North Korea - South Korea
Chronology from Sep 2021 to Dec 2021
: Family of Lee Dae-jun, the ROK fisheries official killed by DPRK forces in Northern waters in September 2020 (see our earlier report here), apply for an injunction to stop whatever information the Blue House holds on this incident being designated as presidential records, meaning access would be restricted. They fear this is why the Blue House National Security Office (NSO) and the Coast Guard are appealing a court ruling last month, ordering them to share all data they have with the family.
: MOU says: “We hope North Korea will start the new year by opening the door for dialogue … and take a step forward for engagement and cooperation.”
: North Korea holds the 4th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee at WPK headquarters in Pyongyang . This turns out to be heavily domestic-focused, especially on agriculture. At least as reported, nothing whatever is said about South Korea—nor the US, nor the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs.
: MOU Lee In-young warns that the peninsula’s geopolitics in 2022 will reach an “extremely critical juncture,” with uncertainties including the ROK presidential election. For the umpteenth time, Lee urges Pyongyang to talk: “We have finished preparations to start inter-Korean dialogue at any time, anywhere, regardless of agenda and form.”
: Two ROK experts claim the DPRK economy does not face imminent crisis, as imports of crude oil and fertilizer have continued despite sanctions and COVID-19 curbs.
: Heartbreaking data from MOU reveal that of 24,007 video letters produced by separated family members since 2005, only 20 have actually been sent to North Korea (in 2008).
: MOU claims that North Korea’s private sector has steadily grown during Kim Jong Un’s decade in power. Based on surveying successive cohorts of defectors, with a cut-off point in 2020, this contradicts or misses what most analysts regard as a significant and ongoing rollback of reform during the past two years.
: NIS warns that, ahead of next March’s presidential election, hackers may (in Yonhap’s summary) “beef up attempts to steal information on Seoul ‘s North Korea policy and other security issues.” It points no finger at who in particular might seek to do this.
: In Canberra, President Moon says that both Koreas, China, and the US have agreed “in principle” to declare a formal end to the Korean War. This makes headlines, even though Moon admits no talks are yet possible because Pyongyang objects to US “hostility.”
: Joongang Ilbo, Seoul ’s leading center-right daily, says it has been told by “a high-ranking Blue House official” that “we have continued to communicate with North Korea ” about an end-of-war declaration. This is the first confirmation that a top-level channel to Pyongyang exists. Its precise nature is not disclosed.
: MOU survey of 5,354 members of separated families—among a total of 47,004 persons registered as such—finds that the great majority (82%) have no data on the fate of their Northern kin. Of the lucky 18%, half said they obtained the information through private sources or NGOs: twice as many as the few who got this via the government. On background, MOU notes that this elderly cohort are dying at a rate of about ten per day, so time is running out for any more family reunions; the last was in 2018.
: MOU elaborates on the need “for a more systematic monitoring due to the frequent spread of false, fabricated information on North Korea on new media platforms which led to various negative consequences, including the distortion of policy environment.” Its website already has a section to scotch false media reports. Whether purveyors of untruth will be penalized is unclear.
: Despite frozen North-South ties, the National Assembly approves a 2% rise over 2021 in MOU’s budget next year, to 1.5 trillion won ($1.3 billion). The 1.27 trillion won for inter-Korean cooperation includes a new 31.1 billion heading for local governments’ cooperation with the North, and 200 million won to counter fake news. Support for defectors is cut by 2.7% to 95.2 billion won, as the numbers arriving have fallen sharply.
: Seoul Central District Court orders the ROK state to pay 26 million won ($22,000) to a defector couple—later divorced, and one now deceased—who on arrival in 2013 were detained at an NIS facility for almost twice the maximum legal limit of 90 days. They had sued for 210 million won, but the court rejected their allegations of harsh treatment.
: MOU says it has approved three applications by NGOs to send healthcare aid to North Korea. No further details are provided.
: A poll of 1,000 South Koreans by the Peaceful Unification Advisory Council finds that over half (53.9%) reckon an inter-Korean summit at the Beijing Winter Olympics is impossible. Surprisingly, 40.1% think this is possible.
: MND says the ROK military has competed excavations at White Horse Ridge, a Korean War battle site inside the DMZ. 37 bone fragments from 22 soldiers were recovered, plus 8,262 items including combat gear. Though meant to be a joint inter-Korean project, the South proceeded alone as the North pulled out before work started.
: Do Hee-youn, head of the Citizens’ Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees, says he has submitted a formal application to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on behalf of the family of Lee Han-young, asking that his death be investigated. Lee, a nephew of Kim Jong Il’s former wife Song Hye-rim, defected in 1982. In 1997 he was shot dead in Seoul by suspected North Korean agents.
: MOU announces plans to construct a new database center on unification at Goyang, on Seoul’s northwestern outskirts. This will replace the Information Center on North Korea, founded in 1989 and currently housed in the National Library of Korea in southern Seoul (which is short of space). Costing an estimated 44.5 billion won ($37.6 million), the new building is due to be completed by end-2025.
: MOU Lee tells a forum in Seoul: “23 years ago today, the historic Mount Kumgang tourism project … got under way. As soon as the circumstances are met, we will have serious consultations with the North on creating a joint special tourism zone on the east coast.” In reality, Kim Jong Un has explicitly repudiated any such cooperation.
: MOU anticipates, wrongly, that in December North Korea will hold events to celebrate Kim Jong Un’s first decade in power, saying this is needed “to strengthen internal unity.” Instead, the DPRK solemnly marks the 10th anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death.
: MOU Lee says the ROK will “comprehensively review” whether or not to co-sponsor the annual UN resolution on North Korean human rights, drafted by the European Union. Predictably, the Moon administration once again declines to do this.
: MOU Lee opines that inter-Korean medical co-operation is “inevitable.” North Korea appears to take a different view.
: Citing “legal sources,” Yonhap reports that prosecutors in Suwon indicted a defector, a woman in her 40s, as an DPRK agent tasked with persuading other defectors to return home. On Nov. 23, now identified as Song Chun-son, aka “Agent Chrysanthemum,” she is jailed for three years, despite insisting she acted under duress. (This New York Timesreport well portrays the dilemmas involved.)
: One day after KCNA reports an “artillery fire competition” involving “artillery sub-units under mechanized troops at all levels,” with top KPA generals present, MOU notes that the DPRK conducts various military drills. Seoul will monitor such moves “rather than prejudging North Korea’s intentions.”
: MOU reports that Unification Minister Lee In-young, who accompanied Moon to Europe, had meetings in Geneva to discuss DPRK humanitarian issues with the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and with representatives of the Red Cross. The impact of these endeavors is unclear, as North Korea continues to refuse aid—especially from South Korea.
: MOU urges the DPRK to respond to the Pope’s willingness to visit Pyongyang.
: In Glasgow, Scotland for the annual UN climate conference, Moon Jae-in says South Korea will seek to cut greenhouse gas emissions on the peninsula by jointly planting trees with the North. The Korea Herald questions the feasibility of this, since inter-Korean talks on forestry have been stalled (like everything else) since 2018.
: Yonhap notes that Pyongyang has yet to comment on the death on Oct. 26 of former ROK President Roh Tae-woo (in office 1988-93), a pioneer in improving North-South relations. Their silence is not broken subsequently. DPRK media references to Roh have been consistently hostile, focusing on his earlier role as a coup-maker in 1979-80.
: Not for the first time, nor the last, South Korea claims to detect signs that the North is preparing to reopen its border with China. The National Intelligence Service (NIS) tells lawmakers that the main Sinuiju-Dandong railway crossing could be running again by November. As of mid-January this has yet to happen.
: NIS chief Park Jie-won says it is “possible” North Korea may agree to talks on a peace declaration without preconditions. That seems unlikely, since his agency also reports that Pyongyang’s demands before even discussing this include lifting sanctions and an end to joint US-ROK war games.
: In further comments, the NIS says Kim Jong Un has lost 20 kilos (44 pounds) in weight, but has no health issues. The DPRK is using the term “Kimjongunism” internally, while portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il no longer hang over official meetings.
: Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong tells the ROK National Assembly: “We should take some actions to prevent North Korea from further developing its nuclear and missile capabilities … Sanctions relief can be considered as part of efforts (sic), on condition that the North accepts the dialogue proposal.”
: North Korea fires a suspected SLBM. South Korea’s NSC expresses “deep regret.” The timing may be no accident:
: South Korea holds its largest ever arms fair, the biennial International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition (ADEX). Unlike the North’s internally oriented DDE, this is internationally focused with attendees from 45 countries, including Russia but not China. President Moon arrives in style, in an air force jet fighter jet.
: Following a regular NSC meeting, the Blue House says, as Yonhap headlines it, that “S. Korea aims to swiftly reopen talks with N. Korea.” Three months later, that aim remains unachieved.
: Responding to Kim’s critique, Seoul calls for resumed dialogue to narrow differences. MOU comments that inter-Korean relations cannot be resolved just by one side issuing unilateral demands.
: Opening an unprecedented Defence Development Exhibition (DDE), Kim Jong Un waxes Freudian about the missiles on display: “The more we stroke them … the greater dignity and pride we feel … they are ours.” Accusing Seoul of a “hypocritical and brigandish double-dealing attitude” for its own military build-up, Kim insists: “I want to reiterate that south Korea is not the target of our armed forces … Our arch-enemy is the war itself, not south Korea, the United States or any other specific state or forces.”
: Aboard an ROK navy ship to mark Armed Forces Day, Moon Jae-in declares: “I have pride in our solid security posture.” Hours earlier, the DPRK carried out its third missile launch in two weeks.
: Despite Kim Jong Un telling the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) on Sept. 29 that inter-Korean hotlines will be restored in early October, MOU reports that North Korea is still not answering the South’s twice-daily calls.
: Following another DPRK missile launch, after being briefed at an emergency session of the National Security Council (NSC) President Moon orders a “comprehensive and close analysis” of North Korea’s recent words and deeds to ascertain Pyongyang’s intentions.
: MOU calls Kim Yo Jong’s recent remarks “meaningful,” but insists that so as to resume dialogue, “inter-Korean communication lines should first be swiftly restored.”
: In her second “press statement” in as many days, and her third this month, Kim Yo Jong reiterates that in order to end the “deadlock” in inter-Korean relations, as both sides desire, the South “had better stop spouting an imprudent remark of ‘provocation’ against us.” She concludes: “I won’t predict here what there will come – a balmy breeze or a storm.”
: In more honeyed tones than on Sept. 15, Kim Yo Jong calls “President Moon Jae In’s” (she uses his official title) proposal of a “declaration of the termination of the war on the Korean Peninsula at the 76th UN General Assembly” “an interesting and an admirable idea.” However, the timing is not right as long as “double-dealing standards, prejudice and hostile policies toward the DPRK and speeches and acts antagonizing us persist.”
: MOU says it will provide 10 billion won ($8.5 million) to help civilian NGOs offer nutrition and health aid to North Korea, with up to 500 million won for each project. It admits this is hypothetical as long as Pyongyang remains unresponsive.
: Belatedly, ROK police reveal they are also holding another regretful DPRK defector, a woman in her 60s. At 0340 on Sept. 13 she approached a soldier at the heavily guarded Tongil Bridge in Paju, gateway to Dorasan Station (the border crossing to Kaesong), and said she wanted to go home.
: South Korean police say that on Sept. 17 they caught an unnamed defector, a man in his 30s who arrived in 2018, trying to return to the DPRK near Chorwon in the central sector of the DMZ. He had four mobile phones and “a cutting machine” (presumably wire-cutters).
: Pyongyang media publish a longish (1,200 words) semi-technical article by Jang Chang Ha, president of the DPRK Academy of National Defense. As per the headline “Clumsy SLBM Launch of South Korea,” this pooh-pooh’s Seoul’s Sept. 15 missile test as “just in the stage of elementary step” (sic) and “clearly not SLBM.”
: ROK successfully tests its own submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), becoming the seventh nation to have this capacity. President Moon, who watched, says the timing is unconnected to Pyongyang’s firing two BMs hours earlier. “However, our enhanced missile power can be a sure-fire deterrent to North Korea’s provocation.”
: In a rapid response, Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, calls Moon Jae-in’s use of the term “provocation from the north” earlier that day “an improper remark … slip of tongue … too stupid to be fit for the ‘president of a state’” and a “thoughtless utterance … which might be fitting for hack journalists.” The Blue House says it will not react.
: MOU says that henceforth all 243 ROK municipalities will be allowed to operate aid projects with the DPRK independently of central government. Hitherto only a dozen had permission, and before 2019 they had to have an NGO as a partner. All this is notional, as North Korea currently refuses any cooperation with the South.
: ESTsecurity, a South Korean cybersecurity firm, claims that hackers thought to be linked to Pyongyang have sent fake phishing emails to try to steal data from members of an expert panel advising the ROK Ministry of National Defense (MND).
: A day after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspends the DPRK from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics as punishment for its refusal to participate in this year’s Tokyo games, the Blue House insists it will continue to pursue inter-Korean sports diplomacy. There had been speculation that Moon Jae-in would try to use the Beijing games to reach out to Pyongyang.
: A day after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspends the DPRK from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics as punishment for its refusal to participate in this year’s Tokyo games, the Blue House insists the ROK will continue to pursue inter-Korean sports diplomacy. There had been speculation that Moon Jae-in would try to use the Beijing games to reach out to Pyongyang.
: Lee In-young tells the National Assembly’s foreign affairs and unification committee that in January-July North Korea’s trade with China, its sole significant partner, fell 82% from the same period last year. It was 15 times higher before COVID-19.
: MOU Lee In-young tells the National Assembly foreign affairs and unification committee that in January-July North Korea’s trade with China, its sole significant partner, fell 82% from the same period last year. It had been 15 times higher before COVID-19.
: ROK government sources say that almost 10,000 troops have been observed gathering at Pyongyang’s Mirim Parade Training Ground, suggesting rehearsals for a major parade. This is held, initially unannounced, in the small hours of Sept. 9: the 73rd anniversary of the DPRK’s founding. No new weapons are displayed.
: Despite an almost three-year freeze in North-South relations, MOU requests 1.27 trillion won ($1.1 billion) for the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund in 2022, up 1.9% from this year’s figure. 51%is earmarked for humanitarian aid, 46% for economic projects, and 3% for social and cultural exchanges. Despite the lack of activity currently, the ministry says it needs this budget “to brace for a possible change on the Korean peninsula.”
: Moon Jae-in invites local governments to adopt the seven puppies born in June to Gomi, one of two Pungsan hunting dogs given to him in 2018 by Kim Jong Un, and sired by another Pungsan belonging to Moon.
: Speaking by videolink, South Korea’s Minister of Unification (MOU), Lee In-young puzzles a high-level Russian business conference in Vladivostok with lofty vistas of a special tourist zone on the east coast of both Koreas which could be expanded to Russia. None of this is in any official ROK plan, much less the DPRK’s.
: ROK government sources say that almost 10,000 troops have been observed gathering at Pyongyang’s Mirim Parade Training Ground, suggesting rehearsals for a major parade. This is held, initially unannounced, in the small hours of Sept. 9: 73rd anniversary of the DPRK’s founding. No new weapons are displayed.
: Despite an almost three-year freeze in North-South relations, the ROK Ministry of Unification (MOU) requests 1.27 trillion won ($1.1 billion) for the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund in 2022, up 1.9% from this year’s figure. 51% is earmarked for humanitarian aid, 46% for economic projects, and 3% for social and cultural exchanges. Notwithstanding the lack of activity currently, the ministry says it needs this budget “to brace for a possible change on the Korean Peninsula.”
: ROK President Moon Jae-in invites local governments to adopt the seven puppies born in June to Gomi, one of two Pungsan breed hunting dogs given to him in 2018 by Kim Jong Un, and sired by another Pungsan belonging to Moon.