Democracy is the biggest challenge for South Korea in 2015


Author: Kim Keeseok, Kangwon National University

It is not hard to list the domestic and international challenges for South Korea for 2015. There are many.

At the end of 2014, South Korea faces economic slowdown, an ageing population, worsening socio-economic inequality, rising youth unemployment, mounting household debt and a real-estate market slump. Read more…

Tough times ahead for China–Japan–South Korea joint FTA

Chinese, Japanese and South Korean officials attend the Fifth Round of China-Japan-Korea FTA Negotiations in Beijing, China, 1 September 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Jing Li, CASS

The fifth round of the China–Japan–South Korea Free Trade Agreement (CJK FTA) negotiations concluded in Beijing on 5 September. The three countries hope the negotiations will finish in 2015, but this partly depends on the progress of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. Read more…

South Koreans defend their rights in cyberspace

A woman uses a smartphone before the city skyline in Seoul at dusk on 21 March 2014. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Eun Jeong Soh, ANU

Over 3 million South Koreans have downloaded a Germany-based smartphone messenger app, Telegram, while 400,000 users of Kakao Talk — the nation’s most widely used messenger app — terminated their account, in protest against government attempts to crackdown on dissenters. Read more…

Remembrance, reconciliation and the East Asian memory wars


Author: Tessa Morris-Suzuki, ANU

‘The past’, as William Faulkner once wrote, ‘is not dead, it isn’t even past’. Nowhere is this more true than in today’s East Asia. The recent ‘memory wars’ between the countries of the region — particularly (though not exclusively) between Japan and its neighbours China and Korea — are eloquent testimony to the power of the past to haunt the present and influence the course of domestic and international politics. Read more…

Can South Korea and Japan resolve the ‘comfort women’ issue?

A former South Korean ‘comfort woman’, Lee Sun-duk, weeps during a press conference welcoming the passage of a resolution by the US House of Representatives calling on Japan to formally apologise to the victims and accept historical responsibility in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, 31 July 2007. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Kazuhiko Togo, Kyoto Sangyo University

Japan’s relations with South Korea have reached a new low. Six issues continue to plague bilateral relations, exacerbating the divide on historical memory: a lack of trust between Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and ROK president Park Geun-hye, the ‘comfort women’ issue, the Takeshima/Dokdo dispute, ROK judicial decisions on forced labour, Japanese politicians’ Yasukuni visits and Japan’s moves toward collective self-defence. The ‘comfort women’ issue may be the most serious bilateral friction point, but it also presents the greatest opportunity for a breakthrough. Read more…

Why history is a problem for Park Geun-hye in confronting Japan

Park Geun Hye visits the grave of her assassinated father, former South Korean President Park Chung Hee. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Peter McGill, London

Relations between South Korea and Japan have deteriorated significantly in recent years. South Korean President Park Geun-hye has refused to hold any bilateral meetings with her Japanese counterpart Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Park lays the blame for poor Japan–ROK relations squarely on Abe for his historical revisionism. Read more…

The Sewol ferry tragedy and its ongoing impact on South Korean society

Relatives of the Sewol ferry disaster hold a press conference urging Pope Francis to support their campaign at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul on 13 August 2014, ahead of his arrival on 14 August. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Lina Koleilat, ANU

The sinking of the Sewol ferry on 16 April 2014 will be remembered as South Korea’s worst maritime disaster. The tragedy paralysed South Korean society for months and its impact remains palpable today.

While the rest of South Korea was celebrating on 15 August, Liberation Day, with a festival of South Korean flags and nationalist celebrations, the scene at Seoul’s City Hall was very different. Read more…

Families of Sewol victims want to know why their children died

Family members grieve the loss of the loved ones in the Sewol ferry disaster. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Eun Jeong Soh, ANU

It has been over 100 days since the Sewol ferry sank, taking the lives 304 passengers including 250 high school students on a field trip. Families of the victims and the South Korean public are still dumbfounded that the passengers were told to remain on-board as the Coast Guard rescued crew members. The government’s sluggish and limited rescue effort is another source of the families’ anger. Read more…

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…