It has been revealed that Choe Sung Chol, who was in charge of North Korean relations with South Korea, was fired and executed last year. The new South Korean government has reversed a policy of giving North Korea lots of goodies with no strings attached. South Korea now wants North Korea to halt developing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. North Korea takes this as a hostile act and an attempt to overthrow the communist police state in North Korea. Choe Sung Chol was apparently held personally responsible for the new South Korean government coming to power, and killed for this failure. Choe Sung Chol may also been caught taking payments from South Korean corporations, and that was what he was officially charged with.
The thousands of photos taken of North Korean missile bases, and the activity there, has made it easier to track down Western exporters who have illegally supplied equipment for the North Korea missile development effort. A recent arrest, of South Korean Chong Rin Chae, revealed how two large trucks were exported to North Korea, via Japan. The used vehicles, which can each carry 12 tons, were converted to carry missile components, not the civilian goods the export license claimed.
It was quietly revealed recently that, last month, North Korea changed its constitution to make Kim Jong Il an absolute ruler. Since 1998, the North Korea constitution had power spread around, although Kim Jong Il was obviously the top guy. Now Kim Jong Il is unquestionably the most powerful man in the north. As a practical matter, these changes are mainly intended to give Kim Jong Il's successor enough power to hold the country together against any factions that might challenge him. Kim Jong Il is definitely not well, and currently the designated successor appears to be Kim Jong Il's youngest son (25 year old Kim Jong Un). This kid has an interest in the job, but he is young, inexperienced and an unknown to most of the elderly big shots in North Korea.
For the second time in seven years, the north has allowed a cell phone service to operate. The new one began soliciting customers (who have to be approved by the secret police) last month and now has 20,000 users. The network, which covers the capital and the city of Hyangsan (and highway to it), 120 kilometers to the northeast, can currently handle up to 120,000 users. The last attempt to establish a cell phone service was in 2002, and was shut down after 18 months. There are many illegal cell phone users along the Chinese border, and the secret police have recently increased their efforts (with German cell phone detectors) to find and arrest those using Chinese cell phone service along the border.
North Korea is making a major effort to shut down the use of illegal television and video equipment. Home inspections have been increased, and it's now illegal to import second hand TVs (mainly from Japan). Those who already have these TVs, must buy an inexpensive jamming device at the post office, that will restrict the foreign TVs to only the official channels. Those found using foreign TVs without the jammer turned on, can be arrested. Catching such miscreants will be difficult. But since you can only buy North Korean TVs (which only receive a few official channels) now, eventually the older foreign TVs will wear out. This crackdown on illegal videos is part of a new "150 Day Battle" to revive the economy. Similar "Battles" (for varying numbers of days) have been conducted in the past. All, like the current one, are mainly propaganda exercises, to try and take people's minds off the fact that the economy sucks. It still sucks after the "battle" period is over, but you can get shot for mentioning that in public.
The army has also revived the frequent propaganda meetings and indoctrination lectures of the past. These disappeared about a decade ago, when the economic (and food) crises caused troops to spend more, often most, of their time farming or otherwise helping out the civilian economy (or handling police duties). The generals have noticed the decline in training, but years of not much indoctrination has led to disciplinary problems (desertion, corruption, avoiding work, bad attitude) as well. Many South Korean commanders believe the North Korean forces are in terrible shape, and the loyalty of the troops is questionable as well.
May 23, 2009: Former South Korean president Moo-hyun Roh committed suicide, after several members of his family were charged with corruption (taking $6 million in payments). Roh was elected, and served, as an anti-corruption politician. The corruption in South Korea has been more noticeable at the top, and public opinion has long demanded that the big shots play clean. Corruption is more pervasive in the north, because those at the top basically "own" the country and can do whatever they want.
May 22, 2009: North Korea has warned ships to avoid an area 180 kilometers from its northeast coast, until the end of the month. The reason was not given, but it's usually because of missile tests or naval exercises using live ammo.
May 15, 2009: North Korea has cancelled all wage and rent contracts with South Korean firms using the Kaesong industrial complex. Fifty year leases were offered to South Korea firms in 2004, and the site, ten kilometers north of the DMZ, currently has 6,000 workers in eleven factories. North Korea will set higher wage and rent levels, and South Korea firms can either accept or leave. Most of the wages go to the North Korean government, and the entire complex is a major source of foreign currency for the government. Currently, the complex only generates about $6 million for North Korea each year, although the additional South Korean firms signed up to set up operations in the complex, could increase that to half a billion dollars a year by 2012. That is all in doubt now, as the North Koreans have again demonstrated, once again, how they cannot be trusted.
May 12, 2009: South Korea has signed a commercial agreement with Uzbekistan, a Central Asian nation with a Korean minority of 180,000. Koreans are ethnically related to the Turkic people who dominate Central Asia, and Korean minorities are found throughout the region. Similar deals have been made with Kazakhstan.