Has North Korea's reclusive dictator Kim Jong-il gone soft? Was he feeling sad, maudlin and - dare I say - “lonely” after one too many shots of Hennessy cognac? Whatever the reason, the Dear Leader of “Best Korea” has put his money where his brandy-sipping mouth is by donating us$500,000 to assist the victims of Japan's devastating Great Tohoku Kanto Earthquake... well, sort of.
According to KCNA, North Korea's media mouthpiece, “Leader Kim Jong-il sent (a) relief fund of 500,000 U.S. dollars to Korean residents in Japan who suffered from the killer quake and tsunami happened there.” This may seem like a drop in the bucket against the estimated $300 billion cost of the disaster but this is North Korea after all. According to MSNBC, using data provided by the Bank of (South) Korea, “Half a million U.S. dollars is equivalent to the annual average income earned by 520 North Koreans in all of 2009.”
Now here's where the “sort of” part kicks in. 520 North Koreans aren't donating any part of their annual salaries, North Korea's premier citizen is. It's estimated Kim has around $4 billion socked away in Luxembourg banks, a little rainy day money just in case the DPRK's long-suffering populace finally start seeing him as Gadhafi and not just daffy.
The recipients of the Dear Leader's magnanimity might also want to look over those crisp new Franklins with a skeptical eye – some of the finest counterfeit American currency is said to come from a secret North Korean facility. Kim Jong-il is the single largest consumer of Hennessy cognac, reportedly purchasing over $700,000 worth annually at $630 per bottle... since the DPKR exports little more than vitriolic rhetoric, what would YOU do?
But back to “sort of”. Kim's gift was given not to the Japanese people as a whole, but “to Korean residents in Japan.” To be exact, the money was given directly to Chosen Soren, also known as Chongryon, who represent the interests of pro-Pyongyang Korean residents.
It's not the first time Kim has used natural disasters in Japan as an excuse to finance North Korean expatriates, either. According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, North Korea donated $200,000 to Chosen Soren after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 and a further $100,000 was sent after the 2004 Niigata earthquake.
Maybe I'm being too cynical. Perhaps Kim Jong-il should be given the benefit of the doubt - after all, those North Korean expats will surely spend a good portion of Kim Jong-il's largesse at local businesses in Japan.
The story has one more subtle twist as well. According to Japan Probe, “Apparently there is also a North Korean Red Cross Society, and it has donated $100,000 to the Japanese Red Cross Society. Unlike the donation to Chosen Soren, the Red Cross money might actually be used to help people who aren’t members of the association.” (images via Scrape TV, Notedly Untitled, Promex, and 123RF)