Trump releases letter from Kim Jong Un, touts “great progress”

President Trump released a letter he recently received from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The letter is dated July 6 and was given to Secretary of State Pompeo delegation to deliver to Trump while the group was in Pyongyang last week to continue talks on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, senior administration officials tell CNN.

“A very nice note from Chairman Kim of North Korea. Great progress being made,” Trump said in a tweet that also included a copy of the correspondence from Kim.

While lacking in specifics about the status of diplomatic talks between the US and North Korea, Kim’s letter lavishes praise on Trump, repeatedly referring to the President as “Your Excellency.”

“I firmly believe that the strong will, sincere efforts and unique approach of myself and Your Excellency Mr. President aimed at opening up a new future between the DPRK and the US will surely come to fruition,” Kim writes. Kim says the Singapore summit and the letter both leaders signed during that meeting are “indeed the start of a meaningful journey.”

Trump also touted his meeting with the Kim Jong Un while at NATO, calling it “an amazing meeting” and saying the two “established very good relations.”

Trump’s release of the letter comes amid growing skepticism around Pyongyang’s willingness to denuclearize as North Korean officials continue to use typical tactics to stymie talks following Pompeo’s overnight visit to Pyongyang last week. Although the top US diplomat was promised a meeting with the Korean leader, Kim did not meet with Pompeo.

North Koreans also did not show up to a meeting planned for Thursday to discuss the return of remains of US service members killed during the Korean War. Trump had held the return up as one of the successes of his June 12 summit in Singapore with Kim.

 [CNN]

Trump’s battle of wills with North Korea and China

The Trump message to Kim Jong Un was direct and blunt: You, your father, and your grandfather have all touted your nuclear program as a guarantee of regime security. Policies of previous U.S. administrations allowed you to persist in that delusion. Not this one.

President Trump used a two-track approach to drive the threat home. First, his “fire and fury” rhetoric was accompanied by credible, calibrated leaks of administration preparations for kinetic action that, depending on Pyongyang’s response, could readily escalate to destruction of the Kim government.

At the same time, the president seized on an even more plausible and readily available instrument of regime change: North Korea’s internationally-condemned crimes against the humanity of its own population. With the proper mix of covert action, strategic communications, and coordination with North Korean defectors, the despised Kim machine could be effectively dismantled without the massive carnage inherent in major military conflict.

To China’s Xi Jinping, Trump was equally clear: You will no longer be able to garner undeserved international prestige as a responsible and moderating force while duplicitously enabling and protecting North Korea’s mounting existential threat to South Korea, Japan and the United States. Chinese entities, both official and commercial, which subvert international sanctions against North Korea, will pay an increasingly heavy price.

These indicators of Trump’s seriousness brought Kim Jong Un to agree to meet with President Trump in Singapore.

Presently, It is clear there is now a test of political will between Washington and Beijing on trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and North Korea.

[The Hill]

UN official seeks inquiry into defection of North Korean waitresses

A United Nations official called for an investigation into the defection of North Korean restaurant workers to the South in 2016, saying at least some of the group appeared to have been deceived into leaving and hinting that Seoul officials were responsible. The fate of the waitresses has become a source of tension between North and South Korea, threatening to strain the cross-border detente that has blossomed over recent months. Pyongyang says the women were abducted by Seoul’s spy agency and has demanded their return.

On Tuesday, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said that his interviews with some of the women revealed concerns about how they ended up in the South. He has urged the South Korean government to repatriate any who wished to return to North Korea.

Seoul says the 12 women and their male manager defected willingly from the restaurant in China where they worked. North Korea has long sent workers abroad to earn money for the regime; as part of that effort, Pyongyang operated dozens of restaurants in numerous countries employing North Koreans.

North Korea has used the issue to try to extract concessions from the South, presenting the Moon administration with a dilemma: Risk hurting the current detente by refusing, or set a precedent of returning defectors to North Korea, which could discourage future defections.

[Wall Street Journal]

Economists who fled North Korea on the significance of special economic zones

South Korea’s blueprint for railroad links through North Korea to China and Russia falls well short of Kim Jong Un’s vision for developing his impoverished nation, according to a defector who provides economic research to the government in Seoul.

Defector Kim Byeong-uk, 55, teaches North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul and runs a small private economic research firm. Kim’s research firm interviews defectors to gather information about facilities ranging from factories to schools and hospitals. Kim said: “What South Korea wants is to connect the Korean Peninsula to reach out directly to Russia and China, but what the North primarily wants is to shore up its own economy by bringing in more money from overseas to its special economic zones.”

Kim Jong Un has increased the number of special economic zones more than fivefold to 27 since succeeding his father as North Korea’s leader in 2011. While the regime in Pyongyang has focused on military and nuclear deterrence to ensure its survival, the time may have arrived for boosting the economy.

Kim’s wife, Kim Young-hui, who is a specialist on the North at the Korea Development Bank in Seoul, concurs with his view that most of economic zones in the North remain severely underdeveloped. “North Korea is dying to see an inflow of multinational and U.S. companies to its economic zones,” she said. “If Americans go to North Korea and start living there, then there’s virtually no chance that the U.S. would attack it or start lobbing bombs there. What could be a better security guarantee than having U.S. citizens in the country?”

She and her husband made their way to Mongolia before defecting to South Korea with their two sons.

[The Japan Times]

North Korean defector filmmaker making movies that expose human-rights abuses

Gim Gyu Min is a filmmaker dedicated to making movies that expose the human-rights abuses in his native North Korea.

His movies are based on events that he witnessed during the North Korean famine. In the late 1990s, he watched a woman being arrested for cannibalism after she resorted to eating her own son. Gim’s 2015 movie “Winter Butterfly” was sparked by her story.

Today Gim is openly decrying South Korea and the US for not publicly condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s human-rights abuses. “It is wrong not to make North Korean human-rights abuses an issue,” Gim emailed from his office in Seoul shortly after the June 12 summit. “Peace that excludes the human rights of North Koreans cannot be a genuine peace.”

“Since the June 12 summit, we know the North’s propaganda machine has been working flat out to portray it as a success for their ‘Great Leader.’” The harsh realism of Gim’s films contrasts sharply with the glitzy meeting in Singapore, where the dictator posed for selfies and was generally feted like a rock star. Is it any wonder that defectors are worried their concerns will be lost in the diplomatic shuffle?

“It may be nostalgia and revenge for my family that’s driving me to make films about human rights,” Gim said.

[New York Post]

US retorts “The world is a gangster” after North Korea’s accusations

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday shrugged off North Korean accusations of “gangster-like” behavior and said sanctions on Pyongyang would only be lifted with “final” denuclearization.

Speaking in Tokyo after two days of intense discussions in Pyongyang, Pompeo insisted the talks were making progress and were being conducted in “good faith.”

In stark contrast, Pyongyang’s take was overwhelmingly negative, with the North warning that the future of the peace process was being jeopardized by overbearing US demands for its unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Speaking privately, US officials suggested the harshly-worded North Korean reaction was a negotiating tactic. But after two days of theatrical amity in Pyongyang it illustrated the gulf that remains between the two sides.

Pompeo said his efforts to push the North on disarmament had the backing of the entire international community.”If those requests were gangster-like, the world is a gangster, because there was a unanimous decision at the UN Security Council about what needs to be achieved,” he said.

Donald Trump’s favorite North Korean defector urged president not to forget human rights

The North Korean defector whose harrowing story was used by Donald Trump to highlight the brutality of Kim Jong-un’s regime during his State of the Union address has urged the US president to hammer home the issue of human rights. Ji Seong-ho, 35, who lost his leg and hand in an accident before escaping North Korea in 2006, is among thousands of defectors who anxiously hope human rights will not be sidelined in the race to abolish Kim’s nuclear weapons.

President Trump had described how Mr Ji was a “starving boy” 22 years ago when he tried to steal coal from a train to barter for food. “He passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs,” said Mr Trump.

Mr Ji lost his left leg above the knee and his left hand at the wrist, enduring “amputations without anything to dull the pain.” He was later tortured by the regime to find out if he had met any Christians during a short trip to China. “He had – and he resolved to be free,” the president said.

Despite his disabilities, Mr Ji still managed to flee North Korea across the Tumen river, and made his way across China on crutches, before reaching the safe haven of South Korea via Southeast Asia. Most of his family followed, but his father was caught and killed.

Ji has little faith that Kim will be willing to contemplate improving his country’s dire human rights record. “The reformation of its society is not the main agenda for Kim Jong Un. I believe his main priority is to keep his regime in order and to be recognized by the international community,” he said.

[The Telegraph]

North Korean defectors caution US against Kim Jong Un’s deceptive strategies

In the weeks since his landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump has maintained that “all of Asia is thrilled”. One constituency, however, that does not share the US president’s enthusiasm are those who have lived and suffered under the regime in Pyongyang, who are increasingly convinced the bout of diplomacy is smoke and mirrors and the young marshal will never abandon his arsenal of nuclear weapons.

“So many people are delusional right now. Kim Jong Un only wants economic support”, said Hyeonseo Lee, high profile North Korean defector.

“Kim Jong Un will never, ever denuclearize,” said Park Mija, who fled North Korea during the first year of Mr Kim’s reign in 2012.

Criticisms of the US and South Korea — once standard fare in state media — have disappeared in recent months, raising hopes that genuine change is afoot. But Choi Jung-hoon, a former North Korean army officer now in the South, said: “The current rapprochement is just a show for Kim and a political strategy for Trump in the run-up to the US midterm elections in November.”

Park Sang-hak, a North Korean who runs an activist group in Seoul, echoes the sentiment, saying Mr Trump’s attitude will change once the elections are over. “I believe if Mr. Pompeo fails to persuade the North to pursue complete denuclearization, the Pentagon will deal with the matter,” he said.

Ms Lee stressed that despite her doubts, she hoped diplomacy would win and that North Korea would genuinely seek to denuclearize and build its economy. “I hope I am wrong,” she said, “so that I can go home.”

 [Financial Times]

As North and South Korea cosy up, human rights groups struggle for cash

Human rights and North Korean defector groups in South Korea say they are struggling to raise money, cutting jobs and programs, and facing pressure to avoid criticism of Pyongyang as Seoul and Washington focus on diplomatic outreach to the isolated country.

Activists say they were disappointed but unsurprized that human rights has seemingly disappeared from the agenda as South Korean and American leaders met with Kim Jong Un in recent months.President Moon Jae-in’s administration has moved away from criticism of Pyongyang’s rights record in favor of engagement. Senior aides to Moon have said they believe confronting Pyongyang could be counterproductive and possibly harmful to North Korean citizens, who will continue to suffer if their government remains isolated.

The South Korean government recently closed the office of a human rights foundation, and representatives of several non-governmental organizations said they have struggled to secure funding. The government ended nearly 20 years of funding for the Association of North Korean Defectors in December, forcing the organization to end most of its programs. South Korean citizens have also told the group to stop launching propaganda leaflets into North Korea because it would “throw a wet blanket on improving inter-Korean relations.”

Citing a lack of financial backing, as well as recent clashes between police and groups trying to send leaflets into North Korea, Kim Tae-hee, a defector who heads the Coalition for North Korean Refugees, said she feels the government is undermining the work of human rights and defector NGOs. The Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Human Rights said their organization had also seen donations from South Korean corporations dry up over the past year.

Officials with the International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), which is affiliated with international organizations like Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, said they have struggled to win new government grants.

UN investigators have reported the use of political prison camps, starvation and executions in North Korea, saying security chiefs and possibly even Kim Jong Un himself should face international justice.

[Asahi Shimbun]

Recent changes in Kim Jong Un’s high command

Prior to the Singapore Summit, Kim Jong Un switched his top military leaders as part of the preliminary phase of mothballing the DPRK’s WMD program.

The changes in the high command made in the past two months involve the heads of the three institutions which comprise a military and political command and control over the Korean People’s Army (KPA) conventional and special operations forces, as well as the rear service and administrative components which support them. These institutions include the Minister of the People’s Armed Forces (the DPRK’s equivalent of a defense minister), the Chief of the KPA General Staff Department (and by extension the 1st Vice Chief of the General Staff and Director of the Operations Bureau) and the director of the KPA General Political Bureau. These are the top three positions in the KPA high command.

All three of the appointees are Kim Jong Un loyalists who have held high office since 2012. They will contribute to and implement his policies, including external overtures to China and the ROK as well as phased denuclearization, with little to no resistance. None has any long-standing patronage ties, and can be counted on not to feather their nests through malfeasance or misappropriation of resources. This is not to suggest that their predecessors were corrupt or disloyal; rather, the new appointments are an insurance policy based on their previous positions and contributions to the regime and their close links to Kim Jong Un and other members of the core leadership. In this respect, the Suryong (supreme leader) is leaving nothing to chance.

[38 North]