The capitalist who loves North Korea

16 09 2009

James_Kim_ PUSTBy Bill Powell (Fortune Magazine September 15, 2009)

James Kim (74), an American businessman turned educator, once sat in the very last place that anyone in the world would wish to be: a cold, dank prison cell in Pyongyang, the godforsaken capital of North Korea.

Kim, who had emigrated from South Korea to the United States in the 1970s, had been a frequent visitor to Pyongyang over the years in pursuit of what, to many, seemed at best a quixotic cause. He wanted to start an international university in Pyongyang, with courses in English, an international faculty, computers, and Internet connections for all the students. Not only that — in the heart of the world’s most rigidly Communist country, Kim wanted his school to include that training ground for future capitalists: an MBA program.

During one of his trips to the capital in 1998, with North Korea in the midst of a famine that would eventually kill thousands, the state’s secret police arrested Kim. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il didn’t lock up the educator for being crazy. He got it in his head that the oddly persistent American — who at the time, among other things, was helping to feed starving North Koreans with deliveries of food aid from China — was a spy.

So for more than 40 days, Kim languished in a North Korean prison. An evangelical Christian, Kim wrote his last will and testament during those days, not knowing if he’d ever get out…

PUST is — very much — a work in progress. But given how close it is to reality, issues like curriculum fade. The only one out there who thought there’d be an international university opening in Pyongyang in 2009, offering the equivalent of an MBA, with courses in English to some 600 students, was the same guy whom the North Koreans arrested in 1998.

James Kim and his cohorts will no doubt figure out a way to teach Econ 101. They’re going to teach Western economics, and finance, and management in one of the most backward economies in the world, one which again is having trouble feeding many of its citizens, according to recent reports from NGOs there.

That may seem like a rather hopeless task, but hope — not to mention faith — is something James Kim has in abundance. And given that he was sitting in a Pyongyang jail 11 years ago this month, who could blame him?

See the full text of this article here…

Mystery of Kim’s Successor Deepens

14 09 2009

KJI_seafood factoryby Sunny Lee, The National, September 13, 2009

BEIJING // A terse announcement by North Korea’s No 2 last week that there had been no internal discussion on who would succeed the country’s ruler, Kim Jong Il, was probably a smoke screen to divert outside attention from the process of choosing an heir.

The attention is unwanted because it could show North Korea is in a period of some volatility. When asked about succession, Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the country’s unicameral parliament, told Japan’s Kyodo News Agency on Thursday: “We haven’t even had discussion on such an issue in our country. Our republic’s people are strongly united around Chairman Kim.”

The latest statement, from the country’s second most powerful man, drew attention for the contradictory fact that party officials had been rallying around the heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, the leader’s youngest son.

The Daily NK internet newspaper website, run by North Korean defectors in Seoul, reported that sources from North Korea said last week that the succession process for Kim Jong Un has been suspended. Since then, pundits have been divided over what the apparent stall in the succession process might mean.

The issue even prompted South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Friday to speculate that it may be an indication that the situation in North Korea is “fluid”, hinting at a possible internal, factional row.

Some speculated that Mr Kim fell out of favour with the senior cadres of the Worker’s Party or the National Defence Commission, perhaps because the elders who make up the highest decision-making body in North Korea see Mr Kim as too young and inexperienced.

But Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, a Seoul-based think tank, sees Kim Yong Nam’s pronouncement as a diversionary tactic targeting a foreign audience. “It’s a smoke screen,” Mr Cheong said.

“Last year when Kim Jong Il was suffering from a stroke, the same Kyodo asked Kim Yong Nam about Kim Jong Il’s health. At that time, Kim Yong Nam said there was no problem with Kim Jong Il’s health. He even said such an allegation is a defamatory strategy from outside forces to undermine the nation. But we now all know that Kim Jong Il indeed had a health problem. So, it’s déjà vu,” Mr Cheong said.

Liu Ming, the director of International Relations Theory Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said: “My understanding is that after Kim Jong Il had a stroke last summer, North Korea prepared for a sudden change of leadership, including the “Dear Leader’s” death. But he now seems to have recovered well and [is in] very good health. So, there is no urgency. Therefore, they dropped the contingency arrangement for succession.”

Observers say it is possible North Korea is playing a two-track strategy: internally, it is speeding up the succession by continually unfolding the process; outwardly, it is diverting international attention from the drawn-out transfer of power.

Evidence for this comes from recent visitors to North Korea. “People who are authorised to deal with foreigners openly talk about Jong Un as the next leader,” said Leonid Petrov, a Russian specialist on North Korea, who is based at Australian National University.

“Kim Yong Nam is likely misrepresenting the situation for a foreign audience. It’s the usual tactic of a totalitarian regime to deny the obvious,” Mr Petrov said. The primary reason for North Korea to maintain a low profile for the succession, observers say, is to avoid outside criticism about the rare three-generation succession to the leadership of a modern state…

See the full text of the article here…

Also see Andrei Lankov’s recent opinion “North Kore’s Succession gets Twisted”

Chinese government fears the collapse of the DPRK

12 09 2009

Danielle Chubb_photograph_2SBS Radio Worldview (3 July 2009)

In an interview with Australia ’s SBS Worldview program, Danielle Chubb discusses the recent announcement by the World Food Program regarding shortfalls in food aid to North Korea and answers questions as to why the North Korean regime seems to be willing to incur the wrath of the international aid donor community in return for the continuation of its nuclear program.

She argues that the North Korean government views its top priority to be regime security and is thus willing to risk a decrease in food aid donations from the international community if it believes that it is able to gain itself a more favourable bargaining position through the provocative actions that have caused such discontent among international aid donors.

It is thus important to understand that the politics of how the North Korean government deals with the nuclear issue is actually quite independent of how it approaches the question of food aid.  Relatedly, Danielle argues that while China, an important donor of aid to North Korea, has publicly condemned the most recent North Korean nuclear tests, the North Korean regime is aware that the Chinese government fears the collapse of the DPRK and would thus ultimately be unwilling to cut North Korea from all aid, as it perceives survival of the North Korean regime to be the most pressing issue…   Download the MP3 audio file here…

* Danielle Chubb is a PhD Candidate in the Department of International Relations at the Australian National University in Canberra

Also listen to the ABC Radio Australia’s interview with Dr. Leonid Petrov “China still demonstrating ‘ambiguous’ stance on North Korea” here…

‘양자회담만이 유용’ 북 메시지 주목

7 09 2009

LP_USYD_31조숭호 기자 [인터뷰] 호주 시드니대 페트로프 박사 ( 2009-09-07)

위협받고 있다고 느끼는 한 핵폐기 않을 것

북한의 종잡기 힘든 태도와 우리 정부의 강경한 입장으로 남북관계가 경색국면을 벗어나지 못하고 있다. 보즈워스 미국측 대북 특별대표가 동북아 3국을 순방중이지만 뾰족한 정책전환을 제시하기엔 역부족이라는 우려도 나온다. 과연 북한의 속내는 무엇이고 관련국들은 어떻게 대응해야할까. 기존 시각틀에서 벗어나기 위해 다양한 전문가들의 시각을 순차적으로 들어보기로 한다.

첫 순서로 호주 시드니대학 레오니드 페트로프 박사의 의견을 물었다. 페트로프 박사는 러시아 생뻬떼부르크대를 졸업하고 호주국립대에서 북한 전공으로 박사학위를 받았다.

지난주 북한이 국제사회 비난을 무릅쓰고 ‘우라늄 농축의 결속단계에 있다’고 선언한 배경은 무엇인가.

북한 지도부는 북-미 양자회담을 필사적으로 원하는 반면 오바마 행정부는 (북한이 영원히 떠나겠다고 선언한) 6자회담이 아니면 양자회담은 없다고 단호히 맞서고 있다.

따라서 우라늄 농축의 첫단계를 마무리했다고 밝힘으로써 ‘시간은 계속 흐르고 있으며 대화거부는 오직 북한 핵능력을 강화, 사태를 악화시킬 뿐’이라는 점을 강조하려는 것이다. 동시에 최근 집권한 일본 민주당에 보내는 메시지이기도 하다. 일본의 반응에 따라 북한의 대일정책이 영향을 받게 될 것이다.

북한은 최근 조문단 파견, 억류 미국 기자 및 한국인 석방 등 다양한 유화책(appeasement)을 보여왔다. 불과 며칠 뒤 ‘핵기술 강화’ 등 도발행위를 할 거라면 이런 유화책은 왜 썼을까.

최근 북한 행동은 유화책이거나 외부 압박에 굴복한, 유약해진 신호가 아니다. 미국인 기자 석방은 전직 대통령이자 현직 국무장관 남편의 굴욕적인(humble) 방북과 맞바꾼 것이며 방북한 클린턴과 중요한 논의가 이뤄졌다는 점을 북한은 높이 평가하고 있다.

현정은 회장의 방북과 1주일 뒤 김기남 북한 노동당 비서의 서울 방문은 북한의 선물(SWEETENER) 이거나 선의의 표시다. 이를 통해 북한은 한·미 양국을 상대로 ‘양자회담’의 유용성을 보여주려한 것. 동시에 국제사회의 제재가 계속되고 있는 상황이고 보면 북한은 우라늄 관련 발표를 통해 이런 심각한 상황을 ‘양자회담을 통해’ 풀 수 있다는 신호를 보낸 것이다.

미국은 현재 ‘제재와 대화’라는 두가지 트랙을 동시에 진행중인 것 같다. 어느 정도 승산이 있다고 보나. 만약 없다면 대안은 무엇인가
국제사회 제재는 오직 힘없고 선량한 사람들에게만 고통을 줌으로써 오히려 강압적인 정권이 ‘외세에 대항해 단결하라’고 이들을 선동하도록 도와줄 뿐이다. 그 동안 대북제재는 비생산적이었고 그것을 제안한 국가들에게조차도 상처를 줬다. 대화만이 동등한 당사자로서 의견교환을 가능하게 한다. 북한은 ‘집단 윽박지르기(group harassment)’로 인해 구석으로 몰렸다고 느꼈으며 그 때문에 6자회담을 떠나겠다고 한 것이다.

문제는 북한이 무조건적인 핵포기를 하지 않는 한 미국이 대화하지 않겠다고 하는데 있다. 북한은 위협받고 안전하지 않다고 느끼는 한, 아무리 조잡하고 실패위험이 높은 핵무기라 하더라도 그 개발을 결코 포기할 수가 없다.

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Andrei Lankov vs. Gavan McCormack discussing North Korea on ABC Radio

3 09 2009
Gavan McCormack

Gavan McCormack


Andrei Lankov

ABC’s LateNighteLive (20 aUGUST 2009)

Bill Clinton’s successful negotiation the release of two American journalists from a North Korean prison has been heralded as a sign that North Korea is interested in thawing out its relationship with the rest of the world. Clinton’s visit was also the first time in ages that Kim Il Jong has been seen alive. And this week, the North announced a few compromises with South Korea – including the resumption of limited tourism and a family reunion program.

Andrei Lankov
Professor at Kookmin University in South Korea.

Gavan McCormack
Emeritus professor at the ANU