Slave to the Blog: the post-modern edition



Mickey Mouse sanctions: When we last checked, House International Relations Committee chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl) was fulminating over alleged sanctions busting by the perfidious bureaucrats over at WIPO.  The UN agency after initially indicating that it would cooperate with US government investigators, rejected a request by the State Department to conduct an independent probe, “drawing a pointed bipartisan rebuke” from Ros-Lehtinen and ranking member Howard Berman according to Fox News:

“We are outraged by your recent refusal on the basis of 'confidentiality,' of a request by the U.S. Department of State to conduct an independent, external investigation into how and why these transactions happened,” wrote Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairwoman and ranking member of the committee, respectively. “There is no rational basis for this refusal. ...  On the face of it, the documentary record, coupled with your public statements, shows a shocking and intolerable lack of judgment, together with an inclination to disregard the legitimate concerns of Member States and to retaliate against staff who are simply trying to tell the truth.

“However, if you truly believe that your actions have been entirely proper, then surely you would have nothing to hide and no reason to block the requested independent investigation,” they wrote.

The lawmakers continued to call for an independent probe. And they described an agency pledge to have future shipments to Iran and North Korea reviewed by the U.N. Sanctions Committee “not sufficient.”

WIPO claims it was just shipping “standard IT equipment” and did not violate sanctions. As I observed in an earlier post, the real problem is that the sanctions list has not kept track with advances in information technology so that commonplace devices (such as the ones that a majority of you are probably using to read this post) fall into the “dual-use” category. Unless they were careful, it is likely that the UN agencies did violate the sanctions—but by shipping desktop computers, not centrifuges. The agency has announced reforms in its "technical assistance programs" in the wake of the criticism.

Deadbeat Debtor: As expected, the deadline for Pyongyang to inform Seoul of its intention to repay millions of dollars in food aid loans passed without notification, giving Seoul to the right to declare Pyongyang in default. Rather than making this declaration, which practically speaking would be pointless, the South Korean government characterized the North’s silence as “regrettable” and urged Pyongyang to pay up.

In the meantime, the Korea Rural Economics Institute, a think-tank under the Ministry of Agriculture, which produces the South Korean government estimate of North Korean grain output put out a flash estimate that due to bad weather and reduced yields, North Korea's harvest could be down by 700,000 metric tons, leaving the country with an uncovered deficit of up to 1 million metric tons this year. The research team estimates that the effects of the drought will be felt across all types of crops:

Loss in double-cropping (barley/wheat, spring potatoes): 210,000 tonnes
Loss in Autumn crops (rice, corn, potato, bean): 408,000 tonnes
Loss in slope farming (corn): 100,000 tonnes
This loss would equal 15% of total output, or given the size of the agricultural sector nearly a 2 percentage point hit to GDP. And even if every ounce of potential aid came through--600,000 MT, a highly unlikely evenutality--it would still leave the country 400,000 MT short.

How does one say “bracero” in Chinese? In early July, press sources reported that China would issue visas to allow 20,000 North Koreans to work in that country.  Subsequently, in a series of articles in the Tokyo Shimbun, Yuji Shinogase reported that the Chinese would actually double that number to 40,000 and provided more detail on their intent. According to this reporting, 20,000 North Koreans will go to Dandong in Liaoning Province while the other 20,000 will go to Tumen and Hunchun in Jilin Province. The North Koreans will reportedly be employed in menial jobs making about $170 monthly, the lion’s share of which is expected to be retained by the North Korean state. But as an unnamed Chinese source who Shinogase interviewed observed, "North Korean workers' experience of watching China's growth and its market-oriented economy achieved by the country's reform and open-door policy may serve as a catalyst for promoting economic reform in North Korea." Ouch. I hope that no one in Pyongyang reads Tokyo Shimbun. Who knows how many of these visas Jang Song-taek may pry out of Beijing.

Border radio: during the winter, electricity supplies were down, and Martyn Williams was reporting that the North Koreans were having trouble jamming South Korean radio broadcasts, even those by the Ministry of National Defense. Now, he reports that power output is back up, jamming has resumed, and the MND is pumping up the volume, adding new frequencies to try to circumvent the jam.

Growing up in Texas I used to listen to the monster transmitters of Mexican border radio--no jamming those babies!

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