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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 231 (October 11, 2012)

Some 300 N.K. Defectors Stay in S. Korea's Overseas Missions

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A total of 295 North Koreans are staying in South Korea's overseas diplomatic missions worldwide on their way here, government data showed on Oct. 4.

   According to the report that Seoul's foreign ministry submitted to the National Assembly for regular audit, Seoul's overseas missions are currently protecting 295 North Koreans, who are waiting to be admitted into the South. In general, such defectors stay one to two months in Seoul's overseas missions, the ministry said.

   More than 2,000 North Koreans have settled in the South over the past five years, with 2,081 coming here in 2008, 2,401 in 2010 and 2,706 last year, according to the data. As of July this year, 915 North Koreans had arrived in Seoul, it showed.
During the cited period, North Koreans filed a total of 114 cases of petition to the missions, asking for a prompt arrival in South Korea, improvement of the circumstances in overseas missions and changes in the country they hope to settle in, among other things, the ministry said.

   More than 24,000 North Koreans have defected to the South in recent decades after traveling through China, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries, government data showed. The Koreas are divided by a heavily fortified border as a result of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.


N. Korean Imports of Luxury Goods Jump as Kim Jong-un Comes to Power

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's imports of luxury goods, such as foreign-brand appliances, cars and liquor, have steadily increased in recent years, as Kim Jong-un began his ascent to power as the favored son of the late Kim Jong-il, a parliamentary report showed on Oct. 4.

   The socialist country's inbound shipments of luxury goods amounted to $322.5 million in 2009 before rising to $446.2 million in 2010 and $584.8 million last year, the report by Saenuri Party lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun showed.

   The report tallied up China-North Korea trade figures given by China's customs authorities. China is the major trading partner for the isolated socialist North.

   Annual imports of luxury goods reached only around $300 million in 2008 and 2009 before late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2010 officially anointed his youngest son, Jong-un, to become the next leader.

   The younger Kim took over power last December following his father's death.

   "Following Kim Jong-un's ascent as successor, North Korea has squandered a lot more dollars on importing luxury items for the Kim family as well as for the privileged class in Pyongyang," Yoon said.

   Nearly half of the luxury goods imported last year were foreign-brand electronics, followed by imported vehicles, high-end watches and expensive liquor, the report said.

   Yoon noted the regime is doling such luxuries out to power groups in Pyongyang in efforts to solidify the Kim Jong-un leadership.


North Korea Test-Fired Short-Range Missile on Sept. 27

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea last week test-fired one short-range missile off its west coast a day after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak presided over a meeting of security ministers, a government source said on Oct. 4.

   North Korea fired a surface-to-ship missile into the Yellow Sea on Sept. 27 and the launch could be related to the security ministers' meeting, the source said on the condition of anonymity.

   "The missile was estimated to have flown about 80-90 kilometers," the source said.

   A day before the launch, Lee and top security officials decided to urge North Korea to halt any attempt to affect South Korea's presidential election and reaffirmed their pledge to strongly punish the North in case of provocations.

   "The test-firing could be a part of the North's routine efforts to improve their capabilities and range, but there was an assessment that it could be a reaction to our government's movement," the source said.

   In recent years, it has not been unusual for North Korea to conduct short-range missile tests.

   The security ministers' meeting took place amid heightened tensions around the Yellow Sea border between the two Koreas in the wake of numerous intrusions by North Korean fishing boats. The South's Navy fired warnings shots to repel North Korean vessels on Sept. 21.

   Some analysts suspect the string of violations, along with other propaganda campaigns, could be part of an attempt by the communist nation to raise tensions in order to cause social division in the South ahead of December's presidential election.


N. Korea Wind Turbine Project by UNDP to Be Completed by 2013

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The construction of wind turbines in North Korea, carried out as part of a U.N. development agency's aid projects for the socialist country, are set to be completed by early next year, a news report said on Oct. 6.

   The completion date for the small wind energy sources, now being built in Onchon and Cholsan in South and North Phyongan provinces, is set for April 2013, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) will send experts to the construction sites from Oct. 15 to 20 for final inspections, according to the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA).

   The project, first launched in October 2005 to help promote sustainable energy sources in the North's rural areas, was originally scheduled to be completed within less than two years, but the operation was stalled in early 2007 when the UNDP withdrew from Pyongyang after suspicions arose that the socialist regime was pocketing the development funds.

   Following a two-year suspension, the international body reopened its office in the North's capital and later resumed construction of the wind turbines in August 2010.

   The North is required to pay about one third of the US$1.45 million needed for the construction while the UNDP will provide the remaining costs for the aid project, according to the RFA.

   Other types of sustainable energy technologies, including solar power, are being developed in North Korea with the help of the UNDP, which has been involved in development projects in the country since 1981, the RFA added.


N. Korean Soldier Defects to S. Korea Via Heavily Armed Border

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean soldier defected to South Korea Saturday across the heavily armed border, claiming that he fled after shooting two superiors to death, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said on Oct 6.

   The solider crossed the western sector of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas at 12:06 p.m. and arrived at a South Korean guard post four minutes later, the JCS said in a statement.

   South Korean border guards heard six gunshots at the time before finding the North Korean soldier running across the border. The guards used a loudspeaker to confirm his desire to defect before escorting him into custody, JSC officials said.

   The soldier, whose exact rank was not disclosed, was not armed when he surrendered, they said.

   The defector told South Korean investigators that he fled after shooting his platoon and squad leaders to death while on guard duty, the JCS said, adding that he was being questioned by a joint team of investigators from related agencies.

   North Korean soldiers were seen moving two bodies at a guard post, the officials said.

   The area is where South Koreans travel through to visit an inter-Korean industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong, where more than 50,000 North Koreans work at about 120 South Korean factories.

   Guard posts of the two sides in the area are only 500 meters apart.

   Despite the incident, about 300 South Korean workers returned home from the Kaesong Industrial Complex between 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. as previously scheduled, Seoul officials said. Still, two South Koreans canceled their previously arranged trip to the industrial complex apparently out of security concerns, they said.

   South Korea's military has strengthened vigilance in the area, but the North's military has not shown any signs of unusual movement, the JCS said.

   Defection via the DMZ is rare as the border is tightly sealed and heavily armed. It is the first overland defection since a North Korean soldier crossed the eastern section of the border in March 2010.

   South and North Korea are still technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.


N. Korea to Pose Several Tests for Next U.S. President

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The next U.S. president will face tough policy choices on North Korea especially in case South Korea's new administration adopts an engagement strategy on the socialist neighbor, a major think tank in Washington said on Oct. 7.

   Whether President Barack Obama succeeds in his re-election bid or his Republican rival Gov. Mitt Romney wins the race in early November, he "must prepare for the likelihood that the newly elected South Korean government will seek a policy ofgreater engagement with North Korea, and decide whether he would support this policy," the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) said in a far-reaching report on pending diplomatic and defense issues.

   Titled, "Nation Security Guides to the 2012 Presidential Election," the report gave in-depth foreign policy advice on ways to deal with Iran, Syria, China and others.

   Regarding North Korea, it noted, South Korea's presidential candidates have indicated that they will return to at least some form of engagement that would avert the Lee Myung-bak government's hard-line approach. Lee is to finish his five-year term in February next year. His successor will be decided in the December presidential polls.

   The next U.S. president will also "need to determine whether any diplomatic options exist for making progress on bilateral disagreements," added the report.

   He would have to response to any use of force by North Korea, which is unpredictable, in a "rapid and effective but measured way" in coordination with regional U.S. allies, it said.


N. Korea's Trade with China Surges Due to U.N. Sanctions

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea saw its trading volume with China surge at a far higher rate than those with other trading partners last year, a Seoul's parliamentary report showed on Oct. 8, indicating the socialist country's rising dependency on China.

   Trading volume between the North and China reached US$3.54 billion in the first seven months of this year, growing 14.5 percent from the corresponding figure for the same period last year, according to the Unification Ministry report submitted to the National Assembly.

   For the whole of 2011, trading volume between the two allies totaled $5.62 billion, expanding 62.4 percent from the previous year, according to the report.

   Fast-expanding transactions with China indicate the North's trading dependency on China increasing rapidly in recent years, the report showed.

   China accounted for only 67 percent of the North's total trading with foreign countries, also including Russia, Thailand and Japan in 2007. But the dependency rate grew to 72.9 percent in 2008 and 82.9 percent in 2010 before hitting 89.1 percent last year, the report showed.

   The United Nations' economic sanctions imposed upon the North's nuclear activities are believed to have led to the isolated country's increased dependency on the closest ally.

   North Korea's food imports from China have also rapidly expanded, with the North bringing in 154,000 tons of grains and other produce from China in the January-July period, the report also showed.

   Annual food imports from China stood at 155,000 tons in 2008 and they have steadily grown to reach 380,000 tons for the whole of 2011, it said.

   Another ministry audit report also showed that since 2004, South Korea has so far paid a total of $245.7 million in salary to North Korean laborers working in the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint inter-Korean industrial project in the North Korean village of Kaesong.

   Becoming fully operational in 2004, the industrial complex is designed for South Korean manufacturers to utilize inexpensive North Korean labor there as part of economic cooperation policies toward the socialist North.

   The report showed that a North Korean worker in the industrial zone earns an average $128.3 every month as of the first half of this year.

   The average monthly pay stood at $68.1 in 2006 before steadily growing to $109.3 for last year.

   South Korean employers at the Kaesong complex pay their wages in U.S. dollars, and the North Korean government deducts nearly 45 percent of them for welfare and other expenses, and pays the remaining amount in North Korean won or in the form of coupons to its Kaesong workers, it said.


World Bank Ready to Offer Help to North Korea: Chief

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The World Bank is ready to provide help to North Korea, possibly related to construction of roads and other infrastructure, if Pyongyang makes such a request, its chief said on Oct. 9.

   Jim Yong Kim made the remarks while attending a forum organized by a local newspaper in Seoul. The forum kicked off on Oct. 9 for a three day run, offering a chance for participants to discuss the world's future.

   During the forum, he said that if the North asks for help, the World Bank will be actively involved in the matter. He emphasized that the lender has a specialty in building roads, electricity systems and other infrastructure, saying that help for the North could be provided in those areas.

   Kim came to South Korea for the first time since he became the leader of the 187-nation institution tasked with fighting poverty around the world and promoting development of poor countries. He took office in July for a five-year term.

   Born in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, in 1959, Kim moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 5 years old. Kim, a renowned health expert, had previously served as the president of Dartmouth College since 2009.