Tuesday, March 27, 2012

He Shoots! He Scores! But Nobody Cares!

In the days since North Korea announced it is to launch a “satellite” in April to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, the 4th Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference and the 5th session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly, the regime has been publishing a daily diet of commentary affirming and reaffirming the fact that it has no intention of cancelling the launch irrespective of international entreaties urging the opposing course of action.

The most assertive and clear of these many affirmations came today, when a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told KCNA the following;

1. “The launching of a working satellite to welcome the 100th anniversary of the birth of comrade Kim Il Sung is both part of General Kim Jong Il’s last instructions and a normal activity that has been in the planning for quite some time;”

2. “[The U.S.] should leave behind the idea of obstructing our way forward and have the bravery to accept that we, like everyone else, have the right to launch satellites;”

3. “We did not include the peaceful launching of satellites in the temporary cessation of long range missile launches at the Chosun-U.S. high-level talks. In the results of the 2.29 Chosun-U.S. agreement it did not say ‘long-range missile launches including those of satellites’ or ‘launches using ICBM technology’; it specified a ‘temporary halt to long-range missile launches’;”

4. “The U.S. says it has no hostile intent towards us, but since it can never step away from this confrontational approach, it sees peaceful satellite launches as long range missile launches;” and...

5. “By even inviting NASA to send experts, they will be able to confirm the peaceful character of our satellite launch with their very own eyes.”

Is the launch a flagrant violation of UN Resolution 1874? Yes, I agree that it is. Is it a slap in the face for the U.S. so soon after the conclusion of what English speakers know as the ‘Leap Day Deal’? Yes, it is most certainly that, too. But is getting all angry about it, preparing missiles to shoot it down and, perhaps most bizarrely of all, putting on hold plans to search for the remains of U.S. war dead inside North Korea because “North Korea has not acted appropriately in recent days and weeks and... it's important for them to return to the standards of behavior that the international community has called for” going to help? No, no it really is not.

Note that not only is North Korea advertizing the launch domestically, it is even calling it part of Kim Jong Il’s last instructions! These things don’t brook going back on, to put it mildly, so we can be sure the launch will happen and, as I previously noted here, really need to get used to it.

Of course, it goes without saying that if the launch is an absolute, nailed down certainty, actually responding to it by sending an envoy to Pyongyang, as advocated here by two Yonsei University professors, Moon Chung In and John Delury, would be no better.

I am assuming that the crux of the Moon-Delury hypothesis is that an envoy might be able to stop the launch. Obviously, the crux of my opposing hypothesis is that he/she can do no such thing. As such, any envoy would be left with egg on his/her face (as would those who sent him or her), returning empty-handed to an international community no better off for the entire debacle but with an even smaller range of options going forward once all the other high political drama set to engulf Pyongyang this spring, has, in at least one case literally, gone off.

Therefore, I suspect that the best option is and will remain to do… nothing. It sounds untenable I know, but fortunately there is an instructive soccer analogy we can look to that can help us rationalize.

Every time a penalty is awarded, the game of football becomes really very, very simple. There is a goalkeeper, and there is a striker. The striker can hit the ball anywhere he or she chooses, and the goalkeeper has similar freedom of movement. Simply, it is a guessing game.

As such, the goalkeeper also has the right to stand still and do, essentially, nothing. And yet, goalkeepers almost never do that, despite the fact that statistics suggest it is among the very best courses of action. The simple reason for this determination to dive, or so it is said, is that doing nothing looks bad.

In other words, it is important to be seen to be doing something, no matter how ludicrous, ill-advised, statistically insignificant or potentially unhelpful that chosen course of action may be, only because it leads to less blame if things go wrong. Soccer fans expect a penalty to be scored, and as such they don’t ordinarily blame the goalkeeper for failing to save it, no matter how badly he or she may end up flailing off theatrically in the wrong direction, but what they do expect is for the goalkeeper they have turned up to cheer to put in some kind of visible effort.

It goes without saying that this tendency is no more useful in international relations than it is in soccer.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Let the Tweeting Begin!

Destination Pyongyang has, much like Pyongyang itself although in a considerably more orderly and determined fashion, joined the modern world. In this case, that means Twitter, and it means @Dest_Pyongyang...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Looking the Other Way Can Be Good Policy

On the morning of Friday, March 16th, North Korea announced that on or around April 15th it is to launch a satellite named ‘Gwangmyungsung-3’. This is being done, according to the front page story in RodongShinmun which announced it, to welcome the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung's birth which falls on the same day, and will “emphatically encourage our people and military as they push forward with the construction of the powerful state, and provide a vital opportunity to elevate our Republic’s technology for the peaceful use of space.”

Understandably taking a different position, the plan was immediately condemned in Washington and Seoul, with an official from the South Korean Foreign Ministry calling it a provocative act “threatening to Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asian peace and security.” The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, found the notion sufficiently disturbing that it put out a statement at 4 o’clock in the morning.

In the aforementioned early morning missive, the U.S. objected stridently to the planned launch, noting that “UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 clearly and unequivocally prohibit North Korea from conducting launches that use ballistic missile technology.” Reporters were also informed later in the day that duringnegotiations last month that resulted in the Leap Day Agreement, “We did warn them that we considered that a satellite launch of this kind would be an abrogation of that agreement.”

Which is nice. However, while warnings are all well and good, the agreement signed between the U.S. and North Korea in Beijing on February 24th doesn’t reflect these warnings very well at all. Instead, it says that North Korea agreed to “implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities.”

For obvious reasons, all political, none technical, North Korea chooses not to regard ‘satellite launches’ as being launches of long-range missiles, instead asserting the sovereign right of nations to make use of outer space.While this may all be starting to look like semantics to the uninitiated outside observer, it is, as Jeffrey Lewis dryly observed via Arms Control Wonk, “a loophole large enough to fly a Taepodong through.”

Though clearly an act of willful deception, this has given North Korea an out, and the reality is that we are going to have to live with it. As such, while it may not be how we would wish to reply, a measured response is clearly the best way forward.

We must start by clearing away some pervasive misconceptions. The biggest of these is that the timing of the launch announcement somehow shows fissures developing in the ruling elite. The fact is that there is nothing whatsoever in the way the news was released that lends weight to this thesis, which looks very much like yet another victory for hope over expectation.

First and foremost, it was announced a full month in advance. Not only that, it is set to coincide with the biggest state celebration for years and years in the shape of the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth; it appeared on the front page of Rodong Shinmun and was subsequently very publicly backed (in Rodong Shinmun, again) by the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was also lauded in the following day’s edition of the same Party publication. There is nothing in any of these acts to suggest even the slightest schism between mythical groups of conservatives and reformers in the ruling clique; mythical groups that, we should recall, were said not even to exist just three months ago when Kim Jong Il was still with us.

Indeed, when viewed through the lens of domestic symbolism and with one eye on the media methodology involved, the event is actually a perfectly logical addition to celebrations being arranged by a state intent on preserving itself as a de facto military dictatorship. In other words, it would have been odd if there had not been some form of military endorsement of the April 15thcelebrations and 4thWorkers’ Party Delegates’ Conference that is due come along with it. This is politically one of the most important times in North Korea’s brief history, so why are we pretending to be so shocked at this?

We should remember also that outside actors including the U.S. and South Korea tend to cite post-Kim Jong Il stability as a key aim of their diplomatic strategies. Indeed, the U.S.-North Korea ‘Leap Day Agreement’ deliberately reaffirms the fact that Washington has “no hostile intent” towards Pyongyang. If this is the case, then the only logical move is to react pragmatically to the launch. Of course it is a provocative political signal for Washington, Tokyo and Seoul, but it carries an equally strong message for the domestic audience, namely that North Korea is a 'strong and prosperous state' able to defend itself and which is being run according to coherent principles by competent military men in line with the inviolable Military-first Policy of dearly departed former leader Kim Jong Il, a man whose mythical “last instructions” are still being wielded by the authorities to justify state policy three months after his death. It is both highly impractical and completely inconsistent with the stated aim of allowing security to take root in post-Kim North Korea for regional powers of any hue to react to the launch in the current, hopelessly unrealistic manner. 

As such, the U.S. would be wise not to cut off the aid it agreed with Pyongyang in Beijing last month because of this, difficult though such a decision would be. That aid is made up of 240,000 tons of “nutritional assistance," and as North Korea well knows, cutting it off will only attract negative public opinion; first, because withdrawing it hits the needy hardest, and second, because it shows clearly the presence of a link between aid and politics which the US administration continues to refute.

The best, most pragmatic and productive course is to go ahead with this aid delivery while informing Pyongyang that while the international community recognizes the importance of April in terms of domestic coherence, this type of launch is unacceptable and will preclude the delivery of aid in the form of grains for the foreseeable future.

In so doing, it should not be forgotten that such a pragmatic response is made viable precisely because April’s launch will be only the third such event in fully fourteen years. This means that North Korea is not testing its ICBM capability anywhere close to often enough to be sure of its reliability. If a missile runs a significant risk of exploding on the launch pad, North Korea would be no more prepared to launch it than any other state. In addition, if Pyongyang cannot be sure that said missile can even reach the U.S., much less hit a target when it gets there, then the same logic applies.

In response to this line of reasoning, one may point to recent suggestions that North Korea is cooperating with Iran on missile testing, allowing it to overcome technical problems those three tests in fourteen years would otherwise permit to fester. If true then it is undoubtedly a problematic and undesirable state of affairs, but the fact is that if Iran is testing North Korean missiles then there is little we can do to stop the missiles and/or their engines being tested somewhere, so we would be wise to remove the issue from discussion of this April launch, and treat it for what it is; a purely political statement.

It is time to call Pyongyang’s bluff. We must treat the launch in April as a domestic undertaking for the domestic North Korean audience. It is by far the smartest choice.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spectacularly Bad Chosun Ilbo Report Alert

Wasted my time reading this in today's Chosun Ilbo;
North Korea is about to spend an estimated US$2 billion, or one third of its annual budget, to mark the centenary of nation founder Kim Il-sung on April 15, plus an additional $850 million to build a three-stage rocket and launch pad for the event. The total would be enough to buy 4.75 million tons of rice based on current grain prices at $600 per ton as the regime holds out its hands for international food aid. 
North Korea's state budget last year was $5.7 billion, and the price tag of the centenary celebration has been estimated to be around $2 billion, according to a South Korean government source. The North invited representatives from 48 countries to Pyongyang for the centenary. 
An official from a former Soviet state said, "North Korea invited around 100 representatives from our country and offered to pay their airfare and accommodation. I've been to Pyongyang several times, but this is the first time this has happened." The official said hundreds of dancers and other performers have been invited from other countries "and I believe the delegation of foreign guests is close to 10,000." 
The regime apparently promised its people 100 gifts for the centenary. A Unification Ministry official said North Korea has spent anywhere between $300 million and $800 million every five or 10 years on the April 15th celebrations, and this year is expected to spend at least $1 billion. That is more or less the entire $1.15 billion it earned from selling anthracite and other natural resources to China last year.
This article contains not only highly questionable mathematics at the front end, but also a complete and absolute lack of hard facts of any kind whatsoever throughout. Frankly, while I would like to believe that "an official from a former Soviet state" was spoken to during the report's making, I am afraid I cannot. Further to which, even in the unlikely event that such an individual were hunted down by the Chosun's intrepid reporters, would that person have any basis upon which to guesstimate the scale of the foreign contingent that will be in Pyongyang to celebrate?


I would imagine that the North is indeed about to spunk far, far more money than it can afford on April 15th events, yes; but this article does not offer believable evidence to back the claim, and in the end it does all of us a disservice to actually publish stuff this bad.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Rice Is Nice, But Yuan Is Better

Until very recently, the price of rice in North Korea’s markets (“jangmadang”) had been trending upward, and this had been the case since the currency redenomination of November 30, 2009; i.e. for roughly two years. The trend reached its high point when said price tiptoed across the 5000 North Korean Won barrier in mid December 2011 in Hyesan, Yangkang Province. That was shortly before the death of Kim Jong Il.

The sense of impending doom this created in some quarters led to analysis and reanalysis, and while it was impossible for anyone to be absolutely sure what was going on for this eruditely summarized reason, the prevailing conclusion which emerged was, and remains, that the North Korean government’s determined effort to do a clutch of things that required both domestic and foreign currency, including but by no means limited to constructing 100,000 homes in Pyongyang to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth on April 15th, was inspiring them to both print money to meet domestic obligations, such as payment of wages and provision of food to workers, and simultaneously suck up much of the available foreign exchange reserves to import the materials and equipment needed to improve the showpiece capital.

The rising market prices engendered by this double-pronged incitement to hyperinflation were enough to concern defector reporter Joo Seong Ha of the Donga Ilbo (and the excellent North Korea Real Talk), who spoke on December 3rd, 2011 of a “flashing light on the dashboard of North Korea” and guesstimated rice price inflation at as much as 15,000%. 

However, despite the fact that rice denominated in North Korean Won was unquestionably now far out of the reach of people holding domestic currency alone, the only news of deaths that emerged was from southerly Hwanghae Province, reported last week here. It focused on suicides incited by hopelessness, and deaths from malnutrition caused primarily, the internal news source who reported it asserted, by excessive state appropriation of grain stocks for transfer to Pyongyang from the regions surrounding the metropolitan area.

This, while undoubtedly tragic, serves in large part to lend weight to the theory of ‘Yuanization’ that this author wrote about in a past post here. To summarize the argument in brief: rising rice prices in North Korea are caused by a number of factors, but probably the most important is exchange rates, since exchange rates have the power to affect the ability of agricultural producers to import fertilizer and other inputs and of the state to import food to make up shortfalls later on. However, in many areas transactions from Chinese rice paddy all the way to dinner table are conducted in Yuan (or U.S. Dollars), meaning that prices denominated in North Korean Won are predominantly headline grabbers rather than causes for concern, albeit that they do hit hard those with limited access to foreign currency, such as Chosun People’s Army soldiers.

Indirect evidence of the validity of this observation is that starvation very rarely occurs in the Sino-North Korean border region where it was at its most deadly in the 1990s, because economic circulation there functions on a diet of foreign currency. Ditto for Pyongyang, Pyongsung et al.

Given these facts, one would be right to presume that if the price of rice were actually falling, that would also be related to exchange rates. It is certainly one core issue, among a total of five causes that need to be taken note of.

First, there is strong evidence to suggest that as much as 500,000 tons of Chinese grain was delivered to North Korea quietly via Shinuiju at the beginning of January. A significant amount of this should be expected to enter military and Party grain stores, but a large slice will also have gone from there and elsewhere into the jangmadang. This is precisely what happens when international aid is given in the form of grains; it goes to state and Party actors, which is taken to be bad, but these already have well-dug channels by which to release it into the market, increasing supply and driving down prices. The profits from this activity go back to those state and Party actors, one of which is the Chosun People’s Army. This is one oft-unspoken fact that muddies the waters of the ‘aid transparency debate’; namely, that giving grain to the North Korean state ends up diluting prices in the jangmadang, something that is good for ordinary consumers (though bad for farmers).

The second reason is of a similar hew; namely, that there is valid evidence, available without undue difficulty to those trading across the border and in the jangmadang, that the U.S. is likely to provide substantial aid in grains to North Korea in the short- to medium term. While the aid North Korea has (almost) agreed with the U.S. so far is not in that form so as to limit this very risk of diversion into military and Party channels, the view of traders is likely to be that grains will follow where nutritional supplements lead so long as the government continues to respect its ‘Leap Day Agreement’ with Washington. Given the need to both celebrate Kim Il Sung’s birthday and overcome the spring lean period between late March, when potatoes and other staples run out, and the first summer harvest, traders and most outsiders rightly presume that this is going to be the case. 

On top of this, traders also have just cause to believe that next month will see the North Korean citizenry receiving more substantial special food rations from the state to commemorate April 15th than normal. Recent moves to lockdown Pyongyang much earlier than in previous years, partly due to the fact that there is also to be a 4th Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference in mid April, coupled to the formation of ‘4.15 Gift Preparation Committees’, are exacerbating this feeling of exceptionality.

To summarize these first three points, the presence of aid, the likelihood of more aid and just cause to anticipate state distribution in the first two weeks of April is causing expectations of a glut of rice in the jangmadang. As an aside, there is much to recommend the view that this is an argument for not giving aid at all, but with prices up around 5,000 won just three months ago, now may not be the best time to make it.

There are a further two points to take into consideration. First, projects centered on constructing housing in and beautifying central Pyongyang are now either complete or nearing completion. This is substantially reducing the requirement for foreign exchange to pay for imports to feed the construction sector, in turn reducing demand for foreign exchange on the part of North Korean enterprises affiliated with state and Party organs.

Second, there is also the issue of the strengthening North Korean Won. The Chinese Yuan exchange rate is falling, going from 605 won to 600 won over the last weekend in February, for example.

The Chinese authorities and Chinese enterprises from Manchuria have now been investing in North Korea for more than two years, and some results are sure to emerge sooner or later; following tangible infrastructure improvements in limited areas (Exhibit A: the highway from Hunchun to Rasun), the North Korean government should start to accumulate some additional hard currency reserves to draw on.

Whether this is the cause of improving exchange conditions right now is impossible to say, but over the medium term it should help. It is possible to say with some conviction that Chinese firms will persist in investing in North Korea in this way for at least the next five years. On the part of commercial enterprises this is not, it is important to note, out of kindness, brotherly love or some other form of fraternal emotion, but simply because the price of natural resources has risen to the point where extracting them in North Korea has become highly economical. Furthermore, these prices are not seen as likely to fall.

For enterprises in the region of China abutting North Korea, the North is a very good place to obtain such natural resources. The resource-rich mountainous northern provinces of the North are close, and labor costs are lower than at home. However, until relatively recently, Chinese firms balked at investing there, because they faced the risk of equipment and profit expropriation, something which North Korea, to its credit, has been attempting to ameliorate by, at the urging of Beijing, improving trade and investment laws that guarantee the rights of Chinese enterprises.

However, there are two problems with this scenario as it stands; first, that it is a monopsony because North Korea is only selling to Chinese buyers, meaning that North Korea is not getting as much for its resources as it could on a more open playing field; and second, that these improving foreign exchange conditions for the government in Pyongyang are also the main reason why it is unlikely that the recent decline in rice prices is going to turn into a longer term trend.

In short, almost all the investment that North Korea is attracting from Chinese enterprises is related to contracts for natural resource extraction or, in the case of Rasun, access to the sea. As such, Chinese firms are not contributing anything of substance to the long-term development of the North Korean economy. Infrastructure developments could in theory perform this function, but that brings us to comments about the Hunchun-Rasun road Marcus Noland made here;

“The real question,” Noland asked, “is whether it will be a springboard to broader reforms. A simple leading indicator: are off-ramps built on the road between the port and China? If they are, the road could become the main artery of a growth corridor in that part of North Korea. If not, the highway would be a metaphorical tunnel from China to the sea. Sure, North Korea will make money off the port, but the project will effectively be an enclave, and not a catalyst for broader development.”

As the world well knows, what is actually needed is for North Korea to add metaphorical off-ramps to all its economic activities, reinvesting what profits it can derive from Rasun, port fees and trade in natural resources, particularly coal, into creating new secondary manufacturing and service industries that leverage its competitive advantages, namely low labor costs and an educated work force, to begin to add value to its exports and attract more foreign exchange.

However, this will remain a distant dream for as long as the country remains a highly authoritarian dictatorship that chooses to remain ignorant of macroeconomic and development theories of this nature. The day when rice completely ceases to cost “around half the price of rice in South Korea” will not come under such conditions.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Returning Progressivism to Its Roots

“Progressive” is a word used a great deal in South Korean political circles. The Democratic United Party is “progressive,” the United Progressive Party and its constituent members are “progressive,” and Seoul Mayor Park Won Sun and Kyunghyang Shinmun are also “progressive.” It is a word used with pride by young and old alike, people who fought for years against a right wing military dictatorship that once freely trampled over the rights of the people in its pursuit of breakneck economic growth. It is held to be a good word.

But what does it mean, this word? According to the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary, a “progressive” is “one believing in moderate political change and especially social improvement by government action.” What does this notion lead one to imagine? Among other things, it leads to thoughts of steadily improving social welfare provision, tough regulation to bring down levels of environmental degradation and reduce carbon footprints, and a graded scale of taxation that leaves as much money as possible in the pockets of those on the lowest rungs of society. It also leads to thoughts of participation in the global fight for social justice. All these notions, I had long thought, were universal constants held to be indivisible from the word “progressive” itself.

Yet it has become abundantly clear that in South Korea the word “progressive” is not this universal constant that I had naively imagined it to be. For if it were, then how could South Korean “progressives” possibly ignore the plight of the North Korean people, whom the constitution of the Republic of Korea describes as its citizens? For if it were, how could one understand the deafening silence of the United Progressive Party on the issue of the forced repatriation of defectors? For if it were, how could one understand the Democratic United Party working tirelessly to ensure that no legislation on North Korean human rights makes it onto the South Korean statute books at all?

If it were, then none of these things would make any sense.

Certainly, “South Korea must not incite North Korea” is an oft-heard justification at times like these, but alas it is demonstrably nonsense. A multitude of experts from left and right have proven that North Korea is its own master, one that follows closely the Sun Tzu maxim, “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.” Pyongyang, we know, will continue to follow its own path no matter what those in South Korea say or do. The man who says he must sit quietly to avoid awakening a sleeping tiger is merely making an excuse for inaction born of fear. It is a policy that looks attractive in the short term, but it solves nothing.

A progressive surely cannot ignore the difficulties faced by the North Korean people. No, he or she doesn’t have to prioritize the issue over all else, doesn’t have to go on a hunger strike outside the Chinese embassy or spend every waking hour campaigning for North Korean human rights, but it is surely a South Korean lawmaker’s duty to work for the human rights of the nation’s people, no matter who, or where, they are. And it is surely the duty of the South Korean voter to put their cross in the box of a progressive who is prepared to do that. 

Thankfully, today I am hopeful. Because when I saw on Sunday night that Ahn Cheol Soo, the dean of the Seoul National University Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology and a possible progressive presidential candidate, had visited the site of protests against the forced repatriation of defectors being held outside the Chinese embassy, I at last caught had reason to think that my dictionary was right after all.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Not Much Ado about Anything

Much has already been written in the 24 brief hours since the (presumably pre-planned) simultaneous release of U.S. Department of State and North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs statements late last night (local time), with most of it, both amateur, expert and politic, from the U.S., China and Russia alike, taking the news of North Korea’s moratorium on missile and nuclear activities at Yongbyon in exchange for 240,000 tons of American “nutritional assistance” plus promises to elevate bilateral contacts with modest positivity. For example;

To Steph Haggard it “constitutes a conciliatory (indeed, concessionary), not belligerent, gesture.”

To the Chinese, in the form of a Global Times editorial, it “removes a major obstacle to the resumption of the Six-Party Talks.”

To Scott Snyder, it “reduces risk that tensions may spin out of control during a period of domestic political uncertainty in both countries” (although Scott goes on to point to some serious limitations).

However, the fact is that even modest positivity seems to represent an unacceptable triumph of hope over expectation, and the idea that North Korea’s actions represent a “modest concession” quite an overstatement. I'm not saying it is impossible that the North Korean regime has seen the light, but it does seem awfully unlikely.

Instead, I am fairly confident that the North Koreans, relatively superb strategists that they are, have taken a sample of their fully operational Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) program from its mountain home in North Pyongan Province, put it in a building at Yongbyon, made a credible fist of constructing the shell of what has the potential to become a Light Water Reactor (LWR) at a nearby location, and then promptly “conceded” to do nothing with it in exchange for large amounts of aid. Put like that, it doesn’t sound very good, does it.

As a result, Pyongyang can now move to the next stage of the strategic plan that began with the inviting of Siegfried Hecker et al. to come and be shown HEU cascades in November 2010. In short; the endgame is fuzzy, but the strategy is not new.

That being said, the return of somewhat improved state-to-state relations that might actually marginally improve the lives of some of those on the lowest rungs of society is broadly to be supported. To that extent, it's good. 

But there is absolutely no reason to expect anything more at this stage; let us only hope that a newly invigorated U.S. State Dept. can avoid over-egging the pudding as North Korea enters high propaganda 'conference and birthday season' mode.