Sejong Digest 2.0 - Issue 13 (May 14 - 29, 2017)

Gay Soldier’s Conviction raises issues of LGBT rights violations in South Korea

Andrew Jung

On May 24, 2017, a South Korean military court sentenced an army captain to a suspended six-months prison term for having sex with other soldiers. Since it is a suspended sentence for one year, he will not go to prison if he doesn’t break the law again next year. However he will be dishonorably discharged if the sentence is upheld. The captain’s lawyer Kim In-sook blasted the verdict, saying the military penal code violates basic human rights as it punishes homosexual activities for up to two years in prison. She said it is unclear if her client will appeal the ruling as he felt “tormented by the legal process.” Other human rights groups criticized the ruling. Amnesty International said “South Korea’s military must immediately end a bigoted hunt to root out gay personnel”. Roseanne Rife, East Asia Research Director of Amnesty International called for the conviction to be overturned and for the soldiers,“what counts is their service not their sexuality.” She also called for South Korean President Moon Jae-In to publicly state that discrimination against gays in the military must not be tolerated. Lim Tae-hoon of the Military Human Rights Center, which provided legal support to the captain said the captain was arrested in a Seoul hotel which would be considered a private space like his home and none of the soldiers he engaged in sexual activity with were from his unit.

The captain was arrested in mid-April while the South Korean military was accused of cracking down on soldiers suspected of same-sex relationships. 32 soldiers are reported to be facing charges of breaking the Military Criminal Act which outlawed sodomy and “disgraceful conduct.” The South Korean militarydenied the accusations saying they were investigating soldiers accused of taking a video of two male soldiers having sex. However, the military further expanded that investigation to identify other gay soldiers. According to Lim, the military investigators would routinely ask soldiers about their sexuality, seize mobile phones without warrants, force soldiers to expose those who are gay, and have them open dating apps to trick other gay soldiers in identifying themselves. This is despite the fact that army regulations also forbid discrimination against gay soldiers and asking about their sexual orientation.

Despite South Korea coming a long way as a democracy, LGBT people still face discrimination as same-sex marriage is not recognized, LGBT issues is still considered political taboo, and Christian groups are influential in opposing any bills that protect sexual minorities. According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s 2015 review, LGBT people face widespread violence and hate speeches in South Korea. Newly-elected President Moon Jae-In previouslystated his opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage. There is still hope for a comprehensive anti-discrimination law as Moon wishes to strengthen the role of South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). NHRC has recommended in the past a law that bans discrimination on sex, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and other factors. It plans to recommend measures to address “the need to strengthen the right to live in a safe, healthy environment and measures to set up infrastructure to better protect basic human rights in general.” However, past attempts to pass legislation has failedas it included gay rights and faced strong opposition by Christian groups and conservative lawmakers.

Early Diplomatic Visits Between the Trump and Moon Administration

Leon Whyte

In light of a new administration in South Korea, Matthew Pottinger, the Asia director on the U.S. National Security Council traveled to Seoul on May 16th for meetings with his South Korean counterparts, including President Moon’s adviser Chung Eui-yong. During this meeting, both sides agreed to work toward a summit meeting between President Trump and President Moon in Washington in June.

Following the meeting, President Moon’s spokesman, Yoon Young-chan, stated that the U.S. and South Korea shared guiding principles for dealing with North Korea, the first being working towards the ultimate goal to completely dismantle the North Korean nuclear weapons. To that end, he stated that both sides will employ all means, including sanctions and dialogue. Yoon emphasized that dialogue with North Korea is possible when the circumstances are right. Finally, he stated that to achieve these goals, South Korea and the United States will pursue drastic and practical joint approaches.

During the same week, President Moon’s special envoy to the United States, Ambassador Hong Seok-hyun, came to Washington and met with President Trump and several of his top advisors, including Secretary of State Tillerson, Vice President Pence, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster. Hong also met with U.S. legislators, including Senator Cory Gardner, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, to discuss the importance of the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement.

Both Hong and Pottinger’s trips were designed to show commitment to the U.S. alliance and to build a foundation for good relations between the relatively new Trump and Moon administrations. Despite the good will expressed by both sides, there is a potential for friction over differing views of how to deal with North Korea. Trump has formulated a policy to increase pressure on North Korea through sanctions and has expressed that all options are on the table for dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. President Moon has formulated a different approach, preferring to deal with the North Korean threat through greater engagement such as talks and financial cooperation.

President Moon Jae-in’s Political Appointments

Benjamin Lee

Since taking office on May 10, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has begun to nominate his cabinet members. One of the major differences in Moon’s nomination process from that of his predecessors is that several members from the previous administration will stay in office until his nominees pass the confirmation hearings in the National Assembly. This is because Moon did not a have a transition team or a transition period before coming into office like previous presidents.

President Moon first nominated Lee Nak-yeon as the Prime Minister. The nomination of Lee, previously a four-term member of the National Assembly as well as the incumbent governor of South Jeolla province, is expected to foster cooperation between the ruling Minjoo party and the People’s Party, which has majority of support from the North and South Jeolla province. News outlets also suggested that Moon, whose background is Kyeongsang province, wanted to heal the east-west divide in South Korea by having a prime minster from Jeolla.

President Moon’s cabinet member nominations for positions that oversee matters of diplomacy and national security fields reflect a strong preference for dialogue with North Korea. He appointed a former diplomat as the National Security Advisor, a role primarily reserved for military officials in South Korea. As for the head of the national intelligence service, Moon nominated a longtime member of the agency who had orchestrated the two previous inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007. Moon also nominated Kang Kyung-hwa, his first female member of the cabinet, to lead the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Moon also nominated several academics to lead the charge on his economic reform agenda. His appointment of Kim Sang-jo as the head of the Fair Trade Commission and Jang Ha-song as the Director of Policy in the Blue House caused jitters among the business community due to their reputation as a pointed critics of South Korean conglomerates or chaebols. Moon also created the Jobs Commission to oversee his job creation agenda, a central promise of his presidential campaign.

Moon’s nominations and appointments are expected to continue throughout the next few months as confirmation hearings in the National Assembly takes place.

Japanese Prime Minister Plans to Revise Japan’s Constitution By 2020

Jessie Chen

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced his plan to revise the so-called pacifist constitution, which was enacted by the American in 1947, by 2020. Article 9 of the constitution claims that “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” Prime Minister Abe claimed that it is “the responsibility of our generation” to revise the constitution to protect the people and the nation.

Tensions with China over Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and North Korea’s provocative actions give Abe reasons to change the constitution. North Korea’s recent nuclear tests and missile launches have grown steadily. Japanese politicians have used these as reasons to change the pacifist constitution and to restore Japan’s military power. Abe argued that Japan with current active-duty troops may be unconstitutional and may be vulnerable, facing threats from its neighbors.

South Korean media denounced Abe’s statement. An editorial in Korea's Joongang Daily expressed concern that the constitutional revision would allow Japan to possess any war-making potential and affect regional stability and security. Hankook Ilbo also questioned the rationale of Abe’s constitutional amendment.

Japanese policymakers also questioned Prime Minister Abe’s plan of constitution revision. Former defense chief Shigeru Ishiba, heavyweight of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said that Abe should clarify his proposal since it contradicts the LDP adopted version of the revision.

This is not the first time Abe has tried to revise the constitution. In 2013, he also stated his support for amending Article 9. At the time, opposition partiescriticized that the amendment of the constitution should be initiated by the legislative branch, instead of the government.

This Week in History

On May 25, 1952, South Korea’s Minister of Finance Paek Tu-jin signed the “Agreement on Economic Coordination Between the Republic of Korea and the United Command” with US Special Envoy Clarence E. Myer. At the time, the South Korean economy was struggling as it provided fees for the UN. combined forces for their activities in South Korea. Uncalculated massive payments caused high wartime inflation and exacerbated an already present economic recession in South Korea. To help South Korea rejuvenate its economy, the agreement established the Combined Economic Board, composed of one South Korean and American expert, and aimed to guide South Korea’s economic decision making process during the Korean War. Economic coordination that followed the agreement spanned around South Korea’s policy on finance, trade and fiscal issues. While some scholars credit the agreement for successfully handling the economic challenges during the Korean War, others criticize that the agreement developed an imbalanced economic relation between US and Korea in which South Korea was heavily reliant on the U.S. economy.