Two Koreas halt military exercises and close gunports once aimed at each other

At 12:01 on November 1, North and South Korea began a halt to land, air, and sea military exercises and began the operation of a designated no-fly zone along the military demarcation line (MDL). The measures are in line with September’s Agreement on the Implementation of the Historic Panmunjom Declaration in the Military Domain, signed by the two Koreas’ defense ministers on the sidelines of the fifth inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang.

NK News reports:

The two Koreas previously agreed to halt live-fire artillery drills and field training exercises (FTX) at the regiment level five kilometers from the MDL. At sea, both sides have stopped all live-fire and maritime maneuvers within 80 kilometer buffer zones on the east and west coast. The two sides will install covers on the the barrels of coastal artillery and ship guns and close all gunports within the designated zone.

The two sides are also expected to remove all guard posts from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) by the end of November. Starting next month, after the completion of a joint inspection by the two Koreas and the US-led UN Command, the Joint Security Area of the DMZ is expected open for people to move about freely between the north and south sides for the first time in sixty-five years.



U.S. and South Korean defense chiefs agree to keep U.S. troops in Korea after OPCON transfer

At their annual Security Consultative Meeting, held in Washington DC on October 31, the South Korean and US defense chiefs signed the “Guiding Principles Following the Transition of Wartime Operational Control,” which says US Forces in Korea and the Combined Forces Command will remain in South Korea even after the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) to South Korea.

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and US Defense Secretary James Mattis agreed, “the contributions of the ROK – U.S. Alliance are to continue into the future, carrying on the spirit of the ROK- U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty to prevent armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula, promote peace and stability in Northeast Asia, and contribute to global peace.”

According to the agreement, after OPCON transfer, South Korea will appoint a General or an Admiral to serve as the Commander of the Combined Forces Command (CFC), and the United States will appoint a General or an Admiral to serve as its deputy commander. Currently, a U.S. general serves as the commander of the CFC and a South Korean general serves as its deputy commander.

OPCON transfer is expected to be completed before the end of President Moon Jae-in’s term in office.

The full text of the “Guiding Principles Following the Transition of Wartime Operational Control” can be read here.

The full text of the Joint Communiqué of the 50th U.S.-ROK Security Consultative Meeting can be read here.


South Korean defense minister says THAAD deployment will be permanent

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo announced the country will formalize the deployment of the controversial U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system once the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment is completed. The Peace Committee to Stop THAAD Deployment denounced the Moon Jae-in administration for “ignoring law and order to bring in strategic weapons for the U.S. missile defense system, which has no place in the vision for peace on the Korean Peninsula.”

Advocates for peace protest the Defense Ministry's announcement of formalizing the THAAD deployment | Photo - National Action to Stop the THAAD Deployment



South Korea orders Japanese corporation to compensate Korean forced laborers during colonial rule

South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled on October 30 that a Japanese steelmaker should compensate four South Koreans for forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The ruling was delivered after more than five years of deliberation and could have larger implications for similar lawsuits that are pending in South Korea.

The Korea Herald had previously reported that disgraced president Park Geun-hye had ordered her staff to deliberately delay the Supreme Court’s ruling on the case. She gave the order after signing the controversial 2015 Seoul-Tokyo agreement on the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women.

According to the news report, Park in 2016 ordered her staff to pressure the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme Court to delay ruling on the case and allegedly told her staff that it would be a “disgrace” for South Korea if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Korean victims so soon after the 2015 deal was signed.

Yang Sung-tae, a former Supreme Court Chief Justice, is currently under investigation for allegedly having used politically sensitive trials, including the forced labor case, as bargaining chips for political favors from ex-President Park. It has only recently come to light that Yang may have cooperated with Park to delay the ruling on the forced labor case in order to allow a statute of limitation to run out and prevent more plaintiffs from coming forward.


Remains of Korean forced laborers during WWII may never return home

In 1943, In order to set up forward air bases capable of supporting operations across the mid-Pacific to Japan, the United States launched a large-scale amphibious landing at the Japanese-held Tarawa Atoll in the middle of the Pacific. The Japanese mounted a serious opposition, and after four days of battle, approximately 1700 US and 3000 Japanese soldiers lost their lives. Also among the dead were 600 Korean laborers who had been forcibly brought to the Pacific island by the Japanese imperial army. As the battle intensified, they had become cannon fodder for the Japanese.

Among the remains recovered by the US. Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) are remains of Asians and articles labeled with Korean surnames that had most likely belonged to the forced laborers who died on the battlefield. But an agreement with Japan requires the United States to return all the Asian remains to the Japanese authorities. South Korean activists worry that these remains may never be properly identified or returned to their homeland.



U.S. reversed decision to ban cluster bombs for potential use against North Korea

The United States reversed its plan to ban cluster munitions last year and kept its dated stockpiles for potential use against North Korea, a top defense official said Friday.

“We said, ‘How do we prepare for North Korea?’ And we looked at the munitions that are required and the munitions that were available,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in response to questions during the annual Military Reporters & Editors conference outside Washington, D.C.

Cluster munitions are a type of weapon that distributes smaller weapons, called submunitions or bomblets, over a targeted area. They have been condemned by lawmakers and arms-control groups for causing indiscriminate harm to civilians even decades after conflicts end.

The New York Times reported that the weapons’ “dud rate” (the percentage of submunitions that don’t detonate when they are supposed to) often approaches 20 percent when deployed in combat situations, making the environment extremely dangerous to friendly forces and civilians. The Times noted the U.S. has roughly 2.2 million cluster munitions in the United States itself and 1.5 million overseas, with the majority in South Korea.



UN First Committee rejects Russia’s resolution to preserve INF Arms Control Treaty

On October 27, the UN First Committee refused to consider Russia’s draft resolution in support of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to eliminate nuclear and conventional missiles.

The Russian foreign ministry said it was “profoundly disappointed” and “baffled” by the decision and noted that 55 nations had spoken against the very idea of discussing the issue at the UN First Committee even as many of them criticize “the lack of progress in the sphere of nuclear disarmament.”

The INF Treaty was signed between the former Soviet Union and the United States on December 8, 1987 and entered into force on June 1, 1988. It covered deployed and non-deployed ground-based short-range missiles (from 500 to 1,000 kilometers) and intermediate-range missiles (from 1,000 to 5,500 kilometers).

Donald Trump announced on October 20 that Washington would withdraw from the INF Treaty and accused Russia of violating the terms of the agreement. His announcement was criticized by Berlin and Beijing. Last week, Russia officially circulated within the UN secretariat a draft resolution in support of the INF Treaty, but the UN First Committee refused by a majority vote to consider the document.


Xi-Abe summit strengthens bilateral economic ties

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a three-day trip to Bejing where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week—the first official visit to China by a Japanese leader since 2011.

Amidst a spiraling tariff war between Beijing and Washington, Japan and China signed over 500 business deals with a total value of more than US$2.6 billion, ranging from infrastructure, energy and car projects to a US$30 billion currency swap pact.

They also agreed not to aim threats or direct aggression at each other and resolved to increase high-level diplomatic and military exchanges through constructive dialogue.

“Switching from competition to collaboration, bilateral relations have entered a new phase,” Abe told reporters after talks with Premier Li Keqiang. “Japan and China are neighbors and partners and we have to avoid becoming threats to each other,” he said.

It is widely believed that Abe extended an invitation personally to Xi to visit Japan when the Chinese leader attends the G20 summit in Osaka in June. If accepted, it would be the first visit by a Chinese leader to Japan since Hu Jintao’s 2008 trip.


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