Has Pyongyang decided to take out some insurance against potential American military action? Earlier today, Sweden’s diplomatic team in North Korea confirmed news reports of an arrest of a US citizen, the third now in custody by the Kim regime. The academic was apparently on his way out of the country when authorities arrested him, and no one is sure where he’s at now:
Tony Kim, who also goes by his Korean name Kim Sang-duk, was detained on Saturday, according to Park Chan-mo, the chancellor of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.
Park said Kim, who is 58, taught accounting at the university for about a month. He said Kim was detained by officials as he was trying to leave the country from Pyongyang’s international airport. A university spokesman said he was trying to leave with his wife on a flight to China.
The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang said Sunday it was aware of a Korean-American citizen being detained recently, but could not comment further. The embassy looks after consular affairs for the United States in North Korea because the two countries do not have diplomatic relations.
Hostage-taking? This certainly sounds familiar, and not just in the context of US-DPRK relations. After staging an assassination in Kuala Lumpur using VX nerve agent, North Korea responded to Malaysia’s curtailing of diplomatic relations by detaining several of its nationals. They only relented when Malaysia gave North Korea the body of Kim Jong-nam. As the level of saber rattling escalates, the Kim regime may have decided to seize Americans as hostages for later diplomatic trades, and that may have been why Tony Kim was heading for the exit, too.
If their plan was to get the US to back down, it didn’t have any immediate success. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley warned North Korea on Today that another missile test could provoke a US military response. “Don’t give us a reason to fight with you,” Haley said after stating that the US would not attack without provocation:
“We are not going to do anything unless he gives us a reason to do something, so our goal is not to start a fight,” she said Monday on TODAY.
She also described what kind of provocations by North Korea’s Kim Jung Un would prompt the United States to take action.
“If you see him attack a military base, if you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we’re going to do that,” she said. “But right now we’re saying, don’t test, don’t use nuclear missiles, don’t try and do any more actions and I think he’s understanding that.”
Meanwhile, in what looks like a forlorn hope, Chinese president Xi Jinping asked all sides to exercise restraint, as the USS Carl Vinson task group makes its long-awaited appearance in the region:
Chinese President Xi Jinping called for all sides to exercise restraint on Monday in a telephone call about North Korea with U.S. President Donald Trump, as Japan conducted exercises with a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group headed for Korean waters.
Trump sent the carrier group for exercises in waters off the Korean peninsula as a warning, amid growing fears North Korea could conduct another nuclear test in defiance of United Nations sanctions.
Angered by the approach of the USS Carl Vinson carrier group, a defiant North Korea said on Monday the deployment was “an extremely dangerous act by those who plan a nuclear war to invade”.
“The United States should not run amok and should consider carefully any catastrophic consequence from its foolish military provocative act,” Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a commentary on Monday.
Coming from a regime that used VX nerve agent for an assassination of a nobody in the crowded airport of one of its only diplomatic allies, an accusation of foolish military provocations doesn’t really mean much. North Korea has fueled these provocations from the beginning; the only change is that the US has decided to respond in kind, perhaps 25 years later than it should have.
Americans still in North Korea should look for a way out — and quickly. They should also be ready to explain why they were there in the first place.