Tag Archives: North Korea

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Tuesday’s Links: NKorea Building Disaster; New SKorean PM; Dan Matthews at UW

North Korea building disaster reveals regime vulnerability
Japan Times

It may have taken the collapse of an apartment block in an exclusive district of the North Korean capital to reveal the Achilles heel of young leader Kim Jong Un’s secretive regime.

Last week’s accident killed the families of people important enough for North Korea to issue an obsequious and unprecedented public apology in a bid to quell public anger, some analysts said.

The 23-story building in Phyongchon, central Pyongyang, was part of a construction boom driven by Kim that includes apartment blocks, roads, bridges and the Masik Ski Resort that has become synonymous with his policy of finishing projects at lightning speed.

Fire At South Korean Bus Terminal Kills 6
Associated Press

A fire in a construction area at a bus terminal near Seoul killed six people and injured 38 on Monday, emergency officials said.

The fire was suspected to have started during welding work in the basement of the building in Goyang city, just north of Seoul, said Ha Jong-keun, an official at an emergency office in Gyeonggi Province which governs the city.

The terminal building also has a multiplex movie theater and a shopping mall, but witnesses told local media that not many people were at the scene at the time of the fire, reported about 9 a.m. Ha said the fire was put out in 20 minutes.

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Ferry disaster overshadows South Korean elections
Yahoo News

South Korea’s opposition parties are expected to reap an election bonanza from seething public anger over the government’s mishandling of the ferry disaster as campaigning for next month’s local polls opened on Thursday.

The June 4 polls are the first nationwide elections since President Park Geun-Hye took office 16 months earlier and are widely seen as a referendum on her performance.

Prior to the April 16 ferry disaster which left more than 300 dead and missing, the elections were seen as a walkover for her ruling Saenuri Party as many middle-of-road voters threw their weight behind the conservative party on hopes it would improve the sluggish economy.

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Can new PM give Pres. Park a way out of the Sewol crisis?
The Hankyoreh

President Park Geun-hye’s nomination of former Supreme Court Justice Ahn Dae-hee for Prime Minister on May 22 is raising questions about whether the choice can save her and the ruling Saenuri Party from the crisis over the response to last month’s Sewol ferry sinking.

Ahn himself is seen by many as a potential rudder for the “human reforms” Park has declared, and a key presence for spearheading a future drive to reform government.

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What Korea can learn from Japan’s lost decade
The Korea Herald

South Korea can avoid possible economic risks by seeking to gradually transform its economy through structural reforms, rather than depending solely on monetary policies, according to a senior Japanese economist.

Such is the lesson that Korea can learn from Japan, despite their complicated historical ties, said Naoyuki Yoshino, professor of economics at Keio University, in a recent telephone interview with The Korea Herald.

“Korea can learn from Japan’s mistakes in the past,” he said from Tokyo, where he now heads the Asian Development Bank Institute, a policy-oriented think tank focused on development issues in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Japan contacted by North Korea’s secret police before Stockholm summit
Japan Daily Press

As Japan and North Korea prepares for their second bilateral talks in 16 months, it was reported that the communist state’s intelligence agency has already reached out to Japan. The move by the State Security Department to contact Japan is welcomed as a sign of its country’s willingness to reopen the investigation on abducted Japanese nationals decades ago.

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Keeping (And Losing) Faith, The Asian American Way
AAPI Voices

Are Asian Americans in a state of religious confusion? And are Asian American Protestants fleeing their religion?

Consider the example of Lisa, a 20-year old second-generation Vietnamese American from Houston: “I really don’t think I have a religious preference,” she says “I believe that someone is up there, and I’m pretty much screwed up in the head,” she continued with a laugh. “You know ‘cuz I went to Catholic school until I was in 8th grade, and when my parents got divorced I went to [Buddhist] temple for like about 5 or 6 years. So I got the aspects of both religions, and I think that both of them have good aspects, and both of them have bad aspects. And I do what [my parents] ask me to do, but in my own mind I really don’t have like a set religion y’know?”

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Farmed Out
The Economist

IN THE mid-1990s posters plastered on the subway in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, exhorted local girls to marry farmers. Young women had left their villages in droves since the 1960s for a better life in the booming city. Sons, however, stayed behind to tend family farms and fisheries.

The campaign was futile. Last year over a fifth of South Korean farmers and fishermen who tied the knot did so with a foreigner. The province of South Jeolla has the highest concentration of international marriages in the country—half of those getting married at the peak a decade ago. In those days, the business of broking unions with Chinese or South-East Asian women boomed, with matches made in the space of a few days. Not long ago placards in the provinces sang the praises of Vietnamese wives “who never run away”. Now, on the Seoul subway, banners encourage acceptance of multicultural families.

Adam Carolla, Has-Been Comedian, Says Asians (And “Chicks”) Aren’t Funny
Dame Magazine

“Where are the Asian comedians? Maybe there just aren’t any!” said comedian Adam Carolla, formerly of The Man Show, in a recent interview with Salon. In Carolla’s America, humorless Asians nonetheless “beat the rigged system” and now “pass white people” in every other area of life except comedy. Which they have no business trying. Because, you know: unfunny.

“How did Asians pass white people? They got lucky?” he told Salon’s Daniel D’Addario, in an interview in which he also bemoaned “the gay mafia.” Carolla added, “I would go ahead and say: The Asians beat the rigged system and did better than white people. You don’t think that’d be something to look into? Do you think we decided to rig the system against certain ethnicities?”

Food truck king Roy Choi adds authentic flavor to ‘Chef’ film
The Salt Lake Tribune

If you’re going to make a movie about a food truck, then it makes sense to hire Los Angeles chef Roy Choi as your technical consultant.

Choi, 44, became king of the food truck world after launching his Kogi food truck, which fused Korean BBQ and Mexican flavors and created LA’s mobile food craze.

That’s why writer/director Jon Favreau called on Choi to help him with “Chef,” the story of Carl Casper (played by Favreau), who rediscovers his passion for food — and life — when he launches a food truck. (See review on XX).

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Daily life in North Korea
Al Jazeera

There is a popular saying, “Wherever there is oppression, there is resistance”. This oft-quoted statement might sound lofty and uplifting, but, alas, it is patently false. As experience of the 20th century politics demonstrates well, it is quite possible to organise a state in a way that precludes the existence of any visible resistance – at least, for a long, long time.

A good example of such a resistance-less regime is the Soviet Union at the height of Joseph Stalin’s rule, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s. While the government was highly repressive and executed about one million real and alleged political criminals (not including the many who perished in prison camps), the Soviet Union of this period saw no organised resistance to speak of – the uprising of the national minorities on the distant periphery was the only exception. Many were unhappy, but they were seldom willing to express their hostile attitude to the state.

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Korean American adoptee shares his journey with UW students
The Daily (University of Washington)

Dan Matthews, a Los Angeles-based rapper, visited the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Theatre (ECT) on Thursday. Matthews promoted his documentary about meeting his biological family in Korea, and performed for the UW students afterward.

The documentary, titled “aka DAN,” chronicles how Matthews’ pursuit for identity as an Asian American adoptee led to his music career and search for his biological parents.

“Although the documentary is a story about adoption, it also focuses on the meaning of family. You don’t need to be a Korean adoptee to understand or relate to the story,” Matthews said.

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The History Behind Korea’s Secret Gold Temple
Medium.com

Working in South Korea, I am not only lucky enough to fly over to neighboring countries like Japan and Taiwan without crossing hemispheres, but also able to compare heritage between the countries of East Asia, especially with regards to that of my new home on the peninsula. When travelling in the Kansai region of Japan for example, I was struck most by colours — the orange hue of Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) in Kyoto, the gold sheen of Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺), and often wondered back to the red and green temples I’d see on a regular basis in and out of Seoul. Perhaps most temples in Japan look the same too, so the ones that stood out in Kansai were those different to the island nation’s usual brown and white style. These were the famous ones that drew in the tourists.

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North and South Korea Exchange Fire Near Yeongpyeong Island (Again)

by Steve Han

North Korean artillery fired two shots toward a South Korean navy patrol ship south of the two Koreas’ disputed maritime border on Thursday, but missed the vessel, according to a South Korean military official.

In response, South Korea fired back at the North Korean naval vessel five times, said the official. There were no known injuries from the exchange of fire.

The attacks occurred near Yeongpyeong-do, the island North Korea shelled in 2010. Four South Koreans were killed in the incident. This time, residents of the island evacuated to bomb shelters. No further firing took place after the initial exchange, South Korean officials said.

The so-called Northern Limit Line, the disputed waters off of the Korean peninsula’s western coast, was drawn up after the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953. For decades, both Koreas claimed the area by launching attacks across the border.

North Korea issued a warning earlier in the day, saying it will “blow up” South Korean ships after the South fired warning shots at North’s patrol boats for breaching the border a few days ago. The North accused the South of “a grave provocation.”

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Steven Yeun To Adapt And Star In ‘The Aquariums of Pyongyang’

by RUTH KIM

In addition to killing off zombies in the post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead, actor Steven Yeun will take on a new role as North Korea defector Kang Chol-Hwan in a film adaptation of The Aquariums of Pyongyang.

Teaming up with Radar Pictures, Yeun will also executive produce the film, collaborating with producers Ted Field, Mike Weber, and Michael Napoliello, in partnership with Sean Lee, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

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Based on true events, The Aquariums of Pyongyang is Kang Chol-Hwan’s memoir. It was originally published in French in 2000, and later translated to English and Korean. Set in North Korea during the Korean War, Aquariums illustrates the stark contrast between the right-wing government of the South and the extreme communist stronghold of the North Korean powers. The story details the lives of Kang and his family members, suspected to be dissidents during their imprisonment at the Yodok concentration camp #2915. Over a period of 10 years, they suffered through starvation, torture, disease and public execution.

Kang’s memoir is one of the first published accounts that reveal the harsh reality of the North Korean prison system. Blending elements of horror, history, narrative, and politics, Aquariums reveals mankind’s resolve to triumph over unimaginable hardships.

Aside from Aquariums, Yeun has other projects in the works, including a role in I Origins and working as the lead voice over in the animated adaptation of Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory.

Photo via The Hollywood Reporter

NKorean Building Collapses, Death Toll Believed To Be In The Hundreds

Hundreds of North Koreans may have died in a building accident after a 23-story apartment complex housing reportedly collapsed on May 13 due to slipshod construction.

North Korean officials issued an apology Sunday via the state-run Korean Central News Agency, taking responsibility for the collapse of the building in Pyongyang. An apology is extremely rare for the hermit nation which has total control over the information that’s available to its citizens, most of whom have no access to the internet.

KCNA, which virtually operates for the sole purpose of glorifying the communist regime, expressed its “profound consolation” for the tragedy and also heavily criticized Choe Pu Il, the minister of people’s security. The agency called Choe “can never be pardoned” for his crime and added that the country’s leader Kim Jong Un “sat up all night” in grief.

Although no photos of the accident site were published, Sunday’s newspaper showed an official bowing to a crowd of people in apology.

Attributing an anonymous report, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that the collapsed apartment complex wasn’t complete, but that it is not unusual in North Korea for people to move into a building while construction is underway.

North Korea didn’t issue a death toll, but because North Koreans generally have families of four and 92 families reportedly resided in the building, hundreds are believed to have died in the accident. An “intensive” rescue operation was launched after the accident, which ended Saturday, according to the North.

Those who defected North Korea in recent years say that construction accidents aren’t uncommon in labor sites located outside Pyongyang, but a collapse of a residential complex in the capital city is rare. Pyongyang is available exclusively to the country’s “loyal” class as its limited resources are pulled to decorate the city as the showpiece of the communist regime.

The recent tragedy in Pyongyang occurred while North Korea has been criticizing South Korea for its response to a capsized ferry which contained more than 300 people who are either confirmed dead or still missing.

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Dennis Rodman Says NKorean Leader’s Uncle Is Still Alive

Photo by Alexander F. Yuan/AP

Eccentric former basketball star Dennis Rodman says North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s right-hand man and uncle, who was reportedly executed, is still alive.

In an interview with fashion and culture magazine DuJour, Rodman said that Kim didn’t execute his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, and that he even met him during his latest trip to the communist country in January. North Korea’s state-run media confirmed last December that Jang was executed for his “anti-state acts.”

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“You could say anything here about North Korea and people would believe it,” Rodman said. “The last time I went there, when they said they killed his girlfriend, they killed his uncle, they just fed him to the dogs … They were standing right behind me.”

 

When asked to clarify, Rodman repeated, “He was standing right there.”

The 52-year-old developed a friendship with Kim when he first visited Pyongyang last year. He has made several trips to the secretive state since and even took a group of retired NBA players there. They hosted an exhibition game earlier this year for Kim’s birthday. Rodman even sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim.

Kim reportedly became an avid fan of basketball and the Chicago Bulls as he grew up watching Rodman win three NBA titles alongside Michael Jordan in the 1990s when he was studying abroad in Switzerland.

Rodman added that the North Korean leader, whom he calls his “lifelong friend,” is eager to speak to U.S. President Barack Obama and that he “loves Americans.”

“He really, really wants to talk to Obama. He can’t say it enough,” Rodman said. “He’s saying that he doesn’t want to bomb anybody. He said, ‘I don’t want to kill Americans.’ He loves Americans.”

This isn’t the first time Rodman stirred controversy with an unexpected comment about North Korea. In January, he told CNN that North Korea shouldn’t be blamed for detaining Kenneth Bae, a Korean American man who has been imprisoned in the country for over a year.

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North Korea Unveils No. 2 Man To Replace Leader’s Executed Uncle

North Korea has named Hwang Pyong-so as the de facto No. 2 man in charge and replacement for leader Kim Jong-un’s executed uncle, Jang Song-thaek who was purged last December.

KCNA, North Korea’s state-run media, reported that Hwang is the newly appointed head of the army’s political department and will serve as the second-in-command in North Korea after Kim.

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It was previously believed that Choe Ryong-hae, not Hwang, would assume the role of the communist regime’s unofficial No. 2 after he became the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission following the execution of Jang, who was once a political mentor of Kim Jong-un.

However, Choe disappeared from public sight in recent months, which prompted rumors that he has lost his trust of the leader. But KCNA reported he is suffering from serious health problems.

Just days before the newly announced appointment, Hwang was promoted to the rank of vice marshal, a rank shared with Choe and four others.

Hwang’s appointment is the latest in an ongoing leadership reshuffling in North Korea. In February, North Korea promoted a number of key military officials, including the chief of its rocket unit, a department that oversees and operates the country’s missile program.

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North Korea Detains American Tourist

Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea

North Korea has detained a 24-year-old American tourist who allegedly sought asylum upon his arrival in the country on a tourist visa, according to Reuters.

The man, identified as Miller Matthew Todd, arrived in Pyongyang on April 10 when he was arrested for his “rash behavior,” reported KCNA, North Korea’s state-run news agency. He reportedly tore his tourist visa into pieces and shouted that he “came to the DPRK after choosing it as a shelter,” which is “a gross violation of [North Korea's] legal order,” the news agency said.

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Though identified as Miller Matthew Todd, it’s possible that KCNA used the Korean convention of putting the last name ahead of the first name. If that’s the case, the man’s name could be Matthew Todd Miller.

The U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, so the State Department has been communicating with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, after learning that a U.S. citizen had been detained.

“We don’t have additional information to share at this time,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a regular press briefing.

Meanwhile, Korean American Kenneth Bae is still being held in North Korea for over a year now. The missionary was arrested in November of 2012, and was later sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on a charge of state subversion.

A 75-year-old Australian missionary, John Short, was also arrested in February for distributing bible tracts at a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang, but was freed last month. North Korea said it released Short, partly in consideration of his age after issuing a picture of a handwritten apology letter which it said was written by the Australian. Before him, U.S. citizen Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran, was detained in North Korea for 42 days last year, during which time he said he was coerced into confessing to “war crimes.” Pyongyang cited his age and a heart condition as reasons for his release.

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SKorean Ferry: Search at Difficult Stage, NKorea Sends Condolences

Image via NoCut News: A table set by the families of the South Korean ferry victims

Hopes of finding survivors from the capsized South Korean ferry are dwindling as the death toll reached 159 as of 9 a.m. PST on Wednesday, according to Yonhap News Agency.

As the tragedy reached its one-week mark, 140 people are still missing as divers continue searching through cold and murky waters. Most of the victims were students from Danwon High School who were on a four-day field trip to South Korea’s Jeju Island.

Authorities told the Associated Press that the search operation has now reached a difficult stage of having to break down cabin walls in order to get to certain parts of the ship, where many of the missing are believed to be. They are reluctant to start a “salvage” operation, essentially searching for corpses, trying to be sensitive to families of the missing, some of whom still hold on to hope of finding survivors.

However, other families of the missing want the government at this point to do whatever they can to bring back bodies before they decompose even more.

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“It inflicts a new wound for the parents to see the bodies decomposed,” Pyun Yong-gi, whose 17-year-old daughter is among the missing, told AP.

Many of the retrieved bodies reportedly have had broken fingers, presumably from victims attempting to climb the walls to escape as the ferry was sinking.

“We are trained for hostile environments, but it’s hard to be brave when we meet bodies in dark water,” Hwang Dae-sik, one of the search divers, told Reuters.

It is still unclear what caused the ship to capsize. Investigators are looking at factors, such as wind, ocean currents, freight, modifications made to the ship and the fact that it turned just before it began listing, according to AP. Tracking data indicated that the ship made a 45-degree turn, AP reported, and that it turned 180 degrees in the course of three minutes around the period that the ferry began to list.

The vessel’s captain, Lee Joon-seok, who was reportedly among the first to escape, and at least eight other crew members have been arrested on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Investigators have also searched the offices of Chongjaejin Marine, the ferry’s operator.

Meanwhile, North Korea joined many other foreign governments in offering its condolences in a message sent recently through the two Korea’s Red Cross organizations. “North Korea expresses its deep condolences to many passengers who died or went missing after the ferry Sewol capsized, especially the young students,” the message from North Korea read, according to the JoongAng Ilbo.

Pyongyang stayed silent for a week after the ferry Sewol sunk on April 16 near the island of Jindo, off of the Korean peninsula’s southeastern coast. The last time one of the two Koreas sent its condolences to another was in December 2011, when the South sent its sympathies to the North over the death of its leader Kim Jong-il, the father of current leader Kim Jong-un.

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