Sejong Society Events

The Sejong Society of Washington, D.C. and the GW Institute for Korean Studies cordially invite you to the event below. Please click on the poster below to RSVP.

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North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly 2019 Parliamentary Session

George Bradshaw

On April 11, 2019 the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea convened for their annual parliamentary session in Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang. This is the first session since Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s participation in two summits with United States President Donald Trump and two inter-Korean summits.

Kim struck a conciliatory tone, placed ‘importance on resolving problems through dialogue and negotiations’, and remained open to a third summit. However, another meeting with U.S. President Trump is subject to the United States dropping their ‘gangster-like’ demands and international sanctions. Kim stated that he will not ‘obsess over summitry with the United States out of thirst for sanctions relief’. However, Kim’s point-of-entry in the Hanoi summit was sanctions relief. As such, this posturing may have the purpose of increasing Kim’s negotiating leverage and may reflect that international sanctions have caused significant economic difficulties in North Korea.

Importantly, this session occurred hours after South Korean President Moon Jae-in met Trump in Washington to discuss the importance of nuclear talks with North Korea. That Kim Jong-un seeks dialogue following the disastrous Hanoi Summit may be good news, especially given Trump’s April 13 tweet that ‘a third Summit would be good in that we fully understand where we each stand’. However, both sides demands are irreconcilable and this leaves future negotiations hanging precariously: Kim wants full sanctions relief before denuclearization whereas Trump has set denuclearization as a precondition for sanctions relief.

Outside nuclear issues, the session elevated Kim Jong Un to supreme representative of all Korean people (조선인민의 최고대표자) as an affront to South Korea. There were also significant personnel shifts. Choe Ryong Hae has replaced 91-year-old Kim Yong Nam as the President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, or the titular head of state. Kim Jae Ryong has also replaced Pak Pong Ju as Prime Minister, or Premier of the Cabinet.

Highs and Lows in South Korea's Drop in Unemployment

Andrew Jung

On April 9, 2019, South Korea’s unemployment rate reportedly dropped for the second straight month in March. In March, jobs increased by 250,000 compared to a year earlier. South Korea’s unemployment fell to 4.3 percent which is 0.2 percent lower than last year. Statistics Korea, a bureau that analyzes economic data for South Korea’s government, reported that the employment rate for working-age adults reached 60.4 percent in March, which is the highest rate for that month since Statistics Korea started in 1983. 

In breaking down the employment rate by age groups, not all benefitted however. The employment rate for people in their teens and 20s increased by 0.9 percent. However unemployment for people in the 40s decreased for 14 straight months since February 2018. There was an increase for people in their 60’s by 1.2 percentage points. The number of jobs also declined for people in their 30s. The employment rate also varied by sectors.

Gains have been made in jobs related to health, social welfare, technology, and agriculture. However the manufacturing sector, considered the backbone of South Korea’s economy saw jobs continue to decline by 108,000 in March. According to Statistics Korea, this shows that semiconductor and other electrical devices industries are still struggling but potentially can recover. 

Experts worry that that the increase in employment rate may not be sustainable and that the quality of jobs is not improving while the manufacturing sector continues to decline, especially as the use of plant automation increases. While public sector jobs have been increasing, analysts said that it may not be sustainable due to being backed by short-term fiscal spending.

Experts also agree that the quality of jobs are declining, pointing that the employment gains in social welfare and agriculture are characterized as “low-paying” jobs. South Korea’s Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki announced that the Finance Ministry will use part of its supplementary budget for job creation.

South Korea to Implement Free High School Education by 2021

John Seymour

South Korea’s Presidential Office, government, and ruling Democratic Partyannounced Tuesday, April 9, that all high-school students will receive tuition-free education by 2021. Though the government currently provides free middle and elementary education, with this plan South Korea will join all other OECD nations in providing free high-school education. Government officials expect this measure both to broaden access to higher education and to provide economic relief to low-income families.

This plan, revealed at a meeting at the National Assembly, will cover not just tuition but all other expenses of a high-school student’s education, including textbooks, admission fees, and school operations fees. However, it will not cover tuition for independent private high schools. In total, lawmakers expect that the move will cost an additional $1.75 billion, and the extra expenditures will be split between the national government and regional education offices.

Vice Finance Minister Koo Yoon-Cheul expressed high expectations for the economic implications of this move, stating that a family with one high-school student could expect to save over $1,300 each year when this plan is fully implemented. Similarly, floor leader Dong Young-pyo announced that low-income families will gain more disposable income with this move.

However, not all share this optimism, especially due to the plan’s high price tag. Though teachers’ groups and education organizations broadly lauded the move, many also doubted if regional education offices could really handle the increased costs of free high-school education. One education expert, despite praising the goal of free education, criticized the impact of the plan on local governments, stressing the need for a more detailed plan for financing free high-school education. The success of this generally popular plan, the Korea Herald notes, will lie in finding more sources of funding.

President Moon's Visit to the U.S.

Amanda Wong

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea met with President Trump at the White House on Thursday, Apr. 11, 2019 to discuss the way forward for nuclear diplomacy with North Korea following the Hanoi summit, where the U.S. and North Korea failed to reach an agreement. On the one hand, President Trump rejected President Moon’s proposal for sanctions relief, but appeared to be receptive towards accepting “smaller deals” in order to keep up negotiations.

President Trump also indicated that he was open to continuing dialogue with the North over its nuclear weapons program. On the other hand, President Moon has emphasized the need to maintain the momentum for U.S.-North Korea dialogue. He has staked his political legacy on improving inter-Korean relations, and is under increasing pressure to produce more results in his pursuit of rapprochement with North Korea.

Since the Hanoi summit, there have not been any further negotiations on the issue of nuclear weapons. In Hanoi, President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un failed to reach an agreement on the issue of sanctions relief. Since then, both the US and North Korea appear to have hardened their stances towards one another, which has resulted in the current stalemate.

The US remains firm on maintaining sanctions on North Korea, as stated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, while Pyongyang has stated that it does not intend to make additional compromises with the US. The meeting between President Trump and President Moon also coincided with a statement by Kim, in which he said that there was a need to deal a “serious blow” to the “hostile forces” imposing sanctions on North Korea. This follows a statement by a senior North Korean official last month, which warned that Kim might reconsider a moratorium on missile launches and tests unless the U.S. eased sanctions.

South Korea, China, and Japan Hold the 15th Round of FTA Talks

Jessie Chen

South Korea, China, and Japan kicked-off the 15th round of a four-day free trade agreement (FTA) talks on April 9, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. However, they failed to find their common ground on a FTA deal. The 15th round of the trilateral negotiations focused on the reduction of tariffs on agricultural and industrial products and regulations on e-commerce. 

While little progress has been made since the three-way talks began in 2013, the three parties plan to hold the next round in South Korea by the end of this year. If the China-South Korea-Japan FTA is successful, it will create one of the world’s largest economic blocs. The protection of intellectual property rights isboth a priority on the three-way talks and also one of China’s sticking points. Prior to the talk, Japan official expressed that Japan hope China to gain concession on the intellectual property rights. Meanwhile, Japan Foreign Minister Taro Kono arrived in Beijing and held high-level economic talks with China on April 14, 2019. The free trade deals and the protection of intellectual property rights were top priorities in the talks.

South Korea and China held a second-phase, bilateral FTA talks on March 29, 2019, in Beijing, focusing on services trade and bilateral investment. In the talks, China used the negative list approach for the first time when negotiating with other countries, indicating that China may be more “opening-up and connecting with international standards”. The progress of China-South Korea FTA talks may facilitate the three-way FTA negotiations. 

This Week in History: April Revolution

April 19, 1960 also known as Sa-il-gu was the day when South Korean students led mass protests against the Syngman Rhee regime due to its corruption and political repression. The protests were in response to a discovery of a dead student’s body from the March protests in Masan due to allegations of election fraud. In the April 19 protests, over 100,000 students and 180 were killed by the police. The protests gained public support and was instrumental in Syngman Rhee eventually resigning in April 26. 

Other Events

Film Screening: Silence
Hosted by WCCW (Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues
6:00 PM- 8:30 PM, Thursday, April 18, 2019
School of Media and Public Affairs, Room B07
George Washington University
805 21st St NW
Washington, DC 20052

“Korean Women, Argentine Documentaries:A Look at La chica del sur (2012) and Una canción coreana (2014)”
Hosted by GW Institute for Korean Studies and The Latin American and
Hemispheric Studies Program
1:00 PM- 3:00 PM, Thursday, April 25, 2019
The Lindner Family Commons, Room 602
Elliott School of International Affairs,
George Washington University, 1957 E Street, NW, 
Washington, DC 20052