Tensions have spiked on the Korean peninsula after North Korea allegedly conducted a nuclear-bomb test last week, so reports that the government in Pyongyang is holding a U.S. citizen for spying could very likely complicate an already knotty situation.
CNN interviewed a man who insists he’s a naturalized American citizen who was spying for South Korean “conservative elements,” and was taken prisoner by North Korea in October. Kim Dong Chul, 62, says he used to live in Fairfax, Virginia, until he moved to a Chinese town near the North Korean border. He was a businessman, and allegedly began collecting information on North Korean activities in April 2013. He said he was being held in a hotel in Pyongyang, but so far hasn’t been formally charged with espionage. He pleaded with the U.S. and South Korean governments to rescue him, but confirmed that he’d never worked on behalf of the U.S. government.
Kim’s claims are unconfirmed; U.S. officials said they were aware of reports, but wouldn’t comment on Kim’s citizenship status. But if Kim’s statements are legitimate, he would be the only U.S. citizen detained in North Korea since the government released three American prisoners in 2014, reports Reuters.
Kim called on the U.S. to make a peace treaty with North Korea now that the People’s Democratic Republic had successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb. The plea sounded just a tad like propaganda, though Kim denied that he’d been told what to say. Kim Jong-un boasted last week that North Korea successfully detonated a “miniature” hydrogen bomb after an earthquake was detected near North Korea’s nuclear test site. Experts believe the country very likely did test some sort of weapon, but are skeptical that the test succeeded and don’t believe it was actually a hydrogen bomb — which would be a huge and alarming leap forward in North Korea’s military capabilities. Still, the international community definitely doesn’t want to catch any more whiffs of nuclear tests from an unpredictable North Korea, and is doing its best to warn Pyongyang. The U.S. flew a B-52 bomber over North Korea this weekend, and South Korea has amped up its K-Pop propaganda, which is blasting music and some pro-democracy messages across the demilitarized zone.