Kickoff Happy Hour Wrap Up!

Thank you to everyone who came out to our fall kickoff happy hour last Friday at Emissary! Anyone interested in joining the Sejong Society as a committee member is encouraged to apply at


South Korea Pursues WTO Complaint Over Japanese Export Limits

John Seymour

On Wednesday, Sep 11th, South Korea announced its intention to initiate a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in response to Japan limiting exports of materials critical to manufacturing semiconductors and displays. Seoul has accused Tokyo of using bilateral trade as a weapon in their ongoing political disputes, which have been driven by resurfacing historical issues.

While South Korea boasts a strong tech industry, it remains highly dependent on Japan for certain key materials. Japan produces over 70 percent of the world’s supply of the three chemicals designated for limits, and increasing uncertainty over future access has led to the South Korean government and firms investing more in building self-sufficiency.

Although Japan maintains that it imposed the restrictions in July due to national security concerns, many, including South Korea, have interpreted the move (along with removing South Korea from its trade whitelist) as a response to South Korean courts ordering several Japanese companies to pay reparations for forced labor during World War II.

After the complaint is filed, Tokyo can choose whether or not to have direct consultations with Seoul. If Japan chooses not to do so, then South Korea can request that the WTO organize a panel on this issue, a process which could potentially last for years. Given that Isshu Sugawara, Japan’s newly-appointed Minister of Trade, Economy, and Industry, has stated that Japan’s stance “will not change,” it seems unlikely that this issue will be settled in the near future.

Japan’s Olympic Committee Refused South Korean Request to Ban Rising Sun Flag from 2020 Olympic Venues

Jessie Chen

Amid rising tensions between South Korea and Japan, South Korean Culture Minister Park Yan-woo wrote to the organizing committee of the Tokyo Olympics on Sep 11th, 2019, to ask that Japan's Rising Sun flag be banned from Olympic venues in 2020. Park compared the Rising Sun flag to Nazi Germany’s swastika and stated that it was a reminder of Japan’s brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. However, Japan’s Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto refused the South Korean request on September 12.

South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism wrote to IOC President Thomas Bach, conveying its disappointment about Japan’s denial of the request to ban the Rising Sun flag. The flag has been used for centuries and was used by the Japanese army and navy during World War II. The organizing committee of the Tokyo Olympics stated in a statement that “The flag itself is not considered to be a political statement, so it is not viewed as a prohibited item.”

Prior to the dispute over the Rising Sun flag, South Korea expressed its concern about contaminated food in late August. It attempted to run independent radiation checks at Olympic venues and prepare a separate cafe for South Korean athletes. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has set a goal of attracting 40 million tourists to Japan in 2020. Yet, the number of tourists from South Korea, which is the second-largest visitor country, decreased 7.6 percent year on year in July.

North Korea’s recent missile test

Amanda Wong

On Sep. 10, 2019, North Korea conducted a missile test, calling it a “super-large multiple rocket launcher” system. This marks the 10th time that North Korea has tested missiles this year, and comes on the heels of a short-range ballistic missile test for the same system on Aug. 24. Unlike the previous test, which was conducted from South Hamgyong Province, the September test wasconducted from South Pyongan Province. News of the latest missile test came shortly after a statement by North Korea’s First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Choe Son-hui, expressing North Korea’s willingness to resume talks with the United States in late September. The statement was at odds with North Korea’s recent rhetoric, including harsh criticism of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho. U.S. President Donald Trump did not react strongly to the latest missile test or condemn Pyongyang.Experts argue that such a reaction will only serve to further embolden North Korea in its testing of short-range weapons systems.

North Korea recently restarted missile tests after denuclearization talks with the U.S. failed to bring about an agreement. The recent spate of missile tests ends a period of about a year during which North Korea put a moratorium on missile tests. Although President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to restart talks during a meeting at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in June,working-level talks have yet to resume, and tensions have risen as a result of Pyongyang’s resumption of missile launch tests.

Cho Kuk’s appointment as Justice Minister amid Scandal

Andrew Jung

On Sep 10th, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in officially appointed Cho Kuk as the new Justice Minister. Cho Kuk was plagued with scandals--first facingreports of suspicious financial investments, and then controversies regarding his daughter’s academic accomplishments. His daughter was listed as an author for a paper in the Korean Journal of Pathology after a high school internship. Then, media reports revealed that Cho Kuk’s daughter was listed as co-author of another paper during another internship. Both papers and internships were overseen by professors acquainted with Cho Kuk’s family.  The scandals caused opposition political parties to argue that she had committed school admission fraud by using the papers and internships to apply to Korea University. 

On Sept 6th, during Cho Kuk’s parliamentary hearing, he was grilled about phone calls he and his wife made to the president of Dongyang University. Cho Kuk’s wife was accused of falsifying her daughter’s President Award from the university. In the hearings, Cho Kuk was accused of perjury over conversations on responding to the accusations. Cho Kuk’s wife was also accused of attempting to destroy evidence of their financial dealings before a prosecutorial raid at her office in Dongyang University. She was indicted for forging the award and faces a trial at the end of this month. Despite the controversy, President Moon Jae-in still appointed Cho Kuk as Justice Minister and called the confirmation hearings politically flawed. 

Cho Kuk’s scandal triggered an outcry among young South Koreans in relation to economic and educational opportunities that are perceived as being in favor of the privileged. What also frustrated them were reports that Cho Kuk’s daughter received scholarships despite failing her examinations twice at Pusan University’s medical school. They considered Cho Kuk hypocritical for his past statements condemning social inequality. Students from major universities held candlelight demonstrations calling for Cho Kuk’s nomination to be withdrawn. 

Additionally, Cho Kuk’s appointment will likely impact prosecutorial reform while causing conflicts with prosecutors handling the scandal. Cho Kuk announced a special prosecutoriual reform team to overhaul the justice system and increase prosecutorial oversight. His justice reform efforts may cause tensions with prosecutors as they are still investigating his daughter’s medical school admission and family’s private investment fund. 

This Week in Korean History: South Korea opens the 1988 Olympics

On Sept 17, 1988, South Korea officially opened the 1988 Olympics. Before the Olympics, there was political upheavals as Seoul faced student protests and North Korea decided to boycott the Olympics after being denied cohost status. Other countries like Cuba and Ethiopia joined the boycott. However, the Seoul Olympics was a success as many athletes competed, especially professionals as the Olympic rule requiring competitors be amateurs was overturned. Tennis, table tennis, and archery also added. The 1988 Olympics was seen as a sign of Cold War tensions cooling as both the United States and Soviet Union competed and an opportunity for South Korea to display its economic and democratic developments after being under an authoritarian regime. 


The First North Korea Economic Forum Annual Conference, “The North Korean Economy and Its Future: Change vs. the Status Quo”
Hosted by GW Institute for Korean Studies & KDI School of Public Policy and Management

9:00 AM -4:15 PM, Friday, September 27, 2019
City View Room
Elliott School of International Affairs, the George Washington University
1957 E Street, NW, 
Washington, DC 20052

JoongAng Ilbo-CSIS Forum 2019
9:00 AM -4:00 PM, Monday, September 30, 2019
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, 
Washington, DC 20036

Rising Moon, Dance of the Two Koreas
7:00 PM- 8:30 PM, Wednesday, October 2, 2019
Harris Theatre
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030