The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Author: Anonymous_Joe

Daum and Kakao Are On a First Name Basis

Kakao Corp. and Daum Communications announced that they will adopt the anti-hierarchical office culture of Kakao Corp.  after their merger in October.  All workers and executives will be required to call each other by English first names:  “Some 1,600 employees currently at Daum will choose a new English name for this, and by doing so, we hope to further promote the two firms’ work ethics that prioritize openness and active participation as well as create a synergy effect between the two groups.”

From Yonhap: “Of course, it may feel weird or awkward for people to call each other by a foreign name, but we’ll see how this system settles in when business begins at the new Daum-Kakao in October,” said Kang Yukyeong, a communications official at Daum.

From Korea Times:  “All workers at Kakao call co-CEO Lee Sir-goo by his English first name Vino.”  Kakao employee Dallas said he felt “‘kind of awkward’ when he first joined Kakao about six months ago.  ‘It didn’t take so long before I became used to being called my English name and calling others by their English names. I realized we are encouraged to make active communication in the office even with CEO.’”

State-sponsored Arirang News broadcast a piece, IT companies in Korea change corporate culture to promote innovation (video starts at 9:02):  “Could the seemingly minor changes bring about real changes to Korea’s innovation potential?  A recent innovation index ranked Korea 16th out of 77 countries– higher than Japan or China.   But when it came to the so-called tolerance index, which measures how much a society tolerates different values and thoughts, Korea was ranked near the bottom at 62.”

The C- Word

News sources and quoted experts cited the move as an attempt to counter Confucian culture:

Yonhap stated in its article,”addressing employees of different ranks by their first name is uncommon in South Korea, where corporate culture is often perceived as rigid and is operated along regimented and hierarchical lines, a reflection of the country’s Confucian roots. Such hierarchy at workplaces is palpable in local companies….”

Arirang News aired a (translated) statement from Kim Jae-hee, Professor of Psychology at Chungang University, “if we look at our Confucianist culture, we were taught that there is a right answer to everything. We were never taught to look for new answers. To foster creativity, we need to learn that there isn’t just one correct answer to everything and understand there could be multiple answers.” 


Arirang posed an interesting question: “Could the seemingly minor changes bring about real changes to Korea’s innovation potential?”  

If so, how effectively and at what social or cultural cost?

I suspect that the change in some Korean major players’ corporate culture will carry over to Korean corporate culture in general.  When casual Fridays and then casual dress came into corporate culture, employees liked and perceived it as a benefit.  Employers saw casual dress as a no-cost benefit, and companies that resisted discovered how much the labor marketplace valued casual dress.  I suspect that young, professional Korean talent will similarly place a value on casual address companies.

Will this spillover into wider Korean culture and be the end to Korea’s deeply rooted hierarchical culture?  I think ‘yes’, and we are witnessing a seminal moment.

Chosun Ilbo: Koreans ‘to Become Extinct by 2750′

In today’s lead story at the Chosun Ilbo (Korean), the National Assembly Research Service announced the results of a projection based on a simulation that Korea’s population faces extinction by 2750 if the current low birthrate persists.  A New Politics Alliance for Democracy lawmaker, Yang Seung-jo, requested the projection.

The National Assembly Research Service based its projection on the assumption and apparently assumed that last year’s birthrate of 1.19 children per woman would continue.  “David Coleman of Oxford University warned back in 2006 that Korea’s low birthrate is so serious that it could become the first nation in the world to become extinct.”

Under the National Research Service’s projection, Korea’s present population of 50 million will contract to 40 million in 2056, to 20 million (“similar to the population in 1930 during the Japanese occupation”) in 2100, to 10 million by 2136, to three million by 2200, to one million by 2256, “…gradually becoming extinct over the next 500 years.”

The National Assembly Research Service on Friday said, “should last year’s birthrate of 1.19 children per woman continue, Korea’s population of 50 million will… become extinct by 2750.”

excerpted the following from the Chosun Ilbo article:

Barring a major population migration within the country, the southern port city of Busan would be the first to become empty of people, according to the simulation. The last survivor of Busan will be born in 2413, and the last Seoulite in 2505.  Busan is not only graying rapidly, but is seeing a rapid decrease in the number of young and middle-aged residents.


The National Assembly Research Service apparently employed a sophisticated algorithm in formulating their projection.  I spent considerable time between two consecutive sips of coffee to reverse engineer their algorithm from their results.  The  assumed 1.19 birthrate per woman means that the number of new births would halve with each generation.  Halving 50 million a little over 25 (∼25.76) times results in one.  So in approximately 25 generations, and if I assume 30 years per generation, or 750 years from now, Koreans will become extinct on the Korean peninsula.  That’s how the “simulation” projected the year 2750.

Absurdity such as the above is the reason I belabor methodology in my posts about studies.  Every bit as important as results is the methodology in obtaining those results.  I can make any study say anything I want by altering the methodology.

…which brings me to the real points of this blog entry:

  1. To what end did the NPAD lawmaker want the results of this study to show that Koreans will go extinct by 2750?  (Follow the money, but to where will it lead?)
  2. Why did a newspaper whose ideology so closely aligns with the rival Saenuri Party publish such a ridiculous result for this NPAD lawmaker?  (OK, this one might be easy.)
  3. How do I gets me some of that government large-ass for publishing studies with results so transparently beholden to some interest that any sense of shame I would normally feel is easily assuaged by that sweet large-ass?  (Seriously.)

Seoul 16th on Forbes The World’s Most Influential Cities List

A Forbes Magazine article, The World’s Most Influential Cities, hashed a summary of Joel Klotkin (et al.)’s findings in Size Is Not the Answer:  The Changing Face of the Global City.

London ranked first, and New York “ranked 2nd… in an essential statistical tie with London with virtually identical scores.”  Paris came in a distant third.

Here is a list of the top 20:  1) London.  2) New York.  3) Paris.  4) Singapore.  5) Tokyo.  6) Hong Kong.  7) Dubai.  8) Beijing.  8)Sydney.  10 Los Angeles.  10) San Francisco Bay Area.  10) Toronto.  13) Zurich.  14) Frankfurt.  14) Houston.  16) The Randstad (Amsterdam Area). 16) Seoul. 16) Washington Metropolitan Area.  19) Shanghai.  20) Abu Dhabi.  20) Chicago.

The report listed the top 51 world cities (see Appendix A).  Notable for their poor representation were BRICS (Beijing, Shanghai, 23- Sao Paolo,  31 – Johannesburg, 31 – Mumbai, 34 – Delhi, 47 - Guangzhou), Africa (Johannesburg, 47 – Lagos), and South America (Sao Paolo, 44 – Buenos Aries).

The report’s stated goal in ranking cities was to address “a growing need to re-evaluate which (cities) are truly significant global players and which are simply large places that are more tied to their national economies than critical global hubs.” Rather than rate cities by more traditional criteria, the authors concluded that “these new global hubs thrive not primarily due to their size, but as a result of their greater efficiencies.”

What are those new criteria?   Cities were assessed based on the following eight categories: 1) Air Connectivity.  2) Diversity.  3) Foreign Direct Investment. 4) Corporate Headquarters. 5) Producer Services. 6) Financial Services. 7)Technology and Media. 8) Importance of city as a strategic location or hub for key global industries not otherwise measured above.  The authors claim their rankings differ from other global cities surveys because they “focus on criteria that are directly relevant to a city’s global economic impact and power… when discussing the concept of the ‘global city’, global economic power is the sine qua non ingredient.”

Blah, blah, blah… So, What About Seoul?

Although the report did not state the relative weight given to each criterion, I surmise that Seoul did well in corporate headquarters and financial services.  Seoul ranks seventh in the world measured by value of shares traded in metropolitan area stock exchanges.  (New York is number one and trades in value as much as the other top 10 combined (see Figure C-1).  Seoul likely scored well in technology.  Korea is the most-wired nation in the world and has a tech-savvy netizenry.  Media, however, is a mixed bag.  Korea scores very high in its export of popular culture, but if media means print and broadcast news sources… Yikes!)

Other Findings (and my opinion of how Seoul stacks up):

“Global hubs are helped by their facility with English…. English dominates the global economic system… This linguistic, digital and cultural congruence poses concerns for major competing cities, including those Russia and mainland China.”  (…and Korea.  For whatever the reason, Korea’s investment in English has not matched its return vis-a-vis other Asian countries.)

“Since the late Enlightenment, great cities, often built around markets, were typically places not just for the rich and their servants, but also for the aspirational middle and lower classes. A great city, wrote Rene Descartes in the 17th century, represented ‘an inventory of the possible’.”  (Seoul seems every bit the promised land or land of opportunity to Koreans and perhaps Asians of every stripe save Japanese.)

“These global cities reflect a new model of urbanism that… rests on a simple economic formula: please and lure the ultra-rich, so that with the surplus wealth they generate, you can then serve the rest of the population.” (One word:  Chaebols)

“Much has been written about the emergence of powerful new cities, particularly in East Asia, but it is critical not to overlook the enormous power of historical inertia. ‘It is inevitable’, a manager at Shanghai’s Guotai, a large Chinese investment bank, boasted to the Washington Post, ‘ that we will take the US’s place as the world leader.’ Yet, it will be a long time, perhaps decades or even longer, before any city on the Chinese mainland approaches the global influence of the long-established global hubs.”  (I found their findings of “historical inertia” in their “new” approach ironic though consistent with their findings.  Historical inertia from yesteryear presently works against Seoul, but as the world becomes more aware of the Miracle on the Han and recent years become yesteryears, historical inertia will work for Seoul.)

One of the report’s appendices presented a summary of findings and a special section that noted the ascendancy of East Asia, Fighting for the Future: The Battle for East Asia, singled out Tokyo, Seoul, and China.  “It seems likely that the primary challenge to the New York–London duopoly will come from East Asia.”

The report found Tokyo “no longer ascendant, but still important.”  The authors based their conclusion on two critical factors:  “the relative decline of the Japanese economy paired with the simultaneous rise of China (and other emerging economies like Korea).”   They found a third critical problem in Japan’s “cultural insularity—something that could have been overlooked when Japan dominated Asia’s economy, but now a severe liability going forward.”  Relating this to Seoul, I think that the rise of the behemoth that is China’s economy, the long-term decline in and aging of Korea’s population, and Korea’s cultural insularity will similarly work against Seoul’s ascendancy.

Here’s the special section on Seoul (see Appendix C):

Seoul Makes a Bid

Given the growth of the Korean economy and the expanding footprint of that country’s large conglomerates, Seoul must be considered a de facto global city.  Yet, like Tokyo, the Korean capital, although gaining in terms of the number of foreign residents, lacks the demographic diversity of a London or New York; few foreign large companies locate their regional headquarters in Seoul.  Due to major global players such as Samsung and Hyundai, Seoul is ranked 4th, tied with Paris, in the total number of Forbes 2000 global headquarters.

“Much has been written about the emergence of powerful new cities, particularly in East Asia, but it is critical not to overlook the enormous power of historical inertia. ‘It is inevitable’, a manager at Shanghai’s Guotai, a large Chinese investment bank, boasted to the Washington Post, ‘ that we will take the US’s place as the world leader.’ Yet, it will be a long time, perhaps decades or even longer, before any city on the Chinese mainland approaches the global influence of the long-established global hubs.”

Although I am happy for the boost in international prestige both the report’s (and Forbes Magazine’s) ranking and underlying criteria represent for Seoul, I can read into them caution for the rest of Korea.  A South African magazine’s observation about London’s ranking - why this is flattering, worrisome and deceiving - could easily and even more so apply to Seoul’s:

It’s almost 18 years since Newsweek magazine’s “London Rules” cover trumpeted the triumphs of what came to be dubbed Cool Britannia. Two years after that, though, the magazine ran an “Uncool Britannia” piece illustrating how little of the capital’s glamour had been distributed across the rest of the nation. London as a city-state is great for the capital city, terrible for the rest of the country. There needs to be greater decentralization, even if that saps a little of London’s swagger on the global stage.

Finally, the report, admittedly, ranked cities only by global influence factors and omitted quality of life considerations (you know, things that people rather than governments and global corporations find intrinsically critical):

Other surveys measure different things and weigh factors that we do not consider intrinsically critical. For example, the Mercer Quality of Living Survey and the Monocle Quality of Life Survey are focused on lifestyle in the city. These surveys frequently rank smaller cities such as Vienna (1st in the Mercer survey) and Copenhagen (1st in the Monocle survey) very highly, but these are generally not the most important or dynamic business hubs. It is notable that Monocle’s and The Economist’s headquarters remain in London, despite the city’s low score in quality of life rankings. Clearly, there is a difference between ease of living and economic dynamism.

A Google News search of “forbes ‘world’s most influential cities’” reveals that the piece got picked up by news outlets around the world (particularly in U.K., U.A.E., Russia, South Africa, and Australia).  The Toronto Star, in Canadian fashion, published an opinion piece, Others see Toronto as a success. Why don’t we?  Interestingly, I didn’t find a single U.S. paper that reported on the piece. I’m sure Korean media will soon pick it up.

Pyongyang’s Non-(?) Reaction, North Korean Catholicism(!), and Lankov

Solidifying North Korea’s already dominant position as the more comically entertaining of the two Koreas, Pyongyang reacted to speculation that the three short-range rockets fired off the east coast before Francis’s arrival and the two launched shortly after were in reaction to the Pope’s visit:

“We don’t know and in fact have no interest at all in why he is traveling to South Korea and what he is going to plot with the South Korean puppets,” Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim In-yong, a North Korean rocket scientist, as saying in reference to the pope.

The real question, the report quoted Mr. Kim as saying, was: “Why of all the days of the year, as numerous as the hairs of a cow, did the pope choose to come to the South on the very day we had planned to test our rockets?”

Reading between the lines, I see that North Korea has developed, to what diabolical end I do not know, a strain of nearly hairless cow with precisely 365 hairs in most years.  I will continue to monitor North Korean media for references to Kim In-yong or infer in lack thereof that Mr. Kim and his kin got sent to gulags for letting slip state secrets in South Korea’s most widely read English-language blog dealing with Korea-related topics.

Surprisingly (certainly to me), the Catholic Church does have a presence in North Korea.  Known as the “silent church”, Pyongyang has sanctioned one Catholic church, which has no official ties to the Vatican and is led by an itinerant South Korean Father John Park who has traveled to Pyongyang once a year since 2000 to celebrate mass.  The State maintains strict controls, and I doubt that Father Park administers the sacrament of confession:  “a confidential one-on-one conversation between a South Korean — even if that person is a priest — and a North Korean is impossible and both could be accused of espionage.”  North Korea has not a single priest residing in the country.  The United States claims North Korea’s few state-run churches exist only for the appearance of religious freedom.

As for numbers, the United Nations estimates about 800 Catholics in North Korea while North Korea’s state-run Korean Catholic Association asserts about 3,000 “registered Catholics.”  I wonder the reason for the North’s higher number, especially given that the regime is officially atheist.

Members of North Korea’s religious groups and the groups themselves are often criticized as being fake.   Here’s MH favorite Andrei Lankov’s take:

“The North Korean government is tolerant of a small controlled religious presence within the country or is willing to fake such presence,” said Andrei Lankov, an associate professor in social sciences at Kookmin University in South Korea.

“Even if some members are true believers, they are selected by the government. The police authorities, the secret police, is checking your background,” he said.

North Korea’s constitution does allow its people to practice religion. However, in the same constitution, it also says it won’t allow it to be “used for drawing in foreign forces or for harming the State or social order.”

Dr. Lankov concluded, “from their (North Korea’s) point of view, it is a very real threat. Right now, Christianity seems to be their most dangerous ideological challenge to the existing regime.”

I would like to ask him whether Christianity in general or Catholicism specifically is the threat.  We have seen in our lifetimes the irresistible political force, even to the Soviet Union and a well-backed Communist state and party, that the Catholic Church and pope can be.  I wonder could the next pope be Asian or even Korean?

For the Pope’s final mass on Monday for “peace and reconciliation for the Korean peninsula”, Vatican representatives had invited North Korea to send a delegation.  North Korea rejected the invitation.  The state-run Korean Catholics Association cited the annual joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces as the reason for rejection.  Apparently as fervently as they might feel about the Pope, North Korean Catholics feel even more so about the annual joint military exercises.

Is South Korea the Coolest Place on Earth?

Author and Wall Street Journal Online columnist Jeff Yang wrote a piece published by CNN Opinion in which he posits that South Korea, no longer Hong Kong or Japan, is the Asian nation at the center of cultural cool.

So, is Korea cool du jour or can Korea kewl stay even after school?

That’s a question Euny Hong addresses in her new book, “The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture.”

“I think it can,” she says. “The difference between cool Korea and earlier Asian pop culture waves is that Korea has been working to make this happen for almost two decades. Korea is cool because it decided to be cool — it’s the first country in history that has made being cool a massive policy priority, backed by the Korean government to the tune of billions of dollars.”

The fact is, the machine of Korean pop culture is as sleekly designed, systematically engineered and massively marketed as any Samsung gadget. It’s not just a gigantic money-making industry, it’s also the primary source of “soft power” by which the nation seeks to shorten its path from war-torn, third-world country to the top ranks of world influencers.

“Koreans have a deep-seated desire to see the nation recognized and validated,” Hong says. “We study harder than anyone in the world, we work more hours, and it’s all because of this need to see us finally come on top.”

Jeff Yang continues,

Japanese cool is quirky, the sum of the nation’s eccentricities. Hong Kong cool is frenetic, representative of the society’s freewheeling striving spirit. American cool is casual: It’s cool that’s anchored in doing without trying, it’s about being quintessentially effortless.

By contrast, Korean cool could not be more effort-ful.

…and in illustrating his point, he diverges with mine:

The hypnotic appeal of K-pop videos are not just their candy-colored, otherworldly aesthetic, it’s also because their performers — sometimes numbering in the dozens — are invariably dancing in perfect sync, with a level of precision possible only because candidates for K-pop glory are recruited as adolescents and trained for years in groups that are required to live, take classes, eat, sleep and rehearse together until they’ve achieved a transcendent level of harmony.

“It all underscores the fact that the rise of Korean cool was hardly an accident — and that it could well have staying power.”

It can if, like those technocrats in a planned economy, the pop culture makers can continue to guess right or throw money at marketing or throw increasingly more money at marketing their mistakes.  History’s lessons are full of semi-successful-for-three-years five-year plans doomed after so many succeeding and less successful five year plans ran those ministries into the dust heap.

The forced analogy makes me wonder, can cool be dictated by the decidedly uncool?  I have commented often (as recently as today) on the long-term faptastic mistake that I think the femmebot, (shall we say) compliant sort of K-pop that the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) subsidizes for export is.  At best the girl groups will be laughingly remembered in dorm rooms as their target cohort matures into university students.  At worst, they will resuscitate a hard-lost image of objectified Asian women.  All the while the corporativism that is the alliance between the MCST and the Ministry’s preferred big entertainment companies are missing Korea’s vibrant and talent laden hip-hop, rap, and dance scene

OK, so the author and I disagree about what is cool and even whether Korea can stay the  (as pronounced with a long ‘e’) it girl after the carriage turns into a pumpkin.   As things stand he and the ministry are right, and the validity of my opinion is yet to be determined.  Still Jeff Yang hit upon a larger, more important trend in Korea, though he missed the forest for the trees:  Korea’s MCST is writing the how-to manual for emerging countries to market themselves and project their soft power.

Brand Korea, which I sometimes use derisively, is a self-marketing juggernaut.  Korea’s branding prowess extends far beyond pop culture.   For example,  Korea recently gained recognition for Namhansanseong as a UNESCO world heritage site, which brings Korea’s total to  an impressive 11.  The Korean marketing machine is the real story here.

Read Jeff Yang’s full opinion piece at CNN.com

UPDATE:  I found an article, Korean Cool Is The Ultimate National Marketing Ploy written by Euny Hong, author of the above cited book in Newsweek Online.  She provides a brief, interesting bit of why:

“Very few countries have ever attempted to sell their pop culture to the United States. Even Japan didn’t try,” says Lee Moon-won, one of Korea’s most prominent cultural critics. So why would Korea focus its efforts on popular culture? Why not stick to cars and semiconductors?

The answer lies partly in the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-1998, which left the country economically crippled, forcing the government to request a $57-billion loan from the IMF. The crisis exposed a huge fault line in the Korean economy: it was too dependent on the nation’s chaebols….  The government of then-president Kim Dae-jung realised it had to diversify.

…Was the president out of his mind? Building a pop culture export industry from scratch during a financial crisis seems like bringing a Frisbee instead of food to a desert island. …The creation of pop culture, Dae-jung argued, doesn’t require a massive infrastructure; all you really need is time and talent.

Read the rest of her article here.

Open Thread: August 10, 2014

I hope you are enjoying the overall pleasantest summer in Korea I remember.

Open Thread: July 27, 2014

Enjoy the remainder of your weekend!

Random Crap…

…Uncle Marmot might have found interesting if he had had the time.

A Ewha University student, Kim Seo-Yeon, won the Miss Korea 2014 pageant and will represent the Korea in the Miss World 2014 scheduled for December in London.  The Korea Herald noted that “Kim boasts her Western-style figure ― she is 172.8 centimeters tall and weighs 52.4 kilograms.”  Directly quoting and referencing the Korea Herald statement, US based Cosmopolitan wrote about 7 Things That Happen in a Korean Pageant That Would NEVER Happen in an American Pageant  including “contestants’ weights as well as their chest, waist, and hip measurements are posted on the official Miss Korea website…. Which legitimate news outlets later discuss.” 

Gusts of Popular Feeling commented on a report in the JoongAng Ilbo that the Seoul Central District Court had sentenced former NET Quincy Black to two years and six months in prison for “contravening the Law for the protection of children and youth by producing and distributing pornography.”  According to Gusts, “if Quincy Black’s sentence seems light, the Kyunghyang Sinmun states that one reason for the relatively lax sentence is that he deposited 9 million won for his victims.”

The JoongAng Ilbo reported that prosecutors indicted Seoul Metropolitan Councilman Kim Hyung-sik for arranging the murder of a “wealthy 67-year-old businessman and landowner who allegedly paid him kickbacks for political favors and was threatening to expose him.” Wealthy businessman Song allegedly paid Kim W520,000,000 (approx. USD 500,000) for Kim’s “help with the rezoning of Naebalsan-dong from residential to commercial use. …In fact, the area was not eligible for rezoning, which Kim knew but did not reveal to Song.”  …Oh, the double duplicity.

A South Korea-born former Iowa State university scientist, Han, pleaded not guilty to charges alleging that he falsified research for an AIDS vaccine to secure millions of dollars in federal funding. “According to the indictment, Han’s misconduct caused colleagues to make false statements in a federal grant application and progress reports to NIH. The NIH paid out $5 million under that grant as of last month. …Experts say it is extremely rare for criminal charges to be brought in cases of scientific fraud, but that Han’s alleged wrongdoing was extraordinary.” Han seems to have also imported another peculiarity, the wheelchair strategy. “I’m sorry to hear about your car accident and I‘m glad you’re out of the hospital,‘’ Magistrate Judge Celeste Bremer said.

Will the farmer who stumbled upon Yoo Byeong-Eon’s remains collect the W500 million bounty for reporting the discovery?  “…many legal experts believe the man, identified as Park, will not be able to get entire W500 million because he reported to the police without knowing that the body was Yoo’s.  …Police directives stipulate that reward money can be paid to anyone who contributes to the capture of a criminal. A prosecution official said, ‘The criminal does not have to be alive for the person who reported it to get a reward, but in this case he will be able to get it only if he suspected that the body was Yoo’s and gave meaningful help to investigators.’”

Compounding a compounded matter for authorities, a leaked photo (do you really need a warning?) of Yoo’s heavily decomposed body went “viral through portal websites and mobile instant messengers, prompting the police to launch an investigation into the person who leaked the photo.  ‘The leaked photo is part of the investigative filings by police,’ admitted an official of the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, who requested anonymity. ‘The cyber crime division of the Seoul Police Agency is going after the leaker.’ ”

The Sewol Ferry Tragedy/Yoo Byeong-Eon investigation claimed more casualties and has dominated the news.  On Tuesday, Suncheon (site where Yoo’s body was found in a plum field) police chief Woo Hyung-Ho got sacked by his superiors who did not appreciate his frankness for comping to a botched investigation.  Following Woo’s dismissal, the head of Jeonnam Provincial Police Agency Jeong Soon-do was relieved from his position Wednesday.

Thursday (yesterday) Choi Jae-kyung, chief of the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office and the senior prosecutor leading the investigations into Yoo and the ferry’s sinking, tendered his resignation  for bungling both to Prosecutor General Kim Jin-tae.  “Choi, 51, is a veteran prosecutor who built a reputation by leading a series of high-profile corruption cases. He handled slush fund cases involving Hyundai Motors in 2006 and the Lone Star tax evasion case in 2007, which earned him the nickname ‘the Best Blade.’ He also led investigations into bribery cases involving the elder brother of late President Roh Moo-hyun and Park Yeon-cha, chairman of Taekwang Industry Co.”

The Korea Herald reported today that Choi’s superiors, the justice minister and chiefs of the two major law enforcement agencies, have been pressured to step down from their posts.  “Lawmakers say that Choi’s superiors should also be held accountable. Among the targeted officials are Justice Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, Prosecutor General Kim Jin-tae and National Police Agency Commissioner General Lee Sung-han.”  All this on top of the prime minister who had resigned only to be asked to stay on “because the presidential office [couldn't] find a qualified third candidate for the job”, leading frequent MH poster bumfromkorea to exasperate “don’t tell me they didn’t have anyone else left after they filtered the ‘corruption’ and ‘Pro-Empire’ categories out.”  

Today, Korean authorities took the extraordinary step and held a nationally televised press conference to announce the findings of Yoo Byeong-Eon’s autopsy in finally an effort to appear transparent.

All this makes me wonder what the gift that keeps on giving… or taking… will bring tomorrow?

It’s been a rough week.

Let the Conspiracy Theories Begin

Police announced today that they had found Yoo Byeong-Eon’s badly decomposed body on June 12, nearly six weeks ago:

The chief of police in Suncheon, Yoo Hyung-ho, told reporters that the body was 80% decomposed when an autopsy was started June 13, a day after the body was found. Yonhap said the body was found in a plum field in the city of Suncheon, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of Seoul.

He said authorities were able to match DNA from the body to the billionaire and also used a fingerprint from the right index finger.

Water cooler talk has centered around the timing.  Just yesterday, I spoke to several who noted that this coming Thursday would mark the 100-day anniversary since the Sewol Ferry tragedy.  At least one had intended to attend a planned candlelight march and demonstration in Seoul.  Today she expressed incredulity at the timing of the announcement with the upcoming July 30 elections, the farmers’ rice protests, and again the 100-day anniversary and planned candlelight march.

Others expressed dismay with the wasted effort and resources in searching for a dead body six weeks in police possession.  Lest readers forget that Korea had conducted a nationwide (and international) manhunt for Yoo Byeon-Eon, I have been by the Evangelical Baptist Church’s Geumsuwon compound in Anseong at least twice since June 12, and police searched every vehicle that passed on Rte. 38, backing up traffic for a kilometer.  Police had a considerable and convincing show of uniformed officers at that location.

I note that the linked article stated that Korean authorities had identified Yoo Byeong-Eon’s badly decomposed body by his DNA and a fingerprint from his right index finger.  I understand the toxicology reports can take up to six weeks and even that DNA test results, however long they take, might not be immediate, but six weeks?

I can come up with no reasonable explanation for the delay in announcing the results of the fingerprint match.

Finally, I understand (in my admittedly limited understanding of Korean culture) that inquiries into fault and wrong-doing of those who commit suicide come to a halt.  I remember RMH’s suicide, which in effect ended the investigations into his alleged dealings.  I wonder whether Yoo Byeong-Eon (if he indeed committed suicide) will be afforded the same courtesy.

UPDATE:  Suncheon police chief Woo Hyung-Ho (identified as “Yoo Hyung-ho” in the cited article above) admitted to a botched investigation:

“Woo acknowledged that investigators had also been slow in connecting the body with the fugitive businessman.

It was found just a few kilometres from a villa Yoo was known to have used, and next to the corpse was a bag containing an autobiography Yoo wrote in prison in the 1990s.

“We admit that … the investigations on his belongings were imperfect,” Woo said.

“We could have identified him far earlier if we had worked more actively,” he added.

“Woo’s frankness was apparently not appreciated by his superiors and shortly after the press briefing it was announced that he had been removed from his post as police chief.”  Ouch.

State-owned Arirang news reported that the DNA tests took so long because the badly decomposed body necessitated that DNA be sampled from his bones.   Arirang also reported that Yoo’s body was found wearing a “high-priced” Italian made winter jacket, a hat, and no shoes and lying near a bag etched with “Love like a Dream” (the title of his authored book), alcohol (Yoo was said to be a non-drinker),  parts of a copy of his book, and a brand of bottled water owned by Yoo’s company and that he drank exclusively.

The Korea Herald reported that “insiders raised the possibility that investigators may have regarded the body as that of an elderly resident from the provincial district.  Investigators had reportedly told the plum farm owner” who had found the body “that the body ‘seemed to be an ordinary homeless person.’ ”  I find investigators reactions, delays, inaction, and unwillingness to at least consider that the body could be Yoo’s given the circumstantial evidence inexplicable.

Members of Yoo’s Evangelical Baptist Church remain non-believers:

Despite the forensic evidence gathered by the police, the church’s followers refused to believe the body found in Suncheon was Yoo’s.

“The body was too decomposed to be his,” said church spokesman Lee Tae-Jong, who was also suspicious about the alcohol found at the scene.

“Chairman Yoo seldom drinks,” Lee told the YTN news channel.

“I suspect this is a trap laid by police in their efforts to capture him,” he added.

Open Thread: July 14, 2014

Apologies to Uncle Marmot and all.

Japan’s Statement on the Kono Statement

Within the past hour Japan issued its statement on the Kono Statement.

Issued in August, 1993, the Kono Statement acknowledged for the first time “the then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women.”  In a contemporaneous news article,  the New York Times reported on South Korea’s reaction:

South Korea, where most of the women were seized, expressed qualified approval for Tokyo’s admission. “We appreciate the fact that in its latest report, the Japanese Government now acknowledges that coercion was involved in the entire process of recruiting, transporting and managing ‘comfort women,’ ” the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We also appreciate the fact that the Japanese offered an apology.”

As late as June 17, 2014, Seoul’s Foreign ministry reiterated (according to Yonhap News) “that Japan’s 1993 statement acknowledging the Japanese imperial army’s mobilization of wartime sex slaves was made based on Tokyo’s own investigations and judgment.”  From the cited Yonhap News article,

The Kono statement was written based on Japan’s own judgment on the issue, (foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il said in a briefing), adding that the Korean government made clear that it is not a document needed for prior consultation or agreement with another country.

Arirang News released the following,

Japan announced in its findings today that according to latest Japanese reports the review says the Korean government also played a role in the wording of the Kono statement. Japan’s Jiji News Agency reports that Seoul and Tokyo held discussions on what the statement will look like, under the condition that their dealings be kept a secret. This will definitely trigger heavy criticism from South Korea.

All this leaves observers asking “why?

UPDATE:   In addition to the statement that the Korean government played a role in the wording of the Kono Statement,  Japanese media is reporting  the report claims the Japanese government did not verify the validity of testimonies given by 16 Korean comfort women who were the basis of the Kono Statement.

UPDATE 2:  Although Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference  that Japan will continue to uphold the statement and not seek to revise it or change the government’s official stance, China’s Shanghai Daily connected the dots:

In essence, the panel has suggested that the findings were inaccurate, if not fallacious, and the final statement itself unsubstantiated, in a move that quickly drew the ire of the South Korean Foreign Ministry who blasted the Japanese government saying its action were “deeply regrettable” and a “contradictory and pointless act.”

Unfortunately, I agree.  Japan’s panel’s 21 page report on the Kono Statement seems to have pulled much of the punch behind the Kono Statement by questioning the validity of statements, findings, and testimonies underlying the Kono Statement.

Korea’s Joong Ang Daily reported that Japan’s panel found “in the drafting of the Kono Statement, ‘there was intensive and detailed mediation with the Korean government’….”

The Japan Times, which described the crafting of the statement as a “tug of war”, went into more of the contentious details of the negotiation.  Among them, “the report further states that Seoul indicated that if Japan did not comply with the revisions, it would not accept the Kono apology in a positive way” and “the Korean side told Tokyo that ‘it has a policy not to seek financial compensation.’ ”

From a practical standpoint, I find Japan’s panel’s finding that Korea had significant input credible for the simple reason that Japan could not risk issuing a statement that Korea would reject; however,  I find Japan’s revelation of such nonetheless duplicitous.

Regardless of the extent of Korea’s input, Japan signed it.

UPDATE 3:  For those straining to hear the voice of reason and the  supposed silent majority in Japan, The Japan Times published an editorial on its English website, Stop Undermining the Kono Statement.  The following is an excerpt:

If the government is to uphold the 1993 statement, as it says it will, then the Abe administration needs to do what the statement says Japan will do and make proactive efforts to settle the long-running dispute, instead of repeatedly attempting to play down the nation’s responsibility for the ordeal of the women forced into wartime sexual slavery.

…Following the release of the review’s outcome, the Abe administration repeated that it would not change the Kono statement. If that’s the case, then the administration should wholly commit itself to what Japan said in the statement, and seek to repair ties with South Korea that have been strained at least in part by its attempt to question the stance of past Japanese governments on this matter.

Prosecutors Entered Geumsuwon Today

The prosecutors office entered Guemsuwon in Anseong in search of Yoo Byeong-eum about noon today.  According to “Hannah” and in a negotiated deal, the church members permitted about 40 people from the  prosecutor’s office inside the compound.  No uniformed police officers or journalists were let allowed to pass behind the main gate.

In the agreement the prosecutor’s office agreed that neither the Church nor “Mr. Yoo” had any culpability in the 1987 mass murder suicide at a Church affiliated factory.  If so, I don’t know that the Church gained any concession but might have gotten a reaffirmation of a previous statement from the prosecutor’s office exonerating both the Church and Yoo Byeong-eun.

Hannah gave a number of 4,800 uniformed officers.  I counted 20 buses south and 26 buses north of the compound on Rte 38.  I could not count the number of uniformed officers, by which I mean university students performing their compulsory service, in protective body armor, but certainly more than 1,000 is a safe estimate.

The police let me behind the police line when Hannah and the Church’s security motioned me through, but I did not gain entrance to the compound itself.  Hannah gave me a 20 minute recorded interview in which she said that no one felt (aside from some initial apprehension) endangered, all Church members were safe and well fed, and prosecutors were allowed unfettered access to the whole compound.   According to Hannah and judging by the reaction of some of the journalists, I was the only one who got an interview.

Hannah did not know whether Mr. Yoo was at the compound, and he, as of this writing,  has not been found.

Upping the Ante

The stakes at Geumsuwon, suspected hideout of Yoo Byoung-eun, grew significantly higher over the weekend, and the prosecutor’s office went all in.

senior prosecutor involved in the case told the JoongAng Ilbo that “We gave the Yoo family another chance because they have their rights as citizens. But we will have custody of him within this week no matter what.”

If the prosecutor’s office had hoped to buy the pot, members of the Evangelical Baptist Church called:  “ ‘Be prepared for bloodshed. Things cannot get worse. We will protect with our lives. In case of bloodshed, the prosecution will be responsible. If we lose the church, we lose everything,’ they shouted, punching the air with their fists.”

I would expect such words from the sect members.  The prosecutor’s office, however, should not engage in table talk.   Setting the stage for the final showdown later in the week, the prosecutor’s office is expected to ask for and obtain an arrest warrant for Yoo Tuesday.

Rather than noting the parallels to Waco, I hope the Korean authorities remain mindful of two key differences:  those holed up inside the compound do not have firearms and do not represent a threat to themselves or those outside the compound.

The Korean authorities seem to have misplayed their superior hand.  Doubling down on their mistakes, the Korean authorities frittered away their biggest chip, time.  By setting an end of week deadline, they bet all on this round, alerted and mobilized the sect’s members, and maybe even sent a cut and run signal to Yoo Byung-eun.

I’ve been to the sect’s Geumsuwon complex twice, today and Thursday last week.  Today, I observed many more people behind the compound’s main gate and blocking the main driveway.  I noticed a police presence of three squad cars, if the one squad car with two sleeping police officers (I took a photo) counts.  I witnessed increased traffic, which went unchecked by Korean authorities, in and out the main gate and several large trucks capable of carrying several days’ provisions for the several hundred visible behind the main gate.

I spoke to several sect members and one member in depth.  She emphasized the  environmentalism as one of the sect’s core beliefs.  “Hannah” self-identified the sect as “Christian fundamentalists” and believers in “the truth”.  She repeatedly talked about the corruption in the Korean government and judicial system, that Yoo Byoung-eun would not be treated fairly, and that the sect’s membership were protecting the land.  She motioned toward the long, uncut grass and specifically pointed out the tall-stalked dandelion heads that had turned to parachute balls, which means that they were ripe for children to pluck and scatter to the breeze to the chagrin of grandfathers everywhere.  Hannah never referred to “Mr. Yoo” as a minister or religious leader.  She said that the sect was without ministers and that all males, she specifically and without prompt excluded women, were welcome to speak before the congregation.

Since my visit last Thursday and keeping with their environmentalism, the sect provided a dual male/female portapotty for the convenience of the media.  I spoke to a reporter from Channel A who said that the sect had cared for the media members’ overnight comfort.  From the north perimeter, I could see at least three of the oft-mentioned subway cars behind the trees.  Both the north and south perimeters had more members watching from make-shift guard houses than had been visible on Thursday.  The north perimeter had razor wire, which if I judge by the weathering was not new and seemed to present more of their intentions to non-scheduled visitors than an effective deterrent to anyone who really wanted to enter the compound.

The sect members seemed to be of two simultaneously conflicting and irreconcilable minds:  one moment they spoke to me of the impending and perhaps concluding confrontation and the next they gave me organic candy and invited my family and me to the compound anytime.

I texted Hannah my email address and offered her the opportunity to publish an unedited message to the English speaking foreign community, and she texted back, “Follow ur heart :)

© 2014 The Marmot's Hole

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑