(My latest story for Asia Times)Young general comes out as mother's boy

I've uploaded all the photographs of Ko Young-hee to my facebook.

You can see them at 高英姫(Ko Young-hee, the mother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un)

Young general comes out as mother's boy
Kim Jong-eun, in a bid to underscore his authority as North Korean leader, has launched a mass deification campaign for his mother, former first lady Ko Young-hee. As seen in exclusive pictures obtained by Asia Times Online, the late Ko is being elevated as "Mother of The Great Military First Korea" - without mention of her Japanese birth and traitorous family.
- Kosuke Takahashi (Jul 13, '12)

Young general comes out as mother's boy
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - In a risky gamble, Pyongyang is resting its hopes for the survival of the Kim regime on one woman - a dead one at that. Struggling to cement his dynastic credentials, young North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun has launched a mass deification campaign for his mother and the first lady of late leader Kim Jong-il, Ko Young-hee, who is believed to have died in 2004.

Since May, Ko has been praised as the "Respected Mother", the "Great Mother" and "The Mother of The Great Military First Korea", as can been seen in a film and photographs obtained by Asia Times Online this month from Rescue the North Korean People! (RENK), a Japan-based citizens' group supporting
ordinary North Koreans.

The idolization of Ko connects a missing link in the blood-heir's succession over three generations from the country's founding father Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il and to Kim Jong-eun.

Experts say the deification campaign is part of accelerated North Korean efforts to mythologize and legitimize its revolutionary tradition. Pyongyang's official accounts claim this originated in the sacred Mt Paektu, the highest peak in the Korean Peninsula and the birthplace, in propaganda accounts, of Kim Jong-il. (Soviet records show that he was actually born in a village in Russia's Far East.)

The video of Ko does not mention an inconvenient truth - Ko was born in Japan - the brutal colonial ruler of Korea from 1910-1945. She was born in the famous Koreatown, Tsuruhashi, in Osaka, in 1952. Her father, Ko Kyung-taek, made Imperial Japanese Army soldiers' uniforms in a sewing factory during World War II.

"North Korea needs to cover up the fact that Ko Young-hee was born and raised in Osaka," said RENK spokesman Lee Young-hwa, adding that her family moved to North Korea only in the early 1960s as part of a repatriation program.

Sound and vision
The rare 85 minutes of video footage and 93 photographs of Ko Young-hee for the first time reveal her vivid appearance and voice. In the video and photos, she accompanies Kim Jong-il to military camps, factories and farms. She is seen riding a white horse, following her husband on another white horse.

She inspects a barrage of rocket-propelled grenades with Kim Jong-il, with both wearing the same vintage Courreges sunglasses that became trademark apparel for her husband. They murmured words into each other's ears and smiled. The video shows a very happily married couple.

In one scene, she visits a barrack and expresses concern about soldiers' daily lives. She tastes a soldier's home-made donut, then teaches them how to cook a potato-based donut. In the following days, she sends them sugar and cooking oils.

The movie aims to conjure an image of the "Mother of The Great Military First Korea", which is the video's title. The movie uses emotional female narration and a rousing musical score in the classic North Korean style of propaganda.

She is also seen holding a gun, suggesting a strong wife who always protects her husband. This was echoed scenes of Kim Jong-suk, or Kim Il-sung's first wife and Kim Jong-il's mother, who was a guerilla and communist politician. The images also showed Ko met many dignitaries abroad, stressing her precious role as the first lady.

The attempts to establish Ko's authority also stress the Kim dynasty's heroic family lineage, which stretches back to Kim Jong-eun's grandfather's partisan guerilla activities against Japan in the 1930s.

After Ko's family moving back to North Korea in the early 1960s, she worked as a dancer for the prestigious Mansudae Art Troupe in Pyongyang, where she met Kim Jong-il. She is believed to have died in Paris due to breast cancer in 2004, which the video also does not mention.

By sanctifying the late Ko, Kim Jong-eun is trying to underscore his authority as the North's new leader. The efforts also come as the "young general" has been repeatedly seen with a woman who is believed to Hyon Song-wol, a former singer in a popular group called Bochonbo Electronic Music Band.

However, making it tricky for propagandists there are no photos or scenes of Kim Jong-eun with his parents. RENK's Lee points out that this was because Kim Jong-eun was studying in Switzerland from 1996 to 2002 when the video scenes were shot. In contrast, North Korea has shown many photos of Kim Jong-il with his parents, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-suk.

An ugly truth
It is widely known among Japanese experts on North Korea that Ko Young-hee's father moved from Cheju Island to Japan in 1929. He worked for Hirota Hokojo, a needlework factory under the control of the Imperial Army of Japan. This means Kim Jong-eun's grandfather was a collaborator with the Japanese imperialists. This can never be revealed by Pyongyang as it might shock the population.

In addition, Ko Young-hee's younger sister, Ko Young-suk, and her family defected to the United Sates in 1998 in the middle of the nation's "great famine", in which millions of people died of starvation. This makes Kim Jong-eun's aunt a national traitor. According to the South Korean media, Kim Jong-eun himself has given orders to execute any defectors by a firing squad and their families expelled to internal exile.

Sanctifying Ko Young-hee may provide indirect support for her son, but it is a risky ploy. Information on her birth and family may trickle out to the isolationist country, damaging his legitimacy as national leader. Ko Young-hee's background continues to be one of Kim Jong-eun's - as well as North Korea's - dangerously weak spots.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based Japanese journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he also writes for Jane's Defence Weekly as Tokyo correspondent. His twitter is @TakahashiKosuke

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
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(My latest story for Asia Times)Is the Osprey safe?

Here is my latest story for Asia Times, about the Osprey.

Is the Osprey safe?

The planned deployment of the Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in Okinawa is raising renewed protests there, as doubts grow in the heavily built-up Japanese prefecture of the suitability of the aircraft in such a setting. In particular, worries are focusing over how data appears skewed to demonstrate its "safety".
- Kosuke Takahashi (Jul 9, '12)


Is the Osprey safe?
By Kosuke Takahashi

"The osprey stays on deserted shores because it fears human beings," says a passage from Hojoki, one of Japan's most acclaimed essays written by poet Kamo no Chomei in 1212.

Ironically, 800 years later in modern Japan, the "osprey" is about to swoop on densely inhabited areas, striking fear in the hearts of the local people. Protests over the planned deployment of the contentious Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft are growing in Okinawa prefecture and elsewhere in Japan due to what they say is the aircraft's poor safety record following a series of accidents overseas.

Local governments and residents are calling for the cancellation of the basing of MV-22 Ospreys in their communities on safety grounds. Okinawans plan to hold the largest rally yet against the scheduled deployment of the aircraft at the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station on August 5.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is currently pushing ahead with plans to station the Ospreys first at the Marine Corps' Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi prefecture in late July for trial flights, then deploying them to the Futenma Air Station later on. This is part of the Marine Corps' plan to replace its aging 24 CH-46 helicopters with 24 MV-22 Ospreys at Futenma in coming two years.

The Osprey is the hybrid of a helicopter and fixed-wing airplane; it is a fixed-wing plane that climbs and hovers like a helicopter, while its giant propellers can be rotated forward and to fly like an airplane. It's the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) transport combo-aircraft. The name of the Osprey came from the bird of prey, which can descend almost vertically, just like the aircraft. It can carry out low-altitude flight such as above mountainous areas, which helps reduce the risk of an aircraft exposing itself to enemy radar. This in-turn leads to a greater mission success rate.

The Pentagon has reiterated that the Osprey is "a highly capable, reliable and safe aircraft". But we just saw the second crash of an Osprey in three months in Florida, raising renewed questions over its safety

"As an airplane it's quite safe," Arthur Rex Rivolo, an expert on rotorcraft who runs an aerospace corporation in Virginia of the US, said in recent email interviews with Asia Times Online. "But its helicopter role is always very precarious. The shortcomings of the V-22 have to do with the design of the aircraft. The biggest concern over the aircraft is that it has smaller rotors. As a helicopter, that is working very hard to stay in the air."

Rivolo served as the principal analyst for the MV-22 and CV-22 at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a nonprofit organization paid to do independent research for the Pentagon, from June 1992 to March 2009. He was a pilot for six years at the US Air Force and 22 years at the Air National Guard. He testified before the House of Representatives in June 2009 on the inability of the MV-22 Osprey to safely autorotate - that is, to conduct an emergency power-off landing by rotating its propellers with the help of the wind, even after all engines become inoperative.

"The aircraft is unable to autorotate," Rivolo said.

Rivolo pointed out the chances of the Osprey's two engines failing in peacetime are very rare, "but if both engines fail, that would be a very serious problem of the V-22. The US military has decided that a very, very small risk is worth the utility of the aircraft. In a rare occurrence of all engines' failure, we will lose some people. And the military thought that's acceptable."

Japanese Defense Minister Morimoto on Monday insisted in the Diet (parliament) that the Osprey has an autorotation function but that the function has not been tested.

History of accidents

The V-22 Osprey was once called the "widow-maker" due to a series of accidents during its development. The Marine Corps' version, the MV-22, got off to a rocky start with the deaths of seven marines during testing in 1992; 23 Marines died in two crashes of the MV-22 Ospreys in 2000 alone. A US Air Force version of the tilt-rotor aircraft, the special mission CV-22, crashed in Afghanistan in April 2010, killing four people. A total of 36 people have died in V-22s since the plane began flying.

Two recent V-22 accidents have again raised safety concerns. An MV-22 crashed in April in Morocco, killing two marines, and in June, an Air Force CV-22 Osprey crashed in Florida, injuring five crewmembers.

Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said at a press conference on June 26 that the two recent crashes occurred during the rotating of its engine nacelle (engine cover), which is unique to V-22s. Morimoto said both crashes occurred while the nacelles were rotating and the aircraft was converting from vertical to conventional flight.

In the Morocco accident, the pilot was moving its rotors from an upright to forward position at the time of the crash. Japanese defense officials suggested the pilot had tilted the aircraft forward in a strong tail wind.

The Florida crash occurred while the rotors were tilted halfway forwards. The pilot was a veteran with over 2,572 hours of flight experience, including 554 hours on MV-22s and CV-22s.

"The Morocco accident is the classic of [the] V-22," Rivolo said. "The pilot has a little button on his controls that moves nacelles. If you move them a little bit too far forward, you crash. The pilot can crash the aircraft by touching the switch. This is unique to the V-22."

Japanese defense chief Morimoto has continued to stress the safety of the aircraft by repeatedly saying, "The US military continues to operate the aircraft despite those incidents. This suggests there were no systemic problems but there were some operational problems."

The Pentagon has stressed that the MV-22 Osprey has an excellent safety record, and has surpassed 115,000 flight hours. It said about one third of the total hours were flown during the past two years.

"It's important to remember that the MV-22 has a very good safety record over the past 10 years," an active pilot at the US Air Force told Asia Times Online on the condition of anonymity. "There has been a lot of focus by the Japanese media on the recent crashes, but prior to the April crash, it had been 12 years since an MV-22 had a 'class A' mishap." If the aircraft damage equals or is greater than $2 million, it is considered "class A".

"Like other rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, if the V-22 is flown in accordance with established regulations and employed by trained pilots who adjust for situations using their best judgment, the V-22 is a safe aircraft."

The Pentagon has also dismissed the aircraft's safety concerns. It stressed that including the mishap in April 2012 in Morocco, since the Marine Corps resumed flight operations in October 2003, the MV-22B has demonstrated a safety record that is consistently better than the US Marine Corp (USMC) averages. The "class A" mishap rate for each of the identified aircraft is as follows.

MV-22: 1.93 ;
CH-46: 1.11;
CH-53E: 2.35;
CH-53D: 4.51;
AV-8B: 6.76
ALL USMC: 2.45

These rates are determined by the number of mishaps over a period of 100,000 flight hours. The rate of MV-22 Class A mishaps is higher than that of ageing CH-46, but is the second-lowest among the five aircraft and lower than the average.

However, the aircraft's record is worse if class B and C mishaps are included. A class B has a property damage value of between $500,000 and $2 million, class C is between $50,000 and $500,000.

There were 30 Osprey accidents of all classes between November 2006 and December 2011, according to Ryukyu Shimpo, one of the two major Okinawan newspapers. During the same period, the CH-46 had 17 accidents, while the CH-53 had 34 and the AV-8B had 38, the newspaper reported on July 8, citing the USMC's data.

The Wired website on June 21 said, "The Marines, who tout the Osprey as their 'safest tactical rotorcraft,' have used semantic games and fudged statistics to obscure the V-22's true safety record." It had reported in October 2011 that the Marines and the Naval Safety Center didn't count at least four serious flying accidents as Class A flight mishaps.

The other safety concern over the Osprey comes from the fact that the accident rate of CV-22 stays at 13.47, much more than for the MV-22. Japanese officials said this is because the flight hours of all of the 24 CV-22s, which the Air Force currently holds, stayed at 22,266 hours as of June 15. Since those flight hours are less than 100,000, they said the rate is skewed. They also pointed out that CV-22s are used for special operations under fiercer conditions, not like MV-22s.

Wired said, "But the Air Force has a history of blaming people even when its warplanes malfunction." For example, Brig Gen Donald Harvel, the lead investigator on a CV-22 crash in Afghanistan in 2010, was pressured to blame the pilots as he initially attributed the incident in part to engine failure.

"There was absolutely a lot of pressure to change my report," Air Force Times quoted Harvel as saying in January 2011. "My heart and brain said it was not pilot error. I stuck with what I thought was the truth."

"Harvel said Air Force Special Operations Command wanted him to cite the cause of the crash as pilot error because AFSOC didn't want old doubts stirred up about the safety of the Osprey program," Air Force Times reported.

The bottom line: the Osprey may be safe as the Marines have touted, but it sometimes causes accidents as often happen with every other aircraft by nature. One fatal crash at Futenma, which is surrounded by more than 100 schools, hospitals and shops, could trigger very strong anti-US sentiment in Okinawa. This could severely damage the presence of other US bases such as the Kadena airbase. The US cannot be too careful when the US deploys the controversial aircraft out there.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based Japanese journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he also writes for IHS Jane's Defence Weekly as Tokyo correspondent. His twitter is @TakahashiKosuke

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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(My latest for Asia Times) Pragmatism warms Russo-Japanese relations

Pragmatism warms Russo-Japanese relations
By Kosuke Takahashi

TOKYO - Spooked by China's persistent assertiveness in confronting its Asian neighbors at sea, Japan and Russia are beginning to seek rapprochement to promote cooperation on security and economics in East Asia.

Despite little progress on a decades-old territorial dispute, the two nations aim to achieve closer military cooperation to counter China's naval expansion. They are also accelerating bilateral moves to strengthen ties based on economic and energy pragmatism.

There is no shortage of anecdotes and events about this warming of bilateral relations between Japan and Russia. Most recently, General Shigeru Isawaki, head of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF), visited his Russian counterpart Nikolai Makarov in Moscow on June 27. The two nations' top military officials shared the view that bilateral defense cooperation was good for stability in the Asia-Pacific region and agreed to continue cooperation in providing safe navigation.

The following day, the Japanese military delegation led by Iwasaki visited a motorized infantry brigade and a military pilot-training center near Moscow. His trip to Russia is the first in four years for a chief of the JSDF Joint Staff.

"The territorial dispute will go nowhere for the time being," Akihiro Iwashita, a professor of the Slavic Research Center at Hokkaido University in Japan, told Asia Times Online. "While shelving the territorial dispute, the two nations will likely enhance cooperation pragmatically."

The four Russian-occupied islands
Russo-Japanese relations deteriorated to the lowest point in decades after Dmitry Medvedev, then Russia's president, visited Kunashiri Island, one of the four disputed islands, in November 2010, triggering fierce protests from Tokyo. He became the first Russian president to dare to do so. At that time, many Japanese saw populist Medvedev as taking advantage of the Sino-Japanese confrontation over the Senkaku Islands, also referred to as the Diaoyu Islands in China. He appeared to have preyed on the weakness of Japan's diplomatic muscle.

The nagging territorial dispute has prevented Japan and Russia from concluding a postwar peace treaty. The area at issue, called the Southern Kurils by the Russians and the Northern Territories by the Japanese, consist of three islands - Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan - and the uninhabited Habomai group of islets. The Soviet Union seized the islands a few weeks after Japan's surrender in World War II on August 15, 1945. The islands are believed to be rich in natural resources, such as oil and gas, and the area is a major fishing ground.

Based on a 1956 Joint Declaration that restored ties between two nations, Russia has offered to return the two smaller territories, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets, only after the signing of a peace treaty with Japan. But Tokyo has rejected this offer and has sought the return of all four territories. Moscow has never agreed to the return of more than Shikotan and Habomai, while Tokyo has never officially agreed to the return of anything less than the entire territory.

The recent thaw
The triple disaster of a devastating mega-earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in March 2011 in Fukushima, Japan, caused a major turning point for the two nations' strained relationship. Russia made an emergency shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to energy-hungry Japan, easing the tensions.

A more positive move toward thawing the ice between the two nations came shortly before the Russian presidential election this March. During an interview with foreign media on March 1, then-prime minister Vladimir Putin expressed his intention to start afresh the negotiations with Tokyo over the long-running island feud. He specifically mentioned the 1956 Joint Declaration, expressing his willingness to resolve the thorny issue by returning the Shikotan and Habomai.

"If I become president, we will have the Russian Foreign Ministry sit on one side and the Japanese Foreign Ministry sit on the other and we will give out the order, 'Hajime'," said Putin, a fifth-degree black belt in judo, using the Japanese term for "begin" employed by referees to start and resume judo matches.

Asked about how to resolve the dispute, Putin referred to the "50-50 split solution" used in settling a 40-year territorial dispute with China and said a similar approach could be taken with Tokyo.

"That would be like a hikiwake," he said, using another Japanese judo term meaning "draw".

Judo diplomacy has continued to stir Japan-Russia relations. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, another judo lover who also has a second-degree black belt, has acted in concert with Putin. During his first meeting with the Russian leader, which took place in Mexico on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit on May 18, Noda told him he wanted to make their meeting the hajime, or beginning, to move toward negotiations at ministerial and working levels over the territorial row.

The two leaders seem to have succeeded in establishing a rapport by discussing judo. They pledged to exchange the national judo uniforms that the two countries' teams will wear at the London Olympics this summer. Noda also offered to present Putin with a portrait of Jigoro Kano, the founder of Kodokan judo, whom the Russian president admires.

Economic cooperation
Putin has expressed a strong intention to have bilateral economic cooperation take precedence over the territorial problem. This is the basic approach Moscow has taken since the Soviet era, of seeking results in the form of economic assistance from Japan, while at the same time avoiding making concessions to Tokyo in the territorial dispute.

Japan, meanwhile, has abandoned its traditional policy of inseparably linking political and economic issues. Since the territorial problem is extremely difficult to solve, Tokyo now sticks to its pragmatic approach to economic and international cooperation with Moscow to build a firmer bilateral relationship.

The trade volume between the two nations increased to more than US$30 billion last year, hitting a new record.

Most recently, the two nations on June 24 agreed that both governments would provide necessary support for a private-sector project to build a LNG plant in Vladivostok in Russia's far east.

Demand for LNG has jumped since the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima last year, forcing Japan to rely more on thermal power generation. With annual purchases of 80 million tonnes, Japan is the world's largest importer of LNG.

For Russian, fast-growing Asia is a huge, potentially lucrative market. With the LNG terminal set to serve as a base to expand its energy exports in Asia, it aims to strengthen and expand its operations to compete with the giant European and US energy companies that have accelerated their entry to the Asian market. Also, with European economies slumping further, Russia has been boosting its economic links with Asia lately.

The US may be concerned about a possible thaw in relations between Japan and Russia militarily and economically, amid a sensitive period when US-Russia relations have been strained over Iran's nuclear programs, Russian-Syrian military cooperation, and other issues.

China's growing naval power
The former Medvedev administration took an increasingly aggressive approach to Russia's territorial dispute with Japan. Reportedly, now premier Medvedev is planning to visit Etorofu Island, the largest of the disputed islands, on July 4. He arrived on Monday in Vladivostok, where the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit will for the first time be held in Russia on September 8-9.

Japanese experts believe this is because Medvedev personally aims to re-establish his weakening political foundation after retiring from the presidency. By showing nationalistic strong images to the Russian public, he and his aides may attempt to buoy his popularity.

Medvedev may also want to prey on political confusion in Japan, whose politicians are currently indulging in infighting over Prime Minister Noda's plans to double the national sales tax.

From a Japanese perspective, in such an unstable political situation, the negotiations over the territorial dispute don't seem to be getting anywhere.

In a broader picture, Medvedev's upcoming second visit to one of the disputed islands may result from Russia's long-term national strategy mentioned in the new Russian Military Doctrine, which was approved in February 2010.

By 2025, China is expected to become the world's largest economy, surpassing the US. If that comes true, China will occupy the West Pacific and the US will occupy the East Pacific as a natural step of power balance. Thus Russia needs to have a strong footing in the East Asia, extending into the West Pacific. Russia is now aggressively making Kunashiri and Etorofu islands into militant strongholds. It is in a hurry to restore its influence before China becomes a superpower in this region. It plans to deploy French-made Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to those islands.

In December 2010, Moscow established one of the four new military districts (MDs) and unified strategic commands (USCs) in Khabarovsk. It didn't place the headquarters of the Eastern MD (USC East) in Vladivostok, home port of the Russian Pacific Fleet. Military experts believe this is because Khabarovsk is in the inland areas close to China.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based Japanese journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he also writes for Jane's Defence Weekly as Tokyo correspondent. His Twitter account is @TakahashiKosuke.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)
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