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 »

Kim Jong Un: I Am NOT My Father

I would like to think that Kim Jong Un listened to my advice and hired a Don Draper type to sex up the regime’s image

abroad. Yes, such visions of grandeur. Bringing us back to reality, however, the DPRK has certainly gone to some great lengths to ameliorate its image abroad, to the point that some have described it as an “extreme makeover.” It all perhaps began with Kim Jong Un complaining about the general disrepair of amusement parks (“pathetic” is supposedly the word used). One has to wonder in opaque North Korea whether Kim was referring to simply the amusement park itself, or really criticizing the way that his father ran the country.

Meet the new boss

Then we have Kim the 3rd walking around accompanied by a mystery woman who we later find out he has married – perhaps even against his father’s wishes. Even if this allegation of filial impiety is not true, Kim Jong Il never trotted out his women in public.

The implication of this rather public announcement is enormous: again, Kim Jong Un is not his father! Then we have a well publicized concert involving trademark infringement of the Mickey Mouse variety and mini-skirts that would have shocked O Jin U if he were still around. We receive word of things like prisoner amnesties. Finally, Ri Yong Ho is sacked. The official cause is illness; the word on the street is power struggle, including fanciful notions of firefights in the inner sanctums of Pyongyang. Ri Yong Ho was supposedly one of the capos in the Kim Jong Il regime. Getting rid of someone like him again is clear signal that a new boss has rolled into town.

At the end of the day, this branding exercise seems a clear play to contrast Kim Jong Un from Kim Jong Il. Perhaps the rumours that Kim Jong Un (and Jang Song Thaek behind him) really want to open the country up. The evidence so far, doesn’t suggest that yet: the border hasn’t been this controlled since the 2008 Olympics and the kwan-li-so system still exists. What isclear is that the regime has, six months after his death, buried Kim Jong Il, set up his statue right beside Kim the 1st, and has all but announced that his era is over. Read the rest of this entry »

6 North Korean professors in Canada to study free market

[The following Yonhap news agency article datelined San Francisco, 20 July 2012, appeared in The Korea Times of South Korea. –CanKor]

University of British Columbia Rose Garden

Six professors of leading North Korean universities are staying in Vancouver to study capitalism at a Canadian university on a six-month program, the program director said Friday, drawing fresh attention to the North’s possible transition under its Swiss-educated young leader.The economics professors from three North Korean universities arrived in Canada earlier this month to take courses at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in the fall semester, which begins in September, after a two-month language course, Professor Park Kyung-ae, director of the Center for Korean Research, said.

“They will mainly study international business, economics, finance and trade,” Park told Yonhap News by phone, without giving further details of their identifications.The elite universities include Kim Il-sung University, the top university named after the country’s founding leader, the People’s Economics University and the Pyongyang Foreign Language College, Park said. All the institutions are located in the North’s capital, Pyongyang. Read the rest of this entry »

CanKor Megaphone: The North Korean Human Rights Film Festival in Toronto

If Kim Jong Il’s opinions mean anything, the power of film cannot be ignored. The late dictator spent quite a bit of energy trying to vitalize the North Korean film industry – to the point that he kidnapped a South Korean director Shin Sang Ok and his actress wife Choe Un Hee to provide an injection of fresh air into what he thought was a stagnant film scene. This emphasis on film seems to have left a mark on the North Korean people as well. One of the fondest pre-famine memories of those who have escaped the DPRK often revolve around going to the local cinema house to view the latest and greatest coming out of Pyongyang’s movie mill.

There’s not much that Thornhill native Gilad Cohen agrees with Kim Jong Il, but the power of film is one of them. Cohen, the founder of the North Korean Human Rights Film Festival in Toronto, (NKHRFF for short) was a former English teacher in the ROK. As with many folks in Canada, he had very little knowledge of the DPRK and what went inside that country. 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 »

North Korea’s Treacherous New Course, by Leon V. Sigal

[The following commentary by Leon Sigal, long-time friend of CanKor, appeared in the American bimonthly foreign-policy journal The National Interest, 19 April 2012. Leon V. Sigal is director of the Northeast Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York and author of Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea. –CanKor]

“There they go again.” That was the Washington’s reaction to North Korea’s recent rocket launch and renunciation of its February 29 commitment not to conduct a nuclear test. Yet this time looks different—and more dangerous. These actions suggest Pyongyang no longer cares about improving relations with the United States, the premise of its willingness to restrain its nuclear and missile efforts.

Unbounded nuclear and missile development by Pyongyang would gradually erode the security of all of its neighbors and the world at large. The only prudent course is a robust strategy of containment: denial of its weapons-related trade by tougher inspections of suspect cargo and tighter overflight restrictions.

A Mixed History

For years, North Korean officials have been saying they want to improve relations with the United States and were prepared to restrain their nuclear and missile programs in return. An end to enmity—what the North called U.S. “hostile policy”—would improve North Korean security and provide a counterweight to China. It would also facilitate aid and investment from South Korea and Japan, thereby reducing its economic dependence on China.

Given the lack of trust between the two countries, however, Pyongyang insisted on reciprocal steps by Washington—action for action—to build confidence. Pyongyang’s decision to conduct last week’s test launch, by contrast, destroyed confidence. Read the rest of this entry »

38 North: Hereditary Succession in North Korea: Lessons of the Past, by Charles Armstrong

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is by Charles Armstrong. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

North Korea’s transition to third-generation Kim leadership appears to be going smoothly, indeed much more smoothly than many outside observers had expected. This should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with the history of the DPRK, which ceased to be a “normal” communist dictatorship decades ago, and instead became a regime of hereditary leadership, firmly centred on the Kim family. The question was never whether or not a son of Kim Jong Il would become leader after Kim’s death, but which son it would be. As Kim Jong Il’s own rise to power shows us, leadership succession in the DPRK is not based on hereditary privilege alone. Kim Jong Il had to prove his ability and his loyalty, and to compete with other contenders for the throne from within the Kim family. Kim Jong Il’s most serious competitor appears to have been his uncle, Kim Il Sung’s younger brother Kim Yŏng Ju. Ultimately Kim Jong Il won out in this intra-familial power struggle and gained the support of his father for succession in the early 1970s, when he was around 30 years old, roughly the same age Kim Il Sung was when he became North Korea’s leader in 1945 and that Kim Jong Un is now.

By the 1970s, North Korea had become a family state unlike any other in the communist world. The DPRK in this respect was more like Saudi Arabia or a Gulf Emirate state than East Germany or Vietnam. Closer to home geographically if not ideologically, Taiwan and Singapore both saw transfers of power from their founding leaders to their sons in the 1980s and 1990s. But among communist states, which generally decried hereditary succession as “feudal” (as did North Korea itself until hereditary succession became official policy), the Kim family’s inter-generational power transfer was unique. Perhaps the Ceausescu family of Romania came close to such a monopoly of power toward the end of the communist regime there—Elena Ceausescu was allegedly slated to succeed her husband before their execution in 1989—but Nikolai Ceausescu had long been inspired by Kim Il Sung’s leadership style, not excluding familial rule. Read the rest of this entry »

DPRK Business Monthly Volume III, No.3

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 out the full text of the April 2012 edition here: DPRK Business Monthly April 2012

Huichon power station in Jagang Province, DPRK, has started operations on 6 April 2012 to help ease electricity shortages in the capital, protect cultivated land and residential areas along the Chongchon River from flooding, and ensure an ample supply of water to the industrial establishments in Huichon and Namhung areas, according to official media reports. (Photo by KCNA)

Titles of articles found in this issue include:

  • Rajin-Khassan Freight Train Service to Open in October
  • More NK Citizens Visit China
  • A Question of Leadership
  • Huichon Power Station Operational
  • Future High-tech Farming for NK?
  • Department Store for Scientists and Technicians
  • NK, China Seeking Investors for Rajin Port

…plus a number of other items, including a selection of North Korean tours by various tour operators.

Comment by the Business Monthly Editor:

There have been several significant signs this month that North Korea’s new leadership is sincere about enhancing transparency. For one thing, NK invited news media from around the world to observe its satellite launch, knowing full well that if it failed (It did), the whole world would know, and there could be no cover-up. Not only that, the official DPRK media reported the disaster with no holds barred. That’s got to be a first. Another first was the reporting of two speeches made by the new leader, Kim Jong Un, on the front page of the North’s leading Workers Daily. His father, the late Kim Jong Il, does not seem to have made any public speeches at all during his 17-year tenure, and any private ones were not reported. Read the rest of this entry »

Party Time in Pyongyang, by Aidan Foster-Carter

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by long-time CanKor friend and contributor Aiden Foster-Carter. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

As I write this article, April is already more than half over. In North Korea, the party is over, bar the shouting. But in Pyongyang, the shouting never really stops, or not for long anyway.

Kim Jong Un waves to the masses during the military parade commemorating Kim Il Sung’s centenary birthday. (Photo: AP)

True, this event-packed month is not quite done yet. The April 28 Spring Friendship Art Festival still has a few days to run, bringing to the good people of Pyongyang such cultural delights as the Trumpet Ensemble of Belarus. Not forgetting the song and dance troupe of the General Political Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. (Catchy name!)

Lest you imagine this has anything to do with art, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) was commendably candid. Announcing the festival on March 29, KCNA hailed the “over 50 art troupes from 20 odd countries… Their performances will be devoted to praising President Kim Il Sung, revered as the sun of Juche by the world progressives.” That surely can’t apply to the Festival’s most unlikely performers: the Sons of Jubal, a 150-strong male chorus who are all Baptist music ministers from Georgia (the US state, not the country). So much for aesthetics.

One important date yet to come is April 25. That’s Army Day, which this year marks the 80th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Like much in the DPRK’s official history, this is fiction. The real KPA wasn’t formed until 1948, on February 8. That was the date they celebrated until 1978, when it got pushed back to mark instead the supposed founding of Kim Il Sung’s tiny guerrilla band in 1932. In North Korea, after all, myth rules.

Just in case the rumors are right and the DPRK is contemplating a nuclear test to compensate for the failed rocket launch on April 13, then April 25 might be deemed an appropriate date for it. But this article lays off the rocketry, amply covered by 38 North of late, to look instead at the politics which unfolded in Pyongyang last week. What happened, and what have we learned? Read the rest of this entry »

The Paint Dries By James Church

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is by James Church, the nom de plume of the “Inspector O” novels and a former intelligence officer with plenty of DPRK experience. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

There is a regular posse of US policymakers and pundits who, when it comes to dealing with North Korea, like to say that Washington should not “buy the same horse twice.” Sooner or later, when something goes wrong—and it usually does—they end up galloping off on their own steeds—the Three Horses of the Apocalypse: Hysteria, Hyperbole, and Hyperventilation. However, in what seems to be a short reprieve, this may be a good moment to take a deep analytical breath before things start going to hell again, which they inevitably will, and take a look around.

As a general rule, following an unremarkable leadership transition is pretty much the same as watching paint dry on a summer afternoon. So far, to the chagrin and surprise of a number of observers who apparently expected a different outcome, the paint on the North Korean succession looks fine. Last week, the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) held another party conference, and with it, the new regime under Kim Jong Un (now KWP First Secretary and First Chairman of the National Defense Commission) has been fleshed out. As of April 15, we have what looks to be the new leadership ranking order. Alas, nothing on the personnel front really catches the eye. The trends set in place (and the decisions foreordained) by Kim Jong Il remain on track. The most one can say is that the KWP leadership structure, after a hiatus of nearly 18 years, appears to be back at full complement. Read the rest of this entry »

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