August 5, 2011:
Another sign of the decline of the secret police in North Korea is the assignment of men from the Escort Bureau (the personal security force for the ruling Kim family) to the Chinese border. There, the Escort Bureau troops are to insure that police and border guards do not take bribes to allow people to enter or leave the country. Previously, everyone sent to “clean up border security” has become corrupted. Those selected for the Escort Bureau are supposed to be the most loyal (to the ruling Kim family) and reliable. But given the extent of corruption in the upper echelons of the ruling class, members of the Escort Bureau are familiar how their bosses get rich and powerful, and may well be tempted by all the lucrative offers available on the border.
North Korean negotiators have been a lot more “businesslike” (as foreigners like to describe it) in the last month. Normally, North Korean negotiators spew a lot of propaganda and non-negotiable demands. Progress doesn’t happen until word comes from senior North Korean leaders (who rarely participate in negotiations.) To the Chinese and Russians, who share open borders with North Korea, this new businesslike behavior is not surprising. Chinese and Russian traders regularly come in and out of North Korea, and they report a dire situation that is getting worse. In late July, North Korean negotiators met with their American counterparts in New York City for frank, and apparently useful, negotiations. The North Koreans need food and fuel, and need it fast and in large quantities.
In the north, electricity shortages cause trains to be frequently cancelled or delayed. So people wait for a train to arrive, sometimes for days. Railroad stations now have many people camping out there, waiting for a train to show up.
An increasing number of South Korean analysts and journalists, who specialize in covering North Korea, believe that the collapse of the northern government is inevitable, and will happen sooner (within five years) rather than later. Few believe the current North Korean government will still be around by the end of the decade. The problem is, no one is sure what will replace it. It seems likely that whatever new government appears in the north, it will be controlled by China (which made it clear that they do not want a united Korea, as in South Korea absorbing North Korea.) South Koreans are inclined to go along with this. But as long as Korea is divided, reuniting it will always be a festering issue for Koreans.
As the moment of collapse in the north gets closer, more South Koreans are agreeing with China taking over up there. For the last two decades, South Korean reunification experts have been studying what happened in Germany (after the communist East Germany was absorbed by the democratic West Germany). That cost the West German taxpayers about a trillion dollars. Estimates of what it will cost South Koreans to absorb North Korea are now close to three trillion dollars.
South Korean police have uncovered a hacking effort organized by South Korean gangsters, who used North Korean Cyber War operatives, working out of China, to defraud South Korean online gamers. The South Korean gangsters and the North Koreans split the take, which was over $10 million. At least fifteen South Korean criminals have been arrested so far, but none of the North Korean hackers have. It is assumed that the North Korean hackers were working at the behest of the North Korean government. North Korea has long employed criminal scams, and worked with criminals, to make money.
Bowing to the inevitable, North Korea is allowing more and more foreign news organizations to set up shop in North Korea. Because of all the foreign traders and cell phones, news gets out anyway. The foreign news organizations can be charged excessive prices for whatever they need, and restricted in what they can see. So this arrangement works out.
August 4, 2011: Yesterday, in response to recent heavy rains and flooding, South Korea said it would only send the $4.7 million in relief aid (food, medical supplies, blankets and such) to the north originally offered. North Korea had, after the initial offer, asked for more food, and cement. But the south refused, because large quantities of food and cement tend to be sold by the North Korean government to raise cash.
August 2, 2011: Japanese officials revealed that they believe North Korea has a new missile in service, the Musudan, which may have a range of up to 4,000 kilometers. That would put American bases in Guam (3,200 kilometers from North Korea) within range. Partly in response to new North Korean weapons developments, Japan and South Korea have increased their military cooperation. For many decades, this was not possible because of Korean anger at savage Japanese behavior during decades of Japanese occupation (1905-45).
August 1, 2011: South Korean police have arrested five South Koreans who belonged to a North Korean sleeper cell. North Korean agents and sympathizers are an old problem, but one of those recently arrested was an official for a leftist South Korea political party. This became a big deal in the media as leftist parties accused the more centrist government of using counterintelligence efforts to attack leftist parties. But many leftist parties have always supported tolerating or supporting the leftist police state in the north. In the last decade, most South Korean voters have turned more hostile towards North Korea.