North Korea says it fired anti-aircraft missile, 4th recent test

North Korea says it fired anti-aircraft missile, 4th recent test

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This photo provided on Oct. 1, 2021, by the North Korean government shows what North Korea claims to be the test firing of a newly developed anti-aircraft missile in North Korea, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. Independent journalists were not given … more >

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By Hyung-jin Kim

Associated Press

Friday, October 1, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Friday it test-fired a new anti-aircraft missile, the fourth weapons launch in recent weeks that experts say is part of a strategy to win relief from sanctions and other concessions.

South Korea, Japan and the United States typically publicly confirm North Korean ballistic missile launches, which are banned by U.N. resolutions, soon after they occur. But they did not do so for Thursday’s, indicating the weapon tested may have been a different kind. Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday that South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities monitored moves by North Korea but didn’t elaborate.

Three weeks ago, North Korea resumed missile tests after a six-month lull. As it has sometimes done before, the North combined the show of force with a more conciliatory gesture, offering earlier this week to reactivate hotlines that North and South Korea use to set up meetings, arrange border crossings and avoid accidental clashes.

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Diplomacy aimed at getting the North to abandon its nuclear arsenal in return for economic and political rewards has largely been deadlocked since early 2019. That has left North Korea under crippling U.S.-led economic sanctions, at a time when its fragile economy is suffering massive setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic. The North’s latest moves appear aimed at pressuring South Korea, which wants to improve strained ties on the peninsula, to persuade the U.S. to relax the sanctions.

On Friday, the Korean Central News Agency said the anti-aircraft missile test was “of very practical significance in studying and developing various prospective anti-aircraft missile system.”

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the launch appears to be the primitive stage of a test to develop a missile designed to shoot down incoming enemy missiles and aircraft. He said the missile resembles the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which he said has a maximum range of 400 kilometers (250 miles) and is reportedly capable of intercepting stealth jets.

Earlier this week, in his government’s latest mixed signal, North Korea leader Kim Jong-un expressed his willingness to restore the communication hotlines with South Korea in the coming days, but he also shrugged off U.S. offers for dialogue as a “cunning” concealment of its hostility against the North. He also insisted that South Korea abandon its “double-dealing attitude” if it wants to see an improvement in Korean relations. His comments largely echoed demands from his powerful sister, who has taken the lead in the North’s ongoing pressure campaign.

South Korea has said it would prepare for the restoration of the cross-border phone and fax lines, which have been largely dormant for more than a year. But as of Friday afternoon, North Korea remained unresponsive to South Korea‘s attempt to exchange messages through the channels, according to Seoul’s Unifications Ministry.

During the Armed Forces Day ceremony on Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed to repel any attempt to threaten his people’s lives and would strive to achieve lasting peace. But he didn’t mention North Korea’s recent tests in a possible effort to keep alive the possibility of talks between the Koreas.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Thursday that Washington “certainly supports” inter-Korean dialogue in principle. But he said the U.S. was concerned about North Korea’s recent launches, which he noted were in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and created “greater prospects for instability and insecurity.”

U.N. resolutions ban any ballistic activity by North Korea.

Among the weapons North Korea tested in September were a new hypersonic missile, a newly developed cruise missile and a ballistic missile launched from a train. South Korea’s military assessed the hypersonic missile to be at an early stage of development, but experts say the other weapons launched displayed the North’s ability to attack targets in South Korea and Japan, key U.S. allies that host American troops. Earlier this week, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said its commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan “remains ironclad.”

North Korea has not tested a long-range missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland for about four years – what experts see as an indication it is carefully calibrating its provocations to keep alive its chances for diplomacy.

___

Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Kim Jong-un lashes out, accuses Biden admin. of ‘petty trick’ and deception

Kim Jong-un lashes out, accuses Biden admin. of ‘petty trick’ and deception

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People watch a TV screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea’s missile launch at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021. North Korea said Wednesday it successfully tested a new hypersonic missile it implied … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Thursday, September 30, 2021

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lashed out at the Biden administration, claiming its repeated offers of direct diplomatic talks are merely part of a deceptive plot designed to distract from America’s ongoing “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang.

While the North Korean leader says he’s willing to restore communication with U.S. ally South Korea, he expressed outward frustration at the “new administration” in Washington during a key policy speech to the Pyongyang regime’s rubber-stamp legislature. As recently as this month, the State Department’s point man on the North Korean nuclear crisis Sung Kim acknowledged on an Asian tour the U.S. had made “multiple” offers to Mr. Kim‘s regime for talks.

“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,” Mr. Kim said, according to North Korean state media.

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There was no immediate reaction from the Biden administration.

U.S.-North Korean direct talks have been stalled for more than two years following a pair of high-stakes leader-level summits between Mr. Kim and former President Trump. The summits captured world attention, but ultimately failed to convince North Korea to abandon the nuclear weapons program it has clandestinely built in violation of decades of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Since coming to office nine months ago, President Biden has kept U.S. sanctions in place against North Korea and gone ahead with joint U.S.-South Korea military drills that have triggered outrage in Pyongyang, which has responded with a series of provocative missile test launches.

The U.N. Security Council has scheduled an emergency closed meeting Thursday at the request of the United States, the U.K. and France to discuss North Korea’s recent tests, including what the regime says is a new cruise missile that could potentially deliver a nuclear warhead, the Associated Press reported.

North Korea has long had a policy of trying to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, and Mr. Kim appeared to be employing the same playbook in his most recent address, in part in hopes that South Korea can help him win relief from crippling U.S.-led economic sanctions.

U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Policy Sung Kim said during a Sept. 13 meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo that “we hope [North Korea] will respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.”

The administration‘s handling of North Korea policy has drawn criticism from Mr. Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who says the White House’s lack of a coherent response to Pyongyang’s provocations jeopardizes American credibility with allies who want “leadership from the United States.”

“I’m concerned that the United States is returning to an Obama-era policy of ‘Strategic Patience 2.0,’” Mr. Pompeo told an audience of dignitaries from South Korea and Japan at a virtual gathering hosted earlier this month by The Washington Times Foundation and the Universal Peace Federation.

Mr. Pompeo referred to years of waffling by the Bush and Obama administrations before an escalation of sanctions and other pressure on Pyongyang led to historic summits between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

“If the Biden administration continues dithering, it will only give the regime more time to undermine sanctions,” Mr. Pompeo said.

North Korea offers talks, likely trying to get sanctions relief

North Korea offers talks, likely trying to get sanctions relief

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In this March 2, 2019, file photo, Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam. She said Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, North Korea is willing to resume … more >

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By Hyung-jin Kim

Associated Press

Friday, September 24, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said Friday her country is willing to resume talks with South Korea if conditions are met, indicating it wants Seoul to persuade Washington to relax crippling economic sanctions.

Kim Yo-jong’s statement came days after North Korea performed its first missile tests in six months, which some experts said were intended to show it will keep boosting its weapons arsenal if the U.S.-led sanctions continue while nuclear diplomacy remains stalled.

She offered the talks while mentioning South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s call, issued in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly, for a political declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War as a way to bring peace to the peninsula.

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“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 therefrom and hostilities,” Kim Yo-jong said in the statement carried by state media.

She said North Korea is willing to hold “constructive” talks with South Korea to discuss how to improve and repair strained ties if the South stops provoking the North with hostile policies, far-fetched assertions and double-dealing standards.

South Korea‘s Unification Ministry said it’s carefully reviewing Kim Yo-jong’s statement. It said South Korea will continue its efforts to restore ties with North Korea.

Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University in South Korea, said North Korea is putting indirect pressure on Seoul to work to arrange talks on easing the sanctions as it pushes for the declaration of the war’s end.

“It’s like North Korea saying it would welcome talks on the end-of-the war declaration if lifting the sanctions can also be discussed,” Nam said.

The U.S.-led sanctions have been toughened following North Korea‘s provocative run of nuclear and missile tests in 2016-17, and Kim Jong Un has said the sanctions, the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters were causing the “worst-ever” crisis in North Korea.

Earlier this year, he warned he would enlarge the country’s nuclear arsenal if the United States refuses to abandon its “hostile policy” toward North Korea, an apparent reference to the sanctions. 

North Korea and the United States are still technically at war because the Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. North Korea has consistently wanted to sign a peace treaty with the United States to formally end the war as a step toward subsequent improved relations. Some experts say the peace treaty could allow North Korea to demand that the United States withdraw its 28,500 troops in South Korea and ease the sanctions. 

Both Koreas had called for an end-of-war declaration and a peace treaty during a period of diplomacy with the United States that began in 2018. There was speculation that former President Trump might announce the war’s end in early 2019 to convince Kim Jong Un to commit to denuclearization.

No such announcement was made as the talks reached a stalemate after Trump rejected Kim Jong-un’s calls for the lifting of toughened sanctions in exchange for limited denuclearization steps. Some experts say North Korea won’t have a reason to denuclearize if those sanctions are withdrawn.

Kim Yo-jong’s offer for talks was a stark contrast to a blunt statement issued by a senior North Korean diplomat earlier Friday that the end-of-war declaration could be a “smokescreen” covering up hostile U.S. policies.

The earlier statement appeared to target the U.S., while the later one by Kim Yo-jong, who is in charge of North Korea‘s relations with Seoul, focuses more on South Korea. Both statements say Seoul and Washington should act first and drop sanctions if they want to see a resumption of nuclear diplomacy.

Ties between the Koreas remain largely deadlocked amid a stalemate in the broader North Korea-U.S. diplomacy. North Korea earlier called on South Korea not to interfere in its dealings with the United States after Seoul failed to break away from Washington and revive joint economic projects held up by the sanctions.

North Korea also often accuses South Korea of hypocrisy and double standards by buying high-tech weapons and staging military drills with the United States while calling for a dialogue with the North.

Last week, North Korea conducted its first cruise and ballistic missile tests since March, demonstrating its ability to launch attacks on South Korea and Japan, two key U.S. allies where a total of 80,000 American soldiers are stationed. But North Korea is still maintaining a moratorium on nuclear tests and launches of long-range missiles that directly target the American homeland, a sign that it wants to keep chances for future diplomacy with Washington alive.

“North Korea would think it doesn’t cross a (red line) set by the U.S. … so it says it can come to talks if conditions are rife” for sanctions relief, said Seo Yu-Seok at the Seoul-based Institute of North Korean Studies. 

Nam said North Korea is likely to conduct more powerful weapons tests if the U.S. and South Korea don’t accept its demand for sanctions relief. 

Pompeo hits Biden’s ‘dangerous moves’ on N. Korea

Pompeo hits Biden’s ‘dangerous moves’ on N. Korea

Former secretary of state warns of rising threat from Beijing during 'Think Tank 2022' speech

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Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday warned that President Biden is making “dangerous moves” on North Korea and  his lack of a coherent response to Pyongyang’s provocations jeopardizes American credibility with allies who want “leadership from the United States.”

“I’m concerned that the United States is returning to an Obama-era policy of ‘Strategic Patience’ 2.0,’” Mr. Pompeo told an audience of dignitaries from South Korea and Japan at a virtual gathering Saturday that included remarks from other former high-level U.S. diplomats and lawmakers.

Mr. Pompeo referred to years of waffling on North Korea by the former Bush and Obama administrations, prior to the Trump-era escalation of sanctions and other pressure on Pyongyang led to historic denuclearization summits between former President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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Pompeo hits Biden's 'dangerous moves' on N. Korea

While the summits ultimately fell short of delivering an agreement for North Korea to relinquish its nuclear weapons arsenal, and U.S.-North Korea talks have since been stalled for more than two years, Mr. Pompeo warned that the Biden administration is now essentially handing a victory to Pyongyang.

“Choosing to firmly pursue neither pressure nor diplomacy will give Chairman Kim and his regime more opportunity to build out its arsenal,” the former secretary of state said, pointing to unsettling recent indications of new movement afoot at North Korea‘s infamous Yongbyon nuclear research facility.

“If the Biden Administration continues dithering, it will only give the regime more time to undermine sanctions,” Mr. Pompeo said about Pyongyang’s clandestine development of nuclear weapons in violation of decades of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

He also pointed to North Korea‘s recent claims to have successfully tested long-range cruise missiles” — tests last week that were followed by the circulation of eye-opening images purportedly showing the North Korean launch of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) from a railcar.

“They are testing the Biden Administration on how it will respond,” said Mr. Pompeo.

Thus far, the administration has remained largely silent in the face of the new provocations that have rattled U.S. allies South Korea and Japan. While Mr. Biden has kept in place existing sanctions against Pyongyang, it has not added new ones. However, it has gone forward with U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises that have triggered threats of escalation from the Kim regime.

All the while, the administration‘s new Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim has expressed hope for a resumption of talks with the regime, most recently asserting during a Sept. 13 meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo that, “we hope [North Korea] will respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.”

Analysts characterize the current approach as tantamount to a reboot of the so-called “Strategic Patience” policy that Washington embraced initially during the final years of the George W. Bush administration and then carried on throughout the Obama era. The approach revolves around avoiding direct escalation while continuing sanctions and making offers to hold “working-level” dialogues that avoid rewarding the regime with any major diplomatic overtures.

The Trump administration engaged in an alternative approach of ramping up “maximum pressure” before spearheading top-level diplomacy with Mr. Kim himself. Mr. Pompeo, who was integral to that approach — first as CIA director and then as secretary of state — lashed out at the current administration’s posture on Saturday. “A strategy of ‘Strategic Patience 2.0’ will weaken our credibility with allies and partners throughout the world who want to see leadership from the United States,” he said. “It says North Korea isn’t a priority for us.”

 

Pushing for freedom

The former secretary of state’s remarks came at the inaugural event of “Think Tank 2022,” an initiative sponsored by The Washington Times Foundation and the Universal Peace Federation (UPF), a global non-government organization that operates in general consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

UPF co-founder Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon participated in an event officially launching “Think Tank 2022” in May. Mrs. Moon, the widow of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, is the leader of the Unification movement that grew from the Unification Church the Rev. Moon founded in 1954 — a year after the war between North and South Korea was frozen by a U.S.-backed armistice. She and her late husband devoted their lives to the reunification of the Korean Peninsula and to the promotion of world peace. They founded The Washington Times in 1982.

Mr. Pompeo, who praised the work of Mrs. Moon during Saturday’s event, focused a portion of his remarks on the virtues of “religious freedom,” calling it “the most fundamental of all human rights,” and asserting that its promotion is “crucial to peace in Northeast Asia.”  

In a roughly 30 minute speech, he reflected on his efforts to promote religious freedom as secretary of state, noting that it was America’s “first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote: ‘Almighty God has created the mind free. No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry, or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.’”

“When people are free to talk about the most consequential ideas, societies can find the best way forward,” Mr. Pompeo said. “When people see their neighbors worshipping peacefully, they gain tolerance for different viewpoints. When churches, mosques, and synagogues are free to engage in their neighborhoods, bonds of community are made stronger.”

He went on to emphasize the absence of religious freedom in North Korea, asserting that some 50,000 to 70,000 people are currently in prison in North Korea “just for being Christians.”

Mr. Pompeo also focused on China, citing the “contrast” between American respect for religious freedom and the “Chinese Communist Party’s soul-crushing deprivations.”

“You know what I mean,” he said. “We see brutal treatment of Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetan Buddhists. We read of churches forced to replace displays of the Ten Commandments with quotations from General Secretary Xi. We read reports of Party officials recruiting children to become informants against their churchgoing parents. And of course, we all know the truth about the sickening genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.”

“[The Chinese Communist Party] cannot abide the idea that the Chinese people would find their identity or their meaning in life in God,” the former secretary of state added. “Party leaders believe the Party alone should command the loyalties of the human heart. But little do they know that their suppression of faith is bound to backfire. Crippling religious freedom only creates more curiosity about faith and distrust of the regime.”

 

Growing China threat

U.S.-China tensions have risen since the Trump-era push to rally regional democracies to counter Beijing’s rise as an autocratic global power.

Mr. Pompeo broadly praised the Biden administration for embracing aspects of that push during recent months. Most notably, Mr. Biden has picked up where Mr. Trump left off in promoting the so-called “Quad” alignment of the U.S., Japan, India and Australia, the most powerful democracies of the Indo-Pacific.

The president is slated to hold a first-ever in-person summit of leaders from the Quad countries on Sept. 24 at the White House.

But Mr. Pompeo suggested Washington should be more focused on threats posed by China, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. “Make no mistake, China is a destabilizing force for this region,” he said, adding that Beijing is becoming “more aggressive” toward Taiwan, and noting that China has recently been found to be “constructing approximately 250 new nuclear missile silos.”

“What kind of message does that send to the region?” asked Mr. Pompeo, who criticized Mr. Biden‘s posture toward such developments, asserting that the administration has “made no effort to address Chinese nuclear weapons.”

Mr. Pompeo added that China also “continues to turn a blind eye to North Korea’s sanctions evasion,” behavior that he said “undermines the maximum pressure campaign that was successful in helping Chairman Kim come to the negotiating table.”

Organizers have described “Think Tank 2022” as a “global network of experts in all sectors and fields” that will work to encourage international efforts to promote peace around the North Korea issue. During Saturday’s event, Mr. Pompeo and other former U.S. officials repeatedly emphasized the depth of ongoing U.S. support for South Korea, Japan and other allies in the region.

Future events slated for the coming months are expected to feature other high-level dignitaries. In May, the initiative’s launch featured David Beasley, the executive director of the U.N. World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian organization.

Away from Mr. Pompeo‘s prepared remarks, Saturday’s event featured panel discussions in which former high-level U.S., South Korean and Japanese diplomats exchanged views with the former secretary of state.

Former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Abe Nobuyasu was among the dignitaries on the Japanese panel, while former South Korean Minister of Unification Kim Yeon-chul and longtime South Korean diplomat Ho-Jin Lee were among the dignitaries on the South Korean panel.

The American panel featured former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Congressman Dan Burton, as well as former Assistant Secretary of State fo East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill and former CIA official and longtime U.S. diplomatic advisor Joseph DeTrani.

Photos show North Korea expanding uranium enrichment plant

Photos show North Korea expanding uranium enrichment plant

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FILE – In this Sept. 15, 2021, file photo provided by the North Korean government, Sept. 16, 2021, shows a test missile is launched from a train, in an undisclosed location of North Korea. Recent satellite images shows North Korea … more >

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By Hyung-Jin Kim

Associated Press

Saturday, September 18, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Recent satellite images show North Korea is expanding a uranium enrichment plant at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, a sign that it’s intent on boosting the production of bomb materials, experts say.

The assessment comes after North Korea recently raised tensions with its first missile tests in six months amid long-dormant nuclear disarmament negotiations with the United States.

“The expansion of the enrichment plant probably indicates that North Korea plans to increase its production of weapons-grade uranium at the Yongbyon site by as much as 25%,” Jeffrey Lewis and two other experts at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey said in a report.

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The report said the photos taken by satellite imagery company Maxar showed construction in an area adjoining the uranium enrichment plant at Yongbyon.

It said a satellite image taken on Sept. 1 showed North Korea cleared trees and prepared the ground for construction, and that a construction excavator was also visible. The report said a second image taken on Sept. 14 showed a wall erected to enclose the area, work on a foundation and panels removed from the side of the enrichment building to provide access to the newly enclosed area.

The new area is approximately 1,000 square meters (10,760 square feet), enough space to house 1,000 additional centrifuges, which would increase the plant’s capacity to produce highly enriched uranium by 25%, the report said.

Nuclear weapons can be built using either highly enriched uranium or plutonium, and North Korea has facilities to produce both at Yongbyon. Last month, earlier satellite photos of Yongbyon showed signs that North Korea was resuming the operation of other facilities to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

North Korea calls the Yongbyon complex “the heart” of its nuclear program. During a summit with then-President Donald Trump in early 2019, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered to dismantle the entire complex if he was given major sanctions relief. But the Americans rejected Kim’s proposal because they viewed it as a limited denuclearization step.

Some U.S. and South Korean experts speculate North Korea is covertly running at least one additional uranium-enrichment plant. In 2018, a top South Korean official told parliament that North Korea was estimated to have already manufactured up to 60 nuclear weapons as well.

Estimates on how many nuclear weapons North Korea can add every year vary, ranging from six to as much as 18 bombs.

In the past week, North Korea launched both ballistic and cruise missiles toward the sea in tests seen as an effort to diversity its missile forces and strengthen its attack capability on South Korea and Japan, where a total of 80,000 American troops are based. Experts say both types of missiles could be armed with nuclear warheads.

Kim has threatened to bolster his nuclear arsenal and acquire more sophisticated weapons unless Washington drops its hostility against his country, an apparent reference to U.S.-led sanctions and its regular military drills with Seoul. But Kim still maintains his self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range missiles directly targeting the U.S. mainland, suggesting he wants to keep chances for future diplomacy with Washington alive.

North, South Korea trade charges after dueling missile tests

North, South Korea trade charges after dueling missile tests

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In this image taken from video provided by the South Korea Defense Ministry, South Korea’s first underwater-launched ballistic missile is test-fired from a 3,000-ton-class submarine at an undisclosed location in the waters of South Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. The … more >

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

North and South Korea are trading rhetorical volleys just hours after the hostile neighbors staged near-simultaneous missile tests that sent tensions surging once again on the divided Korean Peninsula.

Following up on a test of a new cruise missile Monday, North Korea’s military on Wednesday test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles some 500 miles into waters claimed by Japan as its exclusive economic zone, the first incursion of its kind by Pyongyang since October 2019.

South Korea answered hours later with the successful debut of its first submarine-launched missile, which took out a prescribed target as President Moon Jae-in and other South Korean officials looked on.

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South Korea for now does not have its own nuclear program, relying on the U.S. security umbrella, but analysts say the new sub-based missile in time could be configured to carry a nuclear bomb.

Mr. Moon praised the new missile as a “sure deterrence against North Korean provocation,” but the test brought an immediate and angry response from Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and an increasingly powerful figure in the country’s political hierarchy.

In a statement carried Wednesday by state media, Ms. Kim rejected Seoul’s criticisms of the North’s latest military tests and said Mr. Moon risked a “complete destruction” of bilateral relations if he continued to attack Pyongyang.

The South Korean leader has long been a proponent of engagement with Pyongyang and is said to be under pressure to make a breakthrough in bilateral ties in his final year in office.

South Korean security officials for their part expressed “deep concern” at the spate of North Korean missile tests.

The Yonhap news agency reported that the South Korean National Security Council held an emergency meeting Wednesday to discuss the tests.

North Korea reportedly rejects COVID-19 vaccine doses from Chinese drugmaker

North Korea reportedly rejects COVID-19 vaccine doses from Chinese drugmaker

Says other countries are struggling and need them

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

North Korea reportedly rejected 3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Chinese drugmaker Sinovac BioTech Ltd., claiming they should go to countries facing bigger problems from the coronavirus.

The Wall Street Journal said Pyongyang rejected the doses from COVAX, a global initiative that funnels donated vaccines from richer nations to poorer ones.

North Korea said the doses should be “relocated to severely affected countries,” a spokeswoman for UNICEF, which assists COVAX, told the Journal for a Wednesday report.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his reclusive nation have not reported any coronavirus cases. Experts say it is unclear whether the dictator is pushing propaganda or if the poor country is reeling from the pandemic like everyone else.

North Korea sealed its borders to try to keep the pathogen out, and Mr. Kim has repeatedly reminded senior leaders to remain vigilant against the virus.

In June, Mr. Kim said lapses in the country’s approach to COVID-19 sparked a “crisis” and “grave consequences,” though it was unclear if there was an actual outbreak. 

State Dept. OKs $258 million deal to South Korea for ‘smart bomb’ conversion kits

State Dept. OKs $258 million deal to South Korea for ‘smart bomb’ conversion kits

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U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim (shown) talks to reporters after meeting with South Korea’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Noh Kyu-duk at Plaza Hotel in Seoul Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Kim was in … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The State Department has approved selling to South Korea $258 million worth of tools and equipment to convert unguided bombs into precision munitions and has notified Congress of the sale.

The Boeing Co. will supply South Korea with more than 7,000 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) Guidance Kits along with other components, spare parts and logistics support, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

The JDAM guidance kit transforms standard gravity bombs into “smart” munitions by adding a tail section that contains a global positioning system control unit and an inertial navigation system.

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When released from an aircraft, the JDAM navigates to designated coordinates that can be loaded into the system before takeoff, according to the Air Force, which developed the JDAM with the Navy.

If the GPS system is enabled, the JDAM can hit a target within five meters or less, officials said.

The sale will allow South Korea, a major non-NATO ally, to meet threats on the Korean Peninsula and help with the eventual transfer of wartime operational control to South Korean military commanders. The deal will cause no problems with U.S. defense readiness, the State Department said.

This is the second major arms sale to South Korea this year. In March, the State Department approved a $36 million deal to supply the country with 288 air-to-surface Hellfire missiles for their fleet of AH-64 Apache helicopters.

In December, South Korean officials said they wanted to buy two Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) — which are used against incoming targets like helicopters, missiles and small boats — and 4,000 rounds of ammunition for almost $40 million.

President Biden’s special envoy for North Korea was in Seoul while the precision munitions deal was being finalized. Ambassador Sung Kim’s four-day visit was intended to urge Pyongyang to restart stalled nuclear diplomacy talks with the U.S.

“I’m looking forward to very close consultations with our Korean government colleagues,” the ambassador told reporters at Incheon International Airport, according to The Associated Press.

Ambassador Kim also sought to ease tensions with North Korea by downplaying a joint U.S./South Korean military exercise that he said was mostly computer-simulated and won’t involve live-fire training.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, released a statement describing the table-top drill as the “most vivid expression of the U.S. hostile policy” toward her country.

A political power in her own right, Ms. Kim said the North will work faster to strengthen its capabilities to carry out preemptive military strikes.

Ambassador Kim responded by saying the U.S. doesn’t have any hostile intent toward North Korea.

The U.S. and South Korea have curtailed or canceled some of their joint drills, both to allow diplomacy to work and more recently over concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the AP.

About 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, with most based at Camp Humphreys, located 40 miles south of Seoul. Both countries signed a mutual defense treaty following the 1950-1953 Korean War.

North Korea vows stronger attack capabilities over U.S.-South Korea’s drills

North Korea vows stronger attack capabilities over U.S.-South Korea’s drills

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In this March 2, 2019, file photo, Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam. The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim ripped South Korea for … more >

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By Kim Tong-hyung

Associated Press

Monday, August 9, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ripped South Korea for proceeding with military exercises with the United States that she said are an invasion rehearsal and warned Tuesday that the North will work faster to strengthen its preemptive strike capabilities.

Kim Yo-jong’s statement came after South Korean media reported that the allied militaries will begin four days of preliminary training on Tuesday before holding computer-simulated drills on Aug. 16-26.

Kim said she was given authority to release the statement, implying the message came directly from her brother.

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Hours after her comments were published on state media, South Korea‘s defense and unification ministries said North Korean officials hadn’t responded to their calls Tuesday afternoon over inter-Korean hotlines, which had been disconnected for a year before North Korea agreed to reopen them in late July. The Koreas then described the move as a conciliatory gesture.

South Korean officials said they were closely monitoring the development, but that it wasn’t immediately clear whether North Korea had cut the communication channels again.

Kim Yo-jong described South Korea’s decision to hold joint exercises despite earlier warnings by the North as “perfidious behavior” that will push the allies into facing a “more serious security threat.”

She said continuing the drills exposed the hypocrisy of the Biden administration’s offers to resume dialogue over North Korea‘s nuclear weapons program. She said a stable peace won’t be achieved on the Korean Peninsula unless the United States withdraws its troops and weapons from the South.

Kim said North Korea will “put more spur to further increasing the deterrent of absolute capacity to cope with the ever-growing military threats from the U.S.,” including its capabilities for national defense and “powerful” preemptive strikes for “rapidly countering any military actions against us.”

“(The drills) are the most vivid expression of the U.S. hostile policy towards (North Korea), 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,” Kim said.

“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.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether North Korea’s threat to advance its preemptive strike capabilities signaled a resumption of testing activity.

North Korea ended a yearlong pause in ballistic tests in March by firing two short-range missiles into the sea, continuing a tradition of testing new U.S. administrations with weapons demonstrations and other provocations apparently aimed at measuring Washington’s response and wresting concessions.

But North Korea hasn’t conducted any known test launches since then as Kim Jong Un focused national efforts on fending off the coronavirus and salvaging a broken economy damaged further by pandemic border closures.

North Korea’s angry reaction to the drills further diminishes South Korean hopes for improving bilateral ties, which rose after the North agreed to reopen long-stalled communication channels with the South.

But just days after the lines were restored, Kim Yo-jong warned that the planned military drills between South Korea and the United States will undermine prospects for better inter-Korean ties.

Some analysts say North Korea’s decision to restore the communication lines was mainly aimed at pushing Seoul to convince Washington to make concessions while nuclear diplomacy remains deadlocked.

“Kim Yo-jong’s threatening statement demonstrates that North Korea will use even restrained U.S.-South Korea defense exercises as an excuse not to implement inter-Korean cooperation agreements and to justify its next military provocation,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

Kim Jong-un has pledged to bolster his country’s nuclear deterrent while urging his people to stay resilient in a struggle for economic self-dependence in the face of U.S.-led pressure. His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s overture for talks, demanding that Washington abandon its “hostile” policies first.

The United States keeps about 28,000 troops in South Korea to help deter potential aggression from North Korea, in a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War. The allies have yet to officially announce the details of this month’s drills.

Boo Seung-chan, spokesperson of South Korea’s Defense Ministry, said in a briefing that the allies were discussing the “timing, scale and methods” of the summertime drills.

North Korea has long bristled at joint military exercises between South Korea and the United States, which the allies describe as defensive in nature, and often responds to them with its own weapons tests.

In the past few years, however, South Korea and the United States have canceled or downsized some of their training to support now-dormant diplomacy aimed at ending the North Korean nuclear crisis or because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Korea has suspended its nuclear and long-range missile tests since 2018, when leader Kim Jong-un initiated diplomacy with South Korea and then-President Donald Trump while attempting to leverage his nuclear weapons for badly needed sanctions relief.

After the talks fell through in 2019, North Korea ramped up tests of new short-range, solid-fuel weapons to improve its ability to deliver nuclear strikes and overwhelm missile defense systems in South Korea and Japan.

Inter-Korean ties flourished during the diplomacy of 2018, during which Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met three times and vowed to resume inter-Korean economic cooperation when possible, expressing optimism that the sanctions would end and allow such projects.

But North Korea later cut off ties with South Korea following the collapse of the second summit between Kim and Trump in 2019 when the Americans rejected North Korea‘s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

North Korea warns U.S.-South Korea military drills will damage ties

North Korea warns U.S.-South Korea military drills will damage ties

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Sunday, August 1, 2021

North Korea warned Sunday that “hostile” U.S.-South Korean military drills planned for later this month could seriously damage the recent push to improve relations between the two Koreas.

Kim Yo-Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and a powerful figure in the regime’s leadership, told the state-controlled news service KCNA that the planned drills “will become an unpleasant prelude to seriously hurting the will of the leaders of the North and South seeking to take the step toward rebuilding trust again and further clouding the path lying ahead for inter-Korean relations.”

Although U.S.-North Korean talks about the country’s secretive nuclear and ballistic missile programs have been at a standstill since President Biden took office, Seoul and Pyongyang revealed last week that they had agreed to restore a long-inactive hot line designed to minimize tensions on the heavily armed, divided peninsula.

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It also was learned that Mr. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a longtime supporter of engagement with the North, had exchanged letters since the spring on possible ways to improve ties.

“Our government and military will closely watch whether South Korea will carry out their hostile war exercise once again or make a bold decision,” Ms. Kim added, according to a report in the South Korean Yonhap news service. “Hope or despair? The decision is not upon us.”

The annual U.S.-South Korean military drills became a major political football during the Trump administration. Former President Donald Trump suspended them as he used unprecedented personal diplomacy in pursuit of an elusive personal denuclearization deal with Mr. Kim.

Mr. Trump called the drills provocative and expensive, though U.S. military leaders warned that the lack of training could hurt readiness for the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea to defend against an attack from the North.

North Korea has long condemned the annual drills, insisting they were in face a rehearsal for a potential invasion of the North.

The Pentagon and South Korean military officials have been gauging how large the military exercises should be this year. A high-ranking official in the government’s Ministry of Unification suggested Friday the U.S. military exercises should be postponed, partly due to rising COVID-19 concerns but also as a means to prevent a bigger blow-up with the North.

“We think this is the right time to fully engage with North Korea through cooperation between South Korea and the United States,” the unnamed official told the Korea Times.

But conservatives who have long been critical of Mr. Moon’s accommodationist approach to the North were putting pressure on the government to proceed, warning South Korea’s defenses are beginning to suffer from the lack of real-life training.

“The [South Korea]-U.S. joint exercises have already been conducted with just command post training using simulations without the actual mobilization of troops, and even this was not conducted properly in the first half of last year,” said Rep. Hwangbo Seung-hee, a spokeswoman of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), told the Korea Times Sunday.

“With such a cancellation of military exercises, it has become difficult for the troops to maintain actual combat capability while the verification of the South Korean military’s capabilities to lead joint operations has also become difficult,” Ms. Hwangbo said.

North Korea‘s warning on the exercises also comes amid growing signs of hardship within the Communist regime. The official North Korea daily Rodong Sinmun reported last week that Mr. Kim warned in a speech to a group of military veterans that the country is facing a “crisis similar to a war” due to the health and economic strains brought on by the global coronavirus pandemic.

“We are faced with difficulties and hardship caused by the unprecedented global health crisis and prolonged lockdown no less challenging than how it was during the war,” he said.

Even in absence, North Korea’s presence felt at Tokyo Games

Even in absence, North Korea’s presence felt at Tokyo Games

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By Foster Klug

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — North Korea isn’t at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. And therein lies a tale – one of sports and viruses, but most of all a tale of complex politics.

While it’s not making headlines here, the North’s absence is noteworthy, especially among those who watch the intersection of sports and diplomacy – and the way North Korea’s propaganda machine uses international attention to advance its needs.

The no-show is especially striking when contrasted with the last Games. Perhaps the hottest story of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was the North Korean delegation, which included 22 athletes, hundreds of cheerleaders and leader Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister.

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The coronavirus is the biggest reason for North Korea’s decision not to come to Tokyo. Always highly sensitive to communicable disease outbreaks, the nation has shut its borders even more tightly than normal, worried that its fragile health care system and rickety economy could not withstand a major outbreak. That, in turn, could imperil the ruling Kim family’s grip on power.

But there are other things at work, too, according to analysts.

North Korean sports, like much about the country, are intertwined with calculations about its pursuit of a nuclear-armed long-range missile program to target the U.S. mainland. After a brief period of engagement, Kim Jong Un now fears the introduction of another virus – the cultural one from the wealthy South – and may be biding his time until next year’s Winter Games. Those take place in China, its longtime ally with which it shares a land border.

Kim may have also decided there’s nothing to be gained by nuclear diplomacy at the Tokyo games, as Washington shows no intention of accepting Pyongyang’s demand to end sanctions.

Neither do sports exist in a void inside the North, where domestic audiences consume messages controlled by the government every step of the way. Everything there is potential fodder for the propaganda mavens who try to maintain domestic unity and regime loyalty.

Kim Jong Un may use the North’s absence from the Tokyo Games as a way to signal to his people that he values protecting them from the coronavirus – in rival Japan, no less – more than the possible glory his athletes could have enjoyed.

North Korea excels in propaganda at international sport events,” said Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korean studies professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

So it was likely a tough decision for North Korea not to attend the Tokyo Games, “which it could have dominated in the propaganda field by sending a few athletes, cheerleaders, and First Sister Kim Yo Jong,” Lee said, referring to the leader’s sister, Kim Yo Jong.

Missing a chance to score propaganda points “reflects some serious COVID paranoia,” Joshua Pollack, a North Korea expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said of the North’s decision not to attend. The country clearly isn’t ready for the delta variant, he says, “and the Olympic village seems like a great way to bring it home.”

September brought a vivid example of North Korea’s virus fears. Seoul accused the North of fatally shooting a South Korean fishery official found in the North’s waters and then burning his body – moves apparently in line with an anti-virus policy that involves shooting anyone crossing the border illegally.

“They don’t have medicines to cure COVID-19, their medical infrastructure isn’t in good shape and they’re not receiving vaccines,” said Kim Yeol Soo, an analyst with South Korea’s Korea Institute for Military Affairs. “So they might not think that going to the Olympics and winning a couple of gold medals means that much.”

Geopolitical considerations might also be at play. Unlike the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, where North Korea was deeply interested in reaching hearts and minds in the South, there is no such desire to make nice with Japan, which was the violent colonial overlord of the Korean Peninsula before and during World War II.

At Pyeongchang, North Korea had no real medal contenders, but it was among the most watched nations at the Games, with a huge delegation highlighted by a 229-member all-female cheering squad.

After months of U.S.-North Korean tensions ahead of those Games, athletes from both Koreas marched together into the Olympic Stadium below a “unification” flag. They fielded a joint women’s ice hockey team. And Kim Yo Jong made the first-ever visit to the South by a member of the Kim dynasty since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Diplomacy blossomed after these Games, too, highlighted by several summits between then-U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, and also by Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Not much came of it, however, and North Korea still faces the hardline sanctions that are crippling its economy. So it has since engaged little with its rivals, though this week the Koreas restored suspended communication channels and agreed to improve ties.

When North Korea does show up at the Olympics, sports often take a back seat to politics. The nation goes to great lengths to control its athletes and its message, but there are still surprising, unscripted moments of contact with other athletes. At Pyeongchang, for instance, a selfie taken by smiling North and South Korean skaters went viral online.

And what about sports themselves? North Korea could have seen success at Tokyo in weightlifting, boxing, women’s wrestling and women’s marathon. Fears, however, seem to have outweighed the perceived benefits.

Those include worries about outside influences, especially South Korean culture, infiltrating the country. “The contrast between the prosperous South and the struggling North is that much less palatable these days,” Pollack said.

Some expect North Korea to emerge again from its self-imposed lockdown next year when China, a key political and aid lifeline, hosts the Winter Games.

If past behavior is an indication, weapons tests might take place in the months before those Games. While the North will likely avoid anything considered a provocation during the Tokyo Games, such tests could come when U.S. and South Korean soldiers conduct their annual military drills next month.

“Confrontation followed by dialogue always works best” for North Korea, said Lee, the Tufts professor. “I expect the regime to increase its ‘net value’ – as top athletes do in international sport competition – with a superb performance, of the martial kind, before the Beijing Winter Games.”

North Korea, South Korea restore communication channels, agree to improve ties

Koreas restore communication channels, agree to improve ties

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By Hyung-Jin Kim

Associated Press

Monday, July 26, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korea have restored suspended communication channels between them and their leaders agreed to improve ties, both governments said Tuesday, despite a 2 ½ year-stalemate in U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear weapons.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reached the agreement during several exchanges of letters since April, the presidential office in Seoul said.

The two leaders agreed to “restore mutual confidence and develop their relationships again as soon as possible,” Blue House spokesman Park Soo Hyun said in a televised briefing. Park said the two Koreas subsequently reopened communication channels on Tuesday morning.

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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 calls South Korea’s failure to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across their border. Some experts said the North Korean action signaled the North had grown frustrated that Seoul has failed to revive lucrative inter-Korean economic projects and persuade the United States to ease sanctions.

The nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have made little headway since early 2019, when the second of three summits between Kim and then-President Donald Trump collapsed. Kim has since threatened to bolster his nuclear arsenal and build more sophisticated weapons unless the Americans lifts policies the North considers hostile – believed to refer to the longstanding U.S-led sanctions.

Some experts earlier said North Korea may be compelled to reach out to the United States or South Korea if its economic difficulties worsen. Mismanagement, storm damage and border shutdowns during the coronavirus pandemic have further depleted North Korea‘s economy and Kim in recent speeches called for his people to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions. While his remarks may indicate the potential for a worsening economic situation, outside monitoring groups haven’t seen signs of mass starvation or social chaos in the country of 26 million people.

Tuesday marks the 68th anniversary of the signing of an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. The Koreas remain split along the world’s most heavily fortified border since the war’s end.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea to deter potential aggression from North Korea.

With no summit, South Korean President Moon Jae-into skip Olympics

With no summit, South Korean president to skip Olympics

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A protester stands to oppose South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s possible visit to Japan in front of a building which houses Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, July 19, 2021. Moon has decided not to visit Japan for the … more >

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By Kim Tong-Hyung

Associated Press

Monday, July 19, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in has decided not to visit Japan for the Tokyo Summer Olympics, citing a failure to set up a summit with Japan‘s prime minister that would produce meaningful results in improving relations.

Moon’s office said Monday that officials from Seoul and Tokyo held talks over longstanding disputes about wartime history and a “future-oriented” development of their relations, but did not find enough common ground to support a summit between their leaders.

The countries had been discussing the possibility of Moon visiting Tokyo to participate in the Olympics’ opening ceremony and having talks with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga about repairing bilateral ties that have sunk to postwar lows in recent years with disputes over history, trade and military cooperation.

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It was unclear how close they came to setting up a summit. Seoul said their talks were damaged by a “last-minute obstacle.”

The announcement by Moon’s office came after the South Korean Foreign Ministry on Saturday summoned Japanese Ambassador Koichi Aiboshi to protest remarks made by another senior Japanese diplomat who, according to a local broadcaster, used lewd language with its reporters to ridicule Moon’s hopes about using the Olympics to improve relations.

According to JTBC, Hirohisa Soma, deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy, said Moon would be “masturbating” if he thinks he would have a summit during the Olympics, saying Suga has more on his plate than just South KoreaJapan relations.

When asked whether the incident influenced Moon’s decision not to go to the Olympics, a senior South Korean presidential official acknowledged that the “internal atmosphere” at the Blue House “shifted toward skepticism” after the JTBC report. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity during a background briefing, did not provide details about the discussions with Japan on setting up Moon’s visit.

Suga told reporters he hopes to “continue to communicate firmly” with South Korea‘s government in order to restore a healthy relationship between the neighbors. He said Soma’s comments were “very inappropriate and regrettable.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said no decision has been made on whether Soma will be removed from his current position.

The South Korean government delegation at the Olympics will be led by Hwang Hee, the minister of culture, sports and tourism.

“The Tokyo Olympics are a festival of peace for people around the world, and we hope that Japan holds the Olympics safely and successfully,” said Park Soo Hyun, Moon’s spokesperson, reading a statement on TV. “We also hope our athletes, despite the difficult conditions, fully display the skills they have developed in competition and return home healthy.”

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been strained since South Korea’s Supreme Court in 2018 ordered some Japanese companies to compensate Korean forced laborers for their ordeals during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. The rulings led to further tensions over trade when Japan imposed export controls on chemicals vital to South Korea’s semiconductor industry in 2019.

Seoul accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade and threatened to terminate a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Tokyo that was a major symbol of their trilateral security cooperation with Washington. South Korea eventually backed off and continued the deal after being pressured by the Trump administration, which until then seemed content to let its allies escalate their feud in public.

The countries have been trying to improve relations since the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden, who has called for stronger three-way cooperation in the face of North Korean nuclear threats and challenges posed by China. But progress has been slow and friction between the countries has continued as the Olympics approach.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said South Korea and Japan have squandered an easy opportunity to signal their willingness to improve relations.

“The Moon administration has not made enough domestic progress in addressing legal and historical challenges to diplomacy. Meanwhile, the Suga government has mismanaged the situation by insufficiently prioritizing Korea to the point of discourtesy,” Easley said.

“Members of the Biden administration are no doubt disappointed while leaders in North Korea and China delight in the disunity of U.S. allies.”

Also on Saturday, South Korea’s Olympic Committee removed banners at the Olympic athletes’ village in Tokyo that referred to a 16th-century Korean naval admiral who fought off an invading Japanese fleet after the International Olympic Committee ruled they were provocative.

In agreeing to take down the banners, the South Koreans said they received a promise from the IOC that displays of the Japanese “rising sun” flag will be banned at stadiums and other Olympic venues. The flag, portraying a red sun with 16 rays extending outward, is resented by many people in South Korea and other parts of Asia who see it as a symbol of Japan’s wartime past. ___

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi and video journalist Haruka Nuga in Tokyo contributed to this report.

North Korea’s Kim vows to boost China ties amid pandemic hardship

North Korea’s Kim vows to boost China ties amid pandemic hardship

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FILE – In this June 18, 2021, file photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a Workers’ Party meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea. After saying for months that it kept the coronavirus … more >

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By Hyung-Jin Kim

Associated Press

Thursday, July 1, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Thursday he’ll push to further upgrade relations with China, his main ally, as he struggles to navigate his country out of a deepening crisis linked to the pandemic.

Kim made the comments in a message to Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulating him on the 100th founding anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

“The Workers’ Party of Korea, by its firm unity with the Chinese Communist Party, would raise (North Korea)-China friendship to a new strategic point as required by the times and as desired by the peoples of the two countries,” Kim was quoted as saying.

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In an apparent reference to the United States, Kim said that “hostile forces’ vicious slander and all-round pressure upon the Chinese Communist Party are no more than a last-ditch attempt and they can never check the ongoing advance of the Chinese people,” according to KCNA.

Kim’s message came a day after he told a powerful Politburo meeting that a “crucial” lapse in the anti-virus campaign has caused a “great crisis.” He did not elaborate, but there was speculation that Kim may have aimed to raise a call for international assistance, including vaccine shipments.

North Korea maintains some of the world’s toughest anti-virus measures, including 1 ½ years of border shutdowns, despite its much questionable claim to be coronavirus free. Such draconian steps have devastated its already struggling economy, and Kim has said before his country faces the “worst-ever” situation. It’s unclear when North Korea would reopen its borders with China, and so far, there are no reports that it has received any vaccines.

More than 90% of North Korea’s trade goes through China, which has long been suspected of refusing to fully implement U.N. sanctions against North Korea because of its nuclear weapons programs. Experts say China worries about a collapse and chaos in North Korea because it doesn’t want refugees flooding over the long border and a pro-U.S., unified Korea on its doorstep.

On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin held out the possibility of sending assistance to North Korea.

China and the DPRK have a long tradition of helping each other when they encounter difficulties,” Wang said, referring to the North by the initials of its official name. “If necessary, China will actively consider providing assistance to the DPRK.”

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un hints at ‘great crisis’ over the coronavirus

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un hints at ‘great crisis’ over the coronavirus

Tells Politburo there will be consequences for lapses

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In this June 15, 2021, file photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks during a Workers’ Party meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim ripped into senior ruling party and government officials over what he … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Wednesday said lapses in the country’s approach to COVID-19 sparked a “crisis” and “grave consequences,” sparking new questions about the secretive nation’s response to the pandemic.

State media reports did not say whether Mr. Kim referred to an actual outbreak, but Pyongyang’s ability to respond to the global threat has been a subject of intense interest.

“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,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.

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The dictator reportedly lashed out during a meeting of the Politburo of the Workers Party that controls the country, with Mr. Kim at the helm.

He said officials “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.”

North Korea says it hasn’t been affected by the coronavirus, but it is unclear what is really going on inside the East Asian nation.

Pyongyang imposed strict border controls with China, reportedly issuing shoot-to-kill orders against anyone who dared to cross.

Experts say the country would be ill-prepared to deal with an outbreak, and Mr. Kim’s comments are likely to fuel doubts about the situation.

Kim Jong-un berates North Korean officials for ‘crucial’ virus lapse

Kim Jong-un berates North Korean officials for ‘crucial’ virus lapse

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks during a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Kim ripped into senior ruling party and government … more >

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By Kim Tong-hyung

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un berated top officials for failures in coronavirus prevention that caused a “great crisis,” using strong language that raised the specter of a mass outbreak in a country that would be scarcely able to handle it.

The state media report Wednesday did not specify what “crucial” lapse had prompted Kim to call the Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, but experts said North Korea could be wrestling with a significant setback in its pandemic fight.

So far, North Korea has claimed to have had no coronavirus infections, despite testing thousands of people and sharing a porous border with China. Experts widely doubt the claim and are concerned about any potential outbreak, given the country’s poor health infrastructure.

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At the Politburo meeting, Kim criticized the senior officials for supposed incompetence, irresponsibility and passiveness in planning and executing anti-virus measures amid the lengthening pandemic, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

Kim said “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,” according to KCNA. This “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.”

The report also said the party recalled an unspecified member of the Politburo’s powerful Presidium, which consists of Kim and four other top officials.

The reference indicated Kim may replace his Cabinet Premier Kim Tok Hun, who would be held responsible for failures in the government’s anti-epidemic work, said Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification.

“There is no possibility that North Korea will ever admit to an infection — even if there were mass transmissions, the North will definitely not reveal such developments and will continue to push forward an anti-virus campaign it has claimed to be the greatest,” Hong said.

“But it’s also clear that something significant happened and it was big enough to warrant a reprimanding of senior officials. This could mean mass infections or some sort of situation where a lot of people were put at direct risk of infections.”

Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute, expressed a similar view, saying North Korea is potentially dealing with huge virus-related problems in border towns near China, such as Sinuiju or Hyesan. He said the Presidium member Kim Jong Un sacked could possibly be Jo Yong Won, a secretary of the Workers’ Party’s Central Committee who had been seen as a fast-rising figure in the leadership circle.

But other experts said Kim could be responding to illicit border trade that defied his lockdown measures or setting the stage for a political shakeup or purge to solidify his grip on power as he navigates perhaps the toughest time of his nine-year rule.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said it had no immediate information to share about the North Korean report and that it wouldn’t make prejudgments about the country’s virus situation.

Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, raised the possibility of helping North Korea in the event of a major outbreak of COVID-19.

“China and the DPRK have a long tradition of helping each other when they encounter difficulties,” Wang said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“If necessary, China will actively consider providing assistance to the DPRK.”

From the start of the pandemic, North Korea described its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and severely curtailed cross-border traffic and trade. The lockdown has further strained an economy already battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions over the country’s nuclear weapons program.

Kim during a political conference earlier this month called for officials to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, indicating that the country isn’t ready to open its borders despite its economic woes.

North Korea has told the World Health Organization it has not found a single coronavirus infection after testing more than 30,000 people, including many described as having fevers or respiratory symptoms.

North Korea’s extended border controls come amid uncertainties over the country’s vaccination prospects. COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, said in February that North Korea could receive 1.9 million doses in the first half of the year, but the plans have been delayed due to global shortages.

___

Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un vows to be ready for confrontation with U.S.

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un vows to be ready for confrontation with U.S.

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks during a Workers’ Party meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, June 17, 2021. Kim ordered his government to be fully prepared for confrontation with the … more >

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By Hyung-jin Kim

Associated Press

Friday, June 18, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered his government to be prepared for both dialogue and confrontation with the Biden administration — but more for confrontation — state media reported Friday, days after the United States and others urged the North to abandon its nuclear program and return to talks.

Kim‘s statement indicates he‘ll likely push to strengthen his nuclear arsenal and increase pressure on Washington to give up what North Korea considers a hostile policy toward the North, though he‘ll also prepare for talks to resume, some experts say.

During an ongoing ruling party meeting Thursday, Kim analyzed in detail the policy tendencies of the U.S. under President Biden and clarified steps to be taken in relations with Washington, the Korean Central News Agency said. It did not specify the steps.

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Kim “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 ensure national security, it said.

In 2018-19, Kim held a series of summits with then-President Trump to discuss North Korea‘s advancing nuclear arsenal. But the negotiations fell apart after Trump rejected Kim‘s calls for extensive sanctions relief in return for a partial surrender of his nuclear capability. 

Biden’s administration has worked to formulate a new approach on North Korea‘s nuclear program that it describes as “calibrated and practical.” Details of his North Korea policy haven’t been publicized, but U.S. officials have suggested Biden will seek a middle ground between Trump’s direct meetings with Kim and former President Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” to curb Kim’s nuclear program. 

Earlier this week, leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations issued a statement calling for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and “the verifiable and irreversible abandonment” of North Korea‘s nuclear and missile programs. They called on North Korea to engage and resume dialogue. 

Sung Kim, the top U.S. official on North Korea, is to visit Seoul on Saturday for a trilateral meeting with South Korean and Japanese officials. His travel emphasizes the importance of three-way cooperation in working toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the State Department said.

Kim Jong-un has recently threatened to enlarge his nuclear arsenal and build high-tech weapons targeting the U.S. mainland if Washington refuses to abandon its hostile policy toward North Korea

In March, Kim‘s military performed its first short-range ballistic missile tests in a year. But North Korea is still maintaining a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests in an indication that Kim still wants to keep prospects for diplomacy alive. 

Kwak Gil Sup, head of One Korea Center, a website specializing in North Korea affairs, wrote on Facebook that Kim‘s statement suggested he‘s taking a two-track approach of bolstering military capability and preparing for talks. But he said Kim will more likely focus on boosting military strength and repeating his demand for the U.S. to withdraw its hostile policy, rather than hastily returning to talks.
Kim said last week North Korea‘s military must stay on high alert to defend national security.

Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said North Korea will likely return to talks but won’t accept a call for immediate, complete denuclearization. He said North Korea may accede to a proposal to freeze its atomic program and partially reduce its nuclear arsenal in phased steps if the Biden administration relaxes sanctions and suspends its regular military drills with South Korea.

Cha Duck Chul, a deputy spokesman at South Korea‘s Unification Ministry, said it’s closely monitoring the North’s ongoing political meeting and wants to reemphasize the best way to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula is through dialogue.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijiang called for renewed dialogue between North Korea and the U.S., saying that “We believe that the Korean Peninsula situation is facing a new round of tension.”

Kim called the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee meeting taking place this week to review efforts to rebuild the economy, which has been severely crippled by pandemic border closings, mismanagement amid the U.S.-led sanctions, and storm damage to crops and infrastructure last year.

On Tuesday, Kim opened the meeting by warning of potential food shortages, urging officials to find ways to boost agricultural production because the country’s food situation “is now getting tense.” He also urged the country to brace for extended COVID-19 restrictions, suggesting North Korea would extend its border closure and other steps despite the stress on its economy.

___

Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung contributed to this report.

Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister, likely being formally elevated in secretive N.K. regime

Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister, likely being formally elevated in secretive N.K. regime

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In this Feb. 9, 2018, file photo, Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, arrives for the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool, File) more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

A high-level change within North Korea’s notoriously secretive regime has triggered new speculation that Kim Jong-un may be on the verge of formally anointing his younger sister as his No. 2 so she can officially take control of the government should he die or fall terminally ill.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Tuesday and Wednesday that Mr. Kim, 37, who came to power a decade ago, established the “first secretary” post during a rare ruling party congress in January in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

Yonhap, which is known for intensive coverage of developments relating to the Kim regime, reported that the position likely has not been filled but could go to Mr. Kim’s 33-year-old sister, Kim Yo-jong.

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The development is subtle but could have wide-reaching implications.

It is unclear how the new position may impact the nuclear-armed regime’s posture toward the rest of the world.

U.S. officials closely monitor serious reports of shifts within the North Korean regime that may create openings for diplomacy or trigger provocations and escalations.

The Biden administration has kept North Korea policy on the back burner after a more than two-year stall in diplomacy involving the U.S., North Korea and South Korea. Diplomacy stalled after the Trump administration attempted to use summits between President Trump and Mr. Kim to persuade the North Korean regime to abandon an arsenal of nuclear weapons that it has built up clandestinely over decades in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Many believe Mr. Kim is prepared to wait out the Biden administration and is betting that the U.S. and its allies eventually will be forced to accept his nation as a nuclear power.

Speaking Tuesday at The Washington Brief, a monthly forum hosted by The Washington Times Foundation, analysts said President Biden’s recent White House meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in showed solidarity between the two countries in their approach to Pyongyang, but the levers available to pressure North Korea may be diminishing.

Optimism of the Trump era, sparked by a trio of historic face-to-face meetings between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump, is being replaced by entrenchment in North Korea. The leadership in Pyongyang is growing more convinced that nuclear weapons are necessary to survive and is finding no pressing need to abandon the arsenal.

“Why would they give this all up?” said Joseph DeTrani, a former CIA official and longtime U.S. diplomatic adviser. “They’ve worked so long to get this. It’s a deterrent, and it provides survivability, insurance, for the regime to survive.”

A potential structural shift within the Kim regime is being reported roughly a year after rumors that Mr. Kim had undergone emergency heart surgery and fallen gravely ill triggered international headlines.

The rumors have not been confirmed. At the time, reports said Kim Yo-jong could be tapped as the familial successor to head the regime, which the Kim dynasty has ruled since her and her brother’s grandfather Kim Il-sung emerged as North Korea’s founding leader in the 1940s.

North Korea watchers have formed a consensus that Kim Yo-jong is a trusted aide of Kim Jong-un because she was at his side during the high-level summitry of the Trump era. Photographs show her running behind her brother or holding an ashtray at the ready should he need to crush a cigarette.

The brother and sister are believed to have held a close bond since studying together as children at an exclusive school in Switzerland.

A Yonhap report Wednesday cited former South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok as telling reporters that “in case of an emergency, including those involving leader Kim’s health, Kim Yo-jong is likely to take up this deputy position and act temporarily as the successor until power is handed over to Kim Jong-un’s son.”

Yonhap also cited Mr. Lee as saying Jo Yong-won, a close aide to Mr. Kim who initially was speculated to have been elected to the newly created post, is unlikely to take up the position because he is not part of the Kim family or the “Paekdu bloodline.”

• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

U.S. losing leverage to stop North Korea nuclear programs, experts say

U.S. losing leverage to stop North Korea nuclear programs, experts say

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech during a workshop of chief secretaries of city and county committees of the ruling Workers’ Party in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, March … more >

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is prepared to wait out the Biden administration and is betting that the U.S. and its allies eventually will be forced to accept his nation as a nuclear power, former top U.S. officials and regional experts said Tuesday.

Speaking at “The Washington Brief,” a monthly forum hosted by The Washington Times Foundation, analysts said that while President Biden’s recent White House meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in showed solidarity between the two countries in their approach to Pyongyang, the levers available to pressure North Korea may be diminishing. The optimism of the Trump era — sparked by a trio of historic face-to-face meetings between Mr. Kim and former President Donald Trump — is being replaced by apparent entrenchment in North Korea, as the country’s leadership grows increasingly convinced that nuclear weapons are necessary to survive and that there’s no pressing need to abandon them.

“Why would they give this all up?” said former CIA official and longtime U.S. diplomatic adviser Joseph DeTrani. “They’ve worked so long to get this. It’s a deterrent and it provides survivability, insurance, for the regime to survive.”

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“They’re waiting for the U.S. to cave on the issue of denuclearization,” he added, “when we finally say that a responsible North Korea with nuclear weapons, maybe we can live with that.”

The White House maintains that the complete and permanent elimination of North Korea‘s nuclear-weapons program remains the ultimate goal. No recent U.S. administration has publicly indicated that Washington is prepared to accept North Korea as a nuclear power.

The U.S. and South Korea signed a joint statement last month doubling down on that stance.

And Mr. Biden and Mr. Moon stressed that diplomacy leading to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is the best path forward for all parties. 

Mr. Biden even seemed to suggest that he’d be willing to meet Mr. Kim in person under the right circumstances. During the summit with Mr. Moon, the White House announced that longtime State Department official Sung Kim would serve as the special U.S. envoy to North Korea, signaling that the administration was ready to mount a new diplomatic push.

But the Biden-Moon meeting also sparked new animosity with Pyongyang. On the heels of that meeting, Seoul announced the end of longstanding South Korea-U.S. rules that limited South Korea’s ballistic-missile development to a range of about 500 miles.

North Korean state-run media this week blasted that announcement as another example of “U.S. hostile policy toward [North Korea] and its shameful double-dealing.” 

Specialists warn that Mr. Kim almost surely is preparing for new missile launches and perhaps even the country’s first nuclear test since 2017. He also may be growing increasingly confident that America is losing some of its influence over international affairs, particularly as China continues its rise as a major regional and global rival.

“Certainly [Mr. Kim’s] approach is to be bracing for pressure, not preparing to reap the fruits of negotiations,” Markus Garlauskas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, said at Tuesday’s event, which was moderated by former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill.

“Kim has tested our will and found we are not in a position right now to be able to confront him with the costs and risks sufficient to get him to stop in his tracks,” Mr. Garlauskas said. “He may be proceeding cautiously but I think he’s still proceeding.”

Indeed, crushing economic sanctions on North Korea that have contributed to impoverished living conditions for much of its citizenry have had relatively little impact on Mr. Kim’s thinking on foreign policy and national security matters. A return to the so-called “strategic patience” approach of the Obama era seems unlikely to bear fruit, particularly if Pyongyang is able to rely on China for economic aid to circumvent a U.S.-led economic sanctions campaign.

“A long-term pressure campaign, I believe, is unsustainable because in my opinion the U.S. hegemonic role in that region is declining and our alliance system is going to weaken anyway,” said Alexandre Mansourov, professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies. “Maybe generational change, maybe technological change, in North Korea will bring us in a different situation in the future, but that’s a very distant future. So we’ll have to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea in our lifetime.”

China continues proliferation of nuclear tech, missiles: Report

China supplying North Korea, Iran with dangerous nuclear tech, missiles: Report

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China’s DF-26 ballistic missiles worry the U.S. because they can be fired from long ranges with enough precision to attack a moving ship. (Associated Press) more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

China is continuing to sell dangerous nuclear technology and missiles around the world, mainly to North Korea and Iran, according to the Congressional Research Service.

A CRS report published earlier this month reveals that the Chinese government seems to have ceased direct involvement in nuclear arms proliferation and sales of complete missile systems in favor of hiding behind cutout entities.

“The Chinese government has apparently ended its direct involvement in the transfer of nuclear- and missile-related items, but Chinese-based companies and individuals continue to export goods relevant to those items, particularly to Iran and North Korea,” the report states.

SEE ALSO: Blacklisted Chinese tech still spreading in U.S. as lawmakers scramble to close loopholes

A more recent focus of China‘s arms proliferation has been the threat of the acquisition of American-origin nuclear technology. The CRS report said a 2018 State Department annual report on arms compliance provided details of the illicit activities by China.

The Chinese government has denied engaging in arms proliferation activities and has insisted it supports international arms control and nonproliferation regimes.

The report, based on highly classified intelligence, said Chinese companies in 2018 supplied missile goods restricted by the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), an informal international arms accord, to Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Pakistan.

Beijing ignored U.S. government appeals to stop the sales, the report said.

The most recent State Department arms compliance report omitted details of the Chinese proliferation activities but stated that Beijing continued to supply missile goods in violation of its MTCR commitments. The arms proliferation has continued despite decades of sanctions imposed on Chinese entities for arms proliferation activities.

The most recent sanctions were imposed in November against two Chinese entities for what the State Department said were in response to the companies’ transfer of “sensitive technology and items to Iran‘s missile program.”

Earlier in 2017 the Treasury Department sanctioned a Chinese coal company for using foreign exchange produced by selling North Korean coal and using the funds to purchase nuclear and missile components for Pyongyang.

The CRS report sought to distance the Chinese government from the illicit arms proliferation, quoting former State Department arms expert Vann Van Diepen as saying that even if the arms-related transfers are not state-sponsored, the government has failed to devote enough resources to stop them.

“When that continues to be the case over 20 years, even when they have been criticized, over time it becomes a choice, and you have to wonder what’s going on,” Mr. Van Diepen said.

In addition to arms proliferation, China also has engaged in money-laundering, providing illicit financial services and utilizing “a network of financial representatives, primarily in China, who operate as agents for North Korean financial institutions,” the report said.

“The representatives orchestrate schemes, set up front or shell companies, and manage surreptitious bank accounts to move and disguise illicit funds, evade sanction, and finance the proliferation of North Korea‘s [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missile programs.”

According to Alex Wong, until recently deputy assistant secretary of state for North Korea, China hosts around two dozen North Korean weapons of mass destruction and missile procurement agents and bank representatives.

China has flouted U.N. Security Council resolutions’ requirements to expel such representatives,” the report quoted Mr. Wong as saying, adding that the U.S. government “provided China with ample actionable information on the ongoing U.N.-prohibited activities occurring within its borders,” yet Beijing “has chosen not to act.”

The report also says China is assisting the Saudi Arabian government in building facilities for possible uranium production.

China also built civilian nuclear reactors in Pakistan that have been a proliferation concern. Critics say the reactors violate Beijing‘s commitments to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an international organization devoted to halting nuclear weapons proliferation.

China has constructed four power reactors in Pakistan and is constructing two additional such reactors,” the CRS report said, noting the facilities’ lack of international oversight. “Islamabad’s nuclear weapons facilities are not safeguarded.”

China has been a major nuclear proliferator beginning in the late 1990s when Beijing sold ring magnets to Pakistan that were used in the development of Islamabad’s nuclear weapons. China also has sold heavy-duty truck chassis that were used for North Korea‘s new, road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles.

China‘s initial motivation for sales of dangerous weaponry was a way to raise funds for its military modernization program.

“During the 1980s and 1990s, China transferred nuclear and missile technology to other countries’ weapons programs,” the report said.

China provided assistance to Pakistan‘s nuclear weapons program and engaged in nuclear cooperation with Iran. Beijing exported missiles to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.”

Moon talks with Congress about COVID-19, security of Korean peninsula

Moon talks with Congress about COVID-19, Korean security

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., walk through Statuary Hall in the Capitol, Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) more >

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By Dave Boyer

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 20, 2021

South Korean President Moon Jae-in began two days of high-level meetings in Washington on Thursday by telling congressional leaders that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of greater international cooperation.

“I hope that a series of dialogues between our two countries … will deepen our bilateral cooperation in not only establishing peace on the Korean peninsula, but also prevailing over COVID-19, reviving the economy and responding to climate change,” Mr. Moon said at the Capitol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It’s Mr. Moon’s first trip abroad since the start of the pandemic. He will meet face-to-face with President Biden for the first time on Friday at the White House.

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The White House said the administration is open to diplomacy with North Korea, but Mr. Biden isn’t likely to engage in the one-on-one summits that former President Trump held with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In his talks with congressional leaders of both parties, Mr. Moon was expected to request support for the long-stalled peace process with North Korea, and for Seoul’s bid to become a center for global vaccine production. 

He said the pandemic showed that, although people were apart physically, “the entire humanity is connected as one, as we need solidarity and cooperation of all humankind to defeat the virus.”

Mrs. Pelosi said the U.S.-South Korea relationship “is a security one, but also a personal one.”

“We look forward to hearing what you have to say about security and in terms of the new denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, about how we can work together on the climate issue,” she said. “And thank you for your extraordinary leadership in that regard.”

Earlier, Mr. Moon visited Arlington National Cemetery for a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

White House on a Biden-Kim summit: Not at ‘top of agenda’

WH on a Biden-Kim summit: Not at ‘top of agenda’

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a briefing at the White House, Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 20, 2021

President Biden will meet face to face Friday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for high-profile talks, a press conference and even a medal ceremony.

No one should expect a repeat — either here or abroad — with North Korean counterpart and dictator Kim Jong-un, the White House said Thursday.

“I don’t expect that will be at the top of his agenda,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of a possible Biden-Kim meeting.

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Mr. Moon hopes his White House summit will kick-start denuclearization talks on the Korean peninsula. The South Korean president staked a large part of his legacy on achieving peace.

Love letters and a pair of in-person summits between former President Donald Trump and Mr. Kim failed to produce the breakthrough Mr. Moon had hoped for, so the Biden administration is trying to thread the needle between the past two administrations’ strategies.

The Obama administration took a more aloof approach during Mr. Biden‘s time as vice president, hoping North Korea would change its belligerent behavior before engaging on a diplomatic level.

“Our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience,” Ms. Psaki told reporters in late April. “Our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with [North Korea] and to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies and deployed forces.”

Just don’t expect Mr. Biden and Mr. Kim to become pen pals or shake hands anytime soon.

Inside the Ring: North Korea building MIRVS, tactical nukes

North Korea building MIRVS, tactical nukes

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Army Gen. Paul LaCamera in written answers to a Senate committee said that Kim Jong-un has announced plans to build small warheads, nuclear arms and warhead missiles. (Associated Press) more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Army Gen. Paul LaCamera, nominated to be the next commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, told the Senate this week that North Korea is building small warheads, tactical nuclear arms and multiple warhead missiles.

“In January of this year, [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un announced plans and programs to expand its nuclear deterrent, specifically, the development of miniaturized nuclear warheads, tactical nuclear weapons, and even multiple independently-targetable reentry vehicles,” Gen. LaCamera disclosed in written answers to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The general said that, if confirmed, he will work with intelligence officials to assess and analyze the nuclear capabilities and a timeline for their employment.

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“After assessment, I would review potential requirements for any necessary capabilities and force structure changes on the peninsula,” he stated.

Gen. LaCamera said Pyongyang is developing “an unprecedented number” of new weapons systems that expand the level of threats from the region directly to the United States. North Korea has revealed in recent military parades that it now has long-range missiles capable of hitting the U.S. mainland and has produced videos of simulated nuclear strikes on U.S. cities.

So far, Pyongyang sees an opportunity for negotiations with the new Biden administration, but also is set to conduct “provocative and coercive steps with long-range missile tests or possibly even demonstrate its nuclear capability,” he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected North Korea’s military but the nuclear-armed state remains a significant threat. “Currently, the Korean Peninsula is stable and tension is low, especially along the demilitarized zone and northern limit line,” Gen. LaCamera said. But weapons of mass destruction, asymmetric capabilities like cyber strike efforts and large conventional forces remain “a significant threat” to the U.S. and its allies. The general said the regime is “struggling” with the coronavirus pandemic even though the government claims zero cases in the country.

“North Korea closed its borders and halted international commerce, which created significant economic challenges,” he said. “North Korea is using the [Korean People’s Army] military to support enforcing these border restrictions,” he noted.

The general said bolstering missile defenses will help counter the long-range missile threats from the North. He also wants more aircraft carrier strike group and bomber visits, along with advanced fighter deployments.

Missile defenses in the region must defend against a large arsenal of missiles capable of complex attacks with nuclear, chemical and biological arms. To defend against missile strikes, U.S. and allied forces must neutralize North Korean missiles before launch and in both upper and lower tiers of their flight.

Gen. LaCamera said the North’s large force of mostly outdated weapons and gear “is a military where quantity has a quality of its own.” North Korea’s 1-million member military is one of the world’s largest and includes about 70% of the forces deployed near the demilitarized zone.

Pentagon to monitor social media

As part of its politically charged effort to identify extremists in the military, the Pentagon is planning to develop surveillance tools to monitor social media accounts of military personnel. The Pentagon working group program has drawn fire from the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama.

“I am greatly concerned by numerous press reports of conservative voices being silenced in the Department of Defense while departmental leadership defends and protects left-leaning voices,” Mr. Rogers said in a statement. “The United States Armed Forces should be focused on preparing to face and win any battles against the threats posed by China and other foreign adversaries and not imposing political beliefs on those who chose to serve in uniform.”

Mr. Rogers said he and other Republican members regularly hear from active-duty and retired service members who say “even holding conservative values is now enough to endanger a service member’s military career.”

“I believe that this is an issue that must be addressed in this year’s [national defense authorization act] and look forward to working with my Republican colleagues on the committee and any free-speech minded Democrats interested in joining our cause.”

Space Force Lt. Col. Matthew Lohmeier was fired last weekend after he published a book that accused the military of promoting Marxist ideologies within the services.

“I don’t believe I was being partisan. It is not politically partisan to expose or attack critical race theory or Marxism,” Lt. Col. Lohmeier told Fox News on Monday.

Lt. Col. Lohmeier said communications from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as part of a recent military-wide “stand down” on extremism stated that “the country was evil, that it was founded in 1619 rather than 1776, and that White [people] are inherently evil.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday that Col. Lohmeier did not submit his self-published book, “Irresistible Revolution: Marxism’s Goal of Conquest & the Unmaking of the American Military,” for a policy review, a violation of rules.

Separately, Mr. Kirby also disclosed that the Pentagon is considering a program to monitor service members’ social media accounts as part of anti-extremism measures.

The program could run counter to the First Amendment rights of military personnel.

A press release on the extremism working group in April said surveillance techniques for security screening could involve machine learning and natural language processing in social media screening tools.

Pentagon special adviser Bishop Garrison is leading an extremist working group to examine the scope of extremist activity in the military and working on “some potential solutions, going forward,” he said.

The effort includes trying to determine how much to train future veterans to avoid recruitment by extremist groups and how to conduct “data collection possibilities” to determine the size of the problem.

“We already take a look at the social media footprint when we are considering recruits as they come in,” Mr. Kirby said.

Additionally, the Pentagon’s insider threat program also scrutinizes social media for signs of military members operating as spies or terrorists.

Mr. Kirby denied that a pilot program to monitor military members’ social media is in place, as reported by The Intercept, which said it had reviewed a document about the program. Mr. Kirby said he had not seen the document and was unsure whether such a document would be released to the public.

“I’m not aware of any efforts to expand what we’re doing right now, but the extremist working group is certainly going to look at the degree to which the information environment impacts or is impacted by extremist activity. That would include the social media landscape,” he said, noting that it would premature to say there is a new policy on the subject.

The House Armed Services Committee said in a statement that the Pentagon is “exploring a means of implementing social media screening in conjunction with background investigations.”

“We anticipate that any social media screening would be intended only as an additional means of vetting cleared individuals or those seeking to obtain a security clearance, not as a tool for ongoing surveillance of all men and women in uniform,” the panel said.

Mr. Austin, however, intends to learn the extent of extremism in the military and the impact on good order and discipline, the statement noted.

Mr. Kirby denied the working group is planning to “somehow spy on every individual in the military or spend hours and hours just gleaning through social media activity, just for the sake of doing it.”

“This isn’t about some sort of surveillance program of our own people,” he added.

Nuclear bombers fly practice mission

The Strategic Command this week conducted simultaneous flights of B-52 nuclear-capable bombers in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East in a major show of American power.

Six B-52s flying out of U.S. and overseas bases carried out what the command called a bomber task force mission that involved allies and partners in the three regions and North America.

“The speed, flexibility and readiness of our strategic bombers play a critical role in our ability to deter potential adversaries and signal our unwavering support to our allies and partners,” said Adm. Charles “Chas” Richard, Strategic Command commander.

“Missions like this provide invaluable training opportunities with our allies and partners to improve our interoperability and demonstrate that our forces are capable of operating anywhere, anytime, to meet any challenge decisively.”

The Asian operations were conducted from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. The European, African and Middle East segments involved bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. A bomber group also was deployed at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar.

The military called the exercise Operation Apex Charger billed as a “global power projection event.”

Specifics of the flights were not disclosed.

— Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.

China threat looms large as South Korea’s Moon prepares for Biden summit

China threat looms large as South Korea’s Moon prepares for Biden summit

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in answers reporter’s question after he delivered a special address to mark the fourth anniversary of his inauguration at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, May 10, 2021. South Korea’s leader said Monday … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

President Biden will privately pressure South Korean President Moon Jae-in to sign on to a strong statement critical of China when Mr. Moon visits the White House on Friday, but he will likely face resistance over South Korean fears that it would trigger an economic backlash from Beijing.

A range of other issues will be on the table for Friday’s summit at the White House, where both Mr. Biden and Mr. Moon will take pains to advertise the strength of the bilateral alliance, as well as project an image of unity in dealing with a still hostile and unpredictable North Korea.

But analysts and sources close to the administration say Mr. Biden will have to address widening divisions between Washington and Seoul on confronting China.

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Mr. Biden will also likely seek South Korean support for Washington‘s push to solidify the so-called “Quad” security alignment between the U.S. and the major regional democracies — India, Australia and Japan — as a way to contain Beijing.

Specifically, analysts say Mr. Biden will privately urge Mr. Moon to follow the example Japanese Prime Minister Yoshide Suga set during his own visit to the White House last month. Mr. Suga and Mr. Biden issued a joint statement openly criticizing what they called communist China‘s increasingly aggressive and anti-democratic behavior, including its “unlawful maritime claims” and “use of economic and other forms of coercion” to bully smaller nations in regional territorial and economic disputes.

“Moon’s visit to the White House is going to measured against Suga’s visit, which was seen as very successful,” according to Bruce Klingner, a former high-level CIA official in Korea now with the Heritage Foundation, who says Mr. Suga’s outspokenness on China raised eyebrows among pro-democracy advocates.

“Suga came out with pretty strong criticisms of China for human rights violations in Hong Kong and against the Uyghurs in China, as well as for Beijing‘s belligerent tactics in the East and South China Seas, and for its intimidation of Taiwan,” Mr. Klingner said in an interview.

Noting the long rivalry between Seoul and Tokyo over who is the closer ally to Washington, Mr. Klingner said Mr. Suga “set a very high bar” not only for Mr. Moon‘s visit to the White House, but more broadly for “what allies should do in calling out Chinese actions in the Indo-Pacific region.”

South Korean sources said Mr. Moon has his own priorities for Friday’s White House meeting, which will feature a joint press conference after private talks between Mr. Biden and Mr. Moon. South Korean press accounts noted increasing anxiety when Mr. Moon wound up well down the list of global leaders Mr. Biden called in his first weeks in office.

Mr. Moon will hold meetings on Capitol Hill Thursday and will meet with Vice President Kamala Harris ahead of his Friday discussions with Mr. Biden. After the White House talks, the South Korean president is scheduled to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial and visit a South Korean firm’s electric car battery plant in Atlanta on Saturday.

“High expectations “

The South Korean leader has “high expectations” for his first overseas trip since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and hopes to speed deliveries of U.S.-made vaccines to his country and strike a deal on technology transfer to make the shots domestically, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

Mr. Moon, who has long favored diplomatic engagement with the North and backed President Trump’s unorthodox personal outreach to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, also wants to get on the same page as the new administration in Washington on containing and rolling back the North’s nuclear and missile arsenals.

“Love letters” and a pair of full-fledged summits between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim failed to produce the breakthrough Mr. Moon had hoped for, and the Biden administration is trying to thread the needle between the past two administrations’ strategies.

The Obama administration took a more aloof approach — dubbed “strategic patience” — during Mr. Biden’s time as vice president, hoping North Korea would change its belligerent behavior as the price for diplomatic recognition and economic support. The Biden administration recently concluded its first formal policy review on the problem of North Korea, but the White House has offered few hard details publicly.

“Our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience,” White House Jen Psaki told reporters in late April. “Our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with [North Korea] and to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies and deployed forces.”

But the Biden team has also indicated it will try to build on one concrete outcome of the Trump administration’s approach — the 2018 Singapore declarations in which Mr. Kim pledged to “work toward” a “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. “

“Our policy review took a careful look at everything that has been tried before,” Kurt Campbell, White House policy coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region, told the South Korean Yonhap news agency in an interview Wednesday. “Our efforts will build on Singapore and other agreements made by previous administrations. “

Yonhap also that reported the Moon administration has been coy about whether South Korea might be floated as a new member of the “Quad,” should the issue come up during this week’s summit. But analysts say it’s doubtful Mr. Moon will go as far in public criticism of China as Mr. Suga did during his White House visit.

“It’s really unlikely that Moon is going to be able to meet that bar,” said Mr. Klingner, who maintains the South Korean president is likely to cling to what has long been a policy of trying to avoid entanglement in the growing great-power competition between the United States and China.

South Korea will repeat the adage that when the whales fight, the shrimp’s back is broken,” he said.

Michael J. Green, a Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said South Korea’s president is expected to seek greater support from the Biden administration on his long quest to reach a peace treaty with North Korea. The two Koreas are technically still at war dating back to the brutal fight of the early 1950s.

“The Biden administration has no real interest in that,” he told reporters.

Seoul remains wary of ticking off its biggest trading partner. China is both the biggest export and import market for South Korea, long ago surpassing the U.S. A quarter of all South Korean exports went to China in 2019, according to official estimates, and Beijing has not hesitated in the past to use access to its markets as a weapon in bilateral clashes with Seoul.

The Quad push is particularly tricky for Mr. Moon. China has fiercely condemned the idea as what it sees as a budding NATO-style alliance in Asia aimed at strangling China geopolitically.

Mr. Green said Seoul’s policy of strategic ambiguity on China is based on strong economic and trade ties with China and thus Mr. Moon is unlikely to join the Quad, but the analyst would not rule out some diplomatic “horse-trading” — greater U.S. support for South Korea’s overtures to North Korea in exchange for more support from Seoul on the hardline China policies

Such backlash has occurred in the past, most notably after Seoul reluctantly allowed the U.S. military to deploy an advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense ( THAAD) missile shield to South Korea in 2017. While the move was made in response to North Korea missile threats, Chinese leaders saw it as a threat to its own missile capabilities and took out its anger on South Korea, encouraging a boycott against the South Korean companies and even putting put an embargo on wildly popular South Korean “K-pop” music to China.

China‘s economic coercion during the THAAD deployment dispute … drove a wedge in U.S.-South Korea relations and revealed Seoul‘s economic vulnerability to China,” according to Kuyoun Chung, a political scientist at South Korea‘s Kangwon National University.

In an analysis published recently by the East Asia Forum, Mr. Chung argued that South Korea is among several nations in the region that have been reluctant to embrace Washington‘s push to expand the U.S.-IndiaAustraliaJapan grouping into a “Quad-plus” that includes other smaller countries on China‘s periphery.

“The uncertain end-state of U.S.–China competition — as well as concern over potential Chinese economic coercion — are impacting their decision,” Mr. Chung wrote. “South Korea, like other middle powers in the region, has hedged against the risk of great-power competition and focused on its own foreign policy priority — North Korea. “

“The Moon Jae-in administration prioritizes foreign policy goals aimed at improving inter-Korean relations as a way to denuclearize the North’s nuclear weapons and sustain the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” he wrote. “As long as North Korea is the core driver of South Korea‘s foreign policy, Seoul needs to maintain a good relationship with ChinaNorth Korea‘s main benefactor — to preserve the momentum of inter-Korean dialogue. This explains Seoul‘s relatively accommodating foreign policy attitude towards China. “

• Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this article.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s meeting with Biden in U.S. to center on vaccines, North Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s meeting with Biden in U.S. to center on vaccines, North Korea

Tour is Moon's first overseas trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in answers reporter’s question after he delivered a special address to mark the fourth anniversary of his inauguration at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, May 10, 2021. South Korea’s leader said Monday … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

South Korean President Moon Jae-in departed Wednesday for a White House summit with President Biden and other U.S. stops as he looks to jumpstart COVID-19 vaccine production and North Korean peace talks.

Mr. Moon and Mr. Biden will hold a joint press conference Friday after their first in-person meeting.

The South Korean leader has “high expectations” for his first overseas trip since the start of the pandemic and hopes to speed deliveries of U.S.-made vaccines to his country and strike a deal on technology transfer to make the shots domestically, according to the Yonhap News Agency.

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Mr. Moon also wants to get on the same page as the U.S. in seeking to denuclearize his peninsula as North Korea remains unpredictable.

Love letters and a pair of summits between former President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un failed to produce the breakthrough Mr. Moon had hoped for, and the Biden administration is trying to thread the needle between the past two administrations’ strategies.

The Obama administration took a more aloof approach during Mr. Biden’s time as vice president, hoping North Korea would change its belligerent behavior before engaging on a diplomatic level.

“Our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in late April. “Our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with [North Korea] and to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies and deployed forces.”

Yonhap reported the Moon administration was coy about whether South Korea might be floated as a new member of the Quad that includes Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. during the White House talks, although the scheduling of military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. is sure to come up.

Mr. Moon plans to stop at the Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday to pay respects to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before meeting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at a groundbreaking for the Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

Mr. Moon may stop at SK Innovation, a South Korean company that makes batteries in Atlanta, before heading home Sunday.

Gen. Paul LaCamera warns North Korean conventional forces are a threat, too

North Korean conventional forces a threat, too, U.S. commander warns

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Early in his Army career, Gen. Paul LaCamera was stationed at the Demilitarized Zone — the famous depopulated strip of land strewn with deadly mines that divides North and South Korea. Any patrol along the border area was well within range of Pyongyang’s fearsome arsenal of mortars and artillery.

Now nominated to lead American forces in Korea, Gen. LaCamera said North Korea’s well-documented nuclear ambitions are only one element of the threat it poses to the region. The regime of Kim Jong-un, he told a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, also maintains a formidable conventional military force.

“Their ability to put many rounds in the air and create panic is concerning,” Gen. LaCamera acknowledged to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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With President Biden and his team still trying to put in place their policy for the volatile region and the question of how to deal with the North’s growing ballistic missile and nuclear warhead stockpile, the general will take up one of the most important and sensitive jobs the Pentagon has to offer.

North Korea maintains one of the world’s largest conventional forces with more than 1 million troops, of which about 70% are deployed near the DMZ. While most of their equipment may be dated by modern standards, North Korea continues to invest in improving its firepower. Much of its long-range artillery is within range of Seoul and its 25 million people, Gen. LaCamera told the lawmakers.

North Korea’s “conventional forces are ready for war should its leadership choose,” he told the senators.

Sen. Jack Reed, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said North Korea is an issue that “has vexed U.S. administrations for decades.”

“Solving the long-term challenges posed by North Korea will require all elements of national power,” the Rhode Island Democrat said.

Gen. LaCamera, most recently commander of U.S. Army troops in the Pacific, told the senators that he was aware of the challenges that come with the new job, where he will wear three hats: Commander of U.S. Forces-Korea, United Nations Command and the Republic of Korea-United States Combined Forces Command.

“We face persistent challenges with the development of nuclear and advanced missile technical systems, cyber capabilities [and] asymmetric and military technologies,” he said.

Sen. James Inhofe, the committee’s ranking Republican, told Gen. LaCamera that he was concerned about the limitations on large-scale training in South Korea. President Trump sharply curtailed annual joint exercises as he pursued his unorthodox personal diplomatic outreach to Mr. Kim in three separate summits. Mr. Biden is virtually certain to take another diplomatic route.

Gen. LaCamera said he would work to “make sure that we stay within the band of excellence of readiness” and would hold “candid conversations” with South Korean counterparts on the need to train adequately.

“One of the things, if confirmed, I’ll be looking into is, How does it impact others’ ability to train and where does that put the mission at risk?”

Under the current plan, agreed upon in 1978, South Korean forces remain fully independent until a war breaks out, at which time they would fall under the combined U.S.-South Korean command — led by a U.S. general with a South Korean second-in-command.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a longtime supporter of engagement with the North who visits President Biden at the White House for talks Friday, wants to see that command structure reversed with a South Korean general in charge. Gen. LaCamera said he fully supports the shift. 

“The Republic of Korea military continues progress to assume a greater role in the defense of their homeland,” he said in written testimony to the Senate committee. “There remains considerable work to be done to completely acquire the military capabilities necessary to meet the combined defense leadership roles.”

Although it could take “several years” before South Korea is ready to assume command of all forces, once that happens they will have a greater ability to defeat North Korea if it comes to that — even with less support from the U.S., Gen. LaCamera said.

Editorial Roundup: US

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Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

May 3

The Los Angeles Times on pushing Congress to enact sensible gun reform measures:

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For more years than it is comfortable to count, the National Rifle Association and its abettors in Washington have forestalled even the most sensible efforts to confront our national scourge of gun violence.

But at the moment, the NRA is on the ropes as an institution. Its problems include a move by the New York state attorney general to dissolve the association over fraud allegations; an internal rebellion by longtime major donors; accusations of self-dealing; a failed coup by dissident members; a rancorous lawsuit with its former public relations agency (amid more allegations of fraud); and a dubious bankruptcy filing in Texas aimed at undercutting the existential threat from the New York attorney general.

All of which has diminished the NRA’s power in Congress. And with the pro-reform Democratic Party narrowly controlling the House and the Senate, and with longtime gun-control supporter Joe Biden in the White House, now would seem to be the time to push through some changes.

The NRA remains a force, so any legislation to rein in guns faces significant headwinds. On a couple of familiar issues, though, gun control advocates might finally be able to gain enough traction to overcome the gun lobby.

One is the closing the loopholes that allow some gun sales and transfers to be made without a background check, an idea supported by the vast majority of Americans, including pro-gun Republicans.

Sales through federally licensed gun shops and dealers already require the seller to run the name of the buyer through federal databases of people prohibited from owning a gun for any number of reasons (including having been convicted of a felony or certain domestic violence offenses, being subject to a protective order, or suffering from mental illness). Yet individual sales at gun shows, intra-family transfers, and some online purchases can be made without a background check, a bazooka-sized hole in efforts to keep guns out of the hands of people who legally can’t have them.

And even a required background check can be skirted. If the government does not complete the check within three days, the licensed dealer can complete the sale anyway. While the vast majority of checks proceed quickly, some encounter incomplete records or other wrinkles that slow the process. It is foolishness for the law to say, well, okay, here’s your gun anyway. That very loophole enabled Dylann Roof, who murdered nine Black people in a Charleston, S.C., church, to buy a gun he was barred from owning.

Gun-rights advocates frame mandatory background checks as placing an undue burden on someone’s ability to exercise a constitutional right, and universal background checks would interfere with a private sale of a legal item between two individuals.

But that’s not the case. Laws bar certain individuals from owning a firearm, and checking the names of buyers against that list to determine eligibility is a reasonable balance of interests (much like a store clerk checking an ID to make certain a customer can legally buy a six-pack of beer), whether the seller is a gun shop or your neighbor.

And the federal government is not building a gun registry, as the gun rights people argue; the records of who wants to buy a weapon are kept by gun dealers, and by law the government can’t computerize the handwritten records if they receive them after a gun dealer goes out of business.

Further, they argue, background checks do not keep criminals from buying firearms. While the checks may not be 100% effective (by definition, criminals break laws), more than 3 million purchases have been blocked out of more than 278 million checks performed since they were first required under the 1994 Brady Act. Closing the loopholes will make a difference.

The House has passed two bills to tighten up background checks: the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which would extend background checks to gun shows and many other exchanges between private parties, and the Enhanced Background Checks Act, which would give the government 10 days to complete a background check instead of three. Sen. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has pledged to bring them up in the Senate, and President Biden urged passage of both bills during his address to Congress on Wednesday night.

Unfortunately, the measures still need support from at least 10 Republicans to overcome the inevitable filibuster by gun-rights zealots in the Senate. The nation can only hope that enough of them will find the courage to put public safety first and support these measures.

But to state the obvious, passing sensible gun control measures comes down to politics. People telling pollsters they support such laws is one thing; telling your representatives and Congress to put public safety ahead of the financial interests of the gun lobby is another, more crucial step. Reach out, make your voice heard.

ONLINE: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-05-03/congress-guns-nra-background-checks

___

April 29

The Orange County Register on the lack of “common sense” in proposed gun laws:

Gun-control supporters often propose what they describe as “common sense” gun laws.

It’s their latest mantra, but a host of new California firearms proposals makes clear that many of these proposals are more nonsensical than common sense. Reducing gun crime is a noble aim, but it’s hard to see how the latest proposals will move in that direction.

Senate Bill 264 by Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, would ban gun shows on state property – a symbolic measure that will not reduce gun violence. Gun buyers and sellers at, say, public fairgrounds must follow strict state regulations. There’s no connection between gun shows and violence. The shows will move to private venues.

Assembly Bill 1223 from Assembly member Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, would impose an excise tax of as much as 11 percent on the sale of guns and ammunition to fund California Violence Intervention and Prevention (CalVIP) grants. Some community-based programs might help, but others seem unproven at best. If such programs work, nonprofits should fund them.

Assembly Bill 1057 from Assembly member Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, sounds good on the surface. It expands California’s “red flag” law, which lets law enforcement confiscate weapons from people who they deem dangerous, to apply to “ghost guns.” Those are untraceable home-built firearms that have become popular thanks to the Internet and 3D printing.

Governments aren’t good at predicting criminal behavior and end up violating innocent gun owners’ due-process rights instead. Ghost guns are proliferating mainly as a workaround to the state’s onerous gun-control laws. The government isn’t particularly effective at cracking down on any underground marketplace, from guns to narcotics.

California’s existing Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), which is designed to let state agents confiscate weapons from people who shouldn’t own them, is a widely maligned bureaucratic mess plagued by an inaccurate database.

It’s hard to fathom how any of the two dozen gun-related measures introduced this session could be described as sensible means of reducing gun violence.

ONLINE: https://www.ocregister.com/2021/04/29/sacramentos-litany-of-mostly-ineffective-nonsensical-gun-bills/

___

April 30

The Miami Herald on a Florida law that protects free speech for vigilantes, not protesters:

Of all the bills rammed through by the Florida Legislature this session – sometimes revived late at night and then quickly passed by GOP lawmakers – the most egregious remains House Bill 1.

It’s Gov. Ron DeSantis’ baby, and he has already signed it into law.

The session is about to end, but HB 1 set the stage for this year’s legislative theme: Strip power from local governments, and trample Floridians’ constitutional rights underfoot.

Civil-rights attorneys from a nonprofit called the Lawyers Matter Task Force, and additional plaintiffs, have already filed a lawsuit challenging the governor’s new law, concocted to have a chilling effect on those who take to the streets to protest for rights denied – long an American tradition that Florida’s governor suddenly wants to curtail.

This lawsuit is one of the best things to come out of a mean-spirited legislative session that has resulted in few things to cheer.

HB 1 is an insidious law, anti-democratic and un-American, an edict some autocrat might have cooked up.

AN ATTEMPT TO SILENCE

Aimed at clamping down on social-justice demonstrations, the bill increases penalties for crimes committed during protests, but also allows even peaceful protesters and uninvolved bystanders to be swept up and hauled in by police during protests where violence occurs.

Black Floridians, especially, say it’s an attempt to silence their demands for social justice – most recently invigorated after the death of George Floyd last year.

Before signing the bill into law, DeSantis said, “We wanted to make sure that we were able to protect the people of our great state, people’s businesses and property against any type of mob activity or violent assemblies.”

“Mob activities” and “violent assemblies” are unacceptable. But so is letting police decide what exactly is a “riot” and cast the broadest net possible over people in the vicinity of a protest. HB 1 ignores the fact that strong laws against such violence and property destruction already exist.

Worse, HB 1 creates a new category of violent criminal behavior – then, callously, protects it.

The law gives cover to vigilantes and counter protesters who injure or kill “rioters,” letting them escape liability in a civil lawsuit.

WHAT’S A RIOT?

“House Bill 1 is a horrendous injustice to Florida citizens and infringes on multiple constitutional rights,” said Shannon Ligon, who founded the group that’s challenging the new law in federal court in Orlando. It names as defendants DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Orange County Sheriff John Mina.

Under the new law, peaceful protests could be “characterized as a “riot” due solely to the misconduct of one or two individuals, the plaintiffs wrote.

The law, among other things, creates a new felony crime of “aggravated rioting” that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a new crime of “mob intimidation,” which makes it unlawful “for a person, assembled with two or more other persons and acting with a common intent, to use force or threaten to use imminent force, to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person to do or refrain from doing any act or to assume, abandon, or maintain a particular viewpoint against his or her will.”

But there is still something called freedom of speech, and Floridians should fervently hope the court reminds the governor of that.

ONLINE: https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article250859594.html

___

May 4

The Hindu Times on the economic crisis in North Korea opening a lane for diplomacy, denuclearization:

President Joe Biden’s call for “stern deterrence” in response to North Korea’s nuclear programme and Pyongyang’s angry reaction, accusing the Biden administration of being “hostile”, suggest that both countries are headed towards a diplomatic showdown. In his first congressional address last week, Mr. Biden said the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea posed a “serious threat to America’s security and world security” and promised to respond through “diplomacy and stern deterrence”. His administration has also completed a review of the U.S.’s North Korea policy. Mr. Biden is likely to steer between Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” and Donald Trump’s top-level summitry in dealing with the North Korean nuclear challenge. North Korea has remained an unresolved foreign policy puzzle for all post-War American Presidents. In recent times, U.S. Presidents have shown a willingness to diplomatically engage with Pyongyang. The Clinton administration had signed a framework agreement with Pyongyang to halt its nuclear programme. Mr. Obama had initiated talks with North Korea in 2012, which collapsed after Pyongyang launched a satellite. He then adopted a wait-and-watch approach, which came to be called “strategic patience”. Mr. Trump altered his predecessor’s North Korea policy by reaching out to the regime and meeting its leader, Kim Jong-un, thrice, but without a breakthrough.

In theory, the Trump administration and North Korea had agreed to a complete de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but failed to agree on its formula. In the 2019 Trump-Kim summit at Hanoi, the U.S. proposed removal of sanctions for de-nuclearisation, but North Korea rejected it. Pyongyang had taken a phased approach and sought sanctions removal in return. Ever since, there has been no improvement in ties. After Mr. Biden assumed office, North Korea had conducted short-range missile tests, which the U.S. saw as a provocation. Mr. Biden does not have many good options in dealing with North Korea. The U.S.’s key goal in northeastern Asia is the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. And the only practical way to achieve this is through diplomacy as a military strike on North Korea, a nuclear power, is out of the question. Though the Trump-Kim summits did not lead to any breakthrough, they have still created a diplomatic momentum for engagement. Despite its threats to expand its nuclear programme, North Korea sticks to the self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests. The North, as acknowledged by Mr. Kim recently, is going through a tough economic crisis and is open to talks. Mr. Biden should seize this opportunity and try to reach common ground with Mr. Kim that addresses both North Korea’s economic worries and the U.S.’s nuclear concerns. That should be the focus of the Biden administration’s new North Korean strategy.

ONLINE: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/the-nuclear-challenge-on-north-koreas-economic-worries/article34474669.ece

___

April 26

The Philadelphia Inquirer on Pennsylvania’s opportunity to help workers through the decline of fracking:

The natural gas industry in Pennsylvania is worried about its future – and rightfully so.

During last week’s virtual global climate summit, President Joe Biden announced a goal of cutting greenhouse gas pollution in half by 2030, from a 2005 baseline. Biden has already rejoined the Paris Agreement and set a goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

The U.S. will not reach the 2030 goal without Pennsylvania, which produced nearly 10% of all energy in the nation in 2018 – only second to Texas. Now the state has an opportunity to manage the decline of its polluting energy industry while investing in sustainable, high-paying green union jobs as a replacement.

While burning natural gas emits less CO2 than burning coal or oil, natural gas is abundant in methane – a powerful greenhouse gas that traps more heat than does carbon, though it lingers for less time. The United Nations will soon release a report declaring it urgent to cut methane to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Natural gas production nationwide was responsible for 47% of methane emissions by industry in 2018. And that doesn’t account for storage and distribution. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has identified 8,500 unplugged abandoned oil and gas wells and estimates approximately 200,000 older undocumented wells, many of which may be leaking methane. Multiple studies suggest that methane leaks are undercutting natural gas’s ability to dramatically contribute to emissions reduction as a “transition fuel.”

Yet, despite all this evidence, and commitments from Gov. Tom Wolf to reduce emissions, Pennsylvania continues to build infrastructure for the natural gas industry – whether via the leaking Mariner East pipeline, new fracking permits, and subsidized petrochemical plants.

In Western Pennsylvania counties, where fracking is abundant, there is understandable collective trauma from past decline of industry. Since 1990, Pennsylvania has lost 42,000 jobs in metal manufacturing and 12,000 in coal mining – a 60% job loss in these two industries. Fracking natural gas was supposed to be a godsend. Instead, fracking created dramatically fewer jobs than industry promised, and those jobs created are now at risk.

Fear of that loss should not be taken lightly. But one reason the decline in coal and steel was so painful is that it wasn’t managed. The rug was pulled out from under workers’ feet. Pennsylvania can do things differently this time.

The opportunity is undeniable. The two occupations that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects see growing fastest in coming years are solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians. The White House is proposing investment that will create millions of jobs in the sector. If Pennsylvania transitions fossil fuel subsidies – totaling $3.8 billion in fiscal year 2019 – into green jobs, the transition will be even faster. It is critical these investments go to the communities that lose fossil fuel jobs and those, predominantly Black communities, that have suffered the most harm from pollution.

As the climate crisis worsens, more abrupt and painful measures to decrease emissions fast will become necessary, yet increasingly inadequate. Pennsylvania has a choice: wait for the decline, or manage it, benefiting workers and the environment.

ONLINE: https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/editorials/fracking-biden-climate-greenhouse-gas-methane-pennsylvania-20210426.html

___

May 3

Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier on the South Carolina Legislature’s open-carry gun bill starts bad, gets worse:

There’s probably nothing we can say at this point to convince S.C. senators who don’t already realize that it’s a bad idea to let concealed-weapon carriers start carrying their guns on their hips.

After all, they’ve heard all the arguments against it, and still they voted more than 2-to-1 last week to bypass committee and put a House-passed open-carry bill at the top of their agenda for debate as early as Tuesday.

They’ve heard from people who say they would feel threatened if they encountered someone wearing a gun, even if that person does nothing (other than wearing the gun) to threaten them. And from those who argued that having those guns visible puts everybody on edge, increasing the risk that disagreements will escalate into deadly violence.

They’ve heard from police who warn that it’ll be even tougher to distinguish the bad guys from the good guns in active-shooter situations. And more commonly, they’ll be placed in a legally precarious situation when citizens call to complain about someone walking around their neighborhood with a holstered gun – because that’s not a crime, and legally speaking, they have no more justification for questioning someone walking down the street with a gun than someone walking down the street without a gun. (Retired SLED Chief Robert Stewart warned that the bill could get a lot of permit holders killed, because carrying a handgun openly would make them target No. 1 if they were present when a crime was being committed.)

We believe the entire bill should be defeated, because there is no reason to believe that the current law violates anyone’s constitutional rights, no one has presented a good reason it’s needed, and actual conservatives don’t change things without a legitimate reason.

But even if they aren’t willing to do that, we would urge senators at least to pay attention to some other provisions of H.3094 that have gotten little attention.

The bill does allow local governments to prohibit the open carry of weapons at protests, festivals and other organized events that require a permit. But it says they can’t extend the ban for any period before or after the event, which seems dangerous given that violence associated with protests often occurs after the event officially ends.

The bill also says local governments “may not exercise the provisions of this subsection” if “a permit is not applied for and issued prior to an event” – which seems to invite people who want a fully armed protest to hold it without applying for a permit.

H.3094 also strips a provision from state law that makes it clear that state law “does not affect the authority of any county, municipality, or political subdivision to regulate the careless or negligent discharge or public brandishment of firearms, nor does it prevent the regulation of public brandishment of firearms during the times of or a demonstrated potential for insurrection, invasions, riots, or natural disasters.”

State law doesn’t even define brandish, but several local governments, including Charleston, prohibit it. So it’s not clear that police could charge someone who started waving his or her gun around in a menacing way.

Of course, the worst part of the bill is the part that isn’t in it yet: Some senators want to transform a bill that allows open carry for licensed concealed-weapons permit holders into a bill that allows everybody who isn’t legally barred from owning guns to carry those guns openly.

At least people with concealed-carry permits have passed criminal background checks and received some rudimentary training in what state law allows and doesn’t allow them to do with their guns and where they are and are not allowed to carry those guns. And the people who apply for the permits tend to be law-abiding citizens – although SLED reports that it had to deny 2,660 permits in 2020 and that it revoked 1,199 more, which means not every one with a permit is law-abiding or otherwise fit to carry a gun.

Supporters call the idea of letting everybody carry their guns openly “constitutional carry.” That’s the ultimate in trying to rewrite reality through language, because as Chief Stewart testified last week, if the U.S. Constitution gave people the right to carry their guns in public, we wouldn’t be having this debate.

Except for a small portion of the population on the extremes, no one has ever believed the Constitution allows that; the U.S. Supreme Court has never even hinted that it does. Just the opposite, in fact. (The case the high court agreed to hear last month challenges a New York law that is far more restrictive than South Carolina’s much more conservative law that was in place prior to our current concealed-carry law.)

The only reason to even consider such a radical law would be if we were backed into a corner and forced by the court to pass it, which hasn’t happened. For that matter, no one has presented another reason that would justify allowing even permit holders to carry their guns openly.

ONLINE: https://www.postandcourier.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-sc-open-carry-gun-bill-starts-bad-gets-worse-some-want-to-make-it/article_2444340e-ac2a-11eb-909a-237b315f3bf1.html

NKorea man fails in bid to halt US extradition from Malaysia

NKorea man fails in bid to halt US extradition from Malaysia

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By

Associated Press

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Malaysia’s top court ruled on Tuesday that a North Korean man can be extradited to the United States to face money laundering charges, rejecting his assertion that the U.S. charge was politically motivated.

The Federal Court refused to accept Mun Chol Myong’s arguments because it was not a trial, and agreed with a lower court that prosecutors had followed procedures, said defense lawyer Gooi Soon Seng.

Mun, who is in his 50s, has lived in Malaysia for a decade and was arrested in May 2019 after U.S. authorities requested his extradition. Malaysia’s government approved the extradition, but Mun challenged the U.S. bid.

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In his affidavit, Mun denied U.S. accusations that he was involved in supplying prohibited luxury goods from Singapore to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions while working in the city state before moving to Malaysia in 2008.

Mun denied that he laundered funds through front companies and that he issued fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to his country. He said in his affidavit that he was the victim of a “politically motivated” extradition request aimed at pressuring North Korea over its missile program.

Gooi said Mun’s family was upset with the ruling and worried that he would not be given a fair trial in the U.S. He said the U.S. didn’t seek to extradite three Singaporeans who worked in the same company with Mun and were also charged in the U.S. with money laundering. The Singaporeans were also charged in the city state for breaching U.N. trade sanctions on North Korea and were fined.

“That’s why we are saying the offense is of a political nature,” Gooi said. “He is a pawn caught in the rivalry between the U.S. and North Korea.”

S Korea, US scale back drills over virus, N Korea diplomacy

S Korea, US scale back drills over virus, N Korea diplomacy

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South Korean army K-9 self-propelled howitzers take positions during the annual exercise in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Tuesday, June 23, 2020. A South Korean activist said Tuesday hundreds of thousands of leaflets had been launched … more >

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By HYUNG-JIN KIM

Associated Press

Saturday, March 6, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – 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 Sunday.

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.

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Last year, the allies canceled their springtime drills after some of their troops were infected with the coronavirus. In recent years, the countries have also suspended or downsized many of their regular training to create more space for the now-stalled U.S.-led diplomatic drive to convince North Korea to denuclearize in return for economic and political incentives.

U.S.-South Korea drills have been a major source of animosities on the peninsula, with North Korea viewing them as invasion rehearsals and responding with its own weapons tests. In January, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged the U.S. to withdraw its hostile policy and South Korea to end drills with the U.S., warning the fate of their relations with North Korea depends on how they behave.

Some experts have said Kim may resume high-profile missile tests and raise tensions if he feels provoked by the upcoming drills, one of the two major military exercises between Seoul and Washington along with their summertime training.

The nuclear negotiations have been stalled for about two years since a February 2019 summit between Kim and then President Donald Trump collapsed due to wrangling over U.S.-led sanctions on North Korea. The government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which facilitated the early part of the U.S.-North Korea talks, has been calling for the diplomacy’s restart and greater inter-Korean ties.

A South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said that Seoul and Washington decided to “minimize” the number of troops participating in this month’s drills because of the pandemic.

The officer, who requested anonymity citing a department rule, said the allies have been staging field exercises throughout the year to maintain their readiness, rather than holding them intensively in certain periods, in an apparent reference to the spring and summer drills.

UN experts say North Korea still modernizing nuclear arsenal

UN experts say North Korea still modernizing nuclear arsenal

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends at a meeting of Central Committee of Worker’s Party of Korea in Pyongyang, North Korean, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Independent journalists were not given … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, February 8, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – U.N. experts say North Korea has modernized its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenals by flaunting United Nations sanctions and continues to seek material and technology overseas for use in these programs.

The panel of experts monitoring sanctions on the reclusive northeast Asian nation said in a report sent to Security Council members Monday that Kim Jong Un’s government has also produced fissile material — an essential ingredient for producing nuclear weapons — and maintained its nuclear facilities.

“It displayed new short-range, medium-range, submarine-launched and intercontinental ballistic missile systems at military parades,“ the experts 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.“

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The Security Council has imposed increasingly tough sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country’s official name, since its first nuclear test explosion in 2006. It has banned most of the country’s exports and severely limited its imports, trying to pressure Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

But the report’s summary, obtained by The Associated Press, makes clear North Korea remains able to evade sanctions while developing its nuclear and missile programs, illicitly import refined petroleum, access international banking channels, and carry out “malicious cyber activities.”

The arsenal of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un emerged as a major threat to the United States and its Asian allies following tests in 2017 that included a detonation of a purported thermonuclear warhead and flight tests of ICBMs that demonstrated the potential to reach American territory.

A year later, Kim initiated diplomacy with South Korea and U.S. President Donald Trump, but it derailed in 2019 when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a piecemeal deal partially surrendering its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Last year, North Korea’s already battered economy decayed further amid the COVID-19 pandemic which led Kim to close the country’s borders. That severely limited the legal and illegal transfer of goods and movement of people, according to the experts.

Now, Kim must start all over again with President Joe Biden, who previously called him a “thug” and criticized Trump for summit spectacles instead of significant nuclear reductions.

In August 2019, the panel said, North Korean cyber experts illegally raised money for the country’s weapons of mass destruction programs “with total proceeds to date estimated at up to $2 billion.”

The panel said it investigated “malicious cyber activities” by North Korea’s primary intelligence agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, which is on the U.N. sanctions blacklist. It said those actions included “the targeting of virtual assets and virtual asset service providers, and attacks on defense companies.“

The experts said they also 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 Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 last year North Korea received shipments of refined petroleum products exceeding the annual ceiling of 500,000 barrels set by the Security Council “by several times.”

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.

Under a 2017 sanctions resolution, all North Korean nationals working overseas were to be repatriated by Dec. 22, 2019. The experts said they investigated North Korean workers earning income in sub-Saharan Africa as well as information technology workers dispatched by the Munitions Industry Department.