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from Ian Bremmer:

The hope and beauty of a North Korean stalemate

President Obama’s recent trip to South Korea may have gained attention for his “open mic” slipup with outgoing Russian President Medvedev over missile defense, but that’s just a media distraction from the importance of Obama’s visit to the Korean peninsula. After Kim Jong Il’s death in December, the U.S. took an early lead in negotiations with North Korea doing so because Obama and his team thought it could be an easy diplomatic win. With the promise of aid and food, the U.S. could let new leader Kim Jong-un quietly drop the consistently belligerent stance the country has taken in what passes for its foreign policy.

It’s now clear that easy win is not going to happen. Despite Kim’s titular status, we still don’t really know who is in charge in North Korea. While there have been no major coups, protests, or blowups, there have been plenty of smaller events, like military executions due to insubordination, that point to a high likelihood of purges happening in the regime. Now factor in that North Korea has gotten decidedly more, rather than less, militant on the nuclear arms front. Its announcement of a satellite test is a thinly veiled attempt to launch a long-range ICBM. The global community is perceiving it as such with South Korea threatening to shoot the missile down. The vitriol coming out of the North Korean propaganda machine is as hardline and aggressive as we’ve seen in many years.

Several months into the Kim Jong-un regime, there’s little cause for optimism. There’s much cause to be on heightened alert, though, because other than belligerent press releases, the new regime has not shown any ability to deliver on its promises. The South Koreans recently held live-fire exercises on five islands near the disputed Yellow Sea boundary with North Korea; their angry neighbors, despite loudly promising a response, did nothing. As much as we can be glad there was no international incident as a result, it’s not a good sign if the reason the North Koreans didn’t follow through on their threats was that the Kim Jong-un regime was unable to control the military well enough to direct it to do so. The regime change, in other words, has not yet stabilized.

There are two countries right now China and the United States that could contain North Korea, which remains among the poorest and most totalitarian countries in the world. China, in the middle of its own transition of power, which has been peaceful but not without intrigue, hardly has the capacity to fully engage on North Korea. Obama has learned that there is no quick win to be had in North Korea and if he is telling the Russians he doesn’t want to deal with issues surrounding missile bases before the November election, we can imagine he has no desire whatsoever to contend with an entire rogue country, especially one as bizarre as North Korea.

from Photographers' Blog:

Death of god

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By Kim Kyung-Hoon

Nobody knows when and where death will visit us.

The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il shows that this phrase applies to everyone. Death is inevitable, even for an absolute ruler who was believed to be an eternal creature in his reclusive kingdom and who provoked the international community with a nuclear weapons program and brinkmanship.


(Kyodo photo)

Hours after the tearful announcement by North Korea state TV of their Great Comrade Dear Leader’s death, I was on a flight from Tokyo to Seoul to reinforce our Seoul bureau. On the flight, I recalled the chaos when North Korea's founder and Kim Jong-il's father Kim Il-sung died in 1994. At that time, most Koreans were haunted by fear of a possible outbreak of war. This fear made South Koreans rush to shops to stockpile basic necessities. It also triggered an intense debate between conservatives and pro-unification activists who insisted on a condolence call for the main culprit of the Korean civil war. My mother stayed awake at night worrying about the outbreak of war because I was supposed to go to mandatory military service in just a few months.

from Breakingviews:

Dear Leader’s death may prize open hermit state

By John Foley (The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

The greatest achievement of Kim Jong-il was to keep North Korea cut off as the rest of the world joined up. The Dear Leader, who died on Dec. 17 according to state media, didn't manage it perfectly - the "hermit state" imports energy and food from China, and until lately the odd bottle of French cognac. But North Korea's quest for self-sufficiency has left the people in ignorance of the modern world and created grinding economic hardship. Kim's successor, likely his youngest son Jung-un, will struggle to lift that heavy burden.

from Photographers' Blog:

Inside North Korea: No one said anything

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A ground staff of North Korean airliner Air Koryo thrusts a hand in front of her face at the airport in North Korean capital of Pyongyang October 12, 2010. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

Questions immediately filled my mind when I learned I would be part of a Reuters team heading to North Korea to cover a ceremony, where it was rumored Kim Jong-il's son and heir apparent would make his debut.

- Would I be able to take pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il? No photographer outside North Korea had taken his picture for a while.
- What access would I have to the parade? I worried they'd put us in some corner far away from the action.
- How would I transmit my pictures? Some people said we wouldn't have Internet connections.
- Where would we sleep? I had heard there are two good hotels in Pyongyang, but one is on an island and difficult to leave without close supervision.
- Would I be able to shoot photos of ordinary street life?

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 3 October, 2010

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At the beginning of the week I had my doubts that we would actually see pictures from two major events taking place in Asia; North Korea's ruling Workers' Party conference, the biggest held for 30 years intended to push ahead the succession process for Kim Jong-il's son Kim Jong-Un and the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. As it turned out, the pictures from both fronted publications around the world.

KOREA-NORTH/

Kim Jong-un (8th L, seated), the youngest son of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il (C), poses with the newly elected members of the central leadership body of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) and the participants in the WPK Conference, at the plaza of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang in this picture released by the North's KCNA news agency September 30, 2010. North Korean state media released a photograph on Thursday of the reclusive state's leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-un. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il anointed his youngest son as successor this week, promoting him to senior political and military positions. REUTERS/KCNA

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures September 26, 2010

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A tough week for India as athletes began arriving  for the start of the Commonwealth Games. On September 21, a pedestrian walkway outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi collapsed; the very next day a portion of the ceiling in the weightlifting arena also collapsed. Social and mainstream media showed pictures of blocked drains, dirty bathrooms, soiled matresses and unfinished work in the athletes' accommodation.  Team members started to pull out of the games, undermining the status of the event. The enormity of the clean-up task seemed insurmountable, this concern beautifully illustrated by Parivartan Sharma's picture of a man sweeping dust in the streets with a hand brush - a seemingly pointless task when CWG president Fennell said that there was still "considerable work to be done". Have a close look at Reinhard Krause's picture of the roof of the weight lifting arena and make your own judgement on the workmanship of the construction.  As someone who has not got a great head for heights I fear for the safety of the workers walking on the roof of the building.

GAMES/

A man sweeps under a flyover in front of the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi September 25, 2010. Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell said on Saturday there was still a considerable amount of work to be done and there was great concern about the security and safety of athletes and officials. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma

from Photographers' Blog:

Asia – A Week in Pictures September 26, 2010

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[CROSSPOST blog: 557 post: 736]

Original Post Text:
A tough week for India as athletes began arriving  for the start of the Commonwealth Games. On September 21, a pedestrian walkway outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi collapsed; the very next day a portion of the ceiling in the weightlifting arena also collapsed. Social and mainstream media showed pictures of blocked drains, dirty bathrooms, soiled matresses and unfinished work in the athletes' accommodation.  Team members started to pull out of the games, undermining the status of the event. The enormity of the clean-up task seemed insurmountable, this concern beautifully illustrated by Parivartan Sharma's picture of a man sweeping dust in the streets with a hand brush - a seemingly pointless task when CWG president Fennell said that there was still "considerable work to be done". Have a close look at Reinhard Krause's picture of the roof of the weight lifting arena and make your own judgement on the workmanship of the construction.  As someone who has not got a great head for heights I fear for the safety of the workers walking on the roof of the building.

GAMES/

A man sweeps under a flyover in front of the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi September 25, 2010. Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell said on Saturday there was still a considerable amount of work to be done and there was great concern about the security and safety of athletes and officials. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma

from Global News Journal:

The incredible shrinking Kim Jong-il

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KOREA NORTH/KIMNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-il emerged from his reclusive life last week for a rare visit to China looking every bit the part of a man nearing 70 recovering from serious illness. Kim, who was widely suspected of suffering a stroke about two years ago, walked with a slight limp, had a thinning head of hair and shed the trademark paunch that once pressed snugly against his jumpsuits. The most telling pictures of his change can be seen in the posed shots he took with Chinese President Hu Jintao, born just 10 months after Kim in 1942, and looking much younger  today.  Pictures taken in October 2005 when Hu visited Pyongyang and from earlier this month when Kim was in Beijing show how much the North Korean leader has changed.

The world has few chances to see Kim free from the filter of his state’s official media and the trip to China reminded people just how frail the man known at home as the “Dear Leader” is.  He is a man of diminished physical stature whose policy blunders have caused the state’s economy to grow smaller since he took over in 1994 when his father died.  His pursuit of  nuclear arms and a missile arsenal have driven his state further into isolation. While Soviet satellites crashed down to earth with the end of the Cold War, Kim’s North Korea just plodded along as a historical anomaly, planting even more propaganda banners proclaiming the brilliance of its socialist system.KOREA NORTH HU

from Global News Journal:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il says bye-bye bouffant. Hello China?

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NORTH KOREANorth Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to have abandoned his trademark bouffant, relegating one of the world’s most noticeable hair styles to the scrap heap of history.

Reports have said that Kim may travel to China this month for a visit that would be the reclusive leader’s first trip abroad since apparently suffering a stroke in 2008. Kim's trips to China, his destitute and isolated state's biggest benefactor and the closest thing it can claim as a major ally, have often led to moves that decrease the security threat Pyongyang poses to the economically vibrant region. This would be Kim's first trip abroad since falling seriously ill.

from Global News Journal:

Interview with North Korea border crosser Robert Park

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KOREA-NORTH/CROSSING

 (Photographs by Lee Jae-won)

North Korea said on Tuesday it had  detained a U.S. citizen who entered its territory, apparently confirming a report that an American activist crossed into the
state to raise awareness about Pyongyang's human rights abuses.   Robert Park, 28, walked over the frozen Tumen river from
China and into the North last Friday, other activists said. The Korean-American told Reuters ahead of the crossing that it was his duty as a
Christian to make the journey and that he was carrying a letter calling on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to step down.

Park had an exclusive interview with Reuters last week before starting on his journey. The following are excerpts from the conversation. He requested that the comments be held until he was in North Korea.  

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