Earlier posts that Kevin Stahler and I did on Russo-Sino rivalry, North Korean disappointment in China, and Russian activities in the DPRK attracted a fair amount of attention, so in the spirit of one of my former football coaches whose offensive philosophy was “run it until they show you that they can stop it” we’ll lead off with more geopolitics.
South Korea and China agreed on a free trade deal subject to approval by the South Korean National Assembly. China is South Korea’s largest trade partner accounting for more than 20 percent of South Korea’s trade, a larger share than those of the US and Japan combined. (And as a point of reference, China’s bilateral trade with the South is roughly 50 times its trade with the North.) South Korea had been pushing for a “high quality” pact closer to the KORUS FTA with the US than the usual Chinese “dirty” FTA, but South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping set a target of the end of this year for completing negotiations, and there is the possibility that trying to make short-term deadlines could lead to a watered down deal. The talks had stalled over disagreements over the scale and timing of tariff-cutting with respect to politically ultra-sensitive products (for China this is some manufactured goods, for South Korea this is some agricultural products). This is one case where the devil really is in the details, and one wonders if under pressure the South Korean negotiators blinked. According to reporting in the Maeil Business News, autos were excluded entirely from the pact. If anyone has the details, well, this blog comes with a comment function. Rodong Sinmun can consign Xi to page 3 all it wants, but regardless of the details, if one needs any further evidence as to where China sees its long-run interests on the Korean peninsula, well, here’s your proof.
In the meantime, Russia and North Korea, continue their romance, with Choe Ryong-hae, Kim Jong-un confidante and secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, embarking on a weeklong trip to Russia today. He is scheduled to meet with President Putin. In the meantime, the two governments have signed an agreement on the deportation of illegal aliens. I would not want to be a North Korean deported from Russia: the UN Commission of Inquiry documented cases of torture and abuse of such deportees.
Russia sending North Koreans home is regrettable but not surprising. The Guardian reports on a case in Sweden however that is more troubling. A teenager with speaking ungrammatical Korean with a thick North Hamgyong accent is seeking asylum, claiming to be North Korean. Linguists hired by the government and the plaintiff are disputing his dialect and whether an uneducated famine orphan would be expected to speak grammatically correct Korean. Swedish authorities appear to have concluded that he is Chinese and are ready to deport him to China. The kid claims that if he is deported to China he will be sent to North Korea, tortured and abused. The Swedes say that if he is not Chinese, then the Chinese won't accept him so what's the big deal? No harm, no foul. Easy for a bureaucrat to say.
Next, having grabbed your attention, a correction. My former boarder David Hawk contacted me to correct something I wrote on the Bae-Miller release. In responding to something Frank Januzzi wrote I confused two North Korean human rights reports. I'll let David explain: "re today's PIIE blog, there are two different NK human rights self-reports. The one that Frank J refers to was sent by Pyongyang to UN-GVA as part of the UPR. And secondly, the dreadfully crude (KWP-drafted) “DPRK Human Rights Studies Association Report” that you refer to which was circulated by NK diplomats at the UN NY, demonstrating unfortunately that the Studies Association Report is of higher value to the “Leadership". My apologies to all.
The Kim family is alleged to have long stashed assets in Switzerland; in a development that we did not blog on, mainly because we thought that the case was hopeless, 20 North Korean refugees appealed to the government of Switzerland to freeze North Korean assets in that country. UN Watch now reports that the government of Switzerland has predictably declined the request. In a letter to the organization, Swiss president Dider Burkhalter indicated that while Switzerland would uphold existing UN sanctions targeting specific entities and individuals, that his government would not go beyond the requirements of the Security Council resolutions. Call it intuition, but I have a hunch that there is a special place in hell reserved for Swiss bankers.
If you are interested in some prime Tokyo real estate, I have a building for you. The Japanese Supreme Court declined a lower court ruling to permit the 2.21 billion yen sale of the Chosensoren or Chongryon (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan) headquarters in Japan, seized years ago after an affiliated credit union collapsed. In the absence of diplomatic relations, the building had functioned as North Korea’s de facto embassy. The two countries are in the midst of hostage negotiations, and while a Japanese government spokesperson shrugged off the development as “a legal issue” it is not clear that Pyongyang will see it that way. According to the Kyodo News Agency “Pyongyang has repeatedly insisted that the sale of the Chongryon headquarters is a prime example of the "issue of the status" to be dealt with by the Japanese government, but Tokyo has said the government cannot intervene in judicial affairs.”
Finally, in the understandable hoopla over the release of Kenneth Bae and Matthew Miller, we should note that they were the last acknowledged Americans in capitivity North Korea. As Steph Haggard mentioned in a post back in June, there is also the case of David Sneddon, an American who a growing body of evidence suggests may have been abducted from China back in 2004. He should not be forgotten.