Archive for Anju Links

Malnutrition and disillusionment take their toll on the North Korean military.

Rimjin-gang reports that the NKPA is finding that after a full generation of hunger and depressed birth rates, there are fewer young North Korean men who meet its physical standards, and many of those who do dodge the draft. I’d assume that draft-dodging in North Korea requires one to have the financial means to pay significant bribes, and if the possession of such financial means is still largely a function of songbun (hereditary political caste), then the disillusionment has entered the middle and upper-middle castes, too.

For those seeking more background on hunger in the North Korean military, see the links at the end of Rimjin-gang’s article.

Former Obama Admin. official: Our N. Korea sanctions are weak and our policy is stuck

The Obama Administration’s North Korea team is stuck. Its thirst for fresh blood is so dire that it recently asked Keith Richards whether he still has the number of that secret clinic in Switzerland.* Don’t take my word for it. Last Friday, former Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a friend and spy of mine was sitting in the audience (thank you). Campbell’s remarks are worth listening to in full, but the money quote — which went unreported in the press despite its significance, and despite the fact that Campbell emphasized it and closed with it — starts at 20:19:

And I must say — I’ll just conclude with this — when we think about our overall tool kit, there is one element of our strategy that I don’t think people fully appreciate. We often think of North Korea — I certainly did — as one of the most sanctioned countries in the world, with almost impossible objective … obstacles for people wanting to travel, invest, or the like.

It turns out, when I was at the State Department, working on Myanmar, or Burma, comparing Burma to North Korea is night and day. Burma has MUCH more in the way of sanctions and challenges associated with interactions. And I do think if we faced a set of further challenges with respect to North Korea, it would be possible for us to put more financial pressure on North Korea.

And I think we need to let our Chinese friends know and understand that some of the things that have been contemplated by the new regime, if followed through on, would entail and involve a reaction that is much more strenuous than [what] we’ve seen in the past. And I think that element of our diplomacy is likely to be necessary as we go forward. [Kurt Campbell, Speech at CSIS, Sept. 5, 2014]

Hallelujah: someone actually read the sanctions regulations for once. From this day forward, you’ll no longer have to take my word for that, either. Campbell may not know that Treasury recently relaxed Burma sanctions regulations, but his point stands — until quite recently, Burma sanctions were comprehensive, reached all kinds of trade and investment that used the dollar-based system, and included strong financial sanctions. Unlike North Korea, Burma is listed as a primary money laundering concern. Unlike North Korea, Burma’s human rights violators were specifically targeted.

Thus, contrary to a widespread misconception, our North Korea sanctions are not maxed out; in fact, they are relatively weak. Those of you in the news business owe it to your readers to challenge that assumption before you print it. Start by asking the “expert” who repeats it whether he’s actually read the sanctions laws or regulations. Factual ignorance is not entitled to a place of equivalence in any policy debate.

It gets worse. Yonhap did quote another part of Campbell’s speech, in which he described how “many U.S. government officials handling North Korea are suffering from ‘fatigue and a sense of exhaustion’ in terms of strategies, after various tools, including pressure, have failed to make progress.” That’s interesting, but without the other part of his quote for context, it could leave you thinking that sanctions have failed as an instrument of policy. What Campbell really said is that we’ve never fully harnessed their potential.

Campbell also said, “We are in a set of circumstances now where it’s not clear fundamentally the way forward.” He observed that Kim Jong Il’s playbook, and the State Department playbook for responding to it, really aren’t working anymore, and that many of the North Koreans we used to talk to aren’t around any more, for various reasons. Efforts by a generation of policymakers to effect changes, including domestic reforms in North Korea, haven’t worked. As a result, sentiment here and in Northeast Asia has shifted, and people in the U.S. and other countries have migrated to the view that reunification, not continued separation, is in the best strategic interests of most of the major players in Northeast Asia. He called for more subversive information operations, including broadcasting, and for stronger diplomatic efforts with China, and especially with South Korea, to pave the way for reunification.

At which point, a gargantuan white mustache sprang from Campbell’s upper lip.

Yes, I’m aware that other former State Department types, specifically Robert Gallucci and Stephen Bosworth, are out there saying very different things. Yet despite the relative recency of Campbell’s tenure and his relatively higher place in State’s hierarchy, the press largely ignored the key part of Campbell’s remarks, but covered Gallucci and Bosworth’s widely.

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I have to think that if the Obama Administration disagreed with Campbell’s assessment, it wouldn’t have just transfused its North Korea team so thoroughly that the reader benefits from a diagram. Notably, Chief Negotiator Glyn Davies will move along to an ambassadorship elsewhere (possibly Thailand), Syd Seiler has moved from the White House National Security Staff to replace Davies, Allison Hooker will move from State to the NSS to replace Seiler, and Sung Kim will be a “special representative,” whatever that means.

The first thing Seiler did was to do no harm, by making it clear that the U.S. would not, contrary to rumors, hints, and China’s increasingly noisy demands, lower the bar on North Korea’s denuclearization to resume six-party talks, something that would effectively recognize North Korea as a nuclear state.

“We are not ideologically opposed to dialogue with North Korea, nor have we placed insurmountable obstacles to negotiations in our insisting that North Korea simply demonstrate it will live up to international obligations and abide by international norms and behavior,” he said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The bar has not been set too high by insisting that denuclearization talks be about denuclearization,” he said. [Yonhap]

That’s a lovely sentence for its elegance and clarity, and under the same circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have put it any differently. Seiler then summarized by saying that, “clearly, the ball is in Pyongyang’s court.” See also.

OFK regulars know that I haven’t been fond of Glyn Davies since this episode several years ago, and that the OFK archives have an elephantine memory. Josh Rogin described Davies as “a nuclear technology and Europe expert, having most recently served as the U.S. permanent representative to the IAEA in Vienna.” By contrast, Seiler has a very deep background in Korea. He’s a graduate of Yonsei University, has a Korean wife, and had nearly three decades of Korea experience at CIA and DNI before he went to the National Security staff. You’d expect such a man to know what a mackerel should cost, and how to haggle for a fair price. It helps that Seiler is no fool, either:

Like his predecessor, he agrees with the South Korean government’s North Korea policy and believes that the North should not be allowed to stall for time or be rewarded simply for talking.

A diplomat who has known Seiler for more than 10 years said, “He knows how the North cheated the U.S. and South Korea in the process of nuclear development.”

A Foreign Ministry official said, “If Russell, an expert on Japan, takes charge of Chinese and Japanese affairs as senior advisor at the NSC, Seiler will have enormous influence in Korean affairs.” [Chosun Ilbo]

If personnel is policy, then, the replacement of Davies by Seiler could herald modestly better policy. (If only we could have Kurt Campbell back….) At State, Seiler joins Danny Russel, his former White House colleague, who is now Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian affairs. The White House says that this shake-up doesn’t foreshadow a change in its North Korea policy, but that’s standard White House talk; the consequence of any other response would be a year of briefings, hearings, interviews, listening tours, and op-ed wars.

Seiler said the U.S. policy on North Korea is composed of three key elements — diplomacy, pressure and deterrence, and that Washington will continue to seek robust implementation of U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions and its own sanctions on Pyongyang.

But he also held out the prospect of easing sanctions.

“If DPRK makes the right choice, returns to the negotiating table and embarks on a credible path of irreversible denuclearization and begins to comply with its international obligations and commitments, the appropriateness of sanctions will of course be reviewed,” he said. [Yonhap]

There’s little good that I could say about the robustness of that enforcement so far, or the quality of the diplomacy that’s been trying to hold our regional coalition together, but one can always hope. And not without some basis:

Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also said that the United States is unlikely to lower the bar for restarting the nuclear talks. Reported personnel changes in the U.S. government rather point to the opposite, he said.

“Overall there is nothing that I can see that suggests the U.S. government is even considering softening its stance on the many issues between Washington and Pyongyang. The new U.S. personnel changes suggest, in fact, the opposite,” he said. [....]

“Neither can be viewed as soft toward the North,” the expert said of Seiler and Kim.

Paal also said that the “secret trip” that American officials reportedly made to North Korea, even if it is true, must have focused only on the three American citizens detained in the North. The three men’s appearance before CNN cameras a week later reinforces this suspicion, he said. [Yonhap]

If Russel, Kim, and Seiler have similar views and work well together, they have the potential to make significant policy changes while a politically weakened administration is otherwise distracted by crises in the Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Gaza. That almost mirrors the situation of Chris Hill in 2006, when he ran away with a politically weakened Bush Administration’s North Korea policy while Bush was distracted by Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And as I’ve noted, there are some signs that the administration could be laying the groundwork for a harder line, although I doubt that it will be more than incrementally harder.

There are alternative theories, too. One that seems plausible to me is that Washington’s tactic of strategic patience, the trend of ‘not doing anything,’ has not changed.” That’s likely because doing nothing is what governments usually do when no single view prevails. And I’m far from certain that any single view prevails.

The Hankyoreh‘s analysis isn’t as plausible, but it’s much richer in amusement. It begins with rumors of another secret diplomatic trip to North Korea and runs feral with them. Although the administration would neither confirm nor deny the rumors, they probably have some basis in fact. Even so, they almost certainly do not mean “that the US will make an effort before the mid-term elections to improve relations with North Korea in order to manage the situation on the Korean peninsula” and ransom out Kim Jong Un’s new hostages. According to what insider or authority, you ask? “[S]ome predict,” says the Hanky, after a three-block sprint from the pojangmacha behind the bus station, gochujjang-stained notepad in hand.

Maybe I shouldn’t be too dismissive of something that’s been tried before, but in light of today’s political environment and North Korea’s conduct since 2012, this is so delusional that it’s adorable. The Hanky really seems to believe that a significant number of Americans (a) cares about North Korea at all, (b) wants better relations with North Korea, and (c) would be more likely to vote for the President’s party if its cuts a pre-election deal with North Korea, rather than much, much less likely. That the President’s pollsters have identified Peace Studies grad students as a decisive voting bloc in Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, Alaska, and North Carolina. That, after the Bo Bergdahl ransom, the President basked in the gratitude of a grateful nation.

I don’t have any special insider knowledge here, but I’ll go out on a limb and express my doubt that the White House would want that experience again between now and November 4th, especially for the likes of a doofus like Matthew Todd Miller, or anyone else who’d be dumb enough to visit North Korea of his own diminished volition. I’d be surprised if there’s a deal at all, and I’d be astonished if its terms are made public before the election, including the Louisiana runoff, is safely in the rear-view mirror.

*  Or so I’ve heard somewhere. It may have been Alex Jones. I lost the link.

North Korea makes #2 on

this list of the world’s most corrupt countries. Of course, much of the information on which this conclusion rests must be speculative. They may have been cheated out of number one.

Does this mean we’re paying for THAAD for South Korea?

The United States has wrapped up its survey of candidate sites for its advanced missile defense (MD) system to be deployed in South Korea, with a final decision likely to be made before their annual defense ministers’ meeting in October, sources said Monday.
Washington has made no secret that it is considering deploying a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, an integral part of its MD system, to South Korea, citing evolving threats from North Korea. [Yonhap]

Does the “it” mean that U.S. taxpayers are going to pay for that expensive missile defense system, even as South Korea — burdened with far less public debt per capita than this country — continues to reduce the size of its own military? Well, apparently it does mean that.

But take some comfort in this — if you’re not South Korean, that is: South Korea, under pressure from the ChiComs and the neo-Soviets not to deploy THAAD, is saying that the system is only for the protection of U.S. Forces Korea. Tough luck, people of South Korea.

For those of you in Europe, some North Korean exiles will give their insider perspectives

of the North Korean government at Leiden University on September 17th and 18th. One of them will be Jang Jin-Sung of New Focus International, author of “Dear Leader.” The names of the other exiles will be withheld “[f]or security reasons.”

I’m sure the “so-called pope” meant no offense, but if KCNA hadn’t norksplained it for me …

I would not have seen it from this perspective: “We would like to ask the pope why he set about his south Korean trip the day when we are making latest tactical rocket test-fire according to our regular plan though there are a lot of days in the year.”

Of course, given His Porcine Majesty’s crowded launch schedule and the absence of forewarning, it’s not exactly easy for His Holiness to squeeze in a visit to Korea in between. Sounds like the rockets were more of that 300-millimeter type.

Japan sanctions Ocean Maritime Management, following the U.N.’s designation …

of OMM, and amid its own ransom negotiations with North Korea. One of the terms of that ransom was the lifting of Japan’s national shipping sanctions, which obviously predated the U.N. designation. [link]

Maybe I’m not as sophisticated and nuanced as Washington Post blogger …

Adam Taylor (or whomever wrote the headline for his post), but unlike Taylor, I can’t quite see Kim Jong Un’s “vulnerable side” through his mass murder and starvation of so many of his pitiful subjects.

Granted, there is some significance in the fact that His Porcine Majesty has sometimes fallen below the aura of infallibility that this regime has built around him, but would anyone see a dominant theme in Hitler’s vegetarianism revealing a compassionate side, or Saddam Hussein’s authorship of romance novels revealing the romantic within?

Open Sources, August 14, 2014

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TWO BY SEA:Two North Korean men swam across the Yellow Sea border to defect to South Korea, a rare way of fleeing the hunger-stricken communist nation, government sources here said Thursday. South Korean marines on guard duty spotted them reaching Gyodong Island, just south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), at around 4 a.m. Thursday, according to the sources. The island is about 2.5 kilometers away from the North’s closest western coast.”

I can’t imagine why anyone would do something that desperate when, according to an upcoming official (therefore, reliable) report, the “true picture of the people of the DPRK” has them “dynamically advancing toward a brighter and rosy future while enjoying a free and happy life under the socialist system centred (sic) on the popular masses and contribute to disclosing the dastardly moves of the US and other hostile forces.” And after all, no less an authority than Hazel Smith has told us that defectors exaggerate and just tell us what the CIA and the NIS want us to hear, ergo there’s no cause for unpleasant talk about sanctions and such.

Still, the absence of talk about a bright and rosy present could be interpreted as concerning. It must take an exceptional talent for doublethink to survive in Pyongyang.

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OVER AT NK NEWS, STAR REPORTER LEO BYRNE has a first-rate investigative report about the M/V Mu Du Bong, its lack of insurance, and North Korea’s scrambles to get it out of port. A must-read.

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ROBERT GALLUCCI CALLS FOR THE U.S. to hold talks with North Korea, but never quite explains what we’d be talking about. North Korea insists it isn’t denuclearizing, which narrows the agenda down to buying our way out of the next provocation. Obviously, that’s simply giving in to blackmail, and that’s a negotiation that never ends until the regime does. It’s a case where I find myself in rare agreement with Glyn Davies.

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HOW NORTH KOREA PICKS its cheerleaders, and how it keeps them in line, politically speaking (as opposed to choreographically).

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ALDERAAN SHOT FIRST: FBME Bank has laid off most of its staff, and its customers are panicking. I don’t blame them.

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AND YET IT DOESN’T: In one of those rare examples of “engagement” I’m rooting for, foreign experts explain how North Korea could become self-sufficient in agriculture. The problem with self-sufficiency that it’s the opposite of dependency. If the regime won’t listen, will these foreign experts try to engage directly with the people through broadcasts and leafleting? I hope so, because the more food North Koreans have, the more freedom they will have.

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CRITICISM FROM A SURPRISING SOURCE: “But, Lord, how did the moral center of the American left get so isolationist and selfish? How did it manage to cede the moral high ground to the right? Why does it see no difference between a moral obligation to save lives by avoiding murder — not just with humanitarian measures — and a kind of militarist lust for yet more adventure?

The criticism works just as well against the isolationist right, if not more so.

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SPEAKING OF WHICH, and just in case this wasn’t already clear, Ron Paul’s Malaysian airliner conspiracy theory reminds us that he’s a babbling neurotic, a cult figure for the dispossessed, a magnet for lunatics, a right-wing Chomsky for B-list polemicists, and a man who has propagated some disturbing, bigoted viewpoints. This calls for another Mitchell and Webb conspiracy sketch.

It’s unfortunate that Paul is so very bananas, because there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the role and size of our government, and how the U.S. projects power abroad. Paul, unfortunately, has an existential and conspiratorial hostility to our government, both at home and abroad, and he carries armloads of crazy to that discussion. Here and there, Paul stumbles over a valid point, but now that we’re getting a glimpse of what the world looks like when America withdraws too much of its power, we’re reminded how ugly a place the world can be. I can see why Paul might not want us to believe what our lying eyes are telling us about that.

Of course, it’s not Ron Paul who really worries me. I can’t help asking myself how far the apple falls from the tree.

~   9   ~

A FEDERAL JUDGE HAS DISMISSED a lawsuit by Japanese-affiliated plaintiffs that would have ordered the removal of a comfort woman statue in a park in Glendale, California, and based on the L.A. Times’s report, the plaintiffs’ arguments are among the most frivolous and pernicious I’ve ever heard:

The opponents — Michiko Gingery, a Glendale resident; GAHT-US Corp., an organization that works to block recognition of the former sex slaves, also known as “comfort women”; and Koichi Mera, a Los Angeles resident — claimed in court records that by installing the statue, Glendale infringed upon the federal government’s exclusive power to conduct foreign affairs, violated the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution and caused opponents to avoid Central Park because the statue made them feel excluded and angry.

“The fact that local residents feel disinclined to visit a local park is simply not the type of injury that can be considered to be in the ‘line of causation’ for alleged violations of the foreign affairs power and Supremacy Clause,” Anderson said in court documents.

Just imagine all the misuses for arguments like that. Don’t you suppose German tourists feel an occasional twinge of discomfort when the walk past the Holocaust Museum? The problem, of course, is that the city and taxpayers of Glendale have now spent money paying lawyers to fight this nonsense. As a commenter at the LAT suggested, they ought to move for Rule 11 sanctions to compel the plaintiffs to pay their attorney fees. HT: Dennis Halpin.

Open Sources, August 7, 2014

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NORTH KOREA, WHICH WAS REMOVED from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008 for promising to give up its nuclear weapons program, is quietly expanding its uranium enrichment capabilities, and not-so-quietly threatening to test more missiles and a nuclear weapon.

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HACK NORTH KOREA has chosen a winning technology for breaking down North Korea’s information blockade:

The winning team, which featured a pair of teenage siblings who flew in from Virginia for the event, presented a prototype of a system that could allow North Koreans to get real-time information more easily inside the country, Mr. Gladstein said.

The team proposed using micro-radio devices the size of credit cards, which they said could pick up signals from the South and which could be delivered into the country by smuggling or balloon drop.

Alongside this, the team would target South Korean satellite television broadcasts aimed at China, which pass over the North. Using what they described as “easily concealable” satellite receivers, North Koreans would be able to directly plug their televisions into the receivers. [Wall Street Journal]

Chad O’Carroll’s report for NK News adds the most delectable detail of all — the winners were “a three person Korean-American team who requested to remain anonymous.” If the winners are reading this, congratulations. I wish you success.

The Human Rights Foundation has put out press releases in the event in both English and Korean, and where it notes that this year’s event is just one part of an ongoing campaign called “Disrupt North Korea.” That campaign could easily be more consequential than anything the U.S. or South Korean governments have ever done to promote reform in North Korea.

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SPEAKING OF SUBVERSIVE COMMUNICATIONS, Radio Free Asia reports that North Koreans have really taken to Kakao Talk. The real killer app for North Korea may be combining satellite communications with chatting and instant messaging.

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ANDREA BERGER ANALYZES North Korea’s links to Hamas and Hezbollah, at 38 North.

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LEO BYRNE INVESTIGATES Kim Jong Un’s Mercedez Pullman limousines, and the sanctions that were likely broken to import them.

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MORE ON THOSE POSSIBLE IMPORTS of North Korean gold, via The New Yorker.

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REUTERS HAS MORE INFO on the arrest of American Jeffrey Fowle in North Korea.

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CHINA EXECUTES alleged North Korean drug dealer:

A North Korean national has been executed in China for smuggling and trading drugs, court documents showed Thursday, following the executions of three South Korean drug dealers in the country this week.

A 32-year-old man identified by his surname Oh was executed for selling 3.75 kilograms of methamphetamine he had smuggled into China from North Korea between October and November 2010, according to a district court in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of Jilin Province. [Yonhap]

This will be used to support arguments that the China-North Korea relationship is under strain, and that may be the case, but I take nothing from the Chinese government at face value.

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PRESIDENT OBAMA’S FOREIGN POLICY is now almost as unpopular as George W. Bush’s was at the same point in his presidency. Obama wouldn’t have to replicate Bush’s interventionist excesses to recover from this. He could start by ignoring Gaza; he could then direct the State Department to concentrate on alliance diplomacy in Asia, direct Treasury to strengthen sanctions against North Korea and Iran, and direct DOD and CIA to arm and train the Ukrainians, and to support a reawakening and broad autonomy for Sunnis in Iraq and Syria.

If the President chooses not to recover from his de facto isolationism, then foreign policy deserves to be one of the top issues in this year’s mid-term elections.

Open Sources, July 31, 2014

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NORTH KOREA FIRES four more of those 300-millimeter rockets, about which I’ll have more to say one day, if I ever finish a rather long post I’m working on. The point of that post will be that those rockets could be a game-changer because (1) South Korea has no practical defense against them, and (2) they can probably hit the U.S. installations at Osan and Camp Humphreys.

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HORRIBLE:

On May 24th, 50 students from the prestigious “Pyongyang No.1 Middle School” died in an accident on the way to Songdowon on the East Sea coast of North Korea, Dong-A Ilbo reported on July 29th. The students were traveling through the mountainous Masik Pass in Gangwon Province when their bus overturned, killing all those aboard.

Please keep the families in your thoughts. The report cites a lack of seat belts as a cause, but school buses in this state don’t require the kids to wear seat belts, either. I think this is just a terrible, terrible accident that could have happened anywhere.

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WHY DID KIM JONG UN’S premier money launderer (now its Foreign Minister) make an unscheduled, one-week stopover in Switzerland? “Ri is a former ambassador to Switzerland, where he managed former leader Kim Jong-il’s slush fund and served as a guardian for Kim Jong-un.” I’m sure he just withdrew some petty cash for those underfunded food aid programs.

~   4   ~

DONOR FATIGUE: “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.” 

All I can say is, thank goodness “Kim Jong-un has stashed away some US$4-5 billion in bank accounts in other people’s names in Austria, China, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Russia, Singapore and Switzerland,” because help must surely be on the way now, right?

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FRIDA GHITIS WRITES INSIGHTFULLY about the temptation to laugh at North Korea, and wonders when the laughter is appropriate:

Those are two sides of North Korea — deliberately frightening and inadvertently comical. Then there’s a third side — the part that makes us gasp in horror.

A yearlong investigation conducted by the United Nations found that North Korea is a country whose depth of brutality “does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”

According to the report, North Korea engages in murder, torture, slavery and mass starvation to terrorize the population into submission. Stories from refugees who have escaped from North Korea are a chilling reminder that the regime is not just a military threat, it is causing a terrible humanitarian crisis. [CNN.com]

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SEVERAL NKPA COMMANDERS HAVE BEEN SACKED over a shooting incident that killed an member of Kim Jong Un’s protective detail, according to Radio Free Asia.

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ATTENTION, DUTCH PEOPLE: STAY OFF THE BEACH AT NIGHT!Radio Free Asia (FRA) reported that North Korea is searching for a native Dutch speaker to teach children in North Korea. They believe that North Korea students educated in Dutch will be able to guide European tourists in the future.”

All of this is part of some new scheme to court foreign sympathizers and profiteers. And among a certain constituency, the supply of foreign sympathizers and profiteers is inexplicably limitless.

~   8   ~

RIMJIN-GANG IS OUT WITH A NEW REPORT on the booming illegal housing market in North Korea. I wonder how the collapse of that apartment building has affected the housing market in Pyongyang. Outside of Pyongyang, small single family homes — with room for a garden — are in the greatest demand.

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NK NEWS HAS A REPORT WITH SOME FASCINATING PHOTOGRAPHS about redneck radios built by North Koreans to listen to illegal broadcasts. Even the snaggletoothed, rheumy-eyed old Trotskyites at The Guardian agree that this is a must-see.

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DENNIS HALPIN REVIEWS THE STATE OF RELATIONS between North Korea and China, and points to signs of strain, but contrasts them with the interests that cause Beijing to prop up Pyongyang, and admirably resists the temptation of wishful thinking. For anyone who wants a primer on why China props North Korea up, this would be a good primer from a very learned source.

The Chosun Ilbo, on the other hand, bases its own analysis of that question on sketchy facts — alleging that China has cut off North Korea’s fuel supply (no, it didn’t), and that China-North Korea trade has fallen off (also questionable; bilateral trade hit a record high in 2013).

Open Sources, July 25, 2014

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NK NEWS has an extensive report about H.R. 1771, the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act. Your correspondent is interviewed at length, as is Christine Hong, to provide an opposing view. I have to say, I’m rather pleased with that choice myself, because it gives me an opening to present a short list of the neocons who’ve co-sponsored H.R. 1771: Elliot Engel, Loretta Sanchez, Karen Bass, Linda Sanchez, Chaka Fattah, Gerry Connolly, Jim McDermott, Jim Moran, Tulsi Gabbard, Carol Shea-Porter, Marcy Kaptur, Colleen Hanabusa, Alcee Hastings, and Joseph P. Kennedy III. Seriously — does this woman ever do any research before opining?

The more legitimate criticism is that Congress will simply fail to move it, but then, there are rumors about town that the next Congress could be a more favorable environment for it, particularly as the President’s credibility on foreign policy continues to weaken among members of both parties..

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DEAR YONHAP REPORTERS: Please stop calling North Korea “an impoverished nation.” North Korea is undoubtedly a nation with many impoverished people, but the government of an impoverished nation wouldn’t be able afford an underwater hotel, a new ski resort, a new water park, a $1.3 billion-a-year ballistic missile program, nuclear weapons, and other things that cost far more than the cost of satisfying all of those international aid appeals.

~   3   ~

THE ASAN INSTITUTE HAS PUBLISHED a must-read comparison of human rights violations and sanctions against Syria and North Korea:

This paper compares the human rights violations and crimes against humanity in North Korea and Syria as described in the COI reports. It finds that the consistency, purpose, and scope of human rights violations in North Korea are worse than those during the early stages of the Syrian uprising before the situation deteriorated into a civil war. However, unlike the case of Syria, not a single US Presidential Executive Order, EU Council Regulation, or UN Security Council Resolution has dealt with human rights violations in North Korea. [Asan Institute]

And of course, both of these crimes dwarf Gaza, yet get a fraction of the attention … for some reason. Asan’s analysis is extensive, methodical, carefully documented, and even presented with graphs and charts. Read the whole thing, and don’t read me to conclude that sanctions against Syria are unwarranted — they’re warranted — read it to conclude that the absence of human rights sanctions against North Korea is inconsistent and indefensible.

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AT FOREIGN POLICY, an examination of North Korean-Iranian WMD cooperation:

One particular area of concern for the global powers negotiating with Iran is that North Korean technicians will provide Iran with advanced centrifuge technology. Pyongyang has apparently mastered production of the P-2 centrifuge. These are much more efficient than the P-1 centrifuges that Iran currently uses, and they are more proven than the IR-2m that Iran is trying to develop, apparently due to technical difficulties with making the P-2 type and shortages of key raw materials.

If North Korea was willing to build Syria a nuclear reactor, why wouldn’t it share centrifuge designs with Iran? Note that at least someone in the current administration shares the suspicion that these regimes are cooperating in their nuclear weapons development.

~   5   ~

A FEW OF YOU E-MAILED me this “exclusive” AP report by Eric Talmadge on agriculture in North Korea, and while I don’t see anything particularly novel or exclusive about the information it reports, I do credit Talmadge with skeptical and balanced reporting, questioning what he’s told, and introducing extrinsic facts to give his readers a clearer idea of the truth of the story. That’s probably the best we could ask for, with one important exception — readers should not be left to guess whether Talmadge drove himself to Changpyong-ri, or whether he was escorted there by government minders.

~   6   ~

SO NOW THAT 30% OF MY TRAFFIC is coming from Europe, does that mean I have to stop posting things like this? (h/t)

I’ve never had a visit from Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan. Does that mean I can start making fun of those places instead? Do you suppose people in Tajiks and Kyrgyz are good sports?

No, I suppose not.

~   7   ~

THE FAA HAS BANNED U.S. commercial flights over North Korea, although based on this regulation, it’s not clear to me why that alters the status quo. It may be that FAA issued an advisory, reminding operators of the existing rule.

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   ~

HOW NORTH KOREANS ARE CONDITIONED not to ask “why.”

~   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   ~

CLAUDIA ROSETT:

[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   ~

FOOD AID TO N. KOREA DECLINES BY 45%:

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?