Monthly Archives: April 2020

The rise of Kim Yo-jong

Posted on by

The rumors of Kim Jong-un’s death seem to have been greatly exaggerated.

Kim’s vanishing act has pushed his little sister, Kim Yo-jong, into the spotlight, with speculation that she might become the Kim family dynasty’s first female leader.

It has long been rumored that Yo-jong, who is sometimes described as the Ivanka Trump of North Korea, is the brains behind her brother’s brawn.

If something were to happen to big bro, she’s the obvious choice for supreme leader. Kim’s male relatives are either too young or uninterested: His big brother, Kim Jong-chul, seemingly stays out of politics, preferring to play guitar and obsess over Eric Clapton.

In recent years she has started to venture on to the world stage, representing Kim at the 2018 Winter Olympics, and publicly praising Donald Trump.

Yo-jong has also already proved herself equal to any man: in 2017, the US Treasury Department blacklisted her for “severe human rights abuses”.

“North Korea … is one of the most male chauvinistic societies in the world, but bloodline supplemented by status in the Korea Workers’ party supersedes gender,” one expert told Bloomberg.

[Excerpts of Guardian article by Arwa Mahdawi]

Kim Jong Un may just be avoiding coronavirus

Posted on by

Kim Jong-un could be lying low to avoid the coronavirus pandemic.

Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest, suggested this possibility to explain Kim’s absence. “The Kim family has a history of going on the lam when things seem to be going bad,” Kazianis told Newsweek. Now, Kazianis said, “North Korea is clearly facing the greatest existential threat in a generation as the coronavirus threatens the Kim regime’s very survival.”

He indicated that Kim’s health condition may already put him at risk for getting COVID-19. “While countless crazy rumors continue to swirl over why Kim Jong Un has not appeared in public for weeks, the most obvious explanation is he is staying out of the general population and isolating for fear of contracting the virus,” he added.

North Korea Leadership Watch blog head Michael Madden also points to a potentially similar situation involving Kim Jong Un’s father, the late supreme leader Kim Jong Il, which took place in 2003 during a time of global turmoil and another coronavirus outbreak that first appeared in neighboring China. “In contemporary North Korean history, you’d have to beat the record Kim Jong Il did. He disappeared for about three months,” Madden recently told Newsweek. “[There were] major issues, they had SARS, and we had just invaded Iraq. Those things sent him into a paranoia.”

The idea that Kim could be taking drastic quarantine measures was also supported by North Korean defector and human rights activist Yeonmi Park, who cited an unnamed source within the country, as well as South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, which cited an anonymous Chinese source familiar with North Korean affairs.

Kim has a compound of his own in Wonsan, and the resort town is among the sites being watched in connection with the supreme leader’s recent whereabouts.


Trump bet on Kim, and now he’s out of the picture

Posted on by

Kim Jong-un has vanished from sight, and in doing so, he’s exposed a potentially major weakness of President Donald Trump’s negotiating tactics. Trump made a bold bet: that by breaking precedent and engaging directly with Kim, he could convince the brutal young autocrat to give up his nuclear arsenal in exchange for future economic gains.

Today U.S. officials have found it hard to even get in touch with their North Korean counterparts; in some prominent cases, they’ve been publicly scorned. Now, amid rumors that Kim is sick (or even dead), current and former U.S. officials and North Korea analysts say Trump’s mano-a-mano diplomacy looks shakier than ever because the Trump-Kim relationship has been the only one that truly mattered.

On Monday, Trump said he had a “very good idea” about Kim’s health status, hinting that the American people would be hearing about it in the “not-too-distant future.” Trump said in response to a reporter’s question, “Kim Jong Un? …I do have a very good idea, but I can’t talk about it now. I just wish him well.”

[However] if a new leader emerges in North Korea, he (or she) may decide to grow the country’s nuclear arsenal as a way of consolidating and projecting power.

And with U.S.-Chinese relations on a downward spiral due to fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the idea of international cooperation to diplomatically pressure North Korea and maintain economic sanctions on the country seems remote.


Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong

Posted on by

Kim Yo-jong is the younger sister of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and a high-ranking official of the Workers’ Party of Korea. She joined the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in 2007, eventually serving as secretariat to her father, Kim Jong-il, until his death in 2011.

Kim Yo-jong continued to ascend her party’s ranks under her brother’s rule, taking control of his image as first vice-department director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department and later becoming an alternate member of the WPK’s powerful politburo.

After making a highly publicized appearance at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Kim joined her brother for his denuclearization summits with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim Yo-jong’s birthdate is listed as September 26, 1987. In 1996, she was sent to Switzerland to continue her education, attending Liebefeld Hessgut public school and later was joined by her brother Kim Jong-un at Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school, the two enrolled under pseudonyms. She reportedly graduated from Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung University in 2007 with a degree in computer science.

When reports of Kim Jong-un’s poor health surfaced earlier this month, the media focused on Kim Yo-jong as a possible successor. Some analysts suggested that she is the most likely choice to follow her brother, given her ties to the “Paektu” bloodline that the family claims for divine ruling rights, while others argued that the male-dominated WPK would prefer a collective leadership.

Even young people seem to be picking up on Kim Yo-jong, as evidence by this Twitter account.

Kim Yo-jong is married In early 2015. It was reported that Kim Yo-jong married Choe Song, son of a l lieutenant of Kim Jong-un, Choe Ryong-hae. She was reported to be pregnant in spring 2015, and again around the time of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

[Includes excerpts from]

Kim Jong Un’s train spotted on satellite images

Posted on by

The signature train belonging to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been spotted on satellite images parked at a station on the nation’s eastern coast since last week, according to a U.S. monitor, as questions swirl over the dictator’s health.

On Sunday, a key aide to the president of South Korea insisted Kim, who is believed to be 36, was “alive and well.” Chung-in Moon, foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told Fox News, “Our government position is firm. Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspicious movements have so far been detected.”

Satellite photos released on Saturday echo South Korean government intelligence that Kim is staying outside of the capital, Pyongyang. The photos released by 38 North, a Washington-based website specializing in North Korea studies, show that activity has increased in the resort town of Wonsan in April.

Kim Jong Un’s train has been parked at the Leadership Railway Station servicing his Wonsan compound since at least April 21, the website 38 North said Saturday, citing an analysis of recent satellite photos of the area. The railway station in Wonsan is reserved for use by the Kim family.

Kim’s preferred travel method is by train — like his late father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung. Kim’s father loathed flying and made all his trips abroad by rail.

The present North Korean leader has taken his distinct armored green and yellow train to recent summits in Russia and Vietnam. Kim is known for traveling with a big entourage — possibly more than 200 people — and lots of supplies. The train cars are reportedly bulletproof, making them heavier than normal carriages — and much slower when traveling, according to a 2009 report by Chosun Ilbo. It travels an average speed of 37 mph.

The train, originally owned by Kim’s father, appears to provide a lot of comfort for the North Korean leaders. According to Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian official who accompanied Kim Jong ll on a three-week trip to Moscow in 2001, its 90 carriages are said to contain bedrooms, conference rooms and a chamber equipped with satellite phones and flat-screen televisions, as well as cases of Bordeaux and Beaujolais wine.

[Fox News]

Japanese media claims Kim Jong Un in ‘vegetative state’

Posted on by

Reports emerged earlier this week that Kim was gravely ill following heart surgery, although that has since been disputed. However, Japanese media now claims that Kim is in a vegetative state following a stent procedure.

Japanese magazine Shukan Gendai reported that Kim collapsed during a visit to a rural area in April. Kim reportedly required a stent procedure following the incident.

Shukan Gendai subsequently detailed how the surgeon in charge of Kim’s operation was not used to dealing with obese patients and was too nervous during the operation, leading to delays that left Kim in a “vegetative state.”

The magazine cited an unnamed member of Kim’s medical team.

[Fox News]

Chinese doctors to North Korea over Kim Jong Un health concerns

Posted on by

China has sent a team of doctors to North Korea to help determine supreme leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un’s health status, Reuters reported on Friday.

Hong Kong Satellite Television went as far as reporting that Kim was dead, though there has been no confirmation from U.S. sources at this point.

“While the U.S. continues to monitor reports surrounding the health of the North Korean Supreme Leader, at this time, there is no confirmation from official channels that Kim Jong Un is deceased,” a senior Pentagon official not authorized to speak on the record told Newsweek.

Kim’s last confirmed public appearance was on April 11, at a politburo meeting, though state media also shared footage of him attending aerial assault drills the following day. It was his absence from April 15 Day of the Sun celebrations dedicated to his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, that first sparked speculation regarding his well-being.

On Monday, rumors spread that the North Korean head of state was in ill health after undergoing heart surgery on April 12, sparked by an anonymous source featured in the South Korea-based Daily NK outlet, a publication linked to a U.S. Congress-funded think tank, along with a CNN article citing an unnamed U.S. official that said Kim was in grave danger following the operation.

These rumors were subsequently discounted by U.S. intelligence, with two U.S. officials telling Newsweek on Tuesday they had no reason to think that Kim had suffered any kind of serious illness. Similarly, at the time, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency cited a government official who said there was nothing unusual coming from North Korea that could suggest Kim was ill.


US intelligence that Kim Jong Un may have undergone surgery

Posted on by

The US is monitoring intelligence that suggests North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is in grave danger after undergoing a previous surgery, according to a US official with direct knowledge. Another US official told CNN that the concerns about Kim’s health are credible but the severity is hard to assess.

Kim recently missed the celebration of his grandfather’s birthday on April 15, which raised speculation about his well-being. He was last seen four days before that, on April 11, at a government meeting.

Daily NK, an online newspaper based in South Korea that focuses on North Korea, reports that Kim reportedly had a cardiovascular system procedure on April 12, due to “excessive smoking, obesity, and overwork,” according to the news site.

After assessing that Kim’s condition had improved, most of the medical team treating him returned to Pyongyang on April 19 and only part of them remained to oversee his recovery situation, according to the news site.

CNN is unable to independently confirm the report.

The situation remains murky as gathering intelligence out of North Korea is notoriously difficult — one of the most challenging targets for US intelligence. Experts are unsure of what to make of Kim’s absence from any festivities celebrating his grandfather. When North Korean leaders have not shown up to these important celebrations in the past, it has portended major developments. But it has also turned out to be nothing.


Still a “zero virus” claim by North Korea

Posted on by

North Korea says it has zero coronavirus infections, but experts doubt it and say it’s likely the virus has spread in the country.

During the previous SARS outbreak and flu pandemics in North Korea, Dr. Choi Jung Hun didn’t have much more than a thermometer, with no test kits and working with antiquated equipment. He and his fellow doctors in the northeastern city of Chongjin were often unable to determine who had a disease, even after patients died, said Choi. He said that local health officials weren’t asked to confirm cases or submit them to the central government in Pyongyang. Choi adds his monthly salary was the equivalent of about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rice and that he received cigarettes from patients in return for telling them what medicine they should buy at markets.

In 2012 Choi fled to South Korea, and recently shared the above in an Associated Press interview.

Experts say North Korea’s reluctance to admit major outbreaks of disease, its wrecked medical infrastructure and its extreme sensitivity to any potential threat to Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian rule means that Pyongyang is likely handling the current coronavirus pandemic in the same manner. This has led to widespread skepticism over the nation’s claim to have zero infections.

“It’s a lie,” Choi, 45, said. “Year after year, and in every season, diverse infectious diseases repeatedly occur but North Korea says there isn’t any outbreak.”

Outsiders strongly suspect that coronavirus has spread to North Korea because the country shares a long, porous border with China, its most important trading partner. North Korea, which has quarantined tens of thousands and delayed the school year as precautionary steps, officially sealed its border with China in January, but smuggling across the frontier still likely happens.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in February it donated 1,500 coronavirus test kits to North Korea, and observers say similar kits have also been shipped there from China. Some relief agencies, including UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders, said they sent gloves, masks, goggles and hand hygiene products to North Korea.

Activist groups in Seoul said they’ve been told by contacts in North Korea that people had died of the virus. Those claims cannot be independently verified.


US offers $5 million reward for information on North Korean hackers

Posted on by

The US government is willing to pay up to $5 million for information on North Korea’s hackers and their ongoing hacking operations.

The reward for reporting North Korean hackers was announced today in a joint report published by the Departments of State, Treasury, Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The joint report contains a summary of North Korea’s recent cyber operations and is based on a UN Security Council report published last year that details the country’s tactic of using hackers to raise funds for the Pyongyang regime, as a novel way to bypass international sanctions.

Observed tactics include:

  • Attacks and thefts from banks and other financial entities
  • Attacks and thefts from cryptocurrency exchanges
  • Cryptojacking operations — where North Korean hackers compromise servers worldwide to mine cryptocurrency
  • Various types of extortion campaigns, such as:
  • – Compromising an entity’s network and threatening to shut it down unless the victim pays a ransom
  • – Getting paid to hack websites on behalf of third-party clients, and then extorting the targets
  • – Charging victims “long-term paid consulting arrangements” in order to prevent future attacks

US officials say a lot of these attacks have targeted the financial sector, from where North Korean hackers have stolen funds in excess of $2 billion, which have been laundered back into the hermit kingdom. The US says these hacks are now posing “a significant threat to the integrity and stability of the international financial system.”

The US government also issued a stern warning to companies that may be engaging with North Korean entities and might be, directly or indirectly, helping North Korean hackers launder stolen funds. Consequences include sanctions and seizure of funds and assets, officials said.