US President and Japanese PM agree to toughen sanctions against North Korea

U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed on Friday to expand sanctions against North Korea for its continued development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, the White House said.

Meeting before a Group of Seven summit, Trump and Abe dedicated most of their discussions to the issue, aides said. “President Trump and Prime Minister Abe agreed their teams would cooperate to enhance sanctions on North Korea, including by identifying and sanctioning entities that support North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs,” the White House said in a statement.

“They also agreed to further strengthen the alliance between the United States and Japan, to further each country’s capability to deter and defend against threats from North Korea,” it said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this month called on countries all over the world to implement existing U.N. sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, adding that the U.S. administration would be willing to use secondary sanctions to target foreign companies that continue to do business with Pyongyang.

Most of North Korea’s trade is with its ally China, and so any hard-hitting secondary sanctions would likely target Chinese firms.


Defectors’ lives indicate that Korean unification will not be easy

One wonders what might happen when or if Korean unification happens and North Koreans find themselves living in the same state as Southerners.

North Korean defectors are not financially successful in the South, by South Korean standards at least. The average monthly income of a North Korea refugee is roughly $1290 at the time of writing, 65% of the nationwide average. Low salaries and wages often reflect discrimination, but more frequently they are the unavoidable result of the low professional and social skills of refugees.

At the same time, the chances that an average refugee will become a victim of crime are 5.5 times higher than for ‘regular’ South Koreans: 24.3% of refugees report that they have been victims of crime. This is bad enough, but when it comes to a specific type of crime, namely fraud and scamming, the gap is truly huge, and one out of five refugees say that they have been cheated out of money. This is 40 times the nationwide average – an astonishing difference.

Another sign of problems is the astonishingly high level of suicides among refugees. When it comes to suicide, South Korea stands out: its annual suicide rate, 26.5 out of every 100,000 people, is the highest among OECD countries. But the suicide rate among North Korean refugees is three times this nationwide average.

Another indication that not all is well is the relatively new phenomenon of refugees who choose to go back to North Korea. In 2016, during a study of the refugee community, 20.8% said they would like to go back to North Korea. Going to the U.S. is significantly less dramatic than going back to North Korea, but the motivations are still the same: Many refugees want to leave South Korea, even though this is a country where they have little problems with language and are entitled to large aid packages.

All things indicate that refugees – some of them, at least – experience grave problems when they try to adjust to the South Korean society. This makes one wonder how the average North Korean will react to a new lifestyle which is likely to be imposed on them in the event of unification.  Like it or not, the experience of the North Korean refugees confirms that if unification ever comes, it is not going to be easy or cheap, is bound to produce many social problems and, sometimes, genuine human tragedy.

[NK News]

A 4th US citizen detained in North Korea

North Korea detained US citizen Kim Hak-song on Saturday on suspicion of acts against the Pyongyang regime, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday.

Kim is believed to be the fourth US citizen currently detained in North Korea.

In April, KCNA said Tony Kim — also known as Kim Sang Duk — was detained for “hostile acts” toward the North Korean regime.

Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in 2016 for removing a political sign.

And Kim Dong Chul, the president of a company involved in international trade and hotel services, was arrested in 2015 and is serving 10 years on espionage charges.

[CNN]                                                                                 Related

How would South Korea cope with a large influx of North Korean refugees?

Go Myong-Hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul who has researched North Korean refugees in South Korea, says Seoul would struggle to deal with a high number of refugees from the North.

“South Korea’s population is around 50 million,” he said. “A sudden influx of North Korean refugees is going to be incredibly stressful to the social service infrastructure and the labor market in South Korea,” Go says.

Go conducted a study of North Korean refugees in South Korea and found that many of them bring issues of PTSD, a lack of adequate education and poor health. For example, North Korean middle and high school kids dropped out at a range between 4.2 and 7.5 percent between 2010 and 2013 compared to 1.2-1.3 percent among South Korean students during the same time frame.

Attitudes towards South Koreans in the workplace isn’t much better, according to his report: A survey by the Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI) (2013) showed that out of 429 elementary and middle school North Korean refugee students, 10.7 percent of them reported being discriminated against or socially ostracized due to the fact that they were from North Korea. Fifty-four of them also reported that they would not let their South Korean peers know they came from North Korea if they were given the chance to transfer to a different school.

Similarly, North Korean refugees in the workplace report having similar experience of social discrimination by their co-workers and superiors. For example, one employer whose employee is from North Korea expressed fear that his employee might kill others if provoked emotionally (Choi and Park, 2011). This prejudice stems from hearing or watching news that in North Korea, public executions are common. Even after taking into account the inevitable cultural misunderstandings in when dealing with recently arrived North Korean refugees, South Koreans’ strong prejudice and stereotyping of North Korea and its people are widespread and well entrenched.

[Foxtrot Alpha]

North Korea: What liars fear the most is the truth

Change has been happening in North Korea, North Korean defectors say, speaking from their personal experiences and what they have since learned from their North Korean relatives.

Marketplaces have sprung up and have survived in cities and villages despite official disapproval after the collapse of the Public Distribution System in the mid-1990s. Academics and defectors alike say North Koreans are now able to exchange information about the realities of the outside world in those markets. “People sit around and whisper,” Cha Ri-hyuk, who defected from North Korea in 2013, explains in an interview.

While the state maintains tight control over official media, North Koreans get information through alternative means, including calling relatives in South Korea using smuggled South Korean phones, said Lim, another defector.

Some of the defectors at the forum work with Free North Korea Radio, one of three private radio stations in South Korea aiming to inform North Koreans across the border. Others said they had distributed fliers in North Korea using balloons, or smuggled computer flash drives into the country containing information about the outside world.

“What liars fear the most is the truth,” said Park Sang-Hak, an outspoken defector who is called “fireball” in the defector community. “And Kim Jong-un is the biggest liar of all.”

[U.S. News & World Report]

War with North Korea could mean a refugee crisis no one is ready for

Much of the discussion around North Korea has focused on a nuclear or conventional war between Pyongyang and Washington. But … if Pyongyang collapses as a result, it could lead to hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of people searching for food and shelter and refugees fleeing for China and, depending on the circumstances, South Korea.

A collapse of the North Korean government could create a humanitarian disaster for China. A mass migration of refugees trying to enter China through its northern Liaoning and Jilin provinces would present complex economic, infrastructure, and cultural and political challenges.

“If your number one national interest is … economic growth in order to hold on to social stability, having six million foreigners into provinces that have already had economic hardships before [won’t help],” said Jim Walsh, a senior research associate at MIT’s Security Studies program, who is also a board member at The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

He added: “And from a social stability standpoint—refugee camps with millions of North Koreans? Are the Chinese living there going to be thrilled about that in a context in which the economy is taking a hit because there’s been a shooting war?”

[Read full Foxtrot Alpha article outlining scenarios if armed conflict broke out between the US and North Korea]

Chilling challenges faced by 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 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.

Grace Jo who also fled North Korea adds, “We went to China to survive, but because of the Chinese government’s brutal treatment we lived in fear.”

[South China Morning Post]

North Korea: With information comes education and a popular uprising?

What makes North Korea feel so oppressive? If you ask its highest-ranking defector in decades, the answer is censorship. Thae Yong Ho, who was until last summer a Pyongyang envoy in London, argues that increasing the flow of information into the North is what can sow the seeds of popular discord to bring down the Kim Jong Un regime.

[After Thae defected his diplomatic post along with his family] his 19- and 26-year-old sons’ first concern was whether they could freely browse the Internet. “You can go to the Internet, you can do Internet games whenever you like, you can read any books, watch any films,” Thae said he told them.

That’s not the way of life in North Korea, where fewer than 1 percent of the population has Internet access. Foreign books, films and information are banned — and TV only broadcasts propaganda.

Breaking down the censorship and surveillance state from within, Thae believes, is the only way to bring down North Korea’s nuclear weapons-obsessed leader. With information comes education, Thae says — and that can lead to a popular uprising.

“Once they are educated to that level, I am sure they will stand up,” Thae told reporters.

A shortwave radio station called Free North Korea Radio has been delivering information from outside the country since 2005, broadcasting from the second floor of a multipurpose building just outside Seoul.

“The leaflets, USBs with films [stored on them] can be introduced to North Korea. So the ways of educating North Korean people for people’s uprising is also evolving,” Thae said.

This kind of tactic is far more effective than any military action, Thae, the defector, said. Any surgical or preemptive strike on the North in an attempt to eliminate its nuclear facilities would only turn South Korea — a longtime U.S. ally where 28,000 American troops are based — “into ashes,” he told reporters.


Japan making plans to accept North Korean refugees

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Japan’s government is drawing up contingency plans in case a crisis on the Korean Peninsula sends an influx of refugees to Japan.

Abe told a parliamentary session that the government is formulating measures including protecting foreigners, landing procedures, building and operating shelters, and screening asylum seekers.

The government has been also working on evacuation plans for about 60,000 Japanese from South Korea in case of a crisis.

Last week, National Security Council members discussed how to deal with a possibility that armed North Korean soldiers pretending to be refugees may try to enter Japan, Kyodo News reported.

According to one scenario, a US military action sends a massive number of North Korean refugees to the Japanese coast in boats, but some armed soldiers hiding among them could plot terrorist activities after landing, Kyodo said.


Human Rights Watch urges China to release North Korean refugees

China should immediately reveal the whereabouts of eight North Koreans it detained last month, Human Rights Watch said Monday, adding they risk severe torture if they were returned to North Korea.

“By now, there are plenty of survivor accounts that reveal Kim Jong-Un’s administration is routinely persecuting those who are forced back to North Korea,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

China regularly labels North Koreans as illegal “economic migrants” and repatriates them based on a border protocol adopted in 1986.

The group it highlighted — which includes at least four women — was detained by Chinese officials in mid-March after they were stopped for a random check in Shenyang, in northeastern China. Human Rights Watch said that on the basis of information from sources it considers usually reliable, the group was still believed to be jailed in China. But it feared they may soon be returned to the North since “most repatriations happen two months after detention”.

“There is no way to sugar coat this: if this group is forced back to North Korea, their lives and safety will be at risk,” Robertson said.

Seoul’s foreign ministry did not confirm the HRW account, saying its protocol was not to publicly comment on individual refugee cases for their own safety and to protect diplomatic relations. “But we closely coordinate with a nation involved when a problem involving North Korean refugees arises,” it said in a statement, and was in general “doing our best to ensure the safety and safe transfer of those who wish to come to the South”.

More than 40 North Koreans, including children and pregnant women, have been held by China over the past nine months, Human Rights Watch said, and at least nine forcibly returned to the North.