Defector reporter missing near China-North Korea border region

A North Korean defector reporter for the Daily NK website has been missing near the China-North Korea border region since Monday morning, two sources familiar with the case confirmed to NK News on Tuesday.

The source could not name the journalist due to the sensitivity of the issue, but said they have known Mr. A for a long time and that he has “no reason to re-defect back to the North,” adding it was possible he had been abducted by North Korean agents.

Yonhap reported that the missing reporter defected to the South in 2011, is 60 years old, works for “internet media”, and reportedly disappeared from Yanji, China on Monday morning.

The South Korean government is aware of the case and investigating the details, an official from the spokesperson’s office of the Ministry of Unification (MoU) told NK News.

[NK News]

North Korean defector: “I’m good at escaping”

“I’m good at escaping,” says Grace Jo, a slender 25-year-old who managed to flee North Korea and its authoritarian regime not just once but three times, though most of her family was not so lucky.

The first time Grace and her family tried to flee North Korea, she was about 7 years old.

“We walked three nights and four days,” she recalls. “We walked on unpaved roads, and we crossed many mountains until we reached the Tumen River” that separates North Korea from China.

A few months earlier, her father had been arrested and beaten by authorities for crossing the border to buy a bag of rice, and he died on the train taking him to prison. Her grandmother and two younger brothers died of hunger, and her eldest sister had gone off to search for food and never returned.

Living in the northeastern North Hamgyong province, Jo’s family had been trying to survive on wild fruit, crickets and tree bark. Once, she said, she and her little brother would have nothing to eat for 10 days.

But crossing the border did not put an end to their problems. In China, Pyongyang’s main ally, her family’s three survivors were forced to go underground for fear of being sent back to North Korea. Eventually, they were caught, jailed and sent back home.

They managed to flee once again after Jo’s mother bribed a border guard, but once again they were caught and returned.

In 2006 she made her third — and final — escape, this time thanks to an American-Korean pastor who paid members of the Bowibu, North Korea’s omnipotent secret police, $10,000 to secure the three women’s freedom. [continued]

Trump urged to take in more North Korean refugees

After receiving U.N. refugee status, Grace Jo’s remaining family moved to the United States in 2008, and Jo has since acquired American citizenship — an unlikely turn of events for someone who was taught that “Americans are the biggest enemy” and “we should kill them or report to the officials if we see them.”

Today, Jo is vice president of NKinUSA, an organization founded by her sister to help other North Korean defectors.

“We want President (Donald) Trump to accept more North Korean refugees in the U.S. and allow us to provide resettlement services,” she said.

“Also, President Trump, please tell China, Vietnam and Laos to stop repatriating the refugees. Sending them back to North Korea is returning them to torture, imprisonment or even death,” she added.

Jo says that while the country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is certainly a potential problem, the millions of people scrabbling to eat enough, “and millions more living with no liberty of any kind, is an actual problem.”

[Japan Times]

North Korean military obligations

Watching footage of April’s military parades in North Korea — with soldiers marching in formation to patriotic tunes — Lee So-yeon recalls all the steps. She was once one of those soldiers.

The daughter of a university professor, Lee, now 41, grew up in North Korea’s North Hamgyong province. But when famine devastated the country in the 1990s, women — including Lee — volunteered for the military in droves, often for the food rations.

Since 2014, North Korean women have been drafted for seven years of mandatory military service. Men serve 10 to 12 years. For each gender, those are the longest conscription terms in the world.

In the military, Lee says, she witnessed sexual abuse and violence against female soldiers. She tried to defect but was imprisoned and tortured. Finally, in 2008, she managed to sneak across the Tumen River to China.

“I was shocked by freedom — that I didn’t need permission to do anything!” Lee recalls. “I couldn’t believe there was hot water, hair dryers! I could vote for whomever I wanted. And all the food!”

Lee has since become an advocate for female defectors as head of the New Korea Women’s Union, based in western Seoul.

[NPR]

Defectors reflect on North Korean mental conditioning

From Lee So-yeon’s time in the military, she is able to offer insight into what the North Korean government wants its own people to know. When she was a soldier, state TV blasted nonstop in her office, she says.

“There’s a TV in every army barracks. When there was a nuclear test, state TV told us to feel proud, so we did,” Lee says. “Even when there were peace talks between North and South Korea, state TV told us it was a ploy by the South to take over our country.”

The media in North Korea do not merely report information. Instead, they’re a tool for the regime to stir emotion, especially when it feels threatened — as it does now, says Jeon Young-sun, a professor of North Korea studies in Seoul.

“Outside pressure on North Korea — sanctions or threats of attack — actually help the regime win domestic support,” Jeon says. “North Korea is as always on the defensive, and fear rallies people around their Dear Leader.”

It’s not just soldiers. Defector Lee Hyeonseo was a high school student in 1994, when the Clinton administration came close to a pre-emptive military strike on North Korea’s nuclear facilities. Her school ended classes and sent the students out digging trenches for months.

“We were so scared at the time. We really thought we were going to have a war,” says Lee, 36. “Somehow, we believed we were going to win that war, because our dear leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, they were superior gods who can make everything happen.”

[NPR]

Cybersecurity defector describes North Korea’s ‘hacker army’

North Korea has an army of up to 3,000 trained hackers and is “100%” capable of having launched the “WannaCry” ransomware attack that paralyzed businesses and government agencies, according to a computer professor who defected from the country.

Kim Heung-kwang, founder and director of North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, a nonprofit organization promoting North Korean defectors’ rights, told the Nikkei Asian Review that the rogue state has world-class software engineering talent and technology, which it has been nurturing since the 1960s.

“Some people downplay North Korea’s computer technology, but they have top-class software technology manpower,” Kim said during an interview at his office in eastern Seoul. “If you ask me whether they are able to attack using ransomware — yes, 100%.”

Kim was a professor at Hamheung Computer Technology University before he crossed the Tumen River, which marks the border between North Korea and China in 2003 and then came to South Korea in 2004.

Kim said the North Korean government has developed an army of hackers, or “information warriors,” in part to attack “enemies.” But the North’s key interest, he said, is financial. Pyongyang earned $1.5 billion from hacking and other cyber activities in 2016, up from $1 billion a year earlier, making cyber activities a major source of foreign currency for the Kim Jong Un regime.

Pyongyang therefore gives hackers special treatment, Kim said. “Information warriors are treated very well. They are offered nice apartments in Pyongyang, given medals and awarded compensation. They are promoted quickly and allowed to join the [country’s ruling] Workers’ Party.”

He said about 500 top secondary school students are selected as potential hackers every year and sent to college, where they learn computer languages and are put through rigorous training. Some are even given the chance to study abroad in China and Russia — benefits beyond the reach of most North Koreans.

[Nikkei Asian Review]

US President and Japanese PM agree to toughen sanctions against North Korea

U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed on Friday to expand sanctions against North Korea for its continued development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the White House said.

Meeting before a Group of Seven summit, Trump and Abe dedicated most of their discussions to the issue, aides said. “President Trump and Prime Minister Abe agreed their teams would cooperate to enhance sanctions on North Korea, including by identifying and sanctioning entities that support North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs,” the White House said in a statement.

“They also agreed to further strengthen the alliance between the United States and Japan, to further each country’s capability to deter and defend against threats from North Korea,” it said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this month called on countries all over the world to implement existing U.N. sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, adding that the U.S. administration would be willing to use secondary sanctions to target foreign companies that continue to do business with Pyongyang.

Most of North Korea’s trade is with its ally China, and so any hard-hitting secondary sanctions would likely target Chinese firms.

[aol]

North Korea tension tops China-Russia agenda

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi makes an official visit to Russia on Thursday and Friday for meetings with key officials, including his counterpart Sergei Lavrov. China and Russia are well aware that security problems on the Korean peninsula have no easy resolution. Both are grappling with how best to respond to not just the regular missile launches by Pyongyang, but also its nuclear tests.

Recent rhetoric out of the United States has given Beijing, in particular, heightened concerns that Washington might now be thinking, much more seriously, about a pre-emptive strike on Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities. Several weeks ago, for instance, US President Donald Trump made clear – prior to his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida – that if Beijing “is not going to solve North Korea, we [the United States] will”.

Moreover, after the session with Xi, Trump sent the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier to waters near North Korea. This ups the ante further from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s striking announcement on his Asia trip earlier this year that the two decade US policy of “strategic patience” towards Pyongyang is now over and “all options” are on the table.

Wang Li asserted last month that “China’s priority now is to flash the red light and apply the brake to both [the US and North Korean] trains” to avoid a collision. Beijing and Moscow are concerned that the tensions on the peninsular could spiral out of control and have supported a UN Security Council initiative that would build on the UN vote last year to tighten some sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear tests.

Unlike the US, China has been reluctant to take more comprehensive, sweeping measures against its erstwhile ally. The key reason Beijing has differed with Washington over the scope and severity of actions against Pyongyang largely reflects the fact that it does not want to push the regime so hard that it becomes significantly destabilized. From the vantage point of Chinese officials, this risks North Korea behaving even more unpredictably and the outside possibility of the implosion of the regime would not be in Beijing’s interests. This is not least as it could lead to instability on the North Korea-China border, and ultimately the potential emergence of a pro-US successor nation.

[Mail & Guardian]

CIA Director met high-level North Korean defector Thae Yong Ho

CIA Director Mike Pompeo discussed the potential for fomenting an insurrection against the Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea with a high-level defector, according to U.S. intelligence officials. The meeting between Pompeo and Thae Yong Ho, one of the highest-ranking North Korean officials to defect to South Korea, took place during the CIA director’s visit to South Korea earlier this month. Thae worked as a senior diplomat in the North Korean embassy in London and defected in the summer of 2016.

During the session with Thae, Pompeo discussed whether conditions inside North Korea were ripe for an uprising against Kim by the military, security, or political officials, according to intelligence officials familiar with the meeting. Thae responded that he believed conditions within North Korea were conducive to such an insurrection.

In January, Thae, the defector, told reporters in Seoul the Kim regime is “crumbling” and efforts to control outside information from penetrating the closed system were failing due to official corruption and growing discontent.

Thae advocates using information to break the North Korean regime’s control of outside news to help ordinary citizens overthrow the regime.

Bruce Bechtol, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, said Kim Jong Un’s hold on power is weaker than that of his father, Kim Jong Il, who in turn did not have the same grip on power his father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. “Because of Kim’s weaker hold on power than his predecessors, and the powerful internal security services, it is most likely that any insurrection is going to come from members of the elite—not from the bottom up,” he said.

[Washington Free Beacon]

North Korean defectors divided on Seoul detente

Days before Moon Jae-in was elected president of South Korea on May 9, about 300 people gathered at the national legislature to endorse the former human rights lawyer and advocate of dialogue and engagement with reclusive North Korea. Surprisingly, the group comprised many North Korean defectors, a demographic known for its conservative politics and strong support for sanctions and isolation of Pyongyang.

One high-profile defector, known for his hawkish views, was Ahn Chan-il, a former soldier who defected in 1979. Ahn told the Nikkei Asian Review that attitudes among some 70 defector groups in the South have changed: “Five years ago, 30% supported Moon Jae-in and 70% supported Park Geun-hye, but the spectrum has changed and now it is more like 70% liberal and 30% conservative. A minority oppose Moon but the majority supports him.”

Moon has adopted a dovish stance on the North, pledging to revive some version of the “sunshine” policy of engagement.

Kang Myung-do, another prominent defector and Moon supporter associated with hardline views in the past, said the political right had been discredited by the Park scandal, rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the fact that Pyongyang carried out most of its nuclear tests during a decade of conservative rule.

In South Korea and beyond, defectors have often argued for hardline policies to squeeze the Kim family regime. Thae Yong-ho, who became the highest-ranking defector in decades after absconding from the North Korean embassy in London last year, is one of many high-profile regime critics to have expressed skepticism about any cooperation that could prop up an oppressive system.

As well as resenting harsh treatment in their repressive homeland, many defectors retain bitter memories of the “sunshine” years during which liberal governments shied away from highlighting human rights abuses in the North for fear of scuppering inter-Korean reconciliation. The late Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking defector to date and the architect of North Korea’s state ideology known as juche, complained of being gagged by the Kim and Roh administrations to avoid upsetting the northern regime.

[Nikkei Asian Review]