Tourists in North Korea Unable To Send Postcards Home Due To “Sanctions”

21 02 2013

No-Postcards-to-North-Korea(, 20 February 2013)  Western tourists in North Korea have been banned from sending postcards home to friends and loved ones, supposedly as a result of “sanctions” passed in recent days and weeks.

In particular, the new “sanctions” make it impossible for European tourists to send postcards home.  The development was reported to NK NEWS by two separate tourist groups who were in the country during the nuclear test and its aftermath.

When trying to send cards home, North Korean guides told European visitors that they were not allowed to send the materials due to “sanctions” passed in recent days.

One North Korean group leader told his visitors that the ban was a result of “Chinese sanctions”, though this looks unlikely because American tourists in another group were allowed to send their own cards home.

When asked for further details, North Korean tourist guides explained that the ban on sending to Europe was because mail would not be delivered to certain destinations. They said that they did not know how long the limitations would last.

While the European Union did apply new unilateral sanctions on North Korea in recent days, none appear to have been focused on the North Korean postal system. These latest sanctions were instead focused on increasing travel bans, asset freezes, and the number of EU sanctioned companies.

It is not clear which countries are behind the latest development, if any. There also remains the possibility that this could be an arbitrary measure on the North Korean side.

Reacting to the potential postal sanctions, Dr. Leonid Petrov, a North Korea Expert at Australian National University said,

    Sanctions never bring anything good and often bite both sides. Sanctions against North Korea, paradoxically, help the Kim’s tyranny survive. Totalitarian regimes can exist only in isolation, where common people have little or no exposure to outside information. The whole philosophy of North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile antics is designed to keep the country isolated.

North Korea has long limited the amount of mail coming in to the country and many third countries have controls over what can be sent there in packages. However, postcards and small letters being sent from the country have not traditionally been restricted. If the latest ban is a result of external sanctions, they would seriously undermine the spirit of the Universal Postal Union, a multilateral postal framework.

As a UN member, North Korea joined the Universal Postal Union in 1974, but has direct postal arrangements with only a select group of countries. But one objective of the union is that, “freedom of transit shall be guaranteed throughout the entire territory of the Union.” This has historically meant that items like postcards and small letters should be deliverable, regardless of where they are sent from.

In the United States, mail is regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and the agency limits mail to North Korea solely to First-class letters/postcards and matters for the blind. All merchandise, currency, precious metals, jewelry, chemical/biological/radioactive materials and others are prohibited.

In related news, a business visitor who returned from the DPRK yesterday told NK NEWS that his North Korean partners were “extremely worried” about what China might do in reaction to the latest nuclear test. He said among his DPRK based partners fear that China could be “deadly serious” about punishing Pyongyang through sanctions that make ordinary business harder to conduct.

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test last week, in face of significant international pressure. The move was instantly condemned by the UN and many observers believe that further sanctions will be applied as a punishment for North Korea in the weeks ahead.

Kim Jong-Un’s search for shortcuts to North Korean prosperity

16 02 2013

KJU New Year speech 2013(By Leonid Petrov, Asian Currents, Feb. 2013) The New Year speech by North Korea’s new leader signals there will be little change…

When the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il breathed his last in December 2011, his youngest son Kim Jong-Un was catapulted to the country’s leadership. That permitted him to meet the people and play the role of populist and reformer.

Kim Jong-Un looked and behaved like his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, who ruled for 46 years. His succession looked like a perfectly planned and well-orchestrated scenario, and no observers doubted the similarity was part of the transition plan.

On the first day of 2013, Kim Jong-Un addressed the nation from the state TV, just like his grandfather used to until his demise in 1994. Kim Jong-Il, on the other hand, avoided making public speeches and never gave a TV address during his 17-year-rule, publishing his New Year’s messages as joint editorials in North Korea’s three major newspapers. Obviously, the youthful new ruler was trying to appeal to North Koreans’ fondest memories of his grandfather, and to signal that his leadership style would be more in line with that of Kim Il-Sung.

The speech was an acknowledgement of the poor state of the country’s economy. Kim promised that 2013 would be ‘a year of great creations and changes in which a radical turnabout will be effected in the building of a thriving socialist country’. The speech was full of rhetoric calling on his countrymen to make tireless efforts to ‘rid themselves of the old way of thinking and attitude and make ceaseless innovations in all work’. Kim urged boosting the economy and the military’s capability by making the science and technology sector world class, and argued that ‘the industrial revolution in the new century is, in essence, a scientific and technological revolution’, and ‘breaking through the cutting edge is a shortcut to the building of an economic giant’.

Like his grandfather, who tried to instantly turn the war-torn North Korea into a communist paradise, Kim Jong-Un also looks for shortcuts. The problem with his plan is that he suggested nothing new, but encouraged his countrymen to stick to the old values and principles formulated by his late grandfather and father. Kim claimed that ‘road of chuch’e [national self-reliance] is the only path for the Party and people to invariably follow’.

Despite North Korea’s history of defeats, failures, famines and disappointments, Kim Jong-Un persisted in lauding ‘the great achievements the president made while leading the Fatherland Liberation War to brilliant victory’ and praised ‘the strength of his outstanding strategy and tactics and wise leadership’. He also urged the people to ‘carry out the cause of reunifying the country’, describing reunification as the greatest national task that ‘brooks no further delay’.

The theme of turning North Korea into an economic giant was the most recurring in the speech. The ostensible purpose of his plan was to make the people of Korea well off with nothing to envy in the world. For this, the people should wage an ‘all-out struggle this year to effect a turnaround in building an economic giant and improving the people’s standard of living’. By calling on all sectors and units of the national economy to boost production, Kim Jong-Un again simply repeated the style and rhetoric of his father and grandfather.

Instead of offering a meaningful formula for economic development, Kim simply recommended improved economic guidance and management: ‘Party organisations should embrace all the people, take warm care of them and lead them forward to ensure that they share the same destiny with the Party to the end’. That meant North Koreans should carry on ‘the tradition of single-hearted unity’ wherein ’the Party believes in the people and the latter absolutely trust and follow the former’. In other words, Kim had no other prescription than adhering to the old son’gun [military-first] politics of his father and the centrally-planned economic system of his grandfather.

The single-hearted unity of the Army and the people around the Party was the ‘strongest weapon and a powerful propellant for the building of a thriving socialist country’. Kim Jong-Un looked confident when he claimed that the military might of a country represents its national strength.

His speech avoided direct criticism of the United States and its allies. Nor did he mention nuclear weapons, but indicated that if aggressors dared launch a pre-emptive attack against the DPRK, ‘the People’s Army should mercilessly annihilate them and win victory in the war for the country’s reunification’. Boosting defence industry was another priority that could contribute to implementing the Party’s military strategy, and Kim urged developing more ‘sophisticated military hardware of our own style’.

His invitation to ‘spur the building of a civilised socialist nation to usher in a new era of cultural efflorescence in the 21st century’ was in sharp contrast to his recommendations to ‘conduct Party work in the same way as it was done on the battleline in the 1970s, and put a focus of the work on thoroughly applying Kim Jong Il’s patriotism in all activities’. In cultural construction as well, all sectors were advised ‘to implement to the letter the ideas, lines and policies set forth by the general’. In this context, it remains debatable how North Korea can develop education, public health, literature and the arts, physical culture, public morals and all other branches to the level ‘appropriate to an advanced civilised nation’.

In order to effect a radical change in this year’s campaign to build a thriving socialist country, ‘officials should make a fundamental turnabout in their ideological viewpoint, work style and attitude’. But will the Party bureaucrats voluntarily uphold the slogan ‘Everything for the people and everything by relying on them!’ set for them by their youthful and idealistic leader? No safeguards are suggested by Kim Jong-Un, who only asked them to ‘work to the best of their abilities with a high sense of responsibility, eagerness and an enterprising approach’. His conclusion is built on the premise that the nation can achieve prosperity only if ‘firmly rallied behind the Party under the banner of ‘Kimilsungism–Kimjongilism’.

The New Year speech tells much about Kim Jong-Un, the succession process, and the future of North Korea. It becomes clear that Kim’s ultimate goal is to avoid any change, because it threatens the very existence of the North Korean state. If anything like what happened to the Soviet Union when Gorbachev started perestroika happens in North Korea, the leadership would not be able to control the situation. And as North Korea’s elites are equally reluctant to consider any idea of change, the mood to maintain stability and continue as Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il did over the past half a century prevails.

The recent leadership succession is definitely a case of like father, like son. Kim Jong-Un is the legitimate successor and perfect choice to continue the Kim dynasty; he is of ‘revolutionary blood’ and widely recognised as such. He is eulogised and worshiped as the Generalissimo by the Korean People’s Army and as the Dear Leader by the Korean Workers’ Party. Common people link their expectations of socio-economic improvement to him, and he is a token of stability for the Kim family. Everyone in North Korea seems to have great hopes for him. If everything goes according to his father’s plan, Kim Jong-Un will be in power for a long time.

The North Korean leadership genuinely wants to modernise the country’s economy, but hates the idea of changes in social and political life. Like his father and grandfather, Kim Jong-Un constantly searches for shortcuts to boost the dysfunctional economy without having to build new social and political institutions. Achieving technological breakthrough without systemic reform is a preferred way forward. As a result of this half-hearted policy, ordinary North Koreans will probably eat and dress better; they might even own PCs and mobile phones, but they will continue to live in the same paranoid state of fear and dependency on the Great Leader’s decisions.

Beijing would love to see Pyongyang follow its example by introducing market-oriented reforms, but North Korea simply cannot come to terms with granting its population the many freedoms necessary to make such a reform successful. This is simply impossible in the conditions of an ongoing Korean War, in which North Korean society is continuously fed lies by the regime and denied contacts and interaction with the rest of the world, particularly with South Korea. Given the circumstances of the ongoing inter-Korean conflict, the sustainable development of the North Korean economy is impossible. The country is locked in a security dilemma and reluctant to open up.

If Kim Jong-Un did decide to initiate reform he would first need to persuade his family and other elite groups to forfeit their significant privileges, because reform of any type would inevitably and quickly lead to the collapse of the political regime. Not surprisingly, the very word ‘reform’ remains a taboo in Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea.

North Korea stages nuclear test in defiance of bans

13 02 2013

Image(by Justin McCurry in Tokyo and Tania Branigan in Beijing, Tuesday 12 February 2013). Regime confirms it set off its third nuclear bomb, signalled by an earthquake detected by South Korea, Japan and the US.

North Korea has drawn widespread condemnation after conducting a nuclear test in defiance of international bans – a development signalled by an earthquake detected in the country and later confirmed by the regime.

The test, which took place in the north-east of the country just before noon local time, could bring North Korea a step closer to developing a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on a long-range missile and possibly bringing the west coast of the US within striking distance.

The authorities in Pyongyang said scientists had set off a “miniaturised” nuclear device with a greater explosive force than those used in two previous nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009.

“It was confirmed that the nuclear test that was carried out at a high level in a safe and perfect manner using a miniaturised and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously did not pose any negative impact on the surrounding ecological environment,” KCNA, the North’s official news agency, announced. […]

Dr Leonid Petrov, a North Korea expert at the Australian National University, said it would bolster the North’s case for describing itself as a genuine nuclear state.

“Obviously the [North Koreans] are not going to bargain and are not going to give up the nuclear options,” Petrov said. “We have passed already the point of no return: North Korea is de facto a nuclear state, all we can do is minimise the damage.”

Petrov suggested the North might be willing to freeze its civilian nuclear programme if given sufficient incentives, such as the loosening of international sanctions. It would also need assurances, particularly from the US, that it would not be the target of attempts at regime change or military strikes.

The only alternative, he said, was a pre-emptive strike that could miss many of the country’s underground nuclear sites and raise the dangerous prospect of a counter-attack.

Petrov said the North’s determination to push ahead with its nuclear programme was a failure of diplomacy that began with the administration of George Bush, who described the country as part of an “axis of evil” when Washington adopted a tougher stance in 2002.

“The world is now a much more dangerous place,” Petrov said. “It’s very sad.”

Kim Min-seok, a South Korean defence ministry spokesman, said the North had informed China and the US in advance of its intention to conduct the test but could not say when the message was relayed.

Petrov said that, if true, the decision to inform other nations in advance was a marked change in the regime’s approach under its leader, Kim Jong-un, who has been in power just over a year.

Kim has shown no sign of ditching the nuclear ambitions of his father, Kim Jong-il, but has been more open than the country’s former leader about his regime’s intentions, having also given notice of its recent satellite launch using a ballistic rocket.

See the full text of the article here…

Chinese Pressure To Halt North Korean Nuclear Test Increases

7 02 2013

Tsar_Bomba(6 February 2013, NKnews.ORG) With North Korea threatening to go beyond a third nuclear test in response to what it sees as “hostile” sanctions imposed after the December rocket launch, Chinese pressure to halt a North Korean nuclear test appears to be mounting at considerable pace.

Building on high level talks held yesterday between Washington and Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters today that Beijing is “extremely concerned by the way things are going…We oppose any behavior which may exacerbate the situation and [urge] relevant sides to exercise restraint and earnestly work hard to maintain peace.”

Chunying’s comments came following an agreement  yesterday that the U.S. and China would “work together” to deal with the pending nuclear test, made public after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s Foreign Minister talked by phone for the first time since Kerry took office.

On the subject of the call, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that both China and the U.S. agreed that North Korea should face “further consequences” if it violates UN Security Council resolutions with another test. Nuland also emphasized that the conversation between the two were “remarkably similar” to ones Kerry had in previous days with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

Beyond publicized Sino-American rhetoric, a senior Seoul diplomat told Yonhap News that he was aware that China was making its “own efforts” to persuade North Korea to cancel the test, although he did not elaborate on what those efforts were. The diplomat also said that China was taking the nuclear test “seriously.”

Outside of the diplomatic realm, an editorial in the English language Global Times today detailed Chinese displeasure even further, warning that Pyongyang would pay a “heavy price” for a third nuclear test and that China should “shatter any illusions Pyongyang may have” about not being punished.

While the editorial did note that Beijing would unlikely support the type of heavy sanctions that the U.S. and South Korea will likely demand in the event of a test, it underscored that China should support “reduced assistance” to North Korea and said that, “if Pyongyang gets tough with China, China should strike back hard.”

But despite all of the increasing rhetoric, North Korea expert Leonid Petrov today NK NEWS that in reality China is probably not that concerned about a further nuclear test.

Beijing policymakers know better than anyone how to benefit from Pyongyang’s insecurity and increasing international isolation. More sanctions against the DPRK means better deals for Chinese entrepreneurs operating in North Korea and increased dependency of Kim Jong-Un’s regime on China’s security assurance. A nuclear armed and unmanageable Pyongyang poses no threat to China but keeps its regional competitors anxiously overspending on their own national defense and security.

However, Chinese experts quoted yesterday in the Hong Kong daily Ming Pao have different thoughts. Shen Dingli, Executive Deputy Dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Fudan University, said that the planned nuclear test and rocket launch had already harmed China’s core interests, and that Pyongyang should be prepared to “bear the consequences” and “prepare itself for tougher international sanctions.”

In the same report Fan Jishe, a researcher on U.S. studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, went further and criticized Pyongyang for “embarrassing China” and “impeding [the progress of] Sino-U.S. relations.” He also criticized North Korea for implicitly blaming China for its “blind obedience” to Washington in the recent United Nations condemnation of the December rocket launch.

Amid the increasing pressure, Yonhap News suggests that the North Korean media’s decision to avoid citing Chinese media or report on Chinese news in recent weeks shows a growing spat between two countries once regarded as being as close as “lips and teeth”.  A screening of KCNA, Rodong Sinmun, KCTV, Radio Pyongyang and Chosun Central TV showed that following the passage of the Chinese supported UN Security Council Resolution on Jan. 23, there had been almost no mention of China in the North Korean media.

Tensions between China and North Korea have been on the increase recently, with public disagreements bubbling over in areas even outside of the nuclear realm. Less than two weeks ago Pyongyang reportedly hit out at Beijing for allowing reports to circulate that Kim Jong Un may have had plastic surgery to look like his grandfather Kim Il Sung.

Some suggest that China is the most important party in efforts both to dissuade North Korea from conducting a nuclear test, though others suggest Beijing’s influence is much more limited than leaders in the U.S. and South Korea like to think.

China has been traditionally uncooperative in pushing North Korea too hard, officially due to worries over fanning political and further economic instability in its neighbor.

To date, Pyongyang has conducted two nuclear tests, the first in 2006 and the second in 2009. Both times China ensured that sanctions on North Korea avoided inflicting too much economic damage.