Sunday, March 26, 2006

This just isn't KJI's week

According to some experts, Kim Jongil may be planning to wait out George Bush to begin engaging with international community. This is something a dictator who doesn't seek re-election and has no term limits can do. I wouldn't really call the pre-Bush policy very engaging and my take is that by "wait out" NK means wait until there is someone more likely to cave to KJI's rediculous demands. However, all may not be right in the North and some believe that NK can't afford to wait:
“The North believes it can survive to a certain degree by cozying up to China and getting support from the South through inter-Korean exchanges,” “Internal political issues delayed decision-making in the North,” [Prof. Ko Yu-hwan of Dongguk University] says. “But the country is at a critical juncture and must make important decisions now because the U.S. financial sanctions have dealt it a severe blow.”
Apparently, not only have the effects of sanctions been rather severe, there is a chance that things might progress further. A recent congressional report states that there is reason to believe criminal charges could be leveled at KJI himself.
The report says the U.S. may try to press criminal charges against the North Korean leader in a similar way to how it overthrew Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian leader. Noriega stood trial in the U.S. on a number of charges including drug trafficking and was imprisoned in 1992
I would love to see how this might possibly be enforced. That and the Chinese and S. Korean leaderships may simply wet themselves if we do it. Japan would be rather unconcerned. Such charges would focus the direction of attack in the counterfeiting case directly on KJI after much speculation about how effective the sanctions have been.

An interesting side note that is related to the bad week KJI has been having. Kim Young-sam, former S. Korean president, fired a broadside of harsh criticism at NK.
"As long as (the North's leader) Kim Jong-il lives, there will be no true peace on the Korean Peninsula,"
Ouch. Evidently, he made the comment after viewing the musical Yodok which brings to life the plight of North Korean gulag victims. It is refreshing to see someone influential in Korea taking a stand on this topic. Kim also stated that NK was the "most despotic country." [also from Yonhap]. Kim has been a friend of LiNK and met with our team that was in S. Korea a few months back.

Friday, March 24, 2006

UNHCR Visits the Mainland

Perhaps the most frustrating abuse of the human rigthts of North Koreans is the way that refugees are treated in China. Starving, desperate and worn, masses of these refugees seek shelter in China, whic is certainly not the freest of countries. There goal? Make some money on which to survive and, for the most daring, make it to South Korea.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is responsible for seeing that refugees around the world are dealt with properly and not sent back to a situation where they will be mistreated. China, as a signatory to the UNHCR charter, continues to label Refugees as economic migrants and sends them back to NK.

This week, Antonio Guterres, the new High Commissioner (he replaced Ruud Lubbers, who quit after being accused of getting friendly with some of the women in his office) visited China. This was the first time in nine years that the UNHCR has sent someone to China. Guterres was kind enough to say something about the NK refugee issue:
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said on Thursday that even those North Koreans who crossed the border for purely economic reasons would be in grave danger if they were returned to their country and therefore need to be seen as refugees.
Such comments and criticisms, however, are lost on the Chinese if the UNHCR doesn't demand access to the refugees, which they won't ask for and China won't give them.

The Chinese version of the story is a wonderful read that glosses all bad and highlights the "good" (which is probably why the articles are all so short). According to Chinese state run news, China wants to help solve refugee problems.
In a meeting with visiting UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, Tang said the Chinese government attaches great importance to the protection of refugees. It always fulfills its obligations with practical actions.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call erroneous reporting. Apparently, the Chinese news didn't catch the part about the North Korean refugees. And, since they are such a prominent fixture of most respectable human rights naughty lists, i am inclined to believe they just cut anything mildly critical. Guterres doesn't figure prominantly in the articles, with little in terms of even vague paraphrase of anything he said.

In a slightly related note, China has launched their copy of the UN Refugee Handbook. I just hope someone actually takes it seriously. I wonder had badly edited it is. And, regardless, knowing the charter and protocol of the UNHCR hasn't stopped China in the past, why should it mean anything now? Looks like things aren't going to change for NK Refugees any time soon.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Let the Music Play

Of the thousands of defectors, there is something deeply telling and rather triumphant about the story of one in particular. Kim Chul-woong, a former pianist with the State Symphony Orchestra in Pyongyang, left NK for the love of jazz. I feel his story is an important reminder about the veneer of communism. When one sees images of what look like relatively well-off, happy, engaged, and talented people taking part in the performance culture of Pyongyang, one must always remember that it is all one big facade. It is meant for us, the outside world, to keep us thinking that nothing is really as bad as it seems. Kim Chul-woong reminds us that even the little freedoms denied can push someone to something drastic:
"I liked jazz too much," Kim, 33, said in a recent interview at a coffee shop in northern Seoul. "I needed the freedom of music. I wanted to play jazz in front of an audience and imagined how great it would be."
Now Kim has his jazz and his audience and doesn't have to fear who might be coming to find him because the expression of his soul doesn't fall in step with the jackboot rhythm.

Destruction of the Pong Su

Earlier today, the Australian Air Force destroyed the North Korean ship, Pong Su, made famous by its role as a drug running vessel. Recently, the North Korean crew were received 'not guilty' sentences, but the facts surrounding the vessel remain clear. The ship had anchored of shore in Australia where 150kg of heroin worth around $165 million was transfered to contacts waiting on shore. The heist was busted by Australian authorities and the cirmcutances of this case have proven to highlight illegal North Korean activities.
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer: "North Korea has been involved in illicit drug trade. North Korea has been in-volved in illicit financial dealings and North Korea has been involved in the illicit trade in WMD (weapons of mass destruction) technology over quite some years."
The links have been a little too obvious and with the clearest of evidence implicating the North Korean government in the "Supernotes" scandal, few are going to take denials seriously. Downer further commented:
"It is appropriate that we publicly demonstrate our outrage at what has happened by sinking this ship,"
Well, at least there is one less drug ship in the North Korean merchant marine.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How Many North Koreans Could Live on $1300

In what is the strangest news of the day, a small group of Koreans flew to Brussels, Belgium to protest the Freedom House conference on NK human rights. In what the demonstrators called typical Korean fashion, the protest attempted to draw attention to the why we shouldn't be trying to help North Koreans:
They denounced “U.S. hegemony” and demanded the U.S. Forces Korea leave the peninsula. “People here in Brussels rarely respond to what we say,” their spokesman complained. “It seems that they were taken by surprise as they have never seen protests of the kinds we are holding now.” He then addressed his fellow demonstrators in Korean, saying, “Comrades! I want you to be proud of showing the Korean way of assembling and protesting!”
Apparently, things haven't gone as well as the demonstrators were hoping. The public in Belgium has paid little attention and are more intrigued by the presence of such a zealous group of Koreans then they are worried (or even knowledgable) about the leftist agenda of the protest (i can't believe the guy called them comrades. who does that?). The quote that sums it up for me was this:
“This is a great festival,” a Belgian who gave his name as M. Belforge (62) said, "Are they a traditional Korean performance troupe?”
Yes, Mr. Belforge, that is correct. One could probably think of hundreds of better ways to spend the time wasted on an 6 man protest and the money they spent to fly there would have funded all of the LiNK Safe Haven shelters for more than a year. Just for a little perspective.

more [here]

Looming Humanitarian Crisis or That Didn’t Take Long

Over the last couple weeks, N Korea seems to already have taken a step back from their earlier claims of self-sufficiency and have begun to ask for aid. This coming only months after the removal of the World Food Program and other foreign NGOs that had been feeding a sizable portion of their population. Seoul received a request for 150,000 tons of fertilizers and the UN WFP reported requests for food aid. Both groups quickly capitulated. Seoul obliged the North and has been going through the process of sending the fertilizers northward and the WFP drew up a $100mln aid package that is currently under review. Apparently this has ruffled some feathers in the US congress and Senator Brownback has written Amb. Bolton to see that he doesn’t let the WFP plan go through unless it is adequately monitored (ht: Korea Liberator). Another source of aid is a rice bank that S Korean farmers are setting up to send rice to NK. Korea Liberator has a better rundown of this here, but the gist seems to be that the farmers have set up a system that would sell surplus rice (not even give it away). And monitoring? Of course not.

So the question that needs to be asked, and about which we don’t have a clear conception, is what state the food distribution and food availability is in N Korea. One worry is that this reversal of direction on foreign aid (though certainly not complete) is evidence of a coming famine, or at least drastic shortage. For the sake of the N Korean people, let’s hope that isn’t the case.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Developing the US Policy on Refugees

This news has been far too long in coming and hopefully will prove to be true.

Secretary of State Rice spoke at length concerning her confidence in Lefkowitz as the NKHR envoy and also pointed to coming changes. The State Department has taken heat over their slow reaction to the North Korea Freedom Act and how we still have yet to take in any NK refugees. This has become increasingly embarrassing as a handful of European nations (all without special legislation and spiffy envoys) accepted NK refugees over the last month and a report came out detailing how many NK refugees European nations have accepted in total. US Legislators have been clamoring for changes for some time (particularly those who were instrumental in the passage of the bill 3 years ago) and promises of change seem like they may finally be fulfilled. One report puts the number of refugees that could be accepted this year at 200. While not an astronomical number (certainly not on par with the 1400 that Seoul accepted last year) it is as many as Europe has accepted in total and would be a substantial step in the right direction. But, we will all have to wait and see how fully this pledge is carried out.


I am a little late on reporting this one, but what the heck.
Perhaps the strangest/saddest story to hit the wires in the last few weeks involved the most unlikely of people. A group of N. Korean cheerleaders who had accompanied their team to the Asia Games were reportedly jailed because they were ideologically compromised during their time out of the “Ministry of Truth’s” reach. This is a sad thought because they are reportedly bound for the camps, which adds a tragic tinge to the bizarre nature of this story.

Apparently, they don’t read the international news in S Korea. Days after the reported arrest of the NK cheer squad, S Korea proposed a joint cheer team for the World Cup this summer. Those lawmakers in Seoul have the

US + India + Nuclear Power = North Korea?

On the first leg of his South Asia tour, President Bush concluded a deal with India that will provide nuclear power to the large industrializing nation in an effort to ease its power needs (and some think in order to hem in China). The deal came under criticism almost immediately from all corners of the globe. Amidst that criticism, apparently everyone else missed that El Barradei warmly welcomed the idea. Bush has been on the defensive since the deal was signed (along with the UAE, he has been a deal making fiend lately). One of the obvious criticisms has been about the signal this sends to Iran and N Korea. They, on the surface, seem to be asking for the same thing we just gave to India…nuclear India.

While it certainly is valid that this might make them bitter (as if they weren’t already), claims that this treaty is destroying the Non-Proliferation Treaty lack sufficient support. North Korea itself was quick to point out a nuclear ‘double standard’ that they feel is unfairly biased against them. But there is a reason that this is different; India has not been in violation of the NPT recently (obviously, they creation and testing of their own bomb is a little troublesome) and certainly have a less troublesome recent history than NK does in regards to the NPT. Similarly, India represents a categorically different presence on the global political landscape. India and its troubled but growing democracy is a developing success story. N Korea is a contentious threat.

Another important thing to note, that no one else seems to have noticed at all, is that N Korea was handed the olive branch long before India was. The NK nuclear crisis cut off the construction of nuclear power plants in N. Korea. No one seems to remember that it was only in January that the KEDO team withdrew. I would fully agree with the cries of hypocrisy if, when Bush went to Pakistan, he had solidified a deal with Musharref to help Pakistan develop nuclear power plants. Given Pakistan’s recent history and A. Q. Khan’s antics, this didn’t happen. In my estimation, this isn’t quite as lopsided a diplomacy as some would have us think.

Interesting Tidbits

  • A report in Yonhap puts the number of N. Korean Catholics at about 3,000.

  • There is a new British Ambassador in NK.

  • North Korea, like any country, doesn’t like people kidnapping their citizens, and that is just what they are claiming that NGOs are doing

  • Here is an interesting article on NK, and cartoons.