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.

Breaking News: North Korea Tests a Missile

North Korea launched a missile about an hour ago, adding pressure to an already volitile situation on the peninsula. Yonhap is reporting that the projectile–it is currently unknown what type of missile was launched–flew 700 kilometers (Yonhap). The missile was launched near the city of Kusong.

South Korea’s newly minted president Moon Jae-in convened an emergency meeting of the security council following the launch. The military also released a statement saying it “is closely monitoring for proactive movements by North Korea and maintaining all readiness postures” (CNN). This response is typical for South Korea following a launch.

In terms of motivation, the launch is most likely a test of the Trump-Moon dynamic. President Trump has favored a more militaristic and tough approach while Moon favors engagement to denuclearize Pyongyang. This also ensures North Korea is issue number one in the alliance, possibly straining the relationship because of the different approaches.

North Korea also has been politically active.  On May 13, North Korea called for the UN to reconsider sanctions against the country (Yonhap).

Daily Update–March 29

South Korea

Politics- Today, Ex-president Park Geun-hye attended a hearing about the special prosecutors warrant for her arrest (Korea Herald). Park refused to answer questions from reporters as she entered the hearing. After completing its 70-day probe, the special prosecutor sought a warrant to arrest Park for charges of bribery, coercion and leaking classified documents, citing the possibility of destruction of evidence and graveness of alleged crimes. The bribery charge alone carries a possible sentence of 10 years (Korea Times). Park has denied all allegations brought against her. As of writing, Park remains in the hearing and this Korea Times article has a link to live video analyzing her remarks. The stream is in Korean.

5740(Photo:  Park showing up at Seoul Central District Court to attend the hearing over the arrest warrant against her. Source: Korea Times)

For your information: The Liberty Korea Party will announce its presidential candidate in two days.

Economy- Hyundai is working to create a dedicated platform for electric vehicles. Pushed by the introduction of Tesla Motors into the market, Hyundai and affiliate Kia Motors have been pursuing ways to make their electric cars more competitive in the market. Though this platform will not be completed in the near future, Kia and Hyundai are looking to roll out electric powered SUVs with a range of 186 miles per charge. Lee Ki-sang, a president at Hyundai Motors who heads Hyundai-Kia’s green car operations, hopes for the electric powered cars to account for 10% of total car sales by 2025, up from 1% today (NY Times).

Culture- A Russian trio has been arrested and charged with smuggling North Korean drugs into South Korea. The drugs were not illicit substances. The trio bought medications and health substances made by the North’s Pugang Pharmaceutic Co. in North Korea and airmailed them to South Korea through Russia. They sold them without a license, according to local police. The substances had a value of around 9 million won–$8,080 (Korea Herald). The import of North Korean goods without a license is a violation of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act which dictates strategy to deal with cooperation issues between the two Koreas (Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Act).

North Korea

North Korean media has unleashed a vicious cycle of press against the United States, reacting to the military drills currently ongoing in South Korea. On March 29, KCNA published an article which threatened the use of a resolute preemptive strike in the face of American attack (KCNA; Yonhap)[1]. Another article argued that sanctions against the reclusive country are immoral (KCNA)[1]. And a final article rebuked an American State Department Official’s remark on a softer stance toward North Korea (KCNA)[2]. Each article contained a common theme: American Key-Resolve and Foal Eagle joint military drills in South Korea are immoral and a preemptive measure against North Korea. This style is not uncommon from North Korea and doesn’t really hint at any upcoming provocative actions from the regime.

In other North Korean news, a South Korean think tank reported that North Korea is estimated to have 1000 drones. Chung Ku-yoon, a research fellow at the Korean Institute for National Unification, said that Pyongyang is developing the drones to enhance spying techniques. Some fear the drones may be used in aerial terror attacks (Yonhap). This comes after South Korean Defense Minister instructed the troops not to hesitate if North Korea attacked (Yonhap).

Notes

[1] These sources are taken from North Korean media and linking to them is difficult. Also, please take any information presented from North Korean media with a grain of salt.

[2] Source is linked from KNCA Watch, a North Korean media aggregator run by NKNews. Again, please do not take any information from North Korean state media at face value.

 

Daily Update – March 9: Removal Complete

10impeachyes-02-master675(Image: Constitutional Court judges at the impeachment ruling on Friday. Source: NY Times)

On December 9, 2016, the National Assembly of South Korea voted to impeach the president with a 234-56 margin (Yonhap*). After passing the National Assembly, the motion moved to the Constitutional Court which, despite having some minor complicating factors, was given 180 days to render a verdict (NY Times). On Friday, after weeks of deliberations and hearings, the court decided to uphold the motion unanimously. In a 20 minute long decision, acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi said, “the negative effects of the president’s actions and their repercussions are grave, and the benefits to defending the Constitution by removing her from office are overwhelmingly large.”  Of the charges levied against Park, the court acknowledged the illegality of Park hiding the influence of Choi Soon-sil, but dismissed the other charges for lack of evidence (Yonhap). The decision ends a leadership crisis and brings South Koreans closer to being able to restore confidence in the highest office. However, the road ahead for South Koreans and Park will be a difficult one.[1]

Within 60 days of today’s ruling, South Korea will hold a presidential election to fill the seat now vacant. At the moment, it appears the opposition bloc will have a good chance of winning the election. In January, Moon Jae-in, according to a HanKoryeh poll, sat atop with 27.4% support (HanKoryeh). His numbers have only continued to climb. Most recently, a Realmeter poll showed Moon securing 36.1% support. Hwang Kyo-ahn, the current acting president, took second in the poll at around 14% (KBS World News). Ahn Hee-jong, once a contender, saw a major drop to 12.6% after he made comments which were favorable to presidents Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, and called for a “grand coalition” to include the ruling Liberty Korea Party (Korea Times). Other major contenders included Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung–nicknamed Korea’s “Donald Trump”–at 10.5% and Ahn Cheol-su at 9.9% (KBS World News). Hwang Kyo-ahn, the only conservative to garner double-digit support, will have a tough road ahead as President Park’s scandal has left a bitter taste for conservative politicians in the eyes of the South Korean public.[2]

The campaign in South Korea is likely to be marked with very contentious topics, including North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, THAAD, and South Korea’s relations with China and the United States. Moon Jae-in has been fairly ambivalent in terms of laying out policy. Following Kim Jung-un’s New Years Address, Moon harshly criticized Pyongyang, saying, in a statement, that North Korea had no future if it tried to pursue economic and nuclear advancement (Korea Times). At other times, Moon has criticized the current policy of dealing with North Korea, arguing for engagement over sanctions (Reuters). Moon has been more ambivalent on the issue of THAAD deployment. In December of 2016, he called the push for THAAD deployment under the Park presidency inappropriate (Reuters). However, Moon suggested, in a January interview, that THAAD deployment would continue under his administration, calling only for a delay (NK News). Moon has also called for a more strategic balance in terms of Korea’s relationships with China and America. Other candidates echo similar policy ideals to Moon, though many have focused on the domestic issue of how the country should recover after Park’s scandal (NY Times).[3]

South Korea is in a tough and unprecedented political situation. Park’s impeachment has brought the ever contentious election cycle closer to occurring and will force many candidates to start focusing their efforts on the election. Her scandal created a rift between the conservative politicians and the public, making it all the more likely for opposition parties to take the election. However, there is one positive note to this ending. This marks the first time in South Korean history a leader was ousted for corruption by the people as well as the legislative and judicial branches of government peacefully. Kang Won-taek, a political scientist at Seoul National University, called the ruling “a new milestone in the strengthening and institutionalizing of democracy in South Korea” (NY Times). Though the election may prove to be contentious and testy, at least it will represent a growing democratic structure in South Korea.

Notes

[1] This post will deal with South Korea’s future and not on the impeachment motion itself. For a detailed examination of the final two years of Park’s presidency, please see “The People vs. President Park: An Analysis of the December 9 Impeachment Vote” written by me and posted a few days after the National Assembly vote.

[2] Polls offer wonderful insight into the political landscape of a country. After the American election, however, it is tough to fully predict the outcome of an election based only on polls. Either way, Korea’s 2017 election will be interesting to monitor.

[3] The cited NY Times article has a good briefer on the candidates at the time of the impeachment vote. I promise to make a more in-depth post on the different candidates before the election, focusing on their policy recommendations both international and domestic.

Daily Update – February 13

After a long period away for the holiday break and sickness, I am proud to restart the Daily Update part of the Korea Page.  I am going to make one shift this year and start citing my sources like I do for longer analysis pieces, linking the name of the source in parenthesis.

South Korea

Politics – Prime Minster and Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn reacted to North Korea’s missile launch by saying “our government, in tandem with the international community, is doing its best to ensure a corresponding response to punish the North” to a group of experts on foot-and-mouth disease and bird flu on Sunday (Yonhap).   Hwang also called the launch a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions and a “grave provocation” at a different meeting earlier in the day (Korea Herald).  Foreign Minster Yun Byeong-se, who is set to meet with United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Germany later this week, called the launch a “new level of provocation” (Korea Herald).  So far, South Korea has been stymied in its response due to the impeachment trail of Park Geun-hye which is still underway.

Presidential hopeful Moon Jae-in has called for the immediate reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex throughout his push to position himself for the 2017 presidential election (Korea Herald).  The complex was closed due to North Korean provocations in 2016, a move which 75% of Koreans felt was unhelpful for inter-Korean relations (HanKyoreh).  Currently, Moon Jae-in sits at the top of the polls with 29% support.  After Ban Ki-moon’s withdrawal from the race, An Hee-jong has made strides against Moon and sits behind with a close 19% support (Reuters).  With no candidate taking a clear lead, the presidential race for 2017 is still a wide-open race.  As for Kaesong, An Hee-jong is on the record in favor of reopening it on the basis of North Korean cooperation (UPI).

Economy – South Korean financial firm KB Group is making inroads for a move into South Asia.  KB Chairman Yoon Jong-kyoo and other top executives flew to Vietnam as the first stop in a week-long tour of South Asia.  While in Vietnam, Yoon had a meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to discuss the transition of KB Kookmin Bank Hanoi into a branch.  Other destinations for the delegation include Myanmar, Loas, and Cambodia (Korea Times).

Hyundai-Kia Motor retained its fifth spot among the world’s highest car sales last year despite a 1.3% decrease in sales in 2016.  The car maker sold 7.88 million vehicles in 2016.  The decrease in sales is the result of several factors including stagnating domestic demand; strike-related operations setback; and flagging exports.  As a response, Hyundai-Kia announced plans to implement an aggressive management strategy which will focus on newer models.  For 2017, the company hopes to sell 8.25 million vehicles, a historic high (HanKyoreh).

North Korea

Àμâ(image: A comparison of North Korea’s two Pukguksong missiles.  Source: Korea Herald)

North Korea tested a new class of missile on Sunday, drawing international criticism from Japan’s Shinzo Abe (Japan Times), the United Nations Security Council (Al Jeezera), but received a muted response from President Trump (Voice of America).  The launch was of a Pukguksong-2, a solid fuel powered medium range ballistic missile.  (I am working on a post which analyzes this new missile which should be up this week.)  This missile ensures that North Korea is able to strike targets in South Korea and Japan from a highly mobile and quick to launch missile, making it harder for other nations to catch before it is launched.  It has been reported that Trump and Abe discussed the matter at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort (New York Times).

A document produced by the North Korea strategy center after an interview with Thae Yong-ho, alleges that more purges in relation to Jang Song-theak have occurred in North Korea.  Ri Ung-gik, parent to Han Song-ryol’s son-in-law, the son-in-law, and the son’s child have all been sent to a political prison camp, according to the document (Korea Herald; Yonhap).  Ri’s daughter in law was excussed from the purge due to familial linage and history (Yonhap).  If substantiated, which may be a herculean task, these purges show signs of a Kim who is still trying to consolidate his power base through eliminating those who he sees as threats while also ensuring the loyalty of the current elite.

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.

 

Daily Update – December 1

South Korea

PoliticsPark Young-soo was named special investigator in the Choi Soon-sil scandal which has riddled Park Geun-hye throughout the final year of her term and destroyed her legitimacy as president.  In a press conference, Park Young-soo promised to carry out a thorough investigation into the scandal, though some are worried his ties to an offical implicated in the scandal may hinder his overall effectiveness in this position.  When asked if President Park must cooperate in the investigation, Park Young-soo said he did not want to jump to conclusions.  His first task will be to assemble a team of over 100 staff members to oversee the investigation.

Opposition parties have agreed to introduce the impeachment motion on Friday with a vote to occur on December 9, no matter what plans the presidential office releases for her early resignation.  The motion cited the Sewol Ferry incident from 2014, as well as the current scandal.  Opposition parties agreed to persuade Saenuri party members to take part in the vote, though there is one complicating factor; many Saenuri lawmakers are waiting to see if Park announces an early resignation on Wednesday.  If she does not, those lawmakers have said they will partake in the vote.  In order to pass, the motion will require 200 votes out of 300 possible.  This means 28 Saenuri lawmakers will have to vote with the opposition to impeach the president.

Economics Food and alcohol were the most popular selling items at South Korean convenient stores.  E-Mart, a chain run by Shinsaegae, reported that liquor was the most popular item during the first 11 months of the year, highlighting a growing trend of at home drinking.  Other popular items included prepared food, snacks and sushi rolls.  Coffee and cosmetics, however, saw a slight dip in popularity.  Other stores saw a similar trend.  As for online products, baby foods and toys saw a major increase in sales, jumping to ninth place on E-Mart’s online marketplace, of about 63%.  When combined with offline sales, baby related products at E-Mart increased by 98.5% in sales, as companies work to slash prices to attract more customers.

Gas and oil prices are on the rise throughout the world, with some analysts seeing the possibility that oil may top $60 a barrel as OPEC agreed to cut production output by 1.2% on Wednesday.  The West Texas Intermediate for January delivery rose 3.3%, about $1.62, to $51.06 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, as the Brent crude for February delivery added $2.48, about 4.78% to finish at $54.32 per barrel.  This spike could lead to more drilling requests which would increase business possibilities for South Korean companies.  This comes as good news to Korean shipping companies, who have been experiencing a steep decline throughout the year.

Culture – Life expectancy in South Korea is on the rise; a baby born in 2015 can expect to live beyond the threshold of 82 years old, according to a report by Statistics Korea.  Average life expectancy in Korea has edged to 82.1 years for a baby born in 2015, with a baby boy expected to live 79 years and a baby girl 85.2 years, dropping the gender gap by 0.2 years to 6.2.  The gender gap has been in steady in decline since it peaked at 8.5 years in 1985.  As for older individuals in 2015, a 40-year man and woman can expect to live another 40.1 years and 56 years respectively; at 60 years old, a man can expect to live another 22.2 years, while a woman can expect another 27 years of life.  The possibility of a child being born in 2015 reaching 100 is 1% for boys and 3.6% for girls.  The rise in life expectancy comes as the risk of death has been diminished due to medical advancements.

North Korea

South Korea released new sanctions on North Korea.  Coming after the United Nations released its new round of sanctions, the new South Korean sanctions blacklist several entities and persons involved in the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, including Choe Ryong-hae and Hwang Pyong-so, two high-ranking North Korean officials.  The Worker’s Party and the State Affairs Commission were also added to the blacklist.  “We have expanded the number of those subject to sanctions y adding to the list 35 entities and 36 individuals that are playing a critical role in developing weapons of mass destruction and contributing to the North Korean regime’s efforts to secure foreign currency,” Lee Suk-joon, the top official in charge of policy coordination at the Prime Minister’s Office, told reporters.  The blacklist was introduced as a follow-up to UNSCR 2270 and currently targets more than 70 people and entities.  This new round reinforces Seoul’s commitment to cooperate with the sanctions regime, and to close loopholes currently present in the sanctions on North Korea.  (Sorry this update is all over the place.)

North Korea carried out a provocation which simulated the shelling of South Korean islands.  The exercise was timed to be a protest to the new round of UNSC sanctions on the regime, and Kim Jung-un was in attendance at the drills.  The exercise is a part of North Korea’s winter schedule which runs from December to April.  2017 is also an important year in North Korea; it marks the 105 birthday of Kim Il-sung, the 75th birthday of Kim Jung-il and the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army.  This means 2017 may be a provocative year, though exactly how provocative remains unknown as Kim is experimenting with a wait and see policy until he knows how Trump will react to provocations.