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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 267 (June 20, 2013)

FM, Diplomatic Mission Chiefs in SE Asia to Discuss N. Korean Defectors

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se will convene a meeting of overseas diplomatic mission chiefs in Southeast Asia this week to discuss ways to better protect North Korean defectors believed to be hiding in the region, a Seoul official said on June 14.

   The meeting, to be held in Singapore on June 15 when Yun visits the city-state, comes after nine young North Korean defectors were repatriated by Laos and China to their totalitarian homeland in late May.

   Yun's ministry had been under fire for failing in its duty to protect them and provide enough diplomatic support to prevent them from being sent to the North.

   Laos and some Southeast Asian nations have become key transit points for North Korean defectors, who flee their homeland through China with the aim of eventually entering South Korea.

   "The meeting aims to discuss measures to prevent the recurrence of a case like the recent forced repatriation of North Koreans and comprehensively examine the overseas diplomatic missions' work related to North Korean asylum seekers," the official at Seoul's foreign ministry said.

   The Singapore meeting "also seeks to gather opinions of heads of the missions on the ground and develop ways to provide support more effectively," the official said.

   Yun was attending the two-day meeting of the 36-member Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC), which was held on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.

   On the sidelines of the forum, Yun met with Lao Vice Foreign Minister Alounkeo Kittikhoun and discussed "issues of mutual concern," Yun's ministry said in a statement.

   The meeting between the two foreign ministers was "useful and productive," the statement said, without elaborating further on the issue of North Korean defectors.


N. Korean Leader's Rule Unlikely to Collapse: Former Top China Diplomat

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's rule is unlikely to collapse as he has firm control over the country's military and the ruling party, a former top Chinese diplomat was quoted as saying on June 15.

   Former Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan made the remark during a breakfast meeting with members of the Korea-China Exchange Association, participants said.

   Tang, an expert on Korean Peninsula issues, said that late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, father of the current leader, had laid all the groundwork before his death for his son to smoothly take over, according to participants.

   Tang, who served as China's foreign minister from 1998-2003, was in Seoul as part of a five-day trip that began on Wednesday.

   Tang also said that Chinese President Xi Jinping made clear during a meeting with a special envoy of the North's leader in May that North Korea's nuclear weapons are unacceptable, according to the participants.

   China is Pyongyang's No. 1 ally and a key provider of economic aid and diplomatic protection.

   In recent months, however, China has apparently been taking a tougher approach to Pyongyang, especially after the North's long-range rocket launch in December and its third nuclear test in February. Beijing has since backed a U.N. sanctions resolution against the North and has been carrying out the restrictions more vigorously than before.


N. Korea Asked to Be Recognized as Nuclear Weapons State

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea asked China in May to be recognized as a nuclear weapons state, a source familiar with Seoul-Beijing affairs said on June 16, amid indications China is taking a firm stance against Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

   North Korean Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae made the request in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Beijing in May, according to the source inside South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party.

   "The Chinese side expressed its negative stance on North Korea's request," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

   Choe visited Beijing as a special envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, raising the possibility that he made the request at Kim's instructions.

   The source said a high-ranking Chinese military official told a team of South Korean civilian and military representatives about Choe's request during its recent visit to China.

   Beijing, Pyongyang's main ally and benefactor, has recently shown signs that it is taking a firm stance against its communist neighbor's nuclear weapons programs.

   Earlier June, Xi and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed that they will not recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state or accept its development of nuclear weapons.

   The issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons is expected to be a key topic during South Korean President Park Geun-hye's upcoming summit with Xi in Beijing later June.


N. Korea to Import 100,000 Smartphones from China This Year

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea plans to import about 100,000 smartphones from China this year, a report said on June 18.

   China is planning to export a total of 500,000 mobile phones to the North and 100,000 of them will be smartphones, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) report said, referring to a Chinese government official's posting on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging website.

   Chinese smartphones sell for about 1,000 Chinese yuan (US$163.27) per unit in China, but the price tag comes to 2,800 yuan per unit in North Korea, the report said, adding profits from the price difference will go into the pocket of the North Korean regime.

   Well-to-do North Koreans or governing party officials usually own smartphones in the socialist country, and they are partly allowed to use video calls and wireless subscription to media outlets like the mainstream Rodong Sinmun, according to the report.

   About 2 million North Koreans are reported to own mobile phones.


Park, Xi Expected to Agree on Denuclearization of North Korea

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to adopt a joint declaration that includes the denuclearization of North Korea after their summit talks set for late this month, Seoul's top diplomat said on June 18.

   Asked whether the term "denuclearization" would be included into a joint statement following the planned Park-Xi summit in Beijing, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told lawmakers during a parliamentary session, "We anticipate that."

   If the word is included, it would demonstrate the new Chinese government's willingness to step up efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, Seoul officials have said.

   "One of the top priorities among South Korea, the U.S. and China is the denuclearization of North Korea," Yun told lawmakers.

   Park is scheduled to make a state visit to China late this month for her first summit with Xi since taking office in February.

   After months of provocations, including a third nuclear test and bellicose threats against South Korea and the U.S., North Korea has appeared to shift to dialogue in recent weeks. Pyongyang had proposed talks with Seoul, but the proposed inter-Korean dialogue collapsed last week due to disputes over the seniority level of chief representatives.

   On June 16, North Korea issued a surprise overture of talks to the U.S., but insisted that there should be no preconditions if such a dialogue takes place -- terms Washington would never accept.

   Officials in Seoul and Washington have skeptically reacted with the North's latest overture, saying Pyongyang must demonstrate its sincerity for talks through actions, not words.

   Yun said that the U.S. is unlikely to accept the North's dialogue offer "given the contents of the North's proposal."


N. Korea Rolls out 900 New Tanks in Last Seven Years: Source

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The North Korean Army has deployed about 900 new tanks equipped with improved armament in the last seven years to modernize its aging vehicles, a South Korean military source said on June 19.

   The new tanks, known as the "Chonma-ho 5" (sky horse) and the "Songun-ho" (military first), are equipped with an advanced fire control system and turret guns, an upgrade compared to the Pokpung-ho (storm) tank, which was first revealed in October 2010 during a military parade.

   The Chonma-ho 5 is the latest variant of North Korea's main battle tank, the Chonma, which was built based on the Soviet T-62 tank.

   "The North Korean military has deployed 900 new tanks from 2005 untill last year," the source said, asking for anonymity as the information is classified. "The number is more than double of South Korean tanks deployed during the same period."

   The Songun is believed to have been named after the military-first policy heralded by former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il as a guideline for ruling the impoverished, socialist country. The vision has been upheld by his young son, Jong-un, who is pursuing missile and nuclear weapons programs despite international warnings.

   About 100 Songun tanks were spotted recently and South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledged that North Korean ground forces have garrisoned the new tanks, the source said.

   The new tanks are expected to become a considerable threat to South Korean armored units as they have a longer range and a maximum speed of 70 km/h on paved roads.

   Beginning in the late 1970s, Pyongyang started to produce a modified version of the 115mm-gunned T-62 tank, and since then it is believed to have made considerable modifications to the basic Soviet and Chinese designs.

   According to South Korea's 2012 defense white paper, the North has stockpiled about 4,200 tanks.

   The South Korean Army operates about 2,400 tanks, the defense paper said, many of which will be replaced by the K2 main battle tank and the modified K1A1 tank. Rolled out in 2007, the K2 is an amphibious tank armed with a locally developed 120mm/55-caliber stabilized smoothbore gun.