Kim Jong Un wants new summit with Trump

North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong Un wants to meet with President Trump again, says South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has just returned from Pyongyang.

Moon also spoke directly to the North Korean public, describing a peaceful future to an audience of some 150,000 people. “We had lived together for five thousand years but apart for just 70 years,” Moon said in his speech on Thursday. Moon continued, “Here, at this place today, I propose we move forward toward the big picture of peace in which the past 70-year-long hostility can be eradicated and we can become one again.”

“The spectacle of the South Korean president speaking to wildly cheering crowds of North Korean fans was one of the memorable moments of the Pyongyang summit,” NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports from Seoul. “Moon said that he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had agreed to measures that would completely eliminate the fear of war and the risk of armed conflicts on the Korean Peninsula.”

On the final day of the summit, Moon and Kim took a symbolic step toward peace, traveling outside the capital to visit Mount Paektu – a famous and revered volcano that’s also the highest point on the Korean Peninsula, situated along North Korea’s border with China. The two leaders and their wives posed at the site for photos, standing in front of Heaven Lake — a lake in the caldera of the sacred volcano.

South Korean President Moon expects to see President Trump in New York next week, when he attends the U.N. General Assembly.

[NPR]

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un pledges to shut missile site

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has agreed to shut one of the country’s main missile testing and launch sites.

He signed a pledge to permanently close the Tongchang-ri facility, after talks in Pyongyang with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in. Both leaders also “agreed on a way to achieve denuclearization” on the Korean peninsula, President Moon said.

On Tongchang-ri, Kim Jong-un said the engine missile testing and launch facility would be permanently closed “in the presence of experts from relevant nations”. The BBC’s Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker said the announcement is a major step forward.

China has welcomed the outcome of the inter-Korean summit, saying both sides had found “new and important common ground”.

Mr Kim also expressed a readiness to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility – where North Korea is believed to have produced the material used in its nuclear tests – if the US took some reciprocal action. The details of that were not specified.

North Korea blew up its main nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri shortly before Mr Kim’s meeting with US President Donald Trump in June.

Kim Jong-un also said he hoped to “visit Seoul in the near future” – he would be the first North Korean leader to do so.

[BBC]

Samsung and other South Korean corporations eying expansion into North Korea?

The billionaire leader of Samsung’s sprawling business empire will visit North Korea this week along with the heads of nearly a dozen top South Korean corporations, accompanying South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

President Moon will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the visit — the first trip to Pyongyang by a sitting South Korean president since 2007. Last month, Moon laid out ambitious plans that would dramatically transform and connect the two economies, giving South Korea a land link to the rest of the Asian continent, potentially opening up lucrative trade and infrastructure links. Such plans could eventually benefit Samsung and South Korea’s other huge family-run conglomerates, which are known as chaebol.

“If South Korea can take the initiative to bring chaebol leaders to North Korea … maybe it would be a good start for South Korean [money] to move into Pyongyang,” said Steve Chung, a Korea expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The business leaders will be meeting with North Korean Vice Premier Ri Ryong Nam, a spokesman for the South Korean president’s office said Monday.

North Korea’s cloistered economy of 25 million people has attractive elements for foreign investors, according to analysts. They include a cheap workforce, a good geographic location and unexploited natural resources. But doing business in North Korea comes with a lot of risks, most notably heavy US and international sanctions on Pyongyang that companies would have to navigate — unless the restrictions are lifted. So it’s doubtful Samsung will be setting up shop in North Korea any time soon.

[CNN]

The second, quieter negotiation involving North Korea

Often drowned out by the din of President Trump’s headline-grabbing promises, a second, quieter set of negotiations between North and South Korea has been far more encouraging. On September 18, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea is scheduled to travel to Pyongyang for his third summit with Kim Jong-un.

Moon Jae-in, a liberal human-rights lawyer, has been “a key driver of this diplomacy since its inception,” said Abraham Denmark, a director at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars., because he’s proved to be a skilled and effective navigator among Kim, Trump, China and Japan.

China, with its own agenda, in recent months is loosening trade restrictions with Pyongyang and undercutting Trump’s efforts to pressure Kim, according to former officials and experts.

And “Kim Jong Un’s genius is to set three balls rolling” — the U.S., South Korea and China, according to Aidan Foster-Carter, an honorary senior research fellow at Leeds University, in England. “They all interact, cleverly.”

North Korea’s desire is to bring an official end to the Korean War. American officials are worried this would lead to further calls for a permanent end to military exercises or even withdrawal of the 28,000 American troops based in the South.

“Moon wants to improve relations; he doesn’t care if North Korea disarms or not,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear policy expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California. “Of course, he knows the United States cares, so his goal is get just enough on the score to keep Trump happy.”

Meanwhile with his talks at an impasse, Trump has asked Moon to be “chief negotiator” between Washington and Pyongyang. They’ve all been able to ride along together so far, their hopes and dreams not clashing too much.

[NBC]

Brutal treatment in North Korean political prisons

Escapees from North Korea’s gruesome political prisons recount brutal treatment, including medieval torture with shackles and fire and being forced to undergo abortions by the crudest methods. Human rights activists say that this appears to have lessened slightly under Kim Jong Un. But severe beatings and certain kinds of torture — including being forced to remain in stress positions for crippling lengths of time — still appear commonplace throughout North Korea’s detention systems, as are public executions. Starvation is often part of the punishment, even for children.
Following are excerpts of testimonies of recent defectors from North Korea:

The money man: “In 2015, a money transfer went bad — the woman I’d given the money to got caught and she ratted on me — and I was put in detention. I spent two months there. I wasn’t treated like a human being — they beat me, they made me sit in stress positions where I couldn’t lift my head. Two times they slapped my face and kicked me during interrogation.”

The teenage prisoner: “I was interrogated repeatedly by the secret police as they wanted to know about my mother’s business. They were slapping me around the face, and pushed me so hard against the wall that I had blood coming from my head. I still get a headache sometimes.
“[Once imprisoned] we got up at 6 a.m. every day and went to bed at 11 p.m., and in between we would be working the whole time, shoveling cement or lugging sacks, except for lunch. Lunch was usually steamed corn. I was too scared to eat. I cried a lot. I didn’t want to live.”

The phone connector: “Even though we were working so hard in prison camp, all we got to eat was a tiny bit of corn rice and a small potato. By the time I got out, I was so malnourished I could hardly walk.
“[Concerning life in North Korea] if you speak out against the system, you will immediately be arrested. And if you do something wrong, then three generations of your family will be punished. Once I heard there was a going to be some kind of coup launched in Chongjin and that all of the people involved were executed. When you hear about cases like this, of course you’re scared. So instead of trying to do something to change the system, it’s better just to leave.”

The university student: “The secret to North Korea’s survival is the reign of terror. Why do you think they block all communications? Why do you think North Korea has public executions? Why do you think North Koreans leave, knowing that they will never see their families again? It shows how bad things are. All our rights as people have been stripped away.”

 [Sources of quotations: The Washington Post]

North Korea holds military parade without ICBMs

North Korea staged a military parade Sunday to mark the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding, but held back on showcasing its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), believed to be capable of targeting the United States.  Experts speculated before the event that North Korea may choose not to display the country’s more advanced weaponry to avoid antagonizing US President Donald Trump.

Kim John Un has made 2018 a year of diplomacy, personally meeting with the leaders of China, South Korea and the United States for the first time since taking the reins of his country in 2011. Later this month, Kim will host South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a summit in Pyongyang, another event that could factor into the theme of Sunday’s festivities.

The celebration still saw dozens of military vehicles and goose-stepping soldiers parade past leader Kim Jong Un in the center of the capital, Pyongyang, as cheering crowds watched on. Though some of the artillery pieces on display featured anti-American slogans as in previous years, the theme of the parade appeared overwhelmingly focused on economic development and improving the lives of the North Korean people.

Kim reviewed the procession from a balcony in Kim Il Sung Square, alongside other senior officials, including Li Zhanshu, a special envoy sent by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Kim and Li locked hands and raised arms at the end of the event.

On Saturday, the US State Department said that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has received a letter from Kim for Trump, which the US President believes will be positive in tone. Experts, however, caution against reading too much into any sense of optimism.

[CNN]

Chinese and North Korean leaders to attend Russia summit

Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend a regional summit in Russia next week, officials said. a gathering that may include North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the heads of Japan and South Korea. It will be the first time that a Chinese leader participates in the annual economic forum hosted by Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also invited Kim Jong Un to participate in the Sep 11-13 Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. Kim has not confirmed his attendance, but his participation would mark another major step in his efforts to bring Pyongyang out of international isolation over its nuclear programme.

Xi and Kim met three times in China this year as the two countries seek to repair relations frayed by North Korea’s nuclear activities and Beijing’s backing of United Nations sanctions against its Cold War-era ally.

Xi is sending the head of China’s rubber-stamp legislature, Li Zhanshu, to Pyongyang this weekend to attend celebrations marking North Korea’s 70th anniversary, ending speculation that the Chinese president would use the occasion to make his first official trip to the neighboring country.

In the latest chapter in the roller-coaster diplomacy over North Korea, US President Donald Trump signaled on Thursday that negotiations on denuclearization remain alive after weeks of an apparent deadlock.

[AFP]

North Korea surveillance state

North Korea operates as a vast surveillance state, with a menacing state security department called the Bowibu as its backbone. Its agents are everywhere and operate with impunity. The government also operates a kind of neighborhood watch system. Every district in every town or city is broken up into neighborhood groups of 30 or 40 households, each with a leader who is responsible for coordinating grass-roots surveillance and encouraging people to snitch. Following are excerpts of testimonies of defectors from North Korea, all of whom defected during the past 4-5 years:

The young mother”: “People in each neighborhood association are always checking up on each other. If one family seems to be living better than everyone else, then all the neighbors try to find out how they are making their money. …Nobody has to be asked to bring that wealthy family down and make sure that they lose their money. …That’s why it’s important not to show off any wealth.”

The farmer”: “We often heard and saw how Chinese people had money because Chinese people used to come to North Korea to sell things….I thought about the outside world, but if you say, ‘I want to go to China or South Korea,’ then it can be reported by an informant to the security services. You can think it, but you can’t say it. You never know who is going to snitch on you.”

The rich kid”: ‘There were youth leaders who would patrol around, looking for things that we weren’t supposed to be doing. If you were wearing jeans or skinny pants, or if you had a manicure or your hair was too long, you would get in trouble. They would sometimes check your phone to see if you had any South Korean songs. I got busted for this, but I got out of it by buying them a box of 20 bottles of beer.”

The teenage prisoner”: “When I was 16, I was staying at my grandma’s house and there was a banging on the door late at night. Two secret police officers took me to the police station and asked me: “Where are your parents?” I told them I didn’t know. (It turned out that they had gone missing, and my mom’s business associates said that she was the mastermind behind this big smuggling operation.) The police yelled at me: ‘You’re just like your mother. You probably have fantasies about China, too.’ They slapped my face about five times.”

The phone connector”: “The first time I went to prison, I had been caught helping people make phone calls to their relatives in South Korea. I was sentenced to four months’ hard labor, building a road on the side of a mountain that they said we needed in case there was a war. The men did the digging, and the women had to carry rocks and soil.”

[Sources of quotations: The Washington Post]

Ongoing North Korean repression and disillusionment

It is impossible to overstate the pervasiveness of the personality cult surrounding the Kims’ in North Korea. Founding President Kim Il Sung, his son Kim Jong Il and his grandson, the current leader, Kim Jong Un form a kind of “holy trinity” in North Korea. There is no criticizing them or questioning the system — at least not without risking both personal freedom and the freedom of your entire family. Following are excerpts of testimonies of defectors from North Korea (with year of their defection noted in parenthesis):

The preschooler” (2017): “We got gifts on Kim Jong Un’s birthday: candy and cookies and gum and puffed rice. I was so grateful to him for giving me all these sweets. We would stand up in class and say, ‘Thank you, General Kim Jong Un.’”

The university student” (2013): “We had ideological education for 90 minutes every day. There was revolutionary history, lessons about Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un. …They taught us about why we needed nuclear weapons, and they would tell us that we needed to make sacrifices in our daily lives so they could build these weapons and protect our country, keep the nation safe. I was so sick and tired of hearing about all this revolutionary history, I was so sick of calling everyone ‘comrade.’ I didn’t care about any of that stuff.”

The doctor” (2014): “It’s like a religion. From birth, you learn about the Kim family, learn that they are gods, that you must be absolutely obedient to the Kim family. The elites are treated nicely, and because of that they make sure that the system stays stable. But for everyone else, it’s a reign of terror. The Kim family uses terror to keep people scared, and that makes it impossible to stage any kind of social gathering, let alone an uprising.”

The money man” (2015): “Every month there was special instruction about Kim Jong Un. …We were told that Kim Jong Un wanted to know everything so that he could take proper care of everyone, help everyone. Nobody believed this because if Kim Jong Un knew we had no electricity and were eating corn rice [imitation rice made from ground corn], why wasn’t he doing anything about it?”

The young mother” (2014): “Everybody knew that Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un were both liars, that everything is their fault, but it’s impossible to voice any opposition because we are under such tight surveillance. If someone is drunk and says ‘Kim Jong Un is a son of a bitch’, you’ll never see them again.”

[Source of quotations:The Washington Post]

Ex-defense secretary calls Trump’s North Korea summit a failure

Former US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong-un in June about the country’s nuclear threat was “doomed to failure” because of a lack of preparation beforehand.

This past month, Trump called off a planned trip to North Korea by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo after concluding there hasn’t been enough progress in talks aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

Panetta, who served as defence secretary and CIA director under Democratic President Barack Obama, said the summit “was all about show, it was about shaking hands, exchanging words.”

But looking at North Korea’s nuclear weapon sites and how other needed underlying work before such a major meeting wasn’t done, basic diplomatic work is still needed, he said.

While Trump inherited a difficult situation with North Korea, it’s not enough for the president to emphasize the good relationship he has with Kim, Panetta said. “This isn’t about the dominance of personalities,” he said. “This is about the hard work of negotiating the solution to the differences between North Korea and the United States and South Korea. And there a lot of issues at stake here. But none of that work has been done.”

[Sydney Morning Herald]