North Korea Notes

North Korean media reports that a small amount of radioactivity from Japan has reached the DPRK.  How does a regime that is so good at depicting Japan as a source of constant threat assure people that they are now safe and in good hands?  Is there any kind of debate at all among North Koreans about the relative merits and dangers of nuclear energy generally?  If Germans in Saar have a right to complain about the French reactors just over the border, don’t North Koreans have the right to ask their neighbors to de-nuclearize?

A young man from Canada (he is 14) is working on a documentary in Seoul about North Korean defectors.  Apparently he will be interviewing the South Korean President, whose wife has also been showing interest lately in refugee issues.

China’s major foreign affairs daily, the Huanqiu Shibao, reports (in Chinese) that a North Korean doctor has been wounded in NATO airstrikes in a hospital in Libya.  (Showing support for the Libyan government, the same periodical quotes extensively from Quaddafi-regime newspaper in Tripoli which accuses the U.S. of imperialist action in the Korean War and interference in the Chinese revolution of 1949.)   I would interpret China’s hard line against military action in Libya as having a side benefit in its relations with North Korea.  Perhaps it isn’t so much itself that China is thinking of defending when it stands up for Libyan sovereignty, but the case of little and potentially restive North Korea.

After all, when France (not even the United States) is actively intervening in two civil wars in Africa (Libya and Sierra Leone), there is a good reason for the Chinese to take Europe and the U.S. rather seriously when it comes to rhetoric of regime change and military attacks that come on humanitarian grounds.  The very same logic that is today being employed against the Libyan regime could be turned rapidly on Pyongyang.

In the meantime, the action in Syria must be making Kim Jong Il particularly nervous.   And the fact that North Korean weapons are being found in Libya.

Of the possible influence of the Arab revolutions on North Korea, Professor Seo Jong Min states:

I think the Middle Eastern democratization movements offer a starting point for rocking the North Korean system. A thought revolution is spreading, a paradigm shift foretelling of the end of authoritarianism in human history. North Korea cannot avoid being a part of this.

We know that North Korea has already prohibited those of its people who were sent to Liyba from returning. It fears the spread of revolution by word-of-mouth. Of course North Korea has almost non-existent internet and social networking infrastructure, and because of this it will be hard for democratization movements to spread like in the Middle East, but the North Korean authorities are worried, which itself tells of the start of change.

Maybe those authorities are worried, but they are also on tours of the northern provinces.  Kim Jong Il was in the arsenal city of Kanggye recently, as reported in Chinese media.  (As important as Kanggye is to North Korea and to the Sino-North Korean relationship, the city’s Wikipedia page evidences very little work.  It doesn’t even have a map.  Can we do something about this, friends?)

Kim Jong Il in Kanggye, April 2011

Stephan Haggard, up to his ears as usual in some of the best data available about the DPRK, has a brief but insightful look into the Kimist culture of “on the spot inspections.”

Finally, North Korea is again demanding apologies and reparations from Japan, as reported here in Chinese.


  1. Enjoyed the fabulous range of links after a few days of net inaccessible existence, but am not so sure of Prof Seo Jong Min’s analysis of the foundations for the Middle Eastern authoritarian dictatorships which are now being cast aside.

    No mention of Islam nor of the Wests marriage of oil, trade and arm sale convenience with these dictatorships. His reference to patriarchy and tribal hunter and gathering anthropology just doesnt cut it.

    Also, while Al Jazeera leaves most of the Western media for dead in terms of being in touch with this new spirit sweeping the Middle Eastern world, it is by no means infallible. eg Syria.

    Finally, there is something compellingly repulsive about that Gainbourg photo…put me right off my tea and toast.

  2. I guess China would have some reason to fear Euro-American intervention in Africa and the Middle East. As long as they want to remain the big sibling and overseer of North Korea, they need to make sure there isn’t any threat to their way of government and policy. I do find it interesting that there is some focus on Europe in such conflicts instead of primarily on America as I seem to find often. I just wonder who’s relations are going to strain the most in this situation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s