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North Korea blows up the relationship. Why?

North Korea blows up the relationship. Why?

First, they stop taking your calls. Then they blow up the house. But this isn't a love affair gone wrong, it's what's happening right now along one of the tensest borders in the world, between North and South Korea. Last week Pyongyang quit answering a daily phone call from the South that was set up in 2018 to keep the peace and further reconciliation. Then, yesterday, North Korea quite literally blew up a building just north of the border which both sides had used for the past two years as a meeting place for officials from the North and the South.

Why now?


The immediate issue seems to be Seoul's failure to stop North Korean defectors ("human scum" as they're known in Pyongyang's state media) from sending anti-Kim leaflets over the border using balloons and drones.

But there's a larger context. North Korea's economy is suffering under crippling international sanctions tied to its nuclear program, and the coronavirus pandemic almost certainly isn't helping. With nuclear talks largely stalled, there's no relief in sight. Kim is almost certainly looking to refocus the attention of three key players.

First, South Korea. In the two years since a historic meeting between Kim Jong-un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in, the North hasn't seen clear benefits from easing tensions with Seoul. Although South Korea is keen on reconciliation for both economic and strategic reasons – North Korean labor is cheap and the North Korean military is scary — President Moon won't advance big economic overtures that violate the "maximum pressure" sanctions policy of his allies in Washington. With President Moon's party fresh off a historic election win, Kim may calculate that now's the time to force the issue again.

And there's China. Beijing is North Korea's indispensable economic and diplomatic partner. China accounts for 95 percent of North Korea's trade, and can ratchet up or down the amount of smuggling that it permits to occur across their shared border. But Beijing has been distracted lately – by coronavirus, by Hong Kong, and now by a surge in border skirmishes with India. Kim knows that to make any fresh progress in nuclear talks he needs to re-engage the attention of his main external patron.

And of course, the US. Détente with the US has provided little for Kim beyond photo ops and the diplomatic stardust of meetings with a US president. Kim still wants immediate sanctions relief in exchange for promises to relinquish his weapons later, but Washington insists that Pyongyang begin verifiably dismantling its nukes first. Talks are deadlocked. Rattling the cage now is almost certainly meant to get Washington's attention, and the clock is ticking: if Kim is worried about Trump's re-election chances, he likely wants to re-engage fast. Joe Biden wouldn't be likely to share any exotic summits or love letters with the North Korean leader.

What comes next?

So far this year, North Korea has conducted about half a dozen weapons tests, though none of them involving long-range missiles or nuclear warheads, redlines for the United States. If Kim feels he is running out of time to get China's attention and to help draw the Trump administration into a pre-election "big splash" deal, then he could revisit more serious weapons tests in the coming months.

If that happens, the soap-opera drama of ignored phone calls and exploding houses could soon give way to a much more serious international thriller.

Microsoft released a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware. Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that steps are taken to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace: that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication. Microsoft summarized some of the most important insights in this year's report, including related suggestions for people and businesses.

Read the whole post and report at Microsoft On The Issues.

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Print out GZERO's handy debate BINGO cards and get ready to rumble. There are four different cards so that each player may have a unique board. Every time one of the candidates says one of these words or terms, X it on your card. First player to get five across wins. And if you really want to jazz it up, you can mark each of your words by taking a swig of your drink, or doing five burpees, or donating to your favorite charity or political candidate. Whatever gets you tipsy, in shape, or motivated, get the bingo cards here. It's fight night!

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The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

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