Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

Any impact of Trump-Kim summits on North Korea’s persecuted Christians?

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When President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly ended denuclearization talks in Vietnam, watchdog groups and other experts weighing in on the impact.

As far as the impact on Christians in North Korea, Justin Hastings, a University of Sydney professor of international relations and comparative politics, told Christianity Today the summit is unlikely to help Christians, only in the long term, because “Christian influence in North Korea is one of the North Korean regime’s fears.”

Open Doors USA told Fox News Christian persecution is worsening in North Korea, according to their sources on the ground. “Tens of thousands of people are in concentration camps because they professed faith or were caught owning a Bible. We have seen little change thus far,” David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, said.

Jamie Kim, the chair of the Lausanne Movement’s North Korea Committee, believes further dialogue will result in Christian engagement. “Christians have led the way toward bridge building in the last 20-plus years, and the summit can potentially open the border between North and South Korea. While many of the Western NGOs and businesses have abandoned North Korea, it is the Christians who have stayed the ground.” Kim says Christians and non-profits should train and prepare for work inside the country should a door open in the next few years.

An anonymous Seoul-based researcher on North Korean affairs noted the United States’ travel ban preventing Americans from traveling to North Korea is not helping in a crucial need to expose the people to outsiders. “Any genuine transformation in the treatment of Christians in the country is unlikely to happen without a risky change in the regime’s approach to governance or, indeed, a complete change in the regime itself to a new government that allows freedom of religion,” the researcher explained.

[Fox News]

South Korean TV shows embolden North Korean defectors

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South Korean television shows that feature North Koreans have transformed defectors’ attitudes toward speaking publicly about their experiences and identity.

After studying fellow defectors and their relationship to South Korean media, Ken Eom said after three such television shows gained widespread popularity, defectors shed their old habit of silence. North Koreans on television are emboldening others to speak out. Beyond the money and the merits of a measure of fame, defectors are also motivated by an opportunity to “rebuild the credibility of the North Korean refugee community”.

“After the TV shows [began to be watched], defectors were no longer afraid to talk about their story in public,” Eom said during a presentation of his thesis. The defector, who is in his 30s, added the shows, sometimes geared to bringing on the laughs with light-hearted tales, are far from perfect; they’re not well liked by the defector community, with some defectors have been accused by other defectors of “fake testimonies” on television.

Eom asked his interview subjects what they thought about the shows. “It was very surprising,” said Eom. “They really hate those TV shows. But they also say it’s necessary. Without TV, nobody knows of the North Korean refugee.”

Eom feels South Koreans “really don’t care” about North Koreans. Stereotypes about the regime’s abysmal human rights record, its prison camps and nuclear weapons program, deeply hurt defectors. But the shows, despite their flaws, provide many North Koreans with a rare opportunity to present their stories and to “just talk about their normal lives.”

“It’s better than nothing,” Eom said.

[UPI]

South Korean perceptions of North Korean defectors have changed over time

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According to a recent survey from the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, less than 6 percent of North Korean defectors said they completed university education in the North. Once in the South, North Koreans often take jobs as day laborers, or in the service sector.

It is perhaps unsurprising defectors are applying in large numbers to be on South Korean television shows that feature North Koreans, where the pay is good, they can sit in a relatively comfortable TV studio, and gain a bit of fame on local television.

Casey Lartigue, one of the co-founders of TNKR, said South Korean perceptions of North Korean defectors or refugees have changed over time. “South Koreans [in the ’90s] used to ask them questions in a very judgmental way, saying, ‘Why did you abandon your family’,” …adding the newcomers were often suspected of being spies. With the rising number of escapees, it was harder to call these people traitors or spies, and easier to understand North Koreans were flocking to the prosperous South in search of better opportunities.

Defector activists have said South Korean TV shows, copied to flash drives, have been spreading secretly in North Korea. Eom told UPI the shows are “really powerful,” and if ordinary North Koreans are better able to access South Korean media, “North Korea would be gone.”

But he also said he spoke to a defector who arrived earlier this year in the South, who confirmed North Korea is cracking down on TV shows; copying shows to flash drives could bring a three-year prison sentence in the North.

[UPI]

North Korea asks for food aid while hinting at rocket launch

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Kim Jong Un went into his summit with President Trump with one objective: relief from international sanctions crippling North Korea’s economy. Having come away from the Hanoi summit empty-handed, North Korea is now inching toward provocation and simultaneously tugging at heartstrings.

Satellite images have detected activity at a launch facility and a missile manufacturing complex — sites North Korea knows full well are being closely watched — signaling the country may be gearing up for a rocket launch, and rattling nerves in Washington.

At the same time, the United Nations last week said that harvests in North Korea were down 9% in 2018, the lowest yield in a decade, and that 3.8 million people — 1 out of 7 North Koreans — were urgently in need of “life-saving aid.”

In a leaked memo in the lead-up to the Hanoi summit, a North Korean official pleaded for assistance from international organizations to address an impending food shortage that he said was caused not only by abnormally high temperatures and natural disasters, but by “barbaric and inhuman sanctions.”

For the moment, much of Washington’s attention is trained on the potential provocation. Commercial satellite images signal North Korea is taking steps to launch a rocket, analysts said.

Melissa Hanham, a nuclear expert at the One Earth Future Foundation, said in all likelihood, North Korea will launch a space rocket rather than test a missile. Even so, the timing would send a message, she said.

Hazel Smith, a veteran North Korea scholar who was previously based in North Korea working for U.N. agencies, said it would be a “very big mistake” to dismiss the request for aid as a government ploy. Smith, professor of international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said there was no doubt restrictions on North Korea’s oil imports — imposed in September 2017 — led to decreased agricultural productivity.

At least one country has heeded North Korea’s plea. Russia shipped 2,092 tons of wheat in humanitarian aid to feed children and pregnant women. Emblazoned in blue across the length of the white 50 kg sacks, with the stamp of the World Food Programme, were the words: “Gift of Russian Federation.”

[Los Angeles Times]

Top Trump official may have just doomed US-North Korea talks

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A top Trump administration official has all but admitted that the US stance toward North Korea talks is now a hardline one. What this means, some analysts say, is that the American position will sink any chance for progress in US-North Korea negotiations over ending its nuclear program.

A senior State Department official made a stunning remark when asked if the Trump administration agrees on how to handle the complexities of talks with North Korea: “Nobody in the administration advocates a step-by-step approach,” the official said. “In all cases, the expectation is a complete denuclearization of North Korea as a condition for all the other steps … being taken.” In other words, for Pyongyang to receive any kind of benefits like sanctions relief, it has to dismantle its entire nuclear arsenal first.

“Only through practical reciprocal steps will we get closer to denuclearization & peace and away from dangerous & irresponsible ‘fire & fury’ threats,” Arms Control Association Director Daryl Kimball also tweeted.

Here’s why analysts closely following the US-North Korea drama are so worried: Pyongyang for years has said that the only way it would consider giving up its nuclear weapons is through a step-by-step process where both sides offer reciprocal, commensurate concessions. By resolving smaller disagreements, like lifting sanctions in exchange for the closure of an important nuclear facility, over time the US and North Korea would eventually arrive at the grand prize: the end of Pyongyang’s nuclear threat.

This abrupt change in tone isn’t trivial. The North Koreans pay very close attention to any and all statements coming from the US government, and what they just heard is that the US wants “all or nothing.” It’s therefore possible that Pyongyang will get angry at the new rhetoric, thereby threatening the future of negotiations and possibly putting both nations back on the path to war.

“That could very well backfire,” says Harry Kazianis, a North Korea expert at the Center for the National Interest, by enticing Pyongyang “to push back with an intercontinental ballistic missile test in the coming weeks.”

Perhaps by indicating that the US will play hardball from here on out, the US aims to have North Korea moderate its own hardline position.

What’s clear, though, is that this statement won’t be taken kindly by the Kim regime. The US may want to continue negotiations, but comments like the official’s yesterday threaten to end them.

[Vox]

North Korea mentions summit failure in party newspaper

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North Korea is changing its narrative of the Hanoi summit. An article published on page six of Workers’ Party paper Rodong Sinmun stated the world was holding the United States responsible for the end of the bilateral summit without an agreement.

“Those inside and outside North Korea who couldn’t hope enough for good results at the second U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi are unanimously holding the United States responsible for the end of the summit without an agreement, while being unable to hide their regrets,” the Rodong stated on Friday.

The newspaper also stated the “whole world hopes the peace process in the Korean Peninsula will flow smoothly.”

The admission of the summit’s abrupt end is a first; as recently as Thursday North Korea was stating negotiations are feasible with a “fair proposal, appropriate attitude and will to solve the problem.”

The article may reflect the changing reality of North Korea, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap. Ordinary North Koreans have more access to outside world information, and they continue to move across the China-North Korea border. State authorities may have decided to report factual events for practical reasons, according to Yonhap’s analysis.

As speculation continues over what will happen after the Hanoi summit, South Korea appointed a new unification minister, Kim Yeon-chul, president of government-run think tank Korea Institute for National Unification. JTBC reported Friday Kim Yeon-chul seeks to pursue the resumption of U.S.-North Korea negotiations.

[UPI]

U.N. says 11 Million North Koreans are not getting enough food and kids are stunted

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An estimated 11 million people in North Korea — over 43 percent of the population — are undernourished and “chronic food insecurity and malnutrition is widespread,” according to a U.N. report issued Wednesday.

The report by Tapan Mishra, the head of the U.N. office in North Korea, said that “widespread undernutrition threatens an entire generation of children, with one in five children stunted due to chronic undernutrition.” With only limited health care and a lack of access to clean water and sanitation, “children are also at risk of dying from curable diseases,” the report added.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that the U.N. humanitarian team in the country is calling for $120 million “to urgently provide life-saving aid to 3.8 million people.” Without adequate funding this year, some agencies providing desperately needed help to North Koreans will be forced to close down, he said.

Mishra’s report said North Korea faces annual shortfalls in agricultural production because of a shortage of arable land, lack of access to modern agricultural equipment and fertilizers, and recurrent natural disasters. Last year, it said, there was a severe heat wave in provinces considered to be the country’s “food basket,” and the food situation was further aggravated by Typhoon Soulik in late August.

He said an estimated 3 percent of children under age 5 — approximately 140,000 — “suffer from wasting or acute malnutrition” and “have a higher risk of mortality. … The main underlying causes of wasting are poor household food security, inadequate feeding and care practices, as well as poor access to health, water, hygiene and sanitation services.”

While U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs are supposed to exempt humanitarian activities, “humanitarian agencies continue to face serious unintended consequences on their programs,” Mishra said. He cited “lack of funding, the absence of a banking channel for humanitarian transfers and challenges to the delivery of humanitarian supplies. … The continued risk-averse approach taken by suppliers and some authorities in transit countries … continues to cause significant delays in the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance.”

[TIME]

Trump voices disappointment over North Korean rocket site report

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Fresh reports of missile-related activity in North Korea have emerged, confirmed by South Korean spy chief Suh Hoon, according to the JoongAng Ilbo. Hours after Donald Trump said he would be “very disappointed” if separate reports about a rocket launch site being rebuilt proved to be true.

“I would be very disappointed if that were happening,” Trump said in the Oval Office, when asked if North Korea was breaking a promise.

“Well, we’re going to see. It’s too early to see … It’s a very early report. …But I would be very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim, and I don’t think I will be, but we’ll see what happens. We’ll take a look. It’ll ultimately get solved.”

Trump, eager for a big foreign policy win on North Korea that has eluded predecessors for decades, has repeatedly stressed his good relationship with Kim. In 2018 he went as far as saying they “fell in love” but the bonhomie has failed so far to bridge the wide gap between the two sides.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, warned on Tuesday that new sanctions could be introduced if North Korea did not scrap its nuclear weapons program.

[The Guardian]

North Korea seen reassembling rocket test site

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Satellite imagery suggests that North Korea may be taking steps to reactivate a partially decommissioned long-range rocket test site on the country’s west coast. Experts say they see evidence that workers are rebuilding at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station. In a matter of days, a rocket-engine test stand and a large transfer structure have been reassembled, according to Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., a senior fellow for imagery analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The structures were taken down over the course of last summer, Bermudez says, and reassembled in a matter of days. “We’ve seen a remarkably quick rebuilding,” he says.

News of the apparent activity comes less than a week after a second summit between the U.S. and North Korea ended in stalemate. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 27 and 28. But the two sides wrapped up talks early after it became apparent that they were far apart on any deal over North Korea’s nuclear program.

The Sohae facility, also referred to as Dongchang-ri and Tongchang-ri, is the site from which North Korea attempted satellite launches in 2012 and 2016. It’s also the location of a test stand that Pyongyang has used to fire some of its rocket engines on the ground. More recently, Sohae figured prominently in the ongoing talks between North Korea and the United States. Last June, after the first U.S.-North Korea summit, in Singapore, Trump said Kim had given his word that he would close “a major missile-engine testing site.”

“I got that after we signed the agreement,” Trump said at a press conference following his meeting with Kim. “I said, ‘Do me a favor. You’ve got this missile-engine testing site. We know where it is because of the heat.’ … I said, ‘Can you close it up?’ He’s going to close it up.”

During a summit in September with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim followed up with an official announcement that he was closing Sohae. (In that announcement, he referred to Sohae as Dongchang-ri.) Satellite imagery suggested that North Korea did begin disassembling the site in the summer of 2018.

Now, Bermudez says, the test stand appears almost completely reassembled, and the building has been rebuilt with all but part of its roof. The work happened sometime between Feb. 20 and March 2, when the commercial images were taken by the company DigitalGlobe. Given that the site has lain dormant for months, Bermudez believes the work probably took place after Feb. 28, when the Trump-Kim summit concluded unsuccessfully.

Even if Sohae is being rebuilt after the failed summit, Kim isn’t violating any agreement with the U.S., notes David Wright, co-director of the global security program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Ultimately, the decision to rebuild Sohae, like the decision to take it apart, may be largely symbolic. Bermudez says the facility is not believed to be at the center of North Korea’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“All North Korean ballistic missiles today, maybe with one or two exceptions, can be launched from mobile launchers,” he says.

[NPR]

Trump has given North Korea a valuable bargaining chip for free

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The South Korean capital, Seoul, is within artillery range of North Korea. Millions of South Koreans could be shelled within minutes if a war breaks out. While South Korea’s government favors improved relations with Pyongyang, it also understands the value of a strong military. The Trump administration should be helping a strong ally, not undermining it.

President Trump was …wrong to walk away from annual military exercises with our South Korean allies. That move raises fears that walking away from our decades-long alliance could be next.

Trump says he decided to suspend this year’s two land exercises, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, to save money and to help improve relations with Pyongyang. Neither explanation justifies his decision.

The cost to hold the exercises, estimated at $14 million, is trivial in the context of a $700 billion U.S. defense budget. Moreover, the South Korean government just agreed to increase the amount it pays each year for basing U.S. troops in the country by more than $50 million. Insisting our allies pay more to get less is a terrible idea.

Trump also apparently acceded to this key North Korean demand without getting anything in return. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had specifically protested the annual exercises in his New Year’s Day speech, reiterating a longtime demand.

[Excerpt of Washington Post Opinion]