Issue 57: April 6 - April 17, 2019

Sejong Society Events

The Sejong Society of Washington, D.C. cordially invites you to the event below.

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Russia Steps Up Diplomacy with North Korea

George Bradshaw

North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un will make an official state visit to Russia in spring or summer, ending speculation following the Hanoi Summit in late February. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitri Peskov confirmed that policymakers will determine the date and venue in the‘foreseeable future’. The de facto chief of staff for Kim Jong-Un, Kim Chang-son, spent six days in Russia from March 19 to March 25, presumably organizing this visit and meeting senior government officials.

Highlighting Russia’s drive to step up diplomatic engagement on Korean Peninsula affairs following Hanoi, senior South Korea official Kim Hyun-chong returned home from a secret visit to Russia on March 27. Since Kim Hyun-chong’s visit, South Korea Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha has called for increased cooperation with China and Russia over denuclearization. Furthermore, on March 28 South Korea Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon thanked Russian support and ‘counts on their more constructive role’ in negotiations. This development suggests a return to a multilateral international engagement effort following the failure of the Hanoi Summit and Trump-Kim personalist diplomacy.

In other news, an unpublished report by Russia to the United Nations Security Council shows that Russia has sent home two-thirds of the 30,000 North Koreans working in Russia in 2018. This report noted Russian compliance with a 2017 UN resolution that called for the repatriation of all North Korean workers in order for North Korea to stop earningforeign currency.

This is an important source of income for North Korea: the United States has claimed that Pyongyang has earnt more than $500 million a year from its 100,000 foreign workers. China has also returned over half of its North Korean workforce. China’s Mission to the United Nations wrote that it has ‘earnestly implemented’ its repatriation obligations.

Disputes Over Confirmation Hearings in National Assembly

Andrew Jung

In the previous week, South Korea’s National Assembly held confirmation hearings for seven ministerial nominees as part of President Moon Jae-in’s reshuffle of his Cabinet for the second half of his term. The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is in disputes with the opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) that are refusing to adopt a hearing report and grant parliamentary consent to advance the appointments. Although a confirmation hearing report is not legally required for appointment, the LKP is pressuring President Moon to withdraw his nominees, claiming lack of qualifications and unethical actions.

Some of the notable nominees that faced intense criticism from the LKP were Kim Yeon-chul for Unification and Park Young-sun for SME and Startups Ministry. On March 26, 2010, Kim Yeon-chul expressed support for Moon Jae-in’s engagement policy with North Korea and easing sanctions to improve inter-Korean relations and encourage North Korea’s denuclearization. Kim Yeon-chul vowed to plan “creative measures” to encourage United States-North Korea dialogue to achieve denuclearization.

He cited the U.S.-North Korea’s recent Hanoi summit in which “snapback provisions” were discussed in which sanctions can be lifted but also restored if North Korea violates an agreement. To him, North Korea’s offer to close the Yongbyon Reactor and reports of the United States considering setting up a liaison office and an end-of-war declaration can be a good sign for South Korea.

Kim Yeon-chul said that North Korea can’t have a prosperous economy and nuclear weapons at the same time so North Korea’s focus on economic development should be used to encourage further progress on denuclearization. During the hearing, he also faced criticism for and apologized for past comments that led him to be labeled as “North Korea’s spokesman”. For example, in 2010, his op-ed called the killing of a South Korean tourist in Mt. Geumgang Resort by a North Korean soldier as a “rite of passage.” 

On March 26, 2019, Park Young-sun’s confirmation hearing was heated as opposition lawmakers grilled her over allegations of receiving preferential treatment at Seoul National University hospital. Park Young-sun also claimedthat LKP leader Hwang Kyo-ahn had knowledge of ex-Vice Justice Minister Kim Hak-eui possessing a sex-bribery video before the scandal broke out. Hwang Kyo-ahn vehemently denied the allegations and the LKP refused to continue with the hearing, announcing a boycott and imploring Park Young-sun to withdraw her nomination.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang Meet to Discuss Fine Dust Problem

Jessie Chen

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon met with Chinese Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang on March 27, 2019, in Hainan Province and agreed to bolster collaboration on tackling the fine dust problem. The prime ministerial talks were held for a half-hour on the sideline of the annual Boao Forum, a high-level forum for Asian political, business, and academic leaders to discuss trends and issues in the region. The half-hour meeting marked the first prime-ministerial meeting since June 2016.

During the meeting, Prime Minister Lee pointed out that, “Air pollution, including fine dust, is a pressing national task (to resolve) for both countries.” Prime Minister Lee invited Chinese President Xi Jinping to make a trip to South Korea during the upcoming G-20 summit, which will be held in Japan in June. Prime Minister Lee proposed to boost joint research on countermeasures against fine dust and the cause of the dust. Chinese Premier Li stated that the two sides should facilitate communication, share experiences, and jointly develop dust-reducing technology.

Given that South Korea has relied heavily on coal fired energy, it has been ranked as one of the countries with the worst air pollution in the world. An OECD report indicated that South Korea has the fourth-highest level of average ultrafine dust levels, or PM 2.5, in the world, below only India, China, and Vietnam. Experts expected South Korea and China’s pollution to be worse in the future since the two countries plan to invest more on coal-fired power plants.

To reduce the emission of fine dust and greenhouse gas, South Korean Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Sung Yun-mo met Chinese governmental officials from National Energy Administration and State Administration for Market Regulation during the Beijing visit. The two sides agreed to hold a regular joint technology forum and make efforts towards developing environmentally-friendly energy to reduce dependency on coal-fired power plants.

President Moon Engages with Foreign Business for the First Time

Jaemin Baek

On March 28, 2019 President Moon Jae-in met with a number of foreign-owned business leaders to discuss business conditions and encourage them to continue to invest in the country. While President Moon previously met with business leaders, they were Korean companies - either small and medium enterprises (SMEs) or large conglomerates. During the meeting, President Moon met with 56 foreign-owned firms and nine business groups, including the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea.

During the meeting, Moon emphasized the strong economic fundamentals of Korea, noting that Korea was full of economic promise. Moon also affirmed the country’s economic openness with 52 bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements, an area that covers approximately 77 percent of the world’s GDP.

Moon also emphasized the role that foreign-owned companies played in South Korea, accounting for 19 percent of Korea’s overall exports and 7 percent of its overall employment. Afterwards, foreign businesses provided recommendations for the government to enable their growth and Moon promised that the relevant ministries would review their proposals.

Secretary Pompeo and Foreign Minister Kang Meet to Discuss North Korea Situation

John Seymour

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met together in Washington last Friday, March 29, 2019. Their meeting, which lasted under one hour, preceded the upcoming April 11 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. It was the first meeting between Pompeo and Kang since the Hanoi Summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in February. While cost-sharing for U.S. troops in South Korea and a waiver for oil imports from Iran came up, North Korea policy constituted a major portion of the discussions

In a press conference after the meeting, Kang emphasized alignment between the United States and South Korea on objectives regarding North Korea. “Through today’s discussions we were able to reaffirm that South Korea and the U.S. are completely aligned on our end goal when it comes to our policy toward North Korea,” said Kang. The foreign minister added that furthering U.S-North Korea dialogue will be of primary importance, given the failure to reach a deal between Trump and Kim at the Hanoi Summit.

However, Kang also recognized disagreements in strategy between the two nations. The U.S. insistence on maintaining sanctions on North Korea to achieve denuclearization contrasts South Korea’s plans for inter-Korean economic initiatives and engagement with the North. While U.S. President Trump has recently stated that additional sanctions are not necessary, he did not rule out the possibility of imposing new ones in the future.

While both nations have a stated interest in the denuclearization of North Korea, their preferred means differ. Whether the upcoming Trump-Moon meeting resolves or increases this gap remains to be seen. Their summit will be preceded by a meeting between South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, giving the two governments another chance to share assessments of the current situation and plans of action.

This Week in History: Cyber Attacks in South Korea

South Korea’s Arbor Day is also known as Sikmogil (식목일), a day dedicated to tree-planting. Other countries celebrate the holiday globally on its own date, and South Korea celebrates it on April 5. South Korea’s Arbor Day was declaredas a holiday in 1949 to rebuild the forestry that was devastated by colonial occupation. Although it has been abolished as a holiday since 2006, many South Koreans still celebrate Arbor Day by planting trees throughout the country. Read more about South Korea’s Arbor Day here.

Other Events

What Happened in Hanoi? The Future of Negotiations in North Korea
Hosted by Georgetown University’s Asian Studies Program
12:30 PM- 2:00 PM, Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Georgetown University
3700 O Street N.W.
Intercultural Center (ICC) 302-P
Washington, D.C 20057

Spring Networking Happy Hour
Hosted by The North Korea Network & Korean Waves
6:00 PM- 9:00 PM, Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Bonchon Arlington
2201 N Pershing Dr Suite E, 
Arlington, VA 22201

2019 Arms Control Association Annual Meeting
9:00 AM -3:30 PM, Monday, April 15, 2019
Washington Court Hotel
525 New Jersey Ave NW, 
Washington, DC 20001

Sneak Preview Fundraiser: Geographies of Kinship & Relative Strangers
Hosted by Mu Films, Me & Korea, and Adoption Links DC
6:00 PM- 9:00 PM, Saturday, April 27, 2019
Howard University Hospital, Towers Auditorium
2041 Georgia Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20059