April 23, 2014:
In response to increased public pressure by the U.S. government to restrain North Korea the Chinese pointed out that North Korea has been openly disdainful of Chinese calls for restraint. North Korea has also abused and stolen from Chinese firms in North Korea and openly broken agreements with China. As discouraging as this response was, it was an open admission by China that North Korea was out of control and self-destructive to an extreme. The Chinese are not only concerned about what’s going on inside North Korea but what North Koreans are doing in China. North Korea has ordered its secret police agents allowed to operate in northeast China to be more energetic in finding and returning North Koreans who have escaped to China. The North Korean agents are supposed to collect information and let Chinese police make arrests (of illegal immigrants or North Koreans found to be involved in something illegal). This is how China justifies the hundreds of North Korea secret police working in China. But the North Korean agents have become more aggressive and China has warned the North Koreans to behave. Yet China does not want to expel the North Korean secret police because they do help control illegal activity among the ethnic Korean community (several million people, most of them Chinese citizens) in China.
Satellite photos showing work on a North Korean tunnel of the type used for nuclear tests indicate that the actual test is not imminent. Work on the tunnel has been underway since early 2013 and once it is done this year there could be another nuclear weapons test. Completion appears to be a month or more away. Work on the tunnel is seasonal and with the warm weather returning is picking up again. This would be the fourth nuclear test. The first three indicate a crude nuclear weapon design that still needs a lot of work. China does not want the test to happen but North Korea refuses to discuss the matter with their only ally.
One of the things that worries North Korean leaders the most is the realization that decades of propaganda, which kept most North Koreans believing they were better off than South Koreans, has been undone by videos illegally brought in on CDs, DVDs and memory sticks that revealed what was really going on in the south. In the last decade this has created a generation of North Koreans who no longer believe in North Korea.. The secret police report that the younger generation, born in the 1990s and since then are lost. These youngsters do not believe the official government line that North Korea is a paradise and getting better all the time.
An example of how the new kids disdain the government can be seen in a program designed to get homeless kids off the streets. In 2013 the police were ordered to pick up the growing number of homeless children (seen begging or just running wild even by foreign visitors) and put them under the control of local government. This meant putting the kids into state-run orphanages. Because of the food and other shortages the government didn’t have the resources to house and feed all these homeless kids adequately. As a result many of those rounded up in 2013 have run away from the hard work and short rations at the orphanages, seeing their survival prospects better on the streets. Most of these kids are orphans, their parents having died or disappeared into prison camps, China or elsewhere in North Korea. The poverty and privation is so great in the north that the extended family no longer provides a safety net and there is often no kin to take in abandoned or orphaned children. So the children (many ten and under) just hit the streets and become a source of criminal activity and, more embarrassing for the government, defectors who get to China and commit a lot of crimes or worse yet, tell the truth about how life is in North Korea. Some North Korean officials want to just quietly kill these “worthless children” but senior officials know that could be a public-relations disaster and forbid it, officially at least for now. The North Korean secret police often make people just disappear but if it is done on a large scale mistakes are likely to be made and the truth revealed.
Signs of this decline in belief in North Korea can be seen everywhere, especially in the markets. For example, one thing you rarely saw until recently was people selling badges featuring likenesses of the three Kim men who have ruled North Korea since 1945. These images are considered sacred and it was an honor to be given, and then wear, badges (for some meritorious achievement) featuring a picture of one of the Kim leaders. No more. People avoid wearing the badges and those who receive them head right for the marketplace to sell it. These badges are sought by foreign collectors and tourists. Meanwhile images of the Kims on billboards and monuments are increasingly defaced with anti-government graffiti.
The North Korean leaders now believe that religion is a major threat. So the secret police operating in China are spending a lot of time monitoring ethnic Korean Christians there, especially those who openly support helping North Koreans become Christian or practicing religion there. There have been more arrests of Christians in the north, even in the capital. People practice religion in private, but informers are everywhere and there ware rewards for those who bring in information the government wants.
In response to recent revelations that North Korea has been sending cheap, but hard-to-spot Chinese commercial UAVs into South Korea, the government revealed two UAVs developed and manufactured in South Korea but not given much publicity. One of these UAVs was similar in size and capability to the North Korean UAVs and the government admitted that these carried out clandestine missions in North Korea. This may have motivated the North Koreans to respond with the Chinese UAVs.
Russia has agreed to forgive 90 percent of the $10 billion it is owned by North Korea. This is apparently part of a deal to get North Korea to allow Russia to build a natural gas pipeline to South Korea. This project will bring North Korea a lot of money during construction and when in use. Clearing out old debts is also important because North Korea reneged on billions of dollars of foreign debts in the 1990s and ruined its ability to borrow from foreign banks.
April 18, 2014: Two of the three North Korean UAVs found in South Korea over the last five months have been traced back to a Chinese manufacturer (Taiyuan Navigation Technology). These two models were identical to the SKY-09P UAV offered for sale in China. North Korea modified the SKY-09P with a new paint job (to make it harder to spot), a muffler (to make it less detectable) and installed a different camera. The SKY-09P was used via its robotic mode, where the SKY-09P flew to pre-programmed GPS coordinates, taking digital photos over selected areas. The SKY-09P is a 12 kg (26 pound) delta wing aircraft with a wingspan of 1.92 meters (6.25 feet), a propeller in the front and a payload of three kg (6.6 pounds). It is launched via a catapult and lands via a parachute. Endurance is 90 minutes and cruising speed is 90 kilometers an hour.
April 17, 2014: In the United States American, South Korean and Japanese officials met to plan and coordinate their response to another North Korean nuclear test.
April 14, 2014: North Korea denied that the three small UAVs found in South Korea recently were North Korean. South Korea noted that any serial numbers on the three UAVs had been removed but that some of the batteries used in the Chinese made UAVs were of North Korean origin.
April 12, 2014: North Korea denounced a recent South Korean proposal for eventual reunification via heavy South Korean economic investment in North Korea as well as the resumption of food and other humanitarian aid. Many northern leaders understand that the southern proposal could actually work, but would put the northern leaders out of a job and, according to UN war crimes investigators, on trial for “crimes against humanity.” It also bothered the northerners that China openly supported this proposal. South Korean officials would like to discuss amnesty for the North Korean leadership but the UN war crimes bureaucracy is pretty hostile to this sort of thing.
April 11, 2014: The U.S. and South Korea began their largest ever joint air force training exercise involving over a hundred warplanes, half from each country. The exercises went on for two weeks. This annoys North Korea a great deal because the biggest military edge South Korea has is in the air.
April 9, 2014: South Korea announced that it is buying ten radars from Israel. The new radars are tweaked to detect small, low flying UAVs.
April 7, 2014: Responding to Japanese concerns about the growing ballistic missile threat from North Korea and China, the U.S. agreed to send two more Aegis ballistic missile defense ships to Japan. These Burke class destroyers will arrive by 2017 and be based in Japan.
April 6, 2014: North Korean media made public the fact that the Commerce Minister had been replaced. There have been rumors of massive (hundreds) of personnel changes in the senior bureaucracy as Kim Jong Un eliminated real or suspected supporters of Jang Sung Taek, his uncle. Jang was denounced in early December and executed on December 12th. The reports indicate that shortly after Jang was executed the secret police rounded up Jang’s siblings along with their children and grandchildren and killed them all. Some who resisted orders to leave their homes and accompany the secret police were shot on the spot, in front of witnesses. Those who had married into the family were spared and sent to live with their families. Such mass murder is an ancient custom and was once found all over the world. It persisted longest in East Asia, where has been less frequently used in the last century or so. The purpose was to prevent family members later seeking revenge for the execution of their kinsman. There have since been rumors (but no confirmation) that hundreds of lower ranking officials have been executed.
April 5, 2014: The Japanese Defense Ministry made public orders to Japanese forces to destroy any North Korean missile that appears headed for Japanese territory of is going through Japanese air space. Japan has the means to do this, especially with its Aegis equipped warships.
April 3, 2014: In China a state controlled newspaper published an editorial sharply critical of North Korea. This was partly in response to recent public denunciations of China in North Korea.
April 2, 2014: In South Korea a former North Korean intelligence official revealed that Kim Jong IL, who ruled the north from 1994 to 2011, suffered two assassination attempts and two attempted coups by army personnel. This, the former North Korea official (who would not use his real name for fear of retaliation) said explains the seemingly paranoid behavior of Kim Jong Il and his son Kim Jong Un.