty cordially invites you to a special lecture on the Freedom barometer in Asia. It will take place at Soongmoon Alumni Building, 19:00, Monday, May 26.” It’s a five-minute walk from Daeheung Station, on the Number 6 Line.

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PYONGYANG THREATENS U.S. forces at Panmunjom, and puts its front-line troops on high alert.

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AS THE WORLD FOOD PROGRAM agonizes about whether it can afford to continue to feed poor North Koreans, rich North Koreans are stocking up on shark’s fins and digital televisions. No wonder the WFP’s donors are staying away in droves. And the WFP’s own failure to confront this contradiction, among others, has cost it much credibility.

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MICHAEL KIRBY ISN’T GOING QUIETLY INTO THE NIGHT. Speaking at Australia’s Lowy Institute, he called for North Korea’s leaders to be tried for crimes against humanity, saying:

After more than three decades as a judge, “I thought I was impervious to tears”, Kirby said in a lecture to Sydney’s Lowy Institute on Wednesday. But “hour after hour after hour” of testimony when he chaired a recent United Nations inquiry into human rights abuses in country wore him down, he said.

He also calls for Australians to “make a fuss” about North Korea:

“We should not simply sit quietly when great wrongs are being done. We should all be making a fuss,” he told AAP. “It’s hard to think of any other country in the world where the human rights situation is more dire. “I don’t regard it as a joke and I don’t think anyone else should.”

Michael Kirby deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for what he has done. Although that fact guarantees that he’ll never win one, I’d like to be the first — or among the first — to suggest we orchestrate a campaign to nominate him.

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IN THE WASHINGTON POST, North Korean refugee Yeon-Mi Park writes about North Korea’s black-market generation, and how it will change North Korea.

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THE KOREA HERALD FALLS FOR that biased, unscientific e-mail poll of North Korea “experts.” I guess it was just too good to check.

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BUT ALL ENGAGEMENT IS GOOD, RIGHT? North Korean economic delegations visit Syria, Russia, and Angola.

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HOW THE JAPANESE RED ARMY hijackers live in North Korea — a description and photo essay. North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.

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I DON’T OFTEN AGREE with Daniel Drezner, but his piece, “Five Myths About Sanctions,” is spot on. Frankly, I had planned to co-write something very similar to this, only with a North Korea focus. And the myths are persistent enough that I may still co-write it.

One point that I would emphasize in particular is that the widespread myth that sanctions don’t work derives from the ineffectiveness old-fashioned trade sanctions. Trade sanctions can be useful for limiting an opponent’s long-term capacity to build national power, but they aren’t particularly good at shocking a target into policy changes, focusing pressure on governments instead of populations, or working quickly.

Another point of agreement — the tools we might have used against Russia, financial sanctions seem particularly misdirected against a large and widely interconnected economy. This is a tool that’s easy to dull if you misuse it.

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1 Comment

  1. North Korea Sanctions.

    If one assumes that the DPRK’s population is at least 1 million fewer than the census shows, as a result of the starvation years of the 1990s, and the deficit is in the young farmer class, a lot of peculiarities are explained. (I’ve been puzzling over the census numbers for some time, and I conclude they are routinely exaggerated by about 5% in the rural population.)

    There is a permanent agricultural crisis because there aren’t enough bodies on the land. (There are also terrible land use and management problems but a situation of dearth even in good weather suggests that there aren’t enough bodies to plant seed and raise pigs in the first place.) The military, which has the primary claim on such men, will not release its claim because its manpower needs (for national defense and to maintain its military mining complex) are independent of a population deficit. Military manpower demands cannot co-exist with the farming demands.

    There are two factions within government, a self-reliance Jucche faction, and a Chinese business faction. Originally the second faction under Jang controlled Kim Jong Un, but now the Jucche faction does.

    A. Kim Jong Un is embarrassingly unintelligent, which is why he has been kept from meeting foreign heads-of-state. He is indulged in his personal wishes, for a dressage ring, for a ski resort, for a water park, for dinner with US basketball players. He is a figurehead; his instinct is for flashy improvement but he presently is controlled by a traditionalist clique.

    B. A hardline control faction exists, that executed Jang, that fires across the NLL, that requires all workers to report back to work, that seeks to minimize jangmadangs, that places DMZ forces on high alert. In political terms, it is “conservative” because it wishes to maintain the Military-Party balance that favors the military. While it realizes that growth is inevitable, events like the collapse of the Pyongyang highrise due to inadequate materials and rushed schedules play into its view of Jucche/traditionalism. They operate a modern subsidiary in the nuclear and rocket forces, who produce foreign exchange.

    C. A “liberal” commercially-oriented faction exists that sees national resurrection from Chinese industrial subsidies; it is found in the diplomatic corps and the military mining industry. It approves of fishing leases at the NLL, of coal exports, foreign mineral exploration, and of Rason, Sinuiju and other FTZs and of the new Tumen bridge. They want the living comforts that come from foreign imports. The liberal group overplayed its hand with Jang who threatened that, if Un would not allow Chinese investment, then he’d arrange for Nam to take over. He was executed for this, and the traditionalists are presently on top.

    Neither of these groups is the least bit interested in joining South Korea except as the result of a military or political takeover. The traditionalist military clique understands that, so long as it maintains high domestic levels of repression, its dominance can continue for many years yet … provided the basic income streams from coal mining, rocket and nuclear exports are sustained. The restriction of such finances is a sanctions matter, and subject to actual co-operation from China, which is unlikely to occur to a degree that the DPRK would fail. China has an actual interest in maintaining a moribund but dangerous DPRK. Financial sanctions ultimately will constrain the DPRK but won’t work because it is in China’s actual interest to ensure they don’t work.

    But there is a fundamental weakness in the DPRK’s determination to maintain a large standing army when its internal needs are for a large farming establishment. That is a systemic weakness that is ultimately destabilizing. This is internal politics and one would imagine that, in the West, there is little that can be done. But the West has in fact been subsidizing the DPRK’s military establishment over its farming industry for years, by supplying free food that otherwise would have to be produced domestically, or bought with foreign exchange. If there is already a population inadequacy, and I think there is, then the DPRK cannot simply ignore farming and let more people die, because that policy in the 1990s led them to where they are now.

    The internal weakness of the military/farming population can best be addressed by cutting off all international food aid, forcing the DPRK to re-adjust its own priorities internally, with all the political stress and instability that will cause.