Conditions for Dialogue: #Shigak no. 45

By | June 16, 2017 | No Comments

On June 9, 1987 Lee Han-yeol was fatally wounded by a tear gas canister at Yonsei University during a pro-democracy protest. The image (above) from the Kyunghyang newspaper shows a stylized photograph of Lee being driven in a march to mark the  anniversary of the June struggle for democracy. | Image: Sino-NK

On April 2, Sino-NK began a series 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 embarks on the politically all-important first one hundred days in office. 

“Shigak” (시각), or “perspective” uses Twitter to curate sources on the key determinants of the election outcome. 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.

Conditions for Dialogue: #Shigak no. 45

by Sino-NK

This installment of #Shigak looks at the conditions set by President Moon for the resumption of North-South dialogue during a recent speech to commemorate the 17th anniversary of the North-South Joint Declaration, recent North Korean defections, and the ongoing legislative battle over Moon’s nominee to lead the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Thursday, June 15 marked the 17 anniversary of the signing of the North–South Joint Declaration. At a conference hosted to commemorate the event at the iconic 63 Building (63빌딩) in downtown Seoul, President Moon Jae-in delivered a speech in which he emphasized the importance of North-South dialogue in today’s security environment, reports the Hankyoreh (tweet #1). Moon announced that if North Korea stops further nuclear and missile provocations, his government is willing to restart dialogue.

Earlier this month, four North Korean fishermen were rescued by South Korea’s coastguard after drifting south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL). Two of those rescued were repatriated upon request, but the other two announced their wish to defect; the Moon government intends to grant them stay (tweet #2). In a more recent case, a North Korean soldier defected by crossing the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), which runs across the DMZ. The North Korean government will likely push to have the fishermen and soldier back. North Korea regularly accuses South Korea of kidnapping North Korean citizens, or tricking them into defecting.

As President Moon attempts to steer South Korea towards a warmer relationship with the North, one of the challenges will be addressing the tension created by his government’s concern for human rights and a desire to improve diplomatic relations with North Korea. President Moon’s recent appointments to the Ministry of National Unification (MOU) and National Intelligence Service (NIS) indicate the new administration wants to change its relationship with North Korea. Both nominees, Cho Myung-gyun and Seo Hoon, played leading roles in the 2007 North-South Summit. The MOU and NIS play an integral role in determining South Korea’s North Korea policy.

Though it will be hard for the minor People’s Party to survive as an independent political force over the long term, the party has for the time being “found its political identity,” as this article puts it, in the interstitial space between the two main parties. Its bloc of forty lawmakers holds the casting vote over President Moon Jae-in’s ministerial picks. On May 31, it was they who supplied support for the confirmation of Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon over the objections of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, which was reduced to abandoning the chamber in protest.

The party has shown its teeth over Moon’s pick for foreign minister, Kang Kyung-hwa. In a commentary reported by the Hankyoreh on June 10 (tweet #1), People’s Party floor leader Choe Myung-gil maintained his party’s objection to Kang, saying that Moon ought to withdraw her candidacy and “promptly select a candidate who is well prepared [for the role].” Choe dismissed out of hand the Blue House’s argument that Kang should be accepted by the legislature in advance of the US-ROK summit at the end of June, pointing out that it is perfectly acceptable for a senior vice-minister to deputize.

Opposition to Kang may seem inexplicable at first glance; a former interpreter for Kim Dae-jung, she has worked in various posts at the UN since 2006 and has an excellent reputation abroad. However, she also violates Moon’s self-imposed five principles for ministerial nominees, having falsified her residential address in the past for the purpose of getting her daughter into a specific high school. She then lied about it, a fact that the conservative Liberty Korea Party has since been keen to emphasize.

Moon can force through Kang’s appointment in the face of National Assembly opposition, as he did on June 13 with Kim Sang-jo, who now heads the Fair Trade Commission, but doing so costs scarce political capital. Public support for pushing Kim’s appointment through gave Moon the cover he needed to take the controversial step. The Hankyoreh reported on June 15 that Moon intends to see Kang through (tweet #2). Therefore, Kang will likely be appointed regardless, increasing tension between president and legislature.

June is the month for remembering South Korea’s successful democratization process. It was June 9, 1987 when Lee Han-yeol was killed by a tear gas canister at Yonsei University. It was a day later on June 10 when the Democratic Justice Party, the political vehicle for the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship, nominated Roh Tae-woo for president. That was also the first day of a series of consecutive mass protests all across South Korea. They lasted for more than two weeks, ending on June 29 with the Chun regime acceding to the main demands of the protesters. 2017 marks the 30th anniversary of these historic events.