http://freekorea.us Tue, 12 Dec 2017 02:36:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.1 http://freekorea.us/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/cropped-OFK-LOGO-SQUARE-32x32.png http://freekorea.us 32 32 Korean War II: A Hypothesis Explained, and a Fisking http://freekorea.us/2017/12/11/korean-war-ii-a-hypothesis-explained-and-a-fisking/ http://freekorea.us/2017/12/11/korean-war-ii-a-hypothesis-explained-and-a-fisking/#comments Mon, 11 Dec 2017 12:05:30 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=27087 In the last several months, as Pyongyang has revealed its progress toward acquiring the capacity to destroy an American city, the North Korea commentariat has cleaved into two camps: those who believe we can live with a nuclear North Korea, and those who do not. Regular readers know that I’m in the latter camp. North Korea has proliferated nuclear, ballistic missile, and chemical weapons technology. It uses weapons of mass destruction to murder people in foreign airports and terrorize its critics. It threatens terrorist attacks against our movie theaters. It robs banks, sells dope, and counterfeits currency. Its leaders have no discernible regard for human life. They send kids to die in gulags, drown infants for being racially impure, and condemn millions to mass starvation. They need conflict to justify the immiseration of their subjects, and may even be biochemically addicted to conflict. Admittedly, this isn’t a comforting view.

North Korea is an inherently unhealthy obsession, which may explain why a certain type of North Korea-watcher could see Kim Jong-un shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still interpret it as cry for talks. But if Kim Jong-un had the slightest interest in opening, reform, or improving the welfare of the people, he would have seized multiple opportunities to do so, rather than making it a national priority to isolate and impoverish them. He knows he can’t survive forever as dictator of the poorer, browner, uglier Korea. No matter how ardently some may wish to coexist with the horror he inflicts on North Korea’s people out of our sight, all of the evidence says that Kim will not coexist with us. To believe we can live happily ever after with a nuclear North Korea is a self-delusion that risks condemning millions of Koreans to slavery, and the rest of us to insecurity and terror. I have no affection for Donald Trump, but H.R. McMaster has decades of evidence on his side when he says that North Korea is not a status quo power.

One aspect of this argument that has drawn more interest lately is the surprisingly controversial notion that Pyongyang’s nukes might be part of a rational, coherent,  and plausible plan to achieve the thing it has said for decades that it intends to achieve — unification. As one who has advanced that argument, I’ve noticed a curious thing recently: people have come at me to poke holes in arguments I’ve never made. Some have tried to talk me out of the preposterous idea of North Korea sending an army of scrawny conscripts to occupy downtown Seoul. (They need not have wasted their time; I’ve made the same argument myself.) Or that Pyongyang wouldn’t “win” a war that destroys its prize and cash cow (ditto). Or that South Koreans would never let their government “surrender” to the North, which is as irrelevant as arguing about whether Americans “surrendered” to Putin in last year’s election. The Russians have developed more sophisticated ideas about achieving their interests than a “Red Dawn” sequel, and I also credit the North Koreans with having an equal or greater capacity for strategic thought. The laziest, most offensive, and most defamatory argument of all is that this must all be part of some scheme to peddle a war that I’ve consistently and vocally opposed, but this smear is de rigeur within certain quarters of the political left. One learns to tune it out, along with those who make such spurious claims. 

~   ~   ~

Andray Abrahamian now argues against what he calls the “dangerous” ideas that “North Korea wants to use nuclear weapons to reunify the Korean peninsula by force or coercion,” or that Pyongyang can’t be deterred “because it is fundamentally irrational.” These aren’t really my hypotheses, either, although elements of them strike close enough to things I’ve written to be recognizable as corruptions of them. So, before I commence with the fisking, let’s clarify just what my hypothesis is: the North’s rational strategy is to use its nuclear arsenal to achieve hegemony over South Korea and reunify Korea under its rule — just like it has said since 1948. But as circumstances change, so do strategies. Under my hypothesis, Pyongyang intends to avoid both a major war and any perception of drastic political change in South Korea that might arouse its enemies to obstruct its strategy while they still can. I’m not arguing that this strategy will necessarily work, but plenty of precedent suggests that Pyongyang has reason to think it can.

1. Its short-term goals are no different than Putin’s goals for the United States or any number of other countries — to exercise enough control over how South Koreans think to obscure embarrassing truths, embarrass or silence its critics, influence elections and policies, and give an appeasement-minded leader in Seoul the political space to accede to its demands. As I’ll explain, it has already done or tried to do all of these things.

2. Its medium-term goal is to wage a war of skirmishes to coerce concessions that lower South Korea’s defenses and leave it vulnerable to extortion. Pyongyang will use coercive diplomacy to suppress the readiness of Seoul’s forces, the capability of its defenses, the resiliency of its economy to limited attacks, and the strategic posture of its defenses. It will demand the cancellation of defensive exercises or an end to the deployment of missile defenses. Eventually, it will demand “peace” talks for the removal of U.S. forces. I’ll explain how it has already done or tried to do all of that, too.

3. Its long-term goal is to establish and control an inter-Korean coalition government. As I’ve already explained, South Korea has already agreed to this in principle, in the 2000 and 2007 Joint Statements signed by former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Yes, the two Koreas differ sharply on their interpretations of those statements, for now. Once Pyongyang achieves military, strategic, and information hegemony over Seoul, it will be in a position to dominate that coalition, regardless of the two states’ relative economies and populations.

Thus, Korean War II will not be a mechanized, cross-border invasion or a surrender ceremony on the deck of the U.S.S. Pueblo. To the extent that a new Joint Statement or peace treaty amounts to the same thing, I’m confident that few South Korean voters will recognize it as such — and I’m just as confident that the reaction of most journalists and academics will be glowing coverage and op-eds. We will not see footage of North Korean tanks crashing through the gates of the Blue House anytime in the foreseeable future. Korean War II is being waged at a lower intensity, for more limited objectives, and at a far higher level of political sophistication than most of us give it credit for. This new way of war simmered and boiled for years before most experts or policymakers in Washington or Seoul even noticed that it had begun. I know how paranoid this may seem, but remember that this is an argument about Pyongyang’s intentions. It must be probative of something that if you put “North Korea paranoid” into a Google search window, you get more than half a million results. Paranoid people tend to do things that justify paranoia in others.

Phase 1: Influence What They Read & How They Think

So, let the fisking commence.

Pyongyang’s leaders today are not stupid and know even a slow takeover of the South through a federation is unrealistic. 

I’m glad we agree that Pyongyang’s leaders aren’t stupid, even if we disagree about their objectives (but much more on that later). So if, as Mr. Abrahamian now argues, its objective is self-preservation — or if it’s opening and reform, as he previously argued — why have such smart men been stupid enough to throw away multiple offers of aid, engagement, investment, and security guarantees? Why do these intelligent men continue to attack South Korea and get caught committing embarrassing crimes that are far less profitable than, say, exporting electronics, or reaching an agreement that would allow Rason and Kaesong to reach their potential? Pyongyang’s choices make no sense under any benign interpretation of its intentions, or under any interpretation that leaves the status quo intact, with Korea divided indefinitely.

They know that South Korea’s GDP is at least 30 times larger than theirs.

GDP can be one useful predictor of outcomes in conventional wars; it’s almost useless as a predictor of who wins asymmetric or hybrid wars, which are won by the side whose political endurance is greatest. See, e.g., North Vietnam versus South Vietnam, Rhodesia versus ZANLA, the Soviet Union versus the Afghan mujahedeen, and dozens of wars of “liberation” of the 1960s and 70s. Indeed, the more prosperous societies are, the more they and their business interests have to lose, and the more willing they become to trade political freedom for temporary security. Here’s something else to ponder: who believes it’s sheer coincidence that as South Korea became the world’s most wired society, North Korea built one of the world’s most advanced cyber warfare capabilities?

They know Seoul’s military budget is bigger than the North’s entire GDP. 

Hence the term “asymmetric” warfare. Russia’s economy and population are also smaller than ours, and to the best of my knowledge, Chris Hemsworth isn’t ambushing T-72s along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rest assured that nothing in my posts hypothesizes that skeletal, vinalon-clad conscripts from Ryanggang-do will soon be guarding shuttered “booking” clubs in Kangnam. My worst-case scenario terrifies me precisely because a street-level view of it would, in its first years, seem banal to anyone who has lived in Korea. There are enough riot police in South Korea to contain almost any protest; it’s just a question of who is giving them what orders. Otherwise, I envision an escalation of what we’ve seen since 2010 — a war of provocations and skirmishes, punctuated by negotiations in which the South makes strategic and political concessions in exchange for Pyongyang’s promises to stop scaring people. Again, two South Korean presidents have already agreed in principle to a coalition government, toward which South Korea’s current President still sees the 2018 Olympics as a first cautious step. I doubt we’ll have to play this argument out for long. If my hypothesis is right, watch for Pyongyang to make more aggressive demands to speed up the implementation of those Joint Statements by this time next year, maybe after the 2018 mid-term elections.

They know that “taking” the South and controlling its diverse political and civil society institutions is impossible. They’re not interested.

Not interested? I don’t know how anyone could seriously argue that North Korea isn’t “interested” in controlling South Korea’s society and institutions. Would Mr. Abrahamian have us believe that in all of his visits to North Korea, he wasn’t harangued about unification and the necessity of all Koreans submitting to the leadership of the all-wise suryong? Has he never read any of the bitter denunciations by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland of disobedient “south Koreans,” or heard of Pyongyang’s many violent threats against its critics in the South? It’s no secret that Pyongyang has been running influence operations in the South for decades. I’ve also tried to catalog the many cases in which its Fifth Columnists in the South — not liberals, but people who support Pyongyang’s ideology — have been exposed in the media.

Having practiced law with the Army in Korea, I don’t agree that all of Korea’s institutions are strong or perceived as such. My interactions with Korean witnesses taught me that they had low confidence in the courts. The broad powers of police and prosecutors, and loose rules of evidence, can lead to dubious judgments. Koreans, especially on the left, justifiably distrust a politicized National Intelligence Service that ought to be distinguishing free speech from nefarious foreign influence.

But didn’t Park Geun-hye’s impeachment prove how strong South Korea’s democratic institutions are? No, it proved that a lot of people who really didn’t like Park Geun-hye could come out onto the streets until the courts gave them what they wanted. The conclusion was already foregone by the time the courts threw out the tablet that started it all: “The tablet PC allegedly contains crucial evidence tying Choi and Park to rampant corruption, but the court accepted argument from Park’s lawyers that its provenance is dubious” — that is, it was “found by a reporter under circumstances that remain unclear.” Choi Soon-sil later said she hadn’t used it since 2012. Of course, she had obvious motives to lie, but I’m glad I live in a society where any accused, no matter how hated she is on the streets, can demand a forensic examination of the evidence against her. Because on the off-hand chance Choi was telling the truth — and not for nothing, our burdens of proof favor the accused — you have to wonder how that evidence found its way onto the tablet and the headlines. You don’t have to like Park to see that the evidence against her would have been laughed out of an American courtroom. You can believe she was probably guilty of something (corruption, mishandling classified information, poor judgment, just plain weirdness) and still see her downfall as exposing vulnerabilities in the NIS, the presidency, the media, the courts, and laws that allow the impeachment of presidents before a full investigation is even done.

They know the South’s population is double theirs and that South Koreans are politically engaged and extremely attached to their hard-earned democracy.

Whoever doubts that any South Korean leader would compromise South Koreans’ political engagement and hard-earned democracy must not recall that in 2014, Park Geun-hye agreed to do exactly that to secure a new round of so-called family “reunions.” Specifically, Park agreed to end the “slander” of North Korea, although as a South Korean researcher pointed out, “the no-slander clause could prove problematic, as the North believes the South Korean media should be bound by it, which of course it isn’t.” But a vigorous free press would never let that pass! Well, just read how gleefully Choe Sang-hun covered it. And sure enough, within weeks, Pyongyang said Park’s criticism of its nuclear program and human rights abuses — and also, the testimony of “human scum” defectors before the U.N. Commission of Inquiry — violated the no-slander deal. As the AFP reported, “The “no-slander” clause was always going to prove problematic, with North Korea insisting it should extend to the South Korean media as well as private groups and individuals.” To me, it was far more problematic that Pyongyang demanded — and at least in its view, briefly got — a veto over what South Korean media and civic groups could say about it. I shouldn’t have to explain why that’s such a dangerous precedent. Yet not only was there no public outrage or media backlash, the few journalists who weren’t fast asleep did a golf clap.

As for South Koreans’ attachment to democracy, most people would probably agree with this statement in the abstract, but Koreans and Americans have very different ideas of what “democracy” means. Depending on how you ask the question, South Koreans’ support for freedom of speech is between ten and twenty percentage points lower than it is in the United States, and this is a society that already tolerates ham-handed government internet censorship, the fear of libel suits (even against journalists or sitting lawmakers) where truth is no defense, politically motivated censorship by both the political left and right, and standards of journalism I’ll charitably call “uneven.” Americans used to believe their own democratic institutions were unassailable until the 2016 election showed their vulnerability to skillful hybrid warfare.

Speaking of hybrid warfare, who else is old enough to remember the North Korean spy ring known as Ilshimhoe, which was run by a former USFK soldier and current “peace” activist named Michael Jang? Reconnaissance General Bureau agents ran the ring — it called itself a “Valentine Club” — from a safe house on the outskirts of Beijing. According to (admittedly, mostly right-leaning) Korean press reports, Ilshimhoe tried to influence the Seoul mayoral election in 2006, fed Pyongyang information about the six-party talks, and might have planted spies in the Blue House and various government offices. I know, you say — just gossip. Except that Jang and several others were brought to trial, convicted, and sentenced to prison terms. Well, then — it must be another case of McCarthyist persecution! Except that the convictions occurred on Roh Moo-hyun’s watch, after the head of the NIS hinted that he’d come under political pressure to stop digging and resigned. Shortly thereafter, the investigation did stop, the cases were quickly brought to trial, and I doubt that more than two or three of you knew that this had even happened.

Phase 2: A War of Skirmishes Against Seoul’s Defenses

Throughout the war of skirmishes Pyongyang has waged since at least 2010, it has made (and sometimes won) significant political, strategic, and financial demands from Seoul. Most notable was the alleged and abortive surrender of South Korea’s de facto maritime boundary, the Northern Limit Line or NLL. Seoul unilaterally imposed the NLL after the Korean War Armistice, because the warring parties couldn’t agree on a maritime extension of the DMZ. 

In 2007, in a last grasp at expanding on the 2000 Joint Statement, Roh Moo-hyun allegedly ceded the NLL, which protects some of South Korea’s most vital air and sea lanes (and some rich fishing waters) to a jointly controlled “peace zone.” I say “alleged” because Cho Myoung-gun, the Roh aide who is now Moon Jae-in’s Unification Minister, destroyed the text before Roh’s political opponents could take office and read it. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service leaked a transcript in 2013, and yes, the timing of that is curious. Disputes over the authenticity of the transcript are harder to credit. Just as in our legal system, when someone destroys evidence, it’s reasonable to assume he did it to hide something. In the end, polls said Koreans didn’t know what to believe, meaning South Korea entered the post-truth world at least four years before we did. (On that point, it’s worth listening to this discussion between Sam Harris and Anne Applebaum to understand that some disinformation strategies are designed to do nothing more than confuse people so much that they disengage. And if so, mission accomplished.)

Had Pyongyang secured this “peace zone,” the threat of its closure over, say, disputes about the apportionment of fishing rights or rights of innocent passage might have been enough to throw South Korea into a recession, crash its stock market, or spur capital flight — all without instigating a major war. The residents of the Yellow Sea Islands, like Baekryeong-do and Yeonpyeong-do, would have been hopelessly isolated and easy prey for abduction at sea. The result of the 2007 election prevented Seoul from carrying out the terms of this agreement (whatever it was) but in 2009, Pyongyang secretly approached South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and demanded a summit — the price for which would be $500 million in rice and fertilizer, and possibly some cash. In January 2010, after Lee refused to pay up, Pyongyang threatened to launch a “holy retaliatory war.” Two months later, North Korea sank the Cheonan. Eight months after that, it attacked Yeonpyeong-do, in the middle of the putative “peace zone.”

Similarly, in early 2015, Pyongyang proposed that Park Geun-hye and Kim Jong-un “meet each other and discuss ways toward peaceful reunification,” following Kim Jong-un’s speech calling for “fresh headway in the national reunification movement for this year.” We probably don’t know Pyongyang’s complete list of demands, but one was “freeze-for-freeze,” an idea calculated to degrade the readiness of U.S. and South Korean forces. No summit occurred. Then, in August, North Korean soldiers planted mines that blew the legs off two South Korean noncommissioned officers. Almost immediately, conspiracy theories blaming the U.S. for the incident sprang up all over the internet, probably as part of a disinformation strategy I like to call “implausible deniability.” For a few weeks, the world was wracked by war fears until Park Geun-hye “de-escalated” them through talks that yielded an agreement that gained the North valuable concessions on paper (though we can be thankful that these amounted to almost nothing in practice). You should expect to see more like this in the coming years, unless sanctions work quickly enough to force Pyongyang into another charm offensive.

If influencing what South Koreans think is a political prerequisite to Pyongyang’s strategic gains, then getting the U.S. out of Korea is the strategic gain most necessary for hegemony over the South. Eventually, Abrahamian gets around to admitting that might be on Pyongyang’s agenda.

What North Korea might want at this point is to decouple the alliance between South Korea and the United States, hoping that Washington over-reacts to Pyongyang’s new capabilities. This over-reaction might take the form of acting too aggressive and causing Seoul to question – perhaps even take steps to terminate – the alliance. It might be by provoking some kind of military action that turns Northeast Asian public opinion against Washington and leaves America isolated in the region.

And this:

It might be getting a favorable peace deal that removes U.S. forces from Korea.

I’m not here to defend Donald Trump’s bombast, and I’m glad we’ve heard less of it lately. I’ve criticized it for scaring our friends more than it scares our enemies, and I’ve argued that it will alienate people inside North Korea we should be appealing to. Trump’s speech in Seoul may have done him some good, but most Koreans probably still don’t like him. For the time being, and in spite of their personal feelings for Trump, they still like their country’s alliance with the U.S.

[N]uclear weapons are primarily about deterrence, not forcing one’s will on others…. Yet H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, has led the charge to claim otherwise. Multiple times in the last several months he has made comments such as, “classical deterrence theory, how does that apply to a regime like the regime in North Korea?” 

Just like we deterred the attacks on the Cheonan and Yeonpyong-do, the Sony cyberattacks, the 2015 landmine incident, the Kim Jong-nam VX murder, nuclear and chemical proliferation to Syria, multiple threats against journalists, and half a dozen international assassination plots? What price did Kim Jong-un pay for any of those crimes?

Kim Jong Un is a rational actor, however. He may make imperfect decisions, but he wants to enjoy life and grow old.

Roll your mental odometer back to early 2010 and ask yourself two things. First, could you have imagined that North Korea would, with premeditation and malice aforethought, sink a South Korean warship and kill dozens of young sailors? Second, could you have imagined that North Korea would get away with that, with no form of retaliation, accountability, or even a serious U.S. effort to enforce sanctions? (You can ask yourself the same questions about the Yeonpyeong-do attack or the Sony cyberattack.) After the Cheonan attack, conspiracy theories circulated that sowed widespread doubt among South Koreans about Pyongyang’s responsibility. In the National Assembly election that followed weeks after the attack, the left-wing opposition actually won more seats, although it’s by no means clear that those conspiracy theories, North Korea policy, or the attack were major election issues (which is still disturbing). After the shelling of Yeonpyeong-do, the mayor of Incheon even suggested that by holding military exercises near the Northern Limit Line, the South sort-of had it coming. A rational actor analyzing those reactions would not only feel perfectly free to engage in further provocations at that level, but also to escalate them now that his nuclear arsenal deters us. Kim Jong-un has made some imperfect decisions (his eating habits, most obviously) but these attacks were, in retrospect, perfectly sound and rational calculations of his risks and rewards.

He wants his state to survive and to negotiate that survival with its southern competitor-state. And the United States has effectively deterred far more potent nuclear-armed enemies for decades.

The converse is also true: Pyongyang has deterred the U.S. for decades. One might even pause to ask why it needs a nuclear ICBM when its artillery was already enough to hold Seoul hostage. How does decoupling the alliance make any sense except as a prerequisite to a coerced negotiation for full implementation of the joint statements on Pyongyang’s terms? And how would that negotiation go with Moon Jae-in? If past history is any guide, a lot like the 2007 Joint Statement or Moon’s negotiation with China over THAAD — with no one really knowing exactly what Seoul gave away, but being fairly certain that it gave away too much. Suspicions about Moon have run high in Washington since he cut a deal with Xi Jinping not to deploy any more THAAD batteries. This should have been an alliance decision. It’s a significant gain for China, which also wants to decouple the U.S.-Korea alliance. Given who Moon Jae-in’s closest advisors are, Pyongyang has every reason to believe that it could get other significant gains from Moon at America’s expense. I can’t seem to harangue any journalists into reporting Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok’s past leadership of a radical pro-North Korean student group that tried to firebomb the U.S. embassy in Seoul, so I suppose it’s just as pointless to say that Moon has just appointed another ex-member of this same group to his cabinet.

[T]he idea that North Korea wants to reunify the peninsula by force is based largely on their propaganda. Indeed, their newspapers and educational materials do pine for unification. North Korean slogans do claim that “final victory” is nigh and that they must achieve “unification for future generations”. But North Korea’s propagandists claim a lot of things.

Mr. Abrahamian has certainly believed plenty of things Pyongyang has said, and I’ve believed a few myself, but they aren’t the same things. The difference is that the things I believe are better corroborated by Pyongyang’s behavior than the things he believes. I’ve already explained why Pyongyang’s war of skirmishes only makes logical sense as part of a malign strategy, and no logical sense as part of a strategy to gain aid, engagement, improved relations, diplomatic recognition, and the mere preservation of the status quo. That’s why I need better evidence than the insistence of someone who believed in Pyongyang’s siren song of glasnost and perestroika for so long to disregard the best evidence of its intentions — its words, with the essential corroboration of its behavior, and the testimony of at least one high-level defector.

Phase 3: One Country, Two Systems

South Koreans who supported the 2000 Joint Statement so enthusiastically must have understood that coalition would eventually require some compromises on their part, too. Even South Koreans who dislike politics and prefer not to think about North Korea at all (most of them, based on my anecdotal observations) must know that nothing matters more to Pyongyang than the enforcement of its personality cult. Surely they, or former members of Kim Dae-jung’s cabinet like Moon Chung-in, must have understood that such a compromise would necessarily involve ceding some autonomy to a coalition that would expect them to accept a less democratic government and some restrictions on criticism of North Korea — for the sake of peace, naturally.

I know it may all seem nutty to you and me, but it doesn’t seem nutty to Hankyoreh readers. A typical example: “As soon as possible, we have to build an economic community, ‘North-South confederation,’ in which the South and North’s economy, culture, and art are united.”

Six months into his presidency, Moon Jae-in’s awareness of his political constraints has limited his outreach to Pyongyang. This has clearly frustrated an impatient Kim Jong-un. Of course, some caution would be necessary on the part of any South Korean leader trying to implement or build on the joint statements. Of course, most South Koreans are warier of Pyongyang than they were ten years ago. Of course, Moon remembers how the revelations about the “peace zone” came back to embarrass those who had served in Roh’s cabinet. Of course, he remembers how his proposal as Roh’s Chief of Staff to solicit Pyongyang’s view before abstaining from a resolution condemning the North at the U.N. for crimes against humanity was a speed bump on his path to victory over a hapless, divided gaggle of opponents. Like any good politician, he wants to protect his public support and build a legislative majority. Without those things, he can’t do much of anything.

One sign to watch for would be if Pyongyang will again demand that a select-but-growing number of South Koreans — initially members of left-leaning unions, and maybe eventually, schoolchildren — visit the North to pay tribute to Kim Il-sung. It has already demanded that Seoul stop accepting North Korean refugees. If you’ve been paying attention, Pyongyang and the hard left have emphasized this as if Kim Jong-un’s survival depends on it. Of course, Moon Jae-in can’t go along with that openly, but if Roh Moo-hyun could find ways to do it quietly, so can Moon. Under Roh, South Korean consulates hung up on defectors who called. There have been periodic leaks of defectors’ personal information, which could make them easy prey for North Korean agents to coerce them into “re-defecting.” Is it any wonder why so many North Koreans have moved on to more welcoming countries?

As for Pyongyang’s final goal, you don’t have to take my word for that. Read it for yourself as a North Korean official explained it here, or at the end of this post, or as summarized here. Or, read this April harangue on the “three principles of unification,” with its particular emphasis on the importance of achieving national unity by silencing Pyongyang’s critics. As you read it, ask yourself if these are the words of people who don’t really mean what they say. Simply stated, Pyongyang wants to impose censorship to “eradicat[e] the distrust and antagonism between” North and South, remove U.S. forces, and get on with forming a confederation under its domination. The fact that I’m having this argument with well-informed people even now only raises my estimate of the plan’s chances of success, by reaffirming how continuity bias and wishful thinking can still blind intelligent people to what’s right in front of them.

This hypothesis explains a lot of Pyongyang’s conduct that other, more accepted theories don’t. From Pyongyang’s perspective, the plan is rational and plausible. If Pyongyang has identified the same cultural, political, institutional, and personal vulnerabilities I see in South Korea — particularly if viewed through the messianic groupthink that’s expected of the people who advise Kim Jong-un — it may have a plausible hope of success. Again, the provocations since 2010 don’t make sense if Pyongyang’s goal is what most academics have long misjudged it to be — opening, reform, and improved relations with the outside world. All of that conduct must seem mysterious and inexplicable to believers in a Pyongyang Spring that never came; it makes perfect sense to those who believe Pyongyang’s strategy is to use threats of tension and war, and the lure of improved “inter-Korean relations,” to silence its critics, manipulate opinions and elections, extract strategic concessions that would make South Korea economically and militarily vulnerable, and draw South Korea into a one-country/two-systems coalition that gives it all the benefits it wants (money, hegemony, prestige, the removal of a political rival) and none of the risks and costs it doesn’t (a major war, occupation, cultural pollution).

The Power of Wishful Thinking

Finally, let’s touch on the question of predictive judgment. In the footer bio of his article, Abrahamian describes himself as “a visiting fellow at the Jeju Peace Research Institute [who] used to help run a nonprofit that frequently took him to North Korea.” Presumably, this refers to Choson Exchange, whose website still lists him as an “Associate Director of Research,” and which for years ferried batches of North Koreans to Singapore to teach them economics, business, and law to stimulate their inevitable progression toward true capitalism, reform, and openness. Plainly, things haven’t worked out that way.

In 2011, a year after the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks, Abrahamian co-wrote of the special economic zone at Rason, “While it may be too early to say whether the region will succeed in drawing investment and reform, our recent trips to Rason lead us to believe that developments on the ground may eventually warrant a shift in foreign policy by governments around the globe.” Got that, governments around the globe? In 2013, a still-hopeful Abrahamian told a reporter for The Guardian that while the North Koreans were “avoiding saying reform or opening [up], … that’s what it amounts to – a crack at any rate.” In February of 2015, he still spoke of “palpable energy and excitement” among North Korean officials about special economic zones. This is more modest than “I have seen the future and it works,” but it’s still at great variance with the evidence of the regime’s resistance to openness, which was already clear enough to see from outer space.

In December of that year, Anna Fifield of The Washington Post, who is by turns the most wonderful and the most exasperating reporter writing about North Korea today, wrote a sympathetic story on Choson Exchange — not one critical view was included — headlined, “North Korea wants to open up its economy, and a small program in free-market Singapore shows how.” The evidence for the falsity of the first clause of this headline is far too voluminous for one link, but if you know what a darling Choson Exchange has long been to journalists and professional scholars, you might not even bother sweeping against this tide.

I can’t have been the only one who wondered how the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the Ministry of State Security, or Bureau 39 would let any North Korean not on their own payrolls go abroad to interact with foreigners. Could there be any exceptions? Yes, there was one “Mr. Kim, head of the technology and trade research department at the State Academy of Sciences,” which page 260 of this Library of Congress study (unlike the Post) informs us was the organization responsible for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Eventually, it’s admitted that “the presentations all revolved around state-related businesses,” presumably including the man peddling “a big, flashy ring that … channels sunshine and purifies the blood, stripping out the lipids that cause high cholesterol.” On second thought, maybe this isn’t such a sympathetic a story at all.

Another question I may be the only one asking — if this is North Korean capitalism, what is this improving on again? But then, I’ve never bought into the theory that capitalism inevitably leads to political reform or peace. The members of the Board of Directors of I.G. Farben received war crimes convictions, not Nobel Prizes. The Marxists have even granted North Korea a special exemption from Old Major’s dogma that capitalism inevitably drives nations to war. I’ve never accepted that North Korea is strictly socialist at all, rather than just economically totalitarian (just as it’s totalitarian in every other sense). To Fifield and Abrahamian’s credit, one eventually reads some mumbled concessions that Pyongyang still had “little to show for” its much-vaunted special economic zones, and that it faced “serious financial and reputational challenges” in attracting investors.

My point here is that the character and history of the regime ought to have made the failure of the engagement hypothesis predictable, and to some of us, it did. Being right then doesn’t necessarily make me right now, but it means I have a model of North Korea’s incentives and behavior with a stronger (and sometimes, eerily strong) predictive record going for it. I certainly wouldn’t take Mr. Abrahamian’s word over what the law would call admissions by a party to the case. The second point of which is that some journalists have an inexhaustible appetite for irrational optimism about North Korea. The opposite seems to be true of getting them to face up to the most rational pessimism.

~   ~   ~

Again, I’m not arguing that Pyongyang’s plan will necessarily work. Maybe the current hesitation of the South Korean public and the toughness of the Trump administration will hold (strong sanctions enforcement has solid bipartisan support, for now). Maybe the real Moon Jae-in isn’t as extreme as everyone he’s surrounded himself with for the whole duration of his political life, or as naive as he often seems to be. A bad election result could cost him or Trump the political support they’d need to advance their policies. The greatest wild card may be that, whatever South Korea’s problems of political cohesion, the North is showing signs of a much worse one among the rural poor, and within some unknown segments of the elites. This might open the way for a genuinely productive implementation of the joint statements, unification, and a lasting peace; or, it might incentivize Kim Jong-un to act even more rashly to implement them his way while he still can. His strategy will take time that he might not have if his money runs out first, or if his Crocodiles or the people suddenly turn on him.

The answer to all of this isn’t war; it’s helping Koreans to see the truth and distinguish it from lies. As I’ve argued before, we are where the last three presidents left us; all we can do now is pursue the strategy that carries the lowest risk of catastrophe. That strategy begins with a clear-eyed understanding of Pyongyang’s strategy, taking it seriously, and devising a strategy to disrupt it. It means preparing the Korean and American people for what may come — mentally, economically, and materially. And as Abrahamian says, yes, we’ll need to solidify the alliance. Trump needs to stop tweeting and making threats, and Moon needs to stop going behind our backs and act like an ally. I’m pessimistic about our capacity to deter more attacks even if we identify new means of deterrence, including the expansion of economic warfare and subversive information operations that scare Kim Jong-un without risking a catastrophic miscalculation that a “limited” counterstrike might. In the medium term, we may develop and deploy better defenses against missiles and artillery, which means we need to buy time, too.

It also means South Korea needs to strengthen its institutions. It needs multi-party reforms to de-politicize the NIS into two professional organizations that can earn the public’s trust — one for foreign intelligence and one for domestic counterintelligence (it bears emphasis that a reform process must not be used to halt embarrassing investigations or to pack the NIS with any party’s loyalists). It means reforming Korea’s libel laws by making truth a defense. It means protecting journalists who criticize politicians, investigate government malfeasance, and help the public separate truth from smears and conspiracy theories. It means enforcing government records laws with strong legal penalties for destroying evidence or obstructing justice. It means reforming the National Security Law to stop prosecuting those who engage in nonviolent speech and instead focus on the aggressive-but-fair pursuit of incitements to violence and foreign influence, particularly among government officials and teachers. It means strengthening rules of evidence and empowering defense lawyers to challenge the evidence against their clients zealously. And like governments everywhere, Korea must be prepared to relax its obsessive secrecy when the public needs to know the truth to make sound decisions about matters of public interest. Like many societies, including ours, Korea needs to mature in how it adjudicates information and passes judgment. If it can’t, the next few years may end the greatest economic and cultural bloom in its long history.

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A soldier’s defection and survival inspire two peoples … and perhaps, a third http://freekorea.us/2017/12/06/a-soldiers-defection-survival-inspires-two-peoples-perhaps-soon-a-third/ http://freekorea.us/2017/12/06/a-soldiers-defection-survival-inspires-two-peoples-perhaps-soon-a-third/#comments Wed, 06 Dec 2017 14:02:18 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=27046 New reports on that North Korean soldier’s defection at the Joint Security Area last month have added even more dramatic detail to his story. First, we learned of the heroism of the ROK soldiers who crawled out to drag him to safety. Then, we saw the video of his escape, with his comrades just a few feet behind him, shooting at him (and thankfully, missing in most cases). 

Now we know his name: Oh Chong-song. We know his aspiration: to be … a lawyer. We also know that he owes his life to a quick-thinking U.S. Army noncommissioned officer.

When the injured soldier was loaded into the Black Hawk helicopter, Sgt. 1st Class Gopal Singh, on his last mission as a flight medic, said a prayer. He did not think the man, who had been shot five times, was going to survive.

“I could tell immediately that this guy was probably going to die in the next 15 minutes if we didn’t start working on him and get the aircraft off the ground,” said Singh, a medic in the Eighth Army’s 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, stationed at Camp Humphreys in South Korea. [WaPo, Anna Fifield]

Crews in the area often do medevac missions for South Korean civilians, such as those who get hurt in farm accidents. Only later did the crew learn that their patient was a North Korean soldier.

It was when the soldier was loaded into the Black Hawk that Singh, who was starting his final month in South Korea and the Army, realized how serious his patient’s injuries were.

“I actually said a prayer because I saw the condition he was in,” said Singh, who is 39 and from San Antonio. “The pilots could probably tell by my voice that he was in real danger of dying.”

The personnel at the JSA had stopped a lot of the bleeding from the gunshot wounds to the shoulder, chest and abdomen, but Oh was having difficulty breathing. He was trying to sit up on one side — a sign that he might be taking air inside his chest from a wound.

Singh performed a needle chest decompression, puncturing the soldier’s chest cavity to allow the air building up inside to escape. “I knew if I didn’t do that he would probably die because once his chest cavity filled up with air, it would push his heart and lung and everything over, and he wouldn’t make it,” he said. [WaPo]

I’ve pushed the limits of the Fair Use Doctrine far enough for one day, so read the rest of Fifield’s story on your own. From there, CNN picks up the story with video from the operating room in those first critical minutes — and more grody pictures of poor Mr. Oh’s tapeworms, which I really didn’t need at breakfast. It also interviews celebrity trauma surgeon Lee Cook-jong, who credits the American medics for saving Sergeant Oh.

“His vital signs were so unstable, he was dying of low blood pressure, he was dying of shock,” Lee said. [….]

Lee describes Oh’s vital signs as so unstable that a few times during the grueling operation, he thought the defector would die on the surgical table. “It’s a miracle that he survived,” Lee said. [CNN]

It’s hard not to find this story inspiring.

“I’m very proud of him. He fled from North Korea seeking for liberty, much more freedom. It’s quite easy to say, but it’s really, really difficult to make it happen, so I admire him,” Lee said. [CNN]

Oh is recovering well enough that he can already walk on his own, despite having to fight off parasitic infestations, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and (understandably) post-traumatic stress disorder.

He’s been plagued by nightmares, sometimes fearing he was still in North Korea, prompting Lee to hang the South Korean flag in his recovery room to remind him he was safe. “He actually asked me, ‘is it really South Korea?’ And I said, ‘have a look at that flag. Have you ever seen that flag in North Korea?’  [CNN]

The story of Oh’s defection and recovery is still big news in South Korea. How could it fail to be, with a plot that could have been an episode of “Descendants of the Sun”? B.R. Myers worries about the tendency of certain Koreans to have an excess of nationalism (minjokjuŭi) rather than patriotism (kukkajuŭi). There is some evidence that this trend has shifted toward the latter in recent years. Here is a story that cleaves that difference perfectly by contrasting a ruthless and uninhabitable society against a liberal and compassionate one. This isn’t just a story of two men. It’s a story of how governments can suppress, but not quite extinguish, what is best about us as human beings.

“People tend to say that I’m proud of my country or something, so that’s why I was trying to save Mr. Oh’s life, but it’s totally wrong, as you can see here. We are doing this job every single day.” [CNN]

Meanwhile, Sergeant First Class Singh, who is preparing to finish his tour in Korea and his Army service, has said that he “thought about going to congratulate” Oh for his defection and recovery. What a grave error it would be if U.S. Forces Korea Public Relations fails to give him that chance.

“It’s truly a miracle. From the time that I saw him on the aircraft, I thought he was going to die,” Singh said. “So to be able to see him make it, it’s been a good feeling for all of us as a crew.” [WaPo]

As a good doctor should, Dr. Lee continues to keep the boys from the National Intelligence Service away from Oh to give his patient a chance to recover, but I’ll confess that I have an intense interest in knowing why Oh did something so desperate. His diet was clearly terrible. His comrades’ reaction to his defection shows them stumbling (possibly over each other), acting confused and ill-prepared, repeatedly missing their target, and later milling around, perhaps wondering whether to cross the DMZ in a group to drag him back (which would have gotten very ugly, very fast).

All of this suggests that these soldiers’ standard of training fell well below what we’d expect in this unit. What can Oh tell us about the state of training, morale, and discipline in front-line units? Does his diet indicate that conditions for even the elite of the elite of the NKPA have deteriorated recently? Does this, in turn, say something about the targeting of our sanctions? Is it possible that, like most parts of the North Korean government, this unit is funded by a particular trading company that has been affected by them? Was Oh fearful of a purge or punishment for some disciplinary infraction, or abuse by a superior?

Then, there are questions about the obvious influence of South Korean culture on Oh. Did the loudspeaker propaganda I’ve intermittently ridiculed, or the ability to watch South Korean television along the DMZ, help inspire his defection? If so, what messages have the greatest potential to impact a North Korean soldier’s willingness to obey or refuse orders to kill his fellow Koreans? The general public may never know those answers, but these are all important things for our governments to know.

Meanwhile, and to its credit, the South Korean government is broadcasting the story of Oh’s defection and survival back to his comrades north of the DMZ. One can only hope that this story says as much to them about the nature of their society and culture as it clearly has to many South Koreans.

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So, who else has cut trade with North Korea lately, and who still hasn’t? http://freekorea.us/2017/12/05/so-who-else-has-cut-trade-with-north-korea-lately-and-who-still-hasnt/ http://freekorea.us/2017/12/05/so-who-else-has-cut-trade-with-north-korea-lately-and-who-still-hasnt/#respond Tue, 05 Dec 2017 14:03:30 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=27037 With the pace of news of North Korea sanctions news lately, my bookmarks folder is starting to look like what the paramedics found at the Cat Lady’s house after the neighbors noticed a foul odor. Today, I want to catch up with our efforts to deny Pyongyang a haven for its money laundering network, with a focus on Southeast Asia. To review the administration’s progress since January, you may want to start here and here. Ambassador Nikki Haley also gave this summary in a recent speech at the U.N.:

In addition to our work here in the Security Council, many nations have taken their own strong actions against North Korea’s threat to peace. Just this year, as North Korea’s behavior has become more intolerable, over 20 countries from every corner of the globe have restricted or ended their diplomatic relations. Mexico, Peru, Italy, Spain, and Kuwait have expelled North Korea’s ambassadors from their countries. Portugal and the United Arab Emirates have suspended diplomatic relations. The Philippines and Taiwan have suspended all trade with North Korea. Singapore, formerly North Korea’s seventh largest trading partner, has cut all trade ties. Uganda has halted all military and security ties. The European Union, Australia, South Korea, and Japan have made additional sacrifices for peace and security by going well beyond what the Security Council requires. [link]

After which, she castigates a certain unnamed country for violating the coal ban — if you were here, you’d hear me sneezing, “ah-CHI-na!” and you’d say, “Gesundheit.” By now, I’d think we’ve given any remaining Chinese buyers of that coal fair warning.

– If you start anywhere, start with this report by Sheena Chestnut Greitens on efforts by the Obama and Trump administrations to convince South Asian and Southeast Asian nations to cut ties with Pyongyang. The record is mixed, but Trump has clearly had more success here than Obama. Burma has also kicked out a North Korean diplomat, and Malaysia is reviewing its diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

– The Wall Street Journal reports that Singapore has agreed to suspend all trade with North Korea. This would be a big deal if Singapore follows through. Singapore has previously been named in North Korea’s luxury goods trade, its (possibly counterfeit) tobacco trade, arms trade (via Glocom), money laundering and arms trafficking in the Chinpo Shipping case, and transactions with blocked persons.

– This commendably detailed report by (believe it or not) Buzzfeed examines why, in light of the Kim Jong-nam assassination, Malaysia still has not cut its diplomatic or commercial ties with North Korea. I previously wrote about Malaysia’s lax sanctions implementation and lack of anti-money laundering compliance here.

– India continues to say it’s making efforts to restrict trade with North Korea.

– Vietnam has expelled the local head of Wonyang Shipping, a subsidiary of Ocean Maritime Management, the U.N.-designated North Korean arms smuggler. It has also denied visas for more than 20 North Korean hackers PUST graduates “IT workers.”

– Angola, which has been implicated in several reports of the U.N. Panel of Experts for its arms trade with North Korea, including patrol boat engines, says it has deported 50 North Korean workers, who follow “dozens” of others who left the day before. Their employer was named as “Mansudae,” a likely reference to the U.N.-designated Mansudae Overseas Projects Group.

It may be that for our diplomats, the easy work has already been done. We’re now working on persuading states whose ties to Pyongyang are more persistent. I’m all for asking nicely once, and sometimes twice. I have to think we’ve asked (to name an obvious example) Malaysia nicely enough times. If I were calling the shots, I’d put Glocom, Pan Systems, and MKP Partners on the SDN List now.

~   ~   ~

Update: See also this report from that other organization called ISIS, naming the countries that continue to violate sanctions.

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Korean War II: What the Joint Statements tell us about Pyongyang’s strategy http://freekorea.us/2017/12/04/korean-war-ii-what-the-joint-statements-tell-us-about-pyongyangs-strategy/ http://freekorea.us/2017/12/04/korean-war-ii-what-the-joint-statements-tell-us-about-pyongyangs-strategy/#comments Mon, 04 Dec 2017 13:31:15 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=27023

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

George Orwell

On June 15, 2000, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il signed a joint statement agreeing to seek “independent” reunification and an inter-Korean coalition government. It was not the first joint statement between North and South. This relatively modest one from 1972 calls for “both parties [to] promote national unity as a united people over any differences of our ideological and political systems.” In retrospect, this was a rhetorical victory for Pyongyang. So was the statement that “reunification must be achieved with no reliance on external forces or interference,” although this seemed, at the time, to have been palliated by a subsequent statement that “reunification must be achieved peacefully without the use of military forces.”

The 2000 Joint Statement went much further. That agreement, celebrated by the Nobel Committee, widely hailed by the far left in both South Korea and the United States, purchased with an illegal payment of $500 million, and almost constantly flogged in North Korean propaganda to this day, consists of five points. They’re worth reviewing in full for what they suggest about Pyongyang’s intentions, its objectives, and its strategy for achieving them. Don’t waste your time reading these as a member of the Nobel Committee might have. Instead, read them as a North Korean negotiator would have drafted or edited them in 2000, or through the jaundiced eyes of someone in the United Front Department today. Paranoid people have enemies, too, after all.

1. The South and the North have agreed to resolve the question of reunification independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people, who are the masters of the country.

If you’ve read B.R. Myers’s book, “North Korea’s Juche Myth,” you’ve no doubt latched onto the phrase, “the Korean people … are masters of the country.” This is a far better definition of juche than the “self-reliance” one tends to see from Voxplainers and Buzzfeeders who recall the existence of North Korea once every nuclear test. The phrase “independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people” isn’t far off from “among our race only,” which in Korean translates to uri minjokkiri. Regular Korea watchers will recognize this as the name of one of North Korea’s main propaganda websites (if you will forgive the redundancy) for ethnic Koreans in the South and elsewhere. It’s not unlike some of the rhetoric we’ve also heard Moon Jae-in utter in some of his less guarded moments. Nationalism runs deep in both Koreas.

2. For the achievement of reunification, we have agreed that there is a common element in the South’s concept of a confederation and the North’s formula for a loose form of federation. The South and the North agreed to promote reunification in that direction.

Note the sly reference to “the South’s concept,” as if this idea really originated in Seoul rather than Pyongyang. This is the single most important concession the North won in 2000 and, to me, the Rosetta Stone of Pyongyang’s strategy. Whoever dominates this confederation will dominate Korea. In 2000, this might not have seemed like such a terrible prospect to Kim Dae-jung, who had so recently survived several attempts by right-wing dictator Park Chung-hee to kill him, and who had benefited from the support of pro-Pyongyang Koreans in Japan. Clearly, Kim’s view of North Korea was not an entirely hostile one. But if Roh Moo-hyun’s view was arguably even friendlier to Pyongyang, Roh could still only take things as far as the politics of the day allowed. Pyongyang had to set the pursuit of confederation aside during the presidencies of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye. Meanwhile, it took full advantage of Barack Obama’s almost complete lack of a North Korea policy to develop a nuclear arsenal at mallima speed.

3. The South and the North have agreed to promptly resolve humanitarian issues such as exchange visits by separated family members and relatives on the occasion of the August 15 National Liberation Day and the question of unswerving Communists serving prison sentences in the South.

Note the omission of South Korean prisoners of war still held in the North in clear violation of the Armistice agreement. Note the complete betrayal of the (then, perhaps) hundreds of thousands of North Korean political prisoners — including children — suffering and dying in places like Camp 22. The sole focus was on setting free the North’s fifth columnists in the South. This implicitly restrained the South’s will to arrest others who were exposed, some of whom tried to manipulate the Seoul mayoral election and may have penetrated the Blue House itself. To Pyongyang, allowing a few brief, carefully monitored meetings between South Korean abductees and their family members was a small price to pay for this gain.

4. The South and the North have agreed to consolidate mutual trust by promoting balanced development of the national economy through economic cooperation and by stimulating cooperation and exchanges in civic, cultural, sports, health, environmental and all other fields.

“Balanced development” sounds like a formula for using South-to-North subsidies to level out the widening economic gap that had become a threat to Kim Jong-il’s domestic legitimacy. It explains how Pyongyang viewed nukes as a means to achieve economic prosperity as well as national hegemony (which is just what its propagandists told the North Korean people after the Great Famine).

As for cooperation in “the history, language, education, technology, culture, sports, and social sectors,” this would mean a politicized rewriting of history, introducing North Korean agitprop into classrooms and school textbooks (as the hard left Korean Teachers’ and Educational Workers’ Union has been repeatedly caught doing), and using sporting events to whip up nationalist and pro-confederation sentiments among South Koreans. If you say it can’t be done, you weren’t living in South Korea after the 2000 summit, watching this sentiment catch fire. That same sentiment still survives.

5. The South and the North have agreed to hold a dialogue between relevant authorities in the near future to implement the above agreements expeditiously.

Roh Moon-hyun’s 2007 sequel to the 2000 Joint Declaration reaffirmed the 2000 Joint Declaration and built on Pyongyang’s gains in new ways. Unfortunately, Roh Moo-hyun’s aides destroyed the transcript, so we can only approximate the actual terms, some of which are still a matter of controversy in South Korea today. We’ll turn to that controversy later in this post. In the interests of brevity, I’ll mention the more significant ones.

2. South and North Korea are to work for mutual respect and trust in order to overcome differences in ideology, system.

Pyongyang would surely interpret this as a call to avoid criticizing the North’s crimes against humanity. In retrospect, it clearly led up to Park Geun-hye’s 2014 agreement to refrain from “slander” of the North’s system. Park was no friend of free speech herself, and freedom of speech is not an ideal with a broad or deep constituency in South Korea, where governments on both the left and the right routinely censor their critics. Indeed, I often doubt the depth of that constituency here, such as among the academics and policy-makers who hardly raised a peep about the cyberterror threats that shut down “The Interview.” For all his prescient warnings about the dangers of tolerating censorship from abroad, Barack Obama did nothing about it. Again, Pyongyang’s own words are the best evidence of its intent.

Pyongyang holds the very idea of free speech in contempt. Not only has it used threats of violence to censor it in South Korea, but it has done so in Europe, in Southeast Asia, and here, in the United States.

3. South and North Korea are to ease military tensions, hold defense ministerial talks in November in Pyongyang to discuss ways of supporting inter-Korean economic cooperation and easing tension.

The agreement to “ease military tensions” might have won Pyongyang an end to military exercises that keep the South reader to deter a North Korean attack, but the elections of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye forced Pyongyang to defer that demand. Now, with the election of Moon Jae-in, the Chinese, left-of-center academics, and presidential advisor Moon Chung-in are trying to give this one to Pyongyang as a “freeze-for-freeze.” Pyongyang has balked at freezing its WMD programs, so Moon’s government is now seizing on the Olympics as an excuse to give Pyongyang a unilateral freeze next year.

The reference to “inter-Korean economic cooperation” probably refers to South-to-North subsidies like Kaesong and Kumgang. Remember the context: this agreement came as not long after U.S. actions against Banco Delta Asia had forced Kim Jong-il to sign the February 2007 Agreed Framework II, and almost exactly a year after the U.N.’s first Chapter VII sanctions resolution against North Korea, UNSCR 1718. Clearly, Pyongyang was thinking in terms of using South Korea to undermine sanctions intended to disarm it.

4. The two sides agree on the need to end the current armistice and establish permanent peace.

If Pyongyang sees confederation as its mechanism for ruling the South, it sees “peace” talks — the long-standing objective of its simpaticos here in the United States — as its vehicle for bullying the South into unilateral disarmament and confederation. To get to “peace,” it will first demand an end to the “hostile policy,” which means an end to sanctions, the withdrawal of U.S. forces starting with missile defenses, and an end to criticism of the North, particularly over its crimes against humanity. You can read it all right here, in Pyongyang’s own words. Scroll down.

5. The two sides are to create a special peace zone around Haeju in North Korea and nearby areas.

This brings us to why we have no transcript of the 2007 summit. Roh’s concession of South Korea’s maritime boundary — really, the maritime extension of the DMZ — at the end of his presidency and shortly before a presidential election would prove more controversial than Roh had guessed. Roh’s aides made sure to destroy the transcript before his more conservative successor, Lee Myung-bak, took office and started up the government computers where it had been saved.

Oh, and here’s some trivia for you. One of the aides who prepared and destroyed that transcript was Cho Myoung-gyun, who is now Moon Jae-in’s Unification Minister. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal‘s Jonathan Cheng, Cho seemed to credit a hypothesis for Pyongyang’s intentions similar to the one I’ve advanced; he also said this will “never happen.” Cho was indicted for destroying the transcript in 2013, but a court acquitted him on the ground that what he deleted was only a draft and therefore not really a presidential document at all (good luck telling a federal judge that in a Freedom of Information Act case here). Another difference between the U.S. and South Korean systems? Double jeopardy! There, prosecutors can appeal acquittals. Cho’s case is still pending in South Korea’s highest court.

One need only look at the map to see why this would have been such a dangerous concession. Depending on its breadth, this “peace zone” could have ceded South Korea’s control over the airspace through which many of the flights to Incheon Airport must pass, and over the sea lane that serves the port of Incheon and protects the Yellow Sea islands. This is Seoul’s economic jugular. By cutting it, Pyongyang could blackmail Seoul with the threat of a partial blockade, leading to panic, capital flight, and recession. That happens to fit perfectly with what Thae Yong-ho posited in his congressional testimony last month.

7. South and North Korea are to actively push for humanitarian cooperation and expansion of the reunions of separated families.

Naturally, this aid would be “humanitarian” in the same sense that North Korean workers at Kaesong were paidwages.” It would mean a resumption and expansion of South Korean subsidies to the North to enrich the Pyongyang elites at the expense of South Korean taxpayers. Above all, it would turn any U.S. requests that other cut trade relations with Pyongyang into a punchline, thereby undermining our last chance to disarm Pyongyang peacefully — and thus, making war almost inevitable.

In the abstract, the idea of inter-Korean peace and cooperation sounds great to us and even greater to South Koreans. But a close reading the terms of the statements, and a retrospective understanding of how left-leaning governments have tried to implement them, lends itself to more paranoid interpretations. The agreements weren’t fully implemented, but that’s not because Roh, in particular, didn’t try. With Pyongyang near nuclear breakout, I expect that we’ll soon see Pyongyang press its demands for Moon Jae-in (who gives the impression of being an easy mark) to implement past joint statements, and perhaps to sign an even more ambitious one. 

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Cash & credit squeeze hits China-North Korea trade http://freekorea.us/2017/12/01/cash-credit-squeeze-hits-china-north-korea-trade/ http://freekorea.us/2017/12/01/cash-credit-squeeze-hits-china-north-korea-trade/#comments Fri, 01 Dec 2017 14:10:55 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26993 One of the more maddening tropes I see in reporters’ coverage is a question that’s usually presented as dispositive to the success of sanctions: “Will China cooperate?” For reasons I’ve already explained and don’t have time to repeat today, I always answer that question by asking what the questioner means by “China.” The point being: yes, it would be nice if Xi Jinping finally came around to the rising risk that Kim Jong-un will bring war, instability, disrepute, and bankruptcy to China, but he hasn’t. He hates us more and fears us less than he hates and fears Kim Jong-un, and I strongly doubt that we’ve brought him close to that tipping point.

What matters more is whether the Chinese banks that hold North Korean accounts, and the Chinese businesses that deal with North Korea and also use the financial system that runs through New York, have developed a healthy fear of the Treasury Department. For some very good reasons, yes, I think the banks have and the businesses are starting to. Consequently, we continue to see reports from the China-North Korea border that some of the divergent interests we lump together into a million-person jiaozi we call “China” are indeed cooperating.

Is this mainly because of (a) Chinese government action to enforce sanctions, (b) fear of public or legal exposure by Chinese exporters that use North Korean labor or materials, or (c) the fact that both parties are having difficulty finding finance for North Korea-linked transactions? I can’t say for certain, and I suspect that (a), (b), and (c) are all factors to different degrees, but I’m going with (c). Why? First, because that’s consistent with reports I compiled in September, going back over the preceding weeks, that banks in China were freezing or closing North Korean accounts. Second, because we continue to see reports like this one.

The trader in the Chinese border city of Dandong has seen business all but dry up, and he spends his days scrambling to obtain payment from the suddenly broke North Korean state companies to whom he sold on credit.

“They have no money to pay us in cash, and the worst is that because of sanctions they can’t settle the bill with goods such as coal, as they did in the past,” said Yu, reached by telephone at the offices of his Dandong Gaoli Trading Company.

Yu said he’s owed about $1 million in all for deliveries of toothpaste, instant noodles and other household items. He’s trying to avoid laying off staff by continuing to export foodstuffs such as pine nuts and red beans. “If they become unemployed, it would be bad for both the state and society.”

Yu’s plight appears increasingly commonplace across Dandong, where the bulk of the cross-border trade is handled. Interviews with four trading companies and recent media reports indicate Chinese companies are hurting in a city where North Korean trucks used to rumble across the Yalu River bridge several times a week delivering metal scrap and returning with everything from televisions to toilet bowls.

The owner of another firm, Dandong Baoquan Commerce and Trade Co., which used to import iron ore and coal and export basic consumer goods, said he was owed around $200,000 by his North Korea clients.

“I had to lay off about 10 staffers, but I had no other choice because it was the government policy,” Han Lixin said, referring to the sanctions. “I’m still in business hoping to trade with other countries, but it takes a lot of time and efforts to develop customers.” [AP]

See also this report, indicating that the root cause of the trade slump is that the North Korean traders are suddenly broke; this report that North Korean traders can’t pay their debts to their Chinese partners; and this report on the slowing of trade in Rason. North Korean workers also continue to leave China, including its fishing industry. The Chinese businesses are now backfilling their production lines with Chinese workers.

In the interest of balance, and to give some very cautious credit where it’s due, there have also been some reports that the Chinese government has ordered North Korean businesses to close down. Adam Cathcart also points to a Chinese-language report of a corruption crackdown in the border region (I can’t read Chinese, so I’ll take his word for that). On the other hand, this report by the Financial Times tells us that sanctioned North Korean entities, including Minzheng International Trading, continue to operate freely in Hong Kong. Other reports confirm that China’s flagrant cheating on shipping and coal import sanctions continues (see here, here, here, and here).

An October report that the elites in Pyongyang were being deprived of rations has not been backed up by other reporting since then, and I’d add that rations almost certainly make up a very small portion of what the Pyongyang elites live on.

~   ~   ~

My suspicion has long been that China tends to crack down on North Korean money laundering either (1) to make good headlines until we lose interest and quietly go back to business as usual, or (2) to claim credit for, and conceal our influence on, trends that occur for other reasons, such as market fears of secondary sanctions. There are still not enough such reports for me to feel confident that this is an across-the-board trend that will endure, but it has certainly introduced both uncertainty and additional cost into any supply chain that begins in North Korea.

Overall, the news encourages us that if the administration continues to accelerate its enforcement efforts, they will present Kim Jong-un with the difficult choice to disarm or lose the confidence of his crocodiles. There is still much more that we haven’t done, and there is no time to lose in doing it.

Finally, an interpretive advisory for journalists: when you read Ambassador Haley’s threat to “take the oil situation into our own hands,” rather than immediately jump to alarmist conclusions and spread panic, consider a much more likely possibility — that Haley may be threatening that the U.S. will freeze and/or forfeit the assets of shippers, merchants, and refineries that deal with North Korea (see, e.g., the Treasury Department’s designation of Velmur and its corporate officers, and the Justice Department’s recent forfeiture suit against its funds). I have mixed feelings about oil sanctions, frankly, and will probably do a post on that at some point, but every policy decision is a balance of risks against threats, and I need not tell you that the threat is rising.

~   ~   ~

Update: This interview with a resident of Pyongyang from mid-November, however, indicates that sanctions weren’t having much of an effect there. Yet.

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On the contrary, it is North Korea that refuses to talk to us http://freekorea.us/2017/11/30/on-the-contrary-it-is-north-korea-that-refuses-to-talk-to-us/ http://freekorea.us/2017/11/30/on-the-contrary-it-is-north-korea-that-refuses-to-talk-to-us/#comments Thu, 30 Nov 2017 04:20:51 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26965 Whenever North Korea tests a nuke or a missile, like the rest of you, I immediately turn to the very people who got us into this mess for their sage wisdom …

and to their More Cowbell Chorus on Twitter, for their acerbic and penetrating critiques about why Donald Trump should beg Kim Jong-un for the deal that, inexplicably, neither Clinton nor John Kerry could get during Barack Obama’s eight-year presidency. Just kidding! Because if there was a magical freeze ray they could have aimed at Pyongyang, rest assured they’d be basking in the Nobel Committee’s applause by now.

I’ve been watching this paper chase for a quarter of a century now and writing about it here for just over half of that. The harder we try to talk to Kim Jong-un, the less he listens, and the more op-eds I read that wail, “More Cowbell!” This paragraph, from our long-form piece in Foreign Affairs, brings us up to how loudly we rang that bell until Obama left office.

If anything, Trump’s diplomats have tried even harder. We’ve had back-channel talks with the North Koreans throughout this administration, and we’ve been broadcasting through the press that we’re looking for signs that Pyongyang is ready to talk to us, provided it’s serious about keeping its last umpteen agreements to denuclearize. Those efforts have been “discouraging” and have made “little progress” toward getting Pyongyang to talk to us. The Irish also tried to send a delegation to Pyongyang (the North Koreans told them to bugger off). The North Koreans know how to reach to us when they want to. They aren’t reaching, because they don’t want to talk about nukes, period. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: don’t tell us to talk to North Korea if you aren’t listening to North Korea. Why are we unable to hear either their refusals or their silence?

Too many of the journalists who are covering this story either don’t know or choose not to report just who refuses to talk to whom. This NBC article is particularly egregious in getting the story wrong. It also gives the impression (mistaken, I hope) that our Special Representative for North Korea policy, Joe Yun, is off-script and lobbying sympathetic members of Congress to push Trump into “prioritizing diplomacy,” and maybe, to drop our demand that North Korea agree that we’d be talking about denuclearization — something not even Barack Obama did. You may like Trump and you may loathe him, but every civil servant’s job — especially one of such global prominence — is to represent the President’s views, not his own. I’m no fan of Trump’s war threats, but the suggestion that the administration refuses to talk to Pyongyang is flatly false. It’s another example of why public distrust of the news media, while sometimes unfair and often indiscriminate, has a firm basis in reality. (Journalists, if you want to protect your profession, police your colleagues who get it wrong.)

If Pyongyang isn’t interested in nuke talks, then is there anything worth talking about at all? Yes, I can think of one thing. Mil-mil talks might help prevent unexpected incidents, defections, and miscalculations from leading to war. Needless to say, they are not the place to discuss sanctions or concessions of economic or political value. Yes, we should totally do those! Except that Pyongyang walked out of them in 2013. Despite the pleas of Moon Jae-in’s Unification Minister, it refuses to come back. If I had to guess why, I’d say it’s because Pyongyang wants tensions to be high. That’s how it manipulates all of the Twitter bed-wetters who are now taking up Pyongyang’s talking points by telling us to give up on denuclearization entirely.

Yet the more Pyongyang insists that its nukes — disarmament, a freeze, whatever — are non-negotiable, the more op-eds the usual suspects write, oblivious to Pyongyang’s insistence that it doesn’t want to talk to us. Won’t just one of those op-eds please address that seemingly dispositive point? Have the Smartest People in the World reached an impasse with reality? Doesn’t diplomacy require someone to be willing to interact with you? If it’s just a thing we do in front of other people do to please ourselves, can’t we find a Special Envoy job for Louis C.K.?

Even worse, the more deals Pyongyang breaks, the more desperately some of these authors counsel us to withdraw from our “core” interests to chase the next deal. I’m tired of repeating myself: if an armistice, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, two IAEA safeguards agreements, an inter-Korean denuclearization agreement, two agreed frameworks, a joint statement, and the Leap Day Freeze Deal didn’t stop Pyongyang before now, I can’t see how another piece of paper could. The burden is on them, not me, to answer that. It’s as if the impulse for a deal has lost all contact with the interests it would achieve, or the consequences a bad one would incur.

Mouse Trap Seminar from Michael Baker on Vimeo.

I can’t see what we’re all suddenly wetting our beds now, other than the fact that we’re within nuclear striking range of an impulsive malignant narcissist who stands close associates up in front of antiaircraft guns and pulps them for falling asleep in meetings, or who murders his estranged siblings with weapons of mass destruction in other countries’ airport terminals. Sure, you say, that’s not a good place to be! And far worse — piece of paper or no piece of paper, he’ll sell any technology to any willing buyer. But really, why should we be surprised? We’re exactly where I said we’d be years ago. The time to spring into frantic action was then, and in the exact opposite direction from the one where our exhausted Brain Trust still points. They demand a quick fix, but the fix is not quick. It’s the fix we ought to have started years ago, when The Blob was selling us the fierce urgency of the Iran deal, “ending” the war in Iraq, and “strategic patience” with North Korea.

Maybe — just maybe — North Korea’s multi-generational, quarter-century-long pursuit of a nuclear ICBM means that Kim Jong-un wants a nuclear ICBM, not diplomatic recognition, soft mood music, or a lasting peace that would undermine the entire raison d’etre of his wretched little kingdom. Maybe Kim Jong-un wants what he says he wants — (a) missiles, (b) nukes, and (c) South Korea. His scientists were designing (a) and (b) while Obama had stronger sanctions on Belarus and Zimbabwe than against North Korea, while Obama outsourced his North Korea policy to Xi Jinping and made a deliberate choice to let Pyongyang launder the money it used to nuke up through our banks while he waited for Kim Jong-un to want a deal as much as John Kerry did.

Lastly, please don’t try to argue that the running failures of the last three presidencies are Donald Trump’s fault. God knows there are plenty of hideous things you can pin on Donald Trump, but not this one. It makes you look ridiculous, and you’re actually making me feel sympathy for Donald Trump. Kim Jong-un is doing exactly what he would have done if Hillary had won, if Bernie had won, or if Trump had stuffed his face with hamburgers at direct talks that His Porcine Majesty adamantly does not want until he’s safely nuked up and ready to dictate terms to us.

Kim Jong-un did this despite our pre-2016 sham sanctions, despite Obama’s 2012 freeze deal (that it reneged on), despite Bush 2007 denuke deal (that it reneged on) and despite Clinton’s 1994 denuke deal (that it reneged on). He didn’t whip up a missile in a month because Trump said mean things to him. He didn’t call Barack Obama a “wicked black monkey” because Obama said mean things to him, and despite the softest of soft-line policies (if it can be said that Obama had a North Korea policy at all, though Pyongyang still raged about how “hostile” it was). He certainly isn’t threatening South Korea because Moon Jae-in is saying mean things to him.

I’m no defender of Trump’s bellicose tweets, but some of those who blame him for the failures of a quarter-century create the impression of putting tribe over country, regardless of any objective and fair assignment of responsibilities, faults, and historical lessons. Not only are these people persuading me to defend a president I disagree with on numerous matters of style and substance, they’re giving me new reasons to see that on this particular issue, his administration has shown better judgment than the lot of them. The most obvious exception is his Twitter habits, where I’ll give South Park the last word (21 seasons in, they’ve still got it).

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The crocodiles of Pyongyang: A remembrance of Zimbabwe & thoughts on the fall of tyrants http://freekorea.us/2017/11/28/the-crocodiles-of-pyongyang-a-remembrance-of-zimbabwe-thoughts-on-the-fall-of-tyrants/ http://freekorea.us/2017/11/28/the-crocodiles-of-pyongyang-a-remembrance-of-zimbabwe-thoughts-on-the-fall-of-tyrants/#comments Tue, 28 Nov 2017 14:04:48 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26748 The man who terminated the 37-year misrule of Robert Mugabe last week and then took his job is a general named Emmerson Mnangagwa with a history as ominous as his nickname: “the Crocodile.” Long one of Mugabe’s most ruthless cronies, Mnangagwa’s resume includes leading Zimbabwe’s feared Central Intelligence Organization and dispatching the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade to Matabeleland in the early 1980s to wage a pogrom that killed up to 20,000 members of the minority Ndebele tribe. He draws support from the “war veterans,” a ruling-party goon squad that has beaten members of the opposition, violently seized the farms of white Zimbabweans, and redistributed their land to party loyalists. His cause is not the restoration of democracy or the relaxation of repression, but a succession contest between nepotism and cronyism, against Mugabe’s unpopular wife.

Even as the streets of Harare filled with Chinese Type 85 armored personnel carriers, the army swore that it was not carrying out a coup. Whatever you call it, some reports say that Mugabe’s long-time backers in Beijing green-lighted it. But if Mnangagwa wants to replace Mugabe’s dictatorship with his own, the crowds on the streets may have other expectations. They will demand jobs, food, and free elections. The generals could try to suppress them. The Ndebele still despise Mnangagwa for his crimes; his ascendancy could provoke a tribal schism or even civil war. This could all end very badly. So far, however, the coup and the street demonstrations that followed it have been bloodless.

~   ~   ~

As the coup unfolded, I became absorbed in old documentaries about the creation of Zimbabwe and the decline and fall of its predecessor state, Rhodesia. Contemporary prognostications about events we later call “history” fascinate me. They reveal how often the consensus gets it wrong, how badly, and sometimes why. My interest in Zimbabwe is partially a function of its uses and limitations as an analogy to North Korea, but also because it’s is a beautiful country whose people deserved better. 

I visited Zimbabwe for a few days in 1990, at the chronological midpoint between 1965, the year of Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, and Mugabe’s recent fall. The UDI was a white minority’s desperate gambit to protect its supremacy from a rising tide of anarchic decolonization. Three years before the UDI, a young Robert Mugabe gave an interview to Morley Safer in Salisbury, now Harare. Two of the three things that struck me about Mugabe were his extraordinary eloquence and the moderation of his rhetoric.

The third striking thing about Mugabe was the unmistakeable effeminacy of his mannerisms, but only because he would later call gay men “worse than dogs and pigs.” In his younger years, however, Mugabe was obviously charismatic. I can see how he fooled so many people into believing that he was really an inclusive moderate. By 1962, however, he was already the mouthpiece of Joshua Nkomo’s Soviet-aligned Zimbabwe African People’s Union. The following year, he joined a breakaway Maoist faction that called itself the Zimbabwe African National Union. The schism between ZANU and ZAPU was also tribal. Mugabe and ZANU’s other leaders were of the majority Shona tribe; Nkomo and most of his ZAPU supporters were of the minority Ndebele tribe, a northern branch of the Zulu people. (I once spoke a corruption of Zulu well enough to impress Africans, and non-Africans who’ve never heard click sounds; sadly, I forgot most of it long ago.)

After Ian Smith’s Rhodesian government refused to negotiate a return to majority rule, Mugabe and Nkomo formed an uneasy alliance and launched a guerrilla war. China armed and trained ZANU, and both ZANU and ZAPU adopted a Maoist strategy of infiltrating into rural areas to sow insurgency. ZANU did not “look east” or turn to China in response to western sanctions after it took power; it has been in China’s orbit since the early 1960s. One could argue that war was justified; people who are denied any peaceful means to claim their fundamental rights have a right to take up arms to reclaim those rights. But ZANU and ZAPU often fought their just war by unjust means. In the brutal Bush War that followed, they attacked farmers, villagers, and even civilian airliners.

The Rhodesians had the upper hand until 1975, when Portugal withdrew from Angola and Mozambique, and Rhodesia found itself nearly surrounded by guerrilla safe havens. By then, Rhodesia was isolated diplomatically and under crippling oil sanctions. An arms embargo prevented it from rearming itself. Guerrilla attacks taxed the morale and resources of a beleaguered white minority. Rising insecurity in the countryside cost the government revenue it needed to pay for the war effort. In 1979, Margaret Thatcher convinced Smith that he couldn’t hold out. Reluctantly, he agreed to one-man-one-vote elections. A black majority radicalized by civil war and polarized by tribe voted Mugabe and the ZANU into power.

Before she was famous, Samantha Power wrote at length about how Mugabe, for all his early promises of inclusion, moderation, and continuity, quickly consolidated power and gradually wrecked the economy. Not long after his inauguration in 1980, “Good Old Bob” (as the vanquished whites optimistically called him) visited Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang and met his totalitarian exemplar. He returned “a different man,” awed by Kim’s “absolute power and the apparent adoration of the North Korean people.” No one has chronicled the dark history of this “engagement” better than Benjamin Young did for NK News. Mugabe never achieved the same degree of totalitarian control as Kim Il-sung, but he certainly gave it a go: on the very eve of his overthrow, the editorials in his government newspapers could have been ghostwritten by KCNA.

Pyongyang also helped Mugabe subdue his potential rivals, the ZAPU. In the early 1980s, he sent the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade into ZAPU’s Matabeleland stronghold in a brutal campaign called the Gukurahundi. The campaign killed up to 20,000 people, drove Nkomo into exile, and forced ZAPU to accept absorption into the ZANU. To this day, many Zimbabweans loathe North Korea for this, but it may be just what Pyongyang had in mind this week when it boasted of its “unsparing material and spiritual assistance to African nations.”

~  ~  ~

In 1990, when Robert Mugabe had been in power for ten years, I took a temporary job in South Africa. To a kid living on a vast, landlocked prairie, this was an irresistible chance to see the world and witness history. I arrived in Johannesburg three months after Nelson Mandela was released, as the repeal of Apartheid laws and the removal of “white only” signs were daily occurrences. (Apologies for the poor quality of my photography.)

[Johannesburg, May 1990. People dancing in the streets.
They were singing, “He’s free.”]

[Randontein, Transvaal, July 1990. A week before, the empty white spaces on
this sign said, “Whites Only” in English and Afrikaans. I came back
this day and saw that it had just been painted over.]

[Durban, Natal, June 1990. A calm, peaceful, low-key anti-Apartheid protest.
By then
, the protesters were pushing against an open door. Moments after
I took this picture, a friendly policeman offered to take a photo of me
in front of the demonstration. I wish I could find that photo.]

In July, some friends and I decided to drive north across Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls, and then back through Botswana. By then, South Africa was already thick with ex-Rhodesian emigres called “whenwes.” If a whenwe heard you were visiting Zimbabwe, he’d give you plenty of travel tips and some dire warnings, and he might ask you to bring him back a bottle of Mazoe Orange.

The Zimbabwe I saw was a place where the roads were still being fixed, the buses still ran, the children still went to school, and food was still available. It was functional but moribund. There was no new construction, and little seemed to have been built since the end of the war. Conditions were far better than in Zambia or Mozambique, but not as good as in Namibia or Botswana (a small, stable, well-governed country thanks to an unsung hero named Seretse Khama who proved that black majority rule works perfectly well under principled and honest leaders who reject statist ideologies and embrace free markets).

Zimbabwe also showed me how dictatorships crush their people between the hammer of tyrannical efficiency and the anvil of economic inefficiency. Hyperinflation was still a few years away, but the government was propping up the currency with confiscatory exchange rates. Many merchants preferred South African Rand, and the black market knew what the money was really worth.

[The Zimbabwe Dollar in better days. These notes were printed
three years after Mugabe came to power. They were almost worthless in 1990.]

I won’t say whether I smuggled a few South African Rand into Zimbabwe to evade the official exchange rate and the functional confiscation of the money I’d need to make it to Victoria Falls, but I will say that in such a severe police state, this would have been an exceedingly stupid thing to do. Perhaps a person foolish enough to this in his youth shouldn’t have judged poor Otto Warmbier so harshly.

Zimbabwe was also the first place I felt physically afraid of a government. Most people were either cheerfully resigned or suspiciously dour. A few seemed ambitiously despotic. Our route took us through Matabeleland, where the Fifth Brigade had so recently done its gruesome work. The whenwes had warned us that the roads were not safe at night, but we drove them anyway. We’d already wasted too many hours at the Beitbridge border post being searched by suspicious border guards for smuggled Rand until, in their exasperation, they waved us through.

The reward of Victoria Falls more than compensated for this. No photograph or video can do it justice; nor can words describe the experience of seeing it, of hearing it from miles away, of feeling its quaking bass through the soles of one’s feet. It is still the most extraordinary place I’ve ever been. If you’re at work, put in some earbuds or close your door. Then, mute the video and start the audio file I’ve embedded below it. Finally, play the video on a full screen. You’ll thank me later.

We headed west for the Kazangula border post and crossed into Botswana. By then, I expected that things would only get worse in Zimbabwe, and they did. A few years later, amid rising inflation and unemployment, a pro-democracy opposition movement arose. Mugabe blamed the few remaining white farmers for supporting the opposition, appealed to racial hatred, and sent his war veterans out on a campaign of intimidation, confiscation, and murder that drove almost all them into exile. Without one of its main sources of foreign exchange — tobacco exports — Zimbabwe’s economy collapsed. A country that had been a major food exporter slipped into famine. As in North Korea, the regime used the famine to consolidate its hold on power.

The government’s most pervasive form of intimidation is also its most effective: the denial of food. While international aid groups try to feed Zimbabweans in rural areas, city folk must buy their maize and wheat from the sole distributor—the Grain Marketing Board. In order to get food they are often forced to produce a ruling-party membership card or to chant such slogans as “Long live Robert Mugabe!,” “Down with whites!,” and “Down with Morgan Tsvangirai!” Last year the former speaker of the parliament, Didymus Mutasa, stated, “We would be better off with only six million people, with our own people who support the liberation struggle. We don’t want these extra people.” [Samantha Power, The Atlantic]

Mugabe finally ran out of other peoples’ money to steal nationalize, with predictable results.

Later, Zimbabwe gave up on its national currency and adopted the U.S. dollar (by which time, Mugabe and his top cronies, including his wife and The Crocodile, were blocked out of the dollar system for political repression and stealing elections). Apparently, no one in Mugabe’s government knew about Gresham’s Law. As soon as the banks had U.S. dollars, Zimbabweans rushed to withdraw and hoard them. When the government rationed withdrawals, people slept in the streets near banks just get to the teller’s window before the cash ran out each morning. Last year, the government printed low-denomination “bond notes” pegged to the dollar. Two months ago, a dollar bond note was worth just 80 U.S. cents, and the government threatened to arrest merchants who charged higher bond note prices.

Zimbabwe lost plenty to Robert Mugabe — three million people, at least half of its economy, and 95 percent of its jobs — but at least it still has North Korea. In recent years, Mugabe sold the Pyongyang Zoo two baby elephants (at $10,000 each) and other animals. He sent his congratulations for North Korea’s missile tests. Other commercial ties to Pyongyang may or may not have been strictly legal (see pages 16 and 24). Mugabe even chose the now-U.N. designated Mansudae Overseas Projects Group to build a statue of Joshua Nkomo for $5 million. Zimbabweans who remembered North Korea’s role in the massacre of Nkomo’s alleged supporters were outraged. In September, the U.N. Panel of Experts asked Harare to come clean on its dealings with Mansudae and threatened to designate the local companies that dealt with it. Shortly before Mugabe’s overthrow, the government promised to “investigate.”

You don’t have to embrace the Crocodile to see his coup as a potential opportunity to influence events for the better. The new regime has an interest in delivering a better standard of living. To deliver that, it needs foreign investors to return, and to induce investors to return, it must first reassure them that it won’t confiscate their investments, and that Zimbabwe will be safe and stable. Investors will want Harare to get sanctions lifted and avoid doing anything to invite more of them. That gives the U.S., Japan, Britain, and Europe leverage. We can send humanitarian aid, offer technical help to get industry back on its feet, and dangle the prospect of improved trade relations. In exchange, we should demand economic, political, and legal reforms. We should also demand the expulsion of the North Koreans and (as UNSCR 1718 requires) the seizure of any property of designated entities like Mansudae.

~   ~   ~

The limits to Zimbabwe’s utility as an analogy to North Korea should be obvious. Mugabe could never build a personality cult like Kim Il-sung did. Zimbabwe’s British parliamentary system and judiciary retain enough self-respect to maintain their procedural roles. The elites can travel abroad or emigrate. Last year, there were large anti-Mugabe protests. The state press gives North Korea’s a run for its money, but state censorship of opposition media has relaxed in recent years, and Zimbabwean newspapers and websites reflect a variety of viewpoints.

Still, most Zimbabweans may be more isolated than this evidence suggests. Although Zimbabwe claims a high literacy rate, many of its poor still have only a primary school education. The economic crisis drove many teachers out of the country. Outside the cities, few people speak English. High unemployment means that few of people have meaningful access to uncensored media or the time to consume it. Mugabe might have concluded that so few people would read the opposition press that relaxing censorship posed little real risk to his rule. And in any event, no vote could ever restrain him.

So, despite the limitations of Zimbabwe as an analogy, does Mugabe’s fall offer any lessons for North Korea watchers? I think it does, despite those limitations.

1. Engagement with Pyongyang only ends well for Pyongyang. It does not end well for foreign investors, for gullible reporters, for South Koreans, or for Africans. It never changes Pyongyang for the better, and sooner or later, it infects the engager with Pyongyang’s repressive and corrupt ways. Africans should remember Zimbabwe’s experience, where Pyongyang’s influence cost thousands of innocent Africans their lives.

2. A change of government will end as well or as badly as the political culture it arises from. The unaccountable, statist, and Maoist ideology of the ZANU-PF made its descent into Big Man totalitarianism, corruption, and famine inevitable, just as Seretse Khama’s commitment to openness, democracy, and free markets helped the desert country of Botswana, Zimbabwe’s neighbor to the west, achieve the highest Human Development Index in sub-Saharan Africa, including highly industrialized South Africa.

[Human Development Index comparison]

Like Botswana, Zimbabwe has large deposits of diamonds and platinum. Unlike Botswana, Zimbabwe’s deposits sit underutilized because of political risk, poor infrastructure, uneven energy supplies, and government meddling. In January, the government foreclosed on a swath of platinum leases. In May, it took control of the diamond mines (Mugabe and his cronies were already stealing the profits). Why does the “resource curse” afflict Zimbabwe and not Botswana? For the same reason it afflicts Angola, which has diamonds and oil, a much lower HDI, and a Marxist government. This does not bode well for Zimbabwe. Its statist kleptocracy won’t change as long as its government and people see confiscation and redistribution as the answer to whatever ails them. It needs a popular constituency for government accountability, individual rights, property rights, and the rule of law. That constituency won’t be built overnight.

For the same reason, a Choe Ryong-hae regime would probably behave like a muted form of the current one until a constituency arises to demand a less confiscatory and more accountable government. The question is whether the downfall of Kim Jong-un would unleash changes that would allow such a constituency to form. My sense is that North Koreans have a far better-developed sense of what they’re against than of what they’re for. Of course, there are things we could do to help change that. It’s all a question of resources, time, will, and vision.

3. To have an enduring influence on events, one must have an enduring influence on a people.

4. Once a tyrant falls, the flow of history seldom confines itself to the channels laid out by those who engineer it. Revolutions become what they unleash. They tend to unleash grievances of sect, race, class, and tribe because tyrannies incubate those grievances. Spain’s coup in 1936 unleashed class grievances; the 2003 invasion of Iraq unleashed sectarian grievances; and the 2011 popular uprising in Syria unleashed grievances of sect, tribe, and ideology. In each case, civil war followed. The ZANU and ZAPU radicalized rural Zimbabweans during a brutal civil war. Mugabe maintained his power (and destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy) by exploiting racial, tribal, and class grievances that Mnangagwa will not easily contain. The people have taken to the streets, and he has much to lose if he turns his guns on them.

5. It takes force to oust a tyrant. Mugabe maintained the appearance of democracy, but this was a sham. By the time his popularity waned, his control over the army was secure and the opposition wasn’t a real threat to him. When the people voted against him, he falsified the results. When they didn’t support his new constitution, he ignored the result. His place was secure as long as the generals’ interests aligned with his own. He would have died in office if he hadn’t tried to pass them over and install his wife as his successor.

6. Tyrants alienate their generals at their own peril. A North Korea watcher might cast an cast an envious glance at how a succession struggle between Grace Mugabe and the Crocodile — and a suspicious case of food poisoning — escalated into a rift and rumors of a purge, and may have forced the hands of the army and the war veterans. I give Kremlinology sourced to Korea’s National Intelligence Service only an even chance of being true, but NIS-sourced reports over the last two weeks claim that Kim Jong-un has either reprimanded, demoted, or purged two of his top minions, Hwang Pyong-so and Kim Won-hong, possibly at the instigation of Choe Ryong-hae. (Two years ago, Choe was also reported to have been purged, only to return stronger than ever, so take the new reports with a grain of salt.) There may also be a wider “inspection” of the military underway. True or not, Hwang and Kim (and Choe) saw what happened to Jang Song-thaek. They face far higher stakes than The Crocodile, whether they take the risk of moving against Kim Jong-un or wait patiently for their turn to face the guns.

7. No single factor brings a tyrant down by itself. Rhodesia might have survived sanctions, but it could not survive the combination of diplomatic isolation, oil sanctions, an arms embargo, declining tourist revenue, Chinese and Soviet support for ZANU and ZAPU, and the collapse of colonial governments all around it. Mugabe’s demise resulted from a combination of self-inflicted economic wounds, capital flight, foreign sanctions, diplomatic isolation, an exodus of the educated, and a failure to plan an orderly succession despite his advanced age. In each case, a small ruling elite acted in its own interests after concluding that the status quo was unsustainable. In each case, the elites sought to engineer a controlled descent to protect their own interests. Historically, more of these plotters crash more than land.

8. A resistance movement that cannot defeat a state militarily can still defeat it diplomatically, economically, and thus politically, by denying it essential external support, and by breaking or dividing the resolve of its oligarchy. Such was the case with the ZANU and ZAPU guerrilla war, and with the Nicaraguan insurgency, which forced a free election that brought a democratic opposition to power.

The best plausible outcome for North Korea may well be a coup d’etat. It is both a paradox and historically natural that liberating change can begin when a cabal of ruthless and undemocratic men seizes power. This happens when they conclude that the tyrant whose bidding they’ve done is leading them to ruin or represents a threat to their survival. As with the Soviet Union in 1991, they may think he’s changing too much, too fast. As some historians now suspect of Stalin’s demise, the plotters may feel that they’re next to be purged. As with Rhodesia, they may see that sanctions are depriving them of the means to feed the soldiers, police, and civil servants; and to maintain control of the countryside. As with South Africa in 1990, they may feel the world is closing in — that the loss of exterior financial and diplomatic support, combined with the spread of subversive information, is costing it the support of both the elites and the downtrodden. And if we can see evidence of a constituency for change outside Pyongyang, surely the crocodiles can see it, too.

In taking the risk of removing Kim Jong-un, the crocodiles could unleash forces that would overflow the confines of their own ambitions. We should hope so. They aren’t any less tyrannical or ruthless than Kim Jong-un, but they might be less impulsive and more pragmatic, and won’t have the awe of dynastic rule behind them. The greater the external pressures and internal demands for change, the more pragmatic they’re likely to be. We should also be ready to be pragmatic, including by offering assurances that in a reunified Korea, they would be given some degree of clemency for their crimes and their children would have promising futures. Elements of this may be difficult to accept, but it may be the only way.

The right policies and the right information strategies can do much to catalyze these sentiments. To argue that any one element of that policy (information operations, sanctions, or diplomatic isolation) will not do it alone is as true — and as irrelevant — as arguing that a case of food poisoning did not bring down Robert Mugabe. Pyongyang’s military strength can no longer mask its political and financial weaknesses. Those are the weaknesses we should seek to exploit.

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Treasury Dep’t hits Sun Sidong, N. Korea’s maritime smuggling & mineral exports http://freekorea.us/2017/11/27/treasury-dept-hits-sun-sidong-n-koreas-maritime-smuggling-mineral-exports/ http://freekorea.us/2017/11/27/treasury-dept-hits-sun-sidong-n-koreas-maritime-smuggling-mineral-exports/#respond Mon, 27 Nov 2017 12:21:20 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26936 Here at OFK, we’ve chronicled a curious fact that few professional foreign policy scholars have noticed: China is opposed to unilateral sanctions, except when it isn’t. Last week — barely a week after President Trump returned from Beijing — he gave Xi Jinping something to oppose.

OFAC designated Dandong Kehua Economy & Trade Co., Ltd., Dandong Xianghe Trading Co., Ltd., and Dandong Hongda Trade Co. Ltd. pursuant to E.O. 13810. Between January 1, 2013 and August 31, 2017, these three companies cumulatively exported approximately $650 million worth of goods to North Korea and cumulatively imported more than $100 million worth of goods from North Korea. These goods have included notebook computers, anthracite coal, iron, iron ore, lead ore, zinc ore, silver ore, lead, and ferrous products.

OFAC designated Sun Sidong and his company, Dandong Dongyuan Industrial Co., Ltd. (Dongyuan), pursuant to E.O. 13810. Sun and Dongyuan were responsible for exporting over $28 million worth of goods to North Korea over several years, including motor vehicles, electrical machinery, radio navigational items, aluminum, iron, pipes, and items associated with nuclear reactors. Dongyuan has also been associated with front companies for weapons of mass destruction-related North Korean organizations. [Treasury Dep’t Press Release]

All told, last week’s designations include four Chinese companies, one Chinese individual, seven North Korean shipping or trading companies, two North Korean government agencies, and 20 North Korean ships. Most of the designations target North Korea’s shipping industry, and OFAC, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, even included photographs of North Korean ships doing ship-to-ship transfers of oil, in violation of UNSCR 2375, paragraph 11. If I had to guess, I’d guess that those photographs were taken by a spy satellite.

Treasury did not name the other ship or its nationality; however, in testimony at the House Foreign Affairs Committee in September, Treasury Assistant Secretary Marshall Billingslea showed other photographs “provided by the intelligence community” and named the ships, the flag states, and their destination ports (in China and Russia, of course).

The designation of the North Korean entities suggests that Treasury is pursuing a phased strategy. In the first phase, Treasury blacklists North Korean entities to put third-country companies, insurers, and banks on notice to avoid doing any business involving them. Treasury is still years behind the U.N. Panel of Experts, however, in naming the various persons and entities known to be involved in violating North Korea sanctions. Although a person designated by OFAC can sue to challenge the designation, the courts would apply a deferential standard and uphold any designation supported by “substantial evidence.” In most cases, the U.N. Panel’s careful and thorough work, including its annexes, would be more than sufficient to meet that standard.

Take, for example, the case of one of Treasury’s designations, the North Korean Maritime Administration. The U.N. Panel of Experts had recommended its designation in its most recent report, in September, for helping U.N.-designated North Korean arms smuggler Ocean Maritime Management evade sanctions. I’ve pasted the relevant text from the POE’s report below the “continue reading” link.

The next phase will require Treasury to hit some third-country targets to sever that business and warn others of the consequences of breaking that boycott. In the case of the Sun Sidong network, we’ve reached that second phase. Sun’s network first came to our attention last August, when a leaked U.N. report revealed that the Egyptian authorities had found a large shipment of PG-7 rocket-propelled grenades aboard a Chinese-flagged merchant ship, the Jie Shun, at the southern end of the Suez Canal. At the time, I’d guessed the rockets were headed for Syria, but the Washington Post later reported that the customer was none other than Egypt itself.

By June of this year, the Center for Advanced Defense Studies had pursued the POE’s clues and traced the ownership and control of the Jie Shun back to a Chinese national named Sun Sidong.

It then released a remarkable report that not only exposed Sun’s network, it effectively mapped out most of North Korea’s money laundering network in China. C4ADS found that this network was “centralized, limited, and vulnerable” to sanctions. Sun and his companies account for a large portion of that network.

For example, one of its subsidiaries, Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Materials Company, was until recently the single largest purchaser of North Korean coal.

“These companies will have a tough time continuing operations as even Chinese banks will increase scrutiny of their transactions, if not completely cut them off,” Anthony Ruggiero, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told NK News.

“These actions continue the narrative on the problem China has in Dandong and Dalian, something Treasury highlighted in its advisory where it noted the activities of Chinese banks and companies working with North Korea.” [NK News, Leo Byrne]

Last week’s designations are not the feds’ first strike on the Sun Sidong network. In August, the Justice Department filed a civil forfeiture complaint against DZMM. Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sun was under investigation by the FBI, so it may not be the last strike, either.

One other company, the Korea South-South Cooperation Corporation, was designated for slave labor exports to “China, Russia, Cambodia, and Poland.” Technically speaking, UNSCR 2375 permits member states to allow labor contracts with North Korea to expire, but in this case, Treasury is telling the parties to those transactions to keep them out of the dollar system.

Although the designations came one day after President Trump announced that North Korea would be returned to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, the designations are not directly related to North Korea’s recent sponsorship of terrorism. It would not surprise me, however, to see future designations of North Korean nationals under Executive Order 13224. The President has indicated that we’ll see more designations soon.

President Donald Trump, in announcing Monday his administration’s decision to designate North Korea as state sponsor of terrorism, indicated that additional sanctions measures were on the way. “It will be the highest level of sanctions by the time it’s finished over a two-week period,” Mr. Trump said. [WSJ, Felicia Schwartz]

The designations also tell us a few things about the role of China in enforcing these sanctions. First, although I’d feared that Trump would get hoodwinked by Xi Jinping in Beijing and ease off on secondary sanctions, it’s clear that he hasn’t eased up entirely. It’s also clear that the visit by a Chinese emissary to Pyongyang, which was much ballyhooed on Twitter (including by the President himself) achieved exactly as much as I’d expected (bupkes). By now, all wizened Korea-watchers either know or should know that the words “great expectations,” “diplomat,” and “Pyongyang” can only be assembled into transitory delusions.

We soon learned that when Xi Jinping’s messenger showed up, His Porcine Majesty was conveniently out of town looking at things. No doubt, Xi is unhappy with both Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un now. But he’d have no reason to be unhappy with us now if he enforced the sanctions his government voted for at the U.N.

More on the designations via The Wall Street Journal and Reuters.

~   ~   ~

Update: Hmmm:

The Chinese government unexpectedly arrested the head of a major company operating cargo ships linking North Korea and China, which the United States had designated as an entity subject to its independent sanctions, a joint investigation by The Dong-A Ilbo and Channel A found on Sunday. Beijing is reportedly conducting far-reaching investigation of all companies engaged in trade with North Korea, as well as Chinese firms and individuals Washington included in the list of entities subject to its independent sanctions since this past summer, and is taking disciplinary action if illegal acts are detected.

According to informed sources on North Korea, the Chinese government arrested a man identified by his last name Jin, head of Dalian Global Unity Shipping, and is probing him in a location other than Dalian. Jin, a Korean Chinese, is an entrepreneur widely known in the field who is almost monopolizing shipping service linking Dalian and North Korea. Since his arrest, the operation of all the vessels linking Dalian and North Korea has been suspended. The measure is reportedly putting heavy pressure on North Korea, with the North’s export to China having been halted. [Dong-a Ilbo]

Dalian Global Unity isn’t part of the current round of designations; it was added to the SDN List back in June.

Finally, OFAC designated Dalian Global Unity Shipping Co., Ltd. (Dalian Global Unity) pursuant to E.O. 13722 for operating in the transportation industry in the North Korean economy. Dalian Global Unity is reported to transport 700,000 tons of freight annually, including coal and steel products, between China and North Korea. According to the 2013 report by the UN Panel of Experts on North Korea, Dalian Global Unity was actively involved in eight cases of luxury goods smuggling incidents and is suspected of involvement in at least one other case. Middlemen from Dalian Global Unity gave specific instructions about how shipments and transactions could evade the UN-mandated luxury goods ban. [U.S. Treasury Dep’t]

Remember the ten-week rule: never celebrate any apparent Chinese compliance with North Korea sanctions until it has been in effect for at least ten weeks.

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Dramatic video shows North Korean soldier’s defection; doctor says he will survive http://freekorea.us/2017/11/22/dramatic-video-shows-n-korean-soldiers-defection-doctor-says-he-will-survive/ http://freekorea.us/2017/11/22/dramatic-video-shows-n-korean-soldiers-defection-doctor-says-he-will-survive/#comments Wed, 22 Nov 2017 13:39:09 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26819 The U.N. Command, which stands face-to-face with the Korean People’s Army (NKPA) at the Korean DMZ, has released footage of the defection last week of an NKPA soldier right through the so-called-but-not-really-that-at-all Joint Security Area, or JSA:

The video shows the soldier, who may have been the driver for an NKPA general, hauling ass toward the JSA in what looks like a UAZ-469 (update: or, maybe not). The soldier slows as he approaches a North Korean checkpoint, then runs it as other soldiers briefly chase him on foot.

Even more dramatic sequences show him trying to drive across the Military Demarcation Line, getting stuck, and bailing and making a run for it with four NKPA soldiers just a few feet behind him, guns blazing. You can see one of the NKPA soldiers cross the MDL, realize his predicament, and turn back. I can’t read lips, but I’m pretty sure those lips were saying, “Ai, shippal!” Finally, after a too-long delay, possibly to await instructions, two very courageous ROK soldiers are seen crawling out and dragging him to safety.

I’d planned to do some embedded time-stops of the video until I saw this must-read post by David Choi, who giffed each sequence so well that I’ll just send you to his post and use what time I have left to make some other points. Not surprisingly, the UNC calls this an Armistice violation.

[If only we had a peace treaty for them to violate.]

Clearly, the NKPA keeps a decent arsenal of AKs in the JSA, despite the fact they aren’t supposed to have them there. A Very Angry Letter is certain to follow. You will recall that the release of the video was delayed at least once, leading some right-of-center newspapers to claim that the Moon administration either didn’t want to embarrass the North Koreans, didn’t want to be forced to send a Very Angry Letter, or didn’t want to fuel criticism of the ROK response to the incident.

I don’t blame the ROKs for holding their fire under these circumstances. The NKPA soldier’s crossing was clearly a mistake made in the heat of the moment and not worth the risk of escalation. I’m more critical of the time it took for the command to authorize the ROK soldiers to rescue the wounded soldier. Thank God the poor kid didn’t bleed to death as he lay there for more than 20 minutes with all those holes in him. The NKPA was clearly better prepared to shoot him than the good guys were to save him.

By the way, is it just me or do those NKPA soldiers look really worried about what’s going to happen to them after the incident? Watch their body language in the video.

The North Korean soldier — the Korean papers have reported that he was a Staff Sergeant, and his surname may been Oh — seems to be on the mend, despite his infestation with intestinal parasites (probably a result of His Porcine Majesty’s on-the-spot guidance to fertilize crops with human shit, because fertilizer costs money he needs for other priorities).


I sure hope that’s true. I want this young man to live — not just survive, but live. The Chosun Ilbo reports that he’s talking and breathing on his own, and Reuters has the most encouraging words — from his doctor.

“He is fine,” lead surgeon Lee Cook-Jong said at a press conference in Suwon. “He is not going to die.” [….]

Doctors conducted a series of surgeries on the critically wounded soldier, and now say they believe he will recover, despite continued risks of infection.

“Patient requires intensive care, detailed tests and observation as there is a chance his condition may worsen due to infections of his bullet wounds,” the hospital said in a statement.

The soldier show signs of depression and possible trauma, in addition to a serious case of parasites that has complicated his treatment, the hospital said. [Reuters]

But he’s going to have to live without a gall bladder and a piece of his lung. Incidentally, if you aren’t following the excellent “Noon in Korea” Twitter timeline, you really should be.

The young man is understandably traumatized by what he’s been through.

But there is also an inspiring part of our story.

“The soldier has regained consciousness and he requested to watch television,” the government official said on condition of anonymity. “For the soldier’s psychological comfort, we’ve shown the patient South Korean movies and he has recovered enough to watch television.”

[….]

“The defector is able to express his thoughts to medical staff,” the official said. “At this moment, we think that the patient has overcome a serious condition.”

To help stabilize the soldier’s psychological condition, medical staff have apparently hung the South Korean national flag in his hospital room, according to the official.

“The defector is suffering from fear and heavy stress from the gunshots that wounded him,” the official said. “To give psychological comfort that he is in South Korea, the medical staff apparently placed the South Korean flag in the patient’s room and are also treating him through psychotherapy.” [Yonhap]

Remember a few weeks ago when KCNA had a histrionic fit over a small, little-noticed North Korean human rights film festival in Seoul? I don’t think KCNA expends perfectly good adjectives ranting about things that don’t represent a threat to the completion of its plans, or to the stability of its political system. Pyongyang takes culture and propaganda so seriously because these things are structurally essential pillars that hold this regime up.

The fact that Staff Sergeant Oh’s first requests were for TV and (according to some sources I’ve seen) k-pop tell you plenty about the power of culture. So does the fact that Pyongyang has raised the penalties for possession of South Korean media. Soft power is power. We ought to be using that power to talk to the NKPA soldiers about who is denying them their right to happiness. We should be harnessing the power of culture to promote peace, starting with the men whose fingers are on the triggers.

In conclusion, this is an isolated incident that says nothing about the stability of this regime whatsoever. It is totally isolated, except for the defection of the soldier who was training to be a palace guard, or those two other line-crossers from June, or all of these other incidents. Things like this happen all the time in perfectly stable regimes, because if history has taught us anything, regimes that look stable, are.

Yes, I know: inexplicably, a few isolated ingrates don’t adore their leaders. They don’t appreciate their generous handfuls of dry corn kernels, the beatings by their officers, the constant risk of contracting (untreated) TB or intestinal parasites, or their enforced celibacy (unless they’re being raped, which they’d appreciate even less). Today, cross-DMZ defections, which were a rarity until recently, now happen at the rate of about once every six weeks. But if I know anything, I know this doesn’t mean anything.

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Most journalists still have no clue why Trump listed N. Korea as sponsor of terrorism yesterday http://freekorea.us/2017/11/21/most-journalists-still-have-no-clue-why-trump-listed-n-korea-as-sponsor-of-terrorism-yesterday/ http://freekorea.us/2017/11/21/most-journalists-still-have-no-clue-why-trump-listed-n-korea-as-sponsor-of-terrorism-yesterday/#comments Tue, 21 Nov 2017 14:03:43 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26782 Yes, the news coverage of President Trump’s decision to put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism was lazy and terible, but not in the ways I expected it to be.

So far, thankfully, I’ve read relatively little of the junk analysis I expected denying the extensive evidence of Pyongyang’s sponsorship of terrorism, even if some reporters were obviously winging it. Bloomberg’s reporters, for example, clearly hadn’t researched North Korea’s history of terrorism, remembered the Kim Jong-nam assassination, decided that a Google search was too much work, and quit there.

Not one article I read yesterday mentioned that Pyongyang kidnapped the Reverend Kim Dong-shik from China to North Korea and murdered him, for which a U.S. Court of Appeals found it legally liable. No one mentioned the assassination of Patrick Kim in China, or attempts on the lives of Hwang Jang-yop or Park Sang-hak, or the other examples I cited in my report. No one has ever gotten to the bottom of the axe-murder of Pastor Han Chung-ryeol. Hardly anyone even mentioned the threats that shut down “The Interview” and aborted the Steven Carell project “Pyongyang.” I saw one allusion to Pyongyang’s sale of arms to Hamas and/or Hezbollah, but no specific descriptions of it. All of these are facts of public interest to our North Korea policy.

In the end, it’s the administration that will have to explain its decision. It hinted yesterday at new sanctions today. Maybe we’ll see that explanation soon. I hope it’s a detailed bill of particulars.

Critics who knew they had no basis to oppose Trump’s decision substantively questioned the timing instead. To these people, of course, there’s never a good time to hold Pyongyang accountable for, say, using a weapon of mass destruction in a crowded airport terminal.

But the timing was a matter of law. After the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, Congress passed the KIMS Act, section 324 of which set a 90-day deadline for the Secretary of State to decide whether North Korea meets the legal criteria under section 6(j). I’ve already seen multiple examples of “experts” and journalists who asserted themselves as authorities on this subject, raised the question of timing, and apparently had no idea of the legal background to the question they raised.

President Trump flew off to Asia having missed his deadline to answer the question of whether Pyongyang sponsors terrorism. His deadline was October 31st. He understandably stretched that deadline for a few weeks while he met with his counterparts in Japan, South Korea, and China first (although I think he missed a great P.R. opportunity by failing to announce it in Japan, surrounded by the families of those abducted by North Korea). Some Trump critics — Trump critics, including me, have expressed the fear that the Constitution and the rule of law won’t contain him without “guardrails” — suggested that in this case, he should have ignored a deadline set by a nearly unanimous Congress. Or hidden his negative response behind a classified annex, which would have been a dangerous abuse of the classification authority. Or continued with the State Department’s Orwellian denials of Pyongyang’s culpability. One wonders how they’d have reacted to Trump flouting a law they agreed with.

As for the answer to the question itself, three federal courts have already answered it in the affirmative. There’s only one right answer. Had Trump answered in the negative, Congress would have excoriated his administration. The State Department’s already abysmal credibility in Congress would have collapsed. There would have been hearings and more reporting requirements. The President would have been embarrassed in a way that he appears unwilling to withstand: he would have looked weak.

Others asked why now, given North Korea’s missile testing pause? But this “pause” probably means nothing more than the fact that North Korea’s soldiers are either engaged in their annual training cycles or are out stealing corn from the farmers — the evidence of which is worth a post in itself. Pyongyang’s language, which soft-liners parse and play up when they see cherries to pick, has never been more belligerent. Wasn’t it only yesterday when KCNA threatened to murder the President?

Discuss among yourselves.

Pyongyang has also been on a belligerent streak against the soft-line government in Seoul, for those who think our tone matters.

For now, there is no opportunity to talk to Pyongyang about anything except our lifting of sanctions or our acceptance of its nuclear status. Talks on those terms don’t serve our interests and could only do them grave harm.

What may be confusing our judgment is Trump himself. We allow our judgments of some of his bad policies, or of the terrible way he communicates, to cloud our judgment of his other policies. In the case of North Korea, those policies appear to be under the sway of more serious-minded advisors in the White House, the State Department, the Treasury Department, and the intelligence community. These advisors are helping Trump do what the Obama and Bush administrations were incapable of doing — confronting a grave threat and making hard decisions. I understand that Trump challenges everyone’s objectivity, but North Korea policy is too urgent a matter for us to judge according to our tribal gag reflexes. This time, President Trump made the right call.

~   ~   ~

Update: Oh, so you want some examples? Why not start with the single worst journalist covering North Korea for any medium today?

Yonhap’s coverage was as biased and as lacking in useful information as I’ve come to expect of it since the Korean election, and to the New York Times‘s Choe Sang-hun, it was all about dashing his own illusory hope for talks that Pyongyang doesn’t share. A good rule of thumb for New York Times reporting on Korea is that if a Times reporter wrote it, it’s “analysis” based on a weighted selection of the facts. If it’s really news, a wire service reporter wrote it.

In most other cases, the reporting simply didn’t do a very good job of explaining the issue to readers. Maybe the administration will give them an assist today. The coverage quickly drifted to how the decision would affect the prospect for negotiations, without mentioning that Pyongyang refuses to discuss denuclearization anyway.

As for the common “mostly symbolic” cliche, this began as a State Department talking point when it was flatly false. It has since been promoted to a half-truth by an exasperated Congress that imposed many of the same sanctions legislatively. I’ve already addressed the legal consequences of SSOT plenty of times (see here, here, and page 26) but what all of this discussion misses is that symbols are powerful things, and that perceptions are realities in the financial industry. A lack of strong public messaging has long been a key weakness of our North Korea sanctions effort. A modest clarification and tightening of sanctions, combined with a loud and clear public message, may seem merely symbolic to a journalist or even to a lawyer, but it’s powerfully symbolic to a banker in Hong Kong, a fund manager in New York, an insurer in London, a shipper in Dalian, or a diplomat from Luanda. Nirmal Ghosh of the Straits Times gets that, but he might be the only one who does.

Update 2: Also well worth reading is Benjamin Young’s paper on North Korea’s support for “non-state actors.”

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S. Korean Unification Minister: Hey, maybe Kim Jong-un would use his nukes to reunify Korea under his rule http://freekorea.us/2017/11/20/s-korean-unification-minister-hey-maybe-kim-jong-un-would-use-his-nukes-to-trying-to-reunify-korea-under-his-rule/ http://freekorea.us/2017/11/20/s-korean-unification-minister-hey-maybe-kim-jong-un-would-use-his-nukes-to-trying-to-reunify-korea-under-his-rule/#respond Mon, 20 Nov 2017 14:03:04 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26770 Atypically, the most unserious person in a left-wing Korean administration turns out not to be its Unification Minister. In an interview with Jonathan Cheng, the Wall Street Journal’s Seoul Bureau Chief, Cho Myoung-gyon concedes that Pyongyang may indeed have grander ambitions than defending itself against the Yankee hordes:

Mr. Cho also said that he was alarmed by increasing signals that North Korea sees its nuclear arsenal as a way to achieve its decades-old dream of unifying the Korean Peninsula under Pyongyang’s leadership. “Now that they are at the completion phase, they are coming up with new rhetoric that they haven’t been emphasizing for a long time, like unifying the peninsula under a socialist regime,” he said. Mr. Cho dismissed those aims as absurd. “I can say strongly and clearly that the unification that North Korea wants will never happen,” he said.

There is a rising debate in policy circles in Washington and Seoul about Pyongyang’s ultimate aims as it hones the ability to threaten the U.S. with a miniaturized nuclear device mounted onto a long-range missile. Some scholars and policy analysts fear that the North will use its nuclear arsenal to threaten South Korea and the U.S. into making concessions that it has long sought, such as ending annual joint U.S.-South Korean military drills and removing U.S. troops from South Korea.

That in turn could be a prelude to a war with South Korea, said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute think tank, who argues that the primary goal of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program is to reunify the peninsula under Kim Jong Un. “A North Korea with nukes will become more aggressive towards a South without nukes,” Mr. Cheong said. Pyongyang’s threats to target Washington with nuclear weapons could deter the U.S. from engaging in any conflict on the peninsula, he said. [WSJ]

But don’t worry, he says. It will never happen.

If you won’t take it from me or from Professor Myers, then take it from Thae Yong-ho. The first implication of this is that even a “small” nuclear arsenal in North Korea represents an unacceptable threat of nuclear blackmail, to say nothing of proliferation. The second implication is that simply accepting North Korea as a nuclear state — as The Blob whose advice got us to this point now counsels us to do — isn’t the end of this crisis, it’s the beginning of a far more grave one.

We cannot live with a nuclear North Korea because it will not live with us.

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Singapore’s trade ban with North Korea yields more questions than answers http://freekorea.us/2017/11/17/singapores-trade-ban-with-north-korea-yields-more-questions-than-answers/ http://freekorea.us/2017/11/17/singapores-trade-ban-with-north-korea-yields-more-questions-than-answers/#respond Fri, 17 Nov 2017 14:05:21 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26757 At first glance, this looks like the State Department’s biggest coup yet in its campaign of progressive diplomacy against Pyongyang.

“Singapore will prohibit all commercially traded goods from, or to, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” the city-state’s customs said in the notice sent to traders and declaring agents last Tuesday, referring to the country by its official name.

The suspension would take effect from Nov. 8, Fauziah A. Sani, head of trade strategy and security for the director-general of customs, said in the notice. [Reuters]

The first question is what this means. NK News adds the useful detail that this order will ban all commercial trade, “regardless of whether [it is] imported, exported, transhipped or brought in transit through Singapore.”

If this means anything, it will help end a brisk trade in prohibited luxury goods of the kind that fill elite shops in Pyongyang while people in the outer provinces barely survive. NK Pro’s remarkable investigation into OCN (S) Pte, Limited’s luxury good exports to Pyongyang, in partnership with Bureau 39, is behind a very high paywall, but it’s well worth reading if you can afford a subscription. If you can’t, this story or this one will give you the gist of it (see also). I’d think that this would end the role of Pan Systems Singapore as a middleman in the trade in components for Glocom’s wares, but someone should get a clear answer to that question.

For years, Singapore’s regulation implementing the U.N.’s North Korea sanctions was several resolutions out of date. Since then, Singapore has done a better job of keeping its regulation updated. Reuters describes Singapore as North Korea’s seventh-largest trading partner, but exporters like OCN, who want to avoid legal scrutiny, may claim a different country of destination for their merchandise. Be skeptical of any official trade statistics about North Korea.

The reports Singapore filed with the U.N. this year and last year on its implementation of North Korea sanctions suggest that Singapore already had tight export controls, and was already enforcing U.N. resolutions requiring the inspection of cargo going to and from North Korea. We now know that this wasn’t true. Just before NK News blew the whistle on OCN, Singapore told the U.N. that it had “completed its review and update of its existing list of luxury goods prohibited for transfer to” North Korea. In 2016, the U.S. offered to assist Singapore with a cargo monitoring system to detect exports of prohibited goods. Clearly, Singapore could use that help.

There is also the question of what this new ban does not cover. After all, Singapore’s main importance for North Korea isn’t as a direct trading partner, but as a hub for laundering its money and registering its front companies. Yet on its face, Singapore is only banning the trade in “goods.” It has said nothing about services.

The DPRK’s Jinmyong Joint Bank also operates a branch in Singapore, while a brochure for Pyongyang’s First Credit Bank claimed it has had ” a joint venture agreement with Singapore for 50 years.”

The U.S. Department of the Treasury in late August designated two Singapore-based companies – Transatlantic Partners and Velmur Management – for links to the North Korean state. [NK News, Dagyum Ji]

In 2013, the Burmese opposition website The Irrawaddy, citing unnamed businessmen, reported that a Burmese general designated by the Treasury Department and linked to the North Korea arms trade, and who visited North Korea in 2008 to seek help with Burma’s ballistic missile program, “may have opened several bank accounts in Singapore in past years in order to help Burma’s military sort out international arms deals.” It noted that “[t]he fact that many of the generals were on a US sanctions list has not hindered their opportunities to visit and do business in Singapore.”

We learned more about North Korea’s money laundering and front companies in Singapore from the Glocom case, from the Velmur forfeiture case, from the U.N.’s investigation of the Chinpo Shipping case, and from Chinpo’s appeal of the fine levied on it. Singapore’s implementation reports claim that it has complied with the U.N. asset freeze provision, but China’s interference and the inefficiency of the 1718 Committee — which still hasn’t even designated Glocom — means that relatively few North Korean entities are designated.

UNSCR 2270 bans direct and indirect correspondent services for North Korean banks, and UNSCR 2371 bans joint ventures with North Korea. If Singapore enforces the resolutions as written — and if its local bank branches know what’s good for them — they ought to shut Pan Systems, any other North Korean joint ventures, and all of their bank accounts.

Singapore also exports other services to North Korea. In 2015, NK News reported that a Singapore firm was building a department store for the elites in Pyongyang. U.N. resolutions do not prohibit the provision of construction services or materials to North Korea, but deals in non-sanctioned goods and services sometimes involve a sanctioned North Korean entity as a partner.

Singapore says it will not end diplomatic relations with North Korea. That’s within the Singapore government’s discretion, but UNSCR 2321 calls on all states to reduce the number of staff at North Korean embassies and require them to limit those staffers to one bank account each. Implementation reports filed by Singapore say nothing about compliance with those provisions. Singapore has warned its citizens against tourist travel to North Korea. Last year, it also ended visa-free entry by North Koreans.

The ultimate question is whether Singapore will follow through on its word. Yesterday, the State Department said that Sudan would also end all trade and military ties with North Korea. That would be the third time this “news” has been reported in the last year. North Korea’s commercial ties can be surprisingly resilient, and Singapore has long been a major hub for North Korea’s smuggling and money laundering operations. It will continue to be one as long as Pyongyang is allowed to post a large number of agents on Singapore’s territory under diplomatic cover. Be skeptical of this story until you see evidence that North Korean accounts are frozen, and that North Korean nationals are packing their bags and boarding flights back to Pyongyang.

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Senate Banking Committee advances the Otto Warmbier BRINK Act, Treasury blocks the Bank of Dandong http://freekorea.us/2017/11/15/senate-banking-advances-the-otto-warmbier-brink-act-treasury-blocks-the-bank-of-dandong/ http://freekorea.us/2017/11/15/senate-banking-advances-the-otto-warmbier-brink-act-treasury-blocks-the-bank-of-dandong/#comments Wed, 15 Nov 2017 12:13:28 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26734 Last week, while I was writing my rave review for Donald Trump’s speech to the South Korean National Assembly, the Senate Banking Committee was working to put more tools in his hands to bankrupt the man he would never stoop to calling “short and fat.”* By a unanimous vote, the committee passed the newly renamed Otto Warmbier Banking Restrictions Involving North Korea (BRINK) Act, which I previously discussed here and here. The bill now awaits Senator McConnell’s nod to get on the full Senate calendar. The House is already looking at the text.

This being the Senate, an august deliberative body, the committee vote came after the majority and minority members reached an agreement on a compromise text. As a general rule, compromise amendments are like Star Wars sequels — never as good as the original, and usually a little worse with each iteration. In this case, however, the text actually seems to have improved in the negotiations, if you can believe that. (Next time someone asks you what’s in it for Kim Jong-un to show some restraint, tell them he might get less of this.)

[Chris Van Hollen (D, MD) and Pat Toomey (R, PA) were the bill’s original co-sponsors.]

Under the new bill, many of the discretionary sanctions authorities that were just added to section 104(b) of the NKSPEA by the KIMS Act would now become mandatory. Other new section 104(a) sanctions would mirror sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council in UNSCR 2371 and 2375. In addition to requiring the blocking of the bad actor’s assets, section 104(a) sanctions carry more other serious consequences, such as asset forfeiture, immigration sanctions, and the loss of government contracts.

I’m especially pleased that the NKSPEA’s sanctions on His Porcine Majesty’s kleptocracy will also become mandatory.

The most powerful provision, however, is section 111:

This imposes a range of secondary sanctions on banks that continue to process transactions for North Korea. The concept here is similar to what Ed Royce wanted to do back in 2013, in the original version of the NKSPEA (then called the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act). Section 201 of that bill allowed for a range of secondary sanctions against financial institutions that dealt with North Korean entities. At the time, however, the Obama administration’s Treasury Department thought that went too far, so instead, section 201 was replaced with the language that would later force the Obama administration to declare North Korea to be a primary money laundering concern, show some promising (if early) results in freezing North Korean accounts, and kill** the Bank of Dandong for laundering Kim Jong-un’s money.

Since I brought up the Bank of Dandong, last week wasn’t a good one for the BoD and its shareholders. Following a July Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and BoD’s protestations notwithstanding, Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network commenced primary ignition and issued a final rule blocking the BoD out of the financial system. FINCEN points out that not only did the BoD lose its access to the dollar system, it may also have lost its euro, Japanese yen, Hong Kong dollar, pound sterling, and Australian dollar correspondent accounts.

That’s going to leave a mark

I’ll believe the Treasury Department is really serious when it starts imposing fines like this one on banks, including big banks, that fail to meet their due diligence obligations to prevent North Korean money laundering. As the new Chinese curse goes, “May subpoenas rain down on your correspondents.”

~   ~   ~

If secondary financial sanctions this sweeping were ahead of their time in 2013 politically speaking, today, liberal Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen, joined by moderate Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, has written the toughest secondary financial sanctions on North Korea to date. Just so you get a sense of how far the consensus has shifted.

The BRINK Act sends a clear and unequivocal message to these banks and firms: you can do business with North Korea or you can do business with the United States, but if you choose to support the North Korean regime or their business associates, you will be held to account. [CNN.com, Senators Chris Van Hollen & Pat Toomey]

Stop me if you’ve heard anyone else argue this before:

Critics argue that, for more than two decades, the United States has unsuccessfully employed a mix of sanctions and economic incentives to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal and contain the threat. But our sanctions regime against North Korea is not nearly as tough as what we had in place against Iran, in the lead-up to Iranian nuclear negotiations.

Specifically, the United States has not, in a serious way, gone after the foreign banks that provide illicit support to North Korea and extend credit and financial services to companies engaged in illegal trade with the regime. This is a major hole in our sanctions regime, but one that our legislation would close.

The sanctions in the BRINK Act are known as “secondary sanctions,” because they apply to non-US entities. They target foreign banks and firms serving North Korean enterprises. This bill is modeled on the same secondary sanctions that helped to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program.

The reasons for our approach are clear. North Korea’s economy is neither as weak nor as isolated as most people believe. While exact figures are unknown, its annual gross domestic product is estimated to be $40 billion. China accounts for nearly 90% of North Korea’s trade, while others, such as Malaysia, still maintain diplomatic ties.

The United Nations found that North Korea evades existing international sanctions and maintains access to the international financial system through a comprehensive network of front companies, many based in China. North Korea relies heavily on this network to directly support its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. Our aim is to cut off North Korea’s remaining access to the international financial system, deprive Kim Jong Un of the resources needed for his regime’s survival, and create the leverage necessary for successful nuclear negotiations.

Read the whole thing.

Section 115 of the bill directs the administration to team up with the Financial Action Task Force — which has just issued tough new guidance to financial institutions on implementing U.N. financial sanctions — to hunt down and freeze the slush funds of Kim Jong-un and his top goons. (See Anthony Ruggiero’s analysis of the FATF advisory and what that means.)

Other provisions prod U.N. member states to step up their enforcement game, ask Treasury to report on North Korea’s use of front and shell companies to hide its beneficial ownership interests, put stricter congressional controls on the licensing of transactions with North Korea, and make it easier for fund managers to divest from companies with investments in North Korea. Congress also asked for reports on North Korean money laundering and cyber capabilities.

However improbably, and despite the alleged dysfunction on Capitol Hill, on this issue, Congress is behaving in a bipartisan, statesmanlike, and diplomatic manner. It’s keeping up with the U.N. in passing implementing legislation, and it’s either forcing or helping the Treasury Department to act like the steward of the financial system that it needs to be for sanctions to work well enough to prevent another Korean War.

That assumes, of course, that the administration enforces this competently and aggressively. It’s not a good sign at a time like this to see the administration cut Treasury’s budget. It’s going to require some aggressive congressional oversight to make this work, but Democrats seem to be positioning themselves to “own” the sanctions issue if they see Trump slow down. Good for them. They can clearly see what the alternative would be.

~   ~   ~

* Here at OFK, our position is that jokes about physical stature and body size are beneath our editorial standards. But as a former boss once said, a good lawyer can tell you the rules; a great lawyer can tell you the exceptions. So, by a narrow-yet-unanimous vote, the OFK Editorial Board has approved an amendment to the Style Guide to authorize the use of the term “His Porcine Majesty” for any hereditary, morbidly obese absolute ruler of a country where a third of the kids are stunted due to malnutrition while he exports seafood and other produce for hard currency.

** It’s possible that the Bank of Dandong could do what Banco Delta Asia did and survive for years as a glorified check-cashing / payday loan storefront, using only local currencies. The last time I checked PACER a few months ago, BDA was still in settlement negotiations with Treasury to have its 311 blacklisting lifted.

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The Kim Jong-nam assassination was meant to terrorize, not just eliminate http://freekorea.us/2017/11/13/the-kim-jong-nam-assassination-was-meant-to-terrorize-not-just-eliminate/ http://freekorea.us/2017/11/13/the-kim-jong-nam-assassination-was-meant-to-terrorize-not-just-eliminate/#comments Tue, 14 Nov 2017 01:49:28 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26714 As the reports suggest that the Trump administration is about to put Pyongyang back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism — from which it should never have been removed to begin with — I’m seeing some strained arguments in opposition.


[A lecturer at PUST, in case that’s relevant to you.]

Nonsense. If you just want to eliminate a rival, you “fix” his brakes and arrange a car not-accident. Or, in Kim Jong-un’s case, you take advantage of his well-known reputation as a playboy and recruit a femme fatale to lure him to a hotel room and jab him with a needle. You make it look like an overdose, a botched robbery, or a heart attack. You sure as hell don’t do it with VX nerve agent in a crowded airport terminal using multiple people who can be traced back to your embassy.

Pyongyang knows how to do a plausibly deniable assassination. In Kim Jong-nam’s case, it chose a plan so gruesome, so public, so needlessly elaborate, and so implausibly deniable that it reads like a James Bond parody. Why do that? To terrorize us, South Korea, and any past or future defectors: (1) we have WMDs, (2) we aren’t afraid to use them, (3) we don’t care about civilian casualties, and (4) if you criticize us, you will never be safe, no matter where you are and no matter how long it takes us to find you.

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What’s extraordinary (and what isn’t) about a North Korean soldier’s defection at Panmunjom http://freekorea.us/2017/11/13/whats-extraordinary-and-what-isnt-about-a-north-korean-soldiers-defection-at-panmunjom/ http://freekorea.us/2017/11/13/whats-extraordinary-and-what-isnt-about-a-north-korean-soldiers-defection-at-panmunjom/#comments Mon, 13 Nov 2017 17:37:41 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26693 It has been an eventful day along the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). South Korean authorities say that a 58-year-old Louisiana man was found on the wrong side of the Civilian Control Line, where he was doing something “for political purposes.” Details to follow, presumably.

The ROK Joint Chiefs have also confirmed that a North Korean soldier defected today through the Joint Security Area or JSA, the most visible and sensitive part of the DMZ. The soldier bolted from his guard post on the north side and sprinted for the Military Demarcation Line. On the way, his (former) comrades shot him in the shoulder and elbow.

I can’t help thinking that with better diplomacy, this could have been a simple one-for-one swap without the need for gunplay.

Fortunately, the wounded North Korean soldier made it over the MDL and fell 50 meters inside the South Korean side. (Imagine what would have happened to him if he hadn’t.) This may be one of the few people who can think back on the day he was shot twice as the luckiest of his life. Via Yonhap and Jonathan Cheng, the Wall Street Journal‘s Seoul Bureau Chief, here’s a diagram of how it all went down:

 

After what must have been the longest 25 minutes of his life, some very brave ROK soldiers crawled out under the observation of the North Koreans and dragged him back to safety. The ROKs then airlifted him to a hospital. Here’s hoping he recovers fully.

Here’s hoping, too, that his family back in North Korea will survive the experience.

Thankfully, those were the only shots fired in that incident. Still, the 25-minute delay suggests a too-lengthy decision cycle by the ROK Army command. The fact that the North Korean soldier fell on the happy side of the line should have resolved the question of retrieving him, although the ROK Army may have needed a few minutes to bring in some back-up firepower.

None of which diminishes the courage of the young South Korean soldiers who saved the wounded North Korean soldier. Imagine serving at the world’s most dangerous border, hearing gunshots, seeing a young North Korean soldier lying wounded and bleeding in a place exposed to enemy fire, and risking your own life to crawl out and drag him to safety. Those men deserve medals.

While hunting for a good image of the JSA, I also found this one from 1956, when Pyongyang clearly felt much more self-assured about the loyalty of its soldiers. A scene like this would be unthinkable today:

[source]

North Korea’s secrecy tempts us to extrapolate anecdotes into trends, and extrapolation can be a dangerous temptation, but there’s enough recent data to allow us to contextualize this anecdote. This blog carefully monitors evidence of defections, fratricides, fraggings, corruption, and other signs of indiscipline in the North Korean military. There has been ample evidence of military defections to document in recent years, at both low ranks and high (including a MiG pilot and at least two ranking officials in the security forces). That evidence was enough to cause me to ask, two years ago, whether the North Korean military was falling apart, and I’m not alone in asking that question. Two other North Korean soldiers defected through the DMZ in June of this year.

Defections from front-line North Korean units are especially significant. Those units aren’t the glorified construction brigades whose soldiers one sees hitching rides on the backs of trucks in tourists’ “rare glimpse” Flickr streams. Pyongyang posts its best-trained and most-disciplined units to the DMZ, and the soldiers at the JSA are the hand-picked elite of this elite. As Yonhap’s report notes, “The defection through the JSA marks a very rare case, given that North Korean soldiers stationed on the frontline are reportedly cherry-picked for their loyalty to the North Korean regime.” Defections across the heavily mined DMZ also involve much more risk than defections across the Yalu River. There may be no riskier place to defect than the JSA, for reasons this story illustrates well enough.

Defections at the JSA are extraordinary. I’ve searched my memory, my archives, and Google, and came up with no prior cases of North Korean soldiers defecting there in recent times. NHK claims that there were two previous defections at Panmunjom in 2007 and 1998, but my internet searches yield no other evidence of that. (If you can find any, kindly post a link or a partial text in the comments.) The closest thing I found was the case of a Soviet man who defected through the JSA in 1984, instigating a firefight that killed three North Korean soldiers and one South Korean soldier.

The maximum effective range of an AK-47 is 460 meters, so it does not speak well of NKPA marksmanship that these soldiers failed in their fratricide attempts. I’m grateful that the brave South Korean soldiers who ran out and rescued the soldier weren’t shot at. Presumably, the soldiers at the JSA — on both sides — have strict rules of engagement. That affirms that Pyongyang is, deep down, just as concerned about one incident escalating into a full-scale war as we are. Pyongyang’s rhetoric about hair triggers and declarations of war notwithstanding, its military provocations are both calculated and calibrated to induce fear and shock in the U.S. and South Korean governments without instigating undue escalation.

Consider the implications of this: at a time of even-higher-than-usual military tensions, North Korea’s most disciplined soldiers had orders not to fire at South Korean soldiers — at least, not on the other side of the MDL — but did have orders to fire on their own comrades. This suggests that Pyongyang doubts the loyalty of its most loyal soldiers, with the possible exception of the Bodyguard Command.

Oh right, I almost forgot about the soldier who was training to become a member of the Bodyguard Command when he defected in July.

Both defections must surely represent rare intelligence windfalls. I wonder why these men fled. I wonder what their stories can tell us about the potential of a message of rice, peace, and freedom to influence the cohesion, loyalty, and war-readiness of the comrades they left behind. I wonder how many lives that knowledge could save.

~ ~ ~

Update: A newer report tells us, first, that the defecting soldier is in very grave condition and may not survive, and second, that he drove to the DMZ in a car.

A North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea via the truce village of Panmunjom earlier this week drove a car to the area, the authorities said Tuesday.

“(He) then exited the vehicle and continued fleeing south” across the military demarcation line (MDL) after being shot by North Korean troops, according to the United Nations Command (UNC).

The individual, presumed to be a North Korean soldier, “initially took cover near a building on the southern side of the JSA,” the UNC said, using the abbreviation for the Joint Security Area (JSA).

Four North Korean soldiers chased him, firing shots with their pistols and AK-47 rifles, an official at the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, citing CCTV footage of the scene.

He was hit by five rounds while running away from the North in the area inside the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ), he added.

It’s also unclear whether the North’s troops actually crossed the MDL, even for seconds, during the hunt. [Yonhap]

I’ll make a high-confidence assumption that it’s very rare for junior enlisted North Korean soldiers to own or drive cars — even to know how to drive a car. Unless this soldier stole the car, he must have been the son of someone of very high rank. That also raises the question of what unit the soldier belonged to, if just barely. Presumably, to drive to the DMZ on the North Korean side would require one to pass multiple checkpoints that would spot an AWOL soldier. The North Korean units charged with guarding the JSA wouldn’t have let an AWOL soldier from another unit into the area. On balance, then, the soldier probably was assigned to the units at the JSA, but there’s obviously more to the story.

Here’s hoping he recovers. If you believe that God intervenes in earthy events, this is your chance to make your petition on behalf of someone who will never thank you.

~   ~   ~

Update: It looks like the “car” was a military vehicle, which would explain how he got it.

~   ~   ~

Update: There are more current, detailed reports on the soldier’s defection and condition in the Wall Street Journal, Joongang Ilbo, and Stars and Stripes. It sounds like this young man’s life is hanging by a thread, and I have an awful sense of dread that he won’t make it.

He may die, but so will the system that tried to kill him, as it killed so many others. Something has changed in the last two years. For all the suffering Kim Jong-il caused, the elites mostly trusted him, and they rarely defected when he was alive. In the last two years, it has become common to hear reports of overseas workers, members of elite military units, officials in the security forces, money launderers, and even diplomats defecting. And from this incident, it should be clear that fear is the only thing preventing others from doing the same.

So while the overall number of defections has declined sharply under Kim Jong-un — mostly because of the resources he has diverted to fencing his own people in — the political rank of those who have defected has risen sharply, too. We used to see a debate that maybe Kim Jong-un’s purges meant that he’d consolidated control, and then again, maybe they meant that he hadn’t. But by now, it’s clear that he hasn’t won them over. If you listen to Thae Yong-ho, the purges have terrified and alienated the elites, just as I’d predicted. That’s all the more significant when you consider that Kim Jong-un’s main priorities have been first, to restore the isolation of his people; second, to make a lot of missiles and nukes; and third, to win the Pyongyang elites over by showering them with leisure facilities, luxury goods, and new housing.

Of course, you also could say that purges had sown discontent among the elites in the U.S.S.R. in 1938, but Stalin had two things going for him that Kim Jong-un does not. For one, he was Stalin, and for another, in a few short years, Hitler would give the Soviet people a reason to unite around him. Pray that history doesn’t repeat. On the other hand, as I write, Robert Mugabe is being overthrown by his own army. Some things seem impossible until they aren’t.

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China cheats on the coal ban again http://freekorea.us/2017/11/09/china-cheats-on-the-coal-ban-again/ Thu, 09 Nov 2017 14:07:52 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26680 I still remember my excitement, bordering on giddiness, when in May 2013, a few big banks in China froze some North Korean accounts. That action came two months after the Treasury Department designated North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank, and just over a week after Ed Royce dropped the first draft of the NKSPEA. But as we’ve learned from our friends in the FBI and the Justice Department since then, big Chinese banks began clearing the FTB’s transactions as soon as they felt that the coast was clear.

The lesson I’ve learned from this and other, similar episodes is that one should be cautious before believing any highly publicized case of China enforcing sanctions against Pyongyang or applying economic pressure to it. I’ve seen this show enough times to suspect that China has a deliberate media manipulation strategy of making a big deal of enforcing sanctions until reporters lose interest.

For example, reports that China has halted tourism to North Korea just before President Trump arrived in China seem suspect. Technically, there are no U.N. sanctions prohibiting tourist travel. North Korea’s business partners — UNSCR 1718, paragraph 8(d) if you doubt me — are obliged to “ensure” that they aren’t indirectly funding WMD programs and other prohibited purposes (spoiler alert: in a place like North Korea, they can’t), but I doubt that most Chinese businesses either know or care about that obligation yet. Instead, remember the ten-week rule: check back in ten weeks and I’ll tell you if it’s for real.

~   ~   ~

Take the coal export cap under UNSCR 2321, which later became a coal ban in UNSCR 2371. Remember August, when China announced that it was halting coal imports from North Korea? We’ve since learned that this is yet another case of China initially complying with an obligation, only to resume its cheating as soon as reporters looked the other way. The flaw in this strategy is that nowadays, too many reporters don’t look the other way for long. The sharp-eyed crew at NK News has been especially diligent about spotting North Korean bulk carriers at Chinese coal terminals, but this time, I’ll credit VOA.

China imported 509,000 tons of coal from North Korea last month, raising doubts about its implementation of U.N. sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs, Voice of America (VOA) reported Tuesday. VOA’s Korean Service said China bought US$44 million of coal from the North in September, citing data from the Korea International Trade Association. [Yonhap]

China is now saying that the coal landed in February but did not clear customs until September because Beijing implemented the ban so suddenly. But this does not resolve the question in China’s favor. First, under a strict reading, China should have returned any coal that wasn’t “imported” before the full ban. Second, by February, China had already exceeded the existing quota for 2017, under the most recent resolution then in effect, UNSCR 2321. Third, two of the three largest suppliers of North Korean coal are companies controlled by U.N.-designated entities — the Reconnaissance General Bureau and the Munitions Industry Department. If the RGB or the MID ultimately controlled the coal that was sold to China, China’s legal obligation under UNSCR 1718, paragraph 8(d), was to seize the coal and dispose of it. Hold that thought.

The resolution that finally imposed a total ban on coal exports, UNSCR 2371, does not have a grace period for coal exports. It’s a flat ban. Now, a friend with deep knowledge of the facts and law tells me it’s actually more complicated than that, for reasons that the person was unable to make clear to me. Still, I don’t see anything in the language of the resolution that permits the purchase of North Korean coal in September. I read this as a violation of the resolutions.

What can we do about that? For one, the President should be raising it with Xi Jinping. For another, if any of those coal transactions were denominated in dollars, paid to one of the blocked North Korean coal exporters, and cleared through the United States, he should unleash the Justice Department, whose aggressive prosecutors have begun to enforce the legal prohibitions against dealing with sanctioned North Korean entities strictly. The fact that Congress is keeping the pressure on and tightening the coal ban further will also help. It will take more of that strict enforcement to make the coal ban stick.

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Trump’s speech in Seoul was the best thing he’s done. In his entire life. http://freekorea.us/2017/11/08/trumps-speech-in-seoul-was-the-best-thing-hes-done-in-his-entire-life/ http://freekorea.us/2017/11/08/trumps-speech-in-seoul-was-the-best-thing-hes-done-in-his-entire-life/#comments Wed, 08 Nov 2017 14:05:15 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26651 Just over nine months into his presidency, Donald Trump is best known for two qualities: doing terrible things, and doing things terribly. Inevitably, he and his party are starting to pay the political price for that. But this is not a blog about Obamacare, The Wall, Richard Spencer, Twitter fights with the grieving parents of dead heroes, or the Russia investigation. There are other blogs for those subjects. This is a blog about North Korea, which leads to my paradox.

During the 13-year history of this blog, I’ve watched president after president demur on Pyongyang’s growing nuclear menace with soothing palliatives, taking the counsel of tenured geniuses who’ve grown in their influence despite being consistently wrong about Pyongyang’s intentions. I’ve watched in frustration as North Korea became the greatest national security crisis of our time, and never quite became the great moral crisis that it rightfully deserves to be. Yet now, however improbably — though it may have something to do with rejecting the counsel of tenured geniuses — I think I just watched Donald Trump become the first American president to articulate a coherent North Korea policy.

In his speech to the Korean National Assembly last night, Trump struck precisely the right tone: unyielding in the defense of our core interests and allies, forceful as he twisted the economic screws on Kim Jong-un, flexible enough to leave him a peaceful exit, strong without being bellicose, and above all, compassionate toward the North Korean people who share our interest in seeing their homeland become peaceful and humane. If you haven’t seen it yet, or if you have and your thoughts on it haven’t quite congealed, then watch it here.

Of course, many who read the title of this post immediately thought, “You set a low bar.” Of course, Trump didn’t write the speech himself. Of course, it would have been a completely different speech if Steve Bannon had written it. And of course, I still have criticisms, including his gratuitous plug for his golf course, and his description of Pyongyang’s terrorism that never quite found the clarity to call it by its legal name.

Since the so-called armistice, there have been hundreds of North Korean attacks on Americans and South Koreans. These attacks have included the capture and torture of the brave American soldiers of the USS Pueblo, repeated assaults on American helicopters, and the 1969 drowning [downing] of a U.S. surveillance plane that killed 31 American servicemen. The regime has made numerous lethal incursions in South Korea, attempted to assassinate senior leaders, attacked South Korean ships, and tortured Otto Warmbier, ultimately leading to that fine young man’s death.

But the speech did much to close the biggest hole in the President’s policy, by speaking clearly of the suffering of the North Korean people. Careful listeners will have heard the President cite the findings of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry, the research of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and the gulag memoir of Kang Chol-hwan.

Workers in North Korea labor grueling hours in unbearable conditions for almost no pay. Recently, the entire working population was ordered to work for 70 days straight, or else pay for a day of rest.

Families live in homes without plumbing, and fewer than half have electricity. Parents bribe teachers in hopes of saving their sons and daughters from forced labor. More than a million North Koreans died of famine in the 1990s, and more continue to die of hunger today.

Among children under the age of five, nearly 30 percent of afflicted — and are afflicted by stunted growth due to malnutrition. And yet, in 2012 and 2013, the regime spent an estimated $200 million — or almost half the money that it allocated to improve living standards for its people — to instead build even more monuments, towers, and statues to glorify its dictators.

What remains of the meager harvest of the North Korean economy is distributed according to perceived loyalty to a twisted regime. Far from valuing its people as equal citizens, this cruel dictatorship measures them, scores them, and ranks them based on the most arbitrary indications of their allegiance to the state. Those who score the highest in loyalty may live in the capital city. Those who score the lowest starve. A small infraction by one citizen, such as accidently staining a picture of the tyrant printed in a discarded newspaper, can wreck the social credit rank of his entire family for many decades.

An estimated 100,000 North Koreans suffer in gulags, toiling in forced labor, and enduring torture, starvation, rape, and murder on a constant basis.

In one known instance, a 9-year-old boy was imprisoned for 10 years because his grandfather was accused of treason. In another, a student was beaten in school for forgetting a single detail about the life of Kim Jong-un.

Soldiers have kidnapped foreigners and forced them to work as language tutors for North Korean spies.

This language will have made many of those in the audience — especially those in President Moon’s party — deeply uneasy, because of the power of the words that were its greatest virtue. As I listened, I wondered how North Koreans might react to these words. Try to strip away your own biases about Trump, although I wonder how many of you can. Try to imagine yourself as a student in Pyongyang or a trader in Hoeryong. Some, of course, will think back to Trump’s recent war threats and cling to the narrative that a wolf cannot become a sheep. But in my experience, we underestimate the intelligence and critical thinking skills of North Koreans. To at least some of the North Koreans who hear these words — if they ever do hear them — the compassion of those words could begin to confuse the narrative of America as their enemy.

Other passages might undermine the regime’s narrative that the world is in awe of their emperor, and thus, they must hold him in awe, too. Trump challenged that narrative when he addressed Kim Jong-un directly and declined to reward the perverse incentive of allowing nuclear weapons — which Kim Jong-un would use to threaten our own core interests and liberties, and thus, our own political system — to become a means to secure his own misrule.

I also have come here to this peninsula to deliver a message directly to the leader of the North Korean dictatorship: The weapons you are acquiring are not making you safer. They are putting your regime in grave danger. Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.

North Korea is not the paradise your grandfather envisioned. It is a hell that no person deserves. Yet, despite every crime you have committed against God and man, you are ready to offer, and we will do that — we will offer a path to a much better future. It begins with an end to the aggression of your regime, a stop to your development of ballistic missiles, and complete, verifiable, and total denuclearization. (Applause.)

A sky-top view of this peninsula shows a nation of dazzling light in the South and a mass of impenetrable darkness in the North. We seek a future of light, prosperity, and peace. But we are only prepared to discuss this brighter path for North Korea if its leaders cease their threats and dismantle their nuclear program.

The sinister regime of North Korea is right about only one thing: The Korean people do have a glorious destiny, but they could not be more wrong about what that destiny looks like. The destiny of the Korean people is not to suffer in the bondage of oppression, but to thrive in the glory of freedom. (Applause.)

I don’t doubt that many in the tenured genius class will be aghast. That may be why this was the speech that Trump’s predecessors ought to have given five, ten, or twenty years ago and didn’t. The challenge with such a polarizing President is to hold onto one’s objectivity and transcend partisanship in the name of patriotism. My view now is just what it was one year ago — that the patriot’s duty is to criticize unjust policies and help the President make and execute good ones. The people can only choose one president at a time. In the case of North Korea, too much is at stake, and there is too little time, to wait to help the next president do it better.

Trump’s most inflexible supporters view all criticism of him as betrayal, while his most inflexible critics view all commendation of him as buying a first-class ticket on the express train to Vichy. Maybe my work helps me to separate my political views from my views on specific policies. I’ve voted against every American president of my adult life at least once, but gone on to serve them all loyally as a civil servant or an Army officer. In both capacities, my oath was to the Constitution alone. Of course, the Constitution gives the President great power, and our job is to help the President carry out his constitutional prerogatives, whether we agree with his policies or not. We do that, and then we go home and log into Facebook or WordPress to represent and express our own views as private citizens, just like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, Bret Harte all did in the last century.

Now, if only he can execute the policy he has articulated. As I write, his meeting with Xi Jinping is testing his commitment to that execution. If he fails, the alternatives are too horrible to contemplate.

~    ~   ~

Update: North Korea’s reaction was about what you’d expect.

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The Moonshine Policy failed because Kim Jong-un demands surrender, not engagement http://freekorea.us/2017/11/07/why-the-moonshine-policy-failed-kim-jong-un-demands-supplication-not-engagement/ Tue, 07 Nov 2017 14:10:27 +0000 http://freekorea.us/?p=26589 Just before Air Force One took off for Tokyo, the New York Times printed a story by Choe Sang-hun, mourning for Moon Jae-in’s failure to revive the Sunshine Policy, wallowing in self-pitying nationalism, and pinning most of the blame for this on Donald Trump — not Moon, for failing to read the U.N. Security Council resolutions before promising initiatives that would violate them, not Korean voters who don’t trust Pyongyang and don’t want a revival of the Sunshine Policy. Choe assigned only a small share of the blame to the person most responsible for the failure of Moon’s outreach: Kim Jong-un.

Personal relationships seem to matter more to Donald Trump than to ordinary world leaders, and Trump and Moon don’t appear to have much use for one another. It’s true, of course, that Trump has made some wince-inducing gaffes on KORUS, and on making South Korea pay for THAAD (even if South Korea should pay for it). I’m on record as saying that his war threats scare our friends more than they scare our enemies. His boast today that Seoul will soon be buying armloads of American weapons plays perfectly to the Korean left’s conspiracy theories about the American presence and its deeper mercantilist motives. It also feeds the Korean left’s worldview — of which Choe’s mislabeled opinion piece is an exemplar — that all foreign entanglements are inherently exploitative, while all intra-national (as in, inter-Korean) interactions are inherently beneficent and pure. That view, of course, is much older than Donald Trump’s presidency, and it has sometimes put Korea on a path to some grave logical errors.

I could cite many examples of one side of this logical error — the determined refusal to believe in Pyongyang’s maleficence. There is the decision to host the Olympics in the middle of a nuclear crisis and invite North Korea to join. I don’t expect that to end well.

Before that, there was the long national embarrassment of the Sunshine Policy. Because this blog operates at all levels, you can read our argument about why its failure was predictable in Foreign Affairs, or you can watch the perfect six-minute metaphor.

But even as we assign Trump his fair share of the blame for his differences with Moon, let’s do what the foreign press has failed to do and assign Moon his fair share, too. Moon’s history, associations, and appointments suggest that his private thoughts were shaped in an anti-American, anti-anti-North Korean milieu. It speaks poorly of foreign journalists in Korea, for example, that hardly any of them wrote a word about the pro-North Korean, anti-American history of his Chief of Staff, Im Jong-seok, leaving it to bloggers to reveal that to our small audiences.

The man who is most responsible for blocking Moon’s “engagement” of Kim Jong-un is … Kim Jong-un. It isn’t just that his nuclear and missile tests have denied Moon political space to appease him. Kim has repeatedly rejected Moon’s overtures toward conditional or co-equal engagement and instead demanded what would be tantamount to South Korea’s surrender. I’m a compulsive linker because I believe that linking to sources disciplines one’s arguments. I’ve collected so many links documenting Pyongyang’s responses to Moon’s overtures that all I have time to do is dump them here:

  • 5/19: N. Korea criticizes Moon’s dual-track policy toward it
  • 6/1: Moon says will handle N.K. issues without role of foreign countries
  • 6/5: N.K. rejects S. Korean aid provider’s inter-Korean exchanges, citing sanctions
  • 6/12: N. Korea urges S. Korea to implement summit agreement
  • 6/15: Why Pyongyang turned down humanitarian aid from the South
  • 6/19: S. Korea rejects N.K. claim Seoul not stakeholder to nuke issue
  • 6/19: N. Korea demands S. Korea implement hands-off policy over its nuclear ambitions
  • 6/21: Pro-N.K. paper in Japan condemns Moon’s offer for talks
  • 6/24: S. Korea urged to have proper approach to inter-Korean relations (Pyongyang Times)
  • 6/25: CCNR Issues Open Questionnaire to S. Korean Authorities. This article, printed in Uriminzokkiri, and attributed to the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country of the DPRK — and yes, that includes South Korea — is probably the best summation of Pyongyang’s demands to Seoul. Note the historical significance of the date of its publication. I’ve appended the full text to the bottom of this post and urge you to read it. Click the link at the lower right-hand corner of this post that says, “Continue Reading.”

  • 7/11: No expectation from N.K.’s acceptance of Moon’s peace proposal: pro-N.K. paper
  • 7/20: N.K. dismisses S. Korea’s wish for better ties as ‘nonsense’ amid sanctions
  • 7/29: N.K.’s new ICBM test to dampen Moon’s rapprochement approach
  • 7/31: S. Korea urges NK to end provocations, accept dialogue offer
  • 8/2: Pro-Pyongyang paper accuses Moon of misjudging changing status of N. Korea
  • 8/2: N. Korea rejects joint civilian event to mark Korea’s Liberation Day
  • 11/7: S. Korea says no meaningful inter-Korean contacts so far under Moon gov’t

Not once in his article does Choe so much as allude to this chronology. Also, just for laughs, here are some links via Moon Jae-in cheerleader Nathan Park, who expected this to all work out just brilliantly, in recklessly blithe disregard of all the evidence that it wasn’t:

  • 5/19: Moon’s Secret Weapon Is Sunshine
  • 7/18: South Korea’s President May Be Just the Man to Solve the North Korea Crisis

One could argue that Moon’s early ambitions and failures aren’t so different from those of his predecessors. As I said five years ago, Park Geun-hye, Lee Myung-bak, and Barack Obama all had grand plans to “engage” North Korea, but North Korea had other plans. Park, in particular, clung to what I called “Sunshine Lite” for years until the January 2016 nuclear test, when she finally said, “Enough!” Maybe Lee and Park believed in forms of engagement with North Korea that were more conditional and balanced than Moon’s vision. Maybe this failed experiment means more to Moon than it did to his predecessors, who eventually yielded to reason. What reason tells us now is that Kim Jong-un hasn’t the slightest interest in conditional engagement. Now that he thinks his nuclear hegemony has been secured, he demands nothing less than supplication.

Kim Jong-un expects Moon to unilaterally break U.N. sanctions, disarm unilaterally by halting training exercises and shutting down missile defense, unlawfully repatriate North Korean refugees to die in his gulag, and censor and “liquidate” his critics in the South. South Korean voters would not concur, and Moon knows it. He’s smart enough to see that his election was not a mandate for that. He might never have been elected but for his personal likeability, and for the fractiousness, incompetence, and unpalatability of his opponents. To shift his North Korea policy in a more permissive direction, he needs public and political support he does not have. South Korean voters feel worried about North Korea, bullied by China, anxious that the U.S. might start a war or abandon them, and uneasy about Moon’s capacity to manage it all.

Moon’s visit to Trump in Washington might have been a fiasco, but we saw little outward evidence of this at the time (their disagreement came out later — characteristically, in a tweet). Maybe Moon’s luck will hold again this week, but it won’t hold forever if he won’t pick a side. Moon Jae-in can’t please everyone, especially when “everyone” includes not only Kim Jong-un, but Xi Jinping, Donald Trump, and his own voters.

CCNR Issues Open Questionnaire to S. Korean Authorities

Date: 25/06/2017 | Source: Uriminzokkiri (En)

The Consultative Council for National Reconciliation issued an open questionnaire addressed to the south Korean authorities on June 23.

In the questionnaire, the CCNR said that the statement of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country of the DPRK, which clarified the principled stand to usher in a new era for the improved north-south relations and the independent reunification on the basis of the noble idea of By Our Nation Itself on the occasion of the 17th anniversary of the June 15 Joint Declaration, has commanded unanimous support of all the fellow countrymen in the north and the south and abroad.

But the present south Korean authorities keep mum about the fundamental and principled issue for improvement of the north-south relations, reading the faces of the US and the conservative group, and do not hesitate to reveal their scheme for sanctions and pressure on the DPRK, finding fault with its legitimate step for bolstering the nuclear force for self-defense, it pointed out.

Saying that due to such irresolute and inappropriate attitude, the north-south relations still fail to escape from the mire of catastrophe even an inch, quite the same as in the period of the conservative regime, the CCNR made the following open questionnaire to the south Korean authorities in the name of the whole nation:

1. Do you have a willingness to reject cooperation with foreign forces and solve the north-south relations independently on the basis of the idea of By Our Nation Itself?

2. Can you make a decision to stop south Korea-US joint military exercises, the main factor of aggravating the situation on the Korean peninsula?

3. Do you have a will to unconditionally stop all sorts of mud-slinging that incites mistrust and animosity between the fellow countrymen?

4. Can you respond to the DPRK’s stand on taking practical measures to remove military conflicts between the north and the south?

5. Are you ready to come out for a dialogue with the DPRK, without raising “the north’s nuclear issue”?

6. Can you retract the stand for “sanctions and pressure accompanied by dialogue”, recognizing that it would only worsen the north-south relations?

7. Can you take bold steps to liquidate the wrongdoings of the conservative group of traitors that brought catastrophic results–total rupture of the north-south relations?

8. Can you show your willingness for improved north-south relations by repatriating DPRK women citizens who were abducted by the conservative group?

9. Can you actively join in the unanimous desire and efforts of all the fellow countrymen in the north and the south and overseas for holding a pan-national conference?

The south Korean authorities should give definite answers to these questions reflecting the will of the whole nation, mindful that all Koreans are watching their attitude, the CCNR stressed.

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