North Korea Monitor

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BREAKING NEWS: North Accuses South of Naval Incursion

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From Reuters:

“The South Korean military’s warmongers have sent three battleships deep into our territorial waters in the West Sea (Yellow Sea) at around 11:45 am (0245 GMT) on April 3,” the communist state’s KCNA news agency said.

“South Korea’s military should clearly bear in mind that an unexpected countermeasure will follow if they continue to push battleships into (our waters) and raise tensions,” it said, demanding the South Korea investigate the incursion and punish those responsible.

No official comment yet from the South Korean Military. I’m really surprised by how fast things are moving with this story.

 UPDATE ONE: This comes via the Australian Broadcasting Company. Apparantly, North Korea has vowed to end all dialogue and attack the south.

North Korea says it is ready to abandon dialogue and attack the South, ignoring a call from its neighbour’s new president to return to talks aimed at ending its nuclear ambitions.

[…]

South Korea’s Defence Ministry says Pyongyang threatened “military responsive actions” during a telephone message between North Korean Lieutenant-General Kim Yong Chol and South Korean Major General Kwon Oh Sung.

More details as they come to me.

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Written by nkmonitor

April 4, 2008 at 12:20 am

North Korea’s Bellicose Tantrum Continues

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According to a Chosun Ilbo report, North Korean fighter jets have the buzzed the Northern Limit Line of the DMZ 10 times since the inauguration of Lee Myung Bak on February 25th. Such provocations have occurred in the past but “never with such frequency.” As of late, North Korea has used increasingly belligerent means to express its displeasure with the South’s new conservative government. According to the report:

The South Korean Defense Ministry is closely monitoring the moves, believing the North is intentionally creating tensions in the sea, skies and on the ground. Sources in the South Korean government and military on Sunday said North Korean fighters including MIG-21s took off from North Korean air bases such as Tokchon Air Base in South Pyongan Province, crossed the “Tactical Action Line” set by South Korea, to fly near the DMZ and the NLL on about 10 occasions since the Lee Myun-bak administration’s launch. The TAL is an imaginary line set by the South 20 to 30 km north of the DMZ and the NLL, based on the assumption that North Korean fighter planes can reach skies over the Seoul Metropolitan area just three to five minutes after take-off. Once they come close to the TAL, that is the signal for South Korean fighters to take off from Suwon Air Base and elsewhere.

Bellicose rhetoric is on the rise as well. Over the weekend, KCNA, mouthpiece of the Kim Jong Il regime, threatened South Korea with pre-emptive strikes of its own: “Everything will be in ashes, not just a sea of fire, once our advanced pre-emptive strike begins (AP via the Guardian).” At the same time, the KCNA has accused the South of provoking North Korean forces, threatening that conflict could break out any moment:

The south Korean warlike forces are now taking very disturbing military moves, vociferously asserting that the “northern limit line defends five islands in the West Sea” and “Yonphyong Islet is like a dagger to be thrust into one’s throat while Paekryong Islet the one to be thrust into one’s side”.Military brasshats including the chief of the General Staff of the Navy have held operational confabs on measures to defend the “northern limit line” to the end one after another in these areas. On March 18 the south Korean trigger-happy forces deployed more destroyers and guard ships in the frontline waters in the West Sea of Korea. On March 26 they infiltrated 14 warships deep into territorial waters of the DPRK side southeast of Ssanggyo-ri, Kangryong County, South Hwanghae Province on 13 occasions. The number of warships that intruded into those waters reached 5 or 6 on a daily average. In the meantime, fighter bombers and armed helicopters are kept fully ready to go into action any moment. They also issued an order to batteries of 155 mm caliber howitzers and various type guided weapons deployed on the above-said five islets to be ready to go into action. Combined firepower drills for “striking and destroying” warships of the Navy of the Korean People’s Army and drills for tactical naval maneuvers are staged on Paekryong, Taechong and Yonphyong Islets and in waters around them almost everyday. A situation in which an armed conflict may break out any moment is prevailing in the frontline waters in the West Sea due to the reckless military provocations of the south Korean military warmongers. Any attempt on the part of the south Korean military authorities to “protect” the “northern limit line” at any cost would only spark off a clash in the said waters (see: KCNA 3/28/2008 “ Spokesman for KPA Navy Command Issues Statement”).

The South, for its part, has reacted with calm. According to an AFP report, via Taipei Times, Southern military authorities will take a few days to take stock of the situation before responding:

In a first official reaction, the South’s defense ministry said it had no plans to respond immediately to the North’s message.
“The ministry will decide — within two or three days — on whether it should send a reply or not after scrutinizing North Koreans’ real intentions through consultations with the unification ministry and other agencies,” it said in a press statement.

As for the North’s possible motives, the Hankyoreh speculates that the North’s moves are intended to influence South Korea’s upcoming parlimentary elections and the April 18th summit between Lee Myung Bak and George W. Bush, as well as to telegraph the North’s intention that it too will take a less conciliatory approach to negotiations:

The North’s message is clear. The reclusive state seems to be rejecting the South Korean government’s attempts to link the nuclear problem to inter-Korean relations. It also appears to be refuting remarks made by the United States, which have indicated that as far as the nuclear matter goes, the ball has been put in the North’s court. The North also appears to be hinting that it will not ask the South for humanitarian aid.
[…]
However, Kim Seong-bae, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, said, “The actions taken by North Korea today and yesterday were part of an orchestrated manoeuvre [sic]. In the short term, the actions were aimed at increasing its negotiating power. But if things don’t go smoothly, the actions may indicate North Korea will stand its ground.”

Additionally:

The remarks were also interpreted as being the North’s official response after North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan and Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Christopher Hill met on March 13 in Geneva to try to resolve the impasse between them. Hill is planning to visit South Korea and other Asian nations next week, focusing attention on whether he will again meet with the North Korean Vice Foreign Minister. A senior South Korean government official said, “The remark is not understood to be the North’s final position on the matter as plans for behind-the-scenes talks between the U.S. and North Korea are underway. We need to watch the situation over the next one or two weeks,” the senior South Korean official said.

In a related editorial, the Hankyoreh, which is unabashedly pro-engagement, blamed the latest spat of tension on Lee Myung Bak:

However, an expert who spoke on condition of anonymity was somewhat more pessimistic. He said, “It is difficult for the North to easily decide or change its direction in terms of declaring its nuclear programs. The situation is not so good that we can think optimistically about the matter.” He added that the problem is that “President Lee’s administration hasn’t shown the will to engage in the process.”

UPDATE: In a second editorial on the rapid deterioration of North-South relations, the Hankyoreh reiterated its attacks on Lee Myung Bak,  blaming him for the current situation:

 Against such a non-responsive stance, some experts have raised questions about the crisis management abilities of the South Korean administration of President Lee Myung-bak. The inter-Korean relationship has grown worse following a recent series of hostile remarks made toward North Korea by senior South Korean government officials. In spite of this, however, a “policy of ignorance” being carried out by the new administration is making matters worse, experts have said.

Written by nkmonitor

March 31, 2008 at 12:50 am

LMB’s NK Policy Not a “Retrogression”

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The Hankyoreh, as expected, has slammed what it calls the “retrogression on North Korea policy” by the Lee Myung Bak administration. The pro-sunshine policy rag laments that

There has been a major loss of continuity and originality in policy towards North Korea, and the ministry’s report on its activities is a list of vague themes that are out of touch with reality. The tone of policy has been tailored to fit President Lee Myung-bak’s ideology, and it is in no small way possible it will lead to renewed conflict between the two Koreas.

The Hankyoreh begins its rant by deploying the classic pro-North false dilemma: “either we make nice with the ‘Dear Leader’ or we go to war!” Too bad the issue isn’t so cut-and-dry. The “relationship” between North and South over the past decade has been a relationship inasmuch as Neville Chamberlain’s relationship with Hitler was a “relationship.” Of course, the South should not maintain a belligerent policy towards the North, but I don’t think asking for reciprocity is too much. There are various “hues” of relationship possible between North and South that are neither appeasement nor war.

Despite the Hankyoreh’s idealistic objections based on the principle of “uri-minjok-ggiri-above-all-else,” a pragmatic approach is required. The South has every right to ask itself:  “what benefits have we gotten out of this relationship lately?” The answer, of course, is nothing tangible–besides feel-good nationalistic sentiments.

The editorial continues:

The new North Korea policy’s emphasis is negating the accomplishments of Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. A brief example would be how there is no single mention of the October 4 Summit Declaration and the June 15 Joint Statement, which should be a most basic part of inter-Korean relations. The summit declaration talks about policy goals like a “West Sea Peace Cooperation Zone,” a “Haeju Special Zone,” a shipbuilding yard, a two-stage development plan for Gaeseong Industrial Complex, and repairs on roads and railways, but all of these are missing from the ministry’s report, and now there’s no knowing when there might be prime ministers’ talks or a meeting of the economic cooperation committee. After listening to the ministry’s presentation of its report, President Lee Myung-bak instead spoke with special emphasis about the importance of the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement signed during the Roh Tae-woo presidency in 1991. In other words, he wants to negate the continuity in North Korea policy and turn back the clock on relations by about a decade.

Why should the Unification Ministry’s report mention those inter-Korean projects? What good did they bring to North-South relations? Did they build trust? Goodwill? No! Kim Jong Il couldn’t even be bothered to make the slightest concession to the South. After pouring all that no-strings-attached aid that bolstered Kim’s grip on power, he wouldn’t even allow the South Korean anthem to played prior to the recent World Cup Qualifier. If anything, all that pandering only reinforced Kim’s notion that his DPRK is the only legitimate Korea.  

Finally, the Hankyoreh concludes:

So Lee’s administration is essentially taking issues that need a far more mature level of relations with Pyongyang to even talk about seriously, then skipping everything that would build up to that, and talking only about the final destination. One can see how this is an unrealistic attitude for not taking one’s negotiating counterpart into consideration, given how almost none of the North Korea policy goals Seoul announced before the nineties ever saw fruition.

I agree with the notion that it will take time and confidence building measures to reach the “final destination,” but what happened in the past decade could hardly be described as contributing to a productive, healthy relationship.  On the contrary, through appeasement, North Korean policy makers quickly learned that they need not compromise to maintain their survival in the face of their failed domestic policies; that the South was waiting–on bended knee–to give aid and endorsement with out anything in return. It’s ironic that the Hankyoreh bashes Lee for “not taking one’s negotiating counterpart into consideration.” I think its Kim Jong Il who deserves that criticism. 

Written by nkmonitor

March 28, 2008 at 2:26 am

A South Korean Pre-Emptive Strike on North Korean Nuclear Facilities?

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For the first time, a high-ranking South Korean military officer has acknowledged the possibility of a pre-emptive strike on North Korean nuclear facilities, though no official plans are in the works to carry out such a strike. Gen. Kim Tae-young, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said as much in a hearing yesterday. Gen. Kim said such an option would only be used if the North’s facilities became a “military threat.” The Joongang Ilbo reports:

“We would identify possible locations of nuclear weapons and make a precise attack in advance,” Kim said when asked what he would do if North Korea were to develop the capability and intent to attack the South with nuclear weapons. Kim was the commander of the First Army and is a specialist in military strategy and tactics. “Our goal is to prevent North Korea’s nuclear weapons from exploding in our territory,” he told lawmakers.

Written by nkmonitor

March 27, 2008 at 1:53 am

South Korean Officials Expelled From Kaesong Complex

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North Korea ordred South Korean officials to leave Kaesong in retaliation for remarks made by the unification minister, says the Hankyoreh:  

North Korea expelled most of the South Korean officials from the inter-Korean office in the Kaesong industrial complex early Thursday, a government source said.

The measure was taken in protest of South Korean Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong’s recent remarks that it would be difficult to expand the complex without North Korea’s denuclearization, the source said.

“The South Korean government pulled 11 out of the 13 officials residing in the inter-Korean joint office in the Kaesong complex at about 3 a.m. Thursday after the North demanded the withdrawal of all of the officials,” the source said.

Only two South Korean officials, both in charge of facility maintenance, remain in the office.

The expulsion comes on the heels of recent comments by both President Lee and Unification Minister Kim calling for greater reciprocity in North-South relations. The Korea Times has more details on what was said:

The President made it clear that his government would engage in open dialogue with North Korea on the basis of national consensus and in cooperation with the international community

[President Lee’s]  remarks were construed as the President’s intention not to implement South Korean-backed big-ticket cross-border business projects until substantial progress is made in the international talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, North Korea experts said.

During the second-inter Korean summit in Pyongyang last October, former President Roh Moo-hyun promised North Korean leader Kim Jong-il a package of business projects using South Korean taxpayers’ money, inviting severe criticism from conservatives.

Lee said, however, existing inter-Korean business programs, such as a South Korean-backed tour of Mount Geumgang in the North and the operation of a joint industrial complex in North Korea’s border city of Gaeseong, should be continued, though there is still “room for improvement.”

Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong backed Lee’s policy line on North Korea demanding more reciprocity from the communist neighbor. Kim pledged the government would control the pace of inter-Korean economic cooperation in line with progress at the six-party nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

Written by nkmonitor

March 27, 2008 at 1:43 am

South Korea to Vote for NK Human Rights Resolution

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After years of abstaining for fear of upsetting the ‘Dear Leader’ up North, the South Korean government will vote in support of a UN resolution on North Korean human rights. The resolution will grant UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea Vitit Muntarbhorn another year-long mandate to investigate NK human rights abuses and calls on North Korea to respect human rights. (see this DailyNK interview with Muntarbhorn, a Thai national, from January of this year).

According to Chosun Ilbo’s analysis:

The decision confirms expectations that the new government in Seoul is taking a harder line with the North. A government official, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, said, “Previous administrations treated the human rights issue of North Korea from a nationalist standpoint. But the new government’s basic policy is to regard human rights as a universal value. The government will show the first example of concrete action in the upcoming UNHRC vote.”

At the same time, Chosun Ilbo released an editorial calling on the National Human Rights Commission of South Korea to take a tougher stand on North Korean human rights violations, noting,

“Article Three of South Korea’s Constitution stipulates North Korea as being part of the territory of the South. That means North Koreans are entitled to the same rights as South Koreans. This is why we accept North Korean defectors. The NHRC needs to know about the inhumane pain suffered by North Koreans and must investigate the difficulties faced by North Korean refugees in China and Southeast Asia. The NHRC must publicize the reality facing North Koreans. If we don’t, then we will have nothing to say to our North Korean brethren after reunification, if they ask us what we had done to help them during such hard times.”

Written by nkmonitor

March 26, 2008 at 2:06 am

Pyongyang Tours to Begin Soon

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Keumgangsan and Kaesong are currently only two North Korean destinations accessible to tourists coming from south of the DMZ. That will soon change. In addition to Mt. Paektu tours slated to begin this spring, the Seoul-based Pyeonghwa (lit: ‘peace’) group is in talks with the Pyongyang regime to begin offering golf-themed package tours to North Korea and tours to see the Arirang performance. Both tours would include a city tour. Unlike past tours, visitors would be able to fly directly from Seoul to Pyongyang. Also, unlike past regular tours to North Korea, this one will not be run by Hyundai-Asan.

South Koreans may soon be able to book a golf tour to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, thanks to the efforts of Seoul-based PyeongHwa Group, a pioneer in organizing travel packages to the isolated country.
Park Se-jin, manager of PyeongHwa Air Travel Agency Corp., the travel business arm of the group, said talks are now underway to allow golf package tours to the North Korean capital. “We are currently in the very early stages of the talks,” Park told The Korea Herald, rebuffing the report by Yonhap News, which declared that the golf tour could begin as soon as June. He also dismissed the report claiming that tours to the Arirang performance could begin this August.
The Arirang performance, named after a mournful Korean folk song about lost love, features an artistic show staged by tens of thousands of young North Korean performers. It is performed from August to October each year.
“We wish the tours could begin as soon as June, but I don’t think it is possible at this stage of the discussions,” Park said in a telephone interview, noting that the talks are now being held with the North’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee. He stressed that the approval process is complex and time-consuming, because it also involves reporting details of the discussions to the Ministry of Unification. South Korean visitors would be able to take a direct flight from Gimpo International Airport to Pyongyang’s airport, rather than having to go via China (see: Korea Herald “Golf in Pyongyang?” 3/14/2007).

Prices, however, are a bit steep:

A four-night five-day golf package tour, which would include two days of golf and a two-day tour of Pyongyang, is estimated to cost between 2.7 million won and 2.9 million won.
The package featuring the Arirang show and a city tour could cost 1.1 million won. (see: Korea Herald “Golf in Pyongyang?” 3/14/2007)

Be sure and check out this photo essay about Pyongyang’s 9-hole golf course.
 

Written by nkmonitor

March 14, 2008 at 12:54 am