Riding a wave of optimism barely a month after the historic June 15 Inter-Korean summit, the first issue of the CanKor Report was sent to a select list of Canadian subscribers on 25 July 2000.
Credit for the idea of a Canadian news bulletin on matters related to North Korea (DPRK) is due to Prof. Paul Evans at the University of British Columbia. CanKor was originally launched as an initiative of his Northeast Asia Cooperation Project (NEACP) based in the Programme on Canada-Asia Policy Studies at UBC.
The Canadian Government was in the process of establishing diplomatic relations with the DPRK during the first six months of CanKor operations. Canadian humanitarian agencies had been active in battling famine in North Korea during the preceding five years. Yet as a Parliamentary delegation to North Korea was to report, there was little reliable information publicly available in Canada about this isolated country.
The original aim of CanKor therefore was to provide for academics, NGO workers, civil servants and an interested public a vehicle for informed debate to assist in policy formulation. CanKor sought to add context and content to Canada’s budding diplomatic relationship with the DPRK.
Initially, CanKor collected data on the variety of Canadian governmental and civil society activities related to North Korea, and provided weekly summaries of current events relevant to an understanding of changes that were occurring in the DPRK and in inter-Korean relations at the time. During the first six months of CanKor’s existence, prominent attention was given to the process that led to Canada’s establishment of diplomatic relations on the 1st of February 2001.
As it evolved over the years, CanKor Reports also featured:
- Analyses (papers, special reports, travel reports, etc.);
- Bibliographies (books, papers and publications);
- Schedules, information & resources on significant events and projects (conferences, delegations, exchange visits, press conferences, and the like involving Government, DFAIT, CIDA, universities, churches and other NGOs);
- Dossiers highlighting issues of interest (weapons development, commercial relationships, cultural & sport exchanges, human rights, refugees, media, social and humanitarian questions, inter-Korean relations, etc.);
- Interviews with prominent North Korea experts;
- Quidnunc – a section devoted to reader questions and reader responses.
Priorities were shaped by CanKor’s readership, based on feedback and user surveys. The most popular topics that came to dominate the pages of the Report were:
- All news items dealing with Canada-DPRK relations;
- The state of DPRK external relations, especially on the diplomatic recognition front;
- ROK-DPRK relationship following the June 15 summit;
- USA-DPRK relationship as this affected Canada’s role, including breaking news on the military or weapons front;
- Multilateral efforts to roll back North Korea’s nuclear programme, particularly the Six-Party Talks;
- Significant changes, whether positive or negative, in humanitarian aid, development, cultural & business relationships;
- UN agency activities & NGO experience, especially those related to Canadian initiatives;
- DPRK relationship with or participation in multilateral fora.
CanKor continued to draw international attention, with worldwide international subscribers soon outnumbering Canadian recipients. As can be seen in the list of “What People Say” CanKor gained a reputation for balanced reporting from a particularly Canadian perspective. This seemed to be appreciated especially in Europe, Australia and other “second-tier” middle-power countries. It is this sector that CanKor particularly has in mind as it launches its second decade of operations.
After the NEACP ended its work in 2002, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) agreed to continue funding CanKor. By this time, however, the optimism of the “Sunshine Policy” had been obscured by the stormy clouds of a renewed nuclear confrontation. When in the summer of 2006 the DPRK broke its own unilateral moratorium and tested a long-range missile over Japan in the direction of the north Pacific, CIDA informed CanKor that the Canadian Government would no longer fund any DPRK-related projects. CIDA took pains to explain in person and in writing that the Canadian Government continues to believe in CanKor as a valuable service.
Without its traditional source of income to sustain it, CanKor turned to its subscribers to raise the necessary funds. Unwilling to force loyal subscribers and contributors to pay for the service, Weingartner Consulting launched a campaign to attract “voluntary subscriptions”. During the course of one year this netted only a third of CanKor’s production budget. Many subscribers supported CanKor with donations ranging from $20 to $500. A number of institutional donors also contributed to the budget, including American Friends Service Committee, Mennonite Central Committee, World Vision International, Christian Friends of Korea, Council for World Mission, Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and the Iara Lee & George Gund Foundation.
Controversies over the nuclear, food, human rights and other issues have contributed to the suspension of North Korea-related budgets in both governmental and non-governmental sectors. CanKor is not the only project to suffer the consequences. Subscribers’ donations have managed to keep CanKor alive at a much reduced frequency. What was for 6 years a weekly Report became an occasional newsletter. The labour-intensive website suffered from neglect and has remained stagnating.
The test firing of North Korea’s long-range missile (and subsequent nuclear test) in 2006 highlighted the continuing lack of understanding between North Korea’s leaders and the international community. Convinced that this gap in comprehension reaches beyond political and strategic options and is rooted in the perceptions of North Korean elite classes that are only vaguely understood by the outside world, CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner began writing a series of interviews with a fictional DPRK “patriot”, based on his 25 years of intensive contact with North Koreans.
This internationally acclaimed series (see “Praise for the Patriot”) was distributed via the CanKor Report and separately appeared on the Nautilus Institute’s “Global Collaborative” website. It is now available here.
Erich Weingartner put his personal stamp on CanKor, having led the editorial team since the first issue. During the first year of operation, he was assisted by Marion Current and Marilyn Weingartner. When Marilyn left the editorial team in the second year, Miranda Weingartner essentially took over design and management in the production of the weekly Report. Other volunteers who have contributed their time and energies in research and production of CanKor over the past ten years are Ihor Michalishyn, Dana Lynch, Liam Roberts, Ilene Solomon, and Danielle Goldfinger.
Erich, Danielle, Miranda and Dr. Wade Huntley
David Seguin, a CBC web developer with intensive South Korean experience, donated his time to design the first CanKor website in July 2002, thereby increasing significantly CanKor’s reach and value. Cameron Ortis and Jeorg Messer assisted in the technical department to establish CanKor’s original web home at UBC. When it became too cumbersome and labour-intensive to maintain the website due to UBC’s stringent security requirements, Kevin Wright offered a new home for CanKor on the servers of KaizenDenki, Inc.
The CanKor report was originally sent to subscribers manually as email messages in a laborious process that often resulted in technical glitches, such as truncation of text when the newsletter became too long, or ending up in subscribers’ “SPAM” folders. From July 2004, the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability (at the University of San Francisco Center for the Pacific Rim, California, USA) offered its newsletter mailing services, which have considerably lightened the workload. Nautilus technical staff John Withers and Jonathan O’Donnell contributed their time to assure a smooth operation. They also helped “The Patriot” find a suitable home on the “Global Collaborative”.
The new incarnation of CanKor as a radically redesigned web-based interactive service has been made possible through the generous donation of time, talent, enthusiasm and material assistance of Jennifer Davies of SomaEgroup, the Soma Ontario Marketing Agency, where this new website now resides.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and the DPR Korea, hackers disrupted the website and made it impossible for CanKor to publish either on the blog or the newsletter. CanKor picked up its virtual toys and moved to a bunker, the location of which remains unknown…
CanKor wishes to thank all those who have been involved in the conception, production and promotion of CanKor over the past decade. The great variety of offerings and support—both moral and material—have convinced us that it is worthwhile for committed individuals, as well as organizations and governments, to continue to press for a solution to the intractable problems that face ordinary people on the Korean peninsula and the security of their neighbours in adjoining countries.
It has been an exciting and unexpected journey, despite the fact that the situation in northeast Asia has become more critical and dangerous. As we strike out in a new direction for CanKor, we invite all our friends to become involved in what we hope to be a more dialogical instrument for justice, development and above all, peace.