Saturday, March 27, 2004

DPRK TO US: CIVD? NO! (NYT: free subscription required)
North Korea on Saturday explicitly rejected the formula the United States has put forward as its bottom-line position in talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programs, raising doubts about whether the fitful negotiations are making even limited progress.

The statement carried by Radio Pyongyang and monitored by news agencies in South Korea came just after a visit to North Korea by China's foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, and shortly before a visit to the region by Vice President Dick Cheney that is planned for April. It used typically unrestrained language in accusing the United States of secretly planning a war.
The DPRK went on to reject each individual aspect of CVID:
"Complete nuclear dismantling is a plot to overthrow the North's socialist system after stripping it of its nuclear deterrent," it said.

"Verifiable nuclear dismantling, reflects a U.S. intention to spy on our military capabilities before starting a war," it also said.

" `Irreversible nuclear dismantling' is nothing other than a noose to stifle us after eradicating our peaceful nuclear-energy industry," it added.
So now what? Probably nothing, at least until the U.S. Presidential election happens.

COMMENTS ENABLED. At least for now. The usual ground rules apply: let's keep things civil, pleasant, and inoffensive.

KIMCHI POLITICS. Budaechigae has an interesting post revealing how kimchi became an issue of some import in ROK-U.S. relations during the Vietnam War.
In the privacy of the Oval Office, Prime Minister Chung soberly informed the Leader of the Free World that the South Korean soldiers who had been dispatched by President Park Chung Hee to help his American ally fight the Vietnam War were miserable because they had been cut off from their beloved kimchi. The prime minister said he had been asked by President Park to bring this very serious morale problem to Johnson’s personal attention. Chung stressed that the kimchi issue was “vitally important.”
Of course today's ROK soldiers in Iraq don't have to worry about their kimchi supply but rather about whether there will be enough PS2 games to go around
As South Korea prepares to send 3,000 peacekeeping troops to aid in the reconstruction of postwar Iraq (adding to an existing commitment of 400 medics, engineers, and other noncombatants), they'll be accompanied by 62 PS2s and an assortment of games, including Tekken 4, Soul Calibur II, Winning Eleven, and SOCOM.

Friday, March 26, 2004

DEALING WITH A DEAD HORSE. Given that it is Friday, I thought I'd pass along some advice from a colleage concerning how to deal with a dead horse.
The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that, "When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount."

However, in government, education, and in corporate America, more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:

1. Buying a stronger whip.

2. Changing riders.

3. Appointing a committee to study the horse.

4. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride

5. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.

6. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.

7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

9. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase dead horse's

10. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the
dead horse's performance.

11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less
costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more
to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.

12. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

13. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.
Any other ideas?

PICTURES OF KOREA over at I like the close-up of the shrine dedicated to Yi Sun-sin. And, as usual, Korea Life Blog has plenty more pictures: of the joys of kalbi, of the Korean War Museum, and a link to a nice Korea photo contest.

MORE JOHN PAUL CUPP. Rebecca MacKinnon of NKzone has picked up on the John Paul Cupp phenomenon, and generated so much traffic that she may have temporarily crashed the geocities site that hosts the Songun Policy Study Group's homepage. The exact location of the SPSG remains something of a mystery, but one eagle-eyed reader may have found a photograph of the impassioned poet/activist/admirer of the DPRK.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

NOAM CHOMSKY HAS A BLOG. Conrad of Gweilo Diaries doesn't care for it.

THE SONGUN POLICY STUDY GROUP. Browsing through the KCNA, I noticed a reference to one John Paul Cupp who is, apparently, Chairman the Songun Politics Study Group(USA). Not only that, he is a poet. Here's one of his latest:
A Poem for Comrade Kim Jong Il

Supreme Commander of the People's Army,
Red, the color of Blood.
Like Lenin did so long ago,
You lead the people free.

The gun before the hammer and sickle shall conquer tyranny.
Single-hearted unity.
Death defying pride
Your Father was a liberator of mankind
You are the greatest threat to our enemy,
your example to hold dear.

Dear Leader, just a simple man,
but a genius just the same.
Sun of Songun Marshal
Mt. Baekdu, your home.
Should a fascist clique,
try any aggressive tricks
We'll help you break their bones.
Robert Frost, eat your heart out.

HE SAID, HE SAID. South Korean and American figures offer differing opinions on whether the DPRK will participate in the next round of six-party talks:
Agence France-Presse ("NKOREA WILLING TO STAY IN SIX-WAY NUCLEAR TALKS: SKOREAN FM," 03/24/04) reported that the DPRK is willing to stay in six-nation talks aimed at resolving a standoff over its nuclear weapons drive despite its cancellation of inter-Korean meetings, Seoul's foreign minister said. Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon said Pyongyang has hinted it would take part in working groups to be set up as an agreed follow-up to the second round of talks held last month. New talks are planned for summer. "I don't think North Korea will boycott the six-way talks," Ban told a weekly briefing. "North Korea has reaffirmed what was agreed during the second round of six-way talks and has hinted it would participate in the working groups during consultations through diplomatic channels," Ban said.

The Associated Press ("N KOREA MAY SKIP NEXT ROUND OF NUCLEAR TALKS," Hong Kong, 03/24/04) reported that the DPRK may skip the next round of international negotiations on its nuclear program due to the possibility that a new US administration - which could go easier on the DPRK- may win the November presidential election, an expert said Wednesday. "For the North Koreans, whether or not they actually show up for the next round of six-party talks is in doubt," former US State Department official Charles Pritchard said at a banking conference in Hong Kong. "What are they going to do there? Now, is anybody going to strike a deal?" said Pritchard, who visited the DPRK's secretive Yongbyon nuclear site on Jan. 8 as part of an unofficial US delegation. Pritchard said it is unlikely the administration of US President George W. Bush will offer a deal before the November 2 presidential election. But he said Bush's opponent, US Senator John Kerry, would likely start a direct dialogue with the DPRK if he wins. Pritchard expressed fears that the current US leadership may abandon talks and take a
more confrontational approach. "There is no telling where that would go," he said.

I probably lean more toward Pritchard's prediction at least to the extent that a breakthrough or a deal before November 2 is rather unlikely.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

EXTRA: PARK KEUN-HYE IS PARK CHUNG HEE'S DAUGHTER!!! This is news? According to the Uri Party it is:
On Park Geun-hye's first day on the job Wednesday, major Uri Party officials fired a full broadside at the new Grand National Party chairperson, calling her "the daughter of President Park Chung-hee, a military coup leader and key figure behind the Yushin Constitution" and "the daughter of a pro-Japanese lieutenant in Imperial Japan's Kwantung Army."
I think most Koreans have figured that out already.

The South Korean economy expanded by 2.7 percent in the fourth quarter, its fastest pace in almost two years, as exports remained strong, the central bank said on Tuesday. The report spurred hopes that the economy, which has been hindered by slow consumer spending, was finally on the mend.
Political troubles, widespread credit card debt, and global economic changes (rising oil prices etc.) all threaten this still fragile recovery. The ROK government is taking measures designed deal with some of these problems and to stimulate consumer spending:
To stimulate consumer spending, the government has taken various steps, ranging from bailing out credit card defaulters to creating jobs.

South Korea also said it would cut taxes on automobiles and household appliances until the end of this year, reducing the price of a midsize car by around $250.

Early this year, the government said it would start a "bad bank'' to help credit card delinquents. Defaulters who make a payment of 3 percent of their debt balance will be allowed to repay the remaining debt over eight years.

South Korea has also embarked on a drive to create more jobs. The government is pushing for laws that would allow companies a tax break of around $1,000 for every person they hire over the next three years.
. Would a $250 discount on a car make the average consumer more likely to buy one?


Japan's economic sanctions will not work on the DPRK. Ever since the very day of its birth the DPRK has been subject to ceaseless economic sanctions of the enemy for over half a century. That is why their clamour for economic sanctions is nothing new to us and it does not sound as a threat to us, either.

Our economic might and potential have grown stronger despite economic sanctions for scores of years. We regard self-reliance as our maxim and an iron rule in our life and are accustomed to relying on our own strength. Our economy remains unshakable and unchangeable even in face of others' sanctions against it.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, who arrived Tuesday, is the first foreign minister from Beijing to visit the North in five years. The visit is seen as bolstering the push for a third round of six-nation talks on the North's nuclear programs, as efforts to organize working level groups hang in limbo.

As Pyongyang's last major ally, China has taken on the role of host and coordinator of the meetings.
Was anything accomplished? Hard to tell from the AP report. Of course the diplomats emphasized the significance of the trip in typical empty diplomatese:
Before Li departed for Pyongyang, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Kong Quan described the trip as a "very important contact between our two sides."
And it is always reassuring to know that the really important stuff was taken care of:
Li's delegation toured a Pyongyang street market, laid flowers at a statue of national founder Kim Il Sung and met various North Korean dignitaries in a "warm atmosphere," according to the North Korea's official KCNA news agency.
I don't know that a tour of a street market was standard foreign visitor fare all that long ago. The Reuters report on the visit reads more of the KCNA and has a little detail to add:
KCNA also said China's top diplomat and his delegation also visited a market on Pyongyang's Thongil street.

North Korea has recently allowed trade in goods at market prices in a departure from rigid communist central planning that analysts say could herald broader economic reforms following the pattern that China pioneered in the 1980s.

"Being briefed on the management of the market, they went round the market with keen interest," KCNA said. "After inspection the foreign minister said he had deep impressions of the well-furnished market."
"Deep impressions?" Perhaps along the lines of "this looks like Sichuan circa 1981."

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

AN ENTERPRISING GIRL SCOUT (AND HER MOTHER) set up shop on a sidewalk on campus today. Between them, they had a four-foot-high stack of boxes of Girl Scout Cookies which were selling like the proverbial hotcakes. Naturally I couldn't resist and bought a box of the tried and true Thin Mints which I shared with my evening class. According to the mother, the duo had sold hundreds of boxes of cookies that day. I walked away from the encounter thinking something along the lines of "How cool is that? A Girl Scout raises a lot of money for her troop and gets to spend time with her mother. Hundreds of college students, faculty, and other passers-by get a box of tasty cookies and even while they could get similar cookies at Wal-Mart for far cheaper, they feel good about their purchase."

Later, it somehow occurred to me that somewhere in this big world there must be someone who can find something wrong with this picture. So I did a Google search for "Girl Scout Cookies." Lo and behold, among the expected paeans to Thin Mints and Carmel Delites was a site calling for a boycott of Girl Scout Cookies because "The leaders of the Girl Scouts of America, are actively supporting and teaching homosexuality." Another site proclaims "I Hate Girl Scout Cookies" I guess because the fact that many Girl Scouts now sell their cookies in front of grocery stores (or on college campus sidewalks) rather than going door to door is a sign that America is going to hell in a handbasket. At least Girl Scout Cookies aren't sold the way mutual funds are.

Not all is gloom and doom. "Kat," who is from Japan but now lives in the U.S., had this to say about the cookie selling phenomenon
Before I came to the U.S., I had never heard about Girl Scout Cookies. The first time a small girl come to my house and tried to sell cookies to me, she looked afraid of something. I thought it was a kind of soliciting, or much worse it looked a child abuse.

This year, my 7-year-old daughter joined a troop of Girl Scout, and she asked me to come with her when selling cookies to neighbors. Then, about a month ago we went to our first tour of selling cookies. At the porch of the first house, my daughter looked afraid of something new, and her voice was very small because this is the first time for her to sell something to unknown people. I was worried if she could do it by herself.

But after we visited some families, I found the Girl Scout Cookies selling is one of a good part of American culture. Most of the neighbors welcomed my daughter and gave her big smiles with purchasing. I believe she got a great experience through cookie selling, because now she knows the hardness and the joy of working at some degree.

Sounds about right to me.

But it may not last (according to the New York Times)
Girl Scout cookies are big business in the United States. Last year, more than 200 million boxes were sold, netting about $400 million. But by any business standard, the sales and distribution model for Girl Scout cookies seems wildly inefficient.

The Girl Scouts are divided into 315 regional councils. Every year, each council sets its own schedule and pricing and selling policies, and even the names of the cookies can vary. In Cincinnati this year, cookies were $2.50 a box, in Tucson, $4 a box, in New York City, $3.50. Girl Scouts have about a month to take orders, traditionally by selling door to door and in booths at local civic events.

"But it's getting harder to sell," said Ms. Super, who was a Girl Scout. "Girls can't go door to door without an adult these days. Our local Wawa stores said that they couldn't let the girls set up their booth anymore, because of liability issues. And the schools are already sending the kids out selling all the time."

So what to conclude? Some people can find something to complain about in any circumstance. But life's too short for that. Buy and enjoy some cookies before they're gone for good.

YESTERDAY: TARGET OF BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS. TODAY: LEADER OF THE GNP. The Marmot follows the latest twist in the strange career of Park Keun-hye. I met Park once several years ago. She seemed a cordial if a bit distant relic of South Korea's difficult and checkered past. Who knew that she would be a presidential candidate (until overshadowed by Chung Mong-jun) and major party leader?

UNREPRESENTATIVE (?) ANECDOTE OF THE DAY. Today I asked a class of 70+ university students whether any of them had changed their mind as to which presidential candidate they preferred. Two hands were raised. One student said that he has become disgruntled with both Bush and Kerry and now plans to vote for a third-party candidate (presumably Nader?) the other said he was a Republican and future Marine but plans to vote for Kerry because Kerry was a veteran and knows the pain of combat and seeing friends die in war. He felt more comfortable with the idea of being ordered by Kerry to go to war than of being ordered by Bush.

I think the second student has a point. The whole Bush was AWOL story is, perhaps, a bit overblown and the difficulties and perils of training to be a fighter pilot are greater than many in the media will give Bush credit for. However, at the end of the day, Kerry actually saw combat, actually fired shots, actually had friends and comrades die. Can anyone dispute that Kerry might have more legitimacy ordering soldiers to battle in the future?

Whether his opinions are representative or not is, of course, a different matter. If they are, I suspect that Bush will have more trouble in the upcoming election than many of his supporters expect. On the other hand, the bigger lesson from this excercise is the fact that only two out of 70+ have had their opinions changed in today's atmosphere of mud-slinging about trivial matters. For most, the die has already been cast (at least for now).

Monday, March 22, 2004

KOREA'S CHINA PLAY. An interesting Business Week article that makes a compelling argument for the fact that how South Korea manages it relations--particularly economic--with China may be the most important issue in the ROK's long-term future:
But if every Korean could spend a few minutes on LG Road in Nanjing, they would see instantly what the No. 1 issue for Korea is: China. How to profit from it. How to grow with it. And above all, how to survive with it. In the shadow of China, the political drama in Korea looks like dangerous self-indulgence. Korea's political class should be preparing South Korea for what's shaping up to be both the biggest opportunity and the biggest threat to the country's economy since the Korean War. Even the Asian financial crisis, severe as it was, may prove to have less of an impact on Korea's future than China will have.
Why? Some of the figures speak for themselves:
Last year, South Korean businesses invested more in China -- $4.4 billion -- than U.S. companies, who poured in $4.2 billion. China last year overtook the U.S. as the top destination for Korean exports. This year, the gap will widen, as exports to China jump 35%, to $47.5 billion, compared with a 7% rise, to $36.7 billion, in exports to the U.S. Korea, in fact, would have sunk into recession last year if it weren't for its Chinese trade, which accelerated 50% in 2003.
This has been good for the big corporations but not so good for Korean workers, who sound themes very similar to those we have heard in the Democratic Presidential primary race in the U.S.:
So far, the benefits have largely flowed to Korean corporations, not their workers. And Korea's labor laws and union contracts may not be flexible enough to adapt to the changes. Since 1992, 770,000 manufacturing positions have disappeared from Korea. In the same period, Korean companies have created well over 1 million jobs in China. "A reckless corporate exodus has accelerated since last year," says Lee Jung Sik, a senior director at the Federation of Korean Trade Unions, whose membership has fallen by 110,000, to 890,000, in the past six years.
But more troubling is the fact that China is rapidly catching up in the technologies which constitute Korea's comparative advantage:
An early warning sign: Korea's National Science & Technology Council in December reported that Korea is only 1.7 years ahead of China in the sophistication of its technology, and that the gap could shrink to zero within five years. In the crucial cell-phone market, Korean companies today only have a two-year lead over their Chinese rivals in terms of new products and technologies. By 2007, Chinese companies will have caught up, Korea's Commerce Ministry says.
And then there's this critique of the ROK economy:
If Korea had a flexible economy like the U.S. that generated jobs as fast as it lost them, China would not pose as much of a threat. But Korea built its postwar model on one big idea -- to use local cheap labor to undersell the Japanese in the world markets for manufactured goods. Since the Asian financial crisis, that model has changed somewhat, with foreign companies taking over some Korean factories and banks and companies like Samsung competing more on innovation and quality than price.

But Korea still has a long way to go before it's a flexible, job-generating, fully modern economy.

Of course China has political and strucutral economic problems of its own. Its ascent to regional or global primacy is far from given. But Koreans would do well to pay close attention to the challenges posed by closer economic ties with China.

UPDATE: Some good comments on the article at the Rathbone Press.

SIGN SEEN AT AN "ANTI-WAR" RALLY HELD THIS LAST WEEKEND. I don't get it (neither, apparently, does Lileks).

THE DEAD HAND OF HISTORY: The Kerry Campaign has frequently mentioned the fact that the economy under the Bush Administration has been the worst since Herbert Hoover. There's a problem to this characterization though, as Oscar Chamberlain explains:
An article on the CBS news website finds that John Kerry’s attempts to link G.W. Bush with Herbert Hoover are floundering because most people don’t know who Hoover was. Likewise, the Bush campaigning is discovering that for most people “Hanoi Jane” Fonda is just another semi-retired actress; so unless they can prove an affair, their attempts to link her with Kerry will also come up lame.

I suppose this is another example of American historical amnesia, and thus a Bad Thing. On the bright side, think of it this way. Neither of these comparisons is useful in understanding the candidates, their actions, or their ability to lead. So we can be pleased that the misuse of history has been defeated by the ignorance of history.
One doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry.

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