Monthly Archives: August 2019

K-pop lures young North Koreans to defect

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As a girl, Ryu Hee-Jin was brought up to perform patriotic songs praising the iron will, courage and compassion of North Korea’s leader at the time, Kim Jong Il.

Then she heard American and South Korean pop music. “When you listen to North Korean music, you have no emotions,” she said. “But when you listen to American or South Korean music, it literally gives you the chills. The lyrics are so fresh, so relatable. When kids listen to this music, their facial expressions just change.”

Western music once helped tear a hole in the Iron Curtain. Now, there is evidence that South Korean K-pop is playing a similar role in subtly undermining the propaganda of the North Korean regime, with rising numbers of defectors citing music as one factor in their disillusionment with their government, according to Lee Kwang-Baek, president of South Korea’s Unification Media Group (UMG). A survey of 200 recent defectors by UMG released in June found that more than 90 percent had watched foreign movies, TV and music in North Korea.

Ryu is one of many defectors who say K-pop and Western popular music opened their eyes, convincing them that North Korea was not the paradise it was made out to be and that their best prospects lay abroad. “We were always taught that Americans were wolves and South Koreans were their puppets,” she said, “but when you listen to their art, you’ve just got to acknowledge them.”

In 2015, at 23, she defected to the South. These days, Ryu is studying for a business degree but still dreams of breaking into K-pop or – better yet – Hollywood.

“It’s so incredible how far I have come,” she said. “South Korean music really played a central role in guiding me through this journey.”

[Washington Post]

Starvation death of North Korean defector and her child shocks South Korea

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The death of a North Korean woman and her child in their apartment in Seoul is raising questions about South Korean state support for defectors who resettle in the South, according to a local press report.

The woman, who was found dead with her 6-year-old son in her home in late July, may have died from starvation.

The woman, only identified by her surname Han, was in her early 40s, according to Seoul’s Gwanak District police. She may have no longer been eligible for a monthly stipend from the South Korean government at the time of her death.

After resettlement, Han the woman defector had apparently left South Korea, and married an ethnic Korean man from China. Han later returned to the South in 2018 after a divorce.

A South Korean unification ministry official said current law provides support for defectors up to the fifth year of resettlement. The official also acknowledged that Han’s death indicates a “blind spot” is posing problems for defectors who continue to face difficulties adjusting to South Korea’s capitalist society.

[UPI]

Does Kim Jong Un get Trump tweet alerts?

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How people stay informed in the Hermit State of North Korea is always a question.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump made a statement indicating that it only took Kim Jong Un 10 minutes to respond to his tweeted proposal for a landmark meeting in June at the border of North and South Korea.

This suggests that someone in Pyongyang — perhaps Kim himself — keeps a minute-by-minute watch on what the US tweetmaster-in-chief is saying on social media.

Trump told the New Hampshire Today radio program: “When I was flying to South Korea I had the idea, you know what, I am going to South Korea, right next to North Korea …. I put out a tweet: ‘Hey, I am going to South Korea. If you want to meet for a couple of minutes, let’s meet.'”

“And I put it out and [Kim Jong Un] was calling within 10 minutes.”

Trump appeared to reject speculation that the meeting had already been discussed quietly before he tweeted on June 29 from the G20 summit in Osaka: “If Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello (?)!”

In any case, a little more than a day later, Trump became the first serving US president to step foot in North Korea, where he held brief talks with Kim.

“I mean it’s the craziest thing,” Trump, an early and now prolific Twitter user, told the radio program. Twitter is “an incredible way of communicating for me … It’s a way of getting the word out.”

Kim himself has not taken up tweets to communicate his edicts and invitations.

But he appears to be watching.

[AFP]

North Korea drought intensified in July

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North Korea experienced worsening drought through July, a sign extreme weather conditions have been amplified due to record high temperatures and a heat wave affecting the region.

International agency GEOGLAM, the Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative, said the drought situation is worsening in North Korea, particularly in the central and southern regions, Radio Free Asia reported Tuesday.

GEOGLAM said Pyongyang, the capital, in addition to North and South Hwanghae provinces, have not received rain for three months, from May to July. The dry weather has damaged crops, and surveys indicate this year’s corn crops are showing lower levels of above-ground biomass, compared to 2018.

Water reservoirs are at lower levels than a year ago, according to the report.

[UPI]

North Korea appears to have built its first real ballistic missile submarine

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Hidden behind the distraction of the recent spate of tactical missile tests is a greater development with strategic implications: New submarines that will allow the Hermit Kingdom to improve the lethality and survivability of its nuclear arsenal.

On July 23, North Korean state media released images of Kim Jong-un inspecting a submarine. The boat (submarines are always called boats) was described as newly constructed, although it is likely an old boat that has been newly modified. …The age of the underlying design notwithstanding, it appears to have a new capability that should energize strategists: it looks like a ballistic missile submarine.

This is beyond reasonable doubt. Stitching together the handful of images we can see the tell-tale signs. North Korean state media attempted to obscure this but trained eyes can see through the blurring. On top of the enlarged sail in the middle of the submarine are a series of small holes. These are to allow water to escape sideways when a missile is launched and was a feature added to an earlier submarine after some test launches. Together with an in-depth analysis of the likely interval arrangement of the hull we can be confident that this is a ballistic missile submarine.

Placing part of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal aboard submarines greatly increases their survivability in the event of conflict. All countries with a nuclear arsenal have sought to do this to some extent, and North Korea launched its first missile submarine in 2014. That submarine only carries a single missile and is primarily seen as a test platform.

This new submarine has room for three missiles, indicating an operational role and greatly increasing the chances of a missile penetrating any defenses. It will probably carry three KN-11 ballistic missiles, which have an estimated range of 1,250 kilometers (775 miles). … The missile range is enough to threaten U.S. forces in the region from the relative protection of its home waters, but the submarine would have to break out into the Pacific to directly threaten Hawaii, Guam or the Western seaboard of the United States. It would have the range to do this, however.

The old design does come with some drawbacks. It is comparatively noisy, which means it’s less stealthy and so easier to attack. … It does have one trick up its sleeve, however: Unlike the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines used by the U.S. Navy, it can sit on the sea floor and go silent, making it very difficult to detect for a few hours or days while it is there.

The conversion of existing submarines to carry ballistic missiles is likely to be the fastest way for North Korea to achieve the goal of most nuclear countries’ planners: a submarine force which is continuously at sea. This means that in any future conflict there may be a certainty that some of North Korea’s nuclear weapons will be hiding beneath the waves, ready to strike at any moment.

[Read full article at Forbes]

North Korean defectors speak out on TV shows about them

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As the co-founder of the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR), and while a guest on a South Korean TV show, we asked North Korean refugees to let us know what they think about the various TV shows featuring North Korean refugees. Below are some of their thoughts:

Han, female, escaped from North Korea in 1998, arrived in 2001 – I arrived in South Korea when there were few North Korean refugees here. I wish those kind of shows would have been in the media then. So many South Koreans assumed we were criminals or losers, or accused us of abandoning our families. The shows aren’t perfect, but one good benefit is that they have introduced many South Koreans to everyday North Korean refugees. A second good benefit is that it has an influence on North Korean refugees who have escaped to China. Many of them there watch TV shows from South Korea, so they have a better idea of what life is like here. In that way, the TV shows are better than the Hanawon re-education center at introducing refugees to South Korea.

Jihyang, female, escaped from North Korea in 2011, arrived in South Korea in 2016 – I hear some criticism of the shows, but I see more good than bad from them. After I graduated from college, I hoped to be on one of those shows. …In North Korea, I would never have a chance to be on TV saying what I think. It is almost impossible to be on TV in North Korea unless you have demonstrated your loyalty to the regime. But here, I can get on TV, it doesn’t matter if I praise or criticize the president or other leaders, there is the opportunity here in South Korea for my voice to be heard.

Hyang-mi, female, escaped from North Korea in 2009, arrived in South Korea in 2010 – I can’t trust the panelists on those shows. I know one of the ladies on one of the shows. We are from the same hometown. I can really see when she exaggerates about things, and …she will present those exaggerations as being true of all of North Korea. I can understand when the panelists criticize the leaders in North Korea, but I can’t understand why they criticize everyday North Koreans. The people still there are victims of the leaders. We should be more understanding about their situations. My neighbors and friends were great.

Eungyeong, female, escaped from North Korea in 2013, arrived in South Korea in 2015 – Overall, I have a really negative view of those shows. I can’t believe how often they exaggerate and lie about North Korea. I have to turn the shows off because I get so upset sometimes. But I also can see that there is some good that comes from them. If not for them, then South Koreans would know almost nothing about life in North Korea. If there could be a better way to check facts on the show and to prevent the panelists from exaggerating, then the show would be even better.

Minsu, male, escaped from North Korea in 2009, arrived in South Korea in 2010 – I have been asked to be on the shows, but so far I have said no. It can be messy getting into that media world. …I am amazed that people complain about those TV shows so much. They are just TV shows, not something that presents every truth about everything about North Korea. It can give us a taste of what life is like in North Korea and about the experiences of people who have escaped. I have met some of the refugees on the TV shows, they are good people, they have many interesting and informative things to say, and it can be really entertaining. I respect and admire those who are willing to be identified as being from North Korea and are willing to speak out. They would never have a chance to present their stories when they were in North Korea. In North Korea, the government would have tried to destroy them. Here, it is netizens and researchers who are trying to “destroy” them.

[Korea Times Opinion page]

Rescue of North Korean orphan who snuck into China

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Joseph Kim is a North Korean refugee, whose harrowing story of survival led him to write the book “Under the Same Sky.”

When he was 12, Joseph’s father died of starvation. His sister and mother left for China to find food, and his sister was sold to a Chinese man. He never saw his mother again.

Kim was homeless and escaped to China by himself at age 15. He lived on the streets and in the mountains for years before meeting a Christian missionary who connected him with Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). Through LiNK, Kim was able to seek asylum in the United States.

[Click below to view TV interview with Joseph Kim]

How North Korean soldier defected – by floating down river across DMZ

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A North Korean soldier defected to South Korea across the heavily fortified demilitarized zone between the two nations. The unnamed soldier was spotted floating south down the Imjin River across the Military Demarcation Line around 11:38 p.m. last Wednesday night, when the South Korean military took him into custody.

“A South Korean soldier on guard duty first found an unidentified object floating in the river via thermal observation devices, which was later confirmed as a [an active-duty North Korean] soldier,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Very few have successfully defected across the DMZ, one of the most fortified borders in the world where land mines, barbed wire, and a militarized strip of no man’s land make the journey nearly impossible.

North Korea ‘brainwashes’ its children for future military service says defector

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North Korea’s military is the fourth-largest in the world, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, with 1.2 million active-duty soldiers. Military service is compulsory for most citizens.

North Korean military indoctrination begins early. “When I was young, I thought it was obvious I should become a soldier,” says Hyun Lee, a North Korean defector. “Each element of North Korea’s student education instills a brainwashing idea of being loyal to the Kim family…” he said.

Anna Fifield’s book “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un” details the ways the regime indoctrinates children early on. “I went to a nursery with a sign across the front saying ‘Thank you, Respected General Kim Jong Un,'” she writes. “Inside, it was decorated with cartoon raccoon soldiers holding rocket-propelled grenade launchers and sailor ducklings with machine guns.. The toddlers posed with plastic Kalashnikovs while visiting reporters took photos,” Fifield writes.

Lee echoed that sentiment, saying, “From a very young age, we are taught that it is an honor to be in General Kim’s army.”

Military prowess is baked into the Kim family’s narrative; Kim Il Sung, the first leader of North Korea, built his mythic status in part on his prowess as a guerilla fighter against the Japanese army during its occupation of the Korean peninsula. And while Kim Jong Un didn’t serve in the military, he pushed the country toward a military-first approach and conducted the first nuclear tests in 2006.

Fifield notes that Kim Jong Un was called “Comrade General” — even by adults — from the time he was ten. She describes him as often wearing a child-sized general’s uniform, too.

He’s not the only one; many photos of Chairman Kim feature children — even toddlers — in military uniform.

And, as Lee described, North Korea’s version of the Boy Scouts (albeit with a more militaristic mindset) sing a song about how they’ll fight — and sacrifice themselves — for General Kim: “3 million boy scouts will be guns and bombs/ We will be guns and bombs for the General,” the lyrics promise.

[Reuters]

UN claims North Korea stole $2bn from cyberattacks

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North Korea has stolen up to $2 billion from banks and cryptocurrency exchanges through cyberattacks to fund its nuclear missiles program, according to a United Nations report seen by AFP Wednesday.

The UN is investigating at least 35 reported instances of Pyongyang “attacking financial institutions, cryptocurrency exchanges and mining activity designed to earn foreign currency,” it said. “Large-scale attacks against cryptocurrency exchanges allow the DPRK to generate income in ways that are harder to trace and subject to less government insight and regulation than the traditional banking sector,” the report added.

“Cyber actors, many operating under the direction of the Reconnaissance General Bureau (North Korea’s intelligence agency), raise money for its WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs, with total proceeds to date estimated at up to two billion US dollars,” said the UN report.

North Korea has launched four pairs of projectiles in less than two weeks and threatened more, amid fears it is ramping up its missiles program. Leader Kim Jong Un says the country’s latest missile launches were a warning to Washington and Seoul over their joint war games, state news agency KCNA reported.

[AFP]