Asia in Review Archive (2019)
South Korea (Republic of Korea)
Date of AiR edition
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
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]