Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Korean LOLcats: An Experiment " at The Sonagi Consortium

Shinbone has taken the LOLcats phenomenon into Korean, with some Han•gŭl-equipped examples. Cute.

THIS LINK for the post by Shinbone.

THIS LINK to write for The Sonagi Consortium.

Korea demography reader (March 31, 2010 edition)

No more dagger pointed at Japan's whatever

Over at The Marmot's Hole, Robert Neff has put up a post showing clever maps made by folks in Korea and in Japan with too much free time on their hands. The one of Korea as a tiger that shows the decidedly non-Izanagi origins of Japan is quite cute, and the one below is quite interesting.

This, Mr Neff says, is "how the Japanese radicals would like to see the regional map changed." He notes that Tokto has not been blotted out — indicating that it is part of Japan. But then again, Chejudo remains, too. Wishful thinking from former imperialists?

Anyway, this map illustrates something I always thought was a good counterpoint to those who insist the Sea of Japan should keep that name because without Japan, it would just be the Pacific Ocean: Similarly, without Korea, it would just be a much bigger Yellow Sea.

Korea public health reader (March 31, 2010 edition)

Daily Kor for March 31, 2010

The search goes on. And it is not an easy one. Those are murky waters with a swift current beneath, and there is always the possibility that there could be more of what brought down Chonan still out there. Godspeed, gentlemen.
  1. Divers tries to enter Diver involved in rescue and recovery of sunken Chonan dies (links here)
    • Pentagon remains cautious on sinking (Yonhap)
    • US to send helicopters to help in rescue (Korea Times)
  2. Russia formerly implements UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea (AP via WaPo)
  3. North Korea's Air Koryo receives partial exemption from European Union's airline blacklist (AP via USA Today)
  4. Seoul lodges protest with Tokyo after Japanese Education Ministry approves elementary textbooks describing Tokto as Japanese territory, with one saying South Korea "illegally occupies" the islets (Fox, Yonhap, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily
  5. Six killed, including driver, when bus traveling from Ulchin in North Kyŏngsang Province to Samch'ŏk in Kangwon Province goes off embankment (Joongang Daily)
  6. Human Rights Commission says police should not set up CCTV cameras in neighborhoods without residents' permission (Yonhap)
  7. South Korean consortium signs contract to build Jordan's first nuclear research reactor by 2015 (Yonhap)
  8. President Lee names his top advisor Home Minister (Yonhap, Korea Times, Joongang Daily)
  9. In parade marking Greek Independence Day, Greek soldiers remind everyone of their country's gay warrior origins (UPI)

Faces of the Day: Japanese Ambassador to Seoul Toshinori Shigeie and ROK Foreign Minister Yu Myunghwan

Boy, does this ever look pleasant.

Both these gentlemen are simply doing what their job description requires of them: Mr Yu has no choice but to call in Mr Shigeie to protest Tokyo continuing to claim land long controlled by South Korea, and as long as Japan makes its claim, Mr Shigeie has no choice but to listen and possibly put forth Tokyo's claim.

I hope these two can get together later in the week when the cameras aren't around and share a good stiff drink and belt out a few songs together on a karaoke box in some downtown noraebang. Not that I encourage drinking. Or noraebang.

For more on this, see the links in story #4 of today's Daily Kor.

Loose change for March 31, 2010

 Economic and business news 
 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 
 Americana and miscellany 

Death of diver at site of Chonan sinking

The aftermath of the sinking of the Chonan has brought more questions than answers. With government speculation first practically ruling out North Korean involvement and now swinging back toward that apparent likelihood, a lot of people watching this story wonder if the ROK military has known all along — basically North Korean wrongdoing or South Korean error — what's going on but has deliberately been slow to inform the public so the government can figure out what to do.

Fueling that speculation that officials have been snowing both the masses and mass media have been statements (e.g., that what Chonan had been shooting at for fifteen minutes may have been just a flock of birds) that seem counter to reality.

One such official statement was that the waters were quite treacherous and that has significantly hampered operations to find the wreckage, search for survivors, and determine the cause of the explosion that sank the ship.

Skeptics cited pictures of calm seas with lots of boats sitting on top of the water, which itself was only a few dozen meters deep. Some pointed out that the government's take may well be true: the current that flows beneath the surface can be very swift there and the near-freezing water in the narrow and shallow straits can be very murky.

Sadly, evidence of the veracity of the military's and government's claims came in the most tragic of forms: One of the rescue divers involved with searching for the dozens of missing sailors has himself been killed. From BBC:
Officials say they believe that some of the 46 sailors still missing could have survived in water-tight cabins in the stern of the ship.

More than a dozen South Korean ships are involved in the rescue effort, plus a US vessel.

The diver who died was one of dozens brought in to try to gain access to the wreckage. The cause of death is not known.

Another diver was also been taken to hospital, military officials said.

A navy spokesman said the divers were working in "a very vicious environment" with swift currents and murky visibility.

"Our goal is to get into the ship and find any survivors but at the moment it is extremely hard to do so," the navy spokesman said.

On Monday, teams used a hose to inject oxygen into the stern via a crack, but divers who knocked on the hull received no response.
The story is also carried by YonhapCNN, the Christian Science Monitor, the Korea Times, and the Korea Herald.

This is tragedy compounded by tragedy. Let's hope and pray that no further casualties occur.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Discussion: What should Seoul do if it was a North Korean mine torpedo?

The authorities are becoming more and more convinced that the sinking of the Chonan was the result of a mine, though they're not yet certain if it was a North Korean mine and, if it was, whether it was a recently laid mine.

But for the sake of discussion, let's say that it was in fact a recently laid North Korean mine, either one deliberately sent to the waters around Paengnyŏngdo Island or one that accidentally drifted off that way: In such a scenario, what should Seoul's response be?

Would it be prudent to choose a military target and go after it? If so, what kind, where, and with how much strength? Should the goal be to punitive, to teach Pyongyang not to do this again, or should the aim be to topple the regime or at least cause turmoil? Should any attack be done while Kim Jong-il is away in China?

Or should economic sanctions be the way to go? If so, what kind and for how long, or would they be "permanent"? Should South Korea go to the UN and complain there?

How much response would be too much response, enough for Pyongyang to respond with similar attacks or worse?

What questions am I missing?

Your thoughts?

UPDATE (April 23, 2010):
It looks like the military is ready to conclude that the Chonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo.

Daily Kor for March 30, 2010

It appears we've come back around to the prospect of the sinking of the Chonan having been caused by North Korea. The question would then be whether it was a recently laid mine or something from long ago. I don't mind them taking their time and getting as much forensic evidence as they possibly can so they can make the best decision. But then what?
  1. Seoul says naval mine from North Korea may have sunk Chonan (WaPo, The Times, BBC, AP via CTV, Korea Herald, Chosun Ilbo)
  2. Seoul watching for signs of possible visit by Kim Jong-il to China, as Dear Leader meets new Chinese envoy (Yonhap, Bloomberg)
  3. South Korea's manufacturing sentiment at seven-year high (CNBC)
  4. Bank of Korea's monetary policy to focus on cementing recovery (Yonhap)
  5. Heo Kyung Seo wins Kia Classic by six strokes; Michelle Wie drops from second to sixth (Orange County RegisterChosun Ilbo, Donga Ilbo)
  6. Engbot program canceled on fears of robophilia (Korea Times

Loose change for March 30, 2010

 Economic and business news 
 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 
 Americana and miscellany 

Watashi wa ein jelly donut

In reference to this picture, I said to Kansai-born "M" that, "Mao Asada looks sort of strange, kinda evil."

"M" was quite bewildered about what I was talking about, saying there was nothing strange, and how could it be evil.

She thought I was talking about the malasada I was, coincidentally, eating at the time.

Evidence points to an external explosion sinking the Chonan

Something very big and very urgent has landed on my virtual desk this morning, so I don't have time to get into the most recent evidence of an external attack on the Chonan,  which points toward the dreaded possibility that it was sunk by a North Korean mine, torpedo, or submersible.

Instead, I will point you toward Joshua's excellent roundup of the latest information. A snippet:
One possibility raised is of a mine left over from the Korean War, but none has been found since 1984, and it just doesn’t seem likely that one would destroy a warship in an area patrolled this frequently only now, when North Korea happens to be raising tensions. It seems more likely that whoever placed the mine — if it was a mine — probably did so recently.
That is from his latest update, but the whole post is worth reading.

Monday, March 29, 2010

KCNA Terms U.S. World's Worst Human Rights Abuser

And speaking of human rights, here's a lovely editorial from the KCNA. The sad thing is, no small number of college students will try to convince you of at least a few of these points:
Pyongyang, March 27 (KCNA) -- The Korean Central News Agency issued an indictment slamming the U.S. hideous human rights abuses. It brands the U.S. human rights racket as a poor artifice to cover up its poorest human rights record and threaten and blackmail sovereign states.

Citing facts to prove that the U.S. is beset with the most serious human right abuses in the world, the indictment says:

The U.S. is a society where the law of the jungle governs.

In this society one can live only by way of racketeering and through fraud and swindle. Without these practices one cannot but be pushed to the fringes of society where one can not keep body and soul together, denied even the elementary rights to eat, get clad and have a shelter. Yet, the rulers there trumpet about "welfare for all" and "equality for all." This is the true picture of the corrupt American society.

The human life and inviolable rights are exposed to constant threat in the American society where all sorts of crimes are rampant.

The gun-related crimes plague the society like "chronic epidemic."

Existent only in name in the U.S. are a man's rights to get jobs, to be fairly paid for the work done and to be provided with safe and hygienic working conditions, etc.

To be seen in the U.S. are such sounding and spurious signboards of "liberty," "democracy" and "civilization." A scrutiny into its society proves that in the U.S. the socio-political rights and civil rights of the majority of working masses are grossly violated institutionally and the healthy development of the ideological and cultural fields is impeded due to the prevalence of social evils.

Elections in the U.S. are nothing but competitions among the rich.

The "freedom of thinking and free expression of views," "freedom of speech" and "freedom of demonstration and assembly" much touted by the U.S. are mere facades.

The civil rights require state guarantee and protection as they are provided for by law.
Civil rights are wantonly violated by state power in the U.S.

A particular mention should be made of the fact that illegal wiretapping is now rampant in the U.S., sparking off a public furor.

What merits a more serious attention is that the judicial authorities are taking the lead in human rights abuses though they are obliged to protect the civil rights.

Police have become a synonym for hooligans and criminals in the U.S.

The authorities' abuse of rights of prisoners is now censured by the international community.
Drug abuses getting more rife in the U.S. with each passing day are producing an increasing number of mental and physical cripples.

Racial discrimination has festered in the American society ever since the emergence of the U.S.
The rights of women and children are ruthlessly trampled down upon in the American society governed by the law of the jungle.

Wars of aggression and military interventions perpetrated by the U.S. in different countries and regions under the signboard of "anti-terror war" are the worst state-sponsored terrorism and, at the same time, the most hideous human rights abuses.

This is eloquently proved by the facts that in many countries where the U.S. is fighting a "war on terrorism" a great number of innocent citizens are losing their lives and properties and leading a miserable life due to the evil cycle of massacre, destruction, violence and terror perpetrated by the U.S. occupation forces.

The U.S. blockade and sanctions against other countries are also criminal acts of encroaching upon the rights of their peoples to exist and develop.

The U.S. can never shirk off its responsibility for the hideous crimes it has committed against humanity by putting mankind's right to existence at peril as it is chiefly to blame for the present financial and economic crisis.

The U.S. makes no scruple of ruthlessly violating the religions and freedom of religious beliefs of other countries and nations.

It is a country with the poorest human rights record as it hamstrings the international efforts for the protection and promotion of human rights.

All facts go to clearly prove that the U.S. is the world's worst human rights abuser.
It had better seriously repent of its own human rights issue and human rights abuses before styling itself a "human rights judge" jeered by the world.
Well, there are some good points. There's In-'N-Out, plus the ability to be, say, a birther without becoming a deather.

The Curious Case of Nyi Nyi Aung

John has sent me a link to the case of Nyi Nyi Aung, the son of a Burmese pro-democracy activist, who was arrested upon arriving in Burma and held for half a year:
Six months ago, a man named Nyi Nyi Aung landed at the Yangon International Airport in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). He had come to Myanmar in the hopes of visiting his mother, who is currently in jail for pro-democracy activities and sick with cancer. Before he could clear customs, Aung's baggage cart was seized by airport personnel and he was told to come into their offices to answer some "personal questions." Although Aung has a background as a human rights activist, and was a prominent leader during Burma's 1988 uprising, he had broken no laws. Perhaps more important, Aung is also an American citizen, which should have provided some insurance against wrongful incarceration.

Once inside the airport offices, Aung said he was interrogated about his political activities and contacts by military security from both the Myanmar Air Force and Navy. He was then handcuffed, blindfolded, and driven for several hours to an unknown destination. While in the car, Myanmar police threatened to beat and kill him. When Aung was finally dropped off at an interrogation center, he was placed in a small, dark room, handcuffed to the table and kicked repeatedly while security officials grilled him on purported terrorist activities.
John notes that it was interesting how little fanfare this got (I admit I hadn't heard about it), and he sarcastically wonders why Lisa Ling wasn't helping him out.

Indeed, it is disturbing that American citizens can be left to rot in foreign jails when they haven't actually committed any crime or grievance other than pissing off another government for just being. I guess the permanence of the military junta that controls Burma has just worn people out and they don't pay much attention to what goes on there, even when Americans are thrown in jail for visiting a sick mum.

Daily Kor for March 29, 2010

The sinking of the Chonan is the obvious big story today as well, and we have testimonies from the survivors, but more questions than answers.
  1. Officials say blast that sank Chonan split the vessel in two (BBC)
    • South Korea continues to search for survivors off Paengnyŏngdo in treacherous waters close to North Korea (NYT, WSJ, Bloomberg, Yonhap, Korea Herald)
    • President Lee urges families not to lose hope of more survivors (Yonhap)
    • Fallout over incident causes KRW to slip further (Reuters)
    • Seoul sees little fallout from incident (Reuters, Yonhap)
    • UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon sends condolence letter over tragedy (Yonhap, Korea Herald)
    • US experts say mines could have caused sinking (Yonhap, Korea Herald)
    • US to join search for missing sailors (Korea Times)
    • Newspapers carrying 
  2. North Korea threatens action if South Korea and US do not stop tourist visits to Panmunjom (links here)
  3. Declines in energy imports brings South Korea back to current-account surplus in February (Bloomberg, Yonhap)
  4. Samsung signs $1.46 sales deal with major Chinese retailer Suning (Yonhap)
  5. Korean pro baseball league kicks off 2010 season (Yonhap)
  6. Hee Kyung Seo pulls to five-shot lead in Kia Classic (LAT)
  7. Chronologists warn that March will disappear across the globe within 48 to 72 hours unless drastic action is taken (UPI)

Loose change for March 29, 2010

 Economic and business news 
 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 
 Americana and miscellany 

Is North Korea threatening tourists to Panmunjom?

That seems to be what Pyongyang is saying. From Reuters:
North Korea warned on Monday of unpredictable disaster unless the South and the United States stop allowing tourists inside a heavily armed border buffer that is one of the most visited spots on the peninsula.

The warming comes as tensions were raised on the peninsula after a South Korean navy ship sank on Friday. Early reports that the North may have been involved spooked markets but were later played down when Seoul said it was almost certain Pyongyang had no part in the incident. [ID:nTOE62P0AP]

North Korea has made no mention of the ship-sinking incident in its official media.

An unnamed army spokesman of the North's Korean People's Army said South Korea was engaged in "deliberate acts to turn the DMZ into theatre of confrontation with the (North) and a site of psychological warfare" by allowing tours inside the border zone.
The story is also carried by Yonhap, the New York TimesBloomberg, the Chosun Ilbo, the Korea Times, and the Joongang Daily.

This sounds ominous, and Lord knows what they would try to do. Anyone who has taken the tour — and I've done so about half a dozen times — would know that while there is some palpable tension in Panmunjom, the tours are very routine despite some real-life shooting that has occurred in the past.

This makes me wonder if the North is not so much directing this at the sinking of the Chonan as they are addressing the possibility of someone like Robert Park making a scene in one of the few places where people from the South Korean side can cross — briefly and only in a confined space — into North Korea.

NYT's Choe Sanghun on the sinking of the Chonan

The sinking of the Chonan and the aftermath, one of the worst military disasters in South Korean history,  has inevitably caught the attention of global media, who are not content to just run an AP, Reuters, or AFP article on the topic.

And we can expect them to keep paying attention for a few days while Seoul sorts this whole mess out. There is a very big story buried inside this tragedy: Was this an attack by the North or was this error on the South's part, and if it's the former, why is Seoul being so coy about it? Well, the answer could be that they're being careful, but for many impatient people, it seems there are two choices: Is this a government cover-up (about the North's aggression) or a government fu¢k-up (about the South's mistakes)?

At any rate, Choe Sanghun at the New York Times had his piece today, which is a good overview of what we know so far:
Fierce waves hampered efforts to examine the 1,200-ton corvette Cheonan underwater or find more survivors until weather improved on Sunday.

No new survivors, nor any bodies, have been found since 58 of the ship’s 104 sailors were plucked alive on Friday evening. Relatives of the missing sailed overnight aboard a military ship, arriving at the scene of the sinking on Sunday.

“I heard a terrible explosion and the ship keeled suddenly to the right. We lost power and telecommunications,” Choi Won-il, captain of the Cheonan, told the relatives. “I was trapped in the cabin for five minutes before my colleagues broke the window in and let me out. When I got out, the stern had already broken away and disappeared underwater.”

Most of those missing were believed to have been trapped inside their rapidly sinking ship as waters gushed into their dark under deck, officials said.

“Many sailors were hanging onto the bow of the sinking ship,” Kim Jin-ho, a crewman on a civilian ferry to Baengnyeong, a South Korean border island, told YTN television, describing the rescue scene on Friday night. “They were shouting for help. They were falling into water.”

The sinking of the ship near the disputed sea border, where the navies of the two Koreas have fought bloody skirmishes, raised the possibility of a North Korean torpedo attack or sabotage. The South Korean defense minister, Kim Tae-young, told Parliament that the authorities would investigate such a possibility but emphasized that it was too early to connect the sinking to North Korea.
It should be noted that not all the waters in the Yellow Sea are disputed. The North does not recognize the Northern Limit Line (NLL), instead granting South Korea the waters around the islands it controls and a corridor to reach them. The corridors are not shown in the map below, but they are shown in the low-resolution black-and-white map found at the link in this paragraph.

By contrast, the South insists, exemplified by the NLL, that it controls the waters according to an equidistant formula calculated from the land each side controls, with the string of inhabited South Korea-held islands stretching out to the west just south of the North Korean mainland (all in the metropolitan boundaries of Inchon, by the way) generating a lot of ROK waters not far from the DPRK mainland.

Given that this was on the southwestern side of Paengnyŏngdo Island (i.e., away from the North Korean mainland), but not too far offshore, I think this was in an area both sides recognize as South Korean waters. I need to check out the coordinates.

The NYT on Japan and Korea's baseball rivalry, one year after the World Classic

On the first anniversary of Korea's nail-biter of a loss to Japan in final game of the 2009 World Baseball Classic (which I wrote about here and here), the New York Times has a write-up that talks up the rivalry between the two countries, even as many South Korean players enjoy profitable careers in Japanese baseball (not unlike Canadian hockey players on American teams in the NHL):
The South Korean pitcher who gave up the extra-inning single that gave Japan its second straight W.B.C. championship continues to pursue his craft — with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. The player who had the winning hit — Ichiro Suzuki — is hoping that his markedly improved Seattle Mariners will find their way back to the postseason. And the intrigue over what really happened on March 23, 2009, continues to percolate, at least in these two countries, which are intense rivals.

The 2009 game was played in Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles before 54,846 boisterous fans. A year later, it is still being replayed in this part of the world, most recently in a prime-time Japanese television program, “The Man Who Betrayed His Country.”

The “Man” of the show’s title was the pitcher who lost the game, Lim Chang-yong. It was Lim who challenged Suzuki with the game on the line that night, even though he simply could have walked him. The score was tied, 3-3, in the top of the 10th with two outs and runners on first and third when Suzuki came to the plate. On a 1-0 pitch, the runner on first took second on defensive indifference.

All Lim had to do at that point was intentionally put Suzuki on first base and go after the next hitter. Instead, he challenged Suzuki. And after Suzuki fouled off four straight pitches — methodically eliminating the pitcher’s possible escape routes — he drove Lim’s eighth pitch of the at-bat to center field for a two-run single. Japan claimed the championship after South Korea went down meekly in the bottom of the inning.
It makes for a good movie, methinks. But don't expect it to be made in South Korea — unless South Korea wins the next WBC.

LAT: Lee's Samsung return is déjà-vu all over again

The Los Angeles Times has a piece talking about South Korea's revolving door of ethics whereby industrial giants get in hot water for legal or ethical lapses, only to be restored to their lofty positions later on, as in the case of recently rehabilitated Samsung CEO Lee Kunhee:
In recent years, executives at some of South Korea's top companies have been convicted of crimes such as accounting fraud, embezzlement and breach of duty.

Their sentences reduced, many have returned to their jobs. Some never left them.

"Most of the chairmen at the 10 biggest companies are convicts," said Kim, a senior official at the Citizens' Coalition for Economic Justice, which has lobbied for more accountability from South Korean companies. "They were prosecuted. They were given a suspended sentence, and then returned to work. It's repetitive."

Unlike many others, Lee is a two-time offender.

South Korea's richest tycoon, who is considered a near demigod here for his Midas touch and shrewd business acumen, has led a charmed life of near criminal disasters followed by generous boardroom second chances.

Lee, now 68, took the helm at the parent Samsung Group in 1987, and revenue for the world's second-largest chip maker jumped tenfold to $174 billion by 2007, according to company data.
And therein lies the problem: many in these positions are seen as too-high-to-fail, placing them in a situation where their removal could spell disaster, or at least is feared to spell disaster.

Of course, South Korea is not alone in this regard. Off the top of my head I can think of Apple and Steve Jobs, who is seen as a savior and demigod, not unlike Mr Lee. Apple and Steve Jobs got into could have been serious legal trouble for illegal stock backdating, but most everyone wanted to brush it off. (On an unrelated note, in my search for Apple+stock+manipulation, I found this interesting bit on stock price manipulation through media buzz.) I don't like the level of corruption that has passed for normal operating procedure for so long in South Korea, and I hope to see more change (though the change may not be complete until the current crop of CEOs are dead or retired), but let's not even pretend that it's somehow unique.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Korea public health reader (March 28, 2010 edition)

Remember the Ch'ŏnan!

Like almost everybody else on the Korean Peninsula, I don't really know what to make of the explosion that sank the Chonan-ham [천안함, aka the Cheonan-ham]. It all sounds quite fishy, with the reasons given that it wasn't likely the doing of North Korea (shooting at a Flock of Seagulls — nobody hates 1970s pop that much) sounding as iffy as if they had concluded just as fast that it must have been North Korea. My stance right now is something akin to Joshua's at One Free Korea:
Personally, I do not find these statements to be persuasive. If this was indeed an attack, it’s unlikely to have been the result of an attack by a conventional warship, given that the North Korean Navy has no doubt learned that its conventional surface navy is no match for the ROK Navy.

On the other hand, the loss of the U.S.S. Cole taught us that even the most advanced warships are vulnerable to unconventional attack.
True that. And Joshua shows us a picture of a semi-submarine, one of several possible culprits.

But one has to wonder what motivations there are for the different scenarios being mentioned, which generally fall into two overriding categories of North Korean malfeasance or South Korean malpractice. As bloggers and commenters have noted, North Korea does have the military capability to have sunk this ship stealthily (see above), as well as the prior bad acts to indicate a propensity, while South Korea's navy — well, any navy — has a hundred different situations at their disposal that could have gone wrong, from improper storage of munitions to activating their own underwater mine.

Indeed, since this could go either way, the South Korean government and military are (mostly) being wisely prudent about figuring this out before either retaliating against the DPRK regime or letting them quite literally get away with murder.

While Seoul is looking at this cautiously, however, I am starting to find it more and more plausible that the North was actually behind this, either through direct attack or through a mine of theirs that accidentally or deliberately ended up on the ROK's side of the disputed Northern Limit Line which forms the de facto maritime border.

But the question remains: If deliberate, why would they do such a thing? Surely, they must know that if it were discovered that the North sank this ship, there would be retaliation, right? And therein lies the answer: there would be retaliation, but unless this became a far more frequent occurrence, there would be no all-out war (which, after massive devastation and death on both sides, would eventually mean the end of the Pyongyang regime). Simply put, South Korea is not going to invade the North and risk triggering artillery raining down on Seoul and its suburbs over the sinking of a single ship.

More importantly, however, retaliation would be good for Kim Jong-il's government, whipping up the disgruntled masses against a common enemy at a time when people are still reeling from the Great Currency Obliteration of 2009. Indeed, a retaliatory attack by ROK forces on any DPRK target at sea or on land — especially if North Korean soldiers or sailors came home in body bags — would prove a point of rallying around the regime as it reminds North Koreans of their real enemy. Calls to patriots that they defend the Fatherland would drown out the sound of a million grumbling stomachs.

Joshua points out other justifications:
Finally, all of this comes in the context of North Korea’s increased threats against the South in recent days, weeks, and months. The North has frequently provoked fights in the Yellow Sea to get the attention of South Korean presidents. As the North’s rhetoric has reached hysterical heights, South Koreans have learned to mostly ignore them. Maybe the North realized that it needed to regain some credibility.

The North Korean Navy certainly had other motives; chiefly, its likely desire for revenge after the beating it took in the last battle in November 2009, when a North Korean patrol boat got itself hosed down with a 20mm gatling gun. We saw this pattern with the sinking of the Chamsuri 357, which came three years after the ROK Navy sank one North Korean warship and severely damaged several others in another battle. The latter incident closely followed the aforementioned sinking of the semi-submersible off Yosu in December 1998. (All three incidents happened during my own tour in Korea.) For North Korean military officers, unavenged defeats are more than a loss of face. They can be grounds for a purge.
And if evidenced pointed to North Korean culpability, what would the ROK military do anyway? Attack a North Korean ship days or weeks after the fact? That makes them look like aggressors. Launch an aerial attack on a land target? That risks all-out war, but even if they do it, they again look like aggressors. But either way, the North wins if their goal is simply to coalesce the people's loyalty around the government.

This is a bit of an aside, and I admit it's flimsy evidence, but I also think it's telling that North Korea's KCNA propaganda machine has not released any message of condolence in Korean or English on its website, something that would be plausible (though not necessarily a given) if North Korea felt this truly were an accident on the part of South Koreans. After all, it's the kind of positive face that makes for good propaganda for winning over chinboistas and fence-sitters: it makes Pyongyang look considerate and humane while also planting doubt in the public mind about their involvement.

Ultimately, though, it's best if Seoul takes this slowly and carefully. Check to see which way the blast went. If it came from within, be honest with the public about that and figure out what went wrong (the previous administration would make a nice scapegoat, so Lee's administration has no reason to shy away from this potential embarrassment). If it came from without, take a hard look at the possibility that a ROK mine was the culprit.

But if it ultimately turns out that the North is to blame, take action and mean it. Bomb the base from which the DPRK seacraft was sent, cut off all economic activities in Kaesŏng, Kŭmgangsan, or wherever: Do something real, relevant, and make it stick.

That is, if the North was behind it. Frankly, I have to admit that in the end that I'm not so sure. I trust my experience-informed gut, but unlike other situations involving the North, my gut doesn't really speak strongly here. This might really be nothing at all to do with Pyongyang, even though I just made the case that it could be. The only thing I really want to make the case for is that Seoul had better get this one right.

Korea demography reader (March 28, 2010 edition)

  • North Korean officials may be so cash-strapped thanks to the failed currency reform that they are moonlighting — taking on second jobs at night. I guess the bribery business ain't what it used to be.

Catholic Church again reveals its ambiguity about An Chunggŭn

The Korea Times is reporting on Cardinal Nicholas Chŏng Chinsŏk [정진석] stirring controversy on the centennial of uber-patriot An Chunggŭn's execution for the assassination of Japan's former Resident-General of Korea, Itō Hirobumi, "Ahn's patriotic act" (the KT author's decidedly subjectivity-soaked words) which many believe triggered or at least provided cover for Imperial Japan's forced annexation of the Taehan Empire, as Korea was officially called at the time:
In his sermon this week, which marks the 100th anniversary of Ahn's patriotic act, Cheong said the church's decision 'to suspend the priesthood of a Western priest for three months for his sympathetic involvement in Ahn's final days before the latter's execution was a "best decision" to protect the priest, Hankyoreh said.
Indeed, it seems the KT writer decided to do a bit of a smear job on Catholics in general rather than addressing the Cardinal's remarks about An Chunggŭn specifically:
Some Catholic priests' acts in Korea under the Japanese colonial era drew mixed views from scholars.

While some Western priests in Korea at that time were sympathetic toward the Korean underground fighters against Japanese occupiers and helped them, some also tipped the activities of the underground Korean fighters to the Japanese authorities, leading to, for example, the arrest of the 105 Korean patriots, it said, citing theologian Park Young-dae.
I don't know who he is, but I'd be willing to bet dollars to donuts that Park Youngdae is either a Presbyterian with an agenda or is relying on "scholarship" produced by Presbyterians with an agenda. While the vast, vast, vast majority of Catholics, Protestants, and Buddhists in Korea have engendered a spirit of mutual co-existence and even friendship (witness President Lee's own recent remarks about the recent deaths of respected Buddhist and Catholic figures), some have sought to take a page out of the Fundamentalists' playbook back in the US, sowing seeds of religious or sectarian intolerance where there hasn't been much in the past century. Bringing up the allegedly collaborationist activities of other Catholic clergy in a discussion about the one related to the case of An Chunggŭn seems an example of that.

In the past (see here and here) I've stated my own views on An Chunggŭn, who I think saw himself as a patriot but who ultimately played a predictable negative role in Korea's history, though he is nevertheless celebrated — and his narrative distorted — solely because he struck a blow to such a prominent Japanese politico of the day.

I think it is wrong that discussion of his role, whether positive or negative, is stifled by people who make use cries of "anti-patriot" or "pro-Japanese" like some sort of neo-McCarthyism. One can reasonably feel, as I do, that Imperial Japan's takeover of Korea was cruel, unnecessary, illegal, reprehensible, and by no means inevitable, while also feeling that An Chunggŭn should not be revered as a hero.

UPDATE (3/29/2010):
The Western Confucian notes that the purpose of the Cardinals words was to express "regret that 'the Korean Catholic Church hadn’t recognized An as a good Catholic.'" Though I disagree with this point and feel it is the Catholic Church in Korea caving in to nationalist sentiments, it seems all the more that the Cardinal and the church has been the target of a sectarian smear.

The Western Confucian also links to a more thorough and accurate retelling of the Cardinal's words.

Daily Kor for March 28, 2010

The aftermath of the sinking of the ROK naval ship in the Yellow Sea waters off Paengnyŏngdo Island still dominates the news today; it's basically the only new story up on this Sunday in Korea, which is typically a slow news day anyway. Mostly we have updates of stories that basically ran yesterday: we don't know what happened and we're still looking for survivors.

Tentatively North Korea has been ruled out as having directly sunk the boat, at least publicly. But I note that the KCNA website so far does not have any mention of the incident, not even a message of condolence which would not be farfetched if this were purely an accident.
  1. ROK government states North Korean not likely to have sunk Chonan, though reasons are unclear (Reuters, Xinhua, WSJ, Bloomberg)
  2. Tokyo hands over list of 175K forced laborers during World War II, which includes records of $3 million in unpaid wages that may be used in determining compensation (Yonhap)
  3. Kim Yuna, reeling from seventh-place showing earlier in competition, wins only silver as Japan's Mao Asada takes gold in Figure Skating World Championship in Torino, Italy (Korea Times)
  4. After losing ground in the Happy Holidays battle, Baptist extremists move ahead with plans to "take back Easter" (AP via WaPo)

Loose change for March 28, 2010

 Economic and business news 
 North Korea news and stuff 
 Other Korea-related stuff 
  • The NYT's soccer blog focuses on South Korea's formidable "Double Dragon" of Lee Chung-yong and Kim Sung-yueng and their prospects in the World Cup.

 Americana and miscellany 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Fresh shorts — Korea edition (March 27, 2010)

 Patriotic nudity 
Bae Doona [배두나], whose name should properly be Pae Tuna — has bravely bared all for a Japanese movie, in order to show what professionals Korean actresses are. Make of that what you will. She's actually been nude before, in at least Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. A dark movie, but worth a watch anyway.

 Imagine if it had happened the other way 
Meanwhile, over in Bulgaria, the short-track championships are going on — didn't we just have the Winter Olympics? Anyway, for the 3000-meter race, they're supposed to go twenty-seven laps, but the judges screwed the pooch (not to be taken literally) and had them race only twenty-six. Right toward the end, Lee Hosuk (he of tripping up his teammate fame) rushed ahead of J.R. Celski, as did Kwak Yoon-gy (don't ask, don't tell).

So in the end, you had a race that was about 4% too short with two South Koreans coming in first and second. None of this was realized until after the medals were awarded and people watched it on video (yes, people do that... it's some sort of punishment, I think). The final decision was to let the medalists keep their medals, but their times don't get recorded.

All I can say is imagine the uproar if the South Koreans had not come in first. I'm fairly sure there would be demands for a re-race, and if a certain Mr Hewish had been the errant judge, I don't even want to imagine the Netizen threats.

In conclusion, I'm beginning to see the value of having Apolo Anton Ohno flapping his arms at the matches. Apparently that's the only way to get the judges to pay attention to what they're supposed to.

Daily Kor for March 27, 2010:
Not-so-good Friday

I just don't know what to say. It's a tragedy whenever this kind of thing happened — dozens of people probably dead — but there's a huge question of whether this was some deliberate act, an accident, or something else.

That is, did North Korea fire on this boat or perhaps sink it with a mine? Was it an accident on the part of the ROK Navy? Fortunately, no one seems to be flying off the handle, so we can take the time to see what the evidence points to. I don't even want to speculate, then, about how Seoul should react if it turns out that the North was responsible for this. Let's just wait and see.

  1. Forty-six South Korean seamen still missing in Yellow Sea waters off Paengnyŏngdo near North Korea after ROK Navy ship sinks following explosion (The Times, BBCLAT, WaPoReuters via NYT, AP via LAT, Bloomberg, Yonhap, Korea Times, Korea Herald, Joongang Daily, Chosun Ilbo)
    • Fifty-eight sailors rescued as South Korea continues its search (BBC, WSJ, Yonhap)
    • Global stocks briefly dip on news of sinking (Reuters via WaPo)
    • ROK Defense Ministry downplays DPRK link, saying unidentified object the vehicle had fired at could have been flock of birds (Reuters via WaPo, MSNBC)
    • US State Department has no evidence of North Korean involvement (Yonhap)
    • President Lee calls for quick investigation (Yonhap)
    • Political parties urge thorough probe of incident (Yonhap)
  2. Eight government officials killed in late-night car accident near beach in Taean (Yonhap, Korea Times)
  3. South Korea calls for immediate identification of four ROK nationals being held in North Korea (Yonhap, Korea Times)
  4. DPRK officials conduct a second day of inspection of South Korean amenities at North Korean tourist sites (Yonhap)
  5. Hagwon instructor who leaked SAT exam questions gets eight-month prison sentence (Korea Herald, Joongang Daily)
  6. Kim Yuna chokes in Figure Skating World Championships in Torino, Italy (Yonhap, Korea Times)
  7. No, not today.