Sunday, January 30, 2011

Korea Finder 2011-01

Can you identify the location in the following picture?

I don't know if I'll make this a regular feature (my last attempt was a failure), but I thought a Korea Finder, inspired by ROK Drop's, would be fun to try this a few times. My only rule is that Mark is not allowed to win because, well, it simply reminds me of the following "Far Side" cartoon:

Cars that (finally) make sense

In honor of Hyundai's record-breaking sales (item #6), the New York Times has posted the above commercial as their "classic ad" of the week, with the following commentary:
You can say one thing for Hyundai in the 1980s: it didn’t lack for nerve.

The South Korean automaker entered the United States market in 1986 with the Excel, a subcompact initially priced at less than $5,000, and quickly undersold its way to a new sales record for an import.

Perhaps that early success explains this week’s classic ad, which offers a side-by-side comparison (presumably tongue-in-cheek) of the Excel and the BMW 3 Series. The Bimmer driver, a classic white-collar villain — he looks as if he might be an associate of Patrick Bateman’s — practically sneers at the Excel. In response, our hero in the Hyundai merely straightens his tie: he’s ready to roll.

Just when it looks as though we might see an old-fashioned yuppie drag race, the 3 Series bows out and heads for the bank. Sure, Mister Bimmer may be depositing another trunkload of gold bullion, but you can just tell he’s miserable inside. The Excel, meanwhile, just putters sensibly along.
Of course, the Hyundai driver may be headed for the dealership to fix whatever has come loose underneath his hood.

It's interesting that a quarter century later Hyundai is still marketing itself as a big money saver, but now alongside excellent crash-test results (the picture reminds me of Inception), high quality, and reliability. Of course, old impressions die hard, and that's still why Hyundai (and Kia) were obliged to provide ten-year warranties on their cars. And even now, when impressions have changed dramatically, those warranties can be a decision-making difference: It was the super-long warranty on a Santa Fe that broke the Toyota-Chrysler stranglehold on my parents since 1978 (with the occasional Honda/Acura).

Another difference since the Reagan era: You actually can compare a Hyundai to a BMW without eliciting snickers.

Daily Kor for January 29 and 30, 2011
(and a little of January 27 and 28)

It's been a busy week. But I did have a chance to attend a talk by Peter Beck, which I shall blog later. I also had time to hit Waikiki for a bit of seaside reading in the 80°F warmth that is Oahu. In the meantime, here's a bit of catch-up.
  1. Agriculture Minister offers to resign over foot-and-mouth disease outbreak (BloombergJoongang DailyKorea Times)
  2. Seoul proposes date of talks with Pyongyang (AP via WaPo, CNN)
    • South Korea relaxes apology demand (Reuters)
    • South Korea says North Korean criticism "offensive propaganda" that is "unhepful" for better inter-Korean ties (Xinhua)
  3. South Korea defeats Uzbekistan, 3-2, to come in third place in Asian World Cup (AP via WaPo, Yonhap, Korea Times)
  4. Kim Jongnam, oldest son of Kim Jong-il, tells Tokyo Shimbun his father opposed continuing Kim Dynasty rule of North Korea (AP via WaPo, Korea Times)
  5. Kia Motors posts record high profits of 2.25 trillion won for 2010 (AP via WaPo, WSJ, Joongang Daily)
  6. Hyundai Motors posts record high profits of 1.4 trillion won for 2010 (AP via WaPo)
  7. ROK economic growth slows slightly in 4th quarter of 2010 (AP via WaPo)
    • LG Electronics posts $229 million loss in Q4 (AP via WaPo)
    • Samsung reports profit of 3.42 trillion won in Q4 (WSJ, Joongang Daily)
    • 2010 a good year for South Korean conglomerates (Donga Ilbo)
  8. One-person businesses jump 15.7 percent in 2010 (UPI)
  9. Korea and Ghana to jointly develop Ghana's port facilities (YonhapKorea Times)
  10. Wounded captain of freighter hijacked by Somali pirates returns home (AFP, Yonhap, Korea Times)
  11. Park Jisung to retire from international soccer (AP via WaPo, AFP)
  12. In latest Pyongyang-TV1 series highlighting the works of Stephen King, Kim Jong-il and entourage re-enactment famous scene from Green Mile (Yonhap)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

iPhone5 buzz: 2011 in America will be 2003 in South Korea

As a long-time Mac user, I am guilty of having once or twice used the following joke to underscore that Microsoft was incapable of producing an operating system that was anything more than a poor and untimely imitation of Apple's far more innovative, stable, and superior Macintosh OS:
Windows 95 = Macintosh 87
Well, I suppose we could trot out a similar gag now, but with Apple as the butt of the joke. You see, there are rumors that users of the new iPad 2 or iPhone 5, which will reportedly come out in mid-winter and late spring, respectively, will be able to use the devices like a credit card. This, of course, is a technology that has been a success in South Korea since 2003 (it was actually introduced in 2002, but didn't take off right away) and widely used in Japan since 2004.

Anyway, here's the Bloomberg story:
Apple Inc. plans to introduce services that would let customers use its iPhone and iPad computer to make purchases, said Richard Doherty, director of consulting firm Envisioneering Group.

The services are based on “Near-Field Communication,” a technology that can beam and receive information at a distance of up to 4 inches, due to be embedded in the next iteration of the iPhone for AT&T Inc. and the iPad 2, Doherty said. Both products are likely to be introduced this year, he said, citing engineers who are working on hardware for the Apple project.

Apple’s service may be able to tap into user information already on file, including credit-card numbers, iTunes gift-card balance and bank data, said Richard Crone, who leads financial industry adviser Crone Consulting LLC in San Carlos, California.
Prior to having an iPhone, I was content to use my various LG cellular phones in Korea and in the US just for calling and texting, even though the Korean ones apparently did a heck of a lot more. There's something about the iPhone, though, that just lends itself to doing these complicated tasks easily and with confidence. (Another part of the reason was that continuing to use my good old-fashioned Asiana Airlines credit card gave me beaucoup miles.)

However, now I may give this mobile payment system a shot, but I don't see myself getting an iPhone 5 when it comes out, just because my iPhone 4 still feels very new and it does pretty much everything I want it to do, and a lot of the new stuff will be iOS-related anyway, and thus will work on the iPhone4 anyhow.

But still, some of these possible changes sound sweet, and I will be tempted to get the iPad 2, especially if it does end up with a retina display (the iPhone 4 has spoiled me).

Is Sochi still a good choice for the 2014 Winter Olympics?

I'm going to sound like an insensitive jackass for saying this so soon after the horrible incident that left dozens dead, but the bombing at Domodedovo International Airport on the outskirts of Moscow has underscored concerns I've previously expressed that the Sochi venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics may have been a poor choice. In 2007, when the IOC met, the South Korean mountainous county of P'yŏngch'ang (Pyeongchang) lost out to the summer resort city of Sochi, Russia, when then-President Vladimir Putin showed up and tacitly threatened the European members of the IOC that there would be dire consequences if Russia was not awarded the games.

In addition to concerns about the weather in the palm-lined Russian resort city (which became an issue at the 2010 games in Vancouver, a venue that beat out Pyongchang four years earlier), I wrote about concerns that Sochi was just "a few hundred miles from Chechnya, a major producer of counterfeit American dollars and angry Muslim separatist suicide bombers with a serious score to settle with Moscow." Almost exactly a year after that post, the bombing at the airport has become the latest in a series of terror attacks that should make us seriously question (a) whether Chechen separatists will use the high-profile games or the FIFA World Cup four years later as a prime target and (b) whether Russian authorities are even capable of stopping that.

And I'm certainly not the only one thinking this. It's certainly on the IOC's mind enough that they issued a statement about it:
The International Olympic Committee has "no doubt" that Russia will deliver a safe Winter Games in Sochi in 2014 despite security concerns raised by the suicide bombing attack at Moscow's main airport.

"Unfortunately, terrorism is a global phenomenon and no region is exempt, which is why security at the games is a top priority for the IOC," the Olympic body told The Associated Press in a statement Tuesday. "At the Olympics, security is the responsibility of the local authorities, and we have no doubt that the Russian authorities will be up to the task."

FIFA also expressed support for Russia, which will host the 2018 World Cup in 13 cities. It will host the Confederations Cup as a test event in 2017.

"FIFA is confident that Russian authorities will ensure adequate security plans are in place," soccer's governing body said in a statement.
To be fair, the downing of Korean Airlines flight 858, an apparent terror attack planned by Kim Jong-il himself ten months before the 1988 Seoul Olympics, was no reason to change the venue of South Korea's showcase event, but South Korea was not the victim of repeated and seemingly constant terror attacks. Russia, on the other hand, seems unable to escape such events thanks to its on-going separatist war. The Guardian has a list of major terror attacks in the post-Soviet era.

And if the separatists are able to pull off such attacks in Moscow, at a place like an airport that is supposed to be relatively secure, imagine how easy it would be to visit such assaults in Sochi, which is only a few hundred miles away from Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. Moreover, the separatists who are remind the world of the carnage in Chechnya would want to strike at such a time when the entire world is watching. Sure, lots of innocent people would die, but these folks have shown that even killing schoolchildren is acceptable to them.

Now, don't get me wrong: this is not sour grapes and I certainly don't think that Pyongchang should be retroactively awarded the games. In fact, if a venue change were to come, it should not be now, but sometime later, with something else as a pretext. The terrorists should not score a victory this way. But I do think the IOC should come up with a plan whereby they declare the summer resort of Sochi just not on schedule or some such, and then have Vancouver or Nagano or Lillehammer or some other prior venue host the games. (Frankly, even if Pyongchang is awarded the 2018 games, I don't think its on-going preparations make it ready to host four years ahead of time.)

Switching already-chosen venues for world events is not so unusual. Or, at least, thinking about switching venues is not so unusual. Civil unrest in South Korea in the spring and summer of 1987 led then-mayor of Los Angeles Tom Bradley to suggest that L.A. would be willing to host the Olympics for a second time in a row if the IOC decided Seoul was too dangerous.

In 2002 and 2003, as it became clear Athens was way behind schedule for construction of venues for the 2004 games, some suggested moving the games to Seoul or Los Angeles, which had the infrastructure ready to go. Indeed, had that happened, perhaps Greece might not be in the debt crisis it now finds itself in.

More recently, some have considered whether or not Qatar should remain as the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup if doing so would require a calendar change to January (which would interfere with regular soccer and the Winter Olympics), as FIFA head Sepp Blatter has suggested, to keep the players from dropping dead in the 45°C desert heat. Indeed, that last one underscores that Pyongchang and South Korea keeps losing out to places that probably should not have won the hosting rights for these events at all.

But let's be realistic: On February 7, 2014, we will almost certainly be watching the opening of the winter Olympics in Sochi. And I hope and pray that everything goes off without a hitch. Despite worries about attacks in 1988 and again during the Korea/Japan World Cup in 2002, the games were safe and secure (it was the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, I believe, that last saw a terror attack), although North Korea did try something out in the Yellow Sea just as the games were ending.

I do think Russia, if it sets its mind to it and takes this seriously, can do the same. But next time, IOC and FIFA, take this kind of thing a bit more seriously.

Daily Kor for January 25 and 26, 2011

While it would have been even cooler if South Korea had won, it sounds like a 2-2 match in soccer (the basketball equivalent of 487 to 487) decided by penalty kicks sounds like an exciting nail-biter. Somehow I doubt this will be rerun ad nauseum like, say, Korea defeating Italy in 2002.
  1. Japan defeats South Korea in 3-0 penalty kick shoot-off following 2-2 tie, advances to Asian Cup finals against Australia (AP via WaPo, CNN, Korea Times)
  2. Following last week's raid on hijackers, ROK Foreign Ministry reaffirms commitment to not negotiate with pirates (Yonhap)
  3. South Korea to ask UN to debate North Korean uranium enrichment program (AFP)
    • South Korea to ask North Korea for resumption of six-party denuclearization talks (UPI, Korea Times)
  4. Foreign Minister says Seoul wants "acceptable apology" from Pyongyang over shelling of Yŏnpyŏng-do and sinking of Ch'ŏnan (Yonhap)
  5. Kim Jong-il meets with owner and CEO of Egypt-based Orascom (WSJ)
  6. Two reportedly executed in North Korea for reading South Korean propaganda (UPI)
  7. Congressional Republicans call for quick passage of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama (AP via WaPo, Yonhap, Reuters)
  8. China takes good hard look at itself, implements "Negative-One Child Policy" (Xinhua)

Monday, January 24, 2011

A charter paving the way for Kim Jong-un?

Anyone who visits my blog knows that I am highly skeptical of how much of a done-deal the ascension of Kim Jong-un is, despite the South Korean, Japanese, and Western media's general acceptance of it as future fact. (And just so we're clear, I think the real story is the one they're missing: the Manchurianization of North Korea).

But as contrarian as I am, I am also honest, and if I see something that contradicts my viewpoint, I am happy, even to the point of ecstatic, to review it. So when Voice of America says they have in their hot little hands the charter that maps out Kim Jong-un's rise to the top of the heap, I sit up and take notice:
North Korea has revised the charter of its only political party, apparently to ensure a smooth transition of power from father to son in the reclusive communist state. VOA correspondent Steve Herman has obtained a copy of the document, which has not been made public in or outside North Korea.

North Korea experts say the revised Korea Workers Party charter (PDF), obtained by VOA, appears to create the framework for ruler Kim Jong Il to be succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un.

The charter revision is dated September 28th last year, which was when party representatives met in Pyongyang. The following day the state-run news agency announced the charter had been revised to strengthen the party’s leadership and enhance its role in the army.

But specifics were not revealed, nor has the new charter been publicly issued.
Specialists on North Korea, including some in the intelligence community, who have seen the copy of the revised charter, say they have no reason to doubt its authenticity.

Government officials and academic analysts in Seoul say one of the changes to the charter allows the head of the party to also run the Central Military Commission, ensuring that one person is able to control all military and state affairs. Kim Jong Un, who is in his late 20’s, co-chairs the commission along with 68-year-old Army Chief of Staff, Vice Marshall Ri Yong Ho.

Cheong Seong-chang is a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, which studies South Korean defense and foreign affairs policy. He says the change means Kim Jong Un will have full authority to control the military and the country should his father suddenly die.
For those of you who read Korean (and full disclosure: it would take me an entire afternoon to slog through this document), the PDF is right here. I'll see if I can get my Kindle to read it.

Now the obvious questions are: What does this mean? Is it the real deal? If it is real, has anything changed since it was issued? Has it ever been implemented or was it merely a draft? Who knows about it? Is it possible this "unreleased" document was leaked so that the North Korean security apparatus, ahem, could see where they need to plug things up?

In my theory whereby the Young General is the Kim Who Wasn't There, there is still room for Kim Jong-il to try to get his son to succeed him, and this may genuinely be a document meant to do that. But then we have to ask ourselves: Is he really in a position at this point to ram that through?

Finally, I leave you with this. Go to the KCNA site and look at the dates for the news (English here, Korean here). Go on, I'll wait. I've got last week's Community in my Hulu queue and I'm willing to wait. Okay, do you notice anything different from the official North Korean news site and the supposed North Korean super secret government charter document?

That's right, kiddies, the VOA document is missing the Juche date (주체 100년), while the English and Korean news sites include both the Gregorian calendar date (2011년) and the Juche date. That's quite an oversight on the part of whomever is trying to ensure that Fat Boy's Kin is going to rise like cream to the top.

But what do I know? I still think Kim Jong-il might be around until at least the middle of this decade.

Daily Kor for January 23 and 24, 2011

More news on the Somali pirate raids. The Marmot's Hole has video of the operation to retake the Samho Jewelry, while AP reports that the successful recapture of ships by South Korean and Malaysian naval forces may be changing how nations deal with pirates (although the EU says that such raids endanger the hostages).
  1. After raid frees Samho Jewelry crew, Somali pirates vow to kill South Korean hostages if they are captured in future (ReutersChosun Ilbo)
  2. South Korea defeats Iran, 1-0, in Asian Cup quarterfinals, faces Japan in semifinals (YonhapChosun Ilbo, Joongang Daily)
  3. Bank of Korea may upgrade growth outlook for 2011 (Yonhap)
  4. Lee administration mulls development of vaccine for foot-and-mouth disease (Yonhap)
  5. Seoul's cultural programs for international residents fall victim to budget cuts (Yonhap)
  6. South Korean Internet speeds fastest in world, seven times global average (Korea Times)
  7. iPhone sales top 2 million in South Korea (Joongang Daily)
  8. Op-ed: With recapture of ROK vessel from Somali pirates and Korea Republic defeat of Iran in Asian Cup, are South Koreans pissing off Muslims too much? (Korea Times)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Orange County Crime Story of the Day: Hindus threaten to kill California governor

That's the apparent message from graffiti found in Orange County this week. Readers of Monster Island are no doubt aware that the symbol above is not the Nazi swastika but the Hindu swastika. Perhaps the Hindus are angry that Governor Jerry Brown spent some of his inter-Sacramento years studying Buddhism in Japan instead of Hinduism in India.

Or maybe it's Christians pretending to be Hindus threatening to kill Jerry Brown on February 14 to protest how Christmas has turned into a second Valentine's Day in places like Japan and South Korea.

Or maybe it's Hispanics in Santa Ana (incorrectly) using the swastika as a White power symbol to make it look like the Tea Party folks are threatening the governor.

Or maybe it's actual Tea Party members trying to make it look like it's illegal Hispanics trying to make it look like the Tea Party folks are threatening the governor.

Or maybe ...


And speaking of news and posts from 2010, "M" (who is from Kansai) just sent me the above BBC snippet (via YouTube) with only the following message:
It is sad that BBC treated the victim of the atomic bomb as a joke.
Indeed, I wrote about Tsutomu Yamaguchi just over a year ago, when he passed away and the above clip was broadcast. With my most recent trip to Hiroshima Peace Park still fresh in my head at that time, I don't imagine I would have found the BBC piece all that amusing.

Kushibo the Link Whore Pimp's Best of 2010

You'll forgive me if I'm about three weeks behind on my end-of-year/new-year stuff, but one thing I wanted to do is make a few "Best of 2010" lists.

And I thought I'd start with a list of favorites from my favorite blogs, which (in no particular order and not an exhaustive list) include One Free Korea, Brian (formerly) in Chŏllanamdo, The Marmot's Hole, and ROK Drop.

But this is a list not of my favorite posts from my favorite blogs, but a list of favorites from those bloggers themselves. In December I wrote to those bloggers and several others and asked them for just such a list. It's just my way of giving back.

Brian (formerly) in Chŏllanam-do:

Wangkon of The Marmot's Hole:

Joshua Stanton of One Free Korea:

Some of my favorites from Monster Island:
  • 金 = gold (the article is so-so, but I really liked the headline)
I realize that's a long list, but I did produce 1145 posts last year.

Anyway, I did ask a few other bloggers for contributions, but I got no response (in all fairness, end of year is a bad time to ask anyone anything). I am happy to entertain additions to this list. 

Daily Kor for January 22, 2011: Kicking arse

As a strong believer in the Pax Americana's ability to keep Northeast Asia stable and (mostly) prosperous, I have also been a strong supporter of South Korea (and Japan) doing its part for the US-ROK alliance by helping patrol the sea lanes that the US, South Korea, Japan, and their neighbors rely on. And the ROK Navy's commandos have shown exactly why they're up to the task. There's a lengthy discussion going on about that at The Marmot's Hole. (At the same time, I wonder what's up with them having taken over the ship off the coast of Oman and not Somalia; I hope that's not a sign of lawlessness taking over yet another failed state.)
  1. ROK Navy commandos storm South Korean freighter hijacked by Somali pirates, killing eight pirates (LAT, AP via WaPo, CNN, Bloomberg, UPI, Yonhap, Korea Times, Joongang Daily, Chosun Ilbo)
    • President Lee Myungbak suggests raid is message to North Korea that no attack on South Korean citizens will be tolerated (CSM)
  2. South Korean minister jailed for unauthorized visit to North Korea (BBC, Yonhap, Joongang Daily)
  3. National Human Rights Commission of Korea calls for legislation on North Korean human rights and independent archive to investigate, collect, and record human rights violations in DPRK (Korea Times)
  4. Hawaii Department of Agriculture warns travelers from South Korea to be careful about spread of foot-and-mouth disease (Drovers)
  5. Smokers in Seoul City Hall Plaza to be fined W100,000 (Korea Times)
  6. Korean tourists to Japan at all-time high despite threat of Ninja bear attacks (WSJ)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Dear Kushibo

Ah, what's in today's mail bag?

Dear Kushibo,

I like making my girlfriend dress up as characters I've seen in various anime, and lately I've been having her wear those "circle lenses" contact lenses that make her eyes look really, really, really big (and very much like the anime characters I've come to love).

I'm wondering, though, if this will lead to any long-term vision problems for her. And if so, will it happen sooner or later? I'm not sure how long I'll keep dating her, so if it's later rather than sooner, then it's not really a big deal.

Avid Anime Aficionado
- + - + - + - + - + - + - + - + - 
Dear Avid,

She'll go blind.

Daily Kor for January 21, 2011:
Imagine there's no doorman (story #7)

What? Too soon?

Anyway, what is it with the Washington Post that whenever there is a news story talking about how North Korea did something dangerous and South Korea is responding by stepping up its defense, they show pictures of protestors (like this one above, many of them chinboistas) protesting South Korea, as if it is the aggressor?
  1. South Korea agrees to hold high-level military talks with North Korea (LAT, UPI, WaPoAP via NPR, WSJBloombergKorea Herald)
    • Seoul to propose date next week (Yonhap)
    • White House calls development "positive" (AP via WaPo)
    • US warns China if Beijing does not rein in Pyongyang, Washington may redeploy forces in Asia (Reuters)
  2. Seoul and Washington revealed to be in bilateral attacks that would allow South Korea greater freedom of missile development (UPI)
  3. South Korea welcomes Hu-Obama expression of concern about North Korean uranium enrichment program (UPI, Joongang Daily)
  4. Two killed as two light planes collide near Ulchin (Yonhap, Korea Herald)
  5. Facebook agrees to strengthen protection of personal data (Joongang Daily, Korea Herald)
  6. Presidential panel recommends "Human New Deal" of hybrid of "universal" welfare services and selective ones (Yonhap)
  7. South Korea tourist arrested for trespassing in Yoko Ono's apartment building (Korea Herald)
  8. Seoul National University mathematicians say dolmens are proof that ancient Koreans invented pi (CSM)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What Obama and Hu say about Korea

Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here are the highlights:
I told President Hu that we appreciated China’s role in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and we agreed that North Korea must avoid further provocations. I also said that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program is increasingly a direct threat to the security of the United States and our allies. We agreed that the paramount goal must be complete denuclearization of the peninsula. In that regard, the international community must continue to state clearly that North Korea’s uranium enrichment program is in violation of North Korea’s commitments and international obligations.
Well, that's pretty much it for the Korea-related stuff. There's more, of course... currency issues, trade, etc. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Hu Jintao a dictator, which was apparently a no-no. We all know it, but nobody says it, since I guess nobody had sat Hu down and had "the talk."

Daily Kor for January 20, 2011:
See the ROK in your Chevrolet!

It's been talked about here and here, and it looks like GM has finally done it: It has decided to scrap the Daewoo name in GM Daewoo and rename it GM Korea to reflect the global company of which it is a crucial part, and then rebadge most Daewoo vehicles as Chevrolets. And this kinda makes sense, as a great deal of GM's R&D happens in Korea, and one-fourth of all Chevrolets sold around the world are made in Korea.

And let's face it, the name Daewoo still has the air of death to it. (And speaking of defunct cars, I just got done paying $900 to have the timing belt and a few other belts replace don my Honda Passport, which was built in an Isuzu factory in Indiana.)
  1. General Motors rebrands GM Daewoo vehicles as Chevrolet (Reuters, Bloomberg, Yonhap, Korea Herald)
  2. Twitter makes Korean its seventh language (PC Magazine, Joongang Daily)
  3. South Korea positive on outcome of PRC-US summit (Yonhap, Korea Herald)
    • Hu and Obama call on North Korea to stop provocations and stick to commitment to denuclearize (Yonhap, Korea Times)
    • China reportedly cut off oil to North Korea to prevent further attack on South (Korea Times
  4. Boeing in talks with Korean Air over delivery of first 787 Dreamliners (Reuters)
  5. Hyundai unveils latest version of Grandeur/Azera (Korea Herald)
  6. Samsung buys Dutch panel maker Liquavista (WSJ)
  7. Models show off Sungman's latest iCantbelieveitsnotaniphone (PC World)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Daily Kor for January 19, 2011

So, Chinese President Hu Jintao is in Washington to meet with US President Barack Hussein Obama. We shall see what, if anything, comes about regarding North Korea. My hope of hopes is that Mr Obama maintains his tough stance on Pyongyang (likely), and Mr Hu comes around and says that, yeah, they need to rein in the thugs in North Korea while nudging them toward economic and political reform and eventual unification with the South (likely they'll say it, less likely they'll do it).
  1. Seoul worried Obama will cave on North Korea during Hu visit (CSM)
  2. North Korea reportedly hit by foot-and-mouth disease also plaguing South (BBC)
    • South Korean cull of 2 million cows and pigs bring cattle futures to record high (Bloomberg)
    • South Korean cull amounts to 15 percent of pig and cow population (Bloomberg)
  3. South Korea reaches quarterfinals of soccer's Asian Cup (AP via WaPo, Reuters)
  4. Beijing refutes claims of Chinese troops in North Korea (People's Daily)
  5. South Korea to turn Five West Sea Islands into "military fortresses" by 2015 (Korea Times)
  6. Economy Minister-designate admits to tax evasion, denies real estate speculation (Yonhap)
  7. Global sanctions reportedly hurt North Korean exports (UPI)
  8. South Korea think tank says North Korea spends one-third of economy on military (Reuters via Yahoo!)
  9. Starbucks test-markets new trecento size, multi-toilet restrooms (NYT)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Daily Kor for January 18, 2011

I suppose if you're actually in South Korea, the big news is the deep freeze. With a low of -17°C (1.4°F), probably nothing else matters. In the above picture, a ferry in the foreground plays the role of icebreaker. [photo source]
  1. Seoul expresses hope that Hu-Obama summit will bring "serious change" in North Korea's attitude (UPI)
    • North Korea says continued South Korean military exercises "very dangerous" (Xinhua)
  2. KRW trades on two-month high (Bloomberg)
  3. In wake of Samho Jewelry, Seoul pledges to better protect ships at sea (Yonhap)
  4. Government to mandate military outsourcing of non-combat services in bid to boost management efficiency (Yonhap)
  5. Culture Minister-designate denies allegations on real estate speculation (Yonhap)
  6. Education Ministry announces plans to push ahead with alternatives to corporal punishment, while pushing ahead with controversial teacher evaluation system (Yonhap)
    • Policies conflict with local government policies (Korea Times)
  7. Las Vegas bookmakers say novelty team has better chance of winning Asian Cup than Korea Republic's actual team (ESPN)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Daily Kor for January 17, 2011

Above is the Samho Jewelry, the vessel hijacked by Somali pirates yesterday. In other, wholly unrelated news, the captain of India's national team at the Asian Cup has said that South Korea is the Manchester United of Asia.
  1. South Korean warship pursues hijacked freighter Samho Jewelry (Yonhap, CSMABC News)
    1. Foreign Ministry says crew confirmed to be safe (Yonhap, BBC)
  2. Bitter cold sets records in South Korea (UPIYonhapJoongang Daily)
  3. Meeting with Japanese foreign minister, ROK President Lee Myungbak says United Nations should discuss North Korea's uranium enrichment program (Bloomberg, Yonhap)
  4. North Korea fined $2000 for failure to bring a player to Asian Cup news conference (AP via WaPo)
  5. North Korea again urges renewal of dialogue with South Korea (Bloomberg, Yonhap, UPI)
  6. South Korea's trade surplus hits record high of $41.2 billion in 2010 (Yonhap)
  7. Anti-English Spectrum pressures Korea Tourism Organization to fire David from popular ad campaign after accusations of public drunkenness; says unqualified cartoon will also be investigated for marijuana use and HIV harboring (OhMyNews)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

China to send troops to Inner Cháoxiān Autonomous Region

[Yonhap graphic showing location of Rajin/Najin port (라진/나진, 
aka Rasŏn/Nasŏn or 라선/나선) in relation to China]

Peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula — defined in practical terms as Beijing pulling the plug on its support for the Pyongyang regime and allowing Seoul to absorb the DPRK without incident or interference — may have just gotten a lot harder. For the first time since 1994, China will station troops in North Korea, to protect the port facilities it is developing in Rasŏn (also known as Rajin or Najin).

From AFP:
China is in discussions with North Korea about stationing its troops in the isolated state for the first time since 1994, a South Korean newspaper reported Saturday.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted an anonymous official at the presidential Blue House as saying that Beijing and Pyongyang recently discussed details of stationing Chinese soldiers in the North's northeastern city of Rason.

The official said the soldiers would protect Chinese port facilities, but the location also gives access to the Sea of Japan (East Sea), while a senior security official was quoted as saying it would allow China to intervene in case of North Korean instability.

A spokeswoman for the Blue House said she had no information, while China's defence ministry declined comment to AFP on the matter this week.

"North Korea and China have discussed the issue of stationing a small number of Chinese troops to protect China-invested port facilities" in the Rason special economic zone, the unnamed official was quoted as saying.

"The presence of Chinese troops is apparently to guard facilities and protect Chinese nationals."

China reportedly gained rights in 2008 to use a pier at Rason, securing access to the Sea of Japan (East Sea), as North Korea's dependence on Beijing continues to grow amid a nuclear stand-off with the United States and its allies.

The last Chinese troops left the North in 1994, when Beijing withdrew from the Military Armistice Commission that supervises the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean war.
I couldn't find the Chosun Ilbo article they were talking about in English or in Korean [UPDATE: Destination Pyongyang has a Korean-language link in their excellent treatment of this news, and the Chosun Ilbo now has the story in English]. And I'm quite curious how many constitutes "a small number." In a nation of 1.3 billion, who knows?

We've already talked about development of these port facilities and the multi-billion-dollar economic package of which they are a part, what I call the "Manchurianization of North Korea." As a crucial element of its own attempt to reform North Korea, China is pressuring the Pyongyang regime to adopt Chinese-style economic reforms that will help integrate its economy with the PRC's northeastern provinces along its border with North Korea (that, I have been saying repeatedly, is the real story the Western media should be paying attention to instead of the supposed rise of the Kim Who Wasn't There™).

And what China gets out of it, they hope, is a stable satellite state (if not future territory, the Inner Cháoxiān Autonomous Region), along with coveted access to the East Sea (Sea of Japan). This is not something China will give up lightly, especially now that there will be PLA troops in North Korea to maintain their position no matter what happens to the DPRK government. I guess that's all the more reason to consider the solution I outlined just yesterday, which would be to preemptively grant China access in a unified Korea, in exchange for them stepping back and letting the Pyongyang regime collapse and Seoul pick up the pieces.

Perhaps there is some way to turn this big new wrinkle in our favor. One can't imagine that the North Korean citizenry is any fonder of foreign troops in their country than their fellow-traveling chinboista counterparts are in the South. So let's make this an issue in the propaganda we send to them. Lincolns, Hamiltons, and Jacksons have just enough room in the margins for a message like, "Kim Jong-il has allowed Chinese troops to occupy northern North Korea right now." Tie those to a mylar balloon and — boom! — instant disgruntlement.

Of course, fomenting such xenophobic antipathy would mean US troops would be rather unwelcome in the former DPRK once reunification occurs, but a big part of the aforementioned plan is to keep them out of the North anyway.

Daily Kor for January 16, 2011

I guess in Somali algebra, ROK = ATM. Yet another freighter (read: not a fishing boat that can be claimed to have been poaching in Somali waters) has been hijacked by Somali pirates. For once I'd like to see some ROK Marines take over the vessel (but not if it means getting the hostages killed... I guess it's not that easy... maybe that's why this hostage-taking and hijacking is so profitable, I s'pose).

Meanwhile, here's a bit of good news from the Korean War, which ended 57-1/2 years ago: two Filipino soldiers declared missing since the Forgotten War have been found, alive. They are 81-year-old Francisco Salac, 81 and 83-year-old Victoriano Manalastas. Not sure what to make of that.
  1. 11,500-ton South Korean freighter with twenty-one crew aboard hijacked by Somali pirates in Arabian Sea (AP via WaPo, UPI, ReutersBloomberg, Joongang Daily)
  2. Meeting in Seoul, South Korean and Japanese Prime Ministers present unified front against North Korea (AP via WaPo)
    • Japanese FM Seiji Maehara urges North Korea to take concrete action and improve ties with Seoul (Yonhap, Korea Times)
    • ROK National Security Adviser says North Korean regime faces "internal demise" unless it yields to global pressure (PBS, AP via WaPo
  3. China reportedly to station troops in North Korea, for first time since 1994, to protect Chinese port facilities (AFP)
    1. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warns of "disconnect" between China's military and civilian leaders (BBC)
  4. North Korea to set up government body to fulfill strategy for new ten-year economic development plans (YonhapReuters via CNBC, Economic Times)
  5. Kim Jong-un steals dad's magic purple-flared jacket, runs country for one day (Chosun Ilbo)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Is China's fear of irredentism holding up Korean unification?

Among the pantheon of North Korea watchers, Selig Harrison is a laughable character. When he's not justifying acts of murder while playing the role of Pyongyang's mouthpiece, he's making proposals that the US unilaterally take South Korean territorial waters and hand them over to North Korea, a move that had me wondering if he was a paid shill for Kim Jong-il.

So naturally I assumed Mr Harrison's latest piece in the New York Times, "China's North Korea calculations," would be more chicanery*. But assumed just makes an ass out of you and your meds, so I figured I should at least give the guy a fair read; after all, I have found myself in agreement with Mr Harrison on at least one occasion. And as it turns out, this may be another one of those times:
Two standard explanations are generally offered to explain why China is reluctant to put pressure on North Korea, whether the issue is nuclear weapons, the sinking of a South Korean Navy vessel, or the shelling of Yeonpyeong [Yŏnpyŏngdo] Island: China’s fear of instability if North Korea implodes, with the resulting massive flow of refugees across its borders, and China’s appetite for North Korea’s vast reserves of iron ore, magnesite, copper and other minerals.

Both of these explanations are valid and important. But more basic geostrategic factors, as well as latent separatism among ethnic Koreans in China’s border region, are also behind its approach to the Korean peninsula.
Of course, the notion that ethnic Koreans in the eastern Kando region (salmon-colored in the map below) may seek to have their region rejoined with a unified Korea, or that Seoul itself might seek to regain that territory, is not a new idea. It pops up from time to time to time, and I myself have written about the prospect (here, and more recently here and here).

In fact, I have been suggesting for at least the past decade that China might be quietly concerned about such a prospect, to the point that they may have lowered the official number of ethnic Koreans in the region (it was reported as about one million in the early 1990s, but it may be as high as ten million). Mr Harrison explains in more detail what he sees as China's current concerns:
Another little-noted factor that has surfaced in my conversations in Beijing over the past four decades is the fear of nascent Korean nationalism among the 2.5 million Koreans who live in the three northeastern provinces of China contiguous with North Korea.

[PRC map of Korean-speaking areas]
What has made the political potential of its Korean minority worrisome to Beijing is the linkage between the Koreans of northeast China and cultural movements in South Korea such as the Damul Institute. China is aware that damul means “reclaim all,” and the founder of the Damul Institute, Ki Joon Kang, has written of the “Korean people’s fervent hopes to recover our lost land.”

In recent decades, the Damul Institute regularly took well-financed delegations consisting largely of South Korean businessmen on tours of northeast China designed to stimulate an awareness of the area as part of the Korean heritage and a good place for Korean investment. More than 100,000 people went on these tours after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Seoul in 1992.

The vigor of the Damul movement, which in the 1990s claimed 50,000 members, led Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng to protest against its activities at a meeting in 1995 with visiting South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hong-koo. Damul spokesmen then became more circumspect, emphasizing cultural objectives and denying any irredentist goals.
Well, that certainly complicates things. Seoul officially makes no claim to the region, and Pyongyang has settled its border with Beijing, so ROK officials should make clear to their PRC counterparts that irredentism will be supported in no way whatsoever. Though freedom of speech (a concept which Beijing is not familiar and with which Seoul is only recently acquainted) precludes South Korean authorities from shutting down groups like the aforementioned Dhamul, officialdom should in no way be supporting them. Kando should not become Korea's Aztlán.

Of course, non-support of this irredentism is one of several assurances Seoul will have to hold its nose and make to Beijing in order to convince the Chinese to stand back when/if North Korea collapses and South Korea takes over. Among them, Washington and Seoul should already be giving hints that US forces will remain in a newly reunified Korea (the Pax Americana being the greatest source of peace and stability northeast Asia has had in a very long time) but that the Americans will not be stationed anywhere north of a certain point well to the south (e.g., Pyongyang, the current DMZ, or 38°N). While I'm loath to kowtow to China on Korea-related policy, it's merely a pragmatic realization that China wants its psychological buffer, and it would be a shame to prolong the agony of the people in North Korea when a simple solution presents itself. (And it goes without saying that no agreement between Washington and Beijing over Korea should come at Taiwan's or even Japan's expense, but that's another matter.)

A premise of my argument is that China alone has the ability to pull the plug on the current regime, or at least to turn out the lights for a while, and that we might be able to convince them to do so if (a) North Korea becomes such a danger and/or embarrassment for them that they see this as a favorable course of action, and (b) we make it worth their while. Again, this may mean more holding of one's nose.

China seems to have decided that Manchurianization of North Korea — reforming the North's economy while integrating it with China's northeastern provinces — is the best way to go, and they have started investing billions of dollars in the DPRK (this is almost criminally neglected by the Western press as they get their panties wet writing about Kim Jong-il's supposed rise to power). Simply put, China will not allow North Korea to absorbed by South Korea unless it has assurances that their investments will be protected.

And even then, I'm not so sure. That's because, more importantly, China's recent involvement in North Korea's economy may have also given it something it has long coveted: access to a seaport on the East Sea (aka Sea of Japan). Mr Harrison himself brings this up:
A more immediate factor in China’s strategic calculus is that it hopes to get access to the Sea of Japan for the first time by helping to develop a new North Korean port at Rajin.

China is also interested in keeping Russia and Japan from making inroads into the North.
I don't see China being so concerned that Russia (which is just north of Rajin) or Japan (just cross the sea) are getting involved in North Korea (given that Chinese-style reforms are their goal), as much as I think they just want that port. Access to the ocean near where China, North Korea, and Russia meet means Chinese ships have considerably less distance to travel on their way to North America. It gives an impetus to plans to develop exporting industries in Manchuria. And like Gollum grasping that dastardly ring even to the point of plunging into a pit of molten lava, they won't give up something so precious that they are so close to having. [UPDATE: It appears that North Korea will allow Chinese troops to be stationed in the DPRK for the first time since 1994, ostensibly to protect their new port facilities in Rajin.]

So why not give it to them? Yeah, this is one of those creative compacts that could solve everything, like Tokyo giving up all claims on Takeshima Tokto in exchange for Seoul's tacit approval of a 200-nm EEZ around the remote Okinotorishima: If Beijing supports a peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula, Seoul agrees to give China a 99-year lease of a strip of land on the Tuman River, not so far inland that seagoing ships cannot reach it and with guaranteed access to the sea, that can be developed into a major port and a railway corridor to China's interior.

How's that for a grand bargain? Beijing just might go for it, given their familiarity with 99-year leases. Just make sure the handful of North Koreans who are displaced from their homes are very well compensated, Korea still has a border crossing with Russia for both rail and road, and China is not granted an EEZ in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) from this concession.

So in conclusion: The thing to do now is to entice China to stop supporting the Pyongyang regime and to make things easy for South Korea to absorb the North, by (a) assuring Beijing that US troops will not be on China's border, (b) a unified Korea will forego any irredentist attempts to assume territory now under PRC control, (c) China's investments in the former DPRK will be protected and honored by a future unified Korea, and (d) if China plays nice it will be rewarded with access to the East Sea (Sea of Japan).

And if that works, I deserve the Nobel Peace Prize more than President Obama did two years ago.

* I kid you not: Sarah Palin thought a chicanery was a place where they produced Chicanos. Okay, I'm kidding.