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North Korea’s economy may not survive another year, defector says

North Korea is so weak its economy might not last long under tough United Nations sanctions, a high-ranking defector said Monday in his first public speaking engagement in the U.S.

The former insider’s view of dictator Kim Jong Un’s oppressive regime comes just as North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador stepped up the tough talk. “Nuclear war may break out any moment,” Kim In Ryong said Monday.

But North Korea may just be bluffing.

“I don’t know if North Korea will survive a year [under] sanctions. Many people will die,” said Ri Jong Ho, a former senior North Korean economic official. He was speaking through a translator at the Asia Society in New York.

“There is not enough to eat there” and the sanctions have “completely blocked” trade, he said, forcing the government to send tens of thousands of laborers overseas. Ordinary North Korean households have no electricity, he added, while the capital city only gets three to four hours a day.

Ri was last posted in Dalian, China, where he helped run Office 39, a secret organization responsible for obtaining cash for the ruling Kim family. Ri also won the highest civilian honor in the dictatorship. But after a series of purges, he defected with his family in late 2014 and now lives in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

The defector painted his birth country as one in dire straits. China, North Korea’s largest trade partner, is “very upset” with the rogue state for not reforming its economy and instead “begging” its giant neighbor for food, Ri said. On the other hand, Ri said, North Korean leaders met with Russian President Vladimir Putin but diplomacy “was not as easy as it might have been thought.”

Kim is also offended that he has never met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi also once chose to visit the southern part of the peninsula before the north.

During a 2014 meeting with North Korean officials, Kim Jong Un called Xi a “son of a b—-” and the Chinese “sons of b——,” Ri said, adding that there is fear China will “betray” North Korea.

As a result, building a relationship with the United States is the rogue state’s primary focus.

Ri likened Kim’s war of words with President Donald Trump to a “child and adult dispute.”

The dictator thinks help from the U.S. will enable him to solidify his leadership, just as North Koreans generally think alliance with the U.S. helped South Korea prosper, Ri said. “North Korea is very fearful of South Korea.”

To address its insecurities, North Korea fires missile after missile. Invariably, the world worries about the pariah state’s growing nuclear threat and China repeatedly calls for dialogue. Ri, however, said he sees the solution as more than simply gathering together for talks.

When negotiating, the parties need to know what they want, which is far from the case here due to lack of understanding on both sides, Ri said. In order to successfully turn the situation around, foreign diplomats need to understand what is in Kim Jong Un’s head and “change what he thinks.”

UK-US trade deal could be ‘big and exciting’

The US President tweeted that a bilateral trade agreement with the UK after it leaves the EU in 2019 could be “very big and exciting” for jobs.

Mr Trump, who backed Brexit, also took a swipe at the EU accusing it of a “very protectionist” stance to the US.

The US President, whose officials are meeting British counterparts this week, has been accused of protectionist rhetoric by his political opponents.

The UK’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is currently in Washington discussing the potential for a UK-US trade deal after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in March 2019. No deal can be signed until after then.

Mr Trump has said he would like to see a speedy deal although free trade agreements typically take many years to conclude and any agreement, which will have to be approved by Congress, is likely to involve hard negotiations over tariff and non tariff barriers in areas such as agriculture and automotive.

On Monday, Mr Fox published details of commercial ties between the UK and every congressional district in the US as a working party of officials met to discuss a future trade deal for the first time. Two-way trade between the two countries already totals £150bn.

Mr Fox is also discussing other issues, including the continuation of existing trade and investment accords, with trade secretary Wilbur Ross and the US Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer.

At a breakfast meeting for members of the House of Representatives, Mr Fox said his twin objectives were to provide certainty for foreign investors ahead of Brexit and to expand the volume and value of trade with the US.

“The EU itself estimates that 90% of global growth in the next decade will come from outside Europe, and I believe as the head of an international economic department that this is an exciting opportunity for the UK to work even more closely with our largest single trading partner the US,” he said.

Sir Vince Cable, the new leader of the UK parliament’s fourth largest party, the Liberal Democrats, said a US-UK trade deal could bring significant benefits – but he called on the government to guarantee parliament would get a vote on it first.

“Liam Fox and Boris Johnson must not be able to stitch up trade deals abroad and impose them on the country,” he said.

“It is parliament, not Liam Fox, that should be the final arbiter on whether to sacrifice our standards to strike a deal with Trump.”