Korea: China Crosses The Yalu

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August 3, 2008: The Chinese invasion along its border with North Korea continues. Over the last year, the use of Chinese currency has become widespread. North Korean currency is seen as unreliable and more prone to inflation. Merchants in the free markets now prefer to get paid in Yuan (the Chinese currency). A year ago, only the wealthy had Yuan, but since then, Chinese traders, seeing an opportunity, have flooded the border region with Yuan, and found a ready market. Smuggling from North Korea into China continues to grow, and the smugglers now want to be paid in Yuan. First Chinese products, then Chinese cell phones, now Chinese currency. The North Korean government cannot crack down too hard on this Chinese invasion, because the Chinese have made it clear that they will shut down the border to North Korean officials, and take whatever other measures that are necessary, to protect Chinese interests. China is North Korea's last "friend" in the world (unless you count Cuba, which few in North Korea do), and one the North Korean ruling class cannot afford to push too far.

August 1, 2008: The long simmering dispute over who owns the uninhabited Dokdo (Takeshima to the Japanese) islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea in Korean) continues. North Korea (because they also hate Japan) and Russia (because Japan claims the Russian Kuril islands) back South Korea.  The U.S. tried to back out this dispute by changing its maps to show the uninhabited islands belonging to no one. But the South Korean found out about that and raised a stink. The U.S. reversed that decision, but let it be known that it would not go much further than that. Meanwhile, South Korea threatens to escalate the situation by building a hotel on one of the islands. There is some chance that all this could lead to shooting between South Korea and Japan over this.

What is really going on here is continued Korean resentment of Japanese colonial occupation from 1910-45, and centuries of Japanese aggression towards Korea. Both countries have been sending more air naval reconnaissance missions to the islands, and the mass media in both countries have been jumping all over the tension.

July 31, 2008: North Korea has given the UN permission to set up an emergency food program for some six million North Koreans who are starving. In the past, North Korea diverted much of the food aid to other uses (including openly exporting it to China for cash). That may happen again, and that's why many donors are no longer willing to contribute cash or food for North Korea. While the UN may get in there, it appears that not enough food will be available to distribute.

July 30, 2008: South Korea has been providing rice to North Korean border guards and troops along the DMZ, when they noticed that the government has (earlier this year) cut rations for government employees (including the police and military.)

July 28, 2008: Although South Korea is becoming a major weapons exporter, it is still a major importer. In fact, Israel and South Korea have both imported the same quantity of U.S. weapons over the last five years.

July 25, 2008: Since a North Korea border guard shot and killed a South Korea tourist two weeks ago, visits to the north have dropped 25 percent.  In response, North Korea threatens to expel some of the 260 South Koreans working at the Diamond Mountain resort where the shooting took place.  

 

July 21, 2008: The U.S. has changed its negotiating tactics with North Korea, and is using high level officials to negotiate with their North Korean counterparts. The current objective is to get the North Koreans to agree to verification for recent claims that they had dismantled parts of their nuclear weapons program (a precondition for U.S. food and economic aid). North Korea refuses to allow verification, and demands "respect as a nuclear power." North Korea isn't a nuclear power, as all they did was set off a poorly designed nuclear device. But North Korea always thinks big and asks for the impossible.

July 19, 2008: South Korea is sending nine counter-terrorism experts to join its peacekeeping unit in southern Lebanon. The UN force there is under constant threat by local Islamic radicals (Hizbollah), and South Korea wants to minimize the danger to the 350 support troops it has there.

July 16, 2008: In the north, the potato harvest has been good, but in areas where potatoes are not cultivated, there is starvation, with large segments of the population appearing very thin and listless.

 

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