North Korea insists latest missile launch proves it can hit US bases and Japan

North Korea said Monday that it is ready to mass produce a new medium-range missile that has the capability of reaching Japan and major U.S. military bases after its latest launch it claimed confirmed the rocket’s combat readiness.

North Korea launched the solid-fuel Pukguksong-2 missile Sunday. It reached a height of 350 miles before splashing into the Pacific Ocean. The isolated country said it is an “answer” to President Trump’s policies.

North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un ordered and watched the launch, according to state media. The report said the test verified technical aspects of the weapon system and examined its “adaptability under various battle conditions” before it is deployed to military units.

Kim reportedly said the launch was a success, “approved the deployment of this weapon system for action” and said that it should “be rapidly mass-produced.”

North Korea has vowed more missile tests in the face of international sanctions and satellite imagery has shown that it may be preparing for a sixth nuclear missile test. North Korea a week earlier had successfully tested a new midrange missile — the Hwasong 12 — that it said could carry a heavy nuclear warhead.

[Associated Press]

Seoul’s policy on North Korea about to get a major overhaul

Liberal reformer Moon Jae-in was sworn in today after winning a snap election to replace impeached President Park Geun-hye. Moon has advocated dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in stark contrast to Park’s approach of tough sanctions and aggressive rhetoric.

Speaking at his swearing in ceremony, Moon promised to “resolve the security crisis as soon as possible. Under the right conditions, I will … go to Pyongyang. For peace on the Korean Peninsula, I will do everything that I can do.”

A former special forces soldier and human rights lawyer, Moon came in for criticism during the campaign from hardline conservatives who saw him as weak on North Korea. He has called for a combination of negotiations and economic cooperation alongside military and security measures.

His stance has been compared to the so-called “Sunshine Policy” of the liberal governments of 1998 to 2008. By no coincidence, he was a key adviser to those administrations. During the Sunshine Policy, Seoul actively engaged Pyongyang, which led to closer relations on both sides of the border and saw two South Korean Presidents visit the North Korean capital. However, the approach ultimately failed to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Moon, who took office today, is unlikely to get a long honeymoon when it comes to North Korea. Experts have been predicting an imminent nuclear test, North Korea’s sixth, for weeks now, as the country ramps up missile testing and saber rattling. On Sunday, Pyongyang announced it had detained a US citizen on suspicion of “hostile acts” against the regime, days after it accused Seoul and Washington of plotting to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un using “biochemical weapons.”

[CNN]

Defectors’ lives indicate that Korean unification will not be easy

One wonders what might happen when or if Korean unification happens and North Koreans find themselves living in the same state as Southerners.

North Korean defectors are not financially successful in the South, by South Korean standards at least. The average monthly income of a North Korea refugee is roughly $1290 at the time of writing, 65% of the nationwide average. Low salaries and wages often reflect discrimination, but more frequently they are the unavoidable result of the low professional and social skills of refugees.

At the same time, the chances that an average refugee will become a victim of crime are 5.5 times higher than for ‘regular’ South Koreans: 24.3% of refugees report that they have been victims of crime. This is bad enough, but when it comes to a specific type of crime, namely fraud and scamming, the gap is truly huge, and one out of five refugees say that they have been cheated out of money. This is 40 times the nationwide average – an astonishing difference.

Another sign of problems is the astonishingly high level of suicides among refugees. When it comes to suicide, South Korea stands out: its annual suicide rate, 26.5 out of every 100,000 people, is the highest among OECD countries. But the suicide rate among North Korean refugees is three times this nationwide average.

Another indication that not all is well is the relatively new phenomenon of refugees who choose to go back to North Korea. In 2016, during a study of the refugee community, 20.8% said they would like to go back to North Korea. Going to the U.S. is significantly less dramatic than going back to North Korea, but the motivations are still the same: Many refugees want to leave South Korea, even though this is a country where they have little problems with language and are entitled to large aid packages.

All things indicate that refugees – some of them, at least – experience grave problems when they try to adjust to the South Korean society. This makes one wonder how the average North Korean will react to a new lifestyle which is likely to be imposed on them in the event of unification.  Like it or not, the experience of the North Korean refugees confirms that if unification ever comes, it is not going to be easy or cheap, is bound to produce many social problems and, sometimes, genuine human tragedy.

[NK News]

Can South Korea’s Moon make ‘sunshine’ again with defiant North Korea?

South Koreans are almost certain to elect liberal Moon Jae-in, the son of North Korean refugees who came to the South during the 1950-53 Korean War. Moon has promised to reopen the Kaesong complex, the signature project of the so-called “Sunshine Policy” of engagement with North Korea pursued earlier this century.

But reopening Kaesong could go against the spirit of U.N. sanctions to prevent money from going into North Korea’s banned weapons programs, government officials and experts say. And for Moon to justify a return to engagement, North Korea would first need to at least signal a concession, said Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University in South Korea.

Critics say hundreds of millions of dollars paid to North Korea over the years as wages for workers at Kaesong were used to fund the development of nuclear weapons and missiles. North Korea had demanded that the wages be paid to the state and not directly to the workers.

Jong Kun Choi, who advises the 64-year-old Moon on foreign policy, said the candidate believes better inter-Korean relations is the best way to provide security on the Korean peninsula. Moon, a human rights lawyer who was a top aide to the late president Roh, has Washington worried his more moderate approach could undercut efforts to increase pressure and sanctions on Pyongyang, senior South Korean government officials said.

Moon’s election would also complicate the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system. He has repeatedly said the incoming administration should decide whether to deploy the anti-missile system and it should be ratified by parliament.

[Reuters]

A 4th US citizen detained in North Korea

North Korea detained US citizen Kim Hak-song on Saturday on suspicion of acts against the Pyongyang regime, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday.

Kim is believed to be the fourth US citizen currently detained in North Korea.

In April, KCNA said Tony Kim — also known as Kim Sang Duk — was detained for “hostile acts” toward the North Korean regime.

Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in 2016 for removing a political sign.

And Kim Dong Chul, the president of a company involved in international trade and hotel services, was arrested in 2015 and is serving 10 years on espionage charges.

[CNN]                                                                                 Related

How Kim Jong Un has tightened his grip on power

Since succeeding his father in 2011, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has impressed and confounded with his rise from political novice to adept operator.

He has done a remarkable job of consolidating his power and remodeling the country in his own image, says Choi Jong-kun, associate professor at Yonsei University’s Department of Political Science and International Studies in South Korea. “He has reformed the economy far greater than his father, and hugely advanced the country’s nuclear and missile capabilities,” Choi tells CNN

Nick Bisley, executive director at La Trobe University in Melbourne, says security in the form of the nuclear program is a prerequisite to any serious attempt at North Korean economic reform. “Only when they feel confident that they have their nuclear weapons and the security they have with that will we see economic reform,” he says. “The most optimistic (outcome) is that it follows the China model — once secure it follows a China-style economic reform but (even in that case) we won’t see any political reform.”

Consolidating his power has been key to Kim’s rise, and much of this has been done in a brutal, bloody manner. One report from South Korean think tank, the Institute for National Security Strategy, claims he has ordered the executions of at least 340 people since he came to power in 2011 — 140 of whom were senior officers in the country’s government, military and ruling Korean Worker’s Party.

Of all the killings, few have the notoriety of his execution of his uncle by marriage, Jang Song Thaek in 2013. His abrupt removal was a sign Kim was removing the last vestiges of the old guard. With state media declaring Jang a “traitor for all ages,” Kim made sure there was no dissent to the decision.

The reported execution of five deputy minister-level officials in February of this year, who were working under disgraced state security chief Kim Won Hong, suggests that the purges may be still ongoing.

[CNN]

How would South Korea cope with a large influx of North Korean refugees?

Go Myong-Hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul who has researched North Korean refugees in South Korea, says Seoul would struggle to deal with a high number of refugees from the North.

“South Korea’s population is around 50 million,” he said. “A sudden influx of North Korean refugees is going to be incredibly stressful to the social service infrastructure and the labor market in South Korea,” Go says.

Go conducted a study of North Korean refugees in South Korea and found that many of them bring issues of PTSD, a lack of adequate education and poor health. For example, North Korean middle and high school kids dropped out at a range between 4.2 and 7.5 percent between 2010 and 2013 compared to 1.2-1.3 percent among South Korean students during the same time frame.

Attitudes towards South Koreans in the workplace isn’t much better, according to his report: A survey by the Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI) (2013) showed that out of 429 elementary and middle school North Korean refugee students, 10.7 percent of them reported being discriminated against or socially ostracized due to the fact that they were from North Korea. Fifty-four of them also reported that they would not let their South Korean peers know they came from North Korea if they were given the chance to transfer to a different school.

Similarly, North Korean refugees in the workplace report having similar experience of social discrimination by their co-workers and superiors. For example, one employer whose employee is from North Korea expressed fear that his employee might kill others if provoked emotionally (Choi and Park, 2011). This prejudice stems from hearing or watching news that in North Korea, public executions are common. Even after taking into account the inevitable cultural misunderstandings in when dealing with recently arrived North Korean refugees, South Koreans’ strong prejudice and stereotyping of North Korea and its people are widespread and well entrenched.

[Foxtrot Alpha]

North Korea strongly criticizes its staunch ally China

North Korean state media warned Thursday Beijing was crossing a “red line” in its relationship with Pyongyang, in a rare criticism of its closest ally.

A commentary in the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun vowed North Korea would not give up its nuclear program. It accused China of “dancing to the tune of the US” and providing Washington excuses to deploy more military assets to the Korean Peninsula.

The commentary urged two Chinese state-run newspapers, the People’s Daily and Global Times, to refrain from making reckless remarks which risked undermining relations between the two countries. It comes after increased criticism of North Korea in Chinese state media amid heightened tensions in the region.

Rodong Sinmun specifically criticized the Chinese media’s call for more sanctions against North Korea as a way to avert war. “We didn’t cross the ‘red line’ of the (North Korea)-China relationship,” the commentary said. “China is violently stomping on and crossing it without hesitation.”

“(North Korea) will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear program which is a precious as its own life, no matter how valuable the friendship is,” it said.

[CNN]

Top North Korean defector disowned by his family in Pyongyang

Thae Yong Ho, the former deputy ambassador at the North Korean embassy in the United Kingdom, became the highest-ranking defector in nearly 20 years when he left his post last year.

Thae, who fled with his wife and children, worried about his family back home. Relatives of defectors are often sent to prison camps or used by the regime as propaganda tools.

But back in North Korea, Tae Ok Ran, Thae’s sister, calls that answer “100% evil propaganda.” Not one person in the family has been punished, the 57-year-old housewife said. His sister says it makes him a “rotten scumbag… not even an animal.”

Thae’s brother and sister spoke to CNN for their first-ever interview, which was organized by the government. “It’s good to be able to show how we are living,” Tae Ok Ran said. “I want to warn him the whole family won’t forgive him.”

Tae and her brother, Tae Yong Do, say they believe their brother is now a propaganda tool for South Korea and has brought shame upon their family.

Thae’s name has been erased as a caretaker on the family tombstone and he has been disowned. “If I don’t wash this sin away by myself, my sons and generations will have to work harder to pay for this,” said Tae Yong Do, 53.

Thae’s siblings spoke with a fervor that would have been expected of them, by a government that demands loyalty. North Koreans are often encouraged to report their neighbors for lacking patriotism, defectors say. The Tae siblings expressed a resolve and reverence to their leader that’s common among those on Pyongyang’s streets.

[CNN]

How defectors see change coming to North Korea

Cha Ri-hyuk, who defected from North Korea in 2013, still remembers what it was like after his country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-il, died in 2011: Trains stopped running, customers were kicked out of hotels and the price of a kilogram of rice soared from 5,000 North Korean Won to more than 30,000 Won, said Cha, a former North Korea artillery corps officer.

After managing to buy and cook a kilogram of rice for the women and children in his friend’s family, Cha and his friend survived for three days on nothing but 10 litres – more than four gallons – of potent North Korean alcohol.

“There were many people like us who were drunk during the period and they were covering their faces with newspapers with the news of Kim Jong-il’s death, pretending they were mourning,” Cha told listeners at a forum about regime change sponsored by the Defense Forum Foundation. “If they were found to be drunk during the period, they would be sent to the political prison.”

Cha joined 11 other defectors at the forum to discuss weakening the North Korean regime through informing ordinary North Koreans of its realities. He and others pointed out that the difference in mood among North Koreans could eventually be a key to dealing with the current North Korean regime, led by Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Kim Jong-un.

Hope for change resides with possible future resistance from North Korean citizens and the military, rather than military threats from the President Donald Trump’s administration, Cha said. Read more