Slave to the Blog: History Repeats as Farce

Marcus Noland (PIIE)



The referenced media source is missing and needs to be re-embedded.

In this review of new(ish) developments in previously discussed matters, as usual, I start serious before going weird.

Dateline Khartoum. When we last checked in, North Korea was staging a counterattack in the diplomatic battle for Africa, racking up victories in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania, with the DRC on the verge.  Now it’s South Korea’s turn to score with the announcement in November that the Sudan was severing military ties with North Korea. Just goes to show that the DPRK doesn’t have a total lock on pariah states.

In previous posts we had reviewed the sad, but possibly rational, sale by North Korea of its fishing rights to China. Now comes a report in Yonhap that the country possibly sold fishing rights in the East Sea to Taiwan as well. Yonhap’s unnamed source (does it use any other kind?) also claims that the DPRK wanted Taiwan to hire North Korea workers as part of the deal. Taipei denies these claims, sort of.  Yonhap’s account reads:

“Taiwan said it does not allow its fishing boats to cooperate with North Korea or to operate in waters off North Korea's east coast, as it enforces the U.N. sanctions. [NB: Despite the fact that it is not a member of the UN]

"So far, no Taiwanese fishing boat has operated in North Korea's exclusive economic zone," Taiwan said in comments sent to Yonhap News Agency, citing its vessel monitoring system, a satellite-based system that can track the location of boats.

Still, Taiwan said it does not rule out the possibility that North Korea could have sold the fishing rights through brokers. [Emphasis added]”

In other fishing news, diplomatic solidarity has its limits it seems. We had earlier commented on a confrontation between the South Korean coast guard and Chinese fishermen which resulted in three fishermen being killed, this time around it is the Russians opening up on the North Koreans killing one and wounding eight more. According to reporting by Hamish Macdonald, the man who never sleeps, after being caught poaching in Russian waters, the crew of a North Korean fishing vessel began acting aggressively toward the Russian inspectors who called in the cavalry in the form of the FSB. When the North Koreans tried to bolt with the Russian inspectors still onboard, the FSB shot up the ship. One gets the impression that the waters in this neighborhood are getting seriously overfished and out of desperation fishermen are taking greater and greater risks.

“We are training our students to become super-talented players who can surpass the skills of people like Lionel Messi. For now, I think we should dominate Asia and, in the near future, I hope that we will achieve global dominance.”

Remember that great bout between Muhammad Ali and Teofilo Stevenson? Yeah, neither do I. Cuba and North Korea have long been allies, but in at least one regard have taken divergent paths: much to the consternation of sports fans everywhere, Cuba has not permitted its athletes to participate professionally in international competitions. Instead we have the spectacle of Cuban baseball players putting their lives in the hands of drug-cartel traffickers in desperate journeys to Mexico (and on to America) to seek their fortunes. Well, coming off the country’s better than expected performance at the Rio Olympics, Kim Jong-un seems to have derived the opposite conclusion: make money off your homegrown talent. RFA reports that “North Korea is now looking to its athletes in sports such as soccer, table tennis, and Taekwondo to earn money abroad.” The expectation is that while the numbers may be smaller, the earnings of the athletes should exceed those of the construction workers and loggers that the regime currently send abroad and should not run afoul of UN sanctions. According to Ri Yu-Il, the head of the country’s only football academy, “We are training our students to become super-talented players who can surpass the skills of people like Lionel Messi. For now, I think we should dominate Asia and, in the near future, I hope that we will achieve global dominance.”

While The Blessed Comrade envisions his players going out, some folks are trying to get in. Earlier I had posted about delivering the Gospel via drone, according to Elizabeth Shin at UPI, a refugee group plans to use mini-computers: “The computers can pick up wireless signals within a 1-mile radius. The defectors plan to retain a communications command center in an area of China close to the North Korea border. When thousands of the devices are smuggled into the country, they can automatically share information across a network that can extend all the way to Pyongyang and other areas more inland, the defector said.” Problem number one: lack of funds. The guys who tried to do a Kickstarter campaign to overthrow the regime failed, but maybe these folks, whoever they are, will locate more generous support.

The BBC represents a more traditional old media approach. Despite financial pressures on the organization, the Beeb announced that its long awaited Korea service will begin broadcasting in the spring. No word as yet from where.

And if less traditional approaches are your cup of tea, the not-so-long-awaited Laibach-plays-Pyongyang documentary has premiered. Not yet available on Amazon Prime, here’s the trailer:

(You know how jetlag can affect your dreams? I arrived in Milan last night, and in my dreams wondered how the frontman from Laibach dresses when he is off duty—not wearing the funny hat, tunic, boots. Hard to believe that he stays in costume 24/7. I suppose that I can watch the movie and find out.)

I’m in Italy to help the locals make sense of Donald Trump. (No snickers, ok?) A former French bureaucrat has put forward the “indisputable” hypothesis that shared obesity explains Americans’ attraction to the President-elect: they look at the Donald and they see themselves. You may laugh, but I smell inspiration, if not hot grease: a hamburger summit! If Donald Trump can bond with the American people via junk food, why not Kim Jong-un? After all, he did say that he would sit down with the tubby dictator “for a hamburger and a Coke” (admittedly after musing about having the Chinese kill the North Korean leader). Barack Obama hasn’t managed to negotiate Kim Jong-un out of his nukes. Neither did Hillary Clinton. Give Trump a chance! After all, what do we have to lose?

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