Changes in the U.S-South Korea Alliance
The meeting between United States Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and South Korea’s Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo on June 3, 2019 led to several agreements that will bring changes to the U.S.-South Korea military alliance. Secretary Shanahan also met with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and both reaffirmed the importance of U.S.-South Korea alliance in pursuing denuclearization while supporting international sanctions against North Korea. President Moon also maintained his stance on the importance of inter-Korean relations by asking the U.S. for cooperation on its planned humanitarian aid to North Korea.
The agreements between Secretary Shanahan and Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo are an early transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) from the U.S. to South Korea, stipulating that combined forces command (CFC) will be relocated to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtak, and that a four-star South Korean general will lead the CFC. Negotiations for the OPCON transfer have been ongoing this year in special committee meetings between South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Park Han-ki and U.S. Forces Korea Commander Robert Abrams. A joint U.S.-South Korea military drill led by South Korea is expected to happen in August for Initial Operative Capability (IOC) certification to accelerate the OPCON transfer. The South Korean general that will lead CFC will only focus on combined defense and not any other roles. In wartime, the new CFC leader will be under the direction of a Military Committee Meeting between South Korea and the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff that will implement agreements made in Security Consultative Meetings between South Korea’s Defense Minister and U.S. Secretary of Defense.
The relocation of the CFC headquarters to Camp Humphrey raises questions of whether the move will really accomplish “operational efficiency of the future joint command and defense readiness against North Korea.” Camp Humphrey in Pyeongtak is 70 kilometers outside of Seoul and the CFC headquarters is currently located in Yongsan in the Seoul metropolitan area. Originally the plan was for the CFC headquarters to remain in Seoul, but General Robert Abrams vetoed it citing operational efficiency concerns and costs of accommodating CFC staffers. Analysts worry whether the move to Camp Humphrey will hamper communications and relationships between the U.S. and South Korea’s military due to physical separation. Others suggest that the United States is being cautious about being under the command of a South Korean general in CFC.
South Korea Approves $8 Million Aid Package to North Korea
On June 5, 2019, the South Korean Ministry of Unification approved an $8 million humanitarian aid package to North Korea through the United Nations, which would be the first humanitarian aid for North Korea since 2015. In 2017, South Korea attempted to provide similar aid to North Korea but failed due to a U.S. pressure campaign and sanctions on North Korea.
The indirect support would alleviate North Korea’s worsening food situation, 40 percent of North Koreans—about 10.1 million people, have been suffering from food shortages due to abnormally high temperatures, droughts, and floods in the last year. The aid will give about $4.5 million to the World Food Program (WFP), supporting food shipment projects. The WFP would provide infants and pregnant women with nutrient-rich cereal and biscuits. $3.5 million will be allocated to the United Nations Children's Fund’s (UNICEF) maternal and child healthcare and nutrition programs, offering essential medicines and nutrition supplies. In addition to this aid, South Korea is also planning to deliver rice to North Korea via the WFP.
On June 4, 2019, Director of the peace diplomacy planning team within South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Lee Dong-ryeol met with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for North Korea Alex Wong for East Asia and Pacific affairs in Seoul. The two sides discussed the schedule and method of food aid delivery. Representative Seol Hoon of the South Korean ruling Democratic Party stated that South Korea may offer 50,000 tons of food aid to North Korea.
LGBTQ rights and South Korea's Queer Culture Festival
On June 1, the 2019 Queer Culture Festival kicked off in Seoul with a queer pride parade in the Jong-no neighborhood. This was the 20th iteration of the festival and was preceded by a series of lectures beginning on May 21 along with the inaugural Pink Dot festival, an LGBTQ event that was initiated in Singapore and subsequently spread to other countries. The Queer Culture Festival is set to run for two weeks until early June. The head of the organizing committee of the festival, Kang Myung-jin, called on the South Korean government to uphold the rights of sexual minorities and to do more to ensure the safety of the festival’s participants.
An estimated 80,000 people took part in this year’s festivities, and members of the ruling Democratic Party even participated for the first time. Beer brand CASS also became the first major South Korean company to support the LGBT movement. Foreign missions in South Korea were also set to join the festival. However, the festival and the LGBT community in general consistently face opposition from conservative segments of South Korean society. Anti-LGBT protesters, mostly comprising Christian groups and seniors, had held counter demonstrations during last year’s parade. During this year’s parade, anti-LGBT protesters also held separate demonstrations, but did not directly confront the participants of the queer parade. The ambassadors of the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Canada, the EU, New Zealand and Norway also jointly authored an editorial for the 20th anniversary of the Queer Culture Festival, in which they expressed their support for tolerance, diversity and upholding the rights of the LGBT community. The festival is set to end on June 9 with the Seoul Queer Film Festival.
Korean Companies Caught in U.S. Trade Conflicts
On May 30, 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump announced via Twitter that the U.S. government would impose a tariff of 5% on all imports coming from Mexico beginning June 10, 2019 due to what he perceived as a lack of enforcenment from the Mexican government in stemming illegal immigration coming into the United States. In light of the news, shares of Korean automakers Kia and Hyundai fell 4.2% and 0.7% respectively, while Hyundai Wia, which supplies automotive components to both companies, fell 6.2%. While the United States and Mexico reached a deal on June 7, 2019, the episode represents the President’s continued willingness to use tariffs and other asymmetrical policy means to address key policy priorities of the Trump administration and continues to cloud U.S. trade policy with uncertainty.
Furthermore, while there were concerns that the threat of new U.S. tariffs on Mexico might derail attempts to ratify the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in Mexico and Canada, the latest agreement has allowed both countries to continue the ratification process.
This Week in History: The June Struggle
On June 10, 1987, mass protests started against South Korea’s Chun Doo-hwan regime appointed Roh Tae-woo as president to succeed Chun Doo-hwan. Protestors demanded for direct elections and democratic reforms, further mobilized by a tear gas grenade attack on student Lee Han Yeol. Violent clashes between hundreds of student protestors and police spread throughout the Seoul metropolitan area. The protests ended after June 29, when Roh Tae-woo acceded to the protestors demands. The constitution was amended to include democratic reforms and a free election was held later in December.
KIC- Life Science Startups Networking Event
5:30 PM- 8:30 PM, Thursday, June 13, 2019
Korea Innovation Center
1952 Gallows Road
Vienna, VA 22182
Asia Policy Assembly 2019
Hosted by the National Bureau for Asian Research & The Institute for National Strategic Studies
June 18, 2019- June 19, 2019
1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
The Korean Peninsula and U.S.-ROK Alliance: Credibility, Connectivity, and Practicality
10:00 AM- 4:40 PM, Wednesday, June 19, 2019
Korea Economic Institute of America
1800 K Street, NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006
Anna Fifield - The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un
7:00 PM- 8:00 PM, Friday, June 21, 2019
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington DC 20008
ROK-U.S. Strategic Forum 2019
11:00 AM -5:00 PM. Monday, June 24, 2019
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036