South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. cooperated over North Korea Sanctions
On Dec 13, 2016, at a joint conference of the South Korean and Japanese Six-Party Talk representatives, the envoys reaffirmed efforts to continue to coordinate sanctions against North Korea in a meeting in Seoul. The representatives also stated their intention to impose sanctions independently against North Korea.
South Korea’s new direct sanctions attempt to cut off North Korea from resources and funding for its nuclear program. The sanction adds 36 people to the list of people banned from performing financial transactions in South Korea. Japan will also block from entering Japanese ports ships that have stopped in North Korea. The measures taken by South Korea and Japan would besymbolic.
On Dec 20, 2016, South Korea and the U.S. held another high level official security meeting of the Extended Deterrence Strategy and Consultation Group in Washington, D.C. In the meeting, the U.S. reassured its commitment to provide “extended deterrence” and “immediate support” for South Korea.
China’s Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs of Wu Dawei statedthat China has always been committed to dialogue to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but he stated that China opposes the imposition of unilateral sanctions outside the framework of UN Security Council resolutions.
In response to North Korea’s fifth nuclear test in September 2016, the United Nations imposed new sanctions against North Korea. The sanctions aimed to reduce its revenue from coal, copper, nickel, silver and zinc exports. The South Korean Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Kim Hong-kyun estimated that the sanctions would cut approximately $800 million dollars in revenue.
South Korea Battles Against Avian Flu Outbrea
Amidst an ongoing political scandal regarding President Park Geun-hye, South Korean officials failed to respond promptly to the initial reports of avian flu, missing the “golden time” to prevent an epidemic outbreak. The avian influenza(H5N6) virus that causes acute respiratory problems is highly contagious. Since the first reports of the virus in mid-November, nearly 20 million birds havebeen exterminated. Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn implemented quarantine measures, issued a two-day nationwide standstill order on poultry farms, and banned transportation of poultry products. Media outlets criticized the government’s sluggish response to such a public health concern, especially in contrast to the Japanese and Chinese government’s preemptive actions against the H5N6 virus.
The South Korean economy has taken a toll due to the avian influenza. Poultry exports have decreased, and egg prices have surged. China and Hong Konghave already placed trade bans on South Korea-produced poultry, which may pose longer lasting economic implications. The poultry farmers were hit hard following fresh orders of culls. The partial rationing of eggs has been despairing news to food processors, such as bakeries and brunch restaurants, and consumers due to higher production costs. The Hyundai Research Instituteestimated around 1.4 trillion won ($1.17 billion) in economic losses.
North Korean Diplomat Defector Provides Insight into Kim Jong-un Regime
Thae Yong-ho, North Korea’s former Deputy Ambassador to the United Kingdom recently met with South Korea’s Parliament members since defectingto South Korea in August 2016. He first met with the South Korean parliament’s intelligence committee on Dec 19, 2016. According to the committee’s chairman Lee Cheol-woo, Thae was quoted as saying North Koreans are suffering "slavery" under Kim Jong-Un. Thae also said he left with his family upon being disillusioned with the Kim Jong-Un regime and learning about South Korean democracy through South Korean dramas and films. He denied leaving due to fear of punishment for committing crimes, alleged by North Korea. Thae also revealed that North Korean senior officials are constantly wiretapped in their homes and that People’s Armed Forces Minister Hyon Yong-chol was executed due to his remarks at home. Thae expressed his desire to work to promote Korean reunification and is expected to work at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank affiliated with South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.
On December 22, 2016 North Korea’s Foreign Ministry accused South Korea of organizing efforts to lure North Korean diplomats to defect by sending emails disguised as articles from North Korean state media. South Korea’s Unification Ministry denied the claims as "groundless" and "distorted propaganda."
On Friday, December 23, Thae met again with South Korea’s Parliament members in a closed-door briefing. Additionally, he was also released from National Intelligence Service’s custody that was interrogating him since his defection in August. In the briefing, he said he saw the South Korean protests that led to President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment and the government continuing to function as strengths of South Korea’s democracy. On North Korea, he believes the country will seek dialogue with the United States a year after President-Elect Trump takes office. He said Kim Jong-Un desires to have North Korea recognized as a nuclear state like Pakistan and sees next year as an opportunity for a dialogue during the beginning of the Trump Administration and South Korea’s presidential election.
The Korea Times recently reported that the South Korean government claimed the largest number of North Korean elites defected to South Korea this year, although details were not provided. Yonhap News Agency also reported the South Korean government’s belief that “what's notable in recent years is an increase in defections by people from privileged backgrounds, adding that such a development can be interpreted as signs of cracks in the North's regime.” Apoll by North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity reported that nearly 80% of North Korean defectors believe that defections of North Korean diplomats will be a blow to North Korea (See this Korea Times article for more details on the poll).
Park’s Legal Team Defends President Park
On December 16, President Park’s legal team submitted a written response (See full text in Korean) to the National Assembly’s impeachment bill. They argued that allegations of illegal and unconstitutional activities were untrue and groundless. They also argued that even if some allegations were true, those behaviors did not constitute an “egregious” violation of law that would justify and necessitate President Park to be removed from office.
Park’s legal team argued that the Choi’s involvement and influence accounted for less than one percent of President Park’s overall governance related activities. They also referred to President Park’s close advisors, such as Choi Soon-sil as members of the so-called “kitchen cabinet” who provided President Park advice on a wide range of issues. They also indicated that nominating officials recommended by Choi was not illegal as any President could gain advice on personnel appointments. Park’s legal team further added that punishing President Park for Choi Soon-sil’s illicit activities would constitute guilt by association, which is clearly unconstitutional.
Park’s legal team also denied allegations of extortion, suppression of media and dereliction of duty. As for accusations of extortions from conglomerates, Park’s legal team explained that all conglomerates made donations voluntarily for good causes. They also said President Park has not extended preferential treatment for large conglomerates that made donations and, in fact, has consistently sought to empower small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) against the large conglomerates. They further denied allegations regarding suppression of the press and stated that measures against some media outlets were necessary actions to protect President Park from libel and defamation. President Park’s legal team expressed her condolences to the victims of Sewol disaster but also explained that she was not responsible for the deaths of innocent lives. They indicated that she responded “quickly” and “did her best” to rescue the survivors.
Given the intense legal battle between the National Assembly and President Park, the constitutional court may take up to more than six months to settle President Park’s impeachment.
Korean Air Pilots Go on Strike
On Thursday, December 22, Korea Air Lines unionized pilots went on strike for the first time in 11 years. The strike, which is scheduled to last for 10 days, is expected to disrupt as many as 150 domestic and international flights. However, 90% of scheduled flights will continue as normal.
Korean Airlines employs about 2,300 pilots, but under the 2010 revision of South Korea’s aviation law, fewer than 20%, or about 460 pilots, may go on strike at once. Labor Union officials claim that only 189 pilots will go on strike.
The pilot’s union initiated the strike due to a breakdown in wage increase negotiations. The pilot’s union originally asked for wage increases of 34% but now is asking for an increase of 29%. However, Korean Airlines has not increased its original offer of 1.9%. The union claims its demands are symbolic, and that their real demands are to improve working conditions.
One reason for the wage increase demand is the migration of South Korean pilots to other countries, such as China, that offer up to three-times higher pay. The union claims that this has resulted in Korean airlines hiring younger and less-experienced pilots, which they claim has resulted in lower safety standards. The union claims that these concerns drive the strike, and that they would be willing to call it off if the Airline increased their wage offer by even 1,000 won (US$ 0.84).
Yesterday in History: Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers Issues Communiqué
On December 28, 1945, Foreign Minister of the U.S., U.K., and the Soviet Union issued a joint communique regarding Far East Issues. Section 3 of the communique outlined how the three powers would manage the Korean Peninsula. Article 1 of the communique supported the establishment of a provisional democratic Korean government that would rejuvenate the Korean economy. Article 2 of the communique advocated the establishment of a joint commission composed of U.S. and the Soviet Union that would assist the formation of provisional Korean government. Article 3 of the communique stated that the Korean provisional government would work in conjunction with the joint commission to agree on “a four-power trusteeship of Korea for a period up to five years” in order to make a transition toward a fully independent, democratic, self-governing government. Article 4 stated that the U.S. and the Soviet Union would set up a conference of representatives to coordinate administrative issues between Southern and Northern Korea. The communique, however, never materialized as Koreans became deeply divided over the issue of whether to accept a trusteeship or not.
Fourth Annual US-Japan-Korea Trilateral Symposium
8:30 AM – 2:00 PM, January 5, 2017
National Press Club MWL Conference Room
529 14th Street, NW, 13th Floor
Public Opinion on the Future of Northeast Asia
12:00PM – 1:30 PM, January 11, 2017
The Army and Navy Club on Farragut Square
901 17th Street, NW
Please welcome Christopher Hurst to The Sejong Society's Programming Committee! Chris is currently interning at the Korea Economic Institute of America. Previously, he was an English teacher in Gwangju and Busan, South Korea. It was while teaching in South Korea that he developed his interest in Korean affairs. He received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Chicago, graduating with honors. Chris was born in Chicago, IL.
Also, as a reminder, The Sejong Society of Washington, D.C., is still seeking qualified and motivated individuals to serve on our Programming, Communications, Operations, and Research Committees. We invite all interested candidates to complete the application here. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, and chosen candidates will be invited to meet the Board of Directors.