North Korea - South Korea

Chronology from Jan 2019 to May 2019

: MOU says it will spend two weeks testing newly renovated nationwide facilities for family reunions via videolink.

: South Korea stages a concert at Panmunjom on the anniversary of Moon and Kim’s first summit there.

: Japanese daily Mainichi Shimbun reveals leaked details of North Korea’s never-published 2016 Five-Year Plan, acquired somehow by a South Korean researcher. Inter alia, so as to reduce economic dependence on China this advocates boosting trade with Russia – but does not mention either South Korea or Japan, both formerly major trade partners.

: MOU confirms that supposedly weekly meetings between the inter-Korean liaison office’s joint directors have not been held for two months: since Feb. 22, when the North sent a stand-in. The two co-heads of the office – ROK Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, and the DPRK’s Jon Jong Su – last met on Jan. 25.

: Under the headline “North severs contacts in South,” the center-right Seoul daily JoongAng Ilbo cites several unnamed Southern NGOs who say that their Northern counterparts are cold-shouldering them: no longer replying to fax and phone messages. Some claim that Kim Jong Un has personally forbidden such contacts.

: Moon Jae-in says: “I hope the two Koreas will have another summit without being restrained by the venue and format,” given the need for “concrete and substantive discussions” that will yield “fruits.” Critics insist it is Kim Jong Un’s turn to come to Seoul.

: Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports that North Korea is trying to buy South Korean high-yielding rice seeds via traders in China. The latter are reluctant, as PRC Customs inspections for farm products are stringent. They wonder why Pyongyang doesn’t simply ask Seoul, which in the ‘Sunshine’ era allowed civic groups to supply such seeds.

: Running to a rare second day, the SPA hears a long and tough policy speech by Kim Jong Un. Inter alia Kim upbraids South Korea for continuing war games with the US and not implementing last year’s accords, while “pos[ing] as a meddlesome ‘mediator.’”

: First session of the 14th SPA, “elected” in March, is held in Pyongyang. As usual there is a budget speech with no hard numbers. Personnel changes include a titular head of state, Choe Ryong Hae, replacing Kim Yong Nam who at 90 has retired; and a new premier, Kim Jae Ryong, replacing Pak Pong Ju who has been moved to another post.

: Two rival global organizations in Taekwondo – the DPRK-backed International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), and the more widely recognized ROK-backed World Taekwondo (WT) – stage joint demonstration events in Lausanne and Geneva, to mark the 25th anniversary of Taekwondo’s acceptance as an Olympic sport.

: Kim Jong Un chairs the fourth plenary session of the seventh term Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee (WPK CC). This key meeting of North Korea’s ruling party immediately precedes the annual spring session of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), the DPRK’s rubber-stamp parliament; see April 11-12.

: Uriminzokkiri attacks MOU for publishing the results of last year’s joint inspections of Northern railways, which found them in poor condition and in need of repair (see March 29, above). Calling this “disrespectful”, the DPRK website also criticizes the ministry more generally for poor performance, and the ROK government for kow-towing to Washington: “If South Korea is truly interested in North-South cooperation, it should tell the US what it should be told, instead of disclosing some clumsy report.”

: Kim Yeon-chul is sworn in as South Korea’s new minister of unification, despite the National Assembly’s failure to confirm him – which is not mandatory. The conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) calls him unacceptably “pro-North.”

: MOU says South Korea has shared information on a serious forest fire in its northeastern border region with North Korea via the Kaesong liaison office.

: DPRK website Meari accuses the ROK of excessive caution toward the North: “Talks of prudence by the South Korean authorities are an evasion of responsibility over implementing North-South declarations promised in front of the whole nation, and an overt surrender to the pressure from the US and the conservatives.”

: The ROK military begins de-mining and search operations for MIA remains at Arrowhead Ridge, a Korean War battle site in the central DMZ. This was meant to be a joint operation, but this year the North has not responded to Southern attempts to set a schedule.

: MOU releases findings from last year’s joint inspections of DPRK roads and railways. Both the west and east coast main rail lines, totaling 800 miles in length, “are in serious condition,” with erosion and damage to rails. Tunnels and bridges are a particular concern: some bridges 70-100 years old (i.e., built by Japan) have never been renovated. Highways, though newer, are no better. On the 100 mile-long main road from the border (Kaesong) north to Pyongyang, completed in 1992, there was high risk of rock slides in 33 places and 90 bridges were cracked, as were tunnels. (See also April 9 below.)

: The IOC announces that it has approved the two Koreas’ proposal to form some unified teams and march together at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

: Entire DPRK staff of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong leaves, abruptly and mysteriously, citing “instructions from higher authority.” Most return on March 25 after the weekend, simply saying “we came to do our shift as usual.” By March 29 the Northern complement is back to normal.

: Washington Post headline reads: “After Hanoi breakdown, Moon’s credibility as U.S.-Korean intermediary is on the line”.

: South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) says it will continue to pursue cooperation and exchanges with North Korea. Plans include joint teams in four sports at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics; a joint bid to co-host the 2032 summer Olympics; and inviting the North to various sports meets in the South. MCST will also “push for joint projects to compile a unified Korean-language dictionary, unearth historic relics at the Manwoldae site in the North’s border town of Kaesong, and conduct a joint survey of ancient tomb murals in Pyongyang.”

: As part of a wider Cabinet reshuffle affecting seven portfolios, President Moon nominates Kim Yeon-chul, head of the Korean Institute of National Unification (KINU – a think-tank under MOU) as minister of unification, to replace Cho Myoung-gyon.

: Asked on background whether Washington is considering allowing sanctions exemptions so that key inter-Korean economic projects can resume, a senior State Department official (presumably Special Representative Stephen Biegun) bluntly replies: “No.”

: DPRK’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) attacks the new Dong Maeng exercise (replacing the former Foal Eagle), which runs March 4-12, as a “violent violation” of last year’s agreements between Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul.

: Blue House announces that Choi Jong-kun, a professor of international relations, has been appointed as the new presidential secretary for peace at the National Security Office (NSO). Choi was previously secretary for arms control within the NSO.

: Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon (soon to be sacked) says Seoul will discuss with Washington ways to prepare for future resumption of the Kaesong and Kumgang joint North-South projects, including sanctions waivers. (But see March 7, below.)

: New York Times headline reports that “South Korea Awaits 2nd Kim-Trump Summit With Both Hope and Fear.”

: Citing unnamed “officials” and a raft of concrete cases, Yonhap reports that ROK local governments are gearing up for expanded cooperation with the DPRK, expecting fresh momentum for peace from the upcoming Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi. Sports, culture, education and economy are seen as promising areas for such activity.

: The sports ministers of North and South Korea meet Thoma Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, at IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Bach says they plan to march together at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and to enter joint teams in four sports. He adds: “We warmly welcome the historic initiative of the two Koreas to put forward a joint Korean candidature for the Olympic Games 2032.”

: MOU says Pyongyang has not responded to its proposal to jointly mark the centenary of the March 1, 1919 protests against the Japanese occupation of Korea,  as agreed at last September’s Pyongyang summit. On Feb. 21, the North finally replies in the negative, saying circumstances do not allow this – but offering no further explanation.

: In the first (and last?) North-South civilian event of 2019, some 250 South Koreans from a range of NGOs – including religious groups, labor unions, and organizations of women, youth and farmers – join Northern counterparts at the Mount Kumgang resort on the DPRK’s east coast for a delayed New Year get-together.

: ROK Olympic Committee chooses Seoul over Busan as the venue city for its bid to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympics with the DPRK. North Korea is not known to have conducted any equivalent exercise, but only Pyongyang has the necessary facilities.

: A 22-strong delegation from Hyundai Asan, which developed and ran tours to North Korea’s Mount Kumgang east coast resort from 1998 to 2008 (when Seoul suspended the program after a Southern tourist was shot dead), visits Kumgang-san for a ceremony to mark the firm’s 20th anniversary. MOU hastens to point out that this does not mean tourism is about to resume, despite rumors.

: MOU data highlight the urgency of family reunions, currently stalled. Out of 133,208 South Koreans who have applied since 1988, the majority (77,221) are now dead. Of the 55,987 still alive, most (62%) are now aged 80 or over.

: Official of the Blue House (Cheong Wa Dae, the ROK presidential office and residence), as usual anonymous, tells Yonhap: “An inter-Korean summit will naturally be the next step following the second North Korea-U.S. summit.” Yonhap’s article is headlined: “S. Korea to push for fourth Moon-Kim summit to set stage for denuclearization.” Such optimism is widespread in Seoul at this juncture.

: In the first such sectoral talks of 2019 – and the last, as of mid-May – the two Koreas meet in Kaesong to discuss connecting cross-border roads and modernizing those in the North, following surveys last year. They exchange documents, discuss a DPRK delegation visiting the ROK, and agree to plan future meetings and exchanges. None of that happens.

: North Korea’s leading daily Rodong Sinmun, organ of the ruling Workers’ Party (WPK), calls on South Korea to stop “war exercises,” which it calls “a dangerous military action that runs counter to the current trend … toward our people’s reconciliation, peace and stability.” Meanwhile the North’s million-strong Korean People’s Army (KPA) continues its own winter training exercises as usual.

: South Koream Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha says that the future of two suspended inter-Korean joint ventures, the Kaesong complex and tourism to Mt. Kumgang, depends on how diplomacy goes between North Korea and the US:

: In its latest biennial White Paper, the ROK Ministry of National Defense (MND) drops its characterization of the DPRK government and military as an “enemy.” It also deletes other terms now deemed provocative, including Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) – a plan to take out the North’s leadership in case of war – and the Kill Chain strike platform.

: The DPRK website Uriminzokkiri, aimed at external audiences, says: “Active efforts should be made to expand and advance North-South cooperation and exchanges in all aspects.” It commends results achieved so far despite “brutal obstruction” from the outside. Meari, another North Korean site, even claims that “Had inter-Korean economic cooperation been pushed actively, the South’s economy would not be in a devastating state as it is today.”

: Saying more preparation is needed, MOU postpones delivering 200,000 doses of Tamiflu antiviral drugs and 50,000 early detection kits to the North, planned for Jan. 11. Seoul trade media earlier reported dismay among ROK pharmaceutical firms that the costly Roche original is being provided, rather than cheaper ROK-made generics; and also suspicion that Pyongyang may sell these on rather than use them itself.

: In his New Year press conference, ROK President Moon Jae-in calls on Pyongyang to take bolder steps toward denuclearization – and for the US to reward these.

: In his New Year press conference, Moon Jae-in calls on Pyongyang to take bolder steps toward denuclearization – and for the US to reward these.

: South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) says it will “consider various elements” before allowing companies who invested in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) to visit the site and check the state of facilities there. It has refused six previous applications from them for such visits since then-President Park Geun-hye closed the KIC in early 2016.

: Thae Yong Ho, a senior North Korean diplomat who defected in 2016, in an open letter urges the former DPRK chargé d’affaires in Rome, Jo Song Gil, who is reportedly seeking asylum in the US, to choose South Korea instead. Thae calls this “an obligation, not a choice” which will accelerate reunification.

: Thae Yong Ho, a senior North Korean diplomat who defected in 2016, in an open letter urges the former DPRK chargé d’affaires in Rome, Jo Song-gil, who is reportedly seeking asylum in the US, to choose South Korea instead. Thae calls this “an obligation, not a choice” which will accelerate reunification.

: Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung, the ROK joint head of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, meets very briefly (just 20 minutes) with Kim Kwang Song, the DPRK’s vice-chief at the office, to discuss “pending issues.”

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