25 June 2009

Obama extends sanctions on North Korea

(SMH) -US President Barack Obama has extended a set of economic sanctions on North Korea for another year as tension soars with the communist state over its nuclear and missile programs.

Obama, using emergency powers, prolonged by one year restrictions on property dealings with North Korea that had been due to expire on Friday.

In a statement, Obama said he acted "because the existence and risk of the proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material on the Korean peninsula continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."

Former president George W. Bush a year ago rescinded the Trading with the Enemy Act for North Korea, which had banned all commerce with Pyongyang on the grounds it was a hostile state. Only Cuba remains on the list.

But Bush, using the same emergency powers as Obama, had at the same time slapped restrictions for one year on property dealings with North Korea, which would have otherwise been lifted.

Bush at the time was racing to clinch a denuclearisation deal with North Korea late in his term. He also took Pyongyang off a list of state sponsors of terrorism, to the dismay of Japan and some US conservatives.

Diplomacy with North Korea has since quickly deteriorated, with the hardline state in recent months testing a nuclear bomb, firing missiles and bolting from a six-nation agreement that set a framework for denuclearisation.

The Obama administration has said it would welcome new talks with North Korea but also has negotiated at the United Nations to tighten international sanctions on the impoverished state.

Continue read Obama extends sanctions on North Korea...

N Korea warns of nuclear 'fire shower'

(SMH) -North Korea condemned a recent US pledge to provide nuclear defence of South Korea, saying on Thursday that the move boosts its justification to hold onto atomic bombs and invites a potential "fire shower of nuclear retaliation".

The salvo in Pyongyang's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper was the North's latest reaction to last week's summit between President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

The allies issued a joint statement committing the US to defend the South with nuclear weapons.

It also came as an American destroyer trailed a North Korean ship suspected of shipping weapons in violation of a UN resolution punishing Pyongyang's May 25 nuclear test, and as anticipation mounted that the North might test-fire short- or mid-range missiles.

The North's newspaper claimed in a lengthy commentary that the US "nuclear umbrella" commitment made it more likely for the US to mount a nuclear attack on the communist North, and only "provides us with a stronger justification to have nuclear deterrent."

It also amounts to "asking for the calamitous situation of having a fire shower of nuclear retaliation all over South Korea" in case of a conflict, the paper said.

"It is as clear as daylight that South Korea cannot survive under that nuclear umbrella."

North Korea has long claimed that the US is plotting to invade it and has used the claim to justify its development of nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, Pyongyang accused Washington of seeking to "provoke a second Korean War," saying it will "wipe out the aggressors on the globe once and for all".

The US has repeatedly said it has no intention of attacking the North.

The UN resolution seeks to clamp down on North Korea's trading of banned arms and weapons-related material by requiring UN member states to request inspections of ships carrying suspected cargo.

The US has been seeking to get key nations to enforce the sanctions aggressively.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the foreign ministers of Russia and China to discuss efforts to enforce UN punishments of North Korea for its nuclear test, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

Continue read N Korea warns of nuclear 'fire shower'...

24 June 2009

Kim Jong Il makes son head of spy agency: report

(SMH) -North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has put his youngest son in charge of the country's spy agency in a move aimed at handing the communist regime over to him, a news report said.

Kim visited the headquarters of the State Security Department in March, along with his 26-year-old third son, Kim Jong Un, and told agency leaders to "uphold" the son as head of the department, the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing an unnamed source.

Kim also told department leaders to "safeguard comrade Kim Jong Un with (your) lives as you did for me in the past," and gave them five foreign-made cars, each worth some $US80,000 ($A100,743), as gifts, the mass-market daily said.

It said Kim visited a college that educates spy agents last month and made similar remarks there.

Pyongyang's State Security Department is the backbone of Kim's harsh rule over the totalitarian nation. It keeps a close watch over government agencies, the military and ordinary people for any signs of dissent. It also engages in spy missions abroad.

The move to put Jong Un in charge of the agency illustrates Kim's concern about any possible backlash that the father-to-son succession could prompt, the Dong-a said.

The paper also said Jong Un oversaw the handling of two American journalists detained in March while on a reporting trip to the China-North Korea border. The reporters were sentenced to 12 years of hard labour earlier this month for illegal border crossing and hostile acts.

South Korea's main spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said it could not confirm the Dong-a report.

Continue read Kim Jong Il makes son head of spy agency: report...

22 June 2009

North Koreans Won't Give Up the Ship Without a Fight

Anyone who thinks the North Koreans will sit back passively and allow their ships at sea to be stopped and searched for nuclear weapons or missile components should reflect on a little-known sea battle that took place off the southern coast of Kyushu.

The December 22, 2001, running firefight pitted the Japanese Coast Guard and the North Korean "spy ship" (Japan's phrase) Changyu 3705. Eventually the Korean vessel scuttled itself, taking its 10-man crew to the bottom. Three Japanese Coast Guardsmen were wounded.

President Barack Obama and Japan's Prime Minister Taro Aso have both pledged to carry out the latest United Nations resolution allowing member nations to stop and search North Korean vessels suspected of carrying illicit weapons material or missile components. (On Monday it was reported that a US Navy destroyer was already trailing one North Korean cargo ship in international waters.)

The resolution came in the wake of the North's provocative multistage missile tests in April and its setting off of its second nuclear device in May. It calls on UN members to inspect all cargo to and from the North in their territorial waters if they have "information that provides reasonable grounds" that the cargo includes nuclear and missile related items.

The 2001 shootout began in the late afternoon when a coast guard cutter and several patrol aircraft were dispatched to investigate a suspicious vessel operating inside Japan's economic exclusion zone. Ignoring orders to halt, the suspicious vessel attempted to escape. The cutter fired warning shots across the bow, into the sea and eventually directly into the bow of the ship.

The Northern vessel fired back, spraying the coast guard cutter with bullets from automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. It was later determined that the vessel was armed with a Russian-made 14.5 mm ZPU-2 anti-aircraft gun, concealed in a cabin behind the wheelhouse although it was not fired at the coast guard vessel.

At around 10 p.m. the Changyu scuttled itself and sank about 390 km west of the Japanese island of Amani Oshima. None of its 10-member crew survived, although the coast guard did recover several bodies floating in the water.

The Japanese government was curious enough about this ship and what it was up to that it took the trouble, and the considerable expense (about US$50 million), to raise it and associated debris from 90 meters of water to examine it more carefully.

The ship is now on public display in a barn-like building that makes up the Japan Coast Guard Museum on the Yokohama waterfront, a trophy vaguely reminiscent of another spy ship, the USS Pueblo, which was captured by North Korea in 1968 and put on display in Wonson harbor.

The 33-meter ship is rusted and brown from its burial at sea, the bullet holes from the coast guard's 20 mm machine gun are clearly visible at the bow. Aside from associated debris, there are no other displays in the room. The museum is open to anyone free of charge.

The Changyu was clearly designed to look like a fishing boat of undetermined nationality (it has fake name plates in Chinese characters), but a close look reveals anomalies. Where the hold forward of the wheelhouse would normally store the catch was a Russian-made high speed engine capable of pushing the ship to 33 knots, considerably more powerful than a common fishing boat.

At the stern, two doors open to permit a smaller ship to exit from the mother ship. The smaller boat was designed to look like a squid fishing boat but one with an unusually powerful power assembly. Near the stern doors were explosives designed to scuttle the ship if necessary.

On display are other intriguing items that were scattered on the sea bottom. Among them were assorted AK-47 automatic rifles, hand grenades, rocket launchers, the ZPU anti-aircraft machine gun and a curious underwater scooter shaped like a torpedo, plus uniforms and a button with the face of Kim Il-sung.

It is clear that the museum serves a political purpose. As its brochure states, it was opened "to allow citizens to understand the current situation of the waters around Japan and the importance of marine patrols." The "situation' could mean anything but most likely points to Japan's obsession with North Korea's abduction of some of its citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.

One can easily imagine the smaller ship sneaking into a Japanese harbor (maps of Kagoshima were recovered from the sunken vessel) or along the coast to land secret agents or pick up kidnap victims, such as then 13-year-old Megumi Yokota, who was abducted along the Sea of Japan coast in 1977 and taken to the North

In this instance, it seems more likely that the ship was engaged in routine drug smuggling. The incident was videotaped, and one segment shows somebody on board throwing some items over the side. Recovered from the floor was a water-logged Japanese mobile phone, but investigators were able to use phone company records to trace calls to gangsters on Kyushu. Several prosecutions resulted.

Since the sea battle, the coast guard has boosted the size and range of armaments aboard its newer patrol ships, allowing them to fire effectively at a more distant range, presumably out of range of handheld automatic weapons and RPGs.

Indeed, Tokyo has been expanding the coast guard, which currently boasts 89 armed vessels, and enlarging its mission in recent years. The Coast Guard Annual Report for 2009 includes for the first time a section devoted to protecting Japanese territorial waters from intrusions by neighboring states.

This includes the waters off the Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, claimed by China, Japan and Taiwan. The coast guard has taken the lead in policing these waters, and in December caused an international incident when a cutter collided with a Taiwanese sports fishing boat.

The Japanese government has submitted a bill to the Diet that would allow Japan's maritime services to inspect North Korean cargo on the high seas in accordance with the new UN mandate. Interestingly, Aso designated the coast guard as the agency to do the searches, not the Maritime Self-Defense force (navy).

Apparently the government felt that using the coast guard rather than the navy would prevent these close encounters on the high seas from turning violent, although the "spy ship" incident would suggest that the North Koreans don't necessarily differentiate much between the two sea services and they won't give up the ship without a fight.

Continue read North Koreans Won't Give Up the Ship Without a Fight...

20 June 2009

Koreas negotiate as nuclear tensions grow

By Peter Foster in Beijing

(SMH) - NORTH and South Korea have resumed talks on the fate of their last remaining reconciliation project as the US moved to defend itself in the event of a North Korean missile strike on Hawaii.

The future of the Kaesong joint industrial estate just north of the border has become increasingly uncertain as North-South relations have worsened and the nuclear stand-off has intensified.

Pyongyang is demanding extra payments worth hundreds of millions of dollars for Seoul's use of the estate and refuses to grant access to a South Korean employee it detained at Kaesong.

Seoul officials were outwardly optimistic before the resumption of talks yesterday.

"The weather is good today, so wouldn't the talks go well?" a Unification Ministry official, Kim Young-tak, said to the Yonhap news agency before crossing the heavily fortified border at the head of a 14-member delegation.

Meanwhile, Washington is considering using five-way talks with China, Russia, Japan and South Korea to press North Korea to change tack on its nuclear and missile programs, a US official said. The five had been involved in negotiations with North Korea on the nuclear issue.

The idea was raised when the US President, Barack Obama, hosted talks at the White House on Tuesday with the South Korean President, Lee Myung-bak, a senior State Department official told reporters on Thursday.

The US military has moved additional defences to Hawaii in case North Korea fires a missile towards the Pacific island chain.

The decision to deploy missile defence weaponry to Hawaii came as the US military tracked a North Korean ship that it said might be carrying cargo banned under tougher United Nations sanctions imposed on Pyongyang last week.

The US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, said Washington was watching North Korea for missile activity.

"We do have some concerns if they were to launch a missile to the west in the direction of Hawaii," Mr Gates said. "Without telegraphing what we will do, I would just say … we are in a good position, should it become necessary, to protect Americans and American territory."

He said he had approved the deployment of missile defence weaponry to Hawaii and a radar system nearby "to provide support" in case of an attack.

Reports of Pyongyang's missile preparations came as Russia and China took the rare step of jointly urging North Korea to stop its provocative actions of recent months and return to the stalled six-party talks on nuclear disarmament.

Following talks in Moscow, China's President, Hu Jintao, joined his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, in calling for the "swiftest renewal" of talks.

"Russia and China are ready to foster the lowering of tension in North-East Asia and call for the continuation of efforts by all sides to resolve disagreements through peaceful means, through dialogue and consultations," they said.

The possibility has been raised that North Korea might use chemical weapons.

Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group said: "If there is an escalation of conflict and if military hostilities break out, there is a risk that [chemical weapons] could be used. In conventional terms, North Korea is weak and they feel they might have to resort to using those."

Agence France-Presse;Telegraph, London

Continue read Koreas negotiate as nuclear tensions grow...

16 June 2009

Kim Jong-Un meets China President Hu Jintao

THE youngest son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il secretly visited China last week and his hosts were told he had been appointed heir to the ruling family dynasty.

Japan's Asahi newspaper cited unidentified sources close to North Korea, said Kim Jong-Un met Chinese President Hu Jintao and other leaders of the ruling Communist Party when he flew to Beijing around June 10.

Analysts have said North Korea's nuclear test on May 25 and other belligerent acts may be aimed at a domestic audience, with the elder Kim trying to bolster his position at home to secure the succession of his youngest son.

The 67-year-old leader is believed to have suffered a stroke last year.

An aide to Jong-Un told Chinese officials the younger Kim had been appointed heir and that he held an important post in the ruling Korean Workers' Party, the mass circulation Asahi said.

China's Foreign Ministry declined immediate comment on the report of the visit.

Jong-Un is the Swiss-educated third son of Kim Jong-Il and was born in 1983 or 1984.

Earlier this month South Korean media, quoting informed sources, said Pyongyang had asked the country's main bodies and overseas missions to pledge loyalty to Jong-un.

China is the closest thing North Korea has to an ally and in theory Beijing wields more influence over Pyongyang than any other power, but experts say the relationship is brittle and China actually has limited room for manoeuvre.

Hu apparently asked North Korea not to go ahead with another nuclear test or test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Asahi reported.

Jong-Un was believed to have asked China for emergency energy and food aid, the newspaper said, underscoring the grim economic situation in the impoverished state.

Jong-Un also visited factories in China's export hub of Guangdong province, it added.

The succession has been one of the most closely guarded secrets in North Korea and very little is known about Jong-Un, whose youth could be problem in a society that attaches importance to seniority.

(News.com.au) From correspondents in Tokyo - Reuters

Continue read Kim Jong-Un meets China President Hu Jintao...

14 June 2009

We'll keep making weapons

Park Chan-Kyong
Seoul (

NORTH Korea vowed yesterday to build more nuclear bombs and start enriching uranium for atomic weapons after the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions for its nuclear test last month.

The Foreign Ministry, describing the sanctions resolution as a "vile product" of a US-inspired campaign, said North Korea would never abandon nuclear weapons and would treat any attempt to blockade it as an act of war.

The 15-member Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to toughen sanctions to cripple North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. The US hailed Friday's measure but warned that Pyongyang might respond with "further provocation".

The hardline communist state's Foreign Ministry said that "all plutonium to be extracted will be weaponised". A third of used fuel rods from the Yongbyon reactor had been reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium, it said.

"Secondly, we will start uranium enrichment," the Foreign Ministry said. It said the country had developed the necessary technology.

In 2002 North Korea denied US claims that it was operating a secret uranium enrichment program in addition to its plutonium-based operation it had admitted to having.

The plutonium-producing plants were shut under a six-nation disarmament deal in 2007. But North Korea vowed to restart them after the Security Council in April condemned its long-range rocket launch.

"It has become an absolutely impossible option for the DPRK [North Korea] to even think about giving up its nuclear weapons," the Foreign Ministry said.

It said North Korea would consider any blockade as an act of war and would retaliate militarily.

It said the sanctions aimed to "disarm us and suffocate us economically" to dismantle the ideology and system chosen by the people.

The Foreign Ministry said North Korea never wanted nuclear weapons "but it was an inevitable course of action forced upon us by the US hostile policy and nuclear threats".

"No matter how hard the US-led hostile forces may try all sorts of isolation and blockade, the DPRK, a proud nuclear power, will not flinch from them."

Resolution 1874, passed on Friday, does not authorise the use of force. It calls on UN member states to expand sanctions imposed on the North after its first nuclear test in October 2006.

It calls for tougher inspections of cargo suspected of containing banned missile- and nuclear-related items, a tighter arms embargo (with the exception of light weapons), and new targeted financial restrictions to choke off revenue for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the resolution sent a "clear and strong message" to Pyongyang.

Continue read We'll keep making weapons...

13 June 2009

Cost-benefit analysis of nuclear ambition puts N Korea in front

A North Korean counterfeit, top, of the $US100 bill, below. Photo: AP

By Blaine Harden in Tokyo

(SMH) -AS THE United Nations moves to enact a sanction on North Korea for its second nuclear test, strong evidence of the failure of a previous international squeeze has emerged.

In recent decades North Korea has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from peddling fake drugs, circulating counterfeit currency and moving missiles and missile parts to countries in East Asia and the Middle East, the Centre for Nonproliferation Studies in California has found.

Because of booming business with China, overseas trade has grown substantially since the sanctions were imposed in 2006 after the government of Kim Jong-il exploded its first nuclear device.

Trade volume rose last year to its highest level since 1990, when a less isolated North Korea was heavily subsidised by the former Soviet Union, an analysis by the Korea Trade and Investment Promotion Agency in Seoul found.

North Korean exports surged 23 per cent last year, on the previous year, and imports rose 33 per cent, the agency said. It found that China's share of overseas trade had risen from 33 per cent in 2003 to 73 per cent last year.

UN Security Council sanctions have had "no perceptible effect" on North Korea's trade with its largest partners, another study, by Marcus Noland, a North Korea expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, found.

"In retrospect, North Korea may have calculated quite correctly that direct penalties for establishing itself as a nuclear power would be modest," he wrote in a paper published at the end of last year. "If sanctions are to deter behaviour in the future, they will have to be much more enthusiastically implemented."

A draft resolution agreed on Wednesday by the United States, China and other major powers would tighten the military, financial and trade sanctions approved in 2006. It could be adopted by Friday.

Noland said the plan was clever. "The North Koreans will be down to whatever China gives them and whatever they can get from their subterranean customers in the Middle East."

The Washington Post

Continue read Cost-benefit analysis of nuclear ambition puts N Korea in front...

UN widens sanctions on North Korea, China joins in

By Louis Charbonneau and Claudia Parsons

(News.com) -The UN Security Council unanimously approved wider sanctions against North Korea overnight over its May 25 nuclear test, a move close ally China said showed firm opposition to Pyongyang's atomic ambitions.

The sanctions resolution banned all weapons exports from North Korea and most arms imports into the reclusive communist state. It authorized UN member states to inspect North Korean sea, air and land cargo, requiring them to seize and destroy any goods transported in violation of the sanctions.

Both China and Russia, which had been reluctant to approve punitive measures against North Korea in the past, backed the US-drafted resolution, which is binding under international law.

China's UN ambassador, Zhang Yesui, said the resolution showed the "firm opposition" of the international community to North Korea's nuclear ambitions, but he urged countries to exercise caution when inspecting North Korean cargo.

"Under no circumstances should there be use or threat of the use of force," Mr Zhang said.

US Ambassador Susan Rice said Washington would press for full implementation of the sanctions and would not get into a "tit-for-tat reaction" to every provocation from Pyongyang.

"It would not be a surprise if North Korea reacted to this very tough sanctions regime in a fashion that would be further provocation and further destabilizing," she said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's press office issued a statement welcoming the 15-nation council's move.

"Acting unanimously and agreeing on credible measures, the members of the Security Council have sent today a clear and strong message to (North Korea)," the statement said, adding the South Korean UN chief would "spare no effort in facilitating the implementation of the resolution."

Two senior diplomats involved in the negotiations on the resolution said on condition of anonymity the Chinese had never really clarified whether they intended to implement the new sanctions resolution in contrast to earlier sanctions against North Korea that they ignored.

"The effectiveness of this resolution will depend on its enforcement," one of the diplomats said.


Continue read UN widens sanctions on North Korea, China joins in...

Japan vows total ban on N Korea exports

(News.com) -JAPAN plans to impose a total ban on exports to North Korea as part of its new economic sanctions against Pyongyang following last month's nuclear test, news reports said.

The move comes after the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Friday to slap tougher sanctions on North Korea to cripple its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Japan has already imposed a ban on its shipments of luxury goods and weapons-related equipment to North Korea following the communist state's missile launches and its first nuclear test.

Prime Minister Taro Aso's cabinet is expected to announce the additional sanctions as early as Tuesday, the Nikkei reported.

In a statement released today, Mr Aso urged North Korea to "take seriously" the latest UN resolution to punish Pyongyang for last month's nuclear test.

"The international community must work together in executing measures based on the resolution," Mr Aso said. "Our country will quickly move into action in order to secure the effectiveness of the resolution."

All 15 members of the UN Security Council endorsed the compromise resolution sponsored by Britain, France, Japan, South Korea and the US.

The text, which does not authorise the use of force, calls on UN member states to impose expanded sanctions on North Korea in response to its May 25 underground nuclear test and subsequent missile firings.

Agence France-Presse

Continue read Japan vows total ban on N Korea exports...

12 June 2009

Tunnels, Guns and Kimchi: Part I and II

Tunnels, Guns and Kimchi: North Korea’s Quest for Dollars – Part I

A Bertil Lintner Research
Rights: © Copyright 2009 The Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

Continue read Tunnels, Guns and Kimchi: Part I and II...

08 June 2009

N. Korea Sentences 2 U.S. Journalists to 12 Years of Hard Labor


SEOUL, South Korea (NYT)— North Korea on Monday sentenced two American journalists to 12 years of hard labor in a case widely seen as a test of how far the isolated Communist state was willing to take its confrontational stance toward the United States.

The Central Court, the highest court of North Korea, held the trial of the two Americans, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, from Thursday to Monday and convicted them of “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry,” the North’s official news agency, KCNA, said in a report monitored in Seoul.

Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee have been held since they were detained by North Korean soldiers patrolling the border between China and North Korea on March 17.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has called the charges “baseless.”

The United States government had demanded that the North forgo the legal proceedings and release the two women.

The sentencing came amid rising tensions between Washington and Pyongyang. Earlier Monday, North Korea threatened to retaliate with “extreme” measures if the United Nations punished it for its nuclear test last month, and Washington warned that it might try to put the North back on its list of states that sponsor terrorism, a designation that could subject the impoverished state to more financial sanctions.

“Our response would be to consider sanctions against us as a declaration of war and answer it with extreme hard-line measures,” the North Korea’s state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said in a commentary.

Ms. Ling and Ms. Lee were on a reporting assignment from Current TV, a San Francisco-based media company co-founded by Al Gore, the former vice president, when they were detained by the soldiers. The reporters were working on a report about North Korean refugees — women and children — who had fled their homeland in hopes of finding food in China.

The circumstances surrounding their capture remain unclear.

Analysts said they were a pawn in a rapidly deteriorating confrontation between the United States and North Korea — a potential bargaining chip for the Pyongyang regime and a handicap for Washington in its efforts to pressure the government over its recent missile and nuclear tests.

The sentence to North Korea’s infamous prison camps came despite repeated appeals for clemency from the journalists’ families.

Defying not only its traditional foes — the United States, Japan and South Korea — but also its longtime ideological allies, China and Russia, North Korea launched an intermediate-range rocket on April 5 and conducted an underground nuclear test on May 25.

Continue read N. Korea Sentences 2 U.S. Journalists to 12 Years of Hard Labor...

07 June 2009

US Weighs Intercepting North Korean Shipments


WASHINGTON (NYT)— The Obama administration signaled Sunday that it was seeking a way to interdict, possibly with China’s help, North Korean sea and air shipments suspected of carrying weapons or nuclear technology.

The administration also said it was examining whether there was a legal basis to reverse former President George W. Bush’s decision last year to remove the North from a list of states that sponsor terrorism.

The reference to interdictions — preferably at ports or airfields in countries like China, but possibly involving riskier confrontations on the high seas — was made by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. She was the highest-ranking official to talk publicly about such a potentially provocative step as a response to North Korea’s second nuclear test, conducted two weeks ago.

While Mrs. Clinton did not specifically mention assistance from China, other administration officials have been pressing Beijing to take such action under Chinese law.

Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Mrs. Clinton said the United States feared that if the test and other recent actions by North Korea did not lead to “strong action,” there was a risk of “an arms race in Northeast Asia” — an oblique reference to the concern that Japan would reverse its long-held ban against developing nuclear weapons.

So far it is not clear how far the Chinese are willing to go to aid the United States in stopping North Korea’s profitable trade in arms, the isolated country’s most profitable export. But the American focus on interdiction demonstrates a new and potentially far tougher approach to North Korea than both President Clinton and Mr. Bush, in his second term, took as they tried unsuccessfully to reach deals that would ultimately lead North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

Mr. Obama, aides say, has decided that he will not offer North Korea new incentives to dismantle the nuclear complex at Yongbyon that the North previously promised to abandon.

“I’m tired of buying the same horse twice,” Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said last week while touring an antimissile site in Alaska that the Bush administration built to demonstrate its preparedness to destroy North Korean missiles headed toward the United States. (So far, the North Koreans have not successfully tested a missile of sufficient range to reach the United States, though there is evidence that they may be preparing for another test of their long-range Taepodong-2 missile.)

In France on Saturday, Mr. Obama referred to the same string of broken deals, telling reporters, “I don’t think there should be an assumption that we will simply continue down a path in which North Korea is constantly destabilizing the region and we just react in the same ways.” He added, “We are not intending to continue a policy of rewarding provocation.”

While Mr. Obama was in the Middle East and Europe last week, several senior officials said the president’s national security team had all but set aside the central assumption that guided American policy toward North Korea over the past 16 years and two presidencies: that the North would be willing to ultimately abandon its small arsenal of nuclear weapons in return for some combination of oil, nuclear power plants, money, food and guarantees that the United States would not topple its government, the world’s last Stalinesque regime.

Now, after examining the still-inconclusive evidence about the results of North Korea’s second nuclear test, the administration has come to different conclusions: that Pyonyang’s top priority is to be recognized as a nuclear state, that it is unwilling to bargain away its weapons and that it sees tests as a way to help sell its nuclear technology.

“This entirely changes the dynamic of how you deal with them,” a senior national security aide said.

While Mr. Obama is willing to reopen the six-party talks that Mr. Bush began — the other participants are Japan, South Korea, Russia and China — he has no intention, aides say, of offering new incentives to get the North to fulfill agreements from 1994, 2005 and 2008; all were recently renounced.

“Clinton bought it once, Bush bought it again, and we’re not going to buy it a third time,” one of Mr. Obama’s chief strategists said last week, referring to the Yongbyon plant, where the North reprocesses spent nuclear fuel into bomb-grade plutonium.

While some officials privately acknowledged that they would still like to roll back what one called North Korea’s “rudimentary” nuclear capacity, a more realistic goal is to stop the country from devising a small weapon deliverable on a short-, medium- or long-range missile.

In conducting any interdictions, the United States could risk open confrontation with North Korea. That prospect — and the likelihood of escalating conflict if the North resisted an inspection — is why China has balked at American proposals for a resolution by the United Nations Security Council that would explicitly allow interceptions at sea. A previous Security Council resolution, passed after the North’s first nuclear test, in 2006, allowed interdictions “consistent with international law.” But that term was never defined, and few of the provisions were enforced.

North Korea has repeatedly said it would regard any interdiction as an act of war, and officials in Washington have been trying to find ways to stop the shipments without a conflict. Late last week, James B. Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state, visited Beijing with a delegation of American officials, seeking ideas from China about sanctions, including financial pressure, that might force North Korea to change direction.

“The Chinese face a dilemma that they have always faced,” a senior administration official said. “They don’t want North Korea to become a full nuclear weapons state. But they don’t want to cause the state to collapse.” They have been walking a fine line, the official said, taking a tough position against the North of late, but unwilling to publicly embrace steps that would put China in America’s camp.

To counter the Chinese concern, Mr. Steinberg and his delegation argued to the Chinese that failing to crack down on North Korea would prompt reactions that Beijing would find deeply unsettling, including a greater American military presence in the region and more calls in Japan for that country to develop its own weapons.

Mrs. Clinton seemed to reflect this concern in the interview on Sunday. “We will do everything we can to both interdict it and prevent it and shut off their flow of money,” she said. “If we do not take significant and effective action against the North Koreans now, we’ll spark an arms race in Northeast Asia. I don’t think anybody wants to see that.”

While Mrs. Clinton also said the State Department was examining whether North Korea should be placed back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, she acknowledged that there was a legal process for it. “Obviously we would want to see recent evidence of their support for international terrorism,” she said.

That evidence may be hard to come by. While North Korea has engaged in missile sales, it has not been linked to terrorism activity for many years. And North Korea’s restoration to the list would be largely symbolic, because it already faces numerous economic sanctions.

Continue read US Weighs Intercepting North Korean Shipments...

Obama warns Iran and North Korea over nuclear threat

(SMH) -US President Barack Obama said on Saturday that North Korea's nuclear weapon test had been "extraordinarily provocative" and that it would be "profoundly dangerous" for Iran to get a nuclear bomb.

Iran's nuclear program featured strongly in talks between Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy who condemned what he called "senseless" new remarks by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad casting doubt on the Holocaust.

Obama was asked about general nuclear proliferation threats at a brief press conference afterwards.

"North Korea's actions over the last several months have been extraordinarily provocative," he said.

"They have made no bones about the fact that they are testing nuclear weapons."

Obama said the UN Security Council was working towards a new resolution on North Korea and he insisted that the international community would take a "very hard look" at how to deal with the isolated Stalinist state.

Obama added that letting Iran develop a nuclear bomb would be "profoundly dangerous" and would lead other Middle East states to say "we have to go for it as well".

Sarkozy, who met Iran's foreign minister on Wednesday, said, "I told him first of all that they have to take President Obama's outstretched hand.

"Iran has the right to civilian nuclear power but not a military nuclear capability. And they must understand that.

"If their aims are peaceful they should accept international inspections, but we can't accept the Iranian leader making senseless declarations.

"The United States and France are entirely together on this question. Iran is a great country, a great civilisation. We want peace, we want dialogue, we want to help them develop, but we do not want nuclear proliferation. We are united on this."

Ahmadinejad, who is seeking a second term in office in an election this month, on Wednesday reaffirmed his bitter anti-Israel stance and called the Holocaust a "big deception".

He also accused the world's liberal democracies of degrading "human values" with their pro-Israel policies.

Sarkozy told Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Wednesday that such comments were "unacceptable and profoundly shocking," his office said.

Continue read Obama warns Iran and North Korea over nuclear threat...

06 June 2009

SKorea president says no compromise against NKorea

By: Bangkok Post-AFP

President Lee Myung-Bak said South Korea would not make any compromises in the face of North Korea's nuclear threats and called for Pyongyang to return to six-party disarmament talks.

"I hereby make it clear again that there won't be any compromise in issues threatening the lives of the people and national security," Lee said at a speech marking Memorial Day to honour the Korean War dead.

North Korea was not only threatening the South but the world's peace and stability by carrying out nuclear tests and launching missiles, he said.

"Even at this very moment, the North is ratcheting up the level of threats as we are also stepping up our defence posture, resulting in a trigger-wire confrontation," Lee said.

The UN Security Council is considering new sanctions against North Korea after Pyongyang carried out its second nuclear test last month.

The North also fired a rocket in April, ostensibly to put a satellite into orbit, but other countries saw it as a disguised long-range missile test.

After the UN Security Council censured its April 5 rocket launch, the North announced it was quitting the six-party talks and restarting a programme to make weapons-grade plutonium.

It also has defied international criticism of its second nuclear test by firing a volley of short-range missiles and threatening to attack the capitalist South.

The North is now said to be preparing to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile as well as several medium-range missiles.

"North Korea must keep its promise to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula and come back to the six-party and inter-Korean talks," Lee said.

The six-party talks, which include the two Koreas, host China, Japan, the US and Russia, are aimed at scrapping North Korea's nuclear programme in exchange for economic and diplomatic gains.

The negotiations deadlocked late last year over a dispute with North Korea over how to verify its disarmament.

Continue read SKorea president says no compromise against NKorea...

US considers sanctions on NKorea in UN talks: Clinton

(Bangkok Post-AFP) -The United States is weighing a variety of sanctions on North Korea for its recent nuclear test as diplomats craft a UN resolution against Pyongyang, according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton was asked whether financial sanctions on North Korea and its banks were being considered after a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

"We've made considerable progress in devising the kinds of actions that would represent consequences imposed upon the North Koreans by the international community," said Clinton. "We want to come up with the strongest possible resolution."

For the North Koreans, "it's never over till it's over, that if there are effective sanctions that we believe can be imposed, an arms embargo and other steps to be taken, we need to see real results," she said.

"I am quite heartened by the progress that we're seeing in the United Nations Security Council. And when we believe we've gotten the strongest possible resolution we can get, we will table it and then proceed."

Clinton earlier met at the State Department with Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan. She described it as "a very productive meeting" in a brief encounter with reporters.

An agreement on broader UN sanctions against North Korea however is being held up by differences among key powers over tougher cargo inspections, a tighter arms embargo, a possible freeze on North Korean assets abroad and denial of access to the international banking and financial services, according to diplomats at the United Nations.

In 2005 the US Treasury Department blacklisted Macau's Banco Delta Asia on suspicion of money-laundering and handling North Korea's counterfeit notes, freezing Pyongyang's access to some 25 million dollars in its BDA accounts.

After the blacklisting several other banks in Asia were persuaded to stop handling Pyongyang's business, making even legitimate transactions difficult.

The North Korean funds were later freed for collection as a result of a 2007 agreement on denuclearization.

The UN Security Council's five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus their counterparts from Japan and South Korea have been haggling over an expanded set of sanctions since North Korea's May 25 underground nuclear test.

Continue read US considers sanctions on NKorea in UN talks: Clinton...

Fission for a reason

By Richard Glover

(SMH) -AS IS well known, Napoleon only waged war because he was short and Hitler was forced to destroy Europe because of his unrelieved diet of vegetarian food. Why can't we recognise that Kim Jong-il is behaving badly because he can't do a thing with his hair?

Every morning the North Korean dictator stands in front of the mirror, prodding and teasing his hair upwards. With every touch, he just makes it look worse. The combination of a bouffant style and male pattern baldness is not a happy one. There are birds with neater nests.

After half an hour of pure agony, the pint-sized despot throws down the comb, stomps his tiny feet and starts planning Armageddon. Who among us has not stared at the mirror one miserable Monday and formulated just such a plan to destroy all humanity? "If I look this bad, why should the rest of the world be allowed to exist?": this is Kim Jong-il's view exactly.

Note also the way Kim Jong-il's hairdo increasingly resembles a nuclear mushroom cloud. In Freudian terms, he's trying to tell us something. It's not so much a hairdo, as a blackmail note written in over-teased locks: help me, or you'll be seeing exactly this shape on a horizon near you.

Here's the chance for Australia to step in and save the planet. Julia Gillard, our Deputy Prime Minister, is shacked up with a bloke who distributes hair-care products. Not every country has this now-crucial advantage. Tim Mathieson must be dispatched instantly to Pyongyang with a suitcase of his finest product lines. No expense should be spared. The Prime Minister's own jet must be provided. Give Tim Mathieson half an hour in Dear Leader's boudoir with a packet of Rogaine and some volumising shampoo and things will be a lot less tense north of the 38th parallel.

Of course, bad hair is not Kim Jong-il's only problem. He's also trying desperately to get the world's attention. His method so far has been to yell and scream and then to let off a nuclear bomb right underneath himself. If Obama doesn't agree to a meeting, he'll let off two bombs underneath himself.

So far, the only effect of the bomb has been to add another three centimetres to the height of his hair. Another three devices and he'll look like Jimi Hendrix on the cover of Axis: Bold As Love.

Kim Jong-il isn't the only person to be motivated by a desire to make up for his own inadequacies. Most human behaviour can be explained in this way. Note the way Stalin and Hitler both had stupid moustaches, while Julius Caesar struggled for years with comb-over issues. (That's no laurel wreath atop his head in all the statues; it's all he had left of his hair.)

Even our own Prime Minister's endless vaulting ambition is surely the result of being named Kevin - not so much a name as a spur to action. As it happens, Rudd was this week named a "psycho chicken" by Barnaby Joyce - a man whose own first name must derive from the same Boy Named Sue theory of child-raising. Presumably Barnaby's mum and Kevin's mum knew each other, up there in Queensland and were involved in some sort of competition. "I'm saddling mine with the name Kevin, just to give him something to overcome in life," said Mrs Rudd, only to be left gasping in admiration when Mrs Joyce leaned over the fence to reveal the turbo-charged bully-attractor that is "Barnaby".

Of course, it may be just a Queensland thing. The Treasurer, I note, was christened Wayne, and yet there is no evidence of Queensland's version of DOCS being notified at the time.

But back to the "psycho chicken". Barnaby was busy attacking the PM over allegations that he reduced an RAAF flight attendant to tears. Apparently she was unable to offer him a vegetarian food option during an official flight. As Barnaby put it: "The guy's a psycho chook. Who in their right mind gets onto a plane and because he doesn't get the right colour birdseed has a spack attack?"

I may be the only person on the PM's side. I have personal experience of the deep anguish that comes over one on the Qantas flight to Brisbane when they've run out of the apricot chicken and try to palm you off with the overcooked fish.

I'm also a little concerned by the news that members of Australia's defence force can be reduced to blubbering wrecks by a few harsh words from an unhappy passenger. Will we find ourselves, in a decade or two, locked in battle with Indonesia or China, only to find them throwing harsh epithets over the trenches? "Oh, you Australians, you can't even get the entrees right during cabin service." Exit left the Army First Division in a flood of tears.

And will they now have to hand over cabin service on the PM's jet to battle-hardened members of the SAS? Only after three years in the desert in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban, are people tough enough to endure the withering gaze of a Kevin denied his vegetarian option.

Which brings us back to Kim Jong-il. With our defence forces thus weakened, we need to act fast to ensure world peace. Tim Mathieson to the rescue. Grab that can of Vo5. Lock and load, Tim, lock and load.

Even our own PM's endless vaulting ambition is surely the result of being named Kevin.

Continue read Fission for a reason...

05 June 2009

North Korea set to try US journalists for 'hostile acts'

Seoul (The Age)- TWO US women journalists were to go on trial in North Korea yesterday on charges that could send them to a labour camp, as supporters and a media freedom group campaigned on their behalf.

The hearing comes amid growing international tensions sparked by the communist state's nuclear test and its apparent plans to launch another long-range missile.

Euna Lee and Laura Ling were detained by North Korean border guards on March 17 while researching a story about refugees fleeing the hardline communist state.

The Pyongyang Government has said they will face trial for "hostile acts" and illegally entering the country, with the hearing to be held "on the basis of the confirmed crimes committed by them".

South Korean analysts say "hostile acts" are punishable by a minimum five years' detention and hard labour.

"We appeal to the North Korean judicial authorities to show the utmost clemency and we hope the trial will result in the acquittal and release of the two American journalists," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

"We urge the judges trying the case to follow the example set by their Iranian counterparts, who released US journalist Roxana Saberi last month."

The press freedom group said that even if the two TV reporters made a mistake by getting too close to the North Korean border, "they did so solely for journalistic purposes and not for political reasons or for the purposes of espionage".

Friends, family and colleagues of Ms Lee and Ms Ling held candlelight vigils in Washington and seven other US cities yesterday.

"I wish this were all a bad dream," Ms Ling's sister, Lisa Ling, said in a letter read out at the rally in Washington's Freedom Plaza.

"We have a golden opportunity for a fresh start between our two countries," she said.

"Instead of trying to get reacquainted with one another through missile launches, nuclear tests and terse rhetoric, why not get to know each other over these two amazing girls who just wanted to tell a story?"

The families of the pair broke their long silence this week to appeal for clemency and to urge the two governments not to link the case to the nuclear stand-off.

The reporters, who work for California-based Current TV, co-founded by former US vice-president Al Gore, were allowed to phone their families in the US a week ago.

"We had not heard their voices in over 2½ months," said Lisa Ling. "They are very scared — they're very, very scared."

Both detainees are married and Ms Lee has a four-year-old daughter.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the charges against them are "baseless".

Continue read North Korea set to try US journalists for 'hostile acts'...

04 June 2009

US Journalists Face Trial in North Korea

By VOA News - Two American journalists are facing trial in North Korea on charges of illegally entering the country and hostile acts.

Their families back home pleaded for leniency, but the trial could send them to a labor camp for 10 years.

North Korea's Korean Central News Agency said Thursday that the trial would start at 3 p.m. (0600 GMT) local time.

These undated photo show American journalists Laura Ling, right, and Euna Lee (File)

The journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, of U.S. media outlet Current TV, were arrested while working on a story near the border between North Korea and China. Their trial is being held at one of the North's top courts.

The two were detained by North Korean border guards on March 17 while researching a story about refugees fleeing the North to China.

The families have pleaded for clemency. Speaking at a vigil Wednesday night in California, Laura Ling's sister Lisa Ling (also a TV personality) urged the North Korean government to show leniency and apologized if the women had broken the North's laws.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

Continue read US Journalists Face Trial in North Korea...

03 June 2009

North Korea warns US, South Korea of possible military acts

(Jakarta Post-AP) -North Korea warned South Korea and the United States on Wednesday that Seoul's participation in a U.S.-led program to intercept ships suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction is equal to a declaration of war.

South Korea announced its participation in the U.S.-led program on Tuesday, one day after North Korea defiantly conducted a nuclear test, drawing international criticism.

The North's military said in a statement that it will respond with "immediate, strong military measures" against any attempt to stop and search North Korean ships under the Proliferation Security Initiative.

The statement, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency, also said the regime no longer considers itself bound by the armistice that ended the Korean War. It accused the U.S., a signatory of the armistice, of "dragging" the South into the program under its "hostile policy" against the North.

It also said it cannot guarantee safety for South Korean and U.S. navy ships sailing near the disputed western Korean sea border.

Earlier Wednesday, news reports and South Korean officials said the North has restarted a weapons-grade nuclear plant and fired five short-range missiles in two days, deepening the standoff with world powers following its nuclear test.

South Korea's mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that U.S. spy satellites have detected steam coming from a nuclear facility at North Korea's main Yongbyon plant, indicating the North is reprocessing spent nuclear fuel rods to harvest weapons-grade plutonium.

Its report quoted an unnamed official. South Korea's Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service - the country's main spy agency - said they cannot confirm the report.

The North had said it would begin reprocessing in protest over international criticism of its April 5 rocket launch.

North Korea is believed to have enough plutonium for at least half a dozen atomic bombs. The North also has about 8,000 spent fuel rods which, if reprocessed, could allow the country to harvest 6-8 kilograms (13-18 pounds) of plutonium - enough to make at least one nuclear bomb, experts said.

Yonhap news agency carried a similar report later Wednesday, saying the gate of a facility storing the spent fuel rods was spotted open several times since mid-April. The report, also citing an unnamed South Korean official, said chemical-carrying vehicles were spotted at Yongbyon.

North Korea test-fired three additional short-range missiles Tuesday, including one late at night, from the east coast city of Hamhung, according to South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae.

He said the North already test-launched two short-range missiles from another eastern coast launch pad on Monday, not the three reported by many South Korean media outlets.

Continue read North Korea warns US, South Korea of possible military acts...

Pawns in two show trials

(Bangkok Post) -In opposite corners of Asia this week, harsh and undemocratic regimes will be conducting show trials. The Burmese generals are close to wrapping up their case that charges Aung San Suu Kyi with responsibility for the failure of her jailers to guard her. North Korea is putting two US citizens in the dock on June 4, charged with committing "hostile acts", meaning they were photographing North Korean smugglers and refugees at the Chinese frontier. The two women apparently actually crossed the border, giving the North Koreans a reason to arrest and hold them in jail for the last three months.

The Burmese regime has again increased the physical and psychological pressure on Mrs Suu Kyi. She is held almost incommunicado in the notorious Insein prison on the outskirts of Rangoon. Her lawyers have not been allowed the normal access to the prisoner. As they prepared their closing arguments yesterday, they were denied access once again.

The prisoner is a frail, 63-year-old woman who won the Nobel Prize for Peace. Yet she has frightened members of a military junta so much that they seldom let her even see her defenders, except in a tightly guarded courtroom where the regime is likely to end the show trial on Friday.

The Burmese deputy defence minister showed the sort of contempt for rule of law one has come to expect from the junta. On an official trip to Singapore, Maj Gen Aye Myint told the media there was "no doubt" Mrs Suu Kyi was guilty as charged - of a cover-up, by failing to report a foreigner had got into her compound. This statement during an ongoing trial by a top junta official, demonstrated that the actual courtroom and judges are just a show in Burma.

It leaves the world to wonder why Maj Gen Aye Myint is not on trial for dereliction of duty. His soldiers were ordered to guard Mrs Suu Kyi from all intruders and failed.

Of course, there has been no media coverage allowed of Mrs Suu Kyi's court ordeal. The same will be true in Pyongyang tomorrow, when an equally pre-ordained trial is to get under way with, ironically, journalists in the dock - US citizens of Korean heritage, Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

The two women work for Current TV, a cable television station run by former US vice president Al Gore. They were arrested on March 17 by North Korean border guards while reporting on Korean women and children who had fled the Pyongyang regime to China.

The trial and verdict will be whatever the regime wants, but just what that might be is not yet clear. For about the same time as it has held the journalists, North Korea has taken a dangerous and belligerent course. It has fired long-range and medium-range missiles and tested the nuclear weapon designed to fit atop the rockets.

It is widely presumed that North Korea will use the journalists as pawns to put maximum pressure on US President Barack Obama. That, at least, is the latest advice from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She also told the American public they should "get busy on the internet and let the North Koreans know that we find that absolutely unacceptable".

In both Burma and North Korea, the regimes will use their women prisoners as propaganda tools. They will hold harsh sentences over the heads of their prisoners.

Both countries deserve the harshest censure for such treatment of their helpless captives. Certainly, if either country wants international respect, they must stop such despicable show trials.

Continue read Pawns in two show trials...

North Korea 'preparing long-range missile launch'

By Jack Kim in Seoul

(News.com) -NORTH Korea is assembling a missile that could hit US soil and may test-launch it as early as this month, a newspaper reported, as a US envoy urged Pyongyang to cease provocations and return to disarmament talks.

The hermit state's nuclear test last week, putting it closer to having a working atomic weapon, has already prompted the US and South Korean forces to raise their military alert for the divided peninsula.

North Korea, which began ratcheting up regional tensions when it fired a long-ranged rocket over Japan in April, also test-fired a barrage of short-range missiles last week and threatened to attack the South.

"The ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) is covered up so it's tough to be absolutely clear but it looks similar to the Taepodong-2 fired in April but longer," the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper quoted a South Korean government source as saying.

The April launch triggered tightened UN Security Council sanctions that Pyongyang called unacceptable, threatening to launch an ICBM unless the world body apologised.

The newspaper said the missile has been moved to a hangar for assembly at the North's newly built west coast Tongchang-ri missile range for a launch that could come as early as mid-June. The launch area is about 90 km west of Yongbyon, the North's main nuclear complex. However, weapons experts say the impoverished state does not yet have the technology to turn its nuclear material into a warhead to put onto a missile.

It also looks ready to test launch three to four mid-range missiles with ranges that can hit all of South Korea and most of Japan, South Korean lawmakers said on Tuesday after a defence briefing.

"Now is the time for North Korea, rather than continuing to take more dangerous and provocative actions, to recognise that the better course is to re-engage and to get back on the path of negotiations towards denuclearisation," US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said after meeting foreign ministry officials in Seoul.

Continue read North Korea 'preparing long-range missile launch'...

02 June 2009

Amateur spies put North Korea on the map

Living large ... one of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's
palatial mansions with expansive gardens.

By Asher Moses

(SMH) -A group of amateur spies has used Google Earth to provide a rare glimpse inside North Korea, one of the world's most secretive countries.

By default the Google Earth map of North Korea is completely bare, with no roads or landmarks labelled.

Over two years, US doctoral student Curtis Melvin and other volunteers pored over news reports, images, accounts, books and maps painstakingly identifying and locating thousands of buildings, monuments, missile-storage facilities, mass graves, secret labour camps, palaces, restaurants, tourist sites, main roads and even the entrance to the country's subterranean nuclear test base.

The result, North Korea Uncovered, is one of the most detailed maps of North Korea available to the public today. The small file, which can be installed on top of Google Earth, has been downloaded more than 47,000 times since an updated version was released last month.

"We have portrayed things about which they are most proud and ashamed," Melvin said in an email interview.

Among the most notable findings is the site of mass graves created in the 1990s following a famine that the UN estimates killed about 2 million people.

"Graves cover entire mountains," Melvin said.

Also visible is the stark contrast between the living conditions of North Korea's elite and the general population.

The palaces housing dictator Kim Jong Il and his inner circle, clearly shown on the maps, contain Olympic-size swimming pools with giant waterslides and golf courses.

Conversely, much of North Korea's population is reliant on foreign food aid, ironic given the authoritarian regime is built around the ideology of self-reliance.

Analysing the satellite maps allowed Melvin to plot the country's transport and electricity network, revealing that many towns have no power supply at all.

Melvin and his team also believe they have discovered the Vinalon complex that has been connected with chemical warfare experiments.

The project highlights the collaborative power of the internet, which allows disparate groups of amateur sleuths to work together to uncover state secrets and shine new light on previously hidden countries.

North Korea is of particular interest to diplomats, analysts and the public of late because the communist regime has ramped up its nuclear tests, launched a series of short-range missiles and threatened possible attacks on South Korea.

Melvin said he notified two North Korean embassies of his project but received no response.

"This project is a terrific record of their 'revolution' so I would love to have more of their input for historical purposes," he said

Melvin, who began the project as a way of mapping places in North Korea that he had visited, said he pored over books, maps, pictures and news reports to identify locations on the Google satellite map. But he received significant help from collaborators, some of whom have studied North Korea professionally.

For instance, The Wall Street Journal reported that Joshua Stanton, a Washington attorney who has served in the US military in South Korea, identified one of the country's most notorious prisons, Camp 16, by combing the map for structures identified in sketches created by defectors.

A US senator then used Stanton's information to criticise North Korea's human rights record, saying "Google has made a witness of all of us ... we can no longer deny these things exist".

North Korea's own publicity of the movements of Kim Jong Il have also been invaluable to Melvin. Media reports from the country allowed him to identify locations the dictator has visited, such as a hydroelectric dam and power station he toured in April.

Continue read Amateur spies put North Korea on the map...

North Korea's Next Kim: Dad's Favorite, Kim Jong Un

By Bill Powell

(Time.com) -In his memoir recounting the days he spent as Kim Jong Il's personal chef in Pyongyang, Kenji Fujimoto calls Kim Jong Un, the third son of the North Korea dictator, the "Prince." "When Jong Un shook hands with me," Fujimoto writes, "he stared at me with a vicious look. I cannot forget the look in the Prince's eyes: it's as if he was thinking, 'This guy is a despicable Japanese.'" Jong Un, Fujimoto also writes, is "a chip off the old block, a spitting image of his father in terms of face, body shape and personality."

For all those reasons, presumably, Kim Jong Un, thought to be 26 years old now, has apparently been designated, by his father and the upper echelons of Pyongyang's secretive Workers Party, as the one who will continue the dynastic regime in the North. He is indeed the Prince, destined to be the ruler of the country founded by his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. (Read about Kim Jong Il's secret family.)

Since last autumn, when Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke, the question of succession in North Korea has become paramount. Though Kim, according to intelligence reports, has resumed most of his duties, his own obvious frailty led even him, analysts believe, to begin preparing for the inevitable. Since becoming ill, as TIME revealed last month, Pyongyang has effectively been run by Kim Jong Il's brother-in-law, Chang Sung Taek, who is married to the dictator's younger sister, the sibling Kim is reportedly closest to. (The fluid, unpredictable nature of politics around the ruler can never be underestimated: in 2003, Kim, suspicious that Chang was building up a power base of his own, had him placed under house arrest for a year, relenting only after Kim's sister pleaded her husband's case.) (See a story about the five important women in Kim Jong Il's life.)

Now, according to North Korea watchers in Seoul, Chang has effectively taken the youngest Kim under his wing, acting as a sort of regent to the Prince. "He is the bridge from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un," says Baek Seung Joo, who watches North Korea at the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis.

Little speaks more to what a freakishly closed society North Korea is than the scarcity of information about Jong Un, even among foreign intelligence agencies. Almost nothing was known about him until Fujimoto's book was published in 2003. Fujimoto is also the source for the only known photograph of Jong Un to circulate outside the North, a snapshot the chef took when the boy was about 11. He is the son of Kim Jong Il's third wife — reportedly his favorite — Ko Young Hee, a former dancer who died in 2004 from breast cancer. Ko was born in Japan but moved back to North Korea with her father in the 1960s.

In the 1990s Jong Un studied, as did one of his older brothers, at the International School of Berne, in Switzerland, using a pseudonym to hide his identity as a member of North Korea's ruling family. But several North Korea watchers in Seoul dispute that, and believe Jong Un has never been outside North Korea. From 2002 to 2007 he attended the Kim Il Sung military academy in Pyongyang. He's said to be about 5 ft. 9 in. (175 cm) tall, is overweight (nearly 200 lb., or 90 kg) and may suffer from diabetes, according to South Korean press reports.

Jong Un, according to Fujimoto's book, is his father's favorite in part because, more so than the two other male Kim offspring, he has a take-charge personality. Kim regards Jong Chul, Jong Un's older brother, as being "girlish." And their older half brother, Kim Jong Nam, appears to be a flake, having been detained and deported in Japan in 2001 after traveling on a phony passport and claiming he wanted to visit Disneyland. Jong Un, Fujimoto writes, is different. He and his brother Jong Chul enjoyed playing basketball — but after the games, Jong Chul would just say goodbye to their friends and leave. Jong Un would then gather up his teammates and, like a coach, analyze the game they just played: "You should have passed the ball to this guy, you should have shot it then." According to various, usually unsourced South Korean press reports since Fujimoto's book came out, Jong Un is said to be "ambitious" and a "take-no-prisoners" type — again, in contrast to his older brothers.

That he is also now North Korea's Kim-in-waiting has become apparent in the past month, analysts believe. In late April, he was named to the country's all-powerful National Defense Commission, a sign to North Korea analysts that he indeed is being groomed as his father's successor. There has been widespread speculation that uncertainty about a possible transition in the North is part of the reason for Pyongyang's recent, dramatic acts of defiance: a long-range rocket launch in early April, and last week's underground nuclear test and multiple missile launches. North Korea's politically powerful military is thought to have no interest in ever bargaining away the country's nuclear deterrent — the ultimate guarantee of the regime's security — and Jong Un's new posting on the Defense Commission may be a way for him to be educated on this issue, one East Asian intelligence analyst says.

The analyst adds that "that's just speculation, of course." As is pretty much everything when it comes to Kim Jong Il's favorite son, the "chip off the old block" apparently destined to pay the price of inheritance if he becomes leader of one of the world's most impoverished, insular and repressive regimes.

— With reporting by Stephen Kim / Seoul

Continue read North Korea's Next Kim: Dad's Favorite, Kim Jong Un...

Kim Jong-Il names next Dear Leader -Kim Jong-Un

(News.com-Reuters)-NORTH Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has asked his country's overseas missions to pledge loyalty to his youngest son, signalling he has been anointed as next leader of the communist dynasty.

Kim, 67, is thought to have suffered a stroke in August.

Analysts have said the North's recent military actions, including a nuclear test last week, may be aimed at helping him solidify power so that he can name a successor.

"It has been confirmed through various channels that North Korea sent emails to legations overseas, asking them to pledge their loyalty to (youngest son) Kim Jong-Un," the South Korean daily Dong-A Ilbo reported an "informed source" as saying.

Analysts have said succession is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the highly secretive North, with Kim's plans only known to his small inner circle.

The paper quoted another informed source as saying: "North Korean leadership is educating senior officials at major security authorities with an emphasis on the justification of father-to-son succession over three generations."

The sources concluded these signs pointed to Jong-Un being officially anointed.

Kim Jong-Il, groomed for decades to take over the country from his father and state founder Kim Il-sung, has three sons but they are unknown to most North Koreans.

Jong-Un, born either in 1983 or early 1984, was educated in Switzerland and intelligence sources have said he appears to be the most capable of the three.

Even by North Korea's opaque standards, very little is known about the son, whose youth is also a potential problem in a society that adheres closely to the importance of seniority.

Continue read Kim Jong-Il names next Dear Leader -Kim Jong-Un...

South Korea fortifies Yellow Sea

(News.com-AAP) -SOUTH Korea has bolstered its defence of a disputed naval border with an increasingly belligerent North Korea, deploying a guided-missile naval vessel to Yellow Sea waters off the west coast.

North Korea last week threatened to attack the South and said it would not guarantee the safety of its vessels in waters near a border that has been the site of two deadly clashes between the rival states in the past 10 years.

South Korea typically does not announce specific deployments related to defence against the North, with which it is still technically at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended with a ceasefire and not a peace treaty.

But in a signal it will stand firm over the disputed sea border, South Korea sent the 440-tonne vessel named Yun Yeong Ha, equipped with anti-ship missiles and heavy guns, to reinforce its fleet of high-speed naval vessels there, the navy said.

North Korea has stepped up its military training, stockpiled ammunition and imposed a no-sail order off its west coast waters to prepare for a possible fight with the South, the South's biggest newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported a South Korean military source as saying.

North Korea has stoked tension in the past days with a nuclear test on May 25 and firing a barrage of short-range missiles off its east coast.

Continue read South Korea fortifies Yellow Sea...

Despot dynamics: the dirty secret to survival

By Peter Hartcher

(SMH) -How will we know when the world is finally serious about disciplining Kim Jong-il's regime? Nobody wants a war, but there are three specific non-military steps that the big powers of North Asia could take to sever the regime's most important lifelines and bring it to its knees.

And the dirty secret of the North Korea debate is that nobody in officialdom's polite circles will discuss them openly. We certainly know the ritual signs that nothing serious is going to happen to hold North Korea accountable for its nuclear belligerence - we are seeing them now.

The United Nations Security Council wrings its hands over Kim's latest outrage. Special envoys fly about from one city to another. And experts debate whether to negotiate with Pyongyang or to apply sanctions.

Since 1994 the world has offered Pyongyang carrots and sticks in a giddying alternation of incentives and sanctions. And Kim pushes on relentlessly with his nuclear program regardless.

We'll know when the world has truly had enough of Kim's nuclear brinkmanship. The three steps to seriously disciplining North Korea? One is for Japan to take, another is for South Korea, and third is for China.

Japan would shut down the flow of hard currency that it allows its residents to send to North Korea.

Every year, the 100,000 or so members of Japan's North Korean community, organised through a group called Chosen Soren, send remittance money home.

How much is impossible to know, but in 1994 Japanese police estimated that it was about $US600 million ($739 million) annually. For perspective, a sum of $US600 million would make up a third of North Korea's declared annual shortfall of foreign exchange. The regime makes up the rest by smuggling out drugs, counterfeit US dollars, fake Viagra, weapons and other contraband.

Tokyo has taken a sterner approach to Pyongyang in recent years and has clamped down on bank transfers, but large volumes of cash still cross the Sea of Japan (also known as the East Sea) in the 1000 or so vessels that ply the route in any year.

Second, South Korea would shut down its trade with North Korea.

For Seoul, the $US1.8 billion annual two-way trade with its badly behaved northern neighbour is a trifling amount. North Korea makes up a lousy 0.2 per cent of South Korea's trade and there is nothing that Seoul buys from Pyongyang that it couldn't buy elsewhere.

But for Kim Jong-il, this would represent a third of his country's total trade. It would be a serious loss for the country and a body blow to the regime.

Third, China would cut off its trade with North Korea. This is the big one. Beijing is by far the biggest trading partner and biggest source of foreign exchange to Pyongyang.

And because much of China's export to its communist ally is provided on concessionary terms, this would be tantamount to shutting off its aid to Pyongyang as well. Among other things, China supplies some 90 per cent of North Korea's oil, most at friendship prices.

But rather than reduce its trade and aid to North Korea, China in recent months has actually increased it.

Why? Because the US and South Korea have been cutting aid to the recalcitrant country. China stepped in and more than offset the loss. As long as Kim Jong-il has China, he can probably survive the punishments that the rest of the world might attempt to mete out. So for any discipline to work, it's not enough for Japan or South Korea to act. China must act, too. And the world would need to support it with equivalent sanctions.

Keep in mind that North Korea is already on the economic equivalent of life support. Kim gets much criticism for starving his people to feed his army. And it's true that his people are starving - a third of the population is so desperately short of food that it is suffering from malnutrition, according to the UN World Food Program.

But visitors to the hermit kingdom in the last couple of years report that there isn't even enough to money to supply basics to the army. Close inspection of soldiers around Pyongyang shows that some have no socks and carry painted wooden guns. The country's total economy is estimated to produce between $US20 billion and $US30 billion a year, about the same as Tasmania's but for a country of 22 million.

Concerted action by its big three neighbours could reduce Kim to powerlessness. So why don't they act? For Japan it would be administratively and politically messy. For South Korea it would be politically tough - most South Koreans favour a conciliatory approach to their kinfolk across the demilitarised zone.

For China, keeping Kim's regime alive is a strategic priority. Worse than having Kim Jong-il next door would be not having Kim Jong-il next door.

If Kim's regime were to collapse, China would expect to be mobbed by millions of starving North Koreans. Even more troubling for Beijing is the likelihood Seoul would quickly assume control of Pyongyang. China would lose the buffer state that sits between it and a US treaty ally. That's why the world is not about to get serious about making Kim behave.

Presuming he succeeds in making deliverable nukes, Kim is not mad enough to attack anyone with them. And the world is not going to effectively deter him from trying.

Perhaps the best approach is to recall the wisdom of the Peter Sellers Cold War movie classic, Dr Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

Peter Hartcher is the Herald's international editor.

Continue read Despot dynamics: the dirty secret to survival...

01 June 2009

ASEAN nuclear ambitions alarm the West

(Jakarta Post) -Lilian Budianto

As North Korea's recent nuclear test raises tensions in Asia, ASEAN members' nuclear programs are ringing alarm bells in the Western world already irritated by Myanmar's military junta.

Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines have already notified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of their intention to operate nuclear power plants in the near future as an alternative to non-renewable energy resources.

Indonesia relies on coal, oil and gas to generate electricity for its population of 240 million. Along with the rise in industrial production, the government has sought to develop four nuclear plants that could support 2 percent of its electricity demands by 2017.

Similarly, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam all aim to either build or operate nuclear power plants by 2020, while the Philippines has plans to revive its closed Bataan nuclear power plant.

Myanmar’s notorious junta, which has been subject to Western economic sanctions because of its poor human rights record, has attracted the most criticism over its plan to develop nuclear reactors. In 2002 it was reported that the Russian government had agreed to help the military junta build a nuclear research facility that would be used to develop reactors for medical and electricity resources.

The US has shunned Myanmar's nuclear plans, saying Yangon has neither the legal framework nor the provisions that would safeguard its nuclear program from posing a security threat.

“Nuclear power and nuclear arms are different sides of the same coin. Every nuclear-power-wielding state can turn into a nuclear-armed nation,” said Tessa de Ryck, an anti- nuclear campaigner from Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

“North Korea is an example. Once a country possesses a nuclear power plant, it is hard for the international community to restrict ambitions to develop nuclear weapons.”

The global community has failed to persuade North Korea from nuclear testing, and big powers like China have ensured economic support for Pyongyang. China has also provided economic support for Myanmar undermining economic sanctions imposed by the West.

Ten ASEAN members signed the 1995 Bangkok Treaty that outlined a nuclear-free zone and an agreement not to abuse nuclear technology. However, precedents have shown the bloc has no leverage in meddling in the domestic affairs of member countries in case of any standoffs.

Myanmar has become the center of attention recently over the fresh trial of opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for 13 out of the 19 years since her party won a landslide victory in 1990. ASEAN leaders have come under fire for their leniency toward Myanmar at a time when the West has been considering imposing yet more sanctions on Myanmar.

“No one can ask Myanmar to adhere to the human rights commitment they have made under the ASEAN Charter that entered into force last year,” said Bantarto Bandoro, the chairman of the Indonesian Institution for Strategic Studies. “If Myanmar later abuses the nuclear plant to produce arms, there would be no one that could ask them to stop.”

Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia have signed the United Nations’ Non-Proliferation Treaty, but so far, only Jakarta has ratified it.

Greenpeace has predicted that nuclear power plants in the ASEAN region would be able to produce up to 200 nuclear bombs a year, considering it takes only 5 kilograms of plutonium to make a nuclear warhead.

Continue read ASEAN nuclear ambitions alarm the West...

PM joins condemnation of North Korea

(Bangkok Post) -South Korea and Thailand have criticised North Korea, saying the country's latest nuclear test threatens world peace and stability and harms efforts to prevent atomic proliferation.

The two nations' leaders yesterday discussed Pyongyang's nuclear blast on the sidelines of a summit between South Korea and Southeast Asian countries being held amid heavy security.

The summit was planned months ago, but North Korea's underground nuclear test and a series of short-range missile launches last week threaten to steal the limelight from economic matters, the main focus of the agenda.

South Korean President Lee Myungbak and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva agreed the test went against international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation and "undermines peace and stability not only in East Asia but also in the whole world", said Lee Dong-kwan, the South Korean president's chief spokesman.

They also agreed to exert diplomatic pressure to ensure North Korea complies with UN Security Council resolutions and "promptly returns to six-party talks" aimed at ridding it of nuclear weapons.

The summit venue of Seogwipo, on the island of Jeju off the southern coast, is the South Korean city farthest away from the North. Still, the nervous South Korean government is taking no chances, positioning a surface-to-air missile outside the venue aimed towards the North.

About 5,000 police officers, including 200 commandos and special vehicles that can analyse sarin gas and other chemicals, have been deployed nearby, security authorities said. Marines, special forces and air patrols also kept watch on the island.

Leaders of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations began arriving for the two-day summit, which officially begins today and commemorates 20 years of relations between South Korea and the bloc. South Korea's president planned to use yesterday for individual meetings with Asean leaders.

But concerns about North Korea's most recent bout of sabre-rattling loomed. South Korean officials said spy satellites had spotted signs the North might be preparing to transport a longrange missile to a launch site.

The North has attacked South Korean targets before, bombing a Korea Air jet in 1987 and trying to kill then-president Chun Doo-hwan in Burma in 1983.

The UN Security Council is still weighing up how to react to the North's belligerent moves that have earned Pyongyang criticism from the US, Europe, Russia and even the North's closest ally, China.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said North Korea's progress on nuclear weapons and long-range missiles was "a harbinger of a dark future" and had created an urgent need for more pressure on the reclusive communist government to change its ways.

Mr Gates, speaking at an annual meeting of defence and security officials in Singapore, said Pyongyang's efforts pose the potential for an arms race in Asia that could spread beyond the region.

Continue read PM joins condemnation of North Korea...

Asean-Korea summit to highlight Seoul's soft power


(Bangkok Post) -The summit between Asean and the Republic of Korea on Jeju Island today and tomorrow is a major national event for South Koreans as much as it is a muted affair for their Thai counterparts.

While Thais hardly know about this summit, South Koreans have been exposed to widespread media coverage. Asean members' flags have been raised all over the island. Jeju's international conference centre has frequently been featured on television news coverage. Academics and diplomats have promoted Track Two policy-related conferences ahead of the top-level powwow.

At issue will be South Korea's growing role as a middle power and the decade-long efforts to construct an East Asia Community. For Thailand, the summit will be the first Asean plus meeting since the aborted summits in Pattaya in April.

To be sure, domestic politics will loom large. Thailand's political turmoil has effectively forced the 16 members of the East Asia Summit - Asean plus China, Japan and South Korea, along with India, Australia and New Zealand - to skip a year for their fourth summit. Previous EAS meetings took place in Kuala Lumpur in December 2005, Cebu in January 2007 and Singapore in November 2007. But the Thailand-hosted fourth EAS, which was postponed from December 2008 to February 2009 in Pattaya has now been rescheduled for Phuket in October. This means that the annual EAS will now take two years to stage its fourth gathering.

Apart from Thailand's domestic political setbacks to the EAS meeting, Burma's latest crisis over the likely extension of Aung San Suu Kyi's confinement will complicate Asean's intramural dealings and its relationship with the broader Plus Three and other EAS members. The Asean-RoK summit will be the first opportunity for Asean to address the problems posed by Burma's military junta on the grouping's standing in the regional neighbourhood and the world at large.

In addition to Thailand and Burma, Malaysia's internal political game also has raised new concerns about the constraining effects of domestic politics on regional cooperation and integration. Burma's ongoing retardation of democratic rule, Thailand's and Malaysia's apparent and potential democratic setbacks, and the lack of democratisation elsewhere in Asean have cast dark clouds over the 10-member regional organisation in view of its much-advertised pro-democracy charter.

South Korea does not suffer the same constraints. Its democratic consolidation is so pronounced as to have claimed the life from apparent suicide of a former leader who was linked to a corruption scandal. Adept at influence-peddling and outright graft, politicians and leaders in Asean have routinely avoided accountability and jail time. Taking their own lives out of shame and guilt has been unthinkable. Such is the testimony of how far South Korea's democratic rule has progressed from years of military authoritarianism.

Increasingly confident of its democratic credentials and strong economy, Seoul as one of two Asian members in the developed-world Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) club, is charting a new course to befit its new-found status at the forefront of East Asia. The Asean-RoK summit that commemorates 20 years of bilateral relations will showcase a brand new Asean-Korea Centre based in Seoul to promote South Korea's trade and investment ties with Asean countries and to highlight the Asean-Korea free trade agreement.

Moreover, South Korea will announce a considerable increase in its official development assistance for developing Asean countries in line with its developed-country status. The development assistance has long been a cornerstone of Japan's soft power in the region. But South Korea is now poised to flex some soft power projection of its own to the benefit of poorer Asian countries and to help reduce the income gaps among Asean members in particular.

As it views itself as a benign and benevolent middle power, South Korea's "green" strategy warrants attention. It transcends immediate security concerns on the Korean peninsula with a forward-looking role for Seoul on the international stage. Its efforts to tackle global warming and other ecological concerns as a national strategy on a long-term basis are unrivalled in the region.

Yet a broader backdrop at the Asean-RoK summit will be the East Asian Community building. The EAC's impetus is rooted among the Asean Plus Three (APT) countries in the aftermath of the Asian economic crisis during 1997-98. The Chiang Mai Initiative that built on bilateral swap agreements has now been expanded to the tune of US$120 billion (4.2 trillion baht) to promote exchange rate stability in the region, with equal contributions from China and Japan. This is East Asia's most tangible financial cooperation to date, and could have the makings of an Asian monetary fund that was earlier denied by the US and IMF.

But the EAC is challenged by the rapid rise of the EAS with its wider geographical scope. If East Asia is to coalesce and integrate, the EAS is a less promising vehicle than the APT. On this dilemma, Seoul has not made up its mind.

Asean, too, is divided over whether to prioritise the APT over the EAS or the other way around. Security concerns in the region favour the EAS whereas trade and investment trends reinforce the APT. Whichever vehicle gains more weight will determine community-building efforts in East Asia.

While Asean and South Korea are the pivots of East Asia, Seoul is in a much stronger position to nudge the region forward. Asean and its current chair should beware other emerging region-building schemes that are not Asean-centred, such as Australia's Asia-Pacific Community. For Asean, failure to put its house in order will risk it being bypassed and loss of its self-entitled "driver's seat".

Thitinan Pongsudhirak is director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University.

Continue read Asean-Korea summit to highlight Seoul's soft power...