In our third review of 2015, we look at some of the North Korea related news, and stories which put the peninsula in a wider East Asian context.
Human rights and defectors
- Shin Dong-hyuk, the most prominent campaigner among the defector community, admitted that some of his testimony (eg, in Escape from Camp 14) was inaccurate and that consequently he would no longer campaign. This gave the DPRK what it needed to write to the UN to try to get them to withdraw the UN resolution of December 2014 on the state of human rights in the country
- A teenage North Korean soldier walked across the DMZ to defect.
- At least five defector testimonies were published in English.
- Defectors in South Korea were found to have a suicide rate higher than the South Korean average.
- The UN opened a new office in Seoul to investigate North Korean human rights abuses. The North did not approve. A dwarf village was revealed to be the North’s latest human rights abuse.
- At a UN disarmament conference, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong announced that the DPRK had the ability to launch a pre-emptive strike on the US.
- The North tested its submarine-launched ballistic missile technology
- North Korea defence minister Hyon Yong-Chol was reportedly executed with an anti-aircraft gun. One crime was supposedly falling asleep during a Kim Jong-un speech. He had also been handling relations with Russia.
- Vice Premier Choe Yong-gun was also said to have been executed, perhaps for criticising the leader’s forestation policy, while another report claimed that four members of the Unhasu Orchestra had been executed
- KCNA unveiled a new look for Kim Jong-un for his new year speech: the trimmed eyebrow look.
- DPRK put its clocks back by 30 minutes on 15 August, the 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation, reclaiming Korean Standard Time from the “wicked Japanese imperialists”
- A new terminal building was opened at Pyongyang Airport.
- Dating site Tinder claimed to have “many” users in North Korea.
- Having fired the members of his father’s pleasure squad, Kim Jong-un reportedly re-staffed it with “tall and beautiful” new recruits
- Kim Jong-un’s brother was spotted at Eric Clapton concert in London.
- Pyongyang increased Kaesong wages by 5.18% to $74 with effect from 1 March.
- According to Lee Myung-bak’s memoir, Kim Jong-il demanded $10 billion as the price of an Inter-Korea summit.
- In March, North Korea fired two short-range missiles at the start of the annual US-ROK military exercises, and warned of a coming blitzkrieg to finish off the South
- In June, South Korea imposed sanctions on companies involved in arms dealing with the DPRK
- As North Korean vessels were said to have crossed the northern limit line six times in June, one of the most popular South Korean movies of the year was released: the Battle of Yonpyeong aka Northern Limit Line, which was popular with conservative Southern politicians but predictably not with the North
- Inter-Korea tensions escalated when a North Korean landmine maimed two South Korean soldiers in the DMZ on 4 August. Artillery fire was later exchanged across the border after Seoul resumed its loudspeaker broadcasts across the DMZ. 50 North Korean submarines left their bases presumably to threaten action.
- Foreign investors took flight, and the increased inter-Korea tensions caused concerned foreign Kpop fans to create the Twitter hashtag #PrayForKorea. A South Korean netizen responded We are fine. Pray for Chicken.
- The crisis was defused when the North agreed to express regret and the South stopped the broadcasts. (thus depriving the North of tracks such as IU’s Heart, Girls’ Generation’s Genie and Big Bang’s Bang Bang Bang. President Park came out of the crisis with a burst capillary in her eye
- As tensions calmed, a brief series of family reunions was agreed.
China – ROK
- The Korea-China Free Trade Agreement, agreed in 2014, was officially signed and came into effect on 20 December.
- Korea topped the list of countries exporting to China for the second year running. A Chinese solar equipment manufacturer signed a deal to build a factory in the Saemangeum Free Economic Zone.
- South Korea was caught between China and the US on the sensitive topic of the deployment of the US’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system; but against US wishes South Korea decided to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
- President Park attended Beijing’s military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. DRPK was represented by a senior Worker’s Party official
China – DPRK
- After a year-long halt in providing aviation fuel to North Korea, China was reported to have resumed supplies.
- The Moranbong Band’s performance in Beijing was cancelled. Depending on whom you believe, the DPRK were offended that Chinese attendance was downgraded because of the DPRK’s announcement that they had the H-bomb; or the girls were offended that the Chinese wanted to change the programme to exclude some of the paeans to the DPRK leadership)
- As Japan and Korea marked 50 years of diplomatic relations not everything was rosy in Korea-Japan ties. Japan was reported to be “more unpopular than ever” in Korea, while “aversion to things Korean” spread in Japan. To avoid the backlash, Samsung sold its S6 phone in Japan without its brand name. A Japanese TV station was caught misreporting Korean animosity to Japan while the Korean Cultural Centre in Tokyo suffered a failed arson attack.
- An intergovernmental agreement on the Comfort Women issue was concluded without consulting the victims themselves. Deaths brought the number of surviving Korean comfort women to 47. China was reported to have classified its documents relating to wartime sexual slavery as national heritage. The weekly protests outside the Japanese embassy entered their 24th year and passed the 1,200 mark.