FIRST EPISODE OF THE YEAR! Happy 주체 (主體/Juche) 104!
While I was away, on December 28, a North Korean soldier turned defector crossed the border, killing four Chinese civilians. Three of the victims were part of a family: a 64-year-old man, his 60-year-old wife and their 25-year-old son. No identities have been revealed, and no information on the fourth person killed for now. The North Korean man stole 500 yuan ($80), a handbag and two mobile phones. The man was apprehended, sent back to North Korea, and has since died in prison.
Despite USFK Commander, General Curtis Scaparrotti’s assertions that North Korea has the capabilities to miniaturize nuclear warheads, the South Korean government doesn’t think so. What’s the reason for the schism? In Alpha Episode 17, we linked to a Joshua Stanton post, which argued the General’s comments were an effort to argue for the THAAD missile program, which would mean more funds he could manage.
In light of the “Interview” Sony Pictures cyber attack, there is now news that North Korea has increased their “Cyber Forces” to 6,000 troops. Really? I don’t know how they managed to get 6,000 people who are computer-literate, that can somehow hack things, from a decrepid internet infrastructure with only 3 nodes. Maybe if they can get pass that computer-literacy part, the real threat might be to send these folks to countries like Japan, South Korea, China, or Russia, to obfiscate their tracks and actually do some hacking.
김정은(金正恩/Kim, Jong-Un) made his first military inspection of the year, as was reported on January 7, a day before his birthday, by the 로동신문. Although not in the photos, it was said that his sister 김여정 (金與正/Kim Yo-jong) was with him.
Bureau 121, supposedly a hacking group from North Korea, mainly operates out of 瀋陽(Shenyang), China, which is a major internet corridor. However, in Alpha Episode 7, we mentioned a rumor of a defector coming from this organization. At the time, we described the unit as part of an organization that deals in exports, and handles part of the Royal Kim slush fund. So export company or hacking unit? There are some inconsistencies here. We have several interpretations: 1. Either the earlier rumor mentioned, or the later report by CNN may have mistakes; 2. There might be more functions to Bureau 121 than we expect, and it’s not surprising, considering North Korea is a giant bureaucracy where it’s not hard to find agencies and bureaus replicating others’ functions. Anyone with comments, please leave them below.
Sinpo Shipyard Prepares for Significant Naval Construction Program
DailyNK made a list of top 5 items on the North Korean market for 2014: 1. Grains (such as rice and flour); 2. car parts, which are actually fueling a new industry within the country; 3. and a sort of pizza-like food-thing, they’re calling it an “almost 부침개, or 전“, has made its way outside of the capital, and into South Phyongan Province (평안남도); 4. Overpriced “natural” Spring water; 5. Real estate.
According to the Japan-based 조선신보, the 청천강(清川江/Chongchon River) spanning 217 km or around 138miles long, is one of the largest rivers in North Korea’s central region, and will see ten hydro-electric dams built over it. Note: 청천강, gets its name from its crystal-clean water, and is also the name given to the ship that was captured in Panama for carrying sugar and other “ahem” military parts from Cuba.
North Korea exports roughly 52,000 people all over the world, as a labor force, that brings back money for completed projects, and also through taking a cut of what the workers earn as “loyalty money”. The majority of people were sent to Russia, and China respectively. This number was put out by the Asan Institute of South Korea, and is being disputed as being too low by other academic institutions and think tanks.
Ruediger Frank describes to us, his recent trip to the Rason Special Economic Exclusion Zone. Some things have changed for the better, like you can take pictures from the bus, and others stay the same, like not being able to take pictures at the market. But the fact that you can actually visit a market, is very nice. That, and you can go into a bank, and exchange your money for local currency to use –at the official rates, so I’m not sure who’s making out with more money there. Overall, it’s a good read, check it out, the link is in our shownotes!
Oh yes, in case you didn’t know, James Pearson has brought to our attention that items made by South Korean corporations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, are not covered in the Free Trade agreement that South Korea signed with the EU, similar to the FTA signed with America.
In the 량강도/양강도 (兩江道/Ryanggang Province) region, the 9th Corps didn’t participate in the annual Winter exercise. Their troops were stuck on winter construction projects (building ski resorts). However, winter conditions were so severe, some had to be evacuated due to severe frost-bite, and the 9th Corps’ 45th Construction Division, saw over 10 deaths, because of a collapsed tunnel, and were buried alive. DailyNK’s source on the matter said that pulling troops aside from the Winter Training Cycle is rare.
If you were wondering what to read for the new year, you can start off with 김정은‘s New Year speech! Memorize it, before your factory leader tells you to!
…Or, you could take a more cynical approach like Bruce Klingner, and admit that it’s just like previous addresses, promising “pivots in policies towards the South”, “Economic improvement”, while repeating how they are constantly resisting outside political changes, and that annual US-ROK exercises are out to destroy the DPRK. However, even he admits there are little nuggets to be found, like the inconsistency of preparing for war against a country you’re holding peace dialogues with. Bruce goes on into the other little nuances about the New Years address.
…In this new year, President Obama had responded to the group “Guardians of Peace” hacking Sony Pictures on behalf of North Korea, by passing laws of more sanctions against the country.
…We all know how effective that is.
Several hackers had taken down North Korea’s internet over the holidays. Didn’t take much apparently, since they only have 3 main nodes to connect through.
…Of course, the North Korean government has denied any involvement in the hacks, but the FBI after first initially saying nothing was attributable to them, later came out with a report pointing their fingers right at them. Saying that there were several instances that they didn’t obscure their IP addresses, revealing the addresses already known to be used by them.
…And, North Korean State media called President Obama, a Monkey, for threatening sanction to the North Koreans over the attack. This is the second time the North Koreans have called him that. I’m not sure if they are aware of the race implications this carries.
…By the way, Sony Pictures is trying to find alternatives to releasing its movie, “The Interview”. Thus far, only independent outlets are showing it. I managed to watch it, and trust me, it was HILARIOUS!
…However, this film was actually shown to a North Korean defector 김주일(Kim, Joo-il), and he didn’t like it. In fact, he found it offensive. Maybe the film makers didn’t expect this backlash in the Korean community, but considering how many jokes never get translated across cultural boundaries, this was to be expected. At the same time though, 김주일’s life as a defector is surrounded by one thing: Bringing down his own former country’s government. There was a lot of hype about the movie, but especially in the South, people thought that this was the key piece of “information” that would bring down a regime’s trust. That wasn’t what the film makers were going for. It was an American comedy.
…Much of the criticism from South Korea is put on the movie’s emphasis of the dog-eating references, calling their eastern coastal body of water the “Sea of Japan” rather than the “East Sea” (even though for the Japanese, it would be “west”). How about criticizing the editors for putting in unauthorized music from South Korean husband and wife rap artists Tiger JK and 윤미래? Didn’t hear any of that now!
January 8 marked 김정은‘s birthday, but no celebrations were held. Adam Cathcart, founder of Sino-NK says that the lack of celebrating, may be made up for praising his younger sister, using historical allegories, and trying to pump up her “revolutionary” status.
On Alpha Episode Number 12, we had a link to an article that 김여정 (金與正/Kim Yo-jong) was rumored to have been married off. Well, NKLeadership has a capture of her with a wedding ring, and letting us in on who her husband might be: 최룡해 (崔龍海/Choe, Ryong-hae)‘s son, 최송 (Choe, Song), who works at the Korean Workers Party’s Finance and Accounting Department, linked to Office #39. 최룡해‘s wife was 강경실, who was a 만수대 dancer, and had ties with 김여정‘s and 김정은(金正恩/Kim, Jong-Un)‘s mother, 고영희 (高英姬/Ko, Yo’ng-hu’i).
…How did the NK Leadership Watch folks find out about this? 김정은 made a visit to an orphanage, as reported by state media on New Year’s Day, and in the background, 김여정 had her hand on her head, with the ring shining “bling bling!”
If you didn’t know, December 17, marked the 3rd anniversary of the death of 김정일(金正日/Kim, Jong-Il). As customary, flowers and bowing in front of his statue were to be had, with the occasional crying.
And over the holidays, 김정은 had a lot of things to look at: a Tricycle, a football match, an aquarium tunnel, and a computer screen.
…The newest one for this year however, is that he’s looking at a catfish pool.
김동식, is a naturalized American citizen, a reverand that was captured in China by North Korean authorities, and believed to be dead. His sons have filed for a lawsuit against the North Korean government in US courts.
배준식 (Bae, Jun-Sik), a defector living in Denmark, opened the door for some unsuspecting folks who wanted to come in, and then had a plastic bag put over his head, while they beat him up, breaking a nose. They wanted to extract other defector information from him, but his wife saw what was happening, screamed, and they took off. Before that, he had received a text message saying, “The motherland forgives you. Return to the loving care of the Party. If you do not, we will not hesitate to cut your head off.” Sure makes me want to enjoy the loving embrace of the Party that wants to chop my head off! But it doesn’t end there! Because of communication barriers, he couldn’t explain to the police that he was attacked by North Korean agents, and had to contact the Danish Red Cross, who got in touch with people in Washington DC to explain his situation.
Michael Bassett contrasts how 신은미 is being detained in South Korea for practicing her rights to free speech in a free country, yet is put in prison because she made remarks that COULD be interpreted as being pro-North Korean. This, opposed to Arturo Pierre Martinez, the Texan who defected to North Korea, and is being held in prison for illegally trespassing.
…신은미 just got her sentence: She’s banned from going to the country for 5 years. Ouch! What about all those Korean college kids who go around passing out pro-north pamphlets? They seem to be doing just fine…
Michael Bassett also wrote a lengthy post, with a line-by-line item, exposing inconsistencies in 박연미’s statements. 박연미, or YeonMi Park, is a very famous North Korean defector. She is somewhat of a celebrity on South Korean TV, and is championing herself as the face of North Korean defectors, and even won an audience with the US State Department.
NO HOLIDAY FOR YOU!!! That’s right! January 8 marked 김정은‘s birthday. Three years has passed, which is the mourning period according to Confucian tradition, where you have to keep old practices of your beloved deceased elders without change. After that, you can change whatever you want! Like make a new holiday in your own honor if you happen to be the ruler of a nation. BUT! Three years has passed, and his birthday wasn’t made into a holiday. Rumor has it that he’s waiting to consolidate his power before doing so. Others say, it was zealous party cadres who wanted to show their loyalty by making people fill quotas. Maybe though, the guy just doesn’t like making his birthday into a giant deal, where he’s then forced to go visit some parade in his honor, and deal with ridiculous photo-op events, and just wants some peace and quiet?
…Strangely enough, DailyNK reports that miners from 헤산 (惠山/Hyesan) were “provided a holiday”, while regular civilians didn’t get anything. Heck, the miners even got 5kg (11lb) of sugar, and 1kg (2lb) of oil.
…And if you remember last year, Dennis Rodman singing Happy Birthday to the Young Marshall, it was kinda’ creepy, right? Apparently in North Korea, it’s also now a running joke, where people sing it in the same style out of mockery. Poor Dennis!
DailyNK quoted one of their sources in 량강도/양강도 (兩江道/Ryanggang Province) that homework for North Korean students went from taking 45 minutes, reducing it by 5 minutes. Last summer, classes were extended by 10 days though. How these numbers were measured, is a mystery.
It’s interesting how younger, more educated North Koreans tend to find themselves wanting to seek asylum in the US instead of in South Korea… That is, only to be screwed over by a country who’s asylum-seeking process still falls in line with the rest of the nation’s attitude towards immigration: Utter rejection, which can be summed up with phrases like “We don’t like them foreigners!”, or “They took our jobs!”
So after getting hosed with US government bureaucracy, they land themselves in the US, thinking, they can learn English, acclimate to a new culture, and have a house with white picket fences, right? Not if your newly adopted country has a culture that says, “OK, time for you to be financially independent! Go fend for yourselves!” Where they then end up in towns with horrible transportation infrastructure (i.e. buses that run late, or not on time, and are filled with crazy people, and no subways or train systems to compete with, that can actually cut through traffic), and then they are told to get around and look for jobs, by purchasing a used car that costs as low as $1,000-$2,000, yet is out of their reach –let’s not talk about maintenance costs though. Oh, and then of course, there was the health insurance issue (i.e. not having any until the Affordable Care Act came along, and even then, still denies people coverage). Despite all this, they seem pretty content to tough it out. ‘Murrcuh!
Thirty people were arrested in 무산군 (茂山郡/Musan County), 함경북도(咸鏡北道/North Hamkyung Province), for talking on their cell phones. Within 2 minutes, once a signal is up, they are immediately caught. In order not to be monitored by the state-run cell service, they use Chinese cell networks, and then authorities use German-made detection machines to trace the source of that signal. The crackdown started in September, and if caught, you could face a fine of up to 10,000 RMB [roughly 1.3 million KPW, or $1,600USD]. If it turns out, you’re a money broker, on top of that, you can get a year’s worth of time in a re-education camp. Which is why most money brokers have raised their fees, going from taking thirty percent of their cut, to fifty percent.
A computer powered by Red-star Linux, coming to CES maybe? OK, not so much, but the Operating system is following the earlier versions of Ubuntu running with the Avant Window Manager, making it look very much like a Mac clone.
Scott Wilson, an American who had actually taught at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), talked about his experience teaching IT at the school. He did a presentation at the Chaos Computer Club Conference in Hamburg, Germany.
So, America has been warming up to Cuba lately, and they might lift sanctions and travel restrictions. Some are asking will North Korea be next?
…The short answer is “no”. I’d have to agree with Katherine S. Moon, the old generation of hardline Cubans are dying out, and the newer generation is much more in favor of opening up to Cuba, seeing how sanctions and travel bans have done very little to change the regime. The Korean-Americans in this country who are still very much tied to affairs in their home country, are much more conservative, and more consistently hardline. This is possibly due to the religious makeup of the Koreans coming to America. While a significant majority of Koreans are Buddhists, a disproportionate number of protestant Christians represent the Korean-American population, which lean more conservatively.
…The Chinese perspective over America’s rapprochement to Cuba, contrasting it to North Korea is interesting. The sanctions against Cuba were based off of fear by the US and her allies over the threat Cuba could actually pose to the country, due in part to its proximity. However, the sanctions against North Korea are due to direct actions, and breaking away from the September 19, nuclear agreements. That’s what the Chinese say at least. I think the emphasis on North Korea’s nukes reflects more of China’s fears.
Over the break, Andrea Berger asked whether or not Ethiopia may be violating UN sanctions, by having North Korean military experts providing education and training to Ethiopian troops, along with weapons technology transfers. Now, they are able to produce it domestically, and even export it to Sudan. However, this wasn’t always the case. Ethiopian-DPRK relations date back to the 1980s, and none of these were legal issues, until a UN ruling was passed in 2009, which prohibited military technical expertise from being purchased. You can read more about this, the link is in our shownotes.