Tag Archives: South Korea

North Korea, where the people eat each other

Life inside North Korea’s closed borders is hard to imagine. One of the only insights into how ordinary people live, beyond the official line of the regime, comes from those who have escaped. Two defectors, Chanyang Joo and Yu-sung Kim, who left North Korea in 2011, tell their story.

“I heard that people sold and ate human flesh,” says Chanyang Joo. “I heard they were killing other family’s babies and selling the flesh after burying the head and fingers.”

Ms Joo says she ignored the rumours until the parents-in-law of a man she knew were publicly executed. They were butchers and the crime, people said, was selling human meat.

Rumours like this have surfaced in the testimony of several defectors coming from North Korea. Whether they are true or not – and we may never know – the fact that they circulate and are believed illustrates the level of hunger, deprivation and fear in parts of the country that marked the Great Famine.

Fellow defector Yu-sung Kim heard these rumours too and believes there may be some truth in them. “When I was in university that had happened,” he says. “It’s due to hallucination caused by severe hunger, people don’t even realise the act as murder and eat the flesh. But that is very, very rare.”

The rumours started during the Great Famine, from 1994 to 1998, when grain shortages in China meant food aid was drastically reduced. Sober estimates say that 600,000 to one million people died during the famine – about three to five per cent of the population of the country.

“It was the most destructive famine of the 20th century,” says Marcus Nolan, author of Famine in North Korea. “The idea that people are sufficiently desperate and unhinged is not surprising.”

Chanyang Joo was just a toddler when her family moved from a city to the rural village where she grew up. It was during the famine, when markets closed and transportation failed. Many in the cities died of starvation, she says, but in the countryside her family survived on vegetables and shrubs.

After the famine they were still very deprived. “We couldn’t get any medicine,” she says. “Very rarely some medicine was brought from China. Doctors sometimes performed surgery without anaesthesia. I saw some emergency patients dying.”

Babies in North Korea

But some North Koreans like Yu-sung Kim and his family were entirely unaffected by the famine. His parents earned money by trading illegally with China and South Korea and arranging for separated families to reunite across the Korean border. He grew up in a government-owned high rise apartment, watching movies and playing video games that were smuggled across the border from the South.

As children, both Kim and Joo learned to worship the regime and its founder Kim il Sung. “The first sentence we learn as a child is ‘Great father Kim Il Sung, thank you.’ and ‘Dear leader Kim Jong Il, thank you,'” says Joo.

“We have to thank the leaders for everything. Every school, every classroom, even the train cars have the pictures of leader Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on display.”

From preschool to university this is the most important subject for a young North Korean. “You can fail everything as long as you know about the history of the Kim family,” says Joo.

But she had happy memories too. “Until North Korea’s brainwashing education takes effect, children are children,” she says. “When I was little and unaffected by politics, I had the most fun playing with my friends.”

Though his childhood was privileged and the illegal trading of his parents was overlooked by the regime, Yu-sung Kim and his family knew they had to toe the line when it came to certain rules.

They couldn’t watch any news from outside Korea and any criticism of the regime was forbidden. He could discuss politics with his family but not with anyone else. “There is always a government spy in a group of people more than three,” he says. “You could end up in a political prison camp.”

Joo’s family had first-hand experience of these camps. Her grandfather spent nine years in one. He had criticised the regime while with a group of friends but there was a spy in the group and he was arrested. “It was a simple slip of the tongue,” she says.

He told his grand-daughter of horrifying conditions at the prison camp, of people eating rats and digging grain from animal faeces to survive. He said prisoners were attacked by dogs as punishment and dead bodies were left to rot where they fell.

Detention camp from 1953

Her grandfather’s experience had a profound effect on the entire family, though not in the way the regime intended. At the camp he interacted with prisoners from the elite classes and learnt of the inequality in North Korea and of life outside the country.

“My grandfather had always told us we had to leave for freedom,” says Joo. “He said ‘Dream big’ and that if we wanted to live in the real world, we had to leave.”

“Since I was little, I strongly felt the need to leave. I’ve never touched a computer but I was really curious about them. I loved studying and was good at it so I wanted to learn as much as I wanted in a free country.”

For seven years, her family plotted to leave North Korea. They listened to radio broadcasts from the South. When this came to the attention of the authorities in 2008 it was time to go. Her father left first through China and Laos to the South Korean embassy in Bangkok. He saved to pay brokers to help the rest of the family escape.

Ms Joo was the last to defect and when authorities found out that her father was missing, she was put under investigation. She told them he had died in a fishing accident. “That is common in North Korea,” she says.

She practised swimming and trained physically for her escape. Three years later she crossed the border to China where she was arrested. China doesn’t recognise North Korean refugees and its official policy is to send them back. But defecting is a very serious crime and repatriation means imprisonment, torture or even death. A religious group, which she cannot name, helped release her from jail.

For Yu-sung Kim and his family, the decision to leave North Korea came suddenly. His father’s business came to light in a South Korean newspaper in 2011, fearing the government reaction they fled. They left behind his younger sister who was ill. He later found out that she was told her family had been captured and killed while attempting to escape. She later died in North Korea.

North Korean defectors in Seoul North Korean defectors protest about China’s policy of repatriating defectors

Though he appreciates his freedom Mr Kim says life in Seoul is difficult. He faces prejudice from South Korean society which often considers North Koreans, with their archaic dialect and strange accent, as ignorant and backward.

“In my university when I tell people where I’m from they see me as strange, like an alien from the Moon,” he says.

There are more than 24,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea. When they arrive many lack the basic skills to live and work in a modern society – operating a cash machine, driving a car, using a phone or a computer.

They find it hard to get work and some resort to petty crime which has given the community a bad name. “I sometimes think living in South Korea is fortune and misfortune at the same time,” Mr Kim says.

Chanyang Joo refuses to let prejudice bother her. But she says freedom has its own problems.

“There are too many things to do here and I have to plan my own life and it’s stressful,” she says.

“But when I think about the difficulty of living in a free society, I realise I’m working and getting tired for myself and for my future so I feel happy.”

Chanyang Joo and Yu-sun Kim spoke to World Have Your Say on the BBC World Service. Listen to the programme here.

North Korea has moved two short-range missile launchers to its east coast

North Korea has moved two short-range missile launchers to its east coast. (AFP)

Reuters, Seoul

North Korea has moved two short-range missile launchers to its east coast, apparently indicating it is pushing ahead with preparations for a test launch, a South Korean news agency reported on Sunday.

South Korea and its allies have been expecting some sort of North Korean missile launch during weeks of heightened hostility on the Korean peninsula.

An unidentified South Korean military source told the South’s Yonhap news agency that satellite imagery showed that North Korean forces had moved two mobile missile launchers for short-range Scud missiles to South Hamgyeong province.

“The military is closely watching the North’s latest preparations for a missile launch,” the source said.

The North moved two mid-range Musudan missiles in early April and placed seven mobile launchers in the same area, Yonhap said. A North Korean show of force could be staged to coincide with the anniversary of the founding of its army on April 25.

A South Korean Defense Ministry official said he could not confirm the news report and said there had been no sign of unusual activity in North Korea. North Korea fairly regularly test-fires short-range missiles in the sea off its east coast.

North Korea stepped up its defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions in December when it launched a rocket that it said had put a scientific satellite into orbit. Critics said the launch was aimed at developing technology to deliver a nuclear warhead mounted on a long-range missile.

The North followed that in February with its third test of a nuclear weapon. That brought new U.N. sanctions which in turn led to a dramatic intensification of North Korea’s threats of nuclear strikes against South Korea and the United States.

The tension has eased over recent days with the North at least talking about dialogue in response to calls for talks from both the United States and South Korea.

On Saturday, North Korea reiterated that it would not give up its nuclear weapons, rejecting a U.S. condition for talks although it said it was willing to discuss disarmament.

Pyongyang-Tehran military ties test nuclear nonproliferation regime


Michael Richardson

 Although North Korea and Iran are thousands of kilometers apart on opposite sides of Eurasia, they are linked — directly as well as indirectly — in the North Korean crisis.
Iran’s nuclear and long-range ballistic missile ambitions are silent actors in the confrontation between North Korea and a wide range of countries in the international community, including the United States, China and Russia.
All these countries, and many others including Japan, have condemned Pyongyang’s threats to launch nuclear and missile attacks on the US and American bases in Japan and the Western Pacific.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned at his first press conference last month, following his appointment, that a failure to respond effectively to North Korea’s nuclear sabre rattling risked emboldening Iran. Kerry, who will hold high-level talks in South Korea, Japan and China this week on his first trip to Asia as America’s top diplomat, said after North Korea’s third underground nuclear weapons test on Feb. 12: “This is about proliferation and this is also about Iran, because they are linked.”
Raymond Tanter, a former US National Security Council member, put it more explicitly. “If you want to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, you have to take a hard line against North Korea. If you allow North Korea to get away with miniaturizing (a nuclear warhead), with three nuclear tests, with any number of missile tests, that signals to Iran that a nuclear-armed North Korea can get away with murder and therefore Iran will not be deterred from getting the bomb.”
North Korea and Iran could be the forerunners of a much wider spread of nuclear arms in Asia and the Middle East, as other countries in these regions try to protect themselves by also acquiring nuclear and missile capabilities. Unlike North Korea, Iran denies it is seeking nuclear warheads small enough to fit on intercontinental ballistic missiles able to strike the US mainland. Iran remains a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while North Korea renounced it seven years ago.
However, Iran has rejected international demands to curb uranium enrichment and halt development of plutonium production facilities, both of which can make fissile material for nuclear weapons.
In fact, there are a growing number of reports and disturbing pieces of circumstantial evidence that North Korea and Iran are sharing their nuclear and missile advances through an increasingly close cooperation pact.
John Park, a nuclear arms trade specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that this exchange of technology and know-how between Pyongyang and Tehran has been a “critical — yet under-examined — enabler” of North Korea’s long-range missile development, culminating in its successful launch in December of a three-stage Taepo Dong 2 rocket that placed a small satellite in orbit before the final stage plunged into the Philippine Sea.
Park says that what started as a transactional relationship, where oil-rich Iran provided much-needed cash to North Korea in return for missile parts and technology, has evolved into an effective partnership that includes sharing technical data and procuring specialised components from abroad in defiance of United Nations and Western sanctions. “The time has come to view their previously independent ballistic missile programs as two sides of the same coin,” he adds.
The nuclear and missile partnership was sealed in September when the official North Korean news agency reported that top-level delegations from both countries took part in the signing in Tehran of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in science, technology and education.
In February British and Israeli newspapers reported that an Iranian physicist, Mohsen Fakrizadeh, was in North Korea when its third nuclear explosive test took place. Fakrizadeh, one of the architects of Iran’s clandestine nuclear program, is involved in designing warheads that could be carried by Iranian missiles.
Also in February, other Western analysts reported that North Korea had recently improved its ballistic missile launch facility at Musudan-ri, on the northeast coast, and that several of the new features were identical to those first seen at Iran’s Semnan launch complex.
A report to US lawmakers in December by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said that North Korea and Iran have combined to advance their nuclear and missile capabilities because neither is any longer receiving as much help from China or Russia as they would like. Both also find it more difficult to obtain certain critical components and materials because of sanctions related to their nuclear and missile programs.
To achieve effective nuclear weapon strike power, North Korea and Iran are working together to obtain sufficient stocks of fissile material, extend the range and accuracy of their ballistic missiles, and design reliable nuclear warheads small enough to fit on the missiles.
Iran already has the largest arsenal of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, many of which are copies of North Korean missiles. The US Defense Department told Congress in its 2012 annual report on Iranian military power that “with sufficient foreign assistance,” Iran might be technically capable of flight-testing an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2015. An ICBM is generally defined as having a range of more than 5,500 kilometers.
North Korea now appears to be irreversibly committed to a future with nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems to offset deficiencies in its large, but out-of-date, conventional military forces. Like Iran, North Korea evidently sees atomic arms as a means of regime preservation, national prestige, coercive diplomacy, and a way to be taken seriously on the international stage.
By banding together, North Korea and Iran may be able to better circumvent sanctions and isolation. The big worry is that with struggling economies, both North Korea and Iran will intensify illicit revenue earning activities by exporting nuclear weapons technology as well as ballistic missiles and components.
North Korea has a history of selling missiles and associated materials to a number of countries, including Iran, Syria and Libya. It assisted Syria in constructing a plutonium nuclear reactor before the partly completed plant was destroyed by an Israeli bombing raid in 2007.
Unless ways can be found to prevent North Korea and Iran from joint proliferation, the outlook for international controls to limit the spread of nuclear arms and ballistic missiles will be bleak.
Japan Times


North Korea seen readying for fourth nuclear test

(Reuters) – Activity in North Korea appears to show it is preparing for a fourth nuclear test, with movement at its atomic test site similar to events preceding earlier blasts, a newspaper reported on Monday, quoting a senior South Korean government official.

North Korea has intensified warnings in recent weeks, declaring it had entered a state of war with Seoul, threatening to strike U.S. targets and blocking access to a border factory complex jointly run with the South.

“There are recent active movements of manpower and vehicles at the southern tunnel at Punggye-ri,” South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper quoted an unidentified government official as saying. The official was referring to North Korea’s nuclear test site.

“We are monitoring because the situation is similar to behavior seen prior to the third nuclear test,” the official was quoted as saying. It was unclear, the official told the newspaper, whether the activities were intended to mislead U.S. surveillance.

The North’s February 12 nuclear test prompted tougher U.N. sanctions and triggered a hostile response from Pyongyang.

South Korea’s defense minister told lawmakers in February, after the third nuclear test, that an additional test was possible.

Pyongyang moved what appeared to be a mid-range Musudan missile to its east coast, according to media reports last week.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Jack Kim; Editing by Ron Popeski and Dean Yates)

China should abandon North Korea

The best way is to take the initiative to facilitate unification with South Korea, says Deng Yuwen

North Korea’s third nuclear test is a good moment for China to re-evaluate its longstanding alliance with the Kim dynasty. For several reasons, Beijing should give up on Pyongyang and press for the reunification of the Korean peninsula.

First, a relationship between states based on ideology is dangerous. If we were to choose our allies on ideology alone, China’s relationship with the west today would not exist. Although both countries are socialist, their differences are much larger than those between China and the west.

Second, basing China’s strategic security on North Korea’s value as a geopolitical ally is outdated. Even if North Korea was a useful friend during the cold war, its usefulness today is doubtful. Just imagine if the US, because of Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons, came to see North Korea as a grave threat to its national security and launched a pre-emptive attack on it. Would China not be obliged to help North Korea based on our “alliance”? Would that not be drawing fire upon ourselves? If so, what useful “buffer” would be left to speak of? China’s own strength and openness will be its most reliable safeguard.

Third, North Korea will not reform and open up to the world. The international community once hoped that Kim Jong-eun would push reforms after taking power in 2011, and North Korea seemed to show signs of such a move. But even if he personally had the will to push small-scale reform, the country’s ruling group would absolutely not allow him to do so. Once the door of reform opened, the regime could be overthrown. Why should China maintain relations with a regime and a country that will face failure sooner or later?

Fourth, North Korea is pulling away from Beijing. The Chinese like to view their relationship with Pyongyang through their shared sacrifice during the Korean war instead of reality. They describe it as a “friendship sealed in blood”. But North Korea does not feel like this at all towards its neighbour.

As early as the 1960s, North Korea rewrote the history of the war. To establish the absolute authority of Kim Il-sung, its founder, North Korea removed from historical record the contribution of the hundreds of thousands of sons and daughters of China who sacrificed themselves to beat the UN troops back to the 38th parallel that now divides the peninsula. Many cemeteries commemorating the volunteer soldier heroes have been levelled, and Kim Il-sung was given all the credit for the offensive. For the North Korean people, shaking off the “Chinese bond” was seen as an expression of independence and autonomy.

Last, once North Korea has nuclear weapons, it cannot be ruled out that the capricious Kim regime will engage in nuclear blackmail against China. According to Xue Litai of Stanford University, during former US president Bill Clinton’s 2009 visit to Pyongyang, the North Koreans blamed the poverty of their economy on China’s “selfish” strategy and American sanctions. Kim Jong-il, then leader, hinted that the motive for withdrawing from six-party talks on his country’s arms programme was to free Pyongyang from Beijing. It was not directed against the US. He suggested that if Washington held out a helping hand, North Korea could become its strongest fortress against China. And Pyongyang revealed it could use a nuclear arsenal to coerce China.

North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons is, in part, based on the illusion that it can achieve an equal negotiating position with the US, and thereby force Washington to compromise. But it is entirely possible that a nuclear-armed North Korea could try to twist China’s arm if Beijing were to fail to meet its demands or if the US were to signal goodwill towards it.

Considering these arguments, China should consider abandoning North Korea. The best way of giving up on Pyongyang is to take the initiative to facilitate North Korea’s unification with South Korea. Bringing about the peninsula’s unification would help undermine the strategic alliance between Washington, Tokyo and Seoul; ease the geopolitical pressure on China from northeast Asia; and be helpful to the resolution of the Taiwan question.

The next best thing would be to use China’s influence to cultivate a pro-Beijing government in North Korea, to give it security assurances, push it to give up nuclear weapons and start moving towards the development path of a normal country.

The writer is deputy editor of Study Times, the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China

Iran and North Korea: The Nuclear Connection

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over an urgent operation meeting on the Korean People’s Army Strategic Rocket Force’s performance of duty for firepower strike at the Supreme Command in Pyongyang, March 29, 2013, in this picture released by the North’s official KCNA news agency. (photo by REUTERS/KCNA)
On the morning of April 2, 2013, we woke up to two news items about the development of nuclear weapons by totalitarian states. The first item (in The Wall Street Journal) announced that the Iranians are putting their nuclear activities on hold so as not to exacerbate the crisis with the West before the national elections in June. The second (from the various news agencies) stated that the North Koreans are restarting their nuclear reactors and uranium enrichment sites, for the sake of peace, of course. Is there any connection between these two events? I’m not sure there isn’t.

Just a reminder: The first and so far the only time that Iran took any serious steps back from its nuclear program for military purposes occurred in 2003, when the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. The presence of American military might within mortar range of its borders convinced Iran not only to postpone, not only to slow down, but to go so far as to suspend the activities of its “weapons group” entirely. This was considered enough progress for the annual American National Intelligence Survey published a year later to put a damper on Israeli warnings by releasing tepid report claiming that the Iranians were generations away from having nuclear capabilities. This gave the ayatollahs’ regime the vital time-out it needed to restore past glory and come within arm’s length of military grade nuclear capabilities.

Now, as another nuclear front heats up, this one between North Korea and the United States, Tehran is facing a dilemma. Unlike Iran, North Korea is  isolated and cut off from the rest of the world, and it has been since the get-go. It’s impossible to impose sanctions on it. It doesn’t care about what the West thinks. It just sticks its tongue out at the United States, even if it sometimes gives the impression that this isn’t a nation at all, but rather, a comic interlude.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that this comic interlude is armed from head to toe and has nuclear capabilities. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may look like a parody of some insane despot from Saturday Night Live, but the fact that he has his hand on the button in Pyongyang means that this isn’t funny anymore. North Korea manages to do whatever it wants, including the development of an ambitious nuclear program, including a declaration of war against its neighbor to the south. The fact that it avoids being punished for all that does not bode well for the American policy or for the international efforts to bring an end to the Iranian nuclear program by peaceful means.

The Iranian election is the most immediate reason why the Iranian religious and political leader Ayatollah Khameini ordered that progress on uranium enrichment be slowed down until after June. There are two ways to approach this recent directive: optimistically and pessimistically.

The pessimistic approach contends that this is just a tactical measure, and that there is no real intention to slow down the uranium enrichment process or, more generally, to change policy with regard to nuclear development. It is just another typical Iranian maneuver intended to buy more time. Khameini never had any intention of forgoing his nuclear program, but he decided that it would be better to wait until after the elections, when he has a president more to his liking. That will place him in a better position to take on the rest of the world.

The optimistic version of events paints a slightly different picture. It argues that the doomsayers who claimed that Khameini would try to use the nuclear crisis as leverage to ensure that the country elects an extremist president to his liking have made a serious mistake. What is actually happening is the exact opposite. Khameini realizes that sanctions and the conflict with the West have had enough of an impact on the Iranian public that the very chance of his candidates winning the next election is now in doubt. He recognizes that he has a problem, which is why he is shifting gears. He refuses to take any unnecessary chances, so he has separated nuclear development from politics. Advocates of diplomacy claim this as proof that sanctions really work, and effectively too. They are not only taking a toll on the Iranian government. They are even having an impact on its self-confidence.

Proponents of these two hypotheses each have legitimate arguments. Only history will judge which assessment was more accurate. The real question is what will happen if we discover that the pessimists were actually right? How will history act when we learn that the ayatollahs have missiles with nuclear warheads that can reach anywhere in the West? If that happens will anybody really care about some lively debate that took place in the first fifteen years of the millennium? It is far more likely that the whole debate be swept aside while governments rush to construct mass shelters against nuclear fallout.

All eyes are now on North Korea. They are also on Iran. America remains the leader of the free world. It’s the strongest superpower, and the only one that can do anything about this. Yes, it can. If Kim Jong-un keeps acting irresponsibly, it will send a clear message to Tehran that it doesn’t have much to worry about. On the other hand, if the United States sends the North Koreans an unequivocal message that there is a limit to the kinds of games it will tolerate, that message will reverberate all the way to Iran.

Similarly, if the United States does act after the next round of nuclear talks in Kazakhstan and after the elections in Iran, and it does so in a way that gets the ayatollahs to back off from their nuclear project, it will be much easier to rein in the North Koreans. What we are talking about is connected vessels, or more precisely, connected nuclear vessels. The conciliatory approach adopted by President Barack Obama during his first term was heard loud and clear, but its impact was a lot less noticeable on the ground. When the cat is away, the mice begin to play. Today’s world, four years and two months after Obama entered the White House, is a lot more dangerous than it was before he was elected.

Whenever you speak softly, you have to carry a big stick. Neither Tehran nor Pyongyang has seen that stick yet.

Ben Caspit is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor‘s Israel Pulse. He is also a senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli newspapers, and has a daily radio show and regular TV shows on politics and Israel.

The Supreme Council of Cyberspace


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