The challenge of turning inter-Korean thaw into longer-term detente

UNTV News   •   January 11, 2018   •   2473

Head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon exchanges documents with South Korean counterpart Cho Myoung-gyon after their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, January 9, 2018 REUTERS/Korea Pool

SEOUL (Reuters) – A day of smiles and jokes at the first inter-Korean talks in two years quickly evaporated Tuesday night when the North’s chief negotiator threatened to walk out after the South Korean side brought up Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes.

“We had started in a good spirit but this came to an icky mood,” North Korea’s lead delegate Ri Son Gwon complained in closing remarks.

His rebuke highlights the challenges that lie ahead for Seoul after the 11 hours of talks yielded agreements to hold military talks and facilitate North Korea’s participation in next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in attained his immediate goal of getting North Korea to participate in the games – and reducing the chance its leader Kim Jong Un would disrupt the event with another missile or nuclear test. But turning the winter thaw into a longer-term detente will be far more daunting.

To do so, Moon must navigate a volatile mix of mutually exclusive policies, including North Korea’s stance that its nuclear arsenal is non-negotiable and Washington’s equally strident insistence that complete denuclearisation is the only acceptable outcome.

Seoul has proposed that the two Koreas make a show of unity by marching together at the Pyeongchang Olympics. The last time they did that was in January 2007 at the Asian Winter Games in Changchun, China, just three months after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.

The first U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang followed that nuclear test and over the next 12 years, international sanctions ramped up along with North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear tests, a cycle that has left Pyongyang increasingly isolated. Along the way, six-country talks aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear programme became moribund.

Participation in the Olympics would help ease the North’s isolation. And Pyongyang may hope South Korea could resume desperately needed economic aid at some point. Moon, after all, was once an advocate of former president Kim Dae Jung’s “sunshine policy” of reconciliation with the North.

“LARGER ISSUES”

Ri said he would not discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme with the South because its nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are aimed “thoroughly” at the United States, not at its “brethren” in the South.

Seoul believes improved inter-Korean ties and a series of steps agreed on Tuesday could pave the way for discussion of a “fundamental resolution” of the nuclear issue in the future, the South’s unification ministry said on Wednesday.

But the two Korea’s can do little themselves about denuclearisation “without having the United States on board,” said Hwang In-sung, secretary-general of the secretariat of the presidential National Unification Advisory council in Seoul.

South Korea should not repeat past failures where seemingly vigorous talks fell apart and ties froze in a flash, he said.

“Given the mistrust and high bars set up by both North Korea and the U.S., we will need to drive the experience from Pyeongchang when it’s over, in a way that contributes to the opening of nuclear negotiations”, Hwang told Reuters.

The two Koreas initiated sports diplomacy in 1957 in an effort to form a unified team for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. That effort, however, ended in failure.

Culture and sports diplomacy between them since then has followed the ups and downs of their Cold War-era relations. The two countries remain technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armed truce that has yet to be replaced with a peace agreement.

“Sports exchanges have their own limits given the complex dynamics surrounding the Korean Peninsula, but they can help rally public support and provide a boost for other serious issues to go forward”, said Lee Woo-young, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

A high point came in 2000, when athletes from both sides marched together under a single flag depicting the Korean Peninsula during the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics in Sydney.

Even back then, Seoul’s offer of economic aid in return to facilitate such events was a source of contention in South Korea, which has lived with military threats from the North for decades.

“While the hope is certainly that these things will lead to further political developments between the two, such cooperation has often ended without any larger-scale issues being solved”, said Benjamin Silberstein, associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

“There are few signs to suggest that this time is any different, but it is still too soon to tell”.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Bill Tarrant

Seoul restaurants offer rare taste of North Korean food

UNTV News   •   December 4, 2019

The facade of Pyongyang Suljib (Pyongyang Tavern), in the neighborhood of Hongdae, with colorful posters that mimic the propaganda of the North Korean regime, in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 16, 2019 (issued Dec 4, 2019). EFE/Andrés Sánchez Braun

SEOUL — Two restaurants in the neighborhood of Hongdae in Seoul are offering South Korean diners a chance to sample the flavors of their neighbor to the north in an experience that used to be rare, but which, thanks to improving diplomatic relations, is becoming increasingly popular.

Southerners can sample the flavors and atmosphere of an eatery in North Korea, officially still an enemy state of the South since the Korean War that ended with a ceasefire in 1953, although no formal truce was ever signed.

Warmer relations since a diplomatic thaw last year has changed how Seoulites view Pyongyang, a factor which has been instrumental in opening these eateries, the owners say.

Unlike most North Korean restaurants, which are run by defectors and their descendants and are quite modest and traditional, both eateries are operated by South Koreans.

“There’s no place like this in Seoul,” the owner of Pyongyang Suljib in the heart of Hongdae, told EFE.

Customers are greeted with huge posters imitating the propaganda of the Pyongyang regime and songs from the North, such as the ubiquitous “Bangapseumnida” (“Nice to meet you”).

Slogans like “Let’s put together a great harvest of empty bottles” provide a comic turn to the traditional motivational phrases used in the North; some even go a step further, such as the one bearing the message, “Those who are caught smoking on the premises will be executed by firing squad.”

As well as sampling Northern specialties such as naengmyeon — Pyongyang-style fried noodles — the eatery mimics one from North Korea down to the finest details to complete an exotic and entertaining experience for its mostly young crowd.

The attention to detail can be seen in beer bottles sporting labels that copy Taedongang — the most famous North Korean beer, which is banned in the South — to furniture acquired in Dandong, a border town in China where many North Koreans sell their wares.

But the venture has attracted its share of controversies, according to the owner, who wished to remain anonymous after backlash from conservative South Koreans.

After the restaurant’s opening was announced in October, a group of nationalists protested outside the premises and complained to the police that it praised the North Korea regime, an activity banned under the National Security Act.

At another establishment, Chin-Chin — a restaurant that opened this summer in Yeonnam district, chef Lee Jin-ho has spent months perfecting a menu that covers the best of North Korean fare.

Lee features classics such as handmade Pyongyang sundae, a blood sausage similar to black pudding, and dwaeji gukbap — pork soup with rice — offering tastes which locals won’t have ever had a chance to sample first-hand, as traveling to the North is banned.

“We used to have the same kind of dishes but they developed their own food culture the last 70 years. There’s also a lot of different (regional) renditions that we South Koreans haven’t tried,” he said.

Lee highlights the Chinese influence on Northern recipes as one of the main differences, which has led to the use of ingredients such as spring onion and doubanjiang — a spicy sauce made of fermented beans — that are not part of Southern cuisine.

The food shortages in North Korea also contributed hugely to the differences in the two cuisines. Injo gogi bap, a synthetic meat, was invented as a protein supplement to offset the scarcity of meat by using a thin layer of the residue left from soybean oil production, wrapped around rice and eaten with a spicy sauce. Lee added it to the menu because it is a daily staple for many North Koreans.

The chef had help with the recipes from Ahn Young-ja, who prepared official dinners served to former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the current leader Kim Jong-un, before defecting to the South.

Getting some of the ingredients — such as the potato flour used for a kind of Northern noodle, the import of which is banned — also proved to be a challenge.

But, judging from his clientele, which includes “a lot of defectors,” Chin-Chin seems to have cracked the code by mixing South Korean potato starch mixed with a dash of buckwheat flour. EFE-EPA

Pyongyang confirms it tested super-large multiple rocket launcher

Robie de Guzman   •   November 29, 2019

An undated photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows the test-fire of the super-large multiple launch rocket system conducted by the Academy of Defence Science at an undisclosed location in North Korea (issued 29 November 2019).

Seoul – North Korea confirmed Friday that it tested a super-large multiple launch rocket system a day earlier and that the country’s leader oversaw the test, state media reported.

On Thursday, North Korea fired two projectiles from the launcher from Yeonpo in the country’s eastern South Hamgyong province in a move apparently designed to increase pressure on the United States over their stalled denuclearization talks.

The missiles traveled around 380 kilometers (236 miles) eastward and reached a maximum altitude of 97 km, according to South Korean military authorities, before falling into the Sea of Japan (called the East Sea in the two Koreas).

North Korean state-run agency KCNA said that in addition to the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, other key figures of North Korea’s weapons programs were also present at the launch, including Kim Jong-sik, deputy director of the Military (machine-building) Industry Department as well as Jang Chang-ha, president of the Academy of National Defense Science.

Kim Jong-un expressed “great satisfaction” with the test, which he said proved the weapon’s “military and technical superiority and its firm reliability.”

The launch on Thursday was the 13th weapons test conducted by North Korea this year and the fourth using the super-large multiple rocket launcher, which is believed to be a system with four 600-millimeter launch tubes mounted on a mobile platform.

The regime has already tested this rocket launcher on three previous occasions this year, on Aug. 24, Sept. 10 and Oct. 31.

The latest test seems to be aimed at pressuring Washington to accept new conditions in the disarmament dialogue that has been deadlocked since earlier this year.

Bilateral negotiations have not advanced since a failed summit in February in Hanoi, where Washington refused to lift economic sanctions in return for what Pyongyang dismantling its nuclear assets.

Both parties held a working meeting in early October in Stockholm, Sweden, which ended with North Korea accusing Washington of failing to offer anything new and actively maintaining its “hostile policy”.

North Korea says the White House has a deadline of the end of the year to offer alternative proposals and experts believe the regime could carry out new weapons tests from January if there is no progress, especially of intermediate-range missiles. EFE-EPA

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South Korea’s Moon pledges action against Japan’s ‘unfair’ trade move

Robie de Guzman   •   August 3, 2019

Courtesy: Reuters

South Korea fired back at Japan over a deepening trade dispute on Friday (August 2), pledging it would not be “defeated again” by its neighbour, laying bare decades-old animosity at the root of a row over fast-track export status.

Addressing his ministers during a rare live television broadcast of his cabinet, South Korean President Moon Jae-in threatened countermeasures after Japan’s cabinet approved the removal of South Korea’s fast-track export status from Aug.28.

“If Japan attempts to harm our economy, the Korean Government also has countermeasures with which to respond.,” he said.

“Even at this moment, the Korean Government does not want a vicious cycle of tit-for-tat. There is only one way to stop this. The Japanese Government must withdraw its unilateral and unwarranted measures as soon as possible and take a path toward dialogue,” he added.

Cutting South Korea from a so-called “white list” of favoured export destinations could require Japanese exporters to obtain permits, potentially slowing down exports of a wide range of goods that could be used to produce weapons.

“What we take even more seriously is the fact that these moves by the Japanese Government carry the clear intention to attack and hurt our economy by impeding our future economic growth,” Moon said.

Relations between the two U.S. allies began to deteriorate late last year following a row over compensation for wartime forced labourers during Japan’s occupation, but the language used by President Moon was the starkest yet. (REUTERS)

(Production: Heejung Jung)

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