September 1, 2011: The special security effort to halt smuggling and use of South Korean and American products (especially video DVDs) has led black market merchants to change the way they operate. Instead of setting up a table or secret store, they visit the homes of known customers, take orders and then deliver the goods. This works for the wealthier customers (senior and mid-level government officials), but leaves out many others who are looking for the occasional luxury purchase. This has angered a lot of people. Perhaps because of this, the crackdown is ending tomorrow. The biggest merchants and smugglers bribed their way out, but several hundred people (at least 90 families) were sent to the labor camps. That means certain death for many of those shipped off to the camps.
For the last four months, recent army recruits have been selected for service in a new unit of the
Guard Command (also called the General Guard Bureau or Escort Bureau) for heir-apparent Kim Jong Un. The Guard Command is the elite security force for the Kim family and the most senior officials. Consisting of support (transport, supply, technical) and combat (bodyguards and several combat brigades) units, the force has over 50,000 personnel. Those selected to serve in the Guard Command are set for life, even after discharge. The Guard personnel are much better paid, dressed, fed and housed. Guard veterans have an edge in getting civilian jobs.
South Korea has replaced its hardline Reunification Minister with a career diplomat who has been ambassador to China. This is in response to popular discontent with the state (bad) of relations with North Korea. However, South Koreans don’t want to roll over and give the north whatever it wants. South Koreans just want some progress.
The much publicized establishment of special trading zones in North Korea, for Chinese firms, has not attracted much interest. Chinese media is carrying stories pointing out that North Korea is so poor and ill-prepared to support economic development that few Chinese entrepreneurs are willing to participate. Most Chinese businessmen see North Korea as an economic mess, and in need of a new government.
South Korean media have released a series of recent photos of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il showing that the North Koreans have been altering photos to make Kim look younger and healthier. Since Kim has been visiting China and Russia in the last few months, there are plenty of press photos that the North Korean secret police could not photoshop. But North Koreans rarely see the foreign photos, and mainly see the edited ones, showing their sickly leader looking much better.
South Korea continues to upgrade its weapons and training in its armed forces, and strengthen its defenses against possible North Korean attack. Meanwhile, North Korean armed forces continue to deteriorate.
August 27, 2011: Kim Jong Il returned from a week-long visit to China and Russia. Kim visited many economic activities, and said that he might be willing to resume the six party disarmament talks. It’s the same old drill, with North Korea willing to talk in return for some food and fuel. Since North Korea began firing on South Korea last year, China has doubled aid, and the recent trip resulted in Russian sending 50,000 tons of grain. But most South Korean, Japanese and Western aid has disappeared. So the famine in the north is getting worse. While Russia was believed to be seeking economic opportunities in North Korea, a closer look at the situation reveals that there is no economy in North Korea for Russia to work with. Apparently the Russians were just trying to persuade Kim to drop his nuclear weapons program in return for handouts.
August 25, 2011: South Korea revealed the arrest of five of its citizens last July. These five are now being prosecuted for spying for North Korea since the 1990s.
North Korea has been banned from the next football (soccer) World Cup (in 2015) because five of their players were caught using banned substances during the last World Cup.
August 22, 2011: North Korea seized a tourist resort built in North Korea, using South Korean money, and mainly to serve South Korean tourists. North Korea shut down the resort last year in response to South Korean anger at North Korea sinking a South Korean warship and firing on a South Korean island.
August 19, 2011: In North Korea, the price of rice in the markets has gone up over 20 percent this month. This was due to a bad maize (corn) crop and black market sellers holding back supplies due to increased secret police activity against smuggling and black market activity.