Strained relations between Beijing and Seoul over the deployment of a US missile defense system have made it “more difficult” for North Korean refugees or defectors to pass through China before reaching South Korea, a former US special envoy said.
Robert King, former US special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, told a US House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that Beijing at times has allowed North Korean refugees to travel into the South via China when the Chinese capital has maintained good relations with Seoul. But after South Korea decided to install an American-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system on the Korean Peninsula earlier this year, triggering a year-long diplomatic stand-off between Seoul and Beijing, North Korean refugees could hardly pass through China, King said.
King’s comments coincide with the beginning of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s official visit to China and his third meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two neighboring countries agreed to resume relations last month after tensions flared over THAAD.
“I am hopeful that the recent indications of better ties between Beijing and Seoul will lead to easier conditions for defectors to pass through China,” King said in his testimony to the foreign affairs panel. “Virtually all” North Korean refugees flee the North through China, the ex-special envoy said.
The number of refugees leaving the North annually has declined recently owing to tighter border control by Pyongyang, King said. After peaking at nearly 3,000 in 2011, the number fell to fewer than 1,500 in 2016. “Numbers thus far this year look to be even lower,” he said.
[South China Morning Post]
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out a new US strategy toward North Korea on Tuesday that was met with cheers in Russia and China but may have been squashed by the White House on the same day.
“We’re ready to talk any time North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition,” Tillerson said at an event at the Atlantic Council. His words appeared to signal a significant shift in US policy toward North Korea. Instead of the promise of verifiable denuclearization, Tillerson simply asked for a “period of quiet” in which North Korea pause testing nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, told Russian media he welcomed the decision. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, told a press briefing the same.
But the White House, where Tillerson has reportedly fallen out of favor, seemed to push back. “The president’s views on North Korea have not changed,” the White House said in a vague statement, according to Reuters. “North Korea is acting in an unsafe way … North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”
Trump has frequently talked up military and kinetic responses to North Korea’s missile testing, and he has often undermined Tillerson’s efforts at diplomacy, once calling them a waste of time. In the past month, Trump administration sources began leaking that Tillerson may be on his way out of the executive branch in favor of a Trump favorite, CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
China has started construction on a network of refugee camps along its 880-mile border with North Korea, quietly preparing for the mass exodus of refugees that the collapse of Kim Jong Un’s regime could potentially cause.
Detailed plans for the camps, intended to house thousands of migrants who might flee a crisis on the Korean Peninsula, emerged after internal documents from a state-run telecom giant went viral on the Chinese social media site Weibo. The telecom company appeared to be tasked with providing the camps with internet services, and the document stated that camps were planned in three villages in Changbai County and two cities in the northeastern province of Jilin, on the border, on state-owned land.
The document, which Newsweek could not independently verify, said: “Due to cross-border tensions…the [Communist] party committee and government of Changbai County has proposed setting up five refugee camps in the county.”
In addition, The New York Times reported that centers for refugees were also planned in the cities of Tumen and Hunchun, citing a local businessman, who remained anonymous.
The secret construction of the camps reflects growing concern in China about the potential for political instability—or even regime collapse—in North Korea.
North Korea’s latest threat of nuclear war is another salvo of incendiary rhetoric from the rogue nation, but it’s also part of a calculated power move by leader Kim Jong Un.
Experts say Kim’s fiery talk and defiance of the international community masks a core fact: His pursuit of a nuclear program is designed to establish the legitimacy of his regime inside North Korea and to gain international stature.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo said last week that the consensus in the intelligence community is that Kim is “rational” — even though some comments from North Korea may not seem so.
Sheila Miyoshi Jager, a professor at Oberlin College and author of Brothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea concurs, “Kim certainly is acting rationally and predictably if his objective is to secure his hold on power.”
North Korea’s test last month established that the isolated nation had built a missile capable of reaching Washington, D.C., and other East Coast cities. Kim believes that the threat of a nuclear attack on the United States might force Washington to rethink its commitment to defend South Korea if attacked. North Korea’s ultimate goal is to reunify the peninsula.
Kim believes nuclear weapons serve as a deterrent and provide economic leverage for North Korea, Jager said. Kim fears he will go the way of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi — both gave up their nuclear weapons programs and were overthrown.
Analysts say North Korea is now a nuclear weapons power.
Every time North Korea does something provocative –which is often– Washington insists that Pyongyang must give up its nuclear weapons program.
Why would Kim Jong Un’s cash-strapped regime spend so much time and money on building these weapons only to give them up? And even if they were prepared to bargain them away eventually, why would they do so now, when Trump and his top aides are threatening military action?
“It’s a fantasy that they’re going to willingly give up their nuclear programs so long as Kim is in power. He saw the fate of Saddam and Gaddafi–why would he give up his nuclear weapons?” asked Vipin Narang, a nuclear nonproliferation specialist at MIT, referring to the former leaders of Iraq and Libya, both of whom are now deposed and dead.
About 70% of the more than 31,000 defectors who have made it to South Korea since the end of the Korean War are women, according to the government’s Ministry of Unification. That figure has climbed in recent years, reaching about 80% from 2014-2016, and 85% this year.
Accurate information from North Korea is difficult to obtain to understand why women defect in higher numbers, but experts point to several factors:
-One key reason is a strong demand for North Korean women in neighboring China as arranged brides in a country where men outnumber women by more than 33 million, and for the sex industry.
-Sokeel Park, the Seoul-based director of research and strategy for Liberty in North Korea, an organization that helps rescue North Korean refugees hiding in China, said North Korean women also may have a better chance of staying under the radar and working informally in China in restaurants and factories.
-Women also have a significantly lower social status than men in North Korea, which allows them to remain further out of sight from authorities, said Heather Barr, a senior researcher in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch.
-Women are key movers of an informal market that sprang up after the near collapse of North Korea’s economy in the 1990s. Barr said this gives women greater access to the networks of brokers who can arrange passage to China.
-Also motivating some women to escape has been access to information about the world outside North Korea. Many popular South Korean programs that make their way into North Korea are known as K-dramas — glamorous soap operas targeted to female audiences.
The UN’s specialist on human rights in North Korea will visit South Korea and Japan from December 11-16, in the context of heightened tensions in North-East Asia.
“I will use this mission to gather information on the latest developments in the human rights situation in North Korea and identify issues of concern that should be brought to the attention of the Human Rights Council,” said Tomás Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
[North Korea] itself has not granted access to the Special Rapporteur since the mandate was created in 2004, but has recently opened up to dialogue with other UN mechanisms in areas such as the situation of women, children and people with disabilities.
Tensions in North-East Asia have increased after North Korea conducted numerous missile launches in 2017, and carried out what it said was a hydrogen bomb test in September. Resolutions by the UN General Assembly and Security Council strongly condemned these tests, and international sanctions against the DPRK were strengthened.
Mr. Quintana will spend 11-14 December in the Republic of Korea before moving on to Japan on 15-16 December. He will present his next report to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.
[UN Human Rights Council]
I was head of the local inminban [a type of neighborhood watch] when my eldest daughter’s family defected from our community in North Korea. At the time my songbun [family political background and loyalty] was good, but I was under heavy surveillance after and faced discrimination.
Songbun in North Korea is handed down from generation to generation. My older brother was made a hero of the State twice, so we were a “double hero” family. Our family was bestowed the honor during Kim Jong Il’s rule after we donated pork to the army [when we had a bumper crop of pork]. We received many benefits and our family had ties to the military, so our songbun was definitely good. But living under surveillance made me very anxious and stressed, and I began thinking ‘going down South’ would be better than living a life like that.
As soon as my daughter defected, the Ministry of State Security (MSS) came to search my house. It was joint search conducted by the MSS and Ministry of People’s Security (MPS), and they entered my house without a warrant. They went through our closet, ripped off the paper walls that were blocking out the wind and searched high and low for any sort of evidence. It was as if we committed espionage; they even went through our roof and floor heating panels. The search was so dehumanizing that it made me want to shoot them if I had a gun. I thought to myself ‘I can’t believe I worked so hard for my country under these people’.
They threatened to confiscate my home, a house that I had bought. We moved into the house after our first daughter suddenly defected and we hadn’t even unpacked. My youngest daughter and her family were living there at the time but a local administrator tried to forcibly evict them and take the house. … The administrator’s men told my daughter’s family to pack their belongings and leave the house. They even threatened them with an axe, but my daughter stood her ground and managed to keep the house. Read more
An order was issued in 2012 after my eldest daughter defected from North Korea … decreeing that any family member of a defector or missing person can’t be the head of an inminban. In truth, it is difficult to lead an inminban if a family member has defected. You have to tell people to “keep an eye on people so they don’t defect” and “report any strangers in the neighborhood”, so you lose all credibility once you have someone defect from your family. So the order came down and I was dismissed from my position.
[After I was relieved of my position as inminban] I felt people were talking behind my back and pointing fingers when I went outside. It was very difficult to go out during the day for a period of time. I no longer wanted to live there. I asked myself how I could continue living in a place where I’m constantly weighed down.
They placed informants to keep tabs on our daily life. One of my workers I hired confessed to me one day that the MSS ordered them to keep tight surveillance on my house for 25 days. The worker told me that they were looking to see if I would run [defect] or if strangers were coming to my house.
My husband was an extremely loyal follower. Whenever I spoke to my daughter on the phone or received money from her, my husband would stir up a fuss and say he would report me. My husband was a cadre but he was dismissed after my daughter’s defection. He was understandably upset over it and harbored some resentment. Our relationship began deteriorating. My husband started drinking every day and threatened to hit me. Seeing my husband turn into that kind of person made me shake my head over and over.
Then my daughter phoned me one day and told me, “If you don’t come now, it will be almost impossible later”. I escaped North Korea in the summer of 2015, and arrived in South Korea in 2016.
[From the testimony of Ms. Moon Mi Hwa, as published in The Daily NK]
A group of North Korean defectors living in Toronto, some of them for years, are worried that they soon might be deported.
Taegun Kim, a contractor who has been in Canada for 11 years, said he found out Tuesday that he might have to leave. He got married in Canada and has two children who were born here. He works hard as a contractor, he said, and he pays taxes and contributes to society. And although he admits he lied on his application, he doesn’t want to leave.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) sent 150 letters to people of North Korean origin like Kim in late October, saying the government had concerns about their applications for permanent residency. IRCC told Global News that they had information that raised “possible concerns” about their admissibility to Canada, though the ministry provided no details, citing privacy.
If these people’s applications for permanent residency are denied, they could face deportation. But they wouldn’t be sent back to North Korea – they would instead go to South Korea, a country that Canada believes is safe and where they can get citizenship.
But many of them don’t want to go, saying that North Koreans face discrimination there.