Tag Archive | "Summit"

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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Is Trump Impacting How South Koreans View the United States?

By Kyle Ferrier

Claiming “Korea actually used to be a part of China” and stating “it would be appropriate” if South Korea paid for THAAD are just some of Donald Trump’s comments since his inauguration that have not been well received by the South Korean public. As President Moon Jae-in meets with President Trump this week to discuss new issues as well as longstanding ones such as the North Korea nuclear problem, his flexibility both in Washington and after his return to Seoul depends on public opinion at home. Against this backdrop, the release of two major survey-based reports in the past few days are rather fortunately timed and help to shed light on how South Koreans perceive U.S. political leadership.

The first is the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Image Suffers as Publics Around World Question Trump’s Leadership: America still wins praise for its people, culture and civil liberties, released on June 26. The second is the Asan Institute’s A New Beginning for ROK-U.S. Relations: South Koreans’ View of the United States and Its Implications, released on June 27. While the Pew report looks at a broader scope of countries and the Asan report focuses solely on the South Korean public, both ultimately provide similar conclusions: South Koreans continue to view the U.S. favorably despite negative views on Trump. However, the two provide conflicting analyses as to whether Trump has already impacted U.S. favorability and how South Koreans view the future of relations with the U.S.

From polls conducted in 37 countries, the Pew study finds that international confidence in the U.S. president has dropped from 64 percent at the end of the Obama presidency to 22 percent at the beginning of Trump’s. South Koreans do not buck the trend. When asked if they have confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs, 88 percent of South Koreans responded positively during the end of the Obama years while only 17 percent expressed the same confidence in Trump — below the global median of 22 percent. Of the 37 countries polled, this 71 percentage point swing was the fourth largest, behind Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany. The 78 percent of South Koreans who definitively answered they had no confidence in Trump is the highest among the countries polled in Asia (the others are Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and India) and is above the global median of 74 percent. Further, when asked about Trump’s major policy shifts, 78 percent disapproved of withdrawing from international climate change agreements and 80 percent disapproved of U.S. withdrawal of support for major trade agreements.

Asan presents complementary findings. It shows Trump’s favorability during the campaign was low: on their 0 to 10 ratings scale, where 0 is the least favorable and 10 is the most, Trump was below a 2 up through Election Day.  This is similar to the favorability of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, not much higher than that of Kim Jong-un — who hovered around 1 — and dwarfed by Barack Obama — who consistently scored in the low to mid-6 range from at least the beginning of 2014 through 2016. Trump’s election boosted him from a 1.69 in November to a 3.25 in December and a 3.49 in January, but dropped to 2.93 in March before going up slightly to 2.96 in June. This jump in favorability since becoming president has given him a steady lead over Abe, but Trump remains below Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is punishing South Korea economically over the deployment of THAAD.

When asked only about the United States, Pew shows 75 percent of South Koreans view the U.S. favorably, above both the regional and global median. In addition, 86 percent view Americans favorably and 78 percent like American democratic values, both of which are also above the regional and global medians.  Further, those on the political right are more inclined to have a favorable view of the U.S., with 86 percent of respondents who self-identified as politically right favoring the U.S. compared to 64 of those on the left.

Korea Surveys

The favorability rating of the U.S. in the Asan study largely follows the trend of the Obama years, remaining around a 6 out of 10. “This suggests that the United States’ favorability is not determined solely by the favorability of its leader and that American soft power has had a positive impact on South Korean public opinion,” the Asan report states. “It appears that South Koreans have learned to distinguish between the United States, the country, and Donald Trump, the individual.”

Both reports seem to indicate that American soft power has a positive influence on South Koreans, who view the U.S. and its president separately. However, the two present contradictory findings on how Trump has impacted perceptions of the U.S.

While Asan shows only a very minor dip in U.S. favorability since Trump’s election — a drop from 5.92 in November to 5.81 in June, which is termed as “relatively stable” favorability scores — Pew finds a larger drop. The 75 percent of South Koreans who viewed the U.S. favorably in 2017 is down from 84 percent in 2015, the last year Pew data is available, and is at its lowest level since 2008. Pew suggests this follows a larger global trend. Of the 37 countries polled, 30 showed a drop in favorable views of the U.S. in 2017. Other countries experienced a steeper fall though, as South Korea’s drop in positive views of the U.S. is tied for 23rd of the 30.

The two reports are also at odds on how South Koreans perceive relations with the U.S. moving forward. Only 8 percent of Pew respondents thought relations with the U.S. would get better, 45 percent thought they would stay about the same, and 43 percent stated they would get worse. In contrast, 67 percent of respondents in the Asan study thought relations with the U.S. would improve and only 20 percent thought relations would deteriorate.

There is clearly a wide gap between the sentiments expressed in both polls, but this is likely because of how the questions were worded.  Pew framed their question around Donald Trump (“Now that Donald Trump is the U.S. president, over the next few years do you think that relations between our country and the U.S. will ___?”) and Asan framed theirs around Moon Jae-in (“ROK-U.S. Relations under President Moon Jae-in will___”.) Considering the negative views on Trump expressed in both polls and Moon Jae-In’s high domestic popularity, this disparity makes a certain amount of sense. Additionally, as no exact date is provided for when the Pew poll was conducted — the report only states spring 2017 — their findings may not reflect changes based on Moon’s election and thus may leave out any boost in confidence it might have engendered for relations with the U.S.

It may still be too early to definitively claim that Trump is impacting South Korean perceptions of the United States. But this does not mean Trump’s controversial statements, should they continue, will not influence how South Koreans view the U.S. in the future. If the outcome of the U.S.-ROK summit this week does not meet expectations or Trump makes controversial remarks in the future, South Korean public opinion of the U.S. could be pushed lower.

Kyle Ferrier is the Director of Academic Affairs and Research at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Images from Gage Skidmore’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Korean and American Presidents Should Discuss Work-Family Balance Issues

By Dr. Seung-kyung Kim

On October 16, President Park Geun-hye and President Barack Obama will be meeting for the fourth time since they became presidents of their respective countries.  As always, the security issues involving North Korea will be the top item on their agenda.  However, the two countries also have a broad range of mutual interests in such topics as economy, environment, energy, space, health, trade, and cybersecurity.  To this list, I would like to suggest an issue that has been central to both presidents’ interests and commitments throughout their presidencies: the importance of middle class families and the work-family balance that is at the core of sustaining middle class lives in both countries.  Earlier this year in state of the nation addresses, both presidents stressed the importance of enhancing the lives of middle class families and their centrality to revitalizing their national economies.  The work-family balance is no longer a matter of individual life, but a national (even global) issue that governments and policymakers should pick up and do something about.

 The old idea that middle class families consist of a breadwinning father and a homemaking mother has become obsolete in both countries.  In Korea 44% of married couples are now dual earner families (Korea National Statistics Office), while for the United States the figure is 48% (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  The lives of middle class families are thus becoming more challenging because both men and women need to balance family and work responsibilities, and the issue of work-family balance is an important one for both presidents in their goals to improve the well-being of the middle class.

Women are, of course, at the heart of the work-life dilemma because they are placed in much more vulnerable positions than men, both in the workplace and at home.  Not only does the wage gap prevent women from earning the same incomes as men, but women are also more likely to leave the work force in order to assume the responsibilities of child rearing.  Women achieve higher education in both countries at a rate comparable to or higher than men: in Korea, 49.4% of recipients of bachelor’s degrees are women (Korea Education Development Institute) while in the United States, 52.4% of recipients of bachelor’s degrees are women (National Center for Education Statistics).

Both countries have problems with unequal access to the job market.  In the United States, women’s labor force participation is below that of men at all ages except the teenage years (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).  In Korea, women start out with high rates of labor force participation, but, after age thirty, women are significantly less likely to be in the workforce.  The gap between women and men’s labor force participation is highest for people in their thirties, when about 90% of men are in the work force, but less than 60% of women are (Korea National Statistics Office).  This drop can be attributed to the fact that women of this age have child rearing responsibilities that their male counterparts do not.  Even after the end of the peak phase of childrearing, women in Korea do not return to the labor force in numbers comparable to those of men.  The fact that so many women remain outside the labor force is both a loss of productivity to society, and a loss of opportunity to the women.

Governments can assist families trying to achieve work-family balance by instituting policies that help women participate more fully in the labor force.  Among these policies are insuring paid maternity leave, providing quality childcare, and easing barriers to reentry into the labor force.  Both countries need to work on implementing these policies, and both presidents have made efforts to address them.

In terms of women in the workplace, Korea and the United States have significantly different deficiencies.  The United States is the only high-income country in the world that does not require employers to provide paid maternity leave for employees.  The high cost of childcare is another problem in the U.S. as President Obama noted in a recent speech, “… in most states, parents spend more on day care for their children than they would for a year of college” (University of Kansas, January 22, 2015).  South Korea, on the other hand, suffers from the largest wage gap between men and women in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with women only earning 65% of what men earn.  The low wages paid to women depresses their rate of labor force participation and women who have left the work force find it difficult to resume their careers.  Only 20% of re-employed women are hired for full-time regular positions while more than 60% are hired back as part-timers or contract workers (Korean Women’s Development Institute).

Both presidents recognize the importance of increasing the participation of women in the labor force to their national economies and have presented strategies to achieve this.  President Park has asserted “More participation of women in the economy is a core engine for the nation’s growth” (Wall Street Journal June 17, 2013).  Her government has worked to increase the number of child care facilities and improved their quality.  She also has advocated that employers should create female-friendly work environments and adopt more flexible hours to help working mothers.  Her Minister of Gender Equality and Family, Kim Hee-jung, said “We need for  [companies] to realize that keeping women in the workplace is investing in our future” (Reuters January 27, 2015).  President Obama has identified “high quality, affordable child care” as “a national economic priority” and said he would like to make quality child care accessible to 100 million more children and provide an annual tax cut for their families of up to $3,000 per child. “It is time we stop treating child care as a side issue or a women’s issue,” he said. “This is a family issue” (University of Kansas, January 22, 2015).

Given both presidents’ interest and commitment to work-family balance, I can envision them putting their heads together and discussing these issues. They will find that they have yet another topic in common to discuss and share ideas about.

Dr. Seung-kyung Kim is a Professor, Chair of the Department of Women’s Studies and Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from  Marcelo Druck’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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A Look Ahead to the Park-Obama Summit

By Troy Stangarone

As the United States and South Korea begin celebrations of 60 years of the U.S.-Korea alliance, President Park Geun-hye arrives in Washington, DC for her first summit meeting with President Barack Obama at a time of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. In recent months, North Korea has dominated the news, and U.S.-Korea relations, as it has conducted a third nuclear test, withdrawn from the Korean War armistice, effectively shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and increased its rhetoric to new levels.  While addressing the challenges of North Korea will be central to the discussions between Park and Obama, it is not the only issues for the two leaders to discuss.

With relations between the United States and South Korea are at an all-time high, Park and Obama will discuss ways to continue the close cooperation the United States and South Korea have enjoyed in recent years. In the run up to this week’s meetings, both sides addressed one of the major issues confronting U.S.-Korea relations by agreeing to extend the two sides’ civilian nuclear cooperation agreement for two years. With the Park government and the second Obama administration only slowly coming into shape, buying time to further discuss issues such as South Korea’s request to reprocess spent nuclear fuel represents a prudent first step.

On the economic front, both sides will have plenty to discuss. With the KORUS FTA in place, both countries will continue to discuss ways to ensure that the agreement is fully utilized by both sides. To this end, Park is arriving in Washington with the largest business delegation of any prior Korean president to continue expanding U.S.-Korea economic cooperation. At the same time, Park will likely raise Korean concerns over the KORUS FTA’s dispute settlement mechanism and continue to press for Korea to receive an increase in professional visa’s to help spur additional economic cooperation.  While the United States will seek South Korea’s participation in the growing Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks.

Also on the agenda will be the future role of the alliance. In 2009, the United States and South Korea released a Joint Vision statement outlining areas of regional and global cooperation. With the new administration in Seoul, discussions will center on how to further strengthen cooperation and the Park administration’s proposal of a Seoul Process to build trust and cooperation in Northeast Asia.

However, North Korea will present the most immediate challenge. Recent weeks have seen both the United States and South Korea transition from a period of deterring North Korea’s provocations to opening the door for further engagement with Pyongyang. Discussions will likely center on South Korea’s proposals for engaging North Korea in a trust building process and how best the United States can support South Korea’s leading role in engaging Pyongyang.

While summit meetings are often action forcing events, the first meeting is often more about developing a strong working relationship and setting a course for the years ahead. As Obama and Park hold their first formal meeting, they will look to build upon the strong working relationship that has existed between the United States and Korea in recent years and chart a course for the years ahead.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade for the Korea Economic Institute of America.

Photos from Cheong Wa Dae and White House.

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