South Korean President Seeks to Repair Ties with China During Beijing Visit
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in arrived in Beijing on Dec 13, 2017 for a four-day visit.
With the hope of rebuilding new political and business relations with China, President Moon said that “I believe that trust is most important not only in a relationship between persons but also between countries.” Chinese President Xi also said “China and South Korea have important common interests in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
President Moon, accompanied by more than 300 executives from South Korean companies such as Samsung, Hyundai, and LG, aimed to improve the business relations with China that has been frozen since China vocally criticized the deployment of U.S. anti-missile system, THAAD. The South Korean products, including entertainment and eCommerce sites, has been blocked since then. After the Moon-Xi meeting, the two side signed an agreement on trade, industry, environment, agriculture, and energy.
President Moon also announced his administration’s foreign policy approach, namely the “New Northern Policy” and the “New Southern Policy.” The new policies, sharing the common interests with China, would guide South Korea to join China’s project the Belt and Road initiative in Southeast Asia and the Eurasian.
Prior to Moon’s visit, on Dec 11, 2017, academics and journalists from the two sides held a high-level forum in Beijing to exchange views on bilateral cooperation. The forum was organized by the South Korea-China Future Development think tank and discussed tensions over the Korean Peninsula.
While both sides are targeting to rebuild the relations, an accident occurred in Beijing. According to South Korea's Yonhap News, a South Korean journalist who was beaten and injured as he tried to follow President Moon into a trade fair. South Korean spokesperson has expressed regrets to the Chinese government and requested “a clear investigation and follow-up measures.”
On Nov 26, 2017, Cho Kuk, the Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs,issued a statement in response to a petition for abortion rights. The petition, originally posted on the South Korean President’s website at the end of September, had garnered over 230,000 signatures by the end of October. The Moon administration in South Korea has pledged to respond to petitions that receive at least 200,000 signatures within a month.
Abortion in South Korea is prohibited according to Sections 269 and 270 of the 1953 Criminal Code of the Republic of Korea. However, physicians may perform abortions if pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, if the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to jeopardize the mother’s health, or if the woman or her spouse suffers from a hereditary mental or physical disease. Married women must obtain their spouse’s permission before receiving an abortion and, any abortion, regardless of circumstance, is prohibited after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Women who receive abortions can receive up to a year of imprisonment while physicians who perform them can face up to two years.
Secretary Cho’s statement included a summary of the current legal status of abortion in South Korea and government plans to conduct a survey on abortion. South Korea’s Constitutional Court is also reviewing the country’s anti-abortion law. Regardless of abortion’s legal status in South Korea, those who seek it can find it either at illegal clinics or by going abroad. Some choose to take medication such as Mifegyne, an illegal abortion pill that has become widespread in South Korea. [Visit the Blue House’s website to see a discussion and live opinion poll on abortion’s legality.]
South Korea Revises Anti-Graft Law
On Dec 11, 2017, South Korea’s Anti-Corruption & Civil Rights Commission (ACRC) revised its anti-graft law, also known as the Kim Young-ran Act, named after the former ACRC chief. The revisions include increasing the monetary limit for gifts from the previous limit of 50,000 won to 100,000 won ($90) as long as they are agricultural and fisheries products. Other types of products are still capped at 50,000 won ($XX) as gifts. The ACRC also lowered the limit of cash gifts for weddings and funerals from 100,000 won to 50,000 won ($XX). Thelimit on paying meals for civil servants, teachers, and journalists was still kept at a maximum of 30,000 won.
The revisions to the anti-graft law was made after over one year it passed inSeptember 2016. The law was hailed as a landmark legislation to fight corruption as public grievances over collusion between government and business were widespread. One issue of scrutiny was the sponsorship relationships in which government officials use their influence to favor certain business interests in exchange for expensive gifts and meals.
The anti-graft law has caused mixed reactions in South Korea. In a September 2017 survey by Korea Institute of Public Administration, 89% of the public and 95% of civil servants support the law. However, businesses and other industries have been pushing back. Spending on gifts at major corporations has decreased by 15% in the first half of 2017. During Chuseok, many stores, such as Lotte saw sales of items less than the limit of 50,000 won increase by over 50%. Restaurants have also been hit hard as sales have decreased by 66% among 420 businesses surveyed in September 2017. Restaurants haveappealed for the cap to be raised due to having to make staff cuts, menu revisions, and closing some locations. The Moon administration has allowed the recent revisions under the pressure from agricultural and fishing industries that were also hit hard by the anti-graft law. The South Korean government hopesto implement the law before the February 16 Lunar New Year holiday to boost sales of those products. In Dec 4, 2017 before the revisions were made, Realmeter poll reported that 60% of respondents support the law being revised to ease limits on gifts.
The revisions has also attracted criticism in South Korea. The law’s architect, Kim Young-ran spoke out against the changes and doubted that it would really help the agricultural and fishing industries. The Korea Times editorial alsocriticized the move, suggesting that the Moon Jae-in administration is backtracking its commitment to fight public corruption. Critics also said that easing restrictions for specific industries will allow other industries to demand for similar revisions.
House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Hearing on North Korean Human Rights
On Dec. 12, 2017, the House Foreign Affairs had a subcommittee hearing on protecting North Korean refugees. Witnesses at the hearing included two North Korean defectors as well as the Executive Director for The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea Greg Scarlatoiu, the Senior Advisor for CSIS’s Korea Chair Robert King, and the Chairwoman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition Suzanne Scholte.
During the first part of the hearing, the two North Korean defectors gave their personal stories. The first witness, Hyeona Ji, had first defected with her family to China in 1998. In China, the Chinese police immediately repatriated her family, with the exception of her father, back to North Korea.
Once back in North Korea, Ministry of State Security officials tortured Ji because they found her with a bible, which is illegal in North Korea. Later she was sent to a detention center where she saw pregnant woman forced to do hard labor until they miscarried their babies. In the course of her life, she has escaped four times and had been repatriated three times until finally making it to South Korea in 2007. At the end of her testimony, Ji urged China to stop repatriating North Korean defectors who are sure to face harsh treatment or death. At the end, she shared a poem she wrote about her experiences:
I am afraid, is anyone out there?
This is hell, is anyone out there?
Despite my urgent pleas, no one is opening the door for me. Is anyone there?
Please, hear our cries.
Hear the pain of us getting stepped on. Is anyone there? People are dying. My friend is dying also.
I am calling and calling, why is there no answer?
Is there really no one there?
The second panel featured three American experts on the topic. The first witness, Greg Scarlatoiu, described North Korean defectors experiences in China, saying “up to 90 percent of North Korean women and girls in China fall prey to traffickers in China who sell them into sexual slavery, either in forced marriages or prostitution.” This sad situation exists because the defectors are vulnerable and the Chinese government has a policy of repatriation rather than protection of North Korean refugees.
This is contrary to China’s responsibilities under international law to allow the refugees access to the UN Refugee Agency. It is also against the legal principle of refoulement, meaning sending refugees back to a country where they are likely to be persecuted based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
All of the witnesses at the hearing described the need for China to live up to its obligations to protect North Korean refugees. All of them also stressed the importance of remaining focused on the North Korean human rights issue and the need to protect refugees by ending its repatriation policy.
Northeast Asia Young Leaders' Conference Takeaways
On Nov 27-28, 2017, the Pacific Forum CSIS in conjunction with SK Networks hosted the Northeast Asia Young Leaders’ Security Seminar in Seoul, South Korea. This conference brought together academics, aspiring diplomats, and other young professionals aged 25-35 from the U.S., China, Japan, and South Korea. Each group from the four countries were instructed to respond to a hypothetical security crisis scenario in which North Korea threatens to launch a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile at the U.S. The crisis-response simulation was moderated by Ralph Cossa (President, Pacific Forum CSIS), Brad Glosserman (Senior Advisor – Non-resident, Pacific Forum CSIS), and In-Bum Chun (Visiting Fellow – Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Brookings). This conference was a follow-up to a previous U.S.-Japan-South Korea simulation hosted in Maui, HI in June 2017 with former and current- policymakers and experts.
One speaker highlighted how the Trump administration has elevated the importance of the North Korean nuclear issue. This speaker argued that President Trump has made dealing with North Korea his #1 foreign policy and national security issue. President Trump’s emphatic focus on the issue represents a major shift from former presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
In contrast to the senior leaders from the U.S., Japan, and South Korea at the Maui event, who unanimously agreed to destroy the missile on the launchpad during the simulation, the U.S. and South Korea Young Leaders were divided on the issue. Among the U.S. team, some thought the potential retaliation for striking the missile site would lead to a worse outcome than taking no action at all. However, a plurality of the group members believed it was essential to destroy the missile. This mirrored the debate held by the South Korean team, which was unable to reach a consensus on this point. The U.S. group also split over whether North Korea could maintain the degree of military readiness necessary to continue their brinkmanship.
The participants at the Young Leaders conference also placed stronger emphasis on mutual consultation with other parties to minimize surprises and misunderstandings about potential actions relative to the more senior participants in May. This may be attributable to generational differences. First, most of the Young Leaders lack first-hand memories of brinkmanship during the Cold War, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Second, the Young Leaders growing up with easy access to information and instant communication online in a more globalized world could explain the more consensus-based approach.
The conference further focused on the logistical difficulties and complicated politics involving the evacuation of foreign nationals from the Korean peninsula in the event of a war. Participants noted that the host country and ambassador’s priorities differ greatly. The former has an incentive to not create a panic while the latter has an obligation to protect their citizens. Mass evacuations in a time of war require a great deal of resources and coordination with the host nation.
Finally, the issue of cybersecurity issues was featured prominently in the crisis scenario. The U.S. Young Leaders team placed the most focus on cybersecurity and cyber-response options compared to their counterparts. The U.S. Young Leaders concerns stemmed from dealing with cyber-attacks allegedly from North Korea, China, and Russia over the past few years. The U.S. and the Chinese teams diverged over restricting North Korea’s internet access through Chinese territory. Finally, participants were surprised to learn that restrictions on Internet infrastructure has not been included in any prior round of UN sanctions on North Korea.
This Week in History: Kim Dae-Jung elected President of South Korea
On Dec 18, 1997, Kim Dae-jung was elected President of South Korea defeating his main presidential opponent Kim Hoi-chang at 40.3% of the votes against Kim Hoi-chang’s 38.7%. Kim Dae-jung became the first opposition leader to win the presidency. Kim Dae-jung was a vocal critic of both authoritarian regimes of Rhee Syng-man and Park Chung-hee. He has been arrested several times by the Park Chung-hee administration and at one time was arrested by Korean Central Intelligence Agency agents in Japan in 1973. After being exiledin the United States between 1982-1985, he returned to South Korea in 1985 and resumed his role as a political opposition leader. After losing two presidential elections against his opposition rival, Kim Young-sam, he formedhis own political party, the National Congress for New Politics. He won the 1997 presidential election due to Kim Young-sam’s ruling Democratic Liberal Party’s unpopularity due to the 1997 financial crisis and corruption scandals in his administration. As the president-elect, Kim Dae-jung faced many problems facing South Korea, such as implementing IMF’s bailout package for the financial crisis.
Hosted by International Student Conferences and Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA
8:00 AM- 12:00 PM, Thursday, January 4, 2018
National Press Club
The Holeman Lounge
529 14th Street NW, 13th Floor
Washington, DC 20045
Shifting Perspectives: South Korean Views of the Alliance, North Korea, Japan and China
12:00 PM- 1:30 PM, Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Korea Economic Institute
1800 K Street, NW Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006
National Committee on North Korea Internship
Volunteer Internship, Korea Studies, Spring 2018
Council on Foreign Relations