Daily Update: June 6–North Korean Missile Launch

Early in the morning of June 8, North Korea launched a salvo of missiles from Wonson, off its Eastern Coast (The Korea Page). Pyongyang has constantly evoked such strategies to find a course of action which ensures technological advancement with minimal retaliatory actions from the international community. So what do we know about North Korea’s latest missile launch and how has the political situation moved since?

North Korea fired off several anti-ship cruise missiles from its east coast, all of which flew about 200km (Joongang Daily). The tests showcase North Korea’s technological capabilities in light of sanctions ostensibly limiting the cash and technology required for continued testing. The missiles were fired in the direction of the East Sea (Yonhap). President Moon conviened the Security Council in the hours following the test.

Domestically, motivations for the launch can be difficult to parse. The two most likely scenarios are 1) North Korea is protesting the recent protest of THAAD in Korea and new rounds of sanctions by the UNSC or 2) that North Korea is still trying to attempt to push the envelope to see what it can get away with. As of writing, North Korea has yet to release any communication regarding the test.

International responses to the test have been minimal with several leaders not yet responding to the test of writing. American Missile Defense Agency chief, Vice Admiral James Syring, showed concern on the North Korea issue, saying that America is not comfortably ahead of the issue (Yonhap). President Trump has yet to respond.

The test brings the political parlay over THAAD deployment right back to the forefront. Moon Jae-in, a long time THAAD opponent, has vehemently opposed the deployment since being elected. He has called it a hasty maneuver meant to be a fait accompli and accused the Defense Ministry of foregoing required environmental tests before the system became operational (NY Times). An aid to Moon said, “we are skeptical if the deployment was really urgent enough to pass over transparency and procedures required by law,” in a statement which highlighted the Blue House’s push to implement a long environmental survey despite the long time required to complete the test (Joongang Daily). The Barun and Liberty Korea Parties–the two main conservative parties–both released statements calling for the urgent deployment of THAAD (Yonhap). In light of today’s test, THAAD will remain a contentious issue which the Blue House is likely to stall as long as humanly possible.

The other item under scrutiny from North Korea is the recently adopted UNSCR 2356 which froze the travel of 14 individuals and the assets of 4 companies (UNSCR 2356). In an editorial in the state-run Rodong Shinmun, North Korea said the international community is “pressing this panic button,” and “desperate in their vicious attempts to put sanctions and pressure to bear upon against the DPRK” (Rodong Shinmun). North Korea has a storied history of opposing sanctions policy, citing, as in the above editoral, the size of America’s nuclear arsenal and military as evidence of the need for continued pursuit of nuclear weapons. “Whatever sanctions and pressure may follow, we will not flinch from the road to build up nuclear forces … and will move forward towards the final victory,” the Rodong team writes (Rodong Shinmun).[1]

As it stands, North Korea’s exact motivation is unknown, though based on the media attention towards sanctions policy, it is easily possible that today’s test was a protest of recent sanctions.

In South Korea, the test is winding through the typical process: Defense Ministry alerts the president/press, the Security Council is called to meet, and the press covers the updates as they come in. International leaders have remained quite, choosing to focus their attentions elsewhere for the time being.

Notes

[1] Rodong Shinmun is a state-run media outlet in North Korea is cited here to provide a North Korean mindset on recent sanctions policy. Any statement of fact or opinion in Rodong Shinmun must be read with proper context and attention to detail.

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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.

The People vs. President Park: An Analysis of the December 9 Impeachment Vote

Friday, December 9, 2016, was a historic day in South Korea.  President Park Geun-hye was confronted with a vote on the motion to impeach her in the national assembly, which resulted in a 234-56 vote in favor of impeachment.  This is now uncharted territory for the Korean government and people as the motion is now waiting a ruling from the constitutional court; this is the first impeachment process in which the president is directly involved in the scandal, meaning Park may be the first democratically elected president in South Korean history to be fully impeached.  In light of the Choi scandal, this move may be the only way for South Koreans to restore faith in Korea’s highest office, and the political system in general.  Due to this historic occasion, this entire post will be devoted to the impeachment.  The first section will outline the scandals cited in the motion, while the second will explore the future of South Korea, showing a possibility for each plausible ruling and outlining possible effects on other aspects of Korean politics and economy.

The Road to Impeachment: Park’s 2014-2016 Leadership Crisis

President Park Guen-hye has been wrapped in scandal for the past few months as South Koreans come to the streets in numbers not seen since the Democratization movement of the 1980s; two weeks ago (November 26), 1.5 million protested throughout the country and last weekend 1.7 million took to the streets  (New York Times; Voice of America).  Protests of this magnitude rocked Korea for six straight weekends as the National Assembly worked to bring Park face to face with an impeachment motion.  But what exactly caused the demise of Park?  The answer, though seemingly simple, is a tad complex and the impeachment motion placed several issues on the block for reasons to impeach Park (Yonhap).  Incidents cited in the motion included the Sewol tragedy and the current Choi scandal.  Both are detailed below.

Way before the current scandal started to unravel any legitimacy President Park retained through her last two years, another scandal shook the foundations of her presidency.  On the morning of April 16, 2014, the Sewol ferry capsized during a journey to Jeju Island as it carried mostly high school students.  Throughout the day, the death toll quickly rose; around 6:30pm local time, Yonhap ran a headline saying 292 had died in the incident (Yonhap).  The sinking and the following investigation revealed a web of corruption charges against the owner of the ferry and his family, and many of the crew were unable to escape scrutiny and, in some cases, even charges (BBC; Yonhap; Yonhap); however, the lack of action by President Park drew international criticism.  The ferry sank at 8:45am.  Park, however, did not show up on the site until 5:15pm.  (Author knows from personal experience that it takes around 5 hours maximum to travel across the southern half of the peninsula, and that includes a long stop to get food.)  These 7 hours are still shrouded in mystery, though Park did receive several briefings on the incident throughout the day (Korea Times).  It would take the current revelations to get some answers on the president’s whereabouts as the Sewol tragedy unfolded.  An article released in the HanKyoreh revealed that Park got her hair dressed for 90 minutes during that time period (HanKyoreh*).  Park’s staff quickly refuted the time, saying the hairdresser was only there for 20 minutes (Asia Correspondent; Yonhap).  This was not the only aspect which drew criticism, however.  During the rescue operations, several difficulties arose, including communication difficulties between agencies which made the rescue operation difficult (Korea Herald).  In response, Park dissolved the Korean Coast Guard (Reuters). This scandal shook President Park’s seeming infallibility as her approval ratings dipped below 40% for the first time (Korea Times).  The sinking brought Koreans – both grieving family and supporters – to Gwanghwamun Square in protest of the government’s actions on that fateful day (The Telegraph).  In May of 2015, protesters gathered to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy, while also criticizing the lack of independence in the government’s investigation into the incident (Amnesty International).  Though the political fallout from this incident was not as damning as the current scandal, at the time, it started the downward spiral which would become Park’s final two years in office.[1][2]

Fast forward to 2016, and President Park becomes embroiled in the scandal which, in the end, was the final straw for the South Korean people.  It started in July when students, while protesting the opening of a night school for employees, demanded an investigation into the Choi scandal at an 86-day sit-in (Korea Times).  Four months later, JTBC started to run stories questioning the relationship between Park and Choi.  One of the earlier stories, released online October 26, called into question the influence Park and Choi had in terms of the Mir Foundation – one of Choi’s two foundations currently under investigation – and the possibility that Park had shared confidential documents with Choi (JTBC*).  Following these revelations, Park gave her first televised apology two days later.  During her speech, Park admitted that Choi had edited speeches during her 2012 campaign, and that she had shared some documents with Choi (Bloomberg).  The speech came after Park had called for a major constitutional revision which opposition lawmakers saw as creating a distraction from the allegations (The Korea Page).  On October 30, Choi returned to Korea and was subsequently arrested on November 3, charged with influence peddling and abuse of power (Choson Ilbo; AlJezzera; New York Times).  The charges reflected the situation, as Choi allegedly used her relationship with Park to force companies to donate to her two foundations (Korea Times); promote appointments of people to powerful positions within the government and private sectors (KBS); edited speeches for the president while also having access to a variety of classified material (JoongAng Daily); and even had influence in the diplomatic and political situations of the government despite not holding an official position in the Park administration (International Business Times).  The investigation continued through November.  And, on November 4, Park gave her second apology speech in which she outlined her relationship with Choi (Korea Times).  On November 20, prosecutors announced their desire to charge Park herself with collusion, though under the constitution she is unable to be tried while in office (The Guardian)[3]. On November 29, Park gave her third apology speech, delegating the shortening of her term over to the National Assembly.  South Koreans of all walks of life demurred her remarks, arguing that she step down on her own (Kyunghyang Shinmun). As the story continued to unravel, Park lost all of her legitimacy as the leader of the South Korean people.  Her overall approval ratings tanked quickly, eventually reaching 4%, an all-time low for any democratically elected president in South Korea (Reuters).  For six straight weeks, protestors lined the streets of Seoul, and throughout the country, calling for her resignation in record numbers; the final weekend before the vote – December 3 – 1.7 million people protested throughout the country (Voice of America).  It was this scandal which ultimately brought Park down, resulting in the impeachment vote on Friday. (For a good timeline of the scandal, see this Financial Times article.)[1]

These two scandals formed the basis of the impeachment motion which was introduced on December 3.  Before its introduction into the Assembly, Saenuri lawmakers advised the opposition to remove the reference to the Sewol tragedy and focus on the charges levied against the president by the prosector’s office (Sputnik).  The motion went to a full vote on December 9.  Around 4pm local time, Chung Sye-kyun announced the results of the vote: 234 in favor, 56 opposed, 2 abstaining, 7 unaccounted (Yonhap*).  With the passage of the motion, Park is stripped of all powers and Prime Minister Hwang Kho-ahn will be acting president.  As for the motion, the Constitutional Court will review it and has 180 days to render a verdict either upholding the motion or rescinding it.

A Web of Uncertainty: Post-Impeachment South Korea

For the foreseeable future, the Constitutional Court will be debating the motion, hearing from both sides, and then render a verdict to uphold or rescind it.  If they uphold the verdict, South Korea will enter a period with a political vacuum.  If rescinded, Park may be forced out office through resignation.  No matter what the court decides, South Korea will enter a period of unprecedented political turmoil which may spark a small economic recession, worry South Korean alliances, and provide North Korea with an opportune time to launch a provocation.

If the court rules in favor of this motion with a minimum of 6 votes, President Park will be formally removed from office and an election will be triggered within 60 days of the ruling to fill the vacuum left by the impeachment motion.  Until the election, Prime Minister Hwang Kho-ahn will remain acting president.  As for who will win the election, at the moment it is tough to decipher.  But there are a few front runners who may throw their hat into the presidential ring.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon currently holds the top spot among prospective candidates.  In September, Yonhap reported his ratings at 32.7%, almost double his closest competitor (Yonhap).  Ban is a conservative and has thought of joining the ruling party if he decides to run.  In an article, a staff reporter at the HanKyroeh ranked Ban against other top ruling perspective candidates (HanKyoreh).  However, the current scandal has soured the ruling party in Ban’s eyes; many experts have hinted that running on the ticket would be a bad idea (Korea Times; Reuters).  However, Ban’s possibilities may be hindered by the simple fact that he has been based in New York for a decade and has not run for office in South Korea (Reuters).  (Ban Ki-moon has yet to declare his intent to run.)  Ban’s closest competitor, former Minjoo Party leader Moon Jae-in, polled at 17.3% in the Yonhap article (Yonhap).  In 2012, Moon Jae-in ran an unsuccessful race against Park, winning only 48% of the vote (New York Times; Washington Post).  Currently, Moon is under heavy fire for his actions during a 2007 UN resolution vote.  In his memoir, ex-President Roh Moo-hyun’s Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, revealed that Moon Jae-in, then Roh’s chief of staff, backed a resolution to seek advice from North Korea regarding the vote (Korea Times).  If elected, Moon Jae-in may also seek to reverse the policy of trustpolitik – Park’s North Korea policy – favoring a Sunshine 2.0.  Other opposition candidates also have major baggage coming with them; another presidential hopeful, Park Won-soon, heads a party which was against a North Korean human rights legislation and also hinted at justifying the sinking of the Cheonnan (One Free Korea).  The political landscape of Korea following the ousting of Park is a very murky one.  No party has backed a candidate yet, though many hopefuls are working to place themselves in the public eye.  If the election comes sooner rather than later, the opposition will have a chance in winning, since the Saenuri party will have to rebrand and distance itself from Park.  This may take a while to do effectively.

However, if the court decides to rescind the motion, or fails to come to a super majority in favor in upholding the decision, Park’s powers as the president will be reinstated.  If this result comes to fruition, the public may express outrage against the Constitutional Court.  President Park will also face yet another legitimacy crisis; she will have to govern a country which does not see her as a leader.  This is even more crucial as her approval rating inched up to 5% after the impeachment vote (Reuters).  She will have to quickly work to reassure the South Korean public that she has their best interest in mind if she wishes to stay in power.  A seeming impossibility after the Choi scandal.  The public, however, would be the least of concerns.  If placed back in power, Park will face a very strong opposition with a majority following the National Assembly elections in April 2016  (HanKyroeh).  Currently, the opposition parties are calling for a delay in the deployment of THAAD, a major milestone of the Park administration, releasing a statement saying “an administration impeached by the people cannot push forward with the project” (Korea Times).  The opposition may only grow more fervent in their demurring of Park’s policy ideas if her presidential powers are reinstated.  Facing such a difficult turmoil in implementing and creating policy, as well as growing unpopularity with the Korean people, the best strategy if the motion is rescinded is to resign.  With a resignation, Park will show her solidarity with the people, which may raise her approval ratings overall.

Impeachment motions in Korea have created a sense of economic uncertainty.  In 2004, during the impeachment proceedings of Roh Moo-hyun, South Korea’s economy grew by only 2.9%, compared with 6.9% growth the previous year (The Guardian).  The current motion, however, will have less an impact on the Korean economy in the near term.  Following the impeachment, South Korea’s KOSPI index shrank from 2031.7 to 2024.69.  However, since the impeachment, the KOSPI index has continued to rise (Bloomberg Markets).  Economic minister Yoo Il-ho ensured the Korean public that the impeachment vote will have a minimal effect on the Korean economy (Yonhap).  Other factors, however, may continue to hinder the economy of South Korea.  For example, the Samsung galaxy incident and shipbuilders are experiencing a downsizing (Bloomberg).  As it currently stands, the impeachment motion itself will have a minimal effect on the economy, which has endured shock due to political uncertainty.

South Korea also faces a strong political delay in both domestic and international politics.  The biggest domestic issue taking a back seat to the scandal is the textbook issue.  On November 28, South Korea’s Ministry of Education revealed the first draft of the controversial textbooks, featuring a wide array of edits (Yonhap).  The issue of state-authored history textbooks brought many to Seoul to protest the Park administration and, as of now, Hwang has done nothing to stop the publication of the textbooks – though one can understand why his mind may be elsewhere right now – and there is little to hint that a change will occur (Yonhap).  Internationally, THAAD and the future of the American-Korean alliance have also taken a back seat.  Korea has been unable to work with the American president-elect to ensure the alliance remains strong.  The deployment of THAAD also has an unclear future.  Opposition parties are calling for a delay in the deployment – see above paragraph – while General Brooks said there would be no delay in THAAD deployment on the peninsula (Yonhap).  As Hwang struggles to take on the burden of presidential power, there is little to hint at a change in the status-quo in the Korean political situation until a new leader is selected.  If the opposition party is placed in power, then, with a majority in the National Assembly and Presidential Office control, may work to overturn the more controversial aspects of Park’s policies.

Conclusions

South Korea is entering a point of uncertainty as it enters 2017.  Park had her leadership stymied by her relationship with a close friend, Choi Soon-sil, and South Korean political leadership has had to focus on restoring public faith in the highest office in the country.  This means major domestic issues, for example state-authored textbooks, and foreign policy issues, such as THAAD deployment and preparation for the new American president,  have taken a back seat as the resolution works its way through the legal structure.

The presidential election is the key aspect to determining South Korea’s future, though it is difficult to predict the outcome.  If the opposition parties are able to secure a victory, Park’s more controversial moves – textbooks, THAAD, closing Kaesong – may be up for reconsideration.  Also, the next presidential candidate will shoulder the burden of securing a strong alliance with the United States and the imcoming Trump administration.  Through the turbulence, South Korea’s political future is tough to predict.  Economically, however, South Korea seems to maintain the status-quo and will not face a serious slide in the aftermath of this election.  Park’s impeachment in light of the Choi revelations places Korea in a place of uncertainty as it enters 2017, and has stalled political advancement in both domestic and international arenas.  Hwang will have a difficult time maintaining the status-quo as impeachment runs through the court, but it appears he is taking this new responsibility on with stride.

Notes

*Source is in Korean

[1] There is a lot of nuance and information missing from my current analysis since I tried to write a short summary.  If you have a question or wish for me to elaborate on the points presented in this post, please post your question in the comments section and I shall elaborate to the best of my ability, with additional sources.

[2] Between these two scandals, in November 2015, Park introduced a policy for Korea to return to state-authored textbooks, which only multiplied public resentment of her following the Sewol sinking.

[3] Despite being impeached, Park is still the sitting president, barring a ruling from the Constitutional Court.  Once a South Korean president is impeached, they lose all political power such as appointing judges to courts, influencing and creating domestic and foreign policy.  But impeached presidents in Korea get to live in the Blue House and retain the title of president until the court rules on the motion.

(I apologize that some sections may be lacking in terms of clarity and analysis – I tried to write and get this up quickly.  Any questions may be addressed in the comments and I promise to clarify and also elaborate on anything missing in this post.  Also, I am able to answer any questions about the situation with more sources.)

Daily Update: December 6

Keeping my promise, this Daily Update will run a special analysis of the most recent news surrounding Park and Choi-gate. (All days are reported in South Korean time)

The Path to Resignation: Park’s Influence Scandal

President Park Guen-hye has been at the center of a massive influence-peddling scandal involving one of her closest confidants, Choi Soon-sil.  On Monday, and into Tuesday, the scandal claimed a wide set of victims as the investigation continues.  This will look at the events which took place on Monday and Tuesday, providing a little analysis into the situation.

Tuesday’s main event was a gathering of business leaders for a parliamentary probe.  In attendance was Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, Lotte Group Chairman Shin Dong-bin, CJ Group Chairman Sohn Kyoung-shik, Hyundai Chung Mong-koo, LG Group Chairman Koo Bon-moo, Hanhwa Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn, and Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho (Korea Herald).  18 lawmakers from each side of the aisle took turns asking the heads questions.  The hearing was the first time in 28 years that major conglomerate heads were summoned to a parliamentary investigation.  Many of the companies were summoned to discuss large donations made to two foundations established by Choi Soon-sil.

The hearing started at 10am and was broadcast on live television.  Many of the executives denied that Choi threatened compliance for donations.  Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong said, “President Park said if corporations support the development of culture and sports, it would be for the economy and tourism,” adding that he was embarrassed by the situation and was appearing with a heavy heart (Voice of America).  Lee then outlined concrete steps for Samsung’s future by promising to disband the Cooperate Strategy Office, a powerful aspect to Samsung Group set up by his grandfather, founding chairman Lee Byung-chul (Korea Times).  The other executives distanced themselves from Choi and her daughter, dressage athlete Chung Yoo-ra (Korea Times).  Despite the presence of other major business conglomerates, the probe focused mainly on Samsung, since investigations have shown the company received funding from the National Pension Service (NPS) [Yonhap].

Though an important step in the investigation, the hearing does not seem to have surfaced a “smoking gun” linking the companies directly to Choi.  Some companies even refused to comply with the demands of the Blue House and Choi.  CJ Entertainment Chairman Sohn Kyong-shik said the company rejected the idea to hire Cha Eun-taek as a visual director despite a push to do so by the Choi and the Blue House (Voice of America).  Even without a major revelation from this hearing, evidence of influence-peddling and abuse of power – a charge levied on Choi Soon-sil – still pervades the investigation and most likely will be a major point in the impeachment motion.

President Park, while the hearing was underway, met with Saenuri lawmakers to discuss her future and the future of the country, and contemplated holding a fourth press conference to outline her plan to resign in April (Korea Herald).  However, Saenuri Floor Leader Chung Jin-shik spoke at the Blue House.  The lawmaker indicated that Park would face impeachment.  Other Saenuri lawmakers also showed interest in the forward movement of the impeachment motion (Korea Herald).  This breaks with President Park’s previous speeches, which were seen mainly as a stall tactic.  The motion to impeach Park will go to a vote on Friday.  If passed, the motion would immediately suspend Park’s presidential powers while the Constitutional Court will have 180 days to render a verdict on the motion (New York Times; Washington Post).  If the motion passes, Park will become the first democratic president in South Korea to be impeached, and the second to face impeachment – Roh Moo-hyun faced impeachment in 2004, but the court deemed his violations to minor and rescinded the motion.  If Park’s impeachment is held up in the court, an emergency election will be triggered within 60 days.  If the impeachment motion passes, the opposition parties may have a greater chance of winning the election since the Saenuri Party will not have enough time to separate itself from Park (New York Times).

Finally, the daughter of Choi Soon-sil, dressage athlete Chung Yoo-ra, also faced harsh punishment.  On Friday, Ehwa University announced its decision to expel Chung and ban her re-admission into the university (Korea Times).  On Tuesday, Seoul’s Education Office announced it was formally canceling Chung’s high school diploma after an investigation of Sunhwa Arts School – the middle school Chung attended – and Chungdam High School revealed she was granted preferential treatment throughout the school year (Korea Herald); Chung had missed 141 days of her senior year – South Korean law regulates that a student must attend 129 of 193 days to graduate.  The office said it will change her admission record to reflect her actual admission record and was rescinding any awards she won (Korea Herald).  These two decisions will leave Chung, at 19 years old, with only a middle school diploma and no entrance into college.

A second hearing is being held on Wednesday, in attendance were top aides of Park and other officials who have been indicted during the scandal.  Choi Soon-sil, however, was not present at the hearing and had previously cited health concerns for her lack of participation in the parliamentary motions of the investigation (Korea Herald).  Unlike the first hearing, the second may reveal more information relating to Park’s involvement in the case.  At the time of writing, the second parliamentary hearing is in session.

The scandal has mired South Korean politics on a domestic and international level.  Park has lost any and all credibility and legitimization as a leader, limiting her influence in any aspect of policy. Domestic intentions are set on recovering the highest office in the Korea, while other issues go under the radar.  For example, a draft of the state-authored history textbooks for middle and high schoolers were revealed on Monday and on Tuesday a South Korean appeals court held up the decision to reject a gay couple’s appeal over same-sex marriage (Joogang Daily; Yonhap).  The state textbooks drew controversy in November of 2015 and will be in use by students in March of 2017.  On the international level, the lack of a presidential authority has made preparing for a Trump presidency very difficult; Park has only had one phone call with Trump, while Shinzo Abe was able to hop on a plane and met with the president-elect of the United States in his New York tower.  It also hinders any chance for South Korea to react in the case of a North Korean provocation.  The final foreign policy success for Park will be the passing of an intelligence sharing pact with Japan to counter North Korea.  South Korea will only continue to be politically stalled for as long as the scandal drags out and it appears Park is willing to fight till the bitter demise of her administration.

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.