Issue 41: July 18 - August 1, 2018


South Korea Announces Defense Reform 2.0

Andrew Jung

On July 27th, 2018, South Korea’s Defense Ministry announced the Defense Reform 2.0 blueprint that plans to create a leaner but more stronger military. According to the Ministry of Defense, the reform was needed due to the security situation of the Korean Peninsula and to adapt to changes in South Korea’s changing demographics and technology. 

In Defense Reform 2.0, cuts will be made to reduce the military’s command structure in areas considered as “bloated”. By 2022, the number of generals are expected to be cut by 17% from the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Currently there are 436 generals in the armed forces, which means only 360 will be remaining by 2022. Active-duty troops will also be reduced from 618,000 to 500,000 by 2022 and civilian staff be increased to 10% of the military. This is to address the demographic changes in South Korea, such as the low birthrate. Mandatory military service will also be reduced from 21 months to 18 months. 

In order to prepare for the potential transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) in which South Korea will head the South Korea- U.S Combined Forces Command, South Korea’s Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff would be the commander while the U.S. deputy commander would play a supporting role. Despite ongoing inter-Korean talks, South Korea will still maintain deterrence systems to counter North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats. The Air Force and Navy will also expands its capabilities. The Army, Navy, and Air Force are also expected have equal decision-making positions in the Defense Ministry. The reform is expected to cost 270.7 trillion won ($240 billion) over four years. 

The military reforms was announced after the military leadership met with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. President Moon urged that Defense Reform 2.0 be given a high priority to boost efficiency and flexibility in responding to security challenges. President Moon also criticized the Defense Security Command (DSC) due to its scandal over released documents detailing plans for martial law and crackdown on protesters if then-President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment wasn’t upheld. President Moon also called on the high-ranking military officials to suggest specific measures for reforms and  and for a military probe to investigate the motives and determine who was responsible for the martial law plan.

South Korea’s Defense Minister Song Young-moo promised “full and sincere efforts” to carry out both reforms of the military and DSC. He’s already faced criticisms of withholding knowledge of the martial law plans after being briefed by DSC in March. The scandal is expected to be an obstacle to Defense Reform 2.0 undermining Minister Song’s position due to his prior knowledge of the plans and also pledging to root out military corruption.

As a Navy officer, he will also face resistance from other military decision-makers, which has been traditionally dominated by the Army. Also onesuggestion of the cause of the DSC controversy was its close ties to the Blue House as it can bypass the Defense Ministry and report directly to the President. According to anonymous sources one reform idea  is to cut the direct link between DSC and the Blue House.

Latest Updates on Inter-Korean Cooperation

Andrew Jung

On July 26, 2018, both North Korea and South Korea exchanged lists of surviving family members to prepare for the upcoming family reunion event, scheduled for Aug 20-26th. After initial talks on July 3rd, South Korea searchedfor surviving family members in South Korea that have relatives in North Korea. South Korea’s government confirmed 122 relatives out of the 200 people that North Korea’s government inquired about.

The North Korean government confirmed 122 are alive out of 250 people that the South Korean government asked about. The list of 100 family reunion participants for each country is expected to be finalized on Aug 4th and the event is to take place at Mt. Geumgang in North Korea. 

However, there is an issue puts the family reunions at risk. In 2016, 12 North Korean female employees that worked at a North Korean-run restaurant in China defected to South Korea. While North Korea claims they were kidnapped, South Korea asserts that the defections were voluntary. Recent interviews with the North Korean women suggest that North Korea’s claim is partially true as some of them did not know they were headed to South Korea.

North Korea’s state-run website Uriminzokkiri said on July 20th, that the family reunions and further inter-Korean talks will face obstacles if the defectors are not repatriated.  There is the possibility that if some of the women choose to stay in South Korea, their relatives in North Korea would face reprisals. 

In other news, inter-Korean efforts have been happening both formally and informally. Between Aug 10-12, inter-Korean soccer matches are expected to take place. Both North Korea and South Korea soccer teams will be composed of laborers from their respective countries. The North Korean delegation includes union leaders who will engage in meetings with their South Korean counterparts. On July 25, 2018, inter-Korean joint inspections in North Korea was done on railroads for a potential railway connection between Seoul and cities in North Korea. 

Earlier, a minor progressive South Korean political party, Minjung Party metwith North Korea’s Social Democratic Party in Shenyang, China to discuss parliamentary exchanges. The Minjung Party could face a fine from South Korea’s Unification Ministry as they did not grant permission for the meeting. Under the National Security Law, any South Korean who wants to meet with North Koreans need to notify and seek permission from the Unification Ministry prior to any meetings.

Record Heat Across South Korea - Blackouts, Samgyetang, and Review Natural Disaster Laws

Michael Buckalew

Both South Korea and North Korea are enduring a record heatwave over the past few weeks. Earlier this month, Gangreung and Seoul broke records for the highest low-temperature. Even in Pyongyang temperatures reached 34 degrees Celsius (93.2  degrees Fahrenheit). This clearly indicates that the impacts on weather due to climate change are becoming more apparent. Also, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration a strong North Pacific anticyclone has added heat to the atmosphere, increasing temperatures further.

The heat wave thus far has caused 14 deaths and more than 1,300 Koreans have been treated for heat-related illnesses. The toll was far worse with over 2 million farm animals dying due to heat-related causes according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

In the face of the heat wave, people have responded to find ways to cope. Supermarkets, cafes and online delivery services have seen increased sales as people try to stay in air-conditioned spaces. Additionally, sales of chicken and duck have increased 57% and 167% respectively. Both meats are commonly used in popular summer dishes such as Samgyetang (chicken ginger soup). InPyongyang, people are responding to the heat by eating naengmyeon, a cold noodle dish the city is known for for relief.

Also as a consequence of the hot weather, Seoul, Busan and Gwangju have had blackouts due to circuit failures from high electrical demand. This has prompted Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power to restart two nuclear reactors and delay maintenance on two others to meet high demand. This is a temporary reversal in President Moon’s nuclear phase-out policy.

Finally, the record heat also prompted a review of natural disaster laws in South Korea. Currently, heat is not classified as a weather-related disaster like typhoons and earthquakes. However, an official from the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said that, “We have decided great heat should be included in the list of natural disasters. The ministry will express support to the National Assembly when it reviews revision of the related laws.” President Moon also called for a review of existing laws to classify hot weather as a  natural disaster to allow for compensation of victims.

South Korea Faces Further Trade Action: Section 232 Automobile Investigation

Jaemin Baek

On Mar 26th, 2018, the South Korean and U.S. governments arrived at an agreement in principle to revise to the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) Free Trade Agreement (FTA). In the FTA revision agreement, South Korea made several concessions such as: voluntary export restraint agreements on steel in exchange for an exemption to Section 232 steel tariffs, and increases in U.S. automobile imports permitted in South Korea under American safety standards, amongst others. At the time, it was thought that the revisions would be the end of U.S.-South Korea trade frictions. 

U.S.-South Korea trade frictions recently flared up again, when President Trump ordered the U.S. Department of Commerce to initiate another Section 232 investigation into automobiles imports in May 2018. Section 232 of the U.S. Trade Expansion Act of 1962 permits the President of the United States of America to conduct investigations as to the effects of imports on national security and, based on the investigations findings, impose import tariffs or quotas. Earlier this year, President Trump ordered an investigation into steel and aluminum imports and subsequently imposed a 25% tariff on global steel imports and a 10% tariff on global aluminum imports.

The South Korean government and industry have both strongly opposed the Section 232 investigation. South Korean Minister of Trade, Industry, and Energy Paik Un-gyu, in some of the strongest language thus far regarding U.S.-South Korea trade relations, stated that the KORUS FTA would become “meaningless” if the United States imposed tariffs on imports of South Korean automobiles under Section 232.

Furthermore, various South Korean government officials have recently made a flurry of trips to Washington D.C. Most recently, South Korean Trade Minister Kim Hyun-chong led a delegation of South Korean government officials and business representatives, including Hyundai Motor CEO Chung Jin-haeng and Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association President Kim Yong-geun, from July 25-27.

Japan Held a Multinational Pacific Shield 2018 Drill at Tokyo Bay

Jessie Chen

On July 25, 2018, Japan held a multinational Pacific Shield 2018 drill off Tokyo Bay’s southern coast to practice intercepting Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) at sea. Destroyers, surveillance aircraft, and coast guard ships from the U.S. and South Korea also joined the exercise, as a part of the Proliferation Security Initiative. The drill does not pick out specific target countries, yet North Korea has condemned it as a provocation against them.

During the drill, the U.S. destroyer USS Milius, the Japanese destroyer JS Murasame, and South Korean forces kicked off the daylong drills to inspect a  ship suspected of delivering prohibited items.

Being part of the United Nations Proliferation Security Initiative, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. agree to inspect “shipments on vessels with the consent of the flag State on the high seas” when they believe the cargo contains prohibited items related to WMDs with “reasonable grounds”. Launched in 2003, the Proliferation Security Initiative is part of the U.S. efforts to stop proliferation by ships carrying nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and WMDs’ materials and equipment. 

While soaring tension in the Korean Peninsula has eased after the U.S.-North Korea and Inter-Korean summits, Japan has monitored offshore ship-to-ship transfers of oil involving North Korea, which could potentially violate U.N. sanctions on North Korea for their illegal nuclear weapon and missile programs.

Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Air Force, particularly American heavy bombers, also conducted a joint exercise in the Japanese airspace on July 28th, 2018. It aims to enhance joint operation abilities and raise combat skills. The exercise is one of the bilateral military drills publicized since high-level summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

This Week in History: Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (Bangkok)

On July 31, 1975, South Korea along with Bangladesh, India, Laos, and Sri Lanka signed the Asia Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA) also known as the Bangkok Agreement. It was an initiative of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) to promote economic development and trade in the Asia Pacific region. Read the original agreementhere. The agreement involves trade of merchandise goods, services, investment, and trade facilitation.

It was the first agreement among developing countries in Asia-Pacific on procedures for certification and verification of the origin of goods and “has the longest effective implementation period amongst the trade agreements in the entire Asia-Pacific.” In 2000, China agreed to join APTA. APTA is the only tradeagreement that links China and India, two of the world’s fastest growing economies. With China joining the agreement, ESCAP called it  the “largest regional trade arrangement in the world.”


ICAS Summer Symposium 2018: The Korean Diaspora
Hosted by Institute for Corean-American Studies (ICAS)
9:30 AM- 4:30 PM, Saturday, August 11, 2018
George Mason University Johnson Center 3rd Fl., Room D 4400 University DriveFairfax, VA 22030

Save the Date: "The Spy Gone North" Free Movie Screening
Hosted by Korean Waves, Asian Pacific American Film, NKinUSA, and The North Korea Network
7:00 PM- 10:00 PM, Thursday, August 16, 2018
Cinema Arts Theatre
9650 Main St Ste 14
Fairfax, Virginia


Korea Intern
The Asia Group

Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI) Fall 2018 Internship
Korea Economic Institute of America

Analyst - Due Diligence Research (Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, & Thai languages)
Kroll Associates