Monthly Archives: June 2017

China condemns US sanctions over ‘North Korea funding’

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China has reacted angrily to a US decision to impose sanctions on a Chinese bank, the Bank of Dandong, accused of laundering North Korean money.  A foreign ministry spokesman urged the US to “stop wrongful actions” to avoid harming co-operation.

The US announced the move, as well as sanctions on a Chinese shipping company and two Chinese nationals, on Thursday. It said the blacklisting was aimed at cutting funds to North Korea’s weapons programs.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told a news conference, the move was not a response to Chinese inaction on North Korea, saying: “This is not directed at China, this is directed at a bank, as well as individuals and entities in China.”

The UN has already imposed several rounds of sanctions on Pyongyang, but China is widely seen as the nation most able to impose economic pain on North Korea.

The sanctions mean that the Bank of Dandong will be barred from doing business in the US. Mr Mnuchin said that the US could impose more sanctions in the future.

The sanctions were announced as new South Korean President Moon Jae-in held talks with President Trump in Washington.

In a separate development, the US announced the sale of $1.42bn (£1.09bn) worth of arms to Taiwan, the first such transaction under the Trump administration. US arms sales to Taiwan always anger Beijing because it considers the self-governing island part of its territory. In a statement, the Chinese embassy in Washington called on the US to revoke its decision, saying China had “every right to be outraged”.

Earlier in the week, the US also placed China on its list of the worst offenders in human trafficking and forced labor – the first major move by the new administration over Beijing’s human rights record.


North Korea’s big guns

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North Korea’s military exercises leave little doubt that Pyongyang plans to use large numbers of nuclear weapons against U.S. forces throughout Japan and South Korea to blunt an invasion. In fact, the word that official North Korean statements use is “repel.”

North Korean defectors have claimed that the country’s leaders hope that by inflicting mass casualties and destruction in the early days of a conflict, they can force the United States and South Korea to recoil from their invasion.

This isn’t new. This threat has been present for more than 20 years. “It is widely known inside North Korea that [the nation] has produced, deployed, and stockpiled two or three nuclear warheads and toxic material, such as over 5,000 tons of toxic gases,” Choi Ju-hwal, a North Korean colonel who defected, told a U.S. Senate subcommittee in 1997.

For years North Korea has had extensive batteries of conventional artillery–an estimated 8,000 big guns–just north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), which is less than 40 miles from Seoul, South Korea’s capital, a metropolitan area of more than 25 million people. One high-ranking U.S. military officer who commanded forces in the Korean theater, now retired, told me he’d heard estimates that if a grid were laid across Seoul dividing it into three-square-foot blocks, these guns could, within hours, “pepper every single one.” This ability to rain ruin on the city is a potent existential threat to South Korea’s largest population center, its government, and its economic anchor. Shells could also deliver chemical and biological weapons.

Adding nuclear ICBMs to this arsenal would put many more cities in the same position as Seoul. Nuclear-tipped ICBMs, according to Lewis, are the final piece of a defensive strategy “to keep Trump from doing anything regrettable after Kim Jong Un obliterates Seoul and Tokyo.”

[The Atlantic]

Trump meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in

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The Trump administration is considering a wider range of strategies on how to deal with North Korea, including the military option, Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster said Wednesday. He said it would be insanity to continue to do the same thing the U.S. has done for years and expect a different result.

McMaster’s comments come a day before Trump is scheduled to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. South Korea’s new leader vowed to stand firmly with Trump against North Korea, downplaying his past advocacy for a softer approach toward the isolated regime. The talks between Moon and Trump, which begin with dinner on Thursday night and then formal talks on Friday, come amid intense wrangling over North Korea.

China is pushing the United States to start negotiations with North Korea. That prospect appears unlikely as Trump grows frustrated over Beijing’s level of economic pressure on the North, its wayward ally.

President Moon told The Washington Post that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “unreasonable” and “very dangerous” and that pressure was necessary. But Moon said sanctions alone would not solve the problem, and dialogue was needed “under the right conditions.”

The THAAD missile defense is also expected to be on the agenda. Seoul delayed the full deployment of the U.S. system that is intended to protect South Korea and the 28,000 U.S. forces on the peninsula.

[Fox news]

Defecting through the DMZ

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The Demilitarized Zone or DMZ is a strip of land 250km (155 miles) long and 4km (2.5 miles) wide that runs across the Korean Peninsula, heavily mined and fortified with barbed wire, rows of surveillance cameras and electric fencing.

It is also closely guarded by tens of thousands of troops on both sides, making it almost impossible to walk across.

Yet on June 13th a North Korean soldier defected to the South by walking across that heavily protected DMZ separating the two sides. The North Korean soldier, who has not been officially identified, approached a South Korean guard post to surrender himself.

And this is the third defection by a North Korean soldier via the DMZ in the last three years, one in September 2016 and before that, in June 2015.

Nobody knows the number of unsuccessful attempts to cross the DMZ have been made by desperate defectors-to-be. If spotted by the North Korean military, those trying to cross the DMZ would certainly be taken to a detention center to be interrogated. They could be tried and sentenced to lengthy terms in labor camps.


North Korean comfort food in Seoul

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The little restaurant isn’t much to look at. But people come from across South Korea to eat here.

They come for the potato pancakes, the blood sausage and, very often, for a fried street food that many dreamed of back when nearly everyone they knew was hungry. More than anything, though, they come for memories the food brings back of an outcast homeland they may never see again.

“This is the taste of where they came from,” says the restaurant’s owner, a refugee who asks to be identified only by her surname, Choi. “The food here tastes the way it does in North Korea.”

More than 30,000 North Koreans now live in South Korea. Raised amid dictatorial dysfunction, and normally poorly educated, the exiles stumble into a brutally competitive nation where they are regularly disdained by their neighbors.

“Chon-nom” they are often called – “bumpkin.” That derision, combined with their own disillusionment, can churn into a stew of suspicion, resentment and ambivalence. And though they may hate the nation they left behind, many also miss it deeply. Because how can you not miss home?

“Our lives here can be so difficult,” said a North Korean now living in the South. “But finding that restaurant made me so happy.” Choi has built them a tiny island of North Korean life that in a burst of optimism she named Howol-ilga, “People from Different Homelands Come to Gather in One Place.”

“My place is a comfort for them,” says Choi, 39, in a Northern accent so thick it can be barely comprehensible at first to Southerners. “When they come here and find a menu so similar to what they ate back home, they know they can relax.”

That doesn’t surprise Sonia Ryang, an anthropologist at Rice University in Texas who grew up in a pro-North Korea community in Japan, and who has written extensively about the North. To smell injogogibap was to dream of filling your stomach at a time when starvation was wiping out entire neighborhoods. “Far from not wanting to remember, they want to remember,” says Ryang. “Because it was proof that they were alive.”

Choi’s explanation is simpler. During the famine, she says, food was something that could always make people happy.


Success in taking out Kim Jong Un would create the largest humanitarian crisis of modern times

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A number of national-security experts and military officers who have wrestled with the North Korea problem for years have also planned and prepared for real conflict.

Among four broad strategic options for dealing with North Korea and its burgeoning nuclear program would be a crushing U.S. military strike to eliminate Pyongyang’s arsenals of mass destruction, take out its leadership, and destroy its military.

However, the cost of even a perfect first strike would be appalling. With only a few of its worst weapons, North Korea could, probably within hours, kill millions. This means an American first strike would likely trigger one of the worst mass killings in human history.

But suppose, just for argument’s sake, that a preventive strike could work without any of the collateral damage described.

What would be left? North Korea, a country of more than 25 million people, would be adrift. Immediate humanitarian relief would be necessary to prevent starvation and disease. An interim government would have to be put in place. If Iraq was a hard country to occupy and rebuild, imagine a suddenly stateless North Korea, possibly irradiated and toxic, its economy and infrastructure in ruins. There could still be hidden stockpiles of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons scattered around the country, which would have to be found and secured before terrorists got to them.

“Success,” in other words, would create the largest humanitarian crisis of modern times–Syria’s miseries would be a playground scuffle by comparison.

[The Atlantic]

Another North Korean soldier defects

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A North Korean soldier has fled to South Korea by swimming across the Han River, the second defection in a week.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the man had swum across a particularly narrow part of the fast-moving river after attaching foam to his shoulders to help him stay afloat.

Last week, a North Korean soldier walked across the heavily-guarded border that separates the countries.

The latest defector, thought to be in his early twenties, was spotted at Gimpo, just west of the southern capital Seoul, Yonhap news agency reported. He screamed “Don’t kill me, I am here to defect”, at a South Korean marine who had seen him.

More than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the Korean War, the majority via China, which has a long border with North Korea.


North Korea defectors find haven in London suburb

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Around 5,300 miles from North Korea’s brutal dictatorship, the bland commuter suburb of New Malden (“Little Pyongyang”) has become an improbable home to hundreds of escapees.

New Malden sits on the edge of the British capital and the rural county of Surrey. It’s the type of place that, despite its ZIP code, most city-dwellers might dismiss as not-really-London. It boasts a huge Korean population, officially around 3,500 but with some estimates putting it closer to 20,000 in the wider borough. Of this community, several hundred are North Korean — making it the largest such community in Europe and one of the biggest outside the Korean Peninsula.

Kim Kwang Myong’s story is a common one. Like many people here, he fled North Korea but left family members behind. The regime often exercises a merciless policy of collective punishment against remaining relatives, sending them to labor camps, or worse. “My big brother is currently in prison in North Korea and he’s not getting released any time soon,” Kim Kwang Myong told NBC News. “The reason he is in prison is because of us fleeing the country.”

Picking his moment, Kim bribed some border guards to vacate a stretch of North Korea’s river border with China, allowing him to cross with his wife and two children. That was 20 years ago.  He has since lived illegally in China and then in South Korea before coming to the U.K. four years ago.

Kim has tried to help his relatives who stayed behind by sending them money. It was this that led to them being punished after authorities discovered the transactions. “My younger brother was sent to prison and stayed there for one year but got released. But my big brother has not been so lucky,” he said.

His family has suffered, and that knowledge weighs heavily on Kim.

[NBC]                                                                                                                   Read more

Do-or-die decisions and a family ripped in two

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King is a North Korean defector living in New Malden. A 34-year-old restaurateur who runs a Korean barbecue, he only wants to be identified by his nickname “King” amid fears of his family being punished.

His story is also one of heart-wrenching do-or-die decisions and a family ripped in two.

King fled his homeland with his mother and sister when he was aged 18. But his father, a high school teacher who felt loyalty to his job and fear of the regime, stayed behind. As punishment for his family’s actions, his father was fired and sent to a labor camp.

Totalitarian North Korea restricts every aspect of public life, throwing people into Nazi-style camps for crimes as petty as “gossiping” about the state. Ordinary citizens are not allowed to access the internet or the international press, instead having to rely on the propaganda of North Korea’s state-run media.

Nowadays, King only gets to speak to his dad once every two or three years, on the rare occasion his father can get an illicit cellphone capable of making international calls. He hasn’t spoken to any of his friends since he left.

“Yes, I miss them, of course, but I have friends here now,” King said. He quietly added: “It’s difficult to talk about my life here and my life in North Korea.”

In a way, his family’s hand was forced. Before they fled, his aunt had already escaped to China and they risked being punished by proxy if they stayed put.

“We were at a crossroads whether to be sent to prison or fleeing from the country,” he said.

[NBC]                                                                                                                    Read more

Defector: “The difference is like hell and heaven”

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In the rooms above the Korea Foods superstore in New Malden are the unglamorous offices of Free NK, a North Korean newspaper run by Kim Joo Il, another defector.

“If you actually compare two lives, one in North Korea and the other one in New Malden, the difference is like hell and heaven,” the 43-year-old told NBC News.

When he lived in North Korea, he served as an officer in the Korean People’s Army and it was his job to catch defectors. He knew the risks of trying to flee. “They were all dealt with by military law, which meant public execution,” Kim Joo Il said.

According to him, the country’s feared secret police has a network of spies so extensive that one out of every three citizens is an informant. “Your lives are under surveillance every single moment,” he said. “Kim Jong Un has told his people that the tiniest thing, even the drop of a needle to the floor, should be reported back to him.”

Despite being aware of the potential consequences, he decided to take his chances and make a break for it across the Chinese border. “This is not a choice that you make in a day,” he said. “This is based on a long-term emotional process. You make up your mind to escape from North Korea, and then you give up on the idea, and then you make up your mind again, and then you give up again. You go through this process so many times you cannot imagine how many times.”

Kim Joo Il was single when he fled, but he had to consider the consequences his escape would have on his remaining family members. “It’s not just the family that you have in mind, you’ve got to actually be prepared to die, really, while escaping,” he said. “Personally it took me eight years to finally make up my mind and in the eighth year I made my escape.”

From China, he walked, hitched rides, and scraped together enough money for the occasional train or bus fare. He traveled through Vietnam, Cambodia and finally Thailand, where he got a plane ticket to the U.K.

He publishes the Free NK newspaper both in print and online, employing around five members of staff — both North and South Koreans — and highlighting the atrocities the regime is inflicting on his countrymen. Not only does he circulate the newspaper locally, he sends the digital files to South Korea where they are printed out, attached to balloons and dropped over North Korea as anti-regime propaganda.

Now well-known as a figurehead in the New Malden community, Kim Joo Il is determined to be a thorn in the side of the dictatorship.