The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Author: Robert Koehler (page 1 of 585)

Open Thread: Mar. 16, 2015

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Bukseong Pier, Incheon. More photos at my Tumblr blog.

Hope you all had a good weekend.

BREAKING: Would the nice wackjob PLEASE stop attacking ambassadors. Thank you very much.

U.S. ambassador Mark Lippert was reportedly injured in an attack this morning by a knife-wielding, war-opposing, Dokdo-protecting assailant:

Kim slashed the right side of Lippert’s face opening a five centimeter gash while shouting that South and North Korea must be unified and the military training to prepare for war must halt.

Kim shouted “Oppose the war” as he was taken away in the police car.

Lipper was sent to Kangbuk Samsung Medical Center as he was severely injured and bleeding from his face and arm.

The kicker is, the guy had been arrested before for throwing a chunk of concrete at the Japanese ambassador in 2010.

UPDATE: The attacker apparently got a suspended sentence for the attack on the Japanese ambassador. Oh, and he also tried to light himself on fire in 2007 as a call to investigate a 1988 attack on the headquarters of the pro-unification civic group he now heads.

The ruling party, meanwhile, is calling the attack an “attack on the Korea-U.S. alliance” and promised to get to the bottom of it. Translation: expect more arrests.

UPDATE 2: Well, on a positive note, at least Kim was well dressed, although I’m not sure about the pink-yellow combo.

UPDATE 3: According to the Hani, some of the participants at the event Lippert was attending were wondering how the hell Kim – a well-recognized troublemaker – was able to get in. No doubt the U.S. side will be wondering, too.

Oh, and President Obama called the ambassador to wish him well, too.

UPDATE 4: The ambassador’s a trooper.

And back to Mr. Kim. On his blog, he apparently lists as “disklikes” the Taft-Katsura Memorandum and that Korea was divided because of the “American and Japanese bastards.” On his wishlist, he apparently wants South and North Korea to both use “Corea” and, of course, reunification.

UPDATE 5: This piece has a Nifty graphic of how the attack went down.

And interestingly enough, Ambassador Lippert was an intelligence officer with SEAL Team 6, although his last deployment might not necessarily have been voluntary.

Open Thread: March 1 Edition

Happy March 1 Independence Movement Day, folks.

Open Thread: Feb. 7, 2015

Yes, I’m still alive. And I see light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

Photo: Ikseon-dong, Seoul

Open Thread: Feb. 1, 2015

Have a good Sunday, folks.

I’m gonna go pray against the Pats now.

Photo: Changsin-dong neighborhood.

Open Thread: Jan. 25, 2015

Sorry for posting this late: busy week.

Photo: P-road in Ihwa Mural Village

Open Thread: Jan. 17, 2015

Beautiful day today.

Enjoy the weekend, folks.

Open Thread: Jan. 10, 2015

Lovely day today. Hope you’ve all enjoyed it!

Photo: Mt. Samgaksan at sunrise this morning, seen from the Gongneungcheon Stream.

First Open Thread of 2015

Have a good weekend, folks.

Odds and Ends: Jan. 2, 2015

- So, it seems like the leaders of the two Koreas want to talk. Kim Jong-un says the North is open to high-level talks with the South, which is nice, because Park Geun-hye wants to improve relations with the North, with her unification minister proposing on Dec. 30 high-level talks with the North. Still, Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s address wasn’t all rainbows and puppy dogs:

But the address also indicated the North’s resolve to strengthen military power in the face of ever-growing international pressure over not only its nuclear program but also its dire human rights record and more recently its alleged cyberattack on Sony Pictures over “The Interview,” a comedy film about a plot to assassinate Kim. His past two New Year speeches focused more on economic growth.

The Korean National Diplomatic Academy affiliated with Seoul’s Foreign Ministry assessed in its 2015 outlook that despite potential “surprise factors” including an inter-Korean summit, Kim could reinforce its “national, institutional tools of violence” to tighten his grip. A small exchange of fire across the border, such as over a launch of anti-North leaflets by South Korean activists, could escalate into a bigger military clash, it noted.

North Korea is not in a good place right now – the Korea Herald quotes the Korea Institute for National Unification as saying KJU’s New Year address “reflects North Korea’s sense of crisis both internally and externally,” while South Korean officials warn that North Korea has sometimes followed up positive speeches by ratcheting up tensions and launching provocations. At any rate, North Korea has a couple of conditions it would like met before talks begin – it would like a suspension of military drills between South Korea and the United States, and end to South Korea’s plans to unify Korea by absorbing the North (a.k.a. “we don’t like the Presidential Committee for Unification Preparation“), and for Seoul to stop going around saying bad things about their fellow Koreans (i.e., the UN resolutions condemning North Korea’s human rights violations). Still, I suppose we’ll see how things go.

– A speech analyst commissioned by the Dong-A Ilbo said while Kim Jong-un sounded more confident and stable in this year’s address than he had in the past, his breathing pattern indicated a lung capacity problem. He also said KJU is imitating his grandfather, former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung, less than he used to

Whitecaps, snowy rocks and the good ship ROKS Sejong the Great. Very dramatic.

– Over the past two years, 159 women have gone missing in Suwon. There are a million people in Suwon, so I have no idea if that’s a high number of not. This is being brought to our attention, however, because another Chinese-Korean was recently arrested for another brutal murder/mutilation (although police have tentatively ruled out that her organs were illegally harvested). Police have stepped up patrols in five districts in Suwon with large foreign populations, a move criticized by some as unfairly stigmatizing foreigners as potential criminals. Oh, interestingly enough, the family of the victim of the latest killing will not receive compensation from the Korean government – such compensation, provided under the Crime Victim Protection Act, is provided to foreigners only when a reciprocal agreement exists in the foreigner’s home country.

– “Nut-gate” villain Heather Cho is very, very sad. Her sister’s been forced to apologize, too, for a very unwise text message.

Photo by Travis.

Happy New Year, Folks!

First sunrise of 2015, seen from Seonyudo Park.

More photos of the sunrise can be seen at Ye Olde Photoblog.

Goodbye, 2014

Photo: Last sunset of 2014, Janghwa-ri, Ganghwado

Unease about Korea-U.S.-Japan intel sharing agreement

Remember that military intelligence sharing agreement between Korea and Japan that got cancelled an hour before the signing agreement in 2012?

Well, we’ve got a new one. And this one won’t be cancelled before signing because it’s already been signed.

There were no smiling photo ops or handshakes when the U.S., Japan and South Korea kicked off their trilateral intelligence-sharing pact aimed at improving defenses against North Korean missile threats.

The defense ministry in Seoul confirmed at a regular press briefing on Monday—not at a joint signing ceremony—that the three-way pact had taken effect, keeping a low profile on the deal.

“The deal allows Seoul and Tokyo to share information only indirectly via the U.S.—an arrangement that reflects the strained Korean-Japanese relations,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.

“Keeping a low profile” is one way to put it. “Sneaking it past the Korean public” might be another way.

This pact differs from the aborted 2012 pact in that it’s a trilateral one with the United States, which will play the role of middleman:

The trilateral arrangement allows Seoul and Tokyo to share military secrets on North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats via the U.S., which has bilateral military intelligence sharing accords with each of the two Asian countries.
[…]
South Korea and Japan, however, do not directly share sensitive information under the pact, an arrangement that reflects the bitter memory of Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45.

When the South Korean and Japanese defense ministries intend to share secret information between them, they can do so by providing the information to the U.S. based on the accords, according to the agreement.

The conservative press has been largely supportive of the agreement, which is not surprising because they liked the 2012 one, too. The JoongAng Ilbo writes – quite reasonably, IMHO – that Seoul and Tokyo need to compartmentalize when it comes to historical issues and matters of security cooperation:

The three-way security pact will bring more accurate information on North Korean nuclear and missile dangers. South Korea now has access to Japan’s intelligence through their reconnaissance military capabilities in space, sky, sea and land. Tokyo is also said to have a powerful network of sources in North Korea. With North Korea nearing the stage of weaponizing nuclear bombs into missile warheads and capable of shooting missiles from mobile launchers, intelligence resources have become crucial. Security readiness should not be associated with any past issues or public sentiment.

The Korean Defense Ministry said the trilateral information sharing is limited to intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear abilities and missiles and unrelated to the U.S.-led missile defense program. The government should make it clear to the public that its latest move does not indicate participation in the U.S. missile defense program that is being protested by China and Russia. At the same time, Seoul should use the momentum to improve ties with Tokyo. Tokyo should first offer a genuine apology in the thorny issue concerning wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women during the upcoming vice ministerial meeting in Seoul.

The Dong-A Ilbo argues likewise:

It would be wise to separate national security from history issues to jointly cope with common threats. Equipped with surveillance satellites, strategic patrol aircrafts and Aegis destroyers capable of precisely tracking movements at North Korea’s nuclear test sites, missile bases and transporter erector launchers, Japan is partly ahead of South Korea in capabilities for conducting surveillance on the North. If the sharing of Japan’s intelligence with South Korea and the United States would reduce blind spots in surveillance over North Korea, making it easier for them to immediately react to the situation in the event of an emergency.

Those on the more left-wing side of the aisle are not huge fans of the agreement, in regards to both its content and the manner in which it was concluded. The Hankyoreh, for instance, didn’t like it when it was first announced, and it really didn’t like it when it found out it had already been signed. To sum up its complaints:

  • The Defense Ministry pushed this agreement in secret with no effort made to get public support.
  • By defining the agreement as one between military authorities rather than one between governments, the administration is attempting an end run around the National Assembly, in violation of a 1999 Constitutional Court decision declaring all agreements regarding national security subject to parliamentary approval.
  • The United States took a leading role in pushing the agreement because it’s trying to build a trilateral military alliance against China. The agreement is also connected to the U.S. missile defence initiative.
  • By defining North Korea as a common enemy and sharing intelligence, the agreement helps Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambitions to make Japan a military power. It also gives Japan more room to exercise “collective self defense” on the Korean Peninsula.
  • Korea doesn’t get anything out of it. Seoul can get the intel it needs on North Korean nukes and missiles from the Americans. It doesn’t need Japan, which the Hani doesn’t think really has that much to offer in regards to intel gathering on the North anyway. Instead, Japan is likely to grow more arrogance about historical issues.
  • Did we mention that China won’t like this? Nor will North Korea, which will likely strengthen its nuke and missile capabilities. Oh, and the agreement could lead to a “new Cold War structure” with the United States, Korea and Japan on one side and North Korea, China and Russia on the other.
  • This deal is a “poison apple,” the price Korea has to pay in return for the United States accepting the delay in the transfer of wartime operational control.

Similar complaints can be read in the Kyunghyang Shinmun.

Mind you, it’s not just the lefties who think the way the intelligence sharing deal got done is problematic. The Chosun Ilbo – who seems to likes the idea of the agreement – penned an editorial yesterday blasting the government for pushing the deal in secret and essentially lying about when it was signed. The United States signed the deal on Dec. 23, and Korea and Japan signed on Dec. 26, meaning for four days, the Ministry of Defense said nothing about a deal in the works – in fact, it was only after the Japanese press reported on it that the ministry confirmed it, leading the Chosun to wonder if the government would have told us at all if the Japanese media hadn’t told us first. To make matters worse, when the ministry did tell the public on Dec. 26, they explained it would be signed and go into effect on Dec. 29 (and in fact, the vice minister’s signature is dated to Dec. 29), when in fact it had been signed on Dec. 26. And no report was made to the National Assembly until the day the agreement went into effect. The Chosun warns that the Defense Ministry’s dishonesty will only heighten suspicions at a time when there is wariness regarding Korea possibly joining the U.S. missile defense regime and Japan’s military ambitions.

Not that you asked my personal opinion about the deal, but I guess I feel about it the way I feel about the recent U.S. deal with Cuba. As for the Cuba deal itself, I suppose I can get behind it. As for the secret manner in which it was negotiated, well, that I’m not so sure about. There’s a time and place for secret diplomacy, of course. As the Brookings Institution’s Martin S. Indyk told the NYT in regards to the Cuba deal, “Negotiations are like mushrooms: They grow in the dark. That’s especially true of negotiations between longtime adversaries, where the domestic politics on both sides make it impossible to reach a deal if the negotiations are conducted in public.” I’m just not sure the intelligence deal with Japan was the aforementioned time and place. At the very least it seems you’d want to give the National Assembly at least a couple of days to debate the merits of a deal like this before it gets signed.

Photo from U.S. Pacific Fleet.

‘Hate speech’ a.k.a. when eating pizza is a crime

Over at the Korea Herald, Claire Lee has penned a piece on hate speech, hate crimes and Korea’s lack of hate speech and anti-discrimination laws.

Much of the focus of the piece is on Ilbe, a right-leaning online group discussed here before. While I certainly condemn firebomb attacks on anyone, even against alleged pro-North Korean sympathizers, and think folk who praise such acts of wanton mayhem probably should sit down and seriously reflect for a while, I found some of the ideas expressed in the Korea Herald piece quite disturbing, frankly, from a civil liberties perspective.

Over at The Korean Foreigner, John Lee – lovely gent whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently – did a superb job, IMHO, of looking at “hate speech” and “hate crimes” from an informed libertarian perspective. In it, he points out something I think is quite important:

Hate crimes and hate speech often get lumped together, but I think it is important to distinguish the two. For one, the former is an act that is committed against another individual that violates his right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. On the other hand, the latter is simply a form of speech – though admittedly one of the more vile types.

I think most of us can agree that firebombing a lecture or attacking a leading conservative politician with a razor (as happened to now-President Park Geun-hye in 2006) should not only be condemned, but the people who engage in those acts should serve lengthy prison sentences. I fail to see, however, why, say, eating pizza in front of hunger strikers should be considered a crime. Professor Choung Wan of Kyung Hee University Law School argues that it should be, however, and for reasons I find quite chilling:

However, Choung Wan, professor at Kyung Hee University Law School, said both the terror attack by Oh and the “binge-eating” protest against the Sewol victim’s father, can be clearly viewed as acts of hate crime.

“Expressing your opinion is one thing,” the law expert said in a phone interview. “But if you are hurting others in the process, it’s called violence and discrimination.”

Like Choi, Choung also said it is important for South Korea to promulgate comprehensive legislation against hate speech crimes, as the country is becoming more diverse socially, ethnically and culturally.

“Hatred often consists of regional prejudice and this is also linked to racism,” Choung said.

“And there is no ‘natural’ way of combating prejudice. For many, it does not go away ‘naturally.’ That is why we need to regulate hate speech. Seemingly innocuous prejudice may snowball into more pernicious forms (when expressed and shared by many), and result in dangerous consequences.”

Banning speech in an attempt to shape the way people think is the very definition of Orwellian Newspeak. And while it is bad to “hurt other people” in expressing your feeling – indeed, it’s illegal – “hurting other people’s feelings” should not be the standard by which we legally define the limits of speech in a free society.

I do realize there is a fine line between “free speech” and “incitement.” But even with the latter, it seems we must very, very careful in how we assign blame with even seditious speech, especially when legal sanctions are concerned. One of my favorite conservative commentators, National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke, discusses this very issue in regards to the recent shooting of two New York City police officers, which has sparked a similar debate over the limits of acceptable speech in the United States:

That being said, the suggestion that those who chanted these words somehow “caused” or are “culpable” for the actions of a killer strikes me as a real stretch — as, for that matter, does the proposition that “anti-police protestors” bear some sort of collective “responsibility” for what happened on Saturday. Unless I am very much mistaken, nobody who chanted their death-wishes proposed any concrete action whatsoever. Nobody singled out a target or discussed tactics or agreed to return later with weapons. Nobody established a training camp or organized a rendezvous point or planted a bomb. Indeed, nobody did anything much at all. As is now clear, there were no ”mobs” or “groups of rioters” involved in the murders at all. Rather, some members within a group of peaceful protestors said something terrible (if abstract), and a troubled man in another locale went on a killing spree. Were these two events in some way correlated? Perhaps, yes. There is no doubt that the man intended to target cops in New York. But can we establish causation, or even blame? Nope.

All told, those of us who value robust free expression should be extremely reluctant to so casually transmute “there may have been a vague connection between these words and these actions” into “those who spoke the most forcefully are morally culpable and their entire movement should be shunned in consequence.” This latter approach was preposterous back when Sarah Palin was blamed for the shooting of Gabby Giffords. It was bizarre when the shooting at the Family Research Council was blamed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (sophomoric) “hate map.” It was farcical when the Isla Vista shooting was blamed on “white privilege” and “rape culture.” It was ridiculous when Timothy McVeigh was blamed on “militias” or on talk radio. And it is wrong in this case, too. Words, as ever, do not pull triggers, however harsh those words may be.

Photo by kungfubonanza.

KCNA irony alert

On a related topic – the Constitutional Court’s dissolving of the left-wing United Progressive Party – North Korea’s KCNA has weighed in. This is not surprising, of course, but I did find this bit mildly interesting (HT to you-know-who-you-are):

Park, figured herself a bandog, revenged herself upon the UPP for campaigning against her during the “presidential election”, which arouses much criticism even from the Amnesty International and other international human rights bodies.
[…]
The decision on the UPP disbandment only lays bare the political backwardness of south Korean society before the international community.

Clearly the KCNA hasn’t read what Amnesty has to say about their bosses.

UPDATE: In the comments, John Power writes:

Irrespective of the merits or otherwise of hate speech legislation, this particular discussion seems almost academic given the endless ways in which Korea already regulates expression. It’s already a crime — not a civil matter — to “defame” someone by speaking the truth, to insult someone, to speak ill of the dead, to praise North Korea. The list goes on.

From my perspective, there is relatively little appreciation of freedom expression at the legal and — yes, controversial though it may be to say — societal level. Korea is not an individualistic society. Certainly, there is nothing remotely comparable to the American tradition. But more than that, I genuinely wonder if there is a developed country anywhere with comparably weak protections of speech. (There may be, but I imagine Korea would give it fair competition.)

Now, to be fair, Korea’s defamation laws are widely misunderstood – telling the truth will rarely, if ever, get you convicted for defamation, even if the powerful frequently use defamation laws to harass critics (admittedly a big problem). That said, I suppose one could find it odd that given the restrictions on speech already in place – in regards to reputation, North Korea, etc. – that hate speech laws aren’t already in place.

Here a cyberwar, there a cyberwar, everywhere a cyberwar cyberwar

Some major North Korean websites, including Uriminzokkiri, a North Korean cyber university (who knew!) and some other propaganda sites are reportedly still down – all these sites apparently have their servers in China.

Sites using the domain .kp such as the Rodong Shinmun and KCNA and some pro-North Korean sites in Japan and the United States, however, seem to be working properly. Or at least that’s what the news, says – they are blocked in South Korea, so I can’t verify.

Anyway, although nobody is officially taking credit for the attacks, North Korea seems pretty sure who the culprits are, and they are expressing their displeasure in, ahem, earthy language:

In a statement Saturday, North Korea’s ruling body, the National Defense Commission, said Obama was “the chief culprit” for the movie’s release.

“Obama always goes reckless in words and deeds like a monkey in a tropical forest,” an unnamed spokesman for the commission said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

As opposed to monkeys that hang out in temperate forests and Japanese hot spring resorts. Which I’ve always wanted to see.

Anyway, this is not the first time North Korea has used simian comparisons to refer to the American head of state. You’ll recall that in May, the KCNA contributed this bit of reporting around the time of President Obama’s visit to Seoul (see also here):

The Korean only article, comprising the direct opinions of four local North Koreans, said Obama resembled a “monkey“ and that Park, who hosted him during his recent visit to Seoul, was a “whore”.

“How Obama looks like makes me disgusted,” Kang Hyuk, a worker at the Chollima Ironworks Factory said when translated into English.

“As I watch him more closely, I realize that he looks like an African native monkey with a black face, gaunt grey eyes, cavate nostrils, plump mouth and hairy rough ears.

“He acts just like a monkey with a red bum irrationally eating everything – not only from the floor but also from trees here and there…Africa’s national zoo will be the perfect place for Obama to live with licking bread crumbs thrown by visitors,” Kang concluded.

Jung Young Guk of the DPRK Ocean Management Office said the timing of Obama’s visit – so soon after the sinking of the Sewol ferry – was difficult to understand, adding that Obama had a “disgusting monkey look even though he is wearing a fancy suit like a gentleman”.

They also referred to him as a “mongrel,” which on the bright side, at least suggests that in this politically divisive would we live in, there are still things the KCNA and Ted Nugent can agree upon.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, South Korea’s left-leaning Hankyoreh is a bit worried about the North Korea-U.S. cyberwar driving up tensions at a time when they think the two countries should be working to improve relations. Mind you, they do criticize the North for, well, calling President Obama a monkey and, ironically, making “The Interview” more popular with its criticism of it. But they also criticize the United States for concluding the Sony hack and terrorist threats were North Korea’s doing without solid evidence (Marmot’s Hole: fair enough) and criticized President Obama for praising Sony decision to release the film (Marmot’s Hole: OK, whatever). More important, they said if the United States is responsible for the attacks on North Korea’s Internet network (Marmot’s Hole: good luck getting Washington to cop to that – hey, maybe it ain’t – and even if it is those dastardly Yanks, good luck to the North Koreans trying to prove it), Washington will come under international criticism because shutting down an entire country’s Internet network is on a whole different level from the Sony hack and not the “proportional response” promised by President Obama (Marmot’s Hole: Honestly, I’m not sure how much international sympathy North Korea is going to get here).

The right-leaning Dong-A Ilbo, on the other hand, thinks South Korea should develop the hacking capabilities to overwhelmingly retaliate against the North for its suspected hack of the South’s nuclear power plants like the Americans did in response to the Sony hack.

New cyber security laws?

Which brings us to the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP) hack, the cyber-incident that’s been of much more important to South Korea. KHNP says its headquarters is still under attack but the country’s nuclear power stations are safe. The state of the nation’s cyber-security, however, doesn’t leave many folk reassured – in an editorial, the JoongAng Ilbo says if cyber-security isn’t isn’t strengthened, we could even see something like what happened in “Live Free or Die Hard.”

Which I thought was cool, because they cited “Live Free or Die Hard.”

Boosting the number of people dedicated to cyber-security is especially urgent, says the JoongAng, particularly as it pertains to Korea’s 32 nuclear plants. Korea has just three folk dedicated to crafting and overseeing cyber-security technology for Korea’s nuclear power plants, just one sixth the recommended number. It has another nine technicians on the ground. The United States, meanwhile, has 40 people overseeing cyber-security for the country’s 105 nuclear power plants, and Britain has 15 for its 31 plants. The paper suggests the military consider building a “cyber-Talpiot” program in which engineering students would work on developing cyber-security technology while doing their military service.

The ruling party, meanwhile, is trying to pass a cyberterrorism prevention law that would create a national cyber safety center to operate under the direction of the NIS. In light of the KHNP hack, the ruling party is particularly keen to get the bill passed as soon as possible, arguing that Korea needs to build a comprehensive national security system – with the participation of both the government and private individuals – at a time when cyber-attacks were growing more sophisticated. The opposition, however, is arguing that the NIS already has a cyber-security center – created in 2004 – that was supposed to be taking care of these problems but dropped the ball. They see the law as an attempt by the government to avoid taking responsibility for its security failure. The root of the problem, they say, is that the people tasked with protecting cyber-security aren’t properly using the regulations and organizations they already have, and perhaps if the NIS’s cyber-security folk weren’t so busy interfering in politics during the last presidential election, maybe cyber-attacks like this wouldn’t have happened. Ouch.

Anyway, the JoongAng Ilbo has an editorial (in English) supporting the legislation, while the Hankyoreh has one against (in English). Read them at your own leisure.

Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy.

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