The Korean Culture and Information Service, part of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, has analyzed foreign media reports on South Korea this year. According to the analysis, foreign news reports showed the greatest interest in the inauguration of the new South Korean government, the nation’s diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, the North Korean nuclear crisis and regional security. The Korean Peninsula has seen major changes amid the security crisis and tension in 2017 due to the unstable political, military and diplomatic environment surrounding North Korea. Here’s Hong Hyun-ik at the Sejong Institute to review the security conditions on the Korean Peninsula this year.

The Washington Post has recently said that 2017 has been a good year for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. From the beginning of the year, Kim has focused on his nation’s nuclear and missile development. He enabled the country to near the stage of deploying its nuclear missiles for actual warfare, although South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump tried hard to restrain the North Korean regime. Western countries, including the U.S., imposed sanctions against North Korea through the U.N. Security Council, and Pyongyang reacted by making provocations again. As a result, security conditions on the Korean Peninsula were unstable throughout the year, even increasing the possibility of war. With this year drawing to an end, South Korea now has the challenging tasks of promoting cooperation with the U.S. and China, and resuming dialogue with North Korea at the same time.

In 2017, North Korea’s nuclear and missile development proceeded much faster than expected. In his New Year’s message, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that the nation was in the final stage of preparations to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. This year, Pyongyang conducted its sixth nuclear test and 15 missile test-launches, including a new intermediate-range missile known as the Pukguksong-2 and the Hwasong-14 and -15 ICBMs. Experts agree that North Korea focused on completing a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. After the Hwasong-15 ICBM test-launch on November 29, the nation declared the completion of its state nuclear force. When North Korea secures the technology to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and develops the necessary re-entry technology for its missiles, it can deploy nuclear weapons for actual warfare. That’s why international concerns are growing.

Some had thought that the aftermath of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development might be limited to the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. But the Hwasong-15 ICBM test last month stokes concerns among Americans that North Korea has in effect completed a long-range missile capable of reaching not only the western part of the U.S. but even Washington D.C. in the east of the country. Many experts believe that North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on September 3 was between five and 10 times more powerful than its previous one last year to possibly detonate a hydrogen bomb. In conclusion, North Korea could fire a long-range missile carrying a nuclear or hydrogen bomb to strike the U.S. mainland. Therefore, it is not just a matter affecting the Korean Peninsula now. For the Trump administration, it has become one of the topmost national tasks now.

This year, Trump exchanged aggressive rhetoric with Kim Jong-un, raising concerns about a crisis on the Korean Peninsula. He said in August that any North Korean attack would be met with “fire and fury.” He also mentioned the phrase, “the calm before the storm,” in front of military officials. His comments spawned diverse interpretations. North Korea’s reaction was equally intense. It called Trump “a lunatic” and announced its missile strike plan on Guam to add fuel to the fire on the tense situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Trump and Kim were getting more and more hostile toward each other, trying to save face in the international community. As a superpower, the U.S. may have wanted to launch a pre-emptive strike to devastate North Korea. But military action is almost impossible, since it will cause huge damage to the 28,500 U.S. troops and 100-thousand Americans in South Korea, as well as South Korean citizens and even people in Japan. That’s probably why the leaders in the U.S. and North Korea only engaged in a fierce war of words to slam each other. But their angry feelings and bitter spats might cause misunderstandings, which could accidentally ignite the outbreak of a war. So, both sides should refrain from harsh rhetoric.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has consistently stressed the need to maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula since his inauguration in May, as seen in his Berlin Declaration, his commemorative speech on August 15 Liberation Day, his address at the National Assembly and the South Korea-U.S. summit. He underlined the need for South Korea to play a leading role in settling peace in the region by using the expression, “get in the driver’s seat” when it comes to Korean Peninsula issues. However, the South Korean government’s proposal to hold an inter-Korean military meeting and another round of reunions of separated families came to nothing, due to North Korea’s silence.

South Korea’s proposals included some incentives for North Korea, as they implied unconditional dialogue and the implementation of previous inter-Korean agreements—something North Korea has wanted. So there were expectations that the North would respond to Seoul’s dialogue proposals. But Pyongyang only repeated provocations and said that it would hold dialogue only with the U.S., employing its typical strategy of having direct talks with the U.S. while ignoring South Korea. In other words, North Korea has used an undesirable policy by turning a deaf ear to the Moon government, which advocates friendship and cooperation with the North. North Korea has kept silent on South Korea’s dialogue offer but has continued with its provocations. Therefore, it is difficult for the Moon government to make additional proposals for now. After all, inter-Korean dialogue has been completely deadlocked amid escalating tension and direct confrontation between North Korea and the U.S. It is a very frustrating situation.

In February, Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was assassinated with VX nerve agent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. VX nerve agent is a highly toxic substance classified as a chemical weapon by the international community. It is generally believed that North Korea was behind the murder. In June, American student Otto Warmbier died six days after returning home in a coma following more than a year of detention in North Korea. In the wake of the tragic death of the young man, anti-North Korea sentiment spread in the U.S. The U.S. government fully implemented its travel ban on North Korea. In November, Washington re-designated North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.

On November 21, Trump returned North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism, nine years after the nation was removed from the list. The following day, the U.S. Treasury Department announced additional sanctions on North Korea. In fact, the U.S. had not taken any action against North Korea for more than 60 days since Pyongyang’s missile provocation on September 15. Following Pyongyang’s re-listing on the list of terror sponsors and Washington’s additional sanctions, North Korea test-fired a Hwasong-15 long-range missile on November 29. I wish the U.S. had pushed for dialogue with the North one more time before its decision to re-designate it as a state sponsor of terrorism. But the decision was inevitable, given the negative sentiment toward North Korea within the U.S. After all, North Korea’s long-range missile launch aggravated regional diplomacy further.

International sanctions on North Korea intensified, in line with the nation’s ever-growing nuclear and missile provocations. This year, the U.N. Security Council adopted four resolutions calling for sanctions on the North. Resolution 2371 and 2375 focus on blocking key sources of revenue suspected of funding North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Resolution 2397, which was approved on December 22 in response to North Korea’s Hwasong-15 missile launch, is considered the strongest ever. The newest resolution bans nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum supplies to North Korea and has North Korean workers overseas returned to the country within two years. In particular, the resolution includes a clause that allows further restrictions on petroleum supplies in case North Korea makes another provocation. The continuing sanctions are expected to deal a heavy blow to the North Korean economy.

Sanctions on North Korea have now gone as far as they can go. At present, there are few products that North Korea can export. It cannot export underground resources, including coal and iron, as well as weaponry. It is also prohibited from exporting textiles, which account for a significant portion of the nation’s outbound shipments, and seafood as well. With the latest sanctions, North Korea is forecast to lose about 10 percent of its annual exports. The new resolution contains a trigger clause, which places further restrictions on North Korea’s imports of petroleum if it makes additional provocations. Also, crude oil supplies to North Korea will be cut considerably. As a result, Kim Jong-un’s private coffer will be almost empty. Inevitably, Kim will feel highly pressured.

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement that the nation would flatly reject the U.N. Security Council’s additional sanctions on the North and would solidify its self-defensive, nuclear deterrence even further. International attention turns to how North Korea will act in 2018 in regards to its nuclear and missile development.

We cannot rule out the possibility that the North Korean leader may propose some sort of dialogue in his New Year’s speech on January 1 next year. The North may propose disarmament talks, as it claims that it has now secured nuclear force for actual warfare. Or, it may suggest a temporary moratorium on its nuclear and missile tests in exchange for unconditional dialogue, or even inter-Korean dialogue without any conditions. North Korea may not launch new provocations in response to Resolution 2397, at least until the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. If dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. does not take place before that, they could confront after the PyeongChang Paralympics. But they may seek dialogue again, and if that happens, the momentum could hopefully lead to the resumption of the stalled six-party nuclear negotiations.

There is a possibility that North Korea may seek to improve ties with South Korea next year, while watching how the diplomatic situation may evolve. But for now, we’ll have to wait and watch what message Kim Jong-un will deliver in his New Year’s speech.

[Interview] N. Korean Defector Runs Publisher in S. Korea

This is a publishing company located in Yangcheon-gu District, western Seoul. It is run by a North Korean defector named Lee In-ho. It’s been about two years since the publisher opened. Thanks to its good reputation, orders have been on a steady rise. Let’s hear from Mr. Lee.

It’s necessary to check all the procedures from designing to printing. Even after a book is completed, it must be checked again because it may have problems, like wrong pages. Books with problems should be re-printed. Banners, too, should be remade if they are not perfect. I might lose money for that, but that’s how I build trust with customers. Fortunately, my business receives a positive response from customers. There is no firm that stopped working with us after entering into a business relationship with us. We’re now expanding our operations.

Lee’s hometown is Hyesan, Ryanggang Province in North Korea. He came to South Korea in 2010. In the initial stage of resettlement, he experienced many difficulties because everything was unfamiliar to him. He didn’t even know how to withdraw money from an ATM. He needed to learn something new every day. Thanks to generous help from people around him, he was able to adjust to a new environment gradually. Then he began to look for a job. He worked as a day laborer in various areas. One day, the head of a publishing firm where he was working advised him to start his own business.
My boss was a second-generation home-lost person who also came from North Korea. Probably for that reason, he showed great interest in North Korean newcomers struggling to resettle here. I worked at his publishing company for almost a year. He recommended me to start my business. He told me to ask him anything about printing as he would take care of technical problems for three years after I opened my own publishing firm. I trusted him, and I started the business. As expected, I was faced with a lot of problems. Every time problems arose, I asked for help from him, asking him countless questions. Since I had a person who would answer anything I wanted, I wasn’t afraid at all.

Lee had experience of running a business in China and he made the most of that experience here in South Korea.

It was pretty challenging at first. Previously, I did a master’s course at the University of North Korean Studies, and those who were in the same course asked me to print their theses. That was how I began to earn money. I visited public offices and civic groups and introduced myself as the first North Korean defector who ran a publishing business. I told them about my vision of printing books in North Korea after unification and distributing them to children there. At first, they gave me some small jobs. After they saw the quality of my work, they were pleased and asked me to do major projects.

After taking a job, Lee worked on it diligently with great responsibility. It is little wonder that, once people began working with him, they wanted to continue their relations with him. His firm generated 100 million won, or about 90-thousand US dollars of sales, only one year after its creation. Now, Lee hopes to expand his publishing house to offer jobs to many more North Korean defectors. It is important for the newcomers from the North to find a decent job, and Lee knows that better than anyone else.

I hope my business will turn out well so I can help out my fellow North Korean expats. It isn’t useful to simply give them money. Rather, I want to select some smart people and invest in them. I hope to nurture them as successful businesspeople.

Lee’s ultimate goal is to run a publishing house in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula after Korea is unified. He is cherishing the dream that he will supply books that he made to people in need of them.

I remember it was difficult to find an English-Korean dictionary in North Korea. I wish I could print a large quantity of dictionaries with good-quality paper produced here and send them to North Korea. After unification, I’ll run a publisher in Pyongyang and print publications needed for public offices and children. I’ll publish them for free to return what I have received to society.