DE RUEHUL #0179/01 0360501 ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY ADX28904F MSI1445-695) O 050501Z FEB 09 FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3138 INFO RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK PRIORITY 7817 RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 5220 RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 9196 RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 5326 RUEHVN/AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE PRIORITY 1333 RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG PRIORITY 3923 RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY RUACAAA/COMUSKOREA INTEL SEOUL KOR PRIORITY RHMFISS/COMUSFK SEOUL KOR PRIORITY RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY *
UNCLAS SEOUL 000179
C O R R E C T E D COPY CAPTION E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PHUM, SREF, PGOV, PROP, PREL, KS, KN SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR’S TRIP TO HANAWON AND HANGYERAE RESETTLEMENT SUPPORT INSTITUTIONS — EFFECTIVE FIRST STEPS FOR NORTH KOREAN DEFECTORS
REF: A. 2008 SEOUL 02305 B. 2008 SEOUL 00129
1. (SBU) Summary: The Ambassador’s January 29 visit to Hanawon Resettlement Center and Hangyerae Middle and High School revealed clean and modern facilities that show effective ROKG support for North Korean defectors on arrival in the ROK. During 2008, Hanawon’s main campus for female defectors doubled its maximum capacity from 300 to 600 (partly by shortening training time), preparing to accommodate 3,600 women trainees per year; men are trained at another center. Meanwhile, the Hangyerae School, an interagency effort to bridge defectors’ educational gap, is overcrowded with 280 students and is seeking additional funding. Recently arrived North Korean defectors told the Ambassador that they were in touch with family in North Korea and planned to bring children and other family members to the ROK, though they lamented that life in the ROK was more alien and required a bigger adjustment than living in China. End Summary.
——————————————————————- ———— Hanawon Expansion: Well-funded; Ready To Receive More ——————————————————————- ————
2. (SBU) To accommodate the increasing number of North Korean defectors each year (2,018 in 2006; 2,544 in 2007; and 2,809 in 2008), the Ministry of Unification continues to spend close to one-half of the ministry’s entire budget on Hanawon (USD 67 million in 2009). During 2008, Hanawon’s main campus for female defectors doubled its maximum capacity from 300 to 600, preparing to accommodate 3,600 women trainees per year. The recent expansion and added employment training at Hanawon and the existence of Hangyerae School, targeted to assist North Korean defector teenagers, affirm a renewed ROKG commitment to provide a strong resettlement program. Hanawon and Hangyerae are located in isolated rural surroundings near Ansung City, about an hour away from Seoul, but facilities are clean and modern.
3. (SBU) Of the 2,809 North Korean defectors who arrived in the ROK in 2008, 2,197 (78 percent) were women in their twenties to forties. About 17 percent were teenagers in need of middle or high school education. The overall number of North Korean defectors in South Korea crossed the 15,000 threshold in 2008. The number is expected to continue to rise in the coming year.
4. (SBU) Hanawon is the first stop for virtually all North Korean defectors after initial screening by the ROKG intelligence services upon arrival. The main campus in Ansung City opened in July 1999, two years after the Settlement Support for Dislocated North Korea Act passed. The center at first trained about 900 defectors per year, but the need for an expansion came only a few years later. The first expansion of the main campus in 2003 doubled its maximum capacity from 150 to 300 and allowed for 1,800 trainees per year. In 2006, a separate, smaller facility for adult males opened in Si-heung City, where 93 male defectors currently receive training. To accommodate an influx of female defectors, who have outnumbered male defectors more than three to one since 2006, Hanawon’s main campus took on a second expansion, completed in December 2008. The center now stands ready to receive up to 600 students at a time for two-month orientation sessions; 3,600 per year. Currently, Hanawon’s main complex is half full, occupied by 304 female defectors, but Hanawon Director Ko Gyoung-bin seemed confident that the new dorms would not remain empty for long. Hanawon begins a new training class every three weeks and three classes overlap during the 8-week period.
5. (SBU) Similar to previous years, about 44 percent of MOU’s entire budget, or USD 67 million, is earmarked for Hanawon in 2009. Hanawon’s facility was modern and impressive, fully equipped with a dental clinic, internal medicine and traditional Eastern medicine unit, nursery (as a baby is born to a mother in training every twenty days), cafeteria, computer labs, dormitories, library and an indoor gym as well as a new outdoor soccer field. According to Ko, about 50 percent of Hanawon’s medical budget (approximately USD 150,000) was spent on dental work. The rest allowed the
upkeep of the new and existing facilities, implementation of a mandatory training program for virtually all North Korean defectors arriving in South Korea and payment of 57 faculty members’ salaries.
——————————————————————- ——————— Hangyerae: New, but Already Crowded; Useful Stepping Stone for North Korean Youth ——————————————————————- ———————
6. (SBU) The Ministries of Unification and Education fund a school for defector teenagers, who in recent times have accounted for about 17 percent of the overall defectors. Unable to open as planned in 2003 because of opposition of residents at various locations considered for the school, Hangyerae finally opened in 2006 in Ansung — already home to Hanawon resettlement center. The school was completed in 2007, fully equipped with a media room, computer lab, bakery, auditorium, English Village, dance studio, cafeteria, and apartment-style dorms on the top floor — modern and high-tech, even by South Korean standards.
7. (SBU) Hangyerae now provides room and board for 280 North Korean defector youth, who are without immediate adult family members in South Korea. Fourteen faculty members assist the students round-the-clock, in classrooms during the day and in dorm rooms in the evening. On average, students spend about a year at Hangyerae, but are permitted to stay up to two years, as needed. According to Principal Kwak Jong-moon, most of the students did not receive formal schooling while en route to South Korea, often for four to five years or longer. This prolonged period without education, coupled with South Korean passion for academic success, meant that North Korean teenagers faced enormous difficulty transitioning successfully into South Korean schools.
8. (SBU) Kwak emphasized that Hangyerae was a crucial stepping stone, adding that almost all former Hangyerae students graduate from South Korean schools, compared with a 90 percent drop-out rate for North Korean teenagers who do not complete the Hangyerae curriculum. National Assembly member Kim Hack-yong (Grand National Party) whose district included Hanawon and Hangyerae, attended the briefing at Hangyerae School when he heard the Ambassador was visiting, and thanked the Ambassador for her interest. Representative Kim also noted the high quality of the facilities and curriculum at the school.
9. (SBU) Despite the school’s impressive success rate, Kwak said Hangyerae would soon have to turn away students if additional funding is not available. The school is at twice its maximum capacity and teachers’ overtime was not being compensated. Kwak believed the students were motivated to succeed in South Korea and this could become reality, if given proper education and guidance.
——————————————————————- ——— ROKG Financial Support: Revised, but Still Generous ——————————————————————- ———
10. (SBU) While ROKG financial support for resettlement and housing assistance remained generous, the ROKG has made several revisions since 2006:
— Installments: Instead of a lump sum settlement allowance of USD 20,000, Hanawon graduates now receive a decreased, quarterly allowance of KRW 6 million, or about USD 4,500, for eight quarters.
— Security Deposit: USD 10,000 security deposit for a subsidized rental unit is no longer paid to the defector, but deposited directly on behalf of the new resident to prevent payment to brokers or misspending.
(NOTE: About 10,000 out of 300,000 government subsidized units are occupied by North Korean defectors. While localized housing provides assistance and convenience to recent arrivals, it also causes tension between South and North Korean residents. END NOTE.)
— Employment Bonus: This added incentive was designed to
encourage Hanawon graduates to seek employment opportunities instead of relying on government subsidies. Free training and monthly allowance of KWR 200,000, or approximately USD 150, is available for participants in employment training for six months or longer. The ROKG also subsidizes companies employing Hanawon graduates by paying 50 percent of the wages.
——————————————————————- ————— Defector Trend: More Female Defectors; No Longer Looking for Food but Better Life with Freedom ——————————————————————- ————— 11. (SBU) The number of female defectors exceeded males in 2002 (625 females to 513 males), almost doubled in 2003 (813 to 468), and more than tripled after that (1,533 to 485 in 2006; 1,975 to 569 in 2007; and 2,197 to 612 in 2008). Asked why so many more female defectors arrived in South Korea than male defectors, Hanawon Director Ko explained that women were able to live in hiding better and longer in China, and when caught, escaped more easily from the authorities. Trafficking was not unusual in the ethnic-Korean Chinese concentrated areas because many women had already left these regions to make a better living in the ROK. North Korean females filled a large vacuum in the marriage pool for ethnic-Korean Chinese males, Ko said.
12. (SBU) In addition to a surge of female defectors, Ko noted a shift toward differing motivations for defectors starting a few years ago, in contrast to ten years ago when defectors escaped primarily to find food. Since a few years ago, defector groups arrived in larger numbers and most left North Korea to seek a better, freer life in the ROK. Many also arranged, and raised funds for, remaining family members in North Korea to defect. Ko said that recent arrivals were politically better informed and eager to engage in discussions about the future of KJI and North Korea.
——————————————————————- —————— Defector Views: Life in China Easier than in the ROK; North Korea as an Infected Wound ——————————————————————- ——————
13. (SBU) During a roundtable discussion over lunch, five Hanawon trainees, all women in their 30s and early 40s with family members and children in China or North Korea, shared their thoughts with the Ambassador, whom they said they felt familiar with from seeing her on television speaking Korean. Most women had spent significant amounts of time in China before reaching the ROK, and noted that in many ways adapting to China, with a level of development more similar to the DPRK, was easier than adjusting to the fast-paced, competitive life of the ROK. Several trainees added that if there were no danger of repatriation to the DPRK by Chinese authorities, they would have preferred to stay in China. One said only half-jokingly that life was easier in China because people could smoke and spit anywhere they wanted, just like in North Korea. Others hoped for a day that North Korea would become more like China, allowing people to keep what they earn.
14. (SBU) The top priority for the trainees was employment, so that they could save money, pay brokers and bring family members out of North Korea. They were in contact with their children in China and North Korea by phone. When asked, the trainees spoke of hopes to become a nursery teacher, business student, hair dresser, fashion designer and driver, some through Hanawon employment training.
15. (SBU) Hanawon trainees who left North Korea between 2004 and 2007 said that they left North Korea not because of lack of food, but for a better future because “there is no future under Kim Jong-il.” They described North Korea as an infected internal wound about to burst where “anything is possible with money.” Hanawon residents kept up with North Korean news through TV and other sources and believed that access to internet would undercut the regime the fastest. Most had heard about KJI’s children and other aspects of his private life for the first time after their arrival in South Korea, as such topics were prohibited in North Korea.
16. (SBU) Four high school students who currently enrolled in Hangyerae used to study medicine at Kim Il-sung University. Ko interpreted this as a sign that problems within North Korea are far more severe than anticipated. A graduate of Kim Il-Sung University and a Hangyerae teacher, Ko Seun-ah (protect), said separately that more students are now coming from southern provinces in North Korea and belonged to a higher socio-economic class.
17. (SBU) Another sign of ailing North Korea was a sharp rise in the price of rice which had increased from NKW 700 per kg at the time of her departure in 2005 to NKW 3,000 in 2008. Even at such a high price, nothing was available to buy, Ko Seun-ah explained. According to regular North Korea travelers from the diplomatic and NGO groups in Seoul, 1 kg of rice is sold for NKW 5,000 and NKW 5,500 when grain is available in the black market.
18. (SBU) At a separate event at Hangyerae School, about 30 high school students participated in a discussion with the Ambassador where, in addition to asking about U.S. views on Korean reunification and Kim Jong Il, they showed much interest in her experience as a Korean-speaking woman diplomat, and in opportunities to study in the United States. The students demonstrated a high-level of political interest and were keen to hear about opportunities to travel and/or study in the United States.
———- Comment ———-
19. (SBU) The ROKG continues to provide generous financial and institutional support for defectors, as evidenced by Hanawon and Hangyereh, despite a considerable downsizing last year of the Ministry of Unification, which manages most of the defector-related programs. Still resettlement is not easy. It was clear that most of those we spoke to find life after Hanawon competitive and challenging, and sometimes long for the safe zone of Hanawon or life in China before arrival in South Korea, where they feel alienated. As the ROKG continues to gear up for more defectors in coming years, genuine integration of former North Korean residents in South Korea will require more confidence by North Korean defectors and less social discrimination by South Korean brethren. Above all, real integration will require time. STEPHENS
*VZCZCXYZ0009 OO RUEHWEB
DE RUEHUL #0129/01 0230757 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 230757Z JAN 09 FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3019 INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 5201 RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 9190 RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 5309 RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG PRIORITY 3913 RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY RUACAAA/COMUSKOREA INTEL SEOUL KOR PRIORITY RHMFISS/COMUSFK SEOUL KOR PRIORITY RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY *
C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 000129
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/10/2018 TAGS: PHUM, SREF, PGOV, PROP, PREL, KS, KN SUBJECT: FUTURE ROLE FOR NORTH KOREAN DEFECTORS FACILITATING UNIFICATION?: ROK OFFICIALS DISMISSIVE
Classified By: POL M/C Joseph Yun. Reasons 1.4 (b/d).
1. (C) Summary: As the total number of North Korean defectors in South Korea crossed the 15,000 threshold in 2008, some scholars, NGOs, and defectors themselves asked whether the former North Korean residents could play a useful role promoting change of the North Korean regime and facilitating eventual unification of the Korean Peninsula. While there is a nascent, but growing activism among defectors who see themselves as naturals for these tasks, present and past ROKG officials dismiss the possibility of a significant defector role. Even some leading defectors acknowledge that defectors are not yet ready to assume such a responsibility. Defector NGO groups have grown in number, but they are weakened by the lack of a unifying agenda or approach to inter-Korean issues. End Summary.
2. (C) According to the ROK Ministry of Unification (MOU), South Korea took in 2,809 North Korean defectors in 2008 — the most ever — pushing the total number of defectors to 15,057. As the defectors are quite familiar with all things North Korean, pundits and experts have tapped into their information base, promoting their favored agenda and cause. In the process, some pundits and experts, especially those from outside Korea, see a role for the defectors to promote change in the DPRK and, ultimately, facilitate a transition to a unified peninsula. Scholar and long-time North Korea observer Andrei Lankov, for example, advocates cultivation of a cadre of North Korean defectors for such a task through exchange programs and expanded educational support. The International Republican Institute (IRI) has already conducted small capacity-building workshops for defectors, aiming to empower them both to improve their lives in South Korea and to play a useful post-unification role at some point in the future. Some defector activists share this optimistic view of their future possibilities, reasoning that their intimate personal knowledge and experience of life in both Koreas uniquely qualifies them for a role in the transition to unification. This argument does not appear to hold sway, however, with many South Koreans, who tend to see the defectors as a burden: poor, needy, and maladjusted.
——————————- Defector NGO Overview ——————————-
3. (C) South Korean NGOs involved in DPRK-related activity generally fall into two camps: one progressive-leaning, humanitarian, and pro-engagement; the other conservative, human rights-oriented, and eager to hasten the collapse of the North Korean regime. Virtually all politically active defectors tend to associate with, and in some cases lead, groups in the latter category. These defector-led organizations include radio broadcasters (Free North Korea Radio, North Korea Reform Radio), leafleters (Fighters for Free North Korea and Association of North Korean Defector Organizations), human rights advocates (Committee for the Democratization of North Korea), former prison camp internees (Campaign for North Korean Freedom), escaped North Korean elites (North Korean Intellectuals Solidarity), and women’s rights advocates (Committee for North Korean Women’s Rights). Though they share a desire to promote change in the North, they are by no means a cohesive bunch and are often critical of one another.
——————————————————————- —— “Aquariums” Author Kang: Defectors Get No Respect ——————————————————————- ——
4. (C) Kang Chul-hwan, who survived one of the harshest North Korean political prison camps and wrote about it in “The Aquariums of Pyongyang,” estimated that defectors need about a decade simply to assimilate into South Korean society. Knowing South Korea and its people and understanding its capitalist mentality were prerequisites for assumption of any future, post-unification leadership role in either of the Koreas, he said.
5. (C) Kang described how defectors’ status in South Korean eyes had fallen over the years. Compared to 1992, when he reached the ROK, recent arrivals had it “much tougher.” Back then, defecting individuals and military officers were issued “Defector Warrior” cards, which elicited respect and praise from South Koreans, but in 1994 the identification cards were “downgraded” from “Defector Warrior” status to just “defectors.” As defector numbers and ROKG funding and scholarships for defectors increased in the late 1990s, Kang noticed a clear turning point in public perception of North Korean defectors, as respect changed to disinterest to disrespect. Since 2000, North Korean defectors have been treated as second-class citizens, Kang said.
6. (C) While North Korean defectors were not yet ready to “help (South) Korea,” Kang believed the defector community could play a positive role in the future — in time and with training. In a post-unification era, North Koreans would be better received in the North than South Koreans in guidance-providing roles, Kang thought.
——————————————————————- ——— IT Ph.D. Kim: Elites Ready to Make a Difference Now ——————————————————————- ———
7. (C) Apparently rejecting the notion that they are “not yet ready” to take on the leadership role, a growing number of defectors are trying to plant seeds of change in North Korea now. Holder of a North Korean doctorate in information technology, Kim Heung-kwang serves as chairman of North Korean Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS), a group of more than 150 elite defector intellectuals in South Korea that he founded in October 2008, after reaching out to other educated defectors since his arrival in 2004. Twenty percent of its members either hold or are pursuing Master’s or Doctorate degrees; the group aims to promote change in the DPRK by targeting its elite class with messages and information surreptitiously packaged in DVDs, USB thumb drives, and MP3 files. Kim told poloffs that his attempts to solicit support from the ROK National Intelligence Service (NIS) had not gone well due to ideological differences and NIS leaks of sensitive information. He had been in Japan the previous week asking an abductee NGO for funding. Kim was featured on the Japanese NHK BS1 evening news program “Kyou no Sekai” (Today’s World) on January 22. His recent acceptance of a visiting professorship at Gyeonggi University notwithstanding, Kim, like many elite defectors, feel their expertise, skills, and potential to effect change in the DPRK are under-appreciated by the South. Kim closed with a plea for U.S. funding.
———————————————- Leafleters: Bang for the Bucks? ———————————————-
8. (C) The area of defector activity attracting the most attention in South Korea is leafleting. NGO Fighters for Free North Korea Chair Park Hak-sang’s fall 2008 deliveries of large air balloons carrying several thousand anti-Kim Jong Il leaflets (many with one-dollar bills attached) across the DMZ drew unusually strong condemnation from the DPRK, which demanded that the ROKG stop Park’s leafleting activities. The ROKG’s ostensible search for a legal basis to stop the balloons failed and Park continued, sending 100,000 “Balloon postcards” to North Korea on December 3, 2008. The next balloons are set to fly in February, this time laden with North Korean won-bearing leaflets.
9. (C) Presently taking a hiatus from leafleting to comply with ROKG wishes and to wait for more favorable spring winds, Association of North Korean Defector Organizations (ANKDO) leaders are also very optimistic about the potential role that North Korean defectors could play in a post-unification era. Conceding that the defector community is “not yet ready” to lead, ANKDO Chairman Han Chang-kweon nevertheless stressed that defectors would be best positioned to bring about chane in North Korea and ought to be empowered accordingly. ANKDO is an umbrella organization representing 28 smaller NGOs that support North Korean defectors.
—————————————- ROK Officials Not Impressed —————————————-
10. (C) Overall, ROK officialdom is dismissive of the possibility of a positive unification-related role for defectors, being more concerned with the challenges defectors present to the South’s welfare and educational systems. Former Unification Minister Park Jae-kyu told poloffs on January 9 that what to do with North Korean defectors outside Korea was a “huge problem” for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) and predicted that it could grow into an even bigger headache unless the ROK changed its current practice of universal acceptance of North Korean defectors. Park estimated over 90 percent of defectors were unable to adapt successfully to life in South Korea, adding that many suffered from mental and physical health problems. To expect this group to play a productive mid to long-term role in Korean unification was unrealistic, he said. As Unification Minister during the Sunshine Policy days of Kim Dae-jung, Park had overseen implementation of a more selective ROK policy on accepting defectors, he said.
11. (C) The South Korean public, Park continued, was “psychologically not ready for defectors,” and was certainly not prepared to accept them as leaders of any sort. To think that the adjustment process would be effortless because “defectors are also Koreans” would be a “naive and irresponsible” notion. Informal comments made in a separate meeting with MOU officials seemed to bear this out. North Korean neighbors they could live with, they agreed, but they would not stand for seeing one of their children marry one. Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Yong-joon echoed former Minister Park’s opinion that acceptance of virtually all defectors who wish to settle in South Korea coupled with ROKG resettlement incentives had attracted less desirable defectors to the ROK.
————————————————————— Broadcasters: Kept at Arm’s Length by ROKG —————————————————————
12. (C) Former DPRK propagandist Kim Seong-min spearheaded development of the largest of the defector-associated broadcasters, Free North Korea Radio (FNK), though he has turned over responsibility for the radio portion of his expanding operation to another defector, Lee Keum-ryong. Employing 13 defectors and planning to increase total staff from 15 to 20, FNK now broadcasts five hours per night and produces over 50 different programs on everything from current events, useful life skills, and women’s rights to defector testimonies, statistical comparisons of the North and South, lectures by well-known North Korea specialists, and English and Mandarin lessons. All programs are hosted by defectors speaking in North Korean dialect. Kim and his FNK colleagues have branched out into other activity, too, including an online clearinghouse of North Korea-related information, images, and videos (some from FNK’s North Korea contacts) called NK Information Center (www.fnkinf.com) and a defection support operation enlisting the assistance of a team of trusted brokers and contacts in Vietnam and Cambodia. Ignored by mainstream South Korean press, FNK was recognized and awarded for its work by Reporters Without Borders in December.
13. (C) Not all have been pleased with FNK Radio’s activities; employees discovered a “bloody axe” on the station office’s doorstep one day and the office now receives constant police protection. Kim claimed in a December meeting with poloff that those responsible for sending threatening mail to FNK in the past had since been arrested under the National Security Law. Initially wary of the police, Kim said he now gets along well with them and believed that elements of the NIS approve of their broadcasting efforts. Many who logged on to the NK Information Center website, he noted, were from the NIS. A female defector that worked for FNK two years ago, he said, was in fact later recruited by the NIS, which employed other defectors as well.
14. (C) Radio Free Chosun (RFC) president, the non-defector conservative activist Han Ki-hong, likewise told poloff in December that the broadcaster had close relations with the NIS, friendlier now under President Lee Myung-bak than under previous administrations. Also like FNK, RFC monitored defector responses to its broadcasts and adjusted programming content accordingly, tailoring the contents to those mostly likely to listen in: intellectuals, students, black marketeers. Part of a larger organization encompassing small publisher NKnet and online North Korea news source The Daily NK, RFC creates about 15 programs in-house on such topics as the North Korean economic situation, stages of transition to a new regime, music, and dramas, broadcasting for an hour and a half per day. Ten employees worked on radio programs in one capacity or another and RFC aimed to have defectors broadcast 70-80 percent of its programming in North Korean dialect.
15. (C) One of two other smaller, but notable, broadcasters is North Korea Reform Radio, a two-person operation run by 1990s defector Kim Seung-chul producing 1 hour of programming per day targeted at North Korean leadership elites. The other is Open Radio, run by South Korean Young Howard, who employs two or three defectors and broadcasts two hours per day.
———- Comment ———-
16. (C) North Korean defectors have been quite successful in forming groups and organization to publicize repression back home. Broadcasting is probably the most successful model, attracting funds and interest from South Korean conservative groups and foreign human rights and religious activists. Understandably, these defector groups see themselves as trailblazers and their work as preparation for leadership roles in a unified Korea. This, however, is not a view their southern compatriots share, who see a divided defector community without much depth or leadership. Correct or not, South Koreans also assume that North Koreans will not respond well to the returnees. STEPHENS
*VZCZCXRO6055 OO RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHHM RUEHVK DE RUEHUL #4284/01 3490905 ZNR UUUUU ZZH O 150905Z DEC 06 FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1945 INFO RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 7734 RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1757 RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1856 RUEHUM/AMEMBASSY ULAANBAATAR 1436 RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 6426 RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH 0284 RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2039 RUEHGO/AMEMBASSY RANGOON 2431 RUEHML/AMEMBASSY MANILA 8669 RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0088 RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 1266 RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 0073 RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 3249 RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 3058 RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 0031 RUDKIA/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0917 RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 1181 RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR*
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 SEOUL 004284
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PREF, PHUM, PGOV, PREL, KTIP, KS, KN SUBJECT: NK REFUGEES: THE QUEST FOR STABLE EMPLOYMENT
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Finding stable employment is probably the greatest challenge for North Koreans resettling in the ROK. The ROKG assigns North Korean refugees to employment officers, provides incentives, recruits employers, and subsidizes half of North Koreans’ salaries to their employers for two years. Many North Koreans do not take advantage of such opportunities, however, or prefer to obtain irregular jobs so they can continue to collect welfare payments from the government in addition to their wages. Further, while most North Korean refugees are from marginalized and less educated groups, ROK law provides that educational and professional achievements in the North will be recognized in the ROK. In practice, however, this policy has limited value in professional fields. END SUMMARY.
STABLE EMPLOYMENT: AN UPHILL BATTLE —————————————————-
2. (SBU) Competing in the South Korean labor market is the major challenge for most North Korean refugees. Like other immigrant populations, North Koreans lack political, social, and job skills necessary in their new home. The director of a large non-government North Korean resettlement center told Poloff that many North Koreans have a difficult time adjusting to the ROK’s capitalist, free-market society. Even if North Koreans understand capitalist principles in theory, putting these ideas into practice is difficult for many North Koreans, especially middle-aged refugees, who are used to working in a controlled economy. ROK National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chief Human Rights Policy Analyst Shim Sang-don similarly asserted that, due to differences in the economic systems, North Koreans often have a weaker work ethic, and may face difficulties maintaining employment in the ROK’s hard-working society. North Koreans are also entering a competitive job market where the unemployment rate among new entrants is 15-20 percent.
3. (SBU) Many North Koreans are from marginalized classes in North Korea, and would have difficulties in finding “good jobs” anywhere in the world. According to MOU statistics, the vast majority of North Korean refugees in the ROK were hard laborers, farmers, or homemakers in the DPRK.
4. (SBU) Even highly-educated North Koreans may find that their achievements are worth little in the ROK. Hanawon Career Counselor Jeon Youn-suk reported that the number of North Korean refugees with professional degrees or certificates has increased recently as the number of “planned defections” among such groups has risen. Under the 1997 Protection Act, North Koreans’ academic achievements and qualifications are recognized in the ROK. In practice, however, KINU Senior Research Fellow Lee Keum-soon said that this is difficult because of the vast differences in education and skills acquired through the North and South Korean systems. Also, many professions credentials are granted by private organizations (e.g., the Korean Bar Association or Korean Medical Association) that do not recognize such North Korean qualifications, in large part because training in North Korea would not prepare refugees for practicing in their fields in the ROK. In addition, some NGOs also report that North Koreans may have difficulty in having their credentials recognized if they lack documents to prove their achievements. North Korea Database Center found that only half of North Koreans who tried to have their credentials recognized in the ROK were successful. Kookmin University scholar Andrei Lankov argued that this group of mid-level professionals is likely to suffer the most, but be the most important, after unification.
5. (SBU) According to the 1997 Protection Act, the ROKG
SEOUL 00004284 002 OF 004
offers supplementary education and retraining when refugees’ professional qualifications are not recognized. For example, Hanawon’s Educational Director Pak Yong-sok reported that, if North Koreans had studied medicine in the DPRK, they may be able to enter skip the first few years of medical school in the ROK. According to Hanawon’s Jeon, as of late November a bill was pending before the National Assembly that would make it easier for North Koreans to have their past achievements recognized.
EMPLOYMENT UNDERREPORTED ————————————
6. (SBU) KINU’s Lee said that many North Koreans have part-time or temporary jobs that they do not report so that they can continue to receive unemployment assistance. Estimating North Koreans’ unemployment rate is therefore difficult; a study by North Korea Database Center estimated unemployment at 30 percent, while KINU estimates 14.7 percent unemployment. Other recent surveys estimate North Koreans’ unemployment between 38 and 60 percent. A study by North Korea Database found that 75 percent of employed North Koreans hold irregular or day jobs; 57 percent had been employed in their current jobs less than six months; and 98 percent had changed jobs at least once. Chang Chin-yung, an employment assistance officer at Seoul’s Nambu Employment Assistance Center, told poloff that many North Korean refugees have a negative view of stable employment because they believe that refugees who obtain irregular jobs are able to receive more money from the government. Indeed, one older female North Korean refugee complained to poloff that the ROKG should change its system so that North Korean refugees could continue to receive their unemployment payments while working. Chang also reported that some refugees are constantly worried about their situation due to the instability the have faced, and fear losing their government assistance.
HELPING NORTH KOREANS OVERCOME THE CHALLENGES ——————————————————————-
7. (SBU) As outlined in septels, the ROK provides North Korean refugees with an employment protection officer in their communities who helps North Koreans obtain training and jobs. MOL also subsidizes 50 percent of North Koreans’ wages for two years. In addition to resettlement assistance, the ROKG provides additional incentive payments up to KRW 15.4 million (USD 15,400) for North Koreans who complete training programs or obtain long-term stable employment. A female North Korean refugee who works as a housekeeper praised the incentives for refugees maintaining employment for at least one year. A male student refugee was less positive about the incentive program, however, noting that it is difficult for many North Koreans to meet the criteria necessary to receive the incentive payments, such as maintaining a certain GPA at University or completing a certain number of training hours. According to MOU statistics, the number of North Korean refugees seeking assistance in obtaining jobs increased after introduction of the incentive program.
8. (SBU) Poloff visited the Nambu Employment Assistance Center in Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, on November 22. The large Center, housed in a modern building, was filled with teller-like stations where Koreans in need of employment assistance meet with job counselors. Employment officer Chang told Poloff that the Ministry of Labor’s (MOL) main roles in assisting North Korean refugees are to provide employment counseling to refugees, help refugees find suitable employment, and provide subsidies to companies that employ North Korean refugees. MOL has 60 employment centers
SEOUL 00004284 003 OF 004
throughout the ROK, each of which has an officer designated to assist North Koreans in that area. According to Chang, employment officers do not receive lists of North Koreans in their area because of the sensitivity of such information, but are referred North Koreans by their welfare officers. North Koreans may also connect with employment officers through civil society organizations or learn of them through advertisements of their activities.
9. (SBU) The Nambu office, which oversees three districts that are home to 1,300 North Koreans, has been operating a pilot program since July 2006 to provide more comprehensive programming to North Korean refugees. The pilot program has divided North Koreans into three groups based on the time they have been in the ROK, but is focused primarily on helping recent Hanawon graduates quickly obtain stable jobs or enter job training programs. Poloff met with Chang in a large and well-equipped conference room, which she said is often used to host group events for North Korean refugees. Chang said that the Nambu Center’s pilot program would be completed in December, and the Center would complete an evaluation and distribute a manual to other employment centers. Because the main emphasis of the program is on group activities, the program may not be applicable in areas with only a small number of defectors, Chang said.
JOB TRAINING ——————
10. (SBU) Some North Koreans are interested in first receiving job training before looking for employment, Chang said. Hanawon career counselor Jeon told poloff that Hanawon recently put more emphasis on job training, which now comprises 40 percent of Hanawon’s curriculum. Since May, Hanawon has worked closely with the MOL to develop enhanced vocational training programs, including an exchange program with a polytechnical school near Hanawon. This experience allows North Koreans to gain a sense of their interests, build confidence in their abilities, and provide the training necessary to get better jobs, Jeon said.
11. (SBU) Chang said that there are several large job training programs that North Korean refugees tend to be interested in, but refugees often have a difficult time adjusting to the classes due to educational gaps with their South Korean peers. MOL and the Nambu Center are therefore working to develop training programs tailored for North Korean refugees. NK Net President Han Ki-hong argued that that job-training programs are focused narrowly on vocational and computer skills. The ROK should also provide programs and incentives for North Koreans to learn English and other skills, Han said.
ENTERING THE WORKING WORLD —————————————
12. (SBU) Some North Koreans want to immediately obtain a job without receiving additional job training. Hanawon’s Jeon said that skilled jobs are difficult to obtain, and because many North Koreans want to obtain jobs right away, they often end-up with blue collar jobs. When North Koreans are ready to seek employment, Chang said that MOL tries to match refugees to employers based on their interests and abilities. Chang reported that the Employment Center conducts outreach to companies to encourage them to hire North Korean refugees. She said that many companies are hesitant to employ North Korean refugees because they do not have any experience with them, not because they are North Koreans. North Korea Database found that of North Koreans believe South Korean employers refrain from employing them for several reasons: 34
SEOUL 00004284 004 OF 004
percent cited prejudice; 29 percent identified differences in ability compared to South Korean colleagues; 29 percent said because their background from North Korea is not relevant; and 6.5 percent identified a preference for South Korean or foreign workers.
13. (SBU) Chang said that the Center provides employers with information to address any prejudices against refugees that employers might have. As part of its pilot program, the Center holds events for North Korean refugees and prospective employers so that employers can identify potential employees. The Center also accompanies North Koreans to job interviews, and encourages companies to conduct interviews at the Center to help North Koreans feel more comfortable.
14. (SBU) Finding a full-time job is only half the battle, however, as Chang reported that many North Koreans quit their jobs without any notice. In the past, many North Koreans also were not very hard-working, Chang said. In recent years, however, more refugees are diligent and work very hard, which is helping to improve employers’ image of North Koreans. Chang also noted that many North Koreans face difficulties in the workplace due to poor health. North Korea Database found that 24 percent of North Koreans identified health problems as a reason for difficulty at work (13 percent said lack of ability, 14 percent cited difficult relationships with co-workers, 16 percent cited low wages of lack of benefits, 2 percent cited unfairness in promotions, and 16 percent identified no problems).
15. (SBU) Many companies that hire North Korean refugees also employ foreign workers, and some refugees may quit because of poor working conditions, Chang said. The employment office encourages North Korean refugees to report problems with working conditions or discrimination to their employment officer, but Chang said that in most cases refugees quit their jobs before informing the employer or employment office of problems.
16. (SBU) To try to prevent problems with job discrimination or poor working conditions, the MOL requires employers who hire refugees to renew their government assistance agreement every three months, according to Chang. Chang said that MOL also tries to help North Koreans obtain jobs with companies that are members of the ROK’s general insurance program. She reported that employment officers also follow-up with refugees once they obtain jobs to ensure that they are being treated properly. Chang said that, because the MOL provides subsidies to companies who employ North Korean refugees for their salaries, employment officers also check periodically with the companies and refugees to ensure that the refugees are still employed at the companies receiving those benefits.
17. (SBU) While experience with refugees who quit suddenly makes some employers hesitant to hire refugees, Chang believed positive signs are starting to show, with more employers now willing to hire North Korean refugees. Still, MOU statistics indicate that more North Koreans are looking for jobs than the number of companies willing to hire them. As of June 2006, only 400 North Koreans had obtained regular jobs for which the ROKG paid employment subsidies, while the majority were employed in blue-collar jobs. VERSHBOW
*This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 002120
PDAS RICHARD GREENE, PRM FOR DAS RYAN, PRM/A RUSCH, PRM/A SHEEHAN,
E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/11/2016 TAGS: PHUM, PREF, TH, KN, KS, North Korea (DPRK), Refugee SUBJECT: EMBASSY BANGKOK NORTH KOREAN RESPONSE PLAN
Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR SUSAN M. SUTTON. REASON: 1.4 (C)
1. (U) This is an action request. Please see action request para 6.
2. (C) Summary: Deputy Chief of Mission and Political Counselor, along with a team of USG members who will have a role in assisting NKs at the Embassy, met on April 10 to discuss details of the walk-in operational plan. The Embassy NK response team has been briefed to respond to the situation in varying case scenarios. Post requests PRM assistance in providing the — Statement Concerning the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program — in Korean and English as soon as possible, authorizing IOM expenditure to house NKs, and sending TDY Korean speakers for translation. The Thai “Songkran” New Year holiday is a week-long celebration. Most RTG government offices, businesses, international organizations and embassies, including AmEmbassy Bangkok, will be close on Thursday, April 13 and Friday, April 14 and it may be difficult to contact the RTG and the ROK during this period. End summary.
3. (C) USG NORTH KOREAN (NK) RESPONSE TEAM PREPARATIONS
A. The RSO and local guards are briefed and prepared to direct and speak to NKs at a comfortable location to the side of the Embassy main gate. Taking into consideration rain and heat the location is sheltered and shaded. Water will be available. Guards will be provided with Korean-language cards to assist NKs until Embassy interpreter arrives on the scene.
B. Post has identified USG interpreters and they will be able to assist over the holiday. UNHCR also offered assistance from their ROK-seconded Korean speaker if required.
C. Media issues: Embassy PAO will address any media issues that arise and has prepared talking points. Safe house management and staff have been instructed to refer all media inquires to PAO.
D. Embassy NK response team has been briefed on transport arrangements to safehouse. Thai language taxi cards directing NK to safe house are available. If needed, Embassy personnel will accompany NKs to safe house.
E. Safe house options: IOM has reserved space at a guesthouse relatively close to the Embassy. The safe house will provide NKs with food and other supplies during their residence. Guesthouse staff has experience in housing transit refugees en route to a resettlement country.
F. UNHCR will be open on Friday, April 14 and have personnel on stand-by to visit NKs at the safe house in order to issue them UNHCR POC protection letter, if required, and begin process of resettlement country referral.
G. All USG officers present have been issued each other’s cell phone numbers and are on standby to respond if this issue arises over the Thai holiday weekend.
4. (C) THAI NEW YEAR HOLIDAY PERIOD
The Thai “Songkran” New Year holiday is a week-long celebration. Consequently, most RTG government offices, businesses, international organizations and embassies, including AmEmbassy Bangkok, will be closed on Thursday, April 13 and Friday, April 14 and will re-open again on Monday, April 17th. Due to internal planning and direct coordination with UNHCR and IOM, Post is prepared for NK refugees during this holiday period. Embassy NK response team members have been instructed to be as forward leaning as possible in dealing with this group. However, given that it is a major holiday in Thailand, it may be difficult to contact the RTG and the ROK during this period. It should be expected that coordination may be slower over the holiday than the normal work week.
5. (C) MINIMAL MEDIA ATTENTION DESIRED
Post emphasizes the need for minimal media attention and request PRM to inform the NGO group who may be accompanying NKs to Bangkok to discourage media coverage. Any media attention may jeopardize the existing NK resettlement program to South Korea in not just Thailand but other countries where NK seek refuge. Considering the RTG and ROK’s sensitivities on this matter, it is crucial that USG assistance to NK refugee proceeds as discreetly as possible.
6. (C) ACTION REQUEST FOR PRM.
Post requests from PRM the Korean translation of the Statement Concerning the U.S. Refugee Admission program as soon as possible. UNHCR is briefed on the statement content and will require both language copies to forward to NKs to ensure that they are accurately informed of their resettlement options. Additionally, if NKs are to use IOM’s safe house arrangement, IOM has requested that PRM issue a document authorizing IOM’s expenditure on room and board for their accounting purposes. A cost breakdown can be provided if required, but it is estimated to cost approximately 20 USD per person per day. Three meals a day are included in this estimate. Lastly, Post request TDY Korean speaker support to interpret for NKs in foreseeable resettlement interviews and processing to the U.S.
*This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001340
GENEVA FOR RMA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/03/2016 TAGS: PREF, PREL, PHUM, KN, TH, Refugee, North Korea (DPRK) SUBJECT: THAI RESPONSE ON NORTH KOREAN REFUGEES
REF: STATE 33786
Classified By: CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR BOYCE, REASONS 1.4 (B, D).
1. (C) Summary. During March 3 conversations, Thai FM Kantathi and NSC Chief Winai said that the North Korean refugee issue was sensitive for Thailand. However, they indicated that the RTG was willing to work with the USG on discreet, case-by-case processing of North Korean refugees for U.S. resettlement. This represents a welcome shift of the Thai position, but one that needs to be treated with some caution given the uncertain political future of the Thaksin government. End summary.
2. (C) Per reftel, Ambassador met March 3 with Foreign Minister Kantathi on North Korean refugees. Ambassador also took the opportunity to raise the issue of the missing Hmong minors (septel). Prior to the meeting, and per reftel, Refcoord contacted ROK Embassy Counselor Hong-Kyun Kim and stated that the Embassy had received instructions to approach the RTG on North Korean refugees and hoped the ROK Embassy would inform the RTG, if approached, that it had no ojections to the planned U.S. strategy on this issue.
3. (C) Ambassador told Kantathi that the North Korea Human Rights Act requires the USG to facilitate the resettlement of qualified North Korean refugees to the United States. The United States recognized that this issue was sensitive for Thailand and appreciated that the Thai had done a good job of quietly facilitating the movement of North Koreans to South Korea. The United States did not want to do anything that might negatively affect the current situation. At the same time, the United States thought there might be cases for which U.S. resettlement would be appropriate. The United States did not know of any such cases now, but if one arose would cooperate with UNHCR and the ROK in determining bona fides and carrying out the other usual steps of U.S. refugee processing. If the United States found that a refugee was ineligible for U.S. resettlement, the ROK had said that it would nevertheless accept the person. The Ambassador urged the Foreign Minister to permit U.S. processing of North Korean refugees and allow them to depart for the United States if found eligible.
4. (C) Kantathi responded that Thailand permits South Korea to process and resettle North Koreans quietly. The Thai had also worked successfully with the ROK when some North Koreans had entered the Thai Embassy in Hanoi. He said that he had heard that North Korean refugees had found it hard to integrate into South Korea. It seemed the United States was now prepared to give the “green light.” Kantathi asked if the United States was most interested in getting access. The Ambassador replied that we wanted to process North Korean refugees for resettlement to the United States and briefly described the steps of the process. The Ambassador again urged Kantathi to allow the U.S. to move ahead with this initiative.
5. (C) Kantathi said this issue was sensitive for Thailand. He noted that the North Koreans had targetted Embassies in Beijing but the Chinese had been successful in cutting off that option by strengthening security in the diplomatic quarter. Now the North Koreans followed a route that took them through Yunnan Province and down the Mekong River. Thailand had heard that there were 30,000-40,000 North Koreans around the region outside of their country. The Thai government was worried about a pull factor and did not want to encourage the North Koreans to come to Thailand. It would be best if North Koreans could be processed for resettlement with UNHCR assistance in China. Kantathi also stated that Thailand’s relations with North Korea were sensitive. He cited the issue of the Thai woman who had apparently been abducted many years ago by the North Koreans and whose case came to light after Robert Jenkins left North Korea. The Thai government had raised her case, unsuccessfully so far, with the DPRK. It would continue to pursue the issue, however, and might work with the Japanese and Chinese to achieve a satisfactory result. The North Korean government was very difficult, Kantathi said.
6. (C) Kantathi then said that, personally speaking, the RTG could work with the USG on the U.S. resettlement of North Koreans on a discreet, case-by-case basis. He emphasized that the process must be discreet. He also requested that the USG explore the possibility of resettlement processing with the PRC. The Ambassador thanked Kantathi for this response.
7. (C) Following the discussion with Kantathi, the Ambassador telephoned General Winai Phattiyakul, the head of the Thai National Security Council. The Ambassador made similar points to Winai about U.S. intentions and strong desire to process North Korean refugees for U.S. resettlement. The Ambassador relayed the response of FM Kantathi and asked if Winai had the same position. Winai responded that the normal Thai practice was to send North Korean refugees to South Korea. Then moving off the stance he had previously taken, Winai responded that if the USG was willing and able to process North Korean refugees, it would probably be possible to work something out. 8. (C) Comment. This is a welcome response from the Thai government and a shift of the previous Thai position. The current uncertain political situation and the possibility that Thaksin may not remain in power means that the Thai response should be taken with some caution. End comment.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001139
GENEVA FOR RMA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/24/2016 TAGS: PREF, PREL, TH, KS, KN, North Korea (DPRK), Refugee SUBJECT: MEETING WITH SOUTH KOREAN EMBASSY ON NORTH KOREAN
REF: A. SEOUL 471 B. STATE 4712
Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR SUSAN SUTTON, REASON 1.4 (d).
1. (C) Summary. In a February 23 meeting, a South Korean Embassy official said he had received no new instructions or information from Seoul regarding U.S.-ROK discussions about North Korean refugees, including on providing assistance to the Embassy if any suitable refugee cases arose or sharing information on North Korean refugees who wanted U.S. resettlement. The official raised familiar concerns that U.S. resettlement processing of North Korean refugees in Thailand would lead to a surge in North Koreans coming to Thailand and endanger the existing pipeline to the ROK. He also speculated that if the United States resettled North Koreans from Thailand, the DPRK might charge that the United States was abducting its citizens and cite that as an excuse not to participate in the Six-Party talks. End summary.
2. (C) Political Counselor and Refcoord met informally on February 23 with Counsellor Hong-Kyn Kim of the South Korean Embassy to discuss the North Korean refugee issue. Kim will shortly be leaving Thailand to work in Seoul as one of the special assistants to the ROK Foreign Minister.
3. (C) Political Counselor noted that the USG had recently told the ROK government that it would continue to push ahead on resettling a small number of North Korean refugees in the United States. To that end, the USG would be trying to overcome the resistance of asylum countries, including Thailand, to permitting U.S. resettlement processing of North Koreas. If suitable cases were found, we would also be looking for some assistance from the ROK. Political Counselor asked Kim for an updated assessment of the North Korean refugee situation in Thailand and whether Seoul had passed on any new instructions or information.
4. (C) Somewhat surprisingly, Kim responded that he had received no new instructions or information from Seoul regarding U.S.-ROK discussions on North Korean refugees, including on the provision of assistance for suitable cases or sharing information on North Korean refugees who wanted to resettle in the United States. He added, however, that the ROK Embassy would naturally follow any instructions that Seoul might provide.
5. (C) Kim then raised the familiar concern that USG processing of North Korean refugees in Thailand could endanger the pipeline to the ROK and said that the USG should not do anything that might disturb the existing system. He asked whether the USG had considered Mongolia as an alternative location, noting that the Mongolian government seemed more forthcoming generally on this issue than Thailand. (Comment: In ref a, MOFAT DG Kim took a different tact, stating that a USG refugee resettlement initiative in Mongolia could lead the Mongolians to shut down the pipeline to South Korea and thereby end that country’s status as a particularly important transit point for North Korean refugees. End comment.) Counsellor Kim stated that word spreads rapidly among the NGOs and brokers involved with North Korean refugees and it would quickly become known that the USG was processing North Korean refugees in Thailand. He predicted that the number of North Korean refugees would surge since it was already relatively easy for them to travel here. They would test the USG to see how many refugees it would take.
6. (C) Kim continued that the Thai government was already concerned about the increasing number of North Korean refugees coming to Thailand. He noted a recent press report in which a northern Thai police official had said that the Thai government was worried about the trend and would bolster its police presence in the areas where the North Koreans crossed the border. He expressed confidence, however, that the Thai government would not take steps to stop the existing pipeline to South Korea. Apart from the higher numbers that were moving through the pipeline this year, Kim said there were no changes in how the system was working. It was now taking about 2 months on average for North Korean refugees to be processed in Bangkok before they were moved on to the ROK.
7. (C) Kim raised another concern about U.S. refugee processing of North Koreans in Thailand. He said he believed the DPRK had never approached the Thai goverment regarding the existing pipeline. However, if the United States were to start taking North Korean refugees from Thailand, Kim said this would likely change. The DPRK would raise the issue with the Thai. In addition, the DPRK might charge that the U.S. was abducting North Koreans and use that as an excuse not to participate in the Six-Party talks. BOYCE
*This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L BANGKOK 007184
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/18/2015 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, TH, North Korea (DPRK) SUBJECT: EXCELLENT THAI-DPRK RELATIONS NOT SO USEFUL IN ABDUCTION CASE
REF: BANGKOK 005627
Classified By: POLITICAL COUNSELOR SUSAN M. SUTTON FOR REASON 1.4 (B,D)
1. (C) Summary. Allegations in a new book that North Korean abducted a Thai woman working in Macao in 1978 have grabbed local headlines and prompted Foreign Minister Kantathi to pledge government efforts to return her to Thailand. Thai officials, however, are finding their North Korean counterparts less than helpful on the case, but this issue is unlikely to derail Prime Minister Thaksin’s planned visit to Pyongyang next year. End Summary.
ALLEGED DPRK ABDUCTION OF THAI IN 1978 ———————————————————
2. (SBU) U.S. Army deserter and former North Korean resident Charles Robert Jenkins’ Japanese language book “Kokuhaku” (“To Tell the Truth”) alleges that he knew a Thai woman who had been abducted by DPRK authorities in the 1970’s and forced to marry a fellow U.S. Army deserter. This revelation has grabbed local headlines (Note, the Nation newspaper has run almost daily stories. End Note) and prompted pressure on the RTG to make good on its broad pledge to protect Thai citizens abroad.
3. (SBU) Based on Thai Embassy Tokyo’s meetings with Jenkins and a review of missing persons cases from the 1970’s, Thai officials believe that the woman in question is Anocha Panjoy, a Thai national who went missing in 1978 shortly after arriving in Macao to work. Her brother has been in close contact with Thai authorities and Japanese NGO’s involved in the abduction issue.
SURPRISE! DPRK NOT SO HELPFUL ——————————————-
4. (C) MFA officials told Poloff on 17 November that they have met with North Korean diplomats to discuss this case, but that the DPRK Embassy here denies having any knowledge of Anocha. RTG officials are assiduously avoiding any discussion of the “abduction,” and in their dealing with the North Koreans, refer to the issue as a “missing persons case” so as not to offend their interlocutors. That said, Thai officials are hoping that their repeated requests for further information checks—in the form of daily phone calls to the DPRK mission here—may yet produce some results. Given the heavy press play, both the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister are personally interested in this case. When asked if this issue could impede PM Thaksin’s planned trip to Pyongyang next year (ref) MFA officials said “not really.”
5. (C) RTG officials make much of their “excellent relations” with Pyongyang, often in an attempt to involve themselves in such issues as the six-party talks. This case may highlight how unhelpful the DPRK can be, even with “friends,” but it appears that this will not affect Thaksin’s North Korea policy. BOYCE
*This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L BANGKOK 003744
GENEVA FOR RMA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/07/2015 TAGS: PREF, PREL, PHUM, KN, KS, CB, Refugee, North Korea (DPRK) SUBJECT: GUIDANCE REGARDING TWO NORTH KOREAN SISTERS IN CAMBODIA
REF: A. STATE 104207
B. BEIJING 8769
Classified By: Political Counselor Robert Clarke. Reason: 1.4 (b,d).
1. (C) Per ref a request, on June 7 Refcoord told UNHCR Regional Representative Hasim Utkan that the U.S. would consider refugee referrals of the two North Korean sisters reportedly in Cambodia if UNHCR determines that it is in their best interest to travel to the United States.
2. (C) Utkan said he understood and noted that the two girls had not yet approached the UNHCR office in Phnom Penh. He also cautioned that if UNHCR were to refer the cases to the United States and they were accepted for resettlement, there may be some difficulty in their movement to the United States. He noted that in the cases of 5 North Koreans who entered the Swedish and French Embassies in Hanoi earlier this year, the Thai goverment refused to allow them to transit Bangkok for South Korea. As a result, UNHCR had to arrange for their transport through Singapore. BOYCE
*This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L BANGKOK 000802
DEPARTMENT FOR EAP, EAP/BCLTV, PRM
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/31/2015 TAGS: PREF, PREL, PHUM, ASEC, KS, KN, TH, Refugee, Asylum, LAOS, North Korea (DPRK) SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR-FM SURAKIART ON NORTH KOREAN ASYLUM SEEKER IN VIENTIANE
REF: A. STATE 13599 B. VIENTIANE 128 C. SEOUL 444 D. EMBASSY VIENTIANE (BAUER) JANUARY 31 E-MAIL TO EMBASSY BANGKOK (ARVIZU)
Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce. Reason: 1.4 (d)
1. (C) On January 28, while in Phuket for Thai-hosted conference on a tsunami early warning system (EWS), the Ambassador spoke with Foreign Minister Surakiart about Ahn Kyong Su, the North Korean asylum seeker in Embassy Vientiane. The Ambassador noted that the Lao government would not allow transit to Thailand for onward travel to South Korea using a commercial flight from Vientiane, and insisted that the North Korean could only cross the border into Thailand by land. He urged Thai flexibility on the land option. Surakiart said that he was aware of the Ambassador’s earlier approach to MFA Permanent Secretary Krit Garnjana-Goonchorn and had been updated regularly on working-level discussions and developments by his staff.
2. (C) At first Surakiart asked why the USG did not press the Lao harder on the air option and even offered to call himself. After the Ambassador told him that the Lao government had not yielded after several approaches and clearly would not budge, Surakiart indicated that Thailand would agree to land passage as long as the North Korean is properly documented by the ROK and taken directly from Nong Khai to Udorn, and then flown to Bangkok airport for immediate travel onwards.
3. (C) Per Ref D, FM Surakiart has instructed the Thai Ambassador in Vientiane to convey to Embassy Vientiane and the Lao Government that Thailand will allow Anh to enter Thailand via land as long as the conditions are met. The next critical step would appear for the ROK to issue Anh the proper travel documents either in Vientiane or elsewhere so that they can be passed to him on the Friendship Bridge between Laos and Thailand. In addition, it would be best if the ROK would agree to take custody of Anh at the Friendship Bridge, transport him to Bangkok for his onward travel to Seoul, and coordinate with the Thai Government as necessary on these arrangements. We stand ready to assist. BOYCE
*This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L BANGKOK 000690
GENEVA FOR RMA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/24/2015 TAGS: ASEC, PGOV, PREF, PREL, KN, KS, TH, North Korea (DPRK), LAOS, Asylum, Refugee SUBJECT: ICRC AND NORTH KOREAN ASYLUM SEEKER IN VIENTIANE
REF: A. STATE 13599 B. BANGKOK 656 C. SEOUL 371 D.
Classified By: Political Counselor Robert Clarke, Reasons 1.4 (B,D)
1. (C) Fred Grimm, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Head of Regional Delegation, told Embassy Bangkok today that ICRC is not/not willing to issue a laissez-passer (LP) to North Korean asylum seeker An Kyong Su. Grimm said that, after consultations with both the ICRC representative responsible for North Korea and ICRC’s Geneva headquarters, ICRC’s position was that it does not want to endanger its relationship with the Pyongyang government, which allows ICRC to conduct some humanitarian activities.
2. (C) Grimm further stated that no one in ICRC’s offices in North Korea or Geneva had heard about the case of the North Korean refugee at the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok who was issued an ICRC LP. Grimm then noted that in that case, based on his understanding of it from our account, two conditions were present that are not yet present for the Vientiane case. First, UNHCR had made a direct appeal for assistance to ICRC. Second, the ROKG had given assurances that the individual would be allowed to enter the ROK. Grimm seemed to imply that if these conditions were met, ICRC might revisit the request to issue a LP for An. (Comment: Subsequent to this conversation, we learned that the ROK has agreed to the second condition provided an ROK security interview of An is successful. End Comment.) BOYCE
Date 2009-06-17 06:45:00
Source Embassy Beijing
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BEIJING 001634
DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/CM AND EAP/K
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/17/2034 TAGS: PREL, MARR, PGOV, CH, KN, KS, J SUBJECT: CDA AND MFA ASIAN AFFAIRS ON DPRK
1. (C) In a June 16 luncheon in honor of visiting Hong Kong CG Joe Donovan hosted by the Charge, –––– –––– –––––––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– said that China liked a U.S. proposal described by Ambassador Bosworth here on June 5 to put all issues related to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula into a package for negotiation. –––– maintained that the United States holds the key to bringing the DPRK back to the negotiation table and suggested that succession concerns in North Korea might be causing Kim Jong-il to escalate tensions with the United States so that his successor, perhaps Kim Jong-un, could then step in to ease pressure. –––– acknowledged that China experts believe the DPRK has been processing highly enriched uranium but asserted that the program was only in an initial phase. –––– suggested that ROK envoy to the Six-Party Talks had not offered any new ideas during his June 9 visit to Beijing and that Japan’s focus on the abductee issue continued to cause concerns at the MFA. End Summary.
Chinese Protests to DPRK Have Had No Effect —————————————————————-
2. (C) In a June 16 luncheon hosted by the Charge, –––– –––––––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– made clear that the PRC viewed recent provocative actions by the DPRK as having gone too far. He assured the Charge that Chinese officials had expressed Chinese displeasure to North Korean counterparts and had pressed the DPRK to return to the negotiation table. Unfortunately, –––– added, those protests had had “no effect.” “The only country that can make progress with the North Koreans is the United States,” he maintained. –––– said that, although China had assured North Korean leaders that the United States was ready to have bilateral talks with them, the North Koreans had insisted that any message from the United States to the DPRK should be delivered directly, not through China. –––– took this as further evidence that only by having direct talks with the United States would North Korea return to the Six-Party Talks.
China Likes a Package Approach ———————————————
3. (C) –––– told the Charge that China viewed favorably the USG proposal of putting all facets of a possible Korean Peninsula denuclearization agreement into one package. –––– characterized Chinese and U.S. core interests in a nuclear free Korean Peninsula as “shared.” He reminded his hosts that Punggye, the site of the DPRK nuclear test, was near the Chinese border and that any accident there could have had dire consequences for Northeast China. –––– insisted that China was as concerned as the United States about proliferation from North Korea. The only difference in the China and U.S. positions, –––– maintained, was “the United States was the key while China was only in a position to apply a little oil to the lock.”
Building Trust ———————
4. (C) –––– cautioned that building trust between the DPRK and the United States would be difficult. In North Korea’s view, –––– explained, the destruction of its nuclear capability was an irreversible step while decisions by the United States could be easily reversed. When CGs Donovan and Goldberg both pointed out that trust was a two-way street and that North Korea had not evinced a great deal of it, –––– was evasive. When pressed whether he believed the DPRK had been reprocessing highly enriched uranium (HEU), –––– said yes, adding that Chinese experts believed the enrichment was only in its initial phases and that any DPRK HEU program would not be “very useful.”
Domestic Concerns in North Korea Influence Talks ——————————————————————- —-
5. (C) –––– suggested that domestic politics in North Korea were in a large way responsible for Pyongyang’s recent actions. He was dismissive of DPRK justifications for the nuclear test as a response to the UN Security Council
BEIJING 00001634 002 OF 002
Presidential Statement critical of North Korea’s April 5 Taepo-Dong 2 launch. “Kim Jong-il was obviously planning the nuclear test at the same time as the missile launch so his justification for the test makes no sense,” –––– said. –––– opined that the rapid pace of provocative actions in North Korea was due to Kim Jong-il’s declining health and might be part of a gambit under which Kim Jong-il would escalate tensions with the United States so that his successor, presumably Kim Jong-un, could then step in and ease those tensions.
6. (C) –––– ––––, –––– –––– –––– –––– –––– –––––––– ––––, –––– –––– –––– ––––, told the Charge that he kept abreast of Western media reports about North Korea. –––– cautioned that U.S. experts should not assume North Korea would implode after Kim Jong-il’s death. He said that PRC analysts concluded that the regime would still function normally and discounted strongly any suggestion that the system would collapse once Kim Jong-il disappeared. ROK has no new ideas - Japan can only scuttle talks ——————————————————————- ———
7. (C) –––– said that ROK Six-Party Talks envoy Wi Sung-lac had met with VFM Wu Dawei on June 9 but had offered nothing new. “The South Koreans have plenty of ideas, but we’ve heard them all before,” he complained, adding that the ROK government was too close to the situation in North Korea to be objective. Turning to Japan, –––– said that Japan’s obsession with the abductee issue reminded him of a Chinese expression for an individual who was too weak to make something work, yet strong enough to destroy it.
Charge Dan Piccuta Joe Donovan, U.S. Consul General Hong Kong Robert Goldberg, Consul General Guangzhou Mark Lambert, Regional Unit Chief Jim Brown, interpreter
VZCZCXRO0731 OO RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC DE RUEHBJ #1634/01 1680645 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 170645Z JUN 09 FM AMEMBASSY BEIJING TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4582 INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC RHMFISS/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 001108 SIPDIS EO 12958 DECL: 04/29/2019 TAGS PREL, RU, UNSC, KNNP, KN SUBJECT: RUSSIAN SIX PARTY NEGOTIATOR URGES PATIENCE ON NORTHKOREA Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Alice G. Wells for Reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)
Russian Ambassador-at-Large for to the six-party talks, Grigoriy Logvinov, admits that Moscow has limited influence with the regime, as shown by a recent visit by its foreign minister. Key passage highlighted in yellow.
1. (C) Summary. Amidst escalating threats from Pyongyang in response to UN Security Council actions against its April 5 missile launch, Russian Ambassador-at-Large for Six-Party Talks Grigoriy Logvinov during an April 28 meeting urged the U.S. and the other Six-Party partners to remain patient. Reporting that Foreign Minister Lavrov had a difficult trip to North Korea that did not reveal any flexibility in DPRK’s position, he assessed that Pyongyang was hunkering down for a succession crisis, while seeking to use Yongbyon’s disablement reversal as a bargaining chip for further concessions in the Six-Party talks. Lamenting that no one had good ideas on how to pull North Korea back from its brinkmanship, Logvinov asked for additional consultations with the U.S., particularly on the time it would take for Pyongyang to reassemble its plutonium reprocessing capabilities. In Logvinov’s view, the Six-Party partners should use the intervening time to engage in quiet diplomacy to persuade North Korea to return to the negotiating table, though it is possible that we may have to wait until the succession crisis has passed before seeing a softening of North Korea’s position. End Summary.
A Rough Trip
2. (C) In an April 28 meeting, Ambassador-at-Large Grigoriy Logvinov characterized Foreign Minister Lavrov’s April 23-24 trip to Pyongyang as “rough.” Logvinov conveyed that the North Korean leadership was “very angry” and told Lavrov categorically that it was resolved to restart its nuclear program, would never participate in the Six-Party Talks again, and would not trust anything but nuclear deterrence as its security guarantee. In contrast to his 2004 trip, Lavrov did not get a meeting with KimJong-Il. Logvinov speculated that the reason could be due to either Kim’s poor health or North Korean displeasure at the GOR’s support for the UNSC Presidential Statement and sanctions.
3. (C) Indicating that FM Lavrov would be sending personal letters to his Six-Party counterparts regarding his trip, Logvinov urged the U.S. to show patience and not overreact to the latest developments. In his view, Pyongyang’s hard line position was either a negotiating tactic or an indication that a power transition was near, but in any case did not represent the final word on the denuclearization issue. Referring directly to Japan, Logvinov warned that if countries were to press for additional UNSC action, it would only provoke the DPRK into further brinkmanship and prove counterproductive.
Wait Out the Succession Crisis
4. (C) Elaborating on his assessment that a power transition was near, Logvinov hypothesized that Pyongyang was being particularly intransigent because it wanted to demonstrate strength to the outside world and mask the power struggle occurring internally. Recalling the political instability around the time of Stalin and Mao’s deaths, he indicated Moscow understood the possible fallout of a North Korean succession scenario because “we have seen this before.” While noting that Kim Jong-Il appeared to be functioning, if impaired, Logvinov speculated that as long as the “Dear Leader” was technically alive, he could remain the face of a charismatic leadership. Others, whether it’s his son or brother-in-law, could wield the power behind the scenes. Should Kim die, however, these people would have to emerge from the shadows and establish their own authority to rule, in which case the situation could become quite unstable. According to Logvinov, the GOR did not have a clear picture of the role the North Korean military would play in a succession crisis, nor did it know what importance to attach to the increased prominence of the military in the official press. Logvinov mused that a collective leadership arrangement might be a more stable option during a North Korean succession scenario.
5. (C) In Logvinov’s personal view, nothing was likely to induce North Korea to abandon its current course and return to the negotiating table until the succession crisis passed. The only thing the Six-Party partners could do in the meantime, he stressed, was to wait out the power transition
MOSCOW 00001108 002 OF 003
while preventing Pyongyang from further wrongdoing. The previous goals of completing a verification protocol and finishing Phase II as soon as possible were unachievable for the time being.
Or Wait Until DPRK Restarts Yongbyon
6. (C) Logvinov did not rule out the possibility that North Korea, in an attempt to “sell” its nuclear capabilities a third time, would seek negotiations once it reversed the disablement of the Yongbyon nuclear facilities. The GOR hoped that Pyongyang’s stated intention to restart plutonium reprocessing was a negotiating ploy, rather than a real determination to reopen its nuclear program. In Logvinov’s view, the DPRK’s dire economic situation was affecting the military programs despite the disproportionate share of resources poured into them. Derisively calling the missile the North Koreans tested “a piece of junk that miraculously flew,” he wondered if Pyongyang truly had the capability to restart reprocessing plutonium given Yongbyon’s dilapidated condition. Recalling the estimate by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it would take the North Koreans three to six months to reverse fully Yongbyon’s disablement, Logvinov asked for consultations with U.S. experts on a more definitive assessment of time frame, stating that the Six-Party partners should use the intervening period to engage in quiet diplomacy to pull Pyongyang back from brinkmanship.
7. (C) Should the North Koreans decide to seek negotiations after reversing disablement, Logvinov saw several complications ahead. First, Pyongyang would likely demand a higher price for resuming the Six-Party Talks, which in his view could include a light water reactor and the exclusion of Japan from the talks as punishment for Tokyo’s high profile role in pressing for UNSC action. Even the withdrawal of U.S. troops from SouthKorea and the dissolution of the U.S. alliances in Northeast Asia could be among the DPRK conditions. Second, the Six Party partners should not agree to be blackmailed that way, especially with regard to paying again for Yongbyon’s disablement, and would need to secure DPRK agreement to restart from where the process had left off. Third, Pyongyang’s disablement reversal would be a clear violation of UNSCR 1718. Whether the Security Council should take action would be an awkward question, as doing so could provide North Korea into further belligerent action. And lastly, North Korea’s blatant disregard of the principles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) posed challenges to efforts to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime as the international community prepared for next year’s NPT review conference.
No One Knows What to Do
8. (C) In Logvinov’s view, none of the Six-Party partners currently had good ideas on ways forward. He shared that during Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s just concluded April 26-27 visit to Moscow, the Russian and Chinese sides discussed North Korea in general without putting forward specific proposals. Lavrov and Yang reaffirmed their common positions on the need for patience and restraint, and agreed that the Six-Party Talks must continue. Similarly, the MFA had prepared briefing material on North Korea for Prime Minister Putin’s May 11 trip to Japan, but it too “contained nothing special.” One prerequisite for jump starting the negotiations again, in Logvinov’s view, was the Six-Party readiness to fulfill immediately the Phase II economic assistance obligations.
9. (C) Logvinov stressed the importance the MFA placed on consultations with the U.S. on North Korea, and in this regard expressed appreciation for Ambassador Sung Kim’s phone call last week that helped him to provide FM Lavrov a fuller brief for his Pyongyang trip. While welcoming a possible visit by Special Envoy Bosworth to Moscow in the next week, he asked that the U.S. come prepared with proposals or views on the next steps. “We shared our views in Seoul. Now we are ready to hear from our American friends,” he stated, referring to the March 7 initial meeting between Ambassador Bosworth and Deputy Foreign Minister Borodavkin in South Korea. He also expressed the view that should the Six-Party partners succeed in persuading North Korea to return to the talks, the U.S. should not continue to insist on completing a
MOSCOW 00001108 003 OF 003
verification protocol as it would be untimely given the changed circumstances. BEYRLE
Monday, 27 April 2009, 06:35 C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 000672 SIPDIS EO 12958 DECL: 04/27/2019 TAGS PGOV, KN, KS SUBJECT: MND: DPRK MILITARY RHETORIC AND NATIONAL DEFENSE COMMISSION CHANGES ARE ABOUT SUCCESSION Classified By: POL M/C Joseph Y. Yun. Reasons 1.4(b/d)
South Korean military officials tell the Americans that North Korea’s aggressive behaviour and its other policy steps must be set in the context of a potential succession struggle as Kim Jong-il’s grip on power weakens. Key passage highlighted in yellow.
1. (C) SUMMARY: The DPRK’s recent restaffing and expansion of the National Defense Commission (NDC) and its hostile military rhetoric over the last several months are related to the DPRK leadership’s “top priority” need to stabilize the DPRK internally in preparation for succession, according to Colonel Lee Sang-chul, Ministry of National Defense NorthKorea Policy Division Director and lead ROKG representative to Colonel-level military-to-military talks in October 2008. A second priority was to achieve improved relations with the UnitedStates, which the DPRK regards as its only potential security guarantor, ironically. END SUMMARY.
Military Statements and the NDC
2. (C) In an April 23 meeting, Lee told Poloff that the Korean People’s Army’s (KPA) spate of high-level announcements over the past several months (such as the March 8 KPA Supreme Command report, the first in 15 years, and the four KPA General Staff statements since January, not seen since 1999) should not be misinterpreted as the DPRK military asserting control over the country, because the military could act only in concert with the Worker’s Party and the Cabinet. Instead the “generals appearing on TV” was a phenomenon directed at DPRK citizens with two goals: to show that the DPRK’s hostile external situation meant citizens had to pull together, and as a “power display” to send a law-and-order message to counter the increasing economic disorder resulting from decades of economic “depression.” There was dissatisfaction among some elite groups in the DPRK, who knew of economic reform in China and Vietnam and wondered why the DPRK had instead deteriorated. To tamp down this internal dissent, external tension was needed. The ROKG was not particularly worried about the specific threats to the South contained in the statements because they saw the statements as targeted at the domestic audience, and in any case knew the DPRK would try to achieve surprise if it were to resort to military action, rather than giving warning.
3. (C) The key factor in the background was 67-year-old KimJong-il’s (KJI) waning health. After KJI’s August 2008 stroke, the DPRK was a “different environment that needed stronger leadership.” Lee said that before the stroke, KJI was confident that he could rule for years, but afterward he suffered “physical and psychological trauma.” KJI had become obsessed with creating political stability to allow an orderly succession, though Lee did not claim to know who was next in line. Immediately after the April 5 missile launch the Supreme People’s Assembly had declared the beginning of KJI’s third ruling period. But rather than celebrating the renewal of his mandate, KJI was concentrating on changes that would pave the way for succession.
4. (C) The most important of these was the enlargement (from 8 to 13 members) and strengthening of the KJI-chaired National Defense Commission (NDC). The NDC was first established in 1998 with a largely symbolic role, but had since taken on policy and coordination functions. Now it had the lead on succession, Lee believed. KJI brother-in-law Chang Song-taek’s addition to the NDC was important for succession preparation, not only because he was married to KJI’s only sibling and close confidante 63-year-old Kim Kyong-hui, but also because Chang was seen as having effectively protected and acted for KJI during KJI’s fall 2008 recovery period.
5. (C) Another key change was the replacement of National Defense Commission Deputy Chairman Kim Yong-chun with Oh Kuk-ryul, a 78-year old Kim-family loyalist (in relative terms, since all senior officials are loyalists) who Lee thought was consolidating various ROK-surveillance and special operations institutions under his control at NDC. One of these was the Worker’s Party’s Operations Department, which Oh has headed since 1989. (Lee also referred to an April 21 JoongAng Ilbo newspaper article claiming that “Office 35,” charged with intel collection, and the “External Liaison Office,” charged with training agents, had both been moved from the Operations Department to NDC/KPA control, saying that ROK intel sources did not think there was
evidence of such a move.) The Operations Department, which formulates actions against the South, was “passive” during the 1999-2007 Sunshine Policy period, but was now becoming more active again. In other words, Oh’s job was to keep the South off balance and make sure that it did not disrupt the succession period. Lee said he believed that changes to the DPRK constitution, announced but not yet explained, would also focus on succession-related issues. He alluded to frequent DPRK propaganda aiming for the establishment of a “strong and prosperous” nation by 2012, saying that DPRK authorities believed they had already succeeded ideologically and militarily, so they were concentrating on the economic side, which is where the Kaesong Industrial Complex fit in.
6. (C) The DPRK’s determination to maintain internal order meant that it could go so far as to engage in “limited armed conflict” with the ROK. At the same time, the DPRK was well aware that ROK forces were ready for any provocation and would respond with superior force. In addition, the DPRK knew that combined ROK-U.S. surveillance capabilities would prevent it from achieving surprise, so Lee was reassured that no direct military provocation was imminent.
Relations with the U.S.
7. (C) Asked what the ROKG’s policy options were, given the above situation, Lee answered indirectly, saying that the main question was U.S.-DPRK relations. Second only to maintaining internal stability to allow for succession was the DPRK’s determination to improve relations with the U.S., because only the U.S. could solve both the DPRK’s security and economic problems. Lee said this push for improved relations was ironic, given DPRK rhetoric attacking the U.S. as a menace, but was nevertheless high on DPRK authorities’ agenda. Lee said the DPRK saw the 1999-2000 rapprochement with the Clinton Administration as the first, failed, chance for peace with the U.S.; that the Bush (43) Administration had turned to negotiations too late for substantial progress; and that the Obama Administration amounted to a “second chance.” The DPRK craved a dialogue with the U.S., aiming for a “big deal,” but first needed to raise tensions to create the need for dialogue.
8. (C) The scope for inter-Korean relations depended on what happened with U.S.-DPRK relations. Lee was convinced that the DPRK would keep tension high towards the South, while seeking an opening with the U.S. Therefore, his recommendation to ROK policymakers was to stay on an even keel to keep the South-North situation from deteriorating further. The DPRK’s April 21 proposal for dialogue about land-use and wages at the Kaesong Industrial Complex was potentially helpful in that regard, but had to be approached carefully, because the DPRK would try to seize the initiative and lock-in economic benefits without offering reciprocal steps. Like other ROKG officials, Lee emphasized the need for continued close U.S.-ROK coordination on all issues related to North Korea.
9. (C) Lee cautioned that China would seek to prevent U.S.-DPRK relations from improving too much, adding with a smile that had it not been for its attitude toward the U.S., China would have moved to prevent the October 2006 DPRK nuclear weapon test.
10. (C) As an aside, Lee commented on the July 2008 shooting death of a South Korean tourist at Mt. Kumgang. He said that KPA soldiers and sentries in the area, after frequent contact with South Korean tourists, had a tendency to be too relaxed, so KPA officers periodically conducted exercises to tighten discipline. The shooting had occurred during one of those exercise periods. STEPHENS
In addition to the national print media, Kim Jong-Il has launched his more personal newsletter on the nation’s intranet. Unsurprisingly, what the newsletter omits illuminates the precariousness of his power. For example, Kim writes that he has recently awarded his highest honors to those who are propelling the nation’s prosperity; Beijing reports that these once sacred gold coins with Kim’s likeness have surfaced in Chinese black markets. Additionally, XXXXXXX XX reports that South Korean dramas and foreign-made pornography are seeping through the borders.
1. Kim’s online newsletter, “DISPATCHES FROM THE HEART OF THE NATION” is published on a bimonthly basis. The impetus for this is unknown. It seems that Kim is capitalizing on the new media. Now people can read less formal exhortations at their leisure in addition to radio blasts and the state newspaper. The intranet page is read widely at universities, where computers are more common. The newsletter is written in the first person, and Kim contemplates the (revised) history of the DPRK, current celebrations and mass games. It is obvious that Kim hopes to douse any seeds of discontent with his charming rhetoric. In the most recent edition, he reports awarding his highest honor to three party members who are doing their best in propelling the nation toward 2012. These awards consist of solid gold coins which feature his portrait. Kim does not award them frequently. In the past, these coins were valued beyond life. No one would ever consider selling one. XXXXXXXXX XX reports from Beijing that these coins were surfacing in Beijing and Shanghai markets. XXXXXXXXX XXbelieves that this hints that the elite must be more cash and food starved than ever. One coin can fetch up to $500 USD in China. Kim’s article hints that he is aware of the resale of his rewards.
2. Chinese are profiting from North Korean’s lust for South Korean goods. Japanese, Chinese, and South Korean pornography is now so common that it’s given away freely with purchases of dramas. Alarmingly, it seems that Kim is profiting financially, by releasing his own pornographic collection to dealers in China. His agents are charging licensing fees and physically punishing vendors who do not comply. In return for fees, agents look the other way at vendor’s South Korean drama stock.
The presence of such regulation from the DPRK is straining ties with China. They neglect border areas in order to profit from trade and cheap labor, but they did not anticipate such violent codes of conduct from North Koreans, let alone agents sent by Kim. If China confronted the DPRK about the border situation, a cycle of anger and denial will begin, and so the Chinese remain torpid.