South Korea says it wants to reopen communications with North amid missile crisis

South Korea said on Wednesday it wanted to reopen communications with North Korea as new President Moon Jae-in seeks a two-track policy involving sanctions and dialogue with its reclusive neighbor to rein in its nuclear and missile programs.

North Korea has made no secret of the fact that it is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland and has ignored calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, even from China, its lone major ally.

Its latest ballistic missile launch, in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, was on Sunday which it said was a test of its capability to carry a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead”, drawing Security Council condemnation.

“Our most basic stance is that communication lines between South and North Korea should open,” Lee Duk-haeng, a spokesman for the South’s Unification Ministry, told reporters. “The Unification Ministry has considered options on this internally but nothing has been decided yet.”

Communications were severed by the North last year, Lee said, in the wake of new sanctions following North Korea’s last nuclear test and Pyongyang’s decision to shut down a joint industrial zone operated inside the North.

North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North defends its weapons programs as necessary to counter U.S. hostility.

Moon won an election last week campaigning on a more moderate approach to the North and said after taking office that he wants to pursue dialogue as well as pressure to stop the North’s weapons programs.

Moon’s envoy to the United States, South Korean media mogul Hong Seok-hyun, left for Washington early on Wednesday. Hong said he would discuss North Korea with high-ranking officials in Washington.

Hong said South Korea had not yet received official word from the United States on whether Seoul should pay for an anti-missile U.S. radar system that has been deployed outside Seoul.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said he wants South Korea to pay for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system which detected Sunday’s launch.

China has strongly opposed THAAD, saying it can spy into its territory, and South Korean companies have been hit in China by a nationalist backlash over the deployment.

The United States said on Tuesday it believed it could persuade China to impose new U.N. sanctions on North Korea and warned that Washington would also target and “call out” countries supporting Pyongyang.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also made clear that Washington would only talk to North Korea once it halted its nuclear program.

Trump has called for an immediate halt to North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests and U.S. Disarmament Ambassador Robert Wood said on Tuesday that China’s leverage was key and Beijing could do more.

Trump warned this month that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible, and in a show of force, sent the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group to Korean waters to conduct drills with South Korea and Japan.

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South Korea Elects Moon Jae-in, Who Backs Talks With North, as President

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea elected Moon Jae-in, a human rights lawyer who favors dialogue with North Korea, as president on Tuesday, returning the nation’s liberals to power after nearly a decade in the political wilderness and setting up a potential rift with the United States over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

His victory caps a remarkable national drama in which a corruption scandal, mass protests and impeachment forced a South Korean president from office for the first time in almost 60 years, leaving the conservative establishment in disarray and its former leader in jail.

Mr. Moon, 64, a son of North Korean refugees, faces the challenge of enacting changes to limit the power of big business and address the abuses uncovered in his predecessor’s downfall. He must also make good on his promise of a new approach to North Korea while balancing relations with the United States and China.

His election immediately scrambles the geopolitics over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Even as the Trump administration urges the world to step up pressure on Pyongyang, it now faces the prospect of a critical ally — one with the most at stake in any conflict with the North — breaking ranks and adopting a more conciliatory approach.

Mr. Moon has argued that Washington’s reliance on sanctions and pressure has been ineffective and that it is time to give engagement and dialogue with the North another chance, an approach favored by China. He has also called for a review of the Pentagon’s deployment of an antimissile defense system in South Korea that the Chinese government has denounced.

North Korean troops marching in a parade for the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder, in Pyongyang last month. CreditWong Maye-E/Associated Press

In a nationally televised speech before cheering supporters, Mr. Moon declared that he would “be a president for all the people.” He said he would work with political rivals to create a country where “justice rules and common sense prevails.”

With all ballots counted on Wednesday morning, Mr. Moon was in first place with 41 percent of the vote, according to the National Election Commission. He was followed by Hong Joon-pyo, a conservative who had pledged a tough stance against North Korea, with 24 percent, and Ahn Cheol-soo, a centrist, with 21 percent.

Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Moon does not have a two-month transition period. He will take office on Wednesday.

Mr. Moon’s position on North Korea is a sharp departure from that of his two immediate predecessors, conservatives who tended to view anything less than strict enforcement of sanctions against the North as ideologically suspect.

While he condemned “the ruthless dictatorial regime of North Korea” during his campaign, Mr. Moon also argued that South Korea must “embrace the North Korean people to achieve peaceful reunification one day.”

The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, system was installed on a golf course in Seongju, South Korea, last month. CreditLee Jong-hyeon/News1, via Reuters

“To do that, we must recognize Kim Jong-un as their ruler and as our dialogue partner,” he said. “The goal of sanctions must be to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.”

David Straub, a former director of Korean affairs at the State Department and a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, a think tank near Seoul, warned of “serious policy differences between the U.S. and South Korean presidents” over North Korea and related issues. He added that these differences could lead to “significantly increased popular dissatisfaction with the United States in South Korea.”

China, on the other hand, is likely to welcome Mr. Moon’s election, which may make it easier for it to deflect pressure from the United States to get tough on North Korea and strengthen its argument that Washington must address the North’s concerns about security.

Some analysts say Mr. Moon’s victory could lower the temperature of the North Korean standoff, prompting Washington and Pyongyang to pause and assess the effect of the new government in Seoul on their policies. Satellite images indicate that the North has been preparing to conduct a sixth nuclear test, and the Trump administration has engaged in a heated campaign of implied threats and military posturing to stop it.

Mr. Moon’s view of North Korea echoes the approach of the two liberal presidents who held power from 1998 to 2008 and pursued a so-called sunshine policy toward the North that included diplomatic talks, family reunions and joint economic projects, such as the Kaesong industrial park in North Korea, near the demilitarized zone.

Mr. Moon carrying a portrait of former President Roh Moo-hyun to a memorial altar at Mr. Roh’s hometown, Bonghwa, in 2009. Mr. Roh completed his five-year term in 2008 and committed suicide the next year. CreditReuters

But that era was punctuated by the North’s first nuclear test, conducted in 2006, and much has changed on the Korean Peninsula since.

With four more tests under its belt, each more powerful than the last, and a rapidly advancing ballistic missile program, North Korea poses a greater threat to the South and appears to be closing in on nuclear arms capable of striking the United States. Mr. Moon also faces a mercurial adversary in Mr. Kim, 33, who took power in Pyongyang after the death of his father in late 2011.

Critics say any effort by Mr. Moon to revive the sunshine policy — perhaps by reopening Kaesong, which his disgraced predecessor, Park Geun-hye, shut last year — would give North Korea a lifeline it could use to reduce its economic dependence on China, weakening Beijing’s leverage over it and strengthening Mr. Kim’s hand.

The American missile defense system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad, presents another test for Mr. Moon. It went into operation last week, and Mr. Moon has complained that its deployment was rushed to present him with a fait accompli. But if he tries to undo it, he could strain the alliance with Washington while leaving the impression of bowing to Chinese pressure.

That could be politically fatal in South Korea, where the public, across the political spectrum, is wary of the country appearing too deferential to big powers. Many South Koreans complained that the United States had foisted Thaad on their nation, but they also fumed about retaliatory economic measures taken by China in response to its deployment.

Supporters of Mr. Moon during a campaign rally in Seoul on Monday. CreditKim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Acknowledging the complexity of the challenges he faces, Mr. Moon has been careful to say that when he promised to review the Thaad deployment, he did not necessarily mean he would reverse it.

And while he has said South Korea must “learn to say no” to Washington, he has emphasized that any diplomatic overture toward North Korea will be grounded in the South’s alliance with the United States. He has also often expressed gratitude to the United States for protecting the South from Communism and supporting its transformation into a prosperous democracy.

Mr. Moon’s parents fled Communist rule during the Korean War and were among tens of thousands evacuated from the North Korean port of Hungnam by retreating American Navy vessels in the winter of 1950. They often told him about the Christmas sweets that American troops handed out to those packed into the ships during the journey.

Mr. Moon was born in January 1953, after his parents had resettled in a refugee camp on an island off the southern coast of South Korea. His father was a handyman, and his mother peddled eggs, coal briquettes and black-market American relief goods.

Asked by the newspaper Dong-A Ilbo what he would do with a crystal ball, Mr. Moon said last month that he would show his 90-year-old mother what her North Korean hometown looked like now and how her relatives there were faring. “If Korea reunifies, the first thing I would do is to take my mother’s hand and visit her hometown,” he said. “Perhaps I could retire there as a lawyer.”

In the 1980s, Mr. Moon defended student and labor activists persecuted under military rule and forged a lifelong friendship with a fellow lawyer, Roh Moo-hyun. When Mr. Roh was elected president in 2002, declaring that he would be the first South Korean president not to “kowtow to the Americans,” Mr. Moon served as his chief of staff.

Many of the misgivings that conservatives have about Mr. Moon stem from his association with Mr. Roh. But some former American officials who dealt with the Roh government recall Mr. Moon as more practical and flexible than other officials. In his memoir, Mr. Moon defended Mr. Roh’s decision to sign a trade agreement with the United States and dispatch troops to Iraq over the protests of Mr. Roh’s liberal political base.

Mr. Roh completed his five-year term in 2008 and committed suicide the next year as prosecutors investigated corruption allegations against his family.

“It was the most painful day in my life,” Mr. Moon wrote in his memoir, describing his friend’s death as “tantamount to a political murder” and blaming a political vendetta by a new conservative government that wanted to discredit him.

Mr. Moon entered the 2012 presidential race vowing to finish Mr. Roh’s work by fighting corruption, the influence of the country’s family-owned conglomerates, and what he called “politically motivated prosecutors” — and by seeking peace with North Korea.

But he narrowly lost to Ms. Park, the daughter of the South Korean military strongman Park Chung-hee, and spent the next four years as a leader of the opposition.

In a recent interview, Mr. Moon recalled how he visited Mr. Roh’s predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and architect of the sunshine policy, shortly before Mr. Kim died in 2009.

Mr. Kim was so feeble by then that he had to be fed by his wife, and he was heartbroken. He had devoted much of his career to building trust with North Korea through humanitarian and economic aid, and the conservatives in power were dismantling that legacy and embracing sanctions against the North.

“President Kim said he could not believe his eyes,” Mr. Moon recalled. “In what I thought was his dying wish, he asked us to take the government back.”

US missile defense system now operational in S.Korea

WASHINGTON (AFP) — A controversial missile defense system whose deployment has angered China is now operational in South Korea, a US defense official said Monday.

Washington and Seoul agreed to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery deployment in July in the wake of a string of North Korean missile tests.

“It has reached initial intercept capability,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

This initial capability will be augmented later this year as additional hardware and components arrive to complete the system, officials said.

THAAD’s deployment in South Korea has infuriated China, which fears it will weaken its own ballistic missile capabilities and says it upsets the regional security balance.

The THAAD system, which is being installed on a former golf course in the southern county of Seongju, is designed to intercept and destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles during their final phase of flight.

Beijing has imposed a host of measures seen as economic retaliation against the South for the THAAD deployment, including a ban on tour groups.

Retail conglomerate Lotte, which previously owned the golf course, has also been targeted, with 85 of its 99 stores in China shut down, while South Korea’s biggest automaker Hyundai Motor has said its Chinese sales have fallen sharply.

The THAAD deployment comes as tension soars on the Korean peninsula following a series of missile launches by the North and warnings from the administration of US President Donald Trump that military action is an “option on the table.”

Further complicating matters, Trump stunned Seoul last week when he suggested South Korea should pay for the $1 billion THAAD system.

“I informed South Korea it would be appropriate if they paid. It’s a billion-dollar system,” Trump was quoted as saying in a published report.

“It’s phenomenal, shoots missiles right out of the sky.”

Seoul retorted that under the Status of Forces Agreement that governs the US military presence in the country, the South would provide the THAAD site and infrastructure while the US would pay to deploy and operate it.

Thomas Karako, the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that South Korea’s sole THAAD battery does not quite have the range to cover the entire country.

But he called it an important first step.

“This is not about a having a perfect shield, this is about buying time and thereby contributing to the overall credibility of deterrence,” Karako told AFP.

“South Korea with THAAD helps communicate to the North that today is not a good day to attack. It doesn’t mean that they could not do a lot of damage — they would — but it strengthens the overall posture.”

In a surprise development, Trump on Monday said he would not rule out meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, under the right conditions.

“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would, absolutely. I would be honored to do it,” Trump told Bloomberg News.

US begins setting up missile defense in S. Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — In a defiant bit of timing, South Korea announced Wednesday that key parts of a contentious US missile defense system had been installed a day after rival North Korea showed off its military power.

The South’s trumpeting of progress on setting up the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, comes as high-powered US military assets converge on the Korean Peninsula and as a combative North Korea signals possible nuclear and missile testing.

North Korea conducted live-fire artillery drills on Tuesday, the 85th anniversary of the founding of its million-person strong Korean People’s Army. On the same day, a US guided-missile submarine docked in South Korea, and the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier is headed toward the peninsula for a joint exercise with South Korea.

The moves to set up THAAD within this year have angered not only North Korea, but also China, the country that the Trump administration hopes to work with to rid the North of nuclear weapons. China, which has grown increasingly frustrated with its ally Pyongyang, and Russia see the system’s powerful radars as a security threat.

South Korea said in a statement Wednesday that unspecified parts of THAAD were installed. The statement said that Seoul and Washington have been pushing to get THAAD quickly working to cope with North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threats. According to the Yonhap news agency, the parts include two or three launchers, intercept missiles and at least one radar.

In this photo provided by the South Korean Defense Ministry, a South Korean navy sailor watches the destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer during joint exercises between the United States and South Korea in South Korea's West Sea Tuesday, April 25, 2017. (South Korean Defense Ministry via AP)

About 8,000 police officers were mobilized and the main road leading up to the site in the southeast was blocked earlier Wednesday, Yonhap reported. About 200 residents and protesters rallied in front of a local community center, some hurling plastic water bottles.

On Tuesday, North Korea conducted live-fire drills near the east coast city of Wonsan that involved 300 to 400 artillery pieces, Yonhap reported. An official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry couldn’t confirm those specific details.

North Korea’s official media said early Wednesday that leader Kim Jong Un personally observed the exercises. The drills reportedly included submarine torpedo attacks on mock enemy warships “while fighters and bombers made zero feet flight above the sea to drop bombs on the targets,” the Korean Central News Agency said.

US President Donald Trump has sent more US military assets to the region in a show of force while leaning on China to exert economic pressure on its wayward ally. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who spoke to Trump on Monday, is urging restraint from both Pyongyang and Washington.

In Washington, top Trump administration officials are due to brief the entire US Senate on Wednesday. A rapid tempo of North Korean weapons testing in the past year has pushed Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian nation closer to developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the US mainland.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham voiced confidence that Trump won’t allow North Korea to reach that point. Graham, a defense hawk who dined with Trump on Monday night, said the North should not underestimate the president’s resolve.

In this April 23, 2017 photo released by the US Navy, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the Philippine Sea while conducting a bilateral exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Z.A. Landers/US Navy via AP)

The USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine, arrived Tuesday at the South Korean port of Busan for what was described as a routine visit to rest crew and load supplies. The US 7th Fleet said two American destroyers were conducting simultaneous maritime exercises with naval ships from South Korea and Japan.

North Korea routinely accuses the United States of readying for an invasion, and threatens pre-emptive strikes to stop it. An unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said the US administration’s policy to maximize pressure on North Korea was “little short of lighting the fuse of total war,” the state news agency reported Tuesday.

The streets of Pyongyang, however, were quiet for Tuesday’s anniversary, which was overshadowed by April 15 celebrations for the birthday of the nation’s late founder Kim Il Sung, and were marked by a missile test the following day.

The Trump administration is also upping the ante diplomatically.

On Friday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council.

Tillerson will be “very vocal” about nations enforcing sanctions on North Korea, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. Trump said Monday the council must be prepared to impose stronger sanctions.

ATTACK ON NORTH KOREA COULD START A WAR IN ASIA FOR U.S., JAPAN, SOUTH KOREA AND OTHER NATIONS

Recent tensions between North Korea and the U.S. have escalated to the point where any military action on either side would likely lead to another all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. If it gets to that point, there may be little that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un or President Donald Trump could do to prevent a prolonged conflict.

Intelligence reports earlier this month suggested that North Korea was preparing to conduct its sixth nuclear weapons test April 15, on the birthday of the reclusive, authoritarian state’s late founder and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung. In response, President Donald Trump said he would send a naval “armada” toward the region to prevent such a test. North Korea did not execute a nuclear test, but did conduct a failed missile launch and has pledged to continue firing missiles “weekly” in defiance of Washington’s threats. Neither side has backed down and with a fleet of U.S. warships potentially headed to North Korea, Kim Jong Un may be compelled by his own militarized society to respond should the U.S. take action.

Related: How the U.S., China, Japan and the Koreas are Reacting to the Crisis in Asia

“There is a big question as to whether North Korea can actually respond in a limited fashion. You know, technically they can. But the system and the doctrine might not permit it,” Joseph Bermudez, strategic director at All Source Inc., an intelligence and satellite imagery analysis organization, said during a teleconference call Tuesday.

“And, given the current state of tension on the Korean Peninsula, even if they did respond in a limited manner, the South Koreans, or the U.S., or maybe even the Japanese, might then respond again, and what we see then is a gradual escalation to a second Korean War,” he added.

RTS12E00A soldier salutes atop an armored vehicle as it drives past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, April 15, 2017. For decades, North Korea has told its heavily militarized, state-run society that any aggressions against the nation would be answered with force.DAMIR SAGOLJ/REUTERS

Since first battling with its southern rival during the Korean War in the 1950s, North Korea has continually threatened to use the full extent of its arsenal to defend its sovereignty. The country, in which the state wields some degree of control over nearly every aspect of society, has proliferated these claims for over half a century in its various government-run media outlets. While border skirmishes have occurred over the decades, neither South Korea nor any foreign power has directly attacked North Korea. This means Pyongyang has never had to make good on its gravest of promises to annihilate its enemies. The U.S. has also never come through with threats of military intervention. Recent events, however, have shown the current administration’s willingness to use force in a quick and unannounced manner.

Fears of a U.S. preemptive strike on North Korea were heightened because Trump’s declaration of sending warships to the Korean Peninsula came one day after he authorized an unprecedented preemptive missile strike by the U.S. Navy on a Syrian military air base. Trump said the strike was justified by U.S. claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad conducted a chemical weapons attack on civilians only days before. Trump had previously shown ambivalence or even tacit support at times for Assad and his sudden desire to enforce international conventions by military force came as a surprise to many.

North Korea has often found itself in flagrant defiance of international law. The country’s former leader and Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, drew widespread condemnation abroad when he oversaw the country’s first nuclear weapons test in 2006. Since then, North Korea has conducted four more nuclear tests despite U.N. Security Council sanctions with another potential test coming up. The nation already has anywhere between 10 to 20 active nuclear warheads and around 1000 ballistic missiles, according to John Schilling, satellite and vehicle launch specialist at the Aerospace Corporation, and could launch devastating assaults on the region if provoked.

“If we look at what the North Koreans say and what their doctrine and training calls for, is that if there is an attack, there is an immediate or close to immediate response,” Bermudez said. “Part of that attack will be an artillery attack on Seoul. How extensive that is, that’s a good question.”

During separate trips to Asia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have both recently said military options were “on the table” in dealing with North Korea. At the same time, Trump has approached North Korea’s traditional ally, China, in an attempt to persuade Beijing to take its own actions against North Korea. Beijing has become increasingly frustrated with North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling, but has also expressed opposition toward the U.S.’ military presence in South Korea. China has responded with general pleas for peace among all parties.

While Trump’s naval strike group was last seen in the Indian Ocean, thousands of miles from North Korea, the leadership of both nations continued to threaten to wage war on another if the crisis was not resolved. Once the first missile is launched, from either side, it seems increasingly unlikely that it will be the last, according to North Korea expert Joel Wit, co-founder of the 38 North monitoring group.

“The problem with thinking about preemptive attacks against North Korea is that you’re rapidly forced to think about attacking more and more targets,” Wit said during Tuesday’s teleconference call. “The bigger your attack the larger the chance that you’re going to create a situation that will lead to the second Korean War.”

South Korea Just Unveiled Missile That Can Hit Communists Anywhere in the North

While madman North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un keeps his neighbors on edge with missile launches and threats to the United States, South Korea has been busy with a missile program of its own.

An anonymous source claimed that South Korea has test-fired a ballistic missile capable of striking anywhere in North Korea, according to the U.K. Express.

A second unnamed source in the South Korean Ministry of National Defense said the missile has a range of 800 kilometers, or 497 miles, the Express reported. The missile’s range therefore brings all of North Korea into striking distance, including up to the northern border with China.

The North Korean capital of Pyongyong is 121 air miles from Seoul.

“There was a test-firing recently of a Hyunmoo-type ballistic missile with a range of 800 km at the Anheung test site of the Agency for Defense Development under the wing of the Defense Ministry,” the source said. “It’s assessed that it was successful.”

Although the Ministry of Defense did not comment publicly, the source said that Defense Minister Han Min-koo personally observed the test launch, according to The Diplomat. The source said this was not the first test of the missile, indicating an advanced stage of development.

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With over 28,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines currently in South Korea at full readiness, South Korea has long been under an umbrella of protection by the U.S.

The goal of the American presence there is and has always been to foster and support South Korean military independence. In 2012, the two countries agreed that South Korea would begin developing missiles with longer range to increase deterrence against the North’s nuclear threat, according to Yonhap News via New Delhi TV.

North Korean defector Thae Yong Ho recently confirmed that Kim is an unpredictable maniac with an obsession for nuclear power, according to NBC News.

“If Kim Jong Un has nuclear weapons and ICBMs, he can do anything. So I think the world should be ready to deal with this kind of person,” Thae said. “Kim Jong Un is a man who can do anything beyond the normal imagination.”

South Korea’s announcement should strike fear into the heart of Kim’s regime. He’s been a bully running loose in the park, terrorizing anyone he sees. This new development is akin to confining him in an elevator with his intended victim, both with guns drawn. No winners.

That’s the point of mutual armament: Played properly, it’s a zero-sum game. The only sure way to lose is not to play.

Perhaps South Korea’s self-defense development will take some of the wind from Kim’s sails, making being the bully on the block slightly less entertaining.

South Korea Removes President Park Geun-hye

SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean court ousted the president on Friday, a first in the nation’s history, rattling the delicate balance of relationships across Asia at a particularly tense time.

Her removal capped months of turmoil, as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets, week after week, to protest a sprawling corruption scandal that shook the top echelons of business and government.

Park Geun-hye, the nation’s first female president and the daughter of the Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, had been an icon of the conservative establishment that joined Washington in pressing for a hard line against North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

Now, her downfall is expected to shift South Korean politics to the opposition, whose leaders want more engagement with North Korea and are wary of a major confrontation in the region. They say they will re-examine the country’s joint strategy on North Korea with the United States and defuse tensions with China, which has sounded alarms about the growing American military footprint in Asia.

Ms. Park’s powers were suspended in December after a legislative impeachment vote, though she continued to live in the presidential Blue House, largely alone and hidden from public view, while awaiting the decision by the Constitutional Court. The house had been her childhood home: She first moved in at the age of 9 and left it nearly two decades later after her mother and father were assassinated in separate episodes.

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Judges at the impeachment ruling at the Constitutional Court on Friday. The downfall of Ms. Park is expected to shift South Korean politics to leaders who want more engagement with the North.CreditYonhap/European Pressphoto Agency

With the immunity conferred by her office now gone, Ms. Park, 65, faces prosecutors seeking to charge her with bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with a confidante, her childhood friend Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars in bribes from big businesses like Samsung.

By law, the country must elect a new president within 60 days. The acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, an ally of Ms. Park’s, will remain in office in the interim. The Trump administration is rushing a missile defense system to South Korea so that it can be in place before the election.

The last time a South Korean leader was removed from office under popular pressure was in 1960, when the police fired on crowds calling for President Syngman Rhee to step down. (Mr. Rhee, a dictator, fled into exile in Hawaii and died there.)

In a sign of how far South Korea’s young democracy has evolved, Ms. Park was removed without any violence, after large, peaceful protests in recent months demanding that she step down. In addition to the swell of popular anger, the legislature and the judiciary — two institutions that have been weaker than the presidency historically — were crucial to the outcome.

“This is a miracle, a new milestone in the strengthening and institutionalizing of democracy in South Korea,” said Kang Won-taek, a political scientist at Seoul National University.

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Celebrating after hearing the decision, in front of the Constitutional Court in Seoul, the capital, on Friday.CreditKim Hong-Ji/Reuters

When crowds took to the streets, they were not just seeking to remove a leader who had one year left in office. They were also rebelling against a political order that had held South Korea together for decades but is now fracturing under pressures both at home and abroad, analysts said.

Ms. Park’s father ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979. He founded its economic growth model, which transformed the nation into an export powerhouse and allowed the emergence of family-controlled conglomerates known as chaebol that benefited from tax cuts, anti-labor policies and other benefits from the government.

Ms. Park was elected in 2012 with the support of older conservative South Koreans who revered her father for the country’s breakneck economic growth.

But the nexus of industry and political power gave rise to collusive ties, highlighted by the scandal that led to Ms. Park’s impeachment.

The scandal also swept up the de facto head of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, who was indicted on charges of bribing Ms. Park and her confidante, Ms. Choi.

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Ms. Park, top center, with her father, Park Chung-hee, left, and her mother, Yuk Young-soo, right, in an undated family photograph. CreditYonhap, via Reuters

Samsung, the nation’s largest conglomerate, has been tainted by corruption before. But the company has been considered too important to the economy for any of its top leaders to spend time behind bars — until now. The jailing of Mr. Lee, who is facing trial, is another potent sign that the old order is not holding.

In the wake of the Park scandal, all political parties have vowed to curtail presidential power to pardon chaebol tycoons convicted of white-collar crimes. They also promised to stop chaebol chairmen from helping their children amass fortunes through dubious means, like forcing their companies to do exclusive business with the children’s businesses.

With the conservatives discredited — and no leading conservative candidate to succeed Ms. Park — the left could take power for the first time in a decade.

The dominant campaign issues will probably be North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and South Korea’s relations with the United States and China.

If the opposition takes power, it may try to revive its old “sunshine policy” of building ties with North Korea through aid and exchanges, an approach favored by China. That would complicate Washington’s efforts to isolate the North at a time other Asian nations like the Philippines are gravitating toward Beijing.

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Equipment for an American missile defense system arrived at an air base in South Korea on Monday. If the opposition party takes power, it says it will review the deployment of the system to determine if it is in South Korea’s best interest. CreditU.S. Forces Korea, via Associated Press

Moon Jae-in, the Democratic Party leader who is leading in opinion surveys, has said that a decade of applying sanctions on North Korea has failed to stop its nuclear weapons programs. He has said that sanctions are necessary, but that “their goal should be to draw North Korea back to the negotiating table.”

He believes that Ms. Park’s decision to allow the deployment of the American missile defense system — known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad — has dragged the country into the dangerous and growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing; China has called the system a threat to its own security and taken steps to punish South Korea economically for accepting it.

Conservative South Koreans see the deployment of the antimissile system not only as a guard against the North but also as a symbolic reaffirmation of the all-important alliance with the United States. Mr. Moon’s party demands that the deployment, which began this week, be suspended immediately. If it takes power, it says it will review the deployment of the antimissile system to determine if it is in South Korea’s best interest.

As South Korea has learned in painful fashion, it cannot always keep Washington and Beijing happy at the same time, as in the case of the country’s decision to deploy the American missile defense system.

Yet Ms. Park’s impeachment was also a pushback against “Cold War conservatives” like her father, who seized on Communist threats from North Korea to silence political opponents and hide their corruption, said Kim Dong-choon, a sociologist at Sungkonghoe University in Seoul.

Ms. Park’s father tortured and even executed dissidents, framing them with spying charges. Now, his daughter faces charges that her government blacklisted thousands of unfriendly artists and writers, branding them pro-North Korean, and denied them access to government support programs.

“Her removal means that the curtain is finally drawing on the authoritarian political and economic order that has dominated South Korea for decades,” said Ahn Byong-jin, rector of the Global Academy for Future Civilizations at Kyung Hee University in Seoul.

Analysts cautioned that political and economic change will come slowly.

As Mr. Moon put it recently: “We need a national cleanup. We need to liquidate the old system and build a new South Korea. Only then can we complete the revolution started by the people who rallied with candlelight.”

South Korea will take lead in life expectancy by 2030, study predicts

(CNN)Average life expectancy will increase globally by 2030, both at birth and at the age of 65, according to a new study.

The two time points help define when lifespans in a population are extending due to improvements in maternal and child health as well as improved adult health.
The average for women at birth will exceed 85 years in many countries, but South Korea is projected to lead the way with a life expectancy of 90.8 years.
In 2015, global average life expectancy at birth was 71.4 years, according to the World Health Organization.
Unhealthier lifestyles among men, including higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption, have long meant a greater life expectancy for women, say the researchers.
Life expectancy among men born in South Korea in 2030 is therefore predicted to be 84.1 years, according to the study, published Tuesday in the Lancet.
But the study authors believe this gap between the sexes is now shrinking as lifestyles become more similar.
“The biggest result is that … at least one group is going to break the 90-year barrier,” said Majid Ezzati, professor of global environmental health at Imperial College London, referring to the predictions among South Korean women. Ezzati led the study and highlighted that many experts had believed the average would never exceed 90.
“This shows that even if there is a limit to longevity, we are nowhere near it,” he said. “We should be planning for more life.”
The analysis included data on mortality and longevity patterns from 35 industrialized nations, including both high-income countries and emerging economies.
In Europe, French women and Swiss women are predicted to have the highest life expectancy, with averages of 88.6 and 84 years respectively.
Among predictions for high-income countries, the lowest life expectancy at birth is likely to be in the US, with an average of 83.3 years for women and 79.5 years for men — similar to Mexico and Croatia.
“They still have relatively high rates of young and middle-age mortality,” Ezzati told CNN, referring to the countries with lower life expectancies. “People have a relatively high risk of dying in their 40s or 50s.”
There are many reasons for deaths in this age range, Ezzati said, including greater obesity rates and their associated health risks as well as homicides and road accidents. Lack of universal health care in countries like the US is also thought to play a role, the study says.
The lowest life expectancy projections overall were for women in Macedonia and men in Serbia, according to the study.
“A lot of this is driven by inequality, (which) brings down the national average,” Ezzati said.
The research team calculated life expectancy using data on the age at which people die across a population. High childhood mortality rates and greater rates of death among young people, for example due to injuries and violence, will bring an average down.
In contrast, greater equality, more comprehensive health care and healthy diets and lifestyles embedded in a culture can bring this up — as with South Korea.
“Places like South Korea and some emerging economies, Switzerland and Canada do very well,” Ezzati said. “South Korea has had remarkable success.”
Ezzati believes the secret to South Korea’s success has been the country’s investment in childhood nutrition, education and technology as well as low blood pressure, low levels of smoking and good access to health care.
“An equitable way of taking up this knowledge has been the driver,” he said.
Meanwhile, countries like Japan, long revered for their longevity, are expected to see just small increases in life expectancy. “The Japanese story has started to come to an end,” Ezzati said, adding that while the Japanese culture is known for healthy diets and active lifestyles, “that’s beginning to change.”
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“They still have low obesity and low blood pressure … and are still doing well, but some things are catching up,” he said, highlighting Western influences such as diet.
“South Korea has caught up with Japan as its standard of living has increased,” said Sarah Harper, professor of gerontology at the University of Oxford. “But in many parts of Asia, young people are eating Western diets. … The (previously) healthy diet may not be sustained as young people reach older ages.”
The findings are hoped to help countries learn healthy changes by example and, more important, to help policymakers prepare for their populations’ changing demographics.
“What South Korea has done goes completely against some Western countries … against the prosperity agenda,” Ezzati said, adding that we need to think about “social care, planning and pensions in an aging population.”
Harper, said the new projections are, “very much in line with what other projections are showing.” She agreed that countries in Asia are leading the way but are also seeing change among their younger population.
She further agreed that inequality is likely to be an underlying factor for why some high-income countries are seeing lower life expectancy predictions. “The US spends more of its budget on health care than any other country in the world. Some say this is due to the huge amount of inequality,” she said. “The Scandinavian countries do well. … They’re counted as more equal and tend to have higher life expectancy outcomes.”

Samsung chief Lee arrested as South Korean corruption probe deepens

Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee was arrested early on Friday over his alleged role in a corruption scandal rocking the highest levels of power in South Korea, dealing a fresh blow to the world’s biggest maker of smartphones and memory chips.

The 48-year-old Lee, scion of the country’s richest family, was taken into custody at the Seoul Detention Centre after waiting there overnight for the decision. He was being held in a single cell with a TV and desk, a jail official said.

Lee is a suspect in the influence-peddling scandal that led parliament to impeach President Park Geun-hye in December, a decision that if upheld by the Constitutional Court would make her the country’s first democratically elected leader forced from office.

Shares in flagship Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS) fell 1.4 percent, while shares in Samsung C&T Corp (028260.KS), the de facto holding company of Samsung Group, were down 2.8 percent compared with the wider market’s .KS11 drop of 0.2 percent.

Prosecutors have up to 10 days to indict Lee, Samsung’s third-generation leader, although they can seek an extension. After indictment, a court would be required to make a ruling within three months.

No decision had been made on whether Lee’s arrest would be contested or whether bail would be sought, a spokeswoman for Samsung Group [SARG.UL] said.

Samsung and Lee have denied wrongdoing in the case.

“We will do our best to ensure that the truth is revealed in future court proceedings,” the Samsung Group said in a brief statement after Lee’s arrest.

The same court had rejected a request last month to arrest Lee, but prosecutors on Tuesday brought additional accusations against Lee, seeking his arrest on bribery and other charges.

“We acknowledge the cause and necessity of the arrest,” a judge said in his ruling.

The judge rejected the prosecution’s request to arrest Samsung Electronics president Park Sang-jin.

SENSITIVE TIME

While Lee’s detention is not expected to hamper day-to-day operation of Samsung firms, which are run by professional managers, experts said it could hinder strategic decision-making at South Korea’s biggest conglomerate, or chaebol.

Samsung has been in the midst of an ongoing restructuring to clear a succession path for Lee to assume control after his father was incapacitated by a heart attack in 2014.

Decisions that could be complicated by Lee’s arrest include deliberations over whether to reorganize the group under a holding company structure, as well as its plan to abandon its future strategy office, a central decision-making body that came in for criticism during the scandal.

Staff moves have also been in limbo. Samsung, which employs more than 250,000 people, has yet to announce annual personnel promotions and changes, which it typically does in December.

One employee at Samsung Electronics’ chip division said colleagues were unsettled that prosecutors had singled-out Samsung.

“The mood is that people are worried,” said the employee.

However, another Samsung Electronics employee described the situation as business as usual.

“It wouldn’t make sense for a company of that size to not function properly just because the owner is away.”

Both declined to be identified, given the sensitivity of the matter.

Lee’s incarceration comes as Samsung Electronics tries to get past the disastrous rollout last year of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, which were prone to fires. It is under pressure for the upcoming launch of its next flagship phone, the Galaxy S8, to be a success.

Some worried about the impact on Samsung, a flag-bearer for South Korea’s technological and manufacturing prowess.

“We express concern and regret that South Korea’s leading company, which is at the forefront of global competition, faces a management vacuum,” the Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry said.

ZEROING-IN

Lee’s arrest gives a boost to prosecutors who have zeroed-in on Samsung Group to build their case against President Park and her close friend Choi Soon-sil, who is in detention and faces charges of abuse of power and attempted fraud.

Both Park and Choi have denied wrongdoing.

Prosecutors have focused on Samsung’s relationship with Park, 65, accusing the group of paying bribes totaling 43 billion won ($37.74 million) to organizations linked to Choi to secure government backing for the 2015 merger of two Samsung units.

If parliament’s impeachment is upheld, an election would be held in two months. In the meantime, Park remains in office but stripped of her powers.

Her would-be successors praised the decision to arrest Lee.

“We hope it marks a beginning to end our society’s evil practice of cozy ties between government and corporations and move toward a fair country,” said Kim Kyoung-soo, a spokesman for Moon Jae-in, a member of the liberal opposition Democratic Party who is leading opinion polls in the presidential race.

South Korea says North Korea test fires missile into sea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s military said Sunday that North Korea fired a projectile into its eastern sea, a likely effort to advance its weapons program while also challenging the young Trump administration in Washington.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the projectile was fired from an area in the country’s western region around Banghyon, North Pyongan Province, which is where South Korean officials have said the country test launched its powerful midrange missile Musudan on Oct. 15 and 20.

An official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry says it isn’t clear whether the projectile was a ballistic missile. The official didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.

The North conducted two nuclear tests and a slew of rocket launches last year in continued efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Kim Dong-yeop, an analyst at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said that the projectile could be a Musudan or a similar rocket designed to test engines for an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the US mainland.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his annual New Year’s address that the North’s preparations for launching an intercontinental ballistic missile have “reached the final stage.”