Archive for Anju Links

Test something louder, Dear Leader. John Kerry still can’t hear you.

With the world erupting in the greatest cascade of escalating conflicts since 1975 and President Obama’s approval rating on foreign policy at negative 21.2% — 11% lower than his overall (dis)approval rating — John Kerry eked out some time over the weekend to tempt fate with a dubious boast:

I just came back from China, where we are engaged with the Chinese in dealing with North Korea. And you will notice, since the visit last year, North Korea has been quieter. We haven’t done what we want to do yet with respect to the de-nuclearization. But we are working on that and moving forward. [John Kerry, Meet the Press, July 20, 2014]

If you’re in Seoul or certain parts of Washington, that clapping sound isn’t applause; it’s the smack of palms against foreheads. Kerry’s observation rubs a lamp that wiser men do not touch for fear of the genies they would rather not summon. One may as well compliment a politician’s moderate views during primary season, or announce one’s arrival in the cellblock by telling the gang leader that he seems a decent enough fellow. As if on cue, yesterday, North Korea threatened South Korea and the United States with “practical retaliatory actions of justice.”

As South Koreans are keenly aware, North Korea has not been quiet. Under the direct supervision of His Porcine Majesty, it has been testing SCUDs in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, along with massive barrages of artillery rockets. The U.S. and U.N. responses to this have been negligible.

At best, Kerry’s comment suggests poor coordination with one of our most important allies that still hasn’t been attacked this year. At worst, it suggests dangerously wishful and complacent thinking. It clearly means that Kerry neither knows nor cares much about North Korea. Such revelations cause unease among our allies, which is why the State Department had to “clarify” Kerry’s remarks yesterday:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is clearly concerned about North Korea’s provocative actions and did not mean to downplay the seriousness of the issue when he said Pyongyang is “quieter” than before, a government official said Monday.

“The secretary and we all have been very clear in condemning North Korea’s aggressive actions when they occur. We’ve talked recently about the ballistic missiles and how those were in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a regular press briefing.

“So I think the secretary has been very clear about our concern with North Korea’s activity,” she said in response to a question whether Kerry’s statement is a correct assessment of the situation. “He wasn’t trying to convey something different than we’ve conveyed in the past.” [Yonhap]

Concern, however, is no substitute for a coherence in matters of policy. Under Kerry’s tenure, the Obama Administration has shown a lack of seriousness about enforcing existing U.N. Security Council sanctions, even after North Korea was caught in flagrante delicto. It has imposed targeted financial sanctions on Zimbabwe, Russia, and Belarus – and grudgingly enforced tough financial sanctions against Iran – while its tepid trade sanctions against North Korea are stuck in the 1970s. Treasury has sanctioned and blocked the assets of the top leaders of these nations, but none of the top leaders of North Korea.

Our government has designated Burma and Iran to be primary money laundering concerns, a potentially devastating measure that is the financial industry’s equivalent of a sex offender registration, isolating them from a community where reputation means everything. It has made no such designation with respect to North Korea, the world’s most prolific state sponsor of money laundering, counterfeiting, drug dealing, and illegal proliferation.

Most unforgivably, it has offered no policy response whatsoever to a U.N. Commission of Inquiry’s finding that Kim Jong Un’s regime is committing crimes against humanity. Kerry is as deaf to the cries of the North Korean people as he is to roar of Kim Jong Un’s rockets. That is why North Korea continues to defy the Commission of Inquiry and all those who support its recommendations.

It’s as if this administration has no North Korea policy at all.

Meanwhile, as gravity of the threat from North Korea builds, President Park is so convinced that a North Korean provocation is imminent that she has directed her military commanders to return fire immediately if fired on by North Korea. This puts us one ill-advised temptation away from the miscalculation that could start Korean War II.

But perhaps, Koreans wonder, this isn’t what Kerry meant:

[C]ritics said [Kerry’s] assessment is far from reality. 

While characterizing the North as “quieter,” Kerry might have referred to the fact that the provocative nation has not carried out a nuclear test or a long-range rocket launch — the two main types of provocations Pyongyang has used to rattle the world.

Even without such major provocations, however, the North has continued to rattle its saber in recent months, firing a number of rockets, missiles and artillery rounds off its coast with some launches in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Last week, the council issued a statement condemning the North’s ballistic missile launches.  [Yonhap]

To claim success for Kim Jong Un’s failure to nuke off is to confuse coincidence with causation. There is no evidence that Kerry’s diplomacy has resulted in serious movement toward disarming North Korea. There is more evidence that the Obama Administration itself is moving away from denuclearization as an objective.

One could just as well claim that the House’s introduction last April of tough financial sanctions targeted at Kim Jong Un’s financial jugular may be deterring him from a nuclear test. Or, it could simply be that North Korea’s nuclear tests will conform to their previous interval of three to four years. A test of something louder would at least get the attention of everyone else in Washington who would otherwise forget that North Korea exists. One can hope that this time, Congress might just respond with more credible policy options than John Kerry has to offer.

U.S. should ask Mexico to search the M/V Mu Du Bong

Last week, I linked to a piece by investigative journalist Claudia Rosett (third item), noting the travels of the North Korean freighter Mu Du Bong from Cuba into points unknown in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, thanks to intrepid Miami Herald reporter Juan Tamayo, we learn that the Mu Du Bong has run aground in the Mexican Gulf Coast port of Tuxpan, not far from Veracruz. The ship is said to be empty, but there are a number of suspicious aspects of its behavior.

The 430-foot Mu Du Bong grounded Monday on a reef about seven miles from the Mexican port of Tuxpan, according to shipping industry officials. The job of pulling it off the reef will be complicated and take several days, they said.

The ship was empty and planning to pick up cargo in Tuxpan when it ran aground because its captain “lost his bearings,” according to a report by the Agence France Presse. Tuxpan is known as one of Mexico’s main sugar exporting ports.

Port administrators told El Nuevo Herald aid they did not know whether the Mu Du Bong was entering or leaving the port. An official at the Captain of the Port’s office said no one there was authorized to give information on the case. [Miami Herald]

Like the Chong Chon Gang, the North Korean ship that was caught carrying weapons from Cuba through the Panama Canal last year, the Mu Du Bong had its automatic location beacon switched off for several days, creating a potentially unsafe condition for other ships.

The Mu Du Bong crossed the Panama Canal into the Caribbean June 15. Its transponder signaled June 25 that it was near the port of Mariel, and on June 29-30 that it was in Havana, according to a Forbes magazine article Sunday that first reported its voyage.

For the next nine days its transponder fell silent, Forbes reported. It started working again on July 10, showing the ship was in Havana and then sailed north into the Gulf of Mexico, according to the magazine article.

One shipping industry official called the freighter built in 1983 “an ugly old rust bucket” and said photos of the ship’s deck show an odd mast surrounded by wires that could be some sort of jerry-rigged crane or an antenna. [....]

The Forbes report said shipping records show the two vessels share the same commercial agent, Ocean Maritime Management Company Ltd. U.N. experts who investigated the Chong Chon Gang incident said that company “played a key role in arranging the shipment of the concealed cargo of (Cuban) arms and related materiel.” [Miami Herald]

The Mu Du Bong’s shipping agent was Ocean Maritime Management, the same company that arranged for the voyage of the Chong Chon Gang.

Mu Du Bong

[Image source]

In other words, four months after a U.N. Panel of Experts report laid out conclusive evidence of OMM’s deliberate and premeditated violation of U.N. Security Council sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department has not sanctioned OMM or any other entity under Executive Order 13551 over the Chong Chon Gang incident, or added it to the list of Specially Designated Nationals. Meanwhile, OMM is still acting as an agent for suspicious North Korean shipping traffic to Cuba.

Under a recent U.N. Security Council resolution, Mexican authorities have the legal authority to inspect the Mu Du Bong.

Moreover, in the effort to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer to or from the Democratic People’s Republic or Korea or its nationals of any banned items, States are authorized to inspect all cargo within or transiting through their territory that has originated in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or that is destined for that country.  They are to deny permission to any aircraft to take off from, land in or overfly their territory, if they have reasonable grounds to believe the aircraft contains prohibited items. [UNSCR 2094]

I don’t know whether the U.S. government is currently pressing the Mexican government to assert that right, but a U.S. government with a genuine interest in enforcing U.N. Security Council sanctions would be pressing for an inspection of the Mu Du Bong.

A number of analysts quoted in various press reports doubted that the Mu Du Bong could be carrying weapons because its bills of lading list only civilian goods. But by the same faulty argumentum ad ignorantiam logic, North Korea has no concentration camps because it denies having them, and O.J. is still looking for the real killer. At page 92 of this U.N. Panel of Experts report, you can see the bills of lading for the Chong Chon Gang. They mention 210,000 bags of sugar, and nothing about MiGs or missile parts. The real answer is that we won’t know what the Mu Du Bong is carrying until the ship is inspected.

Update: I changed “press” to “ask” in the title of this post. Better to ask nicely the first time, and “press” only if asking nicely doesn’t work, right?

Update 2: More on this story via Reuters.

Open Sources, July 18, 2014

~   1   ~

THAT’LL SHOW ‘EM: The State Department is sending the International Civil Aviation Organization a strongly worded complaint about North Korea’s rocket launches. Oh, and the U.N. Security Council issued a press release of disapproval:

[You can change the puppets, but the strings still move the same way.]

Somewhere in Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un is asking his generals how many divisions the ICAO has, and Park Geun-Hye is asking her Foreign Minister whether she should send him to Xi Jinping’s throne with 1,000 taels of gold or 5,000.

~   2   ~


~   3   ~

HOW NORTH KOREA obtains and distributes consumer goods, according to a recent defector.

~   4   ~

SUE MI TERRY’S article, “A Korea Whole and Free,” is now available at Foreign Affairs. Hat tip to this piece in The National Interest, which discusses some of the things I hope the ROK Army is preparing to do to stabilize the North if things do fall apart. I hope the lesson we learn from Syria is that even the most peaceful, democratic revolution can turn into hell on earth if we don’t support those who share our values and our interests.

~   5   ~

THOSE WHO ADVOCATE for North Korea’s referral to the International Criminal Court would be well advised to consider its institutional decline in Africa, and the growing reliance on ad hoc courts as a replacement. That’s particularly worthy of consideration in North Korea’s case, because (1) everyone knows that China would veto an ICC referral, and (2) South Korea, as a highly developed nation, can afford to support an ad hoc tribunal.

~   6   ~

THE CHOSUN ILBO keeps you up on the latest unconfirmed rumors about State Department kremlinology. I suppose Sung Kim will end up in some position of influence over North Korea policy, and given his background as a Chris Hill crony, we have little reason to expect that he’d exercise it with much competence.

~   7   ~

KIM JONG UN’S BORDER CRACKDOWN catches a woman who was smuggling out “sensitive internal documents.” May God help her … and her family.

~   8   ~

PARK SANG-HAK AND seven fellow defectors have launched more leaflet balloons against North Korea:

“Since the start of this year, the North fired missiles and artillery shells on dozens of occasions, firing away (money) worth three months of food for North Korean people,” Park Sang-hak, the head of the activist group Fighters for Free North Korea, said. “We decided to launch the anti-Pyongyang leaflets since the government did not take any action.” [Yonhap]

~   9   ~

IN A RARE CASE of rising humanitarian spending, North Korea has increased its spending on used medical supplies, including radiology equipment (meaning, x-ray machines?). The new spending may or may not move North Korea up from near last place in global rankings for health care spending. Yonhap speculates that importing drugs could give North Korea a means to reverse-engineer and re-export the drugs. Or, that the new imports may have been necessitated by the recent apartment collapse in Pyongyang, which would suggest that North Korean hospitals were unprepared to treat survivors of the disaster.

Obviously, it remains to be seen where the equipment would be installed and how equally its benefits would be distributed, but I can think of a lot of worse things North Korea has imported recently.

~   10   ~

AFTER ALL THE INK THAT HAS BEEN SPILLED over it and all of the money that’s being spent on it, I still have no idea how President Park plans to reunify Korea, but she’s established a blue-ribbon committee to carry out those cryptic plans.

Is Orascom facilitating crimes against humanity in North Korea?

New Focus International is reporting that North Korea has distributed cell phones to its secret police, and that the secret police are using them to hunt down potential refugees:

The distributions of cell-phones are being made as part of efforts to aid agents of the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of People’s Security in preventing people escaping the country.

As part of the process of organising an escape, North Koreans intending to flee the country often make contact through cell-phones with those who have already made it.

The surveillance authorities are acutely aware of this, and the distribution of cell-phones is seen as a direct response to counter such attempts at reaching the outside world.

In June, our sources described, ‘This kind of cell-phone use and distribution is supposed to be illegal. The authorities are very much on edge about preventing escapes and seeking out channels of communication to the outside that they are handing out cell-phones to security agents.’

When a North Korean individual is discovered to have attempted phone calls with someone over the border in China, surveillance agents in the local area communicate via cell-phone in order to move quickly to cut that channel. [New Focus International]

That North Korea’s secret police would have the best comms Pyongyang can obtain for them isn’t surprising. Nor is it surprising that the secret police would use those comms to hunt down those who would flee their Fatherland for food and freedom.

It is still legally significant that these specific facts are being reported by New Focus, because in most U.S. sanctions regulations, such as those against Iran and Cuba, facilitating censorship or human rights abuses is a basis to block the assets of any entity that knowingly involves itself in such contemptible conduct. Because our North Korea sanctions regulations are among the weakest on the books today, there is no similar provision in effect with respect to North Korea. Section 104(a) of H.R. 1771 would weld this loophole shut by imposing mandatory blocking sanctions on any company that knowingly facilitates censorship or severe human rights abuses.

[This is what North Korea does to people who help others to escape.]

It’s frustrating that New Focus doesn’t say more about what sort of cell phones the security forces are using to help us sort the cats from the mice, but it is possible to make some educated guesses.

Potential escapees, traders, smugglers, and defection brokers illegally use cell phones that operate on Chinese networks — networks that reach a few miles into North Korea. Koryolink, a subsidiary of the Egyptian conglomerate Orascom, is widely believed to be the only authorized provider of cellular communications services in North Korea. It is possible, but unlikely, that North Korea’s secret police would use any other cellular network but Koryolink to communicate. If my assumption and New Focus’s reporting are both correct, Koryolink is on notice that the Inmin Poan Bu and the Kuk-Ga Anjeon Bowibu are using its service for purposes that could one day be punishable by the blocking of assets, and by criminal and civil penalties. Even the risk of blocking sanctions would likely be a deal-breaker for Orascom’s Board of Directors. After all, Orascom is already having trouble repatriating its alleged profits from North Korea.

That means that if H.R. 1771 passes, some hard decisions will be necessary for Koryolink to have a future, just as it will be true of other investors who have overlooked ethical concerns about their investments in North Korea. First, Koryolink (or Orascom’s directors) could very quickly and publicly decide that supplying the regime’s security forces is a legal and financial risk they aren’t prepared to accept. Then, Kim Jong Un would have to decide whether he’s willing to allow his security forces to be denied Koryolink’s services so that his other minions can keep it.

The other implication of New Focus’s report would be the use of Koryolink to isolate North Koreans, roll back the gradual marketization of its economy, and restore its fractured information blockade. Many supporters of engagement with Pyongyang take a see-no-evil approach to investment, justifying their actions with arguments that those investments contribute to the greater good by reforming the bigger system. If Koryolink is an instrumental tool in Kim Jong Un’s border crackdown, it would do much to undercut that argument.

Unlike most “engagement” deals with the regime in Pyongyang, I harbor a degree of ambivalence about Koryolink. I think it’s unlikely that they have anywhere near the number of subscribers they’ve claimed, and I suspect their phones are both closely monitored and (as with all resources in North Korea) distributed to loyalists, and those who can afford to bribe their way through the usual restrictions. Still, I recognize the potential benefit in allowing North Koreans, including elite North Koreans, to have the capacity to communicate from city to city about news, prices, and ideas, or to spread the word should there be a popular disturbance or a military mutiny in one of the provinces. The likelihood that the system is heavily monitored and equipped with a kill switch greatly mitigates these potential benefits.

Ultimately, however, what I don’t know about Orascom outweighs what I do know, and the things we know the least about are its financial arrangements in North Korea and the extent of its partnership with the state’s machinery of oppression. Those, too, could be deal-breakers. Perhaps they should be.

Open Sources, July 14, 2014

~   1   ~

NORTH KOREA FIRED A MASSIVE BARRAGE OF ROCKETS over the weekend, this time in the Sea of Japan,* near the disputed inter-Korean maritime border.

“North Korea fired off about 100 artillery shells in a northeast direction into the East Sea for about 30 minutes from 11:43 a.m. from a place hundreds of meters away from the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Goseong, Gangwon Province,” JCS spokesman Um Hyo-sik said.

“They landed in the sea, some 1 to 8 kilometers north of the Northern Limit Line (NLL),” he said, citing the de facto inter-Korean maritime border.

While it is unknown exactly which launchers the North used to fire the shells, the South Korean military said most of them were likely fired from the North’s 122-meter or 200-meter launchers.

“Some of them flew some 3 kilometers, and others at the maximum of 50 kilometers,” a JCS officer said, requesting anonymity.

“It is not unusual for Pyongyang to carry out such a shelling on its east coast, but it is rare that the North has done that near the military demarcation line,” he noted.

[Update: And also, two SCUDs into the Sea of Japan.] North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.

~   2   ~

I GUESS I’M PLEASED AT HOW FEW media outlets fell for that rather obvious parody story that North Korea had claimed to have won the World Cup. A long-time reader (thank you) alerted me to the story over the weekend, asking me if it could be true. It took about five minutes of investigation for me to note that neither the Rodong Sinmun nor KCNA made a similar claim.

It took less time than that to spot some obvious red flags in the video itself. Anyone even vaguely familiar with North Korean dialects (or the distinctive manner of speech of its news announcers) would have seen a few things amiss with the supposed video of the broadcast, which appears to be an overdub of North Korean news clips by an unconvincing South Korean voice actress.

Also, the reference to South Korean player Jong Tae-Se (the In-min Rooney, because his past connection to North Korea) would have been a dead giveaway to any South Korean soccer fan.*

~   3   ~


[L]et’s hope U.S. authorities are keeping a close eye on a North Korean cargo ship called the Mu Du Bong, which late last month called at Cuba, then vanished from the commercial shipping grid for more than a week. This past Thursday, July 10, the Mu Du Bong reappeared at Havana, then began steaming north of Cuba, and as of this writing is cruising the Gulf of Mexico, not all that far from the Mexican port of Tampico — or for that matter, the coast of Texas.

If you were to ask me what North Korea’s most likely nuclear delivery system was, I’d say it’s commercial shipping.

~   4   ~

THOSE REPORTS THAT KIM JONG UN was seen walking with a limp weren’t completely persuasive to me because I couldn’t find any video, but if you’re interested in knowing as much as I know, read this and this. I suppose it’s worth keeping an eye on, but if Baron Harkonnen could rule Geides Prime from the comfort of his suspensors, I suppose the same is true of Kim Jong Un ruling North Korea.

~   5   ~

MAAZEL TOT: Lorin Maazel has died. Maazel, as you recall, attracted the wrath of this site for comparing North Korea’s crimes against humanity to Gitmo, which was an extraordinarily stupid thing for any person to say, regardless of your views about Gitmo. Which is still open for some reason, more than five years after Barack Obama’s inauguration.

~   6   ~

AUSTRALIA IS SAID TO BE CONSIDERING “a bill that may penalize North Korea for its human rights abuses,” but the Korea Herald doesn’t quote any Australian government sources for the report, and politicians are very accomplished at leading people to the conclusions they want those people to draw, without actually articulating those conclusions themselves.

~   7   ~

A MIG-17 CRASH TEMPORARILY GROUNDED North Korea’s entire fleet of 100 aircraft for several weeks, according to the Joongang Ilbo. The article notes the growing maintenance problems this aging fleet is creating for the NKPAF.

~   8   ~

Our Defense Secretary, who concedes that ISIS itself poses an imminent security threat to the United States, must deny that uranium seized by ISIS is a threat, at least for now. I don’t which of these things confounds me more — (a) that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction after all, (b) that a six-year war failed to eliminate them as a threat, or (c) that we stabilized this country only to walk away and let it collapse into anarchy.

~   9   ~

THE AMERICAN INTEREST LOOKS at the money laundering risks associated with the large-scale holding of “big bills” — that is, large-denomination notes for Swiss francs, Canadian dollars, and other secondary “reserve” currencies.

~   10   ~

EUROPE SEEMS TO HAVE FALLEN OUT OF LOVE with President Obama, but in the New York Times, Clemens Wergin, foreign editor of Die Welt, argues that Obama’s foreign policy is too European.

While Mr. Obama’s new style of diplomacy — soft power and nonintervention — was at first seen as a welcome break with the Bush years, five years later a dismal realization has set in. It turns out that soft power cannot replace hard power. On the contrary, soft power is merely a complementary foreign policy tool that can yield results only when it is backed up by real might and the political will to employ it if necessary. [....]

Barack Obama wanted America to learn from Europe’s soft-power approach. But while Europeans are loath to admit it, they know that European soft power often doesn’t work either — and that it is a luxury that they could afford only because America’s hard power always loomed in the background. And when they dropped the ball, America would pick it up.

And therein lies the lesson to our American friends who seemingly want to become less involved and more European: There is no second America to back you up when you drop the ball.

Read the whole thing. I also thought this piece in MacLean’s was well-written and well-reasoned.

* Earlier versions of this post misspelled Jong’s name, and incorrectly stated that North Korea’s shells fell into the Yellow Sea. They actually fell in the Sea of Japan. Thanks to Yang for the correction. 

Open Sources, July 11, 2014

~   1   ~

I SUSPECT THAT SOMEONE LIKE KURT CAMPBELL would have been a better man for the job, but I wish John Kerry the best of luck in his discussions with the Chinese:

“China shares the same strategic goal, and we discussed the importance of enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions that impose sanctions on North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile program,” Kerry said.

However, Kerry said China needs to do more in reining in its unruly ally North Korea. Kerry said China must play its “unique role” in persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. 

Unfortunately, the very fact that John Kerry is delivering the message subtracts from its effectiveness. But the good news is that Kerry is (for now) showing no obvious signs of acceding to Chinese demands that we engage in pointless, non-disarmament talks for talks’ sake.

~   2   ~

SOUTH KOREA HAS DENIED a rescue NGO permission to go to North Korea to assist with the apartment collapse in Pyongyang. Given how the North Koreans did the “rescue,” and the fact that the collapse was two months ago, there can’t be much more to rescue than dried-out chunks of what were once wives, children, and grandparents.

~   3   ~

HYUNDAI ASAN, which was the sole provider of tours to Mt. Kumgang before a North Korean soldier shot and killed tourist and housewife Park Wang-Ja there, has since laid off a stunning 70% of its employees and lost $858 million. As absolutely no one in South Korea ever said during the Sunshine fad, “caveat investor.”

I did not realize the extent to which this large South Korean corporation had put all of its eggs in Kim Jong Il’s basket, or the extent to which the Sunshine Policy’s select cronies relied on South Korean government subsidies. But given suspicions that Kim Jong Il diverted the subsidized proceeds of Kumgang toward “regime maintenance,” I’m always pleased to make Sunshine’s punch bowl my chamber pot.

~   4   ~

TO SAY THAT JULY IS EXTORTION SEASON in North Korea would be like saying that August is campaign season in Washington. According to the Daily NK, however, extortion is especially prevalent in North Korea in July:

The term “8.3 money” is related to a program of limited enterprise autonomy put in place by Kim Jong Il in 1984. As part of the plan, workers are encouraged to earn money outside their state-mandated workplaces and present de facto tax payments back to their employers. Such contributions are not necessarily defined in monetary terms: wild edible greens and valuable medical herbs (some of which fetch a high price in China) can also be contributions, for instance. 

The source went on, “These measures have brought an ambivalent response from workers. In the past people might have prioritized this type of fund as an expression of fidelity to the Party, but you’d struggle to find that kind of loyalty now.” [Daily NK]

~   5   ~

NEW FOCUS THINKS IT KNOWS what triggered Jang Song Thaek’s purge. Citing “sources in North Korea,” it claims that the regime intercepted a letter from Jang to China’s leaders that would have shifted Nort Korea’s power structure in his favor:

It has been revealed that in early 2013, Jang Song-thaek dispatched a letter to the Chinese leadership, explaining that he desired to instigate changes to the North Korean system such that its pivot of power would move away from the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) and towards the DPRK government, as overseen by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

This letter and its contents is said to have served as the decisive evidence that led to the removal of Jang Song-thaek from his post in the enlarged Politburo meeting, called by the KWP Organisation and Guidance Department (OGD) in early December of last year. [New Focus International]

~   6   ~

MEANWHILE, KIM KYONG HUI, JANG’S WIDOW, is recuperating at Samjiyeon from a breakdown after fighting with Kim Jong Un about her husband’s execution — or so says the Daily NK. I remind you of my low confidence in any reports from inside the royal court.

~   7   ~

REMEMBER ALL THE HYPE about that new bridge between Dandong and Sinuiju? Construction is behind schedule because of slow progress and pilferage on the North Korean side.

“China provided a lot of materials and machinery to the North, but there is a story that this machinery was sent for use on other projects rather than for the bridge construction. The Chinese traders who did harbor high hopes for [economic] opening brought on by the bridge are showing their disappointment more and more,” the source explained. [Daily NK]

~   8   ~

SOUTH KOREAN HISTORICAL DRAMAS are still a hit in North Korea, despite Kim Jong Un’s border crackdown.

~   9   ~

DAILY NK GUEST COLUMNIST LEE JONG CHEOL writes that South Korea has textbook revisionism problems of its own:

Generally speaking, middle and high school history textbooks hold that both the Soviet-supported Kim Il Sung and U.S.-backed Syngman Rhee were equally accountable for the war. They agree that North Korea prepared for the war with help from the Soviets, and that Kim Il Sung ordered the invasion of the South. However, they also describe the Cold War environment, the “Acheson Line” (the nominal American defense perimeter), and battles around the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), giving them similar weight in the narrative and effectively downplaying the responsibility of the Soviets and Kim Il Sung. Furthermore, textbooks portray the Korean War as a battle for unification, with military force the only option available to achieve it.

That’s not so surprising when you consider who’s in charge of South Korean teachers’ unions.

Open Sources, July 9, 2014

~   1   ~

NORTH KOREA LAUNCHES MORE SCUDS into the Sea of Japan. I reckon that somewhere in Washington, someone who worked at the State Department in the 1990s is thinking that by launching missiles on July 2nd and July 9th (but not the 4th), North Korea was really being conciliatory.

~   2   ~

PARK GEUN HYE CALLS for the “international community,” which is an oxymoron, to pay more attention to the rights of North Korean refugees. But given the shortcomings of the International Criminal Court, I’d settle for more attention to the subject by Park Geun Hye, starting with (1) calling for Xi Jinping to release those eleven refugees, (2) publishing an official Korean translation of the COI report, (3) allowing North Korean exiles to broadcast to their homeland on medium wave, (4) insisting that North Korean workers at Kaesong actually receive their salaries, (5) pushing the National Assembly to pass a human rights law, and (6) establishing a human rights tribunal in South Korea, similar to the Cambodia tribunal.

~   3   ~

THE MANAGEMENT EXTENDS ITS WARMEST OFK WELCOME to its readers in Mongolia, Nicaragua, Laos, Venezuela, and Barbados. You’re next, Tajikistan, Svalbard, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

~   4   ~

EFFORTS TO CREATE A NEW LIU XIAOBO PLAZA in front of China’s Embassy are proceeding, with a favorable vote in the House Appropriations Committee. I like so much, I think “Edward Snowden Boulevard”  in Beijing will be well worth it.

~   5   ~

A SOUTH KOREAN COURT HAS SENTENCED what Yonhap calls “the head of a left-leaning dance troupe” to four years in prison for contacting a North Korean intelligence agent and swearing an oath of loyalty to the Pyongyang regime.

It does not surprise me that the prisoner is a member of Unified Progressive Party, the party of convicted traitor Lee Seok-Ki. It does surprise me that there is a “traditional Korean dance company” that specializes in dancing in such an awkward position. Just think of the chiropractic expenses.

~   6   ~

I HAVE SOMETIMES REFERRED TO Kim Il Sung as North Korea’s largest stockpile of preserved meat, but it seems I have taken “preserved” too much for granted, and the old tyrant is said to be “losing water like a drying Pollack.” (For those of you from Wisconsin, this refers to a certain species of fish.)

Open Sources, July 3, 2014

~   1   ~

AP’S JEAN LEE WANTS YOU TO BELIEVE that she became a target for lifting the curtain on North Korea, but Jean Lee really became a target for trying to tell us that the curtain was North Korea. Also, I can’t believe she keeps saying things like this:

“People often assume that our work is censored, but the North Koreans know that that’s a red line, that the AP would never tolerate censorship. So none of our material is looked at before it goes out – it goes straight to our editors at the AP and goes straight out on the wire.”

Would those be these guardians of AP’s uncomprising editorial standards, or the ones who were responsible for this? Follow what Lee is saying to its logical conclusion: if it’s true, Lee never reported on kkotjaebi, starvation, gulags, and public executions not because she couldn’t, but because she never wanted to. That Lee was in sympathy with Pyongyang’s propagandists is a harder thing to explain than the alternative than that she merely made some unsavory compromises with them.

You’ll never read an interview where anyone calls Lee on dubious claims like this, because Lee won’t do interviews with reporters who insists on questioning them. (Hat tip to a reader.)

~   2   ~

HOORAY FOR HIM: “An unarmed North Korean man presumed to be a civilian expressed his will to defect to South Korea early this morning near Baengnyeong Island.”

~   3   ~

HOORAY FOR THEM: In Hong Kong, five hundred thousand people marched for democracy this week. In the rain.

~   4   ~

N. KOREA PERESTROIKA WATCH: The Washington Post’s Terrence McCoy has more on North Korea’s ChocoPie ban, the enforcement of which naturally centers on their source, the Kaesong Industrial Park.

The popularity of ChocoPies is the best evidence Kaesong’s defenders can offer of its transformative impact on North Korea. You may question the deeper significance of that, but ever since I’ve frequented that Ethiopian restaurant, I’ve had an irresistible compulsion to expropriate my neighbors’ land and forcibly relocate them to teff-farming communes in Nevada.

Kaesong is responsible for other changes, of course. It poured billions of dollars into Pyongyang’s nuke fund, and it helped South Korean corporations perfect the exploitative labor-management relations that have since endeared them to thousands of Vietnamese, Chinese and Cambodian workers. As I’ve said before, you don’t change North Korea; North Korea changes you.

~   5   ~


Citing the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Washington-based Voice of America said North Korea received US$19.6 million of humanitarian aid in the January-June period, down 45 percent from the same period last year.

Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Kim Jong Un has enough cash in his sofa cushions to fund those feeding programs for years.

~   6   ~

NK NEWS INTERVIEWS A NIGERIAN North Korea sympathizer, who says that KCNA’s racist attack on President Obama, first reported here at OFK, was “propaganda to smear the KCNA” that was “taken out of context.” Sure, I guess that worked well enough for Donald Sterling.

~   7   ~

DID NORTH KOREA USE ITS RELATIONSHIPS with the Japanese media to strong-arm them into blacklisting its critics? That’s the charge from Japan-based scholar Park Doo-Jin. Also allegedly blacklisted: Ishimaro Jiro of Rimjin-gang. Kyodo News, which has had a bureau in Pyongyang since 2006, is accused of going along with the North’s demands. They should answer the charge.

~   8   ~

NK NEWS has a brief report about Matthew Todd Miller. I wish it had helped us understand whether (or why) he might have tried to “defect” to North Korea. Maybe more reporting will explain that.

~   9   ~

THE STATE DEPARTMENT SAYS North Korea won’t get what it wants by launching missiles. You know what would work better? If the Treasury Department said that North Korea will get what it doesn’t want by launching missiles.

~   10   ~

WHY AM I SO HAPPY? There are many reasons, of course, but one of them is that I just had my first visitor from Greenland, and that filled a pretty big empty spot in my map. You’re next, Mongolia. I’ve also had visits from the U.S. military in Afghanistan, but I’m not sure that counts. Judges?

Open Sources, June 27, 2014

~   1   ~

A REMARKABLE COINCIDENCE: Say, do you suppose there could possibly be any link between the decision of the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda of the Gambia, to close her investigations of the Cheonan and Yeonpyong incidents four years ago, and the visit by North Korea’s Foreign Minister to Gambia earlier this month, at which time the two governments discussed “boosting the bilateral relations of friendship and cooperation and on matters of mutual concern?” Do you suppose Banjul will soon feature a new statue of President Yahya Jammeh?

Curiously enough, until 2000, Bensouda was one of Jammeh’s closest advisors, serving as his top prosecutor, Attorney General, and Minister of Justice. In these capacities, she specialized in not investigating the security forces for shooting protesters, beating dissidents, and detaining alleged coup plotters without charge … until Jammeh fired her for some reason. This may be the high point of Bensouda’s C.V., and in retrospect, it was probably career-enhancing that she was no longer around when Jammeh called for the expulsion or beheading of all homosexuals, or when he said that L.G.B.T. stands for “Leprosy, Gonorrhoea, Bacteria and Tuberculosis.”

I don’t know how much influence Jammeh has over Bensouda these days, but the timing is suspicious, especially with all of the media speculation that Kim Jong Un could be charged before the ICC for crimes against humanity. No, North Korea has never been particularly judgmental about its choice of friends, but something is awfully wrong when a body charged with the global enforcement of humanitarian standards imports its most important personnel—and consequently, its standards of judgment—from the likes of Yahya Jammeh.

~   2   ~

NO, CHINA DID NOT CUT OFF NORTH KOREA’S OIL SUPPLY: Why does Yonhap keep peddling this bullshit story, suggesting that China is pressuring North Korea by cutting off the latter’s oil supply? A reader (thank you!) sent me the KOTRA statistics that Yonhap is relying on for this story. They do show that China has cut off the supply of crude oil — which may or may not be because China excludes crude oil from the statistics by calling it aid — but the statistics also show a massive increase in China’s supply of refined petroleum products (like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel) to North Korea.

~   3   ~

SUNG-YOON LEE AND ZACHARY PRZYSTUP have an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about Japan’s revisionism on comfort women. For the life of me, I can’t understand how Japan’s leaders can be foolish enough to alienate what might be its two most important allies — the U.S. and South Korea — just as China is threatening to seize its territory, by revisiting its own ugly history and by cutting side deals with Kim Jong Un.

Update: More on this topic, from Dennis Halpin.

~   4   ~

THOSE SHORT-RANGE MISSILES North Korea just tested may have been tactical guided missiles.

~   5   ~

NORTH KOREA PERESTROIKA WATCH: Security forces are raiding homes in Ryanggang Province to find illegal cell phones.

~   6   ~

THE STORY OF THE LAOS NINE inspires a little girl in South Korea to become a human rights activist. More of this, please.

~   7   ~

A REQUEST: If there are any Wall Street Journal subscribers out there, can anyone kindly send me the text of this op-ed on the prosecution of French bank BNP Paribas for sanctions violations?

~   8   ~

WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG? North Korea will open an embassy in Venezuela.

Open Sources, June 25, 2014

~   1   ~

NORTH KOREA, WHICH PRESIDENT BUSH REMOVED from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008, has threatened to “resolutely punish” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for “dar[ing]” to “slander the dignity of its supreme leadership.” Discuss among yourselves. Also, I think that should be “punish resolutely.”

~   2   ~


Shops are springing up in Chinese cities bordering North Korea which specialize in cheap cell phones that operate on the restricted telecommunications network of the impoverished hermit kingdom, where handset costs are well beyond the reach of average citizens.

There are moments when I convince myself that people actually read this site. For now, however, the cost of bribing border guards into letting the phones pass is more than most North Koreans can afford. The solution is the block the funds that the regime uses to pay the border guards. That will depress the cost of bribing them.

~   3   ~

THE NUMBER OF NORTH KOREANS being granted refugee status in countries other than South Korea is declining, in part because many of those North Koreans are actually coming from South Korea. While I yield to no one in my sympathy for North Korean refugees, there is a longstanding legal principle that refugees are expected to seek asylum in the first place of refuge, rather than claim asylum in third countries.

I would have been more sympathetic to this argument during the Roh Moo Hyun administration, when refugees were made to feel as unwelcome as possible in the South. But unless the refugees can argue that the Park Geun-Hye administration can’t (or won’t) protect them, governments have a legal basis to deport the North Koreans to South Korea.

The real lesson of the story may be what an awful job South Korea’s society and government are doing helping North Koreans adjust to their new lives. That’s unfortunate, because South Korea is going to find itself in desperate need of those refugees’ help when the time comes to reintegrate the two Koreas.

~   4   ~

I’M REALLY GOING TO MISS FRANK WOLF. Congressman Wolf — may Zeus shower His blessings upon him — is going to leave some big shoes to fill when he retires from Congress next January. In one of his final acts of humanitarian mischief, Wolf has recruited an understrength platoon of senators and congressmen, along with the Chairman of the D.C. City Council, to support renaming the section of International Place that runs in front of the Chinese Embassy after Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Brilliant, Congressman Wolf. I doff my cap to you, sir.

~   5   ~

NK NEWS HAS CREATED a new KCNA Watch tool. You can get a two-month trial for free, too, although I fear that it would addict me, so I may have to stick with my old friend, S.T.A.L.I.N. (same name, but unrelated to the newer NK News). While you’re there, don’t miss Chad O’Carroll’s interview with John Bolton.

~   6   ~

THE EUROPEAN ALLIANCE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS in North Korea has set up a petition for the BBC to establish a Korean-language service at

~   7   ~

IF YOU’RE WILLING TO TEACH ENGLISH to North Korean refugees this summer, there’s still time. Here’s how to apply.

~   8   ~

NORTH KOREA TECH reports that South Korea has quietly stepped up its broadcasting to North Korea, but that North Korean jamming has blocked most of the signals from reaching North Korean listeners.

~   9   ~

PSCORE (People for the Successful Reunification of Corea) will hold a benefit concert on July 19th, at 8 p.m., in Hongdae, Seoul. The proceeds will support programs to provide food, clothing, textbooks, and education to North Korean refugees in the South.