North Korea - South Korea

Chronology from May 2016 to Oct 2016

: Suh Doo-hyun, head of the new CNKHRR, says the center is considering probing the DPRK’s rights violations in third countries, including its labor export practices.

: Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo attends the opening ceremony of the Center for North Korean Human Rights Records (CNKHRR).

: In seeming response to recent reports from Seoul of contingency plans to “decapitate” the DPRK leadership (see Sept. 11, above), a statement by the Korean People’s Army (KPA) General Staff warns that “the nuclear warheads fired by the KPA as punishment will completely reduce to ashes Seoul, the center of confrontation with compatriots where Chongwadae [the Blue House, the ROK presidential office and residence] is located and reactionary ruling machines are concentrated.” Furthermore “the KPA will sweep Guam, the base of provocations, from the surface of the earth.”

: In the DPRK’s second major test of a rocket engine this year (the first was on April 9), Kim Jong Un watches what KCNA calls a “ground jet test of a new type of high-power engine of a carrier rocket for the geo-stationary satellite.”

: MOU says that in the light of North Korea’s recent nuclear test, the chances of South Korea offering Pyongyang flood aid, even if asked, are low.

: At a fractious two-hour meeting with heads of the three main political parties – “Leaders snarl at each other at the Blue House” is the JoongAng Daily’s headline – Park rejects a proposal by the new Minjoo Party chairwoman, Choo Mi-ae, that she send a special envoy to Pyongyang. Park Jie-won, acting head of the People’s Party, says that unlike Park’s government and her ruling Saenuri Party, the two liberal opposition parties believe that “sanctions and dialogue must be implemented simultaneously.” They also oppose the planned deployment on ROK soil of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system.

: A dozen South Korean security and nuclear experts launch a new think-tank to discuss how the ROK could be armed with nuclear weapons.

: Yonhap quotes “a military source” as claiming, in lurid tones more usually associated with the North, that South Korea “has already developed a plan to annihilate … Pyongyang through intensive bombing in case the North shows any signs of a nuclear attack …. the North’s capital city will be reduced to ashes and removed from the map.”

: DPRK conducts its fifth nuclear test since 2006 and its second this year. Pyongyang media exult; Seoul, and the rest of the world, sharply condemn this.

: Attending the Seoul Defence Dialogue (SDD), Ahmet Uzumcu, Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), says North Korea should join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) without delay; adding that he has for years written many letters to Pyongyang on this, but never even received a reply.

: Yonhap reports that 894 DPRK defectors reached the ROK during January-August, up 15 per cent from 777 in the first eight months of 2015. The agency forecasts that the cumulative total since 1953 will surpass 30,000 this year. Arrivals peaked in 2009, but have slowed since 2011 under Kim Jong Un as border controls were tightened.

: Central Committee of North Korea’s Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League proposes a meeting of young Koreans from both North and South to discuss unification. Seoul rejects this the next day, calling it “sheer propaganda.”

: Days after Pyongyang media and the UN report severe flood damage in the DPRK’s northeast, with at least 60 dead, MOU says Seoul has received no request for aid.

: Ryoo Kihl-jae, architect of Trustpolitik and Park Geun-hye’s first Unification Minister (2013-15), tells Chatham House that unification “should happen peacefully and gradually … through the accrual of mutually beneficial and reciprocal cooperation between South and North Korea.” Ryoo was let go in Feb. 2015, as Park embraced a more unilateral view of unification.

: At a joint press conference with President Barack Obama after their bilateral meeting in Vientiane, Laos, ROK President Park says that “unification will offer the opportunity to the North Korean people of equal treatment.”

: A poll commissioned by the ROK Unification Ministry (MOU) finds that, for the first time since Aug. 15, critics of President Park’s approach to North Korea (46.9 percent of those polled) outnumber her supporters, albeit narrowly (45.9 percent).

: ROK’s North Korean Human Rights Act (NKHRA), passed March 3, 2016 by the National Assembly, takes effect. Inter alia this makes provision to “collect, record and preserve details of crimes against humanity committed by Kim [Jong Un] and his aides.” To that end, later in September a new Center for North Korean Human Rights Records (CNKHRR) is established.

: In his first interview, conducted by telephone, the ex-restaurant manager of the ‘Ningbo 13’ – North Korean restaurant workers in China, who came to Seoul en masse in April – named as a Mr Heo aged 36, tells the Hankyoreh that he never expected Seoul to publicize their defection, and says repeatedly that “time will bring everything to light.”

: Yonhap, the quasi-offical ROK news agency, reports “a source” (unidentified) as claiming that a diplomat engaged in trade activities at the DPRK Consulate General in Vladivostok defected to Seoul in August, bringing his family and “huge holdings of foreign currency.” No such defection is subsequently confirmed, as of Jan. 2017. Several other similar claims emanating from Seoul of recent diplomatic defections remain unsubstantiated.

: Yonhap reports “a source” – just that; no further identification – as claiming that a diplomat engaged in trade activities at the DPRK consulate general in Vladivostok defected to Seoul in August, bringing his family and “huge holdings of foreign currency.”

: Citing “a Seoul official”, Yonhap claims that Kim Yong Jin, North Korea’s vice premier for education, was executed by firing squad in July for slouching at June’s SPA meeting; and that Kim Yong Chol, Pyongyang’s point man on South Korea, received a month of revolutionary re-education on a farm for his overbearing attitude and abuse of power. Some experts cast doubt on the genesis, motives and reliability of such announcements by the ROK.

: Visiting Kazakhstan, ROK Unification minister Hong Yong-pyo claims that sanctions are squeezing Kim Jong Un’s ability to raise the funds he need to secure his rule.

: In an editorial headlined “Sanctions haven’t worked,” the JoongAng Ilbo – widely regarded as South Korea’s leading newspaper – criticizes claims that the Northern regime is shaky as “naïve wishful thinking.” It calls for a two-track policy: not only sanctions, but also diplomatic efforts to “draw North Korea to the negotiating table.”

: South Korean vessel rescues a North Korean clutching a styrofoam float near Yeonpyeong island. Three more Northerners defected in a fishing boat earlier in August.

: The NIS claims North Korea recently ordered the adult children of diplomats posted abroad to return home, but says this was not a factor in Thae Yong Ho’s defection.

: Ulchi Freedom Guardian, the annual summer joint US-ROK military exercise, begins, continuing through Sept. 2. As always DPRK media complain, continuing even after the maneuvers end, that this is a disguised rehearsal for invasion.

: North Korean media denounce Thae Yong Ho – not named, but referred to as a “human scum” and “the above-said bete noire,” alleging that he was under investigation in Pyongyang for embezzlement, selling secrets and “rape of a minor.”

: The Hankyoreh reports that the Ningbo 13 have been “released into South Korean society” from the NIS Defector Protection Center. Amid claims from Pyongyang that they were being held under duress, the left-leaning Seoul daily had repeatedly raised concerns about the NIS’s refusal to let them meet the press or be interviewed by independent lawyers.

: MOU reveals that Thae Yong Ho, a long-serving DPRK diplomat in London, has defected to the ROK with his family. The story is widely carried by global media.

: ROK media quote Brazil’s former ambassador in Pyongyang as contradicting official DPRK claims that Choe Ryong Hae, one of Kim Jong Un’s closest aides, who visited Brazil for the Rio Olympics during Aug. 4-10, met and talked with Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer on Aug. 5. Brazilian sources deny that any such meeting ever took place.

: The world swoons at a smiling “selfie” of two young female Korean gymnasts competing at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro: the South’s Lee Eun-ju and the North’s Hong Un Jong. (No prizes for guessing whose phone it was.)

: The ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) reveal that on July 22 guard troops near Gimpo collected “scores of tightly air-filled vinyl bags carrying North Korean leaflets” from the Han River. The “shoddily printed” leaflets celebrated the North’s “victory” in the Korean War, and threatened to attack the South with Musudan missiles. This is the first time the DPRK has sent water-borne propaganda, rather than by air.

: Bank of Korea (BOK) publishes its annual estimates on North Korea’s economy. It reckons Northern GDP fell 1.1 percent in 2015 from 2014, with shrinkage in all sectors except construction. Total DPRK output was a mere 2.2 percent of the ROK’s; per capita gap was 22:1. The South’s total trade (the numbers here are known, but exclude inter-Korean commerce) was 154 times greater than the North’s.

: ROK government source says that, for the first time in 16 years, on July 15 Radio Pyongyang broadcast mysterious numerical codes. In the past these were thought to be instructions to agents, but this time some experts reckon the North is just sowing confusion. Similar signals have also emanated from Seoul, as recently as 2011; the NIS has no comment.

: DPRK offers a new, albeit tough, five-point plan for denuclearization (not only its own). This is widely ignored, being overshadowed by the US levying its first ever sanctions (a) on Kim Jong Un personally and (b) on human rights rather than WMD grounds.

: JoongAng Daily reports that malaria rates in South Korea, near the border with the North, rose 80 percent from 2013 to 2015. A joint inter-Korean anti-malaria project had seen cases in Gyeonggi province fall from 1,007 in 2007 to 490 in 2008 and 382 in 2011, when Seoul ended support from this program. Since then the rate has gone up again. (NB: A graphic in this report in fact shows a less clear linear relationship than the article implies.)

: Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), the DPRK rubber-stamp parliament, holds its annual one-day session. The National Defense Commission (NDC) is replaced as the top executive body by a new State Affairs Commission (SAC). The Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) is replaced by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC). It is unclear what this change in nomenclature portends.

: A closed-door hearing at Seoul Central District Court, in a habeas corpus case brought by the left-leaning Lawyers for a Democratic Society (Minbyun), is suspended when the Ningbo 13 all fail to appear, despite a subpoena to do so. Counsel for the NIS say they refused to attend because of fear for their families’ safety in North Korea; adding that the former waitresses had applied for ROK citizenship, and were granted this on June 3.

: Meeting fishermen on the ROK’s northwestern border island of Yeonpyeong, Yoo Jeong-bok, mayor of Incheon, pledges to head off illicit Chinese fishing by pushing for a “system under which our fishermen receive fish from North Koreans in (waters between the two Koreas) and sell them (in the South or elsewhere).”

: South Korea’s National Police Agency (NPA) claims that from July 2014 through Feb. 2016 North Korea hacked two major chaebol, SK and Hanjin. 42,608 documents were stolen and later deleted, including the wing design of the US F-15 jet fighter (made by Hanjin’s affiliate Korean Air). Altogether 140,000 computers at 160 Southern firms were hacked, with malicious code planted in a long-term plan to launch a massive cyberattack. Nonetheless the NPA concludes that overall ROK security was not compromised.

:   MOU confirms that three more ex-staffers at DPRK restaurants in China have recently defected and reached Seoul. Unlike for the Ningbo 13, no further details are given, but the two are thought to have been working in Xian.

: Kim Jong Un’s maternal aunt Ko Yong Suk, who looked after him during his Swiss schooldays, gives her first interview since she defected to the US with her husband in 1998. Inter alia she reveals that her nephew is 32 (born in 1984), not 33 as hitherto thought.

: Institute for Unification Education (IUE), an affiliate of MOU, says it has indefinitely postponed or diverted some 30 of its regular tours to parts of China which border North Korea, following an ROK government advisory warning of terrorism and kidnap risks.

: South Korea’s defense (MND) and technology (ICT) ministries say they are discussing the creation of a cybersecurity reserve force in case of a national network emergency.

: South Korea’s Defense Ministry (MND) rejects the North’s proposal of inter-Korean military talks as “a bogus peace offensive for bogus peace that lacks sincerity”, since it does not mention the nuclear issue. MOU chimes in: “Now is not the time for dialogue.”

: Seoul High Court upholds a three year jail sentence on a South Korean man named only as Park, convicted of planning to kill the senior North Korean defector Hwang Jang Yop. Hwang died of heart failure in 2010 before the plot could be carried out.

: South Korea’s foreign ministry (MFA) calls a meeting of major tour firms and urges them to discourage travel to parts of China bordering North Korea, citing safety fears. A day later MFA says two ROK citizens are missing in the border area.

: MOU’s annual white paper on its work in 2015 reveals, inter alia, that 1,276 DPRK defectors reached the ROK last year, the smallest figure since 2001. Southern aid to the North “soared” to 25.4 billion won ($21.8 million), a six-year high. Cumulative output at the Kaesong zone in its eleven years of existence totaled $3.23 billion.

: Symantec reports that Microsoft has patched a vulnerability issue in Internet Explorer recently used in cyberattacks targeted on South Korea, where almost everyone uses that browser rather than others. (Note: The link is strictly for the technically minded.)

: South Korean companies that had invested in the KIC, and some 50 of their business affiliates and partners, file suit with the ROK Constitutional Court, claiming that the zone’s closure by Seoul was illegal. Yonhap quotes them as saying: “Our own government violated our property rights by shutting down the Kaesong complex with no legal basis.”

: South Korean companies who had invested in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), together with some 50 of their business affiliates and partners, file suit with the ROK Constitutional Court, claiming that the zone’s closure by Seoul was illegal. Yonhap quotes them as saying: “Our own government violated our property rights by shutting down the Kaesong complex [in February] with no legal basis.”

: Rodong Sinmun quotes Kim Jong Un as saying: “Both the North and the South should respect each other and open a new page … as partners in unification. [They] should alleviate the current military tensions and resolve all matters through communication and negotiation.” In the first instance, the two sides’ militaries should hold talks.

: MOU dismisses Kim Jong Un’s call for North-South talks as “merely [a] propaganda drive with no sincerity” (the English is by Yonhap).

: Headline in Rodong Sinmun, the WPK daily, reads: “Park Geun Hye Group Had Better Stop Recklessly Grumbling about DPRK’s Nuclear Deterrence Any Longer: CPRK Spokesman.” CPRK is the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea.

: Seventh Congress of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) is held in Pyongyang: the first such of its kind since the Sixth Congress in 1980. Kim Jong Un gets a new title as WPK chairman.

: Seventh Congress of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) is held in Pyongyang: the first such of its kind since the Sixth Congress in 1980. Kim Jong Un gets a new title as WPK Chairman: he gives a three hour work report, as well as opening and closing speeches. A grand parade follows the Congress.

: With a detailed graphic comparing the two Koreas on 22 separate indicators, The Economist considers unification prospects. It costs this (conservatively) at $1 trillion.

: The ROK Ministry of Unification (MOU) says South Korea is “on alert for the possibility that the North may try to abduct our citizens or conduct terrorist acts abroad”, in reprisal for the defection – which Pyongyang claims is an abduction – of its 13 restaurant workers from Ningbo (hereafter the Ningbo 13) in China in April.

: MOU says South Korea is “on alert for the possibility that the North may try to abduct our citizens or conduct terrorist acts abroad,” in reprisal for the defection (which Pyongyang claims is an abduction) of its 13 restaurant workers from China.

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