Japanese Coast Guard Searches N. Korean Drug Ship

They also arrested two people believed to have been part of the smuggling operation.

The men are accused of helping smuggle several hundred kilograms of amphetamines from North Korea to Japan, Jiji Press and public broadcaster NHK said.

Tokyo police arrested Woo Si-Yun, an unemployed 59-year-old South Korean living in Japan, and alleged Japanese gangster Katsuhiko Miyata, 58, the news organizations said.

Woo is believed to be the owner of a mobile phone recovered from a North Korean spy ship that sank in the East China Sea in 2001 after an exchange of fire with the Japan Coast Guard, Kyodo News said.

Investigators also searched a North Korean freighter that arrived Friday at western Tottori prefecture because they believe the ship was used to smuggle the drugs, NHK said.

Police are looking to arrest several others in connection with the case, Jiji said.

Photo: AFP

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Should Hanchongryon Be Designated a Terrorist Organization?

“Let us eliminate anti-unification pro-war forces which intend to cast fire clouds of a nuclear war on the heads of Koreans.
Hanchongryon Statement before visiting Pyongyang

If I’d had any idea that things were this bad on South Korean university campuses, I’d have been paying much closer attention:

Seven Korea University students face disciplinary punishment after illegally detaining nine professors for 16 hours. The Yonsei University president is working elsewhere after being driven out of his office some 40 days ago by radical students who are occupying the university administrative building. Some 50 pro-North Korea students of Joong-Ang University also occupied the president’s office and painted walls and floor with slogans.

Amazing. Like “1984” meets “Lord of the Flies.” This is the infamous North Korean fifth column known as Hanchongryon, with a long history of violence and almost always featured in our force protection warnings about violent demonstrations. More on that later. But this story ends well:

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Jay Lefkowitz Is Right About Kaesong

The debate about South Korea’s role in (not) improving human rights in the North seems to intensify by the hour. Freedom House is the latest to testify for the prosecution. If you believe the latest report from the Chosun Ilbo, the State Department is reeling from the vitriolic South Korean reaction to U.S. Human Rights Envoy Jay Lefkowitz over labor conditions in North Korea’s Kaesong Industrial Park:

Another U.S. government insider also said the controversial piece by Lefkowitz had not gone through normal advance review procedures. That implies that Lefkowitz’s harsh critique of South Korea’s little-monitored aid to the North and suggestion that North Korean workers at the complex are exploited would not have gone into the paper unchanged.

The damage being done, however, the department chose to use the same phrase as the envoy: “The world knows little about what actually goes on at Kaesong.

We obviously don’t know who that “insider” is, or what he really knows, but the report’s implication is almost certainly false. It’s certainly possible that State is backpedaling, but as I’ll soon explain, the chances of Lefkowitz’s statement not being vetted are next to nil.

I’ve already dealt with the South Koreans’ false response on food aid today and want to discuss Kaesong. The pro-business, nationalistic take of the Chosun Ilbo is that the U.S. is in a “bind” over Korean ire at Lefkowitz’s “slur.” How the U.S. is in a “bind” over this escapes me, and the Chosun Ilbo doesn’t explain. “Slur” means “a disparaging remark; an aspersion.” “Aspersion” means “An unfavorable or damaging remark; slander.” “Slander,” of course, requires that the remark be false, which it was not. Let’s review what Amb. Lefkowitz said about Kaesong:

America’s friends in Asia must be careful not to squander whatever influence they may have to bring about change in North Korea.

That’s too important a point to blow past — regardless of the actual conditions at Kaesong — because of conditions elsewhere in the North. Kaesong is a cash cow for Kim Jong Il, who has been doing a fine job of extracting cash from South Korea for the last decade, but who still hasn’t given a single meaningful concession on nukes, abductees, human rights, transparency for food aid delivery, or the 10,000-plus artillery tubes dug in at the DMZ at pointing South. South Korea, a nation with 1,000 of its southern citizens and 22 million of its northern ones in bondage has a duty to represent those citizens by extracting some mitigation of the conditions of their captivity in return.

Near Kaesong, a city just north of the Demilitarized Zone, 15 South Korean companies recently opened an industrial park using North Korean labor. So far, the consortium has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the North with more to come. A South Korean official enthusiastically described it as, “a cooperative project benefiting both the South and the North, and at the same time, a peace project overcoming the wall of the Cold War through economic cooperation.”

But the world knows little about what actually goes on at Kaesong, and given North Korea’s track record, there is ample cause for concern about worker exploitation. The South Korean companies apparently pay less than $2 a day per worker, and there is no guarantee that the workers see even this small amount.

That may actually be overstating the wages, as we’ll see. What Amb. Lefkowitz is really saying here is that we don’t know much, because the North Koreans themselves aren’t willing to let us know much. A U.S. delegation was allowed to visit recently, and I’ve spoken to a member of that delegation. Findings? Not many. They saw some nice, shiny factories, but they didn’t get much of a look under the hood. All we really know about labor conditions in Kaesong is what we’re likely to infer absent persuasive information to the contrary. Might some transparency be appropriate? Is it the fault of the United States that North Korea won’t let us interview a few of the workers in private? If they’re really as plump and content as oompa-loompas in a magical chocolate factory, what’s the harm in letting us interview a few of them in private? Why not make sure that at least some of the benefits from Kaesong go to those who need it desperately, instead of letting Kim Jong Il blow it all on MiGs, nukes, and luxury sedans?

The North Korean government deducts a “social fee” from their wages and empowers “labor brokers” to control the rest. Moreover, the site is fenced in, and the North Korean workers must come and go through a single entrance manned by armed soldiers. While the conditions at Kaesong may be marginally better than elsewhere in the North, substantial economic assistance to North Korea should be linked to human-rights progress for all North Koreans.

Those circumstances don’t exactly give much comfort, and I’ll simply redirect you to this post, which quotes extensively from several press reports that feed our worst suspicions by describing an atmosphere of pervasive, Orwellian control and isolation of the workers. Among the few specifics found? Te workers there keep just 40 cents a day, or $8 a month, and the unguarded admission by one of the South Korean bosses that Kaesong workers can’t form independent unions.

At a minimum, North Korea should allow an independent party, such as the International Labor Organization, to inspect and assess Kaesong and report its findings to the U.N.

And again, what’s really the harm in that? Except maybe this, of course (see Article 2). But isn’t multilateralism sacrosanct?

Having examined Lefkowitz’s remarks, are they really out of line? Well, here’s a record of him making very similar remarks at the Heritage Foundation back in early April, which is normally enough time to avert an international incident. Lefkowitz also said just about exactly the same at the NK Freedom Day rally, which means we’re now up to three times he’s said essentially the same thing publicly. Still not enough? Here’s a link to his prepared written statement, given on Capitol Hill last Thursday, which I also attended. If you read it, you’ll see that it’s also very similar to the WSJ piece. As anyone familiar with Washington bureaucracy knows, you don’t testify in Congress without your written testimony being vetted extensively. Meaning? Meaning I question the accuracy of the Chosun Ilbo’s report. Amb. Lefkowitz has now made very similar comments publicly four times over the course of nearly a month, including a written statement to a key committee of Congress. Not vetted? Please.

Finally, let’s see what U.S. law tells us about Kaesong in the context that’s the real deal-breaker: trade with the United States. The Tariff Act of 1930, specifically 19 U.S.C. sec. 1307, defines “forced labor” to mean —

all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty for its nonperformance and for which the worker does not offer himself voluntarily. For purposes of this section, the term ”forced labor or/and indentured labor” includes forced or indentured child labor.

Anyone want to try to lawyer Kaesong products out of that definition? If you can’t, then goods made “wholly or in part” at Kaesong may not be imported into the United States and are even barred from U.S. ports. Do not clear customs, do not collect $200.

Lefkowitz is dead-on — not just morally, but legally. Based on the best information we have, the workers at Kaesong didn’t choose their work voluntarily, can’t quit, can’t organize, and have no say about the pay or working conditions.

How is that not slave labor?

How is it “interfering in South Korea’s internal affairs” that the U.S. refuses to make a special exception to its slave labor laws for Kim Jong Il and his unscrupulous business partners in Seoul?

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Two U.S. senior congressional researchers say Washington could bring criminal charges against North Korean leader Kim Jong-il over his country’s alleged counterfeiting of U.S. dollars. The two authors of a Congressional Research Service report say the U.S.’s increasing keenness to back up its allegations with legal evidence is fueling speculation that it is considering going after Kim.

Well, that would certainly mark a decisive policy shift — one that it would extraordinarily difficult for future presidents to reverse.  “Earthquake” might be more like it.  The effect on the U.S. relationship with both Koreas could be dramatic.  South Korea would be forced to choose.  North Korea would come under very stong pressure.  It would likely mean an abandonment of our fruitless efforts to talk Kim out of his bomb, shifting toward treating Kim himself as the problem.

Image from here.

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Will U.S. Finally Let in N.K. Refugees?

North Korean refugees rush a foreign embassy in China in search of asylum (AP photo)It’s long past time we did this

The U.S. government plans to break with long-established policy and start giving asylum to refugees from North Korea. Wording in the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act that allows it to admit defectors from the Stalinist country has not yet been put into practice due to failure to confirm identities and objections from countries where the refugees were staying.

Prominent  activists for human rights in the North – Suzanne Scholte, Jae Ku, and Adrian Hong, to name three – were becoming increasingly vocal about their disillusionment with the State Department and Lefkowitz’s failure, thus far, to get the North Korean Human Rights Act implemented.  What we have seen recently is a new outreach effort by the State Department, which  is  the result of those concerns being relayed to Congress (via a knowledgeable source, Reps. Frank Wolf, James Leach, and Chris Smith  were particularly instrumental; Rep. Henry  Hyde may  also have  helped).

Jay Lefkowitz, the U.S. special envoy on North Korean Human rights, admitted to the activist group Freedom House in a closed-door meeting that the refugees are becoming a credibility problem for Washington. He also reportedly promised to become more active on the issue. In the meeting, which was attended 20 U.S. campaigners for North Korean human rights, Levkowitz [sic] said he would focus on rights, the issue of refugees and promoting greater openness in North Korea.

After this meeting, which I did not attend but from which I was sent some notes, I heard that  this move was coming, although I was asked not to blog it and was fairly skeptical in any event.  I still am.  Read this closely:

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also implied a policy shift by saying, “We are reviewing our policies on refugese,[sic] reviewing them with DHS (Department of Homeland Security), reviewing them with the FBI, to see if we can find a way to participate in the refugee activities as well. If it does admit them, it is likely to exacerbate tensions with North Korea in an already chilly climate because of Washington’s sanctions and the North’s nuclear ambitions.

For the record, the objections about North Korean infiltration are serious.  Put nothing past this regime.  But those problems are not insoluble, and must not be allowed to interfere with our higher obligations under federal statute and  international treaty.  A close reading, in fact, does not completely persuade me that this change has yet made its way to the embassy gates. 

For background, see this post by Richardson as well.  I must say how great it is to search the new, merged  archives and find so many on-topic, well-written posts by my co-bloggers.

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Cartoon Idiocy, Part II

After learning that South Korea was in danger of losing the title for “Hub of Petty Despotism,” President Roh Moo Hyun launched his own cartoon war of sorts this week. No embassies were harmed in this production; the only violence was that done to freedom of the press:

President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday filed a second libel suit against the mainstream Chosun Ilbo newspaper, saying a cartoon defamed him by circulating false facts. The cartoon, titled “The lie is detected fast,” was published on Aug. 9 last year and addressed illegal eavesdropping by the state intelligence agency.

In case you’re curious, this appears to be the cartoon we’re talking about:

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Banco Delta Sanctions ‘Severe Blow’ to NK Economy

The Chosun Ilbo,  relaying an AWSJ story, reports that the Treasury Department’s action against the Macau-based bank “dealt a severe blow to the secretive country,” “dried up its financial system,” and “brought foreign trade virtually to an end.”

In December, I noted reports  that North Korean front companies and spies were fleeing Macau en masse. According to today’s story, Banco Delta has now announced that it’s ending its financial ties with North Korea in an effort to prevent a run on its assets and a devastating rash of actions by other banks to cut their ties with Delta.

Because of the high percentage of bad loans and undercapitalization in the Chinese banking system, Beijing is clearly concerned about controlling the damage to its financial system.

The evidence of North Korean counterfeiting now appears to be beyond serious dispute.  The supernote issue emerged with an undercover bust and seizure in the U.S.  Shortly thereafter, the  Justice Department indicted an ex-IRA terrorist for circulating North Korean supernotes.  In January, this article (ht Richardson; pic, too!) reported that North Korean supernotes were found at Las Vegas casinos.  Last month, a Chinese government investigation confirmed North Korea’s counterfeiting and money-laundering activities.

Recently, a Korean newspaper reported a huge seizure of North Korean supernotes in Seoul’s famous Namdaemun market, and that South Korean police even sought U.S. assistance in confirming the notes’ North Korean origin.  The disclosure was an embarassment to South Korea and its president, which had expressed  doubts about the existence of evidence of recent North Korean counterfeiting, despite presumably knowing otherwise.

Although North Korea may be  hinting that it’s willing to discuss the counterfeiting issue, the U.S. Ambassador says his government will not be satisfied until the North Koreans hand over the plates and ink.

Update:   The BBC also covers the story, with this dramatic fact (as dramatic as banking gets, anyway):

The scandal weakened Banco Delta’s financial position, with customers withdrawing 10% of its total deposits after the allegations surfaced.

Wow.  No wonder Macanese authorities had to step in to save the bank from insolvency.

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