Issue 61: May 15 - May 29, 2019


US, South Korea, Japan, and Australia, Kick Off Pacific Vanguard Naval Exercise

Jessie Chen

On May 22, 2019, the U.S., South Korea, Japan, and Australia, kicked off the “Pacific Vanguard”, the first combined exercise, in the Western Pacific. The U.S. Navy’s five ships, fighter jets, and maritime patrol planes, two Japanese destroyers, two Australian frigates, and a South Korean destroyer, and 3,000 sailors from the four countries participated in a six-day joint drill near Guam. The U.S. Seventh Fleet said that the exercise aimed to “sharpen skills and strengthen practical cooperation at sea” amid tensions between China and the U.S. 

In the joint exercise, South Korea’s 4,200-ton Aegis destroyer Wang Geon and Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s 4,800-ton Ariake and the 5,100-ton Asahi were sent to waters near Guam and Mariana Islands. The drill was led by the U.S., who sent the 19,600-ton USS Blue Ridge, the flagship of the 7th Fleet, amongst others. The 4,300-ton frigate HMAS Melbourne and the 3,800-ton HMAS Parramatta from Australia also participated in the drill. 

On May 27, 2019, South Korea and the U.S. will jointly kick off “Ulchi-Taegeuk exercise”, a new unilateral military exercise, replacing previous major joint exercises. The exercise, with the goal to contribute peace-building efforts, on the Korean Peninsula will be operated for four days, combining Ulchi government exercise and the Taegeuk exercise by the South Korean military. 

North Korea Holds Press Conference at United Nations About Ship Seized by United States

John Seymour

North Korea escalated its push for the return of a cargo ship seized by the United States through a rare news conference held at the United Nations in New York. On May 21, 2019 North Korean U.N. Ambassador Kim Song called the ship’s seizure a violation of North Korea’s sovereignty and demanded its immediate return. He also warned the United States that its “outrageous actions” could have significant consequences on relations between the two  countries.

The North Korean cargo vessel “Wise Honest” was seized on May 9, 2019 for violating both American law and international sanctions against North Korea. The ship was used by North Korea to export coal and import heavy machinery, and it is currently held in American Samoa after U.S. authorities seized it in Indonesia, where it was first detained in 2018. Impounding “Wise Honest” represented the first time that the United States has seized a North Korean ship for violating sanctions.

In addition to holding the news conference, Ambassador Kim also entreated U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres to take “urgent measures” to resolve the issue. Stephane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the U.N., stated that the Secretary-General received the message, and that the matter is under the purview of the U.N. Security Council.

The seizure and the resulting criticism from North Korea mark the latest in a series of setbacks U.S.-North Korea relations since the February summit meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un ended without an agreement. The initial seizure itself came in the wake of several short-range missile launches by North Korea, and these controversies have seemingly limited the chance for dialogue between the two countries. On May 24, 2019 a spokesman from the North Korean foreign ministry put the blame squarely on the United States for the stall in talks, stating that the country needed a “new calculation” to resume nuclear negotiations between the two nations. 

Controversy over leaked Moon-Trump phone call

Amanda Wong

The leak of a May 7, 2019 phone conversation between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump has caused significant controversy. It was revealed that a diplomat based in the Korean Embassy in Washington, D.C. leaked details of the call to opposition politician Khang Hyo-Shang of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP). The diplomat in question had attended the same high school as Khang. After he received details of the conversation, Khang held a press conference on May 9, where he provided details of the conversation between the two leaders.

LKP Floor Leader Na Kyung-won defended Khang Hyo-Shang and characterized the leak as an act of whistleblowing, but other parties and the Blue House have slammed the leak as a breach of discipline and warned that it could possibly damage U.S.-ROK relations. The Blue House also refuted Khang’s remarks and stated that details of phone conversations are generally not made public. The Foreign Ministry has also stated that an investigation is currently underway. Newly appointed Vice Foreign Minister Cho Sei-young called for punishment of the responsible official and emphasized the need to restore public faith in the ministry. Phone conversations between leaders are classified as Level-3 confidential records. The leaking of such confidential records is a crime that is punishable by a maximum of 5 years of imprisonment or a fine of up to 10 million won. The incident also demonstrates the lack of discipline within the Foreign Ministry and the need to hold accountable the responsible parties. Former diplomats have also weighed in on the issue. Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that the information should not have been leaked, while former national security adviser Chun Young-woo said that Khang should be expelled from the LKP.

Korea Bets on Biohealth Innovation for Economic Growth

Jaemin Baek

Earlier this month on May 22, 2019, President Moon Jae-in announced a series of policy goals and measures, known as the “Biohealth Industry Innovation Strategy,” designed to support the biohealth industry in Korea in  stimulating economic growth and positioning Korea to benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution in the long-run. President Moon earlier this year, in searching for next generation economic growth engines, designated the biohealth industry as one of the three industries that would receive priority policy support from the government. In implementing the government’s policies to promote the biohealth industry, the Biohealth Industry Innovation Strategy by 2030 aims to capture nine percent of the global pharmaceutical and medical device market, export $50 billion of biohealth related products, and catapult biohealth exports to within the top five sources of Korean exports.  

In particular, the government announced that it would work to increase South Korea's national R&D budget for biohealth innovations to 4 trillion won annually by 2025, from its current level of 2.6 trillion won. The Biohealth Industry Innovation Strategy also calls for the creation of the necessary infrastructure to enable biohealth industry innovations. Notably, South Korea’s government will work to create “Bio Big Data” - a database of one million Koreans which will include medical history, genetic information, and hospital records - which when utilized by biohealth innovators will be able to develop new, personalized treatments, pharmaceuticals, and other biohealth products. The strategy also calls for deregulatory measures as well as increases in general R&D spending. 

This Week in History: South Korea’s First National Assembly

May 31, 1948 was when South Korea’s National Assembly also known as the Constituent Assembly convened for the first time after its first democratic elections in May 10, 1948. Syngman Rhee was elected Speaker. The first task of the Assembly was to draft the Constitution. Syngman Rhee pushed to establish a presidential system and was inaugurated as the first President of Republic of Korea in August 15, 1948.


2019 Summer Kickoff Happy Hour
Hosted by CAPAL
6:00 PM- 8:00 PM, Thursday, May 30, 2019
Ellipse Rooftop Bar
522 K St NW
Washington DC 20005

The Annual Conference of the International Council on Korean Studies and the Council on Korea-U.S. Security Studies
8:45 AM- 5:00 PM, Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Korea Economic Institute of America
1800 K St, NW, Suite 300 
Washington, DC 20006

Asia Policy Assembly 2019
Hosted by National Bureau for Asian Research & The Institute for National Strategic Studies
June 18, 2019- June 19, 2019
Willard InterContinental
1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20004

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