The Final Chapter

[In order to bring up-to-date our website readers who are not CanKor Report subscribers, we are posting the introductions of the last three issues for your information. Here follows the introduction to the last CanKor Report #350, dated 27 July 2013, the 60th Anniversary of the Armistice Agreement.  --CanKor]

Dear Friends,

Exactly 13 years after the first CanKor newsletter was sent out to a handful of subscribers on 25 July 2000, we have reached the end of the road with this CanKor Report number 350. Cordial expressions of thanks and regret about the closing of CanKor continue to reach us. Many of them are directed towards me personally. I wish to quote two of them here, because each author has been an important mentor of mine.

The first is from David B. Dewitt, currently Vice-President of Programs at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo. David was my faculty advisor when I did my fellowship year at York University in Toronto:

“I, too, am saddened by the pending termination of CanKor. You provide an important contribution and service to those interested in not just the Korean Peninsula but also in the larger Asia Pacific context. And you and your team have done this with focus, determination and integrity for so many years. Just at a time when some mix of both rhetoric by some and indifference by others seems to be emerging, your lens would have been all that much more important. Although CanKor may be winding down, I trust that it doesn’t mean that we won’t regularly or at least occasionally be hearing from you.”

The second comes from Baldwin Sjollema, who was a role model for me when he headed the highly controversial World Council of Churches’ Programme to Combat Racism in the 1970s:

“What you and your wife have done over these past years through CanKor is exactly what I think the ecumenical movement is about: serving with conviction and compassion the wider human community in its almost endless struggle for justice and peace. The Korean issue is one of the toughest in today’s world. You have set in motion something, and something will have to take its place! With your service you have made a real contribution, which is appreciated by many people like myself, especially because nobody else did it. I am most grateful to you and express my special gratitude to you.”

As much as I take pride in such heartfelt approbation, I cannot in good conscience take all the credit for what CanKor is and was. Some of those who were involved in the past are mentioned in “CanKor history” on our website. We had powerful moral and material support from many friends, colleagues, contributors, volunteers and donors. Let me just mention a few of them here: Read the rest of this entry »

The Countdown is On

[In order to bring up-to-date our website readers who are not CanKor Report subscribers, we are posting the introductions of the last three issues for your information. Here follows the introduction to CanKor Report #349, the penultimate issue.  --CanKor]

CanKor LogoFollowing the announcement that CanKor is coming to an end, we received numerous heartfelt expressions of regret and congratulations. Let me share some of them with you:

“You have been selfless, brilliant, imaginative, balanced and inspirationally dogged in conceiving, launching and sustaining an important enterprise to push the North Korean rock up a steep Canadian hill.” –Paul Evans

“What you have accomplished is remarkable!  You have been pulling this sled loaded with heavy logs uphill, winter and summer, virtually alone.  Your accomplishments have been (sometimes grudgingly) recognized in officialdom, academic and church circles in Canada, by specialists abroad and that handful (which may be more than a small one) of North Koreans who enjoy your humor, profit from your insights, trust your integrity, and now and again find it convenient to communicate to a wider public through you.” –Dwain Epps Read the rest of this entry »

The End (of CanKor) is at Hand

[In order to bring up-to-date our website readers who are not CanKor Report subscribers, we are posting the introductions of the last three issues for your information. Here follows the introduction to CanKor Report #348.  --CanKor]

All good things must come to an end. But it seems that bad things tend to stick around a lot longer. Sixty years after the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement, the Korean War still claims victims to this very day. Divided families, escalating militarism, regional insecurities and violence in word and deed have become a generational legacy, perpetuating human suffering and casting a dark shadow on the future of Korea, the region and the wider world community.

Flag-Pins-Canada-North-KoreaDespite its modest capacities, Canada has played a significant role in Korea for more than a century. Canadian missionaries built schools and hospitals and participated in struggles against Japanese occupation and annexation in the first half of the 20th century. Canadian soldiers participated in the Korean War. Canadian activists supported the democratization movement in South Korea. Canadian humanitarians continue to provide assistance for food security and capacity-building in North Korea. In recent years Canadian teachers have taught the English language in both North and South Korea. Canadian human rights activists have provided assistance to displaced North Korean migrants and refugees. Canadians have been active in exchange programmes for professionals and students on both sides of the Korean divide.

The 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and South Korea are being celebrated this year. Less celebrated are the dozen years of diplomatic relations with North Korea. CanKor was born as an information mechanism to accompany the establishment of Canada-DPRK diplomatic relations. The last 12-plus years have been a roller-coaster ride. Our finances have dwindled even as public interest in CanKor has grown internationally. Read the rest of this entry »

What Works Best? by Erich Weingartner

There is a simple question I am often asked when speaking about humanitarian assistance: What works best with the DPRK?

Simple questions don’t always result in simple answers, and when it comes to the DPRK, simple answers don’t exist. Actually, even simple questions turn out to be more complex when applied to the DPRK: What do we mean by the words “works best”? Works best for whom? For what purpose? Under what circumstances? During what time period? And who or what determines what works best?

North Korean children consuming donated food (Picture by Erich Weingartner)

North Korean children consuming donated food (Picture by Erich Weingartner)

Works best for whom?

For the donors? For the implementing agencies? For the recipient country? For the intended beneficiaries?

What works best for international agencies may not work best for Korean organizations. What works best for resident NGOs may not work for non-resident NGOs. What works best for European NGOs under the umbrella of the EU or EC or ECHO may not work for American NGOs distributing the donations of US-AID. What works best for the Eugene Bell Foundation may not work at all for Doctors Without Borders (MSF). What works best for the elite in Pyongyang may not work well for the families of unemployed workers in Chongjin.

Works best for what purpose?

What may work best in the short term may not work best with a longer-term perspective in mind. When evaluating assistance programme models and strategies, we should consider what long-term objectives we are seeking to achieve:

  • When we intervene in the DPRK, is our only goal to feed the hungry?
  • Or are we also concerned about peace and security in the region? Read the rest of this entry »

Testimony Before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, June 4, 2013

[On June 4, 2013, I was called as a witness to testify before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Below is the entirety of my prepared statement - I believe, there were some off the cuff remarks that probably drove the French language interpreters nuts.]

Jack KimGood afternoon, ladies and gentlemen of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me today to speak. As I wear several hats when it comes to North Korea, whether it is HanVoice, www.cankor.ca, or the North Korean Human Rights Film Festival Toronto, on behalf of all these organizations, I again extend my thanks.

Canada’s DPRK Policy: Controlled Engagement

Canada’s response to North Korea has been, at least rhetorically, aggressive. Since 2010 our government has pursued what has been termed a “Controlled Engagement” policy. The Controlled Engagement (“CE”) policy restricted bilateral contact with the regime except to four distinct areas: regional security concerns, human rights and the humanitarian situation, inter-Korean relations, and consular issues. It also forbid Canadians from importing and exporting anything into North Korea, and also introduced strict technology and investment sanctions. Read the rest of this entry »

“Struggle for Survival” fundraising event in Toronto

Megaphone“Struggle for Survival” is an event supported by the Scadding Court Community Centre in Toronto, Canada, and the office of Toronto City Councillor Raymond Cho. Jihyun Kwon, one of the organizers, asked CanKor to help promote the event, whose purpose is to raise funds to assist North Korean refugees in Toronto. See details in the poster below.

The event is sponsored by “North Koreans in Canada,” a small non-profit, non-partisan organization devoted to serving North Korean refugees (both status and non-status) living in Canada. According to this organization, there are currently about 2,000 North Koreans who have found refuge in Toronto, but still struggling to survive. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering the RAC, by Justin Rohrlich

[CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner talks to New York City based journalist Justin Rohrlich about the early days of the RAC, an expatriate bar and social club that attained a surprisingly worldwide reputation as a must-visit venue for foreign visitors in Pyongyang. This article was published on 23 April 2013 in NKNews.org. --CanKor]

Remembering North Korea’s ‘Random Access Club’

Canadian Erich Weingartner recounts how he helped set up an exclusive foreigner only bar in Pyongyang

“This was the T-shirt we produced back then,” Weingartner says. “Don’t know if it was ever repeated. As you can see, no reference to ‘Random Access Club,’ haha. On the back of the shirt were the names of the agencies, both UN and NGO who were resident in North Korea at that time. 20 in all.”

“This was the T-shirt we produced back then,” Weingartner says. “As you can see, no reference to ‘Random Access Club,’ haha. On the back of the shirt were the names of the agencies, both UN and NGO, that were resident in North Korea at that time. 20 in all.”

Mirroring the experience of other expats that have lived in North Korea, Erich Weingartner says that when he arrived in Pyongyang in 1997 to head the Food Liaison Unit, a division of the UN World Food Programme, “there was literally nothing for foreigners to do” outside the Munsudong compound within which virtually all of them reside while in-country.

“In those days, they had a bowling alley, which still exists, and we used — we had our daughter’s birthday party there,” Weingartner tells me. “They had a couple of amusement parks in the city; there were some classical concerts you could go to; they had a zoo. I never went, it was apparently pretty sad to see the animals there, but it was available. Other than that, we mostly played volleyball and soccer and so on in the diplomatic compound.”

“The Russians had more access, for example, to a golf course, occasionally some hunting,” he remembers. “They’ve been there so long and have such a huge embassy, they have extra privileges in certain areas.”

But even though Weingartner, now Editor-in-Chief of CanKor, an Ontario-based initiative “seeking rational North Korea policy,” managed to obtain a North Korean driver’s license (the saga involved an interpreter who “sweetened” Weingartner’s incorrect answers to ensure he passed the oral portion of the exam and a road test that tested his ability to drive up a winding hill and halfway into a circular driveway, then back down to the bottom of the hill in reverse), his movements were still restricted. Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian NGO responds to BBC Panorama report on North Korea

[CanKor is often asked by journalists how to go about gaining access to North Korea. There was a time in the late 1990s when the DPRK experimented with allowing media to report on UN and NGO projects in the country. DPRK authorities quickly learned that market-driven Western media like to sensationalize the negative and ignore the positive. The door that was slightly ajar has since been locked tightly.

John Sweeney with DPRK military official at Panmunjom (frame capture from BBC documentary)

John Sweeney with DPRK military official at Panmunjom (frame capture from BBC documentary)

Having been denied access as reporters, some journalists have resorted to entering the country as part of tourist groups. A recent example is veteran newspaper reporter-turned TV journalist John Sweeney, who entered North Korea with his wife and a cameraman as part of a tour of students from the London School of Economics (LSE). The result was a half-hour documentary aired on BBC as a Panorama special.

LSE students and faculty have complained that the BBC’s actions were unethical and might endanger staff and students’ ability to work in difficult or hostile places in the future. Senior BBC executive Ceri Thomas defended the decision to send an undercover team. “This is an important piece of public interest journalism.” Asked whether that justified putting student lives at risk, he replied: “We think it does.”

Ethics in journalism is certainly a relevant issue to discuss. But is this really “an important piece of public interest journalism”?

Read the rest of this entry »

United Church of Canada issues statement on the crisis in the Korean Peninsula

[The United Church in Canada on 15 March 2013 issued the following “Statement on the Crisis in the Korean Peninsula.” The original text can be accessed here. --CanKor]

UCC crestThe United Church of Canada is gravely concerned about the escalation of tension in the Korean Peninsula. We fear for the safety of the people in North and South Korea, and the whole of Northeast Asia, should a war erupt.

We are concerned by the ongoing joint military exercises of the United States and the Republic of South Korea and the mounting threats of military actions from the Governments of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the United States, and South Korea. We fear that these provocative actions are increasing the danger of armed confrontation in the region.

The current crisis in the Korean Peninsula points to the unresolved issues in the region, including the failure to obtain a peace treaty to end the state of war, and the international sanctions against North Korea. The resolution of these issues requires re-engagement of all parties in finding lasting solutions to the problems in the Korean Peninsula.

We call on the Government of Canada to help in promoting an atmosphere conducive to renewed negotiations among the states involved in the conflict by renewing its engagement in confidence-building measures and contact with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea urging the Governments of the United States and of North and South Korea to return to the negotiating table. Read the rest of this entry »

Update on First Steps activities, by Susan Ritchie

[First Steps is a Vancouver-based Christian development organization whose primary purpose is preventing child malnutrition in North Korea through programs that provide essential nutrients to young children. Its founding director Susan Ritchie recently returned from a visit to the DPRK and sent us this report. For more on First Steps and Ms Ritchie, see the Chosun Ilbo article “Canadian Who Became 'Mother' to N.Korean Orphans”. --CanKor]

First Steps founding director Susan Ritchie explains her charity's activities in North Korea while showing a picture taken in a factory she visited there. (Photo by Chosun Ilbo)

First Steps founding director Susan Ritchie explains her charity’s activities in North Korea while showing a picture taken in a factory she visited there. (Photo by Chosun Ilbo)

First Steps currently has two programs. First Steps’ soymilk program is currently reaching more than 90,000 children with a daily cup of soymilk. The micro -nutrient Sprinkles program is reaching approx. 70,000 pregnant women and babies from 6 – 24 months. Sprinkles prevent anemia and reduce morbidity (for example, deaths from diarrhea and pneumonia as well as rickets, etc.). As in-kind donations are becoming more available we are increasingly able to engage in relief work when there is a need.

We are shipping 3 larger food processing units to Wonsan in the coming weeks and expect that the total number of FS soymilk beneficiaries will soon exceed 100,000 children. The FS soymilk plants are working exceptionally well in the cities, counties and farms where we work. The food processing equipment that we send is a good fit for NK. Last year we shipped 280 metric tonnes of soybeans to supplement the local supply. We currently have 75 tonnes of soys en route.

I mentioned Deokchon in our last newsletter. It’s a city of 250,000 people, almost all of whom are engaged in mining coal (400 metres underground) or relevant activities to feed the coal plant in Pyongyang. We first visited the area after they had suffered a landside that took 46 lives and left more than 8,000 people homeless last summer. We partnered with ShelterBox to send in tents and then we sent in a 20′ container of relief foods for the children. Last week we visited the city again to confirm the arrival of the food, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: