Russia and China on the North Korean plan to launch a rocket

17 03 2012

Russia urges North Korea to refrain from rocket launch

(Reuters 16 March 2012) Russia expressed serious concern on Friday over North Korea’s plan to launch a satellite and urged Pyongyang not to create hurdles to the revival of six-nation talks over its nuclear programme.

“The announcement about an upcoming launch of a satellite by (North Korea) causes serious concern,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“We call on Pyongyang not to put itself in opposition to the international community, to refrain from actions that increase tension in the region and create additional complications for the relaunch of six-sided negotiations about the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula,” it said. The ministry also called for “maximum restraint from all sides”.

China has also voiced its concern over the DPRK’s satellite launch plan.

(Xinhua, 17 March 2012 ) Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, in a meeting with the DPRK Ambassador to China Ji Jae Ryong on Friday, expressed China’s worry over the matter, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Zhang exchanged views with Ji on China-DPRK ties and the situation on the Korean Peninsula, said the statement.

Zhang said China had taken note of the DPRK’s satellite plan as well as the reaction from the international community. China believes it is the common obligation and in common interests of all parties concerned to maintain the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, said the statement.

“We sincerely hope parties concerned stay calm and exercise restraint and avoid escalation of tension that may lead to a more complicated situation,” Zhang was quoted as saying.






N. Korea’s Mineral Exports to China Tripled from Last Year

3 12 2011

 (Seoul, Yonhap, 2011/11/06)  A joint study of Chinese data by Yonhap News Agency and Seoul-based IBK Economic Research Institute showed that China imported 8.42 million tons of minerals from North Korea from January to September this year, worth US$852 million.

Over the first nine months of last year, China brought in 3.04 million tons of minerals from the North for $245 million. Most of the minerals were anthracite coals, the data showed. This year, of 8.42 million tons, 8.19 tons were anthracites. China is the sole major ally and the biggest economic benefactor for North Korea, a reclusive regime under international economic sanctions following its nuclear and long-range missile tests.

Cho Bong-hyun, an analyst at the IBK institute, said North Korea may be trying to earn much-needed hard currency as it aims to become a powerful and prosperous country by 2012. “Last year, North Korea ordered its institutions to meet their goals in foreign currency income by this year,” Cho said. “Since exporting minerals is a military business, we can see that the military is trying to meet its target. In addition, the steep mineral export growth was attributable to the lifting of the cap on the amount of mineral exports, as ordered by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.”

China appears to be trying to stockpile mineral resources at affordable prices, Cho added. North Korean anthracites were traded at an average of $101 per ton, whereas the international standard for quality anthracites is $200 per ton. “Given that North Korean coals are of very good quality, trade with China must have been made at a fairly low price,” Cho said.

Meanwhile, sources said North Korean authorities last month entirely halted its coal exports, as the impoverished country fears a shortage of energy resources during the upcoming winter. From January to September this year, China exported 732,000 tons of minerals to North Korea, most of them crude oil.

North Korea’s closed economy contracted for a second year in a row

 (By Jeremy Laurence, Reuters, Nov 3, 2011) – North Korea’s closed economy contracted for a second year in a row last year due to international sanctions, sluggish agricultural production and a slowdown in manufacturing, South Korea’s central bank said on Thursday.

In a report issued by the Bank of Korea (BOK), the North’s centrally-planned economy was estimated to have shrunk 0.5 percent year-on-year in 2010 compared with a 0.9 percent contraction in 2009.

“Last year, the North Korean economy contracted as economic conditions at home and abroad worsened amid energy shortages and international sanctions and its manufacturing sector remained sluggish,” said BOK official Park Yung-hwan.

Seoul’s assessment of its neighbor’s economy does not auger well for the North’s ambitious drive to become a “strong and prosperous nation” by 2012 when it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of the state’s founder Kim Il-sung.

The North currently ranks as one of the world’s poorest and least developed states. It does not release economic data, and the South calculates the figures through specialist institutes which monitor the North’s economy.

The BOK report said North Korea’s nominal gross national income (GNI) amounted to 30 trillion won (US$26.5 billion) last year, which is only 2.56 percent of South Korea’s GNI of 1,173 trillion won. Meanwhile, inter-Korean trade grew 13.9 percent year-on-year to $1.91 billion, the BOK said…

AGRICULTURE, MANUFACTURE DECLINE

…The North’s moribund economy has also been affected by poor agriculture production, as a result of summer flooding and a particularly harsh winter. The BOK said its agricultural and fishery industry contracted 2.1 percent last year from a year earlier, and its manufacturing sector declined 0.3 percent in 2010, the BOK said.

The North has suffered chronic food shortages for about two decades due to mismanagement, isolation and natural disasters, making it dependent on foreign donors to fill the food gap. Aid agencies say the food situation has worsened this year as foreign aid deliveries have slowed.

Seoul and Washington, which had been the North’s biggest food donors until a few years ago, have suspended food aid to the North over monitoring concerns. South Korea has also said it will only resume aid when the North denuclearizes. The United States sent a team to the North earlier this year to assess the food situation, but has said it is still undecided on resuming aid.

Pyongyang has reached out for help this year, saying it wants to rejoin regional aid-for-denuclearization talks. The North quit the talks more than two years ago…





Kim Jong-il celebrates successful visit to Russia and China

30 08 2011

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il attended a banquet to congratulate him on his successful recent visits to Russia and China, the North’s state media said Monday.  The banquet was hosted by his son, Kim Jong-eun, on behalf of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party and the National Defense Commission.

Radio Free Asia has asked me to share opinion on the following issues:

RFA: Why do you think Kim Jong-il made a stopover at China?

LP: On his way back from Russia, Kim Jong-il spent a night in the northeastern city of Hulunbeier, China’s Inner Mongolia, after arriving from the eastern Siberian city of Ulan-Ude. Then Kim Jong Il visited northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province on Friday at the company of Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo.

In a meeting with Kim, Dai, conveyed sincere greetings from President Hu Jintao to Kim and welcomed Kim on behalf of the CPC, the Chinese government and people. Kim thanked China’s warm hospitality and conveyedhis sincere greetings to Hu. Dai said that after an interval of three months, Kim visited China again that fully demonstrated the high attention attached by Kim to the consolidation and growth of China-DPRK ties. “Along with DPRK comrades, we are willing to earnestlyimplement important consensus reached by the top leaders of our two countries andpromote the continuous growth of our ties,” Dai said.

Kim said China and DPRK are close neighbors and should have frequent contacts. “Every time I visited China, I can feel the friendly affections from the Chinese people tothe Korean people,” he said. He spoke highly of the development momentum of current China-DPRK ties. Bilateralexchanges and cooperation should be enhanced between different departments andlocalities of the two countries in various areas, he said. During his stay in Heilongjiang, Kim visited the cities of Qiqihar and Daqing. In Qiqihar, Kim toured Qier Machine Tool Group Co., a large state-owned enterprise, and Mengniu Dairy, a leading Chinese dairy producer. In Daqing, he toured an urban planningexhibition hall and a residential district. “I’ve seen new changes every time I came here,” Kim Jong-il said. He wished that China would smoothly realize the goals set in its 12th Five-year Plan under the leadership of the CPC.

RFA: Also why he didn’t bring his son, Kim Jong-eun?

LP: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s heir apparent son, Kim Jong-eun, was on standby during his father’s trip to Russia and China because the joint ROK-US military drill Ulchi Freedom Guardian was continuing on the peninsula. The joint training of 56 thousand South Korean and 30 thousand US American troops kept North Korean leadership alerted. Since Kim Jong-eun is the Vice-chair of the KWP Military Committee, his presence in the country was symbolically important during the absence of his father, the Chairman of National Defence Committee, and Kim Yong-Chun, Minister of the People’s Armed Forces.

RFA: How do you view the impact of  Kim’s summit with Russian President Medvedev?

LP: The rare summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev became a very important step toward resuming the long-stalled nuclear disarmament talks with the North. Russia and North Korea also moved forward on a proposal to build a pipeline that will ship Russian natural gas to both Koreas. Simultaneously, North Korea and Russia signed a protocol calling for economic cooperation between the two countries. Last Friday, a Russian economic delegation, led by Minister of Regional Development Viktor Basargin, was in North Korea to sign “a protocol of the 5th Meeting of the DPRK-Russia Intergovernmental Committee for Cooperation in Trade, Economy, Science and Technology,”





La Corée du Nord tenterait d’assouplir son image sur le dossier nucléaire pour obtenir une aide économique

29 08 2011

(Philippe Pons, Le Monde 28/08/2011) A la suite de sa visite en Sibérie, le dirigeant nord-coréen Kim Jong-il est passé, jeudi 25 août, en Chine du Nord-Est à bord de son train blindé. Selon l’agence Chine nouvelle, il doit faire dans cette région une « escale » sur le « chemin du retour ». Il n’a pas été précisé s’il aura des entretiens avec des dirigeants chinois.

Plusieurs projets de développement économiques conjoints entre la Chine et la République populaire démocratique de Corée (RPDC) sont en cours dans la région frontalière. C’est la quatrième visite en un an de Kim Jong-il en Chine.

D’éventuels entretiens avec les dirigeants chinois pourraient néanmoins apporter des éclaircissements sur les déclarations de Kim Jong-il en Russie. Selon la porte-parole du président Medvedev, celui-ci s’est déclaré prêt à une reprise sans conditions des pourparlers à six (Chine, deux Corées, Etats-Unis, Japon et Russie) sur la dénucléarisation de la RPDC et a proposé un moratoire sur les essais de missiles et les tests atomiques. [...]

Une proposition trop vague

Selon Paik Haksoon, chercheur à l’Institut Sejong de Séoul, « le moratoire proposé par Pyongyang n’est pas le moratoire demandé par Séoul, Tokyo ou Washington comme préalable à une reprise des pourparlers, mais un élément de la négociation elle-même. Il n’en ouvre pas moins une fenêtre dans le processus de reprise de celle-ci ».

L’agence nord-coréenne de presse, KCNA, n’a pas mentionné la proposition de moratoire. Mais « le fait qu’elle a été annoncée au président Medvedev accroît sa crédibilité », estime Leonid Petrov, spécialiste de la RPDC à l’Université de Sydney. Séoul et Washington estiment que la proposition nord-coréenne est trop vague pour constituer « un progrès substantiel ». La question nucléaire nord-coréenne s’est encore compliquée depuis que le régime a annoncé, à la fin de l’année dernière, s’être doté, en plus de sa filière à base de plutonium, d’un programme d’enrichissement de l’uranium.

La Corée du Sud et les Etats-Unis craignent que Pyongyang ne veuille reprendre les négociations que pour obtenir une aide économique, dont le régime a impérieusement besoin. Kim Jong-il a promis qu’en 2012 – année du centième anniversaire de la naissance de son père, Kim Il-sung (mort en 1994) -, la RPDC entrera dans une nouvelle ère : celle d’un « pays fort et prospère ».





Russia Emerging From the Cold

11 02 2011

By Sunny Lee (Asia Times On-line, 11 Feb, 2011)

BEIJING – With the United Nations Security Council scheduled to meet on February 23 to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue, including recent revelations of its uranium-enrichment program, Washington and its allies in Seoul and Tokyo are increasingly placing their hopes on China, oops! rather, Russia.

That’s an unusual development in the 20-year saga of North Korea’s nuclear program, as Russia has been largely “invisible” in the six-country consortium that heads international efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

During previous rounds of the six-party talks in Beijing – they were last held more than two years ago – international media outlets, even though hungry for scoops, spared their journalists from going to the Russian delegation, reflecting the former “empire’s” limited influence in regional security affairs and in particular its greatly reduced clout over Pyongyang. Furthermore, China has replaced Russia as the main Cold War benefactor of Pyongyang.

Yet, China pretends it doesn’t have influence on North Korea, while Russia pretends it has. The reality is the opposite. As one Chinese scholar put it, “We Chinese say we don’t have influence on North Korea. We say North Korea is a sovereign state and it makes its own decisions. But everybody knows that we have the influence.”

Leonid Petrov, a Russian expert on Korean affairs at the University of Sydney, says, “Russia lost its leverage on North Korea in 1991 when the Soviet empire collapsed”.

During the Cold War, Moscow was Pyongyang’s guardian in its “struggle against American imperialism”. Soviet records confirm that current North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was born in the village of Vyatskoye, near Khabarovsk, in Russia in 1941. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the cash-stripped Russian government demanded that Pyongyang pay back in hard currency the money it owed the Kremlin, which soured the Russo-North Korea relationship.

Russian interest as well as influence in North Korea steadily declined in the 1990s, especially after Moscow established diplomatic ties with Pyongyang’s rival, Seoul, making North Korea feel betrayed. The relationship was partly restored in 2000 when Vladimir Putin, the current premier who was then president, visited North Korea, the first trip of its kind by a top Russian leader.

That, however, does not mean today’s relationship is back to where it was. “The two countries used to be allies, but now they are neither friends nor foes,” said Yoichi Funabashi, a Japanese security expert on East Asia in his book The Peninsula Question. During the Cold War, Russia and China competed fiercely for leverage over the North, now China has gained the ascendency…

…”Russia is noticing the chasm between Washington and Beijing and seeing its own chance to enhance its international leverage,” said Lee Sang-soo at the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.

While Russia supported China’s call for the resumption of the six-party talks, unlike China, Moscow condemned North Korea following the shelling of the island of Yeonpyeong. “In many ways, Russia’s views on global affairs are different from China’s,” said Zhang Liangui, a professor of international strategic research at the Party School of the China Communist Party Central Committee in Beijing.

At the UN Security Council meeting later this month, Washington is expected to push for a statement of condemnation on North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program, while China is likely to block the effort. It will instead seek to restart the six-party talks first. When Washington and Beijing are at odds, Russia’s role is crucial, and it could use its veto powers.

“Russia will support the US move,” said Zhang in Beijing, adding that Russia believed North Korea’s nuclear program was a threat. Petrov, the Russian scholar in Australia said, “Russia also firmly supports nuclear non-proliferation [more so than China.]“

According to Zhang, North Korea’s nuclear program is more dangerous than Iran’s. “It’s a more serious issue. Iran has not conducted nuclear testing. So, its claim [that its program is] for peaceful purposes for nuclear power has merit. But North Korea is different. It has already conducted nuclear testing, twice. So, its claim that its nuclear use is for peaceful purposes doesn’t hold ground.”

With Russia’s role “once lost, but now found”, it is no wonder that recently there have been increased flights to Moscow by envoys from concerned countries, in addition to visits to Beijing.

So, it is more than coincidence, for example, that South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lak, is visiting Beijing on Thursday, while Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara is visiting Moscow on the same day. This comes on the heels of US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg’s Asian swing just two weeks ago. “Washington and its allies will increasingly turn to using the Russian card,” said Zhang in Beijing.

See the full text of the article here…





Mythmaking is a long-time specialty of Pyongyang-watchers

7 12 2010

by MARK MacKINNON (Saturday’s Globe and Mail, Dec. 04, 2010)

“There’s wistfulness in the young man’s eyes, a longing for home as he walks purposefully along the edge of a lake that looks to be somewhere in Central Europe. But he doesn’t dress like the locals. Even thousands of kilometres away from the place of his birth, the young man proudly wears a collarless grey Mao suit and military-style greatcoat, the favoured attire of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. The young man in the portrait – which was photographed hanging in a museum by a sharp-eyed Canadian tourist to North Korea – bears a striking resemblance to Kim Jong-un, the twenty-something youngest son of Kim Jong-il and the recently named heir to power in the Hermit Kingdom…

…If it is him, and a majority of the experts consulted by The Globe and Mail believe that it is, the portrait marks the first glimpse anyone outside North Korea has had of how the regime will sell Kim Jong-un to a people conditioned to believe his father is their infallible Dear Leader and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, an immortal who remains president despite his death in 1994. It would be laughable, perhaps, if the new propaganda campaign weren’t accompanied by new military recklessness – including last month’s deadly shelling of a South Korean island – intended to give Kim Jong-un, already praised as “the Young General,” victories to claim as his own.

Out of half a dozen North Korea scholars who were sent a copy of the portrait, only one [Andrei Lankov] disagreed that the subject was likely Kim Jong-un. The other experts saw it as the launch of a massive propaganda campaign that will attempt to portray the heir apparent as having been sent abroad to learn foreign ways and technologies, while always keeping North Korea and its people in his heart. Several who saw the portrait noted the physical resemblance (though the heir apparent is much flabbier in recent television footage), as well as a background that looks to be Interlaken, Switzerland, where Kim Jong-un is known to have spent time while studying at the International School of Berne in the late 1990s.

“It’s big news,” said Brian Myers, an expert on North Korea at Dongseo University in South Korea. “It’s hard to be completely certain on the basis of an untitled image alone. … But I cannot imagine a schoolboy outside the Kim family meriting this kind of painting, and it is very similar in mood and layout to depictions of the young Kim Il-sung and the young Kim Jong-il. So I would assume that it is Kim Jong-un although it is not a particularly striking likeness in view of the Kim Jong-un we have seen photographed in the past few months”…

…The portrait appears to be the start of an effort to turn that potential liability into in asset. “It goes to the heart of what will be the regime’s main problem in glorifying the boy, namely the fact that he was overseas during at least part of the famine or [so-called] Arduous March. The regime is for some reason loath to let foreigners see this nascent personality cult,” Prof. Myers said. “We have seen footage of [Kim Jong-un], and of course we can see him on the TV news every few days … but we know next to nothing about how the regime is articulating his biography. This painting offers important insight into what kind of mythobiography the regime is either planning or is already teaching the masses in party meetings, study meetings etc. outside the view of foreign visitors.” He noted that the young man in the painting was gazing at the sun rising in the east, another suggestion that North Korea consumed his thoughts, even while he was far from home…

“It will start with pictures likes this, TV documentaries, poems and some writings and then, the next breakthrough point, he’ll appear on a lapel badge with his dad we assume,” said Paul French, author of North Korea: the Paranoid Peninsula, referring to the lapel pins of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il that all North Koreans are forced to wear. Mr. French said it was surprising the regime has decided to deal head on with Kim Jong-un’s foreign education. “The next great theorizer of Juche theory strides out to soak up foreign culture for the good of the people,” he joked after viewing an e-mailed copy of the portrait. “Of course, I doubt very much if he strolled around Switzerland dressed quite so revolutionary, though the coat and hat are reminiscent of the 2009 Banana Republic collection.”

There is, however, some debate among Pyongyang-watchers over whether the picture is important. Andrei Lankov, a respected North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, scoffed at the notion that this was the new boy’s coming-out portrait. “This is his grandfather. Generalissimo Kim Il-sung. The background and school uniform leaves no doubt about it: the late 1920s,” Prof. Lankov wrote in an e-mail after seeing a copy of the portrait. Kim Jong-un’s likeness to a young Kim Il-sung is uncanny to the point that some have speculated Kim Jong-un may have undergone plastic surgery to accentuate the similarities and cement the link between himself and his supposedly immortal grandfather. Prof. Lankov also said the houses in the painting’s background looked more like traditional Korean homes than anywhere in Switzerland.

However, that opinion is, thus far, a minority one among those who have viewed the portrait. Mr. Toop, for one, said he knew he was looking at something different as soon as he laid eyes on the picture on the wall of Rajin Art Gallery. Tourists in North Korea are shown hundreds of portraits, busts and statues of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung over the course of their stay, so it’s unsurprising that something new would jump out after several days in the country. “I identified the portrait as Kim Jong-un when I first saw it,” the 54-year-old Mr. Toop said. “To my knowledge, neither Kim Il-sung nor Kim Jong-il can be situated in a Western backdrop like this at any time in their youth.”

See the full text of this article here…

Opinions of Real Experts

Koen De Ceuster: “This is not Kim Jong Un and all the pundits that think they have struck gold with this have only proven how much they like to believe in their own stories. I was shown, through another source, the same painting and did a close analysis. First of all, the painting is dated 2001. Secondly, why does no one catch the badge on the cap? Though not legible, clearly Chinese.

Finally, in the left top corner, a Chinese-style entrance to a compound can be seen. In fact, if anything, this is probably Kim Il Sung in front of a Catholic church in Jilin City. This is certainly speculative, but given Kim Jong Il’s visit to a Catholic church in that city during his last visit to Manchuria late August 2010, and the reference he made to the fact that his father had found sanctuary there once, this may well be what is depicted here. In any case, definitely not Kim Jong Un.

What I find fascinating is how “we” are all excited about the fact that Kim Jong Un spent some semesters in Switzerland, but fail to wonder whether this is also newsworthy in North Korea! Given that I have never seen any reference to the fact that Kim Jong Il spent a year in Malta, I very much doubt his passage to Switzerland will ever be part of the North Korean myth building. All the more so of our myth building, as it turns out.

When Kim Jong Il went to Manchuria, the intention was clear: it was a pilgrimage along revolutionary sites. The church must feature as a revolutionary site for the North Koreans, otherwise he would not have visited. By clicking on to the photo of the young Kim Il Sung, it is obvious that that is the same badge in the painting (the bottom of the character/s is visible in the painting, as it is in the photo: ). Knowing Korean practices, chances are that this photo was used by the painter for inspiration. Anyone familiar with genre paintings in North Korea knows there is a story in the painting. That means that clues are hidden in the painting to make it understandable/legible to a North Korean viewer.”

*Dr. Koen De Ceuster - lecturer at Leiden University, Institute for Area Studies (LIAS)

If it were real, what would the painting tell us?

by By Ruediger Frank (38 North)

…According to the official mythology around the top leaders, in 1925 Kim Il Sung—at that time still called by his real name Kim Song Ju—left his home country at the tender age of 13 for Manchuria. He did so promising to return only after he had liberated his then occupied country from Japanese colonial oppression (picture 2).

This is one of the key moments of North Korean propaganda and the starting point for the Kim Il Sung myth. Kim Il Sung expressed his feelings in his official autobiography: “While singing, I wondered if would ever feel our land again, when would I be returning to the land of my forefathers. I felt sad and determined. I swore that I shall never return until Korea was freed.”

Not being on the peninsula represents an almost unbearable pain for any good Korean patriot. In that sense, living abroad is a major self-sacrifice; at least it will be depicted as such. Self sacrifice is a recurring theme of the cult not only of Kim Il Sung’s first wife Kim Jong Suk, but also around Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as reflected in numerous stories and paintings of long working hours, restless travel around the country, caring about every little detail, sharing their simple food with the soldiers, sleeping on the floor in a peasant’s cabin and so forth. Therefore, we have reason to believe that Kim Jong Un’s exile will either be negated, or displayed as a period of deliberately endured hardship in order to study the enemy…

…The dating of the painting does not provide a clear answer either. On the contrary, it raises a number of questions. It is dated February 16, 2001. If this is correct, we can almost exclude that the man on the painting is Kim Jong Un because even if the decision to promote him to become the next leader of North Korea was made around 2005, it would still have been painted too early. However, this is, again, not the final answer. Those of us dealing with art and propaganda of North Korea know that documents and paintings have frequently been backdated in order to make new policies look less like changes. Prominent examples include songun (“military first”) and juche, North Korea’s doctrine of self-reliance. We can therefore realistically expect that Kim Jong Un’s history will be backdated at some point…

…You see why it is so tempting to brush all doubts aside and treat the painting as being one of Kim Jong Un. However, it most likely is not. Similar paintings of Kim Il Sung have existed since at least the 1980s; the background is most likely Jilin, China in the 1930s, and the idea of starting the Kim Jong Un cult in Rajin and with his European exile is too far-fetched. I suggest we use this example both as an etude in the anecdote-based Pyongyangology, and as a warning of how easy it can be to derive far-reaching conclusions from questionable evidence. Do we need culture-specific expertise? Obviously, we do. Otherwise, we risk basing policy decisions on a hoax…

*Ruediger Frank – professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna.


Osaka black mark in Kim’s life?

By KIYOHITO KOKITA (ASAHI SHIMBUN WEEKLY , 2010/12/01)

OSAKA–Without fail, North Korea’s propaganda machine deifies any location associated with the Kim dynasty, but the birthplace of the mother of future leader Kim Jong Un is unlikely to be accorded such reverence. In any event, the sad history of her family in Osaka is hardly the stuff of legend. Specifically, Ko Young Hee came from Osaka’s Tsuruhashi district, an area that for decades has had a thriving Korean community.

According to a resident of the neighborhood, someone linked with North Korea recently came to check on the site of her birthplace, long an empty lot. Kim Jong Un is the third son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and the grandson of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea. In September, Kim Jong Un was anointed heir apparent. His mother was born in June 1953, a month before a cease-fire agreement was reached in the Korean War. Her father was called Ko Tae Mun. He was born in 1920 in Jeju island when the Korean Peninsula was under Japan’s colonial rule. Ko Tae Mun came to Japan when he was 13 to join his father…

…A former high-ranking Chongryon official said a legend about Kim Jong Un could be created along the following story line: “Ko Tae Mun carried on the will of Jeju islanders who fought bravely under the guidance of Kim Il Sung. After fleeing to Japan, he returned to North Korea to be embraced by the greatness of Kim. Ko gave up his life to serve as a soldier for Kim. Kim Jong Un would be an individual who carried on the great revolutionary bloodline from Jeju.” Tsuruhashi would have no place within that legend…

See the full text of this article here…





How will tensions be across the peninsula?

4 12 2010

On 3 Dec., Leonid Petrov gave interview to CNBC’s “Straight Talk with Bernie Lo” program,  answering question on the tensions around the Korean peninsula.

BL: Dr. Leonid Petrov, please give us a review of what’s been going on since North Korea fired upon South Korea last week.

LP:  Tensions are heightening in the area around Yeonpyeong Island, with the confirmation that North Korean forces deployed 122 mm multi-launch rocket systems (Russian-made GRAD) in an inland area near Kaemori to a coastal location facing the island, and opened additional 76.2 mm (Russian-made ЗИС-3) naval artillery firing ports in addition to the previous 14 locations.
The North Korean military was also reported to have stepped up its anti-air posture, targeting aerial activity by South Korean fighter planes flying in the area near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), with the forward deployment of SA-2 earth-to-air missiles in the area north of Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands. It was also confirmed that the North Korean military positioned anti-ship missiles on a launch pad in the area around Tungsangot in Hwanghae Province, near the NLL.

South Korea’s military plans to conduct large-scale artillery firing drills in seas around the Korean Peninsula, including waters close to the Yellow/West Sea border, between 6-12 Dec., will beef up its defence readiness posture against North Korea. An advisory was issued to local vessels planning to navigate around 29 locations in waters around the peninsula.

The 29 locations include 16 in the Yellow/West Sea but do not include waters close to Yeonpyeong Island where the deadly shelling took the lives of four South Koreans. Instead, Daecheong Island, close to Baengnyeong Island where the South Korean corvette Cheonan was sank last March, was included. The ROK navy plans to conduct firing exercises in waters southwest of Daecheong Island. Next week’s naval firing drills are expected to further increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

BL: How have international ties been affected  in terms of China, the US and Japan’s reaction to the shelling? Should the world be looking at China to play peacekeeper ?

LP: China does act consistently as a peacemaker, sending its envoys simultaneously to Seoul and Pyongyang. Beijing has proposed that chief negotiators in the six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament hold an emergency meeting early this month to discuss ways of easing tensions. But South Korea and Japan have refused to talk. The US remains non-committal. Only Russia has supported China’s proposal to hold the emergency talks.

Top legislators from China and North Korea held talks in Beijing, where Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of Chinese National People’s Congress, and Choe Thae-bok, Secretary of the Central Committee of the North Korean Workers’ Party, met on Wednesday. China said it does not seek to protect any side in the crisis and urged against acts that may inflame regional tensions. But China’s efforts to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been unfairly rebuked by both sides of the conflict. The United States also views China’s lukewarm response to North Korea’s actions with puzzlement and disappointment.

BL: What do you think will go on from here on? How will tensions be across the peninsula?

LP: Much will depend of the position of US government, the strategic allay of South Korea. The Obama administration must put more pressure on Lee Myungbak’s government to stop its provocative actions in the disputed waters and along the DMZ and be more open to diplomatic solutions to the problem. Seoul should talk to Pyongyang, while Washington must discuss paths for conflict resolution with Beijing.

Following bilateral talks, a round of four-party talks (PRC-US-ROK-DPRK) should be conducted to discuss the ending of the Korean War by the way of signing a new peace treaty, diplomatic cross recognition, and mutual security assurance. Ultimately, after the peace regime is established, the six-party talks (with participation of Russia and Japan) may be resumed and lead to a final resolution of nuclear problem.

BL: And with US, South Korea and Japan meeting next week to discuss more possible action, what might come out of such talks?

LP: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet on Monday, 6 Dec., in Washington with her counterparts from South Korea (Minister Kim Sung-hwan) and Japan (Minister Seiji Maehara) to discuss regional tension. It is disappointing that the meeting excludes China and Russia. The trilateral format of this meeting on regional security clearly shows that the US and its allies still think and operate in the old Cold War paradigm of bloc mentality, where fear and distrust rule decision making.

The current crisis has created a moment of truth for all members of the former six-party talks, revealing their genuine intentions. The members of theUS-ROK-Japan alliance are much more comfortable talking amongst themselves than facing the challenge posed by DPRK-PRC-Russia’s invitation to end the Korean War and sign the peace treaty. Close cooperation between the United States and China is paramount for the quickest resolution of the Korean crisis and restoration of stability in the region.

Korea (North, South, or unified) should be given a status of neutral, non-aligned, and non-nuclear zone. Only then will its neighbours stop competing for influence over the peninsula, and Koreans themselves will be given a chance to reconcile. As a result, Korea will become a peaceful and stable regional balancer at the centre of Northeast Asia.





South Korea to hold artillery drills near border with North

2 12 2010

Tania Branigan (The Guardian, 1 Dec. 2010) South Korea plans to hold major artillery training exercises next week – including some in an area close to its disputed maritime border with the North, media in Seoul reported today. Analysts warned the move, which emerged as the South’s military completed joint drills with a US aircraft carrier group, could increase tensions already running high in the wake of last week’s attack by the North

Analysts believe the most likely outcome of the current stand-off is further negotiations, and that North Korea’s actions are in part intended to push Seoul and Washington back towards talks based on giving the North aid in exchange for a pledge on scaling back its nuclear capabilities. The US has described its participation in this week’s manoeuvres as a deterrent while the South’s defence minister warned there was an “ample possibility” of a provocation by the North when the USS George Washington aircraft carrier leaves today.

But some analysts warned that more military drills could escalate a delicate situation by angering the North. “The overall situation might be intensified and a new crisis might be brought by doing this,” said Professor Chu Shulong, an expert on international security at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. He added: “Because of the Cheonan incident in March and the shelling in Yeonpyeong, [South Korean] people are angry and their anger has not been addressed yet. They are not happy with the reaction of the government. “At the same time, South Korea cannot attack North Korea. They can only express their anger through military drills; it is their only way to show the determination to defend their country and to warn the North.”

Dr Leonid Petrov, an expert on the North at the University of Sydney, added: “Conservatives in Pyongyang and Seoul are driving the situation to a new extreme.” He argued that Lee’s choice was effectively to “either go to war with North Korea or reverse his policy and return to the sunshine policy [of his predecessors] and renege on his electoral promises”. Petrov added that the “responsible” course for the US would be to talk to the North.

Beijing – under pressure to rein in its ally – threw the ball back into Washington’s court by calling for an emergency meeting of the six nations involved in the stalled aid-for-denuclearisation talks. But the US, South Korea and Japan have snubbed that proposal, instead planning to hold trilateral talks next week. “I think there has to be a seriousness on the part of the North Koreans to get back to these [six-party] talks,” said the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs.

Japan sent its envoy to the nuclear talks to China today. The senior North Korean leader Choe Thae Bok is currently in Beijing and China’s state councillor Dai Bingguo is expected to travel to Pyongyang shortly. A Russian nuclear envoy, Grigory Logvinov, will meet officials in Seoul today to discuss the attack, the six-party talks and other issues, said South Korea’s foreign ministry…

See the full text of this article here…

Military to hold firing drills near border island next week

SEOUL, Nov. 30 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s military plans to conduct large-scale artillery firing drills in seas around the Korean Peninsula, including waters close to the Yellow Sea border, starting Dec. 6, seeking to beef up its defense readiness posture against any possible additional provocations by North Korea, officials said Tuesday.

According to officials at the Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Administration, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) has issued an advisory to local vessels planning to navigate 29 locations in waters around the peninsula from Dec. 6-12. The 29 locations include 16 in the Yellow Sea, seven in the East Sea and six in the South Sea, the officials said.

They noted that the 16 Yellow Sea locations do not include waters close to Yeonpyeong Island, which was attacked by North Korea’s deadly artillery shells on Nov. 23. Instead, Daecheong Island, close to Baengnyeong Island and located just south of the Yellow Sea border, was included among the venues of the naval firing drills, the officials said. “Naval warships plan to conduct firing exercises in waters southwest of Daecheong Island,” an official for the JCS said.

Next week’s naval firing drills, which will follow the large-scale South Korea-U.S. joint naval exercises scheduled to continue through Wednesday, are expected to further increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula…

…Government sources said that the military also has a plan to conduct shooting exercises in waters off Yeonpyeong Island in the immediate future. Defense Minister Kim Tae-young told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that the military is now seeking to choose an appropriate time for live fire exercises in waters off Yeonpyeong Island.





China to dump North Korea, really?

1 12 2010

By Sunny Lee (Asia Times On-line, 1 Dec. 2010) BEIJING – The WikiLeaks revelations on North Korea did not surprise analysts, who said they are after all not particularly substantial; and when it comes to North Korea, even ranking government officials can be wrong.

Leaked US diplomatic cables show China’s frustration with communist ally North Korea and present a picture that Beijing is likely to abandon its long-time ideological brother country by accepting a future unified Korea under South Korean control. That interpretation, analysts say, belies reality

“For North Korea watchers, it was not much of a news,” said Leonid Petrov, a Russian expert on Korean affairs, who teaches at the University of Sydney. Going against the predominant sentiment in the WikiLeaks documents, in which China is seen as ready to abandon its long-time communist ally, observers largely believe bilateral ties are intact, even after North Korea’s attack on the South last week, which drew international criticism on China as it long-time enabler, and calls for Beijing to do more to contain the North’s aggression.

What WikiLeaks did, according to analysts, was offer confirmation of the shallowness of the rest of the world’s understanding of North Korea, even at the very high level of a government bureaucracy, and how easy it is to be misled by one source or another.

“WikiLeaks helps us to know that, after all, intelligence is sometimes not reliable and sometimes even can be funny,” said Petrov. “It also reveals what could happen when you don’t have direct access to North Korea. People who really know North Korea don’t send cables to their government from neighboring countries [of North Korea.]“

Countries that really understand North Korea have diplomats in Pyongyang, like some European nations, Russia and China. “They all have embassies in Pyongyang and they have direct access to North Korean government officials and people,” Petrov said

Analysts believe that real, critical information is still outside the public realm. “I am pretty sure the Russian Embassy or the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang know and understand North Korea much better. They know personalities there. They know who is in what condition. Who’s controlling what. Yet they simply don’t share this [with diplomats of other countries]. So, what was leaked was just the tip of an iceberg,” said Petrov, the Russian expert.

WikiLeaks said China was preparing a contingency plan in the case of the collapse of North Korea and a flood of North Korean refugees to Chinese territory and outbreaks of unrest along its border that could happen if the with North Korean regime failed. Chinese officials in the leaks said China “could deal with up to 300,000 refugees but might have to seal the border to maintain order”. This is one of the most sensitive parts of WikiLeaks and is something that America has repeatedly nudged China to discuss, though China has so far refused…

See the full text of this article here…





Kim Jong-il snubs Jimmy Carter in lead up to succession

2 09 2010

by Aidan Foster Carter, East Asia Forum, 2 September 2010.

Kim Jong-il headed to China at the end of last month less than four months after his last visit. This timing was the more surprising since it meant he missed Jimmy Carter. The former US president arrived in Pyongyang to secure the release of a US prisoner, Aijalon Mahli Gomes. [...] Last August it was Bill Clinton who did the honours, in a trip clearly para-diplomatic in intent and outcome: he met Kim Jong-il, and it looked briefly as if US-DPRK relations might thaw. Carter had no such luck. Indeed, Kim Jong-il’s snub – couldn’t he have waited for a day? – sends its own message.

From Washington, the Nelson Report offered different versions in successive issues. John Kerry, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was keen to go get Gomes, who is also his constituent; but the State Department vetoed this lest it look too official and governmental. Alternatively, it was Kim Jong-il who on July 30 nixed both Kerry and Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico – who has been on mercy missions to Pyongyang before. Kim wanted Jim. But in that case, why did he stand him up? Possibly because the Obama administration, concerned at Carter’s well-known penchant for freelance diplomacy, kept its distance from this trip – in contrast to the close liaison last year over Bill Clinton’s visit, though that too was nominally private.

But America is hardly the main thing on the dear leader’s mind just now. His sudden return to China is almost certainly related to the imminent, and rare, delegates’ meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). Announced on June 26 as due in early September, sources in Seoul suggest it will be held on September 6-8. Anticipation is strong that Kim’s third son and putative heir Kim Jong-eun will at last be revealed in public and perhaps take on some official post. His full designation as successor is not expected until 2012: Juche 100 in the DPRK calendar as the centenary of its founder Kim Il-sung’s birth.

What has this to do with China? One possible precedent occurred a decade ago. In May 2000 Kim Jong-il made a secret visit to Beijing, just a fortnight before he hosted Kim Dae-jung in Pyongyang for the first ever inter-Korean summit. While so fiercely independent a regime would bridle at any suggestion of needing to seek anyone’s permission for anything, nonetheless it was prudent to ensure that so radical a foreign policy initiative was acceptable to the DPRK’s main protector and aid donor.

The same applies now, only more so. A delicate succession process, a clapped-out economy and a slow-burn nuclear crisis add up to a major headache for all concerned. In better times Kim can ignore China. But this is a tense juncture. The dear leader needs Hu Jintao, whom he probably met on this trip in Changchun, to bless Kim Jong-eun’s succession – and not dally with potential rivals like number one son Kim Jong-nam, living in quasi-exile in Macau, whose unprepossessing appearance belies an openness to much-needed reform. Kim may also be desperate for more Chinese aid, reportedly withheld on his last visit, so that Kim Jong-eun’s anointment can be marked in best Roman emperor style with panem et circenses: bread and circuses.

The question is what Hu will have demanded in return. Above all Beijing fears instability in its wayward neighbour. Its purported scepticism over March’s sinking of the ROK corvette Cheonan reaffirmed a refusal to paint the DPRK into a corner. Yet China is fed up with Kim Jong-il, and will hardly miss a chance to bring him into line at a moment of weakness. This time the price of yet more political and financial aid may have been twofold: real economic reform, and showing more willing as regards the long-stalled nuclear issue.

A sign of hope regarding economic reform, Pak Pong-ju is back after three years in the wilderness. As chemicals minister in 2002 Pak led an economic delegation to South Korea. In 2003 Pak was promoted to prime minister; on his watch the joint venture Kaesong Industrial Zone (KIZ) got up and running. In 2007 he was sacked in a backlash against reform. He resurfaced in August as a WPK deputy director, said to be in light industry: long the bailiwick of Kim Kyong-hui, the dear leader’s sister and Mrs Jang.

As for the nuclear issue, China’s negotiator Wu Dawei has been shuttling from Pyongyang to Seoul peddling a new three-stage plan to kick-start the stalled, if not dead, Six Party Talks (6PT). Wu got no joy in Seoul, whose foreign minister was away. Neither the ROK nor US will budge unless Pyongyang has something serious and substantial to say, both on the nuclear issue and the Cheonan. Such a hardline stance risks keeping them both out of the loop, at a time of ferment in Pyongyang. Yet Obama in particular has little choice at this juncture. Already assailed as he is by outrageous slings and arrows in an ever more toxic domestic political milieu, in the run-up to mid-term Congressional elections the last thing he can afford is the extra charge of being soft on Kim Jong-il.

Kim Jong-il’s Chinese jaunt –nominally secret, though the special train and convoys are hard to hide –took an unusual route from Manpo to Jian around 1 a.m. on August 26, reaching Jilin by 9 am. There Kim visited Yuwen middle school, which his father attended during 1927-30. If Kim Jong-eun came too, this doubtless served to cement the idea of revolutionary heredity.

On August 27 the Jilin-Changchun expressway was closed so Kim’s convoy could make the journey in safety and solitude. There he met Hu Jintao, and probably introduced his son. Leaving Changchun on August 28, Kim was thought to be headed home; but by nightfall his train had not crossed the border. Instead, he made one more stop-off in Harbin before heading home.. Perhaps it suits the dear leader and son to be out of town and miss the frantic last-minute preparations and machinations for the Big Day in early September. Yet such an absence does seem surprising. Are they ultra-confident, or running scared?

Aidan Foster-Carter is honorary senior research fellow in sociology and modern Korea at Leeds University, and a freelance consultant, writer and broadcaster on Korean affairs.

See the full text of the article here…








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