This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The North Korean government has ordered staff in its overseas missions to be prepared to operate under an “emergency duty” system ahead of the second U.S.-North Korea summit scheduled for Feb. 27-28 in Hanoi, Vietnam.
The emergency duty period started Feb. 19 and will last for ten days, according to sources. During the ten-day period, embassy and consulate staff will keep tabs on North Korean citizens abroad and report on reactions in the local media with the aim of ensuring the summit goes smoothly.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pyongyang gave special orders to consulates and embassies,” a North Korean trade worker in China told RFA’s Korean Service this week.
“[They have to] report any reaction or response from [people] in the countries they are in related to the second U.S.-North Korea summit,” the source said.
U.S. President Donald Trump will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the Vietnamese capital next week, for their second summit in an effort to address a nuclear arms dispute that has kept the Korean War foes at odds for the last 25 years.
In the face of criticism that Trump gave Kim too much simply by meeting with him in Singapore last year, U.S. officials say Washington remains focused on getting the North Korean leader to denuclearize.
“I don’t know if North Korea has made the choice yet to denuclearize, but the reason why we’re engaged in this is because we believe there is a possibility,” Reuters news agency quoted a U.S. official as saying Thursday.
“It is ultimately about the denuclearization of North Korea. That was what was agreed between the two sides and that is the overriding goal that President Trump is seeking to achieve with this summit. This is an important step towards that ultimate goal,” the official said.
North Korea is keen to get relief from economic sanctions imposed by Washington, the United Nations and other countries over its nuclear and missile programs, but Washington says U.S. sanctions would remain in place until there is movement on denuclearization.
RFA’s source said the emergency order also meant that “diplomatic staff and their families are under close watch,” said the source, who added that similar steps were taken before the Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore last June.
“Overseas trade workers also need to operate under [this system],” said the source, adding, “The consulate gathered representatives of trade workers and resident communities to report the movements of all trade workers beginning today.”
“They say that if anyone travels without permission from the trade representatives, they will be punished as if they were threatening Kim Jong Un himself.”
“In Beijing, there are a number of long-term trade workers who have been actively engaged in enterprises in Southeast Asia, especially in Taiwan, Hongkong, Cambodia and Vietnam,” said the source, adding, “They are also on the watch list [this time] so they can’t really move around [the region].”
“The State Security department is especially keeping a close watch on them,” the source said.
“Trade workers are not happy with the order because [it is as if] suspicion is falling upon them even though they’ve been loyal to the Workers’ Party and earning foreign cash [for the country],” said the source.
“But they can’t really express how they feel. If they say something unpleasant and any incident happens in any of the countries neighboring Vietnam during the summit, there’s no way they’ll avoid being charged with treason.”
In the second summit between North Korea and the United States, both countries will try to build on the agreement made after the first summit held last June, to continue toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
The Kim regime has claimed that several testing sites have been destroyed but international inspectors have not been invited to verify this claim.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in January admitted that the administration was still awaiting “concrete steps” by North Korea to scrap its nuclear arsenal.
Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.