North Korea says up to US to choose what ‘Christmas gift’ it wants

Robie de Guzman   •   December 3, 2019   •   162

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (C) during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a Township of Samjiyon County, North Korea, 02 December 2019. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un attended the ceremony. EPA-EFE/KCNA

Seoul – North Korea on Tuesday said it was up to the United States to chose what “Christmas gift” it wanted as the deadline to resume the stalled denuclearisation talks was drawing closer amid Washington’s continued “dialogue rhetoric”.

“What is left to be done now is the US’ option and it is entirely up to the US what Christmas gift it will select to get,” the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement published by state news agency KCNA.

The statement quoted Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil Song saying that Pyongyang had “done its utmost with maximum perseverance not to backtrack from the important steps.”

This refers to North Korea’s self-imposed moratorium on tests of nuclear weapons and medium and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“Drawing nearer is the year-end time limit the DPRK (North Korea’s official name) set for the US. However, the US is keen on earning the time needed for it, talking about the ‘sustained and substantial dialogue,’ far from acting in response to the measures taken by the DPRK first,” Ri said.

The statement said North Korea had “heard more than enough dialogue rhetoric raised by the US whenever it is driven into a tight corner. So, no one will lend an ear to the US any longer.”

It said the talks touted by Washington was, “in essence, nothing but a foolish trick hatched to keep the DPRK bound to dialogue and use it in favor of the political situation and election in the US”.

Experts believe that if there is no progress in talks in the next few weeks, the North Korean regime could carry out new weapons tests from January, especially of intermediate-range missiles.

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 Korean media on Tuesday also showed leader Kim Jong-un inaugurating a real estate project near Mount Paektu, a sacred site for the regime.

Given that important decisions have often followed visits to this area, some experts believe that Pyongyang wants to ramp up the pressure with this gesture.

Last week, North Korea fired two missiles into the Sea of Japan (also known as East Sea in the two Koreas) from a super large multiple-launch rocket system, prompting Pentagon to deploy reconnaissance aircraft over the Korean peninsula.

On Tuesday, the US aircraft flew over the region for the fifth time in less than a week in a gesture that some believe may be a deliberate warning message against threats from the North Korean regime. EFE-EPA

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US accuses Iran of more than 1,000 deaths during protests

Jeck Deocampo   •   December 6, 2019

US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State Brian Hook responds to a question from the news media during a press conference at the US State Department in Washington, DC, USA, 4 September 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/SHAWN THEW

Washington DC – The United States government on Thursday held Iran responsible for the death of more than 1,000 people in the recent protests that shook the country.

“It appears the regime could have murdered over 1,000 Iranian citizens since the protests began,” said State Department Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook.

Hook, however, said he was not certain of that figure because “the regime blocks information.”

According to the US official, in one single protest in the southwestern city of Mahshahr, more than a hundred people died and when it was over, the bodies were loaded in trucks.

“We do not yet know where these bodies were taken, but we are learning more and more about how the Iranian regime treats its own people,” he added.

According to Washington, the number of deaths that occurred during the protests may have been five times the number estimated by Amnesty International, which in its latest report said 208 people lost their lives adding that the number was likely to be more.

Iran, on its part, said that the number reported by AI was not correct and claimed that the actual death toll was lower.

“The numbers and figures that are being given by hostile groups are utter lies and the statistics have serious differences with what they announced,” Iran’s judicial spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili said.

Protests broke out in Iran on Nov. 15 over rising oil prices and its rationing and led to criticism of the country’s theocratic system.

US President Donald Trump also mentioned the protests in Iran on Thursday.

The Iranian regime “has killed hundreds and hundreds of people in a very short period of time. They’re killing protesters. They turned down their internet system. People aren’t hearing what’s going,” said the president.

Days earlier, Trump accused Iran of killing “thousands and thousands” of people. EFE-EPA

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

China threatens US after Trump passes bills backing Hong Kong protesters

Robie de Guzman   •   November 28, 2019

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang speaks to reporters during a daily Foreign Ministry press conference in Beijing, China, 28 November 2019. China responds with anger and warns of countermeasures after US President Donald Trump’s signing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act on 28 November 2019. EPA-EFE/HOW HWEE YOUNG

Beijing – The Chinese government Thursday threatened the United States with “countermeasures” and “consequences” after the US president signed two bills into law backing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

Donald Trump in a statement said he had signed the bills — the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019 and one against crowd control munition exports to the territory — out of “respect” to Chinese President Xi Jinping and the people of Hong Kong.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement Thursday responded by reminding “the US that Hong Kong is part of China and Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs where no foreign government or force shall interfere. This Act will only further expose the malicious and hegemonic nature of US intentions to the Chinese people, including our Hong Kong compatriots.”

“We urge the US to not continue going down the wrong path, or China will take countermeasures, and the US must bear all consequences,” it added.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng also summoned US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad “to lodge stern representations and strong protest” to the passing of the Act, state news agency Xinhua reported Thursday.

The two countries are still immersed in negotiations to end their trade war, which could be affected by the bills, however the statement does not specify the countermeasures it intends to apply.

The Hong Kong government also expressed its “strong opposition” to the new laws, saying in a statement that they “contravene in Hong Kong’s internal affairs” and would harm relations with the US.

“The two acts are unreasonable. Although human rights and democracy are mentioned in the title of the Act, some of the provisions in the Act are actually about export control and enforcement of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations in Hong Kong, which are totally unrelated to human rights and democracy in Hong Kong,” a government spokesman said.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019, passed last week by the US Senate, requires the US State Department to conduct a review at least annually as to whether Hong Kong retains enough autonomy from mainland China to qualify for special trade considerations, and threatens sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations.

Following the approval by the Senate last week, the Chinese government threatened that “China will take strong opposing measures and the US has to bear all the consequences” if it was passed into law. Beijing also reportedly summoned a senior US diplomat over the move.

The second bill signed into law Wednesday prohibits US exports of specified police equipment such as teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns to Hong Kong.

“They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all,” Trump said.

At the weekend, the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong swept the local elections, winning 388 of the total 452 district council seats up for grabs. The side aligned with Beijing suffered a crushing defeat with only 59 councilors, compared to the almost 300 it had, while independents won five seats in the elections which saw a record 71.2% turnout.

Hong Kong was passed to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, although it still retains a degree of independence from Beijing under the “one country, two systems” formula. According to the handover deal between London and Beijing, this political system — which includes certain legal freedoms not recognized in mainland China — must be preserved until 2047. EFE-EPA

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