May 16, 2023:
North Korea ordered guards at train depots used by freight trains from China to shoot on sight any trespassers found in the train yard. This shoot-on-sight policy is intended to prevent new strains of covid19 from getting into North Korea as well as stop North Koreans from seeking to get into China by hiding in an empty freight car headed back to China. North Korea borders have had shoot-on-sight orders since 2020 for anyone trespassing within two kilometers of the Chinese border. The 2020 order was meant to keep those in China with covid19 from getting into North Korea. Most of the illegal border traffic is North Koreans seeking to escape but some are smugglers that go both ways.
Growing severe poverty in North Korea has led to a sharp decline in the birth rate over the last few years, with more incidences of young children being abandoned and fewer couples planning to start families. Since about 2006 the North Korean annual birth rate has fallen below 2.1 (children per woman, on average) and the decline visibly accelerated in the last year. Both Koreas are now faced with declining birth rates and the inability to reverse the problem. South Korea had this problem first, but for different reasons. In the north the birth rate fell below the replacement rate once before, in the 1990s when the end of Soviet subsidies after 1991 triggered years of unprecedented famine, starvation deaths and economic decline. The birth rate recovered in the late 1990s but that lasted for less than a decade. As a result, both Koreas now suffer shrinking populations because births have been below replacement rate for over a decade. In the north the decline increased because of extreme poverty. The situation is much worse in South Korea where, by 2020, it has the lowest birth rate, .84 per woman, in the world and has held that dubious achievement for over a decade. This is because of growing affluence over the last half century and women having more career options. South Korea is now one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. South Korea’s population stopped growing in the 2020s, after reaching about 52 million. This is about twice the population of the north. The North Korean birth rate is 1.82 and falling. North Korea has not reduced the size of its military because of the shortage of new recruits. Instead, they have extended the time conscripts serve to as many as 12 years. This made military service even more unpopular. Morale and readiness have suffered. To maintain population levels, you need a birth rate of at least 2.1.
North Korea has had more success in raising cash for essential imports to support the nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. A primary source of cash is North Korean hackers who specialize in stealing cryptocurrency. In the last five years North Korean hackers have made off with about $2.3 billion worth of crypto. The largest (about 30 percent) source was Japan, which is close and much disliked by North and South Koreans. Internet-based crime has long been supported by the North Korean government as a way to raise cash and steal useful information.
May 16, 2023: North Korea ordered guards at train depots used by freight trains from China to shoot on sight any trespassers found in the train yard. This shoot-on-sight policy is intended to prevent the new strains of covid19 from getting into North Korea as well as North Koreans seeking to get into China by hiding in an empty freight car headed back to China. North Korea borders have had shoot-on-sight orders since 2020 for anyone trespassing within two kilometers of the Chinese border. The 2020 order was meant to keep those in China with covid19 from getting into North Korea. Most of the illegal border traffic is North Koreans seeking to escape but some are smugglers that go both ways.
In South Korea, the new jet fighter, the KF-21, has passed two years of trials and evaluations and is now cleared for mass production. Also called Borame (“Fighting Hawk ''), it is supposed to enter service by 2026. Developing the KF-21 cost at least $8 billion. The South Korean air force wants to buy 120 of them. The first 40 will be Block 1 while the other 80 will be Block 2. KF-21 is the first jet fighter developed by South Korea and was created to replace the elderly American F-4 and F-5 fighters South Korea still has in service.
May 11, 2023: South Korea conducted another successful test of its new KTSSM (Korean Tactical Surface-to-Surface Missile). This is a solid fuel 400mm diameter ballistic missile with a range of 180 kilometers. It is launched from a sealed canister that is one of four in a pod that is replaced by a full pod when empty. It is similar in operation to the American GMLRS used from a HIMARS vehicle. These missiles are for quickly destroying North Korea artillery and missile launchers based near the DMZ, especially those aimed at South Korea’s largest city Seoul. KTSSM is already in production and will eventually be joined by a larger KTSSM-2 with a range of 300 kilometers. North Korea has no defense against these missiles while South Korea has some ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) systems in addition to air-launched missiles for attacking North Korean targets near the DMZ. South Korea also has longer range missiles that can reach any target in North Korea. Since the 1990s South Korea has developed and built a large variety of ground, air and naval systems to deal with any North Korean threat and massively retaliate. Other North Korean attacks, including another invasion, were a growing threat since the 1960s but the South Korean economy and arms industries have become much larger than anything North Korea can produce. South Korea continues to visibly prosper, with GDP per capita that is more than 20 times larger than North Korea. South Korea is one of the top ten arms exporters and its GDP per capita is the 12th largest worldwide and 4th largest in Asia. Being caught viewing videos of life in South Korea or South Korean video entertainment, is now a capital (death penalty) offense in North Korea.
May 10, 2023: South Korea suffered another outbreak of hoof and mouth disease, the first since 2019. Back then the disease first showed up in North Korea. This one came in via China, which, like South Korea, can afford to cope with these outbreaks. North Korea cannot, especially not just now. Worse, the first cases, which were near the Chinese border, where the virus can get across the rural border areas because it is airborne. Farmers tried to hide the flu by insisting that the cattle deaths were from malnutrition. This early misdiagnosis led to the rapid spread of hoof and mouth. Most (about 80 percent) of North Korean farmers use cattle for plowing and, very rarely as a source of milk and meat (which fetches a high price on the markets) but cattle that die from hoof and mouth must be buried or burned for the dead animal harbors the virus. Killing cattle without government permission is a capital crime in North Korea thus an uncontrolled hoof and mouth outbreak is a potential disaster. Outbreaks of these farm animal diseases are common throughout the region but North Korea suffers the most because they lack the resources to quickly contain the diseases. All their neighbors can deal with the problem and control their losses. North Korea cannot afford the losses and these diseases are more a disaster than just a nuisance in neighboring nations.
May 9, 2023: South Korea and Japan are seeking to link their missile and aircraft detection networks via an American system to provide all three nations with a better and more timely picture of North Korean threats. This has to be via an American intermediary because South Korea and Japan have a difficult time cooperating directly. South Korea and Japan have many reasons to be allies, but have a difficult time making formal agreements to cooperate against North Korean or Chinese aggression. When pressed on this, South Korea points out that because of the widespread antipathy towards Japan for past events, the Japanese must do something dramatic to improve their popularity in South Korea. There have been many efforts to deal with this problem and none have done enough.
South Korean anger towards Japan can be traced back to when Korea was a brutally treated Japanese possession from 1910 to 1945. The four decades of Japanese occupation were very cruel. Think how bad the Nazi occupation of conquered countries was during World War II and realize that the Japanese occupation of Korea was much worse and lasted much longer. The Japanese don’t help with their post-World War II attitude that Japan was a victim because it was forced into World War II by evil Westerners and was only trying to help its neighbors by occupying them and treating them badly. Japanese have a hard time understanding how their victims don’t appreciate all that Japan tried to do for them. What the foreigners do remember is what the Japanese did to them, something the Japanese tend to downplay or deny outright.
It’s popular in Japan to believe that when they defeated Russia, after a brief war in 1905, they should have been accorded more respect by the West. The Japanese seemed to overlook the fact that most European countries had defeated Russia at one time or another. Even Sweden had done so, and later on even tiny Finland would as well. The problem here was that everyone but Japan saw Japan as a major bad guy during World War II.
As a result of the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese War Japan got control over Korea in 1910, along with some German colonies a decade later for joining the allies during World War I. Japan expected more for its World War I support and these resentments led to increased aggression against China and, eventually, to attacking the United States and European possessions in East Asia in 1941. The United States liberated what is now South Korea while the Russians did the same in North Korea.
Officially, South Korea suggests that Japan cede to South Korea claims on Dokdo Island in order to improve relations. South Korea has long been willing to sacrifice good relations with Japan over the issue of who owns the uninhabited Dokdo (Takeshima to the Japanese) islands in the Sea of Japan (East Sea in Korean). Both countries have been sending more air naval reconnaissance missions to the islands, and the mass media in both countries have been encouraging, not trying to reduce the tensions. Japanese politicians would take an enormous domestic political hit if they managed to get the votes to give South Korea Dokdo. But it would make Japan popular enough in South Korea to get the long-desired (by defense officials in both countries) cooperation treaty. Australia, like the United States and other Western nations, get along with both Japan and South Korea. That means South Korea and Japan both oppose Russian, Chinese and North Korean threats but do so separately. Mass media and politicians in South Korea and Japan see this feud as an asset rather than a problem that must be solved at all costs. This is a unique situation and one, so far, that resists all efforts to resolve. There have been efforts by the Japanese to deal with these disputes. For example, Japan is trying to resume negotiations with South Korea. The Japanese prime minister is making a two-day visit to South Korea for peace talks. This will include a visit to a cemetery where some of the World War II Korean forced laborers are buried along with South Korea soldiers and some of the South Korea resistance fighters who fought the Japanese during World War II. The Japanese are seeking to revive diplomatic discussions over these issues that were suspended 12 years ago.
May 8, 2023: South Korea recently discovered, via satellite photos, that North Korea had illegally resumed production at ten South Korean owned factories at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. This complex is just north of the DMZ and opened in 2004. Over a hundred South Korean companies set up shop and employed more than 50,000 North Koreans. The complex was used as a place for South Korean firms to establish factories, using cheaper North Korean workers. The South Korean employers had to pass all worker compensation through the North Korean government and were forbidden to pay workers directly. The North Korean government wanted nothing to do with capitalist practices like better pay for superior performance. The South Koreans found ways to secretly give workers bonuses.. This did not last and the Kaesong complex was closed in early 2016, another casualty of North Korean nuclear and missile tests. Many of the South Korean plants were well equipped and North Korea insisted all that be left behind when the southerners were ordered out. Now North Korea has resumed production in 21 buildings in the complex. These belong to ten South Korean firms and there appears to be no way to halt the North Korean appropriation of South Korean assets.
May 7, 2023: In South Korea a man who escaped from North Korea admitted that he had recently released twenty helium balloons carrying vitamin and painkiller pills and some anti-Kim Jong Un material. This sort of activity has been outlawed in South Korea since 2018 in an effort to reduce tensions between the two Koreas. South Koreans, often North Koreans who escaped and made it to South Korea, often organize demonstrations on their side of the DMZ and still release helium balloons carrying messages of support for North Koreans along with USB or MicroSD devices crammed with recent South Korean entertainment and news video. MicroSD cards are cheap (a few dollars for a Chinese or South Korean card that carries at least 32 gigabytes of data). Normally these tiny cards are used for smuggling South Korean movies and TV shows. Possessing one of these balloons, and their cargo in North Korea is considered treason. For the average North Korean, finding one of these balloons is considered a lifesaver. There are illegal brokers and distributors of South Korean media who will pay the equivalent of a year’s income to anyone who has found one of these balloons carrying new videos. The distribution groups will duplicate the new videos on USBs or MicroSDs and sell these for up to $12 each or an equivalent amount in Chinese or North Korean currency. Execution is normally reserved for traitors but now treason includes distributors of South Korean movies who will not identify those they work with. Such stubbornness must be discouraged at all costs.
May 6, 2023: South Korea and the United States announced that the two countries would conduct extensive joint live fire exercises between May 25 and June 15th at the South Korean Seungjin live fire training area in Gyeonggi Province. Both nations will demonstrate their latest weapons and munitions. Since 1977 there have been eleven similar, but more modest live fire exercises.
Since the 1990s South Korea has developed a major arms industry to supply South Korean forces as well as for export. That has made South Korea one of the top ten arms exporters in the world. In the last year South Korean firms have received over $10 billion in orders from NATO nations for weapons and munitions. Many of the new South Korean weapons and munitions compete with similar American products. South Korea is also producing military helicopters and jet aircraft. The Seungjin live fire exercises will also commemorate the 70th anniversary of the South Korea-U.S. military alliance as well as the 75th anniversary of the South Korean military. This force has grown from a poorly trained and equipped auxiliary to the American force to a major military presence in East Asia. Combined with American and Japanese forces, this coalition is a major obstacle to Chinese aggression. The Chinese don’t like to be reminded of this and North Korea calls it a threat, not a defense against a long planned North Korean attack. As the South Koreans have grown stronger, North Korea's military and economic power has declined.
May 4, 2023: North Korea confirmed that. so far in 2023, they have been suffering their worst drought in many years. This means many food crops could not be planted and that food shortages will be worse this year.
May 2, 2023: The media watchdog “Reporters Without Borders” (RSF) has placed North Korea at the bottom of its World Press Freedom Index for the second year in a row. The country ranks 180th, below China (179th), Vietnam (178th), Iran (177th) and Turkmenistan (176th).
April 26, 2023: Russian reserves of 152mm artillery munitions are exhausted and production facilities in Russia are unable to supply a significant number of additional shells. Russia received 300,000 shells from Iran and a similar amount from North Korea. South Korea maintains a large stockpile of 155mm shells and that has persuaded North Korea to limit the number of shells they send Russia. NATO nations have provided Ukraine with over a million 155mm shells and a smaller quantity of 152mm shells. NATO nations have more production capabilities for artillery shells but not enough to keep the Ukrainians supplied with what they need. This means that both Ukrainian and Russian forces have less artillery ammunition than they need. This favors the Ukrainians, who's attacking forces will face less artillery fire while they are advancing and out in the open.
April 23, 2023: The United States announced rewards of $5 million for information leading to the arrest of North Korean Sim Hyon-Sop and $500,000 each for Chinese citizens Han Linlin and Qin Gouming. These three men were responsible for converting stolen bitcoin to cash. North Korea hackers have been increasingly successful at hacking bitcoin operations and obtaining large quantities of this form of money. The North Koreans need assistance, usually from Chinese brokers, to convert it into cash. Most of the money is used to support the North Korea nuclear and ballistic missile programs and the extensive smuggling network that gets the equipment purchased into North Korea.
April 20, 2023: Chinese exports to North Korea rose sharply in the last few months. In January and February exports were 161 percent higher than a year ago and 142 percent in March.
April 10, 2023: South Korea is once more having problems with Islamic terrorists, not with attacks inside South Korea, but with Moslem foreigners providing financial support for active Islamic terror groups outside of South Korea. All foreigners entering South Korea are informed about this rule and other similar regulations. So far this year two Central Asian Moslems (from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan) were arrested for sending about $9.000 worth of cryptocurrency to KTJ (Katibat Tavhid wal-Jihad), an Islamic terrorist group in Syria. Central Asians belonging to KTJ. This all began several years ago when some Central Asian KTJ members left Syria because of numerous defeats, but they were then arrested in Turkey and deported. Few countries would take them but South Korea would and even Central Asian Islamic terrorists know that South Korea is a popular country for Uzbeks looking for work in a foreign country. South Korea has a major labor shortage and to deal with it has brought in 1.3 million foreign workers. Less than ten percent are Moslems and most of those are from Uzbekistan. South Korea will accept former Uzbek Islamic terrorists as foreign workers as long as they agree to severing all their ties with Islamic terrorism. Most such men honor their promise, but a few don’t or at least try to pass off their financial assistance to KTJ as not terror related. Some KTJ members in South Korea were expelled for persuading other Uzbeks to join the cause of supporting Islamic terrorism. More South Koreans are calling for a ban on Moslem foreign workers. That worked in Japan and South Koreans see no reason why this policy would not work in South Korea.
For about twenty years Islamic terrorists have been a problem in South Korea. Between 2003 and 2008 South Korea arrested 74 foreigners as terrorism suspects. This was the result of 19 separate investigations. Most of the suspects were Moslems from South Asia or Southeast Asia. Most were involved in collecting information on American military forces in South Korea, or planning terror attacks against non-Koreans. Some Arabs have been caught involved in criminal activities that were apparently to provide funds for terrorists. Most of the suspects were expelled and returned to their home countries, along with files on what the South Korea police had found. These men were usually arrested when they arrived in their home countries, and some of them were already known by counter-terrorism officials there.
South Korea was long believed to be free of Islamic terrorist activities. After 2003 that was no longer the case and South Korea intelligence and police agencies continue to monitor any Islamic terrorist activity in South Korea.
April 7, 2023: Recent North Korean military exercises, monitored by South Korea and the United States, included a new North Korean AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) that North Korea later revealed could be used with a nuclear or conventional warhead. Called “Haeil” (tsunami), this was the first open sea test of the system. North Korea described the new AUV as designed to make sneak attacks against enemy ports or ships at sea. Haeil will purportedly be towed by a surface ship to the location it will be launched from or launched from a North Korean port. If a nuclear warhead is used, it is purportedly supposed to produce a radioactive tidal wave in enemy ports or destroy ships at sea with a large radioactive shock wave. There are no pictures of Haeil although one recent photo showed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un standing next to a large torpedo shaped object. Haeil is similar in function to the new Russian Poseidon torpedo, which is armed with a large nuclear weapon and launched from a modified nuclear submarine. This sub can carry four to eight Poseidons, attached to the outside of the sub. Russia claims Poseidon is armed with a new two-megaton nuclear warhead that detonates underwater, creating a tidal wave of radioactive water that hits enemy ports. Poseidon can travel several thousand kilometers underwater, using a nuclear propulsion system. Russia considers Poseidon a terror weapon and it is unclear if any are available with the new nuclear warhead. Poseidon had not been tested with a conventional warhead to see if it works. For the Russians, the possible existence of such a weapon generates a lot of terror, even if it has not been tested.
The new North Korean Haeil AUV was tested. During the exercises the new AUV operated for nearly 60 hours at depths of 80 to 150 meters (260-500 feet) before detonating its explosive warhead. North Korea already uses silos, railroad cars, submarines and large truck mounted launchers to deliver its nuclear weapons. Now there is an AUV. It is uncertain how accurate and reliable the AUV is and the North Koreans would not discuss any possible problems. The AUV requires an accurate and reliable INS (Inertial Navigation System) to work effectively. North Korea is not known to have used such technology in ships before and it is unclear if they have an effective INS system. North Korea is probably still working on the INS system, a technology they have little experience with.
April 4, 2023: In North Korea (Yangyang province) another border guard deserted because of hunger.
April 1, 2023: North Korea has sent hundreds of workers to areas throughout Russia where there is a labor shortage caused by the Ukraine War.
March 30, 2023: Poland ordered a thousand South Korea K2 tanks, most of which will be produced in Poland under license. The 55-ton K2 is similar to the American M1 but without annoying American export controls. K2 has a 120mm gun that can also fire guided missiles as well as extensive electronic systems and an autoloader. That means the crew size is three.
Poland is rapidly replacing its older tanks, giving most of them to Ukraine. Before the Russian invasion Poland had 233 German Leopard 2s. These were acquired between 2002 and 2015. Poland also had 230 locally manufactured PT-91s. This is a major upgrade of the T-72 but is still not the equal of Western designs (M1, Leopard 2, Challenger 2 and Leclerc). Ukraine is slowly receiving small numbers of M1s, Leopard 2s and Challenger 2s. Because of that, the PT-91s are welcome. Ukrainian tank and maintenance crews don’t require much additional training to use the PT-91.
South Korean troops began receiving the K2 in 2014 and currently have 250 of them. Ten were sent to Poland in late 2021 for evaluation. The Poles were impressed and, after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Poland increased its order from 180 to a thousand, with 180 still built in South Korea and the rest in Poland. By the end of the decade Poland will have the largest tank force of any European NATO member and superior in quality, if not quantity, than the Russians.
The K-2 replaced older American M-48 tanks, and completed the transformation of the South Korean tank force. Three decades ago, South Korea developed, and built, its own K-1 tank using assistance and licensed tech from the United States. The 51 ton K1 is based on the American M1 design, but is somewhat smaller and equipped with the same 105mm gun used by the U.S. M60 tank. The K1 has a 1,200 horsepower diesel, instead of a 1,500 horsepower gas turbine engine in the M1. Production of the K1 ended in 1997, with about a thousand built. There have since been some upgrades to the fire control and communications systems, as well as the development of the K1A1, which has the same 120mm gun as the M1, along with other equipment used by the M1, but not the K1. The K1A1 is apparently part of the K2 development project, as only two K1A1 prototypes were built, and successfully tested.
The new K2 does not use any American tech and that means South Korea can freely export the K2 to anyone. The K2 has an improved 120mm gun, capable of firing an anti-tank missile, as well as the usual gun munitions. The K2 weighs 55 tons and outclasses anything North Korea, Japan or China has. The K1 outclassed North Korean tanks but the K2 is better protected and more capable. The K2 has a number of new electronic defenses. It will have a laser detector that will instantly tell the crew the direction the enemy laser beam is coming from. Most tanks use a laser rangefinder before it fires its main gun. The K2 fire control system also enables the main gun (120mm) to be used to hit low flying aircraft (helicopters, mostly). There are also numerous improvements to the K1 mechanical and electronic systems, as well as more armor (both composite and ERA). This will make the K2 easier to use and maintain. An autoloader reduces the crew to three men.