A Unified Korea – The Finland of Northeast Asia

16 02 2018

PyeongchangRadio Sputnik International (Pivot to Asia 15.02.2018) An amazing thing is happening in Korea. The North and the South are experiencing a thaw in relations and a visit by the President of South Korea to North Korea is on the cards. This thaw has huge geopolitical implications.

Dr. Leonid Petrov, a visiting Fellow in the College of Asia and the Pacific, at The Australian National University in Canberra discusses the situation with host John Harrison.

The West has perhaps been caught off guard by what is happening right now in Korea. The North and South of country are on the verge of opening up diplomatic negotiations despite the will of the USA. When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un proposed resuming talks with South Korea in his New Year’s Day address, Seoul seemed to leap at the opportunity. Dr. Petrov explains that President of South Korea Moon Jae-in was elected with a promise that he would improve relations with the North, and that has not yet happened. Now it is possible, after a 10-year freeze that another era of ‘sunshine policy’ will once again lead to improved relations. “Before then, there were zones of cooperation, charter flights between the two countries; tourists could drive their own cars into North Korea to visit their loved ones who they hadn’t seen for decades after the Korean War.” Koreans, whether they live in the South or the North, Dr. Petrov says, are, in general, interested in improving relations between the two countries. But unification would bring its own difficulties. “Young and old will all tell you that unification of the country is their dream. But it depends what the next question is going to be. Are you going to introduce a unification tax, are you going to give your job to brothers and sisters in North Korea, who would agree to be paid half of your salary? So they might say — let’s have unification sometime in the future, not now. South Koreans view North Korea as a territory which needs to be liberated and emancipated.”

One could perhaps compare the possible unification of the two Koreas with the unification of East and West Germany, but that, Dr. Petrov said would not be a very good comparison because the wage levels of North Koreans are proportionally far lower than those of the East Germans before the Berlin wall came down. The South Koreans are extremely well educated now and competitive in commercial and industrial know-how and skills, this is clearly very different from the situation in North Korea. “North and South can talk about unification but only after a joint process of collaboration and education. That’s why President Moon Jae-in’s thesis is firstly one of reconciliation, second, economic integration and only then unification. The nuclearization, well that’s something that makes the whole story very complex because North Korea is not preparing to denuclearize.”

The Americans see their presence in South Korea as having provided stability in the area, surely they are not going to take been shouldered out lying down?, John Harrison asks. To that, Dr. Petrov answers that the whole idea of American presence in South Korea is based on anti-communist sentiment. “It is very ideological and political; this is in essence, a Cold war mentality which brings together American and Seoul right wing politicians. …For them, it is important to stand together because China and Russia are just next door, and the Americans want to be present. South Korea provides the opportunity for American troops to be stationed in the South Pacific….An American withdrawal would undermine the whole thesis of an American-Korean brotherhood in arms built on anti-communism.”

Since coming to power, President Trump has questioned Seoul’s contributions towards the alliance, opened renegotiations of the long-fought US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, and threatened direct military action against the North for which the South would bear the bulk of the risk. Dr. Petrov says that South Korea is the power that will benefit from Trump’s inconsistences in foreign policy. “South Korea will gain access to raw materials and minerals which North Korea is now selling to China….South Korea will be much stronger. This is why Japan is so paranoid about reconciliation as well. Everybody is against the idea of reconciliation but one country, and that is Russia. Russia is very keep to sell its raw materials and expertise to the unified Korea….Right now, North Korea is a black hole in a quickly growing region. For Russia, it makes much more sense to support the unification project because that will open the doors to export opportunities in South Korea, and the Russian Far East is hugely under developed and under populated….I think it is a win-win-win situation for Moscow, Pyongyang and Seoul to see the reconciliation process restarted, maybe at the expense of the South Korean-American alliance. The Americans don’t want to see a unified Korea right next door to Vladivostok, the home of the Russian Pacific Fleet. China is also paranoid about potential US military bases on its borders. So, for Russia and China, it is important to see Korea as a kind of Finland of East Asia. A country which is nonaligned but prosperous, which is peaceful but vigilant, and is an economic powerhouse.”

There is a possibility that the current thaw between the two Koreas might actually lead to an increased likelihood of war because the US may feel that it needs to safeguard its alliance whilst it can. Dr. Petrov explains that this is unlikely because of the close proximity of large centers of population spread between the two countries. “What President Trump was talking about last year, about fire and fury, about a nuclear armada all turned out to be just empty talk, he didn’t send a nuclear armada to the shores of North Korea because the coastline of North Korea is not far away from the Russian coastline, and the Russian Pacific fleet. I don’t think the United States is going to jeopardize its own naval and air assets and the lives of hundreds of thousands of American citizens who live work and study in South Korea because if war starts there, there is going to massive loss of human life, huge nuclear contamination of the whole region and economic disaster for everyone involved. South Korea would not tolerate any reckless action, President Moon Jae-in made it very clear to President Trump that there will be no war without his consent, that there will be no war against North Korea without the specific permission of the South Korean government, and the South Korea government is not suicidal…”

Listen to the full podcast of this interview here.

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Russian and Chinese Stance on North Korea is Consistent with the Old Days Comradeship

7 12 2017

tbs eFMMy interview with Alex Jensen (tbs eFM Radio 101.3 MHz, Seoul) about the Russian and Chinese stance on North Korea.





If China falls out with North Korea, then Russia will step in

27 04 2017

Pyongyang-MoscowKirsty Needham (Sydney Morning Herlad, Beijing, 24 APRIL 2017)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told his US counterpart Donald Trump that Beijing opposes any action on the Korean Peninsula that goes against UN Security Council resolutions.

The phone call between the two leaders came as Chinese media reported on a rift between Beijing and Pyongyang, with North Korean state media criticising China as “dancing to the tune of the US”…

The US has repeatedly urged China to use its economic clout to put pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, warning that if China cannot produce a solution, the US may act alone.

Mr Xi told Mr Trump the international situation was changing rapidly and it was important the US and China maintain close contact, Chinese state media reported.

“Xi Jinping stressed that China is firmly against any behaviours that violate the UN Security Council’s resolution, at the same time it hopes all parties concerned maintain restraint, avoid doing anything intensifying the peninsula situation,” CCTV reported.

Asked about the North Korean media attack, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “China’s position is consistent and clear and the relevant party should be very clear about that.”

Chinese experts are saying cutting oil would be the toughest sanction China could impose – it was last done in 2003 for just three days.

North Korea’s mining industry would be severely hit if China cut energy supply to the regime.

The front page of North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Monday praised the DPRK’s mining industry as self-reliant, exceeding capacity and “smashing the enemies’ sanctions”.

Kim Jong-un sent congratulations to a magnesite mine – a mineral that is exempt from UN sanctions. North Korea has the world’s second largest deposits of magnesite, a raw material listed as “critical” by the US and the European Union and a key component in smartphones and aircraft. China has the world’s largest deposits.

Leonid Petrov, an ANU fellow, says China is buying other rare earth minerals that are vital for high-technology products at half price from North Korea. He says if relations between Pyongyang and Beijing continue to deteriorate, Pyongyang could cut off sales to China and find new export markets elsewhere.

“If China falls out with North Korea, then Russia will step in. North Korea allows China and Russia to compete for concessions and ports and fishing,” he said.

See the full article here…





‘Murky’ drug trade: How did North Korea become a meth hub?

8 12 2013

Foreign_nationals_suspected_of_smuggling_methamphetamines_from_NK(By Geoffrey Cain, GlobalPost Contributor, 7 Dec. 2013SEOUL, South Korea – Extradited from Thailand, the five suspects appeared before a New York court last month to face charges of a sensational plot: smuggling crystal meth from enemy number one, North Korea.

The five suspects – from China, the U.K., the Philippines and possibly Slovakia – stand accused by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of conspiring to sell 40 pounds of 99 percent pure crystal meth to an undercover agent. They pleaded not guilty, and will appear in court again in early December.

You wouldn’t guess it, but North Korea – run by the world’s most infamous authoritarian regime – happens to be a colossal supplier of a highly potent but moderately priced form of crystal meth, experts say.

It comes in the form of “Ice,” the powerful, smoke-able type that delivers a near-immediate jolt to the brain. The drug is primarily made for export, ferried through China and, from there, distributed around the world. But some North Koreans – despite the watchful eyes of their government – are avid consumers of crystal meth too.

Two North Korean refugees in Seoul told Global Post that, in a country suffering from poverty and food shortages, the drug is a much-needed appetite suppressant, offering a means of self-medication to cope with the hardship.

Near the Chinese border, they said, Ice was widely available on the black market. It was popular among private traders and their families, who had no problem inhaling or selling it in outdoor markets with a bribe to authorities.

“Life was hard, people were hungry, and we needed the drug,” said one female North Korean defector in Seoul, who fled to the Chinese border region in the mid-2000s. She admitted to smoking Ice multiple times, and once gave smaller doses to her two boys, aged 11 and 13.

“My family was a little wealthier, so we could afford it, but even poor people did it too,” she said. “It was a popular drug.” She asked not to be named, fearing reprisals against family members still in the country.

Of course, various types of amphetamines enjoy some popularity in developing countries in Asia and Africa, where laborers, for instance, need energy to work long hours on scant meals. Even South Korea, which leaped from poverty to riches in about 30 years, was once a big-time producer of crystal meth.

This booming trade, now in private hands, was once a fundraising arm for the cash-strapped government, experts say. North Korean embassies trafficked in hashish as far back as the 1970s.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the economy collapsed, resulting in a devastating famine. By the mid-2000s, a nascent class of merchants flourished, peddling just about any illegal product you could imagine, including drugs and pirated DVDs.

“These days, more and more freelancers and professional drug dealers are taking over this murky operation of delivering the drugs produced in North Korea, packed in Northeast China, and smuggled via South East Asia to Australia, America and Europe,” said Leonid Petrov, a North Korea watcher at the Australian National University in Canberra. “Many North Korean scientists began to moonshine in private laboratories producing the similar high-quality product for domestic consumption and illicit export,” he said.

Since crystal meth laboratories are smelly, they would have to be away from populated towns. From a business standpoint, moving the contraband from North Korea to China would be realistic and highly profitable.

Chinese Mafiosos probably hand over supplies, while North Koreans, in the safety of their country, synthesize the drugs in factories near the southern banks of the Tumen River that marks part of the boundary between North Korea, China and Russia, writes Andrei Lankov, a North Korea specialist at Kookmin University in Seoul. That’s a swift change from a lucrative narcotics trade that, a decade ago, was mostly state-run.

Still, it’s not clear whether the group of five suspected dealers had the resources and connections to move meth from North Korea all the way to North America. Prosecutors accuse the group of trafficking and selling North Korean drugs in Southeast Asia, a more reachable market.

One suspect even boasted that his organization was the only one that could get the job done. “Because before, there were eight [other organizations]. But now only us, we have the NK product,” Chinese suspect Ye Tiong Tan Lim was quoted as saying on the recordings.

The suspect said that his group stockpiled one ton of North Korean meth in the Philippines, anticipating an unconfirmed decision by North Korea to destroy meth labs under pressure from the U.S. The drugs would be shipped through Thailand, according to prosecutors.

The two North Korean defectors told GlobalPost they were unsure whether laboratories have been destroyed. One study in the North Korea Review suggested that the trade was indeed moving from an array of factories to the underground.

But, explains Petrov, “As with everything that comes out of North Korea, the veracity of this story is 50-50.”





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.





North Korea rockets and artillery ‘target’ US bases

27 03 2013

North-Korean-Threats-Propaganda(by Tania Branigan, The Guardian, 26 March 2013) North Korea said it had ordered its rocket and long-range artillery units to be combat-ready, targeting military bases in the US and American bases in the region, in its latest fiery warning.

Pyongyang has issued stern admonitions and threats on an almost daily basis since the UN security council tightened sanctions over its latest nuclear test and the US and South Korea began joint military drills.

“From this moment, the supreme command of the Korean People’s Army will be putting into combat duty posture No 1 all field artillery units, including long-range artillery units and strategic rocket units, that will target all enemy objects in US invasionary bases on its mainland, Hawaii and Guam,” said a statement from the North’s military supreme command, carried on the state’s KCNA news agency.

The South Korean defence ministry said it was monitoring the situation but had detected no signs of unusual activity by the North’s army. Seoul and Washington say their current military exercises, which will continue until the end of April, are strictly defensive.

“It’s attention-seeking behaviour. It’s like a child in a candy shop: if you haven’t bought him a lolly and don’t pay attention to his tantrums he tries to intimidate you with things – even if they are self-harming,” said Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea at the Australian National University.

“North Korea really doesn’t have the capability to strike the US, though they could strike US interests in north-east Asia and South Korea. They can spur another round of the arms race, as they have already done successfully. I don’t know who benefits from that, but it’s obviously not the North, because they can’t afford it.”

He added: “It is more of a message to the domestic population. Despite all the promises of the last year about people leading a better life, the imperialists are about to attack so you have to forget that. The North is trying to seal the loyalty of the people, insulate the country and buy more time for the regime to survive.”

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a daily briefing that it hopes all sides on the Korean peninsula can exercise restraint.

Reuters reported last week that China did not export any crude oil to the North in February, the first such instance of its kind for a year, and there have been reports of tightened restrictions on trade.

China is the North’s main ally and Pyongyang remains heavily dependent on trade and aid with its neighbour. But many analysts say it is too early to tell whether Beijing’s approach has changed and stress there is no sign of a fundamental or long-term shift in policy.

“I think philosophically they don’t really like sanctions and when I talk to the Chinese none of them seem to think sanctions will work,” said John Delury, an expert on Chinese-North Korean relations at Yonsei University in Seoul.

He noted that a clampdown on cross-border deals may be part of a more general desire to clean up trade, for example.

But he added that ties between the two countries appeared weaker than they were towards the end of Kim Jong-il’s rule, probably reflecting Pyongyang’s concerns about the relationship as much as Beijing’s.

“They were getting into a red zone where all the economic ties and diplomatic ties were with China,” he said.

Despite the military alert, Kim Jong-un has found time for civilian-focused duties as leader in recent days, according to the North’s media.

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported that in addition to his visits to the army, he toured a new restaurant boat on Sunday, “feasting his eyes on the deck and handrails around it” and expressing concern that the view and air-conditioning should be satisfactory.

See also ‘Combat Ready’ North Korea Threatens To Attack U.S. Bases (NKnews.org)

Listen to my interview given to RADIO JONES on Thursday, 28th March 2013, where I expressed my views on the ongoing stand-off between North Korea and the US-allied South Korea. Alternatively, tune in on “Listen Live” at www.talkfm.com/listen-live.html produced by Porcelain Audio.





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

21 02 2013

No-Postcards-to-North-Korea(NKnews.org, 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.