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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 252 (March 7, 2013)

China Tightens Oversight over Migrant North Korean Workers

SHENYANG, China (Yonhap) -- China has moved to tighten oversight of migrant North Korean workers as the international community considers ways to penalize the isolationist country for conducting its third nuclear test, a local source in Shenyang said on Feb. 28.

   The source, who wanted to remain anonymous, said Chinese authorities have started checking firms that employ North Korean workers right after the Lunar New Year holidays.

   "On the surface the checks are being carried out to see if Chinese companies followed due legal process in the hiring of foreign workers, but it may be a move to put pressure on North Korea," he said.

   There are estimated to be about 79,600 North Koreans working in China, with food processing and clothing factories in Shenyang and the surrounding Liaoning Province hiring a sizable number of them.

   "Foreign workers must get formal permits from a Chinese personnel management company that first screens various personal information and linguistic skills that are not easy to meet," the source said. He said that because of such a complicated process to get permits, Chinese companies tend to hire North Koreans who are in the country illegally.

   Others in China said that there are rumors that Beijing has put on hold the hiring of new North Korean migrant workers, and has made it harder for people already in the country with permits to extend their stay. This, they said, may be another sign of China's displeasure toward the North for pursuing its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program.

   North Korean workers are hired because they are roughly 30 percent cheaper to employ than native Chinese and because they cannot change jobs without violating their work permits. Chinese employers can staff up to 20 percent of their workforce with foreigners, but the figure may vary depending on the industry and the workers' nationality.

   Pyongyang also benefits from this arrangement because these workers send hard currency to their families back home. The inflow of cash is important because the country has been slapped with various sanctions for its WMD development. Before the latest underground nuclear test carried out on Feb. 12, the North detonated two other atomic devices in 2006 and 2009, as well as launching five long-range rockets from 1998 onwards.


North Korea's Grain Imports from China Plunge in Januanry

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea's grain and fertilizer imports from China nosedived in January, Seoul's Korea Rural Economic Institute said on March 3, citing data from the Korea International Trade Association.

   North Korea imported 2,174 tons of grain and 2 tons of fertilizer from China in the first month of this year, the institute said. By product, flour imports totaled 1,172 tons and corn imports reached 540 tons.

   The volume of imported grain marked a mere 9.2 percent of the North's imports of Chinese grain in the previous month, while the corresponding figure for fertilizer amounted to 20 percent, the institute said.

   Compared with the same month of last year, the figures reached 25.9 percent and 0.03 percent, respectively.

   "The steep decline in the North's grain imports from China is very unusual, even considering the past trend of grain imports decreasing every January," said Kwon Tae-jin, a researcher at the institute.

   "The biggest reason is because China has recently begun to restrain grain exports in order to meet growing domestic demand. Bilateral tension caused by the North's rocket launch and nuclear test over the past months may also have affected the two-way grain trade," he said.


North Korea Believed to Have about 1,000 Missiles: Expert

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea is believed to have more than 1,000 missiles of varying types, with most only able to target South Korea and some capable of hitting some Japanese and U.S. military bases, a missile expert based in Seoul said on March 4.

   Pyongyang's program has progressed over the past few decades from tactical artillery rockets in the 1960s and 70s to short-range and medium-range ballistic missiles in the 1980s and 90s. Development has been under way to produce a nuclear warhead with a greater range, but little is known about the latest program pushed by the reclusive socialist regime.

   "North Korea has produced about 100 missiles annually since the 1990s and its capacity is believed to have made progress," a missile expert at a defense research agency said, on the condition of anonymity. "Among the missiles manufactured so far, up to 70 percent could attack South Korea."

   In the 1980s, North Korea built its own Scud missile, as well as a medium-range Rodong missile. Its latest missile combines these technologies to make long-range Taepodong missiles.

   The expert said the North has about 700 Scuds with 300-500 km range and 300 Rodong missiles, which can fly up to 1,300 km, with a small amount of long-range missiles, such as Musudan, which can hit Japan and U.S. military bases in the Pacific Ocean.

   North Korean scientists used a triconic design to build warheads for its mid- and long-range missiles, such as Rodong, Taepdong and Musudan missiles, to improve the accuracy of their re-entry trajectory and reduce their overall payload, the expert said.

   "Iran's Shahab missiles, which were developed based on the North's Rodong missile also applied the triconic design to reduce the warhead's payload from 1,000 kg to 700 kg," he said. "This leads to speculations that the two countries may have closely cooperated on missile technology."

   Deployment of some mid-range missiles without test firing may have been possible because the communist state may have acquired data on missile capacity or shared data with such countries as Iran and Pakistan.

   Although Pyongyang successfully fired off a three-stage rocket in December 2012 and conducted its nuclear test last month, the expert doubted North Korea has mastered the technology to develop a nuclear warhead that can be fitted on a long-range missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland.


Political Prisoners in N. Korea Reduced to Maximum 120,000: Report

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea may have reduced the number of political prisoners and closed one of its notorious political prison camps, a report in Seoul said on March 4, suggesting that the changes, however, do not mean improvement in the human rights conditions in the country.

   The report by the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul said, "A minimum of 80,000 to a maximum of 120,000 political prisoners are estimated to be detained in five political prisons."

   The report said last year's closure of the political prison camp in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, may have brought the total number of political concentration camps to five.

   The figures compare with the government's estimation of around 154,000 political prisoners in the North, submitted to the National Assembly in October 2009.

   The cuts in the estimated numbers of political prisoners and prison camps, however, do not reflect any improvement or changes in the North's policies toward the political prisoners, the report said.

   Deaths stemming from severe forced labor and dire prison conditions may have led to the cuts, it said, adding those detained in the Hoeryong camp have been moved to other areas, according to the report which cited remarks by North Korean defectors in South Korea and satellite images.

   "It's difficult to say that the reduction in the number of prison camps was the result of any changes in the North Korean authorities' stance or policy toward political prisons," the report said. "Even after Kim Jong-un took power, the North still maintains political prison camps in order to isolate those that pose threats to the regime and other potentially risky forces."

   The Washington-based U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, however, refuted similar allegations in October last year that were previously raised by other media outlets, saying the Hoeryong camp, also known as Camp No. 22, is still in operation.


S. Korea Cites 'Significant Progress' at U.N. over N. Korea Sanctions

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea on March 5 reported a "significant progress" at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) debate over how to punish North Korea for conducting a nuclear test last month, the foreign ministry said, as the council is set to hold a meeting in New York.

   "A significant progress has been made (at the UNSC over sanctions against North Korea), but no final agreement has been reached yet," foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said.

   Cho confirmed that the Security Council will hold a meeting at 11:00 a.m. in New York on March 5 (New York time).

   The March 5 meeting is aimed at "consulting with council members about sanctions against North Korea, so it is unclear whether a resolution would be adopted," Cho said.

   Earlier in the day, a senior Seoul diplomat said the council's planned meeting came after Washington and Beijing tentatively agreed on a draft resolution, a senior Seoul diplomat said.

   "The meeting was called after the U.S. and Beijing reached a tentative agreement on a draft resolution against North Korea," the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity.

   The diplomat said he did not know details of the draft resolution nor what kind of sanctions were included in it.

   North Korea's Feb. 12 nuclear test, its third since 2006, raised the prospect that Pyongyang might be a step closer to a workable long-range nuclear missile.

   Seoul and Washington have been seeking to convince the U.N.'s most powerful body to adopt a resolution against Pyongyang that would include Articles 41 and 42 of Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allow all U.N. members to enforce sanctions by military means.

   If passed, the resolution will theoretically enable Navy ships to intercept and board North Korean vessels suspected of carrying illicit weapons or nuclear and missile components.

   South Korean diplomats have admitted that China, the North's last-remaining ally and one of the veto-wielding council members, has expressed opposition to including Chapter 7 in the new resolution.


Draft Resolution on N. Korea Distributed at U.N. Council

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Yonhap) -- After nearly a month of haggling, the United States and China reached an agreement on March 5 on a draft United Nations resolution that officials say would expand sanctions on North Korea to an unprecedented level.

   The deal came despite Pyongyang's threat to scrap the 1953 armistice accord that ended the Korean War in response to what it claims to be Washington-led international moves to punish the socialist regime for its Feb. 12 nuclear test.

   The draft resolution was circulated to the other members of the Security Council for a review and a vote later this week, diplomats in Washington said.

   U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the envisioned resolution would significantly expand sanctions against Pyongyang.

   It would subject North Korea "to some of the toughest sanctions imposed by the United Nations," she told reporters after a closed-door session of the 15-member council. "For the first time ever, this resolution targets the illicit activities of North Korean diplomatic personnel, North Korean banking relationships, illicit transfers of bulk cash."

   A U.N. source said the vote is expected to take place on March 7.

   "It seems like that the sanctions resolution to be put to a vote this time will be stronger than expected," the source said.

   The White House said it expects the document to be approved this week.

   "The draft resolution, which is agreed upon by the U.S. and China, provides a credible and strong response that further impedes the growth of the North's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and its ability to engage in proliferation activities," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a press briefing.

   On the latest statement by the North's military, Carney said that it will achieve nothing by threats or provocations.

   It will "only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia," he said.

   On a trip to Qatar, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong-un, to stop producing rhetoric and bring his nation back to the negotiating table.

   "Rather than threaten to abrogate and threaten to move in some new direction, the world would be better served ... if he would engage in a legitimate dialogue, legitimate negotiations, in order to resolve not just American concerns, but the concerns of the Japanese and the South Koreans and the Russians and the Chinese, everybody in the region," Kerry said.


N. Korea's Nationwide Military Drills Loom Next Week amid Threat

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has started submarine drills and stepped up preparations for nationwide military exercises, which may be timed to coincide with annual joint drills by South Korea and the United States set to start next week, military sources said on March 6.

   The latest move comes as Pyongyang has ratcheted up its hostile rhetoric against Seoul and Washington as the two allies last week launched a two-month field training exercise called Foal Eagle. Separately, joint forces will conduct computer-simulated drills named Key Resolve from March 11-21.

   On March 5, Pyongyang threatened to scrap the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War, citing tensions over South Korean-U.S. joint military exercises and the United Nations' move to impose sanctions for its Feb. 12 nuclear test.

   A statement by the North's military said the armistice will be "completely" nullified from March 11, when Key Resolve gets into full swing in the South, warning a "precise" strike at any time.

   "North Korea's submarines have entered military maneuvers in the Yellow Sea and East Sea," a military source said, on the condition of anonymity. "This year's winter drill was more intense than in the past years and artillery exercises tripled."

   When President Park Geun-hye was sworn into office on Feb. 25, North Korea's artillery unit carried out firearm training targeting the South Korean capital Seoul, he said.

   The North will start large-scale drills across the nation from next week when South Korean and the U.S. troops start the two-week war game, another military source said, asking for anonymity.

   A large-scale firearm drill will be held near the southeastern city of Wonsan, while nationwide military maneuvers will be carried out, the source said.

   In response to the North's latest military movement, South Korea has stepped up its military readiness and surveillance to counter any North Korean provocations during the training period, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

   "If North Korea provokes, we will strongly retaliate as we have planned and prepared," a senior JCS official said.

   Seoul and Washington said the annual drills are defensive in nature, but the communist nation has always denounced them as a rehearsal for a northward U.S. invasion aimed at toppling its communist regime.

   About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.


New U.N. Resolution Bans N. Korea's Uranium-related Transfers

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A new U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at punishing North Korea for conducting its third nuclear test last month is expected to call for sanctions on the North's uranium-related transactions for the first time, a Seoul diplomatic source said on March 6.

   After weeks of bilateral consultations, the United States and the North's last-remaining ally China agreed to the draft resolution, which also calls for mandatory inspections of North Korean ships and planes suspected of carrying banned items, including luxury goods, the source said on the condition of anonymity.

   It will also make it difficult for North Korea to move in and out "bulk cash," in an effort to squeeze the North Korean elite's access to hard currency, the source said.

   In particular, the proposed resolution will include the North's "uranium enrichment program" for the first time and call for an explicit ban of uranium-related transactions, according to the source with knowledge of the text.

   North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 12, defying international warnings of tougher sanctions and raising the prospect that Pyongyang might be a step closer to a workable long-range nuclear missile.

   So far, it has remained unclear whether North Korea used plutonium or uranium to fuel last month's test and monitoring for signs of radioactive seepage from the North has failed to answer the question.

   The North claims its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful energy development, but outside experts believe that it would give the country a new source of fission material to make atomic bombs, in addition to its widely known plutonium-based nuclear weapons program.

   "In terms of responding with North Korea's third nuclear test, this resolution includes tougher sanctions imposed by the Security Council against the North, compared with previous resolutions," the source said.

   In New York, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the envisioned resolution would significantly expand sanctions against Pyongyang.

   It would subject North Korea "to some of the toughest sanctions imposed by the United Nations," she told reporters after a closed-door session of the 15-member council.

   "For the first time ever, this resolution targets the illicit activities of North Korean diplomatic personnel, North Korean banking relationships, illicit transfers of bulk cash," Rice said.

   In response to the proposed U.N. sanctions and ongoing Seoul-Washington joint military drills, the North's military threatened to scrap the Korean War cease-fire.

   Kim Yong-chol, a hard-line North Korean general suspected of involvement in a series of provocations against the South, read the statement on state TV, saying the North "will completely declare invalid" the Armistice Agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

   The North also said it will cut off a military phone line at the truce village of Panmunjom.