Visit Pyongyang – An idiom used to describe a desperate plea for media attention (see also Jump the Shark) by a washed-up celebrity or politician (see Jimmy Carter, Bill Richardson, Ric Flair) who, lacking the residual talent to attract such attention by any other means or device, visits the one place on Earth where any publicity-seeker whose name is vaguely recalled by persons over 40 can be assured of making global headlines without being arrested, indicted, or otherwise worthy of public interest. Lacks the mortality risks of space travel (see Lance Bass) or Celebrity Rehab, but does require travel on Air Koryo.
I don’t intend to spend a lot of time writing about Dennis Rodman, so I will answer Max Fisher’s question this way: ”No.”
There were some important differences between these two dictatorships, but none supports a defense of Rodman. The most important one is that present-day North Korea kills a thousand-fold more people and keeps the survivors in a state of infinitely greater misery. Other important differences can be seen in this historic video of “Sun City,” a single used to popularize an artistic boycott of apartheid-era South Africa. There is a manifestly hypocritical difference in elite mass opinion about how to treat these two dictatorships — isolate (bad) South Africa, engage (worse) North Korea:
A third difference is all the b-roll that was available to fill this video. There is, of course, nothing like this in North Korea (well, almostnothing). If P.W. Botha had known how to run a real dictatorship, there wouldn’t have been a Sun City, there might not have been a boycott, and there might still be apartheid in South Africa today.
One can only hope that Rodman will eventually perceive his surroundings with the moral clarity that Muhammad Ali did despite the ravages of Parkinson’s disease (hat tip to me for that cite).
Every time North Korea tests a rocket, Hans Blix sheds a little tear and Ban Ki Moon’s fluffy white tail stops wagging, because North Korean rocket tests violate three U.N. Security Council Resolutions — 1695 (which bans “all activities related to its ballistic missile programme”), UNSCR 1718 (ditto, and requires N. Korea to “re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching”), and 1874 (which bans “any launch using ballistic missile technology”). North Korea’s official response is that it is launching peaceful satellites, not testing ICBMs. You may be wondering if anyone on the Outer Earth is still fool enough to believe this.
There’s little reason to doubt North Korea’s claim that it simply wants to put a satellite into space. [John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus]
Maybe John Feffer just needs more reason, so he can reason his way to what’s obvious to the rest of us.
North Korea exhibited the fuselage of what is presumed to be the long-range rocket it launched in December, and explicitly called it a ballistic missile, despite its claims to the outside world that the Unha-3 was part of its peaceful space development program, a report said Monday.
The report by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun quoted North Korean sources as saying that the fuselage was displayed under the name “Hwasong-13″ among the exhibitions of the country’s missile lineup in an exhibition hall in Pyongyang. The Hwasong line also includes shorter-range scud missiles, which the country has produced since the 1980′s. [Yonhap]
Well, you say, if they’re missiles, then they must be for strictly defensive deterrence. No need to infer any malicious intent here, right? So we now have this, via North Korea’s quasi-official Uriminzokkiri:
Uriminzokkiri roughly translates to “among our race only” and is aimed at South Korean norksimps. It is reportedly run from China, a country that selectively decides what speech should be permitted based on the state’s value judgments about its content. Or so you may have heard. (Hat tip)
If your memory is long enough, may recall that other norksimps in South Korea, the Korean Teachers’ Union, produced an equally sickening video for schoolchildren before the 2005 APEC Forum in Busan, featuring replays of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, set to “What a Wonderful World.” A theme seems to be emerging.
I’m sure that all across the more progressive quarters of this world, there are fevered minds with room enough for the conflicting lunacies that the Jews and neocons pulled off 9/11, and also that on 9/11, nineteen great martyrs fulfilled a divine mandate of vengeance against toddlers, flight attendants, and office workers. Similarly, there’s clearly some market in some quarters of Korea for fantasies of North Korea’s peaceful satellites destroying American cities. I hope that market is a whole lot smaller than it was a decade ago.
North Korea’s KCNA state media said Kim was accompanied by his new wife, Ri Sol-ju, and that the exercise centre had been “built according to the direct initiative and plan” of the Young General, as he is known. It added that Kim is “always deeply concerned for the promotion of people’s health and living standards.”
So concerned that he blew enough rice money to feed a small town for a year on a new gym that no one in North Korea but him needs, in the middle of its 18th annual food crisis since his grandpa became North Korea’s largest stockpile of preserved meat.
Kim told the staff that if office workers who work indoors all day, “take exercise and receive medical treatment at the centre, they can devote themselves to revolutionary work in good health.” - The Telegraph, Julian Riall
Can you imagine what it must have been like to be one of the gym staff members, being lectured on fitness and exercise by a morbidly obese man … who showed up in a Mao suit? Suppress your amusement, comrade. Think of your children.
And of course you’re right. This really isn’t funny at all.
Forgive me. If I didn’t laugh, I’d be too depressed to write this and you’d be too depressed to read it. I wonder how many people living outside Pyongyang will ever see that picture.
Sure, it’s creepy when North Korea teaches children to torment effigies of your president, but that’s the kind of insult a mature society learns to ignore. The next time the North erupts in contrived outrage about some perceived slight to its leaders, just put that into perspective. Words are just words, unless they’re threats. When North Korea communicates threats, we need to treat those like acts of terrorism and sanction them accordingly.
North Korea’s jamming of GPS used by airliners, of course, is more than just words — it has caused “four close calls where passenger jets approaching Incheon and Gimpo airports abruptly shifted course when their GPS malfunctioned and landed only after circling the airports.” I can see why South Koreans would call that terrorism, too.
North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008.
For years, advocates of appeasing the North Korean regime have claimed that more “engagement” with its dictators would gradually change its character and moderate its belligerent and brutal tendencies. U.S. policy expressed this hope in a series of failed agreed frameworks by presidents of both political parties. These made no progress toward disarming North Korea, but did provide significant, regime-sustaining financial windfalls for Kim Jong Il. South Korea’s version of this theory was its “Sunshine” policy, which was — you guessed it — an immense, regime-sustaining financial windfall for Kim Jong Il, but which probably did more to change the character of South Korea’s regime than North Korea’s.
The latest Sunshine experiment is the AP’s establishment of a bureau in Pyongyang, which the AP hailed as a “new window” into North Korea, but which has been controlled strictly on North Korea’s terms. So far, this experiment has produced plenty of propaganda and at least some outright fakery, but no new insights into reports of, say, widespread famine deaths and human rights atrocities a short drive from the AP’s bureau.
This is not to deny that engagement on the right terms can change the character of North Korea, both profoundly and irreversibly. It has — when the engagement is directly with the people of North Korea, not with its regime, but in spite of the regime. We saw the first hard evidence of this in Witness to Transformation, by Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard. More recently, outside observers were surprised when North Korea admitted that its launch of an Unha-3 rocket had failed, causing most to speculate that the regime knew it couldn’t keep the failure secret. Today, a new report finds that the North Korean regime shows no signs of easing its controls on information intentionally, but is losing control over what its subjects can read and hear, and the subversive impact could be profound:
More and more North Koreans are defying strict government controls on access to outside information that starkly contrasts with official propaganda, said a U.S. study released Wednesday.
Avid consumption of South Korean movies and pop music as well as foreign radio and television broadcasts is changing North Korean views of its southern neighbor and even of the United States, a report by the InterMedia consultancy showed.
“In 2012, North Koreans can get more outside information, through more types of media, from more sources, than ever before ? and they are less fearful of sharing that information than ever before,” said InterMedia.
The U.S. State Department-commissioned study, “A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment,” captures 10 years of research on refugees, travelers and defectors from North Korea, including face-to-face interviews with more than 650 adults in 2010 and 2011. [Reuters, Paul Eckert]
The information leakage includes “mobile phones, computers, MP3 players and USB drives . . . in substantial numbers, particularly among the elites.”
Access to information by itself will disillusion the North Korean people, but by itself, it will not change the regime. The regime is willing to use any degree of force necessary to preserve its power, and the people know that. The problem of communication in North Korea is not only the problem of establishing communication between North Koreans and the outside world, but also of communication between North Koreans and other North Koreans. Without the means to organize, North Koreans can never pose a significant challenge to the state. That’s why multiple incidents of anti-regime resistance were quickly contained and quelled. Organization will begin in small ways, like social and trade networks, and then evolve toward more political applications, like churches, alternative media, and labor organizations. It will be the ability to organize the North Korean people on a wider scale that will enable the people to challenge the state, whether by popular mobilization or by force of arms. This report is several steps from that inevitable consequence, but it shows us that North Korea has made strides toward it.
Update: Radio Free Asia reports that smuggled South Korean DVDs are widely available in the North now. No surprise there.
Sometime in the next few hours, North Korea will launch a prototype for an intercontinental ballistic missile, in flagrant violation of three U.N. Security Council resolutions. The North Koreans announced the launch two weeks after agreeing to a deal to freeze their missile and nuclear programs in exchange for U.S. food aid. It now seems they will follow their missile test with a nuclear test. Traditionally, Chinese obstructionism delays U.N. Security Council action by about three weeks after a North Korean missile test, and North Korea’s next nuke test usually follows that by six to eight weeks. A month later, there will be more U.N. action — this time, maybe even another resolution. The resolution won’t do much, because China will undercut sanctions by funding the regime, and will even let North Korea smuggle missile parts and luxury goods through Chinese ports. After another six to nine months, the State Department will have convinced the President that the sanctions aren’t working and announce its latest agreement to give North Korea real aid in exchange for fake promises to disarm. If we’re lucky, the next missile test won’t happen for another two years after that.
Where to begin? The unwittingly (I think) subversive decision to surround the morbidly obese kid — has he ever looked so fat? — with these lean, hungry leprechauns and their leathery, wizened officers? Posing him next to the their tiny little day-care bunks, about one-third of a Kim wide? Or standing His Porcine Majesty behind the tin plates holding meager rations that can’t possibly exceed his hourly caloric intake, set at intervals to fit wretches stunted down to the size of organ grinder monkeys? It’s things like this that convince me he’s doomed. It’s not just the manifest obscenity of his weight as ruler of a land where the lower castes and their orphans are left to starve in front of train stations. It’s the projection of inept fragility from the figurehead and the machine that made him one.
If the producer of this film really meant to glorify Jong Eun, he deserves to be sent packing to some God-forsaken ash-heap in the outer provinces. If he’s the world’s most cunningly courageous dissident, Seal Team Six should extract him and his entire family. On the Goebbels Scale of insidious propaganda genius, this makes Dukakis-in-a-tank look like Triumph of the Will. Not even Brian Myers can explain this away. Sure, I can believe that this video would be awfully persuasive to North Koreans, but to believe that it will be persuasive in the ways the regime wants it to be, you also have to believe that North Koreans are not just culturally different, but less than fully human.
Well if this doesn’t take the cake! I suspected it, but then thought twice about it — surely even the North Korean higher-ups wouldn’t go against their own propaganda for an event to be watched into perpetuity by every one of their subjects. Yet commenter Thomas was the first here to come out and say it, and now ABC News Radio says it’s true:
…But a curious detail was that the boxy black hearse that crept through the light snow was a vintage Lincoln Continental.
The choice of a U.S.-made luxury car seems odd for a country that preached a belligerent self reliance, reviled America and was put on President George W. Bush’s Axis of Evil list.
Experts at Edmunds.com put the year of the Lincoln at 1976, making the 35-year-old vehicle older than North Korea’s 28-year-old new leader Kim Jong-Un.
Ford, the parent company of Lincoln, did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.
The choice of an American luxury car for his final ride is consistent with Kim’s tastes, despite his regime’s propaganda depicting the U.S. as evil, dangerous and violent, and his history of antagonizing numerous American administrations with threats of war and nuclear weapons. [Joshua Cohan, ABC News Radio]
I don’t know about you, but this fact would seem to be ripe to float into North Korea by balloon — say, for the new dictator’s birthday on January 8th.
Car Buzz also says it was a 1976 Lincoln Continental and has some nice photos and says something that would make Korean car makers smile.
I wonder what cars were used for Kim Il Sung’s funeral?
“The Lincoln Continental in the old Asia was considered to be a solid, robust, powerful car,” said Kongdan Oh, a senior researcher at the Institute for Defense Analyses who has written on daily life in North Korea, where her parents were born. “They are a time capsule. North Koreans are living still the 1970s life.
She said the cars were probably chosen because they were previously used in the funeral of Kim Il-sung, who was Kim Jong-il’s father and the founding president of North Korea and who died in 1994. “Whatever they did in the past, they are very comfortable repeating that, especially this Kim family dynasty,” she said of the North Korean leadership. “They probably didn’t even think twice about using this car. For them, it’s a very natural choice.
Very interesting. I wonder if the average North Korean would know about this old belief in this American car, and what they think about it being used in the state funeral.
At times like this, I do wish that the Korean Friendship Association would enable comments:
North Korea says a fierce snowstorm paused and the sky began glowing red above sacred Mount Paektu just minutes before leader Kim Jong Il’s death. State media say the ice on volcanic Lake Chon at the mountain in the far north cracked with a load roar. And in the city of Hamhung, a Manchurian crane circled a statue of Kim’s father, late President Kim Il Sung, before alighting on a tree, its head drooping before it took off toward Pyongyang. [AP]
Such unusual supernatural forces these are, which can light up the sky and stop snowstorms but can’t unclog arteries.
I don’t believe for a minute that any North Korean over the age of 13 still believes this stuff, and I have to think that the propaganda hacks who write it figured that out before I did. So why write asinine things like this? Just to subjugate people into repeating it? So that all the foreigners know to give the crazy guy whatever he asks for? Because they think that’s what the boss wants?
More thoughts on the deification of the Kims here.
You may remember that several years ago, a liquor distributor in the United States tried to introduce North Korean soju into the U.S. market. That effort failed long before President Obama reimposed trade sanctions on North Korea, partially because of the importer’s legal troubles, but probably also because the stuff supposedly tasted awful.
Apparently, North Korean consumers share that assessment, because the same brand of South Korean soju that once kept me fully occupied as a prosecutor and defense counsel is a hit on the North Korean black market:
A source in Onsong reported July 6th that the South Korean Cham-isul (trans: True Dew) brand of soju has appeared in North Korean markets and has been an instant hit with local consumers. Reports of South Korean made noodles or choco pies on sale in North Korean markets are well established but this is the first news that South Korean soju has also become available. Cham-isul soju has been sold there since May.
“North Koreans have a tremendous curiosity about South Korean soju,” the source went on, “and everyone wants to get hold of a bottle and give it a try. It’s on sale for 3,000\. That’s around ten times the cost of North Korean soju.” At an exchange rate of 1SK\ to 3NK\, each bottle is the equivalent of 1,000SK\. [....]
“The Cham-isul soju available in the markets has been brought across the border by traders and smugglers. North Korean consumers are getting more and more used to South Korean goods, from electrical goods to food products,” concluded the source. [Open News]
Anyone who has ever been to Korea knows that soju is powerful stuff. Authoritative historical archives tell us that as recently as 1959, sailors were known to swill it until they hallucinated winking, doe-eyed island beauties and ran their ships aground:
Maybe I’m making too much of trivialities like soju, ramyon noodles, and ChocoPies, but I like the way our two soju stories illustrate the right way and the wrong way to “engage” with North Korea. When engagement is negotiated by diplomats, Kim Jong Il dictates the terms so that he earns hard currency to buy God-only-knows-what, and keep all but a few hand-picked, loyal North Koreans shielded from the outside world. It’s enough to make you think the North Koreans have better diplomats than we do. This story shows us a much more effective way — using the market to reach North Korea’s people instead of trying to negotiate our way through its government.
Also pictured: Soju
Take engagement away from the diplomats and leave it to the marketplace — which really means the North Korean people themselves — and wondrous things happen. Not only do people drink better liquor, but people, goods, services, money, and culture cross borders; state-imposed isolation melts away; the truth enters forbidden places; and repressed societies and economies start to awaken. You can even detect a people’s latent and subversive yearning for reunification expressed, something that Kim Jong Il seems desperate to extinguish:
One such North Hamkyung Province source reported on the 13th, “National Security Agency people responsible for the jangmadang [markets] and members of the Worker’s and Peasant’s Red Guard appear every day to examine all goods such as clothes and daily necessities one by one, insisting that they are “˜rooting out capitalist elements.’ All the products labeled “˜South Korea’ are confiscated without compensation. “Even (fake South Korean) products made in China are taken away if they have South Chosun words on them,” the source went on. “Shampoo, toothpaste and other daily necessities are all targets.
Since the start of the 2000s, South Korean products have been entering North Korea thanks to smugglers and traders, and have sold well in the jangmadang at above average prices thanks in large part to their high quality. Smugglers also prefer South Korean products to those made in China because they are more profitable, making them willing to risk punishment to bring such products in. [....]
The North Korean authorities have tended to call this a “˜capitalist wind’ and often range their official crackdowns against it, but this has hitherto only drawn interest toward the forbidden fruit. What is more, the security service agents and soldiers who are supposed to be cracking down on it are prepared to accept bribes to turn a blind eye, and in many cases have shown sympathy for the activities of traders and smugglers.[Daily NK]
In the markets, the hungry can find all sorts of nourishment, including the physical kind. Markets were probably a major factor in ending the Great Famine as North Koreans learned new ways to get food that the state would not provide. They showed such potential to ameliorate North Korea’s perennial food crisis that today, up to 80% of North Koreans depend on them for their food supply. It’s telling that North Korea managed to survive the regime’s 2005 closure of most of the World Food Program’s operations there without mass famine, but has suffered a more significant deterioration in its food crisis since the regime began trying to shut down the country’s markets in mid-2009. This peaked with the Great Confiscation in December, which devastated the rising market economy that was bringing food and other goods from outside the country. North Korea’s domestic food production last year wasn’t worse than in previous years, but the markets — and the traders who fill them — have recovered unevenly from this regime-made disaster, with markets in the border regions recovering faster than those in the interior. The regime hasn’t quit trying to crack down, but can’t fill the void in the food supply, so every time its crackdowns cause hunger and discontent, it’s forced to back off.
Those whose position is most fragile complain the most, the source went on, saying that such people point out, “The state cannot produce and it cannot give the people distribution, so why are they even stopping us from surviving? Some people have even said wryly, “˜So, this is the strong and prosperous state’.
According to the Yangkang Province source, “One woman selling bathroom goods started having many people looking for South Chosun products around, and then immediately an NSA agent confiscated everything. Passing traders got pretty angry when they saw that, saying, “˜It’s not a case of waiting for the strong and prosperous state, it is a case of waiting for the day when those guys will die.’” [Daily NK]
If the regime can fill the void, it cracks down on markets. One relief group — which purports to feed the North Korean people without going through the regime — even suggests that’s why the regime is asking for aid now. That’s another argument against giving food aid unless we’re sure we can keep the regime from stealing it. At times, I have to wonder if the regime is constitutionally opposed to just buying food, even when doing so would seem to be in its interest (though so might keeping people hungry). Although it’s not clear that this rising people’s economy is closely linked to the official economy, the official economy has suffered, too, though probably for different reasons. One observer recently calculated that it has contracted by a stunning 18% since 2007. Part of this is probably due to the loss of South Korean aid money, but sanctions probably also played some role.
In short, markets can change North Korea in ways that state-to-state engagement policies like Sunshine couldn’t. They’re not changing North Korea because the state is willing to accept reform or openness, but because the state has largely lost its capacity to control it. If so, then the way to change North Korea isn’t to provide its regime economic support, it’s to do whatever we can to sap its capacity to control its borders. One way to do this is to facilitate cross-border trade by assisting, training, and equipping journalists, defectors, dissidents, and plain-old smugglers, but another way runs completely against the failed conventional wisdom about engagement. If the regime is desperate to close its borders and crack down on markets, then it follows that the more limited the regime’s resources, the more difficulty it will have cracking down on markets and the faster North Korean society will change. So if targeted sanctions deprive the regime of money to spend on border guards, police, customs officers, and cell phone trackers, they could be a greater agent of social change and economic development than economic cooperation with Kim Jong Il’s regime. That’s admittedly an unconventional view of engagement, but for all the time, money and lives that have been sacrificed for this conventional approach, where is the evidence that it has changed North Korea for the better?