Korea: Secrets, Lies And The Politics Of Hunger

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September 29,2008:  North Korean leader Kim Jong Il apparently fell ill last April, and months of treatment left him unable to continue nuclear disarmament negotiations. It's unclear if he is back at work, but no one else seems to be able to make decisions. Meanwhile, the Chinese have better connections inside North Korea, but apparently do not share a lot of information with anyone else. Defectors from North Korea believe that the Chinese will take over if it appears that the North Korean government is about to fall apart. The Chinese plan to install pro-Chinese North Koreans as head of a new "North Korean" government, and institute the kind of economic reforms they have been urging the North Korean to undertake for over a decade. The Chinese do not want North Korea to merge with South Korea, nor do they want North Korea to collapse (and send millions of starving refugees into northern China. China and South Korea both want North Korea to stay independent, and harmless. Thus China is willing to unofficially annex North Korea, knowing that the South Koreans would go along with this as long as the fiction of North Korean independence were maintained. South Korea won't admit this, but most South Koreans know that absorbing North Korea would put a big dent in South Korean living standards. That is more unpopular than any other outcome.

Food has become a very contentious issue in the north. Farmers are becoming more reluctant to turn over food to the government. That means food is being hidden, and local government officials bribed or threatened to look the other way. Politics also plays a big role in who gets UN food aid. This is one reason the government has resisted UN demands that food distribution be monitored. The government needs to control food distribution as another way to reward officials who are most successful in controlling the population. It's a very successful incentive system.

North Korea is getting angry at growing popular demand in South Korea that the north treat it's people better. The North Korean government gets very angry at these accusations, not to mention this "interference" in their internal affairs. But for decades, South Korea played down the human rights in the north, in order to develop better diplomatic relations. But the human rights news from the north kept getting worse, and popular opinion in the south turned against the policy of silence.

September 28, 2008: The U.S. has sent a senior diplomat to South Korea, to try and work out some way to get North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons work, and resume negotiations.

September 25, 2008: North Korea has offered to resume negotiations with South Korea, the first time they have indicated any interest in this since the new, more conservative, South Korean government took power last February.

September 24, 2008: The seals and UN IAEA monitoring equipment have been removed, by the North Koreans, from their partially dismantled Yongbyon nuclear reactor.

September 21, 2008: South Korea is reducing its military buffer zone south of the DMZ (demilitarized zone) separating it from North Korea, from 15 kilometers to 10 kilometers. This will free up land for commercial use. The South Koreans believe the North Korean military is in poor shape, and that another North Korean invasion is highly unlikely.

September 19, 2008: North Korea announced that it was restarting its nuclear research reactor at Yongbyon. This would take several months, and they have enough nuclear material to produce enough plutonium for one nuclear bomb. North Korea is doing this because it refuses to allow international inspectors to affirm that the North Korean nuclear weapons program has been shut down, and stays shut down. The U.S. refuses to send North Korea food and fuel unless there is acceptable verification. North Korea will not tolerate any kind of verification.

September 12, 2008: Despite efforts of the secret police and Communist Party, word of Kim Jong Ils illness got out in the wake of the September 9th celebrations in the capital, for the 60th anniversary celebrations of the founding of North Korea. Kim Jong Il did not show up, and the thousands of people from all over the country (to march and demonstrate their loyalty to the state) were exposed to the many rumors in the city.

 

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