Tag Archive | "elections"

Where do Biden and Trump Voters Stand on U.S.-Korea relations?

By Juni Kim

Next week’s U.S. presidential election has, to put it mildly, significant implications for the future of U.S.-Korea relations. The Trump administration’s aggressive approach to rethinking U.S. alliances has unnerved longstanding allies like South Korea. The last four years saw the renegotiation of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, U.S. demands for South Korea to pay more for military costs, and Trump’s push for withdrawing U.S. troops stationed abroad. Stalled peace talks with North Korea also underline the continuing danger of North Korea’s increasingly capable missile and nuclear arsenal.

To understand where American voters stand on important issues on U.S.-Korea relations, KEI commissioned a study by YouGov that surveyed 1,064 American adults on August 26th to the 31st. Respondents were asked both who they voted for in the 2016 presidential election and who they would likely vote for in next week’s election. The results show that despite a split response among likely Biden and Trump voters on approving the Trump administration’s overall handling of South Korea and North Korea, there is clear agreement by American voters on specific policy issues like North Korea’s denuclearization and stationing U.S. troops in South Korea.

When asked on approving or disapproving of the current administration’s handling of relations with North Korea, 70% of likely Biden voters predictably disapproved while 69% of likely Trump approved. The split is similar for respondents who voted in the 2016 presidential election, with 72% of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton voters who disapproved and 74% of 2016 Trump voters who approved. On approving or disapproving of the administration’s handling of relations with South Korea, 22% of likely Biden voters approved and 65% of likely Trump voters approved.

Despite the wide split on the administration’s overall approach to North Korea and South Korea, U.S. voters generally agree on how important it is for North Korea to give up is nuclear arsenal. Likely Biden and Trump voters responded nearly identically with 89% and 88% respectively believing it is very important or important. There is some divergence when voters were asked about the U.S. providing humanitarian assistance to North Korean citizens. More likely Biden voters (60%) are in favor of providing assistance than likely Trump voters (47%), though there are still more Trump voters approving of assistance than disapproving (25%).

U.S. voters also show general agreement on the benefits of U.S.-South Korea trade, the U.S.-South Korea military alliance, and support for U.S. troop presence in South Korea. 74% of likely Biden voters and 67% of likely Trump voters believe that U.S. trade with South Korea is beneficial for the United States, and 68% of both sets of voters believe the U.S.-South Korea military alliance is in U.S. national security interests. Despite Trump’s critical view of U.S. troop presence abroad, including in South Korea, more likely Trump voters (66%) are in favor of maintaining or increasing troop presence in South Korea than likely Biden voters (59%).

Even in the current divisive political climate, the results reflect an understanding by Americans regardless of voter preference of the importance of the U.S. commitment to South Korea and the seriousness of the North Korean threat. While voters may be divided on Trump’s own performance, the public consensus should be noted by the next administration and how it approaches relations to the Korean peninsula.

Juni Kim is the Senior Manager for Operations and Technology at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Graphics created by Juni Kim. Cover image created by Juin Kim from photos on Gage Skidmore’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Impact of COVID-19 on the South Korean National Assembly Election

By Sang Kim

Campaign trucks with large displays of candidates’ photos and designated numbers playing loud music accompanied by choreographed dance is a common scene during South Korea’s election season. However, with the global pandemic impacting every aspect of our lives, we are seeing different campaign scenes ahead of the April 15 National Assembly election.

In efforts to limit the spread of the virus and flatten the curve, large social events and gatherings have been canceled in South Korea. After vigorous testing and treatment, the number of new confirmed cases per day has declined but the government recently urged the public to continue high-level social distancing for two additional weeks to prevent clusters of cases. Amidst combating the outbreak, South Korea will hold its 21st National Assembly election next week. This coming election is crucial for President Moon Jae-in and South Korean politics in general as all 300 seats in the National Assembly are up for grabs. However, COVID-19 will impose tough logistical challenges to how the election will be administered for both the candidates and voters.


The Korean National Election Commission (NEC) allows only 13 days for candidates to campaign before the election. With social distancing and bans on large gatherings, candidates have limited options for their campaigns. The Director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged candidates to keep the 2m (6ft) distance from others on campaign trails and avoid hand-shakes, even fist bumps as any direct contact can spread the virus.

Candidates are wearing masks and gloves while campaigning cautiously on the streets. There is no loud music and dancing as the country is fighting an outbreak. Since gathering indoors is prohibited, they are expanding their field operation to target outdoor areas such as the local markets, parks and busy intersections. Despite the government’s advisory, some are still spotted standing close to each other, occasionally without face masks, shaking hands with their constituents and even hugging. Some have taken creative approaches to grab the public’s attention such as marching the street on a horseback and in dinosaur suits.

Because of limited face-to-face interaction with constituents, candidates have no choice but to rely heavily on digital campaigns. Through YouTube channels, blogs, Facebook and other social media platforms, candidates are vigorously posting videos and content to get their messages out.

This unprecedented limitation on campaigning is especially detrimental to new candidates and small minority parties with less name recognition as they compete against incumbents or well-known opponents. Voters who are not active online or follow certain candidates could miss out on campaign information. This also implies that voters will have to do an active search for information about the candidates and political parties before they head to the booth this year. They will be presented with an unprecedented 48.1 cm long (19 inches) paper ballot with 35 political parties to choose from.


The most important of all is the logistics of how South Koreans will vote across 14,300 polling booths during a pandemic. For voters’ safety, the NEC has announced the new guidelines for all voters to follow. They are required to wear face masks to their polling locations and will get their temperatures checked at the entrance. Hand sanitizer and disposable gloves will be available at the booth and the facility will be disinfected regularly. Anyone with a temperature above 37.5 °C (99.5 °F) or has respiratory symptoms will be taken to a separate booth in the designated area.

COVID-19 patients and medical professionals at hospitals and treatment centers will be able to vote at one of the eight special facilities if they have not applied for a mail-in ballot by March 28 deadline. The bigger question lies ahead for more than 46,000 people who are under self-quarantine. This includes people who have tested positive with mild or no symptoms, had any potential contact with confirmed patients or recently returned from overseas. Quarantine authorities estimate that this number could go up to 75,000 by Election Day.

The government is trying to find a delicate balance between guaranteeing voting rights and preventing the spread of infection. The NEC and related government agencies are considering a temporary exemption to allow them to cast ballots during designated times. As the early voting begins this Friday, NEC is expected to make an announcement very soon.

There are two other groups of voters that are heavily affected by COVID-19. First, over 87,200 overseas voters, more than 50% of the registered overseas voters worldwide, were not able to cast their ballots last week. Due to the global pandemic, 91 missions abroad have suspended voting while 36 missions have either shortened the voting period or the number of polling places. This year recorded the lowest voting percentage, 23.8 percent,  since the overseas voting started in 2012. As overseas voters only vote on the political parties, this could have an impact on the overall party divide.

Another group of voters impacted by COVID-19 is the newest group of voters, the 18-years-olds. After decades of heated political debates, the voting age in South Korea was finally lowered to 18 through a controversial electoral reform in December 2019. There are over 520,000 18-year-old voters, which  counts for about 1.1 % of overall eligible voters. It may not seem like a large number but this is a historic moment for these younger voters  who now have the opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

Unfortunately, with the pandemic disrupting the school system, the new group of voters, especially around 140,000 who are high school seniors, is not receiving the proper voter education as initially planned. As the spring semester begins online on April 9, there is a time limitation on how much election education schools can provide before April 15. This year has been especially stressful for high school seniors as their exams and the College Scholastic Ability Test have been postponed. It is uncertain whether they will be fully prepared for the election or have enough interest to head to the polling next week.

Despite the multiple challenges ahead, NEC reports that more voters are willing to vote this year compared to the last parliamentary election. Out of 1,500 eligible voters surveyed, over 72 percent of them are willing to vote next week. However, with new cases of COVID-19 occurring every day and the number of people under self-quarantine increasing, it will be hard to predict the voter turnout on Election Day. The 2020 National Assembly election will be an all-around unusual and difficult one for the government, candidates and the voters. Many countries will be paying close attention to next week’s election as they also struggle to find a balance between civil rights and public health.

Sang Kim is the Director of Public Affairs & Intern Coordinator at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Role of Coronavirus Overstated in General Elections?

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating fell 5% between mid-January and the final week of February, according to Gallup.
  • Conservative politicians have criticized Moon’s handling of the epidemic since the initial stages of the outbreak.
  • A poll by Hankook Research revealed that 50% of constituents identifying as centrists disapprove of the government response to COVID-19.

Implications: While President Moon Jae-in’s approval ratings have fallen in the past 6 weeks, the impact of the coronavirus on people’s confidence in the government may be overstated. President Moon’s approval rating fell from 47% in the second week of January (before the first confirmed coronavirus case in South Korea) to 42% in the final week of February as the number of coronavirus patients grew to nearly 3,000. However, Moon’s approval ratings have been fluctuating between 39% and 49% since October 2019. Although additional polling suggests that the government’s handling of the outbreak may affect the voting behavior of some cohorts in the upcoming general election, Korean presidents commonly head into legislative elections with falling approval ratings.

Context: Fluctuating approval ratings of previous administrations suggest that public health crises may have less impact on voter sentiment than analysts assume. For example, President Lee Myung-bak faced the H1N1 outbreak in 2009-2010, which infected 700,000 Koreans and killed 260. Despite the high rate of infection, Lee’s approval rating grew to 54% during the height of the epidemic and still enjoyed 48% support by the time the outbreak was declared over in April 2010.

It is also true that every preceding South Korean presidential administration experienced a natural erosion of public support. About a month before the 2012 legislative elections, President Lee’s approval rating stood at a mere 26% – a shadow of President Moon’s current 42%, one month before elections on April 15, 2020. As KEI’s Junil Kim noted in a previous blog article, every South Korean president sees their ratings continue to fall as their term continues. In that sense, President Moon is actually playing with an advantage, having entered office in 2017 with historically high approval ratings.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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A New Milestone in Advocacy for Defector Community

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • On February 18, a group of North Korean defectors formed a political party called the South-North Unification Party.
  • The Unification Ministry recently announced plans to provide greater support for North Korean defectors.
  • According to the Unification Ministry, the average monthly income among North Korean defectors living in South Korea exceeded $1,681 for the first time in 2019.

Implications: Direct participation in electoral politics by people who escaped to South Korea from the North suggests that Seoul’s effort to integrate the defector community into society is delivering results. If the South-North Unification Party is able to send a delegate to the National Assembly in April, it would be a major milestone as only one North Korean defector has ever served in South Korea’s legislature to-date. Political mobilization by the community parallels improvements in living standards for North Korean defectors who have benefited from the steady expansion of services under successive administrations. The launch of this new political party shows that the community feels sufficiently assimilated to participate in policy discourse – albeit their campaigns spotlighting areas where the community has experienced persistent discrimination.

Context: As of December 2019, there were 33,523 North Korean defectors in South Korea. Annual surveys by Korea Hana Foundation showed that the quality of life for North Korean defectors has improved over the past decade. For instance, the number of respondents who said they were satisfied with their lives in South Korea rose from 67.3% in 2012 to 72.5% in 2018. The employment rate increased from 48.3% in 2012 to 60.4% in 2018. School dropout rates also decreased from 10.8% in 2008 to 2% in 2017.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from RFA by 서재덕

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Opposition Party’s Unorthodox Strategy Lost Amidst Virus Concerns

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • Despite criticism from the ruling Minjoo Party and the minority Justice Party, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) launched a satellite party to gain more proportional seats in the upcoming legislative election.
  • The LKP has also criticized the government’s decision to deploy USD 300,000 of medical supplies to some affected cities in China.
  • Neither of these actions appear to have advanced the opposition party in the polls. For instance, only 43.9 percent of LKP supporters who were surveyed supported the launch of the satellite party.

Implications: While South Korean legislative elections are usually determined by the public’s outlook on political issues (such as the fairness of a party’s primary system), the coronavirus has shifted the focus for the upcoming contest to the government’s handling of the ongoing public health threat. This may deflect some criticism from the LKP, which has launched a satellite party to win more proportional seats in the National Assembly – a move that has proven unpopular with both the general electorate and party supporters. Simultaneously, the LKP’s critique of the Moon administration’s decision to send medical supplies to China does not appear to resonate with the average citizenry.

Context: The LKP is in a defensive position after back-to-back losses in the 2017 presidential election and the 2018 by-elections. The opposition party has ceded several key legislation to the ruling Minjoo party in the past few months, including the new budget and new rules lowering the voting age. The ruling party also faces the difficult task of overcoming a field crowded by both liberal and conservative splinter parties and securing a majority in the 300-seat chamber. The consequence of not securing a majority of seats would be greater challenges to President Moon Jae-in passing key bills that are central to his platform in the remaining 2 years of his term in the Blue House.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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10 Issues to Watch for on the Korean Peninsula in 2020

By Kyle Ferrier, Sang Kim, Yong Kwon, and Troy Stangarone

After the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore, 2019 was supposed to be the year that the United States and North Korea worked out a deal to begin dismantling its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. It was not to be. The talks fell apart at the Hanoi summit, dashing hopes for increased inter-Korean cooperation, and the process never got back on track.

The breakdown of U.S.-North Korea talks, however, wasn’t the only major relationship to face trouble in 2019. South Korea’s relations with Japan hit a low point as Tokyo surprised everyone by placing national security restrictions on three key chemicals for the production of semiconductors, threatening South Korea’s most important export industry.

South Korea’s economy also took a hit. The trade tensions with Japan, in combination with the U.S.-China trade war, already slowing exports of semiconductors, and slowing global growth, resulted in South Korea’s lowest level of GDP growth since the Global Financial Crisis.

As we look forward to the rest of 2020, there will be significant focus on developments with North Korea and South Korea’s relationship with Japan. Political change could be in the offing as well, as elections are set for the National Assembly and the presidency in the United States. But domestic issues dealing with the elderly and South Korea’s declining fertility rate will also be in focus.

With that in mind, here are 10 issues related to North Korea, South Korean politics, and U.S.-Korea relations to follow that will have an impact on the Korean peninsula in the year to come:

Efforts to Denuclearize North Korea

Despite realizing the first ever U.S.-North Korea summit meeting in 2018, talks between the United States and North Korea largely came to a halt last year. The question for 2019 is what comes next in U.S.-North Korea relations. With Pyongyang announcing that it no longer feels bound by its prior pledges not to conduct nuclear weapons or ballistic missile tests, there are concerns that the Korean Peninsula may return to the “fire and fury” period of 2017.  Alternatively, North Korea could attempt to return to talks with the United States and to strike a deal prior to the 2020 presidential election. However, the North Korean leadership likely recognize that any attempts to negotiate deal could be undone by a change in administrations in the United States.

More likely, North Korea will continue to increase its stockpile of weapons and engage in efforts to advance its weapons technology, while avoiding the types of tests that might force the international community to tighten the sanctions on its economy. In the absence of a provocative test by North Korea, another issue to watch will be how well the sanctions regime will hold. Russia and China have already signaled that they may have a waning patience for sanctions.

Reaching an Agreement on U.S.-Korea Military Burden Sharing

Contentious negotiations between Seoul and Washington on a new Special Measures Agreement (SMA) – determining how much South Korea contributes to hosting U.S. military forces – have unsurprisingly lapsed their December 31 deadline. The Trump administration’s call for Seoul to increase its 1.02 trillion won contribution by 400% caused a stir among South Koreans in the second half of last year. The sheer size of the proposed jump seemed to suggest that the U.S. underappreciated their country’s support for the alliance and led many to question the nature of the relationship. Talks are set to resume this month, but it’s unclear in what direction they are heading. In late December the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported Washington’s asking price had dropped to only a 10-20% increase, which U.S. officials later denied.

The conditions of a new SMA could have significant implications for the alliance, though there are still many unanswered questions. Other than the amount, the other significant aspect to follow is duration. If the U.S. again pushes for a one-year deal – rather than the multi-year agreements that both sides usually agreed to prior to the Trump administration – it could be a big gamble for South Korea given the U.S. presidential election in November. Since Trump himself is by all accounts driving the U.S. position, if he were to lose his re-election campaign then his Democratic opponent would be much less likely to pursue such a hardline stance. However, should Seoul and Washington strike a one-year deal and Trump wins in November, the new SMA talks could be even more of a challenge to the alliance than they have been recently.

Revitalizing the South Korean Economy

The South Korean economy is in the doldrums. GDP is expected to have only grown by 2 percent last year, the lowest since the wake of the global financial crisis in 2009. Even if the government were to hit its 2.4 percent growth target – which many see as too ambitious – it would mark the first time since at least 1954 that the country recorded back-to-back years of lower than 2.5 percent growth.

Getting the economy back on track is among President Moon’s highest priorities for this year. Though the administration’s “income-led” growth policies have produced limited results so far, the Blue House will amplify its efforts this year with new plans for infrastructure, job creation, and social spending. But, the question still remains whether these initiatives will be enough to reinvigorate the economy. Moon’s detractors continue to argue his policies still don’t do enough to account for business interests and are therefore destined to fail. What will likely have a much greater impact on the direction of the South Korean economy this year, however, are major developments abroad. Increased demand for semiconductors and a resolution between Beijing and Washington on trade issues could be a boon for the economy, just as much as further uncertainty could act as a drag.

The Course of South Korea’s Relations with Japan

Last year saw relations between South Korea and Japan hit one of their lowest points since the normalization of relations in 1965. In response to a South Korean Supreme Court’s decision in 2018 that Japanese companies were liable for their use of forced labor during the Second World War, Japan decided in July to place national security restrictions on three key chemicals for the production of semiconductors and later to remove South Korea from its “white list” of trusted exported partners. South Korea responded by removing Japan from its “white list” of trading partners and announcing that it would not renew its military intelligence sharing agreement with Japan – though that has been delayed for the moment.  Despite lower level meetings and a meeting between President Moon and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in late December, South Korea and Japan have been unable to resolve their disputes. The question for 2020 is whether the two sides will be able to find a resolution to their economic and historical disputes that would allow them to improve relations, or whether this could become the new normal.

Can 5G Help Improve the Prospects of South Korea’s Semiconductor Industry?

With Samsung and SK Hynix two of the world’s dominant producers of memory chips, along with the U.S. based Micron, South Korea was well placed to take advantage of the growing demand for memory chips in recent years. In 2017 and 2018, a surge in demand in the semiconductor industry helped to turn memory chips into South Korea’s top export item, accounting for nearly 14 percent of exports in 2018 and up from just 5 percent in 2014. However, the super cycle began coming to an end in the second half of 2018 and sales continued to decline throughout 2019.  The prospects of recovery have been clouded over the last year by Japan’s new export restrictions and the U.S.-China trade war. They have also been hindered by the slower rollout of 5G around the world due to U.S. efforts to convince countries not to use Huawei for their 5G infrastructure. However, there is hope that as 5G comes online in more markets demand for new 5G capable phones, along with the continued growth in data centers, will help to boost the prospects for South Korea’s most important industry.

How the U.S. Presidential Elections Could Impact Policy

Although taking place outside the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. presidential election in November will have a significant impact on the Korean Peninsula. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 brought about a significant shift in how the United States manages its alliances with countries such as South Korea and its policy towards North Korea. The shape of U.S. policy on issues related to burden sharing, trade, and North Korea will likely all depend on whether Trump is able to win reelection. Those policies could all shift if the Democratic nominee or another Republican were to win the White House in 2020 if Trump were removed from office.

Legislative Election in April will likely Shape the Platforms and Outlook of Korea’s Major Parties

In addition to the U.S. presidential election in November, South Korea will hold a critical election in April for all 300 seats in the country’s unicameral legislature. This election will serve as a litmus test for the public’s confidence in the incumbent administration’s direction and determine President Moon Jae-in’s ability to advance policies during his remaining time in office. Taking a broader view, the election is historic because new faces representing new constituents will take their seats in the next legislative session. The National Assembly’s recent decision to lower the voting age from 19 to 18 will bring 530,000 potential new constituents to the polling booth in April. It is unclear yet how this will impact support for either conservative or progressive parties – but this will no doubt impact the platforms of respective parties looking to win the support of this new cohort. This perhaps partly influenced the leading parties’ decision to retire prominent legislators who had long been the face of the political establishment. Examples include former ruling party legislator and presidential chief of staff Im Jong-Seok and former opposition leader Kim Moo-sung. The upcoming general election, therefore, acts as a beginning of a new period for the increasingly assertive National Assembly.

Can South Korea Improve Its Fertility Rate

South Korea faces a demographic crisis. South Koreans are living longer and South Koreans born a decade from now are expected to have among the longest lifespans of any group of people in the world. However, the question facing South Korea is how many children will be born when the country attains this public health success? In 2018, South Korea had a total fertility rate of 0.98, a historic low, and the final data for 2019 is expected to be even lower. Through September of last year, births were down 8.9 percent from 2018. It will take time and significant social change to return to anything close to the number of births that would allow Korea to reach the replacement rate of 2.1, but the key to watch in 2020 is whether South Korea is able to introduce measures to reverse the current trend and return to a total fertility rate of at least 1.0. The odds are likely stacked against it.

Will the Government Comprehensibly Tackle Elderly Poverty?

President Moon Jae-in pledged to improve the social safety net upon his election in 2017. Since then, the South Korean government’s efforts to assist underemployed youths, curb the financial burdens of childcare, and raise the minimum wage have received the most attention from economists and the media. This can be attributed to the expectation that these policies will have the most impact on South Korea’s human capital resources and industrial productivity in the years ahead.

However, the country’s biggest social welfare crisis is elderly poverty. 2017 data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed that 43.8 percent of South Koreans over the age of 65 live in relative poverty (defined as earning 50 percent or less of median household income) – well above the average of 12.5 percent for OECD member countries. This is more than any other country in the 34-country community. While the government does distribute a basic pension to elderly who are in the bottom quintile of income earners, the policy (covering around 35 percent of seniors) provides an insufficient amount to those who qualify and leaves those who do not qualify in a precarious economic position.

Moreover, with the future tax base falling alongside declining birth rates, the National Assembly Budget Office noted that reserves of the National Pension Service will reach zero in 2054.

In response to the crisis, President Moon has pledged to increase the basic pension by nearly 50 percent and double the number of job openings for older workers. However, the challenge is not simply a financial one – reports suggest that many elderly also suffer from loneliness and associated mental health issues. This has manifested in several social challenges, including growing crime rate among elderly and the highest elderly suicide rate among OECD countries. Therefore, resolving the elderly poverty crisis will require a more in-depth solution that incorporates community participation and increased public funding.

How YouTube Shapes Media Consumption in South Korea

In 2019, South Koreans spent more time on YouTube than any other mobile apps.  South Koreans teens spent an average of 42 hours a month watching YouTube videos and people in 20s spent about 31 hours. It is also interesting that people in the 50s and above watch a significant amount of YouTube videos with an average of 20 hours a month, more than people in the 30s and 40s. The number of South Korean smartphone users also hit a record high in 2019, now over 91% of the population own smartphones. People now have instant access to content whenever and wherever compared to traditional cable TVs.

So what are they watching? There is a wide variety of content available for any audience across the age range, from mukbang, music videos, product reviews, kids channel, lectures, cooking, to politics and news. YouTube is not only a source of entertainment but increasingly becoming a resource for self-learning and information. It also became an attractive space where people can create their own content to share with others and even make a profits. Because of the popularity and influence of YouTube, being a YouTube creator made it to the topic 3  dream jobs for South Korean elementary schoolers, followed by athletes and teachers.

Given the wide accessibility and popularity, creating a YouTube channel has been a trending communication strategy for companies and even government agencies to send their message and expand their audience. In 2020, YouTube will continue to influence and impact how South Koreans consume online content and we will see more media content tailored toward YouTube users.

Kyle Ferrier is Fellow and Director of Academic Affairs at the Korea Economic Institute of America, Sang Kim is the Director of Public Affairs and Intern Coordinator, Yong Kwon is the Director of Communications, and Troy Stangarone Senior Director and Fellow. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

Image created by Juni Kim Senior Manager for Operations and Technology at the Korea Economic Institute of America. Image photos from the flickr Creative Commons photostreams of The White House, the Republic of Korea, and the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

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Are Parliamentary Procedures to Blame?

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • Last year, the National Assembly failed to pass several crucial bills – including ones dealing with child safety and police investigation – due to protracted political strife over a handful of controversial bills related to electoral reform and prosecution reform.
  • On January 9, the National Assembly held a plenary session and belatedly approved a total of 198 bills, even though Liberty Korea Party (LKP) delegates refused to take their seats.
  • Prime Minister-designate Chung Sye-Kyun cited a 2012 law – which prevents the fast-tracking of legislation that does not carry support from three-fifths of delegates – as one of the causes of the current dysfunction.

Implications: The National Assembly’s inability to overcome internal gridlock elevated the stakes for the ruling and opposition parties to secure more seats in the upcoming legislative elections in April. If the ruling party gains a majority in the unicameral chamber, it will likely move to make changes to the parliamentary procedure. While the most immediately urgent bills related to pensions, personal data use, and police investigations were finally approved last week, revisions to the legislative rules could help President Moon maximize his ability to enact changes in the remaining two years of his term before the 2022 presidential election.

Context: While the current National Assembly has been criticized for its failure to pass key bills, the gridlock is the result of the legislature’s ongoing effort to grow into a more democratic body. The 2012 ‘National Assembly Advancement Act’ was adopted to prevent any one political party from unilaterally overruling opposition parties with a simple majority. By creating more time and space for dialogue, the reform was also designed to dissuade lawmakers from resorting to physical violence. As part of these changes, it re-introduced the filibuster which had been abolished under authoritarian rule in 1973. These reforms can be seen as part of institutional changes that began with South Korea’s democratic transition in 1987 – and questions about their effectiveness will catalyze discussions that could further strengthen the country’s democratic institutions.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from flickr user Seongbin Im

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Political Parties Move to Attract Younger Voters

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • On December 27, the National Assembly lowered the voting age from 19 to 18.
  • Under the new law, approximately 530,000 18-year-old citizens are now eligible to vote in the upcoming legislative elections in April.
  • This includes 140,000 current high school students. In response, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye announced plans to widen civics education.
  • According to Gallup Korea polling on December 10, the approval rating for the Minjoo Party among constituents aged 19 to 29 stood at 37 percent. Same poll found 10 percent support for the Liberty Korea Party, 9 percent for the Bareunmirae Party, and 8 percent for the Justice Party.

Implications: Ongoing efforts by the major parties to transform their image ahead of National Assembly elections in April have been accelerated by the extension of suffrage to 18-year-old citizens. Although the newly enfranchised voters are estimated to be only 1.1 percent of the total electorate, they are expected to have an impact in closely-contested districts. With this upcoming election set to determine President Moon Jae-in’s authority for the remainder of his term, the stakes of winning these competitive areas are elevated for both the ruling and opposition parties. As a result, there is a spotlight on the youth vote.

There is an assumption that the new voting age rule will benefit progressive parties. However, this is not a certainty. With Korea still struggling with high youth unemployment, perceptions that the incumbent administration has failed to deliver employment growth may curb youth enthusiasm for the ruling progressive party. Moreover, President Moon’s approval rating among voters in their 20s dipped slightly during the scandal surrounding former Justice Minister Cho Kuk. Since the scandal centered around the accusation that Minister Cho gave his children an unfair advantage in college admissions, the negative outlook towards the incumbent administration may be more accentuated among 18-year old voters.

Context: When Japan lowered its voting age from 20 to 18 ahead of the 2015 elections, Japan’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party won 40 percent of the votes while the opposition party only garnered 17 percent. At that time, Japanese youth voted primarily based on which party they thought had a better economic policy.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, and Ingyeong Park.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Political Polarization in the National Assembly

This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • For the fifth year in a row, the National Assembly failed to pass a budget by the December 2 deadline.
  • The ruling Minjoo Party sent several bills through the new fast-track legislation process despite the objection of the opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP).
  • In response, the LKP has threatened to filibuster 199 bills until the end of the regular parliamentary session on December 10.

Implications: This most recent legislative gridlock revealed that political tensions extend beyond the highly publicized controversies around cabinet appointments and are becoming an established part of everyday South Korean politics. The LKP’s ongoing filibuster is aimed at preventing a vote on fast-tracked bills proposed by the government to accelerate election and prosecution reform. It is also preventing the passage of several other bills, such as one to make school zones safer. The Minjoo Party has accused the LKP of holding these tangible bills affecting people’s livelihoods “hostage” for their political agenda. Simultaneously, the ruling party has no plans to make compromises with the LKP. Instead, the Minjoo Party intends to work with minor opposition parties to circumvent the LKP.

Context: Members have also refused to keep their feud within the walls of the National Assembly. Last month, the chairman of the Liberty Korea Party completed an eight-day hunger strike to oppose the Moon administration. Earlier this year, members of the LKP also publicly protested the administration’s nomination of Cho Kuk as justice minister.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Soojin Hwang, Hyoshin Kim, and Rachel Kirsch.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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North Korea is Already Casting its Vote for Trump

By Kyle Ferrier

The 2020 U.S. presidential campaign is just getting underway. While we should expect plenty of mudslinging in the coming months, it will hopefully be more congenial than Pyongyang’s latest statement about the race.

North Korea lambasted former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden this week in response to his comments on its leader Kim Jong-un. At a May 18th rally in Philadelphia, Biden, the democratic frontrunner, asked, “Are we a nation that embraces dictators and tyrants like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Kim Jong Un?”

Though Biden’s comments were meant to criticize U.S. President Trump’s foreign policy, Pyongyang seemed to take it personally. The Korea Central News Agency issued a statement on Tuesday going after Biden’s character and political record, calling him an “imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being.” The article highlighted potential challenges to his election stemming from his past, including references to concerns raised in the #MeToo movement and plagiarism. Among other harsh words, the piece accused Biden of “insult[ing] the supreme leadership of the DPRK,” stating “we will never pardon anyone who dare provoke the supreme leadership of the DPRK but will certainly make them pay for it.”

As harsh as this may be, these sort of attacks are nothing new. North Korea has a history of commenting on U.S. presidential elections, often voicing their opinions on candidates. The KCNA article’s familiarity with the issues surrounding Biden’s electability emphasizes just how important who sits in the White House is to Pyongyang.

There is also at least some evidence from recent elections to suggest that North Korea has a preference for candidates espousing a willingness to talk directly to Pyongyang:

  • During the 2004 race between President George W. Bush and then-Senator John Kerry, North Korean media seemingly preferred Kerry[1]who favored direct bilateral talks with Pyongyang – over Bush – who famously included the state in his “axis of evil.”
  • In 2008, an article published by the Chosen Soren praised the eventual winner Barack Obama’s willingness to meet with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il without conditions, calling Senator John McCain “a children’s version of Bush.”
  • In 2012, North Korea did not publicly offer support for either major party candidate, and neither candidate wanted to pursue direct talks with Kim Jong-un.
  • During the 2016 race, the state tourism website DPRK Today ran an editorial praising Trump not long after he expressed his willingness to speak with Kim Jong-un.

Despite recent tensions between the two countries since the Hanoi summit collapsed, North Korean leadership is probably thinking Trump is their best bet to keep talks going with the least number of preconditions. It would be surprising if Pyongyang came out in favor of any of Trump’s challengers, but even more so if any gave North Korea a reason to switch sides.

With North Korea’s ballot already cast and a long campaign still ahead, democratic candidates should steel themselves for the insults to come.

Kyle Ferrier is the Director of Academic Affairs and Research at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Gage Skidmore’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

[1] This comes from the March 5, 2004 Financial Times article “North Korea warms to senator’s US presidency bid” written by Andrew Ward and James Harding. The article is no longer searchable on the Financial Times website and was accessed through the Financial Times Historical Archive, 1888-2010

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