Archive for May, 2010


Nothing to Envy – shortlisted for prize

It appears that Barbara Demick’s excellent book has now been short-listed for the BBC Samuel Johnson award for non-fiction.


Responding to the attack on the Cheonan

Hillary Clinton is now on tour in Northeast Asia and one of the key issues, is what to do next to respond to the sinking of the Cheonan. The Cheonan sank on 26 March killing 46 sailors. On Thursday 20 May, South Korea officially announced the findings of the international investigation team that the ship had been sunk by a Chinese manufactured, North Korea owned torpedo.

South Korea has been surprisingly savvy about this whole situation to date. Assembling an international team of investigators not just its main ally US but also countries with a more objective stance such as Sweden and Australia. Then, in advance of the findings being made official South Korean authorities went on a diplomatic offensive to make sure the international community felt well informed and agreed with South Korea. Although, China didn’t like these efforts, but it shows a clear push to make this ‘the international community’ versus ‘rogue state North Korea’ rather than ‘bully South Korea with backing from gun-totting Americans’ versus ‘backed in a corner North Korea’. The number of public statements from governments around the world standing by South Korea is indicative of how successful this PR campaign has been.

Talk of taking the issue to the UN Security Council also fits into this. Although it remains unclear if China will allow it or what further the US Security Council would be willing to take against North Korea. Other than a harshly worded statement calling for continued use of existing sanctions.

Of course, good will can be fleeting depending on what steps South Korea does end up taking. Lee Myung-bak is definitely no pushover and in domestic politics he certainly seems to often just go that step too far to make his point. Its possible that Lee is all talk; becauseĀ there is little else he can do without provoking the situation andpossibly making it worse. And so at the end, we come to the same disappointing conclusion that often follows a North Korea provocation, in this case a very large provocation: war is too risky with North Korea and we must all wait for the (as yet unidentified/iable) straw that will break the back of North Korea and finally bring this horrible regime to an end.

PS: Happy Birthday to me!


North Korea: The Hidden People of North Korea

Pre-emptive book review

I haven’t quite finished reading “The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom” by Ralph Hassig and Kangdan Oh but close enough to share some thoughts. This book isn’t as emotionally charged as Barbara Demick’s book on everyday life in North Korea but it does give a good overview of what we do (or don’t know) about what life is like in North Korea. Good use of sources and sensible analysis makes this book a good read. In fact, this book is much more readable than I expected because I found their earlier book “North Korea Through the Looking Glass” to be difficult to get through. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I read the earlier book or maybe this one is just better written. The best thing about books like this is that they collate together information over a period of years so the pattern of how events unfolded becomes more clear. Stepping back with the benefit of hindsight can really put things in perspective.

May 2010
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