LAST EPISODE OF THE YEAR! We shall return within 2 to 3 weeks. Happy Holidays!
Contrary to Hong Kong-based Phoenix Media’s prior rumors, there doesn’t seem to be any signs of launch preparations. No foot tracks in the snow, no smoke coming from smoke stacks. So, enjoy a calm Christmas, folks!
Stephen Haggard had breakfast with Andrei Lankov, to discuss his recent Op-Ed in Al Jazeera English, regarding recent announcements about agricultural reform that was proposed by North Korea. How much state involvement will there be, the size of the work units… Then, there are the other proposed economic reforms, and the credibility of the government, and the execution of these plans. Check it out, the link is in our shownotes.
Marcus Noland looks at the price of rice, and as usual, with the enigma which is North Korea, there are two conclusions: 1. Everything’s honky-dory, and prices have stabilized, exchange rates have strengthened, and all. Or 2, THE PRICES ARE JUST RISING AND RISING, AND NOBODY CAN AFFORD ANYTHING!!! Which is right? Well, Mr. Noland says if corn prices rise relative to rice, it might be the second one.
Rather than allowing the South Korean corporations to set wages, the North is changing some rules over the 개성공업단 (Kaesong Industrial Complex). Now, there’s a committee (a body of North Korean government officials) that will decide the wage rates, and raises. According to the original agreement between North and South Korea, any changes to the complex must be agreed upon by both sides, so this change is a unilateral move. It questions the consistency of signing anything with the communist nation, and its credibility. Sort of like how the Chinese and the British signed agreements to give Hong Kong the vote in 2008, only for China to rescind on that decision. #OccupyHK!
Fyodor Tertitskiy, a Ph.D. candidate at Seoul National University, tracked some changes in North Korea’s Ten Principles: The skinny, is that NOW, instead of reveering just 김일성(金日成/Kim, Il-Sung) as before, 김정일(金正日/Kim, Jong-Il) was added. No surprise there, but the role of the party was also included in the new set of principles. So is this a sort of insecurity over the Royal Kim family’s grip on EVERYTHING in the nation?
After having said nothing more aside from, “Wait and see”, this past Sunday, December 7 (Pearl Harbor anniversary), North Koreans came out slashing at Sony, and denying the hacks. This, after a Sony employee received a supposed e-mail from North Koreans threatening them over the release of the movie “The Interview”.
…In it, the group, known as “G.O.P.” or “Guardians of Peace” say that the release of the movie will cause war over the peninsula.
…Despite this, the US government has gone from maintaining silence over the situation, to giving a “no-answer, answer”. The FBI is quoted as saying the cyber attacks bear no attribution to North Korea.
…However, Jeffrey Lewis, wrote a piece for 38North, pointing out that the malicious code used was written in Korean. So even if it’s not from the North, it might be from the South, but from a North-sympathizing group, which still points to North Korea.
…Hacked e-mails revealed that Sony executives were concerned with the film’s political effects, and wanted to cut scenes from the film. This was met with much resistance by the film’s creator, Seth Rogen. Thus the scene of 김정은(金正恩/Kim, Jong-Un)‘s head exploding will stay intact. Hurray to Seth on his victory!
…Kevin Stahler has a roundup of the ins and outs of the Sony Hacking saga.
…And before leaving this behind, yesterday, Thursday, December 11th, was the Los Angeles premiere of the movie, and everything seemed to go well.
Koreans aren’t really original when it comes to naming their kids. However, before the Brilliant Leader came to prominence, the only 김정은 worth knowing was a South Korean actress. But of course, there are other 김정은s. Alistair Gale has a story for the WallStreet Journal on how other people with the same name react to it, under this new context of having a North Korean leader with the same name, and recount how the significance of their name has changed over the years.
In an interview with the German journal “Focus”, an ex-bodyguard to the Royal Kims, a man named 이영국, says that 김정은 is actually more brutal than his father was, and says that the elites over the years have actually become more and more cold-blooded.
While attending the 2nd Servicemembers’ Families Meeting, 김정은 kept his speech short, simply writing things down on an A-4-size paper.
Are you missing the Dear Leader, 김정일? Well, I’m sure he misses you too, and is singing about how Ronerhee he is. Well, it’s December, and you probably didn’t know, unless you got a double dose of his pictures, as put in the 로동신문, as it is coming close to the 3-year mark of his death.
Do you ever wonder how much the North Koreans love the “Brilliant Leader” 김정은? Well, if it’s as the propaganda videos show, there might be a market for these things: Butt Plugs, in the shape of 김정은.
And as usual, we end the section with a link to a picture of the Brilliant Leader looking at something. This time, plastic products!
A YouTube video uploaded on December 8, shows video footage of people in their 20s, believed to be the refugees who were caught in May last year, in Laos, and repatriated to North Korea via China. The video is presumed to have been shot recently, and shows them enjoying themselves. They look like they’re in the Christmas Holiday spirit, minus the allusions towards Christianity.
…For 2 days, these repatriated “refugees” have been on North Korean state-media 우리민족끼리, a website directing propoganda towards South Koreans and the rest of the world. Supposedly, life is great, and they have nothing to be jealous of. That’s probably because they still have value as propoganda tools.
Geoffrey See describes his experience watching the movie “Comrade Kim Goes Flying”, in North and South Korea, then in China. South Koreans may not like to see themselves as being from the same cut North Koreans are from, but when recounting the reactions to the movie, the Koreans no matter what side of the border tended to laugh at the same things, while in China, a lot of the cultural jokes fell flat. Sort of like playing “Cards Against Humanity” with people who immigrated to the US, and are still struggling with English. The gameplay doesn’t run as smooth.
Market practices aren’t just for ordinary North Koreans. The party members and cadres all find ways to secure their own fortunes, and still manage to stay on top. New Focus International has an article on describing the various escapades some of the elites like 최현철, who got in a car accident, and brought the other party to execution, because he supposedly made an anti-state comment. This is worse than the Chinese equivalent of the 我爸是李剛, but both describe perfectly the abuse of power. You can read more of the shenanigans at their website, the link is in our shownotes.
Have you noticed the lack of coverage of Ebola, the scourge of the Earth, which America’s Center for Disease Control (CDC) has declared an epidemic? North Korea hasn’t heard much either, which is why it just might lift that ebola ban by the first quarter of next year.
Wednesday, December 10, was International Human Rights Day. Two prominent defectors, Joseph Kim and 박연미 were invited by the US State Department to talk about the human rights issues in North Korea, and to put it in better context by describing to the audience how they experienced it.
A Korean-American, 신은미, was talking with a guest on a TV show, and supposedly made some comments putting North Korea in a positive light. This goes against South Korea’s National Security Laws, and even though she was supposed to leave on Friday, she’s now stuck. After making comments, she was charged, and was supposed to show up in court, which she failed to do.
Camp 15, in 요덕 (Yodok). The most infamous of all North Korean prison camps. Previously reported by analysts that it was being closed, but NKEcon Watch says otherwise. In fact, it’s being expanded, with new facilities. You can check out the details on their site, the link is in our shownotes.
Most prisoners in North Korea tend to end their lives there, or might rarely get released. However, amongst those lucky few who do get released, I’ve never heard of them being billed for their stay. If you’re Merrill Newman however, that seems to be the case. They billed him for the meals he ate, and they even charged him based off of regular rates and holiday rates too. Will the North Koreans sell this debt off to a third party company if he doesn’t pay?
On December 4, the 로동신문 released an article on reforestation. North Korea’s going green, eh? Maybe they can sell carbon tax credits to China, so they can keep on pollutin’!
As early as Alpha Episode #3, we mentioned how workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex might have been exposed to Benzene, yet despite South Korea’s attempts at investigating these issues, North Korea has denied them access. So if it is true, you can only try to track these people decades later, where their symptoms will show. Recently, the Center for Public Integrity has brought to our attention what exactly the effects of Benzene has on American workers who’ve been exposed to this toxic chemical.
John Delury wrote a piece for 38North, describing exactly why Obama should engage with North Korea, rather than continue on his “wait and see” approach. Well, he’s a lameduck, and even if he does manage anything, the North Koreans are probably really tired of this back and forth. One interesting thing, is how he described North Korea’s lessened trade with China as more of a strategic diversification of the trade portfolio.
In history, they say that there are “No what ifs”, but that didn’t stop Stephen Haggard from asking that question. He recently went to a meeting, and described the exact situation of the Japanese surrender on the Korean peninsula. Even though MacArthur is celebrated as the man who turned the tide in the Korean War in the Allies’ favor, it’s little known that even though Truman wanted to send more troops onto the Korean Peninsula, at least send in a Division, MacArthur said he needed every Division under his command in occupying Japan. This decision would lead to two colonels choosing an old map where Japan and Russia had carved up spheres of influence over the peninsula. Kiss your unified Korea under democratic rule goodbye. Definately worth the read, thank you, Stephen Haggard for sharing this with us!
김수기, a non-teacher who implanted herself into the PyongYang University of Science and Technology (or PUST), as a faculty member for six months, got an interview on the Daily Show. At first, I thought whatever information we can learn about North Korea, the better, but after seeing her interview, I’m starting to wonder if it was worth it, and leaning towards agreeing with Michael Bassett’s criticisms of her “moment of glory” as he calls it, which actually risks any further form of interaction between North Korea and the outside world via PUST. Maybe the interview didn’t give enough time for her flesh out her thoughts?