North Korea’s latest launch designed to cause maximum mayhem with minimal blowback

North Korea’s latest missile launch over Japan seemed, as Stephan Haggard of the University of California at San Diego described it, “perfectly calibrated to create political mischief.” This enabled it to send a strong political signal without overtly crossing a “red line” and spurring the United States into action, analysts said.

The launch also seemed designed to drive a wedge between North Korea’s neighbors.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called it “an unprecedented, grave and serious threat.” Abe wants to beef up Japan’s military capabilities, and missile launches like this provide ammunition for his controversial cause.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s liberal president Moon Jae-in, who has promoted engagement with Pyongyang, immediately denounced the launch and sent his fighter jets to drop bombs on a shooting range near the border with North Korea, a show of South Korean might.

Both reactions will have rattled Beijing, which Tuesday called on all sides to take a step back. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying characterized the North Korea situation as “at a tipping point, approaching a crisis.” She repeated China’s call for talks between North Korea and the United States.

China doesn’t want Japan increasing its military capabilities and rivaling it in the region, and it doesn’t want South Korea sticking to its agreement to host an American antimissile battery that it fears could be used to keep China in check.

Most of all, analysts say, Kim Jong Un is showing that he won’t be cowed by President Trump’s tough talk.

 [Washington Post]

Malnutrition in the North Korean military

In a video from South Korean Digitalsoju TV, women defectors who formerly served in North Korea’s military sit down with a South Korean host.

One defector explained that all North Korean women must serve in the military for six years, in addition to all men being required to serve for 11 years.

During her time in the military, one of the female defectors said she was fed only three spoonfuls of rice at mealtimes. “I weighed just around 81 pounds and was about 5’2,” said the defector. Her Body Mass Index, though not a perfect indicator of health, works out to about 15, whereas a healthy body is considered to have a BMI of about 19-25.

Unsurprisingly, malnutrition is widespread across all sectors of North Korea. And the defector still said that is even the case within the military. Soldiers are poorly paid, and withhold or steal each other’s state-issued goods like military uniforms.

A second defector said that the officers in charge of uniform and ration distribution would often leverage their position to coerce sex from female soldiers.   Read more

Sexual abuse by superior North Korean officers

A female defector speaks of her time in the North Korean military: “The Major General was this man who was around 45 years old and I was only 18 years old at the time,” she said. “So one day he tells everyone else to leave except for me. Then he abruptly tells me to take off all my clothes,” she said. The officer told her he was inspecting her for malnutrition, possibly to send her off to a hospital where undernourished soldiers are treated.

“So since I didn’t have much of a choice, I thought, well, it’s the Major General. Surely there’s a good reason for this. I never could have imagined he’d try something,” she said. But the Major General then asks her to remove her underwear and “then out of nowhere, he comes at me,” she said.

[When she resisted] the Major General then proceeded to beat her. When she screamed, he covered her mouth. She said he hit her so hard in the left ear that blood came out of her right ear. She said the beating was so severe her teeth were loose afterwards.

“How do you think this is going to make me look?” the Major General asked her after the beating. He then instructs her to get dressed and tell no one what happened or he would “make [her] life a living hell.”

“There wasn’t really anyone I could tell or report this too,” she said. “Many other women have gone through something similar.”

“I don’t know whether he’s dead or alive, but if Korea ever gets reunified, I’m going to find him and even if I can’t make him feel ten times the pain I felt, I want to at least smack him on the right side of his face the same way he did to me,” she said.

[Business Insider]

South Korea holds live-fire drills hours after North Korea launches missile near Japan

South Korea’s air force has staged a live-fire drill simulating the destruction of North Korea’s leadership, hours after Pyongyang launched a missile over Japan.

North Korea first fired an unidentified missile from near the capital Pyongyang, which flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, making it the first North Korean projectile to successfully pass over Japanese territory since 1998. It subsequently broke up and fell into the Pacific Ocean.

Just hours after the North Korean launch, South Korea’s Presidential Office announced four F-15K jetfighters had dropped eight MK84 bombs on a simulated target at the Taebaek Pilsung Firing Range in the country’s northeastern Gangwon province.

An official with the South Korean Defense Ministry told CNN the one-ton bombs had all landed on target. “The drill reconfirmed South Korea Air Force capability to destroy the enemy’s leadership in cases of emergency,” the official said.

In a press conference, presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan said South Korean leader Moon Jae-in had wanted “to showcase a strong punishment capability against the North.”

South Korea joined with the United States and Japan in calling for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the North Korea launch.

[CNN]

Trump’s director of national intelligence: “Kim Jong-Un is not crazy.”

North Korea’s 33-year-old dictator Kim Jong-un is not crazy, said Dan Coats, President Trump’s director of national intelligence, at the recent Aspen Security Forum. In fact, Kim Jong-un has “some rationale backing his actions” regarding the country’s nuclear weapons. That rationale is the way the U.S. has demonstrated that North Korea must keep them to ensure “survival for his regime, survival for his country.”

Kim, according to Coats, “has watched, I think, what has happened around the world relative to nations that possess nuclear capabilities and the leverage they have and seen that having the nuclear card in your pocket results in a lot of deterrence capability.” In particular, “The lessons that we learned out of Libya giving up its nukes … is, unfortunately: If you had nukes, never give them up. If you don’t have them, get them.”

In December 2003, Libya announced that it would surrender its biological and chemical weapons stockpiles, as well as its rudimentary nuclear weapons program. In celebrating Libya’s decision, President George W. Bush declared that “leaders who abandon the pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them, will find an open path to better relations with the United States and other free nations.”

In 2011, the U.S. and NATO conducted a bombing campaign to assist Libyan rebels in overthrowing the Gaddafi government. Gaddafi himself was captured by one rebel faction, who apparently sodomized him with a bayonet and then killed him.

Indeed, North Korea’s foreign ministry said this explicitly at the time: “The Libyan crisis is teaching the international community a grave lesson,” which was that the deal to rid Libya of weapons of mass destruction had been “an invasion tactic to disarm the country.”

[Aspen Security Forum 2017]

The moment he knew he had to escape the brutal North Korean regime

Joo-il Kim grew up thinking North Korea was paradise.

Then he learned that his two-year-old niece, who was so hungry she had eaten uncooked corn and washed it down the mouthfuls with water, died after it expanded in her stomach and killed her. He would later learn that when he visited his family, they would feed him the only food they had in the house rather than let him know they had nothing for themselves.

It took him a long time to consider that the messages that he had been indoctrinated with since birth may be false. His mind changed after a new role in the military gave him the rare privilege to travel freely around the country. He was tasked with rounding up deserters, and it exposed him to the widespread starvation during the height of a four-year famine that killed an estimated three million people.

He recalls seeing piles of emaciated corpses outside health centers, in a country where supposedly no one went hungry. ‘I started to question whether the country existed for the people or for the dictator,’ he added. ‘I decided to escape North Korea to find the answer in the outside world.’

At age 32, armed with a knife that he would use to slit his throat if caught, he slipped into the heavily-guarded Tumen River in Hoeryong under the cover of darkness and swam to China. Fearful his status as an illegal immigrant may get him deported back to the regime and certain death, he pressed on to Thailand where he met a group that specializes in helping North Koreans find asylum.

He opted for London, where he now lives in New Malden with hundreds of other defectors, in a larger Korean community.

[Metro.uk]

Restraint appears to be over as North Korea launches missile test

North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles from its east coast into the sea, beginning at 5:40 p.m. EST Friday over a period lasting an hour, according to the U.S. Pacific Command.

Two of the missiles flew about 150 miles while the other one appears to have blown up almost instantly.

The missiles did not pose a threat to North America nor to the U.S. territory of Guam, said the Pacific Command. But the distance of 150 miles was far enough to reach major South Korean and American military bases, reports The New York Times. The test “shows an advance in capability,” says The Times because the “missiles were 300-millimeter rockets fired from a multiple-tube launcher.”

North Korea’s latest test comes at the same time as U.S. and South Korean forces participate in joint military exercises on the Korean Peninsula.

[NPR]

The influence of activists fighting North Korea with balloons, TV shows and leaflets

Some send up plastic leaflets that weigh less than a feather and which flutter down from the clouds with calls for democracy, or blurry cartoons ridiculing North Korea’s ruler.

Some send flash drives loaded with South Korean soap operas, or mini-documentaries about the vast wealth of southern corporations, or crisp new US dollar bills.

One occasionally sends his empty food wrappers, with stained labels showing noodles slathered in meat sauce, so northerners can see the good life they would find in the South.

They are self-proclaimed soldiers in a quiet war with North Korea, a disparate and colorful collection of activists taking on one of the world’s most isolated nations, mostly using homemade hot-air balloons.

“The quickest way to bring down the regime is to change people’s minds,” said Park Sang Hak, a refugee from the North.  Mr. Park now runs the group Fighters for a Free North Korea from a small Seoul office, sending tens of thousands of plastic fliers across the border every year.

Scholars and North Korean refugees say the outside information has helped bring a wealth of changes, from new slang to changing fashions to increasing demand for consumer goods in the expanding market economy.

[AP]

Criticizing Kim Jong Un leads to life in a prison camp

A North Korean defector explains that people in the North Asian country feel they have no other choice but to show allegiance to Kim Jong Un because of the consequences that would follow if they don’t — namely being sentenced to hard labor in the notorious prison camps.

“[In the camps] you are forced to labor and you live a life no better than a dog or a pig,” said the defector, who spoke with Sky News but did not reveal his identity as his daughter is still inside the isolated Pacific country. “It is better to die.”

He noted that in private, people are critical of their dictator, but do not dare to make those views public. “If you criticize Kim Jong Un you will go to a prison camp and not come back,” the man said. “In North Korean society you can do everything but criticize the Kim family. If you are caught, even if you have money, you won’t be able to survive. It’s a frightening system.”

“We don’t follow the system because we like it, we are only following because we are scared of it.”

“Essentially, North Korea is the most oppressive regime in the world; it is certainly the most closed, isolated country in the world. It’s a regime that stands accused by the U.N.’s own Commission of Inquiry of crimes against humanity,” Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, told The Christian Post in an interview in March.

“Those crimes against humanity include the incarceration of 100,000 to 200,000 prisoners, who are jailed because of political crimes, and are subjected to the worst forms of torture, slave labor, denial of medical care, sexual violence, and in some instances execution,” Rogers added.

[Christian Post]

A refugee girl in South Korea

Kim looks like any other 16-year-old girl when you see her shopping in the street in Seoul.

But like 28,000 other refugees, she has escaped from North Korea. One morning in 2011, her mother could no longer bear the misery, lack of freedom and food deprivation, so she and her daughter escaped. Kim was 10 and had to leave the rest of her family, her friends and her school without even having the chance to say goodbye.

They fled their country in secret by crossing by night the river making up the border with China. After making it to China, her mother used her meager savings to pay smugglers to enter Laos, Thailand and finally South Korea eight months later in 2012.

Kim now lives in a dormitory, while attending school. Kim decided on the YeoMyun school, which is run by a Christian association, alternative education suitable for young defectors. Among other things, teachers know that their students have been through trauma when they fled the North, so they deserve special attention.

Like all children in the North, Kim was taught music at school, so she is as comfortable playing drums as electric guitar.

On the weekend, the girls from the dormitory reunite with their families while Kim often stays behind, alone. She uses the opportunity to rest and read Korean mangas. She enjoys preparing a surprise meal for her friends when they return. She loves to cook with aloe but her guilty pleasure is ice cream. She loves buying a 5-litre container to share with her friends while watching a DVD on Sunday night, before resuming the work week.

Kim barely ever talks about her past with her co-tenants. They all have a painful or buried secret they refuse to talk about.

[The Mirror]