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Nukes, economy, Trump summit: What’s in Kim Jong-un’s 2019 agenda | News

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Kim Jong-un will be keeping North Korea watchers busy on New Year’s Day, when he is expected to give his annual address laying out the country’s top priorities for the year ahead.

The speech, which is normally broadcast on North Korea’s state-run television network, is often the best gauge of what the North Korean leadership is focused on and what tone it will take in its dealings with the outside world.

For 2019, it will be parsed carefully for clues about Kim’s thinking on denuclearisation talks with Washington and a second summit with US President Donald Trump, relations with South Korea and Pyongyang’s efforts to get out from under international sanctions as it tries to build up its domestic economy.

A look at Kim’s plate for the coming year:

The economy

This is Kim’s primary concern. He made that clear in his 2018 News Year’s address and his government has been hammering it home ever since.

In his first televised speech, at a military parade in 2012, Kim vowed the nation would never again have to tighten its belts, a reference to the economic hardships it has faced, including a disastrous famine in the 1990s.

While they remain isolated and unable to travel or experience foreign media freely, North Koreans are aware of the yawning prosperity gap between themselves, South Korea and China.

Kim has tried to address that by initiating infrastructure projects in major cities, building up the capital and allowing – if not overtly supporting – the spread of the market economy. What’s not clear is how far he is willing to go with the kind of fundamental, systemic reforms needed to really ensure sustainable growth.

North Korea has hinted it wants to join the World Trade Organization and be more a part of the global economic community. But that would also require some risky moves – like increased transparency and commitment to global rules and norms. A big question is how much control Kim is willing to relinquish in exchange for prosperity.

North Korea is entering the fourth year of a five-year economic plan that Kim announced with great fanfare at a rare congress of his ruling party in 2016.

If precedent is any indication, he will go into some detail outlining, sector by sector, the country’s successes so far and emphasising what remains to be done.

This part of the speech is usually couched in deliberately vague, broad or aspirational language and is directed at the domestic party leadership.

But if Kim is serious about change, this could be where he drops some important hints.






Is North Korea’s timeline denuclearise for real?

Nuclear arsenal

North Korea is still standing firmly behind the agreements it made with Trump at the Singapore summit. The problem is that North Korea’s interpretation of what they agreed to is at odds with that of the Trump administration.

Kim never agreed to unilaterally throw away his hard-won nuclear arsenal, which he maintains is a necessary deterrent to the threat of an attack by the United States.

The North’s moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches also is not part of the summit agreement and there is no explicit promise in the Singapore joint statement that the North will not continue producing or developing its missiles.

So while the missiles have stopped flying for now, there’s still a lot up in the air.

Kim agreed the North would “work toward the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. But from the North’s perspective, it must include the removal of what it has always claimed is the reason why it has nukes in the first place – the threat of a US nuclear attack. While not directly criticising Trump, a tactic it is likely to stick with until it sees the overall process as seriously off the rails, the North has tried to play him against his advisers while it pushes for security guarantees and sanctions relief.

The bottom line is that North Korea has not given up much since Singapore. And it doesn’t think Washington has, either.

Trump has said a second summit could be held soon. The New Year’s speech gives Kim a golden opportunity to set the goalposts and to try to further detach Trump from his advisers.






North Korea’s Kim agrees to ‘dismantle’ key missile test sites

Relations with South Korea

In contrast to Pyongyang’s dealings with Washington, relations between North and South Korea have seen a major thaw.

With three leaders’ summits in 2018 and dozens of other meetings, the Koreas have opened a liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, created border buffers and no-fly zones to reduce military tensions, and jointly surveyed North Korea’s outdated railways and roads with the goal of connecting them with the South.

They even vowed to make a bid to jointly host the 2032 Summer Olympics.

But Seoul cannot proceed without the removal of U.S.-led international sanctions. While President Moon Jae-in sees inter-Korean reconciliation as a crucial part of nuclear diplomacy, his enthusiasm for engagement has caused discomfort in Washington. Pyongyang, meanwhile, has already begun expressing its frustration with the slowdown in inter-Korean projects and demanded that Seoul break from Washington’s lead.

Some analysts expect Kim to further try to drive a wedge between the allies with a nationalistic call for stronger inter-Korean cooperation, while painting Washington as a bad-faith actor refusing to take corresponding measures to the North’s unilateral dismantlement of a nuclear test site and the suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests.

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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