North Korea - South Korea

Chronology from Sep 2015 to Dec 2015

: KCNA reports that Kim Yang Gon, the DPRK’s point man on the ROK, died in a car crash early the previous day. Kim’s state funeral on Jan. 1 does not quash speculation in Seoul that someone – not necessarily a tearful Kim Jong Un – wanted him out of the way.

:   MOU reports more South Koreans as visiting the North this year, especially since the Aug. 25 accord.

: MOU’s briefing on what it calls the First Vice Minister Level Talks confirms that they broke down due to the two sides’ irreconcilable differences on priorities and agenda.

: Data from the ROK’s Statistics Korea show that the inter-Korean chasm in economic performance, already huge, widened further in 2014. With twice as many people as the North, South Korea produces 13 times more energy and 59 times more steel. The South’s total trade of $1.1 trillion was 144 times bigger than the North’s $7.6 billion.

: After a second full day, the North-South talks break down with no joint statement or even a date to meet again. The North demanded a resumption of tourism to Mt. Kumgang, linking this to further family reunions. The South refused on both counts.

: Inter-Korean talks are held at Kaesong. Vice Unification Minister Kim Boo-gi leads the ROK delegation; his DPRK counterpart is CPRK vice director Jon Jong Su.

: In a telephone interview Lee Kang, husband of Ko Yong Suk, tells Yonhap they fled to the US in fear they might be victimized when Kim Jong Il died: “I had felt the cruelty of power.” Lee says he now runs a laundry business. Ko also wanted to seek medical help for her sister Ko Yong Hui, Kim Jong Un’s mother, who died of breast cancer in Paris in 2004.

: The ROK Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CBCK) says it hopes to send priests regularly to the DPRK to jointly celebrate major holy days. On possibly training Northern priests, Archbishop Kim Hui-jung says: “That’s not something we can discuss at present.”

: Ten containers of bottled water produced by Nongshim, the ROK’s top noodle maker, at a plant in Erdaobaihe, China close to Mount Paekdu reach Busan, having been first trucked to the DPRK’s Rajin port and then shipped to Busan.

: MOU says it will start collecting on soft loans extended in 2010 to firms hit by that year’s sanctions on trade with and investment in North Korea. A total of 32.5 billion won ($28.1 million) will be sought from 150 out of 168 borrowers.

: A lawyer in Seoul acting for Ko Yong Suk, Kim Jong Un’s maternal aunt and former guardian in Switzerland who fled to the US in 1998 with her husband, files suit against three prominent defectors for allegedly defaming her. She is not expected to appear in court.

: MOU says 23 ROK lexicographers will meet with DPRK colleagues in Dalian, China on Dec. 7-13 to continue work on the dictionary project.

: A 17-strong delegation of South Korean Roman Catholics, led by Archbishop Kim Hui-hung and including five bishops, visits North Korea at the invitation of the latter’s Catholic Association. They celebrate Mass at Pyongyang’s Changchung Cathedral, the DPRK’s sole functioning Catholic church.

: Working discussions at Panmunjom agree to hold vice-ministerial talks on Dec. 11 at the Kaesong complex. ROK media reaction includes disappointment that the level is not higher, and fears of a repeat of 2013’s protocol row in case the North sends someone whom the South deems too junior.

: The two Koreas exchange delegate lists for the Nov. 26 working meeting on high-level talks at Panmunjom. The South’s three-strong team will be led by Kim Ki-woong, head of MOU’s special office for inter-Korean dialogue; the North’s by Hwang Chol, a senior CPRK official who has taken part in previous North-South talks.

: MOU reports a partial setback for its Rajin logistics project. The Russian coal shipments are on track, but heavy snow on DPRK roads is delaying another trial consignment comprising ten container-loads of bottled water from China.

: North Korea’s CPRK sends a message to the South’s MOU via Panmunjom proposing a working-level meeting there on Nov. 26 about arranging high-level talks. The South accepts with alacrity.

: MOU announces the third test operation over the past year of a project to import Russian coal by rail and ship using the DPRK’s Rajin port. 120,000 tons will be shipped to three ROK ports by Nov. 30. A 20-strong Southern team, including the three ROK firms involved and government officials, will stay in Rajin until Nov. 20 to check how its facilities function. This pet project of President Park is exempt from the May 24 sanctions.

: North Korea repatriates via Panmunjom a South Korean aged 48, named only as Lee, who entered the DPRK from China in September for reasons unknown.

: Rodong Sinmun calls for opening an “epochal” new phase in inter-Korean ties: “Whether North-South relations improve or not depends on what attitude the North and the South have and how they approach the problem”

: Citing a range of examples, Yonhap’s “Topic of the Week” headline predicts: “Inter-Korean relations likely turn for better after reunions of separated families.”

: 162 ROK trade unionists – the largest Southern group to go North for five years – fly to Pyongyang for a friendly soccer competition with their DPRK counterparts.

: Second round of family reunions takes place. Some 250 South Koreans from 90 families meet their Northern close kin. DPRK Red Cross Chairman Ri Chung Bok tells ROK counterpart Kim Sung-joo he is ready to discuss regular reunions and consider letter exchanges.

: Family reunions are held at Mount Kumgang, as agreed. 389 members of 96 Southern families drive across the DMZ in 16 buses to meet 141 Northern relatives. They get six private meetings, totaling just 12 hours of private contact, during the three-day event.

: ROK Vice Unification Minister Hwang Boo-gi says North-South civilian exchanges are expanding rapidly, and may soon reach levels not seen for seven years. He attributes this to a positive shift in policy in Pyongyang.

: Local ROK court rules that authorities may stop leaflet launches across the DMZ if it would endanger citizens in border areas. MOU says this confirms official policy, but stresses that the government is not empowered to restrict freedom of speech by an outright ban.

: ROK officials reveal that on Oct. 7 the DPRK without notice released water from its Hwanggang dam on the Imjin River.

: Yonhap cites unnamed ROK government sources as saying that in late August the (North) Korean People’s Army (KPA) replaced the front-line commander involved in that month’s landmine blasts at the DMZ. Commander of the Second Corps Kim Sang Ryong was reassigned to command the 9th corps, well away from the border.

:  Uriminzokkiri website denies that the DPRK was behind hacking attacks on two servers of the subway operator Seoul Metro in 2014 saying that, “Whenever cyber attacks occur, South Korea blindly criticizes us without presenting any proof.”

: The Koreas exchange final lists of participants in upcoming family reunions.

: MOU says that some 100 artifacts unearthed in a joint archaeological dig at the Koryo dynasty Manwoldae palace in Kaesong will go on display soon, there and in Seoul. In fact no pieces cross the border, but holograms of them are displayed.

: MOU rebuts an opposition lawmaker’s claims that drought in North Korea is threatening the Kaesong IC’s operations

: The DPRK deports Joo Won-moo, a 21 year old NYU student resident in the US but an ROK national, via Panmunjom. It arrested him in April for trying to illegally enter the North from China. Seoul calls for the release of three other South Koreans detained in the North.

: Following up on a July visit, South Korean forestry experts visit Mt. Kumgang to help Northern colleagues treat pest-infested pine trees. The South is providing insecticide and sprayers worth 130 million won ($109,000).

: MOU says that the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), the last remaining inter-Korean joint venture, produced goods worth a cumulative $3 billion since it opened in 2004.

: The North’s CPRK fiercely attacks Park’s comments at the UNGA, warning that they put the planned family reunions at risk.

: Addressing the UNGA, Park Geun-hye calls on North Korea not to launch a long-range rocket. She tells the North to help its people out of difficulties through reform and openness instead of carrying out additional provocations, while urging Pyongyang also to give up nuclear arms and heed international concern on its human rights record.

: Rodong Sinmun says that no one may “slander or infringe on” the DPRK’s exercise of independent rights, such as launching satellites or bolstering its nuclear deterrence.

: Talking to thinktanks in New York, President Park vows to boost cooperation with the US, China and other regional powers to achieve Korean unification, which she calls the “fundamental solution” to the North’s nuclear and human rights concerns. She airs similar themes with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, himself a former ROK foreign minister.

: The North’s National Reconciliation Council (NRC) urges South Korea not to pass a bill on human rights in the North, calling this “an evil law inciting confrontation.”

: North Korea demands the repatriation of Kim Ryon-hui, a defector who now   claims she was forcibly taken to South Korea by a broker who helps refugees.

: Yonhap says Pyongyang is lukewarm on implementing the Aug. 25 agreement, for two reasons: preoccupation with preparing for its upcoming Party 70th anniversary celebrations on Oct. 10, and divergent agendas. Rebuffing sports and cultural exchanges, the North wants the South to lift economic sanctions first.

: The Secretariat of the (North’s) Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) attacks what it calls South Korea’s plan to set up a special warfare command to strike the North’s nuclear facilities as a “foolish self-destructive act.”

: North Korean website Uriminzokkiri warns that anti-DPRK leafleteers may jeopardize the prospects for family reunions: “How can the separated families between the two Koreas … afford to meet together under the sky of flying leaflets against North Korea?”

: Both Korean foreign ministers and President Park Geun-hye visit New York to attend the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). As last year, neither side avails of this opportunity to arrange bilateral meetings of any kind.

: An ROK civic group says the DPRK is rebuffing its efforts to arrange a joint celebration of National Foundation Day on Oct 3. A Southern delegation went North for this last year, and it was marked jointly in 2002, 2003 and 2005.

: MOU reveals that North Korea refused its invitation to participate in an Aug. 5 ceremony marking the start of work to restore the Gyeongwon railway line.

: Chung Mong-gyu, president of the ROK’s Korea Football Association (KFA), returns from the 46th East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) Executive Committee meeting in Pyongyang. Chung briefly met his DPRK counterpart Ri Yong Nam to suggest exhibition matches and joint training sessions. But Ri said this needed further discussion.

: Park Sang-hak, head of Fighters for a Free North Korea, says his group sent leaflets by balloon across the DMZ to protest Pyongyang’s recent missile and nuclear threats.

: Southern officials and technicians spend two days at Mt. Kumgang, checking the resort’s largely disused facilities ahead of upcoming family reunions. MOU says on Sept. 18 it will send in a technical team to carry out necessary repairs.

: KCNA reports the head of the Atomic Energy Institute as saying that all facilities at Yongbyon nuclear complex have “started normal operations.”

: Taking a train to Cheorwon on the Gyeongwon line, Unification Minister Hong calls this “a path of unification and hope extending to the world.” South Korea is rebuilding 9.3km of track from Cheorwon up to the DMZ.

: The director of the DPRK’s National Aerospace Development Administration tells KCNA that “the world will clearly see a series of satellites … soaring into the sky at the times and locations determined by the WPK Central Committee.”

: ROK Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo says that “many types of civilian inter-Korean exchanges” are possible without breaching Seoul’s sanctions on Pyongyang – which he says will continue unless the North sincerely apologizes for sinking the Cheonan.

: Gen. Choi Yoon-hee, chairman of the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), says any fresh DPRK nuclear or long-range missile test would create an “abnormal situation” in terms of the Aug. 25 accord, causing Seoul to resume loudspeaker broadcasts at the DMZ.

: A Seoul court sentences Kim Ki-jong, an avowedly pro-DPRK activist who knifed US Ambassador Mark Lippert at a seminar in March as a protest against US-ROK military drills, to 12 years in jail for attempted murder and other charges.

: South Korea’s Unification Ministry (MOU) proposes a budget for 2016 of 1.49 trillion won ($1.26 billion), up 1.6 per cent from this year, “to reflect the government’s will to improve ties with North Korea.”

: An opinion poll in the Seoul daily JoongAng Ilbo shows growing hostility to and declining interest in North Korea among South Koreans, especially those in their 20s.

: ROK Defense Ministry (MND) suggests the DPRK may mark 70th anniversary of the founding of the WPK on Oct. 10 by testing a long-range missile. MND also says the South will “conduct aggressive military operations at the DMZ” to counter Northern provocations.

: ROK Red Cross says its computers have picked a preliminary batch of 500 candidates for upcoming family reunions. This will be halved to 250 on criteria of health and willingness. The final 100 will be based on whosever relatives the DPRK comes up with.

: Marzuki Darusman, the UN special rapporteur on DPRK human rights, says during a five-day visit to Seoul that pursuit of inter-Korean unification and ensuring North Korea’s responsibility for its human rights violations are mutually reinforcing goals.

: Speaking at the Seoul Defense Dialogue (SDD), the only multilateral security meeting hosted by the ROK, Park Geun-hye urges North Korea to embrace reform and opening. (The DPRK was invited to the SDD, but scornfully declined.)

: Meeting Jin Liqun, president-designate of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), President Park proposes a complementary Northeast Asia Development Bank to develop North Korea’s infrastructure – provided it denuclearizes.

: ROK opposition leader Moon Jae-in says inter-party differences over a bill on North Korean human rights, which has been under discussion in the National Assembly for 11 years, could be bridged within a day.

: The Koreas agree on a date for family reunions: Oct. 20-26. Venue and format will be as usual: two sessions of three days each, with 100 elderly persons from each Korea meeting any kin the other side can trace at the North’s Southern-built Mt. Kumgang resort.

: Daejeon District Court acquits a 23-year-old student charged with violating the National Security Law by praising socialism and making pro-North statements on Facebook. Judge Song Kyung-ho says: “Just writing on Facebook doesn’t lead to instigating rebellion.”

: Pursuant to their Aug. 25 six-point agreement, the Koreas begin preliminary Red Cross talks at the border village of Panmunjom about arranging fresh reunions of family members separated for over 60 years since the 1950-53 Korean War.

: KCNA headline reads “Rodong Sinmun Urges S. Korea Not to Do Foul Behavior.” The WPK daily warns ROK rightwing media not to spoil the mood for dialogue.

:  Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) headline reads: “Rodong Sinmun Urges S. Korea Not to Do Foul Behavior.” It cites the daily paper of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) as warning right-wing ROK media not to spoil the mood for dialogue.

: ROK President Park Geun-hye is one of only two heads of states allied to the US to visit Beijing for events, including a military parade, marking the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in 1945.

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