Religious Freedom Act Violations: Annual Designation by US State Dept. Released

Today, the Department of State announces that the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern on December 22, 2017. The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.

Designations Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998

Press Statement

Heather Nauert
Department Spokesperson
Washington, DC
January 4, 2018

In far too many places around the globe, people continue to be persecuted, unjustly prosecuted, or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. Today, a number of governments infringe upon individuals’ ability to adopt, change, or renounce their religion or belief, worship in accordance with their religion or beliefs, or be free from coercion to practice a particular religion or belief.

In accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the Secretary of State annually designates governments that have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom as “Countries of Particular Concern”. Today, the Department of State announces that the Secretary of State re-designated Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as Countries of Particular Concern on December 22, 2017. The Secretary also placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List for severe violations of religious freedom.

The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity. These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries. We recognize that several designated countries are working to improve their respect for religious freedom; we welcome these initiatives and look forward to continued dialogue. The United States remains committed to working with governments, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to advance religious freedom around the world.

Hong Kong vessel seized by S. Korea after ship-to-ship oil transfer for N. Korea


SEOUL, Dec. 29 (Yonhap) — A Hong Kong vessel has been seized and inspected by South Korean authorities after secretly transferring oil to a North Korean vessel in international waters in a ship-to-ship transfer prohibited by the United Nations Security Council, government officials said Friday.

South Korean customs authorities inspected the Hong Kong vessel, Lighthouse Winmore, when it entered the country’s Yeosu Port on Nov. 24 after transferring 600 tons of refined oil to a North Korean vessel on Oct. 19, the officials said.

UNSC Resolution 2375, adopted in September, bans member countries from ship-to-ship transfer of any goods for North Korea.

This composite photo of oil transfer between China and North Korea is captured from the website of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. (Yonhap)This composite photo of oil transfer between China and North Korea is captured from the website of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. (Yonhap)

The Hong Kong-flagged ship was chartered by Taiwanese company Billions Bunker Group and previously visited South Korea’s Yeosu Port on Oct. 11 to load up on Japanese refined oil and head to its claimed destination in Taiwan, the authorities noted.

Instead of going to Taiwan, however, the vessel transferred the oil to a North Korean ship, the Sam Jong 2, and three other non-North Korean vessels in international waters, they said.

“The actions taken will be reported to the UNSC sanctions committee on North Korea in the future,” according to the authorities. “This marks a typical case of North Korea shrewdly circumventing UNSC sanctions by using its illegal networks.”

The officials said South Korea has shared intelligence with the U.S. for the detection of the illegal transaction.

In their search of the seized vessel, South Korean authorities secured navigation logs and testimony from the crew that the oil transaction was ordered by the Taiwanese group through the vessel’s caption. But motive of the transaction with North Korea is not known, the officials noted.

South Korea will be keeping the Hong Kong-flagged vessel for about six months, during which time Hong Kong is expected to file a request for the ship’s release with the UNSC’s sanctions committee on North Korea.

The U.S. has reportedly called on the UNSC to blacklist 10 ships for engaging in proscribed trade with North Korea although China and Russia are opposed to that. Lighthouse Winmore was reportedly one of the 10 targeted ships. The Security Council sanctions committee will make a decision on the request on Friday (New York time), according to the officials.

North Korean Defector: Return DPRK to State Sponsored Terrorism List

Thae Yong-Ho, Photo Courtesy Zhang Wei, Voice of America.

On November 2, 2017 House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) issued the following statement urging the administration to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism:

“The North Korean regime’s murderous torture of Otto Warmbier and assassination of Kim Jong Nam are just two examples of a consistent pattern of recent terrorist activities. Before the committee this week, Thae Yong-ho, a high-ranking North Korean defector, endorsed relisting North Korea as a state sponsor of terror. So I urge the administration to take quick action. There is simply no reason for further delay of this decision.”

Note: Chairman Royce’s H.R. 3364 – signed into law on August 2, 2017 – required the administration to determine within 90 days whether North Korea meets the criteria for designation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

On November 1, 2017, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs listened to the testimony of Thae Yong-ho, the highest-ranking North Korean defector to ever testify before the House of Representatives. Thae joined the Foreign Ministry in 1988 after receiving degrees in international politics and English from Pyongyang and Beijing Universities. His most recent position was in London, where he was minister and deputy chief of mission from 2013 to 2016, when he defected to South Korea.

Thae began his two and one half hour testimony with a prepared statement

Major points:

Thae worked on the frontline of North Korean diplomacy as the former Deputy Chief of Mission of North Korea. He defected to South Korea in 2016.

Thae lived a life of privilege in comparison to the average North Korean who may deal with oppression and hunger. “I went through elite educational courses in North Korea, which could not even be dreamed of by ordinary citizens there. At the age of 14, I was sent to China for a special elite educational program. More than 20 years of the past 55 years of my life, were very privileged by North Korean standards. I lived and worked in foreign countries such as China, Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The North Korean system provided me with all kinds of political privileges and economic benefits during this time and, in the course of my last posting, I was fortunate enough to live in the UK with my wife and two sons. Throughout my life, my family members and relatives were all dedicated true communists.”

So why did he defect? His reasons are two-fold. First, his two sons were educated in the UK with complete exposure to freedom of thought and information: “I could not force my sons to pretend to be loyal to Kim Jong Un and the North Korean system and to shout ‘long live the supreme leader Kim Jong Un!,’ ‘long live the socialist paradise of the DPRK’ – like I did all my life.”

Second, Thae lived as “a modern-day slave… leading a ceaseless double-life, which was psychologically difficult. I had to pretend to be loyal to the Kim Jong Un regime, even though my heart did not agree. I often was asked questions by my British friends which caught me flat footed. Trying to justify the North Korean system when, deep down, I knew their concerns were fair and legitimate. They asked me things such as:

  • How could Kim Jong Un persecute his own uncle?
  • Why does North Korea continue to appeal for humanitarian aid while pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into its nuclear and missile development?
  • Communism has always opposed a dynastic transfer of power, so how then does the Kim family’s hereditary leadership system prevail so long in North Korea?”

These doubts, of course, could lead to persecution, prison camp or death: “Indeed, if it is discovered that a senior elite may have different ideas or express private dissatisfactions, then he or she could be subject to persecution. And as you all know, even the members of the Kim’s family have been subject to this type of persecution. Such was the case with the killing of Kim Jung Un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek and half-brother Kim Jong Nam. Beyond these high-profile incidents, much more has been going on beneath the surface over the past five years, hundreds of cadres have been persecuted without due process. For example, the families of former North Korean Ambassadors to Cuba and Malaysia were sent to prison camps and nobody knows whether they are now alive or dead.”

Thae says changes in NK over the past five years show signs the Kim Jong Un regime is weakening:

Free markets are flourishing, threatening the state owned socialist economic system.

The welfare system of North Korea has long collapsed and millions of civil servants, army officers, and security forces are dependent on bribes and state asset embezzlement for their survival.

The citizens do not care about state propaganda but increasingly watch illegally imported South Korean movies and dramas. Until now, the North Korean system has prevailed through an effective and credible reign of terror and by almost perfectly preventing the free-flow of outside information.

“These changes, however, make it increasingly possible to think about civilian uprising in North Korea. As more and more people gradually become informed about the reality of their living conditions, the North Korean government will either have to change and adapt in positive ways for its citizens, or to face the consequences of their escalating dissatisfaction.”

Understanding the goals  and mindset of Kim Jong Un:

Today, Kim Jong Un thinks that only nuclear weapons and ICBMs can help him avert the continuing disintegration of the North Korean system.

He also thinks that the existence of a prosperous and democratic South Korea so close to the border is, by itself, a major threat towards his dynasty.

While Kim Jong Un has already long had the tools to destroy South Korea effectively, he also believes it is necessary to drive American forces out of the peninsula.

And this can be done, he believes, by being able to credibly threaten the continental United States with nuclear weapons.

Recommendations going forward:

It will take some time to assess the effectiveness of the current economic sanctions and campaign of diplomatic isolation. Thae recommends we continue the momentum and even expand targeted sanctions until the North Korean regime comes back to the dialogue table for denuclearization.

Second, strengthen the U.S.-ROK alliance: “The US and ROK Governments should enhance the level of their coordination and communication under the slogan of ‘We go together.’”

It is a long established dialogue strategy of North Korea to exclude South Korea while communicating only with the US. The US and South Korean Governments should frustrate this North Korea strategy through strong concerted co-ordination.

Use Soft Power Techniques before military options:

Meet with Kim Jong Un: “It is necessary to reconsider whether we have tried all non-military options before we decide that military action against North Korea is all that is left. Before any military action is taken, I think it is necessary to meet Kim Jong Un at least once to understand his thinking and to try to convince him that he would be destroyed if he continues his current direction.”

Educate the North Korean population to stand up to the regime by disseminating outside information—much more needs to be done to increase the flow of information into North Korea. “The U.S. is spending billions of dollars to cope with the military threat. Yet how much does the U.S. spend each year on information activities involving North Korea in a year?”

Open Chinese borders to defectors: Some 30,000 North Korea defectors have come to South Korea. In China, however, tens of thousands of North Korean defectors are living without papers, under the shadows, and are being physically or sexually exploited. US should do more to stop Beijing repatriating defectors back to North Korea.

Enhance military preparedness: “Frankly, Kim Jong Un is not fully aware of the strength and might of American military power.”

Also, “Kim Jong Un genuinely believes that he can break the sanctions regime apart once he compels Washington to accept North Korea’s new status after successfully completing the development of his ICBM program and putting the new missiles into deployment.”

During the Q&A period of the hearing, Thae answered questions from committee members:

Terror List:

The current regime under Kim Jong Un is a reign of terror comparable to crimes committed by the Nazis. The current sanctions are good, but they are not enough as NK maintains a stockpile of supplies. However, these rations will only be given to the elite. (Malnutrition and famine have already decreased the height of the average North Korean by 10 cm.) Placing NK back on the state sponsored terror list would help drive NK out of the international financial systems and cut off funding for further nuclear development.

Mount Paetku, Portrayed as the birthplace site of Kim Jong Il, Courtesy DPRK Tourism


We must understand that North Koreans truly believe Kim Jong Un and his entire dynasty are divine. North Koreans truly believe this and are brainwashed from an early age. The belief in Kim Jong Un as a god makes it easier to convince North Koreans that they should be willing to die for him. Information smuggled into North Korea to prove he is human would help the citizens to unite against him. For example, North Koreans do not know Kim Jong Un is the third son of his father and it is likely his own grandfather didn’t even know of his existence. He was raised and educated in Switzerland and no one knows the true year of his birth.

Mr. Thae: “The Kim Jong Un regime established a full-scale, stupid brainwashing system depicting Kim Jong Un as a god. So I think we should try to concentrate our efforts to educate North Korean people that Kim Jong Un is not a god. He is just a normal human being.”


U.S. broadcasting efforts are critical. Information smuggled into the country should include American TV through small devices. Content should be tailored for each class of North Korean citizen. (There are three classes.) Regardless of class, North Koreans need to know “very simple tailor-made content which can tell the basic concepts of freedom, human rights and democracy.” Currently, movies do come in on SD cards, also referred to as nose cards, because young North Koreans conceal them in their nostrils. The risks are that public executions have been held for simply watching South Korea movies.

President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump in China (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The Problem of China:

The Chinese government must support economic sanctions against North Korea and stop sending defectors back to North Korea for torture and labor enforcement or even death. The Chinese must open a route to defection which could allow a mass exodus to occur. The Chinese should set up temporary refugee camps to hold defectors safely until they can continue on to South Korea where they will be welcomed.

Also, China continues to trade with North Korea, especially with the purchase of coal, primarily through unofficial smuggling networks. North Korea trucks carrying ICBMs are Chinese-made, supposedly to support the timber industry. China could use these same smuggling routes and techniques to smuggle in information.


Thae says, “It’s not a paradise…it is the worst inhuman system in human history.” The system of classification is similar to the feudal class system. It is not a socialist welfare system as it portrays itself. Citizens do not know what fair payment is for work. Sometimes salaries do not even cover the cost of food. Sexual exploitation also exists in which young girls are chosen to work for the family.

25 Aug 2010 – “Storax Sedan” underground nuclear test – July 1962
Storax Sedan (yield 104 kt) – shallow underground nuclear test conducted by the United States on 6 July 1962 at Nevada Test Site. The main purpose of the detonation was to asses the non military dimension of a nuclear explosion. Image in the public domain
Photo: The Official CTBTO Photostream


Who is helping them with developing nukes? North Korea has been studying the development of nuclear weapons since the late 1950s under the tutelage of the former Soviet Union. Thae does not know of the need for any outside help at this time.

The purpose of the nuclear program is to put preserve the regime. Kim believes nukes will guarantee his rule and will drive the US from the Korean peninsula through what is essentially blackmail. He believes that once he can successfully prove he can strike the US with a nuclear weapon, the US will pull out of South Korea. Thae says South Koreans are already moving further away from the DMZ, knowing that most successful missiles are only short range at this time.


The proliferation of nuclear weapons and the ramping up of terror have caused more elites and diplomats to defect than ever before. Elites need to be enticed to leave through specially arranged deals that will help collapse the regime. Thae estimates that the elite (“the core class”) make up about 25 percent of the total population, which would amount to less than 10 thousand people. He noted that even though many people have a high ranking in society, they still do not have free access to information and would have to be educated. He estimates only 300 to 400 people control the country, and these are the only ones with access to world news, Internet, etc.


Soft power should be used to pressure other countries to expel North Korean diplomats.

US State Department State Sponsors of Terrorism

Countries determined by the Secretary of State to have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism are designated pursuant to three laws: section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act, section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act, and section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act. Taken together, the four main categories of sanctions resulting from designation under these authorities include restrictions on U.S. foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

Designation under the above-referenced authorities also implicates other sanctions laws that penalize persons and countries engaging in certain trade with state sponsors. Currently there are three countries designated under these authorities: Iran, Sudan, and Syria.

Country Designation Date
Iran January 19, 1984
Sudan August 12, 1993
Syria December 29, 1979

Trump’s Granddaughter Arabella Prepares Video for Chinese Leaders

According to China NewsAsia, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “As a little ambassador of Chinese-American friendship, Arabella has already received the love of a vast number of Chinese people.”

“This kind of special arrangement is actually very sweet and warm-hearted. We believe that this has helped to further bring closer the affection and distance between the Chinese and American people.”

Read more at–love–trump-s-mandarin-speaking-granddaughter-9391476

President Donald J. Trump’s Upcoming Travel to Asia: Statement from the Press Secretary

President Donald Trump delivers the Address to Congress on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, at the U.S. Capitol. This is the President’s first Address to Congress of his presidency. Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

Statement from the Press Secretary on President Donald J. Trump’s Upcoming Travel to Asia

As was announced on September 29, 2017, President Donald J. Trump will travel to Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Hawaii, from November 3-14, 2017. This update provides further details about the President’s itinerary.

The President’s travel will underscore his commitment to longstanding United States alliances and partnerships, and reaffirm United States leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

On November 3, the President will visit Hawaii and receive a briefing from the U.S. Pacific Command. He will visit Pearl Harbor and the USS ARIZONA Memorial.

The President will commence his visit to Asia beginning with Japan on November 5. While in Japan, President Trump will meet with American and Japanese service members, and participate in bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will also host the President for a meeting with the families of Japanese citizens abducted by the North Korean regime.

During his visit to the Republic of Korea on November 7, the President will participate in a bilateral meeting with President Moon Jae-in and visit American and South Korean service members. The President will speak at the National Assembly, where he will celebrate the enduring alliance and friendship between the United States and the Republic of Korea, and call on the international community to join together in maximizing pressure on North Korea.

On November 8, President Trump will arrive in Beijing, China for a series of bilateral, commercial, and cultural events, including meetings with President Xi Jinping.

The President will travel to Danang, Vietnam, on November 10. There, he will participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting and deliver a speech at the APEC CEO Summit. In the speech, the President will present the United States’ vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region and underscore the important role the region plays in advancing America’s economic prosperity. On November 11, the President will travel to Hanoi, Vietnam for an official visit and bilateral engagements with President Tran Dai Quang and other senior Vietnamese leaders.

President Trump will arrive in Manila, Philippines, on November 12 to participate in the Special Gala Celebration Dinner for the 50th Anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). On November 13, the President will celebrate the 40th anniversary of U.S.-ASEAN relations at the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and participate in bilateral meetings with President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and other leaders.