Self-Made South Korean Billionaires Promise To Give Half Away

A collage of two S-Korean billionaires (Kim Bong-jin
A collage of two S-Korean billionaires (Kim Bong-jin and Kim Beom-su)

 

Two self-made South Korean billionaires have pledged in as many weeks to give away half their fortunes –- a rarity in a country where the business is dominated by family-controlled conglomerates and charity often begins and ends at home.

Kim Beom-su, the founder of South Korea’s biggest messaging app KakaoTalk, announced this month he will donate more than half his estimated $9.6 billion assets to try to “solve social issues”.

Shortly afterward, Kim Bong-jin of food-delivery app Woowa Brothers and his wife, Bomi Sul, became the first South Koreans to sign the Giving Pledge. The philanthropic initiative was set up by Bill and Melinda Gates, alongside Warren Buffett, for billionaires to give away at least half their wealth.

Both Kims contrast with most of South Korea’s ultra-wealthy, who are largely descendants of the founders of the chaebol, the sprawling, usually family-run conglomerates that powered the country’s post-war boom and still dominate the economy.

Unlike the chaebol heirs who inherited their wealth, power, and connections, the two Kims were born to working-class families.

In his Giving Pledge statement, Kim of Woowa Brothers described his “humble beginning” on a small island.

His parents ran a small restaurant, where he slept at night, and as a teenager he gave up his dream of attending an art high school, enrolling instead in a cheaper vocational school.

Wealth, he said, had value when it was used for “the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society”.

Rather than keeping the entirety of their fortune, Kim and his wife said in their statement: “We are certain that this pledge is the greatest inheritance that we could provide for our children.”

Neither of the billionaire Kims has so far provided a precise timeline for their pledged donations, or detailed the recipient organisations.

Tech industry

More than 200 super-wealthy from around the world have signed the Giving Pledge, according to its website.

But it has previously been criticised for not being legally binding, and it acknowledges it is only a “moral commitment”.

It has struggled to make headway in East Asia, listing only a handful of donors from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and none from Japan.

Like many East Asian societies, South Korea remains largely family-oriented, with financial ties extending well into adulthood as parents help finance higher education and housing, and little sense of obligation to give to non-relatives.

South Korea ranks 57th in the Charities Aid Foundation’s most recent World Giving Index — with Japan at 107 and China at 126.

Public philanthropy has a limited history among super-wealthy South Koreans, while the chaebols’ founding families often maintain their grip through complex webs of cross-holdings between subsidiaries.

“When the country was just reeling from the war, the priority was survival, not philanthropy, and working with your own family members was seen as the most efficient way of running a business,” Jangwoo Lee, a business administration professor at Kyungpook National University, told AFP.

But both Kim Beom-su and Kim Bong-jin have been at the forefront of South Korea’s social media and mobile tech industries boom, each founding their company in 2010 and rapidly accumulating a fortune.

Kakao’s flagship messaging application is installed on more than 90 percent of phones in the country.

Woowa owns South Korea’s biggest food delivery app, with more than 10 million monthly users — around 20 percent of the population.

The children of Kakao’s Kim have been appointed to positions in his holding company, but professor Lee said chaebol-style succession was effectively obsolete for such firms.

“Family-oriented management strategies may have worked for manufacturing businesses, but we have now entered an era where newly emerging enterprises do not really benefit from such ways,” he said.

“These are creative and unpredictable industries, and they need specialists, not family members, in leadership in order to thrive.”

That could give their owners more flexibility with their assets.

Art museum

According to the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, most donations under the Giving Pledge have gone to private foundations controlled by donors’ relatives, or donor-advised funds, enabling the givers to “retain significant managerial control over millions of philanthropic dollars” while generating “hefty tax reductions”.

South Korean law also offers donors some tax benefits, depending on the beneficiaries and how giving is structured.

Some chaebol families have engaged in high-profile philanthropy.

Hyundai Motor’s honorary chairman Chung Mong-Koo endowed an eponymous foundation with his personal assets and the Samsung group — South Korea’s biggest conglomerate — founded the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, home to an extensive collection of antiquities and modern works.

But critics say South Korea is becoming an increasingly unequal society.

Kakao’s Kim was among those who grew up poor. Neither of his parents attended high school, and they took multiple blue-collar jobs to make ends meet, leaving him to be cared for mostly by his grandmother.

All eight members of the family shared a single room, and later he sometimes could not afford to buy lunch as a student at the prestigious Seoul National University.

Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean Studies at the University of Oslo, said the South Koreans’ moves were a “display of public-mindedness on the part of the self-made rich men”.

“Meritocratic billionaires have something that rich heirs do not.”

AFP

Trump ‘Offered Kim Jong Un A Ride Home On Air Force One’

US President Donald Trump (R) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shake hands following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

 

Donald Trump offered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a ride home on Air Force One after a summit in Hanoi two years ago, according to a new BBC documentary.

Kim and Trump first engaged in a war of words and mutual threats, before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance that featured headline-grabbing summits and a declaration of love by the former US president.

But no substantive progress was made, with the process deadlocked after the pair’s meeting in Hanoi broke up over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

According to a BBC documentary, “Trump Takes on the World”, the US president “stunned even the most seasoned diplomats” by offering Kim a lift home on Air Force One after the 2019 summit in Vietnam.

If Kim had accepted the offer, it would have put the North Korean leader — and probably some of his entourage — inside the US president’s official aircraft and seen it enter North Korean airspace, raising multiple security issues.

In the event, Kim turned it down.

“President Trump offered Kim a lift home on Air Force One,” Matthew Pottinger, the top Asia expert on Trump’s National Security Council, told the BBC, it reported at the weekend.

“The president knew that Kim had arrived on a multi-day train ride through China into Hanoi and the president said: ‘I can get you home in two hours if you want.’ Kim declined.”

For his first summit with Trump in Singapore in 2018, Kim hitched a ride on an Air China plane, with Beijing keen to keep North Korea — whose existence as a buffer state keeps US troops in the South well away from China’s borders — firmly within its sphere of influence.

During the Singapore summit, Trump gave Kim a glimpse inside his presidential state car — a $1.5 million Cadillac also known as “The Beast” — in a show of their newly friendly rapport.

But last month Kim said the US was his nuclear-armed nation’s “biggest enemy”, adding that Washington’s “policy against North Korea will never change” no matter “who is in power”.

North Korean official media have yet to refer to Joe Biden — who beat Trump in last year’s election — by name as US president.

South Korean Prosecutors Begin Probe Into Kim Jong Un’s Sister

In this picture taken on July 2, 2020 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 3, 2020 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) meeting in Pyongyang. STR / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS
In this picture taken on July 2, 2020 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 3, 2020 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) meeting in Pyongyang.
STR / AFP / KCNA VIA KNS

 

Seoul prosecutors have opened an unprecedented probe into North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister over Pyongyang’s blowing up of a liaison office last month, officials said Thursday.

The move is likely to infuriate the nuclear-armed North, which has repeatedly condemned South Korea in recent months, including directing personal insults at President Moon Jae-in.

Seoul Central District prosecutors received a criminal complaint against Kim Yo Jong from a Seoul-based lawyer and had started an investigation, a spokeswoman told AFP.

Last month, Pyongyang blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border, days after Kim Yo Jong — one of her brother’s closest advisers — had said the “useless” property would soon be seen “completely collapsed”.

Before the demolition, it had issued a series of vitriolic condemnations of South Korea over anti-North leaflets that defectors send back across the heavily-militarised border — usually attached to balloons or floated in bottles.

It raised pressure further by threatening military measures against Seoul, but later said it had suspended those plans in an apparent sudden dialling-down of tensions.

A balloon carrying a banner with portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L), the late leader Kim Il Sung (C) and Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un, is caught on a tree after being launched by activists in Hongcheon on June 23, 2020. STR / YONHAP / AFP
A balloon carrying a banner with portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L), the late leader Kim Il Sung (C) and Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un, is caught on a tree after being launched by activists in Hongcheon on June 23, 2020. STR / YONHAP / AFP

 

In his complaint, lawyer Lee Kyung-jae claimed the now-demolished liaison office was South Korean property as it was renovated using South Korean government funds, despite its being located in the North.

Kim “used explosives to destroy” the South’s “quasi-diplomatic mission building that served the public interest”, he said in the complaint.

Lee also filed a complaint against Pak Jong Chon, chief of the general staff of the North Korean military.

Under South Korea’s criminal code, he stressed, damaging property or disturbing the peace using explosives was punishable by death, or a prison sentence of at least seven years.

Capital punishment remains on the statute books in South Korea, although it has not executed anyone since 1997.

In practice, it would be virtually impossible for Seoul officials to punish Kim Yo Jong or Pak, but Lee told the South’s Yonhap News Agency that he wanted to “inform the North Korean people of their leader’s hypocrisy”.

The announcement came a week after a Seoul court ordered Pyongyang’s leader to compensate prisoners of war who spent decades in North Korea, in a move that could set a far-reaching legal precedent on the divided peninsula.

Inter-Korean relations have been strained following the collapse of a summit in Hanoi between Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump early last year over what the nuclear-armed North would be willing to give up in exchange for a loosening of sanctions.

 

AFP

South Korea Wages ‘All-Out Responses’ To Virus With 376 New Cases

South Korean medical workers wearing protective gear visit a residence of people with suspected symptoms of the COVID-19 coronavirus to take samples, near the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu on February 27, 2020. Jung Yeon-je / AFP

 

 

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday the government was waging “all-out responses” to contain the novel coronavirus as the country reported 376 new cases, taking the total to 3,526.

South Korea has the largest national total in the world outside China, after it saw a rapid surge in the number of coronavirus cases in recent days.

Scores of events have been cancelled or postponed over the contagion, while the country’s central bank has warned of a minus growth in the first quarter for the world’s 12th-largest economy, noting the epidemic will hit both consumption and exports.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: Number Of Contact Cases In Ogun Rises To 39

“The government is now waging all-out responses after raising the crisis alert to the highest level,” Moon said at an Independence Movement Day ceremony, scaled-down due to the outbreak.

“We will be able to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak and revive our shrunken economy,” he added.

Samsung Electronics suspended operations at its domestic smartphone plant in Gumi — 200 kilometres (210 miles) southeast of Seoul — on Saturday for the second time in a week, after a third employee tested positive for the virus.

Auto giant Hyundai Motor also stopped operations at one of its Ulsan plants after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus.

Concerts by K-pop superstars BTS and the World Team Table Tennis Championships were among cancelled events, while sports leagues have modified their seasons to contain the virus.

K-pop star CHUNG HA was placed in self-quarantine when a member of her staff tested positive after visiting Italy last month, Yonhap news agency reported. The singer tested negative.

‘Epicentre’

Nearly 90 percent of the cases were in Daegu, the centre of the country’s outbreak, and neighbouring North Gyeongsang province, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement. The country’s death toll remains at 17.

South Korea has an advanced health system and a free media, factors observers say improve the reliability of its statistics, with the numbers expected to rise as it checks more than 260,000 people associated with the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

A 61-year-old female member developed a fever on February 10, but attended at least four church services in Daegu — the country’s fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million — before being diagnosed.

Around 60 percent of the cases were linked to the entity, the KCDC said.

“Until now, the COVID-19 outbreak in the country has been excessively led by a specific group,” said KCDC vice-director Kwon Jun-wook.

Shincheonji apologised Sunday on behalf of its members who had kept their religion secret, adding: “It will be hard for our devotees to reveal their identity when political leaders… are recklessly criticising Shincheonji as the epicentre.”

Daegu has filed a police complaint against the local branch of the sect for submitting an incomplete list of its members, while other provincial governments have warned of taking similar action.

The city’s streets have been largely deserted for days, aside from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale, with authorities urging the public to exercise caution.

“The best way to prevent the COVID-19 is for the citizens to refrain from going outside,” said Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin.

But officials say they are not considering a citywide quarantine similar to Wuhan’s lockdown, where the virus first emerged.

The new school term start has been delayed one week nationwide and three weeks in Daegu, while the US and South Korean militaries have postponed forthcoming joint exercises.

AFP

Seoul Says Trump Sent Birthday Greetings To N. Korea’s Kim

 

 

US President Donald Trump wished North Korea’s Kim Jong Un a happy birthday, Seoul said Friday — with nuclear talks deadlocked and six years after former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman serenaded Pyongyang’s leader.

North Korea has never officially confirmed Kim’s age or date of birth, but Rodman’s breathy Marilyn Monroe-style performance of “Happy Birthday” took place before an exhibition basketball match in Pyongyang on January 8, 2014.

In a sanctions document, the US Treasury has said Kim was born on that day in 1984, which would make him 36, but there is speculation he could be a year or two older.

Seoul’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong met Trump in Washington on Wednesday and said the former real estate mogul — who in warmer times proclaimed he and Kim had fallen in love — “recalled” it was his birthday.

“President Trump wished Chairman Kim Jong Un a happy birthday and asked President Moon to convey it to him,” Chung told reporters as he arrived back in South Korea on Friday.

The message was delivered “in an appropriate manner”, he added, without explaining how it had been transmitted.

Contacts between the two Koreas are at a standstill, with Pyongyang’s official media repeatedly excoriating the leadership in Seoul.

At a meeting of his ruling party in December, Kim declared an end to Pyongyang’s moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and threatened a demonstration of a “new strategic weapon” soon.

Trump and Kim have had three meetings since June 2018 but there has been little tangible progress in denuclearising North Korea.

At the 2014 event, Rodman, a heavily tattooed former NBA All-Star, sang the birthday song before the North Korean leader and his wife Ri Sol Ju, as the crowd clapped along.

It was Rodman’s fourth visit to North Korea and he appeared to bow to Kim.

North Korea Fires Unidentified Projectile, Says South Korea Military

This picture taken on July 25, 2019 and released by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 26 shows a new-type of tactical guided short-range missile being launched at an undisclosed location in North Korea. PHOTO: KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea fired an “unidentified projectile” on Thursday — the Thanksgiving holiday in the US — Seoul said, as nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington remain deadlocked.

The one-line announcement from the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff did not immediately provide further details and came shortly after 3:00 am (0800 GMT) in Washington, DC on one of the US’ biggest annual holidays.

Thursday’s launch was the latest in a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang, which fired what it called two “super-large multiple rocket launcher” systems last month.

Japan’s Jiji Press quoted sources from the defence ministry in Tokyo saying two projectiles were launched from the North’s east coast, adding they appeared to be ballistic missiles — which Pyongyang is banned from firing under UN Security Council resolutions.

US President Donald Trump has played down the recent launches, repeatedly pointing to North Korea’s moratorium on nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches as foreign policy successes for him.

But negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have been gridlocked since a second summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February collapsed without a deal.

North Korea is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes and lifting some of them was a key demand at the Hanoi summit.

Earlier this month, Seoul and Washington said they would postpone planned joint military exercises to ease diplomacy with the North, an announcement Pyongyang dismissed.

North Korea has issued a series of increasingly assertive comments in recent weeks as its end-of-year deadline for the US to come up with a fresh offer approaches.

Trump hinted at the prospect of a fourth meeting with Kim in a tweet earlier this month, only to be rebuffed by the North, which said it had no interest in summits “that bring nothing to us.”

AFP

Fans, Celebrities Mourn Death Of K-Pop Star Sulli

This undated photo released by Yonhap in Seoul on October 14, 2019, shows Sulli, a former member of top South Korean girl group f(x). A popular K-pop star who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead at her home on October 14, South Korean police said.
PHOTO: YONHAP / AFP

Fans and fellow performers on Tuesday mourned the death of a K-pop star who had long been the target of online bullying, some calling for greater mental health support for those working in the country’s notoriously competitive show business industry. 

The body of Sulli, a former member of top girl group f(x), was discovered Monday by her manager at her home on the outskirts of Seoul.

“There has been no evidence of an outsider having broken in, or any other crimes committed by another person,” an official from Seongnam Sujeong Police Agency told AFP.

“Suicide is among the possible causes.”

Authorities said the 25-year-old had been suffering from “severe depression”.

South Korea has one of the world’s highest rates of suicide which, according to recent government figures, is among the top causes of death for those under 40.

“I wish I could hope for Sulli to be the last idol to die from suicide and mental illness,” tweeted one fan.

“But knowing how cruel society is, I can’t help but be afraid about who’s going to be the next one.”

Beneath the glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is known for its cut-throat competitiveness, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.

 Mental health taboo

K-pop stars like Sulli are picked up by agencies at a young age — usually in their early- or mid-teens — and their lives then taken over by gruelling singing and dancing training.

Taboos about mental illness dissuade many South Koreans from seeking help.

Sulli’s death echoes that of fellow K-pop star Jonghyun, who took his life in 2017 after battling with depression.

Both were members of the SM Entertainment stable, one of the country’s biggest talent agencies.

K-pop singer Goo Hara, a close friend of the late star, was also sent to hospital last year after a suspected suicide attempt. Goo had been abused by her ex who threatened to post her spycam sex vidoes online.

“I hope Jin-ri is now in a place where she can do whatever she wants,” Goo wrote on Instagram — using Sulli’s real name and sharing photos of the two of them together.

Sulli, who started her career as a child actress at age 11, made her debut in 2009 for f(x), which quickly became one of K-pop’s top girl groups.

Known for behaviour considered controversial in South Korea — including her refusal to wear a bra in public — she had been relentlessly bullied online throughout her career, with many sexually abusive comments.

She recently hosted a TV series where celebrities discussed their experiences of online abuse. She had also candidly shared her experience struggling with panic disorder and social phobia.

Her outspokenness resonated with many young South Korean women who have been leading a new wave of feminists fighting a patriarchal society obsessed with looks.

“Being one of the first female artists in K-pop to talk about mental health and feminism is amazing. I love you so much Sulli – I hope in heaven you are finally free,” a fan wrote in a tweet.

AFP

Volunteers In Santa Claus Outfits Flood Seoul Street On Christmas Eve

South Korean volunteers in Santa Claus outfits throw Santa hats during a ceremony before the delivery of Christmas gifts in Seoul on December 24, 2018. photo: Jung Yeon-je / AFP

 

Hundreds of volunteers in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, has flood the streets dressed in Santa Claus outfits.

The Seoul Santa Clauses are using the Christmas celebration to reach out to the less privileged, and to share love amongst the poor and the needy.

The volunteers will today, December 24 deliver Christmas gifts to 1,200 kids from 800 poor families in Seoul.

As an act of celebration, the Seoul Santa Clauses throw their hats into the air and dance before offering Christmas gifts to the children.

See photos below..

Seven Killed In Seoul Studio Complex Fire

A South Korean policeman stands guard outside the scene after a fire killed at least seven people in Seoul on November 9, 2018. Seven tenants were killed and 11 others injured early on November 9 when a blaze ripped through a three-storey studio complex in Seoul, fire authorities said.
Jung Yeon-je / AFP

 

Seven tenants were killed and 11 others injured early Friday when a blaze ripped through a three-storey studio complex in Seoul, fire authorities said.

While South Korea is technologically advanced and has risen to become the world’s 11th-largest economy, many people who have missed out on its progress struggle to get by.

Low-income tenants often live in buildings with tiny single-bed studios once favoured by applicants preparing for various state examinations and known as goshiwon, or exam centres.

The dead and injured were mostly casual labourers or street vendors in their 40s to 60s, living in the dilapidated building, which had no sprinklers, Yonhap news agency said.

“I heard screams and went out. Then I saw the building enveloped by a lot of smoke and flames,” a 61-year-old businessman living across the street told Yonhap.

With labyrinthine structures with narrow corridors, goshiwon buildings are notoriously vulnerable to blazes, with more than 250 breaking out over the past five years.

AFP

North Agrees To Inter-Korean Talks Next Week – Seoul

North Agrees To Inter-Korean Talks Next Week - Seoul
(Files) This photo taken on October 7, 2017 and released on October 8, 2017 by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attending the Second Plenum of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang.
STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea on Saturday agreed to hold high-level talks with Seoul next week to discuss logistics for a rare inter-Korean summit, the South’s Unification Ministry said, as a diplomatic thaw on the peninsula gathers pace.

The two sides will each send a three-member delegation to the border truce village of Panmunjom on Thursday for talks aimed at paving the way for a summit due in late April, it said.

South Korea on Wednesday had proposed holding high-level talks with the North to discuss details including the summit’s dates and agenda.

The talks will take place at the Unification Pavilion building on the northern side of Panmunjom, which sits on the border, with Seoul’s delegation led by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and his counterpart Ri Son Gwon heading Pyongyang’s.

The decision by President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to meet came amid a rapid rapprochement kicked off with the recent Winter Olympics in the South.

The United States and South Korea announced Tuesday that their annual joint military drills would go ahead next month, but the main exercise will be shortened by a month. The exercises have caused tensions for years, with Pyongyang condemning them as preparations for an invasion of the North.

The inter-Korean summit is due to be followed by a face-to-face meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim by the end of May.

– ‘Humiliation and defeat’ –

Following a period of heightened tensions stoked by the North’s nuclear and missile tests last year, a rapid rapprochement has been underway on the Korean peninsula.

The North on Wednesday broke its silence on the diplomatic thaw with Washington and Seoul, with its official KCNA news agency saying Pyongyang was driving the peace initiative and rejecting suggestions that sanctions forced it to dialogue table.

As diplomats scurry to arrange the North-South talks as well as the proposed Trump-Kim meeting, the North’s silence has raised concerns over its intentions.

North Korean state media have not yet directly mentioned the summits.

Analysts say the North is carefully watching to see how events — including the US-South Korea military drills — play out before making them public to its people.

State media in the North have not reported any public activities by Kim since March 6, when they said he held talks with South Korean envoys and made a “satisfactory agreement” on the proposed inter-Korean summit.

On Friday, Rodong Sinmun, the official daily of the North’s ruling Workers Party, attacked the US for continued sanctions and pressure on Pyongyang despite diplomatic progress.

“The good atmosphere appearing on the Korean peninsula has been created by our aggressive efforts and initiatives. It has not been brought about by sanctions by the US and its sycophants,” the newspaper said

“The United States has miscalculated. The stronger the US pressure, the stronger the DPRK (North Korea)… If the US fails to draw a lesson and continues acting recklessly, it would surely be in for a greater humiliation and defeat.”

The commentary came as President Trump named John Bolton, a foreign policy hawk, as his new national security adviser.

Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, has championed pre-emptive strikes against North Korea and regime change in Iran — making him an outlier even among Republicans.

Chinese, S. Korean Envoys To Discuss North In Seoul

China will send a special envoy to Seoul to discuss the situation on the Korean peninsula ahead of proposed talks between North and South Korea, the foreign ministry said Thursday.

China’s Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou will visit Friday and Saturday to “exchange views” with Lee Do-Hoon, Seoul’s envoy on Korean peninsula peace talks, a ministry spokesman said.

Their meeting comes as South Korea prepares for its proposed high-level talks with North Korea next Tuesday to discuss “matters of mutual interest” including the North’s participation in next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

North Korea has rattled the international community in recent months with multiple missile launches and its sixth and most powerful nuclear test — purportedly of a hydrogen bomb.

It has shrugged off a raft of new sanctions and heightened rhetoric from Washington as it drives forward with its weapons programme, which it says is for defence against US aggression.

But the new year has begun on a more positive note with the two Koreas on Wednesday restoring a cross-border hotline that had been shut down since 2016, after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un offered to send a team to the Winter Olympics hosted by the South in February.

The Olympic offer prompted Seoul to respond with its offer for talks next week — the first since 2015.

A six-nation effort to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear programmes was begun in 2003, bringing together the US, both Koreas, Russia and Japan.

North Korea pledged to give up those programmes in 2005, but carried out its first atomic blast the following year. It walked out of the talks three years later, detonating its second device soon afterwards.

AFP

Seoul Seizes Panama Vessel For Alleged N. Korea Ties – Report

South Korea has seized a Panama-flagged ship suspected of transferring oil products to North Korea in breach of UN sanctions, a report said Sunday.

The 5,100-tonne KOTI was detained two weeks ago at the South’s port of Pyeongtaek-Dangjin and its crew are being investigated over the alleged ship-to-ship transfers, Yonhap news agency cited local maritime officials as saying.

It was the second such seizure to be reported in days. The South Korean government announced Friday that it briefly seized and inspected a Hong Kong-registered ship in November for transferring oil products to a North Korean vessel.

The Panamanian tanker was banned from leaving port following a government meeting on December 21, the report said. Its crew — mostly from Myanmar and China — were being questioned by the customs office and the intelligence agency.

“The vessel is under inspection for alleged ties with North Korea,” a government official said, according to Yonhap.

Authorities were not immediately available for confirmation of the report.

The Hong Kong-registered Lighthouse Winmore, which was chartered by a Taiwanese company, was seized at the South’s port of Yeosu in November for allegedly transferring refined petroleum products to the North’s Sam Jong 2.

The UN Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on the North this year to try to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

One on August 5 targeted the iron, coal and fishing industries, another set on September 11 was aimed at textiles and restricting oil supplies, and the most recent on December 22 focused on refined petroleum products.

The Lighthouse Winmore visited Yeosu on October 11 and loaded some 14,000 tonnes of Japanese refined oil before heading towards its purported destination in Taiwan.

Instead of going to Taiwan, however, it transferred 600 tonnes of oil to the North’s Sam Jong 2 in international waters off China, South Korean customs service officials have said.

Four ships — three North Korean vessels and a Palau-flagged oil tanker — were blocked from international ports by the UN Security Council on Thursday on suspicion of carrying or transporting goods banned by the sanctions.

China has rejected accusations that it helped Pyongyang circumvent sanctions after US President Donald Trump claimed on Twitter that Beijing was turning a blind eye to oil transfers to North Korea.

AFP