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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 257 (April 11, 2013)

'Subtle Change' in China's Policy on N. Korea May Affect Regional Security

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- There are clear signs of a "subtle change" in China's approach toward North Korea, which may affect "the calculus" in regional security conditions, a former senior U.S. official said on April 4.

   "Yes, there's a subtle shift in Chinese foreign policy...Over the short to medium term, that has the potential to affect the calculus in Northeast Asia," Kurt Campbell said at a forum hosted by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

   "You've seen it at the U.N. (Security Council). We've seen it in our private discussions and you see it in statements in Beijing," he added.

   Campbell served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs for four years. He left the department in February.

   He is one of key architects of the Barack Obama administration's policy of rebalancing diplomatic efforts and military presence toward Asia after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

   Campbell said North Korean officials are apparently noticing the mood change in Beijing.

   "I don't think that subtle shift can be lost on Pyongyang," he said. "They need a close relationship with China for every conceivable reason. It's not in their strategic interest to alienate every country that surrounds them."

   He said the U.S. and its regional allies -- South Korea and Japan -- are doing an efficient job in dealing with North Korea's military threats.

   They have discerned a gap between the language from Pyongyang and what's going on there actually, he said.

   "The most important new ingredient has been a recognition in China that their previous approach to North Korea is not bearing fruit."

   Debates are under way in Washington over whether Beijing is actually shifting its policy on Pyongyang, which continues provocative actions, including a nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

   Obama earlier openly said China is "recalculating" its policy toward the troublesome ally.

   "You're starting to see them recalculate and say, 'You know what? This is starting to get out of hand,'" Obama said in a television interview. "And so we may slowly be in a position where we're able to force a recalculation on the part of North Koreans."

   But many analysts say there will be no fundamental shift in the foreseeable future, as China needs the survival of the socialist ally for many reasons.


Two Koreas' Satellites Photographed by S. Korean Scientist

DAEJEON, South Korea (Yonhap) -- A South Korean space scientist said on April 4 that he, for the first time, has photographed together two satellites, one launched by South Korea and the other by North Korea, that were orbiting over the Korean Peninsula.

   It was the first time that the two Koreas' satellites had been photographed together over the Korean Peninsula, said Oh Jun-ho, a professor at the state-run Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST).

   Oh had photographed the North Korean satellite on March 27 for the first time but not with the one from South Korea.

   South Korea launched the Korea Space Launch Vehicle-1 (KSLV-1) carrying a satellite known as "Naro" on Jan. 30, while North Korea blasted off its space launch vehicle, named "Unha-3," carrying a communication satellite dubbed "Kwangmyongsong 3-2" on Dec. 12.

   On April 4, Oh said he photographed the Naro satellite from the rooftop of a KAIST lab at 7:46 p.m. and an image of the Kwangmyongsong 3-2 satellite 32 minutes later.

   Other countries including South Korea have not spotted the North's satellite, claiming it has yet to be confirmed whether Kwangmyongsong 3-2 has been put into orbit. They have called it a "long-range rocket launch."

   On Feb. 27, North Korea said it registered its Kwangmyongsong 3-2 satellite with the United Nations.


German FM Says North Korea's Threats 'Unacceptable'

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said recent war-like rhetoric from North Korea is "unacceptable" and pledged to closely work with South Korea to help defuse tensions on the Korea Peninsula, Seoul's foreign ministry said on April 4.

   Westerwelle made the remarks during a 15-minute telephone conservation with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, who is in Washington in early April.

   The German minister told Yun that the North's recent threats were "unacceptable" and his country "will play all possible roles to resolve the North Korean issue," the ministry said in a statement.

   Yun told Westerwelle that Seoul is coping with Pyongyang's threats "in a calm, but resolute manner," according to the statement.

   This week, North Korea drastically increased the stakes in an escalating standoff with South Korea and the United States, by vowing to restart a mothballed nuclear reactor, declaring to use its uranium enrichment facility to make nuclear weapons and banning South Korean workers from entering an inter-Korean industrial complex in the North's border city of Kaesong.

   The North has issued bellicose rhetoric since the U.N. imposed tougher sanctions last month to punish it for conducting its third nuclear test, but the severity of the rhetoric reached a fever pitch in recent days.

   U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the North's recent rhetoric presents a "real, clear danger" to the U.S. and its Asia-Pacific allies.


U.S. Not Taking Action to Evacuate Americans in Pyongyang Yet

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- North Korea has asked all embassies in Pyongyang to move out staff for their security amid sharp military tensions, but the United States said on April 5 it has no plans yet to take extraordinary steps with regard to Americans in the socialist nation.

   The U.S. has no embassy or consulate in North Korea since they have no diplomatic ties. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang serves as interim protecting power for the U.S. and provides basic consular services to American citizens.

   "We have been in touch with the Swedes, our protecting power in the DPRK (North Korea), because obviously if they were to change their status, we would have to inform American citizens in the DPRK," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, briefing reporters. "At this point, we have no reason to believe that they will make any changes."

   She said she has no exact number of U.S. people staying in the North, adding the majority of Americans there are nongovernmental organization workers and occasional tourists. One Korean-American man, in his 40s, has been detained by North Korean security authorities for months.

   Nuland confirmed press reports that North Korea's foreign ministry sent such warning messages to foreign diplomatic missions there.

   In the notice, the ministry said a war could break out anytime soon and the safety of foreigners is not guaranteed, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency, which has a bureau in Pyongyang.

   Nuland said the North's message was delivered to every embassy in Pyongyang through a "diplomatic circular."

   With Pyongyang's intentions unclear, South Korea said it is trying to figure out whether it is bluffing or serious in asking foreign embassies to evacuate their staffs.

   The British government said it has no immediate plans to move its officials out of Pyongyang.

   Nuland would not be drawn into a question about the possibility that North Korea will carry out its military threats.

   "I am not in a position to have a crystal ball on that kind of thing," she said. "Obviously, we're going to take prudent precautions."

   She noted that the U.S. Embassy in Seoul put out a message to U.S. citizens in South Korea that there is no specific information to suggest an imminent threat to them or related facilities.


S. Korea Confirms Pyongyang Link in March Cyber Attacks

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Amid escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula, the South Korean government on April 10 announced that North Korea was behind the massive hacking attack that paralyzed networks of local financial firms and broadcasters in March.

   Three South Korean banks -- Shinhan, NongHyup and Jeju -- and their insurance affiliates as well as three TV broadcasters -- KBS, MBC and YTN -- were hit by the cyber attack as malicious code infected some 48,000 computers in their networks on March 20.

   Following the initial attack, 58 YTN affiliate servers and 14 anti-Pyongyang Web sites, including those operated by North Korean defectors, also suffered another round of attacks on March 25 and 26.

   "An analysis of cyber terror access logs, malicious code and North Korean intelligence showed that the attack methods were similar to those used by the North's Reconnaissance General Bureau, which has led hacking attacks against South Korea," Lee Seung-won, an official at the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning, said in a press conference.

   The ministry said South Korea plans to hold a state cyber security meeting on Thursday led by the head of the country's spy agency and attended by 15 government agencies.

   Government officials said the North has prepared the attack plan since June last year by distributing malicious code through at least six PCs that accessed local networks a minimum of 1,590 times. Local networks were directly accessed from North Korea on 13 occasions out of the total, they added.

   "North Korean PCs first used local infiltration routes to test the attack orders in February," said Chun Kil-soo, the head of the Korea Internet Security Center at the state-run Korea Internet & Security Agency.

   Of the 76 pieces of malicious code used in the attacks, there were 18 bits of code exclusively used by North Korean hackers that had been used in previous hacking attempts, according to Chun.

   The official also said that out of the 49 infiltration routes detected, including 25 local and 24 overseas routes, 22 were Internet addresses that the North has used since 2009 to launch hacking attacks on Seoul.

   The announcement comes as North Korea is ratcheting up threats against Seoul and Washington ahead of an imminent missile test.

   While critics almost immediately pointed fingers at Pyongyang, the government had kept mum on the communist state's involvement, saying it was in the process of a "multilateral" probe to track down "all possible infiltration routes."

   Earlier in the probe, the communications watchdog said a Chinese IP address accessed NongHyup's update management server and generated malicious files, fueling speculations of the North's involvement.

   The watchdog, however, retracted the announcement a day later and acknowledged that it had mistaken a private IP address used by NongHyup as an IP address allocated to China.

   The March hacking attacks marks the latest attack in Pyongyang's growing pursuit of technological warfare. While the communist state has denied allegations, it has been blamed for a series of cyber attacks on the Web sites of South Korean government agencies and financial institutions in the past few years.

   North Korea is known to operate a cyber warfare unit of 3,000 elite hackers who are trained to break into computer networks to steal information and distribute malware.



S. Korea Steps up Monitoring of N. Korea Missile Launch

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States have upgraded their surveillance status to keep closer tabs on an imminent missile launch by North Korea amid escalating tension on the Korean Peninsula, military officials said on April 10.

   Pyongyang is believed to have completed preparations for a mid-range missile launch from its east coast after it moved two Musudan missiles to its east coast last week by rail and mounted them on mobile launchers.

   Ahead of an imminent test, the Combined Forces Command raised "Watchcon" 3 status, a normal defense condition, by one level to step up surveillance monitoring and increase the number of intelligence staff, a senior military official said.

   South Korea's military also launched an emergency task force team charged with monitoring and analyzing the latest development in North Korea's preparations, he said.

   South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials have been closely monitoring the North Korean facility believed to contain the Musudan missiles mounted on the TELs (transporter-erector-launcher). The missile can fly 3,000-4,000 kilometers, making it capable of hitting the U.S. base in Guam in the Pacific Ocean.

   Seoul officials say there are high chances that Pyongyang could fire off a missile around April 15 to mark the birthday of late founding leader Kim Il-sung, the current ruler Kim Jong-un's grandfather. In 2012, the North unsuccessfully conducted a rocket launch days before the 100th anniversary of Kim's birth.

   Officials in Seoul say there are possibilities that the North may fire off several missiles from different sites, in case of an unsuccessful launch of the Musudan missile, which has never been tested in the nation before.

   Musudan is a liquid-propellant, single warhead missile based on the Russian R-27 and using adapted Soviet Scud technology.
According to satellite imagery, four or five more TELs were recently spotted in South Hamgyong Province, sparking speculation that the North may fire off missiles in several places.

   The TELs were believed to be launch platforms for short-range Scud missiles, which have a range of 300-500 kilometers, and medium-range Nodong missiles, which can travel 1,300-1,500 km, the source said.

   "There are clear signs that the North could simultaneously fire off Musudan, Scud and Nodong missiles," a government source said, asking for anonymity citing confidential information.

   To track the missile's trajectory, two Aegis destroyers with SPY-1 radar, which can track hundreds of targets as far as 1,000 kilometers away, have been on standby on the east and west coasts of the Korean Peninsula.

   The South Korean military is also operating the ground-based missile defense radar system Green Pine, and the early warning aircraft Peace Eye under a stepped up military readiness status to prepare for a potential rocket launch, according to military officials.

   Japan said on April 9 that it has deployed PAC-3 missile interceptors to key locations around Tokyo.

   On April 9, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told Congress the U.S. is capable of intercepting a North Korean missile, should Pyongyang launch one anytime soon. But Washington may decide not to shoot it down if the projected trajectory shows it is not a threat.

   While Pyongyang had notified its planned trajectory of a long-range rocket to its neighboring nations ahead of the Dec. 12 rocket launch, it has not yet given notice to its airmen and mariners to stay out of the region.

   A senior government official said the North may have decided not to set a "no-fly, no-sail zone" in fear that its missiles could be destroyed by Japan's missile interception system.

   "Musudan's missile range can differ depending on the launching angle and the quantity of fuel. If North Korea sets a no-fly, no-sail zone, the missile propellant and warhead will fall within the area, which would give a trajectory of the planned launch," the official spoke on the condition of anonymity due to sensitivity of the issue. "The North may be worried that Japan could strike its missiles."

   North Korea is believed to have more than 1,000 missiles of varying types, with most only able to target South Korea and some capable of hitting some Japanese and U.S. military bases.

   Seoul considers the mobile launch platforms as a big threat to its missile defense system as it is hard to detect wheeled vehicles and destroy them because they can move around.

   The North claimed the December rocket launch was aimed at sending a satellite into space, though Seoul and Washington condemned it as a covert ballistic missile test.

   It remains unclear whether the North has mastered the technology to develop a nuclear warhead that can be fitted on a long-range missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland.


Chuck Hagel Says North Korea Nearing 'Dangerous Line'

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel warned on April 10 that North Korea has come very close to a "dangerous line" with its sharp statements iand provocative steps.

   "North Korea has been, with its bellicose rhetoric, its actions, has been skating very close to a dangerous line," he said during a press conference at the Pentagon. "Their actions and words have not helped defuse a combustible situation."

   He emphasized that North Korea's threats should be ratcheted down and its actions "neutralized."

   Hagel met with media mainly to discuss the department's budget plans for next year. But the first question from reporters was about the North Korean crisis.

   Hagel noted North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong-un, is unpredictable amid reports that the communist nation may soon launch a ballistic missile with a range of 3,000-4,000 kilometers from a mobile launcher on the east coast.

   Some suggest the North may also be getting ready to fire other types of missiles into the Pacific.

   In the event that Pyongyang remains recalcitrant, the U.S. is fully prepared to take any contingency measures, added the Pentagon boss.

   "The reality is that he (Kim) is unpredictable. That country is unpredictable. If that is the reality that we're dealing with, and it is, you prepare for every contingency," Hagel said.

   Sitting next to Hagel, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would not provide a detailed assessment of whether Pyongyang has mastered a technology to mount a nuclear bomb onto a missile.

   "The proximity of the North Koreans to achieving a miniaturization of a nuclear device on a ballistic missile is really a classified matter," he said.

   The general, however, said the North conducted three nuclear tests and conducted several successful ballistic missile launches.

   "In the absence of concrete evidence to the contrary, we have to assume the worst case. And that's why we're postured as we are today," he said.

   The Pentagon requested a $526.6 billion budget for 2014, which will lead to the consolidation of bases, program reductions and restructuring of the civilian workforce among a set of measures to cut spending.

   Hagel described the measure as "changing the way we do business and reducing support costs."

   He made clear that his department's initiative to reach out to Asia won't be swayed.

   "This budget also increases the Defense Department's investments in its cyber workforce, continues to implement our rebalance to Asia and makes new investments in the flexible platforms needed for the future," he said.

   The Pentagon will also bolster sea-based missile defense systems to counter North Korean threats.

   The U.S. has around 28,500 soldiers in South Korea.

   It remains unclear how the Pentagon's spending cut efforts will affect their operations.

   The South Korean people are concerned that they will have to shoulder more of the financial burden of stationing American troops. The allies plan to begin a new round of talks later this year on sharing the costs.