Warm welcome home from Olympics for Kim Jong-un’s sister

The love affair that Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korea’s leader, enjoyed at the Winter Olympics in South Korea has not ended now that she is back home. If Mr. Kim sent his sister to the Olympics to mount a “charm offensive,” as United States officials feared, she did her job. Her visit has managed to help soften her country’s image among South Koreans, at least for the moment.

She delivered her brother’s surprise invitation for President Moon Jae-in of South Korea to visit the North for a summit meeting, and Mr. Moon met her four times during her three-day trip.

Despite the intense curiosity her visit generated, little is known about Ms. Kim, a member of the most secretive ruling dynasty in the world. Outside officials are not even sure about her age or marital status, though she is most often said to be 30 and married.

Ms. Kim is the youngest child of Kim Jong-il, the North’s second leader, who died in 2011. She and Kim Jong-un studied in Switzerland as teenagers, using aliases. Her father first noticed her political acumen when she was still young, analysts say. Back in 2001, when the Russian ambassador to North Korea asked Kim Jong-il which of his sons would become successor, Mr. Kim said that his sons were “idle blockheads” and that it was his daughters who he thought had the intellect and personality to be “reliable successors,” Michael Madden, an expert on North Korea leadership, wrote last week. Ms. Kim’s trip to South Korea was her debut on the global stage.

Certainly, when Ms. Kim was in Seoul last week, she was nothing but a charmer. She is said to have told the South Korean leader that if he and her brother meet, “the North-South relations will improve so fast that yesterday would seem a distant past.”

“I wish I could see you again in Pyongyang soon,” she told Mr. Moon at a luncheon on Saturday, according to South Korean officials. “I wish that Your Excellency President will leave a mark for future generations by playing a key role in opening a new chapter for reunification.”

In South Korean media, Ms. Kim was nicknamed “Princess” or “North Korea’s Ivanka,” likening her influence with her brother to that of Ivanka Trump’s on her father, President Trump.

[New York Times]

The three Americans who remain detained in North Korea

Just miles from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea — where some observers continue to fawn over Kim Jong Un’s sister and North Korea’s “smile diplomacy” — a trio of Americans remain detained in the Hermit Kingdom.

Concern has only grown for the three Korean-Americans — Kim Hak Song, Kim Dong Chul and Tony Kim — since the death of American college student Otto Warmbier last June after the he spent 17 months locked away in North Korea. The State Department noted that Ambassador Joseph Yun, the special representative for North Korean policy, met with the three Americans in North Korea last June, when Warmbier was released. No U.S. representative has seen them since.

The three detained Americans, ranging in age from 55 to 64, are being held on a variety of vaguely described offenses:

Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang Duk, 59, was detained by North Korean authorities at Pyongyang International Airport on April 22, 2017. Kim was teaching at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Tony also engaged in humanitarian work in the North, helping orphanages. In May 2017, Tony Kim was allegedly accused of “committing criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn [North Korea].”

Like Tony, Kim Hak Song, 55, also worked at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology before his detention on May 6, 2017 over unspecified crimes. The school is the only privately funded university in North Korea and is unique for having a large number of foreign staff. He was detained on suspicion of committing “hostile acts” against the country’s government. Pyongyang University of Science and Technology said Kim was doing agricultural development work with the university’s agricultural farm.

Korean-American, Kim Dong Chul, 64, was arrested in October 2015 and is now serving a 10-year term with hard labor for alleged espionage. It’s been reported that Chul was a pastor, and in his public “confession,” Kim said he was a spy for the South Korea intelligence service and was trying to spread Christianity among North Koreans.

[Fox News]

Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol Ju watch North Korean military parade on eve of Winter Games

Troops, missiles and tanks rolled into North Korea’s historic Kim Il Sung Square Thursday in a highly anticipated parade of military might on the eve of South Korea’s Winter Olympics. The choreographed display involved hundreds of soldiers marching in unison, planes soaring above and four of Pyongyang’s newest and most sophisticated missile, the Hwasong-15. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watched all of it from a balcony above.

The parade is being held to mark the day Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, formed the Korean People’s Army, and came as celebrations started in the South for the Games in the resort city of Pyeongchang.

Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, arrived by limousine and stepped out onto a red carpet.

Kim declared that the military parade would show to the world that North Korea” has developed into a world-class military power. As long as imperialism is present on the Earth and US’s hostile policy against North Korea continues, the mission of the Korea People’s Army to be the strong sword that protects the country and people, and peace can never change.”


Kim Jong Un’s sister joins North Korean Winter Olympics delegation

Kim Jong Un is sending his younger sister to South Korea for the Winter Olympics, the first time any member of the Kim dynasty has visited the country. The 30-year-old, who has seen her profile rise steadily since 2014, was last year promoted to North Korea’s Politburo. She and Kim Jong Un were born to the same mother, Ko Yong Hui.

Kim Yo Jong (center) seated among other officials

Kim Yo Jong’s inclusion in the North Korean delegation is likely to irritate the United States, which has sent its own delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence to counter North Korea’s charm offensive. Last year, the US Treasury Department included Kim Yo Jong on its list of blacklisted officials. As the vice director of the Workers’ Party Propaganda and Agitation Department, she has been targeted by US sanctions.

Like most members of the Kim clan, little is known about Kim Yo Jong beyond her official rank. According to NK Leadership Watch, she is a close aide of her brother’s “and since his accession manages his public events, itineraries and logistical needs, among other tasks.”

Her position is such that, according to a Seoul-based think tank run by North Korean defectors, Kim Yo Jong briefly took charge of the country while her brother was reportedly ill with gout or diabetes in late 2014.

Born September 26, 1987, Kim Yo Jong studied in Switzerland like her brother and is believed to have attended Kim Il Sung University and a western European school for her higher education.

The North Korean delegation also includes Hyon Song Wol, the lead singer of Kim Jong Un’s favorite girl band, whose every move was followed by a insatiable South Korean press during a pre-Games tour last month. Hyon’s the closest thing North Korea has to a celebrity and her presence in Pyeongchang is an indication of how seriously North Korea is taking its Olympic diplomatic mission.


Read more about Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong Un

Meet the North Korean defector honored by Trump

During his State of the Union address, President Trump honored North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho.

Ji entered his teens during the famine and mass starvation in North Korea in the 1990s. In 1996, Ji was on a train trying to steal some coal to trade for food. He passed out from hunger and fell off the train onto the tracks. His left leg and parts of his left hand were pulverized as the train wheels plowed through them. Doctors amputated Ji’s leg and hand in a four-and-a-half-hour surgery with no anesthetics.

A decade later, Ji and his brother made a daring escape across the Tumen River into China. From there, Ji trudged on his hand-made crutches all the way to Laos and then Thailand. From there, he was sent to South Korea and reunited with his mother and sister who had escaped there prior. (Ji’s father died after a failed attempt to escape North Korea. Authorities tortured him severely, and he died from his injuries a few days later.)

While still living in North Korea, Ji met Christians during a temporary food-finding trip to China. When he returned, the North Korean authorities tortured him and wanted to know if he met any Christians. After escaping, Ji eventually converted to Christianity.

During an exclusive interview with the Daily Caller, Ji said of Communism, “Simply put, it is a horrible thing. Communism is a Hell.” When asked what he would say to North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un. Ji said he would tell the Communist leader, “In the land I lived in, you could choose life or death. I chose life. I chose to live in a land of freedom. I won. I achieved victory.”

In April 2010, Ji established Now Action and Unity for Human Rights (NAUH), an NGO dedicated to fighting the human rights violations in North Korea.

[Church Militant]

North Korean defectors tell Trump what it’s like to escape

Last Friday, President Trump met with several North Korean defectors in the Oval Office. Among the guests: Ji Seong-ho, who Trump lauded at his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Ji lost a leg and an arm while scavenging coal as a boy, and later fled to South Korea.

Trump used Ji’s story to illustrate what he called the “depraved character of the North Korean regime” and the kind of threat it could pose to the United States and its allies if it obtains nuclear weapons.

During the meeting, Trump asked the defectors to tell their stories.

Hyeonseo Lee, another defector who met with Trump, said escaping from North Korea is not like leaving another country.  “It’s more like leaving another universe. I will never truly be free of its gravity no matter how far I journey.”

“The world knows about the terrible things being done to his own people – it has to stop,” said Greg Scarlatoiu, the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. “Every time human rights comes up, the very legitimacy of (Kim’s) regime is undermined.”

[USA Today]

Pence presence to counter South Korean warming to North Korea

Vice President Pence is heading to South Korea, where — in addition to representing the U.S. at the Olympics — he plans to counter North Korea’s media messaging and push allies to maintain pressure on the rogue nation, according to multiple reports.

As NPR’s Elise Hu reports, the VPs aides have said that he wants to use the time in Korea to remind the world that just because North Korea will have a visually appealing cheering squad and an impressive figure skating duo, the regime running the country is brutal and totalitarian.

“One obvious sign of that is going to be who Vice President Pence is with,” Elise says. He’s expected to attend the opening ceremony with the father of deceased American college student Otto Warmbier, who died after being imprisoned in North Korea. That’s going to be a public reminder of that secrecy and brutality— at the same time that North Korean dignitaries will be in the same audience.

An Axios reporter and a Washington Post columnist both say they spoke to an unnamed White House aide who told them the White House won’t allow North Korea to “hijack the messaging of the Olympics.”

North Korea is sending its ceremonial leader, King Yong Nam, to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, where he will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.


Trump meeting with North Korean defectors to raise pressure on Kim Jong Un

President Trump will meet North Korean defectors in the Oval Office on Friday, a provocative action meant to highlight human rights violations and one that could raise alarms in Pyongyang.

Trump is expected to meet with eight defectors — six who live in South Korea and two who live in the United States — two days after he punctuated his State of the Union address by praising Ji Seong-ho, a defector from North Korea who had been invited to watch the address from the first lady’s box. Ji will be among the group at the White House on Friday.

Another of the eight defectors is Lee Hyeon-seo, a prominent human rights advocate who recounted her harrowing escape, including being sold as a bride in China, in a memoir called “The Girl with Seven Names.”

The visit will offer the president a chance to shine a spotlight on human rights abuses in North Korea at a time of growing tensions over Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.

“No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea,” Trump said Tuesday night during the annual address to Congress. “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.”

The visit was arranged by Greg Scarlatoiu at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a person familiar with the meeting said. Trump has sought to highlight the human costs of dictator Kim Jong Un’s regime, but foreign policy experts warned that there are risks to such a strategy.

“Meeting [North Korean defectors] in the Oval raises the question of whether the U.S. strategy is regime change,” said one foreign-policy expert who specializes in East Asia.

[Washington Post]

Former US intelligence chief reveals North Korea’s ‘kryptonite’ which could topple Kim Jong Un

Dennis Blair, a former director of national intelligence, defined what he called North Korea’s “kryptonite,” saying it could collapse Kim Jong Un’s government without firing a shot.

While President Donald Trump’s inner circle reportedly weighs the use of military force against North Korea, Blair, a former US Navy admiral, has suggested another method of attack that wields information, not weapons. “The kryptonite that can weaken North Korea is information from beyond its borders,” Blair said in a written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

North Koreans have no idea how bad things are in their country, Blair said, because they’re subject to an “unrelenting barrage of government propaganda.”

But Blair said the US could leverage a recent trend in North Korea: cellphones. About one in five North Koreans own a cellphone, many of which can connect to Chinese cell towers across the Yalu River along the countries’ border, he said.

“Texts to these cellphones can provide subversive truth,” Blair said. “Cell towers can be extended; CDs and thumb drives can be smuggled in; radio and TV stations can be beamed there.” Blair added: “The objective is to separate the Kim family from its primary support — the secret police, the army, and the propaganda ministry.”

Though outside media does get into North Korea and reaches the country’s elites, the US could expand efforts to flood it with outside news. The US used a similar tactic during the Cold War in setting up Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to combat the Soviet Union and its state-controlled media.

Yun Sun, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center, agrees: “Kim Jong Un understands that as soon as society is open and North Korean people realize what they’re missing, Kim’s regime is unsustainable, and it’s going to be overthrown,” Sun said. Sun said that in the past when South Korea flew balloons that dropped pamphlets and DVDs over North Korea, Kim’s government responded militarily, sensing its frailty relative to those of prosperous liberal democracies.

Blair pointed to other totalitarian states where popular uprisings have become informed and sought to take down a media-controlling dictator, concluding his testimony by saying that “once that process starts, it is hard to stop.” “Such will be North Korea’s fate,” he said.

[Business Insider]

Trump honors North Korean defector in his State of the Union speech

During last night’s State of the Union address, President Trump highlighted the inspiring stories of several individuals, one of whom was a man who defected from North Korea, Ji Seong-ho.

As a boy, Ji was run over by train as he tried to collect coal for his struggling family. He endured multiple amputations, and his siblings ate dirt so that he could have their allotment of food as he recovered.

Later, after a brief trip to China, Ji was tortured by North Korean authorities wanting to know if he had met any Christians. “He had,” Trump said, “and he resolved, after that, to be free.”

Ji traveled thousands of miles on crutches, across China and southeast Asia, to freedom. Ji now lives in Seoul, where he works to rescue other defectors. “Today, he has a new leg,” the president added. “But Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those old crutches, as a reminder of how far you’ve come.”

[National Review]