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Bill Sent to Obama to Permanently Authorize RFA Broadcasting to N.K

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The House of Representatives has sent legislation to President Obama to permanently authorize radio broadcasts to bring a message of freedom and democracy to North Korea and several other countries, a congressman said on July 1.

   The House sent the bill to Obama for his signature on June 30, the office of Rep. Edward Royce (R-Ca) said in its Web site.

   "With this legislation, Radio Free Asia (RFA) can continue to bring its message of freedom, democracy, and respect for the rule of law -- creating a space where civil society can flourish under the continent's oppressive regimes. They cannot hide," Royce said in a statement. "This surrogate broadcasting model was critical to inflicting damage to Soviet tyranny and helping to evolve a totalitarian system."

   Under current law, RFA, founded in 1996, is to shut down in September.

   Royce, who introduced the bill in March, denounced target countries such as North Korea, China and Vietnam for "actively working to block RFA broadcasts and control information in their societies."

   "This type of broadcasting irritates authoritarian regimes, inspires democrats, and creates greater space for civil society," said Royce, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "It helped bring down the Iron Curtain. That's why governments in Beijing, Hanoi and Pyongyang are so intent on shutting its message out. Today, Congress has sent the message that we will not cede the free flow of information in Asia."


S. Korea Inspecting Ports to Block Shipments from N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea is inspecting its major ports to keep North Korean products from entering its soil after Seoul banned trade with the communist state over the sinking of a warship, an official said on July 1.

   The ban took effect in late May when Seoul announced that a multinational probe found Pyongyang responsible for the March 26 sinking of the 1,200 Cheonan corvette. Forty-six South Korean sailors died in the sinking for which North Korea denies any role.

   A Unification Ministry official in Seoul said the government began this week to work with port officials to ensure no North Korean products arrive in South Korea via third countries.

   The official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said no South Korean companies have been found to be trading with North Korea since the ban, but that the inspection is to enforce the ban more thoroughly.

   Starting with the western port of Incheon on July 1, the inspection will continue for a week, the official said, adding Busan, Pyeongtaek and Gunsan in the South will also be subject to it.

   Hundreds of companies in South Korea had sent raw materials to North Korea to be assembled into final products before the ban came into place. They are seeking rescue funds from the government to stay afloat amid the deteriorating inter-Korean relations.


S. Korea's New Military Chief Vows to Strengthen Readiness

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new military chief pledged on July 5 to increase readiness to make a stern retaliation to any possible provocations by North Korea amid high tensions.

   "I will make the military maintain a full-fledged defense posture to immediately repel any provocations by the enemy," Gen. Han Min-koo, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in his inauguration ceremony.

   Han cautioned of heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea threatens the South with military action following its deadly torpedo attack on the Cheonan warship in March that killed 46 sailors.

   "Taking lessons from the Cheonan incident, our military will be reborn as a strong military to restore pride and honor," Han said.

   The 57-year-old Han, formerly Army chief of staff, was named to serve in the top military post on June 14, replacing Gen. Lee Sang-eui, who retired to take responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan.

   North Korea, which denies it is responsible for the attack, has warned that any attempts to punish the nation for the attack will trigger war.

   Despite the North's harsh rhetoric, the South's military officials have said there were no signs of unusual military activities by the North.

   In a signal to deter North Korea from further violence, South Korea and the U.S. agreed last month to delay Seoul's planned retaking of wartime operational control (OPCON) of its troops from Washington from 2012 to 2015.

   The U.S., which stations some 28,500 troops here, currently assumes the OPCON of all military forces in South Korea if war were to break out on the peninsula.

   Han said he would work to take back the OPCON in 2015, while closely forging military cooperation with the U.S.

   "Strong military alliance with the U.S. is a cornerstone to keep peace on the Korean Peninsula," Han said.


North Korean Economy Forecast to Shrink This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's economy will likely continue to shrink this year as escalating tensions with the South are feared to seriously dent external trade with one of its key business partners, a report said on July 6.

   According to the report by the state-run Korea Development Institute, North Korea's economy will continue to shrink this year following a 0.9 percent contraction a year earlier. It did not provide an exact growth number for 2010.

   The gloomy forecast is based mostly on frozen trade after the South cut most of business relations with Pyongyang following a probe indicating that the communist country's torpedo attack sank one of its naval ships in March, killing 46 sailors.

   "The North is very likely to see its economy shrink this year," the report said. "Our outlook is based on a forecast that its external trade will likely post a setback."

   South Korea accounts for more than 30 percent of the North's trade, serving as one of its key business partners along with China. Seoul recently suspended most of its business deals with the North in a bid to voice protest against the deadly torpedo attack. The North denies any involvement.

   The economy of the reclusive country has been in a slump over the past few years. In 2006, it shrank 1.1 percent, followed by a 2.3 percent setback in 2007. The economy bounced back in 2008 by growing 3.7 percent but it proved to be short-lived by shrinking again last year.

   A further contraction could prompt an economic crisis for the already-impoverished country, the report noted.

   "North Korea's economy could be hurled into a very precarious situation," the report said. "As experienced by the nation in the mid-1990s, a crisis could be prompted more likely by consecutive contractions for relatively long period of time, rather than a one-off steep economic downturn."


Trade Between N. Korea, China Rises, Signaling Closer Economic Ties

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Trade between North Korea and China in the January-May period increased 18 percent compared to last year, a sign that Pyongyang continues to expand economic ties with Beijing amid soured relations with Seoul, figures showed on July 6.

   North Korea imported US$727.2 million worth of goods from China and exported $256.4 million in the five-month period this year, according to figures recently released by Chinese customs authorities and obtained by Yonhap News Agency.

   North Korea imported 29 percent more while exporting 4.9 percent less this year in its trade with China, its foremost political and economic benefactor. China promised to forge closer economic ties with North Korea when the leaders of the sides met in Beijing earlier this year.

   Beijing has been reluctant to side with South Korea in its push to punish North Korea for the deadly March 26 sinking of a warship near the inter-Korean Yellow Sea border.

   South Korea has cut off nearly all trade with North Korea since it announced in May it found Pyongyang responsible for the sinking that killed 46 sailors. Pyongyang denies any role in it.

   Trade with China and South Korea have accounted for a bulk of North Korea's foreign revenue. Experts say Pyongyang will look to China more actively to make up for losses in trade with South Korea.

   The customs data also showed that North Korea imported almost the same amount of crude oil from China in the January-May period as last year, but the costs increased 76 percent due to soaring prices.

   Minerals and other natural resources accounted for a heavy portion of North Korea's exports to China, the customs data also showed, reflecting the North's inability to diversity its exports.


10 N. Koreans Presumed Killed in Bus Collision at Joint Factory Park

PAJU/SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Ten North Korean workers presumably died and about 40 others were injured last week when two commuter buses collided with each other at the socialist state's border industrial complex jointly run by South Korea, officials said on July 7.

   The collision took place on July 2 evening at an intersection in the Kaesong industrial park where about 120 South Korean firms employ 42,000 North Koreans to produce labor-intensive goods, a police official in the South Korean border city of Paju said.

   Citing South Korean witnesses, the official said that a bus carrying commuters hit another on the side amid heavy rains but no South Koreans were aboard the buses.

   "The case was reported by South Korean workers traveling to and from the Kaesong complex," the official said, declining to be identified. "The exact number of casualties and how the accident happened have not been ascertained."

   Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo in Seoul said North Korean authorities quickly cordoned off the scene of the collision and were seen bringing casualties out of the buses.

   "The authorities prevented others from approaching the scene, which made it difficult for our side to determine the number of casualties and the cause," she said in a press briefing.

   She added that two South Korean companies in Kaesong reported missing workers following the collision. But she declined to give exact figures because they may have been absent for other reasons.

   "The absences were not great enough to cause trouble in the manufacturing operations," she said.

   The factory park is the last remaining symbol of reconciliation between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty.

   Its fate has increasingly hung in the balance this year as tensions rise along the inter-Korean border over the deadly March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship off the west coast.

   The park has operated since 2004 after being agreed on by the leaders of the Koreas four years earlier in a rare summit. The number of North Korean workers there has been rising this year despite inter-Korean tensions, a sign that the cash-strapped North remains committed to maintaining the joint business venture.