Trying to Sustain Dialogue: The June 1 Inter-Korean Summit
Since the Apr 27 Inter-Korean Summit and the Panmunjeom Declaration, the South Korean government has continued efforts to promote dialogue with North Korea. This is to foster North Korean denuclearization and developing a sustainable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
This follows a tumultuous last few weeks. Previous inter-Korean talks were reportedly cancelled by North Korea because Thae Yong Ho, launched a book in the South Korean parliament which was critical of Kim Jong Un. Thae is former high-ranking North Korean diplomat to the UK, who defected to the South in 2016. Following this, President Trump cancelled the June 12 U.S.-North Korea summit on May 24 in response to “open hostility” in recent North Korean statements.
The Moon administration has made cooling tensions on the peninsula and denuclearization a top priority. In response to the U.S. summit cancellation, President Moon held a second meeting with Kim Jong Un on May 26 to move forward with implementing the Panmunjeom Declaration. To accomplish this, President Moon needs U.S.-North Korea summit to go forward. His efforts seem to be bearing fruit as the U.S.-North Korea has been set to be once again held on June 12 in Singapore.
The June 1 summit was led by South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung Gyon and his North Korean counterpart Ri Son Gwon. The two Koreas agreed to follow up on Panmunjeom Declaration by holding working-level military, sports and forest cooperation initiatives. First, they agreed to hold military and Red Cross talks on June 16 and June 22 respectively. Next, they stated their intention to resume reunions of families separated by the Korean War, withAugust 15 as a potential target date.
In addition, there are discussions of launching a joint liaison office in Kaesong, which was closed in 2016. For sports cooperation, there will be Sports Ministerial discussions on June 18 on whether or not to field combined teams in some sports at the upcoming Asian Games in August. Other items discussed included potentially establishing potential road and rail links between Seoul and Sinuiju and a North Korean proposal to celebrate the anniversary of the 2000 inter-Korean summit. The efforts by South Korea thus far appear to be successful in sustaining dialogue with North Korea. The June 12 U.S.-North Korea summit represents the next test in this process.
The Upcoming June 13 Local Elections in South Korea
On Thursday, May 31, 2018, campaigning started for local elections in South Korea, scheduled for June 13. In the local elections, the seats in contention are 17 provincial and executive level offices and a larger number of local positions and superintendents of education. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (Minjoo Party) is favored to win the local elections due to President Moon Jae-in’s high approval rating following summits with North Korea on Apr 27 and May 26.
In the latest public opinion poll by Gallup Korea, the Democratic Party’s approval rating is at 51 percent while the main conservative opposition Liberty Korea Party is at 11 percent. The Democratic Party is hoping that Moon’s popularity will bring major victories in conservative strongholds like Busan. The Liberty Korea Party is expected to hold on to its base in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, but are less certain in other regions that lean conservative.
Regarding whether the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit will be a factor, the Democratic Party believes that a positive outcome will lead to more votes, while the Liberty Korea Party argues that voters will take domestic policies more into consideration, such as the economy. The Liberty Korea Party plans to place the blame for economic troubles on the Moon Jae-in administration and argue that the government needs to be kept in check.
One area of concern for the Democratic Party is whether or not the special probe into the online opinion rigging scandal will negatively impact them. Their candidate governor of South Gyeongsang Province, Kim Kyung-soo is accusedof being connected to this issue. For the moment, he seems to be unaffected in opinion polls.
The biggest local race is expected to be the Seoul mayor’s race. The post is seen as a potential path towards the presidency. Current mayor Park Won-soon is facing two opponents, former presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor Bareunmirae party and Kim Min-soo of the Liberty Korea Party. Currently, Park Won-soon is leading the latest polls by 54.2 percent, with Kim Moon-soo at 15.3 percent and Ahn Cheol-soo at 13.1 percent.
Park Won-soon’s platform consists of making Seoul a “smart city”, investing in artificial intelligence, biomedical sector, and creating jobs in underprivileged neighborhoods. He also supports inter-Korean economic cooperation and transportation between Seoul and Pyongyang. Ahn Cheol-soo promised to resolve the air pollution issue in Seoul, such as installing air purifiers in schools and subways. Kim Moon-soo pledged to make public transportation cheaper and increase wireless internet access in public areas.
On May 31, 2018, all Seoul mayoral candidates including Kim Jong-min of the far-left Justice Party participated in a debate. Air pollution was a contentious issue as both Ahn Cheol-soo and Kim Moon-soo criticized Park Won-soon of worsening the issue, through his free public transportation policy during rush hours. Park Won-soon defended himself by touting his work in working with multiple cities on the issue and claiming Gyeonggi Province also shares the same issue, especially when Kim Moon-soo was governor.
The LGBTQ issue was also debated as the conservative Kim Moon-soo criticizedKim Jong-min’s support for legalizing companion relationships, equating it with support for gay marriage. Companion relationship allows different form of relationships, not just gay marriage. Kim Moon-soo also attacked Park Won-soon’s support for LGBTQ rights as Park has allowed queer festivals in Seoul for the past three years.
Japan Plans to Deploy U.S. Land-Based Aegis Missile in Akita City
On June 1, 2018, Japan Defense Ministry expressed hope to deploy the U.S. land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Akita City in northern Japan. The Aegis system will foster Japan’s missile defense capabilities in response to any unpredictable situations on the Korean Peninsula.
To protect Japan’s archipelago from the North Korean missile threat, the Japanese government announced it would install two Aegis Ashore batteries in last December. The government eyed Akita Prefecture and the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Mutsumi training area in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in southwestern Japan, as candidate sites. Both locations face the Korean Peninsula.
The government said it would seek the approval for the candidate sites from the prefectural governors and mayors, and conduct surveys of the impact of the deployment. Installing ground-based Aegis system is considered more efficient than moving Aegis-equipped destroyers, improving Japan’s missile interception capabilities.
While the tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been receding recently, the U.S. will still actively help Japan to bolster its defensive capabilities. Active military sales from the U.S. government to Japan are worth $19.6 billion. The sales include the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Aegis missile defense system, E-2D early warning aircraft; the KC-46 refueling tanker, the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft and the Osprey MV-22 tilt-rotor helicopter, missiles, and ballistic missile defense interceptors. On May 29, 2018, a U.S. destroyer equipped with cutting-edge ballistic missile defense technology also arrived at the Yokosuka naval base in Kanagawa Prefecture.
North Korean Vice Chairman Kim Young-chol's Diplomatic Trip to U.S.
On May 30, 2018, North Korean Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol arrived in New York City to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The two met in the three-bedroom apartment residence of the U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations.
During the meeting, the two discussed preparations for the upcoming June 12 summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to be held in Singapore. At the meeting Pompeo was accompanied byAndrew Kim, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Korea Mission Center and a key player in U.S.-North Korean talks.
At the time of the meeting, it was still unclear whether the June 12 summit would actually take place. However, after his meetings in New York, Kim Yong-chol traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Trump. During the meeting, Kim gave President Trump a large-sized letter from Kim Jong-un. The meeting lasted over an hour and was highest-level meeting between a U.S. President and North Korean official since 2000.
In the aftermath of the meeting, President Trump announced that he wasreversing his decision to cancel the previously scheduled U.S.-North Korea summit. President Trump explained that the meeting had originally been canceled due to harsh North Korean statements about U.S Vice President Pence and nuclear threats, but that this type of rhetoric was a thing of the past.
President Trump stated that U.S.-North Korean “relationships are building and that’s a very positive thing.” In response to a question about North Korea’s willingness to denuclearize, he said “I think they want to do that… They want to develop as a country.”
In a sign of U.S. willingness to compromise, President Trump also stated that he was holding off on deploying new sanctions against North Korea and did not want to use a “maximum pressure” approach any longer.
Economic Update: Supplementary Budget, KORUS, and Amending the Commercial Act
On May 22, 2018, the National Assembly passed a 3.83 trillion won ($3.52 billion) supplementary budget meant to address high levels of youth unemployment and assist regions facing tough economic conditions due to the slowdown in automobile manufacturing and shipbuilding. The supplementary budget was approximately 20 billion won ($18.67 million) smaller than initially proposed by the Moon administration on April 6 and took 45 days to pass.
The delay was due to the Liberty Korea Party boycott of National Assembly voting sessions in protest to the government’s handling of the “Druking” scandal. Youth unemployment continues to be a Moon administration policy initiative with Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon describing Korean youth unemployment rates as a “national crisis.” In 2017, the Korean youth unemployment rate was 10.3%.
On March 28, 2018, though the U.S.’ Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and the Korean Ministry of Trade (MOT) reached an agreement in-principle to revise the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA). However, the two sides have yet to agree on a final draft. Furthermore, following the release of the text Korea must begin the ratification process for the KORUS FTA amendments - a likely uphill political battle for the Moon administration.
Some progress was made during an April visit by Korean Minister of Trade, Industry, and Energy (MOTIE) Paik Un-gyu where the minister stated that “South Korea and the US have made considerable progress in working out details for the KORUS FTA draft.” Since the April visit, despite reports that the text would be made available in late May, neither the text nor any official statements from MOTIE or USTR regarding the state of KORUS FTA amendment negotiations have been made.
Liberty Korea Party National Assembly Member and former Minister of MOTIE under the Park Geun-hye administration Yoon Sang-jick proposed legislation on May 15 to amend the Commercial Act to permit Korean companies to utilize dual-class shareholder structures and “poison pill” strategies.
Both the dual-class shareholder structure and “poison pill” strategy would strengthen the defensive ability of company management from minority shareholders – a change which critics charge would strengthen the grip of chaebol owners at the expense of minority investors. Since 2009, the Korean government and legislature contemplated whether or not to introduce either of these tactics with shareholders rights activists rebuffing each attempt.
The likelihood of the legislation passing, however, is fairly low with Korea Free Trade Commission (KFTC) Chairman Kim Sang-jo, despite indicating potential support for the legislation, stating that the legislation in its current form will unlikely be able to garner enough votes.
This Week in History: South Korea's Memorial Day
On June 6, South Korea celebrates its own Memorial Day, also known as Hyeonchng-il. The purpose is to honor its military veterans who died in the Korean War and other military conflicts. The event starts at 10:00AM with a sound of sirens across the country. A memorial service is held in its national cemetery in Seoul attended by South Korea’s president and other dignitaries. Families pray for their deceased members and visit their graves.
Beyond Pyongyang: Connecting with the People of North Korea
8:30 AM- 12:00 PM, Wednesday, June 13, 2018
National Endowment for Democracy
1025 F. St. NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20004
Negotiating Non-Proliferation with North Korea and Iran
10:00 AM-11:00 AM, Thursday, June 14, 2018
International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS-Americas)
2121 K Street, NW, Suite 801
Washington, DC 20037
ROK-U.S. Strategic Forum 2018: Assessing the Trump-Kim Summit
Hosted by CSIS and the Korea Foundation
9:00 AM- 4:00 PM, Monday, June 18, 2018
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Korean Peninsula Security Challenges: The First Year under Presidents Moon and Trump
Hosted by Council on Korea-U.S. Security Studies, the Korean Defense Veterans Association, and The Institute of World Politics.
Thursday, June 28, 2018- Friday, June 29, 2018
Institute of World Politics
1521 16th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20036
Research Associate, Korea Studies
Council on Foreign Relations