TIME North Korea

China Has Reason to Be Worried About North Korea’s Nukes

This video grab taken from North Korean TV on March 20, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's overseeing a live fire military drill.
AFP/Getty Images This video grab taken from North Korean TV on March 20, 2013 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's overseeing a live fire military drill.

The two countries were once as close as lips and teeth, but Beijing is increasingly wary of Pyongyang and Kim Jong Un

In the U.S., North Korea often feels more like of a punchline than a political threat. Coverage of the country skews heavily toward humor, whether it’s news stories about Kim Jong Un’s gravity-defying hair, or Hollywood films that milk North Korean misery for laughs. Have you heard the one about Pyongyang’s weapons program? North Korea’s nuclear missile is almost ready—just a few more trips back to Radio Shack. (Thanks for that, Twitter.)

In East Asia, North Korea is less of a joke than a policy imperative—as we were reminded this week. Reporting published Thursday by the Wall Street Journal suggests that China may be worried—or more worried than normal—about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Citing “people briefed on the matter,” the paper reported that Chinese experts privately advised American nuclear specialists that Pyongyang may have up to 20 warheads, as well as enough weapons-grade uranium to double that number within a year.

If the figure is indeed accurate, or even close, it is significant for several reasons. First, the figure—20—is considerably higher than recent U.S. estimates, which put the number of warheads in the 10 to 16 range. Second, the revised estimate is reportedly based on China’s belief that North Korea has improved its capacity to enrich uranium. This, if true, would make it easier and faster for them to build-out their arsenal, potentially allowing them to produce up to 20 new warheads per year.

It is hard to say if the number is accurate—we don’t know how the intelligence was gathered and it is an estimate to begin with. What’s perhaps more significant to the non-nuclear scientists among us is the fact that it could put the North Korea nuclear question back on the agenda in the United States. Several U.S. publications, including the WSJ’s editorial board, are already using the news to critique Washington’s approach to the issue, and to compare the handling of nuclear weapons in Iran and North Korea. Will the threat gain currency heading into 2016?

It also puts the spotlight on China. U.S.-based observers have a habit of underplaying—or outright forgetting—China’s role in all this. In May 2014, the foreign press was aflutter over reports leaked to Japanese media that appeared to outline China’s planned response to a North Korean collapse. South Korea and China-based observers were hardly surprised. Of course the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army have contingency plans in the event of something going very wrong across the Yalu River. China is North Korea’s neighbor. It knows that a problems in Pyongyang will likely spillover.

And this is an interesting time for Sino-DPRK ties. North Korea and China were once brother-at-arms, as close as lips and teeth, as Mao famously said. They fought together in the 1950-1953 Korean War and China has long been considered Pyongyang’s only real ally. (That may change as Putin’s Russia cozies up.) Trade with China, both official and unofficial, has helped keep the Kim regime afloat amid escalating rounds of sanctions. The last thing China wants is destabilizing conflict, or, worse, a collapse that could send North Koreans streaming to the border—or so the thinking goes.

This latest wrinkle reminds us that China is also very much concerned with nuclear weapons, especially nuclear weapons in the hands of a blustery young dictator that they don’t quite trust—and, that this is an area where China, the U.S., and South Korea could find common ground. Will they make it a diplomatic priority going forward? Or will North Korea have the last laugh?

TIME North Korea

See Kim Jong Un Celebrate Ascent of North Korea’s Highest Peak

This photo taken on April 18, 2015 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 20, 2015 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on a snow-covered Mount Paektu during sunrise in Ryanggang Province.
KNS—AFP/Getty Images This photo taken on April 18, 2015 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 20, 2015 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on a snow-covered Mount Paektu during sunrise in Ryanggang Province.

“Climbing Mt. Paektu provides precious mental pabulum more powerful than any kind of nuclear weapon,” said a state media report.

North Korean state media released a collection of celebratory images of leader Kim Jong Un at the summit of the country’s highest peak.

The state-run Rodong newspaper reported that Kim climbed Mt. Paektu on Saturday with a group of fighter pilots and other party and military leaders.

The country’s media is keen on portraying the supreme leader—a member of this year’s TIME 100—in action, such as when video surfaced of him flying a small plane.

North Korean propaganda says Mt. Paektu, which rises some 9,000 feet, was the birthplace of Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s father — though historians say he was actually born in Soviet Russia.

“When one climbs snow-stormy Mt. Paektu and undergoes the blizzards over it, one can experience its real spirit and harden the resolution to accomplish the Korean revolution,” the Rodong report said. “Climbing Mt. Paektu provides precious mental pabulum more powerful than any kind of nuclear weapon and it is the way for carrying forward the revolutionary traditions of Paektu and giving steady continuity to the glorious Korean revolution.”

TIME North Korea

South Korean Activist Plans to Airdrop 10,000 Copies of The Interview to North Korea

Stunt planned for late March could raise tensions between the two countries

Despite North Korea’s best efforts to stamp out The Interview, the comedy film about the attempted assassination of Kim Jong-Un may yet land on its territory.

Defector-turned-activist Park Sang-Hak is planning to send as many as 10,000 copies of the movie and 500,000 propaganda leaflets across the North Korean border by balloon on an unspecified date at the end of the month, AFP reports.

The demonstration will coincide with the five-year anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean warship, which the country has blamed on North Korea.

The South Korean government has acknowledged activists’ right to send the balloons but asked them to refrain in order to avoid increasing increasing tensions. North Korea has said it will respond with “cannons and missiles” if the propaganda balloons cross its borders.

“Nobody can stop it,” Park said. “I will keep sending leaflets into North Korea at the risk of my life.”

[AFP]

TIME North Korea

Someone Has Hacked Into Kim Jong Un’s Hair

NKOREA-POLITICS-KIM
KCNA/AFP/Getty Images North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attends a meeting of the political bureau of the central committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang, Feb. 18, 2015.

The evolution of the the North Korean leader's hairstyle continues

The Supreme Leader of North Korea appears to be changing things up stylewise, even as his government comes under renewed fire for human rights abuses.

At a politburo meeting on Wednesday, Kim Jong Un displayed a new haircut that appears to be the latest in his evolving style. The upward trapezoid-shaped hair is even more pronounced than previous hairdos, and his eyebrows aren’t getting any larger.

READ MORE Watch North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un Take the Controls of an Airplane

North Korea observer Frank Feinstein called out the makeover on Twitter.

TIME North Korea

Here Are 7 of the Weirdest North Korean State Slogans

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) appl
ED JONES—AFP/Getty Images North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) applauds during a military parade in honour of the 100th birthday of the late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.

"Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms!"

The North Korean leadership published a list of more than 300 slogans in state media on Thursday ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country’s Workers’ Party this year.

The lengthy list, comprising some 6,000 words in English translation, provides an often comical sense of some of the priorities of the government. Some of the statements are typical of the bellicose rhetoric North Korean directs toward South Korea and the United States, while others are more general declarations for improving different aspects of life, ranging from food production to the style of school uniforms.

An English translation was posted by the KCNA Watch, a website that monitors the North Korean official news agency. Here’s seven of the more bizarre slogans on the list:

  • “Let us build a fairyland for the people by dint of science!”
  • “More stylish school uniforms and quality school things for our dear children!”
  • “Should the enemy dare to invade our country, annihilate them to the last man so that none of them will survive to sign the instrument of surrender!”
  • “Let the wives of officers become dependable assistants to their husbands!”
  • “Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms by making mushroom cultivation scientific, intensive and industrialized!”
  • “Launch more cutting-edge sci-tech satellites and applications satellites of our style!”
  • “Make fruits cascade down and their sweet aroma fill the air on the sea of apple trees at the foot of Chol Pass!”

See the full list here

 

TIME North Korea

Russia Confirms North Korea Leader’s Visit in May

TO GO WITH Oly-2012-PRK,FEATURE(FILES)
Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un saluting as he watches a military parade in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012 .

Kremlin declined to mention Kim Jong-Un by name, leaving some ambiguity as to whether the reclusive leader himself might attend

North Korea’s reclusive leader, Kim Jong Un, will reportedly make his first official visit abroad this May to attend a World War II commemorative ceremony in Moscow, Russian officials said on Wednesday.

Russia’s presidential spokesperson confirmed that North Korea’s leader was among 20 “state leaders” who plan to attend the ceremony, which will mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reports.

However, the Kremlin declined to mention Kim Jong-Un by name, leaving some ambiguity as to whether Kim would attend in person or would be represented by his nominal head of state for foreign relations, Kim Yong-nam.

TIME North Korea

Dennis Rodman Doesn’t Believe North Korea Hacked Sony

CHINA-US-NKOREA-DIPLOMACY-BASKET
Wang Zhao—AFP/Getty Images Former NBA basketball player Dennis Rodman waits to check in for his flight to North Korea after his arrival at Beijing's international airport on Jan. 6, 2014.

"North Korea is going to hack a comedy, a movie that is really nothing? I can’t see that happening"

Dennis Rodman doesn’t believe that North Korea hacked Sony Pictures, the basketball star and self-declared friend of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un said in an interview published Saturday.

“How many movies have there been attacking North Korea? And they never hacked those. North Korea is going to hack a comedy, a movie that is really nothing? I can’t see that happening,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

Rodman, whose remarks came as he promotes his new documentary on his travels to North Korea, has traveled to the isolated country on multiple occasions and has received a warm welcome from Kim, whom he describes as a friend. The basketball star has been criticized for being too cozy with a country often considered among the most repressive in the world.

Read More: The Interview May Be Funny; North Korea and Kim Jong Un Are Not

The claim challenges the United States government’s allegation that North Korea hacked Sony Pictures in retaliation for depicting the assassination of the country’s dictator in the movie The Interview.

Sony ultimately cancelled the theatrical release of the film in response to terrorist threats against some theaters that planned to show the movie.

[THR]

TIME North Korea

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un May Visit Moscow, Russia Says

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address
KCNA—Reuters North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year's address in this January 1, 2015 photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang.

Kim hasn't made an official foreign visit before

Kim Jong Un could visit Moscow this May in his first foreign visit as North Korea’s leader, according to statements from Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov said on Wednesday that an invitation to attend the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany received a “positive” response from North Korea, the Wall Street Journal reports.

He would not elaborate further, however, and the North Korean government has not yet commented on the proposed trip.

Kim, who had sent an envoy to Russian President Vladimir Putin in November, has not made an official foreign trip since assuming power in 2011.

[WSJ]

TIME Race

Margaret Cho’s Golden Globes Skit Was Minstrelsy, Not Comedy

The joke didn’t belong at a show where Asian Americans are virtually absent

North Korea—particularly the Kim regime—has long been a goldmine for laughs, ripe for a comedic take. Comedian Andy Borowitz has racked up 273,000 followers channeling Kim Jong-un on Twitter with jokes that parody North Korean news. A recent tweet: “You mess with N Korea’s Internet, you mess with me, coz I’m the only one here who has Internet.” Borowitz isn’t the only one to draw content from Pyongyang. Long before North Korea’s entry into the axis of evil, ripping on the Kim dictatorship had become commonplace; it was easy, a comic release for situations—be it famine or labor camps or weapons—that nobody found very funny.

The most recent example: comedienne Margaret Cho’s running gag at the Golden Globes on Sunday. Uniformed as a pop-culture-savvy Army General, Cho mocked North Korea as her vermilion upside-down mouth spewed broken English. The reaction was split: viewers clamoring over how her performance was either hilarious or another recycled, racist routine.

Cho has played the late Kim Jong-il on 30 Rock, which earned her an Emmy nomination (Amy Poehler has, too, for Saturday Night Live). Was it racist? Eh. I say that because racism in any art form has always been conditional and based on audience and context, as well as the white, male gaze. Put Cho, donned in military gear, goose-stepping, stern and accented, in front of a Korean American or immigrant audience. Feels different—maybe even funny. Put that same skit in front of a non-Asian audience for an awards show where Asian Americans have historically been absent as nominees or presenters or even guests, but where the one Asian American was assigned not as herself, but as a perennial stereotype. Things got uncomfortable. Cho was invited for the sole purpose of making fun of the North Korean government in light of the alleged Sony hack, while a backdrop of white celebrities laughed.

Naturally, Twitter erupted.

Some background: Twenty years ago, Margaret Cho headlined All-American Girl, the first U.S. sitcom to feature an Asian-American family; we haven’t seen an Asian-American family in television situation comedy since, but will next month in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, starring Randall Park, who also portrayed Kim Jong-un in The Interview. The reactions to Cho’s Sunday performance capture a sliver of her unique role as a breakthrough Asian American artist that employs outrageous racial content: she has been applauded for dramatically pushing back racial barriers during her career, while also being accused of racism throughout it.

It’s the extra burden placed on women and comedians of color. White, heterosexual male comedians don’t have to carry the responsibility of representation. They are free to go for the laughs and contribute as culture makers, no matter how juvenile or unfunny or offensive the joke may be. There is no expectation that their jokes represent a monolith. There is no backlash if a joke about white, straight men misfires. On Sunday, the three comics—one Korean, all women—took risks. The Cosby rape joke. North Korea. The reception was heated and torn because there are restrictions, people believe, on what they can say, especially as women, and for Cho, as a woman of color. But that wasn’t why Cho flopped in my eyes. It didn’t work because the joke didn’t belong at the Golden Globes, where Asian Americans are virtually absent, and not for the lack of talent, but for the lack of roles that present us within a spectrum of humanity.

Cho’s supporters would disagree, likely arguing that her skit was nuanced, sophisticated, that is, satire. But Cho’s skit is only that when we erase the history of minstrelsy, if we consume her through a false prism where marginalized groups are afforded multi-dimensional representations in pop culture and beyond. Within that prism, we would “lighten up,” laugh.

Despite what happened on Sunday, I remain an avid fan of Margaret Cho. Her pioneering I’m The One That I Want is one of most notable, and brave, performances to deeply explore racialized sexism in Hollywood. And her endearing portrayal of her mother reminded me, and probably every other Korean watching, of our own immigrant matriarchs—their cultural missteps and reservoir of love. Yet I am acutely aware that when Cho viciously makes fun of her mom—and yes, she’s very funny when she does—the reason I am laughing is different than why non-Asians are. I am touched or humored by the closeness I feel to Cho’s portrayal of her mom; non-Asians, or non-immigrants, are amused because there is distance between them and the foreign Other. This isn’t to say they are laughing, menacingly or inappropriately, at Cho and her family. But it is humorous because it is unfamiliar. Bizarre and weird. Like Kim.

Kai Ma is a writer, journalist and editor. She is the former editor-in-chief of KoreAm, an indie monthly for which she earned the national New America Media Award for Best In-Depth and Investigative Reporting for her feature story on gay marriage and the Asian-American vote. The views expressed are solely her own.

TIME South Korea

South Korea’s President Will Hold Talks With the North Without Conditions

SKOREA-POLITICS-PARK
Jung Yeon-Jemdash — AFP/Getty Images South Korean President Park Geun-Hye speaks during her New Year press conference at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on Jan. 12, 2015.

The pledge follows recent overtures made by Kim Jong Un

South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced during a nationally televised address on Monday that she’s willing to hold a summit with North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un without any pre-conditions.

“My position is that to ease the pain of division and to accomplish peaceful unification, I am willing to meet with anyone,” said Park. “If it is helpful, I am up for a summit meeting with the North. There is no pre-condition.”

Park’s pledge follows similar overtures made by Kim Jong Un during his New Year’s address.

“Depending on the mood and circumstances to be created, we have no reason not to hold the highest-level talks,” said Kim.

Since the war between Seoul and Pyongyang was suspended by an armistice in 1953, South Korea’s and North Korea’s leaders have only met on two occasions — in 2000 and 2007.

[Al-Jazeera]

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