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Posts tagged ‘Korean Peninsula’

NKorea nukes, missiles top concerns in Japan defense review

August 08, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — The threat to Japan from North Korea has reached a “new stage” now that the country is capable of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile and its nuclear weapons program has advanced, a defense ministry report said Tuesday.

North Korea was the main concern cited as Japan’s Cabinet approved the report, less than two weeks after the North test-fired a second ICBM that analysts say has a range that could include more of the U.S. mainland, including Los Angeles and Chicago.

The security review came just a week after Itsunori Onodera, who was defense minister in 2012-2014, resumed that job when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe revamped his Cabinet after a slew of politically costly scandals.

Onodera told reporters Friday he planned to update Japan’s defense guidelines to reflect the threat from the North, suggesting he may seek an offensive missile capability. “North Korea’s missile launches have escalated tensions both in terms of quality and quantity. I would like to study if our current missile defense is sufficient just with the Aegis destroyers and (surface-to-air) PAC 3,” said Onodera, who headed a ruling party study in March that called for beefing up Japan’s missile response capability.

The ICBM North Korea tested July 30 flew on a highly lofted trajectory and landed about 200 kilometers (120 miles) off Japan’s Hokkaido island. North Korea has been increasing the range, accuracy and versatility of its missiles and diversifying its launch sites and methods. It has conducted two nuclear tests and more than 20 missile launches over the past year alone, exceeding the total of 16 missiles launched over 18 years under former leader Kim Jong Il, the report said.

“North Korea’s development of ballistic missiles and its nuclear program are becoming increasingly real and imminent problems for the Asia-Pacific region including Japan, as well as the rest of the world,” it said.

The 532-page defense report also raised concerns over China’s ongoing assertiveness in air and maritime activity in the regional seas, and raised concerns about the lack of transparency in the country’s military buildup with its budget tripling over the past decade.

While North Korea’s intentions are mainly to put the mainland U.S. in range, its weapons advancements have furthered Abe’s effort to beef up the role of Japan’s military and its missile defenses. Joint exercises with its ally the U.S., also, have dramatically increased. The Defense Ministry already plans to acquire upgraded ship-to-air interceptors SM-3 Block IIAs and mobile PAC-3 MSEs, which would double the coverage area of Japan’s current defenses.

The defense report was originally meant to be issued Aug. 1, but that was delayed by the Cabinet reshuffle. Days before that, defense minister Tomomi Inada stepped down after admitting that ministry officials had covered up information about dangers faced by Japanese peacekeeping troops while they were stationed in South Sudan.

The rise in regional tensions with both China and North Korea has raised the level of alert in Japan. Despite Onodera’s comments, the ministry’s report did not mention the possibility of installing more advanced defense systems such as the land-based Aegis Ashore or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missiles, or THAAD, or allowing Japan’s self-defense-only troops to conduct retaliatory attacks as proposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The THAAD system was deployed last year in South Korea, much to the irritation of China, which has opposed the installation of systems that it suspects could be used to conduct surveillance from outside its borders.

In the East China Sea, China has stepped up activity around Japanese-controlled islands claimed by both countries, expanding to the south and also elsewhere along the Japanese coast, the Defense Ministry report said.

Increased Chinese activity in the East China Sea prompted Japanese air defense troops to scramble against Chinese military aircraft a record 851 times during fiscal 2016, up from 571 times the year before.

“China, particularly when it comes to maritime issues where its interests conflict with others, continues to act in a coercive manner,” the report said. It expressed “strong concern” over China’s behavior and its impact on regional security.

S. Korea’s president seeks talks with Kim Jong Un

July 07, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s new liberal president said he’s willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un amid heightened animosities in the wake of the North’s first intercontinental ballistic missile test-launch.

During a speech Thursday ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Germany, President Moon Jae-in also proposed the two Koreas resume reunions of families separated by war, stop hostile activities along their heavily fortified border and cooperate on the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Moon’s statement reiterated his push to use both dialogue and pressure to try to resolve the standoff over North Korea’s weapons programs. But it’s unclear that North Korea would accept any of Moon’s overtures as South Korea is working with the United States and others to get the country punished for the ICBM launch Tuesday.

President Donald Trump said Thursday he’s considering unspecified “pretty severe things” in response to the North’s ICBM launch. A pre-emptive military strike may be among Trump’s responses, but analysts say it’s one of the unlikeliest options the U.S. can take because North Korean retaliations would cause massive casualties in South Korea, particularly in Seoul, which is within easy range of North Korea’s artillery.

“The current situation where there is no contact between the relevant officials of the South and the North is highly dangerous,” Moon said. “I am ready to meet with Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea at any time at any place, if the conditions are met and if it will provide an opportunity to transform the tension and confrontation on the Korean Peninsula.”

Moon said he and Kim could put all issues on the negotiating table including the North’s nuclear program and the signing of a peace treaty to officially end the 1950-53 Korean War. An armistice that ended the war has yet to be completed with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war.

Since taking office in May, Moon has been trying to improve ties with North Korea, but his efforts have produced little, with the North testing a series of newly developed missiles including an ICBM. “I hope that North Korea will not cross the bridge of no return,” Moon said in Thursday’s speech. “Whether it will come out to the forum for dialogue, or whether it will kick away this opportunity of dialogue that has been made with difficulty is only a decision that North Korea can make.”

The North’s ICBM launch, its most successful missile test to date, has stoked security worries in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo as it showed the country could eventually perfect a reliable nuclear missile capable of reaching anywhere in the United States. Analysts say the missile tested Tuesday could reach Alaska if launched at a normal trajectory.

After the launch, Kim said he would never put his weapons programs up for negotiation unless the United States abandons its hostile policy toward his country. Kim’s statement suggested he will order more missile and nuclear tests until North Korea develops a functioning ICBM that can place the entire U.S. within its striking distance.

In a show of force against North Korea, South Korea and the United States staged “deep strike” precision missile firing drills on Wednesday. In North Korea’s capital, thousands of people rallied Thursday in Kim Il Sung square to celebrate the launch.

N. Korea launches possibly most successful missile test yet

July 04, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea conducted what may be its most successful missile test yet on Tuesday, firing an intermediate-range weapon that could be powerful enough to reach Alaska. It’s Pyongyang’s latest step in a push for nuclear weapons capable of hitting any part of the United States.

While some details are still unclear, the launch seems designed to send a political warning to Washington and its chief Asian allies, Seoul and Tokyo, even as it allows North Korean scientists a chance to perfect their still-incomplete nuclear missile program. It came on the eve of the U.S. Independence Day holiday, days after the first face-to-face meeting of the leaders of South Korea and the United States, and ahead of a global summit of the world’s richest economies.

Officials say the missile fired from North Phyongan province, in the North’s western region, flew for about 40 minutes, which would be longer than any other similar tests previously reported, and covered about 930 kilometers (580 miles). South Korean analysts say it’s likely that it was a retest of one of two intermediate-range missiles launched earlier this year.

Once U.S. missile scientist, David Wright, estimated that the missile, if the reported time and distance are correct, could have a possible maximum range of 6,700 kilometers (4,160 miles), which could put Alaska in its range if fired at a normal trajectory.

North Korea has a reliable arsenal of shorter-range missiles, but is still trying to perfect its longer-range missiles. Some analysts believe North Korea has the technology to arm its short-range missiles with nuclear warheads, but it’s unclear if it has mastered the technology needed to build an atomic bomb that can fit on a long-range missile. It has yet to test an ICBM, though it has previously conducted long-range satellite launches that critics say are covers meant to test missile technology.

President Donald Trump responded on Twitter: “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”

“This guy” presumably refers to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. China is North Korea’s economic lifeline and only major ally, and the Trump administration is pushing Beijing to do more to push the North toward disarmament.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga suggested the altitude of this missile might have been higher than earlier tests. He did not give further details, including the distance of the flight and where the missile landed.

Just last week South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump met for the first time and vowed to oppose North Korea’s development of atomic weapons. Japan’s government said the missile was believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan, but no damage to ships or aircraft in the area was reported.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sharply criticized North Korea for the launch. “The latest launch clearly showed that the threat is growing,” Abe said. Abe, who talked by phone with Trump on Monday, said the two leaders plan to seek cooperation from world leaders when they attend a G20 summit in Germany.

Lee Illwoo, a Seoul-based military commentator, said the missile traveled for a far longer period of time than if it would have been fired at a normal angle. A North Korean scud-type missile, with a range of 800-900 kilometers, would land in its target site within 10 minutes if fired at a standard angle of 45 degrees. Lee said it’s likely that North Korea fired either Hwasong-12 missile or a solid-fuel Pukguksong-2, both of which were tested in May.

On May 14, North Korea launched the Hwasong-12 missile, which its state media later said flew as high as 2,111 kilometers (1,310 miles) and landed in a targeted area in the ocean about 787 kilometers (490 miles) from the launch site. On May 21, North Korea also tested the Pukguksong-2, which traveled about 500 kilometers (310 miles).

China’s U.N. ambassador, Liu Jieyi, warned Monday that further escalation of already high tensions with North Korea risks getting out of control, “and the consequences would be disastrous.” The Korean Peninsula has been divided between the American-backed South and the authoritarian North since before the 1950-53 Korean War. Almost 30,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

Tuesday’s launch is the first by the North since a June 8 test of a new type of cruise missile that Pyongyang says is capable of striking U.S. and South Korean warships “at will.” Since taking office on May 10, Moon has tried to improve strained ties with North Korea, but the North has continued its missile tests. Pyongyang says it needs nuclear weapons and powerful missiles to cope with what it calls rising U.S. military threats.

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Friend of ousted S. Korean president gets 3 years in prison

June 23, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean court on Friday sentenced a longtime friend of ousted President Park Geun-hye to three years in prison for using her presidential ties to unlawfully get her daughter into a prestigious Seoul university.

The Seoul Central District Court said Choi Soon-sil “committed so many illegal activities” as she pressured Ewha Womans University to grant admission and then provide academic favors to her daughter despite Chung Yoo-ra’s questionable qualifications.

Choi, Park’s friend of 40 years, is being tried separately over more serious charges, including allegations that she colluded with Park to take tens of millions of dollars from the country’s largest companies in bribes and through extortion.

Following months of massive protests by millions and impeachment by lawmakers in December, Park was formally removed from office and arrested over the corruption scandal in March. She was indicted in April on bribery and other charges.

Choi Kyung-hee, Ewha’s former president, and Namkung Gon, the university’s former head of admissions, also received shorter prison terms on Friday for providing Chung favorable treatment. Chung was extradited from Denmark last month and is currently being investigated by prosecutors who see her as a key figure in the suspected bribery connections between former President Park and corporate giant Samsung.

According to prosecutors, Park colluded with Choi Soon-sil to take about $26 million in bribes from Samsung and was promised tens of millions of dollars more from Samsung and other large companies. Prosecutors say the bribery included $7 million Samsung provided to a sports consulting firm controlled by Choi that financed Chung’s equestrian training in Germany.

The allegations that Chung was sponsored by Samsung and received academic favors helped drive the popular anger that led to Park’s ouster. Many students were among the millions who protested against Park for weeks, angry that Chung got a free pass into an elite school because of her wealth and connections, while others navigate the country’s hyper-competitive school environment on their own.

S. Korea’s new president willing to visit rival North

May 10, 2017

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — New South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday he was open to visiting rival North Korea under the right conditions to talk about Pyongyang’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear-tipped missiles.

Moon’s softer stance on North Korea could create friction with Washington, which has swung from threats of military action to hints of dialogue as it seeks to formulate a policy under President Donald Trump.

Moon, speaking during his oath of office as the first liberal leader in a decade, also said he’ll “sincerely negotiate” with the United States, Seoul’s top ally, and China, South Korea’s top trading partner, over the contentious deployment of an advanced U.S. missile-defense system in southern South Korea. The system has angered Beijing, which says its powerful radars allow Washington to spy on its own military operations.

In a speech at the National Assembly hours after being declared the winner of Tuesday’s election, Moon pledged to work for peace on the Korean Peninsula amid growing worry over the North’s expanding nuclear weapons and missiles program.

“I will quickly move to solve the crisis in national security. I am willing to go anywhere for the peace of the Korean Peninsula — if needed, I will fly immediately to Washington. I will go to Beijing and I will go to Tokyo. If the conditions shape up, I will go to Pyongyang,” Moon said.

Moon, whose victory capped one of the most turbulent political stretches in the nation’s recent history, assumed presidential duties early in the morning after the National Election Commission finished counting and declared him winner of the special election necessitated by the ousting of conservative Park Geun-hye.

He is also expected to nominate a prime minister, the country’s No. 2 job that requires approval from lawmakers, and name his presidential chief of staff later Wednesday. Moon thanked the millions of people who staged peaceful protests for months calling for the ouster of Park, who was impeached and arrested in March over a corruption scandal. He also offered a message of unity to his political rivals — Moon’s Democratic Party has only 120 out of 300 seats in the National Assembly, so he may need broader support while pushing his key policies.

“Politics were turbulent (in the past several months), but our people showed greatness,” Moon said. “In face of the impeachment and arrest of an incumbent president, our people opened the path toward the future for the Republic of Korea,” said Moon, referring to South Korea’s formal name. To his rivals, Moon said, “We are partners who must lead a new Republic of Korea. We must put the days of fierce competition behind and hold hands marching forward.”

Taking up his role as the new commander in chief, Moon began his duties earlier in the day by receiving a call from Army Gen. Lee Sun-jin, chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, who briefed him on the military’s preparedness against North Korea.

He then left his private residence in an emotional send-off from hundreds of people and visited a national cemetery in Seoul. After bowing to the former presidents, independence fighters and war heroes, Moon wrote in a visitor book: “A country worth being proud of; a strong and reliable president!”

He also visited the offices of opposition parties, seeking support in governing the country split along ideological lines and regional loyalties. The leaders of China and Japan sent their congratulations. South Korea’s relations with Japan are strained by the Japanese military’s sexual exploitation of South Korean women during World War II, and relations with China have been irritated over the deployment of the THAAD missile-defense system. Moon made a campaign vow to reconsider THAAD.

The son of refugees who fled North Korea during the war, Moon will lead a nation shaken by the scandal that felled Park, whose criminal trial is scheduled to start later this month. Taking office without the usual two-month transition, Moon initially will have to depend on Park’s Cabinet ministers and aides, but he was expected to move quickly to replace them. He will serve the typical single five-year term.

Moon was chief of staff for the last liberal president, the late Roh Moo-hyun, who sought closer ties with North Korea by setting up large-scale aid shipments and working on now-stalled joint economic projects.

Winning 41 percent of the votes, he comfortably edged conservative Hong Joon-pyo and centrist Ahn Cheol-soo, who had 24 percent and 21 percent, respectively. The conservative Hong had pitched himself as a “strongman,” described the election as a war between ideologies and questioned Moon’s patriotism.

Park’s trial on bribery, extortion and other corruption charges could send her to jail for life if she is convicted. Dozens of high-profile figures, including Park’s longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil, and Samsung’s de-facto leader, Lee Jae-yong, have been indicted along with Park.

Moon frequently appeared at anti-Park rallies and the corruption scandal boosted his push to re-establish liberal rule. He called for reforms to reduce social inequalities, excessive presidential power and corrupt ties between politicians and business leaders. Many of those legacies dated to the dictatorship of Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, whose 18-year rule was marked by both rapid economic rise and severe civil rights abuse.

Many analysts say Moon likely won’t pursue drastic rapprochement policies because North Korea’s nuclear program has progressed significantly since he was in the Roh government a decade ago. A big challenge will be Trump, who has proven himself unconventional in his approach to North Korea, swinging between intense pressure and threats and offers to talk.

“South Koreans are more concerned that Trump, rather than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, will make a rash military move, because of his outrageous tweets, threats of force and unpredictability,” Duyeon Kim, a visiting fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, wrote recently in Foreign Affairs magazine.

Associated Press writer Foster Klug contributed to this report.

Japan holds evacuation drill amid tension from N. Korea

June 04, 2017

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese town conducted an evacuation drill Sunday amid rising fear that a North Korean ballistic missile could hit Japanese soil. More than 280 residents and schoolchildren from Abu, a small town with a population of just over 3,400 on Japan’s western coast, rushed to designated school buildings to seek shelter after sirens from loudspeakers warned them of a possible missile flight and debris falling on them.

The drill follows three consecutive weeks of North Korean missile tests. Last week, a missile splashed into the sea inside Japan’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone off the country’s western coast. It was the second such drill since March, when Tokyo instructed local governments to review their contingency plans and conduct evacuation exercises.

A similar drill was conducted Sunday in the neighboring prefecture of Fukuoka in southern Japan, and others are planned over the next few months.

This story has been corrected to show Abu town is on Japan’s western coast.

Pyongyang luxury hotel gets more modern, less Soviet, style

April 11, 2017

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea’s most famous luxury hotel has reopened after renovations that modernized its 1980s, vaguely Soviet, style. The Koryo is one of Pyongyang’s best-known and most visible landmarks, with its twin towers in the center of the capital. It was closed for several months while the first three floors were remodeled. The guest rooms weren’t changed.

People entering the hotel are now greeted by a brighter and more up-to-date look that — possibly to the disappointment of many exotica-seeking foreigners — is a sharp contrast with the opulent and vaguely Soviet style of its prior lobby.

The Koryo was built in 1985 under the instructions of North Korea’s “eternal president,” the late national founder Kim Il Sung, who wanted it to be a symbol of the country’s strength and modernity. It is a popular spot for socializing among local elites, foreign businessmen, diplomats and others who are able to afford its relatively high prices — a cappuccino in its lobby coffee shop goes for about $7. The cheapest rooms are $100 to $120 a night.

The hotel, located near Pyongyang’s main train station, also features an indoor pool and sauna, several places to eat, including a revolving restaurant atop one of its towers, a bookstore and other amenities one could only dream of in a provincial North Korean hotel.

In 2015 a major fire charred its upper floors, though the extent of damage and other information about the blaze has never been disclosed. At 43 stories, the Koryo has long been eclipsed in height by other hotels.

One of them is the 47-story Yanggakdo, and, tallest of all, the 105-story, pyramid-shaped Ryugyong. The Yanggakdo is more popular with budget or first-time visitors and is considered a notch or two lower than the Koryo, while the Ryugyong has been under construction for decades and has never been open for guests.

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