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Letter from the Editors
Revolutions take many forms, but those that begin with anger and frustration diffused across a population can appear slow in the making, if only because what is visibly broad does not always show itself as deep and powerful. So it must have felt on those chilly Saturday nights on Seoul’s streets last October, when people first gathered in protest.
Outraged by growing evidence of corruption and abuse of authority by President Park Geun-hye, at first thousands, then tens and hundreds of thousands, and finally more than a million gathered in candlelight vigils calling for an end to her rule. Only as autumn turned to winter did the end come: Park was impeached, then in March was removed from office.
But as Albert Camus said in The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, when a slave rises up against his master, it is not against the last lash of the whip, but all those that came before. Moon Jae-in, elected as South Korea’s new president on May 9, inherits leadership of a country whose citizens have challenged the foundations of its democracy and how the political system and economy have been managed for decades. They clamor for change and a re-legitimization of its democracy.
In the cover package of the latest issue of Global Asia, we examine the huge challenges that this People Power Revolution has laid before the feet of Moon and future South Korean leaders. To be sure, many have been a part of political debate for decades. But the stakes are higher now, and the public — freshly aware of its newfound power — is demanding accountability.
The challenges include finally amending the constitution to end South Korea’s “imperial...
presidency;” reforming a system that affords chaebol, or family-owned business groups, control of much of the economy; expanding a welfare system that does too little to protect the needy; addressing widening income gaps and other social inequalities; adopting policies to help South Korea harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution, ushered in by growing use of AI and robotics; grappling with youth unemployment in a country also burdened by an aging population; and managing complex relations with China, the US and Japan, amid continuing provocations from North Korea.
If the challenges are daunting, one can take comfort in the fact that South Koreans have overcome worse before. From the rubble of the Korean War, they built a major global economy in just 30 years. In the People Power Revolution that toppled Park, they signaled that they can still surprise.
Elsewhere in this issue, we feature a debate on China’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” initiative. Is it a grand vision or an illusion? In our Features section, we explore the unique challenges that a rising China faces in unifying the language that it hopes will bind the nation together. We examine the scourge of “fake news” in Asia and why it matters; why Thailand’s middle class has become an obstacle to democracy in the face of the growing ambitions of the country’s rural population; how Southeast Asia has become a central focus of Japanese policy-makers under Shinzo Abe; and the unexpected impact of Narendra Modi on India’s foreign policy.
Our In Focus section features a first-hand account of the latest trip to North Korea by long-time visitor Rüdiger Frank and the changes he has observed over the years. Finally, in our book review section, we focus on a work that tries to explain America’s long-term strategy for the Asia-Pacific, in addition to our usual banquet of short reviews of books on this region.
20 Sep 2017 - The Malabar 2017 naval exercises were held in the Bay of Bengal during July 10-17 with participation from the Indian, US and Japanese navies to “increase interoperability amongst the three navies as well as to develop common understanding and procedures for maritime security operations.”1 Although the Malabar started out as bilateral exercises between India and the US back in 19… Read full post
06 Sep 2017 - Amid the growing anxiety generated by North Korea’s recent missile tests and its dramatic sixth nuclear test, the Trump administration is grappling with the challenge of finding a proportionate response. Somehow, it needs to simultaneously punish the North for its continuing provocations, slow down and ultimately reverse Kim Jong-un’s WMD modernization program, and ensure that t… Read full post
Robert E. McCoy
25 Aug 2017 - Much has been made of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s desire to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), the special industrial zone set up in 2002 in North Korea where South Korean businesses could operate using workers from the North. As most readers will recall, Moon’s predecessor shut down the KIC in February 2016 in response to an earlier North Korean nuclear test … Read full post
22 Aug 2017 - Kim Jong-un’s unbridled military aspirations, and Pyongyang’s desires to become a recognized nuclear power, risk provoking a spiraling arms race in Northeast Asia. Together, they represent potentially the biggest strategic and diplomatic challenge to the new and largely untested Trump administration, forcing US policy makers to reassess—albeit with mixed results—how they handle … Read full post
13 Jul 2017 - In the latest escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the extended neighborhood of Northeast Asia, North Korea fired another ballistic missile on July 4 that landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Sea of Japan. This was the fifth such missile fired by North Korea that landed in Japan’s EEZ, the last one being on May 29. Each time North Korea launches a … Read full post
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