38 North: The Road to Rason by Andray Abrahamian

[From time to time CanKor will alert our readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by Andray Abrahamian, a freelance writer on Korea issues. He teaches in the Social Science College at the University of Ulsan in South Kore while working towards completing his doctoral dissertation on contemporary Orientalism and western images of North Korea. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from the University of Sussex, where he focused on Realist and Critical Theory approaches to East Asian relations. Please follow our links to this article on the 38North site. –CanKor.]

The Road to Rason By Andray Abrahamian

A bus bumps and bruises its way along the unpaved road, carrying would-be investors to Rason’s First Rason International Trade Exhibition which ran from August 21-25, 2011, in Sonbong. The windows are open, until a crimson humvee barrels past, its powerful suspension dancing on the road, leaving behind a plume of beige dust. The bus windows snap shut, the still air quickly gets hot and more than one of the passengers wishes we were Chinese high-rollers, being whisked to the Emperor Casino and Hotel, which sits beautifully on Korea’s East Sea, overlooking Bipa Island and flanked by lush green mountains and crystal waters.
Pictured to the right (Google Earth via NKeconwatch.com): Rason geographic border (in red) and security perimeter fence (in yellow).

The passengers of the humvee—part of the casino’s fleet—will long be checked in and gambling their fortunes away by the time we complete our two and a half hour journey. However, it won’t always be this way. Rason’s 50km road to the border is finally being upgraded. Indeed, the 2.5 hour journey took 3.5 hours in June. Since then, the road has been widened, the first stage of the construction plan, allowing for traffic to flow both directions more easily and smaller passenger vehicles to overtake the more cumbersome truckers who ply the road.  …Read More

38 North: The Syrian Litmus Test by Rudiger Frank

[From time to time CanKor will alert our readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by CanKor Brain Trust member Rudiger Frank, Professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna (also an Adjunct Professor at Korea University and the University of North Korean Studies, Kyungnam University, in Seoul). Please follow our links to this article on the 38North site. –CanKor.]

North Korea’s Strategic Outlook on Northeast Asia: The Syrian Litmus Test By Ruediger Frank

The Libyan story seems to be over, at least for now. We do not exactly know who is going to rule that country next and with what consequences. There is room for experience-based pessimism, but only time will tell. So it is now worth looking closer at another of the anti-dictatorship uprisings in the region. What is the meaning of Syria for North Korea?

The case is particularly interesting if we consider the international debate about its resolution. A few countries felt uneasy about intervening in Libya; however, in the case of Syria, one country is outspokenly against any international interference. That country is Russia, a long-time ally of Syria and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Two decades after the end of the Soviet Union, dissatisfaction and disillusionment on the individual level in Russia combines with nostalgia and translates into a deeply hurt national pride and an enormous anti-Western nationalist undercurrent in public opinion. The latter matters because, despite doubts about the nature of Russia’s democracy, political leaders there must consider the will of the masses if they want to get (re)elected. …Read More

38 North: North Korean Women – Markets and Power

[From time to time CanKor will alert our readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is an interview conducted and translated by Janice Lee, a researcher at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights in Seoul, and Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a Swedish economics and political science student at Stockholm University. Please follow our links to this article on the 38North site. –CanKor.]

North Korean Women: Markets and Power By 38 North

Researchers, diplomats, tourists, and defectors have all spoken of gradual changes in recent years to the complicated role women play in North Korean society. Andrei Lankov, a scholar at Kookmin University in Seoul, points out that women are able to play a dominant role in the black markets that emerged during the famine of the 1990s because they come under less scrutiny than men in the North’s patriarchal society.[1] Some scholars have also argued that the increasing flow of information from abroad is changing the way North Korean women dress, behave, and regard themselves, setting the stage for major changes in the country’s social dynamics.

A picture of a woman dressed in a western suit walking down a city street would usually be of little interest. But when that street is in Pyongyang, imaginations tend to run wild, contemplating what the image may reveal about North Korea’s closed off society. (Photo: Irina Kalashnikova)

However, North Korean defector Hyun In-ae has cautioned against overstating the significance of these changes for women in the North. A former professor at Chongjin University, Hyun fled the country in 2004 after her husband was arrested by North Korea’s infamous State Security Agency. She is now working on a Ph.D. in North Korean studies at Ehwa Women’s University in Seoul, and heads the North Korean Intellectuals’ Society, an organization of North Korean intellectuals who defected to the South.

38 North met with Dr. Hyun earlier this month to get her insights about the status of women both in the DPRK and in the defector community in the South. (Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.) …Read More

38 North: The Food Debate — Hungry for Action

[Following up on our food aid and food security theme, we would like to alert our readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. Two articles in particular have drawn our attention. The first is a further analysis of the recent decision by the European Union to send food aid to the DPRK. It is written by Glyn Ford, a man who knows the EU intimately, having been a Member of the European Parliament for over 25 years, until the June 2009 elections. The second article is by Roberta Cohen, whom CanKor readers have met before. She is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution specializing in human rights and humanitarian issues, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Cohen argues in her article that the time has come for the Obama administration to stop dawdling and come to a positive decision regarding food aid. Please follow our links to the articles on the 38North site. –CanKor.]

Feeding the Famine: The European Union’s Response to North Korea by Glyn Ford 

The European Union (EU) announced on July 4, 2011 that it would provide €10 million ($14.3 M) of emergency food aid to North Korea to be distributed through the World Food Programme (WFP) over the next three months–until the end of September, just prior to the arrival of this year’s harvest. This aid represents a much delayed response to an initial request for humanitarian assistance sent by Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun on January 24… Over the last decade, the EU has provided roughly €500 M ($715 M) in aid, including humanitarian assistance, and nutritional, sanitation, and development projects, plus an earlier contribution to the Korean Energy Development Organisation (KEDO)… Read more…

Hunger in North Korea: Time for a Decision by Roberta Cohen

…But taking no decision is really a decision, which gives the impression that there may be no urgent or extensive food crisis in North Korea requiring immediate action. It set aside the findings of thirteen reputable relief groups and did not dispatch its own mission until the end of May. The mission visited only two provinces (the United Nations visited nine) and has been studying its findings for more than a month. Washington also has been developing stringent monitoring standards should it resume aid, given North Korea’s known diversions to the army and elite. But these may possibly be so restrictive as to preempt agreement… Read more…

Perspectives on DPRK blast against ROK President Lee by Nelson, Witt, Revere et al

[The following is taken from the 31 May 2011 edition of The Nelson Report, with kind permission by Chris Nelson. Joel Witt is Editor of our “Partner” 38North, a project of SAIS (Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University). Evans Revere was the US State Department’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and former CEO of the Korea Society in the USA. –CanKor.]


The official DPRK news service, KCNA, delivered a harshly worded blast declaring that it would “never” negotiate with ROK President Lee…so we pulsed our Loyal Reader Korea Network for thoughts, and have some “on the record” responses from former PDAS Evans Revere, and former Clinton-era nuclear negotiator Joel Witt, plus a cross section of the “must be protected” experts for your consideration, below. Read the rest of this entry »

Alliance Politics: Legislating Hunger by Morton Abramowitz

[Another article on US food aid to the DPRK to be found on our Partner website 38North is authored by The Century Foundation’s senior fellow Morton Abramowitz, who is on the boards of the International Rescue Committee, the International Crisis Group, and Human Rights in North Korea. He was president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and has held numerous positions in the US Department of State, was ambassador to Turkey and Thailand, and served as assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, and political adviser to the commander-in-chief, Pacific. Abramowitz argues that this is one issue on which the U.S. cannot afford to simply follow Seoul’s lead. Following are two excerpts from his article, which is worth reading in full. Link supplied below. –CanKor.]

The South Korean government should stop blocking American food aid to large numbers of their brethren in the North facing starvation. Read the rest of this entry »

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