Trade Wars and Hot Wars: #Shigak no. 51

By | August 08, 2017 | No Comments

A US Army THAAD missile interceptor being tested. THAAD was initially developed as a response to Scud missiles | Image: Wikimedia Commons

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.

Trade Wars and Hot Wars: #Shigak no. 51

by Sino-NK

This installment of #Shigak explores the two most popular political stories from the conservative and progressive Twittersphere between July 28 and August 4. For the right, that means the reappointment of a former trade minister to his old post, while the left hones in on some rather callous comments about the deaths of thousands of (presumably) Koreans by a US senator during a morning television show interview in the United States. President Moon Jae-in’s newly minted war on real estate speculation did not put much of a dent in the Twitter retweet count this week (although the word for “real estate” (부동산) was frequently used by the tweeting media), but is likely to surface as a key issue in later editions of #Shigak.

The stories were selected by totaling the number of retweets and favorites from the two most prominent conservative and progressive dailies.1)The Chosun Ilbo and Donga Ilbo are counted as conservative. The Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang Sinmun are considered progressive. The stories with the greatest number of total retweets and favorites are reported here. Included at the bottom are are graphs showing the most prominent words from both sides during the period under consideration.2)The interactive graphs were created in Google Sheets by Steven Denney using data called from Twitter in RStudio using the “twitteR” package. “Noise,” defined here as unintelligible findings and redundancies, were removed from the data.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham went on the NBC Today Show on the morning of August 1 to discuss the future direction of US-DPRK relations. There, he reaffirmed President Donald Trump’s assertion that he is not going to sit idly by and allow North Korea to deploy a nuclear-capable ICBM that can hit the US. Avoiding the deployment of such a weapon, Graham said, citing Trump, could well mean military action to destroy both North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and, in the process, “North Korea itself.” It was some of the more aggressive rhetoric to emerge from the US side in the aftermath of North Korea’s second ICBM test at the end of July.

Among Graham’s comments, the one that attracted the most attention in South Korea was when he declared, attributing to President Trump an apparent disregard for the lives of anyone in or near Korea, that if there is “going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong-un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they are going to die over there, they are not going to die here. He’s told me that to my face.”

Graham sought to downplay the comments, pointing out that the job for which Trump was elected involves protecting the United States and its people from external enemies, even if that comes at the expense of lives elsewhere. Accepting the logic of the international system of nation-states, he’s correct (although that does also mean discounting the fates of tens of thousands of American citizens who currently live and work in Korea and surrounding countries). However, even though there is a certain logic to Trump’s comments, that does not mean it was smart to say them publicly, as shown in the resulting anger in South Korea. Overall, but especially when taken in isolation, Trump comes across as callously indifferent to the lives of non-Americans. Plenty of people worldwide are ready to believe that this is exactly how the United States government generally feels, including thousands of Twitter users on the South Korean left.

As the renegotiation of the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) looms, President Moon Jae-in appointed Kim Hyun-chong to his previous role of trade minister, reports the Joongang Ilbo. Kim had served as trade minister under President Roh Moo-hyun and was a major player in negotiating the original KORUS FTA. In addition to this appointment, the president revived the position of trade minister, which was established in 1998 but downgraded in 2013 to the vice ministerial level.

On a number of occasions, President Donald Trump denounced the KORUS FTA as a disastrous deal for America, promising to renegotiate it. It appears the US is indeed inching towards the renegotiation process. Kim’s appointment as a chief trade negotiator can be interpreted as an anticipatory move, indicating that President Moon will aggressively protect South Korea’s export driven economy. From 2004 and 2007, Kim was involved in FTA negotiations with 45 different countries. In his swearing-in speech, Kim called for the country to “abandon a goalkeeper mind-set,” indicating that South Korea would take a more proactive approach to trade.

Not everyone is welcoming of the president’s latest appointment. A Korea Times editorial called Kim a “recycled minister,” and South Korea’s agricultural organizations have asked the government to retract the appointment. The People’s Party chipped in criticism, mocking the administration for having a small pool of talent to draw from.


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1. The Chosun Ilbo and Donga Ilbo are counted as conservative. The Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang Sinmun are considered progressive.
2. The interactive graphs were created in Google Sheets by Steven Denney using data called from Twitter in RStudio using the “twitteR” package. “Noise,” defined here as unintelligible findings and redundancies, were removed from the data.