“Visual Politics and North Korea: Seeing is Believing”

25 10 2013

David Shim_Visual Politics & North Korea_book coverShim, David (2014), Visual Politics and North Korea – Seeing is Believing, London: Routledge. 

In the realm of international relations, there are seemingly few states like North Korea. Whether it is the country’s human rights situation, its precarious everyday life or its so-called foreign policy of coercion and nuclear brinkmanship, no matter what this ‘pariah’ nation says and does it affects the state and stability of regional and global politics.

But what do we know about North Korea and how do we come to know it? This book argues that visual imagery plays a decisive role in this operation. By discussing two exemplary areas – everyday photography and satellite imagery – the book takes into account the role of images in the way that particular issues related to North Korea are understood in contemporary geopolitics.

Images work. They do something by evoking a particular perspective of what is shown in them, allowing only specific ways of seeing and knowing. In this sense, images are deeply political. Individual methodological usages in the book can provide a procedural basis from which to start or rethink further studies on visuality, both in IR and beyond. It also opens an innovative path for future studies on East Asia, making the book attractive to a range of specialists and thus holding an appeal beyond the boundaries of a single discipline.


David Shim’s book Visual Politics and North Korea is a timely and welcome intervention in the fields of International Relations, Asian Studies and Visual Culture. By taking the politics of seeing seriously, Shim reveals how North Korea’s geopolitical status as a pariah state has been visually figured, secured and reproduced. What makes this book particularly innovative is its attention to contrasting scales of visuality as Shim juxtaposes the practices of everyday photography with the asymmetries produced by satellite imagery. While Shim’s focus is on the case of North Korea, the book provides wide-ranging insights about the relationship between visuality and global politics. In that sense, Visual Politics and North Korea will be invaluable for critical scholars exploring the multiple intersections of seeing, knowing, globalization and power. (Dr. Debbie Lisle, School of Politics, International Studies & Philosophy, Queen’s University Belfast, UK.)

History Wars and Reconciliation: Korea at the Centre

15 03 2012

Seminar by Dr Leonid Petrov, Department of Korean Studies, University of Sydney

5.30pm – 7pm, Thursday 15 March

Common Room, School of Languages & Cultures, Room 524, Brennan-McCallum Building (A18)

Lecture abstract:  Due to its central geographical position and nationalistic cultural policies, Korea is entangled in several territorial, historiographical and cultural heritage disputes with its regional neighbours. The legacy of colonialism, the unfinished Cold War, and ongoing nuclear confrontation have turned Korea into the hub of regional conflicts. Although the genuine reasons for confrontation with China and Japan are economic competition and security concerns, the long-needed regional reconciliation can be achieved only after the issues of common history are resolved and closed.

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A Path to Unification

20 02 2012

The Cosmopolitan Civil Society (University of Technology Sydney) and the Korean Studies Department (SLC, University of Sydney) are pleased to invite you to attend a special seminar by Professor Park Ki-Seok (Kim Il-Sung University, Pyongyang)

Date: 22 Feb (Wed) 2012 (in Korean with English interpretation)
Time: 10:30-12:00 AM (free admission, refreshments provided)
Location: UTS Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre, Level 3, MaryAnn House, 645 Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney.

Summary: It has been more than six decades since Korea was divided. The North and the South remain completely isolated from each other politically, economically, and culturally. The absence of transportation, postal, or telephone communication between them has led to the growing differences in language and everyday life. Defectors from the North and occasional visitors from the South face a cultural shock when confronted with the realities of life on the other side of the DMZ. What are the main socio-cultural differences that make the unification of Korea problematic? How can we help ordinary Koreans in the North and the South reconcile and re-unify?

* Dr. Park Ki-Seok is a Research Professor at the Kim Il-Sung University in Pyongyang. A linguist by training, he looks at the national language as the foundation for future development and re-unification. Dr. Park has published two books: “The Spring Water-like Language of Pyongyang” (2009), and “The Four Seasons of Pyongyang” (2011).

Listen to the audio file (Part 1) here…

Listen to the audio file (Part 2) here…

North Korea: Imagining the Future

21 07 2011

A Collaborative Workshop (USYD, UTS, ANU, Kookmin University)
10am – 2pm Friday, July 22
Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre
Level 3, MaryAnn House, University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), 645 Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney

North Korea’s (DPRK) destiny over the coming years will have a profound impact on the stability of the entire Asia-Pacific region. Changes are likely to happen in North Korea over the coming years, and whatever direction they take, these changes will have far-reaching implications for all the other countries of the region.

This workshop aims to create a flexible forum in which leading experts can explore possible scenarios for future change in North Korea over the period to 2020, and consider the implications of each scenario for North Korea’s neighbours.

Focus will particularly be directed to economic and social change, including the future of the market economy, consumption patterns, the movement of people (both within and across North Korea’s frontiers) education, media and gender relations.

The workshop will be opened by the preeminent scholar in North Korean studies Professor Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul and author of three books on North Korea, including “North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea”. Presentations and panel discussions will include those by Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki (ANU), Professor Choi Hyaeweol (ANU), Emma Campbell (ANU), Dr Kyungja Jung (UTS), Dr Bronwen Dalton (UTS), Mary Nasr (USyd), and Dr. Leonid Petrov (USyd).

This workshop is funded by the ARC Asia Pacific Futures Research Network and the University of Technology, Sydney’s Centre for Cosmopolitan Civil Societies (CCS). Other sponsors are the Australian National University’s Korea Institute, and the University of Sydney.

Advertisement in Korean…


In this scenario the succession from father to son will pass so smoothly that nothing will change in North Korea. Transfers of powers may begin sooner than the death of Kim Jong Il, perhaps symbolically on Kim Il Sung’s 100th anniversary in April 2012. North Korea will not be torn apart by a battle between the state and markets. The two over time will establish an uneasy but symbiotic relationship. The state will continue to consider the markets as parasites and vice versa, but each will learn to exist with the other.

Following the death of Kim Jong Il a power struggle within this elite ensues. Or the power struggle may come early in the leadership of Kim Jong Eun as some within the elite begin to doubt the leadership capabilities of Kim Jong Un and instead promote his brother Kim Jong Nam or even a military junta to lead the country instead. No winner comes out of the power struggle and a power vacuum at the top immediately causes problems elsewhere in the system. As the scenario progresses, North Korea implodes in rebellion and even more devastating famine. The boundaries between North and South Korea crumble, and reunified Korea is rebuilt with economic aid from the United States and other countries. Indeed, this is a scenario of destruction and revival, where far-sighted leaders work together to build a peaceful new peninsula out of the ashes of a collapsed North Korean regime.

In this scenario the succession from father to son coincides with dramatic floods and system failures that lead the country once again into a long and devastating famine. Millions die. Unable to show leadership a power struggle against Kim Jong Eun ensues. As soon as the regime in North Korea starts to totter, China will intervene. South Korea provides food aid and also discretely supports financially China – seeing it as much cheaper that absorbing all costs of unification which it predicts will be over $3 trillion over 10-25 years, not to mention its fear of a mass southward exodus of North Koreans.

Guided by its Chinese neighbour North Korea gradually instutionalises capitalism. The decision to go the capitalist road is pragmatic and seen as the best way to maintain control as well as access much needed capital. The process begins with more formal recognition of the “state capitalist sector” The mix of socialism and capitalism brings economic progress to the cities, creating a new bourgeoisie from within the ranks of incumbent state enterprise managers and powerful segments of the party-state bureaucracy. The US supports this pragmatism and supports the World Bank in providing loans to North Korea, China and Japan facilitate discussions between North and South Korea and the development of SEZs throughout the DPRK. With cheap labour from North Korea becoming increasingly attractive to South Korean businesses, the barriers between the two Koreas starts to fall. As the North Korean people are touched by economic opportunities, new challenges emerge with petty crime, counterfeiting, and labour issues mounting. Diplomatically the world accommodates this semi-socialist state and there is a degree of reconciliation between North Korea and its long-time enemies.

Cyber-buggers are again targeting Koreanists

16 05 2011

Aidan Foster-Carter Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds University in the UK, received the email copied below. Has anyone else received this, or similar? If so, beware. It is almost certainly a virus.

A.F-C: “I have disabled the title section (here in capitals) As sent, this was a hyperlink in the usual blue. It would have been so easy to click on it!

Luckily I didn’t. Instead I hovered the cursor over it, revealing that the link ended in .hta – which is executable code, ie something nasty.

So here we go again. You may recall that I warned of a similar sly ambush attempt in August 2009. See

I know of, and am copying this to, others who have been thus attacked before. The common factor seems to be simply taking an interest in North Korea.

Importantly, those targeted are not only critics of the DPRK but also such blameless souls as CanKor:
see http://vtncankor.wordpress.com/cankor-history/

As you may know, South Korea recently experienced two serious cyber-attacks: in March and again in April. The former was general, but caused little harm since it met defences strengthened since a similar DDoS attack last year. The latter was specific (Nonghyup), and did serious damage.

The ROK government has officially blamed the DPRK for both attacks. Pyongyang sneeringly denies Nonghyup; see
and some in Seoul are sceptical too. I haven’t seen the North comment officially on the March episode.

Whoever may be responsible for any or all of this, as Curtis Melvin of NKeconwatch aptly put it, a year ago:
He has also just posted a warning of this new threat:

In short: Be careful what you click on.

Aidan Foster-Carter
Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds University, UK

Forwarded message ———-
From: David L <l_david19@yahoo.com>
To: “afostercarter@aol.com” <afostercarter@aol.com>
Date: Thu, 12 May 2011 00:58:07 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: final draft

It’s been a long time since I last corresponded with you.
How have you been? I hope everything is well with you, your family.
Finally, The final draft was complete yesterday.
It will be announced next Month after collecting more opinions from experts in the field.
The Current Situation and Future Prospects in Northeast Asia : JAPAN, NORTH KOREA, SOUTH KOREA, CHINA

http://reportinside.net/draft/fainaldraft_201105.htaXX ( XX is added at the end to prevent anyone from accidentally linking to the server).

I look forward to sharing my insights with you once I receive your assessment.
I hope to hear from you soon .

Sincerely Yours,

David in Japan

China to dump North Korea, really?

1 12 2010

By Sunny Lee (Asia Times On-line, 1 Dec. 2010) BEIJING – The WikiLeaks revelations on North Korea did not surprise analysts, who said they are after all not particularly substantial; and when it comes to North Korea, even ranking government officials can be wrong.

Leaked US diplomatic cables show China’s frustration with communist ally North Korea and present a picture that Beijing is likely to abandon its long-time ideological brother country by accepting a future unified Korea under South Korean control. That interpretation, analysts say, belies reality

“For North Korea watchers, it was not much of a news,” said Leonid Petrov, a Russian expert on Korean affairs, who teaches at the University of Sydney. Going against the predominant sentiment in the WikiLeaks documents, in which China is seen as ready to abandon its long-time communist ally, observers largely believe bilateral ties are intact, even after North Korea’s attack on the South last week, which drew international criticism on China as it long-time enabler, and calls for Beijing to do more to contain the North’s aggression.

What WikiLeaks did, according to analysts, was offer confirmation of the shallowness of the rest of the world’s understanding of North Korea, even at the very high level of a government bureaucracy, and how easy it is to be misled by one source or another.

“WikiLeaks helps us to know that, after all, intelligence is sometimes not reliable and sometimes even can be funny,” said Petrov. “It also reveals what could happen when you don’t have direct access to North Korea. People who really know North Korea don’t send cables to their government from neighboring countries [of North Korea.]”

Countries that really understand North Korea have diplomats in Pyongyang, like some European nations, Russia and China. “They all have embassies in Pyongyang and they have direct access to North Korean government officials and people,” Petrov said

Analysts believe that real, critical information is still outside the public realm. “I am pretty sure the Russian Embassy or the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang know and understand North Korea much better. They know personalities there. They know who is in what condition. Who’s controlling what. Yet they simply don’t share this [with diplomats of other countries]. So, what was leaked was just the tip of an iceberg,” said Petrov, the Russian expert.

WikiLeaks said China was preparing a contingency plan in the case of the collapse of North Korea and a flood of North Korean refugees to Chinese territory and outbreaks of unrest along its border that could happen if the with North Korean regime failed. Chinese officials in the leaks said China “could deal with up to 300,000 refugees but might have to seal the border to maintain order”. This is one of the most sensitive parts of WikiLeaks and is something that America has repeatedly nudged China to discuss, though China has so far refused…

See the full text of this article here…

To the Diamond Mountains with Tessa Morris-Suzuki

9 11 2010

To the Diamond Mountains: A Hundred Year Journey Through China and Korea (published by Rowman and Littlefield this month) takes readers on a unique journey through China and North and South Korea.

Following in the footsteps of a remarkable writer, artist and feminist, Emily Kemp, who traveled this route a century ago  in the year when Korea became a Japanese colony  the journey reveals an unseen face of China and the two Koreas: a world of monks, missionaries and smugglers, of royal tombs and socialist mausoleums; a world where today’s ideological confrontations are infused with myth and memory, and nothing is quite as it seems.

Northeast Asia today is poised at a moment of profound change as the rise of China is transforming the global order and tensions run high on the Korean Peninsula, the last Cold War divide. Probing the deep past of this region, To the Diamond Mountains offers a new and unexpected perspective on the region’s present and future.

Book Launch and Talk: “To the Diamond Mountains with Tessa Morris-Suzuki. A Journey through China and the two Koreas”
Monday November 15 at Asia Bookroom

An evening not to be missed for anyone interested in the present or past of this important, and lesser known, part of the world.

Tessa Morris-Suzuki is Professor of Japanese History in the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She has published widely on issues of history and memory in Northeast Asia; migration and ethnic minorities in Japan; Cold War history in Northeast Asia; and concepts of area studies, civil society and human rights. Her work has appeared in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, Dutch and French translation. Her other recent books include The Past Within Us: Media, Memory, History; Exodus to North Korea: Shadows from Japan’s Cold War; and Borderline Japan: Foreigners and Frontier Controls in the Postwar Era. She is also an enthusiastic traveler and has published children’s stories and poetry (including the collection of poems Peeling Apples).

If you can’t join us on November the 15th but would like to buy a signed copy or would just like to look at the details just click here To The Diamond Mountains: A Hundred-Year Journey through China

When: 6pm Monday, 15th November

Where: Asia Bookroom, Unit 2, 1 – 3 Lawry Place, Macquarie. ACT

RSVP: By Saturday 13th November by phoning +61(2)6251 5191

Admission by gold coin donation. All money raised will go towards the excellent work done by the Eugene Bell Foundation

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     nsw.branch@aiia.asn.au

Register on-line here…

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 http://sydney.edu.au/arts/korean/societies/index.shtml

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