Sejong Digest 2.0 - Issue 14 (May 30 - July 1, 2017)

Moon Jae-in Requests Revised Supplementary Budget in First Presidential Address to National Assembly

Benjamin Lee

On June 12, 2017, South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivered his first presidential address to the National Assembly. In his speech, President Moon urged opposition parties to cooperate with the ruling Democratic Party to pass a revised supplementary budget that would allow his administration to create more public sector job opportunities. [See full text in Korean]

President Moon explained that the rise in unemployment and economic inequality in South Korea poses risk of an economic crisis. He pointed out that South Korea currently has the highest number of unemployed people since the 2000s. He referred to the growing youth unemployment in South Korea as a “national disaster” that necessitated immediate government action. Further, he stated that the bottom 20th percentile saw a five-percent drop in their income over the past five quarters, whereas the top 20th percentile saw a consistent increase in income. He noted that the only large conglomerates benefit from economic growth, while the small- and medium-sized businesses continue to struggle. In the face of a looming economic crisis, Moon asserted that government inaction would constitute a “dereliction of duty.”

As an emergency treatment for the South Korean economy, President Moon requested a supplementary budget of 11.2 trillion won (approximately $1 billion USD) to create more public sector job in welfare, education, and safety. He also set aside a portion of the supplementary budget to expand paid maternal leave, which would enhance women’s participation in the workforce. He also promised to use a part of the supplementary budget to rebuild deteriorating infrastructure at the local level and to create more employment opportunities that offer various services to retired citizens. Moon ended his speech with a request for cooperation from opposition parties.

But the three major opposition parties – Liberty Korea Party, People’s Party, and the Bareun Party – flatly rejected President Moon’s request. They argued that President Moon’s plan would only burden the government with more debt, and asked the president to devise a plan that would incentivize the private enterprises to take the leading role in increasing employment. Given the strong disagreement, it remains to be seen whether the ruling and opposition parties can cooperate to pass a supplementary budget in the near future.

South Korean President Moon Comes to Washington

Leon Whyte

South Korean President Moon Jae-in will be in Washington D.C. from June 29-30 on his first visit to the U.S. to meet with President Trump, his staff, and select legislators. President Moon’s main agenda is to strengthen the U.S.-Korea alliance, address economic concerns, and coordinate efforts on containing the North Korean nuclear and missile threat.

President Trump and President Moon have publicly expressed divergent political views on North Korea and the deployment of the U.S.-owned anti-ballistic missile THAAD system in South Korea. In a pre-trip interview with The Washington Post, President Moon asserted South Korea’s right to take an independent course when dealing with North Korea, THAAD, and U.S.-South Korean alliance issues, while emphasizing that he and Trump shared a common goal of “complete dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

President Moon was preceded by his foreign policy advisor, Moon Chung-in, who visited Washington D.C. during the second week of June. Moon Chung-in’s time in Washington received mixed reviews, mostly due to controversial statements he made during a speech at the Wilson Center. In his speech, Moon Chung-in suggested that South Korea may consult with the United States about scaling back joint military exercises if North Korea suspends missile and nuclear activities. In addition, he made a controversial remark about THAAD, saying “It's hard to accept to say as if THAAD is everything about the alliance.”

For President Moon, the challenge is to establish good relations with the Trump administration to maintain strong alliance, militarily and economically, but at the same time to show that South Korea is willing to act independently to maintain its interests. It is unclear what stance President Trump will choose during the meeting. During his presidential campaign and early days of his presidency, Trump maintained that he would secure greater alliance burden sharing from South Korea. However, he has acknowledged that he will seek South Korean help on the North Korean issue.

Ex-North Korea Detainee, Otto Warmbier’s Death and Its Implications for U.S. Policy Towards North Korea

Andrew Jung

On June 22, 2017 in Wyoming, Ohio, Otto Warmbier died, days after he was released from North Korean imprisonment and returned to the U.S. in a vegetative state. Warmbier travelled to North Korea in 2016 as part of a tour group, Young Pioneer Tours. He was arrested by North Korean authorities inPyongyang for stealing a political poster allegedly. In February 2016, heappeared on a video confessing to the crime and begging for forgiveness. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. By the time he was released, he has spent a total of 17 months imprisoned in North Korea. In the U.S., doctors revealed he suffered “significant brain damage” in contrast to the North Korean government’s claim that he developed botulism.

Various reactions came in response to Otto Warmbier’s return to the United States and his death. U.S. Senator of Ohio, Rob Portman attended the funeral and previously pressed for Warmbier’s release in meeting earlier with North Korean officials. Senator Portman said North Korea “needs to be held accountable” and called for stricter U.S. sanctions on North Korea. U.S. Senator Cory Gardner from Colorado, who also chairs the Senate subcommittee on East Asia, argued that North Korea should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, that travel to the country be banned, and that an embargo be placed on North Korea.

For the Trump administration, Warmbier’s death is likely to further complicate efforts to engage with the North Korean regime regarding its nuclear weapons. President Trump implied on Twitter that he has lost faith in China’s ability to influence North Korea. The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicatedthat the Trump administration is “clearly moving further away from direct engagement.” U.S Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson stated that also that a travel ban on North Korea is a possibility. On June 22, 2017, Congressmen Adam Schiff of California and Joe Wilson of South Carolina announced that their bipartisan North Korea Travel Control Act will move forward for discussion in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The bill, originally introduced in May 2017, attempts to ban American tourists from visiting North Korea and create requirements for a license to travel to the country.

Analysts also offered differing opinions on the likely implications of Warmbier’s death. Some like former governor, Bill Richardson who previously negotiated with North Korea on detained Americans there said discussions for dialogue will likely be further delayed until a full explanation for Warmbier’s death is given and three other Americans being imprisoned in North Korea are released (See this NYT article for information on the other three prisoners). In a New York Times interview, former diplomat Christopher Hill agreed that the U.S. government needs to demand that Pyongyang provide a full account of Warmbier’s medical condition when he was imprisoned and prioritize negotiations to release the other three American prisoners. To prevent future such tragedies, Hill suggested exerting intense diplomatic pressure through sanctions and imposing a travel ban.

Other analysts say that the Trump administration is unlikely to let Warmbier’s death be a setback to their earlier efforts in encouraging North Korea towards dialogue in exchange for the release of American detainees. John Delury, North Korea expert from Yonsei University suggested that North Korea released Warmbier to leave the door open for dialogue.

Warmbier’s death has also impacted tour companies operating in North Korea, which are now under further public scrutiny. Young Pioneer Tours in which Warmbier participated in its “New Year’s Party Tour” before his arrest has announced that it will no longer accept American tourists for its North Korea trips. Its website now says it considers “the risk to Americans visiting North Korea to be too high and as such we can no longer accept Americans travelling on U.S. passports for tours to North Korea.” Other tour companies, Koryo Tours and Uri Tours are also reviewing whether to continue having Americans travel to North Korea. Young Pioneer Tours have faced past concerns for its party and drinking culture in its tour groups, incidents of political insensitivity, and carefree attitude towards safety. John Delury said while tour groups can be part of “responsible engagement” with North Korea, he worried about tour companies who do not educate on the political sensitivities of travelling in North Korea and saw Warmbier’s trip framed as “go party and have a good time in Pyongyang” which responsible tour companies should not do.

Moon Jae-in Government May Arrange a Team to Review Deal on ‘Comfort Women’ Dispute

Jessie Chen

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administration may arrange a team to review the landmark deal with Japan over the wartime “comfort women” issue. It will assess official documents, including both sides’ director-level negotiations and testimonies from government officials. After the assessment, Moon will decide whether to renegotiate the deal.

In the early June, President Moon told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that “[t]he reality is the majority of our people cannot accept the comfort women agreement.” In an recent interview, he said that Japan must “take legal responsibility for its actions” and “make an official apology” to settle the wartime ‘comfort women’ issue. While calling for an official apology, President Moon has not asked for a renegotiation of the agreement yet.

Acknowledging the resolution to "comfort women" would take time, Moon toldJapanese ruling party Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that historical disputes and security should be separate, indicating that he looks to restore bilateral ties. He reiterated that the two sides should work together to respond to the North Korean nuclear and missiles issues. He further said, “We should not block the advancement of Korea-Japan bilateral relations just because of this one issue.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has announced that UN Secretary General António Guterres welcomed the Japan-South Korea deal on the "comfort women" issue, while Guterres met Abe in Italy. Critics of Japan also urged Moon to convince the South Korean public to accept the deal.

This Week in History

South Korea and Japan Normalize Relations

On June 22, 1965, the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan signed the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea. The treaty was composed of four agreements and 25 documents. Of the four agreements, the agreement economic cooperation stipulated that the Japanese government provide 200 million US dollars in loans and 300 million US dollars in grants to South Korea as a means to redress Japan’s colonial rule. This particular agreement remains highly controversial within South Korea and continues to be a thorny in South Korea–Japan relations. Within South Korea, some argue that the Park Chung-hee’s authoritarian government was wise to accept the payment from Japan and use them for South Korea’s industrialization. But others argue that the Park government ignored the will of the people and failed to distribute the payment to the individuals who directly suffered under Japanese colonial rule. In the context of South Korea-Japan relations, succeeding South Korean administration have largely viewed this agreement as an insufficient expression of Japanese apology and have continued to demand more reparations. But the succeeding Japanese administrations have viewed this agreement as the final chapter of Japan’s colonial reparations to South Korea.