Informal Institute for National Security Thinkers and Practitioners

Quotes of the Day:

"If we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will not be Mason and Dixon’s, but between patriotism and intelligence on the one side, and superstition, ambition, and ignorance on the other."
- U.S. Grant

"Where success is concerned, people are not measured in inches, or pounds, or college degrees, or family back-ground; they are measured by the size of their thinking." 
- David Schwartz

“I have given before . . . the definition of happiness of the Greeks, and I will define it again: It is full use of your powers along lines of excellence.” 
-John F. Kennedy

1. [Newsmaker] Kim Jong-un’s prolonged absence from public stokes speculation
2. Vice foreign minister due in Washington to meet U.S., Japanese counterparts
3. Rival candidates show clear differences in diplomacy
4. Samsung chief visits US after complying with Washington request
5. [Lee Kyong-hee] ’Squid Game’: A binge-watcher’s view
6. You Can’t Understand Squid Game Without Understanding the Korean Concept Driving It
7. “We Will Stand With North Koreans Until The Human Rights Situation Improves”
8. 2 S Koreans arrested in Japan last year were part of N Korea cash operation: sources
9. Criticism mounting over military promo video (South Korea)
10. Sandworms of 'Dune' and ownership of culture

1. [Newsmaker] Kim Jong-un’s prolonged absence from public stokes speculation

Speculation continues. At least the headline recognizes that. 

What will we do when we learn that Kim Jong-un is actually dead? (Though i do not think that is the case yet but we must be thinking through that contingency now).

[Newsmaker] Kim Jong-un’s prolonged absence from public stokes speculation · by Ahn Sung-mi · November 14, 2021
[Newsmaker] Kim Jong-un’s prolonged absence from public stokes speculation
Published : Nov 14, 2021 - 14:42
Updated : Nov 14, 2021 - 17:20
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a speech during a visit to a defense development exhibition, Self-Defence-2021, in Pyongyang last month. (KCNA-Yonhap)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been missing from public view for more than a month, fueling speculation over his whereabouts, as it marks his longest absence since 2014.

The last time Kim appeared in a public setting was on Oct. 11 when he delivered a speech at a rare defense exhibition in Pyongyang that showcased the country’s new weaponry, according to state media.

Since then there have been reports of him sending letters to foreign leaders and his people, but he has not been seen at any official events. Recent satellite imagery showed increased activity at his seaside resort in Wonsan, the country’s east coast, and another mansion near the capital, suggesting he may have stayed at these sites during his current hiatus, online site NK News reported.

Since taking power in 2011, Kim had stayed out of the limelight from time to time, with past extended breaks often leading to a series of speculation about his health.

The longest absence was in 2014, when he went missing from the public eye for 40 days, prompting rumors that he was critically ill or even dead. He later reappeared with a cane, which South Korea’s spy agency said was because he had a cyst removed from his ankle.

A public absence of three weeks last year fueled global speculation that he was gravely ill after botched heart surgery, while some reports suggesting he was already dead.

Kim’s disappearances have become more frequent since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. This year alone, he has been gone from public view for two or more weeks on six occasions.

The Seoul government cautioned against reading too much into the leader’s disappearance.

“In the past, there have been many cases when Kim’s public activities have not been reported (in the state media) for a long time, so it is difficult to attribute concrete meaning into this or make an assessment,” Cha Duk-chul, the deputy spokesman of the Unification Ministry said Friday, adding that the ministry would continue to monitor Kim’s activities.

In recent months, Kim’s health has been at the center of fresh speculation due to his noticeable weight loss.

South Korea’s spy agency last month, however, ruled out health problems, saying the leader has recently lost about 20 kilograms, but remains healthy.

Observers say Kim’s long absence is because there hasn’t been a major holiday since the founding anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party on Oct. 10. Kim could possibly appear again to the public on Nov. 29, the new holiday to commemorate the country’s successful 2017 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, or on Dec. 17, the death anniversary of Kim’s father Kim Jong-il.

By Ahn Sung-mi (

2. Vice foreign minister due in Washington to meet U.S., Japanese counterparts
Good. More sustained high level trilateral diplomatic engagement is important.

(LEAD) Vice foreign minister due in Washington to meet U.S., Japanese counterparts | Yonhap News Agency · by 장동우 · November 14, 2021
(ATTN: UPDATES with Choi's other scheduled events in last para)
SEOUL, Nov. 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's vice foreign minister embarked on a trip to Washington on Sunday for talks with his American and Japanese counterparts on North Korea and other pending issues.
Choi Jong-Kun plans to hold a three-way meeting with Wendy Sherman, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, and Japan's Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori in Washington on Tuesday (U.S. time).
The three are expected to discuss latest diplomacy surrounding the North Korean nuclear stalemate and could also potentially discuss the results and details of the U.S.-China online summit scheduled for Monday.
It is to mark the first vice-ministerial meeting of the three countries since July in Japan. The trio has held eight rounds of such meetings since April 2015.
Among other issues expected to be covered are the proposed declaration of a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War and the global supply chain crisis.

Choi is also scheduled to hold separate one-on-one meetings with Sherman and Mori, respectively, in Washington.
On Monday, Choi and Sherman are expected to discuss ways of reopening diplomacy surrounding the Korea Peninsula peace process and ongoing multilateral efforts to restore a 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.
Although South Korea is not part of the landmark accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the allies have maintained communication on the matter, especially with Iranian assets here frozen under fresh U.S. sanctions.
Talks between Choi and Mori will be the start of full-fledged high-level Seoul-Tokyo consultation following the launch of the new Japanese Cabinet under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida last month.
Choi is also scheduled to deliver a keynote address at the Republic of Korea-U.S. Strategic Forum 2021, co-hosted by the Korea Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, on Monday in Washington. He will then travel to Boston on Thursday for a lecture at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is scheduled to return home on Saturday.
(END) · by 장동우 · November 14, 2021

3. Rival candidates show clear differences in diplomacy

Again, we have to be careful about picking sides.

I think the reference to Taft-Katsura in 1905 indicates Candidate Lee's position toward the US despite him going on to say this (probably after the criticism of the reference to Taft-Katsurua and his political advisors recommending he change his tone).


During the meeting with Kritenbrink, Lee said that he believes the South Korea-U.S. alliance should be "elevated and developed reasonably" to become "an economic alliance and global partnership."

Rival candidates show clear differences in diplomacy
The Korea Times · by 2021-11-14 16:29 | Politics · November 14, 2021
Ruling Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung, right, shakes hands with U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff during their meeting at the party's headquarters in Yeouido, Seoul, Friday. Joint Press Corps

Lee stresses pragmatism; Yoon highlights stronger ties with US

By Nam Hyun-woo

The rival presidential candidates of the nation's two major parties have made their first diplomatic moves, dropping hints of their foreign policies concerning the deepening U.S.-China competition and soured Korea-Japan relations.

Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) showcased his idea of developing the current Moon Jae-in administration's balancing act between Washington and Beijing. On the other hand, Yoon Seok-youl of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) showed a stance leaning toward the U.S., stressing the need for Korea to join U.S.-led forums which are believed to be aimed at containing China.

During his meeting with U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff, Friday, Lee said that Korea was annexed by Japan because the U.S. approved it through the Taft-Katsura agreement and, "In the end, it is an undeniable fact that Korea, which was the victim of the war (World War II), was divided, not Japan. And this later became the cause of the Korean War."

The Taft-Katsura agreement is a 1905 pact in which the U.S. condoned Japanese rule over Korea, while Japan acknowledged the U.S. governing over the Philippines.

But Lee also said that South Korea was able emerge from the Korean War to become an economically developed nation due to support from the U.S., adding that "Behind this huge, great castle, there may be some small shadows."

DPK lawmaker Rep. Kim Han-jung, an aide to Lee, later explained that Lee mentioned the agreement because Ossoff is known to have a keen interest in the history between Korea and Japan, but the remark faced criticism from the PPP that Lee's diplomacy will "worsen Korea's diplomatic relations and cause a serious rift in the South Korea-U.S. alliance."

On Friday, Lee also met U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and Chinese Ambassador to Korea Xing Haiming, and demonstrated a balancing act between the two.

During the meeting with Kritenbrink, Lee said that he believes the South Korea-U.S. alliance should be "elevated and developed reasonably" to become "an economic alliance and global partnership."

While meeting with Xing, Lee focused on the two countries' trade partnership, saying that the economic cooperation and reliance that the two countries have on each other will deepen and expand in the future. He added that peace on the Korean Peninsula and the North Korean nuclear program are "complex issues in which everyone has a common interest," and thus, the two countries should cooperate to find rational solutions.

The move is interpreted as Lee maintaining President Moon's diplomatic strategy of seeking closer ties with the U.S. for national security while partnering with China for economic benefits. Lee's camp describes this method as "pragmatic diplomacy," with Lee saying that there is no need for Korea to limit its diplomatic leeway by picking only one side.
Main opposition People Power Party presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl speaks during a press conference hosted by the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul, Friday. Joint Press CorpsOn the other hand, Yoon showed a clearer stance on the U.S.-China competition during his meeting with Ossoff and Kritenbrink, Friday.

"It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of a comprehensive South Korea-U.S. alliance covering security, health, administration, climate response and advanced technologies," Yoon said. "I place importance on a rules-based international order and predictability in diplomacy between countries."

During a press conference hosted by the Seoul Foreign Correspondents' Club, Yoon also said that Korea should continue participating in the climate and technology working groups of the Quad, a U.S.-led quadrilateral strategic network in the Indo-Pacific region that is widely viewed as a response to mainland China's growing influence. In September, Yoon announced his election pledges on foreign affairs and stated that he will pursue Korea's "gradual participation" in the Quad.

The Moon administration has been distancing itself from growing U.S. pressure to join the forum, as part of its balancing act.

Yoon also said that Korea needs cooperation with the Five Eyes, a U.S.-led intelligence alliance which in recent years has also turned towards watching China.

Clash over relations with Tokyo

Regarding Korea's chilly relations with Japan, Yoon criticized the Moon administration for having "jeopardized relations with Tokyo" by "blending domestic politics into relations with Japan."

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been at a low ebb since 2019, when Japan began restricting exports of key industrial materials to Seoul in an apparent retaliation against the South Korean Supreme Court's decision that ordered Japanese companies to provide compensation for surviving South Korean victims of wartime forced labor.

Since then the two countries have been locking horns, with Moon launching a self-sufficiency campaign to localize the production of key industrial materials and reduce the effects of the trade restrictions.

Yoon claimed that Korea should renew its relations with Japan based on the 1998 declaration between then-President Kim Dae-jung and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. In that declaration, the two leaders promised to discuss the future of bilateral relations in order to build a new partnership.

However, Lee criticized Yoon's reference to the 1998 declaration, saying that the latter misunderstood the declaration's cause and consequences.

"Former President Kim did not say that the two countries should overlook their history. Rather, he said that there could be a possibility toward the future when Korea is able to see that Japan has properly recognized the past," Lee said.

"While being unable to demand that Japan apologize for its past wrongdoings, Yoon is referring to former President Kim's achievement just to criticize the Moon government."

The Korea Times · by 2021-11-14 16:29 | Politics · November 14, 2021

4. Samsung chief visits US after complying with Washington request

Samsung chief visits US after complying with Washington request
The Korea Times · November 14, 2021
Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong listens to a reporter's question at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul before his scheduled trip to Canada and the United States, Sunday. Yonhap

By Kim Yoo-chul

Samsung Electronics chief Lee Jae-yong flew to the U.S., Sunday, shortly after partially complying with a data request by the U.S. Department of Commerce to help ease the global semiconductor shortage. Lee will also visit Samsung's research facility in Canada, but spend most of his time in the United States.

The central question is how Lee will respond to the U.S. request for increased semiconductor supply, as Washington officials are anxious to get supply chains moving again. As a result, the U.S. could see an early recovery of its service-driven economy. However, an increased semiconductor supply could drag down Samsung's profits.

The U.S. Department of Commerce is focused on increasing semiconductor production, given the continued lack of products installed with chips, including vehicles and medical equipment. The Samsung chief is set to be briefed over the details of the situation and pressed to explore the best possible ways to work closely with Washington officials to jointly resolve the supply shortage issue, said officials.

Within the context and Washington's sense of urgency to get its manufacturing sector back on normal track, Samsung Electronics is set to finalize its planned $17 billion semiconductor investment plan in the U.S. state of Texas before Lee returns to Korea.

"Samsung's scheduled investment plan in Texas is aimed at ramping up its production of foundry (contract-based) chips. However, because the U.S. government wants to see visible improvement from next year in the semiconductor supply chain, Samsung's soon-to-be-finalized investment plan could include its temporary plans to produce chips vital to the U.S. manufacturing and service industries and an early start of the new factory," a senior executive involved with the matter said by telephone.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo listens as President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Nov. 12. AP-Yonhap

U.S. government officials believe that the shortage is closely related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which directly affected chip production. As a result, Washington wants semiconductor companies to manufacture more chips in the U.S. to make the supply chain more resilient.

Just before his departure to the United States from Seoul's Gimpo International Airport aboard a Korean Air charter flight, Lee did not respond to questions regarding any of his scheduled meetings with U.S. government officials. But he only said he plans to meet "a lot of U.S. partners."

As part of a package that U.S. Joe President Biden is trying to get through Congress to provide billions of dollars in incentives to companies to manufacture semiconductors in the United States, the Samsung chief is expected to check the latest updates in Congress regarding bills affecting Samsung's U.S. business.
On a related note, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said while she does not want to invoke the Defense Production Act ― a Cold War-era national security law to force manufacturers to comply ― she will do so if necessary.

At Gimpo airport, Lee told reporters he will meet Moderna representatives in Boston, Massachusetts, during his stay, but did not elaborate further. The U.S. drug maker recently granted approval for Moderna COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by Samsung Biologics to be used on South Korean citizens, as the country steps up efforts to increase booster shots.

Lee was released from prison earlier this year following the country's justice ministry's parole decision. Cheong Wa Dae said his parole was because of his possible expanded role in addressing vaccine and semiconductor shortage issues. Lee is subject to receive approval from the justice ministry when he wants to travel overseas, because his parole conditions include a five-year restriction on certain business activities.

The Korea Times · November 14, 2021

5. [Lee Kyong-hee] ’Squid Game’: A binge-watcher’s view

For those who have not yet binge watched Squid Games and might want to watch it on this Sunday or perhap over the upcoming holidays.

[Lee Kyong-hee] ’Squid Game’: A binge-watcher’s view · by Korea Herald · November 10, 2021
Published : Nov 11, 2021 - 05:31 Updated : Nov 11, 2021 - 05:31

I finished “Squid Game” in one sitting. The binge-watch was borne out of necessity. Anxious to see why the Korean series was soaring to No. 1 on Netflix’s global list, my overloaded schedule was unrelenting. But then an eight-hour gap cobbled into place.

Honestly, I got trapped, willingly. Past the noisy opening scenes of betting on horse racing, it was easy to remain glued to all nine episodes. Thus, I joined the estimated 142 million households worldwide who watched “Squid Game” within the first four weeks of its Sept. 17 release, contributing to its $900 million valuation.

It was a fantastic experience for me. I spent my teen years infatuated with American movies and pop songs. Now I had a massive hit Korean series on a global platform streaming into my living room TV. It was a marriage of technology and Korea’s dramatic rise in filmmaking.

Back in the 1960s, watching a favorite movie multiple times required a virtual tour of several theaters over many months, or even years. Multiplexes had yet to appear. Of course, Hollywood movies were all the rage. The struggling domestic film industry had little to offer.

Korea has grown into a cultural powerhouse in the ensuing decades. “Squid Game” follows on the heels of a string of huge successes achieved by Korean filmmakers and pop music groups on the global stage. Most notably, it shares its theme with “Parasite,” director Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning satire. Both illuminate the gaping class divide between rich and poor in Korea and many other countries.

“Squid Game” is a dystopian horror fantasy using a series of Korean children’s playground games as the setting of cutthroat competition for a life-changing jackpot. The 456 players are marginalized individuals, deep in debt and desperate. They enter the contest for a chance to reverse their downward spiral. This may be a premise easily relatable to anyone, anywhere.

The surprise is that only one contestant will win any money. Everyone else will die trying to overcome the tiny odds of winning. As the jackpot increases with each death, the impoverished must fight each other to finish each game while machine guns mow down the laggards. The eye-catching visuals and disturbing study of human nature aside, the wanton bloodshed left me with a complicated feeling. Although I watched nonstop, I’m reluctant to say that I “enjoyed” the series.

I found a similar view in the Critic’s Notebook in the Oct. 11 edition of the New York Times. TV critic Mike Hale wrote, “Striking visuals, the visceral pull of the games, the appeal of the science fiction and mystery elements and the reassuring familiarity of the hoary storytelling formulas all contribute, I’m sure, to the popularity of ‘Squid Game.’

“But what probably puts it over the top is the aspect of the series that most makes me dislike it: its pretense of contemporary social relevance, a thin veneer of pertinence meant to justify the unrelenting carnage that is the show’s most conspicuous feature.”

It may not have been a total “pretense,” but rather a tilted balance, whether intentional or unintentional. “This is a story about losers,” said Hwang Dong-hyuk, the show’s writer, producer and director, during an interview with CNN. “Those who struggle through the challenges of everyday life in the competitive society we live in and get left behind, while the winners level up.” Still, I would have preferred a plot without rules geared to produce cold-blooded carnage cloaked in innocent children’s games.

Regarding the “eerily intimate and impersonal” violence, Daniel D’Addario, chief TV critic of Variety magazine, wrote in its Oct. 8 issue, “Violence is depicted flatly, and the embellishment comes from the fussy trappings around death and gore. Murder is fetishized as a way to raise the stakes in a hazily political conversation without proposing a solution.

“In enjoying gruesomeness while also tut-tutting at a system that would create such gruesomeness and rooting for its takedown, the viewer is experiencing a double pleasure, a sense of enjoying a show while also perching above it, that ends up being the most complicated thing about ‘Squid Game.’”

Australian writer Monica Tan sounded more sympathetic in her article, “Squid Game: the smash-hit South Korean horror is a perfect fit for our dystopian mood,” published by the Guardian on Sept. 30. She said, “The fact that most contestants elect to remain in this hellish torture chamber (as one of the characters acidly point out, ‘It’s just as bad out there as it is in here’) is an indictment of modern society, told in the darkest, funniest way possible. The worse the abuse, injustice and cruelty our contestants are willing to endure (and inflict on others) becomes a yardstick for just how abusive, unjust and cruel the ‘real world’ is.

“Squid Game reminds us that normal life wasn’t sunshine and lollipops for all of us. So before we go rushing back out there, what might we do to make ‘out there’ better?”

Hwang and Netflix will need to find a more universally appealing way to deliver their narrative in their possible future cooperation on a second season of this hit series or any other title. I saw positive signs in remarks by Kim Min-young, the streamer’s vice president of content in Asia, published by Fortune magazine on Oct 21. She said, “Great Korean stories are nothing new, with storytelling deeply rooted in Korean culture.”

Kim is known to have been responsible for bringing “Squid Game” to Netflix. “K-dramas help viewers escape reality while capturing reality at the same time,” she said. “They capture the social issues with thick emotions, helping you empathize with the characters and get absorbed into the stories.”

Now, do I want to watch “Squid Game” again, as recommended to the show’s critics by Lee Jung-jae, who portrayed protagonist Seong Gi-hun? No. I’m not ready to endure the brutal bloodbath again -- yet.

By Lee Kyong-hee

Lee Kyong-hee is a former editor-in-chief of The Korea Herald. She is currently editor-in-chief of Koreana, a quarterly magazine of Korean culture and arts published by the Korea Foundation. -- Ed.

By Korea Herald (
6. You Can’t Understand Squid Game Without Understanding the Korean Concept Driving It

The "spirit of the Han" is something that is very difficult for us non-Koreans to really grasp and understand. 

This could be the underlying character trait that will make the most important contribution to unification when the time comes.

You Can’t Understand Squid Game Without Understanding the Korean Concept Driving It
Slate · by Ashley Oh · November 13, 2021
At this point, it’s hard to walk across an abandoned lot without hearing about Netflix’s Squid Game. It’s easy to see why the show’s such a hit. The megaviolent South Korean drama boasts Battle Royale-style action with striking set design, moving performances, and ample plot twists. The South Korean survival drama’s first month on the platform amassed an estimated 111 million views, beating out Bridgerton for the biggest launch in Netflix history. The show’s runaway global success has been attributed to themes that viewers around the world can identify with: widespread socio-economic disparity and the desperation that comes with it. But to really understand the full power of the show, you also have to understand han, a uniquely Korean concept that can be loosely translated to a form of intense grief and unresolved resentment.

The prominence of han rose during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and then again during the Korean War—explaining its close association with a sense of injustice and involuntary loss—and still is a core part of Korean identity and experience today. (It likely lives in every old woman’s pained proclamation of “aigoo!”) To Koreans, han influences every dispute on some level, every feeling of misery and helplessness. It lives in each grand display of emotion, each trademark staccato wail by mourners when someone dies—an outward explosion of feeling after bubbling inside like an angry stew. With han in mind, the most powerful moments in Squid Game start to take on a new dimension, where high-stakes turning points are not just plot, but expressions of a deep-seated individual and collective struggle against feeling wronged.
In case you’ve been living under a rock (and don’t mind spoilers): Squid Game centers on Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-Jae) and other hard-on-their-luck people who agree to participate in a series of deadly childhood games for a cash prize. Early on, Gi-hun, a divorcé and gambling addict who lives with his mother, finds out that his daughter and her new family are moving to the United States. Gi-hun’s mother tells him that if he doesn’t do something, his daughter will forget how to speak Korean, and he’ll eventually become a stranger to her. This is the precipitating crisis for Gi-hun, and one of the reasons he signs up for the game: What’s at stake is not just money, but his tenuous connection to his daughter and her ties to their language and culture.

What finally pushes him into the game is his mother’s ill health. She says to him, exasperated: “Now you suddenly show up to play the good son?” Despite the fact that fewer Koreans are now caring for their aging parents, filial piety is still very much a part of Korean values and society, and failure to meet those standards is seen as highly shameful, even unacceptable. To Gi-hun, joining the game—and perhaps more importantly rejoining after initially leaving it— is to submit to humiliation and violence as the only way out, materially and spiritually. Gi-hun’s hangdog face, his garment-rending bursts of emotion, is pure han.

The other emotional anchor of the show is Kang Sae-byeok (Jung Ho-yeon), whose own han is more literal than most, as a North Korean whose family was split apart during their escape. Every decision she makes—including a stint in a life of crime—is to make enough money to reunite with them. Frequently referred to as the “spy” or “the defector,” Sae-byeok also faces being othered by her fellow players, despite their shared language and ethnic heritage. When asked about where she’d like to go after the games, she says Jeju Island, because it looks nothing like Korea. The reunification Sae-byeok seeks isn’t about national allegiance—it’s for the sake of togetherness and security. Han, although a Korean phenomenon, is concerned not with geography or politics, but the suffering endemic to those caught up in them. When she says “I want to go home” right before dying in Episode 8, she isn’t talking about North Korea, where her brother is, or any other place that exists in the present moment. It’s more an expression of unresolvable longing, vulnerability, and regret.

Han isn’t always about active suffering; it’s often about contradiction, and can bring a bittersweet quality to otherwise warm moments. This is clearest in Episode 6, “Gganbu”—probably the most devastating episode in the series, as it pits against each other the players with the closest bonds. It’s a clever conceit that matches levels of loyalty and trust with that of betrayal and guilt, shattering alliances that have built up so far. One such pairing is the brief friendship between Sae-byeok and Ji-yeong (Lee Yoo-mi). When Ji-yeong loses the game on purpose to sacrifice her life for Sae-byeok’s, it both provokes the most emphatic outburst of emotion from Sae-byeok thus far, and a rare moment of tenderness, just before Ji-yeong dies. “Thank you,” she says while struggling to get the words out between tears, “for playing with me.” Elsewhere, Player 1, Il-nam, also loses on purpose to Gi-hun, even after revealing he knows Gi-hun had been cheating. There’s a nebulous mix of shame, gratitude, and helplessness that makes this emotional moment so hard to parse—and yet so precisely rendered.

When Gi-hun finally returns home from the games, he finds his mother passed away on her bedroom floor. The quiet of the scene is anti-climactic, but makes the most sense to a Korean audience that understands this is a mainline dose of han. All the violence and suffering Gi-hun went through in the name of redemption—all of it too late. At the moment there’s nowhere for all this trauma to go but back inside himself. Gi-hun’s not the same person anymore and there’s no one really around left to see that or even comfort him.
There’s one more major expression of han in the show: the ending. One that strikes the notes that audiences who have experienced popular Korean cinematic exports like Parasite or Old Boy may be familiar with: a deep, sad, helpless rage that threatens to eclipse one’s reason for living. Koreans even have a term for the accompanying illness: hwabyeong, which is thought to be the physical manifestations of such intense, repressed, unresolved anger.

In the world of Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook films, han always wins. You can fight it, you can let it work through you, but it is always bigger than you. In Squid Game, creator Hwang Dong-hyuk swaps out colonization for capitalism but the sense of han remains the same: the rage against an insurmountable situation and the spiteful futility that follows. We last see Gi-hun just about to board a flight to visit his daughter in the U.S. After finding out that the games are continuing, he turns around, abandoning the reconnection with his remaining family. What started out as a determination to keep his family together now shifts into another starker form of han, a need for retaliation so fierce that it becomes an all-consuming obsession. It’s when the game runners tell him to hang up and board the plane that something goes off inside him. All of the feel-it-in-your-bones hatred started out as a byproduct of a cruel game made by bored, rich people. Now it’s probably the only thing driving him forward. Do you cheer for him, feel sorry for him, or both?

Slate · by Ashley Oh · November 13, 2021

7. “We Will Stand With North Koreans Until The Human Rights Situation Improves”

Thanks to HRNK Intern,  Doohyun Kim, for translating this.

Not all RFA and VOA articles and broadcasts are translated into English. EMnay excellent ones are not. But of course we are not the target audience for these.

“We Will Stand With North Koreans Until The Human Rights Situation Improves”
In the United States, there are many organizations working to improve the human rights situation for North Koreans, as if their suffering and misery were their own. Those who work for this cause know that if they turn away from North Korea, its citizens will not be able to enjoy universal freedoms and rights. 
Among them is the U.S.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-profit, non-governmental organization. On October 20th, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, held a commemorative event to look back on its journey and towards future endeavors. 
Today, we will report on this event, which was held at 6p.m. on October 20th in Washington, D.C., where the office of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea is located.
About 150 former and current members of the U.S. Congress, administration officials, human rights activists, and North Korean defectors gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of HRNK.
U.S. Republican Rep. Young Kim, a Korean-American, celebrated the 20th anniversary of the founding of the HRNK and pledged support for its work.
<Rep. Young>: “Hello everyone! I am honor to be invited to join with this evening celebration 20th anniversary of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.”
Rep. Young Kim said that she has had a close relationship with the organization since she served as an assistant to the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, and thanked those involved in the effort to improve human rights in North Korea. 
She also said that she continually raises human rights issues in Congress, and that North Korean human rights are among the most important. She said she supports the work of the HRNK, which fights on behalf of the people in North Korea.
Michael Kirby, former chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry for Human Rights in North Korea (COI), said in a video message that the organization played a very important role in the preparation of the COI report.
In a congratulatory speech, Thomas Ojea Quintana, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in North Korea, praised the HRNK's achievements on the international stage.
In addition, congratulatory speeches from various figures such as Democratic Party Representative Edward Markey, chairman of the Senate’s Subcommittee on East Asia, and Suzanne Scholte, Chairwoman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition were also included in the video.
Ji Seong-ho and Thae Yong-ho, both former North Korean defectors and currently active South Korean National Assembly members, also gave congratulatory messages, adding that the emphasis that the U.N. has put on human rights in North Korea has given great strength to the citizens of North Korea. 
The event was also attended by Fred and Cindy Warmbier, parents of American college student Otto Warmbier, who died in a coma after being detained by North Korea in 2015.
Cindy Warmbier said she is still very heartbroken over her son's death and stated that she will continue to fight to make a difference.
Fred Warmbier said HRNK helped by providing them with what they needed to sue North Korea. In 2018, the Warmbiers received a judgment from a US court that the North Korean authorities were responsible for their son's death.
David Hawk's book 'The Hidden Gulag', published by HRNK in 2003, contains 31 photos of seven North Korean political prison camps, which were released to the world for the first time.
This document is based on the testimonies by survivors from political prison camps and is currently being used to showcase the cruelty of the human rights abuses occurring in North Korea. It is frequently cited in the international arena, including the United Nations.
Roberta Cohen, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights at the U.S. Department of State, praised HRNK for its tireless efforts for the past 20 years. She thanked HRNK for informing the United Nations of the reality of political prison camps through satellite image analysis and for sending various North Korean human rights reports to Congress and other government agencies.
In 2009, the HRNK had published an investigative report about the trafficking of North Korean women in China, and it was featured in the Washington Post, a prominent American daily.
This organization also pointed out the problem of food shortages in North Korea through the publication of “Hunger and Human Rights: The Politics of Famine in North Korea” published in 2005.
This report emphasizes that the reason that North Korea has an unsolved hunger problem despite food aid from South Korea and the international community is because of the structure of its distribution system.
In addition, the HRNK has made efforts to expose the luxury and pleasures of the Kim family in North Korea.
Chuck Downs, former Executive Director of HRNK told RFA, “The North Korean people are starving, but Kim Jong-il has 17 private luxury villas and hundreds of luxury cars,” adding that, “However, military expenditures are enormous, and Kim buys off his subordinates with money to maintain power. Isn't this a human rights violation?"
The HRNK has been conducting activities to inform the world of the poor human rights condition in North Korea for the past 20 years, by exposing the reality of political prison camps in North Korea.
Regarding the achievements of the past 20 years, Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), said that, "Twenty years ago, the world did not know much about the human rights crisis in North Korea. That’s why HRNK was founded. This organization was founded with the spirit of researching, investigating, and reporting not only military, security, and political issues, but also human rights issues. Thus, HRNK played an important role in making the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights.”
Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of HRNK, emphasizes that the issue of improving human rights in North Korea is an area that the international community should pay attention to.
Greg Scarlatoiu: “If we look at the world now, there are many human rights issues. There are also a lot of refugee crises. However, it is very important for us to investigate, study, and expose Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, a state that oppresses human rights. So, of course, 20 years have passed, but I think the winds of reform and change can change North Korea in the future. However, our mission never ends. So, we need to continue fighting to improve the human rights situation in North Korea.”
He then explained the organization's plans for the future.
Greg Scarlatoiu: Currently, the Biden administration is emphasizing values that include human rights. So, human rights in North Korea are very important. The North Korean issue will be quite difficult to solve, but we must never give up. We will continue to work hard and continue to work until North Korea opens up and democracy and human rights come to North Korea.
According to HRNK’s website, it is a nonpartisan human rights organization that collects evidence on the human rights situation in North Korea, publishes reports, and urges the international community to pay attention and implement measures advocated by its reports.

By: Young Jung, RFA
Translated by: Doohyun Kim, HRNK Research Intern

8. 2 S Koreans arrested in Japan last year were part of N Korea cash operation: sources

There is little reporting on the north Korean RGB and its covert operations to support the regime.

"Spy Gone North" is an interesting film on Korean "history" in the 1990s that I recommend.

2 S Koreans arrested in Japan last year were part of N Korea cash operation: sources · November 14, 2021
Two South Koreans arrested in Japan last fall on suspicion of violating the country's immigration law had been involved in an operation to obtain foreign currency under the direction of a man believed to be a North Korean agent, investigative sources say.
Japanese police have classified their cooperation as a spy case involving North Korea and believe it is just one part of a foreign currency acquisition network put in place by Pyongyang to circumvent economic sanctions.
According to the sources, the man who gave the orders to the South Korean pair via several other individuals mainly operated from China, using a fictitious name such as Ri Ho Nam.
He is reported to have belonged to North Korea's primary intelligence agency called the Reconnaissance General Bureau and is believed to still be a central figure in the foreign currency acquisition network.
The man is also said to be the model for a high-ranking North Korean official who appears in "The Spy Gone North," a film loosely based on the memoirs of a former South Korean agent.
The two South Koreans -- a man in his 60s and a woman in her 70s -- established a trading company at the end of 2016 in a condominium in Tokyo to import and sell nutritional drinks from their home country.
They were arrested in October and November last year by Tokyo police for allegedly conducting activities outside of their status of residence and entering Japan on fraudulently obtained documents.
An analysis of seized materials revealed that the pair used their company to trade marine products with North Korea and were involved in a plan to build a liquefied petroleum gas terminal near the North Korean border in Russia's Far East.
In what has been deemed as an operation led by North Korea's spy agency to acquire foreign currency, the police believe some of the funds obtained by the man and the woman through their business and other means were routed to the man who had instructed them.
The South Korean man, who had been living in Japan for a long time, and the woman, who had repeatedly entered the country on short-stay visas since around November 2017, were collaborators in the operation, according to the sources. But Japanese prosecutors have decided not to indict them and the pair are no longer in custody.
South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported in February that the man who had directed the pair met with an official of Korea Gas Corp. at a hotel in Vladivostok in Russia's Far East in late 2019. At that time, he asked if the South Korean gas company would buy Russian-produced gas purchased by North Korea, but the firm had declined.
© KYODO · November 14, 2021

9. Criticism mounting over military promo video (South Korea)

Criticism mounting over military promo video
The Korea Times · November 14, 2021
A screenshot from a promotional video of the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) shows a man saying, "You can proudly call yourself a man only when you fulfill your military service." Screenshot from the MMA YouTube channel

By Bahk Eun-ji

The Military Manpower Administration (MMA) has taken flak over a promotional video that critics say disparages those assigned to non-combat duties for their mandatory military service due to health or other reasons.

On Nov. 5, the MMA posted video footage on its YouTube channel in which an active service member on leave talks over a meal with his friends, who haven't been enlisted yet, about life in the barracks.

The problematic part was about the service member's physical grade. While all able-bodied men in Korea must serve in the military, only those who receive grades of 1 to 3 in their heath examination serve in the military, while those who receive a grade of 4 are assigned to less physically demanding duties, mostly public service positions at public organizations, and those who get a grade of 5 are exempt from duty.

In the video, the man said that he was initially given a grade of 4, but joined the military after losing weight through an MMA program and improving his grade. The project helps those who receive a grade 4 or 5, due to extreme obesity or other health reasons, to get support from hospitals, fitness clubs or public health centers, to lose weight or improve their condition if they want to serve in combat positions.
The man said, "I applied for the project because I thought it fits well with my character," and the friend replied, "You can proudly call yourself a man only when you fulfill the military service."

This video has drawn a barrage of criticism for disparaging people who receive grades of 4 or 5 and take public service positions instead of combat duty.
"This is a serious derogatory remark against the young people who serve as social workers for their military service," Kang Min-jin, a representative of the progressive minor opposition Justice Party's youth chapter, said in a statement, Saturday.

"The Korean military, which exploits young people without even paying the minimum wage, needs fundamental changes. It is regrettable that there was no reflection concerning the reality of the military in the promotional video, and that it was only full of self-praise for recent salary increases," Kang said.

As the controversy heated up, the MMA decided to revise the video.

"We are sorry that the video raised controversy, which was not our intention," an MMA official said.

The Korea Times · November 14, 2021

10. Sandworms of 'Dune' and ownership of culture
I have not yet seen Dune (the remake). But this is about the books.

it is an interesting review from a Korean perspective:


Consequently, it was also the first book that made me feel as if I could claim my personal cultural inheritance from the totality of the human experience, and not just be pigeonholed into the narrow cultural space of my (accidental) ethnicity.
"Dune" took a story set 20,000 years from now and in a planet many light years away from Earth to give the mental freedom to proudly claim my rightful birthright as a living legacy of all the human civilizations that have gone before me. My ancestors weren't just Koreans living in the Korean Peninsula, defined by surviving narratives that demarcated what it means to be a Korean.

Sandworms of 'Dune' and ownership of culture
The Korea Times · November 14, 2021
By Jason Lim
"Dune" is one of the defining books of my teenage years. At the end of the 8th grade, as the early summer heat settled oppressively upon the emptying campus on the last day of school, I came across a used book sale in the cafeteria.

I saw a paperback with a giant white worm arising out of an orange and yellow desert and thought that it was cool artwork. So I bought the whole three-book set. As I was walking out, a classmate yelled out, "Great book!" after me when he saw what I was carrying.

For some reason, I felt particularly proud for having been recognized for my literary choice, which actually compelled me to read the book during that summer. Without that compliment, "Dune" could have become just another paperback gathering dust on my shelf.

To be truthful, I barely understood the book. Having grown up on fantasy novels that used action sequences to drive the narrative, I often found the social and political underpinnings of "Dune" to be slow and elusive. But I kept reading because there was an unspoken promise of something deeper and enlightening that I could grasp only if I kept digging into the narrative. Also, what gave "Dune" an almost intoxicatingly exotic and mystical flavor was the liberal borrowing of traditions and terms from the Middle East and Ancient Greece.

This borrowing wasn't just Frank Herbert peppering in foreign terms to seem exotic. The beliefs, words, and traditions were integral parts of how the history of the "Dune" universe came to be. It wasn't far-fetched to believe that the multitude of traditions that originated from Earth would mix and mash in creative ways to create a brand-new world that, while echoing faintly in tantalizing ways, definitely was not of the ancient worlds that it came from.

Consequently, it was also the first book that made me feel as if I could claim my personal cultural inheritance from the totality of the human experience, and not just be pigeonholed into the narrow cultural space of my (accidental) ethnicity.
"Dune" took a story set 20,000 years from now and in a planet many light years away from Earth to give the mental freedom to proudly claim my rightful birthright as a living legacy of all the human civilizations that have gone before me. My ancestors weren't just Koreans living in the Korean Peninsula, defined by surviving narratives that demarcated what it means to be a Korean.

They were the Bedouins of the Sahara, the Sufi mystics, scions of Agamemnon, dancing letters of the Kabbalah, and other countless cultural narratives that Herbert wove into his story. Through a simple book, I could access and appreciate the various cultural traditions of my human ancestors, not as a scholar but as a casual consumer.

That's perhaps why it (wryly) pains me to see the inevitable accusations of cultural appropriation against "Dune" currently coming out of the woodwork. As always, these accusations take cultural appreciation and label it cultural appropriation. In short, the argument is that "Dune" is appropriating Arab or Islamic culture unfairly because it didn't cast Middle Eastern actors in key roles.

It doesn't matter that the concept of ethnicity wasn't mentioned in the original "Dune" book. Sure, you can surmise that people looked differently based on the environments that they lived in, but physical looks weren't put forth as an organizing principle for different, competing groups of humans. Also, the narrative was happening more than 20 millennia from today, where nations that we know today, in fact the actual planet Earth, wouldn't exist even as a footnote to human history.

For the argument of cultural appropriation against "Dune" to make sense, today's Arabs should be able to claim exclusive ownership over a specific segment of human culture as some type of a patentable intellectual property that today's Arabs had nothing to do with creating in the first place.

The accusations lack in logic what they have in manufactured outrage. This is the same for today's cultural appropriation outrage surrounding certain food, music and clothes as well. Culture is at best a snapshot of a set of behaviors and associated artifacts that are products of the dynamic mixing of people and traditions over many years. It's a complex system. Cultural appropriation is akin to assuming that there is a direct cause-effect relationship in a complex system that undulates and morphs over time, because the constraints that bound the system also change.

My argument isn't to downplay the lack of Arab actors in mainstream Hollywood movies. I think representation does matter. I agree with the criticism when patently Asian roles in original material were cast with white actors in a way that took away from the richness of the story.

But there is danger in using accusations of cultural appropriation to expand representation. Not only is the logic faulty, it goes against our human instinct to engage with one another intimately, deeply and inclusively, as we have always done. We would be leaving our children culturally poorer, more isolated, and worst of all, fated to the accidental tribalism of their births.

Jason Lim ( is a Washington, D.C.-based expert on innovation, leadership and organizational culture.

The Korea Times · November 14, 2021

David Maxwell
Senior Fellow
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Phone: 202-573-8647
Personal Email:
Web Site:
Twitter: @davidmaxwell161
Subscribe to FDD’s new podcastForeign Podicy
FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

David Maxwell
Senior Fellow
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Phone: 202-573-8647
Personal Email:
Web Site:
Twitter: @davidmaxwell161
Subscribe to FDD’s new podcastForeign Podicy
FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

If you do not read anything else in the 2017 National Security Strategy read this on page 14:

"A democracy is only as resilient as its people. An informed and engaged citizenry is the fundamental requirement for a free and resilient nation. For generations, our society has protected free press, free speech, and free thought. Today, actors such as Russia are using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies. Adversaries target media, political processes, financial networks, and personal data. The American public and private sectors must recognize this and work together to defend our way of life. No external threat can be allowed to shake our shared commitment to our values, undermine our system of government, or divide our Nation."
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