For more than seven months there have been no North Korean ballistic missile launches or nuclear weapons tests. At the same time, North Korea is simultaneously dismantling some missile facilities while continuing to expand some nuclear facilities. North Korea asked for some economic help but refuses to discuss verification or timetable of verifiable disarmament measures that would also include commensurate economic aid for successful North Korea completion of timetable items. American disarmament experts believe it is possible for North Korea to dismantle (and have verified) its nuclear weapons program within a year but there are no signs North Korea is moving to do that. At the same time, the North Korean economy is collapsing after several years of stabilizing and even growing (because of allowing some free market activity). Why this irrational and self-destructive behavior by North Korea? It is most likely that the long-simmering disagreements about economic reforms and relationships with China are at the heart of it. China has long complained about the chaotic and self-destructive North Korean leadership. It’s not just the ruling Kim family (who are quite odd but so are many politicians), but the whole paranoid, dysfunctional, unpredictable atmosphere in the north. China is particularly critical of the unpredictability and has been demanding more discipline and, to put it bluntly, obedience. Lacking that, there will be consequences. More Chinese troops have been moved to the North Korean border, and China is less discreet about its network of spies and agents in North Korea. The rumors of a ruthless "China faction" in the North Korean leadership have been given some official recognition by the Chinese. Thus the Chinese are attempting to use the "offer you can't refuse" gambit on the north. It may work and bring about much-needed reforms. Otherwise, the Chinese threats to pull the plug on all aid and political support and perhaps order the China Faction to take action, with help from Chinese troops, special operations forces and secret police. This would be an admission of failure by the Chinese although they could put a positive spin on it by referring to past interventions to deal with troublesome Korean rulers. At that point, China would have the primary responsibility for rebuilding North Korea. China could appeal to South Korea, Japan and the United States to join in. China would endeavor to make the North Korea economic recovery effort pay for itself by insisting that Chinese investments be respected along with growing Chinese ownership of North Korean economic assets. That will generate anger in North Korea but as far as the Chinese are concerned that is normal when it comes to China-Korean relationships.
There has always been fear among North Korean leaders when it comes to denuclearization (which China wants) growing fear of what China might do if the nukes ware not eliminated. Historically China was always a threat to Korea but since the Korean War (1950-53) North Korea has increasingly (especially after 1991) depended on China for economic, diplomatic and military support. All that is now at risk because the North Korean leaders would not obey Chinese demands. North Korea sees itself in a situation similar to Vietnam, which has also had a historically hostile relationship with China. But now Vietnam is allied with the United States, South Korea, Japan and many other nations against Chinese aggression. China is aware of this North Korean attitude but China has always believed that it was better to be feared and obeyed than to be loved. Meanwhile, Kim Jong Un has often indicated that he feared China more than South Korea or the Americans. China is still the main conduit for imports and exports. Essentials like food come mainly from China but so do smuggled goods (both the items the North Korean government wants and those it forbids). North Korea exports to China, a major source of foreign currency, are down 90 percent so far in 2018 compared to 2017. This has caused growing shortages of foreign goods, which is crippling a lot of construction projects and factory operations. Russia will buy some North Korean exports, but it has to be kept covert and Russia cannot replace China in this respect. North Korea has been able to smuggle in a lot of items, but not as many as it needs because without the exports to China there is no cash for smugglers (who do not offer credit.) The shutdown of North Korean exports to China and restriction on what can be shipped to North Korea has made the North Korean leaders very responsive to Chinese demands. Apparently, the North Korean denuclearization is going to be more convoluted than South Korea, the United States and Japan expected because China is calling the shots.
In North Korea, most people don’t know or care much about the nuclear weapons. Basic needs like food, fuel and education for their children are more immediate issues. Among North Koreans working in China (who will sometimes speak “off the record”) and the donju (entrepreneurs) and senior officials in North Korea know about the denuclearization and either back keeping the nukes or believe that giving up the nukes would bring more economic reforms as well as foreign aid and investment. The nukes are simply not as big an issue for most North Koreans because so many are living on the edge as a result of shortages. North Korea also take for granted that the news of peace talks is just more state propaganda and means nothing unless something actually happens to make their lives better. A growing number of North Koreans see better trade relations with South Korea as the most worthy goal, especially if it led to reunification or at least North Koreans living as well as South Koreas. A growing number of North Koreans are learning that South Koreans are even wealthier than the Chinese and that knowledge involves a degree of national pride because China has always been a potential threat to Korea.
One Chinese demand that Kim Jong Un is apparently agreeing to is implementation of market economy, using the Chinese experience (a successful market economy in what is still a communist police state). Kim has long resisted this, feeling that was too risky and might not work as it did in China. At this point, Kim has few options and the Chinese economic plan no longer looks as dangerous as it once did. For one thing, Kim has had more time to study it. Kim showed keen interest in the Singapore “economic miracle” (by an ethnic Chinese majority state on an island with no natural resources other than location near a major trade route and possessing extensive port facilities) during his brief visit. On the June 19 visit to China Kim spent more time inspecting economic activities. Kim is increasingly desperate to get some economic aid and if giving up nukes does that, and restores good relations with China (and guarantees to keep the Kim dynasty in power) then life becomes much safer for the Kims and a lot easier for most North Koreans. Another indication that North Korea is serious this time is the both Koreans have already agreed to play down any thought of reunification (something China is very much against). All Koreans will still want unification but the attitude now is, one major crisis at a time.
Since all the peace talk activity began in May China has greatly reduced border security. There are far fewer police and soldiers patrolling the border and China-based smugglers are back in business. On the North Korean side of the border security has been increased. But North Korea security personnel are easier to bribe, so with fewer problems on the Chinese side the smugglers are back in business. There has also been more legitimate commerce with more North Korean going to China on business or to work. One problem with commerce between China and North Korea is that Chinese businesses have learned to distrust their North Korean partners (usually the North Korean government) and are now demanding more assurances that they will not be cheated in any future deals. For one thing, the Chinese investors are seeking the right to install surveillance cameras, that can be monitored from China, to keep an eye on activity in North Korean enterprises created by Chinese investors.
China has assured the United States that China wants North Korean nukes gone but China is in a better position (politically, culturally and physically) to work out and enforce the details of denuclearization. The Americans insist on CVID (Complete, Verifiable, Irreversible Denuclearization) and the Chinese say they agree. But it appears there will be no detailed timetable for the entire process, even though the Americans and South Koreans don’t want to start shipping aid to North Korea before they have something verifiable to show for it. This part could get messy on several levels but at least the Americans have an experienced negotiator. The lead U.S. negotiator is the American Secretary of State who was previously the head of the CIA. This puts the North Koreans on the defensive since none of their usual negotiating stunts will work. At the very least this will speed the process along, whether it is succeeding or not. The U.S. negotiator is to visit the two Koreas before the end of June. Working closely with South Korea is important because the South Koreans have excellent intel on what is going on inside North Korea and the South Koreans have to sign off on many of the negotiating goals (especially those covering South Korean aid).
The Russian Disconnection
Chinese entrepreneurs have quietly taken control of the local economy in those parts of Russia that border China and North Korea. That explains why China has ignored North Korea using Russia and Chinese cargo ships to illegally export coal. North Korea moves the coal (illegally) into Russia via truck where it is exported on ships owned by Chinese companies. China is tolerating this because Chinese firms have been exploiting corruption in Russia (where it is worse than in China) to dominate the economy in the Russian Far East (the area between Mongolia and the Pacific coast). China has a historical claim on this area which China revived after World War II when the communists took over China. Those claims led to border skirmishes during the 1970s that were halted when Russia made it clear it was prepared to risk nuclear war over this issue. That Russian policy still stands, although it is not publicized. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the Russian economy went free market and open to foreign trade and investment China saw an opportunity to get back its lost lands in the Russian Far East. China will slowly absorb the Russian Far East economically and demographically (with more Chinese settling in the Russian Far East, legally or otherwise.) Eventually, Russia finds that Chinese comprise most of the population in their far eastern provinces and control the economy as well. This approach takes longer but is less likely to trigger a nuclear war with Russia.
Clerks Gone Wild
The market economy and culture of corruption have been growing since the 1990s and have become so extensive that government officials have become quite wealthy (by North Korean standards) and have developed a way to retire from their government job without losing all that illegal income. This is done by mentoring a younger subordinate that can be designated his successor with the understanding that once the boss retires the younger man will inherit the bribe income and pass on a percentage to the retired former boss. This is a tricky business but so is life for all senior North Korean bureaucrats.
The increasing incidence of corruption, especially in the security forces (military and secret police) means the ability of the Kim dynasty to get things done is more difficult. Because of collapse of the old communist command economy in the 1990s (as the Russian subsidies ended), power was no longer a monopoly of the Kim dynasty, which received and disbursed those Russian subsidies. Unlike Cuba, which faced a similar economic collapse when Russian subsidies ceased along with the Soviet Union in 1991, North Korea was not an island (that made it easier to control who got in or out) and Cuba had a dictator more willing to allow enough market economy activity to prevent mass starvation. Cuba also got some of the subsidies restored after 2000 by a new socialist government in oil-rich Venezuela. No such luck in North Korea which was forced to accept more and more market economy activity or watch helplessly as North Korea disintegrated. Ignoring Chinese advice on how to introduce a market economy that could be controlled by a communist police state, North Korea ended up with a market economy that lacks the legal protections of the Chinese model. That meant much of the North Korean market operated outside of state control. Local officials were collecting bribes to allow many gray market operations to continue. While the Chinese communist government did not control all this new economic activity it controlled enough and gathered sufficient taxes from the rapidly growing economy to keep the security forces loyal and obedient. The Kim family never found a way to cope and, as Russian Czar Nicholas said, before he died in 1855, about the extent of his powers; "I do not rule Russia, 10,000 clerks do." The clerks are the bureaucrats, major nobles and, even in the time of Czar Nicholas, members of the growing merchant class. Kim Jong Un can threaten, imprison and even murder troublesome “clerks” but he cannot get them all to do whatever he wants. And like the czars, Kim Jong Un has to wonder if he represents the past or the future. Kim Jong Un needs cash and quickly. For over a decade the Kim plan was to develop nuclear weapons and use them to extort cash and goods from South Korea, Japan and the Americans. That did not work, in fact, it backfired as the prospect of North Korea attempting to use nuclear blackmail unified China, South Korea, Japan and the Americans against North Korea like never before.
Meanwhile, the loss of control over the North Korean bureaucracy means Kim Jong Un has less and less control over what happens in his kingdom. Another example of this is the ability of government officials to sell residency permits to live in the capital (Pyongyang). These permits are much sought after but are now available for as much as $2,000. That is a lot of money in North Korea and must be paid in dollars or yuan (the Chinese currency). Legally living in Pyongyang means you have a more reliable supply of electricity, a better selection of places to live, better schools and a better life in general.
Kim Jong Un is getting very personal reminders of the growing corruption because more of it takes place where he can see it, in Pyongyang and places he visits frequently, like military bases (especially those involved with weapons research) and construction projects meant to show how prosperous North Korea is. Because of the corruption, even in these showcase projects, there are embarrassing incidents (unfinished work because of corruption). In these cases, Kim can order the most senior offender severely punished (usually by execution). These executions are often publicized (or become known because of the prominence of the victim) and the trend is higher ranking victims, often with jobs closer to the center of power. This has been noted, as well as the fact that Kim Jong Un can only be in so many places at once and everyone else can, in theory, be bribed to look the other way, or at last at someone else to execute.
Even in the secret police, the most loyal agents are faltering. The less reliable agents use the opportunities to take bribes and get by. But those who follow the rules find themselves overworked and unable to care for their families. Even in the secret police government supplied food is declining in quality and quantity. Government supplied housing and other benefits are also getting worse while those taking bribes or active in the market economy prosper.
The government pays close attention to morale, performance and loyalty in the secret police. It has been noted that all three items have been in decline. Part of the problem is overwork and to deal with that some crimes that have long been handled by the secret police are being transferred the regular cops (National Police). This not only reduces the workload of the secret police but also reduces the extent of their power. For a long time, a lot of crimes that were not normally (in other nations) handled by the secret police were investigated by the secret police in an effort to concentrate police power in the secret police. Now that is no longer seen as an asset and many police matters are being assigned to the National Police, which is more corrupted than the secret police and welcomes more money making opportunities. At the same time, the National Police will not waste an opportunity to demonstrate how much better they are at police work than the secret police. A lot of these cases now handled by the National Police will be worked more aggressively and solved. The secret police had a tendency to abandon many investigations when it became clear that the crime in question did not have anything to do with national security and not worth their attention.
The National Police may not have enough time or resources to deal with these new responsibilities as they are already being called on to spend more time investigating “economic crimes”. This includes more than policing (and extracting bribes from) the legal markets but also from searches of homes and businesses for contraband (especially American dollars, which are illegal but still widely used). Not all of the seized assets are officially reported but instead supplement police pay. Happy times for the National Police, at least if you work in an area where the market economy is robust. The biggest risks for the dirty cops has been the growing resistance from their victims. It is more common for police to be murdered (usually while off duty, preferably when drunk).
Some rural areas are so poor that even the markets reflect this as do the dejected National Police hoping for a transfer. By legalizing markets and private ownership of many types of businesses the North Korean economy has grown in the last decade. It is most noticeable in rural areas where there is more prosperity, which can be seen in the refurbished or newly built homes as well as the widespread use of solar panels, cell phones and electrical appliances in general. The government noticed the use of solar panels and made an unsuccessful effort to force people using solar panels (an expensive, but legal, way around electricity shortages) to buy an electrical use meter and pay a tax on the electricity generated. This was seen as an absurd scheme on several levels and a growing number of solar panel owners are overtly or covertly refusing to cooperate. The government, as the solar panel owners suspected, was not willing to go to war against “solar electricity bandits” and in some parts of the country, the “meters for solar panels” plan has been quietly dropped.
Retribution Avoidance 101
An unusual development occurred in North Korea recently when it was announced (quietly) that labor camp inmates would be allowed one visit by family members each month. Moreover, the visitors could bring a food parcel with them and, if enough gifts were given to the guards, additional items could be brought in as well. This is mainly about dealing with the food shortages. With even military families and lower-ranking troops getting less food, the labor camp inmates have often been reduced to the bare minimum. Since labor camps have always had their own farm operations, it was usually not enough for the inmates to survive on and they needed additional food to survive. With the new visiting program and growing number of prisoners from relatively affluent families, it seemed a good idea to lower the death rate among inmates while also giving the camp staff access to some of the bribery income so many government officials were receiving. One drawback to this new policy is that many families are too poor to visit or spare any food for their imprisoned kin. Exposure to this was another shock to the camp administrators. To make matters worse some of the visitors are donju (members of the new entrepreneurial class who have grown rich, and resourceful, with the market reforms. Donju have a reputation for using their many government connections to get their way, or get revenge.
Camp administrators were also seeking to improve their work histories because many North Korean officials believe that unificatin, or at least major improvements in the economy may be coming and that means the increasing possibility of UN “war crimes” investigations of what goes on in these labor camps. Some pretty horrible stuff has been the norm but in the last decade a growing number of people have been sent to labor camps for offenses nearly everyone is guilty of (or would like to be). Get caught using a foreign cell phone or viewing a South Korea or Chinese video can get you in trouble, as well as the more traditional offenses like smuggling and drug use. Thousands of officials, as well as most police and military commanders, can send anyone to a labor camp without any judicial proceedings. This threat keeps a lot of people in line but the threat is working as well as it used to and those who run the labor camp system are becoming concerned (as well as greedy).
Since 2015 the North Korean labor camp system has come under increasing scrutiny as a “crime against humanity.” It wasn’t until 2014 that North Korea officially acknowledged the existence of labor camps. This was in response to a UN investigation of the camps and the release of a report on that in early 2014. Until 2011 these "labor camps" (which kill a large number of inmates via malnutrition, violence or disease) were overcrowded and getting worse for inmates. Normally built to hold about 150,000 enemies of the people, by 2011 there were closer to 200,000 inmates. The further growth in the prison population was controlled with less food and more violence. About 60 percent of those under arrest in North Korea are serving multi-year sentences in labor camps. Many of these inmates do not survive their sentences and hundreds each year are executed rather than being sent to camps. Until 2011 one percent of the North Korean population was in these labor camps, and 5-10 percent did not survive their time there. By 2015 North Korea had reduced its labor camp population to under 100,000 prisoners. This appears was the result of a higher death rate among prisoners since 2011 and not a policy of sending fewer people to prison and closing the unneeded camps. Some of the deaths were the result of more executions, but most were caused by food shortages. With growing hunger among civilians and military personnel, the government sought to obtain more food wherever it could. Cutting the already skimpy rations for prisoners was one such desperate measure and it meant more prisoners dying of starvation and disease. Since 2015 more people have been sent to the camps and living condition got worse and death rates increase.
For decades the UN looked the other way (under pressure from many powerful member nations like China and Russia) when it came to the North Korean “labor camps.” But since the 1990s too many former inmates escaped North Korea and testified about what they went through. As a result, the UN could no longer ignore the situation. This led to a formal investigation and documenting what went on, and apparently still goes on up there. Since the late 1990s, the UN has become increasingly critical of conditions in North Korea but there was little the UN could do except publicize these problems. This bad publicity finally got to the point where North Korea decided to admit the camps existed and try to spin that news in their favor. In the latest case of the corrupt border guard, the government is seeking to scare North Koreans. Now North Korean officials are trying to protect themselves from even more international scrutiny and sanctions over the labor camp abuses.
Reunification Reality Check
The new North Korean efforts to increase cooperation with South Korea has been big news in North Korea and generated more talk of reunification. Not the reunification long taught in North Korean schools, where North Korea conquers South Korea by force. This old idea has been considered unlikely since the 1990s. But North Koreans are hoping that their might be some form of economic reunification. They don’t expect their government to allow North Koreans to freely move to South Korea because it is obvious that many (a quarter or more) of North Koreans are willing to do just that. The current North Korean government would never allow that. North Koreans do realize that their government is in big economic trouble and needs help. South Korea is the most likely source.
Thus the primary aspiration of North Koreans is not reunification with South Korea but the prospect of living as well as South Koreas. A growing number of North Koreans are learning that South Koreans are even wealthier than the Chinese and that knowledge involves a degree of national pride because China has always been a potential threat to Korea. One thing China will not tolerate in North Korea is a democracy. China has been quite vocal about that.
At the same time, South Korea still speaks about reunification as a desirable goal while most South Koreans have come to regard reunification as an economic disaster for them and possibly worse than war with the north because in that case, China might intervene as it did in 1950 and once more prevent reunification.
Back in the 1990s, once it was realized what reunification would cost that popular goal became South Korea's biggest nightmare. South Korea has been studying the 1991 reunification of East and West Germany, and knows that the peace and prosperity South Korea has been enjoying for over a generation would come to an end with reunification. Most South Koreans are ashamed to admit it, but they wish North Korea would just magically disappear. But North Korea is real, and what China and a growing number of North Koreans were hoping for was economic reform, as happened in China since the 1980s, so that the North Koreans could feed themselves, prosper a little, and not be such a huge burden on their neighbors. But the Workers (communist) Party officials running North Korea are neither as clever, nor as competent, as the ones who revived the Chinese economy in the 1980s by legalizing capitalism, but not democracy.
In 2010 South Korea revealed how concerned it was with the eventual collapse of North Korea by proposing a special tax to pay for reunifying the north and south. The government has long had a plan for this, and every year or so it becomes a news item. By 2010 the government wanted to start putting aside cash for the reunification. It has long been believed that this would cost between one and two trillion dollars (it cost two trillion to rebuild East Germany, after the Germanys were reunited in 1990). But updated estimates put the cost of fixing North Korea (which is in much worse shape than East Germany ever was) at $5 trillion. That, plus the fact that Germany has a GDP four times that of South Korea, meant that the average South Korean would have to pay ten times what the average West German paid to rebuild the lesser economic disaster that East Germany has become under 45 years of communist rule. This could cost South Koreans up to ten percent of their GDP for a decade or more. Many South Koreans fear that rebuilding the north could wreck the South Korean economy. No one knows, and everyone is scared. But someone will have to pay, and the most likely candidate is the South Korean taxpayer. The special tax was quietly forgotten as was popular enthusiasm for actual reunification.
Yet South Korea still wanted to help their fellow Koreans in the north. That also caused problems. In 2014 North Korea denounced a South Korean proposal for eventual reunification via heavy South Korean economic investment in North Korea as well as the resumption of food and other humanitarian aid. Many northern leaders understand that the southern proposal could actually work, but would put the northern leaders out of a job and, according to UN war crimes investigators, on trial for “crimes against humanity.” It also bothered the northerners that China openly supported this proposal. South Korean officials would like to discuss amnesty for the North Korean leadership but the UN war crimes bureaucracy that is pretty hostile to this sort of thing.
Another reason for declining support for reunification in the south is the generation gap. Older South Koreans are more likely to still approve reunification (and the huge cost to South Korea). But for younger South Koreans, about half no longer see a united Korea (with South Korea paying the huge cost) as a desirable goal. That attitude would likely become more positive if the prospect of unification suddenly appeared. But long term, South Koreans are not happy about what it's going to cost them to rehabilitate their northern kinfolk.
July 23, 2018: The United States issued a detailed (17 pages of it) North Korea sanctions enforcement advisory. This document details the latest scams North Korea is using to avoid sanctions and warning anyone tempted to try and evade the sanctions that they are more likely to be caught and punished than in the past. Companies are also warned to be wary of trading opportunities that appear legitimate but are actually part of a North Korea effort to evade sanctions. Creating and publicizing an advisory like this puts more diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea which has long been accustomed to getting away with a lot of its sanctions evasion efforts. Now the Americans threaten to punish any firm that is connected with illegal North Korean trade practices, including the use of slave labor. Doing business with North Korea, even unknowingly, just got riskier.
July 22, 2018: In North Korea, satellite photos show that recently (2015-16) built facilities at the west coast (Sohae, near the Chinese border) rocket launching site are being dismantled. This facility was built for launching the longest range, multi-stage ballistic missiles. This dismantling was apparently something Kim Jong Un agreed to do when he met with the American president in June.
July 21, 2018: Stronger economic sanctions on North Korea were fully felt in 2017 when North Korean GDP shrank 3.5 percent after several years of GDP growth. That contraction will increase in 2018 unless North Korea gets some relief from the bans on most North Korean exports and more effective detection and prosecution of North Korea smuggling and numerous criminal activities (counterfeiting, the arms trade, production and distribution of illegal drugs). North Korean per-capita GDP is currently less than five percent of South Korea’s and another year of sanctions will make that worse. More North Koreans are becoming aware that their growing poverty (food, electricity and fuel shortages) is a direct result of their governments’ insistence on continuing to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, neither of which, a several new North Korean jokes point out, have little nutritional value.
July 15, 2018: Japan and South Korea agree that the number of North Korean “ghost ships” coming ashore in Japan or found in the waters between Japan in South Korea, has increased in 2018. As with earlier incidents the boats are drifting and often had dead bodies of North Koreans in them. These people had starved to death or died of thirst in the waters between North Korea and Japan. This is all because since 2015 North Korean fishermen have been forced to take increasingly fatal risks to meet higher catch quotas set by the government. In 2017 Japan saw 104 of these ghost ships come ashore or close to shore. The outside world first became aware of this phenomena in late 2015. That’s when Japanese coast guard patrols found sixteen North Korean fishing boats drifting off the coast, most of them containing decomposing bodies. These were all coastal craft (about 12 meters/38 feet long) which cannot operate effectively on the high seas. At first, it was unclear what was going on here. The most likely theory was that the boats were of fishermen who, desperate to fill new quotas, went out too far, ran out of fuel and were unable to call for rescue. These boats did not contain radio or GPS, were often poorly constructed, often had only a small outboard engine (which broke down or ran out of fuel) and appeared to have been drifting for weeks. The lack of navigational and radio gear is common aboard North Korean fishing boats. Another theory was that some these boats contained defectors who underestimated how much fuel it would take to reach South Korea or Japan or suffered engine failure or just got lost. The truth soon became clear as reports eventually got out of North Korea detailing dozens of North Korea boats that had gone out in 2015 and not returned because they were going too far out to get more valuable catches (squid and sailfish). Apparently, over 150 North Korean fishermen disappeared off the east coast in 2015. Making this worse, the North Korean government was doing nothing to alleviate this situation. People in east coast fishing towns and villages are getting angry about all this. In 2016 the government demanded more from the fishing villages and more fishermen died. Japan found more of these death boats off its west coast in 2016 and 2017 set a new record. The situation in North Korean fishing villages has not changed as more fishermen are taking out boats that are not registered with the government (which means all the catch can be sold for a profit by the fishermen rather than turning most of it over to the state. The local government officials are under pressure to reduce the illegal fishing but the bribes provide more income that whatever incentives the national government is offering. With all those unregistered boats going out many of those aboard are inexperienced the working on less well-equipped boats. No wonder so many of them end up as Ghost Boats off Japan (where the prevailing winds and current naturally take them). Since nearly all these boats are made of wood, few sink when they get into trouble although sometimes wooden wreckage washes ashore or is spotted off the coast.
July 13, 2018: South Korea complained to Russia after two Russian military aircraft violated South Koreas’ ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone). The Russian did this four times as they flew south off the east coast towards the D0kdo Islands. The Russian aircraft left the ADIZ quickly in each case. South Korea is seeing a lot more ADIZ violation activity west coast because of Chinese intrusions. In 2013 China announced a new ADIZ that overlapped South Korean, Philippine and Japanese air space. China demanded that any foreign military or commercial aircraft request permission before flying into this zone. South Korea and Japan protested while the United States quickly flew some B-52s into the disputed zone without asking for Chinese permission. China protested and the United States ignored them.
July 9, 2018: Over the last few days North Korea openly complained of American pressure to carry out what was agreed to during the June 12 meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the U.S. In response, North Korea was told to do what it agreed to or more economic and military pressure would be applied. It is uncharacteristic for the Americans to be so blunt and forceful and North Korea gives the impression of being unsure how to react. China is also being hit with American economic retaliation for decades of Chinese deceptive trade practices and rampant theft of American patents and other intellectual property. China is also uncertain how to handle this uncharacteristic American assertiveness, especially since China also wants North Korea to denuclearize but also wants to help North Korea torment the Americans.
July 5, 2018: An unusually large number of North Korea diplomatic personnel have been called back home for meetings. North Korea operates 54 embassies and consulates overseas and those working in them often spend more time on non-diplomatic activities (smuggling, raising cash or intelligence gathering). A growing number of these diplomatic personnel are defecting or going into business for themselves and stashing cash in secret foreign bank accounts just in case. Normally these diplomatic staff are called back once or twice a year for meetings, reviews or reassignment. This makes it more difficult for diplomats to misbehave overseas but never have so many been seen coming back at once. Also interesting was the unusually large number of secret police working among diplomatic personnel, or independently, were also called back. Apparently, those recalled were being prepared for big changes as well as providing personal reports on how foreigners view the recent peace moves by the North Korean government.
July 3, 2018: Nearly a year after halting government food supplies for many military families those free “food distributions” have resumed, at least to most of the military families. The reason for the resumption of food distribution was the improved relationship with South Korea and China and more food being imported from China. Without those customary free food distributions, military families had to hustle to buy food in markets, grow it in private gardens and find ways to make more money to afford the market prices. It was also noted that nearly all the recent food distributed was from the military wartime reserves. These reserves have been heavily used recently to feed the troops and little or none of the distributed war reserve food has been replaced. The government cannot wage a large scale war (like an attack on South Korea) without the war reserve material. The war reserve fuel and other supplies have also been greatly depleted because of shortages. Many of these war reserve supplies have to be used because they become useless with age. Petroleum fuels as well as rockets and ammo because the chemicals in explosives and propellants deteriorate with time. Same with the supplies of chemical weapons. The only weapons that have not deteriorated are the long range missiles and nuclear weapons. Neither of these weapons are very reliable or available in large quantities.
June 28, 2018: Recent satellite photos that construction continues at the North Korean Yongbyon nuclear research facility. The Yongbyon complex contains a nuclear reactor that can produce nuclear material for nuclear bombs. North Korea began reactivating Yongbyon and its reactor in 2013. The reactor had been completely shut down since 2007 and partially dismantled in 2008. It was believed that it would take at least six months (and possibly years) to resume production at Yongbyon. This reactor was shut down as part of an aid deal but the northerners refused to completely dismantle the reactor. They insisted on leaving some of the structure intact, and would not surrender unused nuclear fuel. This sort of double dealing is so typical of the North Koreans. In response, South Korea increased its defense spending and made it clear North Korea would have to be more convincing to obtain any aid in the future. Now the future is here and North Korea does not appear to have changed even though desperately need some economic relief.