Five Myths About North Korea, by Joel S. Wit & Jenny Town

[This article appeared in the 29 March 2013 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. Joel S. Wit is a visiting fellow with the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and founder of its North Korea website, 38North. Jenny Town is a research associate at the Institute and the editor of its website. –CanKor]

It’s Not a Hermit Kingdom, and 4 Other Myths About North Korea

Yes, we should be taking Kim Jong Un’s recent threats seriously. But first, we have to lose the comic-book caricature of his country.

(Photo by Erich Weingartner)

(Photo by Erich Weingartner)

Every day the media is filled with reports of North Korea threatening to attack the United States and its close allies. An escalating cycle of threat and counter-threat has been going on for the past few months. It started with the North’s partially successful long-range rocket test in December, was followed by its third test of a nuclear bomb in February, new U.N. sanctions in response to those tests, U.S.-South Korean military exercises, Pyongyang’s bellicose threats to launch strikes against the United States, and now the temporary deployment of long-range U.S. B-2 bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, to South Korea.

Americans should be deeply concerned about these events. While the North may eventually be able to put a nuclear weapon on top of a long-range missile and attack the United States, Pyongyang’s bombs can already reach our friends in South Korea and Japan. There is also a danger that North Korea may export nuclear technology to other rogue states, like Iran and terrorist groups. Remember that the North did send a nuclear reactor for producing bomb-making material to Syria — luckily Israeli warplanes destroyed the unfinished facility in 2006. The danger of exports will grow in the future if the North’s nuclear arsenal continues to grow. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rolling Reforms: Reflections on Visits to Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, by Rudiger Frank

[On visits to North Korea since Kim Jong Un came to power, CanKor Brain Trust member Rudiger Frank has seen growing evidence of a more diverse and cash-based economy. These signs of creeping reform are evidence of North Korea’s desire for change, but achieving real transformation remains a long and delicate process. Rudiger Frank is Chair Professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna and Head of the Department of East Asian Studies. He has visited North Korea numerous times. This article appeared in Global Asia, a publication of the East Asia Foundation in Seoul, Vol. 8, No. 2, SUMMER 2013. The full article, as published, with numerous pictures may be accessed here: Rolling Reforms. –CanKor]

Rollerblading has become a hot new hobby on the boulevardes of Pyongyang. (Photo by Rudiger Frank)

Rollerblading has become a hot new hobby on the boulevards of Pyongyang.
(Photo by Rudiger Frank)

Painting a masterpiece and reforming North Korea have a surprising number of things in common. We know the necessary ingredients, tools and available techniques. There are numerous cases for comparison and a large body of literature to study. Still, few if any of us can create art to equal that of old masters such as Rembrandt or Kim Hong-do.

In theory, realizing North Korea’s potential seems easy. State socialist systems have been well researched and understood for decades. We possess a growing amount of empirical knowledge about North Korea. We can look at transformations in China, Vietnam and Eastern Europe for guidance. Incentives have to be set right, so that resources are allocated more efficiently. China has demonstrated that this does not require a fully-fledged Western-style democracy, just a stable currency, markets where demand and supply result in realistic prices, private ownership and an economy that can freely import and export goods, services, capital and technologies.

We know that North Korea has a food, energy and transportation problem. We know that it can, theoretically, produce more food with more inputs of fertilizer, electricity, fuel and machinery, but that, for the time being, importing food would better reflect the North’s comparative disadvantage in agricultural production. We know that North Korea has abundant natural resources, that these are a potential source of hard currency and that a smart strategy would be to process these resources before exporting them. Read the rest of this entry »

DPRK Commemorates the 4 July 1972 Joint Statement of North and South

[CanKor has received an email signed by four DPRK organizations commemorating the first major North-South rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula. Of interest is the fact that the 1972 Joint Statement of North and South was issued during the reign of South Korea’s President Park Chung Hee, father of the current South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Ironically, only 4 years prior to this first North-South rapprochement, a North Korean death squad had attempted to assassinate Pres. Park Chung Hee. Perhaps irony is an underrated factor in understanding Korean peninsular politics. As usual, we post the following message as we received it. –CanKor]

Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification, Pyongyang

Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification, Pyongyang

Dear friends

41 years have passed since the historic July 4 Joint Statement clarifying the three principles of Korea’s reunification was made public.

The announcement of the statement was the brilliant fruition brought about thanks to the idea and line of the great President Kim Il Sung on the national reunification, his distinguished and experienced leadership.

President Kim Il Sung regarded the national reunification as the supreme task of the nation and led the cause of the national reunification to victory with his great idea and leadership from the first day after Korea was divided into the north and south.

In August, 1971, the President, seeing through the unanimous desire of the whole nation and the urgent requirement of the development of the reunification movement, proposed a proposal for wide-ranging negotiation clarifying that the north was willing to contact all political parties including “Democratic Republican Party”, the then ruling party of south Korea, social organizations and individuals at any time.

According to the broad-minded proposal set forth by him, a high-level political meeting between the north and south was held in Pyongyang, in May 1972, the first of its kind since its division into the north and south. Read the rest of this entry »

How to send your child to summer camp in North Korea, by Justin Rohrlich

[We are pleased to present another article by New York-based Canadian journalist Justin Rohrlich. CanKor Brain Trust member Matthew Reichel is one of the people interviewed in this article, which was featured in the newly-launched NK News Pro on 6 June 2013, and is re-posted here with permission. We encourage you to view the original article on the NK News website, where you can see more pictures and embedded videos from and about Songdowon International Children’s Camp. For those wishing to read more content like this, click here to get a free trial of NK News Pro. –CanKor]

How to send your child to summer camp in North Korea

by Justin Rohrlich , NK News Pro, 6 June 2013

“Parents are responsible for about 300 Euros in fees and travel costs, with all other expenses being met by the Korean side.”

Songdowon International Children's Camp (Photo by Matthew Reichel)

Songdowon International Children’s Camp (Photo by Matthew Reichel)

While some kids are being sent away to summer camps in New England right now, others are on their way to the Songdowon International Children’s Camp in Wonsan, North Korea.

Songdowon is one of the last vestiges of a type of cultural exchange seen in similar countries from across the Communist bloc in decades past, not entirely unlike the Soviet Artek camps and East Germany’s Ernst Thälmann Pioneer Organisation.

Far from just a getaway for North Korean children, thousands of young people from countries including China, Russia, Nigeria, Mongolia, Mexico, Syria (where North Korean military officers have reportedly begun advising Assad’s forces), Tanzania, and Thailand have attended the Songdowon camp since it opened in 1960, which expanded to accommodate 1,200 guests in 1993 “under the special care of President Kim Il Sung and the leader Kim Jong Il.” Read the rest of this entry »

Serious armed clash highly unlikely, by Andrei Lankov

[In an article written for a Russian newspaper, historian Andrei Lankov, of Kookmin University in Seoul, believes that North Korea has nothing to gain from excessive confrontation at this stage. He estimates chances for anything serious to happen are 0.0%, and chances of a minor shooting are, perhaps, 5% at most at this stage. But this does not mean that things will remain calm in future, according to Lankov. If South Korea does not increase its payments to the North by early fall, the DPRK may indeed do a bit of shooting — just to teach the SK elite and its public an object lesson, explaining to them that paying Pyongyang is the cheaper option. We post his article courtesy the Nelson Report. –CanKor]

(Photo by NKVision)

(Photo by NKVision)

If the world media is to be believed, the Korean Peninsula is now on the brink of war. Indeed, over the last few days the North Korean government has been pumping out seriously bellicose rhetoric.

The DPRK stated that it will withdrew from the Armistice treaty from March 11, and cut the phone hot line between Pyongyang and Seoul. It also withdrew from its non-aggression pact with South Korea. Meanwhile, Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the North Korean government, ran an editorial in which it stated that the glorious North Korean army, newly equipped with the world-class nuclear weapons and missiles, will transform both Seoul and Washington into seas of fire as soon as presumably the Supreme Commander gets around to giving a relevant order. According to reports from North Korea itself, the population of major cities are undergoing frequent, high intensity air raid drills. Read the rest of this entry »

Sympathy for the devil – how best to deal with North Korea, by Spencer Kim

[Spencer H. Kim is chairman of CBOL Corporation, a California aerospace company. Specializing in the sale of aerospace products, CBOL markets to customers located in the United States, Europe, South America and on the Pacific Rim. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-resident fellow at Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. In addition to his business interests, Mr. Kim serves on the leadership team with the Cal-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church and as a member of the Commission on Race and Religion.  He also serves on the Board of Directors of The Korea Society headquartered in New York. He is a founding member of Pacific Century Institute, a non-profit foundation, dedicated to improving understanding and developing greater communication among peoples of the Pacific Rim nations. He serves as an advisory board member of the School of Public Affairs at UCLA. This article originally appeared in the Korea Times on 26 December 2012. It is a particularly refreshing take on the dilemmas facing the international community on how to deal with the DPRK, pointing to opportunities that it would be foolish to miss. –CanKor]

Spencer H. Kim croppedNorth Korea has successfully, sort of, launched a long-range missile. We are outraged. We want more sanctions; we want to pressure them till they say uncle or collapse. We wonder how China could be so perfidious in failing to make Pyongyang behave. We find it morally odious to talk to a regime that spends for rockets and nukes but allows it people to starve and puts others in concentration camps. Only when they agree in advance that they will knuckle under will we talk to them.

But indignation, however righteous, is often the enemy of wisdom. Reflection is a better ally. Yes, North Korea is difficult to deal with and its regime treats its people unspeakably. But if we are to deal with it (and, let’s face it, the place is not going to go away) we need to at least try to understand their viewpoint and understand our own weaknesses. Let us ask some probing questions of ourselves and perhaps even look at history a bit from the other guy’s eyes. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korea’s highest state body refutes UN Security Council resolution

[The following statement by North Korea’s highest ruling body, the National Defence Commission (NDC) responds to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2087, which was passed unanimously with Chinese support on Tuesday, 22 January 2013. The NDC response was published by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Thursday, 24 January 2013. –CanKor]

DPRK NDC Issues Statement Refuting UNSC Resolution

Officials of the DPRK NDC (Photo by AP)

Officials of the DPRK NDC (Photo by AP)

Our successful launch of satellite Kwangmyongsong 3-2 was a great jubilee in the history of the nation as it placed the nation’s dignity and honor on the highest plane and a spectacular success made in the efforts to develop space for peaceful purposes recognized by the world.

The world people who love justice and value conscience unanimously rejoice as their own over the signal success made by our country, not a big one, by its own efforts.

Even space institutions of a hostile country accustomed to have repugnancy towards others could not but recognize the DPRK’s successful satellite launch for peaceful purposes, from a low-profile stance. Read the rest of this entry »

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