Anthony Kuhn | WYPR

Anthony Kuhn

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.

Kuhn previously served two five-year stints in Beijing, China, for NPR, during which he covered major stories such as the Beijing Olympics, geopolitical jousting in the South China Sea, and the lives of Tibetans, Uighurs, and other minorities in China's borderlands.

He took a particular interest in China's rich traditional culture and its impact on the current day. He has recorded the sonic calling cards of itinerant merchants in Beijing's back alleys, and the descendants of court musicians of the Tang Dynasty. He has profiled petitioners and rights lawyers struggling for justice, and educational reformers striving to change the way Chinese think.

From 2010-2013, Kuhn was NPR's Southeast Asia correspondent, based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Among other stories, he explored Borneo and Sumatra, and witnessed the fight to preserve the biodiversity of the world's oldest forests. He also followed Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, as she rose from political prisoner to head of state.

Kuhn served as NPR's correspondent in London from 2004-2005, covering stories including the London subway bombings and the marriage of the Prince of Wales to the Duchess of Cornwall.

Besides his major postings, Kuhn's journalistic horizons have been expanded by various short-term assignments. These produced stories including wartime black humor in Iraq, musical diplomacy by the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang, North Korea, a kerfuffle over the plumbing in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Pakistani artists' struggle with religious extremism in Lahore, and the Syrian civil war's spillover into neighboring Lebanon.

Prior to joining NPR, Kuhn wrote for the Far Eastern Economic Review and freelanced for various news outlets, including the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek. He majored in French literature as an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, and later did graduate work at the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American studies in Nanjing.

In an escalating dispute over how much allies should pay the U.S. to station troops on their soil, U.S. negotiators walked out on talks with South Korea in Seoul on Tuesday, as the two sides staked out vastly differing positions and accused the other side of being unreasonable.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Japan is recovering from a powerful typhoon. It appears to be the worst one to hit the country in more than 60 years. At least 40 people are thought to be dead. And there is a lot of damage. NPR's Anthony Kuhn has been monitoring this storm from Seoul. Hi, Anthony.

North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday — possibly from a submarine — just days ahead of the expected resumption of nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea after a seven-month hiatus.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff says the missile was fired from waters off the peninsula's east coast, near the port city of Wonsan, and traveled about 280 miles to the east before landing in the Sea of Japan.

South Korea's National Security Council standing committee held a meeting after the test and voiced its "strong concern."

"My hometown, where I once lived, is a mountain village with blossoming flowers."

The lyrics to this folk song, which is sung in both Koreas, evoke nostalgia for a time and a place to which one can never return.

On a recent day, it is playing at a makeshift shrine in downtown Seoul. There's an altar with flowers, alongside photos of 42-year-old North Korean defector Han Seong-ok and her 6-year-old son, Kim Dong-jin.

Top U.S. defense officials delivered a rare and public rebuke of a top ally in Asia, South Korea, following Seoul's decision last week to pull out of a 2016 intelligence-sharing pact with Tokyo.

That withdrawal was sparked by a bitter dispute between the two countries that began over compensation for Korean victims of war crimes perpetrated by Japan during its decades of occupation of the Korean peninsula, which ended after World War II.

The protests that have rocked Hong Kong for much of the past three months have followed familiar patterns.

First, hundreds of thousands of people, including families with babies in strollers, pack the city streets. Then the sun goes down, the families head home, and the young men and women in black come out. They come ready to confront the "popo," as they call the police.

Updated at 3 p.m. ET

South Korea plans to terminate a military intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, prompting concerns about security cooperation between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington as North Korea's nuclear and missile threats loom over the Korean Peninsula.

It's the latest breakdown between Seoul and Tokyo: Earlier this month, Japan removed South Korea from its "whitelist" of favored trade partners, prompting a retaliation in kind.

On a sultry recent afternoon, throngs of people in Hong Kong's North Point district lined King's Road, waiting tensely for black-clad young protesters to march through. In the mostly male crowd, many wore T-shirts with Chinese national flag stickers, identifying them as coming from China's Fujian province, several hundred miles northeast of Hong Kong.

A banner over the road bore the message "Please do not interfere with our liberties, please go back," making it clear that the protesters were not welcome in this neighborhood.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has wrapped up his first trip to Asia since assuming office last month, focusing on shoring up U.S. alliances in the region.

The U.S.-South Korea alliance "is ironclad & remains the linchpin of peace & security on the Korean Peninsula & in Northeast Asia," Esper said on Twitter, after meeting in the South Korean capital, Seoul, with Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo.

Japan downgraded its trading relationship with South Korea on Friday, escalating a simmering trade feud that some experts worry could undermine U.S. security ties with chief Asian allies and hinder their cooperation on the North Korean nuclear issue.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam has apologized publicly twice for proposing a bill to allow extraditions to mainland China, and now other senior officials have followed suit.

But a week after the legislation set off massive protests, the largely youth-driven opposition movement is keeping up its demands. Protest organizers are urging Lam to permanently withdraw the bill and resign.

Hong Kong's top official Carrie Lam issued a rare apology Sunday for her management of an extradition bill, but stopped short of withdrawing the proposal as protests coursed through the city.

A government spokesman said Lam's handling of the bill had caused "substantial controversies and disputes in society, causing disappointment and grief."

Hong Kong's government has said it will indefinitely shelve a bill which would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China.

The bill triggered widespread anxiety in Hong Kong about the erosion of civil liberties in the territory, and triggered protests of, by some estimates, up to a million people last Sunday, followed by violent clashes which left around 80 police and protesters injured.

South Korea last week approved $8 million in food aid to North Korea, in response to what U.N. agencies say are the worst harvests there in a decade and severe food shortages affecting 40% of the North's population.

The optics and the rhetoric of President Trump's state visit to Japan aimed to show two allies at their closest in history, at the start of a new Japanese emperor's reign. Trump is the first state guest to visit since Emperor Naruhito ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1. On Sunday, he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shared a round of golf, attended a sumo wrestling match and had a barbecue dinner.

There's an evening show on North Korea's state TV that brings soldiers news from their hometowns.

Last September, the show on the regime-run Korean Central Television, or KCTV, was interrupted for an urgent update.

"Another piece of news from our families on the homefront, just in from the Kangson steel factory," an announcer says.

"Soldiers from Kangson will be happy to hear that," the anchor replies, beaming.

The update: A soldier's father says he and fellow factory workers are so motivated that they will beat production targets by 50%.

At a gallery in Seoul's fashionable Gangnam district, the walls are lined with stark black-and-white photographic portraits of young women. Some smile, some stare at the camera impassively. Some are naked. All have short hair and no makeup.

It's the third such exhibition by South Korean photographer Jeon Bora, who seeks to document women who reject the country's standards of beauty and the social pressure to conform.

The women liken this pressure to a corset and have dubbed their movement, which began last year, "escape the corset."

In the years immediately after World War II, at the Peers' School in Tokyo, a Quaker teacher named Elizabeth Vining liked to give English names to her students, all children of the Japanese nobility.

"I was Eric," recalls Masao Oda, one of Vining's former pupils.

His roommate and classmate, a boy named Akihito, was given the name Jimmy. But Akihito pushed back.

"So he stood up and rejected this name given by Mrs. Vining, 'Jimmy,' " Oda recalls. " 'I'm not a Jimmy, I'm a crown prince,' he said."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in Vladivostok, Russia, on Wednesday for a summit the next day with President Vladimir Putin, the first meeting between the two men. The Kremlin said they would discuss the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

It is Kim's first trip to Russia and the first visit of a North Korean leader since Kim's father met with then-President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011. It is also Kim's first international voyage since President Trump walked out on a "bad deal" at the second U.S.-North Korea summit in February in the Vietnamese capital.

Updated Saturday 9:02 p.m. ET

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signaled his impatience with the United States, saying he was willing to hold a third summit with President Donald Trump, but only if the U.S. comes up with mutually agreeable terms for a deal by the end of this year.

Japan's military has confirmed that one of its F-35A jet fighters has crashed in the Pacific Ocean during a training exercise. National broadcaster NHK reports that search crews have recovered part of the plane's tail.

As of midday Wednesday in Japan, the plane's pilot, reportedly in his 40s, was still missing. It is not clear whether he ejected before the plane crashed. NHK quotes Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya as saying that the military is focusing on rescuing the pilot and investigating the cause of the crash. He added that the U.S. military is assisting with the search.

They are not widely known. And their chances at achieving their stated aim — overthrowing the North Korean government — are believed to be slim at best.

Yet the defector group that calls itself Free Joseon (Free North Korea) could be the first organization to have successfully infiltrated a North Korean diplomatic mission.

Last week, Free Joseon claimed responsibility for a Feb. 22 raid on Pyongyang's embassy in Madrid. Ten intruders armed with knives and replica pistols entered the embassy, according to Spanish authorities.

With just days to go before his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Trump seems to have tried to lower public expectations for the meeting set for Feb. 27 to 28 in Hanoi, Vietnam.

"I'm in no rush for speed. We just don't want testing," Trump remarked on Friday, suggesting that he might not insist North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons, as long as it stops testing them.

Deep in the urban center of Kyoto, Japan, behind a department store, archaeologist Koji Iesaki digs down through successive layers of earth, each about 8 inches thick, taking him back in time to the Heian period, which began over 1,000 years ago.

He has found images of mythical beasts carved on roof tiles, remains of a moat that surrounded the temple during the Warring States period some 500 years ago and ritual vessels that held placentas, which were buried after childbirth in the belief that they would ensure a child's good health and fortune.

South Korea's human rights commission is launching a sprawling investigation into sexual abuse and violence in sports, following multiple allegations that coaches mistreated and attacked athletes.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea plans to interview thousands more athletes, including children and adults, about possible mistreatment.

The wind howls and snow drifts around a house in Koriyama, in northeastern Japan's Fukushima prefecture. The town is inland from Fukushima's coastal areas that were devastated by the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown.

Inside the home, several Vietnamese laborers prepare dinner. The house is a shelter, run by local Catholics, for foreign workers who are experiencing problems in Japan.

Kim Myong Song, a reporter for one of South Korea's biggest daily newspapers, the Chosun Ilbo, remembers rushing to cover a high-level meeting of North and South Korean officials early one morning in October.

Kim covers the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of inter-Korean relations. He also happens to be a defector from North Korea.

On the way to the bus that would take him to Panmunjom, the border village where the talks were taking place, the ministry called to tell him he had been barred from covering the event.

Progress toward an agreement between the U.S. and North Korea may have slowed, but South Korea has taken another remarkable step toward linking up with the neighboring regime — by train.

Last week, a South Korean train crossed the border into North Korea for the first time in a decade. It was a prelude to the two Koreas reconnecting their railways, after being separated for more than half a century.

South Korea is determined to push railway development forward, despite the lack of progress on the North Korean nuclear issue.

"Salute! Embrace the moon! White clouds float overhead! Step forward and push with palm!"

A coach barks out these martial arts moves in an auditorium at a private school in Taishan, a city in southern China's Guangdong province.

Two parallel rows of students kick, block and punch in sync with the commands.

Japan's government has confirmed that a Japanese journalist who was reportedly taken hostage in Syria in 2015, has been freed and is now in Turkey.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono says Japanese diplomats met with 44-year-old Jumpei Yasuda at an immigration center in Antakya, in southern Turkey. Yasuda has been there since being freed on Tuesday.

Kono said Yasuda appears to be in good health.

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