Kim Jong Un briefed on Guam plan but opts to wait

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un reviewed plans to fire missiles towards the US Pacific territory of Guam but will hold off, state media said. Although prepared for “the enveloping fire at Guam”, the North said it would watch what “the foolish Yankees” do before taking a decision.

Crucially, indications are that Mr Kim would watch the US before making any decision, signaling an apparent deceleration in the provocative rhetoric. Correspondents say that after days of menacing threats it might seem that Kim Jong-un could be in the mood to finally hit the pause button – but in a nation as secretive as North Korea, one can never be sure. Analysts say it could simply mean Pyongyang is not fully ready to launch an attack on Guam, so it could just be buying more time.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in meanwhile has urged the US not to launch an attack on the Korean peninsula without its consent. The two countries’ defence agreement states that they must “consult together” when either is threatened.

South Korea and China – North Korea’s closest ally – have been urging calm and a renewed push for diplomatic resolutions.

China’s foreign ministry on Monday reiterated its “suspension for suspension proposal”, where North Korea stops its missile tests in exchange for a freeze on military exercises by the US and South Korea.

US Defense Secretary James Mattis earlier warned that any attack could quickly escalate into war, and if Pyongyang fired a missile towards Guam, “then it’s game on”. He also sought to reassure residents of Guam, home to US military bases and about 160,000 people, that they were well-protected and if a missile was fired, “we’ll take it out”.

Some quick facts about Guam:

  • The 209 sq mile volcanic and coral island in the Pacific between the Philippines and Hawaii.
  • It is a “non-incorporated” US territory, with a population of about 163,000.
  • That means people born in Guam are US citizens, have an elected governor and House Representative, but cannot vote for a president in US national elections.
  • US military bases cover about a quarter of the island. About 6,000 personnel are based there and there are plans to move in thousands more.
  • It was a key US base in World War Two, and remains a vital staging post for US operations.

[BBC]

North Korean defector: “I think Kim Jong-un would do it”

Following President Trump’s new warnings to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear threats, a woman who escaped North Korea 17 years ago is speaking out. Youngae Ma, who has been living in New Jersey for the past decade, once worked as an intelligence agent for North Korea’s security department. She was a military member stationed in China when she managed to escape the grasp of the rogue state.

Ma believes the recent threats of nuclear war from her native country’s leader should be taken seriously. “To boost his image and show strength, I think (Kim Jong-un) would do it,” she said.

She says that the U.S. or U.N. may need to show force first to prove they won’t take the threats lightly. “Someone like that has to be taken out because he will not listen to anyone—not the U.S. or U.N.,” she said.

Ma told a translator, “During my time in North Korea, I realized the government really messed up. Watching the government starve and kill innocent people is what drove me to escape.”

Ma is now well known in her Palisades Park community for selling homemade traditional North Korean dishes and sausages at local markets. In 10 years, she has used her profits to help more than 1,000 people escape North Korea to China, Russia, or the U.S. like she did. She has also helped them find jobs in their new countries.

Though she has assisted many, Ma has been unable to get her own family to the U.S. She believes her sister in North Korea was killed by the government for passing information to her in New Jersey.

[NBC New York]

North Korea vs the US: Opinions on how likely conflict?

The war of words between the US and North Korea has escalated, with Donald Trump warning any threats would be met with “fire and fury” and Pyongyang promptly announcing it was “carefully examining” a plan to attack an American military base in the western Pacific.

But despite two unpredictable nuclear-armed leaders trading barbs, most observers believe the possibility of conflict remains remote, with the North Korean leadership using its nuclear program as a bargaining chip rather than an offensive weapon.

Jean Lee, former AP Pyongyang bureau chief, says: “No one in the region, not even North Korea, wants another war. But Kim Jong-un is going to push it as far as he can to get what he wants: recognition from the United States that North Korea is a nuclear power, and legitimacy at home as a ruler who can defend his people against the big, bad US. In some ways, Trump’s threats play into the North Korean calculus: Kim Jong-un wants his people to believe that the United States continues to threaten the very existence of North Korea. That fearmongering brings the North Korean people together, and justifies the regime’s diversion of precious resources into building nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles. What I’m concerned about is a miscalculation or mishap that could force troops in the region to take military action.”

Andrei Lankov, professor at Kookmin University, Seoul, says: “The US president is employing both rhetoric and tactics which for decades have been used only by the North Korean side of the conflict. On the North Korean side, it is business as usual, of course: they repeat their promise to transform Seoul into the “sea of fire” every few years….Once North Korea finishes development and deployment of a nuclear force capable of hitting the continental US, they might be ready to talk about a nuclear and missile freeze. The US should accept this option.”

Robert Kelly, associate professor, Pusan National University: “There are two ways to think about what Trump said. The optimistic way – if you’re a Trump supporter – is that he’s trying to be unpredictable. What this is really intended to do is pressure the Chinese, to signal to them that strategic patience is over. The less optimistic, and probably more accurate, reading is that this is Trump shooting his mouth off. There’s rhetoric on both sides – it’s like two bullies in the playground yelling at each other. … We’re not used to unpredictability and anxiety coming from the American side of this relationship. That’s why people are so unnerved – we’re not used to Potus talking like this.
“The North Koreans are not going to offensively strike an American base or the American homeland unilaterally without any provocation – to do that would bring crushing American retaliation. The North Koreans aren’t stupid. Their nuclear weapons are intended for defense, not offence. The North Koreans are worried about what happened to Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, they’re worried about the Americans leveraging change and they know that nuclear weapons are guaranteed to prevent that from happening. That’s what this is really all about.”

John Delury, North Korea expert, Yonsei University, Seoul: “The North Koreans love the verbal hostilities. They will do this ad nauseam. They are happy to do daily threat battles with the White House. That is actually quite wonderful for them. They like the attention and it all underlines their point that they are under siege by the Americans. … But an outbreak of military conflict is not impossible.”

Jiyoung Song, senior lecturer in Korean studies, University of Melbourne: “North Korea wants to be recognized as a legitimate nuclear state by the US and establish diplomatic relations with the US. Constantly reminding the world and especially the US of their nuclear and missile capabilities is part of their regime survival calculations. … If Trump doesn’t want Kim to further develop his nuclear ambition, he has to sit down and talk with Kim.”

[The Guardian]

Will latest sanctions impact North Korean leadership in the desired way?

Experts express doubt over how strictly the latest attempt to slash North Korea’s earnings from coal, iron ore and seafood will be enforced.

And even if the new sanctions do cut export revenues by more than a third — as the U.S. expects — will that be enough to make Kim change course on developing nuclear missiles?  “Probably not,” said John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in South Korea. “Because one thing [North Korea is] good at is taking pain.”

The U.N. Security Council has hit North Korea with layer after layer of sanctions since 2006, but the moves have failed to thwart the country’s nuclear ambitions. North Korea has “an impressive track record over its whole history, going back to the 1940s when it was founded, of being able to … weather virtually any kind of economic pressure,” Delury told CNN. “This is not the kind of regime that is easy to bring to its knees.”

The new U.N. resolution goes further than previous sanctions by aiming to cut deeper into the wider North Korean economy. It received the backing of China, North Korea’s main ally and economic partner, but some analysts are skeptical Beijing will fully comply in practice.

“The $1 billion number depends on China implementing the U.N. sanctions, we … have 11 years of evidence they will not do so,” tweeted Anthony Ruggiero, a former official at the U.S. State and Treasury departments.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged the problem of enforcement on Monday, telling reporters that the U.S. would be “monitoring that carefully and certainly having conversations with any and all that we see who may not be fully embracing not just the spirit of those sanctions but the operational execution of those sanctions.”

Beijing has found itself caught between Trump’s demands to put greater pressure on Kim’s regime and its own desire to keep North Korea as a strategic buffer against U.S. influence in the region.  By supporting the latest U.N. resolution, Beijing may have dodged — for the time being — U.S. sanctions against Chinese companies that are suspected of doing business with the North Korean regime.

However, any breathing room China has gained isn’t likely to last long, according to Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing.

[CNN Money]

Tillerson hails UN sanctions, as Chinese Minister rebukes North Korea at ASEAN meeting

A day after the United Nations Security Council passed its toughest sanctions against North Korea, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson met with his South Korean and Chinese counterparts in hopes of ratcheting up pressure on Pyongyang.

Mr. Tillerson hailed the United Nations vote, which could cost North Korea nearly $1 billion a year, or about one-third of its foreign earnings.

Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, held direct talks with his North Korean counterpart, Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong. In unusually strong terms, he urged North Korea to show restraint. “Do not violate the U.N.’s decision or provoke the international society’s good will by conducting missile launching or nuclear tests,” Mr. Wang said.

He also said, “Of course, we would like to urge other parties like the United States and South Korea to stop increasing tensions.”

The top US diplomat for the region, Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, gave credit to the Chinese for supporting Saturday’s vote in the United Nations against North Korea.

But Ms. Thornton cautioned that Beijing has often failed to follow through on its promised tough measures against Pyongyang. China accounts for more than 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade, and it has long avoided tough economic sanctions against the North for fear that a collapse of the government would lead to a flood of refugees, as well as the North’s reunification with the South, putting a close American ally directly on China’s border.

[New York Times]

US Senator Lindsay Graham on a North Korean strike

Republican senator Lindsay Graham noted on the Today show that Kim Jong Un is nearly capable of placing a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile and hitting the United States with it, and America can’t allow such a “madman” to get to that point, at whatever cost to non-Americans.

“If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And [Trump’s] told me that to my face,” Graham said. “That may be provocative, but not really. When you’re president of the United States, where does your allegiance lie? To the people of the United States.”

If the U.S. military were to strike North Korea for the reasons Graham mentioned, it would be the result of a calculation that sparking a real conflict in East Asia is preferable to accepting a theoretical threat to the United States–that it’s worth risking the actual deaths of those living in and near North Korea, including American expats and troops stationed in Japan and South Korea, to avert the potential deaths of Americans at home.

When I surveyed experts this spring, they predicted that whatever form U.S. strikes against North Korea take, they could result in thousands or even millions of deaths–as the North Koreans retaliate with conventional, chemical, and perhaps nuclear weapons, and the United States and its allies respond in kind, dragging the region into a spiral of conflict. The vast range of the casualty estimates spoke to just how much unknown risk U.S. military planners would be assuming.

Graham is advocating “preventive strikes,” which differ from “preemptive strikes” in that they would not be a response to imminent attack by North Korea. … He’s suggesting that the U.S. military neutralize the North Korean nuclear threat so Kim never has the ability to nuke California.

When members of the Trump administration publicly discuss military options against North Korea, they typically describe them in preventive terms. It’s not surprising that a hawk like Lindsey Graham would characterize the president’s views that way. But you don’t have to take his word for it. H.R. McMaster, the president’s national-security adviser, has staked out a similar position. In April, he said it would be unacceptable for the North Korean government to obtain nuclear weapons that can reach the United States, even if that entails taking military action that would produce “human catastrophe” in South Korea. In July, Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, engaged in the same grim calculus.

The Trump administration may simply be talking tough to spook North Korea and its ally, China, into making concessions. …But what happens if North Korea calls America’s bluff?

[The Atlantic]

More on North Korea’s Office 39

Kim Jong Un’s perceived flare for the dramatic is something he shares with his late father, Kim Jong Il. The elder Kim was a noted cinephile and James Bond fan, and analysts say his fondness for spy thrillers appeared to influence his leadership — South Korea says he tried to assassinate enemies with a pen, and kidnapped movie stars in order to boost the country’s own film industry.

And Kim Jong Il also created of what’s known as “Office 39.”

The US Treasury Department says Office 39 is the bureau that “provides critical support to North Korean leadership in part through engaging in illicit economic activities and managing slush funds.”

The money basically hides in plain sight, according to Harvard-based North Korea specialist John Park. “North Korean overseas networks have been extremely adaptive to the combined pressures of international sanctions, in large part due to their ability to nest and disguise their illicit business within the licit trade,” according to Park.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States will try to further stymie North Korean operations by punishing third parties that help Pyongyang skirt sanctions. Though Tillerson did not specify how those third-country sanctions would work, part of the strategy involves asking countries around the globe to scale back their diplomatic relationships with Pyongyang. Experts say China cracking down on its unruly neighbor may be the key to stopping Pyongyang’s illicit activities.

[CNN]

US Secretary of State to meet North Korean Foreign Minister

Pyongyang and Washington’s top diplomats will soon sit down in the same room for the first time.

On Sunday, Ri Yong Ho and Rex Tillerson will both be in the Philippines for the annual Association of Southeastern Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Regional Forum, a dialogue to discuss security issues which includes 27 countries.

It’s the highest-level annual encounter between North Korea and the United States, says Mike Fuchs, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, and the first during the Trump administration.

“It will be a very important opportunity again for the United States and North Korea to send messages — unvarnished, with no middle-men — to one another about their policies,” Fuchs said. “The interesting dynamic is the signals sent from one to the other when they’re in the room together.”

Tillerson will have the tough task of trying to reassure allies in the room like Japan and South Korea while also trying to make clear to North Korea what the United States can and cannot accept from Pyongyang’s rapidly progressing weapons program, Fuchs, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told CNN.

It remains unclear if the two sides will have lower-level meetings. “There’s not going to be a huge sitdown. There may be third party intermediaries to try to relay messages back,” said Rodger Baker, the vice president of strategic analysis at Stratfor.

[CNN]

North Korean defector reveals Office 39 inner workings

Ri Jong Ho, a high-profile North Korean who defected in 2014,worked for decades in what’s known as “Office 39.” The office is in charge of bringing in hard currency for the regime. Ri calls it a “slush fund for the leader and the leadership.” Some of Office 39’s profits also go to the country’s nuclear and missile programs

However, Ri told CNN “Office 39”, which has branches throughout North Korea, is not engaged in illicit activities He said that they were not under the purview of Office 39, but did not deny they occurred. (North Korea has been accused of crimes like hacking banks, counterfeiting currency, dealing drugs and even trafficking endangered species.)

Ri said much of North Korea’s hard cash is earned through exporting labor — the country sends workers across the globe and collects much of their pay, according to the UN — and exporting natural resources like coal, which China used to buy but has since stopped.

 

Analysts say Office 39 is likely now in the cross hairs of US President Donald Trump’s administration. The Trump team has made it clear that one of the ways it plans to deal with North Korea is to squeeze its revenue streams across the globe in order to pressure them into negotiations over their weapons programs.

 

Ri, who now lives in Washington DC, believes that secondary sanctions — targeting those who do business with North Korea — is the way to go, especially in China.

 

Beijing accounts for about 85% of North Korean imports in 2015, according to UN data, though Ri revealed that Pyongyang does import some oil from Russia. North Korean economist Ri Gi Song told CNN in February that China accounts for 70% of trade and that trade with Russia is increasing.

[CNN]

Defectors and Google Earth map decades of horror in North Korea

A Seoul-based non-governmental organization has used Google Earth technology to enable North Korean defectors to “build a digital map of crimes against humanity in North Korea.”

The Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) released a new report, the result of two years of research and interviews with 375 North Korean defectors, that identifies what it says are grave sites, murder locations and government offices that “may be used for future investigation and prosecution of crimes against humanity.”

Hangings, public executions, cremation sites, and remote burial sites are ostensibly identified, said to be close in proximity to known detention facilities and labor camps. “The majority of burial and killing sites identified were in North Hamgyong Province, which borders China,” the report notes, acknowledging that 221 of the 375 people interviewed came from this province.

North Korean defectors identified 47 “body sites.” The researchers used this term because, they said, “While the majority of these sites are burial sites, some of those identified by interviewees were sites where the bodies were not buried but rather abandoned, dumped, hidden without burial, or were storage sites for bodies yet to be buried or cremated.”

Defectors would describe atrocities they had knowledge of, allowing the researchers to note the locations. They also categorized the source’s relationship to the location or the event, indicating if they were physically present, heard or saw directly, heard straight from a victim or heard only as a rumor. The data collected spans decades – not just Kim Jong Un’s current bloody reign, but that of his father Kim Jong Il, the former Supreme Leader, as well.

In the findings, researchers noted that the project is not endeavoring to “establish individual criminal responsibility of given actors, but rather to expose in a transparent manner the extent of the violations committed and their systematic nature. …It is our intention,” states the report, “to provide our data to the relevant legal authorities at a time when we expect the necessary criminal investigation to take place.”

[Fox News]