Issue 54: February 9 - February 21, 2019


Inter-Korea Teams Proposed for Four Sports at Tokyo 2020

John Seymour

Delegations representing the National Olympic Committees of both South Korea and North Korea met together on Friday, Feb 15, 2019 with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Switzerland to discuss the possibility of fielding unified Korean teams for several sports at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The two Korean Olympic Committees proposed jointly-fielded teams for four sports: Women’s basketball, Women’s hockey, Judo, and Rowing. The possibility of adding additional sports is still under discussion, but even the current proposal of four inter-Korean teams marks a step forward from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, when South Korea and North Korea bothcontributed athletes to a joint Women’s ice hockey team, the two countries’ first unified team for international competition since the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships.

However, controversy has often followed this move towards more closely coordinated athletics. Last year’s joint ice hockey team received criticism from South Koreans who argued that fielding a joint team would take away opportunities from more-deserving South Korean players, though officials claimthat this will not be the case for 2020. North Korea’s anti-doping testing has also come under fire, with the World Anti-Doping Agency rating the country’s testing program as below international standards. The IOC has stated that North Korean athletes must be tested to the same degree as athletes from other countries, and China will administer tests for North Korea’s athletes until North Korea remedies their own anti-doping controls.

Still, many South Koreans are optimistic that united teams could play a large part in easing tensions across the parallel. Before departing Switzerland, South Korean Sports Minister Do Jong-hwan stated he hopes that the joint teams for Tokyo 2020 will “encourage further changes and bring peace.” As the Koreas plan to submit a bid to co-host the 2032 Summer Olympic Games, these early ventures in sports cooperation will play an important role in judging the viability of such a large step.

South Korea National Assembly Speaker's Comments on the Emperor of Japan

Amanda Wong

Japan has lodged a complaint and demanded an apology from South Korearegarding comments made by Moon Hee-sang, Speaker of South Korea’s National Assembly. Moon Hee-sang said that the Japanese emperor should apologize to comfort women who were forced into sexual slavery in Japanese military brothels during World War II.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Feb 8, 2019, Moon called the Japanese emperor “the son of the main culprit of war crimes”, in reference to Emperor Hirohito, the current emperor’s father, and the emperor in whose name Japan fought in World War II. The comments led to a response from Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, who stated that the comments were “extremely regrettable,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also expressed similar sentiments.

In addition, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono warned against making divisive remarks regarding Speaker Moon’s comments. On the other hand, theSouth Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that Speaker Moon’s comments were meant to emphasize the need for sincerity from Japan along with a victim-centered approach to enable the victims to heal emotionally. Speaker Moon has also stated he has no intention of apologizing for his remarks in spite of Japan’s call for his statement to be retracted. This could result in a further increase in tensions between the two countries.

This incident is the latest development that could further strain the fraught relationship between Japan and South Korea. Tensions have flared recently after the South Korean Supreme Court ruled that Japanese companies had to compensate several South Koreans for their forced wartime labor. In addition, an encounter between a South Korean warship and a Japanese patrol aircraft increased tensions between the two countries.

Merger Between Two Shipbuilding Heavyweights Promises Global Industry  Changes, Strained Labor Relations, and Aggravated Tensions with China and Japan

Jaemin Baek

On January 31, 2019, the Korea Development Bank (KDB), the majority shareholderof South Korea’s second largest shipbuilder, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME), announced that it had reached a conditional dealwith Hyundai Heavy Industries Group (HHIG), the largest South Korean shipbuilding company, to fully privatize DMSE.

In the deal, KDB would give HHIG its entire stake in DSME in exchange for shares in the newly merged entity. HHIG would retain the largest shares in the newly merged entity while KDB would hold the second largest number of shares. The deal was conditional on whether Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) would be interested in acquiring DSME. On February 11, 2019 SHI rejected KDB’s offer to bid on DSME and HHIG became the sole bidder for South Korea’s second largest shipbuilder. 

The deal has been met with significant opposition from labor unions as both unions from DSME and HHIG are concerned that the merger will ultimately lead to job cuts. On February 11, 2019, HHIG’s labor union delivered a letter to HHIG’s management demanding that no layoffs occur due to the merger and that union leadership be present at negotiations between HHIG and DSME moving forwards. Reports indicate that DSME’s labor union plans to hold a voteon whether to strike in anticipation of the merger on February 18 and 19, 2019 and it is likely that HHIG’s union will join. 

The newly merged entity is expected to create an industry giant with significant market power that is likely to receive opposition from Beijing and Tokyo. Currently, HHIB and DSME combined control 20% of the global market value of new ship orders and an even higher market share of high-margin liquified-natural-gas carriers, 52%.

Due to the creation of such an industry behemoth with tremendous production capacity and technological-know-how, industry observers note that the merger will not be welcomed by Beijing and Tokyo. Tokyo already initiated WTO dispute resolution procedures in November of 2018 against what it claims is unfair state support of Korea’s shipbuilding industry.

This Week in History: Daegu Subway Fire

Feb 18, 2003 was the date when a man Kim Dae-han set fire to the subway train car in Daegu, South Korea. He was a mental health patient and a former taxi driver who blamed his paralysis on bad medical care. The fire spreadthroughout the train and hit the second train and at least 200 people were reported dead or missing with 138 injured. Other than the arson, this also exposed the vulnerability of Korean subway trains to fire, release of poisonous gases, and lack of emergency safety measures as passengers were locked inside the train cars.

Kim Dae-han was arrested and sentenced to life due to his mental instability and expressing remorse. He died in August 2004. One of the train operators was also accused of abandoning his train and removing the master key that kept the passengers locked in. The operators of both trains in the fire were also sentenced to prison for negligent homicide. The tragedy caused South Korea to strengthen safety measures in its subway system. In 2008, Daegu opened a safety theme park to educate visitors about public safety. 


Prospects for the Trump-Kim Vietnam Summit
10:00 AM- 12:00 PM, Friday, February 22, 2019
Center for Strategic & International Studies
1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036

DC Asia Policy Happy Hour
5:30 PM- 9:00 PM, Friday, February 22, 2019
Public Bar
1214 18th St NW, 
Washington, DC 20036

President Moon’s Policy towards North Korea: Working with the United States for Peace and Security on the Korean Peninsula
12:00 PM- 1:30 PM, Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Korea Economic Institute of America
1800 K Street, NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006

South Korea: Inspiration for Democracy in Asia
9:30 AM- 1:00 PM, Wednesday, February 27, 2019
National Endowment for Democracy
1025 F St NW, #800
Washington, DC 20004

GWIKS Lecture Series, “Paintings, Songs, and Board Games:Travels to Kŭmgangsan in Late Chosŏn Korea (1600-1900)” with Maya Stiller
2:00 PM- 3:30 PM, Thursday, March 7, 2019
Elliott School of International Affairs, Room 505
The George Washington University
1957 E Street NW, 
Washington, DC 20052

Sunmi the First World Tour Warning in Washington DC
7:00 PM, Monday, March 18, 2019
Lincoln Theatre
1215 U St NW, 
Washington, DC 20009

Epik High Concert
8:00PM, Friday, April 12, 2019
The Fillmore Silver Spring
656 Colesville Rd,
Silver Spring, MD 20910


2019 Spring Intern - EAP Practice
Albright-Stonebridge Group

Assistant Program Officer, Korea WEST (DC)
Cultural Vistas