Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)

North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

4 August 2020

South Korea’s government criticized for campaign against North-Korea human rights NGOs

(dql) Human Rights Watch has criticized the South Korean government for what the human rights organization calls a “campaign” to intimidate non-government organizations working for improvements of the human rights situation in North Korea.

HRW’s criticism refers to a recent order of the country’s Unification Ministry demanding that those NGOs comply with abrupt review deadlines, provide burdensome documentation of their work and face possible office inspections. [Human Rights Watch]

The move is unprecedented and comes against the background of the sending of leaflets via balloons in May from South Korea to North Korea by activist groups criticizing North Korea’s nuclear threats against South Korea. Pyongyang, angered about these actions, pressed Seoul to take action against those groups, reinforcing its demand by blowing up the joint liaison office. Eventually, the registration of  those groups were revoked for “seriously hindering the unification policy of the government.” Furthermore, Seoul announced to revise laws to prohibit sending leaflets to the North. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

28 July 2020

North Korea: Bleak prospects for de-nuclearization? 

(yo) In a provocative speech, held on the occasion of the 67th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un stated that he believes North Korea will not need to engage in wars as Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons will deter external threats and allow the country to defend itself “against any high pressure and military threats of imperialists and hostile forces,” adding that  future negotiations should shift the focus to halting US hostility rather than using sanctions relief to bargain denuclearization.

While North Korea has been constantly justifying the pursuit of nuclear weapons for defensive objectives in the past, Kim’s aggressive statement and posture reflects the current impasse in denuclearization talks and indicates how difficult it will be to overcome it. [CNN]

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo expressed gratitude to the United Nations Command (UNC) for its decades-long commitment to peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the unified command for the multinational military forces, established in 1950 to support South Korea during and after the Korean War. [Korea Herald]

21 July 2020

North Korea proceeds down a nuclear path

(yo) The “closed-door meeting” of the Workers’ party of the North Korea’s Central Military Commission which took place on July 18 insinuates that North Korea plans to continue developing and eventually producing strategic weapons. North Korea released photos of the CMC meeting, which revealed that nuclear weapons specialists were attending the meeting. The photo communicates the message that nuclear program remains key to the Commission’s policy and is consistent with recent statements about planning for threats coming from the US and strengthening own capabilities. [28 North]

21 July 2020

South Korean lawsuit filed against Kim Jong-un’s sister

(yo) A South Korean conservative activist lawyer filed a suit against Kim Yo-jong, sister of the North Korean leader Kim Yong-un, accusing her of being responsible for the blowing of the  drastically deteriorating relationship between the two Koreas. South Korean prosecutors said they were looking into the litigation, but said that they would not be able to formally investigate Kim Yo-jong nor bring her to court. The lawyer admitted the implausibility of being able to carry out the investigation and forcing North Korea to pay compensation for destroying a building funded by South Korea. He noted the suite was a symbolic gesture, criticising the Moon administration’s lack of assertiveness in dealing with the North. 

Under South Korean Constitution North Korea and its people are recognised as part of South Korea and lawsuits can be tried without defendants in court but it is most likely prosecutors will drop the case. [New York Times]

14 July 2020

North Korea announces retaliation against U.K.’s sanctions 

(yo) Last week the U.K. issued sanctions against North Korea, targeting the country’s Ministry of State Security Bureau and Ministry of People’s Security Correctional Bureau considered by London to be involved in humanitarian crimes, including forced labour, torture, and murder. The sanctions include asset freezes on both targeted agencies. [NK News]

In response, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry criticized Britain for following US’s hostile policy and making a “violent interference in domestic affairs” and announced that it “will pay the price” for what it called a as the institutions are directly responsible for the state’s security. [Bloomberg]

14 July 2020

North Korea reassures: US concessions before third Trump/Kim summit

(dql) Amid stalled talks between North Korea and the USA, US President Trump announced last week his readiness for another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It would be the third summit after the first in June 2018 and the second in February 2019. [VoA]

In response, Kim’s sister demanded that Washington offers major concessions in order to re-open keep diplomatic channels for talks on Pyongyang’s denuclearization, adding that ” if there is a need for summit talks, it is a U.S. need, while for North Korea, it is “unpractical and does not serve us at all.” [AP]

7 July 2020

North Korea: No interest in talks with the US

(yo) Reflecting deteriorated relations between North Korea and the USA, a veteran North Korean diplomat ruled out any possibility of resuming negotiations with the US before US presidential elections in November, pointing to a “detailed strategic timetable” Pyongyang has in place to cope with the “long-term threat from the U.S.“ [The Diplomat]

This comment was made as a response to Seoul’s Unification Ministry stating that diplomacy remained their objective and that South Korean President Moon Jae-in proposed a third official summit between the key leaders. [United Press International]

30 June 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Pyongyang reinstalls propaganda loudspeakers along demilitarized zone 

(dql) In the latest sign of deteriorating inter-Korean relations, Pyongyang has started to reinstall loudspeakers along the inter-Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), shortly ahead of the 70th anniversary of the begin of the Korean War on June 25. The loudspeakers, used to disseminate proclamations on the superiority of the North’s socialist regime, had been removed in 2018 at the height of inter-Korean peace and cooperation talks. [The Diplomat]

The move comes a week after North Korea had blown up a joint liaison office that has been built on North Korean soil by South Korea and used for talks between the two Koreas. [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

For an explanation of Pyongyang’s resolve to recent tensions and its motives see the podcast with former CIA analyst and Brookings Senior Fellow Jung Pak at [Brookings].

30 June 2020

North Korea’s and Iran’s common enemy: the USA

(yo) North Korea’s new ambassador to Iran met President Hassan Rouhani to discuss about their common enemy, the USA. Rouhani after the meeting communicated his willingness to further bilateral ties to strengthen their abilities to confront US hegemony. Iran and North Korea have consistently been corresponding about deepening relations and have dispatched numerous delegations throughout the past few years. [NK News]

Meanwhile, according the North Korea state media North Korea is willing to use nuclear weapons against the USA, as it believes it to be the only option that is left to counter nuclear threats from Washington after diplomatic efforts have failed to yield results. [US News]

23 June 2020

Inter-Korean relations: North Korea blows up joint liaison office 

(yo) In a highly symbolic move, North Korea has blown up a joint liaison office that has been built on North Korean soil by South Korea and used for talks between the two Koreas. The demolition of the office is the latest sign of deteriorating inter-Korean relations.

Pyongyang called the move a retaliatory measure after a group of defectors used balloons to send anti-North Korean leaflets north of the DMZ. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] and announced that it will re-militarize some sections of the border. In response, South Korea’s defense ministry said that it will vigilantly follow the North’s actions, being ready to respond “strongly” to any aggressive provocations. [CNN]

Meanwhile, taking political responsibility for the deteriorating inter-Korean relations in inter-Koran peace talk, Kim Yeon-chul, South Korea’s Unification Minister offered his resignation which President Moon accepted. Kim has not had any personal interactions with officials from Pyongyang during the 14 months of his tenure. [The Guardian] [Korea Times]

 

16 June 2020

North Korea says Army ready for action on South Korea

(yo) Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong threatened to take military action against South Korea, claiming it is time to break relations with South Korea. She announced that she will exercise her power to instruct the army, which experts comment as a strategy to bolster her authority within the state. The Unification Ministry in South Korea urged North Korea to respect inter-Korean agreements and the past reconciliation efforts that have been made. The Defense Ministry stated they will maintain alert and ready. [Bloomberg]

Although Kim was responding to the activists that have been sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda, the intensifying aggression is considered to be caused by the frustration of “failed diplomacy” as there’s been little progress in peace talks between the two Koreas. [CNBC] [AiR No.23,June/2020, 2]

 

9 June 2020

North Korea: North Korea answers second liaison phone call from South Korea amid leaflet tensions

(yh) North Korea expressed anger about North Korean defectors and South Korean activists sending balloons that carry propaganda leaflets criticizing the North, one-dollar bills and USB memory sticks to attract North Korean citizens. Kim Yo jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister sent a statement threatening to close the inter-Korean liaison office, scrap an inter-Korean military tension reduction agreement as she accused South Korea of violating peace agreements banning hostilities against each other. [The Korea Herald]

In response, South Korea announced that it will push for new laws to ban activists from flying anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the border. [Market Watch]

 

2 June 2020

North Korea: Kim Jong Un demands money from North Korea’s elite

(yo) As North Korea faces an economic decline severely impacted by global pandemic and sanctions, Kim Jong-un makes adjustments in policies and management practices. The measure he has adopted is demanding cash from rich North Koreans, also known as donju. Experts say this is North Korea’s sharpest economic downturn since 1997, and that the adversity is proved by how Pyongyang aims to cover about 60% of state budget from this group of people. Observations of bond issues have been made, as “voluntary contributions” are made to counter challenges faced with hindered domestic commerce and trade with China. 

Experts note these measures signify North Korea’s return to centralized control, and that the pandemic may be an opportunity for Kim to bolster control in foreign trade. Despite the crisis, Kim continues to dedicate large portions of financial resources to its military. [Financial Times]

 

26 May 2020

North Korea: Kim Jong-un moves to increase North Korea’s nuclear strength

(yo) After a long absence from public view, which had ignited rumors about his health, Kim Jong-un made his first public appearance last week in a meeting with his top military advisors which he convened to outline “policies for increasing nuclear war deterrence and putting the strategic armed forces on a high alert operation”. The promotion of nuclear and missile forces was expected among analysts after Kim announced last December that North Korea would no longer be bounded by a self-imposed moratorium on these arms. [The New York Times]

As a response, the US National Security Advisor Robert O-Brien said North Korea must give up on their nuclear program in order to make progress in economic development and diplomatic matters. China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, meanwhile, urged the two states to overcome deadlock and reach a concrete solution. He raised the possibility of relaxing UN sanctions as a potential solution to the stalemate in US-DPRK conversations. He argues this step could ease economic and livelihood difficulties, creating the conditions for an agreement. [NK News]

 

12 May 2020

North Korea: South Korean naval exercises violate inter-Korean agreement

(ef) North Korea condemned the recent joint exercises by the South Korean Air Force and the South Korean Navy in the West Sea, adding that “everything was going back to the starting point before the Inter-Korean summit in 2018.” 

Pursuant to the Inter-Korean Military Agreement, large-scale military exercises require consultations. The condemnation comes a week after the inter-Korean cross-border shooting at the DMZ. [AiR No. 18, May/2020, 1] [The Diplomat]

12 May 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Seoul proposes joint system against infectious diseases

(ef) Amid the pandemic, South Korea’s Unification Minister has proposed a joint response system to future infectious diseases. Due to a variety of wild plants blooming in North Korea, development of natural medicine would be possible. 

The proposal comes after President Moon has repeatedly pushed for cross-border healthcare cooperation with regards to the pandemic. Thus far, North Korea has not responded to the offers. According to the Unification Minister, UN sanctions would not be a hindrance to this as the UN’s stance is that the main objective should be the overcoming of the pandemic. [Korea Times]

5 May 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Exchange of gunfire across DMZ

(ef) In violation of the Comprehensive Military Agreement of 2018, gunfire was exchanged at the Korean Demilitarized Zone in Cheorwon. In the morning hours of Sunday, South Korean soldiers heard gunshots and subsequently found four bullet marks on a guard post. Following the response protocol, South Korean soldiers issued a broadcast warning and fired 20 shots in response – 10 rounds each time. 

Thus far, North Korea has not explained the firing although there were apt possibilities to do so in a timely fashion. However, due to foggy conditions and the absence of tactical targets in sight, the South Korean military presumes that the firing was unintentional. No casualties were reported. [Korea Herald] [Korea Herald 2] [Korea Times]

It is the first reported exchange of gunfire between the North and South Korea along the border since 2017. It coincided with the reemergence of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who was absent for 20 days.

5 May 2020

North Korea-USA relations: Pompeo reaffirms denuclearization mission

(ef) US Secretary of State reaffirmed the foreign policy goal of denuclearizing North Korea in order to ‘create a brighter future for North Korean people’. The statement came shortly after Kim Jong-un’s return to the public eye after 20 days ending rumors of the North Korean leader’s death. [Korea Herald 1

Meanwhile, two US Senators introduced legislation that would bar President Trump from taking military action against North Korea unless authorized by Congress or following a North Korean preemptive strike. [Korea Herald 3]

28 April 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Moon vows to improve inter-Korean cooperation

(ef) On the occasion of the second anniversary of the inter-Korean summit and the adoption of the Panmunjom Declaration, South Korean President Moon vowed to find ways to improve cooperation with North Korea suggesting a joint response to Covid-19 as a possible area of cooperation within what he called “the most realistic and realizable path to inter-Korean relations” given international constraints, in particular the ongoing impasse between Pyongyang and Washington over de-nuclearization and UN sanctions against North Korea.

In a related move to underscore its pledge to push for inter-Korean cooperation, the government held a ceremony to celebrate a railway project which connects the rail networks of North and South Korea. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year. However, no representatives of North Korea took part in the event. Neither, did North Korean state media mention the anniversary of the inter-Korean summit. [Korea Times] [Korea Herald 1]

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Office has urged North Korea to improve prison conditions in light of the pandemic as prisoners were “locked up in cramped conditions” that make them vulnerable for rapidly spreading infections. Pyongyang, however, insist that there were no infections in North Korea. [Korea Herald 2]

For a critical assessment of Moon’s focus on a bilateral inter-Korean peace building approach see Lauren Richardson at [East Asia Forum] who criticizes the South Korean president for neglecting to incorporate Japan in his strategic thinking given that “[a]s long as Pyongyang remains in an antagonistic relationship with Tokyo, it is difficult to envision the Kim regime laying down its defences.”

 

21 April 2020

US spy planes monitor North Korea

(dql) Two US spy planes, the US Air Force’s E-8C and Navy’s P-3C, have been spotted flying over South Korea, in what appears to be a mission to monitor North Korea.

In response to Pyongyang’s stepped-up military moves amid stalled denuclearization negotiations, Washington has deployed a series of reconnaissance aircraft in South Korea. [Korea Herald]

 

14 April 2020

North Korea: High-profile missiles fired a day before legislative election in South Korea

(dql) One day ahead of the national election in South Korea and the 108th birthday of North Korea’s founding father Kim Il-sung this Wednesday, North Korea has fired a salvo of suspected cruise missiles towards the Sea of Japan, in a major show of force. The launches are the most high-profile actions among a series of weapon tests the country has conducted recently amid frosty relations with the USA over stalled nuclear talks. [Aljazeera]

31 March 2020

North Korea: Dialogue with the US halted due to pressure from Pompeo

(ef) Although the correspondence between Kim Jong-un and Trump had recently improved [AiR No. 12, March/2020, 4], the North Korean Foreign Ministry has announced that their interest in dialogue has ceased after the US Secretary of State Pompeo asked the G7 to remain united with regards to North Korea. Reportedly, this statement has made North Korea “more zealous for [their] important planned projects aimed to repay the U.S. with actual horror and unrest for the sufferings it has inflicted upon [their] people”. [New York Times]

Last Sunday, North Korea fired an unidentified projectile marking the fourth missile testing of March. [CNNAiR No. 12, March/2020, 4

24 March 2020

North Korea: Trump writes to Kim Jong-un as further missile testing is conducted

(ef) According to the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, President Trump sent a letter to the North Korean leadership offering cooperation in the anti-pandemic work. The letter is viewed as an attempt to rekindle friendly relations which have dwindled after the 2019 summit in Vietnam. The letter came a day after a report of the third testing of short-range projectiles in the month of March. [Washington PostAiR No. 9, March/2020, 1] It has been put forth that those launches could be interpreted as a protest against continuing UN sanctions. [The Korea Herald]

10 March 2020

South Korea: North Korean defectors’ political party launched

(ef) In a historic first, North Korean defectors launched a political party in South Korea. According to its representatives, the newly formed party, tentatively named ‘Inter-Korean Unification Party’ and claiming to represent more than 30.000 defectors, aims at “liberating” North Korea from autocratic rule and improving the rights of defectors. The launch comes after a former North Korean diplomat announced that he was running for the parliamentary elections on April 15. [Korea Herald] [Asia Times]

3 March 2020

North Korea testing weapons 

(ef) Signalling a tough stance amid stalled de-nuclearization talks with the USA, North Korea has fired two short-range missiles into the East Sea between South Korea and Japan, just days after South Korea and the USA announced to postpone annual joint drills until further notice in the midst of the Covid-19. [Foreign Policy] [The Guardian].

The launches are the first since November and came weeks after Pyongyang declared its moratorium on long-range missile tests over. [AiR No. 4, January/2020, 4]

11 February 2020

North Korea accused of breach of UN sanctions 

(dql) According to a United Nation report, North Korea continued to enhance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in 2019 in violation of UN sanctions. Furthermore, the report accuses Pyongyang illicit import of refined petroleum and export of coal worth 370 million USD.  [Reuters]

28 January 2020

North Korea: Nuclear freeze pledge abandoned

(dql) Prospects for a resumption of stalled North-Korean-U.S. denuclearization talks look bleak, after Pyongyang announced at last week’s Conference on Disarmament in Geneva that it was no longer bound by commitments to halt nuclear and missile testing. It justified this decision with Washington’s failure to meet the 2019 year-end deadline for nuclear talks and with the Trump administration’s “brutal and inhumane” sanctions. [ABC]

31 December 2019

North Korea: Kim Jong-un discusses “aggressive measures” to protect country’s sovereignty

(dql) North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un has reportedly spoken about and discussed “proactive and aggressive political, diplomatic and military response measures for ensuring the country’s sovereignty and security” during a plenary of an ongoing meeting of the Central Committee of the North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party which kicked off last Saturday. He suggested action to be taken in the areas of foreign affairs, the munitions industry and armed forces.

While Kim failed to reveal details of these “measures”, his statement has raised concerns that Pyongyang will resume tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons as its self-imposed year-end deadline, set for Washington to come up with new offers to break the impasse of stalled denuclearizations talks, is drawing near without any moves made by the Trump administration. [Korea Herald] [CNBC]

In response, US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, urged Kim to wisely choose between two paths: one on which North Korea “can become like South Korea, and be a very prosperous, very wealthy country,” or another that “takes [North Korea] down the road of sanctions and isolation and being a pariah state.” [NK News]

24 December 2019

China, Japan, South Korea agree to promote dialogue between USA and North Korea 

(dql) At a trilateral summit in Chengdu this week, China, Japan and South Korea have vowed to work together to help promote the North Korea-US dialogue to end North Korea’s nuclear program. South Korean President Moon Jae-in confirmed in a joint news conference that “the three countries, agreed to continue close communication and cooperation toward denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

The pledge comes amid the looming year-end deadline set by Pyongyang for Washington to change what it considers as a policy of hostility. The meeting is also a chance for Beijing to flex its diplomatic muscle and to present itself as weighty broker between Tokyo and Seoul whose ties have hit rock bottom in recent months over trade issues and disputes over compensation payment for South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s rule over the Korean Peninsula 1910-1945. [Aljazeera][Reuters]

17 December 2019

China and Russia propose partial removal of sanctions against North Korea 

(dql) China, together with Russia, has reportedly called on the U.N. Security Council to lift sanctions to allow Pyongyang export statues, seafood and textiles, traditionally important revenue sources for North Korea. Beijing and Moscow described the move as attempt to encourage stalled talks between the USA and North Korea.

Washington, however, expressed disagreement on the proposal arguing that the it was premature as North Korea was still “threatening to conduct an escalated provocation, refusing to meet to discuss denuclearization, and continuing to maintain and advance its prohibited weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.” [CNBC]

North Korea, meanwhile, does not shy away from further escalating already heightened tensions with the USA and declared that it will make use the recently tested new technologies to develop a strategic weapon to counter the US nuclear threat. The chief of the North Korean military’s General Staff added that Pyongyang has “stored up a tremendous power” and the military is fully ready to carry out any decision of leader Kim Jong-un. [Korea Herald]

10 December 2019

South Korea calls for China’s support in denuclearization process amid bleak prospects for US-North Korean talks

(dql) During the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to South Korea last week, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called for China to play am important role in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, while Wang urged to established stronger strategic communication between Beijing and Seoul. [South China Morning Post]

The statements come amid concerns that the US-led denuclearization diplomacy will fall apart after North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations at the weekend declared that denuclearization is off the negotiating table with the United States. [CNBC]

3 December 2019

North Korea’s heavy reliance on China’s trade

(dql) Data presented Korea International Trade Association have revealed that North Korea’s trade reliance on China has jumped more than fivefold since 2001. While China’s proportion of the North’s overall external trade stood at 17.3% in 2001, it rose to 91.8% in 2018.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang reportedly launched two unidentified projectiles last week, the latest of 13 weapons tests so far this year. The test is seen as attempt to press the USA to meet the year-end deadline set by North Korea to offer a new initiative to salvage nuclear talks.  [CBS]

19 November 2019

North Korean hacking attack on Indian nuclear facility

(ls) A cyberattack on an Indian nuclear power plant that was discovered in September appears to have been launched from North Korea as evidence seems to indicate. The incident shows an upgrade of North Korea’s cyberattack capabilities, which used to be deployed mostly against civilian targets. Now, North Korean hackers are also tasked with either disrupting atomic plants or stealing atomic technologies. [Asia Times]

The nuclear power plant’s employees are suspected to have opened phishing emails from North Korean spammers, accidentally installing malware on their computers, which then spread across the system. According to an investigative report, the attackers had acquired high-level access and struck “extremely mission-critical targets.” There are also rumors that a similar cyberattack affected India’s high-profile Moon mission Chandrayaan last month. The project collapsed after it lost contact with the spacecraft. [Asian Sentinel]

5 November 2019

North Korea launches rocket ahead of possible talks with U.S.

(ls) North Korea has conducted its third test-firing of a new “super-large” multiple rocket launcher that it says expands its ability to destroy enemy targets in surprise attacks. The launches followed statements of displeasure by top North Korean officials over the slow pace of nuclear negotiations with the United States and demands that sanctions and pressure on their country were eased. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, South Korean member of parliament Lee Eun-jae said that North Korea and the United States could hold another round of working-level talks as soon as mid-November to expedite progress before a year-end deadline set by the North. [Reuters]

The United States and South Korea are also likely to suspend a planned air force military drill for the second straight year to avoid increasing tensions. [Straits Times]

24 September 2019

Japanese radar stations and MSDF crews failed to track recent North Korean missiles launches

(dql) In a blow to Japan’s missile defense network, Japan has failed to track the trajectory of some of North Korea’s new types of short-range missiles in a recent series of launches. Among them were missiles capable of reaching Japan which apparently escaped detection. [Defense World]

10 September 2019

North Korea: UN warns against Pyongyang’s cyberattacks on cryptocurrency exchanges amid plans for resumption of de-nuclearizations talks 

(dql/jd) Amid stalled U.S.-North Korean denuclearization negotiations, the UN Security Council released a report which accuses Pyongyang of “us[ing] cyberspace to launch increasingly sophisticated attacks to steal funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges to generate income”. The report also suggests that North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and missile programs referring to Pyongyang’s recent missile tests. [United Nations]

Despite these findings, the resumption of denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang seems to be within reach. While US Secretary of State Pompeo affirmed North Korea’s right to defend itself and assured Pyongyang of Washington’s security guarantees in case the regime would scrap nuclear weapons program. In response, North Korea voiced willingness to engage in “comprehensive discussions” with the United States in late September at a time and place agreed between both sides. Pyongyang, however, insists that Washington would have to “come out with an alternative based on a calculation method that serves both sides’ interests and is acceptable to us.” [Yonhap] [Aljazeera]

Shortly after this statement, North Korea fired two unknown projectiles from South Pyongan Province toward the sea off North Korea’s east coast, as confirmed by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. [Voice of America]

3 September 2019

North Korea-USA denuclearization talks: Hope dwindling

(jd) On Saturday, a senior North Korean diplomat officially warned the US that hopes are fading for the continuation of the stalled denuclearization talks. The statement came after Pompeo criticized Pyongyang’s behavior in the light of the recent missile tests as “rogue,” which the diplomat rejected as “thoughtless” comment. [Aljazeera] 

Amid stalled talks between Washington and Pyongyang, South Korea’s top nuclear envoy is set to meet the Russian Vice Foreign Minister to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization. They are expected to discuss how to facilitate the stalled negotiations between Pyongyang and the US. [Hankyoreh]

Meanwhile, a US reconnaissance plane flew over Seoul and its surrounding regions in a North Korean intelligence-gathering mission stepping up its surveillance of North Korea amid fears that Pyongyang would continue missile tests. Pyongyang defended again the weapons testing, arguing that it is crucial as a means to defend against “imperialistic behavior,” referring to the United States’ behavior in the region. Since late July, seven rounds of weapons testing have been conducted, primarily using short-range missiles and projectiles. [Korea Herald 2]

Complicating the situation, Japan claimed that Pyongyang is developing a new range of short-range ballistic missiles which penetrate a ballistic missile shield defending Japan. [Japan Times]

Date of AiR edition

News summary

Web links

16 July 2019

North Korea: Pyongyang condemns Seoul’s F-35 fighter jet purchase 

(jd) In a move dimming expectations towards the possible resumption of nuclear talks between the USA and North Korea after the recent meeting between US President Donald and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the Demilitarized Zone [AiR 1/7/2019], Pyongyang has slammed South Korea for purchasing high-tech US stealth fighters, calling the purchase “impudent” and announcing as response that it has “no choice” but to develop “special armaments” to defend itself. South Korea received in March the first batch of F-35s and is to buy 40 F-35 fighter jets by 2021. [Reuters] [Wall Street Journal]

Pyongyang remarks come as Israel’s President Rivlin has arrived on Sunday in South Korea for a five-day visit cement cooperation between both countries, with a focus on regional security, a free trade agreement and advanced technologies. Israel-North Korea relations are hostile, with North Korea not recognizing Israel. [Yonhap]

Meanwhile US Forces Korea, in a recently published annual report “2019 Strategic Digest”, has acknowledged that North Korea’s Hwasong-15, an intercontinental ballistic missile, can reach anywhere on US soil, with an estimated reach of around 13000 km. [Japan Times] After North Korea tested the missile in November 2017, South Korea also acknowledged in their Defense White Paper last year that it has a range of over 10000 km.

This makes the Hwasong-15 the second missile created by North Korea which is capable of reaching some part of the US mainland. The other missile is its predecessor, the Hwasong-14, which is believed to be capable of reaching most parts of the US mainland. [Chosunilbo]

16 July 2019

North Korea officially makes Kim Jong-un Head of State

(jd) North Korea has revised its constitution to officially name Kim Jong-un as the country’s Head of State. Prior to the revision, the President of the Supreme People’s Association (SPA), North Korea’s unicameral legislature, was technically the head of state. [UPI]

The revision is seen as part of efforts to normalize the nation’s diplomatic affairs to the rest of the world. Since March 2018, Kim has met with multiple foreign heads of state and government. [Bloomberg]

2 July 2019

North Korea-USA relations: Trump and Kim agree to resume denuclearization talk at meeting at the DMZ

(jyk) U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to resume the previously deadlocked denuclearization talks at a meeting at the inner-Korean Demilitarized Zone on Trump’s return from the G20 Summit.  “We’ve agreed that we’re each going to designate a team. The teams will try to work out some details”, said Trump — referring to the U.S. negotiators that will be led by Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun. He also said the U.S. and North will start working on a comprehensive deal for the next two to three weeks, which won’t be a rushed agreement as he was “not looking for speed” but “looking to get it right”. [JoongAng Daily]

18 June 2019

Japan seeks Mongolia’s support in North Korean abduction issue

(jyk) Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono met his Mongolian counterpart in Ulaanbaatar on Sunday, in an effort to seek Mongolia’s cooperation in resolving issues related to North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals in 1970s and 80s. The two agreed on the importance of fully implementing U.N. sanctions against North Korea toward denuclearization, according to Japanese officials. This is the first time in 9 years for a Japanese foreign minister to visit Mongolia, and the two agreed to deepen ties. North Korea has reacted coldly to Japanese Prime Minister’s offer of holding a meeting so far. Japan currently lists 17 people as missing from NK’s abduction, five of whom were repatriated in 2002. [Mainichi]

18 June 2019

North Korea: TJWG Report details on-going public executions in North Korea

(jyk) Last week, the Seoul-based non-governmental organization Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) published a report, detailing the 323 locations in the hermit kingdom where state-led executions have taken place without appropriate legal procedures. According to the report, a wide range of crimes, as petty as stealing a cow and as grave as murder, warranted executions in the firing squad, where hundreds of ordinary citizens would watch.

The report was compiled on the basis of interviews with more than 600 North Korean defectors over four years, but its findings are not definitive due to the lack of third-party that can confirm the veracity of the interviewee’s allegations. And it may be under-representative of what is in fact going on in the country as most defectors were from North Hamgyong, close to the Chinese borders. The human rights conditions could be more destitute in areas farther away from the borders. [JoongAng Daily]

11 June 2019

Inter-Korean relations: President Moon leaves for Scandinavian countries after signing off food aid to North Korea

(jyk/dql) Soon after signing off 8 million USD worth of food and medical aid for North Korea [JoongAng Daily 1], President Moon went on a weeklong trip on Sunday to Finland, Norway and Sweden to seek economic cooperation in technological areas including 5G networks and artificial intelligence. [JoongAng Daily 2] Moon will also deliver a speech about his vision for denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula at the Oslo Forum, as a way of issuing a message to North Korea as he did in Berlin in 2017. President Trump is also known to have discussed and supported the food aid program to North Korea over the phone with Moon, according to the Presidential Office. [New York Times]

28 May 2019

North Korea-USA relations: Pyongyang slams US seizure of North Korean cargo ship, while Bolton and Trump add odds over recent North Korean missile tests

(jyk/dql) At a press conference at UN headquarters, North Korea’s top envoy, Kim Song, protested and said the US’s recent seizure of North Korean large carrier [AiR 2/5/2019], was unlawful and a serious violation of international law. The carrier was known to have shipped large amounts of goods such as coals, petroleum, and heavy machinery in out of the sanctioned country until a warrant issued in New York led to its custody in the US. It was the first instance in which the USA has seized and impounded a North Korean vessel for violation of international sanctions. [JoongAng Daily]

The move came after North Korea fired two short-range missiles a few days earlier which White House national security adviser John R. Bolton described as violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, prompting Pyongyang calling him a “warmonger” and “human defect”. [New York Times]

Contradicting Bolton, but also Japanese Prime Minister Abe during his trip to Japan, US President Trump reportedly said: “My people think it could have been a violation. I view it differently.” Like Bolton, Abe called the missile tests a breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions. [Politico]