In a somewhat garbled story in today's Financial Times, Christian Oliver speculates that one key motive for Chinese premier Wen Jiabao's recent visit to Pyongyang might be to get his paws on North Korea's vast mineral wealth.
Oliver cites a recent Goldman Sachs report (pdf) by analyst Goohoon Kwon, which values North Korea's mineral resources at 140 times its anemic 2008 GDP (about $20 billion), and projects that the economy of a unified Korea could rival Japan's in three to four decades.
Kwon predicts a "gradual integration between the North and South, rather than an instant German-style unification." Obviously, there are a lot of ifs involved, but it's an interesting finding nonetheless (leaving aside some ridiculous assertions in the report, such as the idea that perennially starving North Korea has "high human capital" -- a "well-educated labor force" that possesses a "sound work ethic and Confucian values").
As the report details, North Korea is particularly blessed with deposits of magnesite, used in various industrial applications, as well as coal, uranium, and iron ore. South Korea, in contrast, is extremely resource poor (though it does seem to have ample reserves of asbestos and kaolinite, a kind of clay).
What Kwon doesn't really address head-on are the problems that would be created by the vast gulf between North and South Korean economic cultures, incomes, and lifestyles. Think back to your high school chemistry class. Remember that chapter on stoichiometry? Well, we can't be certain that a chemical reaction between North and South Korea would create a balanced equation. It might just lead to an explosion.
And let's not forget the resource curse. Just because North Korean leaders are sitting on top of a gold mine doesn't mean they'd do the smart thing and gradually integrate their economy with South Korea. More likely, they'd hoard it and corruption in Pyongyang would reach new heights -- especially if they fear that unification would mean sharing their stuff with the South.
New documents obtained by Japan's Mainichi Shimbun appear to confirm reports that Kim Jong Il's son Kim Jong-Un is being groomed as his father's successor. These include a textbook for high-ranking military officials :
"Anyone who meets him (Kim Jong Un) is fascinated by him," the text says, as well as praising him as "a military talent who has genius wisdom and policy" and that he "resembles our great general (Kim Jong Il) so much in appearance."
The documents also state that Kim Jong Un commanded the air force as a "vengeful commander" when there were mounting calls in Japan and the United States for intercepting the North Korean missile in April, and that Kim Jong Il once joked that an enemy country would suffer if Kim Jong Un chose to counterattack.
A document apparently compiled by the North's secret police urges a prompt preparation for the succession of the leadership, saying, "It is hoped that our General Kim (Jong Un) is crowned as the successor of our dear leader General (Kim Jong Il) as soon as possible so that the burden of our dear leader is lessened."
Nightwatch's John McCreary comments:
The haste with which his completely fictitious leadership story has been concocted reinforces assessments that Kim Chong-il could die suddenly. Chong-un has lived in Switzerland and, like his father, has never served a day in a military uniform, except for playing dress-up.
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
Two weeks ago, Bill Clinton, the former U.S. president and husband of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visited North Korea. He met with dictator Kim Jong-il and secured the release of two American journalists who had been held there for months.
This past weekend, Sen. Jim Webb traveled to Myanmar on a trip through Southeast Asia. Webb -- who likely knows more about the region than anyone else on the Hill -- has long criticized U.S. sanctions on Myanmar. He met with the head of the country's military junta and leading dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. And he secured the release of an American who had been jailed for breaking into Suu Kyi's compound, where she is on house arrest.
The Obama administration and U.S. news outlets have described these two missions as "private diplomacy." Webb and Clinton are both foreign-policy heavyweights outside the administration. Their stature and connections provided them with the latitude to make entreaties to these rogue, adversarial governments. They offered nothing in terms of aid or support or promises of policy-change -- they did not represent the Washington, of course. But they offered good press and a thread back to the capital -- which proved enough for the strongmen, Kim and Shwe.
Clearly, though, the word "private" is not totally accurate here. Both did it with the administration's nod and help.
The Washington Post wrote of Clinton's visit: "The trip came about only after weeks of back-channel conversations involving academics, congressional figures, and senior White House and State Department officials, said sources involved in the planning. North Korea rejected the administration's first choice for the trip -- former vice president Al Gore." The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House approved Webb's mission -- and he used a military plane for the trips.
All of which leaves me a bit queasy, though ultimately hopeful, about this rash of private diplomatic missions.
Part of me thinks the White House shouldn't be in the lame business of disavowing trips it clearly had a hand in making. Further, I worry the United States gave up an opportunity to publicly demand something out of Yangon. Clinton herself has said the United States would consider trading an easing of sanctions for the release of Suu Kyi. Webb may have made some headway towards that goal. But to hear Clinton or Obama comment on it would have doubtless brought a sense of urgency to the issue and shined a brighter spotlight on what the junta needs to change.
On the other hand, both the United States and the rogue governments got what they wanted. The U.S. gave up virtually nothing, got its citizens back, and won some good press for its diplomatic successes. Myanmar and North Korea got, for a moment, to look magnanimous and reasonable -- tempered by the stories about their human-rights abuses, and the fact that Washington did not send interlocutors with actual foreign policy power (Clinton herself, or a committee chair, say) to confer with them.
I suppose these carefully charted and subtle missions proved to work fine. To consider them isolated incidences or unqualified successes (or failures) would be the worst misjudgment -- foreign policy is always about carrots and sticks, and back and forth. This White House gets that really well.
With all due respect to Henry the K., this is barmy:
A visit by a former president, who is married to the secretary of state, will enable Kim Jong Il to convey to North Koreans, and perhaps to other countries, that his country is being accepted into the international community -- precisely the opposite of what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has defined as the goal of U.S. policy until Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons program.
Let Kim Jong Il do all the conveying he wants. The world is still going to see him as a bizarre, megalomaniacal tyrant -- and this episode makes only reinforces that perception. Grown-up nations don't take hostages.
As for the two journalists, they're now safe with their families. Here, I agree with the Carnegie Endowment's Douglas Paal:
Some commentators are suggesting that the Clintons’ actions showed American weakness by expressing regret to a ruthless dictator. These critics need to ask themselves: how would a more aggressive approach have gained the release of these two women from a sentence of 12 years of hard labor?
Coming on the heels of Kim Jong Il's public appearance in Pyongyang last week and subsequent reports that he is suffering from pancreatic cancer -- both of which reignited a stream of guesses about his life expectancy and speculation about his successor -- is the news of a documentary series on North Korea's leader.
To be sure this multi-episode biopic, poetically named The Sun of Songun Shedding Its Rays All over the World, is a never-before-attempted cinematic venture, as North Korea has yet to produce a film on the Dear Leader. And they're starting at the very beginning: I Will Add Glory to Korea, the first film, focuses on Kim's birth and childhood.
Some say the usually camera-shy Kim is taking his mortality seriously, rushing to solidify his legacy in his own vision while he's able. Others suggest that given his frail state a power vacuum is brewing and the movies are meant to draw attention to more youthful days of iron-fist ruling to reinforce Kim's control.
The Korean Central News Agency has this to say in a glowing statement released today:
The multipart documentary film will comprehensively deal with the immortal Songun revolutionary exploits performed by leader Kim Jong Il for the country and the revolution, the times and humankind, with his extraordinary wisdom and distinguished art of leadership, political calibre and noble personality."
With a promotion like that, it's a documentary guaranteed to be more popular than March of the Penguins. Well, at least in North Korea...
AUM JUNG-SEOK/AFP/Getty Images
Kim Jong Il's recent decline in health has led him to scale down his public appearances. But the North Korean dictator did move back into the spotlight yesterday, appearing to commemorate the 15th anniversary of his father's death. Video from Russia Today:
The BBC reports:
Observers said he looked gaunt and limped slightly while entering the crammed auditorium where the ceremony was held in the capital Pyongyang.
It was the second major state event the 67-year-old has attended since suffering a suspected stroke in August.
His poor health has led to concerns of a power struggle if he dies suddenly[...]
Wearing a khaki suit, Mr Kim bowed his head during a moment of silence, beneath a portrait of a giant red flag with an image of his father, Kim Il-sung.
The North's deputy leader, Kim Yong Nam, issued the regime's by now familiar denunciation of the United States and South Korea.
As many as 26 U.S. and South Korean Web sites have been hit by thousands of zombified computers in the last two days, according to news agencies from both countries. Though the hackers responsible have not stepped forward, South Korea's intelligence service believes the widespread outages are the work of the North Korean government:
'This is not a simple attack by an individual hacker, but appears to be thoroughly planned and executed by a specific organization or on a state level,' the National Intelligence Service said in a statement, adding that it is cooperating with the American investigative authorities to investigate the attacks."
In addition to a handful of South Korean government agencies and private organizations, The New York Times claims denial-of-service attacks also affected Web sites maintained by the following:
... those of the White House, the State Department and the New York Stock Exchange ... The Treasury Department, Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Transportation Department Web sites were all down at varying points."
The implications of an attack on any country's economic infrastructure can be pretty dire. Corporations can expect as much as a five percent drop in their stock price following a cyberattack.
The citizens call Taedonggang Beer 'cold yet warm beer' as it is associated with the warm care of General Secretary Kim Jong Il for the people.
Here's a quick preview of "Crossing Heaven's Border," the season premier of Wide Angle's first televised episode of the season, which airs on PBS tonight in the United States. You can learn more about this episode here or view more content from Wide Angle on Passport here:
North Korean defectors take a life-threatening journey traveling thousands of miles through China, Laos and Thailand, in the hope of settling as free citizens in South Korea. Intrepid South Korean journalists risk their own lives to capture the action and emotion.
North Korea's succession drama may not be over after all, the Washington Post reports. Kim Jong-Il had tapped his youngest son, 26-year-old Kim Jong-Un, as his successor early last month. But new South Korean intelligence suggests the decision isn't final.
Without reading too much into it, the announcement raises a handful of questions. One: does this mean UN sanctions are having an effect? Jong-Un's close association with the North Korean military could be a liability at a time when the regime's funds have been frozen overseas, and its cargo ships are under surveillance. Picking a less militant leader could prompt the UN Security Council to loosen the sanctions, or lift them entirely.
Two: is Jong-Un too inexperienced to make his own decisions? Some say the elite aren't won't relinquish their power to a young whippersnapper without a fight:
The youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il will be weak, vulnerable and at the mercy of the old guard for years to come under a stage-managed succession taking place in the hermit state.
If Jong-Il is committed to ensuring the survival of his dynasty, he might be compelled now to pick someone stronger than Jong-Un. His other two sons are out of the running, which means he might have to select an extended family member.
Three: has Jong-Il's brother-in-law become another candidate? It's believed that Jang Song-Taek, Jong-Il's second-in-command, enjoys a good deal of influence behind the scenes. Could he be the next man to rule the North? Whether we're now seeing a coup in progress is unclear, but the possibility is open.
Four: maybe Jong-Il's health is making a comeback, and the 67-year-old doesn't see the need to pick a successor just yet. But that's just speculation.
During the past two weeks, diplomats and experts have continued to watch nervously as a U.S. destroyer has shadowed the North Korean transport ship Kang Nam 1. Now, the ship has apparently turned around -- and nobody in the U.S. defense establishment knows what to make of it.
U.S. officials said Tuesday that a North Korean ship has turned around and is headed back toward the north where it came from, after being tracked for more than a week by American Navy vessels on suspicion of carrying illegal weapons.
The move keeps the U.S. and the rest of the international community guessing: Where is the Kang Nam going? Does its cargo include materials banned by a new U.N. anti-proliferation resolution?[...]
The U.N. resolution allows the international community to ask for permission to board and search any suspect ship on the seas. If permission for inspection is refused, authorities can ask for an inspection in whichever nation where the ship pulls into port.
North Korea has said it would consider any interception of its ships a declaration of war.
Two officials had said earlier in the day Tuesday that the Kang Nam had been moving very slowly in recent days, something that could signal it was trying to conserve fuel.
They said they didn't know what the turnaround of the ship means, nor what prompted it.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said Sunday that Washington was "following the progress of that ship very closely," but she would not say whether the U.S. would confront the Kang Nam.
Even before the unexpected reverse in course, some in Washington were beginning to doubt the whole operation:
Inside the White House, they are beginning to call it "The Cruise to Nowhere."
For more than two weeks now, White House officials have been receiving frequent updates on a rusting North Korean ship, the Kang Nam 1, as it makes its way dead-slow across the South China Sea. Earlier this month, Mr. Obama's aides thought the aging hulk - with its long rap sheet for surreptitious deliveries of missiles and arms - would be the first test of a United Nations Security Council resolution giving countries the right to hail suspect shipments, and order them to a nearby port for inspection.
But now some top officials in the Obama administration are beginning to wonder whether Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, ordered the Kang Nam 1 out on a fishing expedition - in hopes that a new American president will be his first catch.
"The whole thing just doesn't add up," said one senior administration official who has been tracking the cargo ship's lazy summer journey. "My worry is that we make a big demand about seeing the cargo, and then there's a tense standoff, and when it's all over we discover that old man Kim set us up to look like George Bush searching for nonexistent W.M.D."
With this kind of "made-you-look" trickery, perhaps Kim Jong Il has been taking lessons from Lucy van Pelt.
KHIN MAUNG WIN/AFP/Getty Images
Kim Jong-il's son Kim Jong-un, thought to be next in line as North Korea's leader, has a new name:
U.S. and South Korean intelligence authorities disclosed during a meeting this week that 26-year-old Kim Jong Un is now being referred to in the secretive regime as "Yongmyong-han Dongji," which translates roughly as "Brilliant Comrade," South Korea's mass-circulation JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported.
An unidentified intelligence official quoted by the newspaper said the title means the North will engineer a cult of personality for the younger Kim _ much like it was done for his father and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the only two leaders North Korea has seen. [...]
Kim, who was referred to as the "Great Leader," died in 1994, paving the way for the first hereditary transfer of power in a communist nation. His son, Kim Jong Il, became the "Dear Leader."
I can't help thinking that the progressive downgrading from "Great Leader" to "Dear Leader" to Brilliant Comrade" could become problematic. What comes next? Decent Administrator? Qualified Manager? Righteous dude?
Reports surfaced yesterday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is under hospital care (again), after Kim's health took a turn for the worse last month. It's unclear whether he's been replaced by a body double, but suspicions run rampant:
In April NightWatch presented side-by-side images of Chubby Kim and Cadaverous Kim published by the North Koreans within a few days of each other. The latest image shows a man whose physiology is in-between the others, but whose left arm is straight down and never moves in the 66 second clip. It might be Kim but only his handlers would know.
Kim's last public appearance took place in April. But prior to that, he had not been seen since August 2008, when many suspect he was hit by a stroke. Though a photo of him made the rounds shortly thereafter, the image is widely believed to have been doctored.
Let's stop treating North Korea like a naughty child.
Edward Luttwak thinks negotiations have "utterly failed," ultimately giving North Korea more of what it wants without reciprocal concessions from Pyongyang. Fair point. But the solution? "Silence might yet persuade the North Koreans to improve their behavior."
Translation: Since Kim Jong Il isn't cooperating, let's put him in time-out for a while and see if he doesn't change his tune.
The Time-out Doctrine also finds a sponsor in Stephen Walt:
The louder we protest, the more domestic benefits the regime gets ... We've got lots of more important countries to deal with and we just don't have much to say to them anymore. Once they are ready to release [U.S. journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling], they know how to reach us."
Beyond the fact that intentionally creating a test of wills is only likely to strengthen Kim's resolve, the Time-out Doctrine is an entirely puerile form of punishment. Supporters of the idea might say that's the point, but something tells me diplomats should be more mature than this.
International talks have indeed proven fruitless thus far. But this much is clear: North Korea is not unwilling to play the West's game. Just by showing up to the negotiating table, it is signaling its acceptance of the rules. And as long as Pyongyang sees something to be gained in talking, it will stay.
And apparently she's a music buff. A little North Korean Kremlinology from Nightwatch's John McCreary:
Yonhap also reported an infrequent sighting of Kim’s only sister, according to North Korean state media today. Kim Cho'ng-il was accompanied by his sister Kim Kyong-hui during an undated visit to a music school.
According to the state media, Kim Chong-il "gave guidance" for the production of the Russian opera "Evgeni Onegin" at the Pyongyang Kim Won Gyun Conservatory, the report said. He was accompanied by Workers' Party "Secretary Kim Ki-nam and department directors Kim Kyong-hui, Chang Song-taek and Ch'oe Ik-kyu." [...]
According to Yonhap, Kim Kyong-hui, a department director in the Workers' Party, was last seen in a still photo of a parliamentary meeting in 2003. She has been photographed at significant events, such the funeral of her and Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994 and at parliamentary sessions. She has never been photographed with her brother Kim Chong-il during one of his inspection tours.
Kim Kyong-hui is married to Chang Song-taek who was appointed to the National Defense Commission in April, for the first time. The National Defense Commission is the highest policy-making organization in the state, and is chaired by Kim Chong-il. The North Korean government is very much a family affair in that the family members of Kim Il-sung and his wives and his son and his wives and children all have jobs in the government. Plus their body guards and the families of their body guards also have jobs.
Jang (or Chang, depending on what style of transliteration you choose) Song-taek is a name that keeps popping up in analyses of the North Korean regime. He could emerge as the "man behind the curtain" if one of Kim Jong Il's sons takes formal power.
The trial of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who worked for Al Gore's Current TV, started today in North Korea.
The two were arrested in March along the North Korea-China border, apparently reporting on the refugee situation. Pyongyang has charged them with "hostile acts" and espionage. If convicted, they face five to ten years in one of the country's feared labor camps.
North Korea gains some leverage over the U.S. and its allies by holding the women. In the past weeks, the country has stoked tensions by engaging in some serious saber-rattling, testing a series of missiles and a nuclear bomb; it's provoked South Korea to begin fortifying the militarized border and moving warships into better strategic positions.
I'm more and more concerned by the situation, in which Lee and Ling are pawns in a reckless, needless game of military embrinkmanship. The easy answer here is, of course, that North Korea should simply stop testing missiles and join in six-party talks.
But since that situation is unlikely, it's China that needs to step up here. They have the best relationship with Pyongyang, much at stake, and the best opportunity to assuage the tensions.
Earlier this year, Ken E. Gause wrote about all that we didn't know regarding North Korea's succession head-scratcher. And while media speculation over the outcome has been spinning since 2003, it wasn't until yesterday that Kim Jong-Il declared his third and youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, his future replacement.
North Koreans call him "Commander Kim," a small clue into the way Jong-Un, 26, might run the show. He enjoys a close relationship with the military, having attended Kim Il-Sung Military University before being appointed to the National Defense Commission. North Korea's recent missile and nuclear tests, experts say, is likely an attempt by the Dear Leader to consolidate the military's authority — and by extension, his son's.
But, says one report, while the succession issue seems to have been resolved, the announcement is a prime opportunity for Jang Song-Taek, the Dear Leader's brother-in-law:
Jang, who is married to Kim Jong Il's younger sister, was purged five years ago after being seen as a threat to Kim Jong Il's authority. But he was brought back ... to get a spot on the powerful National Defense Commission. Working in Kim Jong Woon's shadows, Jang could bide his time consolidating power and emerge as the country's next dictator, Choi and other analysts say: "This is political power," Choi says. "This is not something you share."
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
Here's a bonus Tuesday Map for you cartophiles out there: a Google Earth file of North Korea pulled together by Curtis Melvin, a Ph.D. student at George Mason University. The Wall Street Journal explains:
Mr. Melvin is at the center of a dozen or so citizen snoops who have spent the past two years filling in the blanks on the map of one of the world's most secretive countries. Seeking clues in photos, news reports and eyewitness accounts, they affix labels to North Korean structures and landscapes captured by Google Earth, an online service that stitches satellite pictures into a virtual globe. The result is an annotated North Korea of rocket-launch sites, prison camps and elite palaces on white-sand beaches.
"It's democratized intelligence," says Mr. Melvin.
More than 35,000 people have downloaded Mr. Melvin's file, North Korea Uncovered. It has grown to include thousands of tags in categories such as "nuclear issues" (alleged reactors, missile storage), dams (more than 1,200 countrywide) and restaurants (47). Its Wikipedia approach to spying shows how Soviet-style secrecy is facing a new challenge from the Internet's power to unite a disparate community of busybodies.
(Hat tip: Kottke)
If you were the prime minister of Japan, what would be on your mind right now, given that North Korea had just tested a nuclear device that reportedly had the explosive power of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki?
My guess is you'd be looking into the possibility of Japan's becoming a nuclear power as soon as possible. Already, North Korea's ballistic missile tests had been unsettling folks in Tokyo. Hawks in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have been questioning Japan's pacifistic constitution for years, and they are proposing that the Japanese military be allowed to launch pre-emptive strikes against North Korea.
"Japan should have the ability to strike enemy bases within the scope of its defence-oriented policy, in order not to sit and wait for death," an LDP committee's proposal reads.
This incident is, in a way, a political gift to Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, who has long taken a tough line on North Korea. He's bound to take advantage of the nuclear test to put some more distance between the LDP and the opposition Democratic Party, which has been steadily gaining strength ahead of general elections that are expected for later this year.
Japan going nuclear would not please the Chinese, and it could inspire Taiwan to revive its own nuclear dreams. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Choe Sang-hun, reporting for the New York Times, speculates that North Korea's nuclear test surprised the United States and South Korea:
The test appeared to have caught South Korea and the United States off guard, and the news hit just as South Korea’s government and people were mourning the suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun.
If officials were caught off guard, it wasn't because they weren't expecting a nuclear test. News organizations had been reporting on preparations for a possible test for weeks, citing South Korean officials. Then, of course, there is the fact that North Korea had also been warning it would do exactly this since April.
North Korea may, however, have pulled off its test earlier than expected. Experts mistakenly thought it would take weeks to make all the necessary preparations, as was the case when North Korea conducted a less-successful test in 2006.
"North Korea seems to want a speedy game," one senior South Korean official told Yonghap. "It seems to be seeking to create a condition favorable to itself as early as possible, rather than dragging its feet."
“The suddenness of the nuclear test shows North Korea following military, not diplomatic logic,” Hideshi Takesada, a Korea expert at Japan’s National Institute for Defense Studies, told Bloomberg.
Kenneth Quinones, a former North Korea director at the U.S. State Department, thinks the launch means that the generals are running this show.
"They’ve convinced Kim to bulk up their military capabilities in advance of any diplomacy,” Quinones told Bloomberg. “But they’re painting themselves into a corner."
I'm not sure what Quinones means by that, but from past experience, the North Koreans have to be thinking that their position going into any talks is going to be stronger now. Their first nuclear test in 2006 was most likely a dud, but it brought the Bush administration to the table. Imagine the goodies they'll get now that, as it appears, their device actually works?
Interestingly, South Korean presidential spokesman Lee Dong-kwan said that North Korea may have even notified the United States ahead of time, and a "diplomatic source in Beijing" told reporters that China was given a head's up as well.
Also noteworthy: North Korea fired off three surface-to-air missiles after its test, two of which were reportedly a warning to U.S. spy planes to back off, according to Yonhap.
Kim Jong Il, the North Korean dictator, started another term in office today, after winning the country's election last month with 100 percent of votes.
It marked one of the few public appearances the Dear Leader's made since suffering a stroke. He appeared significantly thinner, his hair sparse on his head, moving arthritically. (Just months ago, the North Korean news agency released photos of him looking robust to counter rumors about his health.)
Reports note that Kim is likely preparing to pick which of his three sons will succeed him -- a transition which has the potential to end the communist state's isolationist foreign policy. The youngest son, Jong-un, around 25 years old, seems the likeliest candidate.
The middle son suffers from unnamed but allegedly debilitating diseases; the eldest became infamous when he attempted to sneak into Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland with a fake passport. The New York Times writes:
In recent months, [the oldest son] has been in the news after speaking to Japanese reporters who spotted him at the Beijing airport and in Macao. When Japanese reporters spotted him on Tuesday in Macao, he was quoted as saying that he was “much worried about” regional tensions after the rocket launching last weekend.
“If I was a designated successor, I wouldn’t be here in Macao talking to you now,” he was quoted as saying when asked about his chances of succeeding his father.
As part of our partnership with PBS's Wide Angle, we present this sneak preview of the latest episode of their online-exclusive series Focal Point. The full version of this episode will be online tomorrow on Wide Angle's site.
As North Korea’s relations with its neighbors grow increasingly strained, FOCAL POINT trains its lens on one of the 15,000 North Korean defectors who have made it to South Korea. Twenty-year-old Haejung (not her real name) was smuggled out of North Korea some years ago in the hope of a better life -- leaving her family behind. She now attends Hangyeore High School, a special boarding school an hour outside of Seoul, founded in 2006 to help North Korean teens adjust to life in the South.
Most of the school's 240 students are separated from one or both of their parents back in the North, with little hope of ever seeing them again. They experience severe culture shock transitioning from one of the world's most isolated Communist states to one of the most technologically and economically advanced societies.
In Field Trip to the DMZ, the students make their annual trip to the border, and Haejung dreams of a time when her family and her homelands will be reunited.
The successful satellite launch symbolic of the leaping advance made in the nation's space science and technology was conducted against the background of the stirring period when a high-pitched drive for bringing about a fresh great revolutionary surge is under way throughout the country to open the gate to a great prosperous and powerful nation without fail by 2012, the centenary of birth of President Kim Il Sung, under the far-reaching plan of General Secretary Kim Jong Il. This is powerfully encouraging the Korean people all out in the general advance.
While the sattelite is most likely somewhere under the Pacific now, KCNA is reporting that it's in orbit, transmitting a recording of the "Song of General Kim Il Sung" back to earth. Just in case you're wondering what that sounds like:
This morning, Politico reports on a Rasmussen poll taken two days before North Korea's botched rocket launch. The release leads with the alarming line: "Fifty-seven percent (57%) of U.S. voters nationwide favor a military response to eliminate North Korea’s missile launching capability."
The poll shows that both genders support military intervention equally, and that two-thirds of Republicans and just over half of Democrats do. Only 15 percent oppose it.
Still, it's not convincing evidence that most Americans are clamoring to send in the troops. The question read:
If North Korea launches a long-range missile, should the United States take military action to eliminate North Korea's ability to launch missiles?
Thus far, North Korea hasn't shown a lot of success with long-range missiles. The question also came immediately after one about concern over North Korea's nuclear capacity.
The most interesting finding of the poll, perhaps, shows a 14-point drop in people considering North Korea an enemy, and a massive skew along political lines over whether the Stalinist collectivist state is an enemy, ally, or something in between:
Sixty-four percent (64%) of Republicans consider North Korea an enemy of the United States. That view is shared by 50% of unaffiliateds and 28% of Democrats. Most Democrats (57%) place North Korea somewhere between ally and enemy.
Photo: Flickr user Borut Peterlin
In what appears to be a response, the U.S. Navy is keeping a pair of destroyers in the East Sea, following joint exercises with the South Koreans. At least one of those ships, the USS John S. McCain, is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles.
The North Korean space launch vehicle, dubbed the Unha-2, is supposedly derived from the TaepoDong 2 (TD-2) missile. Pyongyang has been developing the thing since the 90s, but has never successfully shot one off. If that's right, it means the North Korean launcher is substantially bigger than the one Iran used. Tehran's Safir-2 has a mass of 26 tons. The Union of Concerned Scientists' David Wright thinks the TD-2 is more like 80 tons, more than three times the mass. (MIT's Geoffrey Forden comes up with a similar figure.)
If those estimates are on target, it means that a successful North Korean missile test could be much more destabilizing than the Iranian launch. Forden calculates it could send a "1000 kilogram warhead over the pole a distance of almost 12,000 kilometers," or 7,200 miles. The satellite the Iranians put in orbit was only 27 kilograms. And, of course, Kim Jong-Il already has nukes; the mullahs don't, yet.
Here are the five best headlines on the (North) Korean Central News Agency's newly revamped Web site today:
New Mushroom Cultivation Technologies Developed
Spas Curative of Diseases
U.S. Undisguised Scenario for Hegemony Flayed
Minju Joson Snubs Traitors' Anti-Reunification Ruckus
Punishment of War Maniacs by Arms Urged
As we've noted before, the British Foreign Offices's diplo-blogging experiment has, for the most part, been a resounding success. But all that might be undone by this post by Ambassador to North Korea Peter Hughes on the country's recent "election," which reads more like one of the Korean Central News Agency's floried dispatches. Here's a sample:
Spring seems to have arrived in Pyongyang, much the same as I suppose it has in Seoul. The weather during the weekend was relatively warm and sunny for the elections of the 12th Supreme People's Assembly that took place on Sunday 8 March. There was a very festive atmosphere throughout the city. Many people were walking to or from the polling stations, or thronging the parks to have picnics or just stroll. Most of the ladies were dressed in the colourful traditional hanguk pokshik and the men in their best suits. Outside the central polling stations there were bands playing and people dancing and singing to entertain the queues of voters waiting patiently to select their representatives in the country's unicameral legislature. The booths selling drinks and snacks were very popular with the crowds and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The list of successful candidates was published on Monday. There was a reported turn-out of over 99% of the voters and all the candidates, including Kim Jong Il, were elected with 100% approval. In a few weeks time the Supreme People's Assembly will open for business which will include voting for the Chairman of the National Defence Committee (presently Kim Jong Il), and drawing up the budget for the coming financial year.
I don't mean to lecture the ambassador on the finer points of democratic politics, but 99 percent turnout is generally not considered a good thing. Looks like someone is hankering a slice of Kim's famous pizza.
Kim's interest in gourmet food and drink is long-standing -- he's Hennessy cognac's biggest individual customer, for instance. The restaurant is the culmination of his decade-long investment in producing the perfect pies. In the 1990s, he hired an Italian pizza-maker to teach his staff the vital art of olive placement. And, after "trial and error" failed to bring the pizza up to snuff, he sent them to Italy last year.
Apparently the trip was a success: the restaurant now serves pasta and pizza made with ingredients flown in from Europe to North Korea's elite. Though Kim allegedly "does not eat much, but enjoys picking at various kinds of food, as if just to taste" -- an irony that's got to be hard to stomach.
Photo: KNS/AFP/Getty Images
The day's biggest news story is undoutedly the New York Times's bombshell about Barack Obama's planned grand bargain on missile defense and Iran with Russia. But the other Times reports an interesting development on missile defense in that other nuclear flashpoint, North Korea.
In a move that could have strategic implications for the whole northeast Asian region, the Japanese Government plans to dispatch naval destroyers equipped with anti-missile systems to the seas off North Korea, as the isolated dictatorship continues preparations for the launch of a rocket.
As long as the weapon passes through the atmosphere far above Japan, as seems to be the intention, the system will probably not be fired. But if the rocket malfunctions and threatens any of its islands, then Japan will become the first nation to use a long-range missile defence system in anger. [...]
If Japan tries and fails to take out a North Korean rocket, it will be an international humiliation and a crushing blow to the expensive missile defence programme, which is already expected to surpass its estimated cost of as much as $8.9 billion (£63 billion) by 2012. If it succeeds, it will rattle China, which already fears that the combined US-Japan missile defence effort will undermine its own limited nuclear deterrent.
It's likely that the system won't actually be deployed, but a real-world demonstration of a long-range anti-missile system would have implications for the missile defense debate in the United States as well.
It would be a lot harder for the Obama administration to continue to use the "effectiveness dodge" -- the argument that missile-defense systems should not be deployed because they cannot be proven effective -- if the Japanese are able to successfully shoot down a North Korean missile. On the other had, if the interceptors were to miss and Japan was embarrassed, it would actually make Obama's grand bargain a lot easier to pull off.
Photo: U.S. Missile Defense Agency
He's back! The Korean Central News Agency of North Korea today released this photo of Kim Jong Il, possibly to refute the reports of his ill health:
The KCNA reports that Kim was visiting a new "e-business institute" in the city of Kanggye:
He was pleased to learn that the graduates from computer genius classes of various schools have grown to be young technicians performing an important role in the field of information industry and said that this proud reality eloquently proves the validity and vitality of the measure taken by the WPK to strengthen the work for training computer geniuses.
The KCNA also released photos earlier this week of Kim touring a collective farm:
Of course, keep in mind that neither of these photos are dated and North Korea is not above engaging in some photoshop fakery.
Update: Swedish blogger Dennis Josefsson writes in that he's found another photo from February with Kim in the same city wearing the same outfit. Very strange.
Check it out here. (Mostly in Swedish.)
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