The Land Where Mubarak Still Rules – Information analysts from South Korea’s Unification Ministry, whose job is monitoring North Korean broadcasts – in other words, watching hours and hours of North Korean TV every day, all day – reported that there is no mention in North Korean news about the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or the revolts sweeping the Middle East.
“It’s really rather eerie,” said one analyst. “News broadcasts from North Korea treat Mubarak as though he was still in power. By now, everyone in North Korea has to have heard something, even garbled rumors, and know it isn’t true.”
When North Korea celebrated Kim Jong Il’s 69th birthday the other week, among the supposed “world wide” congratulations read to him were those from ex-President Mubarak, long since kicked out of office and sequestered in a Red Sea resort awaiting his fate.
And Yet, No More News – The events in Libya have given the North Korean authorities a special case of the jitters. In Libya, North Korea had a number of nurses and construction workers pulled out soon after the revolt began and returned to North Korea.
“As soon as our workers began arriving back from Libya the government started cutting phone lines,” said a college student who identified himself as Hyeong to Radio Free Asia. “All telephone landlines and cell phones in North Korea were cut off except for those of cadres.”
The Daily NK, run by opponents of the North Korean government based in South Korea, claimed that wasn’t correct. Landlines were cut in some areas and not others and cell phone services seemed to be operating sporadically in some areas, but not others.
According to Japan’s Kyodo news agency, “North Koreans stopped renting cell phones to foreigners and are banning foreign visitors, even diplomats, from bringing their own in with them.”
In 2008, North Korea started renting cell phones to foreigners that could make overseas calls, but could not connect to the handsets of domestic users. In this Alice in Wonderland situation, a foreigner could be standing right across the street from a North Korean and unable to call him, but able to ring up the Matterhorn in Switzerland and ask how the weather was on top of Europe’s highest peak. Now even that much has been stopped.
To South Korea – The failure of the North Korean regime to breath a word about the troubles in the Middle East seemed like a golden opportunity. Since the Middle East troubles started South Korea has been regularly launching thousands of balloons northward with news of the revolt and attacking Kim Jong Il’s regime. They carry American dollars as an incentive to pick up the leaflets. North Koreans need a strong incentive.
According to the Chosun Ilbo, one of South Korea’s leading newspapers, “At the end of January, two North Koreans were publicly executed in Sariwan, near Pyongyang, before a crowd of 500 villagers after being caught with leaflets.”
Cyber attacks were launched – probably in retaliation by North Korea – yesterday and today against major South Korean targets. According to the New York Times, the websites of the Blue House (the residence of the South Korean President), the Foreign Ministry, South Korea’s two largest search engines, auction sites and even some US and Korean military sites came under a denial of service and virus attacks.
“We saw them off without too much problem,” said Internet security officials in South Korea. “The Internet services were not interrupted.” However, the English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese websites of NK Daily, one of the strongest voices of opposition to North Korea’s government, are currently still down due to cyber attacks.
Foot- and- Mouth Disease: The Worst Pan Asian Epidemic Ever? – Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture was hit by a large scale outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, which was quickly dwarfed by a catastrophic outbreak soon after in South Korea, resulting in the destruction of more than 3 million animals. The North Korean news agency has recently reported that 10,000 animals have been infected with FMD, causing the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to urgently dispatch five experts to North Korea to assess the impact.
Speaking to Radio Free Asia, Stephen Haggard, a North Korea expert at the Washington DC based Peterson Institute for International Economics noted, “the impact of the disease will not be limited (solely) to the direct effects on North Korea’s precarious food supplies.”
There are only enough tractors in North Korea to till about half of the farm land. “The rest has to be plowed by oxen,” pointed out Taejin Kwon, an agronomist at South Korea’s Rural Economics Institute, “If foot-and-mouth disease is not contained, even if they till the land later using tractors, if you can’t till the land at the proper time, (severe) damage will be done.”
As well as a major short fall in crops, the grim possibility arises that because of foot-and-mouth disease the oxen necessary for tilling will not be available, making the short fall of food supplies even worse. Nor can North Korea rely on its neighbors. China’s North East, the area closest to North Korea, is facing a major drought with some experts predicting the loss of as much as 40% of its crops. In addition, outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease have been reported across China, Mongolia, Eastern Russia, South Korea, Japan and even as far afield as parts of Southeast Asia.
“The current foot-and-mouth dynamics in eastern Asia as well as the magnitude of the outbreaks in South Korea are unlike anything we’ve seen for at least half a century,” said FAO Chief Veterinarian Officer Juan Lubroth at the end of January.
US Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack told AP recently that he expects US agricultural exports to have its “best year ever” in 2011, and projected export value to grown by 25%. It’s clear that China and South Korea will have little trouble making up their own shortfalls. As for North Korea, once again the world will be faced with the dilemma of whether to feed the starving children of the man who is doing his best to murder you and your family or not.