North Korea warns of a return to nuclear policy

Little progress has been made since the historic summit between Trump and Kim. (File/AFP)
Updated 04 November 2018

North Korea warns of a return to nuclear policy

  • For years, the North had pursued a “byungjin” policy of simultaneously developing its nuclear capabilities alongside the economy
  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that sanctions will remain until Pyongyang carries out it denuclearization commitments made in Singapore

SEOUL: North Korea has warned the United States it will “seriously” consider returning to a state policy aimed at building nuclear weapons if Washington does not end tough economic sanctions against the impoverished regime.
For years, the North had pursued a “byungjin” policy of simultaneously developing its nuclear capabilities alongside the economy.
In April, citing a “fresh climate of detente and peace” on the peninsula, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared the nuclear quest complete and said his country would focus on “socialist economic construction.”
But a statement issued by the North’s foreign ministry said Pyongyang could revert to its former policy if the US did not change its stance over sanctions.
“The word ‘byungjin’ may appear again and the change of the line could be seriously reconsidered,” said the statement carried by the official KCNA news agency late Friday.
At a historic summit in Singapore in June, US President Donald Trump and Kim signed a vaguely-worded statement on denuclearization.
But little progress has been made since then, with Washington pushing to maintain sanctions against the North until its “final, fully verified denuclearization” and Pyongyang condemning US demands as “gangster-like.”
“The improvement of relations and sanctions are incompatible,” said the statement, released under the name of the director of the foreign ministry’s Institute for American Studies.
“What remains to be done is the US corresponding reply,” it added.
The statement is the latest sign of Pyongyang’s increasing frustration with Washington.
Last month, the North’s state media carried a near 1,700 words long commentary accusing the US of playing a “double game,” implicitly criticizing Trump for his comments aimed at barring Seoul from lifting sanctions against Pyongyang.
Despite a flurry of diplomacy on and around the peninsula differences are emerging between Seoul and Washington, which stations 28,500 troops in the South to protect it from its nuclear-armed neighbor.
The South’s doveish president Moon Jae-in has long favored engagement with the North, which is subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
He has dangled large investment and joint cross-border projects as incentives for steps toward denuclearization, while the US has been adamant pressure should be maintained on Pyongyang until it fully dismantles its weapons programs.
In an interview with Fox News on Friday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated that sanctions will remain until Pyongyang carries out it denuclearization commitments made in Singapore, adding he will meet with his North Korean counterpart next week.


World Bank: Indonesia forest fires cost $5.2bn in economic losses

Updated 11 December 2019

World Bank: Indonesia forest fires cost $5.2bn in economic losses

  • Economic losses equal to 0.5 percent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product
  • Drifting smoke at the height of the dry season in September triggered a diplomatic spat between Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur

JAKARTA: The total damage and economic loss from forest fires in Indonesia this year amounted to at least $5.2 billion, equal to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product, the World Bank said in a report on Wednesday.
The estimate was based on its assessment in eight affected provinces from June to October 2019, though analysts at the multinational bank said fires had continued to rage through to November.
“The forest and land fires, as well as the resulting haze, led to significant negative economic impacts, estimated at $157 million in direct damage to assets and $5.0 billion in losses from affected economic activities,” the World Bank wrote in the report.
Over 900,000 people reported respiratory illnesses, 12 national airports halted operations, and hundreds of schools in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore had to temporarily close due to the fires.
Drifting smoke at the height of the dry season in September triggered a diplomatic spat between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.
More than 942,000 hectares (2.3 million acres) of forests and lands were burned this year, the biggest since devastating fires in 2015 when Indonesia saw 2.6 million hectares burned, according to official figures. Officials said the spike was due to El Nino weather patterns lengthening the dry season.
The World Bank also estimated a 0.09 and 0.05 percentage points reduction in Indonesia’s economic growth in 2019 and 2020, respectively, due to the fires. Its growth forecast for Indonesia is 5 percent for 2019 and 5.1 percent for 2020.
The blazes were “manmade and have become a chronic problem annually since 1997” because fire is considered the cheapest method to prepare land for cultivation, the bank said.
Because about 44 percent of the areas burned in 2019 were in peatlands, carbon emissions from Indonesia’s fires were estimated to be almost double the emissions from the fires in the Brazilian Amazon this year.
The European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecast estimated a total of 720 megatons of CO2 emissions came from Indonesian forest fires in January-November this year.
Longer-term effects of repeated fires were not included in this estimate, the World Bank said. Repeated haze exposure would reduce health and education quality and damage the global image of palm oil — an important commodity for Indonesia.