Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

Killing of Iranian commander sends message to North Korea

Posted on by

U.S. efforts to deal with Iran could take the U.S.’s attention away from North Korea as Pyongyang seeks to raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula, said David Maxwell, a former U.S. Special Forces colonel who served on the Combined Forces Command of the U.S and South Korea. “Kim Jong Un is not going to be happy with all the attention focused on Iran when he was trying to execute a large-scale information and influence campaign against the U.S. and the international community to get sanctions lifted,” he said.

Experts also said the U.S. killing of the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani could change North Korea’s thinking about the U.S. ability to use force.

“The attack tells adversaries like North Korea to reassess [its] assumptions about U.S. actions moving up the escalatory ladder,” said Ken Gause, director of the adversary analytics program at CNA. “Trump, more so than previous presidents,” he added, “is not averse to doing decapitation strikes and focused assassinations.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the U.S. could use a military option on North Korea if necessary. “We think the best path forward, with regard to North Korea, is a political agreement that denuclearizes the peninsula,” Esper said in an interview with Fox News. “But that said, we remain, from a military perspective, ready to fight tonight, as need be.”

The Pentagon recently released a photo of U.S. and South Korean special forces conducting drills simulating raids on North Korean facilities aimed at taking out its top officials. “It will be interesting to speculate if [Kim] thinks something like this [the U.S. killing of the Iranian general] could happen to him or if his paranoia would lead him to think that Trump is somehow sending him a message,” Maxwell said.

On the other hand, Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University said, “I think Kim Jong-un will be laughing at this situation as he now has an opportunity to test how much trouble Trump can handle at the same time.”

[VoA/South China Morning Post]

Europe helps secure release of 11 North Korean defectors held in Vietnam

Posted on by

A group of 11 North Koreans who were detained in Vietnam while seeking to defect to South Korea have been released thanks to the help of European institutions, a Seoul-based activist group has said.

The eight women and three men were caught by border guards in northern Vietnam in late November after crossing from China, and had been held in the northeastern border city of Lang Son.

Peter Jung, who heads the group helping the refugees, Justice for North Korea, said they were freed and on their way to South Korea last month. Multiple European organizations played a key role, he said. He declined to identify them due to the diplomatic sensitivity but said they included a non-government group.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that U.S. officials, including diplomats engaged in denuclearization talks with North Korea, intervened to secure the defectors’ release, citing unidentified sources.

But Jung said he was unaware of any U.S. contribution. South Korea’s foreign ministry said that the WSJ report was “not factual”, but said the government had made immediate efforts to prevent the defectors from being forcibly repatriated. It refused to elaborate.

“The European institutions acted after we published a video of the refugees making desperate appeals for freedom,” Jung said. “South Korea’s foreign ministry got also involved later.”

[Reuters]

US diplomats helped 13 North Koreans held in Vietnam

Posted on by

Caught halfway into a multicountry escape from North Korea, 13 individuals detained in Vietnam reached safety last month due to an unexpected helping hand: the U.S. government.

A group of U.S. diplomats, including some involved in disarmament talks with the Kim Jong Un regime, intervened after videos surfaced showing two female detainees wrapped under blankets following failed suicide attempts. Both women had feared being repatriated to the North where they likely would have faced the regime’s gulags or worse.

American diplomats in Washington and Asia pressed Vietnamese officials to not hand over the North Korean escapees to Chinese or North Korean officials, according to the people familiar with the episode. It’s uncommon for American officials to get involved in cases pertaining to ordinary North Korean escapees. It’s rare for such interventions to become public.

The 13 refugees didn’t seem to be aware of the U.S. help behind the scenes, according to a person directly involved in the episode. That’s because such a diplomatic role is typically handled by South Korea. Mintaro Oba, a former official at the State Department’s Korea desk, said: “To the Moon administration, [the 13 North Korean refugees were] probably at best a serious irritant at a time when they’re hyperfocused on inter-Korean relations.”

Experts say U.S. officials took a diplomatic risk in helping activists guide the refugees to safety, as such moves could upset North Korea and complicate already stalled nuclear negotiations.

[Wall Street Journal]

A taste of entrepreneurship in Seoul for North Korean defectors

Posted on by

When North Koreans defect to and resettle in South Korea, they often find themselves looked down upon in what they thought would be their land of promise. Combatting the prejudice and the hurdles, some North Korean resettlers in South Korea have managed to find a way into a soft landing in the business world.

Heo defected from the place of his birth in 2008, and became a video content creator in Seoul with over 100,000 YouTube subscribers. He set his sights on becoming an entrepreneur.

What gave him, along with dozens of other North Korean defectors, a taste of being an entrepreneur was the four-month program Asan Sanghoe, financed and supported by the Hyundai-backed nonprofit organization Asan Nanum Foundation. Before Asan Sanghoe, a majority of North Korean defectors had little chance to know where to start, or to explore whether they are even fit for entrepreneurship to achieve a personal goal.

According to a survey last year of 130 North Korean defectors by a nonprofit organization that helps escapees resettle, 66.9 percent responded they were willing to found a company, 17.7 percent said they had started working on a startup and 3.1 percent said they had already founded one. But the same survey showed that nearly 97 percent did not respond when it comes to startup items they had prepared or source of information or advice for entrepreneurship they can rely on.

Participants in Asan Sanghoe take part in lectures, mentorship sessions and workshops three times a week. North Korean resettlers are given chances to team up with South Korean or foreign participants. The program also features a two-week overseas trip to Germany, where the social innovation scene has been on the rise.

“Asan Sanghoe built a strong fence around the new community to protect us, so my confidence could be built,” Heo says.

[The Investor]

What will Kim Jong-Un do in 2020?

Posted on by

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Wednesday his country will continue developing nuclear programmes and introduce a “new strategic weapon” in the near future, after the United States missed a year-end deadline for a restart of denuclearization talks. 

Kim convened a rare four-day meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s policy-making committee as the United States had not responded to his repeated calls for concessions to reopen negotiations, dismissing the deadline as artificial.

Kim had warned he might have to seek a “new path” if Washington fails to meet his expectations. U.S. military commanders said Pyongyang’s actions could include the testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which it has halted since 2017, alongside nuclear warhead tests.

There were no grounds for North Korea to be bound any longer by the self-declared nuclear and ICBM test moratorium, as the United States continued joint military drills with South Korea, adopted cutting-edge weapons and imposed sanctions while making “gangster-like demands”, Kim said, according to KCNA.

He pledged to further develop North Korea’s nuclear deterrent but left the door open for dialogue, saying the “scope and depth” of that deterrent will be “properly coordinated depending on” the attitude of the United States. 

[Reuters]

North Korean defectors train as baristas

Posted on by

Cho Kyung-ja (alias), a 33-year-old North Korean defector, is busy operating an espresso machine, preparing four cappuccinos, grinding, temping, frothing and sometimes wiping away beans that scatter here and there. As she lays the four cups down on a table, she shyly smiles.

At a glance, it looks like a run-of-the-mill coffee shop, but Cho is completing a two-month-long job training program arranged by a state-run agency supporting the resettlement of North Korean defectors in South Korea. She passed a barista test weeks earlier and now her last remaining hurdle that she has to overcome is the latte art test. Cho is one of a growing number of North Korean defectors eyeing job opportunities in coffee on the hope of landing a more stable and better-paying job, as well as better working conditions, than the manual and labor-intensive work many other defectors have to do to make ends meet.

In South Korea, coffee is closely interwoven in daily life. In sharp contrast in North Korea, buying a coffee would have been a luxury in a country where the per-capita annual income stands at a little over US$1,200.

Getting used to the new culture might be hard but it can be done with the passage of time. A much harder challenge for North Korean defectors aspiring to become baristas might be to develop a “taste” and getting necessary “skills” both for making coffee and dealing with customers, none of which they had done before in their former communist homeland.

This is where the South Korean government comes in and provides various forms of job training.  This barista-training course was arranged by Hana Foundation, a state-run resettlement agency in partnership with Hanjoo College of Culinary Arts, a civilian job training institute.

Another North Korean defector, Lee Kyung-min (alias), who is also attending the program is aiming higher than most trainees. She plans to run her own shop in the near future.

According to government data, only about 12 percent of the 32,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea run their own business, mostly in lodging, restaurant and transportation sectors, though it remains unclear how many have been successful.

[Yonhap]

A North Korean defector entrepreneurial success story

Posted on by

Joseph Park, 38, serves as a role model for North Korean defectors by showing what it takes to run a business. Fleeing North Korea in 1999 and staying for years in China before entering South Korea in 2004, Park spent around two years preparing to launch a business of his own after graduating from college.

He launched Yovel Inc., a social enterprise intended to help North Korean defectors, like him, find jobs and become economically independent. He opened his first coffee shop on the outskirts of Seoul in 2014 inside a branch of a local bank, employing five North Korean defectors as his entire staff. He later launched one more in-house office and recently opened another independent coffee shop in Chungju, some 150 kilometers south of Seoul.

“Opening a business is just like conducting an orchestra,” he said. “It is not enough to do only one thing well. You have to be able to do many things that require long-time preparations and training. It also requires a network for funding and financing, which North Korean defectors lack.”

No less important, he said, is emotional stability North Korean defectors many also be lacking, due to trauma they had to go through in the process of fleeing their home country and leaving their loved ones behind. “When I considered opening a company, the suicide rates for North Korean defectors were very high with many of them struggling to stand on their own in their livelihood,” he said. “I wanted to find solutions on those matters.”

[Yonhap]

The US Ship of Miracles that saved 14,000 North Korean refugees

Posted on by

Almost 70 years ago, a US merchant marine ship picked up more than 14,000 refugees in a single trip from a North Korean port.

It was Christmas Day in 1950 and 14,000 North Korean refugees were crammed into a US merchant marine ship, fleeing the advancing guns of the Chinese army.  There was barely enough room on board to stand – and there wasn’t much medical equipment, either. And this was no ordinary birth.

“The midwife had to use her teeth to cut my umbilical cord,” Lee Gyong-pil tells me some 69 years on. “People said the fact that I didn’t die and was born was a Christmas miracle.” Mr Lee was the fifth baby born on the SS Meredith Victory that winter, during some of the darkest days of the Korean War.

The Meredith Victory’s three-day voyage saved thousands of lives, including the parents of the current President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in. It also earned the cargo freighter a nickname – the Ship of Miracles. Read more

Is China changing its policy for female North Korean defectors?

Posted on by

Daily NK learned recently that Chinese police investigated a group of female defectors from North Korea –rather than immediately deporting them back to North Korea.

A source based in China told Daily NK on December 12 that the police in a village in Liaoning Province rounded up “dozens of North Korean women who had defected.” They were questioned by the foreign affairs division of the Ministry of Public Security in three interrogation sessions. The source reported that the Chinese officials “asked the women about their personal relations, their relatives, and their residence back in North Korea.”

The Chinese police also asked very detailed questions about the women’s’ defection process, including their defection routes. One source told Daily NK that the officials “asked which paths they took to sneak into China, and whether they defected independently or had a Chinese trafficker who facilitated their defection. They also asked who the identities of the traffickers were.” 

“The Chinese police officers furthermore photographed the women both from the front and in profile, and they took their fingerprints,” a source added. The pictures will most likely added to a facial recognition system which the Chinese authorities have adopted to both maintain law and order and control the citizens.

“This was the first time that the Chinese police conducted [such] sessions with North Korean defector women in this manner. In the past, they would have been deported immediately,” a source in China said. “It seems like China’s policy towards North Korean defectors is changing.”

These measures are interpreted as Chinese officialdom’s response to a social issue – the abrupt departure of North Korean women to South Korea, leaving both their Chinese husbands and children behind.

Sources reported an incident to Daily NK in which a North Korean woman was abused by her Chinese husband and attempted to return to North Korea. “She was discovered by the Chinese border patrol and the police brought her back to her husband,” a source from China explained.

It is very rare for female North Korean defectors to avoid being deported back to North Korea.

“There have recently been fewer investigations and deportations of women who defected from North Korea. Many are content to stay there rather than continue their journey to South Korea,” a source said. “Those married to Chinese men don’t need to risk defection to South Korea anymore if the Chinese authorities officially recognize their residence in the country.”

[Daily NK]

China calls on US to take “concrete steps” with North Korea

Posted on by

China has called on the US to take “concrete steps” to deliver on what was agreed between US and North Korea at their Singapore summit last year.

In a year-end interview with the state-controlled People’s Daily, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China encourages the US and DPRK to “work out a feasible roadmap” to establish peace and “realizing complete denuclearization on the Peninsula.”

As the year draws to a close, North Korea’s actions are being closely watched, after a top North Korean official warned that it might deliver “a Christmas gift” to the US if there’s no progress on lifting sanctions. US defense officials have said they’re expecting a long-range ballistic missile test.

But a source familiar with the North Korean leadership’s current mindset told CNN that chances are “very low” that North Korea will actually conduct a provocative test like a satellite launch, firing an ICBM, or detonating a nuclear weapon, because those acts would be considered too provocative for the likes of China and Russia, Pyongyang’s two most important international trading partners.

[CNN]