Tag Archive | "Summit"

Moon Jae-in Urges Trump-Kim Summit before U.S. Election

By Robert R. King

During a video conference between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and European Council President Charles Michel on June 20, the South Korean leader said “I believe there’s a need for North Korea and the United States to try dialogue one more time before the U.S. presidential election. The issues of nuclear programmes and sanctions will ultimately have to be resolved through North Korea-U.S. talks.”  A South Korean presidential aide said that President Moon’s office had conveyed these views to the White House.

It seems a bit unusual that President Moon’s interest in midwifing another Trump-Kim summit was made public after a conversation with the head of the European Union.  President Moon has played a key role in the U.S.-North Korean summitry that has taken place thus far, but making the proposal for a new summit public after a video conversation with the leaders of the European Union seemed inconsistent.

President Moon played a very visible role as the intermediary who brought a summit proposal to Trump in March 2018.  That effort led to the Singapore summit three months later.  It is not clear what role President Moon played in the second summit in Hanoi in February 2019.  That meeting ended prematurely when the final dinner, the signing of a joint statement, and other planned concluding events were abruptly cancelled after failed initial meetings.

The third of the three Trump-Kim meetings took place one year ago in June 2019.  This was the briefest and least formal of the meetings.  On an official visit by President Trump to South Korea, the two leaders traveled to Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) where the three leaders met informally.  Trump and Kim had a brief private meeting.  Despite the friendly handshake and Trump’s much photographed footstep onto North Korean soil, the U.S.-North Korea relationship has languished.

Is Trump Interested in Another Summit? 

The U.S. President seems a bit preoccupied with the resurgent COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.  Also, a new media frenzy has questioned “what did the President know and when did he know it” regarding reports that Russian intelligence were offering Taliban insurgents generous cash bounties for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan.

And looming over everything else for President Trump is the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November.  At this point, the outlook for Trump does not appear to be so promising.  The latest polling numbers suggest that Trump is lagging behind Joseph Biden by a significant margin, and in the last couple of months Biden has outraised Trump in campaign cash.

In a normal election year, Trump would be frantically crisscrossing the country from one mass rally to another.  His first effort to get into campaign rally mode in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20, however, was a disappointment.  Preliminary publicity raised expectations with talk of millions seeking tickets, but the audience filled only a third of the seats at the arena.  Trump campaign staff were found infected with COVID-19 virus just before the rally began, and public health specialists publicly criticized the President for holding such a rally in the face of the intensifying pandemic.

Under these circumstances, President Trump may well be looking for a shiny bauble to dangle before the press to focus attention on him and draw attention away from the current domestic news stories that are less flattering.  Another summit with Kim Jong-un could give him a new opportunity to change the news focus and let him play the role of global statesman.

On the other hand, with two previous summits and the meeting in the DMZ with Kim Jong-un from June 2018 to June 2019, the novelty and press-worthiness of another North Korea summit is certainly gone.  Furthermore, there is a distinct risk that the erratic Kim Jong-un might not give Trump the diplomatic triumph he seeks, and another Hanoi-style diplomatic flop before massed media cameras and microphones could contribute to an electoral disaster at home.  The risk-reward scale seems to be tilting heavily toward caution.

One straw in the wind, however, is that Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun is visiting Seoul and Tokyo for meetings on July 6.  Before being elevated to his current position, Biegun was Senior Representative for North Korea Policy, and he negotiated with North Korean officials in connection with previous summits.  Also traveling with Biegun is Allison Hooker, senior National Security Council staffer on North Korea, who is one of the most experienced U.S. government officials on this issue.

Where is Kim Jong-un?

A key unanswered question is whether Supreme Leader Kim is interested in hand holding in front of the cameras with President Trump.  Over the last year North Korea has shown little interest in actually reaching an agreement with the United States.  The North Koreans walked away from senior-level diplomatic meetings in Stockholm in the fall of 2019 and called the session “sickening.”

In January of 2020 one of Pyongyang’s most senior and most experienced diplomats said “Although Chairman Kim Jong-un has good personal feelings about President Trump, they are, in the true sense of the word, ‘personal’.”  He then added that North Korea has “been deceived by the United States, being caught in the dialogue with it for over one year and a half, and that was lost time for us.”  Just last month, North Korean marked the second anniversary of the Singapore Summit with the United States.  On that commemorative occasion, the North Korean Foreign Minister asked, “Do we need to keep holding hands with the United States?”

Another question is whether Kim Jong-un is in a position to be seen up close by western news media, which would be an essential part of any summit for Trump.  Questions about Kim’s health surfaced in April when he failed to appear at the birthday commemoration of his grandfather Kim Il-sung.  This is the most important national holiday in North Korea, and Kim Jong-un’s presence has been the high point of the commemoration in the past.  Kim did not reappear until the festive opening of a new fertilizer factory after being absent from public view for over three weeks—the longest such gap in his public appearances since he assumed the leadership.

The appointment of Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong as an alternate member of the Party Politburo has raised questions about his health.  His sister has increasingly played a leading role in verbal attacks on the United States and South Korea.  She was the author of a harsh attack on South Korea for permitting defector organizations to launch balloons with leaflets from the South to float into the North.  She blasted South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and ordered the picture-worthy explosion that destroyed the liaison office where the two Koreas had contact offices on the North Korean side of the DMZ.

Kim Jong-un’s unexplained absences, the expanded role his sister is playing, and the harsh attacks on the United States and South Korea suggest some uncertainty regarding what might be going on behind the curtain with the North Korean leadership.  This may not be the time for a close-up inspection of the Supreme Leader.

The other question is whether the North Korean leader wants to make a deal with Donald Trump at this time.  North Korean diplomats and foreign policy analysts are reading the tea leaves regarding the upcoming United States election.  They are likely questioning whether a high-level meeting with an American president whose reelection in four months is not a foregone conclusion.  As Donald Trump has demonstrated since becoming U.S. President, changes in leadership can result in significant changes in policies.  A Biden administration will have little interest in following through on Trump commitments to North Korea.  Why risk making an agreement with a president who might not be around much longer?  If Trump is reelected, another summit certainly could be in the cards.  But there is little benefit for the North in rushing to meet before the election.

“As Sands through the Hourglass”

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has his own logic for pushing a summit.  He is acutely aware that he has passed the mid-point of his presidency, and the South Korean constitution limits its chief executive to a single term.  He has a strong working majority in the National Assembly, and his focus is his legacy.  As a senior advisor to former president Roh Moo-hyun, he saw Roh hold a summit with Kim Jong-il, but it came at the end of his presidential term and he was not able to follow up with programs to cement the Sunshine policy.  Moon rushed for a North-South summit early in his term, and he is now anxious to consolidate the progress made with the North.  First and foremost that means getting the United States and North Korea together.

Moon sees Trump as a risk-taker, willing to break barriers and ignore foreign policy experts.  He met three times with Kim Jong-un, although those summits produced meager results.  Moon is also acutely aware of the United States political timetable.  He fears that a Biden presidency will not be make quick progress with North Korea.

President Moon is likely to be a lame duck or even a former President before a new Biden administration has personnel in place and has completed necessary policy reviews to undertake innovative policies toward Pyongyang.  Even if Trump wins reelection in November, Moon sees the sand spilling through the hourglass.

The North has taken a breath after its tantrum over the balloon crisis and after exploding the liaison office.  South Korea responded to these outbursts by abjectly bowing to the North’s demands to stop the sending of balloons.  Now there is a very small window to make progress in relations with the North, and the President is determined to act quickly.

Is There Time for a Summit?

North Koreas have seen the waning hours of a U.S. presidential administration and watched last ditch efforts to accomplish a particular goal before a new administration takes office.  At the end of the Clinton Administration on October 24, 2000—just days before the American election—Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang and negotiated with Kim Jong-il in an effort to make a breakthrough on denuclearization.  She also held out the promise of a visit by U.S. President Bill Clinton if it were successful.  The American diplomat was warmly welcomed and feted at one of Pyongyang’s spectacular synchronized performances in the Pyongyang stadium, but no meaningful agreement was reached.  North Korea wanted to deal with the new president.

After North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006, the George W. Bush Administration worked to the very end of the administration in an effort to reach a denuclearization agreement with North Korea.  In June 2008 agreement was reached on the first steps with North Korea declaring fifteen nuclear sites in the Six Party Talks.  Running against the clock, the Bush administration rescinded trade restrictions and began the process of removing the North from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.  In October, agreement was reached on what would be included in verification protocol, and about that same time the United States announced it would provide North Korea with significant humanitarian assistance through the UN World Food Programme and some private American humanitarian organizations.  By December, however, efforts to reach arrangement on verification of the nuclear agreement had broken down, and shortly after the Obama Administration took office food assistance was suspended because monitoring of distribution could not be assured, and North Korea tested its second nuclear weapon.

The bottom line is that North Korea has previous experience with urgent last ditch efforts to reach agreement with the United States to beat an election deadline.  In the case of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, there was no question that this was the end of their tenure in office.  There is no expectation that Trump will be that much better in dealing with their interests than Biden might be, so North Korea feels little urgency to rush into another summit.  President Moon is the one participant who feels the greatest urgency to move quickly.

Robert R. King is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America.  He is former U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights.  The views expressed here are his own.  

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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South Korean Opinion of North Korea Spikes

By Jenna Gibson

In a new poll from the Asan Institute, South Korean public opinion of North Korea has greatly increased since the beginning of 2018, hitting 4.71 out of 10 in their June poll. According to Asan, this is the first time favorability of North Korea has exceeded 4.0 since they started conducting these polls in 2013. Kim Jong-un similarly saw a spike in favorability among the South Korean respondents, rising to 4.06 from just 0.88 in November 2017.

This result is particularly surprising in comparison to other countries in the region. The United States maintains its position as the most favored nation among Koreans, but North Korea had now surpassed both Japan and China in the eyes of the Korean public.

This increase comes on the back of the inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea Summits, which recurved positive reviews from Koreans. According to the Asan poll, 71.8 percent of South Koreans evaluated the Trump-Kim meeting as achieving positive results, and 62.6 percent said they believed North Korea will follow through on its agreements to denuclearize.

While the South Korean public remains optimistic about the recent dentente on the Korean peninsula, they will likely be closely watching next steps and their opinion may shift again as the situation continues to unfold.

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Graphic by Jenna Gibson.

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Initial Thoughts on the Trump-Kim Summit

After watching the first summit meeting between President Donald Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un, KEI staff members Troy Stangarone, Kyle Ferrier, and Jenna Gibson share some of the things that stood out to them.

The three analysts participated in a Facebook live video during the start of the summit, sharing their thoughts as the event unfolded in Singapore. You can watch the full discussion here.

Troy Stangarone:

  • What made the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un stunning wasn’t the symbolic setting of crossing the DMZ that set the tone for the inter-Korean summit, but the fact that a sitting president of the United States was meeting with the leader of North Korea. Now that Kim Jong-un has become the man of the hour he has moved from “rocket man” to “rockstar.”
  • At the inter-Korean summit, Kim Jong-un went off script when South Korean President Moon Jae-in asked when he could visit North Korea. With the summit kicking off with a private meeting between Trump and Kim, one wonders if Kim Jong-un surprised Trump with an offer as well.
  • Now that the process has started, one of the key things to success will be whether the new process only focuses on North Korea’s nuclear program or whether it tries to build a sustainable relationship by tackling cyber, chemical/biological, and the other issues that could undermine any progress made.

Kyle Ferrier:

  • The opening of the summit clearly was more about optics and pleasantries than anything else. That there was not even a reference to any substantive issues highlights how this meeting is foremost about building a rapport between the two leaders.
  • Trump’s broad statements about working with Kim Jong-un seem to support his earlier statements that this is going to be a drawn out process with North Korea. This is the best alternative if a concrete agreement is not yet on the table, but the U.S. must use this meeting to at least move the ball forward on the nuclear issue in some way. The Kim family has always had time on their side, so the U.S. can’t wait too long for progress, particularly as diplomatic success is really contingent upon maintaining international economic pressure on Pyongyang. If the diplomatic process goes on for too long it could lead to lax sanctions enforcement due to impatient business interests.

Jenna Gibson:

  • Kim Jong Un has truly arrived on the world stage. After successful meetings with both President Moon Jae In and President Xi Jinping in which he was treated to the full summit experience, we just witnessed a leader of North Korea standing in front of alternating American and North Korean flags shaking hands with a U.S. President. No matter what comes out of the rest of this meeting, Kim Jong Un has already gotten a big chunk of what he came for – to be taken seriously as a world leader and the head of a nuclear state.
  • I wasn’t necessarily surprised by this because we saw some of this at the Inter-Korean Summits, and we know President Trump’s informal style, but I was still struck by some of the friendly body language between the two, particularly the way Trump kept patting Kim on the arm. This seemed like a very friendly and almost intimate gesture, although I wonder if Trump was purposely trying to send the signal that he’s at ease and not intimidated by Kim.
  • The fact that Trump and Kim planned to meet behind closed doors with no one else but interpreters in the room made many analysts uneasy. But at least as far as we could tell, it didn’t cause any major issues – the two emerged 40 or so minutes later still smiling. Considering that President Trump said he would walk away from the table if he didn’t think he could get somewhere with Kim, we’re off to a good start so far. What would be interesting (and we may never know the answer) is whether Trump raised some of the issues that could be embarrassing to Kim if raised in a more open meeting, including abductees and human rights. If he were going to raise those issues, it would have to be in that closed-door meeting.

Troy Stangarone is KEI’s senior director for congressional affairs and trade, Kyle Ferrier is the director of academic affairs and research, and Jenna Gibson is communications director. The views expressed are the authors’ alone.

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Markets Optimistic about the Moon-Kim Summit but Investing in the Outcome is Premature

By Kyle Ferrier

Expecting the Moon-Kim summit to go well, the Financial Times has reported that markets are more upbeat about the South Korean economy. The price of South Korea’s five-year credit default swaps—reflecting market sentiment on geopolitical risk among other things—is down (which is a good thing) and investors are parking more of their money in Korean stocks, particularly construction companies. They are banking on rapprochement leading to a revival of South Korean-led construction projects in the North. It is thus not surprising that shares of Hyundai Engineering and Construction, responsible for projects in North Korea such as the Mount Kumgang Resort, hit a three-year high on Monday.

While there are reasons to be hopeful about the outcome of the summit, investing now in the resumption of Inter-Korean construction projects is premature even in the best case scenario. This is true for three reasons.

The first is that Seoul has stated it would continue to exert maximum pressure against Pyongyang until concrete actions are taken to address its missile and nuclear programs. As numerous precautionary op-eds in the past month have made clear, North Korea and the United States likely have different definitions of “denuclearization,” which could prove to be a major sticking point in negotiations. Should they come to an agreement on U.S. terms, the next steps would likely be the negotiation and then implementation of verifying and dismantling the North’s nuclear program in exchange for the gradual drawdown of sanctions. This long, drawn-out process suggests that it could very well take years before investors start to see any North Korea-related returns on investments made this week. One could be tempted to make the argument that waiting isn’t a problem once you’ve gotten in on the ground floor and the value of your investment skyrockets. However, others have taken this gamble in the North before and most have lost.

The second reason is that foreign direct investment in North Korea doesn’t have a great track record, at least not for the investors. Although smaller investors not linked to politically motivated ventures have been able to get by in North Korea’s Special Economic Zones, larger investors have had a much tougher go of it. Hyundai lost around $900 million when its Mount Kumgang resort was closed in 2008 after a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist. After Seoul shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex in February 2016, a consortium of 174 South Korean companies claimed to have lost a combined $60 million, which South Korea’s Ministry of Unification agreed to cover last November. There is evidence in both cases  of Pyongyang taking over the facilities for their own gain after the South Korean companies closed shop and left. Yet, perhaps the biggest cautionary tale is Orascom.

Orascom, an Egyptian telecommunications conglomerate, entered into a joint venture with the North Korean government in 2008 to form Koryolink, which was charged with building the country’s mobile network. Putting up the majority of the capital, Orascom may own 75 percent of the venture but this does not mean it has effective control. The company has been unable to repatriate revenues from the North estimated to be worth between $500 and $600 million because Pyongyang is either unable or unwilling to let them do so because of sanctions. In an attempt to decrease its activity in the country, Orascom even attempted to give up its majority stake in Koryolink by merging with the government-owned cellular provider Byol in 2015. While this failed, Orascom is still looking to pursue the merger, but that is unlikely to go anywhere until sanctions are lifted.

This poor record may not necessarily reflect what is to come, but rather provides the context for the many challenges which still need to be worked through for foreign investors in North Korea. Kim Jong-un’s apparent shift in focus from the nuclear to the economic side of byungjin (the Kim policy of simultaneously pursuing nuclear weaponry while improving the domestic economy) could again open the door to foreign investors. However, even if we discount the possibility of the door closing as it has done to the detriment of outsiders in the past, it is important to note the limited avenues of recourse investors have in North Korea. It is not as if robust rules to protect foreign investment, which have historically been a major point of contention between developed and developing countries, would be readily implemented should sanctions be lifted. The North’s history of capriciously taking advantage of foreign business ventures suggests that potential investors should be clear-eyed about investing there.

The last and perhaps most important reason that investing now in future Inter-Korean construction projects is premature is that placing long-term bets on the North dismisses possibly more immediate risks in the South. Although there are signs that the rate of increase is slowing, South Korea’s household debt problem is perhaps the most important structural issue facing its economy. Household debt is around 95 percent of GDP, making it among the highest in the world. The government has focused on curbing bank loans to slow the accumulation of household debt and rising home prices, but undeterred borrowers have increasingly turned to non-bank lenders to pay for new homes, further raising prices and making outstanding debt more precarious. The construction industry may be doing well now, growing by 3.3 percent in the first quarter of this year, but with the prospect of more Federal Reserve rate hikes this year there is greater risk of debt problems coming to a head well before the groundbreaking of Inter-Korean construction projects.

It is certainly a good sign that markets are less concerned about geopolitical risks on the Korean Peninsula than they were last fall, though investors should be careful to not get too carried away with the prospect of rapprochement just yet. Being among the first in a new, relatively untouched market can be a tempting prospect, but events that would allow this to happen are far off and even then there would still be major challenges. At this point investors should be more concerned with the more immediate realities in the South and not let a fascination with the North cloud their judgement.

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 U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud’s photosteam on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Son of Refugees who Became President of the Republic of Korea Visits D.C.

By Seung Hwan Chung

On December 19 1950, the SS Meredith Victory, a 7,600-ton merchant marine vessel, was about to leave from the North Korean port city of Hungnam. Hundreds of thousands of refugees flocked to the pier at Hungnam as the bombing of the Chinese army came closer. Leonard Larue, a U.S. Navy captain, made the decision to abandon almost all of the arms and military supplies from the ship and took on 14,000 evacuees in an operation code-named “Christmas Cargo.”

The parents of Moon Jae-in and his older sister were among the 14,000 refugees who fled aboard the Meredith Victory, arriving on Geoje Island in Gyeongsang Province on Christmas Eve. Moon Jae-in was born two years later on Geoje Island in January 1953. Thus, the son of a refugee from Hungnam became the 19th President of the Republic of Korea thanks to this successful rescue operation called the Hungnam Evacuation, which is credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest transportation of evacuees in history.

In the lead-up to the evacuation, the 3rd U.S. Division was advancing northward from Wonsan to assist UN and South Korean forces trapped near the Chosin Reservoir. After losing Wonsan, the 10th U.S. Army Corps and the 1st Korean Army Corps had to withdraw to the sea as their retreat path was blocked, leading them to the port city of Hungnam. The first unit that withdrew from Hungnam was the 3rd Korean Division, followed by the 1st U.S. Marine Division.

According to the Korean Ministry of Patriots & Veterans Affairs, the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir is recorded as among the most brutal battles in the history of the U.S. Marine Corps. During the Battle, 15,000 U.S. marines fought through 120,000 Chinese soldiers in the extreme winter cold of -22 to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, 4,500 U.S. marines died and 7,500 were wounded.

President Moon Jae-in remarked on his family’s story at a reception for Korean War Veterans on  June 23, 2017, saying, “Today we are joined by the heroes of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and the Hungnam Evacuation from North Korea. These two historic occasions became well known even to postwar generations in Korea who did not experience the war. The son of a refugee from Hungnam could become the President of the Republic of Korea and join you all today. I hope this fact helps make the Korean War veterans of the U.N. Forces feel a sense of delight and reward.”

President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to make a visit to Washington D.C. from June 28 to July 1 for his first summit meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump. As his first stop in the United States, he visited the new memorial for the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia on June 28. There, Mr. Moon laid a wreath before the memorial that commemorates the Korean War battle which enabled the evacuation of civilians.

The “Star of Koto-ri,” a symbol of the battle, is on the top of the monument. U.S. Marines started to wear the star to commemorate the bright stars they saw after a snowstorm before succeeding in the evacuation.

President Moon will also visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. along with Vice President Mike Pence, whose father was a Korean War veteran who was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his service.

Additionally, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha remarked on the Hungnam Evacuation during her visit to the U.S. 2nd infantry division base in Gyeonggi Province, stating “President Moon will invite Korean War veterans who participated in the Hungnam Evacuation” to the White House during the summit.

President Moon’s visit to the United States will lay the foundation for further upgrading South Korea-U.S. relations. The fact that the new Korean president is highlighting his family history and making a point to thank Korean War veterans throughout the trip can make the summit even more meaningful. Through the visit, the two heads of state can share a vision for further developing the Korea-U.S. alliance into an even greater one.

Seung Hwan Chung is a reporter with the Maeil Business Newspaper and a visiting fellow with the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Image from USMC Archives’ photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Is Trump Impacting How South Koreans View the United States?

By Kyle Ferrier

Claiming “Korea actually used to be a part of China” and stating “it would be appropriate” if South Korea paid for THAAD are just some of Donald Trump’s comments since his inauguration that have not been well received by the South Korean public. As President Moon Jae-in meets with President Trump this week to discuss new issues as well as longstanding ones such as the North Korea nuclear problem, his flexibility both in Washington and after his return to Seoul depends on public opinion at home. Against this backdrop, the release of two major survey-based reports in the past few days are rather fortunately timed and help to shed light on how South Koreans perceive U.S. political leadership.

The first is the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Image Suffers as Publics Around World Question Trump’s Leadership: America still wins praise for its people, culture and civil liberties, released on June 26. The second is the Asan Institute’s A New Beginning for ROK-U.S. Relations: South Koreans’ View of the United States and Its Implications, released on June 27. While the Pew report looks at a broader scope of countries and the Asan report focuses solely on the South Korean public, both ultimately provide similar conclusions: South Koreans continue to view the U.S. favorably despite negative views on Trump. However, the two provide conflicting analyses as to whether Trump has already impacted U.S. favorability and how South Koreans view the future of relations with the U.S.

From polls conducted in 37 countries, the Pew study finds that international confidence in the U.S. president has dropped from 64 percent at the end of the Obama presidency to 22 percent at the beginning of Trump’s. South Koreans do not buck the trend. When asked if they have confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing regarding world affairs, 88 percent of South Koreans responded positively during the end of the Obama years while only 17 percent expressed the same confidence in Trump — below the global median of 22 percent. Of the 37 countries polled, this 71 percentage point swing was the fourth largest, behind Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany. The 78 percent of South Koreans who definitively answered they had no confidence in Trump is the highest among the countries polled in Asia (the others are Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, and India) and is above the global median of 74 percent. Further, when asked about Trump’s major policy shifts, 78 percent disapproved of withdrawing from international climate change agreements and 80 percent disapproved of U.S. withdrawal of support for major trade agreements.

Asan presents complementary findings. It shows Trump’s favorability during the campaign was low: on their 0 to 10 ratings scale, where 0 is the least favorable and 10 is the most, Trump was below a 2 up through Election Day.  This is similar to the favorability of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, not much higher than that of Kim Jong-un — who hovered around 1 — and dwarfed by Barack Obama — who consistently scored in the low to mid-6 range from at least the beginning of 2014 through 2016. Trump’s election boosted him from a 1.69 in November to a 3.25 in December and a 3.49 in January, but dropped to 2.93 in March before going up slightly to 2.96 in June. This jump in favorability since becoming president has given him a steady lead over Abe, but Trump remains below Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is punishing South Korea economically over the deployment of THAAD.

When asked only about the United States, Pew shows 75 percent of South Koreans view the U.S. favorably, above both the regional and global median. In addition, 86 percent view Americans favorably and 78 percent like American democratic values, both of which are also above the regional and global medians.  Further, those on the political right are more inclined to have a favorable view of the U.S., with 86 percent of respondents who self-identified as politically right favoring the U.S. compared to 64 of those on the left.

Korea Surveys

The favorability rating of the U.S. in the Asan study largely follows the trend of the Obama years, remaining around a 6 out of 10. “This suggests that the United States’ favorability is not determined solely by the favorability of its leader and that American soft power has had a positive impact on South Korean public opinion,” the Asan report states. “It appears that South Koreans have learned to distinguish between the United States, the country, and Donald Trump, the individual.”

Both reports seem to indicate that American soft power has a positive influence on South Koreans, who view the U.S. and its president separately. However, the two present contradictory findings on how Trump has impacted perceptions of the U.S.

While Asan shows only a very minor dip in U.S. favorability since Trump’s election — a drop from 5.92 in November to 5.81 in June, which is termed as “relatively stable” favorability scores — Pew finds a larger drop. The 75 percent of South Koreans who viewed the U.S. favorably in 2017 is down from 84 percent in 2015, the last year Pew data is available, and is at its lowest level since 2008. Pew suggests this follows a larger global trend. Of the 37 countries polled, 30 showed a drop in favorable views of the U.S. in 2017. Other countries experienced a steeper fall though, as South Korea’s drop in positive views of the U.S. is tied for 23rd of the 30.

The two reports are also at odds on how South Koreans perceive relations with the U.S. moving forward. Only 8 percent of Pew respondents thought relations with the U.S. would get better, 45 percent thought they would stay about the same, and 43 percent stated they would get worse. In contrast, 67 percent of respondents in the Asan study thought relations with the U.S. would improve and only 20 percent thought relations would deteriorate.

There is clearly a wide gap between the sentiments expressed in both polls, but this is likely because of how the questions were worded.  Pew framed their question around Donald Trump (“Now that Donald Trump is the U.S. president, over the next few years do you think that relations between our country and the U.S. will ___?”) and Asan framed theirs around Moon Jae-in (“ROK-U.S. Relations under President Moon Jae-in will___”.) Considering the negative views on Trump expressed in both polls and Moon Jae-In’s high domestic popularity, this disparity makes a certain amount of sense. Additionally, as no exact date is provided for when the Pew poll was conducted — the report only states spring 2017 — their findings may not reflect changes based on Moon’s election and thus may leave out any boost in confidence it might have engendered for relations with the U.S.

It may still be too early to definitively claim that Trump is impacting South Korean perceptions of the United States. But this does not mean Trump’s controversial statements, should they continue, will not influence how South Koreans view the U.S. in the future. If the outcome of the U.S.-ROK summit this week does not meet expectations or Trump makes controversial remarks in the future, South Korean public opinion of the U.S. could be pushed lower.

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. 

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

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The Korean and American Presidents Should Discuss Work-Family Balance Issues

By Dr. Seung-kyung Kim

On October 16, President Park Geun-hye and President Barack Obama will be meeting for the fourth time since they became presidents of their respective countries.  As always, the security issues involving North Korea will be the top item on their agenda.  However, the two countries also have a broad range of mutual interests in such topics as economy, environment, energy, space, health, trade, and cybersecurity.  To this list, I would like to suggest an issue that has been central to both presidents’ interests and commitments throughout their presidencies: the importance of middle class families and the work-family balance that is at the core of sustaining middle class lives in both countries.  Earlier this year in state of the nation addresses, both presidents stressed the importance of enhancing the lives of middle class families and their centrality to revitalizing their national economies.  The work-family balance is no longer a matter of individual life, but a national (even global) issue that governments and policymakers should pick up and do something about.

 The old idea that middle class families consist of a breadwinning father and a homemaking mother has become obsolete in both countries.  In Korea 44% of married couples are now dual earner families (Korea National Statistics Office), while for the United States the figure is 48% (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  The lives of middle class families are thus becoming more challenging because both men and women need to balance family and work responsibilities, and the issue of work-family balance is an important one for both presidents in their goals to improve the well-being of the middle class.

Women are, of course, at the heart of the work-life dilemma because they are placed in much more vulnerable positions than men, both in the workplace and at home.  Not only does the wage gap prevent women from earning the same incomes as men, but women are also more likely to leave the work force in order to assume the responsibilities of child rearing.  Women achieve higher education in both countries at a rate comparable to or higher than men: in Korea, 49.4% of recipients of bachelor’s degrees are women (Korea Education Development Institute) while in the United States, 52.4% of recipients of bachelor’s degrees are women (National Center for Education Statistics).

Both countries have problems with unequal access to the job market.  In the United States, women’s labor force participation is below that of men at all ages except the teenage years (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).  In Korea, women start out with high rates of labor force participation, but, after age thirty, women are significantly less likely to be in the workforce.  The gap between women and men’s labor force participation is highest for people in their thirties, when about 90% of men are in the work force, but less than 60% of women are (Korea National Statistics Office).  This drop can be attributed to the fact that women of this age have child rearing responsibilities that their male counterparts do not.  Even after the end of the peak phase of childrearing, women in Korea do not return to the labor force in numbers comparable to those of men.  The fact that so many women remain outside the labor force is both a loss of productivity to society, and a loss of opportunity to the women.

Governments can assist families trying to achieve work-family balance by instituting policies that help women participate more fully in the labor force.  Among these policies are insuring paid maternity leave, providing quality childcare, and easing barriers to reentry into the labor force.  Both countries need to work on implementing these policies, and both presidents have made efforts to address them.

In terms of women in the workplace, Korea and the United States have significantly different deficiencies.  The United States is the only high-income country in the world that does not require employers to provide paid maternity leave for employees.  The high cost of childcare is another problem in the U.S. as President Obama noted in a recent speech, “… in most states, parents spend more on day care for their children than they would for a year of college” (University of Kansas, January 22, 2015).  South Korea, on the other hand, suffers from the largest wage gap between men and women in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with women only earning 65% of what men earn.  The low wages paid to women depresses their rate of labor force participation and women who have left the work force find it difficult to resume their careers.  Only 20% of re-employed women are hired for full-time regular positions while more than 60% are hired back as part-timers or contract workers (Korean Women’s Development Institute).

Both presidents recognize the importance of increasing the participation of women in the labor force to their national economies and have presented strategies to achieve this.  President Park has asserted “More participation of women in the economy is a core engine for the nation’s growth” (Wall Street Journal June 17, 2013).  Her government has worked to increase the number of child care facilities and improved their quality.  She also has advocated that employers should create female-friendly work environments and adopt more flexible hours to help working mothers.  Her Minister of Gender Equality and Family, Kim Hee-jung, said “We need for  [companies] to realize that keeping women in the workplace is investing in our future” (Reuters January 27, 2015).  President Obama has identified “high quality, affordable child care” as “a national economic priority” and said he would like to make quality child care accessible to 100 million more children and provide an annual tax cut for their families of up to $3,000 per child. “It is time we stop treating child care as a side issue or a women’s issue,” he said. “This is a family issue” (University of Kansas, January 22, 2015).

Given both presidents’ interest and commitment to work-family balance, I can envision them putting their heads together and discussing these issues. They will find that they have yet another topic in common to discuss and share ideas about.

Dr. Seung-kyung Kim is a Professor, Chair of the Department of Women’s Studies and Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from  Marcelo Druck’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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A Look Ahead to the Park-Obama Summit

By Troy Stangarone

As the United States and South Korea begin celebrations of 60 years of the U.S.-Korea alliance, President Park Geun-hye arrives in Washington, DC for her first summit meeting with President Barack Obama at a time of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. In recent months, North Korea has dominated the news, and U.S.-Korea relations, as it has conducted a third nuclear test, withdrawn from the Korean War armistice, effectively shut down the Kaesong Industrial Complex, and increased its rhetoric to new levels.  While addressing the challenges of North Korea will be central to the discussions between Park and Obama, it is not the only issue for the two leaders to discuss.

With relations between the United States and South Korea are at an all-time high, Park and Obama will discuss ways to continue the close cooperation the United States and South Korea have enjoyed in recent years. In the run up to this week’s meetings, both sides addressed one of the major issues confronting U.S.-Korea relations by agreeing to extend the two sides’ civilian nuclear cooperation agreement for two years. With the Park government and the second Obama administration only slowly coming into shape, buying time to further discuss issues such as South Korea’s request to reprocess spent nuclear fuel represents a prudent first step.

On the economic front, both sides will have plenty to discuss. With the KORUS FTA in place, both countries will continue to discuss ways to ensure that the agreement is fully utilized by both sides. To this end, Park is arriving in Washington with the largest business delegation of any prior Korean president to continue expanding U.S.-Korea economic cooperation. At the same time, Park will likely raise Korean concerns over the KORUS FTA’s dispute settlement mechanism and continue to press for Korea to receive an increase in professional visa’s to help spur additional economic cooperation.  While the United States will seek South Korea’s participation in the growing Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks.

Also on the agenda will be the future role of the alliance. In 2009, the United States and South Korea released a Joint Vision statement outlining areas of regional and global cooperation. With the new administration in Seoul, discussions will center on how to further strengthen cooperation and the Park administration’s proposal of a Seoul Process to build trust and cooperation in Northeast Asia.

However, North Korea will present the most immediate challenge. Recent weeks have seen both the United States and South Korea transition from a period of deterring North Korea’s provocations to opening the door for further engagement with Pyongyang. Discussions will likely center on South Korea’s proposals for engaging North Korea in a trust building process and how best the United States can support South Korea’s leading role in engaging Pyongyang.

While summit meetings are often action forcing events, the first meeting is often more about developing a strong working relationship and setting a course for the years ahead. As Obama and Park hold their first formal meeting, they will look to build upon the strong working relationship that has existed between the United States and Korea in recent years and chart a course for the years ahead.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade for the Korea Economic Institute of America.

Photos from Cheong Wa Dae and White House.

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