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Trump-Kim summit achieved nothing when it comes to peace in the Korean peninsula, says journalist

When US President Donald Trump became the first American president to meet a leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in June 2018, it was hailed as a step forward in the peace process.

South Korean-born, American investigative journalist Suki Kim talked about her experiences in North Korea. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC South Korean-born, American investigative journalist Suki Kim talked about her experiences in North Korea. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Shortly before that meeting, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met his southern counterpart, Moon Jae-in, in an historic summit that saw both sides briefly enter the other’s territory – the first time since the end of the Korean War in 1953. The two also agreed to work towards denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula in order to achieve lasting peace between the two nations.

Both summits, says South Korean-born, American investigative journalist Suki Kim, were a sideshow. At the October 31 club lunch Kim said that nothing had changed since the meetings, and that no steps toward denuclearisation had been made. She said rather than lay the blueprint for peace by disarmament, it was business as usual minus  the missile firing so often favoured by Kim Jong-un.

And she said for the North Korean dictator, the meetings had proven to be a great PR exercise that had in fact legitimised his regime.

“When you look at it over the past year, what has really changed?” Kim, author of The New York Times best-seller Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korean Elitesaid, adding that even the global conversation on human rights abuses in North Korea had quietened since Kim Jong-un increased his presence on the world stage.

Watch the full talk here.

Trump and Kim summit was yet more symbolism over substance, says inter-Korean affairs expert

The declaration signed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump has much symbolism but no substance and brings the DPRK no closer to denuclearisation, says inter-Korean affairs expert Dr Robert Kelly.

Dr Robert Kelly gave fascinating insights into North Korea and Kim Jong-un's historic summit with US President Donald Trump. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Dr Robert Kelly gave fascinating insights into North Korea and Kim Jong-un’s historic summit with US President Donald Trump. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The historic summit in Singapore on June 12 produced a “nothing burger” despite the “Trumpian exaggerated rhetoric” that followed, declaring “the nuclear threat is over”, according to Kelly, associate professor in political science at Pusan National University.

In fact, America has effectively exited the process of peace in the Korean peninsula and “dumped it in (South Korean) President Moon’s lap”, he said.

In a lively talk at the FCC on June 21, Kelly shared his frank and often amusing analysis on the much-hyped meeting between the two leaders. He described the declaration, in which Kim committed to complete denuclearisation and Trump pledged security guarantees for the country, as “all talk”.

A closer look at the contents of the declaration shows that the pledges are nothing new, said Kelly.

“It’s all talk and actually when you look at it in print, there’s nothing we haven’t seen before,” he said, adding that the declaration was similar to those made by North Korea in 1993, 2000, 2005 and 2007.

He pointed out there were no actionable items, no detailed information such as how many missiles North Korea has and where they are, and no timetable. This was “low hanging fruit” and America “got nothing back from the North Koreans”, Kelly said.

“Are the North Koreans going to give up something that is genuinely positively costly to them?” he asked, citing closing gulags and showing missiles being dismantled as examples of real concessions from the DPRK.

Kelly added that his concern was that Trump, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by his biggest Republican supporters in the House of Representatives, was driven not by the prospect of peace and prosperity for North Korea, but by his desire to set himself apart from his predecessors. Trump also needs the deal for political purposes, he said, as the elections approach.

The club lunch kicked off by showing the Hollywood-style trailer President Trump played to Kim Jong-un at the Singapore summit (watch it below).

Kelly said he thought the video was “Trump the real estate developer” rather than Trump the president, and that it was probably produced because the president did no preparation prior to the meeting and “needed something to fill in the time”.

Answering a question about North Korea and reports that it had once been the world’s biggest currency counterfeiter, Kelly described the country as “an Orwellian gangster fiefdom” that has been referred to by some as the Soprano State, and the Walter White of Asia – a reference to the meth-producing character in the TV series Breaking Bad.

How North Korea’s burgeoning middle class is painting a new picture of life in the DPRK

The traditional picture painted by the media of North Koreans as an impoverished people is outdated thanks to a burgeoning middle class – but the dark days of starvation may not be far away if sanctions continue to be imposed on the world’s most isolated nation.

Author Nick Bonner showed graphics from his new book, Made in North Korea: Graphics from Everyday Life. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Author Nick Bonner showed graphics from his new book, Made in North Korea: Graphics from Everyday Life. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

That was the opinion of Nick Bonner, author, filmmaker and founder of a North Korean tour group who shared his insights into the DPRK having spent the last 25 years traveling to and from it.

Bonner’s new book, Made in North Korea: Graphics from Everyday Life, uses an extensive collection of graphics and North Korean propaganda artwork to tell the story of how the country has evolved over the last two decades.

Through slides showing various graphics and products, like cigarette packets, he explained how colour illustrated eras the country was going through: vibrant primary colours in the 1970s to promote the country’s virtues, against the greys and browns of the 90s during North Korea’s economic crisis which resulted in widespread famine.

The landscape architect first visited North Korea in 1993, which then inspired him to start Koryo Tours – a Beijing-based travel agency specialising in travel to North Korea. Bonner has produced three award-winning documentaries about the country, as well as North Korea’s first ‘girl power’ movie — ‘Comrade Kim goes Flying’ — which became the first-ever North Korean film to be shown to a public audience in South Korea.

But today’s North Korea – particularly its capital, Pyongyang, paints a different picture. Using his own photographs – one showing a child on a shiny red bicycle carrying a dried fish – Bonner showed the wealth element in the country’s everyday life. Some of this influence came from China, he said.

“Shops in the Metro are full of Chinese (made) rubbish – things that glow, things that are shiny,” he said, adding that market reform in 2002 meant that the import of foreign products brought about greater prosperity. “With products coming in from abroad…it’s given North Korea a kick to make their own products and repackage them.”

However, sanctions imposed as a result of leader Kim Jong-un’s ongoing spat with United States President Donald Trump could see a return to the North Korea of old, Bonner warned, adding that it would be more productive to engage the country rather than isolate it further.

‘Speak up against China’: North Korean defector Yeonmi Park’s tearful plea

A young woman who defected from North Korea made a tearful plea to FCC guests to help the “forgotten” people of her home country as she spoke at a club lunch on April 3.

Yeonmi Park recounted the ordeal that she endured as she escaped the dictatorship with her mother in 2007. The pair were trafficked into China where mother and daughter were sold into slavery. Ms Park has since written a book, In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, on her escape, and gives talks around the world.

Ms Park, whose mother was in the audience as she spoke, gave an insight into life in North Korea, where the internet is banned and education is geared largely towards serving the “socialist paradise”. Children are taught to hate “American bastards”, and watching American movies can lead to incarceration in a prison camp, she said.

“I did not know what Africa was,” she said, adding: “I did not know we had many different races in the world.”

Yeonmi Park takes questions from the audience after an emotional talk on her escape from North Korea. Photo: Sarah Graham Yeonmi Park takes questions from the audience after an emotional talk on her escape from North Korea. Photo: Sarah Graham

When she finally escaped North Korea, she was forced to watch as her mother was raped by a trafficker. “We did not have sex education in North Korea… I lost my faith in humanity. She was raped instead of me.”

Eventually, her mother was sold for US$75, and Ms Park for $200 “because I was a virgin and I was younger”, she said. A year later mother and daughter were helped out of China to South Korea.

Watch Yeonmi Park recount her ordeal:

On her life today as a university student, Ms Park said: “I’m trying to be normal as much as possible but I will never be normal because I am from a different universe. I am here today even though I know I might get killed by Kim Jong-un. I am on his target list but human rights is something to care about, I will continue to talk about this.”

Having recounted her harrowing story, she fought back tears as she directly addressed the audience, and said: “The people of North Korea have been forgotten for 70 years… I am asking you to help them… Why doesn’t anyone do anything about North Korea?”

When asked by a guest what exactly could be done to help those in North Korea, she asked that people support the NGOs on the ground rescuing defectors in China. And she added: “Speak up against China.”

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