Billy Graham’s first visit to North Korea in 1992

Christian work in North Korea began around the time of two trips to Pyongyang in the early 1990s by the late evangelical leader Billy Graham. He said he was received with a bear hug from Kim Il Sung, the now-deceased founder of North Korea’s dynastic state and grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

The regime gave its own spin. In 2016, state media reported Mr. Graham had affirmed Kim Il Sung was akin to God, “so perfect in his ideas that North Korea didn’t need the Bible,” which the Graham organization denied was said. (Note that regime founder Kim Il Sung grew up in a Presbyterian home and learned to play the church organ, historians said. He built three showcase churches in Pyongyang.)

In 1995, North Korea made an international call for help to combat famine and became one of world’s biggest recipients of food aid, about a million tons a year. The U.S. gave $1.3 billion in food and energy from 1995 to 2008. Researchers now suspect that North Korea diverted much of its famine-era aid to elites and its military.

Christian aid workers say they are confident their donations reach intended recipients. To deliver the food and medicine, North Korean authorities allow the workers to travel to regions otherwise off limits to foreign visitors.

While North Korea accepts Christian aid, it is no friend of Christianity. The regime sees religion as a threat and has imprisoned Christians for praying and owning a Bible. Preaching is forbidden, yet some aid workers say they talk about their beliefs in private with individuals who ask, despite the risk.

[The Wall Street Journal]

How will John Bolton figure into North Korean talks?

When it comes to controversial selections for national security adviser, there are few more divisive than John Bolton. The former U.N. ambassador’s hawkish politics and belittling public statements have made many bitter enemies over his decades in public life.

Among his most vocal critics is North Korea, an isolated dictatorship tentatively scheduled to hold talks on nuclear disarmament in the coming months — talks on which Bolton will play a key role in advising President Trump.

In August 2003, North Korean state media devoted an entire article to Bolton, personally insulting him by describing him as “human scum and a bloodsucker.” In the same article, a representative of the North Korean Foreign Ministry said that Pyongyang would no longer deal with the Bolton, the then-undersecretary of state for arms control and international security — indeed, Bolton did not attend talks with North Korea that took place the next month. Almost 15 years later, it is unclear whether that ban still stands.

What had he done to incur such personal insults from North Korea?

The context of the time is crucial. In his January 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush had included North Korea in his “axis of evil” along with Iraq and Iran. Bolton visited Seoul at the very end of July 2003. There, he delivered a speech titled “A Dictatorship at the Crossroads” and argued that the United States would demand a complete rollback of North Korea’s nuclear program but offer no concessions in return. During the speech, Bolton personally insulted then-North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, calling him a “tyrannical dictator” who enjoyed the high life while his citizens suffered deeply, though Bolton later said he did not seek regime change. In the speech, Bolton took much of the standard State Department rhetoric about North Korea, but personalized it so it was about Kim.

A few days later, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency released its article belittling Bolton. “We know that there are several hawks within the present U.S. administration but have not yet found out such rude human scum as Bolton,” an English-language version of the article read. “What he uttered is no more than rubbish which can be let loose only by a beastly man bereft of reason.”

[The Washington Post]

What brokers do to help North Koreans defect

Around 31,000 North Koreans have defected into the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Most of the North Koreans who defect do so via the long and expensive journey that takes them into China after crossing the Yalu River.

Um Yae-run, a 41-year-old defector who now works in Seoul at a marriage bureau and also as a broker, explains, “A lot of people who come to South Korea become brokers. They work with brokers in China who work with brokers in North Korea.

“If someone in the South wants to bring a family member over, they will give the address of the person in North Korea to the South Korean broker who will pass it on. In North Korea, you can’t trust anyone. So we give the brokers personal information, like a code word, so the person knows who sent the broker.

“The person will then work with the brokers to get you to the border. In North Korea, if you have money, you can do anything. If you don’t live near the border you need to take a train for which you will need a license. The brokers will pay to get you on the train and bribe the railway officials.

“Once at the border, the broker will arrange a time for crossing the river. In the summer, you might swim with a black rubber boat or the boat might have a string attached to the Chinese side that the brokers there will pull. The brokers might also bribe the border patrol to tell them their shifts so they can cross over then. If they can strike a deal, it becomes easy.

“When I crossed the border, it cost me around 3m Korean won ($2,800). When my daughter came, I paid 6.5m ($6,000). Now, it costs almost 10m won ($9,300). Coming to South Korea will cost you around 15m won ($14,000). Crossing the border is the most expensive part.

“After arriving in South Korea, I …worked as a broker because for every person you help, you made around two to four million Korean won ($1,800 to $3,700).”

South Korean president floats idea of 3-way summit

South Korean President Moon Jae-in raised the idea of a three-way summit among the two Koreas and the United States, depending on the outcome of a planned North-South summit next month and President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sometime before the end of May.

Working-level officials from all three countries have been engaging in a flurry of diplomatic meetings with other nations in Asia, Europe and the United States in the past weeks to get a sense of what to expect out of these two sets of bilateral talks.

South Korean envoys to the North, National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service chief Suh Hoon, made multiple trips to Washington D.C., Beijing, Tokyo and Moscow to deliver Kim’s intentions while North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, flew to Stockholm to discuss Sweden’s consular role as a protecting power for the United States.

Another senior North Korean diplomat in charge of North American affairs, Choe Kang Il, is in Finland this week for semi-official meetings with former U.S. diplomats, including former U.S. Ambassadors to South Korea Kathleen Stephens and Thomas Hubbard, American academics and security experts from Seoul, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Moon’s preparation committee today also suggested a meeting with North Korea on March 29 to kick-start discussions on details of the inter-Korean talks.

[ABC News]

US-North Korea tensions to escalate?

The relative period of calm between the United States and North Korea may soon come to an end — and that’s as scary as it sounds.

Here’s why: On Monday, Washington and Seoul announced they will hold an annual joint military drill next month. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may have expected it would not happen ahead of his summit with President Donald Trump. The exercise will certainly annoy him — and may change how he feels about his diplomatic opening.

Also on Monday, the German newspaper Deutsche Welle reported that Germany’s foreign intelligence agency believes North Korea can strike Europe with a nuclear-tipped missile. The US already worries that Pyongyang could nuke its Asian allies. The US has promised to use massive force in defense of friends — but now the US may have to come to the defense of an even larger number of allies. That may necessitate more plans when thinking about war with North Korea.

And finally, South Korea announced plans to deploy “artillery killer” missiles to the border with North Korea. These missiles could potentially destroy Pyongyang’s artillery force, which North Korea would use to kill thousands in South Korea should a conflict break out. These new missiles, in effect, aim to defend against that outcome.

David Shear, who served as the Pentagon’s top Asia official from 2014 to 2016, related the exercises will be the first test of how serious North Korea’s diplomatic overtures really are. If the country threatens the US or South Korea during the drills, then perhaps Pyongyang puts the Trump-Kim summit in doubt. But if North Korea stands by for the full month, then maybe it really does want to sit down with the US for talks.

All of this comes about two months before Trump plans to meet with Kim Jong Un for a high-stakes summit to discuss the future of Kim’s nuclear and while Trump is considering a broader national security team shake-up.

[Vox]

North Korean defector describes life at home through cartoons

37-year-old cartoonist Choi Sung-guk explains, “In North Korea, I worked at an animation company, making local versions of The Lion King, Titanic, etc. …I was under surveillance for copying and distributing South Korean movies in the North when I decided to flee in 2010.

“I actually sent out my family first – my mother, sister and my nephew – to China because I was worried. However, after they left, I was arrested and sent to a detention center for six months. I manage to flee the country myself after that detention period was over.

“My trip to South Korea was short and easy. I fled to China, then Laos and then to Thailand before arriving in South Korea. All in 15 days.

“I started working as a program developer and web designer after arriving here [in South Korea]. But I was always interested in comics and cartoons. What I saw here was really boring, so I took up working at a broadcasting network, as a radio jockey and also a journalist and that’s when I started to understand the South Korean society.

“I also realized the cultural differences between the two Koreas and how people had different attitudes towards unification.

“And that’s why I started my webtoon three years ago and help towards reducing the cultural gap. Through my art work, I want to teach people the differences and the similarities we have. I also want to dispel the prejudice the youth has about unification. Sometimes, I will include historical stuff or academic information in order to get people to understand why it is that North and South Koreans are different.”

South Korea says Kim Jong-un has committed to denuclearization

South Korea’s foreign minister has said that North Korea’s leader has “given his word” that he is committed to denuclearization, a prime condition for a potential summit with President Donald Trump in May.

South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul has asked the North “to indicate in clear terms the commitment to denuclearization” and she says Kim’s “conveyed that commitment.” She told the CBS program Face the Nation that “he’s given his word” and it’s “the first time that the words came directly” from the North’s leader.

Meanwhile, a senior North Korean diplomat arrived in Finland on Sunday for talks with US and South Korean officials about the nuclear summit between Trump and Kim. Choe Kang-il, deputy director for North American affairs at Pyongyang’s foreign ministry, is expected to meet retired US diplomat Kathleen Stephens, according to multiple reports.

The meeting in Finland follows three days of talks between North Korean and Swedish officials in Stockholm that apparently fell short of clearing the way for a US-North Korea summit attended by both nation’s leaders.

[The Guardian]

North Korean belief in the supernatural status of the Kim family

Ignorant of the long history of the North Korean problem, Trump at least brings fresh eyes to it. But he is going to collide with the same harsh truth that has stymied all his recent predecessors: There are no good options for dealing with North Korea.

The myth holds that Korea and the Kim dynasty are one and the same. It is built almost entirely on the promise of standing up to a powerful and menacing foreign enemy. The more looming the threat–and Trump excels at looming–the better the narrative works for Kim Jong Un.

Nukes are needed to repel this threat. They are the linchpin of North Korea’s defensive strategy, the single weapon standing between barbarian hordes and the glorious destiny of the Korean people–all of them, North and South.

Kim is the great leader, heir to divinely inspired ancestors who descended from Mount Paektu with mystical, magical powers of leadership, vision, diplomatic savvy, and military genius. Like his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather Kim Il Sung before him, Kim is the anointed defender of all Koreans, who are the purest of all races. Even South Korea, the Republic of Korea, should be thankful for Kim because, if not for him, the United States would have invaded long ago.

This racist mythology and belief in the supernatural status of the Mount Paektu bloodline defines North Korea.

[The Atlantic]

Female North Korean defectors detail stories of sexual violence

Female North Korean defectors have revealed the scale of abuse they have suffered inside the hermit kingdom in a shocking new report about the sexual violence perpetrated against women of every class, age and status. Accounts of prisoners having their vaginas forcibly searched for money by guards, rape victims being banished from cities and politicians exchanging houses for sexual favors detail a country in which women are routinely subjected to the most harrowing forms of abuse at all levels of society.

Following two years of research and interviews with more than 40 female exiles living in London and Seoul, conducted by the Korea Future Initiative, the report aims to shed light on the systemic rape culture of North Korea.

Interviewees hailing from geographically and socially diverse locations had all either personally experienced sexual violence; had known of a family member, friend, or colleague who had experienced sexual violence; or knew exiled countrywomen who were survivors.

One woman, who the report identifies as Ms Kim, was imprisoned in the Sinuiju labor camp. “The guards called girls into a room and ordered them to take off their clothes. There were girls who were fifteen or sixteen years old and they started to cry,” she said. The guards would put on rubber gloves and push their hands inside the girls’ vaginas to check if they had money. “The girls were still virgins and had not even started their menstrual cycles,” she said. “They would bleed and cry. The guards kept doing this even though they did not find any money.”

Ms Gil was similarly abused when she approached her town’s mayor to ask for somewhere to stay. “I was raped in his office and received a house in return. I could not tell anyone about what happened. What I want to say is this: In North Korea, a woman’s dream cannot be achieved without being raped or without selling her body.”

Even more financially secure women regularly found themselves at the sexual whim of their male bosses. Ms Wi explained how officials from the Ministry of Public Health abused her friend at a hospital in Pyongyang. “If they saw a young nurse or employee they admired, they would whisper in the ear of the chief hospital official who accompanied their inspection,” she said. “The woman would then be taken, sometimes forcibly, to a secluded room and abused by the officials. My friend told me that she was sedated on one occasion, but after that she stopped resisting. She could not tell me what the officials did to her.”

[Yahoo UK]

North Korean foreign minister heads to Sweden amid summit speculation

North Korea’s foreign minister was flying to Sweden on Thursday, the Swedish government said, in the first significant diplomatic move by Pyongyang since US President Donald Trump said a week ago that he’d be willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Sweden, whose embassy represents US interests in the North Korean capital, has been touted as a possible venue for the momentous summit between Kim and Trump, and the visit will fuel speculation that a Stockholm encounter is in the cards.

Talks will take place between Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and her North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho. As North Korea’s top diplomat, Ri is one of the most visible faces of a country shrouded in secrecy. He made headlines last year by telling reporters that Kim could order a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean in response to insults from Trump. He also said Trump was “mentally deranged” and likened his threats to “a dog barking.”

The trip to Sweden comes as Nirj Deva, the chair of a European parliamentary delegation, told reporters that his group has been holding secret meetings with senior members of the North Korean regime over the past three years to try to convince it to return to peace talks.

Sweden is one of a handful of places analysts believe could host the meeting, with other possible summit locations including: Switzerland, the neutral nation where Kim went to school; the Joint Security Area in the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea; and China, which has diplomatic relations with the United States and North Korea and has hosted Kim’s father, the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Regardless of where the summit happens, if it happens, Trump would become the first sitting US President to meet with a North Korean leader.

[CNN]