Issue 44: September 1 - 19, 2018

Sejong Society Events

Save the Date!
U.S. - South Korea Alliance Restructuring
6:30 PM- 8:30 PM, Friday, October 12, 2018
Elliott School of International Affairs
1957 E St. NW, Suite 505, 
Washington, DC 20052


MERS Outbreak in South Korea

Andrew Jung

On Sept 8, 2018 a South Korean man was diagnosed with a case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), the first case since July 2015. MERS is an illness caused by a coronavirus in which victims develop severe respiratory problems, such as fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. All cases have been linked to travel in and around the Arabian Peninsula and is contracted through close physical contact. The largest outbreak of MERS outside the Middle East was in South Korea in 2015 with 38 deaths and 186 people infected

The patient that was diagnosed with MERS recently returned from travelling in Kuwait. According to health authorities, he was feeling sick upon arrival in South Korea’s Incheon International Airport and immediately took a taxi to Samsung Medical Center. He and 22 others that were in close contact with him were placed in quarantine. As of Sept 11, 2018, ten people in close  contact with him were released after testing negative for MERS. However, they will be monitored by the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) during the 14 day  incubation period for the disease. 

South Korea’s health authorities are still investigating the causes of how the person contracted MERS. Although the patient was flying from Kuwait, he transferred to another flight in Dubai before arriving in South Korea. South Korea’s health authorities suspect that the disease was contracted in Kuwait. KCDC received the list of passengers from the Dubai flight to Incheon, but not from Kuwait flight to Dubai in order to verify who sat with the patient. Emirates Airlines has declined to provide the list due to privacy issues and since that flight did not land in South Korea. KCDC is still seeking their cooperation. 

KCDC is also monitoring the conditions of over 400 people that were in contact with the patient. KCDC is also looking for 50 foreign travellers in South Korea who may have also made contact with the patient. Kuwait’s Ministry of Health also doubts that MERS infection originated in Kuwait as test results of ten people who were with the patient came up negative. Both KCDC and World Health Organizations inspectors will be headed to Kuwait to examine the test results. 

North Korea to Host Blockchain Conference in October

Michael Buckalew

Over the past few years, North Korea has made their presence known in the blockchain and cryptocurrency spheres. Blockchain, a distributed peer-to-peer form of private key cryptography, serves as a foundation that cryptocurrencies are developed and operated on. North Korea has taken advantage of this technological revolution to generate funds through cryptocurrency mining or hacking operations.

North Korea announced it will hold its first Korean International Blockchain Conference on Oct 1st in Pyongyang. According to a security expert speaking to Radio Free Asia on condition of anonymity, “North Korea appears to be trying to show off its capabilities when it comes to cutting-edge crypto and blockchain technologies.” The two-day conference will consist of a meet-and-greet with North Korean industry leaders and experts in attendance.

Hosting the event in Pyongyang would almost certainly have to come with theblessing of Kim Jong-un. It is another demonstration of North Korea’s efforts to develop capabilities in cryptocurrencies. From Nov 2017, Pyongyang University began offering courses on cryptocurrencies. In April 2018, a North Korean tourism company announced the launch of the “Koryo Coin”, a new cryptocurrency. State actors such as North Korea have turned to cryptocurrencies as a response to international sanctions.

North Korea has a well-established reputation as a bad actor in the cyber and crypto space. They are believed to be responsible for attacks on the Bithumb and Coinus coin exchanges in South Korea. Recently a new crypto stealing campaign named “Applejeus” was initiated according to Kaspersky, a cybersecurity firm. Also, North Korea mined or stole 11,000 bitcoins (BTC) in 2017, valued at about $200 million USD.

These attacks also expended to cyberattacks on Japanese coin exchanges such as CoinCheck, resulting in attackers gaining $534 million USD. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service briefed Japanese lawmakers regarding an investigation of the attack in January 2018.

Besides their checkered history, it remains to be seen if the conference will attract many attendees. North Korea has strict travel restrictions for foreigners entering the country. This is paired with the U.S. and other countries banning their citizens from travelling to North Korea, citing sanctions and safety reasons.

Moon and Kim to Meet for a Third Inter-Korean Summit this Week

Jaemin Baek

Following up on the second bilateral summit held in May 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un will hold their third bilateral meeting later this week between Sept 18-20, 2018 in Pyongyang, North Korea. 

Observers anticipate that President Moon will likely attempt to convince Chairman Kim to continue to work with the United States on denuclearization, particularly in the context of a potential second Trump-Kim summit. In the run up to the summit, President Moon called for the United States and North Korea to make “bold decisions” and restart the currently stalled nuclear talks. In preparation for the meeting, North Korea and South Korea made a series of preparatory milestones including the opening of a Liaison Office in Kaesong on Sept 14, 2018 and holding of working-level military talks

The Moon administration is also planning on using the third bilateral meeting as an opportunity to deepen inter-Korean ties and further the relevant topics - particularly economic cooperation. The heads of major South Korean conglomerates, such as Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong, SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won, LG Group Chairman Koo Gwang-mo, and Hyundai Motor Group Vice Chairman Kim Yong-hwan will all be attending economic meetings with North Korean officials. 

Within South Korea, there appears to be a level of disagreement as to how to proceed with inter-Korean relations. While the Moon administration extended an offer for all Korean party leaders to attend the third bilateral summit in Pyongyang, the opposition conservative Liberty Korea Party and Bareunmirae Party both rejected the offer claiming that the invitation was designed as a political move. 

More notably, while the Moon administration submitted to the National Assembly legislation to ratify and implement the Panmunjom Agreement, the opposition Liberty Korea Party and the Bareunmirae Party both criticized the budgetary request of US$372.63 million as excessive and lacking transparency. As a result, despite the best efforts of the Moon administration to ratify the Panmunjom Agreement before the third bilateral meeting, the Liberty Korea Party blocked ratification but stated it would reconsider implementing legislation following the summit.

Japanese Prime Minister Offered Financial Aid to North Korea's Denuclearization

Jessie Chen

On Sept 10th, 2018, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan was ready to provide financial aid to North Korea when it resolves the issues of denuclearization, missile tests, and Japanese abductions.

Prime Minister Abe and South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon agreed on Sept 11, 2018,  to jointly work on North Korean denuclearization, prior to the third inter-Korean summit. Abe said “I would like to express my respect to your country’s persistent efforts seeking to improve South and North Korea’s ties and bridge between the U.S. and the North.”

In June, Abe has expressed a potential offer to finance North Korea’s denuclearisation costs, while asking the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to schedule a Japan-North Korea summit and suspend nuclear development activities. 

Japan also seeks to beef up its military budget amid rising threats from North Korea and an expanding China. While requiring approval by the Japanese parliament, the Japanese government raised military spending by 2.1% from 2018 to $47.6 billion. Furthermore, Prime Minister Abe plans to revise the Japanese Constitution by 2020 to eliminate its limitation of military use during crisis, which is controversial in Japan.  

This Week in History: The Defection of North Korean No Kum-sok (Kenneth Rowe)

On September 21, 1953, seven weeks after an armistice ended the Korean War, North Korean fighter pilot, No Gum-sok flew a Soviet-made MIG-15 plane towards Kimpo, a United States air base near Seoul, South Korea with intentions to defect. The U.S. Air Force was unaware of the incoming plane until No Gum-sok landed in the base. While he was interrogated by the Americans, that was when he found out about Operation Moolah, in which the U.S. Air Force offered a $100,000 reward to any enemy combatants who deliver them a Soviet MIG fighter jets. No Gum-sok was given the reward,and he also worked as a contractor for U.S. intelligence, and settled in the United States. He studied mechanical engineering at University of Delaware and worked as a aeronautical engineer. He reunited with his mother who was able to defect to South Korea and then moved to the United States. His story wasfeatured in Blaine Harden’s book, The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot. He also wrote a memoir, A MIG-15 to Freedom. 

Other Events

Developing Negotiating Strategies for Dealing with North Korea
12:00 PM- 1:30 PM, Thursday, September 20, 2018
Korea Economic Institute of America
1800 K St NW Suite 300
Washington, DC 20009

North Korean Military Proliferation in the Middle East and Africa
4:30 PM- 5:30 PM, Monday, September 24, 2018
Institute of World Politics
1521 16th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20036

2018 naisA Global Protégé Fair
6:00 PM- 9:00 PM, Wednesday, September 26, 2018
CBRE 9th Floor Conference Venue 750 9th Street Northwest, Suite 900 Washington, DC 20001
16th KORUS Festival 2018
October 6, 2018- October 7, 2018
8100 Tysons Corner Ctr
McLean, VA 22102-4506


Northeast Asia Associate
The Asia Group

Fall 2018 East Asia – 38 North Internship
Stimson Center