Weekly Roundup: August 21-28

Since I didn’t do any Daily Updates this week, I am going to do a broad overview of the news of this week in this post.  I apologize for having a little less for South Korea for this post, but North Korea tried to steal the spotlight in terms of major political issues this week.  As for Daily Updates, they will restart tomorrow evening.

South Korea

South Korea’s main happening this week is the start of the Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military drill.  This year the drill features around 25,000 American troops, more than 50,000 Korean troops, as well as a Patriot missile from Guam.  The drill is reported to contain Operations Plan 5015, a countermeasure scenario which calls for a preemptive strike on North Korean nuclear facilities in a crisis.  The drills have drawn many threats from North Korea, but will continue until September 2.  (Beyond Parallel released a study detailing how provocative the drills really are, reaching a very interesting conclusion.)

South Korea has also been demanding a harsh response to the SLBM launch by North Korea early this week.  President Park Geun-hae has spearheaded the movement for harsh sanctions, with the NSC convening after the test.  Among her remarks after the test, Park called North Korea’s decision-making process irrational and called Kim Jung-un “hard to predict.”  This movement ended with the United Nations Security Council releasing a statement condemning the test, which North Korea flatly rejected.  However, South Korean political hawks are calling for nuclear submarines to counter the growing threat of North Korea’s SLBM program.  Park concluded the week by ordering the military to maintain full readiness, while also tasking ministers to craft effective measures against the growing North Korean threat.  South Korean and American officials are planning to meet to discuss retaliatory actions for the test and resumption of reprocessing of plutonium for weapons use.

Cholera is now present on the Korean peninsula; this week South Korea announced two cases of the disease.  The first reported case is a 59-year-old man who resides in Gwangju province.  The second reported case is a 73-year-old woman residing in the southern coast.  Inspections are underway, according to the most recent news, at a restaurant the woman visited; authorities fear the bacteria could be from imported seafood.

Finally, South Korean Defense Ministry said Monday that it had excavated the remains of 320 soldiers killed during the Korean war, 6 of which have been identified and returned to their families.  The excavation ended this month.  In March, South Korean authorities repatriated the remains of 36 Chinese soldiers to China, and the remains of 2 American soldiers were sent back to the United States.  South Korea is working to identify the rest of the remains.

(Majority of the articles in this section are from Yonhap news simply as a time saver.  If anyone wishes to see other sources on these issues, please comment and I will link to other sources.)

North Korea

North Korea has been experiencing its fair amount of tumult and seeming upheaval throughout the week.  The week in Pyongyang started with the defection of Thae Young-ho late last week.  Looming in Thae’s shadow is the recall of a diplomat, a few more defections, as well as other military headlines.

One of the first challenges for North Korea this week was acknowledging the defection of Thae Yong-ho.  In its report on Sunday, Korean Central News Agency said Thae was running for fear of punishment for his illegal activities.  KNCA reported these activities to include embezzling money, rape of a minor, and stealing state secrets.  The announcement continued to denounce Thae, calling him human scum.   KCNA’s announcement broke a long streak of silence on Thae’s defection.  This story is highly unlikely; it appears North Korea is working to smear the image of Thae in the public realm so they can write off the defection without losing any domestic legitimacy.  South Korea is relishing Thae, with the Korea Times even reporting that he may work for a South Korean spy agency.  Whatever Thae’s future holds, he will prove an invaluable resource of information about North Korea’s activities overseas for the international community.

North Korea has also taken other actions as a response to Thae’s defection.  Hyon Hak-bong, North Korea’s ambassador in London, has been recalled to Pyongyang to face interrogation over the defection, according to the Telegraph and Joongang Daily.  The rest of the London embassy employees also went under interrogation by State Security Department team about the defection.

Pyongyang was also hit by another set of defections this week.  Yonhap news reported on Tuesday that 3 other North Koreans defected earlier in the month.  The announcement states the defectors were found by the Coast Guard off the west coast, and they expressed intent to defect immediately after being approached.  All three men were then carried by the Coast Guard vessel to Inchon and handed over to intelligence agents.

The military in North Korea also underwent some changes throughout the week.  Due to the low birth rate in North Korea, officials have expanded North Korea’s conscription policy in order to combat dwindling military numbers.  The new policy now forces all previously exempted men up to their mid-30s to serve.  This policy, however, may not be enough to fully assuage the effect of the declining birth rate on the military.

Finally, North Korea is feeling the pressure from the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills.  On Tuesday, North Korea launched an SLBM off the coast of Shinpo.  The missile flew 500km, but was launched from a 500km trajectory.  Bruce Klinger writes, in The Daily Signal, that if launched on a regular 150km trajectory the missile could fly 1000km.  This adds credence to North Korea’s claim that the test was successful.  (38 North released a brief analysis of North Korea’s SLBM progress, arguing that, despite showing signs of rapid progress, North Korea’s SLBM program will require more time before it will be fully functional.)

Also in response to the drill, North Korea has ordered its troops along the Demilitarized Zone to enter “combat mobilization readiness.”  This is a low rating, as several other units across the nation were already under this distinction, even before the drills kicked off.  This response is also markedly less provocative than last year’s response to the drills; last year Kim declared a quasi-state of war in response to the military drills.

 

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