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.

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Breaking News: UN Sanctions

The United Nations unanimously adopted a new round of sanctions Monday, targeting the import of oil and North Korean labor. The resolution, in the words of American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hailey, says “the world will never accept a nuclear North Korea,” (Wall Street Journal).

The sanctions adopted targeted a wide variety of industries. They placed a ban on North Korean textiles; limited import of oil to North Korea; and targeted North Korean labor, imposing a “humanitarian” clause for  future labor and letting all workers on contracts beginning before the imposition of the sanctions to continue work. This round is a watered down version of suggestions circulated by America following North Korea’s nuclear test (CNN).

The question, as with all sanctions, is the quality of implementation. The “humanitarian” loophole has caused concern in the past and made implementing sanctions difficult. It is also unclear how cooperative China will be after forcing other states to water down the resolution. Though strong, the overall effectiveness of the sanctions will be a question to follow throughout the next few months.

Breaking News: Missiles Again

North Korea has launched another missile today, its second one this week. Japan’s NHK broke news of the launch, and told its citizens to be safe. The missile reportedly flew over Japan, and is most likely a show of strength by Pyongyang. (Yonhap Reporting). I am following the test and will add it to my second missile test analysis post.

Breaking News: A New Set of Launches

North Korea reportedly launched several missiles from Gangwando Province into the East Sea. The launch comes as South Korea and the United States are engaging in military drills on the peninsula, a time always fraught with high tensions and tough rhetoric.

Trump has yet to respond to the launch. Instead, the American president is currently at Camp David, monitoring Hurricane Harvey as it makes landfall in Texas. (In other news, I’ve been a little obsessed with Harvey as my hometown will be hit by parts of the storm.)

I will work on an update to this test and will have my ICBM analysis up soon. Thank you all for being patient.

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.