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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Slave to the Blog: Panama Vice Shakedown?

by | August 20th, 2013 | 07:00 am
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brown sugar and media mogul

Hey, it’s the dog days of summer so we have to have a little fun with the headlines. Three follow-ons: the Chong Chon Gang seizure, family reunions, and Vice Media.

First: Panama. Despite soothing words from the North Korean embassy in Havana, the Panamanian government is declining to resolve the Chong Chon Gang (try saying that fast five times) incident “diplomatically” and instead is kicking it over to the UN. An unnamed Panamanian foreign ministry official is quoted in the Miami Herald, as indicating “As long as the case is in the hands of the (Panamanian) Security Ministry and there’s no final report from the United Nations, there is no diplomatic solution.” The UN experts inspection team is due to arrive this week after workers cleared the last of the brown sugar in which the disputed arms had been buried, sadly depriving us further opportunities of running pictures of Claudia Lennear, reputedly the inspiration for the Stones’ “Brown Sugar.”

Next: Shakedowns. North Korea has accepted South Korea’s proposal to hold talks on renewing family reunions.  No time or place has yet to be determined, so we’re still a ways from actual family reunions.  As with all things North Korean, there are multiple ways to look at this.  There have been no family reunions in three years and the directly separated family members are dying off quite quickly. So a resumption of the reunions is a badly needed humanitarian act.  At the same time, the North Koreans make money off these reunions by taxing formally and informally the transfers provided from the Southern members of these families. The scope for such taxation made have widened considerably with a recent South Korean supreme court ruling that family members living in North Korea are eligible for inheritances from deceased relatives in the South.

Lastly: Vice. We have enjoyed following the exploits of Shane Smith and Vice Media, the folks who brought you Dennis Rodman in North Korea, gonzo North Korean logging documentaries, and inside looks at North Korean amusement parks and movie studios. This past week, Vice Media, which is owned by Smith and senior management, sold a 5 percent stake in the firm to 21st Century Fox. The deal values the firm at $1.4 billion, or roughly 5 percent of North Korean GDP.