Diplomatic Briefing

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Archive for South Korea

Newsline: South Korea’s top diplomat seen seeking to reassure Beijing over U.S. ties

South Korea foreign minister Park Jin is set for his first visit to China on Monday as President Yoon Suk-yeol’s government seeks to reassure Beijing about their relationship despite stronger ties with the United States and tensions over Taiwan. Park is scheduled for a three-day stay in the eastern port city of Qingdao, during which he will hold talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Seoul’s foreign ministry said. Park is the first high-level official to travel to China since Yoon took office in May. His trip comes after Beijing expressed outrage over U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week. China claims the self-governed island as its own. Yoon faced criticism from lawmakers – some from his ruling party – for not meeting with Pelosi. Yoon, who was on vacation, held a phone call with her instead. His office said that the decision was made in consideration of national interests, and that there was no pressure from Beijing. (https://news.yahoo.com/first-visit-china-south-korean-051732340.html) Stakes are high for Park’s visit, as Seoul walks a fine line between its alliance with the United States and with China, South Korea’s top trade partner, amid their intensifying rivalry.

Newsline: South Korea’s top diplomat to visit U.S. amid election uncertainty

South Korea’s top diplomat plans to visit Washington next week, officials said on Thursday, as Seoul pledged a solid alliance with the United States regardless of the presidential election results. South Korea’s foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha will arrive in Washington on Sunday for a four day stay, the ministry said. The trip came at the invitation from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who cancelled his planned visit to Seoul last month after Trump tested positive for the coronavirus. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-southkorea/south-koreas-top-diplomat-to-visit-u-s-amid-election-uncertainty-idUSKBN27L0AF) The ministers will hold a meeting over bilateral and regional issues including stalled talks aimed at dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes in exchange for U.S. sanctions relief. Despite uncertainty over the U.S. election, South Korea’s presidential Blue House said it would maintain the “solid” alliance whoever wins the White House.

Newsline: Lawmaker says missing North Korean diplomat has settled in South Korea

A former senior North Korean diplomat who disappeared from his country’s embassy in Italy in 2018 has settled in South Korea, a lawmaker in Seoul said on Tuesday. Jo Song Gil, who was North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, disappeared with his wife after leaving the embassy without notice in early November 2018, and his whereabouts have been unclear since. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-southkorea-diplomat/lawmaker-says-missing-north-korean-diplomat-has-settled-in-south-korea-idUSKBN26R2EY) In a post on Facebook, Ha Tae-keung, a South Korean opposition party lawmaker who sits on parliament’s intelligence committee, said that Jo had settled in South Korea last year under the protection of the government.

Newsline: South Korea, New Zealand spar over diplomat in sex harassment case

South Korea and New Zealand are at odds over the case of a South Korean diplomat who has been accused of groping a New Zealand staff member at Seoul’s Embassy in Wellington. The New Zealand government has called on South Korea to waive the man’s diplomatic immunity, but Seoul has agreed to cooperate on the grounds his immunity not be waived, South Korean news service News 1 reported. South Korea’s foreign ministry told reporters on Monday the two countries have been in communication over the case. Seoul will work with the New Zealand government if it requests investigation under the Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and extradition. (https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2020/08/03/South-Korea-New-Zealand-spar-over-diplomat-in-sex-harassment-case/6671596458162/) New Zealand has urged Seoul to do more, however. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has “expressed her disappointment that the Korean Government was unable to waive immunity to allow aspects of the police investigation into this matter to proceed,” the prime minister’s office said, according to the New Zealand Herald on Sunday. Ardern recently conveyed her opinions in a phone call with President Moon Jae-in. The diplomat, a former deputy ambassador to New Zealand, has been charged with three counts of sexual misconduct that took place in 2017. The plaintiff in the case, a male employee at the embassy, is currently receiving support from MOSAIC, an advocacy group for male sex abuse survivors, according to the report.

Newsline: South Korea plans to handle diplomat’s sexual harassment in New Zealand

President Moon Jae-in told the leader of New Zealand that his government will handle a sexual harassment allegation involving a senior South Korean diplomat, once based in Wellington, after finding relevant facts, a Cheong Wa Dae official said. Moon had phone talks with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern the previous day. She raised the issue at the end of the 30-minute conversation, the official told reporters. The 2017 case has drawn public attention again since a recent news report in New Zealand. While serving as a counselor at the South Korean Embassy in Wellington at that time, the diplomat was accused of behaving indecently against a local male staffer. The diplomat, whose name remains withheld formally, left the capital city in 2018 and is now serving as consul general in another foreign country. There has reportedly since been little progress in a probe by New Zealand’s police despite a court-issued arrest warrant. Responding to Ardern’s remarks, Moon said, “Related (South Korean) authorities will handle (the matter) after confirming facts,” the Cheong Wa Dae official said on the condition of anonymity. (http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20200729000928) According to sources familiar with the matter, the foreign ministry had probed the diplomat and had cut his salary for a month as a disciplinary measure before reassigning him to the current post.

Newsline: After Blowing Up De Facto Embassy With South Korea, Pyongyang Continues Provocations

A day after blowing up the de facto inter-Korean embassy, North Korea continued to ratchet up military pressure on the South, announcing the re-deployment of its forces near the border and angrily rejecting Seoul’s offer to send envoys to reduce tensions. As of Wednesday, North Korea’s military will reenter the area near the Mt. Kumgang resort area and the Kaesong industrial complex, according to a spokesperson for the Korean People’s Army in the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). In addition, guard posts that had previously been abandoned “will be set up again to strengthen the guard over the front line,” and North Korea will also resume “all kinds of regular military exercises” in the area near the country’s sea border with South Korea, KCNA reported. (https://www.voanews.com/east-asia-pacific/after-blowing-de-facto-embassy-north-korea-continues-provocations) Combined with its moves over the past week, North Korea has now reversed many of the achievements made during a series of historic 2018 meetings between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. On Tuesday, North Korea used controlled explosives to demolish the inter-Korean liaison center just north of the border. Last week, Pyongyang said it would cut off all official channels of dialogue with Seoul.

Newsline: US embassy in Seoul removes Black Lives Matter banner and Pride flag

The US Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, has removed a large banner for the Black Lives Matter movement after a request from State Department leadership and taken down a rainbow flag that celebrates LGBTQ pride. Senior State Department leadership asked the embassy in Seoul to take down the Black Lives Matter sign that Ambassador Harry Harris had hung from the building’s façade Saturday, according to a source familiar with the issue. A spokesman for the embassy confirmed to CNN that the large Pride flag has also come down. (https://edition.cnn.com/2020/06/15/politics/us-embassy-seoul-blm-banner/index.html) The request from the department’s 7th floor — where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s offices are located — cited as its reason the fact that Black Lives Matter is a non-profit organization and that the US government does not encourage contributions to the group or promote any specific organization, the source said. It is not clear why the Pride flag — which was hung in late May, according to the embassy’s Facebook page — was removed and no explanation has been offered yet.

Newsline: U.S. embassy in Seoul displays Black Lives Matter banner

The U.S. embassy in Seoul draped a huge Black Lives Matter banner on its mission building and tweeted a picture of it in support of an anti-racism campaign across America. “The U.S. Embassy stands in solidarity with fellow Americans grieving and peacefully protesting to demand positive change. Our #BlackLivesMatter banner shows our support for the fight against racial injustice and police brutality as we strive to be a more inclusive & just society,” the embassy tweeted on Saturday, along with the picture of the banner in black and white. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris retweeted the message, adding “USA is a free and diverse nation… from that diversity we gain our strength.” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-usa-embassy/us-embassy-in-seoul-displays-black-lives-matter-banner-in-support-of-anti-racism-protests-idUSKBN23L05P) Black Lives Matter protests are being held across the globe as part of campaigns focusing on social injustice following the death of George Floyd in police custody, but the banner is seen as a rare, open support for the protest by an appointee of President Donald Trump after Trump linked violent protests to “thugs.”

Newsline: U.S. envoy asks South Korean police about blocking embassy protest

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul last week asked local police if there was any way to block rallies held under the guise of press conferences in front of the embassy, according to a police source. The People’s Democracy Party, a Korean progressive group, has held anti-American rallies in front of the embassy in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul, for the past three years. On June 3, about 20 members of the People’s Democracy Party held a rally in the form of a press conference in Gwanghwamun Square, protesting the death of George Floyd, who died from suffocation in Minneapolis police custody last month. Protesters held up a sign that read: “U.S. imperialism means ‘I can’t breathe.’” The next day, the protesters again gathered in Gwanghwamun and called for the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Harry Harris from Korea. While groups are required to report to police before holding a rally, the People’s Democracy Party claimed that they were exempted from the requirement because they were holding press conferences. Police are conducting an internal investigation into whether the June 3rd press conference should be considered a rally. However, the June 4th gathering was determined to be a press conference, and thus exempt from the reporting requirement. In accordance with the Assembly and Demonstration Act, courts have considered press conferences to be rallies if there is repetition of chants or people holding up banners and pickets. The U.S. Embassy made an inquiry to the police soon after the June 4 protest, asking about the difference between a press conference and a rally and whether rallies held in the pretext of press conferences could be blocked. The embassy suggested such a rally could be stopped for breaking social distancing requirements amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Ambassador Harry Harris saw the press conference and inquired to police about it through a security manager,” a police official said. (https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/2020/06/12/national/diplomacy/Harry-Harris-US-Embassy-rallies/20200612050601587.html) It’s rare for the U.S. Embassy to make such requests directly to the police, rather than the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “I’ve never seen someone from the U.S. Embassy inquire about managing of rallies in all my time working at the Foreign Affairs Bureau,” a former senior official at the Korean National Police Agency said.

Newsline: Jailed ex-ambassador to South Korea granted pardon in Cambodia

Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni has signed a royal decree to deliver a pardon to former ambassador to South Korea Suth Dina at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen. In the royal decree released on Saturday, the monarch granted amnesty to Dina, 49, who was convicted of abuse of power and embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison in 2016. Dina, who had served as the Cambodian ambassador to South Korea for 25 months, was arrested by the country’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) in April 2016 following a raft of complaints against the former envoy. (http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-05/16/c_139061943.htm) At that time, the ACU announced that an investigation had found that Dina had 7.2 million U.S. dollars in cash, up from 4.2 million U.S. dollars when his ambassadorial appointment began in Feb. 2014. Also, the former ambassador owned 12.7 kilograms of gold worth about 500,000 U.S. dollars and several houses and pieces of land. The ACU said Dina had embezzled 116,995 U.S. dollars from selling visa stickers and withdrew more than 180,000 U.S. dollars from the embassy’s administrative budget for informal salary expenses. In December 2016, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced him to five years in prison for abuse of power and embezzlement.