Monthly Archives: February 2015

Good cop, bad cop on North Korea?

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Differences between the United States and South Korea over their approach to North Korea are becoming increasingly apparent. No danger of a rift between the United States and South Korea exists yet, but there’s a saying in Korean that perfectly sums up their situation: same bed, different dreams.

“The U.S. is going in one direction, and South Korea is going in the other,” said Choi Kang, vice president of the Asian Institute for Policy Studies, a respected Seoul think tank. “I think there may be some friction between the two sides.”

Those differences have become evident in recent weeks as South Korea has made tentative moves toward rapprochement with the North, even raising the prospect of a summit between President Park Geun-hye and the North’s Kim Jong Un.

Meanwhile, the United States has toughened its position, imposing a new round of sanctions since the Sony Pictures cyberattack and threatening more, while President Obama predicts the eventual collapse of the “authoritarian” state.

Park, having taken a hard line against Kim when she assumed power two years ago, has noticeably relaxed her stance on North Korea recently. Entering the third year of her five-year term, with few successes to point to so far, she could do with a boost from a summit, which generally has the effect of lessening fears of the North.

The divergence between the allies could hardly be more stark. President Obama struck a markedly hawkish tone when asked about North Korea in an interview with YouTube last week.  “It’s brutal and it’s oppressive,” he said, adding that the United States will keep ratcheting up the pressure on the North. “Over time, you will see a regime like this collapse.”

Meanwhile, North Korea doesn’t do anything for free. To secure the first summit between the two Koreas, in 2000, Kim Dae-jung’s administration paid $500 million to the North, and the price has apparently risen exponentially over the years. In an 800-page memoir, Park’s predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, writes that North Korea demanded an “absurd” $10 billion and almost a million metric tons in food aid in 2009 during discussions about a potential summit (which never happened).

[Washington Post]

UN official says North Korean human rights and cult of Kim can’t coexist

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A campaign within the United Nations to haul North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before an international court for crimes against humanity has touched off a defensive fury in Pyongyang, where it’s being treated like a diplomatic declaration of war , an aggressive act aimed not only at shutting down prison camps but also at removing Kim and dismantling his family’s three-generation cult of personality.

“It would be, I think, the first order of the day to get these 80,000 to 100,000 (prisoners) immediately released and these camps disbanded,” Marzuki Darusman, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “But that can only happen if this cult leadership system is completely dismantled. And the only way to do that is if the Kim family is effectively displaced, is effectively removed from the scene, and a new leadership comes into place.”

Such blunt words from a high-ranking U.N. official are unusual, although common among American officials.

Darusman said the General Assembly  resolution, passed by in December, is more significant because it holds Kim responsible based on a 372-page report of findings presented last year by the U.N.-backed Commission of Inquiry that detailed arbitrary detention, torture, executions and political prison camps.

North Korea’s intense response has included threats of more nuclear tests, mass rallies across the country, a bitter smear campaign against defectors who cooperated in the U.N. report and repeated allegations that Washington orchestrated the whole thing in an attempt at speeding a regime change. Its state media last week railed yet again against the U.N. findings, saying “those who cooked up the ‘report’ are all bribed political swindlers and despicable human scum.” It called Darusman, the former attorney general of Indonesia, an “opportunist.”

In a rare flurry of talks, North Korean diplomats at the U.N. lobbied frenetically to get Kim’s culpability out of the resolution without success. The proposal is now on the agenda of the Security Council, which is expected this year to make a decision on whether the issue should be referred to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

But here’s the reality check about the resolution: The likelihood of criminal proceedings against Kim is minuscule. It would likely be shot down by China or Russia, which have veto power on the Security Council. Also, while more than 120 countries support the International Criminal Court, the United States isn’t one of them, so it is somewhat awkward for Washington to push that option too hard.


Border Chinese fear marauding North Koreans

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On a cold, clear winter day last month, a North Korean soldier packed a pistol and slipped across the frozen Tumen River into northeastern China. He trekked about a mile to the tiny village of Jidi Tun. Then at dusk he opened fire on two elderly couples, killing all four people.

Most likely hungry from the shortage of food that plagues some units of the armed forces in North Korea, he was looking for sustenance, local officials said; some reports said he was drunk.

In most places, a solitary killer from another country would not cause much anxiety. But in China, whose relationship with North Korea has gone from warm to frosty in the last two years, and where many citizens ridicule the young and unpredictable North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, the government treated the episode with alarm.

The soldier was not the first North Korean to cross the border and wreak havoc. In September, a North Korean civilian walked into a nearby Chinese village and killed an elderly couple and their son in a robbery.

Over the past decade, many North Koreans have slipped into China to steal food, and even as Kim has made it more difficult with increased security on his side of the border, they continue to come.

In a triple killing in September, a North Korean man in his early 30s walked into Nanping village and with a hammer bludgeoned to death an elderly couple and their son as they slept. The North Korean man stole about $120 in Chinese currency, a cash bag from the son’s taxi and two cellphones.

The government installed floodlights and cameras in the two villages after the December killing, but no one feels safe, relatives say.

[New York Times]