South Korea’s defense budget for next year has been finalized at 43.15 trillion won, which is about 39.7 billion US dollars, up 7 percent from this year. It is the highest increase since 2009. The budget is 40.4 billion won more than the government initially proposed. It is the first time that military spending has been raised during a parliamentary review since 2011, which was one year after North Korea’s artillery attack on South Korea’s border island of Yeonpyeong. The large increase in the military budget shows the grim security reality of growing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea. Here’s Moon Seong-mook from the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy to explain the backdrop for the defense budget increase.

Whenever the opportunity arises, President Moon Jae-in has stressed the need to maintain overwhelming power to respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. The government is preparing for the transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean forces from the U.S. so South Korea will be able to lead combined operations in the future. For that purpose, it needs to be equipped with strong defense capabilities, and in light of that, military expenditure is essential. The sharp hike in the defense budget shows the president’s and the government’s firm determination to prepare against any nuclear and missile threats from North Korea and to protect the nation and the people from the threats.

A little over 13.5 trillion won or about 12 billion US dollars will be used to boost defense capabilities to respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. That represents a 10.8 percent-increase year-on-year. Among them, some 2.2 trillion won or 2 billion dollars have been earmarked for the so-called “three-axis defense scheme,” up 6.4 percent from this year. The three-axis defense platform refers to the Kill Chain strike system designed to preemptively target North Korean missile sites in case of emergencies, the Korean Air and Missile Defense aimed at intercepting North Korean missiles, and the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation scheme designed to punish North Korea by firing ballistic missiles.

To operate the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike system properly, it is highly important to collect information. It is necessary to reinforce reconnaissance and surveillance abilities to detect any signs of North Korea’s missile launches in advance and also to improve precision-strike capabilities to intercept detected missiles. Part of the military budget next year will be used to secure reconnaissance satellites, ballistic missile early warning radars and F-35 stealth fighters. The budget will also be spent on completing the development of the medium-range surface-to-air missile system, which is a core element of the Korea Air and Missile Defense, and purchasing various arms systems for the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation scheme. South Korea will also obtain more equipment used by special forces. Initially, the government was to complete the establishment of the three-axis defense scheme by the mid-2020s, but next year’s budget will be focused more on this area to move up the timeline to the early-2020s.

Meanwhile, U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman wrapped up his five-day visit to North Korea last week. But experts assume that there was no particular agreement or outcome. Feltman’s North Korea visit came after Pyongyang test-fired a Hwasong-15 missile on November 29 and the Trump government in the U.S. signaled its will to respond to the provocation with tough measures, including additional sanctions on North Korea. While suffering from international sanctions and isolation, North Korea allowed a senior U.N. official to visit the country in an apparent move to justify its position through its dialogue channel with the U.N. and to attempt to jumpstart dialogue with the international community.

North Korea probably wanted to say that its missile launches, not only the latest one but the previous ones as well as its nuclear tests, were self-defensive measures against the U.S.’ hostile policy toward the North, so international sanctions are unfair. I imagine Pyongyang was trying to water down the international community’s move to impose even stronger sanctions on the North and to make a gesture that it is making its own effort toward dialogue.

There are signs that North Korea is planning a submarine-launched ballistic missile or SLBM test. A North Korea monitoring website in the U.S. has reported that an SLBM test stand barge in North Korea has been completed, while the Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shimbun said that North Korea has already manufactured several prototypes for a new SLBM called Pukguksong-3. Concerns are rising over North Korea’s additional provocations.

North Korea’s ultimate goal is to complete its nuclear missile capabilities. It is frantically developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland and an SLBM. The nation successfully conducted its Pukguksong-2 SLBM test in August last year. It is making a bigger submarine that would carry two or more SLBMs and developing a new SLBM known as Pukguksong-3. As we know, an SLBM can be moved secretly to anywhere and fired unpredictably. It is little surprise that North Korea is desperate for the development of this missile to show its second-strike capability to launch a surprise attack. In response, experts say that South Korea needs to strengthen its own submarine capabilities and introduce nuclear-propelled submarines, in particular. South Korea has continued to obtain and develop various devices aimed at detecting North Korean submarines early, while working with the U.S. for their strong combined military preparedness.

South Korea has short and long-term tasks to cement its alliance with the U.S., elicit cooperation from China in regards to sanctions on North Korea and prepare for future dialogue with Pyongyang. The considerable increase in the military budget is expected to help reinforce the South Korean military’s ability to better cope with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

The topmost task of the Seoul government is to solve the North Korean nuclear issue. The government is strongly determined to improve inter-Korean relations and settle lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea is placing maximum pressure on North Korea in cooperation with the U.S. and the international community, while still leaving the door to dialogue open. Even though North Korea may not respond to it, Seoul needs to keep dialogue momentum afloat with patience. Most importantly, South Korea should protect its people from North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. To this end, it is crucial to promote communication and cooperation with the U.S. and to boost the two allies’ combined deterrence. The government will have to use the increased military budget effectively to beef up the nation’s defense capabilities, while the public should support the government.

With the largest increase in defense budget in nine years, South Korea’s efforts to upgrade the arms system will likely gain traction. But for now, attention turns to how the South Korea-China summit may influence the North Korean nuclear issue.

[Interview] First N. Korean Defector-Turned-Oriental Medicine Doctor

An Oriental medical clinic named after Mt. Myohyang in North Korea is located in Moran Market in Seongnam City, southeast of Seoul.

I served in the army for eight years at Mt. Myohyang. There, I was recommended to go to Chongjin Medical School. In a sense, the place was where my life as a doctor started. Recalling the moment when I first began, I named it Mt. Myohyang Oriental Medical Clinic.

This is Park Su-hyun, director of the clinic. As you may already have guessed, Park is a North Korean defector. He studied Oriental medicine at Cheongjin Medical School, one of the most prestigious schools in North Korea. While in college, his friend traveled to China on a business trip, and Park went with him as a translator. The trip eventually led to his defection to South Korea.

Upon arriving in China, I was amazed to see a rich Chinese person. But he said that there was no comparison between China and South Korea. I was shocked. When I asked him how wealthy South Korea was, he said China couldn’t hold a candle to South Korea. He was a professor at a local college in Yenbien, but he said he would be able to earn enough money to see him through the rest of his life if he only worked for a year in South Korea. That was in 1993. It was simply unimaginable. In North Korea, I had always heard that people were happy under the leadership of the dear leader. But it turned out everything I heard was a lie. It was a great shock to me. It felt like the whole world was collapsing. My friend who accompanied me wanted to defect to South Korea, but I said I would return to the North. But if I came back, while my friend was gone, I would be punished. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. Do or die, so I came to South Korea.

Park entered South Korea in 1993. While adjusting to a new South Korean environment gradually, he happened to learn that a detective who was supposed to monitor him was suffering from prostatitis. By using his knowledge and experience in Oriental medicine, Park bought herbs at a traditional market to put together some medicine for the patient. The medicine proved to be effective, and the detective was cured of the disease. The detective recommended Park to study Oriental medicine, and he was admitted to Kyung Hee University College of Oriental Medicine in 1994. In college, he experienced culture shock because of the free, casual atmosphere in South Korea.

When I entered the college, students were holding a protest rally, refusing to attend classes. I was stunned. In North Korea, they would all have been shot to death. Because of the protest, the students, including me, were held back for one year. I wondered how things like that could happen. I was also surprised to see many students smoking on campus. It was very shocking. If students were caught while smoking in North Korea, they would have to write a letter of self-criticism or clean the toilets. Or they could even be expelled from school.

Upon entering the school, Park told his classmates that he came from North Korea. But they didn’t really care about that and simply regarded him as a student from a local province. They were even willing to help him with his studies, just like tutors.

Most of my classmates said that it would be difficult for me to complete my studies, since only bright students were admitted to the College of Oriental Medicine. I threw myself into studying, asking my friends endless questions. It was quite challenging to study English, in particular. My friends translated English terms for me, and I memorized them all. They shared previous tests or summary notes with me and translated them, if necessary. One friend was of great help to me. It took me six years to graduate from the school. It felt like I was flying in the sky. I can’t tell you how happy I was. Even now, I sometimes have a dream that I fail in the state exam. I guess I was under a lot of psychological pressure at the time.

Park became the first North Korean defector-turned-Oriental medicine doctor. In 2001, he opened Myohyang Oriental Clinic in Moran Market in Seongnam. At first, he was worried about how South Korean patients would accept an Oriental medicine doctor from North Korea.

In a local newspaper, I was introduced as the first North Korean defector to become an Oriental medicine doctor. Probably for that reason, people swarmed to the clinic, waiting in line from 4, 5 in the morning. As many as 70 to 80 patients would visit the clinic per day. They may have thought that I would know many things because I studied in both South and North Korea. I wanted to live up to their expectations, and I did all my best to treat them well.

In 2010, Park also became the first North Korean defector to earn a doctorate degree in Oriental medicine. He treats every single patient with the utmost care and affection. After visiting the clinic, most of the patients come again. While spending a long time with his patients, Park has become very informal with them now. The doctor always tells the patients that it is not him but the patients themselves who cure their illnesses.

I enjoy having a joke with my patients. First, I explain why they are sick. I remind them that they should also know how diseases work and that the diseases should be cured by themselves, not the doctor. I tell them that their disease comes from food they eat, as the food will become blood and flesh and make their hair grow. So it is difficult to treat the disease if they still eat the same food. When I say this, the patients can grasp the meaning of what I’m trying to say. Then I apply acupuncture and explain again that acupuncture helps blood transport oxygen around the body. They can understand it well and like to hear my explanation.

With his help, his family members successfully escaped from North Korea and have resettled in the South. At his recommendation, his two younger brothers also became Oriental medicine doctors and run clinics with the same name, Mt. Myohyang, in Gwangju and Yangju in Gyeonggi Province, respectively. That is, three brothers from North Korea are all working as Oriental medicine doctors here in the South. Park tells his brothers and other North Korean expats that it is important to build trust for a successful resettlement in South Korea.

North Korean newcomers should try their best at least for ten years, whatever they do. It is true that money is important in South Korean society. But without trust, money doesn’t work. And they should build the basis for developing trust on their own, whether they are a cleaner, singer, student, laborer at a moving company or doctor. If they work diligently in their areas for about ten years, they will gain proper recognition and build trust. Then, people will be eager to help them. In the past, when I applied acupuncture on the back of patients, they were angry and yelled at me, “I said my stomach hurt, but why are you giving me acupuncture on my back?” But now, they don’t care whether I do acupuncture on their fingers or toes. They just trust me and like my treatment in the belief that there must be some reason for that. As they trust me, I feel comfortable now.

Just as Park stresses the importance of trust, we hope South and North Korea can foster mutual confidence in each other.