Daily Update – March 1

South Korea

Politics – Parents of high school students at Munmyeong High School, in Gyeongsan, plan to file an administrative suit with Daegu District Court challenging the school’s adoption of controversial state-authored history textbooks.  The school was designated as an experimental school for the textbooks, a move many parents see as illegal and drove 4 incoming students to drop out or move to another school (Yonhap).  State authored history textbooks have had a long, troubled history since greenlighted in 2015.  Since the decision to move to state-authored history textbooks, the Park administration has been accused of trying to whitewash history to bolster the conservative position (NY Times).  In late 2016, it was reported that the official roll out was delayed till 2018, but schools could opt to test the books (Asia News Network).  Switching to state-authored textbooks has long been met with negative criticism in Korea; a Gallup Korea poll released on November 6, 2015, showed that 53% viewed the shift negatively (NY Times), and on January 20 this year, South Korean parliament introduced a bill to ban the textbooks (Yonhap).  Though not the most scandalous act of the administration, the shift was a part of the two years of scandal which caused Park’s downfall.  With the introduction of the bill, it appears the textbooks are in the crosshairs and possibly will be entirely eliminated under the next administration.  If not banned, the textbooks will go into use in 2018.

aen20161128005400315_01_i(Image: South Korean officials hand out pilot editions of the controversial state authored history textbooks in Seoul on November 28, 2016.  Source: Yonhap)

Economy – Households in Korea are facing a toughening burden on two fronts. Last year households spent 2 million won in taxes and quasi-taxes, with the government collecting 10 million won more than expected in taxes.  The average household spent 158,761 won in taxes last year, a rise of 2.1% on year (Korea Times). Many forecast such a rise since the government also took in a surplus in 2015.  This has opened a debate on lowering the tax rate in Korea to alleviate some of the tax burden and leave families with more disposable income.  Currently, South Korea’s tax rate is 19.5%, which is lower than the average OECD rate of 25.1% (Korea Times).

Secondly, Korean outstanding household credit jumped to 1,344.3 trillion won (US$1.17 trillion) during the first quarter of last year, up 11.7% from the previous year (Yonhap).  Amid the trend of rising household debt, the Bank of Korea is looking to cut its rates which currently stand at 1.25%.  However, with the possibility of an American Fed hike and the upcoming election–domestic political uncertainty mostly–South Korea’s current rate freeze is set to remain for the time being (Yonhap).  Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol argued for a cautious monetary policy while some analysts have said South Korea has run out of monetary policy cards to revive the economy (Yonhap).  As the political uncertainty domestically mixes with economic uncertainty, in terms of a rate hike in the U.S., the Bank of Korea should shy away from drastic moves, opting to maintain the status quo for the time being.

Culture – Wednesday was the anniversary of the March 1 Independence Movement in South Korea, which 98 years ago precipitated the Korean opposition against Japanese occupation.  In 2017, pro- and anti-Park protestors took to the streets as the Constitutional Court is deciding whether to uphold or rescind the impeachment motion.  As of 8pm, 300,000 people were reported to be in the square, with many anti-Park protestors waving the national flag with an attached yellow ribbon in memory of those who died in the Sewol tragedy (Korea Herald).  An anti-Park candlelight vigil was held in the evening to demand the court to uphold the impeachment.  South Korea’s political landscape is becoming more and more polarized as the decision lingers.  The court is set to render a verdict in early March.

20170301000398_0(Image: Police buses separate pro- and anti-Park protestors in Gwanhhwamun Square.  Source: Korea Herald)

North Korea

News – Just when you think it can not, the Malaysia debacle continues to grow.  On Tuesday, the two women who attacked Kim Jong-nam were officially indicted in Malaysia and could receive the death penalty (NY Times).  The two women–Indonesian Siti Aisyah and Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong–are officially charged with murder in the attack.  Malaysian authorities are also looking to indict Ri Jong-chol in connection with the killing (Korea Times).  Malaysia also took more actions against North Korea.  The Malaysian government, citing national security, has canceled the visa waver program for North Korean citizens.  The change will take effect on March 6, after which any North Korean seeking entry to Malaysia will have to obtain a visa (Yonhap).  As the case unfolds, North Korea may face a drastic shift in relations with Malaysia, one that is not for the better.

01kim-1-master315(Image: Vietnamese Doan Thi Huong, 28, left, and Indonesian Siti Aisyah, 25, are the two women charged with the murder of Kim Jong-nam and could receive the death penalty.  Source: NY Times)

Leadership Watch – On March 1, Kim Jung-un inspected the headquarters of the large combined unit 966.  During his inspection, Kim praised the past commanding officers of the unit, saying many were tough anti-Japanese fighters, provided on the spot guidance, toured the history collections and monuments the unit holds, and offered a path forward for the unit.  He also praised the combat readiness of the unit.  With him on this visit was KPA Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong So, director of the KPA General Political Bureau, and Army Col. General Ri Yong Gil, first vice-chief of the KPA General Staff and director of the General Operational Bureau (KCNA)[1].

[1] Source is from state-controlled media and should be read with a keen eye to the details of the report.  Combination with outside sources can ensure information is complete.

Daily Update – February 27

South Korea

Politics – Lotte and the South Korean military have approved a land swap which would allow the government to deploy the THAAD missile defense system at the Lotte owned golf course in Seongju County.  In the swap, Lotte relinquished the golf course in exchange for government owned land east of Seoul (Yonhap).  After being greenlighted last year, THAAD has opened a contentious debate throughout the region.  China, who has constantly expressed dissent on the issue, repeated its stance.  In a daily press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said China would take necessary measures to counter the deployment (NY Times).  THAAD is scheduled to deployed before June.

Korea’s leading parliamentarian, Chung Sye-kyun, in a statement commemorating the Independence Movement on March 1, highlighted the need for the country to accept the results of the Constitutional Court no matter what they decide.  In the statement, Chung said “whatever results may come, we should accept it fully and be reborn as a new Republic of Korea” (Yonhap).  In an interview with The Diplomat, Chung echoed a similar view, arguing South Korea should remain devoted to the democratic process (The Diplomat).

In a poll released Friday by Realmeter, Moon Jae-in increased his lead in the polls, reaching a 33.5% approval rating.  His lead against An Hee-jong expanded from 12.1 to 14.6 as An’s approval rating dipped 1.5% to 18.9% (Korea Times).  Reports state that An fell out of favor after saying that Park had good will in setting up the foundations with Choi Soon-sil (Korea Times).  Moon’s rise in the polls solidifies his position as a leading candidate for the upcoming election, though Korea’s political future is still up in the air.  Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn took third place at around 10% as far-right voters solidify their support behind the parties de-facto leader (Korea Times).

Culture – According to data released by the Ministry of Justice 1 in 10 foreigners in Korea are illegal aliens.  The data shows that 211,320 foreigners–around 10.1% of the total number–are illegal aliens (Korea Times).  Though high, the percentage has been on a downward trend; in 2012 around 12% of foreigners in Korea were illegals.  Many Southern Asian immigrants come to Korea seeking a better life, though they are sometimes taken advantage of.  In 2014, 44.2% of South Koreans said they did not see migrants or migrant workers as their neighbor and an Amnesty International Report urged the South Korean government to address the problem of exploitation of migrant workers (The Diplomat).  As South Korea becomes a more diverse nation, it is imperative that the government address a wide variety of immigration issues.

(Due to the amount of political news in this update, there is no economic news.)

North Korea

Trade between the European Union and North Korea shrunk for the third year straight.  The Korea Herald, citing a Voice of America article, noted that trade between the European Union and North Korea shrunk 6.6% to $29 million in 2016 (Korea Herald).  Official documents show that annual growth of imports from North Korea to the European Union was negative 49.5% while exports to North Korea had an annual growth rate of 13.6% (European Union Trade Document).  This trend piggies on China’s decision to cease import of North Korean coal for the rest of 2017.  China’s decision will have a pretty noticeable effect on North Korea throughout the year–though this may not be noticeable to many–since North Korea exported $1.9 billion worth of coal to China last year (NPR).  2017 may be a very difficult year, economically, for North Korea.  But the country has proven resilient before, even displaying an aptitude for subverting sanctions imposed on Pyongyang.

2017 Post Schedule and Other Site News

Dear wonderful readers, I first want to start by expressing my deepest condolences to those who lost their lives and were injured in the airport shooting in Florida yesterday.  This was another senseless act of violence and my thoughts go out to everyone affected by this horrendous act.

As for my return, I am starting to work on my post covering the New Year’s speech by Kim.  That post will also include a look ahead for the peninsula into 2017.  That post should be up within a couple weeks at most – currently tied up by extraneous events.  This will be my first post of 2017.

As for returning to Daily Updates and other more regular functions of this blog, I am expecting to start those in February. I apologize for leaving out January, but personal items are coming first.  As for Breaking News and Updates, those will continue throughout January if anything of note is to happen in Korea.

Thank you for being wonderful readers and I look forward to having a lot of fun analyzing Korea in 2017 for all of you.

Happy New Year

It is now officially 2017, in some locations, and I want to wish all a Happy New Year to everyone everywhere.  Also, let’s all send our thoughts out to Turkey as the start of 2017 with tradegy.  As for the Korean Peninsula, Kim Jung-un is giving his annual New Year’s speech.  I will post an alaysis of the speech and what signals Kim may have given for North Korea’s 2017.  For now, let’s all enjoy the evening and bring in 2017 with excitement and hope for the world and wherever the reader of this post may be.  I look forward to covering the Korean Peninsula in 2017 for all.

Happy Holidays

Seasons greetings from the author of this blog, Benjamin Zimmer.  I want to wish all the readers a happy holidays and best wishes for the season.  2016 made sure it went out with a bang and I look forward to covering 2017 on the Korean Peninsula for you all.  For this new year, my resolution will be to post more frequently.  I hope you all make some wonderful resolutions and have an amazing time with family, friends, or whoever you spend this wonderful time with.  Again, Happy Holidays to all my wonderful readers.

Holiday Site News

The holiday is coming up and I want to wish all the readers of this blog a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays throughout the world.  As for me, I will be posting one more short analysis piece on the current infighting in the Saenuri party, then will be taking a vacation from posting for the holidays.  (I know my posting recently has been spotty at best, but I am working on it.)  If anything major on the peninsula happens during the holiday season, I promise to write short breaking updates, but that is all I will be doing over the majority of the holiday season.  I will also try to get a “2017 on the peninsula” post up around the first of the year, though no promises because life is a thing.  As for the return of Daily Updates, analysis pieces and the like, I will try to commit to a mid-January start of these posts.  No promises on this, again since life is a thing I am trying to figure out, and because of this I will not commit to a hard date to restart those posts.  I do wish you all a Happy Holidays and I am awaiting 2017 and its implications for Korea and the world.

Daily Update – September 7

South Korea

Politics – President Park Geun-hae met with Shinzo Abe, Japanese Prime Minister, in a sideline summit in Laos on Wednesday.  The two discussed North Korea, both highlighting the need for cooperation among the international actors to curb the North Korean provocations.  The two also discussed the Comfort Women Deal among a variety of other bilateral issues during the summit.

A South Korean provincial governor was sentenced to 18 months for bribery.  Hong Joon-pyo, South Gyeongsang Province’s governor, was included on a bribery list of Sung Wan-jong, who gave the politician an alleged 100 million won ($91,300) in 2011.  A close aide to Sung also received a six-month sentence.  The businessman also included Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo on the list, though Lee’s case is currently pending.

Economy – South Korea’s economy is still struggling to show signs of a recovery, despite a small tick up in exports.  Domestic Demand in Korea is slowing as a tax-cut program expires, one offing the rise of exports.  Retail sales fell 2.6%.  The worst hit was the auto industry, with automobile sales falling 26.4%.  Though a small increase industrial output, up 1.4% in lieu of the Olympics, though it is not a strong enough rise to counterbalance the fall in demand.  Earlier, the government announced a plan to pour 30 trillion won into the economy, with 11 trillion being allotted to extra budget.

Culture – The Busan International Film Festival is scheduled to take place on time – October 6-15 – in Busan.  The Busan Festival is the largest film festival in Asia, and this year will feature 301 films from 69 countries.  Over the past few years, the festival has been mired in controversy after screening a film covering the Sewol accident in 2014.  Many involved with the festival claim budget slashes and other action of the Busan government were in retaliation to the screening of the film, which the Busan mayor wished not to be shown.  This year the organizers hope to maintain the integrity of the festival, saying it will be a place where “citizens and the film industry coexist.”

North Korea

North Korea has called for complete loyalty for the upcoming celebration of its founding anniversary.  On September 8, North Korea will officially turn 68 years old and the state outlets are pumping out stories highlighting the legitimacy of the Kim regime in lieu of the upcoming celebrations.

Harvest time is approaching in North Korea, though the forecast is bleak.  In North and South Hwanghae Provinces, North Korea’s breadbasket, are withering due to lack of fertilizer and abnormally hot weather.  Taehongdan County, a place known for its potatoes, is projected to see a harvest 20-40% less than last years.  Despite the bleak outlook, a few state-run farms, such as the 10.18 Cooperative are forecasted to well this year.  It appears a cash-strapped North Korea is prioritizing state-run agricultural output over others, which is leading to the sharp decline in North Korea’s harvest this year.