Daily Update–June 5

After a brief break, including several changes in my life and a few uncontrollable happenings, I am glad to say that Daily Updates are back and I am going to start working on a longer analysis post to get up in the ensuing weeks. But without further ado, here is today’s Daily Update:

South Korea

Politics– Since taking office on May 9, President Moon Jae-in has stayed fairly busy. Three days into his term, Moon reversed one of Park’s signature policies: the introduction of state-authored history textbooks. On May 12, Moon ordered the textbooks to be scrapped (NY Times). On Tuesday, Moon continued his push for the lesser known by promising to reevaluate the history of Korea and search for people who made the country great (Korea Herald). This comes as his approval ratings fell for the first time on Monday following issues regarding his high ministerial appointments and issues befalling the investigation into THAAD deployment (Korea Times). Moon faces several challenges ahead, the most pressing being establishing a good reputation with the new Trump administration which has constantly argued for policies counter to those of Moon.

The National Assembly is set to take up the possibility of having family reunions of those split by the Korean War on August 15, Korean Liberation Day. Following a meeting with Chung Sye-kyun, South Korea’s National Assembly Speaker, and party leaders, Kang Hoon-shik, leader of the Democratic Party, said: “We’ve agreed to issue a resolution to push for a family reunion on Aug. 15” (Korea Times). This would be the first of such reunions since October 2015 when they were stopped following North Korean provocations.

Economy–The middle class in South Korea slipped about a percent to 65.7% in 2016 from the previous year the Finance Ministry said on Tuesday. The shrink is due to a widening of income disparity between the rich and poor despite government efforts to quell the issue (Yonhap). Last year, South Korea’s total income distribution rose to 9.32, meaning that those in the top 20 percent income bracket had about 9 times what those in the bottom 20 percent bracket did. The disposable income rose on year in 2016 as well, though not as sharply (Yonhap).

Culture–South Korea has launched a bus tour aimed at introducing foreigners to attractions outside of Seoul (Korea Times). The bus will take foreigners to one of five regions–the southeastern city of Daegu, Ganghwa Island in Incheon near Seoul, the northeastern province of Gangwon, the southwestern province of South Jeolla and the southeastern province of North Gyeongsang–for tours. There are plans to extend the coverage of the buses in 2019 with more stops (Yonhap).

North Korea

News–North Korea has rejected aid from a South Korean civic organisation in light of South Korea’s recent support of UN sanctions resolutions. After North Korea declared its openness to some inter-Korean exchanges, the Korean Sharing prepared to send pesticides and medical supplies to fight malaria in North Korea (Korea Times). However, Kang Yong-shik announced on Tuesday that the group would be putting off its shipment and vists, saying that Pyongyang took issue with South Korean support of recent UN sanctions (Korea Times; Yonhap). This rebuttal highlights tensions on the peninsula.

Leadership Watch–Kim has had a busy introduction into the month of June. On May 30, Kim Jung-un attended the test of the missile. According to state media, the test “verified the flight stability of ballistic rocket loaded with fin-controlled warhead in the active flying section and reconfirmed the accuracy of velocity correction and attitude stabilisation system by a small heat jet engine in middle flying section” (KCNA). A few days later, Kim visited the Kangso Mineral Water facility. During his tour of the facility, Kim discussed how the factory was a make of the Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il eras, reminiscing about how the factory was remodelled under their guidance during the Arduous March (KCNA). Finally, on June 5, Kim attended a combat flight contest among officers of the North Korea Air and Anti-Air Force. After ordering the men to conduct a sortie, Kim went to the observation tower to observe the contest, knowing the men would show militant spirit. After the competition, Kim gave guidance on how the Air and Anti-Force could round off preparations for combat (KCNA). With these recent actions, Kim has continued pushing his two themed advancement strategy: military and economic.[1]

Notes

[1] Sources are from North Korean state media and should be read in context with other sources to provide a fuller, more insightful picture of Kim’s actions in North Korea.

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.

Breaking News: Kim Jung-un Brother Dead in Malaysia

ÝÁ ±èÁ¤³², ¸»·¹À̽þƼ­ ÇÇ»ì(Image: Kim Jung-nam being escorted.  Source: Korea Herald; The Telegraph)

Kim Jung-nam, older half-brother to North Korean leader Kim Jung-un, has been confirmed to have died on the way to catch a plane in Malaysia.  He was on his way to catch a plane in Kula Lumpur International Airport when he started to feel ill and was then transported to the airport clinic.  From there, they decided to take him to the hospital when he still felt ill.  Kim Jung-nam passed away in the ambulance (BBC).  The exact cause of death is currently unknown.

A TV Chosun report was the first to speculate that Kim Jung-nam had been poisoned.  According to the report, two North Korea women approached Kim from behind and used needles to inject him with the poison (TV Chosun*).  The women have so far been able to evade police searches in Malaysia (The Telegraph).

Kim Jung-nam was the son of Kim Jung-il and his first wife Sung Hae-rim.  In 2001, Kim Jung-nam was captured trying to enter Japan on a fake visa.  The incident, many analysts believe, soured his chances of taking over the country (The Telegraph).  However, some analysts also believe his fate was settled when Kim Jung-il started to favor Ko Yong-hee, Kim Jung-un’s mother, over Sung Hae-rim (New York Times).  After falling out of favor with his father, Kim Jung-nam spent the majority of his time abroad, leaving behind his life in North Korea.  While being questioned by a reporter in Macau, Kim Jung-nam responded to his being past up, saying that succession was his father’s decision (New York Times).  Kim Jung-nam was also pro-Chinese.

If confirmed as an attack, this would be the highest profile death since Kim Jung-un had his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, killed in 2013.[1]

[1] Updated on February 14 at 11pm to reflect an error in reporting.  Originally reported that Jang was purged in 2010, when he was actually executed in December of 2013.

Leadership Alert: Kim Jung-un sacks Head of Spy Agency

Reports on Friday suggest that Kim Jung-un has relieved the Minister of State Security Kim Wong-hong, 72.  Kim was also demoted from full general to major general, according to the Korean Ministry of Unification (based in Seoul).  He was demoted and let go after an internal probe found the Ministry of State Security had abused its power (Yonhap).  Typically the North Korean Ministry of State Security oversees prison camps, follows reactionary groups within North Korean society, and arrests those who flee the country.

The removal of Kim from power is a political move meant to consolidate power by Kim Jung-un.  However, Jeong Joon-hee, a spokesman at the Ministry of Unification, argued that such a move may weaken the relationship between Kim Jung-un and the elites in North Korea as many start to fear for their jobs (Yonhap).  While shoring up some support within the upper circles, this may give Kim Jung-un more support from the masses, though many typically focus on the day to day necessities and not what goes on in the government.  Either way, this is yet another purge undertaken by Kim Jung-un since he has taken over the reigns of North Korea.

Daily Update – November 28

South Korea

Politics – President Park Geun-hye, at 2:30pm local time, gave a public statement on the ongoing political scandal, her third statement since news of the scandal broke earlier this month.  In her statement, Park expressed her grave apologies for the continuing trickle of information regarding this scandal.  Park also stated that she never followed her personal interests throughout her 18 years in public office.  The major aspect of her short speech was Park saying that she will regulate the shortening of her term to the National Assembly.  This is the first Park has highlighted any path forward.  However, Park refused to answer questions following her statement.*  As Korea looks forward, Park’s future is uncertain, as the impeachment motion in the National Assembly will require votes from 28 Saenuri Party members. This is not a small task, though is not impossible (some local media outlets have hinted that this is fairly likely).  If impeachment passes the National Assembly, the motion will move to the Constitutional Court where it will need 6 votes from the judges to finalize Park’s impeachment – a total of 9 sit on the court.  If ousted from power, South Korea’s second most powerful politician, Prime Minister Hwan Kyo-ahn will take over as president.  This is uncharted for South Korea in a variety of forms.  Park is the first president to be a suspect in an abuse of power scandal – though many presidents have been tangled up in scandals while in office, many involving family members – and, if impeached, Park will be the first democratically elected South Korean president to be ousted from the office.

*I have sourced the video and the translated script of her third address.  Though the video is not my favorite, it does illistrate her walking off stage as reporters blurt out questions.

(Due to the importance of the above story, will include the other major political development in tomorrow’s Daily Update.)

Economics – The Korea Labor Institute (KLI) released a study showing that the top .1% of Koreans make around 360 million won ($308,000) per year.  This category was dominated by executive officers, who made up 29% of this group.  Other professions in this category included Doctors at 22%, Business Owners at 12.7%, Stock Shareholders at 12.5%, Financial Sector Employees at 7%, and Property Owners at 4%.  Specialist Laborers made up 0.1%.  Missing from this category were positions in public service as well general service positions.  KLI conducted this study by examing the tax reports and income survey data from the Ministry of Employment and Labor.

Culture – South Koreans have taken to the streets to protest against their scandal-ridden president.  On Sunday, 9 major protests all ended peacefully, while also breaking a national record with 1.9 million participants.  The U.S. State Department even heralded the protests, with John Kirby saying, in a press briefing, “that is how democracy works,” and that South Koreans are exercising their democratic right.  However, some protestors are arguing that the non-violence embraced in the protests is not working, citing the simple fact that Park remains president despite five straight weeks of 1 million plus people gathering in Seoul to call for the ousting of her from South Korea’s highest office.  Below are a few pictures of the protests:south-korea-protests-are-peaceful-democratic-us-state-department-saysFrom UPI on November 28, 2016Protesters hold candles during an anti-government rally in central SeoulFrom Reuters on November 19, 2016k2016111300122_650From the Korea Times on November 12, 2016 (Signs translate to Park Geun-hye Resign)

North Korea

News – Kim Jung-un has declared a three-day mourning period following the death of Fidel Castro this weekend.  Kim also visited the Cuban Embassy to pay his condolences to Castro, calling him a brave comrade in arms.  On Monday, a group of North Korean elite set off to Havanna to attend the memorial services for Castro; the group was headed by Choe Ryong-hae.  North Korea has also ordered its flags to be flown at half-mast, in honor of the dictator.

Seoul-based Traditional JusticeWorking Group is working to release a report on North Korean mass graves for victims of human rights abuses in the reclusive state.  The group says it has gotten a grasp of 12 places which may be home to mass graves, following its examination of satellite photos as well as 277 interviews with defectors.  They hope to publish the report in April-May of next year.

Yonhap News reported that a fresh new round of sanctions on North Korea may be handed down the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.  According to sources cited by Yonhap, the new sanctions would place a cap on North Korean coal exports at 7.5 million tons, or around $400 million, a 60% cut from the North’s current export rate of around $700 per year worth of coal.  The new sanctions will also add copper, nickel, silver and zinc to the list of minerals North Korea is banned from exporting.  Overall, the sanctions may cut North Korean revenue by as much as $800 million annually.  This round of sanctions comes 82 days after Pyongyang conducted its fifth nuclear test in September, highlighting the growing divide over how to sanction the regime for its continued nuclear ambitions.

Leadership Watch – North Korean leader Kim Jung-un provided on the spot guidance to various fields in Samjiyon County on Monday.  During his visit, Kim paid homage to his father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather, Kim Il-sung.  He also visited the Samjiyon Culture Hall where he learned about the production of art and film, pushing artists to create which will uphold the revolutionary ideals of Juche and the Workers Party of Korea.  Kim also visited a school where he underscored the need for a proper, North Korean education.  He visited the Camp for Visitors to the Samjiyon Revolutionary Battle Sites, and concluded his trip by watching Sajabong Sports team in training.  Accompanying Kim on this trip was Choe Ryong Hae, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the C.C., the WPK, vice-chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK and vice-chairman of the C.C., the WPK, and Kim Yong Su, department director of the C.C., the WPK.+

+This report is based on sources from North Korean state media, mainly the Korean Central News Agency and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Daily Update – September 19

South Korea

Politics – A few days after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the southern South Korean city of Gyeongju, a 4.8 magnitude aftershock rattled through the city.  In light of the recent events, the South Korean government released new guidelines for buildings.  Future developments in Korea which are greater than 1 story must be earthquake resistant, while new buildings which are over 16 stories must be approved.  This is not the first push for earthquake resistant structures in South Korea; according to a statement by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, earthquake resistant buildings were introduced in Korea around 1988.  Currently, buildings three stories and higher are subjected to this measures.  These changes will take effect in January of next year.

South Korean president Park Geun-hae will host a gathering of officials for a workshop to discuss the security and economic issues facing South Korea.  The workshop will be attended by several high-ranking government officials, including Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, and will take place on Saturday.  North Korea’s September 9 nuclear test will take center at the workshop.  This is the first workshop of its kind since 2013.

Economy – Shin Dong-bin, the chief of Lotte, was summoned by state prosecutors to testify on a string of charges being levied against him.  The charges include embezzlement and breach of trust.  Shin apologized for the causing concerns, saying he will cooperate fully with the police investigation into Lotte Group.  Lotte has been embattled over a series of scandals – Shin and his brother were locked in a struggle for managerial powers, earlier this month Shin’s brother Dong-joo was questioned for embezzlement, and Lee In-won was found dead in an apparent suicide while waiting for a summons by prosecutors.  Shin was called as the probe was coming to an end.

Korean air is looking into a new funding strategy for the Hanjin Group.  Korean Air is the parent company of the Hanjin shipping group.  After the Korean air executive board, in an emergency meeting, failed to pass a 60 billion won into the company.  Hanjin Group chairman Cho Yang-ho vowed earlier this month to inject 100 billion won into the company, of which 40 million would be from his own estate.  The board did come to agreement on securing 60 million won in loans, but later reversed the decision after reaching the conclusion that the structure of the loan could be subject to breach of trust.  Last week, Cho injected 40 billion won into the company and Hanjin Shipping Chairwoman resented 10 billion won.  Hanjin officially declared bankruptcy on August 31, and a judge has ordered the group to return all its chartered ships to owners.

Culture – Chinese tourists amount to a huge economic and cultural exchange for South Korea.  However, in recent days, Chinese tourists have come under the spotlight for committing violent crimes in South Korea.  The most recent case was Sunday evening when a 61-year-old Korean woman died in a hospital on Jeju Island.  The woman was stabbed 8 times while praying in a chapel the day before, after which she made an emergency call while still conscience.  She died after being rushed to a hospital.  According to the Korea Times, police believe misogyny is the motive for the crime.

South Korea is calling on foreigners and Koreans to report errors on signs written in foreign languages.  Signs in public areas, such as subway stations, historic areas, tourist information centers, are the targets.  Experts will assess the claims received by the office, and will determine which signs are to be fixed.  Following this campaign, Seoul will launch a team of 80 foreigners from Japan, China and English-speaking countries to improve tourism services for foreigners.  These ideas are to assist in developing a more internationally competitive tourism market in Seoul City.  For those interested and in Korea, this Korea Times article has information on how and who to contact to report any errors.

North Korea

North Korea claimed it successfully tested a new rocket engine through official state media on Tuesday.  This comes after various trips to scientific sites by Kim Jung-un, adding to the possibility of a long-range missile test on the anniversary of the Foundation of the Worker’s Party on October 10.  This is the first military trip Kim has made since the September 9 nuclear test.  38North released an article with satilite images showing the preparations for the test dating September 17th.  This year has been highly provocative, with two nuclear tests and the possibility of more tests should raise caution and discussion throughout the world.

Leadership Watch

Today, Kim Jung-un was present at the Sohae testing site when North Korea conducted its ground test of a new missile engine.  After the test, Kim expressed his satisfaction at the result of the test, while also praising the scientists responsible for the test.  Kim also called for more efforts to develop space in the next five years, thus fulfilling the 5-year program for national aerospace development.  Kim’s comments shed a little light on the reasoning for the test, as it may lead to another satellite launch.  However, many are still skeptical and believe the test foreshadows a forthcoming missile test.

Yesterday, September 18, Kim Jung-un visited the Kosan Combined Fruit Farm.  While at the farm, Kim toured the room for revolutionary history teaching, lauded the history of the farm, and watched vehicles and forklifts in action on the farm.  This was Kim’s second visit to a farm last week; he also visited Farm 1116 on September 13.

(Note: Leadership watch source material is from North Korean official media and should be treated as such.  Today’s leadership watch articles were published on KNCA’s english website.)

 

Leadership Watch Feature Canceled

It is with a heavy heart I announce the cancellation of the Leadership Watch weekly post, before it even starts.  This blog is a lot to maintain, and I want to ensure each post is worth the read, so I am going to cancel the separate feature.  Now, that being said, leadership watch will still be on this blog.  In order to see this feature, please look in future Daily Updates and in the Leadership Watch category.  This move will ensure the material is presented appropriately and will also ensure I am able to take a break from posting every now and then.  Thanks for your understanding and I look forward to integrating this feature into my Daily Updates.