Lessons from aid workers in North Korea

A North Korean girl reads along a rural road north of Hamhung, South Hamgyong province, North Korea, 16 June 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Eun Jeong Soh, ANU

Since the mid-1990s, various governmental and non-governmental organisations have delivered aid to North Korea’s orphanages and hospitals. But for some time now aid to North Korea has dwindled. The US has provided virtually no aid since 2009, South Korea has banned direct state aid and and limited private assistance since 2010, and UN World Food Programme operations have been running well below target levels. Read more…

Behind North Korea’s hospital curtain

A North Korean nurse comforts a baby at a nursery inside Pyongyang Maternity Hospital in Pyongyang, North Korea, 20 February 2013. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Eun Jeong Soh, ANU

Health care has been a successful area of international cooperation for North Korea. Yet, there has been little discussion of daily health care practices, which remain largely hidden outside of the formal health care system. How much is known, for instance, about what people in North Korea do when their children fall ill? Read more…

Will a British defence attaché to DPRK bring the countries closer?

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un aboard a submarine during a visit to Navy Unit 167 stationed on the east coast of North Korea. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Jim Hoare, SOAS, University of London

On 13 May, Britain’s Minister of State for the Foreign Office Hugo Swire revealed in a parliamentary debate on North Korean human rights that Britain and North Korea had agreed to exchange defence attachés.

The statement attracted little coverage. The British press made no mention of it and only North Korea News picked up the story — in a piece that attracted one comment. Read more…

A new design for North Korea’s construction industry

A handout photo provided by the official Korean Central news Agency (KCNA) via Yonhap News Agency (YNA) on 21 May 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) touring an apartment construction site in Pyongyang, North Korea.(Photo: AAP)

Author: Calvin Chua, Choson Exchange

The recent collapse of a building in Pyongyang’s Phyongchon District has drawn attention to North Korea’s design and construction industry. The industry has undergone significant changes which may signal a long-term trend towards global norms.

Two days after the building’s collapse, Ma Won Chun, a reputable North Korean architect with experience in finance, was appointed to lead the new ‘Designing Department’ housed within North Korea’s National Defence Commission (NDC).

Read more…

High hurdles for Japan and North Korea to resolve the abduction issue

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends the Upper house diplomacy and Defense committee session in Tokyo on 29 March 2014. Abe announced that North Korea has agreed to launch a reinvestigation into the fates of Japanese citizens abducted by DPRK agents during the Cold War. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Owen Lindsay, University of South Australia

On Thursday 29 May, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that North Korea has agreed to launch a reinvestigation into the fates of Japanese citizens abducted by DPRK agents during the Cold War. The surprise announcement followed a three day meeting between the Japanese and North Korean governments in Stockholm and comes after a decade of North Korean opposition to further investigation of the abduction incidents.

Read more…

Dangers of stasis, dangers of change in North Korea

A picture taken by NASA's Image Science and Analysis Laboratory at the NASA-Johnson Space Center and taken on 30 January 2014 shows most of the Korean peninsular and China at night. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Andrei Lankov, Kookmin University and ANU

At a cursory glance, North Korean policy over the last two decades may seem profoundly irrational. The country has continued to cling to a grossly inefficient and anachronistic economic system, once patterned on the Soviet economy of Stalin’s era. Predictably, the North Korean economy folded in, leading to a disastrous famine in the mid to late 1990s (it has since recovered, but only partially). Read more…

Brave steps needed to end DPRK isolation

A South Korean factory-owner stands outside of military barricades near the border of the two Koreas. A recently released UN report details the frequent human rights abuses in North Korea, while recommending more people-to-people contact to expose citizens to experiences outside of their home country. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Emma Campbell, ANU

The UN report on human rights in North Korea received huge coverage when it was released in February this year. The report recounts the testimonies of many North Koreans who have escaped from the DPRK — detailing frequent human rights abuses. Most of the details were already known to Korea watchers as a result of South Korean and international human rights organisations’ diligent work. Read more…

Family reunions belie future of the Korean peninsula

North and South Korean family hold hands at a bus as they leave after the inter-Korean family reunion meeting at Mount Kumgang resort, North Korea, 25 February 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Andrew Kwon, Lowy Institute for International Policy/Center for Strategic and International Studies

The Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held their first family reunions in three years on 20 February 2014. But the event does not hail the beginning of a grand renewal in relations — the world has been here before and the important underlying factors that have undermined enhanced relations before, as highlighted by the recent exchange of fire along the western maritime border, remain unchanged. Read more…

Jang Song-taek purge further undermines North Korea’s foreign relations

Jang Song-thaek, the second most powerful man in North Korea and uncle of leader Kim Jong-un, stands trial before a special military tribunal in Pyongyang, North Korea, on 12 December 2013.  (Photo: AAP)

Authors: Gi-Wook Shin and David Straub, Stanford University

In eliminating his uncle Jang Song-taek, North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un acted like a character out of a Shakespearian drama with Stalinist characteristics. Whether Jang’s show trial and summary execution will help to consolidate or undermine Kim’s power remains to be seen. But the statement on Jang’s indictment confirms — apparently unwittingly — the enormous economic, political, and social problems facing his regime. Read more…

North Korea risky business for Chinese investors

This photo shows a statue of the idealised worker, farmer and intellectual, holding up the hammer, sickle and brush respectively, in front of the Tower of the Juche Idea - a monument in Pyongyang, North Korea (Photo: yeowatzup).

Authors: Yaohui Wang and Justin Hastings, University of Sydney

While North Korea has encouraged increased inward investment since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011, and China–North Korea economic engagement has expanded, Chinese investors taking the plunge investing in North Korea face challenges at each step of the way.

Recent discussions by one of the authors with Chinese businesspeople making investments in North Korea indicated that the country remains fraught with political risk Read more…

Jang’s purge a sign of bigger economic problems in North Korea

This picture taken by KCNA on 15 April 2013 shows Kim Jong Un (R) with his uncle Jang Song Thaek, now executed.  (Photo: AAP)

Author: Ruediger Frank, University of Vienna

Jang Sung-taek has been purged and executed, in a way that suggests that Kim Jong-un wanted to make a point. This unusual procedure is without a doubt a sign of major problems.

Otherwise, the overambitious uncle would have been removed silently, as has happened so many times before.

Read more…

China–DPRK economic engagement: don’t blame the sunshine

Dancers perform during an 'Arrirang Festival mass games display' in Pyongyang on 26 July 26, 2013. (Photo: AAP)

Author: James Reilly, University of Sydney

The substantial expansion of China’s trade and investment in North Korea, echoing in some aspects the sunshine policy championed by South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, is slowly nudging the reclusive state toward a more market-oriented and externally engaged society.

Read more…

North Korea’s surprising status in the international climate change regime

Peasants of the Jangsan Co-op Farm in Ryongchon County, North Phyongan Province, water and fertilize rice-seedling beds properly adjusting their temperature to raise healthy rice seedlings Thursday 4 May, 2006 (Photo: AAP)

Author: Benjamin Habib, La Trobe University

North Korea is a curious case among Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is not an active member of any specific negotiating bloc and has been a sporadic attendee at UNFCCC Conference of Parties gatherings, where its delegates are generally silent participants. Why then does North Korea engage with the international climate change regime? Read more…