Pyongyang bureau a coup for AP, or pact with devil?

12 06 2012

Image(by Rick Wallace, The Australian, 11 June 2012) ON the face of it, Associated Press scored a big coup in January when it became the first Western media outlet allowed to open a bureau inside secretive North Korea.

The bureau gave AP a chance to provide a rare glimpse of some of what happens inside the Stalinist state. And, in the event of a collapse or uprising, the New York-based news agency would have a major advantage over its rivals Reuters and Agence France Press.

AP, formed in 1846 by four US newspapers, has a staff of 3700 spread across 300 locations. It has been hit by criticism from within the small but active community of North Korea-watchers that it has entered into a Faustian bargain with the most evil regime in the world.

AP had been trying for years to establish an operation in the reclusive and repressive state before it finally struck a deal last July. Its bureau started up just weeks after dictator Kim Jong-il’s death in December, and has been in action during the leadership transition to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. The young princeling has started with a bang, firing off a long-range rocket (which failed miserably) and then hosting a military parade where as many as 880 items of hardware were on display.

There’s no question that AP has found its subscribers keen for its Pyongyang content, but its close collaboration with state-run media KCNA has brought questions of editorial independence. The ugly nature of its partner agency was highlighted in recent weeks as KCNA ran on its website a series of slogans threatening — among other things — to rip out the windpipe of South Korea President Lee Myung-bak and carry out attacks on the South.

The AP bureau is believed to be housed within KCNA’s Pyongyang offices and AP has hired two KNCA staff to operate the bureau during the periods that correspondent Jean Lee and photographer David Guttenfelder are not there. It’s believed that, under the arrangement, Lee and Guttenfelder are allowed to visit fairly frequently, but not to reside in Pyongyang.

The arrangement has generated praise from pro-engagement Korea scholars, but in the other corner are those who argue that AP is presenting a false, regime-sanctioned picture of North Korea that ignores the gulags, torture, extra-judicial executions and starvation.

University of Sydney Korea scholar Leonid Petrov, who has led many trips to North Korea, is broadly supportive of AP’s move. But he says AP correspondents would not be allowed to interview anyone not authorised by the government and the two staff from KCNA were essentially government agents.”Every time you are in North Korea you will be accompanied by two minders. For journalists, it’s even tougher and they are shown even less than tourists are,” he told Media.

“David Guttenfelder is doing an amazing job by showing us what he can see through his enormous lens. He shows the ordinary people of North Korea; they don’t pose for pictures, so he tries to capture them with a zoom lens.”

Petrov says any requests from AP to visit prison camps or talk to starving people would be summarily rejected. He says KCNA and the regime would never have agreed to allow AP to be in Pyongyang unless the agency had reached a gentlemen’s agreement “not to portray North Korea in a damaging light” — something AP denies. Still, Petrov thinks it’s worth it in terms of breaking down barriers and helping to create a civil society in North Korea.

But another leading Korea scholar, the Asia Foundation’s Peter Beck, says the arrangement had not been a success so far and had the potential to sully AP’s reputation. “AP decided it was in their interests to put a high price — both in monetary terms and editorial independence — to set up a bureau,” he told Media.

Beck says claims by the AP to editorial independence while operating in Pyongyang “didn’t pass the laugh test”. “The simple fact is, they wouldn’t be able to keep their office if they were reporting accurately about what’s happening in Pyongyang. You cannot do both,” he says.

Beck says engaging with North Korea always comes at a price and, while there is the potential for a huge payoff if there is a collapse or other momentous event in North Korea, AP is not currently getting much in exchange for this price. “Any deal with North Korea is basically a deal with the devil,” he says.

Another keen observer of the Korean peninsula, lawyer and blogger Joshua Stanton, is so enraged by AP’s move that he has started a subpage on his One Free Korea blog called AP Watch. Stanton, who has catalogued the locations and details of various prison camps in North Korea to help lift human rights issues to prominence, has published a stream of biting posts on the blog criticising AP’s operations there and the lack of focus on human rights.

So far, AP is yet to really engage on these criticisms and has released no details of the contract it has struck to operate in North Korea. In a recent interview on National Public Radio in the US, executive editor and senior vice-president Kathleen Carroll strived to assert AP’s editorial independence.

She said if forced to choose between censoring coverage and been booted out of North Korea, AP would choose the latter. “It’s much better to be there and be able to ask questions whether or not you get all the answers that you might seek than it is to not be there at all,” she added.

Media put a list of more than 20 questions to AP about the details and ethical considerations of its operations in North Korea and requested an interview with the correspondents involved or an executive involved establishing the bureau.

AP’s director of media relations, Paul Colford, initially promised an interview with one of the players involved in setting up the bureau but rescinded the offer after receiving the questions, saying they suggested “a highly sceptical view of our efforts”.

Colford says AP’s efforts in North Korea have yielded a string of exclusive reports, pictures and videos including interviews with a senior politburo member and the sole Western in-country reports of Kim Jong-il’s funeral.

See a related story here… North Korean Engagement Strategy Transforms the Associated Press (One Free Korea, 12 June 2012)

Cyber attacks may spark new war in Korea

8 06 2012

(Leonid Petrov, 38 North, 9 July 2013) Those who are familiar with Len Wiseman’s 2007 film “Live Free or Die Hard” (“Die Hard 4.0”) will recall the actor Bruce Willis taking on a gang of cyber terrorists intent on hacking FBI computers. At one point, the arch-villain Gabriel orders a crew of hackers to start a “fire sale” by taking control of the stock market and transportation grids. The attack is designed to target the nation’s reliance on computer controls, sending the public into a panic and presenting us with an almost credible sci-fi plot. The reality of today’s world shows that cyber-terrorism, if left unchecked, might be used not only by individuals or extremist groups, but by hostile governments on the offensive.

The Korean peninsula is now quickly turning into a place where a singular cyber-attack might spark a full-fledged conflict. Last month, North Korea was accused of actively jamming global positioning system (GPS) signals, targeting South Korea’s two largest airports outside its capital city of Seoul. The jamming signals, which were first detected on April 28 and ended on May 6, were traced to the North Korean border city of Kaesong, just 10 km north of the DMZ. Suspicions fell on imported truck-based jamming systems from Russia, capable of jamming signals within 100 kilometres. Was it really North Korea who stood behind the GPS jamming incidents and, if so, what was the purpose?

Following the North’s failed satellite launch on April 13, cyber warfare could be considered by Pyongyang as a more cost-effective way of intimidating the South. North Korea can send out jamming signals over a wide bandwidth, affecting a large number of facilities without consuming excessive amounts of energy or much needed foreign currency. A total of 553 aircraft flying in and out of South Korea’s Incheon and Gimpo airports reported GPS system failures, as did hundreds of ships and fishing boats. Considering the proximity of Seoul to the DMZ and Incheon International Airport’s proximity to the disputed waters of West Sea (Yellow Sea), such activity could cause aircrafts or ships to stray into North Korean territory, which would justify another naval clash.

GPS jamming can be used alone or in combination with other electronic and network-based attacks to disrupt South Korea’s highly digitized society. In addition to its forays into electronic warfare, the North’s military is also reportedly building up its hacking expertise. Within the last 12 months, North Korean military intelligence was accused of conducting a number of cyber attacks against South Korean and US financial institutions, government, and military websites. Experts believe that the DPRK People’s Army has units with hundreds of hackers, many of them based in China, who are employed in psychological operations to spread propaganda and infiltrate social networks. The Reconnaissance General Bureau is usually suspected of being responsible for coordinating these attempts to take down South Korea’s IT and communications infrastructure.

While inter-Korean confrontation is reaching new heights, the arrest of a 56-year-old naturalized citizen of New Zealand in Seoul in June reveals a new trend in an old conflict. An ethnic Korean known as “Mr. Kim” has been accused of exporting a satellite navigation system and long-range rocket detectors, which could have seriously compromised South Korea’s military capability. Kim and his South Korean business partners were arrested after an alleged meeting with a North Korean agent in Dandong, China. In July of last year, Kim also engaged in trade activities in Nampo, North Korea, where he handed over sensitive information that had been requested by a North Korean agent.

To what extent the North Korean military was able to utilize this equipment and information became clearer in early June this year. In an unusually detailed statement, the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army declared an ultimatum to the South Korean president Lee Myung Bak. It claimed that its missile units and other forces had been programmed with the longitude and latitude co-ordinates of various media outlets in Seoul. Among the named targets were the Chosun Ilbo and JoongAng Ilbo newspapers, a TV channel operated by the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper, and the KBS, CBS, MBC, and SBS television stations. In its report, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) named specific coordinates of the targets and promised to eliminate them if Lee did not publicly apologize for “hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK.”

According to Martyn Williams, who runs the “North Korea Tech” website, the coordinates given by the KCNA for the Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo were incorrect, in that they failed to factor in the simple rule that the maximum value for measuring minutes and seconds is 60. That is, the Chosun Ilbo was listed at 37°56’83″ North and 126°97’65″ East. Even if these calculations were corrected and processed through mapping software, one would end up in the mountains to the northwest of Chuncheon province—a long way from downtown Seoul. The Dong-A-Ilbo’s location was similarly mistaken, as well as the coordinates of JoongAng Ilbo office, which in fact, belonged to a building across the street.

However, it is not only the hi-tech GPS equipment that North Korea might use to cause chaos and panic in South Korea. Some computer experts say that the North could try to destroy infrastructure in South Korea connected with traffic, electricity, power plants, and water supplies by hacking into computer systems. Over the years, the arsenal of North Korean cyber warfare has expanded to include virus-laden computer games. A 39-year-old South Korean game distributor, known as “Mr. Cho,” is now in police custody for allegedly violating the National Security Law when he travelled to Shenyang, China, where he is said to have met with agents of a North Korean trading company.

Cho asked the North Korean programmers to develop game software that would be used in South Korea, purchasing dozens of copies valued at tens of millions of Korean won. He then sold them to South Korean distributers. According to South Korean intelligence officials, these games were infected with malignant viruses, which turned customers’ PCs into “zombie computers,” contributing to the attempted cyber attacks against Incheon International Airport in March 2011. This activity could also provide the North with the personal information of hundreds of thousands of South Korean users of online games.

Unlike the GPS-guided conventional strike, a cyber-attack can be much more precise, long-ranged, and frustrating. North Korea-focused websites run by Pyongyang watchers and academics often fall victim to hacking attempts, which usually take the form of a Distributed Denial of Service attack. DDoS attacks involve surging a server with unwanted requests, creating such demand on the processor that the website itself becomes unavailable. Tad Farrell’s web portal “NK News: DPRK Information Center” suffered several such attacks in the past before being knocked out completely on June 6 by a different type of malicious attack where passwords were changed and most of the data in the server was wiped out.

It happened just two days after a rare photo of Kim Il Sung was published online, revealing the huge cyst on the neck of the former North Korean leader. Talking about this tumor is considered a crime in the North, and the DPRK media still meticulously avoids depicting it. Was this attack initiated by the North Koreans? It is always very difficult to find the culprit of any cyber attack. The North is routinely blamed for masterminding cyber attacks against the unfriendly sites, particularly if they are linked to North Korean defectors or focused on human rights issues. The paranoid nature of the South’s spy agencies and the ongoing inter-Korean conflict tend to elevate such suspicions to the status of common knowledge.

Cyber-attacks occur regularly worldwide and Trojan viruses are relatively easy to code. To organize and sustain a DDoS attack, the hackers must have resources on the scale that could only be provided by a wealthy client or a nation state. With heightening tensions in mind, North Korea would certainly do everything in its power to bolster its intelligence gathering capability along with the ability to attack vulnerable targets. But would not South Korea or China do the same? Even rogue NGOs with sufficient funds and vested interests can be linked to cyber crime.

For example, another news portal that follows North Korea, The Daily NK, reports that it knows the source of the malware infections installed on its website because the same Trojan scripts can be found on Chinese registered domains and These sites have no content and could be used by squads of international hackers. But just because a script is associated with China, does not necessarily answer the question about the origin of the malware code. The reasons behind each attack are much more obvious then the identity of a culprit. In most cases, cyber attacks leave us with circumstantial evidence but never with a smoking gun.

Still, following the most recent incidents, South Korean prosecutors will look even closer at any possible relations between the arrested suspects and North Korea’s jamming of GPS signals and cyber attacks. In a divided Korea, espionage can mean the death penalty. Although no one has been executed in the South for any crime since 1997, the new age of burgeoning information and communication technologies presents new challenges to states and national security. More peoples’ lives become vulnerable to subtle technological manipulations, and even foreign nationals can be easily accused of conspiring with the enemy or targeted by the conflicting sides.

Bruce Willis_die-hard-4The damage from cyber warfare can be serious and its potential consequences are yet to be understood worldwide. A Russian specialist on information security, Eugene Kaspersky, warns: “A cyber weapon can replicate itself and hit a random victim anywhere around the world, no matter how far you are from the conflict zone. After all, the Internet has no borders and an attack may target an identical system, for example power stations, even if they are located in a very different region of the world.” In other words, cyber terrorism opens a new Pandora’s Box of dangers of which the world has not had a chance to witness except from hypothetical scenarios in the Hollywood blockbuster “Die Hard 4.0.”

Peace and security in Korea is becoming increasingly susceptible to cataclysms, which can be triggered by either a malicious intent or human mistake. The non-aggression and non-nuclear agreements, which were signed by Seoul and Pyongyang in the early 1990s, as well as the suspension of mutually hostile propaganda, which was maintained during the years of “Sunshine Policy” (1998-2008), are now null and void. Any provocation—either real or assumed—can be fatal and can lead to the resumption of a full-scale war on the densely populated peninsula.

The Armistice Agreement signed in Korea in 1953 is long over-due for replacement by a firm peace treaty, which would guarantee security and create conditions for peaceful co-existence of the two Korean states. Reconciliation and collaboration between Koreans and their neighbors is necessary to avert the danger of a man-made regional catastrophe. Failing to achieve it quickly, means the whole world might be caught in the virtual crossfire of an unfinished civil war, which began 62 years ago.

Read a shorter version of this article in Korean here…  한반도에서 펼쳐지는 사이버 전쟁?!

Interview with a North Korea Watcher

31 01 2012

ImageToday, I gave interview to the Australian ABC Classic FM Radio program “Midday” with Margaret Throsby. Our discussion was structured around the past, present and future of North Korea. Listen to the podcast of this program here…

Also, last week a freelance journalist, Tom Farrell, approached me with a set of questions on the similar topic. The following is the transcript of our e-mail correspondence:

T.F.: In recent interviews given by Kim Jong Nam and published by journalist Yoji Gomi, the late Dear Leader’s eldest son has dismissed Kim Jong Un as not a credible succesor to KIm Jong-Il. Do you think he is trying to set himself up as a future Opposition figure or perhaps, a ‘safe pair of hands’ that China might want in Pyongyang in the future, acting as a would-be North Korean Deng Xiaoping?

L.P.: I think that KJN is opposing the hereditary succession system of power in general, and in this context he does not see his younger half brother is a potent candidate for leadership in North Korea. Surely, KJN has had much more exposure to the realities of contemporary world and has more experience in international trade than KJU, but this is not enough to rule the country. I don’t think that KJN is the future Deng Xiaoping on North Korea. Even if China wants him to play this role he cannot lead a China-type of reform in North Korea because such reform is impossible (see below why).

T.F.: Does Kim Jong Nam have a powerbase of any kind and might China see him a bridge to his uncle, Jang Song-Taek, if he is now the real power in Pyongyang?

L.P.: KJN is a businessman who is well connected in North Korea, China, Japan and other countries of the region. His uncle Jang Song-Taek is a purely political figure, very conservative and ostensibly anti-market. In this, JST ensures KJU’s accession and stability in North Korea. Any reform in NK will destabilise the situation. I doubt that KJN and JST have anything in common except for family links.

T.F.: Do you think Kim Jong Nam’s critique is valid? Namely, that Kim Jong Un is too young to anything more than a figurehead? Would such actions as the Cheonan/island artillery attacks during 2010 have been enough for Kim Jong Un to have gained the respect and backing of the KPA leadership?

L.P: KJN and KJU are half-brothers in the ruling dynasty, thus the venomous rivalry between them is pretty natural. KJU won’t waste bullets to hunt KJN down but simply ban him from returning the country, which is perfectly OK for both of them. To gain respect and backing of the Korean Peoples’ Army (KPA), KJU needs to pay the elite and feed the 1.1 million of conscripts. Cheonan Corvet and Yeonpyongdo incidents are used in North Korean domestic policies as much as in South Korean and US regional policies. The war in Korea is continuing and KJU has been already elevated to the role of Supreme Leader, so there will be no discussion among the KPA about possible alternatives.

T.F.: Do you think there are any prospects for an organised and effective opposition from NK defectors and refugees now living in the ROK and the West?

L.P.: No, the ROK government claims the sole legitimacy for power in Korea and will not permit any effective political opposition, which might proclaim an alternative DPRK government in exile. Neither will US government support such movement.

T.F.: Given that 2012 marks both the 100th anniversary of Kim il-Sung’s birth and an election year in the United States, would you predict more offensive military actions e.g. another underground nuclear test or attacks along the DMZ and maritime border?

L.P.: For North Korea the beginning of 2012 has been overshadowed by the mourning over late KJI and consolidation of power by KJU. I don’t think that North Korean elites are willing to risk provoking a full-fledged war or a forced invasion and a regime change in the midst of 100th anniversary celebrations. Also, a provocation from the North Korean side will only help the outgoing conservative forces in South Korea to win presidential elections. In other words, I think that North Korea will stay calm, sombre, and cautious.

T.F.: Ten years after the ‘Ardous March’ (famine) there have been tens of thousands of North Koreans who crossed back and forth across the Yalu and Tumen rivers. Presumably the level of information control is not what it once was. Coupled with the won devaluation fiasco, do you think there is potential for an uprising of some kind?

L.P.: It has been 13 years since the Arduous March (1995-1998) ended. Common people in North Korea live a much better life, while the elites have many more freedoms and opportunities. Currently, no popular uprising is possible as long as the people’s level of life continues to rise and the elites feel safe and economically confident. KJU is the best person to give them that sense of safety and open the new opportunities.

T.F.: If the DPRK implodes or faces a serious breakdown of government control, this will mean massive refugee infux into China. Do you think the PLA would not stop at sealing the boder but might actually intervene with the DPRK and would they risk confronting the ROK and West?

L.P: If the DPRK implodes the ROK army will enter northern Korea to stabilise the situation and prevent the uncontrolled border crossings. China will not get involved in Korea’s domestic crisis as long as other foreign troops stay away from this crisis.

T.F.: According to Kim Jong Nam, economic liberalisation will translate into a breakdown of the political order. Do you think the DPRK might opt to butress its position by setting up more exclusive economic zones e.g. Raijin-Songbong, Kumgangsan or Kaesong that bring in revenue but keep out the general population?

L.P.: I agree with KJN. More SEZ (with or without South Korean participation) will work best for NK, generating income for the regime without compromising its political system. Reforms in economy will inevitably affect politics. The DPRK leadership want to modernise the country’s economy without much change in social and political areas. Thus, the DPRK is not attempting to fix its outdated and dysfunctional economic system. Economic changes in North Korea usually come from below, and only later (post-factum) are accepted by the top of the pyramid. The current leadership does not have a visionary master plan for development. They only react to the slow motions timidly initiated from below and, therefore, nothing is really changing in North Korea. People eat better and use mobile phones but continue fearing the same things they learned during the Cold War. Radical change in the DPRK is substituted for a slow-motion make-up measures.

Listen to another interview by Leonid Petrov given to the Australian ABC Classic FM Radio program “Midday” with Margaret Throsby on 31 January 2012 here…

“My Father, Kim Jong Il, and I: Kim Jong Nam’s Exclusive Confession”

27 01 2012

ImageYoji Gomi, Senior Staff Writer, Tokyo Shimbun, author of “My Father, Kim Jong Il, and I: Kim Jong Nam’s Exclusive Confession” gave press conference given at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Jan 24, 2012.

For journalists, getting reliable information out of North Korea is notoriously difficult. Getting a one-on-one interview with an insider with unique insight into the family that has run the country since it was created, the party, the politics and the people definitely counts as a scoop.

Yoji Gomi, a journalist with the Tokyo Shimbun, must thank the gods of journalism for the chance meeting in a Beijing airport with Kim Jong-Nam.

The oldest son of the recently departed Dear Leader, Kim Jong-nam was apparently being groomed to succeed Kim Jong-il as leader of the reclusive state until he was arrested in May 2001 trying to enter Japan on a forged Dominican Republic passport with two women and a boy aged 4. He told Japanese police that he wanted to visit Disneyland.

Furious at his son’s indiscretion, Kim Jong-il banished him to Macau and turned to Kim Jong-un as his eventual successor.

After meeting Gomi in Beijing, the journalist interviewed the man who could have been ruling North Korea, in Macao and through more than 150 e-mails. The result is the timely release, on January 20, of “My Father, Kim Jong-Il, and I: Kim Jong-Nam’s Exclusive Confession.”

Gomi commented on Kim Jong-Nam’s opposition to the hereditary transition of power to his half-brother and his ambition to one day return to his homeland.

Listen to the audio record (MP3) of the press conference here…

은둔국가의 절대적인 지도자 김정은

3 01 2012

(김혜선 기자, 호주국민헤럴드 12月22日2011年)  ‘은둔국가의 절대적인 지도자’, ‘핵무기 개발로 일본과 한국 등 전세계를 위협하는 독재정치로 경재를 더욱 궁핍하게 만든 인물’, ‘기근과 경제적 어려움에도 야만적인 정권을 유지해온, 정치적으로 노련하고 무자비한 지도자’등은 세계언론들이 북한 김정일에 대한 다양한 평가들이다. 갑작스런 김정일의 사망을 둘러싸고 많은 의혹들과 미래의 남북한 문제들에 관한 여러 예견들이 난무한 가운데 본지는 12월 20일 시드니대학교 한국학과 교수이며 한국전문가인 레오니드 페트로브교수와 전화인터뷰를 하였다. 그는 캔버라 출장 중에 있었다.

1.    김정일의 사망에 관해 많은 의혹들이 있는데(특히 2달 전에 이미 김정일이 사망을 했고 그 후 쿠테타가 일어났었다는 설까지도) 그런 의혹들에 대한 생각과 김정일의 부재는 북한의 미래에 어떤 영향을 미치게 될까?

김일성은 1986년 소련의 정치적 붕괴이전 심한 스트레스로 인한 심장마비가 왔었는데 그 당시에 김일성의 사망 루머가 있었다. 1994년 7월 8일 삼지연 별장에서 다시 심장마비가 왔었고 기상악화로 헬기가 뜨지 못해 큰 병원으로의 이송에 실패하면서 죽음을 맞게 되었다. 김일성은 1994년 9월 김영삼 전 대통령과 한국에서의 첫 회담을 결정 한 후 보수세력들의 강한 반대로 많은 스트레스를 받았다고 한다. 김정일 역시 그때와 비슷한 상황이 발생한 것 같다. 김정일은 2012년을 북한이 ‘강성대국’이 되는 해로 정해놨었다. 그래서 북한의 주민들은 2012년이 오기만을 기다리고 있었고 김정일은 내부적으로 경제적문제나 외교적인 문제로 많은 스트레스를 받았을 것으로 본다. 이미 한번 쓰러진 병력이 있는 김정일은 열차를 타고 가다 심장에 문제가 발생했고 충분한 의료장비가 없었기 때문에 심근경색이라는 사안으로 죽음을 맞게 된 것이라 생각된다. 북한에서의 쿠테타란 있을 수 없다. 북한의 정권체제를 잘 모르는 사람들이 쿠테타란 말을 쓰는 것 같다. 김정일은 자신의 부재를 완전히 준비했다. 김정은을 자신의 후계자로 지목하고 철저하게 정권이양을 했다. 김정은 정권체제의 향후 2-3년 동안의 행보가 북한의 미래에 큰 영향을 끼칠 것으로 본다.

2.    김정일의 사망 이후 북한과 중국과의 관계에 변화가 있을거라 생각하는가?

중국과 북한의 관계는 미국과 한국과의 관계에 비례한다. 이명박 대통령의 친미정책은 북한과 중국과의 관계를 더 결속하게 만들었다. 중국이 강조하는 3No가 있다. 한반도전쟁 No, 북한이 무너지는 것 No, 미군기지가 중국국경에 근접해있는 것 No. 중국도 남북한의 문제로 머리가 복잡하다. 중국과 북한의 관계에 김정일의 부재는 그리 큰 영향을 끼칠 것으로 보지는 않는다.

3.    6자 회담을 앞둔 김정일의 죽음이 남북한의 관계와 한반도 통일의 문제, 그리고 국제정세에는 어떤 영향을 미치게 될 것인가?

북한의 핵문제를 해결하기 위해서는 한국전쟁이 끝나야 한다. 남북한은 1945년 일본으로부터 해방은 되었지만 통일국가를 수립하는데 실패하고 1948년 남북한에 각각 정권이 들어서면서 분단을 맞게 되었다. 1950년 발발했던 한국전쟁은 미국등 16개국의 연합군, 그리고 중국과 소련이 개입이 되면서3차 세계전쟁으로 확산될 위험까지도 있었다. 한국전쟁은 1953년 7월 27일 당사자인 한국은 제외된 채 유엔측 대표와 북한 대표간의 18통의 휴전 협정문서에 서명을 함으로 휴전협정이 이루어지고 휴전만 한 상태로 오늘날까지 이르게 되었다. 현재 미국은 북한에 강경한 태도로 일관하고 있으며 북한의 주위의 국가들에게까지 경계의 눈초리를 보내고 있는 시점에서 친북을 하던 주변국가들은 미국의 눈치보기에 급급하여 북한은 무역이나 교육 등 외국과의 교류는 현재 전혀 생각 조차도 못하고 있는 실정이다. 미국이 외교적으로 북한을 인정하지 않고 북한이 고립된 상태로 있는 한 북한의 핵 문제는 해결점을 생각하기는 어려울 것이다. 북한의 핵 문제는 북한이 외교적 문제에서, 특히 미국과의 문제가 해결이 되었을 때(미국이 전쟁을 먼저 시작하지 않을 것이란 확신이 섰을 때) 자연스럽게 해결될 문제이다. 강경했던 김정일의 부재는 미국과 북한과의 대화를 자연스럽게 이끌어낼 가능성을 생각해볼 수 있다. 북한이 미국과의 전쟁의 위협에서 안정이 되고 좀더 경제적으로 자립할 위치에 있게 되고 남한과의 교류가 자연스럽게 이루어질때 그때가 남북한 통일의 문제에 관해서 이야기할 수 있는 시점이 되지 않을까 싶다. 미국이나 일본, 중국과 러시아가 개입된 6자 회담보다 제일 당사자인 북한과 한국과의 교류나 대화가 더 중요하다. 미국이나 일본, 중국 그 어느 나라도 남북한의 통일을 원하는 나라는 없다.

페트로브교수는 북한이 더 이상 고립되지 않도록 자연스럽게 국제사회로 이끌어 내는 일이 중요하다고 강조하였다. 교수는 6자회담에 별 희망을 거는것 같지 않았다. 그와의 인터뷰를 하는 동안 한반도 분단구조를 유지하려는 주변의 국가들과 한반도의 문제를 공유해야며 북한에 문제가 있을 때마다 미국의 시나리오안에서 움직일 수 밖에 없는 남한의 현실을 너무 당연하게 받아들이고 있는 우리들이 안타깝게만 느껴졌다. 북한이 앞으로 어떠한 위치에 처하든, 경제적 그리고 외교적인 어떠한 문제들도 결국은 우리가 안고가야할, 우리들만의 문제이고 과제임을 잊어서는 않될 것이다.

How will tensions be across the peninsula?

4 12 2010

On 3 Dec., Leonid Petrov gave interview to CNBC’s “Straight Talk with Bernie Lo” program,  answering question on the tensions around the Korean peninsula.

BL: Dr. Leonid Petrov, please give us a review of what’s been going on since North Korea fired upon South Korea last week.

LP:  Tensions are heightening in the area around Yeonpyeong Island, with the confirmation that North Korean forces deployed 122 mm multi-launch rocket systems (Russian-made GRAD) in an inland area near Kaemori to a coastal location facing the island, and opened additional 76.2 mm (Russian-made ЗИС-3) naval artillery firing ports in addition to the previous 14 locations.
The North Korean military was also reported to have stepped up its anti-air posture, targeting aerial activity by South Korean fighter planes flying in the area near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), with the forward deployment of SA-2 earth-to-air missiles in the area north of Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands. It was also confirmed that the North Korean military positioned anti-ship missiles on a launch pad in the area around Tungsangot in Hwanghae Province, near the NLL.

South Korea’s military plans to conduct large-scale artillery firing drills in seas around the Korean Peninsula, including waters close to the Yellow/West Sea border, between 6-12 Dec., will beef up its defence readiness posture against North Korea. An advisory was issued to local vessels planning to navigate around 29 locations in waters around the peninsula.

The 29 locations include 16 in the Yellow/West Sea but do not include waters close to Yeonpyeong Island where the deadly shelling took the lives of four South Koreans. Instead, Daecheong Island, close to Baengnyeong Island where the South Korean corvette Cheonan was sank last March, was included. The ROK navy plans to conduct firing exercises in waters southwest of Daecheong Island. Next week’s naval firing drills are expected to further increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

BL: How have international ties been affected  in terms of China, the US and Japan’s reaction to the shelling? Should the world be looking at China to play peacekeeper ?

LP: China does act consistently as a peacemaker, sending its envoys simultaneously to Seoul and Pyongyang. Beijing has proposed that chief negotiators in the six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament hold an emergency meeting early this month to discuss ways of easing tensions. But South Korea and Japan have refused to talk. The US remains non-committal. Only Russia has supported China’s proposal to hold the emergency talks.

Top legislators from China and North Korea held talks in Beijing, where Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of Chinese National People’s Congress, and Choe Thae-bok, Secretary of the Central Committee of the North Korean Workers’ Party, met on Wednesday. China said it does not seek to protect any side in the crisis and urged against acts that may inflame regional tensions. But China’s efforts to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been unfairly rebuked by both sides of the conflict. The United States also views China’s lukewarm response to North Korea’s actions with puzzlement and disappointment.

BL: What do you think will go on from here on? How will tensions be across the peninsula?

LP: Much will depend of the position of US government, the strategic allay of South Korea. The Obama administration must put more pressure on Lee Myungbak’s government to stop its provocative actions in the disputed waters and along the DMZ and be more open to diplomatic solutions to the problem. Seoul should talk to Pyongyang, while Washington must discuss paths for conflict resolution with Beijing.

Following bilateral talks, a round of four-party talks (PRC-US-ROK-DPRK) should be conducted to discuss the ending of the Korean War by the way of signing a new peace treaty, diplomatic cross recognition, and mutual security assurance. Ultimately, after the peace regime is established, the six-party talks (with participation of Russia and Japan) may be resumed and lead to a final resolution of nuclear problem.

BL: And with US, South Korea and Japan meeting next week to discuss more possible action, what might come out of such talks?

LP: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet on Monday, 6 Dec., in Washington with her counterparts from South Korea (Minister Kim Sung-hwan) and Japan (Minister Seiji Maehara) to discuss regional tension. It is disappointing that the meeting excludes China and Russia. The trilateral format of this meeting on regional security clearly shows that the US and its allies still think and operate in the old Cold War paradigm of bloc mentality, where fear and distrust rule decision making.

The current crisis has created a moment of truth for all members of the former six-party talks, revealing their genuine intentions. The members of theUS-ROK-Japan alliance are much more comfortable talking amongst themselves than facing the challenge posed by DPRK-PRC-Russia’s invitation to end the Korean War and sign the peace treaty. Close cooperation between the United States and China is paramount for the quickest resolution of the Korean crisis and restoration of stability in the region.

Korea (North, South, or unified) should be given a status of neutral, non-aligned, and non-nuclear zone. Only then will its neighbours stop competing for influence over the peninsula, and Koreans themselves will be given a chance to reconcile. As a result, Korea will become a peaceful and stable regional balancer at the centre of Northeast Asia.

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…

Undercover “Journalism” in the DPRK

19 10 2010

David McNeill_The Independent(by Tad Farrell , October 19, 2010) As most people are aware, Western journalists are not typically welcome in North Korea. The case of Euna Lee and Laura Ling last year was a good example of what can happen to those too eager for an NK scoop.

But that didn’t stop David McNeill of London’s ‘The Independent’ travelling to the DPRK just two weeks ago, ostensibly as a tourist attending the Pyongyang International Film Festival, but most likely there to try and cover the impeding Party Congress, initially rumoured to be starting around the same time.  He wasn’t the first reporter to enter the country on a tourist visa, and he won’t be the last.   But one thing is for sure, 0 Comments and 0 Reactions is a classic example of the hyperbolic and sensationalist approach to North Korea reporting that is standard in mainstream media –  a standard where fact-checking and normally rigid editorial standards go right out of the window.

McNeill starts his tourist ‘exposé’ by explaining that just behind the boulevards of Pyongyang, “stories abound of poverty and malnutrition.” The reality?  Well, as in any other capital city, differences do exist between the showcase boulevards and less well developed back streets.  However, this qualitative difference does not mean those living in the back streets are thus starving or living in abject poverty.  No, those living in Pyongyang’s backstreets are living in relative luxury to the rest of the country – where McNeill should have gone if he wanted to prove that yes, North Korea is a poor country.

McNeill goes on to describe his guides as treating visitors “like antibodies around a virus, hustling them from one approved site to the next and isolating them in the hotel – dubbed Alcatraz because it’s built on an island”. But many of the guides are extremely friendly and inquisitive people – who, if you have an amenable character, will soon join you for beers, talk about their personal lives, and be as flexible as possible with regards to modifying itineraries.  Sure, you might not enjoy the freedoms associated with a weekend jaunt to Paris, but if that’s what you want, then Paris awaits.  And although the Yanggakdo Hotel is indeed located on an island, visitors are perfectly welcome to stay at the Koryo Hotel in downtown Pyongyang, just opposite a main road lined with shops and restaurants (open to tourists too).

Obviously distressed by the fact that the Party Congress wasn’t going to coincide with his visit, Mr. McNeill decided to do the next best thing and go with a colleague for an unescorted stroll around Pyongyang – for what better way to “see beyond the façade”?   And so at dawn McNeill set off.  After walking for more than two hours, McNeill remarks that in the DPRK, “modern life is stripped bare – no iPods, jeans, T-shirts or sneakers – which are banned as foreign affectations…[where] mobile phones are as rare as sparrows in winter”.

While iPods might well be rare, mobile telephones are becoming increasingly commonplace in Pyongyang, with over 250,000 units now sold in the DPRK and a network that spans the length of the country.  And although that’s a relatively low number of phones for a population of 23 million, it is nevertheless clear that not just the elite possess them.   In terms of McNeill’s fashion observations, Simon Cockerell from Koryo Tours points out, “loads of people wear sneakers, most wear leather shoes, they cost the same, this is nothing more than a choice, jeans of course are rare there – although you do see them being worn, and now some Chinese traders bring them in for sale at the markets”.  To suggest these items are illegal is simply incorrect, merely serving to perpetuate the same old impressions of the North.

Having dwelled on the lack of consumer goods visible seen during his 7am stroll, McNeill then describes his walk through the backstreets, where “roads were potholed, the people scruffier and more sullen, [with] some appearing to live in slum-like conditions”. Assuming he had been kept away from the many HuTongs of Beijing (where he undoubtedly started his visit), one can appreciate that witnessing such scenes in a capital city must have very well felt newsworthy for Mr. McNeill.  But more was to come.

After rounding a backstreet, McNeill then explains how he “came across a group of maybe 200, huddled around a makeshift street market” – the first sign that even in Pyongyang, “the country’s state-controlled distribution system is shot to pieces”. Describing the markets as “illegal” in North Korea, McNeill describes the angry reaction of customers when he pulls out his camera to snap them – as if on safari in Kenya.  When a “man in a scruffy army uniform demanded the cameras”, McNeill’s reaction is to try and run away – around the corner and into a “phalanx of green uniforms – a local guard-post”. And so he and his Times of London colleague were therefore ‘caught’, with the scoop being brought to a premature end.  Cameras confiscated, they were escorted back to the hotel where guide Mr. Cha was waiting, shocked to hear of what had happened.  A disaster in investigative journalism coupled with a healthy dose of misreporting.

Simon Cockerell explains, “The market isn’t a secret and people don’t get in trouble for trading there, its clearly obvious to anyone looking at it and the sellers in the streets around it too are also there legitimately.  Foreigners working in Pyongyang can go to the markets as well”.  But regardless of the markets legality, what reaction did McNeill expect to receive when pulling out his camera to snap its customers?  That the Koreans stop and pose for him, or perhaps, that he be showered with rose petals?

Back at the hotel McNeill ends his ‘exposé’ by describing a ‘tearful’ Mr. Cha and the consequences of his unescorted walk – the writing of a letter of apology and the confiscation of his camera memory cards.  Unfortunately this time, for McNeill, no high-ranking British official would be flying to Pyongyang to secure his release.

In summary, all McNeill’s “exposé” really confirms is that North Korea is a poor country with an authoritarian government.  But didn’t we know that already?  When travelling beyond Pyongyang as a tourist it soon becomes evident that the country is far from equally developed.  There are ample opportunities to see real poverty and hunger – if that’s what you are looking for.  As you travel to towns like Wonson, Kaesong and Hamhung, the tour guides most likely won’t be pointing out to the run-down villages, shabby markets, or hungry looking people – but if you look, you will see them.  In reality, these things are not the state secrets that many in the mainstream media suggest North Korea is hiding from its tourists.  Its just the North Korean tourist agency doesn’t like to draw attention to them.   As guides in Washington D.C will keep tourists away from its many poverty-stricken areas, the objective of North Korea’s tourist company is unremarkably the same.

See the comments here…

Foreign Films Show in North Korea

3 10 2010

by Ian Timberlake (AFP, Pyongyang, 01 Oct. 2010)

One of the world’s most tightly-controlled societies got a rare glimpse of the outside world at the Pyongyang International Film Festival last week, where even Western films were screened. Communist North Korea strictly controls access to information, including via mobile phones and the Internet, leaving most North Koreans in ignorance of the wider world. A tour guide had never heard of the late pop star Michael Jackson. Yet participants in the 12th Pyongyang International Film Festival, which ended on September 24, say it helped open a window for the impoverished country.

Only a minority of the population was able to attend the event, but it gave them access to documentaries, feature films and shorts from several European countries and Canada. Productions from Asia, Russia, the Middle East and elsewhere were also on the programme. Henrik Nydqvist, a freelance film producer who was Sweden’s official delegate to the eight-day event, said anything which breaks North Korea’s isolation is positive. “We think we’re doing something good here,” he said. “We feel we can make some positive impact… and that outweighs the other things.”

The festival has its own venue, the Pyongyang International Cinema House, which includes a 2,000-seat theatre as well as other smaller halls. Red, blue and green neon signs hanging in the atrium beam the country’s foreign policy slogan: “Peace, independence, friendship”. A 300-seat hall was almost completely filled with Koreans for an afternoon screening of the comedy “Pieces d’Identites” from Congo. They sat quietly behind padlocked doors in a hot, airless room for the story of an African king who travels to Belgium in search of his daughter, who has been forced to work as a nude dancer.

The film’s images include bordellos and a heaving African nightclub, depicting a world alien to North Koreans who are bombarded with propaganda from childhood and whose showpiece capital Pyongyang appears to be stuck in a time decades past. Such images can only help to bring about change, said a source connected with the film festival. “They have in mind: Why is North Korea, my country, different?” Connections are required to gain admission and authorities do not want the rural masses outside of the capital to see foreign movies, he said. “I watched some poor people who wanted to see the movie, and the guard stopped them.”

At the event’s closing ceremony attended by more than 1,500 people, including foreign diplomats, Nydqvist read a letter of thanks to Kim Jong-Il, ruler of the country which has twice tested nuclear weapons and is under various United States and United Nations sanctions. “The Pyongyang International Film Festival is unique,” the letter said, thanking Kim for his “care and interest.” Such messages are common practice in the country, Nydqvist said.

Kim, 68, is said to have a collection of 20,000 Hollywood movies, and engineered the kidnap in 1978 of a South Korean director to help him make films. He has also written books about movie-making, including one slim volume which says cinema “has the task of contributing to the development of people to be true communists and to the revolutionisation and working-classisation of the whole of society.” At Pyongyang’s Korean Film Studio, the country’s centre of film production, a director said Kim had visited “on more than 500 occasions”. Kim has also provided “guidance” to the film festival, Nydqvist said, citing organisers of the event. But the ailing Kim’s time on the political stage appears to be nearing an end.

On Thursday, 30 Sep., the regime released the first-ever official photograph of Kim Jong-Il’s youngest son Kim Jong-Un, which analysts said confirms the young man’s status as leader-in-waiting. Jong-Un, believed aged about 27, has assumed powerful posts in North Korea’s ruling party, state media said after the Workers’ Party of Korea held its highest-level meeting in 30 years on Tuesday. Whether he shares his father’s cinematic obsession is unknown but Jong-Un did have an interest in Hollywood tough-guy Jean-Claude Van Damme, say staff and friends at Swiss international schools where he studied, according to newspaper reports.

Several North Korean films were screened at the festival, including “Hong Kil Dong,” a 1986 production about a type of Robin Hood martial arts fighter in ancient times, whose flute-playing induces terror in the villains. The festival programme listed Germany’s “Four Minutes”, the Serbian documentary “Let There Be Light”, and Swedish feature “As It Is In Heaven” among the many international offerings.

An organising committee chooses delegates from among those who apply, Nydqvist said, adding their expenses in Pyongyang are paid for but airfare is not. A Briton and a Vietnamese were among the members of the film jury which chose a Chinese film, “Walking to School,” as the grand prize winner. China won at the previous festival, too, but Nydqvist said: “I’ve never heard anything suggesting that the jury was encouraged to favour a specific country…”

See the full text of the article here…

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…