The DPRK Interregnum: Window of Opportunity for the International Community by Victor Hsu

[CanKor Brain Trust member Victor Hsu is a Visiting Professor at the Korea Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management. In this article, published by the Nautilus Institute’s Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network (NAPSNet), he argues that the post funeral interregnum in the DPRK should be seen as a window of opportunity for moving North Korea’s relationships in a constructive direction. To do this, Hsu suggests that the international community network and create a coordinated engagement plan that avoids duplication, maximizes the increasingly scarce resources among traditional donors and gathers lessons learned for future engagement. Donors could facilitate this work by supporting civil society knowledge-sharing efforts with the DPRK, which is more sustainable and less susceptible to the vicissitudes of inter-state relations. –CanKor]

Kim Jong Un walks alongside the body of his late father during last month's funeral procession. (Photo: AP)

Now that the funeral of Kim Jong Il is over, it is time for the international community to explore avenues of engaging with the DPRK, rather than trying to read the tea leaves about who is in charge or whether Kim Jong Un is the real Supreme Leader and Military Commander. This period presents a window of opportunity either to engage constructively or to destabilize the Korean peninsula. It is truly a time of danger and opportunity. While it is legitimate to expect the DPRK to take the first step, there is an equal onus on the international community to adopt policies and strategies to encourage the DPRK to initiate a new chapter in its foreign policy. However, this post funeral interregnum may be ironically the right time for the “strategic patience” policy of the Obama’s administration. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korea could have used a Havel by Charles Burton

[This op-ed piece was written by CanKor Brain Trust member Charles Burton, and published in the Ottawa Citizen on 22 December 2011. Charles Burton is associate professor of political science at Brock University and a former counsellor at the Canadian embassy in Beijing. –Cankor]

Vaclav Havel and Kim Jong-il, both of whom died this week, personified an extreme contrast in leadership styles. Each man oversaw a nation’s response to the dashing of the hope for human dignity and justice that the Marxist-Leninist paradigm once offered. But the ways each went about it could not have been more different.

Vaclav Havel

Both Czechoslovakia and North Korea were deeply affected by the decline of the Soviet Union that began in the mid-1980s and culminated with its collapse in 1991. But North Korea turned inward, replacing Marxist ideology with the even more stifling and arcane Juche doctrine, and intensifying its repressive politics of charismatic personality cult to new extremes. From the late 1980s on, North Korea became even more closed to the outside world, leading to a rapid deterioration of the national economy to the point that more than a million of its people died of starvation in the famine of 1995-’97.

Today North Korea is dependent on food and energy inputs from China, South Korea and the UN, which delivers food aid originating in the United States and other western nations, including Canada. Even so, about half the children in North Korea still suffer from stunted growth and disabilities due to prolonged malnutrition. Meanwhile, the North Korean politicaland military elite lives in high luxury with their Mercedes Benzes, munificent walled housing compounds, flownin supplies of lobster and cognac, jewelry and expensive perfume imported through China; all gifts of the Dear Leader to maintain their support for his domination of a miserably failed state. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korean Message on Reunification

[CanKor received the following message by email from Pyongyang. It was sent from a familiar official email address, but was not signed by any particular DPRK organization. We reproduce it here as we received it on 3 January 2012. –CanKor.]

Dear friends,

As you have heard, the Korean people have undergone the great lose of nation by the sudden demise of the great leader Kim Jong Il on the 17th of December in 2010.

The great leader Kim Jong Il has made the great contribution for the independent and peaceful reunification of Korea and to provide the peace and security of the Korean peninsula in his life time.

Even though the great leader Kim Jong Il passed away so suddenly, the Korean people, holding high the wise leadership of respected and beloved comrade Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of our party and people and the supreme commander of KPA, will continue their struggle for the construction of the prosperous and powerful country and the realization of the reunification of Korea which was the desire of the great leader Kim Jong Il in his life period.

This year is the significant year of when the president Kim Il Sung has announced the 3 great principle of national reunification in 40 years ago, the 15th establishment anniversary of the 3 great charter for the national reunification by leader Kim Jong Il, and the 5th anniversary year of the publication of the historic October 4 Joint Declaration between the north and south. Read the rest of this entry »

The Reality of Tears by Erich Weingartner

[This article by CanKor Editor-in-Chief Erich Weingartner was published by our partner site on 4 January 2012. –CanKor]

The question consistently asked by journalists over the past weeks is whether the weeping and wailing that accompanied the death and funeral of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is the product of stage management or a genuine outpouring of grief. In other words, how real are the tears?

Picture by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)

To our secular and cynical Western sensibilities, it seems inconceivable that a nation would be moved to tears at the death of what we believe to have been an evil tyrant who ate lobsters and caviar while his people starved, who squandered the nation’s wealth on nuclear weapons while soliciting humanitarian aid, who operated a network of brutal prison camps and kept the entire population isolated from the outside world. Why is there no nationwide rejoicing? Should we not see people dancing in the streets of Pyongyang? As is often the case when dealing with North Korea, our simplistic questions require more complex answers than time allows in journalistic interviews.

The way in which all humans respond to emotional events has a lot to do with our perception of history, politics, economics and the culture in which we are embedded. North Korea is not what we consider to be a modern, secular, capitalist society in which the individual reigns supreme. Although it describes itself as a revolutionary society, the DPRK is not revolutionary in the style of the French, the American or even the Russian revolutions. Kim Il Sung and his compatriots fought an anti-colonial struggle against foreign domination. There was never the sense of fighting against an indigenous corrupt or oppressive ruler, and North Korean propaganda continues to justify a “revolutionary” attitude and the need for a powerful military as one that is aimed against foreign domination. Read the rest of this entry »

Known Unknowns by Chris Nelson

[The following is taken from the 3 January 2012 edition of The Nelson Report, with kind permission by the author. –CanKor.]

The funeral parade is now over, and the official titles, as of this weekend, are all now awarded…and all to the Boy General, every single one, from the looks of it…and China has hastened to declare its fealty. (…)

So…is this really real? There’s no conceivable way to tell for the time being, and perhaps not for months, given the deliberate opacity of the ruling elite in Pyongyang, so we urge caution in reading any quotes from experts using flatly declarative verbs, adverbs and adjectives. (…)

With the above cautions in mind, here’s “known unknowns” we keep on our List:

  • Will the new Leadership in Pyongyang continue the tentative outreach to the US which seemed to have advanced to the point of imminent announcement of a food for strategic concessions deal, a “first” in such overt linkage by the US…only to be put “on hold” by the sudden demise of Kim Jong-il?
  • Similarly, will the new Leadership continue the positive back-channel contacts which were poised to produce a US announcement that special envoys Glyn Davies and Ford Hart would be dispatched to Beijing with an eye toward whether a new round of 6 Party Talks could be launched in the next few weeks or months? Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with CanKor Brain Trust member Charles Burton

CanKor Brain Trust member Charles Burton’s views on the changing situtation in North Korea were reported in Erica Bajers’ report “Dictator’s death met with concern in Niagara” published in the Niagara Falls Review on December 19, 2011. Article below:

Dictator’s death met with concern in Niagara

By Erica Bajer, QMI, 19 December 2011

North Korean women cry after learning death of their leader Kim Jong Il on Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is worrying local residents with ties to the country.

Unlike the deaths of other high-profile dictators, including most recently Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, Kim Jong-il’s death is not being met with relief and joy.

Instead, his death has caused fear and uncertainty, said Brock University political science professor Charles Burton, who worked on North Korean relations in the Canadian Embassy in Beijing from 1998 to 2000.

“Any change there is destabilizing and anything destabilizing causes worry about what’s going to come next,” he said.

“It’s not a cause for celebration … we don’t know what will happen.”

He said despite the fact the dictator chose his 28-year-old son Kim Jong-un as his successor, it’s unclear if the regime will continue.

Burton said North Koreans equate age and experience with wisdom and may not be willing to accept such a young, inexperienced leader.

“The real concern is the transition,” he said.

Burton said there’s a strong possibility a power struggle between different factions of the Kim family and the military will break out. Read the rest of this entry »

Nautilus Institute: Kim Jong Il’s Death Suggests Continuity Plus Opportunity to Engage

English: North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Kim Jong Il

In the latest NAPSNet Policy Forum, Peter Hayes, Scott Bruce, and David von Hippel of the Nautilus Institute, write, “Ironically, Kim Jong Il’s death may make Korea the land of the morning calm for at least a year, during which political transitions will also occur in China, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and the United States… Unless Kim Jong Un throws the nuclear strategy out the window and starts again, the outlines of the engagement agenda are already clear—send the North Koreans energy and food aid to meet both short-term humanitarian and medium/long-term development needs, help them build a safe small light water reactor, and bring them into an international enrichment consortium that would lead them to reveal the sum total of their enrichment program.”

Full Report below:


I. Introduction
II. Report by Peter Hayes, Scott Bruce, and David von Hippel
III. Nautilus invites your responses

Read the rest of this entry »

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