Country Report: South Korea (June 2023)


The security and diplomatic schedule of President Yoon, which had been hectic since the trilateral summit between South Korea, the United States, and Japan held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in November last year, concluded with the March summit between South Korea and Japan, the April summit between South Korea and the United States, the second summit between South Korea and Japan on the 7th of May, and the trilateral summit between South Korea, the United States, and Japan during the May G7 summit. Relations among the countries are expected to improve gradually, but there are still unresolved issues that need to be addressed.

Meanwhile, China observes the Korea-US and Korea-Japan relationships with concern, while the South-North relationship remains in a state of ongoing tension due to factors such as North Korea’s continuous missile testing. With its recent election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2024-2025 term, South Korea foresees a possible opportunity to assume the role of mediator in the face of regional tensions, while China warily observes the dynamics of the Korea-US and Korea-Japan relationships and the persistent strain in the South-North relationship due to ongoing missile testing by North Korea.

ROK-US Relations

Summit meeting and G7
In April, during the state visit of the South Korean leader to the White House, Yoon and Biden signed the Washington Declaration. As part of the agreement, Seoul committed to refraining from developing its own nuclear weapons program. In exchange, South Korea gained a larger role in decision-making regarding US contingency plans in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack and a stronger US presence in the region. Yoon described the Washington Declaration as a significant enhancement of the extended deterrence strategy, also known as the American nuclear umbrella.1

As a testament to the improving ties between the United States and its two key Asian allies, a trilateral meeting took place during the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima, Japan. US President Joe Biden engaged in discussions with Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, further solidifying the warming relations between these nations. The trilateral meeting presented an opportunity for the leaders to discuss the feasibility of applying aspects of US extended deterrence to both South Korea and Japan.2 The leaders underscored cooperation in addressing North Korea-related matters, promoting information sharing among the three nations, and enhancing collaboration in relation to economic supply chains, as stated in their individual announcements.3

North Korea

North Korea’s reconnaissance satellite
North Korea informed the international community of its plan to launch a reconnaissance satellite on May 29. It announced to the Japanese government and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) plans to launch the artificial satellite southward from Dongchang-ri, Pyeongbuk’s Cheolsan-gun, between May 31 and June 11. It said that debris was expected to fall in three locations: two in the West Sea and one in the eastern waters of the Philippines.4

If North Korea’s past satellite launches were for the purpose of missile development, this time it appears to have a genuine intention to launch an actual satellite. This is due to North Korea’s progress in long-range missile development reaching the orbital stage. However, North Korea’s satellite launch remains a clear violation of international law, and it inevitably raises serious concerns as it further intensifies tensions around the Korean Peninsula.5

On May 29, the South Korean government held an emergency National Security Council (NSC) standing committee meeting, presided over by the National Security Director, Cho Tae-yong, to discuss response measures. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs explicitly defined North Korea’s satellite launch as a clear violation of international law and warned that if they proceeded with the launch, they would have to bear the consequences and pain. Kishida stated that he would cooperate with South Korea, the United States, and others to demand strong restraint from North Korea. The spokesperson for the US State Department also urged North Korea to refrain from further illegal activities.6 If North Korea proceeded with the launch, it would constitute a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which prohibit the use of any launch vehicles utilizing ballistic missile technology. North Korea asserts that space is a shared asset of humanity and that all sovereign nations have the legitimate right to engage in space development. However, this claim lacks credibility, as the principles which North Korea is advocating only apply to countries that adhere to international norms. It is evident that the satellite North Korea intended to launch had a distinct purpose for military reconnaissance.7

The conservative Segye Ilbo editorialized that the handling of North Korea’s military reconnaissance satellite launch would be a crucial test for reinforcing cooperation among South Korea, the United States, and Japan. This is particularly significant as the three countries have officially established an agreement to share real-time data on North Korean missile launches. It has also been pointed out that the government should expedite the enhancement of not only preemptive strike capabilities but also the development of a Korean missile defense system capable of intercepting missiles.8

The progressive Kyunghyang Shinmun pointed out in its editorial that the government should strive to secure diplomatic autonomy by maintaining communication and dialogue with North Korea and China, while basing its alliance on the foundation of South Korea-US relations. True security lies in concurrently condemning North Korea’s satellite launch while making efforts to resume dialogue with North Korea.9

Failed spy satellite launch
On May 31, North Korea launched a spy satellite as scheduled at 6:29 am local time, but the first attempt to launch the newly developed Chollima-1 rocket carrying the Mallingyong-1 spy satellite failed as the  rocket fell into the Yellow Sea.10 After the launch, the office of the president of the Republic of Korea immediately called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) and criticized North Korea for violating UNSC resolutions.11 North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) surprisingly admitted the launch failure, blaming an abnormal startup of the second stage engine. Kim Yo-jong, senior North Korean official and sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said North Korea would correctly put the satellite into orbit in the near future, and she condemned US criticism.12

South Korea’s domestic media outlets expressed serious concern over North Korea’s threat, keeping a close watch on its second attempt to launch a spy satellite. Kyunghyang Shinmun condemned North Korea for raising regional tension, urging it to abide by UNSC resolutions.13 Joongang Ilbo chimed in, stressing that North Korea’s attempt to launch a spy satellite clearly violated UNSC Resolution 1718 (2006) regardless of success or failure.14 

South Korea’s new security strategy toward North Korea
On June 7, the presidential office unveiled a National Security Strategy outlining the Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s objectives for security policy in the next 5 years. It released a report of 107-pages in Korean and a 150-page English version, announcing a plan to distribute 10,000 copies.15 Kim Tae-hyo, principal deputy national security advisor, explained the outline of this new strategy and the basic objectives of the government’s national security policy.

Reflecting the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol administration’s policy direction, the new strategy showed a drastic shift in security policy toward North Korea. The progressive Moon Jae-in administration’s National Security Strategy focused on a “peaceful approach” to the denuclearization of North Korea; however, the Yoon administration took a forceful stand. The new strategy explicitly defined North Korea as an “enemy” and underscored that South Korea would push North Korea to denuclearize through sanctions as well as pressure. It made no mention of an “End of War Declaration” and even dropped Kim Jong-un’s official title. The administration’s new paper highlighted that South Korea would bolster its three-axis defense system to respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, enhancing the ROK-US-Japan cooperation. This shows that South Korea is strengthening the response to North Korea’s threats rather than trying to communicate with North Korea. Another notable point is that the new paper devoted space to “the violation of human rights in North Korea” and highlighted that South Korea should address the poor human rights situation in North Korea through domestic and international cooperation. 

Opinions diverged on the release of the National Security Strategy. Seoul Shinmun referred to the administration’s policy as “normalization of abnormality,” criticizing the Moon Jae-in administration’s security policy at the same time.16 Seoul Kyungjae highlighted that the country should establish peace through strength in order to defend national sovereignty and territory.17 Yet, Hankyoreh pointed out that the policy paper made no mention of efforts to retrieve wartime operational control of military forces from the US, deleting the terms “Peace Treaty” and “End of War Declaration.” And Hankyoreh argued that the country must not give up its principles to respond to Japan’s improper remarks over history issue despite the necessity of security cooperation. Lastly, it urged South Korea to maintain diplomacy as priority for denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.18

South Korea’s legal action against North Korea for blowing up joint liaison office
On June 14, the Unification Ministry filed a $35 million damage suit against North Korea for blowing up the inter-Korean liaison office in June 2020. Calling North Korea’s demolition of an inter-Korean liaison office “an apparent illegal act,” it claimed that this fundamentally damaged the basis of respect and trust between South and North Korea, adding that legal action is necessary because the statute of limitation for this was set to expire on the coming Friday.19

Segye Ilbo editorialized that it is too late but this measure is the obvious thing to do, saying that the Yoon administration has clarified who is responsible for demolition of an inter-Korean liaison office.20 Segye Ilbo said that although the inter-Korea liaison office was built through taxation, the Moon administration had just made a statement of regret rather than lodging a compensation claim against North Korea.

ROK-China Relations

Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming’s controversial remark
On June 8, Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming’s remark on South Korea-US relations became a controversial issue in ROK-China relations. This stemmed from a dinner with Democratic Party Leader Lee Jae-myung at the envoy’s residence in Seoul.21 During dinner, Xing complained about the Yoon administration’s foreign policy of close ROK-U.S. relations. Xing said that it is a wrong to bet on the United States in the era of U.S.-China strategic competition. This provoked criticism from South Korea’s politicians and media and also caused further tension between the two countries.

Kim Gi-hyeon, leader of the ruling People Power Party, criticized Xing and Lee Jae-myung for blaming South Korea’s government together, slamming “diplomatic discourtesy.”22 South Korea’s foreign ministry officially expressed its concern; First Vice Foreign Minister Chang Ho-jin immediately summoned Xing, strongly warning against “unreasonable and provocative” remarks intervening in South Korea’s domestic politics.23 China complained to South Korean Ambassador Chung Jae-ho in a tit-for-tat move after South Korea summoned China’s envoy.24
With regard to Xing’s remark, South Korea’s domestic media outlets were unanimous in expressing concern. Joongang Ilbo regarded it as “intervention in South Korea’s domestic politics.” Joongang Ilbo editorialized that his comments just poured cold water on ROK-China relations.25 Kookmin Ilbo expressed surprise that a high-ranking diplomat would make such a rude remark, also questioning what China had done so far as a permanent member of the UN Security Council in deterring North Korea’s aggression.26 Kyunghyang Shinmun said that Xing’s remarks deserved to be criticized because his public criticism of South Korea’s foreign policy is clearly contrary to diplomatic custom. But Kyunghyang Shinmun said that the two countries blaming each other is short-sighted; they must refrain from taking emotional action against each other.27 In a similar vein, Hankook Ilbo urged the two countries to refrain from such emotionalism and manage the situation. Also, Hankook Ilbo strongly argued that it is necessary for both countries to restore communication channels on various issues.28

ROK-Japan Relations

Shuttle diplomacy with Japan
On March 7, Yoon held a summit with Kishida, who was visiting Korea, at the Presidential Office in Yongsan. Following the Tokyo summit on March 16, this summit took place in Seoul just 52 days later.29 With Kishida’s visit to South Korea, the “shuttle diplomacy” between the leaders of South Korea and Japan has been restored after a 12-year hiatus, allowing for discussions of current issues between the two countries. The last Japanese prime minister to visit South Korea for a summit meeting was Noda Yoshihiko in October 2011. Later that same year in December, former President Lee Myung-bak made a state visit to Japan.30

At the Seoul summit, the leaders engaged in discussions in several areas of mutual interest with the aim of steering bilateral relations towards a future-oriented path. Specifically, they confirmed their commitment to enhancing security cooperation to address North Korea’s threats and expressed readiness to engage in close consultations regarding regional security.31

In an effort to increase economic and security cooperation between their respective nations, the two leaders came to an agreement. Finance ministers from both countries have already restarted talks following a seven-year break, while economic security councils and security dialogues have also commenced. The leaders were hopeful that discussions would continue, particularly in the midst of global economic changes, such as the restructuring of the semiconductor supply chain. The dispatch of an on-site inspection team by Korean experts to investigate Japan’s release of contaminated water from Fukushima has been evaluated as a move by Japan to take into consideration Korea’s position.32

The summit generated mixed reactions. The conservative Joongang Ilbo editorialized that restoring “shuttle diplomacy” and promoting cooperation in various fields such as security and economy between South Korea and Japan are positive steps towards improving bilateral relations and that such progress should be commended for addressing remaining issues in a constructive manner.33 Meanwhile, the center-right Kukmin Ilbo expressed concern by pointing out that a cautious approach is needed for sensitive issues between South Korea and Japan. Especially, to address public apprehension regarding nuclear contamination, it is crucial that the inspection team sent to Fukushima undergo a thorough verification process.34 The progressive Kyunghyang Shinmun stressed that the inspection should not be considered an endorsement of Japan’s release of radioactive water from its nuclear power plant.35 In addition, Kukmin Ilbo editorialized that despite the commitment made during the summit to enhance economic collaboration between the two nations, such as the removal of restrictions on semiconductor material exports, it is imperative that prompt and effective follow-up measures are taken.36 The progressive Hankyoreh expressed in an editorial, its criticism of the failure to effectively address unresolved historical issues. While Kishida expressed sympathy to the victims of forced mobilization, he refrained from making any official statements of government accountability or apology regarding the sensitive historical issue that has been the focus of public attention.37

Fukushima inspection
The expert team from the South Korean government completed its inspection of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, specifically focusing on the process of handling contaminated water. A team of 21 experts, including members from the Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety and the Korea Institute of Ocean Science, arrived in Japan on May 21st as a result of an agreement made between the leaders of South Korea and Japan during their recent summit in Seoul.38 The delegation returned to South Korea on May 26. Chairman Yoo Gook-hee, the head of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission, stated that the findings from the inspection would be compiled and announced soon.39

Japan’s trial operation to discharge the Fukushima wastewater
Beginning on June 12, Japan will carry out trial operations to discharge the Fukushima wastewater for the next two weeks.40 South Korea’s local fishing industries and fisheries of concern announced that they would hold a protest rally, raising the question if the government could hold the Japanese government in check.41 Seoul Shinmun urged the ruling and opposition party lawmakers to hold the hearings on the release of the Fukushima wastewater after the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) issue a report on this issue.42

Yomiuri Shimbun’s report on the massacre of Koreans during the Great Kanto Earthquake
On June 13, Yomiuri Shimbun in a front-page article entitled “Lessons from the Great Kanto Earthquake: Rumors and Violence spread all at once” reported that vigilante groups massacred Koreans with Japanese swords and axes after rumors of Korean rioting and poisoning of wells at the time of the earthquake. By mentioning that similar things are happening at disaster areas in Japan now, Yomiuri underscored that “We must remember the lessons from past.”43

The People Power Party put a positive spin on the coverage from the largest conservative paper. which has a strong tendency to favor the right wing that denies historical matters in Japan. Kim Gi-hyeon, the leader of the party, welcomed the forward-looking coverage, viewing it as Japan’s positive response to Yoon’s effort to normalize relations.44 Dong-a Ilbo highlighted the unusual coverage as opposed to the past when the Japanese government denied the massacre of Koreans during the Great Kanto Earthquake. In an editorial, Dong-a Ilbo urged Japan to view history in line with this coverage of the Great Kanto earthquake massacre.45


South Korea wins seat on UNSC for 2024-25
On June 6, South Korea was elected a UN Security Council nonpermanent member for 2024-2025. As the only candidate in the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea received 180 votes out of 192 voting, which shows overwhelming support. South Korea won a seat on the Security Council after last doing so in 2013-214. It will be play a role in fighting global security challenges with an expanded foothold to address North Kora’s threat as a responsible member state of international society.46

Yoon hailed South Korea’s election as a “victory of global diplomacy.”47 Ambassador to the UN Hwang Joon-Kook said South Korea would do its utmost to improve the country’s standing and contribute to expanding diplomatic horizons through UNSC activities.48 The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) also released a statement welcoming the election result, highlighting that the US, Japan, and the ROK would perform their roles as UNSC members together, and looking forward to expanding opportunities for security cooperation.49

South Korea’s domestic media outlets generally welcomed the result in expectation that South Korea would prove to be a responsible member of UNSC. Dong-a Ilbo welcomed the election, urging South Korea to respond to changes in the global security environment such as the Ukraine-Russia War, competition of U.S-China, climate change, and cyber security issues.50
Segye Ilbo editorialized that it this was clearly the successful result of the administration’s value-based diplomacy backed up by international society.51 It strongly urged South Korea to raise its voice on human rights issues in North Korea, drawing a contrast with the Moon Jae-in administration, which did not strongly raise these issues.52

South Korea’s UNSC election was also positively viewed by the center-right Kukmin Ilbo.
which editorialized that it should strengthen its own voice and expand its UNSC activities in securing support from international society.53 In an editorial, itmentioned that in reality, there is a limit to South Korea’s ability to address North Korea’s threats due to vetoes by China and Russia, therefore, it is necessary to seek ways to cooperate with both of these countries.54

The progressive Kyunghyang Shinmun was positive too but mentioned that South Korea was alone in running in the Asia-Pacific.55 Nevertheless, Kyunghyang Shinmun highlighted that it that South Korea’s return to the UNSC has a symbolic meaning at the time of radical change in the global security environment and South Korea should take as its responsibility blocking acceleration of a new Cold War era, and this paves the way for South Korea to act as a bridge between the US and China on Korean Peninsula issues.56

1. “대통령실 “‘워싱턴 선언’은 제2의 한미 상호방위 조약,” Chosun Ilbo, April 29, 2023,

2. “북 위협에 맞서 3국 안보 공조 확립한 한·미·일 정상회담,” Kukmin Ilbo, May 22, 2023,

3. “G7 무대에서 韓美日 협력 복원… ‘자유의 축’ 된 한국,” Chosun Ilbo, May 22, 2023,

4. “북한 ‘위성 발사’ 긴장 속, 심상치 않은 북·일 접근,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, May 30, 2023,

5. “북 정찰위서 발사 카운트다운…한미일 정보 공조 시험대다,” Segye Ilbo, May 30, 2023,

6. “北, 위성 발사 도발 임박…‘보상’ 아닌 혹독한 ‘대가’ 치르게 해야,” Seoul Kyungjae, May 30, 2023,

7. “북 정찰위서 발사 카운트다운…한미일 정보 공조 시험대다,” Segye Ilbo, May 30, 2023,

8. “북 정찰위서 발사 카운트다운…한미일 정보 공조 시험대다,” Segye Ilbo, May 30, 2023,

9. “북한 ‘위성 발사’ 긴장 속, 심상치 않은 북·일 접근,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, May 30, 2023,

10. “北 발사체 서해 추락…’곧 2차 발사,’” Seoul Shinmun, June 1, 2023,

11. “北 정찰위성 서해 추락…체면 구긴 김정은,” Segye Ilbo, May 31, 2023,

12. “김여정 “정찰위성 머지않아 우주궤도 진입해 임무수행할 것,” Yonhap News Agency, June 1, 2023,

13. “한반도 긴장 높인 북한의 군사정찰위성 발사 규탄한다,” Kyunghyang Shinmun,, May 31, 2023,

14. “실패라도 북한의 ‘정찰위성’도발은 안보리 결의 위안,” Joongang Ilbo, June 1, 2023,

15. “국가안보실, ‘윤석열 정부의 국가안보전략’ 발간,” The Presidential Office, June 7, 2023,

16. “비정상의 정상화, 종전선언 삭제한 새 안보 전략,” Seoul Shinmun, June 9, 2023,

17. “안보전략 개정, 힘에 의한 지속 가능한 평화체제 만들어라,” Seoul Kyungjae, June 9, 2023,

18. “북 도발 응징 강조, 전작권 환수는 뺀 새 안보전략,” Hankyoreh, ,June 9, 2023,

19. “남북공동연락사무소 불법 폭파에 대한 손해배상청구 소송을 제기하였습니다,” Ministry ofUnification, June 14, 2023,

20. “연락사무소 폭파 北에 손배소, 다른 시설 피해도 책임 묻길,” Segye Ilbo, June 16, 2023, 

21. “中대사 ’美 승리에 베팅, 나중에 반드시 후회,’” Chosun Ilbo, June 9, 2023, 

22. “”백댄서” 와 “위안스카이”…국힘, 이재명-싱하이밍 만남 맹비난,” Hankyoreh, June 9, 2023,

23. “외교부, 싱하이밍 중국대사 초치…’내정 간섭’ 엄중 경고,” Hankyoreh, June 9, 2023,

24. “중국, 주중 한국대사 ‘맞불’초지…’부당한 반응에 심각한 불만,’” Hankyoreh, June 12, 2023,

25. “한ㆍ중 관계에 찬물 끼얹은 중국대사의 부적절한 언행,“ Joongang Ilbo, June 12, 2023,

26. “’미국 편 들면 후회’ 中대사 발언 부적절하다,” Kookmin Ilbo, June 10, 2023,

27. “한ㆍ중의 강대강 ‘싱하이밍 충돌’, 자중하고 냉정해져야,” Kyunghyang Shinmun,, June 12, 2023,

28. “악화일로 韓中, 맞대응 자제하고 상황 관리해야,” Hankook Ilbo, June 13, 2023,

29. “尹, 용산 대통령실서 기시다 환영식… 52일만에 서울 정상회담,” Chosun Ilbo, May 7, 2023,

30. “尹-기시다, 내일 한일 정상회담…12년 만의 셔틀외교 복원,” Yonhap News, May 6, 2023,

31. “52일만에 만난 한 정상… 후쿠시마 시찰·안보협력 공감대,” Joongang Ilbo, May 7, 2023,

32. “12년 만의 셔틀외교 복원, 미래 향한 한·일 관계 되길,” Kukmin Ilbo, May 8, 2023,

33. “한·일 셔틀외교 복원, 진정한 미래협력 발걸음 되길,” Joongang Ilbo, May 8, 2023,

34. “한·일 셔틀외교 이제 시작… 신속한 후속 조치 이뤄지길,” Kukmin Ilbo, May 9, 2023,

35. “과거사 반성과 사과 기대 끝내 저버린 한·일 정상회담,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, May 7, 2023,

36. “한·일 셔틀외교 이제 시작… 신속한 후속 조치 이뤄지길,” Kukmin Ilbo, May 9, 2023,

37. “분명한 과거사 사과 없이 ‘미래’만 강조한 한·일 회담,” Hankyoreh, May 7, 2023,

38. “Koran experts conclude inspection of Fukushima plant,” Joongang Daily, May 25, 2023,

39. “돌아온 日오염수 시찰단, 국민불안에 투명하게 답해야,” Hankuk Ilbo, May 27, 2023,

40. “ ”오염수 방류,사형 선고” 어민들 피눈물,” Kyunghyang Shinmun,, June 11, 2023,

41. Ibid.

42. “후쿠시마 청문회, IAEA 보고서 보고 하라,” Seoul Shinmun, June 12, 2023,

43. “”우물 독 탔다 유언비어에 조선인 도끼 학살”日 요미우리, 1면 이례적 보도,” Chosun Ilbo, June 14, 2023,

44. “日 요미우리 ‘관동대학살’ 1면 보도에… 김기현 ‘전향적 보도환영,’“Dong-a Ilbo, June, 14, 2023, .

45. “요미우리, ‘간토대학살’이례적 보도… 日 ’역사 바로 보기,’” Dong-a Ilbo, June 15, 2023,

46. “180표vs12표···안보리 재진입,” Chosun Ilbo, June 8, 2023,

47. Ibid.

48. Ibid.

49. “2024-2025 임기 유엔 안보리 비상임이사국 진출,” MOFA, June 7, 2023, .

50. “ 韓 유엔 안보리 재진입···넓어진 외교지형에서 역할 키우라,” Dong-a Ilbo, June 8, 2023,

51. “안보리 비상임이사국 진입, 북핵·인권 문제 목소리 높여야,” Segye Ilbo, June 7, 2023, 

52. Ibid.

53. “11년만의 안보리 이사국 복귀, 중·러와도 대화 계기 되길,” Kukmin Ilbo, June 8, 2023,

54. Ibid.

55. “한국의 안보리 진출, 신냉전 가속화 막는 역할 해야,” Kyunghyang Shinmun, June 7, 2023,

56. Ibid.

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