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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Slave to the Blog: Sanctions, Flunkeyism, Education, and Space

by | June 4th, 2014 | 06:20 am
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On Thursday the House Foreign Affairs Committee cleared by acclamation the “North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013” which I had earlier described as “BDA on steroids.” The bill currently has no Senate sponsors, though reportedly several Senators have expressed interest. While in China I was asked what the US would do if North Korea conducted a fourth nuclear test. Almost reflexively, with our allies we would go to the UN Security Council. But make no mistake: this bullet is loaded in the chamber.

NB: As I noted in the earlier post, under one of the provisions “Treasury is directed to ‘encourage’ foreign governments and banks to block funds that are accumulated through misappropriation (kleptocracy).” Steph Haggard questioned whether the US had ever previously used kleptocracy as a criterion for sanctions. I consulted the local brain trust (Gary Hufbauer, Jeff Schott, and Kim Elliot) and the answer I got back was not sanctions per se, but coming out of the experience of Nigeria’s democratization after General Sani Abacha stole billions of dollars from the public coffers, the Treasury did begin an asset recovery program which continues to this day. Jeff Schott even pointed me to a State Department report on the program. So the provision of the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act appears to be in keeping with evolving US policy in this area. By the way, in March the Department of Justice froze almost a half billion in funds associated with Abacha’s thievery.

Speaking of China, it appears that North Korea may be renting out its territorial waters for exploitation by Chinese fishermen. Talk about flunkeyism (사대주의)!  Seoul is understandably miffed:  not only is it strictly sadae juŭi, in the past the Chinese have shown lack of respect for the Northern Limit Line, and the South Koreans are concerned that the North Koreans may use confusion created by Chinese vessels to penetrate the NLL. These fears are not entirely misplaced: back in 2010, a collision between a Chinese ship and a South Korean coast guard vessel left four South Koreans injured, and at least one Chinese fisherman dead.

Last month, a twelfth year of public education became mandatory in North Korea. The problem as documented by our refugee surveys and, more recently, a study by KINU, is that there appears to be little relation between the rules on the books and actual practices, at least in some locales.

Finally, in the “I’m sure it sounds better in Korean” department, North Korea has named its space agency the National Aerospace Development Administration, or NADA. When I first saw this in a Guardian article on 1 April, I did a triple take wondering if April Fools pranks are also a tradition in England. But it appears to be for real. Kind of reminds me of when GM named a vehicle the Chevrolet Nova. Not sure they sold too many of those in South America, though in fairness to GM, I got more than 140,000 miles out of mine before it met its end in a demo derby outside Baltimore.