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 launches missile as diplomat decries U.S. policy

North Korea launches missile as diplomat decries U.S. policy

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People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea’s missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. North Korea on Tuesday fired a suspected ballistic missile into … more >

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By Hyung-jin Kim

Associated Press

Monday, September 27, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired a short-range missile into the sea Tuesday at nearly the same moment its U.N. diplomat was decrying the U.S.’s “hostile policy” against it, in an apparent return to its pattern of mixing weapons displays with peace overtures to wrest outside concessions.

The launch, its third round of weapons firings this month, came only three days after North Korea repeated its offer for conditional talks with South Korea. Some experts say the latest missile launch was likely meant to test how South Korea would respond as North Korea needs Seoul to persuade Washington to ease economic sanctions and make other concessions.

In an emergency National Security Council meeting, the South Korean government expressed regret over what it called “a short-range missile launch” by the North. South Korea’s military earlier said the object fired from North Korea’s mountainous northern Jagang province flew toward the waters off the North’s eastern coast. Further details of the launch were being analyzed.

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The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launch didn’t pose an immediate threat but highlighted “the destabilizing impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program.” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said North Korea fired “what could be a ballistic missile” and that his government stepped up its vigilance and surveillance.

A ballistic missile launch would violate a U.N. Security Council ban on North Korean ballistic activities, but the council typically doesn’t impose new sanctions on North Korea for launches of short-range weapons.

The launch came after Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, reached out to Seoul twice on Friday and Saturday, saying her country was open to resuming talks and reconciliatory steps if conditions are met. She criticized Seoul for calling Pyongyang’s previous missile tests a provocation and demanded it abandon “unfair double-dealing standards” and “hostile policies.”

Her overture followed the North’s two previous rounds of missile launches this month — the first one with a newly developed cruise missile and the other with a ballistic missile fired from a train, a new launch platform. Those launches demonstrated North Korea‘s ability to attack targets in South Korea and Japan, both key U.S. allies where a total of 80,000 American troops are stationed.

Tuesday’s launch “was like testing the South Korean government to see if it would impose a double standard and call it a provocation,” said analyst Shin Beomchul with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy. He said North Korea’s status as a nuclear state would be solidified if South Korea and others fail to respond strongly.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said North Korea may have tested a new missile such as a hypersonic glide vehicle that was among an array of high-tech weapons Kim Jong Un has vowed to procure.

South Korea has called Kim Yo-jong’s openness to talks “meaningful” but urged North Korea to restore communication channels before any talks between the rivals can be arranged.

The inter-Korean communication lines have remained largely dormant for about 15 months, so restoring them could be a yardstick to assess how serious the North is about its offer. Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Tuesday North Korea remains unresponsive to South Korea’s attempts to exchange messages over the channels.

At nearly the same time as Tuesday’s launch, North Korean Ambassador Kim Song used his speech on the last day of the U.N. General Assembly’s annual high-level meeting to justify his country’s development of a “war deterrent” to defend itself against U.S. threats.

“The possible outbreak of a new war on the Korean Peninsula is contained not because of the U.S.’s mercy on the DPRK, it is because our state is growing a reliable deterrent that can control the hostile forces in an attempted military invasion,” Kim said. DPRK refers to Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name.

Kim Yo Jong’s offer of conditional talks was a response to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s renewed calls for a political declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula in a technical state of war.

The three-year conflict pitted South Korea and U.S.-led U.N. forces against North Korea and China and killed 1 million to 2 million people. In his own speech at the U.N. last week, Moon proposed the end-of-the-war declaration be signed among the two Koreas, the U.S. and China.

After the North’s launch Tuesday, Moon ordered officials to examine its latest weapons firing and previous outreach in a comprehensive manner before formulating countermeasures, according to Moon’s office.

A U.S.-led diplomatic effort aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons in return for economic and political benefits has been stalled 2½ years. U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed hopes for further talks but have also made it clear the long-term sanctions imposed on North Korea will stay in place until the North takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.

While North Korea has tested short-range weapons and vowed to continue building its nuclear arsenal, Kim Jong Un has maintained a moratorium on testing longer-range weapons capable of reaching the American homeland, an indication he wants to keep the chances for future diplomacy with the U.S. alive.

___

Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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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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.

Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, blasts Five Eyes intel-sharing pact

China’s foreign minister blasts Five Eyes intel-sharing pact

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong at Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. The foreign ministers met Wednesday for talks expected to focus on North Korea and … more >

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By Guy Taylor and Joseph Clark

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

A little-reported proposal by U.S. lawmakers to consider expanding the number of foreign nations allowed to participate in a sensitive intelligence-sharing program known as “Five Eyes” is causing a stir among American allies in Asia and pre-emptive pushback from China.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made headlines Tuesday by publicly condemning the Five Eyes program during a diplomatic visit to South Korea — one of a handful of nations that could be added to the intelligence-sharing program under the proposal floated recently in Congress.

When asked during a news conference for a reaction to the potential inclusion of South Korea, Mr. Wang took a dismissive posture, characterizing Five Eyes as an obsolete American program.

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It “is completely a product of the Cold War, it is left behind already,” the Chinese foreign minister told reporters, according to NikkeiAsia, a publication based in Japan – another of the countries that could be added to Five Eyes under the proposal at issue.

The Five Eyes partnership currently includes the U.S., Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand.

Earlier this month, the House Armed Services Committee included language in its annual defense policy bill directing the Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to look into “opportunities to expand intelligence sharing with” four additional countries — Germany, India, Japan and South Korea.

The last three of those countries are all potential Asian counterweights to China.

The “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing agreement, which was formed during World War II, signified the close relationship between the five countries, all stable Anglophone democracies that once were part of the British Empire.

Those ties became further galvanized throughout the Cold War.

“The committee recognizes the special intelligence-sharing relationship that the United States has maintained with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom (the Five Eyes) since World War II,” the bill reads. “The committee also recognizes that this community of trust did not develop overnight but that over decades these countries have developed unique ways to gather and share intelligence, and thereby strengthen the relationship.”

But the lawmakers said the changing threat landscape could propel the group’s expansion.

“The committee acknowledges that the threat landscape has vastly changed since the inception of the Five Eyes arrangement, with primary threats now emanating from China and Russia,” the bill reads. “The committee believes that, in confronting great power competition, the Five Eye countries must work closer together, as well as expand the circle of trust to other like-minded democracies.”

It is not clear whether similar language was included in the Senate version of the bill, which passed in a closed session in July.

South Korea bans Google, Apple payment monopolies

South Korea bans Google, Apple payment monopolies

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This combo of photos shows the logo for Google, top and Apple, bottom. South Korea’s National Assembly approved legislation on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, that bans app store operators such as Google and Apple from forcing developers to use their … more >

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By Associated Press –

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s National Assembly approved legislation on Tuesday that bans app store operators such as Google and Apple from forcing developers to use their in-app payment systems.

South Korea is reportedly the first country in the world to pass such a bill, which becomes law when it is signed by the president, whose party has backed the legislation.

The tech giants have faced widespread criticism over their practice of requiring app developers to use in-app purchasing systems, for which the companies receive commissions of up to 30%. They say the commissions help pay for the cost of maintaining the app markets.

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The legislation prohibits the app market operators from using their monopolies to require such payment systems, which means they must allow alternative ways to pay. It says the ban is aimed at promoting fairer competition.

The bill aims to prevent any retaliation against developers by banning the companies from imposing any unreasonable delay in approving apps.

The legislation also allows South Korean authorities to investigate the operations of app markets to uncover disputes and prevent actions that undermine fair competition.

Regulators in Europe, China and some other markets worry about the dominance of Apple, Google and other industry leaders in payments, online advertising and other fields. Chinese regulators have fined some companies for antimonopoly violations, while other governments are wrestling with how best to keep markets competitive.

The Korea Internet Corporations Association, an industry lobby group that includes South Korea’s largest internet companies including search and online shopping giant Naver, welcomed the passage of the bill, which it said would create healthier competition and give users a wider variety of content at cheaper prices.

Google said it is considering how to comply with the legislation.

“Google Play provides far more than payment processing, and our service fee helps keep Android free, giving developers the tools and global platform to access billions of consumers around the world,” it said in a statement.

“And just as it costs developers money to build an app, it costs us money to build and maintain an operating system and app store. We’ll reflect on how to comply with this law while maintaining a model that supports a high-quality operating system and app store, and we will share more in the coming weeks,” it said.

In the U.S., Apple last week announced that it had agreed to let developers of iPhone apps send emails to users about cheaper ways to pay for digital subscriptions and media.

The concession was part of a preliminary settlement of a lawsuit filed on behalf of iPhone app developers in the U.S. It also addresses an issue raised by a federal court judge who is expected to rule soon on a separate case brought by Epic Games, maker of the popular video game Fortnite.

The judge wondered why Apple couldn’t allow developers of apps like Fortnite to display a range of payment options within their apps.

Apple didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday about the South Korean legislation.

Over the past year, both Google and Apple reduced their in-app commissions from 30% to 15% for developers with less than $1 million in annual revenue – a move covering most of the apps in their respective stores. But the lower commissions don’t help the largest app makers like Epic and Spotify, which have taken their complaints around the world.

The European Union’s executive Commission has accused Apple of distorting competition by forcing developers to use its payment system as well as forbidding them from letting users know about cheaper ways to pay for subscriptions that don’t involve going through an app.

Dozens of U.S. states filed a lawsuit in July taking aim at Google’s store. Australian regulators, meanwhile, have also said they’re concerned about restrictions on in-app purchases that mean developers “have no choice” but to use Apple and Google’s own payment systems, according to an interim report into the dominance issued in April.

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.

British navy group: ‘Potential hijack’ of ship off UAE coast

British navy group: ‘Potential hijack’ of ship off UAE coast

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A ship in the Gulf of Oman may have been a hijacking target Tuesday. (AP Graphic) more >

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By Isabel Debre and Jon Gambrell

Associated Press

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The British navy warned Tuesday of a “potential hijack” of a ship off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman, without elaborating. 

The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over its tattered nuclear deal and as commercial shipping in the region has found itself in the crosshairs over it. Most recently, the U.S., the U.K. and Israel have blamed Iran for a drone attack on an oil tanker off Oman that killed two people. Iran has denied being involved. 

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations initially warned ships Tuesday that “an incident is currently underway” off the coast of Fujairah. Hours later, they said the incident was a “potential hijack.” They did not elaborate. 

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The U.S. military’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and the British Defense Ministry did not immediately return calls for comment. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident. 

Earlier, six oil tankers announced around the same time via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command,” according to MarineTraffic.com. That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer. 

“At the same time, if they are in the same vicinity and in the same place, then very rarely that happens,” said Ranjith Raja, an oil and shipping expert with data firm Refintiv. “Not all the vessels would lose their engines or their capability to steer at the same time.”

One of the vessels later began moving.

An Oman Royal Air Force Airbus C-295MPA, a maritime patrol aircraft, flew in circles for hours over the area where the ships were, according to data from FlightRadar24.com.

Apparently responding to the incident, Iran‘s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as calling the recent maritime attacks in the region “completely suspicious.” He denied that Iran was involved.

Iran‘s naval forces are ready for help and rescue in the region,” Khatibzadeh said. 

The event comes just days after a drone struck an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman, killing two crew members. The West blamed Iran for the attack, which marked the first known assault to have killed civilians in the yearslong shadow war targeting commercial vessels in the region. 

Iran denied playing any role in the incident, though Tehran and its allied militias have used similar “suicide” drones in attacks previously.

Israel, the United States and United Kingdom vowed a “collective response” to the attack, without elaborating. 

The Gulf of Oman is near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil passes. Fujairah, on the UAE’s eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew. 

Since 2019, the waters off Fujairah have seen a series of explosions and hijackings. The U.S. Navy blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers. 

Also in 2019, Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero on July 19 in the Strait of Hormuz as it was headed from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas to Dubai. The raid came after authorities in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, seized an Iranian supertanker carrying $130 million in crude oil on suspicion it was breaking European Union sanctions by taking the oil to Syria. Both vessels were later released.

In July of last year, an oil tanker sought by the U.S. over allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked off the Emirati coast, following months of tensions between Iran and the U.S. The vessel and its crew ended up in Iran, though Tehran never acknowledged the incident. 

And in January, armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops stormed a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran. While Iran insisted it stopped the ship for polluting, it came as Tehran sought to increase its leverage over Seoul ahead of negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks.

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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FILE – In this Feb. 10, 2018, file photo, Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, and North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, second right, sit next to Thomas Bach, president of … more >

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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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FILE – In this April 27, 2018, file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in for a photo inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South … more >

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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.

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.

Blackpink, BTS in Kim Jong-un’s crosshairs; K-pop smugglers killed in North Korean police state

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In this photo taken during a four-day meeting held from Feb. 8, 2021 until Feb. 11, 2021 and provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends at a meeting of Central Committee of Worker’s Party … more >

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By Douglas Ernst

The Washington Times

Friday, June 11, 2021

Listening to Blackpink, BTS, SHINee or Exo is punishable by death thanks to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s newly declared war on K-pop.

Documents leaked from the North Korean police state reveal a new obsession by Kim to control the flow of “perverse” music deemed a “vicious cancer” on the population.

“Young North Koreans think they owe nothing to Kim Jong-un,” said Jung Gwang-il, a defector from the North who runs a network that smuggles the K-pop into North Korea, The New York Times reported Friday. 

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The law, instituted in December, comes with 15 years of hard labor for those convicted of watching or possessing South Korean content.

One smuggler of the popular music, which often generates videos with over 1 billion views on YouTube globally, was killed by a firing squad in May.

“To Kim Jong-un, the cultural invasion from South Korea has gone beyond a tolerable level,” said Jiro Ishimaru, chief editor of Asia Press International, the Times added. “If this is left unchecked, he fears that his people might start considering the South an alternative Korea to replace the North.”

The internal North Korean files also reveal failed efforts to get citizens to rat out their neighbors to authorities.

“The phenomenon of distributing impure publications and propaganda is not disappearing, but continuing,” the documents read.

North accuses U.S. of hostility for South Korean missile decision

North accuses U.S. of hostility for South Korean missile decision

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By Hyung-jin Kim

Associated Press

Sunday, May 30, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea said Monday the U.S. allowing South Korea to build more powerful missiles was an example of the U.S.’s hostile policy against the North, warning that it could lead to an “acute and instable situation” on the Korean Peninsula.

It’s North Korea’s first response to the May 21 summit between the leaders of the United States and South Korea, during which the U.S. ended decades-long restrictions that capped South Korea’s missile development and allowed its ally to develop weapons with unlimited ranges.

The accusation of U.S. policy being hostile to North Korea would matter because it said it won’t return to talks as long as U.S. hostility persists. But the latest statement was still attributed to an individual commentator, not a government body, suggesting North Korea may still want to leave room for potential diplomacy with the Biden administration.

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“The termination step is a stark reminder of the U.S. hostile policy toward (North Korea) and its shameful double-dealing,” Kim Myong-chol, an international affairs critic, said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

“The U.S. is mistaken, however. It is a serious blunder for it to pressurize (North Korea) by creating asymmetric imbalance in and around the Korean peninsula as this may lead to the acute and instable situation on the Korean peninsula now technically at war,” he said.

The United States had previously barred South Korea from developing a missile with a range of longer than 800 kilometers (500 miles) out of concerns about a regional arms race. The range is enough for a South Korean weapon to strike all of North Korea but is short of hitting other neighbors like China and Japan.

Some South Korean observers hailed the end of the restrictions as restoring military sovereignty, but others suspected the U.S. intent was to boost its ally’s military capability amid a rivalry with China.

“The U.S. act of giving free “missile” rein to south Korea is all meant to spark off arms race on the Korean peninsula and in its surrounding areas and check the development of (North Korea),” the commentator Kim said.

The North Korean reaction comes as the Biden administration shapes a new approach on North Korea amid long-dormant talks over the North’s nuclear program. During their summit, Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the U.S. review “takes a calibrated and practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy” with North Korea.

The North Korean statement criticized the Biden administration‘s review indirectly, saying the new policy was viewed by other countries “as just trickery.”

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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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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In this March 13, 2013 photo, Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, new Commanding General of the 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson to LaCamera is photographed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo. Preparing for peace is a major shift for … more >

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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.

South Korea health agency: One dose of Pfizer, AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine highly effective

South Korea health agency: One dose of Pfizer, AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine highly effective

Officials say two doses still needed to maximize protection

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

A single dose of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca was highly effective in staving off infection among people aged 60 and older, South Korea said Wednesday, adding to the bank of data that show the shots are working in the real world.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said people who received the Pfizer vaccine were 89.7% protected two weeks after the first dose, while the first dose of AstraZeneca was 86.0% effective.

The analysis covered 3.5 million residents 60 and older, including 521,133 people who received one dose of either vaccine. Only 29 out of 1,237 COVID-19 cases were from the vaccinated group, according to Reuters.

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“Around 95 percent of people who died from the coronavirus in our country were senior citizens aged 60 or older, and the vaccines will sharply lower risks for those people,” Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho said, according to the wire service.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week said seniors fully vaccinated by COVID-19 shots from Pfizer or Moderna were 94% less likely to land in the hospital from the virus than people over age 65 who were not immunized. 

The agency said people who were “partially vaccinated” were 64% less likely to be hospitalized.

Recent U.S. data show 8% of people aren’t showing up for their second shot in the U.S.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health says it is important for people to return for the second appointment to ensure maximum protection against the disease and thwart aggressive variants that are circulating.

Likewise, South Korean officials on Wednesday urged people to complete the two-dose course of the vaccines despite the robust protection offered by the first dose.

NKorea warns US of ‘very grave situation’ over Biden speech

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a closing speech at the Sixth Conference of Cell Secretaries of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, April 8, 2021. (Korean … more >

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By Hyung-Jim Kim

Associated Press

Saturday, May 1, 2021

SEOUL, South KoreaNorth Korea on Sunday warned the United States will face “a very grave situation” because President Biden “made a big blunder” in his recent speech by calling the North a security threat and revealing his intent to maintain a hostile policy against it.

Last week, Mr. Biden, in his first address to Congress, called North Korea and Iran’s nuclear programs “serious threats” to American and world security and said he’ll work with allies to address those problems through diplomacy and stern deterrence.

“His statement clearly reflects his intent to keep enforcing the hostile policy toward the DPRK as it had been done by the U.S. for over half a century,” Kwon Jong Gun, a senior North Korean Foreign Ministry official, said in a statement. DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

SEE ALSO: Biden’s foreign policy marked by quick reassurances, early stumbles

“It is certain that the U.S. chief executive made a big blunder in the light of the present-day viewpoint,” Mr. Kwon said. “Now that the keynote of the U.S. new DPRK policy has become clear, we will be compelled to press for corresponding measures, and with time the U.S. will find itself in a very grave situation.”

Mr. Kwon still didn’t specify what steps North Korea would take, and his statement could be seen as an effort to apply pressure on the Biden administration as it’s shaping up its North Korea policy.

The White House said Friday administration officials had completed a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, saying Mr. Biden plans to veer from the approaches of his two most recent predecessors as he tries to stop North Korea’s nuclear program.

Press secretary Jen Psaki did not detail the findings of the review, but suggested the administration would seek a middle ground between Donald Trump’s “grand bargain” and Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” approaches.

Kwon’s statement didn’t mention Ms. Psaki’s comments.

After a series of high-profile nuclear and missile tests in 2016-17, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un launched summit diplomacy with Trump on the future of his growing nuclear arsenal. But that diplomacy remains stalled for about two years over differences in how much sanctions relief North Korea could win in return for limited denuclearization steps.

In January, Mr. Kim threatened to enlarge his nuclear arsenal and build more high-tech weapons targeting the U.S. mainland, saying the fate of bilateral ties would depend on whether it abandons its hostile policy. In March, he conducted short-range ballistic missile tests for the first time in a year, though he still maintains a moratorium on bigger weapons launches.

“If Pyongyang agrees to working-level talks, the starting point of negotiations would be a freeze of North Korean testing and development of nuclear capabilities and delivery systems,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said. “If, on the other hand, Kim shuns diplomacy and opts for provocative tests, Washington will likely expand sanctions enforcement and military exercises with allies.”

Also Sunday, an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman vowed a strong, separate response to a recent State Department statement that it would push to promote “accountability for the Kim regime” over its “egregious human rights situation.” He called the statement a preparation for an “all-out showdown with us.”

Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo Jong, also slammed South Korea over anti-Pyongyang leaflets floated across the border by a group of North Korean defectors in the South. The group’s leader, Park Sang-hak, said Friday he sent 500,000 leaflets by balloon last week, in defiance of a new, contentious South Korean law that criminalizes such action.

“We regard the maneuvers committed by the human waste in the South as a serious provocation against our state and will look into corresponding action,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement.

She accused the South Korean government of “winking at” the leaflets. Seoul’s Unification Ministry responded later Sunday saying it opposes any act that creates tensions on the Korean Peninsula and it will strive to achieve better ties with North Korea.

Mr. Easley said the North Korean statements by Kwon and Kim Yo Jong show that “Pyongyang is trying to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States” ahead of the May 21 summit between Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

China mutes reaction to Zhao’s Oscars as South Korea lauds Youn

China mutes reaction to Zhao’s Oscars as South Korea lauds Youn

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Director/Producer Chloe Zhao, winner of the award for best picture for "Nomadland," poses in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, Pool) more >

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By Huizhong Wu

Associated Press

Monday, April 26, 2021

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Chloé Zhao’s history-making Oscars sweep, winning best director and best picture, is being met with a muted response in her country of birth, and even censorship.

Zhao’s “Nomadland” is the second film directed by a woman to win a best picture Oscar. She is the first woman of color and second woman ever to win the Oscars for best director.

Yet, in China, where Zhao was born, her history-making success has not been trumpeted or celebrated. State media in China remained silent as of Monday afternoon, with no mention of her win by either CCTV and Xinhua, the two main state-run outlets.

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Instead, there was even censorship. A post announcing Zhao’s directing win by film magazine Watch Movies, which has over 14 million followers on the ubiquitous Weibo microblog, was censored a few hours after it appeared Monday morning. A hashtag called “Chloe Zhao wins Best Director” was also censored on the platform with users coming across an error message saying, “according to relevant laws and regulations and policies, the page is not found.”

Some users resorting to using “zt” to post about Zhao, using the initials of her full name in Chinese, Zhou Ting. Typing in Zhou’s name in Chinese on Weibo brought up only unrelated posts from the beginning of April. A search for “Oscars” showed only official posts from the South Korean and U.S. embassies.

Douban, an app popular with film buffs, banned searches for “Nomadland” and “Zhao Ting” saying that “the search results could not be displayed in accordance to relevant laws and regulations.” Multiple discussion threads about Zhao’s win were deleted on the app as well. A news article on WeChat, the largest messaging app in the country, was also deleted.

Still, the news of her wins spread onto the Chinese internet, with individual web users and bloggers cheering Zhao. Many took note of her acceptance speech, in which Zhao quoted a line from a poem written in the 13th century that she, like many other Chinese children, had memorized as a child, which translates as, “People are good at birth.”

In stark contrast, South Korea’s Youn Yuh-jung, who won over audiences playing the grandmother in “Minari” could still be searched on the Chinese internet. Youn nabbed best supporting actress award, becoming the first Korean performer to win an Oscar.

And in Youn’s home of South Korea, “Actor Youn Yuh-jung” topped Twitter’s trending list while other South Korean celebrities quickly offered their congratulations. Lee Byung-hun, a South Korean actor known abroad for his role as “Storm Shadow” on the “G.I. Joe” series, posted a photo of Youn clutching an Oscar trophy. “Impossible is just an opinion,” he wrote on the post. Bae Doona from the acclaimed Netflix series “Kingdom” and a well-known South Korean actor Kim Hye-soo also congratulated Youn on their social media accounts.

Zhao faced a nationalist backlash in March when she won a Golden Globe for best director, with internet users in China questioning whether she could be called Chinese and some saying she had insulted her home country in comments on the political system. China’s press, television and social media are tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party, either directly or through self-censorship, and online criticism can frequently result in calls for boycotts of entertainers or name brands.

Before the backlash in March, the film was slated for an April 23 release in China according to local media, but it did not open last week and there was no official word on a release. Employees at two cinemas in Beijing said they did not know of any upcoming showings of the film.

Offline, however, some celebrated Zhao’s win and offered congratulations.

“Wow that’s incredible-winning a world’s top award as a Chinese person,” said Zhou Lu, 35, who worked at a publisher in Beijing. She said she had not heard of Zhao before, however, but would plan to watch the film.

Others pointed out that the nationalism should not have a place in the discussion about the film.

“Her win is deserved, and it has nothing to do with her country or her ethnicity,” said Victory Dong, a 19-year-old college student who uses Douban.

But Dong did not feel any particular connection with Zhao just based on her country of birth. “She is a global citizen, I am not.”

AP Entertainment Writer Juwon Park in Seoul, South Korea, and AP news assistant Caroline Chen in Beijing contributed to this report.

Russia scores points with vaccine diplomacy, but snags arise

Russia scores points with vaccine diplomacy, but snags arise

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FILE – In this Aug. 6, 2020, file photo provided by Russian Direct Investment Fund, an employee works with a coronavirus vaccine at the Nikolai Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, Russia. Russia’s boast in August that … more >

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By DARIA LITVINOVA

Associated Press

Sunday, March 7, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia‘s boast in August that it was the first country to authorize a coronavirus vaccine led to skepticism at the time because of its insufficient testing. Six months later, as demand for the Sputnik V vaccine grows, experts are raising questions again – this time, over whether Moscow can keep up with all the orders from the countries that want it.

Slovakia got 200,000 doses on March 1, even though the European Medicines Agency, the European Union’s pharmaceutical regulator, only began reviewing its use on Thursday in an expedited process. The president of the hard-hit Czech Republic said he wrote directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin to get a supply. Millions of doses are expected by countries in Latin America, Africa, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East in a wave of Russian vaccine diplomacy.

“Sputnik V continues to confidently conquer Europe,” anchor Olga Skabeyeva declared on the Russia-1 state TV channel.

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Dmitry Kiselev, the network’s top pro-Kremlin anchor, heaped on the hyperbole last month, blustering: “The Russian coronavirus vaccine, Sputnik V, is the best in the world.”

State TV channels have covered vaccine exports extensively, citing praise from abroad for Russia and running segments about the difficulties countries are having with Western vaccines.

The early criticism of Sputnik V has been blunted by a report in the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet that said large-scale testing showed it to be safe, with an efficacy rate of 91% against the virus.

That could help revamp Russia‘s image to one of a scientific, technological and benevolent power, especially as other countries encounter shortages of COVID-19 vaccines because richer nations are scooping up the Western-made versions or manufacturers struggle with limited production capacity.

“The fact that Russia is among five countries that were able to quickly develop a vaccine … allows Moscow to present itself as a high-tech power of knowledge rather than a petrol pump in decline,” said foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov.

Some experts say boosting the use of vaccines from China and Russia – which have not been as popular as those from the West – could offer a quicker way to increase the global supply. Others note that Russia wants to score geopolitical points.

“Putin is using (the vaccine) to bolster a very tarnished image of Russia’s scientific and technological prowess,” said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University professor and director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law. “He’s using it for geostrategic purposes in areas where Russia would like to have spheres of influence.”

Whether Russia can deliver is another question. China has supplied millions of doses to other countries, but the output of Sputnik V appears for now to be far lower than the demand.

“They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in terms of this vaccine actually being a viable, marketable product,” said Judy Twigg, a political science professor specializing in global health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “They’ve made all of these explicit and implicit promises to people inside and outside Russia about access to this product that now is unexpectedly great. And now they’re stuck trying, scrambling, trying to figure out how to deliver on all those promises.”

Russia also must take care of its own. Authorities have announced plans to vaccinate 60% of adults, or roughly 68 million people, by the end of June.

The domestic rollout in Russia has been slow, compared with other nations, with about 4 million people, or less than 3% of the population, vaccinated as of late February. Some of that could also be due to widespread reluctance among Russians to trust vaccines.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which bankrolled and markets the vaccine abroad, has not responded to a request for comment on how many doses are going to other countries. It said earlier that it has received requests for 2.4 billion doses from over 50 nations.

Airfinity, a London-based science analytics company, estimates that Russia agreed to supply about 392 million doses abroad, and there are talks with countries for at least another 356 million.

Judging by production and exports so far, “Russia is very far from being able to deliver this,” said Airfinity CEO and founder Rasmus Hansen.

Russia manufactured just over 2 million doses last year amid reports of local producers having problems with buying equipment and making the second component of the two-shot vaccine.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Feb. 20 that over 10 million doses of Sputnik V have been produced.

Sputnik V is a viral vector vaccine, which uses a harmless virus that carries genetic material to stimulate the immune system. Producing it is a complicated process, said Elena Subbotina, a consultant with the pharma consultancy CBPartners’ Central and Eastern Europe Team. Producers can’t guarantee stable output because working with biological ingredients involves a lot of variability in terms of the quality of the finished product.

Some countries that have been offered large batches of Sputnik V have yet to approve it for use.

In India, which has been pledged 125 million doses, the vaccine is undergoing studies to determine if it produces a comparable immune response. Brazil’s health ministry said it is negotiating to purchase 10 million doses, but the nation’s regulatory agency has yet to authorize its use. Nepal, which has been offered 25 million doses, also hasn’t given its approval.

Other countries have had delays in receiving Sputnik V shipments.

Argentina got nearly 2.5 million doses by March 1, even though at one point the government was expecting 5 million in January and over 14 million more in February. Officials in Hungary, who agreed to buy 2 million doses over three months, said Jan. 22 they were expecting 600,000 doses in the first 30 days, but got only 325,600 by early March. Mexico signed a deal for 24 million doses and was hoping to receive 400,000 in February but got only 200,000.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund has agreements with manufacturers in countries including Brazil, South Korea and India to boost production, but there are few indications that manufacturers abroad have made any large amounts of the vaccine so far.

The Brazilian company Uniao Quimica is in the pilot testing phase, the results of which will be shared with Russia before the company can produce it for sale. Indian drugmaker Hetero Biopharma, with a deal to make 100 million doses, was to begin production at the start of 2021, but it isn’t clear if it has actually started.

South Korean company GL Rapha, which expects to make 150 million doses this year, will be manufacturing finished products by sometime in March, said company official Kim Gi-young.

Russia so far hasn’t faced any criticism for delaying supplies of Sputnik V to other countries, with foreign officials optimistic about the deals.

Hungary is still awaiting large shipments, but expressed optimism about receiving them.

“The Russian side, with minimal delay, will meet the 600,000 doses agreed to in the first phase, and then the additional 1.4 million doses,” Hungary’s State Secretary Tamas Menczer said last month. Prime Minister Viktor Orban added Friday: “The Russians are pretty much keeping their promises.”

Promising more than can be delivered appears to be a universal problem with coronavirus vaccines, and it is a real risk for Russia as well, said Theresa Fallon, director of the Brussels-based Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies.

“They have won the gold medal for creating this very effective vaccine,” she said. “But the problem is, how are they going to implement it?”

—-

Associated Press writers Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi, India; David Biller in Rio de Janeiro; Almudena Calatrava in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Justin Spike and Bela Szandelszky in Budapest, Hungary; and Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed.

Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at:

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Kim lays blame at officials for N. Korea’s economic failures

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In this photo taken during a four-day meeting held from Feb. 8, 2021 until Feb. 11, 2021 and provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends at a meeting of Central Committee of Worker’s Party … more >

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By KIM TONG-HYUNG

Associated Press

Thursday, February 11, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ripped into the performance of his Cabinet and fired a senior economic official he appointed a month ago, saying they’d failed to come up with new ideas to salvage an economy in decay.

The report by state media on Friday comes during the toughest period of Kim’s nine-year rule. The diplomacy he had hoped would lift U.S.-led sanctions over his nuclear program is stalemated, and pandemic border closures and crop-killing natural disasters last year deepened the damage to an economy broken by decades of policy failures, including a crippling famine in the 1990s.

The border closure caused trade volume with China, the main source of support for North Korea‘s economy, to drop by 75% in the first 10 months of the year. Raw materials shortages caused factory output to plunge to its lowest level since Kim took power in 2011, and prices of imported foods like sugar quadrupled, according to South Korea’s spy agency.

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Some analysts say the current challenges may set up conditions for an economic perfect storm in the North that destabilizes markets and triggers public panic and unrest.

The current challenges have forced Kim to publicly admit that past economic plans hadn’t succeeded. A new five-year plan to develop the economy was issued during the ruling Workers’ Party congress in January, but Kim’s comments during the party’s Central Committee meeting that ended Thursday were rich with frustration over how the plans have been executed so far.

During Thursday’s session, Kim lamented that the Cabinet was failing in its role as the key institution managing the economy, saying it was producing unworkable plans while displaying no “innovative viewpoint and clear tactics.”

He said the Cabinet’s targets for agricultural production this year were set unrealistically high, considering limited supplies of farming materials and other unfavorable conditions. Targets for electricity production were set too low, he said, showing a lack of urgency when shortages could stall work at coal mines and other industries.

“The Cabinet failed to play a leading role in mapping out plans of key economic fields and almost mechanically brought together the numbers drafted by the ministries,” the KCNA paraphrased Kim as saying.

The KCNA also said that O Su Yong was named as the new director of the Central Committee’s Department of Economic Affairs during this week’s meeting, replacing Kim Tu Il who was appointed in January.

During the January party congress, Kim Jong Un called for reasserting greater state control over the economy, boosting harvests and prioritizing the development of chemicals and metal industries. He also vowed all-out efforts to bolster his nuclear weapons program in comments that were seen as an attempt to pressure the new Biden administration.

To truly revive the economy, analysts say, the country needs to invest heavily in modern factory equipment and technology, and to either import more food or improve farm productivity: a U.N. assessment in 2019 found that 10.1 million people, or 40% of the population, were food insecure and in urgent need of assistance. The border closure has hindered updates on the situation, but output of staple grains had plateaued since surging a few years ago, when farmers were allowed to retain more of their harvests instead of handing them entirely over to the government.

The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that nearly half of North Koreans are undernourished.

The metal and chemical industries are crucial for revitalizing stalling manufacturing, which has been decimated by U.N. sanctions and disrupted imports of factory materials amid the pandemic. However, most experts agree that North Korea’s new development plans aren’t meaningfully different from its previous ones that lacked in substance.

South Korean intelligence officials say there are also signs that the North is taking dramatic steps to strengthen government control over markets, including suppressing the use of U.S. dollars and other foreign currencies.

Such efforts might compel people to exchange their foreign currency savings for the North Korean won. They demonstrate the government’s sense of urgency over its depleting foreign currency reserves, analysts say.

Google says North Korea-backed hackers sought cyber research

Google says North Korea-backed hackers sought cyber research

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In this April 24, 2018, file photo, a North Korean flag flutters in the wind atop a 160-meter tower in North Korea’s village Gijungdong as seen from the Taesungdong freedom village inside the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea. (AP … more >

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By Kim Tong-hyung

Associated Press

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Google says it believes hackers backed by the North Korean government have been posing as computer security bloggers and using fake accounts on social media while attempting to steal information from researchers in the field.

Google didn’t specify how successful the hackers were or what kind of information could have been compromised. Experts say the attacks reflect North Korean efforts to improve its cyber skills and be able to breach widely used computer products, such as Google’s Chrome internet browser and Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system.

While the country has denied involvement, North Korea has been linked to major cyberattacks, including a 2013 campaign that paralyzed the servers of South Korean financial institutions, the 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures, and the WannaCry malware attack of 2017.

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The U.N. Security Council in 2019 estimated North Korea earned as much as $2 billion over several years through illicit cyber operations targeting cryptocurrency exchanges and other financial transactions, generating income that is harder to trace and offsets capital lost to U.S.-led economic sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

Adam Weidemann, a researcher from Google’s Threat Analysis Group, said in the online report published late Monday that hackers supposedly backed by North Korea created a fake research blog and multiple Twitter profiles to build credibility and interact with the security researchers they targeted.

After connecting with researchers, the hackers would ask them if they wanted to collaborate on cyber-vulnerability research and share a tool that contained a code designed to install malicious software on the targets’ computers, which would then allow the hackers to take control of the device and steal information from it.

Several targeted researchers were compromised after following a Twitter link to a blog set up by the hackers, Weidemann said.

“At the time of these visits, the victim systems were running fully patched and up-to-date Windows 10 and Chrome browser versions,” Weidemann wrote. “At this time we’re unable to confirm the mechanism of compromise, but we welcome any information others might have.”

Google published a list of social media accounts and websites it said were controlled by the hackers, including 10 Twitter profiles and five LinkedIn profiles.

Simon Choi, a senior analyst at NSHC, a South Korean computer security firm, said cyberattacks linked to North Korea over the past few years have demonstrated an improving ability in identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities in computer security systems. Before 2016, the North Koreans had mainly relied on methods used by Chinese or Russian hackers, he said.

“It’s notable that the computer security experts on Twitter who said they were approached by the hackers had been engaged in vulnerability research for Chrome and Windows 10,” Choi said.

“It’s that not easy to successfully penetrate these systems that are built with the latest security technologies. For the North Koreans, it makes more sense to steal the vulnerabilities already discovered by the researchers because developing their own ways to exploit these systems is harder.”

In 2018, U.S. federal prosecutors charged a computer programmer working for the North Korean government for his alleged involvement in the cyberattacks that hacked Sony Pictures and unleashed the WannaCry ransomware virus. Park Jin Hyok, who is believed to be in North Korea, conspired to conduct attacks that also stole $81 million from Bangladesh’s central bank, according to the charges.

The 2014 Sony hack led to the release of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files. The WannaCry cyberattack in 2017 scrambled data on hundreds of thousands of computers at government agencies, banks and other businesses across the globe and crippled parts of the British health care system.

After Trump setbacks, Kim Jong Un starts over with Biden

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FILE – This Jan. 14, 2021, file photo provided by the North Korean government shows missiles during a military parade marking the ruling party congress, at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea. Last year was a disaster for … more >

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By KIM TONG-HYUNG

Associated Press

Friday, January 22, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Last year was a disaster for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

He helplessly watched his country’s already battered economy decay further amid pandemic border closures while brooding over the collapse of made-for-TV summits with former President Donald Trump that failed to lift crippling sanctions from his country.

Now he must start all over again with President Joe Biden, who has previously called Kim a “thug” and accused Trump of chasing spectacles instead of meaningful reductions of Kim’s nuclear arsenal.

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While Kim has vowed to strengthen his nuclear weapons program in recent political speeches, he also tried to give Biden an opening by saying that the fate of their relations depends on whether Washington discards what he calls hostile U.S. policies.

It’s unclear how patient Kim will be. North Korea has a history of testing new U.S. administrations with missile launches and other provocations aimed at forcing the Americans back to the negotiating table.

In recent military parades in Pyongyang, Kim showcased new weapons he may test, including solid-fuel ballistic systems designed to be fired from vehicles and submarines, and the North’s biggest intercontinental ballistic missile.

A revival of tensions would force the U.S. and South Korea to reckon more deeply with the possibility that Kim may never voluntarily deal away the weapons he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.

Kim’s arsenal 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 deep into the American homeland.

A year later, Kim initiated diplomacy with South Korea and the U.S., 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 capabilities.

North Korea won’t likely be the top priority for Biden, who while facing mounting domestic issues is also gearing up for a push to get back into a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that Trump blew up in favor of what he called maximum pressure against Iran.

The Biden administration’s “sequence of policy attention will likely be: Get America’s own house in order, strengthen U.S. alliances and align strategies toward China and Russia, and then address Iran and North Korea,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

But North Korea never likes to be ignored.

Although Biden served as vice president under Barack Obama, whose policy was to wait out North Korea while gradually increasing sanctions, that method might not work because the North’s weapons capabilities have grown significantly in the years since.

While sanctions, border closures and crop-killing natural disasters have created the toughest challenges of Kim’s nine-year rule, he won’t be in a hurry to offer concessions, Easley said. Kim’s government has a high tolerance for domestic suffering and could expect extensive help from China, its only major ally.

North Korea’s first provocation under the Biden administration could possibly be related to submarine-launched ballistic systems, which Kim showcased in recent parades.

Kim’s ambitions for longer-range ICBMs and reconnaissance satellites that he expressed during the ruling party congress this month could lead to a space launch that would double as a test of long-range missile technology. That would be reminiscent of a 2009 launch that took place weeks into Obama’s first term.

″(The North) is capable of conducting tests that the U.S. and its allies cannot ignore,” Easley said. “Kim is likely to exploit this.”

The North Korean leader is trying to move the diplomacy toward an arms reduction negotiation between nuclear states, rather than talks that would culminate in a full surrender of his weapons, according to Shin Beomchul, an analyst with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.

But North Korea probably won’t test weapons until after Biden’s State of the Union address in February, where he could set the tone of his policy toward the North, Shin said. Kim may also want to see whether the United States and South Korea proceed with a major joint military exercise expected in March.

Although the allies have described their annual exercises as defensive in nature and downsized much of their combined training activity under Trump to make space for diplomacy, North Korea has called for a full stoppage of the drills, describing them as invasion rehearsals and proof of U.S. hostility.

“The North during the party congress has made clear it has no intentions of budging first, but it is also interested in hearing what the United States has to say,” said Shin, who served as a South Korean diplomat during the Obama years.

Biden will not inherit Trump’s top-down diplomacy, but you could expect him to be more flexible about working-level negotiations, offering to talk with the North Koreans at any time and place and about anything,” he said.

Shin expects Biden to eventually pursue a deal with North Korea that resembles the agreement with Iran that Trump pulled out of in 2018. It could provide North Korea some level of compensation for freezing its nuclear and missile capabilities at their current level.

While the United States won’t likely give up its long-term commitment to denuclearizing North Korea, rolling back the country’s nuclear capabilities to zero is not a realistic near-term diplomatic goal, he said.

But an Iran-style deal might not work with North Korea, which has much more advanced weapons and is unlikely to accept the monitoring steps baked into the Iran deal, said Park Won-gon, a professor at South Korea’s Handong University.

One thing is clear, though, Park said: If North Korea tests its weapons, Biden will dial up sanctions that will continue to push Kim’s economy to the brink.

SKorean court gives Samsung scion prison term over bribery

South Korean court gives Samsung scion prison term over bribery

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Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong arrives at the Seoul High Court in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. South Korean court sentences Lee to 2 and a half years in prison over corruption case. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man) more >

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By Kim Tong-hyung

Associated Press

Monday, January 18, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong was sent back to prison on Monday after a South Korean court handed him a two and a half-year sentence for his involvement in a 2016 corruption scandal that spurred massive protests and ousted South Korea’s then-president.

In a much-anticipated retrial, the Seoul High Court found Lee guilty of bribing then-President Park Geun-hye and her close confidante to win government support for a 2015 merger between two Samsung affiliates. The deal helped strengthen his control over the country’s largest business group.

Lee’s lawyers had portrayed him as a victim of presidential power abuse and described the 2015 deal as part of “normal business activity.”

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Wearing a mask and black suit and tie, Lee was taken into custody following the ruling. He didn’t answer questions by reporters upon his arrival at the court.

Injae Lee, an attorney who leads Lee Jae-yong’s defense team, expressed regret over the court’s decision, saying that the “essence of the case is that a former president abused power to infringe upon the freedom and property rights of a private company.”

He didn’t specifically say whether there would be an appeal. Samsung didn’t issue a statement over the ruling.

Lee Jae-yong helms the Samsung group in his capacity as vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, one of the world’s largest makers of computer chips and smartphones.

In September last year, prosecutors separately indicted Lee on charges of stock price manipulation, breach of trust and auditing violations related to the 2015 merger.

It isn’t immediately clear what his prison term would mean for Samsung. Samsung didn’t show much signs of trouble during the previous time Lee spent in jail in 2017 and 2018, and prison terms have never really stopped South Korean corporate leaders from relaying their management decisions from behind bars.

Samsung is coming off a robust business year, with its dual strength in parts and finished products enabling it to benefit from the coronavirus pandemic and the prolonged trade war between United States and China.

Samsung’s semiconductor business rebounded sharply after a sluggish 2019, driven by robust demand for PCs and servers as virus outbreaks forced millions of people to stay and work at home.

The Trump administration’s sanctions against China’s Huawei Technologies have meanwhile hindered one of Samsung’s biggest rivals in smartphones, smartphone chips and telecommunications equipment.

Samsung Electronics said earlier this month that its operating profit for the last quarter likely rose by 26% from the same period a year earlier to 9 trillion won ($8.1 billion). The company will release its finalized earnings later this month.

Lee, 52, was originally sentenced in 2017 to five years in prison for offering 8.6 billion won ($7 million) in bribes to Park and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. But he was freed after 11 months in February 2018 after the Seoul High Court reduced his term to 2½ years and suspended his sentence, overturning key convictions and reducing the amount of his bribes.

The Supreme Court last week confirmed a 20-year prison sentence for Park, who was convicted of colluding with Choi to take millions of dollars in bribes and extortion money from some of the country’s largest business groups, including Samsung, while she was in office from 2013 to 2016.

The ruling meant that Park, who also has a separate conviction for illegally meddling in her party’s candidate nominations ahead of 2016 parliamentary elections, could potentially serve 22 years behind bars until 2039, when she would be 87.

Choi is serving an 18-year prison sentence.

In a news conference Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he has no immediate plans to grant presidential pardons to Park and another imprisoned former president, Lee Myung-bak, who’s serving a 17-year term for corruption.

Conservative politicians and some members of Moon’s liberal party have endorsed the idea of pardoning the former presidents for the sake of “national unity” as the country’s deeply split electorate approaches presidential elections in March 2022.

Iran holds missile drill in Gulf of Oman amid tensions

Iran holds missile drill in Gulf of Oman amid tensions

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This photo released on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 by the Iranian Army, shows Iran-made warship Makran prior to be joined to the Navy, in Iran. Iran’s navy was poised to begin a short-range missile drill in the Gulf of Oman … more >

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By NASSER KARIMI

Associated Press

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s navy began a short-range missile drill in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday and inaugurated its largest military vessel, state TV reported, amid heightened tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program and a U.S. pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic.

The two-day missile drill was being held in the gulf’s southeastern waters and two new Iranian-made warships joined the exercise: The missile-launching Zereh, or “armor,” and the country’s largest military ship the Makran, a logistics vessel with a helicopter pad named for a coastal region in southern Iran.

President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s nuclear deal, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Trump cited Iran’s ballistic missile program among other issues in withdrawing from the accord.

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When the U.S. then ramped up sanctions, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development as a series of escalating incidents pushed the two countries to the brink of war at the beginning of the year.

In recent weeks, Iran has increased its military drills. On Saturday, the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard held a naval parade in the Persian Gulf and a week earlier Iran held a massive drone maneuver across half the country.

Iran on occasion announces military achievements that cannot be independently verified. The country began a military sufficiency program in 1992 under which Tehran says it produces mortars to fighter jets.

State TV said the 121,000-metric ton Makran is Iran’s largest military ship at 228 meters (748 feet) long, 42 meters (138 feet) wide and 21.5 meters (70 feet) tall. The Makran, a logistics ship that supports combat ships in the fleet, can travel for nearly three years without docking and carries information collection and processing gear.

Video footage released by the military showed helicopters carrying commandos to the Makran as part of the exercise.

Last week, Iran seized a South Korean oil tanker and its crew members in the Gulf, and continues to hold the vessel at an Iranian port. The Islamic Republic has apparently sought to increase its leverage over Seoul ahead of negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks tied to U.S. sanctions on Iran.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of having secret ties with the militant al-Qaida network and imposed new sanctions on several senior Iranian officials. Iran has denied the accusation.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday said in a televised speech during a Cabinet meeting that U.S. sanctions will fail. “We are witnessing the failure of a policy, the maximum pressure campaign, economic terrorism,” he said.

Kim Jong-un threatens Joe Biden with expanded nuclear program

North Korea issues threat to U.S. as message to Biden

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, attends the ruling party congress in Pyongyang, North Korean, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Sunday, January 10, 2021

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is marking the impending end of the Trump administration early by leveling a major threat to expand Pyongyang‘s nuclear weapons and missile programs unless the incoming Biden administration dials back America’s “hostile” policy toward North Korea.

In a warning that has not yet drawn a response from President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Mr. Kim made global headlines Friday by declaring that the U.S. remains his country’s “biggest enemy,” despite the three meetings he had with President Trump, whose outreach to the young dictator ultimately failed to deliver a breakthrough denuclearization deal.

Mr. Kim made the statement on his 37th birthday in a speech to his regime’s ruling Workers’ Party Congress. At a gathering in Pyongyang last week, he sowed uncertainty over how U.S. policy toward North Korea will look under Mr. Biden, who once called Mr. Kim a “thug” and has criticized Mr. Trump’s summits with the dictator.

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Based on his history and his campaign rhetoric, Mr. Biden is unlikely to pursue the kinds of high-stakes direct meetings with Mr. Kim that Mr. Trump favored. The incoming president is instead expected to return to the policy of “strategic patience” embraced during the final years of the George W. Bush administration and throughout the Obama era, when Mr. Biden was vice president.

The approach will likely revolve around efforts to continue isolating Pyongyang through U.S. and United Nations sanctions while taking care to avoid rewarding the Kim regime with any major diplomatic overtures. But some fear Mr. Kim is likely to test the new administration, perhaps with a nuclear or long-range ballistic missile test.

Such concerns have been underscored during recent days by Mr. Kim‘s Workers’ Party speech, declaring that North Korea “need[s] to strengthen [its] national defense capabilities without a moment of hesitation to deter the United States’ nuclear threats and to bring peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.”

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted Mr. Kim as saying the “key to establishing new relations between [North Korea] and the United States is whether the United States withdraws its hostile policy.”

North Korea‘s “external political activities going forward should be focused on suppressing and subduing the U.S., the basic obstacle, [and] biggest enemy against our revolutionary development,” said Mr. Kim, who listed sophisticated weapons systems that he said were under development.

According to The Associated Press, a KCNA report over the weekend said the weapons systems include a multiwarhead missile, underwater-launched nuclear missiles, solid-fueled long-range missiles and spy satellites.

Mr. Kim was also cited as saying North Korea must advance its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) precision attack capability on targets as far as 9,300 miles way — an apparent reference to the U.S. mainland — while developing technology to manufacture smaller nuclear warheads to be mounted on long-range missiles more easily.

“The reality is that we can achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula when we constantly build up our national defense and suppress U.S. military threats,” the North Korean leader said.

International observers widely regard KCNA, the official propaganda outlet of the North Korean regime, as a murky window into the notoriously secretive activities of the isolated government in Pyongyang. It is known to offer at times conflicting and difficult-to-interpret reports.

The news of Mr. Kim‘s remarks about the U.S., for instance, coincided with KCNA reports citing the North Korean leader as stressing the need to drastically improve his nation’s ties with the outside world. The New York Times maintained over the weekend that Mr. Kim said at one point during the Workers’ Party Congress that he did “not rule out diplomacy.”

Although it was not clear whether the remark was directed at Washington, Mr. Kim has a history of launching provocations and hurling heated threats only to later agree to diplomatic engagement. That was the case at the start of the Trump era, when the president was also engaging in threatening rhetoric. Mr. Trump warned in 2017 that he would unleash “fire and fury” like the world has never seen if North Korea did not dial down its weapons provocations. Ultimately, he agreed to hold his first summit with Mr. Kim in Singapore in 2018.

Talks between North Korean, South Korean and American officials have been stalled since a summit in Hanoi in 2019 ended in failure. Mr. Trump walked out of Hanoi claiming Mr. Kim had demanded sweeping sanctions relief in exchange for only a partial abandonment of the North’s nuclear programs, which have been built clandestinely in violation of decades of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

In his remarks last week, Mr. Kim said his regime intends to pursue a policy of boosting ties with China, its biggest ally and economic lifeline. At the same time, Mr. Kim slammed U.S.-ally South Korea for continuing to hold joint military drills with American forces and for introducing its own increasingly modern weapons.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry responded over the weekend that it hopes for the a resumption of North Korean-U.S. talks. It said the inauguration of a new president in Washington could serve as a good chance to improve ties.

Analysts are circumspect.

Nam Sung-wook, an expert on North Korea at Korea University in South Korea, told The Associated Press that “Kim‘s speech foreshows the North Korean-U.S. relations won’t be smooth in the next four years with Biden in office.”

David Maxwell, a former U.S. Special Forces colonel and North Korea expert with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington, called on the incoming Biden administration to avoid yielding to the rhetorical pressure from Mr. Kim.

Kim may think he is challenging President-elect Biden to implement a different policy toward [N]orth Korea and to break with all past administrations to include the Trump administration,” Mr. Maxwell said in comments circulated via email.

“He is saying to Biden — ‘dare to be different’ and then we will talk. But we should not be duped by Kim‘s continued long con and political warfare strategy,” Mr. Maxwell said, adding that Mr. Kim is “acting similarly toward South Korea.”

“He is blaming the failed [N]orth-South engagement on the South (and the Minister of Unification has responded predictably and as Kim desires,” Mr. Maxwell said. “The South will double down on engagement despite Kim‘s anti-South rhetoric. The subversion of the South continues.”

Others said there was little question about the gravity of Mr. Kim‘s threats, particularly with regard to the North Korean leader’s vow to expand his nuclear weapons arsenal.

“It lights a fire under the Biden administration,” said Ankit Panda, a Stanton Senior Fellow in the in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Kim is making clear that if Biden decides not to prioritize North Korea policy, Pyongyang will resume testing and qualitatively advancing its nuclear capabilities in ways that would be seriously detrimental for Washington and Seoul,” Mr. Panda told Bloomberg News.

Kim vows to improve ties with outside world at party meeting

Kim vows to improve ties with outside world at party meeting

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a ruling party congress in Pyongyang, North Korea Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Kim has reviewed relations with rival South Korea and underscored the need … more >

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By HYUNG-JIN KIM

Associated Press

Thursday, January 7, 2021

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stressed the need to drastically improve his nation’s ties with the outside world as he addressed a major political conference for the third day.

State media said Kim also reviewed relations with rival South Korea but didn’t explain what steps he said he wanted to take. Observers have expected Kim to use the first congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in five years to send conciliatory gestures toward Seoul and Washington as he faces deepening economic troubles at home.

In his speech on the third day of the meeting Thursday, Kim “declared the general orientation and the policy stand of our party for comprehensively expanding and developing the external relations,” the Korean Central News Agency said Friday.

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Kim also examined relations with South Korea “as required by the prevailing situation and the changed times,” KCNA said.

The congress is the party’s top decision-making body that reviews past projects, lays out new priorities and reshuffles top officials. It was convened as Kim struggles to overcome what he calls “multiple crises” caused by an economy battered by pandemic-related border closings, a series of natural disasters and U.S.-led economic sanctions.

In his opening-day speech, Kim admitted his previous economic plans had failed and vowed to adopt a new five-year development plan. On the second day of the meeting, he said he would bolster his country’s military capability.

Kim, who inherited power upon his father Kim Jong Il’s death in late 2011, turned 37 on Friday. His birthday hasn’t yet been designated a national holiday like his father’s and grandfather’s. KCNA said the congress would continue, suggesting it was having a fourth-day session on Kim’s birthday.

After a provocative run of weapons tests in 2016-17 to acquire the ability to strike the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons, Kim abruptly launched high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with President Donald Trump, which awarded him long-desired legitimacy on the world stage. He also met Chinese, Russian, South Korean and other world leaders. But as his diplomacy with Trump stalled and the coronavirus forced him to close his country’s borders, Kim has been focusing domestically to mitigate the economic shocks from the pandemic.

During Thursday’s session, Kim also called for “thoroughly eliminating non-socialist elements” in North Korean society and proposed ways to promote the “might of the social system of our state,” KCNA said. Kim criticized working people’s organizations including the youth league for allegedly failing to fulfill their duties and said the league must prioritize “ideological education” above other tasks, it said.

Kim’s government has been cracking down on what it calls “alien, unsound non-socialist practices.” Last month, state media said North Korea’s parliament legislated “a law on rejecting reactionary ideology and culture.” Analysts say North Korea is guarding against a possible spread of capitalism and looser internal unity amid the economic difficulties.

South Korea’s spy agency said Kim is worrying about U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who is to take office on Jan. 20. Biden has called Kim a “thug” and is unlikely to hold any direct meetings with him unless North Korea takes serious steps toward denuclearization. The Kim-Trump diplomacy broke down during a summit in Vietnam in early 2019 after Trump rejected Kim’s offer to dismantle his main nuclear complex, a limited disarmament step, in return for broad sanctions relief.

Ties between the Koreas once flourished after Kim entered talks with Trump. But North Korea has halted exchanges with the South and resumed harsh rhetoric against it since the breakdown of the Kim-Trump summit in Vietnam.

Some observers say North Korea is frustrated because the South has failed to break away from Washington and revive stalled joint economic projects held back by the U.S.-led sanctions. They also speculate that North Korea initially thought South Korea would help it win sanctions relief but got upset after Kim returned home empty-handed from the 2019 summit with Trump.

The observers say North Korea may reach out to South Korea first to promote a mood of reconciliation before pushing for talks with the Biden administration. The nuclear diplomacy between Kim and Trump began after South Korean officials met Kim in early 2018 and conveyed to Washington his reported willingness to deal away his nuclear program in exchange for economic and political benefits.

Mired in crises, North Korea’s Kim to open big party meeting

Mired in crises, North Korea’s Kim to open big party meeting

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In this Nov. 15, 2020, file photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party Politburo in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim is facing the toughest challenges of his nine-year … more >

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By Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung

Associated Press

Monday, December 28, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Coronavirus restrictions that have significantly limited his public appearances. Warning signals for an economy battered by pandemic-related border closings and natural disasters. The impending departure of a U.S. president who said he “fell in love” with him.

As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un grapples with the toughest challenges of his nine-year rule, he’s set to open a massive ruling Workers’ Party congress next month to try to muster stronger public loyalty to him and lay out new economic and foreign policies.

While few question Kim‘s grip on power, there is still room for things to get worse, especially if the world fails to find a quick way out of the COVID-19 crisis. That would prolong North Korea‘s self-imposed lockdown and could possibly set conditions for an economic perfect storm that destabilizes food and exchange markets and triggers panic among the public.

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The congress, the first in five years, is the ruling party’s top decision-making body. At the 2016 congress, Kim put himself in front, reaffirming his commitment to developing nuclear weapons and announcing an ambitious economic development plan. Five years later, experts say Kim doesn’t have many options other than to further squeeze his populace for more patience and labor.

“When we get into the specifics, there’s really nothing new the North could present at the congress in terms of developing its economy,” said Hong Min, an analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification. “The country will continue to close its borders as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and the international sanctions will persist, so there’s no visible room for a breakthrough.”

Kim entered this year with a declaration of “frontal breakthrough” against punishing U.N. sanctions after his high-stakes diplomacy with President Donald Trump fell apart in 2019 over a U.S. refusal to offer extensive sanctions relief in return for limited denuclearization measures.

But Kim‘s drive faced an immediate setback. Later in January, North Korea was forced to seal off its international borders, including one with China — its biggest trading partner and aid benefactor — after COVID-19 emerged there.

As a result of the border closure, North Korea‘s trade volume with China in the first 10 months of this year fell by 75%. That led to a shortage of raw materials that plunged the North’s factory operation rate to its lowest level since Kim took power in late 2011, and a four-fold price increase of imported foods like sugar and seasonings, South Korea‘s spy agency told lawmakers recently.

For several months, North Korea also restricted the use of U.S. dollars at markets, only to make its local currency, the won, appreciate sharply, triggering mounting public complaints. Authorities executed a high-profile currency trader in Pyongyang in October as a scapegoat, according to Ha Tae-keung, one of the lawmakers who was briefed by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, or NIS.

Lim Soo-ho, an analyst at an NIS-run think tank, said North Korea likely aimed to reassert government control over markets amid the pandemic. He said such a step is doomed to fail because people are likely to exchange only a portion of their foreign currency savings for won in anticipation that the clampdown will eventually end.

Lim said if the COVID-19 pandemic continues for most of 2021, the North’s economy could face a crisis unseen since a devastating famine that killed hundreds of thousands of North Koreans in the 1990s.

During next month’s congress, North Korea will likely call for another “frontal breakthrough” to bolster its internal strength and build up a more self-reliant economy. But as long as the pandemic continues, the North will have to settle for modest economic goals while focusing on its anti-virus efforts, the Seoul-based Institute for Far Eastern Studies said in a report.

North Korea has steadfastly claimed to be coronavirus-free, though it said it has intensified what it called “maximum” anti-epidemic steps. Outside experts are highly skeptical of the North’s zero-virus case claim but agree the country hasn’t experienced a widespread outbreak.

“Why did they raise their anti-epidemic steps if they really haven’t had any patients? It doesn’t make any sense,” said Kim Sin-gon, a professor at Korea University College of Medicine in Seoul. “But they’ve imposed a higher level of anti-virus steps than any other country, so it’s likely that there aren’t many patients there.”

North Korea‘s public healthcare infrastructure remains in shambles, with many hospitals still using equipment built in the 1960s and 1970s. This keeps North Korean officials vigilant because “they know they’ll suffer tremendous damage if they lower their guard even little bit,” said Kang Young-sil, an analyst at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies.

Since the pandemic began, North Korea has isolated people with suspected coronavirus symptoms, flown out foreign nationals and reportedly locked down one region after another. In some extreme measures detected by Seoul, the North banned fishing at sea, executed an official for violating regulations on the entrance of goods from abroad, and fatally shot and burned a South Korean official found floating on an object in waters near the Koreas’ disputed western maritime border.

“North Korea is very sensitive and nervous amid the pandemic, and it’s making irrational, bizarre moves,” said Nam Sung-wook, a professor at South Korea‘s Korea University.

Kim Jong Un, 36, has been hunkering down. He’s appeared in public 53 times this year to observe weapons tests, visit areas hit by typhoons and preside over high-level meetings, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, compared to an average of 103 appearances over the past four years.

Despite the deadlocked nuclear talks, North Korea likely hoped for the reelection of Trump, who met with Kim three times, giving him his long-desired legitimacy on a global stage. Trump once said he exchanged “love letters” with Kim and that “we fell in love.”

Instead of the top-down summitry used by Kim and Trump, President-elect Joe Biden will likely want working-level negotiators to sort out details and confirm North Korea‘s denuclearization commitment before he would meet with Kim. North Korea also is probably not an overriding priority for Biden, who faces several pressing domestic issues such as the coronavirus, an economy hammered by the pandemic, and racial disparities.

Some experts say North Korea may opt for its time-honored strategy of conducting missile tests to draw U.S. attention like it did during past presidential transition periods in Washington. Others expect the North to avoid big provocations that could diminish the prospect for early talks with the Biden administration.

Satellite imagery provided by Maxar, a Colorado-based satellite imagery company, shows thousands of people assembled in formation at Pyongyang’s main square on Saturday, likely rehearsing for upcoming celebrations. South Korea‘s spy agency earlier said North Korea would hold a military parade in January in a demonstration of its military strength targeting the Biden administration.

Kim’s government has acknowledged that the sanctions, the pandemic, and the typhoons and summer floods that wiped out crops have created “multiple crises.” But experts say China will help North Korea because it won’t likely let its neighbor suffer a humanitarian disaster that could cause a refugee influx over their border.

Kim has been battered by a one-two punch — the U.N. sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic,” Nam said. “But China is by his side and supporting him.”

Award-winning SKorean director Kim Ki-duk dies in Latvia

Award-winning SKorean director Kim Ki-duk dies in Latvia

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FILE – In this Thursday, April 18, 2019 file photo, Chairman of jury Kim Ki-duk speaks during the opening ceremony of the 41st Moscow International Film Festival in Moscow, Russia. South Korean director Kim Ki-duk who won the top award … more >

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By JAN M. OLSEN

Associated Press

Friday, December 11, 2020

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – South Korean director Kim Ki-duk, who won the top award at the Venice Film Festival in 2012 but later faced allegations at home of hitting an actress and trying to force her into shooting off-script sexual scenes while making another movie, has died in Latvia. He was 59.

The Baltic News Service cited Latvia-based Russian documentary filmmaker Vitaly Mansky, president of an international documentary film festival in Riga, as saying Kim died after falling ill with COVID-19. Mansky was not immediately reachable for comment.

Kim’s death was indirectly confirmed by the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, which said that a “South Korean male in his 50s died while being treated for COVID-19 at a hospital in Latvia during the early hours of Dec. 11 local time.” It declined to identify the director due to privacy concerns.

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Kim came to Latvia on Nov. 20 in order to buy a house in Jurmala, the country’s seaside resort near Riga, the capital, and apply for a residence permit, the Lithuanian public broadcaster said.

Kim won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival with his 2012 film “Pieta,” a brutal mother-and-son tale of revenge and redemption. He also won prizes for best director at festivals in Venice and Berlin, and secured another award at the 2011 Cannes festival for his movie “Arirang.”

While his movies often garnered critical acclaim, many moviegoers, especially women, considered them to be disturbing because of excessive violence and depictions of rape and castration.

A year after the Venice success, Kim faced the allegations at home, which he vaguely denied, saying there had been a misunderstanding, although he acknowledged he might have hit the actress while instructing her in acting.

The actress dropped out and the movie, “Moebius,” a dark and violent story about an estranged family, was finished with a replacement.

Kim was fined 5 million won ($4,570) over assault charges in 2018. But prosecutors eventually decided not to pursue charges of sexual abuse against him, citing insufficient evidence.

Kim’s career in South Korea effectively ended in 2017-18 after three actresses made new accusations on investigative news show “PD’s Notebook,” which was broadcast on Korean public broadcaster MBC. Kim later launched criminal and civil suits against MBC and the original Moebius actress, accusing them of defamation, but his claims were dismissed in courts.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said its embassy in Riga was contacting the man’s family and offering help in arranging a funeral. The ministry said it cannot release specific details about the man to anyone who isn’t family.

___

Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report