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.

 

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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.)

Breaking News: North Korean Supreme People’s Assembly Convenes

(Image: Kim Jung-in holding up the Supreme People’s Assembly card. Source: Yahoo News)

North Korea opened a meeting of the Supreme Peole’s Assembly on April 11 (Yahoo News). The meeting comes at a time when North Korea is behaving belligerently, with many looking towards the outcomes for directions Pyongyang may pursue.

The docket remains unknown for now, though a few predictions can be made. Kim Jung-un will most likely make American aggression–THAAD deployment and deployment of Carl Vinson strike group–a key element of the meeting, using it to bolster support for the byungjin line–domestic nuclear and economic advancement. Other topics may include domestic shifts in economic production, political leadership, and/or political structure. Following with trends, Kim most likely will make a push for further scientific development in North Korea (CNBC).

In the past, the Supreme People’s Assembly has acted as a rubber stamp for the regime. Though the content of the meeting is unknown at the moment–I will write a more in depth post when the meeting is over–whatever Kim decides for the country is most likely to pass.

Daily Update–April 7

South Korea

Politics–The Democratic Party is going to look into suspected irregularities in the People’s Party primaries. On April 4, Ahn Cheol-soo clinched the parties nomination, securing 75% of the overall vote (Korea Times). However, the People’s Party is mired in controversy over how it conducted business for its Gwangju and Busan primaries, for which Democratic Party Chairwoman Choi Min-ae has said that the irregularities will be dealt with in an appropriate manner (Yonhap). The investigation comes as presidential hopefuls hit the campaign trail in the run-up to May’s election (KBS World).

Economy–The Bank of Korea noted that household debt has grown while disposable income has stagnated in Korea over the las five years. In a report to the National Assembly, the bank reported a debt to disposable income ratio of 169%, well over the OECD average of 129% (Korea Times). Korea, up to 2015, has seen its ratio rise while other nations, such as the United States and Germany saw ratio drops in that same time period. Debt has long been an issue in South Korea, and recently the National Assembly has heard several reports on household debt.

North Korea

North Korea will be the topic of discussion at the Xi-Trump meeting at Mar-a-Lago this week. During their two-day summit, Xi and Trump agreed to increase cooperation in order to push Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program (Yonhap). Enhanced cooperation between China and America on North Korea can lead to more moves similar to China cutting off coal imports. However, the extent of enhanced cooperation has yet to be determined and Rex Tillerson, American Secretary of State, said no package agreement had been reached (Yonhap). And with Trump’s recent brief of options for North Korea–see below–China may be more reluctant to support a more militaristic solution.

North Korea was also making waves in other meetings. The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution today condemning the recent North Korean missile launch (Nikki Asian Review). In a press statement, the UNSC reiterated “the need to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula” (UNSC Press Release, April 6). The European Union went a step further. A day after the most recent missile launch, the EU expanded its sanctions on North Korea by expanding the industries in which Europeans are barred from engaging in. The new sanctions also prohibited computer services to North Korean people or entities (KBS World). Despite these measures representing an expanded approach, they are by no means going to shift the status-quo.

And finally, after a recent chemical weapons attack in Syria, North Korea sent a message to Bassar al-Assad celebrating 70 years since the creation of the ruling Ba’ath Party (Yonhap). In his message, Kim extolled the Ba’ath Party’s role in the revolution, saying, “Today the Party is resolutely struggling to courageously shatter the vicious challenge and aggressive moves of the hostile forces at home and abroad and defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity under the leadership of Bashar Al-Assad” (Rodung Shinmun). The move highlights the cooperation between Syria and North Korea. North Korea is suspected of building a nuclear reactor in Syria which the Israeli Airforce destroyed in 2007. Syria and North Korea also have a long history of diplomatic and militaristic engagement (Bechtol p. 280)[1].

President Trump has detailed options for solving the North Korean issue, of which many options require military solutions to varying degrees. The assessment presented to the president included three main courses of action. The first was rebasing nuclear weapons in South Korea. The second includes decapitation of the Kim regime–killing off the senior officials and Kim Jong-un in hopes a new regime would manifest itself. And the final solution included using special forces, such as South Korea’s Spartan 3000, to covertly eliminate North Korean missile and nuclear sites (NBC News). These options have support and dissent in Washington and Seoul. With North Korea’s continued provocations, however, the approval rating of militaristic actions is continuing to rise.

Notes:

[1] Bechtol, Bruce, “North Korea and Syria: Partners in Destruction,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis vol. 27 no. 3, September 2015, pp. 277-292.

[2] Due to amount of North Korea stories on today’s update, there is no Culture update for South Korea.

Update: North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile into the Sea

north-korean-missiles(Image: A comparison of North Korea’s missiles and their ranges. Though not much is known of the KN-15, it is estimated to have a range of 1500 to 2000km, roughly the same as teh No-dong missile system. Source: CSIS Missile Threat)

North Korea is acting out only a day before President Trump meets at his Mar-a-Lago Resort with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Early on Wednesday morning, an unknown projectile was fired into the East Sea from Sinpo, North Hamgyeong Province (Yonhap). A few moments later, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in South Korea confirmed that North Korea had indeed tested a missile, though refused to specify what the projectile was; it was merely reported that the projectile was not a piece of artillery (Yonhap).Overall, the test

Overall, the test appears to be a failure, as the missile did not fly for very long. After being launched at 6:42am, the missile was tracked until 6:51am. It reached a maximum altitude of 183km and flew around 60km before splashing down in the East Sea (Yonhap; Korea Times). The missile was later identified as the KN-15–also known as the Pukguksong-2–a nuclear capable, land-based variant of the KN-14 SLBM. Unlike previous KN-15 tests, however, this test was a missile powered by liquid fuel not solid (Chicago Tribune). However the international community spins the test, North Korea will have gained some valuable information to develop yet another missile to operability, making it more difficult to counter.

Responses to the test have been, for lack of better word, curious. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement which read, “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment” (Secretary of State’s Remarks). Ahn Cheol-soo, a contender in the 2017 South Korean presidential race responded by highlighting the importance of national security in South Korea (Chosun Ilbo*). So far, President Trump and other world leaders have yet to respond to the test.

Politically, the test will intensify the political parlay over North Korea between President Trump and Xi Jinping during their meeting. Trump has long advocated for a larger Chinese role in solving the North Korean issue, saying in a recent interview with the Financial Times that “China will either help us, or they won’t” (Financial Times). Trump has also accused China of not using its economic leverage to perturb Pyongyang into abandoning their programs. Economically, China accounts for the majority North Korean trade, and several Chinese companies have conducted business to the tune of $8 million with North Korea (Chosun Ilbo).

China, despite strong economic ties with North Korea, has been making moves to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions, including the suspension of North Korean coal imports for 2017. Many saw this move as placing the ball in America’s hands (The Economist). Wednesday’s test will heighten the tensions between Xi and Trump ahead of their Flordia meeting. Other items most likely to be covered will most likely include THAAD deployment on the Korean Peninsula. THAAD is yet another issue which will be even more contentious following this test.

North Korea is behaving like a neglected child, constantly stirring trouble in order to steal the spotlight. Wednesday’s test offered the reclusive regime a way to ensure it would be at the top of the agenda for Trump and Xi.

Corrections:

April 10: Updated information of the test parameters, detailing the use of liquid fuel in the second paragraph. Added an additional source in paragraph 2.

Daily Update–March 29

South Korea

Politics- Today, Ex-president Park Geun-hye attended a hearing about the special prosecutors warrant for her arrest (Korea Herald). Park refused to answer questions from reporters as she entered the hearing. After completing its 70-day probe, the special prosecutor sought a warrant to arrest Park for charges of bribery, coercion and leaking classified documents, citing the possibility of destruction of evidence and graveness of alleged crimes. The bribery charge alone carries a possible sentence of 10 years (Korea Times). Park has denied all allegations brought against her. As of writing, Park remains in the hearing and this Korea Times article has a link to live video analyzing her remarks. The stream is in Korean.

5740(Photo:  Park showing up at Seoul Central District Court to attend the hearing over the arrest warrant against her. Source: Korea Times)

For your information: The Liberty Korea Party will announce its presidential candidate in two days.

Economy- Hyundai is working to create a dedicated platform for electric vehicles. Pushed by the introduction of Tesla Motors into the market, Hyundai and affiliate Kia Motors have been pursuing ways to make their electric cars more competitive in the market. Though this platform will not be completed in the near future, Kia and Hyundai are looking to roll out electric powered SUVs with a range of 186 miles per charge. Lee Ki-sang, a president at Hyundai Motors who heads Hyundai-Kia’s green car operations, hopes for the electric powered cars to account for 10% of total car sales by 2025, up from 1% today (NY Times).

Culture- A Russian trio has been arrested and charged with smuggling North Korean drugs into South Korea. The drugs were not illicit substances. The trio bought medications and health substances made by the North’s Pugang Pharmaceutic Co. in North Korea and airmailed them to South Korea through Russia. They sold them without a license, according to local police. The substances had a value of around 9 million won–$8,080 (Korea Herald). The import of North Korean goods without a license is a violation of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act which dictates strategy to deal with cooperation issues between the two Koreas (Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act).

North Korea

North Korean media has unleashed a vicious cycle of press against the United States, reacting to the military drills currently ongoing in South Korea. On March 29, KCNA published an article which threatened the use of a resolute preemptive strike in the face of American attack (KCNA; Yonhap)[1]. Another article argued that sanctions against the reclusive country are immoral (KCNA)[1]. And a final article rebuked an American State Department Official’s remark on a softer stance toward North Korea (KCNA)[2]. Each article contained a common theme: American Key-Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military drills in South Korea are immoral and a preemptive measure against North Korea. This style is not uncommon from North Korea and doesn’t really hint at any upcoming provocative actions from the regime.

In other North Korean news, a South Korean think tank reported that North Korea is estimated to have 1000 drones. Chung Ku-yoon, a research fellow at the Korean Institute for National Unification, said that Pyongyang is developing the drones to enhance spying techniques. Some fear the drones may be used in aerial terror attacks (Yonhap). This comes after South Korean Defense Minister instructed the troops not to hesitate if North Korea attacked (Yonhap).

Notes

[1] These sources are taken from North Korean media and linking to them is difficult. Also, please take any information presented from North Korean media with a grain of salt.

[2] Source is linked from KNCA Watch, a North Korean media aggregator run by NKNews. Again, please do not take any information from North Korean state media at face value.

 

Daily Update – March 14

South Korea

Politics – Breaking Now: Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has announced that he will not be running for the position of President in the upcoming election. Hwang will make his statement on the topic at a cabinet meeting scheduled for 2pm (Yonhap). This comes on a day when Hwang called for national unity, calling the upcoming election a starting point to launch Korea into a “new future” (Yonhap). His recusal from the race, along with Ban Ki-moon’s, assures the progressive opposition parties a fairly uncontested race in the coming days.

Park Geun-hye left Cheong Wa Dae–the South Korean presidential residence also known as the Blue House–over the weekend. As she left, she remained silent on the charges, but left a defiant statement which was read by one of her officials, saying the “truth will come out” (HanKoyreh). Without the presidential immunity, Park is a suspect with 13 charges against her, and the Seoul Central Prosecutor’s office has issued a summons to Park’s legal team for questioning next Tuesday at 9:30am (Korea Herald). Questioning the president may reveal more information related to the scandal, though she may remain defiant in her words. Park and her legal team have pledged to cooperate in the investigation.

United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson embarked on a trip to Asia on Tuesday, his first to the region. Tillerson’s trip to the region comes at a time when tensions are rising due to political uncertainty in Seoul and a belligerent North Korea. While in Seoul, Korean leaders will have to convince Tillerson that it is business as usual when it simply is not (CNN). North Korea and THAAD are also on the discussion table. Tillerson will also visit China and Japan during his Asia trip. (See this CNN article for a good analysis on the issues in each country.) On Tuesday, the State Department’s spokesman Mark Toner, in a regular briefing, urged North Korea to release Otto Warmbier, the college student who arrested, and subsequently sentenced to 15 years hard labor, for stealing a political poster from the hotel he was staying at (Korea Herald).

Three of the four main parties in Korea–The Liberty Korea Party, People’s Party, and Baerun Party–agreed that they will hold a constitutional revision referendum in tandem with the presidential election in May this year. The referendum would alter the power structure in Korea. Supporters argue the concentration of power at the presidential level may have caused the current scandal in Korea. The majority Democratic Party, however, is hesitant to join the referendum arguing it would take away from the current corruption scandal. By law, a constitutional motion can be tabled with the support of 150 lawmakers and passed with a two-thirds vote–200 out of 30o. With the Democratic party hesitant to join, the referendum falls just short of the required 200 votes (Korea Times).

Economy – The unemployment rate in South Korea nudged up to 5% last month, a seven-year high, a 0.1 point increase from this month last year and a 1.2% increase from last month. The rise comes amid a rise in youth unemployment throughout the country, which stands at 12.3%, up from 8.6% in January (Korea Times).

(No culture update due to the four political stories tonight.)

North Korea

The number of visa-free countries for North Korean’s to travel to has reduced to 39. Though the number was steadily on the rise–only 36 offered such privileges in 2010–Singapore and Malaysia have revoked their visa-free travel programs after the assassination of Kim Jong-nam (Korea Herald). Travel is yet another aspect in which North Korea’s isolation is growing as it becomes more and more belligerent in 2017.

Most Interesting Story of the Day (Had to add this story, not a permanent feature)

2500(Image: Ex-president Park with her Jindo puppies in September of last year. Source: Korea Times).

An animal rights group filed a lawsuit with the prosecution on Monday against Park Geun-hye for violating the Animal Protection Law. Park had returned home without taking any of her 9 dogs with her (Korea Times). When entering office, two Jindo dogs were gifted to the president. The two birthed a litter of 5 puppies, all of which were given away. Then the two gave birth to seven puppies, all of which still remain with their parents. Another group, CARE, has offered to take care of the pets and find them a good home, arguing that South Korea would suffer a loss of image if it let the president’s dogs met a different fate (HanKoyreh). People’s Pary Chairman Park Jie-won, who is from the Jindo area, said, “some people can not hold a candle to dogs in regards to fidelity” (Korea Times).