Daily Update: June 6–North Korean Missile Launch

Early in the morning of June 8, North Korea launched a salvo of missiles from Wonson, off its Eastern Coast (The Korea Page). Pyongyang has constantly evoked such strategies to find a course of action which ensures technological advancement with minimal retaliatory actions from the international community. So what do we know about North Korea’s latest missile launch and how has the political situation moved since?

North Korea fired off several anti-ship cruise missiles from its east coast, all of which flew about 200km (Joongang Daily). The tests showcase North Korea’s technological capabilities in light of sanctions ostensibly limiting the cash and technology required for continued testing. The missiles were fired in the direction of the East Sea (Yonhap). President Moon conviened the Security Council in the hours following the test.

Domestically, motivations for the launch can be difficult to parse. The two most likely scenarios are 1) North Korea is protesting the recent protest of THAAD in Korea and new rounds of sanctions by the UNSC or 2) that North Korea is still trying to attempt to push the envelope to see what it can get away with. As of writing, North Korea has yet to release any communication regarding the test.

International responses to the test have been minimal with several leaders not yet responding to the test of writing. American Missile Defense Agency chief, Vice Admiral James Syring, showed concern on the North Korea issue, saying that America is not comfortably ahead of the issue (Yonhap). President Trump has yet to respond.

The test brings the political parlay over THAAD deployment right back to the forefront. Moon Jae-in, a long time THAAD opponent, has vehemently opposed the deployment since being elected. He has called it a hasty maneuver meant to be a fait accompli and accused the Defense Ministry of foregoing required environmental tests before the system became operational (NY Times). An aid to Moon said, “we are skeptical if the deployment was really urgent enough to pass over transparency and procedures required by law,” in a statement which highlighted the Blue House’s push to implement a long environmental survey despite the long time required to complete the test (Joongang Daily). The Barun and Liberty Korea Parties–the two main conservative parties–both released statements calling for the urgent deployment of THAAD (Yonhap). In light of today’s test, THAAD will remain a contentious issue which the Blue House is likely to stall as long as humanly possible.

The other item under scrutiny from North Korea is the recently adopted UNSCR 2356 which froze the travel of 14 individuals and the assets of 4 companies (UNSCR 2356). In an editorial in the state-run Rodong Shinmun, North Korea said the international community is “pressing this panic button,” and “desperate in their vicious attempts to put sanctions and pressure to bear upon against the DPRK” (Rodong Shinmun). North Korea has a storied history of opposing sanctions policy, citing, as in the above editoral, the size of America’s nuclear arsenal and military as evidence of the need for continued pursuit of nuclear weapons. “Whatever sanctions and pressure may follow, we will not flinch from the road to build up nuclear forces … and will move forward towards the final victory,” the Rodong team writes (Rodong Shinmun).[1]

As it stands, North Korea’s exact motivation is unknown, though based on the media attention towards sanctions policy, it is easily possible that today’s test was a protest of recent sanctions.

In South Korea, the test is winding through the typical process: Defense Ministry alerts the president/press, the Security Council is called to meet, and the press covers the updates as they come in. International leaders have remained quite, choosing to focus their attentions elsewhere for the time being.

Notes

[1] Rodong Shinmun is a state-run media outlet in North Korea is cited here to provide a North Korean mindset on recent sanctions policy. Any statement of fact or opinion in Rodong Shinmun must be read with proper context and attention to detail.

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.

Daily Update–April 3

South Korea

Politics — South Korea, the United States, and Japan kicked off joint drills to counter North Korean submarines on Monday. South Korea is dispatching the Kang Gam Chan destroyer to the three-day long exercise (Yonhap). The drills come at a time of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. They are a result of dialogue in December, following North Korean SLBM tests last year (Korea Times). The drills will focus on searching, identifying, and tracking a mock North Korean submarine.

Moon Jae-in won the Democratic Party nomination in the race to the Blue House. Moon swept the primaries and secured 57% of the vote. An Hee-jong won 21.5% and Lee won 21.2% (Korea Times). Moon’s blowout win was expected, as he has been steady at the top of national polls throughout the nomination process and since the impeachment motion passed the National Assembly. Many polls, such as a Gallup Korea Poll conducted the Friday before the Court’s decision, has placed Moon with almost double the next candidate’s approval rating. In the Gallup Poll, Moon secured a 32% approval rating while An Hee-jong took a meager 17%. Ahn Cheol-soo, another leading candidate only secured 9% in the poll (Business Insider).

Economy— South Korea’s first online bank opened on Monday, the first addition to Korea’s banking sector in 25 years. Interest in the bank was promising, as 20,000 new people opened accounts and 1,000 loans were issued. K-Bank is targeting the mid-rate loan market, known as those with a loan score of 4-7 on a scale of 1 to 10 (Joongang Ilbo). K-Bank hopes to offer less burdensome rates through its cost-cutting measures. Kakao Bank, K-Bank’s main competitor, is expected to gain approval soon.

Culture— For the K-pop fans of the world, Seo Taiji, a legendary artist in Korea, will hold a 25-year anniversary concert in September. The concert will take place on September 2, and will be a one-day event (Yonhap). Seo Taiji got his break in music as a member of Seo Taiji and Boys, the group which featured Yang Hyun-suk, the current leader of YG Entertainment. His most recent album, Quite Night, was headed by the title track Sogyeokdong, a collaboration with singer IU (Youtube; Youtube)[1].

North Korea

President Donald Trump remains slightly ambiguous yet positive on solutions to the North Korea issue. He views North Korea as one of the greatest security risks in the world. In an interview with the Financial Times, President Trump expressed strong indications that he may try to reach a deal with Xi Jinping during their meeting in Florida this week. “China has great influence over North Korea. And they will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” he said in the interview. The administration accelerated a review of North Korea policy, possibly in order to preview options before the summit. Trump also expressed his strong desire to resolve the issue, even without China’s assistance. In the interview, he hinted at the possibility of solving the issue one-on-one with Pyongyang (Financial Times). There was no indication of a shift in Trump’s thinking on the North Korea issue. For a good analysis of this interview, see this NKNews article.

Notes:

[1] The first link is to the Seotaiji version of the song, while the second is to IU’s. The song is recorded to tell a story from a dual perspective, hence the two music videos and recordings.

Correction:

April 4: A previous rendition of this post incorrectly stated that Seotaiji started in music with Seotaiji and Boys. However, Seotaiji founded his first band, metal group Sinawe, before the founding of Seotaiji and Boys. The band Sinawe was founded when Seotaiji was 14.

Breaking News: Moon Jae-in Wins Democratic Nomination

Moon Jae-in has won the nomination for the Democratic Party in the 2017 race for the Blue House. Moon’s win was honestly nothing new, as he has held high approval ratings throughout the nomination process, and even before. Moon swept the primaries, securing over 57% of the overall vote (Korea Times). I am sorry my post on Hong Joon-pyo is not finished yet, but it will be up shortly. I will also write a briefer on Moon Jae-in.

Daily Update–March 27&28: First Candidate is Named

The Barun Party is the first party to name its candidate for the presidential race following the impeach of Park Geun-hye. On March 28, the party named Yoo Seung-min as its presidential candidate. In a vote at the Olympic Park in Seoul, Yoo received 62.9% of the vote. Gyeonggi Governer Nam Kyung-pil received 37.1% of the vote (KBS World Radio). This post will examine the short history of the Barun Party and explore–in as much detail possible–the political stance of Yoo.

A New Conservative Party

The Barun Party has a short history, closely tied to the recent scandal. While questions circulated about Park and Choi Soon-sil’s relationship, the ruling party underwent a period of internal strife. The new Conservative party spawned from this period, as Park opposers faced tough opposition in the ruling party.

On January 9, the new Conservative party branded itself the Barun Party (바른정당) using the Korean word for “proper” as its moniker (Korea Herald). Currently, the party controls around 30 seats in the National Assembly (Korean National Assembly; Barun Party*). The Barun Party has expressed major discontent with the ruling conservative party, calling for its leadership to step down and claiming that several other party members had a role in the scandal (Korea Times). Barun has branded itself as a lifeboat for the conservative movement in Korea.

Yoo Seung-min: Barun Leader

Yoo Seung-min is a member of the national assembly, serving his fourth term in the legislative body. He is the chairman of the National Defense Committee and serves on the Strategy and Finance Committees in the National Assembly. Along with a record of national service, Yoo served in many roles in the Grand National Party and was a Senior Research Fellow at the Korea Development Institute (Korean National Assembly, Yoo Seongmin).

In terms of politics, Yoo’s soured relationship with Park caused the Saenuri Party–now Liberty Korea Party–to shove him away from the nomination. Many saw this move as dogmatic, and Yoo promised to run as an independent candidate (Korea Herald). Yoo is running on a platform which he says “will revive the economy and strengthen national security, and establish a virtuous democratic republic” (Korea Times). Also, he has stressed his economic experience, arguing that he will be able to bring jobs back to Korea. He has also promised to fight corruption throughout the government (Korea Times).

Yoo is brandishing typical conservative lines, pushing economic development and strengthening national security as the main aspects of his platform. However, he stands apart from the ruling party line in calling for the ouster of corruption. While unpopular with conservative political elites, Yoo’s stance on corruption may render him better results with the Korean population at large. However, Yoo, being a conservative, will have a very difficult time wooing the Korean public.

The Election Moving Forward

candidate-timeline-880x1024(Image: South Korean election process moving forward. Source: Korean Economic Institute of America)

South Korean politics will be moving in breakneck speeds moving forward. For the 2017 election, the next party to announce its candidate will be the Liberty Korea Party on March 31. Then the People’s Party and the Democratic Party of Korea will announce their candidates on April 4 and April 8 respectively. The candidate will all have around a month to campaign, as the election will take place on May 9 (Korean Economic Institute of America). Many will be looking forward to these selection dates and I promise to write a briefer on each Korean candidate similar to this one.

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).