North Korea - South Korea
Chronology from Sep 2016 to Jan 2017
: Thae Yong-ho tells a conference in Seoul that “a significant number of [North Korean] diplomats came to South Korea” and more are waiting to do so, even though his is the only such recent case to have been publicized.
: ROK Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo tells the Wall Street Journal that North Koreans increasingly defect for political reasons, “not just because they are starving, but for a better life, and for freedom and for their children’s education.”
: Thae Yong-ho, former minister at the DPRK Embassy in London who defected to the ROK last year, tells Yonhap that, “North Korea has set the goal of developing miniaturized nuclear weapons that can fit atop a missile capable of reaching the US by the end of 2017 or early 2018 as it takes into account political transitions in South Korea and the US.”
: Ahead of Kim Jong Un’s 33rd birthday on Jan. 8, MOU says there are no signs of imminent provocations by North Korea.
: Citing an unnamed defense ministry (MND) source, CNN claims the ROK is speeding up the creation of a “decapitation unit” which in the event of hostilities would take out the top DPRK military leadership, including Kim Jong Un. Originally slated for 2019, it will now be ready this year.
: Rodong Sinmun carries a signed article, moderate in tone and general in scope, headlined “Improvement of North-south Relations Is Starting Point of Peace and Reunification.”
: Citing an unnamed defense ministry (MND) source, CNN claims the ROK is speeding up the creation of a “decapitation unit,” which, in the event of hostilities would be tasked with taking out the top DPRK military leadership, including Kim Jong Un. Originally slated for 2019, it will now be ready this year.
: Rodong Sinmun, the daily paper of North Korea’s Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), carries a signed article, moderate in tone and general in scope, headlined “Improvement of North-south Relations Is Starting Point of Peace and Reunification.” (Pieces of this tenor, however, remain outnumbered by diatribes and insults.)
: Quoting an anonymous ROK government source, Yonhap reports that from next week the Center for North Korean Human Rights Records, launched in September, will interview newly arrived defectors to collect evidence of human rights violations. This will be used to craft government policy as well as potentially to “hold violators responsible for their crimes.” Violators will be listed and their “mug shots” compiled (one wonders how), but the list and photographs will not be published.
: Emerging briefly from seclusion, Park Geun-hye takes tea with the press in the Blue House. She denies any wrongdoing, calling the accusations against her “fabrication and falsehood.”
: DPRK leader Kim Jong Un delivers his usual New Year Address. Inter-Korean issues occupy about one-fifth of this, all standard rhetoric with no new proposals. (See full text in the previous issue of Comparative Connections.) South Korea swiftly criticizes the speech, urging Pyongyang to stop provocations and insults and to embrace denuclearization.
: Emerging briefly from her seclusion, South Korea’s impeached President Park Geun-hye takes tea with the press in the Blue House. She denies any wrongdoing, calling the accusations against her “fabrication and falsehood.”
: A joint opinion poll by Yonhap (South Korea’s quasi-official news agency) and KBS (the ROK’s state-owned main broadcaster) on the leading presidential contenders gives Moon Jae-in a 21.6 percent approval rating, with Ban Ki-moon on 17.2 percent and Lee Jae-myung 12.4 percent. No one else even makes double figures. As to party popularity, Moon’s Minjoo (Democrats) on 36.3 percent far outpaces Park Geun-hye’s Saenuri Party, now down to 12.4 percent.
: Citing MOU’s and its own data, Yonhap says that Kim Jong Un’s field guidance visits, which peaked in 2013, fell from 153 in 2015 to 132 in 2016. His most frequent companion last year was Jo Yong Won, a vice director of the WPKs Central Committee. Jo accompanied Kim 47 times, more often than the better-known Hwang Pyong So (40 occasions).
: Reverting to its usual hyperbole, under the headline “Dictator’s doom unavoidable” the Pyongyang Times castigates “Park Geun Hye’s vicious dictatorship, which can be found nowhere else in the international political arena [and] generated the gargantuan … scandal shaking the world.”
: Rodong Sinmun condemns “traitor Hwang Kyo An, puppet prime minister of south Korea” for urging “decisive retaliation against any provocation of the north” while recently visiting a front-line unit: “Such reckless muscle flexing is unpardonable. The fellow countrymen will surely mete out a stern punishment to those quislings.”
: Chief Justice of the ROK Constitutional Court Park Han-chul pledges a “speedy and fair” impeachment trial. Justice Park’s own term on the bench ends on Jan. 31.
: Radio Pyongyang again broadcasts mystery number sequences in the small hours, starting at 0115 Seoul time. Introduced by the announcer as “review works in math lessons of the remote education university for No. 27 expedition agents,” these might be coded instructions to spies, as was the case in the past. This is the 20th such broadcast since June 24; they had previously lapsed after June 2000’s North-South summit. Alternatively, Yonhap suggests that this “may be some sort of psychological strategy aimed at sparking internal confusion within South Korea.”
: In a signed article headlined “Stupid tricks” but quite analytical overall, the Pyongyang Times (misspelling Hwang Kyo-ahn as Hwan) declares that “the ever-growing massive candlelit protest actions in south Korea demand the overall resignation of the incumbent cabinet.”
: Yonhap blows its own trumpet. Under the headline “Yonhap News key source of outside info for N. Korean diplomats: N.K. diplomat”, the ROK news agency quotes diplomat-defector Thae Yong Ho: “The first website North Korea[n] diplomats open on their computers is Yonhap News.
: Rodong Sinmun reports that on Dec. 23 the DPRK Measure Council (sic) for Human Rights in South Korea published a report listing “the worst ten of many crimes committed by the south Korean Park Geun Hye regime of traitors in 2016”. These include “the thrice-cursed group abduction” (aka the Ningbo 13) and other unconvincing or scattergun examples. (Readers in the ROK, where it remains illegal to access DPRK media sources directly, should be able to read it here.) Two days later the Pyongyang Times covers this in better English; the publishing body is now named as the DPRK Association for Protection of Human Rights in South Korea.
: Kim Jong Un, and all North Korea, marks the fifth anniversary of his father Kim Jong Il’s death.
: Constitutional Court warns that Park’s impeachment trial will take time (up to 180 days are allowed).
: DPRK media report and picture Kim Jong Un, “with a broad smile,” guiding a special operations drill whose target appears to be a mock-up of the Blue House in Seoul.
: South Korea follows UNSCR 2321 by tightening bilateral sanctions on North Korea. Seoul’s measures, mainly blacklisting entities which do no business with the ROK anyway, are described by Kim Kwang-jin, a prominent defector economist, as “largely symbolic.”
: MOU says it will conduct a pilot survey on 10 recent Northern defectors to gather data on DPRK human rights abuses.
: North Korea holds an army-people solidarity rally marking the sixth anniversary of the shelling of the South’s Yeonpyeong Island. The venue is the locality from whence the KPA’s 4th Army Corps fired: Kangryong County in South Hwanghae province.
: KCNA reports that Kim Jong Un inspected KPA units on Kali – said to be a new base created at Kim’s direction – and the larger Jangjae, two islets in the West (Yellow) Sea close to the ROK-held Yeonpyeong island. As usual no date is given, but this presumably was the previous day, Nov. 12. Kim’s instructions included that these front-line soldiers “should be provided with lots of ideological pabulum.” More ominously, he also “approved the newly worked out combat document of the plan for firepower strike at Yonphyong [the DPRK spelling] Island.”
: In a second televised apology, a tearful Park Geun-hye says she let her guard drop as regards Choi: “These latest developments are all my fault and were caused by my carelessness.”
: Rodong Sinmun offers the North’s first official commentary on the Choi Sun-sil scandal, Calling Choi a “mindless shaman,” the paper’s editorial board concludes: “The tide of history is now in the hands of South Koreans and how they will fulfill their duties and responsibilities.”
: In the first of what will become weekly rallies every Saturday, thousands of protesters in Seoul and elsewhere demonstrate, peacefully, calling for President Park Geun-hye to step down.
: The Hankyoreh, South Korea’s main left-leaning daily, repeats the charge that Choi Sun-sil meddled in North Korea policy, including the KIC closure and also the Jan. 7 decision to resume propaganda broadcasts by loudspeaker across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
: With unusual speed (the norm is 2-3 days’ delay in reporting ROK domestic events), Rodong Sinmun, daily paper of the DPRK’s ruling Workers’ Party, reports that “Park Geun-hye and her party face the worst political crisis ever … The current ‘government’ faces de-facto collapse”
: Responding to – if not exactly denying – media claims that Choi Sun-sil was involved in drafting President Park’s March 2014 Dresden Declarations and in last February’s decision to shut the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), MOU insists that the former’s contents came from relevant ministries, while the KIC closure was made for security reasons.
: President Park admits and apologizes for having Choi review some of her speeches, but says she did this “with pure intent.” Most reactions criticize this explanation as unsatisfactory.
: JTBC, a South Korean cable TV network, claims it has computer evidence showing that Choi Sun-sil – a long-time confidante of President Park Geun-hye, with no official post or security clearance – had advance drafts of Park’s major speeches and edited some of them.
: Visiting Seoul, the US Special Envoy for DPRK Human Rights Issues Robert King says Washington hopes to sanction more North Koreans for rights abuses.
: South Korea’s NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCK) says the 54 bodies it represents have together collected $187,000 for flood aid to the North. They send this to the International Committee of the Red Cross (IRC), as their own government now bans direct contact.
: Citing MOU data, Yonhap reports that 1,036 North Koreans entered the South in January-September this year, taking the cumulative total since 1953 to 29,830.
: Nam Kyung-pil, governor of Gyeonggi Province (which surrounds Seoul), who is – or was – seen as a potential conservative candidate for the ROK presidency, tells Yonhap that in the face of North Korea’s growing nuclear threats, the South too should prepare to acquire nuclear weapons.
: 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.”
: 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.”
: 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.”