North Korean envoy to Italy vanishes _ did he defect?
By FRANCES D’EMILIO and KIM TONG-HYUNG
Friday, January 4
ROME (AP) — North Korea’s top diplomat in Italy has gone into hiding along with his wife, according to a South Korean lawmaker, raising the possibility of a defection of a senior North Korean official.
The news came from South Korea’s spy agency, which briefed lawmakers in Seoul on Thursday on the status of North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, Jo Song Gil. It said he went into hiding with his wife in November before his posting to Italy ended late that month.
A high-profile defection by one of North Korea’s elite would be a huge embarrassment for leader Kim Jong Un as he pursues diplomacy with Seoul and Washington and seeks to portray himself as a geopolitical player.
South Korean lawmaker Kim Min-ki said an official from Seoul’s National Intelligence Service shared the information during a closed-door briefing. Kim did not say whether the spy agency revealed anything about Jo’s current whereabouts or whether he had plans to defect to South Korea.
Kim said the NIS said it has not been contacted by Jo.
According to Kim, the NIS official said Jo and his wife left the official residence in early November, weeks before his term was to end. Kim said he couldn’t confirm if the NIS official revealed whether Jo and his wife were accompanied by any children. The NIS earlier said it couldn’t confirm a South Korean media report that Jo was under Italian government protection as he seeks asylum in a Western nation.
North Korea has not yet commented on Jo’s status.
An official with the Italian Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Jo hadn’t requested asylum from Italy. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with standard practice, also said Jo no longer held diplomatic status in Italy, presumably since his assignment had ended.
Without citing any sources, Italian daily La Repubblica raised the possibility that while the Foreign Ministry was saying Jo hadn’t sought asylum from Italy, that didn’t rule out that the North Korean might have turned to other offices, such as Italian intelligence agencies for “assistance from Italy in order not to return to his country.”
North Korea, which touts itself as a socialist paradise, is extremely sensitive about defections, especially among its elite diplomatic corps, and has previously insisted that they are South Korean or U.S. plots to undermine its government.
About 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to South Korean government figures.
Many defectors have said they wanted to leave North Korea’s harsh political system and widespread poverty. North Korea often accuses the South of deceiving or paying people to defect, or claims that they have been kidnapped.
North Korea may publicly ignore Jo’s possible defection or hold back harsh criticism to avoid highlighting the vulnerability of its government as it tries to engage Washington and Seoul in negotiations, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea expert at Seoul’s Dongguk University.
Jo had been North Korea’s acting ambassador to Rome after Italy expelled then-Ambassador Mun Jong Nam in October 2017 to protest a North Korean nuclear test and long-range missile launch.
Jo seemed comfortable moving around Italy. In March 2018, accompanied by another embassy official, Pak Myong Gil, he visited two factories in Italy’s northeastern Veneto region with an eye on eventual trade, according to La Tribuna di Treviso, a local daily.
One factory produced bathroom furnishings and another made accessories from marble. The newspaper quoted the local businessmen as assuming at first the delegation consisted of South Koreans, not North Koreans, given the economic sanctions against North Korea.
Among the Italians accompanying the North Koreans was a former Italian senator for what is now the League party, which in general opposes economic embargoes as bad for business.
The politician, Valentino Perin, told AP he had spoken with Jo many times, including about preparations for the visit to the Veneto region. Perin said he last met with Jo on Sept. 5, at an official reception organized by the North Korean embassy in Rome.
Showing Jo’s business card, Perin said the North Korean was “very proud of his people and of his country.
The last senior North Korean diplomat known to have defected is Thae Yong Ho, a former minister at the North Korean Embassy in London, who fled to South Korea in 2016.
In an interview on South Korean television, Thae said he worked with Jo for more than a decade in the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Europe bureau and that Jo had a child when Thae last saw him in 2013.
Thae said Jo comes from a family of diplomats, with his father and father-in-law both serving as ambassadors.
The embassy in Italy is critical for North Korea because it handles annual negotiations with the Rome-based World Food Program over aid to North Korea, Thae said. He also said Italy has been a hub for smuggling luxury items to the North Korean elite, and Jo would have been involved in those activities.
Thae said Jo would have been North Korea’s main diplomat for the Vatican and would have also handled discussions involving a possible visit to the North by Pope Francis if such talks had taken place. South Korea said in October that North Korean leader Kim mentioned during a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in that he would welcome a papal visit.
Thae said he believes Jo was to be replaced by incoming ambassador Kim Chon in November but did not reveal how he obtained such information.
While not identifying him by name, North Korea’s state media described Thae as “human scum” after his defection in London, and claimed he was trying to escape punishment for serious crimes. Thae, who has been an outspoken critic of Kim while living in South Korea, denied the accusation and said he defected because he didn’t want his children to live “miserable” lives in the North.
It’s possible that Jo is trying to defect because of similar reasons, said Koh, a policy adviser for South Korea’s president.
“It could be difficult for some diplomats to accept being called back to the North after enjoying years living in the free West. They could want their children to live in a different system and receive better education,” he told The Associated Press.
The highest-level North Korean to seek asylum in South Korea is Hwang Jang-yop, a senior ruling Workers’ Party official who once tutored Kim Jong Un’s late father, dictator Kim Jong Il.
Hwang’s 1997 defection was hailed by many South Koreans as an intelligence bonanza. Hwang died in 2010.
Also in 1997, the North Korean ambassador to Egypt fled and resettled in the United States.
Kim Tong-Hyung reported from Seoul.
The euro at 20: An enduring success but a fundamental failure
January 4, 2019
Author: Barry Eichengreen, Professor of Economics and Political Science, University of California, Berkeley
Disclosure statement: Barry Eichengreen is a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and faculty research fellow of the Centre for Economic Policy Research. He’s also a nonresident senior fellow at CIGI in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, and serves on the advisory board of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, DC.
Partners: University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
New Year’s Day 1999 saw the largest monetary changeover in history. On that date, just 20 years ago, 12 members of the European Union formally adopted a brand-spanking-new currency, the euro.
Today seven additional EU member states use it, along with Montenegro, Kosovo, Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City. If survival is the ultimate gauge of success, then this grand monetary experiment can be said to have succeeded.
But as investment advisers say, past performance is no guarantee of future results.
To understand why, it helps to recall the motivations of the euro’s founders.
The first full-throated call for a single European currency was in the Werner Report issued in 1970. Its authors feared that the Bretton Woods system of currency pegs to the dollar was terminally ill and that its collapse would wreak havoc with exchange rates within Europe and therefore with the continent’s economy. The proposal was renewed in 1989 in the Delors Report, which presented a single currency as the capstone of Europe’s Single Market and its four freedoms: free movement of goods, capital, services and labor.
But these economic arguments did not suffice to tip the political balance toward the euro. In addition there was the belief of leaders like French President Francois Mitterrand and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl that a single European currency would apply irresistible pressure for political integration. It would lead eventually to their ultimate goal: a European political federation not unlike the United States.
Their logic ran as follows. To function smoothly, monetary union requires banking union – in other words, a single supervisor for all the banks and a union-wide deposit insurance scheme. Otherwise banks overseen only by their national supervisors would be allowed to undertake cross-border lending operations irrespective of the impact on neighboring countries. And in the absence of a union-wide deposit insurance scheme, a run on the banks in one country could infect the banking systems of its neighbors.
Similarly, to operate smoothly, a monetary union requires an integrated fiscal system, like those of political federations such as Australia and the United States. States that give up their monetary policy to a higher authority can no longer adjust it to changing national conditions. They can no longer lower interest rates to spur investment when the national economy is slowing more than those of its partners.
But if the partners operate an integrated fiscal system, the more prosperous members can shift resources to the depressed region, substituting for the no-longer-possible interest-rate cuts.
Here’s the rub: Banking union and fiscal union will only be regarded as legitimate if those responsible for their operation can be held accountable for their decisions by citizens. That means more power for the European Parliament – and less for national legislatures. It means that monetary integration creates a logic and therefore irresistible pressure for political integration.
Or so the euro’s architects believed.
The fly in the ointment
The problem is that the vast majority of Europeans, as distinct from the elites, don’t like the idea of giving up their national sovereignty. They identify as German or Italian first and as European only second, if at all.
They have little appetite for pooling national sovereignty at the European level. And 20 years of the euro have done little to change this.
Hence there was no banking union in the first decade of the euro. In its absence, large amounts of capital cascaded across Europe’s internal borders. Banks in Germany and France financed all manner of speculative investments in Irish and Spanish property markets and Greece’s public debt.
When, in 2008 and 2009, problems developed in the economies on the receiving end of these flows, the banks curtailed their lending. The Irish, Spanish and Greek governments, facing new constraints on their borrowing, were forced to sharply compress their spending, since there was no fiscal union to transfer resources to them from the more prosperous members.
But rather than advocating the creation such a system, nationalistic commentators in Germany and the members of the so-called New Hanseatic League – made up of eight northern European Union countries – warned of the dreaded specter of “transfer union.” In other words, they warned that cross-country transfers would all go one way, and that they would be on the paying, not the receiving, end.
In the absence of the political solidarity required for such transfers, the crisis countries were forced to double down on spending cuts. For them, the eurozone was transformed into an engine of deflation and depression.
The conclusion follows that absent a willingness to contemplate political union, banking union and fiscal union are not possible. And without them, monetary union by itself will not stand.
Still it breathes
Yet the euro is still with us.
It has survived for fully 20 years. It survived the mother of all stress tests, the global financial crisis.
As the Greek, Irish and Spanish crises all showed, and as the Italian crisis is showing again, exiting the euro is even harder than exiting the European Union.
As I explained more than a decade ago, abandoning the currency would ignite a full-blown financial crisis, as depositors frantically liquidated their bank balances and investors dumped their government bonds to avoid seeing their savings devalued. Each time a European leader, such as Greece’s newly elected Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in 2015, has contemplated abandoning the euro, this specter has caused a reversal.
But neither is the alternative of far-reaching institutional reform in the cards. At their summit last month, European leaders agreed only to modest future steps to build out the monetary union.
They agreed to create a eurozone deposit insurance scheme, but only after problems of nonperforming loans in Italy and other countries were resolved, which is to say no time soon. They agreed to create a euro-area fiscal capacity, but only after high debts were brought down, which means not in this lifetime. They agreed to grant the European Stability Mechanism, the rescue fund established in 2012, additional resources and powers, but, again, only after existing bad-loan problems are addressed, which means at best in the very distant future.
This agreement falls far short of banking union, fiscal union and political union. It is an agreement to “work toward” rather than to “establish.” It will not change the operation of the monetary union.
So the euro will stumble forward. No one will be happy with its operation. Equally, no one will leave. Progress will be minimal, since there is no appetite for the political union needed to support fundamental reforms.
As a result, the euro remains vulnerable to another crisis. The next crisis could heighten the perceived urgency of fundamental reforms and lead Europe’s citizens to accept the modicum of political integration needed to implement them. So reformed and restructured, the euro would operate better.
Or the next crisis could empower anti-elite, nationalist, anti-EU – that is to say populist – politicians, making it impossible to implement even the modest reforms agreed in 2018.
In which case the euro will function even less smoothly.
Only one thing is certain. History doesn’t run in reverse. For better or worse – and both arguments can be made – the euro is here to stay.
Eric Muller-Borle: Thank you for this piece about the Euro, not the most attractive of topics.
It is difficult to be sure about the hidden agendas of deceased people, especially politicians. As regards French President Mitterrand, I am not too sure about his goal having been “a European political federation not unlike the United States.” Not much in his writings or actions to support that, but I stand to be corrected. As to Chancellor Kohl, mmmh. Not sure either. The Giscard d’Estaing-Schmidt duet, perhaps. To the best of my knowledge, the European Federalist movement always was fringe-y at best, and never included leading politicians from any E.U. country.
However, my main point is, the article focuses solely on the monetary, fiscal, and other macro-economic / political aspects of the matter. What about the impact the Euro has brought on the daily lives of Europeans – not just the elites, everyone? The Euro certainly very much simplified (and increased) intra-Eurozone cross-border business, travel, online purchases by consumers, and more. Not to mention all the banknotes and coins they don’t have to lug around any more, the transparency in prices, and more. Sadly, it also destroyed the livelihoods of many currency traders. Sadly? Just kidding.
Certainly the E.U. is not integrated from, e.g. a tax standpoint. But how integrated is the U.S., viz sales taxes, banking or insurance regulations, etc. Does that imply the U.S. would be better off with 50 currencies? CA$, DC$, TX$, VT$, CT$, NY$ … you get the point.
One last point. The U.S. dollar is not just a monetary and a commercial tool. It also is used (if not abused) as a sovereignty instrument. Two examples: prohibiting foreign countries from dealing with Iran in USD; punishing European banks for non-U.S. actions that would have been illegal in the U.S. but not anywhere else, on the basis of using the USD. Pushing the EUR as an alternative to the USD in international trade is a matter of regaining European nations’ sovereignty, which starts with denying U.S. courts jurisdiction over matters that have nothing to do with the great U.S. of A.
Gavin Moodie, Adjunct professor, RMIT University, In reply to Eric Muller-Borle: Thanx for your good points Eric.
In the 1990s Australia had what it called a ‘two-speed economy’. A mining boom was increasing wages, prices and state revenue in the mining states, while wages, prices and revenue were stagnant in the non mining states.
The orthodox response would have been to increase interest rates to dampen demand and inflation in the mining states and cut interest rates to increase demand in the mining states. But of course the national government has a unitary monetary and fiscal policy.
Australia has become a rather centralised federation, yet the national government found it very difficult to manage the tax, welfare and population transfers between states needed to even out the ‘two speed economy’.
While the then Labor government rebalanced the economy successfully, the biggest mining state of Western Australia is extorting from the current conservative government undeserved compensation for its fallen mining royalties at the end of the boom.
How a humanities degree will serve you in a disruptive economy
June 5, 2018
Author: Anna Moro, Associate Dean, Humanities, McMaster University
Disclosure statement: Anna Moro does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: McMaster University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation CA. McMaster University provides funding as a member of The Conversation CA-FR.
I don’t know why we call them “soft skills.”
They’re certainly not easy to learn, although they are as valuable and necessary as the skills doctors use in surgery, bankers use to assess risk and physicists use to split atoms.
Communication, observation, empathy and logical thinking: These precious and frequently undervalued skills have everyday names.
I prefer to call them “essential skills,” because we all need them every day, though we don’t always use them well. They are the foundational skills that allow us to learn and live and work productively with other people. They are the skills that determine our chances of succeeding. They are the skills of leadership.
These essential skills are the ones most sought by some of the largest, most successful organizations. Those blue-chip employers recognize that their future leaders are people who can understand and communicate about the world around them, who can see the whole picture and find ways to fit into it.
People learn to do this by studying the humanities, the academic fields that have somehow fallen from the nest of subjects considered most worth studying.
Skills for an age of disruption
Since the Second World War, the pragmatic, empirical disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), as well as business, have risen to prominence. They have been hived off the traditional, all-purpose liberal arts education, which was designed to prepare students for full participation in the adult world.
The active listening, critical thinking and collaboration skills developed in a liberal arts degree are vital to contemporary professions. (Shutterstock)
The tide now appears to be turning, as it becomes clear that essential skills enable us to adapt and thrive in our rapidly changing world and bring the technical skills to life.
RBC Royal Bank — a corporation known for its business successes — took a yearlong, cross-country look at what Canada’s job market will be like in the 2020s. Its report this spring, Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption, offered some compelling projections, including the following:
Increasing demand for foundational skills such as critical thinking, coordination, social perceptiveness, active listening and complex problem-solving.
The Canadian economy is expected to add 2.4 million jobs over the next four years, all of which will require this new mix of skills.
Global competencies such as cultural awareness, language and adaptability will be in demand.
Virtually all job openings will place significant importance on judgment and decision-making and more than two thirds will value an ability to manage people and resources.
The report confirms what many business leaders have been saying for years: Educators should be leaning harder on the humanities to build those foundational skills in graduates — not just through degree programs in the humanities, but also by incorporating more humanistic teaching into STEM and business education.
Liberal arts rule a digital world
Investor Mark Cuban says the employment market of the near future will demand fewer hard skills since technical tasks are increasingly being performed by computers. Instead, he says, we’ll need more people who can put information into human context.
Steve Jobs, the late co-founder and CEO of Apple, once said: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
Recent books such as Scott Hartley’s The Fuzzy and The Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World and Christian Madsbjerg’s Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm, make similar points very powerfully.
Research shows that exposure to the humanities is linked to higher empathy and emotional intelligence among trainee doctors. (Shutterstock)
Still, we keep still hearing the same question from parents and even from humanities students themselves: “What can you do with a humanities degree?”
Empathy, tolerance for ambiguity, wisdom
It can be hard to convince these parents and students that the humanities are the training they need.
You might be writing a history essay, for example, but you’re developing important broader skills by doing it.
You’re gathering information from different points of view, you’re using it to marshal an effective argument and to present it effectively in writing, with supporting evidence.
The fact that the content is history doesn’t matter in the end: You’re developing skills in research, critical thinking and written communication.
A study conducted across five medical schools in the United States found that trainee doctors who were exposed to the humanities had higher levels of positive personal qualities such as empathy, tolerance for ambiguity, wisdom, emotional intelligence, self-efficacy and visual-spatial skills. Exposure to the humanities also reduced levels of some components of burnout.
A valuable investment
We won’t need as many coders, but we will need people with digital literacy. Many STEM jobs will be automated. A disruptive culture needs people who can adapt.
It takes time to cultivate the essential skills that enable adaptation. Learning to work collaboratively and to understand new perspectives takes time.
Not everyone is willing to wait, nor do they necessarily trust the outcome of a humanities education. Many employers still recruit for degrees and credentials that apply specifically to the field. They may say the “soft skills” are important, but how much of a priority do they really make of them?
The skills that result from studying the humanities develop obliquely, and that may have caused us to lose our sense of their value.
Yet these are highly transferable skills. They are valuable and necessary today. They are worth making the investments of time and trust, because they will be worth even more in the years to come.