Asia in Review Archive (2018)

North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic)

Date of AiR edition

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27 November 2018

South Korea: New anti North-Korea navy missile to be deployed in 2019

(dql) South Korean defense industry officials announced that South Korea is ready to deploy newly developed weapon systems next year, including ship-based guided interceptors aimed at countering North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

13 November 2018

North Korea: Is Pyongyang continuing developing nuclear weapons?

(dql) Satellite images have identified more than a dozen undeclared North Korean missile operating bases, raising concerns about North Korea continuing to work on improving their missile technology and to develop nuclear weapons. The images contradict President Trump’s assertion that Pyongyang’s nuclear threat has been neutralized [New York Times] and also darken inter-Korean efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula as the militaries of North and South Korea on Monday began to dismantle ten front-line guard posts on either side of the Demilitarized Zone after both sides withdraw troops and firearms earlier last week. [Yonhap]

6 November 2018

South Korea and USA resume military drills

(dql) Ahead of the meeting between US Secretary of State and his counterpart Kim Yong Chol this week, South Korea and the United States resumed their combined joint military exercises with a small scale two-weeks maritime drill participated by some 500 troops and involving military equipment such as assault amphibious vehicles. The joint exercises had been halted in June to back denuclearization talks with North Korea. [Yonhap]

In a related development, the larger Vigilant Ace exercise which involved 230 aircraft and tens of thousands of troops in 2017, was cancelled for this year during a meeting between Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis and his counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo in Singapore last week. It was scheduled for December. [CNN]

30 October 2018

South Korean party politics: Ruling and main opposition clash over set up of special court to rule Supreme Court judicial power abuse case, ratification of inter-Korean agreement, and presidential nominee

(dql) South Korea’s main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) has fiercely rejected a bill, proposed by the ruling Democratic Party and three other minor opposition parties, to establish a special court to rule a high-profile judicial power abuse case in which former chief justice of the Supreme Court Yang Sung-tae is accused of using rulings in politically sensitive trials in favor of the administration of former President Park Geun-hye (2013-2017) to obtain her endorsement for Yang’s plan of setting up a second appeals court. [Yonhap 1] The floor leader of the LKP whose votes are needed for the approval of the bill denounced DP’s move as political maneuver to drive a wedge between the opposition parties. [Korea Times 1]

In the latest development of the judicial power abuse case, Lim Jong-hun, former deputy head of the National Court Administration (NCA, the administrative affairs office of the Supreme Court), was arrested over allegations of providing former Chief Justice Yang with the NCA’s opinion on specific cases through written statements or phone calls to influence the rulings of the Supreme Court. [KBS]

Meanwhile, the LKP filed for an injunction with the Constitutional Court against President Moon’s ratification of the Pyongyang Declaration which he and North Korean leader Kim Jong signed during their summit in September, arguing that Moon failed to submit the Declaration to the parliament for approval, a necessary move in the eyes of the LKP as the Declaration would threaten South Korea’s war readiness and its alliance with the United States in the wake of the North’s continued nuclear threats and burden taxpayers. [Korea Times 2]

Prior to the injunction, LKP members of the parliament’s environment committee refused to adopt a confirmation hearing report for Cho Myung-rae, Moon’s nomination for the post of Environmental Minister, citing the nominee’s false registration of his home address to enroll his children into better schools and various gift tax evasion cases as well as lying about these wrongdoings during the confirmation hearing. However, under current law the President’s nomination cannot be rejected, only objection can be expressed. [Yonhap 2]

23 October 2018

Korean peninsula: Continued actions and efforts to further demilitarization and denuclearization

(dql) Indicating ongoing joint efforts to demilitarize the Korean peninsula, the two Korean militaries and the US-led United Nations Command reached an agreement to complete until Thursday the withdrawal of firearms and guard posts from the Joint Security Area, a jointly-controlled area inside the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone. [Korea Herald]

In another move to foster diplomacy and dialogue and to avoid confrontation in the process of denuclearization talks of the peninsula, Washington and Seoul cancelled a joint air force exercise scheduled for December.  Earlier this month Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Kim during a visit to Pyongyang to coordinate a second summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader.[Nikkei Asian Review] [AiR 2/10/2018]

In a latest development, President Moon Jae-in today ratified the Pyongyang Declaration which he and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed at their third summit in Pyongyang last month and in which both sides “agreed to cooperate closely in the process of pursuing complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. [Korea Times 1] [Korea Times 2]

16 October 2018

Inter-Korean relations: Demilitarization of Joint Security Area on the way?

(dql) The North and South Korean militaries and the US-led United Nations Command (UNC) held talks on the disarmament of the Joint Security Area (JSA), the part of the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where North and South Korean forces stand face-to-face. The issues discussed included removing land mines, withdrawing firearms and guard posts and reducing the number of soldiers patrolling the area. Prior to these talks, Seoul and Pyongyang earlier this month had begun to remove landmines and explosives in the JSA following a military agreement between the two Koreas. [Korea Herald]

As the UNC which retains jurisdiction over the southern part of the JSA is led by the US, success and failure of the JSA disarmament will to a great extent depend on the progress of the denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang. [Korea Times]

9 October 2018

North Korea: Pompeo, Kim agree to second US-North Korea summit Seoul reports

 (dql) According to South Korea’s presidential office, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed at their meeting on Sunday in Pyongyang to set up a second summit between Kim und President Trump “as soon as possible”. They also discussed denuclearization measures to be taken by North Korea and the issue of inspection of those actions by the U.S. government as well as the measures with which Washington would respond. [Economic Times]

2 October 2018

Japan-China relations: Agreement on North Korea’s ship-to-ship transfers and military muscle-flexing in the Indian Ocean

(dql) In a sign of thawing ties between China and Japan, both countries reached an agreement at the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week on cooperation and information sharing in handling ship-to-ship goods transfers by North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions. Both sides also agreed to increase cooperation in advanced technology and strengthen efforts towards the resumption of a currency swap arrangement to provide funds in times of crisis [Japan Times]

At the same time, however, Japan’s biggest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, joined naval drills with Britain’s HMS Argyll in the Indian Ocean signaling Japan’s efforts to ally with the UK (and the USA) to counter growing China’s influence in the region and to prevent key commercial sea lanes coming under Beijing’s control. [Reuters]

In a latest development the helicopter carrier sailed into Colombo harbor of Sri Lanka, a move signaling Japan’s readiness and capability to dispatch its most powerful military hardware to the strategically important region. Japanese naval vessels have made 50 stops in Sri Lanka in the past five years. [Channel News Asia]

2 October 2018

North Korea: US clashes with China and Russia over sanctions

(cc) Despite recent diplomatic dynamics on North Korea’s denuclearization, differences between the USA on the one side and Russia and China on the other on the issue of the maintenance of the United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea remain and became apparent at the UN Security Council meeting last week. While Moscow and Beijing suggested to consider an easing of the sanctions as reward for Pyongyang for “positive developments” in the denuclearization talks of this year, US Secretary of State Pompeo, who chaired the meeting, however, insisted on the vigorous continuation until a “fully, final, verified denuclearization” has been achieved. During the past month, the US has accused Russia of repeated cheating on the sanctions. [The Korea Times]

25 September 2018

Inter-Korean relations: Denuclearization back on track after Moon-Kim third summit

(dql/cc) The third summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un put denuclearization back on track. In the Pyongyang Declaration both sides pledged to take additional steps toward denuclearization, including Pyongyang’s decision to  permanently dismantle the Tongchang-ri engine test site and missile launchers in presence of experts from relevant countries and Kim’s pledge to  shut down the Yongbyon nuclear facility, North Korea’s major nuclear facility, but only in return for  “corresponding measures” on US side which he failed to specifiy. [Euronews]

A military agreement was also signed on the sidelines of the summit centering on the creation of   buffer zone to prevent cross-border hostilities. This includes the establishment of a “no-fly zone” inside the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the suspension of military drills near the DMZ and the disputed waters in the West Sea, as well as disarmament of the Joint Security Area. [Korea Herald]

In response to the Pyongyang Declaration, US Secretary of State Pompeo extended an invitation to his North Korean counterpart to meet in New York this week where both diplomats will be attending the UN general assembly signaling Washingtons readiness to resume stalled talks about nuclear disarmament. [The Guardian]

In a latest development, US President Donald Trump announced on Monday at the United Nations headquarters in New York where he was briefed by Moon on the results of the summit that a second meeting with Kim Jong-un is likely to take place “quite soon” with a similar format to the Singapore summit in June, albeit in a different location. [South China Morning Post]

For a critical assessment of the summit, see Ankit Panda in [The Diplomat] arguing that “North Korea’s disarmament remains a distant goal” and while “Moon’s efforts will prevent an immediate collapse of the U.S.-North Korea process, […] Pyongyang and Washington are no closer to forging an understanding on the fundamental questions that divide them.”


11 September 2018

Australia and Zew Zealand deploy aircrafts to Japan

(ts) The governments of Australia and New Zealand announced on Friday their plan to deploy three maritime patrol aircraft to Japan in order to help to enforce the sanctions against North Korea which have been imposed by the United Nations. The aircrafts will conduct maritime surveillance to search for signs of activities in international waters that break U.N: sanctions. Australia will add two AP-3C Orion to an already existing aircraft. New Zealand intends to deploy a P-3K2 plane.

The United States and North Korea have entered into negotiations about the nuclear weapons program, but up to now no further progress has been made. New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said his government would welcome the dialogue , but „until such time as North Korea abides by its international obligations full implementation of the United Nations Security Council sanctions resolutions will be essential”. [Reuters]

11 September 2018

North Korea: Military parade without long-range missiles to break denuclearization stalemate?

(dql/cc) Unlike previous years, the 2018 military parade on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of founding of North Korea did not display any long-range missiles but focused on conventional arms. With themes selected covering the unification of the peninsula and the economy, US President Trump saluted via Twitter the parade as “a big and very positive statement from North Korea”. [Reuters]

North Korea’s ‘soft’ parade comes at a time where denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang are locked in a stalemate. To overcome this impasse, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and President Moon are scheduled to meet from 18-20 September in Pyongyang. This will be their third meeting, reflecting the persistent inter-Korean efforts to yield progress on the denuclearization of the peninsula. [The Korea Herald]

Meanwhile, the White House confirmed talks underway to set up a second meeting between Trump and Kim after receiving a “warm” and “positive” letter from Kim suggesting such a meeting. [The Independent]

4 September 2018

Japan’s defense white paper (II): Pyongyang still an serious security threat 

(dql) Despite ongoing negotiations on North Korea’s denuclearization, Japan continues to view North Korea as serious threat to itself and the region. In its annual white paper released last week, Japan’s Defense Ministry suggests that military developments in North Korea represents an “unprecedentedly serious and imminent threat to Japan’s security, and significantly damage the peace and security of the region and the international community” citing Pyongyang’s deployment of “several hundred Nodong missiles capable of reaching almost every part of Japan” and “advancements in the development and operational capabilities of nuclear weapons and missiles through repeated nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches to date.” The paper further assumes that Pyongyang seeks to “(1) advance long-range ballistic missiles’ technological reliability, (2) enhance the accuracy and operational capabilities necessary for saturation attacks, (3) improve its ability to conduct surprise attacks, and (4) diversify the forms of launches” and warned to “closely monitor specific actions by North Korea to eliminate nuclear and missile capabilities. [Ministry of Defence, Japan] [Japan Times]

In a related development, the Defense Ministry proposed a record spending of 48 billion USD next year to beef up defenses aimed at shooting down down North Korean ballistic missiles, including two ground-based Aegis Ashore radar missile tracking stations built by Lockheed Martin Corp. [Reuters]

4 September 2018

South Korea: Military exercises with the US no longer on hold

(nm) The suspension of military exercises between the US and South Korea will presumably come to an end. The drills were paused as a sign of “good faith” while denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea were under way. With the negotiations now at a standstill, US Defense Secretary James Mattis noted that there are no plans to further suspend the drills. When the drills will be resumed, would be subject to discussion between Washington and Seoul. [The Korea Herald]

Mattis’ announcement came days after the cancellation of US Secretary of State Pompeo’s planned trip to North-Korea, the latest sign of the stalemate in denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang. [Washington Post]

Meanwhile, South Korea’s government announced the plan to raise its defense budget 8,2% next year to a total of 42 billion USD. It is the highest raise since 2008.[Jane’s 360] 

28 August 2018

South and North Korea: Talks continue despite cancellation of US trip to Pyongyang

(nm) South Korean President Moon Jae-in is expected to travel to North Korea next month to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for the third time this year and talk about further denuclearization, the inter-Korean relations and the possibility of a formal end of the Korean War. [CNN] Initially, the meeting was supposed to be held after Kim Jong-un’s meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week. [Yonhap 1]

That meeting however was cancelled due to a lack of significant progress in matters of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula [The Korea Herald 1] and suspicion that North Korea continues to develop its nuclear program as stated in an IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report last Monday [The Korea Times]. The cancellation could also complicate the trip of Chinese President Xi Jinping to North Korea that is scheduled for September as it would increase suspicions that China is still holding back its alleged leverage to aid denuclearization [NYT].

Some good-will efforts currently discussed are withdrawing some border guards from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on a trial basis [Yonhap 2], changing the wording of its next defense white paper that commonly describes North Korea as South Koreas enemy [Yonhap 3] and the ongoing family reunions broadcasted widely last week [The Korea Herald 2, Reuters].

21 August 2018

Inter-Korean relations: Diplomatic thaw continues

(dql) Illustrating the ongoing diplomatic thaw between North and South Korea following the Kim-Moon summit in April, both sides agreed to close guard posts along their border on a trial basis. In a trust building measure Seoul announced to first remove about ten posts in the demilitarized zone. [Yonhap]

In a related development, elderly South and North Korean family members met on Monday for the first time since the country had been divided and their relationships torn apart by the war nearly 70 years ago. The three-day reunion at Mount Kumgang, North Korea, is the first for three years. [The Korea Herald]

7 August 2018

Inter-Korean detente: North Korea releases South Korean detained for illegal entry to the North

(dql) Illustrating further improvement of inter-Korean ties since the Moon-Kim summit in April, Pyongyang release a South Korean man arrested in July after illegally crossing the border into the North. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, new U.S.-backed guidelines to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to North Korea were approved by the committee which monitors sanctions on North Korea for the UN Security Council. [CBS]

31 July 2018

North Korea: Activity at missile factory detected

(dql) An US senior official confirmed that US spy satellites have detected renewed activity at a North Korean missile factory suggesting the development of intercontinental-range ballistic missiles. The intelligence finding feed suspicions over Pyongyang’s continued development of nuclear weapons and missiles despite Kim Jong-un’s pledge to denuclearize made at the summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June. [Reuters]

24 July 2018

North-Korea: Pyongyang begins dismantling missile site, report says

(dql) Washington based think tank 38 North reported that satellite images suggest that North Korea has begun to dismantle facilities at a site used for the development of engines for ballistic missiles fulfilling a pledge North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made last month at the Singapore summit with President Trump. [CNBC]

Seoul voiced confidence that Pyongyang’s reported decision to dismantle a key nuclear test site would positively affect the denuclearization process and bring about progress in US-North Korea talks. [The Korea Herald]

10 July 2018

South Korea: Suspension of civilian war preparedness drill amid nuclear diplomacy with North Korea

(dql) The Moon administration announced to cancel this year’s Ulchi exercise, an annual civilian training aimed at checking the state’s crisis management capabilities and warfare preparedness. The move has been expected following the halt of US-South Korean joint military drills in the aftermath of the Trump-Kim summit at which Trump pledged to stop ‘provocative’ war games on the Korean peninsula to pave the way for further talks on the denuclearization of North Korea which has been consistently denouncing all military exercises as rehearsal for invasion against itself. [Yonhap]



10 July 2018

US Secretary of State Pompeo empty-handed from Pyongyang to Tokyo

(dql) US Secretary of State Pompeo’s talks with Kim Jon-un this weekend failed to arrive at any commitment on Pyongyang’s side to concrete de-nuclearization measures in the aftermath of the joint declaration between Trump and Kim. While Pompeo, nevertheless, called the talks “productive” [Vox], North Korea’s perception was quite different, accusing him of endangering the future peace process on the Korean peninsula by “gangster-like behaviour” and overbearing US demands for the country’s unilateral nuclear disarmament. [The Telegraph]

On his trip further to Japan, Pompeo was quick to soothe Japan’s and South Korea’s concerns over his empty-handed meeting with Kim Jong-un and reassure Washington’s uncompromising demand for “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of North Korea and stance that economic sanctions currently imposed on North Korea “will remain in place until final, fully verified denuclearization as agreed by Chairman Kim occurs.” [The Japan Times]

26 June 2018

Trump-Kim summit follow up: US, South Korea, Japan suspend ‘anti-Pyongyang’ military exercises

(dql) Following President Trump’s announcement to suspend US-South Korean joint military exercises at the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore earlier this month, the Pentagon announced that Washington and Seoul have indefinitely halted two marine exchange program training exercises scheduled to be conducted over the next three months. In an earlier move both sides stopped the planning of Freedom Guardian Exercise in which 17,500 American and more than 50,000 South Korean troops participated last year. [The Guardian]

In a related move, Japan suspended military exercises scheduled for this week and plans to suspend further nine civilian evacuation drills to prepare residents in Japan for possible missile attacks scheduled for later this year. Tokyo’s move is to be seen as major concession to open the door for direct talks with Pyongyang. While Kim Jong-un met leaders of China, South Korea and the United States in the recent past to discuss the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula, a summit with Prime Minister Abe has not been set yet. [CBS News]

De-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was also a topic at the summit between South Korean President Moon and Russian President Putin last week in Moscow. Moon reassured that his administration will “closely consult with the Russian government and work with it to completely and swiftly implement the outcome of the South-North Korean summit and the North Korea-US summit.” Furthermore, both sides agreed to work to initiate talks on a free trade agreement between both countries with a view to arrive at trade worth 30 billion USD by 2020, twice the turnover in 2017. [The Korea Herald]

A third summit between China and North Korea within less than three months last week reveals Beijing’s increasing efforts to play a key role in the geopolitics of the Korean Peninsula. During the talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Chinese President Xi Jinping reassured that “no matter how the international and regional situations change, the firm stance of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government on consolidating and developing the relations with the DPRK remains unchanged.” [The Korea Times]

Meanwhile, North and South Korea held talks on connecting their railways across the inner-Korean border, the first on this issue since 10 years. The talks reflect growing efforts to implement longstanding envisioned economic cooperation between the two Koreas. However, to actually embark on economic cooperation would require the lifting of international sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile testing. [The Mainichi]

17 June 2018

Trump-Kim Summit: Takeaways and reactions

(dql) The much anticipated summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore concluded with a joint statement according which “President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK and Chairman Kim Jong-un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” [The New York Times for the full text of the statement]. Responding to questions at the press conference following the signing of the statement Trump further confirmed that while the sanctions against North Korea would remain for the time being, they would be taken off once “we are sure that the nucs are no longer a factor”. He also announced considerations of suspending the longstanding military drills with South Korea, calling them much to the surprise of the ally “expansive and provocative” “war games”. [Youtube]

The outcomes of the summit have been met with mixed reactions among North Korea’s neighboring powers. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in hailed the summit as “historic event” that will “break down the last remaining Cold War legacy on earth” and “write a new chapter of peace and cooperation” between the two Koreas. [Yonhap] However, Trump’s statement on considering a halt of the joint annual military exercises caused much confusion in Seoul, as the exercises has traditionally been used as an instrument of deterrence and bargaining chip against North Korea. Following a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, President Moon and Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of US Forces Korea, to verify “whether Trump’s reference to ‘war games’ meant the joint military exercises [The Korea Herald 1], a South Korean government source on Sunday announced that Seoul and Washington are expected to announce their decision to suspend large-scale combined military exercises in the days ahead. [The Korea Herald 2]

Japan’s Prime Minister Abe welcomed the statement as starting point of in the denuclearization of North Korea [Reuters] and signaled Japan’s support in bearing the cost of North Korea’s denuclearization under an international funding framework which. However, similar to South Korea, Tokyo appeared much irritated by Trump’s announcement on the halt of joint US-South Korean military exercises as such a shift would have huge impact on Japan’s national security and the role of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. Trump’s announcement came especially as surprise after Japan’s head of the National Security Council in a meeting with Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton in Singapore was assured that the summit would not deal with the topic of U.S. troops based in South Korea. [Asahi Shimbun]

China, on the other side, was quick to point to its “positive and constructive role in getting the situation on the peninsula to where it is now” referring in particular to the suspension of US-South Korean joint military drills in exchange for North Korea’s stop of conducting nuclear and missile tests, proposed as ‘freeze for freeze’ initiative to the USA by China last year. [The Guardian]

Russia, meanwhile, stressed that the outcome of the meeting “needs to be thoroughly assessed”, but also welcomed the meeting itself as “beginning of a direct dialogue” with direct talks seen as only way for a political settlement. [TASS]

Analysts and experts cautioned against misplaced euphoria and optimism, stressing that the statement between Trump and Kim is vague and that only a follow-up negotiation process securing tangible results in term concrete steps, measures and timelines of the denuclearization process will make the summit a success. [CNBC] [East Asia Forum]

3 June 2018

North Korea: Kim/Trump summit back on track

(dql) Despie President Trump’s cancellation of the planned summit between him and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last week, Seoul this week announced that it will continue its efforts to bring both leaders together for direct talks. Trump cited “tremendous anger and open hostility” displayed in Kim’s “most recent statement” for calling off the summit scheduled for 12 June in Singpaore. [The Korea Herald] [CNBC]

In a latest development, Trump announced on Friday that the talks were back on for June 12 in Singapore. The reversal came after a visit of an North Korean envoy the same day at the Oval Office, after which Trump confirmed that “we’re meeting with the chairman on June 12 and I think it’s probably going to be a very successful -ultimately a successful process.” [CNN]

27 May 2018

No summit! Who is to blame for troubles on DPRK talks?

(jk) As mentioned in last couple of AiR issues, there were doubts on just about everything in relation to the potential US-DPRK leadership meeting. More recently, discussion on details of for instance the definitions of “denuclearisation” had given way to discussions of cancelling or at least delaying the meeting altogether.

As of Thursday, we know that the talks are, at least for now, not going to happen. While US President Trump has made clear that he sees China responsible for a shift in Kim Jong Un’s attitude, others have pointed out that it could also be the US side, for example through comments made by National Security Advisor Bolton as reported last week. Another feeling that prevails particularly among critics of President Trump, is that there is a distinct lack of preparation for the talks and that there are still fundamental misunderstandings on most relevant matters such as DPRK’s willingness to unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons. [The Washington Post] The President’s supporters argue that the move is absolutely part of a greater strategy and that Trump by showing his willingness to “walk away” actually will help strengthen his bargaining position.

What irked the US of late was North Korea’s cancellation of a planned meeting with South Korea and that it had threatened to pull out of the Singapore summit because of ongoing US-South Korean military exercises. It had furthermore lashed out at the US administration on Wednesday when a vice-minister in the North Korean Foreign Ministry, issued strong and insulting words to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and threatened a nuclear showdown. Going back to insults and nuclear posturing allegedly was the straw that broke the camel’s back and triggered a written response by President Trump in form of a letter that was published on Thursday morning.

The letter Trump has sent to Kim Jong Un on the cancellation reverted back to earlier versions of Trump’s particular style of diplomacy: “You talk about your nuclear capabilities,” Trump wrote, “but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” [White House] Despite the setback, President Trump hailed the “beautiful dialogue” that was building initially and he signalled that he would consider to return to negotiations under other circumstances. The DPRK, also on Thursday, appeared to destroy at least three nuclear tunnels, observation buildings, a metal foundry and living quarters at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. [CNN] It has also signalled willingness to conduct a meeting at a later stage.

20 May 2018

India looks to improve diplomatic ties with North Korea

(ot) Indian Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh went to Pyongyang for a two-day high-level visit, the first of such in nearly two decades, notwithstanding a long established low-intensity diplomatic relationship between the two countries for the past 45 years. Not long ago, India has refused former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s suggestion to diminish its diplomatic presence in Pyongyang. However, India’s decision to resume its diplomatic outreach, is widely seen in context of the recent inter – Korean summit and the attempts of regional Asian powers to contribute to the peace process as the leaders of the United States and North Korea are set for a historic meeting next month. [CNBC, BBC News]

20 May 2018

More doubts on DPRK developments  

(jk) AiR has last week gone into some detail on why there is reasonable doubt about where the announced Trump-Kim summit could lead and how likely “real” de-nuclearization of the DPRK is. [AiR 2/5/2018]

Casting further doubts on developments and vindicating observers who tried to calm some of the optimism of late by pointing out that we have been down similar roads before, North Korea said Wednesday it is cancelling high-level talks with South Korea and threatened to pull out of the summit with the United States over ongoing military exercises with South Korea. North Korean media pronounced that the Max Thunder Air Force drills are a provocation and in fact “rehearsals for an invasion”. [The Korea Herald 1]

Further complicating matters this week were comments by new and controversial national security advisor John Bolton who compared the model that the administration is seeking to apply to North Korea to what the US has done in Libya. Considering that Moammar Gadhafi agreed to abandon his country’s nuclear programme and eight years later was overthrown and killed by rebels backed by Washington, such comparisons will only stoke Kim’s fears and make it less likely that he will give up his nuclear weapons which have long been key to his survival strategy [CNN].

Despite the setbacks, the White House is “still hopeful” the summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump will proceed. President Trump has also explicitly moved away from suggestions the “Libya model” would be considered and gave specific security guarantees to the North Korean leader, assuring that he “would remain in power” after a possible deal [The Korea Herald 2 and 3]. China also continues to support the meeting, urging North Korea not to cancel. Beyond that, President Xi said: “We support the improvement of North-South (Korean) relations, the promotion of dialogue between North Korea and the U.S., denuclearization on the peninsula and North Korea’s development of its economy” [AP News]. Xi has met with a delegation of visiting North Korean officials last Wednesday continuing to show that the countries are still tight.

13 May 2018

North Korean denuclearization: Doubts and hopes

(hg) North Korea has announced to dismantle its nuclear test site between May 23 and 25 before the planned historic summit between Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump on June 12 in Singapore. In an official statement North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that all of the tunnels at the country’s northeastern testing ground will be destroyed by explosion, and that observation and research facilities and ground-based guard units will also be removed. [Time Magazine]

The assessment of the move which surprised the world is, however, mixed. First, the closure of the site might be an important but is no sufficient step toward denuclearization. Second, North Korea’s major nuclear test site turns out to be more damaged after its latest test than previously thought. Scientists have said that due to a partial collapse of a mountain near the test region that part of the site was no longer useable. New research published in Science magazine confirms now, that this is likely to be the case, claiming that a very large domain has collapsed around the test site, not merely a tunnel or two. [Independent]

An underground test bomb that was claimed by North Korea to be a small hydrogen bomb shook the surrounding landscape so violently that it changed the shape of an entire mountain. This test was conducted early September last year causing a 6.3 magnitude tremor on seismographs in the surrounding region. Data collected from Germany and Japan were combined to create a before-and-after map of the area surrounding the 2,204 – meter mountain in North Korea’s north-east painting a picture of a mountain under stress, displaying what is called ‘tired mountain syndrome’ caused by repeated underground explosions. About 8.5 minutes after the initial tremor, detectors noticed a second, smaller shake, and what was left in its wake was a significantly shorter mountain. [Science Alert]

The findings illuminate both the probabilities of North Korea´s nuclear capabilities and the possible background of the regime´s bargaining agenda. Based on measurements, the regime’s claim that it was testing a small hydrogen bomb can’t indeed be ruled out as the blast is within the range of larger atomic detonations. [Science Alert]

Moreover, the value of Kim Jong-un´s promise to shut down the site, which has been viewed as a significant concession, might have to be adjusted if it turns out that the site is entirely unusable. [Independent]

This could reinforce some doubts about the scope of the agreement and its actual implementation. After all, it is yet not even clear what the bilateral denuclearization agenda actually comprises.

Following the Moon-Kim summit, Moon’s office said Kim was willing to disclose the dismantling process to international experts, but the North’s statement Saturday did not include any mention of this but foresees to invite journalists from the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Britain to witness the dismantling process. Moreover, beside the promise to work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula, there were no agreements on references to verification or timetables. [Time Magazine]

Given this, lingering doubts about whether Kim would ever agree to fully relinquish the weapons he likely views as his guarantee of survival are not unjustified.

After all, North Korea has been pushing for decades a concept of “denuclearization” that just bears not even slight resemblance to the American definition, having also been conditioned by requesting Washington to remove its 28,500 troops from South Korea as well as its nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan. In June 2008, international press was invited to witness the demolishing of a cooling tower at a reactor site a year after North Korea agreed with five other nations to disable its nuclear facilities in return for an aid package of about $400 million. But in September 2008, the government declared that it would resume reprocessing plutonium as Washington wasn’t fulfilling its promise to remove the country from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. After the George W. Bush administration did this in October 2008, another attempt to fully dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons program collapsed that December when North Korea refused to accept U.S.-proposed verification methods and started its second nuclear test in May 2009. [Time Magazine]

Another issue is the scope of Kim´s capabilities. His claim that his nuclear force was complete following North Korea’s most powerful nuclear test to date in September and three flight tests of ICBMs designed to reach the U.S. mainland, is complemented by claims that his scientists have managed to conduct “subcritical” nuclear tests. Such experiments involving a subcritical mass of nuclear materials allows to examine the performance of weapons without triggering a nuclear chain reaction. North Korea’s recent reference to such activity has been interpreted as an attempt to communicate that even without underground testing, the country intends to maintain its nuclear arsenal and be a “responsible” steward of those weapons at the same time. [Time Magazine]

Adding to the uncertainties about the North Korean agenda are those pertaining to the involved great power interests. For China, which Kim has consulted two times now, North Korea has offered a valuable platform to ‘safely’ put pressure on the US and Japan, while a threatened South Korea is a justification to maintain US military infrastructure that easily reaches China. Moreover, the rapprochement has just started and denuclearization is a long process which still can fail with any newly approaching step.

Nevertheless, for the meanwhile, the US on their part, support the process. During his visit to Pyongyang, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has offered to help rebuild the North Korean economy if Kim gives up its nuclear weapons. [BBC News]

13 May 2018

East Asian regional order: China, Japan and South Korea work together on denuclearizing North Korea

(hg) The political leaders of China, Japan and South Korea have agreed to cooperate on ending North Korea’s nuclear program and promoting free trade at the first summit for the Northeast Asian neighbors after a hiatus of more than two years. [Time Magazine] Notably, Chinese – Japanese relations seem to improve markedly in context of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang´s three-day state visit in Japan, the first by a top Chinese leader in eight years. [CNN] [SupChina]

29 April 2018

Inter-Korean relations: Era of peace on the Korean peninsula to come?

(dql) At the peak of the long-anticipated summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Friday both leaders signed a declaration whose unexpected far-reaching statements on and aspirations for unification and denuclearization took observers and analysts by surprise. The declaration assures that “South and North Korea will reconnect the blood relations of the people and bring forward the future of co-prosperity and unification led by Koreans by facilitating comprehensive and groundbreaking advancement in inter-Korean relations, …, and confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.” [The Korea Times], with the full text of the declaration in English] In a press conference following the signing of the declaration President Moon declared in the name of both signatories ‘a new era of peace’ for Korea. [Youtube]In a latest development, the office of President Moon on Sunday revealed that Kim Jong-un confirmed at the summit to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapons testing facility in May and to permit inspection by South Korean and US experts and media. [The Korea Herald]

Analysts caution against leaping to overly strong optimism for a unified and nuclear-free Korean peninsula, citing unchanged geopolitical and strategic fundamentals and interests of involved powers. [The Diplomat] [Vox] [East Asia Forum]

22 April 2018

Inter-Korean relations: Pyongyang freezes nuclear tests ahead of landmark meeting between Kim and Moon

(dql) According to North Korean state media, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has announced to suspend nuclear and missile tests and shut down a nuclear test site. Pyongyang’s move comes less than a week before the summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and ahead of the much-anticipated meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump, scheduled for May. [Yonhap]

Meanwhile, President Moon’s office announced the establishment a direct telephone line between the Korean leaders who have agreed hold telephone talks before the summit. [The Korea Herald]

22 April 2018

China-US relations further strained: US Department of State 2017 Country Reports of Human Rights Practices and trade dispute

(dql) The US Department of State 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices [US Department of State] released on Friday describe China (along with other countries) as ‘morally reprehensible” and undermining US interests arguing that the “Governments of China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, for example, violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis and are forces of instability as a result”.

The Reports come amid increased tensions between Beijing and Washington over an ongoing trade dispute in a latest development of which the Trump administration has announced that it is considering declaring a national economic emergency and invoking the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to curb Chinese investments in U.S. technology companies. [Financial Times]

15 April 2018

Britain sends second and third warship to Asia Pacific to monitor North Korea

((hg) The UK has deployed a third navy warship to the Asia-Pacific, HMS Albion, that will join HMS Sutherland to enforce UN sanctions against North Korea, as well as take part in joint training and exercises with regional allies, namely Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore. Later in the year, HMS Argyll will also be deployed to take part in an exercise with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore. Overall, the British naval deployment “demonstrates our unwavering commitment to our international responsibilities and to maintaining peace, security and prosperity in the region” said the British Ministry of Defense. [Independent]

8 April 2018

Japan: New defense era?

(dql) In major ocean policy shift, the Abe administration has come up with a proposal shifting the focus of Japan’s basic ocean policy from resources to security and elevating coastal security and remote-island defense to top policy priority. The proposal identified as reason for the shift from the current focus on maritime resources development and management repeated intrusions of Chinese government ships and warships into Japanese waters as well as North Korea’s firing of missiles into Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The draft highlights the importance of the creation of a maritime domain awareness system for sharing information collected by Japanese government agencies and other countries used for monitoring unidentified vessels and handling natural disasters. More specifically, it seeks to strengthen radars set up on Self-Defense Forces aircraft and along coasts and utilizing advanced satellites belonging to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). [The Japan Times]

The announcement of the policy shift plan comes after Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) on Wednesday celebrated the launch of its first ever full-fledged amphibious force with a ceremony as Japan grapples with the task of defending its remote islands in the southwest amid China’s growing maritime assertiveness. The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, dubbed the Japanese “Marines,” starts with around 2,100 members is part of the GSDF’s largest-ever organizational overhaul [AiR 1/4/2018] made in an attempt to deal more flexibly with the shifting regional security environment. [NHK]

8 April 2018

Inter-Korean relations: Search for dialogue formats after Kim Jong-un accepts return to six-party talks

(dql) After Nikkei Asian Review on Thursday reported that Kim Jong-un told Xi Jinping during his visit to Beijing that he was ready to resume six-party talks to discuss denuclearization [Nikkei Asian Review], Seoul’s reaction to the news reflects cautiousness as it on Friday reaffirmed that negotiations on denuclearization should be discussed first among the two Koreas and the US during planned summits, before involving other nations. [The Korea Times] The six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan began in 2003. However, they failed in 2008, largely because the North refused to allow inspectors to verify that it had shut down its nuclear programs.

1 April 2018

North Korea’s denuclearization: Diplomatic dynamics unfolding

(dql) Amid diplomatic dynamics unfolding in the wake of the inter-Korean summit on 27 April and the yet to be confirmed meeting between US President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the two-day visit of the latter this week in Beijing widened spaces for dialogue, at least according to China’s state-run outlet Xinhua as it quotes Kim saying that ‘the issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if South Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace.’ [Xinhua 1]

Kim Jong-un’s ‘unofficial’ visit at the invitation of Xi Jinping signals China’s efforts to regain an active role in shaping a potential resolution of North Korea’s denuclearization, based on a stable relationship between both countries. Asked at a press conference on Wednesday on the impacts Kim’s visit on Beijing’s stance towards the implementations of UN resolutions against North Korea, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang stressed the importance of a ‘friendly and cooperative relationship’ between Beijing and Pyongyang and reasserted ‘China’s relevant principled position and China’s will to continue with its constructive role’ to ‘strive for the denuclearization, peace and stability of the Peninsula’. [The Washington Post] [Ministry of Foreign Affairs China]

Meanwhile, Xi Jinping’s special representative and member of Communist Party Politburo Yang Jiechi held talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul on Friday. Both sides emphasized that the Korean Peninsula is at critical juncture, and mutually reassured the willingness to cooperate on achieving denuclearization, and maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. [Reuters] [Xinhua 2]

In a related development, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revealed on Monday that Tokyo and Pyongyang has been talking to each other the possibility of meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, while also touching also on prospects of opening a three-way dialogue involving Washington. [The Japan Times] Abe’s announcement follows Tokyo’s recent shift from a long maintained hardline stance towards negotiations with Pyongyang to the current more conciliatory position.

1 April 2018

South Korea-US relations: Annual joint drills kicked off

(dql) On Sunday, South Korea and the United States have started their annual joint military exercises. While the Foal Eagle field exercise, usually covering combined ground, air, naval and special operations troops, will last a month, the computer-simulated Key Resolve is scheduled for two weeks from mid-April on. About 23,700 U.S. troops and 300,000 South Korean forces would be involved in these joint exercises. Their scale would not go exceed those in previous years, according to military officials in Seoul. [Voice of America] Japan’s Defense Minister Defence Itsunori Onodera, meanwhile, welcomed the exercises arguing they would increase pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize. [Reuters]

1 April 2018

Japan: Massive shake up of Grand Self Defense Force

(dql) On Tuesday, a maasive organizational shake-up of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force took place as its command was streamlined for flexible operations nationwide and amphibious forces in charge of defending remote islands were created. The launch of the Ground Component Command providing unified command over regional armies and the 2100-strong Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, Japan’s version of the U.S. Marines, follows Japan’s efforts to strengthen its defenses against North Korea and China. [Kyodo News]

Japan’s first full-scale amphibious operations unit is drawn from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) Western Army’s infantry and includes an amphibious infantry regiment along with a landing unit will operate operating the AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles currently used by the U.S. Marine Corps. Japan has ordered the vehicle for itself. The unit will also be transported by Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft of the JGSDF and the amphibious ships of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. [Defense News]

1 April 2018

Singapore revokes all work permits of North Koreans

(ls) Singapore has revoked all work permits held by North Korean citizens in the country, according to its latest implementation report to the United Nations Security Council. The Republic will also not grant new work permits to North Koreans. The measures are part of the implementation of Resolution 2397 of the UN Security Council which was adopted in response to North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile on 28 November that year. [The Straits Times]

18 March 2018

Japan-North Korea relations: Tokyo’s policy shift

(dql) In a phone talk on Friday, Prime Minister Abe told South Korean President Moon thathe is considering a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Analysts view this policy shift away from a long maintained hardline position on negotiations with Pyongyang motivated by Tokyo’s wariness that it might be left behind in the wake of easing tensions between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington, reflected in the impending summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un as well as the talks between North and South Korea. [The Mainichi]

A summit between Abe and Kim would be the first summit between a Japanese prime minister and a North Korean leader since Junichiro Koizumi’s meeting with Kim’s father Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in 2004.

18 March 2018

South Korea: Deal on 90 Taurus missiles signed

(dql) The South Korean Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday that South Korea late February signed a contract to buy 90 more Taurus long-range air-to-ground missiles. The purchase would be in line with the government’s weapon system acquisition program despite eased tensions on the peninsula, an official said Tuesday. The procurement follows a first order of 130 Taurus missiles back in 2013. Produced by German-Swedish defense producer Taurus Systems, the missile with a range of 500 kilometers is an important asset of South Korea’s “Kill Chain” pre-emptive strike systems against North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs upon imminent threat. [Defense News]

11 March 2018

North Korea: Trump to meet Kim in May and international reactions

(dql) In a stunning development after months of fierce tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over the latter’s nuclear missile tests, the White House on Thursday that President Donald Trump agreed to meet North Korean Kim Jong-un face to face in May. Trump will be the first US President to meet a North Korean leader in person. [Express]

South Korean President on Friday hailed the impending meeting as a ‘historic milestone’ for peace on the Korean Peninsula and ‘opportunity that came like a miracle’. [Yonhap] However, during a meeting with party leaders on Wednesday, Moon confirmed that he has no plan to ease sanctions against Pyongyang for the sake of his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un scheduled for late next month. [The Korea Herald]

Less euphoric, Prime Minister Abe warned to be cautious towards the meeting in May as it could be a ploy on Pyongyang’s side to buy time and demanded concrete steps toward denuclearization to defuse Tokyo’s scepticism. Unless these concrete steps are taken by Kim-Jong-un, Tokyo would continue with using maximum international pressure to denuclearize North Korea. [The Japan Times]

Meanwhile Chinese official and government-backed media outlets report on China welcoming the news on direct talks between the US and North Korea as a chance for a return to peace and stability [Xinhua], but also on China’s readiness to ‘help protect the rights of North Korea when Pyongyang begins denuclearization talks with Washington’ and ‘prevent North Korea from being deceived or squeezed by the US once it begins to denuclearize.’ [Global Times]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov considers the agreement a ‘step in the right direction’ towards a dialogue based on mutual respect’. [TASS]

11 March 2018

The Maldives: In the middle of Indo-Chinese powerplay – and accused of selling oil to North Korea

(ls) A Chinese naval combat force that entered the Indian Ocean for the first time in four years may have helped deter an Indian intervention in the Maldives after its pro-China president imposed a state of emergency. India, a traditional ally, had received calls from Maldives’ opposition leaders last month to use force against President Abdulla Yameen to restore democracy. After the state of emergency was declared, India -moved aircraft and ships to its southern bases and put special forces on standby, two military sources in New Delhi said. In the end, however, no military action was taken. [Channel News Asia]

Meanwhile, in an interview with DW, former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed accused incumbent President Yameen of suppressing political opponents – and supporting the North Korean regime. A ship under the Maldives’ flag allegedly sold oil to North Korea ignoring United Nations sanctions on the country. According to Nasheed, the ship was also funded by the Bank of Maldives. Earlier, Japan’s foreign ministry already announced that a Maldives ship was transferring oil to North Korea refines on high seas. [Deutsche Welle]

4 March 2018

Tokyo ready for talks with Pyongyang

(dql) Changing its hitherto uncompromising stance its stance on talks with North Korea, the Japanese government has announced plans to take part in informal talks which do not necessarily include substantive negotiations on Pyongyang’s nuclear arms program. The shift puts Japan in line with the United States, which tried to organize high-level talks with North Korea earlier this month on the sidelines of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea. Prior to this shift Tokyo repeatedly insisted that a meaningful dialogue would only be possible with Pyongyang taking concrete steps toward scrapping its nuclear arms program. The shift, however, does not result in Japan easing up on its campaign of raising economic and diplomatic pressure on the North, the government stated.  [The Japan Times]

4 March 2018

The crisis in the Maldives and mounting pressure by the international community

(hg) Maldivian ambassador to Sri-Lanka Mohamed Husain Shareef has invited the international community to visit and assess the situation of the nation, claiming that the opposition has projected a false and misleading scenario on the state on the nation.

Meanwhile, a high-level Maldives delegation sought to reassure the UN Human Rights Council that the situation remained stable suggesting the UN should focus on more preferring global issues. [The Maldives Independent]

Unimpressed of such assurances, the European Union warned the Maldivian government of potential “targeted measures” and called for acknowledging the disputed decision, to lift the state of emergency and restore civil rights of citizens including the release of all political prisoners, to engage in talks with the opposition and ensure that the coming elections will be for and free.

Notable is the report of law and consultancy firm – Persus Strategies LLC – titled “Moving from Condemnation to Action”. The report, prepared by exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed’s lawyer, recommends the EU Council to impose human rights-based sanctions in response to the constitutional crisis including targeted asset freezes and travel bans urging that “the time to act is now.” [Mihaaru 1]

After police has arrested three more members of Parliament, altogether six opposition MPs seem to have been arrested in the frame of the ongoing constitutional and political crisis [Zee News], outspokenly commented by the US ambassador to the Maldives tweeting that ‘arrests are happening so fast’ and that ‘it is hard to keep track’. [Raajje MV]

Making things worse for the government, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that a Maldivian tanker has been spotted by an aircraft of the Japanese Maritime Self-defense Forces tanker in the East China Sea, “strongly suspected” to have been engaged in ship-to-ship transfers with a North Korean vessel. The Japanese government declared that it had noted the UN Security Council Committee on the issue which amounts to breach of the corresponding UNSCR. [Mihaaru 2]

The involved vessels are the North Korean “Chon Ma San”, designated by the United States as a sanctions-target and the Maldivian-flagged tanker “Xin Yuan 18”. Responding, the Maldivian government denies the accusations, saying that the identified vessel ‘Xin Yuan 18’ would not be of Maldivian origin or be registered in the country. Moreover, the government states that it condemned “the use of our national flag in a manner so as to tarnish the good standing and reputation of our nation” and that the Maldives has prioritized the implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions including those on North Korea. [NDTV]

25 February 2018

China-US relations: Beijing angered over US sanction package against North Korea 

(dql) China voiced it dissatisfaction about a new package of US sanctions against North Korea Washington announced on Friday. The sanctions target among others Chinese shipping and energy firms by blocking assets the firms and individuals hold in the United States and stopping U.S. citizens from dealing with them. Beijing sternly denounced the unilateral targeting of Chinese firms and people and warned against risking to harm cooperation on Pyongyang. [Channel News Asia]

The sanctions come at the time when both countries’ relations are strained by trade disputes. In a latest statement, David Malpass, U.S. Treasury’s top diplomat, accused Beijing of “patently non-market behavior” and demanded stronger counter-responses from the US. [CNBC]

25 February 2018

North Korea: U.S. prepares high-seas crackdown on North Korea sanctions evaders

(dql) According to senior US officials, the US and key Asian allies, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore, are preparing to expand interceptions of ships suspected of violating sanctions against Pyongyang, in an attempt to beef up the crackdown on North Korea sanctions evaders. The plans call for closer tracking and possible seizure of suspected ships and would possibly include the deployment of U.S. Coast Guard forces in Asia-Pacific waters. Analysts see the move as an increasing urgency on the side of the Trump administration to force Kim Jong-un into negotiations over the abandonment of his weapons programs. [Reuters]


25 February 2018

Inter-Korean Relations: Rallies against planned visit of North Korean official

(dql) Members of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) on Friday held a protest rally in front of the President’s office expression their oppose to a planned visit to South Korea by Kim Yong-chol, a vice chairman of the Central Committee of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, who is accused of masterminding the deadly 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 50 South Koreans. He is scheduled to cross the border on Sunday for a three-day visit as the head of an eight-member delegation to the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics. The protest is the latest development of an ongoing dispute within South-Korea between the ruling Democratic Party and LKP on the response to Pyongyang’s diplomatic ‘charm offensive’ surrounding the Olympic Games. [The Korea Herald] 

18 February 2018

Conciliatory mood in inter-Korean relations: Domestic perceptions and international reactions  

(dql) During her visit of the Olympic Games Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, delivered a written note of her brother to South Korean President Moon Jae-in inviting him to Pyongyang. The invitation is the temporary climax of the conciliatory signs in hitherto strained inter-Korean relations which saw direct talks between North and South Korean high-level delegations and a joint Korean team marching in at the Opening of the Olympic Games under a unified flag. However, South Korean political parties are split over the interpretation of this possible summit between Moon and Kim which would be the third North-South summit after 2000 and 2007. While the ruling Democratic Party views the summit as a meaningful first step toward the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula – a stance support by the minor leftist Justice Party, the opposition Liberty Korea Party warned that a “visit by the president to North Korea, unless it is premised on denuclearization, would be nothing more than a congratulatory delegation celebrating (the North’s) nuclear development and would amount to an enemy-benefiting act.” [The Korea Herald]

Meanwhile, a survey on the North-South summit revealed that while six in ten (61.5%) of the South Korean population support such a summit South Korea’s and view it as a step towards peace in Korea, 31.5 % favored pressure and sanctions against over the summit. [The Korea Times]

In a latest move, President Moon expressed that the time has not yet come to decide over the if and how a summit with Kim Jong-un will be arranged pointing to the need to await developments in efforts in establishing a US-North Korean dialogue. [Yonhap]

The possibility of such a dialogue has been announced by US Vice-President Pence after his return from the Olympics. In a strategy shift, Pence said that the US is ready to hold the talks with North Korea while maintaining maximum pressure on Pyongyang. The Vice President named strategy “maximum pressure and engagement at the same time.” [Bloomberg]

Japan, however, remains skeptical towards the latest developments in inter-Korean relations calling on its allies and the international community to be wary and not to fall for Pyongyang’s ‘charm offensive’ and its strategy behind. Tokyo has repeatedly warned against Kim Jong-un’s use of the conciliatory mood during the Olympics to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul. [The Japan Times]. In a latest development, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump agreed in a phone call on Wednesday to continue to pressure on North Korea until the abandoning of its nuclear and missile programs. Japan’s Foreign Ministry said the Abe and Trump also agreed dialogue with North Korea would be meaningless unless Kim Jong-un consents to “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.” [Newsweek] Furthermore, Foreign Minister Kono and the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agreed on Thursday on join efforts to make North Korea accept IAEA inspections which had been halted in 2009. [NHK World]

11 February 2018

China-US relations: Agreement to pressure Pyongyang and overhaul trade relations amid adversarial rhetoric

(dql) US Secretary of State Tillerson and China’s top foreign policy advisor Yang Jiechi met this week in Washington for a lunch talk revolving around North Korea and US-Chinese trade relations. Both sides agreed on maintaining pressure on Pyongyang’s nuclear program and the need for further discussions on the promotion fair and reciprocal economic relations between the two countries. [The Japan Times]

The two-day visit of Yang followed Tillerson’s statement on China as new imperial power in Latin America during his Latin America trip last week [Foreign Policy] and the announcement of imminent punitive trade actions against China by Deputy US Trade Representative Wendy Cutler a day before Yang’s arrival in Washington. [South China Morning Post]

Meanwhile, China announced on Wednesday that its new fleet of advanced, Russia-built Sukhoi Su-35 jets have carried out a joint combat patrol over the South China Sea and called the move a reaction to a provocation of the USA referring to US destroyer USS Hopper shipping within 12 nautical miles of Huangyan Island, also known as Scarborough Shoal, claimed by both China and the Philippines. [Sputnik News]

11 February 2018

Pence in Japan: Abe reassured of US robust alliance against North Korea

(dql) During a stop in Tokyo on his way to attend opening ceremony of Olympics in South Korea Vice-President Pence and Prime Minister Abe US Vice-President reaffirmed they joint stance in adhering to a policy of put utmost pressure on Pyongyang’s denuclearization. Pence expressed the US commitment to equip Japan with cutting edge defense systems. [The Japan Times]

4 February 2018

Japan-North Korea relations: Tokyo pushes for tighter enforcement of sanctions against Pyongyang

(dql) At the 14th Asia Senior-Level Talks on Non-Proliferation on Wednesday in Tokyo, Japan called upon China, India, the U.S. and other countries to increase information sharing and other cooperation in the wake of the breaches of the international sanctions against North Korea. Reflecting its increasing influence, nuclear power India attended the conference at the host’s invitation, along with Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, South Korea and the ASEAN member states. [Nikkei Asian Review]

26 January 2018

Inter-Korean relations: Ambiguous ‘Olympic’ politics

(dql) Amid mutual conciliatory signs ahead the upcoming Olympic games, North Korea is nevertheless preparing to hold its great military parade on 8 February, the day before the opening of the Olympics, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the army dropping the 25 April as commemoration day as it was during the past 30 years. [The Korea Herald].

Meanwhile, South Korean conservative activists on Monday burned a picture of Kim Jong-un, the North’s national flag and the so called ‘unification flag’ under which athletes form both sides will attend the Olympics, expressing their disapproval of the North’s participation in the Winter games. [Financial Times]

26 January 2018

North Korea-US tensions: A ‘handful of months away’ from being able to strike the US

(dk) On Monday CIA chief Mike Pompeo gave in an interview an assessment of North Korea’s ability to strike the US. According to his calculation, Pyongyang is a ‘handful of months’ away to pose a straight danger for the United States and to be able to attack its mainland with nuclear weapons. At the same time he pointed the capability of North Korea to fire multiple nuclear missiles at the United States would be the threshold for the US military action. [The Guardian]

12 January 2018

Myanmar-North Korea relations: Cooling off, but still warm

Adam McDonald gives on overview of the Myanmar-North Korea relations. He submits that, while the close relations of the early 2000s may be over, the Myanmar military (the Tatmadaw) is believed to still uphold good contacts with its North Korean counterparts, particularly regarding military training and equipment. This continued contacts could be problematic for Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, which strives for acceptance on the global stage [East Asia Forum].

12 January 2018

North/South Korea: First inter-Korean direct talks in more than two years

(dql) Following a turbulent 2017 with North Korea’s  nuclear tests and missile launches on the one side, and supplementary, stricter sanctions against Pyongyang, with even China joining in, on the other, top official delegations from North and South Korea, met on Tuesday for direct talks, the first after a halt of more than two years. The talks resulted in Pyongyang’s confirmation to send athletes and a top delegation to the games and a joint statement to hold military talks and further high-level dialogue [The Korea Herald].

While President Trump in a phone call with President Moon on Wednesday welcomed the resumption of the talks and voiced the possibility of a dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang [Yonhap], Japan’s Prime Minister Abe appeared unimpressed and stressed his adherence to the policy of maximizing international pressure on North Korea’s de-nuclearization [The Diplomat].

5 January 2018

North Korea: Mixed reactions on reopened border hotline

Kim Jong-un has re-established the communication channel between Pyongyang and Seoul after its halt in 2016 following a dispute involving the Kaesong industrial complex, which was jointly operated by both countries. Analysts warned that it could be a step aimed at damaging the relations between Washington and Seoul with both showing different reactions to Kim’s move. Whereas US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, questioned the wisdom of an inter-Korean dialogue unless it was to include a North Korean commitment to abandon its nuclear weapons program, President Moon’s spokesman welcomed the Kim’s action as an opportunity for regular communication [The Guardian].