Sejong Digest 2.0 - Issue 20 (September 12 - 25, 2017)

South Korea Provides Humanitarian Aid Worth $8 Million to North Korea

Jessie Chen

Amid tensions with North Korea, the South Korean Ministry of Unificationannounced that it will provide $8 million worth of humanitarian aid to North Korea, despite opposition domestically and among its allies. The aid will beprovided through two UN agencies–the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Program (WFP)-targeting vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women.

The humanitarian aid decision came after U.S. President Donald J. Trump threatened to “destroy North Korea” during his UN General Assembly speech and pressured the UN to approved new sanctions against North Korea in response to its sixth nuclear test in early September. The Ministry will donatearound $4.5 million to the WFP and $3.5 million to UNICEF to provide vaccines, food, and medical support. The time line to provide this aid is to be decided at a later time. 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke to President Moon over the phone on Sept 15, 2017 and expressed his concern that providing aid would lessen the international community’s pressure on North Korea. He urged President Moon to rethink the timing of the aid. The UN welcomed this decision, and the U.S. has yet to issue any statement.

The Latest U.S. Sanctions on North Korea

Patrick Niceforo

On Sept 21, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order that enables the U.S. Department of the Treasury to target individuals, companies, banks, and other institutions that are involved in trade or finance with North Korea. The executive order was implemented following North Korea’s missile launch on September 15th in the latest in a series of over a dozen confirmed launches in 2017.

The new order is intended to isolate North Korea as a punishment for its provocations. The order allows the Department of the Treasury to ban ships and aircraft that have visited North Korea from entering the U.S. for 180 days and to freeze the assets of any individual or organization that finances or trades with North Korea. The U.S. and the international community have a record of imposing sanctions on North Korea for similar reasons.

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously earlier this month to cap oil exports to North Korea. Whether sanctions against North Korea will work is a point of controversy. A panel of experts on North Korea reported to the Security Council that, “the actual implementation of the sanctions lags far behind what is necessary to achieve the goal of denuclearization.” Despite the sanctions, North Korea has only accelerated its missile development program in 2017. North Korea’s continued missile development may strain the relationship between U.S. President Trump and South Korean President Moon given theirinconsistent views regarding military action on the Korean peninsula.

Special Needs Education in South Korea

Andrew Jung

On Sept 13, 2017, South Korea’s Education Minister, Sang-kon Kim announced that 18 new special needs schools will be built over the next five years to accommodate children with disabilities. This is seen as a breakthrough for South Korean students with disabilities and their families as more special needs schools were urged to be built as many regular schools were inadequate in meeting their needs. 

The announcement came amid calls for more special needs schools becoming vocal after a viral video earlier in September showed parents kneeling before the residents in Gangseo District located in western Seoul, begging for a special needs school to be built while some of the residents jeered at them (See the full video here in Korean). The video came from a hearing by education officials on Sept 5, 2017, discussing a potential construction project. The parents of the special needs children wanted a special needs school built while other residents opposed it, pushing for a traditional medicine school. The residents wereworried about their real estate value further declining and some accused the parents kneeling for “theatrics.”

According to disability advocates, the incident shows the difficulties of having special needs schools built in various areas in South Korea due to local residents fiercely opposing them and increasing pressure on their elected representatives to intervene. However, the recent incident increased public sympathy and support with over 80,000 people signing a petition for the special needs school to be built. Education Minister Sang-kon Kim in announcing the plan to build the new schools commented “there still seems to be a lot of prejudices and misunderstandings regarding not only disabled people in our society but other social minority groups such as multicultural families and North Korea defectors,” South Korean lawmaker, Seong-yep Yu who chairs the education committee said that providing the appropriate education services should be guaranteed as a human right. 

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Education, there are 174 special needs schools nationwide that serve less than 30 percent of over 89,000 children with physical and mental disabilities. Only 29 of those schools are located in Seoul. Over 2,300 of those students often have to commute more than a hour to those schools. Gangseo District from the video is considered to be has some of the highest numbers of students who need special education, aging from early childhood to their 20’s and has disabilities ranging from physical to intellectual disability.

Disability advocates said that many regular schools lack the resources to assist disabled students, such as physical therapy and counseling. The students can also be susceptible to bullying. According to Eun-ja Lee of Korean Parents’ Network for the People with Disabilities, special needs schools can help those students improve their livelihood and increase their independence by providing individualized vocational training.

U.S.-South Korea-Japan Trilateral Summit During UN General Assembly Meeting

Leon Whyte

On Thursday, September 21, U.S. President Donald J. Trump held a bilateral summit with President Moon of South Korea, and afterwards a tri-lateral summit that also included Prime Minister Abe of Japan.

During the bilateral meeting President Trump and President Moon agreed that South Korea should be able to acquire advanced U.S. weaponry and that the U.S. would expand its rotation of strategic assets to South Korea. Before the summit, it was rumored that the U.S. and South Korea had reached anagreement for South Korea to acquire nuclear submarines, but it has not been confirmed that this is the advanced weaponry discussed during the summit.

The trilateral summit with Prime Minister Abe also focused on the North Korean threat, with all three leaders vowing to apply maximum pressure against Pyongyang’s provocations. During the public remarks, President Trump announced a new executive order that would expand the U.S. Treasury Department’s authority to sanction any individual or entity that engages in any significant trade with North Korea.

After President Trump’s announcement, President Moon thanked him for his stance towards North Korea and promised to coordinate closely with the U.S. going forward. Prime Minister Abe also thanked President Trump and promised that Japan would work with the U.S. and South Korea to address North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile threat.

However, despite the tough words for North Korea, both during the trilateral summit and during President Trump’s UN General Assembly speech, President Trump did not fully rule out the possibility of talks with North Korea. When a reporter asked if dialogue was still possible with North Korea, President Trump responded by saying “Why not?”

This Week in History: Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks

On Sept 19, 2005, China, North Korea, United States, Russia, South Korea, and Japan concluded its fourth round of the Six-Party Talks in Beijing, China concerning the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The countries released a joint statement reaffirming that peaceful denuclearization is the goal, North Korea agreed to abandon nuclear weapons and return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and take steps to normalize relations with both U.S. and Japan, and all Six Parties agreed to promote economic cooperation and have the next round of talks in November 2005. North Korea also stated its right to peaceful use of nuclear energy and all six parties agreed to discuss the provision of a light water reactor to North Korea at a later date (See the full statement here). However no further progress was made after the Fourth Round, as the Fifth Round of talks in November 2005 led to no agreement and no date for the next round of talks. The U.S economic sanctions on North Korea, especially on its funds in Banco Delta Asia provoked North Korea’s condemnation and North Korea did several missile tests in both July and October 2006.