A Leap With Limitations: North Korea’s November 29 Missile Launch

On November 29, North Korea launched a missile from Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province. After flying to an altitude of 2,800 miles, the missile splashed down in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (CNN; USA Today). The test broke a hiatus that lasted over two months, escalating tensions on the peninsula in the months leading up to the Olympic Games in South Korea. Not only was the test a break in the brief respite in testing, it marked a massive improvement in North Korea’s arsenal. Several key questions arise from the test. 1) What capabilities does the new missile add to North Korea’s program? And should we be scared of those new abilities? 2) How does the test alter the way we respond to North Korean provocations? 3) Are we inching closer and closer to a war on the peninsula?

How Does the New Missile Enhance Pyongyang’s Abilities?

The missile tested on November 29 was a Hwangsong-15 type Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, the largest and longest reaching missile in North Korea’s arsenal. David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, estimated that the missile, flown on a more standard trajectory, has an estimated range of 13,000km (8,100 miles)[Union of Concerned Scientists]. Analysts have cautioned, however, that the missile was most likely tested with a reduced payload to exaggerate its overall capabilities. Some estimates place the range of the operational missile, carrying a 500kg payload, to be around 8,300km (38 North).

Despite its range, some other key aspects of the missile differentiate it from the rest of North Korea’s arsenal. Compared to the Hwangsong-14, the ICBM North Korea tested in July, the Hwasong-15 is bigger, has more engines, and features a guidance system which is simpler and more effective than previous variations on other North Korean missiles (38North). Another key aspect of the missile is the Hwasong-15’s BMD defenses. The Hwasong-15 has the capability to carry a wide variety of simple decoys, pieces used to fool interceptors into hitting the wrong target. Several experts agree that the current state of American Ballistic Missile Defense, the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System or GMD, is not capable enough to be relied on in the event that an operational Hwasong-15 is launched against the country (The National Interest). Technologically, the missile not only is a step up for Pyongyang, it showcases that North Korea has mastered a wide variety of technological aspects for their ICBM program, providing them with a stronger ability to strike the United States mainland and get through the web of American missile defense. It’s a scary leap forward indeed.

The Hwasong-15 is the technological leap forward the international community has been fearing for some time. Not only does the missile appear more accurate and reliable than other North Korean missiles, it also has the theoretical ability to carry a nuclear warhead to the United States mainland, even if the operational length of the missile is shorter than test analysis shows. North Korea may now turn its focus to improving the Hwasong-15 as well as shrinking its nuclear weapons to fulfill its penultimate goal: having the ability to strike the United States mainland with a reliable nuclear-tipped ICBM.

Running out of Options: How Do We Respond in the Age of the ICBM?

International reactions to Pyongyang’s test were strong, yet not strong enough to provoke. Marked with shows of strength and tough diplomacy, reactions have centered on one goal: showcasing strong forces and alliances as a method of deterrence. However strong they were, the responses also needed an element of tempered diplomatic maneuvering to avoid exacerbating the situation.

While moving through the typical South Korean bureaucratic channels–Moon Jae-in called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council as the military worked to assess and respond to the test–Seoul launched a precision strike missile within 6 minutes of the North Korean test. Seoul’s response is striking for many reasons. South Korea had some intelligence pointing to a possible launch; it involved cooperation between the Army, Air Force, and Navy; and it “offer[ed] potent operational evidence of parts of its Kill Chain preemptive strike system and Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plan,” two parts of South Korea’s defense strategy (The Diplomat). Moon Jae-in also worked the diplomatic reams of the crisis. In a phone call with President Trump, the two agreed to discuss further measures to punish North Korea for the test (Reuters).

While South Korea’s response was one of measured strength and cooperative diplomacy, the United States took a more hawkish stance. American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, at an emergency meeting of the Security Council, called on nations to isolate Pyongyang by cutting all ties with North Korea, while also arguing that the test brings the peninsula closer to war (TIME). Currently, 24 nations have relations with North Korea and there are 47 North Korean diplomatic missions scattered throughout the world (CNN). However, many nations have expelled North Korean diplomats for a slew of reasons. Following its September nuclear test, 6 nations–Spain, Kuwait, Peru, Mexico, Egypt, and the Philippines–sent North Korean diplomats packing while Uganda cut all military ties in May of 2016 (Reuters). Malaysia also expelled its North Korean Ambassador following the assassination of Kim Jung-nam earlier this year (The Guardian). As North Korea continues to push for more advanced weapons and eliminates perceived threats to Kim Jung-un by any means, more nations may choose to cut ties with North Korea, though some will likely stay to act as mitigators between North Korea and the outside world.

41596479_401(Image Source: The DW)

President Trump, who has been a vocal critic of Kim Jung-un since ascending to the White House, has also lashed his teeth following the test. On Twitter, Trump said “the situation will be handled,” and called for tougher sanctions on the regime (Twitter). Outside of calling for political actions, Trump has lashed out at Pyongyang’s leader, calling Kim Jung-un a slew of names including “Little Rocket Man” (Twitter), and “Sick Puppy” (Politico). Even before his presidency, Trump has been very vocal, and often times bellicose, in criticising the North Korean regime (CNN). Despite the vitriolic rhetoric by Trump, he has hinted at the possibility of meeting with Kim Jung-un, but has said the meeting would have to happen under the right circumstances (BBC).

China, North Korea’s greatest ally in the world, demurred the test, expressing “grave concern and opposition” (CNBC). Despite having strong reservations about the nuclear and missile program, China still stands by North Korea. As American and South Korean forces conducted annual drills, China’s Air Force flew on routes and in areas it has never flown over the East and Yellow Seas, a warning to Trump against provoking Pyongyang (Forbes). The drills highlight a grave possibility if hostilities resume: China may come to the aid of North Korea. As if the possibility of Chinese intervention in a resumed Korean conflict weren’t enough to raise hairs, a Chinese provincial newspaper ran a full-page advisory giving advice to citizens called “General Knowledge about Nuclear Weapons and Protection.” The advisory ran cartoons about how to act in a nuclear attack, eventually forcing the paper to calm citizens worries (Washington Post).

Global reaction to the test was measured not in its strength or creativity in calls to action. Rather, the reactions and policy proposals following Pyongyang’s test showcased just how divided the world is on the issue. Conflicting issues will continue to mire any chance of success in bringing North Korea to the discussion table.

The North Korean security issue is a complex one, requiring a combination of hard-line isolation and more tactful diplomacy to resolve. However, there seems to be no clear path forward; diplomatic actions are likely to be cheated by Pyongyang and more aggressive actions will exacerbate tensions. The most effective actions, however, are the ones taken in unison. Nations who have a major stake in the situation–America, Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan to name a few–need to unify in a detailed approach leveling carrots and sticks toward Pyongyang. Without a clear, unified path forward, North Korea will continue to test as a way to split world powers and maintain a system of global order which favors continuing nuclear and ballistic missile tests as a way for North Korea to survive and get what it desires.

Are we Inching Closer to the Edge?: The Possibility of War on the Peninsula

Following every new advancement in Pyongyang’s capabilities, the world ponders the effects of resumed conflict on the peninsula, and following this test was no different. Barry Posen, an MIT political science professor, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times speculating the potential costs of a war on the Korean Peninsula (New York Times). American Senator Tammy Duckworth commented that the majority of the American public doesn’t know exactly how close to war the situation really is (Vox).

North Korea, for its part, has not been working to squash such fears. After a rhetorical tit-for-tat, a North Korean spokesman was quoted as saying that “these confrontational warmongering remarks cannot be interpreted in any other way but as a warning to us to be prepared for a war on the Korean Peninsula,” (Newsweek). An article in the Korean Central News Agency strongly demurred the recent actions by the Americans, calling the outbreak of war “an established fact” (KCNA).[1] Such comments have done nothing but strengthened the idea that war is inevitable, but is it really?

Despite the highly tense rhetoric, war is still far from an established fact. Barry Posden, in The New York Times, writes that “the complexity, risks and costs of a military strike against North Korea are too high.” He reaches this conclusion by citing that America would have to make several unobvious maneuvers, a task with a high chance of failure. Also, North Korea would, despite the success of a preemptive attack, have a chance to respond, and “the detonation of even a small number of nuclear weapons in North Korea would produce hellish results” (New York Times).

Another key reason war is further from resumption is the rationality behind North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles (Wall Street Journal). Kim Jung-un views the program as a way to ensure his security as a global leader and understands that war would most likely lead to his unseating. Those around him, though they are unable to rein in Kim, also face a scenario of loss of power if hostilities resume.[2]

As the situation stands today, we are no closer to war than we were a few days or months ago. The most realistic chance of war comes from the high likelihood of a miscalculation by either Trump or Kim in either rhetoric or action. Maintenance of the status-quo along with tough sanctions and pressure, though a flawed and possibly resultless strategy, continues to be the best of the worst case on the peninsula. It is only through a mix of pressure and creative diplomacy, backed by the entire international community, presents the greatest opportunity to bring Pyongyang to the negotiating table, though it still does not guarantee that negotiation will lead Pyongyang to a freeze.

Notes:

[1] Source is from North Korean state media and therefore will not be linked to in this post. However, the cited Newsweek, article offers a good analysis of North Korea’s recent rhetoric, including the KCNA article.

[2] David Rothkopf, a senior fellow at SIAS, offers more insight into why a war on the peninsula is not as close as the media makes it seem. His basic framework is similar to the one I attempted to create, though his wonderful piece in the Chicago Tribune hones in on the possibilities on the Korean peninsula in more focused and detail tone than my own. I highly recommend his piece: David Rothkopf, “Here’s how the North Korea nuclear standoff will end,” Chicago Tribune, December 7, 2017. (This is today’s Daily Reading.)

Corrections:

12/8: A previous version of this article said that the precision test was performed after Moon Jae-in called a meeting of the National Security Council, when in fact the two happened fairly close to each other.

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Statement on Death of Otto Warmbier

otto

(Photo: Otto Warmbier with a teacher at his 2013 high school graduation where he graduated at salutatorian. Source: Washington Post)

Otto F. Warmbier, a 22-year-old honors student at the University of Virginia, was pronounced dead at 2:20pm today in the Cincinnati hospital he was at. The Daily Beast called Warmbier’s death a “state sanctioned murder” (Daily Beast). The Warmbier family released a statement regarding the death of their son. “Unfortunately the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible,” the statement read (Washington Post). Otto will be the face of bravery to the family who loved him and, sadly, a reminder of the brutality of the North Korean regime to the rest of us. We at The Korea Page would like to extend our most sorrowful condolences to the Warmbiers who have suffered more than any family in this world should have to suffer. Each author of The Korea Page has prepared our own words, which will be shared in the sections below.

Ben Zimmer

Otto Warmbier’s passing is a tragic end to a promising life. Otto was not only a promising student, he was a brave soul to travel into the world’s most brutal regime. It is tragic that Warmbier’s story ended the way that it did and I would like to send my deepest condolences to the Warmbier family throughout this toughest of times. In order to ensure that Otto’s story is never forgotten, I, to the best of my ability, will detail his entire story against the North Korean regime.

North Korea vs. Otto Warmbier: A Case of Murder

Otto Warmbier travelled to North Korea on a group tour sponsored by Young Pioneer Tours in January of 2016. During his tour, Warmbier appeared to have a wonderful time exploring the hermit regime. A video shows Warmbier throwing snowballs at the camera with North Korean children (Washington Post)[Warmbier is the fourth from the right in the video]. However, things took a turn for the worst as he was boarding a plane home.

While boarding a plane home, Warmbier was arrested under the guise that he entered the country with hostile intent. In state media, North Korea stated that Warmbier attempted to steal a propaganda poster, accusing him of “perpetrating a hostile act,” though details of this hostile act were vague at the time (CBS). In a show trial in March of 2016, Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years hard labor (Yonhap). In his trail, the North Koreans used video allegedly showing Otto stealing the poster and convicted him of committing a hostile act at the behest of a church organization and the CIA to bring down the North Korean state (NY Times). Before his sentencing, Warmbier pleaded for his release. “I made the worst mistake of my life,” he said (Bustle). Video of the trail shows a distressed Warmbier crying as he pleads for his future.[1]

17northkorea-3-master675

(Photo: Otto Warmbier being escorted by authorities at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang. Source: NY Times)

During his time in captivity, Otto Warmbier slipped into a coma after, as North Korea alleged, contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill, a claim refuted from the beginning by Warmbier’s father (NBC News). Hours after his release, Dr. Kanter, director of neurocritical care at the University of Cincinnati Health System, reported that Warmbier showed no signs of botulism, but rather had suffered a severe neurological injury and brain damage resulting from loss of oxygen (Korea Herald). Kanter called Warmbier’s state–inability to understand language, unresponsive to commands, lack of understanding surroundings–as an “unresponsive wakefulness (CNN). On June 19th, the Warmbier family released a statement saying their son had completed his journey home and passed away at 2:20pm (Washington Post). Following the news, President Trump condemned the brutality of the North Korean regime (The Hill).

16nkorea2-master768

(Photo: Otto Warmbier being carried off the plane after landing in Ohio. Source: NY Times)

Otto’s story is one tragedy and loss. North Korea denied Warmbier consular visits and medical care while in custody. Information regarding his condition was closely guarded and Warmbier was released only when his life was at its end. End to end, his treatment is a gross human rights violation requiring a swift and strong response. The death of an American citizen at the hands of a state actor is repulsive and condemnable at all levels.

Young Pioneer Tours and The Future of Travel to North Korea

Young Pioneer Tours was established by Gareth Johnson in 2008 as a way to combine his love of travel with his interest in the people and culture of the DPRK (Young Pioneer Tours). The company prides itself on budget tours of North Korea, offering a wide range of travel packages and tours. Otto was on a New Year’s tour offered by the company when he was detained.

Upon his release, Young Pioneer Tours continued to claim that North Korea was one of the safest spots to travel to. Following Otto’s death, Young Pioneer Tours updated its North Korea FAQ. “Despite what you may hear, for most nationalities, North Korea is probably one of the safest places on Earth to visit provided you follow the laws,” the page now reads (Young Pioneer Tours). The company also reported its intent to cease taking American tourists citing a higher risk of detainment and death (NK News; Young Pioneer Tours). Even before Otto’s case, Young Pioneer Tours has allegedly put tourists in North Korea in danger; Gareth Johson is said to condone heavy drinking and sexual questions to North Korean women (NY Times).

Young Pioneer Tours handling of the situation was, at best, removed from the urgency of the situation. In a statement released following the detainment of Warmbier, Young Pioneer Tours bragged about their record of low arrests (Young Pioneer Tours Statement). Even following Warmbier’s return in a coma, Young Pioneer Tours called North Korea an extremely safe country for tourists (NY Times). Young Pioneer Tours handling of Otto’s case was negligent and also abhorrent. Instead of highlighting the grave situation Warmbier was in, the company languished on its resume and continued to promote tours to North Korea on a budget. Though not at fault, Young Pioneer Tours handling of the case is repulsive and worthy of criticism.

Politically, travel to North Korea by American citizens may be in jeopardy. In light of Otto’s case, President Trump, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, is mulling the possibility of enacting travel restrictions to North Korea, maybe even an outright ban (NPR).

 

Notes:

[1] Full video of Otto Warmbier’s trail can be found at the Bustle source cited above.

Leon Newkirk

The denial of medical treatment to Otto Warmbier was a denial of his humanity. The actions of the North Korean officials echo a sentiment of a bygone era which may nations vowed to prevent from reoccurring in modern times. Warmbier’s case demonstrates the brutal mistreatment of foreigners and prisoners within North Korea. Human beings are human beings, not mere casualties in the conflicts among state governments. People easily become bargaining chips in an ever-polarizing world. We, as people, should keep in mind of the mental and emotional damage that inhumane treatment causes. Whether they fight on the frontlines or simply visit a country, everyone has a mother and father that cares deeply for them.

Warmbier’s conviction was the attempted theft of a propaganda poster from his hotel. Though a country has a right to enforce its own laws within its borders, North Korea’s conviction for what many would see as a simple prank speaks volumes. A sentencing of 15 years’ hard labor combined with severe beatings reveals excessive abuse of power, alludes to the secretive and cryptic nature of North Korea, the sheer harshness of capital and state punishment, and the extent to which the North Korean government will go to prevent pieces of truth from reaching the world. Otto’s case speaks volumes about the North Korean government, its laws and politics, and its officials.

 

Update: North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile into the Sea

north-korean-missiles(Image: A comparison of North Korea’s missiles and their ranges. Though not much is known of the KN-15, it is estimated to have a range of 1500 to 2000km, roughly the same as teh No-dong missile system. Source: CSIS Missile Threat)

North Korea is acting out only a day before President Trump meets at his Mar-a-Lago Resort with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Early on Wednesday morning, an unknown projectile was fired into the East Sea from Sinpo, North Hamgyeong Province (Yonhap). A few moments later, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in South Korea confirmed that North Korea had indeed tested a missile, though refused to specify what the projectile was; it was merely reported that the projectile was not a piece of artillery (Yonhap).Overall, the test

Overall, the test appears to be a failure, as the missile did not fly for very long. After being launched at 6:42am, the missile was tracked until 6:51am. It reached a maximum altitude of 183km and flew around 60km before splashing down in the East Sea (Yonhap; Korea Times). The missile was later identified as the KN-15–also known as the Pukguksong-2–a nuclear capable, land-based variant of the KN-14 SLBM. Unlike previous KN-15 tests, however, this test was a missile powered by liquid fuel not solid (Chicago Tribune). However the international community spins the test, North Korea will have gained some valuable information to develop yet another missile to operability, making it more difficult to counter.

Responses to the test have been, for lack of better word, curious. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement which read, “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment” (Secretary of State’s Remarks). Ahn Cheol-soo, a contender in the 2017 South Korean presidential race responded by highlighting the importance of national security in South Korea (Chosun Ilbo*). So far, President Trump and other world leaders have yet to respond to the test.

Politically, the test will intensify the political parlay over North Korea between President Trump and Xi Jinping during their meeting. Trump has long advocated for a larger Chinese role in solving the North Korean issue, saying in a recent interview with the Financial Times that “China will either help us, or they won’t” (Financial Times). Trump has also accused China of not using its economic leverage to perturb Pyongyang into abandoning their programs. Economically, China accounts for the majority North Korean trade, and several Chinese companies have conducted business to the tune of $8 million with North Korea (Chosun Ilbo).

China, despite strong economic ties with North Korea, has been making moves to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions, including the suspension of North Korean coal imports for 2017. Many saw this move as placing the ball in America’s hands (The Economist). Wednesday’s test will heighten the tensions between Xi and Trump ahead of their Flordia meeting. Other items most likely to be covered will most likely include THAAD deployment on the Korean Peninsula. THAAD is yet another issue which will be even more contentious following this test.

North Korea is behaving like a neglected child, constantly stirring trouble in order to steal the spotlight. Wednesday’s test offered the reclusive regime a way to ensure it would be at the top of the agenda for Trump and Xi.

Corrections:

April 10: Updated information of the test parameters, detailing the use of liquid fuel in the second paragraph. Added an additional source in paragraph 2.

Daily Update – March 6

North Korea vs. Malaysia

The diplomatic parlay between Malaysia and North Korea continues to surprise in scope following the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. This weekend, Malaysia expelled North Korean ambassador Kang Chol. Kang left the country on Monday. While leaving, he said that such extreme measures are hurting the relations between the countries (NY Times).

North Korea, on Monday, had a strong reaction. Malaysian ambassador to North Korea Mohamad Nizan Mohamad was declared person non grata and given 48 hours to leave. The irony, however, was that he was already home, having been summoned for a consultation on February 22 (The Star). Pyongyang also went a step further. On Monday, state media declared an exit ban on all Malaysians currently inside North Korea (Yonhap), Malaysia continued the back and forth, placing an exit ban on all North Koreans in Malaysia until Malaysians in North Korea are safely back home. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, in a statement, called North Korea’s actions abhorrent and against international norms (AlJezzera). Though North Korea has never been one to follow the rules, this diplomatic tit-for-tat is very abnormal. As it stands, the murder of Kim Jong-nam, a case which the world may never learn all the answers to, will be a thorn in the side of Malaysian-North Korean relations as each nation accuses the other of the death.

North Korea vs. The World

Over the weekend, North Korea fired off 4 rockets into the ocean, with 3 falling into the Japanese Exclusive Economic Zone; the rockets flew 1000km and reached an altitude of 260km after being fired from the Dongchang-ri test facility, home of the Sohae Launch Station (Korea Times). This is the biggest show of aggression–nuclear tests excluded–since Kim Jung-un took over in 2011.

k2017030600201_main(Image: Map showing the distance of the missiles tested by North Korea. Source: Korea Times)

The reason behind the test is fairly clear, to protest the ongoing military drills in South Korea which will run until April. Before the test, North Korea said, through the Rodong Shinmun, “as long as the drill is not suspended, we will continue to strengthen our national defense capabilities centering on a nuclear force to defend our country” (UPI). Though the motivation behind the test is nothing new, the actual test itself is alarming. Japanese analysts have concluded that North Korea tested a new attack strategy to use against Japan (NY Times). Even North Korea acknowledged this, saying the test was conducted by units who are “tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggression forces in Japan,” (Yonhap).

This brazen provocative behavior has sent leaders pushing to condemn the action. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first to condemn the test, filing a strong protest against the action (The Korea Page). President Trump, in a call with acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Seoul (Hindustan Times). South Korean presidential hopefuls also condemned the test. Moon Jae-in, the leading progressive, urged “the repressive state to immediately stop provocations that are putting the Korean Peninsula in danger.” An Hee-jong said that North Korea could only survive if it becomes a full member of the international community. Other candidates also condemned the test (Korea Times). North Korea responded in typical North Korean fashion, echoing its insistence that the joint drills in South Korea are pushing the region to a nuclear disaster (ABC Austrailia).

It is on the issue of THAAD where South Korea made major moves in light of the test. On Tuesday, parts for the missile defense system started to arrive in South Korea (Bloomberg). This move was met with skepticism by the opposition parties in Korea. The parties all rose questions about the rushed manner of the move, arguing that it was a politically motivated move ahead of the elections (Yonhap). THAAD has long been a contentious domestic debate within South Korea, pitting opposition parties against the ruling party for years. China has been retaliating to the deployment of THAAD in an interesting way. Authorities are shutting down Lotte Marts in China as a possible economic retaliation for the deployment (Joongang Ilbo). THAAD, though necessary, will remain a hard debate in the region. However, as I have previously argued, there may be ways to bolster Chinese and Russian support for the deployment (The Korea Page).

Breaking News: Malaysia Expells North Korean Ambassador

(Image: Ri Jong-chol leaving a Sepang Police Station. Source: MalayMail)

The international parlay between Malaysia and North Korea in the wake of the Kim Jung-nam assassination continues to develop. Malaysia has expelled North Korean ambassador Kang Chol (YonhapNews*). Malaysian authorities also released Ri Jong-chol, a North Korean questioned in connection with the murder of Kim Jong-nam. According to reports, the Ri drove four North Korean men to the Kuala Lumpur Airport on the day of the murder. But since then, all four have returned to North Korea (Radio Free Asia).  Without the connection of those four suspects, authorities have been unable to press charges against Ri. The N called his arrest a plot to damage the honor of his country (BBC).  He was transported to a Malaysian airport wearing a bulletproof vest. Ri called his arrest a conspiracy to damage the honor of North Korea (Reuters).

North Korea, yesterday, responded to the allegations of assassination.  Pyongyang’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ri Tong-il said Kim Jung-nam had a record of heart disease and that he died of a heart attack (Radio Free Asia). Even early into the investigation, North Korea rebutted Malaysian authorities, saying their findings where full of holes and contradictions, while shifting blame to Malaysia, saying “The biggest responsibility for his death rests with the government of Malaysia as the citizen of the DPRK died in its land,” in a statement (TIME).

Malaysia has yet to formally blame North Korea for the murder. However, Malaysia ceased its visa waver program with Pyongyang.

Kim Jong-nam died on February 13, after being attacked in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, while being transferred to the hospital. A Malaysian-led autopsy revealed he had been poisoned with VX nerve agent, a chemical weapon listed as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations. The two women responsible for the attack have been charged with murder and may face the death penalty, if found guilty (CNN).

Correction March 6, 2017: This first reported Ri Jong-chol as the North Korean ambassador, though he was simply a North Korean citizen. Kang Chol was the North Korean ambassador to Malaysia before his expulsion in the aftermath of the Kim Jong-nam assassination. Also fixed spelling of Malaysia throughout the article.

Daily Update: February 16

South Korea

Economy – I put economy first, breaking with the typical tradition of this post, because a story is currently breaking.  A South Korea court has ruled Hanjin Shipping Company, a leader in the South Korean shipping industry for decades, officially bankrupt (MarketWatch).  In August of 2016, Hanjin went into receivership and applied for court protection.  However, it was unable to get money from its creditors.  Therefore, the company will be liquidated and all assets sold off (Yonhap).  As a result of the news, many Hanjin ships were denied entry at ports for fear that payments would not be made (BBC).  The fall of Hanjin also means that most of the companies seamen are suddenly out of a job.  Some analysts have commented that the failure of Hanjin may work to bring down overcapacity in the shipping industry down to a sustainable level, arguing that a crash of another major Korean shipping company was unlikely (BBC).

91203982_2fee3fd1-012d-4f3e-80f3-aba39e4933dc(Image: Hanjin employees lobbying to save their company.  Source: BBC)

mw-ev014_hanjin_20160830232802_zh(Image: Cargo sitting on a Hanjin ship in a German port.  Source: MarketWatch)

Politics – Choi-gate has continued to claim victims throughout every aspect of life in South Korea.  This week, two different arrest warrants were issued.  On Wednesday, Special Prosecutors formally arrested Choi Kyung-hee, the ex-head of Ehwa University.  She has been charged with giving admissions and grading favors to Choi Soon-sil’s daughter (Korea Times). Last month, Choi Kyung-hee avoided arrest when her name was brought before the court.  De-facto head of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, also had a warrant issued for his arrest when his name came up a second time in court.  Lee was arrested on the same day, charged with paying over 40 billion won to get the National Pension Service to back a controversial merger (Yonhap).  These arrests come as Park is still waiting for the Constitutional Court to make their decision on her impeachment.

Culture – South Korea is home to some of the worst air in the world.  According to the “State of Global Air 2017” report, South Korea’s population -weighted national average concentration of PM2.5–ultra-fine particles or matter of a diameter of at least 2.5 microns–was 29 micrograms in 2015, well above the OECD average of 15 micrograms (Korea Herald).  Over the past 25 years, South Korea’s PM2.5 problem has gotten worse while the OECD average has gotten better.  In 1990, the OECD average was 17 micrograms while Korea’s average was 26 micrograms (Korea Herald).  Many point to China as the culprit, but the South Korean government highlights emissions from diesel engines.  To combat this, the Environmental Ministry rolled out anti-yellow dust measures in June.  This plan did not garner the public’s interest (Korea Herald).

North Korea

North Koreans have not heard of the death of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jung-un’s half brother.  State media has not reacted to the slew of media reports covering the news.  A source cited in the Korea Herald commented that he thought Kim Jung-un was the oldest son of Kim Jung-il (Korea Herald).  As Pyongyang looks to strengthen its hold on power, the government may suppress news of Kim Jung-nam’s death due to his close ties to China.  Despite the lack of official coverage in North Korea, some reports of Kim Jung-nam’s death have gone viral in the border region (Korea Herald).

Leadership Alert: Kim Jung-un sacks Head of Spy Agency

Reports on Friday suggest that Kim Jung-un has relieved the Minister of State Security Kim Wong-hong, 72.  Kim was also demoted from full general to major general, according to the Korean Ministry of Unification (based in Seoul).  He was demoted and let go after an internal probe found the Ministry of State Security had abused its power (Yonhap).  Typically the North Korean Ministry of State Security oversees prison camps, follows reactionary groups within North Korean society, and arrests those who flee the country.

The removal of Kim from power is a political move meant to consolidate power by Kim Jung-un.  However, Jeong Joon-hee, a spokesman at the Ministry of Unification, argued that such a move may weaken the relationship between Kim Jung-un and the elites in North Korea as many start to fear for their jobs (Yonhap).  While shoring up some support within the upper circles, this may give Kim Jung-un more support from the masses, though many typically focus on the day to day necessities and not what goes on in the government.  Either way, this is yet another purge undertaken by Kim Jung-un since he has taken over the reigns of North Korea.