The North Korean government considers anyone who leaves a traitor

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On April 15, South Korea held a parliamentary election. Two different men, Thae Yong-ho and Ji Seong-ho, were elected. In the words of Henry Song, a human-rights defender in Washington, D.C., their election was “truly a historic, seismic, shocking event.”

How so? Thae and Ji are North Korean defectors. And their elevation to the South Korean National Assembly reverberates on both sides of the border.

When news came that Thae and Ji had won, there was jubilation in the North Korean defector community, which numbers 33,500 in South Korea (a country of about 50 million). There are scattered others elsewhere.

The word “defector” confuses some people, understandably, because we are used to thinking of a defector as a government official or celebrity — a ballet dancer, let’s say, or a baseball player — who goes over from an unfree country to a free one. But the North Korean government considers anyone who leaves a defector: a traitor to the state. People who have left North Korea think of themselves as having defected from the state that claimed ownership of them, body and soul.

So do South Koreans welcome their brothers from the North with open arms? Park Yeonmi, a prominent defector, said, “The South Koreans treat us like second-class citizens,” she says. “They are more sympathetic to people in Africa than they are to their fellow Koreans from the North.”

There are plenty of South Koreans who treat defectors compassionately, … but the South Korean Left bitterly resents defectors — especially ones who squawk about human rights and what they suffered back home.

Meanwhile, North Korean defectors have grown restive, politically. They regard the incumbent South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, as soft on North Korea. They suspect him of naïveté and worse. The government has severely cut aid to refugee groups and groups that help refugees, as well as direct assistance to refugees. The government is pretty frank about this. One official said, “North Korean defectors might not enjoy the same benefits that they enjoyed during the two previous conservative governments.”

[National Review]

Will Kim Yo Jong span the North Korean gender divide?

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From all accounts, North Korea is hardly the bastion of equality that Kim Il Sung promised would be achieved through economic liberation.

While women are an important part of the workforce, and drivers of the limited private markets inside the country — since all men have jobs assigned by the state — female defectors say they still face widespread discrimination. Furthermore, they lack the professional and social opportunities of their male counterparts.

“Men hold the purse strings a lot of times and men have all the social status. …. Women always have to be modest,” said Nara Kang, who left North Korea in 2015 and now lives in South Korea.

Sexual violence is also a major problem. It’s “so common that it has come to be accepted as part of ordinary life,” Human Rights Watch alleged in a 2018 report.

Jean Lee, an Associated Press reporter who opened the wire service’s bureau in Pyongyang in 2012, said she endured “incredible sexism. … My female North Korean colleagues [said] they were expected to do their jobs all day and still take care of all the cooking and cleaning at home,” said Lee, who is now the director of the Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. “To be honest, neither Korea, north or south, is a great place to be a woman.”

On the other hand, Michael Madden, an expert on North Korea’s leadership, shared his opinion that, “North Korea has a 70-plus year history of women being very close to the center of power, of being influential in North Korea’s decision-making processes.”

Kang, the defector, isn’t so sure. When asked if she imagined there could be a female Supreme Leader while still living in North Korea, Kang responded incredulously, “Oh no way.” She said, “I can’t even imagine. Can’t even dream.”

One thing is sure, Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong Un, is one woman who has already become prominent in the North Korean government, and could really be on her way to making history.

[CNN]

Kim Jong Un’s sister, “Princess” Yo Jong

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About 20 years ago, while traveling across Russia, Kim Jong Il is reported to have made something of a confession to a foreign emissary, Konstantin Pulikovsky. Pulikovsky, a respected Russian diplomat, had asked one of the world’s most reclusive leaders about his family.

Kim Jong Il was believed to have had seven children. His youngest son and future successor, Kim Jong Un, was in his mid-teens at the time.

When Pulikovsky asked about the children, Kim spoke highly of his two daughters. His sons, however, he called “idle blockheads.” Michael Madden, an expert on North Korea’s leadership, adds, “Kim Jong Il loved his sons, but did not necessarily have a high opinion of what they were doing with their lives.”

Despite that apparent assessment, Kim eventually chose his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, to succeed him. While it’s likely the world will never know if Kim seriously considered one of his daughters for the top job, his adoration for his youngest child, Kim Yo Jong, has been documented.

Kenji Fujimoto, the pen name of a former sushi chef for the Kim family, told The Washington Post that Kim Jong Il referred to her as “Princess Yo Jong” and “sweet Yo Jong.” Kim Yo Jong always sat to her father’s left at supper, while Kim Jong Il’s wife sat to his right, Fujimoto said in a book recounting his experience in North Korea.

Kim Jong Il may have believed that it would be a tough sell naming a woman as the next North Korean leader — especially with multiple sons available. North Korea is a notoriously patriarchal country, where women are expected to be dutiful and subordinate wives and doting mothers before all else. Defectors say misogyny, gender discrimination and sexual violence are rampant.

Yet Kim Yo Jong’s position among the North Korean leadership is significant. Her name was among the first mentioned as a possible successor to her brother when he recently disappeared from public view for almost three weeks. When Kim Jong Un did emerge in state media on Saturday, Kim Yo Jong was by his side. Experts say if anything was to happen to him before his young children are old enough to take over, Kim Yo Jong could be the safest and most likely heir.

[CNN]

Kim Jong Un may have had heart surgery

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A new mark on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s wrist could suggest that he has had heart surgery, according to medical experts.

Kim made his first public appearance on Friday after a lengthy absence of nearly three weeks from the public eye. North Korean state-run media agency Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released pictures and video of Kim attending the opening of the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer factory near Pyongyang.

Closer examination of the video footage has revealed what appears to be a needle mark on Kim’s right wrist, a mark that medical experts say could indicate that Kim had a “cardiovascular procedure.” The mark was not present during Kim’s previous public outing on April 11, according to the NK News.

“It looks like a right radial artery puncture … [which is] often used for access to the coronary arteries for stent placement,” one U.S.-trained medical professional told NK News, adding it appeared to be “about a week old. It is hard to tell from the foreshortening of the photograph, but it seems a bit medial. It is not an IV [intravenous], which wouldn’t leave such a mark.”

A South Korea surgeon also told NK News that the mark on Kim’s arm “looks more plausible to be a procedure or check-up mark from a procedure on a heart-related issue.”

[Fox News]

Kim Jong Un makes public appearance

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South Korea-based Yonhap News Agency reports that Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in 20 days, amid a flurry of speculation about his health.

Citing state-run media, Yonhap reported that Kim attended a ceremony marking the completion of a fertilizer plant in Sunchon, in the South Phyongan Province Saturday. Photos from the ceremony weren’t immediately released.

Kim was last seen April 11, when he presided over a meeting of the country’s ruling Workers Party.

Rumors of his possible death or illness began circulating after he missed a ceremony to commemorate the 108th birthday of his grandfather and North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung.

[Fox News]

The rise of Kim Yo-jong

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The rumors of Kim Jong-un’s death seem to have been greatly exaggerated.

Kim’s vanishing act has pushed his little sister, Kim Yo-jong, into the spotlight, with speculation that she might become the Kim family dynasty’s first female leader.

It has long been rumored that Yo-jong, who is sometimes described as the Ivanka Trump of North Korea, is the brains behind her brother’s brawn.

If something were to happen to big bro, she’s the obvious choice for supreme leader. Kim’s male relatives are either too young or uninterested: His big brother, Kim Jong-chul, seemingly stays out of politics, preferring to play guitar and obsess over Eric Clapton.

In recent years she has started to venture on to the world stage, representing Kim at the 2018 Winter Olympics, and publicly praising Donald Trump.

Yo-jong has also already proved herself equal to any man: in 2017, the US Treasury Department blacklisted her for “severe human rights abuses”.

“North Korea … is one of the most male chauvinistic societies in the world, but bloodline supplemented by status in the Korea Workers’ party supersedes gender,” one expert told Bloomberg.

[Excerpts of Guardian article by Arwa Mahdawi]

Kim Jong Un may just be avoiding coronavirus

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Kim Jong-un could be lying low to avoid the coronavirus pandemic.

Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest, suggested this possibility to explain Kim’s absence. “The Kim family has a history of going on the lam when things seem to be going bad,” Kazianis told Newsweek. Now, Kazianis said, “North Korea is clearly facing the greatest existential threat in a generation as the coronavirus threatens the Kim regime’s very survival.”

He indicated that Kim’s health condition may already put him at risk for getting COVID-19. “While countless crazy rumors continue to swirl over why Kim Jong Un has not appeared in public for weeks, the most obvious explanation is he is staying out of the general population and isolating for fear of contracting the virus,” he added.

North Korea Leadership Watch blog head Michael Madden also points to a potentially similar situation involving Kim Jong Un’s father, the late supreme leader Kim Jong Il, which took place in 2003 during a time of global turmoil and another coronavirus outbreak that first appeared in neighboring China. “In contemporary North Korean history, you’d have to beat the record Kim Jong Il did. He disappeared for about three months,” Madden recently told Newsweek. “[There were] major issues, they had SARS, and we had just invaded Iraq. Those things sent him into a paranoia.”

The idea that Kim could be taking drastic quarantine measures was also supported by North Korean defector and human rights activist Yeonmi Park, who cited an unnamed source within the country, as well as South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, which cited an anonymous Chinese source familiar with North Korean affairs.

Kim has a compound of his own in Wonsan, and the resort town is among the sites being watched in connection with the supreme leader’s recent whereabouts.

[Newsweek]

Trump bet on Kim, and now he’s out of the picture

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Kim Jong-un has vanished from sight, and in doing so, he’s exposed a potentially major weakness of President Donald Trump’s negotiating tactics. Trump made a bold bet: that by breaking precedent and engaging directly with Kim, he could convince the brutal young autocrat to give up his nuclear arsenal in exchange for future economic gains.

Today U.S. officials have found it hard to even get in touch with their North Korean counterparts; in some prominent cases, they’ve been publicly scorned. Now, amid rumors that Kim is sick (or even dead), current and former U.S. officials and North Korea analysts say Trump’s mano-a-mano diplomacy looks shakier than ever because the Trump-Kim relationship has been the only one that truly mattered.

On Monday, Trump said he had a “very good idea” about Kim’s health status, hinting that the American people would be hearing about it in the “not-too-distant future.” Trump said in response to a reporter’s question, “Kim Jong Un? …I do have a very good idea, but I can’t talk about it now. I just wish him well.”

[However] if a new leader emerges in North Korea, he (or she) may decide to grow the country’s nuclear arsenal as a way of consolidating and projecting power.

And with U.S.-Chinese relations on a downward spiral due to fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, the idea of international cooperation to diplomatically pressure North Korea and maintain economic sanctions on the country seems remote.

[Politico]

Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong

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Kim Yo-jong is the younger sister of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and a high-ranking official of the Workers’ Party of Korea. She joined the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in 2007, eventually serving as secretariat to her father, Kim Jong-il, until his death in 2011.

Kim Yo-jong continued to ascend her party’s ranks under her brother’s rule, taking control of his image as first vice-department director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department and later becoming an alternate member of the WPK’s powerful politburo.

After making a highly publicized appearance at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Kim joined her brother for his denuclearization summits with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Kim Yo-jong’s birthdate is listed as September 26, 1987. In 1996, she was sent to Switzerland to continue her education, attending Liebefeld Hessgut public school and later was joined by her brother Kim Jong-un at Liebefeld-Steinhölzli public school, the two enrolled under pseudonyms. She reportedly graduated from Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung University in 2007 with a degree in computer science.

When reports of Kim Jong-un’s poor health surfaced earlier this month, the media focused on Kim Yo-jong as a possible successor. Some analysts suggested that she is the most likely choice to follow her brother, given her ties to the “Paektu” bloodline that the family claims for divine ruling rights, while others argued that the male-dominated WPK would prefer a collective leadership.

Even young people seem to be picking up on Kim Yo-jong, as evidence by this Twitter account.

Kim Yo-jong is married In early 2015. It was reported that Kim Yo-jong married Choe Song, son of a l lieutenant of Kim Jong-un, Choe Ryong-hae. She was reported to be pregnant in spring 2015, and again around the time of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

[Includes excerpts from Biography.com]

Kim Jong Un’s train spotted on satellite images

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The signature train belonging to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been spotted on satellite images parked at a station on the nation’s eastern coast since last week, according to a U.S. monitor, as questions swirl over the dictator’s health.

On Sunday, a key aide to the president of South Korea insisted Kim, who is believed to be 36, was “alive and well.” Chung-in Moon, foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told Fox News, “Our government position is firm. Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspicious movements have so far been detected.”

Satellite photos released on Saturday echo South Korean government intelligence that Kim is staying outside of the capital, Pyongyang. The photos released by 38 North, a Washington-based website specializing in North Korea studies, show that activity has increased in the resort town of Wonsan in April.

Kim Jong Un’s train has been parked at the Leadership Railway Station servicing his Wonsan compound since at least April 21, the website 38 North said Saturday, citing an analysis of recent satellite photos of the area. The railway station in Wonsan is reserved for use by the Kim family.

Kim’s preferred travel method is by train — like his late father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung. Kim’s father loathed flying and made all his trips abroad by rail.

The present North Korean leader has taken his distinct armored green and yellow train to recent summits in Russia and Vietnam. Kim is known for traveling with a big entourage — possibly more than 200 people — and lots of supplies. The train cars are reportedly bulletproof, making them heavier than normal carriages — and much slower when traveling, according to a 2009 report by Chosun Ilbo. It travels an average speed of 37 mph.

The train, originally owned by Kim’s father, appears to provide a lot of comfort for the North Korean leaders. According to Konstantin Pulikovsky, a Russian official who accompanied Kim Jong ll on a three-week trip to Moscow in 2001, its 90 carriages are said to contain bedrooms, conference rooms and a chamber equipped with satellite phones and flat-screen televisions, as well as cases of Bordeaux and Beaujolais wine.

[Fox News]