Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Kim Jong-il awaits to hear whether Big Macs and Roasted Donkey are Luxuries

Staff at the United Nations are grappling with how to hit North Korea's Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, where it hurts.

I have often listened to journalist Colm Rapple talk about "luxuries" on Budget Day and wondered how Spartan life would be without them. So think of poor Kim as his people depend on external food aid to prevent another famine.

The UN staff is tasked with deciding if Big Macs flown in from Beijing, shark fin soup, James Bond films or roasted donkeys, are luxury goods?

Donkey is apparently Kim's favourite dish and the Financial Times reports that in the 1990's, trade figures revealed that Kim was the largest single consumer of Hennessy cognac, importing more than $650,000 worth a year.

The security council resolution on sanctions prohibits the sale or transfer of material that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction and missiles, as well as still-to-be-determined “luxury goods”.

The FT reports that Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian official who accompanied Kim on a month-long train journey across Russia in 2001, wrote that live lobsters were flown on to the train, as well as donkey.

Kenji Fujimoto, the pseudonym of the Japanese author of I was Kim Jong-il’s Sushi Chef, told of being sent to Iran and Uzbekistan for caviar, to Denmark for pork and Thailand to buy mangoes for Kim.

Another chef recalls a 10,000- bottle wine cellar and the North Korean leader is said to have a library of 20,000 Hollywood movies. In addition he has been reported to have bought his family expensive imported toys including jet skis, karaoke machines and basketball courts.

The FT says analysts said the sanctions aimed at clamping down on luxury goods would crimp Kim’s ability to pamper those who keep him in power. “This reflects the desire of the Americans to put pressure on Kim Jong-il and his supporters, whom he controls by rewarding them with high-class goods such as caviar and watches,” said Nam Sung-wook, a North Korean specialist at Korea University in Seoul.

Analysts said the outline of the sanctions did not appear sufficient to change North Korea’s behaviour. Scott Snyder, a Korea specialist at the Asia Foundation, said it was premature to say they would have no bite because they have yet to be defined.

“It’s all about defining this vague statement and finding the space between punitive and prudent,” Snyder said. “China is going to be the guiding force.”