North Korea issues nuclear threat ahead of high-level talks with US

As the United States and North Korea prepare for another round of high-level talks this week, Pyongyang’s increasingly heated rhetoric has analysts worried that the stalemate between the two sides could lead to a breakdown in negotiations.

An official with North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a veiled threat Friday, warning that Pyongyang could restart “building up nuclear forces” if the US does not ease the crippling sanctions levied on North Korea.

The comments come ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol, in New York this week.

Experts like Adam Mount, a senior fellow and the director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists, say, the North Korean position does not come as a total surprise — staking out hard-line positions in state media ahead of diplomatic meetings has long been a favored tactic in Pyongyang’s playbook. “It’s a clear play for leverage, it’s a clear play to set the agenda in the upcoming round of diplomacy, but there’s still a very real risk that it does seriously damage the negotiation process.”

Additionally, Kim Jong-un received Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel, who holds the title of “president” but remains subordinate to dictator Raúl Castro. Díaz-Canel received a hero’s welcome in North Korea on Sunday and Monday, enjoying a theater performance and street parade with Kim.

[CNN/Breibart]

US/South Korea resume low-key military drills ahead of talks with North Korea

The United States and South Korea will begin small-scale military drills on Monday just days ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meeting with a North Korea official to discuss denuclearization and plans for a second summit between the two countries.

The Korean Marine Exchange Program was among the training drills that were indefinitely suspended in June after U.S. President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore and promised to end joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises often criticized by the North.

A spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Defense confirmed a round of training would begin near the southern city of Pohang, with no media access expected. About 500 American and South Korean marines will participate in the maneuvers, the Yonhap news agency reported.

Last week, South Korea’s defense minister said Washington and Seoul would make a decision by December on major joint military exercises for 2019.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, interviewed on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said he would be in New York City at the end of this week to meet with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong-chol.

“I expect we’ll make some real progress, including an effort to make sure that the summit between our two leaders can take place, where we can make substantial steps towards denuclearization,” Pompeo said.

[Reuters]

North Korean women suffer serious sexual violence by authorities

Sexual violence against women by authorities, government officials and police is part of daily life in North Korea, according to a new report by  the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, which based its data on two years of interviews with more than 50 North Koreans who left the country — more than half of them after 2011. Titled, “You Cry at Night but Don’t Know Why,” the report claims to give viewers an inside look at what happens in detention facilities, open markets, checkpoints, trains and army bases.

The report detailed sexual abuse by men in official positions of power, such as prison guards, police officers, prosecutors, soldiers and market supervisors. “The North Koreans we spoke with told us that unwanted sexual contact and violence is so common that it has come to be accepted as part of ordinary life: sexual abuse by officials, and the impunity they enjoy, is linked to larger patterns of sexual abuse and impunity in the country,” the report stated.

Defectors told the human rights group that government officials harmed them while they were in detention centers. “Interviewees told us that when a guard or police officer ‘picks’ a woman, she has no choice but to comply with any demands he makes, whether for sex, money or other favors,” the report said. “Women in custody have little choice should they attempt to refuse or complain afterward, and risk sexual violence, longer periods in detention, beatings, forced labor or increased scrutiny while conducting market activities.”

Yoon Mi Hwa, who fled the hermit kingdom in 2014, claimed in the report that a prison guard sexually abused her. “Click, click, click was the most horrible sound I ever heard,” she said. “It was the sound of the key of the cell of our prison room opening. Every night a prison guard would open the cell. I stood still quietly, acting like I didn’t notice, hoping it wouldn’t be me the one to have to follow the guard, hoping it wouldn’t be him.”

Oh Jung Hee, another woman interviewed in the report, said she had no idea she could resist the advances or report the sexual abuse. “It happens so often nobody thinks it is a big deal. Men who sexually assault women don’t think it is wrong, and we [women] do not either,” she said. “We don’t even realize when we are upset. But we are human, and we feel it. So sometimes, out of nowhere, you cry at night and don’t know why.”

Critics say North Korea’s human rights status has been ignored as nuclear negotiation talks continue. The report will likely anger North Korea, which often complains about what it claims is persistent U.S. hostility.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s propaganda service has billed the country as a “socialist paradise” free from crime, but Kenneth Roth, the executive director of the Human Rights Watch, said the regime could not ignore the report. “After this report, North Korea can’t say sexual violence doesn’t exist, so they have to either change their tune or fix the problem,” Roth said in a statement. “Kim Jong-un could stop this, he could enforce the laws North Korea already has on the books.”

[Fox News]

North Korea’s ‘bold and audacious’ millennials

From the outside, it might look like North Korea hasn’t changed much over the last seven decades. But from the inside, a fundamental shift has been taking place: an economic revolution led by a generation of millennials who grew up as capitalists in a theoretically-communist state.

They are the “Jangmadang Generation,” and they have emerged as the greatest force for change that North Korea has ever seen. Jangmadang are the markets that popped up during the devastating famine in the 1990s when the state could no longer provide for the people. North Koreans turned into entrepreneurs out of necessity. Those with corn made corn noodles; those with beans made tofu. Capitalism took root in this communist society, and the regime had to tolerate it or risk an uprising.

Take Joo Yang, who was 6 years old when the famine began and grew up seeing people dying of starvation or cold. She began thinking about doing business when she was 14, and started out by picking leftover soybeans from the chaff at a factory and selling them.

Or Kang Min, who was separated from his mother when he was 9 years old and never saw her again. He began a new life as a street beggar, or “flower swallow” as they are known in North Korea, and made his living as a pickpocket in the markets, working his way up to importing socks and batteries from China.

Or Danbi, who started importing clothes from China — copies of outfits worn in smuggled South Korean dramas — and had her good-looking friends walk through the markets in them, acting as human advertisements.

As a result of the famine, these kids grew up “bold and audacious,” says the mother of Geumju, another of the Jangmadang Generation.

Fast forward 20 years and those jangmadang are now the centerpiece of towns and cities across North Korea, having been retroactively legalized by a regime that knew it could not put this genie back in the bottle. Read more

[Washington Post]

Jangmadang generation at the forefront of social change inside North Korea

These days, markets throughout North Korea are not just a place for buying food, clothes and household goods. They have also become the clearing house for information from the outside world, a place where USB sticks loaded with foreign movies and soap operas can be bought.

A documentary, Jangmadang Generation, came about after North Korean escapees kept telling Sokeel Park, South Korea country director for LiNK (Liberty in North Korea), that the change inside the country was important. LiNK decided to make the film, to show that young North Koreans are not brainwashed automatons and are not just victims. That they have agency, and that they are at the forefront of social change inside North Korea.

“This is the most closed and repressive country in the world,” said Park, who directed and narrates the film. “But we wanted to let the audience see North Koreans are relatable people, to see that many of these people have experienced incredible loss and tragedy, but to also see the dynamism that is happening across the country.”

All the members of the Jangmadang Generation featured in the film escaped to South Korea, where they are now studying at universities or making their own way in the world. While older North Koreans often struggle to adapt to the fast-paced and ruthless capitalism of the South, people of this generation usually settle right in.

“Our generation grew up learning about and seeing freedom while being repressed by the government at the same time,” Huh Shimon said. “So our desire for freedom is strong.”

Asked to define freedom, he said: “Freedom means being able to work in a certain place if you want and not if you don’t want, being able to do your own business if you want, living where you want and being able to go where you want.”

[Washington Post]

What defectors say about the lives of North Korean women

Many of North Korea’s women suffer daily abuse and injustice, and there’s no sign that the situation is improving. In interviews with both male and female defectors, we hear about violations of basic rights that women inside North Korea face as a matter of routine.

Some interviewees talked about their ordeals in the face of domestic violence. One participant expressed her relief when her husband died after more than 20 years abusing her. According to her, there is no redress for North Korean women who are subject to ongoing violence within the household, which is often seen as legitimate treatment. Out of fear, most women suffer in silence in a society that has no term for sexual harassment.

Feeding starving families is largely left to women outside the formal workforce, who are subjected to less government control. These women are left to slip through the official system and get involved in black market trade or informal markets known as “Jangmadang”. Worse, some husbands take the goods their wives buy to exchange them for alcohol, even if their family has nothing to eat. If they do not, they are punished with abuse.  One participant described how North Korean women often call men in the household “guard dogs” – tough figureheads who stay at home making no particular contribution.

Sexual violence is also a common problem inside the army. Being able to join the Worker’s Party of Korea is an essential pathway to a secure, successful life in North Korea, and a major reason for women to join the army is to become a member of the party. Senior male officials frequently exploit this as a means to manipulate and harass young women, threatening to block their chances of joining the party if they refuse or attempt to report the abuse.

Female hygiene also remains a serious issue. Female soldiers are not given the chance to wash or change during training outside; my interviewees talked about women in the army being given wound dressings to use instead of sanitary towels. Things are even worse for ordinary female citizens, who have to make do with any materials available, such as off-cuts from men’s used vests or socks.

If they get pregnant unintentionally, women get the blame. Thus, many pregnant women use a range of dangerous methods to abort: tightening their stomach with an army belt to hide their growing pregnancy, taking anthelmintic medicine (antiparasitic drugs designed to remove parasitic worms from the body), or jumping off and rolling down the high mountain hills. Unsurprisingly, it’s common to find fetuses in army facilities’ toilets.

[Hyun-Joo Lim, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Bournemouth University, writing in “The Conversation”]

North Koreans “living in peace with America, for everyone to have a better life.”

In North Korea, where leader Kim Jong-un has almost godlike status, to question him out loud is for many unthinkable. So by speaking out, market trader Sun Hui – not her real name – knows she is putting her life at risk.

“People criticize Kim Jong-un,” she says, reflecting wider discontent. “[They say] the little man uses his head to suck up money like a little vampire.”

If the regime knew of Sun Hui’s real identity, she would face severe punishment – imprisonment in one of the regime’s hard labor camps or even execution. And she may not be the only one to be punished – three generations of her family could also be sent to prison.

Sun Hui lives with her husband and two daughters, eating three meals a day when business is good at the markets where she works. When it isn’t, the rice is mixed with maize.

More than five million North Koreans are either “directly or indirectly” reliant on such markets, according to Daily NK. While the market trade in North Korea directly contradicts the regime’s hard-line communism, it also allows the population to feed itself amid a largely-defunct ration system and economic sanctions against the country.

The markets, sometimes containing hundreds of stalls, can also be a breeding ground for gossip and rumor. “Things are changing,” says Sun Hui. “They say we should get along with the South. More recently, they say we should be living in peace with America, for everyone to have a better life.”

It is a significant development.

[BBC]

Kim Jong-un invites Pope Francis to Pyongyang

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has invited Pope Francis to visit the country, South Korea’s presidential office has announced.

The invitation to visit Pyongyang will be delivered by South Korean president Moon Jae-in who will be in the Vatican next week as part of a trip to Europe.

No pope has ever visited North Korea, and North Korea and the Vatican have no formal diplomatic relations.

The invitation is the latest reconciliatory gesture from North Korea.

In 2000, Kim Jong-un’s father – Kim Jong-il – invited Pope John Paul II to visit North Korea after the pope was quoted as saying it would be “a miracle” if he could go there.

The visit never happened. The Vatican insisted at the time that a visit from the pope would only happen if Catholic priests were accepted in North Korea.

North Korea’s constitution promises a “right to faith” and state-controlled churches do exist. However, one human rights activist say this is all largely for show.

[BBC]

Experts say Kim Jong Un’s invitation to visit defunct nuclear testing site “pure PR”

Kim Jong Un’s supposed concession of inviting inspectors to a defunct nuclear testing site has been met with the equivalent of an eye roll from many experts.

“This is almost them reselling the same car to the Americans,” said Andrea Berger, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. “We’re not inspecting a new action or a new facility. They already dismantled the site.”

The testing site, Punggye-ri, was closed six months ago because it was no longer needed by North Korea. Some of the tunnels in the mountain complex may have collapsed, rendering them unusable. North Korea invited inspectors to witness to site’s demolition in April, only to retract that and allow only journalists to attend. Extending the same offer to the Americans six months later, Berger said, amounts to an old concession dressed up as a new breakthrough.

“Chairman Kim invited inspectors to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site to confirm that it has been irreversibly dismantled,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Some feel that Kim and his officials are instead trying to buy time so they can make progress on other fronts, such as building economic ties and even declaring a long-awaited peace with South Korea, as well as increasing their international standing.

Inviting inspectors to an old testing site is an example of this calculus, according to Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT. “Kim has mastered the art of milking a single cosmetic concession for months to burn clock,” he wrote on Twitter.

James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace, called the invitation to Punggye-ri “a joke” and “pure PR.”

[NBC]

Pompeo says North Korea ready to let inspectors into missile and nuclear sites

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was ready to allow international inspectors into the North’s nuclear and missile testing sites, one of the main sticking points over an earlier denuclearization pledge.

Pompeo, who met Kim during a short trip to Pyongyang on Sunday, said the inspectors would visit a missile engine test facility and the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site as soon as the two sides agree on logistics.

The top U.S. diplomat also said both sides were “pretty close” to agreement on the details of a second summit, which Kim proposed to U.S. President Donald Trump in a letter last month.

“Most importantly, both the leaders believe there’s real progress that can be made, substantive progress that can be made at the next summit,” Pompeo said.

Stephen Biegun, new U.S. nuclear envoy who was accompanying the secretary, said he offered on Sunday to meet his counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, “as soon as possible” and they were in discussion over specific dates and location.

Pompeo told South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday his latest trip to Pyongyang was “another step forward” to denuclearization but there are “many steps along the way”.

[Reuters]