April 01, 2015

Happy April 1st from HRNK's Raymond Ha

Kim Shifts Course In Surprise Announcement

SEOUL, April 1 -- In an unexpected turn of events, Kim Jong-un, the First Secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party, announced at an Enlarged Meeting of the Politburo that Pyongyang would embark on a major policy shift, seeking to engage with the international community in good faith.

“For too long, the people of North Korea have been deprived of the benefits of the 21st century,” Kim said in the hour-long address, which was also broadcast live by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). “We cannot wait any longer.”

Kim said that Pyongyang would return to the stalled Six-Party Talks “without precondition,” resume bilateral dialogue with Seoul on “all relevant issues,” including reunions for separated families and the fate of South Korean prisoners of war, and “seek a full accounting” of all foreign abductees held in North Korea. In the address, Kim also acknowledged full responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean Navy corvette, in March 2010.

He also acknowledged receipt of the letter sent by the UN Commission of Inquiry in 2014 and invited the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean human rights, Marzuki Darusman, to visit North Korea, promising complete access to all sites, including the country’s political prison camps.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva confirmed that it had received a request from Pyongyang to begin high-level talks on technical assistance.

By issuing an invitation to the Special Rapporteur, Kim admitted to the existence of these political prison camps, which the regime had firmly denied until today. These camps had been the focus of the international community's criticism of the North Korean regime's human rights record. Kim added that all UN agencies would be granted humanitarian access to these prison camps, effective immediately.

The announcement also included domestic reforms, including a significant cut to military spending, the abolishment of its discriminatory class system, the lifting of domestic and international travel restrictions, and a series of economic measures aimed at restructuring the North Korean economy and promoting transparency to attract international aid and investment.

International reactions to this address were largely positive.

Immediately after an emergency meeting of the National Security Council, a high-level South Korean official welcomed Kim’s statement, noting that this was “a long overdue first step towards rebuilding trust on the Korean peninsula,” and a “crucial step on the path to reunification.”

White House officials also heralded the move as a “historic decision,” stating that “we will continue to work very closely with our partners in Seoul in the coming weeks and months to respond to this unprecedented development.” They added that no unusual military activity has been detected inside North Korea since Kim's announcement, although the U.S. and South Korean military will maintain a heightened state of readiness for the foreseeable future.

An unnamed official at the State Department said that Kim’s policy shift was “an unambiguous victory” for the proponents of “strategic patience,” the administration’s policy towards North Korea that had come under intense criticism in recent years.

Tokyo also issued a positive statement, saying that it “looks forward to talks with Pyongyang to seek a full accounting of our abducted citizens,” and that it would “review the lifting of bilateral sanctions” that had only recently been imposed.

A spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry only gave brief remarks, calling for all parties to “exercise restraint and maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.” There have been reports of internal security forces being placed on high alert across China, possibly in preparation for an influx of refugees into the country’s three northeastern provinces.

When asked about the possibility of North Korea being admitted to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in light of today’s speech, he said that “all interested parties are welcome to join. We are not aware of this ever being an issue.”

Moscow, which has invited Kim to attend its victory parade in early May, has yet to issue an official statement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed Kim’s announcement, stating that all UN agencies would "do their utmost" to provide necessary assistance to the North Korean people.

While assessing Kim's speech positively, Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman said "the international community must uphold the 'two-track approach' of continuing to seek full accountability for crimes against humanity even as it engages with North Korea." He added that his office will be arranging a visit to North Korea as soon as possible by coordinating with all interested parties and organizations.

Reactions were mixed among the expert community.

Professor Victor Cha of Georgetown University expressed surprise, stating that the “international community will have to watch very closely to see whether the regime follows through on its promises,” recalling Pyongyang’s past record of reneging on its international commitments. Nevertheless, he said, “it is very encouraging that North Korea is returning to negotiations.”

Others assessed that Kim’s speech reflects the influence of his education in Switzerland. They claimed that Kim had spent the past three years consolidating power in preparation for this shift, and the complete absence of unusual military activity after the speech was particularly notable.

Greg Scarlatoiu, the Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), an organization that focuses on researching the human rights situation in the reclusive state, urged caution even as he welcomed Kim’s speech.

“We need complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling of not only Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, but also its internal security apparatus and the political prison camps,” Scarlatoiu said, adding that “the international community must not be fooled by Kim’s rhetoric, no matter how unprecedented it may be. We cannot believe anything until we see tangible changes on the ground.”


AidanFC said...

Brilliant! Would it were true.

Unknown said...

Agreed. Read with some scepticism.