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.

Wednesday marked the first day of a furlough of roughly half the 9,000-strong Korean workforce staffing U.S. military bases in South Korea. The layoffs without pay — the first in the history of the seven-decade U.S.-South Korea alliance — were forced by an impasse between the two countries on paying for the cost of stationing some 28,500 American troops in South Korea.

Japan's government on Monday resisted calls to declare a national state of emergency, despite a recent spike in confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Tokyo and warnings of further exponential growth.

"It's not true that the government is planning on declaring a state of emergency from April 1," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters, refuting rumors.

Updated at 5:25 a.m. ET Wednesday

President Trump has requested test kits from South Korea to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.

According to a readout from the Blue House, as the presidential office here is known, a 23-minute phone call with President Moon Jae-in was initiated at the "urgent request" of Trump.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe finally conceded that the COVID-19 epidemic might force the postponement of this summer's Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to start four months from now.

Speaking before Parliament, Abe reacted to a Sunday statement by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which said that over the next four weeks it would consider alternative scenarios for the Games, including postponement, but not cancellation.

If you roll up to a drive-through COVID-19 testing center in South Korea, you might notice that safety procedures extend all the way to your car's air conditioning. You will be advised to hit the recirculation button so that if you're sick, you can keep your pathogens to yourself, in your car, and avoid infecting the medical personnel doing the testing.

The test takes 10 minutes at most. Results are texted to you, usually the next day. And it's free — paid for by the government.

The city of Daegu, about 150 miles southeast of Seoul, has long been a bustling industrial center and transport hub, home to 2.5 million South Koreans. But lately Daegu has become a shadow of its usual self. "It actually looks like a scene from a disaster movie," says Dr. Lee Jun-yeup, communications director for the Daegu Medical Association. "Streets are empty, restaurants and shops closed. People stock up on instant noodles because they want to avoid going out."

South Korea's government says it is in a critical struggle to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus from the disease's epicenter in Daegu. It has given itself four weeks to stabilize the situation in the city of 2.5 million, some 150 miles southeast of the capital, Seoul.

"If authorities fail to contain the spread of the COVID-19 in Daegu, there is a high possibility that COVID-19 could spread nationwide," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters on Monday.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Updated at 5:30 p.m.

As China's neighbors battle the spread of the coronavirus, one nation in particular is arousing international concern: North Korea. While the country publicly insists it is completely free of the virus, and a World Health Organization official has said there are "no indications" so far of COVID-19 infection there, experts question how long that may be the case.

Updated at 1:08 p.m. ET

After keeping the world waiting and watching, first for a "Christmas present" to the U.S., and then for a New Year's shift to a harder line on nuclear negotiations, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivered neither.

Some analysts believe a key reason behind his calculations may be President Trump's prospects for surviving an impeachment process and possibly winning a second term in the White House.

In a speech to a plenary session of the ruling Workers Party Central Committee, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un says he no longer feels bound by a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing, which has held for the past two years. However, he stopped short of saying he was breaking off nuclear negotiations with the U.S., nor did he formally announce a shift to a more hard-line policy.

The official Korean Central News Agency carried Kim's remarks to the Party Plenum, which has been held in Pyongyang over the past four days (Saturday through Tuesday).

In September, Seattle resident Barbara Kim celebrated Chuseok, the Korean midautumn festival, with her family members in Seoul. Chuseok is a time to give thanks for plentiful harvests, and for Kim, who was adopted by an American family in the 1960s, this was a particularly special occasion: She was able to spend the holiday with several of her birth relatives.

At the celebration, they and a group of South Korean orphans, now in their teens and 20s, dug into platters of bulgogi, kimbap, japche and other traditional Korean dishes.

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.

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.

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