North Korea has reopened its border with South Korea, but with fewer than half the traffic allowed before the borders were closed last December. Desperate to get some kind of meaningful negotiations going with North Korea, the U.S. has agreed to one-to-one negotiations. This is yet another attempt by North Korea to extort more resources from its neighbors, and the United States, while keeping its ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. This, the north apparently believes, will keep the police state in the north going. Right now, there is growing famine and indiscipline in the north. The police state is falling apart, and some of the people in charge are becoming more desperate, and unpredictable.
Up there, heir apparent Kim Jong Woon (youngest son of Kim Jong Il) has been put on ice. Apparently, several months ago, Jong Woon reached too far, by trying to keep Communist Party officials from interfering with military matters. The military considers itself a largely autonomous organization, but it normally submits to inspections by Communist Party officials. What Jong Woon was trying to do here was investigate corruption in the inner circles of the Party, and officials there went to his father, who slapped the kid down. For the moment.
This year's crops are a third less than normal. This, plus government refusals to allow much foreign food aid into the country, indicates that there could be another large die off (from starvation and exposure) this Winter. The government seems to feel that this will not trigger a widespread uprising. It didn't during the last major period of starvation deaths (over a million people) in the 1990s. Currently, about a third of the North Korean population (of 23 million) is believed to be starving, and in danger of dying from acute lack of food and related disease and exposure (to cold weather.).
September 12, 2009: North Korea admitted that it had released a lot of water (40 million cubic meters) from one of its dams, sending a surge of water into South Korea. This caused six South Korean campers to be swept away and killed. North Korea apologized for not giving advance warning, but would not explain why they did it. There had been no rain in the area, and southern media promptly suspected this was a test of a "water weapon." This rumor apparently came from reports that North Korean border guards scouted the path of the flood, right down to the DMZ, some hours before the water was released. In addition to the six civilians drowned, over a hundred South Korean soldiers were also staying near the flooded river as well, but only one of their armored vehicles was briefly submerged in the water.
Chinese officials admitted that, six years ago, 56 dead North Koreans were found in a river forming the border with North Korea. All of the victims (36 men, 20 women, including five children) had apparently been shot, at night, and killed while trying to escape across the river. The current brought the bodies to the Chinese side, where they were found, removed from the water, identified and cremated by Chinese police. This happened in a remote area, making it possible to keep it quiet for so long.
Last month, it was revealed that the Hyemyung Inn, in North Korea's Yanggang province, the foreigners and government officials, who provided most of the guests, had access to local women (from high school students to widows) who worked there as prostitutes. A former employee, who believed he had been unfairly dismissed, exposed the situation. This is all big news just across the border in China, but was handled more discreetly in North Korea. That's because senior party officials were frequent guests at the inn.
September 9, 2009: The U.S. imposed sanctions on two more North Korean companies, for contributing to the North Korean nuclear weapons effort.
September 3, 2009: The north announced it had made great progress in refining uranium into weapons grade fuel, as well as creating weapons grade plutonium. This greatly annoyed South Korea and the United States, because the uranium effort gives North Korea two sources of material for nuclear weapons. North Korea is also talking about staging a third nuclear weapons test.
September 2, 2009: Two American journalists (working for U.S. former vice president Al Gore) who had sneaked across the North Korea border in pursuit of a story, and were freed August 4th, now reveal that they were on the Chinese side of the border when North Korean border guards crossed the ice and dragged them back into North Korea. The two were 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 went on for months to get the two reporters freed. In addition to the two Americans, the northerners also released five South Koreans. The increased interest in being nice may be related to the fact that famine is spreading and intensifying once more in the north, and disaster looms.
August 31, 2009: In the last decade, the number of foreigners working in Seoul (capital and largest city in South Korea) has increased ten times, to 255,000. Some 75 percent of these were Chinese. More foreigners are ending up in prison as well (about a thousand), 60 percent of them Chinese. Most of the Chinese have come to South Korea in support of the huge growth in trade between South Korea and China this century. About ten percent of these Chinese migrants are laborers, and half are female.