STTB: Space, Meth, and Diplomats Behaving Badly



Scott Kelly_NK at night photo

In an update of the “at night South Korea looks like an island from outer space” story, astronaut Scott Kelly, spending a year on the international space station, tweeted the photo above with the message  "Feel bad for the people of #NorthKorea when I see with my own eyes they live without electricity. #YearInSpace." You know, it must suck when astronauts are expressing pity for your country. Probably a good thing for astronaut Kelly that Kim Jong-un doesn’t have any missiles that go that far up.

Back on Earth, Yonhap ran a story last week about three South Koreans convicted of smuggling meth into South Korea that they had produced in Sariwon, North Hwanghae (North Korea). An already interesting story was made even more so by the statement of presiding judge Kim Dong-ah at sentencing that the money derived from the sale could have been used for seditious activities. Seems the ringleader, identified only by the family name “Kim”, was also found guilty of conspiring with North Korean agents to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, who died peacefully in 2010.

The story of drug-related espionage is interesting in its own right, but it also cuts against the consensus emerging from work by Sheena Chesnut Greitens, Benjamin Sovacool, and Justin Hastings that the North Korean government is getting out of the drug trafficking business. Admittedly, one incident does not a trend make, and this could be one of those “exception that proves the rule” cases where meth trafficking is normally handled by criminal gangs, but in this case North Korean intelligence used it to support operatives in the South. Makes one wonder.

In other meth-related news, the DailyNK reports that drug distribution is up amid relaxed holiday regulations. The story involves a loosening of control associated with the Chuseok holiday, similar to Thanksgiving here in the US. As with many DailyNK stories, one can do nothing but just quote at length:

“We had seen regulations being stepped up until recently on narcotics and non-socialist goods, but ahead of Chuseok this mostly subsided,” a source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Friday. “Ahead of Chuseok, we saw a huge increase in drug circulation, and ‘non-socialist goods’ were being traded by the truck load.”

A source in North Pyongan Province corroborated this news.

The source explained this came as Party cadres also joined in on the spirit of holiday season, and drug dealers jumped to take advantage of the relaxed environment…

“Chuseok is the day when people can safely sell and distribute not only drugs but also non-socialist goods,” the source said. “As long as you stick a sickle into the bag that’s carrying drugs, because of the culture of respects for ancestors, people can get away with it and say they’re going to cut weeds around their graves.

Hey Gramps, pass that drumstick and the bowl of crank…

Finally, as we observed at the time of the charm offensive associated with the release of the COI report, the charm muscles of North Korean diplomats appear to have atrophied over time. Further evidence of this can be gleaned from a recent incident in Indonesia where North Korean diplomats disrupted a meeting of an Indonesia NGO which was hosting a program put on by the (South Korean) Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights. Here’s the part I find interesting: according to reporting by the Chosun Ilbo, the North responded by canning their ambassador. Why? Was it because the embassy embarrassed the country with their shenanigans (hard to believe given the public behavior of North Korean diplomats over the past year) or was it because he did not successfully head off the program? Kim Myong-song reports that in 1965 founding leader Kim Il-sung visited the country, which was a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, and current leader Kim Jong-un invited Indonesian president Joko Widodo to Pyongyang. According to his piece, “Indonesia is one of a few countries along with China, Cuba, Russia, Sudan and Zimbabwe which have never voted in favor of a UN resolution on North Korean human rights.” But former Indonesian attorney general Marzuki Darusman was a member of the COI, and is now the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea. So a significant relationship appears to be fraying and the ambassador just didn’t get the job done. HRNK might want to send their satellites over that firing range again.

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