Friday, December 31, 2010

Daily Kor for December 31, 2010:
Happy New Year!

And it's been a bang of a year, that's for danged sure. Anyway, if I were back in Seoul, I'd put on some warm layers — yeah, it's easy to say that from the comfort of 78°F Honolulu — and trudge off to the downtown area for the gonging of the bell at Poshin-gak [Bosingak, 보신각] and revel amongst the, um, revelers as they shoot off traditional style fireworks with those triggery fireworks thingees, and get ash all over my warm layers.

Anyhoo, if you're a chronology purist, then tonight marks the end of the first decade of the third millennium, not December 31, 2009, like all the ignorati celebrated last year, so go wild. Me, personally, I find it justifiable to divide our decades up into groups of like-numbered years — it makes no sense to say that 1990 was part of the 1980s — and that makes 2010 the beginning, not the end, of a new decade.

Yes, I recognize that there is, according to our modern calendar, no Year Zero, that we jumped from 1 BC to AD 1, but the fact is that the dates are supposed to be based on the birth of Jesus Christ, who was most likely born in 4 BC (or as he likes to say, "Four before Myself"), so the technicality of no Year Zero irrelevant anyway. This should be AD 2014 that's ending, not 2010.

What do I predict for 2011? I predict unpredictable things. And no, I'm not trying to be cute. I think that the media has been focusing on unimportant side shows (e.g., the ascension of Kim Jong-un that is not going nearly as full force as the press is leading us to believe) and ignoring the real stuff that's going on up in North Korea (China's attempts to Manchurianize North Korea's economy as a means to de-crazify the DPRK), a point I made again just yesterday. And you know what? You should listen to me. I'm often right when everyone else thinks I'm wrong.
  1. Report says North Korea has amassed more "special forces" and tanks along DMZ since 2008 (YonhapAP via WaPo, CSMBBC, Bloomberg, ReutersUPI, Korea Herald)
    • Is Iran going to test a nuke in North Korea? (FoxNews)
  2. Radio Free Asia report claims North Korean training is aimed at seizing "Five Islands of West Sea" (Joongang Daily, Korea Times)
  3. Military's basic training to be extended from five to eight weeks starting in 2011 (Yonhap)
  4. Enforcement of South Korea's new law allowing multiple citizenship to be put on hold pending supporting legislation (Yonhap)
  5. Suspected cases of bird flu reported on farms in Ch'ŏnan and Iksan (Donga Ilbo)
  6. KRW strengthens to 1135 won per dollar as current-account surplus widens (Bloomberg)
  7. South Korean shares end 2010 up 22 percent (Yonhap)
  8. Samsung shows off the latest droids, along with their smartphones (Yonhap)

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Korea demography reader
(December 30, 2010 edition)

  • South Korea's population continues to cluster around Seoul, with 23.17 million (49 percent of population) residing in capital region.
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China announces more development in Inner Cháoxiān Autonomous Region

It's short and sweet, but Bloomberg is reporting Maeil Business Newspaper's story that China is working overtime to develop North Korea's northern trade zone:
China and North Korea may jointly develop the North’s Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone by investing $3.5 billion over five years from 2011, the Maeil Business Newspaper reported, citing people in Beijing that it didn’t identify.
Could it be a continuation of this, which I feel is the real story of North Korea's transformation, not the side show of Kim Jong-un's supposed ascension?

Welcome to the Inner Cháoxiān Autonomous Region. No wonder Beijing is upset that Seoul is talking up reunification: it could jeopardize their investment. China seems to be quite perturbed about North Korea right now, but their plan of action is to transform Little Brother Korea into a copy of their own Manchurian provinces instead of pulling the plug and handing over everything to a staunch ally of the United States.

UPDATE:
The Chosun Ilbo has some details on the interactions here and here.

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Daily Kor for December 30, 2010

Daily Kor is back, hopefully on a daily (or near daily) basis. It looks like President Lee is really taking the North Korean situation seriously, what with a clear statement that we're going to stop talking for talking's sake (er... at least I hope that's what he means) and strong reminder that North Korea and South Korea are two halves of a divided nation. The message: China, keep your hands off.
  1. ROK President Lee calls for six-party talks to end North Korea's nuclear program next year (WaPo, AP via WaPo, ReutersBBC, Yonhap, Joongang DailyDonga Ilbo)
  2. South Korea describes North Korea as "enemy" and sets nation to prepare for reunification (Bloomberg, CSM)
    • Seoul in 2011 to seek global consensus for reunification (Yonhap)
    • Seoul to emphasize North Korean human rights in new year (Korea Times)
    • China calls South Korean plans provocative (Korea Times)
    • South Korea expects more North Korean attacks in 2011 (CSM)
    • South Korea to create military command aimed at beefing up combat capability (Yonhap)
    • ROK Defense Ministry alarmed as North Korean troops along border seen wearing camouflage uniforms like South Korea's (AFP)
  3. South Korea's Constitutional Court says Internet law aimed at stopping rumor-mongering is unconstitutional (AFP)
    • Ruling party to seek alternative legislation (Yonhap)
  4. South Korea raises foot-and-mouth disease alert to highest level (Bloomberg, Korea Times)
    • AES struggles to find way to blame outbreak on English teachers
  5. Arex rail link from Incheon International Airport to Seoul Station fully opened (NTV, Korea Times)
  6. Repeatedly unruly students to be suspended in lieu of receiving corporal punishment (Yonhap, Joongang Daily)
  7. South Korea seeks 16 percent rise in foreign direct investment in 2011 after rise of 12 percent in 2010 (Reuters)
  8. Hyundai sets sales record in China (Joongang Daily)
  9. Average South Korean household has average net assets of W230 million and debt of W42.6 million (Yonhap)
  10. DPRK announces national beef recall: Average North Koreans are told to try to remember what cow meat tastes like (Yonhap)

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Maybe Santa just thought he was naughty this year

Open Radio for North Korea is reporting that a train full of gifts intended for Kim Jong-un, the heir apparent to Kim Jong-il, was derailed near the Chinese-North Korean border.

According to the Toronto Sun:
A train packed with birthday gifts for North Korea's leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-un derailed this month in a possible act of sabotage, a Seoul-based radio station which broadcasts across the border reported on Monday.

Open Radio for North Korea, a non-profit station which often cites sources in the reclusive, impoverished North, said the train laden with gifts including televisions and watches came off the rails on Dec. 11 near North Korea's border with China.

"The security service has been in an emergency situation because a train departing Sinuiju and headed for Pyongyang derailed on Dec. 11," the radio station quoted a source in the security service in North Phyongan province as saying.

The city of Sinuiju is a North Korean trading gateway.

"The tracks and rail beds are so old it is possible there was decay in the wood or nails that secured the tracks could have been dislodged but the extent of damage to the tracks and the timing of the incident points to a chance that someone intentionally damaged the tracks," the source said.

"It's highly likely that it was someone who is opposed to succession to Kim Jong-un," the source said, according to the radio station.
Now I've gone on record stating that I think the Western media (to include some elements of the South Korean and Japanese media) have made the ascension of Kim Jong-un to replace his father seem like it's much further along and more of a done deal than it actually is. In particular, we frequently read reports of how much he is praised by the North Korean media when in fact they hardly mention him, and when they do, it's as part of a list of "also present" people.

So what would that mean if Kim Jong-un's train (or a train carrying his gifts) really were derailed? Well, leaving aside the possibility that someone is reporting rumors or embellishing a story of an actual derailment to the point that it becomes mostly fictitious, it is possible that forces within or without North Korea are actively working to undermine the succession if not the regime itself.

A group within the Pyongyang regime opposed to yet another handover of power to yet another incompetent heir might be behind this, while a group of anti-Pyongyang saboteurs supported by outside forces (the South Korean government, ROK marines gone rogue, a network of militant NGOs deciding that tomorrow can't wait) might also see this as a great symbol to take down.


Let's not forget that this is the area and mode of transport that was apparently used for a targeted assassination of the Dear Leader a few years ago (note the explosion above, in Ryongchŏn). But let's not also forget that much of North Korea's infrastructure is decaying, and even train ties in the cold North can fall apart, after which people offered money to speculate then concoct a story that it was all supposed to happen that way, and it was full of gifts. That to me is the most likely scenario, but I wouldn't rule out something much, much bigger going on. T'is the season for anything goes.

UPDATE:
In relation to story #2 found here, the video mocking this incident that hackers put up on the official North Korean YouTube site can be found here.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

New and improved fruitcake

Today, December 27, is apparently National Fruitcake Day (and just in time for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell — rimshot!). And in honor of today being National Fruitcake Day, all of today's stories will be written in fruitcake.

Okay. Obviously Kushibo did not get a sophisticated sense of humor for Christmas. But the National Fruitcake Day angle has an interesting twist to it: Korean bakers are introducing Korean-style fruitcake into the mix of doorstop-like blocks of dried fruit in a heavy cake.

From the Orange County Register:
There are at least two options for your Fruitcake Day festivities, and they both landed on our shore in 1985.

Your first option is for those of us (OK, the majority of people) who don't dig the sticky several-pound mass of dried fruit and nuts bought in round tins printed with holiday pictures.

Friends, we give you the Korean fruit cake, a delightful dish of sponge cake, custard and fresh fruit, layered up on a platter and covered with whipped crème. It's like the gussied-up, grown-up version of strawberry shortcake, with the addition of pineapple, kiwi and mandarin oranges.

At the Manmi Bakery in Garden Grove, Anna Yi sells two sizes, at $18 or $25. The cake is not specifically designed for Christmas, but rather for special occasions, like birthdays, she said.

"Each store has different kinds," Yi said. "Ours is more like an American-style. Other bakeries have a French style."

The French style has more fruit inside, but just a bit of fruit on the top of the cake, looking more like a Western-style cake, she said.

The cakes are not traditionally Korean, said Sejung Kim, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Korean Studies. The cakes grew popular in Korea in the 1980s, when people fell in love with the whipped cream icing, she said.
The story goes on to describe steam-baked Butterfield farm cakes, which sound really appetizing. When I'm back in OC, shall probably check out both. I've never been a big fan of Korean-style bakeries, some of which have dry and bland cookies and cakes, but I do like the moist, custard-filled cakes you find.

Now Manmi says they don't sell these as Christmas cakes per se, but back in Korea (and Japan and much of the rest of East Asia) this is exactly what people buy for Christmas (what some say is part of the destruction of Christmas in places like South Korea or Japan, where its newfound character as a second Valentine's Day has derisively earned it the nickname Sexmas... a pun that works in Japanese and Korean if you replace the Chinese character for 성/せい, meaning holy, with its homophonous counterpart meaning sex誕祭 replaced by 誕祭, if I'm putting that together properly).

Back in the 1990s, there was one of those social commentaries that likened people to some person or object in order to illustrate a point. In this case it was women as Christmas cakes, with the date in December corresponding to their age. Around the 22nd or 23rd, it may be a little early but some people are buying the Christmas cake (bear in mind that this is Korean age, so we're talking 20 to 22). Around the 24th, lots of people are buying. By the 25th, that's the Christmas cake's last chance to be bought, because no one buys a Christmas cake from the 26th on. Yes, that's why a lot of women felt freaked out about being an old maid by the age of twenty-five, with many of them rushing off into a marriage to the least worst guy they could find.

I say women are like New Year's cakes... [Kushibo ducks]

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Midnight mass at Honolulu's
Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace

Instead of a local church, it was decided we should go downtown to Honolulu's Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. Apparently a lot of people had gotten there earlier to enjoy Christmas carols, and that meant we were forced into the nosebleed seats. Many of those who got there before us were Christmas-and-Easter Christians, so it was packed.

The upper floors were actually a better way to view this church built in 1864. And they still brought us crackers and wine for the eucharist. At 1 a.m., though, I didn't feel entirely comfortable walking back to the car, which was on a deserted street that during the daytime would be bustling with activity.


On the day part of Christmas Day, I might take a cue from "Christmastime for the Jews" (the above video) and have dim sum in Chinatown. After that, I'll take in a movie (which is a Christmas tradition in the Kushibo abode).

And speaking of musically-themed Saturday Night Live sketches, here's another favorite:


Ah, what the heck... Let's throw in some Schweddy Balls:


And while we're at it, Happy Chanukah. That's both a three-weeks-late greeting for this year, and a fifty-two-week-early greeting for next year, when the holiday will actually run through Christmas like it should.

Finally, for some of homegrown Christmas satire from the K-blogosphere, check out ChickenHead's "T'was the Night Before Christmas on the DMZ."

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And a Mele Kalikimaka to all!

Because the manger was not listed as a standard housing unit 
or abode, Mary, Joseph, and their new baby were undercounted. 
The City of Bethlehem, noting such shoddy work was endemic 
for Census0000, sued the Roman Empire for greater 
representation in the Senate, but they were unsuccessful.

It's still Christmas Eve here in the Aloha State, and I'm still working on end-of-semester stuff and I'm stuck in Honolulu (plus my MacBook Pro is giving me rare headaches — and rare headaches are often huge headaches), so I thought I'd post some links to past Christmas-themed posts.
  • My first-ever Christmas post, from 2005, which included the above picture of a Korean-themed Nativity and a brief explanation of why Christianity took off as it did in Korea.
  • We've been celebrating Christmas since October here in Honolulu.
  • Story #6 from last Christmas: North Koreans detain "obese, jocular deer herder" who crosses Tuman River.
Sometime after Christmas I may write up about a conversation I had with "M," who is a Japanese Catholic, and her disgust that the birth of Christ has become a day for couples to get laid. Anyone in South Korea knows that Christmas for non-Christians (Catholics and Protestants alike) has morphed into a second Valentine's Day (making it hard to get reservations at restaurants and hotels in Seoul as well), so the idea may be familiar. 

Feliz Navidad, Buon Natale, and Merry Christmas to all!

UPDATE:
Roboseyo has two videos that, I think, can really make your Christmas Day. Their only downside is that they're both too short.

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Unfortunate headline and ad combo
of the day

From the Marmot's Hole:

If that's what they mean by female reserve corps, I'm not so sure how safe I'll feel back in Seoul. Also, someone should alert Katherine Moon.

(I recognize that I may be the only one who finds this kind of thing funny; my last "unfortunate combo" got no comments whatsoever.)

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Friday, December 24, 2010

So much for blacklists

Apparently blacklisted countries aren't as blacklisted as we might have thought. According to the New York Times, Americans have been doing billions of dollars of business with rogue states, including Iran and North Korea:
Hundreds of other licenses were approved because they passed a litmus test: They were deemed to serve American foreign policy goals. And many clearly do, among them deals to provide famine relief in North Korea or to improve Internet connections — and nurture democracy — in Iran. But the examination also found cases in which the foreign-policy benefits were considerably less clear. ...

In some cases, licensing rules failed to keep pace with changing diplomatic circumstances. For instance, American companies were able to import cheap blouses and raw material for steel from North Korea because restrictions loosened when that government promised to renounce its nuclear weapons program and were not recalibrated after the agreement fell apart.
An embarrassingly long list of US companies doing business in or with North Korea can be found here.

Still, some say that looking at these "exceptions" misses the larger picture of generally effective sanctions:
In an interview, the Obama administration’s point man on sanctions, Stuart A. Levey, said that focusing on the exceptions “misses the forest for the trees.” Indeed, the exceptions represent only a small counterweight to the overall force of America’s trade sanctions, which are among the toughest in the world. Now they are particularly focused on Iran, where on top of a broad embargo that prohibits most trade, the United States and its allies this year adopted a new round of sanctions that have effectively shut Iran off from much of the international financial system.
The Obama administration seems to be serious about sanctions against North Korea, so I wonder if the NYT report will be a wake-up call to them.  

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Welcome (back) to Hawaii, Mister President

President Obama has finally joined his family here on Oahu, the third year in a row they've spent Christmas in Hawaii.

After I get all of my work done for the semester, I may hang out at the Starbucks or burger joint in the Kailua shopping district, on the off chance BHO brings the wife and kids by during their stay in the Aloha State, which is where he was born.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Daily Kor for December 22, 2010:
National Haiku Day

Daily Kor's back! (At least for today... and hopefully in January.) And in honor of today being National Haiku Day (in the US that is; every day is Haiku Day in Japan), all of today's stories will be presented in haiku. This is an annual tradition here at MIaaP (and I'm writing this intro way ahead of time), so I apologize in advance if it appears I'm treating any of the following stories in a glib manner. It's on the menu and I'm sticking to it no matter what.

Gov'nuh Richardson
travels to North Korea
Will there be more talks?
(AP via WaPo, CNN)

Pyongyang plays chicken
but stubborn Seoul* carries on
In the end, nothing.
(NYT, Reuters, China News Asia, CNN, Chosun Ilbo)
* In Korean 서울 is two syllables, but here in English it's typically one.

A merry Christmas
is not for North Koreans
"Take down Christmas tree!"
(UPIAP via WaPo, WSJ, Bloomberg, Yonhap, Joongang Daily)

Nothing has happened
So relieved are investors
Asian stocks again climb
(AP via WaPo, WSJ, Bloomberg)

A fishing boat costs
a lot to Chinese people
"We rammed but you pay!"
(WSJ, Bloomberg)

You shelled our island!
We can't forgive such actions!
We've become Marines!
(Bloomberg)

Nuclear weapons
in the hands of a rogue state
Even China worries
(Reuters)

Park is a has-been?
His best years are behind him?
Not so, says Japan
(Yonhap)

A challenging task
writing all news in haiku
Glad it's once a year

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total lunar eclipse


Cool, huh?

UPDATE:
It was raining something fierce the day before and most of today was wet and cloudy (bad enough to turn off the electricity* at upscale Ala Moana Shopping Center), but we saw a few glimpses of open sky in Honolulu, so we went with the original plan to head out to Sandy Beach (about ten miles east of the city, toward the eastern edge of Oahu), where the city lights are very faint and it's a nice place to view any full moon.

When we got to Sandy Beach, we couldn't see anything, hence the picture above. We wuz robbed, I thought, since we got none of the red moon they had talked about in the papers. In fact, when we arrived at just after 10 p.m., in the middle of the full eclipse, we couldn't see the moon at all, though we didn't know if it was because of cloud cover or that's just the way the lunar eclipse is supposed to work. When a sliver of the moon finally showed up, it was it's usual white color, but with an obvious dark shadow over it.

AP got a better photo than I did (my partial solar eclipse camera work was more impressive). What you see above is pretty much what we saw at one point, though the moving clouds obscured our view half the time.

Still, it's not the reddish moon I was anticipating. While I wasn't expecting a biblical moon turned to blood from Revelations 6:12, I thought it would be the red-orangeish color I've seen in California where a full moon just over the horizon sometimes has a light rusty tint due to impurities in the air (e.g., light smog).

* The Honolulu Star-Advertiser says that the power outage was due to Hawaiian Electric Co (HECO) "substation fire," which was itself "apparently caused by the heavy rains." When there's no lightning to speak of, I find it quite comical that heavy rain is causing fires.




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Sunday, December 19, 2010

And now it's the Republicans' turn to muck up the KORUS FTA

For several years, it has been the Democrats and their traditional ties to labor, along with powerful US Senator from Montana Max Baucus being in the pocket of Big Beef, that have been the biggest threat to ratification of the Korea-US free trade agreement. As the Democratic nominee for president, then-Senator Barack Obama bashed the deal so feverishly — often with bogus notions about the contemporary state of trade with South Korea — that I withheld my vote for him in 2008.

So when the Obama administration's painstaking renegotiation of the KORUS FTA was finally over, it was assumed that the KORUS FTA would sail through the US Congress: Obama and a slew of moderate Democrats went to bat for this new deal, and with a new Republican majority in the House come January 5, there should be no problem getting the votes needed for approval, right? Right?

[source]

But now the wheels may be coming off again. While the case has successfully been made that the free-trade agreement with South Korea would mean more trade, jobs, and opportunities for Americans (and other benefits, like cheaper quality South Korean goods), no such sell has been made about Panama or Colombia, which also have Bush43-era FTAs pending.

But following the success of the GOP in holding hostage tax cuts for the middle class so they could push through the far less popular (and far less fiscally responsible) tax cuts for incomes earned beyond a quarter million dollars, Republicans have decided that they will hold up the KORUS FTA in order to push through the FTAs with Colombia and Panama

Senate Minority Leader
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
From politico.com:
Republican congressional leaders say they will use a new trade deal with South Korea as leverage to move a long-delayed agreement with Colombia, a strategy that could galvanize Democratic opposition to free trade and force the White House to choose between its liberal base and the business community.

Some Democrats are expected to support the South Korea deal, after labor unions split on whether to endorse it, but there is less of a prospect for that with Colombia, where drug violence and an armed insurrection have led to one of the worst records of repressing union organizing in the Western Hemisphere over the past decade.

Republicans, who have supported Colombia’s conservative government, have long pushed for implementation of the free-trade pact despite the history of anti-union violence in the country. They now see linking South Korea and Colombia as a way to make President Barack Obama’s new embrace of trade politically costly for him with his own party, which overwhelmingly opposes free-trade pacts, according to an aide to a top House Republican and an outside trade adviser to Obama.
One of the things that hurt the KORUS FTA was the (inaccurate) perception that South Korea and China were same-same. That is, China is a huge polluter and abuser of human rights whose use of dirt-cheap labor and currency manipulation has helped it amass a tremendous trade deficit with the US, and those who don't know Seoul from Shanghai assumed that South Korea was pretty much a carbon-emitting copy.

[source]

The gripe about the Colombia FTA was along much the same lines. The United Auto Workers bashed South Korea over labor and environmental issues (even though Detroit's desire to foist gas guzzlers onto the South Korean market was a major holdup for the FTA), as if their complaints about Colombia and South Korea were same-same.

This cynical ploy by the Republicans to lump these incongruous FTAs together will only serve to strengthen that unfair association, possibly to the point of galvanizing Democratic opposition (and possibly even voter opposition) against all the FTAs, including the KORUS FTA. (Thankfully, though, the UAW now supports the KORUS FTA.)

Look, the KORUS FTA is a stand-alone FTA. It was a hard-fought but ultimately reasonable agreement that should be passed for the good of both countries. I'm not so sure, however, if the conditions in Colombia warrant the same description or treatment. Maybe the criticisms about a lack of labor freedom in Colombia are valid. Maybe the worries that an FTA with Colombia will have a deleterious effect on American jobs more akin Mexico via NAFTA are something to pay attention to. Maybe Bogotá shouldn't be rewarded for its human rights abuses with an FTA.

All I know is that these concerns about Colombia need to be addressed, and the KORUS FTA should not be held hostage to it. If the KORUS FTA really is a plus for the US economy and American workers, it shouldn't be held up.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Hwang Woosuk's sentence upheld, but he avoids jail time

Science is reporting that disgraced South Korean scientist (see here, here, and here) Hwang Woosuk has failed to have his conviction overturn but he will stay out of jail:
Disgraced South Korean scientist Woo Suk Hwang had his conviction upheld yesterday by an appeals court in South Korea, which knocked 6 months off Hwang’s suspended sentence.

The court’s action means Hwang won’t have to serve time in jail if he stays out of trouble for 2 years. He was convicted last year of fraud and embezzlement and received a 2-year sentence, suspended for 3 years. Government prosecutors had asked for a 4-year sentence.

Both Hwang and the prosecution appealed last year’s conviction, and each has 1 week to appeal the latest ruling.
Given the ramping up of tensions on the Korean Peninsula recently, this news can mean only one thing: Clone army.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bill Richardson in North Korea


New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is heading for the DPRK (not that this is a surprise):
Richardson, who spoke to CNN Thursday at a layover in Beijing as he waited to fly to Pyongyang, North Korea, said he hopes he can help the situation even if it is just "a little bit."

Richardson said he will try to get "North Koreans to curtail their aggressive behavior, to see if there is some basis for negotiations, to get them to stop the uranium enrichment."
Richardson, who has hosted a North Korean delegation in New Mexico in the past, said he hopes his past relationships will help.

The governor said he was invited to the nation by North Korea's senior nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan and the meeting comes at a very pivotal time.

Tensions are "the highest I've ever seen. I've been involved with North Korea for the last 10 to 15 years," Richardson said. "I can't remember when the tension were as high as it is now. And you worry about some kind of action hastening a potential war. And we have to avoid that at all costs."
He's apparently a favorite conduit for Pyongyang — I originally assumed he'd be sent to North Korea to fish out Laura Ling and Euna Lee — but at the same time he's not a bagman for them either (I hope that hasn't changed — the "must avoid at all costs" line always makes me nervous).

In other words, he does a better job at letting Washington know what Pyongyang wants without really compromising Washington (or Seoul). At least that's my take (and I actually voted for the guy in 2008).

So, what do you supposed the North Koreans will tell Bill? What do you suppose Bill will tell the North Koreans? Do you think this will help ease tensions? Who do you think has a higher BMI, Governor Richardson or the Brilliant Comrade (Kim Jong-un)? Who would win in a game of one-on-one?

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lie Another Day

Selig Harrison sounds so much like a "Juche apologist" that frequent One Free Korea commenter david woolley wonders aloud if SH is not a pseudonym for KJI:
Why is there no wikipedia entry for Selig Harrison? Is it because the no-vilification rules are unavoidable — or is he, in fact, a figment, a convenient name for an editorial actually penned by Kim Jong Il, much as Stalin wrote for Pravda under a pseudonym? Inquiring minds and all that.
While Mr Harrison is clearly some kind of nom, I don't think he's a nom de plume. If you follow this link to where I've skewered him in the past, you'll find a video of him on PBS's Newshour. There is a real person behind Dr Evil's advocate.

But hold the phone... Wasn't there a James Bond movie where the villain used extensive plastic surgery to change his appearance from Asian to a nordic European? (Indeed, it would appear the streets of Seoul and Tokyo are full of such villains.) And wasn't that villain a... wait for it... North Korean?!

Maybe Mr Woolley and I are onto something. But would this grand ruse require the kidnaping of a Kangnam-area plastic surgeon? No, not with the advent of the hyper-realistic SPFX masks, those that are so convincing that a Polish immigrant had bank employees certain that he was a Black man as he robbed them.

In fact, an "elder" mask was recently used by a Chinese immigrant to get into Canada to seek asylum (it's in the same link above). And that means we must ask the inevitable: Could Selig Harrison be a North Korean operative with good English skills using a specially made "old man mask" to more effectively spread pro-Pyongyang propaganda?

I don't know about you, but now I'm convinced there's no other explanation.

UPDATE:
I forgot, no mention of a James Bond movie is complete unless I include a picture of one of the hotties. And while thoughts of Halle Berry are always enough to warm me up at Christmastime, Die Another Day included one of my all-time favorite Bond girls from the same movie, Miranda Frost (played by Rosamund Pike).

UPDATE 2:
Jack Pritchard, president of the Korea Economic Institute, has an article in the January 5 edition of the Korea Herald which also skewers Mr Harrison's proposal for the US to give South Korean territorial waters to North Korea.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Selig Harrison proposes giving North Korea a Sudetenland-by-the-Sea

Writing in the New York Times, Pyongyang apologist Selig Harrison (see him skewered here) proposes that all this mess in the Yellow Sea could be over if South Korea agrees is forced to move the border "slightly to the south":
The Obama administration would do well to consult with both Seoul and Pyongyang on where to best set the new boundary, get an agreement from both governments to abide by it, and put it on the map. South Korea should not be given a veto over the redrawing. And North Korea should be warned that any future provocations on its part like the shelling of Yeonpyeong will result in swift, appropriate retaliation by the joint forces of the United States and South Korea.
Oh, were it not finals week and I had time to give this a proper fisking (which would, believe it or not, be far longer than this already is). Instead, I'll just leave you with a few points why this is wrong, wrong, wrong:
  • The notion that South Korea should not have veto power over an agreement that takes away a substantial part of its own waters is simply absurd, even if Seoul in 1953 was not a signatory to the Korean War Armistice.
  • To even hint at changing the established spheres of control on either side of the de facto maritime border (i.e., the Northern Limit Line, or NLL) would simply be rewarding North Korea for murderously acting out repeatedly.
  • The NLL is a proper border in that it follows the universally accepted principle of equidistance from populated land on the North Korean and South Korean sides, land North Korea has recognized as South Korea's. Like it or not, the Five Islands of the West Sea [서해 5도] that include Yŏnpyŏng-do [Yeonpyeong] generate substantial territorial waters and EEZ for South Korea. This is not some unfair outcome of the Korean War (which North Korea started) since the Ongjin Peninsula just north of them and under North Korean control was originally South Korean territory south of the 38° Parallel. Simply put, the NLL is where it a maritime border would be were these two countries not military and political rivals.
  • Any change to the line of control would endanger South Korea's actual land territories (e.g., the Five Islands of the West Sea, and possibly islands closer to the mainland). Unlike Mr Harrison, I'm not optimistic that granting North Korea more fishing waters would be the end of this mess.
Mr Harrison continues to peddle the idea of a North Korea with which we can do business, when the last ten years has taught us that Pyongyang will bite, hit, or otherwise try to sever the hand that feeds it, the hand that threatens to slap it down, or the hand that is held up by the South Korean government as Seoul says "Talk to this."

About the only useful thing in his op-ed is the idea some North Koreans have fed him about what would happen if a peace treaty were successfully negotiated:
One possible mechanism to replace the armistice is the “trilateral peace regime” for the peninsula that has been proposed by North Korea’s principal military spokesman, Gen. Ri Chan-bok. Under the plan, the armed forces of the United States, North Korea and South Korea would set up a “mutual security assurance commission.” Its role would be to prevent incidents in the demilitarized zone that could threaten the peace and to develop arms-control and confidence-building arrangements on the peninsula. General Ri has said explicitly that the North would not object to the presence of American forces on the peninsula if the armistice and the United Nations Command were replaced.
I'm a big believer in the Pax Americana's past, present, and future ability to keep Northeast Asia conflict-free, so any proposal that sees the US going bye-bye from South Korea is to me a nonstarter. I have no doubt Mr Harrison has been told that North Korea would accept a US military presence in a post-Peace Treaty Korea, but I'm not so sure they really would simply let it be. After all, the US is one of North Korea's bogeyman around which it constructs a justification for the Songun [선군, Military First] Policy, its raison d'être. No doubt the "puppet of the imperialists" rhetoric would continue unabated.

In the meantime, although part of me wants to believe in his cherry-flavored analysis, but it's more likely the eternal optimist is simply a useful idiot or possibly on the take.

UPDATE:
Or possibly a North Korean operative.

UPDATE 2:
Jack Pritchard, president of the Korea Economic Institute, has an article in the January 5 edition of the Korea Herald which also skewers Mr Harrison's proposal.

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Five dead and seventeen missing as South Korean trawler sinks

The New York Times reports that the crew was an international group:
The 190-foot trawler, the In Sung, sank around 6:30 a.m., about 1,000 miles north of McMurdo Station, a United States science and research center on Ross Island, in Antarctica. The Rescue Coordination Center New Zealand said there was no immediate indication for the cause of the sinking. The center also said no distress call had been issued.

Three South Korean and two New Zealand fishing vessels aided in the search and rescue efforts, the agency said, adding that the water temperature in the area was 2 degrees Celsius, or 36 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Survival times in the water are about 10 minutes without lifejackets or immersion suits,” the agency said in a statement.

The 614-ton long-line fishing trawler is reportedly based in Pusan, in southern South Korea. Among the crew were Chinese, Indonesians, Filipinos and one Russian.
Normally, something so many thousands of miles away from the Yellow Sea or the East Sea would not have me imagining Pyongyang involvement, but with the way North Korea has been acting lately — pushing the envelope, crossing lines, and itching for a fight — I can't help but wonder if that's what's up when a ship goes down so fast they don't even have time to give out a distress call.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

White Christmas in Hawaii?

Two days ago there were flash flood warnings on Kauai. And then yesterday it rained something fierce here in Oahu. As that wet weather made its way southeastward, it dumped a whole bunch of snow on both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, the two volcanic peaks reaching 13,796 and 13,679 feet respectively (just over and under 4200 meters) that form the Island of Hawaii, the US's largest island.

This view of Mauna Kea from the National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Adminstration webcam on top of Mauna Loa 
shows snow on both Big Island mountains this morning. 
A winter storm that moved past the islands overnight 
left several inches of snow on Hawaii's highest peaks.

It's kinda pretty, and if it sticks around, I may be tempted to head back to the Big Island come Christmas (I was there in May), just for the novelty of enjoying a white Christmas in the Aloha State. (Kushibo is too busy with school-related responsibilities to make it to California or Seoul this holiday.)

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Reeper madness



With a hat tip to KoreaBeat, the #10 most read news story at Naver was about some visitors to Korea who decided to upload to YouTube a video of themselves smoking pot (and meth?) in the little enclosed "smoking area" inside Incheon International Airport. Frickin' twenty-one months ago. (I guess it took the netizen bots that long to scour the YouTubes for offensive content related to Korea.)

This is KoreaBeat's clip descript:
A group of criminal mastermind English-speaking foreigners made a video of themselves smoking marijuana and taking pilopon in the smoking room at Incheon International Airport, then uploaded the video to Youtube.
For those who are unaware, philopon [히로뽕, or hiroppong, in Korean] is meth.

Here is a link to the Donga Ilbo news story at Naver, and here is a link to the actual video ("Smokin' weed in Korean Airport").

While I would love to tell everyone clicking on the Naver site, "Don't fear the reeper," the other side of me puts palm to forehead and goes, "Geez, what are they doing?! Come to a country where drug laws are strict, smoke weed in public, make a spectacle videotaping yourself, and then upload it for all the world to see?" I guess these mooks won't feel any heat since they're apparently traveling on to Russia. Not sure what drug penalties are there, but I can just imagine how well pot-smoking Americans go over with the Russians.

What's that they say about pot smoking and impaired judgement?

Anyway, what I found most interesting about this story is that the Donga Ilbo or Naver decided to pixelate their faces, ostensibly to hide their identity, even though these four gentlemen themselves made no effort to hide what they look like.

Oh, and in the process, they made the one in the middle look like Hines Ward.

UPDATE:
Oh, I should have known from the title that the four gentlemen in question are part of some rap group named Onyx. So I should have introduced them by saying, "Here are several fine young men who I'm sure are gonna go far." Also, the Korean-language article refers to them as 유명 연예인 ("famous entertainers") in the first line.

But the truth is, I don't follow hip-hop. Being straight out of Compton myself, I'm keenly aware of the irony that hip-hop and rap are quasi-musical forms engineered by unscrupulous executives and perpetrated by usually talentless "performers," that are voraciously consumed by gangsta-wannabe White and Asian kids from the suburbs who would sh¡t and pee themselves if they'd seen stuff I'd seen back in my old neighborhood.

So pardon me if I didn't know who these role models are. (And now it's even funnier that the their faces were pixelated.)

Actually, I did sorta think that the guy on the right looked like the obnoxious 
gangsta-wannabe boyfriend of Moesha on the late 1990s UPN show Moesha
and it turns out I was right. That's actor Frederic Scruggs. 
You may know him as Fredro Starr. Or not.

UPDATE:
Ask A Korean also has a post up about this.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

If North Koreans were pandas...

... would we then try to save them? So asks Jonah Goldberg. (Fisk later, after finals.)

Perhaps we'd try. But eventually, just like the pandas, we'd find out that it's all up to the Chinese, about without whom (and even possibly with whom) nothing can be done about North Korea.

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A new slimmer iPad with a camera?

That's what's being speculated. If it really does have better resolution, I'd seriously consider buying one. While I doubt they could get it as good as the "retina display" on the iPhone4, if it were at least on par with the newest version of the MacBook Air, it would be very, very tempting. (But then again, that 11-inch MBA is also very, very tempting.)

And then I could do this.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Light posting until the end of the semester

Kushibo is a grad student with real world responsibilities, though you wouldn't know that on my eight-posts-in-24-hours kinda days.

Now that the Yŏnpyŏng-do shelling has died down, the FTA renegotiation has succeeded, and everyone is busy shopping for Christmas, and especially since I've gone nearly forty-eight hours without a single post, I thought I should put up a post announcing I won't be posting much over the next week to ten days.

In the meantime, if you're jonesing for some posts, take a look (or second look) at some of the recent ones I thought were interesting:
  • With the new FTA, is South Korea ready for the Hillbilly Hummer Ford F150?
  • The outcry over Blackout Korea
  • NSFW pictures in a discussion of the TSA full-body scanners
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Learning how to welcome our new overlords

What do the fastest growing languages in American college classrooms have in common? Well, Korean, Arabic, and Chinese are all languages spoken by some very troublesome countries.

But perhaps I'm being pessimistic. Korean is also spoken in South Korea, a trading and business partner of growing importance, and Mandarin and Arabic also seem to offer economic opportunities.

Now if only this translated into people learning about Korean culture, this Seoulite and Korean Studies academic could earn some coin from America's newfound interest in the Land of Morning Calm.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

An American leftist teacher explains the North Korean crisis



Occasional Marmot's Hole commenter valkilmerisiceman linked to this video, which seems to me to do a decent job of summing up the leftist position on the recent North Korean crisis.

Just as we see with things like, say, opposition to the FTA, we have a situation where a little information can be a dangerous thing. Like with the above linked UAW action alert, this video is a cherry-picking of data intended to arrive at a pre-determined (and self-serving) conclusion.

Let's start with his description of what the US and South Korea were doing to (in his mind) provoke North Korea. He says:
The United States has 28,000 troops in South Korea and they're there for a specific reason. Most of the US troops are at the border. And the United States, just a few days ago, just yesterday, actually, had war games (what they're called), which is a preparation pretty much for war. War games is letting the country you don't like know that, "we've got the artillery, and at any time we want, we can invade you." That's exactly what war games are. And the United States and South Korea had a joint war games session in the Yellow Sea, and North Korea took it as a threat, which it was, and North Korea, well...
This is fraught with so many wrongheaded assumptions I can't possibly give them all their due, but I'll try to hit the highlights. First, the US troops are not at the border. Even the 2ID (Second Infantry) that is forward deployed is only as far north as Tongduch'ŏn [Dongducheon] and they are being moved south. On a related matter, while the primary role of USFK is to defend against an attack by North Korea, the US military presence in South Korea is instrumental in maintaining peace in Northeast Asia, a region that has been the site of immense volatility up to the Korean War.

Second, the "war games" (actually naval exercises) were not at all about invading North Korea but about defending South Korea's northernmost "Five Islands of the West Sea" (서해 5도) from North Korean attack or invasion, along with the waters south of the Northern Limit Line, the de facto border. Ironically, in shelling Yŏnbyŏng-do's [Yeonbyeong] main island, North Korea has again demonstrated precisely the need for such naval exercises.

This teacher then suggests that North Korea was simply reacting to this threat by, well, shelling Yŏnbyŏng-do. This is a key place where his facile analysis falls apart, for it strips North Korea of any agency in setting its own agenda (agency achieved in part by repeated aggression). What is important to note here is that North Korea is not attacking South Korean ships, waters, and now civilian communities in the region because it feels threatened but because it is trying to bolster the image of the military by pitting it against the enemy, as a justification for the Pyongyang regime's Songun [sŏn•gūn, 선군; "military first"] Policy.

North Korea's sinking of the Ch'ŏnan in March and the shelling of Yŏnpyŏng-do were only the latest in a string of sometimes deadly attacks and clashes going back to 1999, when North Korea — for the purposes of promoting Songun Policy for domestic consumption — unilaterally declared its own maritime demarcation line that essentially laid claim to much of the South Korea-controlled waters south of the NLL. While the NLL follows principles of equidistance used in determining territorial waters and EEZs, North Korea's proposed line removes South Korea's "Five Islands of the West Sea" from the equation when determining who should control the waters in that part of the Yellow Sea.

It's a nonstarter and Pyongyang knows that, but it gives them continuous opportunity to push the envelope and create enough trouble to engineer (for domestic consumption) an enemy encroaching on North Korea's sovereignty that will bolster domestic support and justify their hold on power, while being low-key enough that it won't likely trigger a devastating wider war which would almost certainly mean the end of the DPRK.

The teacher fails to recognize that when making his argument about negotiations, the bulk of which is also problematic. "The United States could settle this in an hour if it wanted to," he tells us. In a nutshell, he is saying, the US is at fault for the North Korean crisis because President Obama, like his predecessor President George W. Bush, has refused to negotiate with North Korea. Under President Bill Clinton, there were negotiations and things were just fine, but without direct talks, like now under President Obama and ROK President Lee Myungbak, things just fall apart.

This is fraught with error. For starters, North Korea did engage in clashes with South Korea in this region during the Clinton administration when the two sides were talking. These attacks occurred under Sunshine Policy when Kim Daejung and Roh Moohyun were president. They occurred not because of the existence or lack of negotiations, but because North Korea gains politically at home and economically from its neighbors by engaging in such brinksmanship.

Negotiation and Sunshine Policy had their place and may again in the future. But North Korea was hell-bent on the prestige and power of getting a nuclear weapon since the first Bush administration. The original Six Party Talks and Agreed Framework slowed down their progress (I believe Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo were working from the idea that buying time was the best option as Pyongyang would eventually collapse or make Chinese-style political and economic reforms), but did not eliminate North Korea's nuclear program. Engaging with North Korea economically and politically did not stop the attacks in the Yellow Sea.

So when Presidents Obama and Lee decide that it's time for the US and South Korea to stop being schmucks, this failure to communicate is not the cause of the confrontation but rather a response to it.

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

An official portrait of Kim Jong-un?

Mark MacKinnon of The Globe and Mail of Canada suggests this untitled portraint spotted in a Rajin museum by a Canadian tourist might be just that, in which it case it is a sign of the Kim Jong-un cult gaining traction. That we're seeing a Kim Jong-un portrait seems to be supported by a few notable names in the North Korea Watching industry. [HT to OFK commenter jason bastrop]:
If it is him, and a majority of the experts consulted by The Globe and Mail believe that it is, the portrait marks the first glimpse anyone outside North Korea has had of how the regime will sell Kim Jong-un to a people conditioned to believe his father is their infallible Dear Leader and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, an immortal who remains president despite his death in 1994.

It would be laughable, perhaps, if the new propaganda campaign weren’t accompanied by new military recklessness – including last month’s deadly shelling of a South Korean island – intended to give Kim Jong-un, already praised as “the Young General,” victories to claim as his own. [Kushibo's note: I again emphasize my skepticism that there is much "praise" being put on Kim Jong-un at all]

Out of half a dozen North Korea scholars who were sent a copy of the portrait, only one disagreed that the subject was likely Kim Jong-un. The other experts saw it as the launch of a massive propaganda campaign that will attempt to portray the heir apparent as having been sent abroad to learn foreign ways and technologies, while always keeping North Korea and its people in his heart.

Several who saw the portrait noted the physical resemblance (though the heir apparent is much flabbier in recent television footage), as well as a background that looks to be Interlaken, Switzerland, where Kim Jong-un is known to have spent time while studying at the International School of Berne in the late 1990s.

“It’s big news,” said Brian Myers, an expert on North Korea at Dongseo University in South Korea. “It’s hard to be completely certain on the basis of an untitled image alone. … But I cannot imagine a schoolboy outside the Kim family meriting this kind of painting, and it is very similar in mood and layout to depictions of the young Kim Il-sung and the young Kim Jong-il. So I would assume that it is Kim Jong-un although it is not a particularly striking likeness in view of the Kim Jong-un we have seen photographed in the past few months.”
Me? I don't think so (and I see I'm in good company with the likes of Professor Andrei Lankov, the one holdout whom The Globe and Mail interviewed).

And I think folks like Brian Myers — if he really was just shy of "completely certain" and that's not Mr MacKinnon putting enthusiasm in his mouth — ought to rethink where they're sitting on this bandwagon, lest their reputation be sullied by a major fail (and let's face it, Brian Myers has only one set of lenses when it comes to interpreting what's going on in North Korea, one I find wanting when it comes to explaining or predicting a lot of what goes on up there, so there's not a lot of margin for error... sometimes it seems you're only as good as your last success in this business).

In fact, I think that, like so much other "news" about Kim Jong-un's rise to power (read: unsupported speculation and journalistic pipe-dreaming), I think this is uninformed conjecture to fill a void of real information. The kind of void where a Canadian tourist visiting a museum in North Korea probably with display markers in a language he/she doesn't understand can set tongues wagging.

The style of school uniform, especially the hat, is reminiscent of the Japanese colonial era in which Kim Ilsung grew up (the Japanese annexed Korea in 1910 and he was born two years later). And while I have no idea what churches look like in Switzerland, the style of the church in the background here is quite similar to small-foundation brick-and-mortar Christian houses of worship in Korea (both Protestant and Catholic). Pyongyang was, before the Communists took over, known as "the Jerusalem of the East," and Kim Ilsung's own grandfather was a Presbyterian minister and his father a church elder.

The stone work and the railing along the river walk is also found in Korea. And the upward flare of the eaves (is that the right word?) on the house in the background appear more Korean than Swiss.

And think about it: When North Korea has not even acknowledged that Kim Jong-un was educated in the West, why would they glorify it in a painting?

I'll bet if I had a little more time I could find an authorized North Korean portrait of Kim Ilsung as a student dressed not unlike that. In the meantime, note the facial similarity with the Kim Ilsung (checking the door) below.



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PBS Newshour gets it wrong on the KORUS FTA



I've made no secret that I love PBS's Newshour and I recommend it as the single best layperson's source of comprehensive, objective, nonpartisan, and dispassionate analysis of the important political, economic, and social issues facing the United States and much of the world (that, Sesame Street, and low-calorie cranberry-walnut muffin recipes is why we should support public broadcasting).

But every now and then they do get it wrong, and this "News wrap" piece mentioning the FTA, I feel, was a misrepresentation of what's actually going on:
The U.S. and South Korea have reached agreement on the largest trade deal in more than a decade. The announcement today said the U.S. will lift a tariff on Korean autos over five years. In turn, South Korea will allow imports of thousands of American-made cars. The South Koreans also agreed to lift a heavy tariff on U.S. beef.
Listening to that, someone otherwise uninformed about ROK-US trade might get the impression that prior to now, the import of American-made cars is simply not allowed. In fact, there are loads of American cars on the streets and highways of South Korea — they are imported with an 8% tariff — though they don't do nearly as well as Lexus, Honda, Volkswagen, BMW, and Volvo.

What Kwame Holman should have stated was that the pact would allow each US automaker to export 25,000 cars that do not meet ROK safety standards but do meet US safety standards.

Quoting the Los Angeles Times article about President Obama's praise for the deal:
South Korea would allow the U.S. to lift a 2.5 percent tariff on Korean cars in five years, instead of cutting the tariff right away. Each U.S. automaker could export 25,000 cars to South Korea as long as they met U.S. safety standards; disputes over safety standards had effectively stood as a barrier to U.S. auto exports into Korea. A U.S. tariff on Korean trucks would be phased out and South Korea would eliminate its tariff on U.S. trucks immediately.
Ford and Chrysler have claimed that ROK safety standards amount to a non-tariff trade barrier, even though Japanese, German, and Swedish automakers have had no real trouble meeting them. Detroit, for all practical purposes, wanted special consideration for US-made automobiles: Let American-cars into the South Korean market based not on South Korean laws but on American laws. I can imagine the outcry from Detroit if Hyundai and Kia were to have done the reverse with their cars (although actually, Hyundai and Kia are making most of their cars for the US market in the US).

The idea behind the 25K-per-automaker deal is for Chrysler and Ford to be able to break into the South Korean market without making expensive adjustments for which they don't know if there is going to be a payoff down the road (if the cars meet ROK safety standards, there is no limit).

If the South Korean public decides they want F150s, Mustangs, Escapes, and Equinoxes, then it will be worthwhile for Ford and Chrysler to retool some of their output specifically for the South Korean market, just as South Korean automakers (and everyone else) do for California. (I suppose this benefits GM, as well, but since GM already has a sizable presence in South Korea with ownership of GM Daewoo, it's not exactly the same situation).

All in all, despite Montana's Democratic US Senator Max Baucus being "deeply disappointed" that beef was not addressed, the end result isn't a bad one. I don't like the idea of big, polluting vehicles roaming Seoul streets, but I think the "streamlining" compromise sounds reasonable.

Ben Muse of the Korea-US FTA Blog has more on the details of the re-agreement of the FTA.

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