Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

Only 12 North Korean defectors have made it to South Korea between April and June this year

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To address the spread of coronavirus in Asia, six months ago North Korea completely closed its borders, sealing off the country like never before.

In late January 2020, North Korea moved quickly against the virus – sealing off its borders and later quarantining hundreds of foreigners in the capital, Pyongyang. It also closed schools, and put tens of thousands of its citizens into isolation.

As to how this has impacted North Koreans defecting, from official figures, only 12 defectors have made it to South Korea between April and June this year – the lowest number on record.

[BBC]

Coronavirus in North Korea: Kim Jong-un claims ‘shining success’

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has hailed his country’s “shining success” in dealing with Covid-19, according to state news agency KCNA. Speaking at a politburo meeting, Kim said the country had “prevented the inroad of the malignant virus and maintained a stable situation”.

North Korea closed its borders and put thousands into isolation six months ago as the virus swept across the globe. It claims that it has no virus cases, though analysts say this is unlikely. Whatever the reality of the situation, Pyongyang wants to appear confident that it has crushed Covid-19.

Kim is said to have “analyzed in detail the six month-long national emergency anti-epidemic work” and said the success in handling the virus was “achieved by the far-sighted leadership of the Party Central Committee”.

But he stressed the importance of maintaining “maximum alert without… relaxation on the anti-epidemic front”, adding that the virus was still present in neighboring countries. “He repeatedly warned that hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis,” said the KCNA report on Friday.

North Korea has now reopened schools, but has kept a ban on public gatherings and made it compulsory for people to wear masks in public places, said a Reuters report on 1 July quoting a World Health Organization official.

[BBC]

North Korea’s hot and cold strategy

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Alternating between raising tensions and ​​extending an olive branch​ — all to confuse the enemy — has been part of North Korea’s dog-eared playbook. ​This geopolitical strategy has long been compared to dipping alternately in pools of scathingly hot and icy cold water in a public bathhouse.

​Just a week ago, Kim Yo-jong, the only sister and key aide of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, threatened to ​kill the country’s agreement​s​ with South Korea that were intended to ease military tensions along the border. ​She called the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, “disgusting” and “insane.” Then the North blew up the joint inter-Korean liaison office, the first of a series of actions that threatened to reverse a fragile détente on the Korean Peninsula.

On Wednesday, her brother Kim Jong-Un emerged as the good cop, overruling his military and suspending i​ts plans to ​deploy more troops​ and resume military exercises along the world’s most heavily armed border. Hours later, South Korean border guards confirmed that the North Korean military had dismantled loudspeakers installed on the border in recent days as part of its threat to revive propaganda broadcasts against the South.

If the flip-flop seemed disorienting, that was exactly the effect North Korea intended. Over the decades, ​alternating between raising tensions and ​​extending an olive branch​ has been part of the North’s dog-eared playbook​. ​Mr. Kim’s grandfather Kim Il-sung, North Korea’s founding president, proposed reconciliation with South Korea even as he prepared to invade the South to start the 1950-53 Korean War. His father and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, discussed co-hosting the 1988 Summer Olympics with South Korea before North Korean agents planted bombs on a Korean Air Boeing 707 in 1987. The plane exploded near Myanmar, killing all 115 on board.

When the move is toward peace, the change of tack is so dramatic that North Korea’s external enemies often take the shift itself as progress, even though there is no evidence that the country has decided to abandon its nuclear weapons.

[New York Times]

Defying government ban, defectors group launches anti-North-Korea leaflets

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 A group of North Korean defectors claimed Tuesday it had sent anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border, continuing an activity that has enraged the North regime, which cited it as the reason it wrecked a liaison office with the South last week. The launch was also in defiance of a ban by South Korean authorities on the cross-border propaganda campaign.

Park Sang-hak, who heads Fighters for a Free North Korea, said the group sent 20 large helium-filled balloons, carrying 500,000 leaflets titled “The truth of the Korean War atrocity,” 2,000 $1 bills, 1,000 SD cards and 500 booklets across the border. He said they sent the flyers in a covert mission at night with relatively new members, to avoid police detection.

The balloons are attached to a bundle of leaflets and a large banner with pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his influential sister Kim Yo-jong, as well as their grandfather and regime founder Kim Il-sung, and a slogan that calls on the North Korean people to rise up against the Kim family.

The Seoul government has warned of a “thorough crackdown” against campaigners sending anti-North leaflets, and vowed to enact legislation to ban such activities.

[Korea Herald]

South Korea says Bolton’s memoir on Trump-Kim summit is distorted

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Former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton gives details in his new book, “The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir”, of conversations before and after three meetings between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including how their second summit in Vietnam fell apart.

Bolton writes that South Korean President Moon, who is keen to improve relations with North Korea, had raised unrealistic expectations with both Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump for his own “unification” agenda.

“It does not reflect accurate facts and substantially distorts facts,” South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, said in a statement referring to Bolton’s description of top-level consultations.

Trump and Kim met for the first time in Singapore in June 2018, raising hope for efforts to press North Korea to give up its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. But their second summit, in Vietnam in early 2019, collapsed when Trump rejected an offer by Kim to give up North Korea’s main nuclear facility in return for lifting some sanctions.

Bolton reportedly cites Chung as relaying Moon’s response to the breakdown as, on the one hand, Trump was right to reject Kim’s proposal but on the other, Kim’s willingness to dismantle the Yongbyon facility was a “very meaningful first step” toward “irreversible” denuclearisation. Bolton refers to Moon’s position as “schizophrenic”.

[Reuters]

Despair among Chinese diplomats following Pyongyang’s explosive provocations

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There is private despair among Chinese diplomats following Pyongyang’s explosive provocations this week, including the destruction of the inter-liaison office with South Korea.

Pyongyang’s recalcitrance about economic and social reform has long baffled Chinese counterparts, who point to their own economic success as an example of what the country could achieve if it followed in China’s footsteps.

“I don’t know what they’re thinking,” one Chinese academic who has had frequent contact with North Korean diplomatic delegations said.

[Foreign Policy]

North Korea blows up inter-Korea liaison office

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North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office building just north of the heavily armed border with South Korea on Tuesday in a dramatic display of anger that sharply raises tensions on the Korean Peninsula and puts pressure on Washington and Seoul amid deadlocked nuclear diplomacy.

The demolition of the building, which is located on North Korean territory and had no South Koreans working there, is largely symbolic. But it’s still likely the most provocative thing North Korea has done since it entered nuclear diplomacy in 2018 after a U.S.-North Korean standoff had many fearing war.

The liaison office was opened in 2018 as the first channel for full-time, person-to-person contact between the Koreas.

This development will pose a serious setback to the efforts of liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in to restore inter-Korean engagement.

[AP]

Kim Jong Un’s sister threatens military action with South Korea

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South Korea convened an emergency security meeting Sunday after the sister of North Korea’s leader threatened military action against South Korea in the latest escalation of tensions between the two neighbors.

Kim Yo Jong, a trusted aide to her brother, Kim Jong Un, said she would leave the right to take the next step of retaliation against South Korea to North Korea’s military in a statement carried Saturday by the state news agency, KCNA.

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

Kim, who has gained new prominence in North Korea’s power structure, didn’t specify what the next action could be or when exactly it would be taken, but she added: “I feel it is high time to surely break with the South Korean authorities. We will soon take the next action.”

A spokesman for the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential office, said Sunday that the national security council held an emergency video conference to review the situation and to discuss how best to respond.

Kim’s statement Saturday followed her announcement last week that North Korea was suspending all communication lines with South Korea, a move analysts believe could be an attempt to manufacture a crisis and force concessions from its neighbor.

Kim Jin Ah, a North Korea expert at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, a government research center in Seoul, said North Korea is using propaganda leaflets distributed by defectors as an excuse to break “the doldrum” in its negotiations with the U.S.

Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a lecturer in international relations at King’s College London, said it’s reasonable from the North Korean perspective for the regime to try to divert attention from domestic conditions by raising tensions with South Korea. “It makes sense for Kim Yo Jong to lead, or be seen as leading, these increasing tensions. This way she can show that she will be tough with South Korea if necessary,” he said.

[NBC]

North Korea says “never again” to Trump-Kim meetings

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On the two-year anniversary of the first meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pyongyang seems in no mood to pursue closer ties, according to a statement by Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon.

“Never again will we provide the U.S. chief executive with another package to be used for achievements without receiving any returns,” Ri said.

The statement called for a change of direction in U.S. policy and pointed out what North Korea believes is U.S. hypocrisy. “The U.S. professes to be an advocate for improved relations with the DPRK, but in fact, it is hell-bent on only exacerbating the situation,” Ri added.

[Foreign Policy]

The role of defector activists in North Korea’s communication shutdown

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North Korea has cut all communication channels with South Korea as it escalates its pressure on the South for failing to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across their tense border.

This decision was made by Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Chol, a former hard-line military intelligence chief who Seoul believes was behind two 2010 attacks that killed 50 South Koreans.

South Korean conservative activists and North Korean defectors in the South for years have floated huge balloons into North Korea that carry leaflets criticizing Kim Jong Un over his nuclear ambitions and abysmal human rights record. The leafleting has long been a source of tensions between the Koreas since the country bristles at any attempt to undermine the Kim leadership.

KCNA referred to North Korean activists as “riff-raff” in their statement: “The South Korean authorities connived at the hostile acts against (North Korea) by the riff-raff, while trying to dodge heavy responsibility with nasty excuses,” KCNA said. “They should be forced to pay dearly for this.”

Kim Yo Jong called the defectors “human scum” and “mongrel dogs” in reaction to recent leafleting when the North threatened to permanently shut down a liaison office and a jointly run factory park, as well as nullify a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement that had aimed to reduce tensions.

South Korea’s liberal government had no immediate response to the North Korean announcement. It has recently said it would push for legal bans on launching leaflets, but the North has said the South Korean response lacks sincerity.

South Korean conservatives have urged their government to get tougher on North Korea and uphold their constitutional rights to free speech. South Korea has typically let activists launch such balloons, but it has sometimes sent police officers to stop them when North Korean warnings appeared to be serious.

[AP]