Daily Update: November 14

Seeing as today was a fairly busy day for me, I am going to do a decurtate rundown of the news from the Korean peninsula today.

Moon Jae-in on North Korea

In Manila, South Korean President Moon Jae-in offered a smoother path toward resolution of the North Korean issue while at a regional ASEAN forum. The president outlined a strategy in which “[the international community] may be able to discuss while leaving all options on the table.” Though Moon refused to answer if the American-South Korean joint military drills would be given a quietus in return for a North Korean freeze of its nuclear and missile program (Yonhap). At the same forum, Moon called the North Korean nuclear program too advanced to be quickly destroyed, but once a suspension was in effect that “negotiations could go on to pursue complete denuclearization” (Reuters). Moon has long been a champion of diplomatic resolutions to the North Korean issue, though he did reinforce that now is the time to apply pressure through sanctions until a suspension or freeze in North Korea’s programs made negotiations a possibility worth exploring.

Human Rights and the United Nations

A panel at the United Nations adopted a resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights abuses. The Third Committee, which oversees humanitarian issues, approved the text for the 13th year, though added stronger language in calling for a resolution to the issue (Korea Herald). Contributions to the text were made from 60 countries, including South Korea, and the full document was drafted by the European Union and Japan (Yonhap). In remarks to the committee following the adoption of the resolution, North Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations Ja Song-nam said, “The draft resolution represents a product of the political and military confrontation plot and the conspiracy of the U.S. and other hostile forces to the DPRK,” echoing rhetoric previously used in North Korea’s demurring of United Nations resolutions targeting Pyongyang (Yonhap).

Spy Chiefs in Trouble

The prosecution investigating Choigate–President Park’s abuse of power scandal–detained ex-National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Lee Byung-kee on charges relating to money given to Park from the NIS during his tenure. Other former NIS chiefs Nam Jae-joon and Lee Byung-ho are facing similar charges (Korea Times). The arrest of these three comes as the NIS is accused of a wide array of activities which includes spying on citizens, creating fake nude photos, creating fake online content, and swaying or downplaying TV opinion shows (Korea Herald). Though reform will be sluggish, there is already a plan to overhaul the structure of the agency (Donga Ilbo). Time will tell the success of any reform in the NIS, as true reform in the agency is bound to take a while.

Finally, Your Reading of the Day:

Moon Jae-in entered the office of President of South Korea with the image of being a dove on North Korea policy. In The Atlantic, S. Nathan Park writes that imagining Moon as a doveish liberal “is a lazy caricature” of the president. Moon’s actions and rhetoric certainly showcase a more hawkish approach to North Korea. In his piece, Park argues that Moon’s dual-track–sanctions and pressure followed by diplomacy in the right circumstances–is a key to Moon’s success and a possible resolution of the North Korean issue. Read Park’s take on Moon here: S. Nathan Park, “South Korea’s President May Be Just the Man to Solve the North Korea Crisis,” The Atlantic, July 18, 2017.

For a deeper dive into Moon’s North Korea strategy, see: Ruediger Frank, “President Moon’s North Korea Strategy,” The Diplomat, July 13, 2017. (This was orginially published on 38North.)

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Breaking News: UN Sanctions

The United Nations unanimously adopted a new round of sanctions Monday, targeting the import of oil and North Korean labor. The resolution, in the words of American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hailey, says “the world will never accept a nuclear North Korea,” (Wall Street Journal).

The sanctions adopted targeted a wide variety of industries. They placed a ban on North Korean textiles; limited import of oil to North Korea; and targeted North Korean labor, imposing a “humanitarian” clause for  future labor and letting all workers on contracts beginning before the imposition of the sanctions to continue work. This round is a watered down version of suggestions circulated by America following North Korea’s nuclear test (CNN).

The question, as with all sanctions, is the quality of implementation. The “humanitarian” loophole has caused concern in the past and made implementing sanctions difficult. It is also unclear how cooperative China will be after forcing other states to water down the resolution. Though strong, the overall effectiveness of the sanctions will be a question to follow throughout the next few months.

North Korea Missile Launch

Today, North Korea launched a missile, following which Kim said that the entire United States mainland is in range of their arsenal. Such advancement in North Korea’s missile technology is tourbling. This new technology, however troubling it may seem, was a long time coming.

To get a better understanding of what North Korea’s recent missile developments mean and how they came to be, I will post a more in-depth analysis in the coming days.

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.