Sejong Digest 2.0 - Issue 16 (July 10 - 24, 2017)

President Moon's Berlin Speech

Patrick Niceforo

Earlier this month, President Moon Jae-in visited Berlin, Germany and outlined his peace initiative for the Korean peninsula. The first three points in the policy direction touched on President Moon’s commitment to pursuing long lasting peace through denuclearization and a peace treaty. President Moon also reaffirmed his commitment to pursuing joint economic cooperation and nonpolitical exchanges with North Korea.

The next section included four policy objectives. President Moon prioritized a) coordinating family reunions between the two Koreas, b) building peace via sports diplomacy, c) mutual cessation of hostilities around the Military Demarcation Line and, and d) establishing inter-Korean dialogue.

President Moon also made some interesting points. First, he established denuclearization as a criteria for achieving peace on the Korean peninsula. Second,  he stated that South Korea does “not wish for North Korea’s collapse, and will not work towards any kind of unification through absorption.” Third, President Moon tied economic cooperation to progress on denuclearization.

However, getting North Korea to denuclearize may be a difficult, if not impossible, task. For Kim Jong-un, maintaining a credible nuclear arsenal is the key to regime and national security. Moreover, North Korea’s record of testing nuclear and missile devices in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2016, and 2017 indicates a strong commitment to its weapons programs. Kim Jong-un vowed just days before President Moon’s Berlin speech that nuclear weapons would not be on the negotiating table.

Other challenges for the Moon administration include policy gaps between South Korea and two other key players in the region, China and the United States. China’s top priority in the Korean peninsula has long been maintaining stability. While China agrees on the importance of denuclearization, there aredisagreements about how best to approach it. A controversial issue in recent months has been the United States’ deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea, which has not only drawn harsh criticism from China, but has also driven a wedge between China and South Korea.

Like his predecessors, President Moon has inherited an uncooperative North Korea and a strategic dilemma. North Korea test fired a ballistic missile just a few days after President Moon’s inauguration in which he stated his willingness to pursue inter-Korean dialogue. Similarly, former Presidents Roh Moo-hyun (2003-2008) and Lee Myung-bak (2008-2013) experienced belligerent behavior from North Korea despite their relatively more softline overtures. However, President Moon also indicated in his speech his willingness to continue sanctions and pressure in response to additional North Korean provocations. Balancing between dovish and hawkish strategies may prove to be difficult for President Moon in the current political climate.

South Korea Proposes Inter-Korean Talks

Leon Whyte

Following President Moon Jae-in’s speech in Berlin about inter-Korean relations, South Korea has proposed talks with North Korea on military issues and family reunifications. South Korea had originally suggested military talks on July 21 to be held at Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

North Korea has rebuffed the South’s outreach, describing it as “nonsense” to have talks while South Korea maintains sanctions against the North. However, South Korea has not been deterred by Pyongyang’s refusal. A Unification Ministry spokesperson stated, “The [South Korean] government believes that we should not be swayed by North Korea's attitude and we need to make efforts (to improve inter-Korean relations) step by and step and in a calm manner,” and further added, “We expect North Korea to respond to our dialogue offer as soon as possible."

President Moon has framed these talks as separate from efforts to denuclearize North Korea, aimed at goals such as calming tensions and humanitarian concerns. Moon has also made it clear that he viewed inter-Korean talks as separate from multilateral denuclearization efforts and that any decision to resume such talks was entirely up to South Korea.

North Korea has previously stated that it would not hold family reunions until the repatriation of dozen women, now in South Korea, who defected from a North Korean-run restaurant in China. North Korea claims that the women were kidnapped, while South Korea claims they defected by choice. Another reason for delaying the talks is the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises that happen in August, which North Korea considers a dry run for an invasion of North Korea. Inter-Korean military talks have not been held since 2014 and family reunions have not been held since 2015.

Impact of Netflix for South Korean Dramas

Andrew Jung

Netflix has seen a considerable return on its investment in the South Korean market since 2016. The number of Netflix subscribers in South Korea is forecasted to increase from 877,000 in 2016 to 3.85 million by 2020. Netflixaccredited part of its success to its current popular shows, including those produced by local producers, such as Okja that debuted in the Cannes Film Festival in May. Okja directed by famed South Korean director, Bong Joon-ho is about a young girl who tries to protect a large genetically-engineered pig named Okja. The movie features well-known stars including Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal. Okja is an example of Netflix’s recent efforts to expand its international market, particularly in Asia.

Netflix Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos attributed the success of its South Korea-based film Okja to the company’s growth in South Korean subscribers. Okja was not shown by three major cinema companies in South Korea due to resistance to streaming simultaneously as theatrical releases. However, it stillenjoyed financial success in other theaters and brought more awareness of Netflix to South Koreans. The growth may accelerate as long as Netflix invests in content that caters to the audiences and already released South Korean dramas, such as The Sound of Your Heart and My Only Love Song.

The partnership with Netflix also offers new opportunities for the South Korean TV industry in light of China’s cultural ban on South Korean products. Thetensions between China and South Korea over the U.S.-South Korea partnership on the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system caused China to retaliate with a ban on Korean dramas and K-pop performances. TV industry analysts note that the partnership between Netflix and South Korean TV dramas is partly due to China’s ban causing Netflix to be seen as an alternative market to showcase South Korean dramas internationally. In return, Netflix relaxed its demand for exclusive rights to shows. For example, Netflix agreed to sell the exclusive rights to drama Man x Man to overseas networks just three months after airing in South Korea. Netflix also carried little Korean content until recently,l and only started investing in quality shows this year. Man x Manwas the first local Korean series to be shown on Netflix back in April 2017. The show’s broadcasting company, JTBC also signed a licensing agreement, granting Netflix access to 600 hours of its premier shows.

Both Netflix and South Korean TV industry stand to benefit from the partnership as the agreement allows Netflix to expand to wider global markets, especially in Asia riding on the popularity of Korean dramas and South Korean producers and broadcasters can sell their content, both to Netflix and other overseas distributors. Netflix is also seen as an alternative to air Korean shows when the China market is blocked. My Only Love Song was originally made for the Chinese market but was sold to Netflix instead. However, industry expertswarn that the South Korean broadcasting companies must be cautious in negotiating with Netflix. Netflix may request exclusive international broadcasting rights as it is available in 190 countries. Some say that the rights are being sold at a lower price than its actual value and being overlooked by South Korean companies due to the void in the Chinese market.  

British Secretary Supports Japan Against North Korea's Threats

Jessie Chen

On July 21, 2017, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson met Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida and held the sixth Japan-U.K. Foreign Ministers' Strategic Dialogue in Tokyo. The two sides discussed how to enhance bilateral relations on areas including security cooperation, trade issues, and regional affairs.

During a joint news conference, Johnson said that “Britain stands shoulder to shoulder alongside Japan in our steadfast determination to stop North Korea's persistent violation of U.N. resolutions.” He also addressed that China should use its influence to increase pressure on North Korea, forcing North Korea back to the negotiating table.

Facing challenges of international order, such as North Korea’s nuclear and missile launch and East and South China Sea territorial disputes, Kishidaconfirmed that Japan and the U.K. share basic values and are global strategic partners. He further stated that the two sides would like to maintain the free-and-open international community.

Recently, North Korea claimed that it did successfully test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Expert, David Wright, deems that it could reach “all of Alaska.” Johnson said that the successful test launched was“a reckless provocation."

In addition to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, the two leaders alsoshared the opinions regarding regional affairs regarding Russia, East Asia, and the Middle East.

People's Party in Crisis

Benjamin Lee

The South Korean People’s Party is facing an unprecedented crisis due to a series of political scandals. As of the second week of July, approval ratings for the People’s Party were at historical lows around 5%, marking the lowest rating among the five major parties. The People’s Party’s low approval rating largely has to do with false allegations the party made against the then presidential candidate Moon Jae-in during the election.

Four days prior to the presidential election, People’s Party alleged that Moon had used his influence to ensure preferential treatment for his son’s employment at the Korea Employment Information Service. To support their allegations, the People’s Party offered recordings and screenshots of a messenger application that indicated Moon’s son had received preferential treatment. Although Moon won the election despite the allegations, the personal nature of the allegations exacerbated tensions between the People’s party and the Minjoo party.

The allegations triggered  a political scandal in the People’s party as it turned out that a party member had fabricated evidence to make the allegations. She admitted that the recordings were between her and her brother and that the screenshots were Photoshopped. The head of the People’s Party Emergency Planning Committee issued a public apology and promised to conduct an intra-party investigation into those who were involved in the fabrication process. Two weeks later, former People’s Party Presidential candidate Ahn also issued a delayed public apology and stated that he will assume all political and moral responsibilities.

The case is now in the court’s hands as the Prosecutor’s Office put the party member who fabricated evidence under emergency arrest for violation of election laws. The central issue in this case will be whether party leadership was involved. The suspected People’s Party member claims that she received clear instructions from the party leadership to proceed with fabricated evidence despite her moral qualms. The People’s Party leadership denies any involvement by the party leadership and argues that fabrication of evidence was a personal indiscretion.

Regardless of whether the People’s Party’s leadership was involved in the making up of false allegations, polls for the past two months indicate that the Korean public is overwhelmingly disappointed at the People’s Party. People’s Party emerged with the promises of “a new type of politics,” but the public largely views this kind of scandal as politics as usual. It remains to be seen whether the People’s Party can recover from this scandal and become a viable force for reform in Korean politics. 

This Week in History: Constitution Day

On July 17, 1948, South Korea inaugural national assembly adopted its first constitution. [See full text in Korean]  In the preamble of the constitution, it stated that the constitution succeeds the spirit of independence in the March 1st Movement as well as the ideology behind the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea. The constitution established a government that combined features of both presidential and parliamentary system. For instance, the President was the head of the government as well as the leader of the executive branch, but the President was to be elected in the parliament. The constitution also laid out the outlines of checks and balances between the three branches of government as well as the basic rights for South Korean citizens. Since its adoption in 1948, the constitution underwent nine more revisions and the current Moon administration is also considering a constitutional revisionnext year.