Korea: China Gets A Reality Check


February 7, 2023: A month ago South Korea announced that it is considering developing nuclear weapons to deter the growing North Korean threat to use their nukes to attack South Korea. Chins was critical of the South Korean announcement. South Korea responded by pointing out that China keeps exporting components for missiles and other weapons to North Korea and has criticized South Korean and Japanese anti-missile defenses against North Korean attacks without admitting it opposes those defenses because they can stop Chinese missiles as well. Japan is also capable of developing and building nuclear weapons but has refrained from doing so because the perceived threats did not justify it. Increased North Korean threats have changed that.

This time Chinese leaders accepted that South Korea’s criticism is valid, and that the real problem is North Korea and its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. China has noted that the North Korea nuclear and missile threat was the primary reason that so many nations in the region increased military spending and anti-missile defenses. These nations also formed an anti-North Korea coalition that also served as an anti-China force. China can put some serious pressure on North Korea because of the crucial food and fuel supplies China provides to North Korea as well as allowing North Korea hackers to use China as a base so the hackers will have enough Internet access. Without all this Chinese support, the current food, fuel and cash problems in North Korea become a lethal crisis for North Korea’s current leadership class. China is also letting it be known that China could activate its pro-China officials in North Korea and send in Chinese troops to “assist” a coup that would create a new North Korean government more useful to China and most North Koreans, as well as less threatening to so many other nations.

February 4, 2023: For over a week North Korea has experienced record cold weather with temperatures as much as 30 degrees below freezing. Many rural North Koreans came down with frostbite when they went outside to perform essential duties like collecting firewood. Normally they would have coal for heating but coal is in short supply because most of it is exported to China. What little coal is available for civilians is very expensive and often not available at all. People who cannot obtain coal are told by the government to be self-sufficient. That means spending a lot of time outdoors seeking enough firewood to heat their homes.

February 2, 2023: In North Korea the government is more frequently resorting to increasingly outrageous scams to dollars. The latest scheme, mandating that all commercial ships, including state-owned ones, pay $1,500 or $3,000 for a locally made “cash sterilizer” to eliminate traces of covid19 on paper currency to slow the transmission of covid19. Early on in the epidemic it was shown that there was little or no risk of catching covid from paper cash or even coins and credit cards. North Korean shop clerks know this, although some wear rubber gloves at work to increase protection from catching covid from customers. The shop operators see the mandatory cash sterilizers as another tax on everyone because many shops have to raise prices to pay for the very expensive sterilizers. The cash sterilizer scam is even more outrageous when you realize that the major source of hard currently in 2022 was a large increase in cryptocurrency thefts by North Korea hacking groups. While these hackers obtained $400 million dollars in 2021, they grabbed $1.7 billion in 2022. No matter, the government needs all the hard currency it can get and quantities obtained by hacking varies depending on external factors the government cannot control. As a result the government is constantly seek new ways to obtain hard currency to pay for vital imports to keep key North Korean personnel military and government (officials as well as key scientists and engineers) happy and pay for leader Kim Jong Un’s luxurious lifestyle.

February 1, 2023: While North Korea has recruited workers to work in Russian occupied portions of Ukraine, there has been a delay as North Korea assembled a force of soldiers and police to accompany the works. This has been done and the North Korean personnel will arrive in Russian occupied Ukraine in about a month. The addition of the North Koreans going to Russia was apparently because Russia is losing the war and it was feared that the North Korean workers would be captured by Ukrainian forces and ask for asylum. The additional military and police personnel will reduce this risk. North Korea has long provided workers to Russia, where they are better fed and housed than in North Korea and paid well. The North Korean government keeps most of the wages but enough is passed on to worker’s families to make foreign work tolerable to families. The several thousand workers needed for service in Ukraine and Western Russia were to work on two-year contracts and be able to keep more of their pay for their families. Even with the better pay, the longer contracts and work in a combat zone discouraged a lot of North Koreans from applying for these jobs. Usually, the government can be selective in selecting men for work in Russia. With these new contracts the government had to accept men who normally would not be considered because they were single and seen as less politically reliable. Those rules have been waived and the first contingent, selected in early November, and two more groups were being processed but none were sent to Russia until the North Korean security personnel could be added. This is insurance against the deteriorating Russian situation in Ukraine getting a lot worse along with the growing unemployment in Russia because of sanctions.

. January 31, 2023: The United States supplied most of the munitions Ukraine needed and now has to replace its war reserves stockpiled for a major war. While European NATO nations don’t have to worry about their major threat, Russia, while they rebuild their war reserves, or don’t, the Americans have to plan for potential conflicts elsewhere, like China, North Korea and Iran. The Americans can still do so because supporting Ukraine does not degrade American naval or air power. A war with China would not become more difficult because of American military aid to Ukraine. The same is true for potential conflicts with China, North Korea or Iran as both of them have plenty of powerful local near-peer opponents who would be American allies in such conflicts, i.e., South Korea, Japan, the Arab gulf states and Israel, who can deal with China, Iran or North Korea given American and naval support. American ground forces are also available for a Pacific campaign, but cannot use artillery munitions as heavily as they would prefer.

January 29, 2023: The American government confirmed that North Korea had shipped ammunition (mostly 152mm shells) and missiles (actually unguided rockets) to Russia by rail several times in late 2022. Satellite photos were provided showing trainloads of this material crossing into Russia and later showing up on the Trans-Siberian line headed for Russian forces in Ukraine. Officially, North Korea denies sending any weapons or munitions to Russia. North Korea received several large shipments of food and fuel from Russia to pay for the munitions.

January 25, 2023: In North Korea, border security forces that concentrate on halting the use of Chinese cell phones near the border have been using cell phone jammers and detectors to reduce this illegal activity. They recently came up with a new tactic. They reduced the use of jammers along one portion of the border and waited until many cell phone users discovered the area and arrived to use their cell phones. Many were arrested before word spread that such areas are a trap.

January 21, 2023: The recent increase in covid19 infections in North Korea was made worse by state-run pharmacies selling a lot of useless remedies for covid19. Similar medications are given to people hospitalized for covid19 and the resulting increase in deaths led to the exposure of the fake remedies.

January 18, 2023: The United States and Israel confirmed that 300,000 rounds of 155mm munitions had been quietly shipped to Ukraine. Those shells are part of a munitions reserve the Americans maintain in Israel for the use of American or Israeli forces in an emergency. This reserve is owned and controlled by the United States and to be used when Israel asks for help and the Americans agree to supply it. The United States has similar pre-positioned stockpiles in South Korea, Kuwait and Europe. Sending the contents of this stockpile to Ukraine is not unexpected and the stockpile will be replaced over time. The stockpiles in South Korea and Kuwait are untouched while the one in Europe may have been emptied of munitions.

January 9, 2023: The Turkish Army has begun taking delivery of the domestically manufactured Firtina (Storm) 155mm self-propelled howitzer. The T-155 Firtina is a Turkish variant of the South Korean K-9 self-propelled howitzer. Turkey has obtained much similar tech from South Korea when fellow NATO nations refused to do so because of Turkish bad behavior.

January 8, 2023: South Korea is upgrading its 59 F-15K “Slam Eagle'' fighter-bombers. This upgrade is expensive, costing $2.73 billion ($45 million per aircraft) and will not be completed until 2034. South Korea has noted the success other nations have had upgrading their local versions of the F-15E model which the U.S. created in the late 1980s as a two-seat fighter bomber. Most F-15Es are over 35 years old while export customers are still receiving new aircraft. The South Korean F-15 K's are 10-15 years old. The F-15K can carry 13 tons of weapons, including highly accurate SLAM-ER cruise missiles and guided penetrating bombs to go after North Korea bunkers. South Korea is also buying more aerial tankers to keep the F-15Ks in the air longer while waiting for targets to be found. South Korea also has 167 F-16C fighters that are being upgraded to F-16V standards. South Korea has 50 F-35 stealth fighters in service with more on the way. A growing number of South Korean warplanes are designed and built in South Korea. Currently this includes 60 FA-50 jet trainers equipped as light bombers. A new jet fighter, the KF-21 is on the way, also called Borame (“Fighting Hawk ''), which is 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. South Korea has already developed world-class armored vehicles, warships and support aircraft, including helicopters and become a major arms exporter. Neighboring countries, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Australia are also developing manufacturing capabilities for combat vehicles, ships and aircraft. Japan was the first country in the region to develop the capability to build modern weapons but, until recently, the Japanese post-World War II constitution banned export of weapons. That was recently changed and now Japan can build for export. Japan has to catch-up with South Korea, which always produced these new weapons with the intention of competing in export markets.

January 7, 2023: Since invading Ukraine nearly a year ago, Russia’s only arms imports come from North Korea (artillery ammo) and Iran (nearly 2,000 cheap Shahed 131/136 cruise missiles). Payment is by barter. North Korea gets badly needed food and oil supplies while Iran receives modern jet fighters and other military tech. Russia depends a lot on its Iranian cruise missiles and North Korea artillery ammo to keep the fighting going. North Korea was able to draw on its stockpiled 152mm ammunition and increased production. This is all that prevents Russian forces from being overwhelmed by superior numbers of Ukrainian 152mm and (NATO supplied) 155mm shells. China has avoided any trade with Russia because of all the sanctions but has quietly increased its trade with North Korea and Iran. China does not give things away but is willing to sell to anyone who can pay. Iran has oil and North Korea has coal and minerals plus whatever its hackers can steal. China allows these hackers to work from China as long as they pay their own way and do not hack Chinese. The North Korean hackers have become quite good at stealing cryptocurrency, which China or Russia will accept as payment.

January 3, 2023: There is another outbreak of covid19 in North Korea and the government shortened the hours markets could operate in an effort to limit the spread of the disease. This made it difficult for many people to obtain needed goods. The growing shortages in North Korea have resulted in more homeless people. This is visible on the streets and in railroad stations which usually have some heat, or at least provide some protection from the weather. Homeless orphaned children are particularly embarrassing and the government tries to round them up and send them to special orphanages but the avoid the roundups because they believe life is worse in the orphanages. There was an even more disturbing case of a soldier belonging to the special security force that guarded the many residences leader Kim Jong Un used. The soldier got rid of his weapon and uniform and tried to survive as a homeless beggar. When captured the soldier wanted to get more sleep, which was not possible as a member of the Kim Jong Un security force. His discarded weapons and ammunition still have not been found.

December 26, 2022: North Korean troops carrying out military exercises near the South Korean border were provided with a dozen fixed-wing UAVs to send into South Korea to test the South Korean ability to detect and destroy these UAVS. The UAVs were programmed to enter South Korean territory and then return to North Korea. Only five were detected and destroyed. Earlier in the month a North Korean officer was executed for not properly maintaining the UAVs he was in charge of. The UAVs proved to be inoperable because of defective components,

December 24, 2022: In North Korea many army units did not receive all the food they normally get during the winter and had to reduce cold weather training for the malnourished troops. Food shortages in North Korea are not supposed to extend to army units but it is happening anyway. This lowers troops morale and the ability of soldiers to operate out in the cold weather. Troops are not receiving enough fuel to heat their barracks and buildings used for classroom training. Some senior commanders ordered troops to train outdoors anyway and not complain about the fuel and food shortages. These food and fuel shortages have been a growing national problem for several years and now even the military is subject to the shortages. This is particularly true with troops guarding the Chinese borders, who now more often accept bribes from civilians seeking to cross the border into China. North Korea uses a special security force to seek out and arrest soldiers and civilians involved in assisting people to cross the border. This has not stopped people from getting into China, despite the risks of being caught and arrested in North Korea.

December 22, 2022: North Korea had declared 2022 the year of economic reform and more food. As in the past, there was no reform and less food. What happened in 2021 made it clear what must be done if the Kim dynasty wished to remain in power. Some things have not changed. In 2019 North Korea admitted the obvious; it never had any intention of surrendering its nuclear weapons. The reality was that North Korea was attempting its traditional negotiating tactic of offering to behave, but wanted some economic aid first as a show of good faith. That tactic no longer works and now North Korea is back to making threats. Despite the 2022 strategy, nukes and military threats remain. North Korea continues falling apart economically and politically and that has led North Koreans to do the unthinkable, which includes openly criticizing the government, putting anti-government graffiti in public places and even attacking corrupt government officials, including police. North Korea is bankrupt and not getting better. Covid19 made matters much worse because North Korea was totally unprepared to handle it and responded by shutting its borders and restricting movement within North Korea. This crippled an already weak economy and efforts to deal with the threat of another mass fatality famine. Even the security forces were getting less food and the emergency military food reserve has been used up. Inside North Korea the official word is that the nuclear weapons are essential and not negotiable. Unofficially, more North Koreans want a change of government or a way to get out. Meanwhile South Korea continues to visibly prosper, with GDP per capita that is more than 20 times larger than North Korea. Being caught viewing videos of life in South Korea or South Korean video entertainment, is now a capital (death penalty) offense in North Korea.




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