Nearly half of North Koreans are going hungry due to food shortages

Nearly half of North Koreans are going hungry due to food shortages, a damning UN report has warned. More than 70 per cent of citizens in the secretive nation rely on food aid while most lack even basic healthcare provision or sanitation, the report found.

The shocking report emerged as Kim Jong-Un outlined plans to ‘accelerate’ his nuclear and ballistic missile program amid heightened tensions with the South and the US.

The report suggests diarrhea and pneumonia are the top two causes of death among children under five. More than 10 million in are undernourished in the country of 25million people while the humanitarian situation has been worsened by ‘recurrent natural hazards’ including drought and floods, the report says.

Pyongyang is said to have restricted its rations of cereal and potatoes from 380g per person per day to 300g at one point in 2016. Government targets are said to be closer to 573g, according to the report.

Sweeping sanctions imposed in a bid to curtail the country’s nuclear ambitions are said to have affected attempts to improve the humanitarian picture.

A North Korean envoy recently told Reuters his country had nothing to fear from any U.S. move to broaden sanctions aimed at cutting it off from the global financial system and will pursue ‘acceleration’ of its nuclear and missile programs.

[Daily Mail]

US Ambassador says North Korea is the “number one threat” to the US

North Korea is not frightened by U.S. warnings that pre-emptive military action is on the table, its foreign ministry said Tuesday, describing its expanding nuclear program as a “treasured sword of justice.” The regime “has the will and capability to fully respond to any war the U.S. would like to ignite,” it added. “The U.S. should face up to the situation … with its eyes wide open.”

It comes after leader Kim Jong Un announced the ground test of a “high-thrust” rocket engine on Saturday. “The world will soon witness what eventful significance the … recent ground jet test of Korean-style high-thrust engine will carry,” KCNA said Tuesday. “The nuclear force of [North Korea] is the treasured sword of justice and the most reliable war deterrence.”

Meanwhile the North Korean government website Uriminzokkiri released a propaganda video that appears to show a North Korea military strike on a US aircraft carrier and a US bomber.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said North Korea was the “number one threat” to the U.S. and that military action was an option if there was no co-operation. Her comments were echoed by former defense secretary William Cohen, who told CNBC that North Korea’s military escalation was “the most dangerous issue we have facing us today.”

The Trump administration is considering sweeping sanctions aimed at cutting North Korea off from the global financial system as part of a broad review of measures to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threat, a senior U.S. official had said on Monday. The sanctions would be part of a multi-pronged approach of increased economic and diplomatic pressure – especially on Chinese banks and firms that do the most business with North Korea – plus beefed-up defenses by the United States and its South Korean and Japanese allies, according to the administration official familiar with the deliberations.

While the long-standing option of pre-emptive military strikes against North Korea is not off the table – as reflected by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s warning to Pyongyang during his Asia tour last week – the new administration is giving priority for now to less-risky options.

The objective of the U.S. move being considered would be to tighten the screws in the same way that the widening of sanctions – to encompass foreign firms dealing with Iran – was used to pressure Tehran to open negotiations with the West on its suspected nuclear weapons program.

[NBC / Huffington Post / CNN]

Two South Korean pastors arrested in China for assisting North Korean defectors

Two South Korean pastors have recently been arrested by Chinese police for providing protection for North Korean defectors in China.

One pastor was arrested on Feb. 18 with his wife and two children at an airport in the northeastern Chinese city of Qingdao prior to a flight to South Korea, according to the activist group “Justice for North Korea.”

The other minister was arrested with his wife at a hotel in the city of Qinhuangdao in China’s northern province of Hebei, it said.

“The arrested pastors are known to have insisted that they helped North Korean defectors as they were at risk of being repatriated to the North where human rights violations are serious,” said an official in the group.

The ministers were detained for helping North Korean defectors leave China, though their families were all released after two days of interrogation, he added. They are currently being held at a detention center in Liaoning Province in the country’s northeast, an official at Seoul’s foreign ministry said.    See also

[Yonhap]

North Korean defectors urge China to help people fleeing hermit state

Three North Korean women joined activists at a panel discussion in New York with the goal of pressuring Beijing to help defectors from the reclusive state rather than sending them back to face severe punishment.

  • Lee So-yeon, a former soldier who fled her country in 2008 and is now a leading activist in South Korea.
  • Lim Hye-jin originally defected from North Korea in 1998 during the famine crisis.
  • Grace Jo also fled North Korea, and wound up in the United States with her mother and older sister in 2008 after facing repatriation by the Chinese authorities.

The three North Koreans were among some 20 people who walked to China’s UN mission from the Armenian Church in Manhattan, where they had gathered for a panel discussion connected with the United Nations’ annual two-week Commission on the Status of Women.

The group attempted to deliver a letter addressed to President Xi Jinping, but was unable to do so as no one answered the door to accept it. The letter asked Xi to provide refugees coming into China from North Korea “safe passage to a third country”, urged him to cease returning them to North Korea and to work with the UN Human Rights Council to safely resettle them.

[South China Morning Post]

US says diplomacy with North Korea has failed while Pyongyang warns of war

Diplomacy has failed and it’s time to “take a different approach” to North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Tokyo, as the North Korean Embassy in China warned that American military threats were bringing the region to the brink of nuclear war.

Tillerson’s comment–that 20 years of diplomacy have been unable to persuade the regime in Pyongyang to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons–alluded to a 1994 deal between the United States and North Korea. Under it, Pyongyang would have received aid and two proliferation-resistant nuclear power plants in return for freezing and eventually dismantling its nuclear weapons program. That deal collapsed in 2002, and years of stop-start efforts to reach a new deal have amounted to little, with North Korea actively pursuing nuclear weapons and the missiles with which to deliver them.

In the meantime, the United States gave North Korea a total of $1.35 billion in assistance “as an encouragement to take a different pathway,” Tillerson said, but the largesse was met with continued weapons development.

He declined to go into specifics about what a different approach might entail. The Trump administration is now conducting a review of North Korea policy, and some in Washington are advocating “kinetic options”–a euphemism for military action.

There are sharply different views in the region about how to achieve that goal, with China in particular unwilling to do anything that might destabilize its ally and neighbor.

[Washington Post]

China arrests more than a dozen North Korea defectors

China may have arrested as many as 14 North Korean defectors in the last two weeks, according to multiple sources.

An activist who works with refugees told Yonhap news agency Friday that Chinese “traffic police” in the northeastern city of Shenyang detained seven defectors and one Chinese “broker” traveling in the same vehicle. They were arrested after an “inspection,” the activist said.

The arrests come at a time when China introduced a new requirement for intercity bus travelers, who must now provide their real names and proof of identification in order to purchase tickets, according to the source. The North Korean refugees were detained as they traveled in a small van and are at risk of being repatriated to their country of origin, the report stated.

A second source identified as a South Korean activist with a human rights group told Yonhap another group of three defectors was apprehended at the China-Laos border as they traveled in a private vehicle that may have been lent to them by South Korean missionaries. The activist said checkpoints beyond the immediate vicinity of the China-North Korea border have been “strengthened,” posing challenges for North Koreans who are trying to reach safety without proper identification.

A third source, who represents a North Korea defector group, said Chinese authorities arrested four refugees, including a child, at a city motel in Tianjin. “The police infiltrated their room, after tracking down their whereabouts, although it’s not clear how,” the source said.

In February, China may also have arrested two South Korean Christian pastors, according to Peter Jung, head of Justice for North Korea in Seoul.

[UPI]

Navy Seals and other Special-Ops part of American-Korean military drills

The U.S. Navy’s Special Warfare Development Group, better known as the SEAL Team 6, will arrive in South Korea for joint military drills and take part in an exercise simulating a precision North Korean incurion and “the removal of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un”, according to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.

The U.S. Navy SEAL Team Six will join the annual Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises between the two allies for the first time, along with the Army’s Rangers, Delta Force and Green Berets.

The counterterrorism unit is best known for its removal of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011, known as Operation Neptune Spear. It will be the team’s first time participating in the annual Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises, which will run through late April.

The Japan Times reported that the SEAL Team 6 unit boarded the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, last Friday and are currently training in South Korean waters.

As Korea JoongAng Daily adds, also set to touch down in South Korea is Delta Force, a special mission unit of the U.S. Army whose main tasks include hostage rescue and counterterrorism, said the Defense Ministry. Together with SEAL Team 6, they will practice removing Kim Jong-un and destruction of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

“It will send a very strong message to North Korea, which is constantly carrying out military provocations,” a ministry official said.

F-35 stealth fighters will also fly from U.S. Navy bases in Japan this month and carry out strike simulations on key North Korean facilities.

The beefing up of U.S. special operation forces in the drills comes after North Korean leader Kim said in a New Year’s speech that the country was in the “final stage” of test-firing an intercontinental ballistic missile, the first of its kind, and pushed through two separate missile tests earlier this year, the latest on March 6. North Korea claimed through its state-run media that the most recent drill was aimed at striking “the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan.”

Washington and Seoul stress that the annual military drills are purely defensive, although Pyongyang sees them as a rehearsal for an invasion.

Military showdown off North Korean shores

The US, Japan and South Korea sent a pointed message to North Korea on Tuesday, dispatching high-tech missile defense ships to the same area where Pyongyang fired four missiles just eight days ago.

Aegis warships from the US, South Korea and Japan began exercises Tuesday to improve their capability to shoot down enemy ballistic missiles, the US Navy said in a statement.

China’s Foreign Ministry reacted sternly Tuesday afternoon, calling on all sides to end “a vicious cycle that could spiral out of control. … North Korea has violated UN Security Council resolutions banning its ballistic missile launches; on the other hand, South Korea, the US — and now Japan — insist on conducting super-large-scale military drills,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

In response, Pyongyang accused the US of preparing a “preemptive strike”, according to North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency, KCNA. “If they infringe on our sovereignty and dignity even a bit, our army will launch merciless ultra-precision strikes from ground, air, sea and underwater,” read the statement.

The US has also declared it will permanently station missile-capable drones in South Korea. The US military in South Korea took the unusual step of publicly announcing the deployment of a company of Grey Eagle drones, the army’s enhanced version of the Predator drone, designed to carry Hellfire missiles. Together with the deployment of THAAD anti-ballistic missile defenses in South Korea, they represent a significant build-up of US military muscle in response to an accelerated program of missile and nuclear testing by the North Korean regime.

[CNN / The Guardian]

Time for Trump to talk with North Korea?

North Korea’s recent missile tests will put new pressure on the Trump administration to choose a strategy for dealing with this pesky proliferator.

The standard playbook is well known to those who have worked on the problem of North Korea: pressure China to pressure North Korea, toughen sanctions, reassure allies and push them to build missile defenses.  Mr. Trump can follow this well-worn path, but he will likely get the same result: failure.

Instead, Mr. Trump, simply by virtue of being the new president, has another option. He can talk to the North Koreans and negotiate. North Korean officials have said that they are willing to turn the page and start fresh with President Trump. If he is open, they would be open. Or so they say.

Kim Jong Un previously floated the idea that he would freeze some of its weapons tests, if the U.S. called off its joint military exercises with South Korea. More recently, Pyongyang suggested that it would normalize relations, if the U.S. withdrew its troops from the South. Both offers are complete and utter non-starters.

But here’s the thing: they are offers. Negotiations start with offers, and rarely does the first offer represent the final deal.

[From Fox News Opinion by Dr. Jim Walsh, Senior Research Associate at MIT’s Security Studies Program]

China kicks out South Korean missionaries in unprecedented numbers

In the past few months, China has expelled dozens of South Korean missionaries from Jilin, a northeastern province that neighbors North Korea.

“Chinese authorities raided the homes of the missionaries, citing a problem with their visas, and told them to leave,” one human rights activist and pastor told Agence France-Presse (AFP). He said that most were on tourist or student visas.

There are about 500 officially registered South Korean missionaries in China, though some say the actual number could be as high as 2,000. Many gather in the northeast, drawn by the proximity of North Korea.

Pastor Kim Hee-Tae told AFP that 20 percent of the expelled Koreans were assisting North Korean refugees, and that 40 of the defectors had been sent back across the border.

China gave no reason for the expulsions. While some observers pointed to newly-tightened restrictions on Christians, most blamed China’s opposition to Seoul’s plan to build an American missile shield, THAAD..

[Christianity Today]