Jiro Ishimaru has been continuously observing food and economic conditions in North Korea for more than 15 years. He regards the present situation as the worst he has seen since the famine of the late 1990s.
Ishimaru organised secret filming of conditions inside North Korea. The footage confirms what we already know: there is poverty, starvation, despair and fear; there are scavenging, homeless, orphans whose parents have died either of starvation or in concentration camps; and work is being done by malnourished slave labourers.
However, the footage also reveals something quite new. Many uniformed soldiers are weak from hunger and malnutrition. This is significant, because if the regime cannot sustain its "military first" policy -- feeding its military to secure its loyalty -- then the regime's grip on power could be tenuous.
As Ishimaru notes: "This footage is important because it shows that Kim Jong-il's regime is growing weak. It used to put the military first, but now it can't even supply food to its soldiers. Rice is being sold in markets but they are starving. This is the most significant thing in this video."
As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Mark Willacy rightly observes: "Kim Jong-il's grip on power depends on the military and if some of its soldiers have growling, empty bellies that's bad news for the dictator and his hopes for a smooth transition to his son."
North Korea Food Shortage:
Not a matter of absolute shortage, a matter of distribution and access
ISHIMARU Jiro/Chief Editor/Rimjin-gang, 20 June 2011
N Korean children begging, army starving
By North Asia correspondent Mark Willacy, 27 June 2011
includes a slideshow of still images from the footage.
Traditionally, whenever North Korea needs aid, it threatens war or acts belligerently and then offers to negotiate. But South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is tired of playing Pyongyang's game.
North Korea threatens 'sacred war' against South
AP, 29 June 2011
South Korea braced for North Korean 'provocation' as tension mounts
South Korean military preparing new rules of engagement for troops as Seoul threatens tough response to any attack.
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, 28 June 2011
The Guardian quotes long-time North Korea analyst Andrei Lankov, a Russian professor at Seoul's Kookmin University, as warning: "We are now in the most dangerous moment in Korean history over the last 25 years," said. "South Korea has already committed itself to a strong reaction to a future North Korean provocation so many times and so loudly that if they don't do it they will lose elections and be shamed.
"So they will probably react. North Korea is not getting what they want [diplomatically] so they will probably use their usual trick of rising escalation. [. . .]
"Both sides are afraid of war and if they see that the probability is real they will go to a lot of highly humiliating concessions to prevent it," Lankov said.
"That is because North Korea knows that it is going to lose, and South Korean knows it is going to win but at a cost that is unacceptable, and it doesn't know what to do if it does win."
Under the Kim regime, hundreds of thousands of Korean Christians suffer the some of the most severe expressions of religious persecution known.