Kim Hyok Chol – North Korea’s top nuclear envoy who was reportedly executed is actually alive and in state custody, CNN reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Kim Hyok Chol, who led working-level negotiations for the February summit in Hanoi between President Donald Trump and leader Kim Jong Un, is being investigated for his role in the failure to reach a deal, CNN reported Tuesday. A conservative South Korean daily, Chosun Ilbo, sparked global intrigue over the fate of Kim Hyok Chol when it reported Friday he had been executed by firing squad after being charged with espionage as part of an internal purge.
A career diplomat from an elite North Korean family, Kim Hyok Chol made his
international debut a few weeks before the Hanoi summit as Pyongyang’s new
point man for nuclear negotiations, taking diplomats by surprise. As to his
personal “failure” in the summit, South Korea’s former top envoy to
international nuclear talks with North Korea commented, “I cannot imagine that
Kim Hyok Chol misinterpreted the U.S. position and misled his bosses into
believing that sanctions relief is possible. He is not senior enough to make
such a judgment.”
Kim Yong Chol – Recently, another key player Kim Yong Chol appeared in public attending an art performance alongside Kim Jong Un. An invitation to join to join the North Korean leader in public would likely not be extended to someone who had fallen out of favor. However, sources said Kim Yong Chol had seen power “almost deprived” since the Hanoi summit. The sources add Kim, who previously served as North Korea’s spy chief, was not sentenced to forced labor, but instead “kept silently in his office writing statements of self-criticism.” Trotting him out publicly was a signal to Washington that Kim Jong Un was “not breaking off negotiations over denuclearization,” despite escalating tensions in recent weeks, one source said.
Sin Hye Yong – Kim Jong Un’s translator at the failed Hanoi talks, Sin Hye Yong, also is in custody and under investigation, sources said.
The above North Korean officials join other senior North Korean officials who South Korean media over the years has reported they had been executed, only to have proven false.
Diplomats and officials from Pyongyang have been known to disappear from
public view only to resurface after a period of so-called reeducation, analysts
and former diplomats say.
[CNN / Bloomberg]
North Korea has issued its latest demand that the U.S. work harder to find
common ground on sanctions relief and denuclearization, warning leaders in
Washington that patience in Kim Jong Un’s regime is wearing thin.
A statement issued Tuesday by the North Korean foreign ministry said the U.S. must abandon its “current way of calculation” if it wished to revive talks between the two nations. The statement was carried by the Rodong Sinmun newspaper—the official publication of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. It said an adjustment to America’s approach would be the “correct strategic choice” to keep alive the joint statement signed by Kim and President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018, in which both committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The message—attributed to a ministry spokesperson—said the survival of the
agreement depends on how America responds to “our fair and reasonable
stand.” If the response is inadequate, the spokesperson said the Singapore
statement would become “a mere blank sheet of paper.”
“The U.S. should duly look back on the past one year and cogitate about
which will be a correct strategic choice before it is too late,” the
official continued. “The U.S. would be well-advised to change its current
method of calculation and respond to our request as soon as possible. There is
a limit to our patience.”
While attending North Korea’s Mass games, leader Kim Jong-un openly criticized his country’s “irresponsible work attitude”.
Apart from this, in attendance at the opening of the games was Mr Kim’s sister, who had not been seen publicly in nearly two months.
Kim Yo-jong has over the past two years become an close aide to her brother and was part of his diplomatic mission during the two US-North Korea summits in Singapore and Hanoi. She has been absent from the public eye before, but her recent absence was by some observers linked to the failure of the negotiations with the US. Reports suggested that Kim had ordered his sister to keep a low profile after the failure of his recent nuclear summit with Donald Trump.
There were reports last week that several of North Korea’s top officials had been purged or possibly even executed after the Hanoi summit. One of them has since reappeared in photos alongside Mr Kim, while the other’s fate remains unclear.
With none of the reports verifiable, analysts have to read official photos and seating patterns for clues as to who might have fallen out of favor. For example, some suggest Kim Yo-jong appears to no longer be member of the Politburo, as some official photos show her too far from Kim Jong-un to still be part of that powerful body.
Kim was also accompanied by his wife, Ri Sol-ju, along with senior North Korean officials.
A group of North Korean defectors, Fighters for Free North Korea, a South Korea-based group of activists, recently had a confrontation at the North Korean Embassy in London.
The group initially requested to be let in to deliver a message to the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Embassy staff did not issue a response or make an appearance, according to the activists.
When no one showed up, the activists began to paste dozens of anti-North Korea flyers to the embassy gate. Lastly, they tossed the 500 remaining flyers across the gate, according to Yonhap.
The flyers included condemnations of Kim as the “demon who killed his brother,” and read, “Kim Jong Un, butcher of humanity,” in Korean.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is looking into a report that
North Korea executed a top envoy after the summit between North Korean Leader
Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump collapsed.
According to the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, Kim Hyok Chol, North Korea’s special envoy to the US, was executed after the summit ended early. The report said he was executed in March for “being recruited by US imperialists and betraying the supreme leader.”
Chosun Ilbo reported that the execution was part of a purge of top officials that saw four other officials executed.
It reported that a senior official was part of Kim’s team for both of his
summits with Trump was sentenced to hard labor and ideological
“re-education.” The official, Kim Yong Chol, met Trump at the
White House in 2018 and was photographed with him.
It also reported that an interpreter from the summit was imprisoned for what
the newspaper said was an interpretation error at the February summit. It said
that North Korea felt the error “damaged the authority” of Kim.
South Korea said that “it’s inappropriate to make hasty judgments or comments” about the report. There have been cases where South Korean media or intelligence officials said that an individual was executed, only for them to re-emerge months later. But some reports have also been accurate.
Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper, reported Friday that North Korea had executed a top negotiator involved in Kim Jong Un’s failed summit with President Trump in February, and punished a key aide.
Chosun Ilbo cited an unnamed, unspecified source as saying nuclear envoy Kim
Hyok Chol was executed by firing squad in March for acting as a U.S. spy.
“Kim Jong Un is believed to have ordered the purge,” the newspaper reported,
saying that the moves were intended “to contain internal unrest and mounting
public dissatisfaction” after the North Korean leader failed to secure relief
from economic sanctions during his second tête-à-tête with Trump in Vietnam.
Government and intelligence officials in South Korea said that they could not confirm the report. A representative of President Moon Jae-in cautioned local journalists not to jump to “rash judgments,” according to media reports. Friday’s report came from Kim Myong-song, a North Korean
defector-turned-journalist who reports on South Korea’s unification ministry.
The report also said former military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, who hand-delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump, was sent to a labor camp near the Chinese border on similar charges, and another official who had also participated in working-level negotiations in the lead-up to the Hanoi summit alongside Kim Hyok Chol and the interpreter who translated for Kim Jong Un had been sent to political prison camps. (Kim Hyok Chol, the negotiator, was a former ambassador to Spain who only emerged as North Korea’s envoy in nuclear talks with the U.S. earlier this year.)
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korean Studies, said he was paying little heed to the reported purge.
[Los Angeles Times]
North Koreans face a daily struggle to make
ends meet due to a “vicious cycle of deprivation, corruption and
repression”, a new United Nations human rights report says.
The report also accuses Kim Jong-un’s government of economic mismanagement,
leaving its people fighting to get the basics. Everyday survival is further
hampered by officials demanding bribes, it adds. The report is based on
interviews carried out with 214 defectors in 2017 and 2018.
It notes that the collapse of the state-run distribution system in the 1990s
has forced an estimated three-quarters of the population to turn to informal
markets as everyday rations are no longer enough to survive. But the markets
exist in a legal grey area, which leaves people vulnerable to officials wanting
“I am concerned that the constant focus on the nuclear issue continues
to divert attention from the terrible state of human rights for many millions
of North Koreans,” Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human
Rights, said. “The rights to food, health, shelter, work, freedom of
movement and liberty are universal and inalienable, but in North Korea they
depend primarily on the ability of individuals to bribe state officials.”
North Korea responded angrily to the allegations laid out in the report.
“Such reports are nothing more than fabrication…as they are always based
on the so-called testimonies of ‘defectors’ who provide fabricated information
to earn their living or are compelled to do so under duress or
enticement,” its Geneva mission told Reuters news agency.
Korea said Friday that nuclear negotiations with the United States will never
resume unless the Trump administration moves away from what Pyongyang described
as unilateral demands for disarmament.
statement by an unnamed North Korean foreign ministry spokesman published in
state media was the country’s latest expression of displeasure over the stalled
negotiations. It follows two separate launches of short-range missiles earlier
this month that were apparently aimed at pressuring Washington and Seoul.
Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have been at a standstill since February. Kim Jong Un has since declared that the Trump administration has until the end of the year to come up with mutually acceptable terms for a deal. In a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, the North Korean spokesman accused the U.S. of deliberately causing the collapse of the Trump-Kim meeting with unilateral and impossible demands.
the United States puts aside the current method of calculation and comes
forward with a new method of calculation, the DPRK-U.S. dialogue will never be
resumed and by extension, the prospect for resolving the nuclear issue will be
much gloomy,” the statement added.
A Human Rights Watch report detailed a mass surveillance app being used by Chinese police in Xinjiang to monitor the movements and activities of the territory’s Uighur Muslims, including the hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of those being held in political “re-education” facilities. In effect, the app allows the police to monitor the Chinese people’s every move.
As the data passes through the app, it screens and analyzes for so-called
suspicious activity. According to the Human Rights Watch, “suspicious activity”
encompasses actions as benign as leaving one’s house via the back
door rather than the front–or any behavior that breaks from daily
embrace of oppressive surveillance technology will doubtless affect more than
just its Muslim population. One especially vulnerable group is North Korean
While the total number of North Korean defectors currently in China are unknown, some estimate that between 100,000 to 300,000 currently remain in hiding. Nearly all refugees from the North must pass through China in order to reach ultimate freedom in South Korea. These refugees rely on underground networks—primarily made up of Christian missionaries and smugglers—to guide them along their treacherous journeys.
Escape from the brutal Kim regime depends on anonymity, invisibility, and use of the underground system. Invisibility is essential due to Beijing’s agreement with Pyongyang to repatriate all North Koreans found in China. Upon repatriation, North Koreans who accept help from missionaries or who convert to Christianity while in China face particularly harsh treatment. The Commission of Inquiry noted that refugees are usually asked whether they had contact with Christian missionaries; those who did face harsher consequences. The Commission report found that Christians are uniquely persecuted among religious groups in North Korea. Open Doors USA has identified Pyongyang as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians.
A 2014 report from the United Nations Commission of Inquiry documented
systematic repression of North Koreans returned from China. Most are thrown in
ordinary prison camps or political prison camps where they will most likely be
subject to torture, malnourishment, and forced labor. Many pregnant North
Korean women are forced to abort their children, often without anesthesia,
sometimes by having a soldier stand on their pregnant stomach. Should the child
survive the abortion, the mother may be forced to watch her baby be smothered
to death. Conditions are brutal for all returned refugees, but they are
especially grave for women.
It used to be North Korea that was facing maximum pressure, not exerting it. More recently, Pyongyang conducted a second ballistic missile test in a week, escalating tensions with Washington.
With Pyongyang ramping up the pressure, Trump will eventually have to blink — one way or another. Either he returns to his policy of “maximum pressure,” threatening North Korea with potential military action if it continues missile and potentially even nuclear testing, or he agrees to reopen the topic of sanctions relief.
North Korea’s current hand is a strong one, even if the
potential risks of overplaying it are very real. And Trump can likely not
afford a rapid escalation of tensions that would be a tacit admission that his
entire strategy towards Pyongyang has been a failure.
Washington’s two other levers for pulling on North Korea,
its neighbors in China and South Korea, are also likely not feasible. China is
not going to exert any pressure on Kim on Trump’s behalf in the middle of a
trade war, and the North Korean leader has made it clear that he blames
South Korea in part for the general worsening of relations, particularly
Seoul’s decision to go ahead with recent joint military drills with the US.
Pyongyang has also gained a solid new backer: Russia. According to Michael Elleman, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a UK-based think tank with ties to the defense industry, the missiles used it Pyongyang’s recent tests “look remarkably like those of a Russian-produced Iskander.” While he said it was possible North Korea had imported the missile from elsewhere or matched the Russian design, the most likely explanation is that it bought them direct from Moscow. It is surely no coincidence that Pyongyang’s tests came off the back of Kim Jong Un’s successful first summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Pyongyang may also be playing a longer game. It has shown in the past that it is perfectly willing to wait out difficult US Presidents and wait for a change in leadership that will give it a chance to restart negotiations and earn more time to shore up its military capabilities. While no US leader has ever sat down with their North Korean counterpart before Trump, now that the precedent has been made, Pyongyang will know that future Presidents will not see it as such an impossible step.