Daily Update: November 28

South Korea

Politics: President Park’s trial resumed after a 42-day hiatus following her entire legal team resigning due to the perceived politicization of the proceedings. The accused, however, refused to show up for the resumption of her trail, leading the lead judge to threaten to try Park in absentia, saying that it will be difficult to force her to show up due to her status as ex-president (Choson Ilbo). After refusing to show for the second day, the presiding judge, Honorable Kim Se-yoon, followed through on his threats, announcing that the rest of the trail would continue in her absence (HanKyoreh). Park has continually protested the proceedings and her absence hinders her right to self-defense.

Moon Jae-in has also been making some political moves. On November 26, Moon promoted Han Byung-do, a political affairs secretary, to the position of Senior Secretary for Political Affairs, a position opened by the departure of Jun Byung-hun who is in the midst of a bribery investigation (Yonhap). On the appointment, Presidential Spokesman Park Soo-hyun said, “Han is considered to be fit for communications with the National Assembly considering his experience as a lawmaker” (Korea Times). Han said that he “feel[s] a heavy responsibility” in taking the job (Yonhap). Other moves by Moon include calling for swift reform to regulations to promote growth (Yonhap) and a pledge to use all his paid vacation as a way to showcase work-life balance and change the work culture in Korea (Korea Times).

Culture: Including this simply because she is my favorite solo singer: Taeyon, a member of the girl group “Girl’s Generation,” was involved in a multi-car accident, though she appears to be resting at her home. SM Entertainment has promised to do its best in resolving the issue (Korea Herald). All others involved in the accident were sent to the hospital with minor injuries (Yonhap).

Finally, plastic surgery is a common commodity in South Korea, drawing some tourists from all over the world. However, there is one place where plastic surgery ads will start to vanish: the subway. Seoul Metro will ban its advertising agencies from buying plastic surgery ads, eliminating plastic surgery ads from metro stations by 2022 (Korea Times). Seoul Metro also has plans to not renew contracts for plastic surgery ads when they expire (Choson Ilbo).

North Korea

North Korea fired another ballistic missile test at dawn on November 29. The missile flew 960km, reached an altitude of 4500km, and flew for 53 minutes before crashing into the sea off the coast of Japan (Korea Times). The launch was higher than any previous launch by North Korea.

Reactions to the test have been more in line with previous tests. President Moon Jae-in convened the Security Council to discuss the situation and said, he “strongly condemn North Korea for staging such reckless provocations” (Yonhap). President Trump remained more muted than in the past, simply saying that North Korea is an issue that will be addressed by the administration while leaving out details as to how he plans to address Pyongyang (NY Times). Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council (Ashia Shimbun). The leaders have all contacted each other to discuss the situation as well. Currently, the response to the test is going through the typical reams of response, though a harsher response than normal may be in the works as the missile tested does have the theoretical ability to reach all of the United States.

One state taking the threat from North Korea seriously is Hawaii. In an effort to ensure the population of Hawaii is prepared, the state is adding a Cold War-era warning siren to its monthly attention alert tests. The alarm will sound for 50 seconds, take a brief pause, and then resume for another 50 seconds. Starting on December 1, the alarm will sound on the first business day of each month (Honolulu Star Advisor). The last time such sirens were used was around 1980 to counter the Russian threat of the Cold War. Hawaii is the first American state to take such drastic measures to ensure preparedness against the North Korean threat.

Read of the Day:

Coping with the inevitability of death is a key aspect of life. Many turn to religion, science, or a combination of both to explain what happens to our spirits and bodies when the lights go out. For North Koreans, however, theories surrounding death have evolved in a couple of interesting ways. The first is that citizens of North Korea are taught that they belong to a collective, immortal group; the party, leader, and people all share a common destiny and are therefore immortal. Second, in North Korea, political life is more important than physical life. Acts for the leaders will earn a person political immortality while subversive acts will cut a person’s political life short, even if they are still alive. Defector Park Ui-song takes on North Korea’s interesting culture surrounding death in a wonderful piece for NK News: Park Ui-song, “Ask a North Korean: Do People Talk About Life After Death in the DPRK?” NK News, November 16, 2017.

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Daily Update: November 14

Seeing as today was a fairly busy day for me, I am going to do a decurtate rundown of the news from the Korean peninsula today.

Moon Jae-in on North Korea

In Manila, South Korean President Moon Jae-in offered a smoother path toward resolution of the North Korean issue while at a regional ASEAN forum. The president outlined a strategy in which “[the international community] may be able to discuss while leaving all options on the table.” Though Moon refused to answer if the American-South Korean joint military drills would be given a quietus in return for a North Korean freeze of its nuclear and missile program (Yonhap). At the same forum, Moon called the North Korean nuclear program too advanced to be quickly destroyed, but once a suspension was in effect that “negotiations could go on to pursue complete denuclearization” (Reuters). Moon has long been a champion of diplomatic resolutions to the North Korean issue, though he did reinforce that now is the time to apply pressure through sanctions until a suspension or freeze in North Korea’s programs made negotiations a possibility worth exploring.

Human Rights and the United Nations

A panel at the United Nations adopted a resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights abuses. The Third Committee, which oversees humanitarian issues, approved the text for the 13th year, though added stronger language in calling for a resolution to the issue (Korea Herald). Contributions to the text were made from 60 countries, including South Korea, and the full document was drafted by the European Union and Japan (Yonhap). In remarks to the committee following the adoption of the resolution, North Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations Ja Song-nam said, “The draft resolution represents a product of the political and military confrontation plot and the conspiracy of the U.S. and other hostile forces to the DPRK,” echoing rhetoric previously used in North Korea’s demurring of United Nations resolutions targeting Pyongyang (Yonhap).

Spy Chiefs in Trouble

The prosecution investigating Choigate–President Park’s abuse of power scandal–detained ex-National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Lee Byung-kee on charges relating to money given to Park from the NIS during his tenure. Other former NIS chiefs Nam Jae-joon and Lee Byung-ho are facing similar charges (Korea Times). The arrest of these three comes as the NIS is accused of a wide array of activities which includes spying on citizens, creating fake nude photos, creating fake online content, and swaying or downplaying TV opinion shows (Korea Herald). Though reform will be sluggish, there is already a plan to overhaul the structure of the agency (Donga Ilbo). Time will tell the success of any reform in the NIS, as true reform in the agency is bound to take a while.

Finally, Your Reading of the Day:

Moon Jae-in entered the office of President of South Korea with the image of being a dove on North Korea policy. In The Atlantic, S. Nathan Park writes that imagining Moon as a doveish liberal “is a lazy caricature” of the president. Moon’s actions and rhetoric certainly showcase a more hawkish approach to North Korea. In his piece, Park argues that Moon’s dual-track–sanctions and pressure followed by diplomacy in the right circumstances–is a key to Moon’s success and a possible resolution of the North Korean issue. Read Park’s take on Moon here: S. Nathan Park, “South Korea’s President May Be Just the Man to Solve the North Korea Crisis,” The Atlantic, July 18, 2017.

For a deeper dive into Moon’s North Korea strategy, see: Ruediger Frank, “President Moon’s North Korea Strategy,” The Diplomat, July 13, 2017. (This was orginially published on 38North.)

Daily Update: November 13

So, I am going to get back into the routine, finally! Here is the first Daily Update of many to come. And the North Korean round-up for the time I embarked on a bit longer than planned hiatus is coming, I promise.

South Korea

Politics: The world will enter a truce period as a resolution calling for an “Olympic Truce” started to circulate throughout the United Nations. With tensions between the two Koreas in a constant state of upheaval, the truce calls for the world to come together and use the games as a space to connect, no matter what is happening in capitals around the world (LA Times). In an impassioned speech to the General Assembly, Kim Yu-na, a champion South Korean figure skater and Ambassador to the PyeongChang games, said, “the goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” (Yonhap). She also spoke of the games’ role in promoting peace throughout the world (Around the Rings). The Olympic Truce for 2018 is, as it states in the resolution, to extend from 7 days before the start of the games until 7 days after the conclusion of the Paralympic games in March.

Amid the hustle and bustle of Donald Trump’s trip to Asia, South Korean president Moon Jae-in also made waves at the ASEAN summit in Vietnam. In meetings with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on the sideline of the ASEAN summit, a vivid discussion on the need to normalize relations between China and South Korea ensued, following a joint statement released by the two nations on October 31 which called for the same goal (Korea Times). Moon also agreed to broader goals regarding the cooperation of ASEAN states with Korea. While reaffirming the role of ASEAN states in Korean foreign policy, Moon promised to raise South Korean trade with ASEAN to $200 billion per year by 2020, while also championing a “people-centered diplomacy” with the intranational organization (Korea Herald; Korea Times). Overall, Moon’s trip to the ASEAN summit provided the leader with two key victories: he was able to promote global cooperation within Asia, a key goal in the region, and he started the process of normalizing the soured Beijing-Seoul relationship.

Finally, the Baerun party, a splinter conservative party which was created in the wake of the Park scandal, chose Yoo Seong-min to be its leader (Korea Herald). Yoo was a presidential hopeful in the 2017 election and came to the party with the other 33 founding lawmakers. He will face tough opposition from the Liberty Korea Party, the other major conservative party in South Korea, during upcoming regional elections.

Economy: The government of South Korea and several of the companies who suffered losses after the shuttering of Kaesong have come to an agreement. The government will provide 66 billion won ($59 million) to over 100 companies who operated factories within the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Though many businesses fell the amount is not enough to cover their losses, they have accepted the deal (Joongang Ilbo). This recompense comes as the government has continued to dole out reparations to the companies who lost over 700 billion won after the complex unexpectedly shut its doors last year.

Culture: Hidden cameras are a huge issue facing the South Korean population, mainly women. Love motels, subway bathrooms, cell phones, and even in the home, women have fallen victim to recording on hidden devices. To combat the issue, the government has promised to step up campaigns to find the cameras. Currently, the Seoul Metropolitan government is running a program which hires citizens to find hidden cameras wherever they may hide. The Korea Times followed two such women as they worked their way through several stops to find and remove hidden cameras from public bathrooms on the subway. Their job, though not glitzy, is important as it assuages fears that somewhere, someone may be watching.

North Korea

It was a busy day on the DMZ, to say the least. First, a North Korean soldier defected across the heavily militarized border and walked into the Freedom House on the South Korean side of the border (NK News). While defecting, the soldier suffered a bullet wound to his shoulder, shot by his own troops; he was evacuated by a UN helicopter and is being treated at a hospital (Joongang Ilbo). He was unarmed at the time of the defection.

Where one succeeds, another failed. A 58-year-old, Lousiana man was captured trying to defect into North Korea by crossing the Civilian Control Line. He was attempting to enter North Korea for “political purposes,” according to reports. An investigation by the Army, secret services, and police is ongoing (Newsweek). The man, being only identified as “A” arrived in South Korea three days prior.

Readings of the Day

Moon Jae-in, as reported above, sought to put Korea on a path of “people-centered diplomacy” with ASEAN. In Project Syndicate, Moon writes that “Korea and ASEAN share a common philosophy that values people,” while also touting the positive changes ASEAN has presented to Korea over the past year. Read his take on why ASEAN and Korea need the people first philosophy outlined in ASEAN 2025: Moon Jae-in, “Toward a People-Centered ASEAN Community,” Project Syndicate, November 10, 2017.

Finally, a debate over the effectiveness of the South Korea-U.S. alliance has been critical to discourse on the peninsula. The key element: American troops deployed in South Korea. In the Asia Times, Andrew Salmon condenses the discussion into a brief article, articulating the main points of contention throughout this debate, asking the main question: Is is the Korea-American alliance worth it? Read his take on the state of the alliance: Andrew Salmon, “Could South Korea Abandon its Strained Alliance with the U.S.?” The Asia Times, November 10, 2017. To dive deeper into the debate, see also: Se-Wong Koo, “Is South Korea’s Alliance with the United States Worth It?” The New York Times, November 6, 2017.

 

Daily Update: South Korean Round-up

Here are some big stories coming out of South Korea:

The End of Ballon Diplomacy

According to a Cheong Wa-dae official, President Moon Jae-in has asked South Koreans to stop sending anti-North Korean leaflets across the border. In the wake of the president’s remarks, Beak Tai-hyun noted that the leaflets cause tension between the two Koreas, but also noted the complexity in dealing with the subject (Yonhap). Ballon diplomacy embrangles the two Koreas as each constantly drops leaflets to satirize the other’s culture, leaders, and policies. The move by Moon came after the July 4th ICBM test, as he sought legal methods to block the leaflets from being sent into Pyongyang, fearing they may cause a small clash which could escalate into full-out war (HanKyoreh).

Leaflets are a constant fixture of inter-Korean relations. Pyongyang constantly sends leaflets into Seoul, most propaganda mocking international leadership. Recently, graphic depictions of President Trump were found in Seoul, as were leaflets demurring America’s policy toward the Korean peninsula (NK News; Korea Expose; NK News). South Koreans, led mainly by defector-activists, also send leaflets the other way. In August, activists sent trash and leaflets into North Korea to educate North Koreans about the outside world (NY Post). Leaflets have been a constant fixture of inter-Korean relations for years, and, despite Moon’s efforts to eliminate them from the equation, activists will always find ways to attempt to influence the minds of North Koreans. “The quickest way to bring down the regime is to change people’s minds,” said Park Sang-hak, a defector who runs the Fighters for a Free North Korea (NY Post).

The change comes at a time when tensions run high. Pyongyang constantly engages in piquant behaviour–missile launches, nuclear tests–with equally provocative responses from American President Donald Trump. Ballons being launched into North Korea, though with the good intention of educating North Koreans on the outside world, may inadvertently cause an international incident. It is with good intentions that Moon has embarked on this journey, but it may prove fruitless as activists will constantly look for ways to engage North Koreans with foreign media.

Park Guen-hye

In May, South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye’s trail in the corruption case which expelled her from power started (BBC). Others who have stood trail include Choi Soon-sil, Park’s friend and confidant, and Lee Jae-young. Park’s trail is a marathon, containing over 100 witnesses and a charge sheet of over 120,000 pages.

On October 13, South Korean courts decided to extend the sentence of Park by six months, citing the possibility that evidence in the case may be destroyed (Channel News Asia). The move sparked outrage in Park and her lawyers. In her first public appearance, Park demurred the case as “political revenge,” while claiming her treatment was politically motivated (The Guardian). Park’s lawyers all resigned en masse to protest the trail which they see as biased against their client (VOA). Park’s scandal is likely to remain in the headlines for a while, as Park staunchly denies and fights the charges against her.

Donald Trump in Seoul

Finally, the big upcoming story is President Trump’s visit to South Korea.[1] During his trip, Trump is likely to address the North Korean crisis, saying that time is running out to solve the issue. Many South Korean leaders also wish for Trump to address what the Korean media has dubbed “Korea passing,” the sidelining of South Korea in addressing the crisis (CNBC). The biggest key of his trip will be showcasing a united front against the North Korean threat which includes Seoul. Other topics will include trade, nuclear weapons, and the American commitment to the region (USA Today).

A missing feature of Trump’s visit is a trip to the DMZ, which administration officials have called cliche (Financial Times). The trip, according to officials, was too short to include a visit to the border, a visit which has been a key aspect of past administrations; Obama, Bush, Clinton, and Regan have visited the DMZ dressed in a bomber jacket. Though there are many issues which will dictate the tone of his trip to Korea, and throughout Asia in general, at least the world can rest knowing Trump will not have the opportunity to cause an incident with some incendiary remarks at the DMZ.

These are just some of the stories coming out of South Korea in the past few months, and they all will be watched closely by this blog. Stay tuned for more information as the headlines are made.

Notes

[1] Donald Trump will also be visiting several other Asian countries, including Vietnam, Japan, China, and the Phillipeans.

Breaking News: UN Sanctions

The United Nations unanimously adopted a new round of sanctions Monday, targeting the import of oil and North Korean labor. The resolution, in the words of American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hailey, says “the world will never accept a nuclear North Korea,” (Wall Street Journal).

The sanctions adopted targeted a wide variety of industries. They placed a ban on North Korean textiles; limited import of oil to North Korea; and targeted North Korean labor, imposing a “humanitarian” clause for  future labor and letting all workers on contracts beginning before the imposition of the sanctions to continue work. This round is a watered down version of suggestions circulated by America following North Korea’s nuclear test (CNN).

The question, as with all sanctions, is the quality of implementation. The “humanitarian” loophole has caused concern in the past and made implementing sanctions difficult. It is also unclear how cooperative China will be after forcing other states to water down the resolution. Though strong, the overall effectiveness of the sanctions will be a question to follow throughout the next few months.

Daily Update–June 14

South Korea

Politics–China, ostensibly to see if the radar of THAAD reaches into its territory, recently asked Seoul if they could perform a site inspection of the deployment. According to a source, Beijing was making the claims “through various claims” (Choson Ilbo). THAAD has rocked South Korea, as well as the entire region, into a political parlay in which there appears to be no middle ground. Before being impeached, Park Geun-hye was a fervent defender of the deployment and made diplomatic visits to convince others to come around to the system (The Korea Page). However, in his brief tenure, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has called for deployment to be suspended while an environmental impact assessment is completed, a process which could take up to a year (Military.com). China and Russia have taken stands against the deployment (Reuters; Sputnik). Even North Korea has tried some interesting tactics and was recently accused of spying on the system (Joongang Ilbo). THAAD will continue to be a thorny issue in the region, pitting one nation against another.

Culture–Yesterday, an explosion rocked Yonsei University, injuring a sole professor. Today, police arrested the culprit, a 25-year old graduate student who confessed to making the bomb and placing on his professor’s office door (Joongang Ilbo). The bomb was made out of a tumblr filled with small bolts. Kim, the student, said he made the explosive out of spite of the professor after being “told off” about his thesis (Yonhap). The professor is currently being treated for minor burns.

North Korea

Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old American student, was medevaced from North Korea last night. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, in brief remarks, that Warmbier’s release was “at the direction of the president,” though refused to make further comments out of respect to the family (Rex Tillerson Remarks on Otto Warmbier). Officials told Warmbier’s family that he contracted botulism and fell into a coma after being given a sleeping pill shortly after his sentencing in March of last year (USA Today). The family was alerted last week about Otto’s health in a phone call (Fox News). Upon arriving home, Warmbier was rushed to a hospital and nothing is known of his condition at the moment. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea for “anti-state” acts in early March of 2016 after a one-hour trail (CNN). He was accused of attempting to steal a propaganda poster from an employees only floor at his hotel and arrested at Sunan International Airport as he was boarding his flight home in January of 2016. His release comes as Dennis Rodman makes another visit to North Korea. A State Department spokesperson unequivocally denied that Rodman had any part in securing the release of Warmbier and was unable to cover issues of his health or the exact timeline of his release (State Department Press Briefing 6/13/2017). Currently, Otto is in an Ohio hospital.[1]

Notes:

[1] An interesting read on how North Korea treats foreigners in captivity can be found in the New York Times.

Correction: June 15: An eariler version of this post wrongly stated that Warmbier was accused of taking the poster from his hotel room. The poster he was accused of taking was located in an employees only floor of the hotel.

Daily Update–June 5

After a brief break, including several changes in my life and a few uncontrollable happenings, I am glad to say that Daily Updates are back and I am going to start working on a longer analysis post to get up in the ensuing weeks. But without further ado, here is today’s Daily Update:

South Korea

Politics– Since taking office on May 9, President Moon Jae-in has stayed fairly busy. Three days into his term, Moon reversed one of Park’s signature policies: the introduction of state-authored history textbooks. On May 12, Moon ordered the textbooks to be scrapped (NY Times). On Tuesday, Moon continued his push for the lesser known by promising to reevaluate the history of Korea and search for people who made the country great (Korea Herald). This comes as his approval ratings fell for the first time on Monday following issues regarding his high ministerial appointments and issues befalling the investigation into THAAD deployment (Korea Times). Moon faces several challenges ahead, the most pressing being establishing a good reputation with the new Trump administration which has constantly argued for policies counter to those of Moon.

The National Assembly is set to take up the possibility of having family reunions of those split by the Korean War on August 15, Korean Liberation Day. Following a meeting with Chung Sye-kyun, South Korea’s National Assembly Speaker, and party leaders, Kang Hoon-shik, leader of the Democratic Party, said: “We’ve agreed to issue a resolution to push for a family reunion on Aug. 15” (Korea Times). This would be the first of such reunions since October 2015 when they were stopped following North Korean provocations.

Economy–The middle class in South Korea slipped about a percent to 65.7% in 2016 from the previous year the Finance Ministry said on Tuesday. The shrink is due to a widening of income disparity between the rich and poor despite government efforts to quell the issue (Yonhap). Last year, South Korea’s total income distribution rose to 9.32, meaning that those in the top 20 percent income bracket had about 9 times what those in the bottom 20 percent bracket did. The disposable income rose on year in 2016 as well, though not as sharply (Yonhap).

Culture–South Korea has launched a bus tour aimed at introducing foreigners to attractions outside of Seoul (Korea Times). The bus will take foreigners to one of five regions–the southeastern city of Daegu, Ganghwa Island in Incheon near Seoul, the northeastern province of Gangwon, the southwestern province of South Jeolla and the southeastern province of North Gyeongsang–for tours. There are plans to extend the coverage of the buses in 2019 with more stops (Yonhap).

North Korea

News–North Korea has rejected aid from a South Korean civic organisation in light of South Korea’s recent support of UN sanctions resolutions. After North Korea declared its openness to some inter-Korean exchanges, the Korean Sharing prepared to send pesticides and medical supplies to fight malaria in North Korea (Korea Times). However, Kang Yong-shik announced on Tuesday that the group would be putting off its shipment and vists, saying that Pyongyang took issue with South Korean support of recent UN sanctions (Korea Times; Yonhap). This rebuttal highlights tensions on the peninsula.

Leadership Watch–Kim has had a busy introduction into the month of June. On May 30, Kim Jung-un attended the test of the missile. According to state media, the test “verified the flight stability of ballistic rocket loaded with fin-controlled warhead in the active flying section and reconfirmed the accuracy of velocity correction and attitude stabilisation system by a small heat jet engine in middle flying section” (KCNA). A few days later, Kim visited the Kangso Mineral Water facility. During his tour of the facility, Kim discussed how the factory was a make of the Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il eras, reminiscing about how the factory was remodelled under their guidance during the Arduous March (KCNA). Finally, on June 5, Kim attended a combat flight contest among officers of the North Korea Air and Anti-Air Force. After ordering the men to conduct a sortie, Kim went to the observation tower to observe the contest, knowing the men would show militant spirit. After the competition, Kim gave guidance on how the Air and Anti-Force could round off preparations for combat (KCNA). With these recent actions, Kim has continued pushing his two themed advancement strategy: military and economic.[1]

Notes

[1] Sources are from North Korean state media and should be read in context with other sources to provide a fuller, more insightful picture of Kim’s actions in North Korea.