According to Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was briefed by the military on Monday about plans to fire missiles into waters surrounding Guam and said that he would watch the behavior of the U.S. a little more before deciding whether to order the missile attack. By reporting the leader’s remarks, North Korea seems to be adjusting the pace of its missile threats in a shift from its previous move to stoke tension through intimidating comments such as threatening an “enveloping strike of Guam” and “completion of the firing plan.” Here’s Hong Hyun-ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, to explain why North Korea has backtracked on its threats.



Early this month, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea, following the nation’s two test-launches of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile last month. After that, Pyongyang vowed retaliation against the U.S. “thousands of times” and issued a statement that it would cope with a preventive war mentioned by the U.S. On August 9, Kim Rak-gyom, commander of the Strategic Forces of the North Korean People’s Army, said that the nation is considering firing four Hwasong-12 missiles into waters 30 to 40 kilometers away from Guam. In response to Pyongyang’s repeated threats, U.S. President Donald Trump said that North Korea would face “fire and fury.” Tension between North Korea and the U.S. seemed to be only escalating. Before long, however, Trump and U.S. officials stressed the importance of diplomatic efforts, hinting at the possibility of dialogue. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday, August 15, that the U.S. would continue to make efforts toward dialogue with North Korea in order to resolve the nuclear issue.



Guam is a key strategic point for the U.S. military in the Asia-Pacific region as some of its strategic weapons are deployed there. North Korea may have thought that a strike on the island could be effective in checking the strategic assets that would be sent to the Korean Peninsula in case of an emergency. But experts are saying that the possibility of a military conflict between the two countries is low. Meanwhile, on August 9, North Korea released Korean-Canadian pastor Lim Hyeon-soo, who was sentenced to hard labor for life for engaging in hostile acts. Some experts say that the unexpected release could be Pyongyang’s offer for dialogue with the U.S. and the international community.



South Korean President Moon Jae-in reaffirmed his Berlin peace initiative during his Liberation Day speech. He stressed that peace is a survival tactic and urged North Korea to immediately stop its provocations and to come to the dialogue table instead. He also clarified that South Korea would take the lead in dealing with the crisis triggered by North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations.



The Associated Press reported on August 11 that the U.S. and North Korea have been making contact behind the scenes for several months to solve the nuclear issue. The AP said that back channel dialogue had been taking place between Joseph Yun, the U.S. State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy, and Pak Song-il, who is North Korea’s senior diplomat to the U.N. That would mean the two countries have maintained their dialogue channel under the Trump administration, even though they are launching verbal provocations against each other. It raises hopes that the current phase of tension might turn into that of dialogue.



North Korea and the U.S. seem to have taken a step back from their tense war of words for now. But the upcoming South Korea-U.S. combined military drills known as the Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which will start on August 21, will likely be an important factor that may determine whether North Korea could make additional provocations.



[Interview] Steve Jobs Inspires N. Korean Defector to Start New Life in S. Korea


A small repair shop near Sogang University in Mapo, western Seoul, is bustling with people who want to fix their broken mobile phones. The repair shop called “Sogang Jobs” is run by Kim Hak-min, who studies Electronic Engineering at Sogang University. The name of the shop is actually Kim’s nickname. Known as Sogang University’s Steve Jobs, Kim is a North Korean defector who was born and grew up in Onsong in North Korea’s northernmost province of North Hamgyeong-do. He came to South Korea in 2011 when he was 25 years-old. At the time, everything was unfamiliar to him, and it was challenging to adjust to a new environment. He entered a vocational school to earn technical qualifications. But he was still skeptical of his future. He happened to receive a book titled “Steve Jobs” from one of his North Korean friends. That changed everything.



In the book, Jobs tells people not to be swayed by others but to live their own lives. He advises them not to waste their time by living someone else’s life but to find out something they really want to do. I was fascinated with Jobs’ philosophy. Looking back, I grew up in North Korea where what I did and even what I thought could always be watched, and I was never able to develop a sense of self. In South Korea, I always felt nervous about how people would perceive me and I was reluctant to reveal my identity as a North Korean defector. After reading the book, I thought I should live my own life, as I could not be someone else. I was determined to do what I wanted to do, never following others’ lives.



Kim had a new goal in life. After studying hard, he was admitted to the Electronic Engineering Department at Sogang University in 2014. One day, his cellphone screen cracked. He couldn’t afford the high cost of the repairs so he used the broken cellphone for months before buying some parts online and fixing it himself.



One of my friends saw me repair my cellphone and was amazed how I could fix it instantly. I said it was no big deal but he said it wasn’t. He said not everyone could do that. He recommended me to do a part-time job fixing cellphones. One student had his cellphone mended and posted a review about my service, along with photos of his cellphone and my number. After that, some 30 people contacted me a day. I began to repair cellphones in my dorm every day, from 6 in the morning to 10 at night.



That’s how Kim became known as “Sogang Jobs” among his classmates. In fact, he was called “repair boy” in North Korea. When he was younger, he liked to disassemble and assemble electrical products for fun and he sometimes did it for a living.



When I was seven, eight years old, I was curious about electric gadgets and my hobby was to take them apart. My father was an engineer, and there were a lot of electric appliances in our house. I often broke them and I even had accidents. One day when I was disassembling some appliances, something exploded and some fragments entered my eye, so I had to go to hospital. But through those experiences, I came to learn how electric products work. I started fixing neighbors’ watches when I was 13. As a “repair boy,” I was quite popular. I thought I should study about electric appliances and the principle of semiconductors and circuits. I began to study with Japanese books by myself and I was able to master various skills.



The rumors of Sogang Jobs spread, and more and more people came to him to have their cellphones repaired. But he couldn’t fix them all from his dorm room, so he opened a small repair shop.



At first, I didn’t even have a deposit to rent a place since I was a student. But my acquaintances were willing to lend me money and told me to pay them back anytime I want. The Student Council of my department also sent me one million won, wishing me good luck. I was deeply impressed. I borrowed some five million won. I worked really hard, often working all night, and I was able to pay it off in just one month.



Kim has repaired more than 5,000 cellphones since 2015. His fame as Sogang Jobs spread all over the country.



He fixes things on the spot, not sending them to somewhere else. I don’t know exactly what he’s doing, but it’s fun just to watch him work in front of me. He has an excellent reputation, as you can see from the fact a lot of people are waiting in line on this hot day.



At first, I went to a local service center to have my cellphone mended, but a worker there said he could not fix it. So I sent a text message to Mr. Kim and asked him if he could repair it. He said yes. I had read an article about him before—about his experience of fixing watches when he was a little boy. I thought he was incredible. It is even more surprising that he has settled here in such a wonderful way. He definitely deserves praise.



Numerous people come to Kim for one reason. He can fix cellphones that other repairmen can’t. Choi Ju-yeon, a North Korean defector who works with him, says that Kim stands unchallenged in terms of skills.



If cellphones are described as sick patients, Kim is a very skilled doctor. He makes an accurate diagnosis and treats his “patients” very quickly. It’s little wonder customers like his service. He has brilliant technical skills.



Kim started to repair broken cellphones for fun. But now, he says the people he meets give him encouragement and motivate him to move forward.



An old man and his daughter came all the way from Iksan, Jeolla-do Province. It took three hours for them to get here by train. He could have had his phone fixed in a local repair shop. But he said he wanted to see me. I received a lot of praise from him. He said that I had probably endured many hardships, far away from home, and that he felt proud of me. He also encouraged me to resettle here and enjoy a successful life. Suddenly, I burst into tears. His words warmed my heart. I thought, ‘This is what life is all about.’



Kim says his goal is to create his own electronic goods brand that would surpass Steve Jobs. Whatever he does in the future, he also hopes that he will be able to contribute to Korean society and the unification of Korea.



If I resettle properly, I believe I can work with others in a harmonious way so we can cherish our dreams and grow together. My dream is to set up a good company where young people from South and North Korea work together.



We support Kim’s dream and hope he will be able to realize it in the future.