Singapore plans wearable virus-tracing device for all

By John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore plans to give a wearable device that will identify people who had interacted with carriers of coronavirus to each of its 5.7 million residents, in what could become one of the most comprehensive contact-tracing efforts globally.

Testing of the small devices, which can be worn on the end of a lanyard or carried in a handbag, follows limited take-up of an earlier smartphone-based system and has further fuelled privacy concerns about contact tracing technology.

The tiny city-state, with one of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in Asia, is one of many countries trying to use technology to allow them to safely reopen their economies.

Singapore will soon roll out the device, which does not depend on a smartphone, and “may then distribute it to everyone in Singapore,” Vivian Balakrishnan, the minister in charge of the city-state’s smart nation initiative, said on Friday.

The government did not specify whether carrying the device would be mandatory.

The government’s earlier TraceTogether app encountered problems, especially on Apple <AAPL.O> devices where its operating system suspends Bluetooth scanning when the app runs in the background. Balakrishnan said repeated discussions with Apple failed to resolve the problem.

The pivot to wearables is a signal that Singapore has no immediate plans to adopt contact-tracing technology from Apple and Google rolled out last month, which has several restrictions designed to protect users’ privacy.

Michael Veale, a lecturer in the law on digital rights and regulation at University College London who has been involved in developing contact-tracing apps, said Singapore’s move into wearables presented “accountability and privacy concerns.”

“Users will likely find it hard to scrutinize what the device is actually doing, or what information the back-end server uses or links,” Veale said.

Singapore has said data collected through its earlier app is encrypted and stored locally in the user’s phone, and will only be transferred to authorities if the individual is confirmed to be infected with COVID-19.

Some businesses have already adopted wearables for contact tracing in locations where smartphone usage is restricted, while governments like Bahrain and Hong Kong have used them for monitoring people under quarantine.

Vendors pitching wearables include Accent Advanced Systems, Kerlink, Microshare Inc and TRACEsafe Technologies Inc, though the companies have declined to comment on potential customers.

David Su, CEO of wireless chips firm Atmosic, said he expected “multiple governments, if not all governments in Asia” to adopt wearables because they are an affordable and reliable way to ensure widespread automated contact tracing.

A simple wristband with a Bluetooth chip, battery and some memory could cost about $10, or possibly less, according to vendors.

(Reporting by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Paresh Dave in San Francisco and Douglas Busvine in Frankfurt; Editing by Robert Birsel, Toby Chopra and William Mallard)

Residents take coronavirus surveillance into their own hands

By Thin Lei Win and Beh Lih Yi

ROME/KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A week after Malaysia ordered a partial lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus, construction supervisor Hafi Nazhan saw residents in his affluent Kuala Lumpur neighbourhood jogging outside.

He took photos of people flouting the stay-at-home order and published them on Twitter, receiving hundreds of shares. Hafi’s followers informed the police, who subsequently arrested 11 joggers in his neighbourhood.

They were charged with violating the movement restriction order and each fined 1,000 ringgit ($230) in court.

“I was upset some people did not take this stay-at-home order seriously. These are well-educated people,” Hafi, 26, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that police were spurred into taking action after his tweets went viral.

As governments around the world urge citizens to stay indoors to contain the deadly virus, concerned communities are taking surveillance matters into their own hands, reporting alleged breaches of quarantine and questioning anyone they deem suspicious.

The respiratory disease – which emerged in China late last year – has infected roughly 1.2 million people and killed about 65,000, according to a global tally by Johns Hopkins University.

In Singapore, a Facebook post by a man sharing a photo of himself enjoying a bowl of bak kut teh – pork rib soup – in a restaurant when he should be self-quarantining at home was so widely circulated that officials stepped in.

Singapore’s law minister ordered an investigation and the immigration authorities told local media the man was likely to be charged, although they did not respond to requests seeking comment.

In New Zealand, which is under a one-month shutdown, a police website set up to allow residents to report their neighbours who break isolation rules crashed hours after going live.

The website has received about 14,000 reports in less than a week since its March 29 launch, New Zealand police said in an email. They reportedly include people playing frisbee and holding parties.

In Italy, which has been under lockdown for weeks, fraying tempers have led to people being insulted from balconies or photographed and put on social media.

In Spain, locals have also begun posting videos of people going for a run, walking in the park, riding a bike – all prohibited activities – on social media.

HEALTH VS. PRIVACY

Such tip-offs and videos have sparked a debate over digital ethics with some arguing that normal privacy rules do not apply in a health emergency because the information is in the public interest.

“When we are all threatened with the risk of catching a lethal, incurable disease I see no reason why individuals should not report their legitimate concerns to the authorities,” said David Watts, former privacy commissioner for Australia’s Victoria state.

“There is not much point having privacy rights when you are dead,” added Watts, who now teaches information law and policy at Melbourne-based La Trobe University.

For David Lindsay, law professor at the University of Technology Sydney, privacy is “not an absolute right and must always be balanced against other rights and interests”.

“The balance struck obviously depends upon circumstances, and a global pandemic is an extreme event,” he said.

Still, both Watts and Lindsay said the balance between privacy and surveillance should be reset when the pandemic is over.

Others, like Joseph Cannataci, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to privacy, fear surveillance measures ranging from facial recognition to phone tracking could outlast the current crisis.

“Dictatorships and authoritarian societies often start in the face of a threat,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week.

STIGMA AND FEAR

Community surveillance could also end up being used “in a malicious way, particularly to replicate prejudice or bias”, warned Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia policy director at digital rights group Access Now.

“Often the people who might be reported on will be the least privileged, or might be belong to, in the case of India, lower caste communities or people who have to work outside,” he said.

Human rights experts worry that the tens of thousands of migrant workers who returned to Myanmar after a shutdown in neighbouring Thailand’s left them jobless will come under intense scrutiny.

In a village in central Myanmar, locals would not allow a young man who returned from Thailand to stay in his home, said Khin Zaw Win, a Yangon-based political analyst.

Foreigners have also been targeted on social media, with a Facebook video showing agitated residents in a neighbourhood in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, who described barging into a building after seeing Chinese visitors coughing.

Filmed Tuesday night, it has received more than 1 million views and 10,000 shares.

“The public is being very sensitive at the moment … when the key in this kind of situation is that you should help each other,” said Khin Zaw Win.

“Some of it have to do with the narrative that (coronavirus) was brought here from abroad. I think the panic is even scarier than the virus,” he added.

Myanmar so far has about 20 confirmed cases of the virus, with the health ministry warning of a “major outbreak” after the return of migrant workers from Thailand.

Officials have also reminded the public that failure to report people suspected of being infected could lead to jail sentences of up to a month.

“From the point of view of public health, surveillance and tracking is essential. The faster and the more effectively you can enforce it, the better,” said Sid Naing, Myanmar country director for health charity Marie Stopes International.

“But it should not be done in a way that breeds hatred and fear. It should be done based on understanding and support,” he said.

“At the moment, the state cannot provide full surveillance so people started doing it themselves because they are terrified … but there are stigma and discrimination behind the fear and those are the problems.”

(Reporting By Thin Lei Win @thinink and Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, additional reporting from Sophie Davies in Barcelona, editing by Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

‘Pervasive’ digital sexual violence against women skyrockets in Singapore

By Beh Lih Yi

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From online stalking to revenge porn, cases of digital sexual violence have spiked sharply in Singapore, women’s rights campaigners warned on Monday as they called for reforms to clamp down on the emerging form of crime.

The tech-savvy nation has seen several high-profile cases this year, including a university student who was filmed in the shower and several arrests made over the distribution of nude photos on an online chat group.

Such abuse cases – aided by technology – nearly tripled to 124 last year, up from 46 in 2016, according to figures compiled by Singapore’s gender equality advocacy group AWARE, based on cases that it has assisted.

More than half of the 2018 cases involved images, including illicit filming, distribution of nude photos and upskirting – the surreptitious filming or taking of photographs under girls’ and women’s clothes – it added.

“New factors – such as the widespread availability of recording technology, and our 24/7 channels of communication – make these actions all the more pervasive and damaging today,” said Anisha Joseph, head of the Sexual Assault Care Centre at AWARE.

Singapore’s home affairs ministry said it did not track sexual violence cases that used technology.

Parliament in May has passed new laws targeting online sexual abuse, including voyeurism, upskirting and unsolicited intimate images, or “cyber flashing” – with maximum jail sentences ranging from two to five years.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam has previously said these reforms would help ensure Singapore be a “safe home” for women.

From Britain to Germany and South Korea, there has been a flurry of cases in recent years using the advancement and easy access to technology to sexually assault women.

France outlawed upskirting in 2018 while Britain followed suit this year. Germany also said it would enact a similar law.

In South Korea, tens of thousands of women took to the streets last year to protest against so-called “spycam porn”, the illicit filming in toilets or changing rooms and selling the footages online later.

Monica Baey, who was filmed by a man during her shower inside a university hostel earlier this year, said the law needed to change to treat the crime more seriously in Singapore, where eight out of 10 residents are internet users.

The man who filmed her was given a police warning and suspended from the university for a semester.

“It’s a case of sexual assault even though there is no physical contact,” the 23-year-old student told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Singapore, adding she was “traumatised” over the incident.

“It’s not something that can be seen as less serious just because it was committed through a mobile phone,” she said. “The victims still face a lifelong trauma.”

(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

North Korea’s Kim says summit with Trump stabilized region, sees more progress

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wave during a car parade in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 18, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool via REUTERS

By Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Tuesday his “historic” summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore stabilized regional security, and that he expected further progress at an inter-Korean summit aimed at reviving stalled nuclear diplomacy.

Kim thanked South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in for bringing about the Singapore meeting in June as the two leaders began their third round of talks in Pyongyang.

“Thanks to that, the political situation in the region has stabilized and I expect more advanced results,” Kim told Moon, referring to the Singapore gathering, at the start of their talks.

The Kim-Moon summit will be a litmus test for another meeting Kim has recently proposed to Trump, with the South Korean president seeking to engineer a proposal that combines a framework for the North’s denuclearization and a joint declaration ending the 1950-53 Korean War.

Moon expressed gratitude for Kim’s “bold decision to open a new era”.

The first session of the talks, which lasted for two hours, were held at the headquarters of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, with party vice chairman Kim Yong Chol and Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong, as well as South Korea’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong and spy chief Suh Hoon in attendance.

LIMOUSINE PARADE

Earlier, the leaders paraded down the streets of Pyongyang in Kim’s black Mercedes limousine to loud cheers from nearly 100,000 North Koreans who waved flowers and chanted “Motherland!Unification!”

Kim greeted Moon with hugs and handshakes as the South Korean leader landed in the North’s capital with a mission to rekindle momentum in faltering talks between Washington and Pyongyang over denuclearization and a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

As Kim escorted Moon to the Paekhwawon State Guest House, where Moon will stay during his three-day visit, Kim said he wanted to produce a “bigger outcome at a faster pace” than the two leaders have achieved so far.

Moon, himself the offspring of a family displaced by the war, has met Kim twice this year at the border village of Panmunjom.

“You Mr. President are traveling all around the world, but our country is humble compared with developed nations,” Kim told Moon. “I’ve been waiting and waiting for today. The level of the accommodation and schedule we provide may be low, but it’s our best sincerity and heart.”

Moon said it was “time to bear fruit” and thanked Kim for his hospitality, which included a massive welcome ceremony at Pyongyang International Airport featuring a large, goose-stepping honor guard and a military band.

During their motor parade through Pyongyang’s landmark Ryomyong Street, a new residential district launched last year under Kim’s initiative to modernize the city, Kim and Moon briefly stepped out of the vehicle to greet and take flowers from members of the crowd.

“CHIEF NEGOTIATOR”

Trump has asked Moon to be “chief negotiator” between himself and Kim, according to Moon’s aides, after Trump canceled a trip to Pyongyang by his secretary of state last month.

Washington wants to see concrete action toward denuclearization by North Korea before agreeing to a key goal of Pyongyang – declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

The conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving U.S.-led U.N. forces including South Korea technically still at war with the North.

South Korea is pinning high hopes on Kim’s remarks to Moon’s special envoys earlier this month that he wants to achieve denuclearization within Trump’s first term in office ending in early 2021.

“If North Korea-U.S. dialogue is restarted after this visit, it would have much significance in itself,” Moon said before his departure.

Underscoring the challenges ahead, North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun said on Tuesday “the responsibility falls squarely on the United States” for the stalled nuclear discussions.

“It is due to its nonsensical, irrational stubbornness that other issues can only be discussed after our country has completely verifiably, irreversibly dismantled our nuclear capabilities… without showing the intention to build trust including declaring the end of war,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

On Wednesday, Moon and Kim plan to hold a second day of official talks after which they are expected to unveil a joint statement, and a separate military pact designed to defuse tensions and prevent armed clashes. Moon will return home early Thursday.

Traveling with Moon are South Korean business tycoons, including Samsung scion Jay Y. Lee and the chiefs of SK Group and LG Group. They met North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Ri Ryong Nam, who is in charge of economic affairs, although Seoul officials said they did not expect any specific joint economic projects to be agreed given extensive international sanctions.

The United States is pressing other countries to strictly observe U.N. sanctions aimed at choking off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

North Korea says it has destroyed its main nuclear and missile engine test site and has halted atomic and ballistic missile tests, but U.S. officials and analysts believe it is continuing to work on its weapons plans covertly.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Russia on Monday of “cheating” on U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Joyce Lee, Soyoung Kim and Pyongyang Press Corps; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Alex Richardson)

South Korea’s diehard Trump supporters hail ‘guardian of liberty’

A member of a conservative right-wing civic group attends an anti-North Korea and pro-U.S. protest in Seoul, South Korea, August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Jeongmin Kim and Minwoo Park

SEOUL (Reuters) – Every time an image of U.S. President Donald Trump appears on TV in South Korea, 69-year-old Vietnam War veteran Chung Seung-jin solemnly salutes.

The U.S. flag Chung keeps in his home in Seoul gets similar respect every morning.

Vietnam War veteran Chung Seung-jin poses for photographs after an interview with Reuters at his home in Suwon, South Korea, July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Vietnam War veteran Chung Seung-jin poses for photographs after an interview with Reuters at his home in Suwon, South Korea, July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

“I salute President Trump and the U.S. flag every day to show how much I trust him,” Chung told Reuters as he attended a recent anti-North Korea rally in the sweltering summer heat in downtown Seoul.

“I salute to pay respect to Mr. Trump, supporting his reign as the leader of the world and guardian of liberty.”

For many South Korean conservatives who liked Trump’s initial tough talk against North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, his abrupt embrace of the autocratic leader at their historic Singapore summit in June was nothing short of a betrayal.

Trump, who ridiculed Kim as “rocket man” last year, has since called the North Korean leader “funny” and “smart” and even praised his ability to retain his authoritarian grip on power.

“Trump said Kim is an ‘amazing leader’, thus legitimizing him. This makes us, the patriotic citizens, feel betrayed,” said Cho Won-jin, leader of the right-wing Korean Patriots’ Party.

Members of a conservative right-wing civic group attend an anti-North Korea and pro-U.S. protest in Seoul, South Korea, August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Members of a conservative right-wing civic group attend an anti-North Korea and pro-U.S. protest in Seoul, South Korea, August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

But for a colorful handful of Trump supporters who gather regularly on the streets of Seoul to call for aggressive action against North Korea, faith in the U.S. president is unshaken.

“I have saluted Trump today as always with utmost sincerity,” said 76-year-old demonstrator Lee Yoon-jo, nodding at a large picture of a beaming Trump at a demonstration in downtown Seoul.

As he saluted, demonstrators held giant U.S. and South Korean flags in front of the U.S. embassy, alongside banners in Korean and English reading “The United States is a thankful brother country that has been devoted to a free Korea”.

Gratitude for U.S. support in the 1950-1953 Korean War, as well as anti-communist rhetoric used by the South’s military rulers in the 1970s still resonate with many older South Koreans, said analyst Jeong Chan-dae of Sungkonghoe University.

“To these elderly conservatives, the U.S. is more than just an ally and more of a ‘savior’,” he said.

Holding a faded black-and-white photograph from his time he fought alongside American allies in the Vietnam War in 1968, Chung said: “Without the U.S., South Korea would never have been able to exist.”

Trump and Kim met in Singapore in June, where they announced an agreement in which Kim reaffirmed his “unwavering” commitment to denuclearize. Little progress on that front has been made in the weeks since.

A Gallup Korea poll conducted just after the summit found 48 percent of South Korean conservatives thought the meeting went well, compared to 79 percent of progressives.

Standing on a corner in Seoul, surrounded by flags and anti-North Korean banners, the small knot of demonstrators are unfazed by the shift in tone, noting that Trump could still resort to “regime change” if a denuclearisation deal doesn’t pan out.

“President Trump has always masterfully guided and protected South Korea and the free world and always will,” Lee said, again giving a military salute. “Thank you, Mr. President.”

(Reporting by Jeongmin Kim and Minwoo Park; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Cyber-attack on Singapore health database steals details of 1.5 million, including PM

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Manila, Philippines November 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron Favila/Pool

By Jack Kim

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A major cyber attack on Singapore’s government health database stole the personal information of about 1.5 million people, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the government said on Friday.

The attack, which the government called “the most serious breach of personal data” that the country has experienced, comes as the highly wired and digitalized state has made cybersecurity a top priority for the ASEAN bloc and for itself.

Singapore is this year’s chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) group.

“Investigations by the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) and the Integrated Health Information System (IHiS)confirmed that this was a deliberate, targeted and well-planned cyberattack,” a government statement said.

“It was not the work of casual hackers or criminal gangs,” the joint statement by the Health Ministry and the Ministry of Communications and Information said.

About 1.5 million patients who visited clinics between May 2015 and July 4 this year have had their non-medical personal particulars illegally accessed and copied, the statement said.

“The attackers specifically and repeatedly targeted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s personal particulars and information on his outpatient dispensed medicines,” it said.

A Committee of Inquiry will be established and immediate action will be taken to strengthen government systems against cyber attacks, the Ministry of Communications said in a separate statement.

It did not provide details about what entity or individuals may have been behind the attack.

Lee, in a Facebook post following the announcement, said the breach of his personal medical data was not incidental and he did not know what information the attackers were hoping to find.

“My medication data is not something I would ordinarily tell people about, but there is nothing alarming in it,” he said.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Michael Perry)

Explainer: What will it cost for complete denuclearization of North Korea?

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore in this picture released on June 12, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS/File Phot

VIENNA (Reuters) – At a summit in Singapore in early June with U.S. President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un pledged to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”.

Follow-up talks between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials are due to be held, and Trump said last week, “It will be a total denuclearization, which has already started taking place.”

Assuming denuclearization of North Korea does take place, what would it look like and how much would it cost?

WHAT DOES DENUCLEARIZATION MEAN?

That is far from clear and may have different meanings for each side.

The exact form denuclearization takes will depend on negotiations. North Korea may seek to continue some nuclear activities with possible civilian uses like uranium enrichment, as Iran is able to do under its deal with major powers.

For Washington, however, denuclearization means at least eliminating the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons. That requires removing or dismantling existing weapons, shutting down the program that makes them, and limiting or eliminating Pyongyang’s ability to enrich uranium and produce plutonium, another key ingredient in atomic bombs.

It would also most likely require restricting or eliminating North Korea’s ballistic missile programs.

KNOWN AND UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS

To complicate matters further, much remains unknown about North Korea’s nuclear activities, its weapons program and its ballistic missile capabilities. These are among the most secret activities in a highly secretive state that foreign intelligence services have struggled to penetrate.

North Korea has carried out six increasingly powerful nuclear tests since 2006 and surprised foreign governments with a series of missile tests showing rapidly improving technology and increasing range.

Pyongyang tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in December that governments and experts said appeared to bring all of the continental United States within range, though many believe it has yet to fully develop the re-entry vehicle in which the warhead returns to the Earth’s atmosphere as it approaches its target.

BEATING HEART

Historically the Yongbyon complex north of Pyongyang has been at the heart of North Korea’s nuclear program. It houses a reactor that produces spent fuel from which plutonium is reprocessed, and an experimental reactor that analysts observing satellite imagery say is close to being completed.

Yongbyon is also widely thought to house a uranium enrichment plant, though many experts say one or more larger enrichment sites are likely to exist outside Yongbyon.

By pursuing plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment, North Korea has developed the two tracks to obtaining the fissile material for nuclear weapons.

While Yongbyon is closely watched by satellites and was monitored by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors before they were expelled in 2009, far less is known about facilities elsewhere in the country.

Nuclear analyst David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security has quoted an anonymous “official source” as saying that about half of North Korea’s nuclear facilities are outside Yongbyon and the site where it has carried out nuclear tests.

FEW PRECEDENTS

There are few cases in which a country has voluntarily given up nuclear weapons. Those that have did so in particular circumstances, and provide imperfect analogies.

South Africa shut down its nuclear weapons program and dismantled its weapons shortly before the 1994 end of apartheid. Several former Soviet republics gave up their weapons after the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. Of those, Ukraine had the most, roughly 5,000, and it held onto them the longest.

South Africa kept its nuclear weapons program secret until after it had dismantled its six atom bombs and destroyed many of the documents relating to them, meaning the cost is not known. The weapons were dismantled in just months.

In Ukraine, which had ground-based strategic weapons with roughly 1,250 nuclear warheads, a Defence Ministry official said the United States paid around $350 million to dismantle the silos from which those missiles would have been launched.

At its peak Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal was the third biggest in the world. North Korea’s is much smaller – its exact size is not known but several analysts estimate it has around 30 weapons.

SO, HOW MUCH?

Given the uncertainties involved, most analysts are reluctant to be more specific than to predict costs for denuclearization running into billions of dollars.

“I think it would be fair to say that dismantling and cleanup of a substantial part of the North Korean nuclear complex (not even considering the missile complex) would cost many billions and take 10 years or so,” said Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist and Stanford University professor who visited Yongbyon in 2010.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office in 2008 estimated at $575 million the cost of dismantling the reactor at Yongbyon and two nearby plants that made fuel rods and separated plutonium from spent fuel, plus shipping its spent fuel out of the country and reprocessing it. It said that should take four years.

North Korea’s nuclear activities and stockpiles have increased significantly since 2008. There is now a second reactor at least near completion at Yongbyon, and the CBO estimate did not cover uranium enrichment, weapons facilities, missile technology or sites like uranium mines.

VERIFICATION

For the whole process to work, Washington will need to be convinced North Korea has declared all its relevant sites and activities. Verification is likely to play an important role.

Any doubt over whether North Korea has declared all its activities could lead to a dispute like the one over whether Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.-led invasion of that country in 2003. A balance will have to be struck between transparency and intrusiveness.

The cost of IAEA safeguards activities for Iran, where the agency is policing the country’s 2015 nuclear deal, was 15.8 million euros ($18.42 million) last year, according to a confidential IAEA report obtained by Reuters.

But the IAEA was already inspecting Iran’s declared nuclear facilities before the deal was reached. Starting essentially from scratch in North Korea will be much more expensive.

“If you take the annual cost of IAEA verification and monitoring in Iran and multiply it by roughly three or more, you might get a rough estimate for the annual cost for North Korea after any denuclearization deal,” Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said.

“North Korea’s nuclear program is more secretive than Iran’s and, in terms of nuclear weapons, far more advanced.”

(Reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam, Ed Cropley in Johannesburg, Joyce Lee, Joori Roh and Heekyong Yang in Seoul; Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

U.S. identifies North Korea missile test site it says Kim committed to destroy

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean long-range rocket is launched into the air at the Sohae rocket launch site, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo February 7, 2016. Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The missile engine test site that President Donald Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had committed to destroy is a major facility in the western part of the country that has been used for testing engines for long-range missiles, according to a U.S. official.

Trump told reporters after their June 12 summit that Kim had pledged to dismantle one of his missile installations, which would be North Korea’s most concrete concession at the landmark meeting in Singapore.

However, the president at the time did not name the site.

A U.S. official identified it on Wednesday as the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, saying North Korea “has used this site to test liquid-propellant engines for its long-range ballistic missiles.”

Pyongyang has said its missiles can reach the United States.

“Chairman Kim promised that North Korea would destroy a missile engine test stand soon,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate word on the exact timetable, and North Korea has not publicly confirmed that Kim made such a commitment.

CBS News was the first to identify the site, which is the newest of North Korea’s known major missile testing facilities.

Although Trump has hailed the Singapore summit as a success, skeptics have questioned whether he achieved anything, given that Pyongyang, which has rejected unilateral nuclear disarmament, appeared to make no new tangible commitments in a joint written declaration.

The U.S.-based North Korea monitoring group 38 North said in an analysis at the end of last week there had been no sign of any activity toward dismantling Sohae or any other missile test site.

The U.S. official said: “The United States will continue to monitor this site closely as we move forward in our negotiations.”

LITTLE-KNOWN SITE

What little is known about the Sohae site, located in Tongchang-ri, has been pieced together from analysts’ assessments and the North Korean state news agency KCNA.

It was reported to have been established in 2008 and has research facilities nearby for missile development as well as a tower that can support ballistic missiles. The site is mainly used to test large Paektusan engines built for long-range missiles such as the Hwasong-15.

North Korea has spent considerable effort and resources to develop the site as a “civilian space program” facility, denying that it has a military application, said Jenny Town, a research analyst at the 38 North.

“Presumably, if North Korea does destroy the Sohae facility, they are also signaling that they are willing to stop satellite/rocket launches this time around as well, a point that has derailed negotiations in the past and is a significant new development,” she said.

North Korea has other missile testing facilities but the shutdown, if it happens, would be significant, analysts said.

“The missile testing is not just done in Tongchang-ri so it does not necessarily mean all ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) will be disabled. But the most well-known one is this, so there is a great symbolic meaning if this is shut down,” said Moon Hong-sik, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy in South Korea.

North Korea announced ahead of the Singapore summit the suspension of its ICBM testing and also closed its nuclear bomb test site. U.S. officials, however, have cautioned that such actions are reversible.

Asked on Wednesday whether North Korea has done anything toward denuclearization since the summit, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters: “No, I’m not aware of that. I mean, obviously, it’s the very front end of a process. The detailed negotiations have not begun. I wouldn’t expect that at this point.”

Yang Uk, senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum, agreed that a shutdown of the Sohae testing site would be a symbolic gesture rather than a move to technically disable its missile capabilities.

“Sohae has technically been used as an ‘engine’ testing site. North Korea has already finished developing (the) Baekdu Engine, so there would be no problem running ICBM missile programs even if they close down the Sohae site,” Yang said.

The move will only be significant if North Korea takes more than cosmetic steps to fully shutter the site, not just the test stand, said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

“It’s only a good deal if they dismantle all the facilities at Sohae and re-employ the scientists in something civilian,” she said.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON and Christine Kim, Josh Smith, and Jeongmin Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Lisa Schumaker and Darren Schuettler)

North Korea, China discuss ‘true peace’, denuclearization

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping raise a toast in Beijing, China, in this undated photo released June 20, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS

By Christine Kim and Christian Shepherd

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping came to an understanding on issues discussed at a summit of the two leaders, including denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the North’s state media said on Wednesday.

Kim and Xi assessed the historic meeting Kim had with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore last week and exchanged opinions on ways to resolve the issue of denuclearization, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

The North Korean leader also promised during a meeting with Xi in Beijing to cooperate with Chinese officials to secure “true peace” in the process of “opening a new future” on the Korean peninsula, it said.

Xi told Kim the neighbors’ joint efforts could definitely ensure peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, China’s official Xinhua news agency said.

“I have faith that, with the joint efforts of China and North Korea, our relationship can definitely benefit both countries and both peoples,” he said, during a meeting at Beijing’s Diaoyutai state guest house.

Kim told Xi that previously China and North Korea had helped each other out like family members. “General Secretary comrade Xi Jinping has shown us touching and familial support and concern,” he said, according to Xinhua.

Kim wrapped up his two-day trip to Beijing on Wednesday with a visit to an agricultural sciences exhibition and the Beijing subway command center, Xinhua added.

The visit follows his Singapore summit, where Kim and Trump reaffirmed a commitment to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump surprised officials in South Korea and the United States after that meeting by saying he would end “provocative” joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.

The United States and South Korea said they had agreed to suspend a joint military exercise set for August, although decisions regarding subsequent drills have not yet been made.

On Wednesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa said the decision to suspend the exercise could be reconsidered, based on future developments with North Korea.

“I think we’ve made it clear this is a goodwill gesture to strengthen dialogue momentum,” Kang said.

“It’s not irreversible. They could come back if the dialogue loses speed, or if North Korea doesn’t live up to its denuclearization commitment,” she said.

Kim is on his third visit to China this year. Xi offered high praise to the North Korean leader on Tuesday for the “positive outcome” of last week’s summit with Trump.

KCNA also reported that Xi said relations between China and North Korea had reached a new level of development since Kim’s first visit in March and that the pacts by the two leaders were being carried out “one-by-one”.

Kim also told Xi he was willing to bolster friendship and cooperation, it said.

It was widely expected that Kim would visit Beijing to brief Xi on his summit with Trump, which included Pyongyang agreeing to hand over the remains of troops missing from the 1950-53 Korean War.

Two U.S. officials told Reuters on Tuesday North Korea could start that process within the next few days.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Joori Roh and Joyce Lee in SEOUL and Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

Trump says North Korea no longer a nuclear threat; North highlights concessions

North Koreans watch the displayed local newspapers reporting the summit between the U.S. and North Korea at a subway station in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 13, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat, nor is it the “biggest and most dangerous problem” for the United States, President Donald Trump said on Wednesday on his return from a summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The summit was the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader and followed a flurry of North Korean nuclear and missile tests and angry exchanges between Trump and Kim last year that fueled fears of war.

“Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office,” Trump said on Twitter.

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk in the Capella Hotel after their working lunch, on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk in the Capella Hotel after their working lunch, on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters

“There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”

On Tuesday, Trump told a news conference after the summit that he would like to lift sanctions against the North but that this would not happen immediately.

North Korean state media lauded the summit as a resounding success, saying Trump expressed his intention to halt U.S.-South Korea military exercises, offer security guarantees to the North and lift sanctions against it as relations improve.

Kim and Trump invited each other to their respective countries and both leaders “gladly accepted,” the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

“Kim Jong Un and Trump had the shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” KCNA said.

Trump said the United States would stop military exercises with South Korea while North Korea negotiated on denuclearization.

“We save a fortune by not doing war games, as long as we are negotiating in good faith – which both sides are!” he said on Twitter.

U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump’s reasoning for halting the exercises was “ridiculous”.

“It’s not a burden onto the American taxpayer to have a forward deployed force in South Korea,” Graham told CNN.

“It brings stability. It’s a warning to China that you can’t just take over the whole region. So I reject that analysis that it costs too much, but I do accept the proposition, let’s stand down (on military exercises) and see if we can find a better way here.”

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he hoped all parties could “grasp the moment of positive changes” on the peninsula to take constructive steps toward a political resolution and promoting denuclearization.

“At this time, everyone had seen that North Korea has halted missile and nuclear tests, and the United States and South Korea have to an extent restricted their military actions. This has de facto realized China’s dual suspension proposal,” he told a daily news briefing.

“When it comes to Trump’s statement yesterday that he would halt South Korea and the United States’ military drills, I can only say that China’s proposal is indeed practical and reasonable, is in line with all sides’ interests and can resolve all sides’ concerns.”

China, North Korea’s main ally, last year proposed what it calls a “dual suspension”, whereby North Korea suspend nuclear and missile tests, and South Korea and the United States suspend military drills.

U.S.-North Korea relations: https://tmsnrt.rs/2l2UwW7

SURPRISE

There was some confusion over precisely what military cooperation with South Korea Trump had promised to halt.

The U.S.-South Korean exercise calendar hits a high point every year with the Foal Eagle and Max Thunder drills, which both wrapped up last month. Another major exercise is due in August.

The United States maintains about 28,500 soldiers in South Korea, which remains in a technical state of war with the North after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce not a peace treaty.

Trump’s announcement on the exercises was a surprise even to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, who has worked in recent months to help bring about the Trump-Kim summit.

Asked about Trump’s comments, South Korean presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters there was a need to seek measures that would help improve engagement with North Korea but it was also necessary to confirm exactly what Trump had meant.

Moon will be chairing a national security meeting on Thursday to discuss the summit.

Trump’s administration had previously ruled out any concessions or lifting of sanctions without North Korea’s commitment to complete, verifiable and irreversible steps to scrap a nuclear arsenal that is advanced enough to threaten the United States.

But a joint statement issued after the summit said only that North Korea “commits to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is to lead the U.s. side in talks with North Korea to implement outcomes of the summit, arrived in South Korea on Wednesday, to be greeted by General Vincent Brooks, the top U.S. commander in South Korea, and U.S. Charge d’Affaires Marc Knapper.

Pompeo had a meeting with Brooks before heading to Seoul, according to a pool report. He is set to meet Moon on Thursday and hold a three-way meeting with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.

On Tuesday, just after Trump’s surprise announcement, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea said they had not received any instruction to cease joint military drills.

Although the Pentagon said Defence Secretary Jim Mattis was consulted, current and former U.S. defense officials expressed concern at the possibility the United States would halt the exercises without an explicit concession from North Korea lowering the threat.

CRITICS IN THE UNITED STATES

Critics in the United States said Trump had given away too much at a meeting that gave Kim long-sought international standing.

The North Korean leader had been isolated, his country accused of widespread human rights abuses and under U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

“For North Korea, they got exactly what they wanted,” said Moon Seong-mook, a former South Korean military official current head of the Unification Strategy Centre in Seoul.

“They had a summit as a nuclear state with Kim on equal turf with Trump, got the United States to halt joint military exercises with South Korea. It’s a win for Kim Jong Un.”

Japan’s Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera said that, while North Korea had pledged denuclearization, no concrete steps had been taken and Japan would not let down its guard.

“We see U.S.-South Korean joint exercises and the U.S. military presence in South Korea as vital to security in East Asia,” Onodera told reporters. “It is up to the U.S. and South Korea to decide about their joint exercises. We have no intention of changing our joint drills with the U.S.”

Japan would only start shouldering the costs of North Korea’s denuclearization after the International Atomic Energy Agency restarts inspections, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

The Singapore summit did not get top billing in the main state news outlets in China.

The English-language China Daily said in an editorial that while it remained to be seen if the summit would be a defining moment, the fact it went smoothly was positive.

“It has ignited hopes that they will be finally able to put an end to their hostility and that the long-standing peninsula issues can finally be resolved. These hopes should not be extinguished,” it said.

(Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Joori Roh and David Brunnstrom in SEOUL, Tim Kelly in TOKYO, Phil Stewart in WASHINGTON, Christian Shepherd in BEIJING and John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)