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 »

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 »

Time to Address North Korea’s Prison Labor Camps, by Roberta Cohen

[CanKor Brain Trust member Roberta Cohen is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. She is a specialist in human rights, humanitarian, and refugee issues and a leading expert on the subject of internally displaced persons. CanKor reproduces here a statement made by Ms Cohen at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies‘ Washington Forum 2013 and subsequently published by them as Issue Brief #60. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. –CanKor]

Roberta Cohen with Shin Dong Hyuk

Roberta Cohen with Shin Dong Hyuk

It is time for the international community to address itself directly to the most serious of North Korea’s human rights violations – the prison labor camps. Situated in the mountains of North Korea, the camps are estimated to hold some 100,000 to 200,000 prisoners, including whole families, many of whom are not expected to survive.

The issue has come to the fore through the combined efforts of human rights NGOs and former North Korean prisoners who have escaped the country. For several decades, NGOs, academics and journalists from the United States, Western Europe and the Republic of Korea have conducted painstaking research to unearth verifiable information about the camps and North Korea’s overall human rights situation. They have come up with persuasive evidence despite the regime’s efforts to conceal its conduct through denial of access. 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 »

DPRK Business Monthly Volume IV, No.5

The DPRK Business Monthly, an international business report edited in Beijing, has been made available to CanKor readers by its editor, Paul White. Please check the current June 2013 edition (which this month comes in two files) here: DPRK Business Monthly Volume IV, No.5 Part 1 and  DPRK Business Monthly Volume IV, No.5 Part 2

The nearly deserted Kaesong Industrial Complex (Photo by Arirang News)

The nearly deserted Kaesong Industrial Complex (Photo by Arirang News)

Titles of articles found in this issue include:

  • “Stunned Disbelief” at Cancellation of Talks
  • Mongolian Firm Buys Stake in NK Refinery

  • NK to Import Chinese Smartphones
  • North Korea Building “World-class” Ski Resort
  • N-S Trade Virtually Zero in May
  • P’yang Hosts International Organic Agriculture Workshop
  • NK’s Android-based Achim Tablet on Video
  • Visible Progress Toward Economic Reform
  • Invitation for International Public Tender
  • Work Going Ahead on NK-China Economic Zone
  • New Law on Economic Development Zones
  • N.K. Plans New US$200 m International Airport 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 »

“Immortal Feats for DPRK-China Friendship”

[Under the above title, the DPRK’s most authoritative newspaper Rodong Sinmun published a rare editorial on the eve of the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s first summit meeting with US President Barack Obama in California. Rodong Sinmun is the official organ of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. Ostensibly, the occasion for the editorial is the 30th anniversary of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s first visit to China. It is a legacy to which young leader Kim Jong Un is said to be paying “great attention”. The China-DPRK friendship will go “a long way towards stabilizing the situation in the Korean Peninsula,” says the editorial, without wasting a single word on the nuclear question, a topic that will likely figure prominently in the Obama-Xi talks. –CanKor]

Xi, right, and Pyongyang's special envoy Choe Ryong-hae meet in Beijing. (Photo by Xinhua)

Xi, right, and Pyongyang’s special envoy Choe Ryong-hae meet in Beijing. (Photo by Xinhua)

This is the 30th year since Leader Kim Jong Il’s first visit to China from June 1 to 13, 1983. His train trip covered a total of 6 250 km, making more solid the DPRK-China friendship provided and kept in bloom by the leaders of old generations of the two countries.

It is a beautiful tradition for the leaders of the two countries to frequently visit each other like brothers without being restricted by any diplomatic conventions and rules and share and deepen the friendly feelings.

The 30 years that followed his first visit to China furnished an ample proof that the DPRK-China friendship would be unbreakable.

Over the past 30 years the situation of Korea and the North East Asia was very complex, but the two countries supported and closely cooperated with each other in their struggle for socialist construction and national unity. Read the rest of this entry »

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