Asan Korea Perspective

ROK-US Relations

On Jan 31, The US Secretary of Defense (SecDef) James Mattis spoke with ROK Defense Minister Han Min-koo on the phone and shared their assessments about security in Northeast Asia. They also committed to strengthening the two countries’ response capabilities against North Korea’s nuclear threat.1 A few days later, SecDef Mattis flew to Seoul to meet with Defense Minister Han, Prime Minister (PM) and Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se, and Blue House National Security Chief Kim Kwan-jin2.

There was significant media coverage in Korea on the Secretary’s visit since this was the first regional visit by a high-ranking cabinet member of the Trump administration. Many Koreans, including government officials, saw it as a symbolic gesture by the US3 to reaffirm the importance of the alliance while sending a strong message to North Korea and China.

In his meetings, SecDef Mattis assured Koreans that the ROK-US alliance and North Korea’s nuclear threat remain top priorities for President Trump.4 He also confirmed that THAAD deployment was on schedule.5 At the same time, he stated that the North Korean threat was the only reason for deploying this system to the peninsula.6 He also warned that any attack on the US or its allies would be met with an “effective and overwhelming” response.7

In his meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Yun, SecDef Mattis stated that the US and its allies must convince China that North Korea is a “liability, not an asset.” Furthermore, he asked Minister Yun to identify areas in which the US could sanction China.8

DPRK’s First Test Against Trump

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the East Sea on Feb 12.9 This is the first test of this kind since the inauguration of the Trump administration. The missile is considered to be a mid-range Musudan-type. But North Korea calls it the Pukguksung-2, which is reportedly capable of delivering a nuclear warhead10. Blue House National Security Chief Kim and the US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn immediately exchanged a phone call in which both sides agreed to explore all deterence options against North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.11 The Blue House also condemned the missile test and warned North Korea that it will “cease to exist if it does not abandon its missile program.”12

2017 Presidential Election

Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, one of the favorites in the upcoming president election, withdrew his candidacy on Feb 1. During the press conference, he pointed to the scathing attacks on his personal character and his family among his reasons for the withdrawal.13 Until this announcement, Mr. Ban was widely considered to be the leading candidate from the conservative side, only second in public support behind Mr. Moon Jae-in. Ban’s withdrawal leaves the conservative side without a clear leading candidate.

Presidential Candidates So Far1416

Tab1.Presidential Candidates So Far

Many observers point out that the Freedom Korea Party (formerly Saenuri or the New Frontier Party) may have as many as nine candidates.17 The candidate that appears to have benefited the most from Ban’s withdrawal is PM Hwang Kyo-ahn, who now leads the conservative candidates in public opinion polls and ranks third overall behind Moon Jae-in and Ahn Hee-jung.18 However, PM Hwang has yet to make a formal announcement and has received some criticism for not making his intentions clear.19

Performance as Acting President20

Tab2.Performance as Acting President

Yoo Seong-min, the former anti-Park member of the Saenuri Party and candidate from the Righteous Party, is also being discussed as a leading conservative candidate. However, he is rather unpopular among older voters, who are extremely conservative and pro-Park.

Moon Jae-in continues to lead the progressive side, although Ahn Hee-jung is catching up very quickly. Ahn is now the second overall favorite according to the most recent poll. The Together Democratic Party is expected to have narrowed down the field by the time the Constitutional Court is expected to issue a ruling on President Park’s impeachment.21

There are two dark horses on the progressive side, with Kim Jong-in waiting in the wings22 and Sohn Hak-kyu joining the People’s Party to compete with Ahn Cheol-soo.23

Presidential Candidate Approval Ratings24, 25

Tab3.Presidential Candidate Approval Ratings

President Park Geun-hye’s Impeachment26

Tab4.President Park Geun-hye’s Impeachment

Party Approval Ratings27, 28

Tab5.Party Approval Ratings

Constitutional Court and Special Prosecutors

The Constitutional Court (CC) asked the National Assembly and President Park Geun-hye’s attorneys to submit the final statement by Feb 23, a day after the final deposition.29 This suggests a strong likelihood that the court will reach a decision before Mar 13. President Park may possibly appear before the CC to defend herself.30 If so, the National Assembly impeachment committee has asked the court to have Madam Park express her intent to do so by Feb 14.31

The Special Prosecutors (SP) indicted Kim Gi-chun (former presidential advisor) and Cho Yun-sun (Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism) but fell short of interviewing Park and searching the Blue House. The interview was scheduled for Feb 9, but Park cancelled the meeting.32 It is not clear whether Madam Park will agree to another interview. Meanwhile Choi Soon-sil voluntarily appeared before the SP to address the bribery charge. Many observers accused Choi of collecting information for Madam Park since she was largely silent for the duration of the interview.33 Meanwhile, Lee Jae-yong (Samsung Electronics) was summoned by the SP on Feb 13. Reports suggest that the SP has a critical witness to prove its allegation and will request for another arrest warrant for Mr. Lee on Feb 15.34

The SP is considering whether to extend the investigation, which is set to expire on Feb 28.35 If the SP chooses to do so, the extension request must be filed before Feb 25 to the PM Hwang’s office. The three opposing parties agreed to revise the current SP Act to extend the period from 70 days to 120 days in case Hwang disapproves the SP’s extension motion.36

The Federation of Korean Industries

Samsung officially withdrew its membership from the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI).37 As of today, LG is no longer a member and SK has stopped all fee payments. Hyundai Motors is also expected to follow suit. The four largest corporations accounted for approximately 77% of the annual membership revenue. The FKI is said to be having difficulties finding the next president. Without its largest paying members, the FKI is facing an existential crisis.38

Contributing Staff(in alphabetical order): Han Minjeong, John J. Lee
Editor:J. James Kim

  • 1.

    “한민구 국방장관, 매티스 미 국방과 통화 ‘강력한 대북 메시지 전하는 계기 될 것’,” 중앙일보, 2017년 1월 31일.

  • 2.

    “매티스 美 국방장관, 다음달 2일 방한…한미 국방장관회담 갖는다,” 중앙일보, 2017년 1월 31일.

  • 3.

    “매티스, 첫 방문국은 한국 … 북핵 중국 동시 견제 포석,” 중앙일보, 2017년 2월 1일.

  • 4.

    “매티스 美 국방장관 ‘트럼프, 한·미동맹 최우선 생각’,” 중앙일보, 2017년 2월 2일.

  • 5.

    “매티스-황교안 ‘사드 배치 계획대로 추진’,” 한겨레, 2017년 2월 2일.

  • 6.

    “매티스 ‘사드배치 유일한 이유는 북 미사일’,” 동아일보, 2017년 2월 3일.

  • 7.

    “한민구 만난 매티스 ‘북핵 등에 압도적 대응할 것,” 한겨레, 2017년 2월 3일.

  • 8.

    “매티스 ‘중국이 北을 자산 아닌 부담으로 느끼게 하겠다’,” 조선일보, 2017년 2월 7일.

  • 9.

    “軍 ‘북한 동해상으로 미사일 발사, 트럼프 행정부 겨냥한 무력시위 가능성’,” 동아일보, 2017년 2월 12일.

  • 10.

    “북한 ‘중장거리 탄도미사일 ‘북극성 2형’ 시험 발사 성공…새 전략무기체계’,” 동아일보, 2017년 2월 13일.

  • 11.

    “美 플린-김관진, 전화 통화 …북한 미사일 대책 논의,” 동아일보, 2017년 2월 12일.

  • 12.

    “정부 ‘북한, 핵 포기 않으면 생존 못하게 만들겠다’…규탄 성명 발표,” 동아일보, 2017년 2월 12일.

  • 13.

    “반기문, 대선 불출마 전격 선언 … ‘순수한 뜻 접겠다’,” 동아일보, 2017년 2월 1일.

  • 14.

    “與 원유철, 6일 대선 출마 공식 선언 … ‘든든한 대통령 되겠다’,” 동아일보, 2017년 2월 3일.

  • 15.

    “원유철 안상수, 대선 출마 선언 … 새누리서만 9명 나오나,” 조선일보, 2017년 2월 7일.

  • 16.

    “안철수 손잡은 손학규 … 대선구도 재편 급류,” 한겨레, 2017년 2월 7일.

  • 17.

    “원유철·안상수, 대선 출마 선언… 새누리서만 9명 나오나,” 조선일보, 2017년 2월 7일.

  • 18.

    “황교안, 반 지지율 흡수하나…대선 지지율 3위 ‘껑충’,” 중앙일보, 2017년 2월 2일.

  • 19.

    “야당 ‘황교안 출마하나” 30차례 추궁 … 황 대행 “지금 업무에 최선’ 비켜가,” 중앙일보, 2017년 2월 11일.

  • 20.

    Gallup Korea, date: Feb. 07-09; sample size 1,007; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

  • 21.

    “민주당, 내달 13일 대선 후보 결정,” 중앙일보, 2017년 2월 2일.

  • 22.

    “김종인, 대선출마 여부 묻는 질문에 ‘답변 미루겠다’,” 조선일보, 2017년 2월 10일.

  • 23.

    “안철수 손잡은 손학규 … 대선구도 재편 급류,” 한겨레, 2017년 2월 7일.

  • 24.

    Gallup Korea, date: Feb. 01-02; sample size 1,003; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

  • 25.

    Gallup Korea, date: Feb. 07-09; sample size 1,007; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

  • 26.


  • 27.

    Gallup Korea, date: Feb. 01-02; sample size 1,003; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

  • 28.

    Gallup Korea, date: Feb. 07-09; sample size 1,007; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

  • 29.

    “‘23일까지 최종 의견서 내라’ 헌재, 대통령·국회측에 통보,” 조선일보, 2017년 2월 10일.

  • 30.

    “박근혜 대통령, 헌재 최후통첩에 최후진술 검토,” 세계일보, 2017년 2월 9일.

  • 31.


  • 32.


  • 33.

    “특검 ‘자진출석 최순실 묵비권…질문에만 관심’,” 한겨레, 2017년 2월 9일.

  • 34.

    “[단독]특검, 이재용 15일께 재영장 방침…“최순실이 합병 도와” 진술 확보,” 한겨레, 2017년 2월 13일

  • 35.

    “특검, 수사기간 연장 신청 방침… 탄핵심판 시기도 고려,” 한국일보, 2017년 2월 7일.

  • 36.

    “‘특검 연장’ 카드 꺼내든 3野,” 조선일보, 2017년 2월 10일.

  • 37.

    “삼성그룹도 탈퇴…무너지는 전경련,” 한겨레, 2017년 2월 6일.

  • 38.

    “전경련 창립멤버이자 최대 물주인 삼성 탈퇴원 제출…해체 가속화하나,” 한국일보, 2017년 2월 6일.