Seoul, South Korea – Kim Jong Un’s awarding himself of a new title – the Supreme Representative of all the Korean People – is said to solidify the North Korean leader’s grip on power but is also likely to cause aggravation in Seoul.
North Korean state media, the Korean Central News Agency, began referring to its leader under the new title on Friday, after Kim emerged from one of North Korea’s largest political reshuffles in recent history with increased power.
But while there’s debate in South Korea as to what the new title means, some believe it is in line with Pyongyang’s ultimate goal of reunification which it has stated openly on numerous occasions.
“They’ve been talking about the issue of minjok for some time now,” James Kim, of the security think-tank Asan Institute in Seoul, told Al Jazeera.
Minjok is the Korean term for the shared bloodline between Korean people, and is often used to spark nationalist fervour and rally public support.
“It’s not out of the ordinary and North Korea has always stuck to that kind of rhetoric.”
The idea of reunification is built into North Korea’s political system, with the ruling Worker’s Party leading a coalition called the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, otherwise known as the Fatherland Front.
The South Korean government has yet to comment on Kim’s new title but reactions in Seoul have been mixed, with many passing the comment off as just another boisterous claim by North Korean leadership.
“Grand overstatements are par for the course in DPRK politics and media,” said Lonnie Edge, assistant professor at the Hankook University of Foreign Studies in Seoul.
Many in Seoul feel the same.
“They’re always saying outrageous things. I don’t take it seriously,” said Kim Mee-young, a nail artist and hip-hop dancer in Seoul.
North Korea must deliver ‘blow’ to those imposing sanctions
Others believe Kim had no right in claiming to represent South Koreans.
“We already have a president. Most South Korean people wouldn’t approve of that [Kim’s title],” said Lee Gi-yoon, a 27-year-old police officer from Busan, South Korea.
But not everyone in South Korea is skeptical of Kim. When rumors spread of Kim’s possible visit to Seoul last December, a poll by Realmeter found 61 percent of South Koreans willing to welcome the North Korean leader.
Kim is not the only leader stoking hopes for a reunited Korean peninsula.
President Moon, whose parents fled North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, has led an ambitious charge towards improving ties with Pyongyang.
‘Peace, prosperity and reunification’
Last week, Moon reaffirmed his reunification goals after his return from Washington where he held talks with US President Donald Trump to discuss progress on denuclearisation talks with North Korea following the failed Vietnam summit in February.
“The fervent desire of the Korean people is to see the journey towards ultimate peace, prosperity and reunification completed,” President Moon said in a statement to senior secretaries.
The idea of reunification, however, may be losing popularity among young South Koreans.
A survey done in 2017 by the Korea Institute for National Unification found that 71 percent of South Koreans in their 20s are against reunification. Support has plummeted across the population to 57.8 percent, down from 69.3 percent in 2014.
After nearly 70 years of separation, the economic and cultural differences have widened between the world’s last hermit kingdom and the technologically advanced society of South Korea.
South Korea currently has a GDP of $1.5 trillion compared to $12.38bn of North Korea’s.
Although relations have improved in recent months, a stream of hostile rhetoric from North Korea in the past also keeps many young people from seeing unification as a benefit.
“I don’t even hope for reunification anymore, I think a lot of young people feel the same,” said 28-year-old Yoon Sora, who works at an airport in South Korea.
“North Korea has broken our trust a few times. So we don’t know when they’ll betray us again.”
Some also believe President Moon may be blinded by his hopes for reunification.
But the shifting public opinion has not stopped President Moon from putting great effort into establishing peace on the peninsula, evident from his recent trip to Washington.
“Peace on the Korean Peninsula is a matter of survival for us. This is a matter that is inseparable from not only the lives and safety of the Korean people, but also the economy,” Moon said in a statement after his trip.
He also told senior officials that an inter-Korean summit was the next step in the dialogue with North Korea, adding that Trump also “recognised the need” for that summit.
With the next inter-Korean summit likely to take place in Seoul, public opinion on Kim and reactions to his boisterous claims will be put to the test.
UN: North Korea’s food harvest lowest in a decade
German far-right holds congress with COVID ‘hotspot potential’
About 600 members of AfD due to meet Saturday at an unused nuclear plant in Kalkar city defying pandemic warnings.Hundreds of AfD delegates will gather Saturday for a congress that authorities have warned could become a coronavirus hotspot, as the German far-right party increasingly aligns itself with activists protesting coronavirus restrictions. Six hundred members of…
About 600 members of AfD due to meet Saturday at an unused nuclear plant in Kalkar city defying pandemic warnings.Hundreds of AfD delegates will gather Saturday for a congress that authorities have warned could become a coronavirus hotspot, as the German far-right party increasingly aligns itself with activists protesting coronavirus restrictions.
Six hundred members of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant party are due to meet at an unused nuclear plant in western Germany’s Kalkar city to draw up their first concept on pensions.
To win approval for the huge gathering at a time when Germans are asked to limit their contacts to just two households at a time, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) had signed up to stringent rules including compulsory mask-wearing and distancing in the huge hall.
The party’s own security officers are due to ensure that the rules are met, alongside officials from Kalkar city.
Hundreds of police officers will also be deployed to ward off any unruly scenes, as anti-AfD protesters have also announced plans to demonstrate outside.
The event can “become a hotspot,” warned Kalkar’s mayor Britta Schulz, adding that, while it was “irresponsible” to hold such a big event, the political gathering could not be prohibited.
Because new appointments are also due to be made to the AfD’s board during the meeting, the congress is exempted from rules banning large gatherings in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
More than 15,000 COVID deaths
In contrast, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party has twice postponed its congress to elect a new leader because of the risks of coronavirus contagion. The Greens held their meeting online last weekend.
Shrugging off possible risks, the AfD’s health policy spokesman Detlev Spangenberg claimed, “The coronavirus is comparable to the influenza in terms of the course taken by the illness as well as in terms of its lethality. So the serious measures [taken to fight it] are not proportionate.”
Germany has recorded more than a million coronavirus infections. A total of 15,586 people have died from the illness, according to official data.
The AfD has been the focus of repeated controversies since it began life as a eurosceptic outfit seven years ago.
In 2015, as public opinion soured against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to keep Germany’s borders open to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war in Iraq and Syria, the AfD morphed into an anti-immigration party.
It was rewarded for its Islamophobic positioning at elections in 2017, when voters sent it into the Bundestag for the first time to become the biggest opposition group in parliament.
A year before national elections, the party is once again positioning itself at the side of groups railing against the government – this time over curbs imposed to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Party co-chief Alexander Gauland recently accused the government of using “war propaganda” to champion its “corona-dictatorship”.
AfD politicians are now also regularly marching side by side demonstrators against coronavirus curbs.
During the latest round of protests in central Berlin, when violence reached a level that the capital’s police chief said had been unseen in decades, an AfD politician was charged for using a forged medical certificate to claim he could not wear the required nose and mouth covering.
In a separate incident recently, Gauland was forced to apologise after two of the party’s legislators invited to parliament two far-right YouTubers who went on to harass politicians in the building.
Nevertheless, the AfD’s ratings have held at about 10 percent, compared with highs of 15-16 percent at the height of the refugee crisis.
In 2017, German voters sent AfD into the Bundestag for the first time to become the biggest opposition group in parliament [File: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters]Toxic infighting between ultra-conservatives and others in the party has weakened the AfD. Some voters are also turned off by association with neo-Nazi skinheads, as the AfD’s most radical faction “Fluegel” is now the object of official surveillance by Germany’s intelligence agency.
Instead, approval ratings for Merkel – who is due to retire from politics next year – have soared to new heights, as the vast majority of the population voiced satisfaction at her handling of the pandemic.
Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah
Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah. One of the facility’s tanks…
Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
One of the facility’s tanks was hit by a missile in early on Monday.
The attack knocked out 10 percent of all fuel that was stored at the plant, a Saudi Aramco official said on Tuesday, adding that the tank – one of 13 at the facility – is currently out of action.
The official described the site as a “critical facility” that distributes more than 120,000 barrels of products per day.
A fire caused by the attack was extinguished in about 40 minutes with no casualties, he said.
The attack was confirmed by a Saudi official who told the Saudi state news agency (SPA) it was a “terrorist attack with a projectile”.
The oil company’s production and export facilities are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, more than 1,000km (621 miles) away from Jeddah, across the country.
Announcing the attack, a military spokesman for the Houthis warned that “operations will continue”.
Yahya Sarea said the attack was carried out with a Quds-2 type winged missile. He also posted a satellite image with the label: “North Jeddah bulk plant-Saudi Aramco”.
“The strike was very accurate, and ambulances and fire engines rushed to the target,” Sarea said.
That facility is just southeast of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, an important site that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government, which had been removed from power in the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces in late 2014.
Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces have escalated since late May when a truce prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic expired. The Saudi-led coalition has responded with air raids on Houthi-held territory.
The Houthis control most of north Yemen and most large urban areas. They say they are fighting a corrupt system.
Sarea said the attack was carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen.
The claimed attack came just after a visit by outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom also just hosted the annual G20 summit, which concluded on Sunday.
US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions
The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations. James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a…
The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations.
James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a US Senate voice vote.
The South Carolina native takes the job that he will carry out from the capital of neighbouring Colombia as Venezuela endures an historic economic and political crisis.
The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations first started to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.
The two nations totally broke diplomatic ties last year, each withdrawing its diplomats shortly after Washington backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader.
Story, 50, will likely play a key role in helping guide US policy on Venezuela during the transition of President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden’s win has sparked debate among those who back President Donald Trump’s hardline approach of isolating his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro and others who say it is time for a new course.
The critics say heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power, opening Venezuela to US competitors such as China, Russia and Iran, while making life harder on millions of residents of the South American nation.
The US leads a coalition of dozens of nations that rejected Maduro following his election in 2018 to a second term in a vote Washington called fraudulent.
The US has since heavily sanctioned Maduro, his inner circle and the state-run oil firm, attempting to isolate them.
The Trump administration offered a $15m reward for Maduro’s arrest after a US court indicted him on drug charges.