ROK-U.S. News

N.Korea Building Missile Hangar Near Pyongyang

Chosun Inc.  |  By Roh Suk-jo

North Korea is close to completing a missile storage facility near Pyongyang Sunan International Airport.

The facility is “almost certainly related to North Korea’s expanding ballistic missile program,” the Beyond Parallel website at the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported Tuesday.

“A high-bay building within the facility is large enough to accommodate an elevated Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile and, therefore, the entirety of North Korea’s known ballistic missile variants,” it added.

Meanwhile, John Ratcliffe, the nominee for U.S. director of national intelligence, has declined to comment on whether there has been any progress in denuclearization negotiations with North Korea.

Asked in his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday if he believes the U.S. has made progress in reversing the North’s nuclear development, he simply said, “I can’t address whether or not we’ve made progress.”

He expressed hope that “North Korea may be willing to trade some nuclear and missile concessions for sanctions relief and other political and security benefits.”

In a separate written answer to a question about Pyongyang’s continued provocations like missile tests, he said, “I believe that North Korea continues to view nuclear weapons as essential to protect the regime from military action and to gain standing in the international community.”

Meanwhile, North Korea celebrated its progress in nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile development on Tuesday. In an editorial, the official Rodong Sinmun daily wrote, “We’ve made a historic achievement by climbing over the biggest mountain since the country’s founding.”


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North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un’s Reappearance May Have Been Calculated Event to Dispel Rumors of His Demise

Radio Free Asia

Army soldiers walk up the stairs of their military guard post in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, May 3, 2020.

Army soldiers walk up the stairs of their military guard post in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, May 3, 2020.

An exchange of gunfire at the border between North and South Korea over the weekend, just after North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un reappeared in public after a three-week absence, appeared to be a deliberate message from the North that the status quo remains unchanged, North Korea watchers told RFA Monday.

Kim, who had not made a public appearance since mid-April, was the subject of rumors and speculation with several media outlets reporting the Supreme Leader was having major health issues following cardiovascular surgery, some even citing sources in the intelligence community.

But he emerged Friday in seemingly good health at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Sunchon phosphate fertilizer factory in South Pyongan province. Sources within North Korea told RFA’s Korean Service that the factory is not yet finished, and the ceremony was meant specifically to show those both abroad and at home Kim Jong Un was alive and well.

“The Number One Event was held in a hurry just to make Kim Jong Un happy, without completing the factory’s testing phase,” the source said, using a term that refers to events attended by North Korean leaders.

Lessons from media frenzy

Kim’s reappearance served as the latest reminder to international media that a feedback loop of misinformation could result in wild speculation that went as far as declaring him dead and identifying his successor, experts said.

“The media frenzy during Kim’s absence showed that some journalists were willing to push stories from sources that clearly did not have access to information or were horribly poor at analysis,” Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation told RFA.

“Long-time Korea watchers were those counseling the most caution on accepting such reports at face value,” he added.

Amid the media’s speculation officials in the South Korean government also repeatedly issued statements that it had no information indicating Kim Jong Un’s health was in serious decline during the three weeks he went missing from the public eye, including an official saying Monday that he did not even have surgery, as was reported last month.

“It also showed that North Korea remains a black hole for information as well as the outsized importance of one man’s health has for North Korean succession and regime stability,” said Klingner.

While North Korea may have a succession plan behind the scenes, it is unclear to the outside world which worries about a potential succession struggle in a nuclear weapons nation,” Klingner said.

Despite the clear or apparent miscues by the media and intelligence communities, the media frenzy did shine a light on the need for a contingency plan in the event of Kim Jong Un’s death, according to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ David Maxwell.

“This should be a wake-up call for the ROK/US alliance the regional powers and the international community,” Maxwell told RFA.

“Everyone needs to think through the answer to one simple question: What immediate actions do you take if you learn today that Kim Jong is dead,” he said.

Fire exchanged at DMZ

Highlighting the potential for miscalculation, North and South Korean troops exchanged fire on Sunday along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the peninsula, the first such event since 2018, according to the South Korean armed forces.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul, North Korean troops fired several bullets into a South Korean guard post near the border town of Cheorwon, with South Korean troops responding with about 20 warning shots before broadcasting a warning, as is the protocol for such an event. No casualties on either side were reported.

As North Korea shot first, South Korea’s military considers the incident a violation of a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement.

“I think that the incident at Cheorweon was a violation of the bilateral military agreement that was signed between North Korea and South Korea in 2018, and I think that just goes to show that absent consistent dialogue and confidence building measures between the two Koreas, agreements are just words on a piece of paper,” Jessica Lee of the Quincy Institute told RFA.

“This is, I think, another reason why having constant channels of communication and more normalized relations is key, certainly in this context and in any context in international relations,” she said.

Yonhap news agency reported that the South Korean military later said the gunshots were “not deemed intentional.”

Klingner and Maxwell, however, described the incident as not “accidental,” but stopped short of saying it was a clear provocation.

“If four rounds struck the South Korean guard post as reported it was not accidental.  It was well-aimed fire.  It was not an accidental or negligent discharge.  Was this ordered by the regime to serve as a provocation?  If so it was a very weak one,” said Maxwell.

“Did a local commander misinterpret his orders and take the wrong action?  Possibly and then it could be considered a mistake. I think the ROK soldiers responded correctly and then diffused the situation through broadcasts as is normal procedure,” he said.

“My real concern with these incidents is if there is a break down in the North Korean military’s chains of control.  If North Korean soldiers or small units try to escape they are likely to be fired upon by the remaining forces to prevent their escape.  That situation can lead to misunderstanding and miscalculation and even escalation,” added Maxwell.

Klingner said the incident showed that South Korean President Moon Jae In’s relatively soft policies on North Korea have not affected the situation much.

“While it is hard to believe that several shots were ‘accidental,’ there are more incidents along the DMZ than often reported in the media,” he said

“However, the incident does show that despite President Moon’s much vaunted Comprehensive Military Agreement with the North, the situation has not really changed,” he added.

Meanwhile South Korea’s opposition party urged the government to be firmer in its response to North Korean provocations.

“The North Korean military’s firing was a direct violation of the 9.19 inter-Korean military agreement. Therefore, the South Korean government and military should not only protest strongly, but also receive an apology and a promise from North Korea to prevent a recurrence,” said Won Yoo Chul, leader of the Future Korea Party, a party aligned with the main opposition United Future Party.

Reported by Hyemin Son, Soyoung Kim, Seung Wook Hong, and Jae Duk Seo for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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State-run think tank proposes signing free trade deal with N. Korea

YONHAP NEWS  |  By Yi Wonju

SEOUL, May 4 (Yonhap) — South Korea should sign a free trade deal with North Korea to accelerate reform in the communist nation and to help it integrate into the international market, a state-run think tank said Monday.

The Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP) made the suggestion in a report on inter-Korean economic cooperation, saying such an accord will create an environment for stable cross-border economic cooperation amid international sanctions on Pyongyang.

“The new inter-Korean economic cooperation should be aimed at supporting North Korea to normalize its foreign relations and enter the international regime,” the report said. “It will be necessary to conclude an inter-Korean CEPA in order to create a stable inter-Korean economic cooperation environment.”

A Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) is equivalent to a free trade agreement.

The think tank also noted that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has seen some progress in his policy of reform and opening up since he took power, such as incorporating marketplaces into its economy.

But the country’s economy has faced challenges since a set of harsh sanctions were imposed on the North in 2016 to punish the regime for its nuclear and missile programs, it added.

KIEP stressed the need for the North to normalize foreign relations first, saying the success of the open-door policy in countries like Vietnam and Myanmar depended on whether or not they could attract foreign capital.

North Korea’s economy is unlikely to achieve reform and openness without the lifting of sanctions and normalization of foreign relations, it added.

It also called on South Korea to help create and improve conditions for foreigners to participate in inter-Korean economic cooperation, and to play a leading role in donor conferences for international organizations on providing assistance to North Korea.

State-run think tank proposes signing free trade deal with N. Korea - 1


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UN Command investigating whether DMZ shooting violated Korean War armistice


SEOUL, South Korea — Was it an accident? Or did North Korean soldiers fire at a South Korean guard post on purpose?

The U.S.-led United Nations Command sent a team to the tense Korean border area Monday to investigate whether the exchange of fire the day before violated the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

The UNC, which administers the Demilitarized Zone, said no further comment would be issued “until the investigation is complete and the report has been provided to the appropriate authorities.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Korean military officials already have said they believe the shooting was not intentional.

But some analysts suggested it may have been a low-level provocation aimed at boosting the North’s leverage in talks with the United States and South Korea.

North Korea, meanwhile, has not responded to a message sent via an inter-military communication line asking for an explanation, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.

“It seems to be accidental, but South and North Korea need to be careful with each other because such an accident has the prospect to raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” said Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

U.N. Command investigating

The incident began Sunday morning when South Korean soldiers at a guard post in a central part of the Demilitarized Zone heard gunfire, then found four bullet holes on the wall of the guard post.

The South Koreans responded with 20 rounds of warning shots and broadcast warnings, military officials said.

The U.N. Command, which is led by Army Gen. Robert Abrams, dispatched a multinational special investigation team to the site on Monday.

The team was accompanied by Swedish and Swiss members of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission who were acting as observers.

“The investigative team will assess the events that took place and produce a report based on their findings to determine if a violation of #Armistice occurred,” the UNC said in a tweet.

The new mystery began two days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared at the ribbon-cutting for a new fertilizer factory, tamping down speculation about his health after a nearly three-week absence.

Defense Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyun-soo said North Korea had not responded to the South’s message.

“We expressed concern about the seriousness of the present situation, said North Korea should explain what happened and called on Pyongyang to halt such behavior immediately,” she added.

Jean Lee, director of the Korea program at the Washington, D.C.-based Wilson Center, said the breakdown in communications was troubling.

“What we would not want to see is gunfire sparking an exchange that could escalate into deadly violence,” she said. “While troops on the southern side responded with restraint this time, the ambiguity most certainly will have everyone in the DMZ on edge.”

The DMZ, about 155 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, has often been a flashpoint in tensions between the two Koreas and past violence has pushed the two countries to the brink of conflict.

The border is lined with barbed wire fences and filled with land mines with tens of thousands of combat troops on both sides.

The two Koreas signed a military agreement in September 2018 calling for both sides to halt all hostile acts against each other and establishing a series of confidence-building measures.

Military agreement

However, the North has conducted several short-range missile tests and artillery drills in recent months while expressing frustration over stalled nuclear talks with the United States.

“‘Accident’ or not, North Korean shots at South Korea’s GP violates the Sept. 19 inter-Korean military agreement and notable that Pyongyang hasn’t yet picked up the phone or explained the incident,” Duyeon Kim, a Seoul-based adviser with the International Crisis Group, said in a tweet.

Pompeo told ABC News “This Week” in an interview on Sunday that the United States believes the shots “were accidental.”

“The South Koreans did return fire. So far as we can tell, there was no loss of life on either side,” he said.

South Korean military officials also have said they believe the shooting was not intentional, noting it was foggy in the area and the shooting occurred at a time when North Korean troops are believed to be having a shift change and testing their weapons.

Farming activity in the area also was said to be uninterrupted.

Chun In-bum, a retired South Korean lieutenant general who served on the DMZ as a battalion commander in the 1990s, said it could have been an accidental discharge.

“The probability is that’s what happened in my view,” he said Monday in a telephone interview.

He dismissed a suggestion that the North Koreans may have been trying to send a message by attacking the South Korean guard post.

“It was just a burst and then it ended,” he said. “If they wanted to send us a message I’m sure they would’ve done it with a bigger bang.”

Other analysts said the North may be trying to pressure South Korea to take its side and offer more economic assistance or coronavirus aid despite U.S.-led sanctions.

“Pyongyang may not have wanted to carry out a high-intensity provocation this time so it may have only breached the inter-Korean agreement slightly,” said Moon Keun Sik of the Korea Defense and Security Forum.

“Pyongyang might be trying to win cooperation from Seoul by bringing the South to the edge of crisis first, then easing the situation later,” he added.
Twitter: @kimgamel


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N. Korea stays mum on S. Korea’s call for explanation of DMZ gunfire: ministry

YONHAP News  |  By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, May 4 (Yonhap) — North Korea has not responded yet to South Korea’s call for an explanation on Sunday’s firing of several bullets that hit a South Korean guard post on the inter-Korean border, Seoul’s defense ministry said Monday.

On early Sunday, four bullets from the North hit the South’s guard post in the central part of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Cheorwon, Gangwon Province, prompting South Korean troops to respond by firing 20 rounds of warning shots and issuing broadcast warnings, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Following the incident, the South’s military sent a notice via the military communication line, lodging a protest, calling for an explanation and urging the regime to stop acts that violate the inter-Korean military accord, the defense ministry said.

“We’ve not received any response from the North Korean side,” ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo told a regular briefing.

Asked if the ministry is considering taking additional steps regarding the North, the official said it will make a decision if necessary after closely following the developments.

It was the first exchange of gunfire between South and North Korea in years. Under the Comprehensive Military Agreement signed in September 2018, the two Koreas agreed to halt all hostile acts against each other, a move aimed at reducing tensions and building trust.

The U.S.-led United Nations Command, which administers the DMZ and enforces the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, said it will launch an investigation into the case.

“UNC is cooperating closely with ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff to assess and continue to monitor the situation. UNC will conduct a thorough investigation tomorrow (Monday, May 4) to determine if there was an Armistice Agreement violation, and will provide the report to the appropriate authorities once completed,” the command said in a statement sent to Yonhap News Agency.

Any additional acts or specific movements by the North Korean military have not been detected so far, according to JCS spokesman Col. Kim Jun-rak.

“We had taken appropriate measures immediately after our troops heard gunshots, and found the bullet marks. Any further details will be available after investigations by the UNC and our authorities,” Kim said during the ministry briefing. “We have been closely monitoring the situation.”

This AFP photo, taken on April 23, 2020, shows South Korean soldiers patrolling along a barbed wire fence in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea, on the South Korean island of Ganghwa. (Yonhap)

This AFP photo, taken on April 23, 2020, shows South Korean soldiers patrolling along a barbed wire fence in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea, on the South Korean island of Ganghwa. (Yonhap)

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview with ABC News, “We think those are accidental,” stressing that there was no loss of life on either side.

A JCS officer also said it did not appear to be an intentional provocation.

“It was far from ‘perfect’ circumstances for making provocative acts,” he said, noting that it was foggy at that time; the South Korean guard post is located at a higher altitude than North Korean guard posts situated in the region; it was the time when North Korean soldiers usually rotate shifts and check their firearms or equipment; and no unusual movements by the North Korean military had been detected.

The incident took place a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made his first public appearance in nearly three weeks, ending rumors about his health.

Some have raised speculations that the shooting could have something to do with Kim’s appearance, but JCS officials said they believe the chances are low.

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North and South Korean troops exchange fire along border

SEOUL, South Korea — North and South Korean troops exchanged fire along their tense border on Sunday, the South’s military said, the first such incident since the rivals took unprecedented steps to lower front-line animosities in late 2018.

Violent confrontations have occasionally occurred along the border, the world’s most heavily fortified. While Sunday’s incident is a reminder of persistent tensions, it didn’t cause any known casualties on either side and is unlikely to escalate, observers said.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said in a statement that North Korean troops fired several bullets at a South Korean guard post inside the border zone. South Korea responded with a total of 20 rounds of warning shots on two occasions before issuing a warning broadcast, it said.

South Korea suffered no casualties, the military said. Defense officials said it’s also unlikely that North Korea had any casualties, since the South Korean warning shots were fired at uninhabited North Korean territory. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, did not immediately report about the incident.

A preliminary South Korean analysis showed that North Korea’s firing wasn’t likely a calculated provocation, though Seoul will continue examining whether there was any motivation for the action, a South Korean defense official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said it was believed that North Korea’s firing was not intentional.

“We think those are accidental,” Pompeo said on ABC’s “This Week.” “South Koreans did return fire. So far as we can tell, there was no loss of life on either side.”

Farming activities around the North Korean area where the firing occurred continued throughout Sunday and North Korea’s military didn’t display any other suspicious activities after the gunfire, the official said. He said there was a thick fog in the area at the time of the incident.

Later Sunday, South Korea sent a message to North Korea to try to avoid an escalation, but the North did not immediately reply, according to South Korea’s military.

The exchange of fire came a day after North Korea broadcast video of its leader, Kim Jong Un, reappearing in public after a 20-day absence amid intense speculation about his health.

KCNA said Kim attended Friday’s ceremony marking the completion of a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang along with senior officials. State TV showed Kim smiling and walking around factory facilities.

Kim earlier vanished from the public eye after presiding over a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on April 11 to discuss the coronavirus. Speculation about his health began swirling after he missed an April 15 event commemorating the birthday of his grandfather and state founder, Kim Il Sung, something he had never done since inheriting power upon his father Kim Jong Il’s death in late 2011.

The Korean Peninsula remains split along the 248-kilometer (155-mile) -long, 4-kilometer (2.5-mile) -wide border called the Demilitarized Zone. It was originally created as a buffer after the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. But unlike its name, an estimated 2 million mines are peppered inside and near the DMZ, which is also guarded by barbed wire fences, tank traps and combat troops on both sides.

Under a set of agreements to reduce border tensions reached in September 2018, the two Koreas destroyed some of their front-line guard posts and began removing mines from the DMZ later that year. But the efforts stalled amid a deadlock in negotiations between Kim and President Donald Trump meant to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal. The diplomacy hasn’t made any headway since the second Kim-Trump summit in Vietnam in early 2019 broke down due to disputes over U.S.-led sanctions on North Korea.

Earlier this year, North Korea carried out a slew of missile and other weapons tests, but they were short-range and none posed a direct threat to the U.S. mainland.

The last time there was gunfire along the Korea border was in November 2017, when North Korean soldiers sprayed bullets at a colleague fleeing to South Korea. The defector was hit five times, but survived and is now living in South Korea. South Korea didn’t return fire.

Previously, the two Koreas traded gunfire along the DMZ numerous times, but no deadly clashes have occurred in recent years. A 2015 land mine blast that maimed two South Korean soldiers pushed the Koreas to the brink of an armed conflict. South Korea blamed North Korea for the explosion.


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Kim Jong-un Resurfaces, State Media Says, After Weeks of Health Rumors

The North Korean leader was said to have visited a factory on Friday, after a series of unsubstantiated news reports suggested that he was gravely ill.

North Korea’s state news agency on Saturday released this photo of Kim Jong-un, which it said was taken Friday at a fertilizer plant. His sister, Kim Yo-jong, is in the background.
Credit…KCNA, via Reuters


SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, resurfaced in public view on Friday, the North’s state news media reported Saturday, controverting three weeks of rumors and unconfirmed news reports that he was in grave danger after undergoing heart surgery.

He appeared at a ceremony at a factory in the city of Sunchon, the North’s state news agency said, later releasing photos from the event. The report could not immediately be independently confirmed.

Mr. Kim, 36, had last appeared publicly on April 11. Speculation about his health — and about who would take over the hermetic, nuclear-armed country should he become incapacitated or die — began swirling after Mr. Kim missed the state celebrations of his country’s biggest holiday on April 15. On that day, the North marks the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder.

Rumors subsequently went into overdrive, claiming that Mr. Kim was “in grave danger,” in a “vegetative state” after botched heart-valve surgery, or in quarantine after contracting Covid-19. Other reports said that China had sent doctors to Pyongyang to save him.

After its initial report on Saturday, the North Korean news agency released photos showing a smiling Mr. Kim applauding, cutting a ribbon and standing with his hands behind his back at a new fertilizer factory.

Another image of Mr. Kim released by the state news agency, also said to have been taken Friday at the factory.
Credit…KCNA, via Associated Press

“All the participants again burst into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah,’” the news agency said, taking its characteristically fulsome tone for coverage of the leader. It said that Mr. Kim “warmly acknowledged the builders and masses raising thunderous cheers” and went on to tour the factory, accompanied by senior officials from the ruling Workers’ Party, including his only sister, Kim Yo-jong.

Although no outside media was apparently allowed to witness the ceremony, the report by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency followed a familiar pattern. State media typically reports Mr. Kim’s public appearances a day after they take place, carrying photos from the scene as well.

The South Korean government did not immediately comment on the report, but it has pushed back against the recent speculation that Mr. Kim was in poor health. Its unification minister, Kim Yeon-chul, had called the reports “fake news,” saying that South Korea could say “confidently” that there was no evidence to confirm the rumors.

Amid the reports, North Korea had continued to send out letters and gifts to foreign leaders and domestic workers under Mr. Kim’s name. But until Saturday, it had gone weeks without reporting any public appearances by its leader or responding to the speculation about his health, and its silence fueled the rumor mill.

As recently as Friday, Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector who recently won a seat in the South Korean Parliament, told reporters that he was “99 percent sure” that Mr. Kim had died last weekend.

The weeks of rumors showed how “unprepared” the outside world remains “for a potential political crisis caused by something like the sudden, unexpected death of the dictator in a country bristling with dozens of nuclear weapons,” said Danny Russel, vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute.

“We got a glimpse of the danger of loose nukes and worse if the death of Kim Jong-un had unleashed a destabilizing power struggle” in the North, where Mr. Kim had no designated adult heir in place, Mr. Russel said by email. Mr. Russel had dealt with North Korea as a National Security Council director at the White House and assistant secretary of state for Asia.

He said the past few weeks showed that “authoritative information about the North Korean supreme leader’s well-being and whereabouts is very closely guarded, and therefore dramatic rumors about his health and behavior need to be regarded with considerable skepticism.”

The North’s report on Saturday did not dispel the mystery over why Mr. Kim missed the important state ceremonies for his grandfather’s birthday — an absence that set off the series of speculative reports. A South Korean news website that hires North Korean defectors as reporters said Mr. Kim had undergone heart surgery. U.S. news reports said that Washington was monitoring intelligence suggesting that Mr. Kim was “in grave danger.”

It was not the first time Mr. Kim had disappeared from public view for weeks at a time or been the subject of intense speculation about his health. And the information vacuum surrounding the doings of North Korean leaders leaves fertile ground for misinformation to spread.

Some past rumors about the health of North Korean leaders have indeed proved true, like speculation that Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, had a stroke in 2008. But most have turned out to be groundless.

In 1986, a South Korean newspaper reported a “world scoop” claiming that Mr. Kim’s grandfather, then-President Kim Il-sung, had died in an armed attack. A smiling Kim Il-sung resurfaced two days later.

In 2014, Kim Jong-un disappeared for more than a month, prompting rumors that he might have been deposed in a coup. North Korean media later showed him walking with a cane; South Korean intelligence said he had undergone ankle surgery.

Over the years, top officials reported to have been executed have also often resurfaced. In 2015, a North Korean defector claimed that Mr. Kim had ordered his own aunt killed with poison. But the aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, re-emerged in Pyongyang in January.


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Trump says S. Korea agreed to pay more for defense cost: report


SEOUL, April 30 (Yonhap) — U.S. President Donald Trump said South Korea has agreed to pay more for the stationing of American troops in the country, according to a news report.

“We can make a deal. They want to make a deal,” Trump was quoted as saying in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday (U.S. time), referring to the negotiations to determine how to divide the cost for the upkeep of about 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

“They’ve agreed to pay a lot of money. They’re paying a lot more money than they did when I got here,” he said.

South Korea’s presidential office declined to comment, saying, “The negotiation is still ongoing.”

“We have nothing to announce yet in regard to the defense cost-sharing deal,” a Cheong Wa Dae official said Thursday in a phone call with Yonhap News Agency.

“The basic principle of a negotiation is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” another key official at Cheong Wa Dae told reporters Thursday. “Nothing has been agreed on yet.”

The foreign ministry also said it is negotiating with the U.S. but an agreement has yet to be reached.

Trump said last week that he rejected South Korea’s offer because he felt the Asian ally should pay more. An earlier news report said South Korea suggested a 13-percent increase from the 2019 share of US$870 million for the stationing of the 28,500-strong U.S. Forces Korea.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Tuesday that the amount Trump had rejected was “the highest possible level for us,” suggesting the prolonged impasse between the two countries will continue.

More than 4,000 South Korean employees of U.S. Forces Korea have been placed on unpaid leave since April 1 due to the absence of a new defense cost-sharing deal, known as the Special Measures Agreement, to cover their salaries.

The previous SMA, under which Seoul agreed on an 8.2 percent increase, expired at the end of 2019.

(2nd LD) Trump says S. Korea agreed to pay more for defense cost: report - 1



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N.K. defector claims he is ’99 pct’ sure that N. Korean leader died

Yonhap News

SEOUL, May 1 (Yonhap) — A North Korea defector elected as a lawmaker in South Korea claimed Friday that he is “99 percent” sure that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un died after surgery amid speculation over his health.

Unconfirmed reports about Kim’s ill health have mounted since he has not appeared in public for nearly three weeks. News reports described Kim as being in “grave danger” after surgery or hiding out at a coastal resort to escape the coronavirus pandemic.

Ji Seong-ho, who earned a proportional representation seat of a minor party in the April 15 elections, claimed that he is 99 percent sure of Kim’s death and North Korea may make the related announcement this weekend.

“I’ve wondered how long he could have endured after cardiovascular surgery. I’ve been informed that Kim died last weekend,” Ji told Yonhap News Agency.

“It is not 100 percent certain, but I can say the possibility is 99 percent. North Korea is believed to be grappling with a complicated succession issue,” he said.

Ji did not reveal the source of where he got his information. His claim cannot be verified independently.

The lawmaker-elect said that Kim Yo-jong, sister of the North’s leader, is likely to succeed him, as many experts speculate.

South Korea’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae reaffirmed that it has not detected any “unusual” signs in North Korea regarding Kim’s health.

This file photo, taken on March 12, 2020, shows Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector and human rights activist. (Yonhap)

This file photo, taken on March 12, 2020, shows Ji Seong-ho, a North Korean defector and human rights activist. (Yonhap)

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Seven Questions to Ask About What Happens in North Korea If Kim Jong-Un Dies

The National Interest  By Stephan Haggard Follow @StephanHaggard on Twitter Daniel A. Pinkston

A lot of speculation out there fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the North Korean political system.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a symposium asking what happens if Kim Jong-un died. To read the other parts of the series click here.

Whether Kim Jong-un is dead, incapacitated, or recovering from a medical procedure, his absence from public view raises a series of questions about the stability of the regime and of the Korean peninsula more generally. Much speculation—that the system is potentially unstable, that there will be a power vacuum, that we are in for a period of more provocations—fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the North Korean political system.

Question #1. Is the North Korean system stable in the absence of its leader? The short answer is “yes.” Although North Korea is a notoriously personalist family dictatorship, it also maintains a number of the institutional features of communist political systems: clearly delineated formal institutions, a top-down structure, and strong norms of loyalty and obedience.

Question #2. How would succession work? We expect that the Politburo of the Korean Workers Party would play a pivotal role in any succession. Not only can the Politburo generate new leadership but it provides collective support from key stakeholders: from the party, the security apparatus, the military, state institutions, and the mass organizations. The Politburo may augment itself with new members, or may communicate with the party, the military, and the state through an expanded, ad hoc meeting. But the Politburo and its members are likely to be the organizational focal point for any transition.

We focus on the Politburo because of the size of the bodies between which it is nested. In China, Xi Jinping has clearly centralized power but he still relies on the Politburo Standing Committee, with seven members. The corresponding body in North Korea, the Politburo Presidium, has precisely three: Kim Jong-un, Ch’oe Ryong-hae, and Pak Pong-ju. A body this narrow is not adequate to provide the support that will be needed to assure the succession is smooth. The Central Committee, on the other hand, is too large with about 125 members.

The Politburo fits the golden rule of being right-sized; it has 13 members (excluding the three Presidium members and Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s younger sister and a Politburo alternate member). More importantly, it also reflects all of the core political bases. While Kim Jong-un has not proven the reformer many thought he would be, he has in fact crafted a new leadership in the Politburo, with all members except for the three Presidium members coming on board since the Party Congress in 2016. Indeed the faces on the Politburo are surprisingly fresh, with one member elected in October 2017, five coming on in April 2019, and three in December 2019. The newest member was elected in early April 2020. All of these actors share a strong common interest in assuring continuity.

Question #3. Who is likely to lead? Scanning the biographies of the Politburo members, one individual stands out as a likely leader even if the structure looks collective: Ch’oe Ryong-hae. Ch’oe has impeccable family credentials; his father fought with Kim Il-sung in Manchuria against the Japanese, and he was tapped as one of the trusted insiders who helped Kim Jong-un navigate the succession at the time of his father’s death in 2011. His CV looks like a virtual “who’s who” of influential positions in the regime: Mangyongdae Revolution Academy, Kim Il Sung University, Socialist Youth League, party central committee, vice-marshal, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, director of the Korean People’s Army General Political Bureau, director of the Organization and Guidance Department, President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, and member of the Politburo Presidium, the highest party body. No one other than Kim Jong-un has the credentials to match him, and we can’t see him being sidelined by any of the other members of the Politburo, many of whom are more siloed military commanders or state functionaries.

Question #4. What about the family angle? A legitimate question is whether a regime of this sort can really survive without someone at the helm who is directly in the much-vaunted bloodline. With the uncles and brothers assassinated under Kim Jong-un, the only obvious candidate in this regard is Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s younger sister. We have to put some probability—even if low—that the leadership could buck its patriarchal traditions and put her at the helm. But it is more likely that she will play a pivotal role as something akin to the chief-of-staff, a role she effectively played for Kim Jong-un.

Her power is not only familial; in such a regime, the leadership controls vast networks of foreign accounts and access to those resources—in effect the bank account numbers—are likely to be held by family. She has also worked through a number of important institutional roles. From 2018, she served as a vice-director of the party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, an important institution that curates and controls media information and the narrative surrounding the Kim family cult. In late 2019, she appears to have assumed the role of vice-director at the party’s Organization and Guidance Department, which controls and monitors the party apparatus. These roles and her position in the family provide her extraordinary power even if she does not formally assume the position of Supreme Leader.

Question #5. Will North Korea respond to an internal crisis by continuing its recent provocations or even escalating them? There is some sliver of logic to the argument that we might see an uptick in provocations, but we generally find this line of argument puzzling. The reason is simple: there are only two outside actors who could possibly exploit the circumstances to take the regime down and those are the United States, perhaps acting in consort with South Korea. But Trump is disinterested. He has more or less openly stated that he did not place a high priority on solving the North Korean issue before the election, and in any case the administration is tied down by the pandemic. We can expect to see the North Korean military and internal security apparatus go on high alert if Kim Jong-un has in fact died or is incapacitated. But we find it unlikely that the regime would draw any more attention to itself than it needs to.

Question #6. What about China and South Korea? South Korea’s Moon Jae-in has long sought to improve North-South relations and will extend sympathies and offers of help even if they are declined. But China is the key player in the end, and we saw their response to a succession in 2011: complete and total support for the regime, few questions asked. China has absolutely no interest in seeing the regime implode, and may even act as a lender of last resort if there are signs of economic or financial panic. There is an important implication: maintaining the sanctions regime—which is already leaking—will likely be difficult.

Question #7. Could COVID-19 scramble the logic of a smooth succession? The short answer is “yes.” On the one hand, North Korea did attempt to reach out for external support and has followed its socialist cousins in the region—China and Vietnam—with tough top-down measures to contain spread if not limit it entirely. For example, North Korea moved relatively quickly to close the border with China and although it has still admitted no COVID-19 cases, there is ample evidence it is taking the virus seriously.

On the other hand, the risks of an absolutely catastrophic spread in the country are nontrivial. As many as a third of the population is undernourished, the health system is underfunded, and numerous institutions and facilities—including packed military barracks—are highly vulnerable. If the leadership were to be preoccupied with succession and take its eye off of the virus, then North Korea could easily become a humanitarian disaster of the first order. But the regime has weathered these disasters before, and it is not clear that a significant death toll would derail the regime.

Stephan Haggard is the Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies and director of the Korea-Pacific Program at UC San Diego. He is a Visiting Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and has been a consultant to AID, the World Bank, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and the OECD and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Daniel A. Pinkston is a lecturer at Troy University in Seoul. He is former Deputy Project Director, North East Asia at the International Crisis Group. 


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