United States, South Korea Korea To Go Ahead With Olympic-Delayed Drills

The United States and South Korea will go ahead with joint military drills after the Paralympics, both of them confirmed Tuesday, despite the exercises always infuriating Pyongyang and the Olympics having driven a rapprochement on the peninsula.

Washington previously agreed to a request from Seoul to delay the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises — which usually begin in late February or early March — until after the Pyeongchang Games in the South, to try to avoid stoking tensions.

The Olympics have since seen a charm offensive by Pyongyang, which dispatched athletes, cheerleaders and its leader’s sister Kim Yo Jong to attend the Games.

She passed on Kim Jong Un’s invitation to the South’s President Moon Jae-in to come to a summit in Pyongyang — which he did not immediately accept, saying the right conditions were needed first.

Analysts say the Games-driven bonhomie on the peninsula may not last long once the sporting festivals are over, particularly once Key Resolve, a command post drill, and the Foal Eagle theatre-level field exercise begin.

The start date will be announced by the two allies between the end of the Paralympics on March 18 and the beginning of April, Seoul’s defence minister Song Young-moo was quoted as telling the National Assembly by a ministry spokesman.

A US Forces Korea spokesman confirmed the position to AFP. “The date for the postponed exercises — Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — will be announced after the Paralympics,” he said. “The exercises have been postponed, not scrapped.”

General Vincent K. Brooks, who commands the 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea, last week told the US House Armed Services Committee that joint drills were “essential” to “deter North Korean aggression”.

Military tensions often run high during the exercises, with the North carrying out its own counter-drills against what it condemns as rehearsals for a war.

Pyongyang says it needs its nuclear weapons to defend itself against the threat of invasion by the US.

The North’s KCNA news agency on Monday accused the US of seeking to torpedo the reconciliatory mood by resuming the exercises.

“Trump and his clique are racketeering to nip peace in the bud that started sprouting on the Korean peninsula,” KCNA said in a commentary.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has previously said the drills would go ahead after the end of the Paralympics.

AFP

South Korea’s Moon Urges ‘Stern’ Response To New United States Tariffs

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called Monday for a “stern” response to new US tariffs on the South’s exports as concern grew over looming trade restrictions by Washington.

US President Donald Trump last week threatened retaliatory action against China and South Korea and vowed to revise or scrap a 2012 free trade deal with the South which he described as a “disaster”.

Trump also put his “America First” doctrine into action last month by imposing duties of 20 to 50 percent on large washing machines made in nations including the South, as well as tariffs on solar panels imported from China and elsewhere.

Seoul has said it would take the issue to the World Trade Organization while Beijing expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the move, adopted to protect US manufacturers.

The trade frictions have strained ties at a time when Seoul and Washington are seeking to present a united front against North Korea’s nuclear threat.

Moon, at a meeting with aides, expressed concern over “intensifying protectionism” that may take a toll on the South’s export-reliant economy — also the world’s 11th largest.

“I am concerned that widening restrictions by the US on our exports, including steel, electronics, solar panels and washing machines, may take a toll on the exports despite their global competitiveness,” he said.

“I’d like (officials) to respond to unreasonable protectionist measures in a confident and stern manner by… reviewing whether the measures violate the current Korea-US free trade pact,” he said.

Moon also urged officials to “actively argue the unfairness” of the tariffs when renegotiating the bilateral free trade deal.

Moon’s comments also came days after the US Commerce Department recommended hefty new tariffs on steel imports from countries including the South.

The US trade deficit — which Trump has vowed repeatedly to fix — widened even further during his first year in office, up 12 percent to $566 billion.

The Trump administration last July initiated talks to renegotiate the free trade pact with Seoul, arguing it was lopsided because America’s bilateral trade deficit had ballooned under it.

Two previous rounds of talks made little progress and Seoul’s chief trade negotiator Kim Hyun-chong said at the time there was “a long way to go”.

The next round of negotiations is scheduled in Washington next month.

AFP

Kim Jong’s Sister Lands In South Korea Ahead Of Winter Olympics

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister has landed in South Korea ahead of the Olympics.

Kim Yo Jong is the first member of Pyongyang’s ruling dynasty to set foot in its rival since the Korean War.

Yo Jong was also part of a high-level diplomatic delegation led by the North’s ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam — its highest-level official ever to go to the South — as the Winter Olympics trigger a diplomatic rapprochement between the rivals.

Their white Ilyushin-62 jet, marked in Korean script “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”, the North’s official name, and its tailfin emblazoned with a Northern emblem, touched down at Incheon airport near Seoul.

The last member of the Kim family to set foot in Seoul was Yo Jong’s grandfather Kim Il Sung, the North’s founder, after his forces invaded in 1950 and the capital fell.

Three years later the conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula divided by the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone, and the two sides technically in a state of war.

Now the North is subject to multiple rounds of UN Security Council sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, while the democratic South has risen to become the world’s 11th-largest economy.

Kim Yong Nam and Kim Yo Jong, both of them in dark coats with fur collars, were met by the South’s unification minister and other officials, exchanging pleasantries about the cold weather.

The leader’s sister looked relaxed, smiling calmly as she talked with them, before making her way through the terminal, with four bodyguards surrounding her closely, to take a high-speed train to the Winter Olympics host Pyeongchang.

The delegation’s trip is the diplomatic high point of a Games-driven rapprochement between the two Koreas, with dovish South Korean President Moon Jae-in pushing a “peace Olympics” that will open a door for dialogue to alleviate tensions and seek to persuade Pyongyang to give up its atomic ambitions.

Kim Yong Nam was due to attend a leaders’ reception on Friday ahead of the Olympics opening ceremony along with US Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, both of whose countries the North regularly threatens.

And Moon is scheduled to have lunch with the Pyongyang delegation on Saturday.

But all eyes are on Yo Jong — a key member of the Kim dynasty that has ruled the impoverished, isolated nation with an iron fist and pervasive personality cult over three generations.

The family are revered in the North as the “Paektu bloodline”, named after the country’s highest mountain and supposed birthplace of the late leader Kim Jong Il.

Many analysts suggest Yo Jong may be carrying a personal message to Moon from her brother.

 

6.3 Earthquake Hits North Korea Near Known Nuclear Site

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake has struck North Korea near a known nuclear test site – Punggye-ri. The Japanese Foreign Ministry claims that according to its data, “it was a nuclear test.”

 

“After examining the data we concluded that it was a nuclear tests,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono said at a briefing following a meeting of Japan’s National Security Council, Reuters reports.

North Korea’s state television said it would carry an important announcement at 06:30 GMT.

An allegedly artificial quake was detected at 12:36pm in North Hamgyeong Province, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA), Yonhap reports.

“Today, at around 12:36pm, we detected an artificial earthquake measuring 6.3 magnitude… we are analyzing whether a nuclear test was conducted,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, according to Yonhap.

The USGS reported the tremor as a 6.3 magnitude, while China’s earthquake administration also said it detected a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in northeastern North Korea, calling it a “suspected explosion,” Reuters reported.

South Korean scientists say the possible explosion was far more powerful than previous tremors recorded after Pyongyang’s tests.

“The power is 10 or 20 times or even more than previous ones,”Kune Y. Suh, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University, said, as quoted by Reuters. “That scale is to the level where anyone can say a hydrogen bomb test.”

Japan gives roughly the same estimate for the earthquake. According to Japanese meteorological agency, the tremors in North Korea were at least 10 times as powerful as previous nuclear tests.

The Pentagon and the JCS have urgently called for a crisis countermeasure, assuming that North Korea is most likely to have conducted a sixth nuclear test, the report added. Seoul has placed its military on highest alert and is closely cooperating with the US.

Seoul’s presidential office has already accused its neighbor of conducting a nuclear test while president Moon Jae-in has convened a National Security Council meeting.

Earlier in the day, North Korea’s official news agency (KCNA) reported that the Nuclear Weapons Institute has created a“more developed nuke,” that can be fitted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The new alleged hydrogen bomb, the report said, not only features“enormous destructive power” but can also be used to detonate a“super powerful” electromagnetic pulse.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service warned Monday that its neighbor might be preparing its sixth nuclear weapon test from a nuclear test site in Punggye-ri. North Korea has already conducted five nuclear tests – in 2006, 2009, 2013 and in January and September 2016. During the last test, the North claimed it had successfully detonated a small nuclear warhead.

Source: RT Newspaper

South Korea Arrests Nigerian for Smuggling Meth Worth $1.7m

South Korean Police said Wednesday they have arrested a 46 year-old Nigerian for smuggling large amounts of methamphetamines, also called meth, into the country through international mail from China.

The Nigerian yet to be identified is being detained by the Gyeongnam Provincial Police Agency in Seoul.

Yonhap, the Korean news agency said the Nigerian twice last week and via post attempted to smuggle into the country 605 grams of meth , worth some 2 billion won (US$1.77 million). The drug was hidden in women’s cosmetic products.

Each parcel was delivered via international express mail.

The volume of meth he tried to sneak into Korea is large enough for about 20,000 people, the police said.

The suspect, who lives in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, and has a blue-collar job, received the mail from China through Cambodia.

The police received intelligence about possible drug smuggling earlier and impounded the drugs at customs located at Incheon International Airport, it added.

The police said they are investigating whether the suspect had any accomplices.

It appears a Nigerian drug smuggling ring is very active in Asia, especially in India where many Nigerians have been arrested.

NAN