North Korea News Roundup

Almost exactly one year to the day from his election, Barack Obama now has a point man for a controversial arm of his North Korea policy.   Robert King, nominated as Obama’s Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights Issues, a position created by the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, had a hearing on November 5 for Senator John Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

there he is -- the harbinger!

King’s prepared statement for the committee is available here; the Daily NK spin is here; a few selections from King follow:

The United States Government has been and remains deeply concerned about the human rights conditions in North Korea and the plight of North Korean refugees. In part this is a reflection of who we are as a nation. We were founded on fundamental principles of human rights, and our support for these rights is an essential part of who the American people are. At the same time, respect for human rights by the DPRK will have a significant impact on the prospect for closer ties with the United States and will be necessary for North Korea to fully participate in the international community.

While I do not believe that we will be able to change conditions quickly or radically, I do believe that we must seek to make progress where we are able at a pace that is sustainable.

– We have made progress in expanding broadcasting into North Korea, and, if confirmed, I will continue this effort. This is important in breaking down the isolation of the North Korean people and making available independent sources of information inside the country. My first position after completing graduate school was with Radio Free Europe at a time when Central Europe was under Soviet domination, and I saw first-hand the importance of our international broadcasting in expanding human rights.

The United States also remains committed to improving conditions for those who leave the DPRK. We continue to work with international organizations and countries in the region to help North Korean asylum seekers obtain protection, including by resettling some in the United States.

Many encouraging things are present here, particularly the turning the human rights issue inside out, showing North Korea that benefits can flow from a policy of change.  Not incidentally, the French people and politicians agree heartily with the first paragraph quoted above (just substitute “French” for “American”), meaning that if France were able to open up relations with North Korea, more pressure could be applied on the human rights front.

Thus it is heartening that today’s Parisian left-wing (and wonderful) paper Liberation reports that Sarkozy emphasized the human rights angle to envoy Jack Lang, who will be starting a five-day visit to North Korea soon.  In an earlier piece, Liberation speculates that Obama’s time in Beijing will be occupied with coordination on the North Korea issue, navigating between the North’s demands for a permanent peace and its brandishing fissile material.

On the environmental front, NK Leadership Watch reports on the appointment of a new Minister of Land and Environmental Protection, all in the context of battles between citizens and the state over land use.  Forestry, the Daily NK reports, is being used to suppress the people who are trying to do patch farming.

PIC_3891
Patch farming on a steep Tumen River ravine just east of Hyesan, Ryanggang province, DPRK; Photo by Adam Cathcart

Chinese tourism officials are in the DPRK holding talks, while the European Business Association in Pyongyang is keeping very busy.

Liberation also carries an interesting interview about the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and the costs and benefits of aiding North Korea, with an ex-Unifcation minister from the ROK, Park Jae-kyu, who was in Paris on account of the Chirac Foundation.  “It’s hard to conceive of a reunification of the two Koreas,” he said, a bit paradoxically, given his previous line of work.

Although I usually spend more time looking at story comments in Chinese, a couple of comments French “netizens” on the above story caught my eye:

Kim Il Sarko et Nicolas Jong Il
C’est vrai, quel drôle de pays dictatorial et nespotique, où le président chauffe la plus haute place pour son fistounet…
and
“CORÉES-GRAPHIE”
À quand leur pas de deux ?

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