Issue 43: August 17 - 31, 2018


Running in Circles: U.S.-North Korea Nuclear Talks

Michael Buckalew

Recent U.S. efforts at denuclearization talks with North Korea have fallen into a familiar pattern of frustration and stalled progress. Since the June Trump-Kim summit, talks haven’t progressed significantly. This led U.S. President Donald Trump to cancel Secretary of State Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang and Beijing out of dissatisfaction with the progress of denuclearization talks. The announcement represented a sudden shift as U.S. State Department officialshad finished briefing allies’ embassies about the trip’s objectives several minutes before.

The change in the U.S. negotiating posture took place in the last few weeks. North Korea criticized the U.S. government’s attitude as ‘Gangster-like’ in July. This is due to Secretary of State Pompeo’s assertions that North Korea will not get sanctions relief until they take tangible steps on denuclearization and ballistic weapons programs. In light of Secretary Pompeo’s declining relationship with North Korea, Stephen Biegun was appointed recently on August 24, 2018 as a special envoy to North Korea. He served as Ford Motor Company’s Vice President of international government affairs and in the George W. Bush administration.

The cancellation of Secretary Pompeo’s trip is the first time that President Trump has acknowledged problems with his diplomatic efforts with North Korea. Verifying any genuine progress on dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs is difficult without independent inspectors in the country. Additionally, Victor Cha, who represented the U.S. in negotiations with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration,  stated that “the decision to scrap the trip reflected the White House’s desire not to be boxed in by North Korea’s key demand: that the United States accept a declaration formally ending the Korean War.”

Related to the stall in negotiations, President Trump stated in a FOX News interview on Aug 23rd, 2018 that the “…[U.S.] added new sanctions because it wants North Korea to speed up the denuclearization process. However in a contradictory tweet the following day, the president stated that, “I would like to send my warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim. I look forward to seeing him soon!”

The ongoing ebb and flow of negotiations has consequences for both South Korea and China. The U.S. State Department may examine if the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong is in violation of sanctions on North Korea. Finally, President Trump suggested China isn’t cooperating on denuclearization aspunishment over U.S. tariffs imposed on them. According to Professor Stephan Haggard this represents President Trump’s “... erratic policymaking style, a misguided effort to link North Korea to economic negotiations with the Chinese trade talks.”

Typhoons Cimarron and Soulik Hit Japan and South Korea Respectively

Jessie Chen

Typhoons Cimaron and Soulik hit Japan and South Korea with strong winds, wave, and heavy rain respectively on August 23, 2018. Both typhoons weakened after landing, while leaving a slew of damaged buildings, cancelled flights and power outages. One person is missing in South Korea due to the typhoon.

Typhoon Soulik made landfall near the city of Mokpo at the southwestern region. This typhoon hit South Korea’s major ports, farms, and utility firms. In the southern area, nearly 22,000 power outages were reported and more than 700 flights were cancelled on August 23, 2018.  South Korean governmentannounced that a 30-year-old man was injured and a 23-year-old woman was missing in southern Jeju island. In Goheung, a southern mainland county, a 16-year-old boy was injured after a wall collapsed.

Typhoon Cimarron made landfall at the Suketogawa riverside area in the city of Tokushima in Tokushima Prefecture. Prior to the typhoon’s landfall, Japan’s weather agency warned of strong gusts, high waves and heavy rain, some areas of the Ehime Prefecture city of Seiyo, evacuation orders were issued. Evacuation advisories were also announced in some districts of Otoyo, Nankoku and Muroto in Kochi Prefecture and in Osaka Prefecture. As of August 23, 2018, airlines in the Shikoku and Kinki regions canceled over 300 flights.

Japan’s weather agency also released heavy rain warnings or advisories in many areas of the prefectures of Nara, Wakayama, Mie, Tottori, Kagawa, Kochi, Tokushima, Ehime, Oita, Miyazaki and Kumamoto. Due to the typhoon, Japan has cancelled a simulated amphibious beach assault close to Mountain Fuji, which collaborated with the United Kingdom. The drill was supposed to be the first joint drill between the Britain and Japan.

Korea Economic Update: New Budget Plans, BMW Cars Pulled Off Roads, and Special Session of the National Assembly

Jaemin Baek

On Aug. 23, 2018 Minister of Finance Kim Dong-yeon announced at a meeting with Democratic Party of Korea lawmakers in the National Assembly that the government’s next proposed budget, running from 2018-2022,  would be the largest “job creation centered” budget.

Within this budget, Minister Kim stated that Seoul would continue its expansionary fiscal policy aimed at creating jobs and reducing income inequality. In particular, the minister noted that the government planned to propose an increase in public pension payouts, subsidize small and medium businesses affected by the minimum wage increase, and increase spending to cool down the housing market, amongst other measures. 

In the latest in the issues facing BMW in South Korea, the Ministry of Transportordered more than 27,000 BMW vehicles that had yet to receive safety checks off the roads. Within the calendar year, at least 39 BMW cars in South Korea have caught on fire and BMW is facing pressure from both government andconsumers over its botched handling of the public relations debacle. 

As a result of several weeks worth of party negotiations, National Assembly lawmakers agreed to hold an extraordinary session of the National Assembly from Aug. 21 to Aug. 29. During the extraordinary session, committees are due to discuss pending legislation andno plenary meetings of the National Assembly are planned during the extraordinary session. The agenda’s priorities appears to be several financial technology related legislative items - most notably altering the ownership rules on internet banking and those related tocryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.

Korea Family Reunions Happened; What Now?

Andrew Jung

On Sunday, August 26, 2018, the final round of the family reunions ended. It started on Friday as 326 South Koreans went to the Mt. Geumgang resort in North Korea to meet with their North Korean relatives separated since the Korean War. As they bid tearful farewells on Sunday, Aug 26, they exchanged home addresses and letters. Then the South Koreans boarded the bus back to South Korea, crossing over the DMZ. It was the first reunion in three years. 

The first round of the family reunions was from Monday, Aug 20, 2018 through Wednesday, Aug 22, 2018 as South Koreans bid also tearful goodbyes at their North Korean relatives as they left the reunion site at Mt. Geumgang. The reunions were the first time for most of the participants who were separated from contact since the Korean War.

During the three-day event, the separated relatives spent time a total of 12 hours, which notably is after 65 years of separation from the Korean War. The reunion also allowed relatives to have lunch privately instead of as a whole group. This reunion was for South Koreans who yearned for their relatives in the North. About 200 South Koreans participated and most of them fled the North during the war, leaving their infants and children behind, who are now in their 70s. 

After the reunions, South Korea Red Cross that organized the reunions will be checking on the South Korean participants and provide counseling if necessary. In a 2014 report by Red Cross after the Feb 2014 family reunions, half of the 2014 South Korean participants have difficulty adjusting due to the thought of not being able to see their relatives again and three out of ten respondents reportedly suffered psychological trauma. Some of the respondents also report feeling insomnia due to concerns about their separated relatives. 

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it plans to talk with North Korea to have reunions more on a regular basis. On Saturday, Aug 25, Park Kyung-seo, president of South Korea’s Red Cross said in a press conference that discussions will be held with their North Korean counterparts on another reunion in late October. He also believes both North Korea and South Korea Red Cross should work together to locate more missing relatives and arrange both regular meetings and video chats between the separate families. 

For South Koreans who do not win the lottery to participate in the reunions,some are resorting to backchannels to communicate with their relatives in the North. They do this by meeting with brokers in China and Japan to locate their relatives in the North and exchange letters, phone calls, and sometimes in-person meetings. These informal exchanges have been common since the Sunshine Policy era and decreased recently as many South Korean relatives died and North Korea tightened control of its border with China.

In the informal exchanges, reportedly 11,610 cases of letter exchanges and 1,755 in-person meetings occurred since 1990. Although officially North Korea and South Korea ban contact from both sides without approval, the South Korean government has been quietly supporting the backchannel communications. Other South Koreans either do not know about the backchannels or refuse to participate due to fear of fraud by brokers or fear of violating South Korea’s national security law. 

This Week in History: Remembering Sohn Kee-chung

Korea’s Sohn Kee-chung won the gold medal in the marathon. As Korea was under Japanese rule, he had to compete under the Japanese flag and Japanese name, Son Kitei. His victory was recorded as a Japanese feat. On August 25, 1936, the Korean newspaper Dong-a-Ilbo published the photo of him with the Japanese flag scratched out. After the picture was published, about 10 journalists were arrested and tortured and the news outlet was shut down. 


Solar Power in South Korea's Energy Mix and the Impact of Protectionism
12:00 PM- 1:30 PM, Thursday, September 6, 2018
Korea Economic Institute of America
1800 K St NW Suite 300
Washington, DC 20009

The Launch of Korea Matters for America/America Matters for Korea 
Hosted by East West Center in Washington and the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the USA, along with the Congressional Korea Caucus
4:30 PM- 6:30 PM, Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2060
45 Independence Ave SW, 
Washington, DC 20515

41st Annual Korean Festival of Maryland
10:00 AM- 7:00 PM, Saturday, September 15, 2018
Howard County Fairgrounds
2210 Fairgrounds Road, 
West Friendship, Maryland 21794

North Korean Military Proliferation in the Middle East and Africa
4:30 PM- 5:30 PM, Monday, September 24, 2018
Institute of World Politics
1521 16th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20036

2018 naisA Global Protégé Fair
6:00 PM- 9:00 PM, Wednesday, September 26, 2018
CBRE 9th Floor Conference Venue 750 9th Street Northwest
Suite 900 Washington, DC 20001

Baek Z Young & Turbo – Fall Korean Concert
7:00 PM- 10:00 PM, Saturday, September 29, 2018
Live! Casino & Hotel
7002 Arundel Mills Cir #7777, Hanover, MD 21076


Korea Foundation Job Opening (in Korean)