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.

Breaking News: North Korea Tests a Missile

North Korea launched a missile about an hour ago, adding pressure to an already volitile situation on the peninsula. Yonhap is reporting that the projectile–it is currently unknown what type of missile was launched–flew 700 kilometers (Yonhap). The missile was launched near the city of Kusong.

South Korea’s newly minted president Moon Jae-in convened an emergency meeting of the security council following the launch. The military also released a statement saying it “is closely monitoring for proactive movements by North Korea and maintaining all readiness postures” (CNN). This response is typical for South Korea following a launch.

In terms of motivation, the launch is most likely a test of the Trump-Moon dynamic. President Trump has favored a more militaristic and tough approach while Moon favors engagement to denuclearize Pyongyang. This also ensures North Korea is issue number one in the alliance, possibly straining the relationship because of the different approaches.

North Korea also has been politically active.  On May 13, North Korea called for the UN to reconsider sanctions against the country (Yonhap).

Breaking News: South Korea’s New President

Exit polls are saying that Moon Jae-in has won South Korea’s 2017 election with around 41% of the overall vote. The National Election Commission is set to start counting votes and will offically announce a winner in the wee hours of the morning. Once announced the winner, Moon Jae-in will be automatically sworn in and begin his term as president (Korea Times).

Moon’s victory marks a major shift for Korea’s highest office; for the first time in a decade the liberal party has control of the Blue House and the National Assembly. (Will write a longer analysis this week to post.)

Breaking News: North Korea Threatens Intelligence Agencies

North Korea made an interesting threat on Friday. In a statement carried by KCNA, North Korea’s Ministry of State Security vowed a retaliatory strike on the Central Intelligence Agency, America’s foreign intelligence, and the National Intelligence Service, South Korea’s intelligence agency (Yonhap).

“We will ferret out and mercilessly destroy the last of the terrorists,” the statement read. North Korea accuses the CIA and NIS of infiltrating North Pyongyang in an attempt to assassinate Kim Jong-un (KCNA).

The threats come days after CIA chief Mike Pomopeo made a surprise visit to Seoul. During his trip, Pompeo visited American military and diplomats in Seoul. He had no plans to visit any Blue House officials or candidates vying to replace Park (NY Times). Other officials who have made trips include Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

*Written on iPhone will update with links to sources tonight.

Breaking News: Indicments For Choi Scandal

The prosecutor investigating the Choi scandal released its first wave of indictments on Monday. First, the SK Chairman avoided prosecution. But others were not as lucky.

Lotte Chairman Shin Dong-bin was indicted on charges levied against him, stemming from a donation of 7 million won to the K Sports Foundation, a foundation run by Choi (Yonhap).

Park Guen-hye, the embattled ex-president, was also indicted on charges of bribery, peddling, and sharing of classified information. She has been in custody since the end of March (Yonhap).

Breaking News: Pence in Korea

American Vice President Mike Pence landed in Seoul on Sunday for a three-day visit. On Monday Pence will meet with Hwang Kyo-ahn, acting president of South Korea, and Chung Sye-kyun, current speaker of the National Assembly. On Tuesday, he will deliver a speech at an event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea. Following his speech, Pence will depart for Japan (Yonhap).

Pence is the highest official in the Trump administration to make a trip to Korea, following Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. North Korea is likely to be the topic of discussion, as Pence has to reinforce American interests in Korea, while also ameliorating fears that an American preemptive strike is likely. Pence most likely will push a policy of “maximum pressure and engagement.” According to reports by the Associated Press, “maximum pressure and engagement” is the policy the Trump administration settled on after a two-month review of North Korea policy (AP). Pence is also likely to push THAAD deployment to a shifting Korean political landscape.

The trip comes after a load of political headlines from North Korea ranging from missile tests, to parades and new missiles. Pence will have a difficult job, but not an insurmountable one.

(I will write a small piece on Pence’s trip to Korea later this week.)