Mulmangcho Day Celebration (PICTURES)

Hello All,

I thought it would be good to share some photos from the Mulmangcho Day Annual Celebration which took place in Seoul, Korea on May 22nd.

NKRA donors flew to join the Mulmangcho family and other supporters.

The Mulmangcho Day celebration gathering

The Mulmangcho Day celebration gathering

Frank Ellsworth addresses the crowd with Munho, one of our students, translating his remarks.  Click here to read his remarks.

Frank Ellsworth addresses the crowd with Munho, one of our students, translating his remarks. Click here to read his remarks.

Mulmangcho choir members sing their hearts out, as they dream to perform for the UN venue in New York someday.

Mulmangcho choir members sing their hearts out, as they dream to perform for the UN venue in New York someday.

Mulmangcho dance troupe dance to the delight of the audience.

Mulmangcho dance troupe dance to the delight of the audience.

A day at JinGwanSa Temple

A day at JinGwanSa Temple

Vegan Heaven

Vegan Heaven

A day at the Korean National Assembly

A day at the Korean National Assembly

A day at the Korean National Assembly

A day at the Korean National Assembly

Nat Assm 2019.png
Mulmangcho 2019 National assembly.png


John Cha

Washington Post: ‘Great Successor’ book excerpt: Kim Jong Un’s gilded boyhood of chefs, travel and lessons on ruthless rule

By Anna Fifield,

Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, was 27 when he inherited power in 2011, taking his place in a Kim dynasty founded by his grandfather.

The following account — adapted from “The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un,” a new book by The Washington Post’s Beijing bureau chief — reveals previously unreported details about Kim’s odd and lonely early life, which revolved around power, prerogatives and privilege. (Click Here to Read More)

North Koreans survive by paying bribes, U.N. report says (Japan Times)


GENEVA/SEOUL - North Koreans are forced to pay bribes to officials to survive in their isolated country, where corruption is “endemic” and repression rife, the United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday.

Officials across North Korea extort money from a population struggling to make ends meet, threatening them with detention and prosecution — particularly those working in the informal economy, it said in a report. (Click here to read more)

Synopsis: Thomas Chung's The Bell Tolls, No Echo


By John Cha, Advisory Board Co-Chair

Soldiers Who Can’t Go Home reveals an impossible situation that 100,000 prisoners of war had faced following the Korean War. Thomas Chung, a veteran of the Korean War, recounts the saga behind the Korean War, lost POWs and his journey to rescue those who are still alive.

These South Korean POWs had been captured by the enemy forces during the war most often referred to as “the forgotten war.” Truly forgotten were these prisoners who had been taken to North Korea and put to hard labor. After the war, North Korea was supposed to release the prisoners of war as part of the truce negotiations, but it kept them as slave labor rather than returning the POWs to South Korea.

Lieutenant Cho Chang-ho was one of them. He had worked in coal mines under the worst of the conditions and made a daring escape from North Korea after 45 years. Up to that point, nobody had heard of POWs still remaining in North Korea. He had been listed as killed-in-action all those years. Lieutenant Cho’s return from death was a shocker for his family and the rest of the South Korean society.

More POWs, now in their 80’s and 90’s, have trickled to freedom and told their stories of horror. About five hundred or so POWs still remain alive in North Korea today. This book is about Thomas Chung’s journey to rescue the old heroes.


By John Cha, Advisory Board Co-Chair

North Korean authorities are banning the sale of popular dessert items in jangmadang [marketplace], causing folks to wonder about the sudden measure by the Party.

A correspondent inside North Korea said, “All of a sudden, the [cops] are cracking down on food items made look like a nuke, a nitrogen bomb, or a missile. They are not letting the merchants display [these items]. They have prohibited their sale, and people are grumbling a lot.”

“People made these sweets and sold them at jangmadang starting last summer. They were very popular. The nuke candy was a lollipop on a plastic stick and it was labeled Kumsong Number 1. The hydrogen bomb popsicle had round balls and narrow middle.”

“The ICBM taffy is not very pretty. Nor are the cookies labeled Hwasong 12, Hwasong 14, and Hwasong 15. But people like them because they were named after the nukes and missiles.

As to why the authorities are cracking down on these food items, there are a couple of theories. One, these items might give a hostile impression to the outsiders. On the other hand, the candies might be offensive to the supreme leader.”

The nuke candy is labeled as KumSung Number 1, and the hydrogen bomb is labeled as KumSung Number 2. A lot of missile taffy or candies bear the name, ‘GwangMyungSung’.”

“Kumsung stands for Kim Il-sung and GwangMyungSung for Kim Jong-il. Some say that labeling these food items after the supreme leaders are insulting. That’s why they stopped the sale.”

“Also, the candies and popsicles melt as they are eaten. The missile cookies are chewed by teeth then swallowed, all of which suggest an image that our nukes and missiles become useless. That is one of the theories.”

Looking Back: North Korean Refugee's Reflections Upon Studying Abroad in the USA

Through the generous support of donors like you, NKRA was able to help the Mulmangcho Foundation send four students to study abroad at La Verne University in La Verne, California, from July-August 2018.

Following this life-changing experience, Mulmangcho gave the students a questionnaire where they were asked to share their photos and reflect upon their experience. Here are some excerpts (without edits) from the report that was compiled. To see the full report, please email us at

Student: Kim S

Current University: Gyeongin National University of Education

Kim S on the preparation for the program…

For a year, I studied hard English. I hope I can use well. My English is not perfect. However, it is getting better. I will do my best in the U.S After finish this project, I will be able to speak English without being shy in front of people. Also, I will experience the U.S. It is great chance to see real America. I will go many places as much as I can go. After finish this project, I will already be a person who experiences a bigger world and a wilder world.

Experienced real United States public education.

Experienced real United States public education.

Excerpts from Kim’s journal…

2nd week of July

I traveled LA and Las Vegas with friends and Toki mom in this week. I could learn a lot from extensive U.S.A.

First of all, we went to Santa Monica beach in Los Angeles. From there, I could see how relaxed U.S.A people are from their face.

Also, in Las Vegas, I could see how great U.S.A is because they built a city in a desert.

1st of August

I spent last week little bit differently. I carried my laptop and went to a café. I wrote a journal. I spent all day alone it was really great for me. Writing a journal in a café is easy but writing journal in a café in the U.S is different. It is special. I rode also a bike and saw my city. By chance, I bumped into some people were playing basketball. I joined with them and played basketball. I like sports. however, here in the U.S, I was little bit sad because I could not play any sports. So, it was a really great time. I have many tests and homework so that most of time, after school I spend in library. English is not quite easy. It is a challenge for me. However it is really meaningful challenge, so, I really enjoy studying English..

3th of August

Hello. How are you everyone? I had great days last weekend. First of all, last Saturday I went to Disneyland. I saw lots of Disney characters and parades. I couldn't believe that I was in Disneyland. I could see a bigger and a wilder world. Second, this week is first week of new session. I passed the level. so now, I am studying higher level. I am always trying to do my best here. I could see my effort from that I passed level. I will always do my best here and furthermore in my life. I really appreciate that everyone supporting me. I feel like I am in heaven here. I speak English and learn English. everyone is foreigners. Thank you for everything

4th of August

Hello. Unfortunately, this is my last week in the U.S. I am going back to Korea on Saturday. So, today I want to say thank you for everyone who has been helping me and I want to write what I have learned in the U.S. Before coming here, I just thought that I will focus on English. I took many classes in English, asked in English, and communicated in English. These things were happy and surprising for me. After finished school, I got along with my friends all day and I spent a lot of time in library. Everything was great time. My weakness in English was writing but here in the U.S, I have improved a lot when I compare to a month ago and now. Every evening, I spent time with my host mother it was my end of the day. Here in the U.S, I have accomplished everything which I planned in Korea. I am proud of myself. However, if someone asks like this ‘what is your best experience that you have done in the U.S’ I will not answer that ‘It is I have achieved studying plan which I planned before coming to the U.S.’ I will answer like this ‘my best thing that I have ever done in the U.S is I have experienced United States.’ First of all, I have learned relationship during talking with friends who are from different countries, spending time with people who came here with me (4people), meeting new people in the U.S from Toki mom, talking with host mother.

Second of all, I have experienced a bigger world. There are two simple examples. I came across with a bus. Someone who was sitting on wheelchair was getting off bus. The bus had lift for disabled people. I was shocked. Also, I could see how happy and relaxed United States people are from their face. Watching those people, I looked back myself, realized and learned it's okay to chase my goals slowly without having to be quick. It can be nothing to others but for me it was a great experience.

Finally, my dream is becoming a teacher. By chance, I could observe 3 classes in the United States public school. I have learned several things there. First, I could see how different between the Direction of American Education and the Direction of Korean Education. Watching students lie on the floor and study with their teachers in class, I could feel that American education was pursuing autonomy for them. Also, when I attended middle school class, I noticed something different from Korea as I watched students ask many questions in class. The combination of what I'm learning in my university and what I've seen while visiting American public school gave me a chance that what is idolized. Also, It was a chance to check my English ability by watching real Americans communicate in English comfortably and had a special experience. Above this, I learned a lot. Two months in America was a beautiful memory I will never forget this. Thank you for giving this super amazing chance. I will do my best to become a person who can contribute to society and live properly. I don't know how to thank you. Thank you very much. Nothing could be more meaningful to me, who was born in North Korea, experienced South Korea, and experienced the U.S. Again, thank you. In the future, I will give this opportunity to others. Thank you. I keep going on my dream.

Heading to Hollywood sign

Heading to Hollywood sign

It is not a dream, it is real. I am seeing Hollywood sign.

It is not a dream, it is real. I am seeing Hollywood sign.

Student: Youjin C

Current University: Korea University

Youjin on who he wanted to thank especially…

First of all, I would like to thank the Mulmangcho Foundation which gave me the opportunity to study in the United States. I know that the cost for each student was really expensive. Also, I would like to give special thanks to Toki Mam (host family mom) who looked after us in the US. Toki Mom has really taken care of us with responsibility and love. We have made Toki Mom feel awkward and sometimes made her angry at times, but she had never expressed it and been patient and gave us a lot of time and financial help. We called her mother and it was a call from the heart rather than the formal name.

Youjin’s advice for other North Korean refugees learning English…

You can never learn English automatically by just going to the US. If you do not try to use English actively, you will never improve the English skills. You need to meet a lot of foreign friends in the local area, share their meals with them, and try to have many conversations. Especially, it is recommended to try to use English in restaurants and shops without depending on anyone. There is no need to be ashamed of your English. I would like to recommend to use English with the attitude that you only need to make the partner understand what you want to talk

At Marina Del Ray

At Marina Del Ray

Evening glow at Santa Monica

Evening glow at Santa Monica

At the Grand Canyon

At the Grand Canyon

Student: Hayuun C

Current University: Hongik University

Hayun on why she wanted to study abroad in the USA…

When I left Korea, I made two promises. First, I will fill seven weeks given to me in learning English with twice as much time.  The second goal was to share a lot of stories with people living in the U.S. and see and hear what they think they are living in the world.

Excerpts from Hayun’s journal…

24th of August

Time goes really fast. I am already making the 7th report. This week I finish with gratitude. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to come to America. And thanks to the Tokimom who helped us in America. I learned about human virtue with the opportunities you gave me. I will live as a person who relays your love. Thank you all.

28th of August

 Today, a new session was resumed. In the last session, the teacher who taught me teach us again. I respect the teacher. He teaches me in detail what I ask. My classmates like him very much. Of course he gives us a lot of homework. Thanks to him, I was able to write a report in English. He is very strict about teaching. He have lived in Korea for five years. So he likes Korea so much. Especially, he likes kimchi fried rice. These days, I feel very sad that time flies fast. In the United States, I am filling every moment with learning. Thank you again to all those who gave this opportunity. The remaining time will be filled with precious time.

31st of August

I have just finished a freshman celebration party and are writhing a report now. I want to talk about the bus ride culture here in the United States. In the US, bus drivers help disabled people get on the bus. The bus driver stops the bus and secures a device for the disabled to be safe. So disabled people in wheelchairs can ride freely on the bus. In Korea a wheelchair bound disabled cannot use a bus. I never seen it. I think it would be good to introduce a bus system for disabled people in Korea, too.

Tip: when getting off the bus, touch the yellow line

What really moved Hayun…

The most touching thing was the opportunity to experience the United States. Thanks for the opportunity. It was a precious time for me. And the Tokimom heart made a commitment for us. I am grateful to everyone who came to meet us. I was loved by them, because of being a North Korean student. So it was a valuable time to get a positive example.  I met Kim, the parents of Tokimom Mam, and his wife. They treated us like my grandparents. I called them grandfather and grandmother. Grandfather gave us 용돈.

Santa Monica beach

Santa Monica beach

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

My schoolmates

My schoolmates

Student: Choi H. M.

Current University: Sejong Univ

How this project changed Choi…

Before my language training, I did not have much foreign experience so I did not have chance to meet people from various countries. However, the more time we spent talking about each other's cultures and socializing with friends from different countries, the more narrow views we could see in one place and the more court and optimistic we understood and embraced other cultures. Also, I was able to communicate in English directly at restaurants, markets and movie theaters, and I was able to shake off my fear of English. I was able to save.

What really moved Choi…

While there are many things to be thankful for while studying abroad in the U.S., the most touching and memorable event was my surprise birthday party. when I was not used to being celebrated by many people, I felt as if it was a normal day. But when I got to 12 o' clock and got a gift from my Toki mom and other friends that I had prepared for my birthday song, I felt that I would never forget my 27th birthday.

Who Choi especially wanted to thank…

While I was in the U.S., I was grateful for many things, especially Toki mom and teacher John Cha. My life in America could be more meaningful and valuable time because there was a Toki mom who was always there with us to have a great experience for six weeks. Although we haven't spent a lot of time together, Mr. John Cha, who often spent time with us, is also one of the most grateful people we've ever seen in America. There were many other people who were grateful, including Chairman Kim and his wife, who invited us to your house to give us some allowance and had a delicious dinner together. I think it's possible to meet these grateful people because the forgetfulness gave us a chance. Thank you very much.

To read more of the report, please contact us at

Please remember that these stories and experiences were made possible through the generous donations of people like you. Thank you for your contributions.

Munho's Letter: Broadening Horizons through the Generosity of Others

Munho Cho is a North Korean refugee studying at Mulmangcho. Last year, got the chance to visit the U.S. through the generosity of donors like your yourself. One particular benefactor had the opportunity to meet with Munho while she was in the U.S.

This is her letter to them a year later:

Dear (Sir),

I am Munho Cho who visited the United States through the Mulmangcho program last year.

I hope you are doing very well. I do not forget that you told me that you would be happy if I told you my news from time to time.

So, I want to give you some news of me and my friends.

Among the friends who came to the US last year, Sun Hee and Jung Chul have already got their job after graduation and now they live the lives of the workers.

And, Yoon Ju is currently studying as an exchange student at Tennessee State University.

There have been several changes in my life. In March of this year, I transferred to a new university to study cultural anthropology, a more interesting discipline for me. 

And, I have been studying at the Indiana State University since last October because I was selected for the US Department of State UGRAD program.

I had learned how wide the world is and how much I have to do for the world while participating in the Mulmangcho program twice. Thanks to that learning, I was able to challenge for the things I pursued.

I and my friends are thanking you and your foundation again for sponsoring our learning. 

And I am very glad to tell you this news.

I look forward to your happiness and your business prosper. 

Thank you.


Munho Cho

You too can be a part of this wonderful effort to provide students like Munho the opportunity to broaden their horizons in ways they could have never have imagined.

Click to learn more and to donate.

Mulmangcho Choir Performs at Sejong Cultural Center

mulmangcho choir camrata.JPG

On November 28, Mulmangcho Women's Choir showed off their high notes to the crowd of about 600 people at the Sejong Cultural Center, downtown Seoul, South Korea. 

The choir has begun as a therapy for the traumatic experience North Korean refugee women had suffered while escaping from North Korea. 

mulmangcho choir.JPG

They now perform for public gatherings and high profile events. They sang North Korean songs as well as South Korean, leaving the audience in tears.

They were joined by another choir, calling themselves Camarata, composed of international expatriates who reside in South Korea. The choir sang classic songs, treating the audience with their fabulous harmony. 

Later in the program, they delighted the crowd by performing the traditional Korean song "Arirang" together, and ended the wonderful musical evening with Christmas songs!

Mulmangcho at the Blue House

Mulmangcho and six former POWs gathered in front of the Blue House, the South Korean presidential palace and held a press conference on November 6, 2018. These six former POWs had escaped from North Korea after spending decades in North Korean coal mines as prisoners of war.

They called on President Moon to bring home the POWs who still remain captive in North Korea. North Korea had kept about 100,000 prisoners of war after the Korean War ended, in violation of the Geneva Convention.

Former POWs gather for a press conference in front of the Blue House on November 6, 2018

Former POWs gather for a press conference in front of the Blue House on November 6, 2018

Members of the press gather hear the POWs and theirstories.

Members of the press gather hear the POWs and theirstories.

Name:  Yoo Young-bok, 89   Born:  11/30/1929   Nationality:  South Korean   NK invaded SK:  6/25/1950   Joined SK army:  August, 1952   Captured:  6/10/1953   Truce signed:  7/27/1953  Spent 47 years of hard labor in NK mines and escaped NK on 7/28/2000

Name: Yoo Young-bok, 89

Born: 11/30/1929

Nationality: South Korean

NK invaded SK: 6/25/1950

Joined SK army: August, 1952

Captured: 6/10/1953

Truce signed: 7/27/1953

Spent 47 years of hard labor in NK mines and escaped NK on 7/28/2000

Name:  Kim Sung-tae, 86   Born:  1932   Nationality:  South Korean   Joined SK army:  3/15/1948   NK invaded SK:  6/25/1950   Wounded in battle:  6/29/1950   Captured by NK:  6/30/1950  Attempted to escape 4 times.   Captured, imprisoned 13 years, followed by 27 years of hard labor in coal mines.    Escaped from NK:  April, 2001

Name: Kim Sung-tae, 86

Born: 1932

Nationality: South Korean

Joined SK army: 3/15/1948

NK invaded SK: 6/25/1950

Wounded in battle: 6/29/1950

Captured by NK: 6/30/1950

Attempted to escape 4 times.

Captured, imprisoned 13 years, followed by 27 years of hard labor in coal mines.

Escaped from NK: April, 2001

The Other Side of Glorious Pyongyang Summit 2018

By Kim Tae-san, former North Korean Director of Trade in Czechoslovakia

I am writing as a former resident of Pyongyang. Now a resident of Seoul, I want to share my observations of the way South Korean press and media have covered the  South Korean President Moon’s visit to Pyongyang during his summit with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un held on September 18. 

President Moon and the South Korean press have been very busy showering lavish praises for the grand welcome displayed by the Pyongyang residents. Contrary to all the cheering by folks dressed in pristine garb, President Moon and the press should know—it is very doubtful that there is a single fan for Moon among the 150,000 people mobilized to line the streets. Food rationing is subpar even in Pyongyang right now, and the majority of people live hand-to-mouth on a daily basis. Who in the right mind would run out at dawn to welcome Moon who has come to Pyongyang just to prop up Kim Jong-un’s image? (Read More)

Human Rights Watch - Q&A On North Korea


This questions-and-answers document sets out the sanctions regime and other diplomatic measures imposed on North Korea, Human Rights Watch’s position on sanctions, and recommendations for addressing North Korea’s human rights record. It explains how existing sanctions on North Korea operate, why they were imposed, and how they might be relaxed, lifted, or tightened.

Sanctions on North Korea include measures related to nuclear weapons proliferation activities imposed by the United Nations Security Council and some UN member states, including the United States and members of the European Union. They also include targeted economic and travel-related sanctions and measures imposed bilaterally on high-level North Korean officials for human rights reasons. (Click here to read full article)

Panmunjom Line Dance

By John Cha, May 6, 2018

Of all the choice slogans, the Moon-Kim summit on April 27 settled on “Peace and Prosperity, Unification of the Korean peninsula.” These familiar words have been bantered about for almost a half a century. The on-again-off-again inter-Korea peace talks began in secret in May 1972, which led to (click here to read more)

Slavery in North Korea by Robert Kim


Originally published on March 6, 2018

"...The term slave has been used to describe North Koreans in the past but it recently gained wider currency due, in large part, to Thae Yong-ho, a high profile North Korean diplomat who uses it to describe his and his family’s status before their defection. But, are the North Koreans really slaves?" 

 Click here to


Forgotten Heroes Risen from Death

By John Cha

FEBRUARY 26, 2018 

Near PyeongChang on July 16, 1953, eleven days before the Korean War ended, South Korean army privates H.S. Yang and J.H. Yoo were captured by the North Korean troops, becoming prisoners of war. They were no ordinary POWs. The North Korean army marched them to the northern tip of North Korea, where they were forced into hard labor working in the Aoji coal mine.


Theoretically, they should have been released to South Korea as part of the POW exchange in accordance with the armistice agreement. Instead, the North Korean army kept them, telling no-one. Their names were put on the KIA (killed in action) list by the South Korean Ministry of Defense, and they were all but forgotten.

Until they finally escaped from North Korea after 52 years and made their way home to the South in 2005. After going through a lengthy process of proving themselves as South Korean soldiers, they were formally discharged from their units.

Mr. Yang passed away on November 10, 2017, and Mr. Yoo, on December 16, 2017. They both were 93 years old. They had managed to live in their home country for 12 years.

Two more former POWs passed away in January 2018: Mr. Y.C. Kim and Mr. H. C. Park. Mr. Kim was 90, and Mr. Park was 93 years old.

It is probably a good thing that these men missed what has been going on with PyeongChang Olympics and all the hoopla surrounding the visits by the North Korean dignitaries, Kim Yo-jong, Kim Young-nam, and Kim Yong-chol, not to mention the two hundred or so cheering squad, the performance troupes, handlers, and others. The South Korean media went nuts over Kim Yo-jong, who flew to Incheon airport on her brother Kim Jong-un’s private airplane. International media was close behind. BBC billed her “North Korea’s Secret Weapon.”

The Moon government facilitated and paid for the North Korean blitzkrieg which the media coined “the charm offensive.” What would these former POWs think about the fanfare put together by the Blue House staff? These former POWs had spent half of their lives trying to escape from the enemy and they finally made it home. And here is Moon the leader of their homeland cavorting with the granddaughter of Kim Il-sung, the man who put them in the coal mine.

Then there was Hyon Song-wol orchestrating the “charm offensive” with beautiful women and heart-wrenching songs all designed to evoke sympathy for the regime: See? We are not evil people bent on destroying the world! Then there is the white flag with the figure of the peninsula in blue, the unification flag designed to propagate the idea that Koreans are one people. The cheerleaders woo-ed and ah-ed the unsuspecting masses, and the charm offensive was working.

Not for these four gentlemen—they would have had trouble with the North Korean regime’s idea of “one-people.” The one-people concept should exclude killing, maiming, torturing, and starving their own people. There isn’t enough sugar in the world to sugarcoat the brutalities the Kims’ have displayed over the decades. True “one-people” do not threaten the other half with nukes and sea of blood.

No, I don’t think these gentlemen would have understood what was going on with the smoke-and-mirrors act. It is a good thing that they skipped the thirteen-billion-dollar fiasco as they faded into oblivion.

May they rest in peace. May we find a better way to achieve peace other than through empty shows and “charm offensive.”

Soprano Nation by John Cha

Fiery rhetoric across the Pacific pond about missiles and nukes have dominated discussions surrounding the Korean peninsula for months now. So, I have stayed away from the toxic topic framed by Kim Jong-un (Kim3) and his apparatchiks in Pyongyang. Having gone through the Korean War as a boy, I feel all the bellicose narratives polluting the air space, the cyber space, and printed space, are disconcerting. Thus I have stayed away from posting anything on my blog.

With the advent of 2018, I couldn’t help but notice the New Year’s message by none other than Kim3. Over the years, I have studied various New Year’s messages emanating from North Korea, and what I read in Kim3’s recent message is not all that remarkable. It is a boiler plate address made for the ears of his constituents in the North, plus his groupies in the South. 

But what surprised me was the reactions by the western media as well as the Korean media, suggesting that Kim3 was coming around to the idea of dialogues and détente due to the peace overtures Moon Jae-in, POTROK, has been making to Kim3.

It is too soon for anyone to take credit for bringing Kim3 to the negotiations table because nothing has happened yet, other than Kim3’s line in his New Year’s message to the effect that he was willing to consider improvement in inter-Korea relations.

So I thought I should jump into the fray and add my piece to fill in the blanks for those who are not certain about Kim3 and his intent.

Let’s not mince words. North Korea is a “Soprano nation” with nukes. I use the term, “nation,” very loosely. It has not behaved like a nation by any stretch of imagination. To wit, in a nation in which everyone is supposed to be equal, it uses a class-system that is beyond anything ever imagined in human history. Everyone has to carry an ID card that tells his or her status (sung-boon), consisting of three categories and fifty-one sub-categories. It determines where you live, Pyongyang, countryside, or gulag; where you work; which school your kids go to, on and on. Sung-boon has even been used to determine what you eat and how much, and this classification system had a direct impact on the famine that perhaps caused three million deaths in the 1990s. Compared to the Kim’s, the Soprano’s were angels.

So you ask, how does Kim3 sustain his power base? This is a complex question and requires a complex answer better explained in a book. However, one of those elements is his nuke-and-missiles gambit, long envisaged by his grandfather(Kim1) decades ago. Fifty some years later, Kim3 claimed that he finally accomplished what his father(Kim2) and grandfather(Kim1) couldn’t; therefor, he deserved just as much respect as a legit successor to the throne. 

Well, he may be close to completing the nuke development mission and no doubt he would garner high marks from his followers in Pyongyang. But the rest of the country is a different story. Who knows where his popularity stands among the hoi polloi, but there are reports of much grumblings, such as “What good are the nukes? We can’t eat them.”

Then there are grumblings about his idolization.

He is not all that popular in the international theater either.  He is having to deal with sanctions, which he has been able to skirt around to the point that some observers argue that the sanction scheme is not working.

Things have changed recently when the U.S. spy satellites spotted oil cargo ships delivering oil to North Korean ships at high seas between China and Korea. In matter of days, South Korean authorities seized two oil cargo ships docked in its own ports, which have been involved in these transactions.

I am prone to think that the recent seizure of these tankers has something to do with Kim3's softer than usual stance. Because the North’s modus operandi in previous years tells us that it made conciliatory gestures when it was caught in a disadvantageous situation. Back in 1976, Kim Il-sung found himself in a sticky situation when his troops killed two American officers at the JSA (Joint Security Area). Dubbed as “the axe murder incident,” it caused an uproar among the U.S. troops, and the situation quickly deteriorated to DEFCON3. Kim1 had to do something quickly and he decided to offer an apology.

Fast forward to August 2015, the North planted mines south side of the DMZ border, which exploded and injured South Korean patrol soldiers. The South responded by turning on the loudspeakers and blasting criticisms of Kim Jong-un toward the North.

Two top level officials from the North, Hwang Byung-so and Kim Yang-gon, were dispatched to Panmunjom in matter of days to “improve inter-Korea relations.” They met with Kim Gwan-jin and Hong Yong-pyo, their counter-parts from the South, and worked out an agreement to turn off the loudspeakers in exchange for a family reunion session.

Both sides went away happy. More so in the North than the South. Kim3 appreciated the outcome so much that he awarded hero medals for Hwang and Kim, adding that the presence of his nukes made the great victory possible.

This incident tells us that the North will come to the table if they are at a disadvantage. Having their troops stationed near the DMZ listen to criticisms of Kim3 day and night was not a good thing, and they had to do something.

Back to the oil tankers, they have been caught red-handed conducting oil transactions, thanks to the U.S. spy satellites. Moreover, the South seized two of the oil supply ships, and their oil supply route is at risk now. They have to do something quickly, and Kim3 is tackling this problem himself.

By seizing those ships, the Moon government did well to put Kim3 in a difficult spot. This is at least part of the reason why Kim3 is “willing to consider improving inter-Korean relations.”

Was Kim3 inspired by Moon’s olive branch like Moon says? Moon no doubt thinks that his outreach to Kim3 for a dialogue was the impetus for Kim's conciliatory attitude. 

This sort of delusion seems to be common for  “sunshine-policy” types. Late president Kim Dae-jung originated the sunshine policy based on Aesop’s fable that warm sunshine was more effective than cold wind in prompting a man to shed his coat. Following the summit between Kim2 and Kim Dae-jung in year 2000, Kim Dae-jung proclaimed to his constituents in the South, “North Korea has no ability, nor the will to develop nuclear weapons.” He was blinded by his own desire to claim that “the sunshine policy was responsible for peace on the Korean peninsula.” He was awarded the Nobel peace prize for that statement. He also paid one-half of a billion dollars or more to Kim2 to get the summit meeting. I am certain that Kim Dae-jung went to his grave believing that he had brought peace to the peninsula for good.

As for Moon, he is bent on melting Kim3’s nukes and missiles with peace and kindness. He has pleaded with the North to participate in the Winter Olympics, and I suspect that Kim3 will play along with Moon's agenda for the Games, that is, until Kim3 fires off a missile or does another nuke test. 

Moon should never forget that Kim3 and his lieutenants know exactly what they are doing and their vision is very focused, as it has been from day one — take over the South by any means possible. They have proven that they would stop at nothing. I don’t need to list the thousands of truce violations the North has committed since 1953. The latest means of aggrandizement? You got it. The nukes.

Moon has served as the Chief of Staff for former president Roh Mu-hyun (2007), who was reported to have said to Kim2 that he was the unofficial spokesman for Kim2 regarding the nuke program. Roh said that Kim2’s nukes were defensive in nature and he understood why Kim2 would need them to protect himself and his regime.

Given this environment to embrace Kim3 and his nukes, Moon has taken his cue from his old boss. He is willing to and has gone beyond his old boss in acknowledging Kim3’s nukes. It is a  matter-of-fact for him. He acts like the nuke is a U.S. problem, nothing to do with him or South Korea, thanks to his security adviser Moon Chung-in (no relation), who has successfully reframed the issue from denuclearization to a “freeze-for-freeze” scenario. (Freeze the North’s nuke development as is; and freeze the military exercises by the South and the U.S.)     

Moon’s assertion that there would be no strike against the North without his permission sounds good to his constituents, but it is not very convincing. The military option would not and should not be necessary in the first instance, and therefor his assertion is a non-issue. He aims to be in the "driver's seat" in resolving the tension and, if that is the case, he should keep his eye on the bouncing ball and keep clear in his mind the basic principles of a cause-and-effect relationship and also keeping in mind what is good for the country he serves. Going along with Kim3’s nukes and missiles is not good for his country or his people. He should not fall into the frame which Kim3 and his operatives have set — “we, Koreans can solve this problem by ourselves.” This is fantasy. It is not just a Korean problem. It is an international problem. If Moon wants to be in the “driver’s seat,” he needs cooperation from everyone. At this moment, I don't see any cooperation coming from Kim3, nor the U.S. Kim3 has shown that he was in the driver’s seat, dictating the terms, not Moon.

In a sense, Moon is stuck between a rock and a hard spot. The sooner he realizes that he is playing into Kim3's ultimate objective (the same objective for North Korea during the last seven decades) to control the peninsula, the better he would be. Rather than helping Kim3 move the U.S. troops out of the peninsula, it would be best for Moon to reinforce the KORUS alliance and discourage Kim3 from pursuing his nuke program. Seizing the oil supply ship was a good step. There needs to be more of these to bring Kim3 to the table in a meaningful way.  

If Moon continues to throw himself at Kim3’s feet vying for his attention, Kim3 will respond with more missiles and nuke tests just as he did all last year. And that seems to be the one constant among all the variables that shape the state of affairs around the Korean peninsula.

Life Under Kim Jong Un

When Kim Jong Un became the leader of North Korea almost six years ago, many North Koreans thought that their lives were going to improve. He offered the hope of generational change in the world’s longest-running communist dynasty. After all, he was so young. A millennial. Someone with experience of the outside world...(Click Here to Continue Reading)