North Korea has a policy of 선군, or “Military-First”, so we’re putting military-related stories first!
On May 9, Saturday, North Korea launched a missile from the sea. It looks like despite my earlier doubts, North Korean efforts to build a nuclear-missile-launching submarine are true.
…Possibly in response to this, Charles Ferguson looks at the possibility of South Korea fielding its own nuclear weapons deterrents. Although it looks slim, he draws out the various circumstances that COULD happen. Regardless, all of Northeast Asia, in such a case, would be under a domino nuclear arms race.
…Of course, with nothing else better to say, China has urged restraint on all sides, regarding the missile launch.
…Jeffrey Lewis has identified the Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) as the KN-11, and has further details of the launch on his blog. Or was there a launch? Strangely, the barge that was supposed to pick up the missile refuge was extremely close to the area where the missile came out of the water, off the coast of 신포 (新浦/Sinpo).
Wednesday, May 13th, at around 9PM Korea Standard Time, North Korea conducted some live-fire exercises off the west coast, according to South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff. No shells landed south of the 북방한계선(北方限界線/Northern Limit Line [NLL]).
…A sign of raising tensions: South Korea’s Chief of Naval Operations 정호섭 (鄭鎬涉/Cheong, Ho-Seop) told his Marines at 평택 (平澤/Pyeongtaek) that any provocations from North Korea should be dealt with harshly.
According to Hong Kong-based Apple Daily, citing South Korean media, 현영철(玄永哲/Hyon, Yong-Chol), 인민무력부장 (人民武力部長/Defense Minister) was executed by anti-aircraft fire. The execution was possibly because he was taking a nap on the job. He was last seen preparing the security details for 김정은(金正恩/Kim, Jong-Un)‘s trip to Russia before it was cancelled.
…South Korea’s 국가정보원 (國家情報院/National Intelligence Service) says it will closely monitor the situation, and is trying to figure out why, if executed, 현영철 is still appearing in North Korean media.
…However, with such a bold claim, they are also coming under a lot of scrutiny. They’ve had their hits and misses. Now, they’ve come out saying that they are sure he was ousted from his position, but are less sure of the execution. However, they do claim they have reliable sources regarding the execution.
…DailyNK’s sources within the country say the rumors of the executions have also spread within the country. According to the sources, officials that are involved with the companies that he had handled, are also worried if their operations will be effected by the execution, and loss of their boss.
…In a recent political lecture delivered to high-ranking military officers, 현영철 was referred to as an “autocratic warlord who refused orders from the Supreme Leader” OUCH!
North Korea, with the 4th-largest military in the world (after America kicked Iraq out of that spot), in terms of man-power, is a significant threat. With so many servicemembers and idle hands, might North Korea try to outsource them to conflicts elsewhere to keep them battle-ready? The short answer is: No. They did do that in the past, but it seems highly unlikely today. First of all, it’s hard to hide such an action, and would bring a lot of unwanted attention to them. The last Korean (before the North-South split) that was “borrowed” to fight in someone else’s war was 양경종 (楊景鍾/Yang, Kyoung-Jong), and when he was caught at Normandy, the Allies picked him out quickly for questioning against a sea of Germans. Most likely however, the North Koreans would provide limited support, providing either training, or technological trade.
“How’s the view from Room 39?” The economic performance sure looks a lot different on the ground:
South Korea says North Korea is slowing everything down! Specifically, their decision to raise wages at the 개성공업지구 (開城工業地區/Kaesong Industrial Complex). It’s creating a state of panic amongst the companies that work in the zone.
…Finally! South Korea got a response from North Korea over saidwage issue! However, the North says that they already notified South Korea about this issue back in November. So if some guy says he’s going to marry a girl, then comes up to her home in a tuxedo with his family, going, “Why didn’t you show up at the county courthouse to sign the papers?!” I’m sure somehow the other person all of a sudden will just have to marry the guy, because he just said something, despite nothing having been agreed upon.
…Earlier today, a group of South Korean businessmen went into the zone to continue discussing the issue with the North Korean committees over the matter. North Korea wants a 5% increase to $74USD. South Korea has made a counter-offer of $70.35 (the current wage levels). North Korea says that the South has violated their sovereignty, and has threatened to pull out their workers from the zone, if payments were not made by Sunday.
The price of rice has fallen in North Korea. As a result, more and more people have been eating rice porridge.
Official trade numbers between China and North Korea were down for the first quarter of this year.
Tuesday, May 12th, Japanese authorities arrested 허종만’s second-eldest son, 허정도, for smuggling 松茸 (송이/matsutake mushrooms) from North Korea, while labeling them as “Chinese” mushrooms. 허종만 is the chairman of the 在日本朝鮮人總聯合會 (재일본 조선인 총련합회/ざいにほんちょうせんじんそうれんごうかい/General Association of Korean Residents in Japan). You can check out more links and details in our previous episode regarding this issue.
According to the International Trade Center (ITC) Database, NK News reports that North Korean trade with India has fallen 70%. Chemical imports like xylene, and fuel were what mainly dropped. On the bright side, the trade deficit with India is actually in the black, a first since 2001.
…North Korean media in response was obviously angry. They called the arrest “Tyrannical” action.
NK Today took a piece from the Japan-based pro-North newspaper 조선신보 (朝鮮新報/ちょうせん しんぽ), which talked about a new project around 세포군 (洗浦郡/Sep’o County), which intends to take an almost fifty-thousand square-kilometer (or thirty-one-thousand square-mile) space, and turn it into a major food production and growing area. They say that food production will increase within three to four years.
Joshua Stanton cites the Financial Times, which says that it’s estimated North Korea gets a major source of its income from outsourced overseas laborers. Somewhere around $1.5 to $2.3 billion USD a year.
李進軍 (이진군/Li, Jin-Jun), the Chinese ambassador in 평양 (平壤/Pyongyang), on Wednesday May 13th, held a meeting with Chinese businessmen, telling them to remain confident in the Chinese government’s policies, and was pushing the 一帶一路 (One Belt, One Road [OBOR]) economic initiative on them. He firmly believes that this will link North Korea to the rest of Asia and facilitate trade, despite UN sanctions.
North Korea is pushing more and more tourist zones. We know of the one close to 원산 (元山/Wonsan) to bring people to the 마식령 스키장 (馬息嶺 스키場/Masikryong Ski Resort), then there’s the recent-mentioned 백두산 (白頭山/Mt Paektu [White Head]) Special International Tourist Zone in the 무봉 (Mubong) workers’ district. Now, there’s also some details about the 온성 (穩城/Onsong)–圖도門문(두豆만滿/Tumen) Border Culture and Tourism Cooperation Zone, which is eventually going to be filled with duty-free shops, with cultural performances, and will serve as a tourism products distribution center.
Alexander Zhebin, a North Korean expert in Russia, talked about Russia’s approach to improving inter-Korean ties, by forcing the two nations to work together to committ to business deals. Check it out, the link is in our shownotes.
요! Here’s the 411 on North Korea’s propaganda and information flow!
North Korea Tech looks at further details of their new satellite feed broadcasting KCTV. It runs off of the European-standard PAL, and runs much earlier than the standard domestic feed at 3pm, and it’s also in standard definition, not HD.
…However, what is in HD, are some of the in-studio news broadcasts, when they switched to an HD-capable signal in January. This signal however, is not necessarily available domestically. But the clarity is a nice novelty for those of us outside North Korea looking in. It’s also noted, that while the signal for most of the stories and broadcasts are still in standard definition, shots of the Supreme Leader are all shot on HD cameras, but put back onto an SD feed.
… He also has a post that tracks the specific changes in North Korea’s Central Television organization, and their tiny changes in using graphics to present information. Sadly, that means that North Korean TV has better production value than this podcast.
Simon Fowler, the man behind the DPRK Films blog, has a link to the radio show “This American Life”. This episode talks about 同床異夢 (동상이몽/”People sleeping in the same bed, with different dreams”), or people who are working towards the same ends for different goals and plans. One of the stories they talked about, was 김정일(金正日/Kim, Jong-Il)‘s capture of the ex husband and wife combo, 신상옥 (申相玉/Shin, Sang-Ok) & 최은희 (崔銀姬/Choi, Eun-Hee). Definately worth a listen. Check out the link in our shownotes.
Do you know where the Supreme Leader might be? [(PAWStamp) “A CLUE! A CLUE!”]
김영남 (金永南/Kim, Yong-Nam) the chairman of 최고 인민 회의 (最高人民會議/Supreme Peoples’ Assembly [SPA]), briefly met with Chinese Leader 習近平 (습근평/Xi, jin-Ping) while they were at the Russian celebration for their victory in Europe during WWII.
…While there, he also met with the South Korean delegate to the event, 윤상현.
The North Korean General who supposedly planned out the 2010 sinking of the South Korean Ship [ROKS] Cheonan, 김격식 (金格植/Kim, Kyok-Sik) died at the age of 77, on Sunday May 10th. State media 로동신문 (勞動新聞/”Rodong Sinmun” [Laborer’s News]) reported the cause of death was acute respiratory failure.
A recent CNN interview with a “high-ranking defector” claims that 김경희 (金敬姬/Kim, Kyong-Hui), younger sister to the late 김정일(金正日/Kim, Jong-Il), and whose husband, 장성택 (張成澤/Jang, Sung-thaek) was executed two years ago, was supposedly poisoned to death. According to South Korean News outlet YTN, many people believe that she committed suicide, but according to the recent briefing by their NIS, believes she is still alive. New Focus International says that they believe this person, whose identity was changed to “Mr. Park” may be a fake, since the network of “high-ranking officials” who defect to South Korea only consists of a small network of people, and they still maintain a certain amount of contact with the North.
…According to Daily NK’s sources, she’s actually recovering at the ‘소백수 특각’’s 봉화 Clinic, in 삼지연 (三池淵/SamJiYon), 양강도 (兩江道/RyangGang Province)
…However, 장진성 (張振成/Jang, Jin-Sung), who himself is a high-ranking defector, doubts this to be the case. The 봉화 Clinic is a very secure area, and it’s where high-ranking cadres and leadership stay. However, he corrected the Daily NK, who said that the facility is guarded by the 중앙당 청사경비국(中央廳事警備局/Party Central Building Security), but rather it’s 호위사령부(護衛司令部/Supreme Guard Command)‘s Unit 966.
And, we end this section by bringing you a link from the Kim, Jong-Un Looks at Things Tumblr Blog. This time, looking at 현영철
Now, we’ll get to North-South relations, life in North Korea, refugees, & their lives in South Korea.
South Korea says while it will not tolerate military provocations by the North, it will not stop civilian organizations from making inter-Korean interactions a reality.
…However, the chances of restarting the Six-Party talks have become dimm. Earlier this month, 황준국 (Hwang Joon-kook), visited the US and China on the subject, however, after the missile launch has said, “We have stated that there is no precondition for exploratory talks…But North Korea shows no signs of returning to the dialogue table.”
Mr. Stephen Haggard has a piece on European nations and their policies on North Korean refugees, or really, immigration in general for that matter. Immigration policies are getting much more stricter. So what’s a refugee to do? Especially if they all get deflected to South Korea, and then face discrimination in the South along with threats from North Korean agents? Peter Hayes made a commentary about Australia’s case on the matter. Read more at their website, the link is in our shownotes.
Although formal meetings for divided families between North and South Korea have been very rare, formal affairs, at least there is a government effort to make it happen. For the Americans of Korean descent with family that are still in North Korea, there’s no such support. Which is why NK News featured a story on Theresa Yi’s organization, Divided Families USA.
The group, Women Cross DMZ, planning to make their statement for inter-Korean peace, by crossing the 비무장지대 (非武裝地帶/DeMilitarized Zone [DMZ]) via 판문점 (板門店/Pan Mun Jom) on May 24, has been approved by the South Korean government, but rather than allowing them to cross at 판문점, they are recommending the group cross at the 개성공업지구 instead.
This is our final segment. A hodgepodge of stories we didn’t know where to put, like this one:
Thailand’s Vice Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai, was in 평양 (平壤/Pyongyang) on Monday. A sign of growing relations between the two nations.
According to the 조선신보, North Korea’s State Academy of Sciences’ biotechnology and light industry divisions are cooperating with researchers at the Han Duk Su Pyongyang Light Industry University, using stem cell technology in their cosmetic products. Supposedly, it regenerates skin, prevents aging, moisturizes, and lightens skin tone.
NK News has a story on how Walter Keats, a man who was the first in giving tours to North Korea, was subsequently banned 5 years later. Although no official reason was given for the ban, it’s suspected that a tourist he brought in 2007, Adam Johnson, a Stanford professor of literature, wrote a book called “The Orphan Master’s Son”, where the story takes place in North Korea. The book painted North Korea in a bad light, and directly insulted 김정일.
NK Today has an article on North Korean 3D printing. It’s being promoted in some of its more technologically-oriented universities.
Jeffrey Lewis wrote a good piece on 38North.org on the US-DPRK Agreed Framework from 1994, and clears up some misconceptions most of us have on the subject. Check it out, the link is in our shownotes.