Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll in North Korea

20 08 2013

DPRK flag_Sex,Drugs and Rock'n'RollJoin a free event featuring two internationally preeminent scholars in North Korean studies: Professor Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University, Professor Seok-Hyang Kim of Ewha Womans University, and a panel of Australian experts to discuss North Korea’s quiet transformation.


University of Technology Sydney,
Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Research Centre,
Level 3, MaryAnn House, 645 Harris Street, ULTIMO, NSW 2007.
9:30am -12:00 pm
Thursday, 29 August 2013


North Korea is often described as the world’s last Stalinist country, but this description is misleading in several important ways: the country is now an emerging market economy and undergoing significant cultural change. While the Stalinist facade remains, de facto private enterprises (ranging from small markets and private plots, all the way up to large pseudo-state coal mines and trading companies) have come to dominate the North Korean economy. The cultural landscape is also experiencing significant change.

In this workshop the panel of experts, who conducted numerous interviews with North Koreans, will outline some of the key changes that are occurring in this country in transition. A particular focus will be directed to economic and social change, including changes in consumption patterns and the spread of popular culture. These issues will be discussed in the context of the emerging market economy. This workshop will also include presentations on the lives and rights of North Korean immigrants in Australia, and the depiction of North Korea by the Australian media.


09:30-10:00am Coffee and welcome

10:00-10:30am Introduction and “Sex, Drugs and Rock-n-Roll in North Korea: new phenomena in the land of ‘no change’” (Dr. Leonid Petrov)

10:30-11:00am North Korean Restaurants: the new economy in North Korea (Prof. Andrei Lankov)

11:00-11:30am Everyday life in North Korea: From the lives of women to the impact of drugs (Prof. Seok-Hyang Kim)

11:30am-12:00pm North Koreans in Australia (Dr. Kyung-Ja Jung);
North Korea and the Australian media (Dr. Bronwen Dalton)

The workshop is funded by the Australian Research Council and the University of Technology, Sydney’s Centre for Cosmopolitan Civil Societies (CCS)

Andrei LankovProf. Andrei Lankov was born in 1963 in St. Petersburg. He completed his undergraduate and graduate studies at Leningrad State University (PhD in 1989). Between 1996 and 2004 he taught Korean history at the ANU, and since 2004 he has been teaching at Kookmin University in Seoul. His major English language publications on North Korea include: From Stalin to Kim Il Sung: The Formation of North Korea, 1945-1960 (Rutgers University Press, 2003); Crisis in North Korea: The Failure of De-Stalinization, 1956 (University of Hawaii Press, 2004), North of the DMZ: Essays on Daily Life in North Korea (McFarland and Company, 2007), The Real North Korea (Oxford University Press, 2013).

김석향_1Prof. Seok-Hyang Kim worked at the Center for Unification of the ROK’s Ministry of Unification. Since 2005, she has been a Professor at the Department of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.  Her research topics include the everyday life of ordinary people in North Korea and defectors’ lives after leaving North Korea. She has recently published: People from  Hyeryong, North Korea, Let  Others Know Their Own Stories. (Seoul: Kookmin University Press, 2013); ‘Study on the Consumption Trend Phenomenon in North Korea after 1990: Based on the Experiences of North Korean Defectors,’ in North Korean Studies Review (2012); and ‘Public and Private Discourse on Human Rights in North Korea,’ Ewha Journal of Social Science (2012).

kyungja-jungDr. Kyung-Ja Jung ‘s academic interests are grounded in and inspired by her involvement in women’s activism in Australia and Korea. Her areas of expertise include women’s movements, women’s policy, North Korean female defectors, migrants, sex workers, and violence against women. Dr. Jung’s research has been published in academic journals (Hecate, Asian Survey, Asian Journal of Women’s Studies, and International Review of Korean Studies) and as book chapters in Women’s Movements: Flourishing or in Abeyance (Routledge, 2008) and The Work of Policy: an International Survey (Lexington, 2006). She has also published a co-authored book Sex Trafficking or Shadow Tourism? (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010). Her most recent book Practicing Feminism in South Korea: Sexual Violence and the Women’s Movement (Routledge, 2013).

Bronwen Dalton_1Dr. Bronwen Dalton has a BA degree from the ANU, an MA from Yonsei University, and a PhD from the University of Oxford (2001). She is the Director of the Masters of Not-for-Profit and Community Management Program at the University of Technology, Sydney; the Board Member of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs’ Australia-Korea Foundation; and Regional Vice-President, Oceania of the International Council of Voluntarism & Civil Society. Dr. Dalton has conducted extensive research in the field of North Korean Studies and published a number of journal articles on North Korean defectors, gender relations, and international NGOs in North Korea. Together with Dr. Kyung-Ja Jung, she co-authored the book Sex Trafficking or Shadow Tourism? (Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010).

LP_photo_2007_minimizedDr Leonid Petrov graduated from the Department of Oriental Studies, St. Petersburg State University in 1994, where he majored in Korean History and Language. Between 1996 and 2002, Leonid Petrov worked on a doctoral thesis “Socio-economic School and the Formation of North Korean Official Historiography” at the ANU. Between 2003 and 2007, Dr. Petrov taught Korean History at the Intercultural Institute of California in San Francisco, and Korean Economy at Keimyung University in Daegu; he acted as Chair of Korean Studies at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) in France. Between 2009 and 2012, he taught Korean History and Language at the University of Sydney. Currently, Dr. Petrov teaches Cross-cultural Management and other business-related courses at the International College of Management, Sydney. He is also a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.

North Korea Threat: is it cooling?

11 04 2013

NK missile launch drills (By Steven Borowiec, Chrisian Science Monitor, 10 April 2013) North Korea threat of missile launch continued to preoccupy the region today, which was the deadline North Korea gave for foreigners to leave South Korea to avoid conflict. But nothing happened.

North Korea picked Wednesday April 10 as the day by which foreign embassies in Pyongyang should submit evacuation plans, foreigners should leave South Korea, and South Korean workers should leave the now barely functioning Kaesong Industrial Complex, hinting at a provocation that could bring the area into a state of conflict.

Though North Korea has threatened South Korea many times in the past, this time analysts are viewing the situation differently, seriously considering the possibility of a large-scale provocation from the North. North Korea is believed to have moved two Musudan missiles to its eastern coast last week, leading many to predict an imminent missile launch. South Korean and US defense forces responded by upgrading their military surveillance postures looking for signs of a North Korean rocket launch.

But as the day came and went with no observed action, it raised the question: Have North Korea’s heated rhetoric and threats been bluffs? “The general principle is to escalate tensions in order to later be able to negotiate from a position of strength,” says Leonid Petrov, a researcher in Korean studies at Australian National University.

Musudan missiles have a range of about 1,875 miles, meaning they could reach anywhere in South Korea, Japan, or the US territory of Guam. But as the Musudan missiles have never been flight-tested by North Korea, their launch might be unlikely, as the North would be wary of the loss of face that would come with an unsuccessful launch attempt.

According to analysts, the raising of tensions may be a deliberate ploy to create an atmosphere of nervousness about North Korea’s next move and thereby strengthen Pyongyang’s hand when it comes time to negotiate next with the international community. North Korea, for example, raised eyebrows with seemingly irrational acts like pulling workers out of the joint North-South Kaesong economic industrial park, an important source of revenue for the cash-strapped country.

According to Mr. Petrov, this type of short-term move could pay off down the road when North Korea seeks aid or economic assistance. Hostile rhetoric can also contribute to more important ends like rallying citizens around an ideology of confrontation with enemies, particularly the US and South Korea. “North Korea’s leadership is willing to do things that may be self-harming in the short term. Money is not the most important thing to them. Things like maintaining their system, the stability of the leadership, the isolation of the people from other sources of information, those are the most critical things,” says Petrov.

In a New York Times opinion piece on Tuesday, Kookmin University professor Andrei Lankov wrote, “Put bluntly, North Korea’s government hopes to squeeze more aid from the outside world. Of late, it has become very dependent on Chinese aid, and it wants other sponsors as well.”

Today in Seoul, the US Department of State reiterated its position that there was no reason for US citizens to expect any special danger in South Korea, in a statement that read, “North Korea’s reported ‘advice’ to foreigners that they depart South Korea only serves to unnecessarily and provocatively escalate tensions.”

Still, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told a parliamentary hearing today, “according to intelligence obtained by our side and the US, the possibility of a missile launch by North Korea is very high.” Mr. Yun added that a missile launch could still come “at any time.”

South Korea’s police raised their state of terror alert one level from “attention” to “caution” out of concern for a possible North Korean terrorist attack.

Dates and numbers have great symbolic importance to North Korea, so Pyongyang often schedules what Washington calls “provocative acts” around holidays and important political events. Some are eying the anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the state’s founder and the current leader’s grandfather, on April 15.

Also on Wednesday, the South Korean government announced that it had determined that North Korea was behind cyber-attacks that disrupted the systems of several banks and broadcasters on March 20. This has fed speculation that North Korea will increasingly use asymmetric tactics that are still harmful but avoid direct military conflict, where it is at a significant disadvantage.

One Korea, one enormous challenge

31 07 2011

by Hamish Mcdonald (Sydney Morning Herald, July 30, 2011)

If Kim Jong-il and his North Korean regime didn’t exist, would we have to invent them? This Strangelovian thought came to mind as the region’s foreign ministers in the American camp took the opportunity of the recent Bali security forum to beat up on the North Koreans.

Indeed they have much to be berated about: the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, the shelling of a fishing village and frenetic pursuit of nuclear enrichment and weapons testing – despite having agreed six years ago to freeze and then dismantle the latter activity in return for various quid pro quo.
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For a while, the general policy line has been: let them starve, let them freeze, let the regime crumble – no more sweeteners or “paying for the same horse twice”. A couple of years ago, it really looked as though the regime might be close to collapse, when Kim Jong-il suffered a severe stroke and the order of succession was unclear.

According to Andrei Lankov, of Seoul’s Kookmin University, who is one of the talented Russian scholars helping us understand Pyongyang, the Chinese started sending academics to Seoul and other places to discuss ways of dealing with regime collapse.

Now Kim’s health seems to have stabilised and he’s started grooming one of his sons, Kim Jong-un, as the “Bright Leader” to be the third ruler in the dynasty. The Chinese seem to be giving cautious endorsement and continue to underwrite what they see as still a useful buffer state.

The 40 million South Koreans meanwhile are getting less and less keen about the prospect of reunifying the peninsula and assuming responsibility for 23 million stunted and brainwashed northerners – at an estimated cost of $US3 trillion ($2.7 trillion).

Emma Campbell, a Korea scholar at the Australian National University, has been investigating who young South Koreans include in “uri nara” (our nation). They can accept Korean-speaking foreigners who settle in South Korea, and most Korean-Americans, but not North Koreans.

Ethnic nationalism is mutating to what Campbell calls a “globalised cultural nationalism” by which young South Koreans take pride in the modernity of their society, its advanced technology and big corporations known around the world. They value education, international values and speaking foreign languages.

Although most Europeans regard the German reunification as a success story, with a former easterner, Angela Merkel, now the country’s leader, in South Korea there is a general perception that it was immensely costly and still difficult. The South’s young feel they have enough problems, Campbell says. “Even older Koreans don’t understand how competitive it is for young people – to get educated, to get into university, to get a good job, to get married. I don’t blame them for being reluctant to think about integrating North Koreans.”

Lankov and Campbell were among speakers at a University of Technology Sydney workshop a week ago on “North Korea: Imagining the Future”. A lot of imagination is required, and the organisers floated four scenarios to get everyone talking.

One was a smooth succession to Kim Jong-un, perhaps starting as early as the 100th birth anniversary next April of his grandfather, regime founder Kim Il-sung. The state and the market economy establish an “uneasy but symbiotic relationship” and the country muddles along. The second envisaged a power struggle in the regime when Kim Jong-il dies, with the country imploding in rebellion and even worse famine than usual, leading to a breakdown of the border with the South and a massive foreign stabilisation effort. The third is a variant of No.2, except that famine and internal strife precipitates Chinese intervention, with Seoul tacitly accepting and helping with food and financial aid, as an alternative to shouldering the burden itself. The fourth scenario sees North Korea taking the Chinese road of capitalism, with a powerful bourgeoisie rising out of the state sector. The outside world supports this opening up, and gradually barriers and hostilities on the peninsula subside. But don’t hold your breath. Something could happen next week, or it could take years before any significant trend is visible.

Leonid Petrov, another Korea expert from Russia now at Sydney University, suggests instruments of change are already at work. A Singapore fast-food chain has set up a joint-venture with Kim Jong-il’s younger sister. North Korea’s new mobile telephone system has 600,000 subscribers. DVDs of South Korean TV soaps are circulating.

Women have moved into the free markets allowed under Kim Jong-il’s hesitant reforms of the past few years. Kyungja Jung, of UTS, thinks such women are likely to be the first to have the scales fall from their eyes about the regime’s ideology. The “angry female trader” is already a phenomenon that could turn to dissidence.

If and when it does happen, Korean reunification will be the biggest challenge facing “any society, any country”, Campbell says.

It will pose big strategic issues, says Lankov: the Chinese have indicated a “maximal” aim of getting American forces off the peninsula completely, a “minimal” aim of keeping them below the present DMZ.

Mary Nasr, a PhD candidate at Sydney University, says being confronted by the demonised South Koreans and Americans will be traumatic for many Northerners. Indeed, you think of the Japanese in August 1945, only they had their emperor telling them to “bear the unbearable”.

Lankov thinks there is a lot of preventive medicine that countries like Australia could start providing. “A few things can help in any scenario,” he said.

One is education and training: North Korea is unlikely to send students to the US, but would send them here. The ANU actually had a program to teach officials how to run a modern market economy but it was halted by the Howard government as part of anti-nuclear sanctions.

Another is developmental aid. “Maybe not nuclear physics, but everything else,” Lankov says. “The trouble is people here are afraid of their American friends.”

While embargoes are rightly applied on strategic weapons and nuclear material, generalised sanctions tend to entrench dictatorships. More revolutions result from a population able to measure its position against that in other countries, and spread the word by mobile phones and email.

See the full text of this article here…

Mythmaking is a long-time specialty of Pyongyang-watchers

7 12 2010

by MARK MacKINNON (Saturday’s Globe and Mail, Dec. 04, 2010)

“There’s wistfulness in the young man’s eyes, a longing for home as he walks purposefully along the edge of a lake that looks to be somewhere in Central Europe. But he doesn’t dress like the locals. Even thousands of kilometres away from the place of his birth, the young man proudly wears a collarless grey Mao suit and military-style greatcoat, the favoured attire of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. The young man in the portrait – which was photographed hanging in a museum by a sharp-eyed Canadian tourist to North Korea – bears a striking resemblance to Kim Jong-un, the twenty-something youngest son of Kim Jong-il and the recently named heir to power in the Hermit Kingdom…

…If it is him, and a majority of the experts consulted by The Globe and Mail believe that it is, the portrait marks the first glimpse anyone outside North Korea has had of how the regime will sell Kim Jong-un to a people conditioned to believe his father is their infallible Dear Leader and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, an immortal who remains president despite his death in 1994. It would be laughable, perhaps, if the new propaganda campaign weren’t accompanied by new military recklessness – including last month’s deadly shelling of a South Korean island – intended to give Kim Jong-un, already praised as “the Young General,” victories to claim as his own.

Out of half a dozen North Korea scholars who were sent a copy of the portrait, only one [Andrei Lankov] disagreed that the subject was likely Kim Jong-un. The other experts saw it as the launch of a massive propaganda campaign that will attempt to portray the heir apparent as having been sent abroad to learn foreign ways and technologies, while always keeping North Korea and its people in his heart. Several who saw the portrait noted the physical resemblance (though the heir apparent is much flabbier in recent television footage), as well as a background that looks to be Interlaken, Switzerland, where Kim Jong-un is known to have spent time while studying at the International School of Berne in the late 1990s.

“It’s big news,” said Brian Myers, an expert on North Korea at Dongseo University in South Korea. “It’s hard to be completely certain on the basis of an untitled image alone. … But I cannot imagine a schoolboy outside the Kim family meriting this kind of painting, and it is very similar in mood and layout to depictions of the young Kim Il-sung and the young Kim Jong-il. So I would assume that it is Kim Jong-un although it is not a particularly striking likeness in view of the Kim Jong-un we have seen photographed in the past few months”…

…The portrait appears to be the start of an effort to turn that potential liability into in asset. “It goes to the heart of what will be the regime’s main problem in glorifying the boy, namely the fact that he was overseas during at least part of the famine or [so-called] Arduous March. The regime is for some reason loath to let foreigners see this nascent personality cult,” Prof. Myers said. “We have seen footage of [Kim Jong-un], and of course we can see him on the TV news every few days … but we know next to nothing about how the regime is articulating his biography. This painting offers important insight into what kind of mythobiography the regime is either planning or is already teaching the masses in party meetings, study meetings etc. outside the view of foreign visitors.” He noted that the young man in the painting was gazing at the sun rising in the east, another suggestion that North Korea consumed his thoughts, even while he was far from home…

“It will start with pictures likes this, TV documentaries, poems and some writings and then, the next breakthrough point, he’ll appear on a lapel badge with his dad we assume,” said Paul French, author of North Korea: the Paranoid Peninsula, referring to the lapel pins of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il that all North Koreans are forced to wear. Mr. French said it was surprising the regime has decided to deal head on with Kim Jong-un’s foreign education. “The next great theorizer of Juche theory strides out to soak up foreign culture for the good of the people,” he joked after viewing an e-mailed copy of the portrait. “Of course, I doubt very much if he strolled around Switzerland dressed quite so revolutionary, though the coat and hat are reminiscent of the 2009 Banana Republic collection.”

There is, however, some debate among Pyongyang-watchers over whether the picture is important. Andrei Lankov, a respected North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, scoffed at the notion that this was the new boy’s coming-out portrait. “This is his grandfather. Generalissimo Kim Il-sung. The background and school uniform leaves no doubt about it: the late 1920s,” Prof. Lankov wrote in an e-mail after seeing a copy of the portrait. Kim Jong-un’s likeness to a young Kim Il-sung is uncanny to the point that some have speculated Kim Jong-un may have undergone plastic surgery to accentuate the similarities and cement the link between himself and his supposedly immortal grandfather. Prof. Lankov also said the houses in the painting’s background looked more like traditional Korean homes than anywhere in Switzerland.

However, that opinion is, thus far, a minority one among those who have viewed the portrait. Mr. Toop, for one, said he knew he was looking at something different as soon as he laid eyes on the picture on the wall of Rajin Art Gallery. Tourists in North Korea are shown hundreds of portraits, busts and statues of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung over the course of their stay, so it’s unsurprising that something new would jump out after several days in the country. “I identified the portrait as Kim Jong-un when I first saw it,” the 54-year-old Mr. Toop said. “To my knowledge, neither Kim Il-sung nor Kim Jong-il can be situated in a Western backdrop like this at any time in their youth.”

See the full text of this article here…

Opinions of Real Experts

Koen De Ceuster: “This is not Kim Jong Un and all the pundits that think they have struck gold with this have only proven how much they like to believe in their own stories. I was shown, through another source, the same painting and did a close analysis. First of all, the painting is dated 2001. Secondly, why does no one catch the badge on the cap? Though not legible, clearly Chinese.

Finally, in the left top corner, a Chinese-style entrance to a compound can be seen. In fact, if anything, this is probably Kim Il Sung in front of a Catholic church in Jilin City. This is certainly speculative, but given Kim Jong Il’s visit to a Catholic church in that city during his last visit to Manchuria late August 2010, and the reference he made to the fact that his father had found sanctuary there once, this may well be what is depicted here. In any case, definitely not Kim Jong Un.

What I find fascinating is how “we” are all excited about the fact that Kim Jong Un spent some semesters in Switzerland, but fail to wonder whether this is also newsworthy in North Korea! Given that I have never seen any reference to the fact that Kim Jong Il spent a year in Malta, I very much doubt his passage to Switzerland will ever be part of the North Korean myth building. All the more so of our myth building, as it turns out.

When Kim Jong Il went to Manchuria, the intention was clear: it was a pilgrimage along revolutionary sites. The church must feature as a revolutionary site for the North Koreans, otherwise he would not have visited. By clicking on to the photo of the young Kim Il Sung, it is obvious that that is the same badge in the painting (the bottom of the character/s is visible in the painting, as it is in the photo: ). Knowing Korean practices, chances are that this photo was used by the painter for inspiration. Anyone familiar with genre paintings in North Korea knows there is a story in the painting. That means that clues are hidden in the painting to make it understandable/legible to a North Korean viewer.”

*Dr. Koen De Ceuster – lecturer at Leiden University, Institute for Area Studies (LIAS)

If it were real, what would the painting tell us?

by By Ruediger Frank (38 North)

…According to the official mythology around the top leaders, in 1925 Kim Il Sung—at that time still called by his real name Kim Song Ju—left his home country at the tender age of 13 for Manchuria. He did so promising to return only after he had liberated his then occupied country from Japanese colonial oppression (picture 2).

This is one of the key moments of North Korean propaganda and the starting point for the Kim Il Sung myth. Kim Il Sung expressed his feelings in his official autobiography: “While singing, I wondered if would ever feel our land again, when would I be returning to the land of my forefathers. I felt sad and determined. I swore that I shall never return until Korea was freed.”

Not being on the peninsula represents an almost unbearable pain for any good Korean patriot. In that sense, living abroad is a major self-sacrifice; at least it will be depicted as such. Self sacrifice is a recurring theme of the cult not only of Kim Il Sung’s first wife Kim Jong Suk, but also around Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il as reflected in numerous stories and paintings of long working hours, restless travel around the country, caring about every little detail, sharing their simple food with the soldiers, sleeping on the floor in a peasant’s cabin and so forth. Therefore, we have reason to believe that Kim Jong Un’s exile will either be negated, or displayed as a period of deliberately endured hardship in order to study the enemy…

…The dating of the painting does not provide a clear answer either. On the contrary, it raises a number of questions. It is dated February 16, 2001. If this is correct, we can almost exclude that the man on the painting is Kim Jong Un because even if the decision to promote him to become the next leader of North Korea was made around 2005, it would still have been painted too early. However, this is, again, not the final answer. Those of us dealing with art and propaganda of North Korea know that documents and paintings have frequently been backdated in order to make new policies look less like changes. Prominent examples include songun (“military first”) and juche, North Korea’s doctrine of self-reliance. We can therefore realistically expect that Kim Jong Un’s history will be backdated at some point…

…You see why it is so tempting to brush all doubts aside and treat the painting as being one of Kim Jong Un. However, it most likely is not. Similar paintings of Kim Il Sung have existed since at least the 1980s; the background is most likely Jilin, China in the 1930s, and the idea of starting the Kim Jong Un cult in Rajin and with his European exile is too far-fetched. I suggest we use this example both as an etude in the anecdote-based Pyongyangology, and as a warning of how easy it can be to derive far-reaching conclusions from questionable evidence. Do we need culture-specific expertise? Obviously, we do. Otherwise, we risk basing policy decisions on a hoax…

*Ruediger Frank – professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna.

Osaka black mark in Kim’s life?


OSAKA–Without fail, North Korea’s propaganda machine deifies any location associated with the Kim dynasty, but the birthplace of the mother of future leader Kim Jong Un is unlikely to be accorded such reverence. In any event, the sad history of her family in Osaka is hardly the stuff of legend. Specifically, Ko Young Hee came from Osaka’s Tsuruhashi district, an area that for decades has had a thriving Korean community.

According to a resident of the neighborhood, someone linked with North Korea recently came to check on the site of her birthplace, long an empty lot. Kim Jong Un is the third son of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and the grandson of Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea. In September, Kim Jong Un was anointed heir apparent. His mother was born in June 1953, a month before a cease-fire agreement was reached in the Korean War. Her father was called Ko Tae Mun. He was born in 1920 in Jeju island when the Korean Peninsula was under Japan’s colonial rule. Ko Tae Mun came to Japan when he was 13 to join his father…

…A former high-ranking Chongryon official said a legend about Kim Jong Un could be created along the following story line: “Ko Tae Mun carried on the will of Jeju islanders who fought bravely under the guidance of Kim Il Sung. After fleeing to Japan, he returned to North Korea to be embraced by the greatness of Kim. Ko gave up his life to serve as a soldier for Kim. Kim Jong Un would be an individual who carried on the great revolutionary bloodline from Jeju.” Tsuruhashi would have no place within that legend…

See the full text of this article here…

Andrei Lankov vs. Gavan McCormack discussing North Korea on ABC Radio

3 09 2009
Gavan McCormack

Gavan McCormack


Andrei Lankov

ABC’s LateNighteLive (20 aUGUST 2009)

Bill Clinton’s successful negotiation the release of two American journalists from a North Korean prison has been heralded as a sign that North Korea is interested in thawing out its relationship with the rest of the world. Clinton’s visit was also the first time in ages that Kim Il Jong has been seen alive. And this week, the North announced a few compromises with South Korea – including the resumption of limited tourism and a family reunion program.

Andrei Lankov
Professor at Kookmin University in South Korea.

Gavan McCormack
Emeritus professor at the ANU

No Rush to Talk With North Korea

13 08 2009

By ANDREI LANKOV, The New York Times (August 10, 2009)

Andrei_LankovBill Clinton’s trip to Pyongyang and the release of the American journalists confirmed what many observers have suspected since early July: North Korea is indicating its willingness to re-start talks with the United States . There are reasons why Washington should not rush to the negotiation table immediately, but few people doubt that these talks will start relatively soon.

The negotiations are likely to be characterized as talks about getting the North to give up its nuclear weapons. But one should not be misled: No amount of diplomatic dealing can achieve that goal.

North Korea’s leaders have good reasons to retain their nuclear program. First, they need a deterrent against foreign attack. Second, they need nuclear arms for domestic purposes: The nuclear weapons program is perhaps the only visible success of Kim Jong-il’s rule. (It also serves as a helpful excuse for the regime’s economic calamities).

But, above all, the nuclear program is a powerful diplomatic tool. North Korea cannot survive without foreign aid, which the regime uses to support those social groups whose loyalty is vital for internal stability. And nothing can rival a latent nuclear threat as means to obtain foreign aid.

It is often argued that North Korea might choose to surrender its nuclear weapons in exchange for a massive aid program. But Pyongyang cannot use the aid to kick-start its economy, because its leaders believe that economic reforms will be politically ruinous. Chinese-style reforms require a great deal of political liberalization. The spread of information about South Korea ‘s economic success and political freedom would deliver a mortal blow to the regime’s legitimacy.

In this situation, the most rational policy choice of the tiny Pyongyang elite is to avoid domestic reforms, keep interaction with the outside world at a bare minimum and, of course, engage in nuclear blackmail. The regime can alternate threats with hints at a possible solution, and even make promises of a complete de-nuclearization at some future point. The North has played this game for nearly two decades, with remarkable success.

As long as the country remains under the current regime’s control, negotiations are not going to produce a non-nuclear North Korea. Nevertheless, there are at least four major reasons why North Korea should be engaged.

First, some useful compromises are achievable. It is possible to devise an agreement that would diminish the likelihood of nuclear proliferation by Pyongyang . After all, North Korean leaders understand that their current stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium is sufficient as a deterrent and blackmail tool, so additional production would not make much difference. They might even agree to demolish their Yongbyon research facilities, if the promised payoff is sufficiently high.

Second, talks lessen tensions and decrease the likelihood of a confrontation. Of course, Pyongyang diplomats might at any time resort to their favorite trick: Walk away from negotiations, launch a chain of provocations to increase tensions, and then return to negotiations in expectations of greater payoffs. But while talks are continuing, an accidental confrontation is less likely.

Third, talks will provide a line of communication that might become vital, since big changes are looming in Pyongyang : Recent photos leave no doubt that Kim Jong Il’s health has deteriorated considerably.

Perhaps the most important reason why Pyongyang should be engaged is the long-term domestic impact of talks. Negotiations and aid create an environment where contacts between the isolated population and the outside world steadily increase, exposing the total lie in which North Koreans have to live. In the long run, this will undermine the regime, bringing the country’s radical transformation – and, probably, a solution of the nuclear issue.

Nonetheless, future talks should be conducted without unrealistic expectations. There will be no breakthrough as long as the present regime runs the country. To keep Pyongyang engaged, something has to be given, but excessive generosity is not advisable: It will merely provoke more exercises in blackmail. There also is no need to hurry. It’s time to realize that the North Korean problem has no quick fixes, but it can – and should – be managed.

* Andrei Lankov is an associate professor at Kookmin University in Seoul and the author of several books about North Korea .