Weekly Digest

By | February 24, 2012 | No Comments

Steven Denney is the Editor-in-Chief of the Yonsei Journal of International Studies (PEAR) — a journal which is accepting submissions from graduate students and junior faculty until March 15, Seoul time. As if sharpening his knives for the carnage of editing to come, Denney has been reading and thinking about the work of Bruce Cumings, the University of Chicago historian whose immense Niebelungen cycle for the Pacific matches here with B.R. Myers’ nimbly etched Atlantic anti-Juche Koreanist arias whose cumulative counterweight is far more slight. The debate continues in the offices of the Political Cartel. Meanwhile, to the present, where Steven Denney provides SinoNK.com readers with a  weekly selection of his links. — Adam Cathcart, Editor-in-Chief

Weekly Digest

by Steven Denney

As those that consider themselves “North Korea Watchers,” “China Watchers,” some combination of the two, or simply informed readers know, the big Sino-NK-SK issue right now revolves around whether China should be repatriating North Korean refuges back to their homeland.  Seoul is busy with protests 

Refugee Repatriation

Reported on all across the blogosphere (including here at Sino-NK: see Jende Huang piece) and international media outlets is the issue of Chinese authorities, working in tandem with DPRK State Security (Daily NK report in Korean), to repatriate North Korean defectors in China.  Here is a short wrap-up of some of the reports and blog posts about the issue.

Stephan Haggard’s excellent post at North Korea:  Witness to Transformation gives more background on the issue of refugees.

This Dong-a Ilbo report is cited as one of the more damming against the DPRK from a human rights perspective.  The following quote illustrates why:

[The capture of thirty-three defectors on February 8] … is the first time that such defectors have been arrested en masse in China after Pyongyang openly threatened to kill three generations of the family of a defector following the inauguration of new leader Kim Jong Un.

The issue of refugee repatriation, although not new, is becoming a hot issue, especially in light of demands by Seoul for China to “comply with refugee law” and Lee Myung-bak’s nationally televised news conference where he implored China to follow “international norms.”

This article, from the Oxford International Journal on Refugee Law, helps put the situation into a broader international legal framework by focusing “specifically on the situation of North Koreans in mainland China and China’s obligations under international human rights and refugee law.”  The Chosun Ilbo notes China’s response.

According to the Daily NK, South Korea is considering “the idea of issuing citizenship certificates to a group of defectors currently in detention in China awaiting repatriation in order to try and block their return to North Korea.”

Despite demands, pleas and plenty of letters and emails, the Korea Herald reports that nine defectors have been repatriated.

Saber Rattling

Stephan Haggard comments on the “uniqueness” of the most recent round of war threats and promises of destruction coming from North Korea.  For those of us in Seoul, if you didn’t read the papers (English and North Korean), you would never know your life was just threatened.

For our Korean readers, these three news reports (here; here; and here) indicate, as identified in Haggard’s post, a slightly different tone.


There are a few recent posts at NKeconWatch that were missed in last week’s Digest but are certainly worth a read.  The first is a very interesting piece “On DPRK Remittances.”  It shows the large role that “middlemen” in China play regarding communication and monetary transactions.  The second is a post about China’s commitment “to new infrastructure development in Rason,” a topic covered by Sino-NK’s Alan Ferrie.

The UPI reports on a significant increase in economic activity between the US and the DPRK.   “[T]he United States shipped $9.4 million worth of goods to North Korea in 2011, up from about $1.9 million the previous year and $0.9 million in 2009.”


Scott Synder discusses the meetings between US and North Korea (now entering their second day) and the prospects of returning to the status quo ante, as it existed in 2008 when the Six Party Talks were still in progress.

Joshua Stanton, at his blog One Free Korea, chimes in with his opinion.  Given his interest in promoting human rights in Korea, he is less than thrilled that Glyn Davies is heading the American delegation.

This article from the Arms Control Association, linked to in Stanton’s post, gives policy advice to the Obama administration, regarding nuclear talks with North Korea and the prospects of reaching an “Agreed Framework III.”

Myth Busting?

Evans J.R. Revere, in this Brookings opinion piece, sets the record straight, regarding expectations and realities on the Korean peninsula in the Kim Jong-un era.  One passage from Revere’s piece that stands out, particularly from a Sino-NK perspective, in this one, which deals with the notion that the DPRK is, or is soon to be, the fourth province of Northeast China:

China has endorsed the succession and sees the young Kim, rightly or wrongly, as the best hope for implementing Chinese-style economic reforms. The presence of Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member and public security expert Zhou Yongkang on the reviewing stand at the massive parade in Pyongyang that marked the young Kim’s “coming out party” in October 2010 sent an important message of support. And Beijing has now reaffirmed its endorsement in a high-profile announcement made on December 20th. But to suggest that North Korea is about to be “absorbed” by China shows a disregard for the legacy of two thousand years of Korean history and a lack of understanding of the virulent nationalism that characterizes today’s North Korea.

According to the KCNA, So Man Sul, “deputy to the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK and labor hero, [and] chairman of the Central Standing Committee of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan died of a heart failure at the age of 84 at 7:05 p.m. on Feb. 19.”  What about Commerce Minister Kim Bong Chol and five other cabinet-level officials?

… And an Example of Uncertainty, Par Excellence

Amar C. Bakshi’s interview with Ambassador Stephen Bosworth is telling of the level of certainty with which any expert makes predictions about North Korea:

Amar C. Bakshi: Do you imagine talks starting at any point in the near future?

Stephen Bosworth:  I think they could.  I’ve stopped trying to predict what North Korea may or may not do.  I think that there is a good possibility that we may see a resumption of talks sometime in 2012.  But I certainly wouldn’t bet on it….

Photo courtesy Stephen Denney

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