Pyongyang

There is a temptation to think of the two Koreas as twins. But certainly not identical twins. After Japan surrendered to the United States and the Soviet Union in August 1945 (the Soviets had only been in the war for days … really just for days!), battered Tokyo relinquished the peninsula it had seized and brutalized from 1910 onwards. Korea had gone through nearly a half century of both imperialism and colonialism, quite different manifestations of similar instincts, and was left again as a captive nation. With a difference, of course.

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When the videos of North Koreans weeping hysterically in the streets of Pyongyang circulated on YouTube last month in the wake of Kim Jong-il’s death, few Western onlookers knew what to make of them. Most of us seem to have assumed that the tears were fake, produced on command—an interpretation backed up by one of the best books recently to appear on the subject of North Korea, Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy, which describes manufactured public grief in 1994 after Kim Il-sung’s death.

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In a ceremony today in Pyongyang, the Associated Press opened a full news bureau to cover North Korea. The AP already has had a video bureau in North Korea since 2006; the new outfit will add writers and photojournalists to its operations in the notoriously-sealed off dictatorship. Does the AP’s new operation signal an expansion of press freedom in North Korea? Various reports on North Korea’s oppressive media policies make optimism difficult.

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Whatever Kim Jong-Il’s death meant for the people of North Korea, it did not change the fundamental strategic interest that the United States has in the country. The paramount issue for Washington remains assuring that Pyongyang never uses its nuclear arsenal, and that it never leaks or gifts its weapons material and technology to other nations or terrorists. But if Washington’s basic strategic posture remains, it should consider revising its current non-proliferation policies in the wake of Pyongyang’s change of leadership.

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North Korea announced yesterday that the corpse of former dictator Kim Jong-il will be placed on permanent display in Pyongyang. This seems to be standard practice for Communist nations—after all, Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao were all embalmed and set out for public display after their deaths, and Kim Jong-il’s body will be displayed in the same sprawling mausoleum as his father’s body. But how do they maintain the most famous preserved corpse of them all—the body of Lenin? A 2010 book offers some helpful information.

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The death of Kim Jong-Il is not only an opportunity to reflect on the manifest crimes he committed against the people of North Korea, but also to consider just how heavily his devious regime now weighs in calculations about international security. The uncertain future of the Hermit Kingdom is a matter of especially grave importance to the five countries—the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—that have intermittently engaged with it since 2003 in the Six-Party Talks.

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Once again Pyongyang has its hands out for international food assistance to compensate for its inability to feed its people.

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Kimpossible

As the North Korea crisis spirals into its second week, and seemingly out of control, many American policymakers and pundits agree on one thing: China needs to do something about Pyongyang. “China is not behaving as a responsible world power,” Senator John McCain told CNN.  “They could bring the North Korean economy to their knees if they wanted to.”  State Department spokesman P.J.

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The former president has been gulled once again, this time by the 
Communist regime in North Korea, a very brutal system of control, 
indeed. It's not the first time that the Kim dynasty has taken him 
in. But it is the ex-president at his most outlandishly doltish. Take the column Carter published this week in the Washington 
Post. It argues the good intentions of the dictatorship with regard 
to nuclear weapons.

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More on the North Korean advance in its nuclear strategy. Not unsuspected but much ignored. And the truth is we've been ignoring Pyongyang's mad and aggressive moves in the atomic arena for years. Even under President Bush. And President Clinton. The current administration has made some angry sounds. But John Bolton, the best ambassador to the United Nations we've had in decades, doesn't believe they augur what we'll do.

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