North Korea

  • An efficiency push in Spain may mean the end of siestas and midnight dinners.
  • A crucial pillar of India’s democratic edifice – the right to free expression – is being rapidly eroded, with ominous implications.
  • German art collector Cornelius Gurlitt is in talk with six claimants seeking artworks stolen from their families by the Nazis.
  • North Korea could be using some ominous-looking chest packs to threaten radiological war.
  • Immigration in Scotland: the issue worries Scots less than other Britons, but that could change

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Will a slow down in Asian economies mean cancelled orders for Airbus and Boeing? Our Aerospace special report explores the possibilities and looks at how much western defence contractors such as Raytheon stand to gain from North Korean sabre-rattling and Asia’s territorial disputesRead more

♦ Edward Luce explains why it is stupid to insult the IQ of Tea Party members.
♦ The budget fight that led to the first government shutdown in 17 years set off a public escalation of the battle for control of the Republican Party – a confrontation between Tea Party conservatives and establishment Republicans.
♦ The National Geographic reports on how the presence of Boko Haram has affected public psyche in Nigeria: “Boko Haram has become a kind of national synonym for fear, a repository for Nigerians’ worst anxieties about their society and where it’s headed.”
♦ Susan Faludi, the author of Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, wonders which women the Lean In community is trying to reach.
Christina Lamb writes about her year with Malala Yousafzai.
♦ Dennis Rodman compares a visit to North Korea with a holiday in Ibiza. Read more

It is 60 years since the Korean peninsula was at the very centre of international affairs. After the Korean war, the focus moved on – to Vietnam, eastern Europe, the Middle East, even to Afghanistan. But Korea now has a good claim to be right back at the centre of global concerns. North Korea’s tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles earlier this year, as well as its increasingly warlike rhetoric, have made South Koreans and Americans think hard about the previously unthinkable – the possibility that a nuclear war might actually break out on the Korean peninsula. I spent some of last week at the Jeju forum in South Korea, where researchers, politicians and diplomats grappled with a number of terrifying questions: such as what would the impact be of a nuclear strike on Seoul, the South Korean capital; and could South Korea launch a successful pre-emptive strike on the North’s weapons? (Answers: appalling and no.)

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♦ Martin Wolf argues that forcing the eurozone to mimic Germany’s path to adjustment makes stagnation likely.
♦ US intervention in Syria becomes more difficult with time because of sequestration.
If you ask me today, we have forces that can go,” says General Ray Odierno, the army chief of staff. “I think it will change over time because the longer we go cancelling training and reducing our training, the readiness levels go down.”
♦ Researchers have identified two dozen 15,000-year-old “ultraconserved” words, which suggest the existence of a proto-Eurasiatic language that was the root of about 700 contemporary languages.
♦ Film director Ann Shin discusses her film about the human smugglers who extract people from North Korea and why so many of them are women.
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♦ The FT argues today that Apple’s decision to borrow money in order to fund a dividend, despite being one of America’s most liquid companies, indicates a need for reform to the US tax system.
♦ Despite impressive economic growth, improvements in living standards in Malaysia have lagged behind those of its neighbours, building pressure for change ahead of Sunday’s election.
♦ North African governments are trying to stem the flow of young Islamic militants, heading to Syria to fight the regime.
♦ President François Hollande is struggling to please everyone and, in fact, anyone – leading to concerns that France might become the next European problem child. After a draft paper by the president’s party described Angela Merkel as “selfish”, Mr Hollande has had to reassure her that he still believes in a Franco-German relationship.
♦ William Finnegan discusses his article on Mark Lyttle, a US citizen from North Carolina who was deported to Mexico despite ample evidence that he was an American, and the soaring number of deportations.
♦ Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has told the FBI that he and his brother considered suicide attacks on July 4, but instead decided to strike on Patriots’ day.
♦ Politics and vetting processes mean that Barack Obama has yet to fill some long-empty posts in his cabinet.
♦ Evangelical Christians in California have struck up a debate over whether yoga is a religion or not – where is the line between the body and the soul?
♦ SAYA, a Jerusalem-based design studio, is trying to provide a architectural resolutions to territorial disputes: “you can’t stop terror with just a fence. We need to imagine structures that can build hope instead of fear and resentment.”
♦ When Alex Christodoulou tried to quit his job for life in the Greek public sector, he found the process harder (and more labyrinthine) than he ever thought it could be, especially when the government had committed to taking thousands of workers off the public payroll. “They wanted to rehire him so that they could fire him and include him in the number of public servants being laid off to appease Greece’s international creditors”.
♦ In a review of The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, Richard Lloyd Parry argues against the idea that North Korea is a “zombie nation”, but wonders if the idea that the country is in a state of “political undeath” doesn’t perhaps suit some other states.
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Esther Bintliff

On Friday, South Korea advised the 175 workers left at the Kaesong industrial park in North Korea to leave for their own safety. Photographer Chung Sung-Jun captured part of the journey for Getty Images. In a set of striking photos, cars and vans are shown piled high with factory goods, to the extent that some of the drivers appear to have had no clear view through their windscreens. The workers joined compatriots who have left the zone since work was suspended earlier this month as a result of the escalating tension between Pyongyang and Seoul.

Seven South Koreans were held back on Monday, according to the BBC:

“Officials said the North insisted that some South Korean staff remain to negotiate unpaid wages. They did not believe the seven would be at risk.”

APRIL 27: South Korean workers arriving from the Kaesong joint industrial complex in North Korea at the inter-Korean transit office on April 27, 2013 in Paju, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

The FT’s Song Jung-a reported on the start of the exodus a few weeks ago:

“Long lines of cars and trucks loaded with heavy luggage crossed the border gate into South Korea this week as South Korean workers brought raw material and half-finished products back to minimise losses.”

APRIL 27: South Korean workers arriving from the Kaesong joint industrial complex in North Korea at the inter-Korean transit office on April 27, 2013 in Paju, South Korea. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Kaesong began operating in 2004 – the product of the first inter-Korean summit in 2000, and a symbol of the potential for economic cooperation between the two Koreas.

According to a US congressional research note from 2011, products manufactured in the industrial park include “clothing and textiles (71 firms), kitchen utensils (4 firms), auto parts (4 firms), semiconductor parts (2 firms), and toner cartridges (1 firm).” Read more

♦ Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra has dealt a blow to the rebel cause.

♦ When it comes to the labour market, America is suffering from a rising case of ‘German envy’, writes Edward Luce. However, Germany’s labour market is not without its problems – reformers are keen to take action on the shortage of workers.

♦ The world’s top commodities traders have pocketed nearly $250bn over the last decade, making the individuals and families that control the largely privately-owned sector big beneficiaries of the rise of China and other emerging countries. The FT’s Javier Blas has done a comprehensive review of the sector.

♦ Bassem Youssef, Egypt’s Jon Stewart, has ignited a public debate over Qatar’s influence in Egypt.

♦ MJ Rosenberg looks back at negotiations over the Israeli-Palestinian issue in 1990 and explains why he thinks there is “no possibility of serious negotiation so long as Benjamin Netanyahu is prime minister of Israel.”

♦ The Senate begins debate next week on the biggest gun control bill in nearly 20 years, and the gun rights lobby is working with Senate allies on a series of amendments that could actually loosen many of the current restrictions.

♦ Anonymous has handed over to Canadian police what it claims are details about four boys linked to the alleged rape of Rahtaeh Parsons, whose funeral was held last week.

♦ A matriarch in her mid-50s with only $28 to her name is making a bid for election to the provincial assembly in Pakistan’s elections next month.

♦ The Economist writes on Bitcoin and how it is more than a passing frenzy: “chances are that some form of digital money will make a lasting impression on the financial landscape.” Meanwhile, Paul Krugman thinks that “Goldbugs and bitbugs alike seem to long for a pristine monetary standard, untouched by human frailty. But that’s an impossible dream… green pieces of paper are doing fine — and we should let them alone.”

♦ A row has flared between the London School of Economics and the BBC over the presence of journalists on a university-affiliated trip: “the BBC, which the university says actually sent three journalists, also later acknowledged that it had not told the students of the nature of the documentary, in what it characterized as a bid to keep them safe if the journalists were found out and the students were questioned about what they knew.”

Golf round-up
Adam Scott has become the first Australian to win the US Masters.
♦ The Guardian looks back at Guan Tianlang’s week and what he has gained from it – the teen golfer has changed the face of Chinese sport.
In the UK, the downturn means that golf clubs are trying to shed their stuffy, middle-aged image.

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♦ Kenya’s new leader Uhuru Kenyatta is proving deft at politics even with a charge for crimes against humanity hanging over his head.

♦ Jonathan Soble looks at the dilemma that Haruhiko Kuroda faces over the next two years – “How do you convince markets and consumers that you are serious about raising prices, without being so dogmatic that you risk the central bank’s credibility – and your job – if you fail?”

♦ Margaret Thatcher’s death has prompted a wave of nostalgia among US conservatives.

♦ Sarah Neville, the FT’s public policy editor, thinks welfare reforms in the UK are likely to test the resolve of the middle class. (You can find out more about the reforms in today’s additions to the FT Austerity Audit.)

♦ Nicolás Maduro summons the ghost of Hugo Chávez in the final days of his campaign, a move he is counting on to propel him to victory at Sunday’s presidential elections.

♦ Hugo Chávez may have made himself enormously popular by subsidising fuel, but his policy has damaged long-term prospects for Venezuela’s economy.

♦ Jon Lee Anderson recalls his earliest memories of living in Seoul when his father was working in the Korean demilitarised zone.

♦ Jack Goldstone at Foreign Policy thinks there “is a real risk that the Korean Peninsula will follow Syria’s descent into war”. (Although you might not have to worry. The military’s planned missile test has been “put on hold because of “problems with Windows 8”, according to the Borowitz Report.)  Read more

Esther Bintliff

A video grab from North Korean TV on March 20 shows Kim Jong-Un overseeing a live fire military drill (North Korean TV/AFP/Getty)

A video grab from North Korean TV on March 20 shows Kim Jong-eun overseeing a live fire military drill (North Korean TV/AFP/Getty)

Taking weeks of shrill rhetoric and threats to a fresh high on Tuesday, North Korea announced plans to restart a shuttered plutonium reactor and increase production of enriched uranium. So did we just move one step closer to nuclear armageddon? Here’s a reading list of comment and analysis to help gauge the hazard level.

  • Our own Gideon Rachman argues that there is still “an unfortunate tendency in the west” to treat North Korea as a bit of a joke. “In reality, the Pyongyang regime is about as unfunny as it gets.” He warns that the US and South Korea are responding to North Korea as if it is a rational adversary – “but the unsettling reality is that we cannot be sure.”
  • What do North Korea’s air defenses look like? Foreign Policy has the answer. (Spoiler: they look quite old, as they’re largely from the 60s, 70s and 80s).

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