NKorea Struggles to Control Changing Economy

27 08 2008
Snack stall and bicycle repairing station in Ryongang county, Nampo

Snack stall and bicycle repairing station in Ryongang county, Nampo

By Becky Branford , BBC News

In international media coverage of North Korea, its nuclear programme and the country’s extreme form of leader worship often dominate. Less remarked on are the economic changes being seen in the country – and the political effects they are having.

Despite years of economic crisis, the country’s leadership has so far managed to weather the storms. Nevertheless, key changes in North Koreans’ daily lives are leading analysts to wonder how long the leaders in Pyongyang will be able to keep power in one of the world’s remaining nominally socialist economies.

“I’ve visited North Korea in 1999, 2004, 2005 and then the last time in October 2007 – so I can see the dynamic of this change,” Leonid Petrov, a North Korea historian at the Australian National University, told the BBC. “In 1999, even in Pyongyang, people were exhausted, malnourished, feeble… In 2004, the situation was very different – the whole city looked like one big market.”

“There was activity everywhere, on streets, under the bridges, from the windows of apartments,” he said. Analysts agree that the North Korean state responded to this change in various ways. Some attempts were made to capitalise from it, such as an amendment to the constitution in 1998, pledging to guarantee the proceeds from some types of private economic activity.

In July 2002, the government also unveiled a series of measures bringing prices and wages closer to black-market levels, and introducing additional material incentives and autonomy for industrial workers and managers. In areas designated “special economic zones”, North Korea now invites foreign investors – mainly South Korean – to take advantage of cheap North Korean labour.

Meanwhile, at the northern frontier with China, trade is thriving, and bribes can often buy passage across the border for North Koreans wishing to buy goods, visit family or flee the country. Chinese and Russian traders now move more or less freely around the country, though North Koreans remain subject to stringent travel restrictions. (See the full text here…)

NKorea Suspends Disabling Nuclear Facilities

26 08 2008

SEOUL, August 26 (Itar-Tass) – North Korea announced a decision to suspend disabling its nuclear facilities over the violation by the United States of the understandings, reached at the six-party talks on denuclearising the Korean Peninsula, says a statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, circulated by the KCNA news agency on Tuesday.

BBC News has also reported that work was suspended on 14 August, a foreign ministry spokesman told the state news agency KCNA. North Korea says it took the step because the US failed to remove it from a list of state sponsors of terrorism. But the US says it wants to agree more stringent verification processes before it does so.

North Korea finally submitted a long-delayed account of its nuclear facilities to the six-party talks in June – and was expecting to be removed from the US list of terrorism sponsors in return. But that move has been delayed amid wrangling among the six parties – North and South Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan – over how to verify the North’s declaration. The North has also threatened to restore facilities at its main Yongbyon plant – where the main cooling tower was spectacularly demolished in late June in a symbol of Pyongyang’s commitment to disarmament.

Mutual Trust Broken in Six-Party Talks

by Leonid Petrov, OhmyNews (27 Aug. 2008)

Last month, when US State Department decided to remove the DPRK from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states, we knew that the Congress had time until August 10 to enact a joint resolution that would block this from happening. No action was necessary to allow it to pass, and as of August 11, 2008, Secretary of State Rice would have completed the rescission. Obviously, something went wrong (see the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism here) and North Korea learned about it immediately. Hence, the work on disabling the nuclear facilities was suspended on 14 August. But why did North Korea make this statement only today, 26 August?

It’s logical to presume that the last two weeks were marked by the military confrontation in the Caucasus, an event too dramatic for the world to notice a minor development (or the lack of such) where North Korea remains in the list of rogue states. Today, when the world is again deeply in the sate of Cold War, characterized by the return of ideological bi-polarity, North Korea’s statement sounds dramatic and threatening enough. In the minds of Pyongyang strategists this confrontation has never ended. But now, when Moscow and Washington again look at each other through the screens of anti-missile radars, North Korea knows that it is not alone. The old “zero-sum game” continues with new fervor.

Apparently, “substantive talks” on verification between the two sides still continue. What else can be verified? Do North Koreans really have any undeclared secrets that make Americans so nervous that they break their promise easily? Only time will show. Surely, to “suspend” the disabling of its nuclear facilities is one thing, but to “reverse” this process is completely different. For the time being, Pyongyang can continue blackmailing Washington with a mere “suspension”, while hinting at further possible steps in this direction as a deterrence. Had North Koreans have some undisclosed nuclear programs, they could reactivate them very soon to start the game all over again. Had they not (meaning that they have been bluffing to squeez economic assistance from the West), they certainly need to develop one, simply to keep the stakes high.

In any case, the positive dynamic of the previous 18 months (since February 2007) is now history, and mutual trust is broken. The adopted principle of “action for action” now works against the common interest, quickly being reduced to “an eye for an eye”. Hopefully, the world will not become blind in the process, as Mahatma Gandhi once warned us.


Ким Чен Ир открыл второй фронт

Андрей Иванов, “Kommersant”; Леонид Петров, Канберра
27 August 2008
Пхеньян обвинил вчера США в нарушении договоренностей по свертыванию северокорейской ядерной программы и объявил о том, что не только приостанавливает мероприятия по выводу из строя своих ядерных объектов, но и рассмотрит вопрос о восстановлении уже разрушенного оборудования. На этот шаг северокорейское руководство вдохновили действия России на Кавказе, поставившие Москву на грань конфронтации с Западом.
В распространенном вчера заявлении северокорейского агентства ЦТАК говорится, что с 14 августа КНДР приостановила процесс денуклеаризации, оговоренный в соглашении, достигнутом 3 октября 2007 года на шестисторонних переговорах по северокорейской ядерной программе в Пекине. Кроме того, отмечается в заявлении, северокорейское руководство собирается рассмотреть “вопрос восстановления объектов в Йонбене до их прежнего состояния”.
Это рискованный шаг. Но, как считают эксперты, сейчас Пхеньян, недовольный нарушениями американцами их обязательств, может на него пойти, расценив российские действия на Кавказе как готовность Кремля вернуться к конфронтации времен холодной войны. Северокорейскому руководству такое развитие событий даст лишнее оправдание для свертывания начатых было реформ и новые козыри в дипломатическом торге с США. (See the full story here…)

“Exodus to North Korea”

20 08 2008

Exodus to North Korea“EXODUS TO NORTH KOREA: Shadows from Japan’s Cold War”

By Tessa Morris-Suzuki (Australian National University)

“This is the story of one of the most extraordinary forgotten tragedies of the Cold War: the “return” of over 90,000 people, most of them ethnic Koreans, from Japan to North Korea from 1959 onward. Presented to the world as a humanitarian venture and conducted under the supervision of the International Red Cross, the scheme was actually the result of political intrigues involving the governments of Japan , North Korea , the Soviet Union, and the United States . The great majority of the Koreans who journeyed to North Korea in fact originated from the southern part of the Korean peninsula, and many had lived all their lives in Japan . Though most left willingly, persuaded by propaganda that a bright new life awaited them in North Korea , I drew on recently declassified documents to reveal the covert pressures used to hasten the departure of this unwelcome ethnic minority. For most, their new home proved a place of poverty and hardship; for thousands, it was a place of persecution and death. In rediscovering their extraordinary personal stories, this book also casts new light on the politics of the Cold War and on present-day tensions between North Korea and the rest of the world.” (Tessa Morris-Suzuki)

You can find a short video linked to the book here… and buy a copy on-line here…

EXODUS TO NORTH KOREA MUSEUM website by the author

The Forgotten Victims of the North Korean Crisis
By Tessa Morris-Suzuki

Between 1959 and 1984, these few were among the 93,340 people who migrated from Japan to North Korea in search of a new and better life. There were several particularly ironic features of this migration. First, it took place precisely at the time of Japan’s “economic miracle”. Secondly, although it was described as a “repatriation”, almost all those who “returned” to North Korea originally came from the south of the Korean peninsula, and many had been born and lived all their lives in Japan. Third, the glowing images of life which tempted them to Kim Il Sung’s “worker’s paradise” came, not just from the North Korean propaganda machine but from the Japanese mainstream media, supported and encouraged by politicians including key members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

After decades in North Korea, around one hundred migrants have now escaped the harsh realities of life there, and made the perilous return journey back to Japan. Other survivors of the same project who managed to escape have settled in South Korea.

The story of their migration has been almost entirely unheard by the rest of the world. But it urgently needs to be heard, not least because it involves an injustice that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, and is still causing the deaths and untold suffering today. The history of this migration also reveals the complexity of postwar Japan’s connections with North Korea: and without understanding this, it is impossible fully to understand the impasse which their relations have now reached.

As secret documents from the Cold War era are declassified and testimony from survivors emerges, the true story of this mass movement is now starting to emerge for the first time. We now know that it was the product of a deliberate policy, very carefully designed and implemented at the height of the Cold War by the North Korean and Japanese governments often working in concert, and supported in various ways by the Soviet Union, the United States and the International Red Cross movement. It is a history that sheds important light on the complex background to Northeast Asia’s contemporary conflicts. It also evokes chilling echoes of other coerced or manipulated migrations, including the repatriation of Eastern Europeans to the Soviet Union and other Communist countries in the immediate post-war era.

More at Japan Focus

The Advertisement “Do You Know?”

15 08 2008

On Thursday, 14 August 2008, The Australian carried a surprising full-page advertisement asserting South Korea’s sovereignty over the islets of Dokdo, the control over which is being disputed by Japan and the Republic of Korea. Signed by an obscure organisation known only as ForTheNextGeneration.com, this advertisement of such scale in the major Australian newspaper must have cost a fortune. A month ago a similar advertisement was carried by The New York Times and financed by a popular South Korean singer, Kim Jang-hoon, (41) who teamed up with a freelance Korean public relations expert, Seo Kyoung-duk. Both of them promised to publish the ad in the major American and foreign newspapers to reiterate the Korean claim for the disputed islets, the history of ancient kingdoms and the truth about the sexual slavery institutionalized by the Japanese Military during the WWII.

The advertisement, with the headline of “Do You Know?” state “For the last 2,000 years, the body of water between Korean and Japan has been called the “East Sea”. Dokdo (two islands) located in the East Sea is a part of Korean territory. The Japanese government must acknowledge this fact”. The name “East Sea” itself has also been one of the most controversial issues between the two states. The Korean governments (both in the North and the South) traditionally name the body of water the “East Sea”, while the Japanese government insists on the name “Sea of Japan.” The advertisement also asks for cooperation between the two governments to pass down accurate facts of history to the next generation and realise peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia.

This publication comes amid the open conflict between the two countries fueled by the Japanese government’s recent attempt to add Dokdo to a part of Japanese territory in a new educational guideline for junior high schools. This move sparked outrage in South Korea and led the government to recall its ambassador from Tokyo in July 2008. There are further fears that the trilateral summit involving China, Japan and South Korea, scheduled in Japan in September may not go ahead if the heightened tensions over the disputed territories continue. A reckless decision of the US agency, Board of Geographic Names, to redefine the islets as an area of “undesignated sovereignty” rather than Korean territory, also infuriated the Korean government and prompted US President George W. Bush to intervene on behalf Koreans.

The territorial dispute between Japan and Korea is over Liancourt Rocks (the name given to the group by French whalers in 1849), which is a small group of volcanic rocks, sticking out of water, located 215 km east of the Korean peninsula and about equidistant from the western coast of Japan. Including surrounding reefs the total area of these two bare rocks doesn’t exceed 210 square km. There is no drinking water and therefore, until recently, they were not populated. However, the sea around it is rich in fishery recourses and the surrounding seabed covers extensive deposits of natural gas. In our times, when the price for natural resources is growing fast, this is an important reason to contest even the uninhabited rocks. Moreover, Dokdo (“solitary islet”) is the focus of patriotic passion because the Koreans regard it as the first Japanese seizure of their territory in 1905, five years before the Korea was annexed and kept as a colony of Japan until August 1945. All that time, Takeshima (“bamboo islet”) was under the jurisdiction of the Oki islands Branch Office of Shimane Prefecture of Japan

After the WWII, Japanese fishermen were expelled from waters adjacent to Korea by Americans because of so-called MacArthur Line. During the Korean War, South Korean fishermen solely enjoyed fishery in that area without being annoyed by any competitors. However, the MacArthut Line was to be abolished by the San Francisco Peace Treaty (September 1951). Article 2 (a) of the Treaty indicated which islands should renounce but did not include Liancourt Rocks (mistakenly or intentionally). ROK hoped the MacArthur Line would be kept indefinitely and negotiated with USA but their plea was rejected. Instead, the Americans advised Korea to negotiate with Japanese government, but at that time they had no diplomatic relations with each other. In January 1952, the President of ROK Syngman Rhee suddenly issued a Declaration concerning maritime sovereignty, with which he installed the so-called “Syngman Rhee Line” and unilaterally included Liancourt Rocks in the Korean territory.

Foreign fishing boats, which were mostly Japanese, that violated the Syngman Rhee Line were often gunned by South Korea or detained. Japan proposed to go to International Court of Justice or United Nations, but the ROK rejected this proposal.Even after the resumption of diplomatic relations between Japan and Korea in 1965, Liancourt Rocks were kept occupied by Korean coast guards and this issue is still unresolved. Inaugurated in February 2008, the current ROK President, Lee Myung-bak, is the third successive president to have come into office offering a fresh start to South Korea-Japan relations but he has been wrong-footed by provocations from Tokyo.

These days both sides are very active in looking for historical evidence that Dokdo/Takeshima has always been their land. But it does not seem to be leading in the right direction. The two countries once concluded the Japan-ROK Fisheries Agreement, which entered into force in January 1999. They agreed to the establishment of “provisional common waters” around Dokdo/Takeshima without prejudice to the title of this island. Since then, however, Japanese fishing boats are still being shut out of the fishing grounds in the area. The local fishermen in Shimane Prefecture become increasingly impatient and discontented with this situation. Such situation lead to the repetitive announcements of Shimane Prefecture that Takeshima belongs to Japan. So, I believe that as far as fishery is concerned, Koreans and Japanese should simply stick to the original agreement. What will happen when they try to extract the natural resources like gas – is another story.

As for “East Sea”, this is the one name that Japan will probably never recognise as it lies directly west of Japan. Imagine the U.S. calling the Pacific the “East Ocean”. It would never happen because it’s impractical. Also, in retaliation Japan might try to rename the universally recognised “Korea Strait”, which separates the two countries. If the Koreans really want to get rid of the name which is so full of colonial memories, they should think about a compromise instead of something Japan would reject outright. For example, I would propose “The Sea of Peace and Prosperity”. Currently, we at the Australian National University are working on the project called Asia Beyond Conflict (ABC), which will soon offer some solutions to conflicts like this one.