Thursday, December 15, 2011

Obituary: Man of steel, Park Tae-joon

Park Tae-joon defied critics by developing South Korea's steel industry from zero into a world-beating colossus in a matter of a few years, and so embodied his country's rapid political and economic transformation in the 20th century. One of Asia's legendary industrialists, his legacy of achievement built on military discipline and brute determination will tower over generations to come.

You can read the full obituary here

Monday, December 12, 2011

US misses its cue in Pacific theater

In its posture over Asia-Pacific, the United States acts as if preparing for a new protracted Cold War to contain Beijing, but its rationale demonstrates a crude failure to discern that China is no longer ruled by the People's Liberation Army alone. In fact, Washington appears to be forcing Beijing's hand by increasing its military presence, which will strengthen the very group the US does not wish to see in power.

You can read my full article here

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Claims and assertions... now with empirical data to boot!

Back in October, I suggested that the food crisis in North Korea is very real, not because of a definitive deficit of total food stuffs, but because of price increases in basic goods. I made the claim by piecing together ground observations and Andrei Lankov's analysis of the public distribution system, but had no empirical data to prove that the price of food was indeed increasing to unaffordable levels for everyday North Koreans.

Recently, two scholars with the Peterson Institute of International Economics have been posting articles about food and price inflation in North Korea on their blog. Marcus Noland and Stephen Haggard (the writing seems to be mostly done by Marcus Noland) collected data on rice and corn prices in the DPRK since Pyongyang's sudden currency reforms last winter. Much of their conclusions support what NGOs and UN agencies have already observed, but the empirical data that Haggard and Noland used to validate their analyses provide a definitive economic survey of the food crisis.

In the post "Inflation in North Korea," Noland observes:
A simple regression of the prices (technically their logarithmic values) against time suggests that since the beginning of 2010, inflation on an annualized basis has averaged 131 percent for rice and 138 percent for corn... Most worrisome, however are recent post-harvest observations. Unlike 2010 when, as would be expected, the price of rice fell after the harvest, the rice price has been rising continuously since the harvest. Corn prices, which tend to fall even more dramatically after the harvest, for example by nearly 50% in the three months following the harvest in 2010, have actually risen since the harvest.
further explicating what their findings actually mean, Noland continues in the post "The food situation in North Korea"
Abundant evidence suggests that the distribution of income in North Korea is becoming less equal. The upshot, as the WFP report makes clear, is that some swath of the non-elite population is being squeezed, with a reported 50-100% increase in hospital admissions of malnourished children and rising numbers of low birth-weight babies.
So, with all this analysis available and understanding the social and political hazards of allowing the starvation to continue, it's mind boggling how Washington can maintain its rhetoric on the need to "identify and complete an assessment of whether food aid assistance can effectively be provided in a manner that is transparent and targeted and reaches intended beneficiaries and avoids the risk of graft and misappropriation” in the face of such a catastrophe.

Yes, there are obviously considerations in regard to "rewarding bad behavior" and whatnots. And the systemic reforms to food production and distribution in the DPRK are long ways away from being implemented, if they have even been planned. Regardless, if the first world nations do not come to the aid of North Korea now, we will be condemning millions to unfathomable suffering and death.

There are certainly more eloquent ways to say this, but: think of the children.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Japan, Korea return to nationalist roots with trade pact 'reforms'

Japan and South Korea misleadingly claim that principle and the pursuit of liberal policies lie behind reform of their international trade relations. What is happening in both cases is a readjustment of outdated policy to pursue traditional statist objectives rooted in their respective identities. More than mere economic gain, economic nationalism is still very well and alive in East Asia.

You can read my full article here

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why North Korea won't quit

Predictions that North Korea will collapse due to internal instability caused by a succession crisis ignore how Kim Jong-il took charge in a time of greater famine and international isolation than today's heir apparent. Pointing to other authoritarian states' decline is also futile, as its 20th-century colonial traumas led North Korea to build its state on one inviolable principle: retain sovereignty.

You can read my full article here

Monday, October 31, 2011

Dutch hunger and North Korea

After withholding food aid to North Korea since 2009, the United States plans to resume staggered delivery following last week's nuclear talks while South Korea refuses to relent. The allies' hard line has not only handed Pyongyang a propaganda card, it also ignores long-term effects of starvation - as evident from the Netherlands' 1944-1945 famine - that could hinder political change.

You can read my full article here

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Summary of North Korean Food Aid Debate in October 2011

October 6

Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik told an annual parliamentary audit of his ministry in charge of relations with North Korea that the North's rice crop did appear to be falling a little short of the average, but said "I don't think (the food situation) is very serious," without elaborating further or giving any figures.

October 7

State Department spokesperson claims that the US is still evaluating North Korea’s needs. The statement outlines US concerns that “the aid provided not only by the United States but by the international community went into regime hands rather than into the hands of hungry people.” Calls for better monitoring system.

October 13

Jim White, vice president of operations at Mercy Corps, and Matt Ellingson, director of program development at Samaritan’s Purse, reported that they were very satisfied with monitoring and oversight of the food aid. This conclusion was drawn from their weeklong trip in the provinces of North Hwanghae, South Hwanghae and Kangwon, the region that was most severely hit by monsoon-strength storms this summer.

October 17

Valerie Amos, a U.N. undersecretary-general, arrived Monday in Pyongyang, where she said she plans to hold talks with officials on long-range plans for meeting the country's food needs.

October 21

Valerie Amos said Friday that 6 million North Koreans, particularly children, mothers and pregnant women, need help.

Amos said she'd been given rare access to a government public distribution center, where rations that have fallen from 21 ounces (600 grams) a day to 7 ounces (200 grams) a day per person are handed out, as well as to a private market where more nutritious food is available at prices far beyond the means of most North Koreans.

October 23

Amos insisted that responsibility for solving repeated food crises lay with North Korea’s government and its need to tackle the underlying causes of poor agricultural production.

October 24

Valerie Amos told reporters in Seoul that the core principle with respect to humanitarian aid was that it should not be politicized.

Amos said the North has endured a "food gap" of about 1 million tonnes out of a total food requirement of 5.3 million tonnes for the past few years.

DPRK vice foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan meets with Bosworth in Geneva.

October 25

North Korea has invited a coalition of South Korean non-governmental groups to visit the DPRK. Park Hyun-seok, secretary general of the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCNK) that comprises more than 50 groups, said coalition representatives were invited to Pyongyang to discuss overall issues from Wednesday to Saturday.

Seoul, which must approve travel to the DPRK, denied the request, citing a lack of monitoring.

US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said no decision on the food assistance had been made, adding that the issue will be strictly separated from the North's nuclear development programs.

In addition, the State Department rejects the notion that the US is holding up its decision on food aid for political or policy reasons.

Furthermore, it clarified that potential food aid to Somalia did not conflict with the possibility of providing food aid to the DPRK.

October 26

The US government is reportedly preparing to resume food aid to North Korea, but will stagger the aid in a series of deliveries.

A source close to the North has told Yonhap News that Washington plans to restart the humanitarian assistance that stalled in 2008 amid uncertainties over the rightful distribution of 170-thousand out of the pledged 500-thousand tons of food.

No significant breakthroughs in denuclearization talks between the DPRK and US in Geneva

Thursday, October 20, 2011

China's stagnation, not an option

China's focus on redistributing wealth ignores a political stagnation more threatening to long-term success. The new leadership in 2012 faces tough choices on the state's monopoly, the environment and relations with the United States - issues that will largely determine the nation's prosperity.

You can read my full article here

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

US coercive diplomacy threatens Korean war*

There are hawkish voices in Washington who are again recommending coercive measures on North Korea that envision massive military and economic might devastating Kim Jong-il's regime. However, plans to mobilize a larger South Korea army, place nuclear weapons there and engage in false-flag operations not only threaten to alienate Russia and China, they also bait the North's notorious willingness for all-out war.

You can read my full article here

*note: I did not choose this title.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Food before politics on North Korea

While the United States indulges in months of scruples over feeding North Korea, basic economic principles suggest widespread starvation and malnutrition are real. As the clock ticks, Washington should perhaps consider that the potentially ruinous burdens of demographic disintegration and insurmountable health problems could make relenting to food aid a farsighted decision.

You can read my full article here

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Brief on the dire need for food aid in the DPRK

Mistrust of the other party’s true intentions often underscores the negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. Thus it is to no one’s surprise that the United States is approaching the food crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with extreme caution and hesitation. However, conditions this year appear too dire for the US State Department to wait for Pyongyang to commit to substantive changes in its military posture before supplying everyday North Koreans with humanitarian assistance.

2011 has been without a doubt a difficult year for the Korean Peninsula. The winter had been one of the coldest in 66 years and the rainfall in July had been one of the largest in the past 100 years; a double blow for the already struggling North Korean agriculture industry.

Members from US aid organizations such as Mercy Corp, World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, Global Resource Services and Christian Friends of Korea visited three North Korean provinces in February of this year and assessed that severe winter conditions had frozen nearly half of all the country’s winter crops. In addition, the group witnessed and documented cases of acute malnutrition and other hunger-induced health problems among the children. That was February, before heavy flooding in July struck the southern provinces of North Korea and washed away 600,000 hectares of the country’s “rice bowl.”

The World Food Program (WFP) reported in September that cases of children being admitted to hospitals for malnutrition has substantially risen and estimated that a third of all children under the age of five are severely malnourished. Furthermore, the lack of clean drinking water and other basic sanitation systems have led to widespread diarrhea and skin diseases. US-based NGOs reported that the daily rations for individuals in certain areas of the country have dropped as low as 150 grams of potato per person.

Meanwhile, concerned with the possibility of Pyongyang either diverting the aid to its military or hoarding the supplies for the celebration of Kim Il Sung’s centennial, Washington refused to provide any food assistance until Pyongyang also offers satisfactory transparency in their distribution system.

In August, despite both the European Union and the Russian Federation committing food aid to North Korea, the United States continued to delay its decision by suggesting that Pyongyang should reengage with the world to establish long term food security first. On August 18, the State Department finally offered $900,000 in flood assistance, but specified that the aid package will not include any food. Samaritan’s Purse returned to North Korea to deliver the non-food goods in early September.

Samaritan’s Purse returned from North Korea with new documented evidence of exacerbated health conditions of the malnourished youth in many parts of the country. Despite the evidence presented by the WFP and NGOs over the past seven months, Washington remains in deliberation over the appropriate course of action. This remains the case after the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, a South Korean NGO delivering food aid to North Korea, was allowed to not only oversee distribution of foodstuffs to flood victims but also videotape the process in early August.

The United States cannot forever withhold food aid to the North Koreans without further linking food aid to political aims, something that the US State Department disavowed as its policy time after time. Robert King, US special envoy for North Korean human-rights issues, emphasized this point when he said that "the United States policy is that … we provide assistance, humanitarian assistance... based on need and [not on] political consideration." Washington should stand by its stated principles.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The importance of being earnest

North Korea would never abolish nuclear weapons as they are seen as pillars of the military state, but the United States stubbornly sticks to demands of complete denuclearization while withholding food aid. Rather than constantly indulging in hardline rhetoric, Washington could purse the more realistic goals of ensuring non-proliferation and appealing to Pyongyang's better-dressed, cell phone-carrying progeny.

You can read my full article here

Monday, September 19, 2011

Summary of North Korean Food Aid Debate in August 2011

August 2

The Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, a South Korean NGO, sent 300 tons of flour aid to North Korea.

August 3

South Korea offered $4.7 million in medical supplies and other necessities for flood relief; however, additional request for building materials in aid was rejected by Seoul. Representatives from the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation begin their visit to Sariwon to monitor the distribution of aid dispatched from South Korea.

August 4

Deputy spokesperson Mark Toner stated that the U.S. is still assessing “whether [US] can provide food assistance [to North Korea] in a way that’s consistent with [US] policy.” Flood aid was supposedly not being considered during the August 4 press briefing

August 9

The EU donated 200,000 Euros in flood aid. The new aid comes in addition to the food aid worth 10 million Euros sent by the EU in July.

August 10

Senior South Korean official noted North Korea’s food situation is not that serious compared to previous years

August 11

State Department spokesperson noted although the United States may provide food aid, the North Korean regime still holds "primary responsibility" for feeding its people in the long term. The spokesperson also noted that better relations were necessary for greater cooperation in food security and the “best route would be back to engagement with the international community, which would allow trade and allow an open system”

August 15

State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that South Korea’s decision to provide food aid was a sovereign decision, implying that Washington and Seoul are not on the same page

August 18

US offered $900,000 in emergency flood assistance to North Korea. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said "It includes things like plastic sheeting, tents," but would not include food, which is being “internally reviewed.”

Meanwhile, ROK ministry of Unification announced that The Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation submitted a video it recorded from Aug. 3-6 of North Koreans distributing South Korean food aid to its people.

August 20

The first shipment of 3,560 metric tons of milling wheat arrived in North Korea from Russia. Russia’s United Grain plans to deliver 50,000 tons of wheat from ports in Vladivostok and Novorossiysk.

August 20

Kim Jong Il arrived in Russia to attend a meeting with President Medvedev.

August 22

North Korean Red Cross made an emergency appeal for £ 2.7 million. At the same time, North Korea ordered all 14 South Korean workers at Geumgang resort to leave and said it would scrap all South Korean assets in the region.

August 24

During his meeting with President Medvedev in Ulan Ude, Kim Jong Il promised to work on introducing a moratorium on testing and spent nuclear fuel processing. Senior Washington official said that the offer was “welcome but ... insufficient” to return to the negotiating tables.


No notable discussion on North Korean food aid.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Brief timeline of the Kosovo-Serbia tensions in September

September 2

Serbia and Kosovo struck an agreement on “status-neutral documents” whereupon Serbia will recognize stamps on documents that say “Kosovo Customs” without any state insignia such as the Kosovo flag or coat-of-arms.

September 8

Serbia confirms that two members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) have initiated the procedure to revoke their recognition of Kosovo. Pristina called the statement propaganda.

Serbs in northern Kosovo unblock roads and EULEX police returned to southern Kosovo.

September 9

Serbian Minister for Kosovo Goran Bogdanović says deployment of Kosovo customs officers at checkpoints without Belgrade’s approval represents a serious threat. He added that EULEX's actions in support of Priština's policy represented a blatant violation of the status neutrality.

September 13

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo called Tuesday on Kosovo institutions to take further action in support of repatriated persons.

The Serbian government prepares a letter addressed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon regarding the latest statements by Pristina representatives that they will take over control of border crossings in northern Kosovo as of September 15th. The letter will warn that violence could threaten the stability of the region. Boris Tadić says he will ask international officials to prevent Priština's threats and unilateral attempts to deploy Kosovo customs at the administrative line.

Traffic between Zvecan and Kosovska Mitrovica is suspended. The roadblocks were reestablished after an attempt of KFOR vehicles to reach the Jarinje administrative crossing. KFOR was intercepted at about 10.15 p.m. in Zvecan, and the vehicles drove back to their base, after nearly two-hour talks with the gathered Serbs.

September 14

The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) is ready to revoke its decision on collection of customs duties on the goods from BiH, if the country accepts the customs stamp delivered to all signatories of the CEFTA agreement, the BiH Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations released.

Serbian opposition party SNS deputy leader Aleksandar Vučić has condemned the authorities’ inability to make any kind of plan regarding Priština’s unilateral moves in Kosovo.

Serbian Parliament Speaker Slavica Đukić-Dejanović has stated that Serbia's EU candidacy will not be jeopardized. Đukić-Dejanović stated that it would be good to start timely talks with Priština on the demarcation line between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo.

Pristina finalizes operational plan to take control over customs points in the north. Prime Minister Thaci has declared that the implementation of the plan will start on Friday, when Kosovo customs and police officers will be stationed at Brnjak and Jarinje.

Deputy PM and Interior Minister Ivica Dačić noted that it was "wrong to believe" Serbia was ready to do anything to become a candidate for EU membership. Dačić, added that Serbia and Kosovo “could also discuss parallel institutions of (ethnic) Albanians in southern parts of central Serbia."

A barricade in the northern Kosovo municipality of Zvečan was removed on Wednesday about 11:00 CET, allowing traffic to be normalized. A convoy of about 15 KFOR vehicles was also allowed to go through.

Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci has confirmed that Kosovo policemen and customs officers will take over the Jarinje and Brnjak administrative crossings together with EULEX and KFOR on September 16.

Ministry for Kosovo State Secretary Oliver Ivanović says Priština will probably postpone deployment of customs and police at the Jarinje and Brnjak crossings.

September 15

Temporary truce between Serbian and Kosovo officials, established by Commander of NATO forces in Kosovo (KFOR), German general Erhard Buehler, expires.

September 16

The operation to take control of customs points northern Kosovo due to begin.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Crouching dragon, rising sun

With the completion of its aircraft carrier, China's capacity to further up the ante in disputed East Asian waters has drastically increased. Japan's deep reach into the East China Sea, the capacity to contribute to the security of Northeast Asia, and above all an increasingly predominant political role in the region give Tokyo the power to be a natural counterweight to the growing influence of China.

You can read my full article here

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dear Leader plays it smart

Kim Jong-il is playing a clever game. By offering to discuss nonproliferation and making non-binding promises, he invites other ambitious powers to the table and protects himself from unanimous international action to force the nuclear program to an end. Far from isolationist, Pyongyang is reaching out to the world, much as it did in the 1970s.

You can read my full article here

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Pyongyang plays on Moscow's desire

A North Korean strategy to extort aid from Russia by threatening to exclude it from nuclear talks has worked well. While improved ties with South Korea have been lucrative and suited Moscow's desire to stand with the moral majority, continued defense of the North risks Russia's international standing.

You can read my full article here

Monday, July 11, 2011

'Mr K' shows Korea's Cold War lingers

South Korea tried to illegally import intercontinental ballistic missiles from the former Soviet space while the Sunshine policy with North Korea was in full force, according to recent revelations from an agent known as "Mr K". Add this anecdote to recent tensions over the Northern Limitation Line as a telling example of the fissures of mistrust on the Korean Peninsula.

You can read my full article here

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Russian route out of Libyan minefield

The United States shouldn't gloat over persuading Russia to endorse the removal of Muammar Gaddafi. Even if the rebels take Tripoli, Gaddafi loyalists in the south may fight on. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda's influence in northern Africa will rise in the post-conflict gloom. Before the mire deepens too much, the US should tap Moscow's rare talent of coaxing old autocrats into retirement.

You can read my full article here

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Russia frets over Eurasian domino theory

Moscow's minimalist vision for managing its "near abroad", and the rising need to stem the trans-Eurasian narcotics trade, pivots on the stability and security of Central Asian states. The Kremlin's opposition to intervention in Libya is not leverage against the West, but aimed at preventing a destabilization of the global energy market that could fatally sabotage Central Asia's nascent economies.

You can read my full article here

Monday, May 30, 2011

Asia Times Online articles from the past

Click on the titles to read the full article

Middle East front opens for the Koreas
The relationship of the two Koreas to events in the Middle East is precariously entwined. The North is waiting in the wings to add to growing sales of military hardware within the club of international pariah states should the ruling regimes in Syria and Libya survive. It is precisely the threat of a revival of Cold War "client states" that will draw South Korea and Israel closer (May 18, 2011)

North Korea: Calculus of an existential war
Connections made between North Korea's succession process for heir-apparent Kim Jong-eun and its nuclear and conventional provocations ignore that the country's policies are rooted in the existential threat posed by South Korea. Nuclear weapons are a long-term deterrence strategy, and regime change in Pyongyang will not alter this established military doctrine. (April 20, 2011)

Cyber-attacks add to North Korea arsenal
Recent denial-of-service attacks on South Korean bank and government websites show that North Korea is adding increasingly sophisticated cyber-warfare to its armory of nuclear weapons and missiles, its conventional bargaining chip since the 1990s. The North is schooling hackers, and according to one military defector more than 30,000 people are engaged in official acts of electronic sabotage. (March 16, 2011)

Did South Korea target the right pirates?
While the South Korean navy's successful assault against Somali pirates boosted domestic morale following provocations by the North, it did little to tackle the root cause of this rising threat to Seoul's economic lifelines. While al-Qaeda or fundamentalists are blamed for turning young Somalis into pirates, a more likely motivator is the looting and destruction of maritime resources by European nations. (January 31, 2011)

Misunderstandings may prove fatal
Washington's responses to Pyongyang have repeatedly shown a fundamental lack of understanding about what the North Korean regime really is, and what it wants. Treating the North like a Chinese puppet, or lumping it in with non-state terrorist groups like al-Qaeda are both mistaken approaches, and could lead to dangerous errors of judgment. (January 7, 2011)

Obituary: North Korean hero to outcast
The life of Hwang Jang-yeop - a senior North Korean official who helped create the ideology of juche (self-reliance), witnessed Kim Il-sung's reign and Kim Jong-il's rise before a high-profile defection to South Korea - was as tumultuous as the fortunes of the mysterious country he helped run. (November 9, 2010)

Rogues in a 'rogue state'?
An independent attack could explain the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan at such an inopportune moment for the Pyongyang hierarchy, even though the very concept of the North Korean military acting independently challenges established United States and South Korean foreign policy convention towards North Korea. (September 20, 2010)

Clawing back credibility in Kyrgyzstan
The United States and Russia have a key role to play in Kyrgyzstan’s fragile attempts to become the first functioning democracy in Central Asia. Many Kyrgyz still suspect, however, that the US is merely continuing its obsessive pursuit of strategic assets in the region, while for Moscow securing the former-Soviet space against religious extremists takes priority. (September 2, 2010)

Lee's chance to steer a new course
Northeast Asia after the Cheonan affair is more volatile than it has been since the end of the Cold War. With North Korea off the hook, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has lost the most. A reversal of his policy toward Pyongyang would stem the loss and, more importantly, could restore some sense of stability to the region. (July 29, 2010)

Russia has reasons to stay its hand
Moscow's reluctance to intervene in Kyrgyzstan's strife has been interpreted as weakness. But still bristling with military might and technology, the Kremlin is well capable of defending interests in its "near abroad". A more likely reason for Russia's absence is that it already dominates the region through energy supplies, and the US air base at Manas actually serves its limited neo-imperial ambitions. (July 13, 2010)

Pyongyang purge echoes Stalin
The excesses of Kim Jong-il and of his father before him resemble those of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. History suggests that Pyongyang's recent execution of elite officials over last year's bungled currency reform herald the start of another bloody purge, with dire signs of famine adding to its likely intensity. (June 14, 2010)

War, succession and economics on the peninsula
As South Korea, with the help of Washington, makes its counter-offensives against North Korea following the sinking of the Cheonan, the continued isolation of Pyongyang is forcing new and dangerous options onto the table. Among these is war, although the crisis could provide the opportunity for the six-party talks to resume and secure the stability of Northeast Asia. (June 9, 2010)

Russia takes a keen interest
As it steps into the Cheonan investigation, Russia is showing that although protective of North Korea, it won't be blindly soft. What Moscow needs is a moderately belligerent, non-nuclear regime in Pyongyang that could facilitate its objectives while standing against American influence in the Pacific Rim. (June 3, 2010)

Getting Started

A raison d'etre is in order.

This blog is to keep track of all the articles I have published, so I have an index of them before they are lost to the ever expanding vortex of internet-past.

Charting a chronological history in our era of indexing and forgetting.

I will also post tidbits and whatnots. No promises on quality.