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Posts Tagged ‘North Korea

North Korean defectors and the ROK Army

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North Korean defectors hold protest in Seoul on November 29, 2010
North Korean defectors hold protest in Seoul
on November 29, 2010 (Source: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Public Radio International’s The World carried an interesting report by Jason Struther this week on the desire of some North Korean refugees to fight liberate their former state.

South Korea is understandably reluctant (but unwilling to talk about why):

Andrei Lankov, a North Korea analyst at Seoul’s Kookmin University, said in the past both Koreas trained defectors to infiltrate enemy lines. But times have changed, he said, and there are at least two good reasons these North Korean defectors should not be armed.

“One is that a creation of such a group, especially if it’s publicized to some extent, will be seen to the North Koreans as a provocation, and indeed this is a provocation, ” he said. “Second, if you arm these people, most of whom are ideologically motivated and probably quite selfless people who have nothing to lose, and who are determined to fight for their cause, well, you will create a loose cannon.”

Lankov added that the Ministry of Defense is probably also concerned that these defectors could be spies.

In the event of a war, former North Korean soldiers could work as pathfinders and guides, and it is hard to believe that Seoul has not considered this eventuality. However, as Lankov states above, the creation of the unit would be a provocation – such a unit could only be created with the intention of toppling the Kim regime. There would be no disguising it. In addition, going public on such a move would open the door to agents posing as refugees in the future (if not some of those already in the South). Thus, for the sake of the cease-fire and their security, South Korea couldn’t even admit such a unit even if it existed.


Written by James

2011/01/23 at 20:00

South Korean missile limits

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Under the 1979 US-ROK Accord, updated in 2001, South Korea is restricted from developing missiles with “a range of up to 300 kilometers and a payload of up to 500 kilograms.” The map below illustrates this current range:

300-km range from South Korea's borders
300-km range from South Korea’s borders
(click for full-size)

South Korea, however, is unhappy with the current limits and would like to be able to “extend it beyond 1,000 kilometers,” according JoongAng Daily’s government source.

What would 1000 km include? Have a look:

1000-km range from South Korea's borders
1000-km range from South Korea’s borders

While GI Korea at ROK Drop suggests that the limits might be in place to prevent South Korea from legitimising the North’s missile programme through pursuing one of its own, it is hard to dismiss the notion that the US is unwilling to put Tokyo in range of South Korean missiles.

It also raises the question of just why South Korea requires missiles capable of hitting targets over 1000-km away. The projections above are deceptive in that they show range from South Korea’s borders.* It is most likely that South Korea just wants to able to strike anywhere in the North from bases anywhere in South Korea.

However, could it also be forward planning? Beijing would also be within Seoul’s sights, for whatever that’s worth. Regardless of South Korea’s intentions, just giving it a capability that might raise Chinese ire is reason enough for the US to want to keep a lid on those missiles.


Note on maps:
*The overlays showing the ranges as measured from South Korea’s approximate borders. This would mean that the furthest reaches of the range would require launchers to be placed near the border or DMZ making them extremely vulnerable. Thus, in reading the maps, it is necessary to subtract a South Korea-sized range in order to account for a more practical range.

Written by James

2011/01/23 at 18:00

Weekend Update: Jan 23 2001

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#1: Obama Hears a Hu

Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao at a joint press conference in Washington on January 19.
Presidents Barack Obama and Hu Jintao at a joint press conference
in Washington on January 19.
(Source: Reuters)

Chinese President Hu Jintao was in the US this week for what was expected to be his ‘legacy’ visit. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem that any concrete political developments came out of the talks besides pledges for closer cooperation. As The Daily Beast summed up concisely, ‘Obama didn’t get the concessions he wanted from China’s Hu. But then, he didn’t have the cards he needed.’

For some, however, it was good enough:

The Obama administration accomplished exactly what it set out to do: stake out its positions on a wide range of issues in the U.S.-China relationship, appear strong on concerns such as human rights, bring a little forward momentum to the relationship, and get a few deliverables (on the trade and investment front) in the process.

If anything, Hu seemed to go into the talks hoping to settle US fears over China’s recent antagonism:

It is only normal, in any relationship, to have disagreement and friction, Hu said. But he added that a strategic and long-term perspective will ensure relations will not be affected or held back by any individual incident at any particular time.

Despite this blogger’s expectations to the contrary, Hu did not offer any progress on bilateral military talks. It seems ever more likely that that option is not Hu’s to offer.

One of the more important discussions between Hu and Obama manifested into a joint statement on North Korea. In the statement, there was still some support for the Six-Party Talks (in whatever form they can finally settle on – it has been suggested that the inclusion of the talks in the statement was a compromise by Washington), as well as the specific mention of ‘the DPRK’s claimed uranium enrichment program,’ which could be read as China giving some ground on North Korea’s nuclear developmentalthough China denies such a change. Whether any of what was said will amount to anything depends on inter-Korean talks, as well as North Korea more specifically.

The joint press conference with both leaders was plagued by interpretation issues which should cause the White House some embarrassmentor not, but Obama handled himself well, perhaps noticeably better than his Chinese counterpart. [Transcript here via CFR]


#2: Kan: “Japan-U.S. alliance is the foundation of Japan’s foreign policy”

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa arrives at Kadena AFB, Okinawa on January 20
Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa arrives
at Kadena AFB, Okinawa on January 20
(Source: USAF)

At a speech for the Friendship Exchange Council, Prime Minister Kan reaffirmed the necessity of the US bases in Okinawa, and promised “to strengthen efforts through various opportunities to seek the understanding and cooperation of those living outside Okinawa regarding the burden of hosting U.S. bases.”

The speech came as Japan and US signed a new five-year Special Measures Agreement on ‘host nation support,’ often called the sympathy budget (omoiyari yosan). Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara wants to put a stop to this nickname:

“Host nation support is often referred to as ‘sympathy budget,’ but we will no longer use this term since host nation support is a strategic contribution by Japan,” he said. “I’d like to declare that it is something that is agreed based on mutual strategic grounds.”

Regardless of those mutual grounds, “Japan wanted to pay less because of its financial straits and the U.S. was hoping it would pay more in light of elevated tensions on the Korean Peninsula and China’s rising might.” It looks like Japan won out, but also allowed the US to insert a clause whereby Japan might “partially or completely compensate the United States for the cost of shifting U.S. military drills to other venues.” A hedge against developments in Okinawa?

Appropriately timed, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa announced that Kadena AFB’s F-15 three-week training sessions would take place in Guam from April.

The Japan Times reported that:

Japan will cover the cost of relocating the F-15 drills under a bilateral pact to partially move them from U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, so about 20 F-15s can take part in each drill on Guam, with each lasting up to 20 days. Support aircraft, including aerial tankers, will also have to take part in the drills. The U.S. military can conduct the drills alone or jointly with the Self-Defense Forces.

Stars and Stripes added:

Kitazawa also told [Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima] that both governments reached an agreement to close the 149-acre Marine Corps Gimbaru Training Area, located near Camp Hansen. Closure of the Marine training facility was first agreed to in 1996 by the Special Action Committee on Okinawa on the condition that the helicopter landing zone would be relocated to the nearby Kin Blue Beach Training Area and other Gimbaru facilities moved to Camp Hansen.

The announcements came as Kitazawa visited Okinawa (and Kadena AFB) – new Chief Cabinet Secretary and Minister for Okinawan Affairs Yukio Edano made a visit yesterday, and Maehara will follow before the end of the month. It shows a determined push by Kan to look strong on the problem of Okinawa, and it shows once more how Kan and his men have entered 2011 with fists swinging. His position is helped by an apparent softening on the issue following SecDef Robert Gates’ trip to East Asia last week:

“They’re looking for a compromise, to give Kan something that he can show to the public,” explains John Swenson-Wright, associate fellow of the Asia Programme at Chatham House. “It makes sense for Washington to offer practical concessions, but I’d be very surprised if the relocation of Futenma [within Okinawa] didn’t go through as originally agreed.”

Regardless of whether or not this is the result of America having thrown Japan a bone, Kan could certainly do with the support.


#3: South Korea and North Korea agree to high-level military talks

South Korean and North Korean guards at Panmunjom
South Korean and North Korean guards at Panmunjom
(Source: Debate It Out)

North Korea’s offer of talks has finally gained it some ground as South Korea agree to high-level military talks “only if the agenda included the two events that have soured relations – the sinking of a southern warship in March, and the shelling of a southern island.”

North Korea latest proposal for talks came on Thursday following the US-China Joint Statement on North Korea in Washington. The question remains whether North Korea will be happy to talk about those events and whether the answers it gives will be sufficient for the South.

With a cautiously optimistic wind in its sales, South Korea is also looking at having preliminary talks on denuclearisation:

“Our position is that separate high-level talks are essential to check sincerity about denuclearization and we will propose” such talks, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said at a New Year’s reception for foreign diplomats stationed in Seoul.


“If North Korea demonstrates sincerity through specific action and then six-party talks resume, our government will seek a comprehensive resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue” through its “grand bargain” idea of a one-time major deal of swapping denuclearization and concessions, he said.

“North Korea should decide on its own whether it will choose a dead-ended road of confrontation and enmity or a road of peace and prosperity,” he said

An editorial in the Chosun Ilbo guesses at the reason for North Korea’s willingness to come to the table:

Until now the North has told its starving people that normalized relations with the U.S. would solve the food shortage and economic problems. But the only country in the world with the ability and willingness to help North Korea is the South. This reality seems finally to have hit the North when Seoul halted all trade and exchanges following the sinking of the Cheonan. The only way for the North to reach out to Washington is through Seoul, and only through Washington can the doors to the wider world open.

One writer, Nuno Santiago de Magalhaes, was willing to connect the Yeonpyeong Island strike to the talks as part of a connected strategy to get Seoul to the table. It certainly describes North Korea’s past behaviour quite well, but it’s hard to say whether the Yeonpyeong attack was so well devised.

North Korea has to play its cards right as South Korea is unwilling to taken for a ride. That might be asking too much of the North.


The Small Print

Taiwan’s disappointing missile test = US arms opportunity?

Abductee Yaeko Taguchi spotted in North Korea last year?

Parents of abductee Keiko Arimoto fail to secure MOFA official interview tape in damages trail

Written by James

2011/01/23 at 17:56

The tale of North Korea-Iran cash flow

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Robert Neff at The Marmot’s Hole has a fascinating post detailing the money trail from North Korea to Iran via Seoul. This quote of a Choson Ilbo article is a brief introduction:

Iran paid North Korea US$2.5 million for arms purchases in 2008 through the South Korean branch of Bank Mellat, U.S. diplomatic cables unveiled by WikiLeaks suggest. They also say that China exported to North Korea dual-use products that could be transformed into parts for Scud missiles.

For the full details, read the post at The Marmot’s Hole: Following the North Korean-Iranian money trail through Seoul. Fantastic stuff.

Written by James

2011/01/19 at 01:25

Maehara Gets It

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Locations of the 17 abduction incidents
Locations of the 17 abduction incidents (source: Government’s Rachi Mondai site)

After years of being bogged down by the abduction issue in the Six-Party Talks, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara seems to understand that it can’t continue.

Whereas top Japanese and North Korean diplomats could sit face-to-face with each other to discuss the abductions at the six-party nuclear talks, the multilateral dialogue is for discussing Pyongyang’s nuclear program, he said.

“Basically, the abduction and missile issues should be resolved by Japan through direct negotiations with North Korea regardless of the six-party talks,” Maehara said.

If the Japanese government follows through on Maehara’s words, it will have been a long time coming. I first blogged about this problem 3 years ago, and by then it had already gone on too long. If Japan cannot keep the abduction issue (at the least) in bi-lateral talks, then it will devalue its role in multilateral forums.

Let’s just hope that Maehara can make good on that statement.


For more information on the abduction issue, check out some of my old posts on the topic at (now-defunct) Abduction Politics:

Mysterious Circumstances: Part 1 [Jan 31, 2007]
Mysterious Circumstances: Part 2 [Feb 3, 2007]
Abduction Issue Bonanza! [Oct 9, 2007]
The Abduction Issue and Japanese Long-Term Strategic Trajectory [Jan 21, 2008]
Logos vs Pathos: Emotion and Reason in Japan’s Abduction Issue [Feb 26, 2008]
Hardly a Coincidence… [May 20, 2008]

Written by James

2011/01/17 at 20:00

Weekend Summary: Jan 9 2011

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Kim Jong-il bring happiness into our blogs
Is Kim Jong-il laughing at us?
by Borut Peterlin via Flickr

North Korea offers unconditional talks

On Jan 5, the North Korea’s state media carried an open-armed call for the resumption of reunification talks.

“It is the review of the past three years that the issue of inter-Korean relations can never be solved by confrontation but it only sparks off an armed clash and war.

In order to mend the north-south relations now at the lowest ebb …. We call for an unconditional and early opening of talks between the authorities having real power and responsibility, in particular.

[…] We are ready to meet anyone anytime and anywhere, letting bygones be bygones, if he or she is willing to go hands in hands with us.

For the great cause of the nation present is more important than yesterday and tomorrow is dearer than present.”

Although Prof. Kim Yong Hyun of Dongguk University in Seoul called it “a message targeted at China and the US,” the US was skeptical, however some suggest the offer led to US and South Korean military units standing down from their special standby alert status.

For his part, Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara suggested that “if North Korea takes concrete steps, there is no reason for us to reject the reopening of the six-party talks as China has proposed.” There remains, of course, the ever-present worry that entering talks will simply give the North Koreans the attention they wanted. He also planned to “strengthen cooperation with China and Russia” by dispatching Akitaka Saiki, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau and Japan’s top envoy to the six-party talks, to Beijing and Moscow to ask for their cooperation.

Whatever North Korea’s motives, all sides understand that dialogue must be continued in the future, the real question is under what framework should we talk, and who should be at the table.

Description unavailable
Maehara and Clinton
by #PACOM via Flickr


Maehara and Clinton meet

On Jan 7, Maehara met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and South Korean Foreign and Trade Minister Kim Sung Hwan in the US for discussions on US-Japan security. They agreed to review the “Common Strategic Objectives” drawn up in 2005 with China’s naval advances in mind, as well as to cooperate in resource security following the China’s rare earth gambits.

Maehara and Clinton also discussed Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the thorny issue of the Marine Corps air base at Futenma.  Maehara apparently told Clinton that Japan was working “to obtain the [Okinawa Prefecture’s] consent,’ which was taken to be a plea for US understanding of Japan‘s stance of not setting a deadline for settlement of the issue. Coincidentally, DPJ Secretary-General Katsuya Okada began a two-day visit to Okinawa today to discuss the Futenma problem with locals.

After meeting with Clinton, Maehara and Kim met National Security Advisor Tom Donilon where discussion of the North Korea issue continued.

Members of a Chinese military honor guard marc...
The People’s Liberation Army
via Wikipedia


Concerns rise over China’s role in the world

After the flurry of news from China’s military over the New Year period, the hand-wringing continues. The J-20 is big news, picked up by the Wall Street Journal and CNN. It’s been thoroughly examined, as much as grainy photos allow, and used as a stick to bash the Pentagon’s recently announced budget cuts.

There has been further worry that China now has a taste for aircraft carriers. After the earlier news that the carrier formerly known as Varyag was now up and running, a Hong Kong businessman seems intent on buying the former jewel of the British Royal Navy, HMS Invincible. The move has understandably raised concerns in defence circles.

However, the real worrying news came from a Kyodo News press release that China would “consider launching a preemptive nuclear strike if the country finds itself faced with a critical situation in a war with another nuclear state.” If true, this would be contrary to China’s long-standing commitment to never consider pre-emptive nuclear strikes. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei denied the report and labelled the report “groundless and out of ulterior motives.” It seems that the ‘documents’ that Kyodo News used for their reports may be more than five years old, and while the authors were from the PLA, it is unclear how official this debate has been, let alone whether it has been adopted or not.

Presumably, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will discuss this issue during his three-day visit to China this month to try to increase the rising powers transparency by encouraging dialogue, particularly between the two countries’ militaries. There will be plenty more to discuss, but there is some concern that the diplomatic front will have little effect on China’s expanding military. Gates will drop by Japan and South Korea after his visit, and Chinese President Hu Jintao will visit Washington on Jan 19.

Meanwhile, China and Japan met to discuss counterterrorism cooperation and French counter-intelligence began an informal investigation of  possible Chinese industrial espionage at Renault, a French car manufacturer.

USS Carl Vinson on patrol in the Pacific 2003-...
USS Carl Vinson
via Wikipedia


Small Print:

Where is Kim Jong Un, the Dear Leader’s alleged successor?

Japan confirms it will run in the election for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2012-13. Japan first publicly stated its desire for permanent seat since 1968 (see Ch. 19 in Japan’s International Relations, edited by Glenn D Hook [2005]).

USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class nuclear powered aircraft carrier, will be conducting exercises in Japanese waters in the East China Sea on Jan 10. The drills with the MSDF will include communications and cross-decking practice. Some say that the Carl Vinson will be covering for the George Washington which is dock-bound for maintenance.

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Written by James

2011/01/09 at 22:00

Mid-Week Summary: Jan 5 2011

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Aearial view of Kadena Air Base on Okinawa
Aerial view of Kadena Air Base via Wikipedia

Japan, US agree to relocate F-15 training from Kadena to Guam

This is part of a large move relocating forces from Okinawa to Guam, but is only a minor victory for the Japanese government who remain unable to effect any larger move.


US drops AEGIS system software upgrade development collaboration with Japan

The US was unwilling to give Japan the right to approve US sales of the software, which could have included Taiwan. Japan’s strict interpretation of its arms export control laws have effectively banned arms exports except for collaboration with the US.

The export of technologies which are exclusively related to the design, production and use of “arms” as defined in paragraph 5 above (hereinafter referred to as the “military technologies”) is treated in the same manner as the export of “arms.” However, in order to ensure the effective operation of the Japan-United States security arrangements, the Government of Japan paved the way for the transfer of the military technologies to the United States as an exception to the Three Principles. [MOFA]

The US will continue development on its own.


Maehara hopes for dialogue with North Korea, abduction issue still holds precedence

With US Ambassador Stephen Bosworth in town, East Asia is talking about how they should engage North Korea. The North Korean abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1960s – 1980s has been a major sticking point both  bi-lateral working groups and the six-party framework more broadly. With North Korea adamant that the issue is resolved, Maehara seems a little too optimistic.


Strong hopes for bi-lateral meeting between ROK and Japanese Defense Minister

The media has been abuzz with talk of closer cooperation between Japan and South Korea in areas of security and defence. In a New Year’s interview, Maehara was mistakenly quoted – so he says – as saying, “I hope that Japan will form an alliance with South Korea also in the field of security”, but the optimism still stands.

During his visit next week, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa will propose that the two countries provide operational logistical support (Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement), hold more high-level defence meetings, and share intelligence on North Korea (General Security of Military Information Agreement). The Korean reaction, however, is more reserved.

Meanwhile, the US is prodding both sides of the virtual alliance to engage in tri-lateral exercises. Good luck with that.


Santa brings China some new toys: an aircraft carrier, a next-generation fighter, a diesel submarine and a land-based anti-ship ballistic missile.

The Shi Lang carrier, formerly Soviet Navy Varyag, might be launched in July. Although it most likely be used to train carrier pilots until China can produce its own carrier (ONI estimate: 2015). The Yuan-class submarine also surfaced for a few photos.

With news of the DF-21D anti-ship missile reaching initial operational capacity is sending shivers down the spines of China hawks. The land-based ballistic missile will give the PLA green-water area denial capabilities that would cause problems in the event of a cross-Straits crisis.

Finally, images of a J-20 fifth generation fighter taxiing has caused much skepticism and speculation among defence blogs, but all we know is that it’s big and can roll around an airfield.

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Written by James

2011/01/05 at 22:00