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Looking back at 2012: DPRK and regional news

In the third of four round-ups of things that caught our eye in 2012, we look back at some of the stories from the DPRK and Seoul’s external relations.


Moranbong Bang with Disney characters
Disney characters dance while, behind, the new Moranbong Band performs (AP Photo/KRT)

The leadership transition proceeded smoothly, contrary to many observers’ expectations. Kim Jong-un showed that he had inherited his father’s expensive tastes, with a story that he was negotiating to buy two British-made yachts. He also continued the Kim dynasty tradition of on-the-spot guidance tours, giving the management of the Mangyongdae funfair a very public roasting for the poor maintenance.

Kim Jong-Un revealed his liking for Disney products when dancers dressed as Disney characters appeared on stage with the newly formed all-female crossover Moranbong Band. Another band which had been relatively unknown to Western observers is the Unhasu Orchestra – of which Kim Jong-un’s wife Ri Sol-ju was formerly a vocalist. The orchestra came to Paris this year to perform under the baton of South Korean Chung Myung-hwun.

With names from the past, Kim Jong-un was inconsistent in his attitude: Kim Jong-il’s sushi chef was welcomed back to North Korea for a brief stay, but none of the four top military officials who carried the coffin of Kim Jong-il are now in their posts. One of them – army chief Ri Yong-ho – refused to go quietly, and a gun battle was reported when attempts were made to detain him.

Kim Jong-un was voted the sexiest man alive by The Onion, and the man of the year by “readers” of Time Magazine. In the readers’ poll, he got 56 times as many votes as Psy, and 77 times as many as the Higgs Boson.

A unicorn / 기린 / 麒麟 (image source)

North Korea nominated the historic monuments and sites in Kaesong for inclusion in the UNESCO world heritage list. And on 29 November 2012 the KCNA reported that “Archaeologists of the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences have recently reconfirmed a lair of the unicorn rode by King Tongmyong, founder of the Koguryo Kingdom”.

Regional News

The Koreas

North Korea successfully launched a rocket which would be capable of carrying a nuclear bomb to the USA. Experts could not agree whether its satellite payload was successfully put in a stable orbit.

The DPRK was said to be jamming the GPS systems of commercial airlines landing at Incheon. The anti-south rhetoric reached historically strident levels with slogans such as “Let us cut off windpipes of rat-like Lee Myung Bak group!.” Some speculated that the increased tension was in part caused by a South Korean statement that they could send a missile through Kim Jong Un’s office window.

A defecting North Korean soldier caught South Korean border guards unawares after crossing the DMZ.

Claims emerged that Roh Moo-hyun had offered to surrender the controversial Northern Limit Line at a 2007 meeting with Kim Jong-il

As was predictable, the planned gas pipeline between Russia and South Korea ran into difficulties. The Unification Church closed its 12-year-old joint venture in Pyongyang which made motor cars, and uncertainty remained over the Mt Kumgang tourist resort. Pyongyang claimed that the shooting of a South Korean tourist which caused the suspension of tours a South Korean plot.


North Koreans captured a group of Chinese fishermen and held them to ransom. Chinese fishermen continued to fish illegally in South Korean waters.

China conducted naval exercises in the East China Sea as a show of strength in the island disputes with Japan.

Japan, Dokdo and the Comfort Women

A protest in memory of deceased Comfort Women
A protest in memory of deceased Comfort Women, Gwanghwamun, 8 Aug 2012 (Image: Joongang Ilbo)

A Tokyo exhibition on the subject of Comfort Women by Korean-Japanese photographer Ahn Se-hong sponsored by Nikon almost got cancelled because of protests from right-wing elements. A Japanese activisit placed a stake with the text “Takeshima is Japanese” against the statue of the young comfort woman opposite the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

Apple managed to release a version of iOS6 which did not recognise the name Dokdo, instead calling it Takeshima. Google maps decided to call the rocks Liancourt.

Among the Korean awareness-raising activities concerning Dokdo for the year were: a dentist-cum-winemaker in California who named his wine after the Dokdo postcode (799-805); and a 136-mile swim from Gyeongangbuk-do to Dokdo. Newsweek ran a controversial article, written by a Japanese journalist.

President Lee visited the island in August days before the South Korean and Japanese football teams faced each other for Olympic Bronze. The two teams had to stay in the same hotel. Park Jong-soo, a Korean footballer, was disciplined after holding up a “Dokdo is Korean” banner after the victory.

Other articles in the “Looking Back at 2012: series:

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