Category: Uncategorized

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.

[BBC]

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]

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”.

[Reuters]

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]

North Korea blows up inter-Korea liaison office

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North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office building just north of the heavily armed border with South Korea on Tuesday in a dramatic display of anger that sharply raises tensions on the Korean Peninsula and puts pressure on Washington and Seoul amid deadlocked nuclear diplomacy.

The demolition of the building, which is located on North Korean territory and had no South Koreans working there, is largely symbolic. But it’s still likely the most provocative thing North Korea has done since it entered nuclear diplomacy in 2018 after a U.S.-North Korean standoff had many fearing war.

The liaison office was opened in 2018 as the first channel for full-time, person-to-person contact between the Koreas.

This development will pose a serious setback to the efforts of liberal South Korean President Moon Jae-in to restore inter-Korean engagement.

[AP]

Kim Jong Un’s sister threatens military action with South Korea

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South Korea convened an emergency security meeting Sunday after the sister of North Korea’s leader threatened military action against South Korea in the latest escalation of tensions between the two neighbors.

Kim Yo Jong, a trusted aide to her brother, Kim Jong Un, said she would leave the right to take the next step of retaliation against South Korea to North Korea’s military in a statement carried Saturday by the state news agency, KCNA.

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un

Kim, who has gained new prominence in North Korea’s power structure, didn’t specify what the next action could be or when exactly it would be taken, but she added: “I feel it is high time to surely break with the South Korean authorities. We will soon take the next action.”

A spokesman for the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential office, said Sunday that the national security council held an emergency video conference to review the situation and to discuss how best to respond.

Kim’s statement Saturday followed her announcement last week that North Korea was suspending all communication lines with South Korea, a move analysts believe could be an attempt to manufacture a crisis and force concessions from its neighbor.

Kim Jin Ah, a North Korea expert at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, a government research center in Seoul, said North Korea is using propaganda leaflets distributed by defectors as an excuse to break “the doldrum” in its negotiations with the U.S.

Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a lecturer in international relations at King’s College London, said it’s reasonable from the North Korean perspective for the regime to try to divert attention from domestic conditions by raising tensions with South Korea. “It makes sense for Kim Yo Jong to lead, or be seen as leading, these increasing tensions. This way she can show that she will be tough with South Korea if necessary,” he said.

[NBC]

North Korea says “never again” to Trump-Kim meetings

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On the two-year anniversary of the first meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pyongyang seems in no mood to pursue closer ties, according to a statement by Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon.

“Never again will we provide the U.S. chief executive with another package to be used for achievements without receiving any returns,” Ri said.

The statement called for a change of direction in U.S. policy and pointed out what North Korea believes is U.S. hypocrisy. “The U.S. professes to be an advocate for improved relations with the DPRK, but in fact, it is hell-bent on only exacerbating the situation,” Ri added.

[Foreign Policy]

Kim Jong Un’s health just one of North Korean worries

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After nearly three weeks of international speculation about his health, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un returned to public view at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new factory on May 1. Kim is apparently “alive and well.” But … Kim’s continued power does not equate to a static situation in North Korea.

The Kim regime may focus on modernizing state institutions, or it may crack down on social trends and commerce that do not comport with the ruling party’s ideology and control of the economy. The military might make a few external provocations while quietly improving its capabilities, or it might push the envelope with further escalation. In terms of diplomacy, Pyongyang could continue to reject engagement, or it could pursue tactical cooperation for short-term gain.

Kim appears focused on domestic affairs in light of North Korea’s economic challenges. To address these, he could do more to evade sanctions, strengthen his country’s self-reliance, or both. The coronavirus pandemic further complicates matters because North Korea’s self-imposed national quarantine has nearly halted trade with China, upon which the country is extremely dependent. Indeed, the pandemic may be doing more than international sanctions to arrest economic activity across North Korea’s borders.

Kim’s reasons for choosing the Sunchon fertilizer plant’s ribbon-cutting ceremony as his occasion to reappear are unknown. But the visit suggests the importance he places on food production, particularly while the pandemic disrupts the country’s supply chain and flow of foreign currency from China.

Outsiders may not have been the only ones questioning the sustainability of Kim’s leadership while he was absent. Kim may also intensify political purges and anticorruption campaigns.

Maintaining international tensions as a means of pursuing strategic objectives remains a priority. … While a major diplomatic breakthrough with Washington is unlikely before the U.S. presidential election in November, North Korea will continue pursuing its strategic aim of perfecting a nuclear deterrent and gaining strategic advantage without triggering outright conflict.

[Foreign Policy]

China proposes lifting North Korea sanctions

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China’s top diplomat called on the United States to ease North Korea sanctions, as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un discussed strengthening nuclear deterrence, according to state media reports.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday action is more important between the United States and North Korea than “sitting down to discuss” differing points of view. Wang said Washington and Pyongyang need to take action in order to promote “mutual trust” and “overcome the deadlock.”

“In the past few years, North Korea has taken active steps to relieve tensions and denuclearize, but regrettably it has been unable to obtain a substantial response from the United States, which has led to stalled U.S.-North Korea talks,” Wang said, referring to sanctions.

China has offered to provide a mediating role between the United States and North Korea in recent years. In September at the United Nations General Assembly, Wang called on the United States and North Korea to “build trust through synchronized actions.”

“The way forward is parallel progress in denuclearization,” Wang had said last year, referring to a step-by-step denuclearization supported by Beijing.

[UPI]

Two years after Singapore summit, Kim Jong-un vows to boost North Korea’s nuclear deterrent

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Kim Jong Un has vowed to implement “new policies” to boost the country’s nuclear deterrent, state media reported on Sunday, underlining his decision to turn his back on denuclearization talks with the United States.

Kim made the call at a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Military Commission, nearly two years since he met President Trump at a historic summit in Singapore that seemed to offer hope of progress between the two nations.

Subsequent talks made little progress before dissolving in acrimony last year, and North Korea has since returned to a harder line in its public posturing.

[Washington Post]