75% of all North Korean defectors are from just two provinces

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification publishes yearly statistics on the provinces of origin of North Korean defectors settled in South Korea. According to the figures, as of the year 2016, over 75% (23,138) of all North Korean defectors hailed from just two provinces: North Hamgyong Province and Ryanggang Province, with the former accounting for over 60% of all defections.

Even given that both provinces straddle the border with China, 75% is still a significant portion given that the DPRK has nine other provinces. Two other provinces which also straddle the border, and which are actually larger in population, Jagang and North Pyongan … only account for 3.3% of North Korean defectors.

While there are a number of possible explanations for this discrepancy, perhaps one of the simplest relates to geography. While both sections straddle the Chinese border and are, as a result, exposed to an overflow of Chinese/foreign sounds, culture, ideas, and lights, one section presents a considerably more formidable land obstacle.

North Pyongan and Jagang provinces straddle the Yalu river portion of the border. The Yalu is wider, deeper, stronger, and is more densely populated on the Chinese side, making it more difficult to cross safely and unnoticed.

On the other hand, North Hamgyong and part of Ryanggang province sit on the Tumen river, which is, by comparison, more narrow, shallow, and calmer than the Yalu – making it easier to cross. In addition, the area along the Chinese side of the Tumen river … has a large ethnic Korean population. In addition to being easier to access, this side of the border is, likely, culturally more approachable for defectors as well.

Despite its location and reputation as a city for the elite class, Pyongyang itself also produced more defectors (695) than a number of other North Korean provinces, and more than triple that of Jagang province, which sits on the border with China.

Altogether, almost 90% of all defectors come from just four North Korean provinces, and these provinces account for only 40% (10 million of 25 million) of North Korea’s population in total.

[Source: Shaquille James, Co-Founder of the North Korea Network]

Celebrity North Korean defector Kim Ah-ra

Among rising stars of celebrity North Korean defectors is a 25-year-old actress named Kim Ah-ra. Her hipster leggings and elaborately painted toenails give little indication that she grew up amid famine, eating grass soup to survive.

Kim was only 12 when she slipped away from her home province, in a mountainous corner of North Korea, to the hinterlands of China. After a long spell in the Chinese countryside, she finally defected to South Korea around 2009.

Both Kim and her mother were aided by an underground railroad run by Christians. This daring network illegally traffics North Koreans out of China and into countries that will link them up with South Korean authorities. From there, they’re given a free plane ticket to Seoul and a new life in one of the most technologically advanced societies on Earth.

Almost all of Kim’s early memories revolve around food — or rather its scarcity. “When we had food, we ate it immediately. We’d take one or two spoons of rice, add some grass and pour in a lot of water to make a dark porridge. That had to feed four people.”

“I remember wandering the village, looking at the ground, hoping to spot a stray noodle or chicken head,” Kim says. “My dad would cook rats and tell us it was rabbit meat.”

[USAToday]

US works its worldwide squeeze on North Korea

Over 20 nations have curbed diplomatic or business operations of the North Korean government following a more-than-yearlong effort by the U.S. State Department, an indication of the kind of behind-the-scenes pressure the U.S. is using to tackle an emerging nuclear standoff.

U.S. officials have asked countries to shut down businesses owned by the North Korean government, remove North Korean vessels from ship registries, end flights by the country’s national air carrier and expel its ambassadors. At the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit earlier this year, U.S. diplomats made sure North Korea couldn’t secure any bilateral meetings.

Mexico, Peru, Spain and Kuwait all expelled their North Korean ambassadors after the U.S. warned that Pyongyang was using its embassies to ship contraband and possibly weapons components in diplomatic pouches and earn currency for the regime. Italy became the latest country to do so on Oct. 1.

Kuwait and Qatar, among other countries, have agreed to reduce the presence of North Korean guest workers, according to U.S. officials and people familiar with the matter.

State Department officials drew up a detailed spreadsheet that listed all of North Korea’s known political, economic and military interests around the world, a former U.S. official said. The document functioned as a “to do” list of entities to target for closure. The campaign abroad is intensifying as the Trump administration adopts stricter sanctions at home, and the United Nations pursues enforcement of its tightest sanctions on Pyongyang yet.

The talks are also a contrast to the heated exchanges between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Mr. Trump, who has issued a series of vague threats of possible military action, saying diplomacy has failed. The latest threat came in a Twitter message Saturday from the president. “Sorry, but only one thing will work,” Mr. Trump wrote. On Thursday, he said a White House meeting with military leaders represented “the calm before the storm.” The White House refused to clarify either remark.

Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, has said that new pressure tactics need time to work, but that North Korea eventually will lack the resources to run its missile program.

[Wall Street Journal]

‘We would never think of eating for pleasure,’ recalls North Korea defector

Yoon Ok, whose full name is being withheld because of concerns her outspokenness will jeopardize the safety of family still in North Korea, recalls one particular Lunar New Year’s Day. She noticed fireworks and lights blazing in China, while her town received electricity only for a few hours a night.

“I was wondering — why is that country so bright, with so many lights during the day,” she said. “It’s just a border crossing. Why is it so much brighter than North Korea?”

She also watched television from China, where she would sometimes see South Korean soap operas dubbed in Chinese. She didn’t understand the language, but the images made it clear to her that South Korea was a place where she wanted to go. “Their lifestyle was very carefree, freewheeling,” she said. “If they want to do something, they can do something. if they want to travel somewhere, they travel. I could see that life is much freer than in North Korea.”

Yoon Ok made it to South Korea, and found a kitchen job in a Seoul restaurant. She fell in love with cooking and has begun taking classes with a goal of starting her own food truck and perhaps one day bringing it to North Korea.

“In North Korea, we would never think of eating for pleasure,” she said. “Eating was for survival.

“If I have an opportunity to go back or if Korea unifies as one nation, I want to cook for the people in North Korea who couldn’t enjoy eating. I hope they too can have bigger dreams of their own someday.”

[USA Today]

China stand on North Korean defectors enables a growing human rights crisis

Many eyes are on China, and what its leaders will do to pressure Pyongyang to end its gamesmanship. But another life-threatening crisis is emanating from North Korea that few are watching: China’s apparently expanding dragnet to force back fleeing North Koreans. These forced returns very likely mean that the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has imprisoned and tortured dozens of refugees.

Starting in July, China appears to have intensified its crackdown on groups of North Koreans trying to move through China in search of protection in a third country, and on the networks of people that facilitate their escape. Human Rights Watch believes that China has also arrested a number of local guides, undermining the capability of networks helping North Koreans to pass through China.

Both China and North Korea have increased the number of their border guards and added more barbed wire fencing to their common border. China has expanded CCTV surveillance and increased checkpoints on roads leading away from the border. Pyongyang has cracked down on networks aiding escaping citizens.

China regularly violates its U.N. Refugee Convention treaty obligations by returning escapees to North Korea, despite the likelihood they will be persecuted, tortured, and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment for leaving. North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security enforces a decree that classifies defection as a crime of “treachery against the nation.” Punishments are harsh and can include a death sentence. Others disappear into North Korea’s horrific political prison camp system (kwanliso), to face torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and other inhuman treatment, or forced labor camps, where they can spend years working in harsh and dangerous conditions.

[Read full Pacific Standard article]

North Korean border further tightens

Three men dressed in fishermen garb attempted to cross the Tumen River into China at dawn. But the trio were soon discovered by North Korean border guards patrolling the area.

A Chinese fisherman who last week witnessed the killings of the three men said the guards bashed in the escapee’s heads using the butts off their guns and rocks at the riverside. A source speaking on the Chinese fisherman’s behalf told authorities: “The scene was so brutal that he said he still has nightmares.

“After the bashing ended, the soldiers dropped the lifeless bodies into the river.

“The fisherman was so traumatized by the incident that he has insomnia.”

Kim Jong-un has reportedly told border guards to “shoot anyone who crosses the river on site” as he believes defections have a negative effect on the county’s stability. The new orders come as war with the US looks increasingly more likely.

In the past, patrolling soldiers would arrest escapees attempting to cross the river.

[Daily Star]

China frustrated as North Korean crisis spirals

The view from China could hardly be much worse: the leaders of North Korea and the United States threatening to rain down total destruction on each other, while U.S. bombers and fighters stage a show of military might close to China’s shores. Behind closed doors, experts said Beijing is as frustrated with North Korea, and with the situation, as it has ever been.

As North Korea’s dominant trading partner, China is widely seen as the key to solving the crisis, yet experts say its influence over Pyongyang has never been weaker.

“The North Koreans have figured out that the Chinese are genuinely in a bind,” said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. “Having cried wolf for so long about having limited influence, the Chinese genuinely do have limited influence in North Korea right now. It’s not just weasel words.”

China is not prepared to do anything that might bring down the North Korean regime, potentially bringing refugees streaming across its border and unifying the Korean Peninsula under a U.S.-friendly government. North Korea’s leaders, experts in brinkmanship, know that full well, and this knowledge has allowed them to call China’s bluff repeatedly.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has never met Kim Jong-un, and the two men are thought to hold each other in contempt. China’s attempts to send an envoy to Pyongyang to calm the situation have been rebuffed. So while Seoul cooperates with Washington, Pyongyang is freezing out Beijing.

 [The Washington Post]

Difference between American and North Korean war rhetoric

President Trump’s aggressive rhetoric about North Korea [includes] his threat at the United Nations to “totally destroy” the country. Whereas North Korea tends to couch its threats, however lurid, with carefully worded conditions.

When American B-1B long-range bombers, escorted by F-15 fighter jets, prowled along North Korea’s east coast on Saturday, one of the United States military’s most daring maneuvers on the Korean peninsula in decades, North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, declared that North Korea had the right to shoot down the American bombers, not outright declaring they would.

“The North Koreans know how to choose their words,” said Cheon Seong-whun, a visiting research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, who served as a presidential secretary for security strategy in South Korea until early this year. “They know how to calculate their stakes. They are not reckless.”

With its threats, North Korea is trying to make the United States think twice about further shows of force, even as it seeks to portray itself as playing defense against an American bully, said Lee Sung-yoon, a Korea expert at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. At the same time, Pyongyang probably hopes China and South Korea will call for calm and restraint, while using Mr. Trump’s threats as justification to conduct another missile or nuclear test, Mr. Lee said.

Lu Kang, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Tuesday at a regular news conference in Beijing that China was “very displeased with the escalating war of words between the United States and North Korea,” adding that there would be “no winners from rashly triggering war on the peninsula.”

[The New York Times]

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]