Ottawa Round Table Part 4 – CanKor Brain Trust on the Current Situation in the DPRK

CanKor Brain Trust on the Current Situation in the DPRK

by Paul Evans, Victor Hsu, Hazel Smith, Hark Kroll, Jeremy Paltiel and Jack Kim

Ottawa Round Table on Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context, 5 March 2012

Q: What dangers and opportunities can you foresee in the evolving situation?

Paul Evans, Professor, Liu Institute for Global Issues; Director, Institute of Asian Research, UBC:

Why assume that the KJU era will be any different? My only glimpse into the fog is the signal from the group that attended the six-month training program here that it was business as usual for a second phase, with no changes expected. I had dinner with a DPRK diplomat in Bangkok as part of an ARF meeting and more or less out of the blue he asked me how the UBC training program had gone and how we could find ways to get more DPRK students to Canada in future. Really out of context and it may be that he only guessed at a connection and my interest by seeing my card. But…

Victor Hsu, Visiting Professor, School of Public Policy and Management , Korea Development Institute (KDI), Seoul:

From my perspective, assuming that ROK maintains its current attempt to reverse the LMB policy, opportunities are going to increase. I don’t believe there will be any continuation of refusal to provide humanitarian aid. Both main parties in ROK are framing renewed engagement, as is the USA. EU will follow suit.

Hazel Smith, Professor of Resilience and Security, Cranfield University, UK:

The DPRK government is far from unique in being culpable of poor governance and failing to meet the food needs of its people. Arguing that the DPRK humanitarian and food crises are unique is wrong in advocacy terms because it reinforces the politicisation of aid to the DPRK in its emphasis on the ‘exceptionally awful’ case of the DPRK.

The reasons for food shortages and economic failure in the DPRK are prosaic. Like very large numbers of governments, the DPRK government lacks oil (to generate revenue), suffered the withdrawal of external subsidies, has an obsolescent economic infrastructure in every respect, and is governed by a non-democratic, economically illiterate and inept government. Read the rest of this entry »

The Pre Re-engagement Party for the Six Party Talks gets livelier… by Jeremy Paltiel

[As US negotiator Stephen W. Bosworth begins discussions with DPRK first vice foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan in Geneva today, CanKor Brain Trust member Jeremy Paltiel, Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, checks the Chinese media for indicators that re-engagement on the nuclear issue might actually get off the runway this time around. –CanKor.]

Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang (R Front) shakes hands with Kang Sok Ju (L Front), vice premier of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), at the airport in Pyongyang, capital of DPRK, Oct. 23, 2011. Li Keqiang arrived here on Sunday for an official goodwill visit to the DPRK. (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)

Li’s mission is explicitly calculated to jump-start the Six Party Talks , and for the first time, China has spoken of playing a “coordinating” xietiao role. (李克强将访问朝鲜、韩国) Li was met at Pyongyang’s airport by Vice Premier Kang Sok Ju,and the proceeded to Mansongdae where he met with Premier Choe Yong Rim, who had visited China only a month ago. (Hu Jintao Meets with DPRK Premier Choe Yong Rim, Member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee) Choe mentioned explicitly the implementation of 19 September 2005 Joint Statement, though not the 13 February 2007 Action Plan. (李克强与朝鲜内阁总理会谈 支持尽早重启六方会谈)

Other commentators have deduced that the momentum for re-engagement on the nuclear issue is gathering force (See Jeffrey Lewis, Peter Hayes and Scott Bruce “Kim Jong Il’s Nuclear Diplomacy and the US Opening: Slow Motion Six-Party Engagement”), as newly-named US negotiator Glyn Davis prepares to meet North Korean counterparts in Geneva.

China is stepping up its activity on the Korean peninsula at a time when China’s relations with neighbouring countries and the US in Southeast and East Asia have been tarnished due to China’s aggressive stance on its maritime borders, both in relation to Japan and in the South China Sea. It has recently attempted to patch up relations with Vietnam (李克强与朝鲜内阁总理会谈 支持尽早重启六方会谈) and with Southeast Asia, and will no doubt seek to enhance the reputation of its diplomacy by trying to engineer a breakthrough by re-starting the Six Party Talks. Read the rest of this entry »

Russia Gets Into the Act, by Jeremy Paltiel

[DPRK leader Kim Jong Il made headlines again as he traveled to Russia for talks with President Medvedev. What was the purpose of this trip, and what’s in it for the Russians? CanKor Brain Trust member Jeremy Paltiel, Professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, looks at the possibility of a win-win outcome for all sides. –CanKor.]

Kim Jong Il with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev (Photo by Reuters)

For months now, Kim Jong-il has been trying without success to escape from the international straitjacket he imposed on himself since the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. He has appealed for international aid without much response. He has offered unconditional talks with the US; he has alternately engaged and threatened the ROK, most recently evicting South Koreans form the Mt Kumgang “Peace Village”; he has visited China on three occasions… all of which seemed only to magnify his isolation and dependence on his sole ally. With only four months until his beleaguered garrison satrapy is slated to become a “strong and prosperous country” he ventured back to the land of his birth, travelling to the Russian Far East to meet Russian President Medvedev. Russia has been eager to get back into the game without antagonizing its partners in the Six Party talks or throwing good money after bad on an unreliable former client. Read the rest of this entry »

Kim Jong Il’s Whistle Stop Tour in China by Jeremy Paltiel

[Was the recent visit by Kim Jong Il to China a resounding failure, as reported in the South Korean press? CanKor Brain Trust member Jeremy PaltielProfessor at Carleton University in Ottawa, summarizes his take on the trip based on Korean and Chinese sources. –CanKor.]

The woman in a yellow jacket is thought to be Kim Jong-il’s fourth wife Kim Ok at a banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Bejing, 25 May 2011. (Captured from CCTV Yonhap)

Kim Jong-Il’s third tribute mission to his Chinese patron in less than a year took place between May 20 and May 26. Once again, the head of North Korea’s Kim family holding company toured sites of China’s economic success in Jilin, Heilongjiang and Jiangsu provinces, and met with all the members of the Standing Committee of the CCP Politbureau. Chinese media did not give any special reason for this unofficial visit but instead carried the speculative reports coming from South Korean media outlets. As Chinese official media normally do not carry news of Kim’s official tours until he has safely crossed the frontier of his own country, this quaint courtesy to Kim’s sensibilities was undermined this time around when the People’s Daily sister publication Global Times carried a report citing “South Korean sources” that Kim Jong-il was indeed in China.

While there was much speculation that Kim was seeking to pave the way for his third son Kim Jong-Un’s succession, newly-minted General did not accompany his father. Instead, Kim Jong-il was accompanied by his brother in law Jang Kai-Taek, and more unusually his current consort,Kim Ok whose picture surfaced at the Beijing banquet, seated next to Hu Jintao’s top foreign policy advisor, Dai Bingguo. (See Kim Jong-il calls for early resumption of six-party talks.) Read the rest of this entry »

All Eyes on Pyongyang

[The following article by CanKor Brain Trust member Jeremy Paltiel, appeared in the CanKor Report #329 and was published on CanKor’s UnCommon Sense on 10 October 2010. – Miranda]

An undated family photo of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il (front L), his youngest son Kim Jong-Un (front R), his fourth wife Kim Ok (second row L), his sister Kim Kyong-hui (second row middle) and her husband Jang Song-Thaek (second row R). (Photo: Newsc)

The succession is the big issue. But Kim Jong Un is not the whole story of the succession. The promotion of KJIls sister Kim Kyong Hui to General, the promotion of KJIIs best friend Choe Ryong Hae and the elevation of vice-Marshal Ri Yong Ho are equally significant for the short and medium term. We should note that in the context of a supposed Songjun “Army First” policy three non-military types Kim Jong Un, Kim Kyong Hui and Jang Song Taek have senior positions on the military commission. The promotion of Ri to marshal is clearly aimed at stifling any bitterness this must provoke. If you know anything about career military people, whether it be General McChrystal or Ri Yong Ho, they chafe at civilians who presume to know better about military affairs. What Kim JII has engineered is a family takeover of the military commission in order to consolidate his sons succession. I am not convinced it will work.

At the same time the signs of moderation are both significant and logical. The DPRK needs a period of relaxed tensions for the succession to work. KJII must appear to appease the Chinese anxiety for stability and to do that he must also improve relations with the South and with the US. Moreover, in order to foist his sons succession on a restive military he must ensure that they are not called in to deal with an emergency, hence to relax tensions helps. This is analogous to the coincident improvement of Chinas relations with the US in the early 1970s coinciding with the demise of Marshal Lin Biao.

The Chinese are eyeing this warily. They do not like the Kim family shop, but the PLA is confident in is relationship with their comrades in arms in the KPA. Hence these arrangements are delicate, and Beijing is counting on KJII to deliver détente if he wants Chinese support.

None of this changes my opinion about the fragility of the régime. Can it deliver détente and opening without imploding? We know already that after the failed currency reform the weary and harried North Korean populace is cynical and apprehensive. What does the perpetuation of the Kim Il Sung bloodline do for them? They will not risk their lives by raising their voices, but given even half a chance, they will vote with their feet. The KPA will ultimately have to choose at whom to point their guns.

%d bloggers like this: