Seoul-based CNN correspondent Paula Hancocks answers GPS readers’ questions on North Korea’s ties with South Korea, the United Nations report human rights in North Korea and what it’s like reporting from outside Pyongyang.
Is there any optimism in South Korea that recent conciliatory moves by North Korea, such as allowing suggestion family reunions to go forward, are a sign of a broader thawing of ties?
There's no doubt relations are thawing, but there is a doubt about how long it might last. The atmosphere on the Korean peninsula is a million miles away from last year when tensions were so high Pyongyang effectively threatened a nuclear war against Seoul and Washington. This week, though, is crucial.
Family reunions should be taking place from Thursday with dozens of families on each side meeting relatives they have not seen in over 60 years. To say these reunions are emotional is a massive understatement as many of those who want to be part of them are in their 80s and 90s and time is running out. One 82 year-old told me he felt like he had been hit on the back of the head when the previous reunions were cancelled at the last minute in September and he had to be medicated.
Pyongyang's attempts to link the reunions to politics were rejected by both Seoul and Washington who see it as a purely humanitarian issue, so the fact they will go ahead with no conditions attached has to be considered progress. But not many in South Korea see the North through rose-tinted glasses. The last reunion was held in 2010, and since then North Korea has conducted a nuclear test, rocket tests, a brutal internal purge and there has been increasingly bellicose rhetoric. Any optimism felt here in Seoul and around the region is cautious.
North Korea has been back in the headlines, from the recent execution of leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle to former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s latest trip to Pyongyang. Daniel Pinkston, deputy project director for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, answers readers’ questions on the latest developments.
How influential a role is the military playing in North Korea’s government?
In some ways, this question is awkward because it seems to suggest that the military is one of several actors in government with interests that often diverge from those of other actors. That would suggest policies are decided and resources are allocated according to a competition among internal agencies, but I think that misrepresents the reality. I would ask, “How prominent is the military in maintaining the Kim family dictatorship?” My answer would be: It plays a very prominent role along with the party and the mass organizations.
How much influence does China have, and has the degree of influence changed since Kim Jong Un came to power?
My general response would be that people in the West tend to overestimate Chinese influence over North Korea, while Chinese tend to underestimate the amount of influence. For more detailed analysis on this, it’s worth looking at our report on China’s North Korea policy and the bilateral relationship, “Fire on the City Gate: Why China Keeps North Korea Close.”
What is South Korea doing or should do in order to facilitate reunification?
Be patient and maintain robust deterrence and containment until the demise of the Kim family regime. This should be supported by efforts to get information into North Korea and to increase civil society exchanges and people-to-people contacts with North Koreans.
North Korea has been back in the headlines. From the execution of leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle to former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s latest trip to Pyongyang, events tied to the so-called Hermit Kingdom have left many observers scratching their heads.
So what does it all mean? Is Kim firmly in control of the country? How does his leadership compare with that of his late father’s? Is Rodman’s “basketball diplomacy” likely to be effective?
Daniel Pinkston, deputy project director for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, will be taking GPS readers' questions on North Korea. Please leave your questions in the comments section below.
By Matt Stumpf, Special o CNN
Editor’s note: Matt Stumpf is director of the Asia Society’s Washington office. The views expressed are his own. This is the fourth in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.
If diplomacy is at times the act of building ladders for your opponent to climb down, rarely has a country needed it more urgently than North Korea today. The leadership in Pyongyang spent 2013 destroying the last rungs of the teetering ladder built by the Six-Party Talks in the mid-2000s. So, it enters 2014 on a ledge, and there are no obvious ways down.
North Korea finds itself in an ever-more precarious international situation after a disastrous series of decisions in 2013. Not long ago, reasonable analysts saw inklings of North Korean interest in economic reform. As early as the first days of the new leadership in January 2012, North Korean officials reportedly said: Kim Jong Un was “focused on a ‘knowledge-based’ economy and looking at economic reforms enacted by other nations, including China.” As late as January 2013, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt’s visit suggested that North Korea might believe the country could not prosper while isolated.
By Patrick Cha, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Patrick Ellis Cha is the founder of NetBenefitUSA, a Maryland-based non-governmental organization dedicated to socially conscious sports projects. You can follow them @NetBenefitUSA. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
Dennis Rodman is bound to grab headlines with his third trip to North Korea, scheduled for later this week. But his message to President Barack Obama that he just needs to pick up the phone and talk to the erratic Kim Jong Un (who only last week had his uncle executed on the grounds that he was a traitor and “despicable human scum”), suggests that the former NBA star and self-proclaimed ambassador might be overstating his influence. Sports diplomacy is real and effective – but probably not in the form we are about to see.
Last year, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Burma, a country that has recently undergone a degree of democratic change that seemed unimaginable just a few years ago. During the trip, Obama pledged U.S. economic assistance to the country, and authorized the dispatch of the first U.S. ambassador to Burma, also known as Myanmar, in decades.
For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
The iPhone probably doesn't have much to worry about, although the BlackBerry might. Why? The Arirang is here. The what, you ask?
The Arirang is described by North Korea's state news agency as the nation's first indigenous hand phone. And none other than the young dictator Kim Jong Un went on tour of the factory recently. He's said to have touted the patriotic enthusiasm in the assembly plant and noted how very convenient the camera on the phones would be to use since the cameras have high pixels.
There's just one problem – will anyone else ever realistically be able to see those fancy pictures?
By Howard Cohen
CNN Senior International Correspondent Ivan Watson was granted rare access to North Korea last month to attend the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. GPS intern Howard Cohen spoke with Watson about what he saw.
What kinds of restrictions were placed on journalists during your five day visit to North Korea?
The restrictions were onerous. We weren’t allowed to leave our hotel unless we were on a government organized bus trip. Our three-man crew was assigned two very polite minders who accompanied us everywhere outside of the hotel and made no secret about the fact that they had veto rights if we were to take pictures of something that they didn’t approve of. So they would basically tell us what we could and could not take pictures of.
Was there anything that you saw that really surprised you?
I was surprised by the size and choreography of the military parades and government organized spectacles that we saw. I was also blown away by the scale of the cult of personality of the dynasty that have ruled North Korea for 60 years, the size of the monuments dedicated to the grandfather and the father that ruled the country, and the amount of iconography that was everywhere that we visited. I was also amazed by the spectacles of devotion for the current leader, the grandson of the founder of the country, Kim Jong Un. Just the explosions of cheers at the moment he steps out into the public arena – the devotion that comes from the crowd – I’ve not quite seen anything on that scale before. Then again, I’ve never visited the Korean Peninsula.
By Troy Stangarone, Andrew Kwon and Peter Taves, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Troy Stangarone is the senior director of Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. Andrew Kwon is a recent Masters of International Security graduate from the University of Sydney. Peter Taves is a Masters of International Economic Relations candidate at American University. The views expressed are the authors’ own.
Whether threatening to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” or describing the recent summit meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Park Geun-hye as a prelude to war, over-the-top rhetoric has become almost an art form for the leadership in Pyongyang. Under Kim Jong Il, the United States and South Korea grew accustomed to North Korea engaging in threats to extract concessions as Pyongyang mastered the art of crisis escalation, only to dial tensions down when the time was right to get what it wanted. But if the language used under Kim Jong Il was calculated for effect, the thinking behind Kim Jong Un’s rhetoric is much less clear.
While the events of recent months contain certain familiar elements, there has been a higher degree of specificity in the threats, an increase in their intensity, and a longer duration than in previous crises. This is reflected in an analysis of the rhetoric used in current and previous crises in North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), which shows the use of terms such as “war,” and “nuclear” far more prevalent than terms such as “peace,” and “reconciliation.”
By Jason Miks
After weeks of escalating rhetoric, tensions between North Korea and the United States appear to be easing. But what prompted Pyongyang’s recent provocative statements? How well did the U.S. handle the threats? And what role has China played? James Schoff (@SchoffJ), a senior associate on the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Asia Program, answers readers’ questions:
Could Kim Jong Un's recent statements simply be an effort to save face with his own military before entering negotiations, asks “wjm”?
Perhaps to some extent, but there is no reason to think Kim’s idea of “negotiations” are anything close to what would be acceptable to South Korea or the United States. He seems to have gone “all in” with the further pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, which is prompting increased international pressure. So, North Korea's recent threats and military maneuvers are aimed more at bolstering its deterrence and pushing back against this pressure, rather than an opening gambit for talks. If an opportunity for talks emerges, Kim’s goal appears to be gaining some degree of international recognition for North Korea's nuclear status or reducing the bite of current sanctions.
When young Kim took over the leadership role after his father died in late 2011, there was some hope that he might steer the country toward more focus on economic modernization and away from emphasizing the nuclear program. That has proven to be a false hope.
By David Reeths, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: David Reeths is director of IHS Jane’s Consulting. This article is based on a full analysis published today in IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
It’s an all too familiar refrain as tensions on the Korean Peninsula surge: given its status as North Korea’s closest ally, China must use its influence on Pyongyang to defuse the situation.
Such statements are based on a number of assumptions, including that China sits in the driver’s seat and can control North Korean actions. The problem with these assumptions is that they underestimate the complexity of the bilateral relationship and ignore the fact that while China is certainly the closest thing to an ally that North Korea has, Pyongyang keeps Beijing in the dark as often as not as well.
The current rhetoric out of North Korea is far outside the bounds of the now “normal” bombast that we come to expect from Pyongyang. Some analysts believe it is just the next phase of a familiar cycle of threat, negotiation, and aid delivery from South Korea and the West, while others insist that this situation is being driven primarily by the need for the young and inexperienced Kim Jong-un to shore up his internal powerbase.
Less well explored is the very real possibility that the Chinese themselves are the key audience.
As speculation grows that a North Korean missile test could be imminent, discussion has turned to the question of whether the United States should shoot down any missile fired, even if it appears heading into the ocean.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer speaks with Fareed Zakaria to get his take on the latest developments and why China is key to resolving the current tensions.
What do you make of Senator John McCain and some others who say if they launch a missile, shoot it down, intercept it, destroy it – even if it's heading into the middle of the water? Obviously if it's heading toward a populated area in Tokyo or Guam or South Korea, that goes without saying. But just knock it out to make a point?
I think it's a very good example of the difference between what a John McCain foreign policy would be and what President Obama’s has been.
President Obama throughout this has been trying to show some restraint, not to play into the kind of the yank your chain that the North Koreans are trying to do. The North Koreans are desperately trying to get attention, to get some kind of negotiations going, to get concessions. So they have been threatening, clearly like a child who keeps screaming and has not been paid attention to. They're screaming more and more loudly.
By Jason Miks
South Korean media has reported today that two medium-range missiles have been loaded onto mobile launchers along North Korea’s east coast, and that they are ready to be launched. The report comes at the end of another tense weak on the Korean Peninsula that has seen an announcement by the U.S. that it is sending missile defenses to Guam and a North Korean statement that its army has final approval for nuclear strikes against the United States.
In a Situation Room special, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spoke with Fareed Zakaria to get his take on North Korea’s rhetoric, how serious the latest threats are, and China’s potential role in easing tensions.
Is it time to send some sort of diplomatic envoy to Pyongyang on behalf of the president of the United States?
Well, the Bush administration actually did try diplomacy. They signed two agreements with the North Koreans. Plenty of people did. The problem is that they cheat on them. They've cheated on every one of these.
There's only one country with whom diplomacy would work with North Korea, and that's China. The Chinese make up by some estimates 50 percent of North Korea's food, and about 80 percent of its fuel. There are people in China who literally opened the taps and allowed North Korea to survive.