Ignore North Koreas bombast. Its actions tell a more hopeful story | Mary Dejevsky

If the US responds, the Seoul Winter Olympics could see a breakthrough, says writer and broadcaster Mary Dejevsky

Anything said by the cartoonish North Korean leader Kim Jong-un tends to be seen in the most threatening light, especially outside Asia. And no wonder. But the assumption that belligerence of which there has been much in recent months is to be taken at face value, while anything short of that is a malign stratagem designed only to trick and gain advantage, holds its own dangers. Even if recent experience has provided ample grounds for such negativity, the risk is that genuine efforts by Pyongyang to change the tone, if not yet the substance, of its international stance, go undetected.

So it was that the elements initially making the headlines from Kims new year speech were the hackneyed threats along the lines of Nikita Khrushchevs famous We will bury you and his boast of having his countrys nuclear button always on his desk. The accompanying pictures were of a stolid and intense Kim, of missiles and warheads in various poses, and even a missile carved in ice further evidence, if any were needed, of North Koreas aggressive intent. The almost equally cartoonish Donald Trump upped the ante by tweeting: I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!

So it was, too, that when the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, was asked for her response to what some had heard as more conciliatory sounds coming from North Korea, she stressed the recklessness of the regime and the need, not for a Band-Aid or smile and take a picture, but for Pyongyang to stop developing nuclear weapons and stop it now. The US, she said, is not going to recognise it [North Korea] or acknowledge it until they agree to ban the nuclear weapons that they have.

She also highlighted reports suggesting that North Korea may be preparing a new missile test in coming days and threatened even tougher measures than the current sanctions if it did.

Despite a more circumspect response from the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, the overall impression was that the US was treating North Korea just as before, and pre-emptively dissing the prospect of two quite fundamental policy shifts contained in Kims new year speech: an openness to talks and the possible use of the Seoul Winter Olympics for a diplomatic opening. It was refusing, in other words, even to hint at taking yes for an answer.

But is this the real picture? Even last autumn, when the rhetoric between North Korea and almost everyone else was at its most inflammatory, and included some very personal invective between Kim and Trump, the stand-off may not have been quite as hair-trigger perilous as it seemed. There was talk of a UN back channel, and when Trump visited South Korea in November he declined the standard cold war photo-op in the demilitarised zone at Panmunjom. North Korean nuclear tests and US-South Korean manoeuvres seemed to be scaled back or placed on hold.

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South Korea offers to hold talks with North video

There was a disparity between words and deeds that has continued. With Kims signalled policy shifts and his unscheduled announcement that he is reopening the hotline with South Korea there is surely an argument for trying to bring words and deeds more into line. Nor is it just Pyongyang that has changed tack. The turn of the year has produced quite tangible diplomatic overtures also from Seoul, with something of a pre-Olympic charm offensive, and it would seem negligent reckless, even, to use Haleys language to leave no response.

It is also worth noting that both followed the offer made last month by Tillerson, and grossly played down at the time, to hold talks with the North, anywhere, any time and without pre-conditions.

The question really is whether all this is just more of the same old sparring or whether it could be the start of something new and, if it is, whether the current official US response, somewhere between scepticism and outright rejection, does not risk shattering any prospect of a regional detente even before it has begun.

For the umpteenth time, it seems to me, all parties may be confusing the messages designed by national leaders for their domestic audience and those designed for abroad or even interpreting them precisely the wrong way round. Bombast intended to reassure domestic opinion in a weak and fearful country is heard rather as a new threat of aggression towards the outside world. Defence is being picked up as offence.

International sporting events have a record of facilitating unlikely diplomacy, with a theoretically politics-free zone providing the ground for discreet approaches. Until this week, however, the Winter Olympics had looked set to continue, even exacerbate, the tensions between North and South Korea, with the North operating a unilateral boycott and the South feeling slighted.

Kims suddenly softer tone and the prospect of a North Korean Olympic team offer a shred of hope. We may be a way off the Sunshine diplomacy of the late 1990s, but if Pyongyangs signals are not recognised for what they are, there will be no chance of even starting, let alone fostering, a new detente. And the converse is true. If the US and the South were to respond positively, the recent high tensions on and around the peninsula could begin to subside.

Mary Dejevsky is a writer and broadcaster and former foreign correspondent

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/03/north-korea-kim-jong-un-us-winter-olympics

In 1939, I didnt hear war coming. Now its thundering approach cant be ignored | Harry Leslie Smith

Author Harry Leslie Smith remembers the prelude to the second world war and there are worrying echoes now

A chill of remembrance has come over me during this August month. It feels as if the 2017 summer breeze is being scattered by the winds of war blowing from across our world towards Britain, just like they were in 1939.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia eviscerates Yemen with the same ferocity as Mussolini did to Ethiopia when I was child in 1935. The hypocrisy of Britains government and elite class ensures that innocent blood still flows in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Theresa Mays government insists that peace can only be achieved through the proliferation of weapons of war in conflict zones. Venezuela teeters towards anarchy and foreign intervention while in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte protected by his alliance with Britain and the US murders the vulnerable for the crime of trying to escape their poverty through drug addiction.

Because I am old, now 94, I recognise these omens of doom. Chilling signs are everywhere, perhaps the biggest being that the US allows itself to be led by Donald Trump, a man deficient in honour, wisdom and just simple human kindness. It is as foolish for Americans to believe that their generals will save them from Trump as it was for liberal Germans to believe the military would protect the nation from Hitlers excesses.

Britain also has nothing to be proud of. Since the Iraq war our country has been on a downward decline, as successive governments have eroded democracy and social justice, and savaged the welfare state with austerity, leading us into the cul de sac of Brexit. Like Trump, Brexit cannot be undone by liberal sanctimony it can only be altered if the neoliberal economic model is smashed, as if it were a statue of a dictator, by a liberated people.

After years of Tory government, Britain is less equipped to change the course of history for the good than we were under Neville Chamberlain, when Nazism was appeased in the 1930s. In fact, no nation in Europe or North America has anything to crow about. Each is rife with inequality, massive corporate tax avoidance which is just legitimised corruption and a neoliberalism that has eroded societies.

Summer should be comforting but it isnt this year. Looking at the young today, when I watch them in their leisure; I catch a fearful resemblance with the faces of the young from my generation in the summer of 1939. When I am out in town, I listen to their laughter, I watch them enjoying a pint or wooing one another, and I am afraid for them.

This August resembles too much that of 1939; the last summer of peace until 1945. Then aged 16 and still wet behind the ears, Id go to pictures with my mates and wed laugh at the newsreels of Hitler and other fascist monsters that lived beyond what we thought was our reach. Little did we know in that August 1939, life without peace, without carnage, without air raids, without the blitz, could be measured in days. I did not hear the thundering approach of war, but as an old man I hear it now for my grandchildrens generation. I hope I am wrong. But I am petrified for them.

Harry Leslie Smiths latest book Dont Let My Past Be Your Future is published by Constable & Robinson on 14 September

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/14/1939-second-world-war-fascist-thundering-approach-hitler

North Korea, Malaysia’s diplomatic ties frayed over Kim Jong Nam’s death

(CNN)Diplomatic relations between Malaysia and North Korea are getting more strained by the day, in the wake of the brazen public murder of Kim Jong Nam.

On Monday, North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia said investigators were conspiring with “hostile forces”. In retaliation, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak described the statement as “diplomatically rude” and recalled his ambassador.
But North Korea and Malaysia weren’t especially diplomatically close even before the killing of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother.
“They had a very good relationship — I think Malaysians are just normal, friendly, and trying to maintain a working relationship with North Korea,” said Jong Kun Choi, Associate Professor of the Yonsei University Political Science and International Studies Department.
“You don’t want to call it a friendship … From the southeast Asian states’ perspective is North Korea critical? No, not really.”


If North Korea did attempt a public assassination with diplomatic consequences, it wouldn’t be the first time. In 1983, North Korean agents set off a bomb in Yangon in an attempt to kill then-South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan.
It killed more than 20 people, though Chun escaped. In response, Myanmar broke off relations for more than a decade. There are suggestions it may do the same now with Malaysia.
“North Korea had a pretty significant relationship with Myanmar, I would say more important than its current relationship with Malaysia and it completely squandered that relationship in order to try to assassinate the South Korean president,” Delury said.
Professor Jong said if the assassination was proven to be committed by North Korea, it could lead to the severing of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
“(If proven) it’s essentially a violation of Malaysian sovereignty … North Korea might value the killing of Kim Jong Nam much more than the bilateral relationship (with Malaysia). But it’s speculation at the end of the day,” he said.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/23/asia/malaysia-north-korea-kim-diplomacy/index.html

Kim Jong-un’s half-brother dies after ‘attack’ at airport in Malaysia

Police launch investigation over death of Kim Jong-nam, who was tipped to succeed father as ruler of North Korea before he fell out of favour

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/14/kim-jong-un-half-brother-reportedly-killed-malaysia-north-korea

Chandeliers, marble and propaganda: Inside North Korea’s metro system

(CNN)Buried 100 meters (328 feet) underground, the Pyongyang Metro is one of the deepest commuter systems in the world.

It’s also one of the world’s most mysterious.
Only a few thousand tourists enter the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea each year. Visits are only granted through specific tour groups, itineraries are heavily planned by tour guides, and certain areas are strictly off limits, so everyday life in North Korea is often hidden from outsiders.
But when 25-year-old photographer Elaine Li made her first trip to the North Korea’s capital in October, what struck her most was the sense of familiarity.

What has the response been to your photography?
It’s been very heavily mixed. Some people say these images are eye opening, and show a side to the country that they don’t usually get to see. Others ask why I would ever go to North Korea in the first place, then claim my images are propaganda and that I’m sponsored by North Korea.
The preconceptions that people have were really reflected on the comments I’ve received. But I just wanted to document what was in front of me, and share what I experienced as honestly as possible.

Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/06/design/north-korea-subway-commute/index.html

North Korea nuclear ambition lives in the gap between US and China so close it | Scott Snyder

Kim Jong-uns latest test shows the need for international action to reduce instability in north-east Asia and work towards transformation in Pyongyang

The direction of North Koreas nuclear program has been clear for more than a decade, since it first tested a nuclear device in October 2006. But the pace has quickened, with two nuclear tests and tests of several missile platforms that will reduce warning time and extend North Koreas capability to credibly deliver a nuclear weapon. The North Koreans have insisted that that they are a permanent nuclear state and have signalled that the US is their ultimate target, threatening nuclear strikes on the mainland.

The Obama administrations primary response, termed strategic patience, has strengthened deterrence and has led to a series of United Nations sanctions resolutions designed to increase international pressure. The American goal has been to change Kim Jong-uns strategic calculus by showing him that having nuclear weapons is detrimental to his regimes survival.

But economic sanctions have transferred almost all the external leverage on North Korea to China, at the same time that Sino-US strategic mistrust has been growing over the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea and Chinas unilateral construction in the South China Sea. And Kim Jong-uns motivations for pursuing nuclear weapons increasingly have been tied to his own domestic legitimacy. Simultaneous nuclear and economic development are his two main strategic goals.

The rapid adoption of an even tougher UN security council resolution against North Korea following its fifth test is an immediate way to signal that the international community is firmly opposed to North Koreas continued nuclear development. More effective Chinese implementation of already agreed-upon UN sanctions is also essential. But these measures alone will still be insufficient to turn Kim Jong-un back to denuclearization unless China is willing to signal that, despite its core interest in stability, it is willing to put the North Korean regimes survival at risk through even more stringent application of economic pressure, in concert with the US, South Korea and the international community.

In addition, because North Korea thrives in the gap created by Sino-US strategic mistrust and the most dangerous threat to the Kim regimes legitimacy comes from South Korea, the most effective way of conveying to Kim Jong-un that his regimes survival depends on denuclearization would be through coordination of a trilateral strategy among the US, China, and South Korea.

North Korea says further sanctions are laughable

The strategy would involve a coordinated diplomatic ultimatum backed by concrete and coordinated actions that send a clear signal to Kim Jong-un that all three countries are willing to share intelligence with each other with the goal of establishing a replacement leadership in North Korea that is willing to denuclearize. Since Chinas primary goal is to avoid instability on the Korean peninsula and a nuclear North Koreas threatening behavior has become the primary source of instability in north-east Asia, all three countries know well that the only peaceful pathway to long-term stability in the region is for Kim Jong-un to change his mind and pursue denuclearization.

Such an approach is a tall order given growing levels of mistrust between the US and China, but North Korea has always represented the best chance to build a tangible track record of regional security cooperation between Washington and Beijing. Such a strategy would create an opportunity to avoid the immeasurable costs of a second Korean war and lay the ground work for controlled regime transformation through economic development backed by international assistance, at the sacrifice of Kim Jong-uns nuclear aspirations.

Rejection of such an ultimatum would serve to confirm the possibility that under Kim Jong-un there is no peaceful pathway to denuclearization and that the only road to lasting stability in north-east Asia involves regime change. But it would also reveal that collective management of near-term costs are an inevitable down payment that may in fact help increase the prospect of long-term stability.

  • Scott Snyder is a senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-editor of North Korea In Transition: Politics, Economics, Security

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/sep/11/north-korea-nuclear-test-us-china

North Korea demands recognition as legitimate nuclear state

Pyongyang spokesman says threat of further sanctions is laughable and country will work to increase its nuclear force

North Korea has demanded the US recognise it as a legitimate nuclear weapons state following its fifth and largest atomic test, adding that threats of further sanctions against the country were laughable.

The dictatorship set off its most powerful nuclear explosion to date on Friday, saying it had mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile and ratcheting up a challenge to rivals and the UN.

Obama is trying hard to deny the DPRKs [North Koreas] strategic position as a legitimate nuclear weapons state but it is as foolish an act as trying to eclipse the sun with a palm, said a foreign ministry spokesman quoted by the official KCNA news agency.

The spokesman defended the test, which has been condemned worldwide, as a necessary response to what he termed a US nuclear threat. The country would work to increase its nuclear force in quality and in quantity, his statement said.

The group of Obamas running around and talking about meaningless sanctions until today is highly laughable, when their strategic patience policy is completely worn out and they are close to packing up to move out, the statement reportedly added.

As weve made clear, measures to strengthen the national nuclear power in quality and quantity will continue to protect our dignity and right to live from augmented threats of nuclear war from the United States.

The US special representative for North Korea policy, Sung Kim, addresses the media in Tokyo on Sunday. Photograph: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

The UN security council denounced North Koreas decision to carry out the test and said it would begin work immediately on a resolution. The US, Britain and France pushed for the 15-member body to impose new sanctions.

Obama said after speaking by phone with the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, and the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, on Friday that they had agreed to work with the security council and other powers to vigorously enforce existing measures and to take additional significant steps, including new sanctions.

We will be working very closely in the security council and beyond to come up with the strongest possible measure against North Koreas latest actions, said the US special representative for North Korea policy, Sung Kim, on Sunday.

In addition to action in the security council, both the US and Japan, together with the Republic of Korea, will be looking at unilateral measures, as well as bilateral measures, as well as possible trilateral cooperation, he said, referring to South Korea by its official name.

South Koreas top nuclear envoy also spoke to his Chinese counterpart late on Saturday by telephone and emphasised the need for fresh countermeasures including a new UN security council resolution, the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.

The latest test showed North Koreas nuclear capability was expanding fast and that the countrys leader, Kim Jong-un, was unwilling to alter course, South Korea said on Saturday.

Another KCNA report on Sunday said North Koreans were delighted by the nuclear test. The enemies can no longer deny the strategic position of our country as a nuclear weapons state, Jong Won-sop, a teacher at the University of National Economy, was quoted as saying.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/11/north-korea-demands-recognition-as-legitimate-nuclear-state-pyongyang