Monthly Archives: February 2019

No deal summit no surprise to North Korean defectors

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The abrupt end to the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un came as no surprise to North Korean defectors in the south.

Cha Ri-hyuk, 33, told AFP that he was not shocked by the no deal outcome. “I knew that Kim Jong Un would never give up the nukes. If the two countries were to make an agreement, I think they would have done it in Singapore last year,” added Cha, who left North Korea in 2013.

Jo Young-hwa, aged 39, who defected a year earlier, said his countrymen “don’t care” about the summits. “Whenever I talk to them in the North, they are not interested. They don’t bother trying to learn anything about it,” he said.

The no deal outcome will come as a huge disappointment for South Korea’s president, who had touted the summit as a “remarkable breakthrough” for peace negotiations on the Korean peninsula. And in Seoul’s main railway station, dozens of people of all ages were glued to TV screens, sombre faced as Trump explained why he and Kim had failed to reach an agreement.

Some expressed sympathy for the North Korean leader. “I feel bad for Kim Jong Un who made a very long train journey to get to Hanoi only to walk away from the meeting with empty hands,” said Jang Ho-su, 36, a government employee.

Lee Gap-yong, a 71-year-old a taxi driver, said Trump could have been “more flexible. I think he wanted too much out of Kim, to an extent that Kim could not agree to.”


Trump and Kim Jong un cut short their summit

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President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly cut short their two-day summit in Hanoi Thursday after the two leaders failed to reach an agreement to dismantle that country’s nuclear weapons.

Although Kim said he was ready in principle to denuclearize, his talks with Trump collapsed unexpectedly as the two men and their delegations departed their meeting site in Vietnam’s capital city without sitting for a planned lunch and or participating in a signing ceremony.

Trump said he felt he had to “walk” from the negotiating table, in part because Kim wanted the United States to lift economic sanctions on North Korea in their entirety.

“It was about the sanctions,” the president said. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that. They were willing to denuke a large portion of the areas that we wanted, but we couldn’t give up all of the sanctions for that.”

For Trump, the surprising turn of events amounted to a diplomatic failure after he had hoped his second summit with Kim, following their meeting last summer in Singapore, would produce demonstrable progress toward North Korea’s denuclearization.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “I wish we could have gotten a little bit further,” but added that he was optimistic about the progress that was been made simply by meeting.

Sitting beside Kim on Thursday morning, Trump said the pair had enjoyed very good discussions over dinner the night before, with “a lot of great ideas being thrown about,” adding that “importantly, I think the relationship is, you know, just very strong. And when you have a good relationship, a lot of good things happen.”

Asked if he was confident the pair would reach a deal, Kim was equally guarded. “It’s too early to tell. I won’t prejudge,” Kim said in reply to the question from a Washington Post reporter, a rare response from a North Korean leader to an independent journalist. “From what I feel right now, I do have a feeling that good results will come.”

White House aides have said the president is determined to sell Kim on a vision of modernization and present him with a choice between continued isolation or burgeoning economic growth if he gives up the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Both Kim and Trump also said they would welcome the idea of opening a U.S. liaison office in the North Korean capital. Washington does not have direct diplomatic representation in Pyongyang.

[Washington Post]

Kim Jong Un and Trump’s Tuesday arrivals in Vietnam 

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China blocked off roads along train tracks and censored online mentions of the train’s whereabouts. Vietnam repaved roads, decked out its capital with flowers and flags, and literally rolled out the red carpet.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday morning after taking the long route from Pyongyang for his second, closely watched summit with President Trump. He made the 2½-day, 2,800-mile journey through China by his preferred mode of transport: armored train.

Kim’s train arrived early Tuesday in the border town of Dong Dang, where he was greeted with fanfare by Vietnamese authorities. From there, a stretch limousine took him the rest of the way to Hanoi, where he arrived 2½ hours later in a motorcade that included at least a dozen police motorcycles and cars. Onlookers stood behind street barricades and waved North Korean, Vietnamese and American flags.

President Trump arrived on Air Force One later Tuesday. Landing in darkness, he waved as he disembarked Air Force One and was met by senior Vietnamese and U.S. officials. His motorcade passed crowds waving the flags of Vietnam, the United States and North Korea on its way to the JW Marriott Hotel, his accommodation for the two-day summit.

The two leaders are scheduled to dine together Wednesday evening before the summit gets underway on Thursday.

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump heads to North Korean Summit ahead of wild Washington DC week

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President Trump will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their second summit in Vietnam, just as the President’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen testifies before Congress and lawmakers vote on Trump’s national emergency.

Anticipation has also been rising about the impending release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, although a senior U.S. Justice Department official said on Friday it would not come this week.

Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen is due to testify in a public hearing before a U.S. congressional committee on Wednesday and the panel’s chairman said Trump’s business practices would be a focus of the testimony.

Through Lunar New Year feast, North Korean defectors draw attention to their plight

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As Minji Kim sliced spring onions and stirred pots of broth with dumplings in a pop-up kitchen in east London, the North Korean defector beamed with pride knowing that dozens of Britons had come to celebrate Lunar New Year and taste North Korean cuisine.  Kim, who declined to reveal her real name fearing repercussions since her family is still in North Korea, said she was delighted to demonstrate how to make her country’s specialities. “I feel grateful because, in a way, it means that there’s interest in North Korean people and culture,” the 42-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation through a translator.

Kim is one of about 700 North Korean refugees living in New Malden, southwest of London, who have fled the regime accused of widespread human rights abuses.

Another refugee, Jihyun Park, who was granted asylum in Britain in 2008, said she hoped efforts like the Lunar New Year event could help raise awareness of their plight. “When we eat together and have a meal and we talk … we can learn about other people, they also learn about us,” said Park, who is also an outreach manager with Connect North Korea, the group that organized the event and also provides English classes for refugees.

Though she has lived in Britain for a decade, Park said the existence of the North Korean community in the country remains under the radar. “Many people are surprised that there are North Koreans here. They say, ‘You are really North Korean?’ said Park, a former maths teacher who was sold to a Chinese farmer when she crossed the border into China.

Safe passage for defectors fleeing the oppressive regime often depends on their ability to make the grueling, and at times dangerous, trip across rural China without being detected.  Activists believe thousands of North Koreans are in hiding in China. Those sent back to the totalitarian state risk incarceration, forced labor and even execution.

Park said she hopes the international community will do more to help defectors and speak up against the regime. “No one helps us. It’s up to ourselves to find freedom. This world is always silent,” Park said.


North Korea pushing new loyalty campaign

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North Korea is stepping up a new loyalty campaign as leader Kim Jong Un prepares for his second summit with President Donald Trump. The campaign began last month with the introduction of a song in praise of the nation’s flag.

A video now being aired on state-run television to promote the song — called “Our National Flag” — shows repeated images of the flag being raised at international sports competitions and being formed by a sea of people holding up colored lengths of cloth at a parade and rally on Kim Il Sung Square. Other images show recent improvements in the economy and standard of living, a reflection of a current government policy shift that focuses on development and prosperity.

The video is a departure from the tone of the propaganda that dominated just two years ago, when tensions with Washington were escalating and the focus was on North Korea’s successful missile tests. In the summer of 2017, the country’s most popular musical group, the all-female Moranbong Band, released “The Song of the Hwasong Rocket” to commemorate the successful launch of North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. They also performed at concerts with big-screen images of the ICBM behind them.

Lyrics to “Our National Flag” have been distributed widely. Large posters showing the flag and the lyrics are being displayed in factories. The song opens with the lines, “As we watch our blue-red banner flying sky high, our hearts are bursting with the blood of patriotism. We feel the breath of our nation as the flag strongly flaps in the wind. The flag as important as life carries the fate of our people. We will love the shining flag of our nation. Please fly until the end of this world.”

Coming after years of what had seemed to be deepening hostility, Kim’s outreach to Washington and his Chinese and South Korean neighbors presents a bit of a conundrum for North Korea’s propaganda chiefs. Few details of Kim’s negotiations with Trump over the future of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal have been made public in the North. The official media have instead focused on how Kim has been welcomed on the world stage and asserted that he is leading the way to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

[Associated Press]

North Korean defector: Adapting to rules and norms of a new culture

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When Jessie first arrived in South Korea, she was overwhelmed: She was by herself, in an unfamiliar country.  So much was unknown: how to get around, where to study, how to make new friends, and even where to buy groceries.

She wasn’t used to this new culture’s rules and norms. The first time she heard someone publicly criticize the South Korean president she was stunned. Freely expressing any negative thoughts about the government was unheard of in North Korea.

Jessie now understands her new culture and loves her freedoms, especially being able to watch whatever dramas she wants without fear of punishment.

South Korea has become her home, but she still longs for the day she can return to North Korea. Her parents have both passed away and she wants to go and pay her respects in person.


Key challenges at Trump-Kim February summit

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US President Donald Trump has said he will hold a second nuclear summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam on 27-28 February. The two leaders face a number of challenges as they prepare for the meeting:

1: Getting past the pageantry – Both Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un made the most of the press extravaganza surrounding their choreographed reconciliation at the Singapore summit in June 2018. But the vaguely worded statement it produced hasn’t resulted in any concrete action towards the US goal of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and Pyongyang is frustrated by Washington’s refusal to ease sanctions. So the pressure’s on for them to come up with something tangible.

2: Getting on the same page – At the Singapore summit, the US and North Korea agreed to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”. But they didn’t say what that meant, which gets to the heart of whether a deal is even possible. But last week the State Department’s North Korea envoy Stephen Biegun at least acknowledged the disconnect over disarmament goals, and said coming to an agreement with the North Koreans would have to happen “over time”.

3: Getting action on denuclearization – Pyongyang has offered to destroy all its facilities for making nuclear bomb fuel, according to Mr Biegun, if the Trump administration takes “corresponding measures”. The Americans seem to be softening their demands for significant denuclearization steps upfront, apparently adopting more of the action-for-action approach advocated by Mr Kim.

4: Getting realistic? – Virtually anyone in Washington who knows anything about North Korea thinks that Kim Jong-un won’t abandon his nuclear weapons programme. It’s too important a deterrent, director of national intelligence Dan Coats told a Senate committee last week. He said the country’s leaders “ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival”, especially against a US attempt to overthrow it. Some former Pentagon officials go so far as to argue that it would make more sense to pursue dialogue on arms control, rather than arms elimination.


Defectors say Christians in North Korea face terrible persecution

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While Donald Trump says there is a “good chance” of reaching a deal on North Korean nuclear disarmament, the plight of Christians in North Korea remains dismal, an Associated Press report revealed this week.

Defectors say Christians in North Korea face terrible persecution. Even Christians who stay deep underground face danger, defectors now living in South Korea told the wire service.

Defectors’ stories include that of Kwak Jeong-ae, 65, who said a fellow inmate in North Korea told guards about her own religious beliefs and insisted on using her baptized name, rather than her original Korean name, during questioning in 2004: “She persisted in saying, ‘My name is Hyun Sarah; it’s the name that God and my church have given to me,’” Kwak said. “She told (the interrogators), ‘I’m a child of God and I’m not scared to die. So if you want to kill me, go ahead and kill me.’”

Kwak said Hyun told her about what she did during the interrogations, and Hyun’s actions were confirmed to Kwak by another inmate who was interrogated alongside her. Kwak said she later saw Hyun, then 23, coming back from an interrogation room with severe bruises on her forehead and bleeding from her nose. Days later, guards took Hyun away for good.

Another defector said she only prayed under a blanket or in the bathroom because of worries of being caught. Another, who was jailed after being repatriated from China, where many Koreans took refuge during a 1990s-era famine, described praying silently in his jail cell after a hungry fellow prisoner shared some precious kernels of corn. “We communicated by writing on our palms (with our fingers),” he told AP. “I told him I was a Christian and asked whether he was too.”

Jung Gwangil, a North Korean defector-turned-activist, and one of the few who allowed AP to use his name in print, said he saw a man praying and singing hymns when they were held together at a detention facility in the northern city of Hoeryong in October 1999. The man was beaten frequently and one day was hauled away, Jung said. “While leaving, he shouted to us, ‘God will save you.’ I hadn’t encountered Christianity before at the time, and [at the time] I thought he was crazy,” Jung told the wire service.


North Korean human rights left behind

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A year ago, the White House was lit with glowing Christmas trees when Ji Seong-ho arrived for a holiday reception, an opu­lence he could not have imagined as a boy in North Korea. In the Grand Foyer, to the strains of the U.S. Marine Band, Ji made a wish that his former countrymen would “be liberated one day” and witness such grandeur.

Ji rose to prominence as an activist after defecting to South Korea and played a key role in President Trump’s risky strategy to build the international pressure that helped bring North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table over his nuclear weapons program.

Trump shared Ji’s personal story during his State of the Union address to shine a light on the brutality of Kim’s regime and praise the human spirit to overcome tyranny in a bid for freedom. It was an emotional appeal to the world that, beyond the existential nuclear threat, North Korea’s authoritarian leader was enacting savagery on his own people every day. Watching from first lady Melania Trump’s box in the House chambers, Ji stood and raised a pair of crutches over his head — a reminder of his amputated leg — to a standing ovation from both political parties.

Much has changed. Since Ji’s starring role in last year’s State of the Union, Trump has said almost nothing about the plight of the North Korean people, more than 100,000 of whom are estimated to be held in hard-labor prison camps. Instead, the president has abruptly shifted from a “fire and fury” condemnation of the North to an unprecedented strategy of engagement with Kim, which led to their historic summit in Singapore last June.

Their joint declaration after the meeting made no mention of human rights, and Trump has spoken warmly of Kim since then. He has said Kim has shown “courage” in moving forward with negotiations and often speaks about the “beautiful” letters the North Korean leader has sent him. At a campaign rally last fall, Trump told the crowd that as the two men got to know each another they “fell in love.” “We have a fantastic chemistry,” Trump said in an interview with CBS News that aired Sunday.

Gone are the denunciations of the abuses Kim inflicts on his people. A second summit is tentatively booked for late February. Ji and several other North Korean defectors who visited the Oval Office a year ago remain uncertain whether their partnership with Trump will lead to the human rights improvements that they have sought.

[Washington Post]