North Korean belief in the supernatural status of the Kim family

Ignorant of the long history of the North Korean problem, Trump at least brings fresh eyes to it. But he is going to collide with the same harsh truth that has stymied all his recent predecessors: There are no good options for dealing with North Korea.

The myth holds that Korea and the Kim dynasty are one and the same. It is built almost entirely on the promise of standing up to a powerful and menacing foreign enemy. The more looming the threat–and Trump excels at looming–the better the narrative works for Kim Jong Un.

Nukes are needed to repel this threat. They are the linchpin of North Korea’s defensive strategy, the single weapon standing between barbarian hordes and the glorious destiny of the Korean people–all of them, North and South.

Kim is the great leader, heir to divinely inspired ancestors who descended from Mount Paektu with mystical, magical powers of leadership, vision, diplomatic savvy, and military genius. Like his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather Kim Il Sung before him, Kim is the anointed defender of all Koreans, who are the purest of all races. Even South Korea, the Republic of Korea, should be thankful for Kim because, if not for him, the United States would have invaded long ago.

This racist mythology and belief in the supernatural status of the Mount Paektu bloodline defines North Korea.

[The Atlantic]

North Korean foreign minister heads to Sweden amid summit speculation

North Korea’s foreign minister was flying to Sweden on Thursday, the Swedish government said, in the first significant diplomatic move by Pyongyang since US President Donald Trump said a week ago that he’d be willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Sweden, whose embassy represents US interests in the North Korean capital, has been touted as a possible venue for the momentous summit between Kim and Trump, and the visit will fuel speculation that a Stockholm encounter is in the cards.

Talks will take place between Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and her North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho. As North Korea’s top diplomat, Ri is one of the most visible faces of a country shrouded in secrecy. He made headlines last year by telling reporters that Kim could order a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean in response to insults from Trump. He also said Trump was “mentally deranged” and likened his threats to “a dog barking.”

The trip to Sweden comes as Nirj Deva, the chair of a European parliamentary delegation, told reporters that his group has been holding secret meetings with senior members of the North Korean regime over the past three years to try to convince it to return to peace talks.

Sweden is one of a handful of places analysts believe could host the meeting, with other possible summit locations including: Switzerland, the neutral nation where Kim went to school; the Joint Security Area in the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea; and China, which has diplomatic relations with the United States and North Korea and has hosted Kim’s father, the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Regardless of where the summit happens, if it happens, Trump would become the first sitting US President to meet with a North Korean leader.


European Parliament has been in ‘secret’ talks with North Korea for 3 years

A European Parliament delegation said Wednesday it has been conducting secret talks with North Korea over the last three years to try to persuade Pyongyang to negotiate an end to its nuclear programme.

The group led by British MEP Nirj Deva has met senior North Korean officials, including ministers, 14 times and plans another meeting in Brussels in the near future. News of the below-the-radar diplomacy effort comes after the surprise announcement that US President Donald Trump plans a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, part of fast-paced developments following an Olympic detente.

Deva said he and his colleagues on the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the Korean Peninsula had been “relentlessly advocating the case for dialogue without preconditions” to end the increasingly tense nuclear standoff with the North.

The group also met senior officials in the US, China, Japan and South Korea, Deva said, for dialogue aimed at achieving a “verifiable denuclearized Korean peninsula. We told them in no uncertain terms that if they carry on with the missile programme and the nuclear bomb programme they will only lead to an inevitable conclusion which is unthinkable,” Deva said.

Deva said that from his meetings he believed the tough sanctions the EU has in place against North Korea had been an important factor in driving Pyongyang to agree to talks. “Part of the reason that this happened was the sanctions started to bite poor people – not the elite,” he said.

[The Telegraph]

North Korea talks sans Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired on Twitter after returning from an Africa trip in which he was out of the loop on North Korean talks and contradicted the White House position on Russia’s responsibility for poisoning a former double agent in the United Kingdom.

Tillerson had engaged with North Korea even when the president said — again via Twitter — that he was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”

Now, Trump is heading into an unprecedented face-to-face meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un over that country’s nuclear program. The timing of Tillerson’s dismissal was designed to allow Trump to put a new team in place in advance of those talks, said a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a personnel decision.

Trump’s new nominee to head the State Department is CIA director Mike Pompeo, a hard-liner on Iran and North Korea who is much more in line with Trump’s more militant instincts.

[USA Today]

North Korean defector artist Sun Mu

Trained as a propaganda artist in his native North Korea, Sun Mu felt that there was little else he wanted to do.

In the late 90s, during a mass famine that by some estimates killed three million people, Sun Mu made his escape by crossing the Tumen river into China, before heading south. Free from the constraints of the dictatorship, he started painting again, and eventually discovered his own style. He began producing satirical works. “My work, what I call ‘my propaganda’, does contain criticism of the regime. But it also contains a lot of my thoughts, my hopes for the future in images.”

Sun Mu still clings to hope, especially at a time when many observers are cynical about a North-South detente: “If both sides have the will, there will be a way.”

But he is critical of excessive foreign interference. “It’s a pity that several heads of state are using this reunion for their own political gains, to please their electorates… I’m just sick and tired of the US, Russia, China and Japan…”

The red paint represents the blood that these “leaders” — also the name of the painting — have on their hands.

Sun Mu ends the conversation by comparing his own country’s leadership to that of the US: “Donald Trump and Kim Jung Un are not so different. I think if they came face to face, they would actually get along.”

[France 24]

7 things to understand about Trump talks with North Korea

President Trump has accepted North Korea’s invitation for direct talks with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, to be held by May. Seven things to consider:

  1. Short-term, it reduces the risk of war.
  2. Mismatched signals may have set up the talks to fail. – Usually, before high-level talks like these, both sides spend a long time telegraphing their expected outcomes. That is not really how things have proceeded with the United States and North Korea. Mr. Trump has already committed to granting North Korea one of its most desired concessions: a high-level meeting between the heads of state. Further, Mr. Trump has declared “denuclearization” as his minimal acceptable outcome for talks, making it harder for him to accept a more modest (but more achievable!) outcome and costlier for him to walk away. The North Koreans can walk away more freely, while the Americans will be more desperate to come home with some sort of win. It’s a formulation that puts the Americans at significant disadvantage before talks even begin.
  3. The sides do not agree on the point of talking. – Duyeon Kim, a Seoul-based analyst, writes in a column in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that “denuclearization” means vastly different things to the United States and North Korea. Americans understand the word as describing North Korea’s full nuclear disarmament, which is very difficult to imagine happening. But North Koreans, she writes, tend to mean it as a kind of mutual and incremental disarmament in which the United States also gives up weapons.
  4. The Trump administration has gotten the process backward. – It’s practically an axiom of international diplomacy that you only bring heads of state together at the very end of talks, after lower-level officials have done the dirty work. Victor Cha, a well-respected North Korea expert, warns in a New York Times Op-Ed essay, “Failed negotiations at the summit level leave all parties with no other recourse for diplomacy.”
  5. The State Department is in a shambles, with no American ambassador to South Korea, or undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.
  6. Everything could turn on President Trump’s personality. Talks and their outcome will be determined, to an unprecedented degree, by Mr. Trump’s personal biases and impulses. By his mood at the time of talks. By his particular style of negotiation.
  7. North Korea has already achieved a symbolic victory. – For North Korea, high-level talks are a big win in their own right. Kim Jong-un seeks to transform his country from a rogue pariah into an established nuclear power, a peer to the United States, a player on the international stage. This wins Mr. Kim international acknowledgment and heightened status, as well as significant domestic credibility.

[Read full New York Times opinion]

South Korea to send envoy to North Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is sending a special envoy to North Korea, following Pyongyang’s successful participation in the Winter Olympics.

It appears to be in direct response to a personal invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivered by his sister Kim Yo Jong during her visit to the South for the Games last month.

Moon doesn’t seem to be preparing for a personal trip above the demilitarized zone (DMZ) just yet, but sending an envoy to Pyongyang would be an important first step.

Multiple North Korean officials met with their South Korean counterparts before Kim’s Olympic trip last month in the first face-to-face meetings between the Koreas in almost two years in January.

Concerns about the Trump administration’s policy towards Pyongyang were also raised this week with the departure of Joseph Yun, the top US State Department for North Korea, who was widely seen as a voice for diplomatic engagement in contrast to the increasingly hawkish National Security Council.


North Korean defector’s reflections on the Olympics

Last week, Park Ui-Song, a thirty-year-old, took a break from his university classes in Seoul to travel to the Gangneung Ice Arena to watch some Olympic competitions. Park, who asked that his name be changed to protect the identity of his family that remains in North Korea, shared the following reaction:

I was hoping that [the outcome might be] starting a dialogue, that sort of humanizing theme would come through. Practically, the North Korean leaders have the power to improve the North-South relationship. I hate them, but they can bring change. So I also kept a close eye on the North Korean leaders like Kim Yo Jong [Kim Jong-Un’s sister] and South Korea President Moon Jae-in. I had a lot of hope and expectation when they showed each other what I thought looked like respect. I want reunification, even though many in the generation below me do not. Of course, I have a family that I’d like to see.

But watching the cheerleaders in particular—actually, watching the media watching the cheerleaders—and seeing how much attention the media gave them and how they were received was disappointing. Their actions weren’t natural. They looked like dolls. Or like actors in a play. And yes, they were very much playing their roles, but I struggled with how the rest of the world was so enamored with them and their looking like robots. At the hockey game [between North Korea and Switzerland], they yelled slogans about unity and sang old Korean folk tunes. They chanted We are one! There might be a desire to unify but it’s not their real intention. The chanting is an order. I do feel sorry for them because they are victims of a dictatorship. They are being used as a tool.

I wish the global audience could separate the North Korean regime and the North Korean people, which I know is very hard to do. But I wish people could try to have that perspective. In many ways, the North Korean people are just like other people—they fall in love, they have their own culture. Once you remove the regime, they’re not so different.

There’s some nostalgia. I’ve been in South Korea for three years, and seeing [North Korean Olympic attendees] on TV, there is an element of homesickness. I still think North Korea is in some ways a beautiful place, and I still identify myself closer to North Korean than South Korean because I spent 26 years of my life in the North. I don’t know if that will gradually change, sometimes I ask myself if it needs to.

I left to go back to Seoul feeling conflicted about it all. Kim [Jong-Un] clearly tried to create an environment for dialogue and also brighten up the world’s perception of the North at these Games, I don’t know if he was successful. Maybe it’s fifty-fifty.


US imposes yet more North Korea sanctions

The United States said on Friday it was imposing its largest package of sanctions to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear missile program, and President Donald Trump warned of a “phase two” that could be “very, very unfortunate for the world” if the steps did not work.

The U.S. Treasury sanctions’ targets include a Taiwanese passport holder, as well as shipping and energy firms in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. The actions block assets held by the firms and individuals in the United States and prohibit U.S. citizens from dealing with them. The U.S. Treasury said the sanctions were designed to disrupt North Korean shipping and trading companies and vessels and further isolate Pyongyang.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the new sanctions would help prevent North Korea from skirting restrictions on trade in coal and other fuel through “evasive maritime activities.” Last month three Western European intelligence sources told Reuters that North Korea shipped coal to Russia last year and that it was then delivered to South Korea and Japan in a likely violation of U.N. sanctions.

Mnuchin said the number of sanctions steps taken by the United States against Pyongyang since 2005 was now 450, with approximately half imposed in the last year.

“The only thing missing here today is action against Chinese banks,” Jonathan Shanzer of the Washington think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies said. “We know they continue to undermine our efforts to isolate North Korea.”


North Korea’s propaganda victory at the Winter Olympics

The Olympics has been a PR dream come true for the murderous Kim Jong Un dictatorship. South Korea’s Moon administration claims to be using the games to foster goodwill, but the reality is that the Hermit Kingdom has taken this opportunity to stage one of history’s great whitewashing operations, where the breathless focus is on the fashion style of the Dear Leader’s sister instead of his forced labor camps and police state.

North Korea is the worst human rights violator on our planet. Its leaders — including the smiling Kim Yo Jong — are active participants in a totalitarian state that starves, abuses and brainwashes millions of people. The Kim regime keeps tight control over its population through outright violent oppression, but also relies heavily on an elaborate system of censorship, propaganda and indoctrination. North Koreans grow up hearing creation myths about their godlike rulers alongside a warped version of history that places North Korea as both the strongest and most noble nation in the world, and as a victim of “American bastards.” According to Jieun Baek, author of “North Korea’s Hidden Revolution,” “children learn to add and subtract by counting dead American soldiers” and learn to use rifles “in case the ‘Yankee imperialists’ attack.”

The brainwashing works. As defector and human rights activist Yeonmi Park explains, before she decided to defect, she “was not aware, like a fish is not aware of water. North Koreans are abducted at birth, so they do not know the concept of freedom or human rights. They do not know that they are slaves.”

For decades, the regime has tried to maintain a strict censorship of all foreign news, books, movies, TV shows and more, and imposes severe punishments on anyone found consuming forbidden media. Individuals found consuming outside media can face long stints in the country’s reeducation centers, where they are worked nearly to death, tortured and abused by guards and underfed to the point of eating locusts and rats found on prison floors. In some cases, those caught with prohibited media are executed and, typically, such events are done in broad daylight with the local population forced to attend.

[From Washington Post Opinion piece by Garry Kasparov]