The Comrade Kim debut screening in PY. “It is a new style for North Korea,” said one member of the audience. | Photo: Patrick Wack for Seven Magazine
Daily NK: “Public opinion of the KJU regime is rapidly declining, especially among those in their 20s and 30s.” Recent defector: “The majority of young people now think that nothing will change even with the young son in charge.”
Daily NK: The NK authorities are proposing to reduce the size of hillside plots farmed privately from 30 pyeong down to 10 (1 square meter=0.3025 pyeong), while all remaining acreage would be handed over to existing cooperative farms. Daily NK source: “The rations only last for three to four months anyway, so people have to live off their plots of land. Taking away their land is the same as taking away their food.”
Yonhap: Observers speculate that NK may be highlighting sanctions and external threats to unify public opinion behind the leadership and strengthen allegiance to the state.
More than 85% of North Korea’s railways are electrified, but hydroelectric dams that provide most of the power are generally unreliable in the dry winter season. In addition, recently constructed dams and power plants built to overcome fuel shortages suffer from shoddy construction, making travel across NK a difficult experience.
Daily NK: For much of 2012 and into this year, the regime has been trying to crack down on the use of illegal Chinese mobile phones in the border regions to make international calls. However NKoreans are overcoming these crackdowns with new methods including using earphones and hiding their phones under scarves, and using the phones whilst riding on bikes or walking on the streets, which makes it harder to be tracked electronically. Making international phone calls is punishable with fines and six months in a labour camp, but in reality most people just pay bribes to avoid punishment.
New Focus International: Another benefit of carrying a mobile phone in NK? Gives you an easy source of light when the power is cut.
FOOD SECURITY & ECONOMY
Interviews conducted by the Asia Press have lead them to report a “hidden famine” that has claimed 10,000 lives in North and South Hwanghae provinces. Reports of cannibalism tell multiple stories of men murdering their children for food, with one man digging up the corpse of his grandchild for consumption.
RFA: “Authorities in North Korea have stepped up checks for army deserters as hunger and cold drive soldiers to drop out of the ranks.”
Asahi report on the tens of thousands of ‘diligent and cheap’ NK workers earning foreign currency for their country and families through employment in China. NK authorities maintain watch over the workers and take about a third of their wages, leaving them with a monthly take-home pay of about 1,000 RMB (147 USD), notably less their their Chinese counterparts. A Chinese researcher familiar with NKorean affairs claims that about 20,000 NKoreans are currently working in the country, most of them in border areas, a figure up from only several hundred in 2009. Another SKorean expert put estimates at 40,000, saying China and NK have agreed to increase the number eventually to 120,000. President of a SKorean company operating in China: “Everyone secretly employs North Koreans under the name of the Chinese company they invest in.”
NK refuses to pay Polish builders for the work they put in to refurbish the NK embassy in Warsaw. Puls Biznesu newspaper reports that Andrzej Kompa, the owner of Kompa Investment Co., lent more than $2 million to the NK govt through the embassy to carry out work on the building in 2005. After failed interventions by the Polish Department of Foreign Affairs, Kompa took legal action in 2012, but the Polish court dismissed the claim on grounds that the embassy has no legal obligation to pay as it has no legal status under Polish law.
Jilin province govt official: Jilin province in NE China will speed up the development of the Changchun-Jilin-Tumenjiang pilot zone in the next five years, to enhance the cooperation with NK, Russia and Mongolia.
Pyongyang held a press conference highlighting four “re-defectors”, a couple, their daughter, and another woman. Re-defector Kim Kwang Ho: “I could not possibly face the harsh reality of South Chosun [SK] and lived in anxiety and tears. Because I was a defector in South Chosun I could not find a job anywhere. The Republic forgave me and accepted me for who I am when I deserved to be severely punished.” NK defectors in SK speculate whether they were spies from the start or if they were tricked into returning.
SK Minister of Unification: “There are a few cases of re-defection. Last year, 70 percent of defectors who traveled abroad visited China, and about forty of them are staying there now for a long time.” According to defectors, they can be forgiven if they give the party about 60,000,000 KRW (about 50,000 USD). If they don’t have money, they can bring “crucial information” about SK.
A total of 25 spies have reportedly been arrested in SK since the beginning of LMB’s term in 2008, a 39 percent increase from the 18 spies caught during Roh Moo-hyun’s term.
The UN is closer to setting up a Commission of Inquiry into NK’s crimes against humanity, with Japan declaring support alongside EU co-sponsors. Kanae Doi, Japan director of HRW: “What we want is a really in-depth investigation which would give the comprehensive texture of the situation and then give voice to hundreds and thousands of victims of the violations by the NK government.”
NK turned up the level of fierceness of its rhetoric. NK’s NDC: “We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets which will be launched by the DPRK one after another and a nuclear test of higher level which will be carried out by it in the upcoming all-out action, a new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle that has lasted century after century, will target against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people.” Rodong Shinmun: “A nuclear test is the demand of the people; no other choice can be made… It is the people’s demand that there should be something even greater than a nuclear test… the UN Security Council gave us no choice. We have no choice but to go to the very end.” The Committee for Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland also warned SK of “strong physical countermeasures” if SK takes part in UN sanctions against NK.
USG’s Davies: “If North Korea comes into compliance with Security Council resolutions and takes irreversible steps leading to denuclearization, the United States said we believe our other partners in the Six-Party process will do the hard work with the DPRK of finding a peaceful way forward… Whether North Korea tests or not is up to North Korea. We hope they do not do it. We call on them not to do it. It would be a mistake and a missed opportunity if they were to do it.”
Global Times (China) op-ed: “It seems that North Korea does not appreciate China’s efforts. It criticized China without explicitly naming it in its statement yesterday… If North Korea engages in further nuclear tests, China will not hesitate to reduce its assistance to North Korea. If the US, Japan and South Korea promote extreme UN sanctions on North Korea, China will resolutely stop them and force them to amend these draft resolutions… China hopes for a stable peninsula, but it’s not the end of the world if there’s trouble there.”
KBS: “China is considering sending a diplomatic delegation to North Korea to stop Pyongyang from conducting a third nuclear test.” Source: “China is strongly opposed to the North’s nuclear test and deliberating on what to do to halt N Korea’s pursuit of a nuclear test and how to respond if the North conducts the test.” China currently accounts for 89.1% of N Korea’s trade and 90% of N Korea’s oil imports.
Japan is to increase defense spending for the first time in 11 years to respond to natural disasters and additional missile launches from NK.
Tony Namkung on detained US citizen Kenneth Bae: “My understanding is that he has been accused of serious crimes including plotting to overthrow the regime and assassinating the leadership.” Namkung also said he noticed from his recent trip, “more disposable income with which to buy goods in improved stores, even more bustling private markets, improved attire, and last but not least, higher heels for women.”
ANALYSIS & OPINION
Slate / Haggard analysis on UN sanctions: “Total US exports to North Korea for 2012 were less than $12 million, and in some months there was no trade at all. By comparison, the United States sold nearly $39 billion worth of goods to South Korea last year. Luxury imports are banned under UN sanctions, but the UN is vague on the definition of luxury goods, leaving to be decided by the member states. By the U.S. or EU definition, China sold more than $136 million worth of luxury goods to North Korea in 2009 alone. Using a complex network of shell companies, North Korean entities have also been fairly successful at circumventing sanctions, presumably with the knowledge of their trading partners in some cases.”
Jang Song-thaek was absent at a key national security meeting, which may hint at a “renewed power game” among NK’s upper leadership. Alexandre Mansourov: “Jang’s absence was significant, signaling the emergence of a possible crack in the senior leadership, especially in the relationship between KJU and his all-powerful uncle.”
Scott Snyder outlines a new four-point approach to counter NK’s nuclear ambitions: “Ultimately, the impetus for breaking the impasse in U.S.-DPRK relations and achieving North Korea’s regional integration will likely come not from governments, but from the North Korean people themselves.”
Benedict Rogers on the need for a UN COI on NK in the NYT: “Just as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan put concern for Soviet dissidents firmly on the table, the world today needs to look North Korea in the eye and challenge Pyongyang over its gulags. Critical engagement, investigation, information, and accountability go hand in hand.”
New Focus International: What kind of songs are allowed in a NKorean karaoke?
KCNA has angrily rejected allegations of KJU’s plastic surgery, seemingly triggered by a report by China’s Shenzhen TV.
Google maps released data from its crowdsourced Map Maker program, so that its coverage of NK now includes street names and locations of gulags.
Report on “Nam Nam Buk Nyo”, a dating service linking female defectors with SK men. The founders claim they have paired over 400 couples with only four splits since 2006.
Excerpt from “A Capitalist in North Korea” on sexual norms in NK.