Books & Films Censorship Korean War II Media Criticism Terrorism (NK)

Kim Jong-Un’s Moonshadow Policy is eclipsing free thought in S. Korea, and beyond

As we begin rehashing the time-worn policy arguments about responding to a nuclear North Korea, it’s useful to inform those arguments with further evidence of just how Pyongyang is leveraging its nuclear hegemony, by escalating its control over speech in South Korea. Last week, a few of us noticed that KCNA published a “death sentence” against four journalists (two reviewers and two newspaper presidents) over a review of “North Korea Confidential” by James Pearson and Daniel Tudor, asserting further that “the penalties will be enforced at an arbitrary point in time at an arbitrary point, without any additional procedure.”

President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.

I’ve posted the full text of KCNA’s threat below the fold (click “continue reading.”) The threat drew a mild condemnation from Seoul. What, do you suppose, are the odds that KCNA made this threat without the personal approval of His Porcine Majesty? No doubt, Pyongyang found the cover of the Korean edition to be provocative:

I don’t know if the reviewers would have even seen this cover. Pearson, an affable person who has done some excellent investigative journalism about North Korea’s money laundering in Malaysia and Singapore, also sent me a review copy when the book came out in English. My copy doesn’t have that cover. Other authors who’ve sent me review copies have done so by .pdf, and none of those texts showed a cover image. But then, the North Korean judicial system isn’t known for its evidentiary rigor or protections of due process.

Why else might Pyongyang target “North Korea Confidential?” It’s certainly a useful snapshot of how provincial North Korea in 2015 differed from the circa-1985 impression that most foreigners have of its society, culture, and economy, although a regular (or obsessive) Korea-watcher won’t read much there that she hasn’t read somewhere else. The book is hardly an indictment of North Korea’s political system. Pearson and Tudor don’t ignore the existence of the political prison camps or other human rights abuses, but those things aren’t the main focus of their book. They mainly focus on economic and cultural changes in North Korea since the Great Famine, and on evidence supporting the implication (of which I’m skeptical) that these things will necessarily drive political change. In their conclusion, they are “doubtful about the possibility of regime collapse” and skeptical of the proposition that “sanctions could push the DPRK to the breaking point.” They ultimately conclude that “the most likely scenario for North Korea in the short and medium term is the gradual opening of the country under the current regime.”

Of course, things don’t seem to be working out that way. Indeed, Kim Jong-Un’s greatest domestic achievement may be his success in sealing North Korea’s borders and implementing a moderately effective digital censorship regimen, perhaps with the technical assistance of well-meaning engagers here.

None of which is really my point. My point is that compared to any number of other North Korea books one can read in Korean, “North Korea Confidental” is mild stuff. It’s not half as inflammatory, subversive, or acerbic as most of what you might read at this blog, or at B.R. Myers’s Sthele Press. Having mostly finished this post last week, I decided to hold it for a few days while I emailed some other authors to ask whether their works are published in Korean. Professor B.R. Myers informs me that “The Cleanest Race” is; so is Kang Chol-hwan’s “The Aquariums of Pyongyang;” Yeonmi Park’s, “In Order to Live;” and most of Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard’s books. All of these books are more ideologically dangerous to Pyongyang than “North Korea Confidential.” Why not them?

The key to explaining this, I think, is that the authors themselves were not the targets of this threat; the Korean journalists who reviewed the book’s Korean edition were. And here, we find the makings of a pattern and an escalation, because a reader brings to my attention that KCNA has also published this threat against centrist and right-of-center Korean media — sorry, make that “Puppet Reptile Writers.” Apologies for the long quote, but this is worth reading and archiving in full:

Pyongyang, September 1 (KCNA) — Yonhap News, Chosun Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo, Maeil Kyongje, Munhwa Ilbo and other vicious conservative media of south Korea professing to represent the south Korean media are speaking ill of the Korean People’s Army’s resolute warning for mounting enveloping fire on Guam and the will of the Korean people to wage death-defying resistance against the U.S. and are unhesitatingly trumpeting about such rhetoric as “enhanced war atmosphere” and “creation of tensions for maintaining social system”.

A spokesman for the Central Committee of the Journalists Union of Korea in a statement Friday says this clearly proves that the puppet conservative media are made up of hack writers, servants of bellicose forces at home and abroad and group of traitors with whom we can not live together.

The Central Committee of the Journalists Union of Korea sternly declares as follows reflecting the towering grudge and hostility of the mediapersons of the DPRK against the puppet conservative media going reckless to hurt the dignity of the DPRK while pointing an accusing finger at the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK:

We will sharpen the just writing brushes to defend our leader, our party and our social system and win a final victory in the confrontation with the U.S.

No matter how loudly the hostile forces may cry out, they can never check the advance of the DPRK dashing toward the bright future of humankind along the straight road of independence, Songun and socialism.

We will track down the puppet conservative reptile writers fostering discord within the nation under the auspices and at the instigation of the anti-reunification forces at home and abroad, and throw overboard all of them.

The puppet ultra-right conservative hack writers without elementary conscience as writers have to be completely stamped out. This is the unanimous will of the mediapersons of the DPRK, and this will be put into practice.

Our grime and merciless pen will sight the bases which commit hideous crimes against the DPRK by spreading misinformation about it, and beat them to pieces.

The puppet conservative media escalating confrontation with the DPRK while dare challenge the annihilating spirit of the army and people of the DPRK will never be able to evade the shower of retaliatory blows. -0- [link]

Let’s call all of this precisely what it is: terrorism. See also Pyongyang’s extraterritorial censorship of “The Interview” in the United States, Europe, and Asia. See also (in no particular order) its series of attempts between 2008 and 2014 to murder North Korean dissidents in exile, its 2012 threat to shell the offices of conservative South Korean newspapers, its 2014 threats against defector-activists who launch leaflet balloons over the DMZ, its approval of the 2015 slashing attack on the U.S. Ambassador, its 2016 threat to murder the President of South Korea, its 2017 threat to murder the ex-President of South Korea and just about anyone who angers it, and its 2017 murder of Kim Jong-Nam in Kuala Lumpur.

I offer that evidence for the benefit of anyone who is tempted to believe the palliative that we can just “learn to live with” a nuclear North Korea, to view our own acknowledgement of Pyongyang’s nuclear status as the end of this crisis, or to find reassurance in the belief that Pyongyang, having achieved nuclear hegemony at such cost, will rest contentedly within its own borders. On the contrary, from now until the end of Kim Jong-Un’s life, every book review, editorial, film, conference, and U.N. vote will be cast as a choice between the offending thoughts, on one hand, and assassination or war on the other. How much of your freedom of thought will you give up for the sake of “peace?” The problem with that question is that no one ever asks it just once.

I have written before about how the generals in Pyongyang believe they can gradually subjugate South Korea into submission and remote control by confederation, rather than attempt to occupy a country with twice its population and many times its wealth. I have written about how Pyongyang’s attempts to censor opinion in South Korea and elsewhere, including the United States and Europe, are at the vanguard of those plans, because Pyongyang knows that to control people, you must first control their thoughts. Pyongyang’s thought control takes many forms, from death threats, to hacking the email of scholars here, to threatening the organizers of conferences. So does the thought control of its simpaticos in South Korea, who use the courts to intimidate refugees, use South Korea’s oppressive libel laws to suppress parliamentary and political speech, send thugs from state-subsidized labor unions to attack their critics, and (as Roh Moo-hyun did) use selective and ideologically motivate tax audits against unfriendly newspapers. And these are just the things we know about.

It may be a complete coincidence that at this moment, Moon Jae-in and the hard-left labor unions are now using threats of criminal prosecution to assert ideological control over Yonhap and other state-owned media. Then again, it may not be a complete coincidence. Whatever this is, it is not “liberal.”

North Korea and the anti-anti-North Korean left in South Korea have many instruments for controlling the thoughts of South Koreans. Recently, I argued how various forms of censorship have gravely damaged South Korea’s liberal democracy and the quality of its political debate. Meanwhile, the fawning coverage that foreign and Korean journalists have given Moon Jae-in is enough to make Kim Jong-un envious of his treatment by KCNA. These are the journalists who are supposed to be the guardians of a free press. But at the critical moment, they are almost as derelict as (though less corrupt than) the Associated Press was when it made its Faustian bargain with the North Korean government. You won’t hear a critical word from the AP about the fact that its business partner just published a threat to murder four fellow journalists. Remember that the next time anyone from the AP makes a self-serving soapbox argument about its important role as a guardian of your freedom (which is exactly what the AP and journalists should be).

As for most foreign and Korean journalists, they’re so personally and ideologically enamored of Moon Jae-in, and so invested in the narrative of Pyongyang as David besieged by Goliath, that they’ve blinded themselves to this partial eclipse of South Korea’s freedoms. Pray that Kim Jong-Un’s Moonshadow Policy is no more successful than Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy was. You can try to reassure yourself that this is South Korea’s problem, but recent history suggests that while the path of totality will eventually cover all of Korea, the path of the partial eclipse will be global. And so far, Pyongyang’s campaign seems to be working. By the way, when was the last time you saw a movie about North Korea? I’ll bet it wasn’t made after 2014.

A spokesman for the Central Chamber of the Joseon Dynasty warned that it would not ruthlessly break the breath of those who blasphemed the dignity of the Republic of Korea.

(Pyongyang, August 31, KCNA)

A spokesman for the Central Court of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea announced on January 31 the following statement.

The nuclear power of the Juche, the devastating self-reliance of the Sun-korean army and the fierce hostility to the unspoken power of the world-wide rocket militia have become more and more relentlessly tied up in a raging campaign against our republic.

Standing in front of them, they do not know how to die, but they do not know what to do.

Recently, the puppet maintenance newspapers “Dong-A Ilbo” and “Chosun Ilbo” have been used for a large-scale crime that profane obscenity of the dignity of the Republic of Korea with impure contents of the plot book “North Korea Confidential” written by two English reporters. .

The anti-DPRK plot book, “North Korea’s Inside Image,” was written two years ago by Daniel Tudor and James Pearson, correspondents of the UK’s current affairs weekly magazine “Economist” and Reuters News South Korea correspondents, The lives of the people are 100% capitalist “and they are decorated with sophisticated sophisticated distortions of our reality.

According to this book, “North Korea is a country where the power of money is stronger than the capitalist nation”, “Young people without handwriting are treated as losers”, “Trashmen of Donga Ilbo” and “Chosun Ilbo” It is true that as “the army is unserviceable”, “the rich man can marry a person who is high in status at any time” and so on, Primer, “he said.

The red star symbolizing the shining revolutionary tradition of the anti-Japanese revolution in the supremacy of the Republic of Korea is “$” (Da-taa) symbol, and the subdivision “DPR Korea” The book titled “Inside of North Korea” was also used as a “Chosun capitalist republic”.

Until now, the reporters, including the Dong-A Ilbo and the Chosun Ilbo, have been longing for a crime against us and have been guilty of sin, and each time we have to pay strict attention to how depressing Warned.

However, the reporters and reporters were forced to turn their backs on and hang on to the anti-DPRK bombardment, and now they are daring to blaspheme the sacred chiefs of the DPRK and the director of the republic.

It is a very large anti-state crime that can not be tolerated in Sichu, because it is not able to criticize the most superior social system of our people, centered on the masses, .

Needless to say, it is the atrocity of the ugliness and control of the ugly conservative gangs, who have been subjected to the strict judgment of history and civil strife and fallen into the herds of the shoguns.

Article 60 of the Criminal Code of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea explicitly regulates that those who profane the dignity of the DPRK for antinational purposes are subject to extreme diatribes until the death penalty.

The Supreme Court of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has declared that the puppet “Dong-A Ilbo” reporter Son Hyo-rim and the president Kim Jae-ho, “Chosun Ilbo” reporter Yang Ji-ho and the president Bang Sang-hoon are punished severely in accordance with the republic criminal law.

Criminals will not be able to appeal a decision, and the penalties will be enforced at an arbitrary point in time at an arbitrary point, without any additional procedure, as the subject is identified.

At the same time, those who devised and manipulated extraordinary provocative acts that blasphemed the dignity of the Republic of Korea would have to trace them to the end and forcefully break the dirty breath.

On this occasion, we warn the South Korean authorities, who have yet to acknowledge the extraordinary crimes of “Dong-A Ilbo” and “Chosun Ilbo” garbage brokers.

If the South Korean authorities do not investigate and punish criminals who viciously blaspheme the dignity of our republic without delay, they will be locked into the accomplice.

We must know that there is no mercy or tolerance for those who blaspheme the sacred dignity of our republic.

We will look sharp at the attitude of the South Korean authorities.


  1. Josh:

    May I offer a correction (with which you may not agree) and point out a small but very illustrative omission (with which you will surely concur, but may not be aware of)?

    I think you used the adjective “affable” when you may have meant to use the adjective “arrogant”.

    Also, one of the most egregious but quite subtly enforced acts of censorship by the new regime, which occurred even before the May election, was the use of political pressure to shut down the “Center for Free Enterprise” think tank, to blacklist its president, and to remove all the content of its website, including videos and reports,
    from public accessibility. This occurred even before the new regime was in place! A kind of “Nice think tank you have there. It would be a shame if anything were to happen to it once a new government is elected, which it surely will be very soon.” Those funding the think tank got the message loud and clear, the president got a call informing him that he was to resign, and the entire organziation
    was put out of business to thoroughly, that even the many videos of
    its excellent seminars and lectures have now been almost completely purged from the internet.


  2. I don’t think it was necessarily wrong to be optimistic about Moon Jaein as he embarked on his presidency, it’s just that many people, (including the man himself, most likely) have either underestimated or incorrectly analyzed the regime in the North. The regime in the North answers to no voters, media, or international pressure. This is why I think that since I started reading this blog, which I enjoy, the most significant piece was the entry about how the establishment is not actually listening to North Korea itself.

    I still think President Moon deserves credit for his persistence, and who knows, maybe he was expecting his offers to be met with this aggression to test if he was sincere. I also think he deserves credit for being strong in his response as well, but it looks like for the time being, the dual track approach needs to be put on hiatus.

    South Korea overall has had a very tenuous relationship with the line between free speech in libel-it is hardly alone (looking at you England), but it will be more difficult to change in this deeply hierarchal society, where power goes to the authority and is not easily questioned.

    I’m glad you linked the articles explaining that North Korea has been fighting very effectively against incoming information. This is essentially a missed opportunity from about 10-15 years ago when the U.S. and SK should have been flooding North Korea with USBs and they weren’t. This makes me think, what could we be doing now that we won’t be looking back on in 10-15 years with regret?


  3. “I still think President Moon deserves credit for his persistence”

    In my opinion, Kim Jong Un has become bolder due to Moon Jae In’s Sunshine II approach. Moon’s policy of appeasement has made North Korea more belligerent and arrogant in its belief that Pyongyang is the rightful capital of one Korea and it will destroy the US – ROK alliance in the future. In Korean culture, any sign of deference is confirmation of guilt in a fight..

    I have said all along Moon was the wrong choice for South Korea. All indications thus far indicate I may not be wrong.



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