High-level Talks Postponed
Talks between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean Workers’ Party Vice Chairman Kim Yong-chol scheduled to take place on November 8 have been postponed.
Although the officially stated reason for the postponement was a schedule conflict, the two sides have been at an impasse over the Trump administration’s refusal to ease sanctions in return for progress on North Korea’s denuclearization, and that may have been a factor in the decision. Institute for National Security Strategy senior research fellow Cho Sung-ryul speculates that North Korea “may have felt there was no point in holding talks when the U.S. is insisting it can’t relax sanctions as North Korea is demanding until denuclearization is complete.”
Trade Union Officials Banned from Travel to North Korea
The Unification Ministry announced that it would not allow four officials of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions to travel to North Korea to take part in a meeting between the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation and its North Korean counterpart, the Consultative Council for National Reconciliation.
The ministry provided no explanation to the union for its decision, and KCTU declared that all members of the delegation would boycott the event in protest over the ministry’s decision.
Demilitarization of Border Continues
On November 10, the two Koreas completed the withdrawal of soldiers and arms from 22 guard posts along the border as the latest step to be implemented in the the Comprehensive Military Agreement the two sides signed in September, aimed at building trust and reducing tensions. Structures at all but two of the sites will be demolished by the end of the month.
As an additional measure, North Korea removed 636 landmines from the truce village of Panmunjom.
North and South Korea Exchange Goodwill Gifts
Following the September summit between the leaders of South and North Korea, the DPRK gave two tons of pine mushrooms, considered a delicacy, to South Korea. This month, the Moon administration reciprocated by airlifting 200 tons of tangerines to the North.
South Korea News
KCTU Rally Draws 60,000
On November 10, an estimated 60,000 union members, students, and solidarity activists attended a rally at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul, organized by the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). The demonstration called for a revision to the union law, reform of the National Pension Service, moving public-sector contract workers to permanent positions, and improving the social safety net.
The union opposes the flexible working hour system, in which working hours are increased during periods of heavy workload and reduced at other times, to match the average legally permitted weekly limit.
Kim Myung-hwan, chairman of the KCTU, said, “The government and the National Assembly try to push expansion of the flexible worker system, which is the capitalist’s demand, contrary to the obligation and responsibility to enforce labor demands.
Ruling Party to Consider Extending Flexible Working Period
Democratic Party floor leader Hong Young-pyo indicated that the Moon administration could decide to allow companies to flexibly adjust working hours over a six-month timeframe, rather than the current three-month period. By calculating the maximum allowable working hours over the longer period, businesses would have further scope for increasing and cutting work hours without regard to the needs of employees.
The proposed expansion of the flexible working period is in response to demands by employers.
Martial Law Probe Suspended
The joint military and prosecution team investigating allegations that military intelligence under former president Park Geun-hye drafted martial law plans suspended its operation on November 7 because it was unable to locate a key suspect.
Cho Hyun-chun, former chief of the Defense Security Command (DSC), departed for the United States last December, and the investigators concluded that without access to him the investigation could not continue.
The military’s contingency plan was to have been put into effect if the Constitutional Court rejected the impeachment of Park Geun-hye and the candlelight demonstrations continued. The plan called for the arrest of lawmakers and protesters.
Yongsan Garrison Opened to Public
Following the departure of the headquarters of U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) to Camp Humphries in Pyeongtaek, the U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan was opened to the Korean public for the first time in 114 years. Before the end of the Second World War, Japanese soldiers were stationed at the site.
Plans call for converting the base into a national park, but before that can be accomplished, an environmental cleanup effort will be required. A joint study by the Ministry of Environment and USFK conducted in 2015-2016 found that 60 percent of sampled sites were polluted with dangerous levels of benzene, and at one location levels were measured at 671 times the safety standard. Over the fifteen-year period ending 2015, there have been 84 documented incidents of oil spill accidents where USFK failed to inform the South Korean government.
The U.S. has no plan to contribute to the cost of cleanup operations.
Environment Ministry Ordered to Reveal Contamination Findings
In response to a filing by Green Korea, the 13th Division of the Seoul Administrative Court ordered the Environment Ministry to disclose the results of an environmental survey conducted at the U.S. military base in Incheon’s Bupyeong district.
For each day that the ministry fails to comply within a 30-day grace period, it will have to pay Green Korea 3 million won.
Park Ju-hee, secretary-general for the Incheon chapter of Green Korea, said, “The Ministry of Environment should apologize to the citizens of Incheon and immediately disclose the environmental contamination survey findings in accordance with this decision by Seoul Administration Court.”
High levels of dioxin have been found at the site, along with petroleum hydrocarbons and trichloroethylene, and heavy metal contamination.
North Korea News
Cuba-North Korea Summit in Pyongyang
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel’s visit to Pyongyang marked his nation’s first summit with North Korea in 32 years. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Diaz-Canel met and reaffirmed their two nations’ friendship and solidarity, and discussed economic and cultural exchanges. Prensa Latina reported that Cuba “supports the process of rapprochement and ongoing dialogue on the Korean Peninsula as a way to achieve lasting peace in the region, and opposes the unilateral and arbitrary sanctions against Pyongyang.”
Russia Requested UN Meeting on Sanctions
Russia requested that a closed UN Security Council meeting be held on November 8 to discuss sanctions on North Korea. Russian diplomats pointed out that there are “serious humanitarian problems.” Restrictions are hampering the ability of organizations to provide humanitarian aid and to work in North Korea.
In response, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley blocked the proposal to ease sanctions for humanitarian efforts. “We’re not going to let it happen,” Haley insisted, adding that sanctions on North Korea would remain in full force.
Japan Resistant to Court Ruling on Forced Labor
Reacting to the Supreme Court ruling that Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal should pay 100 million won each to four plaintiffs who had been forced to labor at its steel mills during the Second World War, one Japanese publication has reported that Japan has decided to submit the case to the International Court of Justice.
It has also been reported that in retaliation, Japan is mulling the option of filing a complaint against South Korea with the World Trade Organization over subsidies to Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering.
Out of an estimated 150,000 Koreans forced to labor for Imperial Japan during the war, five thousand are still alive.
According to Kim Jin-young, who works on behalf of South Korean forced labor victims, the Supreme Court ruling may well affect the result of similar lawsuits. “There are likely more obstacles left before the victims receive compensation,” Kim observed. “The legal battle may reach a third-country location. Seizing the companies’ assets in South Korea could also be a long and difficult process if they continue to refuse paying the victims.”
China Prioritizing Trade Zone on Border with North Korea
A Chinese trade inspection team held meetings recently, in which it was agreed to promote a trade zone on the border with North Korea. The plan appears to be in anticipation of a boost in commerce between the two nations following an easing of sanctions.
Lawyers from the two nations have also met to discuss economic, trade, and investment laws. One source reports, “Legal issues must be closely reviewed and examined before any major projects can proceed… It is a sign that China-North Korean economic cooperation will be further strengthened.”
Among the plans that may be revived, pending a reduction in sanctions on North Korea, is the establishment of high-speed rail connecting cities in Jilin with the North Korean city of Rajin.
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