North Korean math whiz defector now in South Korea

The North Korean defector who sought refuge in Hong Kong last month left the city for South Korea about a week ago. A source told the South China Morning Post that the youth, identified as Jong Yol-ri, was accompanied by staff from the South Korean consulate and the Hong Kong government to the city’s airport where he boarded a flight for Seoul about a week ago. “It was a night flight,” the source said.

According to YTN, 18-year-old Jong – who defected while in Hong Kong to attend a math competition – intends to further his studies outside South Korea. The Post was told the student was likely to settle in the United States after a couple of months.

Jong, a two-time silver medalist who had just picked up a third at this year’s math contest, was staying at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, where the annual Olympiad was held, before he left his five teammates and fled.

The South Korean consulate, where Jong sought refuge after sneaking away from the 57th International Mathematical Olympiad on July 16, did not respond to the Post’s inquiries.

Jong is the first known North Korean to defect in Hong Kong since the city’s handover to China in 1997. Security around the South Korean Consulate was visibly stepped up after he sought refuge there. It was understood that uniformed and plainclothes officers from the counter-terrorism unit were deployed there.

Steve Chung Lok-wai, an ­expert in Korean affairs at Chinese University, said the defector’s departure was likely to have been ­endorsed by the Beijing ­government.

[South China Morning Post]

Kim Jong Un: The US “operational theater in the Pacific” within North Korea’s “striking range”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un considers Wednesday’s test firing of a submarine-based ballistic missile the “greatest success and victory,” the country’s state-run news agency reported.

“He (Kim Jong Un) noted with pride that the results of the test-fire proved in actuality that the DPRK joined the front rank of the military powers fully equipped with nuclear attack capability,” the Korean Central News Agency said Thursday.

North Korea’s launch took place in the waters off Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province.  Amid the annual joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea, which kicked off on Monday, KNCA quoted Kim as saying the US mainland and its “operational theater in the Pacific” are now within North Korea’s “striking range.”

He warned the US and South Korea to refrain from “hurting the dignity and security of North Korea” if it wants to avoid deadly strikes.

The South Korean military said earlier that North Korea fired a missile that flew 500 kilometers before falling into the waters of Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea. This was the first time a North Korean missile entered Japan’s air defense identification zone, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.

[CNN]

North Korean fishermen defect

Three North Korean fishermen have defected to South Korea after going adrift in the West Sea in a wooden boat on August 7, the Unification Ministry said Tuesday.

The fisherman told investigators they had gone out to sea to fish but drifted south due to engine trouble. One was the captain of the boat and the two others are crew.

“Once the boat started drifting south they decided to defect,” a security official said. “Their life was getting more difficult because the North is selling fishing rights to Chinese trawlermen.”

The fishermen are now at a facility run by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service in Gyeonggi Province.

[Chosun Ilbo]

UN says North Korea planting mines near South Korean border

The American-led U.N. Command in South Korea on Tuesday accused North Korea of planting land mines near a truce village inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that divides the two Koreas.

Much of the border, one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints, is strewn with land mines and laced with barbed wire. But South Korean media said no land mines had been planted in the area of the truce village of Panmunjom until North Korea placed an unspecified number there last week.

Under the Korean War armistice, the two sides are barred from carrying out any hostile acts within or across the 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) -wide DMZ.

More than a million mines are believed to be buried inside the DMZ. North Korean mines occasionally have washed down a swollen river into South Korea, killing or injuring civilians. In August 2015, land mine blasts maimed two South Korean soldiers and caused tensions between the two Koreas to flare.

An unidentified South Korean government official said the North planted the mines to prevent front-line North Korean soldiers from defecting to South Korea via Panmunjom.

[AP]

Possible North Korean reaction to recent diplomatic defection

On Sunday, South Korea said its neighbor North Korea could resort to assassinations and kidnappings in revenge for recent defections.

An official from South Korea’s Unification Ministry said the defection of North Korea’s deputy ambassador in London was helping put the North in “a very difficult situation”.

“Considering [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-Un’s character, it is very dangerous,” said the unidentified official.

“It is highly likely that North Korea will make various attempts to prevent further defections and unrest among its people.”

[Sky News]

North Korea issues nuclear threat amid US-S. Korea war games

North Korea has threatened to turn South Korea and the US into “a heap of ashes through a Korean-style pre-emptive nuclear strike”.

The words come as South Korea and the US begin a 12-day military exercise called Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which North Korea has described as an invasion rehearsal.

The exercise involves 25,000 American and 50,000 South Korean troops.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry has described the military exercise as an “unpardonable criminal act” that could bring the peninsula to “the brink of war”.

The country often issues such fiery rhetoric when it feels threatened.

China has also voiced concern about the exercise, with the official Xinhua news agency saying it would make North Korea “more aggressive” at an already sensitive time.

North Korea’s military chiefs said “first strike” units were ready to attack if the US or South Korea showed any signs of invading.

[Sky News]

North Korea calls UK-based defector ‘human scum’

Predictably, North Korea has branded their former UK-based diplomat who defected to South Korea as “human scum”.

Without listing his name, the North’s Korean Central News Agency said the envoy had been accused of leaking secrets, embezzlement and child rape. It said the UK had been told in June and had been asked for his return but instead handed him to South Korea.

In a commentary, the KCNA said “[the fugitive] should have received legal punishment for the crimes he committed, but he discarded the fatherland that raised him and even his own parents and brothers by fleeing, thinking nothing but just saving himself, showing himself to be human scum who lacks even an elementary level of loyalty and even tiny bits of conscience and morality that are required for human beings”.

In the past, Mr Thae had argued the British were brainwashed by their ruling class into believing “shocking, terrifying” lies about North Korea under its leader Kim Jong-un.

[BBC]

A well-paying job and bodyguards await diplomat defector

Thae Yong Ho, the most senior North Korean diplomat to flee to the South, is likely to have round-the-clock protection and make a comfortable living at a think-tank run by Seoul’s intelligence service, say elite defectors who followed a similar path.

Choi Ju-hwal was a colonel in the North Korean army when he fled to South Korea via Hong Kong during a business trip in China in 1995, making him the highest-level military defector at the time. Choi said that for two years, he had four armed policemen guarding him around the clock due to concerns about his safety. He now has a lower level of police protection.

While Thae had a relatively high public profile as a representative of North Korea in London, Choi expects the ex-diplomat to try to live anonymously in South Korea. “He won’t pursue a public life, because he has to think about the safety of his family he brought here.” Choi said.

One thing is certain: Well-connected defectors like Thae are treated as a valuable resource who can shed light on a secretive neighbor.

[Reuters]

Senior North Korean diplomat’s defection a ‘unique situation’

South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joo-hee said on Wednesday North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho defected for the sake of his family and because he was “tired of Kim Jong Un’s regime.”

Liberty in North Korea (LINK) Director of Research and Strategy Sokeel Park said the defection of the senior North Korean diplomat  was a “unique situation,” and could lead to threats of retaliation from North Korea.

“There’s been those kind of things that have happened in the past for very high level defectors: assassination attempts, death threats … there will be protection from the South Korean authorities around this person, especially [in] the short term,” Park said.

Park said the defector Thae was the member of an elite family in North Korea, the son of a high-profile general. As with all high-profile defections, Park said the family still in North Korea could expect to face suspicion and possibly punishment in the future.

Park said it was unusual the diplomat had been with his entire immediate family overseas when he was posted. “That’s quite rare … a lot of the time there will be a son or an immediate family member that’s still back in North Korea kind of as collateral to make it harder for people to defect,” he said.

When asked why Thae may have defected to South Korea, rather than the United Kingdom where he was posted, Park said he may have been offered more incentives. “Maybe he would have better career prospects, for instance, if he came to South Korea, worked with the national intelligence service … rather than staying in the United Kingdom,” he said.

[CNN]

A North Korean defector’s life in webtoon

When North Korean defector Choi Sung-Guk decided it was time to go public with his experiences, he avoided the well-trodden “harrowing memoir” route in favor of a cartoon strip.

Drawing skills and some online space provided Choi with everything he needed to reach a young Korean-speaking audience that might otherwise have little attention to spare for a 36-year-old escapee from over the border. Choi, who spent eight years making cartoons at a Pyongyang animation studio, now posts a weekly online comic strip, or webtoon, on South Korea’s largest internet portal, Naver.

Rodong Simmun webtoon Choi Sung GukThe strip is called Rodong Simmun (Labor Interrogation) — a play on the name of the North Korean ruling party’s official mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun (Labor Newspaper) — and details the struggles of North Korean defectors adapting to life in the capitalist South. A lot of the material is based on Choi’s own experiences since arriving in Seoul as a 30-year-old defector in 2010.

Choi only started posting his strips in May and, in what is a crowded and highly-competitive field, they are already averaging around 20,000 views and garnering fawning reviews from a growing number of South Korean fans. The YouTube channel also has Korean subscribers living overseas in countries like the United States.

[Read full Korea Herald article]