Posted tagged ‘Russia and North Korea’

Expect America’s Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018

December 30, 2017

Expect America’s Tensions with China and Russia to Rise in 2018, Gatestone Institute, John Bolton, December 30, 2017

Yesterday’s 2017 review and forecast for 2018 focused on the most urgent challenges the Trump administration faces: the volatile Middle East, international terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Today, we examine the strategic threats posed by China and Russia and one of President Trump’s continuing priorities: preserving and enhancing American sovereignty.

Russia and China will be among the Trump administration’s key strategic challenges in the coming year. Photo: Wikipedia.

China has likely been Trump’s biggest personal disappointment in 2017, one where he thought that major improvements might be possible, especially in international trade. Despite significant investments of time and attention to President Xi Jinping, now empowered in ways unprecedented since Mao Tse Tung, very little has changed in Beijing’s foreign policy, bilaterally or globally. There is no evidence of improved trade relations, or any effort by China to curb its abuses, such as pirating intellectual property, government discrimination against foreign traders and investors, or biased judicial fora.

Even worse, Beijing’s belligerent steps to annex the South China Sea and threaten Japan and Taiwan in the East China Sea continued unabated, or even accelerated in 2017. In all probability, therefore, 2018 will see tensions ratchet up in these critical regions, as America (and hopefully others) defend against thinly veiled Chinese military aggression. Japan in particular has reached its limits as China has increased its capabilities across the full military spectrum, including at sea, in space and cyberwarfare.

Taiwan is not far behind. Even South Korea’s Moon Jae In may be growing disenchanted with Beijing as it seeks to constrain Seoul’s strategic defense options. And make no mistake, what China is doing in its littoral periphery is closely watched in India, where the rise of Chinese economic and military power is increasingly worrying. The Trump administration should closely monitor all these flash points along China’s frontiers, any one of which could provoke a major military confrontation, if not next year, soon thereafter.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is where China has most disappointed the White House. Xi Jinping has played the United States just like his predecessors, promising increased pressure on Pyongyang but not delivering nearly enough. The most encouraging news came as 2017 ended, in the revelation that Chinese and American military officers have discussed possible scenarios involving regime collapse or military conflict in North Korea. While unclear how far these talks have progressed, the mere fact that China is engaging in them shows a new level of awareness of how explosive the situation is. So, 2018 will be critical not only regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat but also whether Sino-American relations improve or take a distinct turn for the worse.

On Russia, the president has not given up on Vladimir Putin, at least not yet, but that may well come in 2018. Putin is an old-school, hard-edged, national interest-centered Russian leader, defending the “rodina” (the motherland), not a discredited ideology. Confronted with U.S. strength, Putin knows when to pull back, and he is, when it suits him, even capable of making and keeping deals. But there is no point in romanticizing the Moscow-Washington dynamic. It must be based not on personal relationships but on realpolitik.

No better proof exists than Russia’s reaction to Trump’s recent decision to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, which is now a war zone entirely because of Russian aggression. To hear Moscow react to Trump’s weapons decision, however, one would think he was responsible for increased hostilities. President Obama should have acted at the first evidence of Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine, and even Trump’s aid is a small step compared to President Bush’s 2008 proposal to move Kiev quickly toward NATO membership. Nonetheless, every independent state that emerged from the Soviet Union, NATO member or not, is obsessed with how America handles Ukraine. They should be, because the Kremlin’s calculus about their futures will almost certainly turn on whether Trump draws a line on Moscow’s adventurism in Ukraine.

Just as troubling as Russia’s menace in Eastern and Central Europe is its reemergence as a great power player in the Middle East. Just weeks ago, the Russian Duma ratified an agreement greatly expanding Russia’s naval station at Tartus, Syria. In 2015, Obama stood dumbfounded as Russia built a significant air base in nearby Latakia, thus cementing the intrusion of Russia’s military presence in the Middle East to an extent not seen since Anwar Sadat expelled Soviet military advisers and brought Egypt into the Western orbit in the 1970s.

This expansion constitutes a significant power projection for the Kremlin. Indeed, it seems clear that Russia’s support (even more than Iran’s) for Syria’s Assad regime has kept the dictatorship in power. Russia’s assertiveness in 2017 also empowered Tehran, even as the ISIS caliphate was destroyed, to create an arc of Shia military power from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, linking up with Hezbollah in Lebanon. This Russian-Iranian axis should rank alongside Iran’s nuclear-weapons program on America’s list of threats emanating from the Middle East.

Finally, the pure folly of both the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly crossing the United States on the Jerusalem embassy decision was a mistake of potentially devastating consequences for the United Nations. Combined with the International Criminal Court’s November decision to move toward investigating alleged U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, there is now ample space for the White House to expand on the president’s focus on protecting American sovereignty.

Trump’s first insight into the rage for “global governance” among the high minded came on trade issues, and his concern for the World Trade Organization’s adjudication mechanism. These are substantial and legitimate, but the broader issues of “who governs” and the challenges to constitutional, representative government from international bodies and treaties that expressly seek to advance global governing institutions are real and growing. America has long been an obstacle to these efforts, due to our quaint attachment to our Constitution and the exceptionalist notion that we don’t need international treaties to “improve” it.

No recent president has made the sovereignty point as strongly as Trump, and the United Nations and International Criminal Court actions in 2017 now afford him a chance to make decisive political and financial responses in 2018. If 2017 was a tumultuous year internationally, 2018 could make it seem calm by comparison.

John R. Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs at the U.S. Department of State under President George W. Bush. He is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

This article first appeared in The Hill and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

How Russia is Helping North Korea Build the Bombs that Could Start World War III

December 29, 2017

How Russia is Helping North Korea Build the Bombs that Could Start World War III, Newsweek, December 28, 2017

But the greatest evidence of this Russian-North Korean collaboration is reportedly the similarities observed between features in missiles recently tested by Pyongyang and Soviet-era designs. In June 2016, for example, North Korea tested the Hwasong-10, or Musudan, an intermediate-range ballistic missile, which apparently had distinct similarities to the R-27 Zyb, or Ripple, manufactured by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau––including using the same engine. Subsequently, in August 2016, North Korea tested a submarine-launched missile that also had similar features to the Ripple––the Pukguksong-1. Joshua Pollack, an analyst at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told The Washington Post both of these North Korean missiles are “generally regarded as derived from the designs of the Makeyev Bureau’s R-27.”

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Some of the more advanced missile technology recently put on display for the wider world by North Korea was acquired by the rogue state with the help of Russia, according to new documents acquired by The Washington Post from one of the top Soviet-era missile manufacturers.

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, U.S. investors reportedly attempted to work with Russian scientists, who were largely unemployed and desperate for money, to acquire advanced Soviet military technology. But the investors ran into a number of legal hurdles, which reportedly provided an opportunity for North Korea to swoop in. Pyongyang was apparently willing to pay some of the scientists, who previously worked for Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau, more than 200 times what they made at home to provide it with Soviet missile designs.

In some cases, some of these Russian scientists were prevented from going to North Korea to provide it with Soviet military technology. But U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials have confirmed that Makeyev scientists ultimately did indeed obtain employment as consultants to North Korea, The Washington Post reported.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a Hwasong-10 missile test at an undisclosed location in North Korea on June 13, 2016. GETTY IMAGES

But the greatest evidence of this Russian-North Korean collaboration is reportedly the similarities observed between features in missiles recently tested by Pyongyang and Soviet-era designs. In June 2016, for example, North Korea tested the Hwasong-10, or Musudan, an intermediate-range ballistic missile, which apparently had distinct similarities to the R-27 Zyb, or Ripple, manufactured by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau––including using the same engine. Subsequently, in August 2016, North Korea tested a submarine-launched missile that also had similar features to the Ripple––the Pukguksong-1. Joshua Pollack, an analyst at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told The Washington Post both of these North Korean missiles are “generally regarded as derived from the designs of the Makeyev Bureau’s R-27.”

In 2017, North Korea has made major leaps in its missile technology. The reclusive nation tested its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile yet in late November, which reached an altitude of 2,800 miles (over 10 times higher than the International Space Station) and traveled for 50 minutes before crashing into the Sea of Japan. The more advanced missile technology Pyongyang has put on display over the course of the year could be a sign it has more access to Soviet-era designs and blueprints than previously thought, according to The Washington Post report.

This photo taken on November 28, 2017 and released on November 29, 2017 by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un signing an order document of a test-fire of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15. GETTY IMAGES

North Korea’s missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States have led to major tensions across the world over the course of the year. As the United Nations has sought to pressure North Korea to give up on its nuclear ambitions via harsh economic sanctions, President Donald Trump has issued boisterous threats toward Kim Jong Un’s regime––leading some to fear war is on the horizon. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and often plays golf with the president, recently said there’s a 30 percent chance Trump takes military action against North Korea. A strike would have an array of consequences and would almost undoubtedly lead to a response, in some capacity, from China and Russia, who both share a border with North Korea.

North Korea is believed to have as many as 60 nuclear weapons. If war broke out, it could potentially use them on South Korea or Japan and millions could die. A November report from the Congressional Research Service concluded a conflict between the U.S. and North Korea would lead to roughly 300,000 deaths in the first few days alone, even without the use of nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s New Internet Link to Russia May Signal Fear of China Leaving Kim Jong Un in the Dark

October 3, 2017

North Korea’s New Internet Link to Russia May Signal Fear of China Leaving Kim Jong Un in the Dark, Newsweek,  , October 2, 2017

One of Russia’s leading telecommunications companies has reportedly secured a contract with one of the world’s most exclusive buyers: North Korea.

TransTeleKom, a conglomerate operated by Russia’s state-owned railroad company that boasts one of the biggest fiber optics networks on Earth, has begun providing internet service to Russia’s reclusive neighbor, according to a report by North Korea monitoring group 38 North. The move was uncovered as the U.S. leads an international campaign to isolate North Korea diplomatically and economically over leader Kim Jong Un’s refusal to abandon his nuclear and ballistic weapons programs.

With U.S. pressure mounting on China, North Korea’s greatest ally and owner of what was previously its only point of access to the internet, Pyongyang may have reached out to Moscow for fear that Beijing would cave to Washington’s interests, said Martyn Williams, who runs the North Korea Tech blog and authored the 38 North report.

“I’m sure the North Koreans saw the pressure on China and realized they could lose the existing link at any moment,” Williams told Newsweek.

North Korean children learn to use the computer in a primary school on April 2, 2011 in Pyongyang, North Korea. The relatively few number of Internet users in North Korea reportedly got a huge boost October 1, 2017, when Russia’s TransTeleKom provided the country with its second major line of Internet access. FENG LI/GETTY IMAGES

Using information gathered by internet routing databases, Williams was able to determine that the new connection first appeared just after 5 a.m. ET Sunday, which would have been seen in Pyongyang on Sunday evening. TransTeleKom, which is believed to have reached North Korea via the Friendship Bridge that links it to Russia, joins China’s state-owned Unicom as the only companies providing web access to a country of 25 million people, but one with few internet users.

The state wields near absolute control over the flow of information in North Korea, and internet access is generally limited to universities, major companies, foreigners with smartphones, government departments and the military’s cyberwarfare division. By bolstering the country’s bandwidth with a new international provider, Williams said it’s possible that North Korea may have just made its internet stronger and faster than ever before.

Since taking power after his father’s death in 2011, Kim Jong Un has continued his predecessor’s legacy of modernizing the country’s technology sector, including the expansion of the cellular network, distance learning systems and integrated circuit cards for banking and public transportation, Williams said. He has also rapidly advanced its military prowess, ordering the country’s first two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July and its sixth nuclear weapons test last month.

North Korea has argued it needs nuclear weapons to deter an invasion, but its moves have angered many foreign countries. President Donald Trump and Kim have engaged in an escalating stand-off of insults and threats in recent months, and the Republican leader ordered a direct cyber assault on hackers tied to North Korea on Saturday, The Washington Post reported.

From left: The flags of Russia, China and North Korea on a viewing tower on the border between the three countries in Hunchun, in China’s northeast Jilin province, on June 25, 2015. China sided more closely with Russia than the U.S. on the North Korea nuclear crisis, but Beijing has taken action to punish Pyongyang over its nuclear program. GREG BAKER/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

TransTeleKom was not immediately available to speak when reached for comment by Newsweek, but a company spokesperson told The Financial Times Monday that the Russian firm “has historically had a backbone network interface with North Korea under an agreement with Korea Posts and Telecommunications Corp. struck in 2009.”

While China has opted to side more closely with Russia than the U.S. in the ongoing nuclear crisis between Pyongyang and Washington, Beijing has abided with U.S.-led sanctions at the U.N. China’s Ministry of Commerce announced Thursday that all North Korean businesses would have to close within 120 days in accordance with the latest sanctions adopted September 11 by the U.N. Security Council, and scores of North Korean workers have begun leaving the country, Reuters reported Monday.

Korea: Escalation Is A Two-Way Street

September 19, 2017

Korea: Escalation Is A Two-Way Street, Strategy Page, September 15, 2017

(This is a lengthy article but provides very useful insights. — DM)

The latest North Korean nuclear and missile tests have caused Chinese public opinion towards North Korea to become even more hostile. According to opinion polls North Korea has, over the last few years, turned into a larger military threat to China than the U.S. or anyone else. To deal with this China has increased the number of troops and border police stationed near the North Korean border and conducted more military exercises in the area. This also addresses another Chinese fear (that gets less publicity in China) that a government collapse in North Korea would send millions of desperate, and opportunistic, North Koreans into China. There is no way China or the Chinese living along the North Korean border would tolerate that. Meanwhile China is becoming more hostile to North Koreans no matter what their legal or economic status is. Part of that is because North Korea has become a very unpleasant place for Chinese to visit or do business in.

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Every nation has its priorities and for North Korea it is all about image. Most people see that in terms of North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. But there are other equally important (to the North Korean leaders) issues that get little publicity, and that is intentional. In mid-2017 North Korea ordered its secret police to expand its operations in northeast China (the area just across the northern border) so as to suppress news about the growing number of senior and mid-level officials who are, often with their families, illegally leaving North Korea. The single incident that prompted this new secret police effort was the suicide of one of these families (all five of them). The five took poison after being arrested by Chinese police and facing repatriation to North Korea, where the entire family would probably die anyway but more slowly and painfully. The secret police were ordered to increase efforts to prevent such defections in the first place. That will be difficult because the mood among many North Korean officials can best be described as suppressed (so the secret police don’t take note) panic and increased efforts to escape from the country and get to South Korea.

Senior North Korean officials who have gotten out in the last few years all agree that Kim Jong Un is considered a failure by more and more North Koreans and that his days are numbered, even if China does not step in and take over beforehand. Yet these senior officials report that Kim Jong Un could keep his police state going into the late 2020s. But time is not on his side and the signs backing that up are increasingly obvious. Kim Jong Un has triggered a trend that will destroy him and nothing he does seems to fix the problem. He believes having workable nukes and a reliable delivery system (ballistic missiles) will enable him to extort the neighbors for enough goodies to bail him out. That is a high-risk strategy. Kim Jong Un is betting everything on this and none of the potential victims seems ready to give in and are instead planning to meet nuclear threats with force not surrender. Escalation and intimidation work both ways.

Coming Up Short

North Korea has reduced its physical standards for military service. Previously conscripts had to be 150 cm (59 inches) tall and weigh at least 48 kg (106 pounds). But that standard has been reduced over the last decade to 137 cm (54 inches) and 43 kg (95 pounds). Now the government is urging teenage boys to volunteer for service when they are 15 years old. Actually, local officials have been given quotas and are coercing families of 15 year old boys to go along with this. With all the food shortages and unemployment the government sees that as an incentive. But most teenagers prefer to try their luck with the market economy and eventually make enough money to get out of North Korea.

The government needs more soldiers because of a lower birthrate and the inability to reverse the problem. South Korea also has this problem but for different reasons. By 2010 South Korea had the lowest birth rate (1.15 children per woman, on average) in the world and held that dubious achievement for two years in a row. This is because of growing affluence over the last half century. South Korea is now one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. At the current birth rate, the South Korean population is expected to stop growing in the 2020s, after reaching about 52 million (about twice the population of the north). If the birth rate stays under 2.1, the population will then begin to shrink. In North Korea, the birth rate is 1.9, and is also declining, because of increasing poverty and famine. For example, life expectancy in the north has declined from 72.7 years in the early 1990s, to 69.3 now. That’s ten years less than in South Korea. Northerners are not only living shorter lives, they are also shorter. A study of teenagers in the north and south revealed that the northerners are 8 percent shorter, and weigh nearly 20 percent less. It’s not as bad with older adults, because they were not born during the famine (which began after Cold War Russian subsidies ended in the early 1990s).

By 2012 there was a very visible shortage of recruits for the North Korean armed forces. A lower birth rate in the 1990s, because of the famine (that killed five percent of the population back then) has reduced the number of 18 year old recruits for the army and security forces. So fewer exemptions are being allowed, and more 17 years olds are being taken. That escalated to pressuring 16 year olds to volunteer. Now the government is after 15 year olds. North Korean men serve at least six years (and up to ten) in the military, keeping them out of trouble for that time in their lives (18-24), when they are most likely to act out revolutionary fantasies. The military is really a large prison system. While the troops are trained to use weapons, they get little ammunition for training, and the weapons are locked up most of the time. Young North Koreans increasingly know how poor they are, and in greater and greater detail. The soldiers born during the great famine of the 1990s are well-aware that they are physically much smaller than their South Korean counterparts. They also know that the average South Korean lives ten years longer and lives a much more pleasant life. All the more reason to limit the time North Korean troops can handle their weapons, especially when they have ammunition (which is actually very infrequently.)

By 2017 North Korean army officers were ordered to encourage their troops to steal food during the harvest and that failure to do so could result in punishment and would definitely result in hunger. Naturally this has caused more popular anger towards the military. This is nothing new. In 2016 hungry troops grew bolder because the government made it clear they would not punish soldiers unless people are killed or badly injured during these incidents. Police are often called to catch soldiers who have robbed someone. At first this was usually troops breaking into a house seeking food and valuables. The soldiers that are caught are often arrested but must be taken back to their base where the military takes over. The soldiers are “punished” with some verbal abuse for getting caught and that is all. The government was desperate because earlier efforts to address the problem had failed. In 2015 there was a new program to expand food production by the military. Troops were allowed to raise pigs as well as the usual vegetable and grain crops. Meat has been in particularly short supply for the troops in the past few years and hungry troops often steal small livestock (chickens, ducks and pigs), kill them on the spot and carry them off to be cooked and eaten before returning to base. As more reports came in it became apparent that most military units didn’t have enough to eat, either because the food was not to be had or, as is more often the case, corruption (someone in a position of power stole it.) This led to more soldiers stealing food from civilians or selling military clothing and equipment on the black market so they could buy food. Soldiers have opportunities to steal food and sell stolen goods when they are off their base doing construction or farm work. This is how troops spend a lot of their time and they receive no extra pay or food even when the outside work requires heavy (and calorie consuming) labor. All this is illegal, but commanders were not eager to punish hungry soldiers. For commanders their troops have become profitable slaves who can be rented out with the commanders getting part of the payment. Now the government insists that disobedient slaves be executed.

Visible Signs Of Decline

Declining discipline in the police is more evident in many obvious ways. For example a growing number of North Korean women are operating openly as prostitutes (usually near border areas where there are more foreigners). These women get $20 or more per customer but get to keep less than 20 percent of that because the rest goes to bribes (for police) and “fees” to various middlemen (or women) who supervise it all. Thus it is not surprising that these young (from late teens to 30s) women will also offer to sell drugs (usually meth) to customers as well. Many of these prostitutes are married and some have children but no money to keep the kids fed and healthy.

With the growth of free markets and police getting jealous, greedy and corrupted by demanding and getting bribes, there has also developed criminal gangs. These groups often have connections (usually financial) with the security forces and of course the gangsters are all veterans. The gangs act as middlemen between donju (free market entrepreneurs) and the government but as a matter of law, the gangs do not exist. As a matter of fact the gangs are very real and one of the fastest growing sectors of the market economy.

China Chooses Sides

The latest North Korean nuclear and missile tests have caused Chinese public opinion towards North Korea to become even more hostile. According to opinion polls North Korea has, over the last few years, turned into a larger military threat to China than the U.S. or anyone else. To deal with this China has increased the number of troops and border police stationed near the North Korean border and conducted more military exercises in the area. This also addresses another Chinese fear (that gets less publicity in China) that a government collapse in North Korea would send millions of desperate, and opportunistic, North Koreans into China. There is no way China or the Chinese living along the North Korean border would tolerate that. Meanwhile China is becoming more hostile to North Koreans no matter what their legal or economic status is. Part of that is because North Korea has become a very unpleasant place for Chinese to visit or do business in.

News of the bad treatment Chinese are suffering in North Korea gets around, even when the Chinese government tries to keep the worst examples out of the news. Chinese individuals and firms doing business in North Korea complain that the North Koreans have become even more unreliable when it comes to handling foreign investments from China. In the past China could impose some degree of discipline on North Korea for abuse of Chinese investors and investments. The North Koreans are increasingly ignoring this sort of pressure and as a result Chinese investors are backing away from current and planned investments. China could order state owned firms to do business in North Korea but does not because these firms are poorly run compared to the privately owned firms and would suffer even larger losses when dealing the increasingly treacherous and unreliable neighbor.

North Korea used to be a dependable place, at least for Chinese with the right connections in the Chinese government. While corruption in China has declined in the past few years it appears to have gotten worse in North Korea, to the point where long-term deals are avoided and transactions are made carefully, usually with payment before delivery. The smugglers and various other criminal gangs in China that do business with their North Korean counterparts have been forced to operate this way as well and for the same reasons. South Korea and Japan have already learned how unreliable North Korea can be when it comes to business deals and Russia has already adopted the wary approach to economic deals with North Korea.

China has visibly increased enforcement of economic sanctions on North Korea but this has not made North Korea any more willing to negotiate. The growing number of police and secret police night patrols in areas where North Korean smugglers long operated is hard to miss, as is the fact that when North Korean smugglers are encountered they get arrested and taken away. Even higher bribes (over $3,000 to make an arrest not happen) no longer work because the Chinese cops will still demand that amount of cash before they will turn the smugglers over to North Korean officials. China never came down so hard on North Korean smuggling before.

China is also cracking down on North Korean drug production and smuggling. This is a matter of self-defense for China and is effective because North Korea make the highest profits from methamphetamine (“meth”). But this drug requires a key ingredient (phenylacetic acid, in the form of white crystals) to be smuggled in from China. Now the Chinese are cracking down on that as well as the meth coming into China. North Korea is seeking another, probably more expensive, supplier in Russia.

While Russia is still doing business with North Korea China and Russia are also cooperating with many of the new rules banning North Korean workers they long employed legally. This exported labor was outlawed by the latest round of sanctions. North Korea responded by quietly ordering overseas workers to stay where they are and work illegally (in deals arranged by their government minders). Yet in many instances the export ban on slave labor is being enforced by Russia and especially China and that is hurting North Korea economically.

The North Koreans see this as yet another challenge that can be worked around. While it is true that there are still a lot of corrupt Chinese and Russians willing to do business with North Korea if the bribe is large enough, that is not working as well as it used to in China. This is because North Korea is very unpopular with Chinese in general and a growing number of senior Chinese officials in particular. Russians are less upset with North Korea and, while having fewer economic resources than China, are more receptive to shady deals. The problem is that North Korea has become very dependent on the much larger and still expanding Chinese economy. Russia simply cannot supply a lot of what North Korea needs. It is possible to still buy the forbidden goods in China and have them shipped to a fictitious customer in Russia who will quietly send it to North Korea. That does not always work and when it does it costs a lot more than getting the goods directly from China. North Korea has less cash for the extra expenses. The Chinese know this and are quite willing to slowly squeeze until North Korean leaders are all dead or more receptive to Chinese needs (no nukes next door and fewer desperate illegal migrants). Yet there is the growing risk that North Korea will get (or thinks it has) reliable nukes and keep threatening China. That is not the desired outcome but the Chinese have quietly reminded leaders of both Koreas (and their foreign allies) that in the past China has occupied much of Korea when the Koreans become troublesome.

Meanwhile China is not happy with South Korea either, fearing the growing military power of South Korea and the recent installation of a THAAD anti-missile battery despite vigorous Chinese diplomatic and economic efforts to prevent that. The diplomatic and economic pressure continues but the South Koreans are in no mood to back off as long as the North Korean threat remains. South Korea believes China could do more to eliminate the North Korean threat. While many, if not most, Chinese and Russians agree with that the Russian and Chinese governments still see economic opportunities in North Korea and are unwilling to do anything drastic.

September 14, 2017: In coincidental, nearly simultaneous, events North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan while South Korea fired two Hyunmoo 2 ballistic missiles. One of these failed while the other accurately hit the target area (at sea) 250 kilometers away. The North Korean missile travelled about 2,200 kilometers and landed in the Pacific. Japan said it tracked the missile and did not try to intercept because it was obvious the missile was following a trajectory that would take it far from Japan. The identity of the North Korean missile was not known.

South Korea has developed a longer (500 kilometer) version; Hyunmoo 2C. South Korea developed a 180 kilometer range ballistic missile (Hyunmoo 1) and a 300 kilometer one (Hyunmoo 2) in the 1980s. Both are about 13 meters (40 feet) long and weigh 4-5 tons. Both of these were based on the design of the U.S. Nike-Hercules anti-aircraft missile, which South Korea used for many years.

September 13, 2017: Google and YouTube have banned videos from North Korean media, apparently because it is a source of income for North Korea and now in violation of sanctions. This reduces open source access to North Korean TV although intelligence agencies will still be able to get these.

China has restricted access to Mount Paektu, apparently for safety reasons related to the recent North Korean nuclear test, which was conducted 110 kilometers away. Mount Paektu is a dormant volcano on the Chinese border. In fact, half the volcano is in China, where it is a popular tourist destination for South Koreans. That’s because Koreans and Manchus (as in Manchuria, the native people of northeast China) both consider Mt Paektu as a sacred place where their tribes originated thousands of years ago. In 2013 North Korea put some silos for their long range (2,000-3,000 kilometers) ballistic missiles up there because that part of North Korea is a triangle, surrounded on two sides by China. This makes it difficult for the Americans to launch air attacks without entering Chinese territory and makes it easier for North Korean anti-aircraft forces to defend against cruise missile. On the down side, Paektu is a dormant volcano that is active (lava flows and the like) about once a century. The last time it erupted (throwing large quantities of rocks and dust into the atmosphere) was in 1703 and an eruption in the late 10th century blew the top off the mountain and created the current 4.5 kilometers wide crater lake. Volcanologists consider Paektu capable of another major eruption but North Korea considers that less likely than an American air attack. So the silos stay, despite the risk of destruction by lava flows and earthquakes. Before all these silos were built North Korea planned to keep its long range ballistic missiles mobile and launch them from any number of launch sites (a flat field where the missile could be fueled and the guidance system programmed before launch.) Bad weather could complicate the use of mobile launchers (washing out bridges or blocking roads with snow). The quality of North Korean roads has also declined sharply (from lack of maintenance) since the late 1990s. Then there is the increased American surveillance (from satellites, U-2s and high-altitude UAVs) that makes mobile missiles more vulnerable to air or missile attack. Silos can also be attacked from the air, but in a war the more numerous and shorter range ballistic missiles to the south would also be subject to air attack as these missiles would be aimed at the South Korean capital. North Korea apparently believes that silos protected by a sacred volcano are a worthwhile investment to ensure that some of long-range missiles will get launched during a crises. China is more concerned about nuclear radiation coming from North Korea.

September 12, 2017: Chinese radiation monitors on the North Korean border recorded levels were up seven percent since the September 3rd test and have appeared to have peaked. This data was released because the population along the border know that they face some health risks if radiation levels increase too much for too long.

September 11, 2017: The UN approved new economic sanctions against North Korea and China said it would enforce them all and repeated that it had been enforcing sanctions since March. The new sanctions limit the export of refined petroleum product to two million barrels a year and ban North Korea from importing liquefied natural gas. This followed China condemning North Korea nuclear tests openly in the UN for the first time.

Meanwhile the United States continues to call on China and Russia to do more to halt the North Korean evasion of sanctions via corrupt officials and businesses in China and Russia. China in particular does not want too much international attention focused on that corruption, which has long been quite active along the North Korean border and still is. The United States is not being diplomatic in pointing this out but it is correct in showing how Chinese enforcement of sanctions does not really work unless China effectively curbs the Chinese corruption that enables North Korea to continue doing whatever it wants. For the North Korea the increased sanctions pressure merely increases costs (larger bribes are required in China and Russia).

September 10, 2017: Chinese banks have been warning its customers to stay away from bitcoin because of the threat from North Korean hackers, who are believed to be responsible for several recent multi-million dollar thefts from bitcoin exchanges. North Korea is believed to be targeting bitcoin and other Internet based cryptocurrencies even though North Korea has used bitcoin exchanges as a substitute for sanctions that ban it from accessing the international banking system. The Chinese government fears that North Korean hackers are now going after Chinese firms, something they are not supposed to do because China is still the main source of foreign trade. This sort of irrational behavior leads China to fear that North Korea would even be foolish to become a real military threat to China.

September 9, 2017: China orders all Chinese banks (including foreign banks licensed to operate in China) to not only stop opening accounts for North Koreans but also to close any such accounts immediately. This is a very harmful economic sanction and the North Koreans respond by ignoring the new rules any way they can.

September 8, 2017: North Korea has quietly freed a Russian yacht it had seized in mid-June. A North Korean warship seized the Russian yacht when both were 80 kilometers off the coast. The yacht and the vessel towing it to Vladivostok were definitely in international waters and the Russian ambassador demanded the release of the yacht and three man crew. North Korea was not responsive until now. This was similar to a May 2016 incident where North Korean warship seized a Russian sailing yacht some 160 kilometers from the east coast of North Korea (very much in international waters). The yacht and crew of five were taken to a North Korean port. The yacht was released two days later and continued on its way to its original destination (Vladivostok) for a sailboat race. In both cases North Korea would not say why they took the yacht and then released it.

September 7, 2017: South Korea has completed deploying an entire THAAD battery to a site some 300 kilometers south of the North Korean border. The United States will share radar data generated by the high-powered radar installed as part of a THAAD anti-missile battery that began arriving in early 2017. The THAAD battery is operated by American personnel and costs $3.5 million a year to operate. The battery consists of six truck-mounted missile launchers (eight missiles per launcher), a fire control and communications unit and an AN/TPY-2 radar. Villagers living near the site of the THAAD base oppose the presence of the anti-missile battery because it will be a target for North Korean (or even Chinese) attack. Locals also fear (without any evidence) that the powerful THAAD radar will cause health problems.

September 6, 2017: A recent online opinion survey in China showed that 66 percent believed North Korea was a larger military threat to China than the United States. Only 10 percent felt the Americans were a larger threat and 15 percent believed the U.S. was no threat at all. This is consistent with earlier surveys only the degree of hostility towards North Korea keeps increasing. Chinese see North Korea has a poorly managed nation that is ungrateful towards China and unpredictable.

September 4, 2017: North Korean living near the site of the recent underground nuclear weapons test are demanding compensation for the damage done to their home by the earthquake (estimated to be 5.6 on the Richter scale) the test produced. Across the Yalu River some Chinese buildings also suffered damage from the quake and several aftershocks.

South Korea announced that its policy towards North Korea will now on “punishment” rather than negotiation.

September 3, 2017: North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test. This one appeared to be the largest one yet indicating a yield of 100-200 tons and described as a hydrogen bomb. The first nuclear test was in 2006 (less than one kiloton) but the first one that was truly successful occurred in 2013 (6 kilotons) and despite the fact that the test was not a complete success, the nuclear bomb program continued with two tests in 2016. In late 2015 Kim Jong Un claimed that North Korea had developed a hydrogen (fusion) bomb. Foreign experts openly expressed skepticism given that North Korea didn’t really have a reliable fission type nuclear bomb yet. You need an efficient fission bomb to trigger the fusion reaction that makes the “H-Bomb” so much more destructive than a fission bomb of the same weight and size. Nuclear test number four in January 2016 was described by North Korea as a fusion (H-bomb) test when it clearly was not, or not a successful one. That would be in contrast to the 2013 test which appeared to be seven kilotons and a complete detonation. The second test was a two kiloton weapon in 2009. Western intelligence believed that the original North Korean nuclear weapon design was flawed, as the first two tests were only a fraction of what they should have been. The first one was less than a kiloton and called in the trade, a “fizzle.” The second test was less of a fizzle and apparently a modified version of the original design. Thus North Korea needed more tests to perfect their bomb design and was still years away from a useful nuclear weapon even though the second bomb appeared to be more effective. The third test in 2013 was considered overdue and that may have been because more time was spent designing and building a smaller device that could fit into a missile warhead. The second 2016 test is still something of a mystery. U.S. intelligence agencies have collected air samples (as have most other neighboring countries) from the test which can tell much about the design of the bomb. The January 2016 nuke appeared to be the same as the 2013 one. The second 2016 test in September appeared to be a better design and was about ten kilotons. North Korea insisted this was a fusion bomb. Air samples are still being collected on the test today but it will take weeks to analyze the samples and come to some useful conclusion. The sheer size of the most recent test indicated either a fusion bomb or an enhanced fission bomb. But for a yield of over 100 tons a fusion bomb is more likely. Such designs have been around and in use since the late 1940s. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 a lot of Russian nuclear weapons designers and technicians were out of a job and the pensions of the retired ones were suddenly worth a lot less. The security for nuclear weapons designs, especially much older ones, became a lot more lax. There were plenty of opportunities to obtain previously unavailable tech.

August 29, 2017: North Korea fired a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile over Japan. This was the 18th North Korean ballistic missile test of 2017 and this one appeared to break into pieces before it fell into the ocean after travelling 2,700 kilometers from North Korea. This was the second successful test of the Hwasong-12.

August 28, 2017: South Korea announced its largest increase (6.9 percent for 2018) in its defense budget since 2009. This is a direct result of the increasing threat from North Korea. Next year South Korea will spend $38 billion, which is more than a third larger than the annual GDP of North Korea (which spends about a third of GDP on defense compared to less than three percent in South Korea). South Korea is in the top ten of national economies, something which annoys North Korea but is admired by the other neighbors (including China). Meanwhile Japan is also increasing its defense spending by 2.5 percent in 2018 (to $48 billion). Japan, like China and the U.S., are among the top five economies on the planet. Japan, because of the post-World War II constitution the United States insisted on (and Japan did not much object to) has been largely demilitarized considering the size of its economy. That is changing and the U.S. has dropped nearly all restrictions on what weapons it will export to South Korea and Japan and is ignoring treaties it has with both nations that restrict what types of advanced weapons (like ballistic missiles and nukes) they can develop. The Americans would still prefer that South Korea and Japan not build nukes (which both these nations could easily and quickly do). China and Russia would also prefer that Japan and South Korea remain non-nuclear weapon nations. But if North Korean military ambitions and threats (especially against South Korea and Japan) are not curbed popular opinion in South Korea and Japan is becoming more comfortable with the having their own nukes.

August 25, 2017: China banned North Korea from establishing any new businesses in China or expanding existing ones. Russia has done the same, but the Chinese are a much larger market and apparently intent on following through. Meanwhile the August 15 order for Chinese firms to halt imports of minerals and seafood cost some Chinese firms with physical operations (trucks, mines) and warehouses in North Korea to suffer losses because they were given only 24 hours to get this stuff back to China and that was not enough time. This was especially true when many North Korean officials demanded special payments before these goods could be moved.

August 24, 2017: A Russian Tu-95 bomber flew south from a base north of Korea until it got close enough to South Korea to cause South Korean F-16s to come up and investigate. Russia said it was a scheduled training flight.

Korean Peninsula Draws Range of Military Drills in Show of Force Against North Korea

September 18, 2017

Korean Peninsula Draws Range of Military Drills in Show of Force Against North Korea, Washington Free Beacon, Ben Blanchard and Hyonhee Shin, September 18, 2017

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) – The U.S. military staged bombing drills with South Korea over the Korean peninsula and Russia and China began naval exercises ahead of a U.N. General Assembly meeting on Tuesday where North Korea’s nuclear threat is likely to loom large.

The flurry of military drills came after Pyongyang fired another mid-range ballistic missile over Japan on Friday and the reclusive North conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3 in defiance of United Nations sanctions and other international pressure.

A pair of U.S. B-1B bombers and four F-35 jets flew from Guam and Japan and joined four South Korean F-15K fighters in the latest drill, South Korea’s defense ministry said.

The joint drills were being conducted “two to three times a month these days”, Defence Minister Song Young-moo told a parliamentary hearing on Monday.

In Beijing, the official Xinhua news agency said China and Russia began naval drills off the Russian far eastern port of Vladivostok, not far from the Russia-North Korea border.

Those drills were being conducted between Peter the Great Bay, near Vladivostok, and the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk, to the north of Japan, it said.

The drills are the second part of China-Russian naval exercises this year, the first part of which was staged in the Baltic in July. Xinhua did not directly link the drills to current tension over North Korea.

China and Russia have repeatedly called for a peaceful solution and talks to resolve the issue.

On Sunday, however, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the U.N. Security Council had run out of options on containing North Korea’s nuclear program and the United States might have to turn the matter over to the Pentagon.

In response, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the most pressing task was for all parties to enforce the latest U.N. resolutions on North Korea fully, rather than “deliberately complicating the issue”.

Military threats from various parties have not promoted a resolution to the issue, he said.

“This is not beneficial to a final resolution to the peninsula nuclear issue,” Lu told a daily news briefing.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed that North Korea will never be able to threaten the United States with a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile.

Asked about Trump’s warning last month that the North Korean threat to the United States would be met with “fire and fury”, Haley said: “It was not an empty threat.”

Washington has also asked China to do more to rein in its neighbor and ally, while Beijing has urged the United States to refrain from making threats against the North.

FUEL PRICES SURGE

The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a U.S.-drafted resolution a week ago mandating tougher new sanctions against Pyongyang that included banning textile imports and capping crude and petrol supply.

North Korea on Monday called the resolution “the most vicious, unethical and inhumane act of hostility to physically exterminate” its people, system and government.

“The increased moves of the U.S. and its vassal forces to impose sanctions and pressure… will only increase our pace toward the ultimate completion of the state nuclear force,” the North’s foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by its official KCNA news agency.

Gasoline and diesel prices in the North have surged since the latest nuclear test in anticipation of a possible oil ban, according to market data analyzed by Reuters on Monday.

The international community must remain united and enforce sanctions against North Korea after its repeated launch of ballistic missiles, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an editorial in the New York Times on Sunday.

Such tests were in violation of Security Council resolutions and showed that North Korea could now target the United States or Europe, he wrote.

Abe also said diplomacy and dialogue would not work with North Korea and concerted pressure by the entire international community was essential to tackle the threats posed by the north and its leader, Kim Jong Un.

However, the official China Daily argued on Monday that sanctions should be given time to bite and that the door must be left open to talks.

“With its Friday missile launch, Pyongyang wanted to give the impression that sanctions will not work,” it said in an editorial. “Some people have fallen for that and immediately echoed the suggestion, pointing to the failure of past sanctions to achieve their purpose.

“But that past sanctions did not work does not mean they will not. It is too early to claim failure because the latest sanctions have hardly begun to take effect. Giving the sanctions time to bite is the best way to make Pyongyang reconsider,” the newspaper said.

Pyongyang has launched dozens of missiles as it accelerates a weapons program designed to provide the ability to target the United States with a powerful, nuclear-tipped missile.

It says such programs are needed as a deterrent against invasion by the United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea. On Saturday, it said it aimed to reach an “equilibrium” of military force with the United States.

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce and not a peace treaty.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Hyonhee Shin and Soyoung Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Paul Tait and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Top Armed Services Dem: Russia, China ‘Spectacularly Disingenuous’ on North Korea

July 5, 2017

Top Armed Services Dem: Russia, China ‘Spectacularly Disingenuous’ on North Korea, PJ MediaBridget Johnson, July 5, 2017

(Please see also, North Korean Missiles Reaching USA. President Trump seems to have decided that joint action with China and Russia won’t work and that unilateral action by America will be needed. — DM)

South Korean army K-1 tanks move during the annual exercise in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, on July 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

China and Russia issued a joint statement calling Pyongyang’s ICBM test “unacceptable.”

“The two sides propose that the DPRK (North Korea) as a voluntary political decision declares a moratorium on testing nuclear explosive devices and ballistic rocket launches, and the US and South Korea refrain from carrying out large-scale joint exercises,” the statement said. “Parallel to this, the opposing sides should start negotiations and affirm general principles of their relations including the non-use of force, rejection of aggression and peaceful co-existence.”

“Neither one of them is doing a darn thing to stop North Korea. And they want to use it as an excuse to push us out of the region,” he added. “What we have to make clear to them is it’s going to have the exact opposite effect. Once North Korea is able to threaten us and even now, as they threaten our allies, we have to be in there to protect our own interests. 

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The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee declared this morning that the “threat from North Korea, regrettably, is not going to be removed” by the “global action” proposed by the Trump administration to curb Kim Jong-un’s behavior.

Pyongyang said Tuesday that it successfully test-fired Hwasong-14, a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile. According to Chosun Ilbo in South Korea, state TV in the North declared the regime “a full-fledged nuclear power… possessed of the most powerful intercontinental-ballistic rocket capable of hitting any part of the world.”

Kim reportedly watched the launch at the scene. The missile, said to be capable of reaching Alaska or Hawaii, flew for 39 minutes before hitting open waters.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement Tuesday evening condemning the July Fourth launch. “Testing an ICBM represents a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region, and the world,” he said. “Global action is required to stop a global threat.”

“Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime. All nations should publicly demonstrate to North Korea that there are consequences to their pursuit of nuclear weapons. We intend to bring North Korea’s provocative action before the UN Security Council and enact stronger measures to hold the DPRK accountable,” Tillerson continued.

“The United States seeks only the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the end of threatening actions by North Korea. As we, along with others, have made clear, we will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.”

President Trump and his national security team “are continuing to assess the situation in close coordination with our allies and partners,” he added.

Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) doubted that Tillerson’s vow would put pressure on North Korea.

“If there is an idea floating around out there for how we can remove that threat, I’m open to it. But we have been circling around this discussion of what we want China to do and what we want sanctions to do and all these other different pieces,” Smith said. “The bottom line is, what we need against North Korea, we need to put the best economic sanctions we can. I think it’s perfectly appropriate for the secretary of state to try to put pressure on other nations to do the same. But the most important thing we need is a credible military deterrent, so that whatever North Korea does in terms of building a missile, they know that if they act against South Korea or against Japan or against us, we will obliterate them.”

“That’s why THAAD [missile defense system] is important. That is why our alliance with South Korea and Japan is important, to have that credible military force, because what’s been proven — and all of the options have been discussed with your previous guests — is that North Korea is going to do it. They want to build nuclear weapons. They want to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile. And short of an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula, we don’t really have an option for stopping them.”

China and Russia issued a joint statement calling Pyongyang’s ICBM test “unacceptable.”

“The two sides propose that the DPRK (North Korea) as a voluntary political decision declares a moratorium on testing nuclear explosive devices and ballistic rocket launches, and the US and South Korea refrain from carrying out large-scale joint exercises,” the statement said. “Parallel to this, the opposing sides should start negotiations and affirm general principles of their relations including the non-use of force, rejection of aggression and peaceful co-existence.”

Smith slammed the statement as “spectacularly disingenuous.”

“Neither one of them is doing a darn thing to stop North Korea. And they want to use it as an excuse to push us out of the region,” he added. “What we have to make clear to them is it’s going to have the exact opposite effect. Once North Korea is able to threaten us and even now, as they threaten our allies, we have to be in there to protect our own interests. China’s not acting against North Korea. And the reason they’re not acting against North Korea is, they don’t want to cut off North Korea’s economic aid. They don’t want North Korea to collapse because they don’t want millions of North Korean refugees pouring across their border. They’re not happy that North Korea is causing such instability in the region, but the alternative of them trying to crush the regime somehow is something they’re not willing to do, and they haven’t been willing to do it through four administrations. So, we need a credible military deterrent, and that is our only option.”

Smith noted that Kim’s actions have been “all about ensuring regime survival,” as he’s “looked at Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya, and they feel that unless they have a nuclear weapon and a credible deterrent of their own, that their regime is in jeopardy.”

“So, all the economic sanctions, all that needs to be done. But understand what I’m saying here. As you have discussed, there is not a good military option,” he said. “Thinking that we can preemptively go in there and somehow take out their capabilities, whatever we do leads to a massive war in the Korean Peninsula… we need our THAAD system in the region. We need a system to give us a shot at shooting down that missile if they decide to launch it. And then we also need a clear diplomatic policy that we will destroy them.”

After the THAAD system was installed in South Korea, Trump said Seoul should fork over a billion dollars for the missile defense. New South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently suspended further THAAD deployment pending a review of the program.

Smith stressed that Russia and China must “stop screwing around.”

“If you guys really want us to be less involved in the region, then you have got to figure out a way to control North Korea,” he said. “Now, I don’t think they’re going to do that. But that means that we have to stay active in the region.”

North Korea launches new missile. US sabotages

April 29, 2017

North Korea launches new missile. US sabotages, DEBKAFile, April 29, 2017

(???????????????? — DM)

North Korea early Saturday, April 29, launched a medium ballistic missile. It failed, detonating in North air space seconds after launch, just like the first one that was sabotaged by the US on April 16, DEBKAfile reports. US President Donald Trump tweeted as soon as he was informed: “North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!”

He was apparently hinting that he would wait for China’s reaction before the US took action.

This missile was also the same as the first, a KN-17, a single-stage, short to medium range, liquid-fueled Scud or No Dong variant. It was test-fired Saturday as a deliberate act of defiance by Kim Jong-un in the face of Trump’s warning Thursday, “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict” over his expanding nuclear and missile capabilities. Hours earlier, on Friday, American, Chinese and Russian foreign ministers all stood up at the UN Security Council meeting in New York to demand that he give up his nuclear and missile programs.

State Department Secretary Rex Tillerson called for tough new action to punish Pyongyang.

The latest missile launch was not announced by Pyongyang. Nor was it fired from the usual base near the port city of Sinpo, but a site near the capital. US military sources estimated that the KN-17, most likely an upgraded Scud missile adapted for anti-ship warfare, was intended to support Kim’s threat to sink one of the US warships approaching Korean waters with two Japanese destroyers.

One of Tokyo’s major subways systems says it shut down all lines for 10 minutes early Saturday after receiving warning of a North Korean missile launch. Tokyo Metro official Hiroshi Takizawa says the temporary suspension affected 13,000 passengers.