NK News - North Korea News Breaking North Korea News, Opinion, Culture & Curiosities + Professional, Academic & Student resources on North Korea / DPRK 2016-12-02T20:02:32Z https://www.nknews.org/feed/atom/ WordPress <![CDATA[Spy games: The North Korean intelligence services and organized crime]]> 2016-12-02T14:20:31Z 2016-12-02T14:18:29Z This is the five and final part of a series explaining why North Korea is a top priority target for Western and Asian intelligence agencies. You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here.

North Korean intelligence agencies are currently in a position that heavily draws on the powerful state apparatus’s resources and logistic capacities. Intelligence agencies are usually responsible for a country’s domestic as well as foreign security. In systems which are not founded upon democratic principles, they also serve to facilitate domestic stability, i.e. monitoring adversaries and preventing any unwanted activities. The reality that North Korean intelligence agencies are confronted with, however, presents itself in a far more complex manner and their responsibilities are manifold.

Intelligence agencies need to find ways to circumvent rigid sanctions on the basis of various interests. First of all, there are the Kim clan’s personal needs and – graded in a hierarchy – those of the loyal families close to the clan as well as of supporters in the political and military elites.

Intelligence agencies also need to follow the power structure’s wishes. In their own interest, they have to rely on the corrupt military’s help, e.g. on the Chinese border, as well as on successful business people and smugglers from whom they receive goods for their own needs and whose expertise they can resort to. Furthermore, they need to actively work on acquiring sanctioned goods abroad, both in enemy and allied countries, and smuggle them into North Korea. This means they must rely on transport and logistics companies or on the services of criminal structures.


Another responsibility is the surveillance and sabotage of anti-government activities abroad. The following groups of people are under surveillance: refugees, defectors, employees in embassies and companies that are corrupt or working too autonomously, human rights organizations as well as critical media. Members of the elite or their children studying abroad are also monitored.

There were several instances where they were asked to return to North Korea at short notice after North Korean intelligence agencies detected the presence of members of the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) close to Kim Jong Nam.

The intelligence agencies’ inefficiency is highlighted by their little international success in monitoring and returning North Korean refugees. Although there have been rumors about politically motivated burglaries into apartments of European activists concerned with human rights in North Korea, there is hardly any European news coverage on operations.

However, there have apparently been threats and attacks by North Korean security agents, such as in Denmark, where a refugee had to be treated in hospital after being harmed in an attack. This can by no means be called a sophisticated intelligence operation, however.

In contrast, there were a number of cases in Europe which were a lot more subtle: in 2004, Kim Yong Un’s mother Ko Yong Hee died from breast cancer in Paris. In autumn 2006, the 29-year-old Jang Kum Song committed suicide in Paris. She was also known as the daughter of Jang Song Thaek, who was eliminated in 2013.

In both cases, North Korean security agents appear to have been present in order to prevent further investigations or autopsies by the French police. There were reports on teams of several security agents being flown into Paris from one of the North Korean embassies in Eastern Europe in order to take charge in securing the scenes.

The exact circumstances of the deaths remain unclear, however, both individuals had been under surveillance. Jang Kum Song, for example, refused to obey the order to return to North Korea. 

In another case, a North Korean student who had defected in Paris in 2014, appears to have been practically hunted by security agents of the regime.

For good reason, no details are being disclosed by the authorities, for this may result in fatal consequences. Operations against refugees and defectors have proven to be far more successful in Asian countries than elsewhere and they are also being implemented over longer periods of time. The pursuit of unwanted target subjects around North Korea, such as in South Korea or China, has been on the rise and has already claimed a number of victims.


Recent escapes have also led to a wave of North Korean security agents infiltrating China in order to observe both refugees and North Koreans working there with a view to eventually lure them back into North Korea or to simply abduct them. Although the case of Won Chong Hwa, a North Korean agent, is well-known, it is yet to be fully clarified. Apparently, she was responsible for the abduction of 100 refugees from South Korea and China back into North Korea. There are sources reporting on approximately 300 security agents who conducted additional operations in China some months ago.

These agents are supposedly being replaced after three months in order to prevent them from fraternizing. The Surveillance Transmission Bureau, also known as Bureau 27, is part of the State Security Department and plays a major role in monitoring all communication with neighboring countries.

Defectors have repeatedly reported on scanners being used by Bureau 27’s security agents. Other sources say that the defectors’ families are being monitored by intelligence agencies for reasons of kin liability. Furthermore, there are reports on security agents from the North infiltrating the North Korean community in South Korea.

There lies a certain irony in the fact that Thae Yong Ho, hitherto one of the highest-ranking North Korean diplomats at the London embassy, appears to have been commissioned with the surveillance and persecution of defectors living primarily in the London suburb of New Malden previous to his flight to South Korea in summer 2016. It has not been conclusively established as to whether he also conducted operations for the notorious Reconnaissance General Bureau (RGB).

His flight, however, can be seen as a sign of the increasing erosion within the higher ranks of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the intelligence apparatus – a great opportunity for Western counter-intelligence operations. A further case of schizophrenia can be seen in the fact that whilst North Korean intelligence agencies may well have a legitimate interest in prohibiting crime, corruption and drug abuse, these are also things that appear as omnipresent issues, for they are the result of repression and injustice. It is rather likely that not only members of the border police and military but also members of the State Security Department are often corrupt and therefore benefit from the social erosion they contributed to in the first place on behalf of the regime.


The regime’s domestic and foreign political activities and escapades force North Korean intelligence agencies to adjust their operations accordingly. In a sense, this makes them more predictable for Western adversaries in terms of their general objectives.

Due to the regime constantly having to find new ways to meet these targets, however, Western intelligence agencies also increasingly need to adapt to an opponent that operates unconventionally and at times erratically. After all, this opponent is fighting for the Kim clan’s survival.

On the one hand, domestic conditions have changed for intelligence agencies: old connections that were established around the time of the founding of the state are slowly dying out or have been removed in the process of a young opportunistic elite pushing for major offices, including those within the intelligence apparatus.

Many of these have gained experience abroad, studied there and are connected across the country’s borders – often to China, Singapore or Vietnam. The old ways of the intelligence agencies – the reconnaissance of the South Korean military as well as sabotage – are increasingly supplemented by modern elements, such as the use of hackers who work for North Korea from abroad.

There are political disinformation campaigns on the internet, such as the recent scandal around Choi Soon-sil who, as a private individual, allegedly interfered with the politics of her old friend Park Geun-hye, the South Korean president. This scandal seems to have resulted in the following North Korean intelligence activities: E-mails were sent out with an attachment referencing the political crisis in South Korea. These attachments, however, contained malicious software which experts have identified to be of North Korean origin.

This development can be seen to differ greatly from the traditional proceedings of North Korean intelligence agencies present until the 1990s. In the last years of Kim Jong Il’s reign, there had already been first interferences from individual pressure groups and Kim Jong Un’s takeover eventually marked the transformation of a repressive organization, which used to unconditionally sustain the state and now represents various vested interests:

Image: Stephan Blancke

Image: Stephan Blancke

Whilst this structure may be very flexible and hybrid on the one hand, it is also very unpredictable and hard to control by the Kim clan on the other. A former unwritten law by Kim Jong Il sought for the organization’s rigorous compartmentalization in order to prevent a concentration of power. 

There are now several large-and small-scale centers of power which, due to their financial and social resources, are powerful and oftentimes impossible to control. Whilst previously around 30 to 60 families were combined and split into groups of five that were then monitored by one person who reported to the authorities, there are now families who buy their way out of being controlled and more or less pursue their own interests. 

The more elitist and connected the family is, the higher their degree of autonomy – which, of course, is to be seen as a relative term in the context of North Korea. Furthermore, the regime can no longer rely on old bonds with Chinese intelligence agencies.

These now only operate in a limited number of areas with their colleagues from the North, for there has been too much trouble with unauthorized operations on Chinese grounds, the refugee crisis, drug trafficking as well as constant efforts to push the limits of regulations concerning foreign affairs.

This has resulted in North Korea increasingly looking to form co-operations with other partners who previously used to be of lesser interest and relevance, such as with certain African states. These new alliances, however, rarely appear in the media. In contrast, the alliance with Russia is currently experiencing somewhat of a revival – that is, as long as it helps Russia interfering with Western operations. Existing operations, such as the ones with Pakistan or the Iran, are organized by North Korean intelligence agencies in an opportunistic manner. In the case of political incidents emerging, such as the latest proliferation allegations, contacts and communication channels are simply being shifted to other states.

In order to gain an overview of this vast network of factors, the following database was built: Here, various pieces of information have been collected, which can then be used to make a forecast. Useful hints can, for example, be found in the diplomatic correspondence between North Korea and any other state, the economic and political needs of both states, the companies and organizations involved as well as, on a microscopic level, contact details such as telephone numbers and contacts.

Paradoxically, North Korea makes great efforts to conceal, but at the same time uses certain telephone numbers and addresses for a surprisingly long time. In a number of cases, only one or two pieces of relevant information can be extracted from bulks of data, however, these often contain important hints. The first impression is a rather confusing one:


Image: Stephan Blancke

The previous example shows data on facilities possibly concerned with the medical care of high-ranking employees within the intelligence apparatus. First of all, their interconnectedness with protagonists from other relevant states:

Image: Stephan Blancke

Image: Stephan Blancke

Lastly, possible communication channels are to be found:


Image: Stephan Blancke

In this case, the result was an e-mail address, which may at first seem disappointing with regard to the large number of entities analyzed, but has in fact proven it to be an efficient search. Since the amount of data on North Korean protagonists concerned with matters of security and their interconnectedness does not decrease but increase, structures become more transparent – a development that cannot be reversed by the regime. The database can, therefore, be expanded with names and functions.


Due to the Kim clan’s provocative politics, North Korea’s intelligence agencies increasingly need to adapt to enemies forming alliances, which, until recently, appeared rather difficult to implement. The exchange of sensitive information between South Korea and China is likely to prosper and cause great concern in North Korea, for it highlights its isolation.

The existing General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) is to be re-released, and thus can be seen to directly target the regime’s military nuclear apparatus. Furthermore, the annual “Teak Knife” maneuver of the U.S. American and South Korean Air Force explicitly trains to infiltrate North Korea through special units such as the 353rd Special Operations Group (SOG). The North Korean military does not have adequate intelligence capacities for reconnaissance in order for these operations to be monitored or even prevented.

The regime’s technology used in the Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) as well as the Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) is hopelessly obsolete as far as Western standards are concerned, and is in no way capable of severely disrupting operations or pursuing preliminary reconnaissance. A modernisation of such capacities is practically impossible for North Korea to accomplish, for the technology needed is too expensive and subject to sanctions. Therefore, the military intelligence section is expanding its cyberwar capacities as a relatively cost-effective alternative.

The Kim clan’s politics make it difficult to win over significant sources in relevant areas. The group of people collaborating is often made up of dubious dogmatists or extremists, whose responsibility usually is to spread national propaganda.  One of the most interesting representatives is Alejandro Cao de Benos, who was recently arrested for illegal arms trafficking by the Spanish police. On the Korean Friendship Association’s (KFA) website, there are three e-mail addresses listed for questionable “intel” organizations.


Image: Stephan Blancke

Interesting about this, however, is the fact that these addresses appear in dubious Facebook lists alongside the addresses of affiliated states, such as Iran:


Image: Stephan Blancke

Nevertheless, this group of people is of limited use to the regime in Pyongyang, which can only hope for individuals from these organizations to discreetly work their way up into high-ranking positions, e.g. in the defense industry or the financial sector, and still sympathise with an internationally unpopular and unattractive ideology several years on. NGOs and religious organizations active in or concerned with North Korea are also of great interest.

Again, it appears difficult to reconcile the two binaries of voluntary work on the one hand and the government’s massive violations of human rights on the other. There is the occasional name dropping and speculation over important protagonists on the political stage, who are said to have been working for North Korea for many years.

An example can be seen in the suspicion that the main character in the current South Korean scandal, Choi Soon-sil, was working for North Korean intelligence organizations. There is reference to the relationship with her father Choi Tae-min, who apparently had a great influence on the current South Korean president: “Park has also been forced to explain her own past, including her relationship some 35 years ago with a pastor, Choi Tae-min, whom her opponents characterize as a ‘Korean Rasputin’, and how he controlled Park during her time in the Blue House when she was first lady after her mother’s assassination.”

The symbol of the Yongsae-gyo cult, which he founded, was the dragon. His influential daughter is said to have been responsible for having the NIS’s old symbol changed and having the cult’s dragon incorporated into the new symbol.


These reports are from an environment where South Korean and North Korean interests intersect and ministerial decisions are often carried both by family ties as well as emotional commitments.

It is unclear to which extent North Korean intelligence agencies will resort to non-governmental individuals or support them in the future. There used to be a clear position in the past, which can be seen in a work of propaganda published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House in 1989.

On page 113, it says that North Korea “gives full supports to the just cause of the progressive people of the world who are fighting for peace and democracy, as well as for national independence and the building of a new society in the face of the imperialists’ moves for aggression and war, and expresses firm solidarity with the ever-expanding anti-war, anti-nuclear peace movement across the world.”


Image: Stephan Blancke

In the past, the Kims were not exactly low-key in their choice of means and even launched several attacks themselves. The regime has also been accused of supporting terrorist groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the training of members of the Hezbollah, or the supply of munitions to several of these groups.

It can be assumed that the Kim clan operates in a much more pragmatic way these days and therefore no longer entertains such co-operations or, if it does, this happens in a very discreet way. The damage would simply be too vast considering the sanctions that are already in place. Chinese intelligence agencies would be immediately affected in the case of North Korea supporting Islamists and intervene due to their own issues with the Uyghurs.

In a seminar on nuclear deterrence in Stanford in 2016, Dr. Joseph C. Martz asked the following questions: “Speaking of adversary, do we know who they are? Can we communicate with them? Will they make rational decisions?”

North Korea’s intelligence agencies serve as the Kim clan’s puppets that are used to pursue their interests and simply do as they are told. Whether these orders are based upon a rational decision is a question that can only be answered by the few insiders within the inner circle. Western intelligence agencies must obtain information from this inner circle and its surrounding strata.

Hamish Macdonald http://nknews.org <![CDATA[U.S. Treasury expands unilateral sanctions against North Korea]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=800677 2016-12-02T20:02:32Z 2016-12-02T17:29:59Z The U.S. has unveiled new targeted sanctions against North Korean financial, energy, labor exportation and transportation operations, the Department of the Treasury announced on Friday.

The treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) latest blacklist includes seven North Korean officials, 16 entities and 16 aircraft and comes in response to the North’s fifth nuclear test in September this year.

“These sanctions aim to cut the flow of financial resources to North Korea and further counter the regime’s destabilizing and provocative behavior,” Adam J. Szubin, Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence said, according to an OFAC press release.

“Treasury will continue to use all of its financial tools to intensify the pressure on North Korea and those supporting the regime’s nuclear ambitions and WMD programs,” he added. The designations were made under Executive Orders 13382, 13687 and 13722.

North Korea’s only commercial airline, Air Koryo, 16 of its aircraft and its foreign offices are also included on the list. The press release identifies previously discovered cases of the airline’s involvement in a military parade and in transporting Scud-B missile parts, both in 2013.

These cases were detailed in the reports of the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) pursuant to Resolution 1718. According to OFAC, a private jet with an Air Koryo logo also transported leader Kim Jong Un, who is designated by the treasury for human rights violations.

North Korea’s Mansudae Overseas Projects (MOP), the Korea General Corporation for External Construction, Namgang Construction and Korea Rungrado General Trading Corporation are all listed for exporting North Korean labor overseas as a means of earning revenue for the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK).

OFAC lists a reported 18 countries in which MOP operations were involved in this practice, 15 of them in Africa. MOP has also been linked in (PoE) reports for its involvement in military-related construction in Namibia, which was not mentioned in the OFAC listings. 

For “operating in the financial services industry in the North Korea economy,” OFAC designated five North Korean banks and the Korean National Insurance Corporation (KNIC).

The OFAC press release further mentions reported links between KNIC and Office 39, a previously sanctioned entity that is tasked with earning hard currency for the regime’s leadership via illicit means.

Daewon Industries and the Kangbong Trading Corporation were sanctioned for their involvement in the sale or purchase of “metal, graphite, coal, or software, where revenue or goods received may benefit the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Part of Korea.”

The Korea Oil Exploration Corporation was also sanctioned for working in North Korea’s energy industry and OFAC also said it has reportedly tried “to establish contracts with Iranian oil entities, in part to supply crude oil to two refineries in North Korea.”

The seven individuals designated were tied to North Korea’s Second Economic Committee, Second Academy of Natural Sciences, Korea Kumsan Trading Corporation, the Ministry of Atomic Energy Industry (MAIE) and the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID).

These entities are already designated by the U.S. and KOMID is also designated by the United Nations for being North Korea’s primary weapons dealer.

The new designations follow on from Wednesday’s unanimous adoption of another resolution against North Korea in the UN as well as unilateral sanctions against the country by Japan and South Korea.

Featured image: © Benoît Prieur / Wikimedia Commons

<![CDATA[N. Korean ship owned by Hong Kong company could breach sanctions]]> 2016-12-02T09:49:39Z 2016-12-02T09:49:09Z A vessel registered in North Korea is owned and operated by a company in Hong Kong, potentially putting China in breach of UN sanctions, analysis of various shipping databases shows.

The Haesong 2, a 5000-tonne general cargo vessel, recently changed flag from Togo to North Korea, though is still owned by Hongkong Alibaba Shipping, according to the Equasis database.

Resolution 2270 passed in March this year calls on member states to prevent the use of the North’s flag.

“(All) States shall prohibit their nationals, persons subject to their jurisdiction and entities incorporated in their territory or subject to their jurisdiction from registering vessels in the DPRK,” paragraph 20 of the resolution reads.

UN Member States are also barred from “obtaining authorization for a vessel to use the DPRK flag, and from owning, leasing, operating, providing any vessel classification, certification or associated service, or insuring any vessel flagged by the DPRK.”

Resolution 2320 published on Wednesday strengthened the provision further. While the March document allowed the possibility of exemptions if previously authorized by the UN’s 1718 Committee, the more recent document applied the measures “without exception”.

Inspection records show the Haesong 2 briefly changed flag from North Korea to Togo at some point between December 2015 and May 2016.  But by November the ship was once again sailing as part of the DPRK’s shipping registry.

The rapid shuffling indicates that Togo may have been attempting to follow the UN’s March resolution by deregistering the ship. But if the Equasis database’s information is correct, the Haesong 2’s owners in Hong Kong are now in breach of a different part of the UN resolution.

Other vessels have also recently changed flags to North Korea, as shipping registries in countries like Mongolia and Panama complied with Resolution 2270 and delisted some DPRK ships.

Often the vessels’ related companies are also switched to offices in Pyongyang, avoiding sanctions breaches. This is the case with one of the Haesong 2’s management companies, which operates out of the DPRK capital, though not its owner.

Hongkong Alibaba Shipping does not appear to have any website or contact details. The Hong Kong company registry says the director is called Wang Yuying, but no nationality information is listed.

The Haesong 2 has also recently changed its name and was previously called Myongsan and Long Rich 2 over a period of 12 months. It was last seen in late November leaving China’s Jingtan port and heading for North Korea.

JH Ahn <![CDATA[N.Korea conducts massive artillery training near Wonsan]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=800610 2016-12-02T10:51:17Z 2016-12-02T10:51:17Z North Korea on Thursday conducted exercises with over a hundred pieces of heavy artillery, ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun reported on Friday.

Rodong did not mention where the training took place, but evidence in the article suggests it might have happened on the Kalma Peninsula, Wonsan, the same area where the North conducted artillery training in March.

“The ground shattered as the earthquake hit it, the sky roared with the sound of thunder, and the cloud of dust soon covered the artillery emplacement,” Rodong reported.

“At the target island, the fire has erupted with the thunderous noise and the gust of yellow dust whirled up to the sky.”


The target island, presumed to be Hwangto-do, located here | Image: Rodong Sinmun

The article left some clues as to the drill’s location, mentioning the “target island,” “few kilometers long beach”, and some of the pictures share the strong resemblance to the Kalma peninsula.

“I am almost 100% sure it is Kalma, you can see the Kalma Peninsula on the map next to Kim Jong Un,” NK News Intelligence Director John Grisafi said.

“The target island in the pictures appears to be Hwangto-do (황토도) which is quite typical. That island is routinely used as the target of live fire and assaults.”

North Korea conducted artillery training on Kalma in March, announcing that it planned to “obliterate South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s residence and liberate the southern part of the peninsula.”


152mm howitzers (left, top right) and 122mm MRLs seen | Image: Rodong Sinmun

During the Thursday visit Kim Jong Un ordered his artillery units to “crush the South” once fighting broking out between the two, according to Rodong.

“Our first strike has to completely crush their intention to confront us again,” Kim continued. “If there are those who are still left to struggle against us, then we have to wipe all of them… our brave artillery units have to leave piles of bodies at every place they aim at.”

Despit Kim’s sabre-rattling rhetoric, two experts found the training to be nothing extraordinary.

“This is likely routine, scheduled artillery training,” Grisafi said. “North Korea conducts training exercises several times a year, especially for artillery, which is still a critical element of their military deterrent, even with the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

“This location is an often used training site.”

“Those 152mm howitzers have a rather shorter range and limited performance compared to the South’s,” Kim Min-seok, a senior researcher at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, told NK News.

“Max range of those howitzers, made of North Korea’s Tokchon frame, are up to 17.4 kilometers and can only load a couple of rounds at best. I don’t see anything too special.”

Edited by: Oliver Hotham

Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun

nknews http://www.nknews.org/ <![CDATA[Lights on at North Korea’s Ryugyong ‘hotel of doom’]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=800641 2016-12-02T09:26:14Z 2016-12-02T09:26:14Z At least three rooms were illuminated by night at the top of the Pyongyang Ryugyong Hotel this October, suggesting construction may have resumed at the ill-fated pyramid-shaped building.

The development, captured in video exclusively obtained by NK News, is notable because there has been no sign of construction at the iconic structure since window panes and a telecommunications mast were added in 2011.

Three rooms beneath an aircraft warning light can be seen in the video, illuminated across two different floors near the very top of the 105-floor building. The lights suggest a stable electricity connection exists to the very highest point of the building.

A regular visitor to North Korea told NK Pro on Monday that a private jet belonging to Orascom, which visited Pyongyang this week, likely carrying Egyptian CEO Naguib Sawiris, might have been there to discuss the future of the building.

“Apparently (he’s there) for a visit to the Ryugyong to see about working on that again,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity due the sensitivity of speaking to media.

Orascom, the Egyptian majority shareholder of North Korea’s Koryolink cellphone network, was obliged to add window panes to the concrete structure as part of its deal to enter the DPRK telecommunications sector in 2008.

The firm was suspected of having spent millions on the building, but photos released by the Beijing-based Koryo Tours agency showed in 2012 that the structure was still empty, without fixtures or furnishings visible.

“I’m very surprised to see the top of the Ryugyong lit,” said Peter Ward, a Seoul-based North Korea researcher.

“Maybe Orascom did more than give the building a fresh plate of glass,” he said. “The fact they have added an aircraft warning light is interesting, if slightly puzzling.”

Luxury hotel company Kempinski announced in 2012 that it would be opening a small hotel at the top of the building, but it pulled out in early 2013, stating to NK News that “market entry is not currently possible”.

North Korean officials previously claimed the building would eventually contain the country’s premier restaurants, hotel accommodation, apartments, and business facilities.

[email protected] <![CDATA[S.Korea unveils unilateral fresh sanctions against N.Korea]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=800611 2016-12-02T08:12:33Z 2016-12-02T03:43:30Z South Korea announced on Friday it would unilaterally impose extended sanctions against North Korean entities and individuals relevant to its weapons programs, while also banning all vessels from its waters that entered North Korean ports during the past twelve months.

Seoul’s new set of autonomous sanctions, wide-ranging in nature, come just two days after the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2321 in response to Pyongyang’s fifth nuclear test on September 9.

The new round of sanctions includes measures against 36 individuals and 35 entities which are suspected to play a pivotal role in “developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and securing major funds of the North Korean regime.”

The South previously imposed sanctions against 40 individuals and 30 entities on March 8, in the wake of Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test on January 6.

The new set of sanctions includes the blacklisting of key North Korean figures including Hwang Pyong So, Choe Ryong Hae, Kim Won Hong and Kim Ki Nam, as well as principal organizations such as the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the State Affairs Commission and the Central Military Commission of the WPK.

Hwang Pyong So, Director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) and Choe Ryong Hae, Vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the WPK, are known to be Kim Jong Un’s top aides, both having notably visited Seoul in October 2014 with the late Kim Yang Gon for talks with the South.

The sanctions also target Air Koryo, North Korea’s state airline, which has previously been used to fly officials for talks in the South. Seoul justified the measure by saying the airline was involved in transporting North Korean workers, cash, and “embargoed supplies.”

The South Korean government also designated “China’s Dandong HongXiang Industrial Development Co. Ltd. (DHID)” and four people supporting the illicit financial activity of North Korea’s Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation.

“I am repeating once again individuals and entities targeted by the sanctions are prohibited from making a foreign exchange and financial transactions with our people and are subject to asset freezes in the country,” said Minister of South Korea’s Office for Government Policy Coordination, Lee Suk-joon, at a news conference.

In a move to further block the North’s inflows of funds, Seoul said it would also seek to tighten its control of imports and exports possibly linkage to the North’s weapons programs, though without specifying how.

South Korean companies would also be under tougher surveillance as the government considers the North’s second largest source of foreign exchange as coming from the field of textile manufacturing, which possibly has a linkage to the North’s weapons program.

The South also said it plans to share a submarine-focused “watch-list” with the international community, though without providing specifics about the plan.

And in an attempt to prevent North Korean items and products entering the South via third countries, 11 types of North Korean “minerals” were designated to become an area of intense monitoring. March’s previous measures only contained 22 agricultural and marine products.

The South also pledged to “more strongly” blockade North Korean marine activities.

“We’ve decided to entirely disapprove foreign vessel which called at North Korean ports in the past year to enter the country’s ports,” Lee told reporters, noting the government doubled the previous prohibition period.

According to the South’s unilateral sanctions on March 8, vessels which have visited North Korea in the last 180 days would not be allowed to enter South Korean ports.

Under the fresh legislation, the South said it would also strengthen immigration restrictions related to the North.

“[The South Korean government] will ban third country nationals designated as the target of our sanctions,” Lee said.

Re-entry of foreign missile experts staying in the South – including those working for local universities – will be prohibited if they are judged to visit the North and do something can damage the national interest.

Featured Image: The Blue House 

<![CDATA[Special relationship: China and “strategic patience”]]> 2016-12-01T14:59:34Z 2016-12-01T14:59:15Z North Korea, in spite of the diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions, has repeatedly defied the international community on its nuclear program. One widely accepted explanation is that China, North Korea’s most important ally, has shielded the regime from international pressure. The logical solution, therefore, is to enhance the sanctions and have China tighten the screw on North Korea. Under the “strategic patience” policy, the U.S. and its allies will not respond to North Korea until it decides to denuclearize.

In the meantime, the international community has put a lot of pressure on China to use its leverage to change North Korea’s behavior because nearly 90% of North Korean trade involves China. According to the International Trade Center, from 2012 to 2015, the China-North Korea trade has shrunk by 59% (Chart 1).

In particular, China’s exports of mineral fuels and oils to North Korea has plummeted by 81%, and its food exports by 89% (Chart 2). Nonetheless, North Korea hasn’t stopped its nuclear and missile tests to this day.


Why hasn’t China’s leverage made North Korea more cooperative? Scholars on international relations have pointed out that perception matters in foreign policy making, and that the best strategy of survival for a small power is to play off two major powers against each other.

For China’s leverage to work, one condition is that North Korea responds positively to China’s influence because of their “lip and teeth”-like relationship. Nonetheless, this condition may not be met.

I visited North Korea this past May, and I was surprised that the China-North Korea “friendship” was never mentioned during the trip. Rather, China was often referred to as just a country like everyone else that had its own interests to pursue. I was also told by my North Korean guide that China was rarely mentioned in the North Korean media. In addition, considering North Korea’s long history of foreign dominance and its dominating Juche ideology, which professes independence of foreign influence, it is reasonable for North Korean leaders to be wary of China’s influence and view it as another major foreign power that tries to manipulate their small country.

Data: the International Trade Center’s Trade Map database

Data: International Trade Center’s Trade Map database

History of the North Korea-China relationship

Throughout the history of North Korea-China relationship, there is a series of crackdown on China’s influence in North Korea. For instance, among the founders of the Korean Workers’ Party were a group of Koreans who fought with the Chinese communists against the Japanese and the Guomindang before returning to Korea.

Because of their experience in China, they had a very good relationship with Chinese leaders and were referred to as the “Yan’an faction”. The influence of the Yan’an faction triggered Kim Il Sung’s concern about Chinese leaders influencing Korean politics and undermining his authority via their Korean friends.


Consequently, when Kim Il Sung planned to invade South Korea in 1950, the Yan’an faction was excluded from the decision-making process. Additionally, while Kim Il Sung traveled to Moscow in April 1950 to discuss a plan for war, China was not involved until September 1950 when Kim Il Sung needed Chinese assistance.

The Sino-DPRK relationship deteriorated during the Chinese Cultural Revolution as the border disputes between the two countries intensified

China’s assistance undoubtedly helped North Korea survive the Korean War, but it also strengthened the Yan’an faction, which worsened Kim Il Sung’s concern. In 1955, Kim officially announced the Juche ideology. 

A year later, Kim proclaimed that all foreign military must withdraw from Korea. Kim’s dedication to cutting off China’s influence eventually motivated the Yan’an faction to try to remove Kim in August 1956. The coup failed. Believing that China was behind the coup, Kim Il Sung completely purged the pro-China faction from the Korean politics.

china north korea photo

China-North Korean relations date back to Second World War |Photo by Roman Harak

In order to continue the relationship in the context of the Cold War, China and North Korea signed the China-North Korea Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty in 1961. The treaty has been viewed by many as a proof of China-DPRK alliance. However, the treaty places more emphasis on both countries refraining from interfering with the other’s domestic affairs than on mutual aid.

In fact, the Chinese government once claimed that the treaty did not commit Chinese military to defend North Korea. In comparison, the alliance among the NATO members and the treaties between the U.S. and Japan and South Korea specifically require “the use of force” and “act to meet the common danger.”

The Sino-DPRK relationship deteriorated during the Chinese Cultural Revolution as the border disputes between the two countries intensified. Moreover, the relationship was shadowed by the accusations made by the Chinese Red Guards against Kim Il Sung of being a “neo-feudal ruler.”

The relationship received another heavy blow when China established a diplomatic relationship with South Korea in 1992. As a result, North Korea withdrew from the Armistice Committee at Panmunjom in 1994 without consulting China and suspended diplomatic interaction with China until 2000 (Chart 3).

It is rational for North Korea to seek another major power for balance


The improvement in the China-North Korea relationship in the new millennium revived the long-dormant pro-China faction in the North Korea, which attracted the attention of the leadership. One good example is Jang Sung-Taek, for a very long time the second most powerful person in North Korea.

He was the vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission, the husband of Kim Jong Il’s sister, and the uncle and mentor of Kim Jong Un. Jang was also in charge of North Korea’s economic cooperation with China and developed good relationships with the Chinese leaders over the years. During his tenure, dozens of new special economic zones were opened in North Korea.

But in December 2013, Jang was abruptly arrested, accused of being counter-revolutionary, and sentenced to death. In Jang’s verdict, the accusations include organizing a faction against the regime and selling resources cheaply to a “foreign country,” a North Korean way of referring to China.

After Jang’s execution, many North Korean businessmen were recalled from China. Although it is reasonable for Kim Jong Un to view Jang as an obstacle to real power, Jang’s close ties with China was arguably another factor that contributed to his demise.

Data: NK Pro Leadership Tracker database.

What does it all mean?

The history of the China-North Korea relationship shows that the two countries are not as close as people would think. Rather, North Korea has been wary of or even resistant to China’s influence. Strategically, in order to mitigate the influence of China, it is rational for North Korea to seek another major power for balance.

North Korea applied this strategy on China and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. With the Soviet Union gone, it is not surprising that the North Korean regime needs the U.S. to keep the game going. That is partly why North Korea has been seeking direct bilateral talks with the U.S. Even in the Six-Party Talks, North Korea still insisted on bilateral talks.

Thus, the “strategic patience” strategy is misguided: the more China tries to or is forced to influence North Korea, the more the latter would resist and seek provocative behavior so as to prioritize North Korea on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. If the U.S. and its allies continue to believe in China’s influence on North Korea and push China to influence North Korea, then the policy will not only make North Korea more aggressive but also jeopardize their relationship with China.

To change North Korean behavior, China should be given a way to decently step back. As the Chinese government has claimed that the North Korean issue is essentially an issue between North Korea and the U.S., the international community, the U.S. in particular, should directly communicate with North Korea.

The U.S., seen by North Korea as the counterbalance against China’s influence, would be able to motivate North Korea to change its behavior. Of course, it won’t be easy due to the long unfortunate history between them. But it is still worth a try.

Hamish Macdonald http://nknews.org <![CDATA[North Korea’s Foreign Ministry condemns new UN sanctions]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=800598 2016-12-01T16:59:35Z 2016-12-01T16:59:35Z North Korea “categorically” rejects the latest UN Security Council sanctions against the country, an article published by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Thursday reported.

Resolution 2321 was passed unanimously in New York on Wednesday in response to North Korea’s fifth nuclear test, which was conducted on September 9, in breach of existing UN resolutions against the country.

“The DPRK strongly censures and categorically rejects it as another excess of authority and violation of the DPRK’s sovereignty by the UNSC acting under instructions of the U.S.,” an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying.

“Obama and his lackeys are sadly mistaken if they calculate that they can force the DPRK to abandon its line of nuclear weaponization and undermine its status as a nuclear power through base sanctions to pressurize it,” it added.

Resolution 2321 includes new measures aimed at limiting North Korea’s ability to earn hard currency that could be diverted to its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

This includes attempts to address the ongoing coal revenues by capping the DPRK’s exports to all UN Member States, at either $400,870,01 or 7.5 million metric tons. It also blocks North Korean exports of silver, copper, zinc and nickel.

Other measures to limit the government’s access to hard currency include a ban on exporting statues, which North Korean workers have been commissioned to build – most commonly in African states.

The spokesperson also said that September’s nuclear test was conducted due to both the North’s perceived nuclear threat from the U.S. and existing sanctions leveled against the country.

The article also contained a pledge to continue the development of what it deems to be defensive measures and to hold the U.S. accountable for the measures against it via the Security Council, despite 15 countries voting in favor of the resolution. 

“The ‘sanctions resolution’ that denied outright the sovereignty of the DPRK and its rights to existence and development will trigger off its tougher countermeasures for self-defence,” the spokesperson said.

“The U.S., chief culprit of the “sanctions resolution,” will be held wholly accountable in case the situation on the Korean peninsula and in the region is pushed to an uncontrollable phase,” the article read.

Among the other inclusions within Resolution 2321 are new designations against North Korean individuals and entities and a warning that if North Korea continues to develop its illicit weapons programs, it will possibly lose rights within the UN framework.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry also said Thursday it will be unveiling further unilateral or bilateral sanctions against North Korea, in partnership with its allies, this week.

Featured image: Eric Lafforgue

<![CDATA[New UN Resolution blocks N. Korean silver, copper, zinc and nickel]]> 2016-12-01T09:42:37Z 2016-12-01T09:41:18Z The UN’s most recent resolution on North Korea further tightened the sanctions environment around the country’s metal and mineral exports.

While Resolutions 2321’s primary focus is on limiting the DPRK’s coal revenues, the new document also designates “copper, nickel, silver and zinc”.

The designations have no livelihood clauses and are not up for case by case review by the 1718 Committee as with some other restrictions.

“Member States shall prohibit the procurement of such material from the DPRK by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft,” paragraph 28 of the resolution reads.

The newly designated exports join gold, titanium, vanadium and rare earth minerals on the list of sanctioned items.

While China is the sole buyer of North Korean coal – barring smaller, occasional shipments to Taiwan – customers for the DPRK’s metals are more diffuse. Resolution 2328 does not specify if the restrictions apply to ores, or worked products made from any of the restricted metals, indicating the ban applies to both.

Often Chinese traders buy up the majority of North Korea’s mineral ores, including those of copper, silver, and zinc, but this is not always the case with refined or worked metals.

According to the ITC Trade map, India was North Korea’s largest customer for unworked silver in 2015, spending $54 million on the precious metal. Shipments were lower throughout 2016, but Resolution 2321 will make any further exports difficult if the Indian government adopts the new measures.

If the numbers are accurate, a much larger number of countries will have to exercise caution when sourcing metals from now on. In 2015, 12 countries bought copper from North Korea, spending between 2000 (Sri Lanka) and $12 million (China).

Over the last five years, the number of customers for the DPRK’s copper doubled to 24, though China remains by far the largest buyer.

Zinc exports are similarly diverse, with 14 countries buying varying quantities of the metal from North Korea since 2011. As with copper, the exports appear to end up all over the world, from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America.

Adding the export values for the newly designated ores and refined metals in 2015 comes to over $122 million, about four percent of the DPRK’s total exports that year.

JH Ahn <![CDATA[Anti-tank mine explosion kills a S.Korean driver near DMZ]]> https://www.nknews.org/?p=800579 2016-12-01T12:23:01Z 2016-12-01T12:23:01Z An anti-tank mine explosion killed a South Korean dump truck driver at Chulwon County, a zone near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), on Wednesday, various South Korean outlets reported.

The estimated location of the explosion was around two kilometers away from the Southern side of the DMZ, Google Earth satellite imagery shows.

The explosion severely injured the driver, only known by the surname Han, who was rushed to hospital but passed away soon after.

The driver was moving the soil away from the adjacent construction site when his dump truck – filled with rocks and soil – drove over the mine buried inside an empty rice paddy.

The paddy was in an area which the South Korean military had scanned from August to October this year for possible mines, using an armored excavator to dig up the site, reports say.

During a phone call, a South Korean defense ministry spokesperson told NK News that the local military unit believes the mine was buried too deep at the time of mine-detecting procedures, and as a result was left in the field undetected.

A Seoul-based military expert said it would be very hard to find out the details about where the mine had come from.

“Millions of mines were used during the Korean War, and even after the war many more were buried for defensive purposes,” Choi Hyun-ho, director of Mildom.net, a South Korean military-focused website, told NK News.

“This once used to be an operational zone for military access only, and was later opened to the public to develop and use, leading to an increased number of mine explosion incidents as well.”

The exact location of the blast was not mentioned in the most local media, only indicating that the explosion took place at Pungam-ri, Geunnam-myeon, Cheorwon County, Gangwon Province.

However, three South Korean articles, according to the search results, said the explosion took place at the rice paddy 745 of the Pungam-ri, which is only about two kilometers away from the DMZ.

Edited by: Oliver Hotham

Featured Image: Facebook, original picture provided by the South Korean government