Posts Tagged ‘South Korea’

Unified Pyongyang Olympics? — Youngsters not thrilled with the idea — Denuclearization before reunification

January 18, 2018

SEOUL (Reuters) – An agreement between South and North Korea to march under a unity flag and field a joint ice hockey team at next month’s Olympics was met by sharp criticism from many in the South on Thursday, highlighting changing attitudes toward the country’s northern neighbor.

The controversy reveals a South Korean public far less wedded to the idea of inter-Korean unity than previous generations, analysts say, a changing dynamic that may shape South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts at reconciliation with the isolated North.

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United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha during a meeting on North Korea in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Officials are discussing sanctions, preventing the spread of weapons and diplomatic options. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)

North Korea’s participation in the Olympics has been seen as a win for Moon, who hopes to use the event to make a diplomatic breakthrough in the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear and missile program. It also eases public concerns the North might upstage the Games with yet another weapons test.

But Moon’s specific moves to integrate the two Koreas at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have sparked a sharp backlash that goes beyond his traditional conservative detractors to include his main support base of younger South Koreans upset an unchastened North Korea is stealing the spotlight.

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South Korea has no ICBM team…

“North Korea was all about firing missiles last year, but suddenly they want to come to the South for the Olympics? Who gets to decide that?,” Kim Joo-hee, a 24-year-old translator told Reuters during a coffee break on a chilly Seoul afternoon. “Does North Korea have so much privilege to do whatever they want?”

Moon’s office declined to comment beyond saying the two countries would be coordinating logistics for the Olympics, which begin on February 9.

Opinion polls released since the plans became public have shown limited support for some of Seoul’s proposals.

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Only four out of 10 respondents said they favor the plan to march together under a flag symbolizing a unified Korea, according to a survey released on Thursday by the South Korean pollster Realmeter.

Tens of thousands of people took to social media to vent their disgust after plans for the joint activities were announced on Wednesday, with one commenter saying the Korean peninsula flag is “not my goddamned flag”.

Others complained “the Pyeongchang Olympics have already become the Pyongyang Olympics”.


The South Korean women’s ice hockey team is the only team ear-marked for integration with the North Koreans, a move that drew criticism from the coach and team members worried their performance would be disrupted by accommodating less accomplished North Korean players at short notice.

In a visit with the team on Wednesday, Moon tried to smooth things over by telling the players that showing unity and hope may be more important than winning, and that integrating with North Koreans will bring attention to “a less-preferred sport”.

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Nam Sung-wook, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, said the president may have come across as being unfair to the South Korean athletes forced to change their plans.

“Those who voted for Moon Jae-in last year yearned for a different world where fairness and hard work are valued and rewarded,” he said. “But this time the Moon administration failed to grasp the situation and disappointed many people, including its supporters.”

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Younger South Koreans who did not experience the 1950-1953 Korean War or its Cold War aftermath may also have fewer cross-border ties and less desire to reunite the peninsula than earlier generations.

“Undoubtedly we are two different and separate countries,” said 26-year-old Lee Seung-kun, who works in business development. “No one questions that, so competing at the Olympics as ‘one country’ does logically not make any sense.”

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Andray Abrahamian, a research fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS, said it was significant that plans for joint Olympic activities have upset younger South Koreans, not only older anti-North Korea nationalists.

“I think that reflects a growing South Korean nationalism and identity, rather than a more simple anti-Communism in the older generation,” Abrahamian said. “Young people are not anti-Communist so much as Communism is just sort of irrelevant to them.”


The political situation has also changed since jubilant crowds greeted a joint Korean team at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, when many in South Korea and beyond sensed there might be a real breakthrough on the horizon.

“Marching under the one peninsula flag does not bring peace to the Korean peninsula,” said one South Korean Twitter user. “We did that 18 years ago at the Sydney Summer Olympics, but North Korea has fired missiles, conducted nuclear tests and killed our own citizens. It is just another political show.”

While some in the Moon administration may feel “romantic” about reconciliation with North Korea, many in South Korea now see this as a “delusion”, said author Michael Breen, who has studied South Korea for decades.

“South Koreans feel sorry for the athletes who have trained so hard for the Olympics and are now being kicked out of the team to make way for North Koreans,” he said.

“They think there must be a better way, especially as a few months from now we all know we will be back to where we were with North Korea.”

(This refiled version of the story adds dropped word “by” after “met” in first paragraph).

Additional reporting by Yuna Park; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Lincoln Feast


Two Koreas Agree to Sweeping Deal Over Winter Olympics — “Love Fest” could anger Japanese who watched North’s missiles overhead — Unification looks closer than denuclearization

January 17, 2018

South Korea struck a sweeping deal with North Korea that marks the South’s most dramatic embrace of its northern rival in a decade, brokering an agreement over the Winter Olympics that will bring hundreds of North Korean athletes, cheerleaders and politicians to the South.

At opening ceremony, North and South will walk into stadium under one flag

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The Wall Street Journal

SEOUL—South Korea struck a sweeping deal with North Korea on Wednesday that marks the South’s most dramatic embrace of its northern rival in a decade, brokering an agreement over the Winter Olympics that will bring hundreds of North Korean athletes, cheerleaders and other officials to the South.

The deal, announced late Wednesday by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, will also bring South Korean athletes and performers north of the demilitarized zone for training at a North Korean ski resort and a cultural event at a scenic mountain resort.

Under the terms of the deal, the two Koreas will walk into the opening ceremony of next month’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, under one flag. The two countries’ women’s ice hockey teams will unite to form a joint Korean squad. The North will send 230 cheerleaders to the Olympics and a 30-member taekwondo demonstration team, followed by a 150-member delegation to the Paralympics in March.

The North didn’t immediately issue a statement confirming the agreement.

Write to Andrew Jeong at and Jonathan Cheng at

Kim Jong Un’s game in joining Winter Olympics in South Korea

January 17, 2018

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Asia News Network writers say denuclearisation should remain the key goal in discussions between the two Koreas. Here are excerpts:



The Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan

It’s not as if there has been concrete progress towards resolving the issue of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. The international community must not loosen the net encircling North Korea both militarily and economically.

South Korea and North Korea held a ministerial-level meeting and agreed that the two countries will cooperate to ensure the success of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next month. North Korea will send a delegation consisting of athletes, high-ranking officials and a cheering squad, while South Korea will provide necessary services.

The accords also include the holding of talks on reducing tension, to be attended by officials. North Korea has reportedly notified South Korea of its restoration of a military communication line with South Korea. It is important to reduce the danger of accidental conflict.

Emphasising the shared ethnicity of the two countries, both also agreed on a policy of continuing senior official-level meetings.

It can be considered that Mr Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, has put into full gear a strategy of winning over South Korea by playing its “Olympic participation” card. It was the first formal talks in almost two years between the two Koreas.

Without a doubt, North Korea is aiming at driving a wedge between the United States and South Korea, by appealing to the idea of reconciliation between the two Koreas. Sanctions on North Korea, such as trade restrictions on refined petroleum products, have had an effect. Pyongyang may also ask Seoul for economic cooperation and for a relaxation of sanctions in the inter-Korean meetings in the days ahead.

Something to be wary of is the fact that when the South Korean side proposed holding talks with regard to the denuclearisation of North Korea, a representative of the North Korean side rejected it flatly.

Members of the South Korean air force Black Eagle aerobatic team performing above the ski jump venue of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics earlier this week. North Korea is sending a delegation consisting of athletes, high-ranking officials and a c

Members of the South Korean air force Black Eagle aerobatic team performing above the ski jump venue of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics earlier this week. North Korea is sending a delegation consisting of athletes, high-ranking officials and a cheering squad to the Games. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

There would be no change in the fact that Pyongyang is steadily advancing its nuclear and missile development programmes, even if the country refrains from conducting a nuclear test or launching a ballistic missile until after the Pyeongchang Olympics and Paralympics end.

There is strong concern among countries, including Japan and the US, over the possibility of the Moon administration making excessive concessions to Pyongyang in its haste to improve relations.

It is vital for South Korea to maintain close cooperation with Japan and the US with regard to policy towards North Korea.




The Korea Herald, South Korea

It certainly is a good sign that the two Koreas agreed on North Korea’s participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. But the sudden eruption of a reconciliatory mood should not interfere with the ultimate, unalterable goal of denuclearising the North.

As things stand, the first inter-Korean government-level talks in over two years yielded more-than-expected results. Besides athletes and team officials, the North will send what is expected to be the largest delegation of its kind to the Pyeongchang Olympics.

The two sides also said they would consider a joint march of their athletes during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games in Pyeongchang, Gangwon province, on Feb 9.

All these are a great boon for the Olympic Games, which had faced security concerns.

What cannot be ruled out is the possibility that the North is merely using the thaw in inter-Korean relations to buy time to further improve its nuclear and missile capabilities and discourage the United States from taking new hard-line actions, including possible military action or harsher economic and diplomatic pressure, like the cutting off of oil supplies and naval interdiction or embargo.

Its decision to send such a large delegation to Pyeongchang and the agreement to hold military talks aimed at discussing the reduction of tensions along the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas and other high-level government talks could be part of efforts to maximise the effect of its peace overture.

There is no reason not to take advantage of the change in the North’s position. But the South Korean government and the international community should not lower their guard as long as denuclearisation is concerned.


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The Statesman, India

Visuals of the North and South Korean delegation leaders greeting each other at the demilitarised zone of Panmunjom do testify to a measure of de-escalation after the volley and thunder of recent ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) tests.

Having said that, it would be presumptuous to imagine that the worst is over. Not really; there is little doubt that the North will be under renewed pressure in the event of the next stand-off.

For now, through a deft diplomatic gambit, Mr Kim Jong Un seems agreeable to the North’s participation in next month’s Winter Olympics in the South.

After frequent bouts of defiant muscle-flexing, Pyongyang is seemingly anxious to be recognised by the comity of nations, thus shedding its pariah image for which it has only itself to blame. There is a degree of symbolic significance too in the North’s participation in the Games, and it is pretty obvious that President Kim has played to both the domestic and international gallery.

Yet, a degree of cynicism is bound to persist, in the context of previous crises.

There is no entente cordiale quite yet. And central to the war of nerves must be North Korea’s spectacular progress in its weapons programme. The nature of contemporary geostrategy would suggest that denuclearisation is unlikely. Ergo, the rational course of action is a nuclear freeze, an issue that was somehow skirted at the recent conference, riveted as it was to the Winter Olympics.




China Daily, China

It is good that the talks between the two Koreas on Tuesday at the border truce village of Panmunjom appeared amicable and constructive.

And the unusual, if not unprecedented, suggestion by Mr Ri Son Gwon, the chief delegate of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, that the talks be “open and transparent” and their content be made public “in light of the great expectations and huge interest both here and abroad” and to demonstrate its “sincerity and endeavours” was, itself, something of a break with the past.

If things go well, looking forward at the best-case scenario, the latest rapport might extend further, towards a longer-lasting thaw in inter-Korea relations.

However, as history has repeatedly proved, inter-Korea ties are too fickle to support unbounded optimism.

While tensions between Seoul and Pyongyang may be assuaged, at least for the time being, the dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula has not suddenly dissipated.




The Nation, Thailand

Nerves have yet to calm since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned in his annual New Year address that he has a nuclear button “on my desk at all times” and United States President Donald Trump responded with typical bluster, tweeting that his button was “much bigger and more powerful”.

Fortunately for all of us, while Mr Trump was prattling on about a “free world united against evil North Korea”, Pyongyang extended an olive branch to Seoul. South Korean President Moon Jae In, who has always supported dialogue with the North, called the gesture “an epoch-making opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations and establish peace”.

Mr Trump needs to understand that this issue is not about him, nor is it solely about Americans’ security. It is also about the fate of one of the world’s most reclusive regimes, whose leader, derided as “crazy fat kid” by cruel American lawmakers, has just schooled the leader of the free world.

Most observers agree that Mr Kim reaching out to the South is a strategy aimed at changing the narrative now that he possesses nuclear weapons and might be able to deliver them to the continental US. If this is not the case, Mr Kim could get back to his tests and threats once the Olympics are over, and South Korea and the US resume their regular military exercises.

But, for the time being at least, Mr Kim has given the world some breathing space and the hope of a chance to discuss the nuclear problem rationally.

• The View From Asia is a compilation of articles from The Straits Times’ media partner, Asia News Network, a grouping of 23 news media.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2018, with the headline ‘Kim Jong Un’s game in joining Winter Olympics in S. Korea’.

Tillerson warns North Korea that failure to negotiate giving up its nukes could trigger military action

January 17, 2018

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Foreign Minister Taro Kono (left), Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (second left), U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (second right) and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha pose for a photo with other ministers during a meeting to discuss the Korean Peninsula in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday. | THE CANADIAN PRESS / VIA AP

Japan Times —


JAN 17, 2018

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Tuesday that if North Korea does not choose to negotiate on giving up its nuclear weapons that pose a growing threat to the United States it could trigger a military response.

After a meeting of U.S. allies on how to beef up the sanctions pressure, Tillerson stressed that the Trump administration seeks a diplomatic resolution in the nuclear standoff, but he said the North has yet to show itself to be a “credible negotiating partner.” He said U.S.-North Korea talks would require a “sustained cessation” of threatening behavior.

U.S. officials have reported a debate within the Trump administration over whether to give more active consideration to military options, such as a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean nuclear or missile site.

Tillerson brushed off a question about such a “bloody nose” strike, telling a closing news conference: “I’m a not going to comment on issues that have yet to be decided among the National Security Council or the president.”

However, he said the threat posed by North Korea was growing.

“We all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation,” Tillerson said when he was asked whether Americans should be concerned about the possibility of a war. He said North Korea has continued to make significant advances in its nuclear weapons through the thermonuclear test and progress in its intercontinental missile systems.

“We have to recognize that the threat is growing and that if North Korea does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation then they themselves will trigger an option,” he said.

His uncompromising message came after a gathering in Vancouver of 20 nations that were on America’s side during the Korean War, where there was skepticism among the allies over North Korea’s sincerity in its recent diplomatic opening with the U.S.-allied South. The meeting convened days after a mistaken missile alert caused panic on Hawaii, a stark reminder of the fears of conflict with the North.

Despite Washington’s tough stance and determination to keep up the pressure on North Korea, President Donald Trump has signaled openness to talks with the North under the right circumstances. After months of insults and blood-curdling threats traded with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump suggested in an interview last week that the two leaders could have a positive relationship.

Tillerson declined to say Tuesday whether Trump has spoken directly to Kim.

“I don’t think it’s useful to comment” he said. “We are at a very tenuous stage in terms of how far North Korea has taken their program and what we can do to convince them to take an alternative path. And so when we get into who’s talking to who and what was said, if we want that to be made know or made public we will announce it.”

Tillerson was joined by his hawkish Japanese counterpart, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, in calling for tougher punitive measures against Pyongyang.

But South Korea, while publicly maintaining faith with Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, struck a markedly more optimistic tone, arguing that renewed North-South talks show sanctions are already working.

Key players China and Russia were not invited to the meeting of the powers that united under U.N. command to fight North Korea in the 1950-1963 war, and denounced the gathering as a Cold War throwback.

“We must increase the costs of the regime’s behavior to the point that North Korea must come to the table for credible negotiations,” Tillerson said in his opening remarks at the meeting.

“We will not allow North Korea to drive a wedge through our resolve or solidarity,” he added.

The top U.S. diplomat, hosting the event with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, called for North Korean ships to be intercepted at sea and for new international measures to be implemented every time Pyongyang tests new weapons.

“First, we all must insist on a full enforcement of U.N. Security Council sanctions, as this is the letter of the law. We especially urge Russia and China in this matter,” he said.

“Second, we all must work together to improve maritime interdiction operations. We must put an end to illicit ship-to-ship transfers that undermine U.N. sanctions.

“And, third, there must be new consequences for the regime whenever new aggression occurs.”

He received backing Kono in public opening remarks, but South Korea’s Kang Kyung-Wha sounded a more cautious note and told the 20 senior envoys that sanctions pressure is already making progress.

Some observers have welcomed North Korea’s decision to meet with Seoul’s representatives and to send a delegation to the South’s upcoming Winter Olympics as a sign that tensions may be lowered.

But Kono urged the allies not to let their guard down as they seek to force Pyongyang to agree to negotiate its own nuclear disarmament.

Without explicitly pointing to Seoul, Kono warned that the Kim regime “must be intending to drive a wedge between those tough countries and those that are not so tough,” adding that other countries should not to “be blinded by North Korea’s charm offensive.”

“I am aware that some people argue that because North Korea is engaging in inter-Korean dialogue, we should reward them by lifting up sanctions or by providing some sort of assistance,” he said.

“Frankly, I think this view is just too naive. I believe that North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear missile programs,” he said.

For her part, Kang welcomed international support for the sanctions regime, but her opening remarks in Tuesday’s session carried a more optimistic message than that of her Japanese neighbor.

“I believe that the two tools, tough sanctions and pressure on the one hand and the offer of a different brighter future on the other, have worked hand in hand,” she said.

“Indeed the concerted efforts of the international community has begun to bear fruit,” she explained.

“We should take note that the North has come back to inter-Korean dialogue for its participation in the Winter Games, as evidence and observations accumulate to show that sanctions and pressure are beginning to take effect.”

If the sanctions regime is to survive and eventually force Kim to the table, it will require Russia and especially China to continue to support the measures they agreed to in U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Moscow and Beijing were not represented in Vancouver and angrily dismissed the talks.

“The most important relevant parties of the Korean Peninsula issue haven’t taken part in the meeting so I don’t think the meeting is legal or representative,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

Lu denounced the “Cold War mentality” of “relevant parties,” without naming the United States, which is urging Beijing to cut off fuel oil supplies to Pyongyang to force it to negotiate its own nuclear disarmament.

With China absent from Vancouver, Trump spoke with his counterpart, Xi Jinping.

According to the White House, the pair expressed hope that a recent resumption in face-to-face talks between North and South Korea “might prompt a change in North Korea’s destructive behavior.”

But Trump also “committed to sustain the United States-led global campaign of maximum pressure to compel North Korea to commit to denuclearization.”

Trans-Pacific tensions have been running high for months, despite the recent return to direct talks between Kim’s regime and President Moon Jae-In’s South Korea.

Meanwhile, U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster held secret meetings in San Francisco over the weekend with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s top national security adviser and a senior South Korean official, a U.S. official said.

The three discussed North-South talks last week and a shared commitment to keep up the U.S.-led pressure campaign against Pyongyang, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

McMaster in recent weeks has been among the more hawkish of top aides to Trump on the need to actively consider military options, according to other U.S. government sources.

U.S. officials say hawks in the Trump administration remain pessimistic that the North-South contacts will lead anywhere.

Even so, they say debate within the U.S. administration over whether to give more active consideration to military options, such as a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean nuclear or missile site, has lost momentum ahead of the Olympics.

Brian Hook, the U.S. State Department’s head of policy planning, told MSNBC the North-South talks were a positive step, but North Korea had been taking advantage of goodwill gestures for decades and needed to “earn their way back to the negotiating table.”

Over the weekend, a false alarm in Hawaii warning of an incoming ballistic missile rattled nerves, and earlier this month, Trump and Kim traded saber-rattling bluster.

As the talks got under way, Pyongyang issued its first response to Trump’s argument that his nuclear arsenal dwarfs the North’s fledgling missile batteries.

Official party newspaper Rodong Sinmun dismissed Trump’s “swaggering” as the “spasm of a lunatic” frightened by North Korea’s power and the “bark of a rabid dog.”

The Vancouver meeting kicked off late Monday with a dinner and several bilateral meetings, before Tuesday’s talks to hammer out next steps in the standoff.

Further bilateral talks between the North and South are scheduled for Wednesday, after the Vancouver meeting.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said while he believed war was “avoidable,” peace was far from “guaranteed.”


Tillerson Warns Threat of North Korea War Growing Despite Talks

January 17, 2018


By Nick Wadhams

 Updated on 
  • Diplomats from 20 nations discuss ways to toughen sanctions
  • Russia and China not invited to ministers’ summit in Vancouver
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North Korea Tops Trump Foreign Policy Agenda

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered a sobering assessment about the possibility of war with North Korea, saying advances in that country’s nuclear program meant the situation was “very tenuous.”

“We have to recognize that that threat is growing and if North Korea does not choose the pathway of engagement, of discussion, negotiations, then they themselves will trigger an option,” Tillerson told reporters on Tuesday night, shortly before North Korea resumed talks with Seoul on joining next month’s Olympic Games in South Korea.

“We’re at a very tenuous stage in terms of how far North Korea has taken their program,” he said.

Tillerson spoke in Vancouver, where top diplomats from 20 nations gathered to explore new ways to enforce sanctions and choke off North Korea’s economy. The meeting came at a time of heightened anxiety over the threat of war, a feeling that was exacerbated last weekend when officials in Hawaii erroneously sent out a warning that a ballistic missile was heading toward the islands.

In his remarks, Tillerson rejected any proposal calling for a “freeze” on U.S.-South Korean military exercises in order to get talks started, a recommendation repeatedly made by China and Russia. Kim Jong Un’s government has said its weapons program is essential to its survival and has repeatedly said the U.S.’s joint drills with South Korea threaten it.

Tillerson declined to comment on the possibility of a limited pre-emptive strike against North Korea, and also wouldn’t address an interview with the Wall Street Journal published last week in which U.S. President Donald Trump refused to say whether he’d spoken with Kim.

“When we get into who’s talking to who and what was said, if we want that to be made known or made public, we will announce it,” he said. At the same time, he again called on Pyongyang to come to talks on dismantling its nuclear program.

“The North Koreans know our channels are open and they know where to find us,” he said, later adding: “It’s time to talk, but they have to take the step that says they want to talk.”

Trump has taken credit for the resumption of talks between Pyongyang and Seoul, which took place again on Wednesday. Those discussions have been limited to planning for North Korea to send a delegation to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Tensions Building

Those talks, initially heralded as a breakthrough and a way to ease tensions, are causing new strains. North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency warned Sunday that an effort by South Korea to link reconciliation to denuclearization were “ill-boding” and risked “chilling the atmosphere.” The two nations, which are still technically at war, have agreed to hold military talks and further high-level dialogues.

There’s also some division among the allies. Japan, for example, has been wary of any rapprochement with North Korea, wanting to keep talks focused only on the nuclear issue. It has portrayed ongoing talks between North and South Korea about next month’s Winter Olympics as a transparent effort to buy time to keep working on its nuclear weapons.

“In any case, what we should have in mind is that North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and missile programs, even as we speak, and we should not be naïve about their intent,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said.

China, Russia

Tuesday’s discussions were conceived by the U.S. primarily as a show of unity as it seeks to drive North Korea further into isolation and get it to negotiate away its nuclear program. Yet divisions were apparent from the start, with the organizers declining to invite Russia and China, the two nations that maintain the strongest economic ties with the North.

One focus of the discussions was maritime interdiction — stopping ship-to-ship oil transfers and keeping vessels from bringing goods to and from North Korea. Officials said that may include getting the United Nations to block port access for some ships known to be involved in that trade. The American-led pressure campaign has also sought to persuade countries to expel North Korean diplomats and cut any remaining ties to the country.

Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said that the pressure campaign against North Korea was beginning to have an effect. She deflected a question about whether Trump’s rhetorical exchanges with Kim were making matters worse.

“It is North Korea’s actions which are making us all less safe and to which we all need to respond,” she said.

The Vancouver meeting included representatives from co-host Canada, France, Japan, Britain, Belgium, Denmark and Thailand.

North Korea to send cheerleaders to Olympics but Japan sees little to celebrate, warns of North’s ‘charm offensive’

January 17, 2018

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PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games logo is seen at the the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre in Pyeongchang, South Korea

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea will send a 230-strong cheering squad to the Winter Olympics in the South next month, Seoul said on Wednesday after both sides held talks amid a thaw in inter-Korean ties and as Japan urged caution over the North’s “charm offensive”.

North and South Korea have been talking since last week – for the first time in more than two years – about the Olympics, offering a respite from a months-long standoff over the North’s missile and nuclear programs, which it conducts in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

Twenty nations meeting in the Canadian city of Vancouver agreed on Tuesday to consider tougher sanctions to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned the North it could trigger a military response if it did not choose dialogue.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said in Vancouver that the world should not be naive about North Korea’s “charm offensive” over the Olympics.

“It is not the time to ease pressure, or to reward North Korea,” Kono said. “The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has refused to give up development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States in spite of increasingly severe U.N. sanctions, raising fears of a new war on the Korean peninsula. The North has fired test-fired missiles over Japan.

In state media this week, the North warned the South of spoiling inter-Korean ties by insisting it gives up its nuclear weapons.

“We will work actively to improve North-South Korean relations but will not stand still to actions that are against unification,” the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper said.

The South’s Unification Ministry said the two sides exchanged opinions on several issues, including the size of the North Korean athletics team and joint cultural events.

Paik Hak-soon, the director of the Centre for North Korean studies at Sejong Institute in South Korea, said Kim was using the cheering squad to draw attention to its apparent cooperative spirit.

“Seeing good results in competitions thanks to the cheering squad would enable the North Koreans to say they contributed to a successful Olympics and the South Korean government would likely agree,” said Paik.

“In the end, they are using this old tactic to get to Washington through Seoul.”

On Tuesday, officials from North and South agreed a 140-person North Korean orchestra would perform in South Korea during the Games. Pyongyang is also planning to send a large delegation in addition to the athletes and orchestra.

Reclusive North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North regularly threatens to destroy the South, Japan and their major ally, the United States.

China, which did not attend the Vancouver meeting, said on Wednesday the gathering showed a Cold War mentality and would only undermine a settlement of the North Korea problem.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Bitcoin slides 18 percent on crackdown fears; crypto rivals also plunge

January 16, 2018

JANUARY 16, 2018 / 4:50 AM


LONDON (Reuters) – Bitcoin tumbled 18 percent on Tuesday to a four-week trough close to $11,000, after reports that a ban on trading of cryptocurrencies in South Korea was still an option drove fears grew of a wider regulatory crackdown.

Bitcoin’s slide triggered a massive selloff across the broader cryptocurrency market, with biggest rival Ethereum down 23 percent on the day, according to trade website Coinmarketcap, and the next-biggest, Ripple, plunging 33 percent.

South Korean news website Yonhap reported that Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon had told a local radio station that the government would be coming up with a set of measures to clamp down on the “irrational” cryptocurrency investment craze.

South Korea had said on Monday that its plans to ban virtual coin exchanges had not yet been finalised, as government agencies were still in talks to decide how to regulate the market.

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Bitcoin slid on the latest news, trading as low as $11,191.59 on the Luxembourg-based Bitstamp exchange, down 18 percent on the day, for a short period putting the digital currency on track for its biggest one-day fall in three years.

“It’s mainly been regulatory issues which are haunting the cryptocurrency, with news around South Korea’s further crackdown on trading the driver today,” said Think Markets chief strategist Naeem Aslam, who holds what he described as “substantial” amounts of bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple.

“But we maintain our stance. We do not think that the complete banning of cryptocurrencies is possible,” he said.

Cryptocurrencies enjoyed a bumper year in 2017 as mainstream investors entered the market and as an explosion in so-called initial coin offerings (ICOs) – digital token-based fundraising rounds – drove demand for bitcoin and Ethereum, the second-biggest digital unit.

The latest tumble leaves bitcoin down more than 40 percent from the record high around $20,000 it hit in mid-December, wiping about $130 billion off its “market cap” – the unit price multiplied by the total number of bitcoins that have been released into the market.

The news from South Korea came as it emerged a senior Chinese central banker had said authorities should ban centralised trading of virtual currencies as well as individuals and businesses that provide related services, according to an internal memo from a government meeting seen by Reuters.

Bloomberg reported on Monday that Chinese authorities plan to block domestic access to Chinese and offshore cryptocurrency platforms that allow centralised trading.

“(It) seems like it’s uncertainty spooking the markets,…with regulations unclear,” said Charles Hayter, founder of data analysis website Cryptocompare. “(Traders) are taking profits on the increased risk scenarios going forward.”

A director at Germany’s central bank said on Monday that any attempt to regulate cryptocurrencies must be on a global scale as national or regional rules would be hard to enforce on a virtual, borderless community.

By 1000 GMT bitcoin was trading down 16 percent on the day at around $11,500 on Bitstamp.

Reporting by Jemima Kelly; Editing by Tommy Wilkes and Hugh Lawson

North Korea’s ‘army of beauties’ set to invade South

January 12, 2018

Image may contain: 13 people, people smiling, outdoor

North Korean women hold national flags to cheer at the Daegu University Games in Daegu, South Korea, in August 2003, during a rare visit to the South. | AP


JAN 11, 2018

With their good looks and sharp moves, North Korea’s female cheerleaders are a marked contrast to the regime’s menacing nuclear ambitions.

Dubbed the “army of beauties” in South Korea, the young North Korean women — mostly in their late teens or early 20s — have attracted huge publicity whenever they have been sent to the South.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s wife-to-be wife Ri Sol Ju was among the group who attended the 2005 Asian Athletics Championships in Incheon.

The cheerleaders are set for their fourth appearance in the South after Pyongyang agreed this week to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, just 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the Demilitarized Zone that splits the peninsula in two.

North and South have been totally separated since the end of the Korean War in 1953, with no direct telephone or postal links between them.

Any North Korean delegations to its neighbor are carefully chosen by Pyongyang, and their movements are tightly controlled in the South. According to reports, the Winter Olympics group could be accommodated on a cruise ship moored in Sokcho, making it easier to monitor them.

An Chan-il, a defector researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies, said the cheerleaders are cherry-picked by the regime based on tough criteria.

“They must be over 163 centimeters tall and come from good families,” An said. “Those who play an instrument are from a band and others are mostly students at the elite Kim Il-Sung University.”

The Koreas’ separation makes citizens of the North an object of some fascination in the South.

The cheerleaders made their first appearance at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, hitting the headlines when nearly 300 of them arrived on a ferry dressed in colorful hanbok — traditional Korean dresses — and waving so-called unification flags, a pale blue silhouette of the whole Korean peninsula.

Hundreds of Busan residents lined the port to greet them, with several homes also flying unification flags.

With their tight choreography — sometimes using props such as fans — the cheerleaders were lavished with attention as they sang and danced in the stands.

In 2005, former North Korean cheerleader Cho Myung Ae — whose good looks had gained her a huge following in the South — appeared in a television commercial for a Samsung mobile phone with South Korean pop star Lee Hyo-ri.

The supporters have always proven to be a major ticket draw, and their attendance is good news for the Pyeongchang Games organizers.

“It will help with ticket sales,” said Pyeongchang Organizing Committee spokesman Sung Baik-you. “It will fulfill our desires for a peace Olympics.”

When North Korean teams have played in the South without accompanying supporters, pro-unification South Koreans have turned out to support them, such as at a women’s ice hockey match last year in Gangneung, an Olympic venue.

“A joint cheering squad would be phenomenal,” said Lee Sun-kyung, who organized the group.

But the Northerners’ presence also has potential to create some diplomatic headaches.

There are concerns that South Koreans may not be as welcoming as in the past, given their opposition to North Korea’s nuclear program and its increasingly belligerent behavior.

And displaying the North Korean flag and playing its anthem are illegal in the South, where they are regarded as symbols of sedition under Seoul’s national security laws, hence the use of the unification flag at past inter-Korean matches.

When a North Korean flag was draped over a railing at a North-South soccer game during the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon it was removed by officials.

The rule will not be enforced within the Olympic venues, where International Olympic Committee protocol applies, but could become an issue elsewhere.

The two teams marched behind the unification flag when they entered the stadiums together for the opening ceremonies of the 2000 and 2004 Olympics in Sydney and Athens, and the 2006 Winter Games in Torino.

But if they do so again at the opening ceremony on Feb. 9, it would mean the South’s emblem would not appear on the stadium floor at its home Olympics.

How could the South accept that reality, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper asked in an editorial Wednesday, having secured the games “through tearful efforts after two failures?”

Putin says ‘shrewd’ North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has outplayed his rivals

January 11, 2018

Image result for Kim Jong Un, photos

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was “shrewd and mature” and had won the latest standoff with South Korea and the West over his nuclear and missile program.

North Korea and South Korea held talks on Tuesday after a prolonged period of tension on the Korean peninsula over the North’s missile and nuclear programs.

Putin, in a meeting with Russian journalists broadcast on state TV, said North Korea had developed powerful missiles, but now wanted to calm things down. Putin said only talks could resolve the standoff.

Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Christian Lowe; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Roche

S.Korea planning to close cryptocurrency exchanges, bitcoin dives

January 11, 2018


© AFP/File | Bitcoin plunged 18 percent after South Korea said it was preparing to shut down cryptocurrency exchanges in the country
SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea is preparing to shut down cryptocurrency exchanges in the country, its justice minister warned Thursday, sending prices of bitcoin and other virtual units into a tailspin.A series of measures have failed to curb overheated virtual currency speculation in the country and Justice Minister Park Sang-Ki said it would be “devastating if the bubble bursts”.

“The ministry is preparing legislation that basically bans any transactions based on a virtual currency through the trading floor,” he told journalists.

Authorities had “grave concerns” over the craze and were “aiming to close virtual currency exchanges” in the country, he said.

“It has started to resemble gambling and speculation,” Park added.

The hyper-wired South has emerged as a hotbed for cryptocurrency trading, accounting for some 20 percent of global bitcoin transactions — about 10 times the country’s share of the world economy.

Park’s remarks sent bitcoin prices plunging 18 percent on South Korean exchange Bithumb, while ethereum slumped 23 percent.

Bithumb — one of around 20 virtual currency exchanges in South Korea — was raided by tax authorities on Wednesday who inspected the company’s documents.

On the same day financial authorities inspected six local banks that offered virtual accounts for corporate customers.

Last month Seoul banned its financial firms from dealing in virtual currencies.

Two weeks later, it announced a ban on opening anonymous cryptocurrency accounts and a crackdown on money laundering activities using them.

It has also warned most cryptocurrencies were being traded in South Korea at far higher prices than elsewhere in the world, blaming factors including “blind speculation”.

An official at the Financial Supervisory Service, South Korea’s top financial regulator, said the closure of local exchanges represented a “very strong measure” against virtual coins.

The move would “effectively suffocate” cryptocurrency transactions within the country by creating “enormous obstacles” for traders, he told AFP.

US billionaire investor Warren Buffet told CNBC on Wednesday the global craze over bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies would meet a “bad ending”.

“In terms of cryptocurrencies, generally, I can say with almost certainty that they will come to a bad ending,” told financial TV channel CNBC, but added: “When it happens or how or anything else, I don’t know.”

The price of bitcoin surged in 2017 from a low of around $750 in early January to a record above $19,500 in mid-December, before tumbling on global exchanges, according to Bloomberg News. It bought around $13,500 in afternoon trade Thursday.