Wednesday March 20, 2019
Home Lead Story ‘Little...

‘Little to No’ Progress in North Korea’s Military Capabilities, Says US General

Trump and Kim are set to hold a second summit in Vietnam later this month.

0
//
U.S.
FILE - Gen. Robert Abrams looks to the dais as he testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 25, 2018. VOA

North Korea’s nuclear and other military capabilities remain unchanged and still pose a threat to the United States and its allies, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea told a Senate hearing Tuesday.

“Little to no verifiable change has occurred in North Korea’s military capabilities,” despite Pyongyang’s public statements about denuclearization, General Robert Abrams, head of U.S. Forces Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The comments underscore the stalled diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea since President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un agreed last June in Singapore to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump and Kim are set to hold a second summit in Vietnam later this month. U.S. officials have said they expect “significant and verifiable” progress there.

“My personal opinion is the announcement of a second summit…is a positive sign of continued dialogue,” Abrams said. “It certainly beats the alternative of what we were living with in 2017.”

US, Donald Trump
FILE – A TV shows a photo of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 1, 2019. VOA

It has been 440 days since North Korea last conducted a nuclear or missile flight test, Abrams noted. “The reduction in tension on the peninsula, it’s palpable,” he said.

“Having said all that though, we have not observed activity that’s consistent with a full-court press on denuclearization,” he added.

Military drills

Meanwhile, North Korea is continuing its annual winter military exercises, Abrams said.

“We have observed no significant changes to the size, scope, or timing of their ongoing exercises,” Abrams said, putting particular emphasis on the word “their.”

At last year’s Singapore summit, Trump announced the cancellation of several major military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, saying they were expensive and needlessly provocative.

North Korea has for decades said the exercises amount to preparation to invade the North — a notion the U.S. strongly denies.

Some U.S. lawmakers and others have expressed concern about U.S. military readiness, should the exercises be postponed much longer.

US, South Korea
FILE – U.S. Army and South Korean soldiers take their positions during a demonstration of the combined arms live-fire exercises at the Rodriquez Multi-Purpose Range Complex in Pocheon, north of Seoul, South Korea, March 25, 2015. VOA

Troop levels

Many have also expressed worry that Trump may use the upcoming summit to announce a withdrawal or reduction of U.S. troops in South Korea.

Asked by Senator Jack Reed whether the U.S. can afford to reduce its troop presence, Abrams responded that the current posture “is appropriate in terms of providing an adequate deterrent” against North Korea.

The U.S. currently has over 28,000 troops in South Korea.

Trump has for years complained U.S. troops in Korea are too expensive and do not adequately advance U.S. interests. However the U.S. president, along with the top U.S. envoy to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, have said they are not discussing a troop withdrawal or reduction in the peninsula.

Earlier this week, the U.S. and South Korea signed an agreement that will increase by 8 percent the amount Seoul pays for the U.S. troop presence. Trump had reportedly demanded an increase of 50 percent.

ALSO READ: 2015 Agreement to Bring Peace to Ukraine’s East Remains Unimplemented

The deal, which is subject to South Korean parliamentary approval, is only valid for one year, unlike the previous agreement, which lasted five years. (VOA)

Next Story

U.S. Government Human Rights Report Shows ‘Amber’ Warning Light Situation in Hong Kong

"Human rights issues included substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association [and] restrictions on political participation," the report said.

0
China
The flags of Hong Kong (left) and its communist ruler China, in file photo. RFA

A U.S. government human rights report is ‘an amber light’ for the human rights situation in Hong Kong, with some of the city’s traditional freedoms under threat, commentators told RFA.

The State Department highlighted several areas of concern in its 2018Human Rights Report published last week, in particular, “encroachment” by the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing on Hong Kong’s promised autonomy.

“Human rights issues included substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association [and] restrictions on political participation,” the report said.

The report cited multiple sources as saying that Chinese operativesmonitored some political activists, nongovernmental organizations(NGOs), and academics who criticized Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong,which is supposed to be separate legal jurisdiction under the terms of the “one country, two systems” framework.

China
The move came as the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned ofincreasing self-censorship among local journalists, often among mediaoutlets with business interests in mainland China. VOA

It also pointed to cross-border detentions and abductions, citing thedisappearance of businessman Xiao Jianhua and the cross-border rendition of Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, who is a Swedish citizen.

“Xiao’s and other abductions show the Chinese Central Government’swillingness to act contrary to the rule of law and undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy,” the report said.

It said Hong Kong and Chinese officials had restricted, or sought to restrict, the right to express or report on political protest and dissent, particularly the notion of independence for Hong Kong.

U.S.

“But if Hong Kong’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate in the next couple of years … for example, if we see more kidnappings, then I think the U.S. is very likely to abolish Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading territory.” VOA

The trial of dozens of protesters, including key figures, after the 2014 Occupy Central pro-democracy movement on public order charges had”raised the cost of protesting government policies and led to concerns the government was using the law to suppress political dissent.”

The report also cited the jailing of two disqualified lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yao Wai-ching, last June for four weeks on “unlawful assembly” charges, following scuffles with Legislative Council security guards in 2016.

It said the banning of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party(HKNP) last September was one example, while the disqualification of six pro-democracy lawmakers for “improperly” taking their oaths of allegiance was another.

The U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) voiced concern at thetime over the ban, which relied on colonial-era legislation under theSocieties Ordinance that originally targeted criminal organizations, or “triads.”

“The UK does not support Hong Kong independence, but Hong Kong’s highdegree of autonomy and its rights and freedoms are central to its way of life, and it is important they are fully respected,” the statement said.

‘An amber light’

Hong Kong political commentator Sang Pu said the State Departmentreport had struck a note of warning to the international community.

“I don’t think this is a red light, but it is an amber light,” Sang told RFA, adding that a further deterioration could affect Hong Kong’s international reputation as an open port.

“But if Hong Kong’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate in the next couple of years … for example, if we see more kidnappings, then I think the U.S. is very likely to abolish Hong Kong’s status as a separate trading territory.”

Another red flag would be the enactment of sedition, subversion andnational security laws, as mandated by Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, Sang said.

Meanwhile, a national law passed by Beijing in September 2017“criminalizes any action mocking the Chinese national anthem and requires persons attending public events to stand at attention and sing the anthem in a solemn manner during its rendition,” the State Department report said, adding that Hong Kong will soon legislate to make the law apply in its own jurisdiction.

It also pointed to the effective expulsion from Hong Kong, the first since the handover, of Financial Times Asia news editor Victor Mallet, after he hosted at event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club featuring HKNP founder Andy Chan as the speaker.

The move came as the Hong Kong Journalists Association warned ofincreasing self-censorship among local journalists, often among mediaoutlets with business interests in mainland China.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Alvin Yeung, who also heads Hong Kong’s CivicParty, said he shares concerns over Hong Kong’s reputation.

“Our most important competitor, Singapore, has free trade agreements with pretty much the rest of the world, and Hong Kong is lagging behind,” Yeung said.

Also Read: North Korean Authorities Ramping Up The Levels of Strictness at Weekly Self-Criticism Sessions

“Our international image is probably that Hong Kong wouldn’t be capable of such a thing,” he said. “Other countries might not be interested in pursuing free trade agreements with Hong Kong, because there are no benefits to doing so.”

But pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung said Hong Kong remains a free society.

“We have a very high level of human rights protection,” Leung said. “I hope they aren’t going to suppress our economic freedom under the guise of human rights.” (RFA)