China stand on North Korean defectors enables a growing human rights crisis

Many eyes are on China, and what its leaders will do to pressure Pyongyang to end its gamesmanship. But another life-threatening crisis is emanating from North Korea that few are watching: China’s apparently expanding dragnet to force back fleeing North Koreans. These forced returns very likely mean that the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has imprisoned and tortured dozens of refugees.

Starting in July, China appears to have intensified its crackdown on groups of North Koreans trying to move through China in search of protection in a third country, and on the networks of people that facilitate their escape. Human Rights Watch believes that China has also arrested a number of local guides, undermining the capability of networks helping North Koreans to pass through China.

Both China and North Korea have increased the number of their border guards and added more barbed wire fencing to their common border. China has expanded CCTV surveillance and increased checkpoints on roads leading away from the border. Pyongyang has cracked down on networks aiding escaping citizens.

China regularly violates its U.N. Refugee Convention treaty obligations by returning escapees to North Korea, despite the likelihood they will be persecuted, tortured, and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment for leaving. North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security enforces a decree that classifies defection as a crime of “treachery against the nation.” Punishments are harsh and can include a death sentence. Others disappear into North Korea’s horrific political prison camp system (kwanliso), to face torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and other inhuman treatment, or forced labor camps, where they can spend years working in harsh and dangerous conditions.

[Read full Pacific Standard article]

North Korean border further tightens

Three men dressed in fishermen garb attempted to cross the Tumen River into China at dawn. But the trio were soon discovered by North Korean border guards patrolling the area.

A Chinese fisherman who last week witnessed the killings of the three men said the guards bashed in the escapee’s heads using the butts off their guns and rocks at the riverside. A source speaking on the Chinese fisherman’s behalf told authorities: “The scene was so brutal that he said he still has nightmares.

“After the bashing ended, the soldiers dropped the lifeless bodies into the river.

“The fisherman was so traumatized by the incident that he has insomnia.”

Kim Jong-un has reportedly told border guards to “shoot anyone who crosses the river on site” as he believes defections have a negative effect on the county’s stability. The new orders come as war with the US looks increasingly more likely.

In the past, patrolling soldiers would arrest escapees attempting to cross the river.

[Daily Star]

China frustrated as North Korean crisis spirals

The view from China could hardly be much worse: the leaders of North Korea and the United States threatening to rain down total destruction on each other, while U.S. bombers and fighters stage a show of military might close to China’s shores. Behind closed doors, experts said Beijing is as frustrated with North Korea, and with the situation, as it has ever been.

As North Korea’s dominant trading partner, China is widely seen as the key to solving the crisis, yet experts say its influence over Pyongyang has never been weaker.

“The North Koreans have figured out that the Chinese are genuinely in a bind,” said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. “Having cried wolf for so long about having limited influence, the Chinese genuinely do have limited influence in North Korea right now. It’s not just weasel words.”

China is not prepared to do anything that might bring down the North Korean regime, potentially bringing refugees streaming across its border and unifying the Korean Peninsula under a U.S.-friendly government. North Korea’s leaders, experts in brinkmanship, know that full well, and this knowledge has allowed them to call China’s bluff repeatedly.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has never met Kim Jong-un, and the two men are thought to hold each other in contempt. China’s attempts to send an envoy to Pyongyang to calm the situation have been rebuffed. So while Seoul cooperates with Washington, Pyongyang is freezing out Beijing.

 [The Washington Post]

Difference between American and North Korean war rhetoric

President Trump’s aggressive rhetoric about North Korea [includes] his threat at the United Nations to “totally destroy” the country. Whereas North Korea tends to couch its threats, however lurid, with carefully worded conditions.

When American B-1B long-range bombers, escorted by F-15 fighter jets, prowled along North Korea’s east coast on Saturday, one of the United States military’s most daring maneuvers on the Korean peninsula in decades, North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, declared that North Korea had the right to shoot down the American bombers, not outright declaring they would.

“The North Koreans know how to choose their words,” said Cheon Seong-whun, a visiting research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, who served as a presidential secretary for security strategy in South Korea until early this year. “They know how to calculate their stakes. They are not reckless.”

With its threats, North Korea is trying to make the United States think twice about further shows of force, even as it seeks to portray itself as playing defense against an American bully, said Lee Sung-yoon, a Korea expert at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. At the same time, Pyongyang probably hopes China and South Korea will call for calm and restraint, while using Mr. Trump’s threats as justification to conduct another missile or nuclear test, Mr. Lee said.

Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Tuesday at a regular news conference in Beijing that China was “very displeased with the escalating war of words between the United States and North Korea,” adding that there would be “no winners from rashly triggering war on the peninsula.”

[The New York Times]

North Korean refugees fleeing a hypothetical Korean contingency

In the event of a Korean “contingency,” there is speculation that a large number of refugees from impoverished, starving North Korea could make their way to Japan.

Citing an estimate of over 100,000 appearing along Sea of Japan coast in prefectures like Niigata, Yamagata and Aomori, with some possibly armed, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso recently posed the question: “Will police respond and arrest them on charges of illegal immigration? If the Self-Defense Forces are dispatched, will they shoot them down?”

Aso raised the specter of armed North Korean refugees flooding the Sea of Japan coastline in a speech on Saturday. Aso, who is also the finance minister, asked how authorities would respond if that should happen. “Can the police handle them? Will the Self-Defense Forces be dispatched …? We’d better think about it seriously,” he claimed.

Aso also suggested that the government should discuss where such refugees would be held.

“It’s a politician’s job to think of (an emergency) response. It may not be an event in the distant future,” he said.

The United States and North Korea remain on high alert as their leaders continue to hurl nuclear threats at each other.

[Japan Times]

North Korean executions and sex slaves

According to the claims of a 26-year-old female North Korean defector, Kim Jong-un had 11 musicians executed with anti-aircraft guns, and orders aides to pick out sex slaves from North Korea’s schools. She said she was among 10,000 people once forced to watch the execution of musicians accused of making a pornographic video, at Pyongyang’s military academy.

This week Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, “North Koreans who recently escaped to third countries or maintain contacts in the North told HRW that when girls are sexually harassed or abused, some guardians refuse to formally complain to police or other government officials because they believe government officials will not investigate, and the girl and the family will face stigmatization.”

An academic, Dr Colin Alexander, an Asia expert at Nottingham Trent University, told The Independent: “In some cases there probably will be some elements of slavery in North Korea.” Dr Alexander added that the latest revelations fit “a narrative that we’re almost becoming accustomed to hearing”.

He said it was possible that ”somebody with a vested interest has got hold of this defector and has decided that it’s within their interest to approach international media and to run a story about this within the current climate”. He added, “If they’re a defector, and they’ve lived all their lives in North Korea, they will not be very well versed in how the international media works.”

Dr. Alexander also said: “I’m in no way endorsing the Kim regime here. Behind the narrative is most likely somebody, or an organization, with an interest in putting pressure on the Kim regime.

[The Independent]

Defector floats 1000 digital Bibles into North Korea

A North Korean defector used 350 helium balloons to send 1,000 flash drives loaded with portions of the Bible across the border from the South Korean side, according to reports.

Jung Kwang-il, founder of a group called No Chain, went to an area of South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province close to the border to drop the balloons inside the North Korean territory, according to UPI. The flash drives were donated by college and high school students in the United States.

Fifty-four-year-old Jung, who was sentenced to three years in a North Korean prison camp for a crime he says did not commit, is based out of South Korea. Using helium balloons, human smugglers and helicopter drones, he often sends USB drives, SD cards, and other devices carrying Hollywood movies, South Korean television shows and testimonials from North Korean defectors across North Korea’s borders, according to The Atlantic.

“In recent memory, we’ve had the Jasmine Revolution [in Tunisia], and the Arab Spring,” Jung told the magazine last year. “How come none of that is happening in North Korea? The reason is simple: Because the country’s such a closed-off country, information-wise. People don’t know that the situation they’re in is truly a terrible one. … We want to break that ignorance.”

According to Open Doors, anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are suffering in labor camps in North Korea. “In North Korea, even children are aware of the risks of possessing a Bible. … People who pick up a Bible know their choice is very risky, they could probably end up being executed,” added the Rev. Eric Foley, president of Voice of the Martyrs Korea.

Last year, a report by the U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide revealed that the following: “Documented incidents against Christians include being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges and trampled underfoot. A policy of guilt by association applies, meaning that the relatives of Christians are also detained regardless of whether they share the Christian belief.”

[Christian Post]

Trump’s statements play right into the North Korean narrative

Kim Jong Un’s regime tells the North Korean people every day that the United States wants to destroy them and their country. Now, they will hear it from another source: from the President of the United States himself.

In his maiden address to the United Nations Tuesday, President Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea.” Analysts noted that he didn’t even differentiate between the Kim regime (as President George W. Bush did with his infamous “axis of evil” speech) and the 25 million people of North Korea.

“President Trump has handed the North Koreans the soundbite of the century,” said Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and one of the authors of its “North Korea: Witness to Transformation” blog. “That footage will be used time and time and time again on North Korea’s state television channel.”

Since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, the Kim regime has portrayed the United States as an “imperialist aggressor” pursuing to “hostile policy” to crush North Korea–again. To keep control of and unify the populace, the regime has kept alive the memories of the Korean War, when the U.S. destroyed 80 percent of all the buildings in the North and killed as many as 20 percent of its people.

“The Kim regime argues that only it is capable of protecting the country from the existential threat North Korea faces from ‘hostile foreign forces’ led by the United States,” Noland said. “All of the depravity and the denial of rights is all justified by this.”

The “threat” from the United States is the whole reason why North Korea needs nuclear weapons, the regime tells the people. Trump’s words feed right into that narrative.

[Washington Post]

Escalating verbal war between Trump and Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un warned U.S. president Donald Trump that the US would “pay dearly” for his address to the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week.

“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” Kim said of Trump. “Action is the best option in treating the dotard* who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wanted to say,” he continued, according to a translation of his statement.

Hours later, North Korea’s foreign minister threatened to drop a hydrogen bomb somewhere in the Pacific.

President Donald Trump then responded by calling North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un a “madman” who would be “tested like never before”.

The threat marks the latest attack in an escalating verbal war between the two leaders.

Days before at the UN, Trump had  called the North Korean leader a “rocket man … on a suicide mission,” and warned that he would “totally destroy” North Korea if Kim’s regime did not tamp down its nuclear development, later announcing new U.S.-imposed sanctions against North Korea on Thursday, which would force countries to choose between doing business with the U.S., an economic juggernaut, or isolated North Korea.

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said Trump is “very serious” about holding other countries ― especially China ― accountable over their relationship with North Korea.

But experts have warned against U.S. leadership using bombastic language. “Describing North Korea as irrational and crazy [in the U.S.] might demonize the existence of the Kim Jong Un regime, or provide the rationale to criticize or kind of act more coercively towards North Korea,” Kuyoun Chung, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a think tank funded by the South Korean government, told HuffPost in August. “But that does not really help the security of the United States and the security of northeast Asia.”

Note: "Dotard", while not widely used today, is an insult centuries
old. Merriam-Webster defines the term as referring to "a state or
period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise."

Trump signs new order to widen sanctions on North Korea

US President Donald Trump has signed a new order that boosts sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme.

The US Treasury has been authorized to target firms and financial institutions conducting business with the North. Trump singled out the North’s textiles, fishing, information technology and manufacturing industries.

The president also said China’s Central Bank had instructed other Chinese banks to stop doing business with Pyongyang.

It comes less than two weeks after the UN approved new sanctions against the country over its latest nuclear test.

Announcing a new executive order on Thursday, President Trump said the measures were designed to “cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea’s efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to humankind”.

[BBC]