What Works Best? by Erich Weingartner

There is a simple question I am often asked when speaking about humanitarian assistance: What works best with the DPRK?

Simple questions don’t always result in simple answers, and when it comes to the DPRK, simple answers don’t exist. Actually, even simple questions turn out to be more complex when applied to the DPRK: What do we mean by the words “works best”? Works best for whom? For what purpose? Under what circumstances? During what time period? And who or what determines what works best?

North Korean children consuming donated food (Picture by Erich Weingartner)

North Korean children consuming donated food (Picture by Erich Weingartner)

Works best for whom?

For the donors? For the implementing agencies? For the recipient country? For the intended beneficiaries?

What works best for international agencies may not work best for Korean organizations. What works best for resident NGOs may not work for non-resident NGOs. What works best for European NGOs under the umbrella of the EU or EC or ECHO may not work for American NGOs distributing the donations of US-AID. What works best for the Eugene Bell Foundation may not work at all for Doctors Without Borders (MSF). What works best for the elite in Pyongyang may not work well for the families of unemployed workers in Chongjin.

Works best for what purpose?

What may work best in the short term may not work best with a longer-term perspective in mind. When evaluating assistance programme models and strategies, we should consider what long-term objectives we are seeking to achieve:

  • When we intervene in the DPRK, is our only goal to feed the hungry?
  • Or are we also concerned about peace and security in the region? Read the rest of this entry »
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DPRK Business Monthly Volume IV, No.4

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 May 2013 edition here: DPRK Business Monthly Volume IV, No.4

Manpho Yonha Power Station (Photo by KCNA)

Manpho Yonha Power Station (Photo by KCNA)

Titles of articles found in this issue include:

  • Sanctions on NK’s Foreign Trade Bank Could Affect Millions
  • UNFPA Provides Medical Aid to NK mothers
  • Sanctions Hit Humanitarian Funding
  • Inter-Korean Business at a Standstill
  • Manpho Yonha Power Station Opened
  • June 28th New Management Methods in Force
  • Rason Could Be NK’s Shenzhen
  • Sinuiju Open to Western Tourists

…plus a number of other items, including a selection of North Korean tours by various tour operators. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering the RAC, by Justin Rohrlich

[CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner talks to New York City based journalist Justin Rohrlich about the early days of the RAC, an expatriate bar and social club that attained a surprisingly worldwide reputation as a must-visit venue for foreign visitors in Pyongyang. This article was published on 23 April 2013 in NKNews.org. –CanKor]

Remembering North Korea’s ‘Random Access Club’

Canadian Erich Weingartner recounts how he helped set up an exclusive foreigner only bar in Pyongyang

“This was the T-shirt we produced back then,” Weingartner says. “Don’t know if it was ever repeated. As you can see, no reference to ‘Random Access Club,’ haha. On the back of the shirt were the names of the agencies, both UN and NGO who were resident in North Korea at that time. 20 in all.”

“This was the T-shirt we produced back then,” Weingartner says. “As you can see, no reference to ‘Random Access Club,’ haha. On the back of the shirt were the names of the agencies, both UN and NGO, that were resident in North Korea at that time. 20 in all.”

Mirroring the experience of other expats that have lived in North Korea, Erich Weingartner says that when he arrived in Pyongyang in 1997 to head the Food Liaison Unit, a division of the UN World Food Programme, “there was literally nothing for foreigners to do” outside the Munsudong compound within which virtually all of them reside while in-country.

“In those days, they had a bowling alley, which still exists, and we used — we had our daughter’s birthday party there,” Weingartner tells me. “They had a couple of amusement parks in the city; there were some classical concerts you could go to; they had a zoo. I never went, it was apparently pretty sad to see the animals there, but it was available. Other than that, we mostly played volleyball and soccer and so on in the diplomatic compound.”

“The Russians had more access, for example, to a golf course, occasionally some hunting,” he remembers. “They’ve been there so long and have such a huge embassy, they have extra privileges in certain areas.”

But even though Weingartner, now Editor-in-Chief of CanKor, an Ontario-based initiative “seeking rational North Korea policy,” managed to obtain a North Korean driver’s license (the saga involved an interpreter who “sweetened” Weingartner’s incorrect answers to ensure he passed the oral portion of the exam and a road test that tested his ability to drive up a winding hill and halfway into a circular driveway, then back down to the bottom of the hill in reverse), his movements were still restricted. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Ottawa Round Table Part 3 – Canada-DPRK Bilateral Relations by Hartmuth Kroll

Canada-North Korea Bilateral Relations

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

Background

  • Crossed flag pin by Promex GmbH

    Without belabouring the point, the Asia Pacific region matters to Canada, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) has long been a destabilizing element in the region.

  • In February 2001, with the support and encouragement of its regional allies. Canada established diplomatic relations with the DPRK.
  • This initiative reflected the view that, over the long term, engagement offered the best prospects for integrating North Korea into the international community of nations.
  • Long-term goals for engagement included full denuclearization, improved governance and political reform, improved human rights and enhanced regional security. Nonetheless, there were few illusions as to what could be achieved immediately. Read the rest of this entry »

Ottawa Round Table Part 2 – Opening Remarks by Erich Weingartner

Finding the Right Balance to Aid North Korean People

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

Origin of this Round Table

In February 2011 a number of agencies received messages from DPRK authorities urgently requesting food aid. These requests unleashed a vibrant discussion within the humanitarian and policy communities as to whether the need is great enough to warrant emergency aid, and if so, whether monitoring can be sufficiently guaranteed to prevent diversion to the military or the elite at the expense of those most in need.

Assessment missions were sent by the FAO/WFP, the EU, the USA, as well as a consortium of US-based NGOs. All concluded that the food deficit is real, although there was considerable disagreement about the capacity of aid agencies to mount a robust monitoring regime. The EU and a number of countries decided to deliver modest quantities of aid. Canada contributed 2.5 million dollars to the WFP for eventual use in North Korea. The USA continued bilateral negotiations that resulted in a positive decision in December 2011. An announcement was to be made the week that Kim Jong Il died.

In early summer 2011 CanKor initiated discussions among Canadian NGOs as to whether the situation merited a Canadian initiative. Only a very small number of Canadian agencies still delivered modest amounts of targeted food aid to the DPRK. Continuing questions surrounding monitoring standards in the DPRK discouraged other NGOs from initiating any significant new food aid activities.

On the other hand, there were still a number of NGOs interested in convening a round table to engage in discussion about North Korean humanitarian dilemmas. Some were concerned that the food aid debate had become increasingly politicized. What was the basis of decisions surrounding food aid, for example? Were food aid decisions made for humanitarian purposes, or has food become an additional tool in the exercise of coercive diplomacy to further aims such as rolling back DPRK nuclear weapons development, promoting human rights, or encouraging democratic development and/or regime change? Read the rest of this entry »

Ottawa Round Table Part 1 – Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context

Canadian Humanitarians at Round Table in Ottawa

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

During the two-week glimmer of hope between the US-DPRK “Leap Day Deal” and the subsequent announcement of North Korea’s satellite launch, a small but persistent group of Canadian humanitarians met in Canada’s capital on Monday, 5 March 2012, to discuss “Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context”.

The representatives of organizations still actively engaged in assistance to the people of North Korea harbored no illusions that the current transition in the DPRK leadership would melt away the difficulties involved in the provision of humanitarian aid. There was, however, a consensus that whatever the international climate may be at any particular time, engagement is a key to projecting Canadian values into the situation, whether by the government or by civil society. When Canadian government policy is engagement, this tends to support the work of Canadian NGOs, who in turn embody the best of Canada’s reputation for peace and human security. When government policy is non-engagement, the activities of NGOs nonetheless continue to further Canadian values, thus laying the groundwork for future engagement policies.

During the past several years, strategic, military and human rights issues in relation to North Korea have received a considerable amount of attention by Canada and the international community. By and large, humanitarian issues have taken the back seat. The humanitarian group assembled in Ottawa hoped that the plight of the North Korean people would not fall through the cracks. The long-term goal of peace and human security on the entire Korean Peninsula should remain the central focus of Canadian policies. Although the recent leadership change has not yet provided sufficient indicators of change, participants felt that this is an opportune time for Canadian re-engagement to benefit the North Korean people. Read the rest of this entry »

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