Issue 40: July 6 - July 17, 2018


South Korea's Probe into the Defense Security Command

Andrew Jung

On July 10, 2018, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in ordered an independent probe into the Defense Security Command (DSC), a military intelligence unit within South Korea’s Defense Ministry. A week earlier, lawmaker Rhee Cheol-hee revealed that the DSC made an internal document in March 2017 that showed plans for martial law in case then-President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment wasn’t upheld by the courts. It was sent to Defense Minister Han Min-koo. The DSC’s plans were to declare martial law and suppress the candlelit protesters. The justification for martial law was to prevent potential provocations by North Korea and uphold public safety. 

For the probe, the current Defense Minister Song Young-moo formed an independent investigation team of military prosecutors with no affiliation to Army or the DSC. However, the team will not report to the Defense Minister. According to the President’s spokesman, the independent probe was made due to the possibility of former and current Defense Ministry officials involved in the martial law plan. The Defense Ministry also reacted slowly to the revelations so President Moon had to order the probe while on his state visit to India. 

Additionally, President Moon ordered that the independent probe investigate DSC’s alleged political activities related to the 2014 Sewol ferry sinking in which more than 300 people died. The released documents revealed that in 2014, a taskforce was made to deal with the aftermath of the sinking in which public anger was high against the Park Geun-hye administration for mishandling the rescue. There was suspicion that the DSC engaged in spying on the victims families.

It is also revealed that the DSC made recommendations for the Park Geun-hye administration to not salvage the boat and not recover the bodies of the missing passengers to prevent public uproar. The DSC named the recommendations as an “underwater burial”. In another document in May 2014, the DSC also recommended that President Park look sad to recover her falling approval rates. While it is unknown if she read the documents, she did cry in a televised national address days later.  

South Korea’s political parties reacted along partisan lines to the independent probe. The conservative Liberty Korea Party called the probe politicized saying President Moon wants to “tame” the military. They defended the military, saying the DSC document was merely for internal review and not calling for martial law. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea welcomed the investigations saying that it should be expanded to other DSC’s political activities during the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye’s administrations.

They also questioned if the Liberty Korea Party had prior knowledge of the DSC’s plans of martial law as the ruling party. The other minor parties, Bareunmirae, Party for Democracy and Peace, and Justice Party agreed that the DSC’s actions need to be investigated. The South Korean public alsoreacted to the allegations. According to the latest Realmeter poll on July 12, 2018, 80% of South Koreans support either overhauling or dismantling the DSC.

President Moon Jae-in's State Visit to India and Singapore for Economic Cooperation Amid the U.S.-China Trade War

Jessie Chen

South Korean President Moon Jae-in completed a six-day state visit to India and Singapore on July 13, 2018. The state visit, as part of President Moon’s New Southern Policy which targets Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and India, aimed to expand its market in the region and strengthen ties with the countries. President Moon’s first stop was India, where he stayed for four days and moved on to Singapore for a three-day state visit. 

The US imposing 25% tariffs on Chinese goods provoked a trade war between the world’s two largest economies and further affects South Korea’s export. South Korea thus has to seek new markets to reduce its reliance on two important trade partners. To cultivate alternative markets beyond China and the US, President Moon met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and  signed 11 agreements in the area of Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, and anti-dumping. Furthermore, the two sidesagreed to facilitate ongoing negotiations for Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a regional free trade agreement. 

During the state visit to Singapore, President Moon and Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong agreed to advance bilateral cooperation on trade, environment, technology, small and medium enterprises, and startups. The two sides signed six memoranda of understanding for promoting business and industry ties.  Singapore is the 10th largest trading partner of South Korea, and South Korea is ninth largest trading partner of Singapore. In 2017, bilateral trade between Singapore and South Korea was valued at $45.4 billion.

This Week in History: Constitution Day

On July 17, South Korea celebrates Constitution Day as a national holiday, as it is also the anniversary of the date that the country’s constitution was declared in 1948. Flags are displayed in public places to commemorate the holiday. After the division of the Korean peninsula when Japan rule ended, South Korea held its first democratic elections and elected members of its National Assembly before the constitution was declared on July 17, 1948. A month later in August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea was established under Syngman Rhee as the first president.


US competition with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran: A conversation with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)
9:00 AM- 10:00 AM, Wednesday, July 18, 2018
American Enterprise Institute
1789 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036

North Korea: Now What?
Hosted by Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University
4:30 PM- 6:30 PM, Thursday, July 26, 2018
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20045

Three-Party Talks on North Korean Denuclearization
Hosted by Arms Control Association
2:00 PM- 3:30 PM, Friday, July 27, 2018
National Press Club
529 14th Street NW, First Amendment Lounge
Washington, DC 20045