Category: Korean Politics (Page 1 of 2)

Korean court ruling on compensation for forced labour to hurt relations with Japan

The Japan-Korea relationship, already strained by the ‘comfort women’ controversy, faces new challenges after a Korean court ruled in favor of workers coerced to work for Nippon Steel during Japan’s 35-year occupation of Korea.

Japan resists further demands for compensation or new apologies related to its colonialism and war in Asia. It views the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea as having settled all controversies. But controversies continue to spring back up time and time again.

In 2015, Japan arrived at agreement with Korea on a plan to compensate Korea and its few remaining ‘comfort women’ with 1 billion yen (US$8 million) in exchange for “permanently” settling the issue. But after the Korean government refused to remove statues of ‘comfort women’ set up outside the Japanese diplomatic offices in Seoul and Busan, Japan threatened to withhold the money.

Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in threatened to try to renegotiate the ‘comfort women’ agreement, as he (and a majority of Koreans) opposed it. He felt it did not account for the wishes of the living former sex slaves and that Japan hadn’t apologizes forcefully enough. Japan, for its part, feels that Korea is always moving the goalposts.

Earlier in October, Japan did not participate in an international naval review held in Korea after Korea demanded that Japan’s navy remove its ‘Rising Sun’ flag. Japan had participated in fleet reviews before with that flag–the same flag it flew during World War II–but Korea apparently raised the issue strenuously this time because anti-Japan sentiment has been running high in recent years.

The ruling by Korea’s Supreme Court came 13 years after the case was first filed in Korean courts. The claimants, who were forced to work in the Japanese steel industry and had compensation withheld, originally filed in Japan, but their case was dismissed by Japanese courts in 1997 on the grounds that the 1965 treaty addressed compensation.

The treaty’s terms on individual compensation were limited, causing it to be unpopular in Korea, but it did call for Japan to provide $800 million to Korea in economic development. Japan provided that much and much more in additional investment and aid. Japan’s aid and investment was important, but not sufficient, for Korea’s development during the 1960’s and 70’s. (Ironically, many Koreans even resent Japan for sometimes trying to take too much credit for Korea’s development.)

Dining with Gov. Choi at the South Korea vs North Korea soccer game

This week, the DPRK youth soccer team crossed the 38th parallel and entered a province divided in two for a showdown against the Republic of Korea. The Fifth U-15 International Football Games for the Ari Sports Cup, currently taking place in Chuncheon, Gangwon province, are meant to continue the wellspring of good feelings started by the South inviting the North to the 2018 Olympic Games held in Pyeongchang in February.

Bombs + Dollars reporter Patrick Rincon was present for the match and spoke to Gangwon Governor Choi Moon-soon before the game. As governor of a province divided in two as a result of war, Choi is heavily involved in reconciliation endeavors.

He was instrumental in getting these games going and even in inviting North Korea to the Pyeongchang Games in February. Everyone was initially surprised that they accepted and even more surprised by the Unified Korean hockey team. Moon-soon said that things were looking up in recent trips to Pyeongyang compared to previous trips. He cites the lack of “patriotic” anti-Western propaganda banners (which previously were more numerous than stop lights in Pyeongyang). He noted this as more harmonious outlook on the South and a view that he believes, with some cautious optimism, that Kim Jong-un fancies himself a reformer and a progressive.

The Kaesong Industrial Complex is still defunct, but he sees a real possibility of it coming back on line as there is already cooperation between the two countries—in cosmetics, boxing and golfing. Moon said there were some excellent boxers in the North and he wanted to bring them South to train and even compete against US boxers on the world stage.

As for the game, the North Korean team won, 3 – 1. They scored the first goal and it was clear from the get go that they were the superior team. It was interesting to meet some of them and converse.

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Korean corruption scandal and Donald Trump

When Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye was in the midst of being impeached over a corruption scandal, in December 2016, “T.K.”, the anonymous blogger behind Ask A Korean, wrote,
“[W]hat we are seeing in Korea now is the future of Trump. Korean politics already had its own Trump, and it is now showing the world what is going to happen next.”

I, too, noticed similarities between Korean politics and American politics while I was in Seoul in February and March, as the Constitutional court was ruling on her impeachment. Park’s supporters attacked the media. “The press = liars. Mass media = murder weapons,” a sign at a rally read. Some even posted signs praising Trump.

Now it’s more than a year since impeachment proceedings against Park began, and look at the news in America:

Financial records reviewed by The New York Times show that Mr. Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer and longtime fixer, used the shell company, Essential Consultants L.L.C., for an array of business activities that went far beyond what was publicly known. Transactions adding up to at least $4.4 million flowed through Essential Consultants starting shortly before Mr. Trump was elected president and continuing to this January, the records show.

Firm Tied to Russian Oligarch Made Payments to Michael Cohen
Trump’s lawyer pitched himself as a fixer to Novartis and got paid $1.2 million
AT&T Paid Cohen For Advice On $85 Billion Time Warner Merger
South Korean defense company that paid Trump lawyer Cohen $150,000 is poised to win part of a $16 billion Pentagon deal
AT&T Paid Cohen Up to $600,000 for Trump Insights, Source Says

Wow. What does this sound like?

Media outlets reported that Choi and President Park’s senior staff members, including both Ahn Jong-bum and Jeong Ho-sung, have allegedly used their influence to extort ₩77.4 billion($60 million) from Korean chaebols—family-owned large business conglomerates—and set up two culture- and sports-related foundations, Mir and K-sports foundations.

Choi was found to have had used her presidential connections to pressure conglomerates – including electronics giant Samsung – for millions of dollars in donations to two non-profit foundations she controlled.

BBC

Reuters reports that in 2015, Samsung paid $18 million (£14.8 million) to Core Sports International, a consulting firm owned by — you guessed it — Choi Soon-sil.

Put it this way:
Donald Trump is Park Geun-hye, an incompetent, self-dealing heir of a dynastic family who is surrounded by corrupt loyalists.
Michael Cohen is Choi Soon-sil, a long-time associate of the president who was given way too much access, which he sold for profit.
AT&T and the other companies are Samsung and the rest.

We know what will likely happen next.

The real Nobel comparison? Kim Dae-jung and the failed Sunshine Policy

Donald Trump’s supporters and those optimistic about prospects for his apparently upcoming meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un are preemptively calling for Trump to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Remember, Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize at the end of just his first year in office, before he even accomplished anything? And the prize was criticized by conservatives then, and rightly so. I address the argument in my new video, contained at the end of the post. But a better comparison might be Korea’s third democratically-elected president, Kim Dae-jung (president from 1998-2003).

Kim met with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in 2000. As with the meeting between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un and the proposed meeting between Trump and Kim, there were high hopes for “peace” and expectations that things would change. Kim Dae-jung began implementation of the “Sunshine Policy”, which offered unconditional aid to the North and opened up the Kaesong Industrial Region. The idea was to promote good will, but North Korea’s regime took much of the aid for itself and its military, and the policy did not prevent North Korea from developing its nuclear program.

The Nobel committee, as they often do, awarded the prize prematurely. The meeting happened, but nothing substantial ultimately came out of the meeting. Later it was revealed that the Kim Dae-jung administration had paid the Kim Jong-il government US$500 million for the meeting.

Kim might have been deserving of the Peace Prize for his non-violent campaigning for democracy in Korea. He nearly lost his life multiple times, once when he was kidnapped by the Park Chung-hee government, while living in exile in Japan in 1973, and nearly murdered, and again when he was sentenced to death after the Chun Doo-hwan government’s 1980 coup and martial law crackdown. The Nobel committee says he was awarded “for his work for democracy and human rights in South Korea and in East Asia in general, and for peace and reconciliation with North Korea in particular.”

See my video on Trump and the Nobel:

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A disaster of a summit

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying could have chosen a better Chinese proverb to describe the meeting between North Korean sadist Kim Jong-un and Korean president Moon Jae-in. “Disasters are never powerful enough to separate real brothers, and a smile is all they need to eliminate the hard feelings,” Hua said.

And VX nerve agent is all it takes for a dictator to murder his actual brother.

The headlines said in 1994 and 2007 that North Korea would end its nuclear program. The headlines say now that they will make a peace deal.

The negotiators on the North Korean side are wily and skilled manipulators. Sitting on the Korean side was a liberal president with sympathies for “peace,” who served in the Roh Moo-hyun administration, which abstained from voting on a UN resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights abuses; and a chief presidential secretary, Im Jong-suk, who served prison time for organizing a propaganda trip to North Korea as a radical student activist in the 1980’s. The chief American negotiator, should a purported meeting go forward, is skilled at getting manipulated, has called Kim “very honorable” for hosting a series of propaganda summits in order to boost his own standing and already appears to trust North Korea enough to give them credit for things it hasn’t agreed to.

These are not things that inspire confidence.

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Kim: Trump Korea trip highlights ties, Moon wins over conservatives

From Korea, former Korean army soldier and Bombs + Dollars contributing analyst Daniel Kim explains how Koreans think of Trump’s trip.

What do you personally think of Trump’s Asia trip so far, and what has the Korean press said?

It was a very remarkable and important trip. His first trip to Japan was successful because Prime Minister Abe was treating him and his cabinet as kind of royal family. Trump, regardless of Japan’s treatments, has left Japan lots of messages of which he wanted to say about trade deals and North Korea solutions. His trip in Korea was shorter than his in Japan, yet the trip for him here was much more meaningful.

Unlike lots of expectations (actually worries) about him of the press, he has been behaving well with concerned vernaculars to deal with the president Moon. The Korean press and many Korean supporters are excited and grateful for his visiting to be honest. Conservative media like the Choson Ilbo and other conservative newspapers are evaluating Moon and Trump’s meeting as a particular milestone as they have made sure that ROK-US alliance is utterly solid and unbreakable by abolishing the restriction on Korean missile developments in 38 years.

For 38 years, Korea has not been able to develop and produce heavy bombs like the American MOAB (mothers of all bomb), bunkerbusters, JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition), etc, due to restrictions that regulate both weights of the warheads and effective range. However, now the weight restriction is lifted and the restrictions on distance were loosened.

Furthermore, another agreement to make our alliance great was to let Korea allocate more U.S strategical weapons including tactical nukes, nuclear power generated submarines, and even Global Hawks (Airborne Early Warning). Although these agreements were just made yesterday, they are good enough to be praised especially in the eyes of conservatives.

The greatest doubt about President Moon from conservatives was on national security related to Korea-US Alliance. However, due to the new agreements announced at the meeting, many conservatives are quite surprised and relieved to see what have happened. Still, we do not know that Korea will really deploy new high tech weapons yet, but if that takes in place, Moon is going to make conservatives his supporters.

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Optimism in Korean peninsula

After months of political drama liberal Moon Jae-in decisively won in South Korea, a victory that ended over a decade-long conservative rule, which was by the end tarnished by extreme corruption and scandal, and ended in the impeachment and arrest of Park Geun-hye which triggered a snap election. The liberal victory was expected, given the current mood of South Korea, and a high turnout almost guaranteed the defeat of the incumbent conservatives. A simple plurality was needed for the liberals to win. Speaking at a makeshift podium, Moon was quoted to say “I will make a just, united country. I will be a president who also serves all the people who did not support me.”

In an interesting development, Moon said that he would be willing to go to North Korea to meet its leader Kim Jong-un, in a notable change of track from the previous conservative governments. Signaling that he is flexible and expressing willingness to negotiate immediately, the left-liberal-leaning Moon said that he is willing to do anything that might help bring peace to the continent. “I am willing to go anywhere for the peace of the Korean peninsula if needed. I will fly immediately to Washington. I will go to Beijing and I will go to Tokyo. If the conditions are right, I will go to Pyongyang,” he was quoted by Guardian.

Perhaps in a further indication that the new administration would be different than the old one, Moon even considers reviewing THAAD system placed in South Korea. The system has been a bone of contention between China and United States and was installed just a week before the elections. China has consistently opposed and urged the new president to scrap the system.

There has been talks reported by Reuters, where US officials have anonymously raised their concerns, about the new volatility in ties between South Korea and US. Moon and US President Trump are very different characters. There are chances of confrontation. Trump recently also demanded payment for THAAD placed in South Korea. That, added to the fact that Trump is positioning himself as a North Korea hawk, means that there are chances of difference of interest.

The US, of course, as per diplomatic rituals congratulated Moon, just as China and Japan did. The White House press secretary spoke of a continuing a strong alliance and enduring partnership.

That said, I would suggest a few cautions for both South Korea, and US. First of all South Korea needs to realise that any diplomatic maneuver, especially in such a volatile situation will inevitably bring up risks of cheesing off partners and adversaries. Any individual single effort to solve the Korean crisis would anger hardliners in both Washington and Tokyo. It is unlikely that Seoul, despite its good intentions is willing or able to take that risk or go that far. The idea in Washington is simple, that America is unwilling to coexist with a nuclear North Korea and that North Korea is a danger to American interests in the Pacific. Given that situation, if any country, especially South Korea intends to bypass American intentions to hand olive branch to the North, they will risk a collision course with Washington.

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First thoughts on election of Moon Jae-in as president of Korea

The election turned out just as expected. Moon Jae-in won with just over 40 percent, right around where the final polls predicted. The moderate and conservative split the hard-on-North-Korea vote. In fact, the next three candidates combined, conservative Hong Jun-pyo (KLP), moderate reformer Ahn Cheol-su (People’s Party), and reformist conservative Yoo Seoung-min (Baerun), combined for over 50 percent.

While Moon has expressed the desire to visit North Korea “if the time is right” and talk, he might be constrained by the political and security situation, I write in a forthcoming column I will link to.

UPDATE: My article is now published: A new president and new opportunities in Korea

Korean presidential hopefuls campaign with children’s song on final day

It’s the last day of campaigning before the Korean presidential election to replace impeached and indicted Park Geun-hye. That means Korea’s top candidates have mobile campaign platforms set up in Seoul to give speeches and sing children’s songs.

The song they really love to sing is a modified version of “Airplane” (비행기), which is itself a version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The lyrics, “Let’s fly…”, have been replaced with the names of the candidates (listen for “Mun Jae-in” and “Hong Jun-pyo” in their respective songs).


Overall, the mood and location of the rallies seems to reflect the particular personalities and support bases of each candidate.

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May elections: Why Korea and United States should consider two-round voting

It looks like when Koreans go to the polls to elect their next president on Tuesday, May 9, it will be the sixth time in their seven elections as a democracy that the winner did not receive a majority of the vote. Coming two days after the second round of the French elections, it ought to be a time for Koreans and citizens of other democracies around the world to consider the pros and cons of two-round voting systems.

In the wake of the Park impeachment scandal, Koreans are once again debating why their presidents are such bad leaders and what can be done to fix the system. Park is only the third Korean president to have been arrested after leaving office. Another, Roh Moo-hyun, committed suicide in the midst of an investigation. Presidents in the pre-democratic era have been assassinated, deposed by coup, and died in exile. One proposed reform is to allow for Korean presidents, who are restricted to a single five-year term, to run for reelection. “In order to get them motivated to not be as unpopular as they usually end up becoming, a good idea is to give them the opportunity to run for a second term,” John Lee said in an interview with Bombs + Dollars.

Another idea would be to have two-round elections.

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