Escalating verbal war between Trump and Kim Jong-un

Kim Jong-un warned U.S. president Donald Trump that the US would “pay dearly” for his address to the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week.

“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” Kim said of Trump. “Action is the best option in treating the dotard* who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wanted to say,” he continued, according to a translation of his statement.

Hours later, North Korea’s foreign minister threatened to drop a hydrogen bomb somewhere in the Pacific.

President Donald Trump then responded by calling North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un a “madman” who would be “tested like never before”.

The threat marks the latest attack in an escalating verbal war between the two leaders.

Days before at the UN, Trump had  called the North Korean leader a “rocket man … on a suicide mission,” and warned that he would “totally destroy” North Korea if Kim’s regime did not tamp down its nuclear development, later announcing new U.S.-imposed sanctions against North Korea on Thursday, which would force countries to choose between doing business with the U.S., an economic juggernaut, or isolated North Korea.

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said Trump is “very serious” about holding other countries ― especially China ― accountable over their relationship with North Korea.

But experts have warned against U.S. leadership using bombastic language. “Describing North Korea as irrational and crazy [in the U.S.] might demonize the existence of the Kim Jong Un regime, or provide the rationale to criticize or kind of act more coercively towards North Korea,” Kuyoun Chung, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a think tank funded by the South Korean government, told HuffPost in August. “But that does not really help the security of the United States and the security of northeast Asia.”

Note: "Dotard", while not widely used today, is an insult centuries
old. Merriam-Webster defines the term as referring to "a state or
period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise."

Trump signs new order to widen sanctions on North Korea

US President Donald Trump has signed a new order that boosts sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear weapons programme.

The US Treasury has been authorized to target firms and financial institutions conducting business with the North. Trump singled out the North’s textiles, fishing, information technology and manufacturing industries.

The president also said China’s Central Bank had instructed other Chinese banks to stop doing business with Pyongyang.

It comes less than two weeks after the UN approved new sanctions against the country over its latest nuclear test.

Announcing a new executive order on Thursday, President Trump said the measures were designed to “cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea’s efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to humankind”.

[BBC]

“We had already decided to kill ourselves rather than be sent back” to North Korea

North Koreans who escape from Kim Jong Un’s regime, by way of China, embark on a grueling journey that–best-case scenario–involves traveling almost 2,700 miles on buses, motorbikes and boats, in taxis and on foot over mountains.

For most, the journey will first pass through China, Vietnam and Laos, where they must be on the alert for police who might arrest them and send them back the way they came–to certain and brutal punishment in North Korea. Not until they cross a fourth frontier from Laos into Thailand are they finally safe.

The Thai authorities do not send them back. Instead, they will slap them with a minor immigration violation and alert the South Korean Embassy in Bangkok, which will start the process of transferring them to Seoul – not far from where many started their journey.

“I want to learn all about computers,” said a 15-year-old boy who had arrived in Thailand from Laos, just 12 days after escaping from North Korea. “I want to become a computer expert.”

“I want to be good at computers too,” chimed in his 8-year-old sister, who was playing with an imitation Barbie that a humanitarian worker had given her on arrival in Thailand. It was the first doll she had ever owned.

The brother and sister are two of the 11 North Koreans recovering from the last leg of their terrifying journey out of North Korea, which started with a dead-of-night escape across the water into China and culminated in a boat ride across a swollen Mekong, which washed them way downstream from where they were supposed to be dropped. After they had spent hours in the rain, not knowing where they were, the activist who had helped them escape finally found them.

[The Washington Post]

UN Security Council approves new North Korea sanctions

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Monday to impose a new set of sanctions against North Korea after the United States compromised with Russia and China who opposed an even harder line sought by the Trump administration.

The new sanctions set a cap on crude and refined oil exports to North Korea at 8.5 million barrels per year, which represents a 30 percent reduction. The sale of natural gas will be prohibited and refined petroleum sales will be capped at 2 million barrels annually. The Security Council resolution also bans all North Korea textile exports, worth an average of $760 million over the past three years. The sanctions also prohibit nations from authorizing new work permits to North Korean citizens around the world. More than 90,000 North Korean workers employed abroad bring the regime about a half billion dollars a year.

But these measures fall short of the stronger sanctions the U.S. called for after the Pyongyang regime detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear device last week. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had pressed for a total oil embargo. She also called for direct penalties, such as an asset freeze and global travel ban, against North Korean leader Kim Young Un. But that proposal was a hard sell to the Russians and Chinese, who hold veto power in the Security Council.

China, North Korea’s top trading partner, is not eager to endorse sanctions that could undermine Pyongyang stability and cause millions of refugees to cross its border.

[NPR]

US sanctions resolution on North Korea watered down before UN vote

North Korea has said it will inflict “the greatest pain and suffering” on the US if it continues to call for fresh sanctions in response to the regime’s sixth nuclear test last week.

As the UN security council prepared to meet later on Monday, the US reportedly watered down its sanctions resolution in the hope of winning support from China and Russia, which have voiced doubts over tougher measures.

The US had initially called for a halt to oil exports to North Korea and a freeze on the assets of its leader, Kim Jong-un.

On Monday, diplomats said the assets freeze had been dropped from the revised draft resolution, and the oil embargo replaced with a proposal to gradually reduce oil exports.

[The Guardian]

Trump’s plan to starve North Korea of oil

The U.S. wants the U.N. Security Council to approve a range of new sanctions, including a full ban on exports of oil to North Korea. Experts say an oil embargo would be a major shift in international efforts to squeeze Kim’s regime.

“Something like this has not been tried before,” said Kent Boydston, a research analyst at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It would be a different kind of sanction that would have broader impact on the economy.”

A prolonged halt in oil supplies could eventually bring the North Korean economy to its knees. But it would need the support of China, North Korea’s main trading partner, and Russia — both of which can veto the measure at the U.N.

The escalating crisis over North Korea is a thorny problem for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is trying to project strength and stability ahead of a key meeting of the Communist Party next month. That makes experts skeptical that he will take drastic measures at this point against Kim Jong Un.

Global Times, a Chinese state-run tabloid that often expresses nationalistic views, suggested in April that Beijing might cut off North Korea’s oil supply if it carried out another nuclear test. But after Pyongyang went ahead with the test, the newspaper poured cold water on the idea of an oil ban.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is also opposed to an oil embargo, telling South Korean President Moon Jae-in that he’s concerned it may harm civilians, according to a spokesman for Moon.

[CNN]

North Korea’s latest launch designed to cause maximum mayhem with minimal blowback

North Korea’s latest missile launch over Japan seemed, as Stephan Haggard of the University of California at San Diego described it, “perfectly calibrated to create political mischief.” This enabled it to send a strong political signal without overtly crossing a “red line” and spurring the United States into action, analysts said.

The launch also seemed designed to drive a wedge between North Korea’s neighbors.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called it “an unprecedented, grave and serious threat.” Abe wants to beef up Japan’s military capabilities, and missile launches like this provide ammunition for his controversial cause.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s liberal president Moon Jae-in, who has promoted engagement with Pyongyang, immediately denounced the launch and sent his fighter jets to drop bombs on a shooting range near the border with North Korea, a show of South Korean might.

Both reactions will have rattled Beijing, which Tuesday called on all sides to take a step back. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying characterized the North Korea situation as “at a tipping point, approaching a crisis.” She repeated China’s call for talks between North Korea and the United States.

China doesn’t want Japan increasing its military capabilities and rivaling it in the region, and it doesn’t want South Korea sticking to its agreement to host an American antimissile battery that it fears could be used to keep China in check.

Most of all, analysts say, Kim Jong Un is showing that he won’t be cowed by President Trump’s tough talk.

 [Washington Post]

The moment he knew he had to escape the brutal North Korean regime

Joo-il Kim grew up thinking North Korea was paradise.

Then he learned that his two-year-old niece, who was so hungry she had eaten uncooked corn and washed it down the mouthfuls with water, died after it expanded in her stomach and killed her. He would later learn that when he visited his family, they would feed him the only food they had in the house rather than let him know they had nothing for themselves.

It took him a long time to consider that the messages that he had been indoctrinated with since birth may be false. His mind changed after a new role in the military gave him the rare privilege to travel freely around the country. He was tasked with rounding up deserters, and it exposed him to the widespread starvation during the height of a four-year famine that killed an estimated three million people.

He recalls seeing piles of emaciated corpses outside health centers, in a country where supposedly no one went hungry. ‘I started to question whether the country existed for the people or for the dictator,’ he added. ‘I decided to escape North Korea to find the answer in the outside world.’

At age 32, armed with a knife that he would use to slit his throat if caught, he slipped into the heavily-guarded Tumen River in Hoeryong under the cover of darkness and swam to China. Fearful his status as an illegal immigrant may get him deported back to the regime and certain death, he pressed on to Thailand where he met a group that specializes in helping North Koreans find asylum.

He opted for London, where he now lives in New Malden with hundreds of other defectors, in a larger Korean community.

[Metro.uk]

US imposes sanctions on China and Russia over North Korean ties

The Trump administration announced new sanctions against China and Russia on Tuesday as part of its campaign to pressure North Korea to stop its development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

The new sanctions affect six individuals and 10 organizations with financial ties to Pyongyang’s weapons program.

“It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia, and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction and destabilize the region,” Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in a statement on Tuesday.

In June, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a Chinese bank, a Chinese company and two Chinese citizens to crack down on the financing of North Korea’s weapons program.

[New York Times]

5 reasons things in North Korea could still go badly wrong

The U.S. and South Korea began its latest series of war games on Monday, but right now the outbreak of war is looking less likely. Here’s a quick look at some of the ways the current U.S.-North Korea détente can go sideways:

  1. The wild card in the White House – For the last 60+ years, the unpredictable element in the U.S.-North Korea standoff has always hailed from Pyongyang. For a man who remains conspicuously short of signature victories more than 200 days into his administration (and has a penchant for lurching from one PR disaster to another), taking a strong stand against North Korea might become more appealing day by day. And we haven’t even gotten to the Mueller investigation yet, which will most probably have Trump desperate to change the narrative any way he can.
  2. North Korea’s got something to prove –Kim Jong-un saw what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, strongmen who bluffed a big nuclear game. He has no intention of following suit.
  3. China under pressure – Not that China had much choice but to turn the screws on North Korea. Trump has been floating the possibility of a trade war with China for months now. Given that, China has no good options when it comes to dealing with North Korea. It can’t push the Kim regime too far lest it collapse, flooding China with desperate North Korean refugees and producing two of China’s worst nightmares: loose nukes and a US military using North Korea’s collapse as a pretext for ramping up its activity in Asia.
  4. South Korea trapped in the middle – Some analysts estimate that the amount of North Korean it has trained on South Korea at all times could decimate Seoul (population: 10 million) in as little as two hours.
  5. A problem that defies solutions – The U.S. demands North Korea stop developing nuclear weapons and missiles. North Korea continues to do so to ensure its survival against an enemy it’s terrified of. South Korea just wants to be left alone (Japan too). If that wasn’t bad enough, consider the principal actors involved: Donald Trump, a South Korean president [who is also new to the job], Kim Jong-un, Chinese president Xi Jinping (who’s heading into a political transition this fall). North Korea may be the single most difficult geopolitical challenge the world faces. At a certain point someone desperate could act, forcing everybody’s hand. There’s always a chance that cooler heads prevail and traditional diplomacy will work, but the world just hasn’t had that type of luck lately.

[Read full TIME article]