Korea breathed a sigh of relief after the largely peaceful ouster of President Park Geun-hye, but hopes for a new, more transparent government soon gave way to fresh anxiety over North Korea's rapidly accelerating development of intercontinental missiles capable of threatening the entire world.
A ray of sunshine was provided by acclaim for K-pop and Korean movies abroad.
◆ Park Geun-hye Ousted as President
The Constitutional Court in a unanimous decision on March 10 upheld the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, who was immediately stripped of office, the first-ever Korean president to be impeached.
Park was indicted and detained in a remand jail later that month on charges of receiving bribes, abuse of power and divulging state secrets. Since a court extended her detention in October, Park has refused to attend court and is being tried in absentia.
Park has a weak case, but her defense is that the charges against her are a stitch-up and part of a political vendetta. The Liberty Korea Party, renamed from the Saenuri Party that enthusiastically did Park's bidding until the scandal broke, stripped Park of her membership.
◆ Moon Jae-in Elected President
Moon Jae-in, the lackluster candidate of the center-left Minjoo Party, was elected president on May 9 with 41.1 percent following the impeachment of his predecessor Park Geun-hye. The runner-up was Hong Joon-pyo of the rump-ruling Liberty Korea Party, who captured 24.03 percent in a late surge, trailed by one-time favorite Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party with 21.41 percent after he failed to win over wavering conservatives.
Moon's election win marks the return of a progressive leader after nine years of conservative rule. Moon immediately assumed the presidency, forgoing the 60-day transition period between administrations, and pledged to clean up the deep entanglements between politics and big business that were exposed in Park's corruption scandal.
◆ N.Korea Edges Closer to Building Intercontinental Nuclear Missile
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced in his New Year's address that the North has reached the "final stage" of testing an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Since then, the North conducted 15 test launches of long-range ballistic missiles. On July 4 it launched the Hwasong-14 ICBM followed by the Hwasong-15 on Nov. 29 and announced that it has now become a nuclear-armed state.
On Sept. 3, North Korea also conducted its sixth and biggest nuclear test. The UN Security Council adopted six separate resolutions against the North this year alone, while the U.S. deployed strategic weapons in South Korea.
The North Korean nuclear threat weighed heavily on the Korean Peninsula all year, with the North threatening to launch "enveloping fire" around the U.S. territory of Guam and engaging in an escalating war of words with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, North Korean agents assassinated Kim’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam with VX nerve gas at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Feb. 13. Malaysian police concluded that they had put up two Southeast Asian women to the attack, but the North vehemently denied the allegations and held Malaysian diplomats in Pyongyang hostage.
After negotiations, four North Korean suspects who had not yet fled Malaysia were let go, and the dead body was taken to North Korea against the initial wishes of his family.
Rumors said that Kim Jong-un had his brother assassinated because he believed or knew that China was grooming him as his successor in the event of a coup. Kim Jong-nam in turn knew he was a marked man and carried antidotes for a slew of poisons in his carry-on luggage, but did not reckon with a biological weapon.
◆ 5.4-Magnitude Earthquake Rattles Pohang
A 5.4-magnitude earthquake shook the southeastern port city of Pohang on Nov. 15, the second-largest quake to hit Korea after a 5.8 tremor in Gyeongju the year before.
The quake forced around 1,300 residents of Pohang to seek shelter in a gymnasium, and the government postponed the nationwide college entrance exam by a week to make sure that test venues on Pohang were safe. It was the first time that the exam was postponed due to a natural disaster, and 2,045 candidates in Pohang were shuttled to locations further south to take the exam.
◆ Bangtan Boys Lead Global Resurgence of K-Pop
Seven-member boy band Bangtan Boys, also known as BTS, was invited to two of three major American music awards. In May, BTS won the Top Social Artist Award at the Billboard Music Awards, beating Justin Bieber and other heavyweights. They made their U.S. debut at the American Music Awards in November.
Their new single "MIC Drop," which was released in late November, reached No. 28 on the Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, the highest ranking for a Korean act since Psy's "Gangnam Style."
BTS said their goal in 2018 is to reach the top 10 in the U.S. music charts.