Category: Uncategorized

Kim Jong Un taps tough-talking military veteran as North Korean foreign minister

Posted on by

North Korea’s new foreign minister is a former defense commander with little diplomatic experience, spotlighting leader Kim Jong Un’s reliance on party and military loyalists at a sensitive time amid stalled U.S. talks, analysts in Seoul said.

North Korea had previously told countries with embassies in Pyongyang that Ri Son Gwon, a senior military officer and official of the ruling Workers’ Party, had been appointed foreign minister, a diplomatic source in Seoul told Reuters. He replaces Ri Yong Ho, a career diplomat with years of experience negotiating with Washington.

Analysts said it was too soon to tell exactly what impact the appointment may have for the stalled denuclearisation talks with the United States, but said Ri Son Gwon had often played a confrontational role in negotiations with South Korea. Unlike his predecessor, Ri Son Gwon does not have any experience in dealing with nuclear issues or U.S. officials, though he has led high-level talks between the neighbors.

A tough, hawkish negotiator, Ri “stormed out of the room” during military talks with South Korea in 2014 when Seoul demanded an apology for what it saw as the North’s past military provocations, a former South Korean official who met him said.

Previously chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC), which handles relations with South Korea, Ri is the latest military official to be promoted to the party leadership. “There has been a demonstrative crossover dynamic in which senior military officials migrate into the party leadership,” said Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Stimson Centre, a U.S. think tank.

[Reuters]

Acceptance of North Korean refugees in Canada

Posted on by

Since 1978, Canadians have sponsored around 280,000 refugees, either through organizations or groups of individual citizens. Not only does this approach put responsibility for looking after refugees on passionate volunteers — and away from sluggish government departments — it automatically gives them a community to latch on to. 

“The community is already actively engaged at the start, in terms of the integration process,” says Sean Chung, the director of lobbying and strategy at HanVoice, a Toronto NGO that fights for the right of North Koreans to settle in Canada.

“It’s not the government that’s telling the newcomers where they should register their kids for primary school. It’s the community, at the very start, that’s organizing the transportation at the airport, bringing them into their homes, and welcoming them.”

Clearly, the United States has a very different political culture to Canada, but Chung argues that the protests that shadowed the travel ban show that many Americans realize “refugees are fleeing their countries because they have no other option.”

Not that a Canada-style approach in America seems likely anytime soon. Lindsay Lloyd, director of the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute, thinks it’s an interesting idea but isn’t sure “it’s practical right now” — especially given the current occupant of the Oval Office.

[NK News]

Trump administration’s extreme vetting not kind to North Korean escapees seeking a new life in the US

Posted on by

Barely a week into his presidency, officials huddled by his side, Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13769 into law. The bureaucratic title sounds harmless enough, but many Americans quickly learned to call it by another name: the Muslim ban.

Already arriving in small numbers, at that point the flow of North Koreans migrating to America then slowed to a crawl.

Back in 2004, the Bush administration pushed the North Korean Human Rights Act through Congress, promising to provide “assistance to North Korean refugees, defectors, migrants, and orphans outside of North Korea” and bolstered by $20 million in annual funding, and a promise to classify North Korean escapees as proper refugees.  

Yet the numbers of North Koreans coming to America remained low. “Over the past 13 years, there have been a dozen, maybe two-dozen, people coming every year,” says Sokeel Park, the South Korea country director at Liberty in North Korea, an NGO.

According to statistics compiled by the Refugee Processing Centre (RFC), an average of 20 North Koreans refugees were admitted to the United States each year in the decade to 2016. 

In 2017, the first year after the election of President Trump, only a single North Korean refugee landed on American shores.

2018 saw a slight recovery, back up to six.

[NK News]

South Korea’s Moon says door not closed on talks with North Korea

Posted on by

South Korean President Moon Jae-in believes North Korea remains open to dialogue with the United States, despite comments over the weekend from a top official in Pyongyang suggesting his country had been “deceived by the US” in nuclear negotiations.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, Moon said the recent birthday message sent by US President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un should be considered a good sign. “North Korea has made it clear that the door for dialogue hasn’t been shut, even though there was a condition that the dialogue can only resume when North Korea’s demands were met,” said Moon.

Moon has long positioned himself as something of a mediator between North Korea and the US, a role that has become increasingly difficult as the two sides have failed to make tangible progress in diplomatic talks.

In a statement carried by North Korean state media, Kim Kye Gwan, a veteran diplomat and adviser to the North Korean foreign ministry, said Pyongyang would not consider giving up its nuclear facilities in return for partial sanctions relief.

Kim Kye Gwan, who was involved in previous negotiations with the US, said, “Although Chairman Kim Jong Un has good personal feelings about President Trump, they are, in the true sense of the word, ‘personal’,” he said. “We have been deceived by the US, being caught in the dialogue with it for over one year and a half, and that was the lost time for us.”

[CNN]

Consequences in North Korea from US killing of Iran’s top military commander

Posted on by

The U.S. strike that killed Iran’s top military commander may have had an indirect casualty: a diplomatic solution to denuclearizing North Korea. Experts say the escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran will inspire North Korea’s decision-makers to tighten their hold on the weapons they see, perhaps correctly, as their strongest guarantee of survival.

North Korea’s initial reaction to the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani has been cautious. The country’s state media was silent for several days before finally on Monday issuing a brief report on the attack that didn’t even mention Soleimani’s name. The Korean Central News Agency report didn’t publish any direct criticism by Pyongyang toward Washington, instead simply saying that China and Russia had denounced the United States over last week’s airstrike at the airport in Baghdad.

So while the killing of Soleimani may give Pyongyang pause about provoking the Trump administration, North Korea ultimately is likely to use the strike to further legitimize its stance that it needs to bolster its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent against American aggression.

North Korea has often pointed to the demises of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi while justifying its nuclear development, saying they would still be alive and in power had they successfully obtained nuclear weapons and didn’t surrender them to the U.S.

“The airstrike does serve as a warning to North Korea about taking extreme actions as the presumption that the Trump administration refrains from using military force when concerned about consequences has been shattered,” said an ex-intelligence secretary to former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

[AP]

Killing of Iranian commander sends message to North Korea

Posted on by

U.S. efforts to deal with Iran could take the U.S.’s attention away from North Korea as Pyongyang seeks to raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula, said David Maxwell, a former U.S. Special Forces colonel who served on the Combined Forces Command of the U.S and South Korea. “Kim Jong Un is not going to be happy with all the attention focused on Iran when he was trying to execute a large-scale information and influence campaign against the U.S. and the international community to get sanctions lifted,” he said.

Experts also said the U.S. killing of the Iranian general Qassem Soleimani could change North Korea’s thinking about the U.S. ability to use force.

“The attack tells adversaries like North Korea to reassess [its] assumptions about U.S. actions moving up the escalatory ladder,” said Ken Gause, director of the adversary analytics program at CNA. “Trump, more so than previous presidents,” he added, “is not averse to doing decapitation strikes and focused assassinations.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the U.S. could use a military option on North Korea if necessary. “We think the best path forward, with regard to North Korea, is a political agreement that denuclearizes the peninsula,” Esper said in an interview with Fox News. “But that said, we remain, from a military perspective, ready to fight tonight, as need be.”

The Pentagon recently released a photo of U.S. and South Korean special forces conducting drills simulating raids on North Korean facilities aimed at taking out its top officials. “It will be interesting to speculate if [Kim] thinks something like this [the U.S. killing of the Iranian general] could happen to him or if his paranoia would lead him to think that Trump is somehow sending him a message,” Maxwell said.

On the other hand, Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at the Tokyo campus of Temple University said, “I think Kim Jong-un will be laughing at this situation as he now has an opportunity to test how much trouble Trump can handle at the same time.”

[VoA/South China Morning Post]

Europe helps secure release of 11 North Korean defectors held in Vietnam

Posted on by

A group of 11 North Koreans who were detained in Vietnam while seeking to defect to South Korea have been released thanks to the help of European institutions, a Seoul-based activist group has said.

The eight women and three men were caught by border guards in northern Vietnam in late November after crossing from China, and had been held in the northeastern border city of Lang Son.

Peter Jung, who heads the group helping the refugees, Justice for North Korea, said they were freed and on their way to South Korea last month. Multiple European organizations played a key role, he said. He declined to identify them due to the diplomatic sensitivity but said they included a non-government group.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported that U.S. officials, including diplomats engaged in denuclearization talks with North Korea, intervened to secure the defectors’ release, citing unidentified sources.

But Jung said he was unaware of any U.S. contribution. South Korea’s foreign ministry said that the WSJ report was “not factual”, but said the government had made immediate efforts to prevent the defectors from being forcibly repatriated. It refused to elaborate.

“The European institutions acted after we published a video of the refugees making desperate appeals for freedom,” Jung said. “South Korea’s foreign ministry got also involved later.”

[Reuters]

US diplomats helped 13 North Koreans held in Vietnam

Posted on by

Caught halfway into a multicountry escape from North Korea, 13 individuals detained in Vietnam reached safety last month due to an unexpected helping hand: the U.S. government.

A group of U.S. diplomats, including some involved in disarmament talks with the Kim Jong Un regime, intervened after videos surfaced showing two female detainees wrapped under blankets following failed suicide attempts. Both women had feared being repatriated to the North where they likely would have faced the regime’s gulags or worse.

American diplomats in Washington and Asia pressed Vietnamese officials to not hand over the North Korean escapees to Chinese or North Korean officials, according to the people familiar with the episode. It’s uncommon for American officials to get involved in cases pertaining to ordinary North Korean escapees. It’s rare for such interventions to become public.

The 13 refugees didn’t seem to be aware of the U.S. help behind the scenes, according to a person directly involved in the episode. That’s because such a diplomatic role is typically handled by South Korea. Mintaro Oba, a former official at the State Department’s Korea desk, said: “To the Moon administration, [the 13 North Korean refugees were] probably at best a serious irritant at a time when they’re hyperfocused on inter-Korean relations.”

Experts say U.S. officials took a diplomatic risk in helping activists guide the refugees to safety, as such moves could upset North Korea and complicate already stalled nuclear negotiations.

[Wall Street Journal]

What will Kim Jong-Un do in 2020?

Posted on by

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Wednesday his country will continue developing nuclear programmes and introduce a “new strategic weapon” in the near future, after the United States missed a year-end deadline for a restart of denuclearization talks. 

Kim convened a rare four-day meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s policy-making committee as the United States had not responded to his repeated calls for concessions to reopen negotiations, dismissing the deadline as artificial.

Kim had warned he might have to seek a “new path” if Washington fails to meet his expectations. U.S. military commanders said Pyongyang’s actions could include the testing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which it has halted since 2017, alongside nuclear warhead tests.

There were no grounds for North Korea to be bound any longer by the self-declared nuclear and ICBM test moratorium, as the United States continued joint military drills with South Korea, adopted cutting-edge weapons and imposed sanctions while making “gangster-like demands”, Kim said, according to KCNA.

He pledged to further develop North Korea’s nuclear deterrent but left the door open for dialogue, saying the “scope and depth” of that deterrent will be “properly coordinated depending on” the attitude of the United States. 

[Reuters]

The US Ship of Miracles that saved 14,000 North Korean refugees

Posted on by

Almost 70 years ago, a US merchant marine ship picked up more than 14,000 refugees in a single trip from a North Korean port.

It was Christmas Day in 1950 and 14,000 North Korean refugees were crammed into a US merchant marine ship, fleeing the advancing guns of the Chinese army.  There was barely enough room on board to stand – and there wasn’t much medical equipment, either. And this was no ordinary birth.

“The midwife had to use her teeth to cut my umbilical cord,” Lee Gyong-pil tells me some 69 years on. “People said the fact that I didn’t die and was born was a Christmas miracle.” Mr Lee was the fifth baby born on the SS Meredith Victory that winter, during some of the darkest days of the Korean War.

The Meredith Victory’s three-day voyage saved thousands of lives, including the parents of the current President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in. It also earned the cargo freighter a nickname – the Ship of Miracles. Read more