“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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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 »

Much ado about style over substance: Kim Jong Un’s New Year

Continuing the theme of channeling his grandfather’s charisma by reversing his father’s aloofness, the young DPRK leader Kim Jong Un read his first major policy speech on New Year’s day. During his 19-year reign, “dear leader” Kim Jong Il (Jong Un’s father) substituted the traditional New Year’s pronouncements of “great leader” Kim Il Sung (Jong Un’s grandfather) with a “joint New Year’s editorial” published by the official newspapers of the Korean Worker’s Party, the Korean People’s Army and the Party’s youth wing.

Kim Jong Un delivers 2013 New Year message (Photo by KCNA)

The young Kim Jong Un appeared before television cameras to read the lengthy speech, which will be the subject of intensive study within North Korea. But as can be seen by a sampling of “expert” opinions, this annual summary of DPRK policies is also carefully dissected by DPRK-watchers the world over.

The full text of the speech (courtesy the Korean Central News Agency KCNA) can be read at the following link: New Year Address Made by Kim Jong Un.

To see the young leader reading the text (with the voice of an interpreter in English) please watch the video at the bottom of this article.

Here follow some early commentaries about the significance of this speech by a number of (mostly American) experts as assembled by Chris Nelson taken from the 2 January 2013 Nelson Report:  Read the rest of this entry »

Chickens Defiantly Coming Home to Roost by James Church

[James Church (pen name of a former “Western” intelligence agent) is the author of the popular “Inspector O” series of mystery novels set in North Korea. In this article, written for our partner-site 38North, the long-time friend of CanKor examines words that are often used by the media to describe North Korean behaviours such as the recent satellite launch. His conclusion is that using words such as “defiance” and “provocation” are emotional labels that actually mask real issues and events, thereby leading to mistaken analysis and counter-productive responses. –CanKor]

The Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket launching at DPRK West Sea Satellite launch site in Cholsan county, North Pyongan province. (Video released by KCNA on Dec. 13, 2012)

The Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket taking off from the West Sea Satellite launch site in Cholsan county, North Pyongan province.
(Video released by KCNA on 13 December 2012.)

So far this week, the very, absolutely, most favorite word of headline writers and reporters is “defiance,” as in “North Korean Missile Launch Act of Defiance.” Yes, that’s one way to look at what happened a few hours past dawn on December 12, when the North made up for its “botched” (another favorite word recently) launch attempt last April.

Logically, we suppose an act of defiance needs something to be defiant against—something like established order, a stronger power, or impossible odds. At times, an act of defiance can be deemed heroic. On occasion, it’s considered to be a dangerous challenge. Now and again, it may be seen as merely a pain in the neck. Partially, it’s situational (i.e., what’s going on) and partially positional (i.e., where you sit.)

In this case, the North Koreans are being described as defiant because: 1) they are ignoring the international community (however defined); and 2) they are not acting in compliance with several UN Security Council resolutions and statements. The resolutions have numbers, but in an act of defiance I will not mention them. Read the rest of this entry »

Surprise! We Have Satellite(s)!

Some quick thoughts on the rocket launch:

  • Unha-3 rocketSurprise! Certainly caught everyone off guard. This especially after an official announcement possibly extending the launch window. Is this a case of Pyongyang simply buying time or disjointed government?
  • Si, su puede! This time around, the North Koreans have told their own people that it was a success. But really, did they have any choice on the matter? First, with a million cell phones now in circulation, keeping mum about a rocket launch at all would have been disastrous. Second, after announcing publicly that the April launch was a failure, coming out a second time empty-handed would have severely shaken public confidence in the endeavour. But how about those who do have access to the outside world? If it was a failure, couldn’t they spread the news over those cell phones you talk about? Sure – but as long as the regime gets to frame the issue first by calling it the “second successful satellite launch,” then does it really matter? Those who have tried hard to prove a negative (ie. there is no North Korean satellite) will find it hard pressed to combat the regime on this one. Read the rest of this entry »

Understanding North Korea’s next satellite launch, by Tad Farrell

[A “technical glitch” is delaying the launch of a DPRK “weather satellite” into orbit, timed to coincide with the death of “dear leader” Kim Jong Il one year ago. Much speculation has surrounded this planned launch, coming so soon after a failed launch of a similar rocket in April of this year. In an article that appeared in NK News on 1 December 2012, Tad Farrell gives good reasons to believe that “this time the launch is nothing to do with issues outside of the Korean peninsula.” Farrell, who is based in London, UK, founded NK News in 2010. –CanKor]

A rocket sits on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang in this April 8, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/Files

A rocket sits on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in the northwest of Pyongyang in this April 8, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/Files

Having launched just four long range rockets in the past two decades, news that the DPRK will try to put a satellite into space for the second time in a year is striking.  With a date set for between December 10 – 22, the next launch coincides with forthcoming South Korean presidential elections, a Japanese general election, and the anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death. The proposed timing is also noteworthy for following a major leadership change in China and the reelection of President Obama to the White House.

With the last launch having cost an estimated $850 million dollars, it is clear that there must be strong imperatives for cash-strapped North Korea to want to launch another rocket so soon. But what are they and what do they mean?  A close look at the context of today’s news suggests that five motivations internal to the Korean peninsula might be behind this launch. And if this is the case, it seems that little can be done to prevent the launch from going ahead.

A Korean space race

Having been in a space race of sorts with South Korea since President Kim Dae Jung initiated a satellite program in 1998, Seoul had planned to launch a satellite in recent weeks. Eager to be the first country to successfully launch a satellite off the Korean peninsula, South Korean authorities tried twice in the past month to ensure that their third Naro-1 rocket launch would go smoothly. An initial attempt was called off in mid-October, while the rescheduled launch date of November 29 was cancelled at the eleventh hour.

But while technical problems were described as cancelling both Naro launch attempts, its possible that the most recent cancellation was actually related to suspicions about an imminent North Korean launch attempt. After all, it would have been politically difficult for South Korea to go ahead with the planned Naro launch while simultaneously leading efforts to condone North Korea’s own rocket plans. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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