Kim Jong Un wants new summit with Trump

North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong Un wants to meet with President Trump again, says South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has just returned from Pyongyang.

Moon also spoke directly to the North Korean public, describing a peaceful future to an audience of some 150,000 people. “We had lived together for five thousand years but apart for just 70 years,” Moon said in his speech on Thursday. Moon continued, “Here, at this place today, I propose we move forward toward the big picture of peace in which the past 70-year-long hostility can be eradicated and we can become one again.”

“The spectacle of the South Korean president speaking to wildly cheering crowds of North Korean fans was one of the memorable moments of the Pyongyang summit,” NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports from Seoul. “Moon said that he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had agreed to measures that would completely eliminate the fear of war and the risk of armed conflicts on the Korean Peninsula.”

On the final day of the summit, Moon and Kim took a symbolic step toward peace, traveling outside the capital to visit Mount Paektu – a famous and revered volcano that’s also the highest point on the Korean Peninsula, situated along North Korea’s border with China. The two leaders and their wives posed at the site for photos, standing in front of Heaven Lake — a lake in the caldera of the sacred volcano.

South Korean President Moon expects to see President Trump in New York next week, when he attends the U.N. General Assembly.

[NPR]

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un pledges to shut missile site

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has agreed to shut one of the country’s main missile testing and launch sites.

He signed a pledge to permanently close the Tongchang-ri facility, after talks in Pyongyang with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in. Both leaders also “agreed on a way to achieve denuclearization” on the Korean peninsula, President Moon said.

On Tongchang-ri, Kim Jong-un said the engine missile testing and launch facility would be permanently closed “in the presence of experts from relevant nations”. The BBC’s Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker said the announcement is a major step forward.

China has welcomed the outcome of the inter-Korean summit, saying both sides had found “new and important common ground”.

Mr Kim also expressed a readiness to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility – where North Korea is believed to have produced the material used in its nuclear tests – if the US took some reciprocal action. The details of that were not specified.

North Korea blew up its main nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri shortly before Mr Kim’s meeting with US President Donald Trump in June.

Kim Jong-un also said he hoped to “visit Seoul in the near future” – he would be the first North Korean leader to do so.

[BBC]

Matchmaking helps North Korean defectors find spouses

Born and raised in Cheongjin, located in the northeastern part of reclusive North Korea, Park Myeong-hee escaped her home country in 2012, leaving behind all of her beloved family and friends.

[Among her challenges] it was hard to meet somebody in South Korea. She didn’t have anyone who could fix her up on a blind date. It was when she happened upon an online site exclusively intended for matchmaking between North Korean women and South Korean men that she made headway.

Park is one of the steadily increasing number of North Korean defectors seeking to find their lifelong partners in the South through matchmaking companies, whose business has been growing fast in recent years. There are no official figures, but industry experts say that the number of matchmaking companies stood at around 10 in the early 2010s but now has risen to around 70.

Small business owners, office workers and even public servants are signing up. Recent TV programs featuring North Korean women dating South Korean men seem to be of great help in removing any negative images attached to the women from the communist north.

North Korean women are known for their strong commitment to the family. Adding to that, since many have lost everything in the North by opting to defect, they tend to cherish their marriage no matter what.

[Business Standard]

Samsung and other South Korean corporations eying expansion into North Korea?

The billionaire leader of Samsung’s sprawling business empire will visit North Korea this week along with the heads of nearly a dozen top South Korean corporations, accompanying South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

President Moon will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the visit — the first trip to Pyongyang by a sitting South Korean president since 2007. Last month, Moon laid out ambitious plans that would dramatically transform and connect the two economies, giving South Korea a land link to the rest of the Asian continent, potentially opening up lucrative trade and infrastructure links. Such plans could eventually benefit Samsung and South Korea’s other huge family-run conglomerates, which are known as chaebol.

“If South Korea can take the initiative to bring chaebol leaders to North Korea … maybe it would be a good start for South Korean [money] to move into Pyongyang,” said Steve Chung, a Korea expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The business leaders will be meeting with North Korean Vice Premier Ri Ryong Nam, a spokesman for the South Korean president’s office said Monday.

North Korea’s cloistered economy of 25 million people has attractive elements for foreign investors, according to analysts. They include a cheap workforce, a good geographic location and unexploited natural resources. But doing business in North Korea comes with a lot of risks, most notably heavy US and international sanctions on Pyongyang that companies would have to navigate — unless the restrictions are lifted. So it’s doubtful Samsung will be setting up shop in North Korea any time soon.

[CNN]

North and South Korea open first joint liaison office on their border

North and South Korea on Friday opened their first joint liaison office, a facility that will be staffed by personnel from both countries, marking another advance in the rival states’ rapidly improving relationship. The liaison office, in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, establishes the first channel for full-time, person-to-person contact between the Koreas.

South Korean officials consider the office another important step toward ending decades of enmity and hope it will eventually lead to the establishment of diplomatic missions in each other’s capitals. They said the new facility would reduce the chances of dangerous misunderstandings along the heavily armed inter-Korean border. It will also serve as a venue for meetings as the two countries consider joint economic projects and other matters, they said.

Until now, the only regular channel of communication between North and South Korea has been telephone hotlines that their governments and armed forces have run across the border. But those have been turned off and on again over the years, depending on the political climate.

South Korean President Moon plans to travel to Pyongyang on Tuesday for his third summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during which time Mr. Moon hopes to discuss restarting the stalled talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

[The New York Times]

North Koreans defect due to disillusionment not hunger

During the late 1990s and the early 2000s, almost all the North Koreans who fled their country were escaping out of hunger or economic need. But the explosion of markets has improved life for many. Today, more people are leaving North Korea because they are disillusioned with the system, not because they can’t feed their families. Following are excerpts of testimonies of recent defectors:

The accordion player: “I was ambitious. … I left because I didn’t have the freedom to do what I wanted to do.”

The doctor: “I hoped to work abroad as a doctor in the Middle East or Africa. But to work overseas, you have to pass security screening to make sure you’re ideologically sound and aren’t going to defect. I am a very capable person, and I was a party member, but even I couldn’t make it.”

The construction worker: “I worked [on a coveted, overseas job] for three and a half years, but I made only $2,000 during that time. We were allowed to work overseas for five years maximum, and I was hoping to save $10,000 and return home proud. I realized it wasn’t going to happen, so I started looking for a chance to escape.”

The bean trader: “I wanted to progress in life, I wanted to go to university, but because my mother had defected to China, [as part of the penalty I couldn’t.] … I felt like I didn’t have any future in North Korea. That’s why I decided to leave.”

The meat delivery guy: “We were told in school that we could be anybody. But after graduation, I realized that this wasn’t true and that I was being punished for somebody else’s wrongdoing. I realized I wouldn’t be able to survive here. So for two years I looked for a way out. When I thought about escaping, it gave me a psychological boost.”

The university student: “I was so disgusted with the system. I didn’t have freedom to speak my mind, or to travel anywhere I wanted, or even to wear what I wanted. It was like living in a prison. We were monitored all the time by our neighborhood leader, by the normal police, by the secret police. If you ask me what was the worst thing about North Korea, I’d say: Being born there.”

[Washington Post]

The second, quieter negotiation involving North Korea

Often drowned out by the din of President Trump’s headline-grabbing promises, a second, quieter set of negotiations between North and South Korea has been far more encouraging. On September 18, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea is scheduled to travel to Pyongyang for his third summit with Kim Jong-un.

Moon Jae-in, a liberal human-rights lawyer, has been “a key driver of this diplomacy since its inception,” said Abraham Denmark, a director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars., because he’s proved to be a skilled and effective navigator among Kim, Trump, China and Japan.

China, with its own agenda, in recent months is loosening trade restrictions with Pyongyang and undercutting Trump’s efforts to pressure Kim, according to former officials and experts.

And “Kim Jong Un’s genius is to set three balls rolling” — the U.S., South Korea and China, according to Aidan Foster-Carter, an honorary senior research fellow at Leeds University, in England. “They all interact, cleverly.”

North Korea’s desire is to bring an official end to the Korean War. American officials are worried this would lead to further calls for a permanent end to military exercises or even withdrawal of the 28,000 American troops based in the South.

“Moon wants to improve relations; he doesn’t care if North Korea disarms or not,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear policy expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California. “Of course, he knows the United States cares, so his goal is get just enough on the score to keep Trump happy.”

Meanwhile with his talks at an impasse, Trump has asked Moon to be “chief negotiator” between Washington and Pyongyang. They’ve all been able to ride along together so far, their hopes and dreams not clashing too much.

[NBC]

Brutal treatment in North Korean political prisons

Escapees from North Korea’s gruesome political prisons recount brutal treatment, including medieval torture with shackles and fire and being forced to undergo abortions by the crudest methods. Human rights activists say that this appears to have lessened slightly under Kim Jong Un. But severe beatings and certain kinds of torture — including being forced to remain in stress positions for crippling lengths of time — still appear commonplace throughout North Korea’s detention systems, as are public executions. Starvation is often part of the punishment, even for children.
Following are excerpts of testimonies of recent defectors from North Korea:

The money man: “In 2015, a money transfer went bad — the woman I’d given the money to got caught and she ratted on me — and I was put in detention. I spent two months there. I wasn’t treated like a human being — they beat me, they made me sit in stress positions where I couldn’t lift my head. Two times they slapped my face and kicked me during interrogation.”

The teenage prisoner: “I was interrogated repeatedly by the secret police as they wanted to know about my mother’s business. They were slapping me around the face, and pushed me so hard against the wall that I had blood coming from my head. I still get a headache sometimes.
“[Once imprisoned] we got up at 6 a.m. every day and went to bed at 11 p.m., and in between we would be working the whole time, shoveling cement or lugging sacks, except for lunch. Lunch was usually steamed corn. I was too scared to eat. I cried a lot. I didn’t want to live.”

The phone connector: “Even though we were working so hard in prison camp, all we got to eat was a tiny bit of corn rice and a small potato. By the time I got out, I was so malnourished I could hardly walk.
“[Concerning life in North Korea] if you speak out against the system, you will immediately be arrested. And if you do something wrong, then three generations of your family will be punished. Once I heard there was a going to be some kind of coup launched in Chongjin and that all of the people involved were executed. When you hear about cases like this, of course you’re scared. So instead of trying to do something to change the system, it’s better just to leave.”

The university student: “The secret to North Korea’s survival is the reign of terror. Why do you think they block all communications? Why do you think North Korea has public executions? Why do you think North Koreans leave, knowing that they will never see their families again? It shows how bad things are. All our rights as people have been stripped away.”

 [Sources of quotations: The Washington Post]

North Korea holds military parade without ICBMs

North Korea staged a military parade Sunday to mark the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding, but held back on showcasing its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), believed to be capable of targeting the United States.  Experts speculated before the event that North Korea may choose not to display the country’s more advanced weaponry to avoid antagonizing US President Donald Trump.

Kim John Un has made 2018 a year of diplomacy, personally meeting with the leaders of China, South Korea and the United States for the first time since taking the reins of his country in 2011. Later this month, Kim will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a summit in Pyongyang, another event that could factor into the theme of Sunday’s festivities.

The celebration still saw dozens of military vehicles and goose-stepping soldiers parade past leader Kim Jong Un in the center of the capital, Pyongyang, as cheering crowds watched on. Though some of the artillery pieces on display featured anti-American slogans as in previous years, the theme of the parade appeared overwhelmingly focused on economic development and improving the lives of the North Korean people.

Kim reviewed the procession from a balcony in Kim Il Sung Square, alongside other senior officials, including Li Zhanshu, a special envoy sent by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Kim and Li locked hands and raised arms at the end of the event.

On Saturday, the US State Department said that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has received a letter from Kim for Trump, which the US President believes will be positive in tone. Experts, however, caution against reading too much into any sense of optimism.

[CNN]

Chinese and North Korean leaders to attend Russia summit

Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend a regional summit in Russia next week, officials said. a gathering that may include North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the heads of Japan and South Korea. It will be the first time that a Chinese leader participates in the annual economic forum hosted by Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also invited Kim Jong Un to participate in the Sep 11-13 Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. Kim has not confirmed his attendance, but his participation would mark another major step in his efforts to bring Pyongyang out of international isolation over its nuclear programme.

Xi and Kim met three times in China this year as the two countries seek to repair relations frayed by North Korea’s nuclear activities and Beijing’s backing of United Nations sanctions against its Cold War-era ally.

Xi is sending the head of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, Li Zhanshu, to Pyongyang this weekend to attend celebrations marking North Korea’s 70th anniversary, ending speculation that the Chinese president would use the occasion to make his first official trip to the neighboring country.

In the latest chapter in the roller-coaster diplomacy over North Korea, US President Donald Trump signaled on Thursday that negotiations on denuclearization remain alive after weeks of an apparent deadlock.

[AFP]