In our fourth review of 2013, we look at some of the North Korea related news, and stories which put the peninsula in a wider East Asian context.
- Google chairman Eric Schmidt, together with a former governer of New Mexico, had a four day trip to North Korea in January. “I’m still spinning my wheels to figure out a plausible motivation for why they went,” said Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea specialist at the International Crisis Group, though the consensus was that the Norks got more out of it than Google.
- Another bizarre visit was by ex Harlem Globetrotter Dennis Rodman. At least he informed the world that Kim Jong Un had a daughter. He claimed to have a friend for life in Kim Jong Un after his February visit, and said that Kim wanted Obama to call. In May he asked his new-found friend to “do me a solid” and release missionary Kenneth Bae After his September visit he proclaimed Kim Jong Un “a great dad”.
- North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on 12 February. The test was said to have been funded by Iran. On 7 March the UN Security Council announced that it had increased the scope of its sanctions against the DPRK.
- In August, Kim Jong Un had his former girlfriend shot by firing squad, along with several other members of the Unhasu Orchestra.
- Uncle Jang Song Thaek was purged – according to one discredited report, by being fed to the dogs. Two of his aides were reportedly executed using anti-aircraft guns. According to Kim Jong-il’s sushi chef Kim Jong Un disapproved of the liberties Jang took as overseer of the Pleasure Squad and the Moranbong Band. The latter girl group accompanied Jang on a trip to Beijing in 2012. There was said to be no truth in the story of an affair with Ri Sol-ju. Other more serious reasons for the purge were advanced, such as his being too close to China, building his own economic fiefdom at the expense of the army. It certainly encouraged people to clap more enthusiastically in future.
- North Korea unveiled its own mobile phone and tablet PC.
- Kim Jong Un removed Putin and Xi Jinping from his New Year card list, but sent one to Ban Ki-moon.
- It was reported that North Korea spent 1.5 billion euros in 2012 on Swiss and German baby products.
- The Kaesong Industrial Complex closed in April after North Korea removed its workers. It reopened again in September.
- The Guardian reported how Choco-Pies were entering the North Korean black economy via Kaesong, though New Focus International pointed out that only the rich could afford them.
- A statue of Kim Jong Il at Mansudae was reclothed in his trademark anorak, replacing the original overcoat.
- A traffic warden was given a bravery award for extinguishing a fire involving a poster with Kim Jong Un’s name on it.
- Uriminzokkiri and related North Korean websites, including their Twitter account, were hacked by Anonymous in April. North Korean sites has been subject to extensive hacking attempts during March.
- South Korean websites came under attack in March and again in June. North Korea was suspected of responsibility.
- Panama arrested a North Korean ship sailing through the canal from Cuba to North Korea with MiGs and missile radar in its hold.
- North Korea sent South Korea a fax promising “merciless retaliation without warning”. Seoul faxed back a promise of “resolute punishment”
- On 27 February Deng Yuwen, deputy editor of Study Times, the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China, published an article in the Financial Times arguing that “China should abandon North Korea”. He was later suspended from his post indefinitely – though on full pay.
- China warned in January that it would cut aid to North Korea over any nuclear test. There were reports that China suspended oil shipments in February, and agreed to cargo checks of North Korean vessels in March. In May the Bank of China closed the account of North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank.
- Chinese media warned North Korea to stop “kidnapping” Chinese fishermen, after the North Koreans released 16 fishermen.
- President Park had a successful trip to Beijing in July returning home with a pair of ibises (as pandas are too expensive) while Park proposed to return Chinese Korean War dead. The North called the trip “disgusting”.
- South Korea expanded its Air Defence Identification Zone in response to China’s own expanded ADIZ. Ieodo, a reef southwest of Jejudo, now sits in the overlapping ADIZ of Korea, China and Japan.
- The Yomiuri Shimbun published an editorial urging a revision to Japan’s 1993 apology for the sexual enslavement of Asian women during Pacific War.
- The Japanese government set up a unit to deal with territorial disputes, inlcuding Japan’s claims over Dokdo. 60% of Japanese think Dokdo is theirs.
- 37% of Japanese think Korea posed a military threat to their country (up from 23% in the previous year) – though to be fair they think the Middle East poses a greater threat.
- Seoul’s foreign minister cancelled a trip to Japan following the visit by senior Japanese officials to the Yasukuni shrine. The Japanese embassy in Seoul struggled to find temporary accommodation while it redevelops its offices.
- Shinzo Abe’s wife was criticised for saying she enjoyed watching the Korean musical Caffeine.