July 14, 2010:
North Korean secret police are openly seeking the source of anti-government leaflets and 5,000 won notes (with offending messages added). The 5,000 won note, worth about $3, has a portrait of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung on it, and some of these notes, with anti-Kim slogans added, have been found scattered around statues of Kim Il Sung. This sort of behavior is considered sacrilege in the north, but it reflects attitudes shared by many more northerners.
China has allowed North Korean secret police agents to operate in southern China. There, the North Korean operatives are seeking to spot North Korean refugees seeking to get out of China and into a country that has a South Korean embassy such refugees can freely enter, to seek entry into South Korea. The Chinese cooperate by arresting any North Koreans that are identified as in China illegally. North Korea has sent agents from two competing agencies (military intelligence and the NSA, or National Security Agency) to help prevent corruption. The agents have been ordered to watch their rivals for signs of someone being bribed.
The North Korea economy shrank by one percent last year, and continues to slide this year, while the South Korean economy is growing at the rate of 5.9 percent this year. The unemployment rate in the south is 3.5 percent, while it is over 20 percent in the north.
In the north, the government has managed to scrape together enough food (from China and local resources) to avoid widespread starvation. But a lot of people are going hungry, and another generation of stunted children is on the way. Another major source of food is the farmers markets, which were recently made legal again. This made available lots of food that farmers had hidden, a practice that can get you killed. But so can starvation.
The North Korean government has called for a meeting of the Workers Party delegates in September. This is the first time in 44 years that such a meeting has been arranged. The Workers Party delegates are only convened for big changes, and this one is believed to be for declaring Kim Jong Il's youngest son (27 year old Kim Jong Un) as his heir. There's a lot of resistance to this within the government (mainly because Kim Jong Un, who is quite smart, is young and inexperienced.) The North Korean media has been mentioning Kim Jong Un's name more frequently, introducing him to his future subjects.
Earlier this year, North Korea began issuing new identity cards, that are tracked by a computerized database. This has enabled the secret police to more easily discover who has fled the country. With the older manual system, this was too labor intensive to do except in exceptional cases. But now, the secret police are scouring areas bordering China (where most refugees who show up in South Korea appear to come from), to identify those who have left, and threaten their families. The North Korean police hope to use this pressure as a way to coerce refugees in South Korea to act as North Korean spies. The new ID card is also expected to slow down the flow of refugees. The North Koreans are particularly eager to halt the flow of soldiers who are fleeing the country. There are always some troops who desert and just disappear inside North Korea. But more of these deserters are being found in China, and South Korea. There, the soldiers report that the troops are now going hungry, and senior officers are stockpiling food and attempting to move their families to China.
South Korea has activated the first two remote controlled sensor/machine-gun systems on the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone), which forms the border with North Korea. This is similar to a system Israel has been using for several years along its Gaza border. South Korean troops in a central location monitor the sensors (motion, sound, heat, night vision and day cameras), and can activate a 5.62mm machine-gun if needed. The sensors can detect movement of people up to 2,000 meters away. The machine-gun can hit targets at about half that distance.
In North Korea, officials are openly congratulating each other for another victory over South Korea. In this case, its the recent UN resolution condemning the sinking of the South Korea warship Cheonan last March, without blaming North Korea. That happened because China threatened to use its veto if North Korea were blamed. South Korea still has not come up with a way to retaliate against North Korea, that does not risk escalating violence.
July 6, 2010: For the first time in seven years, Russia conducted a military drill on the North Korean border, to test procedures for handling massive unrest in North Korea, and the expected flow of refugees trying to get into Russia.