300,000 underground Christians in North Korea

The totalitarian state of North Korea forces the estimated 300,000 Christians living there to hide their religious beliefs and fellowship among each other.

“In a nation where the ruling regime demands total control over the general public, anything that challenges the government’s power is seen as a threat, including religion,” Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, told Fox News. “As a result, the North Korean government does everything in its power to squash the spread of Christianity.”

This leads much of the religious population in North Korea to go underground with their worship. On the subject, North Korean defector Choi Kwanghyuk said, “North Hamgyong province is very cold. In the winter, we would dig a big hole and store kimchi there. We sometimes had services there. In the summer, we had services in the mountain or by the river. …We had only one Bible.”

In 2008, North Korean authorities caught up to Choi and arrested him. He said that he was about to be sent to one of North Korea’s brutal labor camps when he was able to break free. “I decided to escape because I thought that once they sent me to the other camp, they could eventually send me to the concentration camp or kill me,” Choi recalled. “I was traveling back and forth between China and North Korea, but they kept searching for me, and I knew it could put my friends in danger too, so I left.”

“Unfortunately, it is inexplicably easy to wind up in one of these camps. While someone can be sent to one of these camps for openly evangelizing, someone can just as easily be sent there for simply being in contact with a religious person,” said King.

[Fox News]

Ex-US ambassador: Trump has gotten China to do more on North Korea than any American president

President Donald Trump, in unprecedented fashion, has been able to get the Chinese government to turn the screws on North Korea in hopes of getting Kim Jong Un to halt military provocations, according to a former diplomat who has advised Republican and Democratic presidents.

“The Chinese have done more under President Trump’s prodding than any other American president. They signed on to the UN sanctions. There are now individual Chinese sanctions; the central bank governors instructed banks in China to wind up loans to North Korea,” Nicholas Burns told CNBC.

“The Chinese are clearly frustrated with the North Koreans. The Chinese don’t want a war on the Korean Peninsula. They want trade,” said Burns, who served as U.S. ambassador to NATO and was the State Department’s third-ranking official during George W. Bush’s presidency. He also advised the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was just given a major governing mandate, will be “eager to cooperate” with Trump, said Burns, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “The president [Trump] has obviously gone slow on any kind of major [trade] sanctions against China because he’s prioritizing the North Korean issue. The Chinese understand that.”

Burns said the best scenario for Trump on his upcoming Asian trip would be to persuade North Korea’s Kim through a unified international alliance to agree to negotiations.

It’s unknown whether Trump will visit the DMZ. “I think it may too provocative. Given the fact that the president is not disciplined and his advisors never know what he’s going to say or not say,” Burns said.

[CNBC]

Latest Treasury sanctions on North Korea

The Treasury Department on Thursday issued new sanctions on seven individuals and three entities connected to the North Korean regime in conjunction with a new report from the State Department on human rights abuses within the hermit kingdom.

The sanctions were issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and they freeze any property or interest in property within U.S. jurisdiction and generally prohibit any transactions by U.S. citizens with any of the sanctioned individuals or groups. Among the sanctioned entities are the Government of North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea.

 “North Korea is run by a brutal regime that continues to engage in serious human rights abuses. We are especially concerned with the North Korean military, which operates as secret police, punishing all forms of dissent. Further, the military operates outside of North Korea to hunt down asylum seekers, and brutally detains and forcibly returns North Korean citizens,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“Today’s sanctions target the North Korean military and regime officials engaged in flagrant abuses of human rights. We also are targeting North Korean financial facilitators who attempt to keep the regime afloat with foreign currency earned through forced labor operations.”

[CNBC]

North Korean resettlement in South Korea over the past 20 years

In the decades following the Korean War, there were a handful of high-profile defections from North to South Korea and vice versa, but the total number of people who voluntarily resettled from one state to the other was very small.

During the late 1990s, as North Korea experienced famine and economic collapse, a growing number of North Koreans fled to China to secure their livelihoods, with some eventually making it to the South. The number of North Koreans arriving in the South reached a peak in 2009.

After 2011, the number of North Koreans arriving in South Korea dropped by about 50% from this peak. Some cite tightened border security as the primary reason for this downturn, although relatively improved economic conditions in North Korea and an anti-defection propaganda campaign within North Korea may also be contributing factors.

The majority of North Koreans who have resettled in the South have been women, who currently account for about 70% of the North Korean population in South Korea. The lower participation rate of women in North Korea’s formal labor force may account for some of this gender imbalance.

Click following link for charts: North Korean Resettlement in South Korea

Other North Korean defectors voluntarily return to the North?

The South Korean Unification Ministry said that 26 North Korean defectors have gone back to North Korea out of the total who have come to South Korea, which stood at 31,093 as of the end of September.

The Unification Ministry is looking into the whereabouts of a 30-something North Korean defector couple, which a local cable TV channel reported on Sunday could not be reached after they left for China in mid-October.

“As they fell out of touch after leaving for China, authorities are investigating the case,” Baik Tae-hyun, ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

In mid-July, another North Korean female defector who had gone to China appeared in a North Korean propaganda video, stating she returned to North Korea after suffering “physically and mentally in the capitalist South”. She insisted that she was lured to South Korea by the fallacy that she could make a lot of money. The woman had become somewhat popular in South Korea after appearing on cable TV show programs featuring North Korean defectors.

Baik, the Unification Ministry spokesman said, “The government will make efforts to help North Korean defectors better settle here through cooperation with private agencies and local communities … and will also do its part to create an atmosphere to embrace North Korean refugees as members of our society.”

[The Korea Herald]

Assassinating Kim Jong-un could go so wrong

There have been rumors and discussions about the assassination of Kim Jong-un in the West. But, as logical as it may seem to some warmongers, assassinating the North Korean leader is not a good idea.

The first reason why assassinating Kim Jong-un is not a good idea is that it would be a very difficult task to achieve. North Korea, at over 120,000 square kilometres, with mountains making up nearly 80 percent of its surface, is one of the most heavily fortified countries in the world, with …its tapestry of tunnels and between 6,000 to 8,000 subterranean facilities, all making it very easy for Kim to hide. If an attempt was made, and failed, the full nuclear anger of Kim Jong-un could be expected in response.

The second reason is this practice is illegal under US laws.

The third reason is that Kim Jong-un’s death by no means guarantees solving the problem. The more likely scenario is that power would pass directly to one of his children in accordance with a pre-agreed succession plan. Either his sister, Kim Yo-jong , or his wife, Ri Sol-ju will act as regent until his elected heir is old enough to take control of the communist de-facto monarchy. … The success of this type of regency and succession would depend on support from the military.

An alternate possibility is the country descending into absolute chaos after such an assassination. Recent examples of the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi show that the removal of such strongmen can bring dangerous fragmentation and enduring conflict that destabilize regions for decades ahead.

The final and most likely possibility is that the “head of the snake” keeps biting for a few minutes after it is decapitated … the North Korean military start firing everything they have.

[Excerpts of an Opinion by Alexander Gillespie, professor of international law at the University of Waikato, New Zealand]

North Korea may not last a year under present sanctions, says former regime official

A former money man for the Kim regime, who served as a dedicated civil servant for more than 30 years before becoming disillusioned, suggests the North Korean economy is on the ropes.

“I don’t know if North Korea will survive a year [under] sanctions. Many people will die,” Ri Jong Ho, a former official in charge of securing funds for the regime, revealed at his first public speaking event in the U.S. at the Asia Society in New York, according to CNBC. “There is not enough to eat there” and the sanctions have “completely blocked” trade, he asserted.

The UN has imposed strict sanctions on the rogue regime, cutting off 90 percent of its exports, restricting key imports, and shutting down illicit trading and smuggling networks. The U.S. has also imposed unilateral sanctions to increase the pressure on North Korea and its supporters. “The sanctions that the White House has imposed on North Korea are of a historic level,” Ri explained. “Never before has the country faced such tough sanctions.”

He added that the rogue regime desires a functional relationship with the U.S., especially as ties with China hit “the very worst point of their relationship,” he stressed. There is reportedly a great deal of distrust and contempt between Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Kim called Xi a “son of a bitch” during a meeting with senior North Korean officials, Ri revealed.

It is unclear exactly what type of relationship North Korea desires with the U.S., but evidence suggests the North wants recognition as a nuclear-armed state and a peace treaty effectively ending America’s so-called “hostile policy” towards the regime. The North’s provocative behavior is, according to Ri, an attempt to force the U.S. to engage North Korea diplomatically on the regime’s terms.

Ri served the Kim regime as a dedicated civil servant for more than 30 years before becoming disillusioned. He decided to flee the country with his family after Kim began purging senior officials by the hundreds.

[Daily Caller]

Hacking is an almost perfect weapon for Pyongyang

North Korea’s army of more than 6,000 hackers is undeniably persistent, and undeniably improving, according to American and British security officials who have been tracing their attacks. And unlike its nuclear weapons tests, which have led to international sanctions, the North’s cyberstrikes have faced almost no pushback or punishment, even as the regime is already using its hacking capabilities for actual attacks against its adversaries in the West.

And just as Western analysts once scoffed at the potential of the North’s nuclear program, so did experts dismiss its cyberpotential — only to now acknowledge that hacking is an almost perfect weapon for a Pyongyang that is isolated and has little to lose.

“Cyber is a tailor-made instrument of power for them,” said Chris Inglis, a former deputy director of the National Security Agency, who now directs cyberstudies at the United States Naval Academy. “There’s a low cost of entry, it’s largely asymmetrical, there’s some degree of anonymity and stealth in its use. It can hold large swaths of nation state infrastructure and private-sector infrastructure at risk. It’s a source of income.”

Mr. Inglis added: “You could argue that they have one of the most successful cyberprograms on the planet, not because it’s technically sophisticated, but because it has achieved all of their aims at very low cost.”

North Korea’s primitive infrastructure is also far less vulnerable to cyberretaliation, and North Korean hackers operate outside the country, anyway.

Both the United States and South Korea have placed digital “implants” in the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the North Korean equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency, according to documents that Edward J. Snowden released several years ago. Indeed, both sides see cyber as the way to gain tactical advantage in their nuclear and missile standoff.

“Everyone is focused on mushroom clouds,” said Robert P. Silvers, the former assistant secretary for cyberpolicy at the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, “but there is far more potential for another kind of disastrous escalation.”

[New York Times]                                                                              Read more

North Korean cyberpower threat

Last week, a South Korean lawmaker revealed that North Korea had successfully broken into the South’s military networks to steal war plans, including for the “decapitation” of the North Korean leadership in the opening hours of a new Korean war.

North Korea is not motivated solely by politics: A chief political objective of the cyberprogram is to preserve the image of the North’s 33-year-old leader, Kim Jong-un. Its most famous cyberattack came in 2014, against Sony Pictures Entertainment, in a largely successful effort to block the release of a movie that satirized Mr. Kim, “The Interview.”

What has not been disclosed, until now, is that North Korea had also hacked into a British television network a few weeks earlier to stop it from broadcasting a drama about a nuclear scientist kidnapped in Pyongyang.

Intelligence officials estimate that North Korea also reaps hundreds of millions a dollars a year from ransomware, digital bank heists, online video game cracking, and more recently, hacks of South Korean Bitcoin exchanges. One former British intelligence chief estimates the take from its cyberheists may bring the North as much as $1 billion a year, or a third of the value of the nation’s exports.

A recent analysis by the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future found heavy North Korean internet activity in India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nepal, Kenya, Mozambique, and Indonesia. In some cases, like that of New Zealand, North Korean hackers were simply routing their attacks through the country’s computers from abroad. In others, researchers believe they are now physically stationed in countries like India, where nearly one-fifth of Pyongyang’s cyberattacks now originate.

[New York Times]

North Korean hackers steal US-South Korea war plans

Hackers from North Korea are reported to have stolen a large cache of military documents from South Korea, including a plan to assassinate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

Rhee Cheol-hee, a South Korean lawmaker, said the compromised documents include wartime contingency plans drawn up by the US and South Korea.

Plans for South Korean special forces were reportedly also accessed, along with information on significant power plants and military facilities in the South.

Mr Rhee sits on its parliament’s defense committee, and said some 235 gigabytes of military documents had been stolen from the Defence Integrated Data Centre, and that 80% of them have yet to be identified.

The hack took place in September last year. In May, South Korea said a large amount of data had been stolen and that North Korea may have instigated the cyber attack – but gave no details of what was taken.

[BBC]