Monthly Archives: August 2014

North Korea’s failed propaganda ads in western newspapers

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From 1969 to 1997, the North Korean leadership purchased expensive full-page ad space in the most prominent western newspapers, Benjamin R. Young reports for NK News.

The ads, which cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, were placed in high-profile publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian.

North Korea began buying the ads in Western newspapers in the late 1960s in an effort to promote Kim Il Sung and Juchethe state-promoted political philosophy in the North that emphasizes self-reliance and a strong military.

Young notes: “Even supporters of North Korea criticized their international propaganda campaign. Sean Garland of the Irish Republican Army visited North Korea in 1983 and told his Korean comrades that putting full-page ads expressing Kim Il Sung’s ideas into the Irish Times of ‘was a waste of money because nobody f—ing read them.’ “

In many cases, the failure of the North Korean propaganda came from Pyongyang’s apparent ignorance of the papers’ readerships. One ad, placed in a Middle Eastern newspaper, bore the headline “Kim Il Sung Is A Divine Man.” The ad was not well received by the newspaper’s Muslim readership.

The ads were more likely propaganda for the North Korean population than for western readers. North Korean media would report on the ads, claiming that they were articles and editorials written by westerners in praise of the north. The model was developed to convince the average North Korean that the Kims were treated as major international statesmen — and not as pariahs they actually were.

By the late 1990s, this project of placing propaganda in western media was abandoned.

[SF Gate] 

Senior North Korean official defects to Russia

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A South Korean newspaper reports that a high-ranking North Korean official who managed leader Kim Jong Un’s personal finances has defected to Russia.

The newspaper Joong Ang Ilbo on August 29 quoted an unidentified source as saying that Yun Tae Hyong, a senior representative of North Korea’s Daesong Bank, disappeared last week in Nakhodka, a Russian port near the North Korean border, with $5 million.

The newspaper quoted the source as saying that Yun was “allegedly requesting asylum”, and that Pyongyang had asked Russian authorities for cooperation in his capture and repatriation.


The process of getting defectors’ remittances to North Korea

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The number of North Korean refugees now in South Korea who remit money to their families still in the North is rising.

“Some 15,000 North Korean refugees have settled in the country, and over 6,000 of them are remitting money to North Korea,” a government official said. “We understand the size of the remittances is also growing.” An official with a refugee organization said there must be more than 10,000 who remit money to their families in the North.

Remittance routes are clandestine. Money is remitted to a Chinese broker, who contacts another in North Korea, who pays the recipient with his own money and settles the account with the Chinese broker later, leaving no documentary trail.

Currencies are usually American dollars and Chinese yuan. Commissions range between 15 and 20 percent, according to sources. “Remittances through brokers designated by North Koreans generally reach the recipient without a hitch, but Chinese brokers contacted in China are liable to steal the money,” a refugee said. The brokers handle tens of millions of dollars and are linked to organized gangs.

In the past, remittances required enormous bribes. First a man had to be sent to North Korea to bribe guards, with commissions exceeding 40 percent. But with the emergence of remittance brokers and the establishment of an organized system, the amount of money that reaches North Korean families has increased substantially.

The North Korean won is practically worthless in international exchange. $1000 would be the equivalent of 100 years’ worth of earnings and buys two apartments in places like Chongjin, North Hamgyeong Province, or Hamhung, South Hamgyeong Province.

[Chosun Ilbo]

North Koreans send money to defector in S. Korea

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North Koreans have sent money to a family of defectors in South Korea in the first reported case of its kind.

Specialist website the Daily NK on Tuesday cited sources in the North as saying two sisters who sell Korean and Japanese-made home appliances in a market in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, wired money to their youngest sister, who defected to South Korea but is having a tough time making ends meet.

It is common for many of the 27,000 North Korean defectors in South Korea to send money to their families in the North, but this is apparently the first time the opposite has happened.

The two sisters, who were raised in Japan, had apparently done well from their business. This case confirms that a growing number of North Koreans are becoming wealthy by selling goods in open-air markets.

The woman, who defected to South Korea two years ago, reached out to her sisters when she had a tough time adjusting to life in the South. One source said people in the market in Chongjin where the two sisters work were apparently surprised to learn that a defector was experiencing financial problems, contrary to popular belief that defecting to the more affluent South would guarantee financial security.

[Chosun Ilbo]

United Nations’ Food Aid Program for North Korea lacks funding to continue

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The United Nations’ food assistance agency says it may have to stop operating in North Korea because of a lack of funding, as donors continue to shy away from the rogue state.

Giving aid to North Korea is politically sensitive, particularly in light of the widely held view that Pyongyang is able to feed its people but is instead developing its military capabilities.

The World Food Programme has distributed aid in North Korea since a famine in the mid-1990s, but the amount has steadily dropped over the past decade as Pyongyang defied the international community’s calls to stop nuclear tests. In 2001, it distributed 900,000 metric tons of food in North Korea; in 2013, the figure was 46,000 metric tons, the agency says.

The WFP, which is funded by voluntary contributions from private donors and U.N. member states, says North Korea continues to face regular food shortages. The agency says more than 80% of North Korean households don’t eat adequately during the so-called lean season from May to August, with many limiting portions or adding water to food.

The WFP works in North Korea through a partnership with the government. Since 1998, the WFP has been producing fortified biscuits enriched with vitamins and minerals in 14 government-operated factories across the country. But now only two of these factories are now operational, Mr. Oshidari said.

A lack of funding has also forced the WFP to scale back a two-year, $200 million operation aimed at feeding 2.4 million of women and children in North Korea. Mr. Oshidari said the program is now targeting 1.8 million women and children because of cutbacks. “Without further donor support, the WFP’s nutrition-based programs are at risk.”

[Wall Street Journal]

Chinese policy to get rid of all missionaries by 2017?

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Proselytizing by foreigners is officially illegal in China, and China is no longer turning a blind eye.

Paul Yoo, a South Korean missionary, had lived untroubled by authorities for years in northeastern Chinese city. The knock on Mr. Yoo’s door marked the beginning of a quiet forced evacuation of foreign missionaries, including hundreds of South Koreans, some of whom have worked to train and convert Chinese, and others who have helped Christian defectors from North Korea.

Those who remain live in mounting fear that they will be next, as China’s new president Xi Jinping seeks to rid the country of foreign influences and effectively nationalize Christian churches to bring them under state control.

“This crackdown, and the people being deported, has intensified starting from May,” said Rev. Peter Jung, director of Justice For North Korea, which supports North Korean defectors. And, he said, “the number of missionaries getting arrested has increased.”

The Chinese pressure on missionaries, however, extends far beyond the North Korean border, suggesting Beijing’s chief motivation is concern about religion.

“One of the aims of Xi Jinping’s policies is to get rid of all missionaries by 2017,” said one missionary who continues to work in north-eastern China.

Such a claim is impossible to verify. Mr. Xi, the Chinese president, has publicly said no such thing. But fears in the missionary community of a coming clean sweep offer a window into the degree of alarm that has spread. The missionary asked The Globe to reveal no potentially identifying details, including his age or nationality, how much time he and his wife have spent in China or the nature of their work there.

[Globe and Mail]

Chinese crackdown on missionaries to the North Koreans

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Conditions in China have never been easy for foreign missionaries, and most try to keep a low profile. They work for so many different organizations and denominations that numbers are hard to come by. But from interviews with nearly a dozen former and active missionaries, experts and academics it’s clear at least hundreds – perhaps nearly 1,000 – have been forced out of China.

In early 2013, at the peak, China was home to some 2,000 to 4,000 missionaries from South Korea alone; U.S. missionaries made up large numbers as well.

The forced departures form the background to the detention a little more than two weeks ago of Canadians Kevin and Julia Garratt, a  Christian couple who had run a coffee shop in Dandong, a Chinese city on the North Korean border. Chinese authorities have accused them of stealing state secrets, but said little about what they have done wrong. Canadian officials believe their detention is likely China’s response to allegations of Chinese espionage in North America, including by a Canadian immigrant who is accused of co-ordinating hacking attacks to steal U.S. fighter jet secrets.

Yet the Garratts also stood at a dangerous nexus of issues that stir Chinese suspicion, by virtue of their personal faith, their humanitarian work with North Korea and the donations from Canadian churchgoers that supported them. That background almost certainly attracted the attention of authorities, though it may not be the primary reason for the couple’s detention.

China is North Korea’s closest ally, but the two nuclear powers still operate with great of mutual suspicion, and the Garratts live in a place that is the focus of intense Chinese military and intelligence scrutiny. Some of that is directed at Christian missionaries who play a critical role in the underground railroad that secrets North Korean defectors out of China.

“If you are a North Korean in China, the only place where you can realistically be given food and shelter is a church,” said Andrei Lankov, a Russian scholar and expert on North Korea. Often, that means the involvement of missionaries, who “actively proselytize among the North Korean refugees,” and train them in spreading Christianity inside North Korea.

The eviction of missionaries is in some ways a mark of China’s own perceived global strength, as an increasingly confident Beijing seeks to define China, an atheist state with government-run churches, on its own terms. Yet it also threatens to revive a point of conflict between China and Western nations, which have long criticized the Communist country for its refusal to allow free pursuit of religion.

[Globe and Mail]

The Church in North Korea

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North Korea’s cryptic response to the Pope’s visit to Seoul is emblematic of the nation’s complicated relationship with religion in general. Its constitution formally grants citizens religious freedom, but in reality, religious practice is punishable by public execution or banishment to the nation’s kwan-li-so prison camps.

The few churches in Pyongyang are maintained by the state in order to give the appearance of religious practice; congregants are actors bussed in to services for the benefit of tourists.

It hasn’t always been this way. North Korea actually has a long history with Christianity. Catholic missionaries first arrived on the Korean Peninsula in 1784. There, prominent Korean Studies historian Andrei Lankov reports, the Church took root with such success that by the 1920s, Pyongyang was known among missionaries as “the Jerusalem of the East.” Kim Il-sung himself grew up in a Christian household, and was reportedly a church organist as a teenager.

In her book Escape from North Korea, journalist Melanie Kirkpatrick writes of North Korea’s underground church. Figures reporting on the size of such organizations are inherently subject to inaccuracy, but her estimate puts their number at 200,000 to 400,000 adherents, somewhere around 1% of North Korea’s population.

Though their numbers are small, Christians in North Korea are important for at least two key reasons. First, they are faithful in quiet opposition to an ideology of state propaganda that amounts to a religion of dictator worship. The modest ideological diversity they represent is anathema to authoritarianism and may constitute the seeds of a freer future North Korea.

Second, Christians are key actors in what Kirkpatrick calls Asia’s underground railroad – a network of safe houses that help North Korean defectors escape to China and beyond. Defectors’ testimonies bring to light the heinous human rights abuses of the Kim regime, which will eventually oblige the international community to respond. The defectors also reach out to their family and friends in North Korea with reports of the outside world, exposing what the state propaganda calls “paradise on earth” for the hellish prison it really is.

[Huffington Post]

Funding problems for UN food aid program in North Korea

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The World Food Program may have to shut down its operations in North Korea by early next year unless it gets more funding from international donors by this autumn, the U.N. agency’s director for Asia said Friday.

WFP, which has the largest presence of any U.N. agency in the isolated country, has already scaled back its planned two-year, $200 million program to feed 2.4 million people because it has only enough funds to cover about a quarter of the cost.

Regional director Kenro Oshidari told The Associated Press by phone from Bangkok, Thailand, that to run a credible nutritional program, aimed at preventing stunting in children, it needs about $50 million more. That would target about 670,000 children under 2 years of age and pregnant and lactating mothers.

Without a replenishment of funds by October or November, WFP could be forced to shut down operations by January or February 2015, he said.

“I have been going to DPRK for many years and you see these very short children. You really do not want to see a physically or intellectually disadvantaged future generation in that country,” Oshidari said, referring to its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea has alienated much of the international community over its pursuit of nuclear weapons even as it struggles to feed its own people. There’s also been long-standing concern that aid could be diverted to feed the elite, although the WFP says it now has the best monitoring arrangements it’s ever had.

Another problem: The plethora of humanitarian emergencies competing for international funds, such as Iraq, Syria and the Central African Republic.

 [Stars and Stripes]