Issue 29: January 24 - February 5, 2018

Sejong Society Event

A Book Talk/Signing Event with Scott Snyder
Hosted by the Sejong Society and the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS
7:00 PM- 8:30 PM, Tuesday, February 6, 2018
SAIS Rome Auditorium
1619 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036


Is the #MeToo Movement Spreading to South Korea?

Andrew Jung

Recently in South Korea, public prosecutors have been facing allegations of workplace sexual harassment. Earlier on Jan 30, 2018, a female prosecutor, Seo Ji-hyeon revealed on the prosecutors’ internal message board and then on cable news that she had experienced sexual harassment since 2010 (See her essay on the message board in Korean). She wrote that in 2010, she was groped at a funeral by then-senior prosecutor Ahn Tae-gun, who was recently fired by the Ministry of Justice. Ahn Tae-gun claims he does not remember the incident due to being intoxicated. After making her complaint, Seo claimed to have suffered retaliation and that Choi Gyo-il, who headed Ministry of Justice’s Criminal Affairs Bureau, tried to cover up the complaint. Choi is currently a National Assembly member from the Liberty Korea Party and has denied allegations of a cover-up. In addition, he was accused by another female prosecutor, Lim Eun-jeong, of pressuring her to stop encouraging Seo Ji-hyeon to testify. 

On the message board, Seo Ji-hyeon also described 8 years of verbal abuse and sexual harassment by her senior male colleagues, who made inappropriate jokes, expressed dislike of female prosecutors, and made sexual advances toward her. She also shared stories about sexual assault cases handled only by female prosecutors and a senior prosecutor who refused to pursue a rape case,implying that it was the woman’s fault for going to a nightclub. 

Seo Ji-hyeon’s revelations have prompted a public outcry for an investigation. 225 prosecutors signed a message supporting her and other female lawyers revealed their own experiences of sexual harassment. Judges also joined in support with one proposing a “Me First” movement on social media calling for people to speak up against offenders. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in responded to the incident by calling on the government to encourage an environment that will allow other victims to come forward. 

On Jan 31, 2018, Supreme Prosecutors Office announced that an independent team of both prosecutors and outside experts headed by Cho-Heejin, a female senior prosecutor, in Seoul will investigate all sexual harassment allegations in the whole organization, as well as investigate former prosecutors, such as Ahn Tae-gun for their actions. However, many observers also called for an independent committee of outsiders to oversee the investigation to ensure fairness. 

The incident brings to question if South Korea will have #MeToo movement beyond the prosecution field, similar to the United States case of Harvey Weinstein and Hollywood actresses speaking out. Seo Ji-hyeon herself was inspired to speak out due to the #MeToo movement becoming global. Earlier in 2017, South Korea’s government promised to require sexual harassment prevention training and toughen penalties on companies who fail to act due to media reports of sexual harassment cases. South Korea still ranks 116th out of 144 countries in gender equality and a 2015 government survey shows that 78 percent of sexual harassment victims do not take any action due to belief they will not get support for protection or redress. OnFeb 2, 2018, South Korea’s liberal media outlet, The Hankyoreh reported that the #MeToo movement is spreading to the private sector. Park Sam-Koo, Chairman of the chaebol, Kumho Asiana Group has been accused by employees of inappropriate contact with female flight attendants of Asiana Airlines. Politician Lee Jae-jeong alsorevealed in an interview that she was sexually harassed by a president of a law firm she was seeking employment at 13 years ago.

Trump Withdraws Victor Cha's Nomination for U.S. Ambassador to South Korea

Leon Whyte

On Jan 31, the Washington Post reported that Korea expert Victor Cha was no longer being considered for the role of U.S. Ambassador to South Korea. Cha had already been through a months long vetting and security clearance process before having his candidacy discontinued. In addition, the U.S. had asked for and receivedapproval for his appointment from the South Korean government.

Cha is currently the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Director of the Asia Studies program at the Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service. He had also served as the Director for Asian Affairs in the George W. Bush National Security Council.

The Trump Administration has not clarified their reasons for their decision, leading to speculation about why Cha’s appointment was discontinued. The Washington Post has reported that Cha was dismissed due to his disagreements with the Trump Administration about the wisdom of a limited “bloody nose” strike against North Korea and with the decision to “tear up” the current U.S.-South Korea bilateral trade agreement. The Washington Post’s reporting, based on information from two unnamed sources close to Cha, was bolstered by an op-ed written on Jan 30 by Cha, decrying the risks of a U.S. preemptive strike against North Korea. However, the same Washington Post report also mentioned an anonymous source who claimed that the decision was made based on an unspecified “red flag” raised during Cha’s background check.

The lack of clarity has raised concerns about the likelihood of an American strike against North Korea. The decision is worrying South Korean policymakers. The U.S. decided to terminate Cha’s candidacy without informing Seoul, even after South Korea formally gave assent for Cha’s appointment. Both Japan and China have U.S. ambassadors while South Korea still does not, contributing to the idea that South Korea is being given less attention than the other East Asian powers.

Inter-Korean Participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics

Michael Buckalew

Kim Jong-Un, during his annual New Year’s address, wished South Korea good luck in hosting the upcoming Olympics. South Korean President Moon Jae-in leveraged this opportunity to reduce recent U.S.- North Korea tensions and promote peace on the peninsula by proposing joint inter-Korean participation in the Olympics.

Joint events were proposed across several areas: 1) The North and South Korean teams participating in the Olympic opening ceremonies under a joint flag, 2) cultural performances by Samjiyeon, a North Korean orchestra troupe in Seoul and Gengneung, 3) a joint cultural event at Mt. Geumgang in North Korea, 4) a taekwondo demonstration and joint training session for skiers, and 5) the hosting of a combined women’s Korean hockey team, with South Korea hosting 32 North Korean coaches and athletes in total.

Prior to this year’s Olympics, North and South Korea successfully fielded joint ping-pong and youth FIFA soccer teams in 1991. Additionally, the Samjiyeon’s visit represents the first time since 2002 that a North Korean performance troop has visited the south.

The efforts have run into difficulties domestically in South Korea and from the North Korean government. South Korean conservatives have criticized the effort for turning the game into the “Pyeongyang Olympics.” They argue that North Korea strategy is to drive wedges domestically among South Koreans, and to weaken the U.S.-South Korean alliance and the international consensus on sanctions.

A protest of the North Korean delegation arriving in Seoul and “insulting” media coverage in South Korea led to the cancellation of a joint Feb 4 cultural event at Mt. Geumgang. The coverage related to North Korean plans for a Feb 8 military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Korean People’s Liberation Army. The military parade will include long-range missiles supposedly capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

Finally, there has been surprisingly strong opposition among younger South Koreans to the joint women’s ice hockey team. Taken together, the Moon administration’s efforts at joint North-South Olympic cooperation seem like a calculated risk, the outcome of which remains to be seen. 

Korea, China Agrees to Boost Economic Cooperation

Jessie Chen

On Feb 2, 2018, Minister of South Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance Kim Dong-yeon and Chinese Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) He Lifeng met in Beijing for minister-level talks. The two sides agreed to strengthen economic cooperation on many issues, particularly industries development, the science and technology sector, and tourism. 

Bilateral high-level economic talks had been halted since May 2016. The Kim-He meeting indicates that China is ending measures it put in place in retaliation for the deployment of THAAD missile defense system on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea’s biggest trading partner is China, accounting for about a quarter of its exports. Korean companies, including Samsung, Hyundai, CJ, and Lotte, has been struggling with regulations in China since early 2017. Kim asked He to resolve the difficulties.

“Both Korea and China are focused on developing their economies through innovation. We will have to step up cooperation in all these areas,” Kim said during the meeting. The two sides will hold a science and technology joint conference soon to facilitate bilateral cooperation in the fields of big data and robotics. 

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), proposed by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, has been promoting China’s connection with its neighboring countries. As more countries joined the BRI, Kim introduced the South Korean government’s “New Southern Policy” and “New Northern Policy” to He, hoping the two policies wouldconnect with the BRI to boost mutually complementary cooperation.

As the host of the Winter Games in 2022, China will also learn from the South Korean experience with organizing Olympics. The two countries agreed to stimulate cultural exchange through tourism.

Flu in the Korean Peninsula

Patrick Niceforo

The South Korean government recently reported on the spread a of a highly infectious strain of avian influenza, H5N6. Officials from South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs confirmed the presence of the flu on several chicken farms in Gyeongi-do, a province located south of Seoul. The governmentculled and destroyed hundreds of thousands of chickens and eggs and placed poultry farms across the region under special watch in order to quarantine the virus.

While South Korea has not reported human deaths from the bird flu, China has reported several human deaths from strains of H5N6 since 2014. According to Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, China’s H5N6 virus strains are “not readily spread from person to person, but you can get some very limited spread from someone who is infected.”

Conditions are worse in North Korea, where over 81,000 people tested positive for A/H1N1, more commonly known as swine flu. The Red Cross has said that the organization will send  volunteers with masks and protective clothing to promote hygiene and health education in high risk areas. However, with the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang less than a week away, another concern is the risk of cross-border exposure to different strains of flu.

The World Health Organization advises that “travellers to countries with known outbreaks of avian influenza should avoid, if possible, poultry farms, contact with animals in live bird markets, entering areas where poultry may be slaughtered, or contact with any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with faeces from poultry or other animals. Travellers should also wash their hands often with soap and water, and follow good food safety and good food hygiene practices.”

This Week in History: South Korea's Demonstration Over Student's Death

On Feb 7, 1987, South Koreans that included church, labor, and student groups held rallies to commemorate the death of student, Park Chong-choi who was suffocated during police custody for alleged pro-communist activities in January. South Korea’s government ruled by President Chun Doo-Hwan ordered 120,000 police to prepare for the demonstrations. About 30,000 riot police faced 20,000 demonstrators in Seoul to prevent them from reaching the memorial mass. There were sporadic breaks of violence as protesters threw petrol bombs and stones while the police responded with tear gas. Official figures were 34 police officers injured, about 800 arrests were made, and numbers of injured civilians were unknown. In the aftermath, further civil unrest forced Chun Doo-Hwan out of office and replaced by Roh Tae-woo who introduced liberal reforms in his administration. 

External Events

How to Interpret Nuclear Crises: From Kargil to North Korea
12:15 PM - 2:00 PM, Wednesday, February 7, 2018
The Stimson Center
1211 Connecticut Ave. NW, 8th Floor, 
Washington, DC 20036

Voices of Korea: A Lunar New Year’s Celebration & Petit Concert
6:30 PM- 8:00 PM, Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Korean Cultural Center, Washington DC
2370 Massachusetts Avenue N.W. 
Washington, DC  20008

ICAS Winter Symposium
Hosted by Institute for Corean-American Studies
1:00 PM- 5:00 PM, Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Wilson Center
1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004

Life With a Nuclear North Korea
Hosted by New York Times
6:30 PM- 8:00 PM, Monday, February 26, 2018
555 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001

Nuclear North Korea: Is War the Way Ahead?
Hosted by The McCain Institute for International Leadership
6:00 PM- 7:30 PM, Wednesday, February 28, 2018
United States Navy Memorial
701 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004