US-DPRK RELATIONS

 

Plans for Second Kim-Trump Summit Under Way

The US special representative on North Korea Stephen Biegun arrived in Seoul on Sunday, February 3 for meetings with North and South Koreans ahead of the second US-North Korea summit slated for later this month. 

Prior to his trip to Seoul, Biegun, who spoke at Stanford University, said:

President Trump is ready to end this war. It is over. It is done. We are not going to invade North Korea. We are not seeking to topple the North Korean regime. We need to advance our diplomacy alongside our plans for denuclearization in a manner that sends that message clearly to North Korea as well. We are ready for a different future. It’s bigger than denuclearization, while it stands on the foundation of denuclearization, but that’s the opportunity we have and those are the discussions we will be having with the North Koreans.

Biegun will meet with his North Korean counterparts and is expected to settle the agenda of the summit, as well as its location and date. 

The upcoming summit is expected to deal primarily with shutting down North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear facility and corresponding measures by the US, according to a high-ranking official at South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

“The US places considerable significance” on North Korea’s conditional offer to shut down the Yongbyon reactor, said the senior Foreign Ministry official at a meeting with reporters on January 31. He added that the South Korean and US governments think that “since the Yongbyon nuclear facility has been the foundation and the center of North Korea’s whole nuclear program for such a long time, shutting it down would represent very important progress toward complete denuclearization.”

A wide range of corresponding measures could be on the table, he said, including humanitarian aid, the establishment of a liaison office, an end-of-war declaration and humanitarian exchange, as well as improving North Korea-US relations and a security guarantee. “Those steps require a peace regime,” the official emphasized.

Meanwhile, China and the United States are also considering a summit in Vietnam at the end of February. Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump may meet in Da Nang to resolve the trade dispute between the two nations, according to the South China Morning Post. The meeting was mentioned by Trump when a Chinese trade delegation was in Washington last week for talks. Trump said he looked forward to meeting Xi to conclude a trade deal.

 

House Lawmakers Urge Resumption of War Games and Oppose Troop Reduction

In a letter to the Pentagon, House Democrats led by Washington Congressman Rick Larsen urged the resumption of joint military exercises with South Korea, telling the acting Defense Secretary that the suspension “may be undermining readiness for little benefit.”

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of eight House lawmakers introduced two bills to make it more difficult for the Trump administration to withdraw troops from Syria and South Korea. The bills, introduced by freshman Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and Van Taylor (R-Texas), would limit the funds the administration may use to pull troops from the countries.

The “United States and Republic of Korea Alliance Support Act” would halt the use of the 2019 Pentagon budget “to reduce the total number of Armed Forces serving on active duty in the Republic of Korea below 22,000” unless: the Defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “jointly certify to the relevant congressional committees that the Republic of Korea would be fully capable of defending itself and deterring a conflict on the Korean Peninsula that would threaten United States interests following such a reduction” and that North Korea has “completed verifiable and irreversible nuclear disarmaments.” 

 

Expert Debunks Allegation of “Secret” North Korea Missile Base

Commenting on recent media reports of a “secret” North Korean missile base, Daniel DePetris writes at 38North: 

…the substance and timing of the latest report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), entitled Undeclared North Korea: The Sino-ri Missile Operating Base and Strategic Force Facilities, is regrettable. Like previous CSIS studies on this facility, the report creates a misleading narrative about North Korean motives, intentions and actions at a time when the brittle US-DPRK diplomatic process is struggling to gain altitude. Even more disturbing than the report’s central thesis of North Korean deceit and deception is the media narrative surrounding its release. With on-air reporters speculating about Pyongyang’s deception, the American people are being led to the premature—perhaps even unwarranted—conclusion that Kim Jong Un is up to his old tricks and that diplomacy with North Korea is at best a waste of time and at worst a trap he is laying to take the president to the cleaners.

We have seen this movie before: a respected American think tank publishes satellite imagery of supposedly devious conduct at a North Korean missile facility; hawkish experts in Washington use the report to make specious judgments to fit their preconceived notions about the futility of diplomacy with North Korea; and the news media breathlessly and reflexively airs the images as if they were an Adlai Stevenson moment. The less-exciting truth—that South Korean officials have been monitoring these North Korean missile facilities for years—is often ignored.

 

US-ROK ALLIANCE

 

US and South Korea May Reach a Deal on Cost-sharing for US Troops

South Korea and the United States are expected to strike a deal this week on splitting the cost for the stationing of US troops in Korea. According to the Korea Times, the U.S. will likely accept South Korea’s request for a contribution of less than US$1 billion (1.1 trillion won) in 2019, and Seoul will sign a one-year contract as Washington demands.

Last year, South Korea paid around 960 billion won for the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in Korea under a five-year deal signed in 2014. Senior diplomats of the two sides had ten rounds of face-to-face talks last year to renew the deal but failed to reach a compromise.

The Trump administration had called for a sharp rise in Seoul’s share and had initially asked Seoul to pay up to $1.2 billion a year, saying the minimum contribution should be $1 billion. South Korea, however, has maintained that the scale of its contribution should not exceed 1 trillion won ($893 million).

 

SOUTH KOREA-JAPAN RELATIONS

 

Koreans around the world mourn the passing of Grandmother Kim Bok-dong

Koreans around the world mourned the death of Kim Bok-dong, who had dedicated her life to fighting for redress for women who had been forced into sexual slavery by the imperial Japanese military during World War II. Kim, who passed away last week at the age of 92, was one of the first to break decades of silence to talk about her experience as a former sex slave. Her tireless campaigning helped bring international attention to the suffering of thousands of women like her. She had traveled around the world, including the United Nations, to testify. With Kim’s passing, only 23 South Korean women who have come forward remain, and most are in their 90’s. Koreans gathered in major cities across South Korea as well as around the world to pay tribute in Kim’s honor. 

 

SOUTH KOREA NEWS

 

Death of Precarious Laborer Sparks Mass Protests and Human Rights Probe

Following mass protests after the death of Kim Yong-gyun, a 24-year old mechanic, in a conveyer belt accident last December, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) announced that it will launch an investigation into working conditions at coal-fired power plants. Kim had been working an overnight shift alone ― contrary to regulations ― at Taean Power Plant in South Chungcheong Province.

According to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), 97 percent of industrial accidents at the nation’s five major power companies between 2012 and 2016 involved temporary workers like Kim. 

On January 27, civic groups held a Buddhist memorial service, traditionally held on the 49th day following one’s death, for Kim at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul. On January 19, 10,000 workers gathered at Gwanghwamun Plaza to demand an investigation into Kim’s death and the eradication of precarious labor as well as outsourcing of safety risks.

Kim’s parents and civic groups have delayed his funeral, saying his death remains “unresolved” until Kim’s employer, the state-run Korea Western Power (KOWEPO), is held accountable and safer working conditions are guaranteed for other irregular workers supplied by subcontractors. 

“Though safe working conditions are a universal right for all employees, irregular workers have a seven times higher chance of dying in industrial accidents than regular ones,” acknowledged Choi Young-ae, the NHRCK head, in a press statement. 

 

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