Tag Archive | "north korea"

The Son of Refugees who Became President of the Republic of Korea Visits D.C.

By Seung Hwan Chung

On December 19 1950, the SS Meredith Victory, a 7,600-ton merchant marine vessel, was about to leave from the North Korean port city of Hungnam. Hundreds of thousands of refugees flocked to the pier at Hungnam as the bombing of the Chinese army came closer. Leonard Larue, a U.S. Navy captain, made the decision to abandon almost all of the arms and military supplies from the ship and took on 14,000 evacuees in an operation code-named “Christmas Cargo.”

The parents of Moon Jae-in and his older sister were among the 14,000 refugees who fled aboard the Meredith Victory, arriving on Geoje Island in Gyeongsang Province on Christmas Eve. Moon Jae-in was born two years later on Geoje Island in January 1953. Thus, the son of a refugee from Hungnam became the 19th President of the Republic of Korea thanks to this successful rescue operation called the Hungnam Evacuation, which is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest transportation of evacuees in history.

In the lead-up to the evacuation, the 3rd U.S. Division was advancing northward from Wonsan to assist UN and South Korean forces trapped near the Chosin Reservoir. After losing Wonsan, the 10th U.S. Army Corps and the 1st Korean Army Corps had to withdraw to the sea as their retreat path was blocked, leading them to the port city of Hungnam. The first unit that withdrew from Hungnam was the 3rd Korean Division, followed by the 1st U.S. Marine Division.

According to the Korean Ministry of Patriots & Veterans Affairs, the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir is recorded as among the most brutal battles in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. During the Battle, 15,000 U.S. marines fought through 120,000 Chinese soldiers in the extreme winter cold of -22 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, 4,500 U.S. marines died and 7,500 were wounded.

President Moon Jae-in remarked on his family’s story at a reception for Korean War Veterans on  June 23, 2017, saying, “Today we are joined by the heroes of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and the Hungnam Evacuation from North Korea. These two historic occasions became well known even to postwar generations in Korea who did not experience the war. The son of a refugee from Hungnam could become the President of the Republic of Korea and join you all today. I hope this fact helps make the Korean War veterans of the U.N. Forces feel a sense of delight and reward.”

President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to make a visit to Washington D.C. from June 28 to July 1 for his first summit meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. As his first stop in the United States, he visited the new memorial for the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia on June 28. There, Mr. Moon laid a wreath before the memorial that commemorates the Korean War battle which enabled the evacuation of civilians.

The “Star of Koto-ri,” a symbol of the battle, is on the top of the monument. U.S. Marines started to wear the star to commemorate the bright stars they saw after a snowstorm before succeeding in the evacuation.

President Moon will also visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. along with Vice President Mike Pence, whose father was a Korean War veteran who was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his service.

Additionally, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha remarked on the Hungnam Evacuation during her visit to the U.S. 2nd infantry division base in Gyeonggi Province, stating “President Moon will invite Korean War veterans who participated in the Hungnam Evacuation” to the White House during the summit.

President Moon’s visit to the United States will lay the foundation for further upgrading South Korea-U.S. relations. The fact that the new Korean president is highlighting his family history and making a point to thank Korean War veterans throughout the trip can make the summit even more meaningful. Through the visit, the two heads of state can share a vision for further developing the Korea-U.S. alliance into an even greater one.

Seung Hwan Chung is a reporter with the Maeil Business Newspaper and a visiting fellow with the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Image from USMC Archives’ photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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A Conversation on THAAD from the Chinese Perspective

KEI Communications Director Jenna Gibson, host of the KEI podcast Korean Kontext, recently interviewed Yun Sun, Senior Associate with the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center,  about the Chinese perspective on the THAAD missile defense system.

 The following is a partial transcript of that conversation. The rest of the episode can be found here.

 Jenna Gibson: Can you start by giving us kind of the big picture here from Chinese perspective? Why are they so opposed to that and how serious are they about trying to stop this deployment?

Yun Sun: Well, the Chinese explanation is that they believe this is a military threat to China’s nuclear capability. It’s because the radar could reach as far as 2,000 kilometers, so the Chinese view that their military deployment and their military exercises, basically any military operations inside mainland China, will not be able to escape the radar that the THAAD system will encompass, so they feel vulnerable. So, there is a security argument there.

There’s also a political argument where the Chinese argue that they see this as an effort by the United States to reinforce and re-strengthen their alliance relations with South Korea. And even with the possibility of the integrated missile defense system in Northeast Asia, the United States is intending to create a Northeast Asia NATO against China. That is a political dimension.

There is also an interesting leadership dimension. If you look at President Xi Jinping’s policy towards the Korean Peninsula since his inauguration in 2013, it is a very interesting shift as Xi Jinping had been trying to pull South Korea closer to China. So, there had been a deterioration of relations between China and North Korea, but at the same time, what forms a sharp contrast to that is a warming or rapprochement between Beijing and Seoul. So it’s almost like Xi Jinping’s personal foreign policy achievement that under him, South Korea has become much closer and much friendlier towards China. So, this THAAD deployment must have been very disappointing for the top Chinese leader, that this is his creation, his baby, and his campaign, and now it’s not coming to a good result.

Judging from the economic sanctions that Beijing has been willing to impose on South Korean, not only government, but primarily South Korean companies. I’d say that the Chinese are very serious about punishing South Korean entities for the deployment of THAAD. That represents Beijing’s determination and their seriousness to stop the deployment. But, I also think they understand that at this point, budget has already been allocated, the land has been secured, and the deployment has started. So, they have to understand that this is going to happen with or without their support or sanction.

 Jenna Gibson: So, things have seemed to come to a bit of ahead in a week or so with China allegedly cracking down on streaming of Korean TV shows, going after Lotte department stores, and possibly banning travel agencies from selling trips to Korea. Why has China seemingly stepped up their economic pushback against the missile defense system?

 Yun Sun: The timing is because the deployment is finally going to happen materially. In the past, although the decision to deploy the THAAD system was made almost last summer, it was a political decision. So the Chinese have been persistently using different policy instruments, trying to change the calculus, change the decision by the South Korean government. So, I would say that until the deployment is completed and until the South Korean government tells Beijing unequivocally that the decision is permanent and is final, the Chinese will not stop pushing. So before the deployment is completed, Beijing will keep pushing.

 Jenna Gibson: So, I have a personal theory. I think that China is killing two birds with one stone here. They are seizing upon an opportunity to cut down on the popularity of Korean pop culture in China, which Beijing has been upset about it for years. What do you think about that? Is this more than just the missile defense system?

 Yun Sun: If you look at how the Korean pop culture had been received and perceived in China by the Chinese government, you will find this interesting distinction that basically under President Lee Myung-bak, Korean pop culture was regarded as almost toxic in China. But, we will have to assume that this was very closely linked to the judgment that President Lee Myung-bak was pro-U.S. and anti-China.

Then, under President Park, the Chinese government policy towards Korean pop culture was actually quite positive. You’ll see Korean pop stars appearing on the Chinese New Year’s Festival gala on the Chinese Central Television, which is quite a high prominent treatment for foreign movie actors or pop stars.

So, I would say that the Chinese attitude towards Korean pop culture is still very much related to the political climate between the two countries. When the political relations are good, the Chinese are more likely to treat Korean pop culture with positive reception. But, when the political relations are bad, you will see that there is almost a ban for any Korean soap operas on Chinese TV today.

  Jenna Gibson: I will be really curious to see the things go forward, you know, how much are the Korean companies, how much is k-pop, how much are Korean dramas affected going forward? Is there any pushback? I’ll be really curious to follow that.

 Yun Sun: Yeah, so far, we haven’t seen that much of a pushback from the Chinese general public. You see this anti-Korea demonstrations in some of Chinese cities as well. You also see that one point, Korean cars were pretty popular in China, and now there are people who are vandalizing Korean cars on the street. So, what that says is the government’s ability to influence the public opinion on these matters is really strong.

There’s also the fact that local governments would assume that the central government want to see this anti-Korea sentiment bubbling from their locale. So sometimes, the central government may not be behind certain movement against a certain Lotte supermarket. But, a local government might be.

  Jenna Gibson: Now that the U.S. is clearly in the middle of this, too. We are the ones who are deploying THAAD and of course we are close allies with South Korea. So, what advice would you give to the United States in this situation? Is there a way to work with China on the North Korean issue right now? I know President Trump has been really emphasizing that China peace in solving the North Korean problem. Do you think that that’s the right way to go?

Yun Sun: I think the U.S. is doing the right thing. The deployment of THAAD is not about China, it is about North Korea. And if China doesn’t like it, it must address the source of the problem, which is the North Korean nuclear provocation. So, I think the U.S. is absolutely doing the right thing here.

And for the Trump administration, the U.S. does have this first mover advantage. After the Taiwan controversy, the Tsai Ing-wen phone call, and after President Trump’s comments in the past about how he is going to punish China on trade and is going to negotiate with China for a good deal, I think the Chinese are put on alert. They are very sensitive about what the U.S. might do to China next. And they are not in a very confident position to challenge President Trump. So that almost gives President Trump and his administration an edge, an advantage over China’s policy because China does not want to start a fight with the Trump administration either over North Korea or over the South China Sea.

So, I feel that there is room for the U.S. to push China. For example, there have been talks about more sanctions on North Korea, so China already preempted that. We are already suspending our co-import from North Korea for the rest of this year. What else do you want? You have to be very specific. If you ask us to cut our aid, especially the energy transfer and our food supply to North Korea, the United States will have to answer difficult questions like — what if this creates a humanitarian disaster in North Korea. So, I think the United States has to be very specific about it wants China to do and stand ready to answer the counter-questions that the Chinese will raise.

KEI Intern Jennifer Cho assisted with transcribing this interview.

Image from USFK’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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GSOMIA: Beneficial But Was The Timing Right?

By Nayoon Lee

On November 14th, Han Min-goo, the Minister of National Defense tentatively signed the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) with Japan. Despite the political controversy regarding GSOMIA, which some see as an opportunity to strengthen Korea’s defense and others as drawing too close to an unrepentant Japan, President Park Geun-hye approved the military information sharing agreement on November 22nd. GSOMIA was finally settled on the following day of November 23rd.

GSOMIA was first suggested in June 2012. The purpose of the agreement is to share military information directly between South Korea and Japan. (The current system of the Trilateral Information Sharing Arrangement between the United States, South Korea, and Japan, allows military information to be shared between South Korea and Japan only through the intermediary of the United States.) Under GSOMIA, South Korea is expected to directly provide Japan information gathered near the DMZ, information on high-level North Korean defectors, and underwater detection information gained by submarines. On the other hand, Japan is expected to provide South Korea with information related to the detection of North Korean submarines, pictures and videos gathered by satellites, and information on North Korean missile launches.

Again, in November 2016, the government faced political turmoil in its efforts to implement the GSOMIA with Japan. In the National Assembly members of the opposition expressed severe resistance, suggesting that they would impeach the Minister of the Ministry of National Defense if he signed GSOMIA. However, the GSOMIA was settled despite the opposition party’s threat.

The agreement was controversial with the media as well. The media condemned the signing of the  GSOMIA as premature in that there were still fierce counter arguments among the public. The Ministry of the National Defense also signed the agreement privately rather than in public, excluding even photo journalists over concerns that photos could create the wrong impression depending on how they were shot.

Despite opposition, GSOMIA will be beneficial to both countries for several reasons. First of all, the current GSOMIA is based on the principle of reciprocity. The content and the amount of the information shared should be satisfactory enough to meet the needs of both sides. On top of that, Japan has significant military intelligence gathering capabilities. Japan has 5 satellites that have a level of resolution that can capture images of objects as small as 30cm, along with 6 Aegis cruiser that can detect radars and intercept missiles. Japan also has 4 ground radars that have a minimum detectable range of 1000km, 17 early warning aircrafts, and 77 underwater machines that can detect submarines. These are the military defense mechanisms that South Korea is lacking in, and therefore, combined with the principle of reciprocity, will bring beneficial information to South Korea.

Those in favor of GSOMIA also addressed two public misunderstandings. The GSOMIA is not an agreement to provide all the military information that South Korea has indifferently. Each country can choose the information to share or not to share, and if it is considered unnecessary for the other side, the information is not provided. Thus, GSOMIA is not an agreement that will degenerate South Korea to a subject of Japan. Also, the GSOMIA is not the only information sharing agreement for the Korean military. South Korea already has Military Information Agreements with 19 other countries, Information Sharing Arrangements with 14 other countries, and is currently pushing forward an agreement with 11 other countries. The important thing to note here is that among the 19 countries that South Korea already has Military Information Agreements with, the list of countries includes past communist countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Bulgaria, and Uzbekistan.

Even if it is true that there are a lot of beneficial aspects to the GSOMIA, it might have been better if the Ministry of National Defense could have waited until the political turmoil in South Korea diminishes in order to build public support for the agreement. The GSOMIA with Japan is not only about military defense. It also has to do with the past history between South Korea and Japan, and the public’s sentiment. Direct sharing of military information will be better than current system. However, South Korea can bear with the trilateral arrangement. Settlement of the GSOMIA, while the president was facing the prospect of impeachment, has increased anti-government public opinion. The positive sides of the GSOMIA have to be acknowledged, however, the timing could have been better.

Nayoon Lee is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America and a student of the Yonsei University School of Business, Seoul, Korea. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Despite Questions Raised in Campaign, Americans Remain Supportive of Troops in South Korea

By Juni Kim

Although not a focal point of the ongoing presidential campaigns, U.S. policy regarding the Korean peninsula has come up from time to time with both major party candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. With scant information on American public opinion regarding Korea and its importance, a recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs provides valuable insights into public views. Part of the survey, which was conducted from June 10 to June 27 among 2,061 adults, asked Americans about their thoughts on the U.S. military in South Korea, the North Korean threat, and South Korea’s influence in the world.

Multiples times earlier in the election campaign, the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump questioned the U.S. military commitment to South Korea and other U.S. allies. Despite Mr. Trump’s comments that he would be willing to withdraw U.S. troops from the peninsula, the survey shows that 70 percent of Americans support a long-term U.S. military presence in South Korea, while 72 percent of Trump supporters also favor U.S. military bases in South Korea.

American support for U.S. bases in South Korea also ranked higher than overall support for a U.S. military presence in Australia (46 percent), Germany (61 percent), and Japan (60 percent), which were the three other countries asked about in the survey. Trump supporters are higher than the overall average for all four countries in support of long-term U.S. military bases abroad.

Chicago Council Numbers

The higher support for U.S. troops in South Korea compared to the other  countries asked about in the survey may be related to the perceived North Korean threat to the United States. Survey respondents were asked to list what they considered was a critical threat to American vital interests in the next 10 years, and North Korea made the top five list for Democrats, Republicans, independents, and core Trump supporters. In particular, North Korea was the second most listed threat for Democrats at 64% behind international terrorism, which was the most listed threat for all surveyed groups. With most Americans viewing North Korea as a significant threat, the higher support for U.S. military bases in South Korea compared to other U.S. allies is unsurprising.

American opinions of South Korea’s global influence have remained relatively unchanged in recent years. When asked to rate South Korea’s influence on a 0 to 10 scale (with 0 meaning not at all influential and 10 meaning extremely influential), survey respondents rated South Korea 4.6. This rating is roughly in line with South Korea’s previous ratings of 4.7 (2014), 4.4 (2012), and 4.7 (2010) in previous iterations of the survey. South Korea’s rating may be a far cry from global powers like the United States (8.5) and China (7.1), but it is similar to the ratings of India (4.8) and Iran (4.5). Although not included in the survey, a comparison of South Korea’s ratings to regional neighbors like Japan and Taiwan or other middle power nations would have been interesting to see how American perceptions of these nations differ.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from UNC – CFC – USFK on flickr Creative Commons.

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5 Books on Korean History Besides “The Two Koreas”

By Jenna Gibson

Any student of Korea policy knows “The Two Koreas,” by Don Oberdorfer.  Famous both for its physical heft and its incredible detail, this book is regularly referenced as the go-to history book in Korea policy circles. It is bittersweet now to read the optimistic final chapter on North-South relations, but that does not take away from Oberdorfer’s rich insights.  There are dozens of further great books out there that examine different aspects of Korean history – here are five of them that can help those interested in the Korean Peninsula’s future better understand its past.

1)      A History of East Asia: From the Origins of Civilization to the Twenty-First Century, by Charles Holcombe

It’s hard to understand Korea without studying its neighbors as well. For thousands of years, Korea, China and Japan have influenced each other in myriad ways. This book is a helpful guide to the intricate network that has tied these three countries together over time. Good for beginners, this book is both informative and engaging as it goes through East Asian history from pre-historic times all the way up to the present.

2)      The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam

For decades known as the Forgotten War, this book sheds light on the Korean conflict from its outbreak to the armistice and beyond. Halberstam, a journalist who covered the Vietnam War, incorporates interviews with veterans of the Korean War into his book, putting human faces on the conflict. He also includes detailed looks at the American perspective back in DC to illuminate the behind-the-scenes decision making that influenced the war.

3)      The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future by Victor Cha

Victor Cha’s 2013 book on North Korea is not only a fascinating look at what made the DPRK the DPRK, it also provides good context for ongoing challenges on the peninsula. Written in an accessible way, the book highlights  the crazy things the Kim regime has done and said, while simultaneously painting a sober portrait of the world’s most reclusive state.

4)      Korea: The Impossible Country by Daniel Tudor

If North Korea is the impossible state, its Southern counterpart is apparently the impossible country. This book focuses on South Korea, and discusses every aspect of the country’s rise from a destitute post-war state to a tech-obsessed powerhouse. What sets this book apart is the inclusion of several interviews with important Korean pioneers, including the mayor of Seoul, actor Choi Min-sik, and Soyeon Yi, Korea’s first astronaut. As someone who often writes about Hallyu and cultural exchange, I use this book is a go-to resource for its in-depth explanation of the origins of modern Korean popular culture.

5)      The New Korea: An Inside Look at South Korea’s Economic Rise by Myung Oak Kim and Sam Jaffe

For those who have heard the term “Miracle on the Han” and want to know more about South Korea’s rise from poverty to become to the 11th largest economy in the world, this book is for you. A close look at the economic and political factors that made this growth possible, this book also examines issues like chaebol culture, long working hours, and environmental concerns.

If you have other books to recommend, please add a comment!

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

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Understanding North Korea’s Fifth Nuclear Test and Sanctions

By Troy Stangarone

North Korea has conducted its fifth nuclear test, the second test in less than a year. In combination with its efforts to advance its ballistic missile programs and develop second strike capabilities, Pyongyang has demonstrated that it is committed to developing a usable nuclear warhead in spite of international pressure to halt its programs and return to talks. In light of this, the question remains how the international community should respond.

Initial indications are that the latest test was in the range of 10 kilotons, roughly twice the explosive yield of North Korea’s fourth test in January and 5 kilotons less than the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. Unlike the January test where North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, this test does initially seem to indicate a significant step forward in Pyongyang’s development of nuclear weapons.

Is THAAD Responsible for North Korea’s Latest Nuclear Test?

While China has condemned North Korea’s latest, it also suggested that South Korea’s decision to deploy the Thermal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) had contributed to North Korea’s decision to conduct a nuclear test. Given that THAAD is a defensive system and that North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs predate the decision to deploy THAAD by decades, this is clearly not the case.

As with prior nuclear and missile tests, the most significant driving factor for North Korea was likely the fact that it had reached a point where its technical research required a test to determine if a real breakthrough had been made in its weapons development process.  North Korea’s test has demonstrated that the regime has not been significantly affected by sanctions to date, has made the strategic decision that the cost of sanctions does not outweigh the strategic benefits of a verifiably workable nuclear weapon.

The Challenge for China

From China’s perspective handling the North Korean nuclear issue is complex because it has different objectives at play. In the current case, perhaps the only positive side to North Korea’s fifth nuclear test is that Pyongyang refrained from conducting the test during the G-20. While North Korea test-fired three ballistic missiles during the G-20, a nuclear test while China hosted world leaders during a major summit would have been seen as a more direct slight to China.

Moving forward, China will face pressure to do more to convince North Korea to return to talks and increase its enforcement of sanctions.    China will find it difficult to manage its twin goals of joining the international community to rein in North Korea while at the same time thwarting sanctions that could threaten the regime’s stability.  This could become increasingly difficult if North Korea has made the strategic decision to develop its nuclear program despite the costs. At the same time, with each additional test North Korea backs China further into a corner in which more of its policy options become unpalatable.

One policy challenge for China may now be how to gracefully back down on its demands on THAAD. With this most recent nuclear test, in combination with the most recent missile tests, South Korea is likely to push forward with THAAD as soon as possible in light of the clear strategic need to respond to North Korea’s growing threat.  China will want to avoid the appearance that its inability to stop South Korea from deploying THAAD constitutes a rupture between Beijing and Seoul.

What About Sanctions?

The international community has largely responded to North Korea’s nuclear tests with a combination of sanctions and efforts to return to talks. After the January nuclear test, the United Nations, the United States, and other countries imposed a series of new sanctions on North Korea. The goal of these sanctions was to increase pressure on Pyongyang to convince the regime to halt its tests and return to negotiations over its nuclear and missile programs. While it is too early to determine if UN Resolution 2270 and other sanctions will be effective in the long-run, there are some clear loopholes that the international community could look to tighten as it considers how to shape any new sanctions resolution in response to the latest nuclear test.

Since 2270 was implemented, there has been little change in North Korea’s trade with China. North Korean exports to China in the second quarter of this year were only down 4 percent compared to the first quarter (not seasonally adjusted) and 14 percent year-on-year. This likely reflects a decline in the export price of coal rather than the effect of sanctions, however, because of an exception placed in the sanctions allowing for the continuation of “livelihood” trade. Whether China is taking an overly broad definition of livelihood trade or they need to see a direct tie between trade and the weapons program before cracking down, the fact is trade has continued largely uninhibited. Tightening up or removing the “livelihood” exception would be one step that the international community could take to increase the pressure on North Korea.

Two other areas where the sanctions could be improved relate to the Rason free trade zone and to luxury goods. During the last round of negotiations, Russia specifically sought to have Rason exempted from the sanctions so it could build its trade of resources, such as coal, from its Far East to South Korea and Japan. However, South Korean sanctions prohibit ships that have traveled to North Korea in the last 180 days from entering South Korean ports. With this in mind, closing this loophole to preclude future trade would be significant.

If sanctions are going to convince North Korea to back away from its weapons programs, they need to filter through the political system in a manner that will place pressure on the regime to reconsider its course. In a democratic state, this mechanism would largely be the political process, whereby groups impacted by the sanctions would lobby the government for changes and potentially elect a government more willing to seek accommodation with the international community. As North Korea does not allow either free speech or democracy, sanctions need to be able to impact the wellbeing of those in the decision-making process.

One mechanism to achieve this would be to limit the importation of luxury goods that maintain the lifestyle of the elite members of the regime. UN sanctions to date have largely allowed states to provide their own interpretations of what luxury goods are. That has largely failed to stem the flow of luxury items into North Korea. Developing a comprehensive list of prohibited items would be a significant step forward, though any list must be accompanied by strict inspections of all cargo to North Korea as required by 2270. Otherwise, a luxury goods ban could have the unintended effect of strengthening the regime by increasing its control over the flow of luxury items.

Another area that could face scrutiny is North Korea’s use of overseas laborers to generate income for the regime. While there have been reports that North Korea generates significant income from the laborers, the figures are likely significantly smaller than the $2.3 billion figure that has been reported. Additionally, banning the export of North Korean labor may not be the best way to approach this issue. Instead, approaching the issue of North Korean workers abroad from a human rights perspective and requiring states hosting workers from North Korea to respect their rights may be more effective in pressuring the regime. At the same time, the UN should require quarterly reporting of the number of North Koreans working in each member state.

Finally, the international community should reconsider putting a ban on aviation fuel for North Korean flights. This was originally on the table during the discussions over 2270, but was removed due to Russian objections. Not only would this put a dent in North Korean revenue from its state airline, Air Koryo, it could also help cut down on any smuggling that passengers who may be carrying illicit or luxury goods back into the DPRK.

While there are other potential areas for sanctions, the experience with the livelihood provisions of 2270 demonstrates that the process of implementation is the key to building pressure on North Korea to get them to return to talks. At the same time, the process of increasing pressure on Pyongyang is also likely to be lengthy. In addition to closing loopholes on existing sanctions, much of the work needed to close off North Korea’s illicit activities will require the painstaking work of finding the types of front companies exposed by the Panama Papers. Unfortunately, this means that even if sanctions eventually work, we are likely to see more tests before they do.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own. Photo from the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Why Do We Believe Everything We Hear About North Korea?

By Jenna Gibson and Chris Hurst

The discovery of a unicorn lair, the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle by a pack of rabid dogs, and a decree that all North Korean men must copy Kim Jong Un’s haircut. All of these were stories that were widely covered in mainstream Western news outlets. And all of them are false.

These stories spread like wildfire around the internet, prompting North Korea watchers to push back. “Other than North Korean executions, what other news stories routinely get circulated as fact despite unknown and unreliable sources?” asked Alastair Gale, the Wall Street Journal’s Seoul correspondent, on Twitter.

We’ve been down this road before. After the dog execution story, the Washington Post wrote an article discussing this phenomenon. “This seems to be a problem particular to stories out of North Korea, about which almost any story is treated as broadly credible, no matter how outlandish or thinly sourced. There’s no other country to which we bring such a high degree of gullibility… We know so little about what really happens inside the country, and especially inside the leader’s head, that very little is disprovable. But the things we do know are often so bizarre that just about anything can seem possible.”

In journalism school, students are taught the five factors of newsworthiness: timing, significance, proximity, prominence, and human interest. Other professors added a final, key marker of newsworthiness – novelty. Is it odd? Unexpected? Maybe a little ridiculous? That can also be worth a story.

That’s exactly where these crazy stories about North Korea fit – and exactly what makes them so dangerous.

Take this week’s big story, for example. For the last few days, headlines have been proclaiming that Kim Jong Un executed two high-level officials using an anti-aircraft gun. Their supposed crime? Sleeping and slouching during meetings.

This story was picked up in dozens of major news outlets, all running similar astonished headlines. It’s not until the second or third paragraph, however, that the reporter mentions the fact that this news has not been confirmed. In fact, the South Korean newspaper who first reported the story relied on a single, anonymous source.

At least they were upfront about the possibility that this didn’t actually happen, right? Unfortunately, that’s just not good enough. According to a recent study from Columbia University, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never been clicked – meaning most people share stories without actually reading past the headline.

So what? What does it matter if people mistakenly think that Kim Jong Un is running around executing his generals with an anti-aircraft gun?

Well, besides the obvious implications for the stability of the country and the state of mind of a dangerous dictator, it creates a vicious cycle of confirmation bias that can become extremely difficult to break.

Confirmation bias is an important force in psychology – in essence, it means that people tend to see only evidence that confirms what they already think about a topic and ignore contradictory information. In this case, once people see several headlines about Kim Jong Un’s crazy antics, that is the paradigm that becomes set in people’s minds. And that paradigm makes it incredibly difficult to take North Korea seriously as a dangerous threat to global security and as a proven offender of countless gross human rights violations.

There is an easy way to stop this confirmation bias – by fact checking these reports before putting them to press. However, for journalist this can be a difficult task. The North Korean government can be an information black hole, as noted by Reporters Without Borders. North Korea has ranked near the bottom of their press freedom index since its creation. Few visa are granted for foreign press by the government, and those that are granted are closely watched by minders that restrict what they can report. Even depending on eye witness reporting, which has become popular in the age of Twitter and Facebook live streaming, is impossible because there is no internet for the public.

The lack of information from the North Korean government and its people leads reporters to rely on foreign governments to verify reports. But this creates its own issues, as those sources may use information to their advantage. Adding an additional layer of confusion is North Korea itself, which routinely sends out hyperbolic announcements about their miracle cures for cancer and the like. In the end, journalists end up filling this information vacuum with unsubstantiated news stories that are more viral than factual.

In addition, some may be wary of not reporting a big story just because it can’t be confirmed. During WWII, the public famously ignored reports about concentration camps because they sounded too unbelievable – but of course we know now that those reports turned out to be true.

All of this is not meant to say that journalists should not cover North Korea, in fact quite the opposite. They should just be aware of the power of sensational headlines and unconfirmed information. When it comes to North Korea, confirmation is particularly difficult, but also particularly important. Because it is so closed off, media reports are often the only way for people to learn about North Korea at all. Let’s make sure what they learn is actually true.

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications and Chris Hurst is an intern at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from stephan’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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One Piece of a Larger Puzzle: Putting U.S.-ROK Military Exercises in Context

By Travis Lindsay

U.S.-ROK military exercises have been a key piece of the American presence on the Korean peninsula for more than half a century. Exercise “Chugi” kicked off in the autumn of 1955, and has since evolved into the well-known “Key Resolve”, “Foal Eagle”, and “Ulchi Freedom Guardian” exercises that take place in the spring and autumn of each year. These exercises exist to deter North Korean aggression, both by increasing the combat readiness of U.S. and ROK forces and by demonstrating America’s credible commitment to its South Korean ally.

Both these components – readiness and credibility – have been necessary to maintain effective deterrence on the peninsula. The exercises demonstrate American and South Korean military capabilities, minimizing uncertainty and miscalculation that might lead the DPRK to believe it can use military means to achieve political goals. The exercises not only help maintain deterrence, but they are also a key tool in a larger context that includes the alliance’s long term goals: stability, denuclearization, and eventual reunification.

The exercises have also taken on political dimensions as they’ve been used to spur negotiations (as a key piece of the 1994 Agreed Framework) as well as the focal point of declaratory policy via North Korean pleas to “just give peace a chance”. The exercises are unique in that they allow the alliance to sustain deterrence and stability in the short term while offering an opportunity for leverage in promoting broader goals of denuclearization and reunification in the medium term. They are also unique in that they are one of the few solutions on the denuclearization issue that offers a security solution for what is essentially a security problem. The negotiating leverage the exercises offer, however, can only be operationalized if they do not threaten to create credibility or readiness deficits that would undermine their overall purpose as a guarantor of the U.S.-ROK deterrent.

The credibility issue is particularly salient today, with the ROK facing increasing uncertainty from a possible “America First” Trump presidency in the U.S., a downturn in relations with China, a  complicated relationship with Japan, and the growing strategic threat from North Korea. The exercises have been a key part of the U.S. signaling to North Korea that it is ready and capable to wage a conventional war, and to South Korea that the U.S. is ready and willing to make good on its alliance commitments in case of conflict. This not only deters large scale military action by the DPRK, but it also moderates South Korea’s military posture and the perceived need to develop a nuclear weapons capability of its own. To be sure, exercises are not the fulcrum the alliance rests upon – rather, it’s the 28,500 American service members and their families that are the real bedrock of America’s commitment. At the same time, U.S. wavering on exercises without coordination with and support of the ROK government would give the impression that the U.S. is turning away from, rather than solving, the problems on the peninsula.

Increases in readiness serve to assure that the alliance is ready and able to respond to the DPRK’s increasingly dynamic and asymmetric capabilities. However, North Korea’s ability to win a conventional war has been in decline since at least the 1990s, both in terms of its own force degradation and the increasing capabilities of the U.S.-ROK alliance (helped along by the constantly evolving nature of exercises). With this in mind, the exercises function less as a component intrinsic to winning a conventional war.  We can instead view them through the lens of how exercises may reduce the human and capital costs of winning that conventional war.

The DPRK has been vociferously opposed to the exercises across all three generations of leadership, and interprets the exercises as having hostile intent rather than being defensive in nature. The exercises often come alongside increased tensions on the peninsula, pushed along by North Korea via low scale provocations, bellicose rhetoric from the DPRK, and mobilization of its forces in anticipation for war.

Putting the exercises into the larger context of alliance interests on the peninsula, the DPRK has offered to pause nuclear tests if the alliance were to stop exercising. The offer was rejected, in part because a testing freeze falls far short of the United States desire for CVID – complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of the DPRK’s weapons program. The implication, though, is clear: the DPRK claims to be willing to pay a price for the cessation of exercises.

A question remains of exactly how military exercises may play into future comprehensive or incremental deal making between the alliance and the DPRK. The exercises after all are flexible – they can be relocated, scaled up or down, stopped, or restarted as necessary. The alliance did exactly that when they suspended the Team Spirit exercises in 1992, 1994, 1995, and 1996 as they navigated the first nuclear crisis and negotiated the Agreed Framework. If the alliance could forge a credible denuclearization deal with the exercises on the table, administrations in both Seoul and Washington might be willing to take accommodative positions on the exercises.

The alliance could also consider alternate concessions if they would yield a net increase in stability on the peninsula. If the DPRK offered to significantly cut its military forces or move its forward deployed artillery away from the DMZ, would the alliance consider reciprocating by scaling down exercises? It wouldn’t be the first time the United States has accepted mutual reductions in force capabilities, as it did with the Soviet Union in 1990. A reduction in DPRK military capabilities might make reciprocal reductions to alliance readiness palatable to ROK and U.S. military commanders. Considering the denuclearization agenda has been at an impasse for nearly a decade, demilitarization and de-escalation may represent the type of trust building incrementalism needed to restore forward momentum on the Korean peninsula.

Travis Lindsay is an intern with the Korea Economic Institute and a graduate student at the UCSD School of Global Policy & Strategy. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Republic of Korea Armed Forces on Wikimedia Creative Commons.

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Why is China so upset about THAAD?

By Mark Tokola

The decision to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea has been controversial in South Korea, and predictably has been condemned by North Korea, but, judging by headlines and official statements, seems to have upset the Chinese more than anyone else.  China has been vociferous that the THAAD deployment threatens not only to raise tension on the Korean peninsula but would destabilize the entire region.  At first glance, it seems hard to understand why China would be so opposed to a defensive system which has no use other than to shoot down missiles that are on their way to striking South Korean targets.  Following an extensive series of North Korean missile tests of exactly the type that THAAD would defend against, why would any country (with the probable exception of North Korea) take issue with South Korean self-defense – particularly when Pyongyang has explicitly threatened South Korea with missile attacks?

The main objection raised by Chinese representatives is that the U.S. has a hidden agenda, and will use THAAD’s radar system to look into Chinese territory.  U.S. commentators have noted in reply that the system is oriented towards the north, not the west, and reorienting it towards China would be detectable.  One might also ask, so what?  What would be so terrible about the U.S. being able to detect a Chinese missile launch sooner rather than later?  Seeking the means to learn early of an incoming attack would not seem to be a particularly belligerent desire.  It is worth noting that thirty-four nations, including the U.S. and Russia — but not China — are parties to the Open Skies Treaty which allows all of its parties unfettered aerial surveillance flights for the express purpose of looking into each other’s territory.  That is considered confidence-building, not destabilizing.

A further Chinese objection to THAAD is that the U.S. also secretly intends it to be part of a regional missile defense system which would ‘encircle’ China.  However, such a regional system would require a very public agreement among nations of the region, including Japan as well as South Korea.  Reaching such an agreement, and working out the technical implementation of such a system, would require a long, deliberative process whether South Korea deployed THAAD in the near-term or not.  THAAD does not need to be part of a regional system to achieve its aim of defending South Korea against a North Korean attack.

The argument has been made that because China has no understandable military reason to oppose the deployment of THAAD in South Korea, its objections to THAAD must be more about politics than about security.  China may have hoped that it could drive a wedge between the United States and South Korea by creating an issue that would stir up anti-American sentiment in South Korea or, optimally, that would produce an apparent defeat for the U.S. if China could persuade South Korea not to deploy the system.  U.S. officials were careful to adhere to the policy line that whether to deploy THAAD was a decision for South Korea, not a test of the alliance.  Nevertheless, a decision not to deploy THAAD would have given the impression of strengthening Chinese influence.  Another political motivation for Chinese objections to THAAD may have been to divert attention away from Beijing’s failure to stop North Korea from violating international obligations regarding nuclear and missile testing.

However, it seems likely that China’s objections to THAAD may actually include a genuine strategic element — but not in a way that China would publicly articulate.  Students of Cold War history will remember that the Soviet Union vigorously objected to U.S. development of an anti-ballistic missile (ABM), with the accompanying bilateral tension eventually leading to a 1972 ABM Treaty that lasted until 2002.  The Soviet Union’s objections to ABM were rooted in nuclear war-fighting doctrine.   The nuclear balance between the U.S. and the USSR created a situation that was termed Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD): an attack by either country would lead to the destruction of both.  Any initial nuclear attack would be met by a retaliatory nuclear attack, leading to what all recognized would be a nuclear Armageddon.  The logic of MAD required a credible “second strike” capability by both sides, i.e. that either the Soviet Union or the United States would be able to strike back against a nuclear attack.

The development of an effective anti-ballistic missile threated the nuclear balance by creating the possibility that the U.S. or the USSR would be able to launch a nuclear attack and then use ABMs to defeat the retaliatory strike – ensuring that one side actually “won” the nuclear exchange by striking first.  The U.S. argued that the ABM was not for the purpose of creating such nuclear superiority, but rather was intended to defeat an attack by a rogue nation with limited missile capability, or perhaps to counter an attack resulting from an accidental launch.  The most obvious way to overcome an ABM system would be to overwhelm it with additional ballistic missiles.  No one argued that the ABM systems of the twentieth century would be able to provide a one-hundred percent effective canopy.  Nevertheless, the Soviet Union was ill-prepared at the time to become involved in an expensive ABM arms race and the ABM Treaty was negotiated, under which each party was permitted to construct two 100-ABM missile complexes to protect key areas.  MAD continued.

Chinese military planners are certainly aware of this history, and even if they weren’t, would be driven by the same concerns that occurred to Soviet planners.  An effective ABM system would seem to create the possibility of defeating a second strike capability absent a ballistic missile building program large enough to overwhelm the ABM system.  Today, China would certainly prefer to develop what it would consider a sufficient strategic deterrent without having to become involved in an expensive arms race.

This is a long, long way from THAAD’s limited, defensive purposes but fits with China’s statements that THAAD has implications far beyond the Korean peninsula.  The intellectual connection between the Republic of Korea’s decision to install a means of national self-defense and China’s perspective on regional, even global, balances of power says two things about China’s view of foreign policy.  First, China has difficulty crediting the idea that there can be developments within Northeast Asia that are not really about China, i.e. that South Korea might have a specific interest in defending itself against a belligerent North Korea.  Second, China continues to assert what it considers a self-evident right to a sphere of influence in Asia, within which neighboring countries must give priority to China’s national interests.  China would be a more reassuring regional partner if it acknowledged that the cause of tension on the Korean peninsula is North Korea’s pursuit of offensive weapons, not South Korea’s deployment of defensive systems.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own. Image from Max Braun’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.


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A Look Back at North Korea’s SLBM Tests

By Juni Kim

North Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test last week displayed a troubling advancement of North Korea’s missile technology. Despite close international attention and outcry, North Korea has made rapid advances in its SLBM capabilities since its first test last year. Although the details of some of the SLBM tests have been questioned, North Korea’s weapons development represents a growing and serious threat to regional security. Below is a list of North Korea’s known SLBM tests.

Missile Graphic

May 9, 2015 – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the launch of the KN-11 missile, which is the first known instance of North Korea test-firing a ballistic missile from a submarine underwater. The launch was reported to have occurred near the Sinpo South Shipyard. Although the missile succeeded in ejection, it only flew an estimated distance of 100-150 meters.

November 28, 2015Another KN-11 test occurred between 2:20 p.m. and 2:40 p.m., though the missile failed to successfully launch from the surface of the water. Debris from the missile was found on the ocean surface.

December 21, 2015South Korean officials reported that North Korea conducted another unsuccessful SLBM test on December 21 near Sinpo.

April 23, 2016 – North Korean media claimed a successful SLBM launch on April 24. South Korean analysis determined that the missile flew about 30 kilometers, which failed to break the determinant 300 kilometer minimum range for a successful launch.

July 9, 2016 – Another missile launch occurred around 11:30 a.m. on July 9 near Sinpo. South Korean defense sources stated that the missile flew about 10 kilometers before exploding.

August 24, 2016 – Around 5:30 a.m. on August 24, North Korea successfully launched an SLBM, which travelled approximately 500 kilometers and breached Japan’s air defense identification zone. Although only North Korea claimed prior launches to be successful, last week’s launch was widely deemed as a success by outside analysts.

Juni Kim is the Program Manager and Executive Assistant at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Photo from Stefan Krasowski’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.