Australian National University professor labels Otto Warmbier ‘a liar’ and ‘a convenient actor’

21 03 2016

Otto Warmbier_2016(News.com.au MARCH 18, 2016) Fighting through tears and his own quivering voice, 21-year-old American Otto Warmbier never broke character.
“My mother needs me,” Warmbier said, before reaching into his pocket for a tissue. “My father needs me. My younger brother, my younger sister need me. I have made the single worst decision of my life but I’m only human.”
For his efforts and for his confession — Warmbier was filmed stealing a poster on January 1 — he was sentenced to 15 years hard labour.
But maybe, just maybe, they were crocodile tears. One expert says “Warmbier is a clever boy” and “a convenient hostage” who, despite begging to see his family again, actually wants to stay in Pyongyang.
Dr Leonid Petrov, a Korean Studies researcher at the Australian National University, told news.com.au he doesn’t buy Warmbier’s story for a second.
“He’s acting, you can see if you watch the videos,” Dr Petrov said. “One video after another show he’s obviously acting.
“(He) plays his theatrical role exclusively for the North Koreans to make them feel proud and powerful. He is a convenient hostage and will be rewarded for that. Welcome to a new form of A year in Korea: Self-imposed field work.”

Warmbier arrived in Pyongyang on December 29 last year. The University of Virginia student was in the country to see the sights and had organised a tour with a guide.
On January 1, he entered a restricted area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel and removed a poster featuring North Korean propaganda. He thought he had escaped without detection but CCTV cameras captured his every move.
On January 2, he was arrested at Pyongyang airport preparing to leave the country. That’s when the meetings began. That’s when Dr Petrov believed the American hatched a plan to become as valuable to North Korea as possible.
“It looks to me like he is interested in staying there. He presents himself as a victim (but) I think he’s simply trying to get the media attention and get the experience of being detained there,” he said.
“He is trying to get as deep into the situation as possible. Maybe he’s curious, maybe he’s doing field work.”
Warmbier’s speech, delivered a month after his arrest, has been watched around the world. In it, he expresses absolute regret.
“I beg that you find it in your hearts to give me forgiveness and allow me to return home to my family. I also beg that journalists accurately and objectively report my story.”
In a second video, Warmbier confessed to his crimes. He labelled himself a “severe criminal” and explained his motivations.
“I committed my crime of taking out the important political slogan from the staff-only area of the Yanggakdo International Hotel, aimed at harming the work ethic and the motivation of the Korean people,” Wambier said.
“After committing my crime against the people and government of the DPR Korea, I was detained. I have been very impressed by the Korean Government’s humanitarian treatment of severe criminals like myself and of their very fair and square legal procedures.
“I understand the severity of my crime and I have no idea what sort of penalty I may face but I am begging to the Korean people and government for my forgiveness and I am praying to the heavens so that I may be returned home to my family.”

Dr Petrov said Warmbier is smarter than people realise. The Theta Chi fraternity brother is on the university’s Dean’s List for outstanding academic achievement.
“He was in North Korea, he obviously knew the place. He went to a restricted area, an area a lot of people don’t know exists. He’s not naive, he’s not a victim.”
He said Warmbier knew “more about North Korea than any of America’s previous detainees” and could be trying to find out as much as he can before he’s kicked out of the country.
“He is a victim in the eyes of Americans,” Dr Petrov told news.com.au.
“He’s trying to portray that he’s not a sympathiser but he also wants as much access to the system as possible. A foreigner who knows too much is a threat to the system so he may not stay there long. They may trade him (for a North Korean prisoner in America) but sooner or later they will release him on some conditions.”
If Warmbier is acting, the White House doesn’t know it or won’t acknowledge it. In a statement, White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Thursday called for the immediate release of the prisoner.
“We strongly encourage the North Korean government to pardon him and grant him special amnesty and immediate release,” Mr Earnest said.
“The allegations for which this individual was arrested and imprisoned would not give rise to arrest or imprisonment in the United States or in just about any other country in the world.”
Warmbier is not the first American to be held in North Korea but his sentence is on the extreme end of the scale. Previously, American missionaries and journalists spent time in detention under the watch of the Kim family.
An Australian even made the list for leaving a bible in a temple. John Short left the religious material in a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang.
The 75-year-old was sent to prison but released after 15 days.





Korean Peninsula Looks More Divided than Ever

21 03 2016

Kaesong Industrial Park closing(AFP, Daily Mail, 12 February 2016) North and South Korea’s perennially volatile relations seem headed for a new and potentially dangerous low, with all official lines of communication cut off and a host of tension-raising issues on the near horizon.

The two rivals, who have remained technically at war over the past six decades, have faced and weathered numerous crises in the past, but the current situation feels particularly grim in the wake of the North’s recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch.

Any hope of compromise or dialogue seems to have been indefinitely shelved, with a leader in Pyongyang confirming an unwavering commitment to nuclear weapons development, and a counterpart in Seoul determined to react firmly — and proactively — to any North Korean provocation.

And the standoff is taking on wider Cold War-like dimensions, with the divisions between the main parties to the North Korean nuclear issue — China and Russia on one side, the US, South Korea and Japan on the other — increasingly stark and antagonistic.

The new mood on the divided peninsula played out this week in the effective termination of the sole remaining North-South cooperation project — the Kaesong joint industrial zone lying 10 kilometres (six miles) over the border in North Korea.

– A talisman for ties –

Despite its obvious vulnerabilities, Kaesong had taken on a talismanic image by riding out pretty much every inter-Korean crisis thrown up since it opened for business in 2004.

“In a way, it’s a miracle it lasted that long,” said Leonid Petrov, an expert on North Korea at the Australian National University.

But on Wednesday, Seoul announced it was suspending all operations of the 124 South Korean companies in Kaesong, and yesterday Pyongyang responded by expelling all the firms’ managers and freezing their factories’ assets.

The North placed the complex under military control, while the South cut off all power and water supplies.

“I don’t see any way back for Kaesong now,” Petrov said. “It’s gone too far and there’s no real will in the North or South to work it out.”

Kaesong was born out of the “sunshine” reconciliation policy of the late 1990s.

One of the roles initially envisaged by Seoul was of Kaesong as a beachhead for market reforms in North Korea that would spread from the complex and expose tens of thousands to the outside world’s way of doing business.

Although that vision never materialised, some analysts still mourned its demise for closing a small but crucial open door on the world’s most heavily-militarised border.

– ‘Great leap backwards’ –

“With no Kaesong, South and North Koreans will no longer be in contact anywhere on a regular basis. That is a great leap backwards,” Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert based in Britain, wrote for the NK News website.

Chang Yong-Seok, a senior researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, said one of Kaesong’s most important contributions had been to help keep inter-Korean rivalries in check.

“The Koreas both had a stake in Kaesong so they were able to restrain each other in some ways, but now that has all gone out the window,” Chang said.

The space for communication between Seoul and Pyongyang shrank further on Thursday, when the North announced it was cutting the last two remaining communication hotlines with the South.

The hotlines themselves have never been used for conversational diplomacy, but they were key to setting up meetings where such discussions could take place.

The severing of all contacts comes ahead of a period when crisis-control talks could be most needed.

– Tensions ahead –

North Korea will likely react strongly to whatever sanctions the UN Security Council eventually agrees to impose over its nuclear test and rocket launch.

Then in March, South Korean and the United States will kick off a series of annual military drills that the North views as rehearsals for invasion and which always see a spike in tensions.

Pyongyang’s claims of provocation over the exercises should be especially shrill this time, as Seoul and Washington also begin talks on deploying an advanced US missile shield in South Korea.

“South Korea and the US have said the drills will be on an even larger scale than usual which is sure to meet a big backlash from North Korea,” said Chang.

“So, with all this, I think we’re going to see tensions running at a level incomparable to previous years,” he added.