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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 90 (January 21, 2010)

China Expanding Mining Rights in North Korea: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- China has expanded its mining rights in North Korea to cover as many as 20 sites, a South Korean report said on Jan. 14.

   China is a leading investor in North Korea, which, according to a South Korean study, is believed to have enormous deposits of natural resources, including coal, nickel, molybdenum and bronze.

   A report presented by the foreign affairs committee of South Korea's parliament said the Chinese efforts for development in its neighbor compare with those of South Korea, which has secured mining rights for only three sites in North Korea.

   "We are behind China in the development of North Korea's underground resources, and need measures to cope with this," the report said.

   China, the world's third-largest economy, invested over US$200 million in resource development in North Korea from 2004-2007, according to a state-run South Korean research institute.

   China is a staunch ally of North Korea, having fought together in the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce. Beijing also hosts multinational talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea.


China to Renew Border Rail Link with North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- China will mend a rail link between one of its border cities and a North Korean port, a source familiar with North Korean affairs said on Jan. 17, a move that indicates stronger economic ties between the two allies.

   North Korea and the municipal government of the Chinese city of Tumen, which borders the North, have recently agreed to repair the railway linking the city with North Korea's northeastern port of Chongjin, the source said.

   The source, requesting not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, added Tumen will lend Pyongyang US$10 million, which will partly fund the restoration of the 170-kilometer-long railroad. Construction is due to begin in April this year, he said.

   "The agreement on repairing the railway indicates North Korea has also agreed on letting China use the Chongjin Port, which will give it better access to the East Sea," another source said.

   China -- which views North Korea as underdeveloped in terms of technology, but a convenient source of minerals and natural resources -- has been increasing its North Korea investment in recent years, reaching deals on mines, railways and leasing a North Korean port to a Chinese company.

   Pyongyang has also been optimistic on forging economic pacts with China, apparently hoping more investment will help enhance its underdeveloped heavy industries sector.

   Border trade in consumer items, from televisions to beer, has been booming between the two countries since the 1990s, but industrial ties have been formed only recently.

   In October, the Chinese border city of Hunchun reached an agreement on a 50-year lease with the nearby North Korean port of Rajin.

   Rajin, an ice-free port with a handling capacity of 3 million tons a year, will give China access to the East Sea between Korea, Japan, China, and Russia to inland areas of northeast China which, at present, must send freight long distances by rail to the port of Dalian on the Bohai Gulf in northeastern China.

   The agreement also provides for the construction of an industrial zone measuring 5-10 square km, and a 67km highway.


U.S., Japan Reconfirm Closer Cooperation for N.K's Denuclearization

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The United States and Japan renewed pledges on Jan. 19 to cooperate closely in international forums to denuclearize North Korea and cope with the North's nuclear and missile threats.

   "The U.S. and Japan are working closely together and cooperating with their partners through various international fora, including the sx-party talks, to deal with the threat from North Korea's nuclear and missile programs as well as to address humanitarian issues," said a joint statement issued to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security.

   The statement, issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates and their Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, also called for closer cooperation with China, the host of the six-party talks. China is the biggest benefactor of the impoverished North.

   "The Ministers stress that the United States and Japan will work to advance cooperative relations with China, welcoming it to play a constructive and responsible role in the international arena," the statement said.

   The six-party talks are deadlocked over North Korea's demands for a peace treaty to replace the fragile armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War and the removal of U.N. sanctions imposed after its nuclear and missile tests early last year. Pyongyang has boycotted the talks for about a year.

   U.S. officials have said that they will discuss the peace talks and consider removing sanctions only after Pyongyang returns to the multilateral forum.


Seoul Think Tank Forecasts Possible Absence of Kim Jong-il in N.K. After 2012

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A South Korean government think tank said on Jan. 19 that the possibility of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il disappearing from the North's political scene after 2012 is high, forecasting the reclusive leader's possible death or involvement in another serious incident in three years.

   The Seoul-based Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), a think tank affiliated with the prime minister's office, said in a report that South Korea should brace for a possible military coup, riot, mass massacre or mass defections in the socialist North following the absence of North Korean leader Kim.

   "The possibility of North Korean leader Kim's absence in the North after 2012 is high," said the KINU report, titled "Study on Unification."

   "In the wake of Kim's absence, the North will likely undergo upheavals, which may include regime change, like a military coup, riot, mass massacre or mass defections."

   It is the first time that a South Korean government think tank has specifically mentioned the possibility of upheavals in North Korea.

   Regarding the post-Kim power structure, the KINU report presented three scenarios -- power succession by Kim's third son, Jong-un; a new collective leadership of military leaders; or the rise of a new single ruler from the military.

   The report went on to warn that the outbreak of upheavals in North Korea could prompt the North to start a regional war on the Korean Peninsula.


South Korean FM Says North Korea Making Unreasonable Demands

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The South Korean foreign minister dismissed on Jan. 19 North Korea's demand to start discussing a formal end to the Korean War before it returns to nuclear talks, saying such negotiations will only take place after the socialist state starts to denuclearize.

   Speaking at a North Korea forum in Seoul, Minister Yu Myung-hwan said the North's stance on inter-Korean relations is "hard to understand."

   "North Korea has taken a stance that is hard to understand," the minister said, "by issuing a statement from a National Defense Commission spokesman that launched serious threats against (South Korea)...while agreeing to accept our humanitarian aid and hold working-level talks on the Kaesong industrial complex."

   In a statement carried on Jan. 15 by Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean defense commission, headed by leader Kim Jong-il, threatened to suspend all inter-Korean dialogue and exclude Seoul from any multilateral talks, accusing South Korea of plotting to take it over in the event of a crisis.

   The accusation followed reports that South Korea has developed a contingency plan in case of a sudden regime collapse in the North.

   On the same day, Pyongyang accepted Seoul's offer to provide 10,000 tons of corn as humanitarian aid. Officials from the divided Koreas also began a two-day meeting earlier Tuesday at the joint industrial complex in Kaesong, a North Korean border city.

   Yu said his country will continue to use bilateral dialogue in dealing with Pyongyang to help bring it back to the six-nation talks on the North's nuclear program.

   "North Korea's denuclearization is a subject that cannot be ignored in inter-Korean ties," he said in his keynote speech.

   "That is why we have repeatedly said that we will help North Korea overcome its economic crisis and significantly improve South-North ties if North Korea expresses a firm decision to give up its nuclear ambitions," the minister added.

   North Korea has boycotted the nuclear talks since December 2008 and said in April that it had permanently quit the negotiations, which also involve South Korea, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia.

   A special U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, Stephen Bosworth, traveled to Pyongyang last month in an attempt to bring the communist nation back to the negotiation table.

   The South Korean minister said the visit by the U.S. envoy made some "positive progress" in that the sides agreed on the need to resume the six-nation talks, but noted they failed to set a specific date for the North's return to the talks.

   "The government is working closely with other countries, including the U.S. and China, for the North's return to the six-party talks," Yu said. "However, it is still not clear when or how North Korea will return to the six-party talks as there was no specific agreement between the U.S. and North Korea on the resumption of the negotiations."


N. Korea Confining Some 200,000 People in Prison Camps: Survey

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Hundreds of thousand of North Koreans are believed to be held in prison camps in North Korea, South Korea's human rights watchdog said in a report on Jan. 20.

   According to the National Human Rights Commission in Seoul, North Korea currently operates six prison camps nationwide to house some 200,000 people, in which violations of international human rights standards are committed, such as public executions, sexual assault and torture.

   The commission disclosed the report based on a survey conducted from April-December via written or verbal interviews of more than 350 North Koreans who have defected to the South since 2006, including 17 who had been in the camps in the socialist country.

   It is the first time that the human rights commission, launched in 2001, has conducted a survey of human rights conditions in the North.

   The commission plans to translate the report into English to distribute it to the international community, including the U.N. Human Rights Council.