STTB: Railroads, Tax-Free Trade, Bombs, Laibach, and Fox News
As usual, let's start serious and then go weird. First up, railroads. As careful readers may recall, Pyongyang sabotaged Seoul's attempt to join the Organization for Co-operation between Railways (OSJD), which would have facilitated President Park Geun-hye's Eurasia Initiative, specifically the completion of the Eastern line. One of the nice things about this job is that people send you things. Typically head's ups on interesting developments. So far no money, drugs, or groupies, but one can always hope. Anyway, I am seriously indebted to Katheryn Lee, an undergrad at Steph’s alma mater UC Berkeley who gave us the heads up that not only had North Korea failed to show up for the meeting denying South Korea the unanimous consent it needed to join, but that China had actually abstained, which was tantamount to voting “no.” I have no idea why China adopted this stance, but it really makes one wonder about all the “responsible stakeholder” rhetoric and the notion of China pursuing common interests in a multilateral framework.
Maybe it’s all that “closer than lips and teeth” stuff. Reuters, citing Xinhua, reports that China will establish a “border trade” zone in Dandong where “Residents living within 20 kilometres of the border will be able to exchange commodities" with people from North Korea on a duty-free basis, of up to 8,000 yuan ($1,288) a day.”
We think we know how the OSJD vote went; this next story is a lot more speculative. UPI echoing an Radio Free Asia Korean service story which in turn was repeating a South Korean Newsis account (got all of that?), reports that on 2 July, the “eternal life" tower in Dokchon, South Pyongan province “was the target of a failed bombing.” According to the report (which is based on the standard “unnamed source” within North Korea,”the bombers had filled portable gasoline containers with nitrogen fertilizer then attempted to detonate the tower… authorities mobilized extra soldiers and loyal students with an emergency call, and dispatched them as extra security personnel at various areas of worship devoted to North Korean leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.” Needless to say, if this account is correct, it is quite interesting. One can always hope.
We were on the Laibach bandwagon early and now everyone is jumping on board. I feel like a teenage fan whose cool band has suddenly gone mainstream and isn’t cool anymore. Anyway, the Beijinger has a snarkily funny story about the fact that Koryo Tours is offering a four-day 1,550 euro package to see the show, though there is no guarantee that one will actually get into the show. The story quotes the tour operator to the effect that “Please note that the final itinerary may differ slightly to what is below, and that the Laibach concerts, and access to those concerts, are subject to final approval by the relevant DPRK authorities, over whom Koryo Tours has no power whatsoever." Bummer.
A few years ago I remember reading a study which basically said watching Fox News made one dumber. (Someone send in a link to the study before an angry mob of Fox viewers descends on my condo. Katheryn?) Anyway, Martyn Williams’ totally awesome North Korea Tech blog provides a possible clue as to why that might be the case. Earlier this month when trading on the New York Stock Exchange was halted due to a computer glitch and computer problems forced the grounding of some United Airlines flights, someone spoofing KCNA sent out tweets taking responsibility, one reading “Heroic computer vandals shut down all operation of imperialist US United Airlines. Ten thousand years of life to Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un!” followed by another one stating, “New York stock traders paralyzed by revolutionary cyber vandals. People's Assemby [sic] Chairman Kim Yong-Nam praises computer soldiers for Juche!” Unfortunately, one of the Fox talking heads wasn’t in on the joke observing “For the stock exchange to go down like it is today, for the administration to come out so fast and say so vehemently and say ‘this is not an attack’, I think is a little bit disingenuous. There’s been on Twitter [sic], all day today, claims from North Korea that they are behind this attack and that’s very, very possible as are a number of other actors.” In fairness, Fox hasn’t been alone in getting punked by these parodies, and anchor Shepard Smith called out his own guest, responding “We cannot say that all of these things are related, that any sort of attack is underway because social media says that North Korea is claiming responsibility. That is not a source.”