Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)

South Korea (Republic of Korea)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

29 December 2020

Indian Army chief visits South Korea to enhance military ties

(lm) Indian Army Chief General Naravane on December 28 embarked on a three-day visit to South Korea to bolster military cooperation with the East Asian nation. During his visit, General Naravane is scheduled to meet with several high-ranking Korean officials, including Defense Minister Suh Wook, Chief of Staff General Nam Yeong-shin, and Joint Chief of Staff Chairman General Won In-choul. [Hindustan Times]

The trio marks General Naravane’s visit to a foreign country during the coronavirus pandemic after Myanmar, Nepal [see AiR No. 42, October/2020, 3], United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia [see AiR No. 50, December/2020, 3].

29 December 2020

South Korea deploys underwater mine disposal robots

(dql) South Korea’s military has deployed a new indigenous underwater mine disposal vehicle in a bid to the its Navy’s safety and operational capabilities. First delivered to the military in 2018, around ten units were put into operation, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

Adopting features of a marine robot, the vehicle is designed to conduct mine-clearance missions by searching and identifying mines underwater and neutralizing them by placing explosives. It is remotely controlled to ensure that operators remain out of risk. [Korea Herald]


29 December 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Court order allowing seizure of assets to pay victims of Japanese wartime forced labor takes effect

(dql) Already strained relations between Japan and South Korea over the issue of forced labor are expected to worsen after an order of a South Korean court took effect on Tuesday, mandating that the local assets of a Japanese firm be sold off to compensate victims of forced labor, in fulfillment of a ruling by the South Korean Supreme Court in November 2018 ordering the company to provide between 100 million won ($91,560) and 150 million won to five plaintiffs who were forced to work in its factories during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945. [Korea Herald]

Japan, however, has been consistently questioning the ruling, claiming that all reparation issues, stemming from its colonial rule, were settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized relations between the two countries. It has repeatedly criticized the South Korean government for failing to take necessary action to resolve the dispute. 

Interestingly, the court’s order took effect a day after the fifth anniversary of the agreement to resolve the issue of Korean women forced into Japanese wartime military brothels, an agreement hailed as landmark deal at the time when is was concluded in 2015 between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Park Geun Hye. [Mainichi]

29 December 2020

South Korea: New leader of hardline labor union elected 

(dql) A hardline figure has been elected as new head of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), South Korea’s militant labor umbrella organization. Yang Kyeong-su, head of the KCTU chapter in Gyeonggi Province, was elected the new leader with more than 55% of votes in last week’s leadership election. Yang, whose three-year term begins next month, vowed during his campaign to organize a general strike scheduled for January 3 to demand the revision of pending labor bills, such as the extension of the validity period of collective agreements, and an enactment of a bill that would hold companies accountable for serious industrial disasters. Yang predicted that the strike would be “written down in a page of history.” [KBS] [Yonhap]

Established in 1995, the KCTU is the country’s largest industrial union confederation with nearly 1 million members in 2018. 

For insights into the recent history of trade unions in South Korea see Kap Seol in [The Wire] who argues that labor militancy has played a decisive role in the rise of South Korea’s democracy. 

29 December 2020

South: President Moon approval ratings plummet over legal battle between Justice Ministry and General Prosecution

(dql) President Moon Jae-in’s approval of a disciplinary measure of his Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae to suspend the country’s Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl from duty for two months, has caused a backlash against himself, after Seoul court approved Yoon’s suit to overturn of Choo’s order. 

Yoon had filed an injunction at the court on Thursday last week seeking both to apply for a suspension of the execution and to overturn the two-month disciplinary suspension of duties. The court’s decision is the latest move in the ongoing legal battle between the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor General. Earlier this month, the disciplinary committee of the Justice Ministry found Yoon guilty ethical and legal misconduct, including surveillance of the judiciary, interference in the investigation into a controversial case as well as damage to his political neutrality, and ordered the two-months suspension from duty.

As the Ministry of Justice is expected to appeal the court’s decision, the final outcome of this legal battle will the decided by the Supreme Court. This will take more than seven months, making it possible for Yoon to remain in office for the rest of his term which ends in July next year.

Against this background, the court’s decision is widely seen as a blow to the President, who is facing record high disapproval ratings at almost 60% as result of the handling Yoon’s suspension issue and publicly apologized to the public for “causing inconvenience and confusion” in the context of the legal battle over the General Prosecutor. [Korea Herald] [Korea Times] [Yonhap]

22 December 2020

Chinese and Russian warplanes enter South Korea’s air defence identification zone, fly over Sea of Japan

(dql) South Korea scrambled fighter jets in response to an intrusion into its air defence identification zone by 15 Russian and four Chinese warplanes, in what appears to be a joint military drill between Beijing and Moscow. [Yonhap]

Meanwhile, six Russian and Chinese strategic bombers on Tuesday flew over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. The Japanese Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighters against the bombers. [Kyodo News]

22 December 2020

South Korea: Prosecutor General files lawsuit against his suspension from duty

(dql) In an unprecedented move, President Moon last week approved the decision of the disciplinary committee of South Korea’s Justice Ministry to suspend Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl from duty for two months, after it found Yoon responsible for ethical and legal misconduct including surveillance of the judiciary, interference in the investigation into a controversial case as well as damage to his political neutrality. 

Calling the decision “illegal and unfair”, Yoon filed an injunction at the Seoul Administrative Court to halt the suspension order and a separate lawsuit to have the disciplinary order overturned. [Korea Times] [Korea Herald]

22 December 2020

Indonesia, South Korea to sign trade agreement

(nd) Last Friday, Jakarta and Seoul signed the Indonesia-South Korea Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IK-CEPA) to increase bilateral economic relations and attract more South Korean investments in Indonesia. From an Indonesian perspective the agreement adds to a long list of similar international agreements this year, including the Indonesia-Australia CEPA, the ASEAN-Hong Kong, the China Free Trade Agreement (AHKFTA), and the ASEAN-Hong Kong, China Investment Agreement (AHKIA). Also signed were a deal in the Indonesia-Mozambique PTA, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the Protocol to Amend ASEAN-Japan EPA. [Tempo]

15 December 2020

South Korea: Ruling party pushes through bill to pave way for the launch of contentious anti-corruption agency

(dql) With the votes of the members of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) and against those of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), the National Assembly last week passed a contentious bill on the voting mechanism in the parliamentary committee vested with the power to present nominees to be appointed as the head of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-ranking Officials (CIO) by the President. The bill allows now the DPK to push through its candidates against any potential veto of the opposition because the bill reduces the quorum for the candidate nomination from six to five in the seven-member committee which consists of the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Court Administration, the President of Korean Bar Association and four other members – two recommended by the ruling party and the other by the opposition. [Korea Herald 1]

The CIO bill had passed the National Assembly in December last year and came into force in July. It is expected to police almost 6.500 “high-ranking officials”, including high-ranking government officials, parliamentarians, prosecutors, judges, and the President – incumbent and former – and their spouses and children. But the start of the CIO’s work has been delayed as the PPP blocked with their vetoes the selection of the CIO’s first leader in three meeting rounds in November. The PPP accuses the ruling party of using the CIO for its own political gains arguing that the agency is not checked by any other body. [Korea Herald 2][Dong-A Ilbo]

Prior to the CIO Act, the prosecutors’ office had the power to investigate and to prosecute an individual or an entity (including corporations) for nearly all criminal offenses, while the police had the power to investigate general crimes, such as fraud, embezzlement, and forgery. Under the CIO Act, if the prosecution or the police detect any alleged crime of a high-ranking public official, they are required to immediately notify the CIO. Upon notification, the CIO may compel the relevant investigative agency to transfer the case to the CIO. [Lexology]

In a related development, the parliament also approved a revision of the country’s police law which grants the police more investigative authority, introduces a local autonomous police system and permits the creation of a national investigation office. [Yonhap]

15 December 2020

South Korea: New spy agency law

(dql) South Korea’s parliament passed a bill to revise the National Intelligence Service Korea Act to transfer the power of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) to conduct anti-communist investigations to the police. The NIS can now only deal with gathering and processing intelligence related foreign affairs and North Korea, as well as conduct counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations. The bill also explicitly bans the NIS from interfering in domestic politics. The revised law will enter into force after a three-year grace period. [Korea Herald]

15 December 2020

Inter-Korean relations: South Korea bans anti-North leaflets

(dql) South Korean’s parliament passed amendment to the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act to criminalize any scattering of printed materials, goods, money, and other items of value across the inner-Korean border. Furthermore, it restricts loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts, which for a long time had been used by the South Korean military as part of its psychological warfare against North Korea until it withdrew the equipment following a 2018 summit between the two Koreas.

Violating the new law is punishable with up to three years in prison or a fine of nearly 28.000 USD.  

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) which pushed through the law with its majority of 174 seats in the 300-member parliament was criticized from the main opposition People Power Party, human rights activists and North Korea defectors for sacrificing freedom of expression to improve ties with the  North. [Reuters] [The Guardian]


15 December 2020

South Korea to buy US navy helicopters

(dql) South Korea’s Defense Ministry has revealed that it will purchase for 878 million USD 12 Seahawk helicopters, manufactured by a Lockheed Martin affiliate, to equip its next-generation main aircraft for naval operations, in a bid to strengthen the Navy’s detection and attack capabilities against enemies’ vessels and submarines. The arms deal is expected to be signed within this year.


8 December 2020

South Korea to deploy suicide military drones on trial

(dql) South Korea’s military has announced plans to deploy suicide unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and gun-shooting drones on a trial basis next year after it revealed that it had signed contracts with companies to acquire three types of advanced attack drones – the suicide UAVs, drones capable of firing guns at ground targets, and small-sized drones equipped with surveillance and attack functions. [Army Technology]

Meanwhile, the defense budget for next year rose 5.4% on-year to a total of 52.8 trillion won (approx. 48 billion USD), with the bulk of the funds of almost 36 trillion won to be used for managing military assets and forces, a year-on-year increase of 7.1%, while 17 trillion won will be spent on arms purchases and other projects to boost defense capabilities, up 1.9% compared with this year. [Janes]

8 December 2020

South Korea: Parliamentary committee passes bill banning anti-North Korean leaflet campaigns

(dql) The Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee of the South Korean parliament last week passed a controversial bill which allows punishments of up to three years in jail or fines of up to more than 27.000 USD for those who distribute anti-North Korean leaflets at the military demarcation line.

With political parties being deeply divided over the bill, its passage was secured by the votes of committee members from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), while opposition party members boycotted the vote out of objection. The DPK justified the bill with the safety of residents in the border area. Opposition lawmakers, however, criticized the DPK’s decision as a “pathetic submission to the North” at the expense of South Koreans’ right to freedom of expression. The criticism refers to a complaint of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un‘s sister Kim Yo-jong who in June strongly condemned a leaflet campaign by a South Korean civic group, which tried to drop from balloons leaflets critical of North Korea’s human rights situation at the inner-Korean border, and announced retaliatory actions. [Korea Herald 1] [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3] [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2]

Human Rights Watch and other critics called on the National Assembly to reject the bill, warning that if passed the bill would violate citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and would make engaging in humanitarianism and human rights activism a criminal offense. [Human Rights Watch] [Korea Herald 2]

Despite these criticisms, the bill is expected to be approved by plenary vote in the National Assembly later this month without problems, given that the DPK holds the absolute majority in the 300-seat parliament.

8 December 2020

South Korea: Legal battle between Ministry of Justice and prosecution escalates

(dql) The legal battle between the Justice Ministry and the prosecution over the former’s order to suspend General Prosecutor Yoon Seok-youl is heating up after both sides have taken further legal actions against each other.

The Ministry filed an appeal against the Seoul Administrative Court’s injunctions against an order of Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae to suspend Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl from duty. Yoon, meanwhile, filed a complaint last Friday with the Constitutional Court. He argues that provisions of the Prosecutor’s Discipline Act, under which the Justice Minister is set to convene a disciplinary committee which will determine the disciplinary actions to be taken against him, are unconstitutional. Under the Act, the disciplinary committee consists of seven members, including the Justice Minister and the Vice Minister, with the former having the authority to appoint the other five panel members, among them two prosecutors and three outside experts. Given that in this case, it is the Justice Minister herself who attempts to punish Yoon, his lawyers argue that fairness in the procedure is not ensured. [Korea Herald] [Yonhap]

These moves are the latest in a legal battle between Ministry of Justice and the prosecution which was triggered by the Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae’s order to suspend Yoon from duty over allegations of the latter’s misconducts and power abuse, including “improper” meeting with media executives, inspecting judges handling controversial cases and interfering with the prosecution’s investigations to safeguard people close to him. Minister Choo also announced that she would push for disciplinary penalties against him.

Yoon, however, was successful with a request for an injunction against the suspension, approved by the Seoul Administrative Court. In another setback to Choo, also the Justice Ministry’s inspection committee which convened to discuss Choo’s decision, found that it was unjust to suspend Yoon from duty and to call for disciplinary measures against him. [AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]

1 December 2020

South Korea to provide Bangladesh $50 million in budget support

(lm) South Korea has agreed to provide Bangladesh with $50 million loan under its Economic Development Cooperation Fund (EDCF) to help Dhaka address the economic knock-on effects of the coronavirus pandemic. In June, Bangladesh had urged the South Korean government for financial aid amid the crisis. [The Daily Star]

Bangladesh has so far received more than $2 billion as financial support from various multilateral and bilateral organizations to recover from the economic downturn, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

1 December 2020

Chinese Foreign Minister’s visits to Japan and South Korea

(dql) Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited South Korea and Japan.

During his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihidde Suga, both sides agreed of deepening economic ties, but remained split of disputed islands in the East China Sea. Wang reassured that China seeks to strengthen cooperation with Japan in the fight against the pandemic and in both countries’ economic recovery. Suga confirmed that a “stable relationship between the two countries is important not only for Japan and China but also for the region and the international community,” adding that he “would like to fulfill our responsibilities together.” He, however, reminded Wang of Japan’s claim over Japanese-controlled East China Sea islands, which are claimed by also China, and expressed his concern about Beijing’s growing activity in the area. Wang, speaking with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi a day earlier, said that China was firm its right to defend its sovereignty. [AP 1] [Japan Times]

Speaking with his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha and President Moon Jae-in, Wang called for stronger cooperation in combatting the coronavirus pandemic, in trade and in finding a peaceful solution to a nuclear standoff with North Korea.

Wang’s visit to Seoul comes at a time when concerns in South Korea are rising that the country risks to becoming squeezed between China, its biggest trading partner, and military ally the United States, as well as when Moon’s ambitions for inter-Korean engagement have faltered amid stalled nuclear negotiations between the US and North Korea. [AP 2]

1 December 2020

South Korea: Post-jail rehab facility stay for violent criminals on the way

(dql) South Korea’s government and the ruling Democratic Party are discussing a new law allowing for post-release isolation of violent criminals in a rehabilitation facility for a certain period. The law would apply to “those convicted of murder, sexual violence against children, people who have served five or more years of jail term and are likely to commit repeat offenses,” and  ensure humane treatment within the facility, according to Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae. 

The discussion comes as more than 120,000 citizens expressed support for such an “isolation law” in an online petition as the country’s most notorious child rapist is set to be freed from jail this month. [Korea Herald]

1 December 2020

South Korea: Court issues injunction against suspension of Prosecutor General from duty

(dql) In a historic first, South Korean Minister of Justice Choo Mi-ae last week suspended Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl from his duty and announced disciplinary measures against him. She cited as reason for her move “some serious misconduct,” including “improper” meeting with media executives, inspecting judges handling controversial cases and interfering with the prosecution’s investigations to safeguard people close to him. 

Calling the suspension “unfair”, Yoon sought an injunction against it and filed a lawsuit with the Seoul Administrative Court to nullify the suspension on the following day. [Korea Herald 1] [Nikkei Asian Review]

In a latest development, the court this Tuesday approved Yoon’s request for the injunction. Prior to the court’s decision, also the Justice Ministry’s inspection committee, convened to discuss Choo’s decision, found that it was unjust to suspend Yoon from duty and to call for disciplinary measures against him. [Korea Herlad 2]

24 November 2020

South Korea: Bill to introduce quota of female executives in large companies proposed

(dql) Last week, a lawmaker of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) submitted a proposal which requires the introduction of a quota of female executives on the boards of stock market-listed companies with assets surpassing 1.8 billion USD. However, the bill did not mention a fix quota.

If approved, the bill would apply to currently close to 150 companies with a ratio of female executives at 4.5%. [Yonhap]

24 November 2020

South Korea: Ruling party to change law to overcome opposition blockade of anti-corruption agency launch

(dql) South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) announced that it will use its majority in parliament to push through a law that would allow it to override vetoes of the main opposition People Power Party against the launch of the Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials (CIO).

The announcement comes after a seven-member panel concluded its third and fourth meeting without to agree on two out of nine candidates for the post of the CIO’s head. The panel consists of three government officials and four experts recommended by the two parties [Korea Herald

The creation of the CIO with its power to investigate corruption cases involving high ranking officials lies at the core of the Moon administration’s reform of the country’s prosecution, in an attempt to curb the power of the prosecution which had been so far the sole institution in South Korea to initiate investigation and to decide whether to indict a specific suspect. This overwhelming power is widely seen as source for the prosecution’s abuse of power in the past. [The Diplomat

24 November 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Seoul not co-sponsoring UN resolution on North Korea’s rights abuses

(dql) South Korea has opted out of co-sponsoring a UN resolution on human rights violations in North Korea, which was adopted last week by the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. The resolution, drafted by the European Union and sponsored by 58 countries, condemns Pyongyang’s practices of forced labor, abductions, and arbitrary detention, while urging Pyongyang to permit assistance from international humanitarian agencies. The resolution, if adopted by the UN General Assembly, would be the 16th of its kind since 2005. [Korea Times]

It is the second consecutive year in which South Korea decided not to co-sponsor the resolution. The decision is widely believed to maintain door open for inter-Korean peace talks. [Korea Herald]

North Korea condemned the resolution, calling it “political ploy” that has “nothing to do with improving human rights.” [UPI]

The US, meanwhile, imposed sanctions on a Russian construction company and a North Korean trading company accused of being involved in exporting forced labor from North Korea. According to US estimations, Pyongyang was earning over 500 million USD annually almost 100,000 workers abroad of which around 50.000 were in China and 30.000 in Russia. [Reuters]

17 November 2020

East Asia Summit: Deepening cooperation in pandemic response

(dql) Leaders of participating countries at the East Asia Summit on past Saturday stressed the need for countries across the Asia-Pacific to cooperate in tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the current economic crisis.

The Summit brought together Asean’s 10 members plus Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States. [Straits Times]

17 November 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Agreement of compensating forced labor victims reached?

(dql) Japan and South Korea have reportedly reached an agreement on compensating South Korea victims of forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula. South Korea’s ruling Democrat Party, however, denied knowledge of the agreement, adding that such a deal would be difficult for both Korean and Japanese political leaders in light of strong anti-Korean and anti-Japanese sentiment in the respective countries. [Korea Herald]

Since the 2018, Japan and South Korea have been locked in a bitter dispute over the forced labor issue as Japan refuses to accept a ruling of the South Korean the Supreme Court in favor of forced labor victims and uncompromisingly maintains its position that the forced labor issue was already settled in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between both countries under which Japan provided financial aid to South Korea. Seoul, on the other side, upholds its position not to interfere in the country’s judiciary.  

17 November 2020

Singapore: Arrest of Korean church members

(nd) 21 people were arrested for their alleged membership in a local chapter of the South Korea-based Shincheonji Church, which has been accused of being a cult in several countries. The church was founded in 1984 and received global attention after a surge in Covid-19 cases in South Korea was attributed to one of their meetings. The group’s entities were dissolved earlier this year. For resuming activities despite of this, the suspects face jail-time of up to three years or a fine, or both. [South China Morning Post]

10 November 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Legal process to liquidate Mitsubishi’s assets to compensate wartime forced laborers continues

(dql) On Tuesday, a public notice by a court took effect to proceed with a stalled legal process to liquidate assets of Japanese Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd and compensate South Korean victims of wartime forced labor.

In November 2018, South Korea’s Supreme court upheld an appellate court’s verdict to order Mitsubishi to pay compensation to five plaintiffs. The Japanese company failed to respond to a ruling, in response to which the victims requested a district court in March 2019 to seize the company’s assets in Korea, including two trademark rights and six patents, in a bid to push ahead with the compensation. [Korea Herald]

Since the 2018 ruling, Japan and South Korea have been locked in a stalemate over the forced labor issue. Japan consistently refuses to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling and uncompromisingly maintains its position that the forced labor issue was already settled in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between both countries under which Japan provided financial aid to South Korea. Seoul, on the other side, upholds its position not to interfere in the country’s judiciary.  

10 November 2020

South Korea: Opposition parties to field joint candidates for Seoul and Busan mayoral by-elections

(dql) South Korea’s main opposition People Power Party is considering joining hands with the minor opposition People’s Party to field joint candidates to increase chances of winning next April’s mayoral by-elections in Seoul and Busan, the country’s two largest cities. The by-elections will be a litmus test for the ruling Democratic Party (DP) ahead of the presidential election 2022.

The two mayoral posts were vacated this year after the two DP mayors failed to fulfill their terms, with the Seoul mayor committing suicide over sexual harassment allegations and the Busan mayor resigning after admitting sexual harassment of a female civil servant in April. [Korea Herald]

3 November 2020

Korea-Myanmar industrial complex construction expected to start

(lf) Despite Covid-19 difficulties, the large-scale infrastructure project between Myanmar and Korea to build an industrial complex is expected to start in December 2020. It is expected to be finished by 2022, and rise Myanmar’s manufacturing capacity, primarily in the production areas of textile and food and beverages. [Myanmar Times]

3 November 2020

South Korea-Netherlands relations: Seoul stops Dutch poultry imports

(dql) South Korea last week announced that it has banned imports of poultry from the Netherlands after the Dutch government confirmed findings of chickens infected with a highly contagious variant of avian influenza (AI) on a farm in the central province of Gelderland. [Yonhap]

3 November 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Pyongyang accuses Seoul of planning a second THAAD deployment

(dql) North Korea has warned South Korea of a path to “self-destruction”, claiming Seoul and Washington on a plan for the stable stationing of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which Pyongyang views as aimed at paving the way for an additional THAAD deployment.

In 2016, South Korea and the US decided to deploy a THAAD battery to counter missile threats from North Korea which had led to strained relations between South Korea and China. [Yonhap]

Meanwhile, South Korea and the United States are closely watching movements at North Korea’s major Yongbyon nuclear complex, following satellite images showing “smoke or vapor” emanating from a building just south of its uranium enrichment plant. [Korea Herald]

3 November 2020

South Korea-Mongolia relations: Agreement on mutual tariff reductions

(dql) The South Korean Finance Ministry announce that South Korea and Mongolia will lower tariffs on some products starting in 2021, with Seoul reducing tariffs almost 2.800, while Ulaanbaatar will cut tariffs on 366 items. [Korea Times]

The announcement comes shortly after Mongolia acceded the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), to which South Korea is party state, along with China, Laos, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India. [AiR No. 40, October/2020, 1]

3 November 2020

South Korea: Assembly of new fighter jets in process 

(dql) South Korean aerospace and defense company Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) announced that final assembly of the aircraft fighter KF-X prototype has been in process since September 1. The KAI KF-X Development program is an advanced multi-role fighter jet project aimed to produce modern combat aircraft which will replace South Korea’s older generation of jet fighters. The KF-X program is worth more than 7.3 billion USD.

The KF-X prototype is expected to be completed by the first half year of 2021, with the first flight test scheduled to for 2022. By 2026, system development is believed to be completed after ground and flight tests. The aircraft is designed to fly at speed of Mach 1.81, with a range of 2,900 kilometers. With a payload of 7,700 kilograms, the new fighter jet will host 10 pods for missiles and fuel tanks and carry several types of air-to-air missiles. [Aviation Report]

Meanwhile, a new Air Force unit in charge of operating the country’s key reconnaissance assets was launched, expected to enhance South Korea’s capabilities to monitor threats from North Korea and beyond. The 39th Reconnaissance Wing, the country’s first reconnaissance wing, will operate five types of key Air Force reconnaissance assets, including the “advanced unmanned Global Hawk aircraft, RF-16 and RC-800 Geumgang reconnaissance aircraft, and a medium-altitude unmanned aircraft system.” [Yonhap]

3 November 2020

South Korea: 17-year imprisonment sentence for former president upheld

(dql) South Korea’s Supreme Court confirmed a 17-year prison sentence handed down by an appeals court in February for former President Lee Myung-bak.  Lee, who served as South Korean president from 2008 to 2013, was charged in April 2018 with more than a dozen of counts of criminal allegations, including charges of embezzlement and bribery charges. [Yonhap]

3 November 2020

South Korea: Low number of accepted asylum seekers

(dql) Data of the South Korean Ministry of Justice reveal that from January to August this year close to 6.000 foreigners applied for asylum in South Korea of whom only 164 were accepted. The total number of applicants was 36% lower compared with the corresponding period in 2019. Russians ranked top among the applicants with nearly 18%, followed by people from Egypt, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and India. [Channel News Asia]

The low number of accepted asylum seekers reflects a continuation of the country’s restrictive immigration policy since 2018 when asylum applications of 550 Yemeni refugees resulted in a serious public backlash which exposed widespread beliefs of the importance of racial purity and homogeneity in South Korea. [The News Lens]


3 November 2020

South Korea: Ruling party slammed for revising party rule for by-elections

(dql) The ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is facing a backlash after it changed its internal party regulations to make possible the fielding of candidates for the mayoral posts of Seoul and Busan, South Korea’s two largest cities, in next April’s by-elections. All opposition parties decried the move as a breach the party’s promise to the people and accused it of seeking its own political interests.

The revision was made to an article of the DPK’s constitution which stated that the party will not field a candidate for a by-election that was triggered by a party member resigning over their own wrongdoing. Under this the article, the DPK would be unable to participate in next year’s by-elections for the Seoul and Busan mayoral posts, as both former DPK mayors of these cities had been suspected of sexual harassment. In July, the late Seoul Mayor committed suicide over these allegations, while the former Busan Mayor stepped down in April. [Korea Herald]

3 November 2020

South Korea: Justice Ministry ordered investigation into prosecution

(dql) South Korea’s Ministry of Justice last week begun inspecting the prosecution’s decision in 2018 to drop charges against an asset management firm that is now at the center of a financial scandal under investigation.

The move comes amid allegations that the prosecution has accepted bribes in return for favors to the suspected company in the ongoing investigation and a day after Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae ordered the ministry to examine the decision-making process of the investigating unit, which was headed by the country’s Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl at that time. Choo and Yoon are logged in a bitter wrangle over mutual accusations, with the latter claiming unauthorized interference in the work of the prosecution while the former accuses Yoon of insufficiently carrying out the investigation of the ongoing case. [Korea Herald] [AiR No. 43, October/2020, 4]


27 October 2020

China-US relations: Xi Jinping signals strength in Korean War address amid Pentagon’s approval of arms sales to Taiwan

(dql) Chinese president Xi Jinping used his address on occasion of the 70th anniversary of China’s entry into the Korean war against American forces to send a signal of strength towards the US. Speaking from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing last Friday, Xi hailed the “War to resist US aggression and aid Korea” – as the Korean War is called in China – as a demonstration of China’s military might against American imperialists. Drawing a lesson for the present day, Xi claimed that the “Chinese people understood that you must use the language that invaders can understand – to fight war with war and to stop an invasion with force, earning peace and respect through victory.” Without explicitly mentioning the US, he added: “In today’s world, any unilateralism, protectionism, or extreme egoism will never work. Any form of blackmail, blockade, or extreme pressure will never work. Any act of pursuing one’s own course or seeking hegemony, tyranny, or bullying will never work.” Quoting Mao Zedong, he reassured the world “that ‘the people of China are now organized and are not to be trifled with’.” [Xinhua, in Chinese] [The Diplomat]

The assertive speech comes amid news about latest US arms sales to Taiwan, with the US Defense Department approving a potential sale of advanced weapons systems to Taiwan worth 1.8 billion USD earlier last week. The sales include sensors, missiles and artillery, as well as drones and land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles that are supposed to serve as coastal defense cruise missiles. The offensive weapons included in this package are capable of hitting mainland Chinese coastal areas, marking the first such sales in more than four decades. China threatened to “make a legitimate and necessary response” to Washington’s approval. [Reuters] [South China Morning Post]

In response, China announced that it will impose sanctions on several US companies that are associated with the arms sales. The sanctions will be aimed, inter alia, at Boeing Co.’s defense unit and Lockheed Martin Corp. – two contractors of the US military. [Associated Press] [CNN]

For the demand of “break[ing] Taiwan’s military out of 40 years of isolation” as a substantial increase of US military support for Taiwan “that would make the difference, way beyond an official statement clarifying American support for Taiwan,” see Grant Newsham in [AND Magazine].

27 October 2020

South Korea, Canada vow to enhance security cooperation

(dql) The South Korean Ministry of Defense confirmed that during a telephone talk between Defense Minister Suh Wook and his Canadian counterpart Harjit Singh Sajjan both sides pledged to further enhance cooperation to counter various security challenges, including joint responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. [Korea Herald]

27 October 2020

South Korea-US relations: Is Washington pressuring Seoul on Quad commitment?

(dql) A surprising visit of Adm. Philip Davidson, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command to South Korea, has raised speculations that Davidson came to Seoul to pressure Korea into the anti-China Indo-Pacific strategy. The visit comes shortly after this year’s Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) – the annual meeting between the US and South Korean Defense Ministers – last month.

Korea has been so far reluctant to adopt the US-led Indo-Pacific strategy, despite repeated calls from its biggest ally, as doing so could come at a high price, given that China is Seoul’s largest trading partner. 

Latest indication of Seoul’s reluctance is US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun’s decision last week not to immediately invite South Korea to join the expanded version of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad). [Korea Times 1]

In a related move, the US State Department revealed that US State Secretary Pompeo will travel to India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Indonesia later this month, instead of visiting South Korea, fueling concerns in Seoul of Washington bypassing it with regards to decisions on North Korea. [Korea Times 2]

For an assessment of South Korea’s positioning between China and the USA, see Chung Min Lee in [Carnegie] who suggests that Seoul, being caught between the two super powers, needs also to carefully handle the complex relationship between China and North Korea. 


27 October 2020

South Korea: Navy receives first training ship

(dql) South Korea’s Navy has received its first training ship, a 4,500-ton and 142-meter-long ship employing stealth features in its design and capable of sailing over more than 12,000 kilometers at the speed of 18 knots and carrying 120 crew members and more than 300 trainees. It can accommodate up to two medium-sized naval helicopters and will be also used for disaster relief operations and maritime security missions if required. [Defense News]

27 October 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Tokyo not to support Seoul’s bid for World Trade Organization chief post

(dql) Japan’s government announced its plans not to back South Korea’s candidate, but the Nigerian one for the post of director-general of the World Trade Organization, citing the higher quality of the African candidate. The election will take place early November. 

The announcement is another blow to already strained relations between Tokyo and Seoul. [Japan Times]

27 October 2020

South Korea: Opposition party demands investigations into large bribery case amid ruling party’s push for new anti-corruption agency

(dql) South Korea’s main opposition People Power Party, backed by outside lawmakers, last week submitted a bill demanding an independent special counsel to probe into a fund scam scandal which is currently under criminal investigation. Allegedly, the involved equity investment firms bribed government officials and politicians from both the ruling and main opposition parties to cover up the cases and evade investigations. [Yonhap]

The demand comes amid a bitter dispute between Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl and Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae in which both fire accusations against each other. After Yoon refuted Choo’s claims that the prosecution had not properly investigated the case so far and accused her of abusing her power to intervene in the affairs of the prosecution, Choo hit back accusing Yoon of “being dragged into the swamp of politics when the prosecutor general must lead the organization neutrally,” [Korea Times] [Asia Today]

For insights into the wrangle between Yoon and Choo, which centers around differences over the reform the prosecution ordered by President Moon, see [Korea Herald 1].

In a related development, lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DP) have tabled more than a dozen bills to advance the reform of the prosecution and to establish a new investigative agency  for high-ranking public officials, called Corruption Investigation Office for High-Ranking Officials (CIO). 

Among others, the new body would handle any corruption cases in which the president, ministers, lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, police officers or members of their families are involved. Thus far, the prosecution has been the only institution carrying out these investigations. [Korea Herald 2

20 October 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Pyongyang’s development of missile capabilities faster than expected by Seoul

(dql) According to South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development, the country’s agency for research and development in defense technology, North Korea is developing its missile capabilities at a much higher pace than believed. The Agency’s conceded his surprise, stating that his assumption that South Korea is about 20 years ahead of North Korea needed to be corrected to 10 years. 

The finding is based on an analysis of images of North Korea’s October 10 parade held to mark the 75th founding anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party at which a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), along with other weapons, were showcased. [Korea Herald]

20 October 2020

South Korea-Philippines relations: Strengthening cooperation

(dql) During the inaugural session of the Joint Defense Cooperation Committee between the two countries, held via video conference, South Korea Vice Defense Minister Park Jae-min and his Philippine counterpart Ricardo David agreed to deepen cooperation on various security issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic as well as peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula.

Park, furthermore, request the Philippines’ support for his country’s hosting of the UN Peacekeeping Ministerial Conference next year, as well as for the cybersecurity unit under the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting Plus which South Korea is going co-chair with Malaysia from 2021 to 2023. [Korea Herald]


20 October 2020

South Korea-China relations: Increase in number of Chinese war vessels near Korean peninsula

(dql) According to data of the South Korean Defense Ministry, the number of Chinese warships crossing the tentative median line in South Korea’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) amounted to around 290 times in 2019, rising from 110 times in 2016 and 2017 and 230 times in 2018.

Seoul has demanded that the EEZs of the two countries be demarcated by drawing a median line between the two countries’ overlapping areas. Beijing, however, wants a proportional EEZ line be drawn by taking into account coastlines and the population along them. [Yonhap]

20 October 2020

South Korea to buy advanced military hardware

(dql) South Korea has announced plans to purchase advanced military hardware worth nearly 23 million USD by 2021, including light-weight suicide unmanned aerial vehicles, drones that fire guns at ground targets, advanced surveillance plus attack drones, multipurpose unmanned vehicles, intelligent anti-jamming censors and a smartphone-based combat command system. 

This is the second round in the Defense Acquisition Program Administration’s “rapid acquisition” project, following a first round in May, in which surveillance drones, small unmanned aircraft and portable anti-drone guns were acquired. [Korea Biz Wire]

Meanwhile, the USA delivered 24 F-35A next-generation fighter jets to South Korea as part of Seoul’s plan to deploy 40 units through next. Seoul began bringing in the advanced stealth fighters in March last year. [Korea Herald]

20 October 2020

South Korea: Prosecution under pressure over bribery accusations 

(dql) South Korea’s prosecution has come under pressure after a jailed key suspect in a financial fraud scandal involving a private equity investment company has declared that he had lobbied ranking prosecutors for favors in this scandal, one of whom is now member of the investigative unit. The company is accused of covering up huge losses and subsequently suspending fund redemption worth more than 1.4 million USD.

He also stated that prosecutors pressed him to testify to implicate politicians of the ruling Democratic Party.

The claim adds to the Justice Ministry’s criticism that the prosecution conducted an “insufficient” investigation into the fraud case. It has ordered immediate investigations of the prosecutors. [Korea Herald]

20 October 2020

South Korea: Lawmakers to face trial over illegal election campaigning charges

(dql) South Korea’s prosecution last week indicted over 20 sitting lawmakers, including seven of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and ten of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP), over charges of violations of the election law while campaigning for the legislative elections in past April.

The political stake in these trials is higher for the PPP than for the DP as in case of a verdict the former would lose the veto power against a possible attempt of the latter to push for a constitutional amendment that would allow for an one-time renewal of the office of the president. President Moon Jae-in of the DP has repeatedly expressed his determination to push through such a constitutional revision. 

An amendment to the constitution requires approval by two-thirds of the incumbent lawmakers before the bill goes to a national referendum for final decision. The DP currently holds an absolute majority of 174 seats in the 300-member parliament, the PPP 103, so that losing more than two seats would mean losing its sure-fire veto power. [Yonhap]

13 October 2020

Japan and South Korea resume business travel

(dql) Japan and South Korea last week agreed to resume business travels between the countries which had been halted due to the pandemic over the past months, with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi stressing the importance of “exchanges of people from both countries, starting with businesspeople,” in an “extremely severe situation” of the countries’ relations. 

The agreement allows for short-term business trips without requiring the traveler to observe 14-day self-isolation periods if they test negative for the coronavirus and submit travel itineraries, among other preventive measures. [Japan Today]

Tokyo and Seoul have been logged in bitter dispute over forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula since South Korean courts in 2018 ordered Japanese companies to compensate South Korean victims of forced labor.

13 October 2020

South Korea: Liberalizing abortion law?

(dql) South Korea’s National Assembly is considering a proposal to liberalize the abortion law to allow abortions up to the 14th week in general and 24th weeks in cases of severe birth defects, pregnancy resulting from a sex crime, or health risks for the mother. 

The Constitutional Court last year struck down the current Maternal and Child Health Law of 1973, which generally bans abortion but allows for exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, genetic disease, or risk to the mother’s health. Furthermore, the Court ordered lawmakers to change the law by end of 2020. [Reuters] [BBC]

13 October 2020

South Korea: Massive personal information leakage

(dql) According to data of South Korea’s Personal Information Protection Commission, over 280 million personal data records have been leaked from public institutions and private companies since 2012. 

The number of liability insurance contracts signed up to compensate for related damage, however, stood at under 12.000 in the same period, indicating insufficient – mandatory – insurance subscription. At current, the relevant law obliges only information and communication service providers with more than 43.000 USD in sales in the previous year and a daily average of over 10 million users in the last three months of the previous year to buy liability insurance to compensate possible leakages. [Yonhap 1] [Yonhap 2]

6 October 2020

South Korea seeks Brazil’s support in bid for WTO’s chief position 

(dql) During a phone conversation on deepening bilateral cooperation and the resumption of dialogue on a free trade agreement between South Korea and the South American trade block Mercosur, South Korean President Moon Jae-in requested his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro’s support the bid of South Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee to head the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Yoo is currently vying with candidates from Nigeria, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and the UK for the director-general post, after Roberto Azevêdo of Brazil stepped down in August. [Yonhap


6 October 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Tokyo set conditions for a Suga-Moon summit

(dql) In a statement further hardening the protracted impasse in the dispute over wartime forced labor between Japan and South Korea, Tokyo announced that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will not visit South Korea for a trilateral summit with China unless he has a guarantee that assets seized from a Japanese company following a South Korean court ruling will not be liquidated. [Kyodo News]

The announcement echoes Suga’s hardline stance in the dispute expressed towards South Korean President Moon Jae-in in a recent phone talk. Suga demanded from Seoul to enable a “return to a constructive relationship,” referring to South Korean court rulings in 2018 and 2019 which ordered the confiscation of assets of involved Japanese firms’ to compensate victims of forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula. Tokyo, however, maintains the compensation issue had been resolved by the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, and has since refused to accept the court rulings. [AiR No. 39, September/2020, 5]

6 October 2020

Japan, South Korea at the UN General Assembly

(dql) In a statement reasserting Japan’s claim to a major role in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, vowed at the virtually held UN General Assembly that Japan will “proactively lead” international efforts to fight the coronavirus. He, furthermore, addressed the issue of abductions by North Korea where he reassured Japan’s commitment to normalizing ties North Korea and to “comprehensively resolving the outstanding issues of concern such as the abductions, nuclear and missile issues, as well as settlement of the unfortunate past,” adding that was willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un “without any conditions.” [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan: full text of Suga’s speech]

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who also reaffirmed his countries commitment to a global and multilateral response to the pandemic, demanded “declaring an end to the [Korean] War,” as necessary move to “open the door to complete denuclearization and permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” [Yonhap: full text of Moon’s speech]

This position contradicts Washington’s strategy which follows a “denuclearization first and peace treaty later”. [Korea Times]

To access all speeches of the UN General Assembly, see [United Nations].

6 October 2020

South Korea: Prosecutors seek 18 months verdict for former president

(dql) South Korea’s prosecution has demanded a 18s months prison term for former coup leader and President Chun Doo-hwan accusing the 89 years old former general to have posthumously defamed an activist Catholic priest. Chun called the priest who already passed away a “liar” and “Satan” for testifying that troops in helicopters fired machine guns at civilians during the infamous pro-democracy protest against his military regime in Gwangju on 18 May 1980. Official data account for over 200 people dead and 1,800 others wounded. 

Chun served as the President of South Korea from 1980 to 1988 leading an authoritarian government. In 1996, he was sentenced to death for both his role in the 1979 military coup and the Gwangju Uprising. His sentence was later reduced to life imprisonment by an appeals court of which we he served two years until President Kim Young-sampardoned him. [KBS]


29 September 2020

Inter-Korean relations: South Korean official killed by North Korean troops

(dql) South Korea has accused North Korea of killing an official of the Ministry of Oceans and Fishery which marks the first death of a South Korea citizen since 2008 when North Korean soldiers shot a woman while wandering into a restricted zone during a visit to a natural resort, jointly run by both Koreas. In an immediate response, Seoul called the killing a “brutal act” and tightened its military readiness posture to step up monitoring of North Korean military moves particularly near the tense sea border, calling the killing a [Korea Times]

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, meanwhile, extended in a notice sent to South Korea’s presidential Blue House an apology, vowing to “prevent this unfortunate incident from happening again.” [CNN]

In a latest development, South Korea’s presidential office called for a joint investigation into the killing and expanded the search for the missing fisheries official, involving six aircraft and more than 40 vessels. Dismissing Seoul’s call, Pyongyang announced that it is conducting its own search while at the same time accusing South Korea of intruding its territorial waters. [The Guardian] [Reuters]

The incident is the latest in a string of setbacks of inter-Koran peace talks. In June, the North blew up a joint liaison office after South Korean NGOs sent via balloons with anti-North leaflets across the joint border. [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3] [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

29 September 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Leaders agree to improve countries’ strained relations

(dql) Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held as phone conversation, the first exchange between the leaders of the two countries since a meeting between Suga’s predecessor Abe and Moon prior to which no formal summit had been held for 15 months, reflecting frosty relationships between the two nations which deteriorated over the issue of forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula.

South Korean courts in 2018 and 2019 ruled in favor of victims of forced labor and ordered the confiscation of assets of involved Japanese firms’ in Korea to compensate the victims. Tokyo, however, refused to accept the decision, arguing that the issue had been resolved in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, and retaliated with putting Korea from its list of favored trade partners, while imposing restrictions on exports of key semi-conductor related materials to Korea.

Against this background, the conversation revolved around the question on how to improve the ties, with approaches on the two sides proving to be quite different. While Suga called on Seoul to bring about conditions for both countries to “return to a constructive relationship,” signaling a hardline stance taken already by Abe, Moon appeared more conciliatory, urging both sides to “seek the best solution that can be accepted by all those concerned.” [Kyodo News] [Korea Times]


29 September 2020

South Korea: Prosecutors drop charges against Justice Minister suspected of nepotism

(dql) South Korea’s prosecutors on Monday dropped charges against Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae who is suspected of nepotism having used her influence as the then chairwoman of the ruling Democratic Party to extend her son’s medical leave during his mandatory military service. [Korea Herald]

29 September 2020

South Korea-Russia relations: Presidents agree to deepen bilateral cooperation

(dql) During a phone conversation, held on Monday on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between South Korea and Russia, Presidents Moon Jae-in and Vladimir Putin agreed to deepen bilateral cooperation in a range of fields including artificial intelligence (AI), innovative technologies, medical tourism, agricultural machinery production, the Arctic route development, and the oil, gas and shipbuilding industries.

Both leaders also agreed to join efforts to achieve progress in currently stalled talks on peace on the peninsula, with Seoul reassuring its push for the normalization of inter-Korean relations and the resumption of talks involving “parties concerned” while explicitly requesting Moscow’s constructive role and support. [Yonhap]

In a related development, both countries resumed flights on Sunday for their respective citizens, operated once a week from Moscow to Seoul once a week. [The Times Hub]


22 September 2020

Vietnamese Prime Minister meets South Korean Foreign Minister 

(jn) In a bilateral meeting with Republic of Korea Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Thursday, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc urged his counterpart that the Republic of Korea (RoK) reduce or remove binding conditions for development aid, and said he hoped that the RoK increase the reception of Vietnamese workers and pay more attention to the Vietnamese community in their country. Both leaders also spoke about stepping up efforts to achieve the goal of raising the bilateral trade volume to $100 billion. Vietnam has already reopened commercial routes and flight routes to a number of countries and regions, including South Korea. 

Ms. Kang is the first foreign minister to visit Vietnam since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. [Vietnam News 1] [Vietnam News 2]

22 September 2020

South Korea: Parties agree on supplementary budget

(dql) Facing a semi-lockdown due to a resurgence of coronavirus cases, legislators from the ruling Democratic Party and the main opposition People Power Party agreed on a 6.7 billion USD supplementary budget to finance the expansion of a free influenza vaccine program and a special child care subsidy program as well as to support taxi businesses that have been ordered to close due to the imposition of social distancing measures. [Korea Herald]

22 September 2020

Myanmar, South Korea to strengthen economic ties

(lf) Korea and Myanmar have agreed to strengthen economic cooperation in order to help Myanmar economic fallout because of the Pandemic situation in the country. The two countries agreed to strengthen ties primarily in the sectors of trade, investments and energy. 

South Korea is one of Myanmar’s most important trading partners. Currently, Korea is building a friendship bridge connecting the city center of Yangon with its townships across the Yangon river [The Irrawaddy]

22 September 2020

Asian financial leaders agree to make ‘all policy efforts’ to fight pandemic

(jn) Financial leaders from China, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia vowed on Friday to redouble their efforts to help the region recover economically from the coronavirus and to defend a multilateral system of trade and investment. In a joint statement they vowed to “remain vigilant to the continued downside risks [and to take] steps to reduce vulnerabilities to these risks and […] to continue to use all available policy tools to support the sustained recovery.” They also said they remain committed “to uphold an open and rule-based multilateral trade and investment system, and strengthen regional integration and cooperation.”

The statement followed the annual meetings of finance ministers and central bank governors from China, Japan, South Korea and the 10-member ASEAN. The meetings were held via teleconference on the sidelines of the annual gathering of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). [Reuters]

15 September 2020

South Korea set to enter talks with Uzbekistan on free trade agreement

(dql) South Korea is set to begin formal negotiations with Uzbekistan by the end of this year to sign a bilateral free trade deal, with Seoul completing domestic procedures this month. 

The central Asian country is an important partner for South Korea’s New Northern Policy which aims at deepening South Korea’s partnerships with countries located north of the peninsula. [Korea Herald]

15 September 2020

South Korea: Advancing military capabilities

(dql) South Korea has revealed plans to invest 2.3 billion USD over the next ten year in the development drones for military use, including surveillance and firing grenades and rifles. [Yonhap]

Seoul is also set to develop an indigenous engine for its K-9 self-propelled howitzer, as the Defense Acquisition Program Administration and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy are about to sign a memorandum of understanding on the joint research and development of local weapons, to be launched in 2021. [Aju Business Daily]

15 September 2020

South Korea: Joint naval drills with USA, Japan and Australia

(dql) South Korea’s Navy last week joined the multinational maritime exercise Pacific Vanguard, led by the USA and participated also by Japan and Australia. The three-day exercise was held in waters near Guam and included live-fire, surface warfare, combined maneuver, anti-submarine warfare and replenishment-at-sea drills. The 7,600-ton Aegis destroyer Seoae Ryu Sung-ryong and the 4,400-ton Chungmugong Yi Sun-shin were dispatched by Seoul to the exercise. [KBS] [Stars and Stripes]

15 September 2020

South Korea: Government to tighten discipline among civil servants to fight pandemic

(dql) The South Korean government announced that it is stepping up efforts to tighten discipline in fighting the pandemic among the country’s public servants by introducing “special inspection” measures to tackle possible corruption, negligence at work, evasion of responsibility and other misdeeds, as well as a breach of regulations aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. [Yonhap]

South Korea had been able to control the spread of the coronavirus very early, but was facing a surge in infections last month. 

8 September 2020

South Korea: Number of female lawmakers and ministry heads rising

(dql) According to latest government data, the proportion of female lawmakers in South Korea’s parliament, as well as that of female ministers in the Cabinet, has reached a record high, with 57 female lawmakers elected in the April 15 general elections, equaling 19% of the total of 300 members in the National Assembly, while the number of female ministers has increased to six, or 33%, of the total 18 this year. In 2016 51 legislators were women, while in 2010 the country’s cabinet included only two female ministers. [Yonhap]

8 September 2020

South Korea: Justice Minister under pressure over nepotism allegations

(dql) South Korea’s Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae has come under pressure over allegations of nepotism. Choo, since January in office after succeeding Cho Kuk who himself stepped down over allegations that he helped his children gain fraudulent admissions to prestigious universities [AiR No. 42, October/2019, 3], is accused of misusing her prior position in the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) to help her son receive preferential treatment in the context of an unnotified absence from the base while doing his military service years ago. 

The main opposition United Future Party (UFP) and a civic group have filed a complaint with the prosecution against the minister and her son, as well as an aide of the minister and three officers at her son’s unit who were in charge of managing leave-related administrative work. [Korea Times] [KBS]

8 September 2020

South Korea: Main opposition claims important parliamentary committee chair

(dql) South Korea’s main opposition United Future Party (UFP) announced that it will not hold talks with the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) over the allocation of parliamentary committee chair posts unless the chair of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, a key committee overseeing major policies, is put on the negotiation table. It is believed that the DPK will not bow to this pressure after DPK chairman Lee Nak-yon signaled that revisiting the committee chair issue is not on the table. [Korea Herald]

After winning the absolute majority of seats in the National Assembly in the legislative election in April [AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3], the DPK has used its majority to allocate for itself a number of committee chairs, including the chair of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee breaking with customary rule according which this chair has always been given to the main opposition to create a check against the parliamentary majority. The UFP stopped talks at that point in response to which the DPK filled chairs of all 18 committees with its own members. [AiR No. 24, June/2020, 3]

1 September 2020

South Korea: Ruling party has a new leader, main opposition party a new name

(dql) Lawmaker Lee Nak-yon was elected the new chairman of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) after securing a landslide victory against two other contenders at the virtual party convention past weekend. Lee, who is also tipped to become the party’s candidate for the next presidential election in 2022, is a four-term legislator, and was Prime Minister from May 2017-January 2020 as well as Governor of South Jeolla Province from 2014-2017. Before entering politics, Lee, a law graduate, had worked as journalist. [Korea Times] [Korea Herald]

Meanwhile, South Korea’s main opposition United Future Party’s leadership decided to give the party the new name “People’s Power” as part of a broader effort to re-define and re-organize the party after the devastating results in the legislative election in April in which the party together with its sister party Future Korea Party won only 103 seats while the DPK and its sister party Platform Party garnered 180 of the 300 chamber seats. [Yonhap] [AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3

1 September 2020

Inter-Korean relations: North-Korea release pictures to invalidate claims Kim Jong-un being in coma

(dql) Amid claims of a former South Korean diplomat that North Korea leader Kim Jong-un has been in coma since April and reports of South Korean Intelligence that his sister has been given power to partially state affairs after being promoted to the de-facto deputy leader, Pyongyang released images showing him at a meeting of politburo of the Workers Party, discussing the situation of coronavirus pandemic in the country. [Daily Mail] [CNN]

Seoul claims come at a time when the inter-Korean peace progress has seen setbacks in the past month an US-North Korean denuclearization talks have been halted. 

For an analysis of  decision-making with regards to nuclear doctrine in North Korea, see [Rand Corporation].

25 August 2020

China-South Korea relations: Chinese top diplomat meets South Korean top national security advisor

(dql) Last week, China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi met South Korea’s Director of the National Security Office Suh Hoon in Busan to discuss trade, denuclearization and the coronavirus response, with both sides confirming “ a very good conversation” as well as a visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to South Korea schedule for “an early date” once the COVID-19 situation is stabilized. [Reuters] [Yonhap]

The meeting comes amid a stalemate in denuclearization talks between the USA and North Korea as well as an impasse in inter-Korean relations. In this situation improving ties with Beijing, which have been rather stuck for the recent years following Seoul’s agreement to the deployment of U.S. missile defense system on South Korean soil in 2017, is one possible for Seoul to make diplomatic and economic gains, Gabriela Bernal argues in [The Diplomat].

18 August 2020

South Korea: Anti-government protest

(dql) Thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets on Saturday in Seoul to demand the resignation of President Moon Jae-in accusing him of kowtowing to North Korea, policy failures, corruption, and election fraud. [Global News]

Moon has been facing rapidly falling approval ratings over the past months, dropping from 70% in May, when he was celebrated for his response to the pandemic and after his ruling Democratic Party secured a landslide victory in the legislative election in April, to currently 43%d, mainly due to widespread discontent with his failure to rein in soaring housing prices. [Korea Times] [Yonhap]

18 August 2020

South Korea-USA relations: Annual joint military exercise 

(dql) South Korea and the USA kicked off joint military exercises this Tuesday. Due the pandemic, this year’s drills will mainly involve computer-simulated war scenarios.

The exercises come at a time when inter-Korean peace talks have come to a stillstand after Pyongyang blew up a joint liaison office in June and threatened further military actions. It remains to be seen how North Korea will react to the drills. [WION]

18 August 2020

South Korea: Resurging Covid-19 numbers

(dql) South Korea is witnessing a COVID-19 resurgence, with 246 new cases reported this Tuesday, increasing the total for the last five days to almost 1000 and sparking concerns the country might be on the verge of another large-scale eruption. Over more than four months daily new cases were mostly in the low-to-mid double digits.

In response, the government announced to ban large public gatherings and shut down nightspots and churches in the greater capital area. Churches have been identified as major infection cluster as many churches conducted services without requiring attendees to wear masks and allowing worshipers to sing in choirs or eat together. [ABC News]

11 August 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Seoul blames Pyongyang for breach of communications agreement

(dql) Reflecting the current impasse in inter-Korean relations, South Korea has criticized the North Pyongyang for breaking a communications agreement by not having informed Seoul in advance about its recent release of a dam water located near the Military Demarcation Line. The agreement was concluded in 2009 following the deaths of six people after the North discharged water without informing the South in advance. [KBS] [Korea Times]

Pyongyang’s move is the latest in a string of events demonstrating rapidly souring relations between the two Korea’s following the hopeful conclusion of the Panmunjom Declaration in April 2018 in which both sides vowed to work towards a final peace to the Korean conflict within a year and the complete denuclearization of Korea. A striking recent example for the failure of this peace process is Pyongyang’s blowing up of a joint liaison office in June after South Korean activists send of leaflets criticizing North Korea via balloons from South Korea to the North. [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

11 August 2020

South Korea: President’s chief of staff and senior secretaries offer resignation

(dql) In a move to prevent further damage to the administration of President Moon Jae-in, the president’s Chief of Staff and all five senior aides have submitted their resignation offer last week. Moon’s administration has come under pressure after it was revealed that senior members of his office are owner of more than one house compromising the government’s current legislative attempts to rein in speculative home buying to counter rising property prices in Seoul.

In Seoul and the nearby capital area, where 50% of the over 50 million population lives, housing prices, rents and down payments, have kept increasing, with median apartment prices in Seoul going up more than 50% since the Moon assume office in May 2017. In the eight years before he took office house prices rose only 24%.

Resulting mainly from public discontent with the surging housing prices, Moon’s approval ratings dropped to currently 44.5% from this year’s peak of 63.7% in late April when his ruling party, the Democratic Party (DP), won the absolute majority in the legislative election on the ticket of Moon’s successful handling of the pandemic. [Korea Times] [South China Morning Post] [AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3]

In an earlier move, the ruling DP on the basis of its absolute majority in the National Assembly pushed through bills centering at imposing heavier taxes on housing transactions and the possession of homes, as well as restricting the rights of landlords.  [Yonhap]

4 August 2020

South Korea: Successful launch of first military communications satellite

(dql) South Korea’s first military communications satellite successfully reached its final position in the geostationary orbit, making South Korea 10th in the world to own a communications satellite for military purposes only. The ANASIS-II satellite is expected to significantly increase the military’s capability to cope with network centric warfare due to its increased transmission capacity and anti-jamming capabilities. It is part of an ambitious plan to strengthen the country’s military power in space, in the frame of a three-stage space development program which aims to build satellite and surveillance systems and deterrence power by 2050, to protect the military’s space forces. [Korea Times]

4 August 2020

South Korea’s government criticized for campaign against North-Korea human rights NGOs

(dql) Human Rights Watch has criticized the South Korean government for what the human rights organization calls a “campaign” to intimidate non-government organizations working for improvements of the human rights situation in North Korea.

HRW’s criticism refers to a recent order of the country’s Unification Ministry demanding that those NGOs comply with abrupt review deadlines, provide burdensome documentation of their work and face possible office inspections. [Human Rights Watch]

The move is unprecedented and comes against the background of the sending of leaflets via balloons in May from South Korea to North Korea by activist groups criticizing North Korea’s nuclear threats against South Korea. Pyongyang, angered about these actions, pressed Seoul to take action against those groups, reinforcing its demand by blowing up the joint liaison office. Eventually, the registration of  those groups were revoked for “seriously hindering the unification policy of the government.” Furthermore, Seoul announced to revise laws to prohibit sending leaflets to the North. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

28 July 2020

South Korea set to launch first surveillance satellites

(dql) South Korea announced that it has obtained consent from the USA to use solid fuel for space launch vehicles. Washington’s agreement to a revision of the joint missile guidelines is believed to enable Seoul’s first surveillance satellites launch and the acquisition of technology to build more powerful missiles.

Solid fuel provides greater mobility for missiles and rockets, while at the same time reducing launch preparation time.  Washington, however, had so far restricted Seoul’s use of solid propellant for space launch rockets out of concern that it could be used to build bigger missiles and lead to a regional arms race. [Reuters] [AP]

The agreement comes shortly after South Korea launched its first military communications satellite into space. [AiR No. 29, July/2020, 3]

28 July 2020

South Korea: Ruling party pushes for relocation of administrative capital

(dql) The ruling Democratic Party (DP) on Tuesday established a task force in charge of preparing the relocation of the country’s administrative capital. The move comes after the party leadership last week and on Monday reiterated its determination to push for the long-standing plan. [Hankyoreh]

While the DP argued that the relocation was necessary to cope with overpopulation in Seoul and nearby cities, the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) rejects the move accusing DP of using the capital relocation issue to distract from criticism and declining approval ratings the party and President Moon Jae-in are facing over soaring house prices. [Korea Herald]

28 July 2020

South Korea: Infamous military detention system to be abolished

(dql) Ending a history of 124 years, South Korea’s Defense Ministry announced that the notorious guardhouse detention system, under which rank-and-file soldiers can be detained in confinement facilities up to 15 days without warrants for breaking rules, will be abolished by 5 August when the revised Military Personnel Management Act will come into force. Instead, educational programs and other penalties, such as salary reduction, will be introduced. [Korea Herald]

The guardhouse system has been long criticized for violating of the rights of the detained soldiers.

21 July 2020

South Korean lawsuit filed against Kim Jong-un’s sister

(yo) A South Korean conservative activist lawyer filed a suit against Kim Yo-jong, sister of the North Korean leader Kim Yong-un, accusing her of being responsible for the blowing of the  drastically deteriorating relationship between the two Koreas. South Korean prosecutors said they were looking into the litigation, but said that they would not be able to formally investigate Kim Yo-jong nor bring her to court. The lawyer admitted the implausibility of being able to carry out the investigation and forcing North Korea to pay compensation for destroying a building funded by South Korea. He noted the suite was a symbolic gesture, criticising the Moon administration’s lack of assertiveness in dealing with the North. 

Under South Korean Constitution North Korea and its people are recognised as part of South Korea and lawsuits can be tried without defendants in court but it is most likely prosecutors will drop the case. [New York Times]

21 July 2020

South Korea: First military communications satellite launched

(dql) South Korea has launched its first military communications satellite into space, in a move signaling Seoul’s efforts to build up its defence capabilities against nuclear-armed North Korea.

South Korea has become the 10th country to possess a military-only communications satellite to ensure “permanent and secured military communications”. [Al Jazeera]

21 July 2020

South Korea: Political backlash against Supreme Court’s ruling in false information case

(dql) Reversing a lower court’s sentence which would have cost him his office, South Korea Korea’s Supreme Court exonerated Governor Lee Jae-myung from the ruling Democratic Party (DP), tipped to be the party’s next candidate for the office of the President, from charges of violating the electoral law by making a false claim in a televised debate ahead of the gubernatorial election in summer 2018. The court found that, although the Governor had been partially inaccurate or deliberately vague, he had not actively lied. [Korea Joong Ang Daily]

While the ruling was praised by the DP for stressing the role of freedom of expression in election campaigns, the opposition parties rejected it for its “bizarre logic […] of limiting the application scope of spreading false information for ‘freedom of discussion’,” and accused the court of being “on track to adopting Third World country standards.” [Korea Heral]

21 July 2020

South Korea to expand employment insurance to all workers

(dql) South Korea’s government has announced plans to provide within five years all working citizens with an employment insurance. If executed, the plans would lead to around 21 million people obtaining such an insurance. Currently less than 14 million are covered by the state employment insurance system. 

The expansion is directed in particular towards temporary workers and freelancers who are suffering from being not directly employed by companies and are not covered by employment insurance. The scheme also includes artists and people who are employed under special contracts – among them delivery workers, insurance agents and caregivers – allowing them to enjoy jobless benefits in case of job loss as well as to apply for government subsidies during pre-/post-maternity leave and parental leave. [Yonhap]

The employment insurance expansion plans are part of the “K-New Deal” which President Moon revealed last week as policy project to boost jobs and revive the economy to overcome the fallout of the pandemic and for which the government has allocated a budget of more than 130 billion USD. [Nikkei Asian Review]


14 July 2020

South Korea-India relations: Defense ministers vow to beef up cooperation

(yo) The Defense Ministers of South Korea and India last week held pone talks and reassured to bolster ties and increase cooperation in combating non-traditional security threats, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and cyber threats. Both sides also discussed the possibility of other collaborative initiatives, including defence cooperation of the armed forces and defence technology. [Yonhap News] [DNA India]


14 July 2020

South Korea: Missing Seoul Mayor Park found dead

(yo) Seoul’s three-terms mayor Park Won-soon, the second most powerful man in South Korea after President Moon Jae-in, was discovered dead after reported missing for several hours. Authorities announced Park to have committed suicide plausibly due to the recent allegations of sexual harassments made by his former secretary.

As a member of the Democratic Party of Korea, many regarded him as a potential presidential candidate for the 2022 elections. Park previously was a respected human rights lawyer and civil rights advocate known for humanistic and fair policies, such as putting efforts in housing and welfare programs, as well as for establishing numerous organisations centered at promoting human rights and democracy. Park also represented the first sexual assault case in South Korea, and was thus praised as a “feminist” politician.  

While many are mourning his death, there are many others who feel anger because justice will not be achieved as the courts will not hear the charges against him. Under South Korean law, when a suspect dies, investigations are halted and prosecutors are not allowed to make an indictment. Many have begun to sign a petition demanding Seoul to withdraw its plans for a city funeral, due to the message the ceremony may communicate.

Recently, South Korean citizens have been confronting traditional views on sexual harassment, largely based on a misogynistic culture, and an increase in sexual assault allegations have followed. [Korea Herald] [CNN]


14 July 2020

South Korea: Prosecutor General backs down to obeys Justice Minister

(dql) In the politically heated spat between Justice Minister Choo Mi-Mae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl over the handling of an controversial investigation case, the latter backed down to accept a directive of the former to stay away from that investigation which involves one of Yoon’s key aides who stands accused of conspiring with a journalist to frame for corruption a liberal politician close to President Moon’s administration. 

Yoon’s move came after Choo refused to accept a compromise proposed earlier by the prosecution, which suggested that Yoon would form an investigative team to handle the case, and insisted on the strict compliance with her order of Yoon’s complete withdrawal from the case. [Joongang Daily]

The conflict between the two has triggered to political wrangle in which legislators from the ruling Democratic Party demand that Yoon step down for disobeying Choo, while lawmakers from opposition parties consider to initiate impeachment proceedings against Choo over charges of power abuse to oppress Yoon. [Korea Herald]

14 July 2020

Cambodia on track to several new bilateral free trade agreements

(jn) Cambodia is on the verge of either initiating or concluding talks on bilateral free trade agreements (FTA) with three Asian nations:


Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen is scheduled to sign an FTA in Beijing on 12 August. The FTA is expected to further deepen relations between Cambodia and China, boosting agricultural trade and building on existing trade ties.

The deal can be seen as another sign of the intensifying relationship with China that has become the Kingdom’s largest investor and its geopolitical backer in contrast to the West and sometimes even ASEAN.

According to government figures, bilateral trade in 2018 was around $7.4 billion and heavily skewed towards China that accounted for more than 80 percent of trade. Cambodia exported around $800 million, mostly in agricultural products, and imported large quantities of raw materials for the manufacturing and construction sectors.

This FTA is Cambodia’s first bilateral trade agreement with a foreign country and was negotiated against the backdrop of growing Chinese influence and investments in Cambodia’s economy. It has thus sparked not only concerns about China bear-hugging Cambodia and benefiting disproportionately, but also that it would do nothing to raise labor and environmental standards.

At the same time, on said 12 August when the FTA with China is expected to be signed, Cambodia is likely to see its long-standing ties with the European Union further decline with the expected partial suspension of the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade privileges. In a press release in February, the European Commission announced that it had decided to withdraw part of the tariff preferences granted to Cambodia under the EU’s EBA trade scheme due to the serious and systematic violations of human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The withdrawal and replacement with the EU’s standard tariffs (“Most Favored Nation”) will affect selected garment and footwear products, travel goods and sugar. The goods in question amount to about one-fifth or €1 billion of annual exports to the EU. The new tariff regime will take effect unless the European Parliament or the Council object.

Phnom Penh hopes that the FTA with China will help offset losses incurred from the partial suspension of the EBA. [VOA][EC Press Corner]


The Cambodian Minister of Commerce said that in a meeting with the Indian ambassador to Cambodia on Wednesday they had discussed the possibility of concluding a Cambodia-India bilateral FTA. They had agreed to strengthen bilateral trade relations by establishing a Cambodia-India Joint Trade and Investment Working Group to facilitate trade and investment between the two states.

According to data from the Indian embassy in Cambodia, the trade volume between the two countries reached almost $250 million in 2019, up by more than 10 per cent compared to 2018. Cambodia exported goods to India worth about $80 million last year, up about 70 per cent from 2018, while imports amounted to almost $170 million, down 5.8 per cent. India invests almost $20 million annually, being among the top ten foreign investors in Cambodia. [The Star]

South Korea

Cambodia and South Korea agreed last Thursday to start official negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), with a first round of talks expected later this month. 

A statement by the South Korean Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy said that amid the spread of Covid-19 it had become more important for South Korea to expand cooperation with Southeast Asian countries. He said that FTA negotiations with Cambodia could potentially make it a future hub of production and trade among the ASEAN nations. The two countries would make efforts to come up with a meaningful result within this year.

The countries’ bilateral trade volume was at $1 billion last year, a six per cent annual growth since 2018, according to the Korea International Trade Association. Cambodia exported $336 million worth of goods to South Korea last year and had imports as high as $700 million. [Phnom Penh Post]

7 July 2020

South Korea denies US request to extradite operator of child pornography site

(yo) The South Korean court turned down a request of the US Justice Department to extradite Son Jong-woo in an attempt to charge him for money-laundering and operating one of the world’s largest child pornography websites. The court said that Son needs to remain in South Korea for authorities to track users for possible indictment. 

The court’s decision was a disappointment for many anti-child pornography groups as they believe Son’s trial in the US would lead to a more severe punishment and help prevent future sexual crimes in Korea. While Son completed an 18 months sentence for his crimes, some individuals in the US who purchased the content through the website have been sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison, which explicitly reveals South Korea’s negligent attitude. Public criticism against illegal pornography and sexual harassment has grown in South Korea in recent months and several men are on trial for such activity and distribution of illegal material online. [New York Times]


7 July 2020

South Korea: Cabinet approves ILO conventions 

(dql) South Korea’s government approved three of four International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions which the country has yet to ratify after it had joint ILO in 1991. The three conventions include the convention on the freedom of association, on the right to organize and collective bargaining, and on the prohibition of forced labor. 

The remaining fourth convention on the abolition of forced labor still requires further discussion since the convention could contradict South Korea’s social service agent system, under which conscripted individuals are exempted from military service to do social service. 

Although the cabinet’s move is rejected by the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) as well as business lobby groups, the National Assembly is expected to pass the conventions within this month on the basis of the absolute majority of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK). [KBS] [Yonhap]

In another legislative move, the DPK last week started the process to launch a special investigative anti-corruption agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting high-ranking public officials. The creation of such a body as a core part of a reform of the country’s prosecution system was one of President Moon’s key presidential election campaign pledge in 2017. However, the legislative path to the new agency will be a thorny one as the UFP holds a veto power in the election of the agency’s head and as the party announced that it will not join the parliamentary process to launch the new agency until the Constitutional Court will rule on the question whether the planned agency is constitutional or not. The UFP submitted this question to the court in February. [Korea Herald]


30 June 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Pyongyang reinstalls propaganda loudspeakers along demilitarized zone 

(dql) In the latest sign of deteriorating inter-Korean relations, Pyongyang has started to reinstall loudspeakers along the inter-Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), shortly ahead of the 70th anniversary of the begin of the Korean War on June 25. The loudspeakers, used to disseminate proclamations on the superiority of the North’s socialist regime, had been removed in 2018 at the height of inter-Korean peace and cooperation talks. [The Diplomat]

The move comes a week after North Korea had blown up a joint liaison office that has been built on North Korean soil by South Korea and used for talks between the two Koreas. [AiR No. 25, June/2020, 4]

For an explanation of Pyongyang’s resolve to recent tensions and its motives see the podcast with former CIA analyst and Brookings Senior Fellow Jung Pak at [Brookings].

30 June 2020

Japan opposes South Korea joining the G7

(mp) A high-ranking Japanese government official has raised his objection towards the United States against Korea joining the G7 group after US President Donald Trump had proposed to expand the group by permanently inviting Korea, Australia, India, and Russia to the annual meeting since the current seven countries would not represent the world´s real power structure, according to Trump.

Tokyo, which is the only Asian member of the G7, criticized that South Korea´s political attitude towards China and North Korea differed from that of the other member countries. Japan´s opposition against Trump´s initiative will most likely further intensify tensions between Tokyo and Seoul, while these are already heightened amid disputes over wartime history. [Kyodo]

30 June 2020

South Korea: Ruling party heads 17 out of 18 parliamentary committees

(dql) In a show of force, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) made use of its absolute majority of 181 seats in the country’s 300-member parliament to take the chair posts of 17 out of 18 committees, following the failure in talks with the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) which holds 103 seats. The remaining 18th committee, the chief of the Intelligence Committee, was not elected as the law requires that seat is to be filled only after consultation among the National Assembly speaker, deputy speakers and negotiation.

Both parties blamed each other for the failed agreement which seemed close on Sunday with a compromise under which the DPK would have got 11 committee chairs and the seven for the UFP. The the chairmanship of the Legislation and Judiciary Standing Committee, which has the power to oversee judiciary-related bills and to examine the legality and terminology of bills passed by other committees and which is traditionally allocated to a member of the main opposition party to ensure a certain degree of power balance, turned out to be the stumbling block as the UFP rejected the DPK’s offer to share the chair for two years each. [Korea Herald]

23 June 2020

Inter-Korean relations: North Korea blows up joint liaison office 

(yo) In a highly symbolic move, North Korea has blown up a joint liaison office that has been built on North Korean soil by South Korea and used for talks between the two Koreas. The demolition of the office is the latest sign of deteriorating inter-Korean relations.

Pyongyang called the move a retaliatory measure after a group of defectors used balloons to send anti-North Korean leaflets north of the DMZ. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] and announced that it will re-militarize some sections of the border. In response, South Korea’s defense ministry said that it will vigilantly follow the North’s actions, being ready to respond “strongly” to any aggressive provocations. [CNN]

Meanwhile, taking political responsibility for the deteriorating inter-Korean relations in inter-Koran peace talk, Kim Yeon-chul, South Korea’s Unification Minister offered his resignation which President Moon accepted. Kim has not had any personal interactions with officials from Pyongyang during the 14 months of his tenure. [The Guardian] [Korea Times]

23 June 2020

South Korea: Main opposition party ends parliamentary boycott

(dql) Normal parliamentary operations will resume this week as South Korea’s main opposition United Future Party (UFP) announced at the weekend that it will end its weeks-long boycott of the National Assembly.

The boycott came after the ruling Democratic Party used its majority of 176 seats in the 300-member parliament to unilaterally push through the election of its candidates as the heads of six parliamentary committees including the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, a crucial committee in charge of overseeing major policies which traditionally is allocated to a member of the main opposition party to maintain balance. [Yonhap]

16 June 2020

South Korea: Ruling party unilaterally elects National Assembly committee heads

(dql) In a move further deepening the ongoing spat between the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) over the DP’s unilateral convention of the plenary session to open the 21st National Assambly [AiR June/2020, 2], the DP unilaterally elected heads of the National Assembly’s six key standing committees, despite strong protest by the UFP. The DP made use of its absolute majority to push through the elections after weeks-long bipartisan negotiations yielded no results. 

Breaking with parliamentary tradition, the DP allocated itself the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, a key committee overseeing major policies. In 20 legislative sessions so far, it had been customary that a member of the main opposition party chaired this committee to provide the opposition the power to hold the ruling bloc in check.  [Yonhap] [Korea Times]

16 June 2020

North Korea says Army ready for action on South Korea

(yo) Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong threatened to take military action against South Korea, claiming it is time to break relations with South Korea. She announced that she will exercise her power to instruct the army, which experts comment as a strategy to bolster her authority within the state. The Unification Ministry in South Korea urged North Korea to respect inter-Korean agreements and the past reconciliation efforts that have been made. The Defense Ministry stated they will maintain alert and ready. [Bloomberg]

Although Kim was responding to the activists that have been sending anti-Pyongyang propaganda, the intensifying aggression is considered to be caused by the frustration of “failed diplomacy” as there’s been little progress in peace talks between the two Koreas. [CNBC] [AiR No.23,June/2020, 2]

16 June 2020

South Korea says Japanese exhibit “distorts” historical facts

(yo) South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed anger over Japan’s exhibition at the Industrial Heritage Information Center for omitting information on Korean wartime laborers. Anger was incited over one of the 23 major industrial sites built in the 19th and 20th century that have received UNESCO endorsement, called the “Battleship” Island. The Island was a notorious site and the ministry accused Japan of concealing the forced labor that happened under dehumanizing conditions on the island. [United Press International]

Korea had originally withdrawn complaints in 2015 when Japan agreed to provide appropriate information about the exploitation and work conditions. While Japan presents accounts and testimonies claiming that there had been no discriminatory treatment of Korean workers, the Foreign Ministry criticizes Japan for denying the reality of colonial activities. [Japan Times

9 June 2020

North Korea: North Korea answers second liaison phone call from South Korea amid leaflet tensions

(yh) North Korea expressed anger about North Korean defectors and South Korean activists sending balloons that carry propaganda leaflets criticizing the North, one-dollar bills and USB memory sticks to attract North Korean citizens. Kim Yo jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister sent a statement threatening to close the inter-Korean liaison office, scrap an inter-Korean military tension reduction agreement as she accused South Korea of violating peace agreements banning hostilities against each other. [The Korea Herald]

In response, South Korea announced that it will push for new laws to ban activists from flying anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the border. [Market Watch]


9 June 2020

South Korea: Head of shelter for ex-sex slaves found dead

(yh/dql) President Moon vowed to take measures to increase transparency of fundraising activities and donation management of non-governmental organizations in South Korea. [Korea Herald]

Background of his pledge is the death of an activist in charge of the shelter for South Korean victims of sex slavery of Japan’s wartime. The shelter is run by the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issue of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (Korean Council), which has been in the center of controversy and under prosecution investigation in the past few weeks as it is suspected of exploiting and misusing funds meant for “comfort women”.

While the police believe the activist took her own life, the activist group said that the pressure stemming  from the investigation, suspicion, and visit from prosecutors lead to her suicide. [The Korea Times]



9 June 2020

South Korea: Rough start of new National Assembly session

(dql) Signaling rocky times for parliamentary work, South Korea’s 21st National Assembly kicked off last week with the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) boycotting the plenary session by leaving the sesion after the address by the party’s floor leader.

The UFP cited the lack of the legitimacy of the session for its boycott arguing that the ruling Democratic Party’s (DP) unilaterally convened it without an agreement with the UFP and warning that “[i]f the ruling party pushes ahead [with bills] based on its majority, the National Assembly will lose its reason for being.” [Korea Herald] [KBS]

In the general election in April the DP won 177 of the 300 seats of the National Assembly.


2 June 2020

South Korea reopens WTO complaint against Japan’s trade curbs

(dql) South Korea announced that it will reopen a complaint filed with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Japan’s tightened controls on technology exports to its companies.

The move comes months after Seoul had halted its WTO action in November to pave the way for talks to settle disputes over Japan’s restrictions on exports to South Korea viewed by South Korea as Japan’s retaliatory measures against South Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies to offer reparations to aging South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s rule over the Korean peninsula. So far, the talks, however, have not yielded any progress. [The Diplomat]


26 May 2020

South Korea: Bills to reinstall Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to combat online sex crimes approved 

(dql/yo) Last week South Korea’s National Assembly approved a bill which paves the way for reviving the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to reopen and investigate cases of state-committed human rights violations which occurred in the period of time ranging from the Japanese colonial rule (1910-45) until the country’s authoritarian regimes as late as the 1980s. Initially installed in 2006, the independent commission was dissolved in 2010. [Yonhap]

In another move, the parliament approved a bill which requires service providers to remove illegal pornographic materials and block access to them. The legislative move comes shortly after an public outcry over the circulation of illegal sexual content via various internet platforms involving  more than  100 people, among them 26 underage girls, forced to perform degrading sex acts. [Korea Herald 1]

The alleged 24 years old mastermind of this sexual exploitation ring was exposed to the public. Police authorities decided to reveal his full name, age and face as a response to public demand, their right to know and in order to counter similar crimes. [Korea Herald 2]



26 May 2020

South Korea: Main opposition party with new leader

(dql) Following a first failed attempt in April [AiR No. 18, May/2020, 1], the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) last week has a taken a first step to embark on the reform the party which suffered a heavy defeat in the general election in April [AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3].

Ending weeks of internal strife, Kim Chong-in, a veteran economist and politician, has accepted to lead an emergency committee until the parliamentary by-elections in April next year. His election and tenure are subject to final endorsement at the national delegates’ meeting this week following which he is expected to form a nine-member emergency leadership. [Korea Herald] [Korea Times]



26 May 2020

South Korea: LGBT community fears Covid-19 discrimination

(yo) The new rise of cases in South Korea put a certain minority group into the spotlight after 130 new cases were traced to a man identified as a member of Seoul’s LGBTQ community. Recent infections were traced to a sauna in Gangnam which was revealed to have been frequented by those of the LGBT community, which was enough to spark criticism against these people.

Although the Health Ministry urged them to get tested and promised protection of private information, many members of the community are avoiding getting tested due to fears of being singled out and suffering increased discrimination and harassment. [The Indian Express]



26 May 2020

South Korea set to build its own close-in weapon system

(dql) South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced that South Korea will develop an indigenous close-in weapon system (CIWS) for its warships by 2030 for which a budget of more than 280 million USD has been allocated. The CIWS is designed to detect and destroy short range anti-ship missiles and aircraft that have penetrated outer defenses. Currently, the U.S. CIWS system is in use. [Korea Herald]


19 May 2020

South Korea: Moon calls for binding legal force of WHO norms

(ef) On Monday, South Korean President Moon called for giving the WHO more teeth to face future global health crises and urged to augment WHO norms with binding legal force and to share infection-related data in a more transparent manner in the future. [Reuters

Under the 2005 rules, the WHO’s 194 member states are supposed to inform the Geneva-based agency quickly of any outbreaks. But WHO currently has limited leverage and lacks the power to enter countries to investigate without their permission.

19 May 2020

Japan: Tokyo makes claims on Russian- and South Korean-held disputed islands explicit again

(dql) Signaling a hardening stance of the Japanese side towards Russia, Japan’s Foreign Ministry has made an explicit claim to ownership of a group of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido in its Diplomatic Bluebook, the Ministry’s annual foreign policy report, released this Tuesday. The claim was not made in the report last year when a solution in the long-standing territorial dispute between Japan and Russia seemed possible. However, hopes were shattered in the course of a numbers of unsuccessful diplomatic efforts. [Japan Times]

Meanwhile, South Korea urged Japan to withdraw its territorial claims to Dokdo islets in the East Sea, also made in the Bluebook. The Dokdo islets are referred to in Japan as Takeshima islets and have been administered by Seoul since 1954. [Korea Herald]

19 May 2020

South Korea: Opposition party merges with sister party

(ef) The main opposition party, United Future Party, announced that it would merge with its satellite party, Korea Future Party. The satellite party was established in preparation for the April 15 elections. The Korea Future Party won 19 seats in the election; thus, the merger will raise the UFP’s seats to 103. [Korea Herald] The merger comes a week after the ruling party announced that it would merge with its affiliate party. [AiR No. 19, May/2020, 2]

19 May 2020

South Korea: Moon demands full fact-finding on Gwangju massacre

(ef) Commemorating the Democratization Movement of 1980, President Moon urged to identify those to be held responsible for the Gwangju massacre. During the protests that took place in May 1980, soldiers carried out beatings, torture, and sexual assault against citizens. Furthermore, there have been reports on shooting on a crowd from helicopters. According to official data, around 200 civilians died, however some estimate the death toll to be much higher. 

Last week, an independent fact-finding committee was launched. Moreover, Moon suggested that the historic value and significance of the Democratization Movement should be inscribed in a new constitution. [Korea Times]

19 May 2020

South Korea: Military exercises postponed

(ef) South Korea postponed a major military exercise planned for this week involving ballistic missiles, combat ships and fighter jets. The Defense Ministry cited adverse weather conditions as reason for its decision, dismissing allegations that the decision was made to avoid confrontation with North Korea which criticized South Korea’s military exercises earlier this month.  [Korea Herald] [AiR No. 19, May/2020, 2],


12 May 2020

South Korea: Ruling Democratic Party merge with sister party

(dql) Last week, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) decided to merge with its sister party, the Platform Party, which was formed only some months ago specifically to win proportional representation seats in the latest parliamentary elections. Despite the dismissal of three lawmakers from the Platform Party due to a property speculation scandal and other misconduct, the ruling bloc still holds a comfortable majority of 177 out of the 300 seats in the National Assembly. [Yonhap]


12 May 2020

North Korea: South Korean naval exercises violate inter-Korean agreement

(ef) North Korea condemned the recent joint exercises by the South Korean Air Force and the South Korean Navy in the West Sea, adding that “everything was going back to the starting point before the Inter-Korean summit in 2018.” 

Pursuant to the Inter-Korean Military Agreement, large-scale military exercises require consultations. The condemnation comes a week after the inter-Korean cross-border shooting at the DMZ. [AiR No. 18, May/2020, 1] [The Diplomat]


12 May 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Seoul proposes joint system against infectious diseases

(ef) Amid the pandemic, South Korea’s Unification Minister has proposed a joint response system to future infectious diseases. Due to a variety of wild plants blooming in North Korea, development of natural medicine would be possible. 

The proposal comes after President Moon has repeatedly pushed for cross-border healthcare cooperation with regards to the pandemic. Thus far, North Korea has not responded to the offers. According to the Unification Minister, UN sanctions would not be a hindrance to this as the UN’s stance is that the main objective should be the overcoming of the pandemic. [Korea Times]



12 May 2020

South Korea: Fraud allegations against civic group for ‘comfort women’

(ef) A victim of the Japanese military sexual slavery (so-called ‘comfort woman’) has alleged that a civic group aimed at helping victims has not used its donations transparently and has exploited the victims for the past 30 years. While the civic group denied any misuse of the donations, members of the ruling and opposition parties have called for an investigation targeting in particular the chairwoman of the civic group who won a seat in the National Assembly in the April election. [UPI] [Korea Herald]



5 May 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Exchange of gunfire across DMZ

(ef) In violation of the Comprehensive Military Agreement of 2018, gunfire was exchanged at the Korean Demilitarized Zone in Cheorwon. In the morning hours of Sunday, South Korean soldiers heard gunshots and subsequently found four bullet marks on a guard post. Following the response protocol, South Korean soldiers issued a broadcast warning and fired 20 shots in response – 10 rounds each time. 

Thus far, North Korea has not explained the firing although there were apt possibilities to do so in a timely fashion. However, due to foggy conditions and the absence of tactical targets in sight, the South Korean military presumes that the firing was unintentional. No casualties were reported. [Korea Herald] [Korea Herald 2] [Korea Times]

It is the first reported exchange of gunfire between the North and South Korea along the border since 2017. It coincided with the reemergence of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who was absent for 20 days.



5 May 2020

South Korea: Main opposition party in disarray over new leadership 

(dql) In a major blow to the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), Kim Chong-in, who as elected by the party delegates as interim leadership for four months until the next national convention scheduled for end of August, rejected his election as the party failed to revise the party’s constitution to meet his demands of an extensive term and far reaching powers. The failure is believed to be due to massive internal protest from senior party members who are not willing to bow to Kim’s demand and boycotted the meeting for the revision of the party constitution. [Korea Times] [Yonhap]

The UFP suffered a crushing defeat in the recent general elections and has been since struggling for a renewal of the party. [AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3]



5 May 2020

South Korea: National Assembly approves tougher online sex crimes bill

(ef) South Korea’s National Assembly passed a set of bills strengthening punishment for online sex crimes. Inter alia, the possession of illegally filmed sexual footage was criminalized and can now be punished by up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million won (appr. 25.000 USD). Furthermore, the age of sexual consent was raised to 16 and sexual intercourse between adults and minors classified as statutory rape. [Yonhap 1] President Moon is expected to sign the bill into law in two weeks. [Korea Times

In a related move, the Cabinet approved a decree of the Ministry of Education banning anybody convicted for sexual crimes from taking the teacher recruitment exam. [Yonhap 2

The legal changes come a month after a public outcry and Human Rights Watch’s call for a reform of South Korea’s criminal law to combat digital sex crimes in the context of the disclosure of an online platform aimed at sexually exploiting underage girls [AiR No. 13, March/2020, 5]. 



5 May 2020

South Korea: National Assembly to vote on a bill on proposals for constitutional revision 

(ef) The National Assembly is set to vote on a bill to amend the constitution to permit the public to propose a constitutional amendment if they come up with one million signatures. The motion was submitted in March by nearly 150 lawmakers and 25 civic organizations. 

As the main opposition United Future Party, which holds 103 of the 300 parliamentary seats, announced that it will boycott the vote, the bill, supported by the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and its satellite party which together hold 180 seat, will not obtain the two-thirds majority of 200 votes required for a change of the constitution. [Yonhap] [Korea Times]



28 April 2020

South Korea: Main opposition party with new interim leader

(dql) South Korea’s main opposition United Future Party is facing an internal dispute as it is trying to find a new leader after its crushing defeat in the legislative election two weeks ago. [AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3]

Following his nomination last week, veteran politician Kim Chong-in was elected this Tuesday by party delegates with 177 against 84 votes as new interim chairman. [Yonhap] The high number of votes against him reflects the contested compromise which the party was willing to conclude with Kim to make him lead the party. Kim, after receiving the party’s invitation to head the party, had demanded that he would be given unlimited time to serve and authority that essentially is not subject to the party’s constitution and rules. However, an interim party leadership normally will end once a national convention to elect a new leadership is held, at the latest by August 31. The compromise, however, now suggests that party rules will be revised to allow the postponement of the national convention “until the party is thought to be normalized.” [Korea Herald]


28 April 2020

South Korea: Military obtains first indigenously developed anti-aircraft guided missile system

(dql) South Korea’s first indigenously developed anti-aircraft guided missile system has all been delivered to the military. The mid-range surface-to-air guided missile is capable of striking a hostile aircraft at an altitude of up to 40 kilometers. [Yonhap]


28 April 2020

South Korea-USA relations: Joint military exercises

(ef) From Monday to Friday of last week, the US and South Korea held squadron-level exercises as part of an annual exercise that aims at improving the execution of joint operations. South Korea’s F-15K and KF-16 and the US-American F-16 fighter jets were used. The exercises came after prior air exercises scheduled for November were postponed in order to improve diplomatic relations with North Korea. [Korea Herald]


28 April 2020

Inter-Korean relations: Moon vows to improve inter-Korean cooperation

(ef) On the occasion of the second anniversary of the inter-Korean summit and the adoption of the Panmunjom Declaration, South Korean President Moon vowed to find ways to improve cooperation with North Korea suggesting a joint response to Covid-19 as a possible area of cooperation within what he called “the most realistic and realizable path to inter-Korean relations” given international constraints, in particular the ongoing impasse between Pyongyang and Washington over de-nuclearization and UN sanctions against North Korea.

In a related move to underscore its pledge to push for inter-Korean cooperation, the government held a ceremony to celebrate a railway project which connects the rail networks of North and South Korea. The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year. However, no representatives of North Korea took part in the event. Neither, did North Korean state media mention the anniversary of the inter-Korean summit. [Korea Times] [Korea Herald 1]

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Office has urged North Korea to improve prison conditions in light of the pandemic as prisoners were “locked up in cramped conditions” that make them vulnerable for rapidly spreading infections. Pyongyang, however, insist that there were no infections in North Korea. [Korea Herald 2]

For a critical assessment of Moon’s focus on a bilateral inter-Korean peace building approach see Lauren Richardson at [East Asia Forum] who criticizes the South Korean president for neglecting to incorporate Japan in his strategic thinking given that “[a]s long as Pyongyang remains in an antagonistic relationship with Tokyo, it is difficult to envision the Kim regime laying down its defences.”


21 April 2020

South Korea: US ambassador reveals that long-range surveillance drones arrived

(ef) The US ambassador to South Korea has revealed that additional long-range surveillance drones have been shipped to South Korea. This reveal is seen as controversial as South Korea usually does not publicize such information because it could draw North Korea’s ire. A previous similar announcement was used by Pyongyang to justify ballistic missile tests. [The Diplomat]


21 April 2020

South Korea: Ruling party wins in historic general election

(ef) Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, South Korea held its general parliamentary election on April 15, under extensive security measures ranging from mandatory gloves to mail-in ballots. 

President Moon’s Democratic Party (DP) won 163 out of the 300 seats in the National Assembly. Moreover, the DP’s satellite party, the Together Citizen Party, won an additional 17 seats. Together, both parties secured the largest parliamentary majority in three decades enabling them legislate on their own without the need to cooperate with the opposition parties.

The main opposition party United Future Party (UFP) and its proxy party, the Future Korea Party, secured a total of 103 seats. Acknowledging the defeat, the UFP’s chairman stepped down from his post.

Despite Covid-19, voter turnout was the highest in 28 years with 66.2 percent of the electorate casting their votes. As widely expected, the decisive factor of the election was the government’s swift and successful response to the Covid-19 pandemic. [The New York Times] [Korea Herald]


14 April 2020

North Korea: High-profile missiles fired a day before legislative election in South Korea

(dql) One day ahead of the national election in South Korea and the 108th birthday of North Korea’s founding father Kim Il-sung this Wednesday, North Korea has fired a salvo of suspected cruise missiles towards the Sea of Japan, in a major show of force. The launches are the most high-profile actions among a series of weapon tests the country has conducted recently amid frosty relations with the USA over stalled nuclear talks. [Aljazeera]


14 April 2020

South-Korea relations: Still no agreement on defense cost-sharing 

(dql) Talks between Seoul and Washington USA on cost-sharing for the stationing of 28.500 US soldiers in South Korea remain inconclusive. A latest offer by South Korea – a hike of at least 13% from the previous deal – was reportedly rejected by US President Trump as it was still far below even the substantially lowered expectations of the Trump administration, which had initially sought an nearly five-fold increase from 900 million USD, as agreed for 2019, to 5 billion USD. [Reuters]

14 April 2020

South Korea: Opposition party expels candidate shortly before the world’s first “Covid-19” national election

(ef/dql) In a move to minimize damage for the party in the general election this Wednesday, the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) on Monday expelled an election candidate over controversial remarks about families of the victims of the 2014 Sewol ferry disaster claiming that they had engaged in “promiscuous conduct”. The candidate has announced to file a court injunction [Korea Herald 1] [Korea Times]. 

Due to positive assessments of the government’s response to the Coronavirus outbreak, it is widely expected that President Moon’s ruling Democratic Party (DP) will emerge stronger from the election. Latest polls saw Moon’s approval ratings at a 17-month high last week, while the DP’s popularity was 15% higher than that of the strongest contender, the UFP. [The Guardian] [KBS]

The election will be the first national election under Covid-19 circumstances in the world. Coronavirus patients have started to cast their votes at eight designated polling stations, while a total of 3.500 stations have been set up for early voting in the hope of avoiding crowding on April 15. In a related development, the Health Ministry on Sunday announced that self-isolators will be allowed to cast ballots if they do not show symptoms of a coronavirus infection and arrive at the polling stations not by public transportation, but by foot or car. As of time of writing, a total of 10.564 infections and 222 deaths have been recorded for South Korea. [Straits Times] [Yonhap] [Korea Herald 2]

7 April 2020

South-Korea: US spy plane over Korean Peninsula

(dql) A US surveillance aircraft has flown over South Korea on an apparent mission to monitor North Korea after a series of major weapons tests conducted by Pyongyang last month. [Korea Herald 1]

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Bigung guided rocket system has passed a comparative test by the US defense department for foreign weapons, opening the door for exports to the US market. 

It is the country’s first guided rocket system successfully evaluated through the test. Bigung, which means “flying arrow,” is part of the country’s coastal defense system and employs an advanced guidance system, which does not require further guidance after launch so as to be capable of conducting multiple tasks at the same time and to be less vulnerable to possible attacks. [Korea Herald 2]

7 April 2020

South Korea: Launch of a central bank-issued digital currency

(ef) Albeit there still being a high demand for cash, the Bank of Korea has launched a pilot program testing a central bank-issued digital currency to meet future demands. The move comes after the National Assembly passed the world’s first comprehensive cryptocurrency bill last month. [AiR No. 10, March/2020, 2] The program will last for 22 months and will review the legal and technological aspects of implementation. [Asia Times]


7 April 2020

South Korea: Statute of limitations for sex crime involving children and minors to be dropped

(dql) South Korea is set to abolish the statute of limitations for sex crime involving children and minors after the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the government have agreed to push for such a reform of the country’s criminal code.

The move is a response to demands of the public to stop the practice of lenient punishments for offenders in child abuse cases following the disclosure of a high-profile sex exploitation case at online chat rooms involving minors.  [Korea Times] [AiR No. 13, March/2020, 5]


7 April 2020

South Korea: Campaigns for parliamentary election kicked off 

(ef) While overseas polling stations have been halted in 25 countries due to safety concerns and mobility restriction over Covid-19 preventing almost 90,000 citizens from voting [Korea Herald], campaigns in South Korea for the April 15 legislative election started last Thursday. The election is widely expected to become a referendum in favor of President Moon whose strident response to the coronavirus outbreak and spread has earned him high approval ratings and is expected to benefit his party, the ruling Democratic Party, which currently holds 120 seats out of the 300 seats in the National Assembly. [Reuters] [Yonhap]

This election is the first after some substantial changes in the election law. It is the first election since the voting age was reduced from 19 to 18 years. Furthermore, the way the votes for the 47 proportional seats are tallied has been changed, thus causing minor parties to spring up. As a result, there are now 35 parties on the ballot, a record in the country’s electoral history.  [The Diplomat]

Meanwhile, about 4,000 patients currently receiving coronavirus treatment were confirmed to be provided the possibility to cast ballots by mail or absentee voting ahead of the election day. [Channel News Asia]


31 March 2020

South Korea: Call for reform of criminal law

(ef) An investigation of the prosecution into online sexual violence against women has raised calls for a reform of South Korea’s criminal law to combat digital sex crimes, with Human Rights Watch in the lead criticizing that “major gaps in law, enforcement, and support for victims remain,” and urging the government to guarantee victims access to mental health support, legal assistance, and civil remedies. [Human Rights Watch].

The case involves a 25-year-old man accused of blackmailing his victims into performing violent sex acts and selling footage of the acts via a messaging app. [Asia Times] [Strait Times]


31 March 2020

South Korea: Overseas polling halted in 25 countries

(ef/dql) Due to the shift of the Covid-19 epicenter to Europe and the US, and subsequent safety concerns, South Korea has suspended overseas polling for the April 15 general election in 25 countries citing safety concerns for Korean residents over increasing Covid-19 infection numbers, mobility restrictions and   lockdowns in those countries.

Following this decision, more than 80,000 voters or 47% of the eligible overseas electorate will not be able to cast their votes in next month’s general election. The overseas voting was scheduled to take place between April 1 and 6. The decision has sparked widespread protest among expats. 

Meanwhile, candidate registration for the election started last Thursday, with 300 seats contested in the 21st National Assembly and the coronavirus outbreak overshadowing the campaigns of the political parties.  Currently, the ruling Democratic Party controls 121 seats of the unicameral parliament, while the main opposition United Future Party holds 104 seats. The remaining sears are taken by other nine smaller parties and independent lawmakers. [Korea Herald]  [Yonhap]


31 March 2020

South Korea, USA fail to agree on cost-sharing deal: Thousands to go on unpaid leave 

(dql) The US military is set to put about 4000 of its 8,500 South Korean civilian workers on furlough, as the USA and South Korea after seven rounds of talks still fail to agree on a cost-sharing deal for the stationing of 28.500 American soldiers in South Korea to replace the old agreement which expired 31 December last year.

A breakthrough, however, seems unlikely as Washington demands as much as a five-fold increase of Seoul’s contribution from 923 million USD to 4.7 billion USD while Seoul shows no signs of paying anywhere near that much. [Japan Times]

24 March 2020

South Korea: Churches facing legal action for violating Covid-19 rules

(dql) South Korea’s government has announced to take legal action against some Protestant churches for breaking guidelines on keeping distance and temperature checking during services. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun referred to an “emergency situation that amounts to a quasi-wartime situation. People should not regard the government’s administrative orders as a bluff.” 

The move comes after the government claims that social distancing has shown positive results with the lowest daily figure of new COVID-19 or novel coronavirus infection on Monday since the outbreak. [Yonhap] [Inquirer]

24 March 2020

South Korea’s ruling party announces ambitious climate policy manifesto

(ef) South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party announced a climate manifesto expressing its ambition to make the country adopt to a Green New Deal to achieve a zero-carbon society by 2050. The policies outlined in the manifesto include a carbon tax, a phase-out of domestic and overseas coal project financing, and large-scale investment in renewable energy.[Greenpeace] [Eco-Business]

24 March 2020

South Korea: Internal party tensions ahead of the general election

(dql/ef) Three weeks ahead of the legislative election in South Korea, the ‘proxy’ parties of the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the main opposition United Future Party (UFP) [AiR No. 11, March/2020, 3] have approved their respective lists of candidates for the proportional representation vote. [Korea Herald]

In course of preparing these lists, both the DP and the UFP were confronted with internal disputes over the filling of the candidate list. While DP members expressed opposition to the pledge that DP’s proxy party Civil Together will reserve the first 10 spots on the list for minor party members and put the members of the DP lower down, UF’s satellite party Future Korea Party (FKP) saw a feud over who should be put on the top of the list as well as over the problem that only one person that the UFP had recruited from outside was included in a list. [Korea Times] [Yonhap]

24 March 2020

China, Japan and South Korea ready to cooperate on Covid-19 

(ef) Last week, the Foreign Ministers of China, Japan and South Korea discussed cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic with a focus laid on the question of infected people arriving in their countries from overseas. [Reuters]

17 March 2020

South Korea: Ruling party ready to form a ‘proxy’ party for upcoming legislative election

(dql) South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) announced to form a separate party together with civic organizations and minor parties to gain more proportional representation seats in the upcoming general election.

The decision follows similar moves of other political parties to create ‘proxy’ parties to run in the general election in April which will be held under the recently revised electoral system which due to the proportional representation system will make it easier for minor parties to win parliamentary seats. [Korea times] [AiR No. 8, February/2020, 4]

17 March 2020

South Korea goes ahead with general election despite corona outbreak

(hg) South Korea pushes ahead with next month’s general election as planned despite struggling with the second highest number of novel coronavirus cases in Asia after China with more than 8,300 people infected and over 80 deaths to date. The current DP-government is credited for relatively good crisis management boosting its chances in the elections, which will use proportional representation for the first time, potentially enabling minor parties to win more seats in parliament. [Nikkei Asian Review]

17 March 2020

South Korea: Students bring ‘climate-change case’ before the Constitutional Court

(ef) A student group has brought a climate-change complaint before the South Korean Constitutional Court arguing that Korea’s climate-change law infringes on their right to life and a clean environment. The group argued that the stipulated target reduction of greenhouse gas emissions did not meet the standards of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The current South Korean emission reduction targets would lead to a global temperature increase of 3 degrees instead of the 1.5 degrees set out by the 2015 Paris Agreement. [Time Financial Review]


10 March 2020

South Korea: 2020 Ministry of Unification Work Plan released

(ef) South Korea’s Ministry of Unification released its 2020 Work Plan. It entails plans to transform the DMZ into an international peace zone, to promote tourism to North Korea, including individual tourism for separated families, to make joint efforts to hold the 2032 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul and Pyongyang, and to address humanitarian issues. [Press Release of the Ministry of Unification]

The plan has been criticized as unfeasible amid the Covid-19 outbreak, stalled denuclearizations talks between the USA and North Korea as well as Pyongyang’s latest weapon tests. [Korea Times] [AiR, No. 9, March/2020, 1]

10 March 2020

South Korea: North Korean defectors’ political party launched

(ef) In a historic first, North Korean defectors launched a political party in South Korea. According to its representatives, the newly formed party, tentatively named ‘Inter-Korean Unification Party’ and claiming to represent more than 30.000 defectors, aims at “liberating” North Korea from autocratic rule and improving the rights of defectors. The launch comes after a former North Korean diplomat announced that he was running for the parliamentary elections on April 15. [Korea Herald] [Asia Times]

10 March 2020

South Korea: New comprehensive cryptocurrency law

(ef) The South Korean National Assembly passed a bill that provides a framework for the regulation and legalization of cryptocurrencies [TechCrunch]. Coming into force in March 2021, the bill will introduce a permit system for crypto exchanges including requirements for real-name accounts and ISMS authentication [Cointelegraph]. 

South Korea is one of the few countries with wide-scale adoption of the technology and with more than 30% South Korean workers having invested in cryptocurrencies in 2017. [Quartz]

10 March 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Tit-for-tat coronavirus curbs

(dql) Already strained relations between Japan and South Korea are set to further cooling down over the coronavirus epidemic. In response to Tokyo’s decision to impose new restrictions for South Korean visitors over coronavirus fears, including a voluntary self-quarantine upon arrival, Seoul announced a halt of a visa-free entry program for Japan and other countermeasures including the invalidation of already issued visas. [Japan Times][Yonhap]

3 March 2020

South Korea: President Moon under pressure over COVID-19

(dql/ef) President Moon Jae-in is facing mounting pressure after more than 800,000 people in South Korea have signed a petition calling for his impeachment over the government’s alleged failure to handle COVID-19 in the country. [Asia News Network]

In a related development, South Korea’s parliament passed amendments to the country’s Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act, the Quarantine Act and the Medical Services Act to strengthen the government’s responses to COVID-19. Among others, the revisions allow for an increase of personnel in health and welfare ministry officials, restrictions on exports of medicine, medical equipment and other key materials necessary for quarantine and treatment, and sentencing patients disobeying quarantine or hospitalization orders to up one year in jail. [Korea Times]

Meanwhile, due to almost 60% of all Covid-19 infections in South Korea being linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, Seoul’s city government has filed a criminal complaint asking the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the chief director of  the church and twelve others on charges of murder and disease control act violations Seoul’s mayor has alleged that the church failed to work with health authorities and to take adequate preventative measures. The church rejected the claims as based on “stigmatization, hatred and slander” [Reuters] [CNBC]

South Korea currently has the highest number of infections outside mainland China. [CNN]

25 February 2020

Japan renews claims over islets controlled by South Korea

(dql) Tensions between Japan and South Korea have flared after Tokyo renewed claims to Seoul-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan calling them “an inherent territory” of Japan.

South Korea lodged a strong protest against the action. [Kyodo News] [Korea Times]

25 February 2020

South Korea: Merger between political parties

(dql) In a move to increase their chances in the legislative election in April, three minor political have merged to form the Party for People’s Livelihoods. The involved parties currently hold 20 of the 300 seats in the National Assembly. [Korea Herald]

The move follows a merger between the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and two other minor parties earlier this month. [AiR No. 7, February/2020, 3]

25 February 2020

South Korea’s “New Southern Policy” towards ASEAN countries

(ls) A “Perspective” published by ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute assess South Korea’s New Southern Policy towards ASEAN countries. It argues that South Korea needs to develop more broad-based economic engagement across ASEAN member states to overcome its over-concentration on Vietnam, foster two-way exchanges that improve ASEAN’s market access, and articulate a coherent idea of regional cooperation that supports ASEAN-led mechanisms and the open, inclusive and rules-based regional architecture. [ISEAS]

18 February 2020

South Korea: Merger of political parties ahead of the legislative elections

(dql) The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) and two minor parties officially merged to form a new political party under the name “Party for Future Unification” on Monday.

The move aims to pool conservative forces to challenge the ruling Democratic Party in the parliamentary elections in April. [Korea Times]

In a related development, three other opposition parties last week announced their plans to merge to a new party which would be named “Democratic Unity Party”. [Korea Herald]

18 February 2020

South Korea: Supreme Court approves not-guilty verdict for conscientious objectors

(dql) Upholding lower courts’ not-guilty verdicts, South Korea’s Supreme Court acquitted more than 100 Jehovah’s Witnesses who were indicted for rejecting mandatory military service for religious reasons.

The ruling follows the Court’s landmark ruling in November last year when for the first time in South Korea’s history a conscientious objector was acquitted after the Court ruled that religious and conscientious beliefs were to be recognized as valid reasons for refusing military service. [Yonhap]

Since the 1950s, around 19,000 conscientious objectors have been arrested and served jail terms of 18 months for violating the country’s Military Service Act. 

11 February 2020

Japan-South Korea relations: Tokyo’s second complaint against Seoul at the WTO within two weeks

(dql) Following a first a petition filed in January against South Korea with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over what it views as excessive subsidies to South Korea’s domestic shipbuilding industry, Japan on Monday launched a second complaint at the WTO in the same matter. [Reuters]

Japan’s move worsens the already strained relations between both countries which are embroiled in a political and economic dispute which originates from a spat on compensation payments for South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945.

11 February 2020

South Korea: Liberty Korea Party launches sister party for electoral tactics and threatens to impeach President Moon

(dql) Two months ahead of the general elections the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) is beefing up its election tactics by launching a sister party whose sole aim is to secure additional proportionate representative seats in the parliament. [Korea Herald 1]

LPK’s move is a response to the recently revised electoral law which makes it easier for minor parties to boost their presence in parliament by obtaining proportional representation seats based on their share of votes. [AiR No. 53, December/2019, 5]

In another development, the LKP has announced that it will push for a motion to impeach President Moon Jae-in in case an ongoing investigation would prove that he was involved in an alleged fraud in the context a mayoral election in 2018 which a long-term friend of Moon won. [Korea Herald 2]

4 February 2020

South Korea-USA relations: US threatens to put 9,000 South Korean military workers on leave 

(dql) Washington has geared up pressure on Seoul in the ongoing talks on cost sharing for the deployment of US soldiers in South Korea, as the US Forces Korea (USFK) has begun sending notice of potential furloughs to its nearly 9,000 South Korean employees. 

South Korea and the United States are engaged in tough negotiations over how much Seoul should pay this year and beyond for the upkeep of the 28.500-strong USFK under the cost-sharing deal, with the U.S. demanding about 5 billion USD from South Korea in 2020, an almost five-fold increase from the 935 million USD Seoul paid last year. [New York Times] [Wall Street Journal]

4 February 2020

Japan sues South Korea over shipbuilding subsidies  

(dql) Japan filed a petition against South Korea with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over what it views as excessive subsidies to South Korea’s domestic shipbuilding industry. Seoul dismissed the claims as groundless. [Japan Times]

Tokyo’s move adds to already heightened trade and political tensions over a dispute on compensation payments for South Korean victims of forced labour during the Japanese rule over the Korean peninsula 1910-1945. 

4 February 2020

South Korea: Prosecution puts Presidential Office under pressure over 2017 mayoral election 

(dql) South Korea’s Presidential Office has come under pressure after an official was summoned last week by the prosecution over alleged involvement in a mayoral election scandal in 2017. The official, a secretary for civil affairs, is suspected to have played a behind the scene-role in setting up a corruption probe against the then mayor of the city of Ulsan of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. 

The investigation led to his defeat against his contender of the ruling Democratic Party, a longtime friend of President Moon, who himself has been now indicted on charges of violating election laws, along with former officials of the Presidential Office accused of election meddling. Among them is the former Presidential Chief of Staff who denounced the probe against him as politically motivated. [Yonhap 1] [Yonhap 2] [KBS]

The government and the prosecution have been in conflict for months over the reform of the prosecution. Related bills were recently passed the parliament. [AiR No. 2, January/2020, 2]

In a latest development, the government announced its plan to get legislation of police reform bills passed in the first half of 2020 to establish a non-prosecution body to investigate corruption involving ranking public officials and to grant police more investigative power. [Korea Herald]

28 January 2020

South Korea not to join U.S.-led International Maritime Security Construct

(dql) South Korea announced that its Navy’s Cheonghae antipiracy unit, currently safeguarding international shipping in the Gulf of Aden, will have its operational range expanded to include the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. The unit will, however, not join the U.S.-led International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC). But Seoul also declared that the unit will cooperate with the IMSC when needed and that it is planning to send two officers from unit to the IMSC headquarters as liaison officers for cooperation in information sharing. [Korea Times]

Seoul’s decision is the attempt to satisfy a twofold interest: cooperation with the USA, country’s biggest ally, and Iran, one of the country’s biggest trade partners in the Middle East.

Currently, the IMSC includes the USA, Saudi Arabia, the U.K. and Bahrain.

28 January 2020

South Korea: Prosecution reshuffle stirs up political backlash

(dql) Last week South Korea’s Ministry of Justice announced a second round of reshuffle of prosecutors, following a first earlier this month. [Air No. 2, January/2020, 2]

Raising critics about the political nature of this move, the reshuffle replaces senior prosecutors who have been leading investigations into high-profile election fraud and corruption cases involving former and current presidential officials. Opposition parties accused the Moon government of  “unprecedentedly blatant obstruction of justice”, “trampling on the rule of law” and leading the country onto the “path to dictatorship.”

The Ministry rejected these critics arguing that other key prosecutors investigating the cases remain in their posts. [Yonhap] [Korea Herald]

In a related development, the leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) announced that his party, is case of a victory in the April legislative election, would push a constitutional reform that would “prevent an imperial presidential system” whose harmful manifestations, according to him, are apparent under Moon’s administration. [Korea Times]

14 January 2020

Japan rejects South Korea’s latest suggestion on solving forced labor dispute 

(dql) Tokyo has strongly rejected a latest suggestion made by Seoul to solve the countries’ dispute over compensation payments to South Korea victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule on the Korean peninsula.

Last week, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it is endorsing a proposal of South Korean and Japanese lawyers to establish a consultative body, involving government officials, lawyers, representative of victims, scholars and business officials from the two countries, to support victims. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga dismissed the proposal, arguing that the forced labor issue has been resolved through the 1965 “Agreement Between Japan and the Republic of Korea Concerning the Settlement of Problems in Regard to Property and Claims and Economic Cooperation”. [Korea Herald]

14 January 2020

South Korea: Parliament passes bills allowing police to conclude criminal investigations 

(dql) As part of the reform of the country’s reform of the prosecution, South Korea’s parliament passed bills under which the police are able to close probes without approval by the prosecution. The move brings the long-standing spat between police and prosecution over their roles and powers in criminal investigations to an end.  So far the former have only been able to initiate investigations but have not been allowed to close them without the latter’s approval. [Korea Herald]

Meanwhile, tensions between the government and the prosecution over the latter’s reform have deepened after newly appointed Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae last week replaced 32 senior prosecutors in a reshuffle. Among the replaced are senior prosecutors in charge of an investigation into scandals involving ex-Justice Minister Cho Kuk and some presidential officials, all close to President Moon. [Yonhap 1]

In a related development, rallies for and against the government’s reform of the prosecution were staged this weekend. While one group of protesters took to the streets to demand President Moon’s resignation and to express their anger over the reshuffle, which they see as an attempt to thwart the prosecution’s probe into two high-profile scandals involving the Presidential Office, another group of citizens joined a candlelight vigil to voice their endorsement of the government’s prosecution reform. [Yonhap 2]

In an earlier move last week, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) submitted an impeachment against Justice Minister over the reshuffle, calling it an attempt to “massacre” the prosecution service. [Yonhap 3]

7 January 2020

South Korea: Military guardhouse system to be alobished

(dql) South Korea has announced to revise the Military Personnel Management Act to put an end to the military guardhouse system, signaling efforts to better protect the human rights of draftees. 

The guardhouse system, under which rank-and-file soldiers who commit wrongdoings can be sent to military confinement facilities for up to 15 days by a decision of a military disciplinary committee, has been criticized for limiting conscripts’ personal liberty. 

The reform bill, now pending in the parliament, provides that any incarceration of soldiers will only be possible through an official court trial, and those convicted while being in service will be put in a military prison instead of a confinement facility. [Yonhap]

7 January 2020

South Korea: Prosecution clashes with political parties over indictment of lawmakers

(dql) The Seoul Southern District Prosecutor’s Office filed charges against lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) for breaching parliamentary law and causing disturbances in the context of a mass brawl that took place inside the National Assembly in April 2019 over a set of contentious reform bills. Among indicted are 23 lawmakers form the LKP and five from the DP.

The move was criticized by both parties. While the LKP called the move “political” and an attempt to “kill the opposition party” ahead of the general elections in April, the DP, pointing to the fact that among the five indicted DP lawmakers four are members of the judiciary reform committee, accused the prosecution of seeking revenge for the party’s push for the reform of prosecution which the prosecution itself objects. [Korea Herald]

South Korea’s law provides harsh punishments for interrupting the parliamentary proceedings. Those found guilty face up to five years in jail or up to 10 million won. Lawmakers who are sentenced imprisonment or imposed a fine of more than 5 million won are deprived of rights to run for election. [CNN]

31 December 2019

South Korea: Conscientious objection to military service improved but still stigmatized 

(dql) Also last week, the parliament amended the country’s Military Service Act allowing conscientious objectors to avoid criminalization and imprisonment for 18 months. Those refusing military service are, however, required to fulfill 36 months of alternative service at prisons or other correctional facilities. [Yonhap]

Amnesty International, while acknowledging a positive signal, criticized the alternative service at prisons or other correctional facilities as rather an “alternative punishment”, arguing that conscientious objectors will continue to be stigmatized in society “as having been sent to jail” and their ability to access employment afterwards expected to be compromised. [Amnesty International]

31 December 2019

South Korea: Contentious bills to reform prosecutorial and electoral system approved

(dql) South Korea’s parliament passed a contentious bill to reform the country’s prosecution and to launch a special investigative body charged with investigating corruption cases involving high-ranking officials and their family members. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) fiercely objected the bill, with their lawmakers walking out of the plenary session in protest to abstain from voting. [Korea Herald]

In an earlier development, the equally controversial bill on the reform of the parliamentary electoral system, which introduces a new proportional representation system and lowers the voting age from 19 to 18, was passed last week, again with the LKP again heavily protesting the vote. [Korea Times]

The fierce clash over both bills, in particular between the ruling Democratic Party and the LKP, had seen mass rallies, hunger strikes and filibusters staged, disrupting and partly even paralyzing operations of the National Assembly for months.

24 December 2019

China, Japan, South Korea agree to promote dialogue between USA and North Korea 

(dql) At a trilateral summit in Chengdu this week, China, Japan and South Korea have vowed to work together to help promote the North Korea-US dialogue to end North Korea’s nuclear program. South Korean President Moon Jae-in confirmed in a joint news conference that “the three countries, agreed to continue close communication and cooperation toward denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

The pledge comes amid the looming year-end deadline set by Pyongyang for Washington to change what it considers as a policy of hostility. The meeting is also a chance for Beijing to flex its diplomatic muscle and to present itself as weighty broker between Tokyo and Seoul whose ties have hit rock bottom in recent months over trade issues and disputes over compensation payment for South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s rule over the Korean Peninsula 1910-1945. [Aljazeera][Reuters]

24 December 2019

South Korea: Parliamentary impasse over controversial electoral bill broken?

(dql) It looks like South Korea’s lawmakers have been able to overcome the impasse regarding the contentious parliamentary electoral reform bill that has been paralyzing the parliament’s work throughout the past weeks.

On Monday, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) reached an agreement with three minor parties and a group of lawmakers on a final version of the electoral reform bill which would shift the country’s current single-member district system to a mixed-member proportional with 253 of the 300 parliamentary seats being directly elected seats and 47 proportional representation seats. Following the agreement the bill was introduced to the parliament to be vote on Monday late night. However, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) stage a filibuster to block the vote. [Korea Times]

In a latest development LKP, which called the agreement a “political collusion”, announced its plan to set up a new affiliated party that only seeks proportional representation seats. At the same time the party continues its filibuster to block the vote until Wednesday when the current extra parliamentary session will end.  The DP earlier requested the opening of a new extra session for Thursday. [Yonhap]

10 December 2019

South Korea: National Assembly operations normalized

(dql) The ruling Democratic Party and main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) have reached an agreement to normalize parliamentary operations after they had been paralyzed by the LKP’s threat to stage a filibuster to prevent the vote on fast-tracked bills on electoral and prosecutorial reforms which the party strongly rejects. [No. 49, December/2019, 1]

While the LKP has dropped its filibuster plans, the DP agreed to postpone voting on the mentioned controversial bills. [Yonhap]

Meanwhile, last week the prosecution raided a division of the presidential office in the frame of its investigation of an alleged cover-up of an inspection into an ex-vice mayor who is accused of bribery. The DP condemned the raid as abuse of power and a move to resist the reform of the prosecution while suspecting collusion between the LKP and the prosecution. [Korea Times] [Korea Herald]

10 December 2019

South Korea calls for China’s support in denuclearization process amid bleak prospects for US-North Korean talks

(dql) During the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to South Korea last week, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called for China to play am important role in denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, while Wang urged to established stronger strategic communication between Beijing and Seoul. [South China Morning Post]

The statements come amid concerns that the US-led denuclearization diplomacy will fall apart after North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations at the weekend declared that denuclearization is off the negotiating table with the United States. [CNBC]

3 December 2019

South Korea, Malaysia set to become strategic partners

(dql) At a summit last week, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad reached an agreement to elevate their countries relations to become strategic partners in 2020.

Further, a number of MoUs were signed pertaining to cooperation in various fields, including information and communications technology, public health services, water management and in establishing e-government systems. [Yonhap]

3 December 2019

South Korea: Filibuster threat paralyzes parliament

(dql) South Korea’s main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) is playing legislative hardball in their attempt to stop contentious bills. Last week it announced to make use of filibuster on 199 bills which had been scheduled to be voted on last Friday, including those on the electoral reform bill and the bill on the set up of a independent agency to investigate corruption cases involving high ranking officials which the LKP fiercely rejects. Due to the filibuster threat the Friday’s plenary session was suspended leaving the 199 bills pending.

The DP, accusing the LKP of an “anti-democratic and treacherous act [of the LKP]”, announced that it would take “strong, emergency action” and seek cooperation with four minor parties.  [Yonhap] [Korea Times]

26 November 2019

South Korea: President Moon faces hunger strike of opposition leader

(dql) To protest against President Moon Jae-in’s foreign and domestic policies, the leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) Hwang Kyo-ahn has been on hunger strike since last week and vowed this week to continue it.

Main targets of Hwang’s protest are bills on prosecution and election reforms which the ruling Democratic Party is resolved to pass against fierce objection of the LKP. [Korea Herald]



26 November 2019

South Korea-ASEAN Summits

(ls) This week, the third Korea-ASEAN Commemorative Summit and the inaugural Korea-Mekong Summit is taking place in Busan in South Korea. A total of nine summits with ASEAN leaders have been set except for Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen who stayed home for personal reasons. The Busan summits mark the 30th anniversary of South Korea-ASEAN dialogue ties, which have been increasingly emphasized under President Moon’s New Southern Policy. [Korea Times]

Ahead of the summits, Moon has highlighted some of the functional areas of ASEAN-Korea collaboration, including infrastructure, smart cities, environmental sustainability, and small- and medium-sized enterprises. He also made reference to areas of wider geopolitical convergence, including between ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific Outlook and South Korea’s New Southern Policy. Since he took office in 2017, Moon has visited all 10 ASEAN countries. [The Diplomat]



26 November 2019

South Korea sticks to intelligence pact with Japan

(dql) South Korea last Friday suspended its plan to withdraw from the intelligence-sharing pact, known as the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), with Japan of which it had earlier repeatedly said it would pull out amid heightened tensions between both countries over disputes over trade and compensation for forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule on the Korean peninsula. [BBC] [No. 47, November/2019, 3]

It remains, however, to be seen whether Seoul’s sticking to the pact will improve the countries’ relations given that only a few days later both sides took fresh swipes over their respective comments on South Korea’s decision to maintain the pact, a key symbol of security cooperation between the two and a trilateral partnership with the United States. [Mainichi]


12 November 2019

South Korea to abolish elite high schools in 2025

(dql) In a drastic move aimed to reduce educational disparity and improve fairness in the country’s school system, South Korea’s Ministry announced the abolishment of elite high schools by 2025 when they will be then be transformed into regular schools. The Ministry’s decision is a response to criticism that elite schools significantly contribute to the widening disparity in education between wealthy and poor families. [Yonhap]

In a related development, the Ministry also announced a crackdown on alleged irregularities in the private education sector such as high-priced consulting services tailored for college admission. The Ministry said that 258 private education institutes nationwide will be inspected. [Korea Herald]

5 November 2019

Human rights groups criticise East Asia Summit for not including human rights issues

(jk) Rights groups criticised the state of human rights protection in Southeast Asia in particular over the weekend as they pointed out that the big summits, such as the East Asia Summit, do not include official discussions or statements on the deteriorating human rights situation in the region.

Human rights watch and other organisation expressed grave concern over the fact the Rohingya crisis, the war on drugs in the Philippines, the punishment of the LGBT community or enforced disappearances of activists were largely ignored throughout the summit. [Bangkok Post]

The Rohingya refugee crisis, although not in these terms, was mentioned at length in the final statement of the 35th ASEAN Summit however. ASEAN leaders noted their desire to

facilitate the safe, secure and dignified return displaced persons currently in Bangladesh to

Rakhine State from which they fled. [Chairman’s Statement Of The 35th ASEAN Summit] At the same time, they commended the work of AICHR, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights [for background on AICHR, see this article in CPG’s COM Online Magazine 4/2019]

5 November 2019

RCEP: 15 countries (RCEP minus India) declare they have agreed and will sign in 2020

(jk) During the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) summit in Bangkok on Monday, 15 countries (The ASEAN-ten, Korea, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) agreed to all 20 chapters of the RCEP and stated that they were “willing to sign” the deal in 2020.

All participating countries agreed to make efforts to resolve the remaining issues surrounding India’s concerns, so it too, can participate. [The Korea Herald]

Despite the positive spin on this development, it will remain a disappointment that RCEP could not be completed and signed by the end of this year as it was initially (if very optimistically) stated.

This disappointing if not entirely unexpected outcome was underscored by the US decision to downgrade US representation at the East Asia Summit, also held in Bangkok this past weekend. It was the first time since the EAS was established in 2005, that a country at the summit was represented by an official below the rank of foreign minister. Instead the US sent the new National Security Advisor, Robert O’Brien, as the Special Envoy to the upcoming EAS and the US-ASEAN Summit. [ISEAS Commentary]

5 November 2019

Japan-South Korea relations ready to improve?

(ls) South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Bangkok and resolved to enter into high-level talks on the deepening political and trade row between the two countries. South Korea has been urging Japan to lift trade measures it imposed after South Korea’s Supreme Court ordered Japanese firms to compensate wartime forced laborers. If Japan agrees, South Korea says it could revoke a decision to end the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) on the sharing of military intelligence. [Reuters]

Meanwhile, also South Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo called for the country’s military information-sharing pact with Japan to be maintained, saying it contributed to South Korea’s national security. The United States has also been calling on Seoul not to withdraw from the agreement. [Japan Times]

Before, also Japanese and South Korean lawmakers agreed to work towards easing the tensions. [South China Morning Post]

5 November 2019

South Korea: Bill on combatting child pornography tabled

(ls) According to a draft bill, South Korea is moving to clarify its definition of child pornography and increase sentences for people convicted of owning such imagery following a global investigation into a South Korea-based dark website. The new bill calls for the penalties to be raised to up to three years in prison or 30 million won ($25,740) in fines, while defining child pornography as “abuse”. [Al Jazeera]

29 October 2019

South Korea:  Rallies continue in Seoul over reform of prosecution

(dql) The reform of the prosecution in South Korea, proposed by the Moon administration, continues to divide the country’s society. [AiR No. 43, October/2019, 4]

While a large group of liberal protesters staged a rally on Saturday in support of the reform, with the creation of an independent body to investigate corruption allegations involving senior government officials as its core, conservatives took to streets to protest the proposed anti-corruption investigation body. Leaders of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party joined a rally demanding the withdrawal of the reform bill on the independent corruption investigation body and the resignation of President Moon Jae-in, among others. [Korea Times]

At the core of the controversy lies diverging perception of the proposed independent agency. On the one hand, liberals press for this agency to be headed by a Cabinet minister to end the exclusive power of prosecutors to investigate and indict people accused of wrongdoing without any other government agency able can check their power. Meanwhile, conservatives question the unchecked powers of the new body including the power to demand the police or prosecution to hand over an open case. [Korea Herald]

22 October 2019

South Korea: Clash between political parties over prosecution reform goes on despite of resignation of Justice Minister

(dql) Last week AiR reported on the resignation of Justice Minister Cho Kuk amid escalating controversies surrounding his family in the latest development of which the prosecution has requested an arrest warrant for his wife on various charges of document forgery, embezzlement and violations of capital market law. [AiR No. 42, October/2019, 3] [Alzajeera]

However, the spat between the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) over the reform of the country’s prosecution continues unabated, with both sides staging rallies and counter-rallies. While supporters of Cho staged its 10th rally on Saturday to demand the abolishment of the LKP and the speedy implementation of reform of the prosecution, the LKP held a rally on the same day to express its rejection of the reform as it is currently proposed by the government with the establishment of a new agency to probe public officials as core part of the reform. [Hankyoreh] [Korea Herald]

22 October 2019

South Korea to increase defense spending and cooperate with China in denuclearization of Korean peninsula

(dql) Amid stalled talks between Seoul and Pyongyang, President Moon Jae-in announced this week that South Korea will increase defense spending by seven percent to over 42 billion USD in 2020 to safeguard the country’s “self-determination” by “strong defense”. [i24News/AFP]

The announcement comes after earlier this month North Korea tested an underwater-launched ballistic missile, one of the most provocative among the various weapons tests in the recent months. [AiR No. 41, October/2019, 2]

Meanwhile, Beijing and Seoul on Monday agreed on a joint effort to push for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The agreement was reached at the first bilateral high-level defence talks since 2014 after their suspension in the wake of tensions over Seoul’s plans to allow the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system. [South China Morning Post]

15 October 2019

South Korea: Justice Minister quits after only one month in office

(dql) South Korea’s Justice Minister Cho Kuk, appointed by President Moon only last month, on Monday resigned on Monday. His appointment came amid a prosecution investigation into his family’s financial investments and his children’s’ university admission and had fuelled massive public discontent in recent weeks with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets demanding him stepping down. [Channel News Asia] [No. 41, October/2019, 2]

Cho was appointed by Moon with a particular assignment to carry out the reform of the country’s prosecution which has been criticized for concentrating too much power as it is exclusively authorized to indict and seek warrants for criminal suspects and control police investigative activities, as well as  directly to launch criminal investigations even when no complaint has been made. [Aljazeera]

Following Cho’s resignation, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party announced that it will remain opposed the government’s plan to create a separate agency for investigating crimes by senior government officials. The ruling Democratic Party considers this agency as the core of the prosecution reform. [Korea Herald 1]

In a latest development, Moon’s cabinet on Tuesday approved partial restructuring of the prosecutors’ office proposed as part of prosecutorial reform plans announced hours earlier. The restructuring involves the shut down of four of the seven special investigation divisions at district prosecutors’ offices while the remaining three will be renamed anti-corruption investigation divisions. The special investigation division, first established in January 1973 and charged with dealing with high-profile cases including those involving major political and corporate figures, had become the embodiment of the prosecution’s power. [Korea Herald 2]

8 October 2019

South Korea: Political divide over embattled justice minister continues

(dql) The month-long spat over embattled Justice Minister Cho Kuk between the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) continued last week with unabated virulence. Cho was appointed last month as new Justice Minister amid fierce resistance from the main opposition party and other critics over corruption allegations against his wife who was summoned and questioned by the prosecution last week.

Following an LKP-staged rally on Thursday to press President Moon to sack the Minister, attended by hundreds of thousand, LKP-supporters and critics of the President, a counter-rally in support of Cho took place on Saturday. [Yonhap] [Korea Herald] [Hankyoreh]

1 October 2019

Japan-South Korea relations: South Korean fighter jets conduct patrol flight over disputed islets

(dql) Amid strained relations between Japan and South Korea, South Korean fighter jets on Tuesday flew a patrol over disputed islets called Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, which are controlled by Seoul but claimed by both. The move risks to worsen the already frosty relations. [Reuters]

In the Defense White Paper 2019 of the Japanese Defense Ministry (see entry above), Japan upheld claims on the Dokdo islets. 

Japan and South Korea have been locked in a worsening diplomatic and trade dispute which originate from wartime history and disagreements over compensation for South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea. Reflecting the diplomatic standoff between

1 October 2019

South Korea: Academia urges reform of prosecution in support of embattled Justice Minister

(dql) Embattled new Justice Minister Cho Kuk, who has been under heavy pressure over an ongoing investigation into nepotism involving member of his family [AiR No. 39, September/2019, 4], receives support from the country’s academia for what is expected to by his signature policy: the reform of the prosecution. Over 4,000 academics at a press conference last week have called for a speedy reform under Cho’s leadership to prevent the institution from continuing “wielding an absolute power in our society”. [Hankyoreh]

In a related development, a mass gathering was arranged at the weekend in support of Cho’s reform. According to the organizers, more than 800.000 people joint the rally, while estimated 1000 people joined a protest demanding Cho’s resignation. [Yonhap]

24 September 2019

Japan-South Korea relations: Seoul not invited to Japan naval review

(dql) Reflecting frosty relations between Japan and South Korea, Seoul has confirmed that it will not partake in Japan’s naval fleet review in October, as it had not received an invitation from Tokyo. The upcoming event is expected to involve US, British and Chinese warships. South Korea joined the previous naval review in 2015, attended by Australia, France, India and the U.S. [Japan Times]

Furthermore, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has no plans to meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during his trip to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly which started on Monday. 

24 September 2019

South Korea: Embattled justice minister holds first dialogue with prosecutors over reform

(dql) South Korea’s recently appointed justice minister Cho Kuk last Friday has kicked off his work on the controversial reform of the country’s prosecution system with a closed-door meeting with more than three dozen of prosecutors and investigators. At the core of the controversy of the reform lies the government’s goal to strengthen oversight over the prosecution. [Yonhap]

Cho appointment as Justice Minister by President Moon Jae-in has been heavily criticized by opposition parties and parts of the public over his alleged involvement in an investment deal as well as in his wife’s forgery of a school award to help their daughter enroll in a medical school. In the frame of those allegations Cho’s house was raided on Monday by the prosecution. [Korea Herald] 

Earlier last week, students and alumni of country’s three most prestigious universities held candlelight vigils on their campuses last Thursday night to express their protest against Cho’s appointment as justice minister. [Korea Bizwire]

10 September 2019

Myanmar and South Korea sign MOUs, including for infrastructure projects 

(jk) Myanmar and South Korea signed a number of Memoranda of Understanding and at least one agreement on financial, trade and investment cooperation and infrastructure projects during a three-day visit by the South Korean President last week who was in the country advancing South Korea’s New Southern Policy. [The Irrawady]

A framework agreement has been signed under which South Korea will provide US$1 billion to Myanmar which has said will focus the investment on infrastructure projects. [Myanmar Times]

However, a series of coordinated attacks as reported previously [AiR 34, August/2019, 3] in Mandalay and Shan State has not only brought about disruption in trade between Myanmar and China in particular, but also pointed to the difficulties with foreign investment in a country where a peace deal between the government and several rebel groups seems as far out of reach as ever. 

10 September 2019

South Korea affirms ties with Russia, Central European nations

(jd) During the Korea-Russia Local Cooperation Forum on Friday, local governments from South Korea and Russia agreed to expand cooperation between their two nations, with focus on trade, education, economic, science. Both sides also agreed to improve transportation and logistics between the two nations. [Korea Herald]

Meanwhile, at the Seoul Defense Dialogue, South Korean vice defense minister met with his counterparts from the Visegrad group, an alliance between four Central European countries, Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland. The countries have agreed to boost multilateral cooperation and improve defense fields, particularly in cybersecurity. [Yonhap]

10 September 2019

South Korean-Japan relations: South Korean city parliaments enact ordinances labeling Japanese companies as ‘war crime companies’

(dql/jd) Deepening strained relations between South Korea and Japan over historical, territorial and trade disputes, the parliaments of the two largest South Korean cities have approved non-binding ordinances to label Japanese companies accused of employing forced labor or producing military supplies during World War II as ‘war crimes companies’. The measure targets 284 Japanese companies. Mayors and other officials of the cities are requested not to by products from them in the future. [Japan Today]

The measure is the latest round in the ongoing anti-Japan boycott drive in South Korea triggered by Tokyo’s move in August to remove Seoul from Japan’s trade white list which is seen by South Koreans as a retaliatory response to rulings of the South Korean Supreme Court ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to victims of forced labor during the Japanese rule over the Korean peninsula. [Strait Times] 

10 September 2019

South Korea: Moon appoints new justice minister amid fierce political opposition

(dql/jd) Defying fierce criticism by opposition parties, President Moon Jae-in has appointed Cho Kuk,  a trusted aide of Moon for many years, as new justice minister. Cho, who had been member of the South Korean Human Rights Commission and until July a senior secretary to the President for Civil Affairs, is facing heavy political pressure over allegations of nepotism and other unethical conduct including shady family investments, using connections to secure his daughter a prestigious internship and to help her enroll in a top medical school. 

Moon defended his move, widely expected to trigger a public and political backlash, by saying that he would set a “bad precedent” if he would not appoint Cho in the face of unconfirmed suspicions of illicit acts. [Korea Herald] [Korea Times]

03 September 2019

South Korea and Japan relations further worsening

(jd) Amidst ongoing strained relationships with Japan, South Korean lawmakers visited a disputed island on Saturday. Known to South Korea as Dokdo, the island is also claimed by Japan, where it is known as Takeshima. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the visit “extremely regrettable.” [New York Times]

Meanwhile, as expected, Japan has officially removed South Korea from the trade whitelist last week, while Seoul confirmed this weekend that the South Korean government is on track toward excluding Japan from its export control whitelist this month. [Japan Times] [Asia News Network]

03 September 2019

South Korea: Main opposition party again takes to the streets

(dql) Following last weekend’s rally [AiR No. 35, August/2019], South Korea’s Liberty Korea Party continues its extra-parliamentary opposition against the Moon administration as it held another mass protest in Seoul this week to demand Justice Minister nominee Cho Kuk to withdraw, who is under heavy pressure over alleged privileges his daughter enjoyed in her college admissions process and his large investments in a private equity fund. According to party estimates around 50.000 people joined the rally. [Korea Herald] [Korea Times]

Date of AiR edition

News summary

Web links

16 July 2019

Japan-South Korea relations: Clash over Tokyo’s curbs on high-tech exports to South Korea

(dql/jd) Japan and South Korea’s relations are worsening over Japan’s imposition of tighter restrictions on high-tech exports to South Korea, widely seen as a retaliatory move of Tokyo against what is view as Seoul’s inaction against South Korea’s Supreme Court rulings of last year ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. [AiR 1/7/2019] [AiR 2/7/2019]

Following failed diplomatic attempts in the last week [Korea Herald 1] [Reuters], South Korean President Moon on Monday reiterated his call for talks warning Tokyo of “very unwise move” of fusing historical and economic issues which in the end would hit Japan much harder than South Korea. He also again rejected Tokyo’s justification of its trade measure with the South Korea’s alleged to enforce sanctions on North Korea. [Korea Herald 2]

Meanwhile, Japan itself faces accusations of violating international sanctions against North Korea. Yonhap is citing UN Reports between 2010 and 2019 according to which Japan has exported “strategic items and luxury goods” to North Korea, thereby violating international sanctions. [Yonhap]

Complicating the dispute, Russia has come up with an offer to supply etching gas – the key element for semiconductor production –  to South Korea, in a move that could help Seoul get around Japanese export curbs. [Nikkei Asian Review]

16 July 2019

South Korea: Minimum wage hike campaign deflates

(dql) South Korea’s government announced last week to set the minimum wage per hour for 2020 at 8,590 won (7.32 USD), a hike of only 2.9% on a year making it the lowest since 2010. In 2018 and 2019 the raise was at 16.4% and 10.9% respectively.

The announcement caused fierce criticism from the labor sector calling the government’s decision a “minimum wage debacle” and accusing President Moon Jae-in of breaking his election promises. [Nikkei Asian Review] [South Korea Herald]

Moon apologized and expressed remorse for failing to fulfill his campaign pledge to raise the minimum wage to 10.000 won an hour by 2020. [KBS]

9 July 2019

Japan-South Korea relations: Japan reviews removing South Korea from “white list”

(jyk) The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry reviews whether to remove Korea from its white list of countries that enjoy minimum regulations in export procedures. The move is widely seen as a retaliatory move Tokyo’s against Seoul which it accuses of inaction against South Korea’s Supreme Court rulings of last year ordering Japanese companies to pay compensation to South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean peninsula.

Seoul announced to file a complaint to the WTO, while the Foreign Ministry convened a government-civilian strategy meeting with economists and business leaders to discuss possible countermeasures. Meanwhile, leaders of Korean conglomerates, such as Samsung and SK, were flying for a meeting with Japanese industry officials to discuss the impending export curbs. [JoongAng Daily 1] [JoongAng Daily 2] [Korea Times] [Nikkei]

9 July 2019

South Korea: Minor parties protest against main parties’ parliamentary compromise

(jyk) Three minor parties that allied with the ruling Democratic Party (DP) to push for electoral and judicial reform called foul at the compromise the DP reached with the main opposition Liberal Party (LKP). The agreement would give one of the two parliamentary committees’ chairs to the LKP which would end the months-long parliamentary impasse between the two parties in exchange [AiR 1/7/2019]. Passing a committee chair to the LKP would allow the party to delay the legislative process indefinitely threatening to let the electoral reform “go up in smoke”. The reform would introduce a proportional representation election system, which the minor parties deem crucial for their parties to survive the general election in 2020. Despite their warning that the DP “imperil(s) political cooperation between the four parties’ alliance toward reform”, the DP is unlikely to give in and to sacrifice the chair to the judicial reform committee and pass it on to the LKP, as judicial reform bills has been the Moon Jae-in administration’s main agenda. [JoongAng Daily]

2 July 2019

Japan slaps sanctions on its tech exports to South Korea

(jyk) Underscoring currently frosty relations between Japan and South Korea over the drawn-out issue of compensation of South Korean victims of forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of Korean peninsula  [AiR 4/6/2019], the Japanese government announced its plan to restrict Japanese exports of semiconductor manufacturing materials used in smartphone displays and chips to South Korea.

The move includes tighter export controls as well as removing South Korea from a “white list” of countries that face minimum restrictions on transfers of technology with national security implications. Removal from the “white list” implies all South Korea-bound exports of advanced technologies and electronic parts that have the potential for military use will require Japanese government’s pre-approval. This new screening process is likely to slow down exports and hurt the South Korean electronics makers that rely on the materials, most of which are only available from the Japanese suppliers. [Nikkei Asian Review]

In a stern response, the South Korean government announced to take necessary reactions, including filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization. [Korea Herald]

18 June  2019

South Korea: Parliamentary impasse set to persist

(dql) South Korea’s National Assembly has been facing an impasse for months [AiR 1/6/2019] and continues to be paralyzed after the ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) on Sunday failed to agree on setting up a parliamentary hearing on the country’s economic situation as condition for resuming parliamentary operation. While the latter refused to give in to its demand for a hearing to question the government over what it calls the country’s economic crisis, the former rejected the demand, accusing the LKP of misusing the issue for its political agenda. [Korea Herald]




18 June  2019

South Korea-USA relations: Washington wants its ally to join the boycott against Huawei

(jyk) During a security forum in Seoul on June 7th, the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Harry Harris voiced his concern over the security implications of Korean military’s continued purchase and usage of Huawei’s communications equipment, despite U.S.’s call to blacklist the company to protect the allies’ security network. Several companies of U.S. allies like U.K. and Japan followed the call and suspended deals with China’s rising tech giant. However, Seoul hesitated its alignment with its closest security ally U.S., and said on 13th that it will “consider measures that respect corporate autonomy without affecting military communications” through Ministry of Foreign Affairs, possibly wary of economic retaliation from its biggest trading partner, China [JoongAng Daily]. In response to the concern, a South Korean senior official said the concern was unjustified as 5G was “clearly separate from the military and security communications network in South Korea”, and that Korea’s “usage rate for its 5G network was less than 10%” [Hankyoreh]. The U.S. State Department nonetheless warned the problem pertained to serious national security issues, and that it will reconsider sharing sensitive intelligence with Korea if it fails to align with U.S.’s Huawei boycott. [JoongAng Daily]



11 June  2019

South Korea: Controversy as ruling party’s election strategist plans to visit regional governments ahead of general election

(jyk) Yang Jeong-cheol, a key confidant of President Moon and the director of the ruling party’s election campaign think tank – Institute for Democracy – sparked controversy as he planned his visit to Busan and South Gyeongsang Province to “establish a cooperation network with think tanks of all regional governments”, according to an official of the institute [JoongAng Daily 1].

The announcement of the visit was controversial as it came shortly after Yang’s recent private dinner with the director of the National Intelligence Service despite the NIS Act forbidding its involvement in political activities. [AiR 4/5/2019] The opposition Liberty Korea Party called the visit inappropriate as it could unjustly influence the election results by exerting influence on “the regional government heads who have influence over (their) residents and organizational power”. [JoongAng Daily 2]


11 June  2019

South Korea: Ex-Vice Minister of Justice indicted for receiving sexual favors and bribes

(jyk) South Korea’s former vice minister of Justice, Kim Hak-eui, is set to stand trial for receiving sexual favors and bribes totaling 143,600 USD from a construction contractor. Kim served as the vice-minister of Justice Ministry for just six days until the Prosecutors investigated him for the above charges in March 2013. But the prosecutors and the police dropped all charges against Kim the immediate year, citing a lack of evidence [KyungHyang]. The case resurfaced in 2019 when Kim’s sex video was disclosed by the media and prompted re-initiation of the investigation by the Prosecution Services. New evidences against Kim’s misdeeds generated public speculations that the premature acquittal in 2013 was an attempt of cover-up led by the Prosecution Office and the authorities of the Presidential Office, which was then headed by the Park Administration. [JoongAng Daily]


4 June  2019

South Korea-USA relations: Despite North Korea’s missile tests, no need to restart Big Military Exercises with South Korea, US Acting Defense Chief says

(dql) In a move believed to keep doors open for denuclerization talks with North Korea, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said that it is not necessary to resume large-scale military exercises with South Korea which North Korea has always considered as provocation. Shanahan made this statement during his visit to Seoul on Sunday, adding that his talks in South Korea’s capitol are supposed to clarify and to ensure that the allies have the required military readiness and are prepared when diplomacy could fail.  

While American and South Korean troops have continued low-key, smaller-scale exercises, bigger joint drills have been put on hold after President Trump called them provocative and expensive war games during his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last year.

Shananan’s statement comes after Pyongyang in May conducted missile tests [AiR 2/5/2019] which have triggered discussions over whether a continued suspension of large-scale drills may impair the U.S. and South Korea’s response ability in case the Pyongyang would shift from diplomacy and to heighten hostilities. [Politico] [New York Times]

Meanwhile, South Korea’s Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo provided an assessment of Pyongyang’s missile tests in May at the Shangri-La dialogue, expressing his conviction that they are not violating the Comprehensive Military Agreement between North and South Korea on the reduction of hostilities which was signed in September last year and which states in Art. 1 that “South and North Korea agreed to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea that are the source of military tension and conflict.” [The Diplomat]

In the light of this article, Jeong’s assessment looks attackable but it reflects South Korea’s efforts to retain momentum in the inter-Korean peace and demilitarisation talks in the face of strained relations between the USA and North Korea as well as in the wake of the latest condemnation of Pongyang’s missile tests as violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions by Japanese Defense Minister Iwaya during his meeting with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue as well as by Shanahan some days earlier, with the latter contradicting President Trump who during his visit to Japan last week said that for him the missile tests don’t constitute such a violation. [Japan Times] [CNN]


4 June  2019

South Korea: Main opposition party steps up pressure on intelligence chief over meeting with President Moon’s confidant

(dql) After the revelation of a dinner between National Intelligence Service (NIS) director Suh Hoon and  Yang Jeong-cheol, who used to be President Moon’s senior aide and now works as the director of a think-tank that conducts research and advises on campaign strategy for the ruling Democratic Party (DP) [AiR 4/5/2019], the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) is set to gear up political pressure after indicating that it is considering to file a complaint against Suh with the prosecution over suspected violation of the NIS law by possibly sharing confidential information with Yang and intervening in domestic politics. The NIS law prohibits the agency’s head from being involved in any political activities.

Suh and Yang, who both held key posts in Moon’s presidential campaign in 2017, rejected the allegations, maintaining the meeting was private. [Korea Times]

The controversy adds to the paralyzing of the South Korean parliament in wake of the ongoing clash between the ruling DP and the LKP over recent fast-tracking of controversial political and judicial reform bills, with the latter insisting that it would only return to parliamentary work if the DP withdraws the fast-track designation of those bills. The latest negotiations between both sides on Sunday failed to yield an agreement. [Korea Herald]

Fast-tracked bills can automatically be put to a vote at a plenary session even if relevant committees fail to deliberate on or approve it within a given period of time. Among the contentious bills are those calling for electoral reform and establishing an independent agency to investigate corruption among high-ranking officials.

28 May 2019

South Korea: Uproar as ruling party’s senior advisor seen dining with director of National Intelligence Service

(jyk) Despite the law prohibiting members of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) from participating in political activities including “conducting election campaigns for a political party” the director of the NIS, Suh Hoon, was seen having a four-hour long dinner with Yang Jeong-cheol, who used to be President Moon’s senior aide and now works as the director of a think-tank that conducts research and advises on campaign strategy for the ruling Democratic Party.

Opposition parties accused Yang of appropriating NIS’s intelligence power to gain unjust advantage in the general election in April, 2020, to which Yang replied no sensitive topics were discussed and that the dinner was between “several friends who have known each other for a long time, not a one-on-one meeting (with Suh)” [JoongAng Daily].

This is not the first time the NIS’s political neutrality has been questioned, as the prosecutor’s investigation in 2012 revealed active involvement of the NIS in a online smear campaign that manipulated and influenced public opinion in favor of the conservative administration of Lee Myung-bak (2008-2013). The then director of the NIS, Won Sei-Hoon (2009-2013), was found guilty of violating the NIS Act and was sentenced in 2018 to serve four years in prison. [Hankyoreh]

28 May 2019

South Korea: Government response required after petition calling for President Moon to be impeached meets threshold

(dql) Reflecting low approval ratings, a petition calling for an impeachment of President Moon Jae-in gathered more than 217,000 signatures, passing the threshold of 200,000 signatures that requires the government to response. Moon is facing a stagnating economy as well as stalled talks on North Korea’s denuclearization, both major pledges in his presidential campaign in 2017. A recent poll revealed that 44% of the respondents said Moon was doing a bad job, which is up more than four times the rate a year ago when he enjoyed highest approval ratings after his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. [Reuters]

11 March 2019

South Korea: Parliamentary work resumed

(dql) After a two-month hiatus, south Korea’s National Assembly kicked off an extraordinary session last Thursday as the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) ended its boycott of parliamentary activities earlier last week. On the agenda for deliberation are contentious bills largely on the economy and electoral reform as well as legislation on fighting fine dust. [Korea Herald] [Yonhap]

The National Assembly has been paralyzed since January as the ruling Democratic Party and the LKP clashed over allegations of government abuse of power, a controversial appointment and a former ruling party lawmaker’s purchases of properties in cultural zones.

11 March 2019

South Korea: Plans for new internet law

(dql) According to an announcement of South Korea’s Communications Commission last week, a new law is set to be introduced in 2019 allowing the government to shut down domestic operations of foreign internet-related companies holding personal information of South Korean users, such as Google and Facebook. The new law would require foreign firms to partner up with a domestic company and to operate through it bringing them within the government’s reach.

Under current law, such foreign companies are not subject to domestic regulations on violations of user privacy or misuse of user information. While local firms had complained that this put them at disadvantage against foreign companies, human rights advocates raised concerns over the government’s move as they fear tightened control of internet service providers and users. [The Diplomat]

11 March 2019

South Korea-USA relations: Deal on defense cost for deployed U.S. troops signed

(dql) Following rounds of laborious negotiations since last year, Washington and Seoul last Friday signed a defense cost deal which would increase Seoul’s financial contribution for the deployment of U.S. troops in the Asian country from 830 million USD last year to 924 million USD in 2019.

11 March 2019

Japan-Korea relations: Tokyo considers retaliatory measures over wartime forced labor dispute

(dql) Fuelling tensions between Japan and South Korea, Tokyo is reportedly considering raising tariffs on South Korean products and other measures in response to the seizure and possible sale of assets from two Japanese companies that were ordered by the South Korean Supreme Court last year to pay compensation to South Korean victims of forced labour during wartime. [AiR 3/1/2019]

According to sources, Japan has already compiled of list of around 100 items for possible retaliatory actions, including tariff hikes, suspension in the supply of some Japanese products and visa issuance restrictions. [Japan Times]

4 March 2019

South Korea: Main opposition Liberty Korea Party with new party head resuming parliamentary work after one-month boycott

(dql) South Korea’s former Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn (2015-2017) was elected head of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) at the party’s national convention last Wednesday. He prevailed over his contenders, former Seoul mayor Oh Se-hoon and far-right lawmaker Kim Jin-tae, with commanding 50% of the votes, compared to 31.1% and 18.9% respectively. [Yonhap 1]

Hwang had been a state prosecutor for 30 years before joining then President Park Geun-hye’s cabinet as Justice Minister in 2013.

One of the crucial tasks Kwang is facing is to unite the party in key issues dividing the party such the impeachment of former President Park of which parts of party think it is unjust while others argue that the LKP should accept it. [Korea Herald]

Meanwhile, the LKP on Monday announced that it will request the convening of the National Assembly ending its one month-long boycott of parliamentary activities over allegations of government abuse of power, a controversial appointment and a former ruling party lawmaker’s purchases of properties in cultural zones. [Yonhap 2]

4 March 2019

Trump-Kim second summit ends in failure

(dql) US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un left their much-anticipated second summit in Hanoi last week empty-handed, with no written agreement signed and no joint communiqué issued.

While Trump said that Pyongyang demanded the lifting of all US sanctions in return for the dismantling of all of the Yongbyon complex, the research and production facility at the heart of North Korea’s nuclear program, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho contradicted Trump’s statement by saying that Pyongyang only demanded a partial lifting of sanctions. [The Guardian]

In the wake of the failed summit, Seoul and Washington announced the cancellation of large-scale joint military exercises ‘Key Resolve’ and ‘Foal Eagle’ in a move aimed at supporting diplomatic efforts in achieving denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. ‘Foal Eagle’, a combined field training exercise, last year involved 200,000 South Korean forces and some 30,000 US soldiers, while ‘Key Resolve’, accompanying ‘Foal Eagle’, is a computer-simulated war game conducted by military commanders which usually begins in March and runs for about 10 days.

They are replaced by manoeuvre trainings covering smaller drills, tabletop exercises and simulations and involving smaller units such as battalions and companies. [ABC] [BBC]