China to join UN resolution for North Korea sanctions?

South Korea has stepped up its efforts to enlist Beijing’s support for the adoption of stringent sanctions to punish North Korea’s recent nuclear test during talks.

“Beijing said that as North Korea’s nuclear test violated UNSC resolutions and the 2005 joint declaration (of the six party talks), China would participate in the UNSC resolution,” Yoon Soon-gu, director general of the international policy bureau at Seoul’s Defense Ministry, told reporters following his talks with his Chinese counterpart Guan Youfei.

“During the talks, Beijing also said that it has publicly stated that it is absolutely opposed to North Korea’s development of nuclear arms and its nuclear test, and that it delivered such a message when it called in Pyongyang’s ambassador to Beijing,” he added.

During the talks, the Chinese side said it would join a new U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution, which is in the making. China has so far been seen reluctant over the adoption of excessively harsh sanctions against its traditional ally. It has called on Seoul and other countries to exercise “restraint and caution” in responding to the North’s provocation.

China is viewed as the most crucial player for anti-Pyongyang sanctions, as it wields the greatest influence over the North that is heavily dependent on it for trade and various forms of aid including the supply of oil. The trade volume between China and the North accounts for more than 90 percent of Pyongyang’s overseas trade. The North is also known to secure 100 percent of its oil from China through a pipeline linking its border city of Sinuiju to Dandong in northeastern China.

[Korea Herald]

North Korea faked footage of submarine-launched missile test

Footage of a North Korean submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test, released by Pyongyang two days after it announced it had conducted the country’s fourth nuclear test last week, was faked according to an analysis by a California-based think tank.

North Korea has said it has ballistic missile technology which would allow it to launch a nuclear warhead from a submarine. North Korean state television aired footage on Friday of the latest test, said to have taken place in December.

“The rocket ejected, began to light, and then failed catastrophically,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the California-based Middlebury Institute’s James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS).

South Korea’s military said on Saturday North Korea appeared to have modified the video and edited it with Scud missile footage from 2014. The CNS analysis shows two frames of video from state media where flames engulf the missile and small parts of its body break away.

“North Korea used heavy video editing to cover over this fact,” Hanham said in an email. “They used different camera angles and editing to make it appear that the launch was several continuous launches, but played side by side you can see that it is the same event”.

It is also unclear if North Korea has developed a nuclear device small enough to mount on a missile.

[Reuters]

Naturalized US citizen arrested for spying in North Korea

A man who claims he is a naturalized American citizen, and who apparently has been detained since October in North Korea on spying charges, has asked the South Korean or US government to rescue him.

Kim Dong Chul (center) naturalized US citizen held in North Korea on spying charges

Kim Dong Chul, believed to be in his 60s, and who lived in Fairfax, Virginia, said he spied on behalf of ‘South Korean conservative elements’ and was arrested in October. ‘I was tasked with taking photos of military secrets and scandalous scenes,’ Kim told CNN in an interview.

CNN reports that North Korean officials said Kim was a U.S. citizen arrested on espionage charges. (Kim’s US passport is shown below.)

There have been no recent reports either from Pyongyang or Washington of any American having been detained.

Another North American still being held in North Korea is 60-year-old Canadian pastor, jailed for life with hard labor. Hyeon Soo Lim spends eight hours a day, six days a week digging holes in an orchard in a prison camp where he is the sole inmate.

Lim, who came to Canada from South Korea in 1986, is a clergyman known for his caring and compassion. “I wasn’t originally a laborer, so the labor was hard at first”, Lim said in Korean during a Newsweek interview.

While charges against Lim had lacked specifics, the pastor said he believes they stemmed from his continued criticism of the North’s three generations of leaders. “I admit I’ve violated this government’s authority, system and order”, Lim said in the interview.  “I hope I can go home someday”, Lim said. “I miss my family.”

[CNN; Metro (UK)]

North Korea starts off the year with a blast

North Korea on Wednesday celebrated what it called a successful hydrogen bomb test — a milestone that, if true, marks a colossal advancement for the reclusive regime and a big test for leaders worldwide to determine what to do about it.

“Make the world … look up to our strong nuclear country … by opening the year with exciting noise of the first hydrogen bomb!” read a document signed by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on state television.

Pyongyang has been very vocal about its nuclear ambitions, pressing on despite widespread condemnation, sanctions and other punishments. Having a hydrogen bomb — a device far more powerful than the plutonium weapons that North Korea has used in three earlier underground nuclear tests — ups the ante significantly.

The purported underground test corresponded with a magnitude 5.1 seismic event.

[CNN]

Statistics on South Koreans outliving North Koreans

South Koreans on average outlive North Koreans by some 12 years, partly because North Korea’s high infant mortality rate is about seven times higher than the South’s, according to South Korean government data.

Data released by Statistics Korea placed life expectancy rate for South Koreans at 78.2 years for men and 85 years for women. In comparison, the rate for North Korean men was 66 years and 72.7 years for women.

The infant mortality rate, one of the biggest reasons behind the life expectancy disparity, was measured at 22.0 deaths of infants under age 1 per 1,000 live births in North Korea, a figure 7.6 times higher than in the South.

According to the Korea Foundation for International Healthcare’s 2013 data, less than 10 percent of North Korean obstetricians and gynecologists have been trained in newborn care. Family doctors in small regional clinics are not trained in emergency obstetric and newborn care, childbirth or gynecology.

Poor sterilization of medical equipment also leads to infection of patients in North Korean medical facilities, data showed. In the country, 15 percent of women who died due to complications from pregnancy or childbirth died from sepsis, a whole-body inflammation caused by an infection.

[Korea Herald]

The Korean Reunification guessing game

Everyone has his or her own prediction for Korean reunification. Futurologist George Friedman thinks it will happen before 2030 while Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group believes that reunification may be just around the corner. The CIA predicted that reunification will take place in 10-15 years – but that was in its global survey published in 2000. Oops!

The two Koreas live on different planets. North Korea remains autocratic while South Korea has become democratic. Social life south of the DMZ is modern and open to the world while life in the north is relatively isolated and parochial. In the economic realm, meanwhile, the two countries have experienced perhaps the greatest divergence. The gross national income of South Korea is now 44 times that of North Korea. The trade volume of the south is 144 times that of the north.

So, because of these stark political, social, and economic differences, the question of when the two countries will reunify is largely irrelevant. Government representatives from Pyongyang and Seoul met in mid-December and couldn’t agree on anything, not even on whether to meet again. For the time being then, forget about any discussions on reunification.

North Korea specialist Andrei Lankov argues that North Korea’s collapse will come unexpectedly, and South Korea should prepare for this eventuality. “Maybe the best way to describe this situation is to compare North Korea’s geopolitical neighborhood to a large city where disastrous earthquakes are known to be possible,” he writes for NK News. “In such a city, all responsible authorities should remember that another quake is likely, so all necessary preparations have to be made and all necessary plans have to be drafted and systematically kept up to date.”

[CounterPunch]

Experts speak out on Kim Jong Un seeking economic development amid sanctions

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech shows the young leader is placing a high priority on the economy, analysts in Seoul said. In a 30-minute address Friday, Kim appeared to stress economic development over military power.

Cheong Seong-chang, director of unification strategy at the Sejong Institute, noted that Kim has been focusing less on the military-first policy in his annual speech since he took power in late 2011. The change shows Kim is gaining confidence in his power, according to Cheong.

“Politically, Kim appears to believe he has stabilized his grip on power. With submarine-launched ballistic missile tests, he might feel his country has secured deterrent against the United States and South Korea militarily,” Cheong said.

Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said Kim appears to be seeking economic self-reliance in anticipation of prolonged international sanctions. “The North Korean regime isn’t expecting international sanctions to be lifted anytime soon, so it has been focusing its efforts on creating foundation for self-reliance. Related policies have been introduced during the last four years,” Lim said.

Yang Moon-soo, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies, expects Kim to pursue pragmatic economic policies this year.

[VoA]

North Korean delegation to Davos?

North Korea may send a delegation to the World Economic Forum meeting in Switzerland for the first time in 18 years, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on Monday, a sign that it sees international engagement as a way to bolster its economy.

The annual event in the Swiss town of Davos, which attracts heavyweights from the worlds of business and politics, is scheduled for January 20-23.

Yonhap said the North Korean delegation would be led by Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong, who spent two decades in Switzerland as ambassador and representative at the United Nations in Geneva.

Ri acted as surrogate father to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un when Kim was a student at a Swiss school.

Kim, believed to be in his early 30s, focused on development of the economy during a New Year’s Day speech.

[Reuters]