From brink of war to hopes of peace: Kim Jong Un heads south for summit

For the first time in over a decade, the leaders of a divided Korea will sit down to negotiate an end to a decades-long rivalry which has threatened at times to plunge the world into nuclear war.

In a meeting heavy with history and symbolism, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will hold talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Peace House on the southern side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

Moon and Kim will meet for the first time at 9.30 a.m. local time on Friday (8.30 p.m. Thursday ET), with cameras from around the world fixed on the moment Kim steps across the demarcation line that runs through the demilitarized zone between the two countries.

It is the third summit between the leaders of North and South Korea — the last was in 2007 when then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun met Kim’s father Kim Jong Il. (At the time, President Moon was Roh’s chief of staff and a close personal friend.) Both previous meetings were held in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

[CNN]

Even educated North Korean refugees face new challenges in the South

When elite North Korean soldier Joo Seung-hyeon made his way through the Demilitarized Zone in 2002, avoiding minefields and watchtowers to defect to the South, he thought he was going to a prosperous new life. Joo was partly lured by the promise of a “free and prosperous life” blasted from giant loudspeakers set up by the South’s army along the border. Abandoning his guard post, it took him just 30 minutes to cross the DMZ, crawling under electric barbed wire fences and walking across minefields.

The reality was more complicated than that. South Korea’s pressure-cooker society was a shock. “I was suddenly thrown into this ultra-competitive world ruled by the survival of the fittest,” he wrote. “I realized that I … may never be able to remove this scarlet letter of ‘North Korean defector’.”

Ostracized by Southerners who he says see their Northern cousins as “poor, uncivilized barbarians”, he was dismissed at countless interviews for menial jobs as soon as he revealed his thick accent. One restaurant he found work at paid him half the wages of fellow South Koreans.

But he persevered, eliminating his original tones by repeating radio broadcasts, earning a degree in his spare time, and following up with a PhD in unification studies – the first such doctorate ever earned by a North Korean defector.

Even after graduating, more than 100 job applications in which he identified himself as a defector were rejected. But as soon as he hid that piece of information he started securing interviews and even a few job offers. Now 37, he teaches at several universities in what he described a “rare, lucky case”.

Now he has written a book detailing the challenges faced by Northern defectors in what has become a radically different society. His book tells many heartbreaking stories – including one refugee who committed suicide after struggling to earn a college diploma but still being unable to secure a job. Some South Koreans see the refugees as “untouchables” and another emigrated after South Korean parents at his child’s school publicly protested that their offspring should not mix with his.

Joblessness among defectors is 7 per cent, nearly twice the overall figure in the South, while their monthly income is about half the national average. About 20 per cent of them fall victim to fraud, theft and other crimes, a study showed, noting many then lose a state cash subsidy intended to help them resettle.

[Channel NewsAsia]

Kim Jong Un’s latest play for peace actually a declaration

North Korea’s recent promise to halt nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests looks like an overture for peace, but a careful reading reveals that it could indicate Kim Jong Un is ready for nuclear war.

“This is very good news for North Korea and the World – big progress!” President Donald Trump tweeted of the announcement.

But look at Kim’s stated reason for pausing tests. North Korean media quoted Kim as saying: “No nuclear test and intermediate-range and inter-continental ballistic rocket test-fire are necessary for the DPRK now, given that the work for mounting nuclear warheads on ballistic rockets was finished…the development of delivery and strike means was also made.”

Basically, Kim says North Korea has stopped testing because it’s done testing.

While North Korea has never fired an ICBM at range, and only fired its Hwasong-15 ICBM twice, Hanham and other experts think it’s already achieved sufficient capability to threaten the US.

On the issue of nuclear testing, Robert Manning, a North Korea expert at the Atlantic Council, told Business Insider there’s a “fair amount of evidence” that suggests if they tried to test another nuclear device in the same location, they would destroy the entire site and possibly collapse a mountain. According to Manning, Kim is “making a virtue of necessity and hoping we’re stupid enough to think it’s a concession.”

Of the upcoming Trump-Kim talks: “I think the fear among a lot of Korea watchers is when you have a summit between two leaders, if things do not go well, there’s little to fall back on,” Jung Pak, a senior fellow and the SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies at Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies, told MSNBC on Saturday.

So while Trump and much of the world cheer North Korea’s decision to stop testing while talks are going on, something that almost certainly does help the peace process, it’s important to remember what Kim’s nuclear weapons mean to him.

[Business Insider]

North Korea suspends nuclear missile testing, aims to focus on economic development

North Korea says its quest for nuclear weapons is “complete” and it “no longer needs” to test its weapons capability, a significant development ahead of diplomatic engagement with South Korea and the United States.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Saturday that “under the proven condition of complete nuclear weapons, we no longer need any nuclear tests, mid-range and intercontinental ballistic rocket tests, and that the nuclear test site in northern area has also completed its mission,” as quoted by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA.

The announcement appears to signify a remarkable change in policy for Kim, following a relentless pursuit of nuclear and ballistic weapons as a means to ensure his regime’s survival — although some analysts remain skeptical, pointing out that Kim hasn’t tested a missile since November.

The news comes six days before a meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a precursor to a much-anticipated planned encounter between Kim and President Donald Trump expected to take place in late May or early June.

Vipin Narang, an associate political science professor and nuclear proliferation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said, “The aim of this, in my view, is to make it exceedingly difficult for Trump to say the North is uninterested in talks and walk away,” he said. “Kim is doing everything he can now – in a reversible way, mind you – to ensure the summit happens.

Kim stressed at the party meeting his desire to shift the national focus to improving the country’s economy, which has been hit hard by international sanctions and the “maximum pressure” strategy pushed by Trump.

[CNN/India Express]

North Koreans face chronic food shortages

A North Korean defector activist who requested anonymity told JoongAng Ilbo reporter Lee Young-jong a chronic food shortage is spreading throughout North Korea and ordinary people are “suffering” because in some areas the public distribution system has been suspended.

“There are stories the distribution network has virtually collapsed, not only in Pyongyang but also in regional cities,” the source said, adding worries about price instability are hampering the proper distribution of groceries in informal markets.

North Koreans are fearful of a second Great Famine, when as many as 3 million North Koreans may have died.

Seoul’s unification ministry and national intelligence service are not alarmed, however. Both agencies have said sanctions have hit North Korea but the state has not reached a stage where it needs emergency relief, according to Lee.

That position contradicts statements from the Food and Agriculture Organization, which stated in its Global Report on Food Crises that 41 percent of the population, or 10.5 million people, are undernourished in North Korea.

[UPI]

North Korea drops withdrawal of US forces as condition of denuclearization

North Korea has dropped its long-held demand that the United States withdraw forces from South Korea in exchange for denuclearization, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Thursday.

“North Korea has expressed willingness to give up its nuclear program without making (a) demand that the (US Forces Korea) forces withdraw from the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said in a meeting with the press, adding that any proposed troop withdrawal would be a “condition that the US cannot accept.”

The concession comes as President Donald Trump insisted Wednesday he’d be willing to leave a highly anticipated summit meeting with Kim Jong-un should it fall short of his expectations.

In a similar vein, Kim signaled in March that he would not oppose joint US-South Korean military exercises. The annual war games have been a sore point for the North Korean leader, who sees them as a direct provocation to his country’s security. US military leaders have refused to put the drills on the table as a negotiating chip.

The South Korean leader, President Moon Jae-in, is due to meet Kim Jong-un next week for a historic summit in the Demilitarized Zone.

[CNN]

CIA Director Mike Pompeo secretly met with Kim Jong Un

CIA Director Mike Pompeo visited North Korea more than two weeks ago for a secret meeting with leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, sources confirmed to CNN.

Pompeo, who is US President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, didn’t take any officials from the White House or State Department with him on the trip, only intelligence officials, one source said Tuesday.

The White House declined to comment on Pompeo’s visit, which took place around April 1. The Washington Post  reported that Pompeo went as Trump’s envoy to lay the groundwork for direct talks between Trump and Kim about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The two leaders are set to meet in late May or early June, in what would be the first face-to-face encounter between a sitting US President and a North Korean leader.

An administration official familiar with Pompeo’s encounter with Kim told CNN the North Korean leader had been “personable and well prepared” for the meeting, which took place but added there was a sticking point over the location of his meeting with Trump.

President Trump told reporters on Tuesday that five locations are being considered. Previously, US officials have floated the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar; the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea; a neutral European capital like Stockholm or Geneva; a location at sea like Jeju island or a ship; Southeast Asia, including possibly Singapore or Malaysia; the South Korean capital Seoul; or the North Korean capital Pyongyang, a seemingly unlikely choice that no US official has yet ruled out.

[CNN]

Kim Jong Un’s wife afforded new title and level of respect

Ri Sol Ju, wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has been afforded a new title in the country’s state media, a move that analysts say could signal an evolution in the power structure of the reclusive country.

Referred to in a KCNA report as the “respected First Lady,” paired with an honorific reserved for respected members of society, the title is a step up from the usual “comrade” that she had previously been afforded.

“In North Korea, nothing is accidental. Each move is choreographed for a reason,” Troy Stangarone, Senior Director, Korea Economic Institute, told CNN. “The elevation of Ri’s status … helps to strengthen the Kim family’s status in North Korea, but also changes the international perception of the regime.”

The wives of North Korea’s two previous leaders, Kim Jong Un’s father and grandfather, have generally not been given the same status as that accorded to other leaders’ spouses around the world, Stangarone said.

Ri’s new title places her “more within Western norms and helps remove some of the old communist vestiges of the past,” Stangarone said.

He added that Kim’s decision to send his sister, Kim Yo Jong, to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February was another sign that the ruling family is intent on changing the optics around its power structure.

[CNN]

China’s continued efforts to apprehend North Korean defectors

China’s continued forced deportation of North Korean defectors, who face imprisonment or even death upon return to the repressive state, has received muted international criticism, as diplomatic efforts have intensified to negotiate a denuclearization deal with Pyongyang.

In the first three months of 2018, China apprehended at least 41 undocumented North Korean migrants, who crossed the Sino-Korean border, and more than 100 others between July 2016 and December 2017, according to the advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

The Chinese crackdown on these defectors, which has intensified in recent years, could get worse as relations improve between Beijing and Pyongyang, following Kim Jong Un’s recent meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“If relations between China and North Korea are good, North Korean authorities will be able to put pressure on the issue of North Korean defectors,” said Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and analyst with the World Institute of North Korean studies.

Xi is likely to demonstrate greater solidarity on border security enforcement, with little regard for humanitarian concerns. “He’s using these defectors to say to Pyongyang that we are still your friend, we are committed to working with you, and we don’t want these people either,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

Robertson says China’s forced deportation policy is in violation of a 1951 United Nations convention, which Beijing signed, recognizing the right of asylum for a people fleeing persecution.

[VoA]

A nuclear deal could increase risk for North Korean defectors

In recent years North Korea increased the number of guards and security measures at the border to prevent defections, that are viewed as a threat to the Kim government’s tight control over the population.

An estimated 100,000 undocumented North Koreans currently live in China, and many other defectors attempt dangerous journeys through China to reach a third country like Thailand or Mongolia, where they can request asylum in South Korea.

However human rights activists are concerned the progressive government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in is taking a passive approach to supporting defectors and confronting human rights violations on North Korea, in an effort to improve inter-Korean relations and facilitate a nuclear deal with the U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been a more vocal critic of North Korean human rights violations, and some defectors expect he will confront Kim Jong Un on this issue when they meet for their summit, that is expected to take place in late May or early June.

However other advocates have voiced concern that Trump may be using human rights criticisms as a negotiating tacit to reach a better deal to end the North Korean nuclear threat.

[VoA]