An Atmosphere of Departure and Two Speeds, Korean Style: Where is North Korea Heading? by Ruediger Frank

[CanKor Brain Trust member Ruediger Frank has once again returned from a tour to North Korea. In the following article, first published by our partner-site 38North, Frank delves into what he sees as changes that have occurred in North Korea since his last visit in April. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

South Hwanghae, September 2012 (Photo: © Rudiger Frank)

The Country Is Changing

Not that it has ever been static, but within the few months between my travels to North Korea in spring and autumn of this year, the country has changed to the degree that even a foreign visitor cannot avoid noticing. While in April, everyone seemed to be somewhat tense and edgy, unsure about what would happen under the new leader and torn between hope and concern, by September, the atmosphere was almost upbeat and optimistic. It is even now clear which is the new standard badge (the big red flag with the two leaders), and everyone is waiting patiently to receive his own. Admittedly, the season is nicer in the fall than in the spring: the temperature is warmer, the landscape greener, and food from the new harvest is on the table, while hard manual labor in the fields and the cold of winter are still a few weeks away. But there is more. Read the rest of this entry »

5th Anniversary of the October 4th North-South Declaration

[It is an agreement that South Korea’s President Lee Myung Bak would rather forget — which is probably why the DPRK is reminding South Koreans and the world about the inter-Korean peace agreement signed on 4 October 2007 by the late ROK President Roh Moo-hyun and the late DPRK leader Kim Jong Il. Here are three reports: the first from South Korea’s Arirang TV, the second from China’s Xinhua news service, and finally an email to CanKor from the DPR Korean Committee of Solidarity with the World People. –CanKor]

Roh Moo-Hyun and Kim Jong Il at the 2007 Inter-Korean Summit. In the background, long-time friend of CanKor, former ROK Minister of Unification Lee Jae Joung.

N. Korea Puts Importance on Oct. 4 Peace Declaration

SEOUL, 4 October 2012 (Arirang News)

North Korea has put the 2007 inter-Korean peace declaration back into spotlight.

Then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun held a landmark inter-Korean summit with late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, where Roh vowed to provide financial aid to the North and push for large-scale joint economic projects, in exchange for Pyongyang’s denuclearization.

Marking the fifth anniversary of the signing, the North’s Korean Central News Agency lashed out at the current Lee Myung-bak administration for scrapping the so-called Oct. 4th declaration.

The agency stressed the full implementation of the agreements is the only way to peaceful reunification and co-prosperity.

Experts say Pyongyang’s claims are targeted at South Korea’s next administration, with the presidential election just weeks away. Read the rest of this entry »

The Fiction of the North Korean Refugee Orphan, by Christine Hong

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article by Christine Hong has stirred a good deal of controversy. We believe it is an important analysis of a wrong-headed approach to human rights. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site., where we invite you to read also the comments that have been posted there, for example by LiNK, an organization that is referenced in this article. –CanKor]

Recently fast-tracked to the House floor, HR 1464 (“The North Korean Refugee Adoption Act of 2011”) has passed the House.[i] Exploiting the rhetoric of humanitarian rescue, the bill identifies North Korean hunger as the problem and proposes U.S. adoption of North Korean children as the solution, making the figure of the hungry North Korean orphan a matter of U.S. legislative concern. Yet this bill recklessly turns on the fiction of the “North Korean refugee orphan,” construing the latter as a child without nationality, in order to authorize the acceleration of U.S. adoption procedures through “alternative mechanisms.” Although the bill purports to help “thousands of North Korean children [who] do not have families and are threatened with starvation and disease if they remain in North Korea or as stateless refugees in surrounding countries,”[ii] its truth can be found in its preamble, which supposes that “thousands of United States citizens would welcome the opportunity to adopt North Korean orphans living outside North Korea.”

Suturing its loose definitional categories together, this legislation seeks to establish, as a precedent, the category of “statelessness” as a flexible definitional vehicle by way of which inter-country adoption can be expedited and international laws meant to safeguard the rights of children and families circumvented. Aimed not at resolving North Korean hunger, much less the well-being of the children whom it willfully misrepresents, this bill lays the task of “identify[ing] other nations in which large numbers of stateless, orphaned children are living who might be helped by international adoption” at the doorstep of the State Department. Read the rest of this entry »

Books: Inspector O and the case of Jon Yong Chol


THE MAN WITH THE BALTIC STARE: an Inspector O Novel, by James Church. New York: Minotaur Books, 2010. 279 pp. Can$29.99, hardcover. ISBN 978-0-312-37292-7. Reviewed by CanKor editor-in-chief Erich Weingartner.


A most unusual document reached us at CanKor early in August. It isn’t unusual for us to receive messages from the Pyongyang-based Korean Committee for Solidarity with the World People. We are obviously on the KCSWP mailing list, and have published a number of their documents right here on the CanKor website. Usually these concern anniversaries or special pronouncements by the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs.Not this time. Attached to the partially garbled email message was a file with an attention-grabbing title: “INTERVIEW WITH THE ARRESTED TERRORIST.” The email explains that Jon Yong Chol had been caught trying to perpetrate the “hideous crime of undermining the supreme dignity of the DPRK at the instructions of the U.S. and south Korean intelligence agencies.” He was subsequently interviewed by domestic and international reporters in Pyongyang on 19 July 2012.

I found it interesting that the DPRK scribes referred to this document throughout as an “interview” although – as you can see from the transcript – the hapless Jon Yong Chol clearly calls it a “confession”. Have DPRK translators become aware that the word “confession” elicits an emotionally negative response and wanted to give this document an air of objectivity? The email underlines repeatedly that the important thing to pay attention to is the identity of the ROK and US puppet masters, not the gullible individual who was close to committing the crime.

Jon’s confession is excruciatingly detailed, naming names, organizations and places. The goal behind a conspiracy to blow up monuments to Kim Il Sung (the “statue demolition society”, purportedly) in order to sow confusion and undermine confidence in the central government’s authority also makes political sense. In other words, if this confession is a fiction, it has been very well researched and made to seem perfectly plausible, at least to the casual reader. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korea pushes bold agrarian reform program

[The following article appeared 0n the website of the Japanese news agency The Asahi Shimbun, dated 2 August 2012. It was compiled from reports by Koichiro Ishida in Shenyang, China, and Tetsuya Hakoda in Seoul. –CanKor]

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un tours the Ryugyong Health Complex in Pyongyang that is nearing completion. (Photo by KCNA)

To fend off starvation, North Korea will introduce bold agrarian reforms that will allow farmers to dispose of part of their harvests as they see fit.The initiative was authorized by new leader Kim Jong Un, North Korean government and military sources said.The planned reforms, the first in roughly 10 years, are intended to enhance yields and help mitigate chronic food shortages that plague the country.

The nation’s ability to feed itself has fallen short by about 1 million tons a year. But this year, a major drought has exacerbated the problem.

Under North Korea’s system of collective labor in farming villages, harvests are collected by the state and redistributed to households according to their size.

The new system will allow farmers to do what they want with their harvests after they have handed over statutory amounts to the state. This means they can consume the produce or sell it in markets, the sources said. Read the rest of this entry »

15th anniversary of formulating the Three Charters for National Reunification

[CanKor has received the following letter from four Pyongyang-based organizations: the Korean Committee for Solidarity with the World People, the Korean Democratic Lawyers Association, the Korean Committee for Afro-Asian Solidarity, and the Korean National Peace Committee. As usual, we offer this text without commentary. –CanKor]

Dear friends,

Monument to the Three Charters for National Reunification, Pyongyang

Warm greetings!

As you know well, 67 years have elapsed since the Korean people have become separated into the north and the south after the 2nd world war. The Korean people have strived for the independent and peaceful reunification of the country without any interference from outside forces during the past 67 years. President Kim Il Sung, the great leader of the Korean nation and the lodestar of the reunification of the country, devoted his whole life for the reunification of Korea to the last day of his life from the beginning of the liberation of the country.

To look back, President Kim Il Sung’s whole life can be said to have been a life of struggle devoted to reunifying his country, expect the period of the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle for national liberation. From the separation of the country, President Kim Il Sung has laid down many reunification proposals and wisely led the Korean nation for the reunification of the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Progressives, Meet Bandwagon

Historically, progressives in the ROK have taken a vow of silence when it comes to North Korean human rights (“NKHR”).

Rep. Lee Seok Ki gets accosted by farmers… opposed to the FTA

For anyone involved in the issue, this has been a sore point even before the days of the Sunshine policy. Conservatives love to bring this up (at times for their own reasons) and progressives do not (again, at times for their own reasons). What are these reasons, you ask?

To answer this, we should go to a fundamental premise behind human rights: they are inherently political. The issue of NKHR is of no exception. Unfortunately, this issue has been yanked artificially away from the realm of “simply political;” rather what we have seen with the issue is a hyper-politicization that has created a schism between the left and the right. This divide quickly came to the point that some progressives in the past had remained peculiarly silent on NKHR. Read the rest of this entry »

40th anniversary of the release of the July 4th Joint Declaration

[Another historic event celebrated (or not) by Korea this year is the 40th anniversary of the 4 July 1972 North-South Joint Statement that declared a “mutual desire for the early peaceful reunification of Korea”. They reached “full agreement” on the three principles for achieving reunification, as follows: “1. Unification shall be achieved independently, without depending on foreign powers and without foreign interference; 2. Unification shall be achieved through peaceful means, without resorting to the use of force against each other; 3. A great national unity shall be sought first, transcending differences in ideas, ideologies, and systems.” In addition, the two sides agreed “not to slander or defame each other, not to undertake military provocations, whether on a large or small scale, and to take positive measures to prevent inadvertent military incidents.” Of course, those were the days of Park Chung Hee in South Korea (1963-1979), and implementation of the statement remained the preserve of two governments that were far less than democratic. One wonders whether the recent emphasis in the DPRK on this 40th anniversary has anything to do with the fact that Park Chung Hee’s daughter, Park Geun-hye, has become such a prominent contender for ROK’s presidential elections in December this year? While South Korea’s JoongAng Daily reveals that “North tried using 1972 communique to oust Park regime“, a letter to CanKor by the (North) Korean Committee of Solidarity with the World People takes the following view of the same history. –CanKor] Read the rest of this entry »

North Korea’s Ideology after April 2012: Continuity or Disruption? by Ruediger Frank

[Earlier this year we alerted readers to a “Political Tour” to the DPRK, which was to include Economy Professor Ruediger Frank as a guide. CanKor Brain Trust member Ruediger Frank has now returned from that tour. The following article, first published by our partner-site 38North, includes some of Frank’s initial impressions, these having to do with what might be signs of an ideological shift. Find more articles by Ruediger Frank here. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

Introduction

Until the death of Kim Jong Il in December 2011, the big question affecting nearly every aspect of North Korean affairs—domestic or international—was who would be his successor. Now that this issue has been resolved by the selection and promotion of Kim Jong Un, the focus has shifted to the nature and sustainability of the new leadership. The four mega-events in April 2012 were supposed to provide insights: a Worker’s Party Conference, a session of the Supreme People’s Assembly, a missile/rocket/satellite launch, and the long-prepared celebrations of Eternal President Kim Il Sung’s centenary birthday. We could indeed observe dramatic changes, particularly in the DPRK’s ideology—a field that Kim Jong Il in 1995 described as the key frontier in the defense of socialism (Korean style).

This article is based on my personal observations during a visit to North Korea from April 10-16, 2012, as well as official DPRK material, and addresses the question: Are recent ideological changes just a regular progression in a linear, continuous development, or do they mark a major disruption?

New Developments in Ideology

It did not take long to notice the first of these seemingly dramatic changes when I arrived at the Sunan Airport in Pyongyang. I am not talking about the new terminal(s) or the masses of foreigners who flooded into the hopelessly overwhelmed country. Rather, it was the badges worn by North Koreans that caught my attention. These badges portraying a smiling Kim Il Sung have long been a subject of curiosity and, at times, ridicule by foreigners. Questions about their shape and size (do specific badges indicate importance?), rules for wearing (do they even put them on their swimsuits?), and availability (they can’t be bought, they can only be bestowed upon you) have been the subject of many tourist conversations, in particular over beer in the evening. But for someone like me who has been to North Korea frequently since 1991, I hardly notice the badges anymore. Neither do the North Koreans. For decades, the badges have been a part of the system’s iconography, just like the various Kim Il Sung statues in Pyongyang and across the country.

Figure1: North Korea's New Leadership Badge (photo by Rudiger Frank)

Figure1: North Korea’s New Leadership Badge (photo by Rudiger Frank)

And now this: an unusually large badge with not just one, but two faces! Father Kim Il Sung and son Kim Jong Il, happily united against the background of a dynamically flying red flag. This theme—father and son replacing what used to be reserved for Kim Il Sung only—repeated itself on numerous occasions throughout my journey. Among the most widely noticed examples were the two statues on Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang, unveiled in a grand ceremony on April 13. Read the rest of this entry »

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