The U.S. efforts to get South Korea and Japan to tone down the political tensions over who owns Dokdo Island have failed. The U.S. had earlier suggested that Japan cede to South Korean claims on Dokdo. But the worthless outcroppings are an emotional issue that makes rational solutions very difficult to implement. South Korea has long been willing to sacrifice good relations with Japan over the issue of who owns the uninhabited Dokdo (Takeshima to the Japanese) Islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea in Korea). There are two large rocks permanently above water and 35 smaller ones (and about 50 that are seen only at low tide). What is really going on here is continued Korean resentment of Japanese colonial occupation and centuries of Japanese aggression towards Korea. Both countries have been sending more air naval reconnaissance missions to the rocky outcroppings, and the mass media in both countries have been jumping all over the tension. Japanese politicians would take an enormous domestic political hit if they managed to get the votes in their parliament to give South Korea Dokdo. But it would make Japan popular enough in South Korea to get the long-desired (by defense officials in both countries) cooperation treaty. The Dokdo dispute has been a recurring source of bad feelings between the two countries. This dispute is an enormous benefit to North Korea as it prevents South Korea and Japan to cooperate closely on keeping an eye on North Korea.
Still, nothing but rumors of economic reforms out of North Korea. The economy up there continues to crumble and more people are destitute and starving. It is interesting that China and North Korea have allowed a public spat between a Chinese company and North Korean bureaucrats over how a joint mining venture in North Korea was mishandled. China accuses North Korean officials of trying to extort additional cash while the North Koreans call the Chinese partner exploitative and inept. Both sides are probably right, to a certain extent, but this public debacle makes it clear that many North Korean officials do not yet know how to do business efficiently.
Inflation in North Korea is accelerating, with the price of rice in the markets more than doubling in the last three months. The North Korean government says little about the inflation, instead annoying the population with calls for more "volunteer" guards to protect statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il from vandals (who might scribble some unkind graffiti). In addition to guard duty the government ordered more extensive annual (large scale) civil defense drills last month.
September 10, 2012: After making South Korea wait a week for an answer, North Korea has agreed to allow the south to send aid for North Korean flood victims. Two recent typhoons killed 223 people in the North, left 230,000 people homeless, 700,000 without medical care, and put 1,190 square kilometers of farm land temporarily out of production. American charities have been airlifting in medical supplies.
September 4, 2012: South Korea launched its first submarine rescue ship, the 3,500 ton
Tongyeong. The ship is equipped to help disabled subs that are on the surface or underwater.
September 2, 2012: South Korea and Japan have temporarily suspended military cooperation until media and political commotion over the disputed Dokdo Islands settles down.
September 1, 2012: A Chinese firm announced it had paid to obtain access to two wharves on the east coast North Korean port of Chongjin for 30 years. This would enable the new joint venture (40 percent is owned by the North Korean government) to handle 7 million tons of cargo a year. If there is no interference by corrupt North Korean officials (who are increasingly aggressive in their greed) this project would cut shipping costs for three of Chinas northeastern provinces.
Iran and North Korea signed a scientific and technological cooperation agreement. Both countries have long sold each other weapons and weapons technology. This trade continues, even though sanctions against both nations forbid it. The two countries consider themselves united by common enemies (the West and especially the United States).
August 30, 2012: UN investigators report that North Korea has made noticeable progress in building a new nuclear reactor. This one, like the others, would mainly serve to produce radioactive material for nuclear weapons. This new reactor, which appears to be headed for completion next year, could produce enough plutonium each year for four nuclear weapons. North Korea has refused to halt its nuclear weapons program, which worries even the Chinese.
August 29, 2012: South Korea announced that it was increasing the size of its military cyber command and devoting more effort to defeating the growing number of hacker attacks from North Korea. This will include the increased use of Cyber War weapons to attack North Korea. That will be difficult because North Korea has very few Internet users and most of them apparently work for the government (the remainder are government approved foreigners).