South Korean ‘alpha girls’ and workplace bias

South Korean President Park Geun-hye gives a letter of appointment to Cho Yoon-sun as gender equality minister at the presidential office in Seoul, 11 March 2013. While some women in South Korea have been able to pierce the glass ceiling, structural and cultural challenges still persist for the vast majority of female workers. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Hyaeweol Choi, ANU

Recently in South Korea the term ‘alpha girls’ has been used to describe women who are extremely successful in their work, accomplished and ambitious in pursuit of career advancement. This icon, and the discourse surrounding it, has emerged thanks to the rapid growth in the number of women in high-powered professions that had formerly been dominated by men, including law, medicine and diplomacy. Read more…

South Korea should keep calm and carry on through EU trade squall

A view of the Busan Container Terminal in Busan Port, South Korea, 11 July 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Judith Cherry, University of Sheffield

The EU–South Korea free trade agreement (FTA) — implemented on 1 July 2011 — was South Korea’s seventh FTA and the EU’s first trade deal with an Asian country. At the time, analysts forecast that both sides stood to gain economically, with South Korea obtaining two-thirds of the total gains from an EU–South Korea FTA.

But, today, the benefits of the FTA for South Korea are still yet to be realised. Read more…

Inequality in South Korea

A worker of Daewoo Motors, dressing like a beggar, performs during an anti-government rally to rising layoffs outside Daewoo headquarters building in Seoul, 22 July 1998.  The uneven consequences of the Asian financial crisis contributed to rising inequality in South Korea. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Hagen Koo, University of Hawai‘i at Manoa

Park Geun-hye, the current president of South Korea, pledged to rebuild the middle class and increase its size to 70 per cent of society, as part of her 2012 campaign. South Korean observers agree that this was an effective political strategy which greatly contributed to her election. In South Korea, as in many advanced economies, a major political discourse has emerged over economic polarisation and the declining middle class. Read more…

South Korea’s poverty-stricken elderly

School kids visit a senior center on Parents Day in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo: AAP).

Authors: Jongmin Shon, Rutgers University, and Howard A. Palley, University of Maryland

Nearly half of South Korea’s elderly (65 or older) live below the poverty-line. In response to economic vulnerability and social isolation, the suicide rate among the elderly has tripled since 2000.The government of South Korea has instituted a number of programs aimed at targeting this situation, but has never made an adequate financial commitment to deal with it. Read more…

US to Japan, South Korea: stop arguing and get on with it

Shinto priests walk out from the outer shrine after they administer a Shinto rite Kiyoharai on the first day of the three-day spring festival at the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo on 21 April 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Andrew Horvat, Tokyo

On 6 March, the Obama administration sent a strong message to Japan and South Korea to work out their differences over history. Speaking on Japanese television, US Ambassador to Tokyo Caroline Kennedy said, ‘I’m sure President Obama will be very, very happy with the progress they will make’.

Read more…

Family reunions belie future of the Korean peninsula

North and South Korean family hold hands at a bus as they leave after the inter-Korean family reunion meeting at Mount Kumgang resort, North Korea, 25 February 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Andrew Kwon, Lowy Institute for International Policy/Center for Strategic and International Studies

The Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held their first family reunions in three years on 20 February 2014. But the event does not hail the beginning of a grand renewal in relations — the world has been here before and the important underlying factors that have undermined enhanced relations before, as highlighted by the recent exchange of fire along the western maritime border, remain unchanged. Read more…

Arctic newcomers: Japan, South Korea and Singapore

A boat skims through the melting Arctic ice in the Ilulissat fjord, on the western coast of Greenland on 28 August, 2008. Japan, South Korea and Singapore were made Permanent Observers at the Arctic Council in May 2013. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Aki Tonami, Copenhagen University

Japan, South Korea and Singapore are deepening their Arctic engagement. Along with China and India they were accepted as Permanent Observers at the Arctic Council in May 2013. Although becoming an observer does not dramatically change their status as non-Arctic coastal states in international fora, there are signs that these three countries have started to engage with the Arctic more seriously. Read more…

Can South Korea and Japan overcome diplomatic freeze?

South Korean President Park Geun-hye is seen on a screen of the press centre sitting together with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to attend a business forum held on the sidelines of the APEC forum in Bali on 7 October 2013. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Jonathan Berkshire Miller, Pacific Forum CSIS

With the visit to Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe further chilled the already downtrodden state of bilateral ties with South Korea. Despite his attempts to soothe anger in Seoul and Beijing by issuing an explanatory statement, Abe’s bold decision drew a series of strong rebukes — including a somewhat surprising public condemnation from Washington. Read more…

Park’s hesitant approach toward Japan

South Korean President Park Geun Hye holds her first press conference of the year in Seoul on 6 January, 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Keeseok Kim, KNU

Since the normalisation of diplomatic relations in 1965, interaction between South Korea and Japan has been coloured by both the darkness of the past and the brightness of the future. On the bright side, the two neighbours have achieved remarkable improvements in most aspects of political, economic and socio-cultural relations. Read more…

Arbitration rights back for the South Korea-Australia FTA

South Korean Minister for Trade, Industry and Energy, Yoon Sang-jick, at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali on 3 December, 2013. (Photo: World Trade Organization).

Author: Luke Nottage, University of Sydney

Australia’s Coalition government, dominated by the Liberal Party and led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, recently completed a rocky first 100 days in power. While the government stands accused of sending ‘conflicting messages’ to the business sector — including for blocking a major foreign direct investment (FDI) proposal, the A$3.4 billion bid by US firm Archer Daniels Midland for GrainCorp — completion of the Australia-South Korea FTA may be a positive step for attracting foreign investment. Read more…

South Korea–Vietnam FTA will open up East Asian opportunities

South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks to a dinner meeting of businessmen of South Korea and Vietnam in Hanoi on 8 September, 2013. (Photo:AAP)

Author: Jaewan Cheong, KIEP

In the mere 20 years or so since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, economic cooperation between South Korea and Vietnam has deepened significantly. Both countries have pledged to conclude a bilateral FTA by 2014.

Vietnamese participation in the East Asian production network has increased rapidly in the last decade. Read more…

Fragility of South Korea democracy exposed

Lee Seok-ki of the leftist Unified Progressive Party speaks before leaving the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea,  4 September 2013. He was recently arrested for an alleged pro-North Korean conspiracy. (Photo: AAP)

Authors: Emma Campbell and Suwon Barb Lee, ANU

The arrest and resignation of two prominent public figures in the wake of sex and political scandal are exposing the fragility of democracy in South Korea.

South Korean Prosecutor General Chae Dong-wook was forced to resign in September ostensibly because of a private scandal involving a child born out of an adulterous relationship. Read more…