Executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, back row left, and former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, back row right, look at North Korean soldiers working on computers at the Grand Peoples’ Study House | Photo: David Guttenfelder/AP
NK is said to be giving more mineral resource development rights to Chinese companies in return for pledges to help upgrade NK’s infrastructure. NK will use its abundant anthracite coal, iron ore and gold reserves as economic bargaining tools. Chinese business insiders said that Hunan Investment Co. will support the building of a 30-story luxury hotel and highway in the country in return for the rights for Unsan gold mine..
Despite not yet being an official holiday, January 8th (KJU’s birthday) was marked with a nationwide program of commemorative lectures and meetings, along with the delivery of gifts to children. However some defectors say that stories in the state media of gifts being delivered nationwide, even to remote islands, are highly implausible.
Daily NK: A new mobile phone with a touch screen, voice recognition, dictionaries, games and the ability to receive TV signals has been released in NK. The phone reportedly costs 600 USD and is only affordable to senior cadres, but sources expect sales to improve.
Despite the USG’s disapproval, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson visited NK on a “private, humanitarian” trip. They were taken to KIS university to see how university students search for information using Google and Wikipedia. Access to the web is extremely rare and often is limited to those with clearance to get on the internet. At Kim Chaek University, instructors and students wishing to use the internet must register first for permission and submit an application with their requests for research online, Ryu Sun-ryol, head of the e-library, said. But he said it was only a matter of time before internet use became widespread. “We will start having access to the internet soon,” he said in an interview last month. He said North Korea was in the midst of a major push to expand computer use in every classroom and workplace. In addition, Richardson revealed in an interview that his delegation has been pressing MFA officials, scientists and other officials to allow people greater access to information stating that “the citizens of [NK] will be better off with more cell phones and an active Internet”. Also on the trip is the Director of Google Ideas, Jared Cohen.
Daily NK: Last month, as preparations to commemorate the passing of KJI began, NKorean traders in China were ordered to return home and all customs checks were suspended. Traders, many of whom had taken on losses during the 100-day mourning period following KJI’s death, immediately started hoarding goods, triggering inflation. This has continued into the new year.
Daily NK: Nationwide celebratory fervor has significantly declined since the launch. Despite excitement of “conquering outer space”, people have returned to “an apathy born of the truism that ‘conquering outer space has nothing to do with my survival’”.
NK News: Pyongyang has spent an estimated 10m USD on the construction of a new museum dedicated to celebrating Cambodian history. This new NKorean museum is scheduled to open in April. Reports suggest that NK is donating this museum “as a gesture of friendship to longtime ally, Cambodia,” but it is unclear whether PY will receive any payment for the construction.
Daily NK: NK authorities are holding more lectures to warn people against leaking or selling information to the outside world. Sources in Hoiryeong and Pyongyang promptly reported this information to Daily NK, suggesting that the lectures only had limited effectiveness.
Daily NK: On the Sino-NK border, two NKorean border guards shot and killed two Chinese men. According to a source, “the two border guards were apparently supposed to hand a woman to the Chinese men in exchange for money, but instead they took the money and shot the men… [they] will almost certainly face the death penalty given that they not only murdered foreigners, but also illegally crossed an international border in possession of a weapon and had become embroiled in human trafficking”.
FOOD SECURITY & ECONOMY
The Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper says German economists and lawyers are advising the NK regime on ways to open up to western investors, including by improving their investment laws. According to one advisor, “they are rather more interested in the Vietnamese blueprint, whereby selected enterprises for investment are picked out,” and one economist told the newspaper that “There is a master plan. They want the opening [to occur] later this year.” However an anonymous German economist also said that the NKorean military did not want to relinquish control over NK’s mineral reserves in which Chinese companies are primarily interested.
SKorean companies in NK have filed a formal complaint over NK’s sudden decision to extend the previous one-day New Year’s holiday to three days. Due to the prolonged break, some SKorean firms missed their production deadlines or had to pay twice the regular pay for NK workers who reported to work.
According to anti-Beijing website Boxun, China has provided NK with genetically modified grain since 2004. Boxun claimed that China gave NK 10 million tons of grain since 2004 but most analysts estimate the amount to be much smaller, around 150,000 to 300,000 tons a year.
UNICEF 2012 Nutritional Survey (pdf). “Global Chronic Malnutrition (GCM) or Stunting prevalence is 27.9% at national level… It is estimated that 475 868 children are stunted in DPRK.” The report also notes that “the acute nutritional status of children is modestly improved since the last MICS assessment in 2009.” Noland picks out some of the regional variations from the data here.
A survey revealed that 39.7% of NKorean defectors living in Gyeonggi Province consider themselves to be in the lower class (total=5,757). 70% said their monthly income was below 1.5m KRW (1,413 USD). However 67.2% said they were satisfied with life in SK, with major reasons including being paid in proportion to the amount worked (53.5%), being economically better off (44.5%), being able to do the work they chose (42.9%), and being free from surveillance and control (23.7%). 73.% said they believed their living standard would rise.
The total number of NKorean escapees who received asylum in the US reached 23 in 2012, up by seven on the year before
NYT: Under KJU, activists and SKorean officials say that it has become increasingly difficult to escape NK, leading to a 44% drop in the number of defectors reaching SK in 2012. In the last years of his rule, KJI added more checkpoints on the roads to the Chinese border, according to SKorean activists and researchers. Under KJU border controls have tightened further and the NKorean govt began to jam the Chinese cellphone signals that activists relied on to coordinate smuggling operations with collaborators in the North. KINU’s Kim Soo-am: “If early defectors fled North Korea for sheer ‘survival,’ an increasing number of North Koreans reaching South Korea flee for ‘a better life’ than they had in the North.”
International Christian organization Open Doors ranked NK as number one for religious repression for the 11th consecutive year. A senior defector told Daily NK, “The North Korean authorities put defectors in different categories according to the reason they left. Those who bring a bible back or have been in involved with Christians in China tend to be executed.”
INTERNATIONAL POLITICS & SECURITY
The president of China Institute of International Studies, China’s foreign ministry think tank, said that Park Geun-hye should take a conciliatory approach toward NK, emphasizing the importance of a confidence-building measure.
President Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry as the new secretary of state and named former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Department of Defense, possibly increasing the prospect of US engagement with NK. Kerry has been a long-time advocate of direct dialogue between with NK and has also shown a fairly critical attitude toward the stance the Obama administration has taken toward NK over the past few years.
The US House of Representatives has passed a bipartisan resolution condemning NK’s latest rocket launch. The Senate has yet to work on it.
Hankyoreh on Park Geun-hye’s NK policy: “One helpful approach may be the strategic dialogue with Washington and Beijing that Park mentioned in her platform. This means the new administration would have to position China as an active mediator, with the condition that NK abstain from any additional nuclear tests. Park could get things moving again with preliminary steps to resume the SPTs by encouraging a return to and expansion on the agreement made between Pyongyang and Washington”.
SK has increased money allocated to its inter-Korean cooperation fund, setting aside 1b USD in operating expenses for the 2013 budget, up 9.1% from last year. The Unification Ministry’s budget has been increased by 4.4%. Despite increasing funding, SK has used below 10% of the fund last year for the fourth straight year with the govt spending 6.9% of the 1.006 trillion won set aside for the fund.
A survey has revealed that approximately eight out of ten SKoreans still see a possibility of war breaking out with NK. The result “underscores persistent security concerns among the public as KJU is trying to consolidate his power”.
According to a senior LMB administration offiicial, the reason no inter-Korean summits were held under Lee Myung-bak’s admin is because NK demanded between 500-600m USD worth of aid in exchange for participation. There was reportedly a lot of dialogue between the North and South under the Lee admin but arranging summit meetings did not work out.
ANALYSIS & OPINION
Matthew Pennington on “why Google North Korea visit irks US”: “The Obama administration is wary for a reason, it fears Schmidt’s trip could give a boost to NK’s young leader just when Washington is trying to pressure him.”
Lee Sung-yoon writing in the NYT calls for Park Geun-hye to strive to raise global and local awareness about NKorean human rights abuses, “for example, she could generously increase funding for radio broadcasts and other information transmissions into NK; sponsor publications and international conventions on the subject; and greatly expand programs that support resettlement of NKoreans in SK”.
Lankov on KJU’s proactive response to the defector issue, including by increasing border security (he is alleged to have said that the “border with China is more important as a line of ideological struggle than even the DMZ,” and through propaganda designed to suggest to NKoreans that “life in the affluent South is far more difficult than it might appear at first glance.” He concludes that “the new propaganda line of Pyongyang will have only a marginal impact on popular attitudes toward the South. Nonetheless, it is a smart move, which tells that Young Marshal understands where the threats to his rule come from.”
Daily NK’s ‘Ten Ways to Make Money in 2013’ in the NK markets (part 1).
KCNA has unveiled a renovated website with more sophisticated functions, including linking between text articles, photos and video clips. The new site also provides an email contact address, firstname.lastname@example.org, which unfortunately (and perhaps ironically given their current visitors) is a fake address given that Gmail does not allow you to choose a username of less than six characters.