Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

How North Korean defectors communicate with family back home

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North Korean phones are screened by the Ministry of State Security first to prevent them from being used in any non-permitted ways, so cannot be used to communicate with those in other countries.

Because of this, North Koreans use Chinese-made phones that have been purchased from smugglers, and contact relatives through an app WeChat, allowing voice calls, text messages, and video calls.

WeChat is also used to send money to loved ones in North Korea so they can maintain a living and eat their next meal. The transfer process involves the money passing through several countries before reaching the recipient in North Korea. After initial links are established through these networks in both North and South Korea, money is sent to the account of a Chinese middle-man, who takes a cut for themselves.

There are many shops in the China-North Korea border regions that are jointly run by people from both countries. At such places, at a pre-arranged time and date, the money originally sent by the defector is given over to the North Korean broker. The transfer is conducted not in South or North Korean won but in Chinese yuan.

The North Korean broker then takes their cut before taking the money and delivering it to the other side of the border.

After all is said and done, around seventy percent of the original amount makes its way into the hands of the recipient. Some unscrupulous brokers, however, take more, leaving only around half of the original sum.

[NK News]

US ready to talk to North Korea, with rebuke for Pyongyang counterpart

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Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, the top U.S. official on U.S.-North Korean affairs, on Wednesday said that Washington is willing to resume talks with Pyongyang but disputed reports that he was seeking to meet with North Korean officials during a visit to South Korea.

“Let me absolutely be clear, we did not request a visit” with the North Koreans, Biegun told reporters after meeting with the lead South Korean nuclear negotiator. “This visit this week is to meet with our close friends and allies, the South Koreans.”

“We look forward to continuing our work for a peaceful outcome of the Korean peninsula, I believe this is very much possible,” he added.

Days earlier, Pyongyang’s chief negotiator Vice Foreign Minister Choe Sun Hui had said the nation would only resume talks if the U.S. ended its “hostile” policies and accused the U.S. of the “shallow tactic” of seeking to exploit Washington-Pyongyang relations for electoral advantages, according to state media.

Biegun responded to this Wednesday with a rare rebuke of a North Korean diplomat, comparing Choe to former White House national security adviser John Bolton. “Both are locked in an old way of thinking, focused on only the negatives and what is impossible, rather than thinking creatively about what is possible,” Biegun said.

Biegun also implied resuming talks would be a non-starter if it would mean continued negotiations with Choe. “When Chairman Kim [Jong Un] appoints a counterpart to me who is prepared and empowered to negotiate on these issues, they will find us ready at that very moment,” he said, according to the AP.

[The Hill]

Trump says he’d meet with Kim Jong Un again

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President Trump says he is open to another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, even as Pyongyang signals it is uninterested in resuming stalled nuclear talks.

Trump made the comments Tuesday in an interview with Gray Television’s Greta Van Susteren*. “I understand they want to meet and we would certainly do that,” Trump said.

When Van Susteren, also a VOA contributor, asked if Trump thought such a meeting would be helpful, Trump replied: “Probably. I have a very good relationship with him, [so it] probably would be.”

North Korea has twice in the past week said it is not interested in more talks with the U.S., insisting another summit would only benefit Trump’s domestic political situation.

*The complete interview will air Sunday on Gray TV’s Full Court Press program, but VOA obtained a transcript of Trump’s North Korea comments ahead of time.  


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.


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.


Is there declining South Korean public support for humanitarian aid to North Korea?

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Previous public opinion surveys have shown strong South Korean public support for humanitarian food aid to North Korea.

In March 2020, 38North implemented a web survey: South Korean respondents were randomly assigned one of following three versions about providing humanitarian aid to North Korea.

  • Version 1: Do you think South Korea should give more humanitarian aid to North Korea than they are giving now?
  • Version 2: South Korea has allocated approximately 680 billion won for humanitarian aid to North Korea for 2020. Do you think South Korea should give more humanitarian aid to North Korea than they are giving now?
  • Version 3: South Korea has allocated approximately 680 billion won for humanitarian aid to North Korea for 2020. This comprises less than one-tenth of one percent of the national budget. Do you think South Korea should give more humanitarian aid to North Korea than they are giving now?

They found that how aid is presented matters. When provided with no information about allocations, only around 36 percent support expanding aid. However, when the actual budget of 680 billion Korean won is provided in the question, public support for expanding aid further decreases by approximately 11 percent. Even when the budget is contextualized in terms of the national budget, support declines by about 8 percent.

Additionally, findings suggest knowing a North Korean who has moved to South Korea generates broader sympathy for providing aid.

Overall, evidence suggests a public disconnect between support for peace and unification and a willingness to expand humanitarian aid that would support those efforts.

[Read full story at 38North]

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”.


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]