Monthly Archives: August 2012

Rampant post-traumatic stress disorder among North Korean Refugees

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Rampant post-traumatic stress disorder among North Korean Refugees

Radio Free Asia reports that a study of post-traumatic stress disorder among North Korean defectors found that they reported certain traumatic events in North Korea with a high frequency.

Most commonly reported were: “witnessing public executions,” followed by “hearing news of the death of a family member or relative due to starvation,” “witnessing a beating,” “witnessing a punishment for political misconduct,” and “death of a family member or relative due to illness.”

The study, published in the international medical journal The Lancet, found symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 29.5 percent of North Koreans in South Korea, compared with a rate of 56 percent found among North Koreans in China in a separate study.

China North Korean ties as close as lips and teeth

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Prior to his death, Kim Jong Il visited China to introduce his heir apparent, Kim Jong Un, to Chinese senior leaders. And as he had done many times, Kim Jong Il also asked for continued economic and military aid and political support.

China-North Korean ties are so close they are frequently described “as close as lips and teeth.” The the two neighbors were Korean War allies.

Of all the regional powers, Beijing has the greatest potential leverage over Pyongyang. China supplies at least 80% of North Korea’s oil and significant amounts of food, fertilizer and military aid. The two Communist neighbors have frequent political, military and party-to-party exchanges.

Former CNN correspondent, Mike Chinoy, a veteran Korea-watcher who has visited North Korea several times, said: “The Chinese have made it extremely clear that they are not going to let Korea go down the drain. They are going to do whatever they need to do to prop it up.”

Foremost in Beijing’s mind, North Korea serves as a buffer, keeping the U.S. troops stationed in South Korea away from the Chinese border.


On North Korea’s economic development push

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Kornelius Purba, Senior Managing Editor of the Jakarta Post, has this to say about North Korea’s economic development push:

North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, has ambitions to revive the country’s collapsed economy as it is the only way to preserve his family’s control over the country. The young leader has apparently realized that he has no choice but to take quick action to rebuild the economy, as it is only a matter of several years before his regime will collapse if nothing is done to get the military-controlled economy back on track.

Kim Jong-un has taken an important preliminary step by reducing the military’s control of the economy. But his ambitions may backfire as the country has been under a military dictatorship for a very long time and the regime has little knowledge about market-based development, the key to China’s economic might today.

North Korea has little experience in opening its market to foreign investors and the few foreign companies allowed in, including those from China, have complained they were cheated.

The continuously increasing number of starving people represents a major potential threat to China’s national security in the event of a regime collapse and a subsequent flood of refugees spilling over the border. The failure to achieve food security in North Korea could destabilize the already fragile Korean Peninsula and the broader East Asia region.

Increasingly friendly relationship between North Korea and Iran

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Kim Yong-nam will attend the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Tehran, Pyonyang’s official news agency said. Yong-nam is the chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and has represented North Korea’s supreme leaders (both the late Kim Jong-Il and now his son, Kim Jong-un) in visits around the world.

The North Korean news agency also reported that an Iranian delegation had visited North Korea in July for “political negotiations and consultations on international developments.” That parley ended with both sides adopting a shared stand against “Western imperialism.”

The high-level relations between North Korea and Iran, both of which are under various international sanctions over their respective nuclear programs, may suggest an increasingly friendly relationship that could pose a grave threat to international security.

Despite the devastating impact on Iran’s economy (for example, its currency has plunged 40 percent since December), the sanctions have not led to any halting of Iran’s uranium enrichment program so far. Similarly, the U.N.’s sanctions on North Korea have also failed to dissuade Pyongyang from relinquishing its nuclear ambitions.

Without firm commitments by North Korea’s trading partners (i.e., China), the effectiveness of Western sanctions will be limited. (China does have incentive in preventing North Korea’s government from collapsing as that would likely trigger a huge influx of refugees across its borders.)

China accounts for 57 percent of North Korea’s total trade and has increased its trade volume with North Korea in 2010, according to Bloomberg. And now Iran also appears to be a major player in North Korea’s economy, to the dismay of U.N. and U.S. officials.

Concerns in the West are that a close relationship between North Korea and Iran would undermine, or at least weaken, sanctions placed upon these nations. And as China continues to build the two economic zones in North Korea, Western sanctions on North Korea could be neutralized.

Bridging the family gap between South and North Korea

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Kim Kyung-Jae has had success in reconnecting some of the tens of thousands of family members separated for decades by the world’s last Cold War frontier, the one between North and South Korea.

There are no civilian mail or phone connections across the closely guarded inter-Korean border, and many do not even know whether their loved ones are still alive. Sporadic reunions arranged by the two sides since 2000 have brought together only a fraction of those seeking news, and have been halted because of political tensions.

Kim Kyung-Jae and his colleagues in a nine-member foundation called the Separated Family Union try to bridge that gap, using the postal systems of third countries or brokers. Kim sends about 70 to 80 letters and packages every year to North Koreans at the request of families in the South. It takes roughly 30 days for letters to arrive and another 30 days for a reply to come back. In the case of letters, Kim mails them from Japan, where he is based. But Tokyo restricts the contents of packages to the North to comply with UN sanctions, so those are sent through China.

Brokers handle their passage through the Chinese postal system and are also used to track down long-lost family members. For the professional intermediaries who cross the border between China and North Korea, a home town is all that is necessary to discover whether relatives are still alive, and if so, their address.

Sometimes even letters cannot be sent by a public route, in which case Shim Goo-Seob, co-founder of the foundation, takes over and arranges for a broker to make a more unorthodox delivery. The document could be tied to a rock and thrown over a narrow section of the Yalu river border with China, or sneaked through in a container truck. Until a few years ago all postal traffic was one-way, with South Koreans looking for relatives in the North. But now many North Koreans are seeking family members across the border through the brokers, Kim said.

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A Tale of Two Korean Countries

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South Koreans who receive a letter from a long-lost relative in the North for the first time usually burst into tears out of pity at the plight of their relatives, says Kim Kyung-Jae of the Separated Family Union.

“Southerners think they know how bad the situation is there, but it’s a whole lot worse than it appears. Things that are trivial to us here in South Korea can be of great use there.”

“Relatives in the North ask us to send anything from rubber to used clothes, but what they want most is medicine for disease, mostly tuberculosis, and food to combat malnutrition.” Basic household items are also in demand. “Things that we have, like scissors and knives? They don’t have them,” said Kim.

The staff of the Separated Family Union try to bridge the gap using the postal systems of third countries or brokers. Brokers take about 30 percent commission if transferring money, and charge roughly $203 to deliver a 20-kilogram (44-pound) package through the Chinese post. Despite the high commission and the difficulties, families in the South keep sending packages because they make such a difference in the poverty-stricken North.

“The Northerners always send letters saying the small efforts and money we’ve put in here has made a big difference there,” said Kim.

Kim himself left the North in 1950, the first year of the Korean War, with all his brothers. But he had to leave his youngest sister behind. He was 19 and she was eight. “That’s the last time we saw or talked to each other until 1990, when I miraculously received her address (through an acquaintance allowed to visit the North) and we started exchanging letters,” said Kim.

“It’s unrealistic to hope the two Koreas will be unified while I’m alive,” he said. “But I long for freer communication between families because I want to help my sister and other families reunite.”

South Korean aid group visits flood-stricken North Korea

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Representatives of a South Korean civic group, the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCK) which is an association of 51 private aid groups, is visiting counterparts in North Korea to discuss flood aid.

Consultation over the provision of relief aid to North Koreans following the recent floods is underway.

North Korea’s special economic zone in Rason

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North Korea’s special economic zone in Rason

The road from China to North Korea’s special economic zone in Rason, in the country’s far northeast, is paved, power substations are being built, railway lines are being linked to routes to Siberia, and piers at the harbor expanded. And this week an international trade fair took place, offering foreign investors and visitors from China, Britain, Russia and elsewhere, as well as journalists from The Associated Press, a glimpse at the efforts to turn a long-neglected, remote region into a manufacturing, tourism and transportation hub.

Over the past two years, North Korea’s leadership has made the bid to transform Rason, which encompasses the cities of Rajin and Sonbong, into an international hub a priority, along with drawing much-needed foreign investment. Last week, Jang Song Thaek, a senior official and uncle of leader Kim Jong Un, led a visit to China to discuss joint co-operation on developing economic zones along the border in an indication that the project has the attention of top officials.

North Korea’s economy has languished in sharp contrast to the booming market economies of its neighbors. Pyongyang has not publicly released detailed economic data for decades, but the CIA Factbook estimates its per capita GDP at $1,800. Outside the capital, Pyongyang, much of the country remains poor, with buildings and roads in dire need of repair, and the United Nations says two-thirds of North Koreans face some form of chronic food shortage.

A government directive to seek foreign business partnerships is a shift in a policy away from the insularity of past decades. Still, doing business in North Korea is a challenge. Most foreign visitors cannot travel freely in and out of the country, drive their own cars or communicate with their local counterparts by cellphone — basics for conducting business anywhere else in the world. Ensuring steady electricity, broadband Internet and access to international banking systems has also proven difficult.

And even longstanding ties with China haven’t guaranteed smooth sailing. Earlier this month, a Chinese firm, the Xiyang Group, warned other companies against investing in North Korea, calling its four-year experience trying to tap into North Korea’s mining industry “a nightmare.”

Kim Jong Un will reportedly attend Non Aligned Movement Summit

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Kim Jong Un will travel to Iran to attend an international meeting in Tehran next week, his first trip overseas since succeeding his father Kim Jong-Il as leader of North Korea, Arirang News reports.

A Iranian spokesman confirmed that Kim Jong Un will attend the Non Aligned Movement Summit. Several foreign leaders, including Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have already said they will attend the summit, which is being held in Tehran from Aug. 26 to 31. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will also attend despite strong opposition from Israel and Jewish groups.

The Non Aligned Movement was born in 1961 at the height of the Cold War and was intended to be bloc of nations that sided neither with NATO nor the Warsaw Pact.

Will South Korea have a female president?

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Park Geun Hye, whose father ruled South Korea as dictator for 18 years, won the ruling party’s presidential nomination today, bringing her a step closer to her goal of becoming the country’s first female leader.

Park became acting first lady at 22 after her mother was killed in a bungled North Korean assassination attempt on Park Chung Hee.

Her party changed its name in January and announced a less hardline stance on totalitarian North Korea, which has shown no sign of abandoning its nuclear weapons program since Kim Jong Un succeeded his father Kim Jong Il as leader in December. South and North Korea technically remain at war as their 1950-53 conflict ended without a peace treaty.