One of the more disturbing developments of the spring has been North Korean jamming of GPS navigation of airliners flying in and out of Incheon airport as well as ships traveling near the disputed Northern Limit Line. The North Koreans eventually stood down, but also earned a rebuke from the International Telecommunications Union, which requested North Korean “assistance” in understanding the nature of this dangerous behavior. Thus far, KCNA has not published the coordinates of ITU’s headquarters, which being in Geneva, is out of the range of North Korean missiles. At least for now.
Tokyo is within range, however. This apparently has not deterred the Japanese Supreme Court from authorizing the seizure and auctioning off of the headquarters of the Chosensoren, the association of Pyongyang-affiliated residents of Japan. The Resolution and Collection Corporation was demanding repayment of nearly $800 million in debts.
Despite being out of range of North Korean missiles (at least for now), Moscow has a more relaxed approach to deadbeat debtors: they just write off the debts. Russia agreed to write-off approximately 90 percent of North Korea’s Soviet era debt, putatively valued at roughly $11 billion. (The Soviet Union allowed North Korea to run up ruble-denominated trade arrears. When the USSR collapsed the Russians took responsibility. These debts are usually valued at roughly $11 billion but because the ruble was not convertible, the conversion of these debts to current dollars is a bit arbitrary. The two governments previously had a bunch of wheezes to clear the books (such as placing revenues from North Korean manned logging operations in the Russian Far East into some escrow account in Moscow) but I have no idea how much progress was being made. Honestly, it sounds like a bit of a diplomatic solution to an anachronistic irritant.) The remaining 10 percent will reportedly be used for joint projects including in the medical and energy sectors.
In an earlier post I compared food insecurity and the North Korean government’s policy responses to the situation in Ireland at the time of the famine. One of the points that I made is that policies such as banning the export of food items unless handled adroitly may paradoxically worsen famines. One of the North Korean policies at issue was the purported ban on marine products. Good Friends reports that the government has exempted North Hamgyong province for the right reasons—the interference in cross-border commerce with China would depress the local economy and exacerbate food insecurity.
Corruption is one of the sadly recurring topics addressed in this blog and the survey-based research that I do with Steph Haggard. Last month we ran a couple of posts observing the irony of Ilkuk (Evan) Kim’s exhibition coinciding with the celebration of the 66th anniversary of the Chosun Children’s Union. Allegations of corruption dogged the event, and the Daily NK is now reporting that the regime has set up investigation teams to look into alleged improprieties.
The Burmese model is all the rage these days and a North Korean delegation recently visited the country. (North Korea Leadership Watch has a rundown.) US ambassador designate Derek Mitchell told his confirmation hearings that the message has been clearly communicated to the Burmese government that relations with the US will not be thoroughly normalized until transparency is brought to the country’s dealings with North Korea in the military sphere.
Finally, we have had a few posts lately about international commentary on human rights in North Korea, and the North Korean government’s attempts at counterattack. These reached new heights (depths?) this week, when in response to the US State Department’s report on human trafficking, the North Korean Foreign Ministry accused the US of being the world’s worst human rights and observing that “It is well known to everybody that the U.S is the kingpin of flesh traffic in the world.” It concluded that this justified “bolstering up its nuclear deterrent for self-defence.”
We were so concerned to learn of this, that we turned to our Google machine and found the evidence below. If anyone knows what these guys are going on about, well, this blog comes with a “reply” button.