Trump Wants South Korea to Pay More for U.S. Troops
President Trump’s demand that South Korea increase its funding for U.S. troops deployed there has reportedly soured on-going negotiations over the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) between the two countries. The SMA’s five-year contract expires December 31 and currently requires South Korea to pay $830 million per year to the U.S. for the 28,500 U.S. troops based there.
The U.S. military has warned that South Koreans working on U.S. bases in South Korea will be furloughed if Seoul and Washington fail to reach a deal. U.S. Forces Korea sent a letter to the Korean Employees Union warning that the military will be “required to issue a general furlough notice with an effective date of April 15, 2019,” if negotiations aren’t completed in a timely manner to avoid a lapse in funding, according to Stars and Stripes.
South Korean Media Questions CNN Report on N Korean Missile Activity
CNN’s recent report on “new missile base activity” in North Korea is deceptive, said a South Korean media outlet. CNN had reported on December 6 that new satellite images it obtained exclusively reveal that “North Korea has significantly expanded a key long-range missile base.” The satellite imagery, it said, “offers evidence that the Yeongjeo-dong missile base and a nearby, previously unreported site remain active and have been continuously upgraded.” The report echoes earlier claims of new North Korean missile activity made by David Sanger in his discredited New York Times article.
The Yeongjeo-dong missile base has been known to the outside world since as early as 1999 when North Korea test-launched its Daepo-dong 1 and 2 missiles, according to the South Korean media outlet Voice of People (VOP). And one of the satellite photos that CNN published as evidence of new construction activity near the missile site has a 2004 date stamp, VOP noted.
South Korea Holds Out Hope for Kim Jong Un’s Surprise Visit
Whether or not North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will answer the Moon administration’s invitation to visit Seoul before the end of this year has become a hotly-debated subject in South Korea. Despite mainstream predictions that a visit this month is unlikely, new reports are fanning speculation of a possible surprise visit on December 18.
Moon Jae-in Rolls out Five-Year Plan for Inter-Korean Cooperation
South Korea unveiled a five-year master plan for developing inter-Korean relations on December 3. The third of its kind, the plan lays out the objectives and direction of the government’s policy on inter-Korean relations for 2018-2022 and will replace the 2013 plan drawn up by the impeached president Park Geun-hye.
The plan includes:
- Holding regular inter-Korean summits;
- Holding regular high-level and sectoral inter-Korean talks; and
- Expanding the infrastructure for inter-Korean talks
The plan outlines a two-track strategy of improving inter-Korean relations while simultaneously resolving the North Korea nuclear issue. On resolving the nuclear conflict, it emphasizes a “gradual and comprehensive” approach—a marked departure from the policy of the former Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations.
On improving inter-Korean relations, the plan, which stresses “peaceful coexistence” and “mutual prosperity” as key priorities, outlines the following objectives:
- Resolution of the North Korea nuclear issue and realization of lasting peace;
- Sustained progress in inter-Korean relations;
- Realization of a “new economic community on the Korean Peninsula”
It also outlines the following principles for the administration’s policy toward the North:
- Resolve the Korean Peninsula conflict through our leadership;
- Maintain peace through strong security
- Advance inter-Korean relations based on mutual respect
- Prioritize communication and consensus-building with citizens;
- Pursue policies through cooperation with the international community
Two Koreas Move Ahead on Joint Railway and DMZ Peace Zone
South and North Korea held working-level talks on December 13 to hold a groundbreaking ceremony for the inter-Korean railway project. A group of South Korean officials and experts traveled to North Korea for a joint railway survey of 400 kilometers of the western Gyeong-gui Line as part of efforts to connect major railways along the divided peninsula. That inspection was completed on December 5, and a 10-day probe of the North’s eastern rail system is currently underway.
Representatives from the South and North Korean armies crossed the military demarcation line (MDL) to visit each other’s guard posts on December 12. According to The Hankyoreh:
These visits were aimed at verifying the tentative withdrawal from and demolition of guard posts in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in accordance with the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA) that the two sides reached on Sept. 19. This was the first time since the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953 that the two Koreas have conducted inspections of each other’s military facilities.
The two Koreas have also completed a joint inspection of the Han River estuary along their western border aimed at easing access to its restricted waterway following a September military agreement signed between the two sides.
SOUTH KOREA NEWS
160,000 Workers Strike against Moon’s “Flexible Work Hour” Policy
160,000 workers walked off the job on November 21 to protest the Moon Jae-in administration’s proposed “flexible work hour” system. The strike was followed by a protest by 15,000 workers outside the National Assembly on December 15 against the government’s labor policy, which they claim is too friendly to the chaebol—the country’s leading conglomerates. The protest was joined by 50 associations across the nation, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the Korea Democratic Street Vendors Confederation (민주노련) and the National Alliance of Squatters and Evictees (전철연).
For more on the strike, read the interview with Wolsan Liem of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU).
Sewol Tragedy Probe Uncovers Illegal Surveillance and Government Censorship
A retired army general under investigation for illegal surveillance jumped off a building in an apparent suicide on December 7. Lee Jae-su, former chief of the Defense Security Command (DSC), was being probed for his alleged involvement in illegal surveillance of the bereaved families of the victims of the 2014 Sewol Tragedy. The sinking of the Sewol ferry killed 304 passengers aboard, mostly high school students on a field trip to Jeju Island.
Prosecutors had accused Lee of ordering his officers to collect information about any possible misconduct by the families to adversely affect the public’s sympathetic sentiment toward them. Lee avoided pre-indictment detention Tuesday as the court turned down a prosecution’s request for his arrest warrant. Prosecutors believed the DSC undertook such tasks at the behest of the office of then President Park Geun-hye, who had faced a huge political backlash over her government’s alleged mishandling of the rescue process during the sinking of the Sewol ferry, ahead of the 2014 local elections.
In related news, National Assemblyman Lee Jung-hyun, who had formerly served as the senior press secretary for ousted President Park Geun-hye, was given a suspended prison sentence on December 14 for his involvement in interfering with news coverage of the Sewol Tragedy back in 2014. Soon after the incident, Lee made a phone call to the then-KBS chief editor and told him to tone down the coverage. The Seoul Central District Court sentenced him to one year in prison with a stay of execution for two years for violating the broadcasting law. Lee will lose his parliamentary seat if his sentence is finalized by the court.
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