Chinese experts warn about North Korean nuclear arsenal

China’s top nuclear experts have increased their estimates of North Korea’s nuclear weapons production well beyond most previous U.S. figures, suggesting Pyongyang can make enough warheads to threaten regional security for the U.S. and its allies.

The latest Chinese estimates, relayed in a closed-door meeting with U.S. nuclear specialists, showed that North Korea may already have 20 warheads, as well as the capability of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double its arsenal by next year, according to people briefed on the matter.

Adm. William Gortney, head of U.S. Northern Command, said this month that defense officials believe North Korea can now mount a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile called the KN-08. U.S. officials don’t believe the missile has been tested, but experts estimate it has a range of about 5,600 miles —within reach of the western edge of the continental U.S., including California.

The latest Chinese estimates of North Korea’s nuclear capability were shared during a February meeting at the China Institute of International Studies, the Chinese foreign ministry’s think tank. The estimate that North Korea may have had 20 warheads at the end of last year—and could build 20 more by 2016—was given during a presentation by one of China’s top uranium enrichment experts, according to people familiar with the meeting. They said it was the first time they had heard such a high Chinese estimate.

[The Wall Street Journal]

10 months of North Korean torture and then transferred to prison camp

Jung Gwang Il is sitting in a comfortable hotel room in Seoul, South Korea, recalling the hell he endured when he still lived in North Korea.

He describes something that resembles waterboarding and being shocked repeatedly with live wires. Worse, he says, was “pigeon torture,” where his hands were bound behind his back and fastened to a wall at a height that made squatting or standing impossible. He was forced to lean forward, twisting in agony for days, his chest puffed like a pigeon’s breast. “It was so awful because they could just leave me there for a week, and I’d be tortured without them having to do anything,” he says. “That’s how evil they are.”

Jung ended 10 months of torture by confessing to spying — a crime he hadn’t committed — and was sent to a prison camp where he slept in barracks with 600 other men. The slave labor and lack of food took a toll: He arrived weighing 167 pounds and left three years later at 79 pounds, his teeth bashed into stubs.

Now a defector living in South Korea — with a new set of teeth — Jung, 51, is determined to inflict maximum damage on the regime of supreme leader Kim Jong Un to the north. His primary weapon is not military arms but rather the Western media he smuggles into his former country, designed to embarrass the regime and expose the lies told by its propagandists and believed by its subjects. Educational material and entertainment both are popular within North Korea’s black market, but the latter is more effective because it is more difficult to demonize as propaganda.

[Hollywood Reporter]

On North Korea’s growing economy

The textile factories of Dandong China, just across the Yalu River from North Korea, producing “made in China” goods offer a glimpse into a hidden world that is helping North Korea’s economy to thrive. Operated by North Koreans, the factories produce clothes and other goods that are exported under foreign-company labels, making it impossible to tell that they have been made with North Korean hands and contribute to North Korean profits.

The thriving operations belie the perception in Washington that U.S. and international sanctions are working to strangle North Korea’s ability to make money. An estimate by South Korea’s Hyundai Research Institute forecasts that the North’s economy will grow this year by a whopping 7 percent.

A lot of that growth comes through Dandong, a hive of North Korean and Chinese managers and traders, with middlemen helping them all cover their tracks. One local Chinese businessman estimates that one-quarter of this city’s population of 800,000 is involved in doing business with North Korea in some way.

In a typical clothing factory, the women work 13 hours a day, 28 or 29 days a month, and are paid $300 each a month—one-third of which they keep. The rest goes back to the government in Pyongyang. North Korea is thought to have at least 50,000 workers outside the country earning money for the regime, with 13,000 of them working in Dandong.

North Korea’s economy is still a basket case, barely more than one-fiftieth the size of South Korea’s. But in talking about the changes underway, the businessmen described a North Korean economy that is increasingly run according to market principles, where people want to be in business, not the bureaucracy, and where money talks.

Reports from inside North Korea suggest that even state-run companies are increasingly operated according to market principles, with managers empowered to hire and fire workers—previously unimaginable in the communist nation—and conduct businesses the way they see best.

Nevertheless, there are frustrations in China. A huge development project is on ice, partly because of the demise of Jang Song Thaek, the businessman and uncle of Kim Jong Un who was executed at the end of 2013, because of his “decadent capitalist lifestyle.” Since then, Jang’s colleagues have been recalled to Pyongyang or have disappeared—sometimes with millions of dollars in Chinese money, according to businessmen in Dandong. Beijing is clearly none too happy about this.

[Washington Post]

Christian missionaries accused of human trafficking by North Korea

North Korea has accused Christian missionaries of human trafficking, according to the Christian Post.

“There are in the northeastern area of China so-called churches and priests exclusively engaged in hostile acts against the DPRK,” said So Se Pyong, North Korea’s ambassador to the U.N. “They indoctrinate the illegal border crossers with anti-DPRK ideology and send them back to the DPRK with assignments of subversion, destruction, human trafficking and even terrorist acts.”

Pyong’s remarks come on the heels of an official report released by Kim Jong Un’s government that called the U.S. a “living hell” where rights are ruthlessly violated.

“Such poor human right (sic) records in the U.S. are an inevitable product of the ruling quarters’ policy against humanity … Its chief executive, Obama, indulges himself in luxury almost every day, squandering hundred millions of dollars on his foreign trip in disregard of his people’s wretched life.”

North Korea is considered the worst persecutor of Christians by numerous human rights watchdog groups, notably Open Doors. “Forced to meet only in secret, they dare not share their faith even with their families, for fear of imprisonment in a labor camp. Anyone discovered engaging in secret religious activity may be subject to arrest, disappearance, torture, even public execution.”

[Worthy News]

North Korean propaganda chief makes way for Kim Jong Un sister?

An octogenarian dinosaur in the North Korean regime seems to have finally retired and made way for leader Kim Jong-un’s sister.

Footage shows Kim Ki-nam (86), the one-time secretary of North Korea’s Workers Party, sitting in the third pew alongside vice-ministerial officials rather than on the leaders’ platform during the third session of the Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang on April 9.

Kim Ki-nam was also not seen on the leaders platform at a rally marking the 103rd birthday of regime founder Kim Il-sung last Tuesday.

This suggests he has retired from his job and assumed an honorary post.

It is highly likely that Kim Jong-un’s sister Yeo-jong has replaced him.

“Kim Jong-un probably appointed his sister, whom he can trust, as party secretary for propaganda,” a source speculated. “Kim Ki-nam’s old age was a consideration for a post that is in charge of idolizing the young leader.”

[Chosun Ilbo]

US Court awards $330 Million to family of slain missionary in landmark judgment against North Korea

A U.S. court has awarded $330 million to Shurat HaDin, on behalf of the U.S.-based family of Rev. Kim Dong-Shik, a Christian missionary and activist who was abducted by North Korean agents inside China and later killed in North Korea, the Christian Post reported.

“The United States District Court for the District of Columbia awarded the family $330 million — which includes $15 million dollars each to Kim’s son and brother, as well as $300 million in punitive damages — against the government of North Korea.

” ‘This is an important human rights decision that will be utilized in all political abduction cases going forward,’ Nitsana Darshan-Leitner the group’s director said.”

North Korea’s first lady Ri Sol-Ju appears in public for first time this year

North Korea’s first lady has appeared in public for the first time this year as part of celebrations marking the birthday of the country’s founding leader Kim Il-Sung. Ri has been out of the spotlight since December for unknown reasons.

A grinning Ri Sol-Ju, wearing what appeared to be a wedding ring on her left hand, was pictured clapping next to her smiling husband Kim Jong-Un during a men’s football match at Kim Il Sung Stadium on Monday, the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The images of the couple at a podium flanked by top party officials were published in state media.

The match was being held as part of a lavish series of events celebrating the 103rd birthday of Kim Il-Sung, the young leader’s grandfather, which fell on Wednesday. North Korea designated the “Day of the Sun” as a rare two-day national holiday, with art performances, exhibitions and sporting events, and pilgrimages to the late leader’s birthplace in Pyongyang.