November 18, 2010: North Korea's GDP is estimated as being less than $20 billion a year, providing per-capita GDP of less than $1,000. Because the communist elite and security forces are well taken care of, most North Koreans meet the UN definition of very poor (living on less than two dollars a day). The latest round of sanctions are hurting, especially those that make it difficult for the government to move money through the international banking system. North Korea has painted itself into a corner with its greed, incompetence and aggressiveness. This includes exporting weapons and nuclear weapons technology, as well as pressing South Korea over ownership of valuable fishing grounds on their maritime border, and the misuse of foreign aid (the north tends to divert food and other aid to keep the ruling class and secret police happy). The northerners break agreements at will, and the torpedoing of a South Korean warship earlier this year was the last straw for the south. The north refuses to fully recognize the desperation of its situation.
For example, a year ago, they replaced the currency. By limiting how much old money could be exchanged, the government basically stole billions of dollars the market traders had recently earned and saved as cash. The government had allowed these markets to develop in the past decade, to stave off starvation, economic collapse and rebellion. But the government had no effective way to raise taxes from this economic activity (aside from bribes many officials extracted). Numerous senior officials were true-believers in communism and resented this free-market activity. But the crackdown on the market entrepreneurs has backfired. Millions of North Koreans had experienced the benefits of a market economy, and the vile nature of their own government, which stole their hard earned savings. The North Korean leadership has lied and stolen from others as well. Disarmament deals with the United States in the 1990s were broken, and the South Korean were lied to and deceived as well.
South Korea government sources leaked that earlier this year, senior North Korea weapons developer Kim So In, and his family (including his scientist father) had been arrested on charges of espionage. All (including children) were shipped off to a labor camp for interrogation and punishment. This is only the latest such arrest, as a growing number of senior North Korea officials and technical personnel are found to be passing secret information to foreign intelligence agencies, for large sums of money. Weapons scientists in the north are well taken care of, but very closely watched. It's only as corruption has grown in the north over the last decade, that foreign intelligence agencies could even reach some of these people. Large amounts of cash were offered for information, but the money had to be kept in foreign banks, and kept secret. But the corruption works both ways, and the secret police began to uncover these small fortunes, and arresting their owners. The spies apparently also had promises of new jobs in foreign countries, once the North Korea government collapsed. These highly talented scientists would have left already, if they could, but the government does not allow it. Children are tested early and those with exceptional talent are well educated, and guarded, so that as adults they can be used, whether they want to or not, as researchers and creators of new weapons. Those who refuse, lose all their benefits, and often die as well.
The North Korean secret police continues its crackdown on those committing "economic crimes" (free enterprise.) The latest target is prostitution, which is illegal. But both entrepreneurs, corrupt officials and senior officials have availed themselves of the opportunity to pay for sex. The growing poverty in the north has made prostitution one of the few economic opportunities available to young women. The government crackdown has concentrated on those women who solicit in public. Those who operate more discreetly (servicing secret police officials, for example) have been untouched. But corruption at all levels is under attack, although those known to be very loyal to heir-apparent, 29 year old, Kim Jon Un get a pass. The anti-corruption campaign appears to be turning into a war against those who oppose the Kim family, and especially Kim Jon Un.
South Korea will send 130 commandoes to the UAE (United Arab Emirates) to help train their UAE counterparts. This is part of a recent sale of a South Korean nuclear power plant to the UAE. South Korea has long been keen to develop good relations with Persian Gulf states, and the UAE is eager to upgrade its military forces.
November 10, 2010: UN investigators accused North Korea of illegally exporting nuclear weapons technology to Iran, Syria and Burma. North Korea denies everything. But the UN investigators have identified and tracked some major shipments. Also identified are some of the companies and people who assisted, and these organizations and individuals will be subject to sanctions and, in some cases, prosecution. This sort of thing makes doing business with North Korea much riskier. As a result, it takes more time, and more money, for North Korea to carry out its smuggling operations. Despite all this, the UN believes that the north is still exporting $100 million worth of weapons and weapons technology each year. But now the pressure is really on, and North Korea has fewer places to hide its illegal activities.
November 9, 2010: Japan has eliminated a major source of tension with South Korea by agreeing to return another thousand or so historical items that were taken to Japan during the Japanese colonization (1905-45). When Japan and South Korea finally made peace in 1965, Japan returned only 1,432 of the 4,479 looted items. Since then, Japan has used legal, and diplomatic arguments, or outright lies to avoid returning more items. This has caused continued bad relations between the two countries.
November 6, 2010: In the north, senior general and advisor 82 year old Jo Myong Rok died of natural causes. He had been ill for the last four years, but continued to exert his influence in the military and among senior government bureaucrats. He was considered one of the top ten or so officials in the government. With Jo gone, he will probably be replaced by someone much younger, and known as loyal to the ruling Kim family. Such loyalty is very important these days, as more and more old timers, who served in the Korean War (1950-53) or just before that in the Chinese Civil War, die. The old timers knew that the Kim dynasty is a sham, and that founder Kim Il Sung was basically chosen by the communist Chinese and Russians to be their guy in North Korea. Until the end of the Cold War, Kim Il Sung generally did as told. But his sons and grandsons are much less obedient, and Kim Il Sungs contemporaries are not impressed. Most of these old guys are too powerful to just replace, but old age is creeping up on them all. Their sons are more inclined to play along with the Kim family, if only because the alternative is poverty, labor camp or death. .