China has changed its policy and agreed to enforce UN sanctions on North Korea. Fed up with the infighting among senior officials in North Korea, and continued inability to do anything about their mismanaged economy (and inability to feed its citizens), the Chinese are now stopping illegal goods (like materials for building missiles and nuclear weapons) from entering via China. Rejecting Chinese suggestions that North Korea adopt the Chinese economic model (a market economy within in communist police state), North Korea has effectively closed down a joint venture with South Korean firms, where 40,000 North Koreans were employed in an industrial park in North Korea. Chinese firms in North Korea are also shutting down, largely because North Korean officials are demanding more money (call them fees or bribes), making such enterprises unprofitable. The communist rulers of North Korea have a hard time understanding profit. Meanwhile, a five month (the "150 Day Battle") economic revival effort is almost over in North Korea, and it has failed. This was mainly a propaganda operation, meant to show North Koreans that the government was able to do something about the sorry state of the economy. This effort, like all before it, failed. The corruption and decline in discipline continues to spread up north. There is a growing sense of dread in North Korea.
While the North Korean armed forces waste away from over a decade of meager budgets and little training, South Korea has become a major manufacturer of modern weapons. These include a K2 tank (similar to the U.S. M-1), plus a self-propelled artillery system and an Infantry Fighting Vehicle similar to those available in the West. South Korea recently put into service its first Aegis destroyer and has become one of ten nations in the world that designs and manufactures its own military helicopters. South Korea has also developed a jet trainer (the TA-50) that it is also offering for sale as a light fighter. South Korea has equipped its forces with these locally made weapons, while North Korea skimps along with largely obsolete weapons from China and Russia.
The South Korean economy is rebounding from the global recession, and for the first time in history, has become one of the top ten international exporters ($104.9 billion for the first quarter of this year, versus the number one exporter, China, with $426.1 billion.)
The UN has been caught again, paying large bribes, using money donated to purchase food for starving North Koreans, to the North Korean government. This time, the scam involved inflated shipping fees and the use of North Korean government owned shipping companies to move donated food from a Chinese port to a North Korea port. This arrangement was intended to provide the North Korean government with over $100 million, as well as a kickback to the UN. Earlier scams like this have made it increasingly difficult for the UN to raise money from international donors to feed hungry North Koreans. Much evidence has accumulated indicating that a lot of the food aid to North Korea has been diverted (either to the North Korean military, or local and Chinese markets for resale.) North Korea has recently imposed more restrictions on UN distribution of food, making it more difficult to detect these thefts.
August 6, 2009: The Indian coast guard had to fire their weapons to get a North Korea ship to halt, and return to where it had illegally dropped anchor in the Indian Andaman islands. An initial search of the ship found nothing illegal, so the Indians are bringing in more experts to look for secret compartments. The North Korean ship was found to have incomplete records of its voyage from North Korea to Thailand (and, supposedly, on to Iraq.) North Korea has long used its merchant marine (all the ships are state owned) for smuggling (counterfeit currency, drugs and weapons). The crew of this ship were not cooperating with the Indians, which has made the Indian officials more suspicious.
August 4, 2009: Former U.S. president Bill Clinton visited North Korea, to personally apologize to North Korean leaders and appear to plead for the release of two American journalists (working for Clinton's former vice president Al Gore) who had sneaked across the North Korea border in pursuit of a story. The two were caught, accused of espionage and prosecuted. They were convicted and sentenced to twelve years in a labor camp. But the North Koreans had no intention of letting two American reporters into one of their infamous labor camps (where many prisoners die before completing their sentences). Secret negotiations have been underway for months on what the U.S. could offer, that the north would accept, to get the two reporters freed. North Korea wanted a peace treaty with the U.S. (guaranteeing no U.S. attacks on North Korea, no matter what) and freedom to develop nukes and ICBMs. The U.S. said no to that, and everyone compromised on the Clinton visit. This had great symbolism for North Korea, as Clinton had negotiated a deal in the 1990s to halt North Korean nuclear weapons research. As it had done so many times before, the North Koreans did not keep their part of the bargain and kept their nuclear weapons program going.
July 30, 2009: North Korea seized a South Korean fishing boat, and its four man crew, as the South Korea craft entered North Korean waters in pursuit of squid. Now the two governments will have to negotiate a suitable ransom to get the fishing boat and its crew back.
July 27, 2009: North Korea threatened vague, but terrible, retaliation for the recent UN sanctions (imposed to protest recent North Korean nuclear and missile tests.) North Korea has been playing this game for over half a century, and no one pays much attention anymore.
July 26, 2009: North Korea opened its first fast food restaurant, serving hamburgers (which are called something else, as North Korean propaganda has long condemned hamburgers as another form of American decadence), beer and local favorites. Located in an upscale neighborhood, the burger joint is run by a Singapore company, for the benefit of senior government officials and their families. Diligent Google Earth users have uncovered quite a few luxurious compounds and neighborhoods where the North Korean elite live, far away from the misery they preside over throughout the country.