Sushi chef Kenji Fujimoto meeting Kim Jong-un

One man, a humble sushi chef from Japan, infiltrated the inner sanctum of North Korea, becoming the Dear Leader’s cook, confidant, and court jester.

In July 2012, Kenji Fujimoto answered the invitation to return to Pyongyang, where he met Dear’s Leader’s heir, Kim Jong-un.

Cynics say Fujimoto returned to North Korea because the Japanese media had grown tired of his decade-old stories; by risking his life with a return, he’d be able to once again command large interview fees.

Fujimoto says he simply wanted to make good on his word.

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During his two-week stay in North Korea, he met with Kim Jong-un once, over lunch with Kim Jong-un’s entourage and his new wife, Ri Sol-ju, herself a former pop singer.

Fujimoto greeted Kim Jong-un with “The betrayer has returned.” Sobbing, Fujimoto dropped to his knees. Kim beckoned him to rise, and the cover image of Fujimoto’s book about the trip shows him weeping, locked in a bear hug with North Korea’s new leader.

Fujimoto was assigned an interpreter and a valet for the event—a lavish banquet that Fujimoto cannot quite remember.

As the party progressed, Kim Jong-un, taking a cue from his father, challenged Fujimoto to a drinking contest. The sushi chef, now 65, drank until he blacked out. He woke later to discover that he was in a guesthouse, in bed, with his clothes removed. He called to his valet, who was sitting in a chair in the dark.

“Did I embarrass myself?” Fujimoto asked him.

“No,” the valet assured him.

–Excerpt of GQ article “Dear Leader Dreams of Sushi”

Dear Leader Dreams of Sushi

GQ magazine sent Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Adam Johnson to interview Japanese sushi chef Kenji Fujimoto, who for eleven years was Kim Jong-il’s personal chef, court jester, and sidekick in North Korea.

Fujimoto had seen the palaces, ridden the white stallions, smoked the Cuban cigars, and watched as, one by one, the people around him disappeared. It was part of Fujimoto’s job to fly North Korean jets around the world to procure dinner-party ingredients—to Iran for caviar, Tokyo for fish, or Denmark for beer. It was Fujimoto who flew to France to supply the Dear Leader’s yearly $700,000 cognac habit. And when the Dear Leader craved McDonald’s, it was Fujimoto who was dispatched to Beijing for an order of Big Macs to go.

When he finally left North Korea, Fujimoto became, according to a high-level cable released by WikiLeaks, the Japanese intelligence community’s single greatest asset on the Kim family, rulers of a nation about which stubbornly little is known.

Among other things, Kenji Fujimoto reveals present leader, Kim Jong-un’s, birth date. (January 8, 1983.)

Read the interesting 9-page article

Watch CBS interview re: Kenji Fujimoto 

Incentives still in place for Korean talks

The cancellation of the Korean rivals’ much-anticipated meeting, felled at the last minute by a protocol dispute, shows their deep mutual mistrust. Still, they may have more reasons than not to eventually unpack the meeting gear and get back to negotiations.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye is under pressure to make good on her campaign promises to reverse a deterioration of ties under her hard-line predecessor. A high-level meeting would validate her efforts to be tough against provocations while committing to aid and calls for dialogue.

North Korea is interested in reviving the two economic projects that were to be the main focus of the meetings, both as an emblem of reconciliation and as a source of foreign investment and hard cash. Pyongyang may also be feeling a pinch from its only major ally, China, which has clamped down on cross-border trade and financial dealings in displeasure over the higher tensions.

On Wednesday, Pyongyang wouldn’t answer Seoul’s calls on a communications line that was restored ahead of preliminary negotiations for the failed meeting. On Thursday, North Korea release a statement in state media warning Seoul against advocating “confrontation accompanied by dialogue.”

Ryoo Kihl-jae, South Korea’s Unification Minister and Park’s point man on North Korea, had likened the talks’ failure Wednesday to “labor pains” in the creation of new relations.

Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korea studies professor at Korea University in the South, said calling off the talks at the last minute shows the degree of mistrust is high.

Later Wednesday, more than 100 right-wing protesters, including Korean War veterans, chanted anti-Pyongyang slogans as they burned an effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and ripped a North Korean flag with a box-cutter.

“Even though a cooling-off period at this point is inevitable, it is still possible for a different level of the South-North talks to take place as time passes,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korea studies of Dongguk University in Seoul.

AP

A new window for diplomacy with North Korea?

From a CNN opinion piece by Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing:

Beijing has long seen itself as the arbitrator between Pyongyang and Washington in addressing North Korean nuclear proliferation, as China … pushed to preserve the status quo on the Korean Peninsula.

But this is changing – North Korea is now China’s problem. This means that President Obama should take full advantage of his meeting with President Xi Jinping in California to offer help in finding a way to compel Pyongyang to alter its behavior.

While some argue that Beijing doesn’t hold significant leverage to shape Pyongyang’s behavior, without China’s strong support at the United Nations and economic and humanitarian assistance, North Korea’s continued existence would be uncertain.

There are clear reasons for China to address its North Korea problem. China’s security interests have evolved over the past three decades as the country has prospered and achieved feats of development unparalleled in modern history. Xi has spoken about an enhanced Chinese leadership role in the Asia-Pacific, but this goal will be hard to achieve if China is unable to rein in the reckless behavior of its unruly neighbor.

Efforts to boost China’s soft power and international image are undermined every time North Korea defies China’s pleas. And if North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities continue to advance, China should expect an enhanced U.S. security posture in the region – not something Beijing wants.

China is beginning to take steps in this direction through toughened public statements, the closure of North Korean accounts in Chinese banks, and a significant drop off in cross-border trade. South Korean President Park Geun-hye was also invited for a summit with Xi in late June, while the North Korean leader has not, despite apparent repeated requests. China is clearly sending the North Korean regime a message that business as usual is no longer acceptable.

A new window for diplomacy is now opening as North Korea becomes more China’s problem than Washington’s – and Beijing has a responsibility to come up with credible diplomatic options.

Warming of chilly tensions between North and South Korea

After months of unsettling tensions, North and South Korea tentatively agreed Thursday to hold talks about reopening the shared manufacturing zone where Pyongyang halted activity in April.

The North proposed the meeting to discuss the shuttered Kaesong Industrial Zone — a major symbol of cooperation between the two countries — along with other issues in a statement published by state-run media. “The venue of the talks and the date for their opening can be set to the convenience of the south side,” it said.

South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae suggested a date of June 12 for the meeting.

As tensions flared on the Korean Peninsula in April, Kim Jong Un’s regime began blocking South Koreans from entering the Kaesong complex, which sits on the North’s side of the heavily fortified border and houses the operations of more than 120 South Korean companies. Pyongyang then pulled out the more than 50,000 North Koreans who work in the zone’s factories.

Daniel Pinkston, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group covering Northeast Asia, suggest that North Korea’s key ally China, which has expressed displeasure with some of Pyongyang’s recent behavior, may not have been “as generous as the North Koreans have been expecting in terms of aid, assistance, trade and investment.”

Additionally, U.S.-South Korean military exercises have ended, and Pyongyang has toned down the frequency and intensity of its threats against the same.

The North’s statement Thursday also proposed that the potential talks cover other issues besides the Kaesong complex. Pyongyang said the talks could also include “humanitarian issues” such as “the reunion of separated families and their relatives.”

CNN

UN fears for young North Korean defectors sent home

Nine young North Korean defectors are at the center of a diplomatic storm. A war of words has broken out over the young refugees – all thought to be orphans – who the UN believes were sent back to their authoritarian homeland by China last week.

The UN said it was concerned about the return of the children to North Korea, where they could face severe punishment for having fled. Meanwhile, Beijing warned the UN against making “irresponsible remarks” about the young defectors.

The defectors, ranging in age from 15 to 22, were turned over by Laotian authorities to North Korean security agents, who flew them via China back to North Korea on May 28.

The refugees likely face harsh imprisonment in political gulags, torture, or execution. North Korea deems escaping from the country to be a political “crime of treason against the nation.” Under North Korean law, the minimum punishment is five years of hard labor.

It is unusual for Laos to have turned over the refugees so quickly to North Korea, as it is that Pyongyang sent nine security agents to escort them back to North Korea. South Korean officials commented that Laos had previously allowed refugees expressing a desire to travel to South Korea to do so after a few weeks’ hiatus.

North Korea may be seeking to disrupt the underground railroad by intimidating other defectors from attempting to escape. Up to 90 percent of North Korean refugees pass through Laos.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans are estimated to be hiding in northeast China, seeking to travel to South Korea via Mongolia or southeast Asian nations such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos.

Human rights activists argue that in allowing the transit of the North Koreans across China, Beijing “violates its commitments as a state party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1984 Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment.” However, China denied knowledge of the refugees’ plight since they had been given valid travel documents by North Korean embassy officials in Laos.

Source: The Foundry