Chilling challenge faced by female North Korean defectors in China

“In China, tens of thousands of North Korean women are hiding and living in fear of capture by the Chinese authorities,” said Lee So-yeon, a former soldier who fled her country in 2008 and is now a leading activist in South Korea.

Many of the women, she said, are sold to men in China with prices ranging from US$4,000 for women in their 20s, to US$2,000 for those in their 40s.

“The greatest fear for women who are forced to leave is deportation to North Korea,” she said. Those who are caught by the Chinese authorities and sent back face the prospect of punishment meted out in prison camps, correctional training centers or labor training camps.

Life is especially harsh for women who have become pregnant by Chinese men, with some of them facing execution, she said.

Lim Hye-jin left her country in 1998 during the famine crisis. Once she crossed into China with a broker she was forcibly married to his brother, before becoming pregnant and was later rounded up by Chinese officials while working at a market. After repatriation she escaped back into China, but was brought back to the North once again. Eventually, she made a third escape and arrived in South Korea in 2002, but without her daughter.

[South China Morning Post]

What would war between the US and North Korea mean?

The US has nearly 80,000 military personnel in South Korea and Japan, as well as more war-fighting units in Guam. The US 7th Fleet patrols the region, armed with tactical nuclear weapons. US nukes are also based in South Korea and Guam. Additionally, South Korea has a formidable, 600,000-man army equipped with state of the art weapons.

North Korea’s one million-man armed force is large, but obsolescent. Its great strength in heavy artillery partly compensates for its totally obsolete, 1960’s vintage air force. Key combat elements of the DPRK army are dug deep into the rocky hills just north of the DMZ, with thousands of heavy North Korean guns facing south. In the event of war, the North claims it will destroy South Korea’s capitol, Seoul, that is only 30km away and has 20 million residents.

US estimates of war in Korea, made a decade ago, suggest America would incur 250,000 casualties in a war that would cost one million Korean deaths. That’s why the US has shied away from direct attack on North Korea.

The US would certainly be tempted to use tactical nuclear weapons against North Korean troops and guns deeply dug into the mountainous terrain. Without them, air power, America’s usual trump card, would lose much of its destructive potential.

US war plans call for amphibious landings along North Korea’s long, vulnerable coastline. This threat forces the North to deploy large numbers of regular army and militia troops on both coasts. North Korea’s air force and little navy would be vaporized on the first day of hostilities. But it is likely that the DPRK would be able to fire a score or more of medium-ranged missiles at Japan.

If the war goes nuclear, Japan looks almost certain to suffer nuclear attack, along with Guam. Tokyo and Osaka are prime targets.

North Korean forces might be able to push south to Seoul, but likely no further in the face of fierce attacks by US and South Korean air power operating from bases further south. The North’s powerful commando force of some 100,000 troops would attack key South Korean targets, including its vital air bases shared with the US. Such raids would be highly disruptive but not decisive unless the DPRK used chemical and/or biological weapons to shut down South Korea’s air bases and its ports at Busan and Inchon.

The US and South Korea could certainly win such a war but it would be very bloody and expensive. There would be the threat of Chinese military intervention if it appeared the US was about to occupy North Korea. Russia is also right next door.

[Excerpts of article by Eric Margolis]

US Ambassador says North Korea is the “number one threat” to the US

North Korea is not frightened by U.S. warnings that pre-emptive military action is on the table, its foreign ministry said Tuesday, describing its expanding nuclear program as a “treasured sword of justice.” The regime “has the will and capability to fully respond to any war the U.S. would like to ignite,” it added. “The U.S. should face up to the situation … with its eyes wide open.”

It comes after leader Kim Jong Un announced the ground test of a “high-thrust” rocket engine on Saturday. “The world will soon witness what eventful significance the … recent ground jet test of Korean-style high-thrust engine will carry,” KCNA said Tuesday. “The nuclear force of [North Korea] is the treasured sword of justice and the most reliable war deterrence.”

Meanwhile the North Korean government website Uriminzokkiri released a propaganda video that appears to show a North Korea military strike on a US aircraft carrier and a US bomber.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said North Korea was the “number one threat” to the U.S. and that military action was an option if there was no co-operation. Her comments were echoed by former defense secretary William Cohen, who told CNBC that North Korea’s military escalation was “the most dangerous issue we have facing us today.”

The Trump administration is considering sweeping sanctions aimed at cutting North Korea off from the global financial system as part of a broad review of measures to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threat, a senior U.S. official had said on Monday. The sanctions would be part of a multi-pronged approach of increased economic and diplomatic pressure – especially on Chinese banks and firms that do the most business with North Korea – plus beefed-up defenses by the United States and its South Korean and Japanese allies, according to the administration official familiar with the deliberations.

While the long-standing option of pre-emptive military strikes against North Korea is not off the table – as reflected by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s warning to Pyongyang during his Asia tour last week – the new administration is giving priority for now to less-risky options.

The objective of the U.S. move being considered would be to tighten the screws in the same way that the widening of sanctions – to encompass foreign firms dealing with Iran – was used to pressure Tehran to open negotiations with the West on its suspected nuclear weapons program.

[NBC / Huffington Post / CNN]

Two South Korean pastors arrested in China for assisting North Korean defectors

Two South Korean pastors have recently been arrested by Chinese police for providing protection for North Korean defectors in China.

One pastor was arrested on Feb. 18 with his wife and two children at an airport in the northeastern Chinese city of Qingdao prior to a flight to South Korea, according to the activist group “Justice for North Korea.”

The other minister was arrested with his wife at a hotel in the city of Qinhuangdao in China’s northern province of Hebei, it said.

“The arrested pastors are known to have insisted that they helped North Korean defectors as they were at risk of being repatriated to the North where human rights violations are serious,” said an official in the group.

The ministers were detained for helping North Korean defectors leave China, though their families were all released after two days of interrogation, he added. They are currently being held at a detention center in Liaoning Province in the country’s northeast, an official at Seoul’s foreign ministry said.    See also

[Yonhap]

North Korean defectors urge China to help people fleeing hermit state

Three North Korean women joined activists at a panel discussion in New York with the goal of pressuring Beijing to help defectors from the reclusive state rather than sending them back to face severe punishment.

  • Lee So-yeon, a former soldier who fled her country in 2008 and is now a leading activist in South Korea.
  • Lim Hye-jin originally defected from North Korea in 1998 during the famine crisis.
  • Grace Jo also fled North Korea, and wound up in the United States with her mother and older sister in 2008 after facing repatriation by the Chinese authorities.

The three North Koreans were among some 20 people who walked to China’s UN mission from the Armenian Church in Manhattan, where they had gathered for a panel discussion connected with the United Nations’ annual two-week Commission on the Status of Women.

The group attempted to deliver a letter addressed to President Xi Jinping, but was unable to do so as no one answered the door to accept it. The letter asked Xi to provide refugees coming into China from North Korea “safe passage to a third country”, urged him to cease returning them to North Korea and to work with the UN Human Rights Council to safely resettle them.

[South China Morning Post]

US says diplomacy with North Korea has failed while Pyongyang warns of war

Diplomacy has failed and it’s time to “take a different approach” to North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Tokyo, as the North Korean Embassy in China warned that American military threats were bringing the region to the brink of nuclear war.

Tillerson’s comment–that 20 years of diplomacy have been unable to persuade the regime in Pyongyang to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons–alluded to a 1994 deal between the United States and North Korea. Under it, Pyongyang would have received aid and two proliferation-resistant nuclear power plants in return for freezing and eventually dismantling its nuclear weapons program. That deal collapsed in 2002, and years of stop-start efforts to reach a new deal have amounted to little, with North Korea actively pursuing nuclear weapons and the missiles with which to deliver them.

In the meantime, the United States gave North Korea a total of $1.35 billion in assistance “as an encouragement to take a different pathway,” Tillerson said, but the largesse was met with continued weapons development.

He declined to go into specifics about what a different approach might entail. The Trump administration is now conducting a review of North Korea policy, and some in Washington are advocating “kinetic options”–a euphemism for military action.

There are sharply different views in the region about how to achieve that goal, with China in particular unwilling to do anything that might destabilize its ally and neighbor.

[Washington Post]

China arrests more than a dozen North Korea defectors

China may have arrested as many as 14 North Korean defectors in the last two weeks, according to multiple sources.

An activist who works with refugees told Yonhap news agency Friday that Chinese “traffic police” in the northeastern city of Shenyang detained seven defectors and one Chinese “broker” traveling in the same vehicle. They were arrested after an “inspection,” the activist said.

The arrests come at a time when China introduced a new requirement for intercity bus travelers, who must now provide their real names and proof of identification in order to purchase tickets, according to the source. The North Korean refugees were detained as they traveled in a small van and are at risk of being repatriated to their country of origin, the report stated.

A second source identified as a South Korean activist with a human rights group told Yonhap another group of three defectors was apprehended at the China-Laos border as they traveled in a private vehicle that may have been lent to them by South Korean missionaries. The activist said checkpoints beyond the immediate vicinity of the China-North Korea border have been “strengthened,” posing challenges for North Koreans who are trying to reach safety without proper identification.

A third source, who represents a North Korea defector group, said Chinese authorities arrested four refugees, including a child, at a city motel in Tianjin. “The police infiltrated their room, after tracking down their whereabouts, although it’s not clear how,” the source said.

In February, China may also have arrested two South Korean Christian pastors, according to Peter Jung, head of Justice for North Korea in Seoul.

[UPI]

Military showdown off North Korean shores

The US, Japan and South Korea sent a pointed message to North Korea on Tuesday, dispatching high-tech missile defense ships to the same area where Pyongyang fired four missiles just eight days ago.

Aegis warships from the US, South Korea and Japan began exercises Tuesday to improve their capability to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles, the US Navy said in a statement.

China’s Foreign Ministry reacted sternly Tuesday afternoon, calling on all sides to end “a vicious cycle that could spiral out of control. … North Korea has violated UN Security Council resolutions banning its ballistic missile launches; on the other hand, South Korea, the US — and now Japan — insist on conducting super-large-scale military drills,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

In response, Pyongyang accused the US of preparing a “preemptive strike”, according to North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency, KCNA. “If they infringe on our sovereignty and dignity even a bit, our army will launch merciless ultra-precision strikes from ground, air, sea and underwater,” read the statement.

The US has also declared it will permanently station missile-capable drones in South Korea. The US military in South Korea took the unusual step of publicly announcing the deployment of a company of Grey Eagle drones, the army’s enhanced version of the Predator drone, designed to carry Hellfire missiles. Together with the deployment of THAAD anti-ballistic missile defenses in South Korea, they represent a significant build-up of US military muscle in response to an accelerated program of missile and nuclear testing by the North Korean regime.

[CNN / The Guardian]

Time for Trump to talk with North Korea?

North Korea’s recent missile tests will put new pressure on the Trump administration to choose a strategy for dealing with this pesky proliferator.

The standard playbook is well known to those who have worked on the problem of North Korea: pressure China to pressure North Korea, toughen sanctions, reassure allies and push them to build missile defenses.  Mr. Trump can follow this well-worn path, but he will likely get the same result: failure.

Instead, Mr. Trump, simply by virtue of being the new president, has another option. He can talk to the North Koreans and negotiate. North Korean officials have said that they are willing to turn the page and start fresh with President Trump. If he is open, they would be open. Or so they say.

Kim Jong Un previously floated the idea that he would freeze some of its weapons tests, if the U.S. called off its joint military exercises with South Korea. More recently, Pyongyang suggested that it would normalize relations, if the U.S. withdrew its troops from the South. Both offers are complete and utter non-starters.

But here’s the thing: they are offers. Negotiations start with offers, and rarely does the first offer represent the final deal.

[From Fox News Opinion by Dr. Jim Walsh, Senior Research Associate at MIT’s Security Studies Program]

China kicks out South Korean missionaries in unprecedented numbers

In the past few months, China has expelled dozens of South Korean missionaries from Jilin, a northeastern province that neighbors North Korea.

“Chinese authorities raided the homes of the missionaries, citing a problem with their visas, and told them to leave,” one human rights activist and pastor told Agence France-Presse (AFP). He said that most were on tourist or student visas.

There are about 500 officially registered South Korean missionaries in China, though some say the actual number could be as high as 2,000. Many gather in the northeast, drawn by the proximity of North Korea.

Pastor Kim Hee-Tae told AFP that 20 percent of the expelled Koreans were assisting North Korean refugees, and that 40 of the defectors had been sent back across the border.

China gave no reason for the expulsions. While some observers pointed to newly-tightened restrictions on Christians, most blamed China’s opposition to Seoul’s plan to build an American missile shield, THAAD..

[Christianity Today]