Category Archives: Uncategorized

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?

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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.


“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?


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.


More signs of disillusionment among North Korean youth.

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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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.


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.

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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.


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.


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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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 …


… 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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.


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.

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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.


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


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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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25 March 2010

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


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


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


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.


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.


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


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?


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


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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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