In the prelude to the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, Robert Park, himself a survivor of Kim Jong-un's prisons, called in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post for an amnesty for North Korea's tens of thousands of political prisoners to be a condition of any peace deal. He recalled a 2014 UN report (PDF) finding that up to 120,000 were being held in camps in North Korea, and subjected to "unspeakable atrocities and hardships." Most are held in life-imprisonment slave labor complexes called "absolute control zones" (wanjeontongjekyooyeok or kwanliso). The report found that these prisoners "have no prospect of securing release [and] are subject to gradual extermination through starvation and slave labour…with the apparent intent to extract a maximum of economic benefit at a minimum of cost." Park quoted Thomas Buergenthal, a survivor of both Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen who served as a judge at the International Court of Justice, who said: "I believe that the conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps..."
The US Department of the Treasury issued new sanctions against Iran on May 17. The new sanctions target two individuals, Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi and Abdallah Safi al-Din. Both of them have been identified as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Bazzi has been identified as a financier for Hezbollah, and Safi al-Din has been identified as Hezbollah's representative to Iran. The Treasury Department stated that the sanctions "show the convergence of Iran's support for terrorism with many facets of illicit criminal activity, including narcotics trafficking." The sanctions come after President Trump's decision to leave the Iranian nuclear deal last week and to begin reimposing sanctions against Iran.
The de-escalation in the crisis on the Korean peninsula reached a welcome turning point April 21, as the Pyongyang government announced that it will suspend nuclear and missile tests—and shut down the Punggye-ri test site in the northeastern province of North Hamgyong. An official statement quoted leader Kim Jong-un saying that North Korea has "verified the completion of nuclear weapons," and now "the Party and our nation will focus all its [sic] efforts towards socialist economic development." He concluded that "the northern nuclear test site has finished its mission." Official media said the statement came at a meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, convened to discuss policy issues related to a "new stage" in an "historic period." The two Koreas are set to hold a summit meeting next week at the border village of Panmunjom, while Kim is to meet in the coming weeks with US President Donald Trump at a yet-to-be-announced location.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Jan. 25 advanced the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock to two minutes of midnight from its previous two-and-a-half minutes. "In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II," the Bulletin said in a statement. Finding that the "greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm," the statement of course cited the crisis over North Korea's atomic program, but also ongoing military exercises along the borders of NATO, upgrading of nuclear arsenals by the US and Russia, tensions over the South China Sea, a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and uncertainty about continued US support for the Iran nuclear deal. These threats are worsened by "a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions."
The swearing in of Zimbabwe's new President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa is being hailed as opening a new era for the country that had been ruled by Robert Mugabe from independence in 1980 until his dramatic downfall this week. But Mnangagwa had long been Mugabe's right-hand man, and in his inaugural speech paid tribute to him as a "mentor" and Zimbabwe's "founding father." Mnangagwa is known by the nickname "Ngwena" (Crocodile)—apparently a reference to his days as a commando in the Crocodile Group, an elite Chinese-trained guerilla unit that carried out acts of sabotage in the struggle against colonial and white supremacist rule in the 1960s. (BBC News, CNN, VOA) But some are pointing to Mnangagwa's reputation for ruthlessness even after the country's liberation from white rule, and are demanding accountability over his role in ethnic massacres in the 1980s.
The China Institute in New York City on Oct. 5 featured a discussion with Harvard scholar William C. Kirby, author of Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth, on the question: "Can China Lead in the Age of De-Globalization?" Although he didn't state it explicitly, his answer appeared to be "no." Kirby began by echoing the prediction that as the 19th century saw Great Britain as the dominant world power, and the 20th saw the United States of America, the 21st could belong to China. But Kirby sees this succession as now threatened by the "destabilization of global norms" and the rise of "anti-globalist neo-authoritarian movements everywhere." He invoked the Brexit, the rise of Le Pen in France—and finally Donald Trump, who, Kirby noted, is rather obsessed with China.
Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido seems, unfortunately, poised to jump into the headlines as East Asia's next flashpoint for Great Power confrontation. When North Korea fired a missile over Japan last month, it was this northern island that the rocket passed over. Buried deep in the New York Times account of the incident is the fact that in addition to the routine annual US-South Korean military exercises then underway along the DMZ, "The United States has also been conducting joint exercises with Japanese forces for the past two weeks." And specifically (the Times didn't note) on Hokkaido. The Diplomat informs us that the exercises were dubbed Northern Viper and involved Japan Self-Defense Forces troops and US Marines operating out of Misawa Air Base, the northernmost US base in Japan, just across Tsugaru Strait from Hokkaido on the northern tip of Honshu. The USMC boasts that the exercises were unprecedented, marking the first joint US-Japanese maneuvers on Hokkaido.
With North Korea's apparent testing of its first (or perhaps second) hydrogen bomb yesterday, the White House is again warning of a "massive military response." Last week, North Korea for the first time fired a missile over Japanese land territory, specifically the northern island of Hokkaido, and last month for the first time tested an apparent intercontinental ballistic missile. (NYT, NYT, AP) Pyongyang's threat to launch missiles toward Guam put the unincorporated US island territory briefly in the news—although the actual threat was to fire into waters some 40 kilometers off Guam. (AP) Pyongyang has threatened to strike Guam before, but now looks as if it may be developing the capability to make good on its threat. Amid all the hype, just a few stories have made note of how Guamians themselves are reacting to all this. And growing sentiment on the island holds that the only thing they are getting out of their current US territorial status is being made a nuclear target.