The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Author: R. Elgin (page 1 of 56)

Open Thread – The Dog Massage Edition

dog_massage

So Koreans will die out, household debt is probably going to explode and the next president might be an ex-felon – you should learn to relax.

Hot or Cold – The False Dilemma of Korean Politics

Kim Young-Oh is hungry but more sad than hungry.

Mr. Kim lost his 16-year-old daughter to the Sewol Ferry disaster and he collapsed from his hunger protest last Friday and has been hospitalized.

Mr. Kim was demanding that a fully independent investigator be assigned to the Sewol case instead of a government-connected prosecutor.  A bill has been proposed but rejected because a government-connected prosecutor is a problem for many because there has been a profound and long-held distrust of the government under the majority Saenuri Party, which has had a troubled history of manipulating events at the expense of the public’s trust.  Because of the reluctance of the ruling party to give such powers over to a non-aligned prosecutor, – citing constitutional problems as being the reason – Mr. Kim decided to fast.

Along with Mr. Kim’s fast, an all too common problem has been demonstrated, once again and that is a major problem of not just Korean politics but of most two-party political systems.

The real problem is a political system that is so degraded that it is suffering under a “false dilemma” – also known as “black-and-white thinking”.  Such an inflexible mindset is best exemplified in a two-party political system, which produces a either-or way of voting.  Due to the bi-polar (black or white) mentality of the political system in South Korea, many Koreans have assumed that:

Mr. Kim is a likely a bad man, that wants money, that failed to be a good parent and is probably a Communist and wants to wrench control of the country from the ruling party

OR . . .

Mr. Kim is a victim of the corruption of the ruling party that controls the government (at this moment) and is a hero that can help end the unjust rule of corrupt conservative politicians.

Actually, Mr. Kim is neither A or B.

There are several aspects to this situation.

Since the Sewol disaster, the NPAD faction and other supposed civic groups have offered their assistance to the parents of the kids that perished from the disaster, using it partly for their political agenda.  According to one parent, many did not want such help from the start:

Another father of a victim said some family members did not want left-wing activists helping them, as it compromised their political neutrality. “Some of us didn’t want to mingle with them, but at that time we were office workers who didn’t know how to speak up for ourselves,” he said. “So I thought we needed their support.” (cite)

The NPAD has also begun a boycott of government, bringing most legislative activity to a halt since this seems to be one of their areas of expertise.

Then there is that HUMONGOUS problem of credibility (sabotaging a prosecutor general, NIS-generated electioneering, etc.) , which the Saenuri-Hanara Dang/Administration has lacked, except in parts of the country where they enjoy an older constituency that vote out of that false dilemma thinking called regionalism.  I had a conversation with a fellow (over 50) in Daegu recently where he said he believed that Mr. Kim was a contemptible fellow, who was holding out for more money. To this self-described Saenuri supporter, it was all about money since there could not possibly be any other reason for Mr. Kim’s fast.

Very black-and-white in Daegu.

Meanwhile, many Koreans, that are against the Saenuri Dang feel that the ruling party does not want a truely independant investigation because of so much corruption tied to the ferry owner and people higher up in the ruling party. The government’s citing constitutional problems as being the reason why independant investigators can not be allowed is seen by many as being a “false choice” or “a deliberate attempt to eliminate several options that may occupy the middle ground on an issue”.

As for Mr. Kim? – he has said that “I have a headache. I have a headache because of politicians in South Korea, . . . We want to find why more than 300 people died unfairly. We want to clarify this and hold a person in charge accountable”.  He does not want money – he wants accountability so that his daughter’s short life and death will not have been in vain.

When there is such a firmly encamped case of the false dilemma, there can be parity only after much struggle since this way of thinking quickly becomes a device of the few that manipulate the many for gain, for example, currently there is an “ice-bucket challenge” that has become a popular way to raise the awareness of Lou Gehrig’s disease – a disease that can strike anyone no matter which political party they belong to.  The challenge is “to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and encourage donations to research” . . .
However . . .
Both Rep. Park Jie-won of the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) and Saenuri Chairman Kim Moo-sung have both taken the challenge not so much to donate money to fighting ALS but as a tool for political means, as per Kim Moo-sung’s statement “Please persuade hawkish lawmakers [within the NPAD] after sorting out your thoughts with some cold water” followed by Park Jie-won’s comment “Though I participated [in the charity event] there are still people gravely concerned over the passage of the Sewol law and who are still waiting for the return of their loved ones. I hope that ice bucket challenge and the Sewol bucket challenge will go together”. 

ice-bucket

Photo courtesy of NEWSIS.

I give you a visual example of the false dilemma on ice.

Yoon Yeo-joon also sees all of this as well but, like him, we are left without a ready solution.  IMHO, the change will have to come from the people – without the aid of any current party and in a manner that can not be co-opted.  That will take time and probably something unforeseen.

The Remembrance of Things Past

Douglas Martin of the NY Times writes a eulogy, if not obituary for Chung Eun-yong, the gentleman whose protestations exposed the tragedy of No Gun Ri; the killing of more than 100 Korean civilians by American forces during the Korean War.  

Mr. Chung’s protests against the killings, years later, gained the attention of Choe Sang-Hun (one of our favorite reporters with the NY Times) and others, who went on to write about this event.

Words fall short.

Open Thread – The Pope in The Rain Edition

The pope is in town and it is a rainy Sunday; the perfect time to go puddle splashing.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

The Park administration is angry at a Japanese newspaper and is threatening them with prosecution under the dreaded Korean defamation law.

The Japanese newspaper, Sankei Shimbun, posted an article “President Park Geun-hye, missing on the day of the ferry’s sinking … With whom did she meet at the time?” whose sources mention a Chosun Ilbo column that put forward the notion that the president was having a meeting, of a personal nature, with a Saenuri Dang member, who was also married (cite).

Mind you, I have no interest in anyone’s personal affairs, especially since it has no bearing upon any important issues, however, I do note one thing – isn’t it more than a little rich that one of the sources, mentioned by the Japanese newspaper, was the Chosun Ilbo, the same newspaper that interfered in the political process here, accusing (defaming) then Prosecutor General Chae Dong-Wook with marital infidelity?. . . and the news leak to the Chosun Ilbo about General Prosecutor Chae was a Blue House aide.

Naturally, the local editor of the Japanese newspaper is to blame for repeating this defamation.

Something Wicked This Way Comes . . .

There has always been this fear that Chinese technology firms will knock-off major Korean businesses like Samsung or LG and now, these concerns seem to be coming closer to realization: Samsung has lost its top spot in cellphone manufacturing, in China, to an upstart Chinese firm Xiaomi – which makes an android-varient OS and gear that looks a whole lot like Apple’s.

Oddly enough, even their founder looks like a Steve Jobs knock-off.  Can’t he manage something original!?

A Steve Jobs knock-off?

A Steve Jobs knock-off?

Update

Right on the heels of this news, Samsung and Apple have called a truce to their legal pugilism outside of the US.  I suspected that something of this sort would happen and, yep, it certainly did.

So, You Got State Secrets and A Coffee House, Eh?

What passes for the state security apparatus in China is now holding a Canadian couple for stealing state secrets about national defence and the military”.  The couple in question are running a coffee shop in Dandong (Peter’s Coffee House), right on the border with North Korea.

Apparently they host an English table every Friday and have entertainment – as well as steal state secrets.

Their customers seem to agree that Peter’s Coffee House has the tastiest secrets in the region:

“We stopped in to Peter’s Coffee House while on a walk along the Yalu River, to grab a bite for lunch, and were pleasantly surprised. The owner and his staff were all friendly and helpful, and the food was great.”

The owners of the secret coffee house – Kevin and Julia Garratt – are baffled by the Chinese security service’s claims and, according to their son, the charges are “absurd” and made “absolutely no sense”.  A good Reuter’s article on this is here.

Why am I not surprised?

A Water Concert For the Hot, Dry Season

SNJ2014_poster_web

There is one up and coming Jazz concert that should be a good way to cool off from the heat with some very cool sounds.  Ronn Branton is celebrating his new recording entitled  WATER, with a concert at the Sejong Chamber Music Hall this coming August 23, at 8pm.  This CD marks a wholly new and original collection of music based upon water themes, most of which are set here in Korea.

His band also includes some of the best Jazz musicians in Korea. If interested, you can try interpark.co.kr, yes24 or just call 02-888-0650.

Testing For Money Spent – Why Standardized Testing is Rigged

here_I_amI have a daughter who went to Kindergarten for several years and public school here in Seoul for eight years. She is smart, however, she had problems when she did her big exams. Her weekly scores were fair but the grades on the larger tests were horrible. I didn’t yell at her but her mother worked with her on some subjects, I bought science books and hired a tutor for her math and her scores improved over time.

This last January, I let her go to live with my sister in Nebraska (her aunt who shares the same birthday even) and after two months there, her scores went from a 56 (here) to a 99 percent!

I thought maybe American schools are teaching easier than Korean schools, which in many cases seems to be true since her middle-school classes would introduce subjects that I only got in high school myself, however I then ran across an article from the Atlantic that maintains standardized tests, in America, aren’t actual tests of knowledge but are branded products produced by textbook companies, and getting a good score depends on whether you bought the right books to study. It seems that many schools here in Korea pull their testing material straight from textbooks here, that have a vested interest in making $$$ and some teachers do get gifts from certain publishers, so . . . it turns out I have a smart daughter after all who will not end up working in Wallmart. I only wonder and worry about her friends here and so many other bright Korean kids that have to labour and suffer under this deliberately weighted variable, not to mention the high household debt 1 2 3 here in Korea – much of which is due to educational expenses to help these kids keep up and to study at the *right* places or the very high rate of suicide (the number one reason for death between the ages of 10 and 30) (cite), due to the stress of living. How much income is lost to average Korean households due to this system and how long will the system function before it flips over and sinks?

Update

A new opinion piece in the NY Times discusses the stresses upon Korean kids in being driven by their parents (if not mom) to excel in grades:

. . . She (mother) did not want me to suffer like my brother, who had a chest pain that doctors could not diagnose and an allergy so severe he needed to have shots at home.
I was fortunate that my mother recognized the problem and had the means to take me abroad. Most South Korean children’s parents are the main source of the unrelenting pressure put on students.

The opinion piece is here.

Dancing and Parody Power

dancing

The PRC wants soft power; wants Kung Fu Panda – can’t get their heavy, bloody hands on it, however some Chinese do parody pretty well and much to North Korea’s discomfort.

iPhone Security Problems in China?

According to Reuters, Chinese state media on Friday branded Apple Inc’s iPhone a threat to national security because of the smartphone’s ability to track and time-stamp user locations. Apple’s competitor, Samsung also has the means to track phones and log locations, however it is not made by the evil Americans.

I suppose the iPhone could really be a threat to state security if too many Chinese started using the ethics finder app . . . this is more a sign of insecurity than a lack of security!

Not The Role Model Hoped For

I remember reading of how Ahn Chang-ho help instill civil spirit, pride and honorable virtues in the Korean expatriate communities in California, Hawaii and Mexico.  I think he would be appalled to pick up the paper and read how one established and well-known Korean business in the US is now under investigation for enslaving Chinese-Koreans and hosting prostitution – Spa World in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Update:

It seems there is more of a back story to the events at Spa World – the spa owner and some clients reportedly were uncomfortable with at least one transgender customer and thought they could simply ban the LGBT crowd, however, this is a political and social issue (as demonstrated through this facebook page and has caused them trouble due to their misunderstanding of the issues involved. As a result of the backlash against the spa, Spa World has clarified its position, stating that they do not bar gays or transgenders and that they are welcomed.

Reading through the reports, it seems that some customers were uncomfortable being around one transgender customer and complained to Spa World management.  They asked her to leave, setting into motion a series of events that may or may not have lead up to the charges involving enslavement and prostitution.  The spa has every right to discourage people from having sex on the premises, as since it seems that some people think that Spa World is a great sex hookup spot!

One interesting result of all this is that since Fairfax County and Virginia have no laws prohibiting discrimination by businesses against members of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered community, this incidence may prompt political action to address this issue.

I should put Wangkon down as a direct contributor to this thread as well.  Thank you to everyone that added to this thread!

The World According to Xi and Hitler-mania

After China has engaged in rancorous disputes with several neighbours in Asia – Vietnam and the Philippines – over their egregious claims to most of the “South China Sea” and after the US has participated in joint military exercises with countries like the Philippines, and the decision by the Japanese cabinet to reinterpret the constitution, giving the Japanese military freedom to fight overseas, Chinese President Xi now thinks that “China-US confrontation, to the two countries and the world, would definitely be a disaster” and the US should “should mutually respect and treat each other equally, and respect the other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, i.e., give us what we want or else. (cite)

Adding to the flames of hate against Japan that is so in style with Chinese politicians, A Chinese newspaper’s graphic showing a mushroom cloud engulfing the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki accompaning an article that claimed “Japan wants a war again” (cite)

Not to be outdone by flaming, flying Chinese dragon rhetoric, a Malaysian member of parliament tweeted about the soccer game between Germany and Brazil, declaring WELL DONE..BRAVO…LONG LIVE HITLER…

Hitler’s example lives on . . .

A New Era in Korea – Minus the American Influence

President Xi of the People’s Republic of China, and a large entourage of Chinese businessmen (Alibaba, Baidu), are currently visiting South Korea. The PRC is hoping for improved business ties but this time, there is, IMHO, the possibility of a sea change on the Korean peninsula.

Why and how?

China wants to change that status quo – they want to do so through money and through a redefinition of regional security – without American influence.

First, in business, China is proposing the foundation of a $50 billion “Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank”, first proposed by President Xi in October 2013, during a tour of Southeast Asia. This bank would have the PRC holding a fifty-percent stake in this bank and has hinted at benefits to those nations that participate and Xi’s visit to Seoul, currently under way is very much about the benefits to South Korea. (we will get to what South Korea might actually want from joining this venture shortly). South Korea has expressed an intent to become an offshore trading centre in Chinese currency (renminbi) and this current meeting is expected to address this as well.
For South Korea, this is useful and important since South Korea’s two-way trade with China was $229 billion last year, exceeding the combined value of South Korea’s trade with the U.S. and Japan. Xi told reporters after the 2013 summit that the two countries will strive to boost their trade to top $300 billion (cite). This trade has been hampered by the fact that both countries transactions have been based in US Dollars (because the Yuan and Won are not directly traded) which costs more and reflects the indirect influence of things American in Asia. A statement from South Korea’s finance ministry and central bank said the South Korean won will become directly exchangeable with the yuan, joining major currencies such as the U.S. dollar, Japanese yen and euro that are convertible with the Chinese currency. The decision also makes the yuan only the second currency after the U.S. dollar that is directly convertible with the won. (cite)
China has also given consent to South Korea’s investment of tens of billions of yuan (billions of USD) in Chinese bonds and stocks. The PRC Government is encouraging businesses to invest in Korea as well. Chinese investors are highly interested in cultural content, software and real estate development, thus would explain the drive by the Korean side to have Chinese investment in the so far failed Saemangeum Project (cite) or the attempt at luring Chinese investment in the Yeosu – Dadohae Haesang National Park area, as well as some yet to be announced projects.

There is also the issue of the recent Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) and the PRCs desire to exclude powers – such as the U.S. – from regional security, suggesting an arrangement, guided by the PRC that is more than a little reminiscent of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere plan of Showa Japanese origin. As reported in The Diplomat:

Xi called for the creation of a “new regional security cooperation architecture.” He proposed that CICA become “a security dialogue and cooperation platform” for all of Asia, from which countries can explore the possibility of creating a regional security framework. He further indicated that China would take a leading role in exploring the creation of a “code of conduct for regional security and [an] Asian security partnership program.”
In promoting China’s vision for a new regional security framework, Xi took specific aim at the basis for the current status quo: military alliances. Xi tied such alliances to “the outdated thinking of [the] Cold War.” “We cannot just have security for one or a few countries while leaving the rest insecure,” Xi said. “A military alliance which is targeted at a third party is not conducive to common regional security.” Xi in turn offered an alternative vision for Asia, one based on an all-inclusive regional security framework rather than individual alliances with external actors like the United States.” (cite )

The real horse dealing that is not hinted at in the Korean press (which has been very quiet yet unmistakably pro-Chinese) is how will the PRC, under Xi, will resolve the issue of reunification between the two Koreas. The South Korean Government reportedly wants substantial help from Xi for making reunification a reality – in both financial aid and in the momentum that can only come from the DPRK’s only substantial supporter. Though many believe that the PRC will likely not destabilize the DPRK, if the ROK buys into the Chinese sphere of financial and political influence, rejects the American presence in the region and further guarantees their responsibility in dealing with the potential North Korean refugee problem, I honestly don’t see how a belligerent DPRK could possibly avoid change and reunification with the southern half since it would be a matter of survival to do so.

I suppose this is logical; solving Korea’s problem long-standing problem with the north and the cost of unification, while resulting in the exit of America’s influence in Korea and pushing the US further out of the region and likely gaining more support for the egregious regional claims made by the PRC. There is little America can do about this too, since the Chinese have the means to deliver the reality of unification to South Korea and whereas the U.S. can not.

Looking into a Sino-Korean future; also worrisome is the shortage of personnel to staff the larger Korean projects and the increased likelihood that more Chinese will see living and working in Korea as business ties and opportunities grow in the future. What impact this will have on Korean society remains to be seen and considering the tremendous potential influx of money into Korea, the Korea of fifty years from now will likely be a very different one from what we observe today in terms of world view and its relationship with Europe and the US.  Some may even talk about Korea as being a Chinese colony, wistfully remembering the days when their elders talked about how Korea was really an American colony.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall – The Real Fallout from Living Next to A Thug

Domino_Cascade

Living next to the DPRK is difficult for most but the real problem is the People’s Republic of China and their bully tactics that threaten to drive neighbouring nations into acquiring nuclear weapons. Zachary Keck writes about the massive build-up of conventional arms by the PRC and its bully tactics that is slowly but surely pushing regional powers into considering a nuclear deterrent since their interests are directly and laterally threatened by a rising fascist power.

Though President Park was quoted as saying that more nuclear testing by the DPRK could result in “a domino effect by providing its neighbours with a pretext to arm themselves with nuclear weapons”, the real concern is the DPRK’s historic sponsor, China:

Although North Korea is unlikely to precipitate a nuclear arms race in Asia, China’s growing military capabilities and assertive diplomatic posture very well might. Indeed, just as history has demonstrated that states don’t need nuclear arsenals to deter rivals from attacking them with nuclear weapons, it has also demonstrated that nuclear weapons are extremely effective in deterring conventional military attacks. Thus, states that face rivals with overwhelming conventional military power have a strong incentive to acquire nuclear weapons to negate their rivals’ conventional superiority. (cite)

Other editorials certainly suggest that countries, like Vietnam, certainly have incentive to go nuclear, so as to protect their borders in the event that the PRC is tempted to trespass too far since  China has 14 times the population and 37 times the economy of its neighbour, thus arrogance has a fertile place to grow. (cite)

Even if the Philippines is awarded a ruling that China’s claim to the South China Sea has no legal basis, will not likely change the reality in the region – China is unlikely to leave areas it controls at the say of a judge in The Hague – but it will make it hard for Beijing to keep arguing plausibly that it always acts with respect to international law (source), and considering such, many would be foolish to not keep a gun in the house even if it were a technically illegal firearm.

Even so, there will be more pressure on regional nations to keep Chinese fishermen – as state proxies – in check (as demonstrated by their use against Japan and Vietnam).  Chinese pirates have long been a part of regional history in Asia that pre-dates quite a few of their claims of territory too.

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