PN's Voice 13

Peace Network Korea
PN's Voice 13, 30-09-2014
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PN's Voice 13
Small steps, Road to peace

N. Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un in Ill Health

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s prolonged absence from making public appearances has lead North Korean media to make a rare admission that their leader is unwell. Having not been seen in public since September 3rd and after missing a parliament meeting on Thursday, the state controlled media obviously felt the need to explain his absence. Chosun Central TV announced that Kim was in a state of “discomfort”, but hailed his leadership despite his poorly condition; “our marshal, who lights the path of leadership for the people like a flame, although he was not feeling well.”

Kim’s health issues have been under the spotlight since video footage from last June showed him walking with a pronounced limp. Concerns over the leader’s health were further exacerbated by the considerable amount of weight Kim has gained since coming to power and the history of poor health that runs in his family. His father, Kim Jong-Il, was known to be in poor health for some time before he died of a heart attack at the age of 69, whilst his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, suffered from gout. Various reports suggest that Kim Jong-Un too may be suffering from gout, as well as other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Attempts to analyze the North’s unusual decision to publically announce the leader’s ill health vary from speculation that the North Korean regime simply “feels secure enough to make his health problems public”, to suggestions that it is “most likely a measure by the authorities to prevent the spread of groundless rumors.” Another theory on this issue comes from Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Waseda University in Japan, who proposes that Kim Jong-Un’s extended absence may be due to the “ongoing power struggle inside the North Korean military, which means that the situation in Pyongyang is still unstable.” Following the rise in power of Kim’s uncle, Jang Seong-Taek, who Kim had executed last year, the young North Korean leader has been keen to avoid giving too much power and responsibility to one party to avoid any challenges towards his leadership.
Source : The Diplomat, Reuters, Daily NK


Setback in Japanese-North Korean Abductee Talks

Japanese-North Korean relations have shown positive signs of improvement since the North’s agreement in May to investigate the issues of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korean agents during the 1970s and 1980s. In return, Japan has lifted some of its sanctions against North Korea that were imposed due to Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear tests. However, those progressive signs towards a normalizing of relations between the two countries may have been dealt a blow over Pyongyang’s refusal to stick to the agreed timeline over the release of the preliminary findings of the investigation.

While the initial deadline outlined by Japan, and agreed to by North Korea, was late-September, Pyongyang has announced that talks due to take place this Monday, will not be to hand over the initial findings of the investigation. The North's chief delegate, Song Il-ho, illustrated the North’s position upon his arrival at Shenyang airport in China, where the talks will take place, by describing the Monday meeting as: “not the place where we notify (Japan) of our initial results of investigation, but a place where both sides exchange updates on the situation since the agreement."
North Korea’s initial agreement to launch an investigation into the fate of the abductees was seen as a major breakthrough for North Korean-Japanese relations, as this abduction issue has long been a key stumbling block to normalizing their relations. However, the failure to stick to the agreed timeline will no doubt disappoint Tokyo and how Japan responds to this setback remains to be seen.
Source : The Korean Herald, Yonhap News


President Park Addresses the UN General Assembly

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye was in New York last week to address the UN General Assembly. During her 15 minute speech President Park spoke of unification with North Korea and eluded the importance of resolving the historical issue of comfort women.

President Park outlined her vision of a unified Korea playing an important role in the region by claiming that a unified Korea could play a similar role to that of reunified Germany, which she described as “the bedrock of modern Europe”: "Unification on the peninsula will be the beginning of a nuclear weapons-free world and a fundamental solution to human rights abuses, resulting in a peaceful and cooperative Northeast Asia."

President Park added that it seems "abnormal" for the two Koreas, which have a shared language, culture and history, to occupy two different seats at the UN and to have so many families divided. In addition to paying lip service to the tragedy of being a divided nation, Park appealed to the international community to focus on, and provide assistance with, the problematic issues of North Korean nuclear weapons and poor human rights record:

“Unification of the Korean peninsula is the starting point for a world that is free of nuclear weapons and a fundamental solution to human rights issues…North Korea and the international community must carry out the measures that are necessary for implementing the recommendations made in the Commission of Inquiry report about North Korean human rights that was adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014…relevant UN agencies and countries must provide the support that is necessary to allow North Korean refugees choose their destination of their own free will.”

Park also, indirectly, condemned Japan for its use of so-called ‘comfort women’ during World War II, describing sexual violence against women during war is "inhumane" and a “violation of human rights and humanitarian principles.” While Park avoided directly mentioned Japan by name, the fact that she referred to Japan’s embarrassing history in front of the leaders of various countries gathered for an international event is likely to upset Japan and provoke a response of some sort. The lack of precedent for Park’s comment (no previous South Korean president has brought up the comfort women issue in a keynote address before the United Nations) means it’s hard to judge just what the response from Japan will be or how this will affect Japan-South Korea ties, which had been showing recent signs of thawing.
Source : Hankyoreh, Hankyoreh,Chosun Ilbo


NK Foreign Minister Also Present at UN General Assembly

Like South Korea’s President, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Su-Yong was also in attendance at the UN General Assembly. During Ri’s speech he reiterated that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program is not a "bargaining chip to be exchanged for something else" but a vital part of their national defense. He went on to declare that the nuclear issues would be resolved with the “termination of the United States’ hostile polices against the DPRK.” The US threat towards North Korea made up a large portion of Ri’s speech at the General Assembly as he condemned joint large-scale military exercises between the US and South Korea, which according to him are in preparation for “occupying the capital city of Pyongyang.”

Attending and speaking at the UN General Assembly is just the latest stop on what has been an extremely hectic schedule of late for Ri who has gone all over Asia aiming to curry diplomatic favor with neighbors, as relations with the North’s traditional ally, China, have cooled. Ri’s appearance at the UN General Assembly, the first by a North Korean foreign minister in 15 years, allowed him to deliver a handwritten letter from leader Kim Jong-Un to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

The UN Secretary General’s office announced that Ban “thanked the foreign minister for personally conveying a letter from Mr. Kim Jong-Un, first secretary of the [North’s] Workers’ Party.” However, additional details of the letter were not revealed, Ban’s office emphasized concerns about the humanitarian and nuclear issues in the North. Whilst the details of the letter remain unknown, there are reasons to be optimistic for progression as this is the first instance of a North Korean leader directly contacting the UN Secretary-General.
Source : JoonAng Daily, The Korean Herald, Chosun Ilbo

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