Elise Hu

Malaysian authorities say initial autopsy results show a chemical weapon — VX nerve agent — was used in the fatal poisoning of Kim Jong Nam, older half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.

VX is an odorless substance that can exist as liquid or gas. It can kill within minutes if it's passed through the skin. It is 10 times more toxic than sarin and classified as a weapon of mass destruction.

South Korea's government says it's convinced the North Korean regime orchestrated the bizarre poisoning death of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"We are observing this pointless and merciless incident with grave concern," the South Korean Unification Ministry said in a statement Sunday.

Updated 11:25 p.m. ET

Malaysian police say they have arrested a second woman in connection with the killing of the North Korean leader's half-brother, Kim Jong Nam. She is 25 years old and a holder of an Indonesian passport. They say she was identified from surveillance TV footage of the airport. Earlier, authorities said they had detained another woman in the death.

It's the stuff of spy novels.

South Korean defense officials and the U.S. Strategic Command say North Korea test-fired a "medium- or intermediate-range" ballistic missile early Sunday morning local time, which flew eastward for about 300 miles from the west coast of North Korea, over the peninsula and landed in the Sea of Japan. This marks the first missile test by the Kim Jong Un regime since October, and the first during the new Donald Trump presidency.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrives Thursday in Washington for talks on Friday with Donald Trump, an effort by this longtime Asian ally to get a better read on the way forward with the unpredictable new U.S. president.

President Donald Trump's "America First" pronouncements will frame the first major international trip of his administration this week, as Defense Secretary James Mattis visits South Korea and Japan.

Trump's disruptive approach to foreign policy may challenge an already shaky government in Seoul, Mattis' first stop.

What makes North Korea feel so oppressive? If you ask its highest-ranking defector in decades, the answer is censorship. Thae Yong Ho, who was until last summer a Pyongyang envoy in London, argues that increasing the flow of information into the North is what can sow the seeds of popular discord to bring down the Kim Jong Un regime.

South Korean judges Thursday denied a request by prosecutors to arrest Jay Y. Lee, the de facto leader of the sprawling Samsung conglomerate, saying there wasn't enough evidence to detain him on bribery charges. Lee is ensnared in South Korea's largest political corruption scandal to date, involving people at the highest levels of business and government.

"We appreciate the fact that the merits of this case can now be determined without the need for detention," Samsung said, in a statement issued after the early morning decision.

Prosecutors in South Korea have requested an arrest warrant for the de facto head of the nation's biggest conglomerate, Samsung, on charges of bribery and embezzlement in connection with a swirling scandal that led to the president's impeachment.

For the first time in Japanese history three women of different political persuasions are in positions that could be stepping stones to the prime minister's office.

It's especially notable in Japan, where women's labor force participation remains among the lowest among developed nations, and gender roles are traditionally-defined.

"Women have not really been coached or mentored or encouraged to take on leadership roles," Kyoto University diplomacy professor Nancy Snow explains. "Also, women aren't allowed [culturally] to often show ambition, to sort of telegraph that."

When South Korea's mountain town of PyeongChang hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games next year, a white tiger and a black bear, respectively, will serve as mascots. They've been introduced as cuddly icons of Korean history and folklore.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

To South Korean now and the impeachment trial that could put an end to the presidency of Park Geun-hye. NPR's Elise Hu has the latest in this political drama.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

South Korean lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to impeach their president, Park Geun-hye, who is mired in a corruption scandal and facing a criminal investigation. But the celebration of the impeachment vote may be temporary, as a panel of justices will ultimately decide her fate.

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