No sign of imminent North Korea missile launch: Seoul

Above, a satellite image by DigitalGlobe of North Korea’s Sohae facility, which has been used to launch satellites into space since 2011. (DigitalGlobe via AP)
Updated 18 March 2019
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No sign of imminent North Korea missile launch: Seoul

  • ‘Tongchang-ri is a launch site but we don’t see any activity being carried out for a missile launch’
  • North Korea has used Sohae to launch satellites into space since 2011

SEOUL: It is too soon to tell if recent activity at some of North Korea’s rocket facilities is preparation for a missile launch, South Korea’s defense minister told a parliamentary hearing on Monday. Early in March, several American think-tanks and South Korean officials reported that satellite imagery showed possible preparations for a launch from the Sohae rocket launch site at Tongchang-ri, North Korea, which has been used in the past to launch satellites but not intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.
“It’s hasty to call it missile-related activity,” Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a parliamentary defense committee.
“Tongchang-ri is a launch site but we don’t see any activity being carried out for a missile launch.”
When asked if he could confirm whether Sohae was functionally restored, Jeong said it was inappropriate for intelligence authorities to comment on every media report one way or the other.
He also said there were signs of continued nuclear activity in North Korea, without elaborating.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told a separate parliamentary panel that it was possible that the recent developments at the missile site were to bolster North Korea’s leverage in negotiations.
“But given North Korea’s continued work, thorough analysis is needed to find out its exact intentions,” Cho said.
On Friday, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told foreign diplomats and journalists in Pyongyang that leader Kim Jong Un was considering suspending talks with the United States and may rethink a freeze on missile and nuclear tests unless the United States made concessions.
The activity at Sohae appeared to begin shortly before US President Trump met Kim at a summit in Hanoi late last month.
The summit broke down over differences about US demands for North Korea to denuclearize and its demand for dramatic relief from international sanctions imposed for its nuclear and missile tests, which it pursued for years in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
Trump said after his first summit with Kim in Singapore last June that Kim had promised to dismantle the Sohae test site, a pledge the North Korean leader reiterated and expanded on at a summit with Moon in September.
North Korea has used Sohae to launch satellites into space since 2011, and the United States says its work there has helped develop missile technology.
A satellite launch in April 2012 killed off an Obama administration deal for a freeze in North Korean nuclear and missile testing reached weeks earlier.
On Wednesday, 38 North, a group that monitors North Korea, reported that there had been no new activity at Sohae since March 8.
On Friday, the group reported that satellite imagery showed no activity at North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear reactor complex, or at dismantled facilities at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.


Thailand says US man’s seasteading home violates sovereignty

Updated 21 min 18 sec ago
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Thailand says US man’s seasteading home violates sovereignty

BANGKOK: Thai authorities have raided a floating home in the Andaman Sea belonging to an American man and his Thai partner who sought to be pioneers in the “seasteading” movement, which promotes living in international waters to be free of any nation’s laws.
Thailand’s navy said Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet endangered national sovereignty, an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death.
It filed a complaint against them with police on the southern resort island of Phuket. Thai authorities said they have revoked Elwartowski’s visa.
Elwartowski said in an email Thursday that he believes he and Supranee — also known as Nadia Summergirl — did nothing wrong.
“This is ridiculous,” he said in an earlier statement posted online. “We lived on a floating house boat for a few weeks and now Thailand wants us killed.”
The couple, who have gone into hiding, had been living part-time on a small structure they said was anchored outside Thailand’s territorial waters, just over 12 nautical miles from shore. They were not there when the navy carried out their raid on Saturday.
The Thai deputy naval commander responsible for the area said the project was a challenge to the country’s authorities.
“This affects our national security and cannot be allowed,” Rear Adm. Wintharat Kotchaseni told Thai media on Tuesday. He said the floating house also posed a safety threat to navigation if it broke loose because the area is considered a shipping lane.
Seasteading has had a revival in recent years as libertarian ideas of living free from state interference — such as by using crypto-currency including Bitcoin — have become more popular, including among influential Silicon Valley figures such as entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Elwartowski, an IT specialist, has been involved in Bitcoin since 2010.
Several larger-scale projects are under development, but some in the seasteading community have credited the Andaman Sea house with being the first modern implementation of seasteading.
“The first thing to do is whatever I can to help Chad & Nadia, because living on a weird self-built structure and dreaming of future sovereignty should be considered harmless eccentricities, not major crimes,” Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who heads The Seasteading Institute, said on his Facebook page.
The floating two-story octagonal house at the center of the controversy had been profiled and promoted online by a group called Ocean Builders, which touted it as a pilot project and sought to sell additional units.
The group describes itself as “a team of engineering focused entrepreneurs who have a passion for seasteading and are willing to put the hard work and effort forward to see that it happens.”
In online statements, both Elwartowski and Ocean Builders said the couple merely promoted and lived on the structure, and did not fund, design, build or set the location for it.
“I was volunteering for the project promoting it with the desire to be able to be the first seasteader and continue promoting it while living on the platform,” Elwartowski told The Associated Press.
“Being a foreigner in a foreign land, seeing the news that they want to give me the death penalty for just living on a floating house had me quite scared,” Elwartowski said. “We are still quite scared for our lives. We seriously did not think we were doing anything wrong and thought this would be a huge benefit for Thailand in so many ways.”
Asked his next step, he was more optimistic.
“I believe my lawyer can come to an amicable agreement with the Thai government,” he said.