2008: The price of rice in North Korean
markets has more than doubled in the last six months. At the same time, the
government has cut back on food it provides to government employees. This has
forced the military to dip into their war reserves of rice to feed the troops, the families of career soldiers and workers at
weapons factories. Elsewhere in the country, farmers are now selling food
scraps and other material that was previously fed to farm animals. Few can
afford meat, so the famers make more money selling the scraps for human
consumption. The situation is very similar to the one in the mid-1990s, which preceded
a famine that killed about ten percent of the population and stunted the growth
of a generation of children. The famine could be prevented if the North Korean
government asked for foreign food aid, but it won't do that because it is engaged
in negotiations over the agreement to halt the North Korean nuclear weapons
program. North Korea refuses to allow the degree of verification the foreign
aid donor nations (South Korea, U.S., Russia, Japan and China) are demanding.
All suspect that North Korea is trying to get the food and fuel aid, while
continuing its nuclear weapons program in secret. North Korea has also released
an archive of 18,000 pages of documents regarding its nuclear program,
insisting that all this paper would clear up any misunderstandings. It's
doubtful, and it will take weeks to go through all these documents.
Korea now has sixth largest merchant shipping fleet on the planet. This
consists of 1,063 ships, each, on average, capable of carrying 36,000 tons. The
growth in world trade over the last decade has led to a rapid increase in
merchant fleets. The number of ships went up seven percent last year. South
Korea has long been one of the largest ship builders in the world.
Korea aid to Syria in constructing a nuclear weapons reactor was supposed to be
a big secret, but Israeli spies were inside the facility taking pictures. These
were secretly shown to Chinese officials last year, which is a major reason why
China is applying more pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons
program. China does not want a nation of starving North Koreans, armed with
nuclear weapons, on its border.
2008: South Korea will tighten visa
requirements after a recent incident where Chinese students, attending South
Korean universities, attacked South Korean demonstrators protesting the Olympic
Torch ceremony. China has organized Chinese students overseas, making them an auxiliary
of the secret police and intelligence agencies. This is usually ignored by the
host countries. But not this time, and the South Koreans are not happy. China
is apologizing and promising to clean up their act.
2008: An annual survey of media freedom determined that North Korea had the
most restrictive media policies on the planet. Next worse was Myanmar (Burma). Other nations near the bottom
of the list Cuba, Libya, Turkmenistan,
Uzbekistan, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea.
2008: For the first time since the 1990s, a North Korean army officer crossed
the DMZ and defected. The North Korean lieutenant got across near the Freedom
Village complex, where it was easier to avoid mine fields and barbed wire.