Monthly Archives: May 2019

Did North Korea execute top negotiator over failed Trump summit?

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Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper, reported Friday that North Korea had executed a top negotiator involved in Kim Jong Un’s failed summit with President Trump in February, and punished a key aide.

Chosun Ilbo cited an unnamed, unspecified source as saying nuclear envoy Kim Hyok Chol was executed by firing squad in March for acting as a U.S. spy.

“Kim Jong Un is believed to have ordered the purge,” the newspaper reported, saying that the moves were intended “to contain internal unrest and mounting public dissatisfaction” after the North Korean leader failed to secure relief from economic sanctions during his second tête-à-tête with Trump in Vietnam.

Government and intelligence officials in South Korea said that they could not confirm the report. A representative of President Moon Jae-in cautioned local journalists not to jump to “rash judgments,” according to media reports. Friday’s report came from Kim Myong-song, a North Korean defector-turned-journalist who reports on South Korea’s unification ministry.

The report also said former military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, who hand-delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump, was sent to a labor camp near the Chinese border on similar charges, and another official who had also participated in working-level negotiations in the lead-up to the Hanoi summit alongside Kim Hyok Chol and the interpreter who translated for Kim Jong Un had been sent to political prison camps. (Kim Hyok Chol, the negotiator, was a former ambassador to Spain who only emerged as North Korea’s envoy in nuclear talks with the U.S. earlier this year.)

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, said he was paying little heed to the reported purge.

[Los Angeles Times]

UN report says North Korean people ‘trapped in cycle of corruption’

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North Koreans face a daily struggle to make ends meet due to a “vicious cycle of deprivation, corruption and repression”, a new United Nations human rights report says.

The report also accuses Kim Jong-un’s government of economic mismanagement, leaving its people fighting to get the basics. Everyday survival is further hampered by officials demanding bribes, it adds. The report is based on interviews carried out with 214 defectors in 2017 and 2018.

It notes that the collapse of the state-run distribution system in the 1990s has forced an estimated three-quarters of the population to turn to informal markets as everyday rations are no longer enough to survive. But the markets exist in a legal grey area, which leaves people vulnerable to officials wanting bribes.

“I am concerned that the constant focus on the nuclear issue continues to divert attention from the terrible state of human rights for many millions of North Koreans,” Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, said. “The rights to food, health, shelter, work, freedom of movement and liberty are universal and inalienable, but in North Korea they depend primarily on the ability of individuals to bribe state officials.”

North Korea responded angrily to the allegations laid out in the report. “Such reports are nothing more than fabrication…as they are always based on the so-called testimonies of ‘defectors’ who provide fabricated information to earn their living or are compelled to do so under duress or enticement,” its Geneva mission told Reuters news agency.


President Trump finds himself increasingly alone on North Korea

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President Donald Trump is isolating himself from allies and even his own advisers on North Korea, eager to insist that his denuclearization efforts will be successful going into a 2020 re-election bid.

The widening gap was starkly apparent Monday morning, when Trump publicly disagreed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a joint press conference when asked about recent North Korean missile tests. Abe had previously called the tests of several short-range ballistic missiles “quite a regrettable act” that violated a United Nations Security Council resolution, echoing language that Trump’s own national security adviser, John Bolton, had used on Saturday.

But the president insisted that he was not “personally” bothered by the tests and was “very happy with the way it’s going” in his efforts to engage North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Notably, Trump said he did not think the tests violated the U.N. resolution.

It was a striking break that revealed Trump’s desire to retain a talking point he has long used at rallies — that he’s responsible for pulling America back from the brink of nuclear war with North Korea.

Trump said Kim Jong Un “is looking to create a nation that has great strength economically. … He knows that, with nuclear, that’s never going to happen. Only bad can happen. He understands that. He is a very smart man. He gets it well.”

Trump also drew attention during his news conference with the Japanese Prime Minister trumpeting a derisive comment Kim made about Joe Biden, Trump’s potential Democratic rival in 2020. “Well, Kim Jong Un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low-IQ individual,” he said, breaking with a tradition by U.S. presidents to not engage in politics on foreign soil. “He probably is, based on his record. I think I agree with him on that.”


‘Real low-IQ’ Trump getting ‘played’ by Kim, says US Congressman

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Donald Trump is getting “played” by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who “realizes the real ‘low-IQ’ person is the president,” House Foreign Affairs Committee member Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) said Monday.

Meeks was responding to Trump’s controversial comments that appeared to endorse North Korea state media’s attack on the intelligence of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, whom the president again called a “low IQ individual.” 

“I think Kim is playing the president,” Meeks told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin. “He played him in the first summit, he played him at the second summit. 

“So Kim realizes that the real low-IQ person is the president and he can continue to play games with him all along until Kim gets what he wants. In fact, Kim has already gotten what he wants: the world stage.”

Trump likes “strong-arm” leaders in “close to fascist-type societies dominated by the executive,” added Rep. Meeks.

[Huffington Post]

North Korean defectors currently living in China

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Most North Koreans who enter China do so by crossing the Tumen River into Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, where 854,000 ethnic Koreans with Chinese citizenship reside.

The capital of Yanbian, Yanji, has a population of 350,000 of whom 210,000 are ethnic Koreans.

These population figures suggest that the upper estimates of “300,000 North Koreans living in China” are therefore implausible, since a large portion of 300,000 North Koreans living illegally [in this area of China] would find it difficult to live underground in a city of 350,000 …and would be even more conspicuous in rural areas where strangers are easily identified.

In testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations of the US Congress in November 2003, Refugees International (RI) endorsed an estimate of 60-100,000 North Koreans living in Yanbian based on the findings of a one-week visit to the prefecture in June 2003.

The lack of data is symptomatic of the overall vulnerability of the North Korean population in China. The Chinese authorities themselves either have no firm grasp of the scale of the inward-migration, or refuse to make public data that may be available. Church networks and humanitarian organizations in Yanbian make some effort to monitor the scale of border crossings, but do not publish these data for fear of jeopardizing their operations. Read more

[International Journal of Korean Unification Studies]

Where sympathy for North Korea defectors lies

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Most North Koreans seeking sanctuary in China cross the Tumen River into Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. With its large population of Korean-Chinese, North Koreans have a chance of finding people with whom they can communicate and who are willing to provide them shelter and economic support.

Despite the national Chinese policy of arrest and deportation, local implementation in Yanbian is tempered by intra-ethnic solidarity that Korean-Chinese officials feel for their deprived brothers and sisters from North Korea. Furthermore, many people in Yanbian either have direct experience, or have learned of their parents’ experiences, of being sheltered in North Korea during the political chaos and economic dislocation during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. These experiences generate sympathy for the plight of North Koreans.

If individuals cross the border to survive and present no threat to public safety, the local authorities and police tend to look the other way, often for months. Indeed, several North Koreans told Refugees International that they received assistance from border guards when they first crossed into China.

However, North Koreans live under constant fear of arrest and deportation while in China. They have no realistic options to live freely and meet their basic needs, and the few courageous individuals and organizations seeking to provide protection and assistance, whether Korean-Chinese, South Korean, or the rare few from outside the region, are themselves under constant pressure from the Chinese authorities to curtail their activities or risk expulsion.

[International Journal of Korean Unification Studies]

Trump and Kim Jong-Un ‘agree in their assessment of Joe Biden’

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President Donald Trump isn’t necessarily “siding with” North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, but the two are in agreement on former Vice President Joe Biden, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday morning.

Late Saturday, Trump downplayed recent North Korean missile tests in a tweet, and also referred to Kim’s criticism of Biden, who recently announced his 2020 presidential bid: “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” Trump wrote. “I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the host referenced Trump’s tweet, and asked Sanders whether Americans should be “concerned that the president of the United States is essentially siding with a murderous authoritarian dictator over a former vice president of the United States.”

“Chuck, the president’s not siding with that,” Sanders said. “But I think they agree in their assessment of former Vice President Joe Biden.”

On Wednesday, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said of remarks about North Korea made by Biden: “What he uttered is just sophism of an imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being, let alone a politician.” KCNA also called him “a fool of low IQ”.


North Korea says talks won’t resume unless US changes position on disarmament

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North Korea said Friday that nuclear negotiations with the United States will never resume unless the Trump administration moves away from what Pyongyang described as unilateral demands for disarmament.

The statement by an unnamed North Korean foreign ministry spokesman published in state media was the country’s latest expression of displeasure over the stalled negotiations. It follows two separate launches of short-range missiles earlier this month that were apparently aimed at pressuring Washington and Seoul.

Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been at a standstill since February. Kim Jong Un has since declared that the Trump administration has until the end of the year to come up with mutually acceptable terms for a deal. In a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean spokesman accused the U.S. of deliberately causing the collapse of the Trump-Kim meeting with unilateral and impossible demands.

“Unless the United States puts aside the current method of calculation and comes forward with a new method of calculation, the DPRK-U.S. dialogue will never be resumed and by extension, the prospect for resolving the nuclear issue will be much gloomy,” the statement added.


The threat to North Korean refugees as a result of China’s surveillance technology

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A Human Rights Watch report detailed a mass surveillance app being used by Chinese police in Xinjiang to monitor the movements and activities of the territory’s Uighur Muslims, including the hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of those being held in political “re-education” facilities. In effect, the app allows the police to monitor the Chinese people’s every move.

As the data passes through the app, it screens and analyzes for so-called suspicious activity. According to the Human Rights Watch, “suspicious activity” encompasses actions as benign as leaving one’s house via the back door rather than the front–or any behavior that breaks from daily activities.

China’s embrace of oppressive surveillance technology will doubtless affect more than just its Muslim population. One especially vulnerable group is North Korean refugees.

While the total number of North Korean defectors currently in China are unknown, some estimate that between 100,000 to 300,000 currently remain in hiding. Nearly all refugees from the North must pass through China in order to reach ultimate freedom in South Korea. These refugees rely on underground networks—primarily made up of Christian missionaries and smugglers—to guide them along their treacherous journeys.

Escape from the brutal Kim regime depends on anonymity, invisibility, and use of the underground system. Invisibility is essential due to Beijing’s agreement with Pyongyang to repatriate all North Koreans found in China. Upon repatriation, North Koreans who accept help from missionaries or who convert to Christianity while in China face particularly harsh treatment. The Commission of Inquiry noted that refugees are usually asked whether they had contact with Christian missionaries; those who did face harsher consequences. The Commission report found that Christians are uniquely persecuted among religious groups in North Korea. Open Doors USA has identified Pyongyang as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians.

A 2014 report from the United Nations Commission of Inquiry documented systematic repression of North Koreans returned from China. Most are thrown in ordinary prison camps or political prison camps where they will most likely be subject to torture, malnourishment, and forced labor. Many pregnant North Korean women are forced to abort their children, often without anesthesia, sometimes by having a soldier stand on their pregnant stomach. Should the child survive the abortion, the mother may be forced to watch her baby be smothered to death. Conditions are brutal for all returned refugees, but they are especially grave for women.


What happens to North Korean defectors after being forcibly returned from China

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Leaving North Korea without permission is a criminal offense. So North Koreans forcibly returned after fleeing face incarceration in political prison camps (kwanliso), ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso, or re-education correctional facilities), short-term forced-labor camps (rodong danllyeindae), temporary detention facilities (jipkyulso), or possible execution.

Research by Human Right Watch and other groups has found pervasive abuses and horrid conditions in North Korea’s political prison camps, including meager rations that keep detainees on the edge of starvation, almost no medical care, lack of adequate shelter and clothes, repeated mistreatment that includes sexual assault and torture by guards, and summary executions.

Yet China routinely forcibly repatriates North Koreans, labeling them as illegal “economic migrants”. Forcing North Korean refugees back to their country constitutes refoulement, that is, sending someone back to a place where they would face threats to their lives or freedom. As a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as to the 1984 Convention against Torture, China is specifically obligated not to force back anyone who would be at risk of persecution or torture upon return.

For North Koreans who are returned, if not sent to political prisoner camps, authorities may instead impose sentences of 2 to 15 years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps. Inmates in ordinary prison camps face forced labor in dangerous working conditions, repeated mistreatment by guards, and little nutritious food or medical care.

A former senior official in the North Korean state security service (bowibu), who previously worked on the border and received North Koreans sent back from China, told Human Rights Watch that officials under his command tortured every returnee to find out where they went in China, whom they contacted, and what they had done while outside North Korea.

The 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea found that crimes against humanity, including torture, execution, enslavement, and sexual violence, are committed against prisoners and people forcibly returned to North Korea from China.

[Human Rights Watch]