Daily Update: December 11-12

Since I have had a busy week, I am going to condense the major stories from Monday and Tuesday into one post. I am still working on getting back into the swing of things :(.

It’s been a busy week for political appointments, and requests, in regards to the Korean Peninsula. First, Donald Trump has appointed a new Korea Ambassador, filling a year-long vacancy crucial to solving what Trump views as the biggest national security issue of his administration. Taking the place of the popular Mark Lippert, an Obama appointee who vacated the position of Ambassador to South Korea following the election, will be succeeded by Victor Cha, a Georgetown University professor and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (Wall Street Journal). Cha’s nomination, according to sources within the administration, has been given to South Korea and Cha may be in place before the Winter Olympics as South Korea works diligently to fill the vacancy (Korea Herald). Cha has long been a proponent of “hawkish engagement,” a strategy which favors isolation as a way to bring North Korea to the table. Cha is the author of many books, including Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies with David Kang and The Impossible State: North Korea Past, Present, and Future. Cha’s appointment will ensure that an adept hand will be at the helm of the Korea-US relationship.

Dennis Rodman also made headlines in the United States as he proposed to meet with Trump about ways to deescalate the tension between Washington and Pyongyang. He offered to serve as Trump’s Peace Envoy to North Korea (Business Insider). Rodman has been to North Korea on several occasions and has even met with Kim Jung-un. Unlike Cha, Rodman has little expeirence in diplomatic or government service. Including Rodman, however, may ensure that Trump has the ear of Kim Jung-un, though the appointment of Rodman seems unlikely at the moment.

Finally, Charles Jenkins, an ex-Army sergeant who defected to North Korea in the 1965 died at 77 in Japan (Fox News; NPR). Jenkins disappeared from a patrol after drinking 10 beers, crossing the border to avoid death and being sent to Vietnam. While in North Korea, Jenkins met Hitmoi Soga, a Japanese captive who later would become his wife. After decades in North Korea and several failed attempts to redefect, Jenkins successfully left North Korea and stayed in Japan where he faced a court martial for his actions. After arriving in Japan, Jenkins wrote a book titled The Reluctant Communist in which he details his captivity. Jenkins defection placed him alongside 5 other soldiers, all of whom became famous propaganda actors in North Korea.

Corrections:

12/13: Minor grammatical errors in a previous version where fixed. The link to the Business Insider article on Rodman was added.

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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: North Korean Official in United Kingdom Defects

Yesterday, rumors of a North Korean diplomat defection started to circulate throughout the media sources pertaining to North Korea – in yesterday’s Daily Update I cited one of those articles from NK News.  Today, those rumors were confirmed as the diplomat entered South Korea.

Thae Young-ho was a career diplomat in North Korea, including a 10 year stint at the North Korean Embassy in London.  While working in London, Thae was in charge of spreading the North Korean ideology and often extolled the North Korean regime in public settings; Thae had a wonderful mastery of the English language, as highlighted in the attached video in this Beyond Parallel analysis.  Thae was also the point man for the regime in Western Europe.  According to a BBC news report of the defection, the minsters in London also were in charge of keeping tabs on defectors who had settled in Western Europe.

In July, Thae was reported as missing from his home in London, along with is wife and his son.  On Tuesday, the Joongang Ilbo was the first to report the defection of Thae, though the article does not mention his name explictly.  South Korea’s Ministry of Unifiction also annouced his arrival in South Korea early this morning; however, they are refusing to release the details of his escape route.  Currently, Thae is in South Korea, under the protection of the state as he waits for the final aspect of his defection to be finalized.

Thae’s defection is the first ever from a foreign diplomatic position in history and highlights the growing mistrust in the Kim regime as Kim Jung-un looks to tighten his grip on power within the reclusive country.  Thae’s motivation to defect is being reported as disillusionment with the Kim Jung-un regime, and the will for freedom.

The aftermath of defection will likely include a crackdown on the foreign diplomatic core under the regime, as well as in general within North Korea.  For South Korea, and the broader international community, Thae has the ability to provide South Korea, and possibly the international community in general, with sensitive intelligance on a variety of aspects about North Korea’s political operations abroad.  No matter what information Thae is able to share with foreign governments, his defection is a stain on the credibility of the current Kim Jung-un regime and, therefore, information will be tightly controlled in North Korea.  Considering Thae’s rank, more details may also be kept to a select few in South Korea to ensure the security of Thae.