A survey of North Korean refugees in China revealed that 40 percent of them had never encountered any foreign food aid, and that nearly all of them left North Korea because of food shortages. There are believed to be at least 100,000 North Korean refugees in northern China, all of them there illegally. North Korea has turned down more food aid recently, because the aid had to be accompanied by inspectors to make sure that the food got to the people who needed it. Chinese living along the border have frequently seen foreign food (still in clearly marked packaging) aid being exported from North Korea to China. Refugees who served in the army also noted seeing foreign food aid being distributed to military units. Additional reductions in food aid, because of last Octobers nuclear test, indicate that there will be widespread shortages this Winter. So far, this has not led to violent unrest. When you're starving, you concentrate on finding something to eat, not fighting the police. But the widespread starvation has caused a breakdown in discipline, and faith in the government.
Renewed talks with the North Korean government are not likely to go anywhere, as the North Koreans believe their nuclear weapons make it easier for them to extort economic aid from their neighbors.
December 13, 2006: In the last month, there has been an increase in violence against North Koreans working in eastern Russia (adjacent to North Korea). At least two North Koreans have been beaten to death, and many more injured. North Korea basically provides very low cost labor to Russian companies. North Korea then keeps most of the money the workers do earn, meaning that the workers are basically enslaved. Local Russians resent these labor practices, as it lowers wages in general, and deprives Russians of employment opportunities.
December 9, 2006: An ominous sign in North Korea is that, since their October 9th nuclear test, the propaganda (which has been a pervasive presence for over half a century) began proclaiming what a great thing it was that North Korea was now a nuclear power. This indicates that the North Koreans are unlikely to give up nukes in any negotiations. It's very difficult to put propaganda campaigns in reverse, especially since the nuclear angle plays on the paranoia North Korean propaganda has pushed since the late 1940s. The nukes are "necessary for the survival of the workers paradise."
December 8, 2006: South Korea indicted five people on charges of spying for North Korea. One of those charged is a Korean-American, two others are officials of a leftist South Korean political party. This is the largest North Korean spy operation to be discovered in the past five years. This spy ring was seeking military information, especially details on the current reorganization of U.S. forces in South Korea.