Breaking News: North Korea Missile Test

North Korea conducted a missile test on Saturday, taking off from Pukchang, South Korean media reported. The missile, supposedly a Pukguksong scud, is the same missile which was tested on the 16th, and was the second failed test this month (Yonhap*).

The test comes as saber rattling has made he situation tense. In past week, THAAD made its way to Seongju, Trump called on Korea to pay $1 billion for the system and said withdrawal from the KORUS FTA is a possibility, North Korea released a cryptic propaganda video, and, earlier today, Rex Tillerson reiterated that all options are on the table but a diplomatic solution is favorable. Korea is also in the throngs of a election cycle which may drastically shift the political leanings of the Blue House.

So far their is no statements regarding the missile test. The UN is likely to condemn the test, as Trump will. Other nations will likely join in the condemnation. China is likely to continue a push for restraint while attempting to coax Pyongyang to give up its missile and nuclear programs.

Breaking News: North Korean Projectile

North Lorea has launched an unknown projectile into the East Sea. The South Korean NSC is discussing the matter. More details to come later today.

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.

Daily Update – March 6

North Korea vs. Malaysia

The diplomatic parlay between Malaysia and North Korea continues to surprise in scope following the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. This weekend, Malaysia expelled North Korean ambassador Kang Chol. Kang left the country on Monday. While leaving, he said that such extreme measures are hurting the relations between the countries (NY Times).

North Korea, on Monday, had a strong reaction. Malaysian ambassador to North Korea Mohamad Nizan Mohamad was declared person non grata and given 48 hours to leave. The irony, however, was that he was already home, having been summoned for a consultation on February 22 (The Star). Pyongyang also went a step further. On Monday, state media declared an exit ban on all Malaysians currently inside North Korea (Yonhap), Malaysia continued the back and forth, placing an exit ban on all North Koreans in Malaysia until Malaysians in North Korea are safely back home. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, in a statement, called North Korea’s actions abhorrent and against international norms (AlJezzera). Though North Korea has never been one to follow the rules, this diplomatic tit-for-tat is very abnormal. As it stands, the murder of Kim Jong-nam, a case which the world may never learn all the answers to, will be a thorn in the side of Malaysian-North Korean relations as each nation accuses the other of the death.

North Korea vs. The World

Over the weekend, North Korea fired off 4 rockets into the ocean, with 3 falling into the Japanese Exclusive Economic Zone; the rockets flew 1000km and reached an altitude of 260km after being fired from the Dongchang-ri test facility, home of the Sohae Launch Station (Korea Times). This is the biggest show of aggression–nuclear tests excluded–since Kim Jung-un took over in 2011.

k2017030600201_main(Image: Map showing the distance of the missiles tested by North Korea. Source: Korea Times)

The reason behind the test is fairly clear, to protest the ongoing military drills in South Korea which will run until April. Before the test, North Korea said, through the Rodong Shinmun, “as long as the drill is not suspended, we will continue to strengthen our national defense capabilities centering on a nuclear force to defend our country” (UPI). Though the motivation behind the test is nothing new, the actual test itself is alarming. Japanese analysts have concluded that North Korea tested a new attack strategy to use against Japan (NY Times). Even North Korea acknowledged this, saying the test was conducted by units who are “tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggression forces in Japan,” (Yonhap).

This brazen provocative behavior has sent leaders pushing to condemn the action. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first to condemn the test, filing a strong protest against the action (The Korea Page). President Trump, in a call with acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to Seoul (Hindustan Times). South Korean presidential hopefuls also condemned the test. Moon Jae-in, the leading progressive, urged “the repressive state to immediately stop provocations that are putting the Korean Peninsula in danger.” An Hee-jong said that North Korea could only survive if it becomes a full member of the international community. Other candidates also condemned the test (Korea Times). North Korea responded in typical North Korean fashion, echoing its insistence that the joint drills in South Korea are pushing the region to a nuclear disaster (ABC Austrailia).

It is on the issue of THAAD where South Korea made major moves in light of the test. On Tuesday, parts for the missile defense system started to arrive in South Korea (Bloomberg). This move was met with skepticism by the opposition parties in Korea. The parties all rose questions about the rushed manner of the move, arguing that it was a politically motivated move ahead of the elections (Yonhap). THAAD has long been a contentious domestic debate within South Korea, pitting opposition parties against the ruling party for years. China has been retaliating to the deployment of THAAD in an interesting way. Authorities are shutting down Lotte Marts in China as a possible economic retaliation for the deployment (Joongang Ilbo). THAAD, though necessary, will remain a hard debate in the region. However, as I have previously argued, there may be ways to bolster Chinese and Russian support for the deployment (The Korea Page).

Update: Shinzo Abe Files “Strong Protest” Against Launch

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the first world leader to respond to North Korea’s missile test, filing a strong protest against the launch (Straights Times). The Straights Times is also reporting that North Korea fired 4 missiles with 3 landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (Straights Times). Details on the missile launch are still sparse and many questions have yet to be answered.  Stay tuned for more information as it breaks.

Update: North Korean Projectile Launch

North Korea is reported to have launched servers missiles from its base in Tongchari, the home of the Sohae Satellite Launch Station.  Activity in the region has been viewed with concern by Japanese analysts (BBC). After flying 1000km, the projectiles landed in the ocean off the east coast (Joongang Ilbo*). The missiles are in defiance of several United Nations Security Council resolutions. No one has yet to respond, seeing as the story is still breaking.  Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available. South Korean outlet Yonhap News was the first to break the story.

Daily Update – February 13

After a long period away for the holiday break and sickness, I am proud to restart the Daily Update part of the Korea Page.  I am going to make one shift this year and start citing my sources like I do for longer analysis pieces, linking the name of the source in parenthesis.

South Korea

Politics – Prime Minster and Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn reacted to North Korea’s missile launch by saying “our government, in tandem with the international community, is doing its best to ensure a corresponding response to punish the North” to a group of experts on foot-and-mouth disease and bird flu on Sunday (Yonhap).   Hwang also called the launch a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions and a “grave provocation” at a different meeting earlier in the day (Korea Herald).  Foreign Minster Yun Byeong-se, who is set to meet with United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Germany later this week, called the launch a “new level of provocation” (Korea Herald).  So far, South Korea has been stymied in its response due to the impeachment trail of Park Geun-hye which is still underway.

Presidential hopeful Moon Jae-in has called for the immediate reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex throughout his push to position himself for the 2017 presidential election (Korea Herald).  The complex was closed due to North Korean provocations in 2016, a move which 75% of Koreans felt was unhelpful for inter-Korean relations (HanKyoreh).  Currently, Moon Jae-in sits at the top of the polls with 29% support.  After Ban Ki-moon’s withdrawal from the race, An Hee-jong has made strides against Moon and sits behind with a close 19% support (Reuters).  With no candidate taking a clear lead, the presidential race for 2017 is still a wide-open race.  As for Kaesong, An Hee-jong is on the record in favor of reopening it on the basis of North Korean cooperation (UPI).

Economy – South Korean financial firm KB Group is making inroads for a move into South Asia.  KB Chairman Yoon Jong-kyoo and other top executives flew to Vietnam as the first stop in a week-long tour of South Asia.  While in Vietnam, Yoon had a meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to discuss the transition of KB Kookmin Bank Hanoi into a branch.  Other destinations for the delegation include Myanmar, Loas, and Cambodia (Korea Times).

Hyundai-Kia Motor retained its fifth spot among the world’s highest car sales last year despite a 1.3% decrease in sales in 2016.  The car maker sold 7.88 million vehicles in 2016.  The decrease in sales is the result of several factors including stagnating domestic demand; strike-related operations setback; and flagging exports.  As a response, Hyundai-Kia announced plans to implement an aggressive management strategy which will focus on newer models.  For 2017, the company hopes to sell 8.25 million vehicles, a historic high (HanKyoreh).

North Korea

Àμâ(image: A comparison of North Korea’s two Pukguksong missiles.  Source: Korea Herald)

North Korea tested a new class of missile on Sunday, drawing international criticism from Japan’s Shinzo Abe (Japan Times), the United Nations Security Council (Al Jeezera), but received a muted response from President Trump (Voice of America).  The launch was of a Pukguksong-2, a solid fuel powered medium range ballistic missile.  (I am working on a post which analyzes this new missile which should be up this week.)  This missile ensures that North Korea is able to strike targets in South Korea and Japan from a highly mobile and quick to launch missile, making it harder for other nations to catch before it is launched.  It has been reported that Trump and Abe discussed the matter at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort (New York Times).

A document produced by the North Korea strategy center after an interview with Thae Yong-ho, alleges that more purges in relation to Jang Song-theak have occurred in North Korea.  Ri Ung-gik, parent to Han Song-ryol’s son-in-law, the son-in-law, and the son’s child have all been sent to a political prison camp, according to the document (Korea Herald; Yonhap).  Ri’s daughter in law was excussed from the purge due to familial linage and history (Yonhap).  If substantiated, which may be a herculean task, these purges show signs of a Kim who is still trying to consolidate his power base through eliminating those who he sees as threats while also ensuring the loyalty of the current elite.