Slave to the Blog: Food, Atrocities, Fire Sales, Boat People, and Cell Phones
The North Korean food situation appears to be deteriorating. Daily NK is reporting on the basis of “North Korean sources” that, as predicted, the spring potato harvest is down. Here in Washington rumor has it that the Administration is likely to decline to provide aid due to concerns over diversion. (Welcome to 1995: its déjà vu all over again. With the Republicans in control of the House and ready to use North Korea as a cudgel with which to beat the Obama administration heading into the elections, do not expect the Administration to expend much political on North Korea.) Indeed, an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill by Rep. Royce (R-Ca) to prohibit use of the PL-480 (“Food for Peace”) account to provide aid to North Korea passed on a voice vote. One potential source of uncertainty is Europe: having completed their own assessment will the EU insert itself into the situation or defer diplomatically to the stance adopted by South Korea, the US, and Japan. Or maybe they will just decide to send the aid to Greece.
The Korea Times summarized the allegation by a North Korean refugee originally reported by Free North Korea Radio that she was subjected to forcible abortion earlier this year while in custody after being repatriated from China. We documented such claims in both the China- and South Korea-based refugee surveys in Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea. Changes in the North Korean legal code theoretically banned such practices several years ago, but reports such as this one continue.
North Korea is once again threatening to “dispose” of South Korean assets at Mt. Kumgang, citing a new law that empowers them to do so. Last month my colleague Steph Haggard characterized the North Korean position as
“This time, we really, really, really mean it.
No investor with the wherewithal to manage a project of this size is going to step into the political and legal problems that such an investment would create; contacts in Seoul report to us that the Chinese see participation in this venture as a no-no. But it is what the new decree says about the North that is revealing: the belief that you can attract new investors while expropriating existing ones.”
While North Korea is cracking down on cell phones operating on the Chinese network, Orascom reports that it has signed up more than 500,000 subscribers on the official North Korean network.