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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

In this blog, we report on developments in and around North Korea, including the broader security setting and political, economic, and social change in the country.

Recent Posts

The Ghost of Pat Robertson

by | February 12th, 2016 | 06:52 am

Back in 1999, Pat Robertson, TV preacher, former Republican presidential candidate and all around fan of the apocalypse, raised the possibility that rather than fight, it might be better just to “take out” Kim Jong-il rather than to “spend billions of dollars on a war that harms innocent civilians and destroys the infrastructure?” Everyone laughed […]

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The Mystery of the Missing Oil and the Friskiness of Kim Jong-un

by | February 11th, 2016 | 07:00 am

Earlier this week Steph Haggard examined what the mystery of the missing oil might mean for North Korea’s pattern of trade (and by extension how big a blow the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex might be for North Korea). Today I examine how the mystery of the missing oil might impact North Korea’s balance of […]

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South Korea shuts down KIC, deprives North Korea of $100+ million revenue

by | February 10th, 2016 | 09:38 am

The North Korean leadership is not alone in underestimating South Korean President Park Geun-hye it seems. Today the Ministry of Unification announced the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex which I have estimated generates roughly $130 million in hard currency earnings for Pyongyang annually. And because of the slowdown in trade with China, the KIC […]

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The Republican Debates: North Korean Cameo II

by | February 10th, 2016 | 07:00 am

In December, we took note of a brief North Korean cameo in one of the Republican debates. This last Saturday, however, there was more to chew on given the nuclear and missile tests (here and here). As a crowded field moves to South Carolina, the debate provides insight into the foreign policy thinking of the […]

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North Korean Trade and the Oil Mystery

by | February 9th, 2016 | 09:45 am

As the debate about sanctions kicks into high gear both at the UN and in Washington, two questions arise: exactly how much North Korea trades and with whom, and have recent changes in the North Korean, Chinese and global economies made them more or less vulnerable. Today we take up the first issue; later this […]

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The Satellite Launch

by | February 8th, 2016 | 09:43 am

International responses to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests have taken on a highly ritualized quality that we have tracked before: test, outrage, condemnation, test again, escalation, de-escalation and return to an ever-changing new normal. This commentary touches briefly on three issues: the relationship of the satellite test to the missile and nuclear programs; the […]

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Chinese Response to the 4th Nuclear Test: the Virtual Public Square

by | February 5th, 2016 | 07:00 am

We are always interested in approaches to North Korea that involve new data and analysis, and former Washington Post reporter and Asia hand Keith Richburg has done that at the Nikkei Asian Review. With assistance from Ryanne Hsu, a graduate student at the University of Hong Kong, Richburg scraped Weibo for chatter on North Korea […]

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Orascom sanctions bombshells

by | February 3rd, 2016 | 02:45 pm

One of the drearier aspects of working on North Korea is that the lack of hard data means that observers are free to spin out unfalsifiable speculation. It is not without reason that someone once likened writing about North Korea to writing fiction. So it is always a pleasant relief to encounter someone who is […]

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The British Role in the Founding of the AIIB

by and Jason Kuo | February 3rd, 2016 | 07:00 am

On January 16, 2016, China launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) at a lavish ceremony in Beijing. From the very beginning, prospects of securing appropriation to join the Bank in the US were slim. The Obama administration challenged the wisdom of the AIIB saying it duplicated the existing international financial institutions and was vulnerable […]

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The Sinuiju Zone and the Tin Ear Problem

by | February 2nd, 2016 | 07:00 am

North Korea has rolled out a new investment promotion effort for the Sinuiju International Economic Zone. With an estimated 20,000 or more North Koreans already working in Chinese sister city Dandong and attempts at formal integration foundering, the relevant economic question is “so what?” Can the effort to attract foreign direct investment through opening new […]

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