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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 230 (October 4, 2012)

Officials from All Parties in N. Korea Nuclear Talks Meet in China

DALIAN, China (Yonhap) -- Senior officials from the six nations involving in stalled talks on North Korea's nuclear program gathered on Sept. 27 at an annual security conference in China, where long-standing tensions over the North's nuclear ambition are likely to top the agenda, a diplomatic source said.

   The Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD) drew government officials and civilian experts from South Korea, North Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia to this eastern Chinese port city of Dalian for the two-day, closed-door forum.

   Organized by the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, the NEACD has served as an opportunity for informal dialogue between North Korea and its nuclear negotiation partners. Last year's meeting was held in Hawaii, but North Korean officials did not attend.

   North Korea sent its deputy chief envoy to the six-party talks, Choe Son-hui, to the conference and other nations also dispatched their deputy chief nuclear envoys to the Dalian forum.

   It is the first time since 2009 that representatives from all nations participating in the six-party talks joined the NEACD conference.

   The U.S. State Department has ruled out the possibility of a bilateral meeting with the North Korean representative during the forum.

   The six-party talks were last held in late 2008 and diplomatic efforts to resume negotiations have been frozen since April, when North Korea defiantly launched a long-range rocket that failed moments after lift-off.


N. Korea Sharply Increases Training Flights of Fighter Jets

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's air force has sharply increased training flights of its fighter jets since July, with the number of sorties reaching as many as 100 a day, a government source said on Sept. 27.

   The move is uncommon because North Korean pilots usually focus on ground training in summer.

   The socialist nation is also showing signs of large-scale artillery exercises along its west coast, and activity of small submarines has also increased, the source said.

   These moves could be part of the North's attempt to raise tensions ahead of South Korea's presidential election in December, along with a series of violations of the western sea border by North Korean fishing boats.

   On Sept. 26, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and top security ministers reaffirmed their pledge to prepare thoroughly for the possibility of Pyongyang staging premeditated provocations for political purposes and strongly punish such behavior.


North Korean Spy Confesses to Attempt to Kill Kim Jong-nam

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean spy in Seoul police custody reportedly said he had been ordered to assassinate the eldest brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, prosecution sources said on Sept. 27.

   The spy, surnamed Kim, claimed Pyongyang's security agency ordered him to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of the leader, in July 2010, when he was carrying out espionage activities in China, according to sources.

   The 50-year-old spy has been interrogated since he arrived in South Korea in June of this year, posing as a defector. During questioning, the man revealed his true identity, divulging that he is a spy working for the North's National Security Agency.

   Before coming to Seoul, he was based in China for 10 years, sources said. Kim failed to carry out his assignment to kill the leader's brother.

   The eldest son of North Korea's late leader Kim Jong-il, believed to be in his early 40s, fell out of favor with his father after attempting to enter Japan on a fake passport in 2001.

   He was last reported to be staying in Macao in February of this year.

   The self-confessed spy entered Seoul after he had been newly instructed to approach Park Sang-hak, a defector leading anti-Pyongyang propaganda activities in the South, they added.

   Park, head of Fighters for Free North Korea, often launches balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets into the socialist state.

   Kim also previously confessed that his mission in South Korea was to report on the large number of defectors already in the country, they said. Kim has been under formal arrest pending trial since Sept. 12.


North Korea to Allow Circulation of Yuan in Economic Zones

HONG KONG (Yonhap) -- North Korea will likely allow the circulation of the Chinese yuan currency in two special economic zones in a bid to attract more Chinese investors, diplomatic sources in Hong Kong said on Sept. 28.

   The secretive socialist regime is expected to let business entities use the yuan freely in the Rason Economic and Trade Zone and the Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa Islands Zone, ensuring to meet the demand for settlement in the Chinese currency, the sources, who are familiar with North Korean issues, said.

   The North Korean authorities will also permit the establishment of both domestic and Chinese banking institutions in the zones.

   China and North Korea recently ramped up their joint development of the North's special economic zones.

   Under a bilateral agreement, a special economic zone in North Korea's northeastern city of Rason is envisioned to become a advanced manufacturing and logistics hubs, as well as a regional tourism center.

   The two countries will also designate the Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa islands on the river border between them as hosts to the finance, economic and IT sectors.

   Speculation has recently risen that the secretive regime will take legal steps to start economic reforms as new leader Kim Jong-un is seen to be seeking to consolidate his power partly through fixing the sickly economy.


N.K.'s Grain Imports from China Slid 16.3 Percent in First 8 Months of 2012

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's grain imports from China slipped 16.3 percent on year in the first eight months of this year, in an apparent sign that the North may diversify its supply channels of grain, a Seoul researcher said on Sept. 29.

   North Korea imported 181,264 tons of rice, flour, corn and other grains from China in the eight-month period, compared with 216,535 tons for the same period last year, said Kwon Tae-jin of the state-run Korea Rural Economic Institute.

   The decline in grain imports from China may be attributed to a rise in food aid from China and purchases from non-China markets such as Europe and South America, Kwon said.

   "Including imports from non-China markets, North Korea's total grain imports appeared to rise this year," Kwon said in a report posted on his Web site, adding Pyongyang may "diversify its import channels."

   North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un has stressed the importance of food production in the two personal statements he has made to his people this year.
Pyongyang has relied on outside food aid to feed its population of 24 million since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy in the mid-1990s.

   South Korea halted its unconditional state aid to the North in 2008, linking food aid to progress on Pyongyang's nuclear dismantlement. Seoul has continued to selectively approve humanitarian and medical assistance to Pyongyang from religious and private aid groups.


North Korea's Mineral Exports Jump 33-fold over Past Decade

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's exports of mineral resources recorded a 33-fold jump over the past decade with China remaining the biggest importer of the North's iron ore and coal, a report showed on Oct. 2.

   North Korea's mineral exports stood at a meager US$50 million in 2001, accounting for 7.8 percent of its total exports, according to the report by Seoul's Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency.

   The mineral exports soared to $243 million in 2005 and $1.65 billion in 2011, accounting for 59.4 percent of the North's total exports last year, the report said.

   South Korea has estimated the total values of mineral deposits in North Korea at some $6.3 trillion.

   Last year, North Korea exported $1.17 billion worth of anthracite coal and $405 million worth of iron ore, with China importing almost 100 percent of anthracite coal and iron ore, it said.

   North Korea, which has been under international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, has allowed Chinese firms to explore its mineral deposits.


N. Korea's Aged Population to Double in 40 Years: U.N. Agency

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's population of citizens aged 60 or over will double in the next 40 years, a United Nations agency forecast in a new report released on Oct. 3.

   The number in the age group will rise by almost two fold from 3.321 million people this year to 6.128 million in 2050, the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated in the report, "Ageing in the Twenty-First Century."

   The report expected that the rise will push up the share of aged citizens in the country's entire population from 13.5 percent to 23.2 percent during the same period.

   It also forecast that the number of those aged 80 or more will increase more than 2.5 times from 294,000 to 1.076 million.