Daily Update–April 7

South Korea

Politics–The Democratic Party is going to look into suspected irregularities in the People’s Party primaries. On April 4, Ahn Cheol-soo clinched the parties nomination, securing 75% of the overall vote (Korea Times). However, the People’s Party is mired in controversy over how it conducted business for its Gwangju and Busan primaries, for which Democratic Party Chairwoman Choi Min-ae has said that the irregularities will be dealt with in an appropriate manner (Yonhap). The investigation comes as presidential hopefuls hit the campaign trail in the run-up to May’s election (KBS World).

Economy–The Bank of Korea noted that household debt has grown while disposable income has stagnated in Korea over the las five years. In a report to the National Assembly, the bank reported a debt to disposable income ratio of 169%, well over the OECD average of 129% (Korea Times). Korea, up to 2015, has seen its ratio rise while other nations, such as the United States and Germany saw ratio drops in that same time period. Debt has long been an issue in South Korea, and recently the National Assembly has heard several reports on household debt.

North Korea

North Korea will be the topic of discussion at the Xi-Trump meeting at Mar-a-Lago this week. During their two-day summit, Xi and Trump agreed to increase cooperation in order to push Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program (Yonhap). Enhanced cooperation between China and America on North Korea can lead to more moves similar to China cutting off coal imports. However, the extent of enhanced cooperation has yet to be determined and Rex Tillerson, American Secretary of State, said no package agreement had been reached (Yonhap). And with Trump’s recent brief of options for North Korea–see below–China may be more reluctant to support a more militaristic solution.

North Korea was also making waves in other meetings. The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution today condemning the recent North Korean missile launch (Nikki Asian Review). In a press statement, the UNSC reiterated “the need to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula” (UNSC Press Release, April 6). The European Union went a step further. A day after the most recent missile launch, the EU expanded its sanctions on North Korea by expanding the industries in which Europeans are barred from engaging in. The new sanctions also prohibited computer services to North Korean people or entities (KBS World). Despite these measures representing an expanded approach, they are by no means going to shift the status-quo.

And finally, after a recent chemical weapons attack in Syria, North Korea sent a message to Bassar al-Assad celebrating 70 years since the creation of the ruling Ba’ath Party (Yonhap). In his message, Kim extolled the Ba’ath Party’s role in the revolution, saying, “Today the Party is resolutely struggling to courageously shatter the vicious challenge and aggressive moves of the hostile forces at home and abroad and defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity under the leadership of Bashar Al-Assad” (Rodung Shinmun). The move highlights the cooperation between Syria and North Korea. North Korea is suspected of building a nuclear reactor in Syria which the Israeli Airforce destroyed in 2007. Syria and North Korea also have a long history of diplomatic and militaristic engagement (Bechtol p. 280)[1].

President Trump has detailed options for solving the North Korean issue, of which many options require military solutions to varying degrees. The assessment presented to the president included three main courses of action. The first was rebasing nuclear weapons in South Korea. The second includes decapitation of the Kim regime–killing off the senior officials and Kim Jong-un in hopes a new regime would manifest itself. And the final solution included using special forces, such as South Korea’s Spartan 3000, to covertly eliminate North Korean missile and nuclear sites (NBC News). These options have support and dissent in Washington and Seoul. With North Korea’s continued provocations, however, the approval rating of militaristic actions is continuing to rise.


[1] Bechtol, Bruce, “North Korea and Syria: Partners in Destruction,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis vol. 27 no. 3, September 2015, pp. 277-292.

[2] Due to amount of North Korea stories on today’s update, there is no Culture update for South Korea.


Daily Update – July 27

Sorry for the lack of posting last night.  I was caught up in the Democratic Convention and might have stayed up late the past few nights watching it and researching Hillary Clinton’s Korea policy for my Daily Update tomorrow.  This is also my lame excuse for lacking in quality this week, which I promise to enhance next week.  Anyway, here is the brief Daily Update for today.

South Korea

Flights, both domestic and international, have reached nearly 50 million.  This number is 14% higher than this period last year, with international travel increasing 15% to 35 million.  The rise in travel comes in the wake of Japanese earthquakes and other world disasters, and because of this is a promising sign for Korea.

An interesting cultural story.  Two British nationals have been protesting the dog meat trade in Korea for the past two weeks.  Their protest has taken place in front of the National Assembly, and most recently in Gwanghwamun Square.  The two activists paid for their trip to Korea out of their own pocket and are not there to attack Korean cultural norms – one of which is eating boshintag, dog meat stew, on the hottest day of the year to recover.  As aminal rights activists, the duo has also sought to get the British government involved, authoring a petition which has garnered over 100,000 signatures, meaning the British parliament will debate sending a formal letter urging South Korea to stop the dog meat trade, a first in the world.  (Disclaimer, I have tried boshintang, and thought it was fairly delicious.  However, I do not condone the torture and/or killing of animals in inhumane methods.  Also, the dish is not cheap in Korean standards and hard to find in Seoul.)

South Korean customs authorities have confiscated several pills containing powdered human flesh.  The majority of the pills are brought in through the international post, with the second highest rate of entry being with tourists, Lee Jong-ba revealed Tuesday.  The pills also contained several health hazards, including super bacteria and possible strands of Hepatitis B.  (If that is the incorrect lingo, I apologize for not being more in the know of sciency things.)  Pills of this sort have been confiscated at an alarming rate for the past 4 years and have been brought in due to supposed positive effects.

North Korea

North Korea dispatched units to several Asian nations, including China, with the intent to conduct terrorist activities against South Koreans in the region as a response to the mass defection of 13 restaurant workers almost 4 months ago.  Currently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working to step up security for South Korean nationals in the region, emphasizing the need for defectors, priests, and activists to be on high alert, as they are the most likely to be targeted for attacks by North Koreans.

South Korean soldiers found a large amount of North Korean propaganda leaflets on Wednesday.  This is the first time North Korea has floated propaganda down the Han River.  The leaflets said that North Korea won the Korean War and threaten an attack on South Korea with Musudan missiles.

Recent Propaganda Posters From North Korea

Earlier in the year, the North Korean elite announced that next year would bring about the 7th congress of the Workers Party.  This would be the first to take place since Kim Il-sung named Kim Jung-il to e the successor in the regime.  The recent releases of North Korean propaganda posters is trying to unify the nation before such a momentous event.

The theme of unification of the population behind a social or economical cause is commonplace in North Korean society.  (I actually just finished a paper for class arguing that the intent of North Korean propaganda is to create a population that has become a crowd, eliminating all routes to individual and intellectual thought.)  The recent releases of North Korean propaganda utilizes this theme to rally the population behind the outcome of the congress, though it has not taken place yet.

The slogans of the new posters all call for unification of the population in welcoming the new congress.  Though there is small deviations between the posters.  Some of the posters call for labor initiative, while others call for simply superior feats.  Some of the posters even call for both.  These posters are welcoming a political event, which has been the common call of the posters, as was seen throughout the 70th anniversary and other recent celebrations in North Korea.

The images within the posters are interesting.  One showcases several medals, showing that the elite are to take part in the congress.  Which is easily explanatory, since the congress will be made up of those loyal to the regime, as such people make up the political elite.  There is also the use of technologically modern items, such as trains, cars and naval vessels.  This poster uses the city of Pyongyang as the back drop to the advancement, hinting to the population that the party and Pyongyang – North Korea in general – is responsible for the advancement of the nation and should be respected.

So, what should be the takeaways from these new posters and why should we care?  The answer to the first question is simple.  The takeaway is that the congress will be seen as a celebration in North Korea, at least they are promoting it like they have done with other celebrations within the nation.  For this reason, there will be a huge emphasis placed on the congress and its outcome, so the possibility of a provocation, most likely small and/or in the form of a vocalization of some sort will be higher than normal (this is my takeaway and prediction).  The second question is slightly answered in the first questions answer.  The congress will treated as a celebration in North Korea and with celebrations comes possible provocations.  Also, with the recent announcement that North Korea is developing a new nuclear testing tunnel, the chance of a nuclear test can not be eliminated, though it may be far off and miniscule.  This will raise security concerns on the peninsula and will raise tensions for many of the nations around the peninsula, both geographically and politically.  Though this will not be the first time that political tension around the Korean peninsula has heightened to the point of possible war, a fourth nuclear test, or provocations, around the congress will be used to cement the authority of the regime and showcasing the military strength of the party.  Depending on what happens with the congress, the surrounding events should be watched as we near the event.  The fact that North Korea is advertising the event as a spectacle and celebration, may signal a special provocation.  The start of tunneling at the North’s nuclear testing facility may offer insight into what type of provocation it shall be.  Personally, I hope that Kim jung-un does not conduct a nuclear test and that the congress will go off with out provocation.  The congress will be watched by experts, but also the outside events around the congress should also be monitored, as they may as well be more political unsettling throughout the peninsula and the region.