Tag Archives: North Korea

Trump-Kim smackdown leaves South Koreans cold

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 13, 2017

Moon Jae-in, 19th President of Republic of Korea, holds his first press conference on May 10. Photo: Korean Culture and Information Service, Jeon Han, public domain

For a while it looked as though Donald Trump was the white horse on a cresting wave of right-wing demagogy rushing to break over liberal democracies world-wide.

But the defeat of Trump’s neo-Nazi fellow travellers in Holland and France, and now the election this week of a left-liberal administration in South Korea, leaves the United States President looking more like the grimy spume left on the sand by the retreating tide.

The election to the South Korean presidency on May 8 of Democratic Party leader Moon Jae-in is primarily a demand by the country’s voters to reform government, erase corruption and improve social justice. Moon’s election comes as former conservative President Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office in March precipitating this election, awaits trial on 18 charges of abuse of power, leaking state secrets and taking $US52 million in bribes.

About 80 per cent of voters cast ballots, a high proportion of them young people wanting the country’s democratic institutions revived and strengthened. As remarkable as it may seem from outside, heightened regional tension as Trump ratchets up his rhetoric and calls for “maximum pressure” on North Korea to end its nuclear missile development program, was of only secondary importance to voters among South Korea’s 50 million people.

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South Koreans have got used to living under the daily threat of annihilation by the North’s massive arsenal of conventional weapons. Whether they are wiped out by high explosives or nuclear bombs is irrelevant. South Koreans’ most effective defiance is to get on with their lives, and to continue building one of the world’s most successful economies and vigorous democracies.

However, Moon’s election will give a nasty jolt to the always-precarious balance of security and political interests in the Far East between the U.S., Japan, China and South Korea.

Moon is no softy on dealing with what he calls “the ruthless dictatorial regime” of Kim Jong-un in North Korea. (Moon’s parents were refugees from the North who fled south during the 1950-53 Korean Civil War.) But he believes equally strongly that the reliance on sanctions and military threats followed by successive U.S. presidents, and pumped up to bursting point by Trump, are ineffective.

An immediate point of friction may be Washington’s deployment in South Korea last month of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD. Trump ordered the deployment ostensibly as a defence against missile attacks by North Korea, and to protect the over 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. In an apparent attempt to appeal to his anti-foreigner followers in the U.S. Trump even said he would send Seoul a bill for $US1 billion for defending South Korea.

The deployment of the anti-missile system with its powerful radars has not gone down well with the Chinese government, on whom Trump says he is depending to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Beijing complains that THAAD is a threat to the deterrence value of its own nuclear missile system. It has imposed economic sanctions against South Korea in retaliation for the outgoing interim administration’s agreement for the deployment of THAAD.

Moon opposed the deployment of THAAD, which went into operation last week. He says he thinks the Trump regime pushed to get the missile system set up before the new Seoul administration took office to make it more difficult to get THAAD withdrawn.

At this point, Moon has only said he will review the THAAD decision, and has made it clear that he won’t necessarily insist on the removal of the anti-missile system.

He has also said that his policies towards North Korea will flow from his basic commitment to the alliance with Washington. Unlike Trump, Moon favours pursing engagement with North Korea. Sanctions, he says, should be tailored to bring Kim and his regime to the negotiating table.

In this, Moon is following what was called the “Sunshine Policy” of the two liberal presidents of South Korea from 1998 until 2008. The first, Kim Dae-jung, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to open up dialogue with North Korea. Moon served as the chief of staff to the second liberal president, Roh Moo-hyun, in office from 2002 to 2008.

President Roh attempted to establish a network of links with the North that would be hard to unravel, and which would create a seedbed on which relations could grow. These included family reunions, regular diplomatic talks, and joint economic projects such as the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea.

At Kaesong, several of the famous South Korean industrial conglomerates, such as Hyundai and Samsung, set up factories employing over 53,000 North Koreans. There were predictions that in time Kaesong could employ over 700,000 people and become the stimulus for economic development in the North. Before her disgrace, President Park last year ordered the closure of Kaesong as part of the global attempts to get Kim Jong-un to halt his nuclear missile development program.

Moon says he wants to re-open Kaesong, but it will be difficult for him to do so. It would require a functional relationship with Pyongyang, which doesn’t exist at the moment, and also a lifting of United Nations sanctions. As things stand, it would breech UN economic sanctions to re-start or re-invest in the Kaesong project.

The Sunshine Policy never really got off the ground in the early 2000s. It suffered from lack of attention to Asia by U.S. President George W Bush during his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And when he did pay attention to the Korean Peninsular in a speech in 2003, Bush ignited paranoia in Pyongyang by including North Korea with Iran and Iraq in his “axis of evil” troika.

The then leader in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il, took the entirely logical position that the only countries that Washington didn’t invade were the ones that had nuclear weapons. He therefore re-started North Korea’s nuclear program, leading to the first successful underground testing of an atomic bomb in 2006.

The world’s attempts to bring Pyongyang to heel have been on a downward slide since then, and North Korea’s weapons programs have accelerated since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father in late 2011.

It is hard to see at the moment how Moon can start a new version of the Sunshine Policy without irritating not only Trump, but also Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been as worried as anyone else by Trump’s unpredictable and ignorant performances on diplomacy and foreign policy. However, Abe is also using Trump’s unreliability as an ally to push his own aims to give Japan a more active independent security policy, including recent suggestions for acquiring the ability to strike North Korean missile sites ahead of any attack launched by Pyongyang. These aims are a significant step away from the pacifist constitution forced on Japan by the U.S. and its Pacific Theatre allies after the Second World War, and are heavily frowned on by a majority of Japanese people.

The Tokyo government had been hoping that a conservative candidate would win in Seoul, and reports from Japan say officials are scurrying around trying to get a measure of Moon.

Moon’s immediate pre-occupation on taking office will be to start addressing the concerns of the people who elected him. High on the list is changes to the political constitution, which tends to create an “imperial presidency,” South Korea’s president is given great administrative powers, but is only allowed a single, five-year term. It was only in 1987 that the country began to climb out of decades of dictatorship and military rule. The single, five-year term limit was designed to prevent backsliding into dictatorships. But it has created a situation where incoming presidents are lame ducks from soon after their inaugurations, and it has tended to encourage corruption.

These tendencies exploded in full bloom during the term of disgraced president Park Geun-hye. She and her long-time friend Choi Soon-sil are accused of soliciting bribes worth $US52 million from some of the leading industrial conglomerates – the “chaebol” – such as Samsung, Hyundai and Lotte in exchange for political favours. It is also alleged that Choi exerted unacceptable influence over Park in making decisions on government ppolicy and appointments, despite having no official position.

Moon’s suggestion for preventing any re-occurance of this scandal is to emulate the U.S. and other republics by having presidents eligible to run for two four-year terms. He has also suggested that many of the president’s executive powers be devolved to beefed-up cabinet ministers.

There is also much unhappiness among many voters at the chaebol system under which a handful of largely family-owned companies control whole swathes of economic activity. Moon agrees that the chaebol system is responsible for high unemployment and low wages, and that the country should move to a more balanced industrial structure. But dismantling the chaebol is not that easy. In the wake of the 1997 Asian economic crisis, South Korea’s first “liberal” president Kim Dae-jung attempted to break up the chaebol, insisting they sell off divisions of their conglomerates that weren’t part of their core businesses, and tried to root out corruption in the companies. He was only marginally successful. Roh Moo-hyun, another liberal president, tried to go further, but he too was not completely successful and there is much left for Moon to do for South Korea to become a more economically responsive and equitable society.

The best hope for South Koreans and Moon is that Trump is so engulfed by dealing with the challenges to his political legitimacy at home that he has no time to butt heads with Kim Jong-un and the Pyongyang regime.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Hillary Clinton Advisers Probe Prospects With North Korea

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
October 29, 2016

Commuters make their way through a subway station visited by foreign reporters during a government organised tour in Pyongyang, North Korea October 9, 2015. Picture taken October 9, 2015. To match Insight NORTHKOREA-CHANGE/     REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Commuters make their way through a subway station visited by foreign reporters during a government organised tour in Pyongyang, North Korea October 9, 2015. Picture taken October 9, 2015. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Two seemingly unconnected incidents this week suggest Washington and North Korea are limbering up for another bout in their two decades-long wrestling match over the Pyongyang regime’s nuclear weapons program.

The first event was a quiet meeting in Malaysia’s principal city, Kuala Lumpur, between two senior officials from Pyongyang and an “unofficial” United States’ delegation. The U.S. team was led by Robert Gallucci, Washington’s chief negotiator with North Korea in 1994 during the Bill Clinton administration.

Gallucci is reported to be a close adviser to Hillary Clinton. Thus his two-day meeting with North Korea’s Vice-Foreign Minister Han Song Ryol and Pyongyang’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Jang Il Hun, suggests that Hillary Clinton’s team is already thinking beyond its expected defeat of Donald Trump on November 8. It is looking at some of the foreign policy problems likely to be at the top of her in basket in the Oval Office and exploring possibilities for movement.

North Korea does not send officials of the stature of Han and Jang to semi-clandestine trysts in distant cities for the fun of it.

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Neither does Washington. Gallucci was accompanied by Joseph De Trani, former special envoy to the so-called “Six-Party Talks,” which included China, Russia, South Korea and Japan as well as the U.S. and North Korea, in efforts to agree the ending of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

It didn’t work. But it is a reasonable assumption that at last weekend’s meeting both sides were trying to get an idea of the potential for progress when the new Clinton administration takes office next year.

That sounds more optimistic than it is, in part because of the second episode this week.

That was an odd comment on Tuesday during an interview in New York by James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence. Clapper said in the course of a meeting with the Council on Foreign Relations, “I think the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause. They are not going to do that … that is their ticket to survival.”

This comment appears to be a heresy of the worst sort. Since 1993, when North Korea renounced its ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) after using the pact to acquire bomb-making know-how, all Washington administrations have stuck to the same script: the only acceptable resolution of the problem is North Korea’s “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.”

On Tuesday, the State Department was swift to deny that Clapper’s remarks indicate a change of policy or viewpoint in Washington. “No, nothing’s changed … that’s not our position,” a department spokesman said when asked about Clapper’s statement. “Our policy objective is to seek to obtain a verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

Now, everyone involved with the efforts to deal with the problem of the increasingly viable nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles being developed by Pyongyang knows that Washington’s position on North Korea is no longer obtainable or realistic.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding a long range rocket launch in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 7, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding a long range rocket launch in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 7, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

With five tests of nuclear warheads under its belt – two of them this year and the last on September 9 – and regular tests of increasingly reliable medium and long-range missiles to carry them, Pyongyang is well beyond the point of no return. The best outcome that can be hoped for now is some sort of containment of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, probably in the context of a major program to foster economic development in the benighted hermit state. Pyongyang will doubtless hold out for freezing its nuclear weapons stockpile at a level that will deter Washington – or other potential enemies such as Japan and South Korea – from attempting to oust the regime of Kim Jong-un. Kim, 30-something, is the third generation of his family to rule the Marxist monarchy since the end of the Second World War.

There’s a big question whether a resolution would also involve recognition of Pyongyang’s status as a nuclear power, as President George W Bush did with India. The difference is that unlike India and other unacknowledged nuclear weapons states like Israel and Pakistan which never signed the NPT, Pyongyang cheated on the international treaty. It signed in order to get access to the technology to make bombs, and then dumped the NPT once it had the information. There’s a broad international consensus that such duplicity ought not to be rewarded. Contempt for Pyongyang’s methods will continue to influence Washington’s attitude.

Andrei Lankov, the Russian scholar who did graduate studies in Pyongyang and who is one of the few reliable commentators on North Korea, said in an essay this week he remains unconvinced that Washington can or will acknowledge the truth of what Clapper said. Any U.S. administration, Lankov wrote, has to think about nuclear weapons and non-proliferation in a much broader context than just North Korea.

Were Washington to drop its demand for full denuclearization before negotiations with Pyongyang “it will create a dangerous precedent,” Lankov wrote. “Both domestic political opposition in the United States, and, more importantly, the entire world, will see the development as a case where a successful blackmailer state is paid for its boldness by the United States and, by default, the international community.”

“It will demonstrate to the world that a country can abuse the existing non-proliferation structure to get vital intelligence and then end up both nuclear and rewarded by the U.S. taxpayers.” Such an outcome would encourage other rogue states to follow the same example, he said.

Lankov doesn’t mention it, but Washington’s management of the delicate business of Iran’s nuclear development program, and trying to prevent it moving from power generation into weapons production, is an immediate example of the wider context.

Closely linked to Iran is the issue of Tehran’s main rival in the Middle East; Saudi Arabia. Riyadh helped Pakistan acquire its “Islamic Bomb” in return for a guarantee that Islamabad would give the Saudi government nuclear weapons when needed. But since Pakistan spurned Riyadh’s call to join the fight in Yemen against rebels backed by Tehran, the Saudi government is now unsure whether Islamabad is a dependable ally in a crisis. The answer for Riyadh may be to get its own bomb.

Dependable allies are also an issue in Asia. President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia has been underwhelming. Witness Washington’s less than fully committed response to China’s island building and de facto occupation of most of the South China Sea. It is perhaps no wonder that the Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, has decided that despite the U.S. being his country’s traditional main ally (as well as former colonial power), he needs to appease the bully on his doorstep. Duterte’s recent visit to Beijing was sickening in its sycophancy.

Japan is already beefing up its military and the scenarios in which they can be used. This is in part because of Washington’s desire for its allies to carry a greater share of the mutual defence load, and in part because Tokyo senses that the U.S. will not necessary come running when called.

There is as yet no constituency for Japan to acquire nuclear weapons. But there are similar anxieties about North Korea and Washington’s dependability evident in South Korea, with right wing parties even demanding that Seoul develop its own nuclear weapons.

Donald Trump, in his dismissive remark that as president he would leave Seoul and Tokyo to their own devices, has made such thoughts semi-respectable.

Yet there are other possibilities for the resolution of the North Korean problem besides a bilateral deal between Pyongyang and Washington, with or without the other four members of the Six-Party formula.

The Kim regime is not sustainable in the long term. In essence, it is a slave state run by a feudal family. The economy is in tatters. In recent years millions of North Koreans have died in famines created in part by adverse weather conditions, but mostly by criminally stupid economic policies. Tens of thousands have fled across the Yalu River border into China, where there are now substantial refugee communities. For the past 20 years or so North Korea has been kept on life support by its northern neighbour and brother-in-Marxist-Leninism, China.

If it wished, Beijing could tomorrow force Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program. But, while Beijing would be happier if the Kim regime was not building a nuclear weapons arsenal and the missiles to deliver the bombs, it has more immediate strategic worries. If Beijing stops propping up North Korea with a minimal diet of economic calories – some of it in defiance of UN sanctions – the Pyongyang regime will collapse.

At the moment, that prospect alarms Beijing even more than Pyongyang having nuclear weapons. Collapse would almost inevitably mean a rushed reunification of the two Koreas under the domination of the South, which is immeasurably more wealthy and a well-founded democracy. Beijing cannot abide the idea of a prosperous and vigorous democracy on its border, especially one that it allied to Washington.

So, even though Beijing has voted in favour of UN sanctions against North Korea and has on the surface applied trade embargoes, goods continue to flow across the border. In the past month, China’s importation of coal from North Korea – a major money earner for Pyongyang – has been cut by 27 per cent. This appears to be a punishment for Pyongyang’s nuclear test at the beginning of last month. But it comes after China’s imports of North Korean coal in August were the largest since 1998, and total imports from the North were still $US228 million in September, a marginal decrease over the same month in 2015.

And China’s export of aviation jet fuel to North Korea jumped nearly 400 per cent in September from a year earlier, in clear defiance of the UN sanctions resolution adopted in March after Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test.

There is also a huge clandestine maritime trade between China and North Korea. The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported this week that every day North Korean and Chinese ships meet off-shore to exchange goods such as food, construction materials, agricultural goods and even minerals such as coal and iron ore. The report quotes South Korean intelligence sources as saying that even though the official North Korea-China trade last year was worth $US5.5 billion, the illicit trade was worth another $US2.2 billion.

However, Beijing has been given cause to re-examine its priorities after the July announcement that South Korea has agreed to the deployment on its territory of Washington’s advanced anti-missile system known as THAAD, Terminal High Altitude Air Defense. The justification for deploying THAAD is, of course, to defend South Korea against missile attacks from the North, nuclear or otherwise. But the view from Beijing is that THAAD, which can knock out missiles at an altitude of up to 50 kilometres, is also an effective counter measure against China’s own intercontinental ballistic nuclear weapons. That makes China’s nuclear deterrent impotent and, in theory, opens the country to a nuclear “first strike” from the U.S.

That would be more of a concern to everyone with Trump in the White House. But the events of this week say that the North Korean game is back again in play, though to what end is anyone’s guess at the moment.

 

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

 

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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North Korea’s Kim rattles the bars of his cage

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding a long range rocket launch in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 7, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signs a document regarding a long range rocket launch in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang February 7, 2016. REUTERS/KCNA

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 7, 2016

A good rule of thumb is to always be deeply suspicious of optimistic projections for the future of North Korea.

There have been some rose-tinted forecasts wafting from Pyongyang this week as the Workers’ Party of Korea holds its first congress since 1980. The congress was called to endorse the leadership of Kim Jong-un, 33, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-il at the end of 2011.

Since then the younger Kim has entrenched himself at the top in the time-honoured North Korean manner. He has slaughtered anyone who might challenge his authority, including his uncle and all his father’s top generals. Kim’s reputation for responding with swift and uncompromising brutality to even the most innocuous wayward behaviour among those around him is now well established.

He has also charged ahead with North Korea’s program to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles to drop them on the country’s enemies, especially the United States.

As a result of the fourth nuclear weapon test on January 6 and the sixth long-range missile test on February 6, North Korea is now isolated by some of the most stringent and wide-ranging sanctions ever imposed by United Nations members.

The sanctions were adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council on March 2. They require the mandatory inspection of all cargo in and out of North Korea. They impose a ban on North Korea importing coal, iron and iron ore, and on all major export items. No one may sell North Korea aviation fuel, which can be used to power rockets. However, at the insistence of Russia, North Korean civilian aircraft can be refuelled in foreign countries. All UN member states must close North Korean banks and freeze their assets.

One remarkable aspect of this Security Council Resolution 2270 is that China, which has a veto on the council, supported the resolution.

The Communist Party in Beijing has been the protector of the Kim regime in Pyongyang since the 1950s, buying North Korea’s resource products and selling food and oil in sufficient quantities to keep the regime and its massive army afloat. China continues to want to maintain North Korea as a buffer against Washington’s ally, South Korea. But even Beijing finds Kim Jong-un too unpredictable and irrational to be trusted. The Chinese government opposes North Korea’s nuclear weapons program both because it is an agent of regional instability and because it has given the U.S. the excuse to introduce anti-missile systems into the Far East that Beijing believes threaten its own security.

Beijing therefore not only backed the latest round of UN sanctions on North Korea, there are credible reports it has imposed further sanctions of its own, restricting the export of rice and building materials to North Korea.

With food production falling in North Korea because of drought and mismanagement, the country is now facing a chronic food shortage. Food production fell nine per cent last year over 2014, according to the UN. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is predicting North Korea’s food deficit will quadruple this year. Already, says the organization, “most” households only have access to a “poor or borderline” amount of food.

The challenge for Kim Jong-un in coming months as the effects of drought and economic sanctions intensify will be to provide enough food to keep the elites and the military loyal.

The Kim regime loves catch phrases. For Kim Il-sung, the regime’s founder it was “juche,” meaning self-reliance. Well, that didn’t work because his brand of half-baked communism destroyed the economy, especially agriculture. His son, Kim Jong-il, came up with the concept of “Songun,” meaning the military would be developed first. This cack-handed notion was that giving economic favours to the military would create a trickle-down effect into the rest of the economy. The reality was that Kim Jong-il needed the loyalty of the military in order to stay in power. And we all know that trickle down economics don’t work. The cream stays at the top of the bottle.

The newest Kim, Kim Jong-un, has come up with his own catchphrase, which is being cheered to the rafters by delegates at this weekend’s congress in Pyongyang. It is “Byongjin,” meaning the simultaneous development of both nuclear weapons and the civilian economy.

The rosy interpretation of this is that it signals a shift away from the emphasis on the military and perhaps the adoption of limited market economics, as in neighbouring China.

The mere holding of the congress for the first time in 36 years and the bringing of the Workers’ Party to the fore is being interpreted in some circles as a sign that Kim is pushing the military into the background.

If that is the appearance, it will be deceptive. Kim cannot survive without the backing of the military. Cutting off the military’s preferential treatment in the allocation of food and economic benefits would be a quick way for Kim to have an unhealthy appointment with a noose and a lamppost.

Kim is now more isolated than either his father or grandfather before him. Beijing turning its back on him is highly significant, but so is what has happened in South Korea. Despite the two countries remaining on the brink of conflict since the 1950-1952 civil war, there has always been a political faction in the South favouring a magnanimous attitude towards the North. It was this so-called “sunshine policy” that led to the creation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex by South Korean companies. The complex in North Korea employed 55,000 North Koreans and funnelled hundreds of millions of dollars into the North’s economy. But after the January underground nuclear weapon test, South Korea has shut down the Kaesong complex.

This reflects changing attitudes in the South and the death of the “sunshine policy,” even among the liberal opposition parties. After she came to office in 2013, the conservative President, Park Geun-hye, tried to use the Kaesong development to stimulate the relationship between Seoul and Pyongyang. She has now given up any hope that Kim Jung-un is a leader who she can deal with.

At the same time, Park appears to have ended her cozying up to Beijing, which marked her first years in office and which alarmed both Washington and Japan. Beijing’s evident unwillingness to do anything serious about the threat of Kim and his determination to fit a nuclear warhead on a missile that can cross the Pacific has convinced her that Washington and Japan are more reliable ports in a storm.

Park’s government has started negotiations with Washington on allowing U.S. forces to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile battery in South Korea. It is this prospect that has alarmed China, which believes stationing of a THAAD battery in South Korea undermines the deterrent effect of China’s own intercontinental nuclear missiles.

This concern will undoubtedly have been one of the considerations that led this week to Beijing imposing sanctions on the North beyond those called for in Resolution 2270. These added embargoes have not been formally announced, but there are credible reports from the border region of a marked drop in rail freight traffic between the two countries and Chinese officials making it more difficult to get approval for cross-border trade.

China will probably tighten and loosen these unannounced sanctions as it sees fit. Pyongyang will turn to smuggling, which has proved effective enough to sustain the regime in the past, and hope that Beijing tires of the game relatively quickly.

That is probably a good bet because for Kim and his court much now depends on who wins the U.S. presidency in November. Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton as President look as though they would bring much joy to Pyongyang or Beijing.

Trump portrays himself as a rank isolationist who would tear up existing free trade agreements, abandon NATO, give nuclear weapons to South Korea and Japan, and tell them to look after themselves. That’s a recipe for chaos if ever there was one.

It was Clinton’s husband, Bill, who first marshalled international efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program in return for economic aid and diplomatic acceptance. Hillary Clinton has already had a lot to do with this file during her fours years as Secretary of State. She understands the intricacies of U.S. relationships with its Asia allies and how the North Korean and Chinese problems play into those partnerships.

Hillary Clinton gave the first clear warning to Beijing that its claim to own most of the South China Sea is a threat to internationally accepted rules on freedom of passage for both merchant marine and naval vessels, and a challenge to Washington’s national interests.

If she becomes President, it is most likely that Clinton will mine the ground she has already staked.

 

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016
Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

 

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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F&O this week: Daylight Savings; Spectre; oil; China’s children

Welcome to Facts and Opinions. We rely on the honour system: enjoy one story at no charge, and if you value our independent, no-spam, no-ads journalism, chip in at least two bits. Click here for details.

World:

America’s Lying Season. By Tom Regan, Summoning Orenda column

It’s the lying season in American politics.  What’s different is our willingness to accept these lies.

Village children collect firewood for cooking fuel, Tianlin County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China. Photo by Nick Hogarth for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). CC

Axing China’s one-child rule unlikely to change population. By Stuart Gietel-Basten

China’s policy change will have little impact on population.

Washington, courts defy Beijing imperialism. By Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

Beijing has been dealt significant set-backs to its  campaign of imperial expansionism.

Global oil industry slipping into the red. By Ron Bousso, Karolin Schaps and Anna Driver

The oil sector is slipping into the red; top companies have cut spending, made thousands of job cuts and scrapped projects.

North Korea’s black market the new normal. By James Pearson and Damir Sagolj

"Soldier-builders" carry things in central Pyongyang October 8, 2015. Picture taken October 8, 2015. To match Insight NORTHKOREA-CHANGE/ REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

“Soldier-builders” carry things in central Pyongyang October 8, 2015. Picture taken October 8, 2015. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

The underground market is becoming the new normal in isolated North Korea.

Arts:

Spectre: James Bond in an age of cybersecurity. By Joseph Oldham, Arts

Spectre, the fourth Craig Bond, Spectre, takes us unambiguously into a world that we all recognise.

A Satirist Wanting to Be Taken Seriously: Nancy White. By Brian Brennan, Brief Encounters column

At her most prolific, Nancy White was writing three to five topical satire songs a week and performing –nobody could maintain that pace indefinitely.

Reports:

Daylight savings linked to injuries, heart attacks. By David A. Ellis, Report

More than 1.5 billion people worldwide are exposed to Daylight Savings Time risks, from heart attacks and injuries to mood and productivity changes.

Worldwide daylight savings time. Blue means DST is used, orange that it was formerly used, and red that it has never been used. Paul Eggert/wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Worldwide daylight savings time. Blue means DST is used, orange that it was formerly used, and red that it has never been used. Paul Eggert/wikimedia, CC BY-SA

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North Korea’s black market the new normal

The 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel, the highest building under construction in North Korea, is seen behind residential buildings in Pyongyang, North Korea, early October 9, 2015. North Korea is getting ready to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers' Party of Korea on October 10.  REUTERS/Damir Sagolj REUTERS/Damir Sagolj      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The 105-storey Ryugyong Hotel, the highest building under construction in North Korea, is seen behind residential buildings in Pyongyang, North Korea, early October 9, 2015. North Korea is getting ready to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Workers’ Party of Korea on October 10. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj REUTERS/Damir Sagolj 

By James Pearson and Damir Sagolj
October, 2015

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R) and senior Chinese Communist Party official Liu Yunshan wave to the crowd during the parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, in Pyongyang October 10, 2015. Isolated North Korea marked the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers' Party on Saturday with a massive military parade overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, who said his country was ready to fight any war waged by the United States. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (R) and senior Chinese Communist Party official Liu Yunshan wave to the crowd during the parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, in Pyongyang October 10, 2015. Isolated North Korea marked the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party on Saturday with a massive military parade overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, who said his country was ready to fight any war waged by the United States. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

When North Korea’s late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il opened the Pothonggang Department Store in December 2010, he called on it to play “a big role” in improving living standards in the capital Pyongyang, official media said.

Five years later, judging by the long lines inside the three-storey store that sells everything from electronic gadgets and cosmetics, to food and household goods, the Pothonggang is meeting Kim’s expectations – at least for privileged Pyongyang residents.

But the department store also starkly illustrates the extent to which the underground market has become the new normal in isolated North Korea. That poses a dilemma to the Kim family’s hereditary dictatorship, which up until now has kept tight control of a Soviet-style command economy, largely synonymous with rationing and material deprivation.

Now that the black market has become the new normal, Kim Jong Un’s government has little choice but to continue its fledgling efforts at economic reforms that reflect market realities on the ground or risk losing its grip on power, experts say.

A Reuters reporter, allowed to roam the store with a government minder for a look at the North Korean consumer in action, noted almost all the price tags were in dollars as well as won.

A Sharp TV was priced at 11.26 million won or $1,340; a water pump at 2.52 million won ($300). Beef was 76,000 won ($8.60) a kilogramme. North Korean-made LED light bulbs sold for 42,000 won ($5).

The exchange rate used in these prices – 8,400 won to the dollar – is 80 times higher than the official rate of 105 won to the dollar. At the official rate, the TV would cost over $100,000; the light bulb, $400.

Shoppers openly slapped down large stacks of U.S. dollars at the cashier’s counter. They received change in dollars, Chinese yuan or North Korean won – at the black market rate.

The same was true elsewhere in the capital: taxi drivers offered change for fares at black market rates, as did other shops and street stalls that Reuters visited.

For the last twenty years, North Korea has been undergoing economic changes, the fruits of which are now more visible than ever in the capital, Pyongyang, where large North Korean companies now produce a diverse range of domestically made goods to cater to this growing market of consumers.

People are spending money they once hid in their homes on mobile phones, electric bicycles and baby carriers.

Only recently an elite item, mobile phones are now common in the capital, with nationwide subscriber numbers topping three million, an employee with Koryolink, the cellular carrier controlled by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom told Reuters.

And the latest sign that the workers’ paradise is going capitalist: cash cards from commercial banks.

None of that has had much effect on the vast majority of North Koreans living in the countryside, where a rudimentary market has evolved considerably over the past two decades.

Agricultural mismanagement, floods and the collapse of the Soviet Union led to famine in the mid-1990s. The state rationing system crumbled, forcing millions of North Koreans to make whatever they could to sell or barter informally for survival.

The regime penalised this new class of entrepreneurs in 2009 when it redenominated the won by lopping off two zeros and setting limits on the quantity of old won that could be exchanged for the new currency. That move ended up destroying much of the private wealth earned on the market.

Demand for hard currency surged after the bungled currency reform as more and more merchants in the underground markets required transactions to be conducted in foreign currency. It triggered two years of hyperinflation.

But the government of Kim Jong Un, who became leader after his father’s death in December 2011, has essentially accepted the ubiquity of the black market rate and a widespread illicit economy, North Korea experts say.

“Under Kim Jong Un, not a single policy has been implemented which would somehow damage the interests and efficiency of private businesses,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “It’s a good time to be rich in North Korea”.

At a speech following a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers Party, Kim Jong Un (right) promised to introduce “people-first” politics.

It remains unclear, however, how committed he and his Workers Party – not to mention the powerful military – are to market-based reforms.

Copyright Reuters 2015

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Related on Facts and Opinions:

North Korea’s Kim glories in his reign of terror, by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

One of the best arguments today for the use of judicious political assassination is the existence of Kim Jong-un. There is now abundant evidence that the young North Korean leader is a mad dog. The world would be a safer place without his murderous and megalomaniac finger hovering over the launch button for his nuclear weapons and inter-continental ballistic missiles. And without the evil ministrations of his pointless regime, North Korea’s 25 million people would have the opportunity to make something worthwhile out of their ravaged country.

Lightning-strike diplomacy opens crack between the Koreas,  by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

A photo of the Koreas at night taken from the International Space Station January 30, 2014. The image illustrates the stark difference between North and South Korea: North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China. The darkened land appears as if it were a patch of water joining the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. Photo courtesy of NASA.

A photo of the Koreas at night taken from the International Space Station January 30, 2014. The image illustrates the stark difference between North and South Korea: North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China. The darkened land appears as if it were a patch of water joining the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. Photo courtesy of NASA.

In a remarkable demonstration that may presage the end of one of the world’s most deeply embedded conflicts, three of North Korea’s most senior leaders have made a surprise visit to the South. The excuse for the unprecedented trip across the heavily-armed border that has divided the peninsular since the Second World War was to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, held at the city of Incheon west of the South’s capital Seoul. But the three also met senior South Korean officials and agreed that talks should be held to improve relations between the two sides of the divided nation.

From our archives:

Dark North Korea, F&O blog post

Jilted Putin courts Kim Jong-un for comfort,  by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

North Korea’s Kim renews his quest for a nuclear life-saver,  by Jonathan Manthorpe, International Affairs columnist

 

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Has a crack opened between North and South Korea?

A view of the DMZ from South Korea.  Photo by JD Conner via Flickr, Creative Commons

A view of the DMZ from South Korea. Photo by JD Conner via Flickr, Creative Commons

After more than six decades of hostility – including the devastating 1950-53 civil war – is North Korea now serious about trying to improve relations with South Korea?  International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe examines the possibilities. An excerpt of his new column, Lightning-strike diplomacy opens crack between the Koreas (paywall*):  

In a remarkable demonstration that may presage the end of one of the world’s most deeply embedded conflicts, three of North Korea’s most senior leaders have made a surprise visit to the South.

The excuse for the unprecedented trip across the heavily-armed border that has divided the peninsular since the Second World War was to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, held at the city of Incheon west of the South’s capital Seoul. But the three also met senior South Korean officials and agreed that talks should be held to improve relations between the two sides of the divided nation.

The lightning-strike diplomacy by the three has started a brush fire of confusion and speculation in Asia because it raises questions about North Korea’s leader, the young and erratic Kim Jong-un, and whether he is still in charge.

Kim has not been seen in public since September 3, and he has missed several important public occasions where his presence would be expected … log in to read Lightening-strike diplomacy opens crack between the Koreas. (Day pass or subscription required*).

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Russia steps into North Korea/China split

Discord between China and North Korea has provided fertile ground for Moscow, itself increasingly isolated over Ukraine, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe in a new column, Jilted Putin courts Kim Jong-un for comfort. Excerpt:

14186979110_8f07c7a3bb_m

Kim Jong-un visits a North Korean school in June. Photo by Prachatai, Flickr, Creative Commons

The ripples set in motion by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s ever more blatant involvement in fighting in eastern Ukraine have reached the other side of the world, and are lapping on the shores of the hermit kingdom of North Korea.

As the European Union and the United States impose increasingly onerous sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his court, and a long term chill in relations with the West appears likely, Moscow can’t be too choosy about the new friends it makes.

In this frigid climate, even the unpredictable, spoiled brat North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the Justin Beiber of dictators, can seem warm and charming.

And as the smiling men with gleaming teeth from Moscow have come to call, it so happens that Kim also is feeling desperately unloved.

China has been Pyongyang’s indispensable patron since the Korean War in the early 1950s, propping up North Korea’s hopelessly dysfunctional economy and providing diplomatic cover at the United Nations for its ideological sibling. But North Korea’s insistence, against all reason, on pursuing a nuclear weapons development program, and Beijing’s growing preference for pragmatic foreign relations over ideological ones are coming close to severing the old ties … continue reading  Jilted Putin courts Kim Jong-un for comfort (subscription*).

Log in on the top right of each page (or click here to purchase a subscription or a $1 site-wide day pass) to access all work on Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page.

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On arming North Korea with nuclear weapons and “psychopathic violence”

NASA N Korea

A photo of the Koreas at night taken from the International Space Station January 30, 2014. The image illustrates the stark difference between North and South Korea: North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China. The darkened land appears as if it were a patch of water joining the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. Photo courtesy of NASA.

North Korea is reportedly preparing for an underground bomb explosion at its Punggye-ri testing site, and also to test an inter-continental ballistic missile at its Sohae launch site. And amid rising tensions, there is no international consensus on a response. The country’s leader, writes International Affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe, “has shown a capacity for psychopathic violence that is unsettling in a man who, quite apart from his quest for nuclear weapons, already possesses conventional forces capable of flattening South Korea and much of Japan.” An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column:

If North Korea’s young and unpredictable leader Kim Jong-un nursed any doubts about his need for nuclear weapons, recent events in Ukraine and Syria will have dismissed them.

With American and other spy satellites showing that North Korea is preparing new tests of a nuclear bomb and an inter-continental ballistic missile, the reality is that Pyongyang’s weapons program can no longer be negotiated away.

Kim, like his father Kim Jong-il before him, has read the lesson of the last decade. That is: if you don’t have or have given up your nuclear capacity, you risk invasion.

In Iraq, Saddam Hussein stopped trying to develop weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s, and look what happened to him.

Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi figured that cozying up to Washington was the answer, and voluntarily handed over all his nuclear development equipment. But it didn’t help. Gadhafi wound up hiding in a sewer pipe, and being mutilated to death by rebels, who felled his regime with the help of NATO.

Log in to read  North Korea’s Kim renews his quest for a nuclear life-saver. (Subscription or day pass required*)

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Dark North Korea

The dramatic photograph below, taken January 30 from the International Space Station, illustrates the stark difference between North and South Korea. NASA’s Earth Observatory site explains the dark zone on the image:

Flying over East Asia, astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) took this night image of the Korean Peninsula. Unlike daylight images, city lights at night illustrate dramatically the relative economic importance of cities, as gauged by relative size. In this north-looking view, it is immediately obvious that greater Seoul is a major city and that the port of Gunsan is minor by comparison. There are 25.6 million people in the Seoul metropolitan area — more than half of South Korea’s citizens — while Gunsan’s population is 280,000.

North Korea is almost completely dark compared to neighboring South Korea and China. The darkened land appears as if it were a patch of water joining the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan. Its capital city, Pyongyang, appears like a small island, despite a population of 3.26 million (as of 2008). The light emission from Pyongyang is equivalent to the smaller towns in South Korea.

Coastlines are often very apparent in night imagery, as shown by South Korea’s eastern shoreline. But the coast of North Korea is difficult to detect. These differences are illustrated in per capita power consumption in the two countries, with South Korea at 10,162 kilowatt hours and North Korea at 739 kilowatt hours.

The United Nations released a scathing report on North Korea February 17. The Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea documents “a grim array of human rights abuses, driven by “policies established at the highest level of State.”

F&O’s international affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe concludes that because the report emphasizes China’s complicity “in the unparalleled atrocities by the North Korean regime of its people,” China may be expected to use its Security Council veto to block action on the report’s recommendations. (Read Manthorpe’s column here; F&O subscription required.)

NASA N Korea

The Koreas at Night, January 30,2014 from the International Space Station. Photo courtesy of NASA.

 

Posted in All, Current Affairs, Gyroscope Also tagged , , |

North Korea: China expected to veto action on UN report

Criticism of China was part of the report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, released Monday.

By citing China, the UN ensured that China will use its Security Council veto to block action on the report’s recommendations, predicts international affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. An excerpt of his new column:

Manthorpe B&WBy emphasizing China’s complicity in the unparalleled atrocities by the North Korean regime of its people, United Nations investigators have doubtless ensured Beijing will use its Security Council veto to block further action.

Beijing has reacted angrily to the commission’s findings and recommendations, which are highly critical of China’s treatment of North Korean refugees who have fled across the border.

Chinese authorities regularly forcibly return these people, knowing they will be mistreated, tortured or killed. Beijing’s actions, says the commission, could be called “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.”

Beijing’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called the contents of the UN report “unreasonable criticism …

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