Tag Archives: Kim Jong-un

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North Korea Woos Tourists

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Pictured above: A North Korean family at Pyongyang’s “fun fair.” (Photo courtesy of Roman Harak/Flickr)

by ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — If you’re still looking for somewhere exotic to go this summer and don’t mind a vacation that comes with a heavy dose of socialist propaganda and leader worship, North Korea says it’s just the place for you.

Fresh off a drastic, half-year ban that closed North Korea’s doors to virtually all foreigners over fears they would spread the Ebola virus — despite the fact that there were no cases of Ebola reported anywhere in Asia — the country is once again determined to show off its “socialist fairyland” to tourists.

The focus on tourism is the blessing of Kim Jong Un himself and, in typical fashion, officials have set lofty goals in their effort to please their leader.

About 100,000 tourists came to North Korea last year, all but a few thousand of them from neighboring China.

Kim Sang Hak, a senior economist at the influential Academy of Social Sciences, told The Associated Press the North hopes that by around 2017, there will be 10 times as many tourists and that the number will hit 2 million by 2020.

Pyongyang’s interest in attracting tourists may sound ironic, or even contradictory, for a country that has taken extreme measures to remain sheltered from the outside world.

But Kim said the push, formally endorsed by Kim Jong Un in March 2013, is seen as both a potentially lucrative revenue stream and a means of countering stereotypes of the country as starving, backward and relentlessly bleak.

“Tourism can produce a lot of profit relative to the investment required, so that’s why our country is putting priority on it,” he said in a recent interview in Pyongyang, adding that along with scenic mountains, secluded beaches and a seemingly endless array of monuments and museums, the North has another ace up its sleeve — the image that it is simply unlike anywhere else on Earth.

“Many people in foreign countries think in a wrong way about our country,” Kim said, brushing aside criticisms of its human rights record, lack of freedoms and problems with hunger in the countryside. “Though the economic sanctions of the U.S. imperialists are increasing, we are developing our economy. So I think many people are curious about our country.”

Opponents in the West say tourists who go to North Korea are helping to fill the coffers of a rogue regime and harming efforts to isolate and pressure Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons and improve its human rights record. For safety reasons, the State Department strongly advises U.S. citizens not to travel to North Korea.

None of that has stopped the number of American and European tourists from gradually increasing, and such concerns are not so strong in the countries North Korea is most actively wooing — China, Russia and Southeast Asia.

“About 80 percent of the tourists who come are from neighboring countries,” said state tourism official Kim Yong Il. “It’s normal to develop tourism within your region, so our country is not exceptional in that way. But we are also expanding to European countries as well.”

While the overall quality of life in North Korea hasn’t shifted much in the past few years, efforts to build attractions for visitors and the infrastructure required to host them are already beginning to change the face of the capital and some scattered special tourism zones recently established across the country.

Amid the generally Spartan context of their surroundings, those attractions, which are also used by average North Koreans at much lower fees, can be quite striking.

In Pyongyang, some of the more popular tourist sites include a new, high-tech shooting range, where visitors can hunt animated tigers with laser guns or use live ammo to bag real pheasants, which can be prepared to eat right there on the spot. There is also a new equestrian center, a huge water park and revamped “fun fairs” replete with roller coasters, fast-food stands and a 5-D theater. After a year of feverish construction, Pyongyang’s new international airport terminal could open as soon as next month.

Outside of the showcase capital, where funds, electricity and adequate lodging are much scarcer, development has been focused on the area around Mount Kumgang and Wonsan, a port city on the east coast.

A luxury ski resort was recently opened just outside of Wonsan and a number of new restaurants have sprung up along the city’s beachfront area, which is popular with tourists and locals alike for swimming, clambakes and outdoor barbeques.

But like everything else, North Korea is approaching tourism “in its own way.”

Tourists of any nationality can expect constant monitoring from ever-watchful guides and a lot of visits to model hospitals, schools and farms, along with well-staged events intended to impress and promote Pyongyang’s unique brand of authoritarian socialism. Like all other visitors to the North, they have precious few opportunities to interact with average people or observe their daily lifestyle.

Tourists can also expect severe repercussions if they step out of line.

Tours to Mount Kumgang by South Koreans were quite popular for about a decade until 2008, when they were halted after a South Korean housewife who walked into a restricted area was shot dead by a North Korean guard. More recently, an American tourist who impulsively left a Bible in a provincial nightclub was detained for nearly six months until the Pentagon sent a plane to Pyongyang to pick him up.

See Also

 

“Uri Tours Focuses on North Korea Tourism”

“Commentary: A Medical Mission to North Korea”

“North Korea Arrests Korean NYU Student for Illegal Entry”

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Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Kim Jong-un’s Brother Seen at Eric Clapton Concert in London

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Kim Jong-un’s older brother was recently spotted attending an Eric Clapton concert at Royal Albert Hall in London, reports Yonhap News Agency.

Kim Jong-chol, 33, is known to be a devoted Clapton fan, as he has previously been seen at the musician’s concerts in Germany in 2006 and Singapore in 2011, according to BBC.

On Wednesday, Japanese television network TBS filmed Kim, dressed in dark sunglasses and a leather jacket, exiting a van outside the venue in west London. TBS journalists reported that Kim was flanked by an entourage of suited men and a woman with cropped hair, who appeared to be Kim’s girlfriend.

South Korean diplomats in London confirmed that Kim attended Clapton’s concert on both Wednesday and Thursday nights, according to the Guardian. The diplomats also said the North Korean embassy in London arranged Kim’s transport to and from Royal Albert Hall.

Yonhap reported that Kim stayed at the Chelsea Harbour Hotel in west London, where rooms can cost up to 2,184 pounds (approximately $3383 USD) per night. He is scheduled to board a flight to Moscow on Friday.

This is the first sighting of Kim since his younger brother, Kim Jong-un, assumed power in late 2011.

Kim Jong-chol is the second of three sons of North Korea’s late leader, Kim Jong-il. He and Kim Jong-un were born to the late leader’s third wife, while the eldest son, Kim Jong-nam, was born to the second wife.

Like the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-chol was educated in Switzerland. At one point, he was considered for the North Korean leadership, but was overlooked by his father in 2009, according to BBC. Kim Jong-il had reportedly decided that his second son was too much like a “little girl” to be a leader.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-nam fell out of his father’s favor after he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport in 2001, supposedly to visit Tokyo Disneyland.

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Featured image via Chosun Ilbo

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Yoon Mirae and Sony Pictures Settle Legal Dispute

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

Korean singer-rapper Yoon Mirae was not amused when she heard her song “Pay Day” briefly play in the controversial Seth Rogan comedy The Interview.

“When we asked Sony about the use of ‘Pay Day’ in the movie, they replied by saying that they had a signed contract [authorizing their use of the song]. However, we did not sign such a contract,” Feel Ghood Music, Yoon’s agency, said at the time of the film’s release.

The Interview, a film that depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, drew global attention after Sony Pictures Entertainment suffered a cyberattack presumably instigated by North Korea.

Last December, Feel Ghood Music filed a lawsuit with a U.S. court against Sony Pictures Entertainment. After four months of legal dispute, the two parties announced on Wednesday that they have reached a settlement, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Sony Pictures said in an email sent to Yonhap that it acknowledged using the song before obtaining an official license and said that both parties amicably resolved the dispute.

“We want to emphasize that the fact that the track was included [in The Interview] does not mean that Yoon Mi Rae, Tiger JK, or Feel Ghood Music condones the content [of the film],” the studio wrote.

“Pay Day” is a track from Yoon’s third studio album released in 2007 and features her husband Tiger JK, who is also a Korean American hip-hop artist. The song played during a scene in the film where Kim Jong-un (portrayed by Randall Park) shows American talk-show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) how to party by drinking and playing billiards with women in lingerie.

You can watch Yoon Mirae and Tiger JK perform “Pay Day” below.

Recommended Reading

 

“Did North Korea Hack Sony? The Jury’s Still Out”

“Q&A with Seth Rogan: Behind the Making of the Interview 

“December/January 2015 Cover Story: Randall Park”

 

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North Korea Executed Defense Minister: NIS

by HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his defense chief executed with an anti-aircraft gun for complaining about the young ruler, talking back to him and sleeping during a meeting presided over by Kim, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Wednesday, citing what it called credible information.

South Korean analysts are split on whether the alleged bloody purge signals strength or weakness from Kim Jong Un, who took power after his father’s 2011 death. Some aren’t even sure if it really happened. One expert described the reported development, part of a series of high profile recent purges and executions by Kim, as an attempt to orchestrate a “reign of terror” that would solidify his leadership.

National Intelligence Service officials told a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting that People’s Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong-chol was killed in front of hundreds of spectators at a shooting range at Pyongyang’s Kang Kon Military Academy in late April, according to lawmaker Shin Kyoung-min, who attended the briefing.

Kim Gwang-lim, chairman of the parliament’s intelligence committee, quoted the spy service as saying Hyon had failed several times to comply with unspecified instructions by Kim. The office of another lawmaker, Lee Cheol Woo, released similar information about the NIS briefing.

The NIS didn’t tell lawmakers how it got the information, only that it was from a variety of channels and that it believed it to be true, Shin said. The agency refused to confirm the report when contacted by The Associated Press.

South Korea’s spy agency has a spotty record of tracking developments in North Korea. Information about the secretive, authoritarian state is often impossible to confirm.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. can’t confirm reporting of the execution of North Korean officials, but added that “these disturbing reports, if they are true, describe another extremely brutal act by the North Korean regime. These reports are sadly not the first.”

Analyst Cheong Seong-chang at the private Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea questioned the authenticity of the report on Hyon’s execution because the minister still frequently appears in state TV footage.

North Korea typically removes executed and purged officials from TV documentaries, but Hyon has appeared multiple times in a TV documentary on live fire drills between April 30 and May 11, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry. North Korea’s state media hasn’t mentioned Hyon since an April 29 report of his attendance of a music performance the previous day.

Hyon was named armed forces minister, the equivalent of South Korea’s defense minister, in June of last year. He was made a vice marshal of the Korean People’s Army in July 2012 before being demoted to a four-star general later that year, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry. Kim, the South Korean parliament’s intelligence committee chief, said Hyon was the North Korean military’s No.2 man after Hwang Pyong So, the top political officer at the Korean People’s Army.

Kim’s purges over recent years are seen as efforts to bolster his grip on power. The most notable was in 2013 when Kim executed his uncle and chief deputy, Jang Song Thaek, for alleged treason. Last month, spy officials told lawmakers that North Korea executed 15 senior officials accused of challenging Kim’s authority.

Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim Jong Un appears to be using purges to keep the military old guard in check because they pose the only plausible threat to his rule. Koh said Kim could be pushing a “reign of terror” to solidify his leadership, but those efforts would fail if he doesn’t improve the country’s shattered economy.

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Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, and Matthew Pennington in Washington, contributed to this report. Featured image courtesy of Yonhap News Agency.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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North Korea Says It Tests Ballistic Missile from Submarine

by the Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea said Saturday that it successfully test-fired a newly developed ballistic missile from a submarine in what would be the latest display of the country’s advancing military capabilities. Hours after the announcement, South Korean officials said the North fired three anti-ship cruise missiles into the sea off its east coast.

Experts in Seoul say the North’s military demonstrations and hostile rhetoric are attempts at wresting concessions from the United States and South Korea, whose officials have recently talked about the possibility of holding preliminary talks with the North to test its commitment to denuclearization.

For the second straight day, North Korea said it would fire without warning at South Korean naval vessels that it claims have been violating its territorial waters off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula. South Korea’spresidential Blue House held an emergency national security council meeting to review the threat and discuss possible countermeasures.

“By raising tensions, North Korea is trying to ensure that it will be able to drive whatever future talks with the U.S. and South Korea,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor from the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies.

South Korean officials previously had said that North Korea was developing technologies for launching ballistic missiles from underwater, although past tests were believed to have been conducted on platforms built on land or at sea and not from submarines.

Security experts say that North Korea acquiring the ability to launch missiles from submarines would be an alarming development because missiles fired from submerged vessels are harder to detect before launch than land-based ones. North Korea already has a considerable arsenal of land-based ballistic missiles and is also believed to be advancing in efforts to miniaturize nuclear warheads to mount on such missiles, according to South Korean officials.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un personally directed the submarine test launching and called the missile a “world-level strategic weapon” and an “eye-opening success,” said the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA. The report did not reveal the timing or location of the launch.

Kim declared that North Korea now has a weapon capable of “striking and wiping out in any waters the hostile forces infringing upon the sovereignty and dignity of (North Korea).”

The North’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper published photos of a projectile rising from the sea’s surface and Kim smiling from a distance at what looked like a floating submarine.

The test might have taken place near the eastern coastal city of Sinpo, where satellite imagery in recent months, analyzed by a U.S. research institute, appeared to have shown North Korea building missile-testing facilities and equipping a submarine with launch capabilities. In a separate report Saturday, KCNA said Kim visited a fisheries facility in Sinpo to offer “field guidance.”

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was aware of the reports about the firing of the submarine missile and noted that launches using ballistic missile technology are “a clear violation” of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The U.S. urged North Korea “to refrain from actions that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations.”

South Korea’s defense ministry had no immediate comment on the North’s claim of a successful test.

Ministry officials have previously said that North Korea has about 70 submarines and appears to be mainly imitating Russian designs in its efforts to develop a system for submarine-launched missiles. The North is believed to have obtained several of the Soviet Navy’s retired Golf-class ballistic missile submarines in the mid-1990s.

Uk Yang, a Seoul-based security expert and an adviser to the South Korean military, said it is unlikely that NorthKorea possesses a submarine large enough to carry and fire multiple missiles. However, it’s hard to deny that Pyongyang is making progress on dangerous weapons technology, he said.

The website 38 North, operated by the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said in January that such capability posed a potential new threat to South Korea, Japan and U.S. bases in East Asia, although experts say North Korea’s submarines tend to be old and would be vulnerable to attack.

Meanwhile, a South Korean Joint Chief of Staff official said the North fired three anti-ship cruise missiles into the sea within a span of one hour early Saturday evening from an area near the eastern port city of Wonsan. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing office rules, identified the missiles as KN-01 missiles, which the North also test-fired in February in an event personally attended by North Korean leader Kim.

There had been expectations that Kim would attend the Victory Day celebration in Russia on Saturday for his international debut, but North Korea sent to Moscow the head of its rubber-stamp parliament instead.

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Associated Press writer Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report. Featured image courtesy of KCNA via Yonhap News Agency. 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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North Korea Executed 15 Senior Officials This Year: South Korea’s Spy Agency

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

North Korea has executed 15 senior officials since January, as its leader Kim Jong-un continues his reign of terror to apparently cement his authority, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said on Wednesday.

During a closed briefing, the South’s intelligence agency told two lawmakers that two vice ministers were among the 15 officials to be executed this year. One vice forestry minister was killed in January for allegedly complaining about the North’s current reforestation policy, according to the Korea Herald. One month later, the vice minister in charge of economic planning was executed after opposing Kim’s decision to put a flower-shaped roof over a building under construction in Pyongyang.

In March, four members of the Unhasu Orchestra—the same orchestra Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, previously worked for as a singer—were also executed by firing squad on espionage charges, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Lee Cheol-woo, one of the designated lawmakers for the briefing, said the intelligence agency suspects that the musicians were killed for allegedly leaking family secrets.

“Kim Jong-un is demonstrating a leadership style that absolutely does not tolerate excuses or reasons for not following through with his orders,” Shin Kyoungmin of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy told reporters, citing reports by the intelligence officials. “Those who second-guess him are executed as an example of what happens when one challenges his authority.”

Since the death of his father Kim Jong-il in 2011, Kim has frequently ordered public executions in what critics say is aimed at tightening his grip on power, as his country’s economy continues to struggle amid strict international sanctions.

In 2013, Kim shocked the world after ordering the execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek, who was once considered the second-most powerful man in North Korea.

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Featured image via Yonhap

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Barack Obama and Kim Jong-un Impersonators Take on Los Angeles

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
jamesskim@iamkoream.com

President Obama was in Los Angeles yesterday, creating a traffic nightmare for commuters. News sources said he was making a guest appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, then attending a fundraising dinner. They were wrong. Kind of.

Photographers Jamie Fullerton and John Chappie were able to capture two of perhaps the most convincing celebrity impersonators hitting the streets of Los Angeles, according to VICE. The photos, which depicted two people impersonating President Obama and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, quickly made their way up to the Reddit front page.

The two leaders seemed to have had a blast in L.A. Obama gave Kim some tips on his much maligned hairdo before visiting the Hollywood sign and Sony Pictures (no hard feelings over The Interview, perhaps?), then hitting up Venice Beach to shoot hoops (move over, Dennis Rodman) and skateboarding. And of course, a day out in SoCal wouldn’t be complete without a Double-Double from In-N-Out.

The cherry on top would have been Katy Perry blasting on the car stereo.

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Happy Friday the 13th, folks!

Images via Imgur

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N.Korea Encourages Citizens to Play Sports to “Strengthen National Defense”

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han
steve@iamkoream.com

Amid young leader Kim Jong-un’s incessant passion for basketball, North Korea is amping up efforts to ingrain sports into the daily lives of its citizens in the hermit kingdom.

A recent Yonhap News Agency report cited a North Korean official who said that the country is encouraging the citizens to play sports, such as basketball and soccer to “boost industrial output” and “strengthen national defense.” North Korea’s communist regime has even launched a new sports-exclusive government ministry, called the National Sports Guidance Committee, to promote sports among its people.

The ministry’s role is to set up to support the practice of playing sports at workplaces in various cities and counties within North Korea, according to Ri Chi-ung, vice director of the country’s Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports. Ri added that sports could help develop the impoverished country’s halting economy.

“People find themselves [to] do their work better amidst the sporting zeal,” Ri reportedly said. “And it gives full play to collectivism, and the love for their working places and home villages is going up remarkably.”

He added, “They feel more pleasant at their jobs and the spirit of helping and leading one another forward is prevailing in the factory. All this gives great energy to the effort to fulfill the national economic plan.”

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is known to have picked up his  love for basketball while he was studying in Switzerland during his teens. A fan of Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the mid-90s, he even held an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang last year with former NBA star Dennis Rodman.

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Featured image via Quazoo.com: North Korea national under-20 soccer team