Think-Tank Watch

By | February 10, 2012 | No Comments

Steven Denney is editor-in-chief  of PEAR, Yonsei University’s graduate journal, a leading voice at the Political Cartel (East Asia) blog, and a master’s student in Global Studies at Yonsei University. In the “week in review” for February 6 – February 10, 2012, Denney, Think-Tank Analyst for, compiles a list of recent articles on North Korea and Sino-North Korean relations.  – Editor

Engaging the New Regime

The AP reports that the US is looking to engage the new North Korean regime over the issue of nuclear disarmament and food aid (an issue that was on the docket before Kimg Jong-il’s death).

 We are open to diplomacy with North Korea, but there is a very clear set of steps that we think are necessary,” Campbell told reporters after meetings with South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Jae-shin and South Korean nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam.

We agreed that the path is open to North Korea toward the resumption of talks and improved relations” with Washington and Seoul, Campbell said, but “the road to improve these relations runs through Seoul for North Korea.

The AP also reports that the North’s overtures to the South, which included a call for direct talks, could be a response to Campbell’s call for diplomatic engagement involving South Korea.  Quoted in the article, Yonsei University professor John Delury gives his take on the call the DPRK’s call for dialogue with the South:

 Still, the North’s statement is ‘a bit of an olive branch’ when contrasted with its previous promises to ignore Seoul, said John Delury, an assistant professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies in South Korea.

The North, he said, could be acknowledging a message relayed by Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell during a trip to Seoul this week that Washington favors a diplomatic solution to a North Korean nuclear standoff, but only if Pyongyang improves ties with Seoul. Pyongyang has suggested a willingness to negotiate with the United States.

However, as reports have indicated, even while accepting aid from organizations within the South, North Korea doesn’t seem willing to negotiate with the current conservative government in Seoul, lead by Lee Myung-bak.

For some top Korean scholars, the road then runs first through Beijing and then onto Moscow before winding its way to Pyongyang.  Korea National Defense University Professor Park Young-chun (박영준), in an op-ed piece for the Korean version of the JoongAng Ilbo (중안 일보), argues that South Korea leaders should look to China and Russia for diplomatic engagement.  He argues that in order to mitigate North Korea’s provocative behavior, Russia should invite North Korea to join the forthcoming APEC summit Vladivostok.  The professor states:

New Russian leaders, who will be elected in the upcoming March elections, can help efforts at engagement by inviting North Korean leaders to the APEC summit, which will be held this September in Vladivostok.

In an interview conducted with Think-Tank Analyst Steven Denney (analysis forthcoming), Professor Park reasoned that if a more earnest effort at diplomatic engagement from Seoul isn’t attempted, the likelihood of provocative behavior by the DPRK is likely following the nation-wide celebration of Kim Il-sung’s centennial birthday in April.

Philip Yun makes a similar argument to professor Park’s in an article for the  Yun contends that another nuclear test is likely if the Kim Jong-un regime isn’t taken seriously.

The Korea Herald reports on North Korea’s increasing economic dependence on China.  Amongst other things, the article discusses the concern many South Korean analyst have concerning whether the DPRK may become China’s “fourth northeastern province” and the sharp decrease in inter-Korean business following the South’s freeze of trade with North Korea after the sinking of the ROKS Cheonon.  Also mentioned is the Rason special economic zone, a topic covered by Alan Ferrie in a recent Sino-NK dossier.  These two passages stand out:

The trade volume between China and North Korea jumped from $1.97 billion in 2007 to $5.62 billion in 2011 with the North suffering a deficit of about $700 million, according to figures compiled by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency. In contrast, the volume of South-North commerce showed a slight decrease from $1.79 billion to $1.71 billion over the cited period, with the North recording a surplus of about $114 million.

Excluding inter-Korean commerce, China accounted for a whopping 83 percent of North Korea’s external trade in 2010, up from 67.1 percent in 2007. China’s investment in the North rose from a mere $1.1 million in 2003 to $41 million, or 94.1 percent of the total foreign investment, in 2008 before decreasing to $12.1 million in 2010, according to figures from the Chinese Commerce Ministry.

Korea Times, February 9, 2012; courtesy Steven Denney

Illicit Drug Trade

The Korea Times reports that “the cash-strapped North Korean regime” may be “fueling the illicit drugs trade in the South.” From the article:

 Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun of the ruling Saenuri Party “estimated earlier this week that over half of illegal drugs on the local market are produced in the North after arriving by way of traffickers operating in China.”

The Daily NK reports that “more than half the illegal drugs arriving in South Korea are made in North Korea.”  National Assembly Foreign Affairs Trade and Unification Committee member Yoon Sang-hyun states in the article:

 ‘Drug trafficking in the North Korea-China border area is increasing and from the point of view that most of the drugs entering China are from North Korea, North Korean-made drugs are entering South Korea. 57.3% of the 8,200g of foreign pilopon (methamphetamines) discovered in South Korea last year was brought in from China, and a large quantity of that was estimated to be from North Korea.’

As Sino-NK analyst Jende Huang shows in his article “Spreading Meth Across the Chinese-North Korean Border,” the drugs aren’t just going south.


Andray Abrahamian at the Choson Exchange has an interesting piece about the CNC (Computer Numerical Control) – software-guided machine cutting, aka: machine tool automation.  As an export part, CNC production is extolled as a product that can significantly improve North Korea’s economy and international competitiveness.  The only problem is Ryonha – the company that produces and sells CNC – is a subsidiary of the Korea Ryonbong General Corporation, “which is under UN sanctions as a WMD proliferator.”

Geoffrey K. See talks about the commercial mindset in North Korea, especially amongst North Korean youth.

Marcus Noland, at North Korea: Witness to Transformation, writes about economic reform in North Korea.  He cites two co-authored works done on the effects of opening North Korea’s economy.  [See chapter 7 of Avoiding the Apocalypse (co-authored with Sherman Robinson) and this paper co-authored with Ligang Liu].  Puns abound.

Randall Ireson at 38 North argues that “agriculture could lead a revival of the DPRK economy if appropriate policy changes were implemented.”

In the Huanqiu Shibao, Guan Shaoming (官少明), a professor of international relations at the Chinese Foreign Affairs University [外交学院国际关系], argues that the health of China-South Korea relations depends on North Korea-South Korea relations.  (HT Joe Litt.)


From the International Herald Tribune – ‘Rendezvous:’  Cell phone usage in North Korea is used to access the outside world.  This line stands out:

A woman who defected from North Korea told me in Seoul that she speaks every week to her family who still lives in the North, despite there being no direct telecom links between the North and the South.

North Korea Tech reports that Koryolink, North Korea’s only commercial 3G cell phone network, has registered its millionth subscriber – taking only slightly over three years to do so.

Media and Rumors

Joe Litt, translator out of Yonsei, shows “How North and South Korean Media Are Similar.”  Writing at Political Cartel, Litt describes how both media in both Koreas have a tendency to report that other, outside news sources have reported a Korea-related story.  Of course, the outside sources referenced differ for the North and South.


Phoenix TV reports on a China Weibo microblogging storm of rumors about the reputed death of Kim Jong Un in Beijing, which seem to be based primarily on the notion that the successor has not been seen in official North Korean media for a few days and some larger number of cars than usual at the DPRK Embassy in Beijing. PRC official media have yet to acknowledge the online tempest, but Phoenix’s liminal position in the mainland media world seems to indicate that, if anything concrete is known, the outlet will be the one to confirm or deny it; they also apparently have reporters stationed outside of the DPRK Embassy in Beijing.  In the meantime, a somewhat raw (and typically ironic/unconscionably Google-translation-dependant) roundup of the rumors can be found on Gawker, Huffington Post, and an outfit associated with Reuters. Please follow my Weibo feed for a stream of some of the relevant threads. — Adam Cathcart, editor 

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