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2009/12/24 10:53 KST
NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 86 (December 24, 2009)

  
*** NEWS IN BRIEF

N.K. Leader Makes Rare Visit to Trade Zone, Stresses Export Growth

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il stressed the importance of export growth during a recent visit to the northern port of Rason, state media reported on Dec. 18.

   The visit to the city was Kim's first since it was named a free trade zone nearly two decades ago, and comes as the country is feeling the pinch of international sanctions imposed after its May nuclear test.

   "It is very important to abide by the principle of the credit-first policy in foreign trade," Kim was quoted as saying by the Korean Central News Agency.

   Kim also ordered workers to strictly observe "export discipline and improve the quality of goods." The English-language report came early Thursday, but customarily did not give the date of the visit.

   North Korea designated Rason and nearby Sonbong, located on the northernmost coast close to both China and Russia, as an economic free trade zone in 1991. But foreign investment never materialized and senior officials who spearheaded the project were reportedly ousted.

   In recent years, however, the North has made new efforts reinvigorate the trade zone, signing an accord with Russia to rebuild railways and port facilities. Russia invested 140 million euros in the Rason project late last year.

   It is also believed that the North reached an agreement with China to develop Rason into an international logistics hub. In 2007, the allies drew up plans to build new roads there connecting the area with the Chinese city of Hunchun. Rason is also known as Rajin-Sonbong, the old name of the city.

   During his visit, Kim toured a general marine products factory, a stock-breeding farm, a liquor factory and other sites at the Rason Taehung Trading Company to acquaint himself with the production of export goods, the report said.

   In 2008, North Korea's exports to China amounted to US$754 million and to Russia $13.5 million, according to the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency in Seoul. China was by far the North's largest trading partner, making up 73 percent of its total trade volume of $3.8 billion, while Russia accounted for 2.9 percent.

   Kim was accompanied by Hong Sok-hyong, chief secretary of the North Hamgyong Provincial Committee of the Workers' Party, and party secretary Kim Ki-nam and party directors Kim Kyong-hui, Jang Song-thaek and Pak Nam-gi, the report said. Kim Kyong-hui, the leader's only sister, and her husband Jang have frequently appeared alongside Kim in his recent outings.

  
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China Promises 'Public Security' Aid to North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- China will provide "aid materials" to North Korea in the field of public security, North Korean media said on Dec. 17.

   "A document on the offer of aid materials" was signed Wednesday by North Korea's People's Security Minister Ju Sang-song and China's Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu in Beijing, the Korean Central News Agency reported. It gave no further information about what materials would be provided.

   Ju, whose position is equivalent to national police chief in other countries, traveled to China on Tuesday in the first trip by a North Korean security minister to the ally in over a decade.

   Ju also visited Russia in June 2005 and forged an agreement to cooperate in fighting organized crime.

   China's relationship with the North showed signs of strain after the North's nuclear test in May when Beijing joined a punitive U.N. resolution against the isolated state.

   But Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's rare trip to Pyongyang in October appeared to ease some tension, with Wen promising large-scale economic aid to the neighbor.

  
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N. Korea Accepts France's Proposal to Build Cultural Office

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has accepted France's proposal to set up a permanent cultural office in Pyongyang as a first step toward establishing diplomatic relations, state media said on Dec. 17.

   France made the proposal when Jack Lang, special envoy of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, visited North Korea last month to explore ways of normalizing their relations.

   Instead of full diplomatic ties, Lang said in a parliamentary hearing in Paris on Wednesday that France decided to offer to build a permanent office for humanitarian and cultural cooperation in North Korea.

   "The French side informed the DPRK that it decided to establish the French Cooperation and Cultural Action Office in Pyongyang as a step of the first phase towards normalizing the relations between the two countries according to the results of his visit to the DPRK," the Korean Central News Agency said. DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

   North Korea "consented" to the opening of the office, pushing forward its "stand to boost relations with France," the report said.

   France is the only member of the European Union apart from Latvia that has yet to build diplomatic ties with North Korea. France has cited concerns over the North's human rights record and its nuclear and missile programs.

  
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North Korea Names New Head of Party History Institute

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has appointed a new head of the history think tank under the Workers' Party of (North) Korea (WPK) tasked with idolizing its leader Kim Jong-il and his family members, Pyongyang's media reported on Dec. 17.

   According to North Korean media, Kim Jong-im, chief of the WPK History Institute, officiated a party ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of O Jung-hup's death. Oh was a commander of the North Korean founder Kim Il-sung's guerilla unit. The new chief, Kim, previously served as vice president of the institute.

   The institute is known to have been led by Kim Ki-nam, a secretary of the WPK, since 2003. The think tank is in charge of exploring, preserving and managing the "revolution relics" of the North Korean leader and his family.

   The date of the new chief's appointment was not confirmed, but sources in Seoul said North Korea must have nominated the new chief of the history institute around February, when Kim Jong-il is believed to have completed the selection of his heir apparent. Kim is widely known to have picked his third son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor in January.

   Kim Jong-im had held the No. 2 post at the history think tank for 16 years since 1985, while receiving a merit citation of Kim Il-sung, the late father of the current leader.

   Kim Ki-nam is currently in charge of orchestrating efforts to hero-worship and publicize the alleged successor of Kim Jong-il, according to North Korea watchers in Seoul.

  
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North Korea Confirms Obama Sent Letter to Kim Jong-il

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea confirmed on Dec. 18 that leader Kim Jong-il received a personal letter from U.S. President Barack Obama when his special envoy made a trip to Pyongyang.

   Stephen Bosworth delivered the letter when he met with First-vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju during his trip to the North the week prior, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

   "Leader Kim Jong-il received a personal letter from Barack Obama, president of the United States of America," the KCNA said in its brief English-language report, without revealing its contents.

   The U.S. State Department admitted earlier in the week that Bosworth delivered the letter to the North Korean leader only after media carried conflicting reports. In a press briefing in Seoul given hours after returning from his three-day trip to the North, Bosworth avoided giving a direct answer.

   "I am the message," he said when asked whether he delivered a presidential letter to Kim.

   It is unusual for a U.S. president to send a personal letter to the North Korean leader this early in his term. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush sent letters to Kim following years of diplomacy to counter the communist regime's nuclear ambitions.

   The contents of Obama's letter remain a secret, although North Korea and the U.S. announced that their latest high-level dialogue produced "common understanding" on the need to resume the six-nation nuclear talks. No date has been set yet, and the two sides are widely expected to hold additional meetings.

   South Korean government officials have been guarded about the letter, only saying it includes the U.S. administration's basic position on the nuclear crisis.

   Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Bosworth, and other senior U.S. officials repeatedly said that Washington is prepared to offer a comprehensive package of incentives for the North if it dismantles its nuclear program in a verifiable and irreversible way.

   A diplomatic source in Beijing said, however, Obama's letter was more detailed.

   The source, requesting anonymity, said the U.S. president offered to open a liaison office in Pyongyang if North Korea rejoins the six-party talks and begins dismantling its atomic program.

   The liaison office, if established, is apparently a prelude to full-scale efforts for normalizing relations between the two sides that fought fiercely during the 1950-53 Korean War. The war ended in an armistice, and a formal peace treaty has yet to be signed.

   South Korean foreign ministry officials denied the source's remarks.

  
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N. Korea Lays Groundwork for Kangsong Taeguk in 2009: KCNA

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has laid the foundation this year to build a strong socialist nation in 2012, the birth centennial of its late founder Kim Il-sung, Pyongyang's official media said on Dec. 19.

   "A sure guarantee has been provided for flinging open the gate to a Kangsong Taeguk (great prosperous and powerful nation) in 2012, the centenary of birth of President Kim Il-sung," the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. "The socialist self-supporting economy is paying off profusely."

   The KCNA's special report is deemed rare because it usually assesses the past year and presents the socialist country's policy measures for the coming year in a "New-Year joint editorial" published on Jan. 1 every year.

   According to North Korea watchers in Seoul, the KCNA report came as this year marks the year zero for Pyongyang's power transfer. Driven by concerns over his health, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is believed to have handpicked his third and youngest son, still in his 20s, as his successor in January.
On the political and military front, the KCNA said, North Korea has succeeded in putting into orbit an artificial satellite, Kwangmyongsong-2, on the occasion of the Day of the Sun pursuant to the state long-term plan for space development.

   In addition, there were the unprecedentedly grand displays of fireworks on the occasions of the Day of the Sun, May Day and the anniversary of the foundation of the Workers' Party of Korea, it said. The fireworks displays were orchestrated by the North's alleged heir apparent.

   According to the KCNA report, North Korea's "go" program developed by young scientists of the DPRK (North Korea) placed first at the International Computer Go Contest again.

   The KCNA also cited an improvement in the standard of the people's living, construction of foodstuff processing centers, and changes in culture and arts, education and sports, saying North Korean footballers were qualified in June to participate in the World Cup, in particular.

   "This year's stirring events prove once again that the experienced and tested leadership of Kim Jong-il and his great patriotic devotion are the source of all victories, miracles and inexhaustible strength," the KCNA said.

  
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N.K. Says Inter-Korean Relations Separate from Nuclear Dispute

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said on Dec. 19 that the dispute over its nuclear program should not impede inter-Korean relations, accusing South Korea's government of standing in the way of improving ties on the pretext of nuclear concerns.

   Pyongyang has routinely criticized Seoul in recent weeks for maintaining its ban on inter-Korean tourism projects and restrictions on civic visits. South Korea remains reluctant to engage in any major inter-Korean activity while international negotiations over the North's nuclear program are still in limbo.

   "The nuclear issue has nothing to do with North-South relations and therefore, it cannot become an obstacle to improving inter-Korean relations," Rodong Sinmun, the North's largest newspaper, said in a commentary carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

   Pyongyang argues that Seoul should stay out of negotiations with Washington over the North's nuclear weapons program. It claims that the U.S. provision of extended nuclear deterrence capabilities to South Korea has forced it to develop nuclear weapons for self-defense.

   After conducting a second nuclear test in May that led to harsher U.N. sanctions, North Korea reached out for diplomacy.

   Rodong Sinmun criticized South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, who said recently that "Clamoring for better relations while holding on to nuclear weapons is like searching for fish while up in a tree. To catch a fish, one has to come down from the tree."

   Hyun's remarks were an "insult to even our will to improve inter-Korean relations," the paper said. "The South Korean authorities are zealously pursuant to the U.S. campaign" against North Korea over the nuclear issue, it added.

   In September, the Koreas held the first temporary reunions for families separated by the border in nearly two years. South Korea delivered US$15 million worth of medication to North Korea on Dec. 19 to help prevent an epidemic of the H1N1 flu virus there.

   Still, South Korea has maintained its ban on inter-Korean tour projects, including a flagship program to Mt. Kumgang on the North's east coast that was suspended after the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in July 2008.

   The Mt. Kumgang tours have garnered some $487 million in tour fees for the North since they began in 1998. More than 1.9 million South Koreans have visited the picturesque mountain.

  
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Chinese President Sends New Year's Card to Kim Jong-il

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Chinese President Hu Jintao sent New Near's greetings to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Dec. 22, the North's official news agency reported.

   A New Year's card from the Chinese leader was handed by Liu Xiaoming, Chinese ambassador in Pyongyang, to Choe Tae-bok, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party, the report by the Korean Central News Agency said.

   The news wire did not clarify whether the message was finally delivered to the North Korean leader or elaborate on its contents.

   North Korea and China, staunch communist allies who fought together in the 1950-53 Korean War, have maintained a close relationship since establishing official ties 60 years ago despite the recent friction over the North's nuclear program.

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