The North Korean soap opera continues to take odd turns. The most recent development is an sharp jump in North Korean demands. They have resumed their nuclear weapons program and are threatening to set off another underground nuclear bomb test unless;
- The UN takes back its accusations that the North Korean government mistreats its people.
- South Korea stops bringing up human rights problems in North Korea.
- Everyone stop criticizing the north for its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons activities.
- The United States signs an agreement promising never to attack North Korea.
- The West delivers enough food to end the famine and starvation in the north, and enough fuel to turn the lights back on.
- The south pays more money to the north for industrial parks in the north, and help the north import goods that are forbidden by international sanctions.
The newly elected South Korean government has renounced the "sunshine" policy that dominated South Korean relations towards the north for nearly a decade. South Korean voters concluded that this policy did not work (it apparently did not), but the north liked it because it meant that the north got lots of free stuff from the south, and not much criticism.
There is increased activity (according to spy satellite sensors) at North Korean missile and nuclear development sites. The nuclear weapons are critical to the north, as their conventional armed forces are falling apart because of over a decade of economic decline. Moreover, North Korean nukes are quite primitive. The only test was apparently of a defective design, that made a much smaller bang than expected. Thus the nuclear weapons developers want to conduct more tests now that they have tweaked the design. Another problem is designing and building a miniaturized version of the weapon that can fit into a ballistic missile warhead. This can take 5-10 years, at least. North Korea has been trying to buy this technology (from Russian and Chinese sources), but apparently has not been successful. Neither China nor Russia wants North Korea to have operational nukes. North Korea had agreed, two years ago, to give up their nukes in return for lots of free food and fuel. But a dispute within the North Korean government over the importance of nuclear weapons to the survival of the North Korean dictatorship (and the people running it) led to the deal being broken. Now North Korea wants the goodies without giving up their nukes.
Public executions are resuming. These had been halted, mainly because of the bad publicity overseas. But the executions have been resumed when they involve senior officials (there are still plenty of non-public executions). This is meant to show the people that high ranking operatives are not immune from justice. The executions apparently also serve to discourage senior officials from corrupt practices (which are growing) and poor discipline (another growth area). To enhance negotiations with foreigners, the government is also taking hostages. They have two American journalists they dragged across the Chinese border, and a South Korean working in the North Korean industrial zone. The North Korea are trying to get a raise for the 38,300 North Korea workers employed by South Korean firms in industrial parks near the border. These workers get only $75 a month, and most of that is taken by the North Korean government. The north has also been making more impossible promises, to increase living standards for an increasingly fed up population. The big deal this year is a five month plant to build tens of thousands of new homes. There has always been a housing shortage in North Korea, which is typical of communist countries.
A recent survey of North Koreans who fled to China, found that, despite generations of anti-American propaganda, 19 percent of the refugees wanted to go to the United States. Only 64 percent wanted to go to South Korea, and 14 percent were content to stay in China (there is a large ethnic Korean community in northeastern China.)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has apparently selected his youngest (25 year old Kim Jong Un) son as his successor. As the first step in this process, Kim Jong Un has been appointed to a low ranking job with the National Defense Commission (or NDC), where he can be rapidly promoted over a few years to give him some "experience." But his father, Kim Jong Il, does not look long for this world. So an interim government, composed of a committee of generals and security officials, will rule as regent until Kim Jong Un is considered old enough to take over. That might be never, because North Korea is not expected to last much longer. Unless the leadership up north can reverse the economic and social decline, the North Korean police state is just going to collapse. The NDC is run by the generals, and has also had most intelligence operations of the communist party transferred to them. This weakens the communist party, while making the generals more powerful. Apparently, the leadership up north (which basically represents a few percent of the population) believes that their best chance of survival is with the generals, not the communist politicians. The communist party had previously controlled two intel agencies, which kept an eye on the south (as well as some people in the north.) But now the communist party has fewer eyes, and the generals have more.
The United States and South Korea have agreed to cooperate in fighting Chinese and North Korean Cyber War attacks. Both the U.S. and South Korea have suffered some high profile hack attacks from, apparently, North Korea and China, in the past few years.
In response to the current global recession (and its effect on the South Korean economy), South Korea is reducing its defense spending by about 5 percent and is slowing down a decade long military reform program.