North Korean sailors rescued in 3 adrift ships

Three North Korean ships, two of which were fishing boats, have been discovered in succession by South Korean military and police, while they were adrift within South Korea’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the East Sea.

Seven to eight crew members from the three ships were rescued. Rescued crew members testified that a number of their fellow crew members died of hunger while their boats were adrift. All rescued sailors were found to have been in severe malnutrition. The ships are believed to have set sail around September or October. The ships either had their engines out of order or were not equipped with a motor.

The South Korean National Intelligence Service and the Defense Security Command are questioning the crew members whether they have intention to defect to the South.

One crew member strongly demanded that he be repatriated to the North, and the authorities plan to repatriate him via the inter-Korean truce village of Panmunjom soon. Whether the other crew members have intention to defect the North remains unknown.

Earlier, on Nov. 30, a wooden North Korean boat was discovered in waters near Kyoto, Japan, and eight completely decomposed bodies were found in the boat.

[Dong-a Ilbo]

China and its Trump strategy

When Donald Trump becomes U.S. president next month, one issue above all others could force his new administration to work closely with China and underscore why he and Beijing need each other – North Korea. A nuclear armed North Korea, developing missiles that could hit the U.S. west coast, is clearly bad news for Washington but also Pyongyang’s sometimes-reluctant ally Beijing, which fears one day those missiles could be aimed at them.

“There is enormous space for the two countries to cooperate on North Korea. The two must cooperate here. If they don’t, then there will be no resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue,” said Ruan Zongze, a former Chinese diplomat now with the China Institute of International Studies, a think-tank affiliated with the Foreign Ministry. “It’s no good the United States saying China has to do more. Both have common interests they need to pursue, and both can do more,” he added.

North Korea is a tricky proposition even at the best of times for China, and simply easing up on U.N. sanctions as a way to express displeasure at Trump’s foreign policies could backfire badly for China, said one China-based Asian diplomat. “They can’t really do that without causing themselves problems,” the diplomat added, pointing to China’s desire to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

While China was angered by Trump’s call this month with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, …it was also quite restrained, said a senior Beijing-based Western diplomat. “China’s game now is to influence him and not antagonize him,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

China believes the two countries need each other, and as Trump is a businessman he understands that, the People’s Daily’s wrote last month.


How China will work with Trump

Here’s the scenario: Washington suddenly makes an unusual move in Asia that China doesn’t like. Beijing’s public response is measured, but it works behind the scenes to undermine US-led diplomacy. After a few months, Beijing cools off and resumes its cooperation.

As a senior UN diplomat described it, his Chinese colleagues have been warming up to the idea of toughening Security Council sanctions on North Korea. After bouncing ideas around with their American counterparts, they suddenly clammed up. Any attempt to work on a sanctions resolution was met with cold silence. “The deployment of THAAD changed the equation for China,” the diplomat explained.

Yet last week, bingo: The UN Security Council unanimously — China included — agreed on what victorious US diplomats described as “the toughest sanctions resolution in history.” (OK, they always say that — but still . . . )

Why the Chinese zigzag? One reason Beijing props up the North Korean regime is fear: If Kim Jong Un’s oppressive regime collapses and the peninsula unites under Seoul’s rule, China will be surrounded by strong pro-American democracies.

True, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan don’t only undermine China’s authoritarian regime by their mere existence. But, in Beijing’s view, they may one day threaten China militarily. American THAADs near China’s borders, though defensive, are a scary step in that direction. Which explains why its diplomats refused, for months after the THAAD announcement, to even contemplate a UN sanctions resolution against North Korea.

On the other hand, Pyongyang’s crazed antics are beyond the pale even for Beijing’s leaders, as anti-American as they may be. So China’s UN hands returned to the negotiation table and, together with American diplomats, forged a sanctions resolution meant to put the fear of god in godless Kim.

[Excerpt of Opinion page in New York Post]

Perception of defectors in South Korea continues to improve

There are now over 30,000 North Korean defectors residing in South Korea.

And according to the “2015 Reunification Awareness Study” conducted by Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, citizens who held a friendly (45.6%) view of defectors from North Korea were outnumbered by those who felt distant from them (54.4%). However, the number of citizens who view defectors in a positive light is increasing.

While in 2007 only 36.1% of people responded favorably to North Korean defectors, the proportion increased to 40% in 2015.

“If you compare this situation to 10 years ago, I believe that South Korean society has experienced positive changes in regards to its treatment of defectors. 20 years has now passed since defectors began officially entering South Korea, and there are greater settlement benefits, and perceptions of this have slowly changed,” said Shin Mi Nyo, president of the Organization for One Korea who has been involved in defector resettlement efforts for over 14 years.

However, social distance, referring to the relative degree of intimacy towards defectors on a person to person basis has remained unchanged. Those who answered the survey increasingly sought to distance themselves from defectors as these individuals were placed hypothetically closer in relation to them: from neighbor to co-worker to business and marriage partner.

[Daily NK]

Sex lives of North Koreans

North Korea watcher Dr. Andrei Lankov explained that the nation inherited its traditional values from the former USSR under the reign of its former supreme leader Kim Il Sung who died in 1994. ‘Innocence’ among North Korean girls is still “seen as the natural and desirable state of mind” – with sex before marriage still frowned upon.

However some attitudes to sex are changing under the rule of their latest leader Kim Jong-un.

Writing in Lankov claimed: “In the days of Kim Il Sung’s ‘national Stalinism’, the elite did womanize (like a great many powerful males have done since time immemorial), but discretion was expected.

“Now elite males are quite willing to showcase their young mistresses, and among the top business elite a man is almost required to keep a mistress. Foreign diplomats in Pyongyang have noticed recently that some officials have begun to appear in public places with young beauties.”

Dr. Lankov also explained that divorce is still stigmatized in North Korea. Several women are known to have fled across the border rather than divorce their husband.

A 2014 study revealed 29.8% of all refugee women had participated in extramarital sex while in North Korea – a level which might be even higher than in the United States, Dr Lankov explained.

[The Mirror]

UN discusses North Korea’s human rights abuses despite objections from China and Russia

The U.N. Security Council on Friday met to discuss North Korea’s “appalling” human rights situation, overriding a bid by China, Russia and three other countries (Angola, Egypt and Venezuela) to block the meeting.

It was the third time Beijing has failed to stop the annual discussion at the Security Council since a U.N. commission of inquiry in 2014 accused Pyongyang of committing atrocities unparalleled in the modern world. Pyongyang’s sole ally and trade partner, China has long argued that international efforts should firmly focus on talks to denuclearize North Korea.

The U.N. commission of inquiry found compelling evidence of torture, execution and starvation in North Korea, where between 80,000 and 120,000 people are being held in prison camps.

“There has been no improvement in the truly appalling human rights violations in the country,” said U.N. rights official Andrew Gilmour.

South Korean Ambassador Cho Tae-yul told the council that North Korea had squandered $200 million on two nuclear tests and 24 missile launches — funds that Cho said should have been spent on easing the dire humanitarian situation.

[The Japan Times]

Ex-prisoners of North Korea speak out in Baltimore

Former prisoners took part in a mock trial before judges, arranged by human rights groups to raise awareness of inhumane conditions in North Korea’s prisons. At the event, hosted by John Hopkins University in Baltimore, former prisoners described the human rights abuses they were forced to endure.

One of the speakers was Kang Chol-hwan, a defector who escaped from North Korea in 1992, after spending ten years in the Yodok concentration camp, where he was incarcerated as a child with his family. The ex-prisoner-turned-activist spoke out about the terrible conditions inside the camp, where it is believed thousands of people are still being kept captive and worked to death.

Chol-hwan described how he and his family were forced to survive on vermin and were made to carry out slave labor. Recalling his time in a North Korean camp, Chol-hwan said: “Daily life in the work camps is very mundane. We wake up at 5 am and are forced to work until sunset. We are given lessons on Kim il-sung and Juche. We are forced to watch public executions.

He added: “We are physically abused – hit and tortured. I think of it as another form of Auschwitz. These work camps are like products of Nazism, an abusive government needs elements such as Nazi concentration camps. They just have different ways of killing people.”

Chol-hwan said escapees of the camp usually got out with the help of the South Korean government or missionaries. He said: “Missionaries came and prayed for us. The heavens helped me and I was [eventually able to get from] from China to South Korea.”

[Daily Express]

Deserved praise for Kim Jong Un regime’s reconstruction efforts?

Months after heavy flooding destroyed parts of North Korea’s northeastern region in late August and early September, Kim Jong Un’s regime has termed the disaster recovery after mass mobilization a “miraculous victory” for the East Asian country.

The heavy rains in North Korea’s northeastern region triggered by typhoon Lionrock in late August and early September reportedly destroyed over 11,600 buildings, almost 180 sections of roads and more than 60 bridges, leaving hundreds of people dead and tens of thousands others stranded.

A mass mobilization movement, referred to as the “200-day battle” has been credited for the “victory” on the “reconstruction front” in North Hamgyong Province, state-controlled news agency KCNA reported Wednesday.

KCNA reported that 11,900 new homes have been built for residents who lost their shelters because of the floods, in addition to over 100 facilities —from nurseries to medical clinics — having been built to assist those in need. Pyongyang also said another 15,000 homes have been repaired.

However, some people in the country are not as happy with the efforts as Pyongyang is attempting to show. A source in North Hamgyong Province told South Korean news service Daily NK that the newly-built homes are “being turned down by a lot of residents, and now it appears about 10 percent of the homes are vacant.”

The fast pace of redevelopment efforts — which could take up to take three years in a developing country according to a shelter adviser with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies — has raised questions over the sustainability of the construction quality.

[IBT Media]

MicroSD cards the key to smuggling info into North Korea

Tiny memory cards and fluffy teddy bears are among the most popular items for North Koreans shopping in Dandong, China’s gateway city to its impoverished and isolated neighbor.

North Korean traders are the big buyers for the memory cards – and that could get them into trouble back home.

“We help them copy whatever they want onto microSD cards,” said Yao, who would only give his surname, in his tiny store primarily selling cameras. “They usually want South Korean TV dramas,” he said, sliding open a display cabinet to reveal a stack of the tiny memory cards, each the size of a fingernail, that slot directly into DVD players and computers.

The flow of information in and out of North Korea is tightly controlled by authorities. Most North Koreans cannot access the internet or foreign media and share content secretly on USB sticks. But tiny microSD cards are increasingly popular now because North Korea has been cracking down on USBs, Yao said. “It’s getting harder to bring USBs across the border, customs will check what’s on them. But microSD cards are smaller, easier to slip through,” he said.

Apart from their small size – the cards can be woven into clothes or hidden between the pages of a book – MicroSD cards can often be directly inserted into a “Notel“, a device popular in North Korea which can be powered by a car battery and plays DVDs and media from USB sticks and memory cards.

“MicroSD cards make it easier and safer for North Koreans to smuggle foreign digital media in from China,” said Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an organization which works with defectors. “Once inside, it gets copied onto multiple USB sticks and memory cards, making it difficult for the authorities to effectively block out foreign information that undermines their propaganda and ideologies,” Park said.


Kim Jong-un’s wife reappears in public after nine month absence

Ri Sol-ju, wife of Kim Jong-un has reappeared in public after seeming to vanish for nine months – prompting speculation she may have given birth to a male heir.

Ri Sol-ju reappeared – in the full gaze of the public alongside her husband – during an air combat training competition. Local media reported that she appeared comfortable to be at Kim Jong-un’s side as they watched the display by the Korean People’s Air Force and Defense (KPAF).

But there was no comment by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) as to the reasons behind her extended absence – or an exact date of when the photo was taken.

According to the South Korean news agency Yonhap News, Ri Sol-ju was last seen on a tour of a new commercial district and health complex in Pyongyang on March 28 of this year.

In May Kim Jong-un hosted the country’s first party congress in 36 years – and his wife was nowhere to be seen.

And over the past 9 months Kim Jong-un has been continuously spotted out and about touring the length and breadth of the country, never with his First Lady.

Ri Sol-ju had curiously also not been mentioned in any state reports over the last nine months.

 [The Mirror]