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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 255 (March 28, 2013)

Imports of N. Korean Seafood Resumes in China's Border Area

SHENYANG, China (Yonhap) -- China's import of North Korean fishery products resumed after a week-long suspension, presumably linked with Pyongyang's warlike rhetoric towards the outside world, a media report said on March 22.

   China News Service, a semi-official media outlet, said that after Pyongyang escalated tensions by threatening to attack the United States, inbound shipments of North Korean shellfish to Hunchun, a city near the North's eastern border, and other border areas were almost suspended.

   However, import of North Korean crabs and clams returned to the normal level in Dandong, another key trade location in Liaoning Province, it said citing Chinese traders.

   Chinese traders said they could not bring in as much North Korean seafood as they used to because of China's strengthened customs inspections, but the volume of the imports is not small compared to China's demand for North Korean seafood, the news agency said. The overall North-China trades are proceeding normally, it added.


U.S. Lauds U.N. Inquiry into N. Korea's Human Rights Situation

WASHINGTON, (Yonhap) -- The U.S. government said on March 22 that the creation of an independent U.N. body to look into North Korea's human rights abuses reflects the international community's interest in the problem.

   "The United States commends the U.N. Human Rights Council for establishing an independent commission of inquiry (COI) to investigate North Korea's grave, widespread, systemic human rights violations," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.

   A day earlier, the 47-member council voted to launch the commission under a resolution that condemns human rights violations reportedly prevalent in the communist nation, in particular in political prison camps. The resolution is co-sponsored by South Korea, Japan and the European Union.

   The COI began work Friday on a one-year mission.

   "We're pleased that this resolution passed by consensus, sending a message that the international community is paying very close attention to the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea," Nuland said.

   The commission's mandate is a demonstration of the world's continued deep concern about the human rights situation in the North as well as support for justice for the North Korean people, she added.

   Despite difficulties figuring out what's going on in the secretive nation, Nuland said, Washington has "severe, ongoing concerns about the human rights situation" there.

   "That's why we have taken this investigative effort from the status of a simple special rapporteur to a full-up commission," she said.

   The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea has been repeatedly denied entry into North Korea.

   Pyongyang has also refused to cooperate with constant efforts by the U.N. and western civic groups to get detailed data on its human rights conditions.

   Experts said the international community has reached a limit in its patience for tolerating North Korea's failure to cooperate with the U.N. in the human rights area.

   "The establishment of the commission reflects long overdue recognition that a human rights 'emergency' exists in North Korea," said Roberta Cohen, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

   It also reflects an international willingness to move beyond mere censure in addressing North Korea's human rights violations, she added.

   "The commission of inquiry should not be seen as an end in itself but rather as part of a larger strategy to promote human rights in North Korea," Cohen said.

   The three-member COI plans to report the results of its probe to the U.N. General Assembly later this year and to the next session of the U.N. council in March 2014.

   North Korea criticized the move as "political chicanery."

   "We will as always totally reject and disregard the recent 'human rights resolution' against the DPRK (North Korea), a product of political confrontation and conspiracy," Pyongyang's foreign ministry said in an English-language statement carried by its formal news agency, KCNA.


N. Korean Movie to Be Shown at Hawaii, Wisconsin Int'l Film Festivals

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- A North Korean movie that has made its debut in the United States last month will be shown at two more film festivals in the United States, a media report said on March 23.

   The romantic comedy made jointly by North Korean, British and Belgian film producers has been invited to the Hawaii and Wisconsin film events slated for April, Radio Free Asia said.

   The movie is set and filmed in Pyongyang, and portrays the life of Kim Yong-mi, a 28-year-old coal miner, who overcomes hardships to fulfill her dream of becoming a trapeze artist. The film has generated attention because it shows the "lighter" side of life in the isolated country that has drawn international attention for defying warnings by the United Nations and other countries by detonating a nuclear device on Feb. 12. The country has also warned it will use its nuclear deterrence if it is threatened by outside aggressors.

   The movie meanwhile was first shown at the Miami International Film Festival from Feb. 8-9 and at the Center for Asian American Media festival held in San Francisco.

   It was first shown overseas in Canada during the 37th Toronto International Film Festival last September and at the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) in October in Busan, South Korea.


China Won't turn Its Back on North Korea: Pundit

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- While U.S. officials say China may be rethinking its policy on North Korea, skepticism lingers about the possibility that Beijing will finally turn its back on the socialist ally.

   Experts point out that China still has strategic, historical and ideological reasons to help North Korea stay alive.

   "First, China's main interest in North Korea is not denuclearization; it is ensuring that the North Korean government does not fall," John Pomfret, a veteran U.S. journalist known for expertise on China issues, said in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post on March 24.

   "While Beijing might be exasperated with the Kim dynasty's uncanny ability to wag China's dog, China will support Pyongyang because the alternative, a North Korean collapse, is worse," added Pomfret, who has authored several books on China. As a foreign correspondent, he covered the 1989 student protests there, but he was expelled from China due to alleged links with student ringleaders.

   Pomfret cited memoirs by former President George W. Bush as providing a lesson to those who believe in pressuring China to achieve the denuclearization of North Korea.

   In 2002, according to the memoirs, Bush invited China's then-President Jiang Zemin to his Texas ranch and asked for China's help in preventing North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. Jiang was quoted as saying that North Korea was Bush's problem, not his.

   A few months later, Bush warned that Washington won't be able to stop Japan from acquiring nuclear weapons if Pyongyang continues its nuclear weapons drive, China remained unresponsive.

   Only when the U.S. considered a military strike against North Korea did China react and cooperate in launching the six-way talks.

   Many Chinese believe, Pomfret said, the reunification of the Koreas is not in Beijing's interests. China is worried that hundreds of thousands of refugees will flow into its territory.

   "Beijing would also be faced with millions of Korea-Chinese inspired by a new, united homeland," he said. "Clearly for Beijing, the presence of a communist buffer state, even an irritating one, between China and South Korea remains critical."

   China is apparently concerned about the U.S. government's renewed diplomatic and military focus on the Asia-Pacific region. Xi Jinping traveled to Russia last week for his first foreign trip as Chinese president, during which he emphasized the significance of the Beijing-Moscow ties.

   Pomfret said some Chinese officials believe that a nuclear North Korea complicates U.S. security calculations more than it does China's.

   But U.S. government officials expect changes in China's strategic assessment of the North Korea issue especially under the new leadership.

   After meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing last week, David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, also said, "We've heard nothing but strong intentions" to implement financial sanctions on North Korea.

   "Our sense is that the Chinese government has been looking at what's been happening in North Korea recently as threatening the stability on the peninsula in a real way that implicates Chinese interests," he said.

   President Barack Obama earlier openly said China is "recalculating" its policy on the troublesome ally.

   "You're starting to see them recalculate and say, 'You know what? This is starting to get out of hand,'" Obama said in a television interview. "And, so, we may slowly be in a position where we're able to force a recalculation on the part of North Koreans."

   Obama did not elaborate. Senior U.S. government officials later pointed out that Beijing had given consent, with relatively less diplomatic haggling, to tougher U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang for its Feb. 12 nuclear test.

   Kevin Rudd, former Australian prime minister and foreign minister, said China seems to be increasingly considering its responsibility in the region and the world rather than drastically altering its approach toward Pyongyang.

   "At one end China is backing North Korea, my country right or wrong approach; at the other end of the spectrum, China joining the mainstream of international public opinion in trying to rein the North Koreans in," he told reporters in early March.

   "I think it's fair to say over the last several years the Chinese have been moving along that continuum but increasingly in the direction of greater acceptance of their role of global political and security responsibility."


S. Korea, U.S. Sign Combined Operational Plan against N. Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The militaries of South Korea and the United States said on March 24 they have worked out a new joint operational plan that details how they should cooperate to deal with North Korean provocations.

   The Combined Counter-Provocation Plan, signed between South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Gen. Jung Seung-jo and Gen. James Thurman, the commander of the U.S. Forces in South Korea, went into effect immediately.

   "By completing this plan, we improved our combined readiness posture to allow us to immediately and decisively respond to any North Korean provocation," the Combined Forces Command (CFC) of the two allies said in a statement. "The completed plan includes procedures for consultation and action to allow for a strong and decisive combined Republic of Korea-U.S. response to North Korean provocations and threats."

   The allies have been working on the plan since 2010 when North Korea torpedoed the South Korean warship Cheonan and bombarded the South's border island of Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea. A total of 50 South Koreans, 48 of them soldiers, were killed.

   The need to strengthen military cooperation between South Korea and the U.S. has gained new urgency amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula following a series of North Korean military provocations.

   North Korea has recently been ratcheting up war rhetoric almost daily in response to new U.N. sanctions for its third nuclear test in February and recent joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises which it denounced as invasion preparations.

   Gen. Jung said the North's military threats are for real.

   "We are ready to sternly retaliate North Korea's provocations as this plan was completed," he said. "This plan allows South Korean and U.S. forces to respond more strongly than when they had separate plans."

   According to the new plan, South Korea's military is set to play a more active role in taking any counteractions against "the origin of North Korean provocation and surrounding forces in the first stage."

   If North Korean provocations escalate, the U.S. will provide reinforcements from within and outside of South Korea, including Japan and elsewhere in the region under the control of the U.S. Pacific Command, South Korean military officials said.

   Previously, South Korean forces were solely in charge of any actions against North Korean provocations, while the U.S military would come to the aid of South Korea only when a full-scale war erupts, they said.

   "The South Korean military's operational plan now calls for striking the origin of the enemy's provocation and supporting and command forces," a senior South Korean defense ministry official said. "Depending on the type of provocations and operational circumstance, the U.S. with its weapons can strike North Korean territories."

   After the two deadly North Korean attacks in 2010, South Korea has made clear that it will not hesitate to strike back the origin of any attack for self-defense.

   About 28,500 American forces are currently stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War which ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.


U.S. State Demands North Korea Return Pueblo Ship

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The U.S. state of Colorado has renewed a push for the return of the U.S. intelligence-gathering ship Pueblo, according to Congress on March 26.

   The Navy ship was seized by North Korea in 1968. The North claimed the vessel violated the country's territorial waters, while the U.S. argued it was in international waters at the time of the attack.

   One crew member was killed in the attack, and eighty others and two civilian oceanographers were captured. After 11 months of captivity, all of them were released.

   Pueblo, named after a city in Colorado, is on display in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Officially, it remains a commissioned vessel of the U.S. Navy.

   The Colorado legislature recently introduced a resolution designating Jan. 23 as "U.S.S. Pueblo Day."

   "This year marks the forty-fifth anniversary of North Korea's attack on the U.S.S. Pueblo," it said, submitting a petition to President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner.

   It added it has decided to renew the call for the return of Pueblo as North Korea has a new leader, Kim Jong-un. Kim took power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in 2011.

   In January, North Korea's Communist Party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said if the U.S. starts a war on the peninsula again, it would suffer a crushing defeat much more painful than the Pueblo incident.


U.S. Dismisses N. Korea's Threats as 'Pattern' to Raise Tensions

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- The White House made clear on March 26 that it would not overreact to North Korea's military threats, saying the rogue nation is "following a pattern" to escalate tensions.

   "We do look at this as part of a pattern, and we respond in the way that we always have," press secretary Jay Carney said at a press briefing.

   He was responding to North Korea's latest warning that its would put artillery and rocket forces on the highest level of combat posture against the U.S. and South Korea.

   Carney reiterated that Pyongyang's belligerence is counter-productive.

   "As we say consistently, the DPRK (North Korea) will achieve nothing by these threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia," he added.

   He urged Pyongyang to heed President Barack Obama's call for its leadership to "choose the path of peace and to come into compliance with its international obligations."

   In the latest of weeks of strong verbal threats, the North Korean People's Army's Supreme Command said Tuesday (local time) it is taking measures to protect the communist nation's sovereignty.

   "From this moment, the Supreme Command puts all of its field artillery including strategic rocket units and long-range artillery units into the No. 1 combat ready posture," it said in a statement carried by the nation's official news agency, KCNA.

   They target the U.S. mainland, Hawaii and Guam and other U.S. military bases in the Pacific as well as South Korea, the statement added.

   North Korea has been racheting up military threats since the U.N. Security Council introduced new sanctions against Pyongyang in early March for its nuclear test.

   The North has also expressed anger over a couple of large-scale joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S., in which U.S. B-52 strategic bombers participated along with 13,500 American troops.

   The Foal Eagle exercise, which began on March 1, is to last through April 30. The allies also staged drills called Key Resolve from March 11 to 21.

   Earlier this week, South Korea and the U.S. also signed an updated combined plan to counter future provocations by North Korea. It was signed by Gen. Jung Seung-jo, chairman of the South Korean military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. James Thurman, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea.

   The State Department echoed the White House's call for North Korea to refrain from any provocative acts.

   "The U.S. is fully capable of defending itself and our allies against a DPRK attack, and we're firmly committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan," Patrick Ventrell, the department's deputy spokesman, said at a separate press briefing.

   The Pentagon said it would not disregard any government's threats.

   "We are concerned by any threat raised by the North Koreans. We take everything they say and everything they do very seriously. They need to stop threatening peace -- that doesn't help anyone," Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters. "We stand ready to respond to any contingency."