ROK-U.S. News

North Korea Fires Missiles as South’s Elections Loom

The tests of short-range missiles came a day before South Korea holds parliamentary elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

An undated picture released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on Sunday showed Kim Jong-un inspecting a military plane group.
Credit…Korean Central News Agency, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea ​fired several short-range missiles off its east coast on Tuesday, a day before South Korea is scheduled to hold elections for its 300-seat Parliament.

The projectiles, launched from the town of Munchon, were believed to be cruise missiles, the South Korean military said in a statement.

Under a series of United Nations resolutions, North Korea is banned from testing ballistic ​ — but not cruise ​ — ​missiles. Thus, its launchings on Tuesday​ were considered less provocative than its recent tests of ballistic missiles.

But South Koreans remain sensitive to any move by the North to raise tensions during an election time for fear it might sway how voters cast their ballots.

South Korea has decided to go ahead with voting on Wednesday even though many other countries, including ​Britain​ and France, have postponed elections because of the coronavirus epidemic.

​S​outh Korea is not in lockdown, and its governing Democratic Party is hoping ​that the country’s successful efforts to contain the virus early​ will help its candidates on Wednesday, bolstering President Moon Jae-in’s grip on power.

Voters are being required to wear masks and use sanitizer and plastic gloves before casting their ballots. Those under self-quarantine will be allowed to leave their ​homes with government escorts to vote after ​6 p.m. Wednesday, when the balloting ​for the general public ends.

Nearly 27 percent of the country’s 44 million eligible voters already cast their ballots on Friday and Saturday in advance voting to avoid the crowds on Wednesday.

North Korea​ carried out no weapons tests in 2018​, when its leader, Kim​ Jong-un, was ​en​gaged in diplomacy with​ ​President Trump. But it ​resumed​​ ​short-range missile​ launches last May, three months after Mr. Kim’s second summit with Mr. Trump, held in Vietnam, collapsed over differences on how to denuclearize North Korea and when to ease American-led​ international sanctions.

North Korea began large-scale live-fire military training ​last month as the ​coronavirus pandemic was raging in much of the world, including​ in neighboring China and South Korea. It has since conducted f​ive weapons tests that involved short-range missiles or rockets​, including the one on Tuesday​.

North Korea has claimed it has no coronavirus cases, but Mr. Kim convened the Political Bureau of his ruling Workers’ Party on Saturday, calling for stricter enforcement of measures against the epidemic. When the North’s rubber-stamp parliament​, the Supreme People’s Assembly, met on Sunday, it made the same vow. It also increased the budgets for defense and public health.


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U.S. should consider 1-year, interim defense deal with S. Korea: expert

Yonhap  |  By Lee Haye-ah

WASHINGTON, April 9 (Yonhap) — The United States should consider a one-year, interim agreement with South Korea on sharing defense costs in consideration of Seoul’s contributions to joint efforts, including the fight against COVID-19, a U.S. expert said Thursday.

In a virtual roundtable with Korean reporters, Victor Cha, a Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he believes President Donald Trump could approve such a deal despite his previous insistence on getting South Koreans to pay significantly more for the stationing of 28,500 American troops on the peninsula.

This file photo shows Victor Cha, Korea expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. (Yonhap)

This file photo shows Victor Cha, Korea expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. (Yonhap)

“This is definitely a case where it’s pretty clear that negotiators can negotiate all they want, but in the end, only one person’s view matters, and that that is Trump,” Cha said.

“But if what they’re presenting to him is something along the lines of, South Koreans are sending us masks for COVID, they’re in the Gulf of Aden, they’re doing all this other stuff, let’s just put a pause on this — a one-year interim agreement where Koreans have increased a certain percentage — and let’s revisit this after the election. It’s possible, given all that’s going on in terms of COVID and wanting to focus on the election, that he might just say yes to something like that,” he said, referring to the U.S. presidential election in November.

Initially, Trump reportedly demanded a near fivefold increase in Seoul’s financial contributions to US$5 billion from $870 million under last year’s one-year Special Measures Agreement, which lapsed at the end of December.

The two sides have held seven rounds of negotiations since September to try to renew the SMA, which has typically covered a multi-year period, but have failed to bridge their gaps.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has reportedly backed down from its initial demand.

“I think that’d be a real victory for the alliance if they could get some sort of one-year interim agreement,” Cha said. “We should all be happy with that, and then just wait for next year.”

Last week, U.S. Forces Korea placed thousands of South Korean employees on unpaid leave, citing the absence of a new agreement to cover their salaries.

South Korean media also reported that a tentative deal had been reached and could be announced as early as April 1, but that didn’t materialize.

U.S. officials have insisted that negotiations are ongoing to ensure an equitable and mutually beneficial deal for both sides.

Both South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo have addressed the issue in recent phone calls with their U.S. counterparts, Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper.

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Exclusive: Inside Trump’s standoff with South Korea over defense costs


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New cases dip below 30 again, social distancing still urged

SEOUL, April 13 (Yonhap) — South Korea on Monday saw its daily number of coronavirus infections fall below 30 again, but health authorities said that the country should not let its guard down against the pandemic, urging people to keep up social distancing.

The 25 new cases, detected Sunday and down from 32 a day ago, brought the nation’s total infections to 10,537, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

It is the second time since late February that the country’s new virus infections have fallen below 30 after it reported 27 new cases Friday.

Monday’s new virus cases marked a sharp drop from the Feb. 29 peak of 909 new cases, according to the KCDC. The country’s daily number of new virus cases has been below 50 in the last five days.

Medical workers in protective suits begin work at Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on April, 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

Medical workers in protective suits begin work at Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on April, 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

But health authorities remain on high alert over cluster infections at churches and hospitals, as well as new cases coming from overseas.

Of the newly reported cases, 16 cases were from overseas.

“If we ease our social distancing campaign, we may face a result that we cannot handle,” Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said. “It’s true that we are seeing a slowdown in the spread of the novel coronavirus, but this does not mean that the virus has been eradicated.”

The nation’s death toll from the new coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, rose by three to 217, according to the KCDC.

The number of patients released from quarantine after making full recoveries reached 7,447, up 79 from a day earlier.

The southeastern city of Daegu, the nation’s worst virus-hit region, added three new cases. Its surrounding North Gyeongsang Province reported four new cases.

Other major provinces and cities also reported infections, with Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province adding eight and three new cases, respectively.

The country also detected six new cases coming from overseas at border checkpoints. The total number of imported cases is now at 929.

Since April 1, South Korea has enforced mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for all travelers coming from overseas to better contain imported cases.

Starting Monday, all arrivals from the United States have to be tested for COVID-19. Previously, only those with symptoms had undergone tests.

Also from Monday, the government began suspending visa-free entry and visa waiver programs for some 90 countries imposing entry bans on South Koreans so that it can better curb the coronavirus inflow from abroad.

Seeking to reduce the daily number of new infections to below 50, South Korea has extended strict guidelines on social distancing by two weeks to Sunday.

Health authorities said they have inspected 41,476 entertainment facilities, including nightclubs and bars, in the last five days and issued administrative orders for 4,242 facilities that breached quarantine rules.

South Korea has vowed to show no leniency toward those who breach quarantine rules. Violators could face up to one year in jail or a fine of up to 10 million won (US$8,200), and they will be asked to wear electronic wristbands for the rest of their quarantine period. Foreigners could be deported if they break quarantine rules.


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U.S. envoy, USFK chief keep apart during lunch to practice social distancing

SEOUL, April 9 (Yonhap) — U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris said Thursday he had lunch with U.S. Forces Korea chief Gen. Robert Abrams, but they kept a distance from each other as part of efforts to fight the new coronavirus.

The ambassador tweeted a photo of him having lunch at one end of a long table at his residence in Seoul, with the commander sitting at the other end, to show they were joining the campaign to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“Great lunch with Gen. Abrams @DogFaceSoldier today. We are practicing good #SocialDistancing,” he wrote.

In recent weeks, South Korea has stepped up social distancing measures. On Thursday, the country reported 39 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total caseload to 10,423, with 204 deaths.

U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris poses with U.S. Forces Korea chief Gen. Robert Abrams during lunch at his residence in Seoul on April 9, 2020 in this photo captured from the ambassador's twitter account. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris poses with U.S. Forces Korea chief Gen. Robert Abrams during lunch at his residence in Seoul on April 9, 2020 in this photo captured from the ambassador’s twitter account.  (Yonhap)

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N.K. leader supervises mortar firing drill ahead of major parliamentary meeting

Yonhap News  |  By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, April 10 (Yonhap) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has overseen a mortar firing drill, state media reported Friday, ahead of a key meeting of the country’s rubber-stamp legislature to be watched closely for any message to the United States.

Kim’s attendance in the exercise suggests that a politburo or a plenary meeting of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party, which used to be held on the eve of a Supreme People’s Assembly session, did not take place, and therefore, Friday’s SPA meeting may not lead to significant decisions.

The official Korean Central News Agency said that Kim “guided the drill of mortar sub-units” of the Korean People’s Army “aimed at learning about the power of light guns and heavy weapons” and “judging and estimating the firepower combat abilities of mortar-men.”

He expressed “great satisfaction” over the drill and repeatedly spoke highly of “the amazing marksmanship of the mortar companies of each army corps,” the KCNA said.

The KCNA did not specify where and when the drill was held, but Kim’s activity is usually reported a day after it happens. It marked the first time in about three weeks that Kim has supervised a military event since he watched a weapons test on March 21.

North Korea has carried out a series of weapons tests and artillery firing exercises this year after a monthslong hiatus. In March alone, the country conducted four major weapons tests, including the firing of short-range projectiles late in the month.

Friday’s SPA session is expected to center on economic and domestic issues amid the ongoing fight against the new coronavirus and concerns over the fallout from the pandemic.

North Korea is among just a few countries in the world that claim to have no coronavirus infections, generating speculation that it might be hushing up an outbreak. The country remains on high alert, saying anti-virus efforts are a “political issue” that will determine its fate.

The parliamentary meeting also draws keen attention as Pyongyang could send a message to the United States amid a stalemate in denuclearization talks, which have stalled since a no-deal summit in Hanoi between North Korean leader Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in February last year.

This photo captured from the website of the Korean Central News Agency on April 10, 2020, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) guiding a motar drill. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

This photo captured from the website of the Korean Central News Agency on April 10, 2020, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (C) guiding a motar drill. (Yonhap)


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America Must Lead on Sanctions Relief for Coronavirus-Stricken North Korea

The National Interest  |  By Amber Jamil

As international systems battle the blistering spread of COVID-19, North Korea’s public health and economic fragility increases its humanitarian vulnerability. Despite an official statement from the foreign ministry on March 20 that North Korea is a “clean country,” multiple unofficial sources—as well as statements from UN Command and U.S. Forces Korea (UNC/USFK) commander General Abe Abrams—suggest otherwise. South Korea’s Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun noted North Korea’s coronavirus situation is “probably not good,” while U.S. President Trump asserted that North Korea “is going through something.”

Land, sea and air border crossings to the hermit kingdom have closed as of late February. A senior official of the Ministry of Public Health stated the intent to maintain closed borders until diagnosis and treatment capabilities are developed.

According to state media, 10,000 North Korean citizens have been placed into isolation and currently roughly 2,300 are under quarantine as of this week. 7,000 North Koreans returning from overseas are subject to a forty-day isolation followed by an additional thirty-day medical observation period. Also, foreign visitors previously in the county are subject to thirty-day.

North Korea has one of the world’s least-prepared public health systems for dealing with an infectious disease outbreak. Based on the joint Johns Hopkins Global Health Security and Nuclear Threat Initiative’s 2019 Global Health Index, North Korea ranks 193 in preparedness against outbreaks compared to South Korea, which ranks 9th. The nation has limited diagnostic capability and hospitals lack disinfectant and anesthesia. After a collapse in the nineties of the medical system due to economic stress, Kim has attempted to modernize their health systems. However, hospitals and infrastructures improvements are limited to major cities and there is a lack of trust by the public.

The Impact of Sanctions

Additionally, sanctions have hampered North Korea’s response to COVID-19. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet noted sanctions “impeded” North Korea’s ability to battle COVID-19. On March 24, she stated, “At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended.” She stressed the global implications, noting, “In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us.”

Limited sanction relief by the UN 1718 Sanctions Committee is underway as a fast track response to the pandemic. On March 12, the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development’s Swiss Humanitarian Aid was granted an exemption to bypass sanctions to aid North Korea in “ongoing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” The aid organization is granted permission to send disinfection kits and 2,000 sets of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical work.

Moreover, the World Health Organization (WHO) will provide PPE and lab reagents and support the development of hygiene-related information campaigns. North Korea is cooperating with UNICEF to obtain additional PPE and Russia offered 1,500 rapid test kits. Furthermore, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is to send test kits, gloves, masks and medical gowns and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) also provided an exemption for protective and diagnostic equipment.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced at the beginning of April the intent to allow a private aid organization to ship hand sanitizers to North Korea. South Korea’s $3 million contribution to the WHO’s coronavirus response will also help North Korea.

U.S.-North Korean Relations

The U.S. State Department offered assistance and noted deep concern about the “vulnerability” of the North Korean population to COVID-19. President Trump also wrote to Kim Jong-un to express a willingness to engage. The U.S. offer has not been accepted to date. Calls for greater sanction relief from the international community as well as by the House of Representatives is increasing. While the formal lifting of sanctions designed to constrain problematic regimes is inadvisable, a nuanced approach—including exemptions for and fast tracking of medical equipment and supplies—is vital to public health. The impact of sanctions will become increasingly deadly and counterproductive to the colossal global public health effort to stop the coronavirus from spreading.

This is a key test for U.S. regional leadership in advancing international efforts to contain the pandemic. Sanctions relief will likely grow as international issues such as North Korea’s COVID-19 infection rate grows. China and Russia have expressed skepticism of the efficacy of sanctions and will likely press further in seeking sanction relief.

With globalization, the world is more interconnected and less static. In the resulting grayzone, a middle path must be struck to ensure sanctions against North Korea do not hinder the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amber Jamil is an international relations professional with a focus on nonproliferation and South Asia.  She is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council South Asia Center. She has a Master of Arts in international relations from Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Image: Reuters


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South Korea’s Poniard guided rocket system passes Pentagon’s Foreign Comparative Testing

Gabriel Dominguez, London – Jane’s Defence Weekly

South Korea’s DAPA announced on 7 April that the locally developed Poniard guided rocket system has successfully completed the Pentagon’s Foreign Comparative Testing programme: a move that enables it to enter the US arms procurement market. Source: DAPA

South Korea’s Poniard (known locally as Bigung) multiple launch guided rocket system has passed the US Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) Foreign Comparative Testing: a move that paves the way for the system to enter the US arms procurement market.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) in Seoul announced on 7 April that the locally developed road-mobile weapon system hit all 10 designated targets and met all US requirements during an FCT session held in South Korea in October 2019 that was attended by US DoD experts.

The 70 mm (2.75 inch) system, which was developed by the Agency for Defense Development and South Korean defence company LIG Nex1 to simultaneously engage multiple fast-moving maritime targets, is currently operated by the Republic of Korea Marine Corps (RoKMC) as a mobile coastal defence system and is expected to replace older South Korean coastal defence systems by 2024.

The Poniard, which has now the become the first such South Korean system to pass the Pentagon’s FCT, has a ‘fire-and-forget’ capability, a stated maximum range of 8 km, and can carry a total of 36 rockets in two separate launchers (18 rockets in each launcher).

As operated by the RoKMC the Poniard is integrated into a 6×6 Kia KM250 military truck that is equipped with the necessary target detection and launch control systems that allow it to operate as a standalone system.

The Poniard, development of which was completed in 2016, can also be deployed from vessels. A variant of the system was recently shown at the 22-25 October 2019 International Maritime Defense Industry Exhibition (MADEX 2019) in Busan mounted on a full-scale prototype of LIG Nex1’s Hae Gum II (Sea Sword II) unmanned surface vessel (USV).

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U.S. aid group sends medical equipment to N. Korea

SEOUL, April 8 (Yonhap) — A U.S. aid group has sent medical and rehabilitation equipment to North Korea for the treatment of people with pediatric development disabilities, according to the website of its co-founder.

IGNIS Community sent a cargo ship last week from the Chinese coastal city of Dalian to the North’s western port city of Nampo carrying medical treatment beds, pediatric therapeutic equipment and other items, Joy Yoon said in a statement on the website.

“The medical equipment is scheduled to arrive in Pyongyang within a week or two,” she said. “This is the first medical shipment of several more to follow.”

The medical equipment will be used in Pyongyang Spine Rehabilitation Center, which IGNIS Community recently built in the North’s capital, Yoon said.

She cited global sanctions and tightened border controls due to the coronavirus pandemic as challenges in sending aid to the reclusive country.

IGNIS Community received a sanctions waiver for its activities in North Korea last September and had the exemption extended in February.


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N. Korean propaganda claims S. Korea is conducting “biological warfare”

The claims are part of a long propaganda campaign aimed at sowing distrust among North Koreans toward the South

Lectures held near the 38th Parallel for locals and military family members have claimed that South Korea is waging biological warfare against North Korea, Daily NK has learned.

On Apr. 2, sources in Kangwon Province reported that from mid-March lecturers at the meetings, which have been run under military auspices, have claimed that South Korea is purposefully spreading COVID-19 into the country.

Specifically, the lecturers warned attendees that COVID-19 can be contracted just from touching leaflets, food, or even money (US dollars) that have crossed over the border into North Korea. Speakers warned attendees that they must never carry anything from South Korea home with them.

“Lecturers have claimed that because South Korea is seeing a continued rise in infections and deaths due to COVID-19, they are trying to [shift attention away from that and] weaken our military readiness by conducting biological warfare against the country,” one source told Daily NK.

In fact, North Korean state media has detailed the spread of COVID-19 in South Korea through all its major outlets.

Following the mass outbreak at the Sinchonji Church in South Korea, North Korean state media took the opportunity to highlight the problems of religion. As infection cases in South Korea increased exponentially, media outlets in the country encouraged North Koreans to wear masks and improve personal hygiene.

The lectures also warned the attendees that they would face severe punishment as political criminals if they secretly hold onto leaflets, food or even money from South Korea.

Lecturers also encouraged attendees to adhere to disease control efforts by the state given that South Korea is “waging unpardonable atrocities” against North Korea using “traitors to the Korean race” and defectors.

The lectures were reportedly held at various government agencies, factories and local offices of the Socialist Women’s Union of Korea in Kangwon Province.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korean authorities have long claimed that touching South Korean leaflets or consuming food from South Korea can lead to death by poisoning, skin disease and other infections.

*Translated by Jason Jaemin Bartlett

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