How big of a threat is North Korea?

Under the leadership of 33-year-old Kim Jong Un, who came to power upon his father’s death in 2011, the pace of North Korean nuclear and missile tests has accelerated dramatically. His tyrannical regime now has an estimated 20 nuclear warheads — and is adding a new weapon to that stockpile every six weeks or so, experts believe.

North Korea has already successfully mounted a small nuclear warhead on a 1,500 km–range Rodong missile that can reach South Korea and Japan — and is on course to develop 13,000 km–range intercontinental ballistic missiles targeting the continental U.S. by early next decade, according to observers at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. ignores North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal — and the instability of its erratic leader — at its peril, says Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Just because Pyongyang wants us to pay attention,” Fitzpatrick told The Economist, “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.”

The U.N. Security Council has just passed the toughest sanctions in two decades. However, the success of the sanctions will depend almost entirely on China — Pyongyang’s most influential ally, and the nation with which it does 90 percent of its trade. If the North Korean regime collapses, experts agree, there will be absolute chaos. There would be widespread looting by the country’s starving citizens, and violence in the gulags holding the country’s 120,000 political prisoners. Millions of people would rush the border into China, and South Korean and U.S. troops would be forced to occupy a devastated and dysfunctional country.

In his final days, Kim might choose to pass the nuclear weapons under his control to terrorists — or even launch them himself, as a final act of suicidal revenge. The regime’s collapse would probably spark a brutal civil war with very high stakes, says North Korea expert Andrei Lankov — like “Syria with nukes.”

[The Week]

China commentary on THAAD deployment by US

[Xinhua commentary] – With the installation of an anti-missile missile system that can hardly cover Seoul but is able to spy on China and Russia’s Far East, the United States aims to defend nobody in East Asia, but its insatiable appetite for hegemony and military advantage.

The hidden agenda of Uncle Sam in deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) on the southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula is perfectly based on its excuse of a so-called “missile threat” from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which is deemed as “rogue state” and “axis of evil” by Washington.

Defending allies from bullying by missiles of a “rogue state” naturally strengthens Washington’s moral high ground. Nevertheless, the reality is far less noble than what Uncle Sam portraits.

The fact that THAAD shields all U.S. barracks on the peninsula while leaving Seoul and its surrounding cities housing almost half of the country’s population unprotected completely unmasks Uncle Sam’s hidden agenda.

For starters, deploying THAAD in South Korea is a crucial step to heal the Achilles heel of Washington’s anti-missile missile system in the Asia Pacific, which has long been nagged by its inadequate recognition ability.

With the help of THAAD’s X band radar commanding surveillance of an area that extends over 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) from the peninsula, i.e. almost half of China’s territory and the southern part of Russia’s Far East, the United States can effectively and immediately raise the recognition accuracy.

The second part of Washington’s hidden agenda also concerns with the X band radar: If deployed, THAAD could help the U.S. army to collect radar data of warheads and decoys of China and Russia’s strategic missiles by monitoring their experiments, thus enable the United States to neutralize their nuclear deterrence.

For all that, deploying THAAD in South Korea to encounter the so-called “missile threat” from a “rogue state” is yet another self-directed and self-acted Hollywood-style drama of Uncle Sam. What lies under the savior’s costume is clear and simple — his strategic anxiety and sateless appetite for supremacy and upper hand.

North Korean math whiz who defected in Hong Kong

The North Korean defector who mysteriously snuck away during an international mathematics contest in Hong Kong is believed to be Jong Yol Ri, a three-time silver medalist at the annual competition, the South China Morning Post has learnt.

A photo of Jong was sent to a Whatsapp chat group of some 100 university students helping at the 57th International Mathematical Olympiad a day after the team of six North Korean students were last seen at the event’s closing ceremony. They were asked to look for the math whiz. No one responded to the message, the source said.

CCTV footage from the university is understood to show a student leaving the campus alone.

It is believed that subsequently, a defector sought refuge at the local South Korean Consulate General, more than 20km away.The Consulate General remained tight-lipped, saying it was the South Korean government’s position that it would not confirm anything about the defector.

The North Korean delegation left with one member short and flew back to Pyongyang via the mainland on July 19.

[South China Morning Post]

5 points of tension between North Korea and US

Five points of tensions between North Korea and the U.S. as shared by Pyongyang’s top diplomat for U.S. affairs, in an AP interview on Thursday:

  • Kim Jong Un on a list of sanctioned individuals – Han Song Ryol, director-general of the U.S. affairs department at North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, emphasized the authoritarian country’s anger over Washington’s July 6 announcement putting leader Kim Jong Un on a list of sanctioned individuals in connection with alleged human rights abuses documented by the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Pyongyang denies the allegations. “The United States has crossed the red line in our showdown,” he said. “We regard this thrice-cursed crime as a declaration of war.”
  • War Games – Han warned against planned U.S.-South Korean war games next month. “By doing these kinds of vicious and hostile acts toward the DPRK, the U.S. has already declared war against the DPRK. So it is our self-defensive right and justifiable action to respond in a very hard way,” he said.
  • US Diplomat’s flight – Han castigated Mark Lippert, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, for a July 12 flight on a U.S. Air Force F-16 based in South Korea. He called it an action “unfit for a diplomat.”
  • Differences in stance on nuclear weapons – North Korea has been hit with several rounds of international sanctions over its continued development of nuclear weapons and missiles, but Han contended the U.S. is to blame. “It is the United States that first developed nuclear weapons, who first deployed them and who first used them against humankind,” he said.
  • North Korea won’t give up nukes – As North Korea has many times before, Han dismissed calls for Pyongyang to defuse tensions by agreeing to abandon its nuclear program. “We … are very proud of the fact, that we have very strong nuclear deterrent forces not only to cope with the United States’ nuclear blackmail but also to neutralize the nuclear blackmail of the United States,” Han said.

[Associated Press]

Vetted North Korean student defects in Hong Kong

A North Korean student in Hong Kong is seeking asylum in the city. A 18-year-old male student, who was not identified, took refuge at the South Korean consulate in Hong Kong, according to local newspaper Ming Pao.

The student was part of an official delegation in Hong Kong this month for the International Mathematical Olympiad at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

Walk-in defections are relatively common at South Korean missions in South-East Asian countries which are the target destination for North Koreans escaping their country through China.

But defections by members of official delegations travelling abroad are rare, because they are carefully vetted before being granted exit visas and closely monitored during their stay overseas.

[AFP]

A rough life as a North Korean refugee

North Korean defectors who make it across the border to China find they have no rights and cannot legally find jobs in China, so they must scrape by on the margins of society — which is still less risky than trying to get out of China. Some estimates suggest that there are hundreds of thousands of North Koreans living this way in China.

Most defectors simply want to pass through China and start a new life in South Korea or another country that will provide them with legal protection.

For those defectors from North Korea who reach South Korea, they automatically become South Korean citizens after a mandatory three-month transition that is part debriefing, part re-education.

On the positive side, refugees received a few thousand dollars to start their new lives and learned skills most people take for granted: grocery shopping or using an ATM.

On the flip side, most North Korean defectors in the South stand out. They have distinct accents, and are often shorter and slighter with darker, sallow skin from years of malnutrition. It’s hard to avoid South Koreans’ prejudice and suspicions that North Koreans are spies.

North Korean refugees speak at Seoul University

A conference hosted at the Seoul University of Foreign Studies will feature North Korean refugees who will share their stories at a panel event with scholars, activists and volunteers.

“We have three different aims: to raise awareness about North Korean issues, given an opportunity for refugees to practice their speech skills in front of a live audience, and inspire people to get involved,” Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR} co-founder Casey Lartigue said. “We have been doing this for a little more than three years and we have matched 250 refugees with about 440 volunteers,” Lartigue said.

There are two aspects to the program. Track one focuses on teaching English and track two is for refugees who want to engage in public speaking.

[The Korea Herald]

China expected to renege on sanctions against North Korea

International cooperation on sanctions against North Korea is showing signs of a rift as China has become reluctant to push North Korea as it protests the planned deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in South Korea, analysts said Monday.

A lack of action by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is spurring speculation that China may be refusing to cooperate, angered by the planned deployment of the U.S. missile shield. China has long opposed the THAAD deployment on South Korean soil, claiming that its radar system could be used to penetrate Chinese territory.

The North Korean military has increased military drills that require the consumption of large amounts of aviation fuel, indicating that China, its main provider of oil, may be supplying the North with fuel for military use despite the embargo on it.

Analysts said that following the THAAD decision, sanctions on North Korea may not gain any momentum due to China’s non-cooperation.

[The Korea Times]

China warns THAAD will destabilize regional security

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has criticized South Korea’s move to deploy THAAD, an advanced U.S. anti-missile defense system to counter threats from North Korea, saying it harmed the foundation of their mutual trust, news reports said on Monday.

The announcement by South Korea and the United States this month that they would deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense unit has already drawn protests from Beijing that it would destabilize regional security.

The decision to deploy THAAD is the latest move to squeeze the increasingly isolated North Korea, but China worries the system’s radar will be able to track its military capabilities. Russia also opposes the deployment.

South Korea and the United States have said THAAD would only be used in defense against North Korean ballistic missiles.

[Reuters]

Kim Jong Un has his generals in stitches

North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un seemed a world away from worry as he visited a fish food factory, amid reports of a shrinking economy and a UN ban on the import of luxury goods.

The autocratic leader laughed and joked with his generals as he was taken around the factory, at an undisclosed location, earlier this week. His inspection of the food manufacturing plant is just the latest in a series of factory visits, which are used as propaganda to portray the communist leader’s interest in state industry, according to the BBC.

Despite Kim’s jocularity however, the leader has been dealt a huge blow as the Swiss government imposed a ban on the export of luxury watches to North Korea, according to the US-backed Radio Free Asia. The Supreme Leader has long been fan of the country’s expensive timepieces.

[Daily Mail]