Issue 49: November 20, 2018 - December 5, 2018


North Korea Looms Large During President Moon's Trip to the G20 Summit

Michael Buckalew

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts at the G20 summit largely focused on continuing to promote reconciliation with North Korea and denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. On Nov 28, 2018, an agreement was reached to have President Moon Jae-in meet with U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20.

The Moon-Trump meeting on Nov 30, 2018 focused on a number of issues. First, there are concerns that denuclearization efforts have stalled since the Trump-Kim summit in June 2018. There have been increasing frustrations by the U.S. with the “...mismatch in progress between U.S.-North Korea negotiations and inter-Korean relations…” President Moon sought to allay those concerns and pushed for continued negotiations. President Trump reaffirmed his commitment to hold a second summit with Kim Jong Un in early 2019 with the venue still to be determined.

Furthermore, according to the White House, the two leaders “reaffirmed their commitment to achieve the final, verified denuclearization of [North Korea]”. Also according to President Trump’s Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the U.S. and South Korea agreed that “maintaining vigorous enforcement of existing sanctions to ensure the DPRK understands that denuclearization is the only path[.]”

President Moon also sought to rally support for his denuclearization efforts indirectly towards North Korea.  The South Korean government emphasized thevisit of Kim Jong Un to South Korea, which they hope will occur before the end of 2018. Currently it’s unclear if that will happen then or early next year. It’s clear that efforts at denuclearization and reaching a long-term peace agreement with North Korea remains at the center of the President Moon’s foreign policy.

Finally, President Moon also met with Saudi crown prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on the sidelines of the G20. Following the conclusion of the G20 Summit President Moon is travelling to New Zealand for a state visit.

South Korea and Medical Cannabis

John Seymour

On November 23, South Korea became the first Asian country to legalize medical marijuana. The National Assembly moved to amend the Act on the Management of Narcotic Drugs, legalizing the sale and trade of cannabis for medical purposes, and this change could take effect as soon as early 2019.

However, there will be stringent criteria for access to medical marijuana. Prospective patients will need a doctor’s prescription and permission from the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety to procure cannabis from the Korea Orphan Drug Center, a public organization for the distribution of rarely prescribed drugs. Recreational cannabis will continue to be illegal.

Other Asian countries could follow South Korea’s lead in the near future. BothThailand and Malaysia have considered legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes to address the social impacts of strict, no-tolerance drug laws. Other countries, including China and Singapore, are interested in the potential economic benefits of cannabis-related substances such as cannabinoids and cannabidiol. 

South Korea’s move to allow medical marijuana follows similar developments in North America. Ten U.S. states, plus Washington, DC, permit recreational cannabis while a total of thirty-three have access for medical marijuana. In addition, Canada legalized recreational use of cannabis on October 17. However, in response the South Korean Embassy in Canada announced that it would remain illegal for South Korean citizens to use cannabis, even in countries where the drug is legal.

Fire at South Korean KT Building

Amanda Wong

A fire that broke out at a building belonging to telecommunications conglomerate KT in the Ahyeon district of western Seoul on Saturday, Nov 24, 2018 caused a major network disruption in the area. Mobile and internet networks were down, which impacted both businesses and consumers as credit card payment systems operating on KT’s networks were unable to function.

Convenience stores, cafes and restaurants using KT networks were only able to accept cash payments, which led to a downturn in their businesses. University students in the area were also affected due to the disruption of the Wi-Fi connections at cafes. Police stations, fire stations and even hospitals had problems with landline phone services and had their communications disrupted.

The fire is estimated to have burnt about 150 metres of underground fibre optic cables and created a loss of about 7 million USD in damages. It was completely extinguished about 10 hours after the first report, but networks were still not fully restored as of Sunday, Nov 25, 2018. Authorities have also estimated that it will take a week for the systems to be completely normalized

KT has stated that it will waive a month’s worth of phone bills for subscribers who were negatively affected by the network outages, and is committed to creating a plan for compensating losses suffered by business owners as well. In addition, the fire has drawn attention to safety regulations, and KT has pledged to conduct safety inspections on all its safety networks.

The company is also working with fire authorities to identify the cause of the fire. Police have ruled out arson as a cause. The Ministry of Science and ICT is also set to inspect telecommunications facilities across South Korea, including those with D-ratings. The ministry also has plans for a task force (to be established by the end of the year) that will work on comprehensive schemes to prevent such large-scale interruptions to telecommunications networks.

The Inter-Korean Railway Project Kicks Off

Jaemin Baek

On Nov. 30, 2018 a South Korean train carrying South Korean government officials and infrastructure experts crossed the DMZ to begin their 18-day survey of over 750 miles of North Korean railway tracks. During the survey, experts will work to determine the funds and actions required to upgrade North Korean rails to service modern-South Korean trains in the event that North and South Korean railways are linked. Previously, South Korean-run state rail operator Korail estimated in 2012 that upgrading North Korean rails to South Korean standards would cost a total of $306 million - however, the figure is likely to have grown since due to the lack of repairs. 

Ultimately, both North Korea and South Korea’s governments hope to fulfill a commitment made in the April Panmunjom Agreement to connect the railways and roads of the two nations. Observers note that Seoul hopes to hold a ground-breaking ceremony by the end of the year and have taken advance steps to ensure its possibility.

On Dec. 2, 2018 the South Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport determined that a key highway to be constructed for an inter-Korean highway running the western coast of the country would be exempt from the standard economic feasibility study. A ministry official stated that the exemption decision was due to the nature of the project which is “a subject of inter-Korean cooperation that cannot be determined solely by economic efficiency[.]”

This Week in History: Former South Korean President Roh Tae-woo Indicted for Corruption

On December 5, 1995, former South Korean President Roh Tae-woo was indicted for corruption. He was indicted along with 24 business executives in connection to Roh Tae-woo’s $650 million slash fund in which bribes were given in exchange for government favors and contracts. Roh Tae-woo earlier admitted to receiving money from the businessmen when he was arrested on Nov 16. On December 22, 1995 he was also indicted along with another former President Chun Doo-hwan for the 1979 military coup that brought them both to power. 


Korea Innovation Center Year End Party: STARTUP DEMO DAY
Hosted by Korea Innovation Center- Washington DC
5:30PM- 9:00PM, Friday, December 7, 2018
WeWork White House
1440 G St NW
Washington, DC

The open society and its enemies in South Korea: From right authoritarianism — to left?
3:00 PM- 5:00 PM, Tuesday, December 11, 2018
American Enterprise Institute
1789 Massachusetts Avenue NW 
Washington, DC 20005

Beyond Summit Diplomacy: Redefining North Korea's Place in the World
Hosted by Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia (PISA)
12:00 PM- 2:00 PM, Wednesday, December 12, 2018
The Elliott School of International Affairs
1957 E Street, NW, Room 505
Washington, DC 20052

Building Trust through Music Diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula
Hosted by The George Washington University Institute for Korean Studies
6:00 PM- 8:00 PM, Monday, December 17, 2018
The George Washington University on Mount Vernon Campus
Post Hall, Academic Building
2100 Foxhall Road NW
Washington, DC 20007