Some North Korean defectors hopeful after Trump-Kim Jong Un summit

Two prominent North Korean defectors told CBS News they were “disappointed” by President Trump’s summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in Singapore, but expressed hope in the American president’s efforts to usher in peace on the Korean Peninsula. With pageantry surrounding the historic meeting but scant mention of the regime’s brutal human rights record, activist Park Sang-hak wondered what had changed.

“Maybe he was thinking about America’s national interests first, or forgot the contents of his address before the National Assembly in Seoul last year. I was very sad,” said Park, founder of Fighters for a Free North Korea. The son of a former North Korean spy who defected with his family to the South in 2000, Park is known for his work launching balloons with USB drives, transistor radios and pro-democracy literature into North Korea. He has been the target of two foiled assassination attempts by North Korean spies.

Lee Ae-ran, founder of the Center for Liberty and Unification and the first defector to run for the South Korean National Assembly, wondered if Mr. Trump had been “fooled again like previous presidents.” But upon digesting Mr. Trump’s press conference post-summit, where he told reporters he had “discussed” the human rights abuses of the dynastic Kim regime “strongly” but “relatively briefly compared to denuclearization,” Lee said she became more understanding of the circumstances.

Mr. Trump drew criticism when he continued his praise for Kim. “He’s a funny guy, he’s very smart, he’s a great negotiator. He loves his people, not that I’m surprised by that, but he loves his people,” he told Voice of America. Lee said she was “dumbfounded” by the statement, but took it as diplomatic rhetoric. “I felt like [President Trump] was pacifying a child. Could President Trump actually think Kim Jong Un ‘loves’ the North Korean people? If he loved them, that child would never act the way he does.

Park said he hopes Mr. Trump will stand on the side of tens of millions of North Koreans who are “victims,” rather than with Kim Jong Un. Only if Kim dismantles his country’s notorious political prison camps will Park believe he can be trusted on promises to work toward the U.S. goal of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.

[CBS News]

Why the food insecurity of North Korea?

28 percent of North Korean children are stunted — abnormally short for their age, a condition that the World Health Organization calls the “largely irreversible outcome of inadequate nutrition and repeated bouts of infection during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life.”

The roots of what is known as “food insecurity” lie partly in the geography and climate of the country. Mountains cover most of the nation, leaving few places to farm. North Korea is also beset by widespread erosion and frequent drought. In addition, many of the country’s farmers do not have access to modern agricultural machinery like tractors and combines.

Around 30 percent of the country’s food comes from external sources. Foreign aid provides a good portion of that 30 percent, but funding for aid programs has been getting scarce. A report released this month by the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP), which relies on donations from the governments of member nations, reveals it only has $15 million to address the $50 million yearly need in North Korea.

Current sanctions allow exemptions for humanitarian food aid, but Lewis says the process of getting a humanitarian exemption is cumbersome and intimidating. “It’s really hard to be sure you’re in compliance, particularly with the U.S. Treasury regulations,” C. Jerry Nelson, professor emeritus of plant sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia explains. “Donors are put off, vendors are put off by these restrictions. It’s just easier not to get involved.”

David Orr, communications officer for the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP), agrees that donors are leery. In an emailed statement to NPR, Orr wrote that “the legal and political consequences of the sanctions have resulted in UN member states, private companies and individuals exercising greater caution, or reluctance, when engaging with WFP and the UN system in general.”

Up to 195,000 kindergarten-aged schoolchildren will lose food aid this year after WFP suspended a program offering “supplemental nutrition” in November 2017 due to lack of funding.

“It’s impossible to talk about food security in North Korea without talking about their odious songbun system, the social control mechanism by which they stratify the nation into different social classes,” Eberstadt Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist at the American Enterprise Institute argues.

Songbun refers to a longstanding system of state-sponsored discrimination. Large numbers of people in North Korea — mostly urban citizens who can’t grow their own food — consistently rely on government-issued rations. How much you get is determined by your family’s perceived loyalty to the state. If your grandfather fought the Japanese in the 1940s or worked in a factory, your rations are likely to be relatively generous. But if your grandfather was a lawyer or a merchant, your rations are comparatively meager. Given this system, “it’s hardly surprising that there should be rampant malnutrition in North Korea,” Eberstadt says.

[NPR]

Kim Jong Un ends visit to China with a message for the US

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended a celebratory visit to China’s President Xi Jinping on Wednesday with tea, praise, handshakes — and a message for the US. Kim’s trip reinforced the idea that Beijing remains a key player — a variable that President Donald Trump needs and yet one that remains outside his control.

Administration officials have said that they will maintain sanctions on North Korea even as talks continue, and stand ready to intensify that economic pressure should Pyongyang fail to cooperate. But China, North Korea’s biggest trading partner, ultimately has power over whether sanctions on Pyongyang truly bite.

With tensions climbing between Beijing and Washington over trade, some analysts point to the warmth on display during Kim’s visit to Beijing as a warning from Xi that Trump’s moves on trade could undermine the most ambitious goal — peace with North Korea — on his foreign policy agenda.

“I think China is sending a message to Trump: You want to put trade tariffs on us and have our cooperation with North Korea? You can’t have both,” Bill Richardson, the former US energy secretary, ambassador and repeat US envoy to North Korea, told CNN.

[CNN]

North Korean defectors vow to fight on against Kim Jong-un government

Some North Korean defectors who have made new lives in the South vow they will never stop fighting for the removal of the government in Pyongyang even if  Kim Jong Un agrees to give up his nuclear weapons.

Choi Jung-hoon, a former North Korean army officer, who defected to the South in 2006 and who survived a North-driven assassination attempt in 2013, insists the Moon-Kim meeting will to do little to change his mind about the country he fled.

“No matter the outcome of these summits, our goal will still ultimately be regime change,” Mr. Choi said in an interview recently.

He spoke inside a discreet office in the South Korean capital, where he and handful of other defectors run Free North Korea Radio, a nonprofit that has piped subversive shortwave news broadcasts into the North since 2006.

Mr. Choi told The Washington Times the harrowing story of his own escape from North Korea, where he grew up never thinking of himself as an opponent of the regime. His views changed in 2006 after unintentionally running afoul of the government when he sought money in exchange for helping a South Korean family locate a kidnapped relative in the North.

[Washington Times]

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]