Korea: a welcome development

January 3, 2018

A fence decorated with ribbons carrying messages calling for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea

The government of South Korea has invited Pyongyang to talks about participating in next month’s Winter Olympics in a swift response to proposals by Kim Jong-un  to improve relations.

Removing negative remarks the news is that Cho Myoung-gyon, Seoul’s unification minister in charge of inter-Korean relations, has proposed a meeting on January 9.between high-ranking government officials of the two nations at the border village of Panmunjom, the only portion of the Korean demilitarized zone where South and North Korean forces stand face-to-face.

“We hope that the South and North can sit face to face and discuss the participation of the North Korean delegation at the Pyeongchang Games as well as other issues of mutual interest for the improvement of inter-Korean ties,” Cho Myoung-gyon said, “We think that the suspended inter-Korean communication channels should be immediately restored.”

Two Sisters monument on the outskirts of Pyeongyang. The two women symbolize the two Koreas and the desire for reunification.

Kim Jong-un emphasised the importance of improving relations between the two Koreas and referred to the possibility of direct talks between the two sides. He said: “The North and the South should promote bilateral contact . . . to remove mutual misunderstanding and distrust.”

Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, ordered his staff to act on Mr Kim’s offer of dialogue “Improving inter-Korean relations and resolving the North Korean nuclear issue are not separate from each other,” Mr Moon said, adding that South Korea would consult its allies ahead of any talks.

Mr Kim also expressed interest in sending a delegation to the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month

North and South Korea have occasionally collaborated in sporting occasions, sending a joint team to an international table tennis tournament in 1991 and marching under a shared flag, though with separate teams, at the Olympics in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004.

Kim added: “The Winter Olympic Games will serve as a good occasion for demonstrating our nation’s prestige and we earnestly wish the Olympic Games a success. We are willing to dispatch our delegation and adopt other necessary measures.”

 A peace statue at the 3rd of 4 tunnels

 

Will reunification – the hope of many – symbolised above, be realised one day?

 

 

 

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US-based Human Rights Foundation’s ultimate aim: to use ‘soft power’ to bring down the North Korean regime

December 31, 2017

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The USA’s use of soft power has been effective with many worldwide, presenting an illusion of a free society (‘liberating minds’) and reinforcing a consumerist culture and the political regimes which collude with it.

On this site in 2015 there was an account of soft power – money and commodities poured from the United States into the Middle East. In the name of normality and freedom, all but the strongest young people are being remade in the image of the Western consumer whereas hard power is exerted by financial inducements, invasion and remote killing by drone.

One actor in the North Korean soft power drive is the Human Rights Foundation, whose approving Wikipedia entry emphasises its insistence on ‘economic freedom’. In Central and South America and the Middle East it has paved the way for the overthrow of regimes which would not play that game.

In North Korea jeans and pop music, though still part of the scene, have been supplemented by hydrogen balloons packed with DVDs, dollar bills and propaganda leaflets. Drones now drop USB flash drives full of news bulletins and documentaries aim to counter NK’s state propaganda with that of the United States; American movies and television shows to spread pro-Western sentiment were called “flash drives for freedom”. See Business Insider’s  informative account of this, published last year.

With the help of defectors USB-sticks are smuggled through towns on China’s border with North Korea and sold in the flourishing black market for goods and information. The Human Rights Foundation “has financed balloon drops of pamphlets, TV shows, books and movies over a course of several years”.

Its founder Thor Halvorssen, according to Joakim Mollersen a Norwegian economist and journalist, also set up the Oslo Freedom Forum whose  story, he says in some detail, is one  of US right-wing sponsorship, lack of transparency and “heroes of human rights” involved in supporting serious human rights violations.

State propaganda is ardently supplemented by this foundation which paid for a balloon drop of 10,000 copies of an edited version of the movie The Interview, and North Korea’s move towards becoming a denuclearized ‘democracy’, following its leader’s assassination.

In 2014, HRF hosted the world’s first hackathon for North Korea at Code for America’s offices in San Francisco. According to the Wall Street Journal, “about 100 hackers, coders and engineers gathered in San Francisco to brainstorm ways to pierce the information divide that separates North Korea from the rest of the world.”

For objective information about North Korea see http://www.nkeconwatch.com/

Alex Gladstein, HRF’s chief strategy officer calls this an ‘information war’ – the only way to inspire change: ”a third way . . .to liberate minds  . . . Given the history of Eastern Europe, I hope that people can think about the potential of information rather than reckless conflict and provocation and totally failed diplomacy”.

These soft power illusions of American normality, freedom and prosperity are confidence tricks. The unmentioned features of the USA, a country which young people have been led, by soft power, to admire as ‘an ideal state of freedom’, are extremes of economic inequality, youth unemployment, high cost housing, military aggression, pollution, gun slaughter, child abuse, violent pornography, and inequality.

 

 

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Benjamin Netanyahu receives two reasonable requests

December 28, 2017

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Earlier this month, MEP Molly Scott Cato added her signature to a ‘bill’ to the Israeli prime minister, coordinated by SNP MEP Alyn Smith. It requires Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to repay the EU at least €1.5m for the demolition of homes, schools, playgrounds and water and electricity infrastructure that were funded by the EU.

She explained: “The EU is a generous donor to infrastructure and services that improve the lives of people in Palestine. Netanyahu’s visit to Brussels is an excellent opportunity to remind Israel that we expect them to pay for the destruction to those projects, paid for through European taxes, that his violent policies in Gaza and the West Bank have destroyed.

“The EU continues to support Palestinians’ right to lead a decent and secure life in a state of their own. We continue to condemn the actions of the Israeli government in attempting to drive Palestinians out of the land that is rightfully theirs.”

Details of the humanitarian aid projects which Israel has been demolishing are listed on her website. Since Netanyahu became PM in 2009, Israel has demolished 5293 Palestinian structures in the West Bank, displacing 8540 people from their homes. At least 400 of these have been EU and member state funded structures, worth almost over € 1.5m, though these figures only cover the EU contribution to the humanitarian structures, not their full cost.

A Palestinian man inspects the ruins of a playground demolished by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank village of Zaatara, near Nablus

The Jerusalem Post and Le Monde report that in October EU members, Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Luxembourg, Ireland and Denmark, the donors of a European humanitarian consortium, decided to formalize their frustration in writing after the destruction of school equipment and the confiscation of solar panels they had financed in the West Bank.

The signatories of the letter delivered to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, set out a claim for compensation for the damage suffered, ie 31,252 euros, writing: “We are still hopeful that our requests for restitution can be met without preconditions as soon as possible, otherwise Israel will have to provide compensation without delay”.

 

 

 

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Pyeongchang hope: the Olympic Games of Peace

November 22, 2017

Ice-sculpture

In an interview with CNN, South Korean President Moon Jae-in recalled that the 1988 Seoul Games had played a part in ending the Cold War era by bringing countries together and expressed the hope that the 2018 Winter Olympics will help to build relationships in Asia.

He continued: “I hope that North Korea will also participate, which will provide a very good opportunity for inter-Korean peace and reconciliation. And to this, we are closely consulting and cooperating with the IOC.”

North and South Korea regularly compete in friendlies and international competition, notably the Asian Cup. Earlier this year, a qualifier for the Asian Cup — held in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang — attracted more than 40,000 fans to the Kim Il Sung Stadium. President Moon believes that, over the coming years, sport offers a chance for all nations in the to reconcile.:

“After the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, the 2020 Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing. So in two years’ term, the Olympic Games will be held Korea, Japan and China and I believe that this can provide a good opportunity to build peace and cooperation within the Northeast Asian region”.

Dr Kyungjin Song, President of the Institute for Global Economics in Seoul, responded to a negative article in the Financial Times which focussed mainly on the number of unsold tickets and the threat of disruptive provocation from the North. She addressed the issue of direct and immediate benefits from such big international events by saying, “Economic benefits are both immediate and long-term. Intangible long-term benefits such as improved national image and institutional capacity are even greater” and reminding all concerned to “Beware of short-termism”.

CNN stresses the positive:

  • New infrastructure completed includes highways as well as a direct train line from the country’s main international airport to Pyeongchang and other host locations.
  • The government will also rollout a 5G mobile network around the venues. Facilities have been constructed on schedule.
  • Chinese diplomats close to the matter are alleged to have said that President Xi Jinping will confirm his attendance at the opening or the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympic Games, or both, at the forthcoming Korea-China bilateral summit in December.
  • Two North Korean figure skaters have qualified but the country’s organising committee has yet to decide whether it will participate.

“We’d all like to see North Korea participate,” says Mr Kim of the organising committee. “The more, the merrier.”

And many will wish Dr Kyungjin Song well as she urges Korea to redouble its efforts towards participation of the North Korean team to make the Pyeongchang Games the Olympic Games of Peace.

 

 

 

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”The fruit of war: hate, death, vendetta”

November 7, 2017

 

Reuters reported in April that Pope Francis advocated conflict mediation by a third country like Norway between the United States and North Korea. A third country, Pope Francis said, could “cool a situation” that had become “too hot.”

As armed conflicts rage across the world in numerous countries, and amid rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, a reader sent a link to Pope Francis’ call for an end to “useless massacres” in an emotional anti-war homily at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Italy, where nearly 8,000 World War II soldiers are buried: “Please Lord, stop. No more wars.”

He told several thousand people that he believed the world was heading into what could be its biggest war yet, according to Reuters. Commemorating the young soldiers who died in World War II was of particular significance today, he said, because “the world once more is at war and is preparing to go even more forcefully into war.”

Associated Press reported that before visiting the U.S. military cemetery Francis warned that “humanity risks suicide” with the increased danger of nuclear war between the United States and North Korea.

As part of the Vatican’s efforts to eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons, the Vatican will host a two-day conference starting Nov. 10 of several Nobel peace laureates, international ambassadors and representatives from NATO and the United Nations.

Francis will address the conference on its opening day, and speakers will include Masako Wada, a notable disarmament activist who survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. Other speakers include Mohamed El Baradei, the former head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, and Rose Gottemoeller, an American diplomat and NATO’s deputy secretary-general

The governments of China, Japan, and South Korea have also called for restraint in the midst of Trump’s handling of the crisis with North Korea, urging him to call Kim to the negotiating table.

President Trump has responded to Kim’s recent missile launches and nuclear tests by threatening the isolated country with “fire and fury” and saying he would “totally destroy” North Korea, home to 25 million civilians, if the nuclear activity continued. In light of Trump’s rhetoric, Pope Francis said in his speech, “the world once more is at war and is preparing to go even more forcefully into war.” He added that “humanity must not forget” the suffering of those who have lost loved ones to war. “Humanity has not learned the lesson and seems that it does not want to learn it,” he said.

In the visitors’ book at the cemetery, he wrote, “This is the fruit of war: hate, death, vendetta. Forgive us, Lord.”

 

 

 

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Peaceful resistance

October 24, 2017

 Tokyo’s Mitsukoshi department store has withdrawn Israeli settlement products

The American Herald Tribune reports that earlier this month, the hundred year old store was scheduled to host an event featuring Israeli wines, including wines made in illegal Israeli settlements built on stolen land – see United Nations’ reaffirmation in 2016. After Japanese civil society raised concerns, Mitsukoshi shortened the event and removed all wines which Palestine Forum Japan activists indicated were made in Israeli settlements. A spokesperson for Japan’s Palestine Forum said:

“We warmly welcome this principled decision by Mitsukoshi department store to pull products made in illegal Israeli settlements from its shelves. By refusing to sell these products, the store is complying with international law and Japanese foreign policy. It is also respecting human rights and advancing justice and peace.

“Mitsukoshi’s action serves as a model to other Japanese companies trading with those in illegal Israeli settlements on occupied land. Japanese companies must immediately end their complicity in Israeli violations of human rights by stopping all trade and cooperation with Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid, or increasingly face both reputational damage and financial losses”.

Simulation of an Israeli checkpoint outside Muji store

The Jerusalem Post recalls that the first protest of this kind was held in 2010, when civil organisations in Japan, including the Palestine Forum Japan, campaigned for seven months against the plan of Muji, a Japanese retail chain, to open stores in Israel – a plan which was eventually cancelled.

Last year the Israeli embassy in Japan had been planning to hold an Israel Wine Seminar at the Osaka Office of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). Some of the Israeli wineries attending were located in or used grapes from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank or the Golan Heights.

Palestine Forum Japan sent a fax to JETRO about providing their facilities for the promotion of illegal settlement businesses and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry informed Palestine Forum Japan that the Ministry had advised JETRO of the significant legal and moral risks associated with promoting illegal settlement businesses as outlined by the United Nations Human Rights Council. JETRO staff called Palestine Forum Japan and informed them that they would be withdrawing from the event which would not be going ahead at JETRO’s facilities.

In July 2017, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted a warning on its website, advising that “settlement activities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are in violation of international law, and one must be aware of the financial, reputational and legal risks when involved with economic activities in these areas.”

In September the Boycott, divestment and sanctions website reported that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was beginning to send letters to 150 companies in Israel and around the globe, warning them that they could be added to a database of complicit companies doing business in illegal Israeli settlements based in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Japanese BDS activists are calling on the Japanese government to implement sanctions against Israel until the military occupation is ended, Palestinian citizens of Israel enjoy equal rights and Palestinian refugees are permitted to return to their homes and their land.

 

 

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Will Japan be ‘reset”, maintaining the pacifist principles enshrined in its constitution?

September 29, 2017

Following Shinzo Abe’s dissolution of the Japanese parliament for a snap election on October 22, Seiji Maehara, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, announced to his MPs that he would not field any candidates. He encouraged them to apply instead to run for a new party established by the governor of Tokyo only two days ago.

Tokyo’s governor,  Yuriko Koike, has announced the formation of the Party of Hope (Kibo no To) to contest the election She  laid out her party’s vision: to “reset” Japan, operating free of the interests of the political establishment and maintaining its pacifist principles, which are enshrined in its constitution.

Maehara’s proposal to shift allegiance to Koike’s movement was unanimously approved at a general meeting of DP MPs the same day. Under the plan, all DP candidates for the general election have been asked to abandon party membership and apply to join the official ticket of Kibo no To.

“I made this proposal after thinking about what would realize a change in power again,” Maehara told DP MPs during the meeting.  According to Maehara’s plan, the DP will give “full support” to Koike’s party in election campaigns, including financial support for former DP members running on the Kibo no To ticket.

During a TV interview on Wednesday, Koike said her party will choose applicants from the DP after close consideration of their views on constitutional revision and security issues.

 

 

 

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