Russia Presents Pyongyang with Economic Support to Prevent Deposing Kim Jong-un

Moscow rushed quietly to propping up Kim Jong-un’s position as supreme leader in North Korea with added economic support, as it fears that US regional clout could threaten Russia’s eastern in the future.

Although Russia has an interest in protecting North Korea, it backed tougher United Nations sanctions against North Korea over its nuclear tests last month.

However, Russia aims to stifle any opposition from springing and ousting Kim Jong-un, making way for US troops to push closer to its 17km terrestrial border it shares with North Korea.

According to Reuters, a Russian company began routing North Korean internet traffic this month, giving Pyongyang a second connection with the outside world besides China. Bilateral trade more than doubled to $31.4 million in the first quarter of 2017, due mainly to what Moscow said was higher oil product exports.

If the US deploys troops to the Moscow–Pyongyang route it would represent a direct military threat for the world’s largest nation.

Russia is already angry about a build-up of US-led NATO forces on its western borders in Europe and does not want any replication on its Asian border.

Though Moscow wants to try to improve US-Russia relations in the increasingly slim hope of relief from Western sanctions over Ukraine, it remains strongly opposed to what it sees as Washington’s meddling in other countries’ affairs.

But Moscow is also playing a fraught double game, by quietly offering North Korea a slender lifeline to help insulate it from US-led efforts to isolate it economically.

More so, Russian politicians have repeatedly accused the United States of plotting so-called color revolutions across the former Soviet Union and any US talk of unseating any leader for whatever reason is politically toxic in Moscow.

Russia’s joint military exercises with neighboring Belarus last month gamed a scenario where Russian forces put down a Western-backed attempt for part of Belarus to break away.

Japan, South Korea Urge Putin to Impose Sanctions on Pyongyang


Vladivostok, Russia– Japan and South Korea urged Russia on Thursday to impose new sanctions on Pyongyang to face its nuclear ambitions, but this was rejected by Russian President Vladimir Putin who warned that pressure won’t resolve the crisis and called for dialogue.

Since the first nuclear experiment by North Korea, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korea President Moon Jae-in supported the US suggestion to impose an oil-ban.

Russia insists on holding a dialogue with North Korea. After three-hour talk with Shinzo Abe, Putin said that Pyongyang is posing a threat on peace and security in the region with its acts. But he reiterated the Russian stance that settling the condition is improbable unless with diplomatic ways.

North Korea announced on Sunday carrying out a successful hydrogen experiment, the thing that caused worldwide denouncement. According to Japan, this experiment was 160 kilogram tons stronger – ten times stronger than the US bomb thrown at Hiroshima in 1945.

Pyongyang wasn’t affected by the international denouncement and held an awarding ceremony on Wednesday to scholars who performed this experience, where fireworks were launched and huge crowds came.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for exerting the highest possible pressure on North Korea to oblige the regime to let go its nuclear and ballistic program. South Korea President Moon Jae-in reiterated calls for taking tougher procedures against Pyongyang, noting that it might be time to impose more strict sanctions.

It seems that the US President Donald Trump has totally disregarded the strict stances taken recently, affirming that military action is not his first option.

S.Korea’s Moon Jae-In Says Pyongyang’s Nuclear Ambitions Must Be Deterred Peacefully

Tensions between the Wester-backed South Korea and the controversial North Korea eased slightly on Monday as President Moon Jae-in said resolving Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions must be done peacefully and US officials played down the risk of an imminent war.

“There must be no more war on the Korean peninsula. Whatever ups and downs we face, the North Korean nuclear situation must be resolved peacefully,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in told a regular meeting with senior aides and advisers.

“I am certain the United States will respond to the current situation calmly and responsibly in a stance that is equal to ours,” he said.

Nevertheless, US President Donald Trump warned at the weekend that the US military was “locked and loaded” if North Korea acted unwisely after threatening last week to land missiles near the US Pacific territory of Guam.

US Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might conduct another missile test but talk of being on the cusp of a nuclear war was overstating the risk.

“I’ve seen no intelligence that would indicate that we’re in that place today,” Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday”.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a commentary in the Wall Street Journal the United States was adopting a policy of “strategic accountability” towards North Korea, and was applying diplomatic and economic pressure “to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and a dismantling of the regime’s ballistic-missile programs”.

“While diplomacy is our preferred means of changing North Korea’s course of action, it is backed by military options,” they said.

World stocks rallied as investors took heart from the less bellicose rhetoric.

However, North Korea reiterated its threats, with its official KCNA news agency saying “war cannot be blocked by any power if sparks fly due to a small, random incident that was unintentional”.

“Any second Korean War would have no choice but to spread into a nuclear war,” it said in a commentary.

South Korea Offers Rare Talks with Pyongyang Hoping to Ease Tensions

Hoping to ease growing tensions, South Korea offered on Monday to hold rare military talks with North Korea after Pyongyang test-fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

The South’s defense ministry proposed a meeting to be held on Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom, while the Red Cross offered to hold talks on August 1 at the same venue.

If the government meeting goes ahead, it will mark the first official inter-Korea talks since December 2015. President Moon Jae-In’s conservative predecessor Park Geun-Hye had refused to engage in substantive dialogue with Pyongyang unless it made a firm commitment to denuclearization.

“We make the proposal for a meeting… aimed at stopping all hostile activities that escalate military tension along the land border,” the defense ministry said in a statement.

Moon, who took power in May, has advocated dialogue with the nuclear-armed North to bring it to the negotiating table and vowed to play a more active role in global efforts to tame the South’s unpredictable neighbor.

But Pyongyang has staged a series of missile launches in violation of UN resolutions — most recently on July 4 when it test-fired its first ICBM, a move which triggered global alarm and a push by US President Donald Trump to impose harsher UN sanctions.

Washington has also called on China, the North’s sole ally, to put more pressure on Pyongyang to curb its nuclear ambitions, which have advanced rapidly under leader Kim Jong-Un.

The Red Cross said it hoped for “a positive response” from its counterpart in the North in hopes of holding family reunions in early October. If realized, they would be the first for two years.

Millions of family members were separated by the conflict that sealed the division of the two countries. Many died without getting a chance to see or hear from their families on the other side of the heavily-fortified border, across which all civilian communication is banned.

With the passage of time, the number of survivors has diminished, with only around 60,000 members of divided families still left in the South.

“North Korea should respond to our sincere proposals if it really seeks peace on the Korean Peninsula”, Cho Myoung-Gyon, Seoul’s unification minister in charge of North Korea affairs, told reporters.

Cho stressed that Seoul “would not seek collapse of the North or unification through absorbing the North”, and urged Pyongyang to restore cross-border communication channels including a shuttered military hotline.

US Says Ready to Use Force to Deal with Pyongyang’s Threat

The United States has pushed for tougher sanctions on North Korea at the UN Security Council but cautioned it was ready to use force if need be to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear missile program.

In a hard-hitting address at the UN on Wednesday, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said Tuesday’s ICBM test had made “the world a more dangerous place.”

Tuesday’s launch — styled by leader Kim Jong-Un as a gift to “American bastards” — marked a milestone in Pyongyang’s decades-long drive for the capability to threaten the US mainland with a nuclear strike, and poses a stark foreign policy challenge for Donald Trump.

The US president had dismissed the idea of the North possessing a working ICBM, vowing it “won’t happen”, but experts said the missile could reach Alaska or even further towards the continental US.

In her address, Haley called the launch “a clear and sharp military escalation”, and US and South Korean forces fired off missiles Wednesday into the Sea of Japan simulating a precision strike against North Korea’s leadership.

Washington had “considerable military forces”, Haley said. “We will use them if we must.”

But the US focus, she told the council, was to push through tighter sanctions, and it would submit a new draft resolution within days.

In all, six sets of sanctions have been imposed on North Korea since it first tested an atomic device in 2006, but have failed to prevent its military advances.

New measures could target countries that continue to trade with North Korea, curb oil exports to the isolated country, tighten air and maritime restrictions and impose travel bans on its officials.

Haley singled out China as key to any diplomatic solution, only days after Trump said Beijing’s efforts had failed.

“We will work with China,” Haley said, “but we will not repeat the inadequate approaches of the past that have brought us to this dark day.”

The US drive won backing from France, but raised immediate protests from fellow permanent Security Council member Russia, whose Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov warned that “sanctions will not resolve the issue.”

“The possibility of taking military measures to resolve the problems of the Korean peninsula should be excluded,” he said. “We express our support to the idea of North and South Korea engaging in dialogue and consultations.”

China’s UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, told the Security Council meeting that the missile launch was a “flagrant
violation” of UN resolutions and “unacceptable.”

“We call on all the parties concerned to exercise restraint, avoid provocative actions and belligerent rhetoric, demonstrate the will for unconditional dialogue and work actively together to defuse the tension,” Liu said.

North Korea Says Would Impose Death Penalty on South Korea Ex-President

North Korea released a statement on Wednesday saying it would be “imposing the death penalty” on the South’s former president Park Geun-Hye over an alleged plot to assassinate its leader Kim Jong-Un.

Park had “pushed forward” a supposed plan by Seoul’s intelligence services to eliminate the North’s leadership, Pyongyang’s security ministry and prosecutors said in a statement carried by its official Korean Central News Agency.

“We declare at home and abroad that we will impose death penalty on traitor Park Geun Hye,” it said.

The former director of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) Lee Byung-Ho would meet a similar fate, it added.

They “can never make any appeal even though they meet miserable dog’s death any time, at any place and by whatever methods from this moment”.

The declaration comes after the killing of Kim’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong-Nam by two women using the banned nerve agent VX at Kuala Lumpur international airport in February.

Both Malaysia and South Korea have blamed the North for the assassination, which retorts that the accusations are an attempt to smear it.

Last month Pyongyang’s powerful ministry of state security said it had foiled a plot by the US and South Korean spy agencies to kill Kim using a biochemical weapon.

The lurid accusations came amid tensions over the North’s nuclear and missile programs and with Washington considering whether to re-designate Pyongyang as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The latest demand comes with Park’s successor, new South Korean President Moon Jae-In – who backs engagement with the North – on his way to Washington for a summit meeting with Donald Trump.

The Pyongyang statement demanded that Seoul hand over “traitor Park” and the former intelligence chief “as they committed hideous state-sponsored terrorism against the supreme leadership” of North Korea.

Park is currently on trial in Seoul on charges of bribery and abuse of power related to the sprawling corruption scandal that saw her impeached.

The United Nations and rights groups accuse the North of widespread abuses, including an absence of fair trials.

As Economy Grows, North Korea’s Grip on Society Is Tested

Seoul, South Korea — Despite decades of sanctions and international isolation, the economy in North Korea is showing surprising signs of life.

Scores of marketplaces have opened in cities across the country since the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, took power five years ago. A growing class of merchants and entrepreneurs is thriving under the protection of ruling party officials. Pyongyang, the capital, has seen a construction boom, and there are now enough cars on its once-empty streets for some residents to make a living washing them.

Reliable economic data is scarce. But recent defectors, regular visitors and economists who study the country say nascent market forces are beginning to reshape North Korea — a development that complicates efforts to curb Mr. Kim’s nuclear ambitions.

Even as President Trump bets on tougher sanctions, especially by China, to stop the North from developing nuclear-tipped missiles capable of striking the United States, the country’s improving economic health has made it easier for it to withstand such pressure and to acquire funds for its nuclear program.

While North Korea remains deeply impoverished, estimates of annual growth under Mr. Kim’s rule range from 1 percent to 5 percent, comparable to some fast-growing economies unencumbered by sanctions.

But a limited embrace of market forces in what is supposed to be a classless society also is a gamble for Mr. Kim, who in 2013 made economic growth a top policy goal on par with the development of a nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Kim, 33, has promised his long-suffering people that they will never have to “tighten their belts” again. But as he allows private enterprise to expand, he undermines the government’s central argument of socialist superiority over South Korea’s capitalist system.

There are already signs that market forces are weakening the government’s grip on society. Information is seeping in along with foreign goods, eroding the cult of personality surrounding Mr. Kim and his family. And as people support themselves and get what they need outside the state economy, they are less beholden to the authorities.

“Our attitude toward the government was this: If you can’t feed us, leave us alone so we can make a living through the market,” said Kim Jin-hee, who fled North Korea in 2014 and, like others interviewed for this article, uses a new name in the South to protect relatives she left behind.

After the government tried to clamp down on markets in 2009, she recalled, “I lost what little loyalty I had for the regime.”

Unofficial Activity

Kim Jin-hee’s loyalty was first tested in the 1990s, when a famine caused by floods, drought and the loss of Soviet aid gripped North Korea. The government stopped providing food rations, and as many as two million people died.

Ms. Kim did what many others did to survive. She stopped showing up for her state job, at a machine-tool factory in the mining town of Musan, and spent her days at a makeshift market selling anything she could get her hands on. Similar markets appeared across the country.

After the food shortage eased, the market in Musan continued to grow. By the time she left the country, Ms. Kim said, more than 1,000 stalls were squeezed into it alongside her own.

Kim Jong-il, the father of the North’s current leader, had been ambivalent about the marketplaces before he died in 2011. Sometimes he tolerated them, using them to increase food supplies and soften the blow of tightening sanctions imposed by the United Nations on top of an American embargo dating to the Korean War. Other times, he sought to suppress them.

But since 2010, the number of government-approved markets in North Korea has doubled to 440, and satellite images show them growing in size in most cities. In a country with a population of 25 million, about 1.1 million people are now employed as retailers or managers in these markets, according to a study by the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.

Unofficial market activity has flourished, too: people making and selling shoes, clothing, sweets and bread from their homes; traditional agricultural markets that appear in rural towns every 10 days; smugglers who peddle black-market goods like Hollywood movies, South Korean television dramas and smartphones that can be used near the Chinese border.

At least 40 percent of the population in North Korea is now engaged in some form of private enterprise, a level comparable to that of Hungary and Poland shortly after the fall of the Soviet bloc, the director of South Korea’s intelligence service, Lee Byung-ho, told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing in February.

This market activity is driven in part by frustration with the state’s inefficient and rigid planned economy. North Koreans once worked only in state farms and factories, receiving salaries and ration coupons to buy food and other necessities in state stores. But that system crumbled in the 1990s, and now many state workers earn barely a dollar a month. Economists estimate the cost of living in North Korea to be $60 per month.

“If you are an ordinary North Korean today, and if you don’t make money through markets, you are likely to die of hunger,” said Kim Nam-chol, 46, a defector from Hoeryong, a town near the Chinese border. “It’s that simple.”
‘Competition Is Everywhere’

Before fleeing in 2014, Mr. Kim survived as a smuggler in North Korea. He bought goods such as dried seafood, ginseng, antiques and even methamphetamine, and he carried them across the border to sell in China. There, he used his earnings to buy grain, saccharin, socks and plastic bags and took it back to sell in North Korean markets.

He said he had paid off border guards and security officers to slip back and forth, often by offering them cigarette packs stuffed with rolled-up $100 or 10,000-yen bills.

“I came to believe I could get away with anything in North Korea with bribes,” he said, “except the crime of criticizing the ruling Kim family.”

Eighty percent of consumer goods sold in North Korean markets originate in China, according to an estimate by Kim Young-hee, director of the North Korean economy department at the Korea Development Bank in the South.

But Kim Jong-un has exhorted the country to produce more goods locally in an effort to lessen its dependence on China, using the word jagang, or self-empowerment. His call has emboldened manufacturers to respond to market demand.

Shoes, liquor, cigarettes, socks, sweets, cooking oil, cosmetics and noodles produced in North Korea have already squeezed out or taken market share from Chinese-made versions, defectors said.

Regular visitors to Pyongyang, the showcase capital, say a real consumer economy is emerging. “Competition is everywhere, including between travel agencies, taxi companies and restaurants,” Rüdiger Frank, an economist at the University of Vienna who studies the North, wrote recently after visiting a shopping center there.

A cellphone service launched in 2008 has more than three million subscribers. With the state still struggling to produce electricity, imported solar panels have become a middle-class status symbol. And on sale at some grocery stores and informal markets on the side streets of Pyongyang is a beverage that state propaganda used to condemn as “cesspool water of capitalism” — Coca-Cola.

Leaning On Private Sector

When Kim Jong-un stood on a balcony reviewing a parade in April, he was flanked by Hwang Pyong-so, the head of the military, and Pak Pong-ju, the premier in charge of the economy.

The formation was symbolic of Mr. Kim’s byungjin policy, which calls for the parallel pursuit of two policy goals: developing the economy and building nuclear weapons. Only a nuclear arsenal, Mr. Kim argues, will make North Korea secure from American invasion and let it focus on growth.

Mr. Kim has granted state factories more autonomy over what they produce, including authority to find their own suppliers and customers, as long as they hit revenue targets. And families in collective farms are now assigned to individual plots called pojeon. Once they meet a state quota, they can keep and sell any surplus on their own.

The measures resemble those adopted by China in the early years of its turn to capitalism in the 1980s. But North Korea has refrained from describing them as market-oriented reforms, preferring the phrase “economic management in our own style.”

In state-censored journals, though, economists are already publishing papers describing consumer-oriented markets, joint ventures and special economic zones.

It is unclear how much of recent increases in grain production were due to Mr. Kim’s policies. Defectors say factories remain hobbled by electricity shortages and decrepit machinery while many farmers have struggled to meet state quotas because they lack fertilizer and modern equipment.

More broadly, the economy remains constrained by limited foreign investment and the lack of legal protections for private enterprise or procedures for contract enforcement.

Plans to set up special economic zones have remained only plans, as investors have balked at North Korea’s poor infrastructure and record of seizing assets from foreigners, not to mention the sanctions against it.

But there is evidence that the state is growing increasingly dependent on the private sector.

Cha Moon-seok, a researcher at the Institute for Unification Education of South Korea, estimates that the government collects as much as $222,000 per day in taxes from the marketplaces it manages. In March, the authorities reportedly ordered people selling goods from their homes to move into formal marketplaces in an effort to collect even more.

“Officials need the markets as much as the people need them,” said Kim Jeong-ae, a journalist in Seoul who worked as a propagandist in North Korea before defecting.

Ms. Kim fled North Korea in 2003 but has kept in touch with a younger brother there whom she describes as a donju, or money owner.

‘Loyalty Donations’

Donju is the word North Koreans use to describe the new class of traders and businessmen that has emerged.

Kim Jeong-ae said that her brother provided fuel, food and crew members for fishing boats, and that he split the catch with a military-run fishing company.

“He lives in a large house with tall walls,” she added, “so other people can’t see what he has there.”

Called “red capitalists” by South Korean scholars, donju invest in construction projects, establish partnerships with resource-strapped state factories and bankroll imports from China to supply retailers in the marketplaces.

They operate with “covers,” or party officials who protect their businesses. Some are relatives of party officials.

Others are ethnic Chinese citizens, who are allowed regular visits to China and can facilitate cross-border financial transactions, and people with relatives who have fled to South Korea and send them cash remittances.

Whenever the state begins a big project, like the new district of high-rise apartment buildings that Kim Jong-un unveiled before foreign journalists in April, donju are expected to make “loyalty donations.” Sometimes they pay in foreign currency. Sometimes they contribute building materials, fuel or food for construction workers.

“Kim Jong-un is no fool,” said Kang Mi-jin, a defector who once ran her own wholesale business. “He knows where the money is.”

Donju often receive medals and certificates in return for their donations, and use them to signal they are protected as they engage in business activities that are officially illegal.

A Shifting View

Before Kim Jong-un took power, the government made a last attempt to rein in donju and control market forces. It called on citizens to shop only in state stores, banned the use of foreign currency and adopted new bank notes while limiting the amount of old notes that individuals could exchange.

The move wiped out much of the private wealth created and saved by both donju and ordinary people. Market activity ground to a near halt. Prices skyrocketed, and protests were reported in scattered cities.

The government eventually retreated and is believed to have issued an apology when officials convened villagers for their weekly education sessions. It also executed the country’s top monetary official, Pak Nam-gi.

The crisis is widely considered the moment when the government concluded it could no longer suppress the markets. A year later, Pak Pong-ju, a former prime minister who had been ousted for pushing market-oriented policies, was restored to power. He now manages the economy under Mr. Kim.

The New York Times

Pyongyang Raises Rhetoric against its Only Ally


Beijing – North Korea upped on Thursday its tone against its only ally China when it warned Beijing of “dangerous repercussions” if its neighbor kept on testing the North’s patience.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry was quick in trying to contain the tension, by stressing the “friendly” ties it enjoys with Pyongyang.

It said it wants to be good neighbors with North Korea, after the isolated country’s state news agency published a rare criticism of Chinese state media commentaries calling for tougher sanctions over the North’s nuclear program.

The United States has urged China, North Korea’s only major ally, to do more to rein in the North’s nuclear and missile programs, which have prompted an assertive response from the Trump administration, warning that an “era of strategic patience” is over.

A commentary carried by North Korea’s KCNA news agency referred to recent commentaries in China’s People’s Daily and Global Times newspapers, which it said were “widely known as media speaking for the official stand of the Chinese party and government”.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China’s position was consistent and clear.

“China’s position on developing friendly, good-neighborly relations with North Korea is also consistent and clear,” Geng told reporters, in response to a question about the KCNA commentary.

China was unswervingly devoted to the denuclearization of the peninsula and maintaining peace and security and resolving the issue through talks, Geng added.

The WeChat account of the overseas edition of the People’s Daily, in its reaction to the KCNA piece, said it was clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile activities were a threat to China.

“North Korea has not left the Cold War behind and does not want to, and is enmeshed in a web of its own spinning of antagonism between its enemies and itself,” it said.

China has repeatedly said that while it is happy to help arrange talks, it is ultimately up to the United States and North Korea to sort out their differences.

Diplomats say Washington and Beijing are negotiating a possible stronger UN Security Council response – such as new sanctions – to North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

The KCNA commentary charged that the Chinese articles had attempted to shift the blame to Pyongyang for “deteriorated relations” between China and North Korea and US deployment of strategic assets to the region.

It also accused China of “hyping up” damage caused by North Korean nuclear tests to China’s three northeastern provinces.

Chinese state media calls for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program were “a wanton violation of the independent and legitimate rights, dignity and supreme interests” of North Korea and constituted “an undisguised threat to an honest-minded neighboring country which has a long history and tradition of friendship”, KCNA said.

The United States has sent a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to Korean waters and a pair of strategic US bombers flew training drills with South Korea and Japan in another show of strength this week.

“The reckless military provocation is pushing the situation on the Korean peninsula closer to the brink of nuclear war,” KCNA said on Tuesday.

Tension on the Korean peninsula has been high for weeks, driven by concern that North Korea might conduct its sixth nuclear test, also in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.

How to Defuse the Crisis with North Korea

Pyongyang, North Korea, April 17, 2017.

WASHINGTON — I have been meeting with North Korean government officials for over two decades, first for almost 10 years as part of my job at the State Department, and then as a researcher working at universities and think tanks. This experience has made me familiar with the North Koreans’ views on safeguarding their country’s security. I believe that President Trump is making a big mistake if he thinks that the threat of a military strike and escalating sanctions will persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

Following a two-month review, the Trump administration has moved to implement a policy that emphasizes pressure — including the threat of military force and new sanctions against North Korea, as well as new restrictions intended to punish Chinese businesses with ties to Pyongyang. While the theory is that doing so will persuade North Korea to stop its provocative behavior, return to negotiations and give up its nuclear weapons, it won’t work that way. These threats will make the North Korean government only more likely to dig in its heels and move forward with its nuclear and missile programs, embroiling the United States in a festering crisis on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate out of control.

For more than 60 years, North Korea has successfully resisted not only pressure from great powers, mainly the United States, but also attempts at manipulation by its patrons, the Soviet Union and China. This reflects a strong nationalism but also a principle dear to the North Koreans: that as a small country in a life-or-death confrontation with the world’s most powerful nation, any display of weakness would amount to national suicide.

A longstanding, deeply ingrained view in Pyongyang is that Washington’s real agenda is to get rid of the North Korean regime because of the military threat it poses to American allies like South Korea and Japan, its widespread human rights violations and now its nuclear arsenal.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to reassure the North during his visit to Tokyo last month, saying, “North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbors in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea.” But Vice President Mike Pence’s assertion in Seoul this week that the United States seeks to end repression in North Korea, when viewed from Pyongyang, clearly translates into a policy of regime change.

Threats like these reinforce a view in Pyongyang that North Korea needs nuclear weapons to shield it against a much larger, much more powerful country. That’s a message I have heard repeatedly from the North Koreans, most recently in a private meeting I attended with government officials who stated that their country would not have developed nuclear weapons if it did not see the United States as a threat or had not been subjected to American and South Korean provocations. American actions in other countries — whether backing regime change in Libya or launching airstrikes against Syria for its use of chemical weapons — strengthen that view.

The Trump administration may also be mistaken if it believes that China will rein in North Korea. President Trump’s effort to establish cooperation with China, combined with the threat of American military action against the North, seems to be yielding some results, as China recently threatened to impose new sanctions on North Korea. But how far will China go?

There are legitimate concerns in Beijing that too much economic pressure on North Korea will trigger dangerous instability there. Moreover, the North Koreans are just as likely to resist Chinese strong-arm tactics as they are American pressure. Attempts by China to send top-ranking diplomats to Pyongyang over the past week were reportedly rejected out of hand by North Korea. Most observers forget that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is aimed at China as well as the United States and its allies.

In the weeks ahead, the combination of underestimating North Korean intransigence and overestimating China’s influence will expose the Trump administration’s inability to stop North Korea’s nuclear program and could escalate tensions. Pyongyang’s bellicose statements threatening thermonuclear war, the display of new missiles at a parade this past weekend and the failed test on Sunday of a missile able to reach targets in Northeast Asia could be North Korea’s opening moves.

If the Trump administration’s current course continues, it will lead to a dead end. Pyongyang will push forward with its nuclear and missile programs, American threats will ring increasingly hollow if force is not exercised because of the very real risks of triggering a North Korean military response against South Korea and Japan, and Beijing’s support will soften as it looks for a way out of the tensions. As a result, the administration will end up trapped in a policy no-man’s land, its only options to retreat back to the Obama administration’s failed policy of “strategic patience” (without, of course, saying so) or doubling down on sanctions aimed at China and deploying more missile defense and forces to the region.

Time is not on President Trump’s side. The administration should seriously consider pivoting away from pressure to soon resuming dialogue with North Korea. In fact, the United States government should already be quietly talking to the North Koreans, either through contacts with Pyongyang’s United Nations mission or elsewhere, emphasizing Washington’s resolve to defend American interests and making clear that the United States does not have hostile intentions toward North Korea. The Americans should also make clear that they want to explore peaceful paths forward.

The next step for the administration should be to initiate “talks about talks,” allowing both sides to raise their concerns — in the case of the United States, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. If common ground is found — and if the North is willing to address the objective of eventually achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula — the two would then move on to the resumption of formal negotiations.

There are no guarantees that this approach will work. But the Trump administration’s constant refrain that “all options are on the table” should mean just that — not only a military strike but also a diplomatic offensive. In doing so, President Trump would avoid the policy quagmire just over the horizon, strengthen cooperation with China and give Pyongyang a face-saving way out of the current confrontation before it’s too late.

(The New York Times)

Pyongyang Wields ‘Nuclear’ in the Face of Washington


Pyongyang, Washington – In an indirect response to US President Donald Trump, North Korea warned on Saturday to use its nuclear weapons in countering any similar attack that might target its territories.

“We will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war with our style of a nuclear attack,” said Choe Ryong-hae, a close aide to Kim Jong Un, during a speech delivered ahead of a giant military parade at Pyongyang’s main Kim II-sung Square.

During the parade, North Korea displayed 60 new long-range and submarine-based missiles. Four huge green ballistic missiles, rolled out on articulated trailers in increasing order of range also caught the attention of military specialists.

Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified South Korean military official as saying: “This appears to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile,” adding that they appeared longer than the country’s existing KN-08 or KN-14 missiles.

Chad O’Carroll, managing director of specialist service NK News, said the new rockets could be liquid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missiles, or an early prototype.

Also on display was the Pukkuksong, a white-painted device on a blue trailer, which is claimed to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

Lee II-Woo, a senior analyst at the private Korea Defence Network, told AFP: “I suspect they all might be mock-ups aimed to impress the outside world.”

Meanwhile, US Vice President Mike Pence left Washington on Saturday to South Korea in a tour involving the Asian Pacific region. Pence’ trip involves Seoul, Tokyo, Jakarta, and Sydney, and is expected to last 10 days.

As Pence lands in South Korea where he would confirm the US fully commitment to its security alliances, especially in the face of the US evolving security challenges, an American aircraft carrier and other warships would be steaming toward the Korean Peninsula.