Breaking News: Choi Soon-sil Returns to South Korea

Choi Soon-sil, the woman at the center of  President Park Geun-hae’s scandal, has returned to South Korea (Yonhap).  Previously, she had spent time in Germany, avoiding questions regarding her actions.

Choi is being investigated for getting documents and access from Park.  According to reports, Choi was given classified documents, speeches, and advised Park on a variety of topics including politics and even dress despite not having a requisite security clearance or position in the Park administration.

Park has been called to step down in light of the revelations, though this is highly unlikely (Washington Post).  Saenuri party officials are also looking to distance themselves from Park, calling for her to leave the party.  This scandal may have a profound influence on the election, though it is tough to tell at the moment.  Also, criminal charges may be pursued against Park and Choi, though, again, it is difficult to tell at this moment what actions prosecutors will take.

After this news broke, a mass exodus of officials in the Park administration is underway; even her chief of staff has resigned from the administration (The Guardian).

*Source citations have been added to this post as promised

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Daily Update – October 25

South Korea

Politics – President Park Geun-hye continues to suffer damaging implications in the Choi Soon-sil scandal which has rocked the ending of her term.  Choi was revealed to have had access to presidential speeches before they became public as well as confidential documents, despite not holding an official position in the Park administration.  Party leaders from both sides of the aisle are calling for her to come clean on the scandal.  Even members of the Saenuri party – the party Park belongs to – have called for Park to step away from the party.  No South Korean president since Lee Myung-bak in 1987 has stayed a member of their party during their time in office.

Economy – Two South Korean electronic companies –LG and Samsung – are looking toward Africa as an expanding market.  LG was the first to tap into the African market and currently has 7 sales corporations and 2 production corporations in South Africa.  As it looks to expand its growth in Africa, LG is embarking on a Localization Strategy in which LG works with the existing technological infrastructure in African nations to develop targeted products.  It is also embarking on several CSR campaigns.  Samsung is looking to develop a similar strategy, as it opens stores in Zimbabwe and South Africa.  The two companies are looking to tap into African growth and prosperity.

Culture – (Photo) Visitors taking a picture at a statue in Yeido by the Han River.  The statue is 80% the size of the Litte Mermaid statue in Copenhagen.  Photo is from The HanKyoreh

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North Korea

North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol and Robert Gallucci, United States State Department Special Envoy on the North Korea Nuclear Issue, concluded behind the scenes talks in Malaysia.  Han called the talks exploratory, where the two delegations – there was five members from each side at the talks – discussed issues of concern as both sides are starting to prepare for a new US president.  Topics discussed were North Korea’s missile and nuclear program, which the two said they made strides on.  South Korea demurred the talks, saying they will continue to enforce strong sanctions with the US if North Korean behavior continued to be provocative.

Chinese residents in the border area are working night shifts to ensure a barbed wire fence is erected quickly to prevent a flood of immigration from North Korea.  Signs in the region have also been erected warning the residents of a 500 RMB fine for assisting defectors.  This rise in activity comes as the government warns about, and hopes to protect against, a possible rise in “livelihood” defectors as living conditions in North Korea are worsening due to the flood from earlier this year.  Many fear an uptick in violence if there is a rise in defectors, which is another motivating factor of residents working on the fence.  (The photo below is from Daily NK depicting a signs in Kaishan Village.  The first warns of the fine, the second warns people to give their possessions quickly if a North Korean comes to rob them.  Pictures are taken from this DailyNK article.)

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Daily Update – October 24

South Korea

Politics – On Monday (Korean time) President Park Geun-hae called for a constitutional revision to change the structure of the Office of President of South Korea.  Currently, an elected South Korean president serves a 5-year term and cannot be reelected.  This, as argued by Park, has made litigating long-term policy a struggle for South Korean presidents.  “It is time that we put aside the 1987 constitution and draw up a new one for the country to make a leap forward,” she said.  Park’s call for revision is the most serious attempt to change South Koreas constitution since its last revision in 1987 to limit presidents from keeping power through illicit means.

Opposition parties are expressing mixed reactions to the call for revision.  While many think a revision is in order, they have questioned the intent of the move.  In a press conference, opposition leader Choi Mi-ae demurred Park’s proposal, but vowed that her party would create a research panel on the amendment.  She also called for Park to stay out of the negotiations.  Many opposition leaders criticized Park for calling for the revision as well, as Park has been in the middle of a scandal which has caused her approval ratings to dip to 25%, the lowest they have been since she took office.  Chief spokesman of the Democratic Party of Korea Youn Kwan-suk told reporters that her pushing of the issue is “highly suspicious, especially if it is to cover up the corruption scandals involving her confidants.”  Representative Son Kum-ju, Chief Spokesman of the Minor opposition party, called the timing all wrong, saying anyone would question her motives.  Despite this, many see a constitutional revision as necessary.

The Saenuri Party has heralded the call.  Party floor leader Representative Chung Jin-suk said “Park’s proposal came out of a shared concern that the current constitution cannot promote the future of the country.”  Lee Jung-hyun, Saenuri Party Chairman, said “we should view the constitutional revision separately from national from political issues,” calling it a “national agenda item.”  The stark division this has caused is nothing new; the parties recently clashed over the deployment of THAAD.  It is this division which the constitutional reform looks to fix, as a change of term limits or power structure of the president would give the government more time to bridge the divide and enact more long-term policy.

Currently, the revision has not garnered any real ideas.  The Korea Times reports that the best idea is to implement a second term of four years.  Others view the semi-presidential system as a viable alternative to the current system.  Under this system, the president would control diplomacy, national defense, and other external policy while a prime minister would control domestic policy.  Kim Jae-won, President Park’s Senior Secretary for Political Affairs, noted that Park favored the addition of a second term, but also stressed that they are not considering any one option.  The one clear aspect is that President Park would be exempt from the reform and thus unable to run for reelection.

Economy – Hyundai Heavy won a bid to construct two 2,600 ton naval frigates for the Philippines.  The closed deal was worth 370 billion won ($322 million).  Each frigate is 107 meters long, has a max speed of 46 kilometers/hour, and is equipped with modern military technology.  Hyundai beat out competitors from France and Spain to become the preferred bidder in August, then closed the deal with the Philippine Defense Ministry on Monday.  The vessels will be delivered by 2020.

North Korea

North Korea’s airline, Air Koryo, now has a very limited scope of operations; its flights are only able to operate in China and Russia.  Air Koryo flew to Kuwait in August, but Kuwaiti authorities denied its ability to land.  In April, the carrier suspended its once a week flight linking Pyongyang to Bangkok, and the Pakistani Government told Voice of America that it would not issue a flight permit to Air Koryo.  International sanctions have choked Air Koryo’s scope of operations from 5 countries to 2.

Leadership Watch

On October 15, Kim Jung-un sent a letter of condolence to the crown prince of Thailand.  (Due to technical difficulties, unable to elaborate any more on this one).

Kim Jung-u visited the Ryugyong General Ophthalmic Hospital.  During a tour of the hospital, Kim noted the quality of construction of the hospital, saying its facade represents that of an ophthalmic hospital.  He took in the specifications of the hospital as well.  Kim also noted that the Munsu area has bloomed into a perfect hospital village, pleased to picture those enjoying the people enjoying the socialist medical system.

(All leadership watch stories are taken from KCNA, the official news agency of North Korea.  They should be treated as such and read with scrutiny.)

Daily Update – October 19

The last presidential debate was tonight and North Korea made sure it interjected itself into the news cycle.  Donald Trump also revived his false claim about the amount South Korea pays for stationing troops in country.  Tonight’s Daily Update will be a little different; it will detail the news on the peninsula and then debunk Trump’s claim.  This is my first ever fact check and I hope I did a decent job.

On the Peninsula

North Korea tried to sneak its way into the news cycle just before the debate this evening, launching a Musudan medium-range ballistic missile around 7am Korean time (6pm Eastern time).  The United States is claiming the launch to be a failure.  This is the second time this week North Korea launched a Musudan class missile, both ended in failure.

Earlier today, John Kerry restated the American resolve to deploy an advanced missile system in South Korea as soon as possible, referencing the plan to deploy THAAD on the peninsula.  China and Russia have strongly demurred the plan of deployment.  At the same event, Kerry vowed that America will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state, most recently expressed, publicly, by President Obama following North Korea’s fifth nuclear test.  Kerry also vowed for all-out defense against North Korean aggression and for extended deterrence.

Korea in the International Dialogue

Donald Trump, current Republican nominee for President of the United States of America, brought the topic of Korea up at the final presidential debate this evening.  In the debate, Trump  restated his claim that South Korea pays “peanuts” for having American troops stationed in the country.  This is entirely false and, as pointed out by Politifact, the alliance cannot be described in monetary concerns alone.  I wish to debunk this claim, since it grinds my gears beyond belief.

Currently, America stations 28,500 troops in South Korea.  To maintain this force, Politifact cites that it costs an average of $100,000 per head for salary and benefits of the soldiers in South Korea.  This makes the total cost of salary and benefits of soldiers in South Korea around $2.85 billion.  General Vicent Brooks, in a testimony in April, stated that South Korea pays around $808 million dollars, or around 30% of the total cost of American troops – General Brooks said that the $808 million South Korea pays is around 50% of the total.

This alone does not cover the total South Korea pays.  South Korea is also paying 92% of a $10.8 billion dollar base relocation project according to CNN.  This amounts to around $10 billion – the calculation comes out to $9,936,000,000.  Also, South Korea covers all costs for maintenance  and utilities for all bases on the peninsula.  Japan also pays for the upkeep of American bases to the tune of $2 billion dollars per year.

So, if we equate the total costs shouldered by South Korea, the sum, minus the base relocation project, comes to $2,808,000,000* per year.  Adding in the base relocation project would bring the total to $12,744,000,000**.  Either amount is hardly peanuts.  In fact, General Brooks argued that keeping troops in South Korea is actually cheaper than removing them.

In conclusion, Donald Trump’s claim is far removed from the facts.  South Korea shoulders a “yuge” amount of the burden for stationing American troops.  The amount South Korea pays per year – $808 million – is also said to grow by 4% annually through 2018.  No matter how you shape the facts, South Korea pays a lot more than peanuts to station American troops in country.  This calculation does not even take into account the non-monetary benefits of the alliance.

*This is estimating that South Korea pays $2 billion in base upkeep and utilities.  However, the number may differ slightly.

**This number adds the $2,808,000,000 annual cost with the total amount of the relocation project.  Therefore, this number is not labeled annually and should be read as one-year costs plus construction of a new base.

Daily Update – October 18

South Korea

Politics – Hotels are starting to see the effect of the Kim Young-ran Law – an anticorruption law which limits the value of gifts a public servant, educator or journalist can receive to 30,000 won for food, 50,000 won for gifts, and 100,000 won for condolence money – took effect.  Many restaurants are seeing the popularity of items shift to those which cost under 30,000 won, even amongst regular customers.  The number of people who eat lunch at Seoul Garden Hotel’s buffet restaurant rose 50%.  (Other details are in the article.)

South Korea’s ruling Saenuri Party and the United States have agreed to expedite the completion of a three-legged defense system as a response to North Korea’s continually changing threat.  The system was slated to be completed by mid-2020s, but has been expedited to early-2020s, most likely around 2023.  This change would add between 200 and 300 billion won ($176 million-$264 million) per year increase to South Korea’s defense budget.  The Saenuri party is also calling for nuclear-powered submarines.  However, it is unknown if the opposition parties will approve of the advancement.

Economy – In support of those, like myself, who are putting out applications for jobs, here is an image of South Koreans at a presentation for foreign investment firms in COEX Mall.  Source: The Hankyoreh

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Despite the low interest rate in South Korea, the four major banks in South Korea – Woori, KB Finacial Group, Shinhan Finacial Group, Hana Finacial Group – have rosy expectations for third quarter projections.  The four combined for around 1.75 trillion won of net profit.  Of the four, Hana Banks profits showed the sharpest rise to 332.8 billion won, up 30.61% on year.  Shinhan Finacial Group, however, will record a profit of 607.7 billion won net profit, down 10.7% from a year earlier.

Culture – Samsung may not experience lasting damage from the fallout of the Galaxy Note 7.  The phone is known to explode, which to a full recall, followed by Samsung pulling the phone from stores.  An article in the Korea Times stresses that the recall of the product shows Samsung’s commitment to the consumer and safety.  The article details a report on the direction the leadership of Samsung is taking to ensure that the Galaxy curfuffle is a time in which the company showed its devotion to the safety of the people.

North Korea

A North Korean expert released a report showing that North Korea may be able to create nearly 80 nuclear weapons by 2020.  Lee Sang-hyun, vice president at the planning division of the Sejong Institute, wrote the assessment based on North Korea currently possessing no more than 50 nuclear weapons.  Lee argued that the regime will stick to its current byeongjin line – promoting economic and nuclear growth – while also arguing the need to pursue strategic persuasion in trying to combat the continued pursuit.  The report was presented to a forum.

38North reports activity occurring at the Sohae Launch facility in North Korea.  Satellite imagery shows small vehicles, trailers or equipment near the standing launch site.  North Korea is also working on building new housing and new support buildings around the site.  Imagery also revealed an environmental shelter which is used in the final stages of preparing an engine for testing.  However, the VIP facility in which Kim Jung-un viewed the last test has been untouched throughout the process.  Developments such as these show that North Korea is working to expand the role and permeate stature of the Sohae launch facility, possibly working to shorten the time required for preparations between launches at the facility.

Daily Updates will Resume Tonight

So, I have been on a semi-hiatus, but tonight I will resume Daily Updates.  It has been a while and several things have changed on the peninsula and I am looking forward to posting about it.  I am also one paragraph away from posting my THAAD long read, which will be up soon!  I hope you forgive me for lack of posting and I look forward to resuming this blog.

Breaking News: Falied Missile Launch

On Saturday, North Korea attempted to launch a Musandan missile from a location near the northwestern city of Kusong.  The launch occurred around 12:33pm near the Sohae launch zone.

US Strategic Command is calling the test a failure, with NORAD confirming that the missile appears to be a Musudan Medium Range Balistic Missile, saying it posed no threat to North America.

This test is cause for concern for a variety of reasons: 1) it, obviously, shows North Korean continued push for a successful and robust missile program; and 2) the Musudan missile uses a propulsion system (I am typing on my phone so this may not be the best wording for this) which is similar to what a KN-08/KN-14 does.  This means that even when tests results in failure, North Korea is gaining information which may be useful to constructing an ICBM.