The Father of Defectors

Kim Yong-hwa, 64, fled North Korea in 1988, and later formed the North Korean Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea in Seoul to look after those who continue to arrive and face difficulties settling in.

He begins: “I joined the Korean People’s Army in 1970 but left to work on a railroad safety project a decade later. In 1988, there was an accident and I was [accused] of not being loyal to the state. If I had stayed, I would’ve been shot in public just like the four others who were also blamed for the accident.

“So I fled to China and then Vietnam, Laos, and finally South Korea, spending months and  months in detention along my journey.

“I don’t know where my family is. I heard through others that they were killed after I fled. I was not able to speak to them after I fled North Korea.

“[Once settled in South Korea] in 2005, I founded the North Korean Refugees Human Rights Association of Korea. Our group sends money, clothes and medicine to defectors who are having a difficult time. There are a lot of young women in China who are sold in the sex industry or as wives. Men are also treated as slaves and they’ll be forced to work on farms but won’t be given any money.

“I’ve help save almost 6,000 defectors so far and the media calls me the ‘Father of Defectors’. But the job isn’t done yet.

[Al Jazeera]

Kim Jong Un meets with Chinese President Xi for 3rd time

President Donald Trump continues to tout the success of his North Korea summit last week — but it’s Kim Jong Un who’s taking the real victory lap.

On Tuesday morning, the North Korean leader made his third trip to China in as many months to meet with President Xi Jinping. Xi used the opportunity to praise Kim and say that the summit was an “important step toward the political solution of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.”

And just the night before, the Pentagon announced that it would cancel a key military exercise with South Korea in August. That’s a big deal since that’s a significant concession the North Koreans have wanted for a long time. After all, they see these exercises as prep for an invasion and have protested against them every time they occur.

So it seems that the relationship between Washington and Seoul took a slight hit while Beijing-Pyongyang ties got a little stronger.

Experts think they know why Kim made the trip. “The most immediate reason Kim is visiting China is to share his impressions of the summit with President Xi,” Abigail Grace, who formerly worked on North Korea issues in Trump’s National Security Council, tells me. “At a time when friction is rising in the US-China relationship, Kim knows it will be easier for him to convince Xi that his proposed, phased approach is preferable to the US-drafted road map. This will reduce US negotiating leverage when they push Kim to take meaningful steps toward real denuclearization.”

Kim likely wants to get China’s approval before he takes any real steps to dismantle his nuclear program. China is North Korea’s most important trading partner and ally. The Kim regime has stayed in power in part because of Beijing’s help. So if China doesn’t consent on just how Kim might curb his nuclear program, it’ll be much harder for Kim to do that.

But that’s not all: “Xi wants Kim to start China-like economic reforms,” says Oriana Skylar Mastro, a China expert at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, “so they will probably spend much of their time together discussing that.”

China had great success pulling around 800 million out of poverty by making some market-based reforms in 1978, according to the World Bank. If any country can help Pyongyang improve its economy, then, it’s Beijing.

[Vox]

American CEOs think Kim played Trump

Last week, on the same day that President Trump met with Kim Jong-un, top American business leaders attended the Yale C.E.O. Summit at the New York Public Library, led by Jeff Sonnenfeld. What did America’s top business executives think of the day’s news?

• About 69 percent of the 107 attendees surveyed thought that the Kim-Trump meeting was overrated, because of a lack of clear targets and outcomes.

• The summit meeting’s biggest winner? 59 percent said Mr. Kim. The biggest loser? 28 percent thought Mr. Trump.

[New York Times]

China the unexpected winner from the Trump-Kim summit

China is setting its sights on a key role in North Korea’s future, seeking to be part of any peace treaty, weapons inspections and economic assistance, after emerging as a surprise beneficiary of the summit between the U.S. and North Korean leaders.

At the top of China’s agenda are an easing of the economic sanctions that pressured North Korea into negotiations and working on ways to provide security guarantees to give Pyongyang the confidence to dismantle its nuclear program.

While China worried that its interests might get short-shrift in the Trump-Kim summit, the summit’s vaguely worded agreement to pursue denuclearization without providing details on how or when to achieve that goal gives Beijing time to lobby Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang for a direct role in negotiations, Chinese experts said.

China sees North Korea as an important strategic buffer, having fought alongside the North Korean military in the war to beat back the U.S.-led forces and, in recent years, propping up the government as the country’s biggest trade partner, aid donor and foreign investor.

[Wall Street Journal]

North Korean defectors ‘treated like animals’

Scott Kim first escaped North Korea at the age of 17 in 2001. At the time, he and his mother only wanted to get across the border to China so they could eat hot meals. Growing up during North Korea’s deadly famine in the late ’90s, Kim had spent much of his childhood starving.

Today, Kim lives in South Korea and owns a business trading automobile and railway parts. He is currently working on an English-language memoir about his experiences with the help of Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR), a volunteer-run organization in Seoul helping defectors develop English skills.

But it was a long and dangerous six years in and out of China before he got to Seoul.

“At the detention center in North Korea where i was held, we lost all our rights as human beings,” Kim told Business Insider. “We were treated like animals, literally. We had to crawl on the floor to move from place to place.”

Kim was put in a cell with 20 other defectors. There was one toilet in the corner and no space to lie down. Day and night, the defectors sat on the ground.

When he or other defectors were told to down the corridor to the warden’s office, they were made to crawl on their hands and feet. Officers beat them with gloves and sticks as they went.

An estimated 100,000 North Koreans or more currently live in detention centers, political prisons, or labor camps where they endure hard labor, torture, and starvation. Kim’s description of his experience comes amid President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has been accused of killing his own people. But when asked about the North Korean dictator’s human rights violations, Trump appeared to be an apologist for the dictator’s actions.

[Business Insider]

President Trump’s astonishing words about the people of North Korea

In his post-summit interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, President Donald Trump said something quite astonishing about how the citizens of North Korea view their supreme leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said: “His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.”

To believe that the majority of North Koreans, many of whom are teetering on the edge of survival, are happy is nothing less than a gross exaggeration.

According to the latest UN humanitarian appeal, a staggering 41% of the population — or an estimated 10.3 million people — continue to suffer from under-nutrition. So it is equally astonishing that in the joint statement both leaders signed there is no mention of alleviation of the suffering of vulnerable North Korean citizens.

The situation is so dire that hundreds of thousands of children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers don’t have enough to eat on a daily basis. While aid agencies operating in North Korea need to be restrained in their reporting of the situation on the ground, eyewitness accounts from dissidents and others support evidence that many outside privileged circles have difficulty surviving.

The UN’s World Food Program, which has some of the best access in the country, says that about one-quarter of children in nurseries it supports are stunted, meaning that they’ve received such poor nutrition in their first few months of life that their growth has been affected.

While natural factors such as floods, drought and bitterly cold weather set people back, international sanctions have had the knock-on effect when it comes to the health and well-being of ordinary people, too. Earlier this year, an influenza outbreak was blamed on sanctions that prevent easy restocking of basic medicines.

[CNN]

What happened in the Trump-Kim meeting

A breakdown of 10 major takeaways from the Trump-Kim summit and why they matter.

(1) The simple act of talking changes North Korean and American behaviors and perceptions in ways that make conflict far less likely. That’s a big deal.
(2) The joint statement signed by Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim contains polite diplomatic platitudes but is otherwise largely empty. It doesn’t resolve any issues, but it keeps the countries engaged.
(3) Later, Mr. Trump made a concession with significance: The United States will suspend its joint military exercises with South Korea.
(4) Trump may have made the concession on South Korea’s behalf without its consent or advance knowledge which sends the message that South Koreans cannot always count on the United States.
(5) The United States staged the summit meeting in a way that handed Mr. Kim some symbolic but meaningful concessions. For one, the two countries and their leaders were presented as equals.
(6) It costs the United States little to make those concessions. Still, they can be given away only once, and the United States received relatively little from North Korea in return.
(7) The meeting sends important messages to other adversarial states. Mr. Kim appears to have forced Mr. Trump to the table by developing nuclear weapons and missiles that can reach the United States. But Mr. Kim’s human rights record, considered among the world’s worst, did not appear to be an issue.
(8) If the point of the meeting was to bring the world demonstrably closer to resolving the North Korea crisis, then that didn’t happen.
(9) By tearing up the Iran nuclear deal despite sustained indication of Iranian compliance, and by reneging on agreements even with long-term allies, the United States has deepened suspicion that it cannot be trusted to make arms-control agreements. So don’t expect talks to produce much of verifiable substance.
(10) Still, it’s worth reiterating that first point: Almost any talks, even if they elevate Mr. Kim and grant him concessions for little return, significantly reduce the risk of war.

[New York Times]

North Korea portrays President Trump differently after Summit

North Koreans have seen President Trump shaking hands with Kim Jong Un at their historic summit in Singapore, and even awkwardly saluting a three-star general. It’s a far cry from the “dotard” label their government slapped on him last year.

Previously, even on a good day, the best he might get was “Trump.” No honorifics. No signs of respect. Now, he’s being called “the president of the United States of America.” Or “President Donald J. Trump.” Even “supreme leader.”

The post-summit transformation of North Korea’s official version of Trump, who’s now being shown by state media looking serious and almost regal, underscores the carefully choreographed reality show the government has had to perform to keep its people, taught from childhood to hate and distrust the “American imperialists,” ideologically on board with the tectonic shifts underway in their country’s relationship with Washington.

To be sure, the star of the show was Kim. The media depicted Kim as statesmanlike beyond his years, confident and polite, quick to smile and firmly in control. He was shown allowing the older American — Trump, in his seventies, is more than twice Kim’s age — to lean in toward him to shake hands, or give a thumbs up, then walking a few steps ahead to a working lunch.

For the average North Korean, the state media’s coverage of Kim Jong Un’s diplomatic blitz this year must seem nothing short of astonishing.

[TIME]

Trump returns salute of North Korean general at summit

Video footage from North Korean state media shows President Donald Trump returning a salute to a North Korean military general during this week’s summit in Singapore, an extraordinary display of respect from a US president to a top officer of a hostile regime.

In the military, returning a salute from a military officer of a friendly foreign nation is common practice for US military officers and considered a display of military professionalism. There is no rule that a US president is obliged to return a salute, which is considered a sign of mutual respect.

After Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walked down a colonnade to shake hands, the pair entered into a room filled with various members of Kim’s delegation. Trump starts to shake hands with those in the room. Upon encountering North Korean Gen. No Kwang Chol, who was in full uniform, Trump first extends his hand, to which the general responds with a salute. Trump then salutes back, extends his hand again and the two men shake hands.

A US official told CNN that Trump was briefed on protocol, which is to not salute military officers from other countries. The White House is viewing Trump saluting as all part of the broader goal that day, which was to show respect to Kim and his entourage.

Retired Rear Adm. John Kirby, a military and diplomatic analyst for CNN, called the moment striking. “They can see a propaganda value here and this is basically them showing the level of deference and respect that Trump has paid to them and to their military leaders,” Kirby told CNN. “It was an inappropriate for him to do from a protocol perspective, but now he’s played right into the North’s propaganda about their legitimacy on the world stage.”

[CNN]

North Korea’s huge propaganda win

North Korean state media ran two days of stories on Kim Jong Un’s trip to Singapore, including a huge spread on his meeting with President Donald Trump. North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper splashed 14 photos of the reclusive leader’s travels across its front page.

And on Wednesday, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea featured three full pages of photos from Kim’s summit with Trump.

North Korea typically heavily censors its local and foreign content, with events often not being reported until several days after, if at all. The decision to publish extensive coverage of the summit seems to reflect North Korea’s desire to portray itself to citizens as a player on the global stage, and is considered by some to be a propaganda coup.

The country was completely in the dark during  Kim’s April meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The only summit-related coverage was reports that Kim had traveled to Panmunjom in the DMZ. Major events, like the 2018 Olympics in which North Korea sent a delegation of athletes, cheerleaders, and high-ranking officials, also faced near complete media censorship.

But Wednesday’s issue did provide some clues to North Korea watchers about how Kim is portraying the summit back home. Rodong Sinmun detailed how sanctions “could be lifted” and that talk of denuclearization was hardly mentioned.

[Business Insider]