Russia Friendship Section Added to ARIRANG Mass Games

23 07 2013

NK-Russia-friendship-ARIRANGby Chad O’Carroll (NK News, 23 July 2013) Headline image by Koryo Tours.

SEOUL – North Korea has added a chapter on Russian friendship to the Arirang Mass Games, a source who attended the show on Monday night told NK News.

The new section includes a banner that says “Russian friendship [carries on] century by century” and represents the first time North Korea has included a section specifically focusing on relations with Russia during its Mass Games.

“The role of the USSR in the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonial rule has always been acknowledged by Pyongyang. But with this news perhaps Pyongyang is trying to play the Russian card in its diplomatic game with China,” Dr. Leonid Petrov, a researcher at Australia National University told NK News.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea often used its relationship between Moscow and Beijing to gain competing concessions from the two superpowers. Dr. Petrov speculates that following increasing reliance on China in recent years, the DPRK might now be using Arirang to fan a closer relationship with Russia.

“Kim Jong Un desperately needs closer links with and more developmental aid from China. The best strategy in this game would be that he use the tried and tested policy of maintaining ‘equidistance’ from Beijing and Moscow,” Dr. Petrov explained via email.

In addition to the new Russia chapter, the manner in which China was presented was also different, the source said. “The Chinese part was shortened this year, they still had the friendship section but it seemed a lot shorter. I didn’t see so much about the pandas last night,” the source told NK News after watching the inaugural show.

The Mass games normally includes a major chapter on North Korea’s relationship with China, though experts had predicted it was likely this would change following an apparent “frosting” of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Pyongyang in recent months.

“[North Korea has] been so angry with China this year, do they want to send a message to the Chinese by dropping the friendship chapter? Or if there is a big overhaul and thus a change in the narrative story of the performance, perhaps this is a good opportunity to drop the awkwardly placed chapter in a fairly natural way,” Andray Abrahamian, a Director at Chosun Exchange, told NK News.

Another notable change to this year’s proceedings was the inclusion of a short chapter on North Korean relations with the entire world. The performers formed an olive branch, possibly as a metaphor of the country’s own self-professed willingness to seek better relations with the rest of the world.

“It was very brief, just a glimpsing moment – but it was interesting and a change from last year,” the source told NK News. The theme of this year’s mass games is focused on the 60th anniversary of the Korean War (known as the Fatherland Liberation War in North Korea) and the 65th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK.

The Arirang mass games, a 120,000 person gymnastic and artistic performance, started in 2002, and tells a “grand story of a divided peninsula and how North Korea became a dignified nation,” according to North Korean state media.

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Koreas agree to further talks, inspect joint factory

9 07 2013

North-South-Korea-factory-talks_2013.07.08(By Steven Borowiec, The Christian Science Monitor, 8 July 2013) After 16 hours of negotiation North Korea agreed in principle to normalize operations at the inter-Korean industrial complex, which has been idle for nearly three months.

North Korea met over the weekend with South Korea on its side of Panmunjom Peace Village, taking steps to normalize operations at the jointly-maintained Kaesong Industrial park – an idled symbol of inter-Korean economic cooperation.

North Korea agreed to permit businessmen to visit the complex Wednesday to check out the facilities that have been idle since April, when North Korea blocked South Korean workers from entering the complex and then pulled out some 53,000 of its own workers. The two Koreas are planning to hold talks Wednesday about restarting business at Kaesong.

Analysts say that for North Korea, restarting operations at Kaesong could be less important than using the negotiations to extract larger forms of support from South Korea.

“The regime in North Korea wants to appear cooperative while working for something more substantial from South Korea, something like unconditional aid and investment,” says Leonid Petrov, a researcher in Korean studies at the Australian National University. “Aid, sponsorship, charity – those are the things they’re most interested in.”

In fact, says Dr. Petrov, domestic media reported that North Korea has dispatched its workers in provinces away from the complex, which indicates that perhaps it doesn’t plan to resume operations there in the near future.

More than 120 South Korean companies once operated at Kaesong, which opened in 2004 as a project to pair South Korean manufacturers with inexpensive North Korean labor. South Korean companies paid workers wages that were high by North Korean standards. In 2012, the industrial park, largely seen as an achievement in inter-Korea ties, produced $470 million worth of goods and earned North Korea about $80 million in workers’ wages, according to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification.

Before the talks, North Korea gave permission to South Korean businessmen to visit the complex, but the Park Geun-hye government in Seoul insisted that inter-Korean exchange go through the government, not through private groups or individuals.

On June 9, the Koreas held working-level talks, the first inter-Korean talks for two years. Those were meant to be preliminary discussions ahead of minister level talks that were scheduled for later that week, but the second talks were called off after Seoul and Pyongyang couldn’t agree on the rank of the delegation leaders.

In the first few months of this year, North Korea was exceptionally hostile with its rhetoric, making violent threats against Seoul and Washington. Analysts say the more conciliatory approach seen in this weekend’s agreement to allow visits is part of a typical pattern of behavior where Pyongyang alternates threats with moves toward rapprochement.

“North Korea usually comes out swinging in the first half of the year, then in the second half launches a kind of peace offensive,” says Sung-yoon Lee, assistant professor of Korean studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. “It was preordained that North Korea would want to talk about restarting the [Kaesong] complex now.”

Coming into this weekend’s negotiations, South Korea said it would seek a written guarantee from North Korea that Pyongyang would never again unilaterally shut down the complex. Analysts see this as a potential stumbling block in Wednesday’s scheduled talks; North Korea may object to making any promises about what it will do regarding facilities that are in its territory.