Issue 33: March 20 - April 3, 2018


John Bolton and U.S.-North Korean Relations

Patrick Niceforo

The White House announced on Mar. 22, 2018, that John Bolton will be the next national security advisor. Bolton is expected to replace current national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, on Apr. 9, 2018. The announcement was met with swift criticism in both the U.S. and South Korea, with many pointing to Bolton’s hawkish views.

Bolton published an op-ed on the Wall Street Journal this February in which he stated that, “It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.” He has also argued that diplomacy with North Korea is a waste of time. Although Bolton recently distanced himself from his more controversial foreign policy views, his appointment could still lead to friction between the U.S. and North Korea. President Trump and Kim Jong-un are expected to meet this May.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in likewise has reason to be concerned given his goal for a peaceful reunification. On the other hand, Bolton has also been known to pragmatically approach weapons of mass destruction. For example, he designed the Proliferation Security Initiative, a multilateral organization that has successfully halted the transport of unlawful fissile and other dangerous materials.

Currently, Bolton serves as a Senior Fellow at American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in U.S. foreign and national security policy. He also has along history in public service having served under the Reagan and both Bush administrations. Bolton previously served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (2005-2006) and as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security (2001-2005).

Proposed South Korean Constitutional Revision

Michael Buckalew

On Mar 26, South Korean President Moon Jae-in signed a constitutional revision proposal bill that initiates a a 60-day deadline for South Korea’s National Assembly to debate and vote on a proposal. Amending the constitution requirestwo-thirds support from the 293-member National Assembly, followed by anational referendum. Recent polling indicates that 64.3% of South Korean adults support President Moon’s constitutional revision bill.

The bill, if adopted, would shorten the presidential term from 5 to 4 years but allow for two consecutive terms, similar to the U.S.  This would also have the effect of synchronizing future parliamentary and presidential elections. Furthermore, presidential election would go to a runoff if no candidate gets amajority of votes in the first round.

The proposal also would decentralize presidential power in several ways. First, it would increase the prime minister’s powers. The phrase “under the orders of the president” would be removed from the description of the prime minister’s duties. It would also strip the right of the president to name the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, with the Justices choosing amongst themselves.  Finally, it would allow the National Assembly to name three of the nine members of the state audit agency.

Two other notable changes include stating that South Korea’s capital would be “determined by law,” rather than Seoul as the current constitution states. Finally, the proposed amendment would “establish a policy for the protection ofanimal rights.” This relates to a domestic debate about farming and consuming dog meat.

President Moon wants the constitutional revision referendum to occur this Juneto coincide with local elections. He initially made campaign promises to empower the people in the wake of former President Park Geun-Hye’s removal from office.

However, the conservative opposition parties led by the Korea Liberty party have stated that constitutional revision should be a parliament-led process. Additionally, they have criticized the proposal as a “red constitution” due to references of land socialization and economic democratization. Finally, conservatives have gone further than president to demand that the Prime Minister be appointed by the National Assembly rather than the president. 

Over the past week the rival parties in the National Assembly have begunnegotiations over the proposal. However, in that time progress has been at astandstill. Any proposed revisions will require some opposition support to pass, suggesting a difficult road ahead for President Moon’s initial proposals.

Arrest of South Korea's Ex-President Lee Myung-bak

Andrew Jung

South Korea’s former President Lee Myung-bak (2008-2013) was arrested on Mar. 22, 2018, for corruption allegations involving bribery, embezzlement, and tax evasion. 

Former president Lee denied the charges and referred to the act as “political revenge” by the Moon Jae-in administration. As of Mar. 28, 2018, he refused to speak with prosecutors twice while detained in Seoul Eastern Detention Center, considering the case against him unfair and politically motivated. Prosecutors are now considering bringing in Lee Myung-bak’s wife, Kim Yoon-ok for questioning. She is also under suspicion of engaging in corruption along with her husband--that is, receiving money and gifts from former Woori Financial Group President, Lee Pal-sung. 

Former president Lee is being investigated for allegedly receiving at least 8 billion won ($7.5 million) in bribes from politicians and companies. He has also been accused of misappropriating money from the National Intelligence Service, which he has admitted to. The prosecution’s investigation is focusedon Lee’s alleged involvement with auto parts manufacturer DAS. While Lee Myung-bak was Hyundai Engineering & Construction CEO, he had his associates form DAS as a subcontractor, being involved in the operations, and later helped his son take control of DAS. 

While Lee hid the fact that he is the owner of DAS, he had slush funds created from corporate money between 1991-2007. He then used this money for campaign spending, donations to politicians, and bribes to journalists while he was a National Assembly member and mayor of Seoul. Lee was under investigation for his involvement with DAS when he ran for president in 2007.

According to the prosecutors, if the allegations were exposed earlier and if he was convicted for violation of the Public Official Election Act, his presidential victory would have been nullified. Prosecutors also claimed that he had Samsung cover DAS’s legal bills during his presidency in exchange for pardoning the Samsung chairman for tax evasion. 

Lee Myung-bak’s former aides are also under trial for activities under his presidency. On Mar. 28, 2018, his former defense minister and two other defense ministry officials were indicted of using the military’s cyber-warfare capacities to manipulate public opinion in favor of the conservative administration ahead of the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections.

Currently, they have not been arrested due to the courts rejecting requests for arrest warrants and granting motions to reconsider legality of their arrests. South Korea’s military court also issued  arrest warrants of two army colonels accused of running a clandestine cyber-warfare operation to manipulate public opinion towards support of Lee and attacking his critics especially on politically sensitive issues, notably the construction of Jeju’s naval base.

North and South Korea Prepare for April Summit

Leon Whyte

According to South Korean officials, South Korean President Moon Jae-in willmeet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for the first time on April 27. The two leaders will meet at Peace House, a South Korean building in Panmunjeom located in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas. The location is notable because it will be the first time in the past 40 years that a North Korean leader will appear in on the southern side of the demarcation line that bisects the peninsula.

On Mar. 29, senior North and South Korean officials met in Panmunjeom to agree upon the date of the meeting and other details. The South Korean delegation was headed by Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyoon and the North Korean delegation was headed by Chairman of North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification Ri Sun-Kwon. The two sides are planning to continue meeting in the lead up to the summit between Moon and Kim. For example, there is a working-level talk planned for Apr. 4 between North and South Korean officials to discuss protocol, security, and media relations for the summit.

Also, in preparation for the summit, the National Intelligence Service is renovating the Peace House  built in 1989. The renovations will include improving a footpath for Kim Jong-un to walk on when he crosses the Demarcation Line to go to the Peace House. The renovation also expresses the South Korean Governments hope to hold regular summits at Panmunjom.

The upcoming summit will be the third inter-Korean summit since the end of the Korean War. The first was held in 2000 between South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and the second was held in 2007 between Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun. Both of these summits were held in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

The main outcome of the first summit was the “June 15th North-South Joint Declaration,” which stated that the North and the South would resolve the question of unification independently through a federation and would improve relations. This Joint Declaration was reaffirmed during the 2007 summit meeting. However, relations worsened between the two Koreas due to North Korea’s continuing nuclear and missile program, North Korean provocations, and South Korea’s sanctioning of the North.

It is unclear whether Moon and Kim Jong-un will once again reaffirm the Joint Declaration.

Kim Jong Un's Visit to China

Jessie Chen

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un met with the Chinese President Xi Jinping at Beijing on Mar 28, 2018, with no  prior notice. The Chinese media reported Kim’s visit as unofficial. The two leaders met weeks before the planned U.S.-South Korea leader summit. 

The meeting was Kim’s first time traveling outside of North Korea to meet with another state’s leader since he came to power in 2011. Some argue that Kim’s visit highlights China’s leverage over North Korea on economic, trade, and nuclear issues on the Korean peninsula. 

Kim told Xi that he was open to engage in a dialogue with the U.S. President Donald J. Trump. Yet, Kim did not state whether he would compromise with the U.S. on the denuclearization issue.

During the meeting, the Chinese President said “This year there have been promising changes in the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and we express our appreciation for the major efforts that North Korea has made in this regard.”

Kim is planning to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in April and with President Trump the following month. The President Trump said on Twitter that it is good that the North Korea leader would “do what is right for his people and for humanity.”

This Week in History: The Jeju Massacre

On Apr 3, 1948, rebellions broke out across Jeju Island, 120 km south of the Korean Peninsula. After World War II and Korea’s independence, conflicts arose between pro-capitalist and pro-communist forces in Jeju. The Jeju islanders were also vehemently opposed to the elections called by the United Nations. The election was only limited to the U.S-occupied South Korea. Rebellions broke out in opposition to the election, and the pro-communist rebels attacking police stations and polling centers. The South Korean military along with anti-communist paramilitary forces were sent to Jeju to quash the rebellion.

After failed negotiations, South Korea’s government forces went on an offensive and by late summer 1949, destroyed most of the rebel forces. Jeju civilians were also part of the casualties as both South Korean military and paramilitary forces burned numerous villages and executed men, women, and children. The U.S. military documented the killings but never intervened. The death toll of the Jeju Massacre is believed to be as high as 30,000. In 2006, South Korea’s government made an official apology and granted official administrative autonomy to Jeju. Currently a bill is pending that will provide compensation to the victims of the massacre and declare military trials as invalid. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Jeju Massacre.


International Legal Issues for a Unified Korea with Angela Kim
Hosted by George Washington University of Korean Studies
12:00 PM- 2:00 PM, Wednesday, April 11, 2018
The Elliott School of International Affairs
Chung-Wen Shih Conference Room
1957 E St. NW, Suite 503
Washington DC, 20052

CISSM Global Forum: Science and Technology in North Korea
12:00 PM- 1:15 PM, Thursday, April 12, 2018
Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland
1203 Van Munching Hall
College Park, MD 20742

China and North Korea: Past, Present, and Future
Hosted by the United States Institute of Peace
8:30 AM - 4:30 PM, Tuesday, April 17, 2018
United States Institute of Peace
2301 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20037

Global Tensions, the World Economy, and Health Security - A Conversation with former U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte
5:30 PM- 6:30 PM, Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Center for Strategic and International Studies
1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036

Providing Healthcare in North Korea: Issues, Ethics, and Politics
Hosted by Organization of Asian Studies
2:00 PM- 4:00 PM, Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Elliott School of International Affairs
1957 E Street NW, Room 505
Washington, DC 20052


East Asia Program Officer
Open Society Foundations