North korea

Outstanding and eye-opening doc about North Korea: Beyond Utopia review

The documentary Beyond Utopia follows various families as they attempt to flee North Korea. It is eye-opening and outstanding. In essence, it is a life-or-death thriller told in real time where the stakes could not be higher. I watched at home, via a screening link, with a twenty-something who did not look at her phone once. Could there be a higher recommendation? The film has been assembled by the American director Madeleine Gavin who employed  a camera crew when it was safe to do so but otherwise made use of secret smuggled footage. Her way in is via Kim Seungeun, a South Korean minister who has bravely devoted himself –

Is North Korea about to test another nuke?

North Korea’s spring has started with a bang. The United States and South Korea have staged their largest joint military exercises in five years, and Pyongyang’s rhetoric is becoming more aggressive. Kim Jong Un has warned that the US and South Korea would ‘plunge into despair’ for holding the drills, as he fired two missiles into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Kim’s regime has already fired more than 20 missiles this year, launching increasingly ambitious and sophisticated ballistic and cruise missiles. Earlier this week, North Korean state media proudly claimed that the regime had developed tactical nuclear weapons for the first time. Photographs showed Kim inspecting what looked like miniaturised nuclear warheads that

Why did North Korea fire a missile over Japan?

It was a new dawn, a new day, and a new North Korean missile test. The land of the morning calm – as South Korea is affectionately-nicknamed – awoke to the launch of the fifth North Korean ballistic missile in ten days. Over the past ten months, the international community has become accustomed to a growing number of North Korean missile launches, of an increasingly diverse range of missiles. Kim Jong-un’s determination for North Korea to become a nuclear state, and be recognised as such is only heightening. Russia and China are now more reticent than ever to side with the West and support sanctions on North Korea Last night’s

Can Kim Jong-un survive for another ten years?

Ten years ago today, at noon on 19 December 2011, the veteran newsreader and ‘Pink Lady’ Ri Chun-hee, donned an unusual black hanbok. Struggling to hold back her tears, Ri announced that North Korea’s Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il – a recluse workaholic who had led the country for 17 years – had died. On the same day, his twenty-something second son, Kim Jong-un, was duly anointed as the ‘great successor to the revolutionary cause’. Today’s anniversary does not reflect well on Kim’s legacy as leader of North Korea. He now rules a state crippled by economic problems, beset by factionalism in the ruling party, and which has sour relations with

North Korea is on the verge of a humanitarian collapse

During the Trump years, North Korea was hardly ever out of the news. From the US President’s threats of ‘fire and fury’ against the rogue state, to dramatic meetings with Kim Jong-un in Singapore and Hanoi, the world’s attention was firmly focused on Pyongyang. But with Trump out of office, the chaos of Covid-19, and the fall of Afghanistan, North Korea has fallen off the agenda. That could well be a terrible mistake, considering the state’s pressing humanitarian crisis. Following the coronavirus outbreak last January, North Korea shut its borders almost completely. As a result trade with China, by far its biggest economic partner, has decreased by at least 80

North Korea’s cryptic crisis

For years, the West has tried to cajole the North Korean regime using sanctions, much to the frustration of Kim Jong-un. But now in the era of Covid, Pyongyang has been forced to inflict greater economic harm on itself, entrenching its international isolation and the suffering of its people. The hermit kingdom was one of the first countries to close itself off. The border with South Korea is already one of the most fortified in the world, while the northern Chinese perimeter, a vital point of trade, was sealed in January 2020 before many in the West had even heard of Covid. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the

Lil’ Kim: should the West prepare for chaos in North Korea?

On 24 June, North Korean state TV aired a short interview with an unnamed Pyongyang resident. The man, who appeared to be in his fifties, said that his fellow countrymen had all been left heartbroken and in tears when they saw the new, ‘emaciated’ look of Kim Jong-un. The country’s hereditary dictator, who hadn’t been seen in public for a month, recently re-emerged looking rather different. Even now it’s a bit of a stretch to call him ‘emaciated’, since his estimated body weight is nearly 19 stone. Still, it is a big drop from the 23 stone he weighed only a month earlier. However, it was not Kim’s weight loss

The increasing cruelty of the North Korean regime

On a humid summer’s day in Singapore three years ago today, Donald Trump became the first incumbent US president to meet with his North Korean counterpart. For all of the summit’s theatre, Kim Jong-un’s pledge to ‘work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula’ seems unlikely to be realised. Three years on, and the country shows little intention of either abandoning its nuclear ambitions or reforming Pyongyang. Instead, the regime has tightened its control over society, not least ideologically, after the failure of the Supreme Leader’s five-year economic plan. In 2018, the leadership assured North Koreans that the country had achieved its primary geopolitical aim of becoming a ‘fully-fledged nuclear

Freddy Gray

Donald Trump’s real-estate politik is working | 12 June 2018

Barack Obama tried to be the first Pacific President. He attempted to pivot America’s grand strategy eastwards in order to adapt to a changing world. He failed, by and large. After his meeting with Kim Jong-un today, Donald Trump has shown that he is moving further east. In fact, Trump could be turning into the first truly Global President. No doubt that sentence sounds ridiculous. Trump is an ‘American First’ nationalist who believes in tariffs and borders; he stands for everything we’ve been told globalisation isn’t. But there is a difference between globalisation as a supranational faith in the free-market; and globalisation as a process that is actually happening. In the real world, globalisation has replaced

Insane and fascinating: BBC World Service’s Lazarus Heist reviewed

The narrative podcast remains a form in search of a genre. The template set by the hit show Serial — enterprising American journalists with janky piano theme tune shed new light on tantalising murder — still predominates seven years on. To this we can add the format pioneered by S-Town (initial murder investigation subsides into rich human detail) and, more recently, the excellent Wind of Change (intriguing what-if maps cultural and macropolitical shifts, with bonus CIA window-dressing). I remain sceptical about the form’s usefulness as a way of breaking hard news. Caliphate, the New York Times jaw-dropper on the Islamic State, is less gripping now its key source has been

Beware the rise of state-sponsored cyberattacks

In November 2014, a glowing red skeleton appeared on the computer screens of executives at Sony Pictures Entertainment. ‘Hacked,’ began the accompanying message. It went on to explain that Sony data had been stolen and would be released to the world. ‘This is only the beginning,’ it warned. Gossipy emails about Angelina Jolie, licensing problems around the character of Spider-Man, and the script of the next James Bond film were all leaked online and lapped up by showbusiness reporters. Then things became much more serious. The hackers threatened a terror attack against the premiere of Seth Rogen’s film The Interview, which mocked North Korea and its leader. The studio capitulated,

Biden must learn from Trump’s mistakes on North Korea

Anniversaries are usually celebratory occasions, but not this one. It’s now been two years since the infamous Hanoi summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, and there is precious little to show other than an important lesson in how negotiations with North Korea can sour.  Joe Biden is now nearing his first one-hundred days in office. Little has been said about dealing with the North Korea problem. But one thing is for sure: a US-North Korea summit is far from imminent. Following their first encounter in Singapore in June 2018, it suited Trump and Kim to meet again. For both leaders, the theatre and optics of their gathering was too good to resist a second

What will Joe Biden do about North Korea?

Kim Jong-un marked the new year by treating North Koreans to several days of lengthy speeches followed by a display of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities. Behind this show of power lies a truth that Jong-un and his country faces a series of unprecedented challenges this year. Sanctions continue to bite and, combined with the coronavirus pandemic, the North Korean economy remains paralysed. Yet this doesn’t mean the task for Joe Biden in dealing with a problem like North Korea will be easy: in fact, with domestic problems exacerbating, it will make Biden’s task even harder. In 2018, the North Korean leader set out a ‘new strategic line’. In

Why liberals turn a blind eye to the global persecution of Christians

The new episode of Holy Smoke is about the persecution of Christians. That’s a familiar concept, even if we don’t read much about it in the media. But here’s what it means in 2019: The rape, murder and dismemberment of pregnant Christian women in Nigeria by Islamist thugs. The use of face-recognition technology by the Chinese government to monitor, control and, where it deems necessary, eradicate Christian worship by demolishing thousands of churches The evisceration of ancient Christian communities in the lands of the Bible. The relentless torture of Christians in North Korea. The burning of Christian villages by Hindu nationalists in India, and vicious attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka

A classic Bond villain

North Korea watchers are good book-buyers, rarely able to resist scratching that itch of interest caused by the world’s worst regime. Accounts by escapees sit on our shelves alongside the memoirs of anyone (Kim Jong-il’s sushi chef, for example) who has come into contact with the country or its leadership. Some books, such as Barbara Demick’s 2009 Nothing to Envy, break through to a wider audience. But the questions still need to be satisfied. What is the world’s most closed society like? What do its captive population actually believe? And who are the leaders of this communist monarchy? Through open source material, repeated travel to the country and first-hand interviews

Donald Trump faces a big problem in his meeting with Kim Jong-un

Donald Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un in Hanoi is a diplomatic triumph for Pyongyang. For the second time in under a year, the North Korean leader gets to strut his stuff on the world stage. Kim Jong-un is able to stand next to President Trump as – in his imagination – an equal. The Americans, for their part, have had to come to the table and are going to (among other things) likely hear demands for them to reduce their military presence in and around Korea. No, it’s not dignified, but what else can the president do? Can anything come from these talks? Maybe. Both sides clearly want there to be some progress in the today.

What Phoebe did next

After the all-conquering success of Fleabag — her brilliant dark comedy about a smart but rudderless young woman in London — Phoebe Waller-Bridge could presumably have done whatever she wanted for her next TV project. And what she wanted to do next, it now turns out, is very odd indeed. Killing Eve (BBC1, Saturday) — which Waller-Bridge has adapted from a novel by Luke Jennings but doesn’t appear in — has its moments of recognisably ordinary life. But not many. Near the beginning, for example, Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) woke with a Saturday-morning hangover and unwelcome memories of her karaoke performance the night before. Yet within minutes she’d been called

Donald Trump’s real-estate politik is working

Barack Obama tried to be the first Pacific President. He attempted to pivot America’s grand strategy eastwards in order to adapt to a changing world. He failed, by and large. After his meeting with Kim Jong-un today, Donald Trump has shown that he is moving further east. In fact, Trump could be turning into the first truly Global President. No doubt that sentence sounds ridiculous. Trump is an ‘American First’ nationalist who believes in tariffs and borders; he stands for everything we’ve been told globalisation isn’t. But there is a difference between globalisation as a supranational faith in the free-market; and globalisation as a process that is actually happening. In

The sorry state of Trump’s affairs

 Washington, DC It was a petulant Donald Trump who appeared at a White House press briefing on Tuesday with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in. When a reporter asked if Trump had confidence in the deputy attorney-general, Rod Rosenstein, given the latest complicated twists in the investigation into collusion with Russia, Trump snapped that Moon didn’t want to hear about it. But it won’t be easy for Trump to dismiss these questions as piffle for long. Even as the old boy tries to pose as a great statesman, tales of his past shenanigans keep mounting. The latest is an exposé in New York magazine that suggests the Republican fund-raiser Elliott

Trump’s critics should give him the credit he deserves for Korea

Donald Trump’s critics waste little time in condemning him. Whether it’s an ill-judged gaffe or a spelling mistake in a tweet, pointing the finger at a president some love to hate is a popular exercise in virtue signalling. But those who shout the loudest about Trump’s misdemeanours seem to be curiously quiet when The Donald does actually get things right – not least when it comes to North Korea. After all, it’s no coincidence that today’s historic summit on the Korean peninsula has happened on Trump’s watch. While Barack Obama prevaricated over what to do about North Korea, making little headway in dealing with Pyongyang – and arguably making things worse