Asan Korea Perspective

Presidential Election

With the Presidential election scheduled for May 9, Moon Jae-in (TDP) is the clear frontrunner with Ahn Hee-jung (TDP) in distant second. South Gyeongsang Province Governor Hong Jun-pyo is emerging as a strong candidate for the conservative side.

Presidential Candidate Approval Ratings1, 2


Each party is scheduled to name their candidate by mid-April.



Dealing with North Korea

Missile test

On Mar 22, North Korea conducted its third missile test of the year. The projectile was launched from Wonsan heading towards the East Sea.7 The missile exploded soon after launch.8 Many suspect that the test was a response to the ROK-US joint military exercise and the deployment of THAAD on the Korean Peninsula.9 Military officials are closely monitoring the situation given that the North could conduct more tests leading up to April 15, Kim Il-sung’s birthday.10

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit

On Mar 17, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited South Korea during his tour of Asia. He visited the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)11 before meeting with the interim President Hwang Kyo-ahn and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se. During the meetings, he reaffirmed the importance of the ROK-U.S. alliance12 and warned North Korea that “the U.S. policy of strategic patience… is over.”13 He also made clear that “all options are on the table,” including military one in dealing with the North.14


According to a recent public opinion survey by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, the deployment of THAAD on the Korean Peninsula is changing how Koreans see their country’s relationship with the United States and China.15 Most notably, China’s favorability among Koreans took a dive during February and March. On a scale of 0 to 10 (0=least favorable, 10=most favorable), China’s favorability rating dropped from 4.31 in January to 3.21 in early March. China’s rating is now below to that of Japan (3.33).

Country Favorability Rating (0-10)16


According to the authors of the latest brief, deteriorating perception of China among South Korean public was the result of Chinese retaliation against South Korean businesses for the deployment of THAAD on the Korean Peninsula. More South Koreans now favor (and fewer oppose) the THAAD deployment compared to November 2016.

Public Opinion on THAAD (%)17


Corporate Governance Restructuring

South Korea’s conglomerates are rushing to simplify their governance structure as the National Assembly moves to revise the existing law on corporate governance. Under the new bill, all shareholders will be required to purchase their shares at fair market value. In short, if the conglomerates want to maintain control of the operating firm, it is best to form a holding company to sidestep this requirement.18 Hyundai Motors Groups is expected to have either Hyundai Motors or Hyundai Mobis be its holding company.19 SK has already named an intermediary last October. Hyundai Heavy industries announced that Hyundai Robotics will be its holding firm.20

Samsung Electronics was also encouraged to make similar moves after the merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries but it has refrained from doing so. While Samsung is likely to make this change sooner or later, change in the immediate future is likely to be difficult given the ongoing investigation of Samsung Group’s Vice Chairman Lee JY and his involvement in a bribery scandal.21

Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) Restructuring

In addition to the KRW 4.2 trillion that the government has committed approximately two years ago, KRW 2.9 trillion has been set aside to keep DSME afloat.22 The latest announcement was justified by government estimates which showed that letting DSME fail would cost KRW 59 trillion for the South Korean economy.23 The long-term strategy is to reduce the firm’s size to KRW 6.2 trillion by the end of 2021, which is manageable for an eventual merger with another firm and thereby cushion the blow on the national economy.24 Many critics, however, have blamed the government for breaking its promise to not bailout failing companies. The latest assistance requires creditors to agree on adjusting DSME’s debt.25 If the company fails to win major creditor support, the firm will have to rely on a mix of court receivership and workout.26

Park Geun-hye before Prosecution Service

Former President Park Geun-hye appeared at the Prosecutor’s Office on March 21 for questioning and interrogation. Media reports indicate that her meeting with the prosecutors lasted nearly 22 hours.27 At this moment, the prosecutors have one of several options: 1) file for an arrest warrant, 2) indict without arrest, 3) or hold more sessions for questioning.28 The prosecutors are likely to make their move quickly to minimize the impact of Park’s investigation on the coming election.29

Party Approval Ratings30, 31


Contributing Staff(in alphabetical order): Han Minjeong, John J. Lee
Editor: J. James Kim

  • 1.

    Gallup Korea, date: Mar 14-16; sample size 1,004; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

  • 2.

    Gallup Korea, date: Mar 21-23; sample size 1,007; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

  • 3.

    “민주당 경선, 22일(오늘) 첫 투표 시작…투표 방법은?” 동아일보, 2017년 3월 22일.

  • 4.

    “김관용•김진태•이인제•홍준표…한국당, 본경선 개시,” 동아일보, 2017년 3월 21일.

  • 5.

    “국민의당 대선 후보 경선, 안철수-손학규-박주선 ‘3파전’…4월 4일 후보 확정,” 동아일보, 2017년 3월 17일.

  • 6.

    “바른정당, 경선 레이스 본격 시작…’기호1번’ 유승민, ‘기호2번’ 남경필,” 중앙일보, 2017년 3월 17일.

  • 7.

    “북한 오늘 미사일 쏜 듯…종류 不명확, 실패했다는 정보 있어,” 중앙일보, 2017년 3월 22일.

  • 8.

    “16일만에 또…軍 ‘北, 미사일 1발 발사했지만 정상발사 실패’,” 동아일보, 2017년 3월 22일.

  • 9.


  • 10.

    “엔진실험→미사일, 북한 미사일 발사 패턴 이번에도?” 중앙일보, 2017년 3월 23일.

  • 11.

    “첫 방한 美 틸러슨 국무, 첫 일정으로 ‘판문점 도끼만행’ 상징부대 방문…北에 강력한 ‘무언의 경고’,” 조선일보, 2017년 3월 17일.

  • 12.

    “美 틸러슨 ‘한미동맹은 한반도ㆍ아태 평화와 번역의 핵심축’,” 중앙일보, 2017년 3월 17일.

  • 13.

    “틸러슨 ‘대북 전략적 인내 끝났다. 군사갈등 원치 않지만 유사시 적절한 조치’,” 조선일보, 2017년 3월 17일.

  • 14.


  • 15.

    For more information on Korean public opinion about ROK-U.S. and ROK-China relations, see “Changing Tides: THAAD and Shifting Korean Public Opinion toward the United States and China,” (Kim Jiyoon, John J. Lee, and Kang Chungku, Asan Issue Brief 2017).

  • 16.

    Asan’s regular survey.

  • 17.

    Asan’s regular and special survey. Contact authors for more information if necessary.

  • 18.

    “삼성전자, 지주사 전환 당분간 보류,” 매일경제, 2017년 3월 24일.

  • 19.

    “현대차그룹 지주회사는? ‘현대차’, ‘모비스,” 경향신문, 2017년 3월 23일.

  • 20.


  • 21.

    “삼성전자 지주사 보류 배경은…총수 부재•여론 고려한 듯,” 연합뉴스, 2017년 3월 24일.

  • 22.

    “대우조선 4조2천억 퍼붓고도 2조9천억 또 지원한다,” 한겨레, 2017년 3월 23일.

  • 23.

    “13兆 지원해 ’59兆 재앙’ 막는다지만… 또 대마불사 논란,” 조선일보, 2017년 3월 24일; “지나친 수주낙관-미진한 자구노력… 사태 키워,” 동아일보, 2017년 3월 24일.

  • 24.


  • 25.

    “대우조선 2조9000억 추가 지원…‘밑 빠진 독 물 붓기’ 비판,” 경향신문, 2017년 3월 23일.

  • 26.


  • 27.

    “박 前대통령 검찰청서 21시간 30분만에 귀가,” 조선일보, 2017년 3월 23일.

  • 28.

    “[검찰 조사 마친 박근혜]대선 영향 최소화 위해 선거운동 시작 전 ‘박근혜 기소’ 무게,” 경향신문, 2017년 3월 22일.

  • 29.


  • 30.

    Gallup Korea, date: Mar 14-16; sample size 1,004; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.

  • 31.

    Gallup Korea, date: Mar 21-23; sample size 1,007; margin of error: +3.1 at the 95% confidence level.