North Korea - South Korea
Chronology from May 2022 to Aug 2022
: South Korea reveals its budget for 2023, the first under Yoon. Amid the first fall in overall spending for 13 years, MOU’s budget suffers its first cut since 2018: down from 1.5 to 1.45 trillion won. Within this, the humanitarian aid component is set to rise 15.1% to 751 billion won ($558 million), to finance Yoon’s “audacious initiative.” (As under Moon Jae-in, the prospect of such funds being disbursed is remote.) Defense spending is slated to rise 4.6% to 57.1 trillion won ($42.3 billion): a sum larger than North Korea’s entire GDP.
: ROK DM Lee tells the National Assembly that, as Yonhap’s headline summarizes it: “N. Korea set for nuke test, but no sign of action yet.”
: South Korea’s official Truth and Reconciliation Commission confirms that in Yeongam county in South Jeolla province, “local leftists and North Korean partisans” killed 133 civilians between August and November 1950, during the Korean War. According to Yonhap, the targets “were mostly police, civil servants, members of a right-wing youth group and other people classified as right-wingers and their families…Some people known to be wealthy and Christians were also sacrificed.” 41% of victims were female; 36% were children aged under 15.
: Seoul Central District Court finds in favor of seven veterans and one widow, who in 2020 sued Kim Jong Un and the DPRK government over injuries and losses suffered during an inter-Korean naval skirmish off Yeonpyeong island in 2002. The defendants are ordered to pay 20 million won ($14,886) to each complainant, plus 5% annual interest for the past 20 years. Like similar cases in the US, this is largely symbolic. (By an earlier Supreme Court ruling, North Korea, constitutionally defined as an anti-government organization, is regarded as a “juridical person” under the ROK Civil Procedure Act.)
: South Korea and the US launch Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS): their first large field-training military exercises in four years. Normally annual, such maneuvers were scaled back or suspended for four years (2018-21) under Donald Trump and Moon Jae-in, partly for diplomatic reasons and also due to COVID-19. The exercise concludes on Sept. 1.
: Responding to Kim Yo Jong’s broadside, South Korea’s presidential office says: “We consider it very regrettable that North Korea continues to use rude language while mentioning the president by name, and continued to express its nuclear development intentions while distorting our ‘audacious plan.’”
: MOU Kwon says his government will, as Yonhap puts it, “strive to create a condition for North Korea to embrace” President Yoon’s “audacious initiative.” Seoul plans to “to send more specific messages to the North, going forward.”
: Kim Yo Jong issues a further statement, titled “Don’t have an absurd dream.” KCNA publishes this on Aug. 19. Contemptuously rejecting Yoon’s “bold plan” as a rehash of equally unacceptable past offers by “traitor Lee Myung-bak,” she adds: “We don’t like Yoon Suk Yeol…Though he may knock at the door with [whatever] large plan in the future as his ‘bold plan’ does not work, we make it clear that we will not sit face to face with him.”
: At a press conference marking his first 100 days in office, Yoon clarifies that his ‘audacious offer’ does not require North Korea’s complete denuclearization right away: “As long as they demonstrate firm commitment, we will do what we can do to help them.” He denies hostile intent: “[N]either I nor the Republic of Korea government wants the status quo changed unreasonably or by force in North Korea.”
: MOU says it “urges and hopes” North Korea will respond to “our…sincere proposal for peace on the Korean Peninsula and the common prosperity of the South and the North.” But it has no plans to request working-level contact specifically about this.
: In his speech for Liberation Day—from Japan in 1945; a public holiday in both Koreas—Yoon fleshes out his “audacious plan” to aid North Korea, slightly. (Appendix I contains his remarks in full.)
: Seoul rebuffs Pyongyang. MOU “expresses strong regret over North Korea’s insolent and threatening remarks based on repeated groundless claims regarding the inflow of the coronavirus.”
: At a specially convened “national meeting of reviewing the emergency anti-epidemic work,” North Korea proclaims (as KCNA headlines it) a “Brilliant Victory Gained by Great People of DPRK.” Kim Jong Un declares the coronavirus “eradicated.” In her first known public speech (as opposed to written commentary), his sister Kim Yo Jong praises her brother’s dedication, implying he too was infected. But she savages South Korea, in absurd and obscene terms, accusing the “puppet conservative gangsters” of infecting the North by “a farce ofscattering leaflets, bank notes, dirty booklets and other shit over our territory.”
: An MOU official notes: “As rain has fallen heavily in North Korea, the North is repeatedly opening and closing the floodgates of Hwanggang Dam,” upstream on the Imjin river which flows into South Korea. As before Pyongyang did not notify Seoul. With northern South Korea pounded by the heaviest rain in 80 years, officials in ROK’s Gyeonggi province warn that the Imjin has risen dangerously.
: Amid renewed controversy regarding the Moon administration’s deportation of two DPRK fishermen, MOU Kwon says the ROK should be clear on the principle that it accepts “all” defectors. Kwon calls the 2019 incident a “forced repatriation.
: South Korea’s arms procurement agency, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), tellsthe National Assembly it is working on almost 200—197, to be exact—separate projects to beef up defenses against North Korea’s evolving WMD threats.
: ROK NSO responds, with notable restraint: “We express deep regret that Chairman Kim Jong Un made threatening remarks at our government while mentioning the president by name.”
: Bank of Korea (BoK), South Korea’s central bank, publishes annual estimates of North Korea’s economy. It reckons Northern GDP fell by 0.1% last year: an improvement on 2020’s minus 4.5%. The inter-Korean trade gap – actual, not estimated – is now unimaginably wide. In 2021 South Korea exported almost as much every hour as North Korea managed in the entire year.
: In a speech on what the DPRK clebrates as “the 69th anniversary of the great victory in the [Korean] War,” otherwise known as the 1953 Armistice, Kim Jong Un for the first time mentions his ROK counterpart by name: “We can no longer sit around seeing Yoon Suk Yeol and his military gangsters’ misdemeanors.” Should the “military ruffians” venture a pre-emptive strike, the “Yoon [Suk Yeol] regime and its army will be annihilated.”
: MND Lee tells Parliament that since the 2018 North-South accords, when Kim Jong Un committed to denuclearization, North Korea is reckoned to have grown its stockpile of fissile materials (plutonium and highly enriched uranium) by 10%.
: MOU issues a fresh 2022 Work Plan, reflecting the new government’s stance. While claiming to address North Korea’s security concerns, the official summary—to “pursue peaceful unification based on the basic free and democratic order to realize a denuclearized, peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula”—can hardly appeal to Pyongyang. Nor will plans for a new foundation on DPRK human rights. More interesting is a tentative proposal to unban DPRK media in the ROK, supposedly in hopes that the North might follow suit.
: South Korea reopens Panmunjom to journalists and tourists, after a six-month hiatus due to COVID-19. UN Command (UNC) guides note that for two years since the pandemic began, DPRK troops have hardly emerged from their buildings. The Northern side, formerly well maintained and neat, is overgrown with weeds and unkempt.
: Ministry of Foreign Affairs names Lee Shin-hwa, professor at Korea University, as the ROK’s first ambassador for North Korean human rights since 2017. Moon Jae-in’s government left the position vacant, as part of its drive to engage Pyongyang.
: Both MOU and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) say there was no legal basis for Moon Jae-in’s government to repatriate the two fishermen to North Korea.
: Yoon’s presidential office condemns its predecessor’s repatriation of the fishermen as a potential “crime against humanity,” and vows a full investigation.
: FFNK says it has again sent balloons carrying supplies to fight the pandemic across the DMZ. Besides 70,000 painkillers, 30,000 vitamin C tablets, and 20,000 masks, it also includes posters saying “We denounce Kim Jong Un, a hypocrite who let the vicious infectious disease from China spread and put the blame on anti-North leaflets.” MOU again urges FFNK to cease such activities.
: In similar tough-talking vein, at his first meeting with top military commanders (Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, plus the MND and JCS chairman), President Yoon orders them “to swiftly and firmly punish North Korea [if] it carries out a provocation.”
: ROK’s new JCS Chairman, army Gen. Kim Seung-kyum, warns: “If North Korea provokes, our military will definitely have it pay a hefty price…through unsparing retaliation….(We) will inscribe even onto its bones (the message) that there’s nothing to gain from provocations.”
: ROK JCS says it is “paying keen attention” and watching out for any sign of Korean Peoples’ Army (KPA) summer drills, usually held in July. So far it has only seen small-scale “related maneuvers,” perhaps due to recent torrential rain.
: In a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the first South-North Joint Statement, MOU Kwon says his government will seek a “new structure” of inter-Korean dialogue, including nuclear talks: “We cannot just sit on our hands and leave nuclear negotiations to the international community.”
: Marking the same anniversary, DPRK Today says: “Until this day, a vicious cycle of confrontation and tension has repeated itself on the Korean Peninsula.” It blames “the South Korean authorities who have neglected the three principles for national unification of autonomy, peace, and solidarity of the Korean nation, and failed to faithfully implement the inter-Korean agreement.”
: MOU confirms “it is presumed that North Korea has recently opened the floodgates of Hwanggang Dam.” However, water levels on the Imjin River remain stable.
: MOU says that although the inter-Korean liaison hotline is operational, the North is still unresponsive to efforts to fax a formal request to be notified before dam waters are released.
: Seoul says it has not succeeded in sending an official message asking to be notified before Pyongyang discharges water from its dams, as seems to have happened after recent heavy rains. This morning the inter-Korean hotline was not working, possibly due to flood damage. It was restored by the afternoon, but the North did not agree to accept the message – which was instead conveyed informally and verbally, via a separate military hotline. After six South Koreans drowned in flash floods in 2009 caused by such a discharge, the two Koreas agreed to notify each other in future before doing this.
: ROK Premier Han Duck-soo tells the Korean Peninsula Peace Symposium that (in Yonhap’s summary) “Seoul intends to normalize inter-Korean relations through a bold plan for substantial denuclearization and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, while upholding the principles of its relations with Pyongyang.”
: ROK Coast Guard’s head again apologizes for “causing misunderstanding” regarding the 2020 death of fisheries official Lee Dae-jun. Lee’s family lodges criminal complaints against three of ex-President Moon’s secretaries, including former National Security Advisor Suh Hoon, accusing them of dereliction of duty and obstruction.
: Reviving a second inter-Korean incident considered closed, Yoon strongly hints that his administration may investigate his predecessor Moon Jae-in’s repatriation in 2019 of two North Korean fishermen, who had allegedly killed 16 of their crewmates: “Haven’t the people had many questions about it?” (See also July 12 below, and thereafter.)
: In his first press conference, MOU Kwon Young-se says: “I will try harder to shift the currently chilled inter-Korean ties into a phase of dialogue…I am willing to meet with the head of [North Korea’s] UFD, Ri Son Gwon, any time in any format.”
: PPP says it will launch a task force into Lee Dae-jun’s death, and calls for Moon Jae-in to be investigated. Refusing to cooperate, opposition leader Woo Sang-ho says Moon “strongly protested” to the North and got “a rare apology” from Kim Jong Un: “It is a case where we brought North Korea to its knees, not where we pussyfooted around it.”
: Unexpectedly resurrecting the case of Lee Dae-jun (see here for details), the ROK Coast Guard now says“no evidence was found to confirm his intention to defect.” It apologizes for imputing that motive at the time. MND reassesses the case similarly. The (NSO) withdraws an appeal, filed under Moon Jae-in, against a court order to disclose classified information about Lee’s death to his family.
: On the 22nd anniversary of the Joint Declaration, adopted at the first North-South summit in Pyongyang in June 2000 by then-leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae-jung, MOU Kwon Young-se pledges a consistent stance: “[Our] policy on North Korea will open a new path that embraces the flexibility shown by the previous liberal administrations, as well as a stable stance kept by conservative administrations in the past.” He calls on Pyongyang to respect inter-Korean agreements and desist from military provocations.
: North Korea’s Committee to Uphold the June 15 Joint Declaration sends a message to its Southern counterpart: “The conservative force that newly took power in the South has taken itself as an assault force for the realization of the US’ hostile policy.”
: Commenting (on background) on the new DPRK foreign minister, an MOU official cautions: “It is difficult to construe the replacement of a particular official as being necessarily related to any change in North Korea’s external policy.” The Sejong Institute’s Cheong Seong-chang notes Ri Son Gwon’s past hawkishness, and even rudeness, toward Seoul. His reassignment may presage a renewed anti-South offensive.
: Lee Young-hoon, senior pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church (YFGC), the largest Pentecostal denomination in Korea, says the DPRK has asked the church to build ‘people’s hospitals’ in all its 260 counties. He offers no details. YFGC began constructing a cardiac hospital in Pyongyang in 2007, but work stopped after 2010’s Cheonan incident. In November YFGC obtained a UN sanctions waiver to send some 1,500 medical and related items to North Korea; this has yet to take place.
: ROK presidential office adds that the NSO met yesterday, while the suspected MRL test was ongoing, and discussed it. President Yoon did not attend.
: Following media reports that North Korea test-fired multiple rocket launchers (MRLs) earlier today, the JCS belatedly says it observed “trails” consistent with that.
: North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party (WPK) holds Fifth Enlarged Plenary Meeting of its Eighth Central Committee (their capitals). A wide-ranging agenda includes personnel reshuffles. Choe Son Hui, a seasoned negotiator with the US, becomes the DPRK’s first female minister of foreign affairs, replacing Ri Son Gwon, who takes charge of inter-Korean relations as head of the United Front Department (UFD).
: In a further reaction, the US and South Korea stage a combined demonstration of air power involving 20 planes over the Yellow Sea. Four USAF F-16 fighters join 16 ROKAF combat aircraft, including F-35A stealth fighters, F-15Ks and KF-16s.
: Activist group Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK) claims that on June 5 it sent 20 balloons carrying COVID-19 related supplies—20,000 masks, 30,000 vitamin C pills and 15,000 pain-killers—across the DMZ. In a change of tone but not message from the Moon era, MOU says that while “we fully understand the group’s efforts to help North Koreans,” such actions are unhelpful – and illegal under the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act. A police investigation is launched.
: US and South Korea riposte by firing eight missiles—ground-to-ground Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) —in a 10-minute pre-dawn burst from a single location in Gangwon-do on the east coast.
: A day after the US-ROK navy drill ends, North Korea fires eight short-range missiles (SRBMs) from four different locations into the East Sea/Sea of Japan. Distances flown range between 110 and 670 km, with altitude varying from 25 to 90 km. This is the DPRK’s 18th missile launch this year, its third since Yoon took office, and the largest batch of missiles Pyongyang has launched on one day.
: JCS announces that on June 2-4 the ROK and US held their first joint exercises including a US aircraft carrier for over four years, in international waters off Okinawa. The drills involved air defense, anti-ship, anti-submarine, and maritime interdiction operations.
: On his first visit to the defense ministry and the JCS, President Yoon says he appreciates their dedication and calls for “a firm military readiness posture [to] be maintained.”
: Unnamed officials tell Yonhap that on May 9 (before Yoon took office) MND began distributing new troop instruction materials referring to the North Korean military and regime as “our enemy,” after incoming minister Lee Jong-sup called for “clear education” on this point. Under Moon Jae-in the E-word was eschewed, in favor of “real military threats.” MND is canvassing opinion on whether its next defense White Paper should also revert to naming the North as an enemy.
: In his first media interview since taking office, Yoon tells CNN that, as they headline it, the “age of appeasing North Korea is over.” He adds: “I think the ball is in Chairman Kim [Jong Un]’s court—it is his choice to start a dialogue with us.”
: Hours after President Biden leaves the region, North Korea launches three missiles – including a suspected ICBM—off its east coast. Shortly afterward, the US and South Korea fire two missiles: their first such joint response since 2017
: On the 12th anniversary of the “May 24 measures,” whereby Seoul banned almost all inter-Korean trade (except at the then Kaesong Industrial Complex) in retaliation for the sinking of the ROKN frigate Cheonan, MOU says these sanctions “can be reviewed in accordance with a principles-based and practical approach”—but will remain in effect for now. Meanwhile, at a press conference outside the ministry, entrepreneurs who pioneered North-South commerce protest at the loss of their livelihood: “Over 1,000 businessmen are living miserably, with several having gone bankrupt or turned into delinquent borrowers.”
: According to a poll by Gallup Korea, 72% of South Koreans support helping North Korea tackle COVID-19, while 22% are opposed. Those in their 20s are evenly split.
: ROK Ministry of Unification (MOU) says it is trying to confirm media reports that five DPRK border crossers have been arrested in Dandong, China. MOU restates South Korea’s position: “North Korean defectors living abroad can go to any place they desire of their own free will.”
: According to South Korean lawmakers after a confidential briefing—promptly leaked to the media, as usual in Seoul—the NIS reckons North Korea has completed preparations for a nuclear test, “and they’re gauging the timing.” NIS also assesses that Kim Jong Un is unlikely to have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
: Yonhap reports that MND will reinstate the original “hawkish names” for two elements of South Korea’s “three-axis” defense system against Northern WMD: Kill Chain, and Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR. The third is Korea Air and Missile Defense). Under Moon Jae-in these were renamed as “strategic target strike” and “overwhelming response,” respectively. A spokesman says reviving the old names adds “clarity.”
: Three Southern NGOs offer medical aid worth 12 billion won ($10 million) to help North Korea fight COVID-19. Urging Pyongyang to accept, they say they will reach out via “all [possible] routes.” Meanwhile, MOU notes that for a fourth day the North has stayed silent regarding the South’s bid to send a formal offer of assistance.
: Kim Tae-hyo, first deputy chief of the ROK’s presidential National Security Office (NSO), says a North Korean ICBM test looks “imminent.”
: Yoon repeats offer of aid to fight COVID-19: “We must not hold back…we will not spare any necessary support.” While that offer is unconditional, he notes that the security situation is worsening and calls for “a sustainable peace under which the process of North Korea’s denuclearization and inter-Korean trust building form a virtuous cycle.”
: MOU says Pyongyang has been “unresponsive” to its offer to cooperate against COVID-19. At the regular daily 9 a.m. test call on the liaison office communication line, Seoul conveys its wish to fax a letter signed by Minister Kwon Young-se at 11 a.m. The second daily call at 5 p.m. passes without the North clarifying whether it would accept this message. The ROK Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) says the South has ample stocks of vaccine to share; adding that the North’s outbreak is “probably much more serious than what has been announced.”
: A day after the DPRK admits an outbreak of COVID-19, President Yoon offers to send COVID-19 vaccines. His spokesperson says: “We will hold discussions with the North Korean side about details.” The North today reports six deaths, and that a total of 350,000 people “got fever in a short span of time,” with 18,000 new cases on May 12 alone; 187,8000 “are being isolated and treated.” However one of Yoon’s officials tells reporters, on background: “We know more than what was announced. It’s more serious than thought.” It cannot be assumed that Pyongyang will accept this and other offers of vaccine aid.
: A day after the DPRK admits an outbreak of COVID-19, Yoon offers to send COVID-19 vaccines. His spokesperson says: “We will hold discussions with the North Korean side about details.” The North today reports six deaths, and that a total of 350,000 people “got fever in a short span of time,” with 18,000 new cases on May 12 alone; 187,8000 “are being isolated and treated.” One of Yoon’s officials tells reporters on background: “We know more than what was announced. It’s more serious than thought.”
: Sources tell Yonhap that, by order of new Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup to the JCS, the ROK military will revert to calling DPRK missile tests “provocations”: a term eschewed under Moon. Seoul will also refer to “unidentified ballistic missiles” rather than “unidentified projectiles.” In a similar hardening of tone, the presidential National Security Office (NSO) “strongly condemns” Pyongyang’s latest missile launch today, and “deplore[s] North Korea’s two-faced actions” of continuing ballistic missile provocations while neglecting its people’s lives and safety amid a coronavirus outbreak.
: Sources tell the quasi-official news agency Yonhap that, by order of Defense Minister Lee, the ROK military will revert to calling DPRK missile tests “provocations,” a term avoided under Moon. Seoul will also refer to “unidentified ballistic missiles” rather than “unidentified projectiles.” In a similar hardening of tone, the presidential National Security Office (NSO) “strongly condemns” Pyongyang’s latest missile launch today, and “deplore[s] North Korea’s two-faced actions” of continuing ballistic missile provocations while neglecting its people’s lives and safety amid a coronavirus outbreak.
: Yoon picks Kim Kyou-hyun, a career diplomat and onetime deputy national security adviser, as head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), succeeding Park Jie-won. Kwon Chun-taek, a former NIS official and diplomat, will be first deputy director: a job largely focused on North Korea. (Some had tipped Kwon for the top job.) Like ministers, Kyou must undergo a parliamentary confirmation hearing, but approval is not mandatory.
: Yoon picks Kim Kyou-hyun, a career diplomat and onetime deputy national security adviser, as head of the National Intelligence Service (NIS), succeeding Park Jie-won. Kwon Chun-taek, a former NIS official and diplomat, will be first deputy director, a job largely focused on North Korea. Kim must undergo a parliamentary confirmation hearing; he is duly approved on May 26.
: Yoon Suk-yeol is duly inaugurated as president of the Republic of Korea.
: Incoming MND Lee Jong-sup tells his National Assembly confirmation hearing that North Korea is an “evident” enemy, given its nuclear and missile threats.
: In North Korea’s 15th missile launch this year, the ROK JCS report an apparent submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test in waters near the east coast city of Sinpo. The projectile flew 600 km, reaching 60 km in altitude. The DPRK’s last SLBM test was in October. The JCS adds that it is “maintaining a full readiness posture.” Incoming National Security Adviser (NSA) Kim Sung-han says the Yoon administration will reassess the DPRK’s WMD threat, to “come up with fundamental measures against North Korea’s provocations and actual deterrence capabilities against its nuclear missile threats.”
: In North Korea’s 15th missile launch this year, the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) report an apparent submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) test in waters near the east coast city of Sinpo. This flew 600 km, reaching 60km in altitude. (The DPRK’s last SLBM test was in October.) The JCS says it is “maintaining a full readiness posture.” Incoming National Security Adviser (NSA) Kim Sung-han says the Yoon administration will reassess the DPRK’s WMD threat, to “come up with fundamental measures against North Korea’s provocations and actual deterrence capabilities against its nuclear missile threats.”
: Lee Jong-sup, former three-star general who is Yoon’s nominee to be the next Minister of National Defense, tells his parliamentary confirmation hearing that South Korea could be a nuclear target for North Korea.
: Both the outgoing and soon-to-be ROK governments condemn the DPRK’s latest missile launch today, its 14th this year. The presidential National Security Council (NSC) calls on Pyongyang “to stop its actions that pose serious threats.” President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol’s transition team promises “more fundamental deterrence measures.”
: Lee Jong-sup, the former three-star general who is Yoon’s nominee to be minister of National Defense (MND), tells his parliamentary confirmation hearing that South Korea could be a nuclear target for North Korea. (See also May 8.)