A blog by Grant Montgomery, co-founder of Family Care Foundation, a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for families on 5 continents. This site highlights the plight of 300,000 North Koreans who have fled their country due to the brutal oppression of a Stalinist North Korean regime, as well as those still living in North Korea.
Over the weekend, a letter was
delivered from US President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a
source familiar with the ongoing denuclearization talks between Washington and
Pyongyang told CNN. It was flown to Pyongyang and delivered by hand, the source
According to the source, North
Korea’s former spy chief Kim Yong Chol — one of Pyongyang’s top negotiators —
could visit Washington as soon as this week to finalize details of the upcoming
CNN previously reported that US scouting teams had visited Bangkok, Hanoi and Hawaii as they search for a location for the second summit.
Kim Jong-un’s recent trip to China served
to emphasize that not only does Pyongyang have partners beyond Seoul and
Washington, but also that China remains a major player in any future action to
denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
Kim had been due to visit the South
Korean capital in December, but that summit was repeatedly delayed as the
denuclearization process and talks between Pyongyang and Washington ran into
The leaders of China and North Korea used a summit this week to project a show of unity in the face of stalled negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear program and to press the U.S. to compromise.
The meetings gave Beijing a platform to underline its clout in global affairs and its critical leverage in resolving one of Washington’s top security challenges. The U.S., embroiled in an increasingly bitter dispute with China over trade practices, needs the cooperation of President Xi Jinping to enforce sanctions on North Korea and to nudge his Communist ally into making concessions toward giving up his nuclear arsenal.
For Kim Jong Un, his fourth visit in a year to China carried a purposeful reminder for the Trump administration that it should prepare to give ground to get a denuclearization deal. The regime has been calling for sanctions relief from the U.S.
China’s leadership was instrumental in tightening sanctions and prodding Mr.
Kim to the negotiating table last year. As North Korea’s biggest trading
partner, aid provider and investor, China is critical to maintaining the
pressure. To move ahead with denuclearization, Mr. Xi’s government has
suggested a phased approach in which North Korean concessions should be met
with ones from the international community—a position potentially at odds with
On Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in pressed the U.S. and North
Korea to break the impasse in denuclearization talks, saying reciprocal
concessions were needed to achieve the U.S. goal of disarming Pyongyang and Mr.
Kim’s goal of obtaining sanctions relief.
With U.N. sanctions still in place, China’s willingness to aid North Korea’s
economic ambitions is limited, said Kim Heung-kyu, a professor of political
science at Ajou University in South Korea. “At the end, if North Korea
wants what it wants, like becoming a normal state, pursuing economic growth,
then it must achieve a breakthrough in talks with the U.S.,” he said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, accompanied by his
wife Ri Sol Ju and top North Korean officials, has arrived in China for a
four-day visit at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, as
preparations increase for a second summit with US President Trump.
During his stay in China, Kim is expected to hold his fourth summit
with Xi. The visit comes a week after Kim warned that North Korea may seek an
alternative course if the United States maintains sanctions and
pressure on his country.
Analysts also believe that Kim is eager to use the fact that relations between China and the US are strained amid the world’s two biggest economies’ bitter trade war, in order for North Korea to get as much as possible out of the expected talks.
In his annual New Year’s address last week, Kim renewed his commitment to denuclearization but added that the progress would be faster if Washington took the corresponding action.
North Korea would have “no option but to explore a new path in order to
protect our sovereignty” if the US “miscalculates our people’s
patience, forces something upon us and pursues sanctions and pressure without
keeping a promise it made in front of the world”, Kim said, adding that he
was ready to meet Trump again at any time.
Christopher Hill, a former US ambassador to South Korea, said Kim’s visit to China may be Beijing’s way of ensuring it remains a player in any future developments with Washington.
The visit also coincided with what South Korean officials say is Kim Jong-un’s 35th birthday on January 8.
South Korean media reported late
Monday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be on his way to Beijing for
his fourth summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
Officials in China and in Seoul had
no immediate comment. North Korea rarely reports such visits until they are
The reports said a train like the
one often used by Kim was seen crossing through the Chinese border city of
Dandong late Monday amid heavy security. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency
speculated the train could be carrying a senior North Korean official, while
the Hankyoreh newspaper cited sources as saying Kim was in China for a summit.
Yonhap said the train was expected
to reach Beijing at about 10 a.m. Tuesday local time.
Reports of the North Korean leader’s
possible trip to China come after U.S. and North Korean officials are believed
to have met in Vietnam to discuss the location of a second summit between Kim
and President Donald Trump. China is the North’s most important trading partner
and a key buffer against pressure from Washington.
If Kim is going to meet Xi, Kim
could be hoping to coordinate his positions with China before the Trump summit.
North Koreans who defected but later changed their minds and returned to the North are giving lectures in towns and cities on the Chinese border extolling the pleasures of life under Kim Jong-un and the misery of being on the run in China and struggling to survive in a capitalist state.
The lectures are part of the North Korean government’s efforts to halt the steady flow of its citizens over the border into China, from where they attempt to reach a third country and seek asylum and the assistance of Seoul to settle in South Korea. The use of double-defectors is designed to reinforce the regime’s message that many who flee the North regret their decision.
A North Korean who attended a recent lecture in the city of Hoeryong, which
is on the Tumen River that marks the border with China, said a double-defector
in her 40s said she had not been able to earn any money after she had crossed
the border and that she could not even go to a hospital when she was taken
ill. The woman said she had been
discriminated against the entire time she had been outside the North, adding
that she was “treated as less than human” and that she became a perpetual
The double-defectors’ lectures have hammered home the message that it is
difficult to earn enough money to survive in China and that there is a high
likelihood of women being sexually exploited. People-smugglers are known to
sell young women to Chinese farmers looking for a bride or into the sex
The woman added in her lecture that she had been surprised after returning to the North at “how fast our country is developing”.
Similar lectures were delivered to women working in farms and factories across Onsong County and at the Musan mine, the Seoul-based Daily NK news site reported.
North Korea expert Barbara Demick’s now legendary book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, chronicles the lives of six defectors over 15 years. Demick explains that the famine of the mid-1990s in North Korea was profoundly traumatic for the country, leading to greater repression.
“For a while during the famine, when things were really bad during 1994, ’95, ’96, [the authorities] didn’t stop people from wandering around,” said Demick, now the Los Angeles Times’ bureau chief in New York. “But people started wandering to look for food, and kids who crossed the border into China looking for food weren’t stopped that much. But then when the food situation got a little better, they had unleashed this spirit of self-enterprise, and [North Korean authorities] had to crack down very harshly.”
The famine also broke popular faith in the Kim dynasty as government corruption became widespread, though the need to believe in something remained. “It’s interesting that most North Korean defectors become Christian,” Demick said.
She thinks it’s inevitable that the two Koreas will grow closer. But the gulf between them is vast, greater than the pre-unification division between East and West Germany, said Demick, who was based in Berlin during the 1990s. “There was some communication between East and West Germany. But you still can’t send a letter from North to South Korea, can’t make a phone call, not to speak of an e-mail or a WhatsApp message. The degree of separation is like nothing else in the world,” she said.
Demick suggested the Singapore summit between Trump and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un last June was “a good thing. I don’t think it will lead to denuclearization, but it certainly eased tension,” she said.
After five years in Seoul … Demick served as Los Angeles Times’ bureau chief in Beijing. She does not buy the argument that China is a benign force for stability in the East Asia.
“The North Koreans will never say this, but they’re more afraid of China than the United States. They’ll say that China is their friend and the US is the great enemy. But I think they fear China’s undue influence on Korea. …Much of the motivation behind the nuclear program is to take control of their own national security. They don’t want to be dependent on China the way they were during the Korean War.”
The North Korean view is also governed by one of the most enduring principles of geopolitics, Demick added: “The US is far away.”
The United States has dropped a bid to hold a UN Security Council meeting on North Korea’s human rights record after failing to garner enough support for the talks, diplomats said Friday.
The meeting has been held every year since 2014, as the US has always garnered the nine votes needed at the council to hold the meeting, despite opposition from China.
North Korea had written to council members last month to urge them to block the US request for the meeting that shines a spotlight on Pyongyang’s dismal record. North Korean Ambassador Kim Song last month told council members that criticism of Pyongyang’s human rights record would “swim against the current trend” of rapprochement and “stoke confrontation.”
China had failed to derail the meeting until this year, when non-permanent member Ivory Coast refused to bow to pressure to lend its backing to the US. China, which has strong expanding ties in Africa, has argued that the Security Council is not the venue to discuss human rights as a threat to international peace and security.
A landmark 2014 report by a UN Commission of Inquiry documented human rights abuses on an appalling scale in North Korea, describing a vast network of prison camps where detainees are subjected to torture, starvation and summary executions. The report accused leader Kim Jong Un of atrocities and concluded that he could be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. North Korea has rejected the report as a fabrication, based on testimony from dissidents living in exile.
North Korea is expanding an important missile base that would be one of the most likely sites for deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, two experts on the North’s missile programs said Thursday, citing new research based on satellite imagery.
The activities at the Yeongjeo-dong missile base near North Korea’s border with China and the expansion of a new suspected missile facility seven miles away are the latest indications that North Korea is continuing to improve its missile capabilities, said Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California.
“The base is located in the interior of North Korea, backed up against the Chinese border,” they said. “It is this location that leads us to believe that the general area is a strong candidate for the deployment of future missiles that can strike the United States.” Military planners in Seoul and Washington have long suspected that North Korea would deploy its intercontinental ballistic missiles as close to China as possible to reduce the likelihood of pre-emptive strikes from the United States.
Using satellite imagery, they located tunnels in Yeongjeo-dong that might be used for storing missiles and the construction of a new headquarters, as well as a pair of drive-through shelters in Hoejung-ni suitable for large ballistic missiles and “an extremely large underground facility” under construction further up a narrow valley.
A series of United Nations resolutions require North Korea to give up its ballistic missile program. But the country has never signed any agreement to curtail or disclose its missile capabilities. Following his June summit meeting in Singapore with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, Mr. Trump claimed that there was “no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”
In a sense, Donald Trump’s campaign to denuclearize North Korea is bearing fruit: The Korean War is beginning to end. Seoul and Pyongyang have been dismantling guard posts, designating no-fly zones, and disarming what was once the most volatile place on the peninsula. Indeed, by the estimation of the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh, North and South Korea have already fully implemented about one third of the more than two dozen reconciliation agreements they reached in a pair of summits between the nations’ leaders in April and September.
The Koreas have suspended certain military exercises near the military demarcation line (MDL) separating the countries, cleared hundreds of land mines in the area (millions remain), and linked a road as part of an effort to excavate the remains of soldiers who died during the Korean War. They have covered up coastal artillery and warship-mounted guns and established a no-fly zone in the vicinity of the border. They are now exploring ways to jointly secure the iconic border village of Panmunjom and allow unarmed guards, civilians, and foreign tourists to move about on either side of the MDL there for the first time in more than 40 years.
While it’s hard to overstate what’s at stake in these seemingly minor developments, several of the meatiest measures require U.S. consent and are on hold. North and South Korea, for example, can’t collaborate on economic and tourism projects or actually get inter-Korean roads and railways up and running until international sanctions against North Korea are eased. They’ve also encountered resistance in calling for the leaders of the two Koreas, the United States, and perhaps China to formally declare an end to the Korean War, which came to a halt in an armistice in 1953.
But where Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have freer rein and have arguably made the greatest advances is in enacting various accords to cease military hostilities between their countries. The progress, though still modest and tentative, is all the more remarkable given the comparatively sluggish pace at the moment of nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea.
Several North Korean defectors have recently been arrested in Dandong, China, by Chinese police and almost immediately repatriated back to North Korea, according to sources close to the matter.
“Two laborers who were working at a metalworks company in Sinuiju were arrested by Chinese police. They were repatriated back to North Korea over the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge the day after they were questioned by the Chinese,” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on November 20.
A source with knowledge of the incident in China said, “In the past, many defectors could avoid being caught if they hid from the police for a couple of days, but these days the Chinese police have strengthened their patrols and there are now fewer defections.”
Another similar incident occurred said a separate source in China. “A defector hid in a reed field near the mouth of the Yalu River for three days before trying to swim across to Langtou Port to reach Chinese territory, but was arrested by Chinese police in the process,” he said, adding that the man was sent back across the Sino-Korean Friendship bridge soon after being questioned by Chinese authorities.
The Chinese have strengthened patrols along the Sino-DPRK border and installed more surveillance equipment, which has made it more difficult for North Koreans to defect, the source said. Chinese authorities began installing high-quality surveillance cameras on the Sino-DPRK border several years ago and have used thermal imaging cameras to crack down on defections and smuggling activities at night. The advanced surveillance equipment has been used to track the movements of North Koreans near the border and arrest those who try to defect into Chinese territory.
“Boats are used in the river for smuggling and these activities are not easy for Chinese authorities to track,” said the source. “By comparison, the authorities can relatively easily track movements of people coming over the border [..] The use of hundreds of cameras that can read very small print from 2 km away means that North Koreans have little chance of successfully defecting across the border.”
There are growing concerns about the safety of North Koreans trying to defect to China. “The Kim Jong Un regime may severely punish those attempting to cross over into China, so China’s moves to repatriate defectors back to North Korea can be seen as a crime against humanity,” one North Korean analyst told Daily NK on condition of anonymity. “The international community must call for the end of these repatriations.”