Asia in Review Archive 2021

South Korea (Republic of Korea)

Date of AiR edition

News summary

12 January 2021

South Korean delegation on diplomatic mission in Iran after capture of South Korean flagged tanker by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

(dql) A South Korean diplomatic has been in Iran since past weekend to negotiate the release of a South Korean-flagged tanker and its crew seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard last week in the Strait of Hormuz.

While Tehran officially claims that the vessel was captured for violating environmental protocols, it appears that the seizure is a move of the Islamic Republic aimed at increasing its leverage over Seoul ahead of negotiations over around seven billion USD in Iranian revenue from oils sales which are frozen in South Korean banks due to US sanctions on Iran. [Aljazeera]

Negotiations kicked off on Monday, but prospects for a release of the tanker look dim as Tehran insists on access to its assets. [Korea Herald]

The ship seizure marks the latest in a string of escalations of tensions between the US and Iran since US President Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and reinstated sanctions suspended by the agreement. In January last year a US drone strike killed a top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad. Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Iran has resumed enriching uranium up to 20% at its underground Fordo nuclear facility, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels. [AP] [BBC]

12 January 2021

Japan-South Korea relations: South Korea court orders Japanese government to pay compensation to ‘comfort women’

(dql) In a move further escalating already high running tensions between Japan and South Korea over forced labor during Japan’s rule on the Korean peninsula 1910-1945, a South Korean Court has ordered the Japanese government to pay damages of 91.000 USD to each of 12 victims of war-time sexual slavery. 

In 2016, the victims sued the Japanese government in 2016 for kidnapping, sexual violence, and torture during World War II. In its ruling the court acknowledged that they were subjected to dozens of forced sexual acts by Japanese troops every day.  

Japan rejects the ruling, calling it “absolutely unacceptable,” while indicating that it will not comply with it by saying that “the Japanese government was not subject to South Korean jurisdiction.” [The Guardian] [Deutsche Welle][CNN]

12 January 2021

South Korea: President not to consider pardons for convicted predecessors

(dql) The Office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in rejected a report of a newspaper which claimed that the Office is considering ways to grant pardons to former Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak, the two former presidents jailed for abuses of power and corruption offenses.

The issue surfaced earlier this month after a lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Party, who is tipped as one of the key presidential hopefuls for the election in 2022, publicly announced his intention to ask President Moon Jae-in to pardon his immediate predecessors. [Korea Herald]

Meanwhile, the country’s population is almost evenly divided on this issue. Findings of a survey show that 47.7% of respondents approved an amnesty for the two former presidents, while 48% said they were against such a move. [Korea Bizwire]

5 January 2021

South Korea: Mitsubishi appeals asset seizure court order

(dql) Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has appealed a South Korean court’s order to seize its assets held in South Korea soon after the relevant legal process to compensate victims of Japan’s wartime forced labor took effect late last month. The public notifications to the company entered into force last week after the company failed to comply with a 2018 ruling by the Supreme Court ordering the company to pay compensation to five victims of forced labor during Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula. 

In line with the official stance of the Japanese government, Mitsubishi argues that South Korean citizens cannot make any compensation claims as the reparation issue was fully and finally settled in the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and South Korea. The Korean government, however, insists that the agreement was not intended to settle individual claims against Japan for war crime or crimes against humanity, referring to by documents presented during the negotiations which specifically exclude claims for personal injuries incurred by Japan’s violations of international laws. [Korea Herald] [AiR No. 52, December/2020, 5]


5 January 2021

South Korea: President Moon announces nominees for last Cabinet reshuffle 2020

(dql) Amid lowest approval ratings since assuming the presidency in 2017 [Yonhap], South Korean President Moon Jae-in last week announced nominations for a last reshuffle of his Cabinet in 2020 as well as for the post of the head of the new Corruption Investigation Office for high-ranking officials (CIO). The CIO is one core part of Moon’s desired reform of the country’s prosecution for which he has been facing fierce resistance from the main opposition People Power Party (PPP). 

The nominees include Park Beom-kye and Han Jeoung-ae, both lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), as Justice Minister and Environment Minister respectively, as well as Hwang Ki-chul, a chair professor at Kookmin University, as Minister for Patriots and Veterans Affairs. Moon’s pick for the post of the CIO head is Kim Jin-wook, a former judge and a Constitutional Court scholar. [Korea Herald]

Moon’s latest reshuffle comes after he had made nominations for four other ministries earlier in December of whom he appointed two of them as new Ministers of Interior and Safety as well as of Health and Welfare after their hearing reports were adopted by the parliament. [Korea JoongAng Daily]