ROK-U.S. News

Understanding Trump Is Key to Solving Problems with U.S. – Opinion

Opinion Article –  

Chosun Ilbo  |  By Kang In-sun from the Chosun Ilbo’s News Desk

Kang In-sun

There are two different governments in Washington, the White House of the President Donald Trump and the bureaucratic establishment. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper cravenly follow Trump’s orders, while the bureaucrats serving them are trying to get on with their jobs and keeping their heads down.

Unless Korea takes account of this dual nature of the Trump government, it will continue to make embarrassing mistakes, such as the recent precipitate leak of news that the U.S. and Korea had reached a tentative agreement in defense cost-sharing talks. The government here probably had good reason to be optimistic. Many U.S. officials are privately saying that Trump’s demand for a US$4 billion increase in Korea’s share of the U.S. Forces Korea’s upkeep costs is excessive. The U.S. negotiating team may well have hinted that a 10 percent increase was acceptable. But assuming that these signs amounted to a done deal shows that the government has no idea of how the Trump administration works. Either that, or the Moon Jae-in administration floated fake news to woo voters ahead of Wednesday’s general election.

Conflict between the U.S. and Korea over Seoul’s scrapping of a military intelligence-sharing pact with Japan was also caused by a failure to understand how the Trump administration works. The Moon administration was determined to let the agreement lapse because it thought that Trump was not interested, but it ended up caving in to heavy pressure from the U.S. government.

Another problem arising from this misjudgment was the government’s failure to harness U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris to its advantage. Trump did not trust diplomats who were in any way linked to his political opponents in the last presidential campaign and prefers his own people. From that perspective, Harris was a valuable diplomatic asset in communicating with the Trump administration. But the government jettisoned that asset by failing to act firmly against protesters who stormed the ambassador’s residence and hurled xenophobic insults at him. Now Harris is sulking and wants to quit.

The coronavirus epidemic and the upcoming U.S. presidential election are making things even tougher. The U.S. economy, which had been propping up Trump’s approval ratings, has gone into freefall due to the epidemic and his chances of getting re-elected are growing slimmer. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and employment, which soared to new heights under Trump, could end up evaporating. The defense cost-sharing charade may be one of the few cards Trump has left to capitalize on, so he could become even more aggressive harping on the theme.

But the epidemic is making everyone recalculate their strategies. The fact that Trump now wants to hear about Korea’s experience in dealing effectively with the epidemic shows the limitations of his “America first” policy. Borders need to be closed to stem the flow of the pandemic, but paradoxically international cooperation is also needed to stop it. Trump could rediscover the value of the U.S.’ alliance with Korea.

The defense cost-sharing talks have been trapped inside Trump’s exorbitant $5 billion framework. It is time to start thinking beyond it, since the world would not be the same as before after this crisis. Both sides may be better off settling for a short-term solution for now and hoping for a better climate.

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New virus infections fall below 30 for 5th straight day


SEOUL, April 17 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s new coronavirus cases fell below 30 for the fifth straight day Friday, but health authorities warned against complacency and urged people to keep up social distancing.

The 22 new cases, detected Thursday and unchanged from a day ago, brought the nation’s total infections to 10,635, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

South Korea’s daily new cases reached a peak on Feb. 29 with 909 confirmed cases, but the country has since managed to flatten the curve of new infections.

In particular, the daily number of new virus cases has been below 50 for the last nine days, with health authorities saying that the country’s extensive social distancing campaign began to pay off.

However, health authorities remain on high alert over imported cases as well as cluster infections at churches and hospitals. Of the 22 new cases, 14 of them were from abroad.

They are also keeping an eye on those who have retested positive for COVID-19. The number of relapse cases in the country has reached 163, up 22 from a day ago.

The nation’s death toll from the new coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, rose by one to 230, according to the KCDC.

The number of patients released from quarantine after making full recoveries reached 7,829, up 72 from a day earlier.

An LG Chem worker (R) undergoes a body temperature check before boarding a special flight to Poland at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on April 17, 2020. (Yonhap)

An LG Chem worker (R) undergoes a body temperature check before boarding a special flight to Poland at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on April 17, 2020. (Yonhap)

The southeastern city of Daegu, the nation’s worst virus-hit region, reported no new cases for the first time in a week. Its surrounding North Gyeongsang Province added four more cases.

Other major provinces and cities also reported infections, with Seoul confirming two new cases and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province adding one more case.

The country detected 11 new cases coming from overseas at border checkpoints. The total number of imported cases is now at 983.

To better contain imported cases, South Korea has enforced mandatory 14-day self-quarantines for all travelers coming from overseas since April 1.

Starting Friday, all late-night international flights are asked to arrive in South Korea between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m., so that travelers from overseas can undergo quarantine inspections quickly and reduce their time spent at airports waiting for transportation.

South Korea has been enforcing strict guidelines on social distancing since March 22, and it recently extended the nationwide campaign by two weeks to Sunday.

Citizens are strongly urged to stay home, except for essential needs or jobs. The government has also strongly recommended people suspend religious gatherings, indoor sports activities and visits to nightclubs and other entertainment venues.

The government said it is discussing with experts the introduction of new daily quarantine guidelines that would allow people to return to their daily lives, but social distancing measures are to be maintained.

Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official, said some experts suggested that it is too early to ease the country’s strict social distancing campaign at this point, considering that many people went outside recently due to Easter and the general elections.

Of the 573 virus cases reported in the last two weeks, 310, or 54.1 percent of them, came from overseas, KCDC Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong said. However, health authorities have yet to identify transmission routes for 18 cases.

“Because we are seeing lots of imported cases recently, the portion of cases with unknown transmission routes seems to be declining, but I do not think 18 is a small number,” Jeong said. “This means the source of infection could be still out there, so we need to reinforce our epidemiological system.”

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Camp Humphreys to reopen gyms, barber shops as coronavirus slows in South Korea


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Customers wait in line to enter the commissary at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Friday, March 27, 2020. MATTHEW KEELER/STARS AND STRIPES

SEOUL, South Korea  — As the daily count of coronavirus cases declines in South Korea, Camp Humphreys will take a step toward normalcy this weekend by reopening gyms, barber shops and some other services, the commander said Thursday.

Anticipating crowds, garrison commander Col. Michael Tremblay said military standards for haircuts would be phased back in slowly.

“What we don’t want to have is a rush on the barbershop,” he said in a community update via Facebook live. “We know you’re all shaggy out there and that’s fine.”

“We’re going to do this deliberately. So you’re going to get at least a week before there’s going to be any type of hair cut inspection,” he said.

U.S. service members have been largely holed up in barracks or off-base residences for about three weeks after a soldier and several American contractors at Camp Humphreys tested positive for the respiratory virus.

The largest overseas Army garrison, which is home to the military headquarters on the divided peninsula and a population of more than 37,000, closed several services and restricted on-base movement. The nearby Osan Air Base followed suit after it reported three cases.

In all, 24 people linked to USFK have tested positive for the virus, including two soldiers.

However, the overall pace of infections across South Korea has slowed, with only 22 new infections logged on Wednesday, the eighth day that the daily count was below 50. That was down from several days of 500 or more.

On Thursday, USFK commander Gen. Robert Abrams authorized Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base to return to Health Protection Condition C from C+, meaning they can lift some restrictions on a limited basis beginning Saturday.

Abrams also planned to address the community in a Facebook live on Friday.

Tremblay stressed that social distancing standards as well as disinfectant and mask requirements will continue to be enforced.

The number of people allowed into the commissary and post exchange also will continue to be limited, often meaning long lines of people standing several feet apart.

“We are on to the next evolution and the establishment of a new normal,” he said. “We’re not going away from all the hard lessons we’ve learned as we really beat this thing down.”

The gyms and the 18-hole golf course will be open for active-duty service members and their dependents only in the beginning, Tremblay said.

On-post bus service will resume with soldiers as drivers, although taxis will remain halted for the time-being, he said.

The barber shops and hair and nail salons will open, and some restaurants will resume sit-down service, he said.

The food courts will remain takeout-only, but a new service allowing food to be ordered in advance and picked up curbside will be implemented. A similar service has been launched by the PX.

Other openings will include the bowling alley with every other lane closed for social distancing and the theater, as well as several administrative services on Monday.

Restrictions on access and nonessential activities outside all bases nationwide will remain in place.

“We’re opening it up a little bit by a little bit, but we’re being vigilant,” Tremblay said.

The reopening of services suggests the command is increasingly confident about its policies of quarantines and other mitigating measures.

The coronavirus crisis also has coincided with the furlough of some 4,500 South Korean base employees due to an impasse between Washington and Seoul over defense cost-sharing.

South Korea has reported 10,613 cases, with 229 deaths, since the virus first appeared in China in late December.

Health authorities have warned against complacency due to fears of cluster outbreaks and imported cases since the virus has spread to the United States and other countries.
Twitter: @kimgamel


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North Korea hacking threatens U.S. and global financial system: U.S. officials

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N. Korean defector wins first-ever constituency seat in parliament

Yonhap News  |  By Yi Wonju

SEOUL, April 16 (Yonhap) — A high-profile North Korean defector won a constituency seat in this week’s general elections, becoming the first person hailing from the communist nation to be chosen directly by South Korean voters as their representative.

Thae Yong-ho, a former No. 2 diplomat at North Korea’s Embassy in London, was elected to the National Assembly as the main conservative opposition United Future Party’s candidate in Seoul’s southern affluent district of Gangnam.

Thae received 58.4 percent of the votes cast Wednesday in the Gangnam constituency, one of the conservative party’s main strongholds, far ahead of his opponent Kim Sung-gon, a four-term lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party who earned 39.6 percent.

“I plan to devote the best of my ability so that our parliament and government can face the reality, and implement sustainable and feasible policies on North Korea,” Thae said Thursday when his election victory became almost certain.

Thae Yong-ho, the former No. 2 diplomat at North Korea's Embassy in London, sheds tears while singing the national anthem after he was elected in the Gangnam A constituency in Seoul in the general elections on April 16, 2020. He changed his name to Tae Ku-min in a show of his will to "rescue North Korean people," known as Ku Min, timed with the elections. (Yonhap)

Thae Yong-ho, the former No. 2 diplomat at North Korea’s Embassy in London, sheds tears while singing the national anthem after he was elected in the Gangnam A constituency in Seoul in the general elections on April 16, 2020. He changed his name to Tae Ku-min in a show of his will to “rescue North Korean people,” known as Ku Min, timed with the elections. (Yonhap)

Thae, who defected to the South in 2016, had campaigned under a different name, Tae Ku-min. Thae said he deliberately registered the false name and a false date of birth with the government after defection so as to make it harder for the North to track him down and harm him.

His opponents have questioned whether he knows enough about the Gangnam region to represent the district, where critical economic issues in real estate and taxation run high.

“South Korea is my home country, and Gangnam is my hometown,” Thae said.

This marks the first time a North Korean defector has won a constituency seat in the South’s parliament, though a defector and former professor at Kim Il-sung University previously made his way into parliament as a proportional representative between 2012 and 2016.

Ji Seong-ho, another defector from the satellite Future Korea Party affiliated with UFP, also secured a seat in the legislature Thursday as a proportional representative.

Ji is a human rights activist known for his surprise appearance at U.S. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech in 2018, where he triumphantly held up his crutches, drawing a standing ovation.

He is believed to have lost an arm and a leg in a train accident in 1996, when he passed out on a railway due to hunger after attempting to steal coal. He defected to the South in 2006.

North Korean defectors have begun expanding their scope of participation in South Korean politics, launching the countries’ first-ever political party of defectors last month.

More than 33,000 North Korean defectors live in South Korea.


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South Korea’s ruling party wins election landslide amid coronavirus outbreak

Voters reward Moon Jae-in for response to pandemic with biggest majority since transition to democracy in 1987

South Korea’s ruling party has won a landslide victory in national assembly elections, in what is being seen as an endorsement of President Moon Jae-in’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Moon’s left-leaning Democratic party and its smaller affiliate won 180 seats in the 300-seat assembly – the biggest majority in the national assembly by any party since South Korea’s transition to democracy in 1987 – according to the Yonhap news agency. The conservative opposition United Future party and its smaller sister party won 103 seats.

Turnout was 66.2%, higher than any parliamentary elections held in South Korea since 1992.

On Wednesday millions of people, wearing masks and standing at least one metre apart, moved slowly between lines of duct tape at polling stations in one of the first national elections to be held since the global outbreak began.

Before casting their vote they underwent a temperature check, sanitised their hands and put on disposable plastic gloves. Election officials in masks escorted those who failed the temperature check or who were not wearing a mask to separate polling booths, sanitising the facilities after they had voted.

About 13,000 people under self-quarantine due to the virus were allowed to cast ballots immediately after the polls closed, provided they had no symptoms.

South Korea once had the world’s second-largest number of infections after China but brought the outbreak under control through aggressive testing, tracking infected people and widely observed social distancing.

The country continued to record a low number of new infections on Thursday, reporting 22 new cases – the fourth day in a row they have stayed below 30. The country has a total of 10,613 cases and 229 deaths.

Before the outbreak observers had expected Moon’s party to struggle, with job creation, wages and North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme dominating the political agenda. His approval rating fell to the 30% level in 2019 amid an economic slowdown and a political scandal involving the then justice minister.

But Moon’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has seen his approval rating jump from 41% in late January to 57%, according to Gallup polls.

His “coronavirus diplomacy”, including phone calls with other world leaders eager to learn from South Korea’s response, boosted public support for his administration, said Minseon Ku, a politics scholar at Ohio State University.

Moon had successfully portrayed the outbreak as an “opportunity for South Korea to restructure its economy – capitalising on industries like AI and biopharma”, she said, adding that voters had been impressed by international recognition of the administration’s coronavirus response.

Chung Eun-young, a Seoul resident, said she had arrived at the polling station just after it opened at 6am to avoid crowds. “I was worried about the coronavirus,” Chung said. “They checked my temperature and handed me gloves but it wasn’t as troublesome as I had expected. I don’t like what we are going through but I cast my ballot to prevent the wrong candidates from getting elected.”

The successful opposition conservative party candidates included Thae Yong-ho, the most senior diplomat to have defected from North Korea.

Thae was deputy ambassador at the North Korean embassy in London when he defected with his wife and two sons in August 2016. He has since become one of the regime’s most vocal critics. Campaigning under his new South Korean name, Thae Gu-min, he is the first North Korean defector to be elected to the national assembly via a constituency vote. Local media reported he was on course for a comfortable victory in the affluent Gangnam district of Seoul.


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U.S. flies spy planes following N. Korea’s missile launches


SEOUL, April 15 (Yonhap) — A series of U.S. surveillance aircraft have flown near and over the Korean Peninsula, an aviation tracker said Wednesday, following North Korea’s launch of what appeared to be cruise missiles off its east coast.

The U.S. Air Force’s RC-135U Combat Sent was spotted en route to waters between South Korea and Japan, Aircraft Spots tweeted, without giving details on the time of its operation.

On Tuesday, the Air Force’s E-8C and the Navy’s EP-3E were also seen operating over South Korea after the North fired surface-to-ship cruise missiles near its eastern coastal town of Munchon.

The firings came on the eve of the 108th birthday of Kim Il-sung, the North’s late national founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un, and South Korea’s general elections.

Amid little progress in nuclear negotiations, the North has called for boosting self-defense and carried out a series of projectile launches. The latest firings marked the fifth major weapons test the communist nation has conducted this year.

This image, captured from aviation tracker Aircraft Spots' Twitter feed on April 15, 2020, shows the flight path of the U.S. Air Force's RC-135U Combat Sent. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This image, captured from aviation tracker Aircraft Spots’ Twitter feed on April 15, 2020, shows the flight path of the U.S. Air Force’s RC-135U Combat Sent. (Yonhap)

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Why is North Korea firing missiles while the rest of the world is fighting coronavirus?

As the world fights the coronavirus, North Korea is having its busiest period of missile testing on record, while maintaining it has the local epidemic situation under control.

ABC News  |  By Christina Zhou

A man wearing a face mask walks past a TV screen airing reports about North Korea's firing of missiles.

Key points:

  • North Korea has reportedly launched 10 missiles since March 2
  • Experts believe Kim Jong-un is taking advantage of the COVID-19 distraction
  • The hermit kingdom is among 15 countries that still haven’t reported any coronavirus cases

Pyongyang yesterday launched what is believed to be multiple short-range cruise missiles into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The test followed nine missile launches across four separate events in March — the highest number of launches in a single month on record.

North Korea is also among 15 countries around the globe that still claims to be untouched by COVID-19, which has now killed about 120,000 people and infected some 1.9 million, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Despite this, North Korea’s ruling party says the pandemic has created obstacles for its “economic construction” efforts, and has called for stronger coronavirus measures at a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea on Saturday.

But experts have expressed concerns that the country’s health system isn’t equipped to fight an outbreak after decades of isolation and international sanctions, and also remain sceptical of its coronavirus-free status.

So why is North Korea ramping up its missile testing now? Shouldn’t it be focusing its efforts on keeping the pandemic at bay? And what happened to the Christmas present North Korean leader Kim Jong-un promised US President Donald Trump?

Why is North Korea testing missiles now?

Kim Jong-un watches and his comrades look up into the sky.

The latest spate of North Korean missile launches started on March 2, which also marked the first since November 2019.

Ankit Panda, author of Kim Jong-un And The Bomb, noted the recent missiles launched were mostly KN-25 close-range ballistic missiles and not — at least according to state media — intended for “an explicit nuclear role”.

After the March 2 tests, several European countries including France, Germany and the United Kingdom condemned Pyongyang for undermining regional and international peace and violating UN Security Council resolutions.

A missile launches into the air, leaving behind red plumes of smoke.

South Korea’s military also condemned the military demonstrations on March 21 as “very inappropriate”, especially as the world was struggling to cope with the pandemic.

“With the exception of the KN-24 launch [on March 21], the KN-25 system appears to be undergoing a period of rapid operational testing as opposed to developmental testing,” Mr Panda recently wrote.

“North Korea, in other words, is getting ground crews used to operating these systems through events that might be described as military exercises rather than ‘tests.'”

However, North Korea watchers believe the surge of missile activity is a calculated move by Mr Kim to deliver both a domestic and an international message.

Zhiqun Zhu, a political science professor at Bucknell University, told the ABC the timing was “definitely intentional” because every country including the US, China, South Korea and Japan were busy combating the coronavirus and “barely have time to deal with any major foreign policy problems”.

“So North Korea can easily escape any coordinated international condemnation or sanctions now,” he said.

“Domestically, it hopes to continue to boost nationalism and demonstrate Kim’s strong leadership in this difficult time.

“Internationally, it wants to attest that North Korea has no ‘confirmed’ coronavirus cases and its military is willing and capable of defending the nation as the world enters a period of greater uncertainty.”

What else is Kim Jong-un hoping to achieve?

Korea expert Jean H Lee told a North Korea briefing organised by the US think tank Wilson Centre earlier this week the unfolding of the coronavirus crisis globally came at a time of “incredible political uncertainty” in Pyongyang.

After a year of failed denuclearisation talks, Mr Kim had warned Mr Trump that he had until December 31 to deliver a breakthrough proposal to restart negotiations. But the date came and went, and negotiations remain at a standstill.

“To put things into context, remember that Kim Jong-un had put so much into his relationship with President Trump, and as we know, it did not yield the deal that he had hoped for in Hanoi in February 2019,” said the former Pyongyang AP bureau chief.

Ms Lee said Mr Kim had been trying to figure out how to gain the upper-hand in his negotiations with the US and how he was going to regain public confidence at home.

She said she believed Mr Kim wanted to go back to the negotiations, eventually, but with a “much stronger” hand than he had in Hanoi.

“He wants to have a little bit of that isolation study to carry out some testing and make some improvements, so that when he gets back to that negotiating table, he’s in a stronger position,” she said.

A missiles being launched at night time.

Ms Lee said the failure of negotiations with Mr Trump also meant the North Korean leader had to come up with a way to show his people that he was on top.

At the end of a year of numerous rocket launches and missile tests in 2019, Mr Kim promised the US a cryptic “Christmas gift”, which Mr Trump joked could be “a beautiful vase”.

But many US officials speculated at the time the “gift” could be a nuclear weapons test or the resumption of long-range missile launches.

Professor Zhu said the gift could be interpreted in several different ways.

“It could be … a real gift of peace [without further missile and nuclear testings] or a ‘hot potato’ gift for Trump,” he said.

“Military experts point out that currently North Korean missiles including ICBMs (Intercontinental ballistic missiles) use the liquid-fuelled system, which can only be fuelled before flight.

“However, recently-tested missiles apparently use solid-fuelled system, which, if successful, will significantly improve North Korea’s missile and nuclear technologies, and North Korea will pose a greater threat since there will be no warnings when it may launch a missile.

“This is a kind of ‘gift’ that Trump does not really want.”

Why would North Korea lie about being coronavirus-free?

North Korea shares its borders with Asia’s two most infected nations: China, which had more than 83,000 confirmed cases and some 3,350 deaths, and South Korea, with some 10,500 cases and more than 220 deaths as of Tuesday evening.

North Korea was among the first countries to close its borders to all foreign tourists in January, just weeks after the mysterious virus was reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in late December.

A WHO representative to North Korea said last week the country was still testing for coronavirus and had more than 500 people in quarantine, but still had no confirmed cases yet.

Pedestrians wear face masks on the street.

Widespread censorship in the hermit kingdom could conceal reports of an outbreak, but even if COVID-19 was spreading there, experts say Pyongyang itself may not know the extent of the infection or death.

“It’s a guessing game regarding the pandemic situation inside North Korea,” Professor Zhu said.

“Even the North Korean Government probably does not know how many cases there are in North Korea.

“The fact that they’ve requested assistance from other countries and many people are wearing masks in public suggests that the virus is spreading.

“North Korea’s public health system is very fragile and may not be equipped to deal with such a pandemic.”

As the former Pyongyang AP bureau chief, Ms Lee learned first-hand about the limited healthcare in North Korea.

She was last in the country in 2017 and has visited many health facilities over the years from top hospitals in Pyongyang to local clinics that were run by women.

“I still remember one clinic where the doctor told me they didn’t even have the medicine to stop diarrhea, and that diarrhea was the main cause of death in her community,” she said.

“And we can extrapolate and imagine how difficult it would be for them to cope with an epidemic like COVID-19.”

While one of the key health measures being promoted around the globe is to wash hands in soap and water, Ms Lee said many healthcare facilities didn’t have soap or even running water.

But Pyongyang — which is subject to multiple international sanctions over its nuclear and missiles testing programme — has sought coronavirus-related aid.

Russia has provided 1,500 test kits to North Korea at its request in February, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Professor Zhu said while there had been no public report about Chinese aid yet, he would not be surprised if China had already sent medical supplies to North Korea.

“Very likely, the coronavirus is spreading on a limited scale in North Korea, but the North Korean Government does not want to create a public panic by openly acknowledging it,” he said.

“The drastic measures it has taken so far (such as being the first to shut borders with China in late January and quarantining all diplomats), the requests for aid, and the recent party congress all suggest that the North Korean Government is taking this very seriously and is determined to contain the virus before it breaks out across the country.”



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S. Korean coronavirus test kit shipment to leave for U.S. Wednesday

Yonhap News   |   By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, April 14 (Yonhap) — A shipment of South Korean-made coronavirus test kits will depart for the United States early Wednesday, officials said, under arrangements made after U.S. President Donald Trump asked for medical supplies during a phone call with President Moon Jae-in last month.


Two South Korean test kit makers have signed contracts with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to export their diagnostic equipment after they won pre-emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


The interim FDA approval came after Trump requested Seoul’s help in securing medical equipment during the phone call with Moon late last month. South Korea has earned global recognition for its anti-virus efforts through advanced testing and quarantine systems.


The test kits, enough to run as many as 600,000 tests for the coronavirus, had originally been scheduled to depart on a U.S. cargo flight late Tuesday, but shipment was rescheduled for early Wednesday, a foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity without specifying reasons.


Another company that has also won the preliminary FDA approval for its test kits has completed its delivery of the goods, capable of conducting as many as 150,000 tests, to its U.S.-based agency.


The U.S. has expressed appreciation for Korea’s supply of the COVID-19 testing kits.


“We are grateful to our Republic of Korea partners for assisting the United States in procuring COVID-19 tests, and for its support to the people of the United States,” a senior U.S. goverment official told Yonhap News Agency.


Later in the day, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris tweeted a similar message, along with a picture of a box of the test kits being loaded for delivery at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul.


“#COVID19 test kits were just loaded at Incheon airport & are bound for the U.S. The #USROKAlliance is ironclad and we’re grateful to @mofa_kr for helping make this purchase by @fema possible. #WeAreInThisTogether.”


More local test kit producers are expected to gain approval, given the high demand for the diagnostic devices amid the urgent situation in the U.S., now the country with the highest infection caseload of over 580,000.


About a dozen Korean test kit makers have applied for interim FDA approval, a Seoul official said earlier.


This photo, captured from U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris' Twitter account, shows a box of South Korean-made COVID-19 test kits being loaded for a U.S.-bound delivery at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on April 14, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

This photo, captured from U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris’ Twitter account, shows a box of South Korean-made COVID-19 test kits being loaded for a U.S.-bound delivery at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on April 14, 2020. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)




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Covid-19 Provides Perfect Cover For Kim

Amid the global pandemic, North Korea unleashes multiple missile test launches

Asia Times  |   By ANDREW SALMON

At a time when the world’s attention is glued to the Covid-19 pandemic, North Korea test-fired its latest barrage of missiles early Tuesday morning.

The test is believed to have been of short-range, anti-ship missiles, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, which closely monitor North Korean military activities.

The projectiles were fired from the east coast and splashed approximately 150 kilometers east of the peninsula, in the Sea of Japan, which Koreans call the East Sea. The drills continued for about 40 minutes, the JCS said.

It was the fifth test this year. Four separate tests of various missile systems were conducted last month.

Tuesday’s tests, of cruise missiles – which fly on flat trajectories – are not sanctioned by UN Security Council resolutions. However, for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his military, which is banned from tests which include ballistic missile technology by the UNSC, there has, perhaps, never been a finer time to carry out weapons tests.

Pyongyang can conduct a range of activities that would, in more normal times, generate considerable noise in the global diplomatic and political spaces, but which a distracted world now has little interest in, and which are unlikely to draw anything more than cursory condemnation.

And North Korea is not the only player making regional moves under cover of Covid-19.

Political Aims

Tuesday’s test firings may have been statements as they were fired one day before South Korea goes to the polls in legislative elections. Wednesday is also the birthday of North Korea’s “eternal president” Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of Kim Jong Un and the nation’s most revered figure.

Yet while North Korean missile tests often have political aims – such as the famous Hwasong ICBM test launched on July 4, US Independence Day – the country’s military, like those in other nations, also needs to test weaponry periodically for tactical and technical reasons unconnected to wider global political considerations.

“You have to test systems that are new to bring them online and certify them as operational; these are engineering steps anyone has to go through,” Dan Pinkston, a Seoul-based expert on strategy at Troy University, told Asia Times. “And once systems are deployed, their units have to train with them.”

Given the global distraction provided by the ongoing pandemic, and the unprecedented response to it in Western Europe and North Korea, the timing for weapons tests may well be ideal.

In March, North Korea conducted four separate tests of varied missiles. The last, of a super-large Multiple Launch Rocket System, took place on the 29th.

March also marked the height of the Covid-10 outbreak in South Korea. That same month, the virus emerged as a major threat to both Western Europe and the United States.

“There are different aspects to North Korean weapons tests and there is a range of interpretations,” Go Myong-hyun, a North Korean watcher at Seoul-based think tank the Asan Institute, told Asia Times. “But 70% of their intention [at present] is probably technical. The pandemic is great for North Korea.”

Pinkston, too, warned against viewing weapons tests as purely political events.

“Of course, there is the political aspect, but many people only focus on that – “They’re only doing it because of us,’” Pinkston said. “But units that use weapons systems have to train with them – the targeting, the command and control, the communications, the mobility.”

With US President Donald Trump deep in crisis mode as he grapples with the world’s largest Covid-19 outbreak – a black swan that could potentially cost him the presidential election in November – Pyongyang is freer than usual to flex its muscles.

While doing so, it may be reasonably confident that its actions will generate neither front-page news coverage nor meaningful or concerted diplomatic reactions from either Washington or from around the world.

Calibrated Flexing

Kim’s actions appear well calibrated. All of this year’s tests so far have been of tactical, theater weapons rather than strategic weapons that would threaten the US.

North Korea continues to refrain from carrying out headline tests – such as atomic detonations, long-range ballistic missiles or possibly the launch of a satellite using dual-use booster technologies.

Some had feared and expected such tests in 2020 following bellicose statements from Pyongyang at the outset of the year.

While light had unexpectedly dawned upon North Korea-US relations in 2018 thanks to an unprecedented, though largely inconclusive leaders’ summit in Singapore, interactions have since returned to their customary frosty state.

A second leaders’ summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February 2019 failed to advance the Singapore agenda – or, indeed, to improve or upgrade bilateral relations in any way.

The test of a strategic device would likely raise the ire of Trump, who likes to boast of his amicable relationship with Kim, and who uses North Korea’s reluctance to test strategic weapons as proof of his diplomatic nous.

“Sure, it is a good time to test, but I also sense that they are not going all the way, they are remaining below the threshold that Trump has established,” Go said. “They are operating under that ceiling and abiding by the kind of understanding that, if North Korea does not make too much noise, then the US is going to turn a blind eye.”

US Distracted

Kim may not be the only leader busting moves in the region in the time of Covid-19 when Western powers are seriously distracted. With US carrier battle groups under siege from Covid-10, the apparently unscathed Chinese People’s Liberation Army is deploying and posturing in the strategic South China Sea.

A Vietnamese fishing boat was sunk after being rammed by a PLA Navy vessel early this month in disputed waters and a PLA Navy carrier battle group is now conducting maneuvers in the South China Sea, near Taiwan,

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s military appears to be expanding its powers and cracking down on opposition groups.

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