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]

North and South Korea open first joint liaison office on their border

North and South Korea on Friday opened their first joint liaison office, a facility that will be staffed by personnel from both countries, marking another advance in the rival states’ rapidly improving relationship. The liaison office, in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, establishes the first channel for full-time, person-to-person contact between the Koreas.

South Korean officials consider the office another important step toward ending decades of enmity and hope it will eventually lead to the establishment of diplomatic missions in each other’s capitals. They said the new facility would reduce the chances of dangerous misunderstandings along the heavily armed inter-Korean border. It will also serve as a venue for meetings as the two countries consider joint economic projects and other matters, they said.

Until now, the only regular channel of communication between North and South Korea has been telephone hotlines that their governments and armed forces have run across the border. But those have been turned off and on again over the years, depending on the political climate.

South Korean President Moon plans to travel to Pyongyang on Tuesday for his third summit meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during which time Mr. Moon hopes to discuss restarting the stalled talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

[The New York Times]

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]

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]

Trump blaming China for hurting U.S.-North Korean relations

President Trump appears to be blaming China for derailing a U.S.-North Korea rapprochement, implying that it’s placing “tremendous pressure” on Pyongyang as a result of ongoing trade disputes between Washington and Beijing.

In a quartet of tweets on Wednesday, Trump issued what he called a White House statement saying he “feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese Government. … At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with … considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful!” he continued.

Even so, Trump said he believed his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was “a very good and warm one” and referred to “China’s great President Xi Jinping.”

The Trump statement also said Washington had “no reason” to resume the war games with South Korea that Trump agreed to suspend in June at the Singapore Summit with Kim. Those remarks seemed to contradict Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who told reporters on Tuesday that “We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying responded Thursday to the latest series of tweets, calling them an “irresponsible distortion of facts and logic,” Reuters reported.

After the conclusion of the historic June summit with Kim Jong Un, Trump noted past U.S. diplomatic failures with North Korea, saying, “Honestly, I think {Kim]’s going to do these things. I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ ”

“I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that,” Trump added, “but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”

[NPR]

Over 80% of North Korean defectors found to have tuberculosis

A report by the South Korean government’s settlement center for North Korean defectors revealed that 81 percent of over 3,000 tested people who fled from the North to the South were infected with tuberculosis (TB). Jeon Jeong-hee, a nursing officer at the Hanawon settlement center, released her findings at the “North Korea Tuberculosis and Healthcare Symposium” at the Seoul City Hall on Thursday.

Among those aged 40 or more, 90 percent were positive.

Jeon said such findings could signal that North Korea had difficulties in the distribution and supply of TB vaccines and not enough facilities to keep medicines refrigerated.

In the North, according to defectors, it was common to diagnose TB without any X-ray test to patients who had a fever or diagnose TB after touching the belly. The patients had to purchase TB drugs at a market without any prescription, they said.

For North Korean TB patients, it is difficult to buy TB treatments continuously because they are expensive. Considering a North Korean worker’s monthly wage is about 1,600 won on average, paying 15,000 won for a one-month streptomycin was a luxury.

Due to such financial burdens, North Koreans, including TB patients, turn to folk remedies, Jeon said. To treat TB, they took pear juice, ginger juice, traditional herbal medicines, and moxibustion.

[Korea Biomedical Review]

Illegal trade and activity have blossomed in North Korea

From the biggest cities to the smallest villages in North Korea, there is now some kind of market building where people can sell their wares and keep their profits. Some are state-run, some are state-sanctioned, some are ad hoc.

A doctor (42) who defected in 2014 explained, “The salary for doctors was about 3,500 won a month. That was less than it cost to buy one kilogram of rice! So of course, being a doctor was not my main job. My main job was smuggling at night. I would send herbal medicine from North Korea into China, and with the money, I would import home appliances back into North Korea. Rice cookers, notels, LCD monitors, that kind of thing.”

As the economy and the rules that govern it have change in North Korea, there are more and more gray areas that can be exploited which means that illegal trade and activity have also blossomed.

Said a drug dealer (46) who defected in 2014: “I worked as a broker transferring money and connecting people in North Korea with people in South Korea through phone calls. I arranged reunions for them in China. I also smuggled antiques out of North Korea, as well as ginseng and pheasants, and sold them in China.
“And I dealt ‘ice’ [methamphetamines]. 70 or 80 percent of the adults in Hoeryong city were using ice. My customers were just ordinary people. Police officers, security agents, party members, teachers, doctors. Ice made a really good gift for birthday parties or for high school graduation presents.
“It makes you feel good and helps you release stress. My 76-year-old mother was using it because she had low blood pressure, and it worked well.
“Lots of police officers and security agents would come to my house to smoke, and of course I didn’t charge them — they were my protection. They would come by my house during their lunch break. The head of the secret police in my area was almost living at my house.”

Increasingly, North Koreans are not fleeing their totalitarian state because they are hungry, as they did during the 15 or so years following the outbreak of a devastating famine in the mid-1990s. Now, they are leaving because they are disillusioned.

[Washington Post]

The market in the North Korean bastion of socialism

In theory, North Korea is a bastion of socialism, a country where the state provides everything, housing, health care, education and jobs.

In reality, at this point in time the state economy barely operates. People working in factories and fields find there is little for them to do, and they are paid almost nothing. Meanwhile, a vibrant private economy has sprung up out of necessity, one where people find ways to make money on their own, whether through selling homemade tofu or dealing drugs, smuggling small DVD players with screens called “notels” over the border, or extracting bribes.

As a university student who defected in 2013 related, “North Korea technically has a centrally planned economy, but now people’s lives revolve around the market. No one expects the government to provide things anymore. Everyone has to find their own way to survive.”

While men had to continue to show up for work in dormant factories, women would turn corn into noodles, and homeless children would steal manhole covers to sell as scrap metal.

A farmer who defected in 2014 recalls, “We lived in the city center, but we rented some land in the foothills and grew corn there. During planting and harvest season, we would wake up at 4 a.m. and walk three hours to reach the farmland. Besides a little break for lunch we’d work until 8 p.m. before walking home again. We’d then buy beans from the market and make tofu that we’d sell from our house. Our profit was less than 5,000 won [60 cents at the blackmarket rate] a day.”

Another defector adds, “It’s the women who can really make money in North Korea. My aunt was the main earner in the house. My uncle is in the military, so his position provided protection for my aunt’s business which was selling beans in the market. You also have to smooth the way with money.”

[Washington Post]