Tag Archives: North Korea

christmas structure korea AFP KIM JAE-MYUNG

South Korea to Rebuild Christmas Tower Despite North Korea’s Threats

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

The South Korean Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday that it will allow a Christian group to rebuild the Christmas tower near the inter-Korean border, infuriating North Korea, which had threatened to fire artillery at the old tower that once stood in the same spot.

In October, the South Korean military dismantled the 1970’s steel tower due to safety concerns for tourists. According to the New York Times, tests showed that the 59-foot structure had become unstable and dangerous, especially with the giant rusted cross sitting on top of the “tree.”

Conservative Christian groups and anti-North Korea activists, however, soon protested the dismantlement, accusing the government of caving into pressure from Pyongyang. The Christian Council of Korea (CCK) also began campaigning for a new tower to replace the old tower.

For decades, the tower had stood on a hilltop west of Seoul and just a few miles away from the North Korean town of Kaesong. During the holiday season, it had been lit with Christmas lights, which can be seen across the border.

North Korea, which forbids religious activities, frequently protested against the tower’s lights, calling them a tool for “psychological warfare.” When South Korea’s Defense Ministry accepted CCK’s request for a new tower on Tuesday, North Korea fired another round of protests, saying that the tower “is not just a means for religious events but a symbol of madcap confrontation racket for escalating tensions.”

In response, the Defense Ministry’s spokesman Kim Min-seok said, “We accepted the request to protect religious activities and to honor the group’s wish to illuminate the tower in hopes of peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

The new tower will be installed by the CCK and will be illuminated from Dec. 23 to Jan. 6.

Photo courtesy of Kim Jae-Myung, AFP.


North Korea Refuses to Deny Hacking Sony Pictures

by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim

New evidence suggests that North Korea may have been behind the cyber-attack that crippled Sony Pictures last week. The tools the hackers used are very similar to those used to attack South Korean television stations and ATMs in 2013, according to the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea was one of the initial suspects in the hacking, which disabled the Sony Pictures computer network and forced employees to work with their cellphones, pen and paper. Before screens went dark, they displayed a red skull and the phrase “Hacked By #GOP,” which reportedly stands for “Guardians of Peace.” A message also threatened to release sensitive data stolen from Sony servers if certain demands were not met.

The threat apparently didn’t include five Sony movies, including Fury and the unreleased Annie, as they were leaked to torrent sites over the weekend. Investigators and Sony executives have assumed the leaks were connected to the attack, although there is no evidence of that yet.

So far, North Korea has refused to deny their involvement in light of what has only been circumstantial evidence. BBC News reported that when asked, a North Korean spokesman for the government replied, “Wait and see.”

If North Korea is indeed behind the attacks, the Verge noted, it would be the first time a Hollywood studio has come under attack from a foreign power.

Investigators believe that Sony’s upcoming movie, The Interview, would explain a connection to North Korea. The comedy film that involves two journalists (James Franco and Seth Rogen) on a mission for the CIA to assassinate Kim Jong-un (Randall Park). North Korea has not held back in expressing their distaste over the film. Back in June, a Foreign Ministry spokesman promised a “merciless counter-measure” if The Interview becomes released and also denounced the movie as “the most undisguised terrorism.”

The Interview

“A film about the assassination of a foreign leader mirrors what the U.S. has done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Ukraine,” read a statement by Kim Myong-chol, North Korea’s executive director of the Center for North Korea-U.S. Peace. “And let us not forget who killed [John F.] Kennedy—Americans.”

In the statements from the hacking group behind the attacks, the Verge found that one of the recent messages singled out The Interview in a similar manner:

“Our aim is not at the film The Interview as Sony Pictures suggests. But it is widely reported as if our activity is related to The Interview. This shows how dangerous film The Interview is. The Interview is very dangerous enough to cause a massive hack attack. Sony Pictures produced the film harming the regional peace and security and violating human rights for money. The news with The Interview fully acquaints us with the crimes of Sony Pictures. Like this, their activity is contrary to our philosophy. We struggle to fight against such greed of Sony Pictures.”

Another portion of the message reads, “We won’t give up this attack unless Sony Pictures collapse to the end.”

theinterview01Randall Park as Kim Jong-un.

Since August, Sony had already planned to edit out a few controversial portions of the movie, including a Raiders of the Lost Ark homage where Kim Jong-un’s face melts off in slow motion. They also digitally altered the buttons worn by multiple characters because they “depict the actual hardware worn by the North Korean military to honor” Kim Jong-un and his late father, Kim Jong-il.

The Interiew is still set to hit theaters on Christmas Day, at least in the U.S. It will not be screened in South Korea, however, as a Seoul-based Sony Pictures official cited concerns of inter-Korean relations.

Photo courtesy of The Verge

Suki Kim author image - photo credit Ed Kashi-VII

Suki Kim Faces Backlash for North Korea Memoir

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

Suki Kim may have captivated her readers with her latest book, Without You, There Is No Us, which chronicles her six-month journey of teaching English to North Korean students, but it was apparently at the expense of her relationship with the North Korean school.

Teachers at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) criticized Kim, who taught at the school from June to December of 2011 for a myriad of reasons. A few of those include the Korean American author breaking a promise to not publicize her experiences at the private university in North Korea’s capital as well as allegedly writing factually inaccurate information about the school and its teachers, whom she described as Christian missionaries.

“Suki is a good writer, but she definitely wrote to her interest and did not really report the whole story,” Norma Nichols, the co-director at PUST’s international academic affairs, told KoreAm in an email. “She got some facts wrong. I was there during the time she was reporting, so I know that she overlooked some things.”

The North Korean government, largely known for its ban on religions and aversion to foreign influence, approved PUST in 2001. The school eventually opened in 2011 under the conditions that the funding will come from foreign investments and that the teachers would be subject to severe punishment for trying to proselytize students. The school, attended by the male children of North Korea’s most privileged families, was founded by James Kim, a Korean American entrepreneur who also runs a similar school in Yanbian, China.

Although the school admitted that its teachers are indeed Christians, it dismissed what Kim said about her fellow teachers, whom she said they allegedly set a “larger goal to convert” the North Korean students.

“I am really upset about the attitude, her writings, her telling lies, her cheating us,” James Kim, the school’s founder, told the New York Times. “[The North Korean authorities] know we are Christian, we do not hide that … But we are not missionaries. Christians and missionaries are different.”

As of now, PUST hasn’t faced any repercussions because of Kim’s book, but the North Korean authorities have reportedly questioned James Kim extensively since it was published.

Kim has already acknowledged that she is not a Christian and that she deceptively applied for a teaching job at the school, where she clandestinely took notes with the goal of writing about her experiences. Under heavy surveillance, Kim said she scribbled notes and destroyed them after transferring what she wrote to thumb drives, which she either wore around her neck or hid in the garbage can.

KoreAm will feature an exclusive Q&A with Suki Kim in its upcoming December/January issue.

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 1.30.09 PM

Kim Jong-un Sings Katy Perry in Final Trailer for ‘The Interview’

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Sony Pictures has released its final trailer for the upcoming action-comedy film The Interview, starring Seth Rogen, James Franco and Randall Park.

Written and directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the feature centers on Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen), who run a popular celebrity tabloid TV show. After discovering that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is a fan of the show, Dave and Aaaron prepare to travel to Pyongyang to interview him in an attempt to legitimize themselves as real journalists. Their plans, however, are derailed when the CIA recruits them to assassinate the North Korean dictator.

While previous trailers have only shown glimpses of the film’s iteration of Kim Jong-un, the new trailer highlights Park’s strong comedy chops, as seen in the short scene of him singing Katy Perry’s “Firework” with Franco.

This year has been a particularly busy one for Park as he is currently filming for the upcoming ABC family comedy, Fresh Off the Boat, which is slated to air in early 2015. In addition, Park will also be featured on the cover of KoreAm‘s December/January 2014 issue! You can read Park’s final column for KoreAm here.

The Interview will hit U.S. theaters on December 25.

Peter Hahn School

Chinese Authorities Detain Aid Worker Assisting NKoreans


A Korean American aid worker was arrested by Chinese authorities on Tuesday on suspicion of embezzlement and possession of fraudulent receipts, reports the New York Times.

Peter Hahn, a 73-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who escaped from North Korea many years ago, was detained on Tuesday in Tumen City, a trading town near the North Korean border in northeastern China. He ran a Christian aid agency that included a local school and also provided supplies to North Korean poor.

Other aid projects in his Tumen River Area Development Initiative included building fertilizer factories, food processing factories and fishing boat repair services in North Korea, along with 26 shuttle buses. His bakery also provided soy milk and bread for orphanages.

Authorities reportedly called Hahn in for questioning, then placed under detention after a six-hour interrogation. Hahn’s lawyer, Zhang Peihong, said that the charges were “groundless” and “impossible to stand up.”

The arrest follows a crackdown on Christian and other Western aid groups and NGOs along the North Korean border in recent months. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not offered a reason behind them.

Authorities began investigating Hahn in April, asking him about his life and humanitarian work, according to his lawyer. Hahn’s wife, Eunice, said that in July, police closed their vocational training school and froze their bank accounts, then confiscated their vehicles, computer, books and photos. She has since moved to Seoul for safety reasons.

At the time, Hahn was told he was being investigated for “embezzlement, proselytizing and providing aid illegally to North Korean defectors,” allegations he denied, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. Since August, two more of Hahn’s colleagues, one Korean and one Chinese, have been detained.

Hahn’s wife and lawyer were both concerned about his health. He has suffered a number of strokes and was on medication before the arrest.

Kevin and Julie Garrat, a Canadian Christian couple who ran a cafe in Dandong, were also detained in July and accused of espionage and theft of state secrets about China’s military and national defense research. The New York Times said Peter’s Coffee Shop served as a “beacon of information for adventurous travelers” and Christians, as well as those looking for Western food. Kevin Garrat, a former pastor, would often converse with the travelers about North Korea.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal notes it is unusual for foreigners to be charged with violating the Chinese states secrets law. It is punishable by life in prison or death in the most severe cases.

Top photo courtesy of Hong Kong Economic Journal


SKorea Plans to Raise $500 Billion For Reunification

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

South Korea’s top financial regulator said Tuesday that rebuilding North Korea’s moribund economy after an eventual reunification would cost about $500 billion, which the government says can be raised without increasing taxes, according to Yonhap.

Although South Korea’s Financial Services Commission (FSC) chairman Shin Je-yoon said that the figure of $500 billion is open for revision, it would be the estimate needed to stimulate North Korea’s depressed economy. FSC’s blueprint added that the estimated sum would be sufficient to increase North Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita from last year’s $1,251 to $10,000 in 20 years. North Korea’s current GDP total of $31 billion is equivalent to South Korea’s 1971 GDP and just 2 percent of its GDP from last year.

FSC said that South Korea would also spend an additional $175 billion on North Korea’s infrastructural and industrial developments.

South Korea plans to raise half of the estimated fund from its public financial institutions, notably the Korea Development Bank and Korea Exim Bank, in a similar manner to what the Germany’s government-owned bank, the KfW, did for the German reunification in 1990.

These institutions will play a similar role to Germany’s government-owned bank, the KfW, which provided a bulk of the finance into the West and East Germany reunification in 1990.

The rest of South Korea’s estimated funds could be financed by commercial banks, tax revenues, development projects in North Korea and overseas development aid (ODA).

“In the initial stage of unification, the government will lead the North Korean development by using state funds and projects, and then the ODA and private investments can be utilized,” said Shin. “We have to consider many factors, including the economic gap between the two countries and macroeconomic variables before introducing a currency system to the North.”

Under current circumstances, discussions of Korean reunification’s costs are practically moot as serious talks between the two Koreas about merging have not taken place since the Korean War. The two countries remain technically at war as the Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice and not a peace treaty.

President Park Geun-hye said in a speech last year that a reunification would be a daebak, which roughly translates to “bonanza” in English, as the South’s capital and technology would go hand in hand with the North’s human and natural resources. However, her comments were met with scathing criticisms from the North, which accused her of “pipe-dreaming.”

Featured image courtesy of Abihollow


LINK ATTACK: Ki Hong Lee, Millennials in NKorea, Veterans Day

How Millennials Are Shaking North Korea’s Regime
“My generation, they’re not really worshiping the Kim regime sincerely, just pretending. That’s what we call the black market generation,” Yeonmi Park tells NBC News.

SKorean Province Donates $100K for Jersey City’s Vandalized War Memorial
“The veterans never expected that the Korean people would remember what they fought for 60 years ago, but they do appreciate the sacrifice you guys made,” said Jersey City Councilman Yun.

Maze Runner Star Ki Hong Lee Navigates His Way Through Hollywood
“I feel that the Korean community has my back in terms of what I’ve done and where I’ve come from. I appreciate that very much,” Ki Hong Lee tells The Korea Times.

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 4.10.39 PMPhoto courtesy of Ki Hong Lee

Korean Laker Girl Sujan Pang: Defying Expectations
Laker Girl Sujan Pang talks to Korea Times about her journey to joining arguably the most prestigious cheerleading squad in the sports world.

Sundance Institute/Asian American Feature Film Fellowship
The Sundance Institute is currently accepting applications from Asian American filmmakers for the Asian American Feature Film Fellowship. Deadline is Dec. 15.

Why “Selfie’s” Cancellation is a Massive Shame: This Was the Most Promising Interracial Couple on TV
““Selfie’s” cancellation is a blow for the movement of Getting John Cho Laid On-Screen — the superficial arm of the larger organization titled Hey TV, Not Everyone Is White, In Case You Hadn’t Noticed.”

selfiePhoto courtesy of ABC/Eric McCandless

A Brief History of Political Collaborations Between Latinos and Asians in America
Hyphen magazine covers the history of longstanding collaborations forged by Latinos and Asians in America.

Starbucks’ Foreigner-friendly Policy on WiFi Upsets Koreans
“Starbucks in Korea has come under criticism from Koreans who have discovered that the coffee giant has been demanding more personal information from Korean customers than foreigners to use its free WiFi service.”

Korean Officials Under Fire After Mentioning a Tax on Being Single
“Would more South Koreans shack up and produce offspring if the government raised the price of being single with a new tax?”


Veterans Day Remembrance: America’s ‘First Korean War Bride’ Comes Home
“Crowds cheered excitedly, whistles tooted. Seattle and the U.S. were welcoming the first Korean war bride to arrive in America, Mrs. Johnie Morgan, home with her sergeant husband.”

141110-wayne-miller-korean-bride-01Photo courtesy of Wayne Miller/Magnum

Two Korean Americans Throw in Names for L.A. City Council
“General elections may be over for 26 Korean Americans who ran for office, but for two more political hopefuls — District 4 candidate David Ryu and District 10 candidate Grace Yoo — the race for the Los Angeles City Council in next year’s March 3 election has just begun.”

First Look at the Coming-of-Age Teen Comedy Soul Searching 
“The upcoming indie feature film Seoul Searching is a coming-of-age teen comedy written and directed by Benson Lee. Set in the 1980s, the film is based on Benson’s personal experiences in 1986 at a government-sponsored summer camp for Koreans from around the world to learn about their heritage.”

Northridge Woman Recounts Challenges of Being First Asian-American Woman to Serve in U.S. Navy
“Susan Anh Cuddy was the first Asian-American woman in the U.S. Navy`s Waves program. She joined in 1942 and served during the cold war. Part of her duties included breaking enemy codes.”

5 Asian Authors Who Should Be Taught in Every High School
Audrey Magazine compiles five prominent Asian authors that should be introduced to the American education system.

Featured photo courtesy of Humanrightsfoundation.org

Kenneth Bae

Freed North Korea Detainee Kenneth Bae Focuses on Pizza, Prayer and Family


SEATTLE (AP) — Rest, food and family are on the top of Kenneth Bae’s list since arriving home this weekend after years of imprisonment in North Korea.

His sister said he hasn’t spoken about his ordeal yet, but family and friends reconnected late Saturday night over pizza.

“Our family loves food, so we talked a lot about food,” Terri Chung said Sunday outside her Seattle church. They didn’t ask him a lot of questions. “We mostly wanted to hear from him.”

She said her brother had one stipulation for his first meal back home: No Korean food.

“He said, ‘I don’t want Korean food, that’s all I’ve been eating for the last two years,'” Chung said.

Bae and Matthew Miller, another American who had been held captive in North Korea, landed Saturday night at a Washington state military base after a top U.S. intelligence official secured their release.

“It’s been an amazing two years, I learned a lot, I grew a lot, I lost a lot of weight,” Bae, a Korean-American missionary with health problems, said Saturday night after arriving at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Asked how he was feeling, he said, “I’m recovering at this time.”

Bae, surrounded by family members, spoke briefly to the media after the plane carrying him and Miller landed. He thanked President Barack Obama and the people who supported him and his family. He also thanked the North Korean government for releasing him.

Chung said Bae was in better shape when he arrived than his family expected. The family has said he suffers from diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain. He had spent about six weeks in a North Korean hospital before his return, his sister said.

“That helped. As you know, he had gone back and forth between the labor camp and hospital,” she said, adding a doctor checked him on the flight back to the United States.

His plans for the near future include rest, food and reconnecting with friends and family. Neither his wife nor his children could make it back to Seattle in time for Bae’s homecoming, but the whole family plans to gather for Thanksgiving, Chung said.

Chung released a statement Monday, saying Bae wants to spend time with family and friends and will need time to decide what he will do next and where he will live.

Members of Bae’s family, who live near the sprawling military base south of Seattle, met him when he landed Saturday. His mother hugged him after he got off the plane. Miller stepped off the U.S. government aircraft a short time later and also was greeted with hugs.

U.S. officials said Miller of Bakersfield, California, and Bae of Lynnwood, Washington, flew back with James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. Clapper was the highest-ranking American to visit Pyongyang in more than a decade.

Their release was the latest twist in the fitful relationship between the Obama administration and the young North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, whose approach to the U.S. has shifted back and forth from defiance to occasional conciliation.

Bae was serving a 15-year sentence for alleged anti-government activities. He was detained in 2012 while leading a tour group to a North Korea economic zone.

Miller was serving a six-year jail term on charges of espionage after he allegedly ripped up his tourist visa at Pyongyang’s airport in April and demanded asylum. North Korea said Miller had wanted to experience prison life so he could secretly investigate the country’s human rights situation.

Bae and Miller were the last two Americans detained by the reclusive Communist country.

Last month, North Korea released Jeffrey Fowle of Miamisburg, Ohio, who was held for nearly six months. He had left a Bible in a nightclub in the hope that it would reach North Korea’s underground Christian community.

Speaking Sunday, Chung said her brother was enjoying visiting with loved ones.

“He was cut off from all of that for two years,” she said. “His only contacts were his guard, and maybe doctors and a handful of times, the Swedish Embassy.”

Chung said Bae “bears no ill will” over his ordeal and still has warm feelings for the North Korean people. He hasn’t told them many details, and Chung said she remains worried about her brother.

She thanked people around the world for their prayers and government officials and others for advocating for Bae’s release.

“First and foremost we thank God,” Chung said, adding soon afterward: “I have to thank President Obama.”


Associated Press writers Manuel Valdes, Ken Dilanian, Matthew Pennington, AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee, White House Correspondent Julie Pace, AP writer Nedra Pickler, AP National Security Writer Lara Jakes in Muscat, Oman, and AP writer John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, contributed to this report.


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