DPRK (North Korea) Chronology for 2021


DPRK (NORTH KOREA) CHRONOLOGY FOR 2021
Compiled by
Leon V. Sigal
Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project
Contact:


1/3/21:
Korea’s population is predicted to drop by half to less than 25 million by 2060 accompanied by a growing number of elderly people, resulting in decreases in the number of those able to fill jobs and serve in the military, according to a forecast by the Korea Economic Research Institute. This was backed up by the latest census figures released by the Ministry of Interior and Safety today, which showed that dramatic population changes have already begun as in 2020 the nation’s population fell year-on-year for the first time, with deaths surpassing births. The ministry’s data showed that Korea had a population of 51,829,023 as of December 31, 2020, down 20,838 from a year earlier. This marked the first time that the country’s population has fallen since 1962 when the country implemented its resident registration system. Ministry officials attributed the population decline to a record low number of births ― the country reported 275,815 births in 2020, down 10.7 percent from the previous year; while 307,764 people died, a 3.1 percent increase year-on-year. “The drop in the total birthrate is accelerating, requiring fundamental changes in relevant government policies,” a ministry official said. The number of births here, which had been in the 400,000 range for 15 years, decreased to below 400,000 in 2017 and to below 300,000 in 2020. This rapid fall was not a huge surprise, considering the low birthrate of just 0.84 in the second and third quarters of last year. This was far less than a world average of 2.4 per woman. The problem is only expected to worsen as an increasing number of young people have been holding off on plans to get married or have children amid the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent report issued by the Bank of Korea. The report suggested the birthrate would fall to below 0.72 for 2022, which was also forecast by Statistics Korea. It noted that the impact of COVID-19 on employment and earnings has been mostly centered on people in their 20s and 30s, and this may have exerted an influence on the decline of marriage and childbirth. For their part, Korea Economic Research Institute researchers said in their report issued last July that the country’s population would more than halve in 2060, with the workforce and conscripts expected to decrease by 48.1 percent and 38.7 percent, respectively. This would increase the burden on young people to look after the growing number of the elderly. Aware of serious population problems, the government has implemented various policies aimed at encouraging childbirth and preparing for an aged society, additionally vowing to inject 196 trillion won ($181 billion) by the end of 2025, including 36 trillion won this year. Most of the policies are cash handout programs, including support of 3 million won to a woman giving birth. Experts say, however, that there is a limit to what cash support can do to encourage childbirth, citing that the government has already spent nearly 200 trillion won in bids to resolve the low birthrate since 2006, but to no avail. (Jun Ji-hye, “Shrinking Korea: Demographic Catastrophe Looming,” Korea Times, January 4, 2021)


1/4/21:
North Korea, despite not having reported a single case of coronavirus, has requested for the vaccine from the global group that is helping developing countries increase their access to immunization, reported The Wall Street Journal. However, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has not issued a statement on the matter. In December last year, the Switzerland based immunization alliance had announced that it had made arrangements to access nearly two billion doses of the coronavirus vaccine candidate on behalf of 190 participating economies – 98 higher-income countries and 92 low and middle-income economies. The alliance is expected to deliver 1.3 billion donor-funded doses of approved vaccines in 2021 to the 92 low and middle-income economies eligible for the Covid-19 vaccines global access facility. The alliance, of which North Korea is a part, has so far signed an agreement with AstraZeneca for 170 million doses and memorandum of understanding with Johnson & Johnson for 500 million doses. Subject to the regulatory approvals, the first deliveries are expected to begin in the first quarter of 2021. Meanwhile, the Kim Jong Un regime has denied having a single case of coronavirus despite testing thousands of suspected cases, a claim many find hard to believe. In fact, earlier in March, South China Morning Post reported about nearly 200 North Korean soldiers of dying from the coronavirus and thousands of others being quarantined, even as the leadership maintained the official stance of not being hit by the pandemic. The country tightened its border and banned international travel late in January last year, in the wake of the pandemic, to spare its fragile health infrastructure. (Namita Singh, “North Korea Requests COVID Vaccine after Months of Claiming to Have Never Had a Case,” January 4, 2021)


1/5/21:
A U.N. Security Council panel approved sanctions exemptions on a total of 30 cases last year to aid agencies providing humanitarian assistance to North Korea, according to the annual report by the North Korea sanctions committee released on its website. (Yonhap, “U.N. Panel Approves 30 Cases of Sanctions Exemptions for to Aid Programs in N.K. Last year,” January 5, 2021)


1/7/21:
KCNA: “A report was made on the work of the Seventh Central Committee of the Party from January 5 to 7, Juche 110 (2021) at the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), an important political event in the development of our Party and revolution. Kim Jong Un, chairman of the WPK, chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and supreme commander of the armed forces of the DPRK, made the report on the work of the Central Committee of the Party. Supreme Leader of our Party, state and armed forces Kim Jong Un in his nine-hour-long report comprehensively and deeply analyzed and reviewed the work of the Seventh Central Committee of the Party, laid down a fresh struggle line and strategic and tactical policies for making a radical advance in socialist construction and set forth important tasks for advancing the cause of national reunification and external relations and developing Party work. … The report noted that serious mistakes were revealed in the work of several fields including economic work under the grave internal and external situations, but those were deviations made in the stage of new development and in the course of the advance of the socialist cause and were problems which can surely be solved by our wisdom and efforts. … The Supreme Leader in the report referred to the successes made in the struggle for consolidating the country’s nuclear war deterrent and self-reliant defense capabilities. To accomplish the great cause of building the national nuclear force was a strategic and predominant goal that should have primarily been attained by our Party and people without fail in the course of building our ideal powerful socialist state. … The Supreme Leader in the report referred to the successes made in the struggle for consolidating the country’s nuclear war deterrent and self-reliant defense capabilities. To accomplish the great cause of building the national nuclear force was a strategic and predominant goal that should have primarily been attained by our Party and people without fail in the course of building our ideal powerful socialist state. … In the period under review the already accumulated nuclear technology developed to such a high degree as to miniaturize, lighten and standardize nuclear weapons and to make them tactical ones and to complete the development of a super-large hydrogen bomb. By succeeding in the test-fire of ICBM Hwasongpho-15 on November 29, 2017, the Party Central Committee declared with pride to the world the accomplishment of the historic cause of building the national nuclear force and the cause of building a rocket power. … Recalling that the Party Central Committee decided to develop a global strike rocket with more powerful warheads and an improved warhead control system and carried out this historic task by relying on the patriotism and loyalty of national defense scientists, the report affirmed that the new-type gigantic rocket on an 11-axis self-propelled launcher displayed during the military parade in celebration of the 75th founding anniversary of the Party fully demonstrated the ultra-modernity and great striking capability of our nuclear force. … The report also noted that in the period under review the sector of national defense scientific research was conducting research into perfecting the guidance technology for multi-warhead rocket at the final stage, finished research into developing warheads of different combat missions including the hypersonic gliding flight warheads for new-type ballistic rockets and was making preparations for their test manufacture. The report made public with pride that the standard of the goal in the modernization of medium-sized submarine was set correctly and it was remodeled experimentally to open up a bright prospect for remarkably enhancing the existing subsurface operational capabilities of our navy, that the design of new nuclear-powered submarine was researched and was in the stage of final examination and the designing of various electronic weapons, unmanned striking equipment, means of reconnaissance and detection and military reconnaissance satellite were completed, and that other achievements were made in national defense research of gigantic significance in developing the People’s Army into a powerful one with the strongest military muscle in the world. … By making a bold switchover in its lines and pursuing offensive strategy, it created a trend towards peace and atmosphere of dialogue, accepted by the international community, and organized and led adroit external activities to elevate the prestige of the DPRK in the international arena. By prioritizing the long-standing and special DPRK-China relations, our Party developed the friendly relations with China as required by the new century and opened a new chapter in the DPRK-China relations of friendship with socialism as its core, the report stressed. The Party Central Committee strengthened strategic communication, promoted mutual understanding and deepened comradely trust between the two Parties through five rounds of the DPRK-China summit talks and thus provided a firm guarantee for fresh development of the DPRK-China relations as demanded by the times that required continuity in the fraternal ties and unity between the Parties and peoples of the two countries which are inseparably bound up with each other in the struggle for their common cause. Attaching importance to the fresh development of the traditional DPRK-Russia relations, the Party Central Committee also conducted external activities for the development of friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries, in the course of which it laid a cornerstone for the expansion of friendly relations with Russia. … The Party Central Committee brought about a dramatic turn in the balance of power between the DPRK and the US during the period under review, thereby wonderfully demonstrating the dignity and prestige of our state. At the one-on-one talks of the top leaders of the DPRK and the US, the first of its kind in the hostile relations between two countries, the Party Central Committee, with a strong principle of independence, made sure that the joint declaration that assured the establishment of new DPRK-US relations was adopted. The several rounds of DPRK-US summit talks were an event of the greatest significance in the history of world politics, which demonstrated to the world the strategic position of the DPRK, which defends its independent interests and peace and justice against the superpower. … The report severely criticized that the objectives for the growth of the national economy fell a long way short of implementation and consequently the people’s living standards could not be improved remarkably, owing to the failure in the revolutionary improvement of the economic work under the protracted severe external and internal situations and in the face of unexpected challenges. It also dealt with depression in different sectors and its causes. Analyzing the subjective and objective factors which affected the implementation of the five-year strategy for the national economic development, it pointed out the aftermath of the most barbarous sanctions and blockade by the US and other hostile forces as the first objective factor. Besides, severe natural disasters that hit the country every year and the world health crisis that broke out last year and became protracted were severe obstacles to the economic work, it analyzed. The report said that due to such obstacles, state investment and supplies intended to bolster the major economic sectors in the five-year strategy for the national economic development could not be carried out properly. … The new five-year plan mainly presupposes that the Cabinet, as the economic headquarters of the country, properly enforces the Cabinet-responsibility system, Cabinet-centered system, for economic work, vigorously accelerates the work of strengthening the essential lifeline and integrity of the country’s economy, definitely improves its economic management, actively promotes the normalization of production, renovation and local provision of raw and other materials by dint of science and technology and orientates the external economic activities toward reinforcing the foundations and potentiality of the self-supporting economy. And the new plan reflects the demands for perfecting the self-supporting structure of the national economy, lowering the proportion of dependence on imports and stabilizing the people’s living by taking the actual possibilities into consideration. The main seed and theme of the plan are, as always, self-reliance and self-sufficiency. … The report mentioned the plans for concentrating the efforts of the state on the construction of tidal power stations under long-term and medium-term strategies and launching in real earnest into the founding of the nuclear power industry to cope with the long-range demands and the subjective and objective changes in the future. … Nothing is more foolish and dangerous than to idle our time away without steadily building up our strength while knowing well enough that the enemy’s high-tech weapons aimed at our state are increasing in volume. The reality shows that only when we bolster up our national defense capability without a moment’s halt will we be able to contain the military threat from the US and achieve peace and prosperity of the Korean peninsula. Stressing that the strong defense capability of the state never precludes diplomacy but serves as a powerful means to propel it along the right course and guarantee its success, the report gave the analytical conclusion that the reality in the prevailing situation proves once again that there can never be satisfaction in strengthening the military strength. … The report mentioned the core plan and strategic tasks of crucial importance in rapidly developing and strengthening the national defense industry. It is necessary to develop the nuclear technology to a higher level and make nuclear weapons smaller and lighter for more tactical uses. This will make it possible to develop tactical nuclear weapons to be used as various means according to the purposes of operational duty and targets of strike in modern warfare, and continuously push ahead with the production of super-sized nuclear warheads. In this way we will be able to thoroughly contain, control and handle on our own initiative various military threats on the Korean peninsula, which are inevitably accompanied the nuclear threat. The report also set a goal of attaining an advanced capability for making a preemptive and retaliatory nuclear strike by further raising the rate of precision good enough to strike and annihilate any strategic targets within a range of 15 000 kilometers with pinpoint accuracy. And the tasks were brought up to develop and introduce hypersonic gliding flight warheads in a short period, push ahead with the development of solid-fuel engine-propelled inter-continental underwater and ground ballistic rockets as scheduled, and possess a nuclear-powered submarine and an underwater-launch nuclear strategic weapon which will be of great importance in raising the long-range nuclear striking capability. The report also referred to the need to secure the ability of reconnaissance and information gathering based on operation of a military reconnaissance satellite in the near future, and conduct in real earnest the most important research to develop reconnaissance drones and other means of reconnaissance capable of precisely reconnoitering up to 500 km deep into the front. The report studied the issues concerning south Korea in view of the prevailing situation and the changing times and clarified our Party’s principled stand on the north-south relations. As specified in the report, our nation is now standing on the crucial crossroads of whether to advance along the road of peace and reunification after breaking the serious deadlock in the north-south relations or to continue to suffer the pain resulting from division in the vicious cycle of confrontation and danger of war. It is no exaggeration to say that the current inter-Korean relations have been brought back to the time before the publication of the Panmunjom Declaration and the hope for national reunification has become more distant. Hostile military acts and anti-DPRK smear campaign are still going on in south Korea, aggravating the situation of the Korean peninsula and dimming the future of the inter-Korean relations. Judging that the prevailing frozen north-south relations cannot thaw by the efforts of one side alone nor improve by themselves with the passage of time, the report stressed that if one sincerely aspires after the country’s peace and reunification and cares about the destiny of the nation and the future of posterity, one should not look on this grave situation with folded arms, but take proactive measures to redress and improve the present north-south relations facing a catastrophe. The report clarified the principled stand on the inter-Korean relations as follows: It is necessary to take stand and stance to resolve the basic problems first in the north-south relations, halt all acts hostile toward the other side and seriously approach and faithfully implement the north-south declarations. The report pointed out the main reason why the north-south relations which had favorably developed in the past were frozen abruptly and brought back to those of confrontation. The south Korean authorities are now giving an impression that they are concerned about the improvement of north-south relations by raising such inessential issues as cooperation in epidemic prevention and humanitarian field and individual tourism. They are going against the implementation of the north-south agreement on guaranteeing peace and military stability on the Korean peninsula in disregard of our repeated warnings that they should stop introducing latest military hardware and joint military exercises with the US. Worse still, they are getting more frantic about modernizing their armed forces, labelling our development of various conventional weapons, which pertains entirely to our independent rights, a “provocation.” If they want to find fault with it, they should first give an explanation for the chief executive’s personal remarks that south Korea should accelerate its efforts for securing and developing latest military assets, that it would develop ballistic and cruise missiles with more precision and power and longer range than the existing ones, and that it had already developed ballistic missiles with the world’s heaviest warhead. They should also provide a convincing explanation for the purpose and motive in their continued introduction of cutting-edge offensive equipment. The report seriously warned that if the south Korean authorities continue to label our action “provocation” with a double-dealing and biased mindset, we have no other option but to deal with them in a different way. A new road toward improved north-south relations based on firm trust and reconciliation can be paved only when the south Korean authorities strictly control and root out any abnormal and anti-reunification conducts. Whether the north-south relations can be restored and invigorated or not entirely depends on the attitude of the south Korean authorities, and they will receive as much as they have paid and tried. The report stressed that at the present moment we do not need to show goodwill to the south Korean authorities unilaterally as we did in the past, and that we should treat them according to how they respond to our just demands and how much effort they make to fulfill the north-south agreements. It analyzed that the north-south relations may return to a new starting point of peace and prosperity in the near future, as desired by all compatriots, as they did in the spring three years ago, depending on the south Korean authorities’ attitude. In the report the Supreme Leader clarified the general direction and policy stand of the WPK for comprehensively developing the external relations. The report made an in-depth analysis of the current international situation and the external environment of the DPRK. The principal review and conclusion of our Party’s external activities during the period under review are that the strategy of power for power should be consistently maintained with regard to the hostile forces unwarrantedly running amuck and the big powers wielding high-handed policies. After affirming this stance, the report set it as the general direction of the external work at present to comprehensively develop the foreign relations as befitting the strategic position of our state and thus provide reliable political and diplomatic guarantees to socialist construction. Proceeding from this, it clarified matters of principle to be maintained in the field of external work. The field of external work should hold fast to the principle of independence in its activities, regarding it as the first mission of the DPRK’s diplomacy to defend the dignity of the WPK, enhance the prestige of the nation and champion the interests of the state. It should wage offensive diplomacy to smash the attempts of the hostile forces to violate our sovereignty and defend our state’s rights to normal development. It should orient external political activities with the main emphasis put on prevailing over and subjugating the US, the fundamental obstacle to the development of our revolution and our principal enemy. Noting that whoever takes power in the US, its entity and the real intention of its policy toward the DPRK would never change, the report stressed the need for the field of external work to adopt an adroit strategy toward the US and steadily expand solidarity with the anti-imperialist, independent forces. It also referred to the need to frustrate the reactionary offensive of the enemy and raise the prestige of the DPRK by enhancing the role of the external information sector. It stressed the need for the field of external work to further develop the relations with the socialist countries, consolidate unity and cooperation with the revolutionary and progressive parties aspiring after independence, and launch a dynamic joint struggle against imperialism on a worldwide scale so as to make the external environment of our state ever-more favorable. The report expressed the steadfast will of the WPK to reliably defend peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and the rest of the world. There is no country in this planet which is always exposed to war threat like the DPRK, and so much strong is its people’s desire for peace. That we have stored the strongest war deterrent and steadily develop them is aimed at defending ourselves and opening up an era of genuine peace free from war forever. Now that our national defense capability has risen to such a level that it can preemptively contain outside our territory the hostile forces’ threat, in the future the worsening of tensions on the Korean peninsula will lead to the instability of security on the part of the forces posing threat to us. Stating that the key to establishing new DPRK-US relationship lies in the US withdrawal of its hostile policy toward the DPRK, the report solemnly clarified the WPK’s stand that it would approach the US on the principle of power for power and goodwill for goodwill in the future, too. It reaffirmed that the DPRK, as a responsible nuclear weapons state, will not misuse its nuclear weapons unless the aggressive hostile forces try to have recourse to their nuclear weapons against us.” (KCNA, “Great Program for Struggle Leading Korean-Style Socialist Construction to Great Victory: On Report Made by Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un at Eighth Congress of WPK,” January 9, 2021)


1/8/21:
A South Korean court ordered the Japanese government to pay $91,800 each to 12 Korean women forced into sexual slavery for Japan’s troops during World War II. The ruling, the first of its kind in South Korea, is likely to aggravate the already chilly relations between Washington’s two key allies in Asia. “The court recognizes that the accused committed illegal acts and that the plaintiffs suffered extreme psychological and physical pain hard to imagine,” Judge Kim Jeong-gon said in his decision. The ruling is largely symbolic; the Japanese government said today that the Korean court had no jurisdiction over Japan and that it would “never accept” the order. But the decision could further complicate Washington’s efforts to bring South Korea and Japan closer together to counter North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s growing military influence in the region. “This is a landmark ruling,” said an advocacy group in Seoul that speaks for the women who filed the lawsuits, the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. A decision on another case, in which 11 women who had been forced into sexual slavery, known euphemistically as “comfort women,” are seeking similar compensation from Tokyo, is scheduled for December 13. The advocacy group said that the lawsuits had been filed as part of the women’s attempt to confront the Japanese government, which they accused of whitewashing the history of wartime sexual slavery by its military. “The Japanese government should honor the ruling and pay the compensation immediately,” the group said, adding that some of the women had died since filing the lawsuits. The plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit decided today filed their case with the Seoul Central District Court in 2013. They accused Japan of coercing or luring them into sexual slavery in wartime brothels run for the country’s troops. Each demanded 100 million won ($91,800) in compensation. Only five of the original plaintiffs are still living. Historians say that tens of thousands of women, many of them Korean, were in the frontline brothels from the early 1930s until 1945. It was not until 1991, when a South Korean woman named Kim Hak-soon made the first public testimony on her painful wartime experiences, that the issue went global. A total of 240 women have since come forward in South Korea, but only 16 — all in their 80s and 90s — are still alive. The Japanese government did not participate in the trial, refusing to accept notices from the South Korean court informing it of the legal challenge and asking for a response. The court made the notices public online and held its first hearing in April of last year. Speaking with reporters on Friday, Kato Katsunobu, chief cabinet secretary to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan, said that the court’s decision was “extremely regrettable” and that the Japanese government had formally protested to its South Korean counterpart. “We have repeatedly expressed that the Japanese government is not subject to Korean jurisdiction under the principle of exemption from sovereignty under international law,” Kato said. In its ruling, the court said that it could not accept the immunity claim because the case involved “anti-humanity acts systematically planned and perpetrated by the accused.” Yoon Ji-hyun, director of Amnesty International Korea, said that the ruling was significant because it was “the first time a South Korean court held the Japanese government responsible for the sexual slavery by the Japanese military and opened the way to restore justice for the survivors.” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement today, “We respect the court’s ruling and will do what we can to help restore the honor and dignity of the comfort women victims.” It added, “We will closely study the impact this ruling will have on diplomatic relations and make various efforts to continue constructive and future-oriented cooperation between the two nations.” The countries previously tried to close the chapter on World War II sexual slavery when Seoul and Tokyo announced in December 2015 what they called a “final and irreversible” settlement. In the deal, Japan expressed responsibility and apologized anew to the women, promising to set up an $8.3 million fund to help provide old-age care. Washington hailed the deal. But some of the women have since rejected it, saying it failed to specify Japan’s “legal” responsibility or to provide official reparations. Togo Kazuhiko, a former Japanese diplomat who is now director of Kyoto Sangyo University’s Institute for World Studies, said that 36 of the 48 women who were alive at the time of the 2015 deal had accepted payments from the funds. “On the one hand, my position is that as a perpetrator country, at least we need to have several moral obligations to remember, and from that point of view ‘enough’ or not is not a matter which we the perpetrator country should judge,” Mr. Togo said. But legally, he added, “I don’t think the Koreans have the right to pronounce the Japanese guilty.” Togo said that if the Korean courts were to try to confiscate Japanese government assets to fulfill the judgment, “Korea and Japan will not be able to maintain normal diplomatic relations.” He added: “I deeply think this is not in the interest of Korea or of Japan.” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said that Tokyo would deem the ruling “an escalation in a pattern of weaponizing history and breaking international agreements.” He added, “The economic fallout will be difficult to gauge during the pandemic, but the diplomatic implication is to complicate the incoming Biden administration’s plans for trilateral cooperation to deal with North Korea and China.” Relations between South Korea and Japan had already been frosty for years over another issue from the colonial era: wartime slave labor. In 2018, South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled that Japanese companies must compensate Korean men who had been forced into labor during World War II. Japan vehemently denounced the ruling. Japan accused South Korea of undermining the 1965 treaty that established diplomatic ties between the two nations, under which Japan provided South Korea with $500 million in aid and cheap loans. Tokyo insisted that all claims arising from its colonial rule, including those involving forced laborers and sexually enslaved women, had been settled by the treaty. In 2019, Japan imposed export controls on South Korea in a move widely seen as retaliation for the 2018 Supreme Court ruling. The trade dispute soon spread to security ties, with South Korea threatening to abandon an intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo that Washington considered vital to maintaining cooperation among the three nations. Seoul did not follow through with its threat. But on-and-off attempts by both governments to narrow their differences have gone nowhere. The ruling today will most likely add to the bad blood. (Choe Sang-Hun, “South Korea Court Orders Japan to Pay Compensation for Wartime Sex Slavery,” New York Times, January 7, 2021)


1/9/21:
North Korea deleted a phrase about instigating a revolution in South Korea leading to the unification of the peninsula from the rules of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in the WPK Congress this past January, Hankyore learned on May 31. A section stating that the “WPK’s objective” is “carrying out the task of a democratic revolution for the national liberation of the Korean people” had been deleted from the newest version of the WPK rules. The new version of the WPK rules was adopted on January 9, the fifth day of the 8th WPK Congress. This represents the de facto abolition of the North’s advocacy of North Korean-led “revolutionary unification” and a fundamental shift in the North’s perspective on inter-Korean relations. North Korea had maintained support for revolutionary unification for nearly 80 years since founder Kim Il Sung’s proposal of a “democratic base” on December 17, 1945. Kim argued that North Korea should be a “forward base” for instigating a revolution in the South and bringing the Korean Peninsula under the sway of communism. The language in the WPK rules about North Korean-led revolutionary unification has been cited as key grounds for maintaining the National Security Act, which defines North Korea as an “anti-state organization.” Therefore, the deletion of this language could have a major impact on the debate inside South Korea about whether to keep that act in place. The North Korea’s revised rules not only redefined the WPK’s objective as being “achieving the autonomous and democratic development of national society” — rather than “carrying out the task of a democratic revolution for the national liberation of the Korean people” — but also deleted, replaced, or adjusted a number of phrases that signified North Korean-led revolutionary unification. The preface of the revised rules now talks about the WPK “achieving the joint prosperity of the Korean nation,” replacing a phrase about the WPK “actively supporting the people’s struggle in southern Korea for the right to survive and the democratization of society.” In Article 4, “Duties of Party Members,” of the rules, a phrase stating that members are to “actively fight to accelerate the unification of the fatherland” was deleted without being replaced by an alternative phrase. The WPK rules represent North Korea’s supreme legal standard, possessing absolute authority equivalent to that of South Korea’s constitution. North Korea regards itself as a “party-state” in which the WPK built the state. That’s why Article 11 of the North Korean Constitution states that “[North Korea] shall conduct all activities under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea” and why the WPK rules state that the “people’s government acts under the leadership of the party.” The rules also say that the “people’s government is the most comprehensive ‘transmission belt’ connecting the party and the masses of the people.” The fact that the WPK, under Kim Jong Un, has basically abolished North Korean-led revolutionary unification can be regarded as signifying three things. First, it can be seen as a step to narrow the gap between ruling ideology and reality. Since the asymmetrical windup of the Cold War in the early 1990s — in which South Korea normalized relations with China and Russia but North Korea’s relations with the US and Japan remained hostile — the gap in national power between South and North Korea has forced Pyongyang to focus on preserving the regime, leaving it little time to think about reuniting the peninsula under its control. When North Korea formalized the succession plan for former leader Kim Jong Un in the 3rd WPK Congress, on September 28, 2010, it cautiously narrowed the ideology-reality gap by deleting a phrase in the rules about “liquidating colonial rule in South Korea” and removing the term “people’s” from the phrase “people’s democratic revolution for the national liberation of the Korean people,” moderating its stance on fomenting revolution in the South. Significantly, this trend means that the vision of “two Koreas” on the Korean Peninsula that Kim Jong-un has constantly pursued since taking power in 2012 has begun to be officially reflected in the WPK rules, the North’s supreme legal standard. Kim’s focus on prioritizing state identity over unification was evident in his attempt to create a separate time zone for North Korea, 30 minutes earlier than in South Korea, between August 15, 2015, to May 4, 2018. Another example was his replacement of the ethnonational narrative of the “two eternal leaders,” Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong Il, with a state narrative expressed in the slogan “the era of putting our state first.” Second, these changes indicate that North Korea is pivoting toward “coexistence,” reflecting the reality of South and North Korea’s separate and simultaneous enrollment in the UN, their adoption of the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement, and the fact that their leaders have held five summits. Along with the first reason, this shift in direction suggests that the North will reorient its South Korea policy toward seeking coexistence rather than unification. Third, North Korea’s erasure of the doctrine of revolutionary unification from the WPK rules could factor into the debate in South Korean society about preserving the National Security Act. Kim Jong-il asked former president Kim Dae Jung during the first inter-Korean summit in June 2000 why on earth South Korea hadn’t scrapped that law. Kim Jong Il noted that North Korea was planning to implement changes to the old WPK rules and platform at the next WPK congress as requested by South Korea and said that both sides needed to gradually update old documents in that way. Later, Kim Jong-il and then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun promised in Article 2 of the joint statement they signed in their summit in October 2007 that South and North Korea, by “transforming inter-Korean relations into one of mutual respect and trust [ … ] will develop inter-Korean relations toward the direction of unification and adjust [the] necessary legal [and] institutional apparatus.” Roh and Kim’s agreement was predicated on South and North Korea amending the WPK rules and the National Security Act, the main laws and institutions that express a hostile refusal to acknowledge the other side. However, North Korea did not delete a section of the WPK rules calling for the withdrawal of American troops from the Korean Peninsula. It only tweaked the wording of the section that calls for driving out “the US imperialist occupation forces in southern Korea.” The revised rules replace the phrase “end the domination and interference of foreign powers [and] revoke the re-invasion of Japanese militarism” with “ultimately end the US’s politico-military rule of southern Korea and thoroughly exclude the interference of foreign powers.” (Lee Je-hu, “N. Korea No Longer Pursues Unification through Revolution in S. Kores,” Hankyore, June 1, 2021) Former Unification Minister Leee Jnng-seok suggested that the new WPK rules’ omission of previous wording about “crushing Japanese militarist machinations for renewed invasion” might “function as a positive signal in North Korea-Japan relations.” (Lee Je-hun, “N. Korea Expert Says WPK Turned into ‘Kim Jong Un Party’ with Amendment in Party Rules,” Hankyore, June 3, 2021)

North Korea has created a position for a second-in-command after Kim Jong-un, close aides of the ruling party said. Yonhap reported that the ruling Workers’ Party in January decided to include a paragraph in the revised rules that mandates that the Central Committee elect the “first secretary — who will be in charge after Kim.” The agency reported that the position has been carved to lessen Kim’s “burden in managing party affairs.” Interestingly, he held the title of first-secretary from 2012 to 2016. The second-in-command will be able to preside over “key party meetings on behalf of the leader.” Sources close to the party said Jo Yong-won, a current standing member of the politburo, has been elected to the post of the first secretary. Jo is considered one of Kim’s closest aides, was seen by analysts at the time of the January meeting to hold the government’s No. 3 position, after Kim and Choe Ryong Hae, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly. Rachel Minyoung Lee, a fellow with 38 North, told Reuters: “This seems to be the broader trend of North Korea delegating and redistributing some of Kim Jong-un’s duties to others, not necessarily his powers, and streamlining the party leadership structure.” Among other amendments to the party rules, North Korea also dropped the word “songun,” or military-first policy, in the preamble of the revised party rules, local news reported. North Korea also deleted the expression that the party members “must actively fight to speed up the unification of the fatherland” as it elaborated on their duties, signaling a revamp of domestic politics. Meanwhile, it was claimed by many that Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, was serving as his “de facto second-in-command” but had not been given that title. (Maroosha Muzaffar, “North Korea Creates New Role for ‘Second-in-Command’ to Kim Jong Un, AFP, June 1, 2021)


1/11/21:
KCNA: “Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee: Kim Jong Un Choe Ryong Hae, Ri Pyong Chol, Kim Tok Hun, Jo Yong Won. Members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee: Kim Jong Un Choe Ryong Hae, Ri Pyong Chol, Kim Tok Hun, Jo Yong Won, Pak Thae Song, Pak Jong Chon, Jong Sang Hak, Ri Il Hwan, Kim Tu Il, Choe Sang Gon, Kim Jae Ryong, O Il Jong, Kim Yong Chol, O Su Yong, Kwon Yong Jin, Kim Jong Gwan, Jong Kyong Thaek, Ri Yong Gil. Alternate members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee Pak Thae Dok, Pak Myong Sun, Ho Chol Man, Ri Chol Man, Kim Hyong Sik, Thae Hyong Chol, Kim Yong Hwan, Pak Jong Gun, Yang Sung Ho, Jon Hyon Chol, Ri Son Kwon. Secretariat of the Party Central Committee: General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea Kim Jong Un. Secretaries of the Party Central Committee: Jo Yong Won, Pak Thae Song, Ri Pyong Chol, Jong Sang Hak, Ri Il Hwan, Kim Tu Il, Choe Sang Gon. Party Central Military Commission: Chairman Kim Jong Un, Vice-chairman Ri Pyong Chol. Members: Jo Yong Won, O Il Jong, Kim Jo Guk, Kang Sun Nam, O Su Yong, Pak Jong Chon, Kwon Yong Jin, Kim Jong Gwan, Jong Kyong Thaek, Ri Yong Gil, Rim Kwang Il. Party Central Auditing Commission: Chairman Jong Sang Hak, Vice-Chairmen Pak Thae Dok, Ri Hi Yong. Members: Ri Kyong Chol, Pak Kwang Sik, Pak Kwang Ung, Jon Thae Su, Jong In Chol, Kim Song Chol, Jang Ki Ho, Kang Yun Sok, U Sang Chol, Jang Kwang Bong, Kim Kwang Chol, O Tong Il. Department Directors of the Party Central Committee: Kim Jae Ryong, O Il Jong, Pak Thae Dok, Kim Song Nam, Ho Chol Man, Kim Hyong Sik, Pak Myong Sun, Ri Chol Man, Ri Tu Song, Kang Sun Nam, Kim Yong Chol, Kim Se Bok, Pak Jong Nam, Choe Hwi, Kim Yong Su. Editor-in-chief of Rodong Sinmun, the organ of the Party Central Committee, Pak Yong Min. (KCNA, “Press Release of First Plenary Meeting of 8th Central Committee of WPK Issued,” January 11, 2021)

Kim’s deepening mistrust of Washington and Seoul was also reflected in the reshuffling of his party’s leadership during the congress. Officials who had led Kim’s diplomatic offensive toward Washington and Seoul were demoted. Among them were Kim Yo Jong, his sister, First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui and Kim Yong Chol, a former vice chairman of the party. Ms. Kim issued a blistering statement on January 12 in which she called the South Korean military “the idiot” for monitoring for signs of a military parade in Pyongyang during the party congress. (Choe Sang-Hun, “At Party Congress, Kim Emphasizes Nuclear Arms,” New York Times, January 14, 2021, p. A-10)

President Moon Jae-in underlined an unwavering commitment to his peace process on the Korean Peninsula by improving relations with North Korea, today, despite rising concerns over a possible continued deadlock in both inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea relations under the incoming Joe Biden administration. In a 27-minute New Year speech, President Moon said he would sit down with the North “at anytime, anywhere” to discuss cooperation, even in a non-face-to-face manner. “This year marks the 30th anniversary of the two Koreas’ simultaneous membership of the United Nations. The South and North must join hands to prove that peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula is beneficial for the international community,” Moon said during the nationally-televised address. “It is our duty to pass on a Korean Peninsula without war and nuclear weapons to the next generation. In line with the launch of the U.S. Biden administration, the government will strengthen the South Korea-U.S. alliance and make a last-ditch effort to achieve a major turnaround in stalled U.S.-North Korea and inter-Korea dialogue.” The President said that there was still a lot to be achieved through inter-Korean cooperation, such as jointly taking part in a regional dialogue for healthcare and anti-pandemic cooperation. “I hope that we can start coexistence and peace in the process of responding to COVID-19,” Moon said. “When cooperation gets wider and wider, we can take a step forward on the path of unification. The key driver of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula is dialogue and win-win cooperation. Our willingness to talk anytime anywhere remains unchanged, even in a non-face-to-face manner.” (Do Je-hae, “Moon Underlines Last-Minute Diplomacy with North Korea in New Year Speech,” Korea Times, January 11, 2021)


1/12/21:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s statement: “The 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea is now successfully under way in our capital city, and several events are slated soon to celebrate the successful congress. What is weird is that the joint chiefs of staff of south Korea made a senseless statement that they captured the north opening a military parade at midnight on January 10 and they are in the middle of making precision tracking. There are over 200 countries in the world but it is only south Korea whose military organ makes its hostile and awakened attitude known by using such phrases as “capturing of event” and “precision tracking” as for celebrations in the north. This is a clear expression of the south Korean authorities’ hostile approach toward the fellow countrymen in the north. If not, they might have greater interest in celebrations in Pyongyang than others, or they could be shaking in their shoes even by the military parade expected from our side. We are only holding a military parade in the capital city, not military exercises targeting anybody nor launch of anything. Why do they take trouble craning their neck to follow what’s happening in the north. The southerners are a truly weird group hard to understand. They are the idiot and top the world’s list in misbehavior as they are only keen on things provoking world laughter. Do they really have nothing else to do but let their military body make “precision tracking” of the celebrations in the north? As I warned before, all these things must surely be reckoned up in the future.” (KCNA, “Statement of Vice Department Director of WPK Central Committee Kim Yo Jong,” January 13, 2021)


1/13/21:
Until now, the incoming Biden foreign policy team had no senior officials with a specialty in Asia. But Biden plans to soon announce a new Asia-related position inside the National Security Council and has chosen former State Department official Kurt Campbell to fill it. The move should reassure nervous Asian allies that the Biden administration is taking the China challenge seriously. Campbell will join the administration with the title of “Indo-Pacific coordinator,” a job that will give him broad management over the NSC directorates that cover various parts of Asia and China-related issues, several Biden transition officials told me. Campbell will report directly to incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan, officials said. The pending announcement is viewed favorably by those Asia experts in Washington who hope the Biden administration will take a more competitive approach to dealing with China than the Obama administration did. Campbell has a high profile in the region, extensive diplomatic experience, well-honed bureaucratic skills and good relationships on Capitol Hill, all of which suggest he will have real influence over the administration’s strategy. “China hawks have a healthy skepticism about how the Biden administration will approach Beijing, but bringing in Kurt to play this senior role, and all the more junior, competitive-minded people who will work for him, is a very encouraging sign,” said Eric Sayers, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “It will be bureaucratically tricky to make this position work smoothly in our government, but if anyone has the personality and drive to pull it off, it’s Kurt.” Campbell, one of the most senior Asia hands in the Democratic foreign policy ranks, last served in government as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under Hillary Clinton. Together, they helped form the Obama administration’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy. The Obama White House later changed the name to the “rebalance,” but Campbell got the last word on that debate in his book, titled “The Pivot.” He co-founded the Center for a New American Security in 2007 with Michèle Flournoy, who was considered but not chosen to be Biden’s defense secretary. Campbell’s wife, Lael Brainard, was considered but not chosen to be Biden’s treasury secretary. Since 2013, Campbell has served as chairman and chief executive of the Asia Group, a consultancy he founded. He is close to Sullivan, whom he worked with in the Clinton-led State Department. In late 2019, Campbell and Sullivan laid out their theory of the case for dealing with China in an essay for Foreign Affairs titled “Competition Without Catastrophe: How America Can Both Challenge and Coexist With China.” They argued that the Trump administration had it right when it identified China as a “strategic competitor” in its 2017 National Security Strategy, but they said this competition must be waged with vigilance and humility, structured around the goal of coexisting with China rather than expecting to change it. “Although coexistence offers the best chance to protect U.S. interests and prevent inevitable tension from turning into outright confrontation, it does not mean the end of competition or surrender on issues of fundamental importance,” they wrote. “Instead, coexistence means accepting competition as a condition to be managed rather than a problem to be solved.” Campbell believes the United States must not return to a strategy based on engaging China in hopes that China will liberalize. The United States must acknowledge that strategy didn’t work, he wrote in a 2018 Foreign Affairs essay with Ely Ratner, who is expected to take a senior Asia-related post in Biden’s administration, perhaps as assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs. On Tuesday, Campbell and Rush Doshi, director of the Brookings Institution’s China Strategy Initiative, released a new Foreign Affairs essay focused on how the United States can “shore up” the international order in Asia, by restoring a balance of power with China, bolstering alliances and then using those alliances to push back on Beijing’s aggressive actions. Through a network of overlapping coalitions, the United States should join with like-minded partners to “send a message [to Beijing] that there are risks to China’s present course,” they wrote. “This task will be among the most challenging in the recent history of American statecraft.” (Josh Rogin, “Biden’s Pick for Top Asia Official Should Reassure Allies,” Washington Post, January. 13, 2021)


1/15/21:
North Korea unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile at a military parade in Pyongyang, state media showed today, in a calculated show of strength days before Joe Biden’s inauguration as U.S. president. The display came after the five-yearly congress of the ruling Workers’ Party, where leader Kim Jong Un decried the US as his country’s “foremost principal enemy.” A grinning Kim oversaw the parade on yesterday evening, wearing a black leather coat and fur hat as he watched mounted cavalry, specialist infantry, artillery and tanks roll through Kim Il Sung Square. The troops’ breath condensed in the cold winter air and none of the thousands of participants were seen wearing masks. Aircraft flew overhead forming the party symbol. “The world’s most powerful weapon, submarine-launch ballistic missile, entered the square one after another, powerfully demonstrating the might of the revolutionary armed forces,” KCNA said. Four of the SLBMs with black-and-white cones were driven past, footage on state television showed. The North has shown off earlier, smaller SLBMs before, and broadcast footage of a test launch, but it was not clear whether they were fired from a submarine or an underwater platform. A working SLBM on a nuclear-powered submarine would be a strategic game changer, enabling Pyongyang to launch a surprise attack from close to the United States or carry out a strike even if its land-based forces had been destroyed. At the congress, Kim said the North had completed plans for a nuclear submarine, but any such vessel is likely to be years away from going into service. It is also never certain whether Pyongyang is displaying actual missiles or models at its set-piece events. Analysts say the North is using the party meeting and military display to send the incoming administration in Washington a finely calculated message of strength in an attempt to extract concessions. KCNA said the parade included rockets with a “powerful striking capability for thoroughly annihilating enemies in a preemptive way outside the territory” — implying a range extending beyond the Korean peninsula. Pyongyang did not display any of its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), unlike at its previous parade in October. (Sebastian Berger, “North Korea Shows off New Submarine-Launched Missile,” January 14, 2021)


1/18/21:
President Moon Jae-in today expressed high expectations in working with the upcoming Joe Biden administration, saying the launch of the new U.S. government will become a “turning point” in resuming the stalled U.S.-North Korea and inter-Korean talks. “I think the launch of the Biden administration is a turning point for beginning U.S.-North Korea, inter-Korean talks anew. The talks should inherit and develop from the achievements from the Trump administration,” Moon said during a New Year’s press conference held at Cheong Wa Dae. “The Singapore declaration from the Trump administration was a very important declaration for denuclearization and establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula. It is regrettable that the declaration ended as a basic statement, and did not lead on to a concrete agreement.” The president admitted that the new Biden administration is facing a pile of urgent domestic issues, including the coronavirus pandemic, but stressed he has no doubts that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the new government’s priorities. “Given some achievements made during the Trump administration, I think there is no reason for the Biden administration not to put a priority on the North Korean issue. If possible, I hope to hold a prompt summit meeting with the president-elect to build trust and bond,” he said. He also showed respect for Biden and his foreign affairs team for their understanding on the North Korean issue, saying the two governments already agreed on key principles such as having a multilateral approach and focus on allies. Regarding the North’s renewed nuclear threats, Moon said the issue also can be resolved when denuclearization and peace talks are resumed as soon as possible. The president reaffirmed he is ready to talk with Kim “anywhere, anytime,” adding all the pending issues ranging from humanitarian partnerships to the South’s springtime joint military exercises with the U.S. can be discussed once the North returns to the negotiating table. “The joint drills between the South and the U.S. also can be discussed as part of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” he said. He referred to the suspended talks on the agreement made as part of the Pyongyang Joint Declaration, a result of the third summit between Moon and Kim in 2018, which is aimed at reducing border tensions and preventing accidental clashes between the two Koreas. Moon who enters his final year in office in May pledged to make a last-ditch effort in the peace talks until the end. “Time is ticking for my presidency as I enter the fifth year. But I won’t hurry. I’ll do my best in the remaining time of my term,” he said. (Lee Ji-yoon, “Moon Hopes Biden Will Turn the Tide of Talks with N. K.,” Korea Herald, January 18, 2021) President Moon said that South and North Korea can discuss issues regarding joint military exercises between Seoul and Washington if necessary through a joint military committee as agreed upon during a 2018 inter-Korean summit. Moon made the comment during his New Year’s press conference in an answer to a reporter’s question on if he could accept North Korea’s call to halt the joint maneuvers with the United States. “The two Koreas are supposed to discuss South Korea-U.S. combined exercises through the inter-Korean military joint committee. If necessary, we can consult on the issue with North Korea through the channel,” Moon said. Seoul and Washington have held large-scale military exercises twice a year, and their springtime one is supposed to take place around March. During a recent party congress meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un demanded an end to joint military drills between the allies, citing it as one of critical things necessary to improve the currently chilled cross-border relations. “North Korea has cared much about the exercises and made very sensitive responses,” Moon said. “I want to stress once again that those combined exercises are regular ones and defensive in nature.” The president also noted that the issue can be seen from the perspectives of peace on and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Since 2018, South Korea and the U.S. have either canceled or scaled back joint drills to back diplomacy with North Korea. Last year, they “indefinitely postponed” the springtime program due to concerns over the new coronavirus, and the summertime exercise was held in a scaled-back manner in August. The inter-Korean military committee Moon mentioned is what the two Koreas agreed to form under the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) signed in 2018 during the inter-Korean summit. The formation of such an entity was first agreed upon in 1992, but the two Koreas have yet to launch one amid chilled ties. (Yonhap, “Moon Says S. Korea-U.S. Exercise Could Be Discussed with N. Korea If Necessary,” January 18, 2021)

KCNA: “The following members of the DPRK Cabinet and the director of the Central Public Prosecutors Office of the DPRK were appointed at the 4th Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly of DPRK: Vice-Premier and Chairman of the State Planning Commission Pak Jong Gun, Vice-Premier Jon Hyon Chol, Vice-Premier Kim Song Ryong, Vice-Premier Ri Song Hak, Vice-Premier Pak Hun, Vice-Premier and Minister of Agriculture Ju Chol Gyu, Secretary General of the Cabinet Kim Kum Chol, Minister of Electric Power Industry Kim Yu Il, Minister of Chemical Industry Ma Jong Son, Minister of Railways Jang Chun Song, Minister of Mining Industry Kim Chol Su, Minister of Natural Resources Development Kim Chung Song, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications Ju Yong Il, Minister of Construction and Building-Materials Industry So Jong Jin, Minister of Light Industry Jang Kyong Il, Minister of Finance Ko Jong Bom, Minister of Labor Jin Kum Song, Minister of External Economic Relations Yun Jong Ho, Minister of Urban Management Im Kyong Jae, Minister of Commerce Pak Hyok Chol, Minister of State Construction Control Ri Hyok Gwon, President of Kim Il Sung University and Minister of Higher Education under the Education Commission Ri Kuk Chol, Minister of Public Health Choe Kyong Chol, Minister of Culture Sung Jong Gyu, President of the Central Bank Chae Song Hak, Director of the Central Bureau of Statistics Ri Chol San, Director of the Central Public Prosecutors Office of the DPRK U Sang Chol.” (KCNA, “Members of DPRK Cabinet Appointed,” January 18, 2021)

Madden: “Despite her auspicious family ties and her perch at the top of North Korea’s political heap, the career of Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s younger sister, will proceed along the same path as other DPRK elites. Whatever substantive positions and/or political offices she holds will be affected and shaped by the current prevailing political and policy environments. At the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), much was made of Kim Yo Jong’s “demotion” from the Political Bureau (Politburo), the party’s lead power organization. However, this interpretation fails to recognize the broader context of this move. She and her peer group of core DPRK elites in the Central Committee apparatus all saw their job responsibilities and titles redefined and changed at this Congress. At the same time, she was one of the last of the appointments to the Political Bureau made during the 2018 “charm offensive” to remain until now, as most of the other officials associated with it have either retired or been reassigned. Furthermore, when assessing Kim’s career, her role as the gatekeeper for Kim Jong Un remains intact, a crucial position in a political system like North Korea’s. Finally, when looking at the potentially decades left in Kim’s career, this move off of the Political Bureau at her young age is neither the first nor likely the last time she will experience this kind of power transition as she carves out her space in the regime. Most of the attention on Kim Yo Jong’s current status focuses on her being dropped as an alternate member of the Political Bureau. This was not the first time this has happened. She was first elected to the Political Bureau in 2017 and then removed in 2019, which also sparked media reporting speculating that she had fallen out of favor or been demoted. She was later elected back to the Political Bureau in April 2020 before being removed during the first plenary meeting of the Eighth Party Central Committee, held on the sidelines of the Eighth Party Congress. This second dismissal from the Political Bureau appears to be less about her personal performance over the past year, and more a consequence of the DPRK’s evolving political environment. The Eighth Party Congress publicized and authorized a series of fundamental changes to the Central Committee’s power organizations, like the Political Bureau, and how the party operates overall. The Party Congress enhanced the authority of the Political Bureau and its Presidium over policy and personnel affairs. With that change, the membership composition of the Political Bureau, which earmarks slots for incumbent senior officials, was reallocated. The current post-Party Congress Political Bureau consists only of first-tier DPRK leadership (i.e., Minister, Director, Chief). Second-tier positions, such as Kim Yo Jong’s deputy (vice) directorate, were eliminated entirely. The change in her status and the political offices she held reflects the overall trends of major institutional changes in the North Korean political environment. Kim Yo Jong’s removal from the Political Bureau, however, does not necessarily portend her complete absence from this powerful organization or its meetings. While further public events and other activities are necessary to accurately gauge how the Political Bureau functions under Kim Jong Un, its meetings have routinely been held on an “expansion basis” and included DPRK elites with the same or similar rank as hers. For example, at a performing arts event held to celebrate the Eighth Party Congress, she was one of only two officials seated with other members and alternate members of the Political Bureau. This indicates that even though she lacks the alternate member credential, she remains within the top 50 of the regime’s formal hierarchy. Even if the Eighth Party Congress and Kim Jong Un had given Kim Yo Jong a Kim family exemption from the new qualifications for Political Bureau membership, there was always a high probability that her career would be affected by Pyongyang’s current policy environment. The Party Congress, along with other political events during the last half of 2020, is shifting North Korean policy priorities away from foreign affairs and diplomatic engagement toward bolstering the country’s defense industry and the developing missiles and WMDs. A combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and storm damage to housing and the country’s critical infrastructure finds Kim Jong Un and the core leadership leaning into an overall policy environment focused on military affairs, internal security (emphasizing a corruption crackdown) and the defense industry. In that environment, any remaining elites associated with the 2018 “charm offensive” now operate in a diminished capacity. This is the broader context in which Kim Yo Jong was removed from the Political Bureau, reverting back to a more behind-the-scenes role in the country’s political culture. The first wave of these personnel changes occurred at the 2019 Central Committee plenary meeting when former Party International Affairs Department boss Ri Su Yong retired and former Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho was removed from office and transferred to a new position. In 2021, this also affected the careers of Kim Yong Chol and Choe Son Hui. Kim Yong Chol retained his full Political Bureau membership, but he was removed from the Party Central Military Commission. He was also appointed as a Central Committee Department Director, but was not appointed to the revamped Secretariat. This latter personnel move eliminates Kim Yong Chol from his previous senior policymaking role, subordinating him to Ri Pyong Chol, who was elected to the Secretariat. Choe Son Hui was demoted from full membership on the Party Central Committee to alternate membership. Further studies about the function and role of Kim Jong Un’s Personal Secretariat, his executive office, are warranted. But when assessing Kim Yo Jong’s career in the context of the Eighth Party Congress, we need to examine how it affects the Suryong’s (leader’s) gatekeepers. Until the Party Congress, Kim Yo Jong was one of the elite’s public figures representing the Personal Secretariat; the other was Jo Yong Won. After the Party Congress, the situation around Kim Jong Un’s gatekeepers appears to be more fluid. Jo Yong Won was one of the biggest “winners” of this party event. He was elected to the Political Bureau Presidium and Central Military Commission and, most importantly, to the Secretariat. These positions establish Jo as one of the regime’s critical decision makers. With his new role as secretary, Jo has probably assumed some of the daily grinds of reporting and management responsibilities previously discharged by Kim Jong Un. It also means that, while he still might interact on a daily basis with Kim, Jo has new tasks to complete. These moves indicate that Jo’s role is shifting toward greater party and state affairs responsibilities, and away from the room where Kim Jong Un deliberates and decides on policies and how they are executed. With Jo’s new job and responsibilities, Kim Yo Jong is the only known public figure who is still in the room. In a political system like the DPRK’s, this level of access and influence is an asset for her. There are two ways, currently bandied about by analysts and media reports, in which Kim Yo Jong’s access translates into tangible and observable manifestations of power. The first are meetings held by the Political Bureau. When we watch Kim Jong Un sit at the table at a Political Bureau meeting, he always has a pile of papers or a briefing book in front of him. Even with some of the changes made during the Eighth Party Congress, the Political Bureau is not entirely a decision-making organization. While the state media reports about decisions that are adopted or authorized by the Political Bureau, it merely deliberates on and discusses a series of decisions that Kim Jong Un has already made. When we factor in the technical role of the Personal Secretariat, and one of its leading cadres like Kim Yo Jong, we find the institution and individuals who channel the leader’s thinking and comments and prepare the documents from which he reads when he attends Political Bureau meetings. The Eighth Party Congress has decreed that the Political Bureau can meet without Kim Jong Un’s attendance or participation, but that does not mean the meeting’s documents and decisions won’t be authored, if not shaped, by him and his Personal Secretariat gatekeepers. The second way one might measure Kim Yo Jong’s power is through her role as a key Personal Secretariat employee (in addition to being the leader’s sister). In this capacity, she has current and direct knowledge of Kim Jong Un’s whereabouts, activities and physical and mental health. Her position reminds us of the hypotheses and assumptions of Pyongyang watchers who puzzled over Kim Jong Un’s public absence during April and May 2020. In terms of “real power,” there are few, if any, core DPRK elites whom Kim Jong Un would admit to his bedside. … ” (Michael Madden, “Kim Yo Jong Stays in the Picture,” 38 North, January 22, 2021)


1/19/21:
President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said today the incoming administration planned a full review of the U.S. approach to North Korea to look at ways to increase pressure on the country to come to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons. At the same time, the United States would also look at providing humanitarian help to North Korea if needed, Blinken said. “We do want to make sure that in anything we do, we have an eye on the humanitarian side of the equation, not just on the security side of the equation,” he told his Senate confirmation hearing. Asked by Democratic Senator Ed Markey whether he would, with the ultimate aim of North Korea denuclearizing, support a “phased agreement” that offered tailored sanctions relief to Pyongyang in return for a verifiable freeze in its weapons programs, Blinken replied: “I think we have to review, and we intend to review, the entire approach and policy toward North Korea, because this is a hard problem that has plagued administration after administration. And it’s a problem that has not gotten better—in fact, it’s gotten worse.” He said the aim of the review would be to “look at what options we have, and what can be effective in terms of increasing pressure on North Korea to come to the negotiating table, as well as what other diplomatic initiatives may be possible.” Blinken said this would start with consulting closely with allies and partners, particularly with South Korea and Japan. Biden’s senior official for Asia policy, Kurt Campbell, has said the administration would have to make an early decision on its approach and not repeat the Obama-era delay that led to “provocative” steps by Pyongyang that prevented engagement. Campbell had some praise for outgoing President Donald Trump’s unprecedented summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, even though no progress was made in persuading Kim to give up his nuclear weapons. (David Brunnstrom, Patricia Zengerle and Humeyra Pamuk, “Blinken Says U.S. Plans Full Review of Approach to North Korea,” Reuters, January 19,2021) In his 21-minute inaugural address Biden made two main appeals in his inaugural address. First was a message of unity, backed by his pledge to heal the divisions of a society that has been torn apart by hatred and rage for one another. Second was the need for rebuilding alliances by reassuring major countries who had been offended by Trump’s “America first” position. “We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. [ … ] We will lead [the world] not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example. We will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security,” Biden pledged. The question of greatest interest for Koreans who desire lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula is what North Korean policy the Biden administration will eventually adopt. Unfortunately, Biden didn’t specifically mention the Korean Peninsula in his inaugural address. To get a hint of what this policy may be, we need to look at the remarks that Antony Blinken, made during a hearing before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on January 19. Blinken was asked about the North Korean nuclear issue during the hearing, which began at 2 pm. But he didn’t dedicate much time to the topic, which was crowded out by US policy toward China and the Middle East. The only person to pose a question about North Korea was Democratic Senator Ed Markey, with the conversation taking up less than four minutes of the four-hour hearing. First, Markey asked whether Blinken supported a “phased agreement” in which the US offers “tailored sanctions relief to North Korea in exchange for a verifiable freeze [ … ] on North Korea’s WMD programs,” with “the goal of ultimately denuclearizing.” Blinken avoided a direct answer, instead offering the following generic statement. “I think we have to review, and we intend to review, the entire approach and policy toward North Korea, because this is a hard problem that has plagued administration after administration. And it’s a problem that has not gotten better — in fact, it’s gotten worse. But I begin by acknowledging the fact that it’s a hard problem to begin with. So I think one of the first things that we would do, and we would welcome being able to consult on that is to review the entire approach, look at what options we have and that can be effective in terms of increasing pressure on North Korea to come to the negotiating table as well as what other diplomatic initiatives may be possible. But that starts with consulting closely with our allies and partners, particularly with South Korea and with Japan and others and reviewing all of the bidding.” There are basically three lessons that we can take away from these remarks. First, resolving the North Korean nuclear issue is not a top priority for the Biden administration in its early days. Biden has to deal with the tough question of how to deal with China as the two countries vie for future hegemony. Major appointees in the Biden administration have indicated that they intend to maintain the basic framework of the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” advocated by the Trump administration while also cooperating with China on global challenges that require China’s help, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. Second, Blinken clearly stated that American officials will consult with the South Koreans while determining US policy on the North Korean nuclear issue. Also encouraging was Blinken’s remark that the US will explore “other diplomatic initiatives” in addition to the hardline policy of “increasing pressure on North Korea to come to the negotiating table.” Third, Blinken said he would consult not only with South Korea but also with Japan in setting North Korea policy. (Gil Yun-hyung, “The 3 Big Clues in Blinken’s Comments on N. Korea,” Hankyore, January 22, 2021)


1/20/21:
President Moon nominated Chung Eui-yong, who has served as director of the National Security Council, to serve as foreign minister. He’ll replace Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, one of the most prominent female members of Moon’s cabinet. (Jon Herskovitz, “South Korea’s Moon Replaces Top Diplomat as Biden Takes Office,” Bloomberg News, January 20, 2021)


2/2/21:
Sigal: “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) reportedly fired two tactical cruise missiles into the contested waters of the West Sea (Yellow Sea) on March 21 in a tit-for-tat response to the just-completed US-South Korea joint military exercises. Pyongyang followed up four days later by test-launching two “new-type tactical guided” ballistic missiles eastward into the East Sea (Sea of Japan). The launches were a stark reminder of what is in store if US-DPRK nuclear diplomacy doesn’t resume soon. The question is how to get to the negotiating table. In the current political environment, what are the prospects for diplomacy with Pyongyang? President Joseph Biden is pursuing a long-sought US goal of denuclearization of North Korea. Kim Jong Un, for his part, still seems committed to what his father and grandfather wanted ever since the late 1980s: to reduce the North’s dependence on China and hedge against its rise by transforming relations with the United States. The only way for either leader to get what he wants is to resume and sustain negotiations and see how far they can get. If Kim needs talks, why has Pyongyang failed to respond to Washington’s attempt to resume them? It’s doubtful that he has backed away from his forebears’ goal. More likely, he is playing hard to get, waiting for a conclusive sign that Biden is moving away from what North Korea calls “U.S. hostile policy.” What’s behind this reluctance? On New Year’s Day 2018, Kim announced a significant concession—a unilateral moratorium that slowed development of a credible nuclear threat against the continental United States by suspending nuclear weapons tests before the North had a proven thermonuclear device and halting long-range missile test launches before demonstrating an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a reentry vehicle to deliver it. From Pyongyang’s vantage point, Washington has yet to reciprocate. Asked about the administration’s review of North Korea policy during his consultations with Asian allies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was careful to remain noncommittal: “We’re looking at whether various additional pressure measures could be effective, whether there are diplomatic paths that makes sense.” Kim Jong Un has warned that he no longer feels bound by the self-declared moratorium on nuclear weapons and long-range missile testing, but he has still not resumed such tests. Ratcheting up pressure on him will likely be counterproductive. If he does continue them, the North’s ability to develop, produce and field more and better weapons would only add to its superior leverage. By contrast, US sanctions pressure is increasingly leaky, especially since Beijing, well aware of Kim’s desire to woo Washington, is reluctant to tighten the economic noose. DPRK First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui reiterated Pyongyang’s point of view in her recent statement: “We have already declared our stand that no DPRK-U.S. contact and dialogue of any kind can be possible unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK … We will readily react to the sanctions leverage which the U.S. is so much fond of. It had better contemplate what we can do in the face of its continued hostile policy toward us. We already clarified that we will counter the U.S. on the principle of power for power and goodwill for goodwill.” It is not clear what Kim will take as evidence of a change of heart in Washington. The principles of the Singapore Joint Statement have the North Korean leader’s personal imprimatur, making them a useful starting point for considering what steps to take. Those principles need to be reaffirmed by Biden and backed up by concrete measures. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, recently highlighted the most obvious step: suspension of joint US-South Korea military exercises. The allies just concluded tabletop drills but, blaming COVID-19, held off exercising substantial armed forces in the field. They could commit to withholding all field exercises on the land, offshore, or in the air over Korea for a year—or longer if negotiations are making progress. Whether that would satisfy the North Koreans is not clear. Kim Yo Jong put it this way: “They say that the drill involves no actual maneuvers with its scale and contents drastically ‘reduced’ … .We have opposed the joint military drills targeting the compatriots but never argued about their scale or form.” Last week’s launch of short-range missiles appears to be a shot across the bow, implying Pyongyang may not tolerate even tabletop exercises on Korean soil. A meaningful step would also be to follow up the Singapore Joint Statement with a pledge to work toward what former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo once called “a fundamentally different strategic relationship” with North Korea. That pledge could be underscored in a letter to Kim Jong Un from Biden reiterating the commitment Pompeo made to him in a face-to-face meeting in October 2018: to negotiate an end-of-war declaration, as the starting point of a peace process in Korea. Another possible step might be to pledge to ease some economic sanctions by allowing exemptions from United Nations Security Council sanctions to permit the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Zone or the import of some oil by the North and/or the export of coal or textiles for two years, or as long as negotiations are moving ahead. Communicated in a letter from Biden to Kim, such an initiative would constitute a clear move away from enmity and fitting reciprocity for the North Korean test moratorium, as well as significant inducements to serious and sustained negotiations. While such a dramatic gesture may enjoy a warm embrace from the Moon Jae-in government in Seoul, it would doubtless prove contentious inside the Beltway. Yet, if Biden is to head off an unbounded nuclear breakout in Asia, the audience he needs to convince is, like it or not, in Pyongyang. A bold move would match the courage Biden has demonstrated in his domestic policy. There’s no guarantee that early actions would be seen as enough or whether Kim Jong Un might just demand further concessions. However, putting Biden on a slippery slope toward confrontation instead of negotiating in earnest would jeopardize the negotiations he needs, abandoning the regime’s long-time goal of reconciliation with Washington and leaving it nuclear-armed but politically and economically more dependent than ever on Beijing. (Leon V. Sigal, “To Spark Talks with North Korea, Biden Should Make the First Move,” 38 North, April 2, 2021)


2/4/21:
The leaders of South Korea and the United States agreed today to draw up a joint “comprehensive” strategy on North Korea during their phone talks, Cheong Wa Dae announced. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden also agreed to work together for the shared goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and bringing lasting peace to the region, according to Moon’s spokesman Kang Min-seok. Moon proposed that the two sides make joint efforts to advance the denuclearization and peace-building process in the half-hour conversation, according to Kang. Biden pledged close cooperation to achieve the aim, saying it is important for the allies to maintain the same position on the matter, Kang added. The unified stance raises expectations for Seoul-Washington consultations on Pyongyang to gain pace under the new American administration. Moon and Biden reaffirmed that the Seoul-Washington alliance, which has lasted for seven decades, is the key to regional peace and prosperity. They agreed to develop it as a “comprehensive and strategic” alliance to contribute to promoting democracy, human rights and multilateralism in the world, beyond the peninsula and the Indo-Pacific region. On Japan, they shared the view that an improvement in Seoul-Tokyo relations is crucial, as well as strengthening trilateral security partnerships, Kang said. They also exchanged opinions on other regional security issues, including those related to Myanmar and China. “In particular, they shared concerns about the recent situations in Myanmar and agreed to cooperate for a democratic, peaceful resolution,” the Cheong Wa Dae official said, referring to a military coup there. Moon and Biden agreed to hold their summit as soon as the COVID-19 situation is stabilized, he added. In a separate statement, the White House said the leaders agreed to closely cooperate on North Korea. “The two leaders agreed to closely coordinate on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” it said, using the official name of North Korea. Biden’s call with Moon was to stress his commitment to strengthening the alliance, which is the “linchpin” for peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia, it noted. “They also agreed on the need for the immediate restoration of democracy in Burma,” it added. “The two Presidents discussed a range of global issues critical to both our nations and agreed to work together to address shared challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.” The U.S. government still calls the Southeast Asian nation Burma. It was their first phone call since Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration. (Lee Chi-dong and Byun Duk-kun, “Moon, Biden to Map out ‘Comprehensive’ N. Korea Strategy Together,” Yonhap, February 4, 2021)


2/8/21:
North Korea has modernized its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles by flaunting United Nations sanctions, using cyberattacks to help finance its programs and continuing to seek material and technology overseas for its arsenal, U.N. experts said. The panel of experts monitoring sanctions on the Northeast Asian nation said in a report sent to Security Council members Monday that North Korea’s “total theft of virtual assets from 2019 to November 2020 is valued at approximately $316.4 million,” according to one unidentified country. The panel said its investigations found that North Korean-linked cyber actors continued to conduct operations in 2020 against financial institutions and virtual currency exchange houses to generate money to support its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs. “It displayed new short-range, medium-range, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missile systems at military parades,“ they said. “It announced preparation for testing and production of new ballistic missile warheads and, development of tactical nuclear weapons … and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure.“ The panel recommended that the Security Council impose sanctions on four North Korean men: Choe Song Chol, Im Song Sun, Pak Hwa Song, and Hwang Kil Su. The report’s summary and some key findings and recommendations, obtained by The Associated Press, make clear that North Korea remains able to evade sanctions and develop its weapons and to illicitly import refined petroleum, access international banking channels and carry out “malicious cyber activities.” In August 2019, the U.N. panel said North Korean cyber experts illegally obtained proceeds “estimated at up to $2 billion” to fund its weapons programs. The panel said in the new report that it investigated “malicious” activities by the Reconnaissance General Bureau — North Korea’s primary intelligence agency, which is on the U.N. sanctions blacklist — including “the targeting of virtual assets and virtual asset service providers, and attacks on defense companies.” North Korea continues to launder stolen cryptocurrencies especially through over-the-counter virtual asset brokers in China to acquire fiat currency which is government backed, like the U.S. dollar, the experts said. The panel said it is investigating a September 2020 hack against a cryptocurrency exchange that resulted in approximately $281 million worth of cryptocurrencies being stolen, and transactions on the blockchain indicating the $281 million hack is related to a $23 million second hack in October 2020. “Preliminary analysis, based on the attack vectors and subsequent efforts to launder the illicit proceeds strongly suggests links to the DPRK,” the experts said. According to one unnamed country, North Korea also continues to generate illegal revenue by exploiting freelance information technology platforms using the same methods it does to access the global financial system — false identification, use of virtual private network services, and establishing front companies in Hong Kong, the panel said. The experts said they investigated attempted violations of the U.N. arms embargo, including illegal actions of blacklisted companies. They cited the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation, alleged military cooperation by North Korea, and the use of the country’s overseas diplomatic missions for commercial purposes. The panel said it also investigated “the country’s continued illicit import of refined petroleum, via direct deliveries and ship-to-ship transfers, using elaborate subterfuge.“ It cited images, data and calculations from an unidentified country showing that between January 1 and September 30 last year North Korea received shipments of refined petroleum products exceeding “by several times” the annual ceiling of 500,000 barrels set by the Security Council. U.N. sanctions ban North Korean coal exports, and the panel said shipments of coal appear to have been largely suspended since late July 2020. It said that last year, North Korea continued to transfer fishing rights in violation of sanctions, which earned the country $120 million in 2018, according to an unnamed member state. (Edith M. Lederer, “UN Experts: North Korea Using Cyber Attacks to Upgrade Nukes,” Associated Press, February 8, 2021) Iran and North Korea cooperated on long-range missile development projects last year, according to a confidential United Nations report that may pressure the Biden administration to respond to one of its first major geopolitical crises. “This resumed cooperation is said to have included the transfer of critical parts, with the most recent shipment associated with this relationship taking place in 2020,” an independent panel of experts monitoring sanctions on North Korea said in the report, citing a member state. The UN panel received information showing that Iran’s Shahid Haj Ali Movahed Research Center received “support and assistance” from North Korean missile specialists for a space launch vehicle, and that North Korea was involved in certain shipments to Iran.

It wasn’t immediately clear what was in those shipments or how significant the cooperation was for either nation. In response to the allegations, Iran told the panel members that a “preliminary review of the information provided to us by the panel indicates that false information and fabricated data may have been used in investigations and analyzes of the panel,” according to the report, which was seen by Bloomberg. The panel cited an assessment by a member state that “it is highly likely that a nuclear device can be mounted on the ICBMs, and it is also likely that a nuclear device can be mounted on,” the shorter-range missiles. “The member state, however, stated it is uncertain whether the DPRK had developed ballistic missiles resistant to the heat generated during re-entry,” the panel said. (David Wainer, “Iran and North Korea Resumed Cooperation on Missiles, UN Says,” Bloomberg, February 8, 2021)


2/9/21:
KCNA: “ … The 2nd Plenary Meeting of the 8th WPK Central Committee to indicate the road of the great struggle was held on February 8 amid expectation and concern of all the Party members. The respected Comrade Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, guided the plenary meeting. Attending the meeting were members and alternate members of the WPK Central Committee. Present as observers were vice directors of the relevant departments of the Party Central Committee, leading Party and administrative officials of commissions, ministries and national institutions, senior officials of the leading institutions at provincial level, chief secretaries of the city and county Party committees and leading Party and administrative officials of major industrial establishments. The General Secretary appeared at the platform of the meeting with members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee to guide the plenary meeting. All the participants raised stormy cheers of “hurrah!” for the General Secretary who set a new goal for significant advance of the socialist construction with his outstanding idea and seasoned leadership art and wisely leads the historic advance of our people along the road of victory. At the meeting the General Secretary referred to the main purport of convening the plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee, appreciating that the readiness and fighting spirit of officials, Party members and other people have remarkably grown and our revolution has firmly moved to the fresh stage of development with the 8th Party Congress as an occasion. The General Secretary analyzed that positive and clear changes are being made among the Party members in their political consciousness and way of thinking in the course of the Party-wide acceptance and intensive study of the documents of the Party Congress. He added that the correct dissemination of the idea and spirit of the 8th Congress of the Party throughout the Party, through which the new fighting program won the sympathy of the Party’s rank and file, means the provision of the most valuable asset for a new victory of the socialist construction. Saying that the Party Central Committee should powerfully lead the masses to the implementation of the decisions made at the Party Congress by valuing their elated spirit and giving further momentum to their enthusiasm, he stressed the need to provide the Party organizations and members with practical means for innovation which would help bring about practical change and substantial progress from the first year of the five-year plan. He said that as the decisions made at the Party Congress are mid-and long-term tasks to be fulfilled by all sectors during the coming five years, it is necessary to examine this year’s plans down to details at the plenary meeting and fix and issue them as the decisions of the Party Central Committee. He evinced the determination and will of the Party Central Committee to take important measures to push forward the economic construction and provide the people with more stable and improved living conditions despite the persistent emergency anti-epidemic situation. He proposed agenda items to be discussed at the plenary meeting, underscoring the need to make a serious study of a series of issues arising in thoroughly overcoming negative elements obstructing the socialist construction at present, further consolidating the Party organizationally and ideologically and enhancing the militant function and role of the Party organizations. The plenary meeting passed the agenda items with unanimous approval. Kim Jong Un began an important report on thoroughly implementing the first year’s tasks of the five-year plan set forth by the 8th Party Congress. The report sharply criticized the passive and self-protecting tendencies revealed by the state economic guidance organs in the course of setting this year’s goals, and stressed the principled matters for overcoming the tendencies and organizing the economic work in an innovative and meticulous way. Setting forth the tasks of different fields of the national economy, the report detailed the need to push forward with the production of iron and steel and chemical fertilizer by concentrating investment on the metal and chemical industries which were set as the main link in the chain of national economy, and to stoutly accelerate the work of expanding the production capacity on the basis of a scientific guarantee. It also indicated important goals to be achieved this year by key industrial fields including electric power and coal industries and by the fields of railway transport, construction and building materials, light industry and commerce, and practical ways to attain them. Listening to the report made by the General Secretary, the participants reproached themselves for failing to apply the idea and spirit of the Party Congress to the first year’s operation for implementing the new five-year plan and not living up to the high expectation of the Party and the people. All the participants are carefully listening to the report by the General Secretary, keenly feeling how they should think and exert their efforts to discharge their important responsibilities as leading officials of the revolution in the present crucial period aspiring after fresh innovation, courageous creation and steady progress. The plenary meeting goes on.” (KCNA, “2nd Plenary Meeting of 8th WPK Central Committee Held,” February 9, 2021)

North Korea has been conducting regular wintertime military drills without showing any unusual moves ahead of the February 16 birthday of late leader Kim Jong-il, South Korea’s military said today. “North Korea’s military is continuing wintertime exercises and has not shown any unusual moves,” Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) spokesperson Col. Kim Jun-rak told a regular briefing. The drills began in December and are expected to end around March. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Continues Wintertime Drills, No Unusual Moves Ahead of Late Leader’s Birthday,” February 9, 2021)


2/11/21:
Bowers and Hiim: “In August 2020, South Korea’s defense minister revealed that his country had “succeeded in developing a ballistic missile with sufficient range and the world’s largest warhead weight to protect peace on the Korean Peninsula.” The new “Frankenmissile” is part of Seoul’s conventional counterforce and countervalue strategy, which is meant to hold North Korea’s nuclear weapons infrastructure, as well as its leadership, at risk independently from the United States. This strategy is often overlooked by policymakers and analysts, who are more focused on discussing Kim Jong Un’s pledges to develop new missile and nuclear capabilities and how the new administration of President Joe Biden should approach the nuclear issue. However, as we highlight in a new article in International Security, South Korea’s strategy increasingly has a determining impact on strategic stability on the Korean Peninsula and on prospects for denuclearization. South Korea’s approach has three core components. The first two, the Kill Chain strategy and the Korean Air and Missile Defense system, were revealed in 2012 and the third, the Korean Massive Punishment and Retaliation strategy, was announced in 2016 following North Korea’s fifth nuclear test. The Kill Chain strategy entails detecting imminent North Korean missile attacks and then pre-emptively destroying the country’s missile launch capabilities. The Korean Air and Missile Defense is a largely indigenous, layered missile defense system, while the final component — the Korean Massive Punishment and Retaliation strategy — involves the use of multiple kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities to target North Korean leadership facilities following any North Korean attack. In 2019, the administration of Moon Jae-in renamed the Kill Chain and Korean Massive Punishment and Retaliation strategies in an effort to bolster reconciliation initiatives on the peninsula. However, there were no significant alterations in procurement plans or seemingly in the operational intent of the three components beyond a statement from the government that these capabilities would now be focused on omni-directional threats and not just on North Korea. However, the threat from the north still dominates South Korean strategic thinking and while the Moon government continuously emphasizes engaging with Pyongyang, South Korean investments in advanced weaponry have only intensified during his presidency. South Korea has drastically improved its precision-strike capabilities, investing in a range of advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets as well as a burgeoning force of air-, sea-, and ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles. It is understandable that South Korea would pursue an independent deterrent capability given the benefits it offers. Although a conventional counterforce strategy remains extremely challenging to operationalize, it is likely to have a deterrent effect, as even the slightest chance that an attack could fail or that South Korea could pursue catastrophic retaliation may stay the hand of North Korean leaders. It may therefore reduce the risk of North Korean attempts to “decouple” the United States and South Korea and of a North Korean nuclear attack in the event of the United States abandoning its security commitments on the peninsula. An additional long-term benefit of Seoul developing a deterrent capability is that advanced missile capabilities will bolster its nuclear latency and ease the path to obtaining a credible nuclear deterrent if South Korea ever wanted to build the bomb. Seoul’s pursuit of a conventional counterforce capability is also, in part, a hedge against U.S. abandonment. To be clear, this hedge is happening with a degree of U.S. consent and support and under the security blanket provided by U.S. conventional and nuclear forces. South Korea is coordinating both its strategy and its acquisitions with the United States and, for the time being, is relying on the United States for crucial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance data. South Korea’s capabilities can work in concert with U.S. forces should an emergency on the peninsula arise. For example, in June 2020, the Korean Defense Minister revealed the existence of joint US-South Korea military exercises aimed at improving joint missile defense responses even though South Korean capabilities are not networked with U.S systems. But, vitally for Seoul, should abandonment occur, South Korea would have an independent defensive capability. At the same time, South Korea’s counterforce and countervalue strategy may also affect strategic stability on the peninsula negatively by driving an emerging conventional-nuclear arms race. Pyongyang will not let Seoul acquire the capability to neutralize its hard-won deterrent and is seeking to bolster survivability and penetrability vis-à-vis the south. In recent years, North Korea has strongly emphasized developing new short-range missiles and has tested launching several missiles simultaneously in an effort to overcome regional missile defense systems. Indeed, North Korea’s newly announced plans to develop tactical nuclear weapons and its continued pursuit of submarine-launched ballistic missiles should be understood as a part of this arms race. While North Korea’s nuclear efforts were originally driven by the United States, the conventional threat from South Korea is having an increasing effect on the trajectory of the north’s weapons program. If operated independently from the United States, South Korea’s counterforce and countervalue strategy may also increase the risks of nuclear use during a crisis. Because the strategy is supposed to be employed pre-emptively, it may severely stress leaders in both Seoul and Pyongyang and increase the risks of misunderstandings taking place and mistakes being made. The strategy may further incentivize North Korea to adopt a doctrine and command-and-control arrangements that improve survivability but increase the risks of nuclear use, for example, by delegating launch authority further down the chain of command. In a crisis, Pyongyang’s fears of a decapitating conventional strike from Seoul could create a “use-it-or-lose-it” mindset. Threats against the North Korean leadership including the ruling Kim family may exacerbate some of these risks. With North Korean leaders skeptical about their prospects for survival, they may be extremely cautious about establishing communication during a crisis or conflict and see little reason to negotiate an end to hostilities. South Korea’s conventional capabilities also present a seldom recognized, but potentially insurmountable, challenge for any efforts to denuclearize North Korea. Even if the Biden administration could somehow persuade North Korea that the United States does not represent an existential threat, South Korea’s qualitatively superior conventional forces provide Pyongyang with a strong incentive to keep its nuclear deterrent. Traditionally, Pyongyang has relied on its large arsenal of artillery aimed at Seoul as a conventional deterrent against both the United States and South Korea. South Korea’s current and planned advanced conventional capabilities will greatly improve its ability to mitigate this threat, putting an even greater premium on nuclear weapons for North Korea. Consequently, if the United States wants to ensure that any denuclearization initiatives are successful, it may need to persuade South Korea to undertake conventional arms reductions, particularly with regard to offensive capabilities. Even objectives that fall short of denuclearization, such as constraining North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, may be difficult to achieve without limiting South Korea’s buildup. That is a tall order. First, it would be unacceptable to South Korean leaders. Even with a new U.S. administration in place that will be less dismissive of its allies, fears of abandonment remain, leaving South Korea with a strong and understandable urge to develop an independent conventional deterrent. Moreover, many of the capabilities South Korea is acquiring provide it with deterrent options that can also be used against an increasingly assertive China. At a time of rising tensions and great-power rivalry in East Asia, the rational choice for South Korea is to bolster its conventional capabilities, not to weaken them, even if relations on the peninsula change. Second, South Korean arms reductions would potentially undermine other major U.S. objectives. These include not only bolstering deterrence against North Korea, but also greater burden-sharing and strengthening its allies’ ability to stand up to a rising China. In fact, as the recently declassified U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific highlighted, the United States’ has sought to help both South Korea and Japan acquire advanced conventional capabilities. To fully understand the North Korean nuclear issue, analysts should widen their focus beyond the U.S.-North Korean relationship. While South Korea has been at pains to present itself as a peaceful arbiter between the United States and North Korea in recent years, it is now a powerful, technologically advanced state that is creating its own strategic relationships, not only with the north but with other regional actors. South Korea’s conventional capabilities are now increasingly intertwined with North Korea’s nuclear program and with the massive build-up of conventional systems across the region. Of course, bringing South Korea’s conventional weapons into discussions about denuclearization further complicates what is already a perennial difficult problem. However, Korea-watchers should accept that it is no longer just about the nukes: Advanced conventional weapons capabilities on the Korean Peninsula will have an increasingly powerful impact on how all East Asian actors understand their future security. (Ian Bowers and Henrik Hiim, “South Korea, Conventional Capabilities, and the Future of the Korean Peninsula,” War on the Rocks, February 11, 2021)


2/12/21:
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sacked his economy chief, who was only appointed last month, and denounced his cabinet for a lack of innovation in drafting goals for a new five-year economic plan, state media reported today. The ruling Workers’ Party wrapped up its four-day plenary meeting yesterday, where Kim also mapped out his vision for inter-Korean affairs and relations with other countries, as well as party rules and personnel issues. With the economy topping the agenda, Kim reviewed action plans for his new five-year strategy which was unveiled at last month’s party congress amid international sanctions, a prolonged border closure and reduced outside aid due to the coronavirus pandemic. He accused the cabinet of drafting plans with “no big changes” from previous ones, which he has said had “failed tremendously on almost every sector.” The committee appointed O Su Yong, a longtime economic policymaker who previously served as a vice premier, to be the new director of its Department of Economic Affairs, replacing Kim Tu Il who was appointed in January. “The idea and policy of the party congress are not properly reflected in the proposed plan for economic work for this year and innovative viewpoint and clear tactics can’t be found,” Kim told the meeting, according to KCNA. “The cabinet failed to play a leading role in mapping out plans of key economic fields and almost mechanically brought together the numbers drafted by the ministries.” As a result, plans for some sectors were unrealistically elevated and others had tasks that were already easily achievable, he added. The party decided to build 10,000 homes in capital Pyongyang this year, replacing a previous construction plan that Kim described as too low and a product of “self-protectionism and defeatism” in the bureaucracy. State television footage showed an angry looking Kim yelling, finger pointing and striking the podium as he addressed the meeting. He also called for enhanced self-reliance and the local production of goods and materials, KCNA said, after trade with China, which accounts for about 90% of shipments into and out of North Korea, plunged more than 80% last year due to strict COVID-19 lockdowns. As part of its personnel changes, the committee also promoted Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon to the politburo shortly after reinstating him as an alternate member of the powerful governing body. (Hyonhee Shin, “North Korea’s Kim Fires New Economy Minister; Blasts Cabinet for Unambitious Plans,” Reuters, February 12, 2021)


2/16/21:
North Korea tried to hack into the servers of U.S. drug-maker Pfizer to steal coronavirus vaccine information, South Korean intelligence officials reported Tuesday, despite leader Kim Jong Un’s professed view that his isolated dictatorship is untouched by the pandemic. Lawmakers were informed of the findings by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service at a regular closed-door hearing of the National Assembly’s intelligence committee. “The cyberattacks included an attempt to steal covid-19 vaccine and treatment technology, to which Pfizer was subject,” Ha Tae-keung, an opposition lawmaker and member of the committee, told reporters. He added that South Korea had detected a 32 percent year-on-year jump in the number of cyberattack attempts from North Korea. It was not clear when the Pfizer hack occurred or if it was successful. A Pfizer representative said she was not immediately able to comment. (Simon Denver, “North Korea Tried to Steal Pfizer Coronavirus Information, South Says,” Washington Post, February 16, 2021) Later that morning, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) put out a statement rebutting Ha’s claims. The agency said it “reported general incidences of hacking attempts” of coronavirus vaccine developers to Ha and the committee, but “did not specify any company names including Pfizer.” “The National Intelligence Service did not say that Pfizer was hacked by North Korea in a Q and A session of the briefing yesterday for the National Assembly Intelligence Committee,” the NIS statement read. (Yoonjung Seo, Gawon Bae and Joshua Berlinger, “South Korean Lawmaker and Spy Agency Dispute Whether North Korean Hackers Stole Pfizer COVID Vaccine,” CNN, February 17, 2021)


2/17/21:
North Korea has been expanding missile development facilities, but has shown no unusual signs at its demolished nuclear testing site or its long-suspended plutonium-producing reactor, the defense ministry said Wednesday. The assessment was made in a report the ministry presented to the National Assembly’s defense committee for a policy briefing session. “No special movement has been spotted since May 24, 2018, when the North demolished the Punggyeri nuclear test site. The 5-megawatt nuclear reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex has long been suspended,” the ministry said, referring to the North’s main source of weapons-grade plutonium. “North Korea has been expanding facilities for missile research and development,” the ministry added. The ministry also said that North Korea has heightened its ground and maritime defense posture near borders since late last year, and carried out regular military trainings. “To prevent accidents and curb the spread of the pandemic, troops are conducting the drills at around where they are stationed,” according to the report. South Korea has been closely monitoring the North’s military movements and maintains a firm readiness posture, the ministry said, vowing to take strong measures against possible provocations. During the briefing, the ministry once again stressed its push for the swift retaking of the wartime operational control (OPCON) of its troops from the U.S. Seoul and Washington are working for the conditions-based OPCON transfer. No exact timeframe has been set, though the current Moon Jae-in administration has hoped to retake OPCON within Moon’s term that ends in May 2022. “Active consultation is under way with the U.S. to carry out an FOC test during the (upcoming) combined exercise,” the report read. The Full Operational Capability (FOC) test, which is meant to check if Seoul is on course to meet the conditions for the transition, was supposed to be held last year, but the two sides were not able to do so due to the COVID-19 situation. Asked whether the exercise could be postponed or scaled back to move forward inter-Korean ties, Defense Minister Suh Wook said it will be held as planned. “South Korea-U.S. Combined exercises are like a symbol of the alliance and the backbone of our combined readiness posture,” Suh said, noting that the two sides are planning to begin the program in around the second week of next month. “As for its scale and other details, we will consider the COVID-19 situation and related factors,” he added. (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Expands Missile Facilities But No Unusual Signs at Nuclear Facilities: Defense Ministry,” February 17, 2021)

The Justice Department today unsealed charges against three North Korean intelligence officials accused of hacking scores of companies and financial institutions to thwart U.S. sanctions, illegally fund the North Korean government and control American corporations deemed enemies of the state, including Sony Pictures Entertainment. The charges are the government’s latest effort to show that North Korea has engaged in a brazen, years-long effort to undermine and attack institutions around the world and steal millions of dollars even as the United States and its allies intensify efforts to rein in the country and its nuclear ambitions. One of the officials, Park Jin-hyok, a member of North Korea’s military intelligence agency, was accused by the Justice Department in 2018 of participating in the Sony hacking that crippled the company, as well as the WannaCry cyberattack on Britain’s National Health Service, and an attack on the Bangladeshi central bank and financial institutions around the world. Building on that investigation, the Justice Department indicted Park and two more North Korean spies, Jon Chang-hyok and Kim Il, on charges related to those attacks, as well as new accusations that they tried to steal more than $1.3 billion in money and digital currencies from financial institutions and companies. “Simply put, the regime has become a criminal syndicate with a flag, which harnesses its state resources to steal hundreds of millions of dollars,” John C. Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement. Prosecutors declined to say how much money the hackers actually obtained. Separately, federal prosecutors charged Ghaleb Alaumary, 37, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, with organizing a network of people in those countries to launder millions of dollars that the North Korean government obtained from the hackers. Alaumary pleaded guilty to the charge. Today’s broad indictment supports the findings of a report released this month by Recorded Future, a cybersecurity research group, that concluded that North Korea has greatly expanded its ability to use the internet to financially prop up its government even though the United States and its allies have choked off oil supplies and imposed strict sanctions on the country. The report also found that North Korea has vastly improved its ability to steal cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which could challenge American officials’ efforts to punish Pyongyang. “Cryptocurrencies are completely changing the way that sanctions are done and their effectiveness,” said Stephanie T. Kleine-Ahlbrandt, a nonresident fellow at 38 North, the North Korea program at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington think tank. The three men were intelligence officers with the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the military intelligence agency that houses North Korea’s hacking operations. “As soon as they’re gone, three more people will take their place,” said Kleine-Ahlbrandt. “Deterrence doesn’t work in cyber like it does in conventional and nuclear areas because you can’t inflict unacceptable cost.” The charges illustrate how adept North Korea has become at exploiting the world of cryptocurrencies, as the value of Bitcoin has surpassed $50,000 and large corporations and financial institutions have begun to embrace digital currencies. The Justice Department accused the intelligence officers of luring investors into a fake digital coin investment scheme, stealing cryptocurrencies from financial institutions, and creating malware to target cryptocurrency apps and take control of victims’ computers. Cryptocurrencies have made it easier for Pyongyang to generate illicit income “because the transactions take place through total or partial anonymity, and the uneven regulatory environment means that cryptocurrency businesses aren’t subject to the same security standards and regulations that banks are subject to,” Kleine-Ahlbrandt said. Jon and Kim were accused of working with Park to operate illegal hacking schemes from North Korea, China and Russia beginning as early as 2014, when they attacked Sony in retaliation for the company’s decision to make and release a movie, “The Interview,” that depicted a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea. The disastrous attack wiped out 70 percent of the company’s computer capabilities, crippled operations and contributed to the resignation of the studio’s chairwoman, Amy Pascal. After the Sony attack, prosecutors said, the three men used malware-laden phishing emails to gain access to Bangladesh Bank computers, which are connected to the global banking communication system, and ultimately direct the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to transfer money from Bangladesh Bank to accounts controlled by the hackers. They were able to steal only $81 million because an official at the reserve bank noticed that the word “foundation” was misspelled, scrutinized the transaction and halted the transfer of an additional $900 million, according to government documents in the case against Park. The three men also used the crippling WannaCry malware to infiltrate and paralyze the British health care system’s computer network, according to court papers, and they tried to break into the computer networks of U.S. defense contractors. Those schemes were largely known, as they made up the bulk of the charges against Park, which were unveiled three years ago. But federal prosecutors also revealed new accusations that the hackers cashed out money from A.T.M.s, resulting in $6.1 million stolen from BankIslami Pakistan alone; that they used the WannaCry ransomware to extort money from victims after it was used against the British health system; and that they tried to break into energy, aerospace and technology companies and the State and Defense Departments, as recently as last year. The hackers were accused of trying to steal more than $1.2 billion from banks around the world, most recently in 2019 when, prosecutors said, they infiltrated the computer systems of a bank in Malta and sent commands to transfer funds. But some of their most notable schemes were cryptocurrency-related. The three men allegedly created at least nine pieces of malware disguised as software used for trading or storing cryptocurrencies, giving them access to the computers of their victims. Last summer, they used one of those pieces of malware to steal about $11.8 million worth of cryptocurrency from an unspecified New York financial institution, which they also tried to extort. They also created an initial coin offering — essentially an initial public offering to raise money for a new digital coin — for a digital token called Marine Chain Token that purportedly allowed investors to buy interest in shipping vessels. They were accused of using fake identities to pitch the potential investors in Singapore and planned to get approval to publicly trade the token in Hong Kong, never disclosing that the money raised from investors would actually be used to evade U.S. sanctions against North Korea, according to the indictment. And they were charged with stealing tens of millions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency, including more than $111 million from companies in Slovenia, Indonesia and New York. Demers said during a news conference that there was little chance that any of the men, who live in North Korea, would be arrested. But the Justice Department publicly revealed their identities and the accusations against them, he said, to show the public the seriousness of the threats from countries like North Korea. The department also wanted to demonstrate that it is able to identify the criminals behind cyberattacks and to warn those hackers and the countries that support them, he said. “If the choice here is between remaining silent while we at the department watch nations engage in malicious, norms-violating cyberactivity, or charging these cases, the choice is obvious,” Demers said in a statement. “We will charge them.” (Katie Benner, “’A Criminal Syndicate with a Flag’: U.S. Charges 3 North Koreans,” New York Times, February 18, 2021, p. B-3)

Babson: “North Korea’s Eighth Party Congress and the follow-up meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) are now over. As the dust settles and instant commentary recedes, the question remains: Given the harsh economic realities facing the country today and for the coming year, what is the meaning of these events for both North Korea and the international community? Both the speeches and the budget plan that were presented reflect recognition of the country’s dire economic conditions and the leadership’s aspirations for economic development in the next five years. The regime and policymakers in the international community will face both challenges and opportunities in the coming months. The challenges include navigating the economy and society into a post-pandemic period that can lead to a resumption of economic stability and public safety and adapting to a changing external environment. There are also opportunities for strategic shifts of policy, diplomacy and external political and economic relations that could lead to a more secure and prosperous future for North Korea and the region despite the posturing at the Party Congress. As Ruediger Frank highlighted in his recent article on the SPA meeting, the budget approved for 2021 of 0.9 percent growth for both planned revenue and expenditure is the lowest in decades and a sharp decline from the 4.2 percent adopted for 2020. These decisions reflect a realistic acknowledgment of the economic impact of sanctions, COVID-19 protection measures, natural disasters and failures of economic management, as well as expectations of continued hardships this year. However, the five-year economic plan presented at the Party Congress provides no explicit path for transitioning from management of the pandemic to restoring orderly economic activity. Rather, it spells out aspirational goals to build on the unfinished foundation of the economic strategy adopted in 2016. If North Korea remains isolated, the plan appears unachievable despite the call for self-reliance through import substitution and more effective management of the domestic economy. To meet the plan’s goals would require substantial foreign trade, access to technology transfers and mobilization of capital to support expansive investment plans. Achieving the external economic relations needed to complement domestic efforts to improve productivity and growth would require either ramped-up evasion of sanctions, large-scale trade and economic assistance from China, or a diplomatic breakthrough permitting a very different path of economic engagement with South Korea and the global community. While these are possible in the next few years, the alternative—and more likely—scenario would be a growing risk of continued deterioration of the economy and social conditions and shortcomings in implementing the plan. North Korea is also compromised in its capacity to exercise effective macroeconomic management by its underdeveloped financial, legal and regulatory systems. Another problem is the relationship of the state to what has become a mixed economy featuring the growth of formal and informal markets, privately managed enterprises and privately mobilized and invested savings outside the banking system. The growth of private initiative and rewards has been tolerated over the past 20 years but has not been embraced in official party rhetoric, which has inhibited the formulation of policies and institutional capacity to efficiently manage a mixed economy or planned transition, as has been the case in both China and Vietnam. Moreover, while privatization is progressing in North Korea, private ownership of assets is still technically illegal (although increasingly accepted in practice). Nonetheless, enterprise and decentralization reform efforts supported by the party have been encouraged by a leadership that is well aware of Vietnam’s success in achieving economic development while retaining the dominance of the party. The economic reforms adopted in 2002 first introduced changes in enterprise management after the economic crisis of the 1990s. The most important of these gave managers more discretion in hiring and firing employees and eliminating the party representatives in the management teams. These reforms faltered a few years later for internal and external reasons. Renewed attention to improving enterprise management emerged late in the Kim Jong Il period and was embraced by Kim Jong Un when he assumed power. The articulation of a new socialist enterprise management strategy began in 2013 and led to amendments to the Enterprise Act in 2014 that granted managers rights to plan and manage for profit, “engage in foreign trade and joint ventures and accept investment from domestic private investors.” The increased autonomy given to state enterprise managers extended to local-level enterprises and represented a significant decentralization of decision making. Private entrepreneurship expanded beyond markets for consumer goods, accomplished largely through informal licenses to operate under the legal framework of existing state-owned enterprises or government institutions such as ministries. Under this system, the state-owned sponsors received agreed payments for their permission to operate under their umbrella, providing a semblance of security that enabled the entrepreneurs to invest their own monies and grow their businesses. The boundaries between state-owned enterprises and private entrepreneurs have since become increasingly blurred through practices such as subcontracting and rentals of state-owned facilities or land. For state trading companies, a “kiji” system was established to permit privately managed foreign exchange earning activities. This relatively unregulated system of commercial activity helped offset the impact of external sanctions by stimulating innovation, more efficient use of resources and productivity growth in the domestic economy and unsanctioned commercial trade. It also contributed to the emergence of a wealthier middle class of successful entrepreneurs (donju), and growing disparity between wages in the state-linked institutions (e.g., military and state security organs) and those linked to the growing marketization of the economy. These changes in political economy, differences in the mindsets of traditional socialist economy policymakers and managers, and both state and private enterprise managers underpin Kim Jong Un’s criticisms of state economic management performance and his call for changes in the economic management system implemented by the Cabinet. The core concepts of a new and responsible socialist enterprise management system evolved through debates in North Korean economic journals and policy circles over several years and were formalized in amendments to the constitution in April 2016, just prior to the Seventh Party Congress. Language referring to the traditional Taean Work System was eventually replaced by references to the “Responsible Management System for Socialist Corporations” (RMSSC). This change increased the autonomy of managers, introduced market elements and provided the legal underpinning for further efforts to reform the system. Article 33 of the revised constitution mandates that “the state shall execute the Responsible Management System for Socialist Corporations in economic management while ensuring the correct use of economic spaces such as production costs, prices, and profitability.” However, progress in implementing the five-year strategy adopted in 2016 was adversely affected by the heavy sanctions imposed in 2017, which had a deep impact on trade and availability of imported inputs critical for both agricultural and industrial production. With economic management reforms stalled by the need for defensive economic planning in the face of these developments, it is not surprising that the aspirations of the five-year strategy were not being realized. The diplomatic initiatives of 2018 were motivated in part by a desire to obtain significant economic benefits, especially relief from sanctions. But the failure of the Hanoi Summit resulted in an abrupt shift in expectations and the need to face up to the likelihood of increasingly difficult economic conditions. At a meeting of the Central Committee in December 2019, Kim Jong Un acknowledged this reality and sharply criticized economic management. He called for more aggressive efforts to improve Cabinet-centered economic management, pursue self-reliance at the state, local and individual levels, continue implementing the RMSSC enterprise management reforms, and ensure all enterprises conform to state guidance to best meet the needs of the people.[3] Only a month later, COVID-19 arrived, and North Korea’s responses foreclosed serious efforts to move forward on this agenda. On November 4, 2020, the SPA adopted changes to the Enterprise law. The official report by KCNA states that these changes “ … stipulate contents of making enterprises labor-, energy-, cost-, and land-saving ones and of making the employees patriotic working people who regard the spirit of the economy part of their mental qualities … .The enterprise law refers to issues which all the units must observe when organizing new enterprises or when their affiliations change. It also stipulates that the production and business management must be done under the unified guidance and strategic control of the state and on socialist principles.” While details are unclear, two articles by Daily NK indicate that some provisions would encourage foreign trade and reduce to ten percent of profits what private kiji are required to pay to the state. Others would require participation of party representatives in the management teams of all enterprises to ensure the strategic guidance of the state is being respected and that the finances of the enterprises are transparent for taxation purposes. There is concern about the potential impact of such changes on markets and private entrepreneurship, but more information is needed to understand the details, intentions and practical significance of these developments. The decision to place party representatives back on enterprise management teams could be designed to assert party influence on enterprise decision making. In light of the failed effort to require bond sales to raise foreign exchange for the state in 2020, some skepticism is understandable. It is also hard to believe, given the growth and success of markets and private entrepreneurship over the past decade and the fallout from the party’s last effort to curtail markets, that any attempt to substantially erode public dependence on markets would be accepted without pushback. At the recent Central Committee meeting, Premier Kim Tok Hun pledged “ … to perfect feasible methodology for making the working people practical master of economic management by correctly enforcing the socialist system of responsible business operation while readjusting and rearranging system and order of economic work and practicing the unified guidance and strategic management of the State over economic work.” U Sang Chol, director of the Central Public Prosecutor’s Office, also said he would “ensure that all legal measures are taken to make every field and enterprise thoroughly implement the Party’s economic policy” and that he would “offensively and continuously keep legal watch over units which wantonly violate the socialist economic management order within their own enclosure on the strength of ‘special organs’ while being away from control by law,” and “intensify the education on the law among the economic officials.” Thus, the Central Committee meeting set in place authorities and mechanisms for ongoing adaptation of economic management policies and strengthened the role of the legal system for enforcement of government regulation. While these changes can be viewed as enabling state suppression of private economic activity, an alternative assessment that should be explored is whether they could represent a thoughtful homegrown effort to integrate and conform state and privately managed economic activities with goals that are in the interests of both the nation and the common people, and are defined in a rehabilitated party system. More transparency and accountability in the relationship between economic actors and political authorities, and in the social contract between the state and people, would be consistent with North Korea moving down a path of becoming a “normal” country that relies on transparency, regulation and mechanisms to ensure compliance, even if couched in socialist ideology. If “self-reliance” is understood to actually embrace national, local and individual interests and responsibility, then Kim Jong Un’s transformative domestic agenda should be something to understand better, endorse and nurture going forward, if it can be aligned with values and principles of governance broadly accepted in the international community. In contemplating the security challenges facing North Korea today that animate both its military and economic strategies, it is important to acknowledge that economic security is a crucial part of the overall national security equation. In the current COVID-19 crisis, human security is also critical as the country faces health risks and food insecurity. Coming out of the Party Congress and SPA meetings in January and the February Central Committee meeting, North Korea, like most countries today, has to prioritize getting control of the pandemic, accept the necessity of economic hardship, and find a path forward that is supported by the political establishment and common people. While Kim Jong Un’s speeches have clarified national priorities and aspirations, they have not provided a road map towards a secure future. That path could take different directions depending on the strategies for engaging North Korea by its neighboring countries and the Biden administration. If confronted with continued international isolation or even harsher sanctions, the North Korean economy is most likely to experience deeper recession and social distress unlike anything seen since the mid-1990s. Even though the system is much more resilient today, largely because of the role of markets in meeting basic needs, the ability of the state to raise revenues necessary for essential services can be expected to be severely constrained. Even North Korea’s successes in sanctions evasion are now compromised by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in China and other countries. Efforts to explore North Korean willingness to engage in new security-oriented diplomatic initiatives should take into account the importance it attaches to economic security and future economic development, and its commitment to protecting human security needs even at the cost of economic distress. Realistic solutions to fulfilling these critical concerns must go beyond measured sanctions relief and humanitarian aid. Appropriate policies, improved management capacity and greater investments will also be needed to build a resilient health system and sustainable food security. Meeting these needs will require a willingness to listen to North Korean perspectives in a mutually respectful way to enable policy dialogue on the successful practices and development lessons of other countries, acceptable technical assistance to support capacity building, and agreement on targeted investments. Both bilateral and multilateral support should be explored in the diplomatic process, including an expanded role for United Nations operational agencies and the development banks, which have been actively working with other countries facing these human security issues. A good starting point would be to establish direct consultations with high-level officials in the Cabinet and party to explore areas where such cooperation might be feasible. Track II meetings could help mutual learning and sharing of perspectives to support a diplomatic process. Consultations on the longer-term challenges of the new five-year economic development plan and the macroeconomic and microeconomic management concerns facing its implementation should also be considered if economic security issues become part of a comprehensive security dialogue and diplomatic process. It may finally be the time to consider supporting International Monetary Fund involvement to help put North Korea on a long-term path towards a more transparent and economically secure future. (Bradley O. Babson, “The Road ahead for the North Korean Economy after the Party Congress,” 38 North, February 17, 2021)


2/19/21:
Japan urged the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden to resume denuclearization talks with North Korea, as the new U.S. government plans a full review of its approach to Pyongyang, sources familiar with the matter said March 3. Funakoshi Takehiro, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, called for the resumption of the denuclearization talks in a Feb. 19 teleconference with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts, saying they had been “highly effective,” according to the sources. (Kyodo, “Japan Urged U.S. in Feb. to Resume Nuclear Talks: Sources,” March 3, 2021)


2/24/21:
KCNA: “The First Enlarged Meeting of the 8th Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) took place at the office building of the Central Committee of the WPK on February 24. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the WPK and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, guided the enlarged meeting. Attending the meeting were Ri Pyong Chol, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, and its members. Also present at the meeting were commanding officers of the services and corps-level units of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), executive members of the KPA Committee of the WPK, commanding officers of some armed forces organs and vice-directors of the relevant departments of the C.C., WPK. The meeting referred to a series of shortcomings revealed in the military and political activities and moral life of KPA commanding officers, and mainly discussed the issue of thoroughly establishing the revolutionary moral discipline within the KPA. To establish the revolutionary moral discipline within the KPA is not just a technical issue, but a fatal issue related to the existence of the KPA and success or failure in the army building and military activities, the respected General Secretary said, and added that in order to settle the important issue, it is necessary above all to intensify the education and control aimed at ensuring that the KPA commanding officers of the new generation have the proper political consciousness and moral point of view. The meeting stressed the need for all Party organizations and political institutions of the KPA to regard the establishment of the revolutionary discipline and moral traits as a major task of the present time for thoroughly establishing the command system of the Party Central Committee, enhancing combat capability and giving full play to the noble spiritual and moral superiority of the revolutionary army, and underlined the need to carry out the task in an intensive way. Then the meeting discussed an organizational matter on dismissing or appointing major commanding officers of the armed forces organs. The Central Military Commission of the WPK appointed Kim Song Gil as commander of the Navy of the KPA and conferred the title of Vice Admiral on him. Kim Chung Il was appointed as commander of the KPA Air and Anti-Aircraft Force and the title of Lieutenant General was conferred on him. A decision to promote the military ranks of major commanding officers was also adopted at the meeting. According to the decision of the Central Military Commission of the WPK, the title of KPA Vice Marshal was conferred on Kim Jong Gwan, minister of National Defense of the DPRK, and Kwon Yong Jin, director of the KPA General Political Bureau.” (KCNA, “First Enlarged Meeting of Eighth Central Military Commission of WPK Held,” February 25, 2021)


2/25/21:
South Korea has warned of a worsening humanitarian crisis and food shortages unfolding in North Korea as leader Kim Jong Un grapples with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Lee In-young, the unification minister responsible for ties with Pyongyang, has called for greater international support for the country’s 25m people as the nuclear-armed state faces food security and economic pressures stemming from tough sanctions, strict border closures and typhoon damage. “We are watching North Korea very carefully with the concern that there might be a humanitarian crisis,” Lee told the Financial Times. The warning was delivered more than a year after Pyongyang shuttered land, sea and air routes into the country and clamped down on domestic movement to protect its brittle healthcare system from the pandemic. Lee, whose ministry closely tracks the North Korean economy, said immediate food shortages were “less likely” to reach the same extremes of the 1990s given the country’s advancements. But he stressed that the international community had to “think about whether North Korea’s food supply will be sustainable in the future”. In a sign of rising pressure, Kim publicly conceded in August that his economic plans had failed and has tightened central control of the economy in response. With a potential crisis looming, Lee suggested reassessing the efficacy of the sanctions that were bolstered by the U.S. in 2016 after a series of weapons tests. “We have five years . . . of tough sanctions, so maybe it is time to see whether sanctions have positively contributed to the successful denuclearization process of North Korea or not,” he said. Lee added that a “comprehensive review” should assess the impact of sanctions on the lives of ordinary North Koreans. He also called for more international support in vaccinating North Koreans, echoing Emmanuel Macron, the French president, who has urged rich countries to help supply Covid-19 jabs to poorer nations. “The international community has to understand the fact that one country safe from Covid-19 does not mean an end to the pandemic. Countries with abundant resources should support the countries without,” Lee said. The unification ministry is also drawing up plans for international backing for a series of road and rail projects in North Korea. Lee suggested sanctions exemptions for humanitarian aid could be expanded, or enforced with more flexibility, to allow the “non-commercial, public infrastructure projects”, as long as Seoul and other governments could prove they would not be used by the North Korean military or nuclear programs. “To [South] Korea, North Korea is not simply a neighbor, living next door; we have the same heritage, we share air, earth and water . . . I sincerely hope that people in the international community will have that understanding of the unique nature of inter-Korean relations and a more supportive view of inter-Korean projects and co-operation,” Lee said. (Edward White, “Seoul Sounds Alarm on Humanitarian Crisis in North Korea,” Financial Times, February 25, 2021)

Dae Un Hong: “The Kim Jong Un regime, like his father’s, has repeatedly emphasized building a socialist rule-of-law state. In accordance with this objective, North Korea has devoted great attention to making and amending laws. There were 205 known North Korean laws when Kim Jong Un assumed power in December 2011; this number had increased to 236 by December 2015, and 106 laws are known to have been revised during this period. North Korea is notorious, however, for its secrecy and its laws are no exception. The North’s last known published compilation of laws occurred in December 2015, and very little reliable or comprehensive information is available about the enactment or revision of its legislation over the past five years. Given the legislative record from 2011-2015, it is reasonable to presume that roughly 150 laws have either been enacted or amended since 2015, though less than a third of these have been identified (see the Appendices). That said, most of the country’s laws since the 1990s fall into two categories: those for facilitating greater economic development and ones for strengthening social controls. Laws for Economic Development About half the North Korean laws and regulations known to have been revised following 2016 are targeted at promoting the economy in two main areas. Foreign Investment and Foreign Trade Since 2016, eight North Korean laws and regulations related to foreign investment or foreign trade were revised. Following the 1990s, North Korea has maintained a policy of establishing special areas designated for foreign investment. Overall, the revisions of the laws and regulations on foreign investment suggest that Kim Jong Un is striving to continue these special areas, including economic development zones. The Law on Financial Management of Foreign-Invested Enterprises is the most notable example. The law, as amended in 2011, contained 72 provisions, including those prescribing how to report detailed financial management plans to the North Korean authorities (Articles 18 to 25), underscoring the DPRK’s adherence to a planned economy. However, a revision of the law in 2016 made it far more concise: The number of provisions decreased to 42, and many that seemed to excessively interfere with the financial management of foreign-invested enterprises were removed, giving them more autonomy. The Law on Foreign-Invested Banks was amended in 2018 to increase flexibility in regulating these institutions, including permission for the establishment of joint venture banks outside of special economic zones with government authorization (Article 3). Moreover, the Law on External Economic Arbitration was amended in 2016 to grant further legal protection to foreign-invested enterprises by enabling them to initiate arbitration cases on various economic matters (Article 5). However, some amendments to these laws do not follow global standards, reflecting North Korea’s hypersensitivity to state sovereignty and the safety of its regime. The 2016 amendments to the Law on External Economic Arbitration added “violation of the sovereignty and safety” of North Korea to Paragraph 7 of Article 65, which had previously only stipulated violation of public policy as grounds for canceling arbitral awards, the practice in many other countries, including socialist states such as China and Vietnam. Domestic Economic Administration The recent enactment of, and amendments to, several laws and regulations concerning domestic economic administration suggest two takeaways: First, the perennial lack of resources persists in North Korea. For example, the amendments to the Law on Enterprises of November 4, 2020, focus on making them more efficient in lowering costs for the use of labor, energy and land. In addition, the passing of the Law on Recycling Resources of April 12, 2020, is consistent with the North Korean authorities’ growing emphasis on recycling waste as an important element of the country’s overall development strategy. According to the state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), this law is intended to “contribute to the sustained development of the national economy and the protection of [sic] ecological environment.” Second, perhaps due to sanctions and the lack of resources, the regime has focused on primary industries—particularly agriculture, fisheries and forestry—that extract natural resources and generally require less capital, energy or sophisticated technology than other industries, such as manufacturing. This emphasis is underlined by the enactment of the laws on ginseng and forestry, the regulations for creating and conserving marine resources and the revision of the Law on Underground Resources. According to KCNA, the Law of Insam (Ginseng), which was passed at the end of 2018 and consists of 48 articles, regulates administrative matters, including the formation of ginseng plots, production and the sale of processed ginseng products. This law is expected to provide “the legal guarantee for increasing insam production,” which is seen as “one of [sic] specialties of the country.” Moreover, the Law on Forestry enacted in December 2020, according to Rodong Sinmun, “specifies the issue of putting the production of timber on a normal basis while steadily increasing the forest resource [sic] of the country.” Further, according to KCNA, the amendment to the Law on Underground Resources, passed in 2017, was to prospect “more underground resources” by “putting the prospecting on an [information technology] basis and thus rapidly developing the national economy.” Laws for Social Control Although North Korea has used laws to promote economic development, what is more notable are the enactment and revision of laws for social control. Four are especially important. Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Terrorist Financing The Law on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism was passed on April 20, 2016. It appears to be the product of North Korea’s ratification in 2013 of the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and legislative assistance provided by the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), “a regional body of the Financial Action Task Force [FATF) that North Korea joined as an observer in July 2014.” Many provisions of this law are more detailed than their Chinese and Russian counterparts, which is quite unusual given that North Korean law is often criticized for its vagueness. It appears the objective of this law is to enhance the government’s control over the growing—both formal and informal—financial sector, thereby increasing government revenue and establishing a basis for North Korea’s demand for easing the ongoing international financial sanctions, elevating its status to a full member of the APG, and eventually becoming a member of the FATF. Administrative Penalties The Administrative Penalty Law (APL), a semi-criminal code modeled after its Russian counterpart, was enacted in July 2004 and is known to have been amended 11 times before December 22, 2016. This law prescribes various administrative (sometimes bordering on criminal) penalties for conduct that is largely the same as what is stipulated in the penal code but doesn’t rise to the level of a crime. The number of provisions in the APL significantly increased (from 254 to 356) in December 2016 to focus on strengthening social control. For example, Article 272, a newly added provision titled “illegal international communication,” penalizes “a person who illegally communicates with someone overseas” by “education through labor for not less than three months.” Another example of North Korea’s attempt to enhance information control is the revision in December 2016 of the provision on listening to hostile broadcasting and collecting, keeping, or distributing enemy propaganda leaflets. At the time of this amendment, Article 153 of the 2015 APL was divided into three provisions (Articles 213 to 215), and punishment for this offense was enhanced. It is not clear whether and how the APL has been further revised, but the last amendment seems to have been a prelude to the emergence of the Law on Rejecting Reactionary Ideology and Culture. Rejecting Reactionary Ideology and Culture This law was enacted on December 4, 2020, with the objective to prevent the spread of cultural materials, such as TV programs, books and songs from “hostile countries,” such as South Korea, Japan and the United States. The law prescribes harsh penalties, including death, for example, for those who supply numerous cultural materials from hostile countries (Article 27). This provision appears to supersede a corresponding provision in the criminal code, as amended in 2015, that orders the punishment of reform through labor “for not more than ten years for the gravest violations” (Article 185). The recent arrest of nuclear and missile developers and heightened inspection of personnel dispatched to China reported by Daily NK suggest that the North Korean authorities are strictly enforcing this law. Prevention of Epidemics Almost a year ago, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea amended the Law on Prevention of Infectious Diseases (LPID) that was passed on November 5, 1997, and revised five times thereafter. On August 22, 2020, North Korea enacted the Emergency Law on Prevention of Epidemics (ELPE), which appears to supersede the LPID, albeit effective only in times of emergency. While the criminal code and the APL prescribe both criminal and administrative sanctions for violations of the LPID, the ELPE provides much harsher penalties for similar conduct. For example, Article 203 of the criminal code, as amended in July 2015, stipulates if a person administers disease control irresponsibly and this has grave consequences, “the person shall be subject to reform through labor for not more than three years”; however, Article 65 of the ELPE prescribes capital punishment for a similar type of crime in the gravest cases. This law appears to focus not only on controlling the pandemic but also society at large: Article 8 provides that the state shall impose strict administrative and legal sanctions against not only those who violate the laws and regulations for epidemic prevention but also individuals who commit other crimes or offenses during the emergency period of epidemic prevention, as in wartime. The North Korean government seems to be serious about enforcing the ELPE, as suggested by the execution of an official who violated the rules on epidemic prevention by importing goods without authorization and the enforcement of the “shoot-on-sight” order in the Chinese–North Korean border area. Conclusion Although the regime has consistently emphasized the socialist rule-of-law since the mid-2000s, the role of law in North Korea obviously remains limited. In the most closed socialist country in the world, the law is still perceived as a tool to guarantee the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and to institutionalize Kim Jong Un’s rule. Kim is clearly above the law, as symbolized in recent photos in which only he is smoking in public spaces, despite the enactment of the Tobacco-Prohibition Law in November 2020. In addition, North Korean law is far less sophisticated and organized than in other socialist countries, such as China and Vietnam. Nonetheless, North Korea will likely continue to pay close attention to its laws. The fact that Kim Yo Jong studied law at Kim Il Sung University from 2009 to 2011, during the last years of Kim Jong Il’s reign, suggests he wanted her to learn about the law to support her brother Kim Jong Un in the future. In other words, the Kim family has long understood the importance of rule by law and systemization of the state administration. And as the Eighth Congress of the WPK in January 2021 showed, the regime will likely continue pursuing goals of economic development and social control despite the tensions between them. We will be able to more precisely understand North Korea’s policies when we have additional information on recent legal developments in the country and can analyze the laws that reflect them.” (Dae Un Hong, “North Korean Laws Since 2016: What They Imply for the Country’s Future,” 38North, February 25, 2021)


2/26/21:
Unification Minister Lee In-young said today the government will push to resume long-suspended tours to North Korea on an individual basis as soon as the pandemic eases, saying it is “the best way to break the boundaries” between South and North Koreans. “There are still many South Koreans who wish to visit Mount Kumgang though it has been over 10 years since its suspension,” he said, pointing out that such exchanges can help restore “national homogeneity.” “The government will prepare various matters with the aim of resuming individual tours to Mount Kumgang the foremost when the COVID-19 situation eases,” he said. He also called on the international community to take a flexible approach to sanctions on allowing individual tourism to North Korea. (Yonhap, “Unification Minister Renews Calls for Individual Tourism to N.K.,” February 26, 2021)


3/1/21:
President Moon Jae-in stated today that South Korea is ready to talk with Japan anytime for stronger cooperation, separate from longstanding disputes over shared history, as it would also be helpful to the trilateral partnership with the United States. “The South Korean government is always ready to sit down and have talks with the Japanese government. I am confident that if we put our heads together in the spirit of trying to understand each other’s perspectives, we will also be able to wisely resolve issues of the past,” he said during his televised speech on the March 1 Independence Movement Day. Moon reaffirmed Seoul’s commitment to seek a resolution based on a “victim-centered approach and do “everything possible to restore the honor and dignity of victims.” “However, efforts for South Korea-Japan cooperation and forward-looking development will not stop either,” he added during the ceremony to commemorate the 102nd anniversary of the 1919 public uprising here against Japan’s colonial rule. This year’s ceremony was held at Tapgol Park in Seoul. As the first modern park built in the capital, it is known as the birthplace of the historic movement, where the Proclamation of Independence was read out. Seoul-Tokyo cooperation will not only benefit other countries but also facilitate stability and common prosperity in Northeast Asia and the trilateral partnerships involving the U.S., he said. The overtures came as the Joe Biden administration is openly calling for close three-way security ties. Moon called on Seoul and Tokyo to draw a line between the history-linked row and efforts for future-oriented relations especially in preparation for the post-coronavirus era. “The only obstacle we have to overcome is that, sometimes, issues of the past cannot be separated from those of the future but are intermingled with each other,” he said. “This has impeded forward-looking development. We should learn a lesson by squarely facing the past.” Moon also vowed continued efforts for the denuclearization of Korea and lasting peace under the three-point principles: zero tolerance for war, a mutual security guarantee and co-prosperity. He expressed hope that North Korea will begin cooperation with other countries with the participation in the “Northeast Asia Cooperation Initiative for Infectious Disease Control and Public Health” that was already joined by the U.S., China, Russia and Mongolia. “This will become a driving force to create a breakthrough for mutual benefit and peace on the Korean Peninsula and in East Asia. ” he said. The president said South Korea will cooperate for the success of the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to take place later this year, pointing out that it could offer a chance for dialogue among the two Koreas, the U.S. and Japan. (Lee Chi-dong, “Moon Says S. Korea Is Ready to Talk with Japan Anytime, Urges Separation of History with Future-Oriented Ties,” Yonhap, March 1, 2021)

Signs of activity have recently been detected at some North Korean nuclear facilities, the UN nuclear watchdog chief said today, expressing “serious concern” at the reclusive regime’s continued activities. Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the board of governors that there was evidence that the regime has continued construction at an experimental light-water reactor at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, including testing of the infrastructure for cooling water in late 2020. He added that while there were no signs of producing enriched uranium at the reported centrifuge enrichment facility at Yongbyon, there are ongoing indications of activity at another facility in Kangson, just outside of Pyongyang. The Kangson site has long been suspected as the regime’s clandestine facility for uranium enrichment, or fuel for nuclear bombs. But 38 North, a US-based North Korean monitoring website, reported in December that Kangson may not be a uranium enrichment plant, but is dedicated to producing related components for enriching uranium. At the Yongbyon complex, Grossi said there were no signs of operations at the 5-megawatt nuclear reactor — the country’s main source of weapons-grade plutonium — and of enriched uranium production at the reported centrifuge enrichment facility there. But there were indications of operating the stream plant that serves the radiochemical laboratory. Grossi stressed that the North’s nuclear activities remain a “cause for serious concern.” “The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear program is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolution and is deeply regrettable,” he said. (Ahn Sung-mi, “Signs of Activity Detected at NK’s Nuclear Site: IAEA,” Korea Herald, March 1, 2021)

Makowsky, Pabian and Liu: “ … Satellite imagery from February 25 and March 2, 2021, reveals that operations at the steam plant, which provides heat to the Radiochemical Laboratory, have resumed. While there were hints of a plume from the stack observed in May 2018, rarely has such clear evidence of the steam plant’s operation been observed. The steam plant is located 550 meters south of the laboratories. Steam pipes connect the plant exclusively to the laboratory facilities, and thus it is at least one indicator of some level of operations within the Radiochemical Laboratory complex. Although, it is worth noting there were no unusual movements at the 5 MWe reactor or its adjacent spent fuel storage building, which would be another indicator of reprocessing activities. Imagery signatures of operations at the Radiochemical Laboratory are subtle, and thus monitoring the level of activity at the facilities is difficult. One to three vehicles seen in the motor pool area are a normal occurrence. An occasional mobile crane or truck has been seen near the Fuel Reception building, where spent fuel is delivered from the 5 MWe Reactor. In September 2019, a number of unidentified cylindrical containers were staged along the access road to the building, but were removed by that October. There is a large ventilation stack located within the Radiochemical Laboratory complex, used in the purification of exhaust gases from the reprocessing plant, but it is rare to capture its emissions on imagery. Additionally, while it is noteworthy when there are such obvious signatures of plant operations, such as the smoke emission at the steam plant, without other evidence of reprocessing activity, this signature cannot be viewed as definitive.” (Peter Makowsky, Frank Pabian and Jack Liu, “North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Center: Signs of Activity at Radiological Laboratory,” 38North, March 3, 2021)

South Korea and China agreed today to set up two more military hotlines to prevent incidents and enhance trust, Seoul’s defense ministry said. The defense ministries of the two neighbors signed a revised memorandum of understanding on the establishment of direct communication lines between their air forces and navies, according to the ministry. Currently, Seoul and Beijing maintain three hotlines — one between their defense ministries, and two between their air forces and navies. While the current lines are connected with China’s northern theater command, the new ones will be linked to its eastern theater command. “[The new hotlines] will help enhance the communication between the South Korean and the Chinese military authorities, which is expected to prevent accidental clashes in the air and the sea and to bring trust one notch higher,” the ministry said in a statement. “The move will also help ease tensions and establish peace in the Korean Peninsula and the region.” Chinese warplanes have often entered South Korea’s air defense identification zone (KADIZ), and the two sides have communicated on the matter through their military hotline. Today, Seoul and Beijing also held the 19th round of working-level defense talks to explore ways to promote peace on the peninsula and boost the bilateral defense exchanges.

“The two nations exchanged their assessments of the recent security situation on the peninsula and issues of mutual interests, and agreed to make efforts together for the actual progress of the peace process,” the ministry said. At the meeting, South Korea was represented by Kim Sang-jin, director general of international policy at the Ministry of National Defense, and China by Maj. Gen. Song Yanchao, deputy director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China’s Ministry of National Defense. (Yonhap, “S. Korea, China Agree to Establish Two More Military Hotlines,” Korea Herald, March 2, 2021)


3/7/21:
The South Korean and U.S. militaries are scaling back their annual exercises this month due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to support diplomacy focusing on North Korea’s nuclear program, officials said today. Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the allies decided to start the nine-day drills on Monday after reviewing factors like the status of the pandemic and diplomatic efforts to achieve denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula. It said the drills are defensive in nature and are mostly tabletop exercises and simulations that won’t involve field training. (Hyung-bin Kim, “S. Korea, U.S. Scale Back Drills over Virus, N. Korea Diplomacy,” Associated Press, March 7, 2021)


3/8/21:
South Korea and the United States have reached agreement on Seoul’s contribution to the costs of the US troop presence on the peninsula, Seoul said today, as the two allies kicked off annual joint military exercises. The issue had bedeviled the two allies’ security alliance under former president Donald Trump, who had a transactional approach to foreign policy and repeatedly accused the South of freeloading. The Trump administration initially insisted on $5 billion a year — a more than fivefold increase. Under the previous deal, which expired at the end of 2019, Seoul paid Washington about $920 million annually. Seoul’s foreign ministry said the two sides had reached an agreement “in principle” without specifying the agreed amount. “The government will resolve a gap that has lasted for more than a year through a swift signing of an agreement,” it said in a statement. The new deal must still be approved by the South Korean legislature. “America’s alliances are a tremendous source of our strength,” the US State Department said in a tweet. It also did not state how much the South would pay. The two sides “will now pursue the final steps needed to conclude the Special Measures Agreement for signature and entry into force that will strengthen our Alliance and our shared defense,” it added. The agreement came as Seoul and Washington kicked off their annual military training today, which has been scaled down from the usual level over Covid-19, with no large-scale physical troop involvement. The nine-day exercise is still likely to infuriate the North, which has long considered such drills rehearsals for invasion. “The upcoming annual training is a computer-simulated command post exercise that is strictly defensive in nature,” the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, adding they went ahead with plans after considering the pandemic. (AFP, “South Korea, U.S. Agree on Troop Deal,” March 8, 2021) South Korea will increase its contribution to the cost of U.S. forces stationed in the country under an agreement reached with the United States, the State Department said today, easing an irritant in ties between the two allies. The agreement reflects the Biden administration’s “commitment to reinvigorating and modernizing our democratic alliances around the word to advance our shared security and prosperity,” a State Department spokeswoman said. The proposed six-year “Special Measures Agreement” will replace the previous arrangement that expired at the end of 2019. The spokeswoman said the agreement included a “negotiated meaningful increase in host nation support contributions,” but gave no further details. The deal must still be approved by the South Korean legislature. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry confirmed an agreement in principle in a statement, but offered no specifics. “Both sides will make a public announcement and hold a tentative signing ceremony after completing internal reporting procedures. The government will resolve to sign an agreement in a swift manner to resolve its vacuum that has lasted more than a year,” the ministry added. The announcement came after South Korea’s chief envoy, Jeong Eun-bo, arrived in Washington for the first face-to-face talks with U.S. envoy Donna Welton since Biden’s administration took office in January. (Andrea Shalal and Hyonhee Shin, “South Korea to Boost Funding for U.S. Troops under New Accord – State Department,” Reuters, March 8, 2021) South Korea has agreed to raise its payment for stationing U.S. troops here by 13.9 percent this year from 2019, the foreign ministry said March 10, in a six-year deal with the United States that cleared the way for the countries to cement their alliance. Under the deal that will last until 2025, Seoul is to pay 1.183 trillion won (US$1.03 billion) this year, up from 1.038 trillion won in 2019 — the first double-digit rise since 2002 — for the upkeep of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea (USFK). Concluding 1 1/2 years of grueling negotiations, Seoul and Washington reached the deal, called the Special Measures Agreement (SMA), March 8 amid fears that a prolonged stalemate would undermine their focus on countering North Korea’s security threats and other shared challenges. “The agreement served as an opportunity for the two countries to reaffirm the importance of the solid South Korea-U.S. alliance as the linchpin for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, and the need for the stable stationing of the USFK,” the ministry said in a press release. “It is assessed that by smoothly addressing the key pending alliance issue early on after the launch of the Biden administration, South Korea and the U.S. demonstrated the robustness of the firm alliance,” it added. Under the latest and 11th SMA, subject to parliamentary approval here, the two countries are to freeze Seoul’s payment for 2020 at the 2019 level. The last one-year SMA lapsed at the end of 2019, leaving the USFK without a funding scheme since then. This year, Seoul is to pay 1.183 trillion won, an increase of 13.9 percent from 2019. The jump reflects last year’s 7.4 percent increase in Seoul’s defense spending, as well as a 6.5 percent rise in the cost for Korean workers in the USFK. The two countries also agreed to link Korea’s SMA payments from 2022 through 2025 to the increased rates of Seoul’s defense spending. Next year’s payment will thus grow by this year’s increase rate of 5.4 percent. “The rate of defense spending increase reflects our financial capacity and defense capabilities, and is determined through parliamentary deliberations,” the ministry said. “Thus, it is a reasonable standard that any citizen can verify and trust.” To prevent Korean USFK workers from being furloughed again absent a funding scheme, Seoul and Washington codified an SMA rule for the first time to enable the former to provide its share of the cost for them at a level set in the previous year. Last year, thousands of the Korean workers went on temporary unpaid leave as the deadlock in SMA negotiations persisted amid the former Donald Trump administration’s calls for a hefty increase in Seoul’s contributions. Last year, Seoul and Washington reached a provisional deal that called for a 13.6 percent increase in the former’s payment. But Trump rejected it, saying a “very wealthy nation” should pay more. Washington was said to have initially called for more than a five-fold increase. The total share of the payments aside, the two sides also haggled over Washington’s apparent call to create a new clause mandating Seoul to cover partial costs of rotational U.S. troop deployments and other outlays currently outside the existing SMA framework. But Seoul did not accede to that call and kept the contours of the SMA intact. (Song Sang-ho, “S. Korea Agrees to Pay 13.9 Pct. More from 2019 to Host U.S. Troops,” Yonhap, March 10, 2021)


3/13/21:
North Korea has not responded to behind-the-scenes diplomatic outreach since mid-February by President Joe Biden’s administration, including to Pyongyang’s mission to the United Nations, a senior Biden administration official told Reuters on Saturday. The disclosure of the so-far unsuccessful U.S. outreach, which has not been previously reported, raises questions about how Biden will address mounting tensions with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. It also adds a new dimension to a visit America’s top diplomat and defense secretary will make next week to South Korea and Japan, where concerns over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal are expected to be high on the agenda. The senior Biden administration official offered few details on the diplomatic push. But the official said there had been efforts to reach out to the North Korean government “through several channels starting in mid-February, including in New York.” “To date, we have not received any response from Pyongyang,” the official said. North Korea’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Biden administration official said it appeared there had been no active dialogue between the United States and North Korea for more than a year, including at the end of Trump’s administration, “despite multiple attempts during that time by the United States to engage.” The U.S. official declined to speculate about how the silence from Pyongyang would impact the Biden administration’s North Korea policy review, which was expected to be completed in the coming weeks. (Phil Stewart, “Exclusive: North Korea Unresponsive to Behind-the-Scenes Biden Administration Outreach – U.S. Official,” Reuters, March 13, 2021)


3/15/21:
Vice WPK Central Committee Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s statement: ‘I heard the news that the south Korean authorities, who had long been suffering from stress in a fix, launched a war game against our Republic on March 8. In other words, they dared to send us a serious challenge. It seems as if they are capable of dealing with the consequences to be entailed by the war drill started despite our entirely just demand and all the fellow countrymen’s unanimous protest and condemnation. Our Party Central Committee has already clarified the stand that whether the inter-Korean relations return to the new starting point of peace and prosperity as witnessed in those spring days three years ago or not depends on the attitude of the south Korean authorities. Everyone knows that it pointed to the hysteria for war drills manifested in the south every March and every August, and served as a meaningful warning that it might become the last chance for repairing the north-south relations. The south Korean authorities, accustomed to paying lip-service, are busy billing the drill as “annual” and “defensive one” and a computer-based simulation drill, as in the past. They say that the drill involves no actual maneuvers with its scale and contents drastically “reduced.” Perhaps, they are expecting “flexible judgment” and “understanding” from us but it is, indeed, ridiculous, impudent and stupid. It seems that they were all born with stupidity and have become the dumb and deaf bereft of judgment as they always sit on the fence. Anyhow, we cannot but take note of this. We have opposed the joint military drills targeting the compatriots but never argued about their scale or form. It is because the essence and nature of the drills against the compatriots in the north never change despite any change in their forms—whether they are staged behind the scene or they poorly involve only 50 or 100 persons due to widespread malignant epidemic. They are not ashamed of remaining ignorant of the fact that we are not taken in by their nonsense coating mad dog with sheepskin. To be frank, we feel sorry about the plight of the south Korean authorities as they are to stake their lot on hostile acts against the compatriots even by resorting to shrunken war games, now that they find themselves in the quagmire of political, economic and epidemic crisis. Perhaps, their persecution mania resulting from abnormal hostility and distrust toward us has reached the extremes. They staged 110 big or small war drills in 2018, more than 190 in 2019 and over 170 in 2020 for so-and-so reasons in breach of their promise to halt such drills. We have long been aware of it and are ready to make them pay dearly for it at an appropriate time. They might know better than anyone else about what impact such continued north-targeted war drumbeats would have on the north-south relations. We have stressed it several times and offered ample opportunity to them, exercising patience. Nevertheless, they opted for “war in March” and “crisis in March” again under the eyes of all Koreans, instead of “warmth in March”. They are about to bring a biting wind, not warm wind expected by all, in the spring days of March. The south Korean authorities should realize that they have chosen a wrong deed of crossing the “red line” by themselves though they also don’t like to do so. Their idea of seeking confrontation with the compatriots in the north and hostile behavior toward the latter, which festered to be a chronic disease, have reached an incurable state. It is the conclusion drawn by us once again that we have nothing to talk with them. War drill and hostility can never go with dialogue and cooperation. Given the current situation that the south Korean authorities persist in hostile acts of denying dialogue and completely destroy the foundation of trust through ceaseless war games, we cannot but put on the agenda the issue of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, an organization for dialogue with the south which has no reason for its existence. We also examine the issue of dissolving the Kumgangsan International Tourism Bureau and other organizations concerned as any cooperation and exchange with the south Korean authorities antagonizing us are no longer necessary. Such crucial steps have already been reported to our supreme leadership. We will watch the future attitude and actions of the south Korean authorities. And if they dare resort to more provocative acts, we may take a special measure of resolutely abrogating even the north-south military agreement. Every action has its own result. One thing is clear. The south Korean authorities with just some months left in their term of office may find themselves in extreme uneasiness, for the grave challenging act. As clarified at our historic 8th Party Congress, they will receive as much as they have tried and paid. We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land. If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step. Whatever and however the south Korean authorities may do in the future under their master’s instructions, those warm spring days three years ago, which they desire so much, won’t come easily again.” (KCNA, “It Will Be Hard to See Again Spring Days Three Years Ago,” March 16, 2021)

North Korea issued its first warning shot against the Biden administration today, denouncing Washington for going forward with joint military exercises with South Korea and raising “a stink” on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea released its statement hours before Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III began meetings with officials in Japan before a trip to South Korea later this week. The visits were meant to strengthen alliances in the region, where the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons and China’s growing influence have been cast as major foreign policy challenges. The statement was the first official comment on the Biden administration from North Korea. “We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off a powder smell in our land,” Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said in a statement carried by state-run North Korean media today. “If it wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.” Ms. Kim’s statement was the first indication that North Korea has plans to influence the new administration’s policies by raising the prospect of renewed tension on the peninsula, analysts said. “Kim Yo-jong’s statement was a message of pressure to the United States and South Korea,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “As the senior officials meet this week in Seoul to discuss their North Korea policy, the North is warning them to choose wisely between dialogue and confrontation.” Still, the United States and South Korea greatly reduced the scale of this year’s annual springtime military exercise, conducting it as a computer simulation without any large movement of troops. South Korea said the drill was minimized this year because of the pandemic and a desire to keep diplomatic momentum with North Korea alive. It called on the North to become more “flexible,” and not to raise tensions, as it has often done in response to the annual drills. Ms. Kim called South Korea’s diplomatic wishes “ridiculous, impudent and stupid.” She warned that North-South Korean relations would further deteriorate because Seoul had crossed a “red line.” “War drill and hostility can never go with dialogue and cooperation,” she said. “They are about to bring a biting wind, not warm wind expected by all, in the spring days of March.” She did not elaborate on what the “biting wind” would constitute. But she indicated that North Korea may abolish its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, saying the ruling Workers’ Party organization focused on dialogue with the South “has no reason for its existence.” She also warned that North Korea may consider terminating a joint North-South Korean military agreement that Kim and Moon signed in 2018 during a short-live rapprochement. (Choe Sang-Hun, “With Top U.S. Officials in Asia, North Korea Warns Against ‘Causing a Stink,’” New York Times, March 17, 2021, p. A-12)


3/16/21:
SecState Blinken: “MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. Next, we will accept a question from the U.S. press. MR PRICE: We will go to Humeyra Pamuk of Reuters, please. Q: Hello. Mr. Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, is there a new credible – an increased threat by China not just to Senkaku Islands but also Taiwan? And if so, what is the U.S. doing about it, given Japanese defense minister just spoke about specific initiatives that Japan and U.S. should work on to boost deterrence? And for the Japanese foreign minister, if I may, how should this issue be addressed in U.S. meetings later this week in Alaska? And if I may very quickly, for Secretary Blinken, the sister of the North Korean leader issued a threatening statement. She said if U.S. “wants to sleep in peace for” the “coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.” Given that the North Koreans have so far resisted talking to the Biden administration, what does this portend for future negotiations? Thank you. SECRETARY BLINKEN: I’m happy to start on your last question and then turn to Lloyd to start on China, if you like. Let me say that I’m familiar with the comments you referenced, but the comments I’m actually most interested in today are those of our allies and partners. That’s why we’ve come to this region. That’s why we’ve come to Japan, precisely to listen to our allies and to discuss how collectively we might seek to address the threat from North Korea. This engagement is a task that I actually started on my first day in office when I spoke to Toshi, I spoke to my South Korean counterpart. And I prioritized those calls precisely because we so value their input and know the importance of these alliances across every challenge and opportunity we face, including dealing with the DPRK. We’ve engaged bilaterally with our Japanese and South Korean allies when it comes to North Korea. We’ve also done it trilaterally, and that continued trilateral engagement and cooperation will be, in my judgment, very important going forward. We have no greater strategic advantage when it comes to North Korea than this alliance, and we’ll approach that challenge as an alliance. And we’ve got to do that if we’re going to be effective. This is all, by the way, part and parcel of a review that we’ve been undertaking. And as we’ve said, it’s a thorough interagency review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, including evaluation of all available options to address the increasing threat posed by North Korea to its neighbors and the broader international community. It has integrated a very diverse set of voices from throughout the government and incorporated inputs from thinktanks, outside experts, including former government officials. To reduce the risks of escalation, we reached out to the North Korean Government through several channels starting in mid-February, including in New York. To date, we have not received a response from Pyongyang. This follows over a year without active dialogue with North Korea, despite multiple attempts by the United States to engage. We look forward to completing the policy review in the coming weeks, and we’ll continue to be in very close touch with Japan with Korea, our partners, as we do so. … MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you very much. We have surpassed the allocated time and the next question will be the final question. U.S. press, please. MR PRICE: Great. Our final question will go to Dan Lemothe, please. QUESTION: Good evening. Thank you for your time today, and Japan, thank you for having us. Secretary Austin, if I could, the top officer in the Pacific, Admiral Davidson, said last week that he is concerned about the Chinese military launching an operation potentially within the next six years on Taiwan. Do you agree with that assessment? And what would you say to those who raise concerns that the United States military simply isn’t moving fast enough to counter China? Secretary Blinken, if I could, in light of the Kim regime’s unwillingness to respond to attempts at dialogue and their continued threats, what will the Biden administration do in coming weeks and months to balance diplomacy with continued military cooperation and exercises in the region? Thank you. SECRETARY AUSTIN: Thanks, Dan. As you know, en route to Japan, I stopped in to visit with the INDOPACOM commander, and we had a great conversation. And it was very useful for me to, again, see the region through his eyes and listen to what his concerns were and talk about what his strengths were as well. And one of the strengths, of course, is this great alliance that we’ve been discussing today. In terms of the time – specific timeline of China, I won’t get involved in any kind of hypotheticals or speculate on what that might be. I think you know that as Secretary of Defense, my job is to make sure that we are as ready as fast as we could possibly be to meet any challenge that would face us or the alliance. And so in my view, we cannot move fast enough to develop the right capabilities to be relevant today and to be relevant tomorrow in any kind of future scenario. But again, in terms of specific timelines, I won’t speculate on that. SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. And as you know, the North Korea policy is under review. We’re looking at whether various additional pressure measures could be effective, whether there are diplomatic paths that makes sense. All of that is under review, and it’s under review and close consultation with our allies and partners. Going forward, we have a shared determination to deal with the challenge posed by North Korea, particularly when it comes to its nuclear missile programs, as well, of course, as its abuse of human rights. And we stand in very strong solidarity with Japan when it comes to the abductees. Earlier today, I received a letter from the families. It was very powerful and very moving to read, and that too is very much present in our minds as we think about the challenge posed by North Korea.” (DoS, Secretary Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu, and Japanese Defense Minister Kishi Nobua at a Joint Press Availability Iikura Guest House, Tokyo, March 16, 2021)

When the Justice Department indicted three North Koreans on cybertheft charges in February and an assistant attorney general labeled North Korea “a criminal syndicate with a flag,” some of President Joe Biden’s top national security aides bristled, two senior administration officials said. The rhetoric, the aides complained to the Justice Department, wasn’t the toned-down type that senior officials had agreed just days earlier to use when speaking publicly about North Korea, and it risked antagonizing Pyongyang. A senior official said aides at the National Security Council “were not pleased with the choice of language” and expressed concern to the Justice Department that it was “going to provoke North Korea.” The episode underscores concern within the White House about stirring up a looming crisis that the new president has so far not had to contend with publicly, and it exposes tensions within the government over whether it’s best to confront or ignore the North Korean nuclear threat. Biden’s national security team decided early last month to take a softer public tone toward North Korea after it concluded that provoking Pyongyang while the new administration’s policy is under review would be counter to U.S. goals, said one former and three current senior administration officials. Two of the officials summed up the approach, which was agreed to during a so-called principals committee meeting of senior officials hosted by the National Security Council, as “don’t rock the boat” — particularly when North Korea has yet to provoke the new administration. “Until we have a better sense of how we’re going to approach this problem, we’re trying not to make waves,” an official said. In announcing the indictment of the North Koreans on February 17, John Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, didn’t hold back. In addition to calling North Korea a “criminal syndicate,” he said its operatives “are the world’s leading bank robbers.” The message wasn’t coordinated with the White House, officials said. A former senior administration official said current officials have made it clear privately that Biden doesn’t want to make “a big push” on North Korea policy right now, in the absence of a large, unsolicited concession from Pyongyang, and that the goal of the outreach is “to try to hold off a provocation that would force their hand” before the policy review is complete and to demonstrate to China that the U.S. is making an attempt. (Carol E. Lee and Ken Dilanian, “Biden Aides Bristle at Heated Rhetoric on North Korea, Tell officials to Tone It Down,” NBC News Tue, March 16, 2021)

North Korea might begin flight testing an improved design for its inter-continental ballistic missiles “in the near future,” the head of the U.S. military’s Northern Command said today, a move that would sharply increase tensions between Pyongyang and Washington. The warning by Air Force General Glen VanHerck appeared based on North Korea’s October unveiling at a parade of what would be its largest ICBM yet, and not specific intelligence about an imminent launch. VanHerck told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Pyongyang’s “considerably larger and presumably more capable” ICBM further increased the threat to the United States. Still, he expressed confidence in U.S. missile defenses. A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that while there have been indications in recent weeks that North Korea may be preparing for a missile launch, one did not appear imminent. (Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali, “U.S. General Says North Korea Might Flight Test New ICBM ‘in the Near Future,’” Reuters, March 17, 2021)


3/17/21:
First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui’s statement: “The U.S. has tried to contact us since mid-February through several routes including New York. It recently requested to contact us by sending e-mails and telephone messages via various routes. Even in the evening before the joint military drill it sent a message imploring us to respond to its request through a third country. But we don’t think there is need to respond to the U.S. delaying-time trick again. We have already declared our stand that no DPRK-U.S. contact and dialogue of any kind can be possible unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK. Therefore, we will disregard such an attempt of the U.S. in the future, too. In order for a dialogue to be held, an atmosphere for both parties to exchange words on an equal basis must be created. But what has been heard from the U.S. since the emergence of the new regime is only lunatic theory of “threat from north Korea” and groundless rhetoric about “complete denuclearization.” The White House, the Department of State, the Department of Treasury, the Department of Justice, etc. reeled off a spate of rhetoric that the U.S. still has great concern for deterring north Korea and it is now examining what kind of means are to be used which include additional sanctions and diplomatic incentives. They have maintained high-handed posture, convening an international conference against us, making public “joint alert” and bringing an indictment against us. The U.S. military keeps stealthily putting military threat to us and is committing spying acts against us with the involvement of lots of reconnaissance assets. It also openly started aggression-minded joint military exercises targeting us, defying concern and opposition by the public at home and abroad. It seems the U.S. has not yet dropped the habit of doggedly faulting the DPRK. Even in reference to the national anti-epidemic measures taken by us, it made such thoughtless words that they hinder “humanitarian aids.” The U.S. State secretary during his visit to Japan spoke loudly of various pressurizing means and some stubborn means, claiming they are all now under reexamination, only to seriously rattle us. We are curious what senseless rhetoric he would make in south Korea to take the world by surprise. If the U.S. wants so much to sit even once with us face to face, it has to drop its bad habit and adopt a proper stand from the beginning. We will keep tabs on all the ill deeds the new regime in the U.S. is engrossed in. It had better drop the cheap trick by which it tries to use the DPRK-U.S. contact as a means for gaining time and building up the public opinion. It will only be a waste of time to sit with the U.S. as it is not ready to feel and accept new change and new times. We make it clear that we won’t give it such opportunities as in Singapore and Hanoi again. We will readily react to the sanctions leverage which the U.S. is so much fond of. It had better contemplate what we can do in the face of its continued hostile policy toward us. We already clarified that we will counter the U.S. on the principle of power for power and goodwill for goodwill.” (KCNA, “Statement of First Vice Foreign Minister of DPRK,” March 17, 2021)

U.S. officials confirmed in March that Pyongyang did not respond to several private messages delivered through multiple channels from the administration.(Kingston Reif, “North Korea Rebuffs U.S. Outreach,” Arms Control Today, 51, 3 (April 2021), p. 24)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken today accused the “authoritarian” regime in North Korea of “systemic and widespread abuses” against its own people, underscoring Washington’s commitment to improving the reclusive country’s human rights situation. Blinken made the remarks at the start of his first face-to-face talks with Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong in Seoul. “The authoritarian regime in North Korea continues to commit systemic and widespread abuses against its own people,” Blinken said. “We must stand for fundamental rights and freedoms and against those who oppress it.” His mention of the North’s human rights raised uncertainty over the future course of the Joe Biden administration’s diplomacy toward Pyongyang, which has responded sensitively to the issue. Blinken reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the alliance with Seoul, casting it as “unwavering,” “ironclad” and “rooted in friendship and mutual trust and shared values.” (Song Sang-ho, “Blinken Says ‘Authoritarian’ N.K. Regime Continues to Commit ‘Systematic and Widespread’ Abuses,” Yonhap, March 17, 2021) While condemning China’s assertiveness has been a mainstream focus for U.S. officials during their Asia trip, Blinken also acknowledged that Beijing has a “critical role to play” in persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program, given its “unique relationship” and “tremendous influence” on the regime. “Beijing has an interest, a clear self-interest in helping to pursue the denuclearization of the DPRK, because it is a source of instability. It’s a source of danger and obviously a threat to us and our partners,” said Blinken, stressing that China has an obligation under the UN Security Council resolutions to implement sanctions against the regime. “China has a unique relationship with North Korea,” he said, indicating that virtually all of the North’s trade goes through China. “So I would hope that whatever happens going forward, China will use that influence effectively to work on moving North Korea to denuclearization.” The top US diplomat doubled down in condemning China’s “aggressive and authoritarian” behavior in the region. “We are clear-eyed about Beijing’s consistent failure to uphold its commitments. And we spoke about how Beijing’s aggressive and authoritarian behavior are challenging the stability, security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.” While U.S. officials took aim at Beijing during their remarks, China was absent in the joint statement issued by Seoul and Washington. This is in contrast to a similar statement issued between Tokyo and Washington yesterday, where the two countries strongly condemned China’s behavior as “inconsistent with the existing international order” and as a threat to regional peace and security. Such different wording refers to Seoul’s hesitance to be aligned with Washington’s China-bashing, in fear of angering Beijing, which is Seoul’s key economic partner, experts say.

“Washington is aware of Seoul’s careful stance,” said Choi Kang, vice president of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul. “But it is important for Seoul to take a firm stance on China, without making that too public, and give the impression that it is aligning with the US, and in response, Seoul can have more say in the ongoing policy review on North Korea. But even without the direct mention, Washington is still calling on Seoul in countering China.” Blinken and Lloyd are in Seoul as Pyongyang dismissed Washington’s attempt for talks with Pyongyang, “unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy,” Choe Son Hui, the country’s first vice foreign minister, said. While Choe’s formal rejection of Washington’s earlier outreach is concerning, experts say Pyongyang still left the door open for diplomacy. “There is room for talks in the bottom line,” said Hong Min, director of the North Korean division at the Korea Institute for National Unification. “But the US repeatedly calling on North Korea’s human rights condition is causing friction. Choe’s words are an open warning that if Washington shows a gesture of goodwill, such as a hint of sanctions relief, talks could follow.” (Ahn Sung-mi and Choi Si-young, “Korea, U.S. Set NK Nuclear, Missile Issue as Priority for Alliance,” Korea Herald, March 18, 2021)


3/18/21:
South Korea and the United States today wrapped up their nine-day springtime combined military exercise staged in a scaled-back manner due to the coronavirus pandemic and peace efforts with North Korea, officials said. The computer-simulated Combined Command Post Training (CCPT), which began on March 8, involved a “minimum level” of troops compared with previous ones, and no outdoor drills took place, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). “The exercise has been conducted without a hitch. To ensure the safety of our service members, we’ve enforced strict antivirus measures,” a military official said. (Oh Seok-min, “S. Korea, U.S. Wrap up Springtime Combined Exercise amid COVID-19, N.K. Protest,” Yonhap, March 18, 2021)

President Moon Jae-in made clear South Korea’s resolve to improve strained ties with Japan in a bid to bolster trilateral security cooperation involving the United States, during a meeting here with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Moon said that the Seoul-Tokyo relationship is very important for regional peace, stability and prosperity and constitutes a “firm foundation” for tripartite cooperation, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kang Min-seok. Moon said South Korea will continue efforts to restore its relations with the neighbor, which have long soured over shared history. His remarks came as the Biden administration is openly seeking to bolster three-way partnerships with the two key Asian allies. In what may be a diplomatic quid-pro-quo, the visiting U.S. officials were quoted as saying that they understand South Korea’s geopolitical position on the China issue. They cited the “complicated” nature of relations between the U.S. and China, which are “hostile, cooperative and competitive,” Kang told reporters following Moon’s 50-minute meeting with them. They expressed hope for close cooperation with South Korea regarding the China issue. (Lee Chi-dong, “Moon Vows Efforts to Improve Japan Ties in Talks with Biden Aides,” Yonhap, March 18, 2021)

U.S. Pacific Air Forces announced today that it had deployed F-22 Raptors stealth fighters at the U.S. base in Japan. The U.S. unveiled a photo that showed four F-22 Raptors from the Hickam base landing at the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni of Yamaguchi prefecture in Japan last Friday. “This operation demonstrates our commitment to ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific through the flexibility of our forces. We’re focused on being ready for a high-end flight under any conditions,” said the Pacific Air Forces. F-22 raptors will be used along with the F-35B stealth fighters of the U.S. Marine Corps and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to practice joint integration. The U.S. has mostly deployed F-22 at the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. It is unprecedented to deploy the fighter jets across Iwakuni, which is approximately 640 kilometers in straight distance from Korea’s demilitarized zone. “The deployment is significant as an alert to North Korea as well as deterrence to China, given F-22’s operational radius and performance,” said an official at the Defense Ministry. The timing of the announcement at the Biden administration’s heads of foreign affairs and defense first visit to South Korea and Japan also indicates the importance of the deployment. (Yun Sang-Ho, “U.S. Deploys F-21 Raptors in Japan,” Dong-a Ilbo, March 18, 2021)


3/19/21:
North Korea today severed diplomatic ties with Malaysia after that country’s highest court agreed to extradite a North Korean man accused of money laundering to the United States, a major coup in Washington’s efforts to choke Pyongyang’s illicit trade. In a ruling last week, Malaysia’s federal court approved the extradition of a North Korean citizen, Mun Chol-myong, rejecting his argument that the case against him was politically motivated and that he was caught in the cross hairs of diplomatic enmity between North Korea and Washington. Washington has sought to bring Mun to the United States to face criminal charges that he laundered money through front companies and violated international sanctions by helping to ship prohibited luxury goods from Singapore to North Korea on behalf of the regime in Pyongyang. Mun was arrested in 2019 in Malaysia, where he had moved from Singapore in 2008. Mun would be the first North Korean extradited to the United States to face a criminal trial. Today, North Korea identified the United States as “the backstage manipulator and main culprit” behind Mr. Mun’s extradition, warning that Washington will have to “pay a due price.” It did not elaborate, but its announcement came a day after North Korea said it would not respond to any attempt by the new Biden administration to establish a channel of communication that could be used to negotiate an end to Pyongyang’s growing nuclear weapons program. Relations between North Korea and Malaysia were already frosty after Mr. Kim’s estranged half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was assassinated at a Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. Two women hired by agents from Pyongyang smeared his face with the internationally banned VX nerve agent. North Korea denied involvement. After the incident, the two countries expelled ambassadors from their capitals. During his hearing in Malaysia, Mun, who is in his 50s, denied money laundering or issuing fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to his home country. His lawyer called him “a pawn caught in the rivalry between the U.S. and North Korea.” (Choe Sang-hun, “Malaysia Will Extradite a North Korean to U.S., Driving North Korea to Sever Ties” New York Times, March 20, 2021, p. A7)

DPRK Foreign Ministry’s statement: “On March 17, the Malaysian authority committed an unpardonable crime, in the end, of forcibly delivering the innocent citizen of the DPRK to the United States by having charged him with “criminal.” This world-startling incident is an out-and-out product of anti-DPRK conspiracy created from the heinous policy of hostility by the United States aimed at isolating and suffocating our country and the pro-U.S. subservience by the Malaysian authority. When it comes to our citizen in question, he was engaged for years in the legitimate external trade activities in Singapore, and therefore, it is absurd fabrication and sheer plot to argue that he was involved in “illegal money laundering.” This can be illustrated by the fact that at the several trials held soon after the incident had happened, our Embassy in Malaysia and the lawyer made strong requests repeatedly for relevant “evidence of suspicion” relating to “illegal money laundering”, but the judiciary authority of Malaysia did not provide any single substantial evidence to prove it. The entire progress of the incident, which has spanned over 670 days since the arrest of our citizen in broad daylight by faking up a preposterous plot, fully reveals that the Malaysian authority is no less than illegal and lawless riff-raff, bereft of an elementary legal virtue, to say nothing of the independent spirit. The principal officials of the Malaysian legal authorities were all called to the drinking party arranged by the U.S. Ambassador in Malaysia shortly after the incident and left with a promise that they would receive huge gratuities, and there was even a bargaining for “free delivery of armaments.” This fact itself speaks more than enough to the abominable nature of the Malaysian authority which does not hesitate to throw away the fairness, morality and conscience for making a grab at a few amounts of dollars. It is nefarious act and unpardonably heavy crime that the Malaysian authority—a government as it is nominally called, though,—offered our citizen as a sacrifice of the U.S. hostile move in defiance of the acknowledged international laws, not content with its blind acceptance of and obedience to the U.S. unjust pressure. Unfairness would not escape from stern judgment of fairness. This incident made by the Malaysian authority constitutes an undisguised alignment with and direct engagement in the anti-DPRK hostile maneuvers of the United States which seeks to deprive our state of its sovereignty and rights to existence and development. The relations between the DPRK and the U.S.—the most hostile one on this planet—are technically in the state of war for over 70 years, and it turns out to be an undeniable reality. It is not likely that the Malaysian authority does not know this stark reality. Not content with putting our innocent citizen in the dock by blindly currying favor with the U.S.—the principal enemy of our state—the Malaysian authority delivered our citizen to the U.S. in the end, thus destroying the entire foundation of the bilateral relations based on the respect for sovereignty. With regard to the grave situation that has prevailed, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK hereby announces total severance of the diplomatic relations with Malaysia which committed super-large hostile act against the DPRK in subservience to the U.S. pressure. From this very moment, the Malaysian authority will bear full responsibility for all the consequences to be incurred between the two countries. We warn in advance that the U.S.—the backstage manipulator and main culprit of this incident—that it will also be made to pay a due price. (KCNA, “Unfairness Would Not Escape from Stern Judgment of Fairness,” March 19, 2021)


3/21/21:
North Korea fired two cruise missiles off the west coast today, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said March 24, Pyongyang’s first missile test in about a year seen as aimed at testing the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden without being too provocative. “We detected two projectiles presumed to be cruise missiles fired from the North’s western port county of Onchon early Sunday,” a JCS officer told reporters. He refused to disclose other details, including their exact type, flight range and apogee, only saying that South Korean and U.S. authorities have been analyzing details and closely monitoring related moves. Leader Kim Jong-un does not appear to have observed the latest firings, according to sources. Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) said in a Facebook post that the launches took place at around 6:36 a.m. today. He added that South Korea and the U.S. were aware of the firings but decided not to make them public. Unlike ballistic missiles, cruise missiles are not banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea. Pyongyang has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing since late 2017. The United States made no big deal out of the firings, with Biden saying “nothing much has changed” and senior administration officials saying the launches were not in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The launches mark the North’s first known missile test since April 14, 2020. “Sunday’s firings might be seen as part of its ongoing wintertime military exercise. There is nothing more that we feel the need to explain about further,” another officer said. Pyongyang launched wintertime drills in December, which usually continue through the end of March, according to officials. The latest test took place three days after South Korea and the U.S. staged their springtime joint military exercise for nine days until March 18. The latest test was made public belatedly Wednesday after reports by foreign press outlets. JCS officials said that they do not announce all missile activities of the North, particularly in cases where they do not involve ballistic missiles. “The decision not to announce the recent firings was made jointly with the U.S. side. We are closely monitoring the North Korean military activities, while maintaining a firm joint readiness posture,” a JCS officer said. North Korea has also remained mum on the latest test. (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Fired Two Cruise Missiles off West Coast Sunday: JCS,” Yonhap, March 24, 2021) North Korea fired off multiple short-range missiles this past weekend, after denouncing Washington for going forward with joint military exercises with South Korea, according to people familiar with the situation. The missile tests, which had not previously been reported, represent North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s first direct challenge to President Biden, whose aides have not yet outlined their approach to the regime’s nuclear threat amid an ongoing review of U.S.-North Korea policy. For weeks, U.S. defense officials warned that intelligence indicated that North Korea might carry out missile tests. The regime elevated its complaints about U.S. military exercises last week, with Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, warning that if the Biden administration “wants to sleep in peace for the coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink.” The tests put renewed pressure on the United States to develop a strategy to address a nuclear threat that has bedeviled successive Republican and Democratic administrations for decades. State Department spokesman Ned Price has said the Biden administration wants to develop a “new approach” to North Korea, but he has offered few details. U.S. diplomats have informed allies in Asia in recent weeks that the strategy will differ from President Donald Trump’s top-down approach of meeting directly with Kim Jong Un and President Barack Obama’s bottom-up formulation, which swore off engagement until Pyongyang changed its behavior. Both policies failed to stop North Korea from advancing its weapons systems and repressing its citizens through a combination of mass surveillance, torture and political-prisoner camps condemned by human rights groups around the world. The remaining benefit of Trump’s summit diplomacy is that the regime has refrained from detonating a nuclear device or launching a long-range missile since Trump met with Kim in Singapore in 2018. The Biden administration was mindful that it could be criticized as dithering in the event that North Korea were to restart its nuclear provocations. Those concerns became more urgent this month when U.S. intelligence detected signals that North Korea may resume its testing, said three people familiar with the situation. Satellite imagery suggesting an uptick in activity at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear research center published by the 38 North website also worried U.S. officials. In an effort to inoculate the administration from potential criticism, Biden administration officials disclosed to a Reuters reporter that U.S. officials reached out to North Korea through several channels starting in mid-February but did not receive a response, said people familiar with the authorized leak. White House press secretary Jen Psaki later confirmed that attempted outreach during a press briefing. At the time, two constituencies were pushing the administration to engage with North Korea. Arms-control organizations based in Washington, some that have a close working rapport with the Biden administration, worried that more North Korean testing could be days away. “There is an urgent need to reengage with the North, because Pyongyang continues to amass more plutonium for nuclear weapons,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “The sooner the better.” That concern was shared by South Korea. The country’s foreign minister, Chung Eui-yong, called for an “early resumption of dialogue” between the United States and North Korea. U.S. officials disclosed the outreach efforts to demonstrate that the administration had heard the concerns, the people said. “The South very much wants diplomacy with the North,” said one person familiar with the matter, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity. “They are incredibly worried that the Biden administration is going to repeat the problems of 2009 in which, for a variety of reasons, the United States was slow.” U.S. officials did not say whether the United States made any substantive or significant proposals to North Korea in the outreach. North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, made clear that the regime was not satisfied with what was communicated. “We don’t think there is a need to respond to the U.S. delaying-time trick again,” Choe said in a statement carried by North Korean state media. “We will disregard such an attempt of the U.S. in the future, too.” North Korea has not commented on its Sunday missile launches, puzzling U.S. and South Korean officials. The isolated regime typically hails such developments to underscore its technical prowess. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment about the tests, which were discovered by U.S. officials through intelligence collection efforts outside the country. Victor Cha, a professor at Georgetown University, said if missile tests were to become public, the Biden administration might take a more confrontational approach, given the threat short-range missiles pose to U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan and to U.S. civilians in the region. Regardless, the Biden administration will be under more pressure to complete its policy review as dangers on the Korean Peninsula become more apparent. South Korean and Japanese officials have advised the Biden administration against reestablishing six-party talks, a multilateral framework developed during the George W. Bush administration that included China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States. Officials from Tokyo and Seoul told their U.S. counterparts that dealing with North Korea directly would be the most productive format, advice that U.S. officials have taken seriously, according to people familiar with the discussions. One of the challenges U.S. officials are facing in the review process is how to get countries in the region to cooperate on pressuring North Korea to denuclearize, they said. “What is becoming clear to the architects of the new policy is how much the ground has shifted in a very short while. China is less interested in playing an active diplomatic role in the way it did during six-party talks,” said a person familiar with the discussions. “Japan and South Korea are at daggers drawn and find it difficult to even sit in the same room together, and Russia’s undermining of the American democracy has complicated any positive role with the United States in this regional endeavor.” U.S. officials say North Korean diplomacy is also difficult because the approach must be designed so that other countries in the region support it. “The cardinal rule of dealing with North Korea is you don’t negotiate over the heads of our allies, as Trump did when he unilaterally promised to suspend military exercises with South Korea,” said Cha, a top adviser to the Bush administration on North Korea. “You probably will get very little from North Korea. And in the bigger picture, you’re hurting our alliances in Asia.” There are also concerns that Kim’s grip on power is less brittle than some analysts anticipated, raising questions about whether the regime can simply be coerced into giving up its weapons through punishing economic sanctions, a tactic tried by every U.S. administration. “In spite of sanctions, North Korea has managed to build a relatively robust economy for the Pyongyang elite, quite in contrast to the deprivations that were suffered in the late 1990s because of sanctions and famine,” the person familiar with the discussions said. (John Hudson and Ellen Nakashima, “North Korea Fires Short-Range Missiles in Challenge to Biden Administration,” Washington Post, March 23, 2021) Biden denied that North Korea’s military activity amounted to serious provocation. “According to the Defense Department, it’s business as usual. There’s no new wrinkle in what they did,” the president told reporters in Washington on March 23. The senior administration officials emphasized during a press call that the testing of what they called a “short-range system” fell into the category of “normal military activity” by Pyongyang and there was no violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions restricting North Korea’s ballistic missile program. “North Korea has a familiar menu of provocations when it wants to send a message to a U.S. administration: ballistic missiles of various range, mobile and submarine launch platforms, nuclear and thermonuclear tests. Experts rightly recognized what took place last weekend as falling on the low end of that spectrum,” one of the officials said. “We do not see the activity that took place this weekend is closing that door (of dialogue),” the official said. (Kyodo, “North Korea Fired Cruise Missiles Last Weekend, U.S. Plays down Concern,” March 24, 2021)


3/22/21:
KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), received a verbal message from Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and president of the People’s Republic of China. Xi Jinping expressed his gratitude to Kim Jong Un for sending a verbal message in which he notified the accounts of the 8th Congress of the WPK, and extended warm greetings. He congratulated again the successful Party Congress. Stressing that the traditional China-DPRK friendship is a valuable asset common to the two parties, two countries and two peoples, he said that he has intent to successfully defend, consolidate and develop the China-DPRK relations, propel the new continuous achievements in the socialist cause of the two countries and provide the peoples of the two countries with better life by making efforts together with comrades of the DPRK under the new situation. Saying that the international and regional situations are undergoing grave changes, he expressed his willingness to make new positive contributions to defending peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and achieving peace, stability, development and prosperity in the region.” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Receives Verbal Message from President Xi Jinping,” March 23, 2021)

Xinhua: “Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, has said that China is willing to work with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and other related parties to uphold the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue and preserve peace and stability on the peninsula, so as to make new contributions to regional peace, stability, development and prosperity. Xi made the remarks in an exchange of verbal messages with Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) of the DPRK. The messages were delivered by Song Tao, minister of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee, and Ri Ryong Nam, DPRK ambassador to China, during their meeting on Monday in Beijing. … ” (Xinhua, “Update: Xi Says China Willing to Work with DPRK to Preserve Peace on the Korean Peninsula,” March 23, 2021)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged messages today in which Kim stressed unity and stronger cooperation against hostile forces, in what is seen as a move to bolster their traditional alliance in the face of intensifying tension between China and the US, as well as stalled nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington. KCNA the next day reported on the exchange of messages between the heads of the two countries. The purpose of Kim’s message was to notify Xi of the results of the eighth congress of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, held in January. The times call for “intensifying the strategic communications between the two parties on the basis of deep comradeship,” Kim’s message said. Kim emphasized the need to “strengthen the unity and cooperation between the two parties and two countries to cope with the hostile forces’ all-round challenges and obstructive moves,” the KCNA said. In the message, Kim informed Xi of details of the decisions made at the party congress, including a “policy stand on the bolstering of defense capabilities of the country, the inter-Korean relations and the DPRK-US relations.” DPRK stands for the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Kim also said cooperation between the two countries would grow stronger, “as required by the times and in conformity with the desires, wishes and core interests” of both sides. The messages were exchanged at a meeting in Beijing between Song Tao, head of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and Ri Ryong-nam, North Korea’s new ambassador to China. Xi, in his message to Kim, described the bilateral relationship as a “valuable asset” and said Beijing would work to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, according to Xinhua. The remarks come after the US and China held a face-to-face meeting in Alaska last week, the first high-level talks since US President Joe Biden took office. The two-day meetings, which covered an array of contentious issues, intensified into a war of words as officials exchanged sharp rebukes. (Ahn Sung-mi, “NK’s Kim Calls for United Front against ‘Hostile Forces,’” Korea Herald, March 23, 2021)


3/23/21:
DPRK FoMin spokesman’s “answer to a question put by KCNA on March 23 with respect to the designation on March 22 by the European Union of several countries including the DPRK as targets of “human rights sanctions” under the pretext of “countering global human rights violations”: As has been made public, EU performed a farce of announcing the targets of sanctions by pointing its finger at what it calls “human rights violations” in several countries of the world. The DPRK strongly denounces and categorically rejects this farce of “human rights sanctions” by EU, as it constitutes a part of the stereo-typed policy hostile to the DPRK and a despicable political provocation aimed at infringing upon its sovereignty and interfering in its internal affairs. The so-called human rights sanctions regime, which EU argues is the legal ground of this farce, is an evil legislation contrived to put pressure on those countries that do not kowtow to EU and thus this regime is being rejected by the international society at large. The latest move by EU reminds me of the time when it came up with a new regime devoted to human rights sanctions at the end of last year. At that time, the world people predicted that EU, which likes posing itself as “ancestor of human rights”, while wagging its tongue about “rule of law”, “democracy”, and “equality”, had introduced this regime in order to designate as target of punishment the policemen of the U.S. and the West, who then startled the world by super-large human rights violation practices. The latest farce, however, has again illustrated that the EU’s human rights sanctions regime has nothing to do with an improvement of genuine human rights, and that it is nothing less than another sinister political tool targeted at the countries differing from the “value” of EU. It is the height of abnormality that EU, while completely turning blind to its internal dire defects of human rights, is groundlessly finding fault with the human rights issues of other countries and kicking up a fuss. It seems that an inveterate repugnancy coupled with a psychotic way of thinking has completely degenerated the EU into looking at all matters and phenomena upside down. It is because EU is under the delusion that the racism, racial discrimination, child abuse and xenophobia-the incurable trends being prevalent within EU-stand for “protection of human rights” or “promotion of human rights.” The world public is now unanimously commenting that the EU’s human rights farce, which is disturbing the world by trumpeting about the already worn-out “human rights” racket, evokes the perfect likeness of someone. It will be likely that EU is better advised to think of renaming itself “United States of EU and America”, without painfully struggling to highlight its “independent character.” There goes a European maxim: pleasure has a sting in its tail. EU needs to bear in mind that if it persistently clings to the futile anti-DPRK “human rights” smear campaign in disregard of our repeated warnings, it will inevitably be faced with unimaginable and miserable consequence. Futile act will incur only disgrace and shame.” (KCNA, “Futile Act Will Incur Only Disgrace and Shame: Spokesman for DPRK Foreign Ministry,” March 23, 2021)


3/25/21:
KCNA: “The Academy of Defense Science of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea test-fired newly developed new-type tactical guided missiles on Thursday. The test was guided by Ri Pyong Chol, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, officials of the Department of Munitions Industry of the Party Central Committee and leading officials in the sector of national defense scientific research. The newly developed new-type tactical guided missile is a weapon system whose warhead weight has been improved to be 2.5 tonnes with the use of the core technology of tactical guided missile that was already developed. The two test-fired new-type tactical guided missiles accurately hit the target set in the waters 600 kilometers off the east coast of Korea. Right after the test-firing, the Academy of Defense Science clarified that the test-firing was very successful just as it had been confidently predicted, adding that the reliability of the improved version of solid fuel engine was confirmed through several engine ground jet tests and their test-firing processes, and that the irregular orbit features of low-altitude gliding leap type flight mode already applied to other guided missile were also re-confirmed. Ri Pyong Chol said that the test-firing is an important process in implementing the policy of national defense science set forth at the 8th Congress of the WPK and that the development of this weapon system is of great significance in bolstering up the military power of the country and deterring all sorts of military threats existing on the Korean Peninsula. He immediately reported the successful result of the test-firing to the General Secretary of the WPK and conveyed the congratulations of the Party Central Committee to the sector of national defense scientific research.” (KCNA, “Academy of Defense Test-Fires New-Type Tactical Guided Missiles,” March 26, 2021)

North Korea carried out ballistic missile launches for the first time in about a year today, increasing pressure on the United States as the administration of President Joe Biden prepares to announce a new policy on the North. Two short-range missiles, believed to be ballistic ones, were fired into the East Sea from the North’s eastern town of Hamju at 7:06 a.m and 7:25 a.m. and flew around 450 kilometers with an altitude of 60 km, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing the projectiles in detail, weighing the possibility that they could be short-range ballistic missiles,” a JCS officer said. North Korea last fired a ballistic missile in March 2020. (Choi Soo-hyang, “N. Korea Fires 2 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles into East Sea: JCS,” Yonhap, March 25, 2021) North Korea’s new ballistic missile test-fired this week could further bolster the country’s tactical nuclear arsenal and pose serious threats to South Korea and beyond by challenging its missile defense system, experts said March 26. Experts said the missile appears to be an upgraded version of the North’s KN-23, modeled after Russia’s Iskander mobile ballistic missile. The variant was first showcased during a military parade held in Pyongyang in January and had not been tested before. “This gives North Korea the flexibility to use a not-so-compact nuclear warhead on this missile,” Vipin Narang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tweeted. The original KN-23 has a 1-ton payload. Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at the Korea Aerospace University, noted that it seems hard to believe the North’s claims and more tests will be needed to verify the system, but the new missile “is powerful enough only with conventional explosives and would serve as a tactical nuclear weapon.” “Kim Jong-un promised work on tactical nuclear systems. One way to do that is to design light compact nuclear warheads to mate with short range missiles. The other is to design your short-range systems to carry a 2.5-ton warhead,” Narang said. The upgraded version can also be seen as Pyongyang’s response to the South Korean powerful ground-based Hyunmoo-4 missile. “The Hyunmoo-4 has a 2-ton payload and has a maximum range of 800 kilometers. North Korea now claims that it is developing a comparable item,” professor Chang said. According to KCNA, the missiles accurately hit a target set in the waters 600 kilometers off the east coast, while the JCS said they flew around 450 kilometers with an altitude of 60 km. “Due to its pull-up maneuver, the figures could differ,” said Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense Security Forum in Seoul. Rather than following the typical parabolic trajectory of a missile, the KN-23 shows a more complicated path by doing a so-called pull-up maneuver over the course of its flight. The new Iskander is also believed to use a transporter erector launcher (TEL) with 10 wheels, compared with the previous version of a four-axle TEL, which indicated that it is longer so as to be capable of flying further. The previous version is believed to be capable of flying around 400 to 600 km, which put all of South Korea within its range. The mobile, solid-fuel weapon is also hard to detect, and the low peak apogee could neutralize the advanced U.S. anti-missile defense system (THAAD), experts said. (Oh Seok-min, “New KN-23 Ballistic Missile to Bolster N. Korea’s Tactical Nuclear Capabilities: Experts,” Yonhap, March 26, 2021)

Van Diepen: “North Korea announced the launch of a “new-type” of missile on March 25 that appears to be a variant of the previous KN-23 short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). North Korea almost certainly conducted the launches more for political than technical or operational reasons, probably to signal the new Biden administration that it should not be taken for granted and will continue to develop its missile capabilities, as well as in response to the US-ROK joint exercises currently underway. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) claim that the missile carried a 2,500-kg warhead to a 600-km range was likely a deliberate overstatement, presumably for political purposes. The military significance of these launches is questionable. A 2,500-kg warhead is almost certainly not required for the new missile to carry a nuclear warhead. If it exists, the heavier warhead is more likely to have some tailored conventional warfighting purpose. Regardless, North Korea already unveiled in 2019 three new solid-propellant SRBMs that have all of the key attributes of the new missile, and that collectively add incrementally to the longstanding North Korean SRBM threat. … According to the North, the “quite successful” test flights have “reconfirmed the irregular orbit characteristics of the low-altitude gliding and skipping flight mode which has already been applied to other guided missiles.” Although North Korea suggested the missiles flew to a range of 600 km, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that they flew to a range of around 450 km with an altitude of 60 km; Japan stated the missiles reached 420 and 430 km. The North claimed the missiles “correctly hit” their target. As is usually the case with North Korean missile activities, there is much we cannot confirm and do not know. In particular, we do not know that the missiles depicted in the photos were the missiles actually launched, nor do we know the payload weight, the degree of success of the missile flights, or if they in fact hit their intended targets. Assuming the missiles in the photos were the ones launched, the North has conducted the initial launches of a solid-propellant SRBM that appears to be a variant of its KN-23 SRBM (itself apparently based on the Russian SS-26 Iskander SRBM). It may be the same variant unveiled by the DPRK at the January 14 military parade in Pyongyang, which reportedly was longer than the original KN-23 and—like the missiles seen in the new photos—had a more conical warhead. Both the DPRK-claimed range of 600 km and the ROK/Japan-reported ranges of 420-450 km are consistent with previously reported KN-23 flights. The ROK-reported 60 km apogee (altitude) of the new missiles’ flights is consistent with the 50 km reported for past KN-23 flights, and with the North’s claim of a “low-altitude gliding and skipping flight mode.” Flying at such altitudes allows the missile’s direction to be controlled throughout its trajectory, making interception by missile defense systems much more difficult. The most interesting aspect of the North’s claims is the new missile’s purported 2,500-kg payload, larger than the original KN-23. A larger payload is consistent with the more conical front section of the missile seen in the photos released with the launches and with the longer missile seen in the January parade. But because increases in the payload weight for a given missile system generally result in decreased range (and vice versa), it is hard to reconcile a 2,500-kg payload for the new missile with the ROK/Japan reported ranges of 420-450 km, much less the DPRK-claimed range of 600 km. The original KN-23 was assessed to carry a payload of 500 kg to a range of 490 km, and a reduced payload to 600 km. (There is, however, no direct open-source evidence of the missile’s actual payload weight or range/payload capability.) The Russian SS-26 Iskander is reported to carry a payload of 480-700 kg to a range of 400-500 km. Although the KN-23 is believed to be based on the Iskander, the latter probably incorporates more advanced solid-propellant technology than North Korea currently possesses. Based on the information currently available, it seems most likely that the 2,500-kg payload attributed to the new launches is a deliberate overstatement, along with the claimed 600-km range. Perhaps the North also intends to pursue a future version of the new missile with a 2,500-kg warhead and a substantially reduced range (maybe as low as 100 km). But a North Korean solid-propellant missile of this size class with a 2,500 kg-payload and a 600-km range (or even a 420-450 km range) is questionable. As with most of its other missile activities, North Korea almost certainly conducted the March 25 launches more for political than technical or operational reasons. These were the first ballistic missile launches Pyongyang conducted since March 2020, suggesting the North intended them as a signal to the new Biden administration that the DPRK and its interests should not be taken for granted, and that it will continue to develop its missile (and, implicitly, nuclear) capabilities. The launches probably also are a response to the US-ROK joint exercises currently underway, which Kim Jong Un’s sister complained about as a threat to peace. That these launches involved SRBMs, not longer-range systems, suggests the DPRK did not want to provoke a crisis with the new administration at the outset, but it is also consistent with the idea that the North is testing how the new administration will respond, and is reserving the right to conduct (if not gearing up for) further tests at increased ranges based on its assessment of the new US leadership. The launch of ballistic missiles violated the ban on all such launches established by United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1718, which does not apply to the cruise missiles the DPRK launched a few days earlier.[8] Unlike its predecessor, the Biden administration has referred the SRBM launches to the UN Security Council North Korea sanctions committee. The unveiling of yet another new SRBM (or SRBM variant), along with the claims of a much larger payload and a “low-altitude gliding and skipping flight mode,” is probably intended to underscore the DPRK threat to South Korea and Japan, and to help drive wedges between the US (whose homeland is not threatened by SRBMs) and its Asian allies within range of North Korean theater-range missiles. The apparent deliberate overstatement of the payload and range of the missile likewise probably is intended to highlight the threat to the ROK, as well as magnify the achievement of North Korean science and technology. The military significance of these launches is questionable, however. Arming the new missile with 2,500-kg warheads, if indeed such warheads exist, does not “indicate they are being designed for nuclear strikes.” The DPRK is assessed to have deployed nuclear warheads for many years on its existing Nodong medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and Scud-B and -C SRBMs, with payloads of 700-1,000 kg. A 2,500 kg-warhead is almost certainly not required for the new missile to carry a nuclear warhead. If it exists, the 2,500-kg warhead is more likely to have some tailored conventional warfighting purpose. A larger unitary warhead could be intended to have a greater effect against bunkered targets, or create larger craters in airstrips; a larger warhead also would permit delivering more and/or heavier submunitions, covering a greater area or increasing lethality over the same area. In any case, North Korea has long deployed some 900 SRBMs and MRBMs that can cover all of South Korea. It unveiled in 2019 three new solid-propellant SRBMs (the KN-23, -24, and -25) that have all of the key attributes of the new missile, and that collectively add incrementally to the longstanding North Korean SRBM threat. In particular, all these missiles “would allow North Korea to subject more US and ROK targets to SRBM attacks (particularly more point targets), add to the intensity of attacks, increase the North’s opportunities to tailor particular attacks to particular missile systems, and further complicate the task of US and ROK missile defenses.” In other words, the new missile, assuming it is deployed in any numbers, will be more of the same.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Initial Analysis of North Korea March 25 SRBM Launch, 38 North, March 30, 2021)

Biden: “Q If I could just ask you about foreign policy, Mr. President. Overnight, we learned that North Korea tested two ballistic missiles. What, if any, actions will you take? And what is your red line on North Korea? THE PRESIDENT: Let me say that, number one, U.N. Resolution 1718 was violated by those particular missiles that were tested — number one. We’re consulting with our allies and partners. And there will be responses — if they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly. But I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization. So that’s what we’re doing right now: consulting with our allies.” (White House, Remarks by President Biden in Press Conference, East Room, March 25, 2021)


3/26/21:
WPK Central Committee Secretary Ri Pyong Chol’s statement: “The recent test-fire of new-type tactical guided missiles was an act tantamount to the exercise of the full-fledged right of a sovereign state for self-defense as it was a process that had been undertaken to implement the goals of the policy on national defense science set forth by our Party and government to boost the defense capabilities of the country. We cannot but build invincible physical power for reliably defending the security of our state under the present situation in which south Korea and the U.S. constantly pose military threats to the Korean peninsula while persistently conducting dangerous war exercises and introducing advanced weapons. We express our deep concern over the U.S. chief executive faulting the regular test-fire, exercise of our state’s right to self-defense, as the violation of UN “resolutions” and openly revealing his deep-seated hostility toward the DPRK. Such remarks from the U.S. president are an undisguised encroachment on our state’s right to self-defense and provocation to it. It is a gangster-like logic that it is allowable for the U.S. to ship the strategic nuclear assets into the Korean peninsula and launch ICBMs any time it wants but not allowable for the DPRK, its belligerent party, to conduct even a test of a tactical weapon. We clearly remember that after the appearance of the new administration in Washington there have been exploitation of every opportunity to make words and acts provoking the sovereignty and dignity of our state in which we were branded as the most serious “security threat.” The bellicose stance of the new U.S. administration awakens us to the way to be followed by us and convinces us of the justice of the work to be done by us once again. We are by no means developing weapons to draw someone’s attention or influence his policy. If the war exercise staged by the U.S. right before its belligerent party across the ocean is for “defense,” we are supposed to have the full-fledged right to self-defense to contain the former’s military threat on its mainland. I think that the new U.S. administration obviously took its first step wrong. If the U.S. continues with its thoughtless remarks without thinking of the consequences, it may be faced with something that is not good. We know very well what we must do. We will continue to increase our most thoroughgoing and overwhelming military power.” (KCNA, “Ri Pyong Chol Expresses Deep Concern over U.S. President’s Statement Faulting DPRK’s Regular Test-Fire,” March 27, 2021)


3/28/21:
DPRK FoMin Department of International Organizations Director-General Jo Chol Su’s, statement: “Our test fire of new-type tactical guided missile on March 25 is an exercise of its righteous self-defensive right to deter military threats posed to the Korean peninsula and safeguard peace and prosperity of our state. But, dangerous attempt is openly emerging, which is designed to negate the right of our state to self-defense. The United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee on DPRK held its closed working-level consultation hastily on March 26, where the United States called for “tightening implementation of sanctions” and “applying additional sanctions”, while denouncing our self-defensive measure as “violation of UN resolutions.” It was also reported that, at the request of UK, France and other countries, the United Nations Security Council had decided to convene its closed meeting on March 30 to deal with the issue of our test fire of new-type tactical guided missile. It constitutes a denial of sovereign state and an apparent double standard that UNSC takes issue, on the basis of the UN “resolutions”—direct products of the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK—with the normal activities which fall within the right of our state to self-defense. It does not make any sense that only our righteous self-defensive measure should be singled out for denunciation, when many other countries across the globe are firing all kinds of projectiles for the purpose of increasing their military strength. This also holds true when it is viewed from the principle of objectivity and impartiality. The basic principle of and the logical sequence in solving any issue are to get to the bottom of the issue in an objective and impartial way. The United Nations Security Council remains silent whenever U.S. enforces war drills against the DPRK at any time in its face. The contrast, however, is that it picks on the DPRK peremptorily when the latter takes self-defensive counter measures for defending the security of the state. If this is the conduct of UNSC, we are only compelled to look at the cases of U.S., UK and France picking a quarrel with our self-defensive measure. It is only some time ago when U.S. launched air raid against the territory of Syria. It is also only some days ago when UK made an official announcement that it would make a drastic increase in its nuclear warheads, having reneged on its nuclear disarmament obligations. The same is true of France which conducted a test fire of the new-generation, multi-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile. The United Nations Security Council does not have a single record of having questioned or discussed such acts. It is indeed preposterous that such countries spearheading the moves to undermine global peace and stability are picking on our self-defensive measure. I strongly denounce the moves of UNSC as a serious infringement upon the dignity of an independent state and its sovereignty and a wanton violation of the UN Charter, as UNSC is holding meetings on and conducting investigations into the DPRK with its extreme bias and double standard. UNSC should strictly follow the principle of impartiality, objectivity and equity if it is to be conducive to world peace and security in line with its intrinsic mission. If UNSC continues to hold to double standard, it will only cause an aggravation, not amelioration, of situation and confrontation, not dialogue, on the Korean peninsula. We will never condone the moves of some members of UNSC for abusing the United Nations in their pursuits of ulterior motives to trample on the sovereignty of independent countries and hold in check their development. Any attempt to infringe upon our right to self-defense will inevitably prompt a countermeasure in kind.” (KCNA, “Double Standard Will Invite More Serious Consequence: “Director-General of Department of International Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of DPRK,” March 29, 2021)

Q “Now that the President said that he’s, quote, “prepared for some form of diplomacy” with North Korea, does this include sitting with President Kim Jong Un? MS. PSAKI: I think his approach would be quite different, and that is not his intention.” (White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jan Psaki, March 29, 2021)


3/30/21:
WPK Central Committee Information and Publicity Department vice-director Kim Yo Jong’s statement: “Whenever I hear rhetoric from south Korea beyond the demarcation line, I am struck speechless, especially when the south Korean chief executive personally utters something about us over a mike before audience. His speech at the so-called “ceremony for commemorating the day of defending the West Sea” on March 26 again astonished the people of the DPRK. Over our test-fire of new-type tactical guided missiles, he said “I am well aware that all of you deeply worry about the recent test-fire of missiles by the north. It is high time that the south, the north and the U.S. all had to endeavor to do things for dialogue. Things causing difficulty to creating atmosphere for dialogue are something truly undesirable.” He meant that the step taken by us to bolster the capabilities for national defense, exercise of the legitimate sovereign right pertaining to the DPRK, has aroused apprehension among the south Koreans and caused trouble and obstacle to the efforts to create the atmosphere favorable for dialogue. This is height of effrontery. Still we clearly remember what the south Korean chief executive said during his visit to the Defense Science Institute of south Korea on July 23, 2020. He said that “I was greatly excited to see the giant structure of missile and to see it accurately hitting the target in the sea without the slightest deviation. I felt really reassured to see the ultra-modern strategic weapons equipped with the world’s highest accuracy level and powerful destructive power. Now we have reached the point of developing ballistic missiles with firing range and which are loadable with warhead with weight of the world’s highest level enough to defend peace of the Korean peninsula.” This “speech” stands a striking contrast to the commemorative speech a few days ago. He meant the test-firing of ballistic missiles conducted by the Defense Science Institute of south Korea is for peace and dialogue in the Korean peninsula but that conducted by the Academy of Defense Science of the DPRK is something undesirable that arouses serious concern among the people in the south and chills the atmosphere for dialogue. We can hardly repress astonishment at his shamelessness. He doesn’t have even the elementary logic and face. Such illogical and brazen-faced behavior of south Korea is exactly the same as the gangster-like logic of the U.S. faulting the right of the DPRK to self-defense as a violation of the UN “resolutions” and “threats” to the international community. He cannot feel sorry for being “praised” as a parrot raised by America. This could be what is described as self-contradictory and being caught in one’s own trap. He is advised to sometimes think about how he is viewed by the world.” (KCNA, “Vice-Director of Information and Publicity Department of WPK Central Committee Issues Statement,” March 30, 2021)

38 North: “In continuing its signals that it is keeping the door open for reengagement at some point with the US, North Korea downplayed its launch on March 25 of two short-range ballistic missiles, and responded to US President Joseph Biden’s remarks at his first press conference the next day with a relatively subdued statement. That approach appears intended to conform to the line advanced in Kim Jong Un’s work report to the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in January—shortly before Biden’s inauguration—which depicted the June 2018 Singapore US-DPRK Joint Statement as the basis for a “new” US-DPRK relationship. Kim Jong Un did not attend the missile launch on March 25. Instead, the test was overseen by Ri Pyong Chol, a ranking party and military official who is essentially in charge of the North’s WMD programs and who also oversaw a test launch in March 2020 in lieu of Kim. On March 26, Rodong Sinmun, the party newspaper, carried its report on the missile launch on page two. However, page one of that same edition carried articles and pictures of Kim Jong Un talking to officials about city planning and transportation. The message for the domestic audience would seem to be that while the North was continuing its military buildup, Kim Jong Un himself was more focused on internal economic concerns. At his press conference on March 26, President Biden was asked about the North’s missile launch. He said: “ … there will be responses—if they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly.” “But I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.” The North may have read the tone of the president’s remarks as echoing its own tempered approach. In particular, his phrase, “the end result of denuclearization” could have been seen in North Korea as leaving the way open again for the US to utilize, in some form, the Singapore Joint Statement’s formula: “Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Pyongyang’s response to the president’s remarks was unusually fast—the next day—and very high-level in the form of a statement by Ri Pyong Chol. Ri’s statement contained a number of signs of restraint: It did not attack the president by name; It expressed “apprehension,” not “condemnation” of the president’s remarks; and Its final warning was swaddled in a noticeably soft formulation: “If the U.S. continues with its thoughtless remarks without thinking of the consequences, it may be faced with something that is not good.” That latter phrase, “something that is not good,” is on the lower end of North Korean rhetoric, or a deliberately muffled threat. In many respects, the combination of Kim Jong Un’s appearance the day of the missile launch tending to infrastructure concerns, and then Ri’s statement pulling its punches, has the hallmarks of a concerted effort by the DPRK to wait and see what the new US administration will do next. As long as it continues this rhetorical bobbing and weaving, the North is leaving itself considerable room to maneuver.” (38 North, “Ri Pyong Chol’s Fancy Footwork,” March 30, 2021)

North Korea has surged ahead during recent years in an inter-Korean arms race that has led to a proliferation of short-range missiles on the peninsula and left Pyongyang closer than ever to deploying tactical nuclear weapons. North Korea’s years-long quest to develop precision missiles capable of evading detection and striking targets in South Korea has accelerated in the wake of the country’s 2018 self-imposed moratorium on testing its larger intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Meanwhile, a 2017 agreement between Washington and Seoul lifted bilateral limits on South Korean missile payloads, leading to the development of at least one heavier weapon that could play a key role in strategies aimed at preempting North Korean attacks or “decapitating” its leadership. The new missiles tested by North Korea last week appear aimed at matching or surpassing South Korea’s quietly expanding arsenal, and are the first such tests since leader Kim Jong Un declared in January that the country could miniaturize nuclear warheads to fit on tactical weapons. At January’s ruling party congress, Kim announced that North Korea had accumulated technology to “miniaturize, lighten and standardize” nuclear weapons. South Korean officials see bigger and better short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) as a way to reduce their dependence on the United States, which stations around 28,500 troops in South Korea. In a speech last year, South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo boasted that the country had developed a missile with “sufficient range and the world’s largest warhead weight to protect peace on the Korean Peninsula,” referring to the new Hyunmoo-4’s 800-kilometre range and 2-ton payload. It was likely no coincidence, analysts noted, that North Korea said its newest SRBM could carry a 2.5-ton warhead. In a statement on Tuesday, Kim Yo Jong, the leader’s sister and a powerful politician in North Korea, cited Jeong’s speech in defending the North’s right to develop its own missiles. “As Seoul has developed new capabilities of this type, Pyongyang has been close behind,” said Joshua Pollack, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) who co-wrote a report last year warning that advances in conventional, precision strike missiles in both Koreas have helped create a new pathway for a crisis to escalate into war. The South’s spy agency concluded the latest missiles could carry nuclear warheads, though it was unclear whether they had ever been installed, a lawmaker briefed by intelligence officials said yesterday. “Even short-range North Korean ballistic missiles should be considered nuclear-capable, based on North Korea’s own words,” said Markus Garlauskas, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council and former U.S. national intelligence officer for North Korea. Once the technology is mastered, nuclear warheads can be lighter than conventional ones, said Markus Schiller, a missile expert based in Europe. “A missile does not care the least if it carries a nuke, a load of TNT, or a piano—only the weight is important,” he said. North Korea’s latest missiles have also demonstrated a capability for flying low and “pulling up” shortly before reaching their target, making them harder to detect and intercept, said Joseph Dempsey, a defense researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “If fielded, these new type of SRBMs would allow North Korea to strike specific targets within South Korea with a much higher degree of accuracy (than older variants),” he said. In a speech on March 26 where he discussed North Korea’s tests, South Korean President Moon Jae-in described his country’s missile capability as “world class.” After last year’s test of the Hyunmoo-4, South Korea announced it would also mass produce another type of ground-based missile designed to destroy underground artillery bases. “These most recent (North Korean) tests do appear to be communicating to the South Koreans that they have capability on par or superseding that of the Hyunmoo-4,” said Melissa Hanham, deputy director of the Open Nuclear Network. As soon as this year, Seoul may conduct an underwater test of its first submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), based on the 500 kilometer-range Hyunmoo-2B, armed with a conventional warhead, and potentially carried by its new 3,000-ton KSS III submarines, South Korean media reported. South Korea’s defense ministry declined to confirm the status of specific weapons citing security concerns but said “our military has built the capability to counter North Korea’s short-range missiles by modernizing our forces, and we plan to develop it even further.” Such missiles could bolster two key South Korean strategies: “Overwhelming Response”, which aims to detect planned attacks by North Korea and preemptively destroy its nuclear facilities, missiles, and long-range artillery; and “Strategic Target Strike,” a counterattack that includes eliminating North Korean leadership. “Seoul seems committed to very large conventional warheads to target hardened sites,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at CNS. “There is also simple envy—if North Korea has such a capability, it is normal for South Korea to follow suit.” (Josh Smith, “Inter-Korean Missile Race May Leave North Korea with Tactical Nuclear Weapons,” Reuters, March 30, 2021)

The UN Security Council today met to discuss North Korea’s latest missile launches but did not take any immediate action, although the United States said the world body was considering new measures. No statement came from the Security Council or from the European nations after the half-hour, closed-door meeting, a contrast with a year ago when five European nations condemned earlier tests as “provocative.” A diplomat said there were “concerns expressed by a majority of members” during today’s meeting and renewed calls for denuclearization, although no statement was planned. North Korea had already denounced the meeting, which was called by Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland and Norway. In a statement carried by KCNA, senior foreign ministry official Jo Chol Su accused the Security Council of a “double standard” and said that countries around the world “are firing all kinds of projectiles.” Instead of seeking a Security Council meeting, Washington referred the launches to its sanctions committee for assessment. “We held a committee meeting on sanctions and we’re looking at additional actions that we might take here in New York,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters on Monday. She did not specify any measures. North Korea has demanded the lifting of earlier UN sanctions. Russia warned against any new sanctions on North Korea. “It’s a time of assessment, not action,” deputy Russian ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told reporters. “We welcome any kind of dialogue — bilateral or multilateral.” He said, “We hope that there will be no tensions in the Korean Peninsula and that all sides will refrain from provocative acts and provocative rhetoric which doesn’t help.” (AFP, “Security Council Meets on North Korea Tests without Action,” March 30, 2021)


3/31/21:
Caught on the front lines of the conflict between the U.S. and China, South Korea is taking part simultaneously in a trilateral national security office directors’ dialogue with the U.S. and Japan and a bilateral foreign ministers’ meeting with China. The national security directors’ meeting is taking place in Washington April 2-3, while the foreign ministers’ meeting is taking place April 3 in Xiamen, a city in China’s Fujian Province that sits across the strait from Taiwan — the “powder keg” in the US-China conflict. South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Chung Eui-yong explained that the scheduling “was not decided that way on purpose.” But the two concurrent meetings could be read as part of a strategic effort by the Moon Jae-in administration to use both Washington and Beijing to restart the Korean Peninsula peace process. In other words, it is attempting to share Seoul’s position as much as possible with Washington, which is finishing up its review of North Korea policy, while also hoping for Beijing to play a role in improving inter-Korean relations. The Blue House announced today that National Security Office Director Suh Hoon would be visiting the U.S. on April 2 for a dialogue with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts. During the meeting, Suh is scheduled to hear an explanation on the U.S. review of North Korea policy from White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, after which he is to meet with Japanese National Security Secretariat Secretary General Kitamura Shigeru and others to exchange opinions on ideas for increasing trilateral cooperation. Announcing the trilateral discussions in a statement yesterday, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said the dialogue would be taking place “at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, [Maryland],” not far from Washington. Following the trilateral dialogue, Suh also plans to have individual bilateral discussions with the U.S. and Japan. At the same time, South Korea has a meeting of foreign ministers on April 3 between Chung and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that the meeting would be an “occasion for seeking out ideas for advancing bilateral relations between the Republic of Korea and China and exchanging in-depth opinions of the Korean Peninsula, the region and international issues.” Chung’s visit to China is also a reciprocation of Wang’s visit to South Korea last November. Perhaps conscious of the sensitive nature of the two concurrent diplomatic events, Chung stressed at today’s press conference that “the scheduling for the Republic of Korea-China foreign ministers’ meeting and the trilateral national security directors’ dialogue with the U.S. and Japan was not decided that way on purpose, but just happened to coincide.” “The U.S. and China are both important countries to us,” he added. “The U.S. is our sole ally, and China is our close neighbor and biggest trading partner. The U.S. and China are not for us to choose between, nor have they ever made such a demand of us,” he reiterated. But Chung also made no secret of his hopes of using the meeting with Wang to enlist Beijing’s aid in improving inter-Korean relations. “China has always supported our position on policies for a more permanent peace based on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. I hope to lead the discussions in a very candid and constructive direction in terms of what sort of role China can play,” he said. China is expected to attempt to rein in South Korea’s approach toward the U.S. by raising the possibility of a simultaneous invitation of Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February 2022. The question is whether South Korea’s “two-bridge” strategy can succeed. The venue for the foreign ministers’ meeting with China has already attracted some comment. With its emphasis on “One China,” China has asserted issues involving Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang to be “key interests” where it will not make concessions under any circumstances while making every effort to keep the U.S. from interfering. Amid this situation, the repeated breaches of Taiwan’s air defense identification zone by Chinese Air Force aircraft prompted Adm. John Aquilino, the nominee to serve as the next commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, to warn the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 23 that the “military threat to Taiwan is increasing.” On March 25, the Taiwanese government announced its national defense plan, which it presents every four years. In it, it stated plans to increase the firing range of its air-to-surface missiles, stating that China had been “increasing its threat” and “showing hostility.” In a report yesterday, Nikkei said the U.S. and Japan were coordinating to include wording about the “importance of the Taiwan Strait’s stability” in a joint document to be issued after their summit in Washington on April 8. Under the circumstances, South Korea’s participation in foreign minister talks in Xiamen as another US ally could mistakenly send the message that it supports China’s position on Taiwan. “South Korea can’t continue with its current approach,” said former South Korean Ambassador to Russia Wi Sung-lac. “We could end up seeing Japan’s views being mostly reflected rather than South Korea’s when [the U.S.] finishes finalizing its North Korea policy review shortly,” he predicted. (Gil Yun-hyung, “Will S. Korea Equidistant Diplomacy Succeed?” Hankyore, April 1, 2021)


4/2/21:
The United States, South Korea and Japan agreed in high-level security talks today to work together to keep up pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. In a joint statement after a day of talks, U.S. President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and his Japanese counterpart, Kitamura Shigeru, and South Korea’s national security adviser, Suh Hoon, reaffirmed their commitment to address the issue “through concerted trilateral cooperation towards denuclearization.” The three countries also agreed on the need for full implementation by the international community of U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea, “preventing proliferation, and cooperating to strengthen deterrence and maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” the statement said. The talks held at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, were the most senior-level meeting among the three allies since Biden took power Jan. 20, and it came against a backdrop of rising tensions after North Korean missile launches last week. The White House has shared little about its policy review and whether it will offer concessions to get Pyongyang to the negotiating table to discuss giving up its nuclear weapons. However, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said yesterday that denuclearization would remain at the center of policy and any approach to Pyongyang will have to be done in “lockstep” with close allies, including Japan and South Korea. A U.S. official briefing before the talks said the North Korea review was in its final stages and “we’re prepared now to have some final consultations with Japan and South Korea as we go forward.” Joseph Yun, who was the U.S. special envoy for North Korea under both former President Barack Obama and Trump and is now at the United States Institute of Peace, said the policy options were obvious: “You want denuclearization, and you want to use your sanctions to get to denuclearization,” he said. “But how to make the first step, so that at least North Korea is persuaded not to do anything provocative. That’s the challenge.” Some proponents of dialogue are concerned that the Biden administration has not highlighted a broad agreement between Trump and Kim at their first meeting in Singapore in 2018 and warn this could make it difficult to build trust. Asked whether that agreement still stood, the official said: “I understand the significance of the Singapore agreement,” but did not make clear to what extent the issue would be part of the Annapolis talks. (Reuters, “U.S., Japan, and South Korea Agree to Keep up Pressure on North Korea, VOA, April 2, 2021) South Korea, Japan and the United States have agreed on the need to peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue as they reaffirmed their joint efforts to quickly resume denuclearization talks with Pyongyang, South Korea’s national security adviser Suh Hoon said today. “South Korea, the U.S. and Japan agreed on the urgency of the North Korean nuclear issue and need for a diplomatic solution to the issue,” Suh told reporters after a three-way meeting with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Jake Sullivan and Kitamura Shigeru. The three also agreed that “efforts to resume North Korea-U.S. negotiations at an early date must continue,” he added. “The U.S. side explained the interim outcome of the ongoing North Korea policy review, and the security advisers of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan held in-depth discussions on various issues related to preparations and implementation of measures for negotiations with North Korea,” Suh said of the meeting. The U.S. has said its policy review will provide a “new” approach to dealing with nuclear-armed North Korea and that the review is now in its final stages. The Biden administration is said to have reviewed all denuclearization negotiations and agreements with North Korea over the past 30 years, including the Singapore agreement in which North Korean leader Kim Jong-un committed to full denuclearization of the North in exchange for security guarantees. Suh said he highlighted the positive effect a good inter-Korean relationship may have on denuclearization talks with the North. “We underlined the importance of engagement with North Korea in the denuclearization process, coordinated strategy between South Korea and the United States and the virtuous cycle between inter-Korean relations and denuclearization negotiations,” he said of his bilateral talks with Sullivan. “The U.S. side explained the progress so far with regard to its North Korea policy review and agreed to continue consulting with us throughout the remainder of the review process,” he said. Suh also held bilateral talks with his Japanese counterpart, Kitamura. “South Korea and Japan agreed to play constructive and active roles in the process of the U.S. North Korea policy review, and agreed on the importance of cooperation between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue,” he told reporters. (Yonhap, “S. Korea, U.S., Japan Agree on Need to Quickly Resume Dialogue with N. Korea,” April 2, 2021)

Sigal: “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) reportedly fired two tactical cruise missiles into the contested waters of the West Sea (Yellow Sea) on March 21 in a tit-for-tat response to the just-completed US-South Korea joint military exercises. Pyongyang followed up four days later by test-launching two “new-type tactical guided” ballistic missiles eastward into the East Sea (Sea of Japan). The launches were a stark reminder of what is in store if US-DPRK nuclear diplomacy doesn’t resume soon. The question is how to get to the negotiating table. In the current political environment, what are the prospects for diplomacy with Pyongyang? President Joseph Biden is pursuing a long-sought US goal of denuclearization of North Korea. Kim Jong Un, for his part, still seems committed to what his father and grandfather wanted ever since the late 1980s: to reduce the North’s dependence on China and hedge against its rise by transforming relations with the United States. The only way for either leader to get what he wants is to resume and sustain negotiations and see how far they can get. If Kim needs talks, why has Pyongyang failed to respond to Washington’s attempt to resume them? It’s doubtful that he has backed away from his forebears’ goal. More likely, he is playing hard to get, waiting for a conclusive sign that Biden is moving away from what North Korea calls “US hostile policy.” What’s behind this reluctance? On New Year’s Day 2018, Kim announced a significant concession—a unilateral moratorium that slowed development of a credible nuclear threat against the continental United States by suspending nuclear weapons tests before the North had a proven thermonuclear device and halting long-range missile test launches before demonstrating an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a reentry vehicle to deliver it. From Pyongyang’s vantage point, Washington has yet to reciprocate. Asked about the administration’s review of North Korea policy during his consultations with Asian allies, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was careful to remain noncommittal: “We’re looking at whether various additional pressure measures could be effective, whether there are diplomatic paths that makes sense.” Kim Jong Un has warned that he no longer feels bound by the self-declared moratorium on nuclear weapons and long-range missile testing, but he has still not resumed such tests. Ratcheting up pressure on him will likely be counterproductive. If he does continue them, the North’s ability to develop, produce and field more and better weapons would only add to its superior leverage. By contrast, US sanctions pressure is increasingly leaky, especially since Beijing, well aware of Kim’s desire to woo Washington, is reluctant to tighten the economic noose. DPRK First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui reiterated Pyongyang’s point of view in her recent statement: “We have already declared our stand that no DPRK-U.S. contact and dialogue of any kind can be possible unless the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK … We will readily react to the sanctions leverage which the U.S. is so much fond of. It had better contemplate what we can do in the face of its continued hostile policy toward us. We already clarified that we will counter the U.S. on the principle of power for power and goodwill for goodwill.” It is not clear what Kim will take as evidence of a change of heart in Washington. The principles of the Singapore Joint Statement have the North Korean leader’s personal imprimatur, making them a useful starting point for considering what steps to take. Those principles need to be reaffirmed by Biden and backed up by concrete measures. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, recently highlighted the most obvious step: suspension of joint US-South Korea military exercises. The allies just concluded tabletop drills but, blaming COVID-19, held off exercising substantial armed forces in the field. They could commit to withholding all field exercises on the land, offshore, or in the air over Korea for a year—or longer if negotiations are making progress. Whether that would satisfy the North Koreans is not clear. Kim Yo Jong put it this way: “They say that the drill involves no actual maneuvers with its scale and contents drastically ‘reduced’ … .We have opposed the joint military drills targeting the compatriots but never argued about their scale or form.” Last week’s launch of short-range missiles appears to be a shot across the bow, implying Pyongyang may not tolerate even tabletop exercises on Korean soil. A meaningful step would also be to follow up the Singapore Joint Statement with a pledge to work toward what former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo once called “a fundamentally different strategic relationship” with North Korea. That pledge could be underscored in a letter to Kim Jong Un from Biden reiterating the commitment Pompeo made to him in a face-to-face meeting in October 2018: to negotiate an end-of-war declaration, as the starting point of a peace process in Korea. Another possible step might be to pledge to ease some economic sanctions by allowing exemptions from United Nations Security Council sanctions to permit the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Zone or the import of some oil by the North and/or the export of coal or textiles for two years, or as long as negotiations are moving ahead. Communicated in a letter from Biden to Kim, such an initiative would constitute a clear move away from enmity and fitting reciprocity for the North Korean test moratorium, as well as significant inducements to serious and sustained negotiations. While such a dramatic gesture may enjoy a warm embrace from the Moon Jae-in government in Seoul, it would doubtless prove contentious inside the Beltway. Yet, if Biden is to head off an unbounded nuclear breakout in Asia, the audience he needs to convince is, like it or not, in Pyongyang. A bold move would match the courage Biden has demonstrated in his domestic policy. There’s no guarantee that early actions would be seen as enough or whether Kim Jong Un might just demand further concessions. However, putting Biden on a slippery slope toward confrontation instead of negotiating in earnest would jeopardize the negotiations he needs, abandoning the regime’s long-time goal of reconciliation with Washington and leaving it nuclear-armed but politically and economically more dependent than ever on Beijing.” (Leon V. Sigal, “To Spark Talks with North Korea, Biden Should Make the First Move,” 38 North, April 2, 2021)


4/3/21:
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said today that China and South Korea will seek a process for a “political” resolution of the Korean Peninsula issue, raising prospects of joint efforts to resume dialogue with North Korea. Wang made the remarks during talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong in the southeastern Chinese city of Xiamen, as Seoul seeks to enlist cooperation from Beijing and other countries to move forward its stalled agenda for lasting peace on the peninsula. “South Korea and China — crucial countries in this region — are strategic partners and have common or similar positions on preservation of regional peace and stability, pursuit of co-development and security of global governance,” Wang said at the start of the talks. “China, along with South Korea, will seek a process for a political resolution of the Korean Peninsula issue through dialogue,” he added. Casting the two countries as “eternal neighbors,” Wang underscored the importance of strategic communication between Seoul and Beijing and said that his talks with Chung came in a “very timely” manner. Wang pointed out that the two sides favor “openness and inclusiveness” — remarks that seem to signal opposition to the United States’ move to bring together its allies and other like-minded countries against an assertive China. “We will safeguard an international situation with the United Nations at its core. We hope that we can maintain the international order based on international law and work together to protect multilateralism and expand shared interests,” he said. Chung stressed that the two countries share the common goal of the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. “I expect that China will play an active role for the stable management of the situation on the peninsula and substantive progress in the Korean Peninsula peace process,” he said. After the talks, Chung told reporters that the two countries agreed to seek a visit to South Korea by Chinese President Xi Jinping at an early date as soon as the COVID-19 situation stabilizes. Chung also said that the Chinese government threw its support behind Seoul’s policy for lasting peace and the complete denuclearization of the peninsula. “To achieve the two goals, I asked for China’s constructive role, and China pledged to do what it can to cooperate,” he said. The minister noted, without elaboration, that the two sides had a “candid” exchange of views on “various global-level situations.” Later, in a press release, the foreign ministry said that the ministers agreed to seek to hold a vice foreign ministerial strategic dialogue and a “two-plus-two” dialogue involving the countries’ diplomatic and security officials — both in the first half of this year. Chung and Wang also agreed to continuously explore cooperation between South Korea’s regional policy initiatives and China’s One Belt and One Road initiative. In addition, they agreed to launch a joint committee in the first half to craft a road map for the future development of the countries’ relations, as Seoul and Beijing are set to mark the 30th anniversary next year of the establishment of their ties. (Song Sang-ho, “Wang Says S. Korea, China Will Seek ‘Political’ Resolution Process to Korean Peninsula Issues,” April 3, 2021)


4/6/21:
North Korea said today it will not participate in the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics to protect its athletes against the coronavirus pandemic, dashing South Korea’s hopes to use the games to kickstart the stalled peace process with Pyongyang. The decision was made during a general assembly meeting of the North’s Olympic Committee held in Pyongyang on March 25, according to Sports in the DPRK Korea, a website on sports affairs in North Korea. “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has decided not to participate in the 32nd Olympic Games during the general assembly to protect our athletes from the global health crisis situation related to the coronavirus as proposed by committee members,” the website said. State media earlier reported that the North held the meeting via video links to discuss “practical issues linked to actively organize public sport events,” but did not announce the decision not to participate in the Tokyo Olympics set to kick off in July. South Korea has hoped to use the sports event as a major chance to engage with Pyongyang amid stalled cross-border dialogue as was the case with the North sending athletes to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which led to the historic first-ever summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and then U.S. President Donald Trump. Seoul’s foreign ministry said the government still hopes the North will take part. “We support Japan’s hosting of the Olympics with anti-coronavirus measures, and as the Olympics is a festival of world peace, and there is time left ahead, we hope that North Korea will participate,” ministry spokesperson Choi Young-sam said in a press briefing. The unification ministry voiced disappointment. “We had hoped that the Olympics could serve as an opportunity to make progress in inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation and to bring peace on the Korean Peninsula and it is a disappointment that this has become unlikely due to the COVID-19 situation,” a ministry official said. This marks the first Summer Olympics that the North will skip since the 1988 Seoul Olympics. (Koh Byung-joon, “N. Korea Decides Not to Participate in Tokyo Olympics over Coronavirus Concerns,” Yonhap, April 6, 2021)


4/7/21:
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) suffered a crushing defeat in mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan today, seen as a critical bellwether for next year’s presidential poll. Oh Se-hoon of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) defeated his rival from the DP, Park Young-sun, 57.5 percent to 39 percent to claim the Seoul mayoral seat, according to the final vote tally released by the National Election Commission. The mayoral seat in Busan, the country’s second-largest city, also went to the PPP, with Park Heong-joon beating DP rival Kim Young-choon 63 percent to 34 percent. The PPP also swept 13 of 19 other local posts up for grabs in the elections. The polls, especially in Seoul, home to nearly 10 million of the country’s 52 million population, are seen as harbingers of public opinions ahead of the presidential election set for March 2022. President Moon Jae-in and his ruling party have been grappling with public outrage and falling support over spiking housing prices and a scandal involving public housing development officials, which erupted a month before Election Day. The DP’s recent railroading of progressive bills, including those on weakening the power of the state prosecution service, has also drawn heat. The DP has also been under criticism as the two mayoral by-elections were called after the previous mayors — Park Won-soon in Seoul and Oh Keo-don in Busan, both affiliated with the liberal party — left the posts last year amid sexual harassment allegations. (Park Boram and Chang Dong-woo, “Ruling Party Suffers Crushing Defeat in Bellwether By-Elections,” Yonhap, April 8, 2021)


4/11/21:
South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities believe North Korea is ready to roll out a new 3,000-ton submarine, only waiting for the right timing, sources said today. The assessment comes after a U.S. think tank said the North has moved a submersible missile test barge at its missile test site to a different position, possibly indicating an upcoming test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). “Both South Korea and U.S. intelligence authorities made the assessment that North Korea has already finished building the 3,000-ton submarine unveiled in July 2019,” according to sources. “The authorities assess that North Korea is reviewing the right timing to roll out the submarine for a strategic effect, including maximizing pressure against the United States,” a source said. The source added that the North could reveal the submarine at a launching ceremony and actually roll out an SLBM, such as the Pukguksong-3. Last month, 38 North, a U.S. website monitoring North Korea, reported that a dry dock at the North’s Sinpo shipyard on its east coast has recently been repositioned along the submarine launch quay, saying the move could indicate that the North’s new ballistic missile submarine “may be nearing completion or is ready to be rolled out and launched in the near future.” Beyond Parallel, a project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, also revealed last week that the North has moved a submersible missile test stand barge at a shipyard on its east coast, citing satellite imagery. The think tank said the movement could indicate preparations for a forthcoming SLBM test or the launching of its “long-anticipated first true ballistic missile submarine (SSB).” (Yonhap, “S. Korea, U.S. Authorities Assess N.K. Has Completed Building New 3,000-Ton Submarine: Sources,” April 11, 2021)


4/12/21:
Liu Xiaoming, Beijing’s top diplomat in Britain from 2010 until January this year, has been appointed as the new special representative on Korean peninsula affairs, the Chinese foreign ministry said today. He replaces Kong Xuanyou, China’s envoy to Japan. “[Liu’s] main responsibility is to assist the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to coordinate and resolve issues related to the Korean peninsula, maintain communication and cooperation with all parties and provide a constructive role in the political resolution of the Korean peninsula issues,” the ministry said in a statement. Liu was China’s ambassador to North Korea between 2006 and 2010. According to a 2015 article on the Sino-North Korean research website, Pyongyang was displeased with Liu when he was the envoy and reportedly asked Beijing to recall him after “North Korean intelligence services … overheard him tell a group of Chinese investors that they should take their money elsewhere and not invest in North Korea.” During his time in London, Liu wrote several opinion pieces for British newspapers and frequently accepted interviews with local media, using them to defend China’s position on hot-button issues like 5G, the Hong Kong protests and allegations of human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region. In September 2017, when North Korea carried out several missile tests, Liu pushed back at international criticism that Beijing was not doing enough to rein in its communist ally, writing in an op-ed: “Some Western media have criticized China for failing to do its best to curb [North Korea]. I do not agree. Nor do I subscribe to the belief that China holds the ‘master key’ to this crisis.” Months later, he told ITV News that he had “tried to dissuade North Korea from developing their nuclear weapon program.” As ambassador, Liu said, “I did my best to convince them that it would not be in their interest to develop nuclear weapons.” Beijing’s policy towards North Korea has always been unconventional, as key decisions are not made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – where Liu has built his career – but by the International Liaison Department, an agency under the Communist Party’s Central Committee. One of the agency’s roles is to build relations with fellow communist countries like Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea. Pyongyang has always preferred to deal with liaison department officials over foreign ministry diplomats. The first diplomatic activity of North Korea’s ambassador to China, Ri Ryong-nam, after he took up the job in March, was to meet Song Tao, director of the liaison department. Liu’s appointment to Pyongyang in 2006 was an unprecedented break with convention because the diplomat had no ties to the liaison department, according to Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on US-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, in a 2012 paper. Snyder said the appointment was Beijing’s way of signaling to Pyongyang that its missile and nuclear tests would mean the relationship would be downgraded from “special” to a “normal” one. But in 2009, the Chinese leadership decided to shift course and pursue engagement, fearing that a collapse of the North Korean regime would not be in Beijing’s interests, according to Snyder. Liu was replaced by the less confrontational Liu Hongcai, deputy head of the liaison department, and under his guidance the embassy facilitated a deepening of ties, he said. (Eduardo Baptista, “China’s Ex-Ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming Named Special Envoy for North Korea, South China Morning Post, April 12, 2021)


4/16/21:
Biden-Suga summit: “PRESIDENT BIDEN: … We had a very productive discussion today. When nations as close as ours get together, we always look for operations and opportunities to do more, and today was no exception. So, Yoshi, you’ll probably be seeing a lot more of me in the future. And today, Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our ironclad support for U.S.-Japanese alliance and for our shared security. We committed to working together to take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea, as well as North Korea, to ensure a future of a free and open Indo-Pacific. Japan and the United States are two strong democracies in the region, and we’re committed — we’re committed to defending and advancing our shared values, including human rights and the rule of law. We’re going to work together to prove that democracies can still compete and win in the 21st century. We can deliver for our people, and in the face of a rapidly changing world. … PRIME MINISTER SUGA: (As interpreted.) … President Biden and I reaffirmed the recognitions confirmed at the Japan-U.S. two-plus-two held last month, and agreed to engage in initiatives for the region based upon such recognitions. We also discussed the free and open Indo-Pacific. We agreed that while Japan and the U.S. will take the lead to promote the vision through concrete efforts, we will also cooperate with other countries and regions, including the ASEAN, Australia, and India. We also had serious talks on China’s influence over the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific and the world at large. We agreed to oppose any attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion in the East and South China Seas, and intimidation of others in the region. At the same time, we agreed on the necessity for each of us to engage in frank dialogue with China. And, in so doing, to pursue stability of international relations, while upholding universal values. On North Korea, we confirmed our commitment to the CVID of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges, and agreed to demand North Korea to fulfill its obligations under Security Council resolutions. On the issue of abduction, we reaffirmed that it is a grave human rights issue, and that our two countries will work together to seek immediate resolution by North Korea. Encountering North Korea, and for the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific, both of us recognize that trilateral cooperation, including the ROK, has never been as important as today, and agreed to promote such collaboration. Noting that the regional security environment has become increasingly severe, the deterrence and response capabilities of our alliance must be strengthened. I conveyed my resolve to reinforce Japan’s defense capabilities while President Biden again demonstrated America’s commitment to the defense of Japan, including the application of Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security for the Senkaku Islands.” (White House, Remarks by President Biden and Prime Minister Suga at Press Conference, April 16, 2021)


4/20/21:
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea has a message for the United States: President Biden needs to engage now with North Korea. In an interview with the New York Times, Moon pushed the American leader to kick-start negotiations with the government of Kim Jong-un after two years in which diplomatic progress stalled, even reversed. Denuclearization, the South Korean president said, was a “matter of survival” for his country. He also urged the United States to cooperate with China on North Korea and other issues of global concern, including climate change. The deteriorating relations between the superpowers, he said, could undermine any negotiations over denuclearization. “If tensions between the United States and China intensify, North Korea can take advantage of it and capitalize on it,” Moon said. Moon, who is set to meet with Mr. Biden next month in Washington, appeared ready to step once again into the role of mediator between the two sides. In the interview, Moon was proud of his deft diplomatic maneuvering in 2018, when he steered the two unpredictable leaders of North Korea and the United States to meet in person. He was also pragmatic, tacitly acknowledging that his work to achieve denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula has since unraveled. “He beat around the bush and failed to pull it through,” Moon said of Trump’s efforts on North Korea. “The most important starting point for both governments is to have the will for dialogue and to sit down face to face at an early date.” Moon bet on Trump’s style, emphasizing personality-driven “top-down diplomacy” through one-on-one meetings with Kim. Biden, he said, was returning to the traditional “bottom-up” approach in which negotiators haggle over details before seeking approval from their bosses. “I hope that Biden will go down as a historic president that has achieved substantive and irreversible progress for the complete denuclearization and peace settlement on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said in the interview from Sangchunjae, a traditional hanok on the grounds of the executive residence, Blue House. Moon warned that it would be a mistake to kill the 2018 Singapore agreement between Trump and Kim that set out broad goals for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. “I believe that if we build on what President Trump has left, we will see this effort come to fruition under Biden’s leadership,” he said. Moon called for the United States and North Korea to move in “gradual and phased” steps toward denuclearization, exchanging concessions and incentives “simultaneously” along the way. It was a well-worn script for Moon. Some past American negotiators and Moon’s conservative critics dismiss such a strategy, saying North Korea would stall and undermine international sanctions, the best leverage Washington has against the impoverished country. In its annual threat assessment released last week, the United States’ director of national intelligence said Kim “believes that over time he will gain international acceptance and respect as a nuclear power.” But Moon’s team argues that the phased approach is the most realistic, even if it is imperfect. As his administration sees it, North Korea would never give up its arsenal in one quick deal, lest the regime lose its only bargaining chip with Washington. The key, Moon said, is for the United States and North Korea to work out a “mutually trusted road map.” Since the negotiations have stalled, Moon’s troubles at home have mounted. His approval ratings have plunged to record lows amid real-estate and other scandals. This month, angry voters delivered crushing defeats to his Democratic Party in the mayoral elections in South Korea’s two largest cities. That is a sharp turn of fortune from the start of his administration, when Moon parlayed a hair-raising geopolitical crisis into a signature policy initiative. “When I took office back in 2017, we were really concerned about the possibility of war breaking out once again on the Korean Peninsula,” he said. Four days into his tenure, North Korea launched its Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile that it said could target Hawaii and Alaska. Then the North tested a hydrogen bomb and three intercontinental ballistic missiles. In response, Trump threatened “fire and fury,” as American Navy carrier groups steamed toward the peninsula. Moon’s first diplomatic win came when Kim accepted his invitation to send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Soon after, Moon met with Kim on the heavily armed inter-Korean border. During that meeting, Moon said the North Korean dictator intimated that disarmament was a real possibility. “If safety can be guaranteed without nuclear weapons, why would I struggle to hold onto them even at the cost of sanctions?” Moon recalled Kim saying. He said he made that pitch to Trump, imploring him to meet Kim. “It’s clearly an achievement for President Trump that he held the first-ever summit meeting between North Korea and the United States,” he said. But Mr. Moon also lamented that Mr. Trump never followed through, after declaring that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Moon is hopeful about the progress the new American leader can make on North Korea, although any significant breakthrough may be unrealistic, given the deep mistrust between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea has offered ideas on a phased approach starting with the demolition of its only-known nuclear test site, followed by the dismantling of a rocket engine test facility and the nuclear complex in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang. Moon said he believed such steps, if matched with American concessions, could lead to the removal of the North’s more prized assets, like ICBMs. In that scenario, he said, the move toward complete denuclearization becomes “irreversible.” “This dialogue and diplomacy can lead to denuclearization,” he said. “If both sides learn from the failure in Hanoi and put their heads together for more realistic ideas, I am confident that they can find a solution.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “South Korean Leader Urges Biden to Salvage Nuclear Deal with North,” New York Times, April 21, 2021, p. A-10) A sharp scuffle appears to be going down behind the scenes between the governments of South Korea, the US and Japan about the outcome of the US review of North Korean policy, which the Biden administration will soon be announcing. Last-minute efforts to adjust the ultimate policy seem to be dragging on, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in firmly expressing his government’s stance during a recent interview with the press. The State Department, in a regular press briefing April 23, said that the U.S. doesn’t have a specific timeline for the policy review when asked if the U.S. was going to wait until Moon visits the U.S. at the end of May. “While we don’t have a specific timeline for the review, again, what I’ll say is that the Biden administration is conducting a thorough interagency review of our policy towards North Korea,” State Department principal deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter said. While Porter dodged the question about whether the review’s outcome would come out after Moon visits the US, her response suggests that the review could take somewhat longer than expected. The reporter’s question at the US State Department press conference appears to have been prompted by Moon’s vigorous expression of his viewpoint about the Biden administration’s North Korea policy in an interview printed by the New York Times. Moon apparently agreed to the interview out of concern that Biden was leaning closer to Japan’s position on North Korea policy following a summit with the Japanese leader on April 16. In fact, a senior White House official said in a press conference the day before, on April 15, that the two leaders would “have a chance to put the finishing touches” on the outcome of the U.S. review of North Korean policy, strongly suggesting that the results would be announced soon. Biden and Suga released a joint statement in their summit on April 16 under the title of “US-Japan Global Partnership for a New Era.” In the statement, the US and Japan agreed on four principles about North Korea: calling for North Korea to abide by UN Security Council resolutions, promoting the denuclearization of North Korea (rather than the Korean Peninsula), strengthening “deterrence to maintain peace and stability in the region” – implying more South Korea-U.S. and Japan-U.S. military exercises, and blocking proliferation. But disagreements were also evident in the statement. Suga said in a press conference after the summit that the two countries had agreed on the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges, but that wasn’t included in the joint statement. The day after Moon’s interview ran in the New York Times, Noh Kyu-duk, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, spoke on the phone with Sung Kim, acting assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. In a press release, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Noh and Kim’s phone call had “confirmed that close cooperation is taking place between South Korea and the US in regard to the US’s review of North Korea policy, which is now being wrapped up.” Seoul appears to have reiterated the position that Moon expressed in the interview during deliberations between these lower-level officials. But it’s still uncertain to what extent the US will accommodate South Korea’s preferences and whether it will put off announcing the results of the review until after Moon visits the U.S. “[The results of the review] will come out soon, though not in a few days. Waiting until after the South Korea-US summit would push the announcement until the second half of the year, which would be too late. It will come out earlier than that,” predicted a high-ranking official at South Korea’s Foreign Ministry. (Gil Yun-hyung, “Sharp Scuffle between S. Korea, Japan in U.S. Review of N. Korea Policy,” Hankyore, April 26, 2021)


4/28/21:
President Biden: … “On Iran and North Korea — nuclear programs that present serious threats to American security and the security of the world — we’re going to be working closely with our allies to address the threats posed by both of these countries through di- — through diplomacy, as well as stern deterrence.” (White House, Remarks by President Biden in an Address to a Joint Session of Congress, April 29, 2021)


4/30/21:
The Biden administration is charting a new course in an attempt to end North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, striking a balance between President Donald Trump’s grand-bargain, leader-to-leader diplomacy and President Barack Obama’s arm’s-length approach to the crisis, said U.S. officials familiar with the plan. The decision to pursue a phased agreement that leads to full denuclearization follows a months-long review that was briefed to President Biden last week by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The plan represents a rejection of the strategy devised by Trump national security adviser John Bolton, who insisted that the United States hold out for a “go big or go home” agreement — a deal that would remove all sanctions in exchange for the full dismantlement of North Korea’s weapons program. “We are not seeking a grand bargain or an all-or-nothing approach,” a senior administration official said in an interview Thursday. “What we’ve settled on is what we think is a calibrated, practical approach to diplomacy with the North with the goal of eliminating the threat to the United States.” The administration has begun sharing the review’s results with allies and partners, including Japan and South Korea, as well as members of Congress, who were frequently consulted over the past several months, officials said. The specifics of the proposal Washington will put forward remain unclear, and U.S. officials are not using familiar terms that previous U.S. administrations have used, such as a “step by step” agreement. “We are not putting those kinds of labels on our approach,” a U.S. official said. U.S. officials said they planned to convey the new strategy to North Korean officials but acknowledged that it was not likely to change the regime’s near-term calculus regarding nuclear provocations. “We do not think what we are contemplating is likely to forestall provocation from the North,” said the senior official, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity. “We fully intend to maintain sanctions pressure while this plays out.” One of the many challenges U.S. officials face is whether they can create momentum behind a phased approach that exchanges partial sanctions relief for partial denuclearization until the program is fully dismantled. One U.S. official said the effort is a “careful, modulated diplomatic approach, prepared to offer relief for particular steps” with an “ultimate goal of denuclearization.” That would differ from the Obama administration’s approach, which withheld serious diplomatic engagement with North Korea until it changed its behavior and ceased its nuclear provocations. “If the Trump administration was everything for everything, Obama was nothing for nothing,” the official said. “This is something in the middle.” When asked about the Washington Post report today, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that the Biden administration completed the policy review. “Our goal remains the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, with a clear understanding that the efforts of the past four administrations have not achieved this objective,” she said. “Our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience.” One key question is what role China will play in the diplomacy, given its economic and political leverage over North Korea. U.S. relations with Beijing remain tense amid a growing list of disagreements related to trade, human rights and security. A senior U.S. official said the Biden administration will seek to “work with China as we move forward, both in terms of supporting our diplomatic efforts as well as on living up to our common obligations to enforce U.N. sanctions.” Strong disagreements over human rights could also cause tension in the U.S. approach to North Korea. The Biden administration is expected to appoint a special envoy for human rights in North Korea, a position that would presumably spotlight the Kim regime’s brutal repression of its citizens through mass surveillance, torture and political-prisoner camps. A senior U.S. official declined to comment on the impact the envoy might have but noted that there is a “statutory requirement” for that position to exist. U.S. partners in Asia have expressed appreciation for the administration’s consultations and attentiveness to the region. Austin and Blinken made Japan and South Korea their first overseas trips, and Biden hosted Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide for his first state visit. Yesterday, the White House announced that South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit Washington on May 21. But they realize the North Korea challenge is pressing, even with increased collaboration among allies. “There should be a closely coordinated approach,” one East Asian official said. “Early engagement is critical. We have limited time for engaging with North Korea.” Seoul and Tokyo have made clear they would like the United States to conduct bilateral talks with North Korea, which they view as more effective than the six-party talks pursued during the George W. Bush administration. Whether a phased approach can work in a bilateral context remains to be seen. The Biden administration is not dismissing all of the previous administration’s efforts and has reached out to former officials who gleaned rare negotiating experience with the North Koreans, such as Trump’s former deputy secretary of state, Steve Biegun. Biden officials will not jettison Trump’s 2018 four-point agreement, in which Kim committed to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the two sides pledged to work toward a “peace regime” and the repatriation of prisoners of war and missing soldiers from the Korean War. “Our approach will build on the Singapore agreement and other previous agreements,” a second senior administration official said. The administration said a new approach is needed because the “one thing that previous approaches all have in common is they failed to address this problem and threat,” the first senior administration official said. “We’re under no illusions about how challenging this is going to be,” the official said. “This is in many ways one of if not the most difficult problem that we face from the standpoint of U.S. national security, but we’re going to be trying to address it head-on.” (John Hudson and Ellen Nakashima, “Biden Administration Forges New Path on Korea Crisis in Wake of Trump and Obama Failures,” Washington Post, April 30, 2021)

Spokesman Jen Psaki: “Q Has the administration finished the North Korea policy review? And if so, what approach will they be taking? MS. PSAKI: Sure. I can confirm that we’ve completed our DPRK policy review, which was thorough, rigorous, and inclusive. We consulted closely with outside experts and our predecessors from several previous administrations, and our way forward draws from their lessons learned and shared. Our goal remains the complete denu- — denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. With a clear understanding that the efforts of the past four administrations have not achieved this objective, our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience. Our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK, and to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and deployed forces. We have and will continue to consult with the Republic of Korea, Japan, and other allies and partners at every step along the way. Q When was the President briefed on the final review? And has he been speaking with allies since they’ve completed it? MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve been in close touch with allies and partners through the process of the review. And obviously, when he spoke — when he met with Prime Minister Suga, just la- — two week — was it two weeks ago? — two weeks ago, they discussed there and we’ve discussed at every level as we’ve been conducting this review. Their input and also the approaches we’ve taken in the past have all played a role in this effort. Since — I don’t have — I’m not going to have any details on when the President was r- — was briefed, but it’s been an ongoing discussion.” (White House, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki aboard Air Force One En Route to Philadelphia PA, April 30, 2021)

A North Korean defector group claimed today it has sent anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border in defiance of a ban enacted recently over concern such a leafleting campaign could provoke the North and endanger the safety of people in border regions. Fighters for a Free North Korea led by Park Sang-hak, a vocal North Korean defector, said that the group flew 10 large balloons carrying around 500,000 leaflets, 500 booklets and 5,000 US$1 bills from unidentified border areas in Gyeonggi and Gangwon Provinces from April 25 to yesterday. This marked the first time that a local activist group claimed to have sent anti-Pyongyang leaflets since the leafleting ban went into effect late in March. Under the ban, violators are subject to a maximum prison term of three years or a fine of 30 million won (US$27,400). (Yonhap, “Defector Group Sends Propaganda Leaflets into N. Korea in Defiance of Ban,” April 30, 2021)

38 North: Recent assessments of North Korea’s nuclear program estimate that they may have up to 90 nuclear weapons. What do you make of this estimate? Siegfried Hecker: That’s much too high. I think 20 to 60 is possible, with the most likely number being 45. These numbers are based on estimates of how much fissile material—that is, plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) bomb fuel—North Korea has produced. In other words, it may have enough fissile material for 45 nuclear weapons, but that does not necessarily mean it has produced that many at this time. Plutonium production can be estimated quite accurately. It is produced in the North’s 5 Megawatt-electric (5 MWe) nuclear reactor, and satellite imagery allows us to monitor when the reactor is operating. Prior to 2008, the best signature was a plume emanating from the reactor’s cooling tower. The North blew up the cooling tower as a political goodwill gesture in June 2008. When the reactor was restarted in August 2013, they decided not to rebuild the cooling tower but rather go to the river for cooling—essentially creating a heat exchange mechanism using river water. Now, reactor operation is more difficult, but not impossible, to monitor. My current estimate is that North Korea has a plutonium inventory in the range of 25 to 48 kilograms. Based on what we have learned about reactor characteristics, including from my visits to the Yongbyon nuclear complex, North Korea can produce at most six kilograms per year at full operation. My inventory estimate is based on production estimates, production losses and estimates of amounts expended in nuclear tests. What do you think about recent reports that North Korea is reprocessing plutonium now, perhaps as a strategic political move to ratchet up pressure on the Biden administration? SH: Once plutonium is produced during reactor operations, it must be chemically separated (that is, reprocessed) from the rest of the reactor fuel products—what is called spent fuel. Satellite imagery has shown signs of operations in the Yongbyon reprocessing facility during the past couple of months. That means plutonium is either being separated from the spent fuel generated during the last reactor run, or the North is treating the nuclear waste from the last reprocessing campaign. At this point, we don’t know which it is. The more important point, however, is that we believe the reactor has not operated since at least December 2018. Therefore, if plutonium is being separated, it is from the previous reactor run—that is, it’s old, not newly generated plutonium. Whichever the case may be, none of this is done for political reasons. These are strictly technical decisions. The reactor has not operated for over two years because we believe they are having problems with the cooling system. If they have waited to reprocess the plutonium produced before 2018, it is because they have additional technical problems. If they can overcome the technical issues, they will surely produce more plutonium, separate more into weapons-grade bomb fuel and also make more tritium for hydrogen bombs unless Washington reaches some diplomatic agreement to prevent that. How about monitoring uranium enrichment activity? How accurately can that be assessed? SH: Uranium enrichment operations are very difficult to estimate because the centrifuge facility signatures are so small. The North Koreans showed our Stanford delegation—John Lewis, Robert Carlin and me—the centrifuge facility at Yongbyon during our trip in 2010. It’s the only enrichment facility they have declared. That building housed 2,000 centrifuges at the time. The size of the building was doubled by 2013, so we assume they have had 4,000 centrifuges spinning since. And, by the way, centrifuges pretty much operate 24/7. Based on what we saw at Yongbyon and on our previous visits there, we were convinced that North Korea had at least one other centrifuge facility outside of Yongbyon. We don’t know how large it is or where it is located. I am not convinced that open-source reports suggesting such a facility exists at Kangson, just outside Pyongyang, are correct. However, the other facility (or facilities) must have been large enough to provide sufficient operational experience for the North Koreans to construct the centrifuge hall at Yongbyon by 2010. It is difficult to estimate the total enrichment capacity because we don’t know how large the other one or possibly two facilities are. That said, our team at Stanford developed a probabilistic analysis based on the likelihood of Pyongyang’s ability to procure key centrifuge materials from outside sources or produce them domestically. We estimated that North Korea’s capacity to produce HEU for bomb fuel is on the order of 175 kg per year. Based on these assumptions, our estimate is that North Korea likely has around 600 to 950 kg of HEU as of the end of 2020. Let me stress, however, that all estimates of uranium enrichment capacity in North Korea are highly uncertain. The best way to reduce the uncertainty is for US or International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to get back into Yongbyon to see the operations. No other outsiders have seen the centrifuge facility, and no one has been there since our team’s visit in 2010. Unfortunately, the two previous US administrations have missed opportunities to get back in. How many bombs can North Korea make with those inventories of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and can they make hydrogen bombs? SH: The plutonium bomb that destroyed Nagasaki in August 1945 used around six kilograms. The Hiroshima bomb used HEU, but it was of a primitive design. How much plutonium or HEU the North Koreans need for a bomb depends on how good their scientists are and what kind of bomb they want to build. A reasonable estimate is five kilograms for plutonium bombs and 25 kilograms for HEU bombs. Using the plutonium and HEU inventories I mentioned leads me to believe the most likely number of bombs is 45. The recent estimates in a RAND/Asan Institute report of 67 to 116 today and 151 to 242 by 2027 are much too high. They estimate that North Korea has the capacity to add 12 to 18 bombs per year; ours is closer to six. As for hydrogen bombs, these need fusion fuels, namely the heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium. Deuterium is easy to produce. Tritium has to be produced in reactors. Looking at the North’s reactor operations over the years, I believe they have produced small amounts of tritium, perhaps enough for a few hydrogen bombs. The real question, of course, is, do they know how to design and build a hydrogen bomb? We are not certain, but the sixth nuclear test was large enough to have been a hydrogen bomb. It likely used a plutonium fission device to drive the fusion reaction. Since the production of plutonium and tritium requires reactors, it is very important to stop reactor operations in Yongbyon permanently. You mentioned that North Korea likely has at least one enrichment facility outside of Yongbyon. Does your estimate include that potential production capability? SH: Yes, our probabilistic model estimates North Korea’s total enrichment capacity regardless of where it’s located. The facilities outside of Yongbyon could possibly produce HEU by themselves or be operated in tandem with those in Yongbyon. I believe it is quite likely that the Yongbyon centrifuge facility produces low-enriched uranium (LEU) at 3.5 percent uranium-235, as the North Koreans told me—and they can make a lot of that. The LEU would then be sent to another facility to step up the uranium-235 content in stages: first to 20 percent, then 60 percent, and finally to the 90 percent HEU level. It would make sense for the North Koreans to structure their enrichment program like that—use the plant at Yongbyon to make LEU and then send it off someplace else to make HEU. It seems likely then that they have at least one, maybe two other enrichment facilities, but they aren’t all doing the same thing. This makes it difficult to estimate how much of their enrichment capacity is outside Yongbyon. My guess is that it’s roughly half. Let me stress again, however, that all of the plutonium and tritium production capacity is at Yongbyon. Does the country’s enriched uranium all go towards its weapons program? Would there be other potential uses of the LEU produced at Yongbyon, such as for fuel fabrication for the nuclear reactors? SH: Yes, indeed. The Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) under construction requires LEU fuel in contrast to the natural uranium used in the 5 MWe Reactor. In fact, Pyongyang’s first admission of having a centrifuge program (which was not until 2009) was that they needed it to produce fuel for their new ELWR. The initial 2,000-centrifuge plant they showed us was capable of producing enough LEU to fuel the ELWR for continuous operation. I was told it would require four tons of LEU uranium oxide fuel. The initial centrifuge plant could have produced that much LEU in two years. The expanded plant can do it in one year. They have had plenty of time to produce sufficient LEU fuel for the reactor since it is taking much longer than anticipated to start up. Speaking of the ELWR, do you think the North Koreans will ever get that running? Assuming they do, wouldn’t that mean less LEU for the weapons program? And, is it possible to make plutonium in the ELWR? SH: I believe the North Koreans are determined to get the ELWR running. We have seen continued activity at the site, but they have yet to start operations. We have to keep in mind that light water reactors (LWRs) are a new technology for them. Almost every aspect of LWR operations and the safety requirements are more demanding than those for the gas-graphite reactor with which they have experience. They continue to struggle with the cooling systems for both reactors, especially given the unreliable water supply from the Kuryong River, which runs alongside the Yongbyon complex. In addition, both the fuel and the cladding for an LWR are different from that used in their gas-graphite reactor. It could be a whole host of issues that are delaying start-up, but they are a very determined people and will eventually get there. As to how reactor requirements for LEU will affect the amount of enriched uranium available for the weapons program, I think they’ll be able to manage both. One of the unfortunate aspects of the nuclear business is that it takes much less uranium to build bombs than it does to fuel a reactor to make electricity. Until they build much bigger LWRs, they have most of their centrifuge capacity available to produce HEU bomb fuel. I believe North Korea was serious about nuclear electricity. The ELWR was going to be their pilot project for larger LWRs for power generation. Light water reactors do produce plutonium as well, but it is less desirable for bomb production when operated in an electricity-production mode. However, the ELWR could be operated in a way that produces bomb-grade plutonium. It gives the North Koreans a good backup to the 5 MWe Reactor for plutonium production. If operated in such a mode, it could roughly double the plutonium production of the 5 MWe Reactor. There has been a lot of talk in recent years that downplays the value of Yongbyon—saying it’s old and the facilities are obsolete. But from what you’re saying, it seems that it still plays a significant and critical role in North Korea’s ability to produce fissile material, even if it’s not the entirety of the fissile material program. Is that correct? SH: Yes, this is what people need to understand. You shouldn’t just write off Yongbyon as old and obsolete. It isn’t. That’s quite apparent if you look at the amount of construction that’s occurred at Yongbyon since 2009 when the IAEA inspectors were expelled. They built a new centrifuge facility (the one they showed us), then doubled its size. They are building a new reactor. They built a new facility to make uranium hexafluoride needed for enrichment operations. They have built new fuel fabrication facilities and what appear to be new tritium separation facilities and more. The 5 MWe Reactor has been operational since 1986. When I asked the director of Yongbyon how long he thought they could operate it, he replied for decades longer. They have recently experienced cooling problems with the reactor, and that is why it has likely not been operational since late 2018. The plutonium reprocessing facility has been operational since around 1990. It appears to be operational right now. I can’t help but chuckle when people say Yongbyon is old. The TA-55 Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which has produced the plutonium cores for the American stockpile the past couple of decades, was built in 1978. So, most of Yongbyon is newer than much of the Los Alamos lab. The nuclear weapons and the missiles are not in Yongbyon. And there are nuclear weapon facilities outside the complex as well. The bombs are produced elsewhere and stored elsewhere. But Yongbyon is the heart of North Korea’s fissile materials production complex. All of its plutonium and its tritium have been and will continue to be produced there. It houses most of the chemical facilities, such as those that convert yellowcake from the mining complex to uranium hexafluoride, for uranium enrichment and around half of its centrifuge capacity. Whereas HEU could still be produced if Yongbyon is shut down, its production would be greatly curtailed. In January, North Korea listed the development of tactical nuclear weapons as one of its WMD objectives for the coming years. Given your estimates of the country’s fissile material stockpile, how realistic is the goal of building tactical nuclear weapons? SH: One problem in assessing this is that there is no single definition of what constitutes a tactical nuclear weapon. If one defines “tactical” as shorter-range and “strategic” as longer-range, then North Korea already has short-range tactical nuclear weapons. I believe that with their extensive record of short-range missile testing and their nuclear test history, they are already capable of putting nuclear warheads on short-range SCUD and medium-range Nodong ballistic missiles. In other words, they can already reach all of South Korea and most of Japan with nuclear-tipped missiles. These warheads are likely fueled with HEU. And, the North already has plenty of HEU for several dozen short-range tactical nuclear weapons. However, some people use different measures to define tactical nuclear weapons—such as their purpose or yield. For example, low-yield nuclear weapons are often considered tactical. My greatest concern is that the North will develop tactical nuclear weapons for the purpose of battlefield use. That’s a direction Pakistan has taken to combat India’s great conventional military superiority. These could be artillery-fired nuclear projectiles and nuclear landmines. Do they have enough fissile material for battlefield nuclear weapons? Of course. Could they make a battlefield nuclear weapon? Yes, I believe they could. However, these types of weapons raise an additional set of concerns. The first is safety. It is questionable that the North Koreans are able to engineer nuclear battlefield weapons that are “one-point safe”—that is, they detonate only by design rather than be subject to accidental detonation. Early US bombs were not one-point safe. It required sophisticated science and engineering to get there. The second concern is security. Nuclear battlefield weapons require a pre-delegation of launch authority to commanders in the field. For example, Pakistan may pre-delegate such authority to the field in case the Indian military had crossed its border, and the only way to stop the invasion would be to blow up a battlefield nuclear weapon. It’s not hard to imagine the North Koreans drawing up similar plans. At the same time, tactical nuclear weapons are mostly dangerous to the North Koreans themselves, because they can accidentally blow up or be diverted in some fashion, which can lead to domestic disasters.” (38 North, “Estimating North Korea’s Nuclear Stockpiles: An Interview With Siegfried Hecker,” April 30, 2021)


5/2/21:
DPRK FoMin spokesman’s statement: “The U.S. State Department spokesperson in a press release about a “ceremony” sponsored by anti-DPRK human rights organizations on April 28 smeared the statewide anti-epidemic measures in the DPRK for protecting the life and security of the people from the worldwide pandemic as “human rights abuses” and even faulted the dignity of our supreme leadership in the grave politically-motivated provocation. The DPRK Foreign Ministry vehemently denounces the provocation from the U.S. as a vivid manifestation of the hostile policy toward the DPRK to tarnish its image and as a crude violation of its state sovereignty. The “human rights issue” touted by the U.S. is a political trick designed to destroy the ideology and social system in the DPRK. The U.S. is not entitled to claim human rights as it has inflicted unspeakable sufferings and pain on the people of the DPRK with unprecedented vicious hostile policy. The U.S. is the tundra of human rights as deaths of innocent people due to social inequality and racial discrimination are daily occurrences there. It is also the world’s worst epidemically defeated country as more than 580 000 people have died of COVID-19 there. Death toll by gun-related crimes numbers over 40 000 a year in the U.S. and all sorts of crimes stalk its land bragged as the “world of civilization” by itself. The U.S. must face international investigation and own responsibility for its hideous human rights abuses and violation. We have already made it clear that we will counter in the strongest terms whoever encroaches upon the dignity of our supreme leadership, which is more valuable than our lives and which is the most sacred to us, whether it is big or small. However, the U.S. has now insulted the dignity of our supreme leadership. This becomes an evident sign that it is girding itself up for an all-out showdown with the DPRK, and this is also a clear answer to how we should approach the new administration in the U.S. For us, human rights precisely mean state sovereignty. As the U.S. openly expressed its intention to stifle the DPRK with a “resolute deterrence,” denying our ideology and social system and abusing the “human rights” as a tool for interference in our internal affairs and a political weapon for overturning our social system, we will be forced to take corresponding measures. We have warned the U.S. sufficiently enough to understand that it will get hurt if it provokes us. The U.S. will surely and certainly regret for acting lightly, defying our warnings.” (KCNA, “Statement of Spokesman for DPRK Foreign Ministry,” May 2, 2021)

FoMin Department of U.S. Affairs Director General Kwon Jong Gun’s statement: “The U.S. chief executive in his first Congressional speech after his inauguration made a slip of tongue about the DPRK again. That he cited diplomacy and resolute deterrence, calling the DPRK a “serious threat” to the security of the U.S. and the world, was what had already been anticipated as it is a usual story from Americans. But intolerable is that the U.S. chief executive clarified his DPRK stand this way in his first policy speech. His statement clearly reflects his intent to keep enforcing the hostile policy toward the DPRK as it had been done by the U.S. for over half a century. Even American experts comment lots of information about the direction and focus of his DPRK policy review can be obtained from the just one sentence. It is illogical and an encroachment upon the DPRK’s right to self-defense for the U.S., that had threatened the DPRK through unprecedented vicious hostile policy and constant nuclear blackmail, to call the DPRK’s deterrence for self-defense a “threat.” The U.S.-claimed “diplomacy” is a spurious signboard for covering up its hostile acts, and “deterrence” touted by it is just a means for posing nuclear threats to the DPRK. The anti-DPRK nuclear war exercises held by the U.S. soon after the inauguration of the new administration proved in action who really threatens whom on the Korean peninsula and clearly showed that one must build a powerful deterrence to counter the U.S. The U.S. will face worse and worse crisis beyond control in the near future if it is set to approach the DPRK-U.S. ties, still holding on the outdated policy from Cold War-minded perspective and viewpoint. It is certain that the U.S. chief executive made a big blunder in the light of the present-day viewpoint. Now that what the keynote of the U.S. new DPRK policy has become clear, we will be compelled to press for corresponding measures, and with time the U.S. will find itself in a very grave situation.” (KCNA, “Statement of DPRK Foreign Ministry Director General of Department of U.S. Affairs,” May 2, 2021)

WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jung’s statement: “”Defectors from the north” in south Korea recently scattered leaflets against the DPRK again, an intolerable provocation against it. We have already seriously warned the south Korean authorities of consequences their wrong act of giving silent approval to the human wastes’ wild moves will bring to the north-south relations. However, the south Korean authorities again did not stop the reckless acts of the “defectors from the north”, winking at them. Displeasure cannot be hidden over such sordid acts. We regard the maneuvers committed by the human wastes in the south as a serious provocation against our state and will look into corresponding action. Whatever decision we make and whatever actions we take, the responsibility for the consequences thereof will entirely rest with the south Korean authorities who stopped short of holding proper control of the dirty human scum. We can no longer remain an onlooker. (KCNA, “Statement of Kim Yo Jung, Vice Department Director of WPK Central Committee,” May 2, 2021)


5/5/21:
Josh Rogin: “The Biden administration has just rolled out the results of its North Korea strategy review, which is meant to chart a path forward to solve one of the thorniest and most dangerous national security problems in the world. But now that the review is complete, the administration’s plan is essentially to wait for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to make the next positive move, which doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. To some, that sounds like a return to the Obama-era policy of “strategic patience” — just without saying as much. … . The Biden team quietly reached out to Pyongyang in February but got no response. Nor has the Kim regime responded to a second attempt by Team Biden to convey the results of this now-completed review, two senior administration officials told me. … The impression that North Korea ranks low on the list of Biden’s priorities is confirmed by the fact that the White House has decided not to appoint — for now — an official specifically entrusted with the issue. A senior administration official confirmed to me that there is currently no plan to fill the role of special representative for North Korea at the State Department, which was held by then-Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun until January. The State Department will appoint a special envoy for North Korean human rights, the official said, because that is required by law. But until there’s a dialogue with Pyongyang, there’s no need to designate a lead official for such negotiations, the official argued. “We don’t need to have one person who is the designated person in charge right now,” the official said. “I think the fact that we’ve gotten this review done, that we’ve got this rolled out, that we are engaging on this, means that things are working pretty well.” Not everyone agrees. Jenny Town, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, told me that the Biden administration’s failure to name a top official for North Korea actually hurts its chances of reaching a successful negotiation with Pyongyang or making progress toward meeting U.S. objectives. “It’s really unfortunate if they don’t appoint a special representative,” she said. “They do need to make clear who is charge of North Korea policy, because right now it’s not just unclear to us, but to the North Koreans as well.” Pyongyang’s belligerent and dismissive response to Biden’s comments should tell us that the North Koreans are not going to come back to the table absent some new action or offer from Washington beyond just a willingness to talk, said Town. Add to that Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s public message that the United States is waiting for North Korea to decide whether to engage, and it amounts to a stalemate. “The administration can say on paper that it’s not strategic patience, but if you are waiting for the North Koreans to make the first move, then it’s essentially strategic patience,” she said. Regardless of what you call it, the problem with the wait-and-see approach is that the status quo is unsustainable. North Korea continues to move ahead with its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. That means the threat is rising. It also means the terms of any negotiation or deal are getting worse for Washington, as Kim accumulates more and more leverage. U.S. options vis-a-vis North Korea, as is often noted, are all bad. There’s little chance of returning to the previous administration’s policy of “maximum pressure” because there’s no international consensus for new sanctions. Convincing Kim to come back to the table could require concessions that come with a political cost. Even if the negotiations begin, that means years of difficult, high-risk, low-reward diplomacy. It’s clear that the Biden administration has several foreign policy priorities, and that spending time, resources and political capital on the North Korea issue isn’t one of them. Trump failed on North Korea, but at least he tried. The Biden team is going to have to try harder, and they would be better off doing that sooner rather than later.” (Josh Rogin, “Biden’s North Korea Strategy: Hurry up and Wait,” Washington Post, May 5, 2021)


5/10/21:
President Moon Jae-in said today that the new North Korea policy developed by President Joe Biden’s administration was “another chance” for Pyongyang to begin dialogue, pledging he will do his utmost to facilitate talks between the two Koreas and the U.S. “The U.S. consulted with the South Korean government on the policy from the beginning, in the belief that the prolonged breakdown in talks with the North is inappropriate,” Moon said during a press conference marking his fourth anniversary in office. “Though the new U.S. administration’s North Korea policy has not been fully revealed, it is on the same page as our government.” North Korea has tested the U.S. and South Korea by launching short-range missiles in March, and engaging in verbal threats while severing all contact with Seoul. Against this backdrop, Washington has dropped hints about its policy toward the North, with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying it will be a “calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy.” “This is the result of close consultation with us,” Moon said during a speech before the press conference. “We welcome the direction of the Biden administration’s North Korea policy that aims to achieve the primary goal of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through diplomacy, with a flexible, gradual and practical approach built upon the foundations of the Singapore Declaration.” Regarding the current stalemate, Moon said he believes Pyongyang is not refusing to engage in talks, and that the Kim Jong-un regime will make a last-minute decision because the new U.S. policy is providing the reclusive state with an additional chance. “As the North Korea now has an additional chance to sit down for negotiations, I expect it to give a positive response,” Moon said. “During the upcoming summit with the U.S., I will explore various ways that can entice the North to come forward for talks,” said Moon, who is scheduled to have his first in-person meeting with Biden in Washington, D.C., May 21. During the speech, Moon stressed that his government will “strictly enforce the laws” against activities that “dampen inter-Korean relations by violating inter-Korean agreements and current laws,” referring to the recent case of a North Korean defectors’ organization flying anti-Kim regime leaflets over the border into the North. (Nam Hyun-woo, “Moon Urges North to Return to Negotiation Table,” Korea Times, May 10, 2021)


5/12/21:
The United States will continue to tackle the North Korean nuclear issue while at the same time pressing for improved human rights conditions, including freedom of religion, in the reclusive state, a senior U.S. official said today. Daniel Nadel, a senior official from the U.S. Department of State office of international religious freedom, also argued that a push for improved human rights conditions in the North would ensure “better outcomes” by addressing fundamental problems. “The nuclear issues are real. They are a significant challenge. We intend to address those issues head on, as we have. But there is no tradeoff between addressing human rights issues or addressing other matters of national security or bilateral concern,” he said in a telephonic press conference. “We can do all of these things at once, and in doing so, we both demonstrate the importance of our fundamental principles, but we also make better outcomes, because if we don’t address these things in totality, then the possibilities for lasting peace and stability in the region are, in our view, reduced,” he added. His remarks came after the State Department released its latest international religious freedom report, which said the North continued to “strictly restrict” religious freedom of its people in 2020. In December, the U.S designated the North as a state violator of religious freedom for the 19th consecutive year. Nadel said putting human rights at center of diplomacy did not mean the issue will be raised at every chance the U.S. has to talk with North Korea. “It’s really a matter of the fact that this administration has made it clear that human rights, including religious freedom, are central focuses of United States foreign policy overall,” he said later in a virtual interview with Yonhap News Agency. “Of course, it depends on the conversation, depends on the timing, it depends on all sorts of other factors, but the overarching perspective of the United States when it comes to these issues is they are not going to be parceled out and excluded from the broader discourse. That’s the basic premise that we’re working from,” he added. Nadel said the U.S. reports were not about the U.S. pointing its finger at others. “When you look at what the reports actually are, these reports are not the voice of the United States government,” he said in the interview. “The only time the U.S. government appears in the reports is as an actor in the U.S. government action section,” he added. “The rest of the reports are simply a gathering or collecting of information from a wide range of public sources from the United Nations, from NGOs, from religious communities themselves, and we are correlating that information but we don’t originate that information.” In his earlier press conference, Nadel had also stressed the importance of a free flow of information into North Korea in a reaction to questions related to South Korea’s anti-leafleting law that prohibits sending propaganda leaflets across the inter-Korean border to North Korea. The U.S. official said the U.S. understood the concerns South Korea has in relation to the safety of its people who live close to the border. “As part of our efforts to promote fundamental freedoms, we do believe access to information is vital. But we also recognize and understand the concerns that the Republic of Korea government was operating under with respect to this law,” he told Yonhap, referring to South Korea by its official name. “So I don’t believe we have an opinion on the law itself. However, the important principle is that the information be available to individuals inside of North Korea,” he said, adding the U.S. seeks to use a “number of different means” to transmit information to people in closed societies. (Byun Duk-kun, “U.S. Will Address N. Korean Human Rights and Nuclear Issue at the Same Time,” Yonhap, May 13, 2021)

North Korea is still in talks with the COVAX Facility project, a unification ministry official said today, denying a media report that Pyongyang has rejected cooperation with the global vaccine distribution program. CNN earlier reported that North Korea has rejected the COVAX Facility’s offer for discussions to send COVID-19 vaccines to the impoverished country, citing a U.S. government official. “As far as we know, relevant negotiations are currently under way between the North and the COVAX side,” the ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity without providing more details. North Korea appears not to be “fully ready” to receive vaccines given that it has to submit various documents and data to COVAX, such as its national vaccination plans and the number of people who will get the shots, a government source said. The North has been expected to receive around 2 million doses of coronavirus vaccines through COVAX, but they have not been delivered to the country yet. The World Health Organization recently said in a weekly report on COVID-19 that North Korea has conducted coronavirus tests on around 26,000 people so far but reported no infections. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Still in Talks with COVAX to Receive Coronavirus Vaccines: Official,” May 13, 2021)


5/14/21:
The North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently established a new organization specializing in strategic policy towards the United States, Daily NK has learned. Its establishment could be seen as an attempt by North Korea to conduct more proactive analysis of US intentions in its preparations to negotiate with the US. A high-level source told Daily NK today that the North Korean authorities hired approximately sixty new staff to work in the new organization, which is a part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs department focused on negotiations with the U.S. The official name for the new organization remains unconfirmed. However, it appears to be an office within the department that deals with bilateral negotiations. The main task for those working at the new office is to monitor the U.S. media and map out strategies for response accordingly. Some employees are reporting to work at 5 PM and go home between 1 and 2 AM so that they can follow the American news cycle in real time. Employees of the new office use the American media to analyze trends related to North Korea and keep track of movements within the White House, the State Department, the U.S. Congress, political parties, and other significant institutions. They are also gathering and analyzing the views of opinion columnists and their readers by looking at American news websites. However, the manager of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office that manages negotiations with the U.S., along with this new organization, is not First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son-hui, but Kim Yo Jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister. The North Korean authorities reportedly acknowledge Choe’s extensive experience with negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. but have not granted her the authority to devise U.S. strategy herself. Instead, Kim appears to be the one giving practical instructions regarding the formulation of North Korea’s policy towards the U.S. On the surface, it has longed looked as if Kim has only been involved in the formulation of Pyongyang’s policy towards South Korea. In reality, Kim appears to be in charge of North Korean foreign policy more broadly, including policies toward the U.S. and South Korea. The source claims that all strategy and foreign intelligence must be directly reported to Kim. n the meantime, North Korea’s establishment of this new office in the foreign affairs ministry could signal a shift in its policy towards Washington. North Korea’s official stance is that it will not engage in any contact or dialogue with the U.S. unless it withdraws its hostile policy towards North Korea. However, Pyongyang’s establishment of the new office and its efforts to prepare a strategy towards the US could signal at least partial optimism about President Joe Biden’s policy towards North Korea. According to the source, the North Korean authorities initially predicted that the Biden administration’s policy toward North Korea would not deviate much from the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” approach. However, the source also claims that North Korea may have taken the Biden administration’s reluctance to fall back on either the Trump administration’s “grand bargain” strategy or the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” strategy as a positive sign. The Biden administration appears willing to respect the Singapore Joint Statement and the administration’s new North Korea policy reportedly contains language about possible next steps to the Singapore agreement. However, North Korea is reportedly waiting on the U.S. to make the first move towards negotiations. The foreign ministry has reportedly been ordered by the Workers’ Party to make clear to the U.S. that any attempts to threaten the country using the human rights issue – along with any statements or actions aimed at damaging the “authority” of the North Korean government – will make it impossible for North Korea to engage in bilateral negotiations. In fact, on April 2 – just after the Biden administration unveiled its new North Korea policy – North Korea released a series of statements criticizing the new president’s strategy. However, the source suggested that North Korea published these statements with the intent of giving itself the first-move advantage in its dialogue with the U.S. In short, the statements served more as a warning to the US that North Korea will not tolerate the use of sanctions or the human rights issue, rather than a criticism of America’s new North Korea policy. On the other hand, North Korea’s establishment of the new organization in the foreign ministry could also serve as an attempt to completely exclude the role of the South Korean government in bilateral negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington. In short, the North Koreans could be aiming to gauge U.S. intentions themselves. “The authorities believe that South Korea has failed to abide by any agreement made between the leaders of the North and South,” another high-level source in North Korea told Daily NK. “Because South Korea is not a trustworthy negotiation partner, they believe that it is not entitled to play a role in any future negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea.” (Seulkee Jang, “N. Korea Forms New Foreign Ministry Organization Focused on Analyzing U.S. Intentions,” Daily NK, May 14, 2021)


5/18/21:
The Biden. administration will build on a 2018 summit agreement with North Korea. “Our policy review took a careful look at everything that has been tried before. Our efforts will build on Singapore and other agreements made by previous administrations,” Kurt Campbell, White House policy coordinator for the Indo-Pacific, said in a written interview with Yonhap News Agency. It marks the first time a ranking U.S. official has said on the record that the Biden administration will inherit the denuclearization agreement signed in Singapore by former President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in June 2018. “Importantly: Our policy towards North Korea is not aimed at hostility, it’s aimed at solutions. It’s aimed at ultimately achieving the complete de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Campbell said. “And we’re prepared to engage in diplomacy towards that ultimate objective, but work on practical measures that can help us make progress along the way towards that goal,” he said. Campbell refused to confirm recent reports that Washington has reached out to Pyongyang for a second time to explain the outcome of its North Korea policy review, saying, “It is important to leave space for private diplomatic exchanges to stay private.” He also refused to put any label on the new U.S. approach toward North Korea but said it will use everything his country has to address the problem that previous administrations have failed to resolve. “There’s a reason we need a new and different approach — previous approaches have failed. We are under no illusions on how challenging this is. This is one of the hardest national security problems the world is facing. That’s why we have to try with everything we have, but also have realistic expectations.” Campbell said it was too soon to discuss sanctions relief for the reclusive North. “United Nations sanctions on DPRK remain in place, and we will continue to enforce them, including through diplomacy at the United Nations and with the DPRK’s neighbors. It’s premature to speculate beyond that — we have far more work ahead of us,” he said. The interview came just three days before South Korean President Moon Jae-in visits Washington for talks with Biden, where North Korea is expected to feature high on the agenda, along with cooperation on COVID-19 vaccines and semiconductor supply chains. Campbell said the leaders will discuss ways of cooperation related to semiconductors and the outcome of their discussion will include “tangible partnerships related to addressing supply chain security and enhancing public and private cooperation on advanced technology.” He also said that the U.S. currently has no plans to expand the U.S.-led Quad forum involving Australia, India and Japan amid widespread speculation that the U.S. wants Seoul to join the forum widely seen as keeping a growing China in check. Still, he highlighted the importance of expanding regional cooperation. “While at this time there are no plans to expand the Quad, our shared values of support for a free, prosperous Indo-Pacific are certainly embraced by many other regional partners and we believe there will be ways to continue to expand regional cooperation. That includes cooperation with the ROK, ASEAN, and other regional partners.” (Byun Duk-kun, “U.S. Will Build on Singapore Agreement with N. Korea: Campbell,” Yonhap, May 19, 2021)


5/21/21:
Biden-Moon: “PRESIDENT BIDEN: Hello, everyone. Please. Please be seated. Today, I’ve been honored to welcome to the White House President Moon. And I got an opportunity to spend some private time with him, as well as with our delegations. This is only the second person — head of state — second head of state to visit the White House since I’ve been President. And it’s been a real joy. It’s a reflection of how much we value the 70-year alliance with the Republic of Korea and how essential we know the relationship is — is to the United States, the future the Indo-Pacific region, and, quite frankly, to the world. Today has been particularly special because this afternoon, in addition to our bilateral meetings, President Moon participated in a ceremony, right in this room, that — awarding the Medal of Honor to a veteran of the Korean War — a true American hero, Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr. And I want to thank you again, Mr. President, for joining us. It was special. I don’t know that there’s ever been an award of a Medal of Honor with the head of state of the country where the award was won. It meant a great deal to me and to the family and to our country. And — but today has not only been an affirmation of our shared history of sacrifice that binds the Republic of Korea and North — and the North — excuse me, and the United States together; it’s a commitment to expanding cooperation and shaping our shared future in accordance with our democratic values that have made our nations strong and agile and highly competitive in the 21st century economies. The Republic of Korea and the United States are both nations built on innovation, and we must both meet the challenges facing us today and look to what is possible for tomorrow. Our partnership is grounded in our ironclad commitment to shared security. Our alliance has long been the linchpin of peace, security, prosperity, and the region growing more prominent and us being together. I was grateful that our two nations were able to quickly conclude a new cost-sharing agreement for forces in Korea in March which will benefit both our peoples. And I thank, again, the President for that agreement. Today, we made important progress on a range of issues. We spoke about the shared approach of the Democratic — shared approach to the Democratic People’s Republic in Korea and continuing threat of the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs. My team consulted closely with President Moon’s team throughout the process of our DPRK review, and we both are deeply concerned about the situation. Our two nations also share a willingness to engage diplomatically with the DPRK to take pragmatic steps that will reduce tensions as we move toward our ultimate goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Today, I affirm to President Moon that the United States will proceed in close consultation with the Republic of Korea and our strategy and our approach. And to help drive all these efforts, I’m pleased to announce that Ambassador Sung Kim, a career diplomat and with deep policy expertise, will serve as a U.S. Special Envoy for the DPRK. Ambassador Kim — you’re here somewhere today — stand up, will you? Thank you for being willing to do this. (Applause.) Thank you for taking on this important role. We appreciate it very much. The U.S.-ROK partnership also extends beyond the goals of the Peninsula. The address — they address issues of regional and global concern through stronger cooperation with partners in the region, including the ASEAN, the Quad, and trilateral cooperation with Japan. … Finally, I want to note that yesterday I had the honor of signing into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to help Americans of Asian descent from having to live in fear just walking down the streets of the United States. Quite frankly, I’ve been ashamed — ashamed at the way some Americans have responded. And there’s a long history in this country of contributions of Asian Americans being overlooked, forgotten, and ignored. And I affirmed to President Moon today what I said yesterday: that we’re committing and we’re going to stay committed to stopping the hatred based on this bias. I promise you. Our peoples share a long history. Our soldiers have fought alongside one another. Our scientists work side by side in both our countries. Our students study together, share ideas, and seed new opportunities for future collaboration. And our people — our people-to-people and cultural connections are only growing. And K-Pop fans are universal. (Laughter.) And I can tell those who laughed know what I’m talking about. (Laughs.) Well, anyway, I’ll get back to that later. Anyway. (Laughter.) A Korean actress took home an Oscar for Supporting Actress this year, following up on the four Oscar wins for the movie “Parasite” last year. And so, our two countries — our two nations have the tools and the deep connections that we need to make even stronger alliances with stronger cooperation. And I want to thank you again for the meetings today, Mr. President, particularly our long, private meeting. I appreciated that a great deal. And I’m looking forward to working closely with you and your team as we expand and strengthen our efforts to shape the future together. And I mean that literally — to shape the future together. So, thank you. Mr. President.

PRESIDENT MOON: (As interpreted.) Honorable President Biden, Madam Vice President, I extend my deepest gratitude to you for your special hospitality and welcome. Today, leaders and delegates of Korea and the United States met each other’s eye and had a dialogue. For the peoples of our two nations, this will give them hope for recovery from COVID-19, as well as a meaningful gift for celebrating the 139th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. resident Biden and I had an awarding ceremony for the Medal of Honor to the Korean War veteran, a one-on-one meeting, as well as an expanded summit. For many hours together, we’ve had a very frank dialogue like old friends. As regards to the promotion of democracy, inclusive growth, the strengthening of the middle class, climate change response, as well as many other areas — two of us were able to see for ourselves that we had common interests and commitments. In particular, we reaffirmed the strength of the ROK-U.S. alliance and confirmed the common vision for developing it into an even stronger one. During my visit this time, the trust that has been built up between President Biden and I will foster a deeper friendship between our two peoples and lay a firm foundation that will undergird the sustainable development of the ROK-U.S. alliance, and I say this with confidence. The most urgent common task that our two countries must undertake is achieving complete denuclearization and permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. Recently, the Biden administration concluded its DPRK policy review. Building on past agreements, including the Singapore joint statement, while taking a calibrated and practical approach to seeking diplomacy with North Korea is indeed a welcome direction of the Biden administration’s North Korea policy. During the course of the review, our two countries closely coordinated with each other in lockstep, which I note with much appreciation. Moreover, I welcome President Biden’s appointment of Ambassador Sung Kim as Special Representative for North Korea Policy. This reflects the firm commitment of the U.S. for exploring diplomacy and its readiness for dialogue with North Korea. I have high expectations, all the more, as such a man of high caliber with expertise in the Korean Peninsula issues has been appointed. President Biden and I discussed the dialogues based on commitments made between the two Koreas and between the U.S. and North Korea are essential for making a peaceful Korean Peninsula. This is the belief that we were able to reaffirm. Moreover, President Biden also expressed his support for the inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation. Under close cooperation with the U.S., we will work to facilitate progress in inter-Korean relations so as to achieve a virtuous cycle with U.S.-DPRK dialogue. Moving forward as well, Korea and the United States will continue close communication while exploring our North Korea approach through dialogue and diplomacy. On that, I expect a positive response from North Korea. When strong security is firmly in place, we can preserve and make peace. Two of us agreed to further reinforce our combined defense posture and reaffirmed our commitment to a conditions-based transition to wartime operational control. It is also with pleasure that I deliver the news on the termination of the revised missile guidelines. The signing of ROK-U.S. Special Measures Agreement on burden sharing in the early days of the Biden administration displays for the world the robustness of our alliance as a symbolic and practical measure. …

Furthermore, to join the advance into overseas nuclear power plant markets, we decided to bolster our partnership. … President Biden and I participated in the ceremony for awarding a Medal of Honor to a Korean War veteran, Colonel Ralph Puckett, Jr. Based on the ROK-U.S. alliance, rooted in the noble sacrifices of our heroes, our two nations will usher in a new future together without a doubt. Today’s meetings between President Biden and myself, and between the U.S. and Korea, will mark another milestone for bilateral cooperation towards a new era. President Biden has extended such warm hosp- — hospitality and I express my deepest gratitude once again. I look forward to our frequent communication and continued close coord- — consultation. Last but not least, yesterday Israel and Hamas agreed on a ceasefire, which is indeed a relief. I appreciate President Biden’s hard work and leadership in this regard. Thank you … . Q Can I ask a question to President Moon? I — I’m curious if the two of you have offered any assurances, behind the scenes, to Taiwan, and if President Biden has — has pushed you to take a tougher stance when it comes to China’s posture towards Taiwa- — Taiwan. PRESIDENT BIDEN: Good luck. (Laughter.) PRESIDENT MOON: (As interpreted.) Well, fortunately, there wasn’t such pressure. But, as for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, we agreed how important that region is, especially considering the special characteristics between China and Taiwan. We decided to work more closely on this matter going forward. PRESIDENT BIDEN: You can (inaudible). PRESIDENT MOON: (As interpreted.) So, we have a question from a Korean journalist this over here. Yes, two from the left. Q (As interpreted.) Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I am Kang from Yonhap News — Yonhap News. I have a question to both of the Presidents here. As was mentioned by the former journalist, I understand that the Israel and Palestine issues are very important, but North Korea’s nuclear issues is equally important. On your to-do list, what’s the number that’s given to the North Korean nuclear issue on your priority list, Mr. — President Biden? And also, to M- — President Moon, in terms of your roadmap for resolving the nuclear issue in North Korea, I want to — I want to understand whether your time schedule actually matches and is equal to one another in terms of resolving the nuclear issues on the Korean Peninsula. PRESIDENT MOON: So, to begin, under the new Biden administration, the DPRK policy review has been completed in a rather fast period of time. That means that the Biden administration puts priority on its North Korea policy among its diplomatic tasks. And also, in terms of reviewing its DPRK policy, there was a very close coordination, as well as consultations, between the United States and the Republic of Korea. So the principle of the negotiations towards North Korea has already been announced by the U.S. government. A very calibrated, practical, gradual, step-by-step manner, and very flexible — that is the approach that the current administration is aiming to adopt. So that is the common understanding that we have with the United States and that we’re going to continue to work forward on this. And in terms of the timeline for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, there aren’t any differences in terms of how we think about this — no differences in terms of our opinions.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: I agree with what the President just said. Our goal is and remains complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We want to make practical progress and increase security in the United States — for the United States and our allies. You know, we closely studied what others have tried, and — what worked and what hasn’t worked. And, you know, under — we’re under no illusions how difficult this is — none whatsoever. And the past four administrations have not achieved the objective. It’s an incredibly difficult objective. As we move forward, we’re going to stay in very close coordination with our friends and our partners in the region, including President Moon. And we fully recognize that this is about our collective security in the Indo-Pacific region. And so — but total denuclearization is our objective and remains so. Well, I get the next question, huh? I’d like to ask the press a question, if I may. (Laughter.) Nancy Cordes, CBS. Q Okay. Thank you very much, Mr. President. I have one question about North Korea and one question about Israel. PRESIDENT BIDEN: We’ve changed this “one question” thing, haven’t we? (Laughs.) Q Two foreign policy questions. PRESIDENT BIDEN: Okay. Q You have said in the past that you would not meet with Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, without certain preconditions. PRESIDENT BIDEN: Yes. Q What are those preconditions? And do you believe he would ever be able to meet them? PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, what I never do is I never make a judgment what a man or woman is going to do or not do based on what they said. We’ll see. If he made any commitment, then I would meet with him. And if there was a commitment on which we met — and the commitment has to be that there’s discussion about his nuclear arsenal, and if it’s merely an — a means by which how do we deescalate what they’re doing. And so, if that was the case, I would not meet unless there was some outline made that my Secretary of State and others would have negotiated as to how we would proceed. But what I would not do is I would not do what had been done in the recent past. I would not give him all that he’s looking for is: national — international recognition as legitimate and — and say — and give them what allowed him to move in the direction of appearing to be more — how can I say it? — more serious about what he wasn’t at all serious about. I’d have to know specifics. But the idea of never meeting with North Korea — I would make sure that my team had met with his count- — my — their counterparts and I know exactly what we’re meeting on. …

(White House, Remarks by President and H.E. President Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea, at Press Conference, May 21, 2021)

Biden-Moon Joint Statement: “Over seventy years ago, the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea was forged on the battlefield, as we stood shoulder-to-shoulder in war. Bonded in common sacrifice, our partnership has helped to keep the peace in the decades since, allowing both of our countries and our peoples to thrive. The linchpin for stability and prosperity, our alliance has continued to evolve as the world around us has changed. Now, as the regional security environment in the Indo-Pacific grows more complex, and existential issues, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the threat of climate change, reshape the globe, we recommit ourselves to an ironclad alliance. The United States and the Republic of Korea share a vision for a region governed by democratic norms, human rights, and the rule of law at home and abroad. We seek a partnership that continues to provide peace and prosperity for our peoples, while serving as a linchpin for the regional and global order. Above all, we are united in our determination to reinvigorate and modernize our ties for a new era. President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. is honored to welcome President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea to Washington to begin a new chapter in our partnership. The Alliance: Opening a New Chapter President Biden and President Moon reaffirm their mutual commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and their combined defense posture under the ROK-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty, and President Biden affirms the U.S. commitment to provide extended deterrence using its full range of capabilities. We commit to strengthening the alliance deterrence posture, share the importance of maintaining joint military readiness, and reiterate our firm commitment to a conditions-based transition of wartime operational control. We also agree to deepen cooperation in other domains, including cyber and space, to ensure an effective joint response against emerging threats. We welcome the signing of a multi-year Special Measures Agreement, which enhances our combined defense posture and represents our dedication to the alliance. The two sides reaffirm that close coordination on all matters related to global nonproliferation and safe, secure, and safeguarded uses of nuclear technology remain key characteristics of the alliance, and the United States recognizes the ROK’s global role in promoting nonproliferation efforts. Following consultations with the United States, the ROK announces the termination of its Revised Missile Guidelines, and the Presidents acknowledged the decision. President Biden and President Moon emphasize their shared commitment to the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and their intent to address the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK’s) nuclear and ballistic missile programs. We call for the full implementation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions by the international community, including the DPRK. President Moon welcomes the conclusion of the United States’ DPRK policy review, which takes a calibrated and practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States and the Republic of Korea. We also reaffirm our common belief that diplomacy and dialogue, based on previous inter-Korean and U.S.-DPRK commitments such as the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration and Singapore Joint Statement, are essential to achieve the complete denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. President Biden also expresses his support for inter-Korean dialogue, engagement, and cooperation. We agree to work together to improve the human rights situation in the DPRK and commit to continue facilitating the provision of humanitarian aid to the neediest North Koreans. We also share our willingness to help facilitate the reunion of separated families of the two Koreas. We also agree to coordinate our approaches to the DPRK in lockstep. We underscore the fundamental importance of U.S.-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation for addressing the DPRK, protecting our shared security and prosperity, upholding common values, and bolstering the rules-based order. The significance of the U.S.-ROK relationship extends far beyond the Korean Peninsula: it is grounded in our shared values and anchors our respective approaches to the Indo-Pacific region. We agree we will work to align the ROK’s New Southern Policy and the United States’ vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific and that our countries will cooperate to create a safe, prosperous, and dynamic region. The United States and the ROK reaffirm support for ASEAN centrality and the ASEAN-led regional architecture. We agree to expand regional coordination on law enforcement, cybersecurity, public health and promoting a green recovery. We agree to work closely together to promote greater connectivity and foster digital innovation within ASEAN, while developing deeper people-to-people ties among Americans, Koreans, and the people of Southeast Asia. We will also consider opportunities for joint efforts to promote sustainable development, energy security, and responsible water management in the Mekong sub-region. The United States and the ROK also reaffirm support for enhanced cooperation with Pacific Island Countries and acknowledge the importance of open, transparent, and inclusive regional multilateralism including the Quad. The United States and the Republic of Korea oppose all activities that undermine, destabilize, or threaten the rules-based international order and commit to maintaining an inclusive, free, and open Indo-Pacific. We pledge to maintain peace and stability, lawful unimpeded commerce, and respect for international law, including freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and beyond. President Biden and President Moon emphasize the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. As democracies that value pluralism and individual liberty, we share our intent to promote human rights and rule of law issues, both at home and abroad. We resolutely condemn violence by the Myanmar military and police against civilians, and commit to continuing to press for the immediate cessation of violence, the release of those who are detained, and a swift return to democracy. We call on all nations to join us in providing safe haven to Burmese nationals and in prohibiting arms sales to Myanmar. … ” (White House, U.S.-R.O.K> Leaders’ Joint Statement, May 21, 2021)

The “U.S.-ROK Leaders’ Joint Statement” announced this afternoon after a summit in Washington between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Joe Biden is poised to go down as a milestone heralding a “new era” in the bilateral relations and a dramatic break from their history over the past seven decades. The two leaders declared that the South Korea-U.S. alliance had been upgraded into a truly global alliance, declaring their relationship as a “linchpin for the regional and global order” with a significance that “extends far beyond the Korean Peninsula.” This signifies that the scope of roles and responsibilities that Seoul has to contend with have broadened beyond the regional framework of the Korean Peninsula and North Korean nuclear issue into a wider range of areas that include the promotion of values of democracy and human rights — which amounts to an effort to contain China — as well as compliance with international norms and cooperation on advanced industry areas. The joint statement states that the two sides’ alliance “has continued to evolve as the world around us has changed.” “We seek a partnership that continues to provide peace and prosperity for our peoples, while serving as a linchpin for the regional and global order,” it continues. “President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. is honored to welcome President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea to Washington to begin a new chapter in our partnership,” it reads. Indeed, the areas where the two sides are to cooperate have broadened enough to warrant being described as a “new chapter” in their relationship. According to the statement, they plan to join forces not only on traditional Korean Peninsula-related issues such as North Korea’s nuclear program, but also major Indo-Pacific regional issues such as those concerning the South China Sea and Taiwan; global efforts related to climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic; high-tech industry cooperation in areas such as 6G technology and semiconductors; and the promotion of human rights and democratic values. While it remains unclear whether the framework is poised to eventually expand into a so-called “D-10” of democratic countries — with South Korea, Australia and India added in — it is apparent that South Korea will find itself shouldering qualitatively different responsibilities and obligations to match its increased international stature as a key part of the liberal democratic world. Referring to this change, a key Blue House official called it “the start of a new era for the South Korea-US alliance.” This shift in the alliance is seen as reflecting factors such as the Korean Peninsula’s unique geopolitical position within the growing antagonism between the U.S. and China, as well as South Korea’s position in such high-tech industry areas as semiconductors and batteries. But in terms of why this change is happening now in particular, a closer look shows one point: the long shadow of the strategic competition between Washington and Beijing. Before the summit, many observers on both sides had predicted the Biden administration would pressure South Korea to participate in the Quad, a cooperative framework aimed at reining in China. What the Biden administration ultimately opted to do was subtly different, however. Rather than trying to force South Korea to join the front lines in hemming China in, the administration got it to voluntarily take on various regional and global responsibilities through a strategy of increasing the alliance’s stature and boldly adding an element of autonomy. In the joint statement, South Korea expressed its resolution to “oppose all activities that undermine, destabilize, or threaten the rules-based international order and commit to maintaining an inclusive, free, and open Indo-Pacific.” The South Korea-US statement didn’t directly mention China, in contrast with the U.S.-Japan joint statement on April 16 that singled China out for harsh criticism. Even so, the joint statement allows us to conclude that South Korea has taken a disturbing step closer to the U.S. campaign of containment against China. South Korea’s enhanced status leaves it vulnerable to requests to play a bigger role in highly sensitive issues such as the South China Sea and Taiwan, issues on which it has hitherto managed to remain an onlooker. South Korea also accepted the “fundamental importance of US-ROK-Japan trilateral cooperation” and “the importance of open, transparent, and inclusive regional multilateralism including the Quad,” sending a clear message that it’s part of the US-led Indo-Pacific strategy. Moon told a reporter in the press conference after the summit that he, fortunately, hadn’t received any pressure from the US about China. However, a cool-headed analysis shows that Moon was only half right. It’s also notable that the U.S. gave South Korea much of the “independence” it has long sought in the U.S.’s North Korea policy, which was a major point of interest in the summit. Biden affirmed not only the joint statement that the U.S. and North Korea signed in Singapore on June 12, 2018, in which North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to carry out the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but also the statement signed by South and North Korea at Panmunjom on April 27 of the same year, in which they promised to move more quickly toward a future of joint prosperity and autonomous unification. In the joint statement, Biden also voiced “his support for inter-Korean dialogue, engagement, and cooperation,” recognizing some degree of the autonomy of inter-Korean relations that the administration of former President Donald Trump never allowed. In addition, the U.S. boldly terminated missile guidelines that South Korea has had to follow since 1979 in a groundbreaking decision that sweeps away limits on the range and payload of South Korea’s missiles. That clears the way for South Korea to cultivate its own ability to contain China. Through this summit, the South Korea-U.S. alliance has grown into a comprehensive alliance rivaling the one between the U.S. and Japan, which is likely to bring about qualitative changes in the two countries’ relationship. The joint statement also entrusts South Korea with more responsibility on current issues such as carbon dioxide emissions. As time goes by, South Korea could find itself under more pressure to keep pace with the .U.S and take on more responsibility for various issues connected with China. The U.S. can no longer take all the blame for a lack of progress on inter-Korean relations. After the Taiwan issue was mentioned in the joint statement following the US-Japan summit last month, former Japanese vice foreign minister Takeuchi Yukio told Asahi Shimbun on April 18 that Japan had “crossed the Rubicon.” Moon’s summit with Biden could go down in history as the decisive moment when South Korea crossed its own Rubicon. (Gil Yun-hyung, “S. Korea-U.S. Alliance Evolves into Global Partnership from Security Agreement,” Hankyore, May 24, 2021)


5/24/21:
Korea and the United States promised to strengthen their ties not only in security but also economic development but one of the daunting tasks that remain for Moon is how to address Seoul’s relations with Beijing in the immediate future. The Moon administration has been relying on a balancing act between the U.S. and China due to their respective strategic and economic importance to Korea, but a joint statement released after the summit indicated that the balance of its strategic diplomacy has been tipped in Washington’s favor. In response, China expressed concern about the statement today, saying it was interference in its domestic affairs. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “China cannot tolerate any foreign interference on the Taiwan issue,” referring to a reference made in the statement to the Taiwan Straits and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. The spokesman said neighboring countries should be careful about their rhetoric on the Taiwan issue and there were no problems regarding the South China Sea because each country was enjoying freedom of navigation and aviation. The remarks came after Moon and Biden agreed to commit to regional cooperation in the Asia Pacific region during the summit, which many believe reflects Washington’s intention to indirectly contain China’s influence. In the statement, Moon and Biden stated that the two countries “oppose all activities that undermine, destabilize, or threaten the rules-based international order and commit to maintaining an inclusive, free, and open Indo-Pacific.” The U.S. has been using the term “free and open Indo-Pacific” to counter Chinese hegemony in the region. The term is also in joint statements from members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), an unofficial strategic forum comprised of Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. viewed as a vehicle to bottle up an assertive China. The Moon-Biden statement also noted that Korea and the U.S. “reaffirm support for enhanced cooperation with Pacific Island Countries and acknowledge the importance of open, transparent, and inclusive regional multilateralism including the Quad.” Though it did not clearly mention expanding the Quad or Korea’s entry into it, this is interpreted that Seoul has accepted its core principles. The statement continued that the leaders agreed to “maintain peace and stability, lawful unimpeded commerce, and respect for international law, including freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and beyond,” as well as emphasizing “the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” This is the first time for Korea and the U.S. to mention escalating tension in the Taiwan Strait. Concerns were also raised on Washington agreeing to end its guidelines on Seoul’s missile development programs, which had limited ranges and payload capacity, because it has opened the door for Korea to develop ballistic missiles that could reach China. As the summit outcomes appeared to show Seoul moving more into Washington’s orbit in the U.S.-China competition, the government here strove to deny any potential impact on its relations with Beijing. “The government has already reached agreements on issues related to the South China Sea during meetings related to ASEAN, and the U.S. has long expressed its stance on the matter,” a senior official at Cheong Wa Dae said. “And Korea and the U.S. stated matters of mutual interest in the statement in the wake of the summit.” First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choi Jong-kun said during a radio appearance today that “China will highly appreciate the fact that the joint statement did not directly mention China,” adding the U.S.-Japan joint statement clearly did this. “The sentence is broad rhetoric that peace and stability in the region is important,” Choi said, adding Korea “didn’t take China into account while discussing the lifting of the missile guidelines.” Ministry of National Defense spokesman Boo Seung-chan also said Seoul had not “considered the impact on neighboring countries when it came to the abolishment of the missile guidelines,” and there were “no complaints from China.” Hours ahead of the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman’s remarks, Chinese Ambassador to Korea Xing Haiming also told reporters that China was aware that “the statement targeted his country, even though it did not refer to China by its name.” In the wake of China’s strong response, another senior presidential official said China was showing “a gesture to understand Korea’s standpoint.”

“Korea and China have been engaging in communication on a usual basis, and you can find the difference between China’s response to the U.S.-Japan joint statement and the one made this time,” the official said, implying that China’s response was milder. “The Korean government’s stance remains clear that we can pursue a harmonious strategic partnership with China on the basis of the rock-solid Korea-U.S. alliance.” Kim Heung-kyu, the director of the U.S.-China Policy Institute at Ajou University, said, “Through this summit, the Moon government has virtually taken the stance of joining the U.S. frame to contain China, though it used a relatively more prudent tone and rhetoric compared to that of Japan.” He added, “China will maintain a careful approach and refrain from exercising direct pressure on Korea which can drive Korea further toward the U.S. immediately, given the escalating strategic competition between Washington and Beijing,” Kim said. “However, when Korea’s strategic stance is seen to have crossed China’s own red line, Beijing will impose restrictions far stronger than those of 2017 when Korea decided to allow the deployment of a U.S. THAAD anti-missile system on its soil.” Kim also said China will more actively consider Xi’s visit to Korea after the summit, because Beijing does not want U.S. influence to expand further in Korea and have the country become a member of Washington’s anti-China campaign. “If Xi makes a visit to Korea, that could be August or September, given China’s domestic political schedule and Moon’s remaining term [which ends in May 2022],” Kim said. “However, there are too many uncertainties given that U.S.-China relations are constantly evolving, while there are not many issues for policy exchange between Seoul and Beijing in talks between Xi and Moon,” he added. During a phone conversation between Moon and Xi in January, the two leaders stressed the importance of communication for Xi’s visit to Korea. (Nam Hyun-woo, “Korea Faces China Dilemma after Fruitful Summit with U.S.,” Korea Times, May 24, 2021)


5/26/21:
South Korean President Moon Jae-in today noted a field exercise may be unlikely for the combined forces of South Korea and the United States in the near future due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I believe it may be difficult for a large number of troops to undergo a field exercise like in the past due to current conditions,” Moon said while meeting with the heads of five largest political parties in South Korea on the outcome of his meeting with President Biden last week. Seoul and Washington last held a joint military exercise in March, but it was largely virtual due to the pandemic. Their regular joint military drills have largely remained computer-simulated desktop exercises since the start of the pandemic last year. North Korea, however, continues to strongly denounce the joint military exercises as war rehearsals. The allies have another regular joint military drill scheduled to start in August. “These training events are non-provocative, defensive in nature, and are intended to maintain alliance readiness to ensure we are ready to ‘fight tonight,’ the Defense Department spokesman said. “Any decision on the scope, scale, and timing of exercises will be made bilaterally with these factors in mind.” Seoul’s defense ministry spokesperson Boo Seung-chan said that the upcoming combined summertime exercise is supposed to be conducted without outdoor drills. “The summertime program is supposed to take the form of the computer-simulated command post exercise (CPX), though the springtime exercise involves outdoor drills in principle. It is in accordance with the long-held agreement made by the two nations,” Boo told a regular briefing. (Yonhap, “Joint Military Exercises Key to Ensuring Defense Readiness of S. Korea, U.S.: pentagon,” May 27, 2021)


5/31/21:
North Korea today slammed the U.S. lifting of all restrictions on South Korean missiles as a “stark reminder” of Washington’s hostile approach to Pyongyang, saying the recently unveiled U.S. policy on the North is “just trickery.” This marked the North’s first reaction after South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed at their May 21 summit to use diplomacy to resolve the North’s nuclear standoff and to terminate all “missile guideline” restrictions on the flight range and warhead weight of South Korean missiles. Still, the North’s criticism appeared to be restrained as it was couched in a KCNA article under the name of an international affairs critic, rather than official government statements. “The U.S., doggedly branding the measures taken by the DPRK for self-defense as violation of UN ‘resolutions,’ grants its allies unlimited right to missile development. It is engrossed in confrontation despite its lip-service to dialogue,” the article said. “The termination step is a stark reminder of the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK and its shameful double-dealing,” it said. “Lots of countries now view the U.S. key DPRK policy, namely ‘pragmatic approach’ and ‘maximum flexibility’ produced by the Biden administration with much effort as just trickery.” The missile restrictions were first introduced in 1979 as South Korea sought to secure U.S. missile technologies for its own missile development. In return, Seoul agreed to limit the maximum flight range of its missiles to 180 km and the weight of warheads to 500 kg. In the face of evolving nuclear and missile threats by North Korea, however, Seoul and Washington revised the guidelines four times through last year to extend the range to 800 km, scrap the limit on warhead weight and lift the ban on using solid fuel for space launch vehicles. Now that all those restrictions have been terminated, South Korea can develop and possess any type of missile, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and advanced submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). KCNA criticized the lifting of the missile guidelines, in particular, as intended to “legitimately realize the deployment of intermediate-range missiles,” calling it a “serious blunder” that will result in heightening tensions on the Korean Peninsula. “It is a serious blunder for it to pressurize the DPRK by creating asymmetric imbalance in and around the Korean peninsula as this may lead to the acute and instable situation on the Korean peninsula now technically at war,” it said. “The target of the DPRK is not the ROK army but the U.S.,” it added, using the acronym of South Korea’s official name, Republic of Korea. “We will counter the U.S. on the principle of strength for strength and good faith in kind. The escalated tension on the Korean peninsula will lead to instability of the forces threatening the DPRK.” The KCNA also directed criticism toward Moon. “We also take this opportunity to make mention of the chief executive of South Korea putting himself within the gun-sights of regional countries, saying it ‘imparts with glad mind the fact about the termination of missile guidelines,'” it added. “So disgusting is his indecent act of seeking to sense reactions from this side and that side, with guilty conscience for what it did.” (Koh Byun-jun, “”N. Korea Says Lifting of ‘Missile Guidelines’ on S. Korea Reminder of U.S. Hostility,” Yonhap, May 31, 2021)


6/?/21:
Biegun: “Arms Control Today: When Trump took office in 2017, the outgoing Obama administration warned that North Korea’s nuclear program posed one of the most significant security threats. It remains so today. As the Biden administration prepares to adjust U.S. policy to deal with the North’s nuclear and missile arsenal, what advice would you offer? Stephen Biegun: The administration has begun to roll out its recent policy review, and so we’re starting to understand how they intend to proceed. During the transition between the two administrations, we did a very thorough, deep dive on a number of issues, but none more so than North Korea. As the former special representative for North Korea, I and my team sat down with President-elect Joe Biden’s team to walk them through where we were and really to share almost every detail of our interactions with the North Koreans, certainly everything that was available to us. It looks to me like the Biden policy is largely a continuation of what the negotiating team in the [Trump] State Department was trying to attain from the North Koreans, which is an agreement on a path toward denuclearization with a certain endpoint that is complete denuclearization but that we can structure along the way with some flexibility. We wanted to move in parallel on other things that might help open the aperture for progress like people-to-people exchanges, greater transparency, and confidence building on the Korean peninsula. I think the Biden administration’s conclusions are logical and, frankly, are the best among the choices that are available to any administration. That said, it’s not significantly different than much of what’s been tried in the past, and so it begs the question whether or not one can expect any different outcome. I think the key factor in whether or not the United States will make progress with North Korea rests with whether or not the North Korean government is prepared to go down this course. That’s the challenge that we confronted in the Trump administration. We eventually came to the conclusion that the North Koreans simply weren’t prepared to do what the two leaders had laid out. So I’d advise them to start with the establishment of communication, which I think they have been making some progress doing. Get a reliable channel for that communication going forward, so that we can have a more sustained set of diplomatic engagements. … ACT: Why do you think that was such a special moment? Biegun: The North Koreans have long said in engagements with my predecessors on these issues that if the two leaders could agree, then anything was possible. It was almost something of a mantra from North Korean representatives over the years, and President Trump, in his own unconventional and often controversial way, put that to the test. The president had a lot of confidence in his own abilities. He was not constrained by critics over the conventions of the past. So, he proposed a summit in Singapore to sit down with Kim and basically say, hey, you know, this war ended 65 years ago, let’s find a way to put it behind us. For all the controversy and debate that his foreign policies generated, I can say as a negotiator that it was incredibly empowering to be able to test a proposition like that. For many of the president’s critics, their concern was that somehow he was going to give away the store, that he was going to accept the one-sided deal. I think what the summit in Hanoi showed was that it was going to take two to tango. We had high hopes going into the summit. I and our negotiating team were there a week before the summit. We’d been to Pyongyang a few weeks before that, and we met in Washington a few weeks before that. We had laid out to each other in detail what our views were, what our objectives were. They didn’t align entirely, but each side knew what the other side was looking for out of this. When we got to Hanoi, our North Korean counterparts had absolutely no authority to discuss denuclearization issues, which is just absurd. It was one of the core points of agreement between the two leaders in Singapore. ACT: Do you still think a negotiated settlement with North Korea is possible? Biegun: My belief in that is unshaken. ACT: One apparent area of tension within the Trump administration was the pace and sequencing of denuclearization by North Korea, with some U.S. officials advocating a complete denuclearization within a very short time frame. Biegun: Without a doubt, there were differing views among the staff in the administration. But elections are for presidents, not for the staff. The president’s view was that he was prepared to reach an agreement provided that it successfully denuclearized North Korea. I think the speed with which that happened, were we to have gotten that agreement with the North Koreans, was negotiable. Our hope was to move as quickly as possible, and we wanted to tie the benefits for North Korea to the speed with which North Korea wanted the lifting of sanctions. They controlled the tempo of that. The faster they met our expectations on denuclearization, the faster the sanctions went away. It was a fairly simple formula. But we were also looking at denuclearization as just one line of effort across multiple lines of effort, including transforming relations on the Korean peninsula, economic collaboration, and potential diplomatic representation in each other’s capitals. We saw that in parallel with creating a more secure Korean peninsula, with confidence-building measures and transparency through military exchanges, ultimately through the negotiation of a permanent treaty to end the Korean War. Of course, denuclearization was going to be the toughest. The other thing that was non-negotiable from our point of view was that, regardless of the timing, two things had to happen. To begin, the North Koreans had to freeze everything. We weren’t going to take everything out on day one, but they could stop. They could turn off the centrifuges. They could turn off the nuclear reactors. They could stop the production of weapons of mass destruction. The other non-negotiable was that the endpoint had to be complete denuclearization. The rest of it in between, plenty of room to negotiate how that happens. ACT: Could that Trump-Kim summit-level approach have been adjusted in some way that would have made it more successful? Biegun: What would have made it more successful is if the North Koreans engaged in meaningful, working-level negotiations in advance of the summits in order to produce more substantive agreements for our leaders. I have very good reason to believe that the North Koreans felt like they got exactly what they wanted, which was profile and prestige, without having made any commitments that were actionable. I think that may have lulled them into a mistaken view that that’s all this was about, and in coming to Hanoi, that they could similarly do so. What they didn’t realize was we were getting into a deeper level of discussion at that point. Had the North Koreans been willing to discuss denuclearization with our negotiating team, had they brought appropriate experts to those discussions—we never saw a uniform or a scientist at these meetings. Our delegation was comprised of scientists from the Department of Energy, missile experts from the intelligence community. We had international law and sanctions experts. We had an interagency delegation that we brought to Pyongyang and Hanoi. The North Koreans simply failed to match the ambition. The other thing I’d say about the president’s diplomacy is that I saw absolutely no downside in it and, in some ways, it may even have created challenges for the North Koreans because their regime is being judged by itself and by its own people as to what they’re able to achieve. If North Korea were to continue to seek that kind of engagement without delivering on the commitments that it makes or the commitments that it’s expected to make, I think that it only worsens global opinion toward the North Korean regime. One of the things that was always very effective for us is that we worked with partners and allies and even countries with whom we had more challenging relationships, like China and Russia. We were always willing to meet. We weren’t putting any price on the North Koreans sitting down across the table. ACT: You said the North Korean negotiating team wasn’t empowered to discuss steps toward denuclearization in meetings with your team ahead of the Hanoi summit. Did that inhibit progress? Biegun: Of course it did, because in the lead-up to the summit in Hanoi, the two teams spent nearly a week together trying to hammer out the basis for the two leaders to reach an agreement, a much more detailed set of documents than my predecessors had been able to obtain at the Singapore summit. To their credit, the North Koreans brought some creative ideas of their own on how we could improve people-to-people cooperation and transform relations on the Korean peninsula, but the key driver of the Singapore summit was denuclearization. Literally, the offer from North Korea was a “big present.” The negotiators said when Kim would arrive in Hanoi, he would have a big present for Trump, but we had to agree at the front to lift all the sanctions. I’m a practical person; tell me what your opening gambit is, tell me what your bottom line is, but don’t tell me you’re bringing me a big present. ACT: They told you that without defining what the big present would be? Biegun: Without any definition of what it would be. The North Korean delegation came with ideas on everything but denuclearization. I think the play was that they thought that the president was desperate for a deal and they were going to save that for the leader-level meeting. Lo and behold, that proved to be a very mistaken strategy. Anyone who encouraged them to ursue that policy, whether it was internally or external voices, perhaps even in South Korea, it was a huge mistake. But the president’s meetings with Chairman Kim, even though the gap was too large for us to reach an agreement in Hanoi, were cordial and friendly. The president’s last words to Kim in Hanoi were, “Let’s keep at it, let’s get something.” Another summit was not going to happen without substantial engagement by the North Koreans at the working level. Unfortunately, after Hanoi and then COVID in 2020 made it all but impossible, the level of engagement diminished significantly. ACT: Why were there conflicting reports about what was put on the table in Hanoi? North Korean officials denied they offered partial denuclearization for a full lifting of sanctions. Instead, they said, Pyongyang requested a partial removal of UN sanctions in exchange for a permanent halt of nuclear and ballistic missile testing and the full verifiable dismantlement of facilities at Yongbyon. Biegun: Yongbyon is only a portion of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The North Korean rebuttal, which was delivered after the summit by Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister Choe Son Hui, was that they’d only asked for a partial lifting of sanctions. But we understood the value and the impact of every sanction that was in place, and what the North Koreans were asking for was a complete lifting of UN Security Council sanctions. In effect, the only remaining strictures on trade would be actively doing business with the weapons of mass destruction facilities and enterprises themselves. So in terms of what the North Koreans offered, any knowledgeable expert would recognize it was a partial denuclearization for a full lifting of sanctions, and there were no subsequent commitments. It would in effect accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. That was implicitly what was in that offer.” (Arms Control Today, “Negotiating With North Korea: An interview with former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun,” 51, 5 (June 2021) pp. 22-26)


6/10/21:
Kim Jong-un called it a “vicious cancer” corrupting young North Koreans’ “attire, hairstyles, speeches, behaviors.” His state media has warned that if left unchecked, it would make North Korea “crumble like a damp wall.” In recent months, hardly a day has gone by without Kim or state media railing against “anti-socialist and nonsocialist” influences spreading in his country, especially South Korean movies, K-dramas and K-pop videos. As part of a panicked attempt to reassert control, Kim has ordered his government to stamp out the cultural invasion. It comes at a time when the North’s economy is floundering and its diplomacy with the West has stalled, perhaps leaving the country’s youth more receptive to outside influence and challenging Kim’s firm grip on North Korean society. “Young North Koreans think they owe nothing to Kim Jong-un,” said Jung Gwang-il, a defector from the North who runs a network that smuggles K-pop into North Korea. “He must reassert his ideological control on the young if he doesn’t want to lose the foundation for the future of his family’s dynastic rule.” North Korean state propaganda had long described South Korea as a living hell crawling with beggars. Through the K-dramas, first smuggled on tapes and CDs, young North Koreans learned that while they struggled to find enough food to eat during a famine, people in the South were going on diets to lose weight. South Korean entertainment is now smuggled on flash drives from China, stealing the hearts of young North Koreans who watch behind closed doors and draped windows. Its presence has become so concerning that North Korea enacted a new law last December to address it. The law calls for five to 15 years in labor camps for people who watch or possess South Korean entertainment, according to lawmakers in Seoul who were briefed by government intelligence officials, and internal North Korean documents smuggled out by Daily NK, a Seoul-based website. The previous maximum punishment for such crimes was five years of hard labor. Those who put material in the hands of North Koreans can face even stiffer punishments, including the death penalty. The new law also calls for up to two years of hard labor for those who “speak, write or sing in South Korean style.” The introduction of the law was followed by months of new dictates from Kim warning of outside influence. In February, he ordered all provinces, cities and counties to “mercilessly” stamp out growing capitalist tendencies. In April, he warned that “a serious change” was taking place in the “ideological and mental state” of young North Koreans. And last month, Rodong Sinmun cautioned that North Korea would “crumble” if such influences proliferated. “To Kim Jong-un, the cultural invasion from South Korea has gone beyond a tolerable level,” said Jiro Ishimaru, chief editor of Asia Press International, a website in Japan that monitors North Korea. “If this is left unchecked, he fears that his people might start considering the South an alternative Korea to replace the North.” Computers, text messages, music players and notebooks are now being searched for South Korean content and accents, according to North Korean government documents smuggled out by Asia Press. Women in North Korea, for example, are supposed to call their dates “comrade.” Instead, many have started calling them “oppa,” or honey, as women do in K-dramas. Kim has called the language “perverted.” The families of those who are caught “imitating the puppet accent” from the South in their daily conversations or text messages could be expelled from cities as a warning, the documents said. This is not the first time North Korea has lashed out against an “ideological and cultural invasion.” All radios and televisions are preset to receive government broadcasts only. The government has blocked its people from using the global internet. Disciplinary squads patrol the streets, stopping men with long hair and women with skirts that are considered too short or trousers deemed too tight. The only hair dye available is black, according to the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang. But it may be too late to patch the cracks left behind during the 1990s. Jung, 58, remembers watching “Jealousy,” a K-drama about young love, when he was still in North Korea and feeling a culture shock. “On North Korean TV, it was all about the party and the leader,” he said. “You never saw such a natural display of human emotions like a man and woman kissing.” In a survey that Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies conducted of 116 people who fled North Korea in 2018 or 2019, nearly half said they had “frequently” watched South Korean entertainment while in the North. A current favorite, Mr. Jung said, was “Crash Landing on You,” a show about a paragliding South Korean heiress who is carried across the border by a sudden gust of wind and falls in love with a North Korean army officer. Kim had once appeared more flexible toward outside culture. In 2012, he was shown on state television giving a thumbs up to a girl group in miniskirts playing the theme song from “Rocky” while Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters pranced nearby. Government-sanctioned kiosks in Pyongyang sold Disney favorites like “The Lion King” and “Cinderella.” Restaurants showed foreign movies, concerts and TV shows, the Russian Embassy reported in 2017. But Kim’s confidence weakened after his diplomacy with Donald J. Trump, the former American president, collapsed in 2019 without the lifting of crushing economic sanctions. He has since vowed to lead his country through the restrictions by building a “self-reliant economy” that depends less on trade with the outside world. Then the pandemic hit, deepening the North’s economic trouble. “The economic condition of the North is the worst since Kim Jong-un took office a decade ago,” Ishimaru said. “If people are hungry, crime rates could rise. He must tighten control to deter social unrest.” North Korea has resorted to urging its people to inform on others who watch K-dramas, according to documents smuggled out by Daily NK. But many have decided to look the other way, even tipping their neighbors off ahead of police raids, the documents said. “The phenomenon of distributing impure publications and propaganda is not disappearing, but continuing.” (Choe Sang-Hun, “North Korean Dictator Declares War on ‘Vicious Cancer’: K-Pop Culture,” New York Times, June 11, 2021, p. 6)


6/11/21:
During a recent enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission, North Korea’s leadership decided to significantly reorganize the command structure of the Strategic Force, which operates the nation’s arsenal of ballistic missiles. According to a Daily NK source in the North Korean military yesterday, North Korean authorities decided to split the Strategic Force Command’s subordinate headquarters into West Sea and East Sea commands during the meeting on June 11. They also decided to partially modify the force’s offensive and defensive strategy in accordance with the new command structure. Both the East Sea and West Sea commands are focused on offensive capabilities. However, North Korean authorities plan to slightly reduce the West Sea command’s offensive capabilities relative to the East Sea command, while improving its defensive capabilities. North Korean media reported at the time that the meeting had presented “important tasks to bring about a new turning point in general national defense efforts.” Stressing the need to bolster the defensive capabilities of the Strategic Force, Kim reportedly pointed to the competition between the U.S. and China and the scrapping of U.S. guidelines on South Korean missile development during the recent US-South Korean summit. Kim also apparently said U.S. pressure on North Korea was not simply aimed at denuclearizing the country, but is part of Washington’s international geopolitical strategy toward China. Kim reportedly issued an order that if the United States were to attack China, the West Sea command of the Strategic Force should defend against this and even launch retaliatory strikes. In sum, North Korean authorities believe the U.S. is strengthening its containment of China using the North Korean nuclear issue as an excuse, and that hidden behind the scrapping of the U.S.-South Korean missile guidelines is Washington’s intention to elevate pressure on Beijing. The move by North Korea authorities to shift the focus of the nuclear issue within the context of Sino-American rivalries, and to stress bolstered military cooperation with China — and even the need for defensive strategies to help Beijing — appears to be aimed at winning Chinese economic cooperation and military support. In fact, Kim repeatedly mentioned the need for strengthening cooperation with China during the latest enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission and plenary session of the Central Committee. There is also talk in North Korea that Kim could visit China in the latter half of the year. Following the decision to reorganize the Strategic Force, some of the missile systems currently operated by the country’s army, navy, and air force may be transferred to the Strategic Force. The navy, for example, plans to transfer the West Sea Fleet’s Rocket Management Unit based in Hanchon, Jungsang County, South Pyongan Province, to the Strategic Force. That is to say, Daily NK understands that the Strategic Force will take over management of the base, its personnel, and even its strategic weaponry. The Strategic Force, however, have different standards compared to the navy regarding the use of the weapons and their personnel. Accordingly, discussions between the General Staff Department and Strategic Force Command over the reorganization could reportedly get “bumpy.” “In fact, the reorganization of the Strategic Force is a massive project,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “The plan is to deploy new combat technical personnel and combat technical plans during the military’s winter training beginning on Dec. 1, after completing the redeployment of weapons and personnel by the end of October and conducting a review in November. But the reorganization could take a bit longer than that.” (Seulkee Jang, “North Korea Moves to Significantly Reorganized Command of Strategic Force,” Daily NK, June 30, 2021)


6/13/21:
It is now impossible to taste North Korea’s flagship homemade beer in China’s border city of Dandong, with leader Kim Jong Un apparently having little intention to let down his guard against the novel coronavirus. Earlier this year, expectations briefly mounted that North Korea and China would resume land transportation in a couple of months, but in fact, there are no signs in Dandong that restrictions on travel between the two countries will be lifted anytime soon. Many citizens in China’s northeastern city have become more pessimistic about the prospects of the regional economy, which is supposed to be buoyed by trade with North Korea as well as tourists intrigued by the mysterious, nuclear-armed neighbor. After a highly contagious variant of the virus was confirmed for the first time in China in May, Pyongyang seems to be tightening security along the border river by mobilizing soldiers and wiring fences to prevent human intrusion into the nation. North Korea claims no infection cases have been found in the country, but it has cut off land traffic to and from China since early last year, amid worries that the virus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, could enter the nation. The customs office near the Yalu River has been effectively closed as North Korea has banned its citizens from visiting China. Restaurants and shops run by Koreans in Dandong have been shuttered, with trade with the neighboring country choked off. Popular tourist sites in the city, like the Tiger Mountain Great Wall and the Memorial Hall of the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea, have not been filled with people, even on sunny days, locals say. “Before the pandemic, land shipments were active between China and North Korea, while a large number of those who are interested in Korea came to Dandong from both at home and abroad,” a 51-year-old Chinese man said. “People have been disappearing and the economy has become increasingly sluggish for the past one and half years. I hope China-North Korea trade will get back to a normal track in the not-so-distant future,” said the man selling souvenirs in the city. Although Dandong’s economy grew 2 percent from a year earlier in 2019, it edged up only 0.4 percent in 2020 against a backdrop of a more than 20 percent dive in its trade with foreign nations including North Korea. The sightseeing industry in Dandong suffered a crushing loss last year. The city’s total tourism revenue slid 79 percent from the previous year and the number of inbound tourists plummeted 96.9 percent in 2020, according to the municipal government. “The atmosphere in Dandong has been shabby. We have been losing resources to attract people from outside the city,” a male restaurant worker said. Tourism remains a key industry for Dandong’s economy. Each room in a hotel facing the Yalu River was still equipped with binoculars to allow its guests to clearly watch the North Korean side. But the hotel is unlikely to be full of travelers for the time being. In March, North Korea restarted imports of some commodities from China, such as chemical fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide. China, however, exported goods to North Korea by ship. China’s trade with North Korea posted more than an over two-fold rise from a month earlier in April. Nevertheless, the total value accounted for only around 13 percent of that in April 2019. Recently, China has been preparing to begin operations of cargo trains connecting it ith North Korea. Yet, Pyongyang has delayed setting up disinfection facilities for imported goods, diplomatic sources said. Following the detection in China’s southern city of Guangzhou of the coronavirus variant first discovered in India, North Korea has become more vigilant against a possible outbreak in the country. Rodong Sinmun said in early June, “The highly infectious and lethal variant is spreading at a rapid pace globally.” It pointed out that current COVID-19 vaccines could be ineffective against the variant and emphasized the importance of strengthening anti-epidemic measures, dampening speculation that North Korea’s border blockage might end soon. North Korea’s economy has also been languishing. In addition to a plunge in trade with China, agricultural devastation by powerful typhoons and flooding last year has sparked concern that its citizens may not be receiving adequate daily necessities. In Pyongyang, some people have become severely malnourished, sources familiar with the situation in North Korea’s capital said. At the first congress of the ruling party in nearly five years in January, Kim pledged to make efforts to prop up the economy, while acknowledging North Korea failed to achieve the economic development goals set in its strategy through 2020 in almost all sectors. China is North Korea’s closest and most influential ally in economic terms, accounting for more than 90 percent of its trade. North Korea, meanwhile, is believed to be vulnerable to infectious diseases in the face of chronic shortages of food and medical supplies triggered by international economic sanctions aimed at thwarting its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions. Previously, it barred foreigners from entering the nation during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014. “Given that the Indian variant has been confirmed in China, North Korea would not open its border at least through the end of this year,” one of the diplomatic sources said. (Tachikawa Tomoyuki, “China’s Border City Suffers Blockage, Tourism Loss,” Kyodo, June 13, 2021)


6/15/21:
North Korea is bracing itself for a possible food crisis in the coming months. Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, issued a rare warning today about a “tense” food situation brought about by extensive flooding, the coronavirus pandemic and international sanctions, the state news media reported. Kim convened the Central Committee of his ruling Workers’ Party on Tuesday to assess the state of affairs in his isolated country, and said resolving the food shortage was “a top priority,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency. “In particular, the people’s food situation is now getting tense as the agricultural sector failed to fulfill its grain production” after flood damage, Mr. Kim was quoted as saying in the meeting. “It is essential for the whole party and state to concentrate on farming.” Although it is no secret that North Korea’s economy is in trouble, it is highly unusual for Kim to acknowledge a national food shortage as publicly and clearly as he did this week. In its latest assessment of the country’s food insecurity, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization warned that if the country’s food shortage is not covered by imports or foreign aid, “households could experience a harsh lean period between August and October.” Kim’s warning came two months after he ordered his party to wage an “arduous march” to relieve the economic pain of his people. The April remarks caught the attention of some outside analysts because the term “arduous march” is usually invoked by the North to refer to a crisis that must be overcome, such as the famine in the 1990s that caused millions of people to die. So far, no sign has emerged from North Korea that the country is in danger of another devastating famine, but South Korean reporters monitoring market prices in North Korea said that the price of rice has been rising sharply in recent weeks. Many essential goods, including medicine, are also becoming more scarce, as the pandemic forced North Korea to close its border with China, its only major trading partner, said Jiro Ishimaru, chief editor of Asia Press International, a website in Japan that monitors North Korea with the help of clandestine correspondents inside the country. Some families have begun selling furniture to raise cash for food, Ishimaru said. The number of homeless children scavenging for food is also on the rise in some parts of the country, though it is difficult to reliably assess the situation, given North Korea’s isolation, he said. Kim’s acknowledgment of North Korea’s food shortage was another sign that his economic policies were not working. When he took power a decade ago, one of his first promises was to ensure that his long-suffering people would “no longer have to tighten their belt.” (Choe Sang-hun, “Food Situation Is ‘Tense,’ Kim Warns North Korea,” New York Times, June 17, 2021, p. A-4).


6/17/21:
KCNA: “The third-day sitting of the 3rd Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) continued on June 17 to confirm the fighting policies which would play the guiding role in further accelerating the historic advance of our Party and people for this year and practical tasks. As the respected Comrade Kim Jong Un appeared at the meeting hall to mount the platform, all the participants raised thunderous cheers of “Hurrah!” for the General Secretary of the ever-victorious Party who has wisely led the plenary meeting to creditably perform its crucial discussion and to fulfill its historic guiding mission and role with all his thinking and efforts directed to the well-being and happiness of the state and the people. At panel study and consultative meetings that continued in the wake of the second-day sitting, substantial and dynamic tasks to be carried out in the second half of the year and practical ways were fully discussed. The plenary meeting examined constructive opinions that were put together and adopted with unanimous approval a resolution reflecting additional measures for thoroughly carrying out major state policy tasks for this year and a resolution on unconditionally fulfilling the grain production plan by concentrating efforts of the entire Party, the whole army and all the people on the farming for this year. The plenary meeting discussed as the fourth agenda item the analysis of the present international situation and our Party’s corresponding direction. The respected General Secretary reviewed and assessed major changes taking place on the international political arena in recent days and the external environment of our revolution. Especially he made detailed analysis of the policy tendency of the newly emerged U.S. administration toward our Republic and clarified appropriate strategic and tactical counteraction and the direction of activities to be maintained in the relations with the U.S. in the days ahead. The General Secretary stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially to get fully prepared for confrontation in order to protect the dignity of our state and its interests for independent development and to reliably guarantee the peaceful environment and the security of our state. Clarifying the foreign policy stand and principles of the WPK and the DPRK government concerning the important international and regional matters and stressing the need to further enhance the strategic position and active role of our state and create favorable external climate on our own initiatives, the General Secretary called for sharply and promptly reacting to and coping with the fast-changing situation and concentrating efforts on taking stable control of the situation on the Korean peninsula. The plenary meeting discussed as the fifth agenda item the issues to be settled before anything else in order to stabilize and improve the people’s living under the present situation. Saying that it is the most important principle maintained by the WPK and the state in their activities to provide the stable life to the people and timely solve their difficulties, the General Secretary detailed the actual situation of the people’s living which he acquainted himself with through several consultative meetings and the measures for its substantial improvement. He said the idea of the devoted service for the people’s wellbeing which is set forth as the sacred one by our Party is the practical guideline and standard of behavior that call for upholding the people with unconditional service bearing the responsibility for their lives and livelihood with all dedication to their interest in practice. He stressed that the Party should go deep among the people despite hardships, become their trusty mainstay, always find itself near them to share joy and sorrow with them and devote its all to the people’s wellbeing. He said it is the main point of the plenary meeting to take decisive enforcement measures for immediately solving the urgent matters most concerned and looked forward to by the people, delivering a special order that he personally inked with his sincerity to make even a small contribution to stabilizing the people’s living. All the participants in the plenary meeting supported and approved with enthusiastic applause the important determination and decision of the General Secretary reflective of his responsibility for the destiny and life of all the people of the country and the spirit of devoted service for them. … The meeting continues.” (KCNA, “Third-Day Sitting of 3rd Plenary Meeting of 8th Central Committee of WPK Held,” June 18, 2021)


6/18/21:
A North Korean hacking group known as Kimsuky broke into the network of South Korea’s state-run nuclear think-tank last month, the latest in a series of cyberattacks by the North, a South Korean lawmaker said today. The breach of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) took place on May 14, involving 13 Internet addresses including one traced to Kimsuky, said Ha Tae-keung, a member of the parliamentary intelligence committee, citing an analysis by Seoul-based cyber-security firm IssueMakersLab. Affiliated with North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau spy agency, the group had previously targeted South Korean Covid-19 vaccine developers and a state-run nuclear reactor operator, among others. “The incident could pose serious security risks if any core information was leaked to North Korea, as Kaeri is the country’s largest think-tank studying nuclear technology including reactors and fuel rods,” Ha said in a statement. A KAERI official said the institute reported the intrusion to the government after discovering it on May 31, and an investigation was being carried out. An official at the science and technology ministry, which is leading the investigation, said it had not found evidence to determine that North Korea was behind the hack. Simon Choi, head of IssueMakersLab, said Kimsuky had long been seeking access to South Korean government and legislative agencies and educational institutes. “We’ve been tracing their activity and such attempts happen on a daily basis,” Choi told Reuters. “But this case caught our attention given the sensitivity of the think-tank’s work.” (Reuters, “North Korean Hackers Target Nuclear Think Tank: Lawmaker,” Straits Times (Singapore), June 18, 2021)


6/20/21:
The United States said today it saw as an “interesting signal” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s comments that he is ready for “dialogue and confrontation,” but added that Washington was still waiting for direct communication from Pyongyang to start any talks relating to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Speaking in an interview with ABC News, U.S. National Security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington would still need a direct and clear response from Pyongyang expressing its willingness for talks. “His comments this week we regard as an interesting signal and we will wait to see whether they are followed up with any kind of more direct communication to us about a potential path forward,” Sullivan said. “The clear signal they could send is to say ‘yes, let’s do it. Let’s sit down and begin negotiations.'” (Humeyra Pamuk and Jan Wolfe, “White House Says Comments by N. Korea’s Kim Are ‘Interesting Signal,’” Reuters, June 20, 2021)


6/22/21:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong ‘s statement: “I heard the news that the U.S. National Security Advisor had mentioned that he regards the position towards the U.S. as an “interesting signal”, which the Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea clarified this time. A Korean proverb says that “In a dream, what counts most is to read it, not to have it.” It seems that the U.S. may interpret the situation in such a way as to seek a comfort for itself. The expectation, which they chose to harbor the wrong way, would plunge them into a greater disappointment.” (KCNA, “Kim Yong Jong Issues Press Statement,” June 22, 2021)

South Korea and the United States have agreed to consider terminating their “working group” forum on North Korea policy, the foreign ministry said Tuesday, in what appears to be a conciliatory gesture to Pyongyang that has decried the forum as a hurdle to inter-Korean ties. Seoul’s top nuclear envoy, Noh Kyu-duk, and his U.S. counterpart, Sung Kim, reached the agreement during their talks in Seoul on Monday, as they sought a coordinated strategy to resume nuclear diplomacy with Pyongyang. “During the talks between the top nuclear envoys, the two sides checked the operation of the existing working group and agreed to consider terminating it,” the ministry said in a text message sent to reporters. The ministry said that the two sides agreed to strengthen their director-general level consultations in addition to dialogue between their chief nuclear negotiators. Commenting on an alternative to the working group forum, First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun mentioned a comprehensive policy dialogue involving director general-level diplomats of the two countries. Participants may include those at the foreign ministry’s Office of Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, and the U.S. deputy special representative for the North, Choi said during a parliamentary session. “Comprehensive coordination between the South and the U.S. regarding North Korea policy is very important. Even if the working group is gone, that doesn’t mean the suspension of such coordination,” Choi said. “As there has been a sense that the working group is about sanctions, we intend to work in a comprehensive manner by broadening the agenda,” he added. A foreign ministry official said later that Seoul and Washington had shared the understanding that despite positive functions of the working group, there were also “negative effects” from it without elaboration. (Sung Sang-ho, “S. Korea, U.S> Agree to Consider Ending ‘Working Group’ Forum on N. Korea,” Yonhap, June 22, 2021)


6/23/21:
DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon’s statement: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK welcomes the clear-cut press statement issued by the vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, which is to brush off hasty judgment, conjecture and expectation of the U.S. We are not considering even the possibility of any contact with the U.S., let alone having it, which would get us nowhere, only taking up precious time.” (KCNA, “Press Statement by Ri Son Gwon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of DPRK,” June 23, 2021)


6/28/21:
South Korea approved plans today to pursue a $2.6-billion artillery interception system, similar to Israel’s “Iron Dome,” designed to protect against North Korea’s arsenal of long-range guns and rockets, the defense acquisition agency said. A large part of the area surrounding Seoul, the capital, is home to about half the population of 52 million, and lies within range of the neighbor’s long-range guns and multiple rocket launchers. (Josh Smith, “S. Korea to Develop ‘Iron-Dome’-Style Defense System to Counter North’s Artillery,” Reuters, June 28, 2021)


6/29/21:
KCNA: “The current situation in which a fierce campaign is being conducted under the fighting program set forth at the historic 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) to win a fresh victory in socialist construction despite all the manifold challenges calls for revolutionizing cadres, the backbone of the country, and building up their ranks into an elite force by more clearly preserving the militant nature of our Party advancing in struggle. The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee convened an enlarged meeting at the office building of the Party Central Committee on June 29 to roundly deal with some leading officials’ dereliction of duty in implementing the major policy tasks of the Party and the state, and to provide a fresh turning point in the personnel administration within the Party. Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the WPK, guided the meeting. Attending the meeting were members of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee, members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee, officials of the Party Central Committee, senior Party and administrative officials of ministries and national institutions, chief secretaries of the provincial Party committees, chairpersons of the provincial people’s committees, chief secretaries of the city and county Party committees and industrial complexes and relevant officials of the armed forces organs and the state emergency anti-epidemic sector. Prior to the discussion of agenda items, the respected General Secretary referred to the purpose of convening the enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau just after the plenary meeting of the Party Central Committee. He mentioned that senior officials in charge of important state affairs neglected the implementation of the important decisions of the Party on taking organizational, institutional, material, scientific and technological measures as required by the prolonged state emergency epidemic prevention campaign associated with the worldwide health crisis, and thus caused a crucial case of creating a great crisis in ensuring the security of the state and safety of the people and entailed grave consequences. He analyzed in the strong terms that a major factor braking and hindering the implementation of the important tasks discussed and decided at the Party congress and plenary meetings of the Party is the lack of ability and irresponsibility of cadres, and called for conducting a more fierce Party-wide campaign against ideological faults and all sorts of negative elements being exposed among the cadres. He presented agenda items to be discussed at the current meeting, saying that the real aim of the meeting is to disclose all the main obstacles and stumbling blocks in the way of the advance of our Party and the revolution, issue an alarm warning to the real state of the ranks of cadres and open up a prelude to an intensive and continued Party-wide struggle. The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee unanimously approved the presented agenda items. The enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau discussed as a major agenda item the issue of drawing a serious lesson from deeds detrimental to the Party revealed among leading officials of the Party and the state in implementing the decisions of the Party. A data report was made at the meeting. The report informed in detail about the dereliction of duty by some leading cadres who defaulted on carrying out the Party decisions and priority state tasks, betraying the great trust and expectation of all the Party members and people and falling short of bearing noble responsibilities and missions before the Party and the revolution. And it sharply analyzed the gravity of their faults of not making strenuous efforts for the implementation of the decisions and instructions of the Party Central Committee, which are organizational intentions of the whole Party and its supreme orders, that require maximum circumspection, and of hampering the materialization of the Party’s strategic plan, being seized with self-protectionism and passiveness and of bringing negative influence to stabilizing the people’s living and the overall economic construction. At the meeting sharp criticism was made of the cadres who revealed ignorance, disability and irresponsibility in implementing the major tasks discussed and decided at the plenary meetings of the Party Central Committee. Members of the Party central leadership organ who made speeches analyzed and criticized with a keen political eye and on the Party principle the ideological root that brought about harmful consequences in realizing the plan and leadership of the Party Central Committee manifested by the senior cadres though they are obliged to unconditionally, thoroughly and devotedly implement the decisions made at the two Party plenary meetings which hold a key significance in firmly defending the authority of the historic congress of our Party and opening a sure prospect for carrying out the five-year plan. They unanimously and severely pointed out that the senior cadres holding major posts of the Party and the state with the political trust and expectation from the Party Central Committee caused grave obstructions to the sustained consolidation of the state emergency epidemic prevention system on which hinges the security and future of the country and the people at present, and to the economic work of the country and stability of the people’s living. They hit out at the said cadres, branding their incapable and irresponsible work attitude of approaching the implementation of the state policies decided and issued by the Party plenary meeting in a distorted manner, as extreme negligence and deliberate idleness stemming from the lack of awareness and determination to throw themselves into resolving the afflictions of the Party and the state, not just simple business faults. Learning a severe lesson that the self-protectionism, passiveness, subjectivity and arbitrariness of the officials are the main stumbling blocks hindering our advance and harming the interests of the Party and people, the participants in the meeting keenly felt once again the necessity to further strengthen the self-improvement and self-cultivation in the Party’s spirit irrespective of positions. At the meeting the data was informed about some officials in Pyongyang and other parts of the country who showed non-committal attitude and viewpoint on the Party’s decisions and did not conduct the work assigned to them in a revolutionary way, being obsessed with defeatism. And a decision was approved on thoroughly examining and inspecting them in a Party and legal way and on taking relevant measures. The respected General Secretary made an important conclusion. Saying that the importance of the responsibility and role of senior officials including members of the Party central leadership organ and officials of units at all levels has become further salient after the 8th Congress of the Party, he referred to the necessity to put primary efforts into the work of building up the ranks of cadres into an elite force as the revolution advances and the situation gets grave, and to the major orientation of improving the cadres policy of our Party. He expressed the opinion of the Party Central Committee concerning the seriousness of the acts alien to the Party revealed by the senior officials of the Party and the state. He seriously pointed out that chronic irresponsibility and incompetence of cadres at present bring artificial difficulties to the implementation of the Party’s policies and become a major brake doing tremendous harm to the development of the revolutionary work, stressing the need for the cadres to make increasingly exact demands on themselves and fulfill their responsibility and duty with high sense of extreme responsibility and practical ability. He severely criticized the attitude of working like a flash in the pan, empiricism and old way of thinking generally revealed among cadres. He said that if cadres do not make constant efforts to improve their political and practical qualifications and possess the revolutionary method and trait of work and if the Party organizations fail to strengthen the organizational control and education of cadres, it will result in weakening the traction power in implementing the decisions of the Party, let alone the correct implementation of the major policy tasks of the Party. He said that benevolent politics and embracing policy our Party has held fast to since its foundation are not for cadres but for the ordinary working masses. He expressed the will to wage an offensive, ceaseless and strong struggle to rid the cadres of non-revolutionary fighting attitude, viewpoint and deeds, making it clear that the Party never reserves any right to cover those cadres who just pretend to work being only keen on maintaining their positions, not being sincerely solicitous for the country and the people. He stressed the necessity to study and examine the Party’s cadre policy again and also important problems based on the spirit of the current enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau. Saying that now is the time to bring about a revolution in personnel administration before solving the acute economic problems, he noted that the revolution in cadre management which has always been regarded as of priority importance by our Party in the whole course of its development, is an important Party-wide task that has to be further intensified and strengthened on a priority basis to suit the current situation of our revolution. He stressed the need to bring the system and method of personnel affairs in step with the needs of the developing reality, and called upon the cadres to continuously improve and temper themselves in a revolutionary way. Saying that what is especially important is that cadres heighten their political awareness purposefully and consciously, he noted that if someone is a cadre, he or she has to be well aware of the Party’s line and policy, correctly see through the situation and pending problems from the viewpoint of Party and the state and adopt the standpoint and work attitude of doing his or her part and striving for its implementation. Noting that in order to raise the political awareness of the cadres it is necessary to strengthen refinement and tempering through Party life, he said that they have to honestly take part in the Party’s organizational and ideological life, and improve and temper themselves in a revolutionary way, not just because they are monitored and asked to do by others, but for the Party and the revolution, for the high militant efficiency of their Party organizations and for their own political integrity. Saying that Party’s decisions are the organizational intentions and fighting programs which illuminate the orientation of the advance of our revolution and that their implementation is weighed on cadres’ shoulders, he called upon them to embody the revolutionary traits of thoroughly implementing the Party’s decisions without fail. Noting that what’s taken note of by our Party in bringing about a revolution in the personnel affairs is the work style and moral traits, he said that all the cadres have to always bear in mind that our Party’s prestige and image are mirrored in their work style and moral traits. He put special stress on building up the ranks of cadres into an elite force with those who are fully prepared in terms of loyalty, revolutionary spirit, popular spirit and competency at the Party organizations at all levels. The meeting then dealt with an organizational issue. It recalled and by-elected a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau, members and alternate members of the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee, recalled and elected a secretary of the Party Central Committee and transferred and appointed the cadres of the state organs. The 2nd enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the 8th WPK Central Committee has become a significant occasion which demonstrated the invincible leadership ability and revolutionary discipline of our Party which is confidently opening up the period of a new upsurge of the revolution with greater fighting capacity and strenuous efforts despite manifold difficulties in the way of vigorous advance.” (KCNA, “Report of 2nd Enlarged Meeting of Political Bureau of 8th C.C., WPK,” June 30, 2021)

Experts here are divided over what Kim’s remarks mean, with some raising the possibility of an outbreak of the coronavirus in the North and others speculating that they were aimed at tightening discipline among his staff. “A huge problem appears to have happened in its antivirus campaign in such cities as Sinuiju and Hyesan bordering China,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute. (Koh Byung-joon, “N.K. Leaders Says ‘Crucial Case’ Has Happened Due to Lapses in Anti-Epidemic Efforts,” Yonhap, June 30, 2021)


7/4/21:
The governments of Korea and the U.S. are known to have tentatively agreed to reduce the size of joint military exercises in August. By this agreement, military exercises of the second half of this year are projected to be using computer simulation and significantly reduced in the size just as the drills in last August and March this year. Dong-A Ilbo’s reports including information from multiple government sources today found that Seoul and Washington recently agreed on the large picture to conduct joint military drills on the second week of August in the similar scale as those in March. The Korean government has been discussing with the U.S. on multiple options such as delaying or reducing the size of military exercises and expanding the size. Some projected that military drills may be expanded as the vaccination rate of Korean and American soldiers started to increase from the first half of this year. But as they decided to reduce the size, the possibility of field training exercise not being held for four years since August 2018 has become higher. It seems that the U.S. more or less accepted South Korea’s judgement that normalizing the drill size would provoke North Korea, which has been demanding suspension of it, thus putting a damper on the resumption of the U.S.-North Korea talks. “Our talks with the U.S. were successful,” said a South Korean government insider. “Military authorities of the two countries will continue to discuss on details such as content of the drills and reinforcement of the U.S. troops.” The joint military drills planned to be held in March last year was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In August last year and March this year, the drills were significantly reduced in size and conducted in computer simulation without live training. (Ji-Sun Choi, “Seoul, Washington Agree to Reduce Size of Military Exercises,” Dong-A Ilbo, July 5, 2021)


7/7/21:
China has advised the United States to listen to North Korea and its grievances at a time when the leaders of the two allied Asian neighbors are emphasizing the growing ties between their nations. As President Joe Biden configures his approach to the nuclear-armed nation, his administration is seeking China’s help in resolving the ongoing issue on the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese Foreign Ministry published a readout Tuesday of a July 6 telephone conversation between the Chinese government’s special representative on Korean Peninsula Affairs, Liu Xiaoming, and U.S. special representative for North Korea Sung Kim. “Liu stated China’s stance on issues of the Korean Peninsula and expressed his views on the US’ policy review on the DPRK,” the readout stated, using an acronym for North Korea’s official title, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. South Korea, for its part, is officially known as the Republic of Korea. Liu also “stressed the importance of the dual-track approach and the phased and synchronized principle in promoting the political settlement of the Peninsula issues,” and “called on the US take seriously and address the DPRK’s legitimate and reasonable concerns, and support the DPRK-ROK reconciliation and cooperation,” according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. China’s readout also summed up Sung Kim’s comments. “Sung Kim stated that the US is committed to a diplomatic resolution of the Peninsula issues, and hopes dialogue and contact with the DPRK will be restored as soon as possible,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. “Kim indicated that the US supports the efforts of the DPRK and the ROK to improve relations.” “They agreed to keep contact,” it concluded. The contents of the readout were echoed in tweets posted by Liu himself, who added that it was a “pleasure” to speak with his U.S. counterpart on the issue. The U.S. side has yet to release a readout of its own, and a State Department spokesperson did not have one to share when contacted by Newsweek, but expounded on the U.S. strategy in discussing North Korea with China. (Tom O’Connor, “Biden Seeks Xi’s Help with North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons, China Asks U.S. to Hear Kim out,” Newsweek, July 7, 2021)

North Korea is facing a food shortage of around 860,000 tons this year, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization forecast, warning the country could experience a “harsh lean period” as early as next month. The impoverished country, which is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, has long struggled to feed itself, suffering chronic food shortages. Last year, the coronavirus pandemic and a series of summer storms and floods added yet more pressure on the flagging economy, and Pyongyang admitted last month it was tackling a “current food crisis.” North Korea is projected to produce a “near-average level” of 5.6 million tons of grain this year, according to the FAO report, which had a reference date of Monday. That is around 1.1 million tons short of the amount needed to feed its entire population, the report added, and with “commercial imports officially planned at 205,000 tons,” North Korea will likely face a food shortage of around 860,000 tons. “If this gap is not adequately covered through commercial imports and/or food aid, households could experience a harsh lean period from August to October,” it said. (AFP, “North Korea Facing ‘Harsh Lean Period’: UN Food Body,” July 7, 2021)

In an exclusive interview with NK News, former top U.S. envoy on North Korea Stephen Biegun attributed the failure of the 2019 Hanoi summit in part to his counterparts’ lack of authority to negotiate during working-level talks, while also concluding that Pyongyang empowered its foreign ministry to assume responsibility for negotiations with the U.S. from the United Front Department following the summit. Biegun made the remarks during a lengthy, wide-ranging conversation with NK News podcast host Jacco Zwetsloot in which he provided his first-hand account of U.S. negotiations with a rotating lineup of North Korean interlocutors on the country’s denuclearization program and his reflections on the outcomes of that engagement. Biegun’s first in-person interaction with the North Koreans came when he and Pompeo met North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in late September 2018, a month after Biegun had assumed the role of special representative to the DPRK. Ri, with a “very friendly demeanor,” made it clear that he would not negotiate there and that negotiations would take place with the United Front Department, Biegun said, describing it as “most definitely an introductory meeting” at which they shared “a mutual commitment to make progress.” Shortly after, Biegun traveled to Pyongyang with Pompeo and met Kim Jong Un for the first time. He said he, Pompeo and Andy Kim, head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Korean Mission Center, had a roughly three-hour meeting with Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong, at which they discussed the possibility of another U.S.-DPRK summit and returning to negotiations. In the meeting, Kim at one point turned to Biegun and said he had assigned Vice Minister Choi Son Hui to be his counterpart “not in her capacity as an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but in her personal capacity,” according to Biegun. “It was an interesting nuance that I caught,” he said, adding that it was “pretty clear” that United Front Department head Kim Yong Chol had “singular ownership of the U.S.-DPRK portfolio at that point.” Kim Jong Un did all the talking for the North Korean side during the meeting and at subsequent talks that Biegun joined, according to the former envoy. Biegun said Kim was confident, pragmatic and “insistent that his point of view be registered,” conducting the meeting based on his own knowledge apparently without reference to a “stack of talking points” that he had brought with him. Biegun described Kim Yo Jong, as a constant but “not a dominating” presence who was deferential to the North Korean leader. “It was also very clear to me that she was on very familiar terms with Kim Yong Chol,” Biegun said. A couple more participants from each side, including Kim Yong Chol, joined a lunch meeting after the initial talks with the North Korean leader, and Biegun said it seemed as though Kim Jong Un had intentionally excluded Kim Yong Chol from the initial talks. Amid on-again, off-again discussions to arrange Kim Yong Chol’s visit to the U.S., Biegun said North Korea’s mission to the U.N. reached out with news that the country’s authorities had detained a U.S. citizen who had crossed into the North and wished to make arrangements to send him home. DPRK authorities had interrogated him for weeks and determined that he wasn’t a risk, Biegun said, adding that the U.S. government later determined that he underwent no mistreatment. The episode showed that “we had come a long way” since the fire and fury rhetoric of 2017 and gave the U.S. the confidence to unilaterally ease restrictions on travel by humanitarian aid workers to North Korea, according to Biegun, a development that he said set in motion steps to finalize Kim Yong Chol’s visit. But Biegun said that about an hour after finally arranging that meeting, the U.S. received a call from Sweden saying the North Koreans wanted to meet in Stockholm, with Vice FM Choi Son Hui leading its delegation. “That was a real head-scratcher for us … We’ll have to wait until the North Korean archives are opened to understand what the thinking was,” he said. “It couldn’t have been accidental.” In the end, Biegun said, he “split the baby,” participating in talks in Washington before jetting off to Stockholm. He indicated that he had reason to believe the two North Korean groups were aware that he was meeting with the other. At Dulles International Airport, Kim Yong Chol introduced former ambassador Kim Hyok Chol as the newly appointed representative for the U.S., Biegun said, and it soon “dawned on” him that Kim Hyok Chol, not Choi Son Hui, would be his counterpart. Biegun noted that Kim Hyok Chol was also introduced as attached to the State Affairs Commission rather than as a member of the foreign ministry. The working-level negotiations with Kim Yong Chol in Washington were “substantial,” Biegun said, while his engagement with Choi Son Hui in Stockholm was a “track 1.5-type” meeting that involved panel discussions facilitated by moderators. Biegun said “nothing was ever easy” with Kim Yong Chol. The hardliner has earned a reputation for his bellicosity and some believe he was behind the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in 2010. In the lead-up to the Hanoi summit, Biegun said the U.S. laid out detailed road maps with “waypoints” for reaching the four specific goals outlined in the Singapore statement, as well as as a fifth goal of economic cooperation. The desired endpoints included the full normalization of relations, the signing of a permanent peace treaty ending the Korean War, North Korea’s complete denuclearization, the recovery of war remains, cooperation on medical and humanitarian issues, and potentially World Bank or IMF membership for the DPRK as part of its fuller integration into the global company, according to Biegun. Biegun’s North Korean interlocutors, he said, had plenty of creative ideas but were not empowered to discuss the key issue of denuclearization. “So that’s where we left it at the working-level discussions in advance of the leader’s arriving, with the hope that when the leaders met they could begin to make progress because the North Koreans were clear that that was a leader-level discussion,” he said. The U.S. and North Korea considered numerous locations for the summit, Biegun noted, and they went with Hanoi over Da Nang in part because the latter would have further lengthened Kim Jong Un’s trip by train from Pyongyang. Biegun said U.S. President Donald Trump was “as deeply prepared for” the Hanoi summit as anything they worked on and that Trump “immediately recognized” Kim Jong Un’s offer to close the North’s Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for U.N. sanctions relief as a “partial step.” Trump asked his top advisers, including Biegun and National Security Advisor John Bolton, for their views on the North Korean proposal, and they expressed the unanimous view that “the gap was still too big for us to reach an agreement,” according to Biegun. “I wouldn’t say I was naive as to the likeliness of the turbulence to come … . but we still harbored hope that we could get back with the North Koreas and that we could narrow this gap,” he said. The two sides subsequently entered a long period of quiet, and Biegun said it became clear to the U.S. that North Korea’s foreign ministry “was ascendant in the diplomacy.” “Chairman Kim clearly transferred the [U.S.-DPRK] portfolio to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said. Then in June 2018, Trump traveled to Japan and South Korea and had plans to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the inter-Korean border. Biegun said he arrived in Seoul in advance of the president and received a phone call from Secretary of State Pompeo asking about the possibility of the U.S. president meeting with Kim Jong Un at the border. The two discussed the pros and cons, whether it would be helpful to meet and how to communicate the proposal, he said, and Pompeo said he’d talk to Trump about it. Biegun said he learned the news of the president’s tweet proposing a meeting with Kim shortly thereafter when he turned on the TV and watched CNN. Trump and Kim met at the DMZ the following day after whirlwind preparations and agreed to resume talks, with each side promising to appoint a representative to lead negotiations. Trump identified Biegun as his choice in a press conference following the meeting, and North Korea later named longtime diplomat Kim Myong Gil as Biegun’s counterpart. Biegun described the DMZ meeting as providing the opportunity to reset “the basis for U.S.-North Korea diplomacy” following the failure at Hanoi, though engagement “just fell flat” and no follow-up talks took place until Oct. 2019 in Stockholm. Those talks, Biegun said, were “the most constrained of all the talks that we had,” with no shared meals and no opportunities for sidebar discussions. The agenda and schedule were not set prior to their arrival, forcing his team to make flexible travel arrangements, and the North Koreans were noncommittal about how long they would be available. The U.S. side did “80 percent” of the talking, Biegun said, as it laid out a “clear framework” for how negotiations could proceed. “Generally, the [North Korean] view at each section was, ‘What else do you have? What else you bringing?’” the former envoy said. At the end of the day, Kim Myong Gil pulled out a typed statement and read a “litany of complaints” for around 15 or 20 minutes about all the ways the U.S. had violated the Singapore agreement, shown bad faith and demonstrated hostility, according to Biegun. “At one point in the statement, he said that he had been led to believe that I was a skilled diplomat and he has been sorely disappointed. But he’ll stop there lest he insult me,” Biegun recalled, adding that remarks from the North Korean negotiator in a presser immediately after the talks were basically a “truncated version” of Kim Myong Gil’s statement. Later that year, North Korea cryptically threatened to send the U.S. a “Christmas gift,” which many observers interpreted as a weapons test of some kind, but the holiday passed without any North Korean provocations. Biegun said he expects that “diplomatic engagement by the Chinese and Russians” persuaded the North Koreans “from undertaking some kind of substantial provocation,” praising his counterparts in Beijing and Moscow for their “constructive and responsible” activity. Biegun said he held “a fairly significant” set of eight meetings with North Korean officials during his tenure, though he noted there was “no sustained engagement with a single set of interlocutors.” “The challenge was sustaining communication between the meetings because the meetings were followed by long gaps in communication,” he said. Biegun added that as a negotiator he was never “talking to the individual” but instead to the North Korean system as directed by the leader, and he rejected a strategy of maneuvering around hardliners to negotiate with supposed moderates, questioning whether such liberalizers, if they even exist in the DPRK, would be able to push an agreement through the country’s system. The North Koreans’ strength in negotiations, he said, was “their message discipline,” but this resulted in a frustrating lack of flexibility. “Their system doesn’t allow for thinking on the fly, even at the leader level.” He also noted a tendency for North Koreans to imagine that the U.S. works the same way as their own country, such as when officials complained about a New York Times editorial, think tank statement or remarks by a member of Congress. On the way forward, Biegun said he’s a “strong advocate” for establishing liaison offices in Pyongyang and Washington, saying this is something that can be done without either side having to make concessions. He added that COVID-19 relief, such as the provision of vaccines through COVAX, could be another area for the Biden administration to engage with North Korea. Looking back, he said he feels they missed an opportunity and that there’s very little he is satisfied with regarding his engagement with the North Koreans, beyond exceeding the “low bar” of avoiding war and creating a measure of stability. “I was really attracted to President Trump’s willingness to step outside convention and test a different way to solve a problem that quite frankly has persisted for way too long, for 70 years,” he said early in the interview. “[The hostility] almost has to be manufactured. It would dissipate, I think, by the forces of nature if it wasn’t for active efforts to maintain a hostile state of relations on the Korean Peninsula.” (Bryan Betts, “An Interview with Stephen Biegun, Former Envoy to North Korea,” Daily NK, July 11, 2021)


7/8/21:
Ri Pyong-chol, who has led North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, appears to have been ousted from the presidium of the Politburo, the highest decision-making body of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, according to a photo released by the North’s state media today. A picture released by KCNA showed Ri, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, missing from the front row alongside four other presidium members at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun. The photo was taken when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his entourage paid their respects to Kim’s grandfather, national founder Kim Il-sung, at the mausoleum today to mark the 27th anniversary of his death. Instead Ri was standing in the third row, behind Kim Jong-un, along with alternative members of the Politburo. He was wearing a black Mao suit instead of the military uniform he usually wore at political events. This appeared to confirm his removal from the five-member body, which Kim Jong-un is also part of, a source said. “There is a possibility that Ri has been demoted from the presidium to an alternative member, and also a change in military position, considering he was seen wearing a Mao suit,” a Unification Ministry official said. But the official said the ministry cannot yet confirm who is replacing Ri in the presidium, or whether the presidium will now consist of only four members, adding that it will continue to keep an eye on the election and other trends. The presidium now consists of Kim Jong-un, Choe Ryong-hae, Kim Tok-hun and Jo Yong-won. The National Intelligence Service on Thursday estimated that Kim Jong-un had lost 10 to 20 kilograms, but had no major health problems affecting his rule. (Ahn Sung-mi, “Key NK Military Official Ousted from Top Ruling Body,” Korea Herald, July 8, 2021)


7/11/21:
Kang Hyon Chol, Senior Researcher, Association for the Promotion of International Economic and Technological Exchange: “The world is now facing severe economic difficulties because of the COVID-19 pandemic caused by malignant virus. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that the economic conditions of the countries in general are deteriorating at the quickest pace in decades and the global economic growth rate will further decrease by 4.4%. The point in question is that there appear the attempts to abuse these sufferings and pains for their sinister political purposes, thus prompting great concerns of the international society. A newspaper of one country has recently exposed the reactionary nature of the American “aid” and “humanitarian assistance” by commenting that the United States is backing long-term assumption of power and providing support to those rulers obedient to it, but not hesitating to overthrow the government if the reverse is the case. These comments can be fully elucidated by the U.S. domestic laws of its own making. The U.S. “Foreign Assistance Act” enacted in 1961 and revised or supplemented thereafter stipulates that any form of assistance to other countries should fully serve the foreign policy of the U.S. Article 498 of this Act points out that any form of assistance should be banned to those countries that fall behind “human rights standard” established by the United States, and article 620 of the said Act states that any assistance should not be permitted to the communist states with different idea from the United States. The “Mutual Security Act” cooked up in 1950 also incorporates a clause which states that the U.S. should not provide any assistance to other countries if that assistance doesn’t help realize the U.S. foreign policy. This vividly reveals the purpose behind the American much-touted “assistance.” In actual practice, many countries have undergone bitter tastes as a result of pinning much hope on the American “aid” and “humanitarian assistance.” In 2011, the U.S. suspended military and economic aid to Pakistan for one year when the Pakistani government expressed its protest to the conduct of unauthorized military operation by the U.S. special forces in Pakistan. And in 2014, the U.S. threatened to trim the financial aid by US$ 33 million, while talking about “human rights”, on the pretext that the Pakistani government had arrested anti-government figure. The U.S. cut off US$ 1 billion aid for Afghanistan under the pretext that the Afghanistan authorities were not obedient to its instruction to abide by the peace agreement with Taliban. In 2011, the U.S. imposed “improvement of human rights” on a country in the Middle East over its “human rights issue”, and in the following year, the U.S. openly incited an internal conflict in Syria, saying that the U.S. is prepared to provide “humanitarian assistance” to the Syrian citizens if anti-government forces attain their goal. In 2018, on the ground that the Palestinian government rejected peace talks with Israel, the U.S. froze US$ 125 million out of the humanitarian assistance fund of US$ 346 million which they annually used to donate to the United Nations for the protection of Palestinian refugees. In this regard, an official from the Arab League of States expressed great concern, saying that this constitutes a menace to the refugee problem, a core issue in the Middle East. The U.S. also resorted to despicable attempt to drag Cambodia into an anti-China move, threatening that it could not provide the promised aid of US$ 82 million unless the Cambodian government takes effective pro-U.S. steps with regard to the regional security issues such as the one of South China Sea. The above-cited factual information is only a tiny piece of abundant evidences which reveal the true nature of the “humanitarian assistance” touted so much by the United States. The world press is now denouncing the U.S. “humanitarian assistance”, commenting that it is no less than a political tool for subordinating other countries politically and economically, and the U.S. is raking in money a dozen times high in return for its trivial “aid.” Analysts of global issues comment that the “human rights issue”, a catchphrase used by the U.S. whenever they bring up the issue of “humanitarian assistance” is, in essence, a smokescreen for pursuing the interference in the internal affairs of the countries concerned. This vividly reveals that the American ulterior intention of linking “humanitarian assistance” with “human rights issue” is to legitimize their pressure on the sovereign states and achieve their sinister political scheme. Currently in the U.S., the number of infected cases caused by the COVID-19 crisis amounts to over 34.7 million with the death toll as many as 620,000, and this is putting their people into great despair and agony. And all hues of social evils peculiar to U.S., such as gun-related crime, hate crime, racial discrimination are widespread, thus plunging the U.S. society as a whole into greater chaos and disorder. So much so that the international society is deriding the United States, saying that, before making “humanitarian assistance” a subject of discussion, the U.S. would be well-advised to seek an international aid to clear the consequences of the humanitarian disaster that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives due to their poor response to the malignant pandemic and to stamp out all hues of social evils, such as gun-related crime and racial discrimination. Humanitarian assistance should, under no circumstances, be abused for sinister political purpose.” (DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, July 11, 2021)


7/16/21:
Heinonin: “Understanding North Korea’s fissile material production capacity is an important factor in assessing the North’s ability to expand its nuclear weapons program. While the plutonium production reactors are easy to identify and monitor via commercial satellite imagery, the North’s uranium enrichment activities are much more difficult to discern, with both fewer unique attributes to the facilities and visible indicators of operations. At the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) held in January, Kim Jong Un disclosed goals for the North’s nuclear weapons program, including miniaturization of warheads, development of tactical weapons and a “super-large hydrogen bomb.” At the Supreme People’s Assembly meeting just weeks later, he highlighted the need to develop a nuclear power industry as well. While none of these ambitions are new, there have been few corresponding advancements to North Korea’s capacity to produce plutonium and uranium in recent years—fissile materials needed for manufacturing nuclear weapons. In terms of plutonium production, the 5 MWe Reactor at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, which is capable of producing up to six kilograms (kg) of plutonium per year, has not been operating since 2018 and the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR), which uses low-enriched uranium fuel and may be able to produce additional plutonium in the future, has been under construction since 2011 and is still not complete. As for the uranium enrichment program, a Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP) at Yongbyon was first revealed in 2010 and expanded in 2013 to2014, gradually increasing capacity as the installation of necessary infrastructure proceeded. The UEP, which could have produced by the end of 2020 about 540 kg weapons-grade uranium, has become the backbone of North Korea’s ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. Its shutdown and dismantlement, as reportedly offered by Kim Jong Un at the Hanoi Summit in 2019, would be an important part of a denuclearization process, especially when coupled with its support facilities that produce feed material and uranium hexafluoride (UF6) and those used to manufacture new centrifuges. North Korea started quietly pursuing a uranium enrichment production capability in the late 1980s. It wasn’t until April 2009 that Pyongyang announced it would “make a decision to build a light water reactor power plant and start the technological development for ensuring self-production of nuclear fuel as its first process without delay.” In 2002, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) officials acknowledged in their bilateral talks with the US the existence of a uranium enrichment program, but then denied the statement in August 2003. Little more was said about this until June 2009, when Pyongyang announced that uranium enrichment would commence on an experimental basis. In September 2009, the DPRK mission to the United Nations (UN) issued a statement to the United Nations Security Council that “experimental uranium enrichment has successfully been conducted to enter into completion phase.” In August 2016, North Korea stated to Kyodo News it had been producing highly enriched uranium necessary for nuclear arms and power, but without providing information on quantities of enriched uranium or the locations of those activities. The statements were made in conjunction with efforts to gradually adapt several buildings associated with the Fuel Rod Fabrication Plant at Yongbyon into what is now known as the Uranium Enrichment Plant. Key buildings of natural uranium metal fuel production for the 5 MWe and 50 MWe reactors included:

  1. Conversion of uranium ore concentrate (yellowcake) to uranium dioxide (UO2)
  2. Conversion of uranium dioxide to uranium tetrafluoride (UF4)
  3. Supply of hydrogen fluoride for the UO2 to UF4 conversion process
  4. Conversion of uranium tetrafluoride to uranium metal
  5. Fabrication of fuel rods
  6. Cladding of fuel rods
  7. Supply of magnesium alloys for fuel rods
  8. Storing of fuel rod cores and final fuel rods

A production-scale uranium enrichment plant requires a large enrichment hall and additional support buildings, which are typically collocated with the plant. Due to strict quality control parameters, centrifuges are normally not transported long distances but assembled and maintained at workshops on-site. A site usually includes installations for pretreating assembled centrifuges, for the removal and decontamination of broken and aging centrifuges, and for the transfer of UF6 between cylinders—all activities that are usually conducted outside of the centrifuge hall buildings.[5] The former Fuel Rod Fabrication Plant at Yongbyon has the necessary infrastructure to handle toxic and corrosives gases and uranium. Such buildings can be adapted with minor changes for uranium enrichment support activities. Commercial satellite imagery shows that substantial changes have taken place to the buildings associated with the Fuel Rod Fabrication Plant between 2009 and today, indicating the gradual repurposing of this facility. The first such modifications took place soon after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors were expelled in April 2009 from Yongbyon. Starting that summer, parts of the old Fuel Rod Fabrication building were renovated. This began with the construction of a 120-by-15-meter hall, Hall 1, with a blue roof. Construction on an adjacent workshop had started years earlier but stalled when the Agreed Framework was concluded in 1994, resuming again in 2009. Since the construction took place under existing roofs, satellite imagery did not reveal the layout of the buildings. However, the workshop does not appear to have the air conditioning system needed for the kind of clean air environment required for assembling and testing centrifuges, which likely takes place in the workshops on the main building. The UEP was later extended by constructing a second centrifuge hall, Hall 2. Imagery from June 10, 2013, reveals that Hall 2, which is similar in size to Hall 1, has three major sections: 9-by-15-meter, 93-by-15-meter and 18-by-15-meter sections. The layout of Hall 2 could be different from that of Hall 1, which was observed by a team from Stanford University led by Dr. Siegfried Hecker in November 2010. At that time, the North Korean hosts told the team that modification of the first hall had started in April 2009 and that it contained approximately 2,000 centrifuges. According to the trip report, they appeared to be similar to the Pakistani P-2 centrifuge design, which had been installed in six cascades resulting in a capacity of 8,000 separative work units (SWUs) per year. The Stanford team was also told that the installation was operational and configured to produce low-enriched uranium for the Experimental Light Water Reactor under construction at the Yongbyon site. Normally, North Korean engineers are precise in their language. Using the term “operational” versus operating would likely indicate that at the time of the US visit, centrifuges were not necessarily running. The Stanford team published its take on the design of the UEP based on the explanations provided during the facility tour. They estimated that cascade lines were approximately 50 meters long, and each of them had 330 centrifuges. Since then, the North Koreans have stated that the plant was designed to enrich uranium for the ELWR. Therefore, one could expect the design of cascades in both centrifuge halls to be the same. However, the concrete floor of Hall 2 indicates that the main section of the hall is only 93 meters long when both Halls are 120 meters long. One possibility is that Hall 2 has fewer centrifuges or that the cascades in the main section of Hall 2 have a different configuration, such as installing the 25-centimeter-diameter P-2 centrifuges of a cascade in rows on base plates as is the case in Natanz. Assuming that 80 meters of the length of the main hall are used for cascades and centrifuges in cascades are installed in four rows, Hall 2 may be able to house six cascades, each of them containing 330 centrifuges. This would bring the total inventory of centrifuges at the UEP to 4,000. This arrangement would fit with the enrichment scheme of the A. Q. Khan network, where the first two cascade units have 2,000 centrifuges each and are producing the level of enrichment suitable for light water reactor fuel, or the low-enriched uranium is taken elsewhere for further enrichment to a higher level. The smaller sections of Hall 2 … could be used for the necessary assembling and balancing of centrifuges prior to the installation. Both halls appear to have air conditioning units, which are essential to maintaining a clean environment and constant temperature. Air conditioning systems are located at the west end of the enrichment halls. Construction of the air handling system proceeded step by step. After completion of Hall 2, the cooling units were in different locations, and they were all moved to the same location by 2016. The air conditioning is also affecting the hall roofs. Staining has occurred over time due to the humidity and temperature of gases emitted by the cooling system, indicating the maintenance of an appropriate operational environment in the centrifuge halls over time. These observations could have two implications: 1) modifications of the air conditioning system could have required temporary suspension of enrichment; or 2) the staining just indicates that air conditioning has been operating, but does not confirm whether centrifuges are actually operating and uranium enrichment taking place. The Stanford team reported that the UF6 feed and withdrawal stations for Hall 1 were the elevated part of the facility, but they did not provide any details on the design, such as types of UF6 cylinders used in autoclaves. Since the design of the UEP is largely based on information obtained from Pakistan, the feed and withdrawal stations could be similar to those manufactured for the Libyan enrichment plant … for natural uranium and … for enriched uranium, which had two sets of feed and withdrawal stations: the larger autoclaves for 30B cylinders containing natural uranium, and smaller ones for 5A-type cylinders for highly enriched uranium. The arrangement includes vacuum pumps to maintain low pressure in cascades with chemical traps, which would fit in the rooms adjacent to the actual feed and withdrawal stations. The old fuel fabrication building bay is high enough to accommodate such arrangements. Construction start[ed] in 2013 on an extension to the main building. By September 2014, the extension is seen with a blue roof. The former fuel fabrication building has additional workshops and laboratory space, which could be useful for handling and decontamination of removed centrifuges and other process equipment. Much of the public focus of the UEP at Yongbyon has been on the two cascade halls. However, a review of the surrounding area starting from April 2009 reveals how North Korea converted several buildings of the former Fuel Rod Fabrication Plant to support the uranium enrichment program. Such an assessment also sheds light on the design of the cascade halls and the possible enrichment capacity of the UEP over time. During 2011, the former uranium metal production building—where UF4 was converted to uranium metal in the past—was substantially renovated. Additional offices were built on the west end, a new main entrance facing the enrichment halls was constructed, and a new roof was completed. Due to past uranium conversion activities, this building has an emission gas handling system (which can be seen with a smokestack), making it suitable for handling toxic materials, including UF6 between cylinders and storing uranium-bearing wastes. It is also likely that the early operations took advantage of additional power supplies. Units were then moved gradually as the renovation of a nearby support building proceeded. The renovated support building, which was also extended, has a high bay hall. A small additional building with an unknown purpose was constructed in late 2016 (Figure 14A) and completed by August 2017. The building where magnesium alloys were treated for 5 MWe and 50 MWe reactor fuel has also been renovated, and two new buildings have been added to the location (Figure 15B) in recent years. It is not clear whether these buildings are now associated with the UEP or used to produce alloys for 5 MWe Reactor or ELWR fuels. Imagery from August 2009 and June 2021 does not indicate any substantial renovation of buildings associated with the conversion of yellowcake to UO2. Process steps to produce first UF4 and then UF6 require additional space and removal of older process equipment; however, no corresponding construction work has been observed. The southeastern corner of the site has been developed substantially since April 2009, when North Korea suspended the implementation of measures that had been agreed to in Six Party Talks. This includes a suspected Isotope Production Plant (IPP, or Radioisotope Production Plant) and an unknown facility. Railcars with unknown cargo occasionally appear on the eastern side of the site and at the Radiochemical Laboratory. Available imagery has not revealed which facility receives or ships material in those containers. There are several indicators that can be used to estimate the amount of enriched uranium produced by the UEP. However, at the same time, there are limitations and uncertainties associated with the approach. The limitations include the lack of knowledge about the actual performance of centrifuges, cascade set-up in both enrichment halls, operational history of the facility as well as the source of required feed material, natural uranium hexafluoride, UF6. Until facts are verified on the ground, two possible production scenarios include: 1) low-enriched uranium is being produced for the ELWR as stated by the North Koreans in 2010; or 2) high-enriched weapons grade-uranium hexafluoride is being produced using 4,000 centrifuges with a capacity of four SWU/year each. Such an approach can be used to set an upper limit for enriched uranium produced until the end of 2020, if based on the expected availability of cascade units able to operate starting for Hall 1 in 2012 and for Hall 2 in 2015. Using that assumption, each UEP cascade hall, in ideal circumstances, would be able to produce about 2.2 tons per year of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent U-235 or 47 kg per year enriched to 90 percent U-235 (weights in uranium); the latter would be enough for two crude nuclear devices. Since 2010, imagery has indicated that temperatures in centrifuge halls have probably been continuously controlled. This can be seen from the cooling units’ release of vapor at low temperatures and the increase of staining of roofs next to those units over time. It is worth noting that some of the cooling units were moved from their original location to a single bank, which may have periodically interrupted operations at Hall 2 between 2013 and 2019. In addition, some of the cooling units have recently been temporarily removed for maintenance. It is very likely that the operators want to keep the air conditioning system running to maintain appropriate temperatures and to clean air in the cascade hall regardless of whether actual uranium enrichment is taking place. However, another sign of operation is the melting of snow on the roof of the main enrichment building. The melting of snow above the UF6 feed and withdrawal stations, as well as on support buildings possibly handling nuclear material, is also an indication that actual enrichment was taking at that time since the feed stations only need to be heated when the plant is operating. From the developments described above, Hall 1 should have been able to start enrichment gradually in 2012, and Hall 2 in 2015 when installation of centrifuges and necessary infrastructure had been fully completed. By the end of 2020, the UEP could have produced up to 33 tons of uranium enriched up to 3.5 percent U-235 or approximately 705 kg of uranium enriched up to 90 percent U-235 (weights in metal). Stocks of enriched uranium could, however, be lower for a number of reasons. To fully utilize the estimated enrichment capacity of 16,000 SWU/year, the UEP should receive annually, depending on the scenario, approximatively 20 to 30 30B-type UF6 cylinders and ship out a similar number of depleted uranium cylinders. If the UEP had run with a full enrichment capacity, there should have been 300 to 400 UF6 cylinder transfers after 2012. However, no such transfers have been observed in the imagery analyzed for this report or reported in open sources, which could mean that enriched uranium stocks are actually lower. Customarily, such cylinders are stored at commercial facilities in the open air, but North Korea may have decided to conceal production activities. There is also a report stating that UF6 is produced in the building that was originally designed to convert yellowcake to uranium dioxide. However, imagery available between 2007 and today does not reflect such modifications, which would have been substantial, to the building. Imagery has not revealed any transfer of UF6 cylinders between that building and centrifuge halls either. Another element that would be expected at an active enrichment operation is the regular replacement of centrifuge rotors. If the lifetime of a centrifuge is 10 to 20 years, every year, five to10 percent of them, or 200 to 400 centrifuges, would need to be replaced. That would mean movement of several containers in the UEP area. While there are large time gaps between available imagery, no such movements have been observed or been reported in open sources, indicating that the facility may not have been operating with its estimated full capacity. In 2010, the North Koreans explained that the UEP is used to produce enriched uranium for the ELWR, which requires an initial core load of 4.0 tons of UO2. Assuming that they use the UEP to support both the ELWR and weapons program, and that they reserved the eight tons of UO2 needed for the initial core and first core reloadings, as well as necessary manufacturing experiments requiring eight tons of UO2, there would have been capacity to produce close to 540 kg of uranium (metal weight) enriched up to 90 percent U-235, or approximately 20 or so weapons, depending on how much HEU is used per weapon. Noting the changes made to the cascade halls of the UEP after 2011, the lack of sighting of UF6 containers and replacement centrifuge transfers may indicate that the quantity of enriched uranium produced is less. Estimates vary widely about the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. A recent RAND/ASAN report estimated that North Korea could have had as many as 67 to 116 nuclear weapons in 2020, and depending on the development scenario, may have as many as 151 to 252 nuclear warheads by 2027. These are much higher figures than, for example, estimates by SIPRI, which puts the arsenal at only 40 to 50 nuclear warheads in January 2021. These assessments all use different metrics, which makes comparisons difficult. RAND/ASAN bases its estimate on 20 kg of highly enriched uranium per weapon, whereas Siegfried Hecker, for instance, uses 25 kg and David Albright uses 27 kg. However, given the potential for different designs, it is more important to have an accurate assessment of North Korea’s highly enriched uranium stocks rather than the number of bombs. In this context, it is essential to look at the variance in assumptions about North Korea’s uranium enrichment capabilities. The RAND/ASAN report assumes that North Korea could have three uranium enrichment plants outside of Yongbyon: 8,000 centrifuges in Kangson, 10,000 centrifuges in Bungang, and an unknown number at Sowi-ri. Together, they estimate these four plants (including the UEP at Yongbyon) have a total combined enrichment capacity of 80,000 SWU/year. However, a recent study of Kangson shows it does not have the features of an enrichment plant of that size; doubts have also been expressed by Dr. Hecker. Bungang is also a suspected facility in the Yongbyon area, but studies of underground facilities in that area do not have features typical of uranium enrichment facilities either. Moreover, when we look at the receipts from the acquisition of uranium enrichment technology and relevant equipment from Pakistan and elsewhere, North Korea should have been able to establish a uranium demonstration plant by 2005 if it confronted no major obstacles. That should have been preceded by extensive research and development (R&D) in a location, which remains unknown. Such a demonstration plant would typically have 1,000 to 2,000 centrifuges and be likely designed to produce both 3.5 percent enriched and 90 percent enriched uranium. It may also be used to develop more advanced centrifuges. Alternatively, this and other potential plants outside of Yongbyon may not have duplicate capabilities to the UEP at Yongbyon. Instead, they may be used to produce only highly enriched uranium, fed by low-enriched uranium from the UEP. There is no public confirmation of such an arrangement, but judging from the stepwise uranium enrichment scheme provided by A. Q. Khan, it would be a logical division of labor. Such a facility, capable of providing 150 to160 kg of highly enriched uranium annually, would have a fairly small footprint, similar to the underground facility in Fordow, Iran, which was originally designed to produce highly enriched uranium. Furthermore, there are other constraints that limit North Korea’s uranium enrichment capacity, such as the procurement of key materials and components. Like many countries, North Korea is still likely dependent on clandestine sources in acquiring them, despite efforts to be self-sufficient. This includes items like machine tools, special fast-acting valves, maraging steel and carbon fiber, which are all subject to strict export controls. However, there are few signs that North Korea has been successful in acquiring them in larger quantities. Albright lists a couple of possible cases, but the UN Security Council Panel of Experts has not reported substantial breaches since the adoption of Resolution 1718, which bans the provision to and the procurement by North Korea of nuclear-related items. Since the expulsion of IAEA inspectors from Yongbyon in April 2009, North Korea has renovated the former Fuel Rod Fabrication Plant into a Uranium Enrichment Plant, along with a full support infrastructure. Since the North’s 5 MWe Reactor has not run since 2018 and the ELWR is still unfinished, the UEP appears to now serve as the backbone of the country’s fissile material production program. With the gradual ramping up of enrichment at the UEP and assuming that part of the enrichment effort has been devoted for the needs of the ELWR, the Yongbyon facility would have produced by the end of 2020 close to 540 kg of uranium (metal weight) enriched up to 90 percent U-235. While there is wide speculation North Korea has multiple additional enrichment facilities outside of Yongbyon, there is not enough information—such as procurement records and probable access to critical materials—to be confident beyond one pilot or demonstration plant. Even in that case, it is unlikely that it duplicates the capabilities of the UEP. A more probable scenario is that low-enriched uranium is produced at Yongbyon, some of which is used for reactor fuel and the rest sent to an outside facility to enrich up to weapons grade. Based on available information, annual production of weapons-grade uranium with the UEP and one possible additional suspected enrichment plant is likely around 150 to160 kg of highly enriched uranium, or material enough for half a dozen implosion devices with uranium cores. North Korea reportedly offered at the 2019 Hanoi Summit to close all of Yongbyon as the first step towards denuclearization. This would have included the dismantling of the UEP, 5 MWe Reactor and the reprocessing plant, key facilities in Yongbyon to produce fissile material, and prevent the finishing of the ELWR. It would have been an important first confidence building step in the denuclearization process, greatly diminishing the country’s fissile material production capabilities, and limiting how much the nuclear weapons arsenal could expand. These efforts would be significant, especially if coupled with the suspension and eventual dismantlement of uranium hexafluoride production, production of manufactured centrifuges and their key components, and uranium enrichment R&D. However, complete dismantlement of the UEP and UF6 conversion facility should not take place before the historical production of nuclear material at these facilities has been verified to ensure that information is not irretrievably lost before conclusions have been drawn.” (Olli Heinonen, “Development of the Yongbyon Uranium Enrichment Plants between 2009 and 2021,” 38 North, July 16, 2021)


7/18/21:
Trade between China and North Korea hit a record low in the first half of the year as the coronavirus pandemic and food shortages took their toll. China’s exports to North Korea fell by 85.2 per cent year on year to US$56.77 million in the first six months of 2021, according to Chinese customs data released on Sunday. It was the lowest figure since China started releasing the data in 2001. China imported US$8.96 million of goods from its neighbor over the same period, down 67.3 per cent from a year earlier and another record low. The sharp decline comes after North Korea doubled down on its border controls last month as fast-spreading coronavirus variants extended their reach around the world. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization forecast that North Korea was facing a food shortage of around 860,000 tons this year, and the country could have a “harsh lean period” as early as August. North Korea is highly dependent on its trade with China for food, as well as fertilizer and fuel. In terms of monthly figures, China exported US$12.32 million of goods to North Korea in June, nearly six times the US$2.71 million the previous month but still a year-on-year decline of about 86 per cent. Chinese imports from North Korea also fell by 80 per cent to US$1.82 million last month, although the figure was more than double the US$750,000 reported for May. China’s exports to North Korea have declined 16 months in a row year on year amid the fallout from Covid-19. The only exception was a brief rebound this April, when there were signs that the two neighbors were easing border restrictions amid tensions with the United States. (Orange Wang, “China-North Korea First-Half Trade at Record Low amid Pandemic and Food Shortages,” South China Morning Post, July 18, 2021)


7/20/21:
Wi Sung-lac: “NK News: You were South Korea’s top nuclear negotiator for working-level talks with former six party talk member states, as well as an ambassador to Russia. Some people see Russia and China as on the same side of the aisle when it comes to North Korea issues. What is your take on that? Wi Sung-lac: Their views on North Korea are not the same, but generally similar. It’s more so because of the United States; China and Russia have grown closer in recent years as their relations with the U.S. worsen. But in the past — like in the early days of the Six-Party Talks — the Chinese and Russian views on North Korea were not as synchronized. At present, China and Russia stand slightly apart in terms of their commitment to denuclearizing North Korea. Russia, and the Soviet Union, has a long track record of promoting denuclearization and nonproliferation in its region throughout the Cold War, while China does not have such experience. The U.S. and the Soviet Union were the ones that created the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the first place. Moscow still plays a leading role in this institution and urged North Korea to join the NPT in the first place, along with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Beijing does not have the same history with the nonproliferation regime. The second difference between the two countries comes from geopolitical relations. The Korean Peninsula is a bigger deal for China than for Russia. North Korea is closer to major Chinese population centers and the capital Beijing — if the U.S. takes control of DPRK territory, a huge geopolitical concern will arise for China. Russia’s heartland, however, is relatively far away. NK News: What do you make of China and Russia’s stake in Korean Peninsula issues? Does either side have more bandwidth to support denuclearization talks? Wi: Russia has higher commitment regarding denuclearization, but lower geopolitical interests compared to China — so yes, Russia has more bandwidth as to how much it can cooperate on DPRK nuclear issues. Hence, we should think of how to make use of Russia, but we’re not at the moment. The U.S. and the Soviet Union, during the Cold War, there was immense competition, but they cooperated on nuclear arms control. There are a lot of points of confrontation between the U.S. and Russia — human rights, cyberattacks and more, but we should at least try to carve out space for cooperation, including on North Korea issues. The Biden administration has said it’s ready for both cooperation and competition as needed with China. North Korea should go in the former category. There’s no incentive for Beijing to see a nuclear North Korea as it forces Seoul and Tokyo to consider getting the bomb themselves — a nightmare scenario for China. So what we need to do is lower the two countries’ geopolitical interest in North Korea and give China more justification to support nonproliferation. NK News: What do you think North Korea expects regarding U.S.-DPRK negotiations going forward? Wi: North Korea expects something new, to the level of being too difficult to follow through for South Korea or the U.S. I think this is because of the Singapore summit. North Korea got what they wanted there, and they got the joint statement. It seems in South Korea, not many have read the joint statement carefully. To me, it is clear that the Singapore statement was North Korea’s draft, with the U.S. just tacking a little bit on the end. The comparison would be the joint statement in May between the U.S. and South Korean presidents this year — which was a classic U.S. document in terms of structure. But the logical flow and the underlying philosophy of the Singapore document is very North Korean. The document says new DPRK-U.S. bilateral relations is important, meaning, they should create new relations and move away from the “hostile” relations of the past. Emphasizing the “new” relationship, the document talks about mutual trust. What North Korea is trying to say is that all problems came from the U.S. treating North Korea with hostility, hence they developed nuclear weapons to survive. The North Korean logic is that if and when U.S. hostility toward Pyongyang is gone, they do not need nuclear weapons, hence they included the part about willingness for denuclearization in the joint statement. But it’s conditional. They are saying that they can abandon nuclear weapons gradually, step-by-step, at the phase of building trust; this means they can’t abandon nukes when there’s no trust yet. NK News: When Donald Trump signed the Singapore statement, would he have fully understood the North Korean logic that you have explained? Is the Biden administration still willing to follow through on the statement? Wi: I think there’s no American president in history that would have signed such a document except for Trump. Ultimately the Singapore statement was not that important to him and he believed he would be able to negotiate with Kim Jong Un in person. He would have thought, “just give them the document if it’s that important to Kim, and the rest I’ll handle in person, looking into that guy’s eyes.” But North Korea is a country run by a unitary leadership structure, with a strong sense of hatred and victim mentality toward the U.S. That country escalated tensions to historic highs with nuclear weapons and missiles, went to the verge of war in 2017, pivoted out of it and landed a summit with the U.S. For North Korea, the Singapore statement means Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader, met the head of the enemy country in person and won. What Trump may not have known is that a document that the supreme leader signed off on is holy scripture in North Korea. North Korea gained everything they needed with that document, and they will not compromise. After the summit, however, Washington emphasized just the denuclearization part in the Singapore statement. This failed to generate any traction in Pyongyang. Later, in Hanoi, North Korea brought a proposal completely consistent with what they vowed in Singapore: gradual denuclearization based on how far the trust-building goes. They said they will first abandon the Yongbyon nuclear site if major sanctions are lifted. But the Americans in Hanoi felt the deal was too small, and asked North Korea to give away the farm — nuclear technology and weapons, missiles, biochemical weapons, everything. Trump then walked out on Kim Jong Un when his demands were not agreed to. Ultimately, the U.S. stance was different in Singapore and in Hanoi. This was, partially, because something like the Singapore statement shouldn’t have been given to Pyongyang. That ruined negotiations and gave too little bandwidth for working-level officials afterwards. NK News: But many experts see the Singapore statement as light on content and insignificant. What is your take on that? Wi: Americans may see it that way, but we have to take into account how North Koreans see it. For North Korea, it’s a groundbreaking document. There are two important documents that the U.S. and North Korea signed in the past. The first is the joint statement between North Korea’s Kang Sok Ju and Robert Galluci from the U.S. in June 1993. This was after North Korea said they would leave the NPT. If you read it, the draft is also very North Korean. North Korea used to think of this as the best document in the history of DPRK-U.S. relations, as it included what North Korea wanted in order for the U.S. to suspend North Korea’s exit from the NPT. Another document North Korea cherishes is what Jo Myong Rok got after visiting Washington and meeting with then-President Bill Clinton in 2000. But all of these are now outshined by the Singapore statement in 2018. It wasn’t Kang Sok Ju or Jo Myong Rok, but the supreme leader himself who got it. North Korean officials around him would have talked him up so much, how he is such a great strategist to gain such a document facing down the global superpower U.S., heightening the DPRK’s global status, shedding light on the future direction of security and negotiations, so on and so forth. NK News: The ROK-U.S. joint statement released in May following the summit between Moon and Biden stated that they will base future diplomacy on the Trump-Kim Singapore statement. What does this mean to you? Wi: South Korea sees summits and meetings in general as a good thing. But this shows that the South Korean administration’s interpretation of things is based on formalities and optics rather than substance. They are not really seeing how the statement is too good for the North Korean side, and how it’s almost impossible for the U.S. to follow through. For the Biden administration, there’s no way they are genuinely pleased with the Singapore statement. They know that it’s something Trump shouldn’t have signed. But South Korea keeps asking the Biden people to honor the statement nonetheless. It’s difficult for the U.S. to walk away entirely — even if it was a Trump document. Biden may believe that breaking it would be detrimental to America’s reputation abroad. His administration is saying America is back, trying to promote a rules-based international system that emphasizes allies and American values. Washington seems to have decided they’ll just give South Korea what it wants: In the U.S.-ROK joint statement in May, they said diplomacy and dialogue will be “based on” the Singapore and Panmunjom declarations — but it’s not “following” or “respecting.” It’s a relatively neutral term to use, but not such a committed promise. The U.S. does not like it, and knows it doesn’t make sense. The South Korean government publicized the inclusion of the Singapore statement in the U.S.-ROK statement, but following Biden’s possible train of thought, it doesn’t mean that much. South Korea tries to put meaning into it, but it doesn’t have much meaning in reality. NK News: South Korea was very happy about the appointment of Sung Kim. What do you think of this? Wi: Well it’s not bad news, but whether it will bring substantially meaningful results — that I’m not sure. The appointment of Sung Kim in and of itself is not a “message” to North Korea. Before him there was Biegun, and there were others before Biegun too. Sung Kim is wearing a totally normal hat, so to speak. South Korea emphasizing its achievement, how they have earned this and that results from the summit — this is childlike behavior. We have to admit that the appointment itself is not substantially valuable, but a mere formality. North Korea is not interested in formalities. Instead, it seeks “new calculations” different from what Washington brought to Hanoi. They have said that if they do not see anything new, they will walk their own road, the world will see new strategic weapons being launched into the sky, and North Korea won’t feel bothered to abide by its self-imposed nuclear and missile moratorium. Pyongyang has been entirely consistent. Unless Sung Kim will bring something new to the table, it’s not important for North Korea.” (Jeongmin Kim, “Interview: Wi Sung-lac Says Singapore Summit ‘Ruined” Denuclearization Talks,” NKNews, July 20, 2021)

Brooks: “Change is underway on the Korean Peninsula. At the Eighth Korean Workers’ Party Congress in January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un orchestrated a decisive shift in the country’s bedrock economic and military policies. He moved away from his father’s “Military First” principle (Songun), which gave precedence to the Korea People’s Armed Forces, and supplanted it with an ideology of “People and Masses First” (Inmin Daejung Jaeil). This reorganization of North Korea’s system of governance empowers the ruling party at the expense of the KPAF, supporting Kim’s perpetual quest for power consolidation. More important, it sets the stage for efforts to resuscitate North Korea’s dying economy. The recent level of restraint by the North Korean military has been an equally important change. During the October 2020 military parade, the KPAF showed off the Hwasong-16, its newest intercontinental ballistic missile—but did not accompany its presentation with any aggressive rhetoric or direct mention of the United States. This stands in stark contrast to its last parade, in September 2018, where, like parades before it, several tanks displayed the slogan: “Destroy the U.S. Imperialist Aggressors, the Sworn Enemy of the DPRK!” Kim’s criticisms of U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises and his country’s firing of cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles have also been more notable for their level of self-restraint than for escalating tensions on the peninsula. The United States and South Korea are scheduled to conduct further joint military exercises later this summer, so it remains to be seen whether this self-restraint will continue. These changes represent a recognition by Kim that his country is in a worsening situation. North Korea’s economy has been devastated by the combined effects of COVID-19 restrictions, international sanctions, and a relentless series of natural disasters. Last year, North Korea experienced a crippling 8.5 percent economic contraction. Kim himself has described the food situation as “getting tense,” and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that North Korean demand for basic foodstuffs exceeds supply by 970,000 tons. Economic security is currently Pyongyang’s top priority. The People and Masses First ideology has been repeatedly invoked to apply pressure on party officials to combat bureaucratic delays and corruption while also encouraging the public to display loyalty to Kim in the face of “severe difficulties” and “accumulating hardship.” Kim is treading carefully on the military front so as not to foreclose the opportunity for dialogue with the United States, which could serve as a guarantor of his country’s future economic security. For U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Pyongyang’s shift represents an opportunity. They should aim to resolve North Korea’s underlying security concerns—particularly its economic security—in return for progress on denuclearization, the reduction of Pyongyang’s dependence on China, and North Korea’s eventual integration into the U.S.-led liberal international order with the close support of South Korea. At the same time, Washington and Seoul must continue to work on cementing their own alliance. Their aim should be to approach North Korea from a position of strength, denying Pyongyang the advantage of facing an incoherent alliance. Achieving superior joint military and diplomatic power is what will enable the allies to deter Kim’s threats, allowing for a new approach to North Korea that can pave the way to a lasting peace. As a first step, Seoul should eliminate the political obstacles that keep U.S. military forces in South Korea from accessing major training facilities. Access to the few training areas available for maneuvers and live ammunition usage, which are key to maintaining military readiness, has been restricted, leading the United States to consider whether to redeploy certain forces, such as Apache attack helicopter crews, to Japan and Alaska for training. South Korean domestic political pressures are the main driver of limitations on training. The Moon administration adopted these populist policies during the Trump presidency but has recently approached these issues in a less political fashion. This must be sustained as South Korea enters campaign season, with presidential elections scheduled for next March. The U.S.-South Korean summit in May, which brought Biden and Moon together for the first time, was an excellent start toward strengthening the alliance. The U.S. commitment to provide South Korea with COVID-19 vaccines and to engage in joint vaccine research sent a powerful signal to South Koreans that the United States is placing a high priority on the relationship. These actions reciprocate South Korea’s decision to send personal protective equipment to the United States in the early stages of the pandemic, thus building mutual goodwill and trust. Washington and Seoul also communicated their intent to coordinate their actions in the broader Indo-Pacific region, focusing especially on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This broader cooperation opens a new strategic horizon for the alliance and serves to reassure the leadership and people of South Korea that the United States is considering its ally’s perspective on matters vital to South Korea’s security. Despite this progress, two challenges lie ahead for the U.S.-South Korean alliance. First, North Korea and China will continue their efforts to drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea. From military threats to promises of diplomatic engagement, Kim is adept at sending different messages to Washington and Seoul. China, meanwhile, often employs economic coercion to achieve its goals: in retaliation for the decision by the United States and South Korea to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in 2016, Beijing blocked a wide range of South Korean industries and businesses from accessing the Chinese market. The business sectors affected ranged from conglomerates directly associated with the THAAD deployment to tourism and K-pop. Although the alliance stood firm and Beijing ultimately yielded, more bullying from China should be expected as the United States and South Korea move closer together. Both U.S. and South Korean leaders must make concrete preparations for how to coordinate their response to future acts of Chinese economic coercion. This will mean the alliance must expand its joint-defense posture beyond the traditional area of countering military invasion to include strategies designed to bolster defenses against Chinese and Russian economic tools and political warfare. This will be especially relevant as South Korea fully enters the political campaign season and is a likely target of these more insidious and shadowy influences. Second, the allies must maintain a sense of continuity during and after the South Korean presidential elections. The main cause of the weakening of the alliance during the Trump-Moon era was the politicization of national defense to gratify populist nationalism. As South Korean political parties begin to actively position themselves against one another, there are already signs that populist candidates are taking up the mantle of anti-Americanism and anti-alliance politics. Hot-button issues, such as the development of integrated air and missile defense systems, the modernization of common command and control systems, and the indigenous acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons as a hedge against uncertainty regarding the guaranteed U.S. extended deterrence umbrella, all remain on the allies’ discussion table and are thus potentially vulnerable to the politics of populist nationalism. Both U.S. and South Korean alliance leaders and military experts should work to find bipartisan support on crucial issues to preclude losing the valuable progress made so far during 2021. The alliance should not cede its strong position vis-à-vis North Korea and other adversaries in the broader Indo-Pacific. From these firm foundations, Washington and Seoul should begin the hard work of progressively normalizing relations with North Korea. The allies’ previous attempts to alter North Korea’s behavior have involved military pressure, international economic sanctions, and winning some degree of cooperation from Beijing to push for denuclearization. For North Korea, however, this approach did not offer a convincing alternative to China’s economic dominance or the military danger posed by the U.S.-South Korean alliance. A better approach would be to offer Kim a path toward what he desires most: a way out of his economic and political woes. U.S. and South Korean leaders should adopt a policy of “strategic deliberateness,” moving forward to deeper phases of collaboration only when mutual trust has been built. This will prevent North Korea from pocketing any goodwill without providing anything in return. Strategic deliberateness will also protect the alliance against the understandable desire to call off the entire process if North Korea reneges along the way. The first phase of engagement should focus on efforts to signal a new relationship with Pyongyang. The United States and South Korea should provide immediate economic relief in the form of humanitarian and medical aid in response to a demonstrated willingness by North Korea to engage constructively in dialogue. Aid could be provided as part of a UN-led humanitarian mission, which would be tied to a UN Security Council resolution prohibiting missile and nuclear weapons tests. On the military front, the initial goal would be to establish a joint commitment to de-escalate tensions and mitigate conflict risks. Several potential flash points continue to pose the risk of rapidly escalating conflict and a resumption of open warfare on the Korean Peninsula. The Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) took steps to increase military cooperation between 2018 and 2019, but cooperation since then has failed to advance. The military-to-military channel that created this agreement, however, is one of the most important avenues to achieving a permanent lowering of tensions and a declaration of an end to the Korean War. The United States and South Korea will have to take risks to signal their commitment to progress. For example, declaring an end to the state of war with North Korea would represent a fundamental change to politics on the Korean Peninsula and potentially provide Kim with an opening to pivot his own domestic rhetoric regarding the United States and South Korea. It could enable further confidence-building measures, which could in turn open a pathway toward denuclearizing the peninsula and achieving the multifaceted security guarantees North Korea truly seeks. The end-of-war declaration should not be confused with a peace treaty that would replace the current armistice agreement. The declaration would not change the current armistice system and would not be linked in any way to a peace treaty, which would have to be negotiated between the two parties. The second phase would normalize relations with North Korea and rebalance its position vis-à-vis China. The United States and South Korea should take bold steps to revitalize the North Korean economy: for instance, Washington could enable financial donors to create an infrastructure development fund that offers Pyongyang a ten-year interest-free loan, which would broaden the influences on North Korea’s economy beyond China. Signing a South-North Korea free-trade agreement could complement the infrastructure development fund and could be framed as a way to develop Korean solutions to Korean problems, a portrayal that appeals to both sides of the separated Korean population. This economic package would go a long way toward diminishing North Korea’s economic dependence on China. South Korea should take a proactive role to effectively manage this new investment inflow and support capacity building and societal development in North Korea. Seoul and Washington should exchange these economic benefits for demonstrated progress from North Korea on denuclearization. The U.S.-South Korean alliance and North Korea must also normalize their military relations. South Korea and North Korea should search for ways to prevent traditional maritime conflicts and thwart illegal Chinese fishing in the seas surrounding the Korean Peninsula. These efforts should also provide greater security and stability in the demilitarized zone (DMZ). When South Korea and North Korea can prevent these types of conflicts without escalation, the role of the UN Command will naturally be reduced. The next step would be a peace treaty between the parties. When there is the verified destruction of nuclear weapons and the armies of South Korea and North Korea cannot realistically invade each other, it will be possible to pursue an agreement that permanently replaces the armistice. To arrive at a peace treaty, however, it is important that the alliance continues to adopt strategic deliberateness, ensuring that there are proportionate measures and concessions made by North Korea along the way. Until then, it is imperative that the U.S. and South Korean militaries maintain their robust defense posture. In the final phase, Seoul and Washington would move beyond a peace treaty and completely integrate North Korea into the alliance-led order. South Korea would take the lead as North Korea’s primary provider of trade and direct investment. For its part, the United States would become North Korea’s second-leading trading partner and primary enabler of international financing. An economic plan would chart out Pyongyang’s long-term economic growth, and the South-North free-trade agreement could be expanded into an Indo-Pacific trade partnership—giving North Korea access to markets across Asia. These steps would cement the new economic order in Northeast Asia, improving the quality of life for millions of people. Militarily, a permanent peace plan would offer security by verifying that Pyongyang was complying with its international obligations and had destroyed its nuclear weapons. And politically, this reimagined relationship with North Korea would craft a new balance of power that diminishes China’s influence across the region. There are many obstacles that will likely frustrate or even prevent progress in this direction. China will not cede its near monopoly over the North Korean economy easily and will likely try to disrupt U.S.-South Korean diplomatic initiatives. Furthermore, the international community will need to evaluate the risks of “saving” North Korea from the decrepitude that, if not alleviated, will likely destroy it in the future. Saving North Korea may preserve for an intolerable time the current structures of the ruling party, the more than one-million-strong Korean Peoples’ Armed Forces, and the state’s deplorable trampling of human rights. This risk may limit the number of countries that are willing to participate in helping a potentially unrepentant North Korea recover. Alliance leaders will have to grapple with these and many other obstacles. Such is the nature of leading the transformation from an unacceptable status quo to a better future, without passing through the crucible of war once again.” (Vincent Brooks and Ho Young Leem, “A Grand Bargain with North Korea,” Foreign Affairs, 100, 4 (July 29, 2021)


7/21/21:
Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda: “ … It is widely assumed that North Korea has operational nuclear warheads for medium-range missiles. However, it is unclear whether it has managed to develop fully functioning nuclear warheads that can be delivered by long-range ballistic missiles and, following violent atmospheric reentry, detonate as planned. That said, just because North Korea has not yet publicly demonstrated a capability to deliver a functioning nuclear reentry vehicle on a long-range ballistic missile does not necessarily indicate that it is not working on developing one or could not field one in the future. It is clear from its development efforts and public statements that North Korea ultimately intends to field an operational nuclear arsenal capable of holding regional and US targets at risk. … Based on publicly available information about North Korea’s fissile material production and missile posture, we cautiously estimate that North Korea might have produced sufficient fissile material to build 40 to 50 nuclear weapons and that it might possibly have assembled 10 to 20 warheads for delivery by medium-range ballistic missiles. North Korea’s nuclear policy North Korea declared a no-first-use policy following its fourth nuclear test in 2016; however, it diluted its statement with the caveat that it would not “be the first to use nuclear weapons [ … ] as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.” Subsequent statements have also included such caveats; during the 75th anniversary of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party in October 2020, Kim Jong Un stated that North Korea’s nuclear deterrent “will never be used preemptively. But if, and if [sic], any forces infringe upon the security of our state and attempt to have recourse to military force against us, I will enlist all our most powerful offensive strength in advance to punish them.” At various times, North Korean media has also threatened to launch nuclear weapons in response to more minor provocations, such as joint US-South Korean military exercises. However, despite these occasional inflammatory statements, it is highly likely that North Korea—as with other nuclear-armed states––would only use its nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances, particularly if the continued existence of the North Korean state and its political leadership were in jeopardy. Fissile material and warhead numbers North Korea produces plutonium at its five megawatt-electric (MWe) nuclear reactor, located at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center in North Pyongan province. In September 2020, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that despite ongoing maintenance and sustainment activities, “it is almost certain that the reactor has remained shut down since early December 2018.” Despite the reactor’s dormancy, satellite imagery suggests that the complex’s Thermal Plant––which supplies steam to the Radiochemical Laboratory used for plutonium reprocessing––has been operating since February 2021 after a multi-year hiatus. However, this does not necessarily imply that North Korea is now using the complex for plutonium reprocessing; independent analysts suggest that North Korea could plausibly be using the complex to process radioactive waste or conduct operational maintenance. Since 2010, North Korea has also been in the process of constructing an experimental light water reactor and in recent years has begun transferring major reactor components into the facility at Yongbyon. In 2019 and 2020, the IAEA reported that North Korea may have conducted infrastructure tests of the experimental light water reactor’s cooling system. Although this reactor appears to be designed for civilian electricity production, it would also have a latent capacity to produce weapons-grade plutonium or tritium that could be used for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. In April 2021, Siegfried Hecker––the former Los Alamos National Laboratory director who was given unprecedented access to North Korean nuclear facilities over several years––estimated that North Korea had a plutonium inventory in the range of 25 to 48 kilograms and was capable of producing up to six kilograms per year at full operation. It is much more difficult to assess the state of North Korea’s uranium enrichment operations because the footprint for these facilities is significantly smaller and harder to detect. North Korea has only declared a single uranium enrichment facility––the Yongbyon Nuclear Fuel Rod Fabrication Plant, which is estimated to have approximately 4,000 centrifuges––and this facility was in regular operation throughout 2020. However, it is widely believed that North Korea has at least one additional centrifuge facility outside of the known Yongbyon complex. In May 2018, for example, a Washington Post article first reported the existence of a potential covert uranium enrichment site at Kangson––just outside of Pyongyang––citing work by the Institute for Science and International Security. In July 2018, a team of researchers from The Diplomat and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies identified a complex at Kangson as the centrifuge facility’s suspected location. A subsequent Washington Post article indicated that “there is a broad consensus among US intelligence agencies that Kangson is one of at least two secret enrichment plants.” In September 2020, the IAEA suggested that “If the Kangson complex is a centrifuge enrichment facility this would be consistent with the agency’s assessed chronology of the development of [North Korea’s] reported uranium enrichment program.” However, recent independent analysis has raised doubts about the nature of the Kangson complex, suggesting that the site might instead be used to manufacture components for centrifuges. Without better public information or access to the site itself, it is not possible to confirm the nature of the Kangson site, or its potential role in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Given these uncertainties, it is unclear how much fissile material North Korea has produced and how many weapons it could potentially build. The number of weapons depends not only on the amount of fissile material produced but also on the weapon design. It is unclear whether North Korea is prioritizing development and production of higher-yield thermonuclear weapons or lower-yield fission-only or boosted single-stage weapons. More powerful warheads with the high yield demonstrated in the single 2017 advanced design test would consume more fissile material if based on a composite warhead design or require special hydrogen fuel if based on a two-stage thermonuclear warhead design. Lower-yield single-stage fission weapon designs would require less fissile material. Such assumptions can result in very different estimates for the number of nuclear weapons. One assessment in 2020 concluded North Korea only had 10-20 nuclear weapons if it committed its fissile material to thermonuclear weapons production. Another assessment concluded North Korea had around 40 weapons and only “very few thermonuclear bombs.” Based on publicly available information, we assess that North Korea has produced sufficient fissile material to build 40 to 50 nuclear weapons (if all material is used) but has possibly assembled fewer than that. If so, most of those warheads would likely be single-stage fission weapons with possible yields of 10 to 20 kilotons demonstrated in the 2013 and 2016 tests and with at the most only a few thermonuclear warheads. Assumptions about fissile material production and warhead designs also affect projections for how many nuclear weapons North Korea might have in the future and tend to result in inflated numbers. One study in 2021, for example, assumed North Korea might already have 67-116 nuclear weapons and projected the inventory might reach 151-242 nuclear weapons by 2027. Others found the projection to be “much too high.” It seems more plausible that North Korea might be capable of adding sufficient fissile material for a few to half a dozen nuclear warheads per year, which would potentially be sufficient to produce a total of approximately 80-90 weapons by the end of the decade. Nuclear testing and warhead capabilities After six nuclear tests––including two with moderate yields and one with a high yield––there is no longer any doubt that North Korea can build powerful nuclear explosive devices designed for different yields. North Korea has even published pictures of what it claims to be different warhead designs (including a “thermonuclear” design) that appear small and light enough to potentially be delivered by ballistic missiles. The published designs might be real warheads, prototypes, or models. There is no way to know for sure. Nor is it known if the published designs match the devices detonated in the nuclear explosive tests. Although North Korea is widely assumed to have developed warheads for its short-range ballistic missiles, there is less agreement about its ability to deliver functioning nuclear warheads with long-range missiles. These uncertainties are often overlooked in the public debate about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. To better understand the status of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and assessments about its warheads, it is useful to review major milestones and assessments from the last two decades or so. North Korea apparently began to develop nuclear weapons even before the formal collapse of the Agreed Framework––a 1994 arrangement whereby the United States would provide Pyongyang two proliferation-resistant nuclear power reactors, and North Korea would freeze operations at reactors thought to be part of a nuclear weapons program. As publicly reported in 2004, Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan said that, some time around 1999, he was shown “three plutonium devices” during a visit to an underground facility about one hour outside Pyongyang (Sanger 2004). Three years later, then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly stated: “We now believe they have a couple of nuclear weapons and have had them for years.” The “weapons” Powell referred to might have been the “devices” Khan saw or early prototype designs intended to be used in nuclear tests if necessary. But only three years after Powell’s statement, in December 2005, North Korea itself for the first time declared that it had “manufactured nukes for self-defense” and that the weapons “will remain [a] nuclear deterrent for self-defense under any circumstances.” Less than a year later, on October 9, 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. The explosive yield was limited, less than one kiloton––not an impressive demonstration of a nuclear weapons capability and widely seen as a fizzle. The US intelligence community stated that the test produced a yield of “less than one kiloton––well below the yield of other states’ first nuclear test.” The second test––two and a half years later, on May 25, 2009––was a little more powerful and “suggests the North has the capability to produce nuclear weapons with a yield of roughly a couple kilotons TNT equivalent,” according to the US intelligence community. These tests did not demonstrate the yield needed for operational nuclear weapons. A Rand Corporation report in 2012 cautioned: “It should also be considered that even speculative sources estimate that North Korea cannot have more than a few nuclear weapons available. If they exist, these devices are very precious to the regime, and it seems unlikely that they would be mounted on inaccurate and unreliable missile systems––the risk of ‘loosing’ a weapon is simply too high.” The third test, conducted on February 12, 2013, was more convincing. The intelligence community initially said that its yield was “several kilotons”––but international analysis subsequently estimated the yield to have been around 10 kilotons (Office of the Director of National Intelligence 2013; NORSAR 2017). This prompted some experts to suggest that North Korea might have developed a miniaturized warhead for the Nodong, though others thought it was too soon for North Korea to have accomplished that feat . Around the same time, the Defense Intelligence Agency––in an assessment distributed to members of Congress––for the first time concluded: “[The Defense Intelligence Agency] assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles; however the reliability will be low.” The assessment did not reflect the conclusion of the US intelligence community as a whole and triggered an immediate rebuttal by the Defense Department: “It would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully developed and tested the kinds of nuclear weapons referenced in the passage.” The Director of National Intelligence added that “the statement read by the member is not an intelligence community assessment” and that “North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear-armed missile.” Similarly, Air Force Global Strike Command stated in a briefing in September 2013 that North Korea “currently does not have an operational warhead; if developed, it could be deployed on” the Musudan (Hwasong-10), Taepo Dong-2, or Hwasong-13. Global Strike Command did not list any medium- or short-range missile with nuclear capability. Even so, the assessment among private analysts at the time was that medium- and possibly short-range ballistic missiles were the first platforms for North Korean nuclear weapons. An April 2015 report from the US-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, for example, claimed that the Nodong missile formed “the backbone of its current deterrent … .” Similarly, after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test, in September 2016, demonstrated a yield of 10 to 15 kilotons, the Institute for Science and International Security estimated that “North Korea may have a handful of plutonium-based warheads for its Nodong ballistic missile.” But military commanders also appeared to go further than the intelligence community at the time. The commander of US Forces Korea, General Curtis Scaparrotti, stated in October 2014: “I believe they have the capability to miniaturize a device at this point and they have the technology to potentially deliver what they say they have.” Scaparrotti cautioned that “We’ve not seen it tested,” but nonetheless added, “I don’t think as a commander we can afford the luxury of believing perhaps they haven’t gotten there.” The Pentagon press secretary clarified: “General Scaparrotti said he believes they have the capability to miniaturize. That’s not the same thing as saying that they have the capability to mount, test, and deliver a nuclear weapon in an [intercontinental ballistic missile] (ICBM).” The South Korean Ministry of Defense did not agree with Scaparrotti’s assessment. “Despite its significant technology level, we don’t think the North is capable of making such nuclear weapons,” a spokesperson said in February 2015. Clearly, there was confusion about how to describe the capability. On March 20, 2015, The Korea Herald quoted Admiral Cecil Haney, then the commander of US Strategic Command, about North Korea’s nuclear capability: “We think they already miniaturized some of this capability.” But when asked at a press conference only four days later if North Korea had a miniaturized warhead that it could put on a missile, Haney said: “As of yet, I don’t see any tests yet that [were] associated with this miniaturized claim.” And when Admiral Bill Gortney––commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command––was asked in April 2015 if he thought North Korea had “developed the capability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and put it on a ballistic missile like the KN-08,” he responded that “we assess that they have the ability to do that.” At the time, however, North Korea had not even test-launched the KN08, so Gortney cautioned: “Now, we have not seen them do that. We haven’t seen them test that.” Yet he added that “I don’t think the American people want us to––you know, there are some things that they want us to make sure we edge on the side of conservatism to make sure we get right.” The explanation was an important reminder to be cautious when interpreting official statements about North Korean nuclear capabilities. “Our assessment,” Gortney said, “is that they have the ability to put it on—a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the homeland. And that—that’s the way we—that’s the way we think. That’s our assessment of the process (emphasis added). We haven’t seen them test the KN-08 yet and we’re waiting to do that. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will fly before they test it.” After its fourth nuclear test, on January 6, 2016, North Korea claimed it had successfully detonated a “hydrogen” bomb. The yield of the explosion was relatively modest (around five kilotons), and the US intelligence community assessed the following month that “the low yield of the test is not consistent with a successful test of a thermonuclear device.” A second test that year, on September 9, was more powerful (10 to 15 kilotons) but still far from what one would expect from a successful thermonuclear test.4 It is possible, but unknown, that the North Korean reference to “hydrogen” implied use of tritium to boost the efficiency of a single-stage fission device. Such a technology would enable North Korea to use less fissile material in each bomb and further expand its production capacity. And it is unclear if the tests involved actual nuclear warhead designs or test devices that would require further modification to be fitted on a missile. Dennis Blair, who was director of national intelligence in 2009–2010 and is a former commander of US Pacific Command, as late as April 2017 seemed to think that the explosions involved test devices. During a talk, Blair characterized North Korea’s nuclear warheads as “these crude weapons that they developed maybe seven or eight years ago,” each of which “is about the size of half of this stage … .” Pyongyang’s program, Blair asserted, “may be developing 10 to 15 nukes.” Whether Blair was aware of later designs is not clear, but his description is a far cry from the pictures released by North Korea, whether legitimate or not, that showed the so-called “disco ball” and “peanut” warhead designs. In early August 2017, General Paul Selva––vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff––gave a detailed account of the uncertainties that remain about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. “Before we can assert Kim Jong-un has a nuclear missile capable of targeting the United States,” Selva said, “there are a couple of aspects we must know.” He listed several criteria that must be met:

  • “One, [Kim] has to have the missile that will actually range that distance. We believe he has that capability right now. It’s clear that he can build a rocket that can fly that far.
  • [Two,] [h]e’ll have to have the guidance and control system, the guidance and stability control, to move a rocket across that distance without it breaking up. We don’t know if he has that. We don’t know that he doesn’t. He’s been pretty successful at short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. But the physics of a long-range missile are substantially different. So stability control matters. And that’s a gap we need to fill in our understanding of whether or not he can do this.
  • The third piece is a reentry vehicle that can survive the stresses of an intercontinental ballistic missile shot. Once again, much easier to go straight up and down than it is to endure the reentry stresses and the actual heat of an intercontinental missile shot. We don’t know if he’s got that technology. We don’t know that he doesn’t, but we don’t know that he does. He hasn’t demonstrated it. We have to see.
  • And the last is a nuclear weapon that can survive that trip. Again, that’s what we don’t know. We don’t know the design specifics of his nuclear weapons—purported nuclear weapons. We don’t know if he’s been able to miniaturize it and make it stable enough.”

One month later, on September 3¸ 2017, North Korea demonstrated clearly that it could potentially produce nuclear devices with yields in the range of thermonuclear warheads. A nuclear explosion with a yield of well over one hundred kiloton showed that North Korea had managed to design a thermonuclear device or one that used a mixed-fuel (composite) design. The US intelligence community reportedly called it an “advanced nuclear device” (Panda 2017b). Yield estimates range from 140 to 250 kilotons. Despite the uncertainty about the number and ability to deliver a functioning nuclear warhead to the United States, some experts asserted that North Korea could do just that. Yet even after several ICBM flight tests conducted by North Korea in 2017, US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford in 2019 indicated North Korea had not yet demonstrated a capability to deliver a functioning nuclear warhead on a long-range missile. “I still see a potential although as-yet-undemonstrated capability to match a nuclear weapon with an intercontinental ballistic missile … ” A UN panel of experts reported in 2021 that an anonymous member state had assessed, “judging by the size of the missiles of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, that it is highly likely that a nuclear device can be mounted on the intercontinental ballistic missiles, and it is also likely that a nuclear device can be mounted on the medium-range ballistic missiles and short-range ballistic missiles.” But the size of a missile does not in and of itself show anything about the capability of the nuclear device it may be capable of carrying, so the member state cautioned that “it was uncertain whether the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had developed ballistic missiles resistant to the heat generated during reentry.” In sum, these assessments indicate that although North Korea has developed nuclear devices small enough to be mounted on its medium- and long-range ballistic missiles, it is unclear if it has developed a reentry vehicle capable of protecting a device during reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere. Land-based ballistic missiles Over the past decade, North Korea has developed a highly diverse ballistic missile force, including missiles in all major range categories. In addition to the aforementioned uncertainties surrounding North Korea’s nuclear warheads, it is unclear how many operational delivery vehicles North Korea possesses and which of those would be assigned a nuclear mission. It is also important to note that some of the ballistic missile types North Korea has flight-tested or displayed might be research projects intended to develop future ballistic missile technology, rather than demonstrations of operational missiles. In recent years, a wealth of new information about North Korean missile bases has become publicly available, most prominently thanks to the recent work of Joseph Bermudez and Victor Cha on the Beyond Parallel web site (Beyond Parallel).

Despite North Korea’s missile development and extensive construction at suspected missile bases, however, the operational status of many of these missiles remains uncertain. The Missile Defense Review report published by the Pentagon in 2018, for example, stated that none of North Korea’s modern longer-range missiles had been fielded. In order to ensure completeness, this section analyzes all of North Korea’s known land-based ballistic missiles (see Table 1) and offers some hypotheses about which missiles are most likely to have a nuclear role. Short-range ballistic missiles North Korea possesses several distinct types of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), although many are part of the same missile “family” and therefore share common designs and characteristics. We have not yet seen authoritative information that North Korean SRBMs are nuclear capable, but this is a category of the missile force that is undergoing significant development, so they are included here for background. Moreover, in a speech in May 2021, Kim Jong Un stated that North Korea had developed what he described as “tactical nuclear weapons including new-type tactical rockets … ” For the future, he stated it was necessary to improve the technology “and make nuclear weapons smaller and lighter for more tactical uses. This will make it possible to develop tactical nuclear weapons to be used as various means according to the purposes of operational duty and targets of strike in modern warfare … ” (North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2021). The meaning of “tactical” is not clear. It could mean actual short-range tactical nuclear weapons or simply weapons that have shorter range than intercontinental weapons. North Korea operates a number of Toksa (KN02) solid-fueled ballistic missiles with a maximum range of 120 kilometers, and potentially an extended-range version with a maximum range of 170 km (Kim E., 2014). This missile is based on the Russian Tochka (SS-21 Scarab), which was developed as a dual-capable missile. However, there is no credible public evidence suggesting that North Korea has developed a nuclear capability for the Toksa. North Korea operates several distinct types of liquid-fueled missiles belonging to the Scud missile family. The Hwasong-5 and Hwasong-6 SRBMs are the North Korean versions of Russian-built Scud B and Scud C missiles. The US Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center lists the missiles’ ranges at 300 and 500 kilometers, respectively, and estimates that North Korea has fewer than 100 launchers for the combined Hwasong-5 and -6 arsenal North Korea is modernizing both types of missiles by equipping them with maneuverable reentry vehicles designed to evade regional missile defense systems like the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which the United States deploys in South Korea (Panda 2017e). The modernized Hwasong-5, which has been designated KN21 by the US government, was flight-tested three times in August 2017, with one. The modernized Hwasong-6, which has been designated KN18, was successfully flight-tested in November. Given their shorter ranges, it is unlikely that any of North Korea’s Scud derivatives have a nuclear role. In recent years, North Korea has been developing a new series of more accurate, solid-fueled SRBMs with indigenous designs. These missiles, which are known as the KN23, KN24, and KN25, have collectively been tested 32 times since the beginning of 2019 (James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies 2021). We have not yet seen authoritative information that these systems have a nuclear role; however, the sophisticated testing program for these newer systems indicates that North Korean missile troops are becoming significantly more practiced at conducting salvo launches and lowering the time intervals between missile launches––which could also have implications for North Korea’s nuclear systems. Medium-range ballistic missiles North Korea has developed three medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), all three of which are likely to be operational. This is the category of missile that is most likely to have an operational nuclear capability. The Hwasong-9 (Scud ER) is a single-stage, liquid-fuel, road-mobile, medium-range ballistic missile launched from a four-axle transporter erector launcher. This launcher is very similar to the one used with Scud B and Scud C short-range ballistic missiles. Many sources designate the Scud-ER a short-range ballistic missile, but in a triple test launch on September 5, 2016, the missiles apparently flew to a range of 1,000 kilometers, the lower end of the range that the National Air and Space Intelligence Center uses for medium-range ballistic missiles. The Hwasong-7 (Nodong) is a single-stage, liquid-fuel, medium-range ballistic missile carried on a five-axle road-mobile transporter erector launcher. The missile, which was first test-flown in 1993, exists in two versions (Mod 1 and Mod 2) and has an estimated range of 1,200 kilometers or more. The National Air and Space Intelligence Center estimates that North Korea deploys fewer than 100 Hwasong-7 launchers (National Air and Space Intelligence Center 2020, 25). Apparently, the Nodong was originally intended to carry a first-generation nuclear warhead, and US naval intelligence reportedly warned in 1994 that North Korea would probably be able to equip the missile with a nuclear warhead by 2000, and possibly earlier (Bermudez 1999; Pinkston 2008). The Nodong’s accuracy is poor relative to North Korea’s more modern missiles, and its conventional utility is therefore quite limited. Partially for this reason, some analysts have suggested that the Hwasong-7 is one of the most likely missiles to have an operational nuclear capability. The Pukguksong-2 (KN15)––sometimes spelled “Pukkuksong-2” or “Bukkeukseong-2” (“Polaris-2”)––is a two-stage, solid-fuel, medium-range ballistic missile carried in a canister on a road-mobile caterpillar-type transporter erector launcher. The missile was first test-launched in 2017 and appears to be a modification of the submarine-launched Pukguksong-1 (Polaris-1). It is North Korea’s first attempt to field a solid-fuel, land-based ballistic missile. The first two flight tests in 2017 demonstrated a range of up to 1,200 kilometers, which fits the National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s range estimate of 1,000 kilometers or more (Wright 2017a; Wright 2017c). Compared to liquid-fuel missiles, solid-fuel missiles require less logistical support and require much less preparation time before launch. Intermediate-range ballistic missiles The Hwasong-10 (Musudan) is a single-stage, liquid-fuel, intermediate-range ballistic missile launched from a six-axle transporter erector launcher. The missile, which is also sometimes designated BM-25, has an estimated range of more than 3,000 kilometers, but it suffered several test failures in 2016. The National Air and Space Intelligence Center estimates that North Korea has fewer than 50 Hwasong-10 launchers. However, given the system’s unreliability, the overall status of the Hwasong-10 program remains unclear; it may have been replaced by the newer Hwasong-12 as North Korea’s primary intermediate-range ballistic missile. The Hwasong-12 (KN17) is a single-stage, liquid-fuel, intermediate-range ballistic missile carried on an eight-axle road-mobile transporter erector with a detachable firing table. After several failures, the missile was test-launched on a highly lofted trajectory on May 14, 2017, reportedly demonstrating that it could travel approximately 4,500 kilometers if flown on a normal trajectory (Wright 2017b). The National Air and Space Intelligence Center estimates the range as 3,000 kilometers or more. A subsequent test, on August 28, overflew Japan before it crashed in the western Pacific, some 2,700 kilometers from the launch site. A third successful launch on September 14 demonstrated a longer range—approximately 3,700 kilometers. At this stage, it is unknown if the Hwasong-12 has been deployed. Intercontinental ballistic missiles The most dramatic development has been North Korea’s display and test-launching of large ballistic missiles that appear to have intercontinental range. North Korea has publicly shown five types of missiles in this category: the Taepo Dong-2, the Hwasong-13, the Hwasong-14, the Hwasong-15, and the Hwasong-16. These systems are in various stages of development, and some may simply be mockups or technology demonstrators. The Taepo Dong-2 is a three-stage, liquid-fuel, long-range missile that is thought to be a derivative of the Unha-3 space-launch vehicle. The Unha-3 placed a satellite in an unstable orbit in 2016. North Korea has not yet demonstrated a functioning reentry vehicle for the Taepo Dong-2, and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s 2020 annual report lists the system as a “space launch vehicle.” Given North Korea’s recent development of newer, more sophisticated long-range systems, we assess that the Taepo Dong-2 is not currently an operational military system and will not be a focus for North Korea’s ICBM program moving forward. The Hwasong-13 (KN08) is a three-stage, liquid-fuel ICBM carried on an eight-axle transporter erector launcher that uses a truck similar to the one used for the Hwasong-14 ICBM. The Hwasong-13 was first displayed during a parade in 2012. In 2013, an Air Force Global Strike Command briefing listed the KN08 as an ICBM that “could field in [the] next [five] years” (Air Force Global Strike Command 2013). However, the Hwasong-13 has not been flight tested, and given North Korea’s recent development of newer, more sophisticated long-range systems, we assess that the Hwasong-13 is not currently an operational system and will not be a focus for North Korea’s ICBM program moving forward. In July 2017, North Korea conducted its first and second ever test-launches of an ICBM using Hwasong-14 (KN20) ICBMs. The two-stage, liquid-fueled Hwasong-14 appears to share its first stage with the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile and is launched from an eight-axle road-mobile transporter erector with a detachable firing table. The first test launch took place on July 4th. It flew on a highly lofted trajectory to 950 kilometers, and an unnamed US government source later told The Diplomat that the United States assessed the range to be 7,500 to 9,500 kilometers. North Korea released a video of the launch that showed the missile had a modified payload shroud, which looked similar to a shroud that appeared in photos of Kim Jong Un, engineers, and a peanut-shaped device said to be a thermonuclear warhead. North Korea claimed that the test demonstrated that it could use a reentry vehicle to protect the missile’s warhead, but that was later shown to be inaccurate. The second Hwasong-14 test launch, conducted on July 28th, also used a lofted trajectory and reached an apogee of roughly 3,700 kilometers. According to the National Air and Space Intelligence Center and some independent analysts, the test demonstrated that the missile could, if flown on a normal trajectory, have a range of over 10,000 kilometers. This would potentially bring US cities on the west coast, including Los Angeles and Seattle, within striking range. The weight of the payload used in the test, which could significantly affect the range, is not known; however, subsequent analysis suggests that the test was likely not conducted using a reentry vehicle with a realistically heavy mock warhead. Therefore, the test did not demonstrate whether or not North Korea has a functioning ICBM reentry vehicle to protect a warhead. It is notable that North Korea did not display the Hwasong-14 at its most recent military parade that featured ICBMs, in October 2020; this could indicate that North Korea intends to put more emphasis on its newer, longer-range ICBMs. During a parade in October 2017, North Korea also displayed two new launchers with large canisters for transport of missiles. One launcher appeared similar to the eight-axle transporter erector used for the Hwasong-14, but modified with a large canister that resembled the missile canister used on the Russian SS-25 (Topol) transporter erector-launcher. The second new launcher equipped with a missile canister strongly resembled the transporter erector launcher used for the Chinese DF-31A. Canister launchers are normally used to transport solid-fuel missiles, so the two new launchers might indicate that North Korea is trying to develop a solid-fuel ICBM. After a two-month pause in missile flight tests, on November 29th, 2017 North Korea launched a newer ICBM with an even longer range: the Hwasong-15 (KN22). The two-stage, liquid-fuel missile was launched from a nine-axle transporter erector on a highly lofted trajectory to nearly 4,500 kilometers, which indicates a maximum range on a normal trajectory with a light payload of approximately 13,000 kilometers, sufficient to potentially target most of the United States (Wright 2017g). The National Air and Space Intelligence Center lists the range of the Hwasong-15 to be upwards of 12,000 kilometers (National Air and Space Intelligence Center 2020, 29). However, it is important to note that heavier payloads––including nuclear warheads––would decrease the missile’s range. Hwasong-15 ICBMs were displayed during North Korea’s October 2020 military parade. In April 2018, Kim Jong Un announced that North Korea would observe a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear explosive tests and flight tests of long-range ballistic missiles (Korean Central News Agency 2018). North Korea has adhered to this declared moratorium; despite the January 2020 announcement by North Korean diplomats that the country would no longer observe the moratorium, North Korea has not yet broken either commitment. At its October 2020 military parade, North Korea unveiled a new type of liquid-fueled ICBM (Figure 2), which is likely to be designated the Hwasong-16 (KN27), per North Korean naming conventions. The Hwasong-16 is significantly larger than North Korea’s other ICBMs, and independent analysts estimate that the missile’s diameter could range between 2.4 and 2.5 meters, with a length of roughly 24 to 25 meters. If eventually deployed, it is estimated that the Hwasong-16 could potentially deliver a large warhead––or hypothetically a small number of multiple reentry vehicles or a single reentry vehicle with penetration aids––to the continental United States. However, these advanced capabilities would require a sophisticated testing campaign that would take several years to complete. Overall, despite North Korea’s considerable advancements in its ICBM program, the country has still not publicly demonstrated an operationally functioning reentry vehicle that can protect a warhead during reentry through the Earth’s atmosphere, and there remains considerable uncertainty about how the combination of the missile, reentry vehicle, and warhead would function in a real attack. After the Hwasong-14 ICBM test in July, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reportedly concluded that the reentry vehicle did not survive reentry but would nonetheless likely work in an attack on the United States (Panda 2017d). Yet after the test flight of the Hwasong-15 ICBM on November 28, a US official told CNN that “the North Koreans had problems with reentry” and that the missile likely broke up upon reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. The South Korean deputy minister of defense policy, Yeo Suk-joo, reportedly told the South Korean parliament that North Korea still needed to prove some technologies, like reentry, terminal stage guidance, and warhead activation. And Seoul’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha added the North Koreans “haven’t demonstrated their reentry capability. They haven’t demonstrated their remote targeting, or the miniaturization that is required to do this.” These statements match the assessments listed above from US officials. Union of Concerned Scientists expert David Wright agreed that “North Korea has not yet demonstrated a working reentry vehicle on a trajectory that its missiles would fly if used against the United States,” but added that there did not appear to be a technical barrier to building a working reentry vehicle. In 2017, Stanford’s Siegfried Hecker estimated that this might take another two years of tests. Submarine-launched ballistic missiles North Korea is developing several types of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), all of which are part of the Pukguksong family of missiles (other spellings used are Pukkuksong or Bukkeukseong), or “Polaris.” The National Air and Space Intelligence Center’s 2020 ballistic and cruise missile report states that none of North Korea’s SLBM have been deployed. The first versions may have been technology development projects intended to develop technologies for future operational missiles. The Pukguksong-1 (KN11) is a two-stage, solid-fuel missile designed to be carried on a single Sinpo-class submarine. The submarine only has one missile tube. The Pukguksong-1 has been test-launched six times in total in 2015 and 2016, with three successes (James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies 2021). The National Air and Space Intelligence Center lists the Pukguksong-1’s range above 1,000 kilometers. In October 2019, North Korea test-launched a new type of SLBM: the Pukguksong-3, which could have a maximum range of up to 1,900 kilometers (Wright 2019). The Pukguksong-3’s existence had previously been revealed by Kim Jong Un’s visit to a chemical materials institute in August 2017. During the October 2020 military parade, North Korea unveiled a newer type of solid-fuel SLBM: the Pukguksong-4, which may have a longer range than its predecessor. The two-stage missile is wider than the Pukguksong-1 and possibly a little shorter than the Pukguksong-3. Its larger diameter indicates that it could hypothetically carry multiple warheads or penetration aids to overcome ballistic missile defenses. Speculations that the Pukguksong-4 might currently be capable of carrying multiple reentry vehicles seem premature. The missile has not yet been flight tested. At the military parade in January 2021, North Korea displayed yet another SLBM version: Pukguksong-5. The missile, which has not been flight tested, is longer than the Pukguksong-4 but about the same length as the Pukguksong-3. The Pukguksong-5’s shroud, however, is less stub and more elongated than the shrouds on the two previous missiles. Pukguksong-5 might have greater range and payload capacity. As with other North Korean missiles, speculations about multiple reentry vehicle capability seem premature at this time. Other potential platforms No credible public information demonstrates that North Korea has developed nuclear warheads for delivery systems other than ballistic missiles, even though warheads for ballistic missiles are more difficult to develop than gravity bombs because of the extreme environment of their launch and trajectory. All other nuclear-armed states first developed nuclear bombs for aircraft and then proceeded to field warheads for missiles. If North Korea had wanted to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon quickly, it could potentially have developed a crude gravity bomb for delivery by an H-5 (Il-28) medium-range bomber. This potential option is mentioned only for background; no public evidence suggests that North Korea has pursued it. A nuclear-capable coastal defense cruise missile, designated KN09, was listed in the 2013 briefing by the Air Force Global Strike Command, but was deleted in a subsequent revision. (Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Nuclear Notebook: How Many Nuclear Weapons Does North Korea Have in 2021?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 21, 2021)


7/25/21:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un accused “hostile forces” of intensifying “frantic and persistent war drills for aggression” as he presided over the first-ever workshop of military commanders and political officers this week, state media reported today. “At present the hostile forces systematically keep bolstering up their capabilities for making a preemptive attack on the DPRK and increase armaments while intensifying all sorts of frantic and persistent war drills for aggression,” Kim told the workshop held October 24-27, according to the KCNA. “He noted such situation has hardened the determination and fighting will of the KPA to eradicate the root cause of the evil cycle of escalating tensions,” the KCNA said. “He called for all the military and political cadres to put the greatest efforts into bolstering up the combat efficiency of their units. However, Kim did not mention nuclear weapons or have any direct messages for Washington or Seoul. Later in the day, a high-ranking South Korean official called for postponing next month’s exercise with the U.S., stressing that now is the “right time” for Seoul and Washington to cooperate to bring the North back to the negotiating table. (Yi Wonju, “N.K. Leader Accuses ‘Hostile Forces’ of Intensifying ‘War Drills for Aggression,’” Yonhap, July 30, 2021)

Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il met in Pyongyang in September 2002 for the first summit between Japan and North Korea. But shortly after they announced the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang Declaration, the second North Korean nuclear crisis erupted. Is it a coincidence that a North Korean nuclear crisis occurred right when Pyongyang and Tokyo were attempting to mend ties not once but twice in the space of a decade? After North Korea and Japan’s efforts to normalize relations failed twice, first in 1990-1991 and then again in 2002, their relationship has floundered along, unable to reach a breakthrough. That’s a situation over which the US isn’t losing any sleep. On July 7, 1988, the Japanese government issued a statement expressing its willingness to negotiate with North Korea in regard to all pending issues between the two countries. That was immediately after South Korean President Roh Tae-woo said he was “willing to help North Korea improve relations with South Korean allies such as the US and Japan in order to form the conditions for establishing peace on the Korean Peninsula.” As soon as Roh publicly expressed his intention to coexist and cooperate with North Korea both domestically and internationally in a special declaration about Korea’s national self-respect, unification, and prosperity on July 7, in other words, Japan revealed its readiness to negotiate about normalizing relations with North Korea, as if it had been waiting for a signal. It wasn’t until Oct. 30, 1988, three months after Roh’s special declaration on July 7, that the US government issued a new North Korea policy called the “modest initiative,” allowing North Korean and American diplomats to hold practical dialogue in neutral locations. That indicates just how quickly the Japanese government reacted to the declaration. This was another example of Japan’s outstanding diplomatic instincts. Japan normalized diplomatic relations with China in September 1972 (seven years earlier than the US), regarding White House national security advisor Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to Beijing in July 1971 as a harbinger of a major change in the Cold War order. The Japanese government must have concluded that its statement hadn’t been enough because Prime Minister Takeshita Noboru said “deep remorse and regret” to North Korea for Japan’s colonial rule of the country in March 1989. North Korea-Japan relations were chilly, if not tense and hostile, until the late 1980s. But various factors increased the necessity of a rapprochement, including the collapse of socialist governments across Eastern Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and a rapid thaw between South Korea and Russia — with this final factor being the decisive catalyst. South Korea’s normalization of relations with Russia had opened up a fissure in the Cold War alignment in Northeast Asia and tipped the balance of power in its favor. That made North Korea desperate to restore that balance by normalizing relations with Japan. For its part, Japan needed to “move north” to counter Russia’s “push south.” Thus, North Korea and Japan had plenty of reasons to narrow the gap between them. They needed to create common ground rather than focusing on their differences. Delegations from Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) under former Deputy Prime Minister Kanemaru Shin and from the Japan Socialist Party (JSP) under former chairperson Tanabe Makoto headed to Pyongyang on September 24, 1990, on the invitation of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK). Considering that these powerbrokers in Japan’s two biggest parties had brought a personal letter from the Japanese prime minister, it only stood to reason that their visit would have a positive result. Two days later, on September 26, Kanemaru and Tanabe sat down for a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. The Japanese delivered the letter from Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki in the meeting and said they thought it was necessary to express contrition and pay compensation for Japan’s past actions, and Kim responded by proposing the beginning of negotiations for normalizing diplomatic relations. The three parties (that is, the LDP, the JSP, and the WPK) released a joint statement about North Korea-Japan relations two days later, on September 28. In this historic document, which consisted of eight sections, the parties “recognized that diplomatic relations must be established as soon as possible” (Section 2) and “agreed to strongly recommend that intergovernmental negotiations begin in November 1990” (Section 7). Furthermore, the parties “recognized [that Japan] must officially apologize and provide adequate compensation to the DPRK [North Korea] because of the harm done to the North Korean people during the 45 years since World War II,” as well as during the 36 years of Japan’s colonial rule over Korea. It was surprising enough that the two sides had agreed to initiate negotiations aimed at normalizing relations. But what’s even more remarkable — indeed, almost shocking — is that Japan recognized the need to pay compensation for the 45 years after the war. That indicates how determined Japan was to normalize relations with North Korea. North Korea and Japan moved quickly to actualize the agreements they’d reached in their three-party joint statement. Following three preliminary meetings in Beijing, they held the first official round of governmental dialogue to normalize diplomatic relations in Pyongyang on January 30-31, 1991. The announcement of the three-party joint statement, which could have been regarded as a blueprint for the future of North Korea-Japan relations, came two days before South Korea and Russia announced their agreement to normalize relations at the UN headquarters in New York on September 30, 1990. The joint statement was a strategic move by North Korea and Japan to counteract the impact of South Korea and Russia’s rapprochement. As the U.S. sought to maintain its position as the world’s only hegemonic power in the post-Cold War era, it was not pleased to see Japan, its most important Asian ally, making overtures to North Korea. Indeed, the U.S. efforts to thwart Japan became overt soon after the three-party statement was released. A report by Yomiuri Shimbun on October. .5, 1990, indicated the pressure that the U.S. was placing on Japan “[to] convince the North to accept nuclear inspectors, to refuse to pay compensation for the 45 years since World War II, to receive a guarantee that the North would not use the compensation for 36 years of colonial rule to strengthen its military, and to ask the North to make an effort to keep inter-Korean dialogue from losing ground.” As usual, Japan didn’t stand up to the U.S. When it joined the first round of talks in Pyongyang, Japan presented the U.S.’ four demands to Pyongyang as “our basic guidelines for participating in the talks.” North Korea didn’t object, contrary to its typical practice. Instead, it pushed hard to get results. When Japan asked the North to allow 20 Japanese women married to North Koreans to visit home and check on the welfare of 12 other women, the North only said it would “try to make that a reality within the scope of what’s possible.” But as Japan caved to American pressure, its attitude toward the talks with North Korea gradually became more intransigent. In the third round of talks (May 20-22, 1991, in Beijing), Japan named three prerequisites for normalizing diplomatic relations: North Korea had to agree to nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency through a safeguard agreement; it had to agree to simultaneous admission to the UN with South Korea; and it had to make meaningful progress in dialogue with South Korea. North Korea would have managed the UN admission and inter-Korean dialogue issues on its own — but the nuclear issue was a problem. A report on pages 3 and 4 of Rodong Sinmun dated May 21, 1991, observed that the “only way to cooperate on resolving this issue is to bring about negotiations between North Korea and the U.S.” According to that report, the North “once again asked Japan to make a recommendation to the U.S. government so that negotiations occur between the DPRK and the US,” but Japan refused. To make matters worse, the third round of talks saw Tokyo pressing Pyongyang to investigate the “Ri Eun-hye issue.” This was based on the claims of Kim Hyon-hui, the culprit arrested for the 1987 bombing of Korean Air Flight 858, who said a Japanese abductee named “Ri Eun-hye” had been responsible for teaching her Japanese. The North called this a “scheme,” but at a fourth round of talks held from August 30 to September 2, 1991, in Beijing, it reached an agreement with Japan to hold “informal contact at the vice foreign minister level outside of and separate from the main talks.” It was evidence of how intent the North was on normalizing relations. In the end, however, the negotiations toward establishing diplomatic relations between Pyongyang and Tokyo ran aground on the nuclear issue — and the “Ri Eun-hye” issue. The eighth and final round of talks took place in Beijing on November 6, 1992, but failed to yield any results. Rodong Sinmun reported that the first two rounds of talks had taken place amid a “mood of reconciliation and friendliness” (the first) and a “friendly atmosphere” (the second). In contrast, it did not use the words “reconciliation” or “friendly” in its reports on the third through eighth rounds. This meant the strategy adopted by then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker had succeeded. In a confidential cable sent to then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney on November 18, 1991, Baker wrote, “The new [Kiichi] Miyazawa government has moved Tokyo’s position [on the nuclear issue] close to our own: normalization and economic aid require not signing and implementing the IAEA full-scope safeguards agreement, but also foregoing [sic] a reprocessing capability. Some Japanese bureaucrats may seek to nibble away at this position, but we should hold them to it.” Washington had used the nuclear issue — i.e., the first North Korean nuclear crisis — to block Japan’s overtures to the North. Was it Thucydides or Karl Marx who first said that “history repeats itself”? The second North Korean nuclear crisis erupted shortly after the adoption of the DPRK-Japan Pyongyang Declaration following the two sides’ first-ever summit in the North Korean capital on Sept. 17, 2002, between then-Japanese PM Koizumi and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The same pattern had repeated itself a decade later: overtures between Pyongyang and Japan falling afoul of another nuclear crisis. Coincidence? “Baker brought up the nuclear issue during [Shin] Kanemaru’s visit [to North Korea in September 1990]. Later we learned that the US had been correct, but why didn’t they give us the information a bit earlier then? It feels like whenever we make a move, the US tries to stop us.” Quoted on page 126 of the book “Kim Jong-il’s Last Gamble,” these remarks come from an interview with journalist Funabashi Yoichi given by Fujii Arata, who as director of the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Northeast Asia bureau had been involved in working-level preparations for Koizumi’s North Korea visit and the North Korea-Japan summit. If we consider Japanese culture and how far people will go to avoid saying anything too pointedly, this account signals unusually strong feelings of displeasure. Ever since the two pushes for normalization fell through in 1990–91 and 2002, North Korea-Japan relations have remained bogged down with no way out in sight. The U.S. is unlikely to shed any tears over that. (Lee Je-hun, “Why Has U.S. Blocked Way for N. Korea-Japan Relations?” Hankyore, July 25, 2021)


7/27/21:
The leaders of North and South Korea restored suspended communication channels between them and agreed to improve ties, both governments said Tuesday, amid a 2 ½ year-stalemate in U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear weapons. While the move could certainly help ease animosities on the Korean Peninsula, it’s unclear whether Pyongyang would go as far as to revive previous vigorous cooperation programs with Seoul and get back to the nuclear talks with Washington. Some experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un merely intends to burnish his international image or use South Korea as leverage ahead of a potential resumption of talks with the U.S. Since April, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in exchanged personal letters several times and decided to normalize the cross-border communication channels as a first step toward improving relations, Moon’s office said. The two leaders agreed to “restore mutual confidence and develop their relationships again as soon as possible,” senior Blue House official Park Soo Hyun said in a televised briefing. Park said the two Koreas subsequently reopened communication channels on Tuesday morning. North Korea’s state media quickly confirmed the South Korean announcement. “Now, the whole Korean nation desires to see the North-South relations recovered from setback and stagnation as early as possible,” the official Korean Central News Agency said. “In this regard, the top leaders of the North and the South agreed to make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by restoring the cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines through the recent several exchanges of personal letters.” Last year, North Korea cut off all communication channels with South Korea in protest of what it called South Korea’s failure to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across their border. An angry North Korea later blew up an empty, South Korean-built liaison office just north of the countries’ border. Many experts said the provocative North Korean action signaled the North had grown frustrated that Seoul has failed to revive lucrative inter-Korean economic projects and persuade the U.S. to ease international sanctions on the North. According to Moon’s office, the recent letters exchanged between Moon and Kim didn’t discuss holding a summit or phone talks between them. Park Won Gon, a professor of North Korea studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University, said North Korea may intend for steps to help South Korean liberals supporting greater North Korea ties win next March’s presidential elections. He said it’s unlikely North Korea’s agreement to restore the communication lines meant its pandemic-related difficulties worsened to a level that forced it to reach out to get urgent assistance. He cited reports that North Korea is still refusing to receive aid even from China, its major ally, due to worries that aid deliveries could spread the virus. After today’s announcement by their governments, liaison officials from the Koreas had phone conversations via three channels including a military hotline. On two of them, they agreed to talk twice a day as they did in the past, according to Seoul’s unification and defense ministries. (Hyung-jin Kim, “Koreas Restore Communication Channels, Agree to Improve Ties,” Associated Press, July 27, 2021) “Since April, the leaders have exchanged multiple letters to restart inter-Korean relations. During the process, the two sides agreed to start by restoring communication links,” Park said. “Also, the leaders agreed to rebuild mutual trust as soon as possible and further develop inter-Korean relations.” A senior Cheong Wa Dae official said President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have exchanged letters multiple times since April, on the occasion of the third anniversary of the Panmunjom Declaration made during their first summit held April 27, 2018. “In the letters, the leaders recognized the problems stemming from the longstanding severance of inter-Korean relations and the necessity to rebuild mutual trust,” the official said. “Also, they exchanged consolations over Koreans’ suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and talked about improving inter-Korean relations.” The official said, however, that the leaders had not spoken with each other via telephone, or consulted about doing so or having an in-person meeting. Also, the official did not reveal which side first suggested restoring the communication lines, saying, “The communication lines were reactivated through consultations between the two sides.” The Ministry of Unification said representatives from the two Koreas held a telephone call at 10 a.m. utilizing a fixed line crossing the Panmunjom border area for technical testing, and then another one from 11:04 a.m. to 11:07 a.m. through a line between the joint inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong and its Seoul branch. During the conversation, the two sides agreed to call twice a day at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., as they used to do before the North severed communications. The Ministry of National Defense also said the Western Sea military communication line with the North was restored at 10 a.m. and was now fully operational. The ministry added that it was working on technical problems on the East Sea communication line, and the two sides will exchange calls at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. every day. (Nam Hyun-woo, “Seoul, Pyongyang Restore Cross-Border Communication Lines,” Korea Times, July 27, 2021) Inter-Korean military hotlines are back to normal operation after a 13-month suspension, the defense ministry confirmed Tuesday, saying the two Koreas will resume regular daily calls via the communication lines. “South and North Korean military authorities restored military communication lines and put them back to normal operations from 10 a.m. Tuesday, to implement agreements by the leaders,” the ministry said in a release. “Phone calls and faxing to exchange documents now operate normally.” The restoration came 413 days after Pyongyang cut off the lines in June last year in protest over Seoul’s supposed failure to stop activists from sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets into the communist nation. According to sources, the North first initiated the call via the military line. After the North Korean caller asked about call quality, the South Korean respondent said it was fine and asked the North the same question, and the North Korean official responded the same way, according to the sources. The two sides then exchanged faxes and confirmed that their communication line worked normally. The two sides also agreed to hold regular phone calls twice a day — at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. –, and they had communication normally at 4 p.m. Tuesday via the western communication line, the ministry said. South and North Korea had made the regular calls via their eastern and western communication lines. “The western communication line works well, but some technical problems were found in the eastern liaison line, so we’ve continued work to restore it,” according to the ministry. Ship-to-ship radio links between the two Koreas, via the global merchant marine communication network, are also operating normally, according to ministry officials. The western and eastern military hotlines were set up in 2002 and 2003, respectively. They had been severed for years amid tumultuous inter-Korean ties but were last restored in 2018 in line with the April 27 inter-Korean summit agreement. The ministry said the latest restoration is expected to ease military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to expedite the implementation of a military tension reduction agreement signed on Sept. 19, 2018, during an inter-Korean summit held in Pyongyang. The agreement, called the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA), calls for a series of tension-reducing measures, such as a halt to hostile acts against each other and the joint war remains excavation work inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). “The decision carries significance, particularly as we mark the 68th anniversary of the signing of the 1950-53 Korean War Armistice Agreement today,” a ministry official said. “We hope there will be active discussions with the North Korean authorities about diverse joint projects. (Oh Seok-min, “Inter-Korean Hotlines in Normal Operation after 13-Month Suspension: Defense Ministry,” Yonhap, July 27, 2021) The direct hotlines between South and North Korea were restored Tuesday 413 days after they had been cut off — but news of the restoration does not appear to have been shared right away with the North Korean public. Of the six pages of the Wednesday edition of the North’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, five were given to reports on the 7th National Conference of War Veterans and the text of leader Kim Jong-un’s speech there. In contrast, there were no reports at all on the inter-Korean hotlines. There were also no related reports for a second straight day on Korean Central Television or the Korean Central Broadcasting radio network. (Lee Je-hun, “N. Korea Isn’t Telling Its People Hotline with S. Korea Reopened,” Hankyore, July 29, 2021)

KCNA report: “Now, the whole Korean nation desires to see the north-south relations recovered from setback and stagnation as early as possible. In this regard, the top leaders of the north and the south agreed to make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by restoring the cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines through the recent several exchanges of personal letters. According to the agreement made between the top leaders, the north and the south took a measure to re-operate all inter-Korean communication liaison lines from 10:00 on July 27. The restoration of the communication liaison lines will have positive effects on the improvement and development of the north-south relations.” (KCNA, “KCNA Report on Re-Operation of Inter-Korean Communication Liaison Lines,” July 27, 2021)


7/29/21:
The South Korean government today proposed talks with North Korea on the establishment of a videoconference system, as part of efforts to rekindle stalemated inter-Korean talks, according to Unification Minister Lee In-young on July 30. “Yesterday, we proposed to the North via the joint liaison channel that we consult on setting up a videoconference system,” Lee told reporters during a press conference at the ministry’s office in central Seoul. “The North has received our proposal. We hope Pyongyang will respond positively so that the video system can be installed at the earliest time.” The offer was made via the inter-Korean hotline that was restored July 27. Lee stressed that the ministry would work to complete the system for virtual conferences or “safe in-person talks” as soon as possible so that the two Koreas could hold talks amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He added that the ministry had already come up with antivirus measures so that dialogue could happen safely. “Now that the communication channel has been restored between the two Koreas, we will consult with the North on our ideas on establishing communication channels and keep preparing so that we can hold talks at any time,” he said. In April, the ministry injected 400 million won ($348,432) to set up a virtual conference facility for inter-Korean talks in Seoul. Connecting the system with the North would not be difficult as long as Pyongyang agreed, as the necessary cables between the two Koreas have already been installed. A senior ministry official said the ministry was currently drawing up an agenda consisting of about 30 items to discuss with the North when the inter-Korean talks resume. They include aid to the North, such as COVID-19 vaccines, and reunions of families separated by the Korean War. Lee also said the ministry would start allowing local aid groups to resume assistance to North Korea, after a 10-month hiatus when the ministry temporary stopped granting approval. In September last year, a local fisheries official was killed by North Korea’s military near the inter-Korean sea border. “The decision was made considering consistent requests from civilian organizations for humanitarian assistance, and the North’s situation, especially the urgency of assistance in public health and nutrition,” he said. “We will continue to approve the humanitarian assistance projects if they meet the requirements.” The ministry said it had given the green light to two projects in the afternoon, without giving details. The restored communication lines signaled a possible thaw in inter-Korean relations, which had soured after the collapse of the Hanoi summit in 2019. It also raised the prospects that Pyongyang might be ready for engagement after the regime had rebuffed both Washington and Seoul’s diplomatic overtures for months. But one major challenge appears to be the upcoming US-South Korea military exercises scheduled for next month. The annual drills, which Pyongyang has long denounced as a rehearsal for an invasion of the North, typically provoked heightened rhetoric and military threats from Pyongyang. A senior ministry official on Friday suggested postponing the military exercises with the US, considering the COVID-19 situation as well as the improved diplomatic mood with Pyongyang. “I believe this is the right time to engage with the North through coordination between South Korea and the US,” the official said. “Washington could leap at this opportunity to bring a meaningful outcome in its nuclear talks with Pyongyang for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of permanent peace.” (Ahn Sung-mi, “Seoul Proposes Talks with Pyongyang, Hopes to Set up Videoconference System,” Korea Herald, July 30, 2021)

North Korea’s annual trade plunged a whopping 73.4 percent in 2020 from a year earlier, as the country shut down its border amid the COVID-19 pandemic, data showed today. The combined amount of North Korea’s trade came to US$863 million in 2020, compared with $3.24 billion tallied a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA). “The decrease came as both exports and imports lost ground after North Korea closed down its border amid COVID-19, coupled with the prolonged economic sanctions from the United Nations,” the KOTRA said in a report. Outbound shipments came to $89 million, plunging 68 percent from $278 million posted in 2019. Imports also slid 74 percent over the period to reach $774 million, leading to a trade deficit of $684 million. The trade deficit, meanwhile, improved from the previous year as imports decreased at a faster pace. North Korea’s main export products included steel, mineral oil and watch products. Among major import goods were crude and tobacco products. The combined amount of trade between North Korea and China came to $762 million, accounting for 88.2 percent of the North’s annual trade. Other major trade partners of North Korea included Russia, Vietnam, India and Nigeria. KOTRA added Mozambique, Tanzania, Ghana and Thailand were newly listed in the top 10 trade partners of North Korea in 2020. (Yonhap, “North Korea’s Trade Down 73.4 Percent in 2020: KOTRA,” Korea Times, July 29, 2021)


7/30/21:
North Korea’s economy is estimated to contract 4.5 percent year-on-year in 2020, marking the worst contraction since its 6.5 percent decline in 1997, as Pyongyang closed its borders over the COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea’s central bank said today. The North’s economy, which has been hit by tightened U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, expanded 0.4 percent in 2019, but shrank 4.1 percent in 2018 and 3.5 percent in 2017, the Bank of Korea (BOK) said in a report. The BOK’s annual report is based on data from South Korean institutions specializing in North Korea, which does not publish official economic data. North Korea’s nominal gross national income (GNI) stood at 35 trillion won ($30.1 billion) in 2020. That was equivalent to just 1.8 percent of South Korea’s GNI. The North’s GNI per capita in 2020 stood at 1.38 million won, equivalent to 3.7 percent of the South’s GNI per capita. (Yonhap, “North Korea’s Economy Shrink 4.5% amid Pandemic: BOK,” Korea Times, July 30, 2021)


8/1/21:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jung’s statement: “As it is already known to the world, on July 27 the north and the south took a measure of restoring all the communication liaison lines between them, which had been cut off for over one year. But in this regard, those inside and outside south Korea are freely interpreting its meaning their own way and there is even a public opinion about the issue of the north-south summit. I think it is a premature hasty judgment. What I think is that the restoration of the communication liaison lines should not be taken as anything more than just the physical reconnection. Hasty speculation and groundless interpretation will only bring despair, instead. My view can be easily understandable if one looks back on the past three years when the north-south relations underwent undesirable turns, twists and fluctuation and inched to the crisis even though the top leaders of the north and the south had held each other’s hands and made and published such a momentous agreement as the joint declaration. For some days I have been hearing an unpleasant story that joint military exercises between the south Korean army and the U.S. forces could go ahead as scheduled. We have never discussed the scale or form of the joint military exercises, the ones on the way at such a crucial time as now. I view this as an undesirable prelude which seriously undermines the will of the top leaders of the north and the south wishing to see a step taken toward restoring mutual trust and which further beclouds the way ahead of the north-south relations. Our government and army will closely follow whether the south Korean side stages hostile war exercises in August or makes other bold decision. Hope or despair? Choice is not made by us.” (KCNA, “Vice Department Director of WPK Central Committee Kim Yo Jong Releases Statement,” August 1, 2021)


8/2/21:
North Korea has sent detailed information to South Korea on fishing boats operating illegally in the Yellow Sea via inter-Korean military hotlines restored last week, government sources said today. “The North has sent a fax message at 9 a.m. every day, which carries details about foreign fishing boats operating illegally in the Yellow Sea, such as their number and exact locations,” a government source said. “We also sent a message of our own assessment to the North, and there is little difference between what South and North Korea have figured out. Such information exchanges help prevent accidental clashes in the Yellow Sea,” he added. Most of the illegal fishing boats are from China, and about 20 to 30 vessels have been found near the inter-Korean maritime border recently, according to another officer. Since the hotlines were reactivated, the two Koreas have held regular liaison calls twice a day — at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., the defense ministry said. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Sends S. Korea Detailed Info on Illegal Fishing in Yellow Sea via Restored Hotline: Sources,” Korea Herald, August 2, 2021)


8/3/21:
The recent restoration of long-severed communication hotlines between Seoul and Pyongyang was initiated at a request by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, South Korea’s spy agency said in a parliamentary briefing today. “(The restoration) was what Chairman Kim Jong-un requested,” the National Intelligence Service (NIS) was quoted by Kim Byung-kee and Ha Tae-keung, senior members of the parliamentary intelligence committee, as saying “Through the (reconnected) communication lines, South and North Korea are regularly talking on the phone twice every day,” the NIS was quoted as saying during the briefing. “Since April, the two leaders, through two rounds of letter exchanges, have expressed commitment to recovering trust and improving relations between the two Koreas,” the NIS also said of the background of the recent decision to resume inter-Korean communication. The resumption also reflects the North’s “expectations for our government to play a role in reviving North Korea-U.S. relations in the future,” according to the spy agency. The North is currently demanding permission to export minerals, and import refined oil and other living essentials as prerequisites for reviving dialogue with Washington, it said. A unification ministry official, however, said that the decision to reopen the communication lines was based on consultation and agreement between the two Koreas. “The communication lines were restored not at the request of the North but as the result of sufficient consultation and agreement between the two Koreas,” the official told Yonhap. The spy agency also said a recent warning by the North against joint South Korea-U.S. military drills may indicate the country’s willingness to advance inter-Korean ties in return for a halt to the joint military exercises. “(NIS) assesses that the North displayed its intention to take corresponding measures regarding inter-Korean relations if South Korea and the U.S. suspend their joint military drills,” according to the spy agency. Adding to the analysis, NIS Director Park Jie-won said the government needs to review ways to “flexibly” handle the joint exercise for the sake of the broader cause of denuclearizing the North, effectively suggesting the suspension of the annual drills. The spy agency also brushed off speculation about Kim’s health, raised over a recent photo showing medical plaster on the back of his head, saying, “We assess there are no signs indicating ill health.” The communist country’s trade volume with China came to US$65.75 million in the first half of this year, down 84 percent from a year earlier as the country operated its industrial facilities at 25 percent capacity last year due to suspended coal exports and a shortage of raw materials, it added. (Yonhap, “Restoration of Inter-Korean Liaison Hotlines Requested by Kim Jong Un: NIS,” August 3, 2021)

The chief policymaker of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) reaffirmed Tuesday that South Korea and the United States should conduct joint military exercises this month as planned. Rep. Park Wan-joo acknowledged in a meeting with reporters that there is a “minority opinion” within the party against the annual drills, but he said the issue does not warrant a plenary session of DP lawmakers. “The party chairman stated the principle that it is correct to hold the South Korea-U.S. combined exercises within a broad framework, and that is the party’s position,” Park said in response to a question asking if it is the party’s official position that the exercises should proceed. A day earlier, five-term DP Rep. Sul Hoon called for postponing the drills in light of last week’s restoration of inter-Korean communication lines. The suggestion came a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Yo-jong, warned that the allied exercises could hurt inter-Korean ties. Speaking at a party meeting Monday, DP Chairman Rep. Song Young-gil responded that the drills are not “hostile,” as believed by Kim Yo-jong, but defensive in nature and meant to maintain peace. He said they “have to proceed as planned.” (Yonhap, “Ruling Party Reaffirms S. Korea-U.S. Military Exercises Should Go Ahead,” August 3, 2021)


8/5/21:
Rogin: “The Biden administration hasn’t been devoting much effort to the North Korea issue, perhaps calculating that entering new negotiations with Kim Jong Un is a high-risk, low-reward gambit. But South Korea, America’s ally, can’t afford to overlook any opening for peace talks, no matter how dim the prospects for success. Right now, Seoul is trying to tell Washington there’s an opportunity that both governments should seize. But the Biden team doesn’t seem to be listening. President Moon Jae-in’s government, facing its last year in office, is sending public and private signals that the United States should do more to encourage Pyongyang to return to the negotiating table. Pointing to small but symbolic signs from North Korea, including a recent flurry of letters between Moon and Kim and the restoration of communication lines, leaders in Seoul are trying to convince President Biden and his aides that now is the time to make moves to coax Kim into a new round of diplomacy. North Korea is in bad shape. A drought, food shortages, the pandemic and economic sanctions are all taking a toll on the already impoverished country. To test Washington’s appetite for joining a new diplomatic initiative, Moon’s political allies are floating a trial balloon. They want the Biden administration to drop its current stance of simply waiting for Kim to respond to its initial outreach, which is essentially an alibi for inaction. Song Young-gil, the leader of the ruling Democratic Party, laid out Seoul’s argument during his appearance Tuesday at the Aspen Security Forum with this columnist. President Donald Trump, he said, achieved something through his audacious and ultimately failed diplomacy with Kim — a halt in North Korean nuclear and long-range missile tests. But this pause will not last. “North Korea is preparing for a further provocation,” he said. “This is a big problem for the United States’ security.” Rather than wait for the provocation, which would force the United States to react in crisis mode, South Korea and Washington should do more to engage North Korea now, he said. Song wants the United States to endorse the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a manufacturing center inside North Korea where South Korean companies once employed North Korea workers. The complex was opened in 2004, but South Korea ended its involvement in 2016. Reopening it could help wean North Korea off its total economic dependence on China, he said. “Reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex is a critical point for building trust between the United States, South Korea and North Korea,” said Song. The United States and South Korea should also offer humanitarian, food and medical aid to North Korea, Song said. Somewhat contrary to expectations, however, he did not say the United States and South Korea should cancel or curtail their upcoming joint military exercises — even though Kim’s sister and propaganda chief Kim Yo Jong has demanded that they be scuttled. While Song pitched in public, another close associate of Moon came to Washington last week to make the same push in private. Kim Ki-jung, a former Moon adviser who is now president of the Institute for National Security Strategy, a government-funded think tank, told me in an interview that Biden must recognize there is an opening and act boldly. “When we consider what’s happening on the Korean Peninsula, now is the right time to take actions toward engaging North Korea,” he said. “They are reaching out to Washington through Seoul.” The U.S. government should communicate more clearly to Pyongyang its vision for how diplomacy can result in North Korea getting some relief from its many woes, he said. A senior Biden administration official told me that while the U.S. government is encouraged by the recent thaw between South and North Korea, there are no plans to offer any specific incentives for a resumption of talks between Washington and Pyongyang. “Of course we are supportive of dialogue with DPRK, which is why we’ve reached out and have offered to meet anywhere, anytime without preconditions,” the official said. “But at the end of the day, Pyongyang must choose to engage.” There’s a sense in Washington that the Moon and Biden camps are talking past each other. The Moon team may not realize that opening the Kaesong complex is seen in Washington as too drastic and too controversial for the Biden team to support as a first step. And the Biden team may not realize how its self-described “pragmatic” approach to North Korea is leaving Moon in a terrible position and undermining Biden’s own goal of repairing U.S.-South Korea ties. “For Moon, there’s a sense of urgency. He is trying to salvage his political legacy,” said Jenny Town, senior fellow at the Stimson Center. “With Biden, North Korea is not a high-priority issue, so he’s not going to put his political capital there.” Meanwhile, North Korea’s pause in testing has provided a false sense of security, while Kim Jong Un continues to roll out new, more dangerous weapons that threaten the entire world. Ignoring the fact that the North Korean threat is growing is not pragmatic — it’s dangerous. Engaging North Korea may be politically perilous, but it’s a national security imperative. (Josh Rogin, “South Korea Wants Biden to Get Serious about North Korea,” Washington Post, August 6, 2021)


8/6/21:
Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong and Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed to make continued efforts to engage with North Korea and foster lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula during their phone talks today, the foreign ministry said. “The minister and secretary agreed that the South and the US would continue to make coordinated diplomatic efforts for substantive progress toward the goal of the complete denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the ministry said in a press release. “Especially, the two countries held concrete consultations on ways for cooperation with the North, including humanitarian cooperation, and agreed to continue efforts for engagement with the North,” it added. The State Department said Blinken reiterated U.S. support for inter-Korean reconciliation. “The secretary and the foreign minister reaffirmed their commitment to complete denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, and the secretary confirmed US support for inter-Korean dialogue and engagement,” spokesman Ned Price said in a released statement. “The secretary and the foreign minister also discussed recent developments in the DPRK and agreed to explore humanitarian initiatives on the Korean Peninsula,” he added, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In a tweet, Blinken said that during the “good” conversation with Chung, he reaffirmed U.S. support for inter-Korean dialogue and engagement, as well as the importance of the South Korea-U.S. alliance for the complete denuclearization and creation of lasting peace on the peninsula. (Yonhap, “Top Diplomats of S. Korea, U.S. Agree on Efforts for NK Engagement in Phone Talks,” Korea Herald, August 6,2021)

South Korean activists have been charged with espionage for allegedly acting on orders from Pyongyang and staging protests against a plan to buy U.S. fighter jets. The National Intelligence Service in May raided the homes and offices of four people in Cheongju, about 140km south of Seoul. They uncovered the group’s electronic discs containing instructions from Pyongyang and reports to North Korea, officials at the National Police Agency told the Financial Times today. The Cheongju district court issued arrest warrants on Monday for three of the four activists for violating the National Security Act, police said. They were arrested after being deemed a flight risk. The charges relate to protests organized by the group to oppose the South Korean military’s plan to purchase US F-35A stealth fighters. According to JoongAng Daily, the activists have denied the charges, alleging “the NIS is manipulating the case.” The NIS has previously been hit by allegations of manipulating evidence. Still, the incident threatens to embarrass President Moon Jae-in and his ruling Democratic party ahead of presidential polls in March 2022. South Korea’s main opposition party has claimed that members of the group were also part of a special advisory body on labor issues for Moon ahead of his presidential campaign in 2017. They also alleged members of the group had been meeting North Korean spies in China and Cambodia since 2017 and received $20,000 for organizing pro-North Korean groups in South Korea. “This is a shocking espionage case that rocks the national security foundation,” said Park Jin, a senior opposition lawmaker who leads parliament’s foreign affairs committee. An official from South Korea’s presidential Blue House dismissed the claims of links to the president as “groundless” and did not comment further. The NIS declined to comment, citing the investigation. ‘A very small spark could topple Kim Jong Un’ Koh Yong-jin, the ruling party spokesman, said the allegations “should be investigated by our intelligence agency and police. There is no reason for the probe to be politicized.” He added: “There are tens of thousands of members in the presidential campaign advisory groups but they have no real power or influence.” Under national security laws, convictions for leaks of important military or state secrets to hostile countries or anti-government organizations can result in a lifetime sentence or even the death penalty. Sharing of less important intelligence information carries prison terms of more than seven years. While the activists’ alleged operations appeared to be consigned mostly to civil society, North Korea has a long record of deadly espionage operations on foreign soil. Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean leader’s half-brother, was killed by a nerve agent at a Malaysian airport in early 2017. Other successful assassinations include Choi Duk-keun, a South Korean diplomat killed in Vladivostok in 1996, and Yi Han Yong, nephew of late leader Kim Jong Il, who was shot dead in Seoul a year later. In 1983 Pyongyang’s agents detonated a bomb at a ceremony in Myanmar, killing a group of South Korean officials but failed to harm Chun Doo-hwan, the South Korean president, whose motorcade had been delayed. Kim Il Sung’s commandos in 1968 infiltrated South Korea and attempted to assassinate the president Park Chung-hee but failed after a bloody gunfight near the Blue House grounds. (Song Jung-a and Edward White, “South Korean Activists Accused of Spying for Pyrongyang,” August 6, 2021)


8/9/21:
For decades, Kuwait was a critical hub in North Korea’s network of foreign outposts. Every year, thousands of laborers would take an Air Koryo flight from Pyongyang via Islamabad before being dispatched to construction sites across the oil-rich Gulf state or elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. At its peak, the sweat of about 100,000 overseas workers generated as much as $500m hard currency a year for the nuclear-armed regime, according to US government estimates. But a few years ago the flow of workers declined to a trickle as Kuwaiti authorities acted in accordance with UN sanctions banning the workers. Consular staff assigned to process the workers’ visas, contracts and their salaries were fast becoming obsolete — also curtailing their opportunities for kickbacks and smuggling schemes. According to people familiar with an official cable sent to diplomats in Seoul in 2019, North Korea had struggled to afford the rent on its embassy in Kuwait and was forced to move to cheaper premises. “Things were completely different after sanctions took effect,” says one person with knowledge of the situation The demise of the scheme to raise funds in the Gulf is one result of the 15-year-long campaign of increasingly harsh sanctions dubbed “maximum pressure”, led by the UN and the US, that have been designed to choke off the regime’s sources of income. Yet despite some successes, experts say North Korea is still managing to find new ways to get around the sanctions, including cryptocurrency theft and lucrative cyber heists. The sanctions ultimately cause more harm by pushing the secretive state deeper into its shell, some experts say. They add that there are clear signs that the state’s acquisition of stocks of nuclear and chemical weapons has not been curtailed by the sanctions regime. Ordinary North Koreans have suffered as a result of the sanctions and their plight has worsened in the past 18 months: a crackdown on cross-border trade and travel — a bid by Pyongyang to keep the coronavirus pandemic at bay — has severed access to China, North Korea’s main economic lifeline. All the while, the lavish lifestyle of the leader Kim Jong Un and his court continues unabashed. Rachel Lee, a former US government analyst now with the 38 North program at the Stimson Center think-tank in Washington, describes the dichotomy as “two different worlds — there is definitely a disconnect between the lifestyle of not just the Kim family but the top elite, and the remainder of the population.” The failure of sanctions is prompting calls for President Joe Biden’s administration to overhaul what has been a de facto policy in four successive administrations. “The original intention has not been achieved — North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile capabilities have been strengthened,” says one former senior presidential adviser in Seoul who has dealt directly with Pyongyang. “Yet the collateral damage has been widespread. The North Korean people are suffering. Efforts towards reform and opening and a market system have been further delayed. But they cannot get away from it because sanctions have become a kind of theology in Washington, nobody can touch it.” North Korea’s overseas laborers are just one strand in a massive web of duplicitous schemes designed with a singular purpose: to bring in cash for the Kim regime. UN investigators, as well as law enforcement and military officials from scores of countries, have for years tracked individuals, companies and governments in order to stamp down on sanctions breaches. A small sample of the alleged UN violations linked to Pyongyang’s foreign embassies in recent years include military delegations advising countries in Africa, Iranians suspected of smuggling gold and cash to North Korea, an attempted arms deal in Egypt and coal shipments brokered by Indonesian commodity traders. Few nations have managed to avoid being touched by the Kim regime’s long tentacles. Between 2015 and 2017, North Korea procured luxury goods from as many as 90 countries, according to the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, a Washington research group. For many experts, the state’s increased aptitude for cybercrime is of greater worry than where Kim sources his black Mercedes-Maybach limousines. In March, a UN report included an estimate of cryptocurrency theft worth $316m from 2019 to November 2020. According to one complaint filed by the US justice department in August 2020, one hacker linked to North Korea “allegedly stole over $272,000 worth of alternative cryptocurrencies and tokens, including Proton Tokens, PlayGame tokens and IHT Real Estate Protocol [blockchain] tokens.” “The targeting of virtual assets and virtual asset service providers is rampant,” says Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, who for five years until 2019 served as the finance and economics expert on the UN panel of experts tracking North Korean sanctions. Not only are the sanctions still proving porous, but some critics say the effort to impose such heavy economic pressure on Pyongyang can have unintended consequences because North Koreans’ chances of engaging with the world have been cut off, blocking the flow of information and ideas. Sokeel Park, director of Liberty in North Korea, a group that helps North Koreans defect and resettle in South Korea, says sanctions — including the ban on foreign workers — weaken the chances of change inside North Korea. There are also fears that Kim’s renewed fervor for juche — the doctrine of self-reliance developed by his grandfather, the country’s founding leader Kim Il Sung — is laying the ground for years of deepening isolation. “North Korea changes the more you interact with it,” he says. “If you isolate it from the outside, you actually play into the worst tendencies or instincts of the system. Fewer North Koreans get the crucial contact and exposure to the outside world which does change their awareness and mentality, and downgrades North Korean official ideologies and narratives.” Instead, people like Park who maintain contacts inside North Korea say the space for engagement is shrinking. The border restrictions in place since coronavirus cases spread from Wuhan, China, in January 2020 have been beefed up to include shoot-to-kill orders for violators. The meagre savings of people reliant on trade and the grey markets, known as jangmadang, have been eviscerated. Ha Jin-woo, a defector in South Korea, says the networks designed to help people leave North Korea, as well as facilitate the smuggling of money and information into the country, are eroding. “The North Korean people have suffered a huge blow,” Ha says. The number of brokers facilitating cross-border contact is in decline. Consumption of foreign media inside North Korea — including South Korean-made dramas and K-pop smuggled in from China — has fallen under renewed levels of scrutiny. Even phone calls to family members outside the country have become too risky, meaning defectors are finding it “almost impossible” to make arrangements to send money back to their families, Ha says. “The extent of control and punishment has been strengthened,” he adds. Human rights groups have noted that since 2012 — after Kim and Chinese president Xi Jinping rose to power — border controls have become progressively more draconian. According to official South Korean data, the number of North Koreans who successfully navigated their way through China and south-east Asia and arrived in Seoul fell to around 1,000 in 2019, from 3,000 a decade earlier. Ryu Hyun Woo, who was Pyongyang’s envoy in Kuwait as sanctions began to hit the embassy’s operations, was one of the most recent high-profile defections. Between April and June this year only two new defectors landed in Seoul, the lowest number since records began. In early June, fleets of jet skis were seen cruising atop emerald waters alongside stretches of white sand near Kim’s summer retreat at Wonsan, on North Korea’s south-east coast. A month later, an 80-metre-long floating water park — complete with an Olympic-sized swimming pool and twin spiraling waterslides — was docked at one of the 37-year-old leader’s four beachside mansions in the area. The scenes illustrated that neither international sanctions nor 18 months of strict border closures aimed at keeping out coronavirus have restricted the lives of luxury enjoyed by the ruler’s family and his court. Yet in the intervening weeks, Kim publicly reprimanded top cadres in Pyongyang and called for emergency measures over what state media conceded was a “food crisis” in the country. “It is clear evidence they are enjoying themselves when they are not playing up for the camera,” says Colin Zwirko, a Seoul-based analyst with information service NK Pro, who uncovered the Kims’ latest water-based leisure activities while meticulously poring over satellite imagery. For some North Korea watchers, the question of why sanctions have failed to significantly tarnish the opulence enjoyed by those at the top, nor rein in Kim’s nuclear weapons technology advancements, has a simple answer: China. Speaking in late November, the final days of the Trump presidency, Alex Wong, then deputy assistant secretary of state for North Korea, made a series of stunning claims. China, Wong said, still hosted as many as 20,000 North Korean laborers. On 555 separate occasions in 2020, the US had observed ships carrying prohibited coal or other sanctioned goods from North Korea to China. Wong said Beijing was “seeking to undo the UN sanctions regime they themselves voted for . . . They are seeking to revive trade links and revenue transfers to the North.” Beijing, Wong explained, also turned a blind eye to “shadowy avenues” enabling North Korea’s weapons procurement. “The DPRK cannot do that without middlemen. It cannot do that without illicit bank accounts. It cannot do that without a network of money launderers. The overwhelming number of those middlemen, bank accounts and money launderers operate within the borders of China.” Beijing has long denied allegations of supporting North Korea’s illicit activities. Recent UN reports have noted allegations that North Korea and Iran have resumed technical co-operation on long-range ballistic missile development — officials in Tehran dispute the claims as based on “false information and fabricated data”. Others argue the U.S. itself should not escape blame for inconsistent sanctions enforcement. “When I first heard this expression, ‘maximum pressure’, my answer was: I’ll believe it when I see a nine-digit civil penalty against one of the banks that’s helping to launder this money, including the cryptocurrency transactions,” says Joshua Stanton, an American lawyer who helped draft the US sanction laws on North Korea. “I don’t think that we’re serious.” Back in Seoul, the former South Korean adviser believes the pressure from sanctions will only ever have one outcome: pushing Kim towards a greater dependence on illegal activities and further into China’s orbit. “Sanctions, for the US, is a matter of policy choice. For North Korea, attempting to overcome sanctions is simply a matter of life and death. North Korea will do whatever it takes to survive.” An unstable status quo North Korea’s latest inward turn marks a stark change from 2018 and early 2019 when Kim embarked upon a period of unprecedented summitry, meeting China’s Xi, Russian leader Vladimir Putin and then-president Donald Trump. When Kim arrived at the Hanoi’s Metropole Hotel and shook hands with Trump on February 28 2019, even some of Washington’s most skeptical observers conceded that a potential US-North Korea deal was finally on the cards. Kim’s 4,500km journey on his personal, heavily armored train from Pyongyang through China suggested he was willing to ink a deal that exchanged steps towards denuclearization for easing of sanctions. But after negotiations fell apart — the US deeming Pyongyang’s promises insufficient — plans for further talks in Berlin and Stockholm were abandoned. The fleeting Trump-Kim bromance dissipated and the two sides have returned to an unstable, acrimonious status quo of sanctions and weapons development. Since then the North Koreans have become even more impoverished, with the state facing its worst economic downturn since Kim was handed power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011. Crop production has been worse than usual after devastating flooding over the past two years. Scarcity of goods and a crackdown on foreign exchange dealers have sparked volatility in the won, the North Korean currency, and rises in the prices of basics such as rice, corn and cooking oil. There are also rising expectations North Korea will slip to the back of the queue in the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines. Pyongyang can access the Covax program under Gavi, a UN-backed alliance, but foreign medical experts have not gained access to the country to assess the status of its distribution networks. Sydney Seiler, national intelligence officer for North Korea at the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, reiterated last week that Washington has always “made clear” the benefits North Korea would accrue from giving up its nuclear weapons. “We’ve arranged the carrots in different ways in different administrations. But all we’ve learnt . . . is that Kim Jong Un is not a rabbit,” he said. Still, given the signs of worsening humanitarian situation, some analysts believe the US should orchestrate limited relief from the UN sanctions — even if a wholesale sanctions review is not on the cards in Washington, nor a comprehensive freeze on nuclear weapons development in Pyongyang. Daniel Wertz, a senior adviser at the National Committee on North Korea, a US think-tank, says specific steps might include a limited reopening of trade and potentially raising the international cap on oil imports. A barter arrangement could also be offered to allow Pyongyang to export some commodities in exchange for food or medicine. And small scale inter-Korean economic projects could be restarted. All are moves that would help boost North Korean industry rather than the nuclear program. Such concessions could draw Kim back to the table for nuclear talks. “I think it is very possible that the North Korean leadership will at some point realize what a deep hole it’s got itself into and seek to come to the negotiating table to get itself out,” he says. The US and South Korea agreed “to explore humanitarian initiatives” in North Korea, Washington said last week. But others fear that the problems posed by an increasingly isolated, yet still nuclear-armed North Korea are no longer at the forefront of American foreign policy. Eventually, says Kleine-Ahlbrandt, the US will again be “forced to do something” in response. In the meantime, she asks: “We lose how many more years? How much more fissile material is that?” The Biden administration, she says, “will come to regret this.” (Edward White, “North Korea: The Failure of ‘Maximum Pressure’ on Kim’s Isolated Regime,” Financial Times, August 9, 2021)


8/10/21:
WPK Central Committee Vice-Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s press statement: “The U.S. and the south Korean army desperately started joint military exercises further accelerating the instable situation despite the unanimous denunciation and rejection at home and abroad. The joint military exercises are divided into an “exercise of the staff for crisis control” from Aug. 10 to 13 and a “combined command exercise” from August 16 to 26. They are the most vivid expression of the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK, designed to stifle our state by force, and an unwelcoming act of self-destruction for which a dear price should be paid as they threaten the safety of our people and further imperil the situation on the Korean peninsula. The dangerous war exercises pushed ahead by the U.S. and the south Korean side disregardful of our repeated warnings will surely make them face more serious security threat. Whatever the scale and mode, the joint military exercises are of aggressive nature as they are a war rehearsal and preliminary nuclear war exercise for further rounding off the preparations for putting into practice the operational plan with the preemptive strike at us as the gist. Every March and August, military tension and the danger of conflict flare up in and around the Korean peninsula due to the war frenzy of the U.S. and south Korea. Now the U.S. doggedly pushes forward with the aggression war drills at such a sensitive time as now when the international eyes are focused on the development of the situation on the peninsula. It is indeed a chief architect destroying peace and stability in the region. This also proves that “diplomatic engagement” and “dialogue with no strings attached” touted by the present U.S. administration is hypocrisy to cover up its aggressive nature. The prevailing situation proves once again that we were quite just when we decided to steadily build up the capabilities for national defense. For peace to settle on the peninsula, it is imperative for the U.S. to withdraw its aggression troops and war hardware deployed in south Korea. As long as the U.S. forces stay in south Korea, the root cause for the periodic aggravation of the situation on the Korean peninsula will never vanish. The reality proves that only substantial deterrent, not words, can ensure the peace and security of the Korean peninsula, and that it is a vital requirement for us to build up the force powerful enough to fully contain the external threats to us. We have already clarified that we will counter the U.S. on the principle of power for power and goodwill for goodwill. We will put more spur to further increasing the deterrent of absolute capacity to cope with the ever-growing military threats from the U.S., i.e. the national defense capabilities and powerful preemptive strike for rapidly countering any military actions against us. Availing myself of this opportunity, I would like to express my deep regret at the perfidious behavior of the south Korean authorities. I release this press statement upon authorization.” (KCNA, “Kim Yo Jong, Vice-Department Director of WPK Central Committee Issues Press Statement,” August 10, 2021)

North Korea did not answer daily phone calls from South Korea via liaison and military hotlines this afternoon, hours after the sister of the North’s leader Kim Jong-un blasted Seoul and Washington for going ahead with combined military exercises. The inter-Korean communication lines — the liaison hotline and the military channels in the eastern and western border regions — were in normal operation until the morning but the afternoon calls went unanswered, officials said. “The daily call via the inter-Korean liaison office at 5 p.m. did not take place,” a unification ministry official said, adding that they are closely monitoring the situation. (Choi Soo-hyang and Yi Wonju, “N.K. Refuses to Answer Calls from S. Korea in Apparent Protest against Military Exercise,” Yonhap, August 10, 2021)


8/11/21:
WPK Central Committee Department Director Kim Yong Chol’s press statement: “The south Korean authorities started again the frantic military exercises regarding our state as the enemy from August 10, defying the opportunity of a turn hardly made amid unanimous expectation of all the compatriots at home and abroad for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. On August 1, upon authorization of the Party Central Committee, Kim Yo Jong, vice-department director of the C.C., the WPK, issued a press statement carrying a meaningful warning that the choice of hope or despair is totally up to the south Korean authorities, stressing that the military exercises slated by south Korea with the U.S. would be an unfavorable prelude further beclouding the future of the inter-Korean relations. The south Korean authorities were obviously given an opportunity of option. But the south Korean authorities have now revealed that peace and trust much touted by them whenever an opportunity presented itself were just a wordplay. In disregard of our advice, they opted for alliance with outsiders, not harmony with compatriots, escalation of tension, not détente, and confrontation, not improved relations. Now that they made their clear option known to the whole world, defying the opportunity, we will have to make clearer corresponding decision. As we have already clarified, we will make them realize by the minute what a dangerous choice they made and what a serious security crisis they will face because of their wrong choice. They must be made to clearly understand how dearly they have to pay for answering our good faith with hostile acts after letting go the opportunity for improved inter-Korean relations. It is clear that there is no other option for us as south Korea and the U.S. opted for confrontation with our state, without making any change. We will keep going on with what we should do.” (KCNA, “Kim Yong Chol, Department Director of WPK Central Committee Issues Press Statement,” August 11, 2021)


8/15/21:
South Korea and the US should not miss a rare opportunity to gradually turn North Korea into their ally by helping out Pyongyang, which is desperate to find a way out of its worst economic crisis, said Leem Ho-young, former deputy commander at the allies’ Combined Forces Command. “Let’s think beyond denuclearization. We have to eventually bring North Korea to the alliance-led order. That’s the ‘Grand Bargain,’” the retired four-star Army general said in an interview with The Korea Herald. He was referring to an article he contributed to the U.S. publication Foreign Affairs in late July. There, Leem and retired Gen. Vincent Brooks, who served with him as commander in 2016 and 2017, proposed bringing North Korea to what they called an “alliance-led order” as denuclearization and normalization of ties took place in stages. The first two steps would involve offering humanitarian aid and signing a declaration formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War. The next two steps are more contentious: The South and the US should step up their economic commitments to the North and replace the armistice agreement with a peace treaty.

Proportionate measures, concessions and demonstrated progress by Pyongyang should accompany each step in what Leem calls “strategic deliberateness,” which means mutual trust would be a precondition for deeper collaboration. The allies would maintain defense readiness until trust was built, he said. The Korea Herald: Your pitch doesn’t seem new. What makes you think it will work? Leem Ho-young: Timing. North Korea wants help with its economy now more than ever, and that’s a sign our help would work this time if we offer it. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fears social upheaval caused by economic distress and understands that’s a threat to his rule. He wants engagement. He has been careful with his language on US President Joe Biden. In October last year, Pyongyang showed off a new intercontinental ballistic missile, but it didn’t call Washington an imperialist aggressor or sworn enemy as it did the previous time, in September 2018. KH: Who does what in this economic initiative and what’s the goal? LEEM: The US should put together a multinational infrastructure development fund to offer the North a 10-year interest-free loan, while the South should pursue a free trade pact with the North. The plan is to reduce the North’s dependence on China, and to eventually bring the regime closer to the South-US alliance order. Pyongyang would have to work on denuclearization along the way. If it doesn’t, we won’t deliver either. For this to work, we need a long-term, coherent North Korea policy that could survive political shifts. But that hasn’t been the case for South Korea. We really need to start thinking long-term. KH: Do you see China getting on board with this proposal? LEEM: The fact the US and China are not on favorable terms means the US has more to gain than to lose in trying this economic initiative. It draws Pyongyang closer to its side and away from Beijing, which will work to Washington’s advantage when it is seeking to put checks on Beijing. We will have to make the US see this initiative is worth giving a shot to avoid being trapped in the current unacceptable status quo. And the US won’t just sit and watch Beijing extending its lifeline to Pyongyang, because that only reinforces its influence over the regime. KH: How will this economic plan link the North to the South-US alliance order? LEEM: Given the economic project is up and running, we’ll have to look at if the North has become nuclear-free, and if the two Koreas cannot risk invading each other. If that’s yes, we can look to ink a peace treaty. Our defense readiness shouldn’t be compromised along the way. By the time the two Koreas reach a peace agreement, South Korea will be the leading provider of North Korea’s investment, with the US being the second-leading partner responsible for the North’s international financing. Pyongyang will find itself in a wider Indo-Pacific trade pact. What sets all of that in motion is if North Korea joins the economic initiative in the first place. North Koreans heavily rely on “jangmadang” (North Korea’s black markets, which now account for almost 60 percent of the economy), which tells us there is room for capitalism to expand. KH: How is this economic agenda any different from the Moon Jae-in government’s approach? LEEM: Two things. What is it that the Moon administration is trying to ultimately achieve through economic engagement? That has been unclear. Has the government ever called out North Koreans on something they’ve done wrong? I don’t think so. Moon seeks engagement for engagement and there has been no change since the 2018 inter-Korean summits where the two Koreas shook hands on denuclearization. The government was business as usual when North Koreans killed our fisheries official in September last year. What’s worse is North Koreans got us thinking that the annual military drills between Seoul and Washington now threaten inter-Korean peace efforts. Talks have taken place many times despite the drills. North Koreans have learned to get their way, and we’ve let them. (Choi Si-young, “Turn N. Korea into Ally, Army General Says,” Korea Herald, August 15, 2021)


8/18/21:
South Korea will begin mass production of a newly upgraded interceptor missile, often dubbed the Korean equivalent of the US-made Patriot missile defense system, after successfully completing a number of quality tests, officials said today. Cheongung II, the upgraded version of the country’s first locally-developed medium-range surface-to-air guided missile, accurately hit a missile and an aircraft target in firing tests conducted at the Anheung test site in the western city of Taean, in July and August, respectively, according to the Defense Agency for Technology and Quality.

“With the successful completion of the quality certification tests, Cheongung II will now enter the stage of mass production,” the agency said in a release. The state-run Agency for Defense Development began the upgrade project in 2012 to add the capability of intercepting ballistic missiles to the previous version which mainly targets aircraft, with a goal to establish a Korean-style missile defense system. (Yonhap, “S. Korea to Begin Mass Production of Surface-to-Air Interceptor Missile,” Korea Herald, August 18, 2021)


8/19/21:
North Korea had declared a no-sail zone for ships off the east coast earlier this week, sources said today, indicating that it had plans to launch missiles amid an ongoing combined exercise between South Korea and the United States. The navigational warning was issued for Sunday through Monday for northeastern regions in the East Sea, according to the military sources. Such an advisory is usually issued ahead of missile launches or other weapons tests to warn vessels to stay clear of certain areas expected to be affected. (Oh Seok-min, “N. Korea Issues Navigational Warning for East Sea in Indication of Missile Launch Preparations,” Yonhap, August 19, 2021)


8/24/21:
The United Nations-backed global vaccination effort is offering additional doses of coronavirus vaccines to North Korea, one of a few countries yet to start inoculating residents after a delay in a distribution program slated to begin this summer. The Gavi Alliance, part of the Covax initiative that aims to deliver vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people, said last week that it has allocated nearly 3 million doses of the Chinese-made Sinovac coronavirus vaccine. The announcement came after plans to deliver nearly 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine were scrapped, amid North Korea’s apparent concerns about potential side effects and a supply shortage at an India-based distributor. Efforts to provide vaccines to North Korea have reached a bottleneck in recent months. Pyongyang requested vaccine access from Gavi in December, but no doses have been shipped. It is unclear whether the nation of 25 million will accept the latest offer, said Edwin Ceniza Salvador, the World Health Organization’s representative to North Korea, in a statement. The new allocation was first reported by NK News and Radio Free Asia. North Korea has completed some of the required steps for accepting the deliveries, such as developing a national vaccine deployment program, Salvador said. But technical issues still need to be resolved, such as ensuring proper storage and delivery systems are in place and negotiating whether North Korea is willing to indemnify the vaccine manufacturer against unexpected side effects, Salvador said. Meanwhile, a U.N. Security Council panel last week approved sanctions exemptions to allow the shipment of covid-related medical equipment to North Korea. The last shipment of non-coronavirus vaccines to North Korea was in the second quarter of 2020, according to UNICEF, meaning the country now faces a lag in its routine vaccination program. Accepting vaccine shipments would signal a significant step toward reopening and a shift in its overall covid-19 strategy, experts say. “In order to receive vaccines from outside, North Korea will have to accept aid workers into the country but this could be a sensitive issue for the secretive country,” said Lee Sang-keun, a researcher at Seoul’s Institute for National Security Strategy, which is affiliated with South Korea’s intelligence agency. Lee said North Korea rejected British-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccines because of concerns over rare side effects. He added that the Chinese and Russian vaccines are now on North Korea’s radar, and that the regime has expressed interest in accepting vaccines from Moscow if the Russians would provide the doses at no charge. There are no signs that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been vaccinated, South Korean opposition lawmaker Ha Tae-keung told reporters in early July, after a briefing by intelligence officials. Meanwhile, South Korea is looking into helping with vaccine distribution. South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Cha Deok-cheol said in a briefing last week that “direct cooperation between South and North as well as global cooperation are both possible options.” North Korea has shown it has the capacity to take on national vaccination programs — including a 2007 measles vaccine campaign during which an average of 3.3 million people were inoculated per day, according to a report published this month in 38 North, a research program of the think tank Stimson Center. The country has also demonstrated it can effectively seal its borders to stamp out infectious diseases through strict quarantine measures, said Kee Park, a global health expert at Harvard Medical School who has worked on health-care projects in North Korea and co-authored the 38 North report. “In some ways, their strategy is, ‘Look, we can keep our shutdown as long as we need to,’ and it’s working,” Park said. “From North Korea side, they’re thinking, ‘Do we really want these vaccines?’ There’s that vaccine hesitancy. They’re not desperate saying, ‘We want vaccines right now.’ ” (Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Min Joo Kim, “North Korea Has Yet to Begin Coronavirus Vaccinations as Delays Hamper UN-Backed Rollout,” Washington Post, August 24, 2021)


8/28/21:
North Korea appears to have restarted operations at a power plant capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog. The International Atomic Energy Agency said that clues, such as the discharge of cooling water, observed in early July indicated the plant is active. No such evidence had been observed since December 2018, the IAEA said. The IAEA said the findings, published today in an annual report on Pyongyang’s nuclear program, were “deeply troubling” and “a cause for serious concern.” “The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear program is a clear violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions and is deeply regrettable,” the report added. The IAEA said there also were signs of activity at the nearby radiochemical laboratory, from mid-February until early July. The power plant is used to make nuclear fuel, and the radiochemical laboratory is used to reprocess the fuel rods from the plant into plutonium that can, theoretically, be used in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said in June that the duration of activity at the lab was consistent “with the time required for a reprocessing campaign.” However, Grossi said it was not possible to confirm that reprocessing was taking place. IAEA inspectors were kicked out of North Korea in 2009, and the agency has been forced to monitor the country’s nuclear facilities remotely. Jeffrey Lewis, a weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said that though the IAEA’s report was expected, it is an important reminder of the challenges US President Joe Biden faces with respect to a nuclear-armed North Korea. “At some level, none of this is new, but it is notable that the IAEA has said business at usual is going on at Yongbyon,” Lewis said. “One of the problems that we’ve had with North Korea is because it’s been business as usual for the past several years, people have kind of just gotten used to the idea (of a nuclear-armed North Korea) and kind of forget about it. This stuff has been happening, and we only check in now and again.” President Biden’s administration has made several attempts to reach out to North Korea by email to start discussions with Washington, a senior South Korean official with direct knowledge of the situation told CNN. North Korea has acknowledged receipt of the emails, the official said, but did not feel compelled to respond due to what is seen as a lack of a detailed agenda or any serious indication the US is willing to move the conversation forward from what was agreed upon at Trump and Kim’s first summit Singapore in June 2018. (Joshua Berlinger, Will Ripley and Jake Kwon, “North Korean Nuclear Reactor Used for Plutonium Production Appears Active, IAEA Says,” CNN, August 30, 2021)


9/2/21:
The military said today it will pursue a homegrown missile defense system and a greater strike capability as part of a 315 trillion-won ($271 billion), five-year plan starting next year. About 106 trillion won goes to bolstering defense capabilities to build weapons, such as anti-missile systems and ballistic missiles, while the rest is set aside to cover operating costs. “We will have ironclad defense against North Korean fire targeting Seoul and the surrounding areas,” the Ministry of National Defense said, referring to the capital that is home to over 9 million people, nearly one-fifth of South Korea’s population. The military plans to put up a missile shield, similar to Israel’s Iron Dome, to protect the capital, which is well within range of North Korea’s long-range rockets. The military is also looking to upgrade the Patriot, one of two anti-missile shields — along with THAAD — that makes up the country’s multilayered missile defense system. The Patriot takes down threats flying low, while the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system intercepts higher targets. Early warning radar systems will come along the way to mount an independent missile defense, according to the military, which noted it will work for a Korean Positioning System, much like the U.S.-operated GPS, but with its own satellites unaffected by changes the U.S. makes. Advanced missiles will boost firepower in the meantime, the military added. “We will see more lethal missiles — including surface-to-surface and surface-to-air — becoming operational. More accurate, long-range missiles capable of striking targets just right will be the deterrence,” the Defense Ministry said. The military, which was cut loose in May from a Korea-US missile pact that had long capped Seoul’s missile program, is seeking better ballistic missiles. And the military is close to testing missiles carrying a warhead of up to 3 metric tons, according to a military official. Experts said those missiles, which could hit anywhere in North Korea, would roughly match the power of tactical nuclear weapons and could destroy underground missile bases known as silos. Meanwhile, the military is also eyeing warships and fighter jets to ensure its readiness. The Navy, which has recently unveiled its first submarine carrying a submarine-launched ballistic missile, will locally build more 3,000-ton submarines. Seoul is close to greenlighting a nuclear-powered submarine, and is set to reveal its first light aircraft carrier by 2033. The Air Force will see the US-made F-35, the latest stealth fighter jets, delivered to Seoul by December. The Air Force, which revealed in April a prototype of its first homegrown fighter jet that many see as a cheaper and less-stealth alternative to F-35, will fly the local jets as early as 2027, after flight tests.

But the five-year plan did not address the wartime operational control South Korea is expected to take over from the US. President Moon Jae-in, who leaves office in May next year, promised to make it happen during his tenure, but the two allies have been at odds over whether Seoul is actually ready. Washington, which insists Seoul meet a set of conditions for the transfer to take place, has reversed its position and is now seen as reluctant to relinquish control over Korea’s 550,000-strong armed forces, backed by 28,500 American troops here, as the U.S. seeks to rein in a more combative China in the region. (Choi Si-young, “Military to Build ‘Korean Iron Dome,’ Increase Long Range Strike Capabilities,” Korea Herald, September 2, 2021) The surface-to-surface missile, which can carry a warhead of up to 3 tons with a flight range of 350-400 kilometers, is in the last stage of development and the timing of its deployment will be determined after several test-firings, according to the sources. Last year, South Korea successfully developed the ground-to-ground Hyunmoo-4 missile, which has a range of up to 800 km and is capable of carrying a warhead weighing as much as 2 tons. “We will develop stronger, longer-range and more precise missiles so as to exercise deterrence and achieve security and peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the ministry said in a release. The comprehensive mid-term defense plan calls for spending 315.2 trillion won (US$273 billion), a 5.8 percent on-year hike on average, over the next five years. Of the total, 106.7 trillion won was allocated for improving defense capabilities, while the remaining 208.5 trillion won was set aside for force management, according to the ministry. “In order to shut out provocations at a long distance, we will sharply increase the number of interceptors targeting mid- and long-range missiles,” the ministry said, referring to its push to develop its own interceptor system like Israel’s Iron Dome. To better detect such threats across the Korean Peninsula, the military will deploy additional missile early warning radar systems and strengthen its surveillance capabilities, it said. South Korea is also pushing to expand its presence in the space sector with an eye to deploy a new radar system to monitor space objects by the early 2030s. Other space projects include an envisioned deployment of a military surveillance satellite and the development of ultra small-sized satellites. For the Navy, the country will build more 3,000-ton or larger submarines and replace aging frigates with new ones with improved operational and combat capabilities, the ministry said. The Navy recently received the country’s first 3,000-ton-class indigenous submarine capable of firing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). As part of efforts to enhance the country’s defense technology, the ministry will increase the research and development budget from 4.3 trillion won this year to 7.1 trillion won in 2026. Of the total, at least 80 percent will be spent domestically to support the local defense industry, it said. {Choi Soo-hyang, “S. Korea Developing Massive Ballistic Missile as Powerful as Tactical Nuclear Weapon,” Yonhap, September 2, 2021)


9/7/21:
North Korea has elevated a general long seen as a rising star in the country’s powerful military and a major player in its missile program to a position in the presidium of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) politburo, state media reported Tuesday. Pak Jong Chon will also serve as secretary of the WPK Central Committee, KCNA said. His election to the presidium, one of the most powerful decision-making bodies in North Korea, came after he appeared to face reprimand or demotion in July after leader Kim Jong Un accused officials of causing a “great crisis” with unspecified coronavirus lapses. North Korea has not reported any confirmed cases of the virus and never elaborated on what the crises or the lapses were. In recent years Pak was promoted to a full four-star Army general, led the military as chief of the general staff of the army, and made prominent appearances alongside Kim, including on a famous horse ride up North Korea’s sacred Mount Paektu. Analysts attributed his rise in part to his role in North Korea’s short-range missile development, which surged ahead after Kim suspended long-range ballistic missile tests in 2018 amid talks with the United States. Pak appears to have replaced Ri Pyong-chol, another powerful general who played a major role in North Korea’s ballistic missile program, on the presidium, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. Analysts said the reshuffling in July was the most significant personnel change among the core elite in years, and was seen as a likely warning to them that Kim would hold them accountable and maintain checks on their power. Rim Kwang-il, who served as head of North Korea’s military intelligence agency, was named as chief of the general staff of the army, while army general Jang Jong-nam was elected as the Minister of Social Security, KCNA said oday. (Reuters, “North Korea Promotes General to Ruling party’s Presidium, State Media Says,” September 6,2021)

South Korea has become the first non-nuclear state to develop a submarine-launched ballistic missile, having run a test-firing from a newly built submarine, sources said today. SLBMs have been developed by seven countries — China, France, India, North Korea, Russia, the UK and the US — all of which have nuclear weapons. A Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine, the country’s first 3,000-ton underwater vessel, revealed last month, carried out the underwater ejection tests last week after similar tests from a submerged barge last month. The homegrown SLBM, code-named Hyunmoo 4-4, is a variant of the Hyunmoo-2B ballistic missile, which could fly up to 500 kilometers and reach anywhere in North Korea. It will go through more tests before being deployed on the Dosan submarine. The Ministry of National Defense, which declined to confirm the details for security reasons, has said it will build more powerful missiles to enhance its strike capabilities as part of a 315 trillion won ($271 billion), five-year plan starting next year. (Choi Si-young, “South Korea Tests First SLBM,” Korea Herald, September 7, 2021)

North Korea’s trade with China plunged 82.1 percent on-year amid prolonged border closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, the unification minister said today. Minister Lee In-young made the remarks during a plenary session of the foreign affairs and unification committee at the National Assembly, saying that the North is focused on addressing internal challenges, including protracted sanctions, the COVID-19 pandemic and recent flood damage. The North’s trade with China from January to July this year stood at around US$86.66 million, 82.1 percent of the trade during the same period last year. The figure is also less than one-fifteenth of the trade before the coronavirus pandemic, Lee said. “As the inflow of grain and other necessities dropped sharply from the decrease in North Korea-China trade, it is faced with continued instability in supply and demand in rice, food and medicine,” he said. He added that the North is currently building a quarantine facility in the border area to expand the inflow of goods from outside. (Yonhap, “North Korea Trade with China Plunges 82% amid Pandemic: Unification Minister,” Korea Times, September 7, 2021)


9/9/21:
North Korea celebrated the 73rd anniversary of its foundation with a night-time military parade in the capital, state media reported today, publishing photographs of marching rows of personnel in orange hazmat suits but no ballistic missiles. Kim Jong Un attended the event as paramilitary and public security forces of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards, the country’s largest civilian defense force, began marching in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung square at midnight yesterday, state media showed. Rodong Sinmun published photographs of people in orange hazmat suits with medical-grade masks in an apparent symbol of anti-coronavirus efforts, and troops holding rifles marching together. Some conventional weapons were also on display, including multiple rocket launchers and tractors carrying anti-tank missiles. But no ballistic missiles were seen or mentioned in the reports, and Kim did not deliver any speech. “The columns of emergency epidemic prevention and the Ministry of Public Health were full of patriotic enthusiasm to display the advantages of the socialist system all over the world, while firmly protecting the security of the country and its people from the worldwide pandemic,” the KCNA said. Though the marchers wore hazmat suits, none of the thousands of people in the square were shown wearing protective face masks in the photos and video distributed by state media. State television broadcasts of the parade and other events showed Kim closely surrounded by crowds of people touching him and shaking hands. It was the first time since 2013 that North Korea had staged a parade with the 5.7 million strong Worker-Peasant Red Guards, launched as reserve forces after the exit of Chinese forces who fought for the North in the 1950-53 Korean War. Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the perceived absence of strategic weapons and the focus on public security forces showed Kim is focused on domestic issues such as COVID-19 and the economy. “The parade seems to be strictly designed as a domestic festival aimed at promoting national unity and solidarity of the regime,” Yang said. “There were no nuclear weapons and Kim didn’t give a message while being there, which could be meant to keep the event low-key and leave room for maneuver for future talks with the United States and South Korea.” (Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith, “n. Korea Puts Hazmat Suits on Display, but No Missiles,” Reuters, September 9, 2021)


9/11-12/21:
KCNA: “The Academy of Defense Science of the DPRK successfully test-fired new type long-range cruise missiles on September 11 and 12. Pak Jong Chon, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, watched the test-launches with Kim Jong Sik and Jon Il Ho, vice department directors of the Party Central Committee. Leading officials and scientists in the field of the national defense science took part in the test-launches. The development of the long-range cruise missile, a strategic weapon of great significance in meeting the key target of the five-year plan for the development of the defense science and the weapon system set forth at the 8th Congress of the Party, has been pushed forward according to the scientific and reliable weapon system development process for the past two years and, in this course, detailed tests of missile parts, scores of engine ground thrust tests, various flight tests, control and guidance tests, warhead power tests, etc. were conducted with success. The development of this weapon system that has been powerfully pushed forward as a crucial work under the special concern of the Party Central Committee holds strategic significance of possessing another effective deterrence means for more reliably guaranteeing the security of our state and strongly containing the military maneuvers of the hostile forces against the DPRK. The test flights were successfully held. The launched long-range cruise missiles traveled for 7 580 seconds along an oval and pattern-8 flight orbits in the air above the territorial land and waters of the DPRK and hit targets 1 500 km away. The test launches showed that the technical indices such as the thrust power of the newly developed turbine-blast engine, the missiles’ navigation control and the end guided hit accuracy by the combined guided mode met the requirements of designs. In all, the efficiency and practicality of the weapon system operation was confirmed to be excellent. Pak Jong Chon, upon authorization of the Party Central Committee, conveyed warm congratulations and thanks to the scientists in the field of defense science and the workers in the munitions field for succeeding in the development of the long-range cruise missiles. The achievement is a bright fruition of our Party’s policy of prioritizing defense science and technology and a signal success made in the defense field whose members are all out for implementing the decisions made at the 8th Congress of the Party, he noted. This is another great manifestation of the tremendous capabilities of the defense science and technology and the munitions industry of our country, he added. He stressed the need for the field of the national defense science to go all out to increase the defense capabilities, the war deterrence of the country and keep making achievements in meeting the grand and long-term targets of securing war deterrence set forth at the 8th Congress of the Party.” (KCNA, “Long-Range Cruise Missiles Developed by Academy of Defense Science Successfully Test-Fired,” September 13, 2021)

Van Diepen: “On September 13, North Korea released a statement reporting successful flight tests on September 11 and 12 of “new type long-range cruise missiles.” It also released photographs depicting a cruise missile resembling the US Tomahawk and other foreign long-range cruise missiles, both in flight and being launched from one of five launch tubes/canisters mounted on a wheeled mobile launcher. We have no corroborating information about this new missile. We also do not yet know if this missile will end up being deployed, in what numbers, on what platforms, or with what warhead type or accuracy. In any case, a North Korean land-attack cruise missile (LACM) will almost certainly augment rather than supplant Pyongyang’s ballistic missile force, which is already capable of accomplishing just about any mission a North Korean LACM can. Nevertheless, a LACM force could augment the ballistic missile force in several useful ways, including by further complicating alliance air and missile defenses, permitting a substantial increase in overall ballistic-plus-cruise missile force size and further diversifying and increasing the flexibility of the missile force. The North also clearly had political purposes for publicizing the LACM, including demonstrating the continued advancement of its missile (and, by extension, nuclear) capabilities in the face of international opposition, bolstering deterrence of external threats and seeking to gain prestige with domestic and international audiences by pitching the North’s technological prowess. … Kim Jong Un’s report to the January 2021 Eighth Party Congress mentioned that the North had “proceeded to develop … intermediate-range cruise missiles.” The missile unveiled on September 13 presumably is the missile Kim referred to, although a 1,500-km system technically is medium-range rather than intermediate-range (3,000-5,500 km). It could cover all of South Korea and Japan if launched from within North Korean territory, as well as from the adjacent sea areas. If the North’s claims are accurate, this would be its longest-range cruise missile and, by implication, its first purpose-built land-attack cruise missile, although the September 13 statement does not directly claim a land-attack mission or test. The claimed range, speed and configuration of the missile are consistent with LACMs developed in the US (deployed 1983), Russia (1984), China (1996), Pakistan (2010), India (first tested 2013) and South Korea (deployed 2006). The statement did not specify the type of warhead the missile is intended to carry, but the references to “strategic” and “deterrence” suggest a nuclear one. It is unknown, however, whether North Korea has yet developed a nuclear warhead small enough in diameter to fit the apparent size class of this missile (perhaps 0.5-0.6 meters). Kim’s January 2021 report noted, “It is necessary to … make nuclear weapons smaller and lighter for more tactical uses.” Interestingly, that report also referred to “ultra-modern tactical nuclear weapons including new-type tactical rockets and intermediate-range cruise missiles whose conventional warheads are the most powerful in the world.” This suggests the missile is intended to carry a conventional payload—either exclusively or in addition to a nuclear one. The military utility of a conventional LACM would be highly dependent on its accuracy. The September 13 statement’s references to “combined guidance” and “end guided” or “last-stage” guidance imply use of inertial guidance and some sort of terminal update/seeker. But the type of terminal guidance and its accuracy are unknown. The statement’s claim that the missile uses a turbofan engine is consistent with the reported range, speed and size of the missile. North Korea probably gained access to turbofan technology by acquiring Russian Kh-35 anti-ship cruise missiles some years before the deployment in 2014 of its own apparent spinoff, the Kumsong-3 (KN-19) missile. The LACM’s “newly developed” engine presumably is based on the Kumsong-3’s. The statement’s description of the missile’s development and test procedures (including ground tests of the engine, guidance system, and warhead, racetrack and figure-8 flight trajectories) appear sensible for this type of missile. This continues a trend of the North taking pains to try to substantiate that its missiles are reliable. The reference to conducting “various flight tests” suggests the September 11/12 tests were not the first. The reference to development having been “pushed forward … for the past two years” could be read as bragging that the entire development process took that long. But that is highly unlikely; it is much more likely that the system has been in development for several years, and that development was accelerated two years ago. The mobile launcher depicted in the photo appears to be the same vehicle used to carry the North’s new “oversized” multiple-launch rocket in previous military parades. Such a vehicle would provide for a highly survivable ground-launched missile system, akin to the North’s longstanding ballistic missile force. The missile also would be capable of launch from aircraft, submarine and surface ship platforms if the required development work is done. … The September 13 statement clearly shows the political purposes behind publicizing this missile system. As is often the case, Pyongyang apparently is trying to demonstrate the continued advancement of its missile (and, by extension, nuclear) capabilities in the face of international opposition, United Nations sanctions, economic hardship and COVID. In addition to bolstering deterrence of external threats, the regime is probably seeking to gain prestige with domestic and international audiences by showing the North’s technological prowess and showing the North Korean public that its policy direction is correct.” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Initial Analysis of North Korea’s ‘New Type Long-Range Cruise Missile,” 38North, September 15, 2021)


9/14/21:
Senior diplomats from Japan, the United States and South Korea agreed today to continue their efforts toward the denuclearization of North Korea through “dialogue and sanctions,” a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said. Their meeting in Tokyo came a day after Pyongyang said it had successfully carried out tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend. It also followed a report released late August by the International Atomic Energy Agency that said North Korea appeared to have resumed operating its main nuclear reactor used to produce weapons fuels amid stalled denuclearization negotiations with the United States. During today’s meeting, the three countries agreed to work closely toward the goal of complete denuclearization of North Korea in line with U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at curbing its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, the ministry said. At the outset of the three-way talks, Funakoshi Takehiro, head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, said, “Our cooperation becomes all the more important as North Korea advances furthermore in its nuclear and missile development.” Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, said in response, “We hope the DPRK will respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.” DPRK is the acronym of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name. Noh Kyu Duk, South Korea’s special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, referred to the possibility of humanitarian assistance to North Korea, including providing coronavirus vaccines through international aid organizations, a Japanese official said. At the meeting, Japan gained support from the United States and South Korea to address North Korean abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, the ministry said. Funakoshi and Kim held a separate meeting on the same day, as Funakoshi and Noh did Monday. The trilateral meeting was last held in June in Seoul. (Kyodo, “Japan, South Korea, U.S. Affirm Efforts to Denuclearize North Korea,” September 14, 2021) Despite the heightened tension in the region, President Joe Biden’s point man for North Korea reaffirmed Washington’s willingness to pursue dialogue with the recalcitrant regime. “As we have made it clear repeatedly, the United States has no hostile intent with the DPRK,” Kim said at the start of the meeting, using an abbreviation for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “We hope the DPRK will respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.” In the meantime, the US would continue to implement the UN Security Council resolutions against North Korea, Kim said. The three touched on the North’s missile launch, with Kim stressing that the recent developments in the North served as a reminder of the need for close cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan. Funakoshi also said trilateral cooperation becomes “all the more important as North Korea advances furthermore in its nuclear and missile development,” according to Kyodo News. During the meeting, the three envoys agreed “dialogue and diplomacy” was urgent to accomplish the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry. The envoys also discussed humanitarian assistance prospects, with Kim saying the U.S. supports humanitarian aid to the North regardless of progress on denuclearization. The U.S. envoy has sent similar messages since he was appointed as U.S. special representative for North Korea in May. In August alone, Kim and Noh met twice, and the US envoy reiterated his earlier position that he stands ready to meet his North Korean counterparts “anywhere, at any time.” North Korea watchers say mere words are not enough to get Pyongyang’s attention. If the Biden administration is serious about inducing Pyongyang to return to talks, they say, it needs to lift sanctions and stop the US-South Korea joint military exercises. “North Korea has long said that it will not return to talks until the US drops its ‘hostile’ policy toward Pyongyang, that is to cease joint military drills,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at Sejong Institute. “Pyongyang will not return to talks unless Washington is willing to make a concession in this regard or is ready to put this on the negotiating table.” With the U.S. and North Korea each unwilling to give the other what it wants, Cheong said, it is difficult to expect a breakthrough in the stalled talks. (Ahn Sung-mi, “Seoil, Washington, Tokyo Discuss NK Nuclear Issue amid Fresh Tension, Korea Herald, September 14, 2021)


9/15/21:
WPK Central Committee Vice Department Director Kim Yo Jong’s press statement: “South Korean President Moon Jae In reportedly made an improper remark that “south Korea’s missile power is enough to contain ‘provocation’ from the north”, when inspecting a missile test-launch. If the slip of tongue reportedly made by the “president” is true, it is too stupid one to be fit for the “president of a state.” We express very great regret over his thoughtless utterance of the word “provocation” which might be fitting for hack journalists. We are not aiming to make “provocation” against somebody at a certain time as presumed by south Korea. What we did is part of normal and self-defensive action to carry out the key task for the first year of the five-year plan for the development of defense science and weapon system in order to implement the decisions made at our Party Congress. Explicitly speaking, it is nothing different from the “mid-term defense plan” of south Korea. If south Korea admits that the “mid-term defense plan” made public by it targets a specific one and it is an undesirable thing escalating tension on the Korean peninsula, we will have no objection to south Korea obstinately faulting our plan and related activities and will take it for granted. To us, he is known as a “president” repeatedly calling for backing peace with a powerful force. We cannot but voice our great regret at south Korea’s illogical and stupid habit of describing its act as a just one supporting peace and describing our act of similar nature as the one threatening peace. This raises our concern about the future development of the north-south relations.” (Kim Yo Jong, Vice Department Director of WPK Central Committee Issues Statement,” KCNA, September 15, 2021)

KCNA: “Pak Jong Chon, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, guided a test firing drill of a railway-borne missile regiment. Among the spectators were officials of the Department of Political Leadership over Military Affairs and the Department of Munitions Industry of the C.C., WPK, leading officials of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army and the sector of research on national defense science. The 8th Congress of the Party, as part of the establishment of a new national defense strategy, organized a railway-borne missile regiment to increase the capability of dealing an intensive multi-concurrent blow at the forces posing threats to us at a time of conducting necessary military operations and to markedly improve the capability for more positively coping with various sorts of threats. The test firing drill took place for the purpose of confirming the practicality of the railway-borne missile system deployed for action for the first time, of judging the combat readiness and capability of performing firepower duty of the newly-organized regiment all of a sudden and of attaining proficiency in the action procedures in case of fighting an actual war. The railway-borne missile regiment took part in the drill with a mission to strike the target area 800 kilometers away from its location after moving to the central mountainous area at dawn on September 15. The regiment finished rapid movement and deployment according to the norm of the operation and action procedures of the railway-borne missile system, and accurately struck the target in the East Sea of Korea according to the firepower mission. Pak Jong Chon appreciated that the test firing drill of the regiment was successfully conducted in line with the strategic and tactical design and intention of our Party. Saying that the railway-borne missile system serves as an efficient counter-strike means capable of dealing a harsh multi-concurrent blow to the threat-posing forces through separate performances of firepower duty in different parts of the country, he called upon the army and relevant field to steadily round off tactical plans for properly applying this system to suit to the geographical conditions and actual situation of our country. He discussed in detail the matter of making the railway-borne missile regiment acquire the operational experience for actual war and expanding and reorganizing it as a railway-borne missile brigade at an early date in the future. He said that the deployment of the railway-borne missile system for action in accordance with the line and policies on modernizing the army set forth at the 8th Congress of our Party holds very great significance in increasing the war deterrence of the country.” (KCNA, “Pak Jong Chon Guides Test Firing Drill of Railway-Borne Missile Regiment,” September 16, 2021)

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea today, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, gradually ratcheting up tensions just days after successfully test-firing a newly developed long-range cruise missile. The projectiles were fired from the central county of Yangdok at 12:34 p.m. and 12:39 p.m. and flew around 800 kilometers at a maximum altitude of around 60 km, the JCS said. Government sources said the tested missiles appear to be an upgraded version of the North’s KN-23 Iskander ballistic missile, as the military detected the so-called pull-up maneuver over the course of their flight. Japan’s defense ministry said the two missiles fell outside its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The North Korean military has been staging summertime drills, a military official in Seoul said. The latest test is the second ballistic missile launch by the North so far this year, and its fifth known major weapons test if the cruise missile tests are taken into account. The North’s last ballistic missile test took place on March 25, when it fired two short-range missiles into the East Sea, believed to be an upgraded version of its KN-23 Iskander missile. “The North said after the March test that the new ‘tactical guided projectile’ has a 2.5-ton warhead. If you reduce the payload, the missile can fly farther,” missile expert Ryu Sung-yeop from the Korea Research Institute of Military Affairs said. At that time, the JCS said that the missiles flew around 450 km at an altitude of about 60 km. “Or the North could make the missile bigger to secure a longer flight range. The Hyunmoo-4 has a 2-ton payload and a maximum range of 800 km,” he noted. Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense Security Forum in Seoul, also said that the latest test appears to have been intended to verify the reliability of the Iskander missile, as the North has often brought its weapons to inland regions to fly them across its territory into the East Sea. (Oh Seok-min and Choi Soo-hyang, “North Korea Fires 2 Short-Range Ballistic Missiles into East Sea: JCS,” Yonhap, September 15, 2021)

South Korea has become the world’s seventh country with an indigenous submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), as it succeeded in an underwater test-launch from a submarine, Cheong Wa Dae announced Wednesday. President Moon Jae-in inspected the firing at a local test center of the Agency for Defense Development (ADD), hours after North Korea lobbed two ballistic missiles into the East Sea. The SLBM was fired from the 3,000-ton-class Dosan Ahn Chang-ho submarine at the ADD Anheung Test Center in South Chungcheong Province. It flew a planned distance and precisely hit a target, Moon’s office said. “Possessing SLBM is very meaningful in terms of securing deterrence against omnidirectional threats and it is expected to play a big role in self-reliant national defense and establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula, going forward,” it said in a statement. The ADD earlier carried out several ground- and water tank-based SLBM tests, including ejection ones. Currently, only six countries have SLBMs with actual field operation capabilities: United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and India. North Korea claims to have developed a homegrown SLBM. But the South’s military officials said that the North seems to have been successful in just the ballistic missile firing from a floating barge, not any underwater launch from an actual submarine. In addition, the ADD succeeded in a long-range air-to-ground missile separation test for use by the KF-21 next-generation fighter jet, which South Korea is developing with its own technology, Cheong Wa Dae said. It means South Korea has secured an aerial missile launch technology, an essential element for fighter jet armament, the office added. The ADD also briefed the president on progress in the development of two other strategic weapons — a supersonic cruise missile and a high-powered ballistic missile with significantly increased warhead weight. In July, the state agency had a successful combustion test of a solid-propellant engine for space rockets. It is designed to put small satellites into a low Earth orbit. (Lee Chi-dong, “S. Korea Succeeds in Conducting Ballistic Missile Launch from Submarine: Cheong Wa Dae,” Yonhap, September 15, 2021)


9/16/21:
Recent commercial satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center indicates the cooling units on the annex rooftop next to the cascade halls at the Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP) were removed between August 25 and September 1. As proper air conditioning and system cooling is essential to the uranium enrichment process—including maintaining a consistent temperature inside the cascade halls—it is unlikely that the UEP is currently operating if no other means for cooling is in place. It remains to be seen if the cooling units will be replaced or relocated. Additionally, new construction has started in an area just north of Cascade Hall #2, where a wall was constructed between September 1 and September 9. Excavations then started between September 9 and September 14 at the eastern end of this area as reported by CNN, but the purpose of this activity is not yet evident. The cooling capacity of the centrifuge hall at the UEP has been a focus of and an issue with North Korea’s enrichment program since 2014, when three cooling units were upgraded to support the functioning of Cascade Hall #2. In 2020, one cooling unit was permanently removed that was associated with the first cascade hall. Imagery from August and September 2021 show that the five remaining cooling units were removed sometime between August 25 and September 1, reported in IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi’s remarks to the IAEA Board of Governors on September 13. The purpose of the units’ removal is unclear. It may be part of efforts to make future improvements to the cooling system. The initial set of three cooling units for Cascade Hall #2 had originally been placed too close to the building and had to be replaced, as they caused condensation problems as reflected by frost and stains on the cascade hall roof. That original set was replaced in 2014, but only after another newer set had been installed and readied next to the set serving Cascade Hall #1. The installation was apparently done in such a way as to prevent any interruption to the then-ongoing centrifuge operations. Alternatively, that particular type of cooling system could have simply reached the end of its service life. The life expectancy of such cooling systems is typically 15 to 20 years, but irregular maintenance, extreme weather conditions and electricity inconsistencies can all reduce that life span. If North Korea is indeed in the process of replacing the cooling units for a system better-suited for the plant’s operational functionality (assuming an alternative means of cooling is not already in place), it has likely paused uranium enrichment activities until that system upgrade is complete. (Frank Pabian, Olli Heinonen, Jack Liu and Jenny Town, “Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center’s UEP May Not Be Operating,” 38North, September 16, 2021)

North Korea is expanding a uranium enrichment plant within the Yongbyon nuclear complex, reported the Middlebury Institute of International Studies today. “Satellite images show that North Korea is expanding the size of its uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon,” wrote Jeffrey Lewis, Joshua Pollack and David Schmerler in a report published earlier in the week. The report shows satellite images taken by Maxar, a private satellite image provider, of the uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon taken from early August to mid-September. The images show that a forested area next to the uranium enrichment plant is cleared of the trees by September 1, and has a wall enclosing the new space by Sept. 14. Panels between the enrichment facility and the new space were removed by September 14, to allow direct access between the two. “The new area is approximately 1,000 square meters, enough space to house 1,000 additional centrifuges,” reads the report. “The addition of 1,000 new centrifuges would increase the plant’s capacity to produce highly enriched uranium by 25 percent.” In November 2020, 38 North, a U.S.-based North Korea monitoring group, said it observed smoke or vapor rising from a building at the plant used to recover and purify uranium from raw concentrates, though researchers noted it was unclear what was taking place. In February, the group said it found indications of continual operation of the plant from January, based on satellite images. The activities at the uranium enrichment plant likely reflect North Korean plans to increase its nuclear weapons production, said the Middlebury report, which is in line with what North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in a speech earlier this year.

During a speech to the Workers’ Party of Korea in January, Kim emphasized production of “super-sized nuclear warheads” and the need to “make nuclear weapons smaller and lighter for more tactical uses,” according to a report by Rodong Sinmun on January 10. “Achieving these goals will probably require North Korea to increase the amount of weapons-grade plutonium and uranium available for weapons production,” said the Middlebury report. “The production of thermonuclear weapons (“super-sized nuclear warheads”), in particular, requires substantial amounts of highly enriched uranium.” (JoongAng Ilbo, “Uranium Enrichment in Yongbyon Is Growing: Report,” September 17, 2021) Recent commercial satellite imagery of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center indicates that construction has been ongoing at a site just south of the Experimental Light Water Reactor (ELWR) since April and has recently picked up pace. Although the exact purpose of the future building is still unclear, it may be intended to play a supportive role in future ELWR operations. The new building is currently located outside the reactor area perimeter security wall, but that can easily be expanded. Water is still being discharged from the 5 MWe Reactor, indicating some level of operations, although other traditional signatures, such as steam from the generator hall, have not been observed. These activities, along with recently reported construction at the Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP), all reflect heightened operations throughout the Yongbyon complex. Imagery from April through September shows that a new construction site near the ELWR has picked up pace in recent weeks. A September 15 image reveals that the building will most likely consist of two floors, although slightly larger (47 meters long by 17 meters wide) than the ELWR’s engineering office building (40 by 13 meters). While the construction site is outside the perimeter wall of the reactor area, the main road for the reactor complex runs directly to the new building. Given the size of the construction site, more buildings will likely be constructed there to support ELWR operations. (Frank Pabian, Olli Heinonen, Jack Liu and Samantha J. Pitz, “Yongbyon Nuclear Reactor Center: Construction Activity Near ELWR,” 38North, September 17, 2021) Recent commercial satellite imagery indicated new construction is underway at North Korea’s Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP) at the country’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Analysis by Jeffrey Lewis, Joshua Pollack and David Schmerler on Arms Control Wonk was reported by CNN, concluding that the “expansion of the enrichment plant probably indicates that North Korea plans to increase production of its weapons-grade uranium at the Yongbyon site by as much as 25 percent,” suggesting that the new building under construction may house 1,000 centrifuges. 38 North also reported on this new construction, but with less certainty about the goal of this activity. While its proximity to the UEP implies a strong relationship, the building is in the very early stages of construction, lacking the signatures sufficient to credibly determine its purpose. Building an addition to the centrifuge halls is one possibility, as North Korea has set goals for its nuclear weapons program that will require more of both plutonium and high-enriched uranium. However, there are a number of other potential uses for a facility this size as well. One such possibility would be a small pilot or demonstration plant to test more advanced centrifuges. This would be similar to the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant in Natanz, Iran, for instance, or comparable examples in other countries with civilian or military uranium enrichment programs. Another option would be a centrifuge assembly workshop, to facilitate the replacement of centrifuges as needed. Therefore, while this new construction at the UEP fits within the context of North Korea’s goals to modernize and further advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the exact purpose and impact of this new building remain unclear. (Olli Heinonen, Frank Pabian, Jack Liu and Jenny Town, “North Korea’s Uranium Enrichment Plant: What to Make of New Construction,” 38North, September 21, 2021)


9/22/21:
South Korean President Moon Jae-in used his last U.N. General Assembly speech todsy for a bid to revive hopes of a declaration to formally end the Korean War. In an unusual move, he publicly mentioned the names of signatories to the envisioned declaration. “Today, I once again urge the community of nations to mobilize its strengths for the end-of-war declaration on the Korean Peninsula and propose that three parties of the two Koreas and the U.S., or four parties of the two Koreas, the U.S. and China, come together and declare that the War on the Korean Peninsula is over,” he said. This year, he was more emphatic about the significance of what is widely viewed as a largely symbolic and political declaration. More than anything, he stated, an end-of-war declaration will mark a pivotal point of departure in creating a new order of reconciliation and cooperation on the Korean Peninsula. “When the parties involved in the Korean War stand together and proclaim an end to the War, I believe we can make irreversible progress in denuclearization and usher in an era of complete peace,” he added during the 15-minute speech. Moon also asked the international community to embrace North Korea for dialogue in a “cooperative spirit.” He repeatedly used the expression “global community.” Moon avoided remarks on the North’s latest provocation in his U.N. address. He instead called for the reactivation of an inter-Korean program to get families living on different sides of the Demilitarized Zone reunited. The move is seen as aimed at jump-starting the long-stalled Korea peace process. It reflects a sense of urgency to stop the tensions from further escalating and bring the North to the dialogue table. It also appears to be intended to demonstrate his resolve not to give up his peace drive, which once had momentum, until his tenure finishes. It was a message for both Pyongyang and Washington. “Toward building a Korean Peninsula that promotes shared prosperity and cooperation, I will make ceaseless efforts until my very last day in office,” he stressed. He has only about eight months in office, with his successor, either liberal or conservative, to be elected in March 2022. On the other hand, Moon’s reiteration of the call for the end-of-war declaration indicates that he has no fresh realistic incentive to offer for Pyongyang. In fact, the feasibility of Moon’s push is in doubt. It is uncertain whether North Korea is still interested in the end-of-war declaration. Pyongyang may issue a related message through its state media after the Chuseok holidays. Kim Song, North Korea’s top envoy in New York who is representing his country for the U.N. meeting, is scheduled to deliver a keynote speech September 27. It was not immediately known whether the Moon administration had prior consultations on the issue with President Joe Biden’s team that is seeking a “calibrated, practical approach” toward Pyongyang. In his own U.N. speech today, Biden briefly mentioned North Korea. “We seek serious and sustained diplomacy to pursue the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he said. “We seek concrete progress toward an available plan with tangible commitments that would increase stability on the Peninsula and in the region, as well as improve the lives of the people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” (Lee Chi-dong, “Moon Seeks Breakthrough in Peace Process with End-War Declaration,” Yonhap, September 22, 2021)

The United States is open to discussing a possible end of war declaration with North Korea as it seeks to engage with the reclusive state in dialogue over a number of other issues, a Pentagon spokesman said today. “We continue to seek engagement with the DPRK to address a variety of issues, and we are open to discussing the possibility of an end of war declaration,” the Department of Defense spokesman, John Kirby, said in a press briefing. “The United States remains committed to achieving lasting peace on the Korean peninsula through dialogue and diplomacy with North Korea,” he added. Kirby reiterated U.S. commitment to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, but said it was a complex issue. “As I said we’re open to a discussion about an end of war declaration, but we are also committed to diplomacy and dialogue with the DPRK to achieve the denuclearization,” said the spokesman when asked if the declaration of the war’s end could be a solution to the stalled denuclearization process. “We know that this is a complex issue and we’re committed to supporting the role of our diplomats in having that kind of dialogue going forward,” he added. (Yonhap, “U.S. Open to Discussion with North Korea on End of War Declaration,” Korea Times, September 23, 2021)

The United States and South Korea should actively consider offering conditional incentives to North Korea to bring the regime back to denuclearization talks, Seoul’s top diplomat has said. Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong made the remark during a discussion in New York today as Seoul and Washington have been exploring ways to reengage with North Korea to break the impasse in the nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang. South Korea and the U.S. have been looking at possible humanitarian assistance to the North in such areas as public health, antivirus quarantines, sanitation and clean water. “We shouldn’t be timid on offering North Korea incentives if those incentives can be snapped back at the first sign of noncompliance. We can do it. We can make such an arrangement,” Chung said during the session hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. He was accompanying President Moon Jae-in to attend the U.N. General Assembly. “It is very important that we show North Koreans that they have concrete things to gain, if they sit with us, if they come back to the negotiating table,” he said. Chung noted South Korea and the U.S. have been fully coordinating on the strategy to engage with Pyongyang and the humanitarian assistance can be a starting point. “Then we can move on to confidence building measures, like an announcement of the end-of-war declaration, and then we should consider presenting windows to relax sanctions, depending on their actions,” he said. Regarding the North’s recent test-launches of short-range ballistic missiles and a long-range cruise missile, Chung said he does not see them as “seriously provocative,” as the North has maintained its moratorium not to carry out nuclear and long-range ballistic missiles tests since late 2017. “I don’t mean that we should reward them for what they have not been doing, but as incentives, we hope we can find some ways to ease the sanctions,” Chung said. On China’s growing assertiveness, Chung said it’s only “natural” for Beijing to project itself to the world, given its emergence as a major superpower over the past decades. “I think it’s natural, because China is becoming stronger, economically more powerful. It’s not the China 20 years ago, so they want to project what they have,” Chung said. “They want to have their voice heard by other members of the diplomatic community; we should try to listen to what they have to say to us.” Chung dismissed the idea of Asia developing “a Chinese bloc” versus “a non-Chinese bloc,” saying it is “the mentality of the Cold War,” and it is never about having to choose between the two countries. “Both countries are very important … There are many areas in which the two countries can cooperate — in the fight against COVID-19 and climate change … We hope to see more stable relations between China and the U.S.” (Yonhap, “FM Chung Calls for ‘Snap-Back’ Incentives to Bring North Korea back to the Negotiating Table,” September 23, 2021)

Carlin: “There is a generally accepted view that a large—perhaps the largest—portion of the DPRK economy in one way or another is devoted to the defense sector, thus starving the civilian economy. This does not seem to be settled policy, however, and has not been for some time. Internal North Korean discussions on defense spending have been and continue to be key indicators of the range of leadership thinking on this central question, not merely in terms of allocation of resources, but in a larger sense, in terms of thinking about economic reform. There has long been a tug-of-war in the North Korean leadership over military versus civilian spending. National priorities have almost always ended up favoring defense spending, not just for military hardware but also for priority access to talent and technology. To some extent, the debate surrounding those decisions has been conducted in full view. Contrary to the commonly accepted notion that there can be no dissent or inconsistencies in North Korean publications, North Korea’s primary economic journal Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu (Kyongje Yongu)—and to a lesser degree, Journal of Kim Il Sung University (Philosophy, Economy)—has served as a platform for voicing differing views on defense spending. Notionally, the journal is simply a platform for academics, but it is inconceivable that this level of disagreement over such a sensitive topic could be conducted without the concurrence, and more likely the active backing, of various elements in the leadership. In effect, the authors, some of whom are apparently on the leading edge of the discussions, are used to voice the contending views when a policy is under discussion within the leadership, sometimes inserting new ideas or even carefully voicing shades of opposition to the current line, again, almost certainly with high-level backing. In that vein, over the past two decades, there have been frequent episodes where arguments have broken out in the journal over the value of defense spending, forcing those who favor giving defense industries such a large portion of the pie to justify that position in ways that went beyond simple traditional arguments about the need for strong armed forces. Simply put, there is an underlying argument that the more funds the regime allocates to national defense, the fewer resources can be spent to prop up and revitalize the civilian economy, leaving little room for reform-oriented ideas and measures to take root. In recent years, proponents of defense spending were forced to demonstrate how money in the defense sector is actually good for the economy, supports other non-defense sectors, and stimulates growth overall. The opponents, occasionally with unbelievable boldness, argued that defense spending was money down a rat hole, and actually undermined economic growth. That debate was very evident in the period of 2001 to 2005, for example, when contending arguments appeared in the economic journal and the pages of the party daily Rodong Sinmun as Kim Jong Il’s efforts to introduce new, reform-oriented economic policies ebbed and flowed. There was a resurgence of articles in Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu beginning in 2008 again advocating a more balanced approach, and thus implicitly less emphasis on the defense sector. This was despite the North’s hardening line against cabinet-led economic reforms, which culminated in Kim Jong Il’s “June 18 talk” in 2008 with senior party and state economic officials that appeared to be rolling back these reforms. Even after Kim’s stroke in August 2008, when the North seemed to swing toward a harder external line, most notably on the nuclear issue, arguments for more balanced economic policies continued to appear in the journal. There are many possible interpretations for that, but at one level, it suggests that Kim’s efforts to prepare for the eventual political succession consisted of two parts: a shield of toughness against external pressure, and a new look at ways to improve the economy to increase the chances of a smooth transfer of power. Each year from 2007 to 2010, there were several articles in Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu that dealt primarily with or were exclusively dedicated to the defense industry and its correlation with other industries. These decreased sharply starting with the first volume of 2011, giving way to more articles on economic management—a theme which, as it developed, became increasingly linked with reforms. In other words, just four months after Kim Jong Un’s public debut in 2010, and nearly a year before his father’s death in December 2011, the economic journal was already reflecting a new focus on economic policies associated with reform and less on defense priorities. The easiest theme to identify in this overall debate is the clear cry of pain from those whose back is seemingly against the wall trying to defend the priority once granted automatically to defense industry spending. In an article published in early 2010, proponents of a massive diversion of economic resources to the defense sector had to shift their ground. They argued, not very convincingly apparently, that spending on defense did not retard but actually helped stimulate the economy, and that arguments raised to the contrary were “one dimensional.” They said: “Conventional wisdom has it that it was the development of munitions production that delayed overall economic development. The basis for this is that munitions products cannot be inducted into the reproduction process again. This, however, is based on a one-dimensional understanding. The national defense industry of the military-first era plays the role of leading and vigorously promoting overall people’s economic development.” This sort of reference to another side of an argument—in this case pushing back against a “one dimensional” viewpoint—is usually a sign of an underlying debate. Writings later in 2010 appeared to advance the other side. In typical fashion, these tiptoed into the argument. On the surface, they acknowledged the importance of the defense industry, but then argued, for example, that the defense industry was dependent on a prior development of heavy industry, implicitly rejecting the idea that by giving priority to the former, it would strengthen the latter. An article in the final volume in 2010, after a lengthy lead-in that ostensibly discussed the importance of the defense industry, shifted gears to argue the opposite. In effect, it argued that the country had already reached the level of a “militarily powerful state”—a flag around which the reformers had long rallied, and that: “At the present time, the urgent issue in our people’s struggle to build a powerful socialist state is to build our country into an economically powerful state with powerful economic capabilities. Our country has already confidently stepped up to the position of a politically and ideologically powerful state and a militarily powerful state under the wise leadership of the great party. Hence, the issue that needs to be resolved in our people’s struggle to build a powerful state at the present time is to place the country’s productivity development level to a position of an economically powerful state. In order to decisively raise the level of the country’s productivity development, [we] must first give a boost to the leading sectors and basic industrial sectors of the people’s economy, which are in charge of the leading processes of social production and are the basic sectors of all industrial development, such as the machine industry.” An article published in the Journal of Kim Il Sung University (Philosophy, Economy) in 2015 seemed an effort to straddle the two positions. It largely swept away an appeal to the economic efficacy of the national defense industry and reverted to an old-fashioned argument that was unusually harsh, given that Kim Jong Un’s key economic reforms had been tested and launched by the time the article was published. The article argued that military spending was crucial, first and foremost, to protect the country against “the imperialists,” citing Afghanistan and Iraq as examples that must be avoided at all costs. Nevertheless, the times apparently did not allow that argument to stand alone, and so the author was obliged to address the efficacy of defense spending for overall economic progress, in terms similar to what had been advanced in Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu several years before: “Strengthening national defense capabilities guarantees rapid economic advancements by rejuvenating the entire socialist economy through the priority development of the national defense industry … The development of the national defense industry is premised on the priority development of heavy industry. Therefore, if [we] advance the national defense industry, [we] end up promoting the priority development of heavy industry, and based on the priority development of heavy industry, [we] can also rapidly advance light industry and agriculture.” In short, through this period, those arguing for special status for the national defense industry were being forced to make their case that “munitions production” was actually a productive investment, something that paid dividends, perhaps over time, in terms of overall economic progress. Eight years later, in January 2018—almost certainly in anticipation of, and implicitly voicing some level of opposition to Kim Jong Un’s shift to the “new strategic line” of “concentrating all efforts” on the economy announced in April of that year—dueling articles appeared in the same issue of Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu. One, seemingly trying to head off the decision to shift to the new line, advocated the harder position that defense spending helped to stimulate the economy. The other suggested the need to shift emphasis away from the military. Although the former article noted that “considering the requirements of the times today, newly clarifying the position of the national defense industry arises as a particularly important issue,” it did not actually clarify anything new. Instead, it basically repeated the same argument from 2010: “According to existing notions, the effects of munitions production on civilian production have been regarded as being limited effects on the overall economic development and as delaying economic development. This was based on the grounds that munitions products cannot be inducted into the reproduction cycle again and that investment in munitions production is unproductive investment.” This reference to “existing notions” is a window into how baldly the debate is being conducted beneath the surface, that however roundabout those who advocate easing off defense spending may sometimes make their arguments in the pages of Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu, the gloves are actually off. Someone is calling investment in munitions production “unproductive,” a devastating charge that no one would make without very high-level backing. In addition to the back-and-forth noted above, a second part of the debate revolves around the seemingly obscure issue of whether the defense industry is part of or separate from heavy industry. This is not simply academic angels dancing on the head of a pin. Within the context of the debate over the position of the defense industry’s place in the overall economic scheme, it deals with an important issue—whose share of the pie the defense industry is consuming, or by implication, it ought to consume. If the defense industry is viewed as part of heavy industry, then spending on the defense industry gets counted as contributing directly to the heavy industry sector performance. In that case, the defense industry cannot be accused of taking resources away from a vital sector since, by definition, it is actually part of that sector. In turn, that reinforces the argument that spending for the defense industry is a contribution to economic development. Those who argue to the contrary are, in effect, adopting the line referenced above—that investment in the munitions industry is unproductive; that is, it adds nothing and is actually a net loss for the economy. The claim that “heavy industry is the national defense industry and the national defense industry is heavy industry” is sometimes justified by arguing that industries like machine, metal, and chemical fall in both the defense and heavy industry pots. One author left no doubt: “The national defense industry and heavy industry are closely intertwined so as to be inextricable. The national defense industry is founded on heavy industry, and the development of the national defense industry cannot be thought of apart from the development of heavy industry.” This has apparently been a tough argument to oppose, and it is not unusual for writers to throw up a protective shield in the first part of their article by seeming to support the conservative (or safe) position, then to shift to something over the line by arguing the opposite. For example, in 2008, the first half of a Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu article emphasized in standard language the link between the defense industry and heavy industry, only to suddenly pivot to what appeared to be its real main point: heavy industry’s resources must support more than national defense and should extend to light industry and agriculture: “All of this shows that the development of heavy industry into heavy industry for the national defense industry serves as the basic direction of heavy industry construction in the military-first era. Next, the basic direction of heavy industry construction in the military-first era is to build [heavy industry] into heavy industry that vigorously lends impetus to socialist economic construction … ” From this point of view, building heavy industry into heavy industry that vigorously lends impetus to socialist economic construction means building heavy industry into heavy industry that actively lends impetus to the development of light industry and agriculture. Pyongyang’s discourse on accumulation (investment) and consumption is a third battleground inextricably, though not always explicitly, linked to the issue of defense spending. Dueling narratives in North Korea on accumulation and consumption go back as far as the mid-1950s, when Kim Il Sung supported concentration in heavy industry and the defense industry, while those who opposed Kim’s policy accused him of neglecting the people’s livelihoods. The core of this debate has never gone away, though arguments on both sides have shifted over time. Proponents of accumulation call for investing national resources in the people’s future happiness, namely by delaying consumption and strengthening, first of all, the defense shield, then the basic (heavy) industry necessary to produce machines and resources required for eventual use by light industry and consumer goods. They argue that consumption can grow only through a systematic increase in investment. Supporters of consumption, on the other hand, place weight on satisfying the people’s more immediate material needs, in some cases arguing that if the people are expected to come to the defense of the nation, they need to have something to defend. They argue that excessive focus on either will adversely affect the other, as accumulation and consumption both use national income. They specifically warn against overspending on accumulation (and heavy industry goes into the accumulation basket), as it reduces the national resources available for satisfying the people’s immediate needs, such as workers’ salaries, thereby negatively impacting growth in production. In the past, during periods of discussion or debate within the North Korean leadership over economic reform policies or when the North was looking to pivot away from reform, Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu published articles that emphasized accumulation to justify increased defense spending as investment in the people’s future happiness. For example, there was a resurgence of articles in the journal on the accumulation-consumption debate starting in 2004, in line with Kim Jong Il’s “economic construction line of the military-first era,” which called for advancing the defense industry first while rhetorically at least developing light industry and agriculture simultaneously. Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu articles on accumulation and consumption in Kim Jong Un’s time have generally emphasized equilibrium between accumulation and consumption, with some explicitly justifying such a course by painting in rosy terms the economic impact: “In a socialist society, the correlation between accumulation and consumption calls for consuming while accumulating, and accumulating while consuming without being partial to any specific one of these. In a socialist society, there can be no contradictions between accumulation and consumption—they both are geared toward promoting the well-being of the people … When [we] firmly build socialist material and technical foundations by first directing more funds toward accumulation for strengthening the production foundations of the leading sectors of the people’s economy, the basic industrial sectors, light industry, and agriculture can [we] strengthen the country’s financial foundation, accelerate overall economic development with [our] own funds, and rapidly improve the people’s living standards.” Despite Kim Jong Un’s avowal at the Eighth Party Congress in January to continue to develop new weapons and improve existing deterrence, there appear to be no signs yet of North Korea significantly backtracking on economic reforms to make room for more emphasis on defense industry. North Korean central media continue to espouse the socialist enterprise responsibility management system (SERMS) and the “plot responsibility system,” the country’s key reform measures in the industrial and agricultural sectors, respectively. Even Kim Jong Un’s remark at a recent party Political Bureau meeting that “the mission of our economy is to meet the people’s material demand,” as he emphasized the importance of light industry, sounded like consumption over accumulation. Though Kyo’ngje Yo’ngu ceased publication as of the beginning of this year, we don’t expect an end to the long-running internal North Korean discussion or debate over whether defense spending is crucial to or a drag on the economy. … ” (Robert Carlin, “Understanding Kim Jong’s Un’s Economic Policy-Making: Defense vs. Civilian Spending,” 38North, September 22, 2021)


9/23/21:
DPRK Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Thae Song’s press statement: “The issue of the declaration of the termination of the war on the Korean peninsula has emerged again at the 76th UN General Assembly. It holds a symbolic meaning in that it is a political declaration of the termination of the ceasefire that the Korean peninsula has been in so far. And it is clear that the termination of the war is what has to be dealt with for the establishment of peace-keeping mechanism on the peninsula in the future. It will be truly admirable if peace comes to the Korean peninsula just by relevant parties holding a ceremony while having photos taken with the declaration document on the termination of war of no legal binding force. But the true situation proves that the adoption of the declaration of the termination of the war is something premature. The whole world knows that the Minuteman-3 ICBM test-launch in Vandenberg air force base in California in the U.S. mainland in February and August this year, the hasty declaration of the termination of the U.S.-south Korea missile guidelines in May this year and the U.S. approval for the sale of billions of dollars worth military hardware to Japan and south Korea are all targeted against the DPRK. We are also following with alert the U.S. recent decision to transfer a nuclear-powered submarine building technology to Australia. There is no vouch that the mere declaration of the termination of the war would lead to the withdrawal of the hostile policy toward the DPRK, under the present situation on the peninsula inching close to a touch-and-go situation. It is by no means accidental that some view that starting discussion about it seems difficult at the moment, given differing interests and methods of calculation of relevant parties over the declaration of the termination of the war. Underlying all the issues cropping up on the Korean peninsula is, without exception, the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK. The U.S. forces and a huge number of its latest war assets which have already been deployed or are in the state of movement on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, including the ground, waters, air and underwater, and war drills annually held with various codenames all point to the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK getting vicious day by day. The DPRK’s just measures to bolster up the capability for defense to cope with the U.S. military threat to bring us down by force are described as “provocations” while the arms buildup escalated by the U.S. and its vassal forces to threaten the DPRK is justified as “deterrent”. Such American-style double-dealing attitude is also a product of the hostile policy toward the DPRK. Nothing will change as long as the political circumstances around the DPRK remains unchanged and the U.S. hostile policy is not shifted, although the termination of the war is declared hundreds of times. On the contrary, the declaration will entail disastrous consequences of upsetting the strategic balance in the region and plunging the north and the south into an unending arms race, given the U.S.-south Korea alliance getting ever-toughened. What’s clear is that as long as there remains the U.S. hostile policy towards the DPRK, the biggest stumbling block in ending the war, the termination of the war will merely be nominal even though it is declared. All these facts prove that it is still too early to declare the termination of the war. It should be clearly understood that the declaration of the termination of the war is of no help at all to stabilizing the situation of the Korean peninsula at the moment but can rather be misused as a smokescreen covering up the U.S. hostile policy. We have already clarified our official stand that the declaration of the termination of the war is not a “present” and it can become a mere scrap of paper in a moment upon changes in situations. The U.S. withdrawal of its double-standards and hostile policy is top priority in stabilizing the situation of the Korean peninsula and ensuring peace on it.” (KCNA, “Press Statement of Vice Foreign Minister Ri Thae Song,” September 23, 2021)

Moon Jae-in: Q: What is your impression of this US trip? Moon: Because this year is the 30th anniversary of South and North Korea becoming UN members, I had expectations that the UN General Assembly could be an opportunity to make a breakthrough in inter-Korean relations. But that didn’t work as intended. But it was rewarding that I and BTS together attended the Sustainable Development Goals event as the guests of honor and helped extending interest and understanding about the SDG vision across generations. Q: You finished the trip by paying tribute to war veterans. Moon: Repatriating the remains of war veterans was the key purpose of the Hawaii visit. It is a nation’s duty to find the remains of people who have devoted themselves to the country and return them to their families. The government has continued related efforts and there have been some achievements but we still have a long way to go. We will do our best for their repatriation until the end. It was also a rewarding event to award medals of honor to two Korean immigrants (to the US) for their independence activities during Japan’s colonial rule. Q: In your UN speech, you suggested declaring a formal end to the Korean War. Were there any communications with the US, China and North Korea in advance? Moon: After checking media coverage, especially the response of opposition parties, I thought there is a lack of understanding about an end-of-war declaration. Actually, the two Koreas had already agreed on the war-ending declaration by three or four parties through the Oct. 4 Joint Declaration signed in 2007. The three parties were the two Koreas and the US, and China could join if it wanted. Since then, I think there has been a consensus among the nations that the end-of-war declaration is necessary. Among other things, there is a clear difference between an end-of-war declaration and a peace treaty. The Korean War ended in an armistice, not in a peace treaty. A war-ending treaty can lead to a peace treaty but 70 years have passed without doing so. The end-of-war declaration is the starting point and is a political declaration to enter talks toward a peace treaty. There is no change in the legal status. And the end-of-war declaration has nothing to do with the withdrawal of US Forces Korea or the Korea-US alliance. US forces are here under an agreement between South Korea and the US. Even when the North Korea-US relations are restored, US forces will be stationed in South Korea if the two nations (South Korea and the US) agree to the necessity. Q: It’s your third suggestion but no progress has been done so far. Do you think other nations are passive about the issue? Moon: No, they are not. The overall process was relatively simple in the past, but now things have become more complicated, with North Korea advancing its nuclear capabilities. We need a two-track approach: While working on peace treaty talks, there should be separate talks for denuclearization, under which sanctions relief will be carried out in phases and the US takes corresponding measures. That’s why we need a more strategic consideration on when and how an end-of-war declaration can be made. I think there is a clear consensus among the nations on the issue and it is an issue that can be discussed when inter-Korean and US-North talks start. Q: COVID-19 is also a factor in the inter-Korean talks. Moon: Yes. North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range missiles may be the biggest hurdles in the development of inter-Korean relations but for now the key issue is North Korea’s border shutdown due to COVID-19. But we cannot spend time doing nothing because stalled talks could lead to new tensions. It’s time to talk. The US also shows a strong will. They hint at a more gradual and practical approach to dealing with the North Korea issue, urging the regime to resume talks. Q: The inter-Korean hotlines have been cut off again. Were there any exchanges or contacts between the two Koreas? Moon: Both South Korea and the US have sent overtures for dialogue but there is no response from North Korea. But I wouldn’t say the door between the two Koreas is closed. Even though North Korea recently fired missiles, they maintain a self-moratorium on nuclear testing and intercontinental ballistic missile launches. They are escalating tensions with low intensity acts, which are not serious enough to make the US abandon dialogue. North Korea appears to be making many considerations, keeping the door open for dialogue. North Korea is urging the US to scrap its hostile policy and to compensate them in return for denuclearization. They are saying they can return to the negotiating table once their conditions are met. In the meantime, the US is saying these conditions can be discussed once talks are resumed. I cannot predict but I believe North Korea will conclude that taking the path of dialogue and diplomacy would be in its interests. Still, it remains to be seen whether the time will come within my term or later in the next government. Q: Do you expect an inter-Korean summit before your presidency ends? How about at next year’s Beijing Olympics? Moon: We will do our best until the end if there’s any hope of advancement in inter-Korean relations. I’m not so sure about summit talks. I think the Beijing Olympics could become one of the occasions for rapprochement. Q: In your UN speech, you said you expected that the international community remains ready and willing to reach out to North Korea. Did you mean possible sanctions relief? Moon: The key achievement of the three inter-Korean summits and two North Korea-US summits was inducing North Korea to the international community. It’s regrettable that the process has been suspended after the breakdown of the Hanoi summit (between then President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February 2019). There are restrictions because North Korea has not yet abandoned its nuclear weapons program and UN sanctions remain intact. But it is an international consensus that humanitarian cooperation should continue. I think the international community should pay more attention to humanitarian aid that helps its people, not the regime.” (Lee Ji-yoon, “Moon Holds Rare Inflight News Briefing,” Korea Herald, September 24, 2021)


9/24/21:
Vice Department Director of WPK Central Committee Kim Yo Jong’s Statement: “President Moon Jae In again proposed the issue of the declaration of the termination of the war on the Korean peninsula at the 76th UN General Assembly. The declaration of the termination of the war is an interesting and an admirable idea in that it itself is meant to put a physical end to the instable state of ceasefire that has remained on the Korean peninsula for a long time and to withdraw hostility toward the opposite party. We discussed the declaration of the termination of the war on several occasions in the past as we acknowledged the necessity and significance of the declaration of the termination of the war, an initial step for establishing a peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean peninsula. There is nothing wrong in the declaration of the termination of the war itself. But it is necessary to look into whether it is right time now and whether there are conditions ripe for discussing this issue. Now double-dealing standards, prejudice and hostile policies toward the DPRK and speeches and acts antagonizing us persist. Under such situation it does not make any sense to declare the end of the war with all the things, which may become a seed of a war between parties that had been at odds for more than half a century, left intact. Smiling a forced smile, reading the declaration of the termination of the war and having photos taken could be essential for somebody but I think that they would hold no water and would change nothing, given the existing inequality, serious contradiction there-from and hostilities. For the termination of the war to be declared, respect for each other should be maintained and prejudiced viewpoint, inveterate hostile policy and unequal double standards must be removed first. What needs to be dropped is the double-dealing attitudes, illogical prejudice, bad habits and hostile stand of justifying their own acts while faulting our just exercise of the right to self-defense. Only when such a precondition is met, would it be possible to sit face to face and declare the significant termination of war and discuss the issue of the north-south relations and the future of the Korean peninsula. South Korea had better pay attention to fulfilling such a condition in order to make durable and complete peace truly take its firm roots on the Korean peninsula, as always touted by it. We have willingness to keep our close contacts with the south again and have constructive discussion with it about the restoration and development of the bilateral relations if it is careful about its future language and not hostile toward us after breaking with the past when it often provoked us and made far-fetched assertions to find fault with anything done by us out of double-dealing standards.” (KCNA, “Kim Yo Jong, Vice Department Director of WPK Central Committee Issues Statement,” September 24, 2021)

South Korea today decided to provide up to 10 billion won ($8.51 million) to civilian organizations that are carrying out aid projects for North Korea, as the government seeks to engage the North through humanitarian assistance. Under the decision approved during a civilian-government committee on inter-Korean exchanges, the Unification Ministry set aside up to 10 billion won to support civilian group-led projects that tackle nutrition and health conditions for vulnerable groups in North Korea. Organizations can receive up to 500 million won for a single project. “As the COVID-19 lockdown prolongs, North Korea’s food and medical supply shortage is said to be getting serious,” Unification Minister Lee In-young said at the start of the committee meeting. “Through the support of 10 billion-won fund, we hope our compassion will be sent to the North Korean people so that their lives will become safer and trust between the two Koreas improves.” The ministry will start receiving applications this month. The organizations must first obtain consent from the North on their projects before applying for the government funding. It is still unclear how many groups will be eligible for the funding, as the North has repeatedly refused offers of aid or talks, with the North accusing the US of using humanitarian aid as a “sinister political scheme” to put pressure on other countries. (Ahn Sung-mi, “Seoul to Fund up to W10b for Groups Sending Aid to North Korea,” Korea Herald, September 24, 2021)


9/28/21:
North Korea fired a short-range missile off its east coast today, the South Korean military said, just as the North’s ambassador to the United Nations called on the United States to end joint military exercises and withdraw its strategic weapons from around the Korean Peninsula. Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, the North’s ambassador, Kim Song, reiterated that Washington must end “hostile policy” toward his country if it wants peace on the peninsula. “If the U.S. wants to see the Korean War, the most prolonged and long-lasting war in the world, come to an end, and if it is really desirous of peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula, it should take the first step toward giving up its hostile policy,” Kim said. The first step in negotiations, Kim added, includes “stopping permanently the joint military exercises and the deployment of all kinds of strategic weapons” in and around the peninsula. Kim said that his country would persist on its nuclear program: “Given that the U.S. and the U.S.-South Korea military alliance increase military threats against the D.P.R.K., nobody can deny the righteous right to self-defense for the D.P.R.K. to develop, test, manufacture and possess the weapon systems equivalent to the ones which are possessed or being developed by them.” (Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea Launches Short-Range Missile as Country’s Envoy Speaks at the U.N.,” New York Times, September 28, 2021)

KCNA: “The Academy of Defense Science of the DPRK test-fired a hypersonic missile Hwasong-8 newly developed by it in Toyang-ri, Ryongrim County of Jagang Province on Tuesday morning. Pak Jong Chon, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, watched the test-launch with leading officials in the sector of national defense science. The development of the hypersonic missile, one of 5 top-priority tasks of the five-year plan facing the field of strategic weapon for the development of defense science and weapon system set forth at the 8th Congress of the Party, has been pushed forward according to a sequential, scientific and reliable development process. The development of this weapon system which has been regarded as a top priority work under the special care of the Party’s Central Committee is of great strategic significance in markedly boosting the independent power of ultra-modern defense science and technology of the country and in increasing the nation’s capabilities for self-defense in every way. In the first test-launch, national defense scientists confirmed the navigational control and stability of the missile in the active section and also its technical specifications including the guiding maneuverability and the gliding flight characteristics of the detached hypersonic gliding warhead. It also ascertained the stability of the engine as well as of missile fuel ampoule that has been introduced for the first time. The test results proved that all the technical specifications met the design requirements. Pak Jong Chon mentioned the strategic importance of the development of the hypersonic missile and its deployment for action. He also noted the military significance of turning all missile fuel systems into ampoules. He stressed the need for all the defense science research teams and workers of the munitions industry to rise up with higher spirit to implement the decisions made at the 8th Party Congress true to our Party’s policy of prioritizing defense science and technology and thus make greater successes in the work of increasing the country’s defense capabilities thousand-fold.” (KCNA, “Hypersonic Missile Newly Developed by Academy of Defense Science Test-Fired,” September 29, 2021)

Van Diepen: “On September 29, North Korea announced the previous day’s launch of “a hypersonic missile Hwasong-8.” It also released a photograph showing a liquid-propellant rocket resembling a shortened version of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) in the early stages of flight. Atop the rocket was an arrowhead-shaped vehicle with stubby wings resembling a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), the reentry portion of a ballistic missile-based “hypersonic missile.” On October 12, the North released photos from Kim Jong Un’s attendance the previous day at the opening of “The Defense Development Exhibition Self-Defense 2021,” showing the “Hwasong-8” on a road-mobile launcher with a booster smaller than the Hwasong-12 and an HGV payload strongly resembling that used on the Chinese DF-17 missile. Many pertinent aspects of the launch currently are unknown, including the success of the test and the accuracy and intended payload of the HGV. An HGV would only make a niche contribution to the North’s existing large ballistic missile force, however, primarily in providing another option to evade missile defenses. If the North intends to deploy credible HGVs, at least a few successful and longer-range tests will be needed, probably taking at least a few years. The “Hwasong-8” was reported to use a “missile fuel ampoule,” the meaning of which is unclear but probably refers to loading the missile with propellants at the factory. Many have pointed to this as a signal of improvement in the survivability and operational utility of North Korean liquid-propellant missiles. In fact, those benefits come instead from the use of storable liquid propellants (that can remain in missiles for long periods of time without damaging them, unlike previous propellants), although “ampoulization” could provide easier and safer missile handling. More significant, the North foreshadowed “turning all missile fuel systems into ampoules,” suggesting it intends to continue to retain and improve its liquid-propellant ballistic missile force for the long term rather than shift to an all-solid force. The launch also makes good on Kim Jong Un’s inclusion of hypersonic missile development in his speech to the Eighth Party Congress in January 2021, making it likely that other technologies he mentioned (such as solid-propellant intercontinental ballistic missiles) will be rolled out in the future. Finally, we should not ignore the substantial political objectives North Korea had in making this announcement, seeking to bolster deterrence, trumpet its technological prowess, generate prestige and legitimacy, and underscore the foresight and accomplishments of the regime. Takeaway One: Much Remains Unknown or Unconfirmed No information is publicly available thus far to confirm North Korea’s claims that the September 28 launch successfully demonstrated an HGV. (That said, the US government should be able to obtain substantial insight into the launch from infrared satellites.) Information from South Korea, presumably based on radar data, confirms the fact, time and location of a launch, and that a rocket booster was used. That information also noted the missile flew “shorter than 200 kilometers” at an altitude of around 60 km, (another source reports around 30 km) and showed “different flight features from the missiles the North previously tested”—a performance consistent with either unsuccessful separation of an HGV from the booster or with the HGV having flown beneath South Korean radar coverage. Interestingly, and unlike most other recent missile launches, North Korea did not report the range of the September 28 launch. We do not know if the “Hwasong-8” booster will only be used for HGV testing and/or deployment, or if it will also be used with a traditional reentry vehicle as a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM). The October 12 photos provide further indication that a road-mobile launcher was used, consistent with the use of such a launcher in the 2017 launch from the same location of the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that has a similar-appearing propulsion system. As is usual with North Korean missiles, there is no information on the guidance system or accuracy of the HGV to corroborate Pyongyang’s claim that the “the guiding maneuverability and the gliding flight characteristics” of the HGV were “confirmed.” There was also no mention in North Korean reports whether the missile system is intended to use a nuclear or conventional payload (or to be dual-capable), although many commentators inferred a nuclear mission from the North’s characterization of the missile as a “strategic weapon” whose development and deployment is of “strategic importance.” Takeaway Two: An HGV Would Be a Niche Contributor, and Take Time to Develop Pyongyang no doubt relished some Western commentary that the HGV “could change the military equation in East Asia” and that the North was “joining a race headed by major military powers to deploy the advanced weapons system.” In fact, most of North Korea’s existing large and diverse ballistic missile force reenters at hypersonic speeds, and is as capable as HGVs of performing most missions. The one area where an HGV could make a meaningful addition is by using its greater maneuverability to provide another option—in addition to saturation attacks, early-release submunitions, penetration aids, maneuvering reentry vehicles, and possible future multiple reentry vehicles—to avoid and attack missile defense systems. Given the relatively limited number of radars and other key nodes of adversary missile defense systems, the substantially higher production and deployment costs of HGVs compared to traditional reentry vehicles, and the availability of other means of avoiding missile defenses, North Korea is likely to devote only a small portion of its missile force to HGVs if it sees them through to deployment. It is unclear how long it would take North Korea to develop a reliable system. HGVs are very technically demanding due to the heating they experience during flight, the consequent need for advanced materials to manage that heat and the challenges of maintaining accuracy (especially for conventionally armed systems). Russia, which apparently deployed HGVs on liquid-propellant ICBMs in December 2019, had been working on HGVs since the mid-1980s (with a hiatus in the first several years of the 1990s), and conducted some 14 flight tests. China deployed an HGV strongly resembling that of the “Hwasong-8” on the DF-17 solid-propellant MRBM around 2019-2020, conducting at least nine flight tests between 2014 and 2017. We do not know how much technology relevant to HGVs the North may have acquired from entities in Russia and China, and it has a long history of deploying ballistic missiles with much less flight testing than China, Russia/the USSR, or the US. That said, the technical demands of HGVs, and the likely need for fuller-range tests rather than the shorter trajectories North Korea often employs to avoid overflying Japan, suggest at least a few successful and longer-range tests would need to occur if the North intends to deploy a military meaningful HGV. Given the oversized role political rather than technical factors seem to play in the timing of North Korean missile tests, and the potential political blowback from long-range missile tests, it would be reasonable to assume that deployment of a capable HGV (assuming that is what the North intends) is at least a few years away. Takeaway Three: “Missile Fuel Ampoules” Are Not Such a Big Deal A number of commentators have pointed out the significance of the North Korean statement’s reference to the “missile fuel ampoule” used “for the first time” in the September 28 launch. As is often the case with such statements, it is unclear what the North means by a “missile fuel ampoule.” Most likely, it refers to the Soviet/Russian practice of preloading the SS-N-6 and later liquid-propellant submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with propellants at the factory, and maintaining the fueled missile as a sealed unit for loading into the submarine launch tube. Many commentators have seen “ampoulization” as permitting liquid-propellant ballistic missiles to remain fueled on a day-to-day basis. This would avoid the need to fuel missiles just prior to launch, which would add to response time, be potentially detectable by adversaries, add to pre-launch vulnerability, and provide an opportunity for preemptive attacks against the missiles during fueling before they could be launched. It should be noted, though, that North Korea has not made such claims to date. “Ampoulization,” however, is not required to keep the latest North Korean liquid-propellant ballistic missiles fueled on a day-to-day basis and obtain these operational benefits. Rather, these benefits come from fueling these missiles with storable liquid propellants, which can stay loaded and ready-to-go for extremely long periods of time without damaging their propulsion systems, unlike the Scud-type propellants that can only be tolerated for a relatively short time. The Musudan/BM-25 (based on the Soviet SS-N-6 SLBM) and Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), the Hwasong-14 and -15 ICBMs, and the “Hwasong-8” launched on September 28 (the booster of which appears to be a shortened Hwasong-12) all use storable liquids. For example, the Soviet SS-7, US Atlas F and Titan-II ICBMs, using storable liquid propellants, apparently remained fueled and on alert for long periods without any form of “ampoulization.” Moreover, the SS-11 and probably later Soviet liquid-propellant ICBMs using storable propellants were not “ampoulized” in the same way as SLBMs. They were not fueled in the factory, but were emplaced in their silos empty and then fueled, where they stood on alert for years at a time. Instead, they apparently were “ampoulized” by using membranes to separate the engines and fuel plumbing from the propellant tanks. (It is unclear what practices China has followed with its ballistic missiles using storable liquid propellants.) Furthermore, North Korea may already have deployed one or more of the Musudan/BM-25, Hwasong-12, -14 and -15. If so, based on the precedents of the above Soviet and US systems the missiles may be deployed fueled on a day-to-day basis—predating the “ampoulization” that North Korea said was only first introduced with the September 28 Hwasong-8 launch. North Korean missiles using Scud-type propellants would likely also avoid most of the operational problems attributed to unfueled liquids if they were fueled during a crisis period and dispersed to the field in a fueled state prior to war. “Ampoulization” still could provide worthwhile benefits, especially for land-mobile missiles. Transporting and handling “ampoulized” missiles would be easier and safer, especially in the field, and particularly within an enclosed launch railcar. (Rail mobility would be particularly suitable for liquid-propellant ICBMs.) Takeaway Four: Liquid Missiles Are Here to Stay The most significant part of the North Korean statement on “ampoulization” was its noting “the military significance of turning all missile fuel systems into ampoules.” Since “missile fuel ampoules” are probably not germane to solids, this statement suggests that North Korea intends to retain and improve its liquid-propellant ballistic missile force for the long term rather than shift to an all-solid force. All other things being equal, solid-propellant missiles generally provide worthwhile operational advantages over liquids, including: faster reaction time, easier and safer handling in the field, a smaller logistics train (and thus less vulnerable field deployments for mobile missile systems), and no need to engage in possibly vulnerable pre-launch fueling operations. But all things are not necessarily equal with solids, especially for North Korea, which is likely to see a number of important reasons to continue developing liquid-propellant missiles while also continuing to pursue solids: Pound for pound, liquid propellants are more energetic than solids, allowing a given-size liquid missile to have more range/payload capability than a solid of the same size, or for a smaller liquid missile to be used for a given range/payload level. North Korea, therefore, could find liquids especially attractive for applications calling for larger payloads—such as an HGV, multiple reentry vehicles, the post-boost vehicle plus multiple warheads of a multiple independently-targeted reentry vehicle (MIRV) payload, or multi-megaton single warheads. As solid-propellant rocket motors get larger, production becomes more challenging. Although North Korea is almost certainly pursuing larger-diameter solid motors for future IRBMs and ICBMs (and may also pursue large solid SLBMs of equivalent range), for now, all of its known IRBMs and ICBMs are liquids. Even if it does develop solid missiles of these sizes, it is highly likely to continue to pursue liquids as well, just as China and Russia continue to do. North Korea has some 35 years of experience developing, producing, deploying and operating liquids, and has substantial supporting infrastructure in place. It almost certainly has developed a substantial level of comfort in coping with and mitigating the operational downsides of land-mobile liquid missiles. Takeaway Five: More New Developments Are to Come Commentators have rightfully pointed out that the September 28 test makes good on Kim Jong Un’s report to the Eighth Party Congress, which included a “task” to “develop and introduce hypersonic gliding flight warheads in a short period.” Likewise, the North’s September 2021 tests of a long-range cruise missile made good on another passage in that same report. We can clearly expect other as-yet-unveiled capabilities mentioned in that report to be rolled out at some point in the future, including solid-propellant ICBMs, long-range SLBMs, and “multi-warhead rockets.” Takeaway Six: Much of What We Are Hearing and Seeing Is Politically Motivated Finally, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that North Korea’s hypersonic missile announcement, like so many of its unveilings of new missile and nuclear technologies, includes a substantial political motivation. It remains to be seen whether the North wants to and is able to make capable and reliable deployed weapons systems out of the HGV and other new military technologies, or how long it will take. We do not yet know how many HGVs or other systems will actually be deployed, or how effective they will end up being. Until then, and certainly from now through at least the near term, Pyongyang is likely seeking domestic and international political benefits through these announcements: bolstering deterrence, trumpeting its technological prowess (including over South Korea), generating prestige and legitimacy, and underscoring the foresight and accomplishments of the regime. Given the high level of “hype” surrounding hypersonic missiles totally unrelated to North Korea, it is not surprising that North Korea decided to use HGVs at least in part for such purposes. And Kim’s speech at “The Defense Development Exhibition Self-Defense 2021” and the exhibition itself—showing not just the Hwasong-8, but all of the missiles North Korea has unveiled over the past five years—underscore the degree and importance of the political motivations behind the ‘hypersonic missile.’” (Vann H. Van Diepen, “Six Takeaways from North Korea’s ‘Hypersonic Missile’ Development,” 38North, October 13, 2021)


9/29/21:
KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, made a historic policy speech “On the Orientation of Present Struggle for a Fresh Development of Socialist Construction” at the second-day sitting of the 5th Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK [today]. … In the national defense field a spur has been given to ensuring the stable control of the instable military situation in the area of the Korean peninsula and to developing a powerful new weapon system capable of thoroughly containing the military moves of the hostile forces. One can be confident of the might of our Party and the state powerfully opening up the way for the victory of socialism from our ultra-modern weapons which are being developed at an extremely fast speed and from the militant features of the People’s Army, paramilitary and security forces which are growing day by day. … Kim Jong Un outlined and assessed the present inter-Korean relations still locked in insecure and grave deadlock and the situation of the Korean peninsula before clarifying the policy towards the south at the present stage. He said that different military drills and arms buildup under the pretext of “containing” the DPRK have become conspicuous in south Korea and dishonest remarks and behaviors getting on our nerves and provoking us regardless of time have been heard from it. Noting that the south Korean authorities are bent on begging external support and cooperation while clamoring for international cooperation in servitude to the U.S., he said that as regards the issue of declaring the termination of war proposed by south Korea recently, though the termination of war is declared, hostile acts would be continued and, therefore, unexpected different clashes repeated, arousing the anxiety of all the fellow countrymen and international community only, as long as there remain factors, the apple of distrust and confrontation between the north and the south, intact. It is the invariable demand repeatedly explained by us to ensure the respect for each other and withdraw the partial view, unfair and double-dealing attitude and hostile viewpoint and policies towards the other side before declaring the termination of war, and this is an important task to be settled beforehand in order to control the inter-Korean relations and open up a bright future, he noted. Pointing out to the attitude of the south Korean authorities who have shown no sign of change while ignoring and neglecting the sources of aggravated inter-Korean relations though they are well aware of them, he said that now the inter-Korean relations stand at the crossroads of serious choices-either to advance toward reconciliation and cooperation after warming the present cooled-off relations or to suffer from national division amid a vicious cycle of confrontation and advanced the principled matters for the fundamental settlement of the north-south relations. It is important for the south Korean authorities to change its confrontational and habitual attitude toward our Republic, keep the stand of national independence through practices, not with words, deal with the inter-Korean relations with a view to settling the essential matters and give weight to and sincerely implement the north-south declarations, he stressed. Kim Jong Un said we are closely watching the fact that recently, the U.S. and south Korea are destroying the stability and balance around the Korean peninsula and inviting more complicated dangers of clash between the north and the south through excessive arms buildup and allied military activities that arouse concerns, underscoring the need to stand against the gangster logic of the U.S. and south Korea, bitterly denounce it, firmly maintain our invariable standpoint to check such dangerous trend, and take all necessary tough measures. Saying we obviously remind the south Korean authorities of the fact once again that it depends on the attitude of the south Korean authorities whether the inter-Korean relations would be restored and develop onto a new stage or continue to keep the present state of worsening, he noted that we have neither aim nor reason to provoke south Korea and no idea to harm it and it is necessary for south Korea to promptly get rid of the delusion, crisis awareness and awareness of getting harmed that it should deter the north’s provocation. He expressed the intention to see to it that the north-south communication lines that had been cut off due to the deteriorated inter-Korean relations are restored first from early October as part of the efforts for realizing the expectations and desire of the entire Korean nation to see the earlier recovery of the north-south relations from the present deadlock and durable peace settling in the Korean peninsula. He analyzed the current international political situation and underlined the need for the field in charge of foreign affairs to more proactively and positively cope with the eventful ever-changing external environment. Saying that there now exist not a few serious crises and challenges facing the world but the fundamental danger comes from the U.S. and its vassal forces’ high-handed and arbitrary practices that destroy the foundation of international peace and stability, he noted that the current international situation is mainly characterized by the fact that it has got more complicated as the structure of the international relations has been reduced to the structure of “neo-Cold War” due to the U.S. unilateral and prejudiced bloc-forming style external policy. Pointing out that the U.S. remains utterly unchanged in posing military threats and pursuing hostile policy toward the DPRK but employs more cunning ways and methods in doing so, as proven by the deeds done by it over the past eight months since the emergence of its new administration, he said that the U.S. is touting “diplomatic engagement” and “dialogue without preconditions” but it is no more than a petty trick for deceiving the international community and hiding its hostile acts and an extension of the hostile policy pursued by the successive U.S. administrations. He tasked the field in charge of foreign affairs with concentrating on providing tactical measures for thoroughly implementing the strategic policy of the DPRK government toward the U.S. on the basis of strictly studying and analyzing the present U.S. administration’s stand on the DPRK, the prospects of the U.S. political situation and ever-changing international balance of forces within the framework of their correlations. He urged the field in charge of foreign affairs to put primary efforts into the work for firmly protecting the sovereignty of the country and its independent development interests while proactively coping with the international political situation and the surrounding environment that get more and more unstable. He affirmed that the DPRK government will as ever develop its good neighborly relations with all the countries in the world that respect its sovereignty and are friendly toward it, and fulfill its responsibility and role in the struggle for preserving peace and stability of the Korean peninsula. … ” (KCNA, “Respected Leader Kim Jong Un Makes Historic Speech ‘On the Orientation of Present Struggle for a Fresh Development of Socialist Construction,” September 30, 2021)

Kishida Fumio won the presidency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in a runoff vote today and is now set to become Japan’s next prime minister. Kishida, 64, a former LDP policy chief and foreign minister, gained the most ballots in the first round of voting but they were not enough for a majority. That forced a runoff with second-place Kono Taro, 58, the state minister in charge of administrative reform. The other two candidates in the race were Takaichi Sanae, a former internal affairs minister, and Seiko Noda, the LDP executive acting secretary-general. This was the first LDP presidential election with more than one female candidate. Many political pundits had expected Kono to win the first round by using his general popularity to gain prefectural chapter votes that were distributed based on ballots cast by rank-and-file party members and supporters. But Kishida ended up with 256 votes, ahead of the 255 for Kono, 188 for Takaichi and 63 for Noda 63. Votes were weighted equally in the first round between LDP lawmakers and the rank-and-filers and supporters through the 47 prefectural chapters. In the runoff, the lawmakers accounted for about 90 percent of the ballots, and they rallied behind Kishida to push him further ahead of Kono and into the LDP president’s post. “We have to show the general public that ‘the LDP has been reborn,’” Kishida said. “Let us all work together as one team to win the Lower House election and Upper House election (that must be held in summer 2022).” After his LDP election win, the new party chief said he would put together a package of economic measures before the end of the year totaling several tens of trillions of yen to deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic. He added that other policy areas that he would immediately work on after becoming prime minister were establishing a new capitalism, creating a free and open Indo-Pacific region and implementing measures to deal with the nation’s declining birthrate. (Asahi Shimbun, “Kishida Wins LDP Leadership, Will Become Prime Minister,” September 29, 2021)

KCNA: “A vice-president and members of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), a vice-chairman of the SPA Standing Committee and the president of the Central Court who were by-elected at the 5th Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are as follows: Vice-President of the State Affairs Commission Kim Tok Hun; Members of the SAC Jo Yong Won, Pak Jong Chon, O Su Yong, Ri Yong Gil, Jang Jong Nam, Kim Song Nam and Kim Yo Jong; Vice-Chairman of the SPA Standing Committee Kang Yun Sok; President of the Central Court Cha Myong Nam. (KCNA, “At 5th Session of 14th Supreme People’s Assembly of DPRK,” September 30, 2021)

Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has been promoted to the nation’s top decision-making body, state media said today. The announcement — published in North Korea’s state-run news outlet KCNA — said Kim Yo Jong is now a member of the State Affairs Commission (SAC), the country’s ruling body headed by her brother. Kim Yo Jong was already one of the country’s most important political figures and a key adviser to her brother, but a seat on the SAC is the highest official position she has held. Seven others were promoted alongside her as part of a shake-up of the SAC, though Kim Yo Jong was the only woman. Nine members were retired or demoted, including 82-year-old Pak Pong Ju, Kim Jong Un’s economic policymaker for the past decade. Ri Pyong Chol, the driver of North Korea’s weapons program and top military commander under Kim Jong Un, was demoted. His place was taken by military general Pak Jong Chon, who had been overseeing the development of new weapons for the country. Earlier this week, Pak supervised a test of what the North claimed was its first hypersonic missile, which — if true — has the potential to be one of the world’s fastest and most accurate weapons, and could be fitted with a nuclear warhead, experts say. (Jake Kwon and Helen Regan, “Kim Yo Jong, Sister of North Korean Leader, Promoted to Nation’s Top Ruling Body,” CNN, September 30, 2021) Kim Yo-jong’s promotion to this high rank is also significant because it may position her to be a special envoy not only to South Korea but also to the U.S. South Korean government sources say that Kim Yo-jong’s election to the SAC may be a strategic move, laying the groundwork for Kim Jong-un to send his sister as a special envoy to the US at an appropriate time. It’s in that context that we should assess the fact that Kim Yo-jong is entering the SAC at the same time that First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui, regarded as one of the North’s top experts on the US, was removed from that body. Kim Yo-jong visited South Korea as a member of a special delegation from Kim Jong-un in February 2018, but that delegation was headed by Kim Yong-nam, who had the high official rank of president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly. In a statement on July 10, 2020, Kim Yo-jong hinted at her willingness to visit the US by saying that she’d gotten Kim Jong-un’s permission to personally obtain a DVD containing recordings of celebrations of US Independence Day. Choe Son-hui’s removal from the SAC can also be linked to the admission of Kim Song-nam, director of the WPK International Department. This is Kim Song-nam’s first term on the SAC, and he was also made chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the Supreme People’s Assembly. Kim, who supervises practical aspects of foreign policy for the WPK, is one of the North’s main China experts. In short, North Korean experts on China are rising at the expense of experts on the US. That can be seen as reflecting Kim Jong-un’s attitude that “the current international situation is mainly characterized by the fact that it has got more complicated as the structure of the international relations has been reduced to the structure of ‘neo-Cold War.’” Another new addition to the SAC is Jo Yong-won, a member of the presidium of the WPK Politburo and organizational secretary. Jo has been dubbed “Kim Jong-un’s shadow” because of how frequently he accompanies the North Korean leader. Now Jo, just like Kim Yo-jong, has gained high official positions not only in the party and the legislature but also in the government. In effect, the two have become twin pillars propping up Kim Jong-un’s leadership, both in their nominal positions and their effective power. Following the reshuffle, the SAC consists of 13 members: Kim Jong-un (president), Choe Ryong-hae (first vice president), Kim Tok-hun (vice president), Jo Yong-won, Park Jong-chon, O Su-yong, Kim Yong-chol, Kim Song-nam, Ri Yong-gil, Jong Kyong-thaek, Jang Jong-nam, Ri Son-gwon and Kim Yo-jong. The members of the SAC who were replaced were WPK secretaries Ri Man-gon, Kim Yong-jun and Ri Pyong-chol — all WPK secretaries; Kim Su-gil, former chief secretary of the Pyongyang WPK City Committee; Kim Jong-gwan, former defense minister; Kim Jong-ho, former social security minister; Choe Son-hui; as well as Pak Pong-ju, former premier, and Kim Jae-ryong, director of the WPK Organization and Guidance Department, both of whom retired. The new members are Kim Tok-hun, current premier; Park Jong-chon and O Su-yong, both party secretaries; current Minister of National Defense Ri Yong-gil; and Minister of Social Security Jang Jong-nam. In a related development, Maeng Kyong-il was named a member of the standing committee at the Supreme People’s Assembly. As vice director of the WPK United Front Department, Maeng coordinates North Korea’s policy toward South Korea. (Lee Je-hun, “Why Kim Yo Jong Was Appointed to N. Korea’s Top Legislative Body,” October 1, 2021)


9/30/21:
KCNA: “The Academy of Defense Science of the DPRK test-fired an anti-aircraft missile newly developed by it on September 30, to confirm the practicality of operation of the launcher, radar and all-purpose battle command vehicle as well as the comprehensive combat performance of the missile. Pak Jong Chon, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, watched the test-launch with leading officials in the sector of national defense scientific research. The Academy of Defense Science said that the overall test is of very practical significance in studying and developing various prospective anti-aircraft missile systems, noting that the remarkable combat performance of the new-type anti-aircraft missile that has brought about a substantial increase in the rapid responsiveness and guidance accuracy of missile control system as well as the distance of downing air targets with the introduction of new key technologies like a twin-rudder control technology and double-impulse flight engine has been verified.” (KCNA, “Anti-Aircraft Missile Newly Developed by Academy of Defense Science Test-Fired,” October 1, 2021)

South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong is calling on the U.S. government to detail more specific incentives it might offer North Korea in face-to-face negotiations, warning the Biden administration that Pyongyang is using the long-stalled talks to improve its missile and nuclear capabilities. “If we let the status quo continue, it will lead to the strengthening of North Korean missile capabilities,” Chung said during an interview at the South Korean mission to the United Nations in New York. “We are very concerned about it.” Chung’s remarks came on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last week, where North Korea’s top diplomat accused the Biden administration of hostility and demanded that it end military exercises with South Korea. Chung said the two main impediments to talks was “distrust” between the two sides and North Korea’s self-imposed isolation as it tries to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “Distrust cannot be overcome with a single stroke,” he said. He recommended that the Biden administration spell out the “concrete things” it can offer North Korea at the negotiating table, such as a declaration that would formally bring an end to the 1950-1953 Korean War, which concluded with a cease-fire rather than a peace deal. A senior U.S. official rejected the idea that the Biden administration has not offered specifics to the North Koreans, blaming the stalemate on Pyongyang’s lack of response to U.S. overtures. “We are seeking serious and sustained diplomacy with the DPRK and are prepared to meet without preconditions,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic efforts. “In our outreach we have made specific proposals for discussion with the DPRK but have not received a response.” (John Hudson, “South Korea to Biden Administration: North Is Strengthening Its Missile Program,” Washington Post, October 1, 2021)


10/4/21:
KCNA: “Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and president of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), in the historic policy speech he made at the 5th Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK, expressed the intention of restoring the cut-off north-south communication lines as part of the effort to realize the expectation and desire of the entire nation who want the north-south relations to be restored as soon as possible and lasting peace to be settled on the Korean Peninsula. The relevant organs decided to restore all the north-south communication lines from 9:00 on Oct. 4 true to his intention. The south Korean authorities should make positive efforts to put the north-south ties on a right track and settle the important tasks which must be prioritized to open up the bright prospect in the future, bearing deep in mind the meaning of the restoration of communication lines.” (KCNA, “KCNA Report” October 4, 2021)

South and North Korea restored their direct communication lines Monday, raising hopes for the resumption of stalled inter-Korean dialogue amid a drawn-out deadlock in denuclearization talks. The two sides had contact through a military hotline and a separate joint liaison office channel, according to South Korean officials. South Korea immediately expressed hope for the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue. The reconnection of the communication lines is viewed as having “laid the ground for bringing the relations between the two Koreas back on track,” the unification ministry said in a statement. It added, “Through that stable management of the communication lines and swift resumption of dialogue, the government hopes to begin and advance substantive discussions on improving inter-Korean relations and making peace take root on the Korean Peninsula, along with implementing agreements between the two Koreas.” The two sides agreed to hold regular phone calls via the liaison office twice a day at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., (Koh Byung-joon, “Koreas Restore Cross-Border Hotlines 55 Days after Suspension,” Yonhap, October 4, 2021) Unification Minister Lee In-young said today that South and North Korea’s restoration of cross-border hotlines marks a “restart” in efforts to improve ties. Lee spoke to Yonhap during a visit to Berlin to mark the 31st anniversary of German reunification. Lee had previously told reporters that Seoul would push to hold high-level talks with Pyongyang before the end of the year. “We have to do things in order, from building a video conference system to ensuring a stable [connection] through test calls, and then discussing anew the items that we have already come up with,” the minister told Yonhap today. He noted that Seoul had already proposed a video conference system the last time communication lines were restored and that it will need to remind the North to help materialize it. Asked what needs to be done to ensure the two Koreas jointly participate in next year’s Beijing Winter Olympics, Lee said not everything has to start from scratch. “There are roads that we’ve already taken quite some distance,” he said, referring to the denuclearization talks held between Pyongyang and Washington from the two countries’ Singapore summit in June 2018 until right before the Hanoi summit in February 2019. In Seoul’s case, the minister said it had a history of talks with Pyongyang from the Panmunjom summit in April 2018 through the Pyongyang summit in September that year. “That’s what’s been suspended, so if we take that into consideration, all we need to do is talk and discuss which of our agenda items we’ll begin working on,” he said. (Yonhap, “Unification Minister Says Reopening of Cross-Border Hotlines Is a ‘Restart,’” October 4, 2021)

UN Panel of Experts: “Yongbyon site 3. According to a Member State, the external construction of the light water reactor seems to be complete. It assessed that installation of machinery is likely to be in progress. Another Member State detected activity inside the facility using infrared and other imagery between December 2020 and February 2021, suggesting that some tests had occurred. In May 2021, a Member State observed thermal activity around electrical transformers on the eastern side of the turbine generator (see annex 2). Satellite imagery shows construction activities in the area south of the light water reactor, including the appearance of a circular structure (diameter 3.5 m), which a Member State assessed might be a shaft (see annex 3).

  1. There have been no signs of operation of the 5 MW(e) reactor at Yongbyon experimental nuclear power plant since 2018. Vehicles have been observed close to the reactor, which a Member State assessed as possibly being there for maintenance purposes (see annex 4).
  2. The Panel observed activity at the radiochemical laboratory. Since February 2021, a Member State has detected thermal signals on the bypass between the coal-fired thermal plant and the reprocessing area, and signs of chimney smoke have also been identified. Member States assessed that this suggests the resumption of some level of operations at the facility (see annex 5). The Panel notes the statement of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency on 7 June 2021, in which the Director General indicated the possibility of a new reprocessing campaign by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (see annex 6). Through its own satellite imagery analysis, the Panel has observed the smoke from the thermal plant.
  3. The Panel observed continuous activities in the Yongbyon centrifuge plant. The Panel noted the presence of a possible liquid nitrogen tank trailer adjacent to the plant in April 2021 (see annex 7). The Panel has corroborated the observation of a think tank of a possible liquid nitrogen tank trailer at the plant, which might suggest that the plant was operational. A Member State reported that a metal structure had been observed on the side of the cooling units at the plant, but the purpose of that structure was unknown.

Pyongsan uranium mine and concentration plant

  1. A Member State reported that the concentration plant remains operational, and activity has been observed through satellite imagery analysis. The Panel found the possible expansion of solid waste in the tailings pond located to the south of the main plant (see annex 8), indicating the operation of the plant. The Panel also observed the possible activity of railcars in the plant (see annex 9).

Punggye-ri test site

  1. According to a Member State, satellite imagery has indicated activity at the test site, possibly related to the maintenance of site security.

Other sites

  1. The Panel continues to monitor activities in the vicinity of Kangson, an alleged clandestine uranium enrichment facility. The Panel observed continuous vehicular activity there (see annex 10), although it was unable to confirm that the building at the site has functions consistent with a uranium enrichment facility.
  1. According to open-source information, Yongdoktong is believed to be involved in the nuclear weaponization program of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including as a nuclear weapons storage facility. A Member State was unable to confirm the usage of Yongdoktong as a nuclear warhead storage site, but noted some renovation activity at Yongdoktong and detected a newly erected building in the storage area of the site (see annex 11). The Member State assessed that this new building served to conceal the entrance to two tunnels used for possible transfers of equipment. Two new excavations have also been detected in two valleys (see figure I). The Panel also corroborated the observation of the Member State of the building and excavations.

Ballistic missiles

  1. The ballistic missile program of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea lost momentum in the first half of 2021 compared to the pace of the last few years, when major deterrence and strike capability goals were achieved by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. However, the program remains coherent and dynamic, shown both by the test launch on 25 March of a new type of solid propellant missile system combining ballistic and guidance technologies, based on the Panel’s analysis of Member State information,8 and by the appearance of two new types of submarine-launched ballistic missiles and a new type of super-large intercontinental ballistic missile at the last two military parades (S/2021/211, paras. 17–20). In addition, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has continued to adapt its industrial production infrastructure as well as its ballistic missile bases. Although sanctions and the non-proliferation efforts of Member States are significantly reducing the possibilities of proliferation by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country continued to seek the dual-use components and technology needed for its weapons of mass destruction program.
  2. The pace of reported ballistic missile test launches has significantly reduced in the first seven months of 2021 (one test launch of two short-range ballistic missiles) in comparison with previous years (4 ballistic tests in 2020; 13 tests in 2019; and 15 tests in 2017). However, the ballistic missile program, according to several Member States, gives the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea the capability to deliver nuclear weapons now miniaturized to fit ballistic missile warheads.
  3. On 25 March 2021, according to Member States, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted mobile test launches of two new solid-propellant short-range ballistic missiles 9 with modified technology from a new 5-axle wheeled transport erector launcher. The missiles were successively launched from a military installation in South Hamgyong Province10 in an easterly direction (see figure II). The short-range ballistic missiles landed in the sea after the completion of an awkward pull-up manoeuvre, according to several Member States.
  4. Regarding the new intercontinental ballistic missile paraded on 10 October 2020,11 a Member State assessed that the engines with gimbal nozzles could deliver a thrust of 170 tons and the shroud could contain three to four multiple independent re-entry vehicles (see annex 18-2). Another Member State assessed that this intercontinental ballistic missile was a “non-operational model”, although the Panel assesses that its 11-axle transport erector launcher did not match any previously seen transport erector launcher from any country and would have been a significant engineering achievement to carry a non-operational payload.
  5. Regarding the new Pukguksong-4 and -5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles presented in military parades on 10 October 2020 and 14 January 2021, a Member State assessed that the Pukguksong-5 was a non-operational mock-up, an empty filament-based missile casing. According to another Member State, its very large diameter of around 2 m would allow a greater thrust due to a larger engine section than earlier Pukguksong models.
  6. Activity and infrastructure development continue in factories (see annexes 19–25)15 and bases related to the ballistic missile program (see annex 26), although at a less intensive pace due to the COVID-19 response, according to a Member State. Deception measures are continuously updated on the bases through the use of underground galleries, bunkers, semi-buried drive-throughs (used for maintenance and fueling the long-range liquid propellant ballistic missiles) and other means of concealment and camouflage.
  7. Despite its COVID-19 blockade and sanctions implementation, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has continued its illicit efforts to procure specific components from overseas and to seek opportunities to transfer its own products to its partners (see paras. 21–23 below and S/2020/211, para. 26). Representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea overseas were under pressure to make money for the country’s needs. The country continued to develop scientific and technical cooperation with universities abroad (see paras. 11–13 above).

Procurement of illicit and weapons-of-mass-destruction-related commodities

  1. According to Member States, foreign representatives of trading companies of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Academy of National Defense Science17 – including the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation 18 and Saengpil Associated Corporation 19 – who have been stuck overseas during the pandemic, have continued to import and export munitions materials to earn foreign currency and to assist with the development of weapons. In particular, Member States assessed that they are cooperating with Middle Eastern countries (such as the Syrian Arab Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran)20 on missile-related projects,21 and munitions agents are trying to sell weapons in Africa and South-East Asia. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is allegedly seeking various means to deal with stringent monitoring by the international community and overcoming its own COVID-19 blockade by reorganizing its trade-related institutions (names, organizations, etc.) and by conducting transactions based on ship-to-ship transfers. The Panel has not corroborated these assessments.
  2. The Panel is investigating a possible “choke point” item procurement network that may be related to the nuclear and ballistic missile program of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. According to a Member State, Korea Machinery General Trading, represented by Kim Jong Dok, regularly places orders of sensitive industrial materials with third country-based companies. Since January 2021, Korea Machinery General Trading has placed at least four orders with these companies, for items including (among many others) 1Cr18Ni9Ti stainless steel (see annex 27). This type of stainless steel can be used for aeronautical purposes as well as for the fabrication of liquid-propelled ballistic missile engines or the casing of nuclear weapons. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is known to pursue this type of steel, particularly for its ballistic missile program. Other items in the orders include valves, pumps and ball bearings. Investigation into this procurement network continues.

Other weapons of mass destruction program

  1. The Panel is analyzing information received from a Member State concerning its assessment of suspected other weapons of mass destruction of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.III. Sectoral and maritime sanctions
  2. The continued border closure of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in response to the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have significantly affected its maritime trade in its import of refined petroleum and its prohibited export of coal and other commodities. The Panel has continued its investigations into a range of complex and deceptive shipping practices used by both the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and suspect vessels to evade sanctions, as well as the deliberate obfuscation of business and registration practices employed by individuals and entities to enable these shipments to continue. Some of the latter practices are covered in the separate section of the present report on finance.
  3. Official figures of refined petroleum imports reported to the Committee are extremely low, with only 4.75 per cent of the permitted annual cap of 500,000 barrels22 officially reported by mid-July 2021. A Member State assesses that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has imported substantially less oil in the first half of 2021 than the historical average, while also assessing that increasing illicit imports will mean that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is still likely to exceed the cap in 2021.
  4. Illicit imports of oil products to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have continued during the reporting period, although the Panel has received little reporting on the issue. Despite the completion of a new oil terminal in Nampo, no direct deliveries by foreign oil tankers have been reported to the Panel during the period, and although ship-to-ship transfers of oil products have continued to take place, particularly at night, they appear to have been at a reduced level.
  5. Many of the tankers named in the Panel’s previous reports as having delivered oil products directly to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or having conducted ship-to-ship transfers of those products with smaller vessels of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remain at large, continuing to obfuscate their identities while moored in regional territorial waters and using local dockyard facilities. Recent and unassessed Member State information suggests that ship-to-ship activity has been increasing since May 2021.

Deceptive shipping practices

  1. Vessels of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other suspect vessels that have conducted sanctionable activities continue to manipulate or not to transmit automatic identification system (AIS) signals in order to obfuscate their activities and evade detection. These activities ranged from transmitting detectable falsified identifiers to sophisticated obfuscation techniques involving vessel identity swaps.

Vessel identity laundering and swapping

  1. The Panel continued its investigations into cases of vessel identity laundering, a technique involving the physical alteration of a vessel (vessel A) in order to obtain a new International Maritime Organization (IMO) number under which vessel A can subsequently and fraudulently sail as a different vessel (vessel B), registered under a different flag. The original AIS profile of vessel A is left vacant on maritime databases, enabling other suspect vessels to use it. This complex and time-consuming evasion tactic has been used by several vessels involved in delivering unreported oil to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Panel considers such vessel identity laundering as a sanctions evasion technique that directly enables suspect vessels to continue to deliver illicitly refined petroleum to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

(Midterm Report of the Panel of Experts Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2569 (2021), UNdocs S2021/777)


10/5/21:
North Korea is likely waiting to hear from the United States that Washington is committed to an action-for-action approach toward the complete denuclearization of North Korea, a former U.S. intelligence official said today. Andrew Kim, former founding director of the CIA’s Korea Mission Center, also insisted that Pyongyang may want to see an official statement from the U.S. that it is ready to sit down for talks without any conditions. “I’m sure Pyongyang was patiently waiting to hear what the new U.S. administration’s North Korea policy will look like,” the former CIA official said in a webinar hosted by the Washington Times Foundation. “The reason I’m saying that (is because) Pyongyang was probably hoping to see more concrete roadmap from the U.S. side, adopting action for action approach, with giving some credit to North Korea for what they have done for the last four years,” he added, noting the North has maintained a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing since late 2017. “They’re probably waiting for some kind of a, you know, official statement that we’re ready to sit down without any conditions,” Kim said. Kim insisted the North was still in a “low key.” “That means they still have some kind of hope to continue having some kind of negotiation in the future with us,” he said. “I think they’re focusing on right now domestic politics in South Korea, as you know the North Koreans always believe that they have some way to influence … politics in South Korea.” Joseph DeTrani, former U.S. envoy to six-party talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear ambition, agreed North Korea is prepared to engage and even denuclearize but for the right price. “North Korea is prepared to denuclearize. However, they’re assuming they get their deliverables. They get what they need,” he said in the virtual event. DeTrani also stressed the need for a “catalyst” to reinstitute dialogue with North Korea, such as an end of war declaration that was proposed by Moon at the U.N. General Assembly in New York last month. “This would be a confidence building gesture to the North.” Kim anticipated that the U.S. and North Korea will be engaged in a “fulsome conversation” within the next two to five years, but said the complete denuclearization of the North “probably will take longer than that.” (Byun Duk-kun, “N. Korea Waiting to Hear from U.S. ‘Action-for-Action’ Approach: Kim,” Yonhap, October 5, 2021)


10/6/21:
Heinonen, Liu, Pitz, and Towne: “Recent commercial satellite imagery indicates continued construction activity at North Korea’s Uranium Enrichment Plant (UEP) at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center. Imagery from October 1 indicates that previously reported construction in an area just north of the plant’s Cascade Hall #2 has recently been covered, concealing details of the building’s layout and construction. Prior to this concealment, the floor space measured roughly 42 meters by 15 meters (including walls), with six circles each approximately three meters in diameter observed at the east end of the building. The purpose of the building is still unknown and may be harder to determine via imagery going forward. There are several possible functions for such an extension. One option, assuming that North Korea is producing low-enriched uranium at two enrichment halls, is that the extension could also be used to enrich low-enriched uranium to weapons grade (high-enriched uranium) as it becomes available from those two cascade halls. (“Olli Heinonen, Jack Liu, Samantha J. Pitz and Jenny Town, “Construction Activity Continues at Yongbyon’s Uranium Enrichment Plant, 38North, October 6, 2021)


10/11/21:
Kim Jong Un’s commemorative speech at the Defense Development Exhibition: “Comrades, Today we will have an opportunity to see with our own eyes how the defense capability of our glorious motherland, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has developed. I extend warm congratulations to you, who are participating in the Defense Development Exhibition, an epitome of the advanced, modern and courageous character of our Korea. The Defense Development Exhibition Self-Defense 2021 opened today is adding luster to the celebration of this year’s anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea. As its name denotes, this exhibition is a grand festival that will demonstrate intensively and visually the far-reaching ambition, leadership ability and practical executive capability of our Party that is bringing about a fresh turn in consolidating the defense potential of our state by invariably holding fast to the invincible line of self-defense, as well as the level of remarkable development of our state’s defense science and munitions industry and their bright future. Today’s grand-scale exhibition, a crystallization of our Party’s revolutionary defense policy and its robust viability, is an epoch-making demonstration of our national strength no less significant than a large-scale military parade. … We should not be inadvertent in seeing the military hardware displayed in fine array here, which we have managed to develop over the past five years. The more we stroke them and the more we see them, the greater dignity and pride we feel and the more valuable we feel they are; they are ours. All our people have rendered an unconditional and absolute support to our Party’s policy of strengthening the defense capability despite the fact that they had to experience more severe hardships and difficulties caused by the persistent anti-DPRK schemes by the hostile forces, who are desperate not to see us growing stronger. … Comrades, The core of our Party’s defense policy is to defend our country and people by our own efforts, and contain any threat and challenge and reliably and steadfastly safeguard peace by means of steadily-developing, powerful defense capability. Historically, our nation suffered trials owing to invasion by foreign forces and has had to build socialism under the constant threats by hostile forces from one century into the next. In view of this lesson of the history of the nation and the demand and special character of the Korean revolution, building up national defense is an indispensable and vital state affair which our Party, government and people must not neglect even a moment. If a country does not have self-defensive capability of a proper level, it will inevitably be left at the mercy of external military threat and, worse still, cannot safeguard the existence of itself and its people. It has been an immutable law of nature throughout human history. The rapid development of military techniques and hardware is changing the aspect of military operations and the security environment of states in every region in the present world. The military danger facing our state due to the military tension prevailing around the Korean peninsula is different from that ten or five, nay, three years ago. Seeing the contents of various military exercises the United States and south Korea frequently wage on the pretext of coping with what they call threats while talking about peace, cooperation and prosperity in public and south Korea’s attempt to modernize its armaments which has recently become intolerably undisguised, we can easily guess how military environment will change in the region of the Korean peninsula tomorrow. Recently, south Korea has been trying to upgrade the fighting efficiency of its army under the powerful sponsorship of the United States, bringing in a large number of cutting-edge weapons of various kinds including stealth joint strike fighters and high-altitude unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. While explicitly underlining the importance of its own defense technology after the recent revision of its missile guidelines, it focuses on modernizing its strike weapons of various kinds-developing various warheads and extending the ranges of missiles so as to improve its missile capacity, whose objective is clear, and enhancing the combat efficiency of submarines and developing fighters. South Korea’s such attempt is too dangerous to be left to itself, but what is more dangerous is its justification for modernizing its armaments and its hypocritical and brigandish double-dealing attitude. While doing everything they want to do, the south Korean authorities, with a view to depriving us of our self-defensive right to develop defense capability, volunteer to lead the anti-DPRK propaganda campaign of the hostile forces headed by the United States, wantonly labelling even our tests of conventional weapons as armed provocations, threats and inappropriate deeds aggravating tensions. They are now using the words provocation and threat as terminologies exclusive to the north. Trying to put our effort to develop self-defensive capability in fetters by invoking the illegitimate UN resolutions, they are bent on increasing military expenditure under the so-called righteous excuse of coping with what they have unilaterally defined as threats. Their hypocritical attitude and the U.S. tacit sponsorship continue to damage the inter-Korean feelings and emotions and their unlimited, dangerous attempts to strengthen military capability are breaking the military equilibrium in the region of the Korean peninsula and aggravating the military instability and danger there. South Korea has been unhesitant on several occasions in disclosing its ambition for securing military supremacy over us under the preposterous excuse of deterring threat from us, and each time justified itself with the containment of our threat and defense of peace. Designating us as a source of threat and a target to be contained, not as a partner of dialogue and cooperation, is a concentrated expression of their deeply-ingrained hostility towards our Republic which cannot be concealed no matter how hard they try to pretend otherwise. We express deep regret over such avaricious ambition and their double-dealing, illogical and brigandish attitude that causes unfairness to and hurt the feelings of the other side; we will never ever tolerate but respond with powerful action if they continue to infringe upon even our right to self-defense in future. But, if south Korea does not find fault with us in a stubborn manner and if it does not pick a quarrel even with our exercise of national sovereignty, I assure that no tension will be caused on the Korean peninsula. Were it not for it, we will not be involved in verbal confrontation with south Korea nor have any reason to be so. I want to reiterate that south Korea is not the target of our armed forces. Undoubtedly, we are not strengthening our defense capability targeting at south Korea. The dreadful history of having recourse to arms against the fellow countrymen must not be repeated on this land. I want to make sure once again: We are not talking about a war with someone; we are building up war deterrent true to the meaning of the words in order to prevent the war itself and to safeguard the sovereignty of our state; our war deterrent and south Korea’s so-called capability to contain the north are different concepts in vocabulary, meaning and essence. Our arch-enemy is the war itself, not south Korea, the United States or any other specific state or forces. Therefore, as I stated in the recent policy speech, all I want is that the authorities and the whole society of south Korea, in their viewpoint towards the north, get rid of their outdated and anachronistic worry and anxiety and illusory sense of mission that the north’s threat should be contained, and free themselves from the excessive crisis-consciousness and persecution complex as soon as possible. We should not judge the prevailing situation spontaneously, sentimentally or subjectively, but approach it cool-headedly and correctly. The change in the military and political environment created around the Korean peninsula under the control of the United States, let alone the excessive military obesity and covetousness of south Korea at issue, portends much potential danger and presents pressing need for us to develop to a stronger entity. Recently, the United States has frequently sent signals that it is not hostile to our state, but its behaviors provide us with no reason why we should believe in them. Sure enough, it is not fools alone that live in the world. I wonder if there is any person or state who believes in its claim that it is not hostile to the DPRK and, if any, I am curious to know who they are. The United States is still generating regional tension with its wrong judgment and acts. What is clear is that the instable situation in the region of the Korean peninsula cannot be easily removed because of the United States. In view of this reality, the military balance of the region may grow more perilous as the days go by and our state may face worse security concern and menacing situation if we, satisfied with the successes we have achieved in strengthening our national defense, slacken our pace for a respite on the road of development. Under the prevailing unstable situation on the Korean peninsula, steadily strengthening our military might to cope with it is the demand of the times of our revolution and the supreme duty which we have assumed for the revolution and the future. The reality demands that we refrain from resting on our laurels, marking time, and exert ourselves to possess the capability and means strong enough to control the existing concerns and threats. The effort to possess strong military capability should be a natural, self-defensive and mandatory right and core policy which a sovereign state should not miss either in a peaceful environment or in a state of confrontation. It is because the self-defensive power is the root of the existence of a state and a guarantee of its development. We will confront with a decisive and resolute attitude all kinds of despicable actions by the hostile forces that are inciting military tension in the region of the Korean peninsula, and will do our best to achieve durable peace in the region by ameliorating and removing one by one the causes that are disturbing the foundation of peaceful environment. However, any of our external efforts for achieving peace never means the abandonment of our right to self-defense. Comrades, The Eighth Congress of the WPK has put forward the detailed tasks for making our superiority in military technology in our hands more irreversible by carrying out the second-stage revolution in the defense industry in the field of defense science and the munitions industry during the five-year plan period. The main contents are to further strengthen the already-gained war deterrent in terms of both quality and quantity and further accelerate the development and production of strategic and tactical means essential for guaranteeing national security … .Our self-defense capability will keep changing in the future, too. As long as there are the strong will and correct leadership of our Party and there are the defense scientists and workers in the munitions industry unfailingly loyal to the Party and the revolution, more brilliant successes will be scored in carrying out our just and patriotic cause, in the course of which more perfect, more complete and more powerful strategic might, that is war deterrent, will guarantee the security and future of our country and people. … Comrades, Our Party has been frank enough to tell you about the requirements of the revolution and the state of situation as they are and found great encouragement in your steadfast attitude and ardent patriotism. I stress once again: It is our Party’s invariable priority policy and goal and unwavering will to possess and further strengthen the military capability which no one would dare challenge. All those present here should critically analyze the situation of their sectors and units in the light of the great successes achieved by our defense industry, decide once again on which results they would present in front of the Party, state and people in the future and make a fresh determination also in the aspect of fully supporting our defense industry for its further development. Of course, the economic situation in the country is still difficult and other sectors must have important and pressing tasks. All the sectors, however, should never forget the overriding importance of consolidating the defense capability, but remember that any development and success of our revolution is inconceivable separated from the preferential development of the national defense capability. Without strong self-defense capability we can neither expect successful progress of the internal and external policies of the Party and the government nor think about stability and peaceful environment of the country. … ” (KCNA, “Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un Makes Commemorative Speech at Defense Development Exhibition,” October 12, 2021)


10/19/21:
KCNA: “The Academy of Defense Science of the DPRK test-fired a new type submarine-launched ballistic missile on Tuesday. The test-launch was guided by Yu Jin, department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Jong Sik, vice department director of the Munitions Industry of the Central Committee of the WPK, and leading officials of the Academy. The Academy said that it presented a report of loyalty to the Party Central Committee with the pride and honor of succeeding in the test-launch of new type SLBM from the same “8.24 Yongung” ship from which the first submarine-launched strategic ballistic missile was successfully launched five years ago to demonstrate the military muscle of the DPRK. It clarified that the new type SLBM, into which lots of advanced control guidance technologies including flank mobility and gliding skip mobility are introduced, will greatly contribute to putting the defense technology of the country on a high level and to enhancing the underwater operational capability of our navy.” (KCNA, “Academy of Defense Science Succeeds in Test-Launch of New Type SLBM,” October 20, 2021)

North Korea fired what appears to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) toward the East Sea today, South Korea’s military said, in yet another setback to Seoul’s drive for peace with Pyongyang. The short-range missile was launched from waters east of Sinpo, a city on the North’s east coast, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The launch was detected at 10:17 a.m., it said. The missile traveled about 590 kilometers at a top altitude of around 60 km, an informed source said, noting the possibility that the North might have used a submarine as a launch platform this time. North Korea watchers cited a possibility that a new, small-sized SLBM, capable of striking targets in the South or Japan, might have been fired from a 2,000-ton submarine today. The North displayed a mini-SLBM at a defense exhibition in Pyongyang last week. “If you look at the launch site and the missile details, the possibility is that it could be a new-type, small SLBM developed with an intention to attack vulnerable areas in the South, such as the rear and sides,” Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense Security Forum, said. The North previously conducted an SLBM test in 2015 and 2019. The South’s military believes that it used a barge rather than a submarine during the past tests. Officials said that Tuesday’s launch came after South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities had detected signs of a possible weapons test near Sinpo, where the North has been pushing to build a 3,200-ton submarine capable of SLBM operations. “The intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are currently conducting a thorough analysis regarding additional details on the missile,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters. The North’s latest missile test marks its eighth known projectile launch this year. It previously fired a new hypersonic missile, called the Hwasong-8, on September 28. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command condemned the missile launch, calling on the North to refrain from “any further destabilizing acts.” “While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory, or that of our allies, we will continue to monitor the situation,” the command said in a statement posted on its website. “The U.S. commitment to the defense of the ROK and Japan remains ironclad,” it added, referring to South Korea’s official name, the Republic of Korea. China called for concerned countries to exert “restraint,” saying the situation on the Korean Peninsula stands at a critical period. “Each relevant country should think from a broad perspective, maintain restraint and make efforts to safeguard peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Wang Wenbin, a foreign ministry spokesperson, told a regular press briefing. In recent years, Pyongyang has boasted its development of various SLBMs, including the “Pukguksong-4” and the “Pukguksong-5,” which were unveiled during military parades in October last year and January, respectively. The North has been pushing for the SLBM, which experts say would potentially serve as a key nuclear delivery vehicle designed to keep hostile forces at bay during wartime. In Washington today, Seoul’s top nuclear envoy, Noh Kyu-duk, and his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Sung Kim and Takehiro Funakoshi, plan to meet trilaterally to discuss a joint strategy on the North. (Yonhap, “N. Korea Fires What Seems to Be SLBM toward East Sea: S. Korea,” October 19, 2021)

Makowsky and Liu: “Commercial satellite imagery of the Sinpho South Shipyard on October 20, 2021 suggests that the GORAE-class experimental ballistic missile submarine (SSBA), also referred to as the SINPO-class SSBA, was probably the vessel used in the October 19 at-sea ballistic missile test, which reportedly originated off the east coast of North Korea near Sinpho. The SINPO-class SSBA has been based at the Sinpho South Shipyard since it was constructed to serve as a test bed for future North Korean ballistic missile tests. The vessel is normally berthed in the secure boat basin under an awning designed to provide some protection from the elements, but also to conceal the submarine from satellite detection. Since the awning’s construction in late summer 2019, only occasional glimpses of the submarine have been observed. A submersible missile test barge is also berthed within the basin but not positioned under the cover, making its presence easier to monitor. In the past, missile test preparations involving the SINPO-class SSBA have included the presence of a large, light-toned crane positioned near the vessel. The crane is used to load a test missile into the launch tube located in the sail of the submarine. The submarine can be viewed through the semi-transparent awning, further noted in analysis by CSIS of another satellite image captured on the same day. Additionally, a long, light-toned object similar in size to the mobile crane previously seen alongside the SINPO-class SSBA during test preparations can be discerned against the shadow cast by the protective awning. It is also possible that the light-colored object could be a missile canister. If confirmed to be a crane or missile canister, its presence is a strong indicator that a missile loading event has occurred, suggesting the submarine was indeed the platform used for the test. The submersible test barge is also present, berthed at the quay just north of the awning. No activity was observed around the barge. (Peter Makowsky and Jack Liu, “Sinpho South Shipyard: Evidence of the Sinpo-Class SSBA Participation in Recent SLBM Test,” 38North, October 21, 2021)

Van Diepen: “North Korea launched a KN-23 short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) from its submerged GORAE/SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine on October 19. The launch and associated announcements have much greater political than military significance. The test almost certainly is a political message directed against South Korea, which launched a very similar SRBM from a submerged submarine in September. The new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) is of marginal military significance given the North’s much larger, more survivable, and equally capable land-based mobile missile force (potentially including KN-23s). Moreover, the new missile’s short range would require its submarine carrier to sail much closer to allied anti-submarine defenses than the North’s other SLBMs. Use of a submarine would allow launching KN-23s from different directions than land-based missiles, but would only add marginally to the many options Pyongyang has to evade missile defenses. South Korea reported that North Korea launched a ballistic missile on October 19, possibly from a submarine. The missile was launched from waters east of Sinpho, reportedly to a range of about 590 km and an apogee of about 60 km. (Another South Korean source reported the range as 430-450 km.) Japan reported a range of as much as 600 km and an apogee of 50 km on an “irregular trajectory,” and that two missiles had been launched. On October 20, North Korea released a brief statement announcing the successful test-launch of “a new type submarine-launched ballistic missile.” The launch was said to have occurred “from the same ‘8.24 Yongung’ ship from which the first submarine-launched strategic ballistic missile was successfully launched five years ago” [i.e., the GORAE/SINPO-class missile test submarine]. The missile was said to have incorporated “lots of advanced control guidance technologies including flank mobility and gliding skip mobility.” Accompanying the statement were five still photographs showing the “cold” launch from underwater, using a launch assist device (LAD)/sabot, of what appears to be the previously tested KN-23 solid-propellant SRBM. The missile appears to be the same one displayed in the October 12 photos from Kim Jong Un’s attendance the previous day at the opening of “The Defense Development Exhibition Self-Defense 2021.” The KN-23-like missile was displayed next to the larger, Pukguksong-1 (previously tested) and Pukguksong-5 SLBMs in a similar black-and-white paint job (as was the missile in the October 20 launch photos). The October 20 photos also included a shot of the GORAE/SINPO-class sub, with a new number “824” painted on the sail, appearing to surface with the missile launch hatch atop the sail partially open. The reported range and apogee of the October 19 SLBM test is consistent with previous flights from road-mobile launchers of the KN-23 SRBM. The land-based version is “hot” launched, rather than being “popped up” using a LAD and then ignited as in the case of the SLBM version. But “cold” launch is much safer for the submerged launch platform and is a technology the North has used successfully with all of its previous SLBMs. The reference in the North Korean statement to “flank mobility and gliding skip mobility” is also consistent with the depressed trajectories and maneuverability attributed to the KN-23. (Lower in altitude than a purely ballistic flight path, depressed trajectories reduce the missile’s visibility to missile defense radars and stay within the atmosphere to permit maneuverability over a longer portion of the missile’s flight.) The North’s claim that the missile was launched from the GORAE/SINPO-class submarine appears to be borne out by post-launch commercial imagery of the Sinpho South Shipyard on October 20. It is unusual to conduct the first launch of a new type of missile from a submarine rather than the submersible test barge North Korea typically uses for such testing, but the DPRK may have felt that the KN-23 and the cold-launch technique had been sufficiently well-tested that it was safe to make the first launch from the sub. Because the GORAE/SINPO submarine has only one launch tube, its apparent use would seem to confirm that only one missile was launched on October 19, rather than the two near-simultaneous launches reported by Japan. Tokyo may have confused a single “irregular” missile trajectory that bobbed more than once above and below the radar horizon as two missiles. In any case, the US government would be able to confirm the number of missiles launched using infrared satellite data. As is often the case with North Korean missile activities, the political motivations behind the test and its announcement are at least as important as the military/operational ones. The political signaling may be even more important in the case of such a short-range SLBM. The DPRK’s October 20 statement claimed the launch “will greatly contribute to putting the defense technology of the country on a high level,” and “to enhancing the underwater operational capability of our navy.” A follow-up statement issued the next day claimed the test “was part of the normal activities for carrying out the medium- and long-term plan for the development of defense science and it did not pose any threat or damage to the security of the neighboring countries and the region,” that it “does not aim at a specified state or forces but is for preventing the war itself and defending the sovereign rights,” and that “the U.S. and south Korea have been ruled out as our arch-enemies.” In reality, however, the political messaging behind the unveiling of a 430-600-km range SLBM is aimed primarily at South Korea. Beyond the short range of the missile, it almost certainly cannot be a coincidence that, just a few weeks after South Korea’s September 7 announcement (to great fanfare) of its first flight-test of a 500-km range SRBM from a submerged submarine, the North revealed the existence of and then test-fired a submarine-launched SRBM. The North’s KN-23 even looks like the South’s Hyunmoo-2B SRBM/SLBM, both of which appear to be inspired by the Russian Iskander SRBM. We do not know when North Korea began work on the SLBM version of the KN-23, although it probably would have taken at least several months to a year or two to do the necessary technical work and to modify the launcher in the GORAE/SINPO submarine. But the North could have known since at least 2015 or 2016 that the South intended to install launch tubes for the Hyunmoo-2B into the KSS-III (Jangbogo-III) submarines it was building. The North likely sees the unveiling and launch of the new SLBM as having further political purposes. As is the case with its other recent missile launches, Pyongyang probably sees such activities as bolstering deterrence, trumpeting its technological prowess (not just over South Korea), generating prestige and legitimacy, and underscoring the foresight and accomplishments of the regime. More perplexing, perhaps, is why North Korea issued on September 20 a highly unusual and technical denunciation of South Korea for launching an SRBM that was “clearly not an SLBM” from a submarine, when we now know it was clearly on track to do the same thing. The North decried the “funny yet surprising news … that south Korea tries to rank itself among the world SLBM possessors” even though it had just launched “a typical ground-to-ground tactical ballistic missile”—not a “wholesome SLBM with perfect underwater operational maneuverability and with the capability to give influence enough to tilt the war in one’s favor in terms of power,” like the North’s earlier SLBMs. The military significance of the new SLBM, however, clearly is marginal. Contrary to some Western commentary that “It poses a huge risk … that could be a game-changer for South Korea and Japan,” or poses “a far greater threat to the United States,” the North Koreans came closer to the truth on September 20 when characterizing the very similar South Korean short-range SLBM: “Such meaningless missile [sic] is just for ‘bragging’ and ‘self-comforting,’ as it has only hundreds km of flight range and it can load conventional warhead weighing 1-2 ton at most and it is launched from conventional submarine.” (The North is assessed to be able to deploy the KN-23 with nuclear weapons, unlike South Korea, which does not possess them. Pyongyang’s October 20 statement did not describe the new missile’s payload type, however, and did not describe the system as “strategic,” which many commentators associate with a nuclear payload—unlike how that statement described the SLBM tested five years earlier.) North Korea already possesses hundreds of road-mobile SRBMs (potentially including KN-23s) and medium-range ballistic missiles that can cover targets throughout South Korea and Japan. Even if a KN-23-equipped submarine could carry more SLBMs than one fitted out for the North’s larger SLBMs, and if it would be easier to retrofit or build multiple subs for KN-23s than for larger SLBMs, a North Korean SLBM force is highly unlikely ever to come close to the number of land-based missiles able to reach regional targets. More of these land-based missiles (and still more in the future) would be as “valuable for striking hardened, high-value targets” as sub-launched KN-23s, and as “good for evading missile defenses.” Moreover, submarines carrying short-range KN-23s, assuming they are ever built and deployed, would have to get much closer to their targets to be within range than subs carrying the North’s previously tested 1,200-1,900 km range Pukguksong-1 and -3 SLBMs—much less its larger, as-yet-untested Pukguksong-4 and -5. KN-23 subs would thus be much more vulnerable to detection and destruction. North Korea’s land-based mobile missile force is almost certainly more survivable than a future SLBM force, particularly if carrying KN-23s. As with other SLBMs, KN-23 subs would be able to strike targets in South Korea from different directions than land-based missiles. (To do so for targets in Japan would essentially require sailing out of the East Sea/Sea of Japan, which is unlikely to be wise or worthwhile.) This could complicate the task of missile defenses deployed in the South, but would provide only a marginal increase to the many other options North Korea has to combat such defenses—to include saturation attacks, early-release submunitions, penetration aids, maneuvering re-entry vehicles, and possible future long-range cruise missiles (like the one flight-tested September 11 and 12), hypersonic boost glide vehicles (like the one flight-tested on September 28), and multiple reentry vehicles.” (Vann Van Diepen, “North Korea’s ‘New-Type Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile’: More Political Than Military Significance,” 38 North, October 22, 2021)

South Korea’s government is pushing for a declaration to formally end the Korean War as a way of bringing North Korea back to the dialogue table, and South Korea and the U.S. are reportedly discussing the text of such a declaration. Speculation is mounting over whether Washington — whose opinion on the declaration remains unclear — will publicly announce its position on the matter. A high-ranking South Korean official in Washington on Tuesday spoke to reporters after a meeting of the top nuclear envoys of South Korea, the US and Japan, saying, “South Korea and the US have reached a consensus that the declaration on the war’s end is quite useful as an opportunity to resume dialogue with North Korea.” “This consensus is gradually growing,” they added. This signals a narrowing of the gap between Seoul and Washington in their views on the declaration through intensive talks before and after September 21, when President Moon Jae-in proposed the declaration at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Seoul’s top nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk and his Washington counterpart Sung Kim held five rounds of talks over the past 50 days in South Korea, the U.S. and Indonesia. On October 12, National Security Office Director Suh Hoon held talks with White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan in Washington on measures for resuming the Korean Peninsula peace process, including an end-of-war declaration. In the process, both governments are known to be discussing a specific text for the declaration. A high-ranking government official said, “The U.S. deems it highly necessary to examine the impact of adopting the end-of-war declaration, and is considering it in depth internally.” It is premature, however, to consider a review of the text as a sure sign of it being formally agreed upon. The U.S. is apparently mindful of the potential for unforeseen problems such as the presence of the Republic of Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, the U.S. Forces Korea, and the United Nations Command-Rear in Japan if the Korean War is declared over. In addition, Seoul might invite opposition if it agrees to the declaration without nailing down specific benefits in return for the sake of offering an “opening” for talks on denuclearization. Washington is also said to have gone as far as hiring lawyers to review the declaration’s text. While South Korea considers the proposed proclamation a “political declaration” with little practical significance, the U.S. is a bit more sensitive to the political effects and legal impact. A government official said, “It’s still too early to definitively say what the U.S. position on the declaration will be,” adding that “it should be seen as a process of enhancing the understanding of each side’s position.” Regarding U.S. nuclear envoy Kim’s scheduled visit to Seoul this weekend, the official said Kim will “continue talks on the results of internal discussions by Washington on its consultations with Seoul and the declaration on the end of the war.” Turning to humanitarian aid to the North, the official said, “Practical discussions are almost complete,” adding that over the past several months South Korea and the US have discussed such assistance including that for health, quarantine, potable water and sanitation. “Since this project requires North Korea’s consent, when to do it must be decided based on the circumstances,” the official said. Such aid is one of two pillars Seoul is pushing for along with the declaration to persuade Pyongyang to pick up dialogue again. (Hwang Joon-bum, “U.S., S. Korea Discussing Draft Text of End-of-War Declaration,” Hankyore, October 21, 2021)


10/20/21:
North Korea’s recent missile test underscores the need for engaging the reclusive state and sanctions relief can be considered as part of incentives to bring it back to the negotiating table, Seoul’s top diplomat said today. Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong was speaking at a parliamentary audit session, hours after the North said it has successfully test-fired a new type of submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) yesterday. “We should take some actions to prevent North Korea from further developing its nuclear and missile capabilities,” Chung said. “Sanctions relief can be considered as part of efforts, on condition that the North accepts the dialogue proposal.” When asked whether Washington is on the same page with Seoul for the conditions-based easing of sanctions, Chung said, “The U.S. has consistently made it clear that it can discuss any issues at the negotiating table if the North returns to talks.” U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Sung Kim on Tuesday reaffirmed that the U.S. remains open to dialogue with Pyongyang but made it clear that the Joe Biden administration will keep sanctions in place until the North makes concrete steps toward denuclearization. Chung expressed hope that President Moon Jae-in’s proposal to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War could provide the much-needed momentum for the stalled denuclearization talks with Pyongyang. “The end-of-war declaration is one of several options to restart the peace process. It aims to build trust to create an atmosphere for dialogue,” Chung said. “It is the first gateway for the peace process on the Korean Peninsula and an essential step.” Yesterday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said Washington has “directly” reached out to Pyongyang, reaffirming the Joe Biden government’s willingness to hold talks without preconditions. “We have reached out directly to Pyongyang and stand ready to meet without preconditions, and as we have said publicly on multiple occasions, the United States does not harbor hostile intentions,” Sherman said in a virtual address to Korea Society’s annual gala held in New York. She condemned the North’s latest missile test as “a violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.” While the U.N. Security Council is set to hold an emergency closed-door meeting on North Korea’s SLBM test on Wednesday (New York time), Seoul’s foreign ministry said it has been closely communicating with the main council members to discuss the current situation on the Korean Peninsula and appropriate responses. Regarding the stand-offs between Seoul and Tokyo, meanwhile, Chung said the government remains committed to efforts for mending bilateral ties in cooperation with the administration of new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The minister vowed to step up diplomatic consultations to seek “a realistic, reasonable solution” to protracted disputes over shared history, including wartime forced labor. (Kim Eun-jung, “FM Chung Says N. Korea Sanctions Relief Can Be an Option If Accept Dialogue Offer,” Yonhap, October 20, 2021)

DPRK FoMin spokesperson’s answer to a question put by the KCNA on October 20 as regards the fact that the U.S. is unreasonably pulling up the DPRK over its test-firing of a new-type SLBM: “The test-firing of the new-type SLBM by the Academy of Defense Science of the DPRK on October 19 was part of the normal activities for carrying out the medium- and long-term plan for the development of defense science and it did not pose any threat or damage to the security of the neighboring countries and the region. This notwithstanding, the U.S. described the DPRK’s exercise of its legitimate right to self-defense as a ‘violation of the resolution’ of the UNSC and a ‘threat’ to the regional peace and stability by bringing to the fore the spokespersons for the White House and the Department of State and the Indo-Pacific Command, and is taking very provocative moves such as calling for convening an emergency meeting of the UNSC. It truly concerns us that the U.S. is showing abnormal reactions to the exercise of the right to self-defense proper and just to a sovereign state. As already clarified, the DPRK’s deterrent does not aim at a specified state or forces but is for preventing the war itself and defending the sovereign rights. And the U.S. and south Korea have been ruled out as our arch-enemies. When doing the recent test-firing we did not have the U.S. in mind nor aimed at it, but it is the work which had already been planned purely for the defense of the country. So there is no need for the U.S. to worry or trouble itself over the test-firing. To criticize the DPRK for developing and test-firing the same weapon system as the one the U.S. possesses or is developing is a clear expression of double-standards and it only excites our suspicion about the ‘authenticity’ of its statement that it does not antagonize the DPRK. If the U.S. does not take issue with the DPRK’s regular and legitimate exercise of the sovereign right, no tension will be caused on the Korean peninsula but if the U.S. and its vassal forces persist with opting for a wrong action, it may act as a catalyst for more serious consequences. We have already expressed strong concern over the fact that the U.S. and the UNSC are tampering with a dangerous ‘time bomb.’” (KCNA, “Answer of Spokesperson for DPRK Foreign Ministry,” October 21, 2021)


10/21/21:
South Korea failed to put a dummy satellite into orbit with its first homegrown space rocket today, dealing a setback to the country’s decade-long project to join the elite global space club. The KSLV-II rocket, also known as Nuri, flew to a target altitude of 700 kilometers but failed to place the 1.5-ton dummy satellite into orbit. “The test-launch of Nuri-ho was completed. I am proud of it,” President Moon Jae-in said in a press briefing at the Naro Space Center in the country’s southern coastal village of Goheung. “Regrettably, we did not perfectly reach the goal, but we made a very creditable achievement in the first launch.” Moon said South Korea plans to conduct another launch of the Nuri space rocket next year. Science and ICT Minister Lim Hye-sook also said the dummy satellite could not reach the intended orbit, because it failed to reach a speed of 7.5 kilometers per second. She added the 7-ton engine in the third-stage rocket that was supposed to burn for 521 seconds only burned for 475 seconds, slowing down the rocket at the end. “That the first-stage, fairing and second stage ejected successfully and that the third-stage successfully ignited is still an accomplishment,” Lim said in a press briefing. Officials at the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) said they will need to conduct further data analysis to find out why the engine burned for a shorter period of time. South Korea’s rocket launches ended in failure in 2009 and 2010. In 2013, South Korea successfully launched its first-ever Naro space rocket, though its first stage was built in Russia. The three-stage Nuri rocket uses a clustering of four 75-ton liquid engines in its first stage, a 75-ton liquid engine in the second stage and a 7-ton liquid engine in the third stage. South Korea has invested nearly 2 trillion won (US$1.8 billion) in building the three-stage Nuri since 2010. The whole process of the launch of Nuri was carried out with homegrown technology on its own soil, including design, production, testing and launch operation. (Yi Wonju, “S. Korea Fails to Put Dummy Satellite into Orbit,” Yonhap, October 21, 2021)


10/26/21:
Quickly developing discussions between South Korea and the United States on declaring a formal end to the Korean War appear to have hit a snag as Washington has made it clear that it cannot accept Seoul’s proposal, at least at this time, according to diplomatic observers. Since President Moon Jae-in once again floated the idea in a United Nations General Assembly speech in September, it has been gaining traction, as evidenced by six meetings occurring between South Korea’s top nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk and his U.S. counterpart, Sung Kim, since August.

However, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan seems to have stepped on the brakes amid the Moon administration’s push for an end-of-war declaration, today. “We may have somewhat different perspectives on the precise sequence or timing or conditions for different steps, but we are fundamentally aligned on the core strategic initiative here and on the belief that only through diplomacy are we going to really, truly be able to effectively make progress and that that diplomacy has to be effectively paired with deterrence,” Sullivan said during a press briefing.

His remarks are in line with those of Sung Kim following his latest meeting with Noh two days ago, when he said that the U.S. will explore different ideas and initiatives, including Moon’s end-of-war proposal, raising speculation that the two sides were not exactly on the same page. (Kang Seung-woo, “U.S. ‘Appears to Have Drawn a Line at South Korea’s Push for an -End-of-War Declaration,” Korea Times, October 27, 2021)


10/28/21:
North Korea may have reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods at the Yongbyon Nuclear Complex this year, the South Korean spy agency was quoted as saying today. The National Intelligence Service confirmed the activity in a closed-door briefing at the parliamentary audit, Rep. Kim Byung-kee of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea said during a press briefing. The spy agency said Pyongyang may have reprocessed spent fuel from its main 5MW(e) nuclear reactor in Yongbyon from February to July this year. By reprocessing spent fuel at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which it shut down in early December 2018, the North can produce plutonium for weapons. The agency’s assessment is consistent with the most recent annual report from the International Atomic Energy Agency. In August, the IAEA said Pyongyang had restarted operations at Yongbyon in early July this year. The UN nuclear watchdog cited the discharge of cooling water as an indication the reactor was operating, and said it was the first sign of activity detected since December 2018. The IAEA also said North Korea’s latest activity is likely to involve the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods. The nuclear watchdog pointed to indications that a nearby radiochemical laboratory was operating from mid-February to early July this year. This five-month period is longer than the usual time needed for waste treatment or maintenance activities, and is consistent with the duration of previous reprocessing campaigns, according to IAEA. (Ji Da-gyum, “Signs of Activity Spotted at North Korea’s Yongbyon Facility: NIS,” Korea Herald, October 28, 2021)


11/3/21:
North Korea can get all the uranium it needs for nuclear weapons through its existing Pyongsan mill, and satellite imagery of tailings piles suggests the country can produce far more nuclear fuel than it is, a new academic study concludes. Despite a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons tests since 2017, North Korea has said it is continuing to build its arsenal, and this year it appeared to have restarted a reactor that is widely believed to have produced weapons-grade plutonium. According to research published last month in the journal Science & Global Security by researchers at Stanford University and an Arizona-based mining consulting company, North Korea may be able to increase production, and has no need for other uranium mills. “It is clear that the DPRK appears to have substantially more milling capacity than it has been using to date,” said the report. “This means that the DPRK could produce much greater quantities of milled natural uranium if desired.” The Pyongsan Uranium Concentration Plant and its associated mine are North Korea’s only publicly acknowledged source of yellowcake, or uranium ore, according to analysts. The report comes as other satellite imagery shows North Korea is building a large expansion at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which analysts say may be used to produce weapons-grade uranium[?]. “Given the DPRK’s active nuclear program, it is of utmost importance to assess and understand its nuclear materials production capabilities,” wrote the report’s authors, who submitted their findings in April. The authors used artificial intelligence algorithms developed by Orbital Insight, a California-based geospatial analytics company, to analyze satellite imagery for land use patterns around the Pyongsan facility. Yellowcake from the mine and mill is a key component of North Korea’s nuclear fuel production, including its 5-megawatt (MW) reactor, which is seen as capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. The IAEA and other analysts reported over the summer that the reactor appeared to be operating for the first time since 2018. (Josh Smith, “N. Korea Can Produce More Uranium Than Current Rate, Report Says,” Reuters, November 4, 2021)

China and Russia are pushing the United Nations Security Council to ease sanctions on North Korea, reviving a similar previous attempt that had flailed in 2019. The two countries filed a reworked draft resolution, seen by Reuters on Monday, that proposes removing a ban on Pyongyang’s exports of statues, seafood and textiles, as well as lifting a cap on refined petroleum imports. China and Russia want the 15-member council to remove those sanctions “with the intent of enhancing the livelihood of the civilian population” in the isolated Asian state, according to the resolution. The draft resolution also includes other measures first proposed by Russia and China nearly two years ago, including lifting a ban on North Koreans working abroad and exempting inter-Korean rail and road cooperation projects from sanctions. Several UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the refreshed draft resolution would find little support. In 2019 Russia and China held two informal rounds of talks on the draft resolution, but never formally tabled it for a vote. “It has been always China’s will that we should also address the humanitarian dimension caused by the sanctions imposed by the Security Council,” China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters last month, adding again that the 2019 draft resolution “remains on the table.” A spokesperson for the US mission to the United Nations declined to comment on private council discussions, but added that all UN members should be focused on addressing those who are violating the sanctions already in place. “The Security Council has repeatedly affirmed that it is prepared to modify, suspend, or lift the measures as may be needed in light of the DPRK’s compliance,” the spokesperson said. “Yet the DPRK has taken no steps to comply with the Security Council’s demands regarding its prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” The new draft resolution would have the council acknowledge “the difficult situation of economy and livelihood of the DPRK in recent years, underscoring the necessity to respect the legitimate security concerns of the DPRK, and ensure the welfare, inherent dignity, and rights of people in the DPRK.” (Reuters, “China and Russia Revive Push to Lift UN Sanctions on North Korea,” November 4, 2021)


11/5/21:
Silberstein: “A major crackdown is currently underway in North Korea to root out foreign culture, primarily from South Korea, as well as “capitalist tendencies,” including corruption. The roots of the campaign go back to early in Kim Jong Un’s tenure, but it has become particularly intensive this year, with several new laws and ordinances enacted to strengthen social control. The country’s dire economic situation and COVID-19 border lockdown, perhaps driven by conservative elements within the regime, partially explain the campaign’s renewed vigor this year. Indeed, there is tangible evidence from other parts of the world that many states have used COVID-19 as an opportunity to increase suppression of political threats. However, it is also likely a result of a cyclical dynamic, where the state intensifies social control after periods of relative relaxation. To understand the rationale for the current campaign, consider the following example: In early October this year, Daily NK reported on a North Korean government directive to military units to strengthen ideological education following the reopening of the military hotline with South Korea. The general political bureau of the military distributed collective study materials to all military institutions, calling for soldiers to “boldly defeat imperialist schemes to ideologically and culturally infiltrate” the country and “establish a revolutionary military spirit.” In the past, the state would often overlook ideological crimes by military rank and file, a practice the government now seeks to end. This program for ideological education was launched the day after Kim Jong Un announced the restarting of the hotline. Of particular concern are young soldiers who, like young North Koreans in general, are especially likely to consume South Korean dramas, music and other foreign culture. The directive gave examples of young soldiers who had been “blinded by bourgeois ideology and culture,” such as new recruits in one battalion who had been caught performing a “strange dance” during the unit’s downtime, suggesting that it might have come from the popular South Korean pop band BTS or other “K-pop” music. This case highlights a common dynamic in North Korean crackdowns against foreign culture; as former North Korean diplomat Thae Yong-ho has noted, these tend to become more intense when regime contacts with the outside world increase. When ties warm—even slightly—with South Korea or the United States, the regime’s main enemies, it has to emphasize all the more strongly to the public that the enmity remains and that even though government contacts with foreign powers may be positive, cultural influences from those countries will remain fully off-limits. But the current crackdown began long before the resumption of the hotline. Kim Jong Un has acknowledged on several instances in the past few months that the country is experiencing substantial economic difficulties, largely because of the self-imposed border lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19. The current campaign partially stems from the state’s fear that the resulting discontent could threaten social stability. In parallel with increasing arrests, the regime reportedly dispatched some 2,000 senior students from its National Security College late last year—where cadres are trained for work in the security bureaucracy—to monitor the ideological tendencies of residents near the border with China. These agents were also supposedly tasked with interviewing residents who were unemployed or lacking food, and convincing them that they could rely upon the party to overcome the current crisis. Indeed, the crackdown appears to have accelerated significantly late last year and early this year. One milestone was the 12th plenary meeting of the 14th presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament. The meeting adopted the “law on rejecting the reactionary ideology and culture,” which, according to the summary by the Korean Central News Agency: ‘ … specifies the principles to be certainly observed by all the institutions, enterprises, organizations and citizens in further cementing our ideological, revolutionary and class positions by thoroughly preventing the inroads and spread of the anti-socialist ideology and culture and firmly maintaining our idea, spirit and culture.’ In practice, the law strengthens punishments and enforcement by the state for actions that were already crimes in North Korea. In the past, corruption and contacts could often make officials turn a blind eye to North Koreans consuming foreign media and culture. The current campaign and the new law compel security agents to be more vigilant against behaviors that, while illegal, have become common in North Korean society. Information materials on the new law reportedly stipulate that distributing movies, recordings, videos or books from South Korea are punishable by life imprisonment in a labor camp or execution. While many offenders have already received such sentences in the past, the new law seemingly cements and specifies these harsher penalties for a broader range of offenders. Although not outlined by the new law, the government has reportedly also expanded the practice of sentencing families and relatives of offenders to internal exile or labor camp—a practice that has, according to refugee testimonies and sources inside North Korea, become less common over the past few years. The law also famously bans the use of South Korean dialects and singing styles, and punishes parents of children who break the law for not raising them properly. Moreover, the state appears to have stepped up direct surveillance efforts of electronic communications from TV sets and cell phones. In May 2020, Radio Free Asia reported that authorities were monitoring students’ text messages for South Korean slang and spelling. Overall, arrests for possession, distribution or consumption of foreign culture have reportedly increased greatly around the country. In Pyongyang, all households have allegedly been ordered to report to the authorities how many TV sets they own, and the government has checked for additional TV sets that have illegally been tuned to receive broadcasts from South Korea. In early 2020, an editorial in North Korea’s state newspaper Rodong Sinmun warned citizens against drinking, debauchery and other acts going counter to “socialist culture and lifestyle.” In February this year, the same outlet reported that North Korean authorities were cracking down on tinted car windows, allegedly because young North Koreans use them to hide their viewing of South Korean dramas. Over the summer, the government reportedly published a list of actions that count as “reactionary” according to the law adopted late last year. This list contains a wide range of behaviors, many of which concern citizens’ clothing styles, singing certain songs and other seemingly innocuous activities that can violate ‘public morals.’ Although South Korean culture is a main focus of the current crackdown, the repression is broadly aimed at violations that can threaten social stability in the eyes of the state. Therefore, it is not surprising that arrests of those who violate COVID-19 regulations, as well as supposedly corrupt officials, have increased during the same period. A significant number of people—likely tens of thousands, although no definitive information is available—have been sent to labor and prison camps for violating quarantine rules. People gathering in groups of more than three have, for example, been sentenced to hard labor. According to Daily NK, though numbers cannot be confirmed, the camp population has increased by at least 20,000 since March 2020, in response to the stern implementation of the anti-reactionary thought law and violations of quarantine and social distancing rules. Satellite imagery research by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea confirms that camps have been refurbished and expanded over the past few years, though it disputes that wholly new camps have been constructed. The North Korean government always seeks to keep foreign information and capitalist culture out of daily life in the country, and Kim’s emphasis on social control goes back to the early days of his tenure. In many ways, the current crackdown simply amounts to an emphasis on the North Korean state and security organs doing what they were designed to do. Indeed, crackdowns such as the present one may also come in cycles. Over the past few decades, the state, with some exceptions, consistently relaxed state control over the economy, allowing markets and the space for private initiative to grow. Such a relaxation requires the security bureaucracy to ease authoritarian pressure. These organs naturally seek, however, to expand their power and influence. Thus, although there is little empirical evidence to date, the current crackdown may reflect an effort by these institutions to regain their influence and standing as their relative role and importance have decreased due to a relaxation of economic controls. The COVID-19 pandemic has also given ammunition to those within the state apparatus who wish to see stronger crackdowns on both economic and social misbehavior; likewise, the strict border controls—notwithstanding their disastrous economic results—may partially stem from the security state using the pandemic to further political interests. Whatever the source, this is likely far from the last such campaign under Kim Jong Un’s tenure.” (Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, “North Korea’s ‘Anti-Capitalist’ Crackdown: Old Roots But New Vigor,” 38 North, November 5, 2021)


11/6/21:
KCNA: “At a time when the enthusiasm to undergo intensive training prevails throughout the Korean People’s Army (KPA) for ushering in a new heyday in strengthening the state defense capabilities under the banner of self-defense, an artillery fire competition of artillery sub-units under mechanized troops at all levels of the KPA was held on Saturday. The artillery fire competition was aimed at inspecting and evaluating how the mechanized troops of the KPA have conducted drills in order to increase their mobile artillery combat capabilities true to the militant policy set forth by the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) at the first workshop of military and political cadres of the KPA and at further intensifying the competitive training throughout the KPA. Pak Jong Chon, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the WPK, guided the artillery fire competition. Army General Rim Kwang Il, chief of the General Staff of the KPA, and commanders of the combined units greeted Pak Jong Chon on the spot and inspected the competition with him. In the competition firing positions and the firing sequence were set by drawing lots, and then the tactical and firepower duties of supporting mechanized troops entering the decisive battle with artillery firepower were issued to the commanders of the combined units so that they can make their decisions and personally command the firing of artillery sub-units to destroy the target. As soon as the firing orders were given by the commanders of the combined units, gun barrels to annihilate the enemy competitively shelled the target to accurately hit it. The artillery sub-unit under KPA Unit 604, artillery sub-unit under KPA Unit 337, artillery sub-unit under KPA Unit 243, artillery sub-unit under KPA Unit 671, artillery sub-unit under KPA Unit 488 and artillery sub-unit under KPA Unit 757 attained first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth places respectively in the competition. In the competition, the unit which had an excellent score and won first place received a master gunner certificate, medal and badge, and the sub-units which had excellent scores were awarded certificates and badges of master gunner sub-unit. Pak Jong Chon was greatly satisfied with the competition results.” (KCNA, “Artillery Fire Competition of Artillery Sub-Units under Mechanized Troops at All Levels of KPA Held,” November 7, 2021)

The Japanese government said it is premature to declare end of the Korean War, which is still in armistice, the Kyoto News Agency reported today. It is the first time that the Japanese government’s position has been made public with regard to the proposed declaration of end of the Korean War, which Seoul is pushing for. According to Kyoto, Roh Kyu-deok, head of the Korean Peninsula Peace Negotiation Headquarters at the South Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry, stressed the benefit of declaring end of the Korean War based on President Moon Jae-in’s speech at the United Nations when Roh was attending three-way talks in Washington, D.C. between the chief negotiators for Pyongyang’s denuclearization from Seoul, Washington and Tokyo. Earlier on Sept. 21, President Moon attended the United Nations General Assembly where he proposed that three parties namely the two Koreas and the U.S., and four parties including China, gather together to declare end of the Korean War. On Roh’s statement, Funakoshi Takehiro, director general of the Asia Pacific and Oceania bureau at the Japanese foreign ministry, expressed objection by saying, “Pushing to declare end of the war is premature” by citing the North’s repeated test-firings of missiles. Sung Kim, Washington’s special envoy for North Korea, did not clarify whether he agrees or disagrees to the suggestion. “There were differences in position on declaring end of the war between the three countries,” Kyoto said. Japan said since it is not a party to the Korean War and thus it would follow the principle of denuclearization of the Korean War. “Notably, the Kishida administration is concerned that if an end-of-war declaration with North Korea happens before addressing other issues, the kidnappings of Japanese citizens by Pyongyang, the most important task for Japan, could remain unresolved and neglected.” (Dong-A Ilbo, “Japan: ‘It Is Premature to Push to Declare End of Korean War,” November 8, 2021)


11/9/21:
South Korea and the United States are actively discussing the possibility of declaring a formal end to the Korean War with North Korea, South Korean Ambassador to the U.S. Lee Soo-hyuck said today. Lee said the countries are also working to devise an end of the Korean War declaration draft. “There is not only an exchange of views on the draft of an end of war declaration between South Korea and the U.S., but the countries are also continuing their active and creative efforts with regard to the end of war declaration issue,” the ambassador said while meeting with reporters in Washington. (Byun Duk-kun, “S. Korea, U.S. in Active Discussion over End of War Declaration: Amb. Lee,” Yonhap, November 10, 2021)


11/17/21:
A flare-up in territorial tensions between Japan and South Korea led to the cancellation of a three-way news conference with the United States today, dealing a blow to Washington’s hopes of presenting a unified front to the challenge of a nuclear-armed North Korea. In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno Hirokazu said Japan decided to pull out of the press event, that was to be held after trilateral talks in Washington, because of the South Korean police chief’s visit yesterday to two islets, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, reportedly the first from someone in the position in more than a decade that drew strong protest from Japan. Japanese Foreign Ministry sources said the Takeshima issue was not discussed during the trilateral meeting. But the government decided that it was “not appropriate” to hold a joint press conference when Tokyo is protesting to South Korea over the matter. The event was instead held alone by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Sherman explained at the press conference held at the U.S. State Department that one of multiple bilateral “differences” between Tokyo and Seoul, which was “unrelated” to the trilateral meeting, led to the change. But she added that the vice-ministerial meeting was “very constructive.” The State Department had been planning a joint press conference involving Sherman, Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo and South Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun after their meeting, which lasted for more than three hours. President Joe Biden’s administration has been striving to promote cooperation between Japan and South Korea, viewing trilateral relations — despite the wartime history and territorial disputes between two of its allies in Asia — as vital in the face of North Korean nuclear threats and China’s assertiveness in the region. Today’s gathering was the first trilateral vice-foreign ministerial-level meeting since Prime Minister Kishida took office in October. According to a press release issued by the U.S. State Department, the three officials reaffirmed that trilateral cooperation “is essential to tackling the most pressing challenges” in the region and across the globe, while sharing a commitment to maintaining a rules-based international order. They also discussed the importance of the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait, while sharing concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and an intention to closely cooperate toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The deputy secretary of state said the United States will continue discussions to explore the best way forward to ensure Pyongyang’s denuclearization, with South Korea proposing the declaration of a formal end to the Korean War as part of confidence-building measures with North Korea. “On (the issue of the) end of war … we are having good consultations amongst us and with other allies and partners and we will continue to do so,” Sherman said. Diplomatic sources have previously said that Tokyo is reluctant to support the idea, believing it would only create a conciliatory mood without clear prospects that Pyongyang would abandon its nuclear weapons and resolve the issue of its past abductions of Japanese nationals. One of the two Japanese Foreign Ministry sources who briefed on today’s trilateral meeting acknowledged discussions regarding the declaration are under way based on “respective positions” on the issue, but did not elaborate. After the trilateral talks, Mori and Choi had a bilateral meeting, during which they sparred over the Takeshima issue. Mori said the South Korean police chief’s visit to Takeshima was “unacceptable,” given that the islands are “an inherent part of the territory of Japan, in light of historical facts and based on international law,” according to the other Foreign Ministry source. Mori also expressed his awareness that the bilateral ties remain in a “very difficult” state due to disputes stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula between 1910 and 1945, such as compensation over forced labor and the “comfort women” issue. But the two agreed to continue communication through their diplomats to put relations back on a sound footing, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s press release. Speaking at a press briefing in Seoul, Foreign Ministry spokesman Choi Young Sam repeated South Korea’s position on the disputed islets. “Dokdo is clearly our inherent territory,” Choi said. “We will firmly respond to Japan’s unreasonable claims over the islets.” (Tanaka Miya, “Japan, S. Korea Skip Three-Way News Conference with U.S. after Flare-up,” Kyodo, November 18, 2021)


11/21/21:
DPRK FoMin spokesperson’s press statement: “At the meeting of Third Committee of the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly held on November 17, the United States and other hostile forces have forced the adoption of anti-DPRK “human rights resolution” which only serves to smear the true human rights situation in our country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the DPRK strongly denounces and categorically rejects the anti-DPRK “human rights resolution” of the hostile forces as it is a product of anti-DPRK hostile policy and double standard as well as a grave infringement upon the sovereignty aimed at tarnishing the prestigious image of our state. The said “resolution” is nothing more than a document of stereotyped fraud as it is all about fabrications cooked up by the hostile forces who harbor the inveterate repugnance and prejudice against us. In our country—where the people-first politics run through the state activities and overall social life—all lines and policies of the state thoroughly serve to give the highest and absolute priority to the people’s rights and interests and to promote the well-being of the people. The countries picking on our “human rights issue” are unexceptionally the worst violators of human rights with horrible human rights records such as racial discrimination, national chauvinism, violence against women, police violence and gun-related crime. The African Americans’ crying of “I can’t breathe” which has now been recorded in history as a synonym for racial discrimination is a warning bell to the institutional practices of human rights violation that are widespread in the U.S. and the Western countries keeping up the pretense of being “civilized states in the field of human rights.” The United Nations, if it is to fulfil its intrinsic mission the pillar of which is ensuring objectivity, equity and impartiality, should not fail to take up and bring to account the inhumane crimes committed by the U.S. that killed a large number of civilians in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan under the pretext of “democracy” and “protection of human rights.” The international society should raise its due vigilance over the negative tendencies that human rights issue is misused by some countries as a means for realizing their sinister intentions, and that the august forum of United Nations is exploited for justifying the undisguised interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states and the regime change. To us, human rights is, after all, state rights. We will never tolerate any attempts that violate the sovereignty of our state, and we will continue to resolutely counter to the end the ever-worsening moves of the hostile forces against us.” (KCNA, “Spokesperson for Ministry of Foreign Affairs of DPRK Releases Press Statement,” November 21, 2021)


11/24/21:
Joe Biden’s lack of ambition in finding a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea has left some South Koreans missing the flamboyant summitry of Donald Trump. The Biden administration has adopted a “calibrated, practical approach” to North Korea, maintaining that it was willing to engage diplomatically without preconditions once Pyongyang was ready to do so. But observers in Seoul and Washington say an unwillingness to spell out proposals and a lack of engagement at the highest levels indicate a desire to manage rather than solve the North Korea issue, even as Kim Jong Un enhances his missile and nuclear programs. “The administration wouldn’t put it like this, but their policy on North Korea is really one of benign neglect,” said Sue Mi Terry, director of the Center for Korean History and Public Policy at the Wilson Center in Washington and a former CIA analyst. “They seem to have given up hope of any breakthrough, and for totally understandable reasons,” adding that the administration’s focus was on China. For Biden administration officials, the failure of Trump’s North Korea gambit justifies A senior western government official said: “A lot of the criticism directed at the Americans is coming from people who think that the key to solving the North Korean problem is finding the magic formula that will suddenly satisfy the North Koreans. “It’s not for the rest of us to be chasing after the North Koreans, especially when they’ve given no sign they want to come to the table — we’re not in the game of just trying to make Kim Jong Un happy.” But the U.S. insistence that the ball is in Kim’s court has exasperated members of the Moon administration. It has tried unsuccessfully to persuade the U.S. to grant sanctions relief and declare a formal end to the Korean war in a bid to get Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. “The American position is one of stable management, and the Korean government is losing patience,” said Moon Chung-in, chair of the Sejong Institute think-tank and a former special adviser to President Moon. “We have been urging the American government to send some positive signals; it is very natural for North Korea not to respond to empty proposals.” A member of the South Korean president’s inner circle told the Financial Times: “The Biden administration pretends to care about our proposals, but it has not yet accommodated them.” In September, the chair of South Korea’s ruling Democratic party said that “even though the Trump administration had many problems, the Biden administration must continue the previous administration’s policy, which sought to solve problems with North Korea through dialogue”. Pew Global Indicators data show that support among South Koreans for Trump’s North Korea policy reached 78 per cent in 2019. “Despite misgivings about Trump himself, there was strong bipartisan support for his policy of engagement with North Korea,” said Steven Denney from the University of Vienna who has analyzed the data. “There is some nostalgia in South Korea for Trump’s maximalist approach: conservatives miss his ‘maximum pressure’ approach of 2017, while progressives miss the summitry of 2018-2019,” said Wilson Center’s Terry. “Few have any affection for President Trump personally, and they were upset over his transactional approach to the alliance with South Korea. But there is a sense that at least he tried.” Analysts said hopes that Trump would make a breakthrough may have been illusory, but the Biden administration could not simply wish the issue away. Victor Cha, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said: “They can’t just keep saying ‘we’re not Trump, we’re not Obama, we’ll meet any time, any place’. That’s not a policy, that’s a bumper sticker.” (Christian Davies, “South Korea Longs for Trump’s Focus as Efforts to Engage Seoul Stall,” Financial Times, November 24, 2021)


11/26/21:
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is making a last-ditch effort to realize tangible progress in his proposal to declare a formal end to the Korean War, which he believes will be a powerful enticement to bring North Korea back to denuclearization talks. As part of his efforts, the President replaced three out of four deputy heads at the country’s spy agency to refresh its behind-the-scenes communications with Pyongyang over the end-of-war declaration. Cheong Wa Dae announced today that Moon named three new deputy heads of the National Intelligence Service (NIS). The NIS has four deputy heads who report directly to NIS Director Park Jie-won, with the first in charge of overseas/North Korea, the second in counter-espionage, the third scientific intelligence, and another for planning and coordination. The President replaced all but the third deputy head in charge of scientific intelligence. New first deputy head Park Sun-won is known as a North Korea specialist. He had been deputy head of planning and coordination and served as presidential secretary for unification during the 2003-08 Roh Moo-hyun administration. Park is credited with facilitating the 2007 inter-Korean summit between Roh and then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Along with current presidential national security adviser Suh Hoon, Park is known to have played a pivotal role in working-level discussions between the two Koreas. He also reportedly served as a messenger between the U.S. and North Korea during the 2019 summit between then-U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. “Along with the perspective as a security strategist, he also has a reformative mindset,” presidential senior secretary for public communication Park Soo-hyun said in a statement. “We expect his contribution to lead to a breakthrough in the inter-Korean and the U.S.-North Korea stalemate.” Moon has been championing this idea under the belief that a formal declaration of peace would be a powerful enticement to bring the North back to the stalled talks, even though it is a non-binding political statement and does not affect the current state of the Korean Peninsula. Since Moon floated the proposal again in September, South Korea has been coordinating with the U.S. over the content of the declaration, and multiple South Korean officials said the discussion is now in its final stage. “Regarding the progress of the end-of-war declaration and its timing, the coordination between South Korea and the U.S. is now in its final stage,” a senior official at the Ministry of Unification said on November 24. Unification Minister Lee In-young and First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choi Jong-kun have also made similar remarks. Against this backdrop, Moon’s appointing of Park is interpreted as an order to engage North Korea with the draft version of the end-of-war declaration. The draft version is expected to include clauses that the declaration will not affect the armistice status between the two Koreas, thus the United Nations Command in South Korea and the U.S. Forces Korea will stay as they are today. In this case, however, there is still a chance that the North will not agree with the declaration. Regarding Moon’s proposal, Pyongyang has been demanding Seoul stop its joint military exercises with the U.S. and acknowledge its weapons development programs as preconditions. Since these are not conditions that both Washington and Seoul can accept, attention is growing on what other favors will be offered to North Korea. “We don’t have to be too strict about interpreting North Korea’s precondition,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies. “If Seoul and Washington can show a certain level of sincerity, Pyongyang may engage in talks for the end-of-war declaration. For example, a high-level U.S. figure can officially say that the U.S. does not have a hostile policy toward North Korea. South Korea and the U.S. can also say they will not deploy additional ballistic missile defense systems or other strategic weapons on South Korean soil.” (Nam Hyun-woo, “President Moon Makes Last-Ditch Effort to Realize North Korea Talks within His Tenure,” Korea Times, November 28, 2021)


12/2/21:
The defense chiefs of the United States and South Korea Lloyd Austin and Suh Wook said today they would review and update ways to deter North Korea, even as they emphasized a growing regional role for Seoul. For the first time, their joint statement affirmed “the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” It mirrored language used for the first time by South Korean President Moon Jae-in in May when he met with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington. It’s a sensitive issue for South Korea, which has tried to balance its economic relationship with China with Washington’s push for allies to counter Beijing’s growing power. The statement came the same day that South Korea’s national security adviser travelled to China to meet its top diplomat. It also followed remarks on Wednesday by Japan’s former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, suggesting that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be a danger for Japan. Austin and senior U.S. military commanders were in Seoul for the first such annual military talks with South Korean officials since Biden took office in January, and the last before Moon leaves office in May. A changing security environment prompted the United States and South Korea to agree to update strategic guidance about how they plan for a potential conflict with North Korea, as well as review their combined military command, Suh said. “The Strategic Planning Guidance from 2010 still remains effective, but we’ve shared the need for a new war plan that could reflect evolving threats from North Korea and changes from our own defense reform and a combined command structure, as well as overall strategic environment,” he said at the news conference. U.S. and South Korean officials cautioned that the updates to the war plans are routine and not a preparation for war. Currently, the United States would command allied troops in the event of war, but South Korea has been seeking to gain “operational control” (OPCON). Moon’s goal of OPCON transfer by the time he leaves office could not be achieved, as a scheduled joint review was not conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Suh said the two sides made progress on meeting conditions for OPCON transfer to South Korea and agreed to assess the future command’s full operational capability next year. The United States reaffirmed its commitment to providing extended deterrence to South Korea, including using its nuclear weapons, along with convention and missile defense capabilities. But America’s approach to nuclear deterrence could change. Biden is carrying out a review of U.S. nuclear weapons policy, with hopes for a more tailored role for nuclear arms, experts say. (Phil Stewart and Hyonhee Shin, “U.S., S. Korea Seek Broader Asia Role While Sprucing up N. Korea Plans,” Reuters, December 2, 2021)


12/10/21:
The United States unveiled a raft of new rights-abuse sanctions today on senior officials and entities in eight countries, including a Chinese firm specializing in facial recognition technology and a giant cartoon studio in North Korea. Timed for International Human Rights Day, the Treasury announced the first new U.S. sanctions to target North Korea since President Joe Biden took office, a move that comes after months of attempting to engage Pyongyang in talks on its nuclear program. The Treasury accused Pyongyang’s government-run animation firm, SEK Studio, and companies and individuals related to it, of exploiting North Korean workers to earn much-needed foreign currency and avoid sanctions on the country. SEK Studio has an international reputation and has contributed work to big-budget animated features including Disney’s “Pocahontas” and “The Lion King.” Also hit with sanctions was North Korean Minister of People’s Armed Forces, Ri Yong Gil. “We are determined to put human rights at the center of our foreign policy, and we reaffirm this commitment by using appropriate tools and authorities to draw attention to and promote accountability for human rights violations and abuses,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (AFP, “U.S. Hits Chinese, North Korean Firms with Sanctions,” December 10, 2021) The United States designated North Korea’s new Defense Minister Ri Yong-gil and a number of other entities in North Korea, China and Russia for human rights violations. The U.S. Department of Treasury also designated North Korea’s Central Public Prosecutors Office. Ri, currently serving as North Korea’s defense minister, was designated for his role as the former head of the ministry of social security, which, the department said, uses the court system to “prosecute and punish persons for political wrongdoing in a legal process involving fundamentally unfair trials.” “These trials sometimes end in sentencing to the DPRK’s notorious prison camps, run by the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Social Security,” it added, also noting the death of Otto Warmbier, an American university student who died in 2017 after returning home following a yearlong detention in North Korea. “The treatment and eventual death of Otto Warmbier, who would have turned 27 years old this year, were reprehensible. The DPRK must continue to be held to account for its abysmal human rights record,” the department said. The department also designated a number of individuals and organizations in China and Russia for violating U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit U.N. member states from employing or hosting North Korean workers. “DPRK nationals often work in other countries, including for the purpose of generating foreign currency earnings that the DPRK can use to support its unlawful weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs,” it said in a press release. “UN Security Council resolution 2397, adopted on December 22, 2017, requires UN Member States to have repatriated DPRK nationals earning income in their jurisdictions by December 22, 2019, subject to limited exceptions,” it added. The department noted those illegally employing North Korean workers often contribute to the poor treatment of those workers that include “constant surveillance” and having a significant portion of their wages confiscated by the DPRK regime.” The latest designations were made on the international Human Rights Day. “Some of these workers were affiliated with a DPRK WMD entity, and the revenue they generated from their labor could have been used to support DPRK WMD programs,” it said. The department also designated SEK Studio, a North Korean animation studio with workers in North Korea and China. “SEK Studio has utilized an assortment of front companies to evade sanctions targeting the Government of the DPRK and to deceive international financial institutions,” it said. (Byun Duk-kun, “U.S. Designates N. Korean Defense Minister, Others for Human Rights Violation,” Yonhap, December 11, 2021)

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has exploited the coronavirus pandemic and intensifying competition between Beijing and Washington to tighten his regime’s control over the economy and seal the once porous border with China. Kim, who will mark 10 years in power this month, has used an extreme lockdown imposed in the wake of the virus to expel foreign diplomats and aid workers and stiffen societal controls. His country’s near-total isolation is made possible by Beijing’s determination to preserve the Kim government and the division of the Korean peninsula, even as it disapproves of Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. But analysts argue that Pyongyang’s dependence on Beijing is deeply uncomfortable for North Korean officials who have long seen China — not the U.S. — as the principal threat to the regime’s long-term survival. “The common belief about an ideological solidarity between North Korea and China is completely unfounded,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul. “Any North Korean counter-intelligence officer would tell you that China is their biggest domestic security threat because of its potential to disrupt from the inside.” The two communist countries’ antipathy is rooted in China’s role in rescuing North Korea during the Korean war, and Pyongyang’s subsequent fears of Chinese infiltration. Analysts said that North Korea’s refusal to acknowledge its debt still rankled in Beijing. North Korean history glosses over founder Kim Il Sung’s past as a member of the Chinese Communist party, while the regime’s 70-page official account of the Korean war of 1950-3 makes just three references to Chinese involvement. After the war, Kim Il Sung purged anyone with close ties to China, a process that culminated with the departure of all remaining Chinese troops towards the end of the 1950s. “The North Koreans have a saying: Japan is the 100-year enemy, but China is the 1000-year enemy,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center think-tank in Washington. Relations remained tense over the course of the cold war, as North Korea exploited differences between China and the Soviet Union. Beijing, in turn, offered sanctuary to senior North Korean defectors as potential leaders of a more pliant regime in Pyongyang. For Pyongyang, the great betrayal came in 1992 when China normalized relations with South Korea without seeking reciprocal US recognition for the North. “The Chinese dumped Pyongyang in a heartbeat,” said John Delury, professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. Since then, North Korea has continued to antagonize Beijing with its development of nuclear weapons and determination to limit Chinese influence within its borders. Several joint ventures have foundered. In 2012, North Korean officials expropriated an iron-ore mining facility built by the Chinese Xiyang Group in North Korea’s south-west, deporting the company’s Chinese workers. A suspension bridge over the Yalu river joining the Chinese city of Dandong with the North Korean city of Sinuiju remains disconnected from North Korea’s road network. It has stood unused since it was completed in 2013 — at China’s expense. “For the North Koreans, opening up your economy to Beijing means handing over the keys to the kingdom,” said Delury. He noted that when Pyongyang decided to install a rudimentary mobile phone network, it chose an Egyptian company to do so. “If you are worried about a war, you worry about the U.S., but if you worry about subversion or a coup, you worry about China much more.” In 2013, Kim Jong Un executed his uncle Jang Song Thaek, a leading official who was thought to have had close ties with Chinese officials. That was followed by the spectacular assassination in 2017 of Kim’s half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, who had been living under Chinese protection. When in 2017 Kim tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US mainland and threatening American retaliation, China took the unprecedented step of acquiescing with the imposition of severe UN sanctions on Pyongyang. Those sanctions remain in place, while Kim’s lockdown has precipitated the virtual collapse of North Korea’s economy, leaving the regime even more dependent than before on supplies from China. Analysts said that Beijing’s overriding desire to maintain North Korea as a buffer between itself and tens of thousands of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea meant that it would continue to offer Kim a lifeline — but nothing more. That goal intensified during a period of theatrical diplomacy between Kim and then US president Donald Trump, which raised fears in Beijing that Kim could strike a grand bargain with Washington and throw off China’s protection altogether. “US-China competition is benefiting Kim in terms of his regime’s survival, because the likelihood of Beijing abandoning him — as low as it was — does not exist any more,” said Sun of the Stimson Center. “But China is doing the absolute minimum. The position is that the North Koreans won’t starve, but they won’t be fully fed either.” There have been tentative signs of a reopening of land-based trade between the two countries. Satellite imagery suggests that North Korea has prepared special disinfection sites for goods coming over the border by train, while Dandong recently announced successful bids for companies to upgrade customs facilities on the Chinese side of the bridge to Sinuiju. “China has three main priorities on the Korean peninsula: stability, division and denuclearization,” said Lankov. “But stability and division will always come first.” (Christian Davies, “North Korea Looks across the Border for Its Biggest Threat,” Financial Times, December 11, 2021)


12/13/21:
South and North Korea, China and the U.S. have agreed “in principle” to declare a formal end to the Korean war, almost 70 years after the conflict ended in a shaky truce, the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, has said. But Moon conceded that talks on the 1950-53 war were being held back by North Korean objections to present-day “U.S. hostility.” Speaking in Canberra today during his four-day visit to Australia, Moon said he believed the four main parties agreed in principle to a peace declaration. But he added that North Korea had made an end to U.S. hostility a precondition for talks. “And because of that, we are not able to sit down for a negotiation on the declarations between South and North Korea, and those between North Korea and United States,” he said at a press conference with the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison. “And we hope that talks will be initiated. We are making efforts towards that.” Moon said he believed it was important to end the “unstable” armistice that had been in place for almost seven decades, adding that a peace declaration could improve the prospects for a breakthrough on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. “This is going to be help us start negotiations for denuclearization and peace … [on] the Korean peninsula,” he said. “This is very important on that front as well.” Hours later, the South Korean unification minister, Lee In-young, said a declaration could be a “turning point for a new phase for peace”, and urged North Korea to accept Seoul’s offer of dialogue. “North Korea has been seemingly showing a more open manner towards dialogue than before,” Lee said, according to the Yonhap news agency. “North Korea has fired multiple short-range missiles this year but it hasn’t made the situation deteriorate severely by raising tensions to a high level.” (Justin McCurry, “North and South Korea Agree ‘in Principle’ on Formal End of War,” The Guardian ,December 13, 2021)

The meeting was low-key, a presentation last month by South Korean officials to about 50 villagers gathered in a community hall on the country’s southeastern coast. The government, the audience was told, planned to build a test version of a small nuclear reactor at a new atomic research complex — the country’s largest ever — that is under construction in the village of Gampo. The modular reactor, to be completed by 2027, would be similar to those that power seagoing vessels like icebreakers and container ships. But that may not be the only ambition for this advanced technology. The project, nuclear experts say, could potentially allow South Korea to fulfill a long-held dream of developing a nuclear-powered submarine. It’s something that its most powerful ally, the United States, has opposed for decades. In September, Australia announced that it would build nuclear-powered submarines with American and British help as the allies seek to balance out China’s growing military power. For South Korea, however, any such partnership has been off-limits for nearly 50 years under the terms of a treaty with Washington that blocks it from using nuclear materials for military purposes. President Moon Jae-in’s government has been arguing for removing the prohibition, saying building nuclear submarines is crucial to countering North Korea’s ambitions to do the same. The sense of urgency has grown as the North’s progress has deepened concerns about South Korea’s preparedness. The North has tested a series of submarine-launched ballistic missiles in recent years and announced in January that it was working on a nuclear submarine design. “There will be no better way of chasing, monitoring and deterring North Korean nuclear submarines than by deploying our own nuclear submarines,” said Moon Keun-sik, a retired navy captain who headed an earlier attempt by South Korea to build nuclear-powered subs. “We cannot depend on the United States to do it for us.” The South Korean reactor project comes amid growing fears of an arms race in the Indo-Pacific region, driven by the superpower conflict between China and the United States. On the nuclear power front, South Korea is not the only country developing what are known as small modular reactors, or SMRs, as a carbon-free source of power. But its project, the Advanced Reactor for Multiple Applications, has drawn special attention. Lim Chae-young, who headed the reactor project at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, or KAERI, said that “we are not building it with a submarine in mind.” Still, the reactor’s 70-megawatt output is similar to that of early U.S. submarine reactors and would be enough to power South Korea’s next-generation 4,000-ton submarines, said Bryan Clark, a submarine expert at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank. The country operates 24 nuclear reactors, which produce 29 percent of its electricity. It has also built 21 submarines since the early 1990s. But all these vessels are propelled by batteries charged with diesel engines and must surface frequently to get fuel or air for their engines. Nuclear-powered subs can stay underwater for months at a stretch and can move much faster. South Korea’s first attempt to develop a nuclear-powered submarine, under a covert task force known as 362 that was launched in 2003, was cut short amid controversy. Moon, the retired navy captain, headed the task force. By 2004, it had finished a basic design of a submarine reactor with Russian help, according to Kim Si-hwan, who worked on the project as a researcher at the Korean atomic energy institute. The institute’s technical cooperation with Russia on small reactors goes as far back as 1995. In its 2017 annual report, OKBM Afrikantov, a Russian company that makes reactors for submarines, icebreakers and floating power plants, reported “continued discussion with KAERI on cooperation under the integral reactor project.” The covert project was abandoned in 2004 after the discovery that the institute’s scientists had secretly enriched uranium in 2000, dabbling in a technology used to make nuclear weapons. But South Korea has never abandoned its hopes, with the hurdles long being diplomatic, not technological. In 2016, the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative said that, if an arms race broke out in Asia, “both Japan and South Korea are capable of building nuclear-powered submarines or surface vessels.” When President Moon was campaigning for office a year later, he declared, “It’s time for us to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.” Shortly after his inauguration in 2017, he asked Washington to help solve the problem of the 1972 treaty, which South Korea had agreed to in exchange for U.S. help in building a nuclear power industry. According to Moon Chung-in, a former special adviser to Moon, President Donald J. Trump made a surprising suggestion: Why didn’t South Korea just buy American nuclear submarines? But Washington never followed up on this, nor did it help South Korea secure nuclear fuel for submarines, because of proliferation concerns. “Without enriched uranium fuel, South Korea’s nuclear-powered submarine, even if it was built, would be nothing but an empty shell,” said Lee Byong-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in South Korea. Mr. Moon’s office declined to comment. Last year, the South Korean Defense Ministry said it would build six more submarines, the first three powered by lithium-ion batteries. It didn’t clarify the power source for the other three 4,000-ton submarines. But Kim Hyun-chong, who at the time was a deputy national security adviser for Moon, said that South Korea’s next generation of submarines would be nuclear-powered. The advanced reactor that South Korea is developing uses 19.75 percent enriched uranium for fuel, while commercial nuclear power plants use uranium enriched at less than 5 percent. Although 19.75 percent enriched fuel is not unusual for small modular reactors under development, uranium with a similar level of enrichment has also been used to fuel some of the world’s nuclear submarines. “It could be for commercial or other marine purposes, but it is a very plausible basis for developing a nuclear-powered submarine, and the higher level of enriched fuel is a fairly strong indicator of that possibility,” said Toby Dalton, a co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Not everyone thinks that South Korea needs nuclear-powered submarines. Clark, the Hudson Institute expert, said diesel-electric submarines were generally smaller, quieter and less costly than nuclear ones, making them suitable for short-range regional operations, such as patrolling littoral waters around the Korean Peninsula. “Seoul has more important capabilities to spend its money on,” he said. Lee Jae-myung, the candidate for Moon’s governing party in the presidential election in March, has yet to announce his stance on the matter. Yoon Suk-yeol, the main opposition candidate, said he would give priority to improving South Korea’s satellite and airborne surveillance against North Korea, rather than investing in a nuclear submarine. “I don’t think we need it right now,” Yoon said. But calls for nuclear subs persist. “If North Korea builds nuclear submarines, it will be a game-changer,” said Yoon Suk-joon, a researcher at the Korea Institute for Military Affairs. “The best way to deal with them is to have our own nuclear subs lurk near a North Korean submarine base, for months if necessary, and follow them when they come out.” (Choe Sang-hun, “South Korea Has Long Wanted Nuclear Subs; A New Reactor Could Open the Door,” New York Times, December 13, 2021)

Congressional Research Service: “ … In 2019 and 2020, North Korea increased the pace of short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) test launches. There was a break in testing between March 2020 and 2021, but a March 25 test launch of a short-range system ended the pause. In September, tests of the KN-23 SRBM were launched from a new rail-mobile launcher. These test launches violate United Nations prohibitions. North Korean SRBMs and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM), precision-guided multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), and artillery pose the most acute near-term threats to other nations. Advances in these systems demonstrate the North Korean shift toward solid-propellants and satellite guidance systems; advances that could carry over to larger, more potent systems like the Hwasong series ICBMs. These developments provide the projectiles greater mobility and survivability prior to launch and greater potency and precision on target. In the MRBM category, the KN-15 poses the greatest threat to North Korea’s regional adversaries and exhibits advanced technology. Known in North Korea as the Pukguksong-2, the KN-15 is a solid-propellant missile capable of striking mainland Japan and carrying a nuclear or conventional payload—known as dual capable. The North Koreans fire the missile from a tracked vehicle, which gives the system mobility and makes prelaunch targeting of the system difficult. The KN-23 SRBM exemplifies the most notable advance to the North Korean inventory in the smaller category of weapons. The May 2019 tests of two KN-23 missiles revealed an atypical flight path in which the weapon flew much closer to the ground than a traditional ballistic missile. On terminal approach to its target, the KN-23 conducted a “pull-up” maneuver, intended to complicate the ability of ground-based interceptors to destroy the hostile missile in flight by increasing its speed and angle of attack to the target. The KN-23 can strike any location on the Korean peninsula with either a conventional or nuclear payload and uses a solid-propellant. A March 25, 2021, launch may have tested a variant of the KN-23, according to observers, and was called a “new-type tactical guided projectile” by official North Korean press statements. North Korea has committed to expanding the performance of its precision guided tactical weapons. The newly developed KN-24 and KN-25 pose significant threats to South Korea and U.S. assets on the peninsula. The KN-24 is a tactical system with a mobile launcher, solid propellant, and relatively large payload. The KN-24 demonstrates the guidance system and in-flight maneuverability to achieve precision strikes. Outside experts assess that the North Koreans may ultimately intend the KN-24 to serve as a dual capable system. The KN-25 blurs the line between rocket and missile; however, it achieves the same effect as a traditional SRBM by delivering destructive effects on a precision target at significant range thanks to advanced avionics, inertial and satellite guidance systems, and aerodynamic structures. The KN-25 carries a conventional payload up to 380 km, allowing it to strike any target in South Korea. Tests in 2019 and 2020 demonstrate that a crew can launch the four rockets composing the KN-25 system at 20-second intervals. Since the KN-25 is a more economical system than traditional SRBMs, the North Koreans may seek to fire large numbers of these rockets in salvos to overwhelm the ability of an adversary’s missile defense systems to successfully engage all incoming projectiles. Salvo firing projectiles gives them the greatest likelihood of accomplishing their intended effect in the face of even the most advanced missile defense systems. The newest crop of North Korean weapons—including the Hwasong-14, Hwasong-15, KN-15, KN-23, KN-24, and KN-25—demonstrates mobility, potency, precision, and has characteristics that make the missiles difficult to defeat in flight. These traits suggest that the North Korean test program may seek to achieve more than a simple political statement, and that it may be intended to increase the reliability, effectiveness, and survivability of their ballistic missile force. The recent advances in North Korea’s ballistic missile test program appear to be directed at developing capabilities to defeat or degrade the effectiveness of missile defenses deployed in the region: Patriot, Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). In addition, North Korea’s progress with submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) suggests an effort to counter land-based THAAD missile defenses by launching attacks from positions at sea outside the THAAD’s radar field of view, although local Aegis BMD systems could likely still track these projectiles. The Pukgugsong-3 SLBM was successfully tested in late 2019. According to the 2021 DIA report, North Korea has said this SLBM, to be launched from a ballistic missile submarine, will be cold-launched, solid-fueled and “will carry a nuclear warhead.” In recent parades, North Korea unveiled longer-range SLBMs (Pukguksong-4 and Pukguksong-5) but has not flight-tested them. North Korean tests have demonstrated growing success and, coupled with increased operational training exercises, suggest a pattern designed to strengthen the credibility of North Korea’s regional nuclear deterrent strategy.” (Mary Beth Nikitin, North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Programs, Congressional Research Service, December 13, 2021)


12/16/21:
In a first under Kim Jong-un’s regime, North Korea’s private sector has outraced the state-run industry in more than 10 years to rank as the top economic performer, signaling an indication of a positive trend in the financially-drained Korean country. The private sector’s activity soared by about 28 per cent from a decade ago and now constitutes 38 per cent of North Korea’s economy, according to a report by South Korea’s Unification Ministry today compiled with data from South Korea, UN agencies and interviews with defectors. In a setback for North Korea’s public sector, the government-led programs have shrunk from 37 per cent to 29 per cent of the economy. Common players in both—the private and public sectors—contributed 9 per cent to the Korean economy, according to the report. The country has seen a fourfold rise in the number of merchants, up from 338 in 2011 to about 1,368 in 2018. But this was before the North Korean economy was hit by economic hardships and Covid-19 pandemic, forcing the east Asian nation to seal its borders off completely. The ministry acknowledged the upward trend led by the private sector and said, “As marketisation continues, the proportion of the private economy is on a long-term upward trend. People’s activities are shaping into a dual way, state and private economy.” North Korea’s economy is considered to be in grave danger as seen by the biggest contraction in the country’s GDP, 23 per cent, in 2020. On the agricultural front, crop production has plunged to its lowest levels since Kim took charge. Its trade with China, North Korea’s strongest ally, has also dipped more than 90 per cent from its 2014 peak. Yet officials from Kim’s administration yesterday said that the economy was being “stably managed” without providing much details. While the regime claims the country saw progress in the initial years after Kim took charge from his father, the advancement was overshadowed by sanctions. Kim warned North Koreans to prepare for a “very giant struggle” in the next year, barely 15 days away, as the country will pull itself out of the crisis with advancement in the defense, agriculture and construction sectors. “Next year will be an important one as we should wage a very giant struggle as much as we did this year,” Kim had said, according to the state media. (Arpan Rai, “North Korea’s Private Sector Overtakes State for First Time under Kim Jong Un,” The Independent, December 16, 2021)


12/17/21:
The Joe Biden administration is seeking a “step-by-step” approach to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a compromise between the opposite strategies of two previous U.S. administrations, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said today. Sullivan also reiterated that the U.S. remains committed to the 2018 agreement reached between the U.S. and North Korea in Singapore, which calls for complete denuclearization of North Korea in exchange for U.S. security assurances. “Our approach with North Korea when we came in was to look at the last two administrations,” Sullivan said, referring to the administrations of former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. The Obama administration, he noted, “really adopted this view of strategic patience, which was essentially, I would call, none-for-none.” “And then the Trump administration in Hanoi pitched all-for-all, the grand bargain,” Sullivan said in a forum hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. “And essentially the thrust and purpose of our policy was to come in between those two — to be prepared to engage in diplomacy, to make step by step progress towards the ultimate goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he added. “We continue to indicate to them (North Koreans) both directly and publicly as I’m doing right now that we are prepared to engage to try to make progress against the basic points that were laid down in the Singapore summit back in 2018,” said Sullivan. Sullivan noted the North remains unresponsive to U.S. overtures, saying, “We have not gotten traction in diplomacy with North Korea on that over the course of this year.” (Byun Duk-kun, “U.S. Seeks Step-by-Step Approach to Denuclearization of North Korea: Sullivan,” Yonhap, December 17, 2021)


12/22/21:
President Joe Biden has banned the provision of nonhumanitarian aid to North Korea for fiscal year 2022, accusing the reclusive state of human trafficking. In a presidential memorandum for the secretary of state, posted on the White House website today, Biden said the U.S. will not provide “nonhumanitarian, nontrade-related assistance” or allow funding for participation in educational and cultural exchange programs by officials of North Korea and other designated countries. The ban will remain in place until the designated foreign governments comply with the “minimum standards” or make significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with the minimum standards, the memorandum reads. The minimum standards are stipulated in the U.S.’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. It marks the 19th consecutive year for a U.S. president to take such a measure against Pyongyang. (Yonhap, “Biden Bans Nonhumanitarian Aid to N. Korea for Human Trafficking,” December 22, 2021)


12/23/21:
North Korea’s economy shrank 4.5 percent in 2020 from a year earlier due to international sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic, according to South Korea’s statistics agency data. The drop in the reclusive country’s real gross domestic product (GDP) represents a turnaround from a 0.4 percent increase a year earlier, according to the data from Statistics Korea. The data also showed North Korea’s nominal gross national income (GNI) coming to 35 trillion won ($29.4 billion) last year, or one-fifty-sixth of South Korea’s. Pyongyang’s per capita GNI stood at 1.379 million won last year, compared with South Korea’s 37.62 million won. North Korea’s trade volume tumbled 73.4 percent on-year to $860 million last year, compared with Seoul’s $980.1 billion. Pyongyang’s grain production amounted to 4.4 million tons in 2020, down 5.2 percent from a year earlier. It was 350,000 tons more than that of Seoul. North Korea’s population stood at 25.37 million last year, compared with South Korea’s 52 million. North Korean men had a life expectancy of 66.9 years last year, while women were expected to live to 73.6 years. South Korean men, in comparison, were expected to live to 80, and its female life expectancy was 86.5. South Korea’s statistics office has been publishing general information on the North since 1995 to shed light on its economic and social conditions. (Yonhap, “North Korea