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The Dear Sister Disappears

A quick break at marching practice North Korea

A quick break at marching practice North Korea. Photo: Joseph A Ferris III/flickr.

TOKYO – The Korean peninsula is stirring. In December, South Koreans will go to the polls to choose President Lee Myung-bak’s successor in what is currently a three-way contest. Meanwhile, China is seeking to seize opportunistically on the recent flare-up of a territorial dispute between South Korea and Japan to court the government in Seoul. But, perhaps most important, one of the pillars of the North Korean dictatorship may now be cracking – at a time when the country must once again cope with a severe, man-made food shortage.

On September 25, the South Korean media reported rumors that Kim Kyong-hui, the sister of the late “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il – and the aunt of North Korea’s twenty-something leader Kim Jong-un – was seriously ill. The reports have not been confirmed, but her name was missing from the list of attendees at a recent Supreme People’s Assembly. In secretive North Korea, that seems to be a clear sign that something is afoot. Singapore and China have been mentioned in Asian intelligence circles as possible treatment locations for Kim Kyong-hui. » More

Why is Russia Favored by Mongolia and North Korea?

Border between Russia and Mongolia. Photo: Geoff Sowrey/flickr

Russia is favored by Mongolia and North Korea just as the United States is welcomed by some of its Southeast Asian partners. At the same time, Mongolia and especially North Korea provide opportunities for Russia to raise its stakes in Northeast Asian matters.

Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and relative inattention by the Kremlin in the 1990s, Ulaanbaatar and Pyongyang never abandoned their attempts to renew ties with Russia. High-ranking political and military officials constantly made calls to advance political, military, economic, and cultural ties with Moscow. Positive responses came after a decade, under Russian President Putin. Putin’s visit to the DPRK and Mongolia in 2000 demonstrated the Kremlin’s new emphasis on two its former allies, whose industrial facilities and enterprises were built with Soviet assistance and technology. Their treaties of mutual assistance with Russia were replaced by treaties of good neighborliness in 1993 (Mongolia) and 2001 (North Korea). And the $11 billion debts incurred during the Soviet era, were resolved favorably for Mongolians in 2003 and North Koreans in 2012. As a result, Russia seems to have secured its stake in key infrastructure development projects. In North Korea, Russia will invest in the trans-Korean railway, a gas pipeline, special economic zones, and education. Russia will invest in the trans-Mongolian railway, its extension, and the mining of uranium and aluminum in Mongolia. Economic cooperation with Mongolia and North Korea will play an important role in Putin’s agenda to develop Russia’s long-neglected Far East and Siberia and to secure Chinese and East Asian markets for its mineral exports. » More

Human Rights of North Korean Defectors in Dire Straits

Dadong, North Korea. Image by Joseph A Ferris III/Flickr.

On August 3rd, South Korean human rights activist Kim Young-hwan and three colleagues held a press conference accusing Chinese authorities of detainment and torture due to their work with North Korean refugees. China has denied the allegations.

The activists were staying in Dalien, a major city in the southern Chinese province of Liaoning, assisting North Korean defectors and raising awareness of the dire human rights situation in North Korea (the original cause for their arrest). Mr. Kim said that he and his colleagues were beaten and tortured with electricity for “threatening the national security of China,” that both the Chinese and the North Korean governments were clandestinely engaged in their arrest and torture, and that the Chinese government intentionally delayed a consulate meeting.

Torture and harsh treatment for human rights activists such as Kim Young-hwan – who is a former supporter of North Korea’s first leader Kim Il-sung, but later became disillusioned with the regime’s absolutism and human rights abuses – highlight the tensions between South Korea and China as well as the ill treatment of North Korean defectors by the Chinese government. » More

The Logic of China’s North Korea Policy

DPRK: train from Pyongyang to Dandong

Train from Pyongyang to Dandong. Photo: kwramm/flickr.

US and South Korean analysts are annoyed and frustrated by China’s policy toward North Korea. In their eyes, Beijing’s policy not only jeopardizes the security of the US and the ROK and undermines international norms, but is detrimental to China’s own national interests as well. But judgments about whether China’s North Korea policy is illogical or self-defeating depend very much on what people see as China’s goals. Most Chinese analysts would argue that China’s policy has its own internal logic; whether the US and South Korea see that logic is a different matter.

The widely accepted assumption is that China has three goals when it comes to North Korea: stability (no implosion and no war), peace (diplomatic normalization between the US and North Korea), and denuclearization/nonproliferation. Among these three, China prioritizes stability over peace and denuclearization. The secondary status of denuclearization is a sore spot for Washington and Seoul, which see it as the most important goal (or should be). And while different priorities lead to different approaches, North Korean actions have been destabilizing. Therefore, China’s strategy is counterproductive in terms of its own priority, hence illogical. » More

Predictions on Power Structure and Policy Changes of the Kim Jong-un Regime

The new stage of North Korea’s leadership succession began with the rise to power of the third generation leader Kim Jong-un. On 15 April 2012, the newly-appointed First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea Kim Jong-un made his first public speech during a military parade to commemorate Kim Il-sung’s centenary. It was the official announcement of the opening of the Kim Jong-un regime toward the world.

A series of political events from the Meeting of Party Representatives to the Kim Il-sung centenary celebrations clearly show that the third generation of leadership is emerging as a new core power group backed by the second generation. This move means more than just a generational shift in North Korea’s power structure. It indicative of possible changes in policy lines on its internal and external affairs.

Kim Jong-un conducted political reshuffles before and after the Meeting of Party Representatives in April 2012, as part of actions to implement a moderate shift in generation and to firmly secure his control over the military. Since smoothly establishing the hereditary succession process, Kim Jong-un not only moved to-ward assuming political leadership but also swiftly acquired a firm grip on the power elites in the party, government, and military by reorganizing and uniting power elites. It would seem Kim Jong-un’s rule is stable, at least in terms of power structure. » More

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