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Boy made first ferry distress call
A fire station passed on to coastguards the first distress call from a sinking South Korean ferry, made by a frightened boy three minutes after the vessel made its fateful last turn. The call was followed by others to the fire brigade from about 20 children, Yonhap news agency reported.
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North Korea needs 'strategic shaping'
As diplomacy languished in recent years, North Korea doubled the size of its uranium enrichment facility and expanded the range of its missiles. Instead of an "all-or-nothing" approach that rejects anything short of a timeline for verifiable denuclearization, the US could resume multilateral diplomacy that envisions realistic, achievable interim steps. - John Bradshaw (Apr 8, '14)

Six-party legacy emboldens North Korea
North Korea appears to have stepped up missile launches and human-rights abuses since six-party talks on the country's nuclear program stalled in 2009. It is likely that the six-party powers' past weakness conditioned the North to believe that escalation and intimidation eventually would succeed in getting the US and others to capitulate and return to negotiations. - Joseph R DeTrani (Apr 4, '14)

A cut too much for North Korean students
Male students have reacted with dismay to an order from North Korean colleges that they trade their hairstyles for leader Kim Jong-eun's trademark half-buzz, half-mop look. The dictate on the style, which was sported by smugglers a decade ago, follows a ruling Workers' Party recommendation. (Mar 27, '14)

Korea's jailed bosses keep power points
Inter-cultural studies claim shame is a big deal in South Korea. No one seems to have told the leaders of the country's big industrial groups. Even now, those behind bars and with no get-out-of-jail-free card don't seem to get it as they cling on to power. - Aidan Foster-Carter (Mar 25, '14)

North Korean elite shell out on finery
Even though the average North Korean worker makes less than a dollar a month, the country's better-off few are willing to pay top prices in Chinese border towns for South Korean fabric. The transactions are part of a thriving black market linking the two Koreas, between which most trade is banned. - Kim Jun-ho (Mar 20, '14)

Turn off the Korean deep freeze
The political stalemate on the Korean peninisula continues to be very costly and the risks of inadvertent war, further nuclear proliferation, and US-China strategic competition are growing. Yet the six states of Northeast Asia have it in their power to switch the Cold War button to "off". - Ron Huisken (Mar 19, '14)

Strategic impatience on North Korea
The US policy of "strategic patience" on North Korea - essentially ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away - ignores the role Pyongyang could play in developing Asian trade links and in countering China's might. For North Korea to rise higher on the list of US priorities, Washington policymakers must stop considering it in isolation. - John Feffer (Mar 17, '14)

South Koreans living fast in the past
The recent reunions of family members divided by the Korean War highlight some of the contradictions of South Korea. The importance attached to the visits reveals a people that still feel the tribal pull of a once agrarian society, despite living in a country thatís now a showcase for high technology and global connectedness. - Ahn Mi Young (Mar 13, '14)

Asian 'Internet enemies' tighten controls
China and Vietnam have extended controls on the Internet and North Korea is using "increasingly sophisticated" means to spread disinformation through the worldwide web, according to a new report which labels the three nations as the biggest "Enemies of the Internet". Raising concerns about rising cyber-censorship the world over, Reporters Without Borders urged the United Nations to take measures to protect online freedoms. - Rachel Vandenbrink (Mar 13, '14)

North Korea well out of starvation zone
If the North Korea of the 1990s was seen as a starving nation that produced an exodus of hungry people, then the picture should be even gloomier now - six years after it stopped receiving South Korea's generous aid. But it's not. The nation of 24 million people, widely said to be the most secretive in the world and a nuclear threat, appears to have weathered the years well. - Ahn Mi Young (Feb 28, '14)

UN panel warns North Korean leader on abuses
A United Nations panel has written to North Korea's leader Kim Jong-eun warning him that he could be hauled before an international court for rights abuses on a scale unparalleled in modern history. The UN commission of inquiry of human rights abuses in North Korea said Kim might be among "hundreds" of leaders behind violations that amount to crimes of humanity. - Parameswaran Ponnudurai (Feb 18, '14)

War and forgetting on Jeju Island
The Korean peninsula has an unrecognized distinction as the place in which the US turned itself into "an archipelago of empire" from the smoldering ruins of war. Atrocities such as a massacre by US-supported militia on Jeju Island were the "forgotten" prelude to war in 1950, and now, as islanders protest against the building of a US base there, will the threat to all of us posed by US missiles trained on China be "forgotten" too? (Feb 13, '14)

Park seeds 'peace' in the DMZ
Park Geun-hye hopes to displace some of the misnomer of the Demilitarized Zone by turning part of the heavily mined buffer between the two Koreas into a "park for peace". The South Korean president's plan faces significant obstacles, but the wildlife there may at least serve as a talking point for Seoul and Pyongyang. - Alec Forss and Sangsoo Lee (Feb 12, '14)

From hope to despair in North Korea
When Kim Jong-eun took control of North Korea two years ago, his late father had already taken the first steps to put the country on the path of reconciliation. Hopes were high that the new young leader would quicken the pace towards a resolution of concerns over the North's nuclear program. Recent despairing events indicate he has dropped the baton. - Joseph R DeTrani (Feb 7, '14)

Identity complex dogs Japan, South Korea
China's cooperation with South Korea in opening a memorial hall in Harbin last month to honor Ahn Jung-geun, the Korean independence activist who in 1909 assassinated the Japanese colonial governor of Korea, symbolizes the historical obstacles to forward-looking Japan-South Korea relations. It also illuminates the power of deeply held and contradictory notions of national identity. - Brad Glosserman and Scott Snyder (Feb 7, '14)

India, South Korea take "middle" path
The kind of networking achieved last week between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South Korean President Park Geun-hye is laying the ground for more countries to punch beyond their geostrategic weight. Such "middle-power cooperation" protects them from the profound changes that are occurring as the US falters and China becomes more assertive. - Sukjoon Yoon (Jan 29, '14)

North Korea cracks down on child care
North Korean authorities are closing all privately run preschools and unofficial day-care centers for children, threatening businesses with tough penalties if they continue to operate. While the order has been made under the pretext of standardizing the state system, that has a lot of growing up to do before it can effectively mind the nation's children. (Jan 28, '14)

Kim purges for a new economic dawn
Western pundits condemned Kim Jong-eun's execution of his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, as a hardline step away from reformist promise initially seen in the young North Korean leader. Not so: Kim was acting to secure a grand economic "opening up". These reform plans were threatened by his uncle's corruption - and in any case, it was also time for the natural order to assert itself. - Sascha Matuszak (Jan 10, '14)

Food markets still vital in North Kore
North Korean harvests are improving for the second successive year, and the food deficit is the smallest in a long while. Yet neither the improved harvests nor additional resources from an increase in exports to China have been able to increase food supply enough to replace private markets. - Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein (Jan 10, '14)

The unraveling of North Korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun's late December rallying call for troops to strengthen their combat readiness should not be dismissed as empty talk. As another indication that the country's leadership is in danger of unravelling after Kim had his mentor executed, it is also a sign that China should invite Kim to Beijing for meaningful dialogue. - Joseph R DeTrani (Jan 6, '14)

The importance of Asia
At the close of 2013, still early in what many see as Asia's century, there is cause to rejoice at how well the region is doing on several counts, not least the spread of prosperity even as some of Asia risks regressing into needless conflict. One way to try to avoid disaster is to create and hold fast to a sense of something bigger and more important - a vision of unity across a fractured landscape.
- Aidan Foster-Carter (Dec 23, '13)

Jeju port rises to territorial challenge
Tensions arising from China's declaration of an air defense zone heighten instability in East Asia since ignoring encroachments to territorial claims is not a realistic option. As South Korea expands its own defense zone, the Jeju Civilian-Military Complex Port now under construction on the country's southernmost island gains significant strategic importance for the region. - Sung Chan Kim and Seok-ho Kang (Dec 19, '13)

Keeping North Korean in Japan
The strong ideological bond that ethnic "Chongryun" Koreans in Japan feel with North Korea is clear from the Kim Il-sung portraits that hang on their school walls. As rising tensions with the Hermit Kingdom lead Tokyo to squeeze the minority financially, the misplaced loyalty the Chongryun community projects on an idealized vision of the North could be its undoing. - Markus Bell (Dec 18, '13)

Last shoe yet to fall in North Korea
It's too early after North Korea leader Kim Jong-eun's extraordinary purge of his uncle and mentor to draw conclusions over whether he is in total control or insecure; we need to see who else is purged or rehabilitated. But the changes we might not see could be the most significant. - Ralph A Cossa (Dec 17, '13)

Dissent in North Korea
The execution of North Korea's de facto number two leader, Jang Song-thaek was a clear message by Kim Jong-eun to his audience at home and abroad that he's in charge. The question now is whether Kim is capable of moderating his behavior and can convince the United States, South Korea and other nations that he wants good bilateral relations and is prepared to return to Six Party negotiations. - Joseph R DeTrani (Dec 16, '13)

Kim the petulant strikes out
The brutal nature of Jang Song-thaek's downfall suggests Kim Jong-eun was enacting some cold-headed Machiavellian scheme against his powerful uncle, a larger-than-life plot worthy of his manipulative grandfather. However, in contradiction of the meticulous decades-long efforts of his predecessors to indoctrinate the idea of classless paradise, this was more likely just a teenager's riot against authority. - Tatiana Gabroussenko (Dec 16, '13)

Little Kim does Pulp Fiction
Kim Jong-eun's powerful uncle was the young leader's Cardinal Richelieu, until demonized, tried and summarily whacked to show who is really in charge, as if in a North Korean remake of Pulp Fiction. While an alleged planned coup d'etat topped Jang Song-thaek's pile of crimes, he was also close to Beijing. Those who view Pyongyang as Mob central will see Jang's execution as a tactic to raise the price for "cooperation" with China. - Pepe Escobar (Dec 13, '13)

South Korea's Chomskyite flunkeys
South Korea's opposition party shares with the North a view that the present government in Seoul is a US flunkey, though the South's leftists still lap up support from famous, and not always well-informed, Americans such as Noam Chomsky. All of which made the National Intelligence Service a target of criticism when it broke news of the North's dismissal of Kim Jong-eun's uncle and number two man, the now late Jang Song-thaek. - Sung-Yoon Lee (Dec 13, '13)

South Korea revises its air comfort zone
South Korea this week declared extensions to its air defense identification zone after consulting Japanese, Chinese, and US authorities about overlapping defense measures in the East China Sea and the Yellow Sea. With China's recent actions increasing tension in the region, four reasons explain why South Korea had to take action to stay abreast of worrying provocations. - Sukjoon Yoon (Dec 11, '13)

South Korea's free speech problem
Criminal indictments for defamation have more than doubled in South Korea over the past few years, giving pause to critics of President Park Geun-hye, who has accelerated the decline in freedom of speech since taking office in February. - Geoffrey Fattig (Dec 5, '13)

Kim Jong-eun's powerful uncle 'sacked'
North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun's uncle Jang Song-thaek, widely regarded as the de facto number two in the reclusive state, is reported to have been sacked. His removal from all posts in a likely struggle with Kim's envoy, Choe Ryong-hae, is seen by analysts as the most significant leadership purge since Kim came to power. (Dec 4, '13)

Korea-Japan ties burdened by baggage
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's move to revise the self-defense constitution of Japan has produced an outcry in South Korea as Tokyo's seeming disregard for the victims of past aggression looms large over present-day ties. The basic difference of opinion between Koreans and Japanese over war-time reparations and apologies is a key reason that historical issues are hurting bilateral relations. - Ashley A C Hess (Nov 22, '13)

North Korea and Iran, a spiritual alliance
A closer look at ties between North Korea and Iran reveals something deeper than an alliance of convenience born out of mutual opposition to the United States. At their core, Iran and the North have an eerily similar historical path and worldview. This is rooted in ideological-cultural factors, such as the shared belief that revolutions, while transformative, must also preserve links to tradition. - Issa Ardakani (Nov 21, '13)

Intelligence scandals, Seoul-style
US surveillance scandals seem tame in comparison to the sneaky spooks, red saboteurs and love childs in South Korea's web of intelligence service intrigue. The prize in this game is national power, and far from meekly monitoring people the National Intelligence Service is openly using tools at its disposal to smear forces threatening its resurgent clout. - Aidan Foster-Carter (Nov 12, '13)

Why Westerners avoid visiting North Korea
There will always be a shortage of people who want to pay a premium price to be chaperoned around a dictatorship while listening to ridiculous political propaganda. Along with the high cost, this has given North Korea the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most avoided countries among tourists. - Andrei Lankov (Nov 6, '13)

Trying to mitigate Japan's history dilemma
Japan can and should seek to mend continuing sores with its neighbors arising from its war history - starting with the issue of "comfort women" and then settling border disputes. As Germany's efforts demonstrate, even comprehensive campaigns of atonement are never fully successful. But by such steps, Tokyo could make an important contribution to a well-conceived national security policy. - Robert Dujarric (Oct 30, '13)

Cold shoulders for Japan-South Korean ties
There was no missing the cold atmosphere between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo when they met earlier this month. Body language tells a lot about the current state of South Korean-Japan relations, as outstanding issues prevent meaningful dialogue. - Stephanie Nayoung Kang (Oct 24, '13)

Prepare for North Korea's collapse
Defense analyst Bruce Bennett believes that a North Korean collapse is a real possibility, with serious consequences for which South Korea and the United States should start to prepare now. The assassination of Kim Jong-eun is seen as the most likely trigger for chaos. - Changsop Pyon (Oct 21, '13)

The dangers of North Korea fatigue
International powers have reacted with skepticism to North Korea's apparent desire to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program, with diplomats likely believing that negotiations will never stop Pyongyang's push to be accepted as a nuclear weapons state. This ignores that the leadership in the North has the power and opportunity to reverse the downward spiral of relations. - Joseph R DeTrani (Oct 8, '13)

Korean democracy at a crossroads
The surprise resignation of a South Korean prosecutor following a media witch-hunt critics say was masterminded by the internal intelligence service highlights a revival of a notorious agency President Park Geun-hye had promised to neuter through reform. Unless Park now fulfills those commitments, the shadow of her father's dictatorship will continue to loom over her presidency. - Geoffrey Fattig (Oct 3, '13)

Dangers in North Korean dual-track strategy
North Korea appears to have softened its approach to the outside world. Yet as confrontation makes way to moves towards dialogue, Pyongyang plans to boost the economy while strengthening nuclear capacity. Such a combination will only bring more potential for an East Asian arms race - and kill hopes for achieving the security guarantees needed to denuclearize the peninsula. - Niklas Swanstrom (Sep 27, '13)

The real North Korean threat
Irresponsible farming by desperate North Koreans is leading to a spread of desert and semi-desert regions that, as much the North's nuclear posturing, could threaten the future of South Korea and Northeast Asia. Only long-term international engagement and cooperation can bring the North's ecosystem back from the brink of a catastrophe that will affect generations. - Emanuel Pastreich (Sep 26, '13)

The day Kim Il-sung died his first death
On a winter's day in 1986, loudspeakers on the North Korean side of the no-man's land that divides the Korean Peninsula began broadcasting news that Great Leader Kim Il-sung had been shot dead. The news died its death two days later when Kim appeared alive and well (he was to die eight years later). The mystery of the morbid propaganda lives on. - Fyodor Tertitskiy (Sep 25, '13)

Southern inhospitality greets defectors
Framed by South Korea as spies and then thrown into detention, many North Korean defectors face some of the same mistreatment they sought to escape. As the South's media whips up more public paranoia about infiltrators, sentiment is increasingly veering away from a more transparent vetting process and towards the tightening of borders. - Markus Bell and Sarah Chee (Sep 20, '13)

US needs cultural weapons for North Korea
The United States' reliance on feeble sanctions and China to try to denuclearize North Korea have only seen Pyongyang accelerate profit-making enterprises from its nuclear weapons programs. A better chance of normalizing relations lies in encouraging educational and cultural exchanges; when North Korean elites start to see richer people in other countries, the jealousy spurred could lead a revolt with power behind it. - Brian Min (Sep 19, '13)

UN finds North Korea atrocities 'unspeakable'
Michael Kirby, the head of a UN probe into human rights abuses in North Korea, has challenged the Kim Jong-eun regime to disprove "unspeakable atrocities" uncovered in North Korea after Pyongyang alleged stories of abductions, torture and prison camp punishments had been fabricated. - Joshua Lipes (Sep 19, '13)

Pet projects put Kim on a slippery slope
A water park North Korea is building near China likely aims at boosting Kim Jong-eun's image among the common people, unlike projects such as a ski resort seemingly devised as a haven for the elites. As few North Koreans are likely to ever take to the water slides or the slopes, such projects will simply bemuse comrades on both sides of the divide. - Joon-ho Kim (Sep 3, '13)

A bright spell in the Korean Peninsula
On the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, there is reason for guarded optimism that a peaceful resolution of tensions between the North and South is achievable. Still, despite positive developments such as family reunions and a pledge to keep open an economic zone between the two sides, a nuclear cloud looms. - Joseph R DeTrani (Aug 26, '13)

Anti-North Korea? No, we're pro
Critics who judge the online news outlets that have sprung up covering North Korea as "anti-North" are missing the point in the same way that many Pyongyang watchers have done for decades. Far from being against the country or its population, those who are best informed on the North can envision a brighter, post-regime future. - Aidan Foster-Carter (Aug 16, '13)

Koreas agree to reopen Kaesong
North and South Korea have agreed to restart the jointly operated Kaesong industrial park, languishing since April, following a pledge from Pyongyang not to shut it down again. The deal comes as the US and the South prepare for annual military exercises. (Aug 15, '13)

Defamation and dissent in South Korea
South Korea's over reliance on its National Security Act as an instrument of censorship has seen a legal tool designed to shield individuals intrude upon important public debates. While not solely used to protect the powerful from criticism, it is proving too easy to manipulate the law to sanction and chill political discourse. - Taylor Washburn (Aug 13, '13)

Doors slam on North Korean refugees
China cites concerns over drug smuggling, human trafficking, and military "accidents and incidents", in erecting miles of barbed-wire fences along the Tumen River border with North Korea. The stronger security appears aimed more at preventing North Korean refugees from escaping, though the most likely result will be to ramp up agents' fees for assisting in the dangerous crossing. - Jung Min Noh (Aug 7, '13)

China and Korea: A change of partners?
North Korea is scowling from the sidelines as Seoul and Beijing create new rapport on trade and even politics. The shift south by Xi Jinping, frustrated at Pyongyang's repeated rejection of advice to adapt to the modern world, could mark a significant break from a decades-old alliance. Or the Chinese president could be seeking to lure his South Korean counterpart into loosening the United States' tight embrace. - Aidan Foster-Carter (Aug 7, '13)

China debates how to handle North Korea
North Korea's wayward behavior has triggered a policy debate in China and calls from some quarters for the new leaders in Beijing to abandon a longtime socialist ally. They are more likely to respond to extreme moves that offend China's interests and will make the North correct them. Still, the fundamental question remains whether the North should be handled as a buffer zone or a time bomb. - Ren Xiao (Jul 23, '13)

Tough test awaits Korean education
Centuries of obsession with status and prestige make it a wrench for the Korean education system to consider abandoning its regimented neo-Confucian structure in favor of progressive liberal methods, However, the choice is between a grade-grinding system that's become a zero-sum game pitting student against student and another that would see Korea produce more world citizens. - Taru Taylor (Jul 11, '13)

Competitive suffering harms Korea debate
Defiant suggestions that the US prison system is no better than North Korea's gulags ignore that there is a fundamental inconvertibility to suffering. A Cold War-like pathology of one-sided condemnation continues to thrive despite the fact that human-rights violations are happening East and West, North and South. - John Feffer (Jul 10, '13)

North Korea border roster hampers defection
North Korea's drive to prevent corruption by more frequently changing the guards posted along its border with China has made it harder for would-be defectors to escape. Tighter border controls under Kim Jong-eun have cut the flow of defectors that reach South Korea, the government in Seoul has said. (Jul 2, '13)

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