North Korea Tests Most Powerful Nuke Yet, Despite UN Sanctions

North Korea’s most powerful nuclear test on Thursday night was accompanied by an announcement that they now now have the ability to mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. The ten megaton explosion, their fifth since 2006, was recorded as a 5.3 magnitude seismic event by monitors in the US, Japan, China and Europe. The nuclear test coincided with the 68th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

The North Korean claim of being able to launch a nuclear attack seems accurate since they successfully conducted a test on a medium-range ballistic missile on Monday.

“We’ve improved our ability to produce standardized and miniaturized nuclear warheads so we can produce as many as we want,” announced DKNA, North Korean national television. “This is our response to hostile powers, including the US. We sent out a message that if the enemies attack us, we can counterattack. The measures to protect our dignity and our right to exist from the US threat will continue.”

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Looking at the North Korean Problem From a Chinese Border City

The symbiotic relationship between Chinese and North Korean traders in Dandong reflects the complex issues at stake

The spindly legs of half-a-dozen dried frogs are tied together in a knot. Sharing the apothecary’s shelf are small bottles of the derivative “frog oil”—a traditional Chinese remedy collected from the females’ egg sacks. “It’s very good for blood circulation,” says the shopkeeper in China’s northeastern city of Dandong, accenting his sales pitch with an upward clenched fist to convey potency. “But the sanctions have hit my business hard. Before I could easily get 50 kg of frog oil; now, only 5 kg.”

Perched on China’s riverine frontier with North Korea, Dandong is awash with the exotic. The entrepôt of 2.5 million is famed for North Korean contraband such as blueberry liquor, cigarettes and medicinal sea cucumbers—plus frog oil, which fetches $450 per kilo. However, China signed up to unprecedented U.N. economic sanctions in March, following Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test. The daily convoys of sooty trucks that rumble over Dandong’s iron bridge—bringing coal, minerals and assorted oddities from the secretive Stalinist state—have slowed to a trickle. Chinese President Xi Jinping said he and U.S. President Barack Obama have a “responsibility to work together” to enforce North Korean denuclearization.

This has hit the pockets not just of Chinese purveyors of frog oil, but of the regime of North Korean “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong Un. China is North Korea’s only friend, accounting for 90% of trade, most of which passes through Dandong. The falling price of coal—North Korea’s main earner, comprising more than half of its exports and worth $1 billion last year—has already dented foreign currency earnings. Now only 20 to 50 trucks cross Dandong’s bridge each day instead of the more than 100 that did so previously, while North Korean ships can no longer freely dock at Chinese ports. Supplies of steel also have component elements thoroughly checked to ensure their purpose is not military.


N. Korean camp survivor urges world’s attention

BRUSSELS (JTA) — When guards dragged Shin Dong-hyuk from his North Korean cell in 1995, he was pretty sure the end was near.

Dong-hyuk, then just 13, was born in the prison known as Camp 14, not far from Pyongyang. Camp 14 is part of a network of political prisons believed to be the largest in the world, where an estimated 150,000 dissidents and their families live in conditions reminiscent of Holocaust-era concentration camps.

As he was brought to the camp’s execution field, Dong-hyuk realized he wasn’t the one due to be killed that day — it was his mother and brother. The boy calmly watched the executions, he says now, having been brainwashed into believing his family members deserved to die. After all, he was the one who had turned them in.


Three questions about North Korea

im Jong-il, former leader of North Korea and, since his death in 2011, Eternal General Secretary of the Worker’s Party of Korea, was generally considered a wily, if oppressive, old fox. When, inevitably, North Korea’s communist economics periodically led to famine, Kim II would rattle his sabre just enough to prod the West to buy him off with a little aid. As weird as he might have looked and as twisted as the society he ruled may have been, Kim II could be seen in this light as a rational actor on the diplomatic stage.

As his successor, his equally funny-looking son Kim Jong-un, engages in a prolonged and particularly bellicose bout of belligerence, the first question is whether that assessment also applies to him. Is Kim III a cynic or a lunatic?

It’s a question we can ask about North Korea more generally. When Kim II died in December 2011 many in the West giggled at the bizarre scenes of hysterical grief among the citizenry captured on camera and beamed around the world. Surely, we thought as we saw North Koreans bashing themselves over their heads and howling, they were doing it for the benefit of the gun-toting guards just out of shot. Maybe they were. But there’s a scarier possibility: they actually meant it.


North Korea is running a drug ring, and Kim Jong-un is its Bond-style Mr Big

While the rest of the world watches James Bond movies for a laugh, North Korea’s communist leadership apparently take notes on how to be an evil mastermind. You might recall that in Live and Let Die, the President of a Caribbean island poses as a socialist revolutionary but actually uses his embassies to push heroin. Well, it’s obvious that a bootleg VHS of that particular yarn has been smuggled into North Korea strapped to a diplomat’s inner thigh because, according to the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, Kim Jong-un has set up his own drug ring and reinvented himself as Mr Big. It’s hard not to imagine him in a leopard skin hat and white flares, dispensing orders in Seventies jive talk: “Hey baby, take this package to Poland and bust your conk – ya dig?” From the Chosun:


Kim jong-un smokes cigarette while touring hospital

Mr Kim reportedly “asked questions in detail to see [that] they were thoroughly sterilised and dust-free,” according to a report in the Pyongyang Times, cited by North Korean news. He added that hospitals should be “neat and splendid.”

Mr Kim has shown a penchant for cigarettes in the past.

In December, a set of photographs were released showing him contentedly smoking moments after North Korea successfully launched a satellite into space.