Optimism and Confusion in South Korea After the Trump-Kim Summit
Following the June 12th Trump-Kim Summit in Singapore, the public mood in South Korea has largely been positive. President Moon issued a congratulatory statement on “…the success of the historic North Korea-United States summit.” He went further saying “that [the summit] moved the entire world away from the possibility of a war.” The joint summit statement reaffirmed the April 27 Panmunjeom Declaration. Domestically, President Moon’s Democratic Party of Korea’s sweeping success in regional elections on June 13th, strongly suggests public approval of his North Korea policy.
On the whole, the public seems generally hopeful about the summit continuing to cool down tensions. But, there is some degree of concern that neighboring powers’ rivalries could interfere with Korean reunification in the long run. While not popular, President Trump’s approval ratings in South Korea have improvedbecause of negotiations going forward, increasing to 30%. Amongst the public, only the most conservative South Koreans viewed the summit poorly.
However, among some South Korean government and analysts there are some areas of concern. President Trump’s promise to suspend joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises and desire to bring U.S. Forces Korea home was notable. The annual Foal Eagle/Key Resolve has long been a source of agitation to North Korea, which sees them as threatening. However, both the U.S. Pentagon and Moon government was surprised by the announcement. Ui-Gyeom Kim, a spokesman for the Blue House said on June 13th, “[a]t this time, clarification about the meaning of President Trump’s statement is needed.”
Furthermore, Nam Sung-wook from Korea University stated that “complete, verifiable [(CVID)] and irreversible disarmament is no longer a question.” This was in response to its absence in the joint declaration. Kim Sung-han, the Dean of Korea University of Graduate Studies and former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that President Trump was insufficiently prepared for the summit. Further, President Trump needs the summit to be a “success” given the difficult domestic political situation he faces.
Overall, the public is relatively optimistic thus far with 66% of South Koreansviewing the summit positively. The Moon administration is relatively positive about the developments, while concerned about the freezing of joint drills and the long-term status of U.S. forces in Korea.
Aftermath of South Korea's June 13 Local Elections
On June 13, 2018, South Korea had both its local and by-parliamentary elections, which the ruling Democratic Party of Korea won in a landslide. In the local elections, the Democratic Party won 14 of the 17 mayor and governor positions, while the main opposition Liberty Korea Party won only 2. In the by-parliamentary elections, the Democratic Party won 11 out of 12 seats.
The victories are significant considering that many of the Democratic Party candidates were facing scandals, such as South Gyeongsang Province governor candidate, Kim Kyung-soo, who won in a close election and is under scrutiny for an online rigging scandal. This is the first time, a political party dominated the elections in nearly the whole country since 1995 due to the political division among its regions. The Hankyoreh claims that “the once-rigid walls of regionalism are come tumbling down.”
The Democratic Party of Korea’s victories suggest that voters have a high degree of confidence in President Moon Jae-in and his administration, especially his efforts to bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula. The economy,especially on minimum wage did not seem to be a major issue in the election. The victories are sure to give President Moon’s confidence in pushing his reforms and foreign policy priorities involving the Korean Peninsula.
President Moon’s recent successes in talks with North Korea and the fact that the local elections happened after the United States-North Korea summit was favorable for the ruling party. According to poll Realmeter, President Moon enjoys a 70% approval rating and the Democratic Party of Korea stood at 52 % compared to Liberty Korea Party at 18.5%.
Additionally, one victor is worth looking out for especially in a future 2022 South Korean presidential election. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon was reelectedbecoming the first to serve three terms in his position. In his victory speech, Park said his victory is the “result of citizens’ desire for peace and prosperity in South Korea”. Park is expected to carry out his strategic initiatives to make Seoul a “smart city” with the use of AI and big data.
He also promised to create a $1.1 million venture capital to support start-ups. Another plan is to increase inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation, such as co-hosting the 100th National Sports Festival in 2019. Being a Seoul Mayor isseen as a stepping stone to South Korea’s presidency so expect Park work to position himself favorably in four years.
The local elections results brings questions about the future of the conservative Liberty Korea Party, along with other minor opposition parties. On June 15, 2018, Hong Joon-pyo resigned as chairman of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP) taking responsibility for the losses. Other LKP leaders are expected to resign. Yoo Seong-min, co-leader of the Bareunmirae Party also resigned.
The Bareunmirae candidate for the Seoul mayoral election, Ahn Cheol-soolanded in third place which resulted in the party not meeting its expectations to win conservative voters. Analysts suggest that the Liberty Korea Party failures were due to not convincing enough support from disenchanted voters from former President Park Geun-hye’s political scandal. Professor Shin Yul at Myongji University said the Liberty Korea Party hardline positions against President Moon’s initiatives was seen as act of self-interest and not reflective of public sentiment, such as engagement with North Korea.
The question is now who will be the new leaders of Liberty Korea Party. A convention is expected to take place to elect a new chairman and determine what direction it will take to compete with the Moon administration. One possible option is for LKP to soften its hardline stance on North Korea.
Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Planning in Progress
Following the success of the meeting between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un in April 2018, the two countries signed the “Panmunjom Declaration,” of which the sixth point explicitly mentions the restarting inter-Korea economic and infrastructure projects. Afterwards, the Moon administration, Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) members in the National Assembly, and private South Korean firms have all begun proposing or planning further economic cooperation.
The recently concluded Trump-Kim summit only buoyed investor anticipation and is furthering optimism for the opening of the North Korean market. Reflecting the optimism, on June 14, Samsung Securities published a report which anticipated that companies involved in North Korea tourism, manufacturers in the now-closed Kaesong joint industrial complex, electricity producers, fertilizer companies, and railway stock firms stand to benefit the most from an open-North Korean economy.
The Moon administration has particularly been interested in inter-Korea infrastructure projects, including a plan to export electricity from South to North Korea, a proposal for a railroad linking South Korea to China through North Korea, and the resumption of tours to Mount Kumgang. In the National Assembly, the DPK is planning to establish a special committee meant to set up the legal framework for beginning inter-Korea economic cooperation projects.
Private companies are also planning for investment opportunities in North Korea. Hyundai Group, no legal affiliation with Hyundai-named companies such as Hyundai Motor Group and Hyundai Heavy Industries, announced it launched a task force aimed at preparing for investment projects in Korea. Hyundai Asan, an affiliate of Hyundai Group, previously operated tours to Mt. Kumgang and the Kaesong joint industrial project.
Lotte Group similarly created a task force with its food, hotel, retail, and chemical units to explore investment in North Korea. KT Corporation is also looking into building telecommunications infrastructure in North Korea and potentially providing satellite broadcasting and telecommunications services through its subsidiary. The Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry also announced that it would begin preparations for inter-Korea economic cooperation for its members.
Japan Calls for Abe-Kim Summit and Denuclearization in North Korea
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for a Japan-North Korea summit to break mutual distrust after U.S. President Donald Trump met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un on June 12, 2018. The proposed summit, which could take place in Russia on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in September, aims to resolve the abductions issue which has soured bilateral relations since 1970s.
As the international community is looking at a specific framework to push North Korea to get rid of nuclear weapons completely, Abe announced on June 16, 2018, that Japan could be part of the framework shouldering the costs of North Korea's denuclearization. Yet, the financial assistance will only come when there’s a resolution of the abduction issue.
Japan has found itself being marginalized on the North Korean issues, though it kept reassuring strong ties with its allies, the U.S. and South Korea, and address its role on security talks in the Korean Peninsula. The Japanese government now is seeking to directly engage with North Korea, instead of relying on the U.S. In a television interview, Abe said Japan government has contacted the North Korean “through various channels” to arrange a meeting with Kim.
To normalize bilateral relations and understand North Korea’s stance on the abductions issue, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono is also consideringholding a meeting with his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho on the sidelines the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Singapore in early August.
Pompeo Travels to Seoul and Beijing After U.S.-North Korea Summit
On Jun. 14, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited South Korea to meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kano to discuss recent progress on negotiations with North Korea.
Both Foreign Minister Kang and Kano addressed concerns about U.S. President Trump’s unilateral decision to cancel U.S.-South Korea military exercises during his discussions with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In this regard, Minister Kang stated that the U.S.-South Korean alliance remained as “robust as ever,” and that U.S. forces “play and will continue to play a crucial role in deterrence, peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.” Minister Kano sounded a similar note, saying “the Japan-U.S. security commitment and U.S. forces in Japan posture remain unchanged.” Secretary Pompeo also described both East Asian alliances as “iron-clad.”
While in South Korea Secretary Pompeo also gave more details about U.S. expectations for the ongoing U.S.-North Korea negotiations. In contrast to North Korean statements about reciprocal actions, Pompeo stated that tough U.S. sanctions would remain until North Korea completely denuclearized.
Also, Pompeo acknowledged that while much progress had been made, denuclearization of North Korea would “be a process, not an easy one.” Also that “It could be the case that our [U.S.] effort won’t… work but we are determined to set the conditions so that we can right this failure of decades and reset the conditions for North Korea’s participation in the community of nations.”
Also, while in Seoul, Pompeo set forth an ambitious timeline for North Korea to complete “major disarmament” of its nuclear arsenal by 2020, the end of President Trump’s current term in office.
During Pompeo’s Asia trip, he also traveled to Beijing to meet senior Chinese officials, including China’s President Xi Jinping. During the meeting, President Xi congratulated both the U.S. and North Korea on the historic summit and reiterated China’s commitment to a political settlement of the Korean nuclear issue.
This Week in History: South Korea Reaches the Quarterfinals in 2002 Fifa World Cup
On June 18, 2002, South Korea defeated Italy, 2-1 in the FIFA World Cup. South Korea was the 2002 World Cup co-host with Japan. South Korea’s victory led them to the quarterfinals against Spain. It was a shocker as South Koreadefeated a more renowned soccer team and became the first Asian nation to reach the quarterfinals since 1966 when North Korea also defeated Italy to reach the quarterfinals against Portugal. South Korea’s Ahn Jung-hwan scored the winning goal in the 177th minute of the game.
After the game, Italy complained about the officiating that resulted in their player, Francesco Totti being expelled with a double yellow card. The Italian soccer delegation to the World Cup also suggested that the game was rigged in favor of South Korea. Ahn Jung-hwan who was playing for Italian soccer team , Perugia at the time was released with Perugia’s then-chairman Luciano Gaucci saying “That gentleman will never set foot in Perugia again. I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football.” Ahn has sinceplayed for France and Germany and Italy won the 2006 World Cup.
North Korea on the Cusp: New Prospects for Science Diplomacy - A Discussion with Richard A. Stone
3:30 PM- 5:00 PM, Thursday, June 21, 2018
The Elliott School of International Affairs
1957 E Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052
FIFA World Cup 2018: South Korea vs. Germany
10:00 AM- 12:00 PM, Wednesday, June 27, 2018
1990 K St. NW, Suite 03
(entrance on 20th St. NW, lower level)
Washington, DC 20006
2nd OnStage Korea Showcase of the 2018 Season: Once Upon A Time
Hosted by Korean Cultural Center in Washington DC
7:00 PM- 8:00 PM. Thursday, June 28, 2018
1501 14th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20005
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