U.S.-N Korea Relations

Trump nixes Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang; N Korea blasts U.S. for “provocative” military maneuvers

Trump called off Secretary of State Pompeo’s trip to North Korea last week reportedly after Pompeo received a letter from Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, according to the Washington Post. The contents of the letter are unclear, but it prompted Trump to issue a series of tweets.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper called out “extremely provocative and dangerous” US military movements in the region, and claimed that US “special units” in Japan staged a flying drill in the Philippines simulating “the infiltration into Pyongyang.” It also claimed that the USS Michigan, a nuclear Navy submarine, transported Green Berets and other special forces from Okinawa, Japan to the Jinhae naval base south Korea in late July or early August.

Trump told Kim he would end the Korean War soon after the Singapore summit

According to Vox, Trump had told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Singapore summit that he would sign a declaration to end the Korean War soon after their meeting. But since then, the Trump administration has refused to follow through on the pledge and has demanded North Korea denuclearize first. That decision, says Vox, is likely what has led to the current stalemate in negotiations between the two countries — and the “increasingly hostile rhetoric” from North Korea. “It makes sense why the North Koreans are angry,” Vox quotes an unnamed source. “Having Trump promise a peace declaration and then moving the goalposts and making it conditional would be seen as the US reneging on its commitments.”

State Department extends ban on U.S. citizens’ travel to N Korea

The U.S. State Department announced last week that it would extend by a year its ban on U.S. citizens’ travel to North Korea, citing continued concerns about the threat of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals there. The ban, which went into effect on Sept. 1, 2017, had been set to expire on August 31, 2018. It will now be extended through Aug. 31, 2019.

Trump contradicts Mattis on U.S.-S Korea “war games”

Trump said in an official White House statement he tweeted last week, “There is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games.” The statement continued, “Besides, the president can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses. If he does, they will be far bigger than ever before.”

Trump’s statement seemed to directly contradict Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ announcement a day earlier: ”We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises.”

Ford exec named as new special representative for N Korea

Secretary of State Pompeo named Stephen Biegun, a senior executive with Ford Motor Company as the State Department’s new special representative for North Korea. Prior to his stint at Ford, Biegun was a national security adviser to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.); and served as a senior staffer to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice during President George W. Bush’s administration. He has also the top foreign relations adviser on Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign.

North-South Relations

US blocks inter-Korean railway project; Critics charge infringement on sovereignty

The UN Command, headed by the United States, refused to allow a South Korean train to travel to North Korea for a joint North-South inspection of railway conditions for the planned inter-Korean railway.

The two Koreas had planned for a South Korean train to depart from Seoul Station and travel to Sinuiju at the far northern end of the Gyeongui (Seoul-Sinuiju) railway line in North Korea, with South and North Korea conducting a joint inspection on the North Korean stretch of the line between Kaesong and Sinuiju. According to the armistice agreement, however, the UN Command has the authority to grant or refuse approval on anything that passes over the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). The South Korean government reportedly gave notice on Aug. 23 of its plans to bring a train in and out of North Korea, but the UN Command denied the request.

The South Korean government insists the project is not subject to UN or US sanctions against North Korea, and critics charge that Washington is interfering in inter-Korean cooperation efforts to implement the Panmunjom Declaration and infringing on Korea’s sovereignty.

“We have no intention of begging the United States for the peace and prosperity of our nation,” said civil society groups at a press conference. “U.S. Forces in Korea (USFK) wears multiple hats. At times as the UN Command, and other times as the Combined Forces Command, it stands in the way of North-South relations,” said Lee Jang-hui, Standing Representative of Citizens Alliance for Peaceful Unification. “The inter-Korean railway is like the artery of North-South cooperation. If U.S. Forces in Korea were not occupying forces but a true ally, it would not obstruct the project in this way,” said Kim Sam-yeol, Chair of the Association of Bereaved Families of Patriotic Martyrs.

Moon Jae-in sends envoy to Pyongyang, seeks end of war declaration in September

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will send a special envoy to Pyongyang this Wednesday, September 5 to discuss plans for another inter-Korean summit. The delegation will be led by National Security Advisor Chung Eui-yong and National Intelligence Service Director Suh Moon. It is unclear whether they will meet with Kim Jong Un. Special Advisor Moon Chung-in said a declaration to end the Korean War will lead Kim Jong Un to carry out the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” as promised in the Panmunjom Declaration. He also said South Korea is still pursuing a four-party conference among Moon Jae-in, Kim Jong Un, Trump and Xi Jinping during the UN General Assembly in September to sign the end of war declaration.

Poll shows S Koreans support inter-Korean dialogue despite drop in Moon’s approval rating

President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating has fallen below the mid-50% range, according to a Gallup survey of 1,000 adult South Koreans nationwide on Aug. 28–30.

53% of respondents rated Moon’s governance performance positively—down three percentage points from 56% the week before. The downward trend continued for a second consecutive week. By age group, positive ratings were high among respondents in the twenties (67%), thirties (67%), and forties (62%) and low among those in their fifties (42%) and over sixty (37%).

“On the administration’s policy performance in different areas, respondents gave more negative ratings in areas concerning the economy, jobs and labor, education, and the appointment of government officials,” says The Hankyoreh. 26% said the administration was “doing a good job” on the economy, while 53% said it was “doing poorly.” Ratings were 30% positive to 51% negative for employment/labor, 26 % positive to 35% negative for education, and 30% positive to 37% negative for government appointments.

In contrast, ratings were 58% positive to 30% negative for North Korea policy and 55% positive to 23% negative for diplomacy.

According to a separate Gallup poll conducted at the request of the chair of South Korea’s National Assembly, seven out of ten South Koreans support National Assembly ratification of the Panumjom Declaration. Asked, “What do you think about National Assembly ratification of the Panmunjom Declaration,” 71.8% of respondents said they “approve,” while 13.6% said they “disapprove” and 14.7% said they “don’t know.” On the two North-South summits this year, 73.5% assessed that they were “successful,” while only 14.3% said they were “unsuccessful.”

Park Geun-hye ordered staff to delay Supreme Court ruling on forced labor of Koreans by colonial Japan

Ex-President Park Geun-hye ordered the Blue House staff to deliberately delay the Supreme Court’s ruling on a lawsuit filed by Koreans subjected to forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule, says the Korea Herald. Park reportedly gave the order after signing the controversial 2015 “comfort women” agreement with Japan on the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women. She ordered her staff to pressure both the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme Court to delay ruling on the case and reportedly said it would be a “disgrace” for South Korea if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Korean victims so soon after the 2015 deal was signed. 

A UN anti-discrimination body recently said the 2015 deal — in which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered his “most sincere apologies” to all former sex slaves in Korea and provided 1 billion yen ($9 million) to set up a fund to help the victims — did not “provide unequivocal responsibility for the human rights violations committed against these women.”

Regional news

Abe may seek regional role independent from the United States

Japan reportedly held a “secret” meeting with North Korea in Vietnam in July without informing the United States. Shigeru Kitamura, the head of Japan’s Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office met with Kim Song-hye, a senior North Korean official in charge of reunification. Japan’s decision not to inform the US government of the meeting was said to have caused “irritation” among senior officials and may reflect Tokyo’s growing unease about its dependence on the US to resolve its issues with North Korea.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would attend the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok from September 11 to 13 and have a bilateral meeting with Putin. He said he hopes to push forward talks on joint economic activities on the Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido during his meeting with the Russian leader. “Tokyo sees the activities as a path towards a resolution of the territorial row over the islands and to a possible signing of a post-war peace treaty, while Moscow looks to attract Japanese investment on the islands,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Abe said he will also arrange separate meetings with Xi Jinping, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak Yon and Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga on the sidelines of the forum. He had also hoped to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but the Russian government said Kim will not be attending the forum.

Xi Jinping pledges $60 billion aid to Africa

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a $60 billion package of aid, investment and loans to Africa during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing, according to CNN. The forum is a triennial meeting between senior Chinese leaders and their counterparts from across Africa, and it has become customary for China to announce huge investment packages at the gathering.

“On Monday, Xi outlined eight major initiatives in Africa over the next three years, including plans to establish a China-Africa trade expo, provide one billion reminbi ($146 million) in food aid, extra imports to China from Africa, and a push for green development,” says CNN. Xi also invited African business leaders to help his country in building the Belt and Road Initiative, a mega-collection of trade and infrastructure projects involving 68 countries. Africa has borrowed about $130 billion from China since 2000, with loans generally used to finance infrastructure projects.

Trump to skip major regional summits in Asia in November

Trump will skip major regional summits in Asia in November to visit France for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the World War I armistice. He will miss the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea on November 17-18 as well as the Asean and East Asia summits in Singapore several days earlier. Instead, “the Vice-President will highlight the United States’ vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, based on respect for sovereignty, the rule of law, and the principles of free, fair, and reciprocal trade,” the White House announced last week. Trump’s decision may be costly as it could undermine the region’s confidence in U.S.’ commitment to the Indo-Pacific.

India to purchase Russian air defense system despite US’ threat of sanctions

India will inform the US during a top-level meeting this week of its plan to purchase the Russian S-400 air defense system despite the threat of American sanctions, according to RT. The US is threatening buyers of Russian-made weapons with sanctions as part of its pressure campaign against Moscow. But the Indian government will move forward with the key defense deal, estimated to be worth $5.6 billion.

Despite Trump’s “Indo-Pacific” strategy to strengthen U.S. alliance with India to contain China, India imports most of its weapons from Russia. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India, the world’s largest weapons importer, purchases 62% of its weapons from Russia and only 15% from the United States.

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