North Korea announces testing of new ‘tactical guided weapon’

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North Korea says its leader Kim Jong Un has overseen the testing of a “new-type tactical guided weapon.” The North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Kim supervised the test at the Academy of Defense Science on Wednesday.

The report offered few details about the weapon, except that it was test-fired at various targets, carried a “powerful warhead” and had a “peculiar mode of guiding flight.”

The U.S. and South Korean governments have so far not commented on the test.

“Tactical weapons are for attacking South Korea, not the U.S.,” Park Hwee Rhak, a political scientist at Kookmin University in Seoul, and a former South Korean army colonel, commented in a phone interview. “In these tense times, North Korea wouldn’t conduct a test lightly,” he added. “The weapon must be something that can pose a threat or incite terror,” and therefore is likely to contain some new technology or capability.

Last November, North Korea claimed to have tested an “ultra-modern” tactical weapon. No details have emerged as to what the weapon was.

North Korea has not tested any strategic weapons, such as nuclear devices or long-range missiles since late 2017. Kim has since set goals for “keeping munitions production going, and putting national defense science and technology on [a] cutting edge level.

Park Hwee Rhak says whether or not Wednesday’s test violates the North’s testing moratorium is a moot point, because the moratorium is unwritten and self-imposed, and not the result of any agreement.

Kim has also made efforts to avoid diplomatic isolation. He is expected to meet with Vladimir Putin as early as next week. Russia has urged the U.N. to ease sanctions on the North. U.S. special envy on North Korea Steven Biegun is in Moscow Wednesday and Thursday ahead of the expected visit.

If sanctions are not lifted, Kim Jong Un has the option of waiting out the Trump administration, as Kim is in his 30s, and barring unforeseen circumstances, could rule his country for decades to come.

[NPR]

North Korean defector Oh Chong Song

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It was a dash for freedom that was caught on camera and captivated the world: a North Korean defector being peppered with bullets as he tried to flee his authoritarian homeland at the Demiiltarized Zone. But in his first television interview with a U.S. broadcaster, defector Oh Chong Song said he does not blame his former colleagues for shooting him five times as he ran for the border in November 2017.

“In their situation I would have fired the gun. It’s not a matter of friendship,” he told NBC News on Monday, almost 18 months after his dramatic escape. “I understand them because if I were in their shoes I would have done the same thing.”

On Nov. 13, 2017, surveillance cameras captured the moment Oh smashed through a military checkpoint in a green jeep and raced toward the DMZ, members of his own unit chasing him down. Had he been caught, Oh says he “would have been either sent to a concentration camp for political prisoners or, worse, executed by firing squad.”

His escape bid crunched to a halt yards from the boundary as his jeep became stuck in a ditch. With the chasing North Korean soldiers almost upon him, he climbed out of the car and started to run, the border just yards away.

“I was extremely terrified,” he said. “I watch this video once in a while and every time I see it, I realize the fact that I am alive is a miracle. Even I can’t believe something like this happened. … I can’t believe it’s me in the video.”

The footage shows Oh running between two trees, just as several North Korean soldiers scramble to take up positions behind him and open fire. The hail of bullets tore through Oh, at least five shots hitting him directly.

It took a moment for South Korean soldiers to crawl to him and drag him to cover. “I did think that I was going to die as I was lying there,” he said. “At this point, when they were coming to rescue me, I was unconscious.”

Doctors who operated on Oh said it was a “miracle” he survived. Among those credited with saving his life was Sgt. 1st Class Gopal Singh of San Antonio, Texas, a member of the medevac crew who flew Oh to a hospital in Suwon, the South Korean capital.

“I am truly grateful to him and I hope there will be an opportunity for me to meet him,” Oh said. “If I do, I want to thank him in person for everything.”

[NBC]

Kim Jong Un sends message to Trump with military visit

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North Korea is signaling a firmer stance toward the U.S. following the breakdown of denuclearization talks, with leader Kim Jong Un visiting a military unit for the first time this year and directing pilots in combat maneuvers. He left having “expressed great satisfaction over the excellent readiness,” the report said.

Kim hadn’t visited a military facility since November. Security analysts saw Kim’s most recent trip as a message to the Trump administration: Unless Washington is prepared to compromise on sanctions, Pyongyang can revert to a cycle of confrontation.

The North Korean leader said last week that the U.S. had until year’s end to change its stance in nuclear talks or risk a “gloomy and very dangerous” response.

“Kim Jong Un doesn’t make meaningless visits,” said Moon Seong-mook, a retired South Korean army brigadier general and an analyst for the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, a private think tank in Seoul.“He’s sending a message internationally that we are ready militarily, and domestically that we need to be thoroughly prepared.”

Washington and Pyongyang remain gridlocked over how the North should relinquish its nuclear arsenal. Though the two countries’ leaders affirmed their close personal ties in recent days, the Kim regime has expressed frustration, if not astonishment, over U.S. demands for specific commitments on Pyongyang’s denuclearization.

New evidence suggesting nuclear pursuits came Tuesday, when researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, using satellite imagery, identified five specialized railcars inside Pyongyang’s main Yongbyon nuclear facility. The railcars were near a uranium-enrichment facility and radiochemistry lab. The North has previously used railcars for the movement of radioactive material or reprocessing campaigns, the CSIS said.

“Kim is reminding us, in a general way, that unless the Trump administration is prepared to move forward, then he has military options to up the ante,” said Euan Graham, a North Korea security expert at Australia’s La Trobe University.

About two-fifths of North Korea’s 810 combat aircraft are stationed near Pyongyang, according to South Korean Defense Ministry estimates. The unit is tasked with helping defend airspace over the capital, according to North Korean state media.

North Korea maintains an active military of roughly 1.2 million members, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry. Pyongyang’s air force also operates drones and surface-to-air missiles.

[Washington Post]

North Korea willing to take part in talks if US has ‘right attitude’

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said he would take part in a third summit with Donald Trump – but only if the US brought the “right attitude”.

He urged Mr Trump to pursue a deal that was “mutually acceptable.” In response the president tweeted praise of Mr Kim.

After a February summit, Trump said North Korean officials had wanted economic sanctions lifted in their entirety in exchange for disabling a major nuclear site, provoking him to walk away. However, the North Koreans disputed the US account.

In recent comments, Kim said in a speech that the summit had created a “strong doubt” in him over whether the US genuinely wanted to improve relations. But he went on to say: “We are willing to give another try if the US offers to have a third summit with the right attitude and mutually acceptable terms.”

He said the US “mistakenly believe that if they pressure us to the maximum, they can subdue us” and called on them to cease “hostile” negotiating tactics.

[BBC]

China to use 5G technology to tackle flow of North Korean refugees

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A Chinese border patrol unit plans to use 5G technology to help stem the flow of refugees from North Korea and smuggled goods between the two countries, according to mainland Chinese media.

The unit in Tonghua, Jilin province, signed an agreement with China Mobile – the largest wireless network operator –to build the country’s first 5G checkpoint at Unbong, or Yunfeng Reservoir in Chinese, Legal Daily reported.

“The Yunfeng checkpoint faces great difficulties in [border] control because it is in the mountains and covers a large area with many major road junctions, so [they] decided to set up China’s first 5G border checkpoint there,” the report said. Jian is a key border trading area between China and North Korea and a favorite crossing point for North Korean refugees and smugglers of food, goods and cash.

According to the Legal Daily  report, Yunfeng border police would trial the use of new technologies such as virtual reality glasses, simultaneously updating logbooks, drones and 4K night-vision monitors to patrol the border when the 5G network is fully established. The report did not say when the project would be completed.

[South China Morning Post]

Kim Jong Un summons ambassadors from Beijing and Moscow

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North Korea’s ambassadors to China and Russia have been summoned back to Pyongyang, raising the possibility Kim Jong Un may have a big announcement he is likely to make at the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly this week.

Kim Jong Un is launching the second term of his rule on Thursday, according to the report. The North Korean leader was not found on a list of delegates newly elected to the assembly in March. His absence from the list is raising questions; some analysts, including high-profile defector Thae Yong-ho, have said Kim Jong Un is probably looking to be appointed titular head-of-state.

Kim Jong Un could also be calling in the diplomats in Beijing and Moscow to discuss a new strategy on resuming dialogue with the United States. Ji and Kim Hyong Jun are also the top diplomats in countries that have consistently supported easing sanctions against Pyongyang.

[UPI]

China and North Korea open new border crossing despite sanctions

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China and North Korea opened a new border crossing over the Yalu River, signaling aspirations for deeper economic ties between the neighbors even as Pyongyang’s trade remains crimped by international sanctions.

The border checkpoint at the foot of a new bridge opened Monday, connecting the northeastern Chinese city of Jian with North Korea’s Manpo, Chinese state media reported. The China-DPRK Jian-Manpo highway connection is for passenger and cargo transport and hosts an advanced customs facility, the China News Service said.

An opening ceremony appeared to show that local Chinese officials were ready to step up trade and exchanges with North Korea in response to its call for economic development, according to Yonhap. China provides a lifeline to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his state has long been dependent on Beijing’s help to keep its meager economy afloat. It was unclear how the new border checkpoint — the fourth between China and North Korea — would operate under the sanctions, which ban or limit a broad range of goods from moving in or out of the country. The South Korean Unification Ministry declined to comment.

In 2017, China’s overall trade with North Korea declined by more than 10 percent to about $5 billion, as Trump secured Beijing’s backing for four escalating rounds of sanctions in response to North Korea nuclear weapons program testing. While official trade with China has slowed, North Korea has turned to other methods to evade sanctions, with a main source of activity being illegal high-seas cargo transfers with North Korean vessels, the U.S. and UN Security Council said in reports in March.

[[Bloomberg]

Vietnam starts deporting North Korean refugees back to China

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Just a month after hosting a summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Vietnam has deported three North Korean refugees, sending them home via China to an uncertain future in their homeland.

The deportations mark a worrying new development for fleeing North Koreans, who previously had been safe if they managed to evade capture in China and reach a third country. Vietnam has been one of Southeast Asian countries that provide safe haven for North Korean escapees, helping them reach South Korea.

The deportations could also be an indication of North Korea’s growing diplomatic clout and lessening isolation since Kim Jong Un stepped onto the global stage over the past year.

Aid workers told South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper that the South Korean Foreign Ministry failed to respond to a request to assist the refugees, a claim the ministry denied. The ministry repeatedly told them to wait, but no assistance was provided before the refugees were sent to China on Wednesday, the aid workers told Chosun Ilbo.

The Foreign Ministry in Seoul denied the report, saying in a statement that the ministry “immediately got in contact with the local authorities and took a stand against forcible repatriation to North Korea.” The ministry declined to comment on the safety and whereabouts of the refugees.

[The Washington Post]

North Korean Defector Group vows further action

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The defector group that calls itself Free Joseon (Free North Korea) could be the first organization to have successfully infiltrated a North Korean diplomatic mission.

Pyongyang’s first public acknowledgment of the incursion into its Madrid Embassy recently came when it complained North Korea had been the victim of a “grave terrorist attack”, calling it a “flagrant violation of international law.” It called on Spanish authorities to thoroughly investigate the incident and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Normally, says Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korean studies expert at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, North Korea would be loath to mention anything at all that might puncture “the myth of invincible, unassailable, infallible, omnipotent leadership.” But these days, too much information is flowing into North Korea for its government to keep the Madrid embassy incident a secret.

Free Joseon’s significance lies in “the symbolism of hope, perhaps even justice, created in standing up to, in defying the powerful, oppressive state,” says Lee.

Two years ago, under a different name, the group was apparently successful in spiriting away to safety a potential heir — or possible threat — to the Kim dynasty. Last month, rebranded as Free Joseon, it made a declaration of revolution and announced the establishment of a “provisional government” to take power in Pyongyang.

Free Joseon says on its website that after Madrid incident hit the news, it is suspending operations for now, due to negative media coverage. But it urges patience, and says it is planning big things for the future.

[NPR]