North Korea - South Korea
Chronology from May 2023 to Aug 2023
: Destroyers (one each) from the US, Japanese, and South Korean navies stage a trilateral ballistic missile defense exercise. A US military press release links this to North Korea’s recent rocket launches in “brazen violation of multiple unanimous UN Security Council resolutions that raises tension and risks,” and cites the recent Camp David summit as “inaugurat[ing] a new era of trilateral partnership.”
: For the second time in three months, a North Korean satellite launch fails. Promptly admitting this, KCNA quotes the DPRK’s National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) as blaming “an error in the emergency blasting system during the third-stage flight.” Calling this “not a big problem,” NADA vows to try again in October.
: Amid several signs that Pyongyang is partially easing stringent border controls it had imposed in Jan. 2020 to keep out COVID-19 (unsuccessfully), MOU says it is monitoring when North Korea will reopen its border with China “in a full-fledged manner.” Reporting to the National Assembly, the ministry judges that so far the North “has opened its border in a limited manner while struggling to stabilize a food crisis.”
: ROK Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries issues a maritime safety warning for the three areas which Pyongyang notified Tokyo its satellite launch might affect—while noting that “South Korean ships do not frequently pass through these zones.”
: In a response to UFS, headlined “DPRK Armed Forces Show No Mercy,” KCNA warns: “An unprecedented large-scale thermonuclear war is approaching the Korean Peninsula every moment as reality.” (Despite the apocalyptic tone, comments from a mere news agency—as opposed to, say, Kim Jong Un—are a relatively low-key reaction.)
: Back from his trilateral summit with the leaders of the US and Japan at Camp David, President Yoon tells his Cabinet: “The larger North Korea’s threats of provocations become, the more solid the structure of trilateral security cooperation among South Korea, the US and Japan will become. [This] will lower the risk of North Korea’s provocations and further strengthen our security.”
: KCNA reports that Kim Jong Un oversaw a naval drill involving cruise missiles.
: Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS), a large joint US-South Korea annual military exercise, begins. Continuing through Aug. 31, it includes some 30 field training events—more than in past years—“based on an all-out war scenario,” according to the ROK JCS.
: After the rightwing Seoul daily Dong-A Ilbo claims there was some sort of terrorist bombing in or near Pyongyang a month or two earlier (alleged details are extremely vague), South Korea’s NIS says it has detected no such event. In May, however, the spy agency told lawmakers that violent crime in the North has tripled from a year earlier, including “large-scale and organized” crimes like “throwing of homemade bombs in attempts to extort goods.”
: MOU offers some figures regarding Kim Jong Un’s titles and trips, as well as DPRK economic trends and nomenclature.
: Pyongyang issues its first report on defector Travis King. KCNA says he “decided to come over to the DPRK” due to “inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. Army.” (King is Black.) “He also expressed his willingness to seek refuge in the DPRK or a third country, saying that he was disillusioned at the unequal American society. The investigation continues.”
: MOU Kim Yung-ho urges Beijing not to send defectors back to the DPRK: “North Korean defectors in China should be…able to enter countries that they are hoping to go to, including South Korea.” They should be treated as refugees, not as illegal immigrants. According to the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, among 8,148 cases—no time period was given—of such forcible repatriation, 98% were from China.
: Chairing the second quarterly meeting of a new (mostly civilian) presidential defense innovation committee he set up, President Yoon says Seoul must prioritize boosting its deterrence capability against Pyongyang’s “imminent” nuclear and missile menace, along with the North’s other asymmetric threats (cyber and drones). By contrast, “we need to…boldly adjust projects aimed at operating weapons systems that are not immediately urgent.” (That sounds like bad news for those in MND who harbor blue water and aircraft carrier ambitions.)
: MOU spokesperson Koo Byong-sam tells a regular media briefing that Kim Jong Un’s recent visits to major weapons facilities “appear to have had multiple purposes—show off the country’s achievements in the defense sector, respond to [US-ROK] joint military drills, and seek arms exports”—despite the last being banned under UN sanctions.
: KCNA reports that on Aug. 3-5 Kim Jong Un “gave field guidance to major munitions factories.” These included facilities producing “the shells of super large-caliber multiple rocket launchers,” “new serial small arms,” engines for cruise missiles and UAVs, “erector launchers for major strategic weapons,” and “a new light electrical appliance factory which will play an important role in modernizing the KPA.”
: UN Command (UNC) at Panmunjom, which controls the southern half of the JSA and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), says North Korea has confirmed that it is holding the fugitive US soldier Travis King.
: MOU Kim pledges that the Yoon government will “never” seek a formal declaration ending the 1950-53 Korean War. That had been a key, if chimerical, policy aim of Yoon’s liberal predecessor Moon Jae-in. Kim explains: “Conditions for the end-of-war declaration have not been met. If [it happens], the issue of abductees, prisoners of war and detainees in the North will be overshadowed.”
: New MOU Kim Yung-ho announces his first official schedule: a meeting the next day with civic groups focused on Southern abductees and detainees in North Korea, and their relatives. The ministry will create a task force on the abductee issue.
: South Korea’s Ministry of Unification confirms a Radio Free Asia report that on July 20, 24, and 27 North Korea opened floodgates on its Hwanggang Dam to release water, without first warning Seoul as it is supposed to do under inter-Korean accords. Noting that Pyongyang “frequently” released water thus during July, “despite our repeated request” [to be notified], MOU calls this “very regrettable.”
: A propos Pyongyang’s military parade on July 28, which displayed a wide range of WMD and other armaments, MOU spokesman Koo Byoung-sam expresses “strong regret over how North Korea is adhering to nuclear development and an attitude of confrontation rather than seeking denuclearization and peace despite this year marking the 70th anniversary of the Armistice.” He calls on the North to choose the “right” path.
: New MOU Kim Yung-ho visits the National Cemetery in Seoul to pay tribute to South Korea’s patriotic martyrs and war dead.
: President Yoon formally appoints Kim Yung-ho as minister of unification, as the law permits, despite his not having been confirmed by the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Kim is the 15th minister appointed by Yoon without parliamentary approval.
: At the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue (NEACD) meeting in San Diego CA, Chun Young-hee, who heads the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Korean Peninsula Peace Regime Bureau, deplores North Korea’s WMD provocations and inattention to its “dire” humanitarian crisis. NEACD is an annual Track 1.5 meeting of all the former Six Party Talks participants. The DPRK has not showed up since 2016.
: MOU nominee Kim Yung-ho tells National Assembly confirmation hearing that he will prioritize “substantive” results in any dealings with North Korea, rather than “dialogue or its own sake.”
: Reacting to DPRK Defense Minister Kang Sun Nam’s threat (July 20), the ROK Ministry of National Defense (MND) warns that any North Korean attack “will face an immediate, overwhelming and decisive response from the [US-ROK] alliance and…will result in the end of the North Korean regime.”
: ROK’s Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), a division of the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MOEF), reports that last year North Korea’s trade dependence on China rose even further to 96.7%, a 10-year high. While doubling in volume year-on-year, trade has grown even more unbalanced. Pyongyang imported goods from Beijing worth $1,398 million, while exporting a mere $134 million.
: North Korea’s Minister of National Defense Kang Sun Nam issues a press statement, warning that the US SSBN deployment “may fall under the conditions of the use of nuclear weapons specified in the DPRK law on the nuclear force policy.” This “allows the execution of necessary action procedures…[if] it is judged that the use of nuclear weapons against it is imminent.”
: South Korea’s NIS claims North Korea stole cryptocurrency worth $700 million last year, but has not yet monetized it. The agency says this could fund 30 ICBMs, and that hacking accounts for 30% of Pyongyang’s foreign currency earnings. It adds that a DPRK hacker was caught trying to get a job with an ROK energy company abroad, having posted his resume on LinkedIn, using a forged passport and graduation certificate.
: A man later identified as Travis King (23), a private (second class) serving in US forces in Korea (USFK), breaks away from a tour group and dashes to the northern side of the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom. It emerges that he was being sent home, unguarded, to face disciplinary charges. Instead of boarding his plane he exited Incheon airport, returned to Seoul, and booked a tour of Panmunjom.
: USS Kentucky, an 18,750-ton Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), docks in Busan. This is the first visit to South Korea by a US SSBN since 1981.
: MOU reports that defector arrivals, while still a trickle by historical standards, almost doubled in the second quarter. 65 North Koreans—18 men and 47 women—reached South Korea during April-June, compared to 34 in January-March. The ministry attributes this to China easing its coronavirus restrictions. Almost all defectors come via China.
: Seoul retaliates to Pyongyang’s latest ICBM test by again slapping unilateral sanctions on three DPRK entities and four named individuals. Since none (obviously) have any dealings with the ROK, this move is largely symbolic.
: North Korea test-fires an ICBM off its east coast. According to Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno this flew for a record 74 minutes to an altitude of 6,000 km (3,728 miles) and a range of 1,000 km. Next day Pyongyang confirms that this launch was of its large Hwasong-18 solid-fuel ICBM, first tested in April, which has a range of 15,000 km. Analysts reckon this second successful test means it could soon be deployed.
: Kwon Young-se–still unification minister, though his successor has been named—tells a media briefing that North Korea faces a serious food crisis, despite grain imports from China and prices stabilizing somewhat. On Kim Jong Un’s health, Kwon says it “does not appear good, but it is not serious enough to pose some problems for him to work.”
: At the Hanawon resettlement center for defectors, three North Korean women, recent arrivals from China—where they had lived since 2004, 2014, and 2019, respectively—describe how Beijing’s anti-coronavirus restrictions worsened their lives. Lacking Chinese ID cards, they could not access most services. Even so, life was better than in North Korea.
: MOU publishes dossier of hitherto classified government documents on North -South contacts before and after the first inter-Korean accord: joint communiqué signed on July 4, 1972. Covering the period Nov. 1971-Feb. 1979, this has 1,678 pages—of which 230 remain redacted.
: ROK JCS say that South Korean and US experts, having analyzed debris from North Korea’s failed satellite launch in May, retrieved from the Yellow/West Sea, have concluded that the spy satellite would have had “absolutely no military utility.”
: After Pyongyang’s rejection, Hyun Jeong-eun withdraws her application to visit Mt. Kumgang.
: President Yoon signals a major policy shift on MOU, telling his staff: “Hitherto the unification ministry has operated as if it were a support department for North Korea. [T]hat shouldn’t be the case any more…It’s time for the unification ministry to change.”
: Pyongyang publicly and brusquely rejects Ms. Hyun’s visit; previously it had welcomed her as an honored guest. Kim Song Il, a director general at North Korea’s foreign ministry, tells KCNA: “We make it clear that we have neither been informed about any South Korean personage’s willingness for visit nor known about it and that we have no intention to examine it.” He adds that policy is not to allow South Korean nationals entry, and that the Asia-Pacific Peace Committee (APPC), which Ms. Hyun sought to contact (as in the past), has no authority in this regard.
: As heavy rain pounds the peninsula, MOU urges Pyongyang to notify Seoul of any planned release of water from its Hwanggang Dam on the Imjin river, which flows into South Korea. In 2009 flood waters from an unannounced discharge killed six South Koreans who were camping. Despite Pyongyang promising advance notice in future, last year (as often) this was lacking. On July 14 MOU says the North has made no response.
: MOU says it is considering an application by Hyun Jeong-eun, chairwoman of the Hyundai Group, to visit Mount Kumgang in North Korea—where Hyundai Asan ran tours during 1998-2008—to mark 20 years since the suicide of her husband, former group chairman Chung Mong-hun, on Aug. 4. She last held a memorial service for him there, with DPRK participation, on the 15th anniversary in 2018.
: MOU nominee Kim says “there is a need to selectively [re]consider inter-Korean agreements.” Specifically, September 2018’s military accord may require review, if (in Yonhap’s paraphrase) “the North continues to violate it with high-intensity provocations.”
: FFNK says it marked the 73rd anniversary of the start of the Korean War on June 25 with another balloon launch. This one sent 20 balloons carrying 200,000 leaflets, 10,000 face masks, Tylenol pills, and anti-regime booklets into North Korea.
: At the NIS’s request, South Korea blocks three North Korean propaganda channels on YouTube. As of 1400 local time, attempts to access Sally Parks Song-A Channel, Olivia Natasha- YuMi Space DPRK daily, or New DPRK come up as “not available” in the ROK. On June 27 YouTube itself terminates all three channels.
: Amid reports that some 2,000 North Koreans held in China face imminent repatriation now that the PRC-DPRK border has begun to reopen, the head of the ROK’s National Human Rights Commission of Korea, Song Doo-hwan, urges Beijing not to do this.
: ROK Cabinet approves a plan to establish a drone operations command in September. “A source” tells Yonhap that South Korea “has adopted an aggressive counter-drone operational principle, under which a single North Korean drone infiltration would prompt it to send 10 or more unmanned aerial vehicles into (sic) Pyongyang.”
: NIS says DPRK hackers have created a fake version of Naver, ROK’s leading Web portal and search engine, which 25 million South Koreans—almost half the total population—use as their homepage. The agency warns netizens to be on their guard.
: In a further instance—albeit mainly symbolic—of the Yoon administration’s hardening stance, almost three years after North Korea blew up the inter-Korean liaison office at Kaesong, the ROK sues the DPRK government in Seoul Central District Court; claiming damages of 44.7 billion won ($35 million) for destruction of state property. (Although located on Northern territory, South Korea built and paid for this facility.)
: MOU says that it plans to return, via Panmunjom, the corpse of a young (20s-30s) presumed North Korean man, found in waters off Ganghwa island northwest in May. Pyongyang has yet to indicate acceptance. Since 2010 South Korea has sent 23 bodies back to the North, most recently in 2019. In the last such case, a female flood victim in 2022, the DPRK’s radio silence meant the ROK had to cremate her. This time the North again fails to respond, so on June 16 Seoul says he too will be cremated.
: Yoon administration publishes its National Security Strategy. Besides (unsurprisingly) identifying North Korea’s WMD threat as the South’s most pressing security challenge, it also focuses on wider issues and the ROK’s ambition to become a “global pivotal state.”
: South Korea’s National Police Agency says that the North’s Kimsuky hacked senior ROK officials among others for several months recently, by sending phishing emails to 150 diplomacy and security experts. Nine persons—three former minister and vice minister-level officials, one incumbent government official, four academics or experts, and one reporter—fell for it, and had their account information compromised. Nothing confidential was stolen.
: Responding to Pyongyang’s failed satellite bid, South Korea becomes the first country to unilaterally sanction the (not obviously connected) DPRK hacking group known as Kimsuky.
: ROK’s foreign and health ministries jointly voice “deep regrets and concerns” at the DPRK’s recent election to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s executive board. “It is questionable whether North Korea, which has continued to contravene UNSC resolutions and disregard the UN’s authority, meets the standards for a WHO executive board member, which should abide by international norms, pursued by the U.N., and contribute to enhancing global health.”
: In the seventh such action under Yoon Suk Yeol, South Korea unilaterally sanctions three DPRK organizations (all under the North’s Ministry of National Defense) and seven individuals. All are said to be involved in Pyongyang’s illegal cyber activities.
: Suwon District Court jails An Bu-soo, chairman of the Asia Pacific Exchange Association (a private body), for 42 months, having found him guilty of embezzlement and unauthorized foreign exchange transfers to North Korea. This is the first conviction related to the case of Ssangbangwool Group’s ex-chairman Kim Seong-tae, whose own trial is ongoing.
: “A source” tells Yonhap that earlier this month a DPRK boat (whether civilian or military is unclear) told a 30,000-ton ROK cargo ship sailing in the East Sea/Sea of Japan to “move out to the open sea.” The latter complied, even though it was in fact in international waters.
: MOU Kwon urges North Korea to return to dialogue, saying the South has no hostile intentions.
: NIS reveals that a family group of 10 North Koreans, who crossed the Northern Limit Line —the de facto marine border in the West/Yellow Sea—by boat on May 6, told their ROK interrogators that “they had admired our society while watching South Korean television, and decided to defect as they grew exhausted of the North Korean regime amid tightened social control stemming from the pandemic.”
: Two Koreas are both drawn in Group B for the second round, to be held this fall, of the Asian women’s soccer tournament, a qualifier for the Olympic Games. China and Thailand complete the group. North Korea has won 15 of 19 previous inter-Korean encounters, against just one win for South Korea; three were draws.
: Suwon District Court indicts and detains four former officials of the ROK’s largest and most militant umbrella labor body, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, for allegedly spying for North Korea. The four unnamed accused deny all charges and are refusing to cooperate.
: MOU says North Korea seems to be illicitly operating some 10 ROK-owned factories at the former Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), which Seoul withdrew from in 2016.
: Seoul Central District Court orders the DPRK and Kim Jong Un to pay 50 million won ($37,900) each to three former POWs who escaped from the North in the early 2000s, almost half a century after being taken prisoner during the 1950-53 Korean War. The defendants were not represented. With some understatement Yonhap notes: “It seems difficult for the plaintiffs to actually receive the compensation.”
: Perhaps celebrating their recent court victory (April 27), the activist group Freedom Fighters for North Korea (FFNK) say that on May 5 it sent 20 balloons carrying vitamin C tablets, Tylenol pills, and booklets into North Korea from Ganghwa Island, northwest of Seoul.
: Perhaps celebrating their recent court victory (see April 27), FFNK say that on May 5 they sent 20 balloons carrying vitamin C tablets, Tylenol pills and booklets across the DMZ into North Korea from Ganghwa Island, northwest of Seoul.
: ROK’s ruling conservative People Power Party (PPP) criticizes the National Election Commission (NEC) for ignoring warnings from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) that DPRK hackers attacked it eight times in 2021-22. The NEC denies receiving such warnings. The liberal opposition Democrats (DPK) accuse the PPP and NIS of playing politics. On May 23 the NEC agrees to a cybersecurity check-up by the NIS.
: Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s leading daily, fills half a page with photos of recent anti-Yoon protests in South Korea. DPRK media have not done this for some years. In past instances, according to defectors, this backfired: readers observed that the other Korea looked more developed, and its people better dressed.
: ROK’s ruling People Power Party (PPP) criticises the National Election Commission (NEC) for ignoring warnings from the National Intelligence Service (NIS) that DPRK hackers attacked it eight times in 2021-22. The NEC denies receiving such warnings. The opposition Democrats (DPK) accuse the PPP and NIS of playing politics.
: MOU says it may sue the DPRK for “illicit” actions in the Mount Kumgang tourist zone, “including the unauthorized removal of ROK assets like a floating hotel owned by Hyundai Asan.” This is a tad tardy. As NK News notes, North Korea began demolishing the Haegumgang Hotel in March 2022; by Dec. it was gone. (See also April 23, above.)
: Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s leading daily, fills half a page with photos of recent anti-Yoon protests in South Korea. DPRK media have not done this for some years. In past instances, according to defectors, it backfired: readers noted that the other Korea looked more developed, and its people better dressed.
: MOU says it may sue the DPRK for “illicit” actions in the Mount Kumgang tourist zone, “including the unauthorized removal of ROK assets like a floating hotel owned by Hyundai Asan.” This is a tad tardy. As NK News notes, North Korea began demolishing the Haegumgang Hotel in March 2022; by December it was gone.
: ROK Ministry of National Defense (MND) announces what may be the largest ever joint live-fire drills. The “Joint and Combined Firepower Annihilation Training” will run May 25-June 15 at Pocheon, 20 miles from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), marking the US-ROK alliance’s 70th anniversary. This is the 11th such exercise, since 1977; the last was in 2017 (none took place under Moon Jae-in).
: MOU Kwon tells the Unification Future Planning Committee (UFPC; see Feb. 28, above): “We need to urge and induce North Korea to make the right decision so that all members of the Korean Peninsula can feel safe and lead prosperous lives.”
: Visiting a front-line area where North Korean drones infiltrated last year, the chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), army Gen. Kim Seung-kyum, warns that Pyongyang will attack “in unknown and unexpected formats going forward.” South Korea must respond “overwhelmingly…We have to imprint in the enemy minds that the only price for provocation is gruesome punishment.”
: ROK Minister of Unification (MOU) Kwon Young-se, tells the Unification Future Planning Committee: “We need to urge and induce North Korea to make the right decision so that all members of the Korean Peninsula can feel safe and lead prosperous lives.”
: Visiting a front-line area where North Korean drones infiltrated last year, JCS Chairman Kim Seung-kyun warns that Pyongyang will attack “in unknown and unexpected formats going forward.” South Korea must respond “overwhelmingly … We have to imprint in the enemy minds that the only price for provocation is gruesome punishment.”