First, some wild rumor on secret trips by Kim and his son. According to an article in a French publication "Intelligence Online", Kim Jong-il secretly visited Macao last autumn (I have an account to the site via work, but I'm not permitted to share access, unfortunately). It claims that Kim Chong-nam was in Macao for the past few months to cover up his father's secret visit there. This is wild enough, but on top of that, the article claims that the DPRK leader's trip was facilitated by 1) the Chinese Triads, 2) the Chinese Ministry of State Security and 3) casino tycoon Stanley Ho, who is supposedly a long-time go-between for Kim Jong-il. It also claims that DPRK intelligence agents are rife in the city.
Even more weird is that now a man believed to be Kim Chong-nam has been caught by a Japanese TV crew on tape--he's in Beijing, just a few blocks from where the talks were taking place, though he claims not to have anything to do with them. I haven't seen the report in English yet, but here's a Korean page on the sighting, with pictures of Kim and the man on the Japanese news. (At least I think it is--I don't know Korean!)
Next, some background on how diplomatic language gets crafted at the multi-lingual 6 Party Talks mechanism. Asia Times has an interesting article this week on the informal translations that end up characterizing the DPRK stance, often inaccurately. Here's an excerpt:
One time, a South Korean doctoral student at Peking University was hired to be the "mouth" of North Korean negotiators. With his help, the next day a news article about the North Korean talks was published, including on the Cable News Network (CNN) website.Also, Kyodo News noticed that both the US and DPRK negotiators used the same proverb in talking to reporters about the talks before the agreement yesterday: "don't count your chickens before they hatch". (Kyodo didn't seem to know what to do with this odd similarity, and neither do I--it probably has no significance.)
The piece reported: "A spokesman for Pyongyang denounced efforts to get it to give up its nuclear program without concessions by the United States and called such demands 'brigandish'." The only problem with that translation was that the North Korean spokesman didn't use the term "brigandish". What the North Korean actually said was: "This kind of demand is like asking us to disarm first. I think this is a naive request. Our response is: don't even dream of it."
Finally, what is going on with the DPRK's borders? There have been several reports in the past week about a platoon of border guards in Hoeryong who allegedly defected en masse into northern China, and who are now reportedly being chased by DPRK "secret agents". The Daily NK , in a recent article (reprinted here), says that the report is credible, and hypothesizes that the border guards took advantage of the bribery system to amass enough money through bribes to then bribe their own way out of the country. Since then, it has reported that Chinese security forces are aiding the DPRK to capture these guards (and some are already in custody), but that Beijing is ambivalent on the issue, though the reason for this is unexplained.
The first article claims that if the state of North Korean corruption and inability to hold onto its citizens has reached this point, then it may be entering the final stages of collapse. That seems to be jumping the gun to me, especially since the DPRK has been said to be about to collapse for a long time now.
More telling, I think, is this article on the city of Hoeryong, a popular defection site and a city that has more exposure to capitalism. According to the article's sources, Kim Jong-il declared a campaign to "purify" Hoeryong last year, which one person called "intense". The article said that border defections have become extremely difficult recently, raising interesting questions about the reports on the border guard defections.
Also the article gives some figures on the cost of defection:
According to North Korean defectors, “Earning five million won in North Korean currency (approximately 1.6 million won) before being discharged” is a trend among North Korean border patrollers in Hoeryong. Considering that the average monthly wage of a North Korean worker is three thousand won, they would have to work 140 years in order to earn this sum of money. The border patrollers normally received 500 yuan (200,000 won in North Korean currency) per defector for allowing them to cross the river.