Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific

The COVID-19 squeeze on South Korea’s labour market

South Korean medical staff members wearing facemasks and protective clothing while on duty at Keimyung University Daegu Dongsan Hospital in Daegu, South Korea, 19 March 2020 during the coronavirus outbreak (Photo: Reuters/Lee Young-ho).

Author: Vladimir Hlasny, Ewha Womans University

In the densely populated South Korea, just a hop away from China, COVID-19 hit early and strongly. By mid-February, South Korea had the second highest number of infections in the world. Since then the number of cases has been slowed down to a trickle — but clusters keep resurfacing in blind spots such as church congregations, fitness classes, night clubs and warehouses.

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COVID-19 undermines South Korean diplomacy

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, wearing a face mask, arrives at a briefing for foreign diplomats on the situation of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the foreign ministry in Seoul, South Korea 6 March, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Jung Yeon-je).

Author: Jeffrey Robertson, Yonsei University

South Korea attracted global attention from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, the BBC reported that Seoul’s ‘trace, test and treat‘ approach was saving lives while hospitals in Europe and the United States were overwhelmed. In April, the New York Times reported on South Korea’s capacity to hold democratic elections despite COVID-19, and by June, CNN reported on the lessons to be learned from South Korea’s public health success story. Read more…

Building South Korea’s economy after the great pandemic recession

A retail store looks nearly empty amid the continuing spread of the new coronavirus in Seoul, South Korea, 18 March 2020. On 17 March, the National Assembly approved an additional budget of 11.7 trillion won (US$9.42 trillion) to help contain the virus and minimise the economic consequences of the outbreak (Photo: Reuters/Yonhap News Agency).

Author: Troy Stangarone, Korea Economic Institute of America

In the span of a little more than a decade the world has experienced two economic crises. The Great Recession was precipitated by the global financial crisis of 2007–2008. Now an economic recession is being induced by government measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. South Korea came out of the Great Recession better than many other developed economies and is positioning itself to do the same after COVID-19. Read more…

Australia’s defence, South Korea’s dilemma

A South Korean war veteran holds the national flag during a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Korean War, near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Cheorwon, South Korea, 25 June, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Hong-Ji).

Author: Peter K Lee, ANU

As two of the Asia Pacific’s leading middle powers, Australia and South Korea face increasingly difficult strategic choices. Although separated by vast distances, they both have a vital interest and role to play in shaping the region’s security landscape.

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Dark side of the Moon in South Korea’s COVID-19 response

Police officers form a police cordon in front of the Jesus Shincheonji Church in Daegu, about 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul. The church, in the center of the largest group infection in the country, has been subject to an administrative review by the authorities, Daegu, South Korea, 12 March 2020 (Reuters).

Author: Mason Richey, HUFS

South Korea’s public health-based response to COVID-19 has been rightly lauded as a successful model for other democracies. Seoul’s strategy of testing, contact tracing, isolation and treatment has become a gold standard for flattening the virus curve and bending it toward zero. Schools were closed, large gatherings prohibited, tele-working encouraged, masks ubiquitous and social distancing implemented. South Korea has avoided the harsh lockdowns adopted in other countries. Its economy is disrupted, but not so dramatically as in the United States and Europe. Read more…

Establishing humanitarian lanes during COVID-19

Essential workers have their noses swabbed before returning to the workforce at a regional screening center amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore 9 June, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Edgar Su).

Authors: Alistair DB Cook and Christopher Chen, RSIS

COVID-19 is severely impacting the humanitarian system. It has forced countries to focus on containing the pandemic with national lockdown measures — hindering humanitarian action and denying aid to many affected communities in the Asia Pacific. But countries in the region have begun negotiations to normalise international travel, with Australia and New Zealand being the first to initiate bilateral discussions over the establishment of a ‘Trans-Tasman bubble’ and a ‘humanitarian corridor’ to the Pacific during the pandemic. Read more…

The rubble of inter-Korean cooperation

A TV screen shows news reports on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's sister Kim Yo-Jong following reports on the explosion of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong on 16 June, at Seoul station, South Korea (Photo: Lee Jae-Won/AFLO via Reuters).

Author: Editorial Board, ANU

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula ratcheted up on 16 June when North Korea blew up the Inter-Korean Liaison Office building in the North Korean border city of Kaesong. This is a big blow to South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to engage North Korea, pursue denuclearisation and establish a permanent peace treaty to succeed the 1953 Korean War Armistice Agreement. The timing is ironic considering that the Moon government recently won a decisive election in April positioning it to double down on its engagement policy.

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Up in smoke: Pyongyang ends cooperation with Seoul

A view of an explosion of a joint liaison office with South Korea in border town Kaesong, North Korea, in this picture supplied by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on 16 June 2020 (Photo: KCNA via REUTERS).

Author: Evans JR Revere, Brookings

Sadly, explosively and inevitably, North–South Korean dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation have come to a crashing halt. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s signature policy initiative designed to improve relations with North Korea went up in a cloud of smoke last week after Pyongyang destroyed the Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office — a central symbol of North–South cooperation. Moon’s policy is a victim of the clash between Seoul’s starry-eyed vision of reconciliation and North Korea’s cold-blooded pursuit of domination over the South.

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South Korea can help drive Asia’s recovery post-COVID-19

People wearing face masks to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19 in Seoul, South Korea, 22 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Heo Ran).

Author: Choong Yong Ahn, Chung-Ang University

Having been hit early by the COVID-19 crisis, some East Asian economies are also recovering early — including South Korea. The early movers should work together to achieve regional economic reconstruction and eventual global recovery. Prioritising the exhaustive prescriptions of the Asian Strategy for Recovery and Reconstruction after COVID-19, released by the ANU’s Asian Bureau of Economic Research (ABER), could be a start.

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Back to square one for inter-Korean relations

South Korean soldiers take part in a live fire exercise near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, South Korea, 23 June, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji).

Author: Scott Snyder, Council on Foreign Relations

On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War, the two Koreas face a dramatic breakdown in relations. Tensions rocketed on 16 June when North Korea demolished a liaison office that had stood as a symbol of hope for improved communications. For the South Korean Moon administration, the re-establishment of inter-Korean summitry in 2018 represented an historic step toward establishing a permanent peace, coexistence and economic integration on the Korean Peninsula. Read more…

What does Moon’s election victory mean for South Korean democracy?

South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks on the occasion of the third anniversary of his inauguration at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, 10 May 10 2020 (Kim Min-Hee/Pool via Reuters).

Author: WooJin Kang, Kyungpook National University

On 15 April 2020, the legislative elections to choose the 21st National Assembly were held in South Korea. President Moon Jae-In’s ruling Democratic Party (DP) was elected in a landslide victory, winning a total of 180 out of 300 seats. The DP won 163 out of 253 directly contested seats (49.91 per cent of votes) and 17 out of 47 proportional representation (PR) seats (33.35 per cent of votes) through its satellite party. Read more…

South Korea’s digital quarantine success

A woman wearing a mask to prevent the coronavirus uses her mobile phone at a shopping district in Seoul, South Korea, 24 February, 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Kim).

Author: Hyung-A Kim, ANU

Worldwide demand for South Korea’s ‘drive-thru’ COVID-19 test kits and other precision contact tracing methods boosted the country’s image as a leading global health care and technology powerhouse. Early success in managing the pandemic also gave South Korean voters more confidence in President Moon Jae-in’s administration. On 15 April, Moon’s public approval rating reached a 17-month high of 54.4 per cent and his Democratic Party won a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections.

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Middle powers after the middle-power moment

South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech at Seodaemun Prison History Hall in Seoul, South Korea, 1 March 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji).

Author: Jeffrey Robertson, ANU

Contemporary understanding of middle-power diplomacy is tied to a bygone era. Behavioural characteristics like activist diplomacy, coalition building, niche diplomacy and good international citizenship, which underpin norm entrepreneurship, always ultimately relied upon the support of the dominant power. That era may be over, and hopes of a revival rest on the illusion of a middle-power moment. So, what happens to middle powers after the middle-power moment?

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South Korea and Japan’s COVID-19 image war

South Korean President Moon Jae-In is welcomed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe upon his arrival for a welcome and family photo session at G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, 28 June, 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Kim).

Authors: Sarah A Son, Sheffield University and Juliette Schwak, Franklin University Switzerland

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, countries are investing in strategic narratives to tell the world their version of the crisis and present themselves as safe, efficient and reliable actors. South Korea and Japan — two early victims of the virus — are no exception to this trend. Yet their efforts to broadcast the success of their approaches in managing COVID-19 are succumbing to both countries’ tendency to draw direct critical comparisons with one another.

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South Korea is not a liberal country yet

President Moon Jae-in and his wife, Kim Jong-suk, cast their votes early for the general election at a polling station in the Samcheung district of Seoul, South Korea on 10 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters via the Latin American News Agency).

Author: Eun Hee Woo, Freie Universität Berlin

On 15 April South Korea held the world’s first general election in the COVID-19 era. Despite the pandemic, the country saw its highest voter turnout — 66 per cent — since 1992. That so many voters felt secure enough to take to the polls is a testament to the Moon Jae-in administration’s successful handling of the pandemic. His ruling Democratic Party (DP) was rewarded handsomely, capturing 60 per cent of the seats in the National Assembly. Read more…