Daily Update: November 13

So, I am going to get back into the routine, finally! Here is the first Daily Update of many to come. And the North Korean round-up for the time I embarked on a bit longer than planned hiatus is coming, I promise.

South Korea

Politics: The world will enter a truce period as a resolution calling for an “Olympic Truce” started to circulate throughout the United Nations. With tensions between the two Koreas in a constant state of upheaval, the truce calls for the world to come together and use the games as a space to connect, no matter what is happening in capitals around the world (LA Times). In an impassioned speech to the General Assembly, Kim Yu-na, a champion South Korean figure skater and Ambassador to the PyeongChang games, said, “the goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” (Yonhap). She also spoke of the games’ role in promoting peace throughout the world (Around the Rings). The Olympic Truce for 2018 is, as it states in the resolution, to extend from 7 days before the start of the games until 7 days after the conclusion of the Paralympic games in March.

Amid the hustle and bustle of Donald Trump’s trip to Asia, South Korean president Moon Jae-in also made waves at the ASEAN summit in Vietnam. In meetings with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang on the sideline of the ASEAN summit, a vivid discussion on the need to normalize relations between China and South Korea ensued, following a joint statement released by the two nations on October 31 which called for the same goal (Korea Times). Moon also agreed to broader goals regarding the cooperation of ASEAN states with Korea. While reaffirming the role of ASEAN states in Korean foreign policy, Moon promised to raise South Korean trade with ASEAN to $200 billion per year by 2020, while also championing a “people-centered diplomacy” with the intranational organization (Korea Herald; Korea Times). Overall, Moon’s trip to the ASEAN summit provided the leader with two key victories: he was able to promote global cooperation within Asia, a key goal in the region, and he started the process of normalizing the soured Beijing-Seoul relationship.

Finally, the Baerun party, a splinter conservative party which was created in the wake of the Park scandal, chose Yoo Seong-min to be its leader (Korea Herald). Yoo was a presidential hopeful in the 2017 election and came to the party with the other 33 founding lawmakers. He will face tough opposition from the Liberty Korea Party, the other major conservative party in South Korea, during upcoming regional elections.

Economy: The government of South Korea and several of the companies who suffered losses after the shuttering of Kaesong have come to an agreement. The government will provide 66 billion won ($59 million) to over 100 companies who operated factories within the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Though many businesses fell the amount is not enough to cover their losses, they have accepted the deal (Joongang Ilbo). This recompense comes as the government has continued to dole out reparations to the companies who lost over 700 billion won after the complex unexpectedly shut its doors last year.

Culture: Hidden cameras are a huge issue facing the South Korean population, mainly women. Love motels, subway bathrooms, cell phones, and even in the home, women have fallen victim to recording on hidden devices. To combat the issue, the government has promised to step up campaigns to find the cameras. Currently, the Seoul Metropolitan government is running a program which hires citizens to find hidden cameras wherever they may hide. The Korea Times followed two such women as they worked their way through several stops to find and remove hidden cameras from public bathrooms on the subway. Their job, though not glitzy, is important as it assuages fears that somewhere, someone may be watching.

North Korea

It was a busy day on the DMZ, to say the least. First, a North Korean soldier defected across the heavily militarized border and walked into the Freedom House on the South Korean side of the border (NK News). While defecting, the soldier suffered a bullet wound to his shoulder, shot by his own troops; he was evacuated by a UN helicopter and is being treated at a hospital (Joongang Ilbo). He was unarmed at the time of the defection.

Where one succeeds, another failed. A 58-year-old, Lousiana man was captured trying to defect into North Korea by crossing the Civilian Control Line. He was attempting to enter North Korea for “political purposes,” according to reports. An investigation by the Army, secret services, and police is ongoing (Newsweek). The man, being only identified as “A” arrived in South Korea three days prior.

Readings of the Day

Moon Jae-in, as reported above, sought to put Korea on a path of “people-centered diplomacy” with ASEAN. In Project Syndicate, Moon writes that “Korea and ASEAN share a common philosophy that values people,” while also touting the positive changes ASEAN has presented to Korea over the past year. Read his take on why ASEAN and Korea need the people first philosophy outlined in ASEAN 2025: Moon Jae-in, “Toward a People-Centered ASEAN Community,” Project Syndicate, November 10, 2017.

Finally, a debate over the effectiveness of the South Korea-U.S. alliance has been critical to discourse on the peninsula. The key element: American troops deployed in South Korea. In the Asia Times, Andrew Salmon condenses the discussion into a brief article, articulating the main points of contention throughout this debate, asking the main question: Is is the Korea-American alliance worth it? Read his take on the state of the alliance: Andrew Salmon, “Could South Korea Abandon its Strained Alliance with the U.S.?” The Asia Times, November 10, 2017. To dive deeper into the debate, see also: Se-Wong Koo, “Is South Korea’s Alliance with the United States Worth It?” The New York Times, November 6, 2017.

 

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Daily Update–June 14

South Korea

Politics–China, ostensibly to see if the radar of THAAD reaches into its territory, recently asked Seoul if they could perform a site inspection of the deployment. According to a source, Beijing was making the claims “through various claims” (Choson Ilbo). THAAD has rocked South Korea, as well as the entire region, into a political parlay in which there appears to be no middle ground. Before being impeached, Park Geun-hye was a fervent defender of the deployment and made diplomatic visits to convince others to come around to the system (The Korea Page). However, in his brief tenure, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has called for deployment to be suspended while an environmental impact assessment is completed, a process which could take up to a year (Military.com). China and Russia have taken stands against the deployment (Reuters; Sputnik). Even North Korea has tried some interesting tactics and was recently accused of spying on the system (Joongang Ilbo). THAAD will continue to be a thorny issue in the region, pitting one nation against another.

Culture–Yesterday, an explosion rocked Yonsei University, injuring a sole professor. Today, police arrested the culprit, a 25-year old graduate student who confessed to making the bomb and placing on his professor’s office door (Joongang Ilbo). The bomb was made out of a tumblr filled with small bolts. Kim, the student, said he made the explosive out of spite of the professor after being “told off” about his thesis (Yonhap). The professor is currently being treated for minor burns.

North Korea

Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old American student, was medevaced from North Korea last night. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, in brief remarks, that Warmbier’s release was “at the direction of the president,” though refused to make further comments out of respect to the family (Rex Tillerson Remarks on Otto Warmbier). Officials told Warmbier’s family that he contracted botulism and fell into a coma after being given a sleeping pill shortly after his sentencing in March of last year (USA Today). The family was alerted last week about Otto’s health in a phone call (Fox News). Upon arriving home, Warmbier was rushed to a hospital and nothing is known of his condition at the moment. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years hard labor in North Korea for “anti-state” acts in early March of 2016 after a one-hour trail (CNN). He was accused of attempting to steal a propaganda poster from an employees only floor at his hotel and arrested at Sunan International Airport as he was boarding his flight home in January of 2016. His release comes as Dennis Rodman makes another visit to North Korea. A State Department spokesperson unequivocally denied that Rodman had any part in securing the release of Warmbier and was unable to cover issues of his health or the exact timeline of his release (State Department Press Briefing 6/13/2017). Currently, Otto is in an Ohio hospital.[1]

Notes:

[1] An interesting read on how North Korea treats foreigners in captivity can be found in the New York Times.

Correction: June 15: An eariler version of this post wrongly stated that Warmbier was accused of taking the poster from his hotel room. The poster he was accused of taking was located in an employees only floor of the hotel.

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.

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).

Breaking News: North Korea Missile Test

North Korea conducted a missile test on Saturday, taking off from Pukchang, South Korean media reported. The missile, supposedly a Pukguksong scud, is the same missile which was tested on the 16th, and was the second failed test this month (Yonhap*).

The test comes as saber rattling has made he situation tense. In past week, THAAD made its way to Seongju, Trump called on Korea to pay $1 billion for the system and said withdrawal from the KORUS FTA is a possibility, North Korea released a cryptic propaganda video, and, earlier today, Rex Tillerson reiterated that all options are on the table but a diplomatic solution is favorable. Korea is also in the throngs of a election cycle which may drastically shift the political leanings of the Blue House.

So far their is no statements regarding the missile test. The UN is likely to condemn the test, as Trump will. Other nations will likely join in the condemnation. China is likely to continue a push for restraint while attempting to coax Pyongyang to give up its missile and nuclear programs.

Breaking News: Pence in Korea

American Vice President Mike Pence landed in Seoul on Sunday for a three-day visit. On Monday Pence will meet with Hwang Kyo-ahn, acting president of South Korea, and Chung Sye-kyun, current speaker of the National Assembly. On Tuesday, he will deliver a speech at an event hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea. Following his speech, Pence will depart for Japan (Yonhap).

Pence is the highest official in the Trump administration to make a trip to Korea, following Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. North Korea is likely to be the topic of discussion, as Pence has to reinforce American interests in Korea, while also ameliorating fears that an American preemptive strike is likely. Pence most likely will push a policy of “maximum pressure and engagement.” According to reports by the Associated Press, “maximum pressure and engagement” is the policy the Trump administration settled on after a two-month review of North Korea policy (AP). Pence is also likely to push THAAD deployment to a shifting Korean political landscape.

The trip comes after a load of political headlines from North Korea ranging from missile tests, to parades and new missiles. Pence will have a difficult job, but not an insurmountable one.

(I will write a small piece on Pence’s trip to Korea later this week.)