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The Sanctions Are Working

In April of 2009, I laid out a series of ten tough non-military options that I didn’t believe President Obama would have the spine to apply to North Korea. At the time, North Korea was about to test our new president by launching a Taepodong II missile in the general direction of Hawaii. I can’t fail to begin this article without conceding that Executive Order 13,551, signed on August 30th of this year, ought to count as full or partial credit for at least items 1 and 2.

At lunch with a journalist friend earlier last fall, my friend asked me if I saw any evidence that what I like to call Plan B was working at exerting useful pressure on North Korea. I answered that I saw no direct evidence of that yet, but that I expected to in the coming months. I attributed this confidence to the past success of the sanctions applied to Banco Delta Asia in 2005, no matter how much some sanctions opponents would like to deny that success. But if asked the same question today, I’d give a very different answer.

So how do you detect financial duress in a place that’s been starving for years? By looking for signs of shortages in those segments of the North Korean economy and population that have always been high economic priorities, even while everyone else was starving. Those priorities include showpiece industries, the military, the elite, and of course, Kim Jong Il’s own opulent lifestyle. There is now some evidence that each of these priorities has recently been underfunded.

First, North Korea has revived Bureau 38, which manages the personal assets of Kim Jong Il. Yonhap thinks this means the regime is under financial pressure. The Chosun Ilbo adds some context:

“It seems the North in 2009 merged Room 38 with Room 39, another special department that handles a network of business operations, but separated them again in mid-2010,” a ministry official said.

According to a North Korean source, Room 38 handles the private slush funds needed to buy luxury goods for Kim Jong-il and his family as well as gifts for officials, while Room 39 deals with executive funds to pay expenses for party events.

A source in the North said the regime merged Room 38 with Room 39 in March 2009 to simplify management of Kim Jong-il funds but apparently restored Room 38 in September last year, since it had become difficult for Room 39 alone to earn enough hard currency due to tightened international sanctions against the regime. [Chosun Ilbo]

I have already noted the evidence that the regime is having an unusually difficult time feeding its army this winter. While some soldiers have been going hungry for years — I’ve noted examples regarding North Korea’s border guards with particular interest — the recent evidence suggests that airborne and “special forces” units are also suffering. That is unprecedented, even if we can agree that “special forces” is a somewhat imprecise term, and that most of these reports are anecdotal.

Then there are the key industries. North Korea’s steel mills and coal mines are largely idled.

Finally, the regime has been forced to reduce the size of the capital and home of the elite:

North Korea has halved the size of Pyongyang in a possible bid to ease the burden of keeping the loyal residents of the capital well-fed amid deepening food shortages, sources here said Monday. According to the sources that cited 2009 and 2010 almanac maps from North Korea, the city of 3 million has relinquished most of its southern half and a portion of its west to surrounding areas.

“We believe about 500,000 people have been excluded as Pyongyang citizens since 2009,” one source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the maps were obtained through intelligence means. [Yonhap]

Ordinary North Koreans have been hungry since the early 1990’s, but last year was much worse because of the Great Confiscation. The markets have only partially recovered from this disastrous series of policy decisions. Evidence of rising food prices has to be put in context; food prices tend to rise every year around this time, as winter stocks are depleted. The fact that the regime has gone begging for aid means that this year may be different, and adds weight to suspicions that the elite and the military are sharing some of the pain.

To this evidence, we might as well add the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong outrages. Extortion certainly seems to have been one plausible motive for these, and much as North Korea might have wanted, some would now offer North Korea a payoff for this conduct. But despite some signs of impatience with “strategic patience,” the Obama Administration continues to tell North Korea that refusing to negotiate in good faith only means more isolation. And despite the North’s insistence that it won’t talk until we lift sanctions, the administration’s answer — for now, at least — is that it has “no intention of removing those sanctions as an enticement for dialogue.”

Let’s hope they stick with it. We’ve seen this pattern before: North Korea shows an unexpected (to some) interest in diplomacy when we apply economic pressure. This isn’t to say that talks are likely to get us anywhere in the foreseeable future, but it by backing our diplomacy with real force, it might create the conditions for diplomacy to work. Some day.

By any objective measure, the Obama policy toward North Korea is tougher than that of his predecessor. This still isn’t saying much. In any event, North Korea’s recent behavior arguably forced President Obama to impose sanctions, something his foreign policy team never intended to do when it came into office. On paper, the new executive order is a very powerful tool, but it’s still not clear how determined the administration will be about enforcing it. As it becomes increasingly clear that China is circumventing U.N. sanctions toward both Iran and North Korea, Treasury has yet to take action against any of the Chinese entities funneling funds and technology in violation of the sanctions resolutions China voted for.

At least to my eyes, the President’s policy still lacks a coherent and plausible objective. A negotiated disarmament of the Kim Dynasty isn’t that. I harbor the hope that perhaps the administration has seen the light, but isn’t ready to step out of the regime change closet. But at least give President Obama the credit he is due for finally attaching consequences to Kim Jong Il’s actions.

Open Sources

North Korea, which was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008 as a reward for its nuclear disarmament, looks to be preparing another nuclear weapons test.

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“It’s changed out there, and it’s dangerous. Increasingly dangerous,” Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during an informal question and answer session with troops in Iraq.

What does it tell you that soldiers in Iraq are fretting about Korea?

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China has done the impossible. It has managed to make even Vladimir Putin seem like a responsible statesman:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his North Korean counterpart in Moscow on Monday and condemned the artillery attack on Yeongpyeong Island.

According to the Russian foreign ministry, Lavrov met with North Korean Foreign Minister Park Ui-chun and told him that the shelling of the inhabited South Korean island, which killed four people, is blameworthy.

I know, they’re just words, but it’s a start.

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More signs of disillusionment among North Korean youth.
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Whoa, they did eat the baby elephants! You know, if the word of this gets out, it could cause global outrage. Unlike the mass murder of North Korean human beings.
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South Korean students protest against the Democratic Labor Party for being North Korean tools. Well, duh!

Libby Liu, the President of Radio Free Asia, writes:

[M]ounting evidence suggests that there are cracks, through which North Koreans are able to get a glimmer of the world outside their own.

Cell phone use has shot up, especially along the Chinese border where wireless signals are stronger. This also is just one of the means by which many relatives of the 20,000 North Korean defectors in the South keep in touch with their family members.

Restricted technology such as MP3 and MP4 players, DVDs of South Korean soap operas and films, and even USB memory sticks are increasingly making their way into the hands of many North Koreans who get these goods on the black market.

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This is the second report I’ve seen of leafleting in North Korea in the last month or so, and it’s enough to make me wonder whether opposition to the regime has begun to organize and coalesce:

“Copies of a cartoon satirizing Kim Jong-il were spread out in front of a statue of Kim Il-sung in the city of Manpo in December 2009, immediately after the currency reform,” reported a correspondent in Yeonbyeon, China, on December 2nd.

The source said, “News of this first came out from a man who defected to China with his family and had seen the cartoons first hand. Struggling ordinary North Koreans were depicted wretchedly groaning under the boots of Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-eun,” the source reported the defector as having said.

In the cartoon, Kim Jong-il was driving a carriage loaded with officials that was being pushed by the people. The cartoon was intended to show how the Kim Jong-il system benefits only the officials whose stomachs are filled by a populace living an exploited existence.

“The leaflets were discovered by some students who had gone to clean up near the statue,”said the source. “The students didn’t completely get what the cartoons were about but knew the carriage driver was Kim Jong-il. They thought it strange and gave all of the leaflets to the People’s Security Office.” [Open News]

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I suppose it’s just a matter of time before some U.N. tool goes to Pyongyang to praise North Korea’s free universal education, and when that day comes, this report will be lying in wait in the OFK archives, for the polemics that must follow:

“Parents aren’t even registering their kids in school from first grade,” Lee added. Parents are supposed to enroll their children in school from the age of seven. It is not just that their circumstances don’t allow them to register them but that they are losing sight of the importance of education. “It’s called free education but there’s school uniform to buy and we have to fill the school bag with books. The government is not putting in a single textbook. We’ve got to use all our own money,” she added. [Open News]

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As it turns out, the Great General didn’t realize that artillery can have a pretty fierce recoil:

North Korean merchants are exchanging their local currency en masse as war jitters in the wake of Pyongyang’s attack on Yeonpyeong Island have stoked fears that the won may lose its value in the case of war, a report said. According to North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS), a Seoul-based NGO comprised of defectors with lines into the North, currency exchange rates have skyrocketed since the Nov. 23 incident. One hundred yuan, which before the shelling went for 2,000 won, is now worth 35,000 won, NKIS said in a report released Sunday.

“Merchants have heard rumors that if there is war, North Korean bills will become worthless scraps of paper,” NKIS quoted a source as saying, causing traders to exchange their won while they can. Price of daily goods have also skyrocketed, the report said, with rice jumping from 900 won per kilogram to 1,600 won. Corn climbed from 4,000 won per kilogram to 6,000 won, it said. [Korea Times]

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Kang Chol Hwan calls for “Asymmetric Warfare:”

There should also be more leaflets and radio broadcasts to the North. Large quantities of food could also be attached to helium balloons and floated to the North. North Korean troops secretly eat instant noodles South Korean forces sent to the North by balloons prior to the Kim Dae-jung administration. What would happen if instant noodles are scattered throughout Hwanghae Province? Having lived in North Korea, I know that this would deal a severe blow to the regime. The South must awaken to the fact that its weapons are stronger than any arms Kim Jong-il has.

It’s times like this when I’m tempted to believe someone actually reads this blog. “Asymmetic” is a word I’ve used quite a bit lately, no? Yes!

So is China that rising global power with the clout to lead a 19-nation boycott of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, or is China that third world Paper Tiger with delusions of grandeur that can’t even keep Kim Jong Il’s guns inside their zippers? My vote is with the Wall Street Journal on this one. It’s just too delectable to contrast China’s protestations that it has no power to prevent its economic dependent from starting Korean War II, and then bully South Korea or Belgium over the Dalai Lama or the Nobel Prize.

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What ever has happened to that old Human Rights Commission we loved to ridicule so?

The recommendations contain support for the distribution of leaflets inside North Korea and the provision to NGOs of short- and medium-wave frequencies owned by the government. The recommendations had been previously submitted by Kim Tae Hun and the other five committee members, but were rejected in a plenary meeting of the NHRCK in August for fear of inciting North Korea.

However, the recommendation was passed in a meeting of the NHRCK yesterday afternoon, partly due to a standing committee reshuffle carried out early in December.

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Report: “N.Korea ‘Fattens Up’ People for Family Reunions.” When you factor in those steep ransom costs, the South Koreans would save money by just smuggling in cell phones that can call South Korea.
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Jonah Goldberg:

If North Koreans were pandas, would we have let them suffer so?
….

And yet, North Korea’s plight is not news. It’s been the status quo for two generations. Everyone knows that it is an anachronistic, totalitarian police state, and yet the spirit of “never again” finds little purchase in the Western conscience. Indeed, with the exception of some heroic human rights organizations, such as the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, the debate is defined almost entirely by what some call “realism.” If North Korea could be trusted to abandon its nuclear ambitions and mischief — an absolute impossibility — one gets the sense that vast swaths of the foreign policy establishment would be happy to call it a day.

One day, a lot of liberals who were largely absent from the discussion about, say, Camp 22 while they hyperventilated about Gitmo are going to say they had no idea these places existed, and I suppose that’s when I’ll consult my hit counter. And then my head will explode. Meanwhile, there’s ample evidence to support Goldberg’s sense about our State Department, which is a bit harder to dismiss as merely silly, irrational, or ill-informed.

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North Korea’s decades of famine and near-famine are taking a demographic toll. As summarized by Professor and defector Lee Ae-Ran:

“As economic problems worsened in the 1990s, many young North Koreans avoided marriage and childbirth and illegal abortions were rampant. Especially in the late 90s, many children and youths starved to death in urban areas, as well as in rural regions.”

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We are all neocons:Iran and North Korea are ‘evil twins’ separated at birth who have joined forces in pursuit of nuclear programs that could have devastating consequences, a senior US lawmaker charged Wednesday.” So, did you guess Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, too?
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Via the New York Times
, here’s a great graphic on North Korea’s proliferation business.
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That’s funny, I miss kaeranbang, too. And since Kushibo has covered street food, let me add that I miss the train food, especially the salmun kaeran and kimpap on the saemaul trains. Great with some kyul a can of Hite, watching the scenery go by.

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Sorry, but I challenge anyone to look at this and deny the existence of God.

U.N. Shocker! China Helps North Korea Cheat on Sanctions

A new report by a panel of U.N.-appointed experts confirms what we’ve really known all along — that China is acting in bad faith by helping North Korea violate three U.N. resolutions China’s U.N. Ambassador voted for. With many thanks to a few good friends of mine, you can read the whole thing yourself here …

un-north-korea-proliferation-report-11052010.pdf

… or you can simply read the fair and balanced analysis that follows, beginning with these quotes to give you some idea of the gravity of the problems we’re talking about:

[T]he Panel of Experts has reviewed several government assessments, IAEA (U.N. nuclear watchdog) reports, research papers and media reports indicating continuing DPRK (North Korea) involvement in nuclear and ballistic missile related activities in certain countries including Iran, Syria and Myanmar. [….]

Evidence provided in these reports indicates that the DPRK has continued to provide missiles, components, and technology to certain countries including Iran and Syria since the imposition of these measures. [….]

The Panel of Experts is also looking into suspicious activity in Myanmar including activities there of Namchongang Trading (NCG), a 1718 Committee designated entity, and reports that Japan, in June 2009, arrested three individuals for attempting to illegally export a magnetometer to Myanmar via Malaysia, allegedly under the direction of a company known to be associated with illicit procurement for DPRK nuclear and military programmes. [….]

The 1718 Committee has been notified, since the adoption of resolution 1874 (2009), of four non-compliance cases involving arms exports. An analysis of these cases indicates that the DPRK continues to engage in exporting such proscribed items. In these cases, the DPRK has used a number of masking techniques in order to circumvent the Security Council measures, including false description and mislabeling of the content of the containers, falsification of the manifest covering the shipment, alteration and falsification of the information concerning the original consignor and ultimate consignee, and use of multiple layers of intermediaries, shell companies, and financial institutions.

The report, while avoiding direct criticism of China, also presents ample evidence that its government has been willfully blind (at best) to North Korean violations of the resolutions, and makes recommendations that are clearly directed at China. Characteristically for China’s rulers, their reaction was to suppress the report. I don’t know whether or how much China managed to water down the report’s contents, but they did succeed at blocking its release for six months, until after the U.S. mid-term elections, and shortly before President Obama was to meet with Hu Jintao. This isn’t the first critical U.N. report China has suppressed this year. It also recently suppressed another U.N. report presenting evidence that Chinese-made arms continue to show up in Darfur, notwithstanding another U.N. sanctions resolution.

The new U.N. report coincides with a report by the Congressional Research Service that finds that North Korea is finding ways around UNSCR 1695, 1718, and 1874, with plenty of help from China. The next Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has reacted by calling for a tightening of sanctions.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who stands to take over in January after her party won the House of Representatives, said the United States must act “quickly and firmly” to stop weapons proliferation from North Korea.

“Instead of continuing its failed strategy of seeking to engage the regime in endless negotiation, the administration must ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement Wednesday. [AFP]

I don’t disagree with Ms. Ros-Lehtinen that our diplomacy with North Korea has been “endless,” and I’d add that it’s been endlessly unproductive because it has lacked benchmarks for progress and consequences for bad faith. The problem, however, isn’t that we’re willing to talk to North Korea at all — subject to important conditions — the problem is that some of our dialogue “partners” here are dealing with us in bad faith with complete and historically justifiable confidence that they’ll get away with it. I don’t think I need to be a fly on the wall in the Forbidden City to infer that this is done the specific purpose of depriving us of the leverage that effective diplomacy requires. The current U.N. resolutions, along with Executive Order 13,511, would be perfectly effective tools for providing that leverage nonviolently if China wasn’t actively undermining them. Yet thus far, the Obama Administration hasn’t been willing to impose consequences on the Chinese entities that help North Korea circumvent sanctions, despite the growing risk that all of this is leading to terrorists nuking up with direct or indirect North Korean (and therefore, Chinese) help. Our greater problem, then, isn’t really an excess of dialogue with North Korea; in fact, there’s been relatively little of that recently. The real problem is our failure to recognize, confront, and punish China for its cheating.

Let’s start with some recognition, beginning with WMD and arms proliferation. The most complimentary way to characterize China’s compliance with the U.N. sanctions resolutions would be to call it apathetic. But there is ample evidence that China actively helped North Korea acquire and proliferate the same WMD capabilities it now pretends it doesn’t want North Korea to have. Instead of assisting with the agreed strategy of pressuring North Korea to disarm, China has a long history of undermining U.N. sanctions, and we now know that this policy continues unabated despite China’s disingenuous votes at the Security Council. Recall, for example, that plane load of weapons seized by Thai authorities in December 2009 — a shipment that included man-portable surface-to-air missiles and ballistic missile components. Two-thirds of that flight passed over over Chinese airspace, meaning that China would have had to grant the plane overflight rights.

pyongyang-bangkok.gif

Did China feel no responsibility to exercise basic due diligence before doing this? Was it coincidental that an Auckland, New Zealand trading company headed by one “Lu Zhang” arranged the shipment? The same question can be asked of that shipment of rocket-propelled grenades that was headed from North Korea to Iran before it was seized in the UAE. That shipment was arranged in the Shanghai office of an Italian shipping company.

Consequently,

The Panel of Experts recommends, in this regard, that extra vigilance be exercised in accordance with local norms at the first overseas maritime port handling such shipments or transshipments of [North Korea] with regard to containers carrying cargo originating in [North Korea].

Any guesses where the “first maritime port” will be in the vast majority of cases? China is also permitting North Korea to smuggle WMD through its airspace, across the breadth of China’s vast land mass, with the full knowledge and permission of the men who rule it.

The DPRK is believed to use air cargo to handle high-valued and sensitive arms exports. Such cargo can be sent by direct air cargo from the DPRK to the destination country. Some modern cargo planes, for example, can fly non-stop from the DPRK to Iran, when routed directly through neighboring air space. [CNN]

And here’s a picture of the great circle route a direct flight would take between Pyongyang and Tehran:

pyongyang-tehran.gif

All of which draws this woefully insufficient recommendation:

The Panel of Experts also notes that air cargo poses certain other issues and vulnerabilities. Difficulties involved in the inspection or cargo in an aircraft in transit and the inability to subject direct flights to inspection leaves in place important vulnerabilities with respect to the implementation of the resolutions. The Pane recommends that consideration be given by Member States over whose territory such aircraft may fly, stop, or transit that efforts be undertaken in those cases to closely monitor air traffic to and from Sunan International Airport and other national airports, and that cargoes to and from the country be declared before overflight clearance is provided.

Well, fine then! They’ll just “declare” that they’re flying Baby Milk from Pyongyang to Tehran. Here’s a proposal: nations that habitually proliferate and violate U.N. resolutions should be denied overflight rights unless they agree to let the aircraft land for inspection. After all, shouldn’t recidivist WMD proliferation carry some minimal inconvenience as a consequence? But because it doesn’t, North Korea has managed to maintain a healthy business in selling major weapons systems — in flagrant violation of UNSCR 1718 and 1874 — by breaking those systems down and flying them non-stop to the destination countries in pieces.

Nor have the sanctions prevented Kim Jong Il from providing his starving people the things they obviously need the most, like “36 pianos, two yachts and four Mercedes cars. Not surprisingly, the U.N. report concludes that member states need to harmonize just how they define the term “luxury goods” to determine whether it includes, say, those sweet Italian yachts, or that trainload of cars recently photographed while crossing into North Korea around the time of Kim Il Sung’s birthday. You know, for those babies who are starving because of Yankee imperialist sanctions.

Separately, we’re also learning more about how China is also helping North Korea to evade financial sanctions:

As an another way to launder money, North Koreans in China open accounts in banks there and deposit dollars they have brought from the North, disguising themselves as South Koreans. Chinese banks require North or South Korean customers to fill in just “Korea” on application forms when opening a bank account and clerks are apparently untrained to distinguish the passports of the two Koreas as both have green covers.

Alternatively the regime raises money by smuggling out gold bullion and selling them in the name of a local company. One firm in Hong Kong is said to have been especially active in that line until recently. [Chosun Ilbo]

In isolation, I could believe that any — or even a few — of these incidents were simply oversights, or cases of China being fooled by North Korea’s deceptions. But taken together, they indicate a deliberate Chinese policy of undermining U.N. and Treasury Department sanctions, and of trying to suppress the evidence of its own cheating. But at the presidential level, the Chinese don’t even bother to conceal their disinterest in being helpful:

Bush recalls in his memoir, “Decision Points,” the moment in October 2002 when he asked Chinese President Jiang Zemin at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for China’s help in pressuring North Korea not to pursue nuclear weapons programs.

“He told me North Korea was my problem, not his,” Bush said, quoting Jiang as saying also, “Exercising influence over North Korea is very complicated.”

Bush’s remarks reflect the sentiments of his successor, Barack Obama, who in June denounced China for its “willful blindness” to North Korea on the sinking of a South Korean warship and other provocations. [Yonhap]

Many people whose outdated concept of the threat North Korea poses see that threat in terms of a 1950-style invasion. If that were in fact true, a North Korea policy need go no further than conventional deterrence until the whole bloody experiment finally unravels at last. North Korea’s conventional threat is now sufficiently diminished that it justifies little cost to our substantial trade with China.

Unfortunately, the North Korean threat is something much more dangerous and much less deterrable today. It’s not an easy thing to ask people to confront this, but today, we need to rethink U.S. relations with China in terms comparative to the value of the American city we’ll lose to North Korea nuclear material or technology, proliferated with Chinese assistance. Seen in those terms, it’s worth absorbing some costs in our relations with China, which are probably in a long-term decline anyway, for reasons beyond our control. For now, China needs its American markets to sustain high economic growth rates and thus social stability. Is it really interested in starting a trade war with America or risking a severe breakdown in relations? Seen in those terms, China stands to lose more than the United States if the Treasury Department revives the strategy it began in 2005 with Banco Delta Asia, sanctioning the smaller Chinese banks and trading companies that China uses to prop up North Korea. The only diplomatically effective answer to Hu Jintao’s dismissal is to make North Korea China’s problem, too.

There are also more radical options, of course. It’s often said how China craves stability above all other things. Do you suppose China’s valuation of Kim Jong Il’s firm hand might change if North Korean citizens, given more independent access to foreign food, information, and cell phone signals, began striking or rioting in North Korean cities? Or if, heaven forbid, significant quantities of AK-47’s and RPG’s began showing up in the hands of North Korean cross-border bandits-slash-insurgents on either side of the Yalu River? Since I’m just hypothesizing out loud here, these are things that could plausibly happen with or without the assistance or encouragement of foreign governments. In either event, China might just see the orderly, negotiated termination of the Kim Dynasty and denuclearization of North Korea as net positives for the stability it craves. Diplomacy can’t work unless the people you’re talking to believe you’re willing to consider other alternatives. So what alternatives is President Obama prepared to consider?

Shots Fired at the Border

“Two shots were fired from a North Korean military guard post (GP) toward our GP around 5:26 p.m., and we immediately returned fire with three shots as under the rules of engagement,” the official said. “There was no damage from the North Korean shots.”

The GPs are 1.3 kilometers away from each other. The official said after returning fire, South Korea twice issued warnings that the North had breached the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. [Yonhap]

Right. Because they wouldn’t have known that otherwise.

“It hasn’t been confirmed whether the North Korean military took an aimed shot,” the official said. “The United Nations Command (UNC) will send a special investigation team to determine whether North Korea had violated terms of the armistice.”

It doesn’t look like there were any casualties, at least on the southern side. The South Koreans forces have gone on alert, just in time to ruin a lot of weekend leaves (sorry, guys). The North Koreans, no doubt, are already at the range for extra marksmanship training. Not that most North Korean soldiers tend to have big weekend plans anyway, given that their main off-post entertainment option is pillaging nearby farms. And hopefully stealing enough corn to trade for some meth.

China’s Cleansing Campaign

I want to begin this post by congratulating the Nobel Committee for awarding the Peace Prize, for once, to a person who has actually made sacrifices to improve the lives of others in a way that is likely to frustrate a belligerent state and prevent war. More precisely, by selecting someone who is not a terrorist, an unaccomplished politician, or a proven failure at making peace, Nobel may have extended its residual relevance a while longer. Better, it has returned some attention away from the malice of the Chinese government toward foreign nations, and back to its malice toward its own people. But then, these topics are more interrelated than many of us tend to acknowledge. One of the topics where they intersect seamlessly is the subject of North Korean refugees in China.

Ethan Epstein, who is now also blogging at The New Ledger, incidentally, has just returned from a visit to Seoul the Chinese border with North Korea. He writes (this time, at Slate) that a joint Chinese-North Korean crackdown on refugees has been a grim success at closing off the flow of refugees. So thanks to our friends the ChiComs, North Koreans must now die in place. There is a special zone in hell for these people, but justice would be better served if they were sent to Camp 12, where so many of their victims have perished. It bears repeating that those victims are guilty of no greater crime than wanting to live.

In spite of the success of China’s cleansing campaign, the number of North Korean refugees in South Korea is about to hit the 20,000 mark. What’s not mentioned in CNN’s report is how many of those people are recent defectors from North Korea, and how many are fleeing China after hiding out there for years.

China, realizing that it has revealed too much of its arrogance and malice since the Cheonan attack, now wants us (and the South Koreans) to think that its sponsorship of North Korea’s terrorizing of its neighbors is simply misunderstood. It doesn’t bother trying to explain its sponsorship of, and active participation in, North Korea’s terrorizing of its own people. How could it? You simply can’t defend sending women and kids to die in gulags and before firing squads. Those things are evil — crimes against humanity — in any honest person’s lexicon.

How can the behavior of the thugs who run China be reconciled with the natural aspirations of people not to be slaves? What evidence suggests that it’s amenable to moral suasion? That it’s amenable anything but coercion of variable subtlety? One more subtle form of coercion would be to make it clear to China that its commercial access to post-unification Korea will depend of the amount of hostility it earns from the Korean people now (strictly for the safety of Chinese investors and for the preservation of public order, mind you). Another would be to raise the idea of “odious debt,” suggesting that China’s investments in North Korea will not be honored by any post-Kim government.

But if you were a North Korean refugee in China now, all of this would probably sound much too subtle. When would you finally decide that fighting back was your only real option? And would such an eventuality be a greater tragedy than the status quo?

At National Review, Mario Loyola takes up many of the themes I wrote about in my Capitalist Manifesto, and concludes that North Korea’s collapse is accelerating. I think a few of us have noticed that trend for an uncomfortably long time, but until the last two or three years, I couldn’t quite understand how those trends could continue this long without the termination of the regime.

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Open News has two interesting reports on one of the most important and most overlooked trends in North Korea — food smuggling. I posit that this represents a loss of the regime’s control over the food supply, the borders, and even discipline over its security services. If harnessed properly, mass smuggling will sow the seeds for the regime’s undoing.

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If South Korea keeps talking like this, it might actually acquire some influence over North Korea’s behavior:

South Korea will launch a full-scale propaganda war against North Korea in response to any fresh cross-border provocation, Defence Minister Kim Tae Young said on Tuesday. Mr Kim on Monday had warned of possible provocations by the North as it puts a leadership succession plan in place and in the run-up to the G-20 summit in Seoul in November. The South’s military printed hundreds of thousands of leaflets and installed loudspeakers in border areas as part of reprisals following the sinking of a warship in March. [….]

Mr Kim told parliament preparations were under way to float the leaflets and small radios by balloon across the tense and heavily fortified border. His ministry would also consider installing electric message boards and more loudspeakers. ‘We will immediately switch loudspeakers on and launch leaflets’ if there was a fresh cross-border provocation, or if a political decision was made on the need to apply pressure on North Korea, Mr Kim said. [AFP]

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Skeptical Germans are questioning pretty much everything we think we know about Kim Jong Eun.

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Christine Ahn Was Not Available for Comment: Defectors report being made to pay exorbitant prices for food aid.

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Greek authorities search a North Korean shipment, bound for Syria, for banned weapons or dual-use cargo.

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Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You: Chris Hill ought to be forced into early retirement over this — despite the gauzy promises of Agreed Framework and all of the valuable leverage we threw away for empty concessions, North Korea has now resumed construction at Yongbyon. On a side note, isn’t David Albright’s change of tone since Obama’s inauguration a remarkable thing to observe? Not that I’m a strong critic of Obama’s policy myself.

That’s funny, I thought North Korea liked the idea of unification.

The traitor talked about “unification tax,” sheer nonsense, at a time when the situation prevailing in Korea is so tense that a war may break out any moment. This is no more than sophism let loose by an idiot who knows nothing about reunification, insensitive to what is happening in the world and ignorant of the inter-Korean relations, a profiteer who knows nothing but money and a political imbecile.

How can you not like unification? It’s like puppies, Christmas, and peace.

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Kim Jong Il Death Watch: Open News thinks the embalming process has already started, metaphorically speaking. Meanwhile, Jong Eun’s grooming continues.

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I’m surprised this took so long: “On July 6th, a high level source in North Korea stated that the country’s overseas agents are propagating that the US. had been behind the explosion of the South Korean ship ‘Cheonan’.” One advantage of making the Cheonan Incident America’s fault would be that instead of pretty much forgetting about those 46 lost sailors, South Koreans would remember — even fetishize — them for decades.

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The United States and its allies should also impose sanctions that target Chinese companies and financial institutions that facilitate or fund Pyongyang’s illegal activities. Moreover, any Chinese entity circumventing sanctions on North Korea should find it exceedingly difficult to do business elsewhere. Thanks to its not-so-paranoid fear of domestic instability, the Chinese leadership is very sensitive to the economic consequences of its actions. [Michael Mazza, The American]

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To stop his acts of killing, we have to make him hurt. For example, after the sinking of the Cheonan, Seoul could have closed down the Kaesong industrial zone, which is just north of the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two Koreas. There, about 120 South Korean businesses employ around 44,000 North Korean workers. That, by itself, would deprive Kim of a substantial source of funding because Pyongyang skims a large portion of the wages.

Similarly, we can cut off North Korea’s access to the international financial system. The Bush administration did just that in September 2005 when it declared Banco Delta Asia, a bank Kim used in Macau, to be a “primary money laundering concern. As such, no financial institution would do business with it. And as a result, North Korea, for two years, had to use its diplomats to ferry cash in bulging suitcases around the world. And, lo and behold, Kim Jong Il did not start a war even though the U.S. Treasury Department crippled his government. [Gordon Chang]

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American diplomats have met with Aijalon Gomes and asked North Korea to release him for health reasons. I can conceive of no reason but ransom for North Korea to imprison Gomes for seven months, and I’m struck by the absurdity of a world in which a malingering airline bomber walks free while a peaceful human rights petitioner is imprisoned unjustly … with hardly a peep from the Human Rights Industry.

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North Korea shows off its new toys: A new tank, apparently an upgraded T-62, and a surveillance UAV. Not seen: an inexpensive, reliable, mass-produced tractor to replace all those oxen still used to plow the fields.

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Don Kirk writes about the legacy of Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine after the Cheonan Incident.

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The Pentagon reports on China’s military buildup.

Plan B Watch: Treasury Requires “Enhanced Due Diligence” for N. Korean Banks

The Treasury Department has announced that the governments of Sao Tome and North Korea will henceforth be subject to the “enhanced due diligence” requirements of Section 312 of the USA PATRIOT Act. The measures apply to U.S. financial institutions maintaining correspondent accounts for “foreign banks operating under a banking license issued by” North Korea.

By itself, this action is likely to have little effect, because it’s doubtful that any North Korean-licensed banks have U.S. correspondent accounts. The better question, however, is what effect this may have on banks in Europe and Asia, because the Treasury action was ordered in concert with the Financial Action Task Force. The FATF is the rarest of species in this world — an effective international institution. When the FATF speaks, it means that most of the world’s major finance ministries have promulgated guidance similar to Treasury’s, or soon will.

It will be weeks, and probably months, before we know whether this action will encumber the flow of laundered North Korean assets through European and Asian banks, but Treasury’s message should send a clear warning that non-complaint institutions will be targeted for the same treatment that Banco Delta Asia received in 2005 — the dreaded “fifth special measure,” which denies the offending institution access to its correspondent accounts in American banks and effectively cuts it out of the global financial system.

This is a hopeful sign, though by itself, it doesn’t necessary mean this administration has decided to turn Treasury and Justice loose to pursue the flow of illicit cash that sustains North Korea’s palace economy. But to do so now, just as the regime is purging old comrades and preparing for the succession of a new emperor, would be the most opportune timing imaginable.

Anti-Government Leaflets Found in Hoeryong

Hoeryong, in North Korea’s far northeast, is the birthplace of Kim Jong Il’s mother, but with its low economic status and proximity to the Chinese border, it is also something of a hotspot for smuggling, capitalism, and dissent. Previous reports from Hoeryong have told of other leafleting incidents and at least one reported market protest. Now there is word of more anti-government leaflets found there:

Quoting a source from Chongjin, Free North Korea Radio (FNKR) reported yesterday that a large quantity of fliers criticizing the Kim Jong Il regime were distributed around Hoiryeong in North Hamkyung Province on or before June 25th.

The security forces were apparently ordered to collect the fliers and investigate where they came from.

It may be that local residents passed these out, or that they fell from a leaflet balloon from South Korea.

“According to an official within the NSA, Hoiryeong NSA reported flier distribution in a certain region of the city, and said that members of the city NSA had been mobilized to block passage through the region and collect all the fliers,” the source reportedly explained.

The source reportedly added, “At 5AM on the 25th, Hoiryeong National Security Agency (NSA) mobilized its members to collect the fliers covertly.

He also said, “Hoiryeong NSA had finished collecting and incinerating the fliers by 11AM the same day. They were ordered to find the source of the fliers but keep it classified so that people would remain ignorant of the incident. [Daily NK]

Because I am a devious person, I can’t help but think devious thoughts when I read about security forces being mobilized to pick up litter. Spread enough of these leaflets around and you can force the redeployment of units, see that certain areas are thinly manned, and put a tremendous strain on the security forces’ equipment, fuel supplies, and morale.

Human Rights Updates

The former laughingstock called the National Human Rights Commission of Korea is planning to release a North Korea human rights “road map” this fall.

On a related note, congratulations to Open News’s Young Howard, who now has the cred and the means to host a conference on human rights in North Korea. Open News also notes that Former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik has emerged as a leading advocate of this issue to the still-worthless Ban Ki-Moon and a strong advocate of the “responsibility to protect” (RTP) doctrine, even at the expense of national sovereignty.

I’ve never been completely comfortable with extending the RTP doctrine to this degree — I think it could easily be extended into something pernicious — although I do think it applies well to North Korea for two important reasons. First, I see the primary responsibility to provide food, clothing, and shelter as primarily the individual’s responsibility, but of course, when a government usurps the individual’s means to provide for himself and his family, the state assumes the responsibility to provide. Second, I’m one of those archaic sorts who sees sovereignty as invested in the people of a nation, not just the ones with the keys to the helicopter gunships. I see no better way to measure the will of the people than elections, and until North Korea holds a free election, it’s difficult for me to see its ruling regime as having the requisite legitimacy to express the sovereign right to starve its citizens to death.

25 March 2010

Kushibo has posted his much-anticipated response to Lisa Ling.

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Kim Jong Il Death Watch: Mike Madden has the latest rumors in our grim vigil.

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Fears that Russia is preparing to repatriate that North Korean logger who tried to make a break for freedom.

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If famine, cannibalism, child labor, songbun, lousy education, and the risk of becoming a homeless orphan aren’t enough worries for a lifetime, North Korean kids also have to worry about child molesters.

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For those in the D.C. area, PSCORE will hold an event at Georgetown on Saturday, the 27th, on what life is like in North Korea.

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Only a racist
would question the legitimacy of Kim Jong Il’s rule.

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Jimmy Carter calls on President Obama to hold direct talks with North Korea — also, Charles Manson, Jefferson Davis, and the San Andreas Fault.

I wonder who briefs Jimmy Carter on current events and what that job pays?

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Critics didn’t seem to like the new anti-American propaganda film about No Gun Ri.

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So you liked the book, then? “Every now again, a book comes round that is so brilliant it makes you want to take to the streets and press into people’s hands, urging them to read it.” Well, it was a good book.

Chinese Academic Admits what U.S. State Dep’t Won’t: Kim Jong Il Will Never Disarm

North Korea is using annual military exercises as an excuse to “bolster up its war deterrent,” the latter term being the traditional code-talk for nuclear weapons. This ought to put North Korea’s rumored return to six-party talks in context. So should this Asia Times piece by our friend, the seasoned Korea reporter Don Kirk (buy his book!), who quotes Beijing University professor Wang Jisi. Wang, speaking at a conference in Seoul recently, showed a much better appreciation of reality than our State Department (which is admittedly setting the bar pretty low):

“The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – North Korea] will keep going nuclear, period,” he told a small audience here this week. “There is no other endgame, at least from Pyongyang’s point of view.” That’s the kind of blunt declaration that United States and South Korean nuclear envoys do not seem capable of making or even thinking, to judge from their public utterances. [….]

“It is hard to imagine any genuine progress on denuclearization – even if North Korea-US contacts were upgraded or the six-party talks were to be resumed soon.” [Don Kirk, Asia Times]

If that’s so, then why is the Chinese government giving North Korea so much money to come back to six-party talks? So that it can refuse to disarm — and defy three U.N. Security Council resolutions that China voted for — for a larger audience? Of course not, silly:

Wang’s pessimism about North Korea giving up its nukes comes across as a sign of what Beijing sees as a higher priority, that is, propping up the North Korean regime against the danger of collapse and chaos. Wang got that point across too with a candor that’s not readily apparent in narrow official pronouncements from Beijing.

“Unlike other partners,” he said, in a jibe at the Americans and possibly the South Koreans, “Beijing would look at a possible political implosion in North Korea in most negative terms.” For that reason his government “would never try to destabilize that country or join others” in attempting “to do so”.

I wouldn’t necessarily call it pessimism. The unpleasant truth is that Beijing is covering for the non-disarmament of both North Korea and Iran … all the better to help keep Gulliver tied down. China isn’t helping to disarm North Korea because a tyrannical, oppressive, nuclear-armed North Korea serves China’s interests. To Beijing, it is far better to have death camps across the border than refugee camps along them, and if there is plenty of coal for the factories of Harbin and plenty of meat for the whorehouses of Dandong, so much the better. This is what Beijing means when it speaks of “friendship” with North Korea.

You don’t have to take it from China or even from Don Kirk that North Korea will never disarm. Just read the strategic thinking of the North Koreans themselves. To them, the six-party talks are just part of a scheme for the United States to gain a global nuclear monopoly and launch preemptive strikes against them, and American initiatives to improve relations with North Korea are really Trojan Horse tactics. Never mind that neither President Clinton nor any of his predecessors took advantage of that “monopoly,” even when North Korea’s nuclear intentions were apparent to anyone. It’s plausible that plenty of North Koreans really believe this.

Without nuclear weapons, North Korea is merely a fourth-rate power with a big, stunted, rusting, demoralized army that eats by stealing potatoes from off-post farmers. For more than a decade, Kim Jong Il has told the North Korean people that his acquisition of a nuclear arsenal justified the starvation of millions of their loved ones and allowed His Porcine Majesty to extort food from the imperialists. What would they think if their rulers then gave away those weapons for a few crumbs of aid, especially after the aid inevitably fails to do much to ameliorate their squalor? Even if you suspect, as I do, that this regime is now broadly reviled by its people, you still have to acknowledge the probability that the national pride those weapons imbue has great appeal to the downtrodden.

All of which is even more true of whichever ill-qualified successor tries — vainly, I suspect — to establish his own legitimacy after Kim Jong Il croaks (by 2013, according to hearsay quoting Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell).

If that is the case, one can only hope that this Administration will not relax that pressure to induce or reward North Korea’s return to six-party talks, only to balk, stall, and obfuscate some more. For the first time in years, the North Korean regime itself — as opposing to its long-suffering people — is under potentially fatal economic pressure. That pressure raises the only real leverage the United States has against Kim Jong Il and his court: the threat to fracture the system’s control and release the pressures within.

For once, time is on our side. Let’s not blow it now.

Great Confiscation Updates

Newspapers around the world are now coming to grips with North Korea’s most conspicuous policy disaster since the Great Famine, and the first one in which a state that has long claimed infallibility had to admit error:

The policy backfired. Prices skyrocketed as market activities ground to a near halt, while state-run stores failed to meet the demand. In recent weeks, Web sites based in Seoul that collect news from sources inside North Korea have reported starvation in some towns in the North, a protest rally by elderly military veterans and arguments between women and the soldiers trying to shut down markets.

The reported apology, from the North Korean prime minister Kim Yong-il, came just days after South Korean news outlets reported that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, fired the senior official who had spearheaded the currency reform. The apology came a meeting in the North’s capital, Pyongyang, last Friday, according to Chosun Ilbo, a mass-circulation daily in Seoul. Its report, published Thursday, quoted Prime Minister Kim as saying, “I offer a sincere apology about the currency reform as we pushed ahead with it without sufficient preparation and it caused a great pain to the people. The paper’s account, published Thursday, quoted an unidentified source inside the North.

“We will do our best to stabilize people’s lives,” the prime minister Kim said, according to the newspaper. [….]

Poor weather, inept economic management and the cutting off of aid and trade following the collapse of the Communist bloc led to a famine that killed many North Koreans in the mid-1990s. Since then, illegal markets have sprouted up to supplement, or sometimes even replace, the state’s failed ration system.

But the markets have had a destabilizing impact on the regime. The smuggling of Chinese goods bred corruption among soldiers and party officials who took a cut from the growing underground economy, analysts in Seoul said. Profiteering spread as people scavenged for survival, and a mew moneyed class emerged in what was supposed to be a classless society. After years of turning a blind eye to the markets and even dabbling with Chinese-style market reforms, North Korea began cracking down on the markets in 2005. [N.Y. Times, Choe Sang-Hun]

“I am most heartbroken by the fact that our people are living on corn,” Kim said in a report monitored by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. “What I must do now is feed them white rice, bread and noodles generously.”

Kim made a similar statement in January, mentioning white rice and meat soup. But the likelihood of his being able to improve nutrition in his country in the short term seems small. [Washington Post, Blaine Harden]

Adding to the poignancy, experts say the bungled reforms were done in the name of Kim Jong Un, the dictator’s third son and potential heir. His involvement may have been part of a strategy to reassert Stalinist-style state control of the enfeebled economy ahead of 2012, the 100th anniversary of grandfather Kim’s birth.

It seems unlikely the plan has been abandoned altogether, not least because the small markets that have flourished since the famine of the 1990s pose such a challenge to the state’s authority. But the ineptitude must have been glaringly obvious, even in the hermetic state.

“The government has never said sorry to the people, especially on a topic as sensitive as rice,” says Andrei Lankov, of Kookmin University in Seoul, a writer on North Korea. “Because of Kim Jong Il’s age and the age of those around him, it looks like he may be losing touch with reality. [….]

[T]he mere hint of economic fallibility in a regime that demands almost religious devotion from its subjects may turn out to matter more than the diplomatic manoeuvres. It comes at a time when North Koreans, using smuggled DVDs and telephones, have a better idea than ever before of how far their living conditions fall short of their neighbours’. That is a rare point of vulnerability for Mr Kim’s interlocutors to exploit. [The Economist]

My strong suspicion is that for a large percentage of the North Korean people, The Great Confiscation was a deal breaker. I don’t mean the social contract between the people and the state. For most North Koreans, that contract was breached during the Great Famine. This time, the broken deal is the pretense that the social contract still exists.

22 January 2009: So Much for Outreach

* One year into the Obama Administration — and doesn’t it seem like so much longer than that? — the new conventional wisdom is that “outreach” has been a failure and that pressure is likely to continue. The failure of outreach is completely unsurprising. The administration’s resort to pressure is slightly surprising.

* Jesus in Pyongyang! I sure hope this kid and her whole family aren’t sent to a prison camp over this.

* Don Kirk: “Looking Ahead to North Korea’s Demise”

* “A Soft Power Solution for Iran” is one of the more interesting things I’ve read all year, in part because I’m writing out some similar ideas for North Korea.

* John Bolton on China and Google:

Google’s conduct in the immediate future is critical: If Google can negotiate satisfactory protections for its operations in China and decides to remain, then its hard line will have proven successful. But if Google cannot get essentially what it wants, and nonetheless remains in China, that will be the worst signal of all. Google must remember never to make threats unless the company is fully prepared to carry them out. [Amb. John Bolton, Wall Street Journal]

More here.

* I loved this line: “Americans expect their leaders to have some core positions that are inviolate and then work around the edges on everything else. They want pragmatic idealists. What else would you expect from a nation that buys low-carb bread and low-fat ice cream?”

North Korea Honors Dead Sailors for Saving Kim Portraits

Reports like these are a staple of North Korea’s cult propaganda. Similar reports after the Ryongchon explosion in 2004 evoked global pity and disgust. They’re at it again:

North Korea has poured honors on sailors who drowned to death while saving the portraits of the country’s leaders when their cargo ship sank off the coast of China in November, the communist state’s official media reported Friday.

Yonhap tells us that five actual human beings died when the ship sank, which would be pretty f**ked up if it were really true (which it isn’t). The story would be almost plausible if, say, some of the surviving sailors decided that it was more important to save the portraits than the heavy guys down in the engine room.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), monitored in Seoul, said the awards, including the title of Labor Hero and the Order of the National Flag 1st Class, were posthumously conferred Thursday on the late sailors for “defending the headquarters of the revolution.”

thanks-china.jpgThat the dead were the ones trying to save the portraits is implausible enough that not even a North Korean Yonhap reporter would believe it.

Praising the late sailors for their “heroic self-sacrificing spirit and the revolutionary comradeship in rough wind and waves,” the regime delivered the medals to the bereaved and honored the survivors with medals, the KCNA said. The report did not say how the sailors managed to save the portraits but not their own lives.

Speaking of things that should make you suspicious, here are some pictures of the Jisong-5 crew immediately after the rescue. Who knew that North Korean sailors could write English so well, and that their handwriting looked so … Chinese?

The most difficult thing for me to believe in this whole story is the implication that tales like these still have any persuasive impact on North Koreans over the age of eight. Now more than ever, all of the available evidence — even with the obvious limitations there — points to the great majority of North Koreans being disillusioned or angry with the regime and in no mood to let believe fantasy over reality.

Where Is Robert King?

ambking-300x233.jpgThe short answer is that King, President Obama’s Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea, is headed for South Korea and Japan. Here’s the entire State Department news release:

Ambassador Robert King, Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues, will visit South Korea from January 11-14 and Japan on January 15. This will be Ambassador King’s first visit to the region since being confirmed by the Senate in November 2009. Ambassador King will meet with South Korean and Japanese government officials, as well as North Korean defectors, family members of abductees, and non-governmental organizations.

And that is all. (Thanks to a friend for forwarding.)

Since King’s confirmation last November, I’ve seen his statements covered in the media just once, when he proposed what struck me as a completely implausible concept at North Korea’s universal periodic review at the U.N. Human Rights Council: having the North Koreans create their own “independent” human rights monitor. As expected, the U.N. review has come to nothing. In early December, King appeared at this press conference, where he gave some uninspiring answers to mostly shallow questions. Beyond that, I’ve yet to see King sit down for a media interview to explain his vision for how he’ll effect any material change to the exceptionally bleak lives of North Koreans today, or to demonstrate some understanding of why the matters within his portfolio drive at the heart of every disagreement we have with North Korea, including nuclear weapons and proliferation. If King doesn’t grasp and can’t articulate that cogently, it’s a sure thing that he’s going to get rolled by the East Asia Bureau, which has long wanted to roll over American presidents’ feigned interest in human rights. If the things that are happening in places like Camp 22 and Chongo-ri matter to this administration, I’ve seen no sign that that’s the case. The Administration’s statements on human rights are on the low end of what could be described as “token,” tongue-clucking acknowledgments that there is an issue at all — only the latest example, frankly, of Obama’s foreign policy being a continuation of second-term Bush, for better or otherwise.

King’s post-confirmation grace period has expired, and the matters within King’s portfolio are matters of great urgency to a few of us. Yet even as closely as I’m following this issue, I still have no clue what’s on King’s agenda for the next three years, what role he’ll play in policy-making, and what role he’ll play in talks with the North Koreans. If you think about it, even poor Robert Park has done more to bring global scrutiny to North Korea’s death camps than King has. It’s enough to give the impression that King has been ordered to keep a low profile, and given the way the Bush Administration muzzled Jay Lefkowitz, and given that the same career FSO’s who ran the Asia Bureau then are still there (Sung Kim), I’m not going out on a long limb to harbor such suspicions.

I could be wrong, of course. My mind is still open; after all, I’ve repeatedly said that Obama’s sanctions policy is far superior to Bush’s, and I was just about the toughest critic of the Bush Administration’s approach to human rights in North Korea (or, stated more accurately, the absence of one). King will have plenty of chances to correct my misapprehension during his trip, and I’ll keep a close eye on how much he talks to the press and what he tells them. King might also agree to an interview with me. I’ve sent in a request to the State Department press office. We’ll see if anyone gets back to me. I don’t enter this undertaking with high expectations. More likely than not, the answer will be some sort of pro-forma statement about the President’s/King’s commitment to [blah blah yadda] that won’t really tell us anything. If so, we will be able to draw appropriate conclusions.