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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attends a ruling party congress in Pyongyang, North Korea Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un resurfaced last week at the eighth Congress of his ruling Workers’ Party, where he admitted “almost all sectors” of his country’s economy had fallen short of their goals. Speaking for nine hours, Mr. Kim also said North Korea should bring its “arch-enemy” — the United States — “to its knees.”

Mr. Kim’s weapons of mass destruction program, which has long denied North Korea a path to economic prosperity because of punitive sanctions, reflects the internal contradiction of his policy of “byngjin” — developing the economy while simultaneously expanding its nuclear weapons deterrent. Mr. Kim has embraced his family’s tradition of seeking to hoodwink the world into lifting economic sanctions in return for empty denuclearization promises.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hiroji Kubota/Magnum Photos A newlywed couple on the banks of the Taedong River, Pyongyang, North Korea, 1981

“Whenever I go to North Korea,” Immanuel Kim told an interviewer in 2017, “I see people reading.” In the metro, in elevators, in buses and restaurants. But what were they reading, in a state unrivaled in the harshness of its censorship? As a graduate student at the University of California at Riverside studying Korean literature, Kim—who is now a professor at George Washington University specializing in North Korean culture—had become curious about North Korean fiction, which was usually dismissed as mind-numbing propaganda. There was a basis for this stereotype, it turned out, but after eight months of diligent reading, Kim began to find work that he genuinely liked.…  Seguir leyendo »

To outsiders, the demilitarized zone (DMZ) dividing North and South Korea is a flashpoint, a scar, and a reminder that, 70 years after it began, the Korean War is not actually over.

But for some of us, the DMZ is also home.

Resolving tensions along the border and creating an environment where two countries can peacefully co-exist is an opportunity within our reach.

I am the Governor of the Gangwon Province -- a region cut in half by the 1953 Armistice Agreement. Our northern border marks the boundary between the two Koreas. Perhaps no other region of South Korea is more aware of the dangers of war -- or more open to possibilities for peace.…  Seguir leyendo »

After weeks of ratcheting up tensions on the Korean peninsula, including lodging near-daily threats against South Korea in reaction to some of its citizens sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border, North Korea has decided to pause. On 24 June, North Korean state media reported that Kim Jong-un opted to defer plans to take certain military actions, after considering an unspecified “prevailing situation” during a virtual preliminary meeting of the Worker’s Party Central Military Commission over which he presided.

For now, one can only guess at the reasons for the sudden pause. Did reported U.S. B-52 bomber flyovers near Japan on 24 June, coupled with three U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum during a visit to Hanoi in 2019. (Jorge Silva/AFP/Getty Images)

Thursday marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War, with no formal peace in sight. The mass bloodshed ended with a truce in 1953, but threats and tensions on the peninsula persist. Most recently, North Korea blew up the inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office on June 16. The building was a symbol of a “new era of peace” ushered in by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at their historic summit on April 27, 2018.

The destruction of the liaison office reflects a hot-cold pattern of political tactics and is not a serious event.…  Seguir leyendo »

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, is young and belligerent. His sister, Kim Yo-jong, is younger and more belligerent still. Credit Pool photo by Jorge Silva

Kim Yo-jong, the only sister of North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, is now setting the tone of the country’s foreign policy. And if he is young and belligerent, she is younger and more belligerent still.

Early this month, after human rights activists in South Korea used balloons to send anti-North propaganda leaflets across the border, Kim Yo-jong called them “human scum” and “mongrel dogs.”

She faulted President Moon Jae-in of South Korea for failing to stop them and upbraided him for “putting his neck” into the “noose of pro-United States flunkeyism.”

She warned of “action” in reprisal, apparently threatening to destroy the Inter-Korean Liaison Office set up in 2018 to facilitate communication between the North and the South.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kim Jong Un waves after a parade for the 70th anniversary of North Korea's founding day in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 2018. (Kin Cheung/AP)

What do we really know about Kim Jong Un’s departure from the public eye? There is talk that the North Korean leader is “in grave danger” or “a vegetative state”; that he suffered a “botched” heart operation; that he was wounded by an explosion from a missile test; and so on. Not impossible. But let’s start with what we actually, factually, know.

First, recall Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson’s famous adage that the stock market has correctly predicted nine of the past five recessions. So, too, the relation between prolonged Kim family disappearances and supreme leader funerals. Every tyrant in the Kim family regime has gone missing multiple times, and for extended periods, only to pop up again alive and in charge.…  Seguir leyendo »

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang on April 11. (AP) (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

There are unconfirmed media reports that the North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un may be incapacitated or even dead following a medical emergency, possibly heart surgery. Both the South Korean and U.S. governments have said they do not believe anything is amiss, but Kim’s failure to appear in public since April 11 has fueled the speculation.

No one knows what happens if Kim dies — and that is precisely the problem. Kim’s death would leave North Korea dealing with an unplanned succession for the first time in its 72-year history. Kim Jong Il had been preparing to succeed his father Kim Il Sung for two decades when he took over in 1994, while Kim Jong Un had a few years to prepare before his father Kim Jong Il’s death in 2011.…  Seguir leyendo »

Students wearing masks have their temperatures checked Wednesday as a precaution against coronavirus as Kim Chaek University of Technology in Pyongyang reopened. (Jon Chol Jin/AP)

North Korea is making news again. For weeks there have been growing signs that the country is struggling to cope with the covid-19 pandemic. And now we’re hearing rumors that supreme leader Kim Jong Un has undergone heart surgery.

Needless to say, it’s always hard to know how seriously to take any accounts coming from the world’s most isolated country. Yet this time there is one striking bit of information that we do know: Kim didn’t show up for the ceremonies marking the birthday of his grandfather and regime founder Kim Il Sung on April 15 — a major absence, since that’s the most important day in the national calendar.…  Seguir leyendo »

Three generations of totalitarian misrule have left North Korea woefully incapable of containing, or even suppressing, a coronavirus epidemic. The same intelligent (and malevolent) design that has turned the country into the world’s most exquisitely oppressive police state has also inadvertently converted it into a prospective infection deathtrap.

North Korea’s notorious gulag camps and prisons, as well as its military barracks, are petri-dishes-in-waiting for communicable disease. The government’s worst-in-class transparency practices ensure that it will automatically censor information (bad news in particular) that might help identify the coronavirus and limit its spread. Longstanding economic failure means that much of the population is poorly nourished and vulnerable to infection.…  Seguir leyendo »

A health-care worker takes the temperature of a woman at an entrance to the Pyongchon District People's Hospital in Pyongyang on April 1. (Kim Won Jin/AFP via Getty Images)

In early March, North Korea triumphantly declared that it had absolutely no cases of the covid-19 virus. Yet most analysts agree that available evidence suggests the opposite. If the regime’s previous behavior in crises is any indication, we should expect it to respond with deceit, aggression and militarism, including increased arms-testing. Sadly, many North Koreans will likely die in the process.

In the 1990s, North Korea endured a catastrophic famine that likely killed millions. The North Korean government faced a series of shocks, including flooding, crop failure and the sudden end of Soviet subsidies. Government incompetence, indifference and theft of precious aid supplies all contributed to the chaos.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, meeting on the North Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone in June.Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Time

Is anyone surprised? On the last day of 2019, after months of threatening the United States to ease its nuclear standoff with “a bold decision” by year’s end — or else — the leader of North Korea darkly announced that the country would unveil a new strategic weapon “in the near future.” Kim Jong-un also declared an end to a moratorium on nuclear weapons and missile tests. On the first day of 2020, he did not deliver his customary, often fiery, New Year’s address. In other words, he interrupted his regularly scheduled program to bring us his latest threat.

The false calm is over; the old North Korean nuclear crisis is back on — only, it has just entered a deadly serious phase.…  Seguir leyendo »

What is North Korea doing and what does it mean?

North Korea has taken a series of escalatory steps by conducting 13 missile tests (short-range and submarine-launched ballistic missiles) since May and lodging threats including an unwelcome “Christmas gift” it will present if the U.S. fails to propose a new deal by the end of the year. Pyongyang upped the ante again on 8 December, by claiming to have conducted a “very important” test at the Sohae satellite launching ground – likely of a rocket engine; five days later, it carried out another such test at the same facility to strengthen its “strategic nuclear deterrent”, another way of describing capabilities relevant for a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).…  Seguir leyendo »

President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea in June. Mr. Kim called the moment “historic.”CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

Guess what country just issued stamps of Donald Trump? North Korea! Yes: An official postage stamp features grave-looking likenesses of President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, standing side by side. It commemorates their pleasantry-laden chitchat earlier this summer at Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas.

Why is North Korea celebrating that moment as “historic” (Mr. Kim’s own word)? Because it has to. After Mr. Kim scurried down to get whatever face time the American would grant him, the scene had all the makings of a public humiliation. So the North Koreans are now aggressively pretending that the encounter was somehow a coup for Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Trump’s 50-minute-long meeting on Sunday with Kim Jong-un, leader of North Korea, in the Korean Peninsula’s Demilitarized Zone was, in typical Trumpian fashion, good television. But it has the potential to be something much more significant.

While meeting in the thin buffer zone established after the end of the Korean War, the two leaders agreed to resume talks about Pyongyang’s nuclear program. That may not sound like much. But following March’s failed summit in Hanoi, it could provide the basis for detailed talks between real negotiators, signifying an important step toward reaching an agreement to address the global threat of North Korea’s nuclear program.…  Seguir leyendo »

A picture of Mao Zedong and Kim Il-sung on a remaining section of the Hekou Broken Bridge, which connected China and North Korea before it was bombed by the United States Army during the Korean War.CreditEuropean Pressphoto Agency

As President Xi Jinping of China left North Korea on Friday afternoon, much attention was focused on whether he had obtained any concession on denuclearization from Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader — and how he might leverage that when he meets President Trump this week on the margins of the G-20 summit. But this focus on nuclear weapons and China’s trade war with the United States obscures the real significance of Mr. Xi’s trip, and it mistakes his weakness for strength.

As notable as the pomp and ceremony of the rare meeting — the first visit to Pyongyang by a Chinese head of state in 14 years — was the lack of specifics about policy to emerge from it.…  Seguir leyendo »

The North Korean government wants to talk. On Saturday morning, displaying its signature defiance and smokescreen strategy, it fired off its eastern coast what the South Korean military called short-range “projectiles.” The drill was its first rocket launch to be detected since November 2017, when it fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (I.C.B.M.) capable of striking the United States.

A brief period of measured hope had followed the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, in Singapore last June. But Saturday’s provocation leaves no doubt that, once again, the government in Pyongyang is gradually, and very deliberately, escalating tensions to build up its leverage with the United States — this time with a view to resetting the terms of stalled negotiations.…  Seguir leyendo »

A failed summit in Hanoi between the U.S. and North Korea has resulted in a diplomatic stalemate. In this excerpt from the first update of our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to utilise its neutral position to re-energise the ailing peace process and adopt measures to ease the plight of North Koreans.

The tensions between Washington and Pyongyang that flared dangerously in 2017 have significantly abated, but for the moment so have hopes for a breakthrough that would end decades of conflict. North Korea and the U.S. pivoted from escalation to dialogue in 2018, resulting in the first leader-level summit between the two states and agreement on a broad set of shared principles.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Trump greeting North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, at their Hanoi meeting in February.CreditCreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

As deal-making goes, Donald Trump’s approach to negotiating with North Korea has resembled nothing so much as his purchase, in 1988, of New York’s Plaza Hotel: Rely on personal chemistry, ignore the advice of experts, neglect due diligence and then overpay for an investment that delivers no returns.

As with the Plaza, the result is about the same: a fiasco. Trump only avoided personal bankruptcy over the hotel thanks to the indulgence of his creditors. Who will bail out the United States — and at what price — for a bankrupt policy on the Korean Peninsula?

Vladimir Putin, maybe?

The Russian strongman certainly seemed to be angling for the role when he hosted Kim Jong-un at a summit in Vladivostok this week.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hanoi Summit Misfires

The meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un, held on 27-28 February in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, was a disappointment. The parties announced that they had failed to reach an agreement. According to the post-summit statements made by Donald Trump and DPRK Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, the main stumbling block was the price that the North Koreans demanded in exchange for the dismantling of their nuclear centre in Yongbyon.

Pyongyang insisted that the Americans should lift their economic sanctions against the DPRK, which were detailed in five resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council in 2016 and 2017.…  Seguir leyendo »