Tagged: North Korea

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Report Finds Tensions High on Korean Peninsula

From an article in the Korea Herald paraphrasing a report released by a London-based think tank. The two Korea’s not getting along? No kidding..

In the context of an imminent and possibly unclear leadership succession in Pyongyang, North Korea’s apparent aggressions toward the South — seen in its alleged sinking of the Cheonan in March last year and its shelling last November of the island of Yeonpyeong — mean that the Korean Peninsula is now as dangerous a place it has been at any time since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

But is it really? We were there for the shelling of the Cheonan, and aside from a few casual discussions in the elevator on the way to the fifth floor circus, it was business as usual. Had we arrived in the country one week later and not been paying attention to the news, we may have never even known about the incident. In my discussions with friends still living in Korea, it seems again to be business as usual. A false sense of security perhaps? Doubt it, but me no think tank.

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Doing Business in the DPRK

Doing Business North Korea
by

Another formally confidential cable from a US State Department communicae which originated from the US Embassy in Seoul on May 23, 2007. Who knew that Kim Jong-il’s second son was such a fan of Eric Clapton? There may be hope for this despotic regime yet!  “Beware of greedy leaders. They’ll take you where you should not go. While Weeping Atlas Cedars, they just want to grow, grow, grow.”

C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 001576

SUBJECT: XXXXXXXXXXXX SHARES IDEAS ON DPRK

SUMMARY
——-

¶1. (C)XXXXXXXXXXXX Arranging an Eric Clapton concert in Pyongyang could also be useful, he said, given Kim Jong-il’s second son’s devotion to the rock legend. END SUMMARY.

XXXXXXXXXXXX
———————————-

¶2. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX

DOING BUSINESS IN THE DPRK
————————–

¶3. (C) For an outsider to get anything done in the DPRK, XXXXXXXXXXXX advised, it is necessary to get the DPRK’s various institutions to cooperate. Each institution seems to have veto power, but none has the power to push anything forward. XXXXXXXXXXXX the only organizations that can really deliver are the military, which does not talk to anybody, or the Red Cross. XXXXXXXXXXXX

DIVIDED FAMILIES INITIATIVE
—————————

¶4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX advocated in favor of USG involvement in facilitating the reunification of Korean-American families divided by the Korean War. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that currently two groups organize these visits for Korean-Americans. The first is Compatriots United, which has arranged thousands of reunions. However, the group is controlled by the DPRK’s Overseas Compatriots Committee and extorts a tremendous amount of money from desperate families to arrange the visits. Families seeking to participate must pay USD 300 to apply and submit comprehensive personal and financial information. If selected, the families are forced to pay for unwanted sightseeing excursions in North Korea. Before they are finally able to see their relatives, which is always just hours before their departing flight, they are often told that the relatives had to travel to the meeting place by taxi and owed several thousand dollars in fare. As XXXXXXXXXXXX explained, these are desperate, old people who would pay anything.
After the trip, the participants typically get repeated correspondence from the North Korean government asking for money to assist the family members, who are sometimes falsely alleged to be ill.

¶5. (C) The other group active in family reunions is Pyongtong in Los Angeles. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that the group recently arranged for 15 persons to visit family members in the DPRK. However, the DPRK canceled the arrangement after the group went to the press. Pyongyang ultimately intervened and instructed the Compatriots Committee to help facilitate the visit. Thus, Pyongtong was able to arrange a visit for six people a few weeks ago.

¶6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX said that North Korea would not run such an exploitative system if the United States government were involved in the process. There is a reluctance, he said, for Korean-Americans to pursue family reunions because they do not want to divulge their personal information to the DPRK and they do not want the North Koreans to milk them for money before, during and after the reunion. The USG could at least volunteer to serve as a conduit for correspondence between these families and North Korea to prevent the DPRK from learning the home addresses and bank accounts of participants. The DPRK might be willing to accept this structure because it badly wants a relationship with Washington.

XXXXXXXXXXXX
—————————–

XXXXXXXXXXXX
————————

¶8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX did not see hope for inter-Korean engagement, despite the widely acclaimed railroad test. “North Koreans have no intention of dealing with (South Koreans). The South Koreans really think they can help. They don’t understand that North Korea is sealed.”

BOOK ERIC CLAPTON
—————–

¶9. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX passed on the suggestion from his North Korean interlocutors that the USG arrange for Eric Clapton to perform a concert in Pyongyang. As Kim Jong-il’s second son, Kim Jong-chol, is reported to be a great fan, the performance could be an opportunity to build good will. VERSHBOW

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Special Envoy Discusses Human Rights and Transfer of Power in North Korea

Special Envoy Discusses North Korea
by

A meeting between Special Envoy Robert King and Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan as described in a confidential cable communication from the US Embassy in Seoul to the Secretary of State in Washington, DC.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 000062

Summary: During a January 11 meeting with Special Envoy Robert King, FM Yu
downplayed press speculation that a North-South summit is imminent. Yu asserted
that Kim Jong-il would visit China in late January or early February; the North
Korean leader needed both Chinese economic aid and political support to stabilize
an “increasingly chaotic” situation at home. An unspecified number of high-
ranking North Korean officials had recently defected to the ROK, according to
Yu. The foreign minister thanked King for his willingness to press the PRC on
the treatment of North Korean refugees. Yu said the ROK would provide “significant”
food aid to the DPRK if Pyongyang asked for it and agreed to monitoring. The ROK
also planned to help fund work by NGOs to combat TB and multi-drug-resistant TB
in the North, which has spread widely within the DPRK’s chronically malnourished
population. At a lunch following the meeting, Seoul’s point man on DPRK issues,
Ambassador Wi Sung-lac, reiterated the FM’s call for U.S. help in persuading China
to go easier on North Korean refugees. Wi also thanked Ambassador King for his
willingness to keep the ROK updated on discussions between the American Red Cross
and its DPRK counterpart regarding potential reunions between Korean-Americans
and their North Korean kin.

Discussion Highlights: […] Foreign Minister Yu claimed that the North’s botched
currency reform had caused “big problems” for the regime and that the power
succession from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-eun was “not going smoothly.” Moreover,
Yu confided, an unspecified number of high-ranking North Korean officials
working overseas had recently defected to the ROK. […] Yu thanked Ambassador
King for stating that he intended to work closely with the ROK on the issue of
improving human rights conditions in North Korea. […] North Koreans in China
are economic migrants. Yu claimed that the number of North Koreans fleeing
into China [passage removed] continues to increase; 2,952 North Koreans made it
to the ROK in 2009 and more than that are expected in 2010. Yu noted that at
least 80 percent of the refugees who come to the South are women, adding that
they are often abused by human traffickers. […] Given the North’s chronic
transportation and storage problems, there would be starvation “here and there”
during the spring, Yu lamented. The foreign minister said the ROK would be
willing to provide “significant” food aid to the DPRK if Pyongyang asked for
it and agreed to monitoring. [Name removed] said that North Korea has made only
token efforts to support North-South family reunions and has “reacted badly”
to Seoul’s repeated calls for the release of the approximately 1,000 abductees
and POWs believed to be still held by the DPRK.

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Formally Confidential Talks about North Korea’s Future

From a cable sent this past February, published on WikiLeaks.org along with thousands of other classified State Department communication cables. Long live the Internet!

C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 000248

SUBJECT: A/S CAMPBELL DISCUSSES DPRK FUTURE WITH EXPERTS
Discussion Summary: A group of five ROK opinion leaders and experts on North
Korea issues told A/S Kurt Campbell on February 3 it was difficult to predict
whether Kim Jong-il’s youngest son Kim Jong-un would be able to succeed his
father without sparking instability in the North. Of the five experts, one
thought the younger Kim might succeed and one argued his lack of leadership
experience made it unlikely he would win the support of the ruling elites. They
agreed that Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law Jang Song-taek would prove a strong
rival for the younger Kim and would probably be tempted to challenge him. Kim
Jong-il had used draconian controls and international aid to discourage coups
after having foiled three such attempts in the late 90s. China’s strategic
interests were fundamentally at odds with U.S.-ROK interests in North Korea.
End Summary. Succession in Progress but Success in Doubt
Discussion Highlights: [...] The experts agreed that regime succession was
fully underway and that the North Korean people had accepted the process.
[...] The group agreed that Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law and right-hand man
Jang Song-taek was spearheading the succession drive and would be a rival for
power once Kim Jong-un’s father died, but the group was split on the younger
Kim’s prospects for holding onto power. XXXX suggested it was unclearwhether
Jang would be content to control the younger Kim from behind the curtain, or
would challenge him directly for outright control. [...] XXXX recalled the
tumultuous state of affairs in the ROK following the death of President Park
Chung Hee in 1979 and suggested the DPRK succession would be “100 times more
troublesome.” [...] XXXX opined that brutal repression and international aid
had been the secrets of Kim Jong-il’s ability to fend off challenges. After
three separate coup attempts in the 90s, Kim Jong-il had implemented very strict
controls and sent a stern warning to would-be plotters by executing anyone who
had been even remotely involved in the plots. [...] The large-scale assistance
provided to the regime by the ROK, China, the U.S., Japan and others had been
intended in part to avoid a hard landing, and indeed had kept the regime afloat,
he said. XXXX suggested that North Korea had skillfully played Washington and
Beijing off one another. [...] The experts agreed that China’s obsession with DPRK
stability at all costs, was clearly and fundamentally at odds with U.S. and ROK
interests. Given a choice between reaching out to Seoul or Beijing, XXXX believed
that Pyongyang elites would reflexively look to China for support [...] the U.S.
stake in North Korea was minimal compared to that of China by virtue of its proximity
to the North. [...] Beijing was concerned about [...] a potential flood of
“economic migrants” and broader social unrest on its immediate border.

Read the Full Cable

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“the last snarls of a dying dictatorship”

With the recent publication of secret US Embassy Cables by WikiLeaks, the largest ever release of confidential documents into the public domain, I began to wonder if US State Department and Chinese Embassy officials discussions on North Korea were included. Of course I wasn’t the only one.. The New York Times today published an excellent summation of super-secret discussions regarding North Korea. It seems as though Andrew Lehren, contributing writer for The Times, pa roused through two decades of banter between Chinese, South Korean, and US officials regarding the “Black Hole of Asia”.  Lehren’s research into the cables indicates what I (and probably others) had already assumed to be true about North Korea; no one really knows what the hell those crazy bastards are up to. As Lehren explains though, the secret communications are “long on educated guesses, and short on facts”.

“Because they are State Department documents, not intelligence reports, they do not include the most secret American assessments, or the American military’s plans in case North Korea disintegrates or lashes out.”

What I found to be one of the more interesting of these ‘guesstimations,’ was an assessment of a lunch between a top South Korean official and American ambassador, Kathleen Stephens.  The Korean official reportedly told Stephens that the North Korean regime would fall just a few years after the death of Kim Jong-il.

“[…] Ms. Stephens later cabled Washington. A new, younger generation of Chinese leaders “would be comfortable with a reunited Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a benign alliance,” the diplomat, Chun Yung-woo, predicted. But if Seoul was destined to control the entire Korean Peninsula for the first time since the end of World War II, China — the powerful ally that keeps the North alive with food and fuel — would have to be placated. So South Korea was already planning to assure Chinese companies that they would have ample commercial opportunities in the mineral-rich northern part of the peninsula.”

You should read the full article by Andrew W. Lehren for the New York Times. If you want to see more of the raw intel, check out WikiLeaks.org. Keep in mind, the cables date from 1966 up until the end of February 2010, and contain confidential communications between 274 embassies in countries throughout the world and the State Department in Washington DC. 15,652 of the cables are classified Secret. There is no real easy way to explore the massive collection, unless you’re familiar with bull shit acronyms like ASEC, BH, CVIS, CASC, CF, ETTC, ECPS, etc… etc… etc… And records related to the ROK and DPRK comprise a much smaller portion of the information. See the below table:

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North Korea’s (recent) Military Parade

This was just too good not to relay. Given major headlines today, the rhythm of their blind marching seems even more cryptic, and confronting with chaos. A big shout out to Mr. Burrows, wearing a suit and tie over there at craigburrows.com. He made a great short out of several original pieces of video from behind The Kimchi Curtain. Great title for a K-blog by the way. Add another one to the pot! Both are posted below.

Views at time of posting on this blog: 334,132

North Korea’s Military parade in Slow Motion from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

The Hermit Kingdom allowed international media to watch its largest ever military parade – part of the campaign to establish Kim Jong-il’s youngest son as the leader-in-waiting.

By guardian.co.uk staff Dan Chung and Tania Branigan.

Shot on Canon 60D and 1DmkIV cameras. Special thanks to Eric Kessler who makes the wonderful Pocketdolly that was used on this shoot.

See http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/north-korea for more on North Korea from the Guardian.

video of inside north korea

kim il sung statue

As the time steadily rises down on my stay here in Korea, I find less and less worth writing about here on the blog. Strange, because there has been a lot going on lately. I’ve been interested in North Korea given the recent headlines, and I watched a bizarre 60 minute movie yesterday called Welcome to North Korea. Peter Tetteroo and Raymond Feddema document their Orwellian like journey through the D.P.R.K. during the mid 2000’s. One particularly striking scene is a long shot of a North Korean official busily directly traffic in Pyongyang. The camera zooms out, and we see that there is no traffic in need of being directed. For anyone at all interested in the current situation with North Korea, the American Media is doing a brilliant job of fanning the flames. Things are fine. No worries. I am worried about things back home though. How much more will the Earth bleed before the ocean dies?

 

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North Korea Sentences US Visitor to 8 Years in Hard Labor Camp

I am imagining the questions people will ask me about this year when I return home. “You were in Korea? Hope it wasn’t the North, He he he!” Unless you’re Bill Clinton, you can’t simply go to North Korea. I’m not sure why anyone would want to anyways, given their record of hospitality. Aijalon Mahli Gomes, an American man from Boston and graduate of Bowdoin College in Maine, was caught earlier this year for snooping around in North Korea after sneaking across the Chinese border. He was just recently sentenced to 8 years in a hard labor camp and fined $700,000 for entering the country illegally, and unspecified “hostile acts”. Gomes had apparently been teaching English in South Korea for some time, and was perhaps inspired to enter North Korea in protest of their human rights violations. The following excerpt was taken from a report by the Associated Press

North Korea expert Yoo Ho-yeol of Korea University in Seoul said Gomes will likely be released without having to serve the prison term. He predicted North Korea would use him as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the U.S. on its nuclear program. “Continuing to hold him in custody is also a burden for North Korea,” as it will only galvanize criticism of its human rights record, Yoo said.

Near the DMZ, on the South Korean side of course

The DMZ Tour at Panmunjeom Joint Security Area

There have been two Korea’s since the end of World War II; The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North) and the Republic of Korea (South).  This past weekend on our trip to Seoul, we toured a small part of the Demilitarized “buffer” zone (DMZ) between the two countries. It was Friday he 13th, and just days before the front page headline was North and South Korean Warships Exchange Fire. Really though, it did not seem like a big deal.  They run tours through the Joint Security Area at Panmunjeom all the time, and we were just one of at least 10 other tour buses passing through that morning.

A highway built for 1001 cattle

As we drove along the river just outside of Seoul city, our tour guide mentioned that South Korea used to have a real problem with North Korean spies sneaking through the forest and swimming down river to infiltrate Seoul. “See the mountains?” she explained. “They are naked because we cut down all the trees and put the barb wire in this river. Now, there are no more North Korean spies.” Her next story was about the highway itself. Former CEO of Hyundai, Chung Ju-Yung, apparently stole a cow from his parents before fleeing with it to South Korea. With the money he got from selling the cow, he was able to get his start. After decades of success, Chung decided it was time to give back what he had stolen. He arranged to have 1001 cows sent across the DMZ and into North Korea as payment (with interest). But there was no major highway leading to the DMZ, so Chung had to build one first. The length of highway with which we were traveling was originally built for this purpose. I’m not sure how true this really is, but it makes for a good story.

Freedom Bridge

Freedom Bridge. Was this used in that James Bond movie with the guy that had diamonds in his face?

The Joint Security Area in Panmunjeom is not actually in the Demilitarized Zone, but on the South Korean border of it. Our guide explained that tours within the actual DMZ were possible for 47 nationalities only. However, last year a tourist was shot near the Bridge of No Return, so viewing of that area has been suspended.

Kaesong City

Kaesong City, North Korea

North Korea

As close as we could get to North Korea.

The most interesting portion of the trip was walking through the Third Incursion Tunnel at the Joint Security Area. North Korea had been digging tunnels under the DMZ as planning for what I presume would have been a massive invasion of the South. The first three tunnels were discovered in the 1970’s. The first tunnel was discovered by accident by a South Korean patrol, and North Korea responded with machine gun fire. Knowing that the North was tunneling under the DMZ must have made South Korean officials shit them selves.  The fourth tunnel wasn’t discovered until 1990.  According to a North Korean Defector, there are probably 20 tunnels, and one of the jobs of the South Korean military today is to continually drill and comb the DMZ for these. They must also sweep the wooded areas surrounding the DMZ for land mines. Our tour guide mentioned that Korean soldiers were “disappointed” to be given this job. An understatement, I’m sure. Anyways, tunnel 3 is 490 feet underground and will take a visitor 150m into the DMZ. The remaining 1000 meters or so has been thoroughly blocked from accessing. There was not enough room to stand up straight or fully extend my arms.  Imagine all the poor bastards who broke their backs building the thing in preparation for a day that would never come. Now, instead of advancing the revolutionary cause, their hard work helps line the pockets of South Korean tour companies.

Dorasan Station

to Pyeongyang

Our last stop on the tour was a state of the art train station. Abandon and never been used, Dorasan Station is the single rail link between North and South Korea, built in preparation for the fabled reunification of the peninsula. A mural above the lobby shows two hands stretched towards each other with a bright future in radial focus — the dark past gradually fading away.