US asking North Korea to return to talks

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The United States is “very actively” trying to persuade North Korea to come back to negotiations, South Korea’s national security adviser said on Sunday, as a year-end North Korean deadline for U.S. flexibility approaches.

South Korea was taking North Korea’s deadline “very seriously”, the adviser, Chung Eui-yong, told reporters, at a time when efforts to improve inter-Korean relations have stalled.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in April gave the United States a year-end deadline to show more flexibility in their denuclearization talks, and North Korean officials have warned the United States not to ignore that date. The window of opportunity for progress in dialogue with the United States was getting smaller, a senior North Korean diplomat said on Friday, adding that Pyongyang expects reciprocal steps from Washington by the end of the year.

South Korea has set up various contingency plans if the deadline passes without any positive outcome, Chung said, without elaborating. As the talks between the United States and North Korea have stalled, so have efforts to improve ties between the two Koreas, despite efforts by the South Koreans to nudge them forward.

[Reuters]

Two North Korean defectors returned to North Korea due to murder charges

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South Korea said Thursday it expelled two North Korean men after learning they murdered 16 crew members on their fishing boat before fleeing to the South.

The pair, both in their 20s, were questioned by South Korean authorities after being found on Saturday near the maritime border in the Sea of Japan, and concluded that the men had killed 16 fellow fishermen on their boat and then fled to South Korea, Seoul’s unification ministry said.

The two men were deported to the North via the truce village of Panmunjom after informing Pyongyang of the plan, ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min told reporters.

“If they had been incorporated into our society, it was judged they would pose a threat to the lives and safety of the people,” Lee said.

[AFP]

13 North Koreans trek through four countries toward freedom

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A group of 13 North Koreans recently arrived in Southeast Asia, after a grueling two-month journey which spanned 6,000 kilometers (more than 3700 miles), in a quest for asylum in South Korea.

Among the group that reached the Southeast Asian destination were a two-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, the rest ranging in age between their teens and 50s.

They were met by officials from the South Korean human rights group Now Action Unity Human rights (NAUH), who had been awaiting them.

Ji Seong-ho, founder of NAUH, who himself escaped North Korea in 2006, led the effort to rescue the 13. Ji said the latest rescue was both nerve-racking and moving.

He told RFA that many people that attempt to leave North Korea are arrested in China, as Beijing intensifies crackdowns on those who try to flee. He noted that the number of North Koreans fleeing to Southeast Asia has declined in recent years, but that many still make the journey hoping to escape to freedom.

[Radio Free Asia]

Some of the reasons North Koreans defect

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A group of North Korean defectors recently arrived in Southeast Asia after lengthy travels through China. Following are their responses as to why they left their homeland:

A female member of the group, explained she left North Korea in July because she was being forced to join the military and had to give up her dream of becoming a doctor. “It wasn’t hard for me because I kept thinking this is the only way I can achieve my dream and [secure] my future,” she added.

Another woman in the group, in her fifties, said she decided to seek asylum because she hated the incompetence of North Korean authorities, who she said make strong crackdowns on minor infractions. She also disliked the rampant corruption in North Korean society and said it was her wish to travel to other countries as she pleased.

She said that even North Korea’s rich are looking for ways to get out. “People think that the state just drains money from us. It would be nice if the state would let us be in charge of our own business,” said Lee. “So it means that the people are all saying ‘Let’s leave. We will be able to be in charge of our own affairs in South Korea, We can enjoy freedom. Let’s go look for our freedom there.’ Many of the rich people want to come because [the authorities] are giving them a hard time,” she said.

Another female defector identified as Lee is the mother of a 2-year-old. Her 12-year old niece, small enough to pass for a much younger child, was also a part of the group. Lee’s mother had escaped into South Korea 13 years ago. “Now that I’m here, I break into tears just thinking of seeing my mother. It’s been 13 years. I have tears just thinking about meeting her for the first time in 13 years,” Lee said.

[Radio Free Asia]

North Korean defectors call for postponement of funeral for mother and son

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North Korean defectors in South Korea say they have decided to postpone a funeral for a North Korean woman and her infant son because Seoul’s Unification Ministry is not meeting their demands.

Activists with an “emergency response committee” established after the death of Han Sung-ok and her son said the Unification Ministry is responsible for a “breakdown” in negotiations regarding a list of their demands, Yonhap reported.

According to activists, the group requested Seoul “apologize” for the incident, asked for the resignation of the head of the Korea Hana Foundation, a government agency, and demanded a nationwide network be established for North Korean defectors in the South. The activists also said they are seeking the creation of a council that could negotiate between the Unification Ministry and various defector groups.

The defectors added the Unification Ministry is “avoiding” the demands and making it appear the Hana Foundation is responsible for the delay, according to local news service Seoul Pyongyang News.

Han and her son were found dead in their apartment in southern Seoul in July. The family may have died of starvation at least a month before local authorities entered their apartment to find their decomposing corpses. Han was granted residence in the South in 2009. According to defectors who spoke to UPI, Han had two sons and her second son had died with her, while her ex-husband, a Chinese national, took her firstborn to China.

[UPI]

Kim Jong Un has ‘decided’ on U.S.-North Korea summit, Seoul says

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Kim Jong Un has made up his mind about the timing of the next U.S.-North Korea summit, Seoul’s spy agency said Monday.

Suh Hoon, the head of South Korea’s national intelligence service, told the National Assembly’s information committee the third official meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader could take place before the end of the year, News 1 and MoneyToday reported.

In preparation for the third summit, not counting the brief Trump-Kim encounter at the truce village of Panmunjom, working-level talks between Pyongyang and Washington could take place in November, or early December at the latest, the spy chief said, according to reports. (Last week, North Korea fired two projectiles as it warned of a “year-end deadline” for the United States.)

Suh also said Kim could visit China ahead of a third U.S.-North Korea summit, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of bilateral ties. Last week, sources in China told a South Korean newspaper that North Korea’s all-women’s Moranbong Band could tour Chinese cities in December, and that Chinese President Xi Jinping could attend a concert with Kim.

[UPI]

Kim Jong Un is ‘fascinated’ by Trump, views him as father figure, new book claims

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A new book claims to shed light on President Trump’s relationship with North Korea. Author Doug Wead interviewed Trump on the issue and was able to read some of the personal letters exchanged between the president and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Un.

“Kim is fascinated by Donald Trump. He sees him as a unique figure on the stage of world history. And he wants to make history with him,” Wead claims in his book “Inside Trump’s White House: The Real Story of His Presidency.”

The book, set for release on Nov. 26, comes at a time when the U.S. has improved diplomatic relations with North Korea, but continues working for concessions on the rogue nation’s nuclear development.

President Trump took the historic step of meeting in person with Kim after a prolonged, international standoff that included fiery rhetoric and multilateral sanctions. Kim has frequently attacked Trump’s mental stability while Trump suggested that Kim was short and fat.

But despite the public bluster, the president told Wead that he and Kim had good “chemistry” and they both wanted to avoid conflict. 

When Wead discussed the letters with White House adviser Jared Kushner, Kushner suggested Kim had problems with Trump because of issues surrounding his own father. “‘It’s a father thing,’ Kushner observed.

‘You can see from these letters that Kim wants to be friends with Trump, but his father told him never to give up the weapons. That’s his only security. Trump is like a new father figure. So, it is not an easy transition.'”

[Fox News]

Cho Jin-hye’s story

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North Korean defector Cho Jin-hye was resettled in the United States, but she’s never had it easy.

Cho lost her father during the catastrophic North Korean famine of the late ’90s. Her family was notified of his death with a letter from the North Korean government, as he was in prison at the time …. His crime that he had gone to China to search for food. “He passed away from hunger and torture,” she said. “He had infections all over his body. They didn’t give him medicine or water.”

In 1998, as a child she escaped North Korea with her mother. They had relatives in China — her father’s stepbrother and his family — but they met them only once. “When we crossed the border, they did not help my family, so I never met with them again,” she said.

Out of options, Cho and her mother “stayed” with an ethnic Korean-Chinese man, living with him for four years.

“He was a drunkard,” she said. “After he drank he would start yelling at my mother, beating my mother, using a stick to beat me too, and my sister. We had a really difficult four years with him.”

Cho, a naturalized U.S. citizen who resettled in 2008, said a nine-year battle for her reputation has led her to believe that an online antagonist could be collaborating with the North Korean regime. Pyongyang’s propaganda service Uriminzokkiri has targeted Cho with a video that includes a “testimony” from a North Korean woman who claims Cho faked her identity and that she was, in fact, Korean-Chinese. The story aligns with the rumors that Cho says was started by her opponent. The official statement from North Korea has been upsetting, Cho said. Read more

North Korea defector battles cyberbullies in the U.S.

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North Korean defector Cho Jin-hye who now lives in the U.S. in Georgia, remembers reaching a low point when she became the target of cyberbullying in online defector communities. The stinging accusations from other defectors, alleging Cho had feigned her North Korean identity in order to gain asylum in the United States, were so overwhelming she said she contemplated suicide.

That was 2014. Five years later, Cho is still struggling with unfounded rumors she is somehow not related to her mother and her younger sister, although they fled North Korea together and lived for a time in China. Cho, who is in her early 30s, said her troubles began when another U.S.-based North Korean defector began to fabricate stories about her background.

The row between the two defectors may be puzzling, but a sense of solidarity may not prevail among defectors, says Markus Bell, a North Korea expert and migration researcher based in Yangon, Myanmar. Bell, who has studied North Korean defectors in the South, said North Koreans often don’t trust each other because of the political situation on the Korean Peninsula. “There is often a wariness about who might be informing for the North Korean government,” Bell told UPI by email. “This makes it more difficult for new arrivals to forge meaningful relationships.”

Bell said lack of trust among defectors sometimes boils over into anger and bitterness. “Because of the mutual mistrust among North Koreans in exile, individuals like these can become focal points of resentment, susceptible to accusations that could have them sent to China or South Korea,” Bell said. “It’s absurd that Ms. Cho’s asylum in the United States could now be up for debate. She was granted asylum and that should be that.” Read more

[UPI]

North Korea, emboldened by Trump peril and Chinese allies, assumes harder line

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Successful sanctions evasion, economic lifelines from China and U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment woes may be among the factors that have emboldened North Korea in nuclear negotiations, analysts and officials say.

Both Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continue to play up the personal rapport they say they developed during three face-to-face meetings. But North Korea has said in recent days that it is losing patience, with two missile launches on Thursday, giving the United States until the end of the year to change its negotiating stance.

“Still, I think that Pyongyang has concluded they can do without a deal if they must,” Andray Abrahamian, a visiting scholar with George Mason University Korea, said. “The sad thing is I think that will lock in the current state of affairs, with its downsides for all stakeholders, for years to come.”

Trump’s reelection battle and the impeachment inquiry against him may have led Kim to overestimate North Korea’s leverage, said one diplomat in Seoul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. “Trump is all Kim has. In order to denuclearize, Kim needs confidence that Trump will be reelected.”

Although United Nations sanctions remain in place, some trade with China appears to have increased, and political relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have improved dramatically.

A huge influx of Chinese tourists over the past year appears to be a major source of cash for the North Korean government, according to research by Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea. Estimates that as many as 350,000 Chinese tourists have visited this year, potentially netting the North Korean authorities up to $175 million. That’s more than North Korea was making from the Kaesong Industrial Complex – jointly operated with South Korea before it was shuttered in 2016.

For now, North Korea seems inclined to avoid engaging further with the United States or South Korea until they make more concessions. “North Korea appears to be interested only in a deal under its terms to the exact letter,” said Duyeon Kim, with the Washington-based Center for a New American Security.

[Reuters]

North Korea fires 2 missiles amid stalled denuclearization talks

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North Korea conducted a missile launch on Thursday, firing two projectiles into its eastern sea amid stalled denuclearization talks with Washington, military officials said. North Korea’s latest missile test, the second this month, comes two months ahead of an end-of-year deadline set by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to wrap up nuclear talks with the Trump administration as the Hermit Kingdom appeared to be losing patience.

U.S. officials had been watching North Korea prepare for this latest missile test over the “past few days,” the U.S. official told Fox News, calling the launch “routine.”

The missiles were believed to be “short or medium-range ballistic missiles,” fired from mobile launchers outside North Korea’s capital Pyongyang, a U.S. official told Fox News regarding an initial intelligence assessment.

Earlier this month, North Korea test-fired an underwater-launched ballistic missile, its first such test in three years.

North Korean senior official Kim Yong Chol said in a statement Sunday that there has been no progress in U.S.-North Korea relations. He warned that the cordial relationship between Kim and President Trump wouldn’t be enough to prevent nuclear diplomacy from failing, threatening that “there could be the exchange of fire at any moment.”

The stalled U.S.-led talks have also put a strain on relations between the two Koreas.

[ AP ]

North Korean Authorities Crack Down on Illegal Cellphone Use

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Authorities in North Korea are conducting a crackdown on illegal cellphone use after confidential information was reportedly leaked about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent activities, local officials and traders told RFA’s Korean Service.

Illegal cellphones are believed to have been used to disseminate what were apparently sensitive details about Kim’s recent itinerary. A source said that although the crackdown is intended to protect the safety of Kim Jong Un, it is also having an unintended impact on the lives people living along the border with China.

“It’s tense on the border. Smugglers who need to communicate with Chinese partners using their illegal phones, and phone brokers who make money with their illegal phones by arrange calls to defectors in South Korea, they instantly went into hiding,” said a source. “Most of the illegal phone users have fled the area but the residents are afraid as [North Korean government] inspectors are making everyone feel uneasy,” the source added.  “The state security officials that the Central Committee dispatched are searching everywhere [for illegal phone users]. I have a feeling that something serious is about to go down,” said the source.

Another source, a resident of Ryanggang, said even border security has been affected over the leak. “Border guards, who normally work with smugglers are tightening up security. … “In the past, even [in tense situations], smugglers could still bribe the border guards to bring in their illegal goods, but now the situation is so serious that smuggling things across the river is just not happening,” the resident said. “[Both] the smugglers and the guards are laying low because they don’t want to get into trouble until this tense political issue [is resolved,]” the source added.

[Radio Free Asia]

North Korea’s class system

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Since insight into North Korea is rare, as data or research is not available because of how isolated the country remains, insights from defectors and others involved with the country offer glimpses of what life is like on the inside.

For one, society in North Korea was highly fragmented by a class system.

There were three socio-political classifications that were based on North Korean citizens’ families, or their loyalty to the government, according to the Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson. These three groups were called the “core,” “wavering,” and “hostile” classes.
– The elites, those who fought foreigners, as well as those closest to the supreme leader, made up the core class.
– Peasants, laborers, and workers formed the second class.
– Those on the lowest rung were those who had opposed the elder Kim’s regime, or had previously worked with South Korea or Japan.

“And your life … ranging from residence, employment, education … is decided by the class system,” explains former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho. “I was lucky to be born into the ‘core’ class, the ruling class. That’s why I was able to get [an] elite education and a good job, and I lived in Pyongyang in good apartments… [but] there is a very strict class system structure in North Korea. … North Korea is just like the feudal dynasty of the Middle Ages.”

Despite being part of the upper echelon, Thae said he definitely wasn’t going to miss the life he left behind.

“The Kim family does not care about the human rights of individuals,” he stated. “They only care about their own interest.”

[Yahoo Finance]

North Korean defector explains why the next generation thinks differently about the United States

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Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho who defected in 2016 says there’s a generational divide over how the people in his country view the United States.

“The majority of the people in North Korea, nowadays they do not mind [the U.S.] — especially the millennials,” Thae told Yahoo Finance on the sidelines of the 2019 Oslo Freedom Forum.

“The core class [holds] very strong hatred towards the U.S. … and the people [are] brainwashed, that America is always looking [to] attack … but the millennials … think differently because they were the ones who have grown up with Windows systems and Microsoft”.

“So even though they were taught that America is their sworn enemy, everyone has computers and knowledge… they know Bill Gates,” he said, adding that North Korean millennials “are really thirsty for information. That’s why they are different from their previous generations.”

Geoffrey See, founder of Choson Exchange, which is a Singapore-based non-profit group that teaches business and entrepreneurship in North Korea, echoed Thae’s sentiment, adding that he also observed a sense of adventure among the youth.

“Choson Exchange has had close to 3,000 Koreans take part in our volunteer-led training on economic policy and entrepreneurship in North Korea,” See told Yahoo Finance. “We meet younger Koreans who feel stifled working in a large state-owned enterprises, and have built small scale operations manufacturing toothpaste or trucking goods. There is a rising trend of entrepreneurship among this group.”

[Yahoo Finance]

Meth in North Korea

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Former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho, who defected in 2016, says North Korea engages in state-sponsored drug trafficking, and is also now trying to fix a widespread domestic drug addiction epidemic.

“In North Korea, the drug addiction is really, really a problem,” Thae told Yahoo Finance on the sidelines of the 2019 Oslo Freedom Forum. “… [Meth is] even produced by individual families in North Korea.”

While statistics on the drug addiction problem in North Korea are scarce, several reports have emerged that fill in some gaps:
– “Meth, until recently, has been largely seen inside North Korea as a kind of very powerful energy drug — something like Red Bull, amplified,” Andrei Lankov, an expert on the North at Kookmin University in Seoul, South Korea told the New York Times.
– Youth addiction has become a serious social issue, the Daily NK noted earlier this year, with many people in their 20s and 30s — and even high school students — drinking and smoking crystal meth at “birthday parties.”
– According to a report by Radio Free Asia, crystal meth was a “best-selling holiday gift item” during the Lunar New Year.
– The situation has gotten so bad that the country has “developed” an injectable selenium, which can be used to treat the addiction, according to state media.

North Korea’s role in the meth trade is nothing new, Thae added. He said that most of the production was located “mainly in Hamgyong, in pharmaceutical factories.” The country’s second largest city, Hamhung, which is in the southern part of the Hamgyong province, is known to be a hub for crystal meth production.

But despite the country’s production over the years, “the international police system has not found any” evidence, Thae noted.

[Yahoo Finance]

Kim Jong Un says his relationship with Donald Trump is ‘special’

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Kim Jong Un has praised his “special” relationship with US President Donald Trump, with one of North Korea’s most respected diplomats telling state media the two leaders maintain “trust in each other.”

Kim Kye Gwan, a former nuclear negotiator who now serves as an adviser to the North Korean leader, said Kim Jong Un and Trump enjoy “close relations” — a statement that appeared to pin the future of diplomatic talks between Washington and Pyongyang on the two leaders’ unique connection.

The statement was surprisingly optimistic given working-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang in Sweden collapsed earlier this month. North Korean diplomats said they broke off those negotiations because of what they described as US intransigence. The State Department disagreed, saying the two sides had a “good discussion.”

North Korea has publicly expressed appreciation for Trump’s efforts, while criticizing those around him for appearing inflexible. Kim Kye Gwan echoed those sentiments in his statement, saying: “The problem is that contrary to the political judgment and intention of President Trump, Washington political circles and DPRK policy makers of the US administration are hostile to the DPRK for no reason, preoccupied with the Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice.

Referring to what Kim John Un said in a policy speech in April, that he would give the Trump administration until the end of the year to change its negotiating strategy, Kim Kye Gwan said, “There is a will, there is a way. We want to see how wisely the US will pass the end of the year.”

[CNN]

Radical changes to North Korean foreign exchange rate system

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A new North Korean publication has confirmed what has been rumored for some time: that markets are integral to the country’s official exchange rates. In any other country this would be the first sentence in a beginner’s textbook on foreign currency markets, but in the DPRK, this marks a major admission of the central role that markets play in North Korean life. 

The book “The Methodology of Monetary Issuance and Monetary Adjustment” has a lot to tell us about the future of market-oriented reforms under Kim Jong Un. Contrary to inferences drawn from other sources, this book indicates a level of consolidation and commitment to the use of market mechanisms in the management of the economy, and speaks to the leadership’s willingness to accept markets over central planning in a growing number of areas.

North Korea is a country where the word ‘market’ is rarely used in official publications, and where markets remain at the alleged margins of the economy. The fact that some of the country’s top minds in monetary economics openly admit the existence of a market-oriented exchange rate that is in widespread usage is a dramatic signal of just how serious the government is about reform. This has the hallmarks of naked and all-encompassing state capitalism, without private firms or private property outside the household, with a side-order of state socialist planning alongside.

All this represents a dramatic improvement on state socialism, and if other areas of economic policy – especially investment policy – and the sanctions situation improves, these kinds of measures may help to encourage economic growth and better lives for North Koreans. 

[Read full article at NK News]