Asia in Review Archive (2017)

South Korea (Republic of Korea)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

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29 December 2017

Japan/Korea: Issue of comfort women still looming

South Korea’s Prime Minister Moon Jae-in called the country’s 2015 agreement with Japan to settle a decades-long impasse over the so-called comfort women “seriously flawed”. Moon’s statement, in which he vows unspecified follow-up measures to meet the victims’ demands, potentially throws the future of the deal in doubt, two years after both countries declared it final. The government of Japan announced that it wanted to stick to the existing Agreement.

22 December 2017

South Korea: Liberal Korea Party internal power struggle

With local election ahead in June 2018, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party’s (LKP) president Hong Joon-pyo has dismissed 62 party members as electoral district chiefs. Among them are many regarded as belonging to former President Park’s fraction within the party. Park is currently standing trial on multiple charges including abuse of power and bribery. Hong’s reshuffle is widely seen as an attempt to strengthen his grip on the party leadership.

15 December 2017

25 years imprisonment for former President’s confidant demanded

The prosecution has asked Seoul Central District Court to sentence Choi Soon-sil, former President Park Geun-hye’s aide, to 25 years imprisonment and a fine of more 100 Mio USD for abusing her close relationship to the President to receive bribes from companies. Observers expect that the ruling will affect the ruling on Park’s own trial on multiple charges, among them leaking govern-ment secrets to Choi. In a related development, another loyalist of the former President was inter-rogated by the prosecution on allegations of re-ceiving bribes in illicit political funds from local businessmen.

15 December 2017

Military to stay away from politics

In the frame of President Moon’s policy of root-ing out “accumulated wrongdoings” of former governments, a government-civilian committee established by the Defense Ministry in September and in charge of eradicating military wrongdoings has drafted a bill to keep the military way from politics. According to the bill civil servants and defense officials would receive heavy pun-ishments for requesting the military to intervene in political affairs. On the other side, military officials are demanded to refuse such a request for interference. Despite the successful democrat-ic transformation of South Korea and implemen-tation of parliamentary control of the military, civilian-military relations has remained strained as the military was not ready to accept civilian leadership on the grounds that civilian leaders lack the competence and experience to face the North Korean threat [The Korea Herald].

8 December 2017

Blacklisted as tax haven

For failing to demonstrate sufficient willing-ness to crackdown ‘harmful preferential tax re-gimes’, the European Union has put South Korea, Asia’s fourth largest economy, member of the OECD and G20, on her first ‘tax haven blacklist’, along with 16 other countries. Among them are American Samoa, Bahrain, Barbados, Grenada, Guam, Macau, the Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Namibia, Palau, Panama, St Lucia, Samoa, Trini-dad & Tobago, Tunisia and the UAE.

8 December 2017

Ex finance minister grilled over corruption allegations

With former President Park standing trail over multiple corruption charges, her former finance minister on Wednesday was heavily interrogated by the prosecution over allegations of accepting bribes from the National Intelligence Service in exchange for his support for an increase of the agency’s budget.

24 November 2017

President appoints disputed SME minister

President Moon has earned harsh critics of opposition parties for his appointment of Hong Jong-haak as SME and Startup Minister. The opposition parties massively protested against the nomination of Hong who they consider lacking competence and ethical qualification due to dubious financial transactions in the context of a building allowing members of his family to pay less tax.

24 November 2017

Justice Minister vows no pause in prosecution reform

Justice Minister Park Sang-ki on Wednesday expressed his firm determination to push for an overhaul of the prosecution by setting up an independent agency in charge of investigating corruption cases involving high-level public officials and their family members. South Korea’s prosecution has come under fire for being politicized with prosecutors gaining high posts in the previous government through their connections to then President Park who is currently standing trial for multiple corruption charges.

17 November 2017

Constitutional reform on the way

South Korean political parties have agreed on a revision of the constitution the focus of which pertain to expanding basic rights, strengthening local government and the office of the president. While the first two issues find broad consensus among the parties, the last issue is contested. Whereas the Democratic Party proposes a two-four-years term limit without touching on the power of the president, the opposition parties advocates a transformation of the current presidential system to a semi-presidential system.

17 November 2017

Sentence against confidant of ousted President Park confirmed

The Seoul High Court rejected an appeal of Choi Soon-sil, a confidant of impeached former President Park, and upheld the three years sentence of a lower court. Choi has been found guilty of abusing her close relationship to the President to gain favors for her daughter’s education including admission to Ewha Woman’s University over better qualified candidates and receiving good grades for courses without attendance and fulfilling assignments. The prison sentences against the involved university officials, among them the president of the university, were maintained, too.

10 November 2017

National Assembly in movement

Amid the parliamentary review of the highly contested 2018 budget bill of the Moon administrationm which started on Monday [The Korea Times 1], nine out of 20 lawmakers of the Bareun Party have announced to leave their party and join the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) in an attempt to to strengthen conservative forces within the National Assembly. This defection will increase LKP’s total number of seats in the national assembly to 119, only two less than the ruling Democratic Party. The LKP might even become the strongest party as further Bareun Party lawmakers consider to join the party [The Korea Times 2].

3 November 2017

Former President Park expelled from own party

In a move to regain public trust and intra-party unity, opposition Liberty Korea Party decided to expel former President Park who was impeached in 2016 over a corruption and cronyism case. Park is currently facing trial on bribery, abuse of power and other charges.

3 November 2017

Moon names new nominee for chief of Constitutional Court

President Moon has nominated Constitutional Court Justice Lee Jin-sung for the post of the Court’s chief. It is Moon’s second attempt to fill this position, after his first nomination, Kim Yi-Su, was voted down by the parliament which questioned the candidate’s political neutrality [Yonhap]. The same looks like to happen to his selection of Hong Jong-haak as Minister for SMEs and startups who is facing growing pres-sure of opposition parties to withdraw his nomi-nation due to suspicious financial undertakings of some of his relatives [The Korea Times].

3 November 2017

China-ROK relations getting back to normal, while worries about North Korean nuclear program grow

After prolonged – and ultimately unsuccessful – political and economic warfare campaigns against the Republic of Korea to dissuade it from participating in a U.S. anti-missile defense program (THAAD) aimed at North Korean nuclear attack capabilities, China has begun taking steps to resume normal bilateral relations with South Korea. The Chinese Foreign Ministry stated Tuesday that both sides “agree to bring communication and cooperation in various fields back on the normal track as soon as possible” [Xinhua]. Regarding the North Korean nuclear threat, Michael Auslin argues that the world should worry more about the risk of a North Korean nuclear accident, even more than its threats to initiate nuclear war. Even if Pyongyang’s laboratories and factories are safe, weapons systems break down, age, and suffer immense problems. The author also suggests that the US will need to figure out how to ensure that the accidents and miscalculations of the cold war are not repeated in North Korea, with catastrophic consequences [The New York Review of Books]. Meanwhile, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg began visits to Japan and South Korea on Sunday. On his topic list: North Korea, and “everything from fighting terrorism to cooperation in cyber and maritime security”. Regarding China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea, Stoltenberg said it is important for NATO to have dialogue with Beijing [Kyodo News].

28 October 2017

Maturing democracy

Former President Park’s impeachment over the involvement of a person without government office in decision making in which media and civic pressure played a crucial role reflects a steady development towards matured democracy in South Korea, Hee Min Kim argues [East Asia Forum]. In the a related development, the gov-ernment launched a pilot experiment of introduc-ing elements of deliberative democracy in the legislative decision making process by opening up the controversial legislation on the construction of nuclear reactors for citizens’ deliberation in a public panel the outcome of which President Moon vowed to follow and implement [Yonhap].

28 October 2017

Police reform

President Moon announced a reform plan that would give the police the right to investigation which currently is in the hand of prosecutors only who are accused to be political in their work.

28 October 2017

Moon’s anti-corruption drive

President Moon has launched a large scale campaign against “deep-rooted evils” of former governments under Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, investigating political misconduct and corruption. Opposition parties criticize this campaign as political revenge against the conservative party.

28 October 2017

Chinese foreign policy towards South Asia, Eurasia and East Asia

Being nuclear powers which account for almost half of the world population, the relations between China, India, and Pakistan build up one of the most tensest and explosive strategic configurations [China Policy Institute: Analysis 1]. Within this triangle, the strengthening of the Sino-Pakistani relations has put India under pressure to find strategies to counter China’s growing influence in South Asia [China Policy Institute: Analysis 2].  A latest example is New Delhi’s launching of a satellite program offering communication and meteorological data to its neighboring countries, such as Sri Lanka for which China had installed a satellite in 2012 and with which it has established strong economic and defense cooperation since 2015 [China Brief: The Jamestown Foundation].

The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) with its members Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia is a core element in China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative as it not only secures China’s connection to Europe and provides economic opportunities due to the wealth of national resources in the EEU-region, but also stabilizes the relation to Russia as the first and foremost condition for the success of OBOR [East Asia Forum].

South Korea and China have signaled efforts to overcome their differences on the deployment of US anti-missile systems on South Korean soil to pave way to re-vitalize diplomatic relations. At the margins of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Plus in the Philippines, the defense ministers of both countries met and had talks for the first time since 2 years [Channel News Asia].

20 October 2017

Former president’s trial put on hold

Ousted South Korean president Park Geun-Hye’s corruption trial was put on hold Thursday after her lawyers resigned to protest what they called biased proceedings. The defence team quit en masse on Monday, when Park condemned the trial as “political revenge”, after her detention warrant was extended for another six months.

20 October 2017

North Korean nuclear weapons: Diplomats talk strategy, defense industry cashes in

Diplomats from the United States, South Korea and Japan met in Seoul on Wednesday to discuss how to respond to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said that Washington continues to view diplomacy as the primary means for solving the crisis, but added that the allies must be prepared for “any eventuality” [USA Today]. The constant missile and nuclear threats have racked regional tensions sky-high, but they are a boon for South Korea’s burgeoning defense industry. International military attention has increasingly focused on Seoul’s forces and equipment. The country’s missiles, howitzers, submarines and warplanes are especially popular in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South America [Inquirer].

6 October 2017

Political polarization hampers efforts to coun-ter North Korean threats

Amidst high tensions between North and South Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear tests of the recent past, the domestic controversy between the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) over national security is heavily impeding the attempts of President Moon’s administration to effectively deal with Pyongyang. The conservative LKP disapproves of the DP’s politics of re-engagement focusing on diplomacy and demands a tougher stance against Pyongyang.

22 September 2017

South Korea: What if South Korea acted like North Korea?

Imagine there is a South Korean dictatorship that had been in power, as a client of the United States, since 1953.  Imagine also contemporary South Korea as a ruthlessly oppressed, pre-industrialized and impoverished failed state—an outlaw regime, with nuclear weapons and a fleet of long-range missiles. Next, picture this rogue dictatorship serially threatening to incinerate its neighbor, a free, democratic North Korea–and periodically promising to wipe out Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.  Imagine Washington claiming ignorance of South Korea’s capabilities and intentions, and America lecturing China that the crisis is due in part to its support for North Korea. How would China respond?

15 September 2017

New president, no election needed

Halimah Yacob, a former speaker of Parliament, is the country’s first female president and the first in five decades to come from the Malay ethnicity when she is sworn in on Wednesday. She was certified by the Presidential Elections Commis-sion as the only eligible candidate, and since she had no opponent, there was no election necessary. For the first time, candidates to become Singa-pore´s president could only come from one racial group: Malays. The election has triggered debate on who is Malay and raised questions over how an individual’s race can be determined. Critics also objected that this limitation was a move backwards because it wasn´t an open election by the best from all races.

15 September 2017

Korea: Pushing Seoul’s North Korea agenda in a worsening crisis  

Despite South Korea’s central position in the ongoing conflict, it struggles to make its voice heard amidst the media storm consistently created by the US President. South Korea has an interest however, to push its agenda and not to be forgotten as a crucial player – the US, for instance, needs South Korean approval for any military action on the peninsula according to the Korean President.


15 September 2017

Current ASEAN dynamics

Is ASEAN conspicuously absent at almost all currently decisive discursive fronts or is it still a factor and point of reference in Asian debates on regional order? One issue in this respect is a new outreach and interest of South Korea towards ASEAN amidst the tense situation on the Korean peninsula (The Diplomat). Pertaining to ASEAN integration, Singapore’s Minister for Trade and Industry argues in favor of a genuine interest to forge new paths to economic integration after Trump has killed the TPP while the Chairman of Malaysia’s ASEAN Business Advisory Council sees the growing Chinese influence in various ASEAN countries potentially changing the script for ASEAN’s further integration (Straits Times). Highlighting the case of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand he sees their links to economically active sub regions in China and its One Belt, One Road initiative as having the potential to divide the ASEAN integration agenda (The Edge Financial Daily).


7 September 2017

Oppositional ‘Liberty Korea Party’s boycott´s parliamentary sessions

Protesting an arrest warrant against the president of Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation which it views as an attempt of the government to control the media, South Korea’s main opposition party, the conservative Liberty Korea Party, has boy-cotted parliamentary sessions on Monday and Tuesday bringing legislation work to a standstill.

31 August 2017

Presidential Election 2017

The Presidential Election in Singapore has been set for September 23 if more than one person qualifies to run for the position. If there is only one eligible candidate, he or she will start the presidential term on the working day after Nomi-nation Day. The winning candidate will be the second Malay president in Singapore’s history, and the first to be chosen in a presidential elec-tion reserved for candidates of a specific commu-nity.

31 August 2017

Democracy and the rule of law are moving on

Three trials give hope that South Korea is on a path to increase the quality of its democracy and rule of law with the former President [Financial Times], a Samsung leader [Forbes] and the for-mer head of the national intelligence [Sputnik News] facing or having already been faced trial.

24 August 2017

Date set for referendum to amend Constitution

In his address, marking 100 days in office, Presi-dent Moon Jae-in announced June 2018 as date for the referendum on the amendment of constitution. Among other, issues of the constitutional revision pertain to the expansion of local government and basic rights.

24 August 2017

Conservative parties voice concerns over lib-eral chief justice nominee

President Moon’s nomination of Kim Meong-su, former leader of a group of liberal-progressive judges, for the post of the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court has become a subject matter of a dispute between the political parties. Con-servative opposition parties disapprove of the nomination fearing an ideological bias of the court. Recently, the nomination of a conservative judge as Chief Justice of the Indian Supreme Court has caused similar debates.

21 July 2017

South Korea: More than 7 in 10 favor consti-tutional revision

The majority of South Koreans believe their Con-stitution and the country’s basic law need to be updated to improve their fundamental rights and good governance.

7 July 2017

Prosecutors seek jail terms for Park aides over artist blacklist

Prosecutions of former President Park’s admin-istration continue, as Prosecutors call for prison terms for former presidential aides and ministers on trial for accused of managing a “black list” of cultural figures critical of the Park government.