North Korean black market thriving thanks to international sanctions

Choi Seong-guk, a defector who cartoons about the lives of North Koreans in the South, said his contacts in the North suggested that the black market was thriving thanks to international sanctions.

Choi said the sanctions had cut off essential supplies, forcing the desperate public to turn to smugglers and making it more difficult for Pyongyang to control the distribution of food and money. The regime appears to have tolerated the black market for years to keep the country afloat.

But there were signs that it may want to tighten control over the economy, Choi said. The North Korean regime started a political campaign against “jobless people”, he said.

“As the economic situation worsened in North Korea, lots of people abandoned their state-related jobs and started to run their own businesses to survive. They are called the ‘jobless’ in North Korea.

“The regime is monitoring those jobless people to destroy capitalism within North Korean society,” Choi said.

[South China Morning Post]

Pompeo floats prospect of officially ending Korean War ahead of Trump-Kim summit

Given the Trump administration’s goal of a complete, verifiable denuclearization of North Korea during President Trump’s first term, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is eager to maintain U.S.-North Korean engagement. As he prepares for upcoming discussions with the North Koreans, he is leaving one tool conspicuously on the table: the prospect of an official declaration to end the Korean War.

By leaving open the possibility, Pompeo is affirming that the U.S. is open to some form of negotiation with the North Koreans to achieve denuclearization — and he’s showing up armed with more than just demands. The Trump administration, which argues its efforts have averted war, insists it will press forward with the conversations with North Korea. Mr. Trump has said his next meeting with Kim will happen “in the not too distant future,” at a “location to be determined” — but not Singapore.

Until there is “final, full-verified” denuclearization, Pompeo says crippling U.S. sanctions against North Korea will remain in place, but the U.S. is using the prospect of a potential end of war declaration to keep the North Koreans at the table.

Critics warn that making such a grand barter with Kim may, however, only lead to even greater demands from North Korean negotiators. Other, more distant desires of the regime beyond a declaration ending the war include a formal peace treaty with the U.S., which could then see American forces removed from the Korean Peninsula.

[CBS]

US runs into opposition from Russia, China on North Korea sanctions

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s effort to marshal unified international pressure on North Korea showed cracks Thursday as Russia and China registered their opposition to further punishing Pyongyang.

Pompeo expressed frustration at a United Nations meeting Thursday that some countries were not strictly abiding by sanctions on Pyongyang, a major part of the US strategy to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs, along with President Donald Trump’s efforts at personal diplomacy.

In the same meeting, the representatives from Russia and China pushed back on Pompeo, asking the US to make concessions or back off its push to maintain sanctions.

The Chinese foreign minister, after praising US engagement with North Korea and in particular the announcement that Trump will hold a second summit with Kim Jong Un, suggested the Trump administration give North Korea something it has long sought: an official end to hostilities between the two countries.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that steps by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including the dismantling of nuclear sites and a cessation in weapons and missile testing, should be followed by an easing of sanctions.

[CNN]

Financial lifeline between North Korean defector in the South and their families in the North

China is a lifeline for North Korean defectors living in the South, allowing them to send money back to their families. Contact is usually brief and dangerous, with relatives traveling to the hermit kingdom’s border and using smuggled Chinese SIM cards to tap into telecommunications signals across the Yalu River.

A 2016 survey of 200 defectors by the Seoul-based Chosun newspaper found that about 60 per cent of the respondents sent US$900-US$1,800 each year via agents in China and North Korea, while one person reported sending US$9,000 a year. About 70 per cent said they transferred money regularly.

One mother in her 50s told the South China Morning Post that she remitted money to her son in North Korea. She said her son used a Chinese SIM card to make brief phone calls to her several times a year to confirm the transactions, and there was little time to ask him about his life.

“We cannot send text messages and the calls have to be short,” she said.

She said the money was sent via a network of trusted Chinese and North Korean brokers, including smugglers who carried the cash across the border, together with other smuggled Chinese goods. The operations are illegal and dangerous in both countries so the brokers take a heavy cut, usually 30 per cent of the total, according to defectors.

Another defector said food prices were soaring in North Korea and many of her relatives were not getting paid. She said 1kg of corn imported from China cost the equivalent of five months’ pay for a worker at a state factory.

“The country is in a mess,” she said.

[South China Morning Post]

On the Monday meeting of Moon Jae In and Donald Trump

When Moon Jae In and Donald Trump met at the United Nations on Monday, South Korea’s president hailed his American counterpart for helping guide nuclear talks, employing the superlative language that Trump adores, stating, “You are, indeed, the only person who can solve this problem,” Moon said of Trump.

A first step, President Moon stated, would be a declaration to end the Korean War, which halted in an armistice in 1953. It would encourage North Korea to make additional moves toward giving up its nuclear weapons, such as shutting down its infamous Yongbyon nuclear complex, he argued.

Perhaps most notably, Moon declared that the “two Koreas” were in the midst of pursuing an end-of-war declaration, in what seemed like a pointed message from the conductor that the peace train was chugging ahead and the United States would be wise to hop on board. (Many of Trump’s advisers, if not Trump himself, worry that such a declaration is premature and potentially perilous for U.S. security interests.)

Moon acknowledged that there is ample reason to be skeptical about North Korea’s intentions. “We have had many agreements on denuclearization with North Korea in the past, but unfortunately they have all collapsed,” he said. “It’s only natural that we have plenty of suspicion regarding the true motives of the North Korean regime.”

But then he earnestly made the case for overcoming that skepticism. Moon said the North Korean leader is aware of the criticisms that he is only engaging in nuclear diplomacy to “deceive people” and “buy time,” but has responded that he has nothing to gain from doing so. “If he was indeed trying to deceive the United States, then he was very clear that he would be facing almighty consequences and great retaliation from the United States, which North Korea would not be able to withstand,” Moon said. “This is why he’s asking for the international community to trust his sincerity.”

Moon described Kim as “young,” “candid,” and someone who “respects elders” and “seems to have great aspirations to achieve economic development.”

[The Atlantic]

Where have all the North Korean refugees gone?

Starting from the North Korean famine of the 1990s, North Koreans have usually defected to China, most often  to the border into Jilin and Liaoning provinces in northeast China, before then fleeing to a third country. About 76% to 84% of defectors interviewed in China or South Korea came from the Northeastern provinces bordering China.

Anywhere between 100,000–300,000 North Koreans have defected over the years, most of whom have fled to Russia or China, as well as many now in South Korea.

China: 80–90% of North Korean defectors residing in China are females who settled through de facto marriage; a large number of them experience forced marriage and human trafficking. The total number of North Korean refugees in China is estimated to be between 50,000 and 200,000.

Russia: Roughly 10,000 North Koreans live in the Russian Far East, according to a study by Kyung Hee University. Many are escapees from North Korean work camps there.

Europe: In 2014, research by the human rights organization the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea claims that there are around 1,400 North Korean refugees in Europe.

United States: Since 2006, less than 200 North Korean refugees have been officially admitted to the United States. An estimated 200 other North Koreans have entered the US illegally, for a estimated total of less than 400.

Canada: According to the 2016 census, there are about 970 people in Canada who were born in North Korea. North Korean asylum seekers and defectors have been rising in number. Radio Free Asia reports that in 2007 alone, over 100 asylum applications were submitted, and that North Korean refugees have come from China or elsewhere with the help of Canadian missionaries and NGOs.

South Korea: As of 2017, there were 31,093 defectors registered with the Unification Ministry in South Korea, 71% of whom were women.

From the start of Kim Jong-un’s rule in 2011, the movements of people has been tightened and strictly controlled, resulting in less than a thousand defections per year, down from just under 3000 in 2009.

If the defectors are caught in China, they are repatriated back to North Korea where they often face harsh interrogations and years of punishment, or even death in political prison camps.

[Source: Wikipedia]

Trump says 2nd North Korea summit likely ‘soon’

Confronting the dangers of North Korea’s nuclear threat, President Donald Trump arrived at the United Nations on Monday striking a far less ominous tone than a year ago, announcing he likely will hold a second summit with Kim Jong Un “quite soon.”

Twelve months after Trump stood at the rostrum of the UN General Assembly and derided Kim as “Rocket Man.” The president’s bellicose denunciations of Pyongyang have largely given way to hopeful notes. “It was a different world,” Trump said Monday of his one-time moniker for the North Korean leader. “That was a dangerous time. This is one year later, a much different time.”

He added that preparations are underway by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for a second presidential meeting with Kim “quite soon.”

Trump arrived at the UN on Monday morning …ahead of a sit-down with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who comes bearing a personal message to Trump from Kim after their inter-Korean talks last week.

The nuclear threat was also on the agenda at Trump’s dinner meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Manhattan on Sunday night.

“We have our eyes wide open,” Pompeo told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “There is a long ways to go to get Chairman Kim to live up to the commitment that he made to President Trump and, indeed, to the demands of the world in the UN Security Council resolutions to get him to fully denuclearize.”

[CTV]

Where are all the defectors from North Korea?

Escaping North Korea is a journey that is almost always a perilous one — thousands of miles on buses or motorcycles or sneaking on foot through mountains and valleys amid falling snow or torrential rain — in the desperate quest to evade border police and reach the frontier of a new life. Some pay a broker to traffic them out, some are too poor and bear the burden alone, and some are granted temporary visas to work in China but never return to their native land.

So how many North Korea defectors are there, and where do they go?

Since the hostilities of the Korean War ended in 1953, an estimated 300,000 North Koreans have defected from the tightly controlled hermit country.

Defectors use obscure routes to other Asian countries in the region — including Mongolia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and Laos — but these are often used as transit points before moving to a third country such as South Korea.

South Korean law grants those from the North automatic citizenship following a mandatory three-month transition that involves debriefing and education to prepare them for their new lives in a much more open society. Official statistics published by the Ministry of Unification have documented just over 30,000 defectors since 1998.

“Most defectors head to China … [where they] either live their lives under the radar or make the harrowing trip to South Korea,” said Vernon Brewer, founder and president of World Help, a Christian humanitarian organization that supports the defectors.

China, which borders North Korea, is host to the majority of defectors, though official statistics are hard to come by and many are deported back to their origin if discovered.

[Fox News]

Kim Jong Un wants new summit with Trump

North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong Un wants to meet with President Trump again, says South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has just returned from Pyongyang.

Moon also spoke directly to the North Korean public, describing a peaceful future to an audience of some 150,000 people. “We had lived together for five thousand years but apart for just 70 years,” Moon said in his speech on Thursday. Moon continued, “Here, at this place today, I propose we move forward toward the big picture of peace in which the past 70-year-long hostility can be eradicated and we can become one again.”

“The spectacle of the South Korean president speaking to wildly cheering crowds of North Korean fans was one of the memorable moments of the Pyongyang summit,” NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports from Seoul. “Moon said that he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had agreed to measures that would completely eliminate the fear of war and the risk of armed conflicts on the Korean Peninsula.”

On the final day of the summit, Moon and Kim took a symbolic step toward peace, traveling outside the capital to visit Mount Paektu – a famous and revered volcano that’s also the highest point on the Korean Peninsula, situated along North Korea’s border with China. The two leaders and their wives posed at the site for photos, standing in front of Heaven Lake — a lake in the caldera of the sacred volcano.

South Korean President Moon expects to see President Trump in New York next week, when he attends the U.N. General Assembly.

[NPR]

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un pledges to shut missile site

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has agreed to shut one of the country’s main missile testing and launch sites.

He signed a pledge to permanently close the Tongchang-ri facility, after talks in Pyongyang with his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in. Both leaders also “agreed on a way to achieve denuclearization” on the Korean peninsula, President Moon said.

On Tongchang-ri, Kim Jong-un said the engine missile testing and launch facility would be permanently closed “in the presence of experts from relevant nations”. The BBC’s Seoul correspondent Laura Bicker said the announcement is a major step forward.

China has welcomed the outcome of the inter-Korean summit, saying both sides had found “new and important common ground”.

Mr Kim also expressed a readiness to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility – where North Korea is believed to have produced the material used in its nuclear tests – if the US took some reciprocal action. The details of that were not specified.

North Korea blew up its main nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri shortly before Mr Kim’s meeting with US President Donald Trump in June.

Kim Jong-un also said he hoped to “visit Seoul in the near future” – he would be the first North Korean leader to do so.

[BBC]