Trump blaming China for hurting U.S.-North Korean relations

President Trump appears to be blaming China for derailing a U.S.-North Korea rapprochement, implying that it’s placing “tremendous pressure” on Pyongyang as a result of ongoing trade disputes between Washington and Beijing.

In a quartet of tweets on Wednesday, Trump issued what he called a White House statement saying he “feels strongly that North Korea is under tremendous pressure from China because of our major trade disputes with the Chinese Government. … At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with … considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities. This is not helpful!” he continued.

Even so, Trump said he believed his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was “a very good and warm one” and referred to “China’s great President Xi Jinping.”

The Trump statement also said Washington had “no reason” to resume the war games with South Korea that Trump agreed to suspend in June at the Singapore Summit with Kim. Those remarks seemed to contradict Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who told reporters on Tuesday that “We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying responded Thursday to the latest series of tweets, calling them an “irresponsible distortion of facts and logic,” Reuters reported.

After the conclusion of the historic June summit with Kim Jong Un, Trump noted past U.S. diplomatic failures with North Korea, saying, “Honestly, I think {Kim]’s going to do these things. I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong.’ ”

“I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that,” Trump added, “but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”

[NPR]

North Korean defector uses art as his weapon

Choi, 39, grew up blindly worshipping the Kim regime. His career in cartooning began when he drew a “patriotic” picture about Americans invading Korea and his artistic talents were spotted by a secondary schoolteacher. He went on to become an animator at North Korea’s premier animation studio.

Then, amongst second-hand computers smuggled from China, Choi discovered South Korean TV dramas. But watching such material is a crime in the North and the authorities banished him from the capital to the countryside when they discovered his activities.

“In North Korea, being banished from Pyongyang is the same as dying. People say Pyongyang and Seoul are 70 years apart, but Pyongyang and the countryside are separated by a century,” he said. “…The countryside exists only to support Pyongyang.”

Life outside the capital was so difficult that Choi decided to leave the country and head to the South via China. His family went ahead of him, but he spent six months in a camp as collective punishment. Choi made it out and reached the South in late 2010.

After settling in Seoul, Choi was determined to have an impact on people on both sides of the military demarcation line. He took up the pen to illustrate the deprivations of the North and the plight of North Korean women sold to Chinese men. He has also tried to bridge the cultural divide between the two people, making fun of the social differences between the North and South.

He smuggles the cartoons into North Korea in the hope of changing the population’s outlook, one mind at a time. He said smuggling from China is so rampant that it had created “an infrastructure” to influence North Korea.

[South China Morning Post]

A nine-year ordeal to make it to South Korea

Ji’s South Korean accent masks her nine-year ordeal of four escape attempts from the North, three repatriations from China, and starvation and torture in North Korean reeducation camps. Ji was also twice sold by human traffickers who wait on the Chinese side of the border to prey on fleeing women.

Ji has been outspoken about her experience, speaking on the international stage using her real name and using her traumatic times as inspiration for her books, poems and play. “As a defector, I want to tell South Koreans that they have to realize what they have. Freedom, happiness and love. Things that North Koreans desperately seek their entire life. South Koreans have something very valuable, but they have no idea how valuable it is,” she said.

Ji’s father was Chinese from an ethnic Korean minority who fled to North Korea during the Cultural Revolution. He stayed, had a family, and in 1998 arranged for his wife, two daughters and son to escape to South Korea via China. They left separately to avoid attracting attention, but Ji’s father was arrested in China and never seen again.

Ji was sent back to North Korea and interrogated. She tried to flee again later in the year but was caught by traffickers in China. She was eventually sent back to North Korea and to a camp where she and her fellow inmates endured extreme hardship. Ji became a Christian when she was in China and said she was forced to deny her religion during her incarceration.

A third escape effort also ended in failure and a stint at another camp, where the now pregnant Ji was forced to have an abortion without anaesthetic.

She made it China a fourth time and was again sold to traffickers. Finally, after six more years, she obtained a fake South Korean passport and took a ferry to the South, where she was reunited with her mother and siblings.

Ji had always dreamed of being a writer and when she reached the South, she used “the blood and sorrow of the dead as my ink, and their tortured and bruised bones as my pen”.

She said life could still be a struggle and – like other defectors – she had to take medication for epilepsy and sleeping disorders. “Most of us suffer from the consequences of torture,” Ji said.

[South China Morning Post]

Conservative writer calls Trump summit with Kim Jong Un a ‘giant blunder’

Conservative writer Bre Payton on Monday said she was dismayed by President Trump’s historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, asking how the president could not talk about “human rights abuses at all.”

“I was really upset when Donald Trump decided to meet with Kim Jong Un, shake his hand on the stage, have North Korean and American flags hung next to one another, I was honestly very, very upset by that — not talking human rights abuses at all, I mean how can you even do that?” Payton told Hill.TV’s Ned Ryun and Krystal Ball on “Rising.”

“However, I think the American people are willing to forgive that, in my opinion, giant blunder if it does result in better relations between North Korea and the United States,” she added.

Payton also said she wasn’t surprised by Trump’s decision to call off Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned visit to North Korea, which was scheduled for next week.  “We all knew that North Korea wasn’t going to denuclearize. … This is the one trick that they have,” she said.

Trump announced on Friday that Pompeo won’t be going to North Korea after all, saying the meeting was not appropriate “at this time” due to the lack of “sufficient progress” on denuclearization. This marked a rare admission by Trump that denuclearization is not going as well as hoped. But the president left talks open and didn’t rule out a future meeting with North Korea.

[The Hill]

Over 80% of North Korean defectors found to have tuberculosis

A report by the South Korean government’s settlement center for North Korean defectors revealed that 81 percent of over 3,000 tested people who fled from the North to the South were infected with tuberculosis (TB). Jeon Jeong-hee, a nursing officer at the Hanawon settlement center, released her findings at the “North Korea Tuberculosis and Healthcare Symposium” at the Seoul City Hall on Thursday.

Among those aged 40 or more, 90 percent were positive.

Jeon said such findings could signal that North Korea had difficulties in the distribution and supply of TB vaccines and not enough facilities to keep medicines refrigerated.

In the North, according to defectors, it was common to diagnose TB without any X-ray test to patients who had a fever or diagnose TB after touching the belly. The patients had to purchase TB drugs at a market without any prescription, they said.

For North Korean TB patients, it is difficult to buy TB treatments continuously because they are expensive. Considering a North Korean worker’s monthly wage is about 1,600 won on average, paying 15,000 won for a one-month streptomycin was a luxury.

Due to such financial burdens, North Koreans, including TB patients, turn to folk remedies, Jeon said. To treat TB, they took pear juice, ginger juice, traditional herbal medicines, and moxibustion.

[Korea Biomedical Review]

Illegal trade and activity have blossomed in North Korea

From the biggest cities to the smallest villages in North Korea, there is now some kind of market building where people can sell their wares and keep their profits. Some are state-run, some are state-sanctioned, some are ad hoc.

A doctor (42) who defected in 2014 explained, “The salary for doctors was about 3,500 won a month. That was less than it cost to buy one kilogram of rice! So of course, being a doctor was not my main job. My main job was smuggling at night. I would send herbal medicine from North Korea into China, and with the money, I would import home appliances back into North Korea. Rice cookers, notels, LCD monitors, that kind of thing.”

As the economy and the rules that govern it have change in North Korea, there are more and more gray areas that can be exploited which means that illegal trade and activity have also blossomed.

Said a drug dealer (46) who defected in 2014: “I worked as a broker transferring money and connecting people in North Korea with people in South Korea through phone calls. I arranged reunions for them in China. I also smuggled antiques out of North Korea, as well as ginseng and pheasants, and sold them in China.
“And I dealt ‘ice’ [methamphetamines]. 70 or 80 percent of the adults in Hoeryong city were using ice. My customers were just ordinary people. Police officers, security agents, party members, teachers, doctors. Ice made a really good gift for birthday parties or for high school graduation presents.
“It makes you feel good and helps you release stress. My 76-year-old mother was using it because she had low blood pressure, and it worked well.
“Lots of police officers and security agents would come to my house to smoke, and of course I didn’t charge them — they were my protection. They would come by my house during their lunch break. The head of the secret police in my area was almost living at my house.”

Increasingly, North Koreans are not fleeing their totalitarian state because they are hungry, as they did during the 15 or so years following the outbreak of a devastating famine in the mid-1990s. Now, they are leaving because they are disillusioned.

[Washington Post]

The market in the North Korean bastion of socialism

In theory, North Korea is a bastion of socialism, a country where the state provides everything, housing, health care, education and jobs.

In reality, at this point in time the state economy barely operates. People working in factories and fields find there is little for them to do, and they are paid almost nothing. Meanwhile, a vibrant private economy has sprung up out of necessity, one where people find ways to make money on their own, whether through selling homemade tofu or dealing drugs, smuggling small DVD players with screens called “notels” over the border, or extracting bribes.

As a university student who defected in 2013 related, “North Korea technically has a centrally planned economy, but now people’s lives revolve around the market. No one expects the government to provide things anymore. Everyone has to find their own way to survive.”

While men had to continue to show up for work in dormant factories, women would turn corn into noodles, and homeless children would steal manhole covers to sell as scrap metal.

A farmer who defected in 2014 recalls, “We lived in the city center, but we rented some land in the foothills and grew corn there. During planting and harvest season, we would wake up at 4 a.m. and walk three hours to reach the farmland. Besides a little break for lunch we’d work until 8 p.m. before walking home again. We’d then buy beans from the market and make tofu that we’d sell from our house. Our profit was less than 5,000 won [60 cents at the blackmarket rate] a day.”

Another defector adds, “It’s the women who can really make money in North Korea. My aunt was the main earner in the house. My uncle is in the military, so his position provided protection for my aunt’s business which was selling beans in the market. You also have to smooth the way with money.”

[Washington Post]

Defectors in Japan sue North Korea for millions over rights abuses

Five North Korean defectors in Japan filed a suit in Tokyo demanding Pyongyang pay ¥500 million [4.5 Million US Dollars] in damages over its alleged human rights abuses.

The suit was filed with Tokyo District Court and was the first legal action against the North Korean government by defectors, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The five claimed that North Korea asked Koreans living in Japan to return between 1959 and 1984 when the country advertised repeatedly through the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) that it was a “heaven on earth” where things such as clothing, food and shelter were secure.

The plaintiffs said they returned to North Korea between 1960 and 1972, but they were forced to live under harsh conditions including not being able to get food. They claim that North Korea committed an act of state-sponsored kidnapping by deceiving victims. They also said that their right to see their families in North Korea had been violated.

[Japan Times]

North Korea is planning a September celebration

North Korea is planning a party. Next month, the reclusive country will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. And there are signs that the event, which will take place Sept. 9, will be a celebration to watch.

Those observing the preparations for the event have spotted practice for a military parade, while tourist visas to the country have apparently been blocked–sparking speculation about who, exactly, the VIP guests could be.

The North Korean state cherishes anniversaries, using them to reinforce the tale of how their small, embattled state fought off bigger foes such as imperial Japan and the United States. This year’s DPRK anniversary event will be different, however. In many ways, the messaging behind it will be more complex.

North Korea was previously happy to menace the United States and other rivals with visions of military might as tensions escalated rapidly. Now, Pyongyang clearly views things differently. As such, although relations are nominally warmer with the United States, a surprise Trump visit to Pyongyang on Sept. 9 looks unlikely. Instead, many are expecting a different guest–Chinese President Xi Jinping–whose presence would send a message to Washington that it isn’t the only game in town.

[Washington Post]

Recent North Korean defectors on how things have changed under Kim Jong Un

When Kim Jong Un became the leader of North Korea almost six years ago, many North Koreans thought that their lives were going to improve. In six months of interviews in South Korea and Thailand, The Washington Post talked with more than 25 North Koreans from different walks of life who lived under Kim Jong Un and defected. Some highlights:

A young mother (29) who defected in 2014 – “I could see how young he was, and I hoped that maybe things were going to get better.”

A student (37) who defected in 2013 – “I was in my second year at the university when this person was introduced to us as our new leader. I thought it was a joke. Among my closest friends, we were calling him a piece of s—. Everyone thinks this, but you can only say it to your closest friends or to your parents if you know that they agree.”

A drug dealer (46) who defected in 2014 – “I created some kind of fantasy in my mind about Kim Jong Un. Because he was so young, I thought he was going to open North Korea’s doors, but after he took power and I lived three years under him, life became harder.”