Country Report: South Korea (December 2022)


In the months of November and December, as in previous months, Pyongyang continued its missile salvo firing 25 ballistic missiles in 12 rounds, amounting to a total of 66 ballistic missile launches in this year alone. The unprecedented number of launches was punctuated by firing about 590 artillery shells into the maritime buffer zone off the east and west coasts, while scrambling 180 warplanes and 5 unmanned aerial vehicles near the Military Demarcation Line and over various cities. Faced with Pyongyang’s renewed military adventurism, the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol government in Seoul pursues two seemingly contradictory goals: strengthening a trilateral security partnership with the US and Japan while engaging with Beijing politically and economically and inducing it to rein in Pyongyang. Ironically, the two-pronged approach is in the mold of the previous progressive Moon Jae-in government’s strategic ambiguity between Washington and Beijing at which it levelled harsh criticisms.

The current Yoon government’s track record on China makes one wonder whether it is a rehashing of Moon: dropping its key campaign pledge of deploying additional THAAD batteries in the greater Seoul area in May; electing to snub American House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during her visit to Seoul and yet give a hero’s welcome to Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan in August; abstaining on a resolution submitted to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee that condemned human rights violations in the Xinjiang and Uyghur Autonomous Region of China; and unveiling a new Indo-Pacific strategy that failed to name China and yet implicitly argued in favor of addressing regional threats in December.

In contrast, the Yoon administration made critical decisions in late 2022 welcomed in the United States. Yoon’s summit meetings with Biden, Kishida, and the two of them together led many to conclude that he was tilting further to the US side and embracing trilateral security in a big way. The decision to join Chip 4 after the US upped the stakes for semi-conductor supply chains apart from China was likewise welcome, rounding out the four-party group in a division of labor significant for economic security. At year’s end the newly issued Indo-Pacific strategy was strongly welcomed in Washington, making clear new regional cooperation with Japan and strong interest in closer ties to India, neither of which would be well received in Beijing. 

Observing Seoul’s vacillation, one is reminded that in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Germany declared a zeitenwende re-evaluating deepening ties with Beijing while Japan decided to be a founding member of the Quad grouping and unambiguously chose to align closely with the US in its approach toward Russia and China. It is abundantly clear that whether Seoul wants it or not, the two diametrically opposed directions it takes – furthering a security partnership with the US and Japan and maintaining an amicable relationship with China – would eventually force it to pick a side. And unfortunately for Seoul, the timing to do so may not be so far away; Pyongyang’s seventh nuclear test, which can take place any time soon, could be the moment.

North Korea

November 2 Record-Missile Barrage

On November 2, North Korea fired a record 25 missiles, the highest number in a single day, including one short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) that for the first time landed 26 km south of the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a disputed maritime border between two Koreas, which prompted an air raid alert on the nearby island of Ulleung-do. North Korea also fired about 100 rounds of artillery into the northern area of the NLL, a military buffer zone agreed by the two Koreas.1 The record-breaking missile barrage came hours after North Korea warned that Seoul and Washington would “face a terrible case and pay the most horrible price in history” if they did not halt their four-day air training exercise involving some 240 aircraft.2 In the subsequent emergency National Security Council meeting, Yoon condemned the barrage as “an effective territorial invasion” to be met with a swift military action. The South Korean F-15K and KF-16 military aircraft fired three precision-guided air-to-surface missiles north of the NLL at a distance corresponding to the area where a North Korean missile struck.3 The conservative Donga Ilbo, noting that North Korea deliberately set the trajectory of its ballistic missile to fly over the Ulleung Island to demonstrate its striking capabilities, called on South Korea to deliver a clear message to Pyongyang that violating South Korean territory in the future will not be condoned.4 Noting that the missile barrage appeared to be a part of Pyongyang’s effort to create a pretext for a seventh nuclear test, the conservative Segye Ilbo editorialized that in case of such a test, Seoul and Washington must demonstrate overwhelming capabilities in a wholly new response.5 Detailing that Pyongyang not only fired the largest number of missiles in a single day, but caused one missile to land 26 km south of the NLL and 57 km from the eastern city of Sokcho, the first such instance since the end of the Korean War, the conservative Chosun Ilbo warned of the possibility that it would attempt a novel and unexpected form of provocation in the immediate future.6 Expressing regret that Pyongyang resumed reckless provocations at a time when South Koreans were in grief over the tragic crowd surge in the district of Itaewon that had left over 150 persons dead, the progressive Hankyoreh urged Seoul to take the best measures to protect the safety of its citizens while continuing to de-escalate tensions through back channels with Pyongyang.7 Condemning Pyongyang’s unprecedented pace of provocations and military adventurism, the progressive Kyunghyang Shinmun called on Pyongyang to stop further provocative actions and Seoul to maintain military readiness without unnecessarily raising tensions.8

November 3 ICBM and SRBM Launch

Following the firing of 25 missiles the previous day, on November 3 North Korea continued its barrage, firing a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and two SRBMs to its east coast. The ICBM flew about 760 kilometers and reached an apogee of around 1,920 kilometers and a top speed of Mach 15. Pyongyang also fired a short-range missile, which flew about 330 kilometers at an apogee of about 70 kilometers and a top speed of Mach 5.9 The South Korean Joint Chief of Staff said that “North Korea’s continued launch of ballistic missiles is a grave provocation that undermines international peace and security and a clear violation of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.” On the same day, North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles, which flew about 490 km with an altitude of 130 km. The missile launches came an hour after Marshal Park Chong-Cheon, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, issued a statement that South Korea and the US would come to know what a terrible mistake they have made” referring to the decision by the two countries to extend their combined air drill by one day to Saturday, November 4.10 The conservative Joongang Ilbo editorialized that to deter Pyongyang’s miscalculation and seemingly unstoppable rounds of provocations, Seoul should strengthen extended deterrence through the alliance with the US, increase trilateral security cooperation with the US and Japan, and keep its citizens alert to the security threats.11 The conservative Chosun Ilbo editorialized that developing an independent nuclear force would be the only viable path for Seoul if North Korea conducts a seventh nuclear test at a time when Seoul is all but constrained in imposing a price on Pyongyang due to the paralyzed UN Security Council.12 The conservative Donga Ilbo editorialized that to counter North Korea’s bid to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington and secure nuclear weapon state status, Seoul should strengthen extended deterrence with the US to exhaust Pyongyang’s will and deter it from crossing the nuclear threshold.13 Describing the failed surface-to-surface missile launches South Korean military conducted in response to the North’s ICBM launches in October, the conservative Seoul Kyungjae editorialized that Seoul should thoroughly review and fill any gaps in its three-axes defense system involving the Kill Chain preemptive strike system, the Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD), and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation (KMPR) plan.14 Predicting that Pyongyang will likely push ahead with a seventh nuclear test in the next week or so, the progressive Kyunghyang Shinmun editorialized that Pyongyang should immediately put a halt to its military provocations and return to the negotiating table if it does not want to devastate relations with South Korea and the US.15 The progressive Hankyoreh editorialized that Pyongyang’s continued provocations will further strengthen the trilateral partnership between South Korea, the US, and Japan and will give credence to a growing view within Japan that it should increase its defense budget and revise its pacifist constitution.16

November 5 and 9 Missile Launches

On November 5 and 9, North Korea fired four short-range ballistic missiles toward the West Sea and one ballistic missile toward the East Sea. The earlier batch of missiles came as South Korea and the US concluded their combined air drill, flying about 130 km and reaching an apogee of about 20 km. The missile launched on the 9th covered a range of 250 km and an altitude of about 50 km. Noting that a UN Security Council meeting regarding DPRK proliferation held on the 4th had ended without being able to adopt any statement due to opposition from China and Russia, the conservative Joongang Ilbo editorialized that given the disadvantageous international setting, having a unified voice against North Korean threats within the domestic sphere became all the more important.17 Estimating that Pyongyang’s record-breaking barrage of missiles this year cost the country about 75 million dollars, a majority funded through stolen cryptocurrency, the conservative Chosun Ilbo editorialized that South Korea and the US should formulate a new international sanctions regime to interdict Pyongyang’s cryptocurrency thefts and confiscate its illicit proceeds to prevent them from being used for funding the country’s missile program.18 The conservative Seoul Shinmun editorialized that Pyongyang should realize that the only way for it to gain negotiating leverage against the US would be to offer sincere dialogue and show a commitment to denuclearization of the peninsula, adding that Seoul and Washington should, in addition to taking steps to strengthen deterrence, open communications channels with Pyongyang to make it realize that a path toward co-existence is still possible.19 The progressive Hankyoreh editorialized that the action-reaction cycle between Pyongyang and Seoul and Washington around the air drill, “Vigilant Storm,” highlighted that Seoul and Washington cannot solve this crisis by strengthening extended deterrence alone and required Seoul to put in place a multidimensional strategy and diplomacy to maintain the situation and avoid accidental confrontations.20

November 17 ICBM Launch

On November 17, North Korea fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile of the month, which flew about 1,000 km reaching an altitude of about 6,100 km on a lofted trajectory and a maximum speed of Mach 22. It came only two hours after Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said that the US offer of bolstered extended deterrence to South Korea and Japan and its military activities around the Korean Peninsula will bring fiercer military counteraction from the North.21 On November 19, the official North Korean Central News Agency identified the missile as the Hwasong-17 ICBM, the largest road-mobile and liquid-fueled ICBM in the world. Analysts assessed the missile to be capable of firing multiple warheads and decoys to penetrate missile defense systems. Joongang Ilbo editorialized that Pyongyang was intent on increasing the intensity of its provocations to be accepted as a de-facto nuclear weapon state and engage in arms control negotiations with the US. It added that Seoul, while preventing discussions on  future strategic options including developing an independent nuclear force from fanning undue confusion, should take concrete measures to shore up the US nuclear umbrella, re-operationalize international pressure and sanctions against Pyongyang, and make it clear to Pyongyang that its nuclear weapons will not be accepted and its provocations will be met by a corresponding response.22 Characterizing the ICBM as a game changer that will be able to strike any target within the continental US and put into question the credibility of the US nuclear umbrella, the conservative Chosun Ilbo editorialized that the moment of truth would be near where Seoul and Washington cannot escape the reality of nuclear armed North Korea.23

Describing the ICBM test as a direct challenge to the trilateral partnership between South Korea, the US, and Japan, the conservative Hankook Kyungjae editorialized that Seoul cannot but further strengthen the trilateral partnership, seek to interdict Pyongyang’s financial sources including cryptocurrency theft used to fund its nuclear programs, and take secondary boycott measures against China and Russia to cut their subsidies flowing into Pyongyang.24 Expressing regret that Pyongyang’s launch of an ICBM with enough range to hit the US mainland will only aggravate the action-reaction cycle, the progressive Hankyoreh and Kyunghyang Shinmun called on Pyongyang to stop its provocations, which will increase the risks of miscalculation and co-annihilation, and on Seoul and Washington to continue the effort to de-escalate through dialogue and diplomacy.25

South Korea-US-Japan Trilateral Summit

On November 13, on the sidelines of the 17th ASEAN Summit held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the leaders of South Korea, the US, and Japan held their second trilateral meeting of the year. They issued, “The Phnom Penh Statement on US-Japan-Republic of Korea Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific,” affirming their partnership for promoting peace, prosperity, and economic security in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, and strengthening deterrence against North Korea, including by sharing North Korea missile warning data in real time.26 Praising the joint statement, the conservative Joongang Ilbo editorialized that there was no question that US extended deterrence and the trilateral partnership were the most effective means to counter North Korean threats and that each government should immediately prepare specific measures based on the consensus reached at the level of the head of government.27 The conservative Chosun Ilbo editorialized that strengthening the trilateral partnership was a corollary to the accelerating pace of North Korean provocations and that China would be faced with the tripartite alliance between the US, South Korea and Japan if it did not play a constructive role in denuclearizing North Korea.28 The center-right Hankook Ilbo editorialized that while the trilateral meeting successfully helped increase international attention on the North Korean issue, it gave the impression that Seoul fell in line with Washington’s efforts to contain China, and it called for delicate diplomacy with Beijing.29 The conservative Maeil Kyungjae editorialized that the three countries should further strengthen extended deterrence, including by increasing offensive cyber and electronic capabilities to disable North Korean missiles before they could be launched.30 The conservative Segye Ilbo editorialized that the most important task for the three countries would be translating what was agreed into concrete actions so as to vanquish North Korea’s will to provoke.31 Describing the decision to launch a dialogue on economic security and coordinate closely through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework as tilting towards the US against China, the progressive Kyunghyang Shinmun editorialized that Seoul should leave some room for China to be flexible on the North Korean issue.32

North Korea’s Evolving Threat to South Korea’s Cybersecurity

In December, North Korea’s varied and evolving cyber threat came to light in South Korea. On December 8, the government authorities issued an interagency advisory requesting domestic companies to strengthen identity verification to prevent hiring North Korean IT workers using false identities. According to the advisory, many North Korean IT workers are affiliated with organizations subject to sanctions by the Security Council, particularly the Munitions Industry Department and the Ministry of Defense, and their profits are paid to these organizations and used for North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. Therefore, the government authorities pledged to work closely with the international community to raise awareness at home and abroad about North Korean IT workers.33

With one voice, domestic media outlets strongly argued that the disguised employment of North Korean IT workers is a serious security issue rather than an issue to be resolved at the corporate level. Hankook Ilbo pointed out a structural problem that the military threat that the South must bear grows if Seoul sits idly by while North Korea’s disguised employment continues to increase all over the world.34  Raising concerns over the possibility of North Korean IT workers accessing South Korean companies extending their business abroad, Kukmin Ilbo urged government agencies, such as the National Intelligence Service (NIS), to actively engage in an effort to preclude the possibility.35 In addition. Seoul Shinmun underlined the need to implement the advisory in a comprehensive measure, such as increasing the number of cybersecurity specialists, enacting the cyber security law suggested by the NIS, and fostering professionals.36

These concerns turned out to be valid when Tae Young-ho, a South Korean lawmaker of the ruling People Power Party and former North Korean diplomat, confirmed that a North Korean hacking organization had sent a phishing email impersonating his office. On December 25, the National Police Agency reported that “Kimsuky,” known for the hacking of the Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company in 2014, was assumed to have carried out cyberattacks by sending phishing emails to 892 foreign policy experts in South Korea, including Tae Young-ho.37 In the face of these increasingly sophisticated cyber threats, the NIS released a report on the “2023 Cyber Security Threat Outlook,” which underlined that North Korea’s cyberattacks would target the South’s nuclear power and defense technology.38 Seoul Shinmun highlighted the urgency of international cooperation as North Korea’s cyberattacks are an important source of funds for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.39 Joongang Ilbo criticized the fact that despite South Korea’s reputation for having the best IT infrastructure, its decentralized responsibility in cybersecurity, the Korea Internet and Security Agency in the private sector and the ROK Cyber Command in the military sector, has a negative impact on response capability against North Korea’s cyberattacks. Thus, it emphasized that South Korea should build a system to manage cyber security at the national level to strengthen its capability to counter North Korea’s cyber threat.40

ROK-US Relations

US Midterm Elections

On November 8, the US held mid-term elections for all 435 seats in the House of Representative and 35 seats, a third, of the Senate. The early results showed that the predicted “red wave” did not materialize as the Democrats looked to maintain their slim majority in the Senate. The conservative Joongang Ilbo editorialized that the Republicans’ winning back the control of the House showed that American voters considered economic issues to be more important than democracy and abortion issues. The newspaper added that the divided Congress would further push for American unilateralism and trade protectionism while accelerating strategic competition with China with increasing prospects for a conflict with Beijing over Taiwan and lowered priority given to North Korean issues.41 The conservative Donga Ilbo editorialized that “America First” policies as exemplified by the passage of the Chips and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will be further strengthened under the Republican controlled House, which will likely complicate the economic and security relationships between Seoul and Washington.42 The progressive Kyunghyang Shinmun also editorialized that Seoul should prepare for fiercer competition between the US and China in various areas including economy and security as Biden who lost the House would adopt a more assertive stance toward Beijing to prepare for his re-election bid in two years.43

The center-right Hankook Ilbo editorialized that Seoul should scrutinize the results of the election and find ways to minimize the fallout of the IRA on domestic automakers and battery-makers.44 The conservative Seoul Shinmun editorialized that the Biden administration should focus on making the Korean Peninsula stable, including by restraining and negotiating with Pyongyang and coordinating efforts with respect to the IRA.45 The conservative Segye Ilbo editorialized that America First policies could be more pronounced in the next session of the Congress with the passage of more IRA-like acts and called on Seoul to use all of its connections in Washington to prepare for potential economic and security shocks due to changes in US policies.46

South Korea-US Summit

At the meeting with Biden on November 13, both leaders agreed to take steps to strengthen extended deterrence to counter North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threats. Yoon also urged Biden to be concerned with barring discriminatory measures against South Korean companies under the IRA to which Biden said that the contributions of South Korean companies should be considered when enforcing the act. Biden also offered assurances about US extended deterrence commitments to the defense of South Korea and discussed ways to limit North Korea’s advancement of weapons of mass destruction.47 The conservative Joongang Ilbo editorialized that Yoon achieved no small victory by getting the comment from Biden that his government would consider the contributions made by Korean companies when enforcing the IRA.48

South Korea’s Participation in the US-led Chip Alliance

The intensifying US-China competition in the semiconductor industry raised serious concerns over the possibility of South Korea losing ground in the US-led “Chip 4” alliance aimed at strengthening cooperation with like-minded partners, including South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, to curb China’s influence. During his visit to a plant of SK Siltron CSS in Michigan, Biden noted that the country was not going to “be held hostage anymore,” highlighting the importance of building a supply chain available to the rest of the world.49 China, on the other hand, established a consortium of Chinese tech giants, including Alibaba and Tencent, in ab effort to reduce its reliance on foreign technology to produce semiconductors.50

With growing concerns over the US-China technology competition and its impact on geopolitics, South Korea, for the first time, officially confirmed that it would participate in the US-led chip alliance. On December 16, Lee Chang-yang, Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy, noted that South Korea would participate in the chip alliance. Considering each participant’s strengths, South Korea’s DRAM memory, Taiwan’s semiconductor foundries, Japan’s semiconductor components, and the US technology, he said, “There is an advantage of strengthening the semiconductor supply chain with well-divided roles of these countries.”51 However, according to Hankyoreh, Washington’s efforts to rebuild the supply chain for economic security was considered so-called “friend-shoring” to monopolize job opportunities in high-tech industries while driving its allies into a zero-sum game.52

Nevertheless, conservative media outlets welcomed the government’s willingness to join the partnership and underlined that South Korea’s active engagement in the Chip 4 was inevitable. Segye Ilbo editorialized that the US export controls to China and increasing pressure on South Korean companies operating plants in China were critical for Seoul, which had been sitting on the fence between the US and China, to tilt toward the US.53 Calling for the passage of the “Korean Chips Act,” Hankook Kyungjae argued that enhanced cooperation in the Chip 4 alliance would benefit South Korea by creating a synergy effect, including human resources development, technological development, and exchange of information.54 Expressing concern over the recent decline of Samsung Electronics’ DRAM sales by 34.2% from the previous quarter, Mail Kyungjae strongly urged the government to play a bigger role in the US-led semiconductor initiative not to be excluded from the collective efforts to rebuild the global semiconductor supply chain.55

South Korea’s Unveiling of New Indo-Pacific Strategy

On December 28, Seoul unveiled its first strategy document for the Indo-Pacific region entitled, “Strategy for a Free, Peaceful, and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region.” The report, whose key objectives had already been highlighted by Yoon during his summit with ASEAN leaders in November, set out nine key tasks for safeguarding a rule-based international order and promoting regional cooperation in areas of non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, cyber domain, public health, and supply chain resilience.56 Many noted it for classifying China as “a key partner” with which South Korea will seek a sounder and more mature relationship. That is in sharp contrast with Canada and Japan’s identically named versions released in November and December which called China as “increasingly disruptive global power” and “unprecedented strategic challenge” respectively.

During an event held to present the document, Foreign Minister Park Jin highlighted that South Korea will “broaden our diplomatic outreach” and “work with friends and partners to tackle challenges common to the Indo-Pacific region.”57 The US welcomed the report with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan saying in a statement that it “will strengthen our shared ability to advance international peace, security and promote nuclear nonproliferation.” China conversely measured its response with Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin saying that China and South Korea should “work for the sound and steady growth of bilateral ties and “contribute to regional peace, stability, development and prosperity,” cautioning against forming “exclusive coteries.”58

Noting that there existed problems between China and South Korea, despite the fact that a key aspect of the report was inclusivity and avoiding excluding any country, the conservative Segye Ilbo editorialized that to prevent turning the stated goals of global non-proliferation and human rights and the rule of law into mere rhetoric, Seoul should not eschew confronting China on the North Korean nuclear issue nor remain muted on human rights issues as it did in October at the UN.59 Noting that it was the first time that South Korea put out a strategy document that contained its own foreign policy for the region, the conservative Maeil Kyungjae editorialized that Seoul should follow up with specific action plans to make it a cornerstone for securing values of freedom and solidarity and national interests.60 The progressive Kyunghyang Shinmun criticized the report as “biased toward the U.S. and Japan,” as the title itself reflected American and Japanese ideas. It, nevertheless, added that the release of the report itself marked the growing stature of South Korea that goes beyond Northeast Asia.61 The progressive Hankyoreh editorialized that although Seoul seemed intent on striking a fine line between the US and China and between values and national interests, it remained unknowable how it would work, forewarning of a fiercer confrontation between the two superpowers over the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea.62 Noting the report’s open stance toward China compared with the South Korea-US-Japan Phnom Penh statement, and the US and Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategies, the centrist Hankook Ilbo editorialized that Seoul’s slight shift in emphasis from Korea-US-Japan trilateral security to a bilateral relationship with China reflected the indispensable need of cooperating with China on pressing issues, from North Korea’s provocations to a looming economic recession.63 Describing the release of the report as “timely” and marking “a turning point to move up South Korean diplomacy another notch,” the conservative Seoul Shinmun called on Seoul to make detailed action plans to implement the identified key tasks, be considerate of Chinese positions, and increase the areas of cooperation with them.64

ROK-China Relations

South Korea-China Summit

On November 15, on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, Yoon held his first summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the first such meeting in three years. They agreed to make 30 years of relations more mature and regularly hold high-level talks and track-1.5 dialogues between Seoul and Beijing. Yoon said he expected China as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a country adjacent to the Korean Peninsula to play a more proactive and constructive role in resolving the North Korean issue. Xi avoided mentioning North Korea only to say that South Korea and China have common interests in solving the issue and pursuing peace.65 The conservative Joonang Ilbo editorialized that although Xi’s response fell short of South Korea’s expectations, it was still meaningful that both leaders met and agreed to continue to communicate and cooperate in areas of common interests.66 The conservative Donga Ilbo editorialized that at a time when the bilateral relationship between the two countries was at a turning point, holding the summit itself was meaningful. Expressing, disappointment, however, that Xi avoided mentioning North Korea, the newspaper urged China to change its stance and recognize that resolving the North Korean nuclear issue would be in the interest of both South Korea and China.67 The conservative Chosun Ilbo editorialized that Xi turned a blind eye to Yoon’s request, adding that Seoul should continue demanding Beijing be a responsible stakeholder even at the risk of economic retaliation.68 Hankuk Kyungjae echoed that view, saying that although Chinese officials often say to their South Korean counterparts “the two countries cannot move away from each other and are inseparable partners,” the words turn out to be insincere as China never acted on its words to rein in Pyongyang and provided a blank check for provocations.69 Seoul Kyungjae also editorialized that Seoul should seek delicate and practical engagement with Beijing while taking steps to reduce dependency on Chinese trade.70  

ROK-Japan Relations

First Summit Between Yoon and Kishida

On November 13, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, Yoon held his first official summit with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio. The leaders said they agreed to reach a quick settlement on pending issues including the compensation for Korean victims of wartime forced labor that was mandated by the 2018 South Korean court ruling. The conservative Joongang Ilbo editorialized that the summit symbolized that bilateral relations had returned to the right path, expecting that cooperation in security will provide momentum to reaching a settlement on the compensation issue.71 The conservative Donga Ilbo editorialized that although the summit created conditions for holding a working-level negotiation on the issue, there has been no fundamental change in the Japanese government position as seen from the reluctance of Japanese companies to participate in a fund created as an alternative to the liquidation of their assets and the maintenance of export controls on materials bound for South Korea, cautioning the South Korean government to proceed in a manner understandable to the victims and the public.72 The conservative Seoul Shinmun said that the two countries should find a way that would be understandable to a degree to both the plaintiffs and the defendants.73 The progressive Hankyoreh editorialized that the leaders could not go beyond repeating their previous positions on the settlement issue, adding that the trilateral partnership will not be supported by South Koreans unless the Japanese government showed a substantial change in its stance toward the issues.74

Japan’s Revision of Three Security Documents

On December 16, the Japanese government passed revisions of its three key security documents, the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, and the Defense Buildup Program, signaling “great transformation” of security strategy from pacifism to possession of counterstrike capabilities including a long-range strike capability.75 The revised security documents would enable the Japanese government to double the country’s defense budget from 1 percent of its GDP to 2 percent within five years, create a combined forces command within the Japan Self-Defense Forces, and deepen its military cooperation with the United States. Amid growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Japan’s decision to possess counterstrike capabilities posed a dilemma for South Korea.

With North Korea mounting military threats, China flexing its muscles near Taiwan, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, strengthening ROK-US-Japan trilateral security cooperation became one of the top priorities for South Korea. Kukmin Ilbo editorialized that it was inevitable for South Korea to enhance cooperation with Japan to deal with North Korea, which denigrated the South’s efforts to improve inter-Korean relations.76 In consideration of escalating tension in the South China Sea and North Korea’s expected 7th nuclear test, Joongang Ilbo argued that stepping up cooperation with the US and Japan is a top priority to prepare for the worst security environment since the Korean War.77

Some domestic media outlets saw Japan’s new national security strategy as a result of North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and China’s tacit endorsement. While acknowledging Japan’s “old intention” to emerge as a military power, Hankook Kyungjae charged that North Korea’s constant saber-rattling and China’s likely encouragement behind the scene provided a reason for Japan to militarize.78 Likewise, Maeil Kyungjae noted that Japan’s decision to boost its defense budget gained public support after North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan in October. Condemning China’s failure to play a constructive role in the North Korean nuclear issue, it said, “With China as a guardian, North Korea carried out provocations by launching missiles, and Japan used it as a pretext to expand its military budget.”79

On the other hand, Japan’s rearmament raised concerns as it could raise military tension and lead to a further arms race in Northeast Asia. Hankook Ilbo noted that Japan’s aggressive security strategy, along with North Korea’s missile threat, would bring a tectonic change in Northeast Asia, urging the South Korean government to exert its diplomatic efforts to prevent the region from becoming a danger zone.80 Seoul Shinmun chimed in, expressing concern over Japan’s possible acquisition of preemptive strike capability, which could lead to the country’s intervention in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula.81

Another concern derived from Japan’s inclusion of its sovereignty claims over Dokdo in the revised national security strategy, which overshadowed the future of ROK-Japan relations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the Japanese government’s “unjust claims over Dokdo” and urged Japan to remove it immediately.82 Hankook Ilbo noted that Japan’s repetition of sovereignty claims over Dokdo included in the country’s top security document was not only unfair but also a provocation that harmed the recovery of South Korea-Japan relations.83 Calling it “deplorable,” Hankyoreh urged the Japanese government to face up to the concerns of neighboring countries, including South Korea, which suffered aggression and colonial rule, before emphasizing security concerns.84

1.   NLL이남 미사일 도발…10시간여동안 25발 퍼붓고 포격도(종합),” Yonhap News, November 2, 2022,

2.  북한 박정천 “한미무력사용 기도시 끔찍한 대가 치를 것“(종합),” Yonhap News, November 2, 2022,

3.  , ‘NLL 이북‘ 공해상 공대지미사일 3발 발사北도발 대응,” Yonhap News, November 2, 2022,

4.   NLL 이남 첫 미사일 도발… ‘영토 농락’ 결전태세 갖춰야,” Donga Ilbo, November 3, 2022,

5.   NLL 이남 미사일 발사도발 계속 땐 끔찍한 대가 치를 것,” Segye Ilbo, November 2, 2022,

6.   NLL 남쪽으로 미사일 발사南 내륙 넘기는 도발 가능성 있다,” Chosun Ilbo, November 3, 2022,

7.  “NLL 남쪽 첫 탄도미사일북한 위험한 도발 멈춰야,” Hankyoreh, November 2, 2022,

8.  “NLL 이남까지 미사일 쏜 북도발 즉각 멈춰라,” Kyunghang Shinmun, November 2, 2022,

9.  북한 장거리탄도미사일 1920㎞ 솟구쳐 마하 15 속도로 비행,” Yonhap News, November 3, 2022,

10.  북한한밤 또 탄도미사일 3…’한미 공중훈련 연장‘ 비난 직후(종합2),” Yonhap News, November 3, 2022,

11.  “ICBM까지 쏜 북 도발안보 경각심 무너지면 안 된다,” Joongang Ilbo, November 4, 2022,

12.   ICBM 또 발전다음엔 핵실험韓 안보 이대로 안 돼,” Chosun Ilbo, November 4, 2022,

13.  이젠 ICBM까지… 확장억제 본격 가동해 北 탈진시켜야,” Donga Ilbo, November 4, 2022,

14.  北 전방위 도발에 즉각 대응 능력 있는지 검증할 때다,” Seoul Kyungjae, November 4, 2022,

15.  “ICBM까지 쏘며 수위 높인 북진정 파국으로 갈 건가,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, November 3, 2022,

16.  “ICBM 발사한 북출구 안보이는 한반도 위기,” Hankyoreh, November 3, 2022,

17.  북한의 무도한 폭주국민 하나 돼야 막아내,” Joongang Ilbo, November 7, 2022,

18.  北 미사일 자금줄 된 암호 화폐 해킹국제 제재로 막아야,” Chosun Ilbo, November 7, 2022,

19.  , 7차 핵실험 미몽에서 깨어나라,” Seoul Shinmun, November 6, 2022,

20.  한미 연합훈련 끝났지만 ‘긴장의 상시화’ 우려한다,” Hankyoreh, November 6, 2022,

21.  북 최선희 “미 확장억제 강화 땐 군사대응 더 맹렬해질 것,” Hankyoreh, November 17, 2022,

22.   ICBM 도발대가 분명히 치르게 해야,” Joongang Ilbo, November 19, 2022,

23.  미 본토 핵 타격 ‘게임체인저’ 눈앞 北안보 지형 격변 대비를,” Chosun Ilbo, November 19, 2022,

24.  美 타격 가능 ICBM 도발·미사일 자금줄 차단 서둘러야,” Hankook Kyungjae, November 18, 2022,

25.  미 본토 타격권 ICBM 발사한 북, ‘강 대 강’ 악순환 부를 뿐이다,” Hankyoreh, November 18, 2022,; “북의 미 본토 사정권 ICBM 발사강 대 강 대치 우려한다,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, November 18, 2022,

26.  The White House, “Phnom Penh Statement on US – Japan – Republic of Korea Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific,” November 13, 2022,

27.  북핵 도발 맞서 안보협력 한목소리 낸 한··일 정상,” Joongang Ilbo, November 15, 2022,

28.   “동북아 전력 강화”… 北 싸고돈 中한미일 3각 표적 자초했다,” Donga Ilbo, November 14, 2022,

29.  북핵 공조 한목소리 낸 한미일 정상 연쇄 회담,” Hankook Ilbo, November 14, 2022,

30.  한미일 “확장억제 강화” 북핵 대응 사이버·전자전 능력도 키워야,” Maeil Kyungjae, November 13, 2022,

31.  ··일 공동성명실질적인 北 도발 억제로 이어지길,” Segye Ilbo, November 13, 2022,

32.  대북 군사대응·대중 경제 포위망 강화한 한··일 정상,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, November 13, 2022,

33.  Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “북한 IT 인력에 대한 정부 합동주의보 발표,” December 8, 2022,

34.  “IT 위장 취업 주의보까지… 수위 넘은 북 사이버 위협,” Hankook Ilbo, December 9, 2022,

35.  “북 IT 인력의 위장 취업안보 문제로 적극 대응해야,” Kukmin Ilbo, December 9, 2022,

36.  “북 해킹 인력 위장취업 주의보실태가 어떻길래,” Seoul Shinmun, December 8, 2022,

37.  “태영호 ‘북 피싱 e메일나도 우리 의원실서 보낸 줄 알았다,’” Joongang Ilbo, December 26, 2022,

38.  “2022년 사이버안보 위협 주요 특징 및 내년 전망,” National Cyber Security Center, December 22, 2022,

39.  “北 전방위 해킹 공격사이버 안보 강화해야,” Seoul Shinmun, December 25, 2022,

40.  “북한 해킹에 번번이 당하는 IT 강국 한국,” Joongang Ilbo, December 26, 2022,

41.  미국민주주의보다 먹고사는 문제 택했다,” Joongang Ilbo, November 10, 2022,

42.  美 공화당 하원 우세… 더 거세질 ‘아메리카 퍼스트’ 대비 급하다,” Donga Ilbo, November 10, 2022,

43.  ‘공화당 하원 장악’ 미 중간선거새 상황 대비해야,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, November 9, 2022,

44.  美 선거 공화당 하원 우세… 한반도 영향 주시를,” Hankook Ilbo, November 10, 2022,

45.  중간선거 끝낸 미국한반도 안정에 시동 걸어야,” Seoul Shinmun, November 9, 2022,

46.  더 강화될 美 우선주의안보·경제 충격 없게 면밀 대응하길,” Segye Ilbo, November 10, 2022,

47.  Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “아세안 및 G20 정상회의 순방 성과,” November 18, 2022,; “The White House, “Readout of President Joe Biden’s Meeting with President Yoon Suk Yeol of the Republic of Korea,” November 13, 2022,

48.  북핵 도발 맞서 안보협력 한목소리 낸 한··일 정상,” Joongang Ilbo, November 15, 2022,

49.  “President Biden visits SK Siltron CSS facility in Bay City, Michigan,” SK, November 29, 2022,

50.  “China enlists Alibaba and Tencent in fight against US chip sanctions,” The Financial Times, November 30, 2022,

51.  “‘반도체 놓칠 수 없어’… ‘한국협의 참여,’” Hankook Kyungjae, December 16, 2022,

52.  “ IRA 보조금·첨단산업 독식에 커지는 ‘동맹 우려,’” Hankyoreh, December 8, 2022,

53.  “‘동맹’ 참여 불가피하지만 中 리스크 최소화하길,” Segye Ilbo, December 18, 2022,

54.  “한국 칩동맹 참여국가 생존 위한 필연적 선택,” Hankook Kyungjae, December 16, 2022,

55.  “반도체동맹서 따돌림당하는 듯한 한국이 불길한 느낌은 뭔가,” Maeil Kyungjae, December 15, 2022,

56.  윤 대통령 “자유·평화·번영 3대 비전으로 인도태평양 전략 이행”,” 대한민국정책브리핑, November 11, 2022,; “‘인도태평양 전략 설명회’ 개최,” 외교부, December 28, 2022,

57.  “Keynote Address by Foreign Minsiter Park Jin on the occasion of the presentation of Indo-Pacific Straetegy(12.28.),” 외교부, December 28, 2022,

58.  The White House, “Statement by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on the Republic of Korea’s Indo-Pacific Strategy,” December 27, 2022,; “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s Regular Press Conference on December 28, 2022,” Foreign Ministry of China, December 28, 2022,

59.  “[사설美와 쿼드 공조中과도 상호 존중 천명한 韓 인태전략,” Segye Ilbo, December 28, 2022,

60.  “[사설尹정부 첫 인도·태평양 전략 ‘글로벌 중추국‘ 주춧돌 삼아야,” Maeil Kyungjae, December 28, 2022,

61.  정부 첫 독자 인·태 전략 확정대중국 관계 손상 없어야,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, December 28, 2022,

62.  “[사설한국 외교 축 바꾸는 인·태 전략의 딜레마,” Hankyoreh, December 28, 2022,

63.  尹정부 ‘독자 인·태전략‘…국익 우선한 균형외교를,” Hankook Ilbo, December 29, 2022,

64.  “[사설한국형 인태전략구체성 높여 국익 극대화하길,” Seoul Shinmun, December 28, 2022,

65.  외교부한중 정상회담,” November 16, 2022,

66.  윤석열·시진핑 발리 회담·중 관계 회복 계기 되길,” Joongang Ilbo, November 16, 2022,

67.  시진핑 첫 회담… 북핵 해결이 韓中 ‘공동의 핵심이익’ 될 것,” Donga Ilbo, November 16, 2022,

68.  시진핑 주석북핵을 자국 위한 게임용으로 이용 말라,” Chosun Ilbo, November 16, 2022,

69.  “‘떼려야 뗄 수 없는 파트너라면서 북핵에 입닫은 시진핑,” Hankook Kyungjae, November 16, 2022,

70.  정교한 對中 외교로 北核 해법 찾고 국익 지켜라,” Seoul Kyungjae, November 16, 2022,

71.  북핵 도발 맞서 안보협력 한목소리 낸 한··일 정상,” Joongang Ilbo, November 15, 2022,

72.  韓日 정상 “징용문제 조속 해결”… 日 실질적 태도변화가 관건,” Donga Ilbo, November 15, 2022,

73.  한일 정상이 공감한 ‘강제동원’ 해결 속도 내야,” Seoul Shinmun, November 14, 2022,

74.  첫 포괄적 공동성명 내며 북·중 겨냥한 한미일 3,” Hankyoreh, November 13, 2022,

75.  “, ‘반격 능력‘ 보유 결정안보정책 대전환,” Yonhap News Agency, December 16, 2022,

76.  “북한 핵 도발에 재무장 나선 일본… 딜레마에 빠진 한국,” December 19, 2022,

77.  “한반도 둘러싼 동북아 안보 위협의 증폭 직시해야,” Joongang Ilbo, December 19, 2022,

78.  “김정은·시진핑이 불러온 일본의 군사대국화,” Hankook Kyungjae, December 18, 2022,

79.  “日 선제타격 선언에 北 미사일 발사中이 북핵 방치한 책임 크다,” Maeil Kyungjae, December 18, 2022,

80.  “北 도발에 먼저 대응 나선 日긴장 고조 안된다,” Hankook Ilbo, December 19, 2022,

81.  “ ‘전쟁가능에 北中 무력시위외교안보 막중해졌다,” Seoul Shinmun, December 18, 2022,

82.  Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “일본 국가안보전략(NSS)의 독도 기술에 대한 외교부 대변인 논평,” December 16, 2022,

83.  “안보문서에 독도 영유권 명기재무장 행보 견제해야,” Hankook Ilbo, December 17, 2022,

84.  “‘전쟁 가능 국가로 나아간 일본역사의 교훈 잊지 말아야,” Hankyoreh, December 16, 2022,

Now Reading Country Report: South Korea (December 2022)