No Kettles, Just Cuddles: #Shigak no. 42

By | May 26, 2017 | No Comments

A protest banner demanding the arrest of Park Geun-hye and her old friend Choe Soon-sil, as well as the heads of South Korea’s powerful conglomerate companies. The Park administration collapsed after weeks of peaceful protest in late 2016. | Image: Wikicommons

On April 2, Sino-NK began a run of regular analyses looking at the South Korean presidential election through the lens of the Korean-language media, reviving a series that ran from February 2014 to October 2015. That revival continues post-election, as Moon Jae-in embarks on the politically all-important first one hundred days in office. 

“Shigak” (시각), or “perspective” uses Twitter to curate sources on the key factors influencing the Moon administration. Each issue takes the most important tweets posted by Sino-NK analysts under the #시각 hashtag and augments them with essential annotations and a bite-size dollop of concentrated analysis. #Shigak is edited by Steven Denney and Christopher Green. Yongmin Lee is a regular contributor. Back issues can be found on the dedicated page. Importantly, users of Twitter are encouraged to adopt the hashtag and take part in the project.

No Kettles, Just Cuddles: #Shigak no. 42

by Sin0-NK

In this edition of #Shigak, we look at a week of rapid-fire personnel picks, with women making notable inroads in the ministries of Foreign Affairs and the implacably conservative Veterans and Patriots Affairs. We’ve also got news of amended policing tactics that imply — at least to begin with — a more trusting view of the protestors and their motivations, and the move from military to diplomatic leadership in the Blue House office in charge of national security.

On May 26, it was revealed that South Korea’s default protest policing strategy will no longer typically involve erecting steel fencing or using water cannon against protesting citizens. The revised policing tactics were mentioned briefly by Lee Dae-hyeong, the National Police Agency’s head of human rights protection, during opening comments at a policing workshop in Busan.

Lee explained, “Going forward, we will not as a rule deploy the police, water cannon or steel fencing at protest locations,” adding that the National Police Agency anticipates protests to be primarily self-regulating, an approach common in Europe. Politically speaking, the move is undoubtedly driven by criticism of heavy-handed police tactics during the Park Geun-hye administration (see below images, for example), which on one infamous occasion resulted in the death of a 68-year old male protestor in September 2016 after he was hit by a water cannon at close quarters during a violent protest in Seoul almost a year earlier.

The South Korean National Human Rights Commission has repeatedly warned the police and political leaders of the dangers of excessively militaristic policing strategies, saying in particular that water cannon usage carries a non-trivial danger of injury and urging the police to fall back upon the tactic only in the most pressing of circumstances.

Moon Jae-in’s personnel appointments are making headlines, with some media even going as far as calling them “shocking [파격인사].” Moon’s nominee for ministry of foreign affairs, Kang Kyung-hwa is viewed as unconventional because she did not join the ministry through the normal “civil service exam” route, although she has been in the Korean diplomatic corps for almost twenty years. Her appointment has been largely welcomed; she is a human rights expert and will be the first woman to hold the post.

President Moon has made some other unexpected appointments. Decorated military officer Pi Woo-jin, who counts “ROK military’s first female helicopter pilot” among her achievements, was named as Minister of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (MPVA), a post that has been traditionally given to retired generals. Pi, who appeared alongside Moon in Gwangju on May 18, will also be the first woman to lead the MPVA.

Another notable nominee is Yoon Seok-yeol, whom Moon appointed to head Seoul Prosecutor’s Office. Yoon is considered to be something of a maverick within South Korea’s overweeningly powerful legal apparatus. He received nationwide attention when he criticized his superior for interfering in an inquiry into the possibility that the South Korean state intelligence agency sought to influence the 2012 Presidential Election. Although the media calls Moon’s appointments shocking, they are not surprising in the sense that they reflect his, and importantly the electorate’s, thirst for political reform.

Analysts claim that the Moon administration has reduced the role of officials with military backgrounds in the national security architecture of government, whilst raising the importance of diplomats in their stead. The move is posited as in contrast with the administration of Park Geun-hye, who chose military men like the resolute Kim Kwang-jin to run her National Security Office. According to Moon, the old approach was an outcome of regarding national security and national defense as essentially isomorphic, whereas his view is that the role of diplomacy is greater than the role of military power under present circumstances. Moon cited the North Korean nuclear question, THAAD, and the US-ROK alliance as all issues that need to be dealt with from a holistic perspective that encompasses economic, diplomatic and military considerations, not just the latter.

Moon’s pick to become South Korea’s third head of the National Security Office is therefore Jung Ui-yong, a seasoned diplomat with stints in Bangkok, Geneva, Tel Aviv and Washington, DC all under his belt, as well as work with a number of international organizations. Moon made his national security move after disparaging media coverage of a meeting of his National Security Council following the May 14 North Korean missile test (which was deemed a noteworthy success by military analysts). It was widely pointed out at the time that Moon’s entire national security team was in fact made up of people who had been chosen by his impeached predecessor.

After Moon Jae-in announced special envoys to China, Russia, US and Japan, Joongang Ilbo published a column calling for the new administration to pick a special envoy for ASEAN. The column criticized the fact that South Korea constantly overlooks the region — and its leading multilateral institution — despite its importance. Moreover, during the presidential campaign Moon had promised that he would upgrade South Korea’s relationship with ASEAN to the level of its relationships with China, Russia, US and Japan. Doing so would make sense as ASEAN nations form an important trading bloc for South Korea and there are growing people-to-people connections as well.

On May 19, President Moon made his move by appointing Seoul City Mayor Park Won-soon to the post. As special envoy, Mayor Park will visit the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. Park is suited to the post to the extent that he has put a lot of effort into networking with ASEAN nations, and his interest in ASEAN — plus President Moon’s desire to have a close relationship with Southeast Asia in general — may have been the reason behind the appointment.

It is likely that people will hear more about Park under Moon’s administration because Seoul City seems to have acquired an influence position inside the Blue House. Recent staffing of the presidential office shows that Moon is happy to hire people close to Mayor Park. Most notable is Moon’s chief of staff, the controversial Im Jong-seok, but a further three senior secretaries to President Moon have also previously worked for the city under the mayor. However, it appears that there is no back-room deal between two of the country’s most powerful political figures. it also shouldn’t come as a surprise. During the election, Moon publicly stated that he would work with the mayor. Also, Park is extremely popular and Moon is of course happy to use that to his advantage.