North Korean defector the lone survivor of five siblings

Jae-un is the lone survivor in a family of five siblings. Her father was taken to a labor camp in North Korea when she was 2 years old, and never heard of again. During the Great Famine in the mid-1990’s, her only brother died of malnutrition. Her mother died on the road while trying to find food to bring back to her starving family.

Jae-un, vividly recalled in tears, the hardship they went through. “During the famine, we only got rice once in three days. When my mother died, we did not have the strength to bury her. My older sister went to China to earn a living for the family. She sent money once to buy rice but I never heard of her after that. I learned that she was sold as a slave. My other sister engaged in smuggling, got caught, and was sent to a labor camp where she also died.”

Out of desperation, Jae-un decided to escape from North Korea. One night in December of 1999, she crossed the Yalu River and swam for the Chinese border. The water was freezing and the current was so strong but she was determined to survive.

After arriving in China, she was sold to a man who she ran away from because he did not treat her well.

It was then that Jae-un joined a Bible study group in China. She remembered the woman she met prior to her escape who spoke to her about God. Jae-un said she was impressed with the woman’s kindness. “She gave me money to buy three months’ worth of rice and she told me that God is alive and is with me since He is the Father to the fatherless and the defender of the widows. I had heard of God in North Korea but I was also aware that believers are taken to prison.”

Jae-un married a North Korean man she met in church and they eventually made it to South Korea.

[CBN News]

The hermit kingdom’s economic outlook

Recent negotiations between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump have provided a glimmer of hope for the hermit kingdom’s economic outlook. Markets are now watching to see whether the North Korean leader follows through with his pledge to denuclearize.

The next step will be policy reforms, which will open North Korea’s economy to foreign investors. Credit Suisse analyst Trang Thuy Le estimates North Korea could become a $100 billion economy within 10 years if it takes a path towards modernization.

And Le cited another interesting fact about North Korea: some industry experts speculate that it may be sitting on a vast amount of untapped natural resources. “South Korea’s state-owned mining company Korea Resources estimates that North Korea’s mineral reserves — coal, iron ore, zinc, lead, copper and rare minerals — could be worth in excess of $6 trillion,” Le said.

That amounts to 190 times North Korea’s 2016 GDP of around $32 billion.

To gauge how North Korea’s growth projections would look if it opens its economy, Le compared it to three other countries that went through a similar modernization process. “We take the experiences of South Korea in the 1970’s, China in the early 1990’s and Vietnam in the late 1990’s as guides to the potential for North Korean growth to rise,” she said.

Based on the experiences of those countries, Le said North Korea could generate real GDP growth of 7-8% per year in local currency terms. At that rate, the economy would grow to around $100 billion in size, which would see per capita income would rise from $1,258 to around $4,000.

[Business Insider]

Trump’s battle of wills with North Korea and China

The Trump message to Kim Jong Un was direct and blunt: You, your father, and your grandfather have all touted your nuclear program as a guarantee of regime security. Policies of previous U.S. administrations allowed you to persist in that delusion. Not this one.

President Trump used a two-track approach to drive the threat home. First, his “fire and fury” rhetoric was accompanied by credible, calibrated leaks of administration preparations for kinetic action that, depending on Pyongyang’s response, could readily escalate to destruction of the Kim government.

At the same time, the president seized on an even more plausible and readily available instrument of regime change: North Korea’s internationally-condemned crimes against the humanity of its own population. With the proper mix of covert action, strategic communications, and coordination with North Korean defectors, the despised Kim machine could be effectively dismantled without the massive carnage inherent in major military conflict.

To China’s Xi Jinping, Trump was equally clear: You will no longer be able to garner undeserved international prestige as a responsible and moderating force while duplicitously enabling and protecting North Korea’s mounting existential threat to South Korea, Japan and the United States. Chinese entities, both official and commercial, which subvert international sanctions against North Korea, will pay an increasingly heavy price.

These indicators of Trump’s seriousness brought Kim Jong Un to agree to meet with President Trump in Singapore.

Presently, It is clear there is now a test of political will between Washington and Beijing on trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and North Korea.

[The Hill]

UN official seeks inquiry into defection of North Korean waitresses

A United Nations official called for an investigation into the defection of North Korean restaurant workers to the South in 2016, saying at least some of the group appeared to have been deceived into leaving and hinting that Seoul officials were responsible. The fate of the waitresses has become a source of tension between North and South Korea, threatening to strain the cross-border detente that has blossomed over recent months. Pyongyang says the women were abducted by Seoul’s spy agency and has demanded their return.

On Tuesday, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said that his interviews with some of the women revealed concerns about how they ended up in the South. He has urged the South Korean government to repatriate any who wished to return to North Korea.

Seoul says the 12 women and their male manager defected willingly from the restaurant in China where they worked. North Korea has long sent workers abroad to earn money for the regime; as part of that effort, Pyongyang operated dozens of restaurants in numerous countries employing North Koreans.

North Korea has used the issue to try to extract concessions from the South, presenting the Moon administration with a dilemma: Risk hurting the current detente by refusing, or set a precedent of returning defectors to North Korea, which could discourage future defections.

[Wall Street Journal]

Defector twice escapes North Korea

Growing up in North Korea, Gim Gyu Min listened to banned radio broadcasts from the South that turned him against his own country. “I was born in a normal worker family,” he said. “My father was a weapons technician, and my mother worked at the local state-owned market.”

As a student, he turned to activism. He destroyed several symbolic sites of the state, including a local polling station. He was arrested and while in prison awaiting trial, Gim realized he would be sentenced to a prison camp. In order to be sent to a hospital instead, he swallowed a nail, causing enough injury to require surgery. After the operation, he took advantage of lax security during a public holiday to escape and flee across the border into China, where he was arrested and returned to North Korea.

This time he was imprisoned at the Chongjin Detention Center, a political prison in the mountainous northeast corner of North Korea, relatively near the Chinese border. From there, he escaped a second time, again taking advantage of the public confusion during a holiday. Crossing parts of China and Mongolia on foot, he was finally rescued by the South Korean government.

Gim had good reason to flee a North Korean concentration camp. Political prisoners in the camps have been ordered to dispose of corpses and women have been forced to kill their own babies, according to a 2014 UN report. Some escapees have described watching the mortal remains of prisoners being “burnt like rubbish” and their ashes used as fertilizer.

It is not unusual for entire families, including young children, to have been incarcerated as a form of collective punishment against a single malcontent who committed the same sort of anti-state activities as Gim. As for his own family, Gim has heard they’re all dead.
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A North Korean defector paid smugglers to get her family out. China sent them back.

Heo Yeong-hui, who fled North Korea in 2014, paid smugglers to try to bring her husband and son through China to reunite in South Korea.

Her husband was a trombone player in North Korea who liked to whistle the Irish ballad “Danny Boy” as a private serenade for his wife. His son gained a medical degree in Pyongyang and wanted to become a professor.

Sometime late last year, the two men disappeared into the North Korean gulags that hold a special place of punishment for defectors caught by Chinese authorities and who are then sent back over the border.

Now Heo has agreed to tell her story to The Washington Post, abandoning the normal cloak of anonymity used by defectors worried that speaking openly could endanger relatives back home. She is taking a chance. Her voice and others like hers, she believes, are needed to shape the debate over North Korea’s future and efforts to hold the regime accountable.

It’s impossible to put a precise number on North Korean defectors sent back by China. Most groups, including the Database Center, say it could be in the hundreds of thousands since the 1990s. China has resisted international calls to end the repatriations despite international pressure.

A 2014 U.N. report said those returned could face being “forcibly ‘disappeared’ into political prison camps, imprisoned in ordinary prisons or even summarily executed.”

[Washington Post]

North Korea systematically tortures North Koreans sent back by China

Even as diplomacy moves at a dizzying pace with North Korea, many human rights activists and others take issue with what’s missing. So far, the talks have cautiously avoided a direct spotlight on the North’s staggering record of abuses and political repression in apparent attempts to keep the outreach with Kim Jong Un from unraveling.

Also little discussed in the high-level dialogue is Beijing’s role in shipping back defectors snared by Chinese security forces.

Any comprehensive peace deal with Kim must deeply involve China, the political and economic big brother of the North. But a full reckoning on rights abuses will also touch on China’s practice of declaring the defectors to be economic migrants rather than people fleeing oppression — and deporting them.

“Sadly, through thick and thin in the bilateral relationship, one of the things Pyongyang and Beijing continually agree on is they don’t want North Koreans seeking freedom by fleeing across China,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “There is no sugarcoating the fact North Korea systematically tortures every North Korean sent back by China.”

[Washington Post]

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]

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]