Category Archives: South Korea


(Newsweek) North and South Korean personnel have completed disarming an important section of the massive demilitarized zone that lies between them, an unprecedented step amid a warming of relations between the longtime foes.

Officials from both sides of what has been described as the world’s most heavily fortified border—alongside members of the U.S.-led United Nations Command—completed the removal of defense posts, landmines and armed soldiers Thursday from the Joint Security Area, where troops from both Koreas have stood face-to-face since the ceasefire that ended their mid-20th-century conflict. Despite technically remaining at war, North and South Korea have embarked on a series of top-level meetings this year aimed at settling their decades-long feud.

In the most recent inter-Korea summit last month, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to begin scaling down their countries’ military presence on the border. As a result, personnel began demining activities at the beginning of the month.

“The military authorities of the two Koreas and the UNC will make joint efforts to ensure that the JSA disarmament, stated in the Sept. 19 military agreement, will be implemented normally,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Thursday in a statement, according to the official Yonhap News Agency.

GettyImages-1053241776A South Korean soldier (center) carries a coffin containing a piece of bone believed to be the remains of an unidentified South Korean soldier killed in the Korean War in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), in Cheorwon, South Korea, on October 25. The excavation project is part of a comprehensive military agreement that the two Koreas signed last month.JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The U.S. has cautiously supported peace efforts between its ally South Korea and foe North Korea. The U.S.-led U.N. Command that assisted in the recent demilitarization efforts fought alongside South Korea in battles against North Korea and its Chinese allies in the 1950s, a war that ended in an armistice along the border that stands today. With the Cold War long over, however, Washington’s main concern is North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons.

After a year of challenging Kim, President Donald Trump ultimately embraced the young ruler’s peace overture toward Moon in January, a move that led to two inter-Korean summits before Trump himself in June became the first sitting U.S. president to meet a North Korean head. In exchange for peace, Kim vowed to give up the weapons of mass destructions his country has long argued were necessary for its protection.

The U.S. and North Korea have accused one another in recent months of making insufficient progress toward their pledge of bettering relations. Washington wants North Korea to completely shutter its nuclear program before lifting international sanctions and making peace. Meanwhile, Pyongyang argues that the suspension of nuclear and missile tests, the return of U.S. soldiers’ remains and prisoners as well as the partial or whole destruction of certain key military sites was enough to warrant concessions.

Despite U.S. apprehensions, South Korea has moved forward with an ambitious plan to forge ties with its northern neighbor. Moon has green-lit the restoration of cross-border military communications, the linking of the two countries’ railroad systems and various projects designed to unify the economies of the Koreas.

GettyImages-1036438018North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in (from left) walk together during a visit to the Samjiyon guesthouse in North Korea, on September 20. Since the beginning of this year, the two countries have met more times than in any previous period in their history.PYONGYANG PRESS CORPS/POOL/GETTY IMAGES

In a reminder of the bloodshed that took the lives of millions on the Korean Peninsula, personnel demilitarizing the border this month discovered what the South Korean Defense Ministry said Thursday was likely the remains of at least two soldiers who died fighting in the Korean War. One of them was found with dog tags intact, reading “Pak Je Kwon,” who was believed to be a South Korean sergeant.

Both Koreas have pledged to conduct joint searches for other war casualties once they complete the removal of mines from the area.

(Reuters) Two Koreas plan third summit of Kim, Moon next month

(Reuters) North and South Korea agreed on Monday to hold a summit in the North in September, another step towards boosting cooperation between the old rivals, even as doubts grow over efforts to end the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Officials from both sides meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom, in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas, reached an agreement on a September summit between the countries’ leaders in the North’s capital of Pyongyang.

No date was announced for what will be the third meeting this year between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

They first met in April in Panmunjom, a remarkable thaw in ties after more than a year of rising tension and fears of war over the North’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

There they agreed that Moon would visit the North’s capital in the autumn, though the pair met again in May in an unannounced meeting at Panmunjom.

No details on an agenda for next month’s talks were announced, but the two Koreas have been discussing a range of issues, from a possible peace declaration to joint economic and infrastructure projects.

The progress between the two Koreas comes as North Korea and the United States are struggling to agree on how to bring about the North’s denuclearization, after Kim vowed to work toward that goal at a landmark summit in June in Singapore with U.S. President Donald Trump.

U.S. officials have told Reuters that North Korea had yet to agree to a timeline for eliminating its nuclear arsenal or to disclose its size, which U.S. estimates have put at between 30 and 60 warheads.

After Monday’s talks, Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of a North Korean committee aiming for the “peaceful reunification” of the peninsula, told his South Korean counterpart, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, it was important to clear “obstacles” preventing inter-Korean relations from moving forward.

“If the issues that were raised at the talks aren’t resolved, unexpected problems could emerge and the issues that are already on the schedule may face difficulties,” Ri said, without giving details.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, arrive for their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone, North Korea, August 13, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS


One issue that has angered North Korea recently has been the case of a dozen North Korean restaurant workers who came to the South in 2016 via China.

The North says they were abducted by the South and should be returned, and has raised the possibility of the issue creating an obstacle to the reunion of some families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War, planned for next week.

Cho did not say if North Korea had raised the case of the restaurant workers on Monday, merely saying it had not brought up new issues.

“There were mentions that if there are problems to be resolved by both sides, on humanitarian issues or for the development of inter-Korean relations, we should do it,” the minister told reporters.

Cho said the two sides had exchanged views on the North’s denuclearization and on a peace mechanism to replace the armistice that ended fighting during the Korean War.

Moon and Kim agreed during their first summit to push for a declaration of an end to the Korean War together with the United States this year, but Washington has said it would only be possible after the North abandons its nuclear program.

Last month, the North’s state media criticized the South accusing it of only caring only about the views of the United States and failing to take practical steps to advance inter-Korean relations.

South Korea hopes to restart efforts on a cross-peninsula railway and a joint industrial park but has been cautious about major projects due to international sanctions chiefly engineered by Washington over the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

The North has urged the United States to end the sanctions, saying it had made goodwill gestures, including a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, the dismantling of a nuclear site, and the return of the remains of some U.S. soldiers killed in the Korean War.

“The North is asking the South to play a bridging role as they want the United States to speed up progress in declaring an end to the war officially,” said Seo Yu-seok, a researcher at the Institute of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Christopher Green, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, said the North could try to increase pressure on the South to deliver on economic promises made at the April summit, while widening the distance between Seoul and Washington.

Ri said the two sides had agreed on a date for the summit, but he declined to elaborate.

Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman of South Korea’s presidential office, said it would be difficult for the summit to happen before the Sept. 9 anniversary of North Korea’s founding, a major holiday there.

(CNN) South Korea cuts its work limit from 68 hours a week to 52


  • One survey found that South Korea has the third-highest number of hours worked
  • Mexico worked most, with an average of 2,257 hours in 2017
  • The average person in Germany worked the least, at 1,356 hours in 2017

(CNN)South Korea has lowered its maximum working hours from 68 hours a week to 52 hours. The legislation, which went into effect Sunday, received overwhelming support in the National Assembly in an effort to limit the time employees spend on the job..

South Korea has the third highest number of hours worked of 37 countries tracked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with the average person in South Korea working about 2,024 hours in 2017, or approximately 38.9 hours a week.
Mexico clocked the most time on the job with an average of 2,257 hours (about 43.4 hours a week) in 2017, and Costa Rica worked the second most with 2,179 hours (41.9 hours a week). On the other end of the spectrum, Germany and Denmark worked the least, with an average of 1,356 and 1,408 hours, respectively, in 2017, or 26 and 27 hours a week.

“Enforcement will be interesting,” Ellen Kossek, a professor of management at the Purdue University Krannert School of Management, said of South Korea. “I think it’s a good move in the right direction. I do know that they’re very worried about declining fertility rates as an economic problem. They’re also worried about health.”

The law first requires implementation by companies with more than 300 employees. Smaller companies must do so in 2020 and 2021.

Broader campaigns to improve work-life balance include turning off the power at Seoul City Hall on Friday evenings to encourage employees to go home.
South Korea had impressive growth after World War II as a result of factors including long hours, more education and an increase in women entering the workforce, Kossek explained.

“That economic miracle is going to be hard to keep up without working long hours or replacement birth rates,” she said.

With women in South Korea having an average of 1.2 children per capita, the country has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, according to data from the World Bank. To compound the issue, the population is rapidly aging, Kossek said.

A number of studies have demonstrated that working beyond a certain point is related to a variety of negative health outcomes including coronary heart disease, said Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University.
Pfeffer, who wrote the book “Dying for a Paycheck,” contends that workplaces have created a “lose-lose” situation in which employees are losing their health and companies are losing their output. After a certain point, worker productivity decreases, which suggests that extreme overtime might not be the best idea anyway.

“When you’re exhausted, you’re not very efficient. It’s one of the very reasons why, in things where people have to be alert in order to do their jobs, like truck driving and airline pilots, we for years limited work hours,” Pfeffer said.

Putting in countless hours to signal commitment to an employer is misguided, he added.
“You’re more likely to make mistakes when you’re working when you’re exhausted, and you’re certainly less likely to be creative or productive,” Pfeffer said. “It’s much easier to prevent a mistake than to try to find a mistake and fix it.”

Around the world, suicide rates are up, and people are delaying getting married, having children or having fewer children, which leads to long-term social instability, Kossek said.
“The thing that will make it (reducing work hours) succeed is if it comes from the top of the organization and the top management sends that signal to the middle managers and first-line supervisors,” Kossek said. “It’s easy for leaders to receive a referendum, but if the culture doesn’t change, if they don’t see people that they report to, management working less hours, it’s not going to work.”

Limiting work hours is one solution that should be accompanied with other strategic initiatives, like paid family leave and paid sick time, she said.

“It’s a very hierarchal,” Kossek added. “Seniority’s valued. Your goal sometimes is to be at the office longer than your boss or be online longer than your boss as a way to be seen productive and fitting in as part of the collective culture.”

(KJD) Unification funds are a hot ticket

(KJDHoping for improved relations, investors bet on infrastructure

As hopes for peace sweep the Korean Peninsula ahead of the historic North Korea-U.S. summit on June 12, investment firms are hoping to cash in on optimism through so-called unification funds.

These funds mostly invest in construction and steel companies, which are projected to rise in value if the two Koreas agree to economic cooperation.

The HI Korea Unification Renaissance Class A stock fund, one unification fund from investment firm HI Asset Management, recorded 8.15 percent year-to-date (YTD) returns between January and May of this year, according to investment consulting firm KG Zeroin on Sunday. During the same period, Korean equity funds posted negative returns of 1.15 percent on average.

Not counting exchange-traded funds (ETFs), there were only 12 funds, including HI Korea Unification Renaissance, that posted over 8 percent returns among all the 543 active equity funds in Korea.

The HI Korea Unification Renaissance fund invests in construction and railway shares that are expected to grow if South Korean firms help build infrastructure in North Korea.

“Before, unification funds invested in shares related to government support, like consumer goods, food, fertilizer and biopharmaceuticals, as well as infrastructure and underground resources,” said Kim Yeon-su, a manager at HI Asset Management.

“Now, we’ve revamped the fund’s portfolio to focus on investing in firms that will benefit the most from each stage of inter-Korean cooperation, with the end goal of North-South unification in mind.”

In the past month, total investment in the HI Korea Unification Renaissance fund doubled from 1.4 billion won ($1.3 million) to 2.8 billion won.

Investors also put 2 billion won into Shinyoung Asset Management’s Shinyoung Marathon Unification Korea stock fund in May, as the upcoming North-South summit boosted investor sentiment.

The fund recorded 3.47 percent YTD returns, and had a total investment size of 28.3 billion won as of the end of May.

Unification funds initially emerged in 2014, when former President Park Geun-hye said in a speech that riches could be made in unification. However, they faded into obscurity as North-South relations worsened.

The May North-South summit was a boon for the HI Korea Unification Renaissance fund, which was on the verge of liquidation earlier this year.

“As return rates improved and customers showed high interest, we decided to reorganize the fund and nurture it,” said Kim.

HI Asset Management no longer charges investors redemption fees on the fund. It also makes donations to the Korean Red Cross, which has historically worked on projects to assist North Koreans.

Other investment companies are scrambling to launch their own unification funds.

On May 14, UBS Hana Asset Management launched the Hana UBS Greater Korea stock fund, based on the Hana UBS FirstClass Ace fund, which came out in 1999. Though the Greater Korea fund invests in large-cap shares, including Samsung Electronics, KB Financial Group and Posco, the rest of the investment is in shares related to inter-Korean cooperation.

Samsung Asset Management is also redesigning the Samsung My Best fund – made up of large-cap and blue-chip stocks – into a unification fund. BNK Asset Management’s BNK Brave New Korea fund, which is scheduled to start accepting investments this month, will invest in shares from companies that are planning on entering North Korea, according to industry sources.

Hopes for peace are also helping to buoy ETFs related to inter-Korean cooperation. Samsung Asset Management’s KODEX Construction stock ETF posted 16.52 percent in one-year returns as of Monday, one of the highest among all the equity funds.

Other ETFs that invest in construction shares, like Mirae Asset Global Investments’ Tiger 200 Construction stock ETF, posted returns of over 14 percent as well.

Some consulting firms are even coming up with products that will allow clients to invest in hand-picked high-return ETFs. NH-Amundi Asset Management’s Great Korea ETF-Managed Portfolio, unveiled on May 23, invests in several ETFs related to inter-Korean cooperation.

“Because there will be a large structural change in the domestic economy as North-South economic cooperation materializes, investors need to think long-term and invest with insight,” said Lee Jin-young, a marketing manager at NH-Amundi Asset Management. “We are also planning to launch a new open-ended public offering fund that will invest in shares that will benefit from inter-Korean cooperation.”

(KoreaTimes) Portugal, legacy of maritime power


I am fascinated by Portugal in many ways. As far as we know, Portugal’s first encounter with Korea was in 1604 when Portuguese trader Joao Mendes was washed ashore at the port city of Tongyeong in South Gyeongsang Province. Mendes was a survivor of a trade mission whose vessel was destroyed by a typhoon. To commemorate Portugal’s first contact with Korea, a historical monument was erected at Tongyeong’s Samdeok Port in 2006.

After Mendes’ arrival in Korea, the most important single incident in science history in terms of a Korean connection with the Portuguese was contact with the Portuguese Jesuit priest Joao Rodrigues (1561-1634) in 1631.

According to the Gukjo Bogam (Precious Mirror for Succeeding Reigns), an official history compiled by the 1392-1910 Joseon Kingdom, Joseon envoy Jeong Du-won met Rodrigues in Dengzhou, a prefecture off the coast of modern-day Shandong province during his journey to Ming China in 1631.

The encounter was conducted in a cordial atmosphere, as evidenced by a number of precious gifts the Jesuit gave to the Koreans. In his subsequent report to the Joseon king, Jeong described Rodrigues as a benign gift-giver, while portraying himself as a passive recipient of Western gifts such as books on Western astronomy, geography and scientific instruments, including a world map, telescope and a piece of a small firearm. King Injo (r. 1623―1649) greatly appreciated these gifts, particularly the Western firearm. Jung depicted Rodrigues’ generosity and the Korean envoy as the transmitter of European culture via China to Korea.

Portugal boasts that it was the world’s first maritime power and birthplace of the world’s first explorers. It was at the forefront of European exploration between the 15th and 16th centuries. During the Age of Discovery, Portugal extended its reach toward the Far East as crusaders and traders and opened sea trade between the East and West as well as being the first Europeans to yield power in the region.

Portugal’s achievements are immortalized by her legendary writer Luis Vaz de Camoes (1524-1580) who is widely regarded as the greatest poet in Portuguese history. He is world-renowned as the author of the Renaissance epic “The Lusiads” (Soul of Portugal). Camoes is frequently compared to Homeros or Shakespeare. He is an iconic symbol for the Portuguese nation.

“The Lusiads” is a national epic meant to portray the genius of the Portuguese people. It is often compared to another European epic, Virgil’s “Aeneid,” that sings of Roman virtues.

At the center of the epic is the journey of Vasco da Gama, Camoes’ kinsman and the first person to voyage from Europe to the Southern Hemisphere including India, China, Japan and Macao, a feat that many people considered impossible at the time. Navigators did not believe the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean were connected.

Due to da Gama’s epochal journey, Portugal emerged as the first major European colonial power in Asia. Camoes’ sublime poetry recorded this momentous historic development, the discovery of a sea route to India and the “opening” of Asia to Western influence.

In a twist of fate, Camoes was banished from Portugal for wounding an officer of the royal court. He was exiled from his country and lived in Macau for several years. Like many artists, he was not appreciated in his native land during his lifetime.

While in Macao on my last trip, I visited the Camoes Grotto, a garden where Camoes composed “The Lusiads.” A monumental bust of the one-eyed Camoes commemorates his great accomplishments. As I stood there, I felt as if I shared the proud and glorious days of Portugal’s maritime power in the Age of Discovery.

Choe Chong-dae ( is a guest columnist of The Korea Times. He is president of Dae-kwang International Co., and Director of the Korean-Swedish Association. 

+++ (BBG) Nearly 80 Percent of South Koreans Say They Trust Kim Jong Un

(BBG) One summit has changed the perceptions of a nation.

Friday’s meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un prompted 78 percent of respondents to a Korea Research Center poll published this week to say they trusted the North Korean leader. That’s a far cry from the 10 percent of South Koreans who said they approved of Kim in a Gallup Korea poll conducted just a month-and-a-half ago.

The summit was filled with unprecedented scenes: Kim’s step over the ankle-high concrete slab dividing the Korean Peninsula — and then his walk back across the border hand-in-hand with Moon; a 30-minute private chat in the woods in front of television cameras; the first ever live remarks to reporters by a North Korean leader; Kim’s sense of humor and his deferential manner toward Moon, who is more than 30 years his senior.

And that’s just the optics. More significantly, the two leaders signed a declaration to finally end a seven-decade war this year, and pursue the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. Kim also called for frequent meetings between the leaders — a major shift given only three summits have taken place since the war.

Border Hop

More than 35 percent of respondents to the poll conducted earlier this week on behalf of national broadcaster MBC said the biggest accomplishment was the pledge to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons. Nearly 30 percent said Moon’s hop over the border at Kim’s impromptu suggestion was the most impressive moment of the summit.

Support for Kim is now nearly as high as it is for Moon, who scored an 86 percent rating. The South Korean president has been enjoying the highest popularity among all South Korean presidents in history since his inauguration a year ago .

The question now is whether this positive perception of Kim will continue through and beyond a planned summit between the North Korean leader and U.S. President Donald Trump, possibly later this month.

(ABC) North Korea, South Korea agree to end war, denuclearize peninsula


PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in as both of them arrive for the inter-Korean summit at the truce village of Panmunjom, April 27, 2018. Reuters

North Korea and South Korea have agreed to denuclearize the peninsula and later this year formally end the war between the two nations that began in 1950.

The nations signed an armistice when the fighting ended in 1953, but they’ve now agreed to pursue a proper peace agreement tied to the “common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”

Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, has pledged a “new history” with the South Koreans. Together with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, he has agreed to work on a permanent peace agreement and work toward a “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

“We talked about peace and prosperity,” Moon said. “A bold decision has been made. Big applause should be given to Kim Jong Un.”

PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in walk together at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, April 27, 2018.Korea Summit Press Pool via AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in walk together at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, April 27, 2018.more +

Moon called the meeting “historical” and “a valuable time.” To achieve a complete peace the two nations will collaborate and “change the order of the Korean peninsula.”

Moon also said this process included “a bold and courageous decision” by Kim and that the two leaders “have confidence in each other.”

“There is no turning back,” he added.

Kim similarly praised Moon, saying this moment has been a long time coming.

“Same people, same blood, so we cannot be separated and should live together in unification,” Kim said. “I hope we live together soon as a new path forward.”

With the rest of the world watching, he added, “We will never repeat the past mistakes.”

The event-packed day was well choreographed, providing emotional and video-friendly moments including a red-carpet honor-guard review, planting a pine tree together, sharing a walk in the Demilitarized Zone and then a lengthy private talk at a picnic table on a newly painted bright blue bridge.

The two men spoke for more than half an hour as media watched from afar.

Perhaps the day’s biggest highlight was when Kim, wearing a black Mao suit, first appeared in the morning, walking from the North size of the DMZ to meet Moon at the border with the South. It was the first time a North Korean leader stepped on South Korean soil.

Shortly thereafter, Moon said to Kim, “You’ve come to the South today, when can I go to the North?” Kim responded: “Why not try now?”

Holding hands, as more than 3,000 journalists, mostly from South Korean looked on, the leaders jumped across the boundary.

Kim and Moon may request three-way talks with Washington or four-way talks that include Beijing to convert the armistice from 1953 into a peace treaty, hopefully by the end of this year.

Both nations have agreed to expand civilian exchanges and pursue join sporting and cultural events.

Family reunions may happen in mid-August, an anniversary for both nations’ celebrating liberation from Japanese colonial rule after the end of World War II.

(BBC) Kim Jong-un ‘moved’ by K-pop peace concert in Pyongyang


Media captionNorth Korean leader Kim Jong-un clapped along, like many others at the concert

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was deeply moved by a concert in Pyongyang featuring South Korea artists, the North’s state news agency KCNA reports.

It said the leader’s heart had swelled when he saw the North Korean audience respond enthusiastically to the performances of famous K-pop groups.

He said the musical exchange was a significant occasion giving the appearance of a united country.

The concert came amid improving relations between the Koreas.

The North sent performers to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier this year, and the leaders of the two countries are due to hold a summit on the border later this month.

The performers are in Pyongyang for two shows, the first South Korean musical delegation to visit in more than a decade.

The first concert, titled Spring is Coming, took place on Sunday evening local time at the 1,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theatre.

The delegation, which combines K-pop, rock and other genres, is set to perform again on Tuesday.

A picture released by the North Korean Central News Agency shows leader Kim Jong-un (C), together with his wife Ri Sol Ju, with South Korean artists at the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre, 1 April 2018Image copyrightEPA
Image captionMr Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, posed for photos with some of the musicians after the event

Mr Kim is the first North Korean leader to attend a performance by an artistic group from the South, said South Korea’s official news agency, Yonhap.

His sister Kim Yo-jong and the country’s nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam are also said to have attended.

Kim Jong-un “showed much interest during the show and asked questions about the songs and lyrics”, the South’s Culture Minister Do Jong-hwan told journalists.

Rare apology

Meanwhile, one of North Korea’s top officials, Kim Yong-chol, has apologised to South Korean reporters who had hoped to cover the performance after all but one were barred from entering the Grand Theatre, South Korean Yonhap news agency reports.

Mr Kim, who is in charge of affairs with South Korea and head of the North’s national intelligence organisation, said that he thought that “there might have not been sufficient co-operation between the chairman’s security guards and concert organisers” at the event.

“It was wrong to hinder the free media coverage and filming,” he said, in what Yonhap reported as “a rare apology”.

Mr Kim offered an apology on behalf of North Korean authorities, saying that the restriction was “not intentional”, Yonhap reported.

Military exercise

Mr Kim has agreed to hold summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump.

He met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing last week during his first foreign trip as leader.

The third inter-Korean summit – there were also meetings in 2000 and 2007 – is due to be held on 27 April. No date has been set for the US-North Korean summit.

Meanwhile, the US and South Korea have begun their annual military drills, which have been scaled down compared with previous years as both countries prepare for talks with North Korea.

Although nearly 300,000 South Korean troops and 24,000 American troops will take part, the drill will be a month shorter than usual and will not involve nuclear submarines.

In the past, the drills have infuriated North Korea but correspondents say that this time Pyongyang is keeping relatively quiet. Mr Kim reportedly told visiting South Korean officials that he understood that the exercises had to go ahead.

(BBG) Two Koreas Set April 27 for Kim Jong Un’s Historic Walk South

(BBG) Kim Jong Un could become the first North Korean leader in history to enter South Korea in just over four weeks, when he steps across the heavily fortified border for a summit with President Moon Jae-in.

The April 27 meeting on the southern side of the demilitarized zone will be the first between leaders of the two nations in 11 years. Leaders of the two nations — which are still technically at war — have only met twice since the peninsula was divided in 1948.

Next month’s summit — a precursor to a potential meeting between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump — is the culmination of diplomatic efforts after North Korea fired a flurry of missiles last year. Kim got the ball rolling with a call for talks in a News Year’s Day speech, which led to his nation’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics and a series of meeting between the two Koreas.

“As the date for the inter-Korean summit is finalized now, we will do our best to be fully prepared for it during the given time,” Moon’s spokesman, Kim Eui-kyeom, said in a text message. “We hope all South Koreans will be united in making a groundbreaking turning point for peace settlement on the Korean Peninsula at the summit.”

Trump, Xi

The question now is whether the summit can lay the groundwork for a successful Trump-Kim meeting and a return to multi-nation talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The North Korean leader paid a surprise visit to Beijing this week to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, with China saying Kim expressed an openness to discussions over his nation’s nuclear program.

Trump welcomed the meeting between Kim and Xi, while calling for continued pressure against the isolated regime. “Maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all cost!” Trump said.

Trump has also threatened military action to prevent Kim from obtaining the ability to achieve its stated goal of being capable of striking the continental U.S. with a nuclear weapon.

Earlier Thursday, Moon’s office released a statement praising China’s participation in discussions to help stabilize the situation on the peninsula. “We expect the upcoming inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea summits to provide a clear turning point for eternal denuclearization and a peace system on the Korean Peninsula,” spokesman Kim said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told parliament that his nation would consider holding talks with North Korea in the context of the other summits taking place. The Asahi newspaper said earlier that Kim Jong Un’s administration was seeking a summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The yen weakened to a two-week low against the dollar after the report.

QuickTake on North Korea’s nuclear program

The last inter-Korean summit was held in October 2007 between then President Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong Il, the father of the current North Korean leader. The pair signed a peace declaration calling to end the armistice with a permanent treaty, but progress stalled and the two sides remain in a stalemate.

The first summit was in June 2000 between the elder Kim and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, a proponent of the so-called Sunshine Policy. The meeting led to family reunions until ties soured under conservative President Lee Myung-bak.

(BBC) Kim Jong-un to meet S Korea leader in landmark summit


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un greets a member of the delegation of South Korea's president on March 6, 2018Image copyrightREUTERS

Image captionKim Jong-un was pictured welcoming delegates to a dinner on Monday

The leaders of North and South Korea are due to meet at a summit of the two countries next month, Seoul’s envoy has said after a rare trip to Pyongyang.

N Korea’s Kim Jong-un also said he was willing to talk to the US about getting rid of nuclear weapons, the envoy said.

There have been previous programmes to halt the North’s nuclear ambitions, but it has failed to keep its promises.

It will be the first meeting between the leaders of the two countries for more than a decade.

The two men will meet on the heavily fortified border next month, at the truce village of Panmunjom. The two countries also agreed to open a hotline between the leaders.

On their return from Pyongyang, South Korean officials said Kim Jong-un told them he was now willing to talk about getting rid of the North’s nuclear weapons, if he felt that the regime’s security could be guaranteed.

Mr Kim also said there would be no missile tests while diplomacy continued.

This is a huge turnaround for North Korea’s young leader, the BBC’s Laura Bicker reports from Seoul.

The United States had said talks with North Korea would only go ahead if it was willing to discuss denuclearisation.

The US has said it is “cautiously optimistic” about improving North-South contacts, but ruled out formal talks with Pyongyang unless it was ready to give up its nuclear weapons.

Throughout the Olympics, the US maintained that North Korean gestures of rapprochement would carry little weight without such a commitment – particularly following last year’s nuclear and missile tests carried out by the North.

South Korean officials had dinner with the normally reclusive leader on Monday. Among the delegation were intelligence chief Suh Hoon and National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong.

They were the first officials from Seoul to meet Mr Kim since he came to power. They returned to Seoul on Tuesday morning, Yonhap news agency said.

The trip was part of a wave of rapprochement moves surrounding last month’s Winter Olympics.

Throughout the Olympics, the US maintained that North Korean gestures of rapprochement would carry little weight without commitment to give up nuclear weapons.

The South Korean delegation is expected to visit Washington later this week to brief US officials on their talks in the North.

Surprising imagery

Kim Jong-un has met very few foreign officials since he became leader in 2011 and the last time envoys from the South visited Pyongyang was in 2007.

Two previous summits were held in 2000 and 2007, under South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun who met Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il.

South Korean officials have dinner with Kim Jong-un, his wife Ri Sol-ju (5L) and sister Kim Yong-sol (3L)Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

So the sight of a southern delegation smiling, shaking hands and sitting down for dinner with him is significant.

They were aiming to capitalise on the reduced tensions after the Games, which saw the Koreas march together under a single flag.

The hope is that future formal talks will break the diplomatic standoff between the US and North Korea and persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, something it has fiercely resisted despite ever-increasing punitive sanctions.

The North’s KCNA news agency said Mr Kim had “warmly welcomed” the delegates and held an “openhearted talk” with them.

Image provided by South Korean president's office, Kim Yong-Chol (2nd right), vice-chairman of North Korea's ruling Workers' Party Central Committee, talks with South Korean delegation in Pyongyang, North Korea. Photo: 5 March 2018Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe visiting envoys (left) held talks with their North Korean counterparts before the dinner hosted by Kim Jong-un

They passed on a letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in in which he invited Mr Kim to attend further talks.

KCNA said Mr Kim had “exchanged views and made a satisfactory agreement” on the letter and gave orders for it to be acted on.

The dinner, which lasted four hours, also featured Ri Sol-ju, Mr Kim’s wife who rarely appears at official events, and his sister Kim Yo-jong, who was part of a North Korean delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The South’s response to the apparently cordial meeting is likely to remain muted until the delegates return to Seoul.

Officials have stressed the talks were only preliminary, but the parties had “somewhat shared” views on some issues.

When asked whether nuclear disarmament had been discussed, a senior officials from Mr Moon’s office said “I assume so”, the Yonhap news agency reports.

(Reuters) Japan’s Abe, Trump agree to keep up pressure on North Korea


  • Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to keep up pressure on North Korea until Pyongyang abandons its nuclear and missile programmes, Japan’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.
  • The two leaders confirmed in phone talks on Wednesday night that there would be “no meaningful dialogue” unless North Korea agreed on “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.”
US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the inter-delegation meeting in Japan on November 6, 2017.

Kiyoshi Ota | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the inter-delegation meeting in Japan on November 6, 2017.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trumpagreed to keep up pressure on North Korea until Pyongyang abandons its nuclear and missile programs, Japan’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.

The two leaders confirmed in phone talks on Wednesday night that there would be “no meaningful dialogue” unless North Korea agreed on “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” the ministry said in its statement.

“Dialogue for the sake of dialogue would be meaningless,” Abe told reporters after the phone talks.

South Korea said its president, Moon Jae-in, who has been pushing for a diplomatic solution to the North Korea standoff, was offered a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang. The offer was made via Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, who visited South Korea last week for the Winter Olympics.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who was also in South Korea for the Olympics opening, said on Wednesday the United States was open to talks with Pyongyang, but only to convey that it must give up its nuclear weapons.

Separately, Japan reported that it had identified another suspected illegal ship-to-ship transfer involving a U.N. blacklisted vessel.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said it had reported to the United Nations that North Korean-registered tanker, the Rye Song Gang 1, was engaged in a transfer of goods with the Belize-registered tanker “Wan Heng 11”, in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

The transfer took place early Tuesday in the East China Sea about 250 km (155 miles) east of Shanghai, the ministry said in a statement issued late on Wednesday.

“Japan must be united with the international community to enhance pressure on North Korea to the maximum degree,” it said.

The Rye Song Gang 1 was also spotted last month in the East China Sea engaging in a suspected transfer of goods with the Dominican-flagged tanker “Yuk Tung”, which Tokyo also reported to the United Nations.

+++ (BBG) Bitcoin’s Huge Arbitrage Play Just Vanished as Korea Bubble Pops

(BBG) The deepening selloff in cryptocurrencies has just claimed another victim: Bitcoin’s kimchi premium.

Prices for the virtual currency in South Korea have tumbled back in line with those on overseas exchanges for the first time in seven weeks, erasing a gap that had swelled to 51 percent in early January. The premium had been so persistent — and so unique among major markets — that traders named it after Korea’s staple side dish.

While its disappearance is partly explained by selling pressure from arbitragers, it also shows how dramatically investor sentiment has deteriorated in what used to be ground zero for the global crypto-mania.

Bitcoin has dropped more than 60 percent from its January high in Korea after the nation’s regulators took several steps to restrict trading and said they’re mulling an outright ban on cryptocurrency exchanges. The country has been on the forefront of a global push by policy makers to rein in the frenzy surrounding digital assets amid concerns over excessive speculation, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud.

“The bubble in cryptocurrencies has burst” in Korea, said Yeol-mae Kim, an analyst at Eugene Investment & Securities Co. in Seoul.

Bitcoin traded at about 8.7 million won ($8,080) in Korea on Friday, according to a index tracking the country’s major exchanges. That compared with the $8,311 composite price on Bloomberg, which is derived from venues including Bitstamp and Coinbase’s GDAX exchange. Both values were at their lowest levels of the year.

When the kimchi premium reached its peak in January, Bitcoin traded at the equivalent of $22,525 in Korea — about $7,500 higher than the composite price at the time.

The spread began shrinking as fears of a regulatory clampdown escalated. Selling by arbitragers — who have been buying Bitcoin on international venues to offload at a higher price in Korea — also played a role, although the country’s capital controls and anti-money-laundering rules made it difficult to execute such transactions in bulk.

The country’s waning frenzy has been reflected in declining activity on domestic exchanges. Data compiled by show that volumes have dropped by about 85 percent from December highs.

ATM Queue

Anecdotal evidence suggests arbitragers have become less active, too.

At the cryptocurrency ATM operated by Genesis Block Ltd. in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai neighborhood, 20 to 30 Koreans used to line up every morning before 9 a.m., waiting for the location to open so they could deposit wads of cash in exchange for Bitcoins. They would then transfer the coins to an exchange in Korea and sell them at a higher price — pocketing enough to cover the cost of flights, transaction fees and then some.

After the premium halved from its peak in late January, the morning ATM queue dwindled to as few as five people, according to Wincent Hung, a director at Genesis Block.

Of course, the lines could grow again if the kimchi premium returns. But Eugene Investment’s Kim says that’s unlikely as long as cryptocurrency prices are falling globally.

On Friday, the Bitcoin composite price sank as much as 9.2 percent. It has dropped 24 percent this week amid expectations of more government oversight around the world.

“People want to buy more when prices are on the rise,” Kim said. “Now, the market is feeling a chill.”

(Reuters) South Korea warns North not to repeat armistice violation

(Reuters) North Korea violated an armistice agreement with South Korea this month when North Korean soldiers shot and wounded a North Korean soldier as he defected across their border and it must not do so again, South Korea’s defence minister said on Monday.

North Korean soldiers keep watch toward the south next to a spot where a North Korean has defected crossing the border on November 13, at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone, South Korea, November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

The defector, a North Korean soldier identified only by his surname, Oh, was critically wounded but has been recovering in hospital in South Korea.

The incident comes at a time of heightened tension between North Korea and the international community over its nuclear weapons programme, but the North has not publicly responded to the defection at the sensitive border.

South Korean Minister of Defence Song Young-moo issued his warning to the North while on a visit to the border where he commended South Korean soldiers at a Joint Security Area (JSA), in the so-called Truce Village of Panmunjom, in the demilitarized zone, for rescuing the defector.

A North Korean border guard briefly crossed the border with the South in the chase for the defector on Nov. 13 – a video released by the U.N. Command (UNC) in Seoul showed – a violation of the ceasefire accord between North and South at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

“Shooting towards the South at a defecting person, that’s a violation of the armistice agreement,” Song said.

“Crossing the military demarcation line, a violation. Carrying automatic rifles (in the JSA), another violation,” he added as he stood near where South Korean soldiers had found Oh, collapsed and bleeding from his wounds.

“North Korea should be informed this sort of thing should never occur again.”

Since the defection, North Korea has reportedly replaced guards stationed there. Soldiers have fortified a section of the area seen aimed at blocking any more defections by digging a trench and planting trees.

As Song was speaking 10 metres away from the trees North Korean soldiers planted, four North Korean soldiers were spotted listening closely.

South Korean military officials pointed out two bullet holes in a metal wall on a South Korean building, from North Korean shots fired at Oh as he ran.

Oh has undergone several operations in hospital to remove bullets. His lead surgeon, Lee Cook-jong, told Reuters his patient has suffers from nightmares about being returned to the North.

In South Korea, six soldiers, three South Korean and three American, were given awards by the U.S. Forces Korea last week in recognition for their efforts in rescuing the defector.

After inspecting the site on Monday, Song met troops stationed there for lunch and praised them for acting ‘promptly and appropriately’.

South Korea has been broadcasting news of the soldier’s defection towards North Korea via loudspeakers, according to the South’s Yonhap news agency.

South Korean military officials have declined to confirm that.

(BBG) UBS Sees 20% Chance of North Korea War, Keeps Holdings Unchanged

(BBG) UBS Group AG’s wealth management unit got its in-house risk analysts to help gauge the threat of war on the Korean peninsula, mapped out the impact on its investments, and then decided to do nothing.

Even as North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations said a nuclear war “may break out any moment,” the money manager dismissed it as “saber rattling, drum beating.”

“It’s just two dogs barking at each other,” said Kelvin Tay, regional chief investment officer at UBS Wealth Management in Singapore, referring to the escalating rhetoric between North Korea’s leader and U.S. President Donald Trump. “Do you seriously think Kim Jong Un is going to fire a missile” at one of his enemies?

UBS Wealth Management is ascribing a 20 percent chance that war will break out, Tay, who helps oversee 2.2 trillion Swiss francs ($2.2 trillion) at the unit, said in an interview, while adding that even that figure is conservatively high. The investor sees no need to change its holdings, and is sticking with overweight positions on Chinese and Indonesian stocks even after both markets rallied, he said.

The fund manager’s analysis shows why South Korean assets have been in the vanguard of a global emerging-market rally, and why broader risk sentiment has been resilient to the mounting tension between the White House and Pyongyang. The Kospi index rose to a record on Tuesday even against the backdrop of Kim conducting nuclear tests and firing more than a dozen missiles this year. Foreigners have put a combined $34.9 billion into South Korea’s own stocks and bonds in 2017, and billions more into neighboring markets.

China Bull

Tay says UBS Wealth Management likes China’s internet stocks for their earnings potential, and lenders because they’re cheap relative to new-economy firms. He declined to discuss specific companies. Tencent Holdings Ltd., for example, is up almost 85 percent this year in Hong Kong, while Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd. trades at about book value even after surging 36 percent in 2017.

Read more about the rally in China’s big banks here

In Indonesia, Tay says he sees an economy with “good fundamentals” where growth is poised to pick up. He points to a young population and a lower ratio of household debt to gross domestic product than in markets such as Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong. And he’s also looking at interest rates, where he sees the room for further cuts after the central bank reduced borrowing costs eight times since the beginning of last year.

If war does erupt on the Korean peninsula, Tay says the best market to be in is — perhaps surprisingly — Malaysia. Like Indonesia, it won’t be directly impacted, and local funds that have a strong influence over the market won’t rush to sell, he says. Foreign investors owned less than a quarter of the stocks on Bursa Malaysia as of the end of August, even as the percentage rose to the highest in two years, according to the nation’s equity exchange.

The Shanghai Composite Index and a measure of Chinese stocks traded in Hong Kong each rose 0.1 percent in early trading on Wednesday.

Tech Stocks

Tay flagged technology shares as big losers, noting that declines wouldn’t be limited to those listed in Seoul.

“That’s where the global supply chain is — Korea, Taiwan, Japan and southeastern China, which is also quite close to the conflict,” he said.

The U.S. and South Korean navies started a joint drill involving about 40 warships on Monday, amid signs Kim’s regime is preparing for another missile launch or similar provocation. Trump has said all options are on the table to stop Kim, and the White House ruled out talks, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the president wants him to push forward on diplomacy with North Korea “until the first bomb drops.”

For Tay, who expects China to enter North Korea if a war does start, that kind of scenario is still a long way off.

“When you see troops being amassed at the border, Chinese troops getting ready to move into North Korea, Japanese self defense force levels being raised to the highest level, and the U.S. Pacific Fleet being moved to the region, then I think it’s time to start panicking a little,” Tay said. “But we don’t see anything like that.”

(BBG) North Korea Warns That Nuclear War Could ‘Break Out Any Moment’

(BBG) North Korea warned that a nuclear war “may break out any moment” as the U.S. and South Korea began one of the largest joint naval drills off both the east and west coasts of the peninsula.

Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, said on Monday that his nation had become a “full-fledged nuclear power which possesses the delivery means of various ranges” and warned that “the entire U.S. mainland is within our firing range.” He also called North Korea “a responsible nuclear state.”

“As long as one does not take part in the U.S. military actions against the DPRK, we have no intention to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any other country,” Kim said, referring to his country’s formal name.

The comments are similar to other warnings North Korea has made over the past few months as tensions have increased with President Donald Trump’s administration. Kim Jong Un’s regime has repeatedly said it needs the capability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear weapon in order to deter an American attack.

“They just bluff to the extreme because they think that if enough people worry about what they’re saying, that would deter U.S.-South Korean action,” Bruce Bennett, senior defense analyst at Rand Corp., said in a Bloomberg TV interview. “The problem is North Korea is used to using very extreme words to deter by bluff and by bluster, and now they’re shocked that the Americans are using a similar approach.”

Read here for more about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions

Trump has said military force is an option to stop Kim and has ruled out talks with Pyongyang. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday the president wants him to push forward on diplomacy with North Korea “until the first bomb drops.”

A war of words has escalated between the two leaders in recent weeks, with Trump labeling Kim “Rocket Man” and telling the UN that the U.S. would “totally destroy” North Korea if it attacks. Kim responded by calling Trump a “dotard” and warning of the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.”

South Korean military officials are preparing for another possible missile launch from North Korea this week to counter the U.S.-South Korea drills, which include an American aircraft carrier and a nuclear submarine. China’s Communist Party will also start its most important political meeting in five years on Wednesday.

A North Korean official said an intercontinental ballistic missile test could coincide with Trump’s visit to Asia next month, CNN reported, without identifying the person. The official added that two more steps are needed for Pyongyang to achieve its goal of having reliable ICBMs: an above-ground nuclear detonation and the “testing of a long-range ICBM capable of reaching Guam — and even further.”

‘Coming Disaster’

Russia on Monday urged the U.S. to reduce military drills near North Korea, reiterating a proposal for both sides to step back and calm tensions.

“I don’t remember a situation when the feeling of a coming disaster is so clear,” Tass cited Russian Ambassador to North Korea Alexander Matsegora as saying.

Russia’s Interfax newswire reported on Monday that a meeting is possible this week between Joseph Yun, the U.S. representative for North Korea, and Choe Son Hui, head of the North American department at North Korea’s foreign ministry. Both are attending a non-proliferation conference in Moscow this week, it said.

The UN has tightened sanctions on North Korea this year in a bid to cut off cash flows that help support its nuclear program. Kim’s regime also generates billions of dollars a year dealing drugs, selling weapons, counterfeiting currencies and exploiting guest workers, according to the International Network for the Human Rights of North Korean Overseas Labor.

Lazarus, a hacking group linked to North Korea, may have been behind this month’s theft of $60 million from Taiwan’s Far Eastern International Bank, BAE Systems Plc researchers said on Monday. While the bank said most of the money was recovered, it’s the latest case in which Swift — the interbank messaging system used for money transfers — was used to facilitate the theft of funds from a banking institution.

(WP) North Korean hackers stole U.S. and South Korean wartime plans, Seoul lawmaker says


North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, inspects artillery launchers in April. (Kcna/Reuters)
 October 10

 North Korean hackers stole a huge trove of classified U.S. and South Korean military documents last year, including a plan to “decapitate” the leadership in Pyongyang in the event of war, a lawmaker in Seoul said Tuesday.

The purported revelations come at a time of heightened tensions over North Korea. President Trump recently said that “only one thing will work” when it comes to Pyongyang, hinting that he thinks diplomatic efforts are proving futile and military action may be necessary.

The defense minister in Japan, a close military ally of the United States, said Tuesday that Trump might take such action against North Korea as soon as next month.

“I think President Trump will judge in the middle of November how effective pressure and other efforts have been,” Itsunori Onodera told reporters in Tokyo. “If there have been no changes from North Korea, it’s possible that the U.S. will take severe measures.”

On Tuesday, Trump was briefed on the options on North Korea by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the White House said.

Why does North Korea hate the U.S.? Look to the Korean War.
Everyday, North Koreans are told that the Americans are “imperialists” and North Korean children are taught that “cunning American wolves” want to kill them. To understand why, we need to go back to the Korean War. (Anna Fifield, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

In Seoul, Lee Cheol-hee, a lawmaker in the ruling Democratic Party and a member of the parliamentary national defense committee, said North Korean hackers broke into the Defense Integrated Data Center in September last year to steal secret files, including American and South Korean “operational plans” for wartime action. The data center is the main headquarters of South Korea’s defense network.

According to Lee, the stolen documents included OPLAN 5015, a plan drafted two years ago for dealing with full-blown war with North Korea and said to include procedures to “decapitate” the North Korean leadership. He said the cache also included OPLAN 3100, outlining the military response to infiltration by North Korean commandos or another local provocation, as well as a contingency plan in case of a sudden change in North Korea.

Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning said Tuesday he was aware of media reports of the breach but would not say whether sensitive operation documents were exposed.

“We are confident in the security of our operations plans,” Manning said.

While the two Koreas have technically been on a war footing since the Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953, anything that suggests the death or ouster of North Korea’s leader, or his assassination, is tantamount to heresy in the North, where the ruling Kims are treated like gods.

Responding to reports about the plans for decapitation strikes, the North’s Korean People’s Army said in March that it would “deal deadly blows without prior warning” to “the U.S. and South Korean puppet forces.”

Here’s what you need to know about what cyberweapons are and when they have been used in the past. (Dani Player, Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

“They should think twice about the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by their outrageous military actions,” the army’s general staff said, according to a state news report.

Lee made his claims about the alleged cyberattack to South Korean reporters, citing documents obtained from the Defense Ministry under a freedom of information request. Lee’s aides told The Washington Post on Tuesday that the lawmaker had collected information from several sources with knowledge of the cyberattacks, and they confirmed that local media had correctly reported Lee’s remarks.

Yonhap News Agency, citing Lee, reported that the hackers took 235 gigabytes of military documents and that almost 80 percent of the stolen documents have not yet been identified.

The documents also included reports on key South Korean and U.S. military personnel, the minutes of meetings about South Korean-U.S. military drills, and data on military installations and power plants in South Korea, reported the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper.

“I can’t reveal further details because they are a military secret,” Lee said, according to the paper.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries have a mutual defense pact under which the U.S. military would assume operational control of the alliance if a war breaks out. The two militaries conduct large-scale drills twice a year, rehearsing the responses to various scenarios on the Korean Peninsula.

As Kim Jong Un has accelerated his nuclear weapons program and aimed increasingly bellicose threats at the allies, those plans have been updated to include “beheading operations” — strikes designed to take out North Korea’s leaders.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry declined to confirm or comment on the reports of a cyberattack.

South Korean lawmakers have a spotty record when it comes to revealing information about what is happening inside North Korea, with many claims later turning out to be wrong. But in this case, the claims relate to something that has happened inside South Korea, and there have been hints about such a cyberattack in recent months.

In May, the Defense Ministry disclosed that the South Korean military’s intranet had been hacked by people “presumed to be North Koreans.” But the military said that only 53 gigabytes of information were stolen, and it did not reveal what was included.

The previous month, reports emerged that North Korean hackers had broken into the Defense Ministry network and infected more than 3,000 computers, including the defense minister’s, with malware.

At the time, South Korean newspapers, quoting unnamed government officials, reported that parts of one operational plan, OPLAN 5027, which outlines troop deployment plans and key North Korean targets, were stolen.

Current and former U.S. officials have said the United States also must be more proactive in launching and openly discussing cyberoffensives and retaliations. In May, retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis, the former commander of NATO forces, told lawmakers “we should advertise them accordingly” to demonstrate ability and resolve.

North Korea was potentially behind phony evacuation messages sent via cellphones and social media to military families and defense personnel in South Korea last month. That incident opens the possibility that last year’s breach may have led to the harvest of personal information used for the notifications.

This is hardly the first time that Kim’s regime has been accused of cyberattacks. The country’s spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, is thought to have assembled a large cyber army, assumed to be based in China, to launch such hacks.

North Korea was allegedly behind many attacks on South Korea’s financial networks and government systems and was blamed for the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014, apparently as retaliation for the movie “The Interview,” which culminates with Kim’s death in an explosion.

Most recently, North Korea was accused of being behind a cyberattack last year on Bangladesh’s central bank that netted $81 million and of masterminding the WannaCry ransomware that rocketed around the world earlier this year.

The latest alleged cyberattack comes as the United States struggles to harden cyber defenses against adversaries such as Russia, China and North Korea, who have outpaced U.S. efforts to fold cyber weapons into conventional military operations.

The Army said in a manual released Monday that it will seek to put greater emphasis on cyber options in what it calls hybrid war — a blurring of cyber and space operations with traditional military actions like mobilizing ground troops and massing tank units.

Yoonjung Seo in Seoul and Alex Horton in Washington contributed to this report.

(Economist) North Korea’s nuclear test has left the South wanting nukes too

(Economist) It may settle for more powerful conventional arms instead.

THE runaway pace of North Korea’s nuclear development has confounded predictions and diverted the attention of world leaders. It is also meddling with one North Korean grandmother’s retirement plans. Ri Chun Hee, a veteran broadcaster at Korean Central Television, was promised a rest in 2012, after 41 years gleefully reading out propaganda. The 74-year-old would only return for significant announcements. Yet these now come most weeks. North Korea has already tested 22 missiles this year. On September 3rd Mrs Ri was back, claiming the regime had tested a hydrogen bomb (see article). It was, she declared with trademark exuberance, the “perfect” explosion.

Mrs Ri is not the only cold war relic that could be put back into service as a result of the test. Some South Koreans want America to show its support by moving nuclear weapons back to their country. The White House put 950 of them there after the Korean war, but withdrew them in 1991. Soon afterwards both Koreas agreed to keep nuclear weapons off the peninsula. But the North has long flouted the deal, testing its first bomb 11 years ago. Liberty Korea, the South’s biggest opposition party, called in August for the weapons to be redeployed. Hong Joon-pyo, its leader, reiterated the demand two days after the latest test.

South Koreans are growing less certain that they can entrust their security to America. A poll by the Pew Research Centre in June found that 78% of South Koreans have no confidence in Donald Trump to “do the right thing” in world affairs. His response to the latest test will have done little to assuage these fears. James Mattis, his defence secretary, warned Mr Kim that a threat to America or its allies would prompt “a massive military response”. But Mr Trump, who had earlier mused about ditching a free-trade agreement with South Korea, chose instead to criticise Moon Jae-in, the South’s president, who has called for talks with the North. “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work,” he tweeted. For Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a think-tank, “that was exactly the wrong response.”

Not fickle, but fissile

Mr Hong argues that redeploying nuclear weapons would be proof of America’s will to defend the South. Several conservative newspapers have endorsed the notion. One big one, Joongang Ilbo, said the move would “raise our trust in the United States”. A poll in August found that only 27% of South Koreans favour keeping their country nuclear-free. On September 4th Song Young-moo, the defence minister, said asking for the weapons was “one alternative” that should be reviewed. He mentioned public demand for the idea in a recent meeting with Mr Mattis.

Another option is for South Korea to acquire its own nuclear weapons. It tried this twice in the 1970s but was pressed by America to stop. Experts believe it could have its own bomb within three years if it chose to do so. Most South Koreans have been keen on the idea for two decades. Another paper, Chosun Ilbo, said the government must consider it: “A nuclear threat must be met with a nuclear deterrent. There is no other option.”

Yet South Korea will probably remain nuclear-free. Making its own bombs could jeopardise the alliance with America and risk sanctions for violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty of 1968. Mr Moon and his party continue to oppose asking the Americans for some of theirs. Even if they change their minds, American generals are unlikely to back such a scheme.

America has plenty of nuclear weapons capable of striking the North—from submarines, bases on Guam or even the American mainland. Putting them in the South would antagonise China and Russia just as America is trying to enlist their help to press the North to abandon its drive for long-range nuclear weapons. This week at the United Nations, America circulated a resolution that would bar exports of oil to North Korea, most of which come from China, and which is the one plausible means left to rein in the North. “From an American perspective, it [deploying nuclear weapons in the South] is unnecessary and dangerous,” says David Straub, a former American diplomat now at the Sejong Institute, another think-tank.

Mr Moon is far more likely to boost conventional defences. He has reversed his earlier opposition to THAAD, an American anti-missile system. Four more launchers were installed soon after the latest test. Mr Moon has also persuaded Mr Trump to lift a limit on the range and payload of its (non-nuclear) missiles, allowing the South’s army to deploy more powerful ones, eg, able to destroy bunkers.

“Kim Jong Un must not be allowed to sleep easy,” cried Chosun Ilbo, referring to the North’s leader. Mr Moon hopes to persuade South Koreans that they, at any rate, still can. That should be relatively easy. By mid-week a qualifying match for the football World Cup had bumped North Korea from the top three search terms on Naver, South Korea’s answer to Google. Passers-by in Gwanghwamun, a square in the centre of Seoul, were not fretting about an imminent apocalypse. Asked to judge the current atmosphere in the capital, a middle-aged man replied, “The pollution isn’t as bad these days.”

+++ (BBG) Moon Seeks Putin Help, Warns of ‘Uncontrollable’ North Korea

(BBG) U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke again about how to resolve the North Korean crisis as the U.S. seeks support for more stringent UN sanctions at a Security Council meeting next week.

“We will not be putting up with what’s happening in North Korea,” Trump told reporters Wednesday after the conversation. The two leaders had a “very, very frank and very strong call,” he added. Asked about possible U.S. military action, the president said, “That’s not our first choice, but we’ll see what happens.”

Xi reiterated China’s commitment to a denuclearized Korean peninsula while Trump emphasized Beijing’s role in influencing Kim, according to a summary of the call published in Chinese state-run media. The report didn’t say any breakthrough was achieved ahead of a Security Council session the U.S. has requested for Sept. 11.

The call between the U.S. and Chinese leaders came after Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier in the day expressed concern that halting oil supplies to North Korea would hurt its people. Putin’s comments followed a request from South Korean President Moon Jae-in that he support more stringent United Nations sanctions.

“Stopping oil supply to North Korea is inevitable,” Moon’s spokesman Yoon Young-chan quoted him as saying. “I’m asking for Russia’s cooperation.”

Putin explained at length to Moon that sanctions won’t work on North Korea and that halting its oil supply would damage hospitals, his foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said after the meeting, echoing the Russian leader’s earlier remarks that such action would be “useless and ineffective.” On Tuesday, Putin told reporters that Russia’s trade with North Korea is “almost zero,” and that its quarterly exports of 40,000 tons of oil to the country are “as good as nothing” relative to its global sales.

Even so, Ushakov said the talks had led to more “elements of commonality.”

The two leaders’ interaction raises questions over how far the Security Council will go in punishing Kim Jong Un’s regime after it conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sunday. Russia and China both hold vetoes and have opposed doing anything that could lead to the collapse of Kim’s regime.

Trump has vowed to escalate sanctions also has warned North Korea of “fire and fury” if it continues threatening America. He has also threatened to cut off trade with all countries that do business with North Korea. China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner.

Markets React

Stocks fell in most Asian markets on Wednesday, and almost every sector of the Stoxx Europe 600 Index retreated, as nations grapple with how to deal with North Korea’s escalating provocations. The yen was near its strongest level for the year.

In a conversation with Putin on Monday, Moon had said it was time for the UN to seriously consider blocking North Korea’s foreign currency sources by cutting off crude oil supplies and banning its overseas labor.

‘Uncontrollable Situation’

“If we fail to stop North Korea’s provocations now, it could sink into an uncontrollable situation,” Moon said in remarks before the meeting with Putin. “I want to seek a fundamental solution to resolve the North Korea nuclear problem here.”

Putin called for all sides to calm down.

“There’s no point in giving into emotions and backing North Korea into a corner,” Putin said. “More than ever now we need to show restraint and avoid any steps that could escalate tensions.”

“They’ll eat grass, but they won’t abandon their program unless they feel secure,” Putin told reporters Tuesday at an emerging markets summit in Xiamen, China, which was hosted by Xi.

North Korea has reportedly been preparing another launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could come before it marks the anniversary of its founding on Sept. 9. Kim claimed on Sunday that he could fit a warhead onto an ICBM capable of striking the continental U.S.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also plans to visit Vladivostok for talks with Moon and Putin. He told reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday that he wants North Korea to understand it has “no bright future” if it continues on its current path. Putin’s foreign policy aide Ushakov expressed hope that progress could be made at the talks.

Border Post

China has been considering closing a customs post along its border with North Korea, according to the Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that says it gathers information from informants inside the isolated nation. The Quanhe customs house in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, near the Russian border, is the second-biggest of nine posts between China and North Korea.

South Korea is watching closely for any radiation leaks after North Korea detonated its nuclear device, Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said in a briefing Wednesday. The nation’s nuclear safety commission said it hadn’t detected any so far.

Additional launchers for the U.S. missile shield known as Thaad will be installed in South Korea on Thursday afternoon, Yonhap News reported, citing activists at the site. Moon had previously sought to delay its deployment.

The deployment of Thaad “does not help addressing the security concerns of relevant countries,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said at a briefing in Beijing on Wednesday. “It will only severely undermine the strategic balance in the region, jeopardize strategic and security interests of the regional countries, including China, aggravate the tension and confrontation, and further complicate the Peninsular issue.”

Weapons in Japan?

In Tokyo, ruling party heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba said Wednesday on a TV show that Japan should review its policy of not allowing the U.S. to bring atomic weapons into its territory, according to Kyodo News. This would strengthen the deterrence provided by the alliance with the U.S. in the face of the North Korean threat, the lawmaker said.

After Ishiba’s remarks, Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said that Japan would retain its nuclear weapons ban. He said earlier Japan was also gathering information on North Korea’s electromagnetic pulse attack development.

Hours after detonating the device, North Korea’s state-run news agency called it a “thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP attack according to strategic goals.”

Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said that the explosion on Sunday was 10 times more powerful than the bomb that devastated Hiroshima in the final days of World War II.

+++ V.V.I. (BBG) North Korea Prepares for Possible ICBM Launch, South Says

(BBG) The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said North Korea was “begging for war” by testing a nuclear weapon over the weekend and demanded the strongest sanctions possible to bring the Kim Jong-Un regime to heel.

“Only the strongest sanctions will enable us to resolve this problem through diplomacy,” Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a meeting of the UN Security Council. She said the U.S. will circulate new draft sanctions measures and wants the council to vote on them Sept. 11.

South Korea, meanwhile, detected preparations by North Korea for a possible intercontinental ballistic missile launch, a move that would further exacerbate tensions a day after its sixth and most powerful nuclear detonation.

Chang Kyung-soo, acting chief of the Defense Ministry’s policy planning office, told lawmakers in Seoul on Monday that North Korea was readying a missile firing, but didn’t give a timeframe. The Yonhap news agency also cited South Korea’s spy agency as saying there is a chance North Korea could fire an ICBM into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea threatened last month to launch missiles toward Guam.

The warning came after South Korea removed the final administrative hurdle for the full deployment of a U.S. missile defense system, called Thaad or Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, which China sees as a threat to the region’s “strategic equilibrium.” The governments in Seoul and Washington were discussing deployment of a U.S. carrier group and strategic bombers, Yonhap said.

Haley reinforced U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat on Twitter to cut off trade with nations that trade with North Korea. The U.S. “will look at every country that does business with North Korea as a country that gives aid to their reckless intentions,” she said.

Military Drill

South Korea’s military also conducted a live-fire drill, firing a surface-to-surface ballistic missile and air-to-ground rocket into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan, with North Korea’s nuclear test site as the virtual target, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message.

Stocks in Asia and Europe fell, along with S&P index futures, as investors turned to haven assets, sending the yen, gold and Treasury futures higher.

Countries that trade with North Korea include China, the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, which accounted for about a sixth of its overseas commerce.

China hit back at Trump’s threat to cut off trade, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang saying the comments were “neither objective nor fair.”

“What is definitely unacceptable to us is a situation in which on the one hand we work to resolve this issue peacefully but on the other hand our own interests are subject to sanctions and jeopardized,” Geng said at a regular briefing in Beijing, according to the Associated Press.

Kim Jong-un looks at nuclear weaponization in North Korea.

Source: KCNA via EPA

“China has leverage over North Korea, and we should be encouraging them to exercise that leverage,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokeswoman, Alison Donnelly, told reporters in London on Monday. “Our overwhelming view is that diplomatic means are best” for resolving the crisis, she said.

Trump, who threatened over the weekend to pull out of the U.S.-South Korea trade agreement, also took aim at President Moon Jae-in’s administration. South Korea is finding that its “talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work,” he said on Twitter.

In response, Moon’s office said that war shouldn’t be repeated and that South Korea and its allies “will pursue the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula through peace.”

Trump and Moon will speak by phone on Monday, a White House official said.

Moon took power in May pledging to seek peace talks with Kim’s regime. He initially opposed the early deployment of the Thaad missile defense system, though has shifted in recent months as North Korea advanced its push for an intercontinental ballistic missile that could strike the U.S.

The disagreement between allies comes as Trump’s administration looks to convince China and Russia to support stronger sanctions against North Korea at the United Nations Security Council. The U.S. and other nations called for an emergency meeting at 10 a.m. on Monday in New York.

While Trump didn’t rule out an attack on North Korea when asked by a reporter on Sunday, the focus of his tweets and remarks by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were on tighter sanctions rather than military action. China and Russia oppose military force to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program.

In a call with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump “reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to defending our homeland, territories, and allies using the full range of diplomatic, conventional, and nuclear capabilities at our disposal,” the White House said in a statement.


Abe also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin late Sunday, telling him that another strong UN resolution was needed.

Sunday’s test, North Korea’s first since Trump took office, was a “perfect success” and confirmed the precision and technology of the bomb, the Korean Central News Agency said. Energy from the underground explosion, near Punggye-ri in the northeast of the country, was about six times stronger than the last test a year ago, South Korea’s weather agency said.

Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said the international community needs to “come up with a very different game plan than just sanctions and bomber exercises.

“Right now, everything North Korea does appears to have to be bigger and scarier,” he said by email. “The signal they’re sending is the same as always: we don’t care what you say, we can do this and will continue to do so until you stop threatening us. And they seem to have the resources needed to do so despite sanctions.”

G-7 Statement

Leaders of the Group of Seven nations condemned North Korea’s nuclear test, labeling the act as a violation of international law, according to a statement from Japan’s Foreign Ministry. The leaders urged North Korea to immediately “abandon all nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”

The leaders “strongly call on the UN Security Council to meet its responsibilities and to work towards the adoption of a new and effective resolution that includes stronger measures,” according to the statement.