Friday, July 23, 2010

Silence is Golden?

It seems from recent reports that the U.S. Treasury has been quietly investigating and freezing suspicious North Korean bank accounts since June in response to the sinking of the Cheonan; though not, it seems, accounts explicitly theretofore linked to the sinking, if such a thing could be said to exist.

Regardless, is this good? Well yes, overall it probably is. However, I take serious issue with this;

"The source said the new financial sanctions will be different from what happened in the Banco Delta Asia crisis that stalled the six-party nuclear talks for years due to the North’s protest. Instead of naming and shaming a specific bank as a money laundering institution and pressuring it to freeze North Korean assets, “quiet” moves are now preferred to avoid blowback from Pyongyang, the source said.

Another source confirmed the additional financial sanctions, noting that, “If the charges are very clear, then the Banco Delta Asia method will be used, while the silent method will be used in more ambiguous cases.”

Is this a shoddy translation? Can we really be suggesting we might publicly, though not as loudly as before, freeze cut 'n' dried illegality, but then use the "silent method" in "more ambiguous" cases? What is "more ambiguous"?

I can't, or, more accurately, don't have time to, find the Korean versions to confirm or deny anything, but if true, then were one to wonder why the U.S. government is viewed with suspicion in those sectors of society with a predisposition towards either left wing blinkers or believing conspiracy theories, there could be your answer.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Is a Dusty Old Ruleboook Still a Rulebook?

With September edging closer and the Chosun Workers' Party Delegates' Conference therein concealed, it is fast approaching time for Pyongyang watchers to take the stage. And Kumsusanology is certainly full of ideas on what the event might mean.

For that matter, let it not be said that the Chosun Workers' Party itself is underplaying the conference, either. It's august organ, mouthpiece of choice and a newpsaper which can be relied on never to hold back on the hyperbole and propaganda, Rodong Shinmun asserted this week that the event “will shine as a notable event in the history of the sacred Workers’ Party.”

Obviously, something is afoot then, and many people, not least among them Hwang Jang Yop, see it as an attempt to reboot the Workers' Party and reinstall it as the leading power in the state, a position it nominally lost because Kim Jong Il felt he had the best chance of surviving if he hollowed it out and placed most of its power in the hands of the National Defense Commission during the decade(s) horribilis otherwise known as the 1990s and early 2000s.

Meanwhile, others simply think that Kim Jong Il may feel the need to place a wafer-thin veneer of legitimacy on installing his son into the top position. In the words of Daily NK man Park In Ho,

The Politburo statement limits the reasons for the holding of the delegates’ meeting to “electing the Party’s highest organs”, suggesting instead that it is by no means a sign of reorganization in advance of a Party Congress, for example, but simply a move to prepare the minimum decision making structure for the succession of Kim Jong Eun.

And this is partly the key question, and partly irrelevant. I mean, can we say that it is even possible to try and restore the function of a system of governance by holding for just the third time a meeting which Party statutes decree should have been held every five years, thus requiring there to have been twelve such meetings, give or take, since the founding of the country?

Kim seems to have decided that his son doesn't have the chops to keep the military in line over the long term within the system he leads through, and has decided to hollow out the NDC a little. So a rebalancing of the military-Party balance it may well be, but it is overreaching a fair bit to call it a return to communist or any other kind of orthodoxy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bus Crashes Seem to Be National Secrets

There is something odd about this, and I don't know what to think about it. I am not pushing for a conspiracy theory; I just find it a bit strange.

First of all, let's be clear that it may well be a good example of North Korea's reprehensible and blithe disregard for the value of human life that its primary ambition appears to have been to avoid letting anyone see the location of the bus crash rather than helping people maybe survive. But we don't actually know exactly what went on behind the scenes, we can only guess. And guessing is not good, even when we have 60 years of blithe disregard to use as precedent.

Regardless, the real oddness is derived from the fact that the crash was apparently known to the Kaesong Complex Management Committee and/or the Unification Ministry for fully five days before it was released to the public.

I recognize that the death of ten North Koreans is not technically South Korean news, and I am sure many more people than that die on a daily basis in individual incidents around the world of which I am persistently and embarrassingly ignorant, but this is a bit strange, is it not.