Asia in Review Archive (2017)

North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

Web links

29 December 2017

Russia: Moscow vows to act as mediator between US and North Korea

Russia has offered to act as a mediator between the United States and North Korea in the ongoing conflict over nuclear threats and recent missile launches. A Kremlin spokesman said that “Russia is ready if both sides need it and want it” [Tass]. The offer comes at a time when Chinese diplomatic efforts as well as new sanctions issued by the United Nations appear to be without results. At the same time, however, the United States and Russia are entangled in conflicting geopolitical aspirations in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, while also still dealing with allegations of Russian interference with the 2016 US Presidential elections.

1 December 2017

Sanctions and access to food

One major argument against sweeping sanctions against North Korea has always been that it may lead to a significant shortage of food supplies, hitting the already suffering population hardest. Statistics suggest that China is keeping up with the sanctions too [Bloomberg], so what is the access to food like in North Korea and can shortages and raising prices be witnessed? The article suggests that it is slightly too early to tell but nonetheless, there are strong reasons to be worried about the near future. The next few months will most likely provide conclusive evidence, so this is a problem that needs to be followed closely [38 North].

1 December 2017

North Korea: New ICBM capable of reaching US East Coast with a nuclear warhead?

The NK government has claimed it successfully tested a new inter-continental ballistic missile that can reach as far as the US East coast, delivering a nuclear warhead. The confirmed test has been condemned by the international community and whilst the claimed travelling distance has not been confirmed, it is a major development in NK’s nuclear weapons programme. According the NK leader, they have now reached their set goals of their rocket weaponry system [The Korea Herald]. Beijing has expressed “grave concerns” regarding the latest developments of NK’s nuclear programme [South China Morning Post].

24 November 2017

Human Rights Law, the Tatmadaw and the Rakhine State crisis

The International Commission of Jurists, ICJ, has published a report on the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, detailing the extraordinary role of Myanmar’s military in the conflict and how they are operating outside of a human rights framework due to their special role in Myanmar’s polity. Their position is incompatible with rule of law principles, which has exacerbated the crisis [Full Report] [Summary]. Amnesty International said this week, persecution of Rohingya Muslims fits the legal definition of apartheid [Amnesty International]. In the meantime, at the Asia Europe Foreign Ministers Meeting (ASEM), Auung San Suu Kyi has done little to dispel international criticism regarding her retraction from moral leadership [Asia Times].

10 November 2017

Japan: Increasing pressure on Pyongyang

In a show of force directed against North Korea, Japan’s Military Defense Force conducted trilateral exercises with US and Indian vessels in the Sea of Japan, short before President Trump’s Asia trip [The Japan Times]. In a related move, Tokyo announced further sanctions against Pyongyang, including the freezing of assets of organizations and individuals [The Asahi Shimbun].

3 November 2017

China-ROK relations getting back to normal, while worries about North Korean nuclear program grow

After prolonged – and ultimately unsuccessful – political and economic warfare campaigns against the Republic of Korea to dissuade it from participating in a U.S. anti-missile defense program (THAAD) aimed at North Korean nuclear attack capabilities, China has begun taking steps to resume normal bilateral relations with South Korea. The Chinese Foreign Ministry stated Tuesday that both sides “agree to bring communication and cooperation in various fields back on the normal track as soon as possible” [Xinhua]. Regarding the North Korean nuclear threat, Michael Auslin argues that the world should worry more about the risk of a North Korean nuclear accident, even more than its threats to initiate nuclear war. Even if Pyongyang’s laboratories and factories are safe, weapons systems break down, age, and suffer immense problems. The author also suggests that the US will need to figure out how to ensure that the accidents and miscalculations of the cold war are not repeated in North Korea, with catastrophic consequences [The New York Review of Books]. Meanwhile, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg began visits to Japan and South Korea on Sunday. On his topic list: North Korea, and “everything from fighting terrorism to cooperation in cyber and maritime security”. Regarding China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, Stoltenberg said it is important for NATO to have dialogue with Beijing [Kyodo News].

28 October 2017

North Korean Cyber Warfare: Two reports on hacker army’s activities point to India

IT security software company Kaspersky has detected some servers in India used by notorious cyber criminal gang Lazarus – “thought to be state-sponsored” – as part of its global command and control infrastructure, yet highlights that “compromised servers, [are] found in Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand” [The Economic Times].  ‘Recorded Future’, a cyber security company, reported North Korean attacks from India, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nepal, Kenya, Mozambique, and Indonesia with nearly one-fifth of all activity observed involved India which it tries to explain by “close” Indian-North Korean relations enabling “a broad physical and virtual [North Korean] presence in India”. The report quotes the Indian Ministry of External Affairs stressing a relationship of “friendship, cooperation, and understanding” and stresses that the findings coincide with reports of increasingly close diplomatic and trade relationship between India and North Korea as well the fact a number of North Korean students in at least seven Indian universities [The Hindu Business Line].

20 October 2017

North Korean nuclear weapons: Diplomats talk strategy, defense industry cashes in

Diplomats from the United States, South Korea and Japan met in Seoul on Wednesday to discuss how to respond to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said that Washington continues to view diplomacy as the primary means for solving the crisis, but added that the allies must be prepared for “any eventuality” [USA Today]. The constant missile and nuclear threats have racked regional tensions sky-high, but they are a boon for South Korea’s burgeoning defense industry. International military attention has increasingly focused on Seoul’s forces and equipment. The country’s missiles, howitzers, submarines and warplanes are especially popular in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South America [Inquirer].

13 October 2017

Kim Jong-un promotes sister Kim Yo-jong to centre of power

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un has promoted his younger sister to the secretive country’s powerful politburo, consolidating her position as one of the country’s most influential women. Kim Yo-jong has been made an alternate member of the top decision-making body. South Korea’s unification ministry said Kim’s promotions could be an attempt by North Korea to navigate a way through its increasing isolation. North Korean leaders have long promoted trusted family members to their inner political power circles, but these positions are precarious. And the US has blacklisted Kim Yo-jong over the dictatorship’s “severe human rights abuses”: landmark UN report in 2014 found compelling evidence of torture, execution and arbitrary imprisonment, deliberate starvation and an almost complete lack of free thought and belief in the country [theguardian].

13 October 2017

Pyongyang may brace for contact with outside with promotion of FM: report

North Korea’s latest appointment of its foreign minister as a member of the ruling party’s politburo appears intended to brace the regime for possible high-level contact with the U.S. and China, a Seoul think tank report said Tuesday. North Korea on Saturday promoted Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho to become a member of the political bureau of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), a rare promotion of a top diplomat to a key party position. Ri’s appointment appears aimed at preparing for potential high-level contact with the U.S. and China, and to reflect the need to match the title of Chinese diplomatic counterparts. The move came amid an escalating war of words between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs [Yonhap].



10 October 2017

Hosting proms and selling cows: North Korean embassies scrounge for cash

The embassies of most countries promote the interests of companies back home, but North Korea’s are in business for themselves. A series of tough sanctions by the United Nations and the U.S. have sought to economically isolate the nuclear-armed regime of Kim Jong-un. But Pyongyang has held on to an array of profit-making ventures, some of which operate in the roughly 40 embassies of the hermit kingdom. Earning money is a necessity for the embassies: North Korea doesn’t fund them. Instead, they are expected to support themselves and send home any surplus. These embassies have spent decades running cash-raising schemes, nearly all of them illicit under current international law. Diplomats and their underlings have brokered deals for weapons and drugs, and more mundane products like machine tools and cows. They have also smuggled liquor, cigarettes, luxury cars and have rented out their facilities to unsuspecting wedding parties and for school events. Many of the activites are hard to trace, but some countries have succeeded in shutting down businesses that rent from North Korea [The New York Times].

6 October 2017

Could there be theaters of war in Asia?

According to a national security report of the Russian Defense Ministry, geopolitical tensions have risen to an extent that a military conflict between Russia and NATO countries appears possible (Asia Times). Against the background of a looming military clash in Asia, it is interesting to imagine possible scenarios (and the actors and their strategies) of such a clash by looking into the global war games the US Naval War College had developed in the 1970s and 1980s for that time (The National Interest). Currently, the two conflict spots in East Asia for which a military clash is thinkable are North Korea and Taiwan. The risk of a war is to be considered much more acute for the latter than for the former. One the one hand, Beijing views Taiwan much more decisive for her pursuit of regional hegemony than North Korea (Slate) and has already made concrete plans for an invasion of the island by 2020 (The Washington Free Beacon). One other hand, North Korea is believed to be rational enough to see that an attack on the USA is tantamount to suicide. In this light it is for the USA to consider abandoning the defence treaty with South Korea to fully free herself from the risk of war with North Korea, Doug Bandow writes.

29 September 2017

North Korean forced labourers worked on Danish warship: report

A warship for the Danish Royal Navy was built in part by North Korean forced laborers at a Polish shipyard, according to Danish news media. The salaries of North Korean forced laborers are believed to directly benefit the Kim Jong-un regime and its nuclear program. Denmark’s political classes have expressed outrage, using terminology ranging from “problematic” to “completely scandalous”, “crazy”, and “absurd”.

29 September 2017

North Korea: Prospect of atmospheric nuclear test by North Korea raises specter of danger

North Korea’s threat to conduct an atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean is the most dangerous step Pyongyang has taken thus far.  Such a test poses enormous risks, as it will put the populations below at the mercy of the North’s accuracy and the resultant radioactive cloud. Some question whether North Korea has the technical ability to conduct such a test, but even the threat of the test is creating a regional nightmare, and forcing a very severe test of the U.S. and its allies.  This article examines the risks of such a test to those North Korea wishes to intimidate and to North Korea itself.

22 September 2017

Japan: Missiles deployed on island after North Korea launch

As reaction to Pyongyang’s launching of missiles last Friday, Japan deployed interceptors on the northern island of Hokkaido. The deployment is considered by the government as a measure to prepare to for emergency cases.


22 September 2017

North Korea: Pyongyang’s threat pushes Japan to reassess its might and rights

Japan faces serious security issues such as a bellicose, threatening, nuclear-capable North Korea, global terrorism, and an expansionist, militarily assertive China.  It must content with legal and security restrictions that are best described as “absurdly complex”. Compounding the dilemma: the country’s missile defenses are limited, and the Constitution limits military action only to instances of self-defense.  Lingering behind the debate of how Japan should proceed with its national defense policies is the question of whether Japan should develop its own nuclear weapons capability.


15 September 2017

DPRK Crisis: Japan’s history shows oil embargoes are a dance with disaster 

Amidst the new and most severe UN sanctions yet and the immediate, hostile rhetoric coming out of North Korea in relation to them, some observes urge to consult history and point out that even more severe sanctions could have a destabilising effect. Imperial Japan’s attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbour in 1941 was triggered at least in part by a preceeding oil embargo.

7 September 2017

China ‘shoots down incoming missiles’ during exercise over waters close to North Korea

Only two days after North Korea’s latest nuclear test on Sunday, China’s military conducted the shot down of simulated missiles in the Bohai Bay. Analysts see in this exercise a warning not only against Pyongyang, but against the USA, too.

7 September 2017

Japan’s reach out to India and Germany for support against North Korea

In the frame of Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley’s visit to Japan on Tuesday, he and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera agreed to work for an increase of pressure on North Korea by the international community. They also discussed cooperation issues pertaining to maritime security and freedom of navigation in the light of China’s maritime activities in the Indian Sea (The Japan Times). In a related development, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on a teleconference agreed with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the need for a new UN resolution containing tougher sanctions against North Korea in the wake of Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test on Sunday (Reuters).

18 August 2017

North Korea – The In- and Outside of a Ty-rannic Regime

To avoid further everyday news on North Korea, the links to two background articles about this country are posted. The first deals with the killing spree of Kim Jong-un against his family revealing the foundations and maintenance of his regime’s power. The second article is a thorough analysis of the past failures of the USA and her allies in confronting North Korea.

27 July 2017

How to Take Down Kim Jong Un

Tom Malinowski, former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor argues against the now often heard assumption that there are no good options in dealing with North Korea. Instead of focusing on nuclear threat and externally induced regime change, he looks at changes that could come from within and how to help bring them about.

22 June 2017

AIIB may Finance Projects for North Korea

“The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank may finance infrastructure projects for North Ko-rea…is the decision of the board of governors”, said AIIB President Jin Liqun at a press conference.