Issue 42: August 2 - 16, 2018


Historical Controversies Surround "Mr. Sunshine" During its International Release

Michael Buckalew

On July 19th, 2018, “Mr. Sunshine”, a Korean historical drama set in the late 19th and early 20th century launched internationally on Netflix. With the show’s release on the huge streaming platform, it’s poised to bring Korean dramas further into the global media mainstream. However, since the release in South Korea, the show’s creators are now accused of historical inaccuracies related to Japan and the United States.

The story begins in 1871 with Shinmiyangyo, a U.S. military expedition to Korea to open up the country to foreign trade. This is the first point of contention. Prior to the battle that ensued, Americans were depicted as tradingwith Joseon Korea, which at the time wasn’t permitted. Following the battle with the U.S., Lee Wan-ik, an educated translator, is depicted as selling Joseon Korea to Japan with them passively accepting the offer. This episode runs counter to how history in this period is commonly taught and discussed in South Korea.

The show is set primarily during the 1890's and 1900's, a tumultuous time in Korean history, immediately prior to colonization by Japan. Yonsei University professor Oh Young-seop stated that the drama has historically inaccurate depictions of Americans in the show. Besides Shinmiyangyo, another scene showed Go Ae-soon, a independence movement fighter assassinating an American diplomat. However, at the time Koreans did not view Americans in the country with hostility.

The final major area of controversy surrounds Goo Dong-mae, a character that  heads a pro-Japanese gang. The producers of the show are accused ofromanticizing Goo's pro-Japanese stance. The narrative shows Goo turning to the Japanese as a result of being mistreated as he is from a family of butchers, like a caste similar to “untouchables”. On the official Mr. Sunshine website, Goo was previously described as being a member of the “Black Dragon Society” a historically pro-Japanese group during the final years of the Joseon period. Following that, the group was given a new fictional name for the show. 

Historical descriptions of the late 19th and 20th century and relations with Japan during this time are highly sensitive topics. Owing public sensitivities over how events in the show are depicted, a petition was launched on the Blue House website on July 16th, 2018 calling on “the government to prevent factual errors in historical dramas.” Also for an international audience that has a limited understanding of Korean history, the show could shade their perceptions of the real history.

UN Humanitarian Guidelines for North Korea Amid Sanctions

Andrew Jung

On August 7, 2018, the United Nations Security Council approved new guidelines that would help governments and international non-governmental organizations provide humanitarian aid to North Korea. Humanitarian aid providers have complained that the UN’s nuclear sanctions are an obstacle in delivering aid to North Korea, a country which faces massive shortages of basic needs, such as food and medical supplies. The current nuclear sanctions strictly prohibit imports of fuel and the importation of North Korean exports of goods and labor that may provide revenue for North Korea to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. 

The new guidelines were crafted and proposed by the United States Permanent Mission to the UN and its Ambassador Nikki Haley. The United States stillmaintains its stance on enforcing the current sanctions until North Korea’s denuclearization is achieved. However the guidelines are supposed to ease the process for humanitarian organizations providing aid and other relief activities to North Korea’s civilian population. The new guidelines recommend that humanitarian organizations submit requests with “10 elements, including a description of the items to be delivered and assurances the goods will be used for their intended purposes.” 

In April 2018, UNICEF reported that North Korea still faces serious malnutrition issues, especially among children. Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs visited North Korea on July 9 and found “clear evidence of humanitarian need” while meeting with government officials and touring hospitals, schools, and farms. He reported that millions of North Koreans are still facing malnutrition. Tuberculosis is also still a problem as there are limited drugs to treat them in hospitals. See his full interview here. The UN is trying to raise $111 million to meet North Korea’s needs in health, food, and water and sanitation. So far, Canada, Switzerland, and Sweden have provided $11.6 million in aid.

North Korean Foreign Minister's Visit to Iran

Jessie Chen

On August 7, 2018, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho officially visitedTehran at his own request to deepen relations with Iran and confront unilateralism. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned Ri that the U.S. is “untrustworthy and unreliable,” and cannot be trusted, saying “[t]he U.S. administration’s performance in these years has led the country to be considered untrustworthy and unreliable around the world that does not meet any of its obligations.”

The visit came after the U.S. imposed new sanctions on Iran. In May, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal. Foreign Minister Ri criticized the imposition of new sanctions as a wrong move. During the visit, Foreign Minister Ri briefed the Iranian leader on the Trump-Kim summit at Singapore and also met the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Ri’s visit highlights growing bilateral relations while both countries have been under economic pressures from the U.S.

North Korea on August 9, 2018, condemned the U.S. calling for imposing international sanction against North Korea as “outdated acting script,” and “one cannot expect any progress in the implementation of the DPRK-U.S. joint statement including the denuclearization.” National Security Adviser John Bolton denounced North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un for not living up to his promise, denuclearization pledge, to the President Trump during the meeting in June.

New Moon Administration Economic Policies Demonstrate Altered Course

Jaemin Baek

When President Moon Jae-in first took office, he promised economic growth through “income-led growth,” the idea that South Korea’s economic model should not be based on export-led growth but domestic consumption.  In the economic policy plan issued in December 2017, the Moon administration outlined three key principles which would guide its economic policies: job-creating economy, innovative growth, and a fair economy. Reflecting the new policy direction, the Moon administration rolled out various economic policy initiatives, most notably the controversial minimum wage hike andstrengthened active oversight on chaebols, which are aligned themselves with the principles. 

However, since the implementation of such policies South Korean economic growth has slowed as exports and job numbers both fell below projected levels. In response, President Moon’s approval ratings fell to 58% earlier this month, the lowest point since his inauguration as president. 

Recognizing that worsening economic conditions were likely to blame, the Moon administration and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) have seemingly switched directions and are seeking closer collaboration with the chaebols and developing more business-friendly environments. Demonstrative of the Moon administration’s decision to switch gears in economic policy, in July 2018 President Moon replaced then-senior presidential secretary for economic affairs Hong Jang-pyo, who was the president’s point-man for the income-led growth policy, with Yoon Jong-won. In August 7, 2018, Mr. Yoon Jong-won, reflecting the change in direction of the Moon administration’s economic policies, was quoted stating “[w]e will boldly remove regulations that hamper corporate activity[.]” 

On August 10, 2018, the Blue House noted that the administration was planning a set of thirty deregulatory actions and called for the adoption of a negative regulatory framework. Currently, South Korean regulators utilize a positive regulatory framework, meaning that a new product or service line must comply with existing regulations or if current regulations are not applicable, must wait until the government develops new regulations. A shift to a negative regulatory framework would allow firms to introduce new service offerings and products into the market more quickly than in a positive regulatory framework and encourage innovative growth. 

This Week in History: National Liberation Day of Korea (Gwangbokjeol)

Translated as “Restoration of Light Day”, August 15 celebrates the independence of Korea from Japan’s colonial rule on August 15, 1945. August 15 is also the same date as the formation of the first South Korean government under Syngman Rhee in 1948. North Korea also celebrates the holiday on August 15. In South Korea, the holiday is celebrated with festivals, ceremonies, and parades with the South Korean flag displayed everywhere. 


DC Asia Policy Happy Hour - Aug 2018
5:30 PM- 8:30 PM, Friday, August 24, 2018
919 19th St NW
Washington, DC 20006


Communications Specialist
The Stimson Center

Korea Intern
The Asia Group

Fall Part-time Assistant
Council for Korean Americans

Program Officer, Critical Language Scholarship Program
American Councils for International Education

Director of Asian Sustainability, Asia Society Policy Institute
Asia Society