Daily Update: December 12

South Korea

Politics – Hwang Kyo-ahn is starting to fit into his new role of acting president of South Korea.  On Monday, Hwang visited the Joint Chiefs of Staff as his first visit as president.  During the visit, Hwang promoted national security, saying “a little ant hole can bring down a dike.”  The visit is said to symbolize Hwang’s commitment to promote national security as acting president.  Before the visit, Hwang ordered the military to take necessary precautions to ensure North Korea was unable to take advantage as South Korea awaits impeachment outcome with an uncertain future.  Hwang, on Tuesday, again called for greater national security push, this time in the realm of cyber-security.  His remarks on Tuesday come after reports that North Korea hacked into the Defense Ministry’s intranet, a hack which affected 3,000 plus computers at the ministry, including Defense Minister Han Min-koo.  In the turbulent situation, Hwang appears to be ready to assume the role of interim leader, a trend which hopefully carries South Korea through the impeachment process.

Three high-ranking nuclear experts met in South Korea to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization in line with the recent rounds of sanctions – UNSCR 2321.  the experts – South Korea’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace Kim Hyong-kyon, United States Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joesph Yun, and Japan’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau General-Director Kenji Kanasugi – will met again on Tuesday to share their thoughts on the future of North Korea with a focus on the role of the international community, focusing on China and Russia, two veto-holding members of the UN Security Council.  They are also expected to discuss each countries respective sanctions, levied as supplementary actions to UNSCR 2321.

Economy – Chairman of the South Korean Finical Services Commission Yim Jong-yong stressed the need for South Korea to beef up its cybersecurity on the country’s finance related networks as a pre-emptive step to defend from North Korean cyber attacks against key state agencies.  North Korea was accused of hacking into banks in 2013.  The impeachment vote has also rocked the economy, though has not destabilized it entirely – experts, in fact argue the vote will have only a minor impact on the economy.  Either way, Yim’s suggestion would ensure the finical networks are defended against possible intrusion from the reclusive North Korean regime or any actor.

CultureA magnitude 3.3 earthquake shook Gyeongju on Monday.  Reports indicate the epicenter was located 9km southwest of the city and the quake has been classified as an aftershock of the major earthquake which tore through the region in September.

North Korea

China has agreed to temporarily cut off its coal exports to North Korea, a move seen as Beijing’s shift to join the international community in effectively implementing UNSCR 2321.  A source cited in the Korea Times also said China’s coal exports next year would be less as more stringent UN restrictions are placed on the trade of coal to and from North Korea.  UNSCR 2321, if implemented effectively by all states, will cut off North Korean coal imports by almost 70% annually.  The move to limit the exporting of coal to North Korea was meant to close the loophole of livelihood circumstances, a loophole commonly exploited by North Korea.

Site News

I am finishing up the Park impeachment analysis and trying to game out some situations of the result.  Life was a thing yesterday and I had some other things to take care of, so I apologize for not having it posted yet.  Also, I am glad to see this format for Daily Update again, even though this is fairly lacking in meat and depth.  Once I get the impeachment long read up and get through with life things currently requiring a fair amount of my time, I will post more meaty Daily Updates.  Also, starting with this post, I am creating a tag for all Korean acting presidents this blog lives through.  Hwang Kyo-ahn will be the first and hopefully no where near the last.

 

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Daily Update – September 21

South Korea

Politics – South Koreans are growing more concerned over the structural integrity of the nuclear power plants after several aftershocks rocked the Gyeongju area throughout the week.  Citizens are starting to ask why the plants were built in the region, while the government argues the plants are rated to withstand up to a 7.0 magnitude earthquake and that the aftershocks will have no effect on the structural integrity of the reactors.  Currently, scientists from several major universities are on site monitoring the effect of the major quake and aftershocks on the nuclear reactors and the rest of the region.

A B-1B Lancer bomber landed at Osan base in South Korea as a response to North Korea’s provocations.  A second bomber also flew over South Korea, though it returned to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.  Lieutenant General Thomas W. Bergeson was quoted as saying that the B-1B is just a tool in the arsenal which could be used to defend the Korean peninsula.  He also highlighted the strength of the U.S.-Korea alliance in the wake of North Korea’s continued provocations.  There is speculation that North Korea may continue its provocative behavior this year, with a couple of the tunnels at Pyungye-ri showing signs of North Korea hiding its behavior.

Economy – South Korean firms’ saw sales decreases during the second quarter, but profitability rose from a year earlier.  Firms with over 12 billion won ($10 million) in assets fell 1.9 percent in the April to June period.  Conglomerates saw sales fall 2.3% this quarter, which, though noteworthy, is a slower rate of decline from last year – 5.3% second quarter.  Despite this drop, the average profit margin of companies rose to 6.3%, up from 5.8% last year.  Companies’ financial health also grew by 0.6%.

Culture – South Korean pop giant YG Entertainment is seeking a lawsuit against the alleged hacker of Big Bang leader/rapper G-Dragon’s personal Instagram account.  G-Dragon had opened the account on a private setting, letting his friends see pictures of his personal life.  The account was hacked and made public and a third party also edited photos and tried to pass them off as real photos, adding to the damage and scandals which started to spread from the incident.

North Korea

North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong-ho had a handshake with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday at the UN General Assembly Meeting.  Picture from Yonhap News:aen20160922000300315_01_i

Radio Free Asia reports that North Korea is developing a plan to punish the farmers if another typhoon causes damage in North Korea.  Sources contributing to the article said that North Korean farmers are asking for advice on how to prevent damage from a future typhoon.  This report comes after Typhoon Lionrock dropped several feet of rain on North Korea, killing between 130-200 people and displacing around 100,000.  Many farmers are critical of the threat, citing that North Korean central government is more focused on detonating a nuclear device than assisting its farmers.  Threat or not, another typhoon would cause irreparable damage in North Korea’s farming sector.

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.)

 

Daily Update – September 12&13

In lieu of a normal Daily Update yesterday, I wanted to focus on two major developing stories occurring in Korea over the weekend.  I apologize for posting this update being posted a day late, but I wanted to ensure the research was thorough.  The typical format will resume with the next daily update.

Earthquake Rocks South Korea

Yet another earthquake occurred on the Korean peninsula, but this one was not of artificial origin or tied to a nuclear weapons test.  On Monday, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shook through Gyeongju, South Korea and was felt throughout the entire nation.  This was the second strong earthquake, as minutes before a 5.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the city.  Each quake was felt nationwide and as far away as Japan (Korea Times).

Korea has a very interesting history with earthquakes, spanning its entire history.  Gyeongju has a colorful history with these earth-shaking events.  In fact, about 5% of recorded earthquakes since the Three Kingdoms era – 120 out of 2600 – occurred in the city (Yonhap).  In 779, a strong earthquake destroyed several homes and killed around 100 people.  In the 11th century, Gyeongju was rocked by a variety of earthquakes.  Many equate the high amount of seismic activity in the city to its placement along the Ulsan fault (Yonhap), a fault which may be returning to seismic activity.  (For a more thorough, scientific study of the faults in southern South Korea, see this article published in Quaternary International on 5 July 2014.)

The major quakes did not cause too much damage to the city.  On Monday at 1am, reports indicated only 6 injuries and minor cosmetic damage, such as cracks, in buildings.  The quake also had little effect on the industry in the city; the article stated that factories in and surrounding the Ulsan and Pohang areas were not affected by the quakes and that the nuclear power plants in Gyeongju were still operating (Korea Times).  However, reports surfaced on Tuesday saying the four nuclear reactors were shut down as a precaution late Monday evening (Reuters).  Authorities then inspected the reactors on Tuesday (Yonhap).  The Cultural Heritage Administration also went to inspect cultural heritage sites, such as the Sekoram Grotto, Bluguksa Temple, and the Cheomseongdae Observatory, throughout Gyeongju (Korea Times).  Reports have yet to be made public, through the extent of the damage appears to be minimal at the time of this post; a Reuters article released Tuesday reports 14 injuries and no major damage, citing a Ministry of Public Health and Safety Official.  The Korea Times reported 8 injured and 253 reports of property damage from the quake.

Though the aftershocks of these two quakes seem to be over, the Korea Meteorological Administration is wary that quakes registering between 5.8 and 6 could shake the nation (Korea Times).   It is clear the city escaped major damage, but Korea may be in for more major earthquakes in the future.

Nuclear Test Response

The first few days following a North Korean nuclear test are always interesting, as everyone works to show strength and resilience while working to ensure the brittle veil of deterrence does not shatter on the peninsula, and this test was no different.

South Korean president Park Geun-hae has been sticking to a script of verbal of the Kim regime following the nuclear test.  She has called Kim Jung-un uncontrollable and reckless following the test (Yonhap).  Park is also expecting to reach out to leaders in opposition to THAAD deployment and make the case for them to shift their stance on the issue (The Guardian).  On Wednesday, South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense and the United States Department of Defense called for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible manner” (Yonhap), reviving the old adage President George Bush pushed during the Six Party Talks.  (For a good study of Bush policy toward North Korea see Chinoy, Meltdown: The Inside Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb.)  The tables now rest in the hands of the international community – in particular the United Nations – as every nation works to ensure tough repercussions are enacted following this test.

The United States took it a step further.  Rather than just playing the diplomacy game, American B-1B bombers flew over Korea in a show of strength (NBC News).  The B-1B is a nuclear capable supersonic bomber.  This is not the first time the United States has flown bombers over Korea in a show of strength.  “Such flyovers are common when high animosity rises on the Korean peninsula” (NBC News).

On Monday, an unnamed South Korean official said North Korea had finished preparations for another nuclear test (BBC News).  A more ominous article run on the Yonhap website cities 38North chief editor Joel Wit saying Punggye-ri, North Korea’s nuclear test site, is ready for three more explosions at any time (Yonhap).  Many other news agencies have ran articles about North Korea’s readiness for another test as well.  A CNBC article argued that North Korea is currently taking advantage of an international situation in which major powers are distracted with internal political shifts, with a current presidential election cycle in the United States and another gearing up in South Korea.  Rapid progress and distracted powers could lead North Korea to conduct its sixth nuclear test on short notice.