The week that was: Five North Korea articles you don’t want to miss To ensure you never miss out on the best MHI-NK Newscontent, we highlight the top five most-read features and interviews of the week
Risky business? Potential sectors for investment in North Korea, By Peter Ward

Mining, finance, and infrastructure could be lucrative industries when – and if – sanctions are relieved

A key pitch by President Donald Trump to DPRK leader Kim Jong Un during last week’s summit between the two was the economic trade-off: if Pyongyang relinquishes its nuclear program, the Americans argued, then North Korea could bear the fruits of investment and opportunity. Comments by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in the run-up to the summit, too, suggested Kim was interested in attracting the American private sector to his country.  So what might be some key areas of interest should the DPRK economy open up?

Ri Sol Ju as a North Korean celebrity? Be careful what you wish for , By Dr. Andrei Lankov

History suggests regular DPRK citizens likely resent their increasingly prominent first lady

In early July 2012, observers began to notice that Kim Jong Un, then only recently-promoted to North Korea’s top job after the sudden death of his father, was being frequently seen in public in the company of a mysterious, good-looking woman roughly his age.  At that time, most suspected that she was his wife or girlfriend, but unusually for North Korea, the mystery did not last long. Very soon, in late July, DPRK official media openly referred to her as Kim Jong Un’s wife. Her name was made public, too: as everybody knows now, the North Korean leader is married to Ri Sol Ju, a former singer, musician, and cheerleader. By North Korean standards, the sudden public appearance of the leader’s wife was a very unusual sign. Historically, wives of North Korean leaders have, with some exceptions, never been public figures.


From this point of view, Kim Jong Un’s attitude is quite remarkable and unusual. Without venturing into the dubious field of pop-psychology, I would suggest that Kim Jong Un’s attitude to his wife and women, in general, was possibly influenced by his father’s enthusiastic womanizing: he may have seen his father’s behavior as reprehensible and likely decided that he would behave differently.

If becoming a good family man was his intention, Kim Jong Un has succeeded so far. Indeed, the future holds many a temptation for a young king who lives in palaces staffed with the best beauties of the realm, always eager for his attention. At any rate, Kim Jong Un has become the first North Korean leader willing to grant his wife with a measure of prominence, without any impact on the succession politics.

Indeed, since 2012, Ri Sol Ju has been seen next to her husband countless times, often without the Kim badge and dressed in expensive designer clothes. Recently, North Korean official media began to describe her using special honorific forms of words, which, historically, have rarely been applied to anybody but the ruler from the Kim family.

There have been periods when Ms. Ri has disappeared from the official press, but most likely, these short-term disappearances reflected not some kind of problems in her relations with the sovereign leader, but rather her pregnancies and perhaps some health and personal issues.

The emergence of Ri Sol Ju as a semi-public figure has been welcomed by many in the West, where there is a tendency among journalists and experts to see such prominence as a sign of emerging openness. Indeed, I remember how, a few decades ago, I read a critique of the-then aging Soviet leaders in a Western newspaper, with the journalist accusing the Soviet leaders of the Brezhnev era of being untrustworthy and secretive because they were ‘hiding their wives from the public’.


South Korean local election results: a ringing endorsement of Moonshine? , By Geoffrey Fattig

The ruling party triumphed, but whether the public supports its more ambitious plans is uncertain

As pundits across the political sphere debate the significance of last week’s Singapore summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, there is at least one person who is quite certain of the meeting’s benefits: South Korean President Moon Jae-in.    Thanks in large part to his successful mediation between the U.S. and North Korea, Moon’s Democratic Party scored a landslide win in South Korea’s local elections last week. Ruling party candidates took 14 of the 17 metropolitan mayoral and gubernatorial contests, with the opposition Liberty Korea Party managing victories only in its traditional stronghold of Daegu and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province.

The timing of the election means that it has gone largely ignored in post-summit analyses, coming as it did one day after the historic meeting between Trump and Kim (given Moon’s role in facilitating the summit, this coincidence has been strangely overlooked in coverage of the issue).

However, the newfound political capital that Moon has received as a result of the election, and more importantly how he goes about spending it, will be perhaps the most crucial determinant for North Korea’s commitment to denuclearization.


But with the vast majority of the South Korean public having now signed off on Moon’s North Korea policy, the question now becomes how far they are willing to follow him on the idea of confederation.

Both the Moon government and the Kim regime are placing a priority on speed in implementing the Panmunjeom Declaration, without having substantially fleshed out the details of what a “confederation” between the two sides would actually look like.  And this is where the risks inherent in Moon’s peace wager become clear.

As long as progress is sustained in this direction, North Korean leaders will continue to play nice, thus further weakening support for international sanctions that are already showing signs of breaking down.

Considering the vast scope of North Korea’s nuclear program, and given Siegfried Hecker’s estimate of a 10-15 year timeline for full denuclearization, there is no shortage of symbolic acts that the regime could take (such as last month’s destruction of the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri) to signal compliance with the Singapore declaration signed by Kim and Trump.

Yet what happens when inter-Korean confederation begins to seem like more of a concrete reality than an abstract fantasy? Support for reunification among the South Korean public, while still enjoying a majority, has been trending steadily downward in recent years, particularly among the younger generation. Galloping toward an inter-Korean confederation at the speed of a “10,000 league horse” may not be exactly what the South Korean public has in mind.

Given this reality, Moon must be careful about getting too far out ahead of public sentiment in his confederation drive. Doing so would risk a conservative revival in the 2020 legislative elections, thus throwing his North Korea policy into turmoil and jeopardizing all of the recent gains for inter-Korean reconciliation.

This would have a far more significant impact on North Korea’s denuclearization process than the substance – or lack thereof – of whatever it was that Trump and Kim agreed upon in Singapore last week.


What to make of Trump’s decision to end U.S.-ROK “war games”, By Chun In-Bum

Retired ROK army LTG Chun In-bum breaks down last week’s decision to halt annual drills

Following the 12 June 2018 United States-North Korea summit, U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced that the semiannual “war games” – taken to mean certain combined/joint exercises including Foal Eagle – with South Korea would end, describing them as “inappropriate, expensive” and “provocative.”  On 19 June, ROK and the U.S. confirmed that UFG 2018 would be suspended as long as negotiations on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula continued.


Two Koreas begin talks on humanitarian issues, family reunions, By Dagyum Ji

ROK chief delegate says Seoul will seek to “resolve the agony” of divided families

Seoul and Pyongyang on Friday kicked off Red Cross talks to discuss humanitarian issues – including a planned reunion event for families separated by the Korean War – the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced.  The meetings began at Mount Kumgang’s Hotel Kumgangsan at 1000 local time.  The North at around 0200 local time Friday released the list of its three delegates to the talks, led by vice chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country (CPRC) Pak Yong Il.

The South Korean delegation is led by Korean Red Cross President Park Kyung-seo.

“I will strive to resolve the agony of separated families,” Park told media on Friday at the Donghae Transit Office before departing for Mount Kumgang.

The ROK and DPRK Red Cross, he said, would be able to make a “dramatic shift” and implement humanitarian projects if both sides “sternly break with the unfortunate past.”

“If we hold the talks with the right attitude and determination remembering that we are writing a new chapter of the history, I believe we can bring pleasure to the people today,” the DPRK chief delegate added.The ROK chief delegate also expressed his desire to “make the meeting successful.”

Should family reunions go ahead, they will be the first of their kind since October 2015.The number of surviving South Koreans registered as eligible for reunions with North Korean family members and relatives fell to 56,890 in May, according to data released by MOU.Those statistics also showed that 63.8 percent of participants were over 80 years old.

Efforts to hold the meetings were stalled last year by Pyongyang’s insistence that they could not take place until South Korea repatriated 12 restaurant workers the North claims were kidnapped.The DPRK delegation reportedly again raised the issue at the inter-Korean high-level talks in January.

May saw North Korean state media urge the Moon administration to “immediately” send back the 12 women, following reports by South Korean local broadcaster JTBC that they had been brought to the ROK against their will.

While it was expected that the ROK delegation would raise the issue of the six South Koreans detained in the North during Friday’s meeting, Seoul’s chief delegate on Thursday said it would not be on today’s agenda.

“I don’t have any plans to raise the issue, as I believe every negotiation should move from the general to the particular agenda and the details shouldn’t impede general discussion,” Park Kyung-seo told media at the Office of Inter-Korean Dialogue.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in reportedly asked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to return the six South Korean at their first meeting in April.

South Korean unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon said Seoul and Pyongyang had discussed the issue at inter-Korean high-level talks in June, and that the North said it had been reviewing the issue.


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