June 25, 2011:
Famine is not the only horror found in North Korea. There is also the growing hunt for corrupt officials. This has caused yet another layer of corruption. That's because so many of corruption investigators, or their bosses, are either on the take, or have family who are. One problem is that the list of what is forbidden is so long. For example, products from South Korea are forbidden, but this stuff is enormously popular. So inspectors expect labels from South Korean clothing to be removed, to avoid hassles for the seller. South Korean clothes are easily identifiable by their style and overall quality, but if there's no identifying label, everyone pretends it's Chinese and moves on. Similar ploys are increasingly popular. It's all a nod and a wink and pretending. This even applies to South Korean hair styles and mannerisms from South Korean movies and TV shows. Good pretenders prosper in the north.
The last few months have been dry up north, meaning that the potato crop, planted in April, is much less than normal. Growing electricity shortages have made the poor harvest worse, as there was not enough power to run irrigation pumps. In many parts of the country, the malnourished work force simply can't, or won't, work as hard. Government employees and security forces don't get as much food as they used to, but they are still better fed than everyone else. This is a growing source of unrest, made worse by the growing corruption among officials. The differences are most stark when you compare the public mood of a decade ago to what it is today. Now, North Koreans talk back, and get away with it. Cops or secret police who try to beat or arrest people who openly criticize government action, can have a riot on their hands. The cops will often back off, and the people know it. What really accelerated this change in attitude was the disastrous currency reforms of late 2009. Many North Koreans lost their fear after that catastrophe, and there's no going back. In response, many more members of the secret police, who deal with the people daily, are becoming corrupt, fleeing the country, or both. Suicides among corrupt security officials are on the rise. Another new development is the anti-corruption effort recognizing that so many security officials are dirty, and that the only source of uncorrupted (yet) officials are among the younger ones. So secret police are suddenly no longer older guys who have lived in the area for years, but younger men from somewhere else, who suddenly appear with a license to kill, and no local relationships to soften the blows. The problem is that the effect on the local population has not been to terrify them, but to make them angrier. The government has failed to grasp the fact that most North Koreans could not have survived, during and after the great famine of the 1990s, if not for "corruption." Playing by the rules was, and is, a death sentence. While the North Korean people are much oppressed, they are not suicidal. There is a lot to be desperate about these days up north. Recent surveys show that over a third of the young (under age 5) children are malnourished. Stories of cannibalism are returning. In light of all this, the new police crackdowns are less scary.
In the north, the government has ordered the new special economic zones for China be opened as quickly as possible. These zones must produce as much income for the north as soon as possible. That's because the current promised economic miracle (which a propaganda campaign says will happen by 2012) is not happening. Most northerners saw this propaganda gambit for what it is, but it was not healthy to say so openly. Now, you don't have to say the "2012 economic miracle" is a farce, the government does it for you. For example, one aspect of the 2012 plan was the construction of 100,000 new apartments in the capital. Shortages of power and building materials have forced this to be cut to 20,000 apartments. Many believe even that won't be achievable. As this is in the capital, it's there for all to see, as only 500 new apartments have been built so far. Over 50,000 apartments were to have been completed by now.
South Korean intelligence officials believe that the corruption and economic mess up north have fatally weakened the communist dictatorship there. In particular, the Kim dynasty is seen as one of the weakest of several factions. The army leadership is perceived as the strongest faction, followed by the secret police. But the army is a huge organization (about a million people) that is largely composed of conscripts. While these draftees may be eating well because they are soldiers, their folks back home often are not. This is not good for morale. The secret police are corrupt, and now being torn apart by anti-corruption efforts.
The North Korean leadership continues to be terrified by the uprisings in the Arab world. Two examples of this are the refusal to let 300 North Koreans working in Libya to come home. Nearly all foreign workers have gotten out of Libya, often transported with the help of military forces from back home. China arranged for ships and military aircraft to get out nearly 40,000 Chinese. But North Korea has ordered its citizens in Libya to stay put. Meanwhile, North Korea has ordered more riot control gear from China. North Korea has been importing more police gear in general, to help deal with the growing crime rate. Two decades of poverty and hunger has led to more family problems, juvenile delinquents, and more criminal activity in general.
The two North Korean attacks last year have put long sought South Korean military reforms into high gear. This means changes in the senior leadership, and well as new equipment and more effective training. South Korea has also increased its efforts to deal with growing Cyber War activity from North Korea.
June 24, 2011: South Korea and the United States told the north that negotiations (about northern nukes and much needed food and energy aid) were not going to happen until the north demonstrated they were serious about reform, and keeping promises. The northern leadership is very hostile to doing anything that could be portrayed as bending to the will of South Korea or the United States. Meanwhile, international efforts to shut down North Korean arms exports are succeeding, thus halting a major source of money for essential imports. If North Korea wants to resume negotiations, it will have to be from a position of weakness.
June 23, 2011: Chinese officials have openly warned North Korea to not attack South Korea again. Privately, Chinese officials are telling foreign diplomats and visiting dignitaries that China is fed up with North Korean bad behavior, and are not going to tolerate it any more. But American military officials are just as openly discussing their belief that the North Koreans will make another attack, although an invasion is seen as less likely.
June 17, 2011: Two marines at a guard post on Gyodong island, off the west coast, 1.7 kilometers south of the North Korean border, opened fire on a Chinese airliner, coming in low in the fog to land at Seoul airport. None of the bullets hit, and the pilots of the airliner never knew they were under fire. But the marines promptly reported the incident. They also had to account for the 99 rounds of ammo they had fired. Given the tensions, and the bad weather conditions at the time, the two marines were not punished. It appears that troops have been given new instructions on how to evaluate suspicious sounds at night and in the fog (which is common in areas near the North Korean border), and how to aim (in front of the sound) in order to hit such aerial targets.
June 16, 2011: South Korea reported that it had moved its MLRS rocket launchers, and their 165 kilometer GPS guided ATACMS rockets, to the DMZ. This enables the guided rockets to hit targets deeper in North Korea. But not, as reported in the media, the North Korean capital, which is 220 kilometers north of the DMZ. South Korea is also planning to station some AH-64 helicopter gunships on islands off the west coast, near the North Korean border.
June 12, 2011: Nine North Koreans (three men, two women and four children) escaped to South Korea, along the heavily patrolled west coast, in two small boats. North Korea demanded that the escapees be returned, but South Korea refused.