Wikileaks: North Korea highlights

Leaked secret messages sent by US diplomats at embassies in Asia catalogue America's efforts to learn more about the secretive North Korean regime from its neighbours, China and South Korea. Below are some of the highlights from the cables, which were made public by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks and made available to the Guardian, the New York Times, Der Spiegel in Germany, Le Monde in France and El Pais in Spain.

Unrest in North Korea

Date: 22 Feb 2010

From: US Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens

Regarding: Meeting between US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and South Korean National Security Adviser Kim Sung-hwan

The situation inside North Korea "appeared increasingly unstable. The North's currency replacement had created strong resentment throughout DPRK [North Korea] society", Mr Kim said, adding that the North's finance chief Pak Nam-gi had apparently been sacked.

Mr Kim asserted there were credible reports of unrest in the North; "according to South Korean intelligence sources, DPRK police recently found a bomb on a passenger train en route from Pyongyang to Beijing."


Date: 17 Feb 2010

From: US Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens

Regarding: Meeting with South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo

Mr Chun says China would not be able to stop North Korea's collapse after the death of Kim Jong-il. He says North Korea has already collapsed economically and would collapse politically two to three years after the death of Kim Jong-il. He goes on to say that he was told by two named senior Chinese officials that they believed Korea should be reunified under Seoul's control, and that this view was gaining ground with the leadership in Beijing.

He commented that China had far less influence on North Korea "than most people believe". Beijing had "no will" to use its economic leverage to force a change in Pyongyang's policies and North Korea's leadership "knows it".

Mr Chun acknowledged that the Chinese genuinely wanted a denuclearised North Korea, but Beijing was also content with the status quo. Unless China pushed North Korea to the "brink of collapse," North Korea would likely continue to refuse to take meaningful steps on denuclearisation.


Date: 14 Jan 2010

From: US Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens

Regarding: Meeting between US special envoy for North Korea human rights issues Robert King and South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan

Mr Yu said that Kim Jong-il "needed both Chinese economic aid and political support to stabilise an 'increasingly chaotic' situation at home. In particular, FM Yu claimed that the North's botched currency reform had caused 'big problems' for the regime and that the power succession from KJI to Kim Jong-un 'was not going smoothly'. Moreover, Yu confided, an unspecified number of high-ranking North Korean officials working overseas had recently defected to the ROK. (Note: Yu emphasised that the defections have not been made public. End note.)"

Kim Jong-il's health

Date: 26 Oct 2009

From: US Embassy Beijing, Political Minister Counsellor Aubrey Carlson

Regarding: Meeting between US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo

"Dai admitted that in contrast with his discussion with [North Korean] Vice FM Kang [Sok-ju] his conversation with Kim was not as direct and candid and joked that he 'did not dare' to be that candid with the DPRK leader. Dai noted that Kim had lost weight when compared to when he last saw him three years earlier, but that Kim appeared to be in reasonably good health and still had a 'sharp mind'. Kim told Dai that he had hoped to invite the Chinese official to share some liquor and wine, but that because of scheduling problems, he would have to defer the offer to Dai's next visit to North Korea. Kim Jong-il had a reputation among the Chinese for being 'quite a good drinker', and, Dai said, he had asked Kim if he still drank alcohol. Kim said yes."

Global threat

Date: 8 June 2009

From: US Ambassador to Kazakhstan Richard Hoagland

Regarding: Dinner in Astana with Chinese ambassador Cheng Guoping

"Mr Cheng seemed genuinely concerned by North Korea's recent nuclear missile tests. 'We need to solve this problem. It is very troublesome,' he said, calling Korea's nuclear activity a 'threat to the whole world's security.' China opposes North Korea's nuclear testing and is working to achieve peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, according to Cheng. When asked about the reunification of Korea, Cheng said China hopes for peaceful reunification in the long-term, but he expects the two countries to remain separate in the short-term. He said the domestic political situation in North Korea is 'very complex' and suggested that Kim Jong-il's reported decision to anoint his youngest son as his successor was driven more by Kim's deteriorating health than any carefully planned strategy.

'They had no time to plan for this,' he said adding that the 'military really governs' North Korea and controls domestic politics and foreign policy."

Spoiled child

Date: 30 April 2009

From: US Embassy Beijing, Charge d'Affaires Dan Piccuta

Regarding: Meeting with China's Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei

In April 2009 North Korea carried out missile tests over Japan into the Pacific

Discussing how to tackle the issue, Mr He observed that "North Korea wanted to engage directly with the United States and was therefore acting like 'a spoiled child' in order to get the attention of the 'adult'. China encouraged the United States, 'after some time', to start to re-engage [North Korea]."

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