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Headlines, November 20, 2019

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Round-up of important news from major Korean dailies and from international media today

The Korea Post (http://www.koreapost.com/)

Sultan steers Oman to safety, stability, security, prosperity despite challenges”

On Nov. 20, 2019, Ambassador Mohamed Selim Alharthy of Oman in Seoul hosts a reception at the Lotte Hotel in Seoul in celebration of the 49th National Day of Oman. "The Sultanate of Oman marks its 49th National Day,” says Ambassador Alharthy, “and it is the most cherished milestone that is celebrated this year and every year in a renewed spirit of dignity, determination and aspiration.” (See excerpts from the statement of Ambassador Alharthy.)

Moon vows to maintain security cooperation with Japan despite looming GSOMIA expiry

President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday his government will try "till the last moment" to avoid the termination of an accord with Japan on exchanging military information but he made clear that depends on Tokyo's stance on its export restriction against Seoul. Although the agreement, known as GSOMIA, is scheduled to come to an end this weekend, South Korea will maintain partnerships with Japan on regional security, he added.

S. Korea, Japan begin bilateral talks over Tokyo's export curbs

South Korea and Japan on Tuesday began a second round of talks in Geneva in their latest attempt to resolve the trade row over Tokyo's export restrictions. The meeting between South Korean chief negotiator Chung Hae-kwan and his Japanese counterpart Junichiro Kuroda came amid dimming prospects for any breakthrough.

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KBS (http://world.kbs.co.kr/english/news/)

Two S. Koreans Seized by Houthi Rebels Released

The government said on Wednesday that two South Koreans who were taken captive by Houthi rebels in Yemen on Monday have been released. A government official said that the two Koreans were released early Wednesday Korea time, adding they are safe and in good condition. Earlier this week, Houthi rebels seized three vessels carrying two South Koreans and 14 other nationals in the Red Sea, claiming the vessels violated their territorial waters.

Railway Workers Set to Launch General Strike

Unionized railway workers are set to launch a general strike at 9 a.m. Wednesday after negotiations with management collapsed. The Korean Railroad Corporation and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport are implementing emergency transport measures to minimize disruptions in train operations. Intercity subway trains in the capital region will be running normally during rush hour Wednesday morning, but their operation rate is expected to fall to 82 percent when the strike begins.

Moon: 3rd N. Korea-US Summit Will Be Productive If Held

President Moon Jae-in said that a fresh summit between the U.S. and North Korea, if realized, will produce an outcome. Moon expressed his optimism during a televised question and answer session with the public on Tuesday night. He said that efforts to arrange a third summit for the U.S. and North Korean leaders within this year are continuously being made. Expressing his confidence about the summit’s potential productivity, the South Korean leader added that the prospective event will also create more room to maneuver in inter-Korean relations.

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Yonhap (http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr)

Esper refuses to speculate on U.S. troops reduction in S. Korea

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper refused to speculate when asked Tuesday whether the U.S. would consider reducing troops in South Korea short of a deal on defense cost-sharing. Esper was asked the question during a briefing with reporters near Manila, the Philippines, after the U.S. walked out of defense cost-sharing negotiations with South Korea in Seoul. The U.S. is reportedly seeking an increase of Seoul's contribution to $5 billion from the current $870 million for this year to support the upkeep of 28,500 American troops stationed in the Asian ally.

Senior N. Korea official arrives in Moscow for strategic cooperation

North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui has arrived in Moscow to discuss strategic cooperation with Russia on regional and international affairs, local media reported Wednesday. Choe's trip appears to be aimed at strengthening Pyongyang's diplomatic hand through close cooperation with Russia in its denuclearization negotiations with the United States, which have been stalled for months. She is considered North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's key nuclear strategist.

Korea's producer prices down for 4th month in Oct.

South Korea's producer prices fell for the fourth consecutive month in October, central bank data showed Wednesday, reflecting the weak growth in consumer prices seen in recent months. The producer price index for all commodities came to 103.61 in the month, down 0.2 percent from a month earlier and 0.6 percent from the same month last year, according to preliminary data from the Bank of Korea (BOK).

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The Korea Herald (http://www.koreaherald.com)

South Korea-US defense cost-sharing talks fall through

Differences between South Korea and the United States over how much Seoul should pay for the upkeep of the 28,500 US troops stationed here have come to the fore, with the two sides cutting short their meeting Tuesday. “There was a considerable difference between proposals of the US and the South in principle,” Jeong Eun-bo, South Korea’s top negotiator, said at a regular briefing.

Go master Lee Se-dol, the only human to beat AI AlphaGo, retires

South Korean Go master Lee Se-dol, who is the only human to score a win against the artificial intelligence Go player AlphaGo, retired Tuesday. The 36-year-old officially retired from Go competition by submitting his letter of retirement to the Korea Baduk Association, which overseas Go professionals in South Korea.

National Assembly passes 89 bills on people's livelihoods, economy

The National Assembly passed 89 bills related to people's livelihoods and the economy Tuesday in the midst of lingering partisan tensions over key reform proposals. A plenary session was held to put the non-controversial bills up for vote amid persistent political wrangling over key political and judiciary reform bills that were placed on the fast-track despite objections from the main opposition party. It was the second plenary meeting dedicated to passing legislation during the ongoing parliamentary regular session.

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The Korea Times (http://www.koreatimes.co.kr)

US sticks with $5 billion defense bill for South Korea

The mounting pressure from Washington to "excessively" increase Korea's share of costs for the maintenance of U.S. troops in South Korea is triggering concerns among Koreans that the U.S. is not showing due respect to its allies. Such concerns were greatly magnified by a recent meeting between U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris and a high-profile Korean lawmaker, in which the U.S. envoy reportedly underlined the necessity for Korea to respond to U.S. President Donald Trump's demand to raise Korea's share to $5 billion. The meeting has triggered criticisms that it was inappropriate for a diplomatic envoy to pressure a member of the National Assembly of the host country during a meeting on a core bilateral issue that is currently undergoing negotiations.

Ruling party vows not to ratify defenses deal

Ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) lawmakers said Monday they will "refuse to ratify any excessive outcome of the ongoing defense cost-sharing negotiations" that deviate from the established principle and structure of previous agreements. "Our position is clear. We were urging the United States to stop its demands to South Korea to pay a substantially higher amount of defense costs. The defense cost-sharing deal should be signed in accordance with fair and mutually acceptable principles," Rep. Hong Young-pyo of the DPK, who is also a member of the National Assembly Defense Committee, said in a news conference at the Assembly, Tuesday.

2 Korean sailors kidnapped by Yemeni rebels

Houthi rebels from Yemen have hijacked two ocean-going tugs hauling a South Korean drilling rig according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Monday. Sixteen people including two South Koreans were on the three vessels that were seized in the Red Sea, the ministry said. In a briefing to reporters at the ministry's headquarters in downtown Seoul, an official said one hijacked tug and the drilling rig were owned by South Korean port constructor Woongjin Development, while the second tug was from Saudi Arabia and had been chartered by a United Arab Emirates firm.

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Chosun Ilbo (http://english.chosun.com)

N.Korea Tells U.S. to Come up with New Ideas

A North Korean mouthpiece in Japan on Monday called on U.S. President Donald Trump to come to North Korea with a "new calculation method." The Choson Sinbo daily was responding to a tweet from Trump the previous day, where he told North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, "You should act quickly, get the deal done," and hinted at another meeting by signing off "See you soon!" North Korean Foreign Ministry adviser Kim Kye-gwan said, "I interpreted President Trump's words on Twitter as hinting at a new summit."

Kim Jong-un Watches Paratrooper Drill

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un told special troops to be better prepared for war as he watched a parachute drill, according to state media on Monday. His appearance at the drill came two days after he observed an air combat drill last Saturday, and despite a decision by South Korea and the U.S. on Sunday to postpone a joint air defense drill that was scheduled for later this month. The North's official Rodong Sinmun daily reported that Kim gave guidance for the parachute drill of sharpshooters, while photos showed him watching paratroopers jump from the sky.

Korea Relies Heavily on Japan for Key 5G Components

Korea became the first country to commercialize 5G mobile services in April but continues to rely heavily on Japan for key parts for relay stations and smartphones. According to data from the Ministry of Science and ICT on Monday, Korea still relies entirely on Japan for key 5G parts like 25 Gbps laser diodes used to transfer communication signals into fiber-optic signals, base station cables and mmWave antennas. Japanese manufacturers also account for 60 percent of seven components such as interconnectors that transmit data from 5G base stations, and PAMiD, which amplify power.

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HanKyoReh Shinmun (http://english.hani.co.kr)

S. Korea needs to consider its own national interests ahead of the US’

The US is strongly pushing for South Korea to pay a bigger share of the cost of keeping US troops on the Korean Peninsula. Washington is reportedly asking for around 6 trillion won (US$5.14 billion), five times the total amount of Seoul’s current contribution. That figure appears to include the cost of deploying American strategic assets from bases outside the Korean Peninsula, such as Guam and Hawaii. That also suggests that the US could ask South Korea to send troops or provide financial support for operations in the South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz.

N. Korea responds to Trump’s tweet by demanding the end of Washington’s “hostile policy”

In a tweet on Nov. 17, US President Donald Trump urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to “act quickly [and] get the deal done,” hinting at the possibility of a third North Korea-US summit. The very next day, Kim Kye-gwan, advisor to North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, responded by welcoming the tweet as “indicative of another DPRK [North Korea]-US summit” while strongly urging the US to “drop its hostile policy” toward the North. After South Korea and the US announced that they would postpone a joint air exercise scheduled for this month, North Korea and the US have been wrestling over whether to resume dialogue.

US puts massive pressure on S. Korea, Japan to resume GSOMIA

South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said that the US is putting major pressure on both South Korea and Japan to maintain their General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). Jeong made the remarks during a press conference on Nov. 17 at the Avani Plus Riverside Hotel, in Bangkok, during the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus. He was responding to a reporter’s question on how the US was responding to South Korea’s plans to terminate GSOMIA, while noting predictions that ending the agreement would have severe ramifications for South Korea-US relations.

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The Dong-A Ilbo (http://english.donga.com/)

Conflicts between S. Korea and U.S. on defense costs

The third negotiation for the 11th Special Measures Agreement (SMA) on the sharing of military spending between South Korea and the U.S. to determine next year’s expense of stationing of United States Forces Korea (USFK) fell apart due to significant differences between the two countries. This is the first time that the two countries simultaneously announced the failure to reach an agreement since 1991 when the SMA discussions began. The sounds of the conflicts between the two countries will seem to get only louder regarding the U.S.’ five-billion-dollar request.

Kia Motors celebrates 10th anniversary of Georgia plant

Kia Motors Corp. has celebrated its 10th anniversary of the Georgia plant, with its cumulative vehicle production surpassing three million units since it started operation in the United States in November 2009. The plant, whose establishment was pushed by Hyundai Motor Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo during the 2008 global financial crisis, has grown to be the company’s key base in the world’s most important automobile market.

S. Korean engineer figures out structure of Joseon Dynasty’s time bomb

During the Japanese Invasion of Korea, the army of the Joseon Dynasty struggled due to the Japanese soldiers’ use of matchlocks, but defeated them in other battles with advanced techniques using cannons and shells. The Jincheonroe, translated as heaven-shaking explosive shells, was one of the Joseon Dynasty’s secret weapons that scared the Japanese. However, the structure and characteristics of the time bombs launched from artillery guns had remained unknown as the manufacturing method was considered confidential and related records were lost.

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The KyungHyang Shinmun (http://english.khan.co.kr/)

NK-US Both Urge Each Other to Make a Decision: A Battle of Nerves Ahead of Negotiations

On November 18, North Korea repeatedly called for the United States to withdraw its hostile policy on North Korea. It was in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's call for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to "act quickly, get the deal done" on Twitter. The postponement of the ROK-US combined aerial drill has set the mood for dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. and both countries are asking the opponent to act first. A fierce battle of nerves seems to have begun concerning the agenda and conditions for negotiations.

This Year's Deficit from Trade with Japan Expected to Reach Record Lows in 16 Years

This year, the deficit from trade with Japan is expected to record the lowest in sixteen years. According to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and the Korea International Trade Association on November 18, South Korea's trade deficit with Japan was $16.3 billion until October this year, a 20.6% decrease from the same period last year ($20.6 billion). This is the smallest deficit for the months of January - October since 2003 ($15.5 billion). At this rate, the nation's deficit from trade with Japan is expected to be less than $20 billion for the first time in sixteen years since 2003 ($19 billion). This is only half the all-time high in 2010 ($36.1 billion).

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Maeil Business News Korea ( http://www.pulsenews.co.kr/)

Korea falls to 28th in 2019 IMD global competitiveness scale despite manufacturing edge

South Korea maintained lead in chip, smartphone and ship making, while losing faster in its traditional strength in steel and chemicals and lagging in new innovation front. According to data released by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA) on Tuesday, Korea ranked top in categories of semiconductor sales, mobile phone shipments and shipbuilding orders. It stayed competitive in the global scale after ranking fourth in ethylene capacity, fifth in bar steel output, sixth in exports, ninth in trade turnover, and tenth in nominal gross domestic product (GDP).

S. Korea defends 513% tariff on rice imports from five export majors

South Korea has received consent for its 513-percent rice import tariff from global farming majors after five long years of negotiation and World Trade Organization’s verification process, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs on Tuesday. The ministry said its trade partners agreed with WTO on closing the verification process for Korea’s proposed 513 percent tariff on foreign rice. In 2014, Korea proposed levying 513 percent tariff on rice imports to WTO. Its proposal was met with complaint from world’s five major rice exporters – the U.S., China, Australia, Thailand, and Vietnam, leading WTO to verify Korea’s 513-percent tariff.

Korean insurers struggle with worsening performance, likely face M&A wave

Korean insurers from top and bottom, and from life to non-life, are collectively struggling with losses ballooning from multiple whammies - policy cancellation from slowed economy, reduced income from fast aging and poor returns from low-interest rate environment. Hanwha Life Insurance, one of Korea’s three majors, recently reported its net profit for the third quarter ended September plunged 60 percent to 154.3 billion won ($132.1 million) from the same quarter last year. The main culprit behind the lackluster performance was sharp fall in returns from invested capital, which dipped to 3.3 percent in the third quarter this year from 4.03 percent recorded two years earlier, due to prolonged low-interest rate environment and rising financial market uncertainties.

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Lee Kyung-sik  edt@koreapost.com

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