Trump Agrees to Meet Kim Jong-un by May
On Mar 8, the South Korean Director of the National Security Office, Chung Eui-yong, made a surprising night-time announcement outside of the U.S. White House. Chung, who had come to Washington, D.C. to brief U.S. officials on his recent trip to Pyongyang and meeting with Kim Jong-un, told the world that Kim Jong-un had offered to meet with Donald Trump to discuss North Korean denuclearization and that Trump had accepted.
Although Chung’s statement was brief, it offered several important details about conditions and plans for the historic meeting. On the North Korean side, Kim Jong-un pledged to refrain from further missile and nuclear tests and stated his understanding that U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises would continue. For South Korea, Chung expressed President Moon’s gratitude for Trump’s leadership on the issue, a commitment to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and an intention to maintain pressure on North Korea until it makes concrete actions. Chung also stated that Trump agreed to meet Kim Jong-un by May for discussions.
Following the announcement, there has been lots of speculation and debate but few details about the upcoming U.S.-North Korea meeting. Part of the reason for the ambiguity is a lack of public North Korean confirmation of any details. This had led to questions about what Kim Jong-un has really offered and is really willing to accept. Another issue gaining attention is possible locations for the meeting. Recent speculation has centered on North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho’s recent trip to Sweden and the possibility that the meeting will be held there. Other possibilities include the the demilitarized zone between the Koreas, Pyongyang, China, or locations in South Korea.
In response to the news of the possible summit, most commentators reacted positively to a turn to diplomacy to cool down tensions on the Korean Peninsula. However, many also raised concerns about the lack of preparation for the summit as well as the likelihood North Korea is actually willing to denuclearize.
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense, William J. Perry, who has conducted nuclear negotiations with North Koreans in the past stated that he has a “high degree of skepticism that North Korea will really negotiate away the nuclear arsenal…” and that “it would be a fundamental error to believe that we can reliably verify a treaty by which North Korea agrees to dismantle all of its nuclear weapons and not build more.” Former South Korean Ambassador to the U.S., Hong Seok-Hyun, further underscored the seriousness of the possible meeting saying, “If the talks fail, the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia could regress into a situation much more precarious than before.” Despite these concerns, former U.S. Under Secretary of State and Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns gave President Trump credit for accepting President Kim Jong-un’s offer, saying Trump “has chosen the wiser path for his country and the world. Better he meet Mr. Kim in an extraordinary summit than march off blindly to war.”
The Nominees for U.S. Ambassador to South Korea
The post of U.S. Ambassador to South Korea has remained vacant ever since former Ambassador Mark Lippert stepped down last January. The White Housedropped Victor Cha, former Bush administration official and well-known Korea expert, as their nominee in late January 2018 after he challenged the Trump administration’s strategy of using a pre-emptive strike against North Korea.
Former United States Forces Korea (USFK) commanders, Walter Sharp andJames Thurman, and Rep. Ed Royce (R-Ca.), chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, are rumored to be potential candidates for the ambassadorship. Both Thurman and Royce were in U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Sharp’s and Thurman’s military background highlights the Trump administration’s preference for somebody who will be tough on North Korea in terms of denuclearization. Both Sharp and Thurman are experienced withmaintaining force readiness and strengthening the U.S.-Korea alliance as USFK commanders. Royce is likewise a known hardliner who has discussed cutting off all hard currency to North Korea to cripple the Kim regime. He also has political recognition in South Korea having led a bipartisan delegation to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in August 2017.
The post of U.S. Secretary of State is likewise vacant as of Mar. 13, 2018. President Trump has nominated Director of the CIA Mike Pompeo for the position. However, with the meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un scheduled for May, it is critically important that the White House fill the vacancies for both U.S. Secretary of State and Ambassador to South Korea in order to establish appropriate political channels.
Who, What and Why for the April 2018 Inter-Korean Summit
The thaw in inter-Korean relations following the Pyeongchang Olympic games is now leading to the first North-South summit in more than a decade at Panmunjeom in late April. This is expected to be followed by a U.S.-North Korean summit in May between U.S. President Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.
Preparations for the inter-Korean summit have begun in earnest. South Korea is looking to hold high-level meetings with the North at the end of March to prepare for April summit. Additionally, the Blue House has designated summit committee members from the national defense, foreign affairs and intelligence agencies. Also prior to the inter-Korean summit, the U.S. and the two Koreas will hold a 1.5 track dialogue in Finland on April 19. Participants will include former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Kathleen Stevens along with government officials and academics from South Korea. This and the inter-Korean summit could serve as stepping stones for the planned U.S.-North Korean dialogue in May.
The rapid shift from threats of a limited strike to summits with North Korea raises several questions: First, what brought North Korea to the negotiating table? Over the past few years, economic sanctions on North Korea have greatly expanded. From 2016 to 2017, North Korean exports to China dropped by about half. Some argue that the loss of revenue and threat of increasedsecondary sanctions paired with threats of U.S. military action motivated North Korea to negotiate.
Alternatively, others argue that due to the collapse of a mountain near North Korea’s Pyeonggye-ri nuclear facility in October 2017, the North Korean nuclear program may be stalled. This may have killed skilled experts and damaged critical equipment needed to continue research and development. The production hurdles stemming from these losses could motivate North Korea to negotiate to by time and breathing space. During mid to late-2000s North Korea continued developing their weapons programs while sitting in the six-party talks. This occurred also whole sanctions were relaxed including North Korea’s removal in 2008 from the state sponsors of terrorism list.
Another question is what do South and North Korea hope to gain from an inter-Korean summit? The North may want to project the fact that Kim Jong-un is acompetent statesman standing side-by-side with Presidents Moon and President Trump. North Korea may also want to weaken the sanctions regime. Finally, according to South Korean conservatives, North Korea may use negotiations to buy time to further develop their weaponry.
In South Korea, President Moon stated his intention to put Seoul in the “driver’s seat” when dealing with denuclearization on the Korean peninsula. It’s expected that a direct communications hotline will be open between President Moon and Kim Jong-un. Over the long-term, the goal is to have no nuclear weapons physically on the Korean peninsula. According to South Korean national security advisor Chung Eui-yong, Pyeongyang stated that denuclearization is possible “if military threats against the country were resolved and it received a credible security guarantee.” Kim Jong-un has agreed to impose a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests if they meet with the U.S.
Though the motivations of North Korea are difficult to read as usual, what is clear is that the next two months will be consequential for peace and security in Northeast Asia.
Japan and China's Reaction to the U.S.-North Korea Summit
On Mar 9, 2018, U.S. President Trump accepted an invitation from North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un to meet by the end of May. The changes in circumstances in the Peninsula suddenly increased an uncertainty of the U.S.-Japan cooperation and the role of China. Since it is likely that North Korea will not live up to what the U.S. expects for negotiations, Japan, in particular, is worrying that the summit would give North Korea more time to develop its own nuclear weapon which threatens Japan.
After the announcement of the Trump-Kim Summit, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reaffirmed Japan’s cooperation with the U.S.. He also said “We will continue imposing the utmost pressure until North Korea takes specific actions toward thorough, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.” Yet, on the same day, Japan learned that the U.S. has imposed stiff steel and aluminum tariffs to Japan. To ensure Japan’s close relations with the U.S., Prime Minister Abe said that he plans to meet with President Trump next month. Following the Trump administration’s step, the Abe administration is also seeking to meet with Kim.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed that China welcomes the talks between President Trump and Kim, viewing the talk is “light at the end of the tunnel.” From China’s perspective, the Trump-Kim summit may ease the tensions in the peninsula which ensures its national security and the pursuit of “China’s Dream.” Yet, this would also pose risks for China. China is concerned that the summit would marginalize its role during the negotiation, reducing its influence on North Korea.
South Korea's Plan to Fight Youth Unemployment
On Mar 15, 2018, South Korea’s Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon announced the government’s supplementary budget proposal of 4 trillion won ($3.8 billion). He stated that the budget aims to decrease youth unemployment which can be “catastrophic” if no actions are taken.. South Korean government plansto use the extra budget to financially support small- and medium-sized companies up to 27 million won over three years for every worker they hire. Workers aged 34 and under will be exempt from personal income tax for five years and receive cheap loans for housing if they work in small companies. The extra budget will also be used to encourage entrepreneurship among young people by allowing them to be exempt from both corporate and personal income taxes for five years if they create their own businesses. Young people in South Korea typically prefer working for conglomerate companies or the government due to stability and higher salaries. The supplementary budget proposal aims to increase SMEs average salaries closer to that of conglomerates.
In 2017, South Korea’s youth unemployment was a record 9.8%, which is higher than the national average of 3.7% and the youth unemployment rate in both U.S. and Japan. South Korea’s government estimates that the youth unemployment rate can rise to 12% over the next 3 to 4 years once the echo-boom generation, the children of the second baby-boomers enter the job market. South Korea’s government aims to create around 220,000 jobs by 2021 to stem the unemployment rate. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in pledgedpreviously has during the election to create jobs for the youth and pushed for more job opportunities to be added in the public sector in office.
The Moon administration faces obstacles in passing the supplementary budget proposal due to Moon’s Democratic Party only holding 41%of the seats.Additionally, while the experts support the extra budget, they also urge the government to improve the environment for businesses to create jobs through deregulation and labor market reform.
This Week in History: Death of Chung Yu-jung, Founder of Hyundai Group
On March 22, 2001, Chung Yu-jung, Hyundai’s founder passed away at age 85. Born in what is now North Korea at 1915, he ran away from home three times to pursue his fortune. In one of the attempts, he stole his father’s cow and sold it for 70 won and went into the business of selling rice. In his third attempt, he successfully made it to Seoul, working various low-paid jobs until he opened his own car repair business calling it Hyundai. After Japan’s rule of Korea ended, he found his own construction company, Hyundai Engineering. Under the Park Chung-hee administration, Hyundai received various contracts to build South Korea’s infrastructure.
Chung Yu-jung also had Hyundai venture into motor vehicle, ship-building, and electronics that allowed Hyundai to be a rival conglomerate to Samsung. Chung Yu-jung ran for president in 1992, losing by a large margin to Kim Young-sam. He further faced charges of embezzling money from his company, receiving a suspended sentence. In 1998, he worked to improve inter-Korean relations, becoming the first South Korean civilian to cross the North-South border, taking a gift of 500 cows to North Korea. A year before he died, Hyundai was taken over and divided by his two surviving sons after being forced to downsize by South Korea’s government to wipe its debts. Chung Yu-jung is recognized for his contribution to South Korea’s economic miracle but also the corruption thatcame with it.
Korea at the Crossroads: War, Peace and Prospects for the Future
Hosted by CODEPINK: Women for Peace
6:00 PM- 8:00 PM, Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Busboy and Poets Brookland
625 Monroe St NE
Washington, District of Columbia 20017
A Diplomatic Path Forward: A Proposed Framework for the Trump-Kim Summit
12:00 PM- 1:30 PM, Thursday, March 22, 2018
Korea Economic Institute of America
1800 K Street NW, Suite 300,
Washington DC, 20006
Asan Special Forum 2018
9:30 AM -12:00 PM, Friday, March 23, 2018
1211 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
Moral Science in Postwar North Korea
Hosted by Library of Congress
12:00 PM- 1:00 PM, Monday, March 26, 2018
Whittall Pavillion, Ground Floor
Thomas Jefferson Building
101 Independence Ave SE
Washington, DC 50240
ICAS Spring Symposium Prologue
Hosted by Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS)
1:00 PM- 5:00 PM. Tuesday, March 27, 2018
HVC 201 A&B
US Capitol Hill
Washington DC 20003
Beyond the Nuclear Issue in North Korea
Hosted by Partnerships for International Strategies in Asia (PISA), NCNK, and GW Institute
for Korean Studies
8:00 AM- 5:30 PM, Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Lindner Commons, Room 602
Elliott School of International Affairs
1957 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052
Spring 2018 Young Professionals' Career Dinners
5:00 PM- 10:00 PM, Saturday, April 14, 2018
United Nations Foundation
1750 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20006