Korea: The Night of the Generals

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March 4, 2007: About a quarter of the North Korean population are malnourished, and getting sick and dying at a higher rate than the rest of the population. Overall, the population up north is only getting about 80 percent of the food they need. Lack of fuel means that most urban dwellers are only getting an hour of electricity a day. Shipments of food aid from South Korea won't necessarily get everyone fed. That's because, unlike the halted UN food aid (which had to be monitored), the South Korean food aid will not be monitored. As Chinese rice traders across the border know, that means a lot of the South Korean food aid will be sold, so the government can buy things it needs (consumer goods for the ruling class, and weapons and equipment for the security forces.) North Korea will be tempted to sell a lot of the food aid, because the armed forces are in terrible shape, and the generals want more resources to modernize, and conduct more training. The military will also get a lot of the food aid, because the troops have not been getting as much food as they would like, because so much food aid has been halted in the past year.

March 3, 2007: In order to encourage South Korea to start shipping food and fertilizer, North Korea has agreed to allow the resumption of reunions of families split by the end of the Korean war in 1953. North Korea has also ordered its allies in Japan (largely people of Korean ancestry) to stage demonstrations against government crackdowns on criminal activities that raised cash for the North Korean government. The demonstrators, however, insist they are being persecuted for being Koreans. The Japanese do a lot of that too, but mainly they have been cutting off supplies of criminal cash headed for North Korea. Japan has refused to resume aid until North Korea comes clean on decades of secret kidnappings of Japanese civilians.

March 2, 2007: South Korea told the north that no aid arrives until the nuclear plant is shut down.

February 27, 2007: South Korea offered the north aid in the form of 500,000 tons of food and 350,000 tons of fertilizer. But the north is demanding a million tons of food and 450,000 tons of fertilizer.

February 27, 2007: North Korean and South Korean negotiators have agreed to resume aid to the north within the next month. To do that within the terms of the current deal, North Korea must shut down its nuclear reactor, and work is apparently started to do that.

February 26, 2007: In North Korea, food prices (on the open markets) have fallen about 15 percent, apparently in anticipation of the resumption of South Korean food aid. Chinese rice gets into North Korea, via private traders who sell it for a 25-30 percent markup. North Koreas missile and nuclear weapons tests have cut off a lot of foreign food aid in the last year, providing a larger market for Chinese rice. But now the free foreign aid rice is returning.

February 24, 2007: North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, who is 65 years old, has agreed to allow a committee of generals to run the country if he died. None of Kims sons has shown sufficient ability to take over, and unlike Kim, none has developed the contacts needed for anyone wanting to take power. The generals have been the main supporters of Kims rule, and this new arrangement appears to be his way of thanking them. China has been conspiring with North Korean Communist Party officials, to oust Kim and install a government that would allow Chinese style economic reforms (a market economy, with a more liberal communist police state). The security forces have not taken sides yet, but many in the secret police are leaning towards the Chinese solution.

 

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