Issue 36: May 3 - May 24, 2018


President Moon's Popularity in South Korea

Leon Whyte

After one year in office, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has the highest approval rating of any first-year Korean president. According to polls released this month by KBS and Gallup Korea, 83% of Koreans approve of his presidency.

President Moon’s high approval rating contrasts sharply with that of his predecessor Park Guen-hye. President Park’s approval rating during her first year in office was 63%, and it plummeted to 4 to 5% as her presidency in 2016 before her removal from office.

President Moon’s popularity has fluctuated since his inauguration. In September 2017, his approval rating was 65% and in January 2018 during the lead up to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics his approval rating was 67%, according to Gallup Korea. At that time, there was some public backlash about the Korean government’s decision to field a joint North-South Korean women's ice hockey Olympic team.

Despite some concerns about inter-Korean reconciliation and fairness to South Korean athletes during the Winter Olympics, President Moon’s diplomatic approach towards North Korea has proven to be very popular in South Korea. For example, before the recent inter-Korean summit between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, only 14.7% of South Koreans believed the North would denuclearize and keep the peace, but afterwards 64.7% did.

President Moon’s popularity extends to his political party, the Democratic Party, which now is supported by approximately 55% of South Korean voters. This rate of support compares favorably to that of the conservative opposition party, Liberty Korea, which has a support rate of about 18%. This contrasting level of support will likely affect the upcoming local elections happening in June.

President Moon’s domestic approval rating also compares favorably with other democratic leaders. For example, U.S. President Trump’s approval rating is 42.4%, Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s administration was 30% last month, while French President Macron’s approval rating was 44%.

Withdrawal from the "Iran deal" Indicates Difficult Road for U.S.-North Korea Negotiations

Michael Buckalew

Earlier this month, President Trump unilaterally withdrew from Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the “Iran deal.” The withdrawal from the JCPOA has significant implications for denuclearization talks with North Korea next month. It raises issues of mutual distrust and multiple interpretations over U.S. actions, potential diplomatic capacity issues for the U.S. and limiting the ability of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) ability to monitor any potential agreement.

First, U.S. withdrawal from the JCOPA makes it harder to convince North Koreathat the U.S. will live up to any potential agreements it makes. According to Tong Zhao, a Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy fellow, it is proof that American guarantees “can be reversed anytime.” Historically, North Korea has been seen by the U.S. government negotiating in bad faith such as the failure of the 2012 Leap Day Agreement.

If both parties see each other as dishonest actors, then this lowers the chance of a successful agreement coming out of a Trump-Kim summit. This point is made clearer as the broad outline of the U.S. position on North Korean negotiations don’t differ greatly from that of the JCPOA.

Further compounding this is the fact North Korea and the U.S. are interpreting withdrawal from the JCPOA quite differently, which bodes poorly for their own negotiations. President Trump sees his North Korea policy of “maximum pressure” as a success. He also claims that pulling out of the JCPOA sends a message that “the United States no longer makes idle threats” indicating a willingness to use military action as a policy tool.

In contrast for North Korea, they see withdraw from the JCOPA as validating their efforts to develop nuclear weapons. National Security Advisor Bolton’s suggestion that they should follow the “Libyan model,” was clear reminder to North Korea that Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown by the U.S. despite giving up their nuclear weapons program. Also, North Korea thinks the U.S. may be eager to get a deal because President Trump wants the optics of a “win.”

The ability for the U.S. to negotiate, implement, and monitor an agreement could be severely hampered. Withdrawing from the JCOPA may limit U.S.diplomatic bandwidth to negotiate with North Korea while potentially renegotiating the JCPOA with Iran and the EU. Finally, President Trump’s criticisms can be seen as “undermining the international system for detecting illicit nuclear activity just as he may be about to need it,” according to Jonathan Tirone of Bloomberg News. Any denuclearization agreement would likely require the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor its implementation.

The Latest Activities in South Korea's National Assembly

Andrew Jung

On May 21, 2018, South Korea’s National Assembly reached agreement on both a $3.83 trillion won supplementary budget bill and a bill creating a special investigation into an opinion-rigging scandal. 

Earlier on May 19, 2017, South Korea National Assembly plenary session was delayed as both the ruling Democratic Party and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party failed to reach an agreement on the supplementary budget that was originally $3.9 trillion won. Both parties were supposed to hash out their differences in a special committee meeting so that the bill would be ready for a vote in the following plenary session. 

South Korea’s lawmakers were at an impasse as both parties were unable toresolve their differences over the supplementary budget bill and another bill for an independent probe of the opinion-rigging scandal that are both polarizing issues. Originally, both parties had agreed to proceed with the approval of the bills in time for the plenary session ending a 40-day stalemate. 

The Moon Jae-in administration and the Democratic Party were pushing for the passage of the supplementary budget bill, arguing that it will create jobs for the youth and boost the economy. However, the Liberty Korea Party arguedthat some of the spending is not connected to job creation and sought to cut 1.5 trillion won from the budget. At the May 19 meeting, there was an impassewhen the Liberty Korea Party demanded cuts and both parties agreed that a compromise won’t be reached before the plenary session. 

The second bill regarding an independent probe was triggered by the Democratic Party agreeing to the opposition party’s demand for an investigation into the opinion-rigging scandal. In April, a blogger surnamed Kim and nicknamed “Druking” was charged with heading an online opinion-rigging campaign. He was accused of inflating the number of “agrees” on Naver, similar to Facebook’s “likes,” that were critical of President Moon’s decision to form a unified North-South women’s hockey team in the Winter Olympics. The police found evidence of 20,000 comments being manipulated in 675 news articles from Jan 17-18, using different IDs. So far about 30 people werearrested who are alleged to have acted as accomplices to Druking. 

The scandal led opposition parties to call for an investigation due to the fact that Druking originally supported Moon Jae-in’s election and allegedly had ties to Moon’s colleague Kim Kyung-soo who refused to do a favor for Druking. Kim Kyung-soo is currently a gubernatorial candidate for South Korea’s South Gyeongsang Province. In the original bill, both the Democratic Party and Liberty Korea Party agreed that the bill will not specify President Moon or Kim Kyung-soo in the investigation.

The approved bill will have South Korea’s national bar association choose 4 candidates as special prosecutors, the opposition parties will pick two, and President Moon Jae-in will select one of them. It is the first independent probeduring the Moon administration and the 13th in South Korean history. The previous investigation was in December 2016 that investigated Moon’s predecessor Park Geun-hye.  

This Month in History: The Gwangju Uprising

On May 18, 1980, students engaged in mass demonstrations in the city of Gwangju against President Chun Doo Hwan, who took over South Korea’s government in a 1979 military coup after President Park Chung-hee’s assassination. 600 students protested against the suppression of academic freedom, and they were subsequently beaten by government forces. Civilians joined the protests and were able to drive away the military sent by Chun Doo-Hwan on May 21. However, the city only had peace for six days.

On May 27, Chun sent tanks and helicopters and crushed the uprising in 2 hours indiscriminately attacking civilians. While official government figures stated that 200 civilians were killed, the Gwangju residents insisted that close to 2,000 people died. May 18 is now a national day of commemoration in South Korea and the Uprising is remembered as a significant part of the democratic movement in South Korea.

On May 18, 2018, South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the commemoration ceremony and promised a special investigation to look into who directed the shootings from the helicopters in the Gwangju Uprising. The 2018 ceremony was also the first time in 9 years that all participants sang March for the Beloved, which the memorial song for the Gwangju Uprising.


Charity Happy Hour for North Korean Refugees
Hosted by NKinUSA
6:00 PM- 9:00 PM, Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Bonchon Arlington
2209 North Pershing Drive
Arlington, VA 22201

2018 CAPAL Summer Kickoff Happy Hour
Hosted by Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership
6:00 PM- 8:00 PM, Thursday, May 31, 2018
Sudhouse DC
1340 U St NW
Washington, DC 20009

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Joint Happy Hour
Hosted by Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote and Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association.
6:00 PM- 8:00 PM, Thursday, May 31, 2018
Penny Whisky Bar
618 H St NW
Washington, DC 20001

ROK-U.S. Strategic Forum 2018: Assessing the Trump-Kim Summit
9:00 AM- 4:00 PM, Monday, June 18, 2018
Center for Strategic and International Studies
1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036