Secret market exposes North Korea food shortages

27 09 2010

NK backyard market_2010Richard Lloyd Parry (The Times, 27 September 2010) Days before the beginning of an historic leadership conference in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, The Times has uncovered a secret food market that reveals the failure of the regime of Kim Jong Il to feed his people.

Apart from a few strictly controlled official markets, private enterprise is illegal in North Korea, a Stalinist state where agriculture is collectivised and where the Government claims to provide for the needs of all its citizens through a public distribution system…

See the full text of the article here…

Bruce Cumings. The Korean War: A History.

26 09 2010

By Jeremy Kuzmarov,  The Cutting Edge (August 16th 2010)

Overshadowed by World War II and Vietnam, the Korean War has long been the “forgotten war” in American memory. Apart from a few notable exceptions, American historians have predominantly accepted the standard propaganda that the Communist North (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—DPRK) was singularly responsible for provoking the war by invading the Southern Republic of Korea (ROK) and carried out myriad atrocities, justifying U.S. action. Mainstream analysts and commentators similarly devour Washington’s line that North Korea today is a threat to humanity which should be contained and its leaders overthrown.

Bruce Cumings’s book The Korean War: A History shatters these conceptions and shows in vivid detail that the Korean War was among the most misguided, unjust, and murderous wars fought by the United States in its history, displaying many of the features of the Vietnam War that aroused mass public protest. Cumings, chair of the history department at the University of Chicago, writes: “Here was the Vietnam War we came to know before Vietnam—gooks, napalm, rapes, whores, an unreliable ally … untrained GIs fighting a war their generals barely understood, fragging of officers … press handouts from Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters apparently scripted by comedians or lunatics, an ostensible vision of bringing freedom and liberty to a sordid dictatorship run by servants of Japanese imperialism.”

The most disturbing element was the unrestrained air power that was used to destroy large portions of 18 of 22 major North Korean cities, and the indiscriminate killing of civilians by American and ROK soldiers which exceeded that of the DPRK by at least fifty percent. Hungarian journalist Tibor Meray is quoted as stating: “I saw destruction and horrible things committed by American forces … Everything which moved in North Korea is a military target, peasants in the field often were machine gunned by pilots, who, this was my impression, amused themselves to shoot targets which moved.”

[…] The North-South war, which began on June 25, 1950 when Kim’s Korean People’s Army (KPA) crossed the 38th parallel, was equally as brutal as the civil war in the south. While the New York Times likened the northern armies to “barbarian hordes and invading locusts reminiscent of Ghengis Khan” and the Nazi blitzkrieg, new archival evidence and the findings of the South Korean Commission on Truth and Reconciliation show that the torturing and shooting of POWs was carried out more systematically by the South and that the KNP liquidated the prisons in the aftermath of the DPRK invasion and shot thousands of people in the back of the head, including women and children. Driven by an acute racism, U.S. troops were also notorious for their cruelty and carried out numerous civilian massacres while showering the countryside with napalm. Much like in Vietnam, many soldiers were left to wonder why if South and North Koreans were identical “North Koreans fight like tigers and South Koreans run like sheep.”

These comments underscore for Cumings how Americans were ignorant of the political dynamic underlying the fratricidal war and its connection to the previous half century of Japanese colonial rule. As he writes: “it did not dawn on Americans that anti-colonial fighters might have something to fight about.” Characterized in American propaganda as a Soviet puppet and stooge, Kim Il-Sung presided over a nationalist revolutionary government, which whatever its flaws, promised autonomy from foreign colonialism and tutledge, and still does today. While harsh and oppressive, the DPRK never was Stalinist or totalitarian and land reform programs were less violent than in China and North Vietnam. Cumings likens the current regime to a modern form of monarchy that draws on neo-Confucianism and other historical traditions in Korean politics. Instead of adopting orientalist stereotypes, he argues, Westerners would be best to try and understand the country on its own terms, including how many of its policies have been designed out of fear of another invasion by the United States and by the threat of renewed domination by Japan. American bellicosity in this latter respect and “axis of evil” rhetoric has done nothing but harm.

One of the greatest tragedies of the Korean War, which was a major watershed in the growth of the American overseas network of military bases and put the country on the path of a permanent war economy, is that it is still ongoing. After all the bloodshed and destruction, the artificial division still endures as do many of the stereotypes and caricatures of the northern enemy in the United States. The one positive development over the last 25 years was the reemergence of a pro-democracy movement in the ROK (receiving minimal support from the United States) and establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which has enabled many South Koreans to come to terms with their losses. While old enmities are starting to breakdown in the ROK and a more progressive leadership has taken charge, the United States remains locked in a 1950s, McCarthyite time-warp, exemplified in CNN’s ever present warning of the “new North Korean threat.” Failing to learn anything from history, Americans are currently replicating their Korean experience in Iraq where, as Cumings writes, “without forethought, due consideration, or self knowledge, the United States barged into a political, social, and cultural thicket without knowing what it was doing and now finds that it cannot get out.”

Cumings has written a powerful book which serves to refute many historical myths and distortions in the United States about the Korean War. He shows in lucid detail the vicious character of America’s strategic allies and the barbaric and genocidal nature of the air and ground wars. In spite of the manipulations of Washington and to a far lesser extent the Soviet Union, Koreans were ultimately most decisive in shaping the conflict. And one day, with hope, they will come up with their own solution to the mess which liberal heroes Truman and Acheson helped to create.

See the full text of Review – Bruce Cumings. The Korean War: A History. Random House, 2010. 320 pages.

Jeremy Kuzmarov is assistant professor of history, University of Tulsa and contributes to the History News Network, from which this article is adapted.

North Korea Wants to Make a Deal

17 09 2010

Jimmy Carter (The New York Times, 15 Sep., 2010)

During my recent travels to North Korea and China, I received clear, strong signals that Pyongyang wants to restart negotiations on a comprehensive peace treaty with the United States and South Korea and on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. […] There are now clear signals of eagerness from Pyongyang to resume negotiations and accept the basic provisions of the denuclearization and peace efforts.

In July, North Korean officials invited me to come to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, and other officials to secure the release of Mr. Gomes. Those who invited me said that no one else’s request for the prisoner’s release would be honored. They wanted me to come in the hope that I might help resurrect the agreements on denuclearization and peace that were the last official acts of Kim Il-sung before his death in 1994.

I notified the White House of this invitation, and approval for my visit was given in mid-August, after North Korea announced that Mr. Gomes would soon be transferred from his hospital back to prison and that Kim Jong-il was no longer available to meet with me. (I later learned that he would be in China.)

In Pyongyang I requested Mr. Gomes’s freedom, then had to wait 36 hours for his retrial, pardon and release. During this time I met with Kim Yong-nam, president of the presidium of the North’s Parliament, and Kim Kye-gwan, the vice foreign minister and chief negotiator for North Korea in the six-party nuclear talks. Both of them had participated in my previous negotiations with Kim Il-sung.

They understood that I had no official status and could not speak for the American government, so I listened to their proposals, asked questions and, when I returned to the United States, delivered their message to Washington. They told me they wanted to expand on the good relationships that had developed earlier in the decade with South Korea’s president at the time, Kim Dae-jung, and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan.

They expressed concern about several recent American actions, including unwarranted sanctions, ostentatious inclusion of North Korea among nations subject to nuclear attack and provocative military maneuvers with South Korea. Still, they said, they were ready to demonstrate their desire for peace and denuclearization. They referred to the six-party talks as being “sentenced to death but not yet executed.”

The following week I traveled to Beijing, where Chinese leaders informed me that Mr. Kim had delivered the same points to them while I was in Pyongyang, and that he later released the South Korean fishing crew and suggested the resumption of family reunions. Seeing this as a clear sign of North Korean interest, the Chinese are actively promoting the resumption of the six-party talks.

A settlement on the Korean Peninsula is crucial to peace and stability in Asia, and it is long overdue. These positive messages from North Korea should be pursued aggressively and without delay, with each step in the process carefully and thoroughly confirmed.

Jimmy Carter, the 39th president, is the founder of the Carter Center and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.

See the full text of this article here…

Could a change of leader change North Korea?

15 09 2010

North Korea is set to witness the process of only its second transition of power in 60 years. Many Korea-watchers see the imminent convening of the Korean Workers’ Party Conference as a move to pave the way to designate Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s twenty-something son, as his successor.

Kim Jong-il earlier this month visited China, meeting President Hu Jin Tao, in a trip that was seen by some analysts as seeking the approval of North Korea’s ally for this nepotistic move. However, there are no reports that Kim Jong-un was with his father.

The Chinese have said very little about the succession, but Beijing has expressed support for a resumption of the stalled six nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear future, with the prospect of finding a way to end Pyongyang’s isolation. This is seen as essential if there is to be any prospect of reviving the DPRK’s crippled economy.

In contrast with the North,  South Korea continues to thrive on its manufacturing economy, but is nonetheless deeply affected by the current strains, and by the sinking of the Cheonan warship, an inquiry into which remains inconclusive. Japan also remains at risk and concerned by the lack of resolution to the Korean conflict. Only the United States still has 28,500 forces (including nearly 9000 USAF personnel) tied up in Korea  and conducts risky military exercises near the Demilitarised Zone and disputed Northern Limit Line…

“Today’s threats to North East Asia: Could a change of leader change North Korea?” by Dr. Leonid Petrov, the University of Sydney.

Hosted by: Australian Institute of International Affairs, NSW Branch
The event will start on: Tuesday, 21 September 2010 at 6:00 PM
At The Glover Cottages, 124 Kent Street , Sydney, NSW
Tel: +61(2) 8011 4728

Register on-line here…

North Korean capital has a night life – minus the dazzle

14 09 2010

(IANS, Pyongyang, Sep. 12) Life in Pyongyang, capital city of North Korea, is boisterous and fun-filled even as the country is threatened with military action from the West due to its nuclear programme, reports Xinhua. Screams from roller coaster rides, karaoke and clink of beer glasses at night clubs seem to be quite a picture of metropolitan areas like New York, Tokyo or Beijing. Well, make no mistake. This is what actually happens at night in Pyongyang. Though without dazzling neon signs, the hustle and bustle of discos or the notorious red-light districts, night life in Pyongyang is not cloaked in silence…

…In many restaurants in the capital city, karaoke as well as popular music is played for the pleasure of customers. To liven things up, waitresses are also trained to sing. Beer bars and pubs are also reporting huge turnouts as night falls upon Pyongyang. Bars are seen filled with laughter, cheers, and the aroma of tasty homemade beer. The Qingxing beer house, Pyongyang’s largest bar, opened in April this year with a capacity of 1,000 people.

While retired people and housewives are seen in the daytime, government officials, public servants and workers would arrive after office hours. Interestingly, the beer bar prepares only tables for customers and provides no chairs. Drinkers have to stand, while waiters serve beverages in carts. During summer, the beer bar receives an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 customers per day. Meanwhile, in a bid to attract more female customers, the Taedong Beer Brewhouse, which produces beer in a Pyongyang surburb, was preparing a fruity flavour.

Read the full text of the article here…

N. Koreans may be frustrated with the government and likely rise of Kim Jong Eun

10 09 2010

By Chico Harlan (Washington Post, September 8, 2010)

SEOUL – Almost every night, seeking to gather opinion from a country where opinion is often punishable, Kim Eun Ho calls North Korea. He talks mostly to people in Hoeryong city in Hamgyong-bukto province, and the conversations never last long. Hoeryong city employs 14 men who monitor the region’s phone conversations, Kim believes, and typically they can tap a call within two or three minutes. Kim says he knows this because, as a North Korean police officer before he defected in December 2008, he sometimes monitored the conversations.

But these days, with Pyongyang preparing for a Workers’ Party convention that could trumpet the rise of leader Kim Jong Il’s youngest son, Kim Eun Ho and other defectors who speak regularly to North Koreans hear plenty of opinions reflecting what he described as a broad sentiment against hereditary succession. “Of 10 people I talk to,” he said, “all 10 have a problem with Kim Jong Eun taking over.”

Just as North Koreans know little about their potential future leader, the rest of the world knows almost nothing about North Korean opinions. Recent academic research, based on surveys with defectors, suggests that North Koreans are growing frustrated with a government that allowed widespread starvation in the early 1990s and orchestrated brutal currency reform in 2009 that was designed to wipe out the private markets that enable most residents to feed themselves.

The defectors are motivated to emphasize the worst-case scenario in their homeland. There are some who think that Kim Jong Eun will take power and gradually lead North Korea to Soviet-style reforms. Some defectors say that even though the younger Kim is largely unknown, they hope he’ll allow for a free economy after his father dies.

Still, in South Korea, an emerging patchwork of mini-samples suggests that many North Koreans view their government as a failed anachronism, and they see the young general, as he’s called, as a sign of the status quo. They associate Kim Jong Eun with the December 2009 currency revaluation. They don’t know his age – he’s thought to be in his late 20s – but they think he’s too young to be anything more than a figurehead.

Sohn Kwang Joo, chief editor of the Daily NK, a Seoul-based publication focusing on North Korea, receives frequent reports from stringers in four North Korean provinces. Those ground-level reporters, gathering information mostly from intellectuals, farmers and laborers, suggest to Sohn that “eight or nine out of every 10 people are critical of Kim Jong Eun.”

A recent report from PSCORE, a Seoul-based nongovernmental organization promoting harmony on the Korean Peninsula, suggested that two party officials were sent to a gulag last month for slandering the chosen heir. Kim Young Il, a PSCORE director who was in China during Kim Jong Il’s recent trip, said: “Criticism of Kim Jong Eun is very strong. . . . What you see now is face-level loyalty, but it’s not genuine.”

Kim Eun Ho, the former North Korean police officer, works as a reporter for Seoul-based Free North Korea Radio. The nightly routine testifies to the difficulty of gathering information from within the world’s most reclusive state. Kim first calls a friend who lives close to the Chinese border, where a smuggled foreign cellphone receives a clear signal. When Kim reaches his friend, the friend uses a second phone – a North Korean line – to call one of Kim’s police sources in Pyongyang. The friend then places the North Korean phone and the Chinese phone side-by-side, volume raised on the receivers, allowing Kim an indirect, muffled connection. For extra caution, the conversations rely on code words.

“For general citizens, Kim Jong Eun is vastly unpopular,” Kim says. “People cannot take him seriously, in reality. He just suddenly appeared, and he’s too young.” A defector-based survey released in March, co-written by North Korea experts Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard, provided the first sharp indication of growing discontent with Kim Jong Il’s regime, linked in large part to an information seal that no longer keeps everything out. North Koreans have access to South Korean television shows. Some travel to China for business.

For now, though, experts and U.S. officials see little likelihood that North Koreans’ closely guarded skepticism about their government will pose a threat to the government. Without churches and social clubs, North Koreans have few places where opinion can harden into resistance. “They’ve almost perfected the system of social control,” says Katy Oh Hassig, an expert on North Korea at the Institute for Defense Analyses, which does research for the Pentagon.

Like Kim Eun Ho, Jin Sun Rak, director of Free North Korea Radio, calls his old country almost every night. His wife and 14-year-old daughter live in North Korea. He decided to defect – telling nobody but his brother – in 2008, after traveling to China and seeing the relative wealth. The first time he went, hoping to sell 80 grams of unrefined gold, he bribed a border guard and carried a dagger, tucked near the lower part of a leg. His first night in China was “beyond imagination.” He said he went to a restaurant, had some drinks and ended up at a karaoke bar where he knew none of the songs. Days later, he returned to North Korea with some money and a new frame of reference.

“Whenever they say something,” Jin said of the government, “they’re lying. They’re as worthless as barking dogs.” As for a greater cynicism about the government, Jin said: “I think it’s something unstoppable now. People’s minds have been changed. Young people know the value of money. They don’t want to be party members anymore. They’ve been exposed to the private markets.” Jin, who lives in Seoul, rarely talks to his wife and daughter. He doesn’t think it’s safe to tell them his opinion…

Korean War comes back to life

9 09 2010

(SBS Film, 06 September 2010) Cinema depicting the Korean War can help raise awareness of the conflict and offer clues to how ultimately Korea might be unified, according to Leonid Petrov, an organiser of the Korean War in Film screening and discussion program.

The lion’s share of Australia’s Korean community is from the South; with only about 10,000 of a 125,000-strong Korean population having their roots in North Korea. As such, within the local Korean community, perspectives on the 1950-1953 war are largely one-sided.

Petrov, who lectures in Korean Studies at the University of Sydney, says many Koreans living in Australia have a somewhat limited knowledge of their nation’s history. Young South Koreans are particularly curious about their past, particularly as North Korea remains isolated to this day, whilst the North-South struggle for State legitimacy continues. Here, Petrov believes “the art of film plays a role”.

Organised in conjunction with the Korean Media and Culture Club (KMCC), the Korean War in Film event is taking place over three successive Wednesdays this month, following an earlier round of screenings held in May 2010.

The following three films are being shown:

Kang Je-gyu’s The Brotherhood of War (2004), the highest-grossing Korean film of all time upon its theatrical release, revolving around two brothers who are drafted into the army by force during the outbreak of the Korean War.

Lewis Milestone-directed US film Pork Chop Hill (1959), which depicts the fierce battle fought between the US Army and Chinese and Korean Communist forces at the tail end of the War.

Kim Song Gyo’s On the Railway (1960), a North Korean classic set during the autumn of 1950, when a locomotive engineer is attempting to evacuate precious machinery and equipment during the North Korean retreat.

“Until the early ‘90s, the Korean film industry was suppressed, there were only about a dozen films a year and they were underfunded,” Petrov explains. “They managed somehow to produce good quality films, but could not compete with Hollywood blockbusters.

“Then the legislation changed and quotas became favourable to local films. More investment came and venture capital streamed into the industry. Films started to be exported, along with Korean songs, fashion design, computer games, industrial design etc.”

Despite this cultural gain, Petrov stresses that a “Cold War structure” remains in the region; not only in Korea but in China and Taiwan and Japan and Russia.

Locally, the Korean community is very tight-knit, with organised cultural activity revolving around Korean businesses, Korean newspapers and, especially, the Korean church.

Founded by fellow Korean Studies lecturer, Ki-sung Kwak, the KMCC is an informal group that aims to promote Korean culture and foster social interaction through social activities including seminars and film screenings.

“We not only wish to show films but also have some sort of activity,” Ki-Sung explains. “We would like to have performances by Korean musicians and artists living in Sydney and other Australian cities, and we plan to invite people from the local community to talk about issues, such as the relationship between the North and South.”

Less active in recent times, the club held a film festival event in both 2006 and 2007, which received generous support from the Korean consulate. Ki-sung admits it is a challenge to refresh club membership amongst the student base.

“I really want the club to be very active but when our members graduate we have to encourage new members to join the club,” he says. “What I actually plan to do is ask some student representatives to actually run the club.”

Aside from students moving on, the proliferation of Korean product available on DVD presents a further challenge to the club.

“When we first showed a Korean film here, it was back in 1999,” Ki-sung says. “DVD was not so popular, and we attracted about 300 people from the community.

“Also, with the internet, people can now easily download movies. The Korean government is planning to develop technology to download a two-hour film in less than 10 seconds, so that’s quite attractive.”

The Korean Media and Culture Club screenings are held at the University of Sydney. For information visit

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…

NCCK Committee for Reconciliation and Unification met with the KCF in Shenyang

2 09 2010

On August 23rd, 2010, representatives of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) Committee of Reconciliation and Unification met with Rev. Kang Young-sup, Rev. O Kyung-woo and Mr. Kim Hyun-chul from the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) in Shenyang, China. Rev. Jun Byung-Ho (Chair of the Committee), Rev. Kim Young-Joo, Rev. Chae Heawon (The Ecumenical Forum for Korea), Rev. Hwang Phil-Kyu were participating as the NCCK representatives.

1. Representatives from the South suggested they would make effort for Korean churches to mobilize humanitarian support in response to severe flood happened recently in the area of Shineuijoo. And Rev. Kang from the North said that he will inform more details about the situation attacked and victimized by the flood.

2. Both have agreed to prepare positively the Joint Prayer meeting of churches of North and South Korea pursuing the June 15 Summit Statement which is supposed to take place at the Bongsoo Church in Pyungyang, maybe after the middle of November, 2010. And the participation from overseas partner churches will be encouraged.

3. The invitation to the NCCK Annual Assembly on this coming November is offered to Rev. Kang Young-Sup, which is proposed by Rev. Jun Byung-Ho, the President of the NCCK.

4. It is mentioned by Rev. Chae Heawon (Coordinator for the EFK) that the steering committee meeting of the Ecumenical Forum for Korea is supposed to take place in Nanjing, on the beginning of November before or after the Amity Foundation round table meeting.

5. Regarding the supporting items to North Korea (flour amounted 17 tons donated by NCCK Unification Committee, PCK Social Service Department, PROK General Assembly, KMC Sebu Conference, the Ecumenical Forum for Korea), Rev. Kang Young-Sup expressed an appreciation for that.

Urging the government to support humanitarian aid with the excess stock of rice of South Korea to people victimized by the recent flood in the area of Sineuijoo


It was reported that the North Korean city of Sinuiju was struck by severe flood damage when the lower course of the Amnok (Yalu) River overflowed due to heavy rainfall started from August 7th, and in areas besides Sinuiju, lots of lives, homes, roads, and approximate 2458 ha of farmland are lost. Lot of people in North Korea who is already faced with severe food shortage is becoming vulnerable to death, and therefore North Korean government has unexpectedly requested the UN for emergency aid.

In this regard, both parties of South Korean government proposed the idea of humanitarian support to people victimized by the flood with the excess stock of rice of South Korea. The NCCK welcomes the move of this humanitarian support suggested by both parties.

The NCCK had already urged our [ROK] government as well as international society to support people in the North with necessary goods and food for their life on the principle of humanism on 5th of August. Now it, facing with the report of flood damage, urges again our government to support people victimized beside Shineuijoo with the excess stock of rice of South Korea before the full moon harvest season.

This year the expected amount of product is 4,810,000 tons and now we have 4,200,000 tons of rice in excess stock including rice produced by 2004, and therefore some part of the amount is getting rotten. According to this situation, the excess rice will be over 2,500,000 tons in the next year, and local governments are making every effort to find measures for expansion of consumption of rice by the harvest season and to adjust supply and demand. For this, it is expected that it costs a lot of millions. Even it is mentioned that the excess rice could be used for animal food.

Even in this moment when the North and South relation is getting more blocked since the Cheonan incident, to support rice to our brothers and sisters in the North who are starving due to the recent severe flood damage is one of our responsibility as one nation on humanitarian dimension. It could be an opportunity for our farming economy to be helped through sending the excess rice to the North.

We expect that through supporting humanitarian aid to people in the North suffering by severe flood it could be an opportunity for our government to recover its trust as one nation, and peace and reunification of this nation could be achieved on the basis of love, not of ideology.

August 26th, 2010

Rev. Kwon Oh-Sung, General Secretary
Rev. Jun Byung-Ho, Chair of Reconciliation and Unification Committee
The National Council of Churches in Korea

KWP Meeting in September 2010: Perpetuation of the Living Leader System or Transformation to the Enshrined Leader System?

2 09 2010

By Ruediger Frank (Policy Forum 10-037: July 8th, 2010)

The North Korean official news agency KCNA has announced a Politburo decision dated June 23, 2010 that in “early September” (9 wŏl sangsune) of this year, it will hold a conference of Party delegates (tang taep’yojahoe). At least in name, this is not a Party Congress (tang taehoe); the 6th and so far last such congress was held in 1980 (5th Party Congress: 1970, 4th Party Congress: 1961).

There have so far been only two such conferences of Party delegates – in 1958, and in 1966. The task of these conferences, which are supposed to take place every five years according to the Party statutes, is to coordinate the work of the Party between congresses. As 44 years have passed since the last conference of delegates and 30 years since the last Party congress, it is difficult to rely on the statutes to understand what the exact meaning the meeting in September will be. But obviously, it is an extraordinary event.

According to KCNA, the task of the delegates will be to elect the highest leading organ (ch’oego chidokigwan) of the Korean Worker’s Party, the ruling Communist Party of North Korea. Note that the announcement was not talking of the highest leading organ of the country; and that it did not mention a single person, but rather a leadership organ. As historical experience tells us, the latter can under certain circumstances be a euphemism for a single person, as was the case up to 1980 when Kim Jong-il was called the “Party Center” (tang chung’ang).

However, for the moment it makes much more sense to take the announcement at face value. The Party has not convened any Party Congress since 1980 and even elected Kim Jong-il to the post of Secretary General only by a somewhat unusual process in 1997. Rather than doing so during a Party plenum (the last one was held in 1993), he was endorsed by the Central Committee and the Central Military Committee of the Party. The Korean Worker’s Party which has operated very irregularly at least regarding formal procedures is now, finally, going to improve its functionality as the major power group in North Korean society.

The first reaction by observers has been to regard the delegate’s meeting in September as the moment when Kim Jong-il’s son Kim Jong-un (Kim Jong-ŭn) will be officially introduced as successor. Yet, while this is not entirely impossible, it does not necessarily seem to be the most likely outcome. Formally, if we look at the pattern of Kim Jong-il’s elevation to heir, the actual announcement of a successor (if there is one) would be the task of the 7th Party congress.

Another argument speaking against a formal announcement at this moment is the absence of any achievement of Kim Jong-un that can be convincingly presented to the people and to the elite in order to accept him as the new leader. Although North Korea is routinely described as a Communist dynasty by outsiders, being a relative of the leader does not seem to be a sufficient condition for succession. Kim Jong-il had to prove himself for many years before his father, the elite and the people. Only then was it considered safe to present him as the next leader. If Kim Jong-un is indeed involved in the meeting in September, he will most likely at first become the member of a team and as such become more visible. He can start building a reputation and an image, before in a next step he would possibly rise to the top.

If we look at North Korea from a more systemic and long-term point of view, another outcome of the Party meeting, or at least another interpretation thereof, emerges. […] Regime survival is, as most analysts agree, the major objective of the leadership in Pyongyang. To avoid an implosion and to ensure regime survival, the transformation of a totalitarian into an authoritarian regime seems inevitable. An important step in this ongoing process would be the replacement of the “living Great Leader system” by an “enshrined Great Leader system” which is ruled by a collective of people who are essentially top administrators from the various power groups of society.

This collective – the National Defense Commission, or a resuscitated Politburo, or a newly created Council for National Unification – will have to have a leader. However, he will be more like a primus inter pares, not a divine but an “ordinary” leader like the Pope in the Catholic Church. Inspiration, vision and legitimacy will be derived from the eternal leader Kim Il-sung and his only true prophet Kim Jong-il. Both have left so many often contradictory and ambiguous statements that in fact any policy would be possible based on their legacy. It is hence relatively open in which direction the country will move after this power transition is concluded.

In conclusion, I would argue that the wording of the announcement, formal issues, the short-term problem of creating legitimacy for a yet widely unknown grandson of Kim Il-sung, and a more systematic long-term analytical perspective suggest that the Party meeting in September will likely not announce a successor for Kim Jong-il, but rather create or upgrade a collective. This might or might not include Kim Jong-un; but it is hard to imagine that such a collective will not be headed by Kim Jong-il. This will be an important and long overdue step towards the perpetuation of political leadership in North Korea, and on the way toward transforming a static totalitarian system into a more flexible authoritarian one.

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Ruediger Frank, Professor of East Asian Economy and Society art the University of Vienna. List of publications by Ruediger Frank.