I Ain’t Gonna Work on Migok Farm No More

Windmills at Migok farm in the DPRK courtesy of Juche-Songun. Sorry for the lack of posts.

Windmills at Migok Farm

Windmills at Migok Farm

 

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KCNA Increases Coverage of Satellite Launches

Celebrating the Peaceful Use of Space by (stephan)

Celebrating the Peaceful Use of Space by (stephan)

North Korea has slowly but steadily increased its coverage of satellite launches in KCNA reports. The coverage of these launches picked up in April of 2011, long before this most recent diplomatic breakthrough. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my initial interpretation was that the North Koreans were building a case for a rocket test. By covering the satellite launches and space programs of other states, they were asserting that a “peaceful” space program was nothing extraordinary (except for the Japanese, for whom it was a “reactionary” move to crush the North) and something that any normal state could pursue.

Rocket Man!

Rocket Man!

August 1st: Experimental Orbiter Launched in China

August 2nd: Minju Joson Blasts Japanese Reactionaries’ Planned Introduction of Early Warning Satellite

August 14th: Europe’s Carrier Rocket Launched

August 14th: Different Countries Cooperate

August 15th: China Launches Pakistan’s Satellite

August 17th: Russia to Increase Satellites

August 18th: Russia Builds New Satellite Launch Center

August 18th: Russia, China Discuss Cooperation in Space Field

August 19th: China Launches Satellite

August 21st: Nigeria Launches Satellite in Russia

and the month ain’t over yet…

The implication could be that the North will proceed with a rocket launch if it is not given a reason to stay engaged in negotiations. This mirrors the choice of “détente” vs. “escalating tensions” referenced in earlier KCNA statements.

Right now the North seems unconvinced of the need for a rocket launch. China would get very testy, which would be very negative for the aid-dependent North. Furthermore, if the pattern of the last two launches holds, the North would be compelled to test another nuclear weapon in response to UN condemnation of the rocket launch. This test would be likely to use up between 8 and 20% of the North’s limited supply of fissile material. That said, KCNA coverage of space programs abroad at least implies the threat of a “satellite launch” if negotiations break-down.

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North Korea’s Subdued Response to Ulchi Freedom Guardian

American Imperialism by BBC World Service

American Imperialism by BBC World Service

While North Korean news statements are never short on vitriol, this year’s Foreign Ministry statement on the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise is actually relatively subdued. The DPRK FM statement railed against the exercise, but refrained from threatening force against the ROK and US and, despite its anti-American and anti-South Korean fervor, emphasized dialogue.

Sticking the same script used in previous years, the Foreign Ministry Spokesman called the exercises a preparation “for a nuclear war against the DPRK” and proof of the US and ROK’s “hostile aim to stifle it [North Korea] by force of arms.” This KCNA article, however, differed from the 2010 statement as it referred to North Korea as a “dialogue partner” of the US and expressed concern over the sincerity of negotiations with the US in light of the exercise. The word “dialogue” was actually used eight times in this statement, implying a stark choice between provocation and conversation.

The 2010 FM statement, by contrast, was titled “DPRK Has All Means and Methods to Defend Itself”. That statement used much more combative language. It accused the US of violating the armistice agreement and exacerbating hostilities on the Korean peninsula. The statement ended with the clear threat that “there is a critical point in the tension”, implying that the exercises could spark open conflict on the peninsula. A related statement ominously warned of “serious consequences” and noted that the North Korean military was ready to respond.

So, while the today’s statement pledged to bolster North Korea’s nuclear arsenal in response to the exercises, the main thrust of the statement was to question the sincerity of US efforts at dialogue. The article entirely lacked the implied threats of force and military response that were seen in the 2010 statement. The pledge to bolster the nuclear arsenal, not an uncommon one in FM statements on Ulchi Focus Lens and Ulchi Freedom Guardian, was also in response to the US and ROK announcement that they the exercises would include finding and capturing North Korean weapons of mass destruction.   In short, if the US was going to practice neutering the North’s nuclear arsenal, the North was going to complicate those efforts by making more bombs .

The statement today builds on the open letter issued by the KPA on August 8th. That letter called on the US and ROK to cancel Ulchi Freedom Guardian to show their commitment to denuclearization, normalization of relations with the DPRK, and ending the Korean War. The decision to continue or cancel the exercise is a choice between “dialogue or confrontation and peace or war.”

This all is, of course, ignored in favor of bombastic headlines in the media. “North Korea vows to bolster nuclear deterrent” and “North Korea threatens all-out war over massive U.S. military exercise” sound much better than “Decrepit dictatorship with medieval economy slightly less hyperbolic this year.

That said, I don’t see this as an open door to denuclearization. As I have already noted, the North is more likely responding to Chinese pressure and the need for stability to reach its economic production goals over the next 16 months. Still, North Korean vitriol, while it makes great headlines, is best viewed with a bit more perspective than what we  see from the major media outlets.

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Back to the Future

Are flux capacitors considered dual use technology?

Are flux capacitors considered dual use technology?

Do you remember the 80s? Do you remember the music grain production? North Korea does.

Steph Haggard and Marcus Noland made a fantastic post on what North Korea means by “building a strong and prosperous country”. Their assessment is that North Korea wants to surpass the economic benchmarks from the 1986-88 period when the economy was at its strongest.

The chart is reprinted below. It is worth noting that electricity production has actually decreased since 2008.

Strong and Prosperous

Strong and Prosperous

 

 

 

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The Road to Nowhere

Road to Nowhere by Robert David Copithorne

Road to Nowhere by Robert David Copithorne

US-North Korea talks last week were called “constructive” by both sides. What these “constructive” talks are building, however, is not yet clear.

North Korea was very positive about the meeting. Kim Gae Gwan told reporters the talks were “constructive and businesslike”. KCNA reported:

The DPRK remains unchanged in its stand to resume the six-party talks without preconditions at an early date and comprehensively implement the September 19 joint statement on the principle of simultaneous action.

The language KCNA used to characterize the meeting with Ambassador Bosworth was much more positive than that used after the December of 2009 meeting. The “sincere and constructive” conversation in New York last week was much better than the “exhaustive and candid” discussion in 2009. Whereas the US and North Korea “deepened the mutual understanding [and] narrowed their differences”  in 2009, in this meeting both countries “recognized… [common] interests… and agreed to further dialogue.” KCNA is going out of its way to show that this was a successful meeting that should lead to further discussions, both bilateral with the US and multilateral in the six party talks.

Ambassador Bosworth was less committal on the success or failure of the talks. He also called the talks “constructive”, but only as they created an opportunity “to explore the willingness of North Korea to take concrete and irreversible steps toward denuclearization.”  In short, Bosworth is looking for denuclearization, not conversation. The US will now travel to the region and consult with allies before it commits to any next steps.

The ROK called for “concrete action” before talks could resume. Wi Sung-lac, the ROK’s lead negotiator on this issue, called an early Fall resumption of the six party talks “too aggressive, too ambitious.”

North Korea is looking for talks that lead to progress on the nuclear issue. The US and ROK position that is some progress on the nuclear issue must be made to prove that negotiations are warranted. There is an end-sum gain problem here. Talks without pre-conditions mean that the US must give up its demand that the North demonstrate a commitment to denuclearization before negotiations can resume. It would also require the ROK to abandon its position that the North must be held accountable for the Cheonan sinking and Yeonpyong Island shelling. In short, by going into talks with no preconditions, North Korea forces the US and ROK to take a step back from their established negotiating positions if they want to reach a deal on the North Korean nuclear program.

The KCNA statement sets up the US to be the spoiler in the talks. North Korea is portraying itself as ready to move forward with negotiations. Meanwhile the US, taking direction from the Blue House, is likely to pan the opportunity for further talks pending some “concrete action.” The onus will be on the US to negotiate, not on the North Koreans to meet their obligations to the international community. North Korea can argue to the Chinese that the US is the inflexible party and expect reduced pressure from Beijing.

Post Script One: In an attempt to get the Chosun Simbo take on the talks I got one of the best mistranslations ever:
Making sweet, diplomatic love to the imperialists
This conversation on the denuclearization of North Korea for pre-action position to explore what was really having sex

The overall tone of the article, like the KCNA reports above, is positive so I assume that the Chosun Simbo is suggesting that the talks went so well that it was like the negotiators were making sweet, diplomatic love.

The alternative is that they are suggesting that someone got f***ed.

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That Dog Won’t Hunt

The widely covered KCNA statement on the role of a peace treaty in negotiations over its nuclear program underscores the fundamental gulf between the US and NK that will most likely undermine negotiations in New York this week.

North Korea has identified a peace treaty as the first and necessary for progress in denuclearization. As yesterday’s statement notes:

It is impossible to wipe out the mutual distrust nor is it possible to achieve a smooth solution of the issue of denuclearization as long as there persists the hostile relationship between the DPRK and the U.S…. It is the keynote of the DPRK’s proposal for concluding a peace agreement to scrap the armistice mechanism which has systematically deteriorated the hostile relations between the two countries, build confidence and step up the process of denuclearization.

Furthermore, the statement warns the US to expect “escalating tension” if détente is not reached. The KCNA commentary lays out a binary choice between a peace treaty and continued provocation.

This is not pre-negotiation posturing by North Korea, this is a consistent statement of policy with regards to its nuclear program, which goes back to the second North Korean nuclear test.

On the Korean peninsula, which is still in a state of the ceasefire, the sooner a peace agreement is concluded, the quicker the confidence necessary for denuclearization will be built.”

Until then, “the mission of the nuclear forces of the DPRK is to deter and repel aggression and attack against the country and the nation until the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the world is realized.

I can haz diplomatic non-starter?

I can haz diplomatic non-starter?

According to North Korea the state of war, not the nuclear program, is the “root cause” of US-NK conflict and the “fundamental issue” between the two countries. If that is resolved, the North could talk about denuclearization, but only in the context of global nuclear abolition.

That dog won’t hunt.

Secretary of State Clinton’s statement was extremely unenthusiastic about the meeting noting that “This will be an exploratory meeting to determine if North Korea is prepared to affirm its obligations under international and Six-Party Talk commitments, as well as take concrete and irreversible steps toward denuclearization.

Engaged to be Engaged (photo by John Varghese)

Engaged to be Engaged (photo by John Varghese)

According to the Secretary of State, we are not engaging North Korea, we are engaged to maybe engage them in the future, if they grow up and reverse their policy on their own, with no enticements from the United States.

Good luck with that.

Why bother? One theory is that this is the appearance of due diligence for both sides. Neither the US nor the North Koreans expect anything to come from the meeting, but both states want to use the talks to establish that the deadlock is the other party’s fault. North Korea can put the blame on the US and deflect the heavy, behind the scenes pressure from China to resume negotiations. The Obama Administration can set the bar so high for progress that the Republicans can’t possibly accuse them of being soft on North Korea.

In short, this is faux-diplomatic at its best.

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Under the Consultative Hand of the Elderly Premier

Convening a strong and prosperous nation by 2012

Convening a strong and prosperous nation by 2012

The Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyngnam University published this excellent article on the activities of Premier Choe Yong-rim. Note that Premier Choe does not provide “guidance”; only Kim Jong-il can do that. Instead he “acquaints himself” with the work at the duck farm, power plant or what have you, and “convenes… consultative meetings” with the workers and officials there. KCNA uses significantly less authoritative language to describe his role and activities.

Kim Jong Il’s field guidance visitations decreased significantly in recent weeks. In place of the North Korean leader, Premier Choe Yong-rim is known to be making solo economic inspection visitations.

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, Premier Choe has made a total of 17 on-site inspections from February. Starting with Huichon Power Plant, four trips in March, two in April, six in May, and lastly, four visits in June were recorded. A high-level official to make on-site inspections unaccompanied by its leader is an unprecedented case. This suggests major change for North Korea in which the chief of Cabinet is now directly heading the economy.

Although these inspections were short day trips, sites visited concentrated mainly on factories, power plants, cooperative farms, and construction sites. While making inspection rounds, Choe’s main duty is to deliver the orders of Kim Jong Il, but he was also witnessed actively suggesting measures to resolve problems that were raised at the sites.

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Slow News Day?

No KCNA updates so far today. The Korean language updates for the 26th are up, but not the English versions. What gives? Some of us are waiting to read about Kim Jong-il’s trip to the Naval Command Center in Pyongyang.

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Eating Crow at ASEAN

Crow: It's What's For Dinner. (Photo by Eliya Selhub)

Crow: It's What's For Dinner. (Photo by Eliya Selhub)

The army and people of the DPRK will never deal with traitor Lee Myung Bak and his clan…” except maybe we will, in a couple of weeks, at ASEAN.

Our ultimate national vision and objective is to achieve peaceful reunification… but, of course, for all this to happen, North Korea must first apologize…” or maybe we will just have the talks anyway.

The two Koreans held “constructive” talks last week at the ASEAN meeting in Indonesia  and agreed to advance the six party talks. After the meeting both sides celebrated by eating a large plate of crow. North Korea had pledged multiple times to never deal with the Lee government. The ROK, on the other hand, had made an apology for the sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island a prerequisite for both substantive inter-Korean dialogue and the resumption of the six party talks.

KCNA did not report on the meeting. Instead it published a statement by Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun, head of the delegation to ASEAN, blaming the US and ROK for the nuclear stand-off.

The U.S. and the south Korean authorities are, however, reacting to the sincere proposals of the DPRK on building confidence through dialogue and negotiations and its efforts to resume the six-party talks with confrontation moves and military provocations. Yet, they are spreading misinformation that the DPRK is to blame for the tensions and the failure to open dialogue.

There was a short rant against the ROK government:

After the present south Korean authorities came to power, the implementation of the June 15 joint declaration and the October 4 declaration warmly hailed and supported by all the fellow countrymen and the international community was totally suspended, the inter-Korean relations were extremely deteriorated and an atmosphere of a war against fellow countrymen is running higher. All their hostile acts against the DPRK have recently gone beyond such tolerance limit that they went the lengths of perpetrating the hideous provocations: They hurt the dignity of the leadership of the DPRK and its inviolable system. All facts go to clearly prove who truly wants dialogue and peace and who incites confrontation and war atmosphere on the peninsula.”

this one goes to 11

The dial on the KCNA vitriol machine, which had been at 11, was turned down to 4 in this statement.  The article did not mention Lee Myung-Bak by name and refrained from calling him a traitor or demanding his arrest. While it noted the “provocative actions” of the ROK government, these actions are not described as unforgivable or intolerable. So, while KCNA did not directly reference the Inter-Korean talks, it did soften its language from previous statements.

Meanwhile the DPRK seems to be playing its own game of carrots and sticks with the US. Kim Gae Gwan will travel to the US and test the water for resumed nuclear talks. Meanwhile KCNA will continue to make a case for a satellite launch, build its infrastructure accordingly , and organize a relatively large-scale military exercise. The message to the US and ROK is very clear. They can negotiate with the DPRK or deal with more provocations.

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Satellite of Love

Museo Militar, Beijing by nicolasrupcich

Museo Militar, Beijing by nicolasrupcich

KCNA News seems to be spending a lot of time talking about satellite launches. Today KNCA published a story on a communications satellite launched by India. Yesterday it was a Russian satellite launched from Kazakstan. Last week KCNA reported on a Chinese data relay satelliteNigeria. Iran. There have been six KCNA articles on satellite launches so far this month.

Japan’s early warning satellite is naturally an attempt to “intensify reconnaissance against other countries.”  Iran, whose motives are clearly as clean as the driven snow, is working hard to “boost the defense capability to beat back a possible invasion.”

These two articles aside, most of these KCNA reports have been on the launch of communications satellites consistent with the peaceful use of space, exactly the sort of space program that Pyongyang claims to have. It is almost as if KCNA was hinting at something or trying to make a case for some future event.

Maybe I am reading too much into this. Kim Jong Il might just be a big Lou Reed fan. Remember, even in North Korea, no one likes Cat Power.

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