The Marmot's Hole

Korea... in Blog Format

Category: Japan (page 2 of 46)

Odds and Ends: the Innovative Korea Edition

- Somebody forgot to tell Bloomberg that Koreans are automatons who lack creativity:

South Korea ranked first in Bloomberg’s Global Innovation Index.


Lovely photo on the “Methodology” slide, too.

Financial Times’ Seoul correspondent tweets that “many in S Korea would dispute this finding.” The ensuring Twitter conversation is worth reading, especially TK’s comments. For what it’s worth, while I agree that “many in S Korea would dispute this finding,” including many Koreans themselves, I myself am not really surprised Korea placed so high.

Anyway, this is going to make President Park Geun-hye very happy—she can’t get through a speech without mentioning “the creative economy.”

- Once again, Koreans are overreacting to a perceived historical slight, with the Korean ambassador to the United States threatening business ties with a US state.

Oh, wait:

The government of Japan urged Democrat Terry McAuliffe in late December to oppose an obscure bill in the Virginia legislature about textbooks or risk damaging the economic relationship between the two governments, according to a letter obtained Thursday by The Washington Post.

In the letter to McAuliffe before his gubernatorial inauguration, Japanese Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae urged him to oppose a measure that would require future Virginia textbooks that mention the Sea of Japan to note that it is also known as the East Sea — the name preferred by Koreans.
In his letter, Sasae said: “I worry that Japanese affinity towards Virginia could be hampered” if the measure is enacted. He noted the $1 billion in direct investment that Japan has made in Virginia in five years, the 250 Japanese companies with investments in the state and the multimillion-dollar export market in Japan for products from Virginia.

“[I] fear . . . that the positive cooperation and strong economic ties between Japan and Virginia may be damaged,” he wrote.

Look on the bright side, Japan—sure, that’s some seriously ham-fistedness, but it’s not quite as bad as offering to plant cherry trees in a city that’s largely Korean. And look at how far your diplomacy has come since the Twenty-One Demands!

- Meanwhile, in Davos, the Chinese and Japanese (admittedly, more the former than the latter) are giving us plenty of reason to be afraid, be very afraid. Read the respective rants by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on your own—I’ll just reprint this chilling conclusion by The Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:

As readers know, I have been writing about this parallel for a long time. China is exploiting incidents to test the willingness of the United States to stand behind its treaty alliance with Japan, just as Kaiser Wilhelm provoked spats to test England’s willingness to stand behind its entente with France. It was a self-reinforcing process before 1914, and it is self-reinforcing now. All it takes to produce a catalyst is some “damn fool thing in the Balkans” to borrow a term.
Listening to the raw passion in the voices of Shinzo Abe and Wang Yi over the last 24 hours, I think there is an astonishing level complacency about the world’s most dangerous fault-line.

As for the “damn fool thing in the Balkans” thing, “an influential Chinese professional” at Davos reportedly silenced a room by openly talking about igniting World War III:

But then he said that many in China believe that China can accomplish its goals — smacking down Japan, demonstrating its military superiority in the region, and establishing full control over the symbolic islands — with a surgical invasion.

In other words, by sending troops onto the islands and planting the flag.

The Chinese professional suggested that this limited strike could be effected without provoking a broader conflict. The strike would have great symbolic value, demonstrating to China, Japan, and the rest of the world who was boss. But it would not be so egregious a move that it would force America and Japan to respond militarily and thus lead to a major war.

Well, when the Chinese professional finished speaking, there was stunned silence around the table.

Stock up on Pepto-Bismol, folks.

(HT to Joshua Trevino)

So, Mr. Suga, what IS the other side?

Japan is unhappy about the recent opening of a memorial hall to Ahn Jung-geun in Harbin China:

“The co-ordinated move by China and South Korea based on a one-sided view [of history] is not conducive to building peace and stability,” Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, you’ll recall, is the gentleman who had previously referred to Ahn as a “criminal.

Some might see this as an insult. I see it as an opportunity. A Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson needs to go out there immediately and ask Suga, “OK, what’s the other side then?”

I’m serious. Where historical issues are concerned, Japan is its own worst enemy. As we’ve seen in the New York Times, with the New York State Senate and, heck, even my humble comment section, Japanese right-wing nationalists absolutely love to talk, and the more they do, the worse they look. And the best part is, they’re completely oblivious to how nauseatingly bad they look, so they just keep going and going.

So just get Suga talking—he’ll do more to promote the Korean side than 100 angry condemnations from the Korean Foreign Ministry.

Trust me, Foreign Ministry guys. You’ll thank me later.

Anyway, one of the side benefits of the Ahn Jung-geun memorial has been the spectacle of Japanese editorial writers rending their garments in grief and outrage. See, for instance, the Yomiuri Shimbun, which in an editorial entitled “South Korea’s anti-Japan diplomatic maneuvering goes too far” (stop laughing now, dammit!) complains:

Yet we feel the memorial hall—built with no regard for Japan’s position or its national sentiments—is absolutely unacceptable.

I’ll let you meditate on the irony of a Japanese paper whinging about hurt feelings. And ponder this warning for a moment:

China is a multiethnic nation, and praising Ahn risks stirring up ethnic consciousness among the ethnic Koreans living within its borders.

And Japan would know, seeing how it spent most of the 1930s and 1940s trying to dismember China.

Finally, more whining about “Korea making us look bad with its one-sided views of history”:

Meanwhile, apart from the issues surrounding the Ahn memorial, South Korea has intensified its one-sided assertions regarding its historical perceptions. We cannot overlook the fact that such assertions undermine Japan’s position in international institutions and in the eyes of other countries.

As I said above, nothing—and I do mean nothing—”undermines Japan’s position in international institutions and in the eyes of other countries” than when Japanese themselves try to counter Korea’s “one-sided assertions.” It’s not Korea that makes Japan look like a nation of unrepentant assholes. It’s Japan that makes Japan look like a nation of unrepentant assholes.

Anyway, here’s a suggestion to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga—wanna see a memorial to real criminals? Hop on a subway and visit Yasukuni.

Japanese airline sorry for ‘racist’ ad

Expats in Japan are ticked off about what they say is a racist ad. I don’t know, I wasn’t moved either way –though the descendents of Cyrano de Bergerac might take offense.

Nonetheless (or always the more), there was an eruption from the netosphere.

“I’ve just seen the new ANA advert…Really? ANA think this is OK?!” Angela Fukutome said in a message posted on ANA’s Facebook page.

“If you are a foreigner and have planned to come to £Japan do not choose an openly racist airline like £ANA! Watch their Japanese commercial,” tweeted @sibylleito on Twitter.

An ANA spokeswoman said the carrier “has received calls from customers, mostly foreigners, complaining about the ad.”

“We apologised to each of the customers for having caused uncomfortable feelings and also thanked them for bringing up the issue,” she told AFP.

Memorial hall for Ahn Jung-geun opens in Harbin

Harbin Railway Station is now the proud home of a memorial hall for Korean patriotic martyr Ahn Jung-geun:

A memorial opened on Sunday in Harbin, capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, to commemorate a Korean patriot who killed a top Japanese official over a century ago.

Ahn Jung Geun shot dead Hirobumi Ito, who had served as the prime minister of Japan four times before becoming resident-general of Korea in 1905, at Harbin railway station on Oct. 26, 1909. He was arrested at the scene of shooting and secretly executed in March 1910 by Japanese forces.

Covering an area of more than 100 square meters, the memorial hall consists of exhibition rooms telling the story of Ahn’s life, and shows the exact spot where the shooting took place.

Yonhap reports that the Chinese media is giving the opening major coverage, with much praise directed at Ahn by the press and Chinese netizens.

The Japanese press, meanwhile, is interpreting the opening of the memorial hall as a sign of Sino-Korean cooperation to pressure Japan on historical issues. One Japanese paper, the far-right Sankei Shimbun, suggested that China had been lukewarm about building the memorial after Korean President Park Geun-hye proposed it in June, but Japanese PM Abe Shinzo’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine may have spurred Beijing to action.

You’ll recall that back in November, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed displeasure about the statue, calling Ahn a “criminal.” Which, sadly, is just the sort of statement we’ve come to expect from high-ranking Japanese officials nowadays. Anyway, I’ll repeat here what I said back then:

Expect more of this cooperation between Korea and China in the future. I’m not especially comfortable with it, and ideally, I’d like to see greater cooperation between Korea and Japan. That said, Japan doesn’t make it easy sometimes. I’m not sure what Suga hoped to gain for Japan with his statement—scoring points with some domestic lobbies, perhaps?—but as an act of diplomacy, all it does is give propaganda material to Korea and China and drive Seoul closer to Beijing at a time when Tokyo really should be working to gain an ally.

“You’re Voldemort” “No You are!” “No You are times 100 million thousand and 반사!”

I don’t like Harry Potter, there! I’ve said it! I’ve read one (don’t remember which one) and thought it was overrated, especially compared to the classics like Winnie the Pooh or the Moomintrolls or even Paddington Bear, or even closer to the genre, the Enid Blyton classics of St.Clares/Famous Five or Erich Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives series…
How funny are these people then!
I am linking to the Guardian and not the original Telegraph where this is played out, because the way I was raised, Telegraph is the Voldemort.

Comfort Women statue sparks competing White House petitions

We mentioned Tony Marano’s petion at the White House earlier. Now it seems somebody has started a counter-petition:

On Saturday, a blogger identified with initial S.H. submitted a petition to counter Marano’s claim, asking for the protection of the monument.

In the petition, the initiator said, “The Peace Monument is symbolizing the victims of sexual slavery by the Japanese imperial military during World War II. And we have to know history correctly.”

So far, the petition has received more than 200 signatures.

You can find the petition here.

Personally, I think petitions are a waste of time, but anything that counters Tony Marano’s asshatery is probably worth doing. LA’s CBS affiliate described Marano’s Youtube video thusly:

The petition was started by a Texas man by the name of Tony Marano. On his YouTube channel, he states, “these women were recruited and they volunteered to serve in these comfort women houses for the Japanese Imperial Army.”

Yes, he did say that. But that’s not all he said. I hate to link to this reprehensible douchebag’s video again, but it really deserves its own Two Minutes Hate—scroll to about 55 seconds in. As a matter of theology, I don’t really believe in hell, but if I did, I’d like to believe anyone who goes on video to call the victims of gang rape by the Imperial Japanese Army “ugly prostitutes” has a place reserved for him in Damnation.

Chosun Ilbo sorta blames US for Abe’s asshattery

Nobody will accuse the Chosun Ilbo of being instinctively anti-American, but in this morning’s editorial they call on the United States to do something about Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe.

Interestingly enough, the editorial begins by citing a recent NYT and WaPo editorials criticizing Abe’s visit to Yasukuni (Marmot’s Note: I get the feeling the Chosun didn’t read the entire NYT editorial).

Then, however, the Chosun says Abe is behaving like he is because he thinks he’s got the United States behind him. The United States wants to use Japan to fill in the gap resulting from lower US defense expenditures. Abe knows this, and is spouting off with little concern about pissing off Washington. US criticism of Abe’s provocations have been little or none, while Washington has shown active support for Abe’s push to remilitarize Japan under the name of collective defense. This American attitude, says the Chosun, has brought about Abe’s miscalculations.

The Chosun wonders why the United States treats Abe’s historical distortions—and his denial of Japan’s wars as wars of aggression in particular—as somebody’s else’s problem when its an attack on the legitimacy of the sacrifices made by Americans killed in the Pacific War (note to Chosun Ilbo: in our defense, we did nuke two Japanese cities, which tends to release a great deal of han). If Washington had issued a strong warning to Abe, he would never have engaged in behavior that has essentially wiped out the historical reflection Japan had made so far. Meanwhile, Washington is telling Korea that it must deal with security issues and historical issues separately.

The Chosun Ilbo quotes the New York Times: “Japan’s military adventures are only possible with American support; the United States needs to make it clear that Mr. Abe’s agenda is not in the region’s interest. Surely what is needed in Asia is trust among states, and his actions undermine that trust” (Marmot’s Note: I think they skipped over the entire middle part criticizing President Park Geun-hye’s refusal to meet Abe as giving him the freedom to visit Yasukuni). Anyway, the Chosun warns that unless the United States gets Abe to apologize for the shrine visit and promise not to do it again, cracks will emerge in US strategy in Asia. Japanese money won’t be able to mend the harm done to the United States in the region by the wounds left in Korean hearts.

The Chosun notes that US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a statement on Dec 28 welcoming the decision by Okinawa Prefecture to accept the Futenma relocation plan, saying the continuous partnership between the United States and Japan would strengthen. This came just a day after a State Department spokesperson issued a statement of regret over the Yasukuni visit. The Chosun thinks maybe Abe though he could pacify American protests to the shrine visit with this “gift,” and that we’ll soon learn whether he was right.

The Chosun concludes by warning US President Barack Obama, who’s visiting Japan in April, that without a fundamental shift in Japan’s attitude, the United States will find it difficult to get its new Asia strategy off the ground.

Marmot’s Note: Look, I think I’ve made it pretty clear I think Shinzo Abe’s a jerk. And yeah, I think there needs to be diplomatic consequences to some of his antics, including the recent visit to Yasukuni. As a friend, the United States needs to sit Abe down and explain to him in no uncertain terms that being a dick won’t help him achieve the goals that both he and the Americans want.

That said, it’s probably in everybody’s best interest—the Americans, the Koreans and the Japanese—to compartmentalize a bit here. Countries do this all the time. Turkey enjoys security cooperation with a large number of countries—including Korea, BTW—despite Turkey being pretty unapologetic about the Armenian genocide. As far as I know, America’s Middle Eastern allies don’t make security cooperation contingent on accepting the Arab view of the Crusades (Marmot’s Note: which, as everyone knows, were a defensive war).

For what it’s worth, I thought the US State Department statement was rather strong. Still, there’s only so loud the United States can get here. Japan’s an important US ally, and as I said in the previous paragraph, it’s hardly the only US ally with a questionable interpretation of history. Japan’s World War II history gives the United States a bit more latitude to speak, but even that has limits—interpreting one’s history is, after all, largely an internal matter. Mind you, I’m inclined to agree that Japan’s historical distortions are an insult to American veterans of World War II, but Japan is not the only country to insult US veterans of the Pacific War with bullshit interpretations of wartime atrocities (see also here).

As South Sudan goes to shit, Korea and Japan squabble over ammo shipment

So, things are looking pretty bad in South Sudan, where the UN is saying thousands are dead in communal violence that is threatening to tear the world’s newest nation apart.

If there was one potential bright side to genocidal ethnic strife, though, it was that it might have provided a golden opportunity for Korea and Japan to play nice with one another.

You see, Korea has 280 troops deployed as peacekeepers to the town of Bor. Things around Bor have gotten very bad—today in fact mortar rounds landed on the UN base the Koreans share with Indian and Nepalese peacekeepers, wounding several Nepalese troops. The Korean force—composed mostly of lightly armed engineering and medical units—felt they needed more ammo in case the shit hit the fan, so the unit commander asked the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) for ammunition. And they got it in the form of 10,000 rounds from the Japanese SDF, which has 300 men deployed to the South Sudanese capital of Juba.

Great, you say—Korea and Japan are working together in the face of a common crisis. Might this be the start of a rapprochement?

Sadly, it appears not.

In fact, the Japanese supply of ammo to Korean troops in South Sudan now appears to be becoming, as they say, a diplomatic issue.

For starters, Seoul and Tokyo are putting out differing stories as to how this all went down. The Korean side says this was entirely a UN thing—the Korean commander put in a request to UNMISS command, and it just so happened that the only folk around using God-fearing 5.56 NATO rounds were the Japanese in Juba.

The Japanese, meanwhile, released on Tuesday a video of Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera receiving a report from the Japanese colonel in charge of the SDF forces in South Sudan. The SDF commander said the Korean colonel in charge of the Korean troops in Bor called the SDF unit directly to make an emergency request for ammo. He said the Korean colonel told him that 15,000 refugees were camped out around Bor, that the Koreans were the only troops defending the town, and the area was full of hostiles. He also said the Korean commander expressed his appreciation for the ammo shipment.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a press conference the same day that the Korean government had made a request for ammo through the Korean embassy in Tokyo on Sunday.

The Korean side is now accusing the Japanese of politically using the emergency faced by Korean troops in South Sudan, with one unnamed official telling the Chosun Ilbo that the Abe government’s linking of the ammo supply to its “active pacifism” initiative was a “clear political provocation.” Another unnamed official said Korea had told the Japanese to handle this quietly out of fear that the locals would turn hostile and attack Korean troops if word got out that they’d received ammo, but the Japanese were instead turning this into a big story. Korean government officials are also saying that they intend to return all the ammo to Japan once Korean ammo arrives from Korea, despite the fact that the Japanese said they could keep it.

The Japanese side, meanwhile, is pissed off with the Koreans—and not without reason, IMHO—for not only being ungrateful, but brazenly so. The Hani says one exasperated high-ranking Japanese government official was crying, “How the heck can we hold a summit with a nation like Korea?” It also seems that a lot of the alleged “noise” Japan was making was not to show off what they were doing for the Koreans, but rather to fend off domestic criticism that Abe and Co. were using the crisis in South Sudan to break Japan’s long-standing self-imposed ban on weapon exports.

Well, at least Ban Ki-moon thought the ammo supply was a good thing.

In an editorial, Ye Olde Chosun—sit down for this—criticizes Japan for acting as if Korea now supported the Abe government’s “active pacifism,” but at the same time blasted the Korean Defense Ministry for incompetence (the second rotation of Korean troops arrived in South Sudan in October with little in the way of arms, despite three months having passed since the South Sudanese president sacked his vice president, kicking off the current crisis) and the Park administration’s foreign policy making process (the Defense Ministry apparently made the decision to accept Japanese ammo on its own, with no larger discussion of the political ramifications).

For their part, Japanese newspapers don’t appear especially thrilled about the ammo supply, either, but for very different reasons. Both the Asahi and Mainichi think the Abe government have a lot more explaining to do. Says the Asahi:

At the end of the day, there are too many unclear points about this “exceptional case” to verify the appropriateness of the government’s decision.

For instance, we don’t know the circumstances under which the United Nations asked Japan for the ammo giveaway. The South Korean side said it did not request Japan’s help in desperation, but what, exactly, was the situation? And what sort of discussion did the newly created National Security Council have before it decided to provide the ammunition? The government needs to answer these questions in detail.

Any discrepancy between Seoul’s explanation and Tokyo’s could aggravate the already strained bilateral relationship. And down the road, Tokyo ought to disclose how the ammo was used.

The National Security Council, whose members include the prime minister and the defense minister, is a very small organization. If the government fails to tell the public how the council discussed the matter, it cannot expect to gain widespread understanding.

The last thing our country needs is for the Abe administration to get the SDF more deeply involved in international conflicts by letting the National Security Council call the shots and establish new precedents in the absence of any legal framework, and in the name of “proactive pacifism.”

For that matter, the Mainichi says even if the Koreans desperately needed ammo, the way the decision to give it to them was made was “unruly.”

Honestly, this is extremely frustrating. I admit when I first read a Yonhap report on the ammo shipment two days ago, my first reaction was “Holy shit, they’re getting ammo from who?”, but this was soon followed by optimism that this might provide an opportunity for the two sides to pretend they play for the same team for a change.

Alas, it seems I was wrong.

Meanwhile, Korea says it is not considering sending more troops to South Sudan, but is willing to review “all options” if the UN makes a request.

Unintentionally ironic Chinese statement of the day

China thinks the expansion of Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ) is mean:

Lü Chao, a researcher at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said the latest gesture shows a provocative stance.

“The original KADIZ was established by the US more than 60 years ago and it hasn’t changed all these years. South Korea and China have been at peace over the zone. This time the change in attitude is obviously a response to China’s ADIZ, it’s not a friendly gesture towards China,” he told the Global Times.

On the other hand, as Joshua Trevino writes on Facebook, “If you can’t get the Koreans on board with your anti-Japanese gambit, things have gone badly amiss.”

The Korean military has recently increased its P3-C surveillance flights over Ieodo to one a day and is considering shifting some of its F-15Ks from Daegu to Gwangju if foreign (read: Chinese) warplanes make it a habit of entering the KADIZ uninvited.

President Park, meanwhile, said this morning that the expansion of the KADIZ was done to guarantee Korea’s national interests as a sovereign nation. She did criticize some people—including, presumably, the media—for causing public insecurity by calling for immediate action, making exaggerated reports or expressing speculative opinions.

photo credit: Steve Webel via photopin cc

And on the ADIZ front…

China apparently sent warplanes into its newly declared ADIZ in the East China Sea.

I don’t believe they flew over anything especially important (like the Senkakus!), as I’m sure that would have been mentioned.

Anyway, Northeast Asian ADIZ quiz—which nation has violated Korea’s ADIZ the most this year?


No, it’s Russia, which has violated Korea’s ADIZ 18 times this year. China has violated it thrice, and Japan just once.

Over the last five years, Russia has violated Korea’s ADIZ 64 times.

And in today’s fight against Japanese imperialism: Unhappy pivots, evil JSDF spies and not all F-35s are created equal

In today’s Korea Times, we are treated to—sit down for it—complaining, particularly about how the US pivot towards Asia is putting Korea in a tough spot because a) Korea is being forced to choose between Washington and Beijing and b) Washington isn’t putting enough pressure on the Japanese to apologize:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is thriving amid growing uncertainty in the region.

Experts say the trend is likely to continue, unless the United States reprimands Japan for denying its wartime history, for instance.

However, the U.S. engrossed in a duel with rival China can’t afford to alienate Tokyo.

Rather, it is encouraging Abe to become bolder, which he has done.

The end of the piece quotes from a recent column by Stanford’s Daniel Sneider in the WaPo calling on Washington to help Japan do the right thing and resolve its historical issues with Korea. For what it’s worth, I agree that a satisfactory resolution to historical issues between Korea and Japan would be in everybody’s interest—well, everybody’s except possibly China’s. Maybe there’s even a role the United States can play in encouraging the Japanese to be more forthcoming.

There are several problems with this, though. Firstly, Koreans are already prone to doubt the sincerity of Japanese apologies, and I’d imagine they’d be even more keen to doubt them if it appears Japan was being “forced” to apologize by America. Sure, they’d enjoy the sight of Japan being humbled, but any apology would come off as forced and insincere. Secondly, even if Washington leaned on Japan to confront its past, there’s no guarantee Tokyo would do so, especially considering that a lot of the folk driving Japanese diplomatic hamfistedness towards Korea seem to believe the only real war criminal in the Pacific was the United States.

There’s something else to the complaints, too, namely, the lack of compartmentalization. Historical issues are one thing. Declaring large swaths of the East China Sea your ADIZ is quite another. Prioritize.


Japan’s Kyodo News is reporting that Japan’s Self-Defense Force (or as we like to call it with a giggle, the jawidae) not only has spies in Korea, but has also sent them without telling the Japanese prime minister:

Japan’s Self-Defense Force operates clandestine intelligence-gathering teams in South Korea and other countries without informing its civilian government, Kyodo News reported Wednesday.

The teams are operated independently by the force without notifying the prime minister or defense minister, Kyodo quoted a former army chief and top defense intelligence official as saying, flying in the face of democratic control of the armed forces.

The force’s Ground Staff Office formed a spying team that sets up bases overseas to gather intelligence. All members undergo training in espionage and counterintelligence.

Huh. Japanese military forces operating independently of Japan’s civilian government. How could that possibly go wrong?

And finally, in the Chosun Ilbo’s gripe of the day, some ruling party lawmakers are beginning to grumble that Korea is getting a much worse deal on the F-35 than Japan. In particular, while Japan will be allowed to make most of its F-35s, Korea will be forced to import finished products from the United States.

The return of Korean turtles and birds from the past

Lately a number of historical significant items have been returned to Korea – items that were alleged to have been stolen by U.S. soldiers.  It should be noted that in some cases these items were bought from Koreans – although the buyer should have been a little suspicious such as Sergeant Giltner who was approached by a Korean selling antiques from his cart:

One item, a huge carpet – nearly eighteen and a half feet long and about eight feet wide – made from the matched pelts of 48 leopards immediately caught Giltner’s attention. Although he didn’t explain how he had come by the carpet, the Korean peddler claimed “it was worth at least $25,000 and came from the Chang Duk palace in Seoul.” He was willing to sell it for a mere 150,000 Korean won – worth about $25 USD. Giltner promptly bought it and in a letter to his parents wrote that he was sending them “a pretty nice Korean rug” that he had picked up.

After the carpet was sent home, a Korean diplomat recognized the carpet as having come from Queen Min’s bedroom.  It was returned to the Korean government but now it has been speculated that the carpet was not the queen’s.

Los Angeles County Museum of Arts may be forced to return a Joseon era seal:

In a September statement, the museum said there was “credible evidence” that its Royal Seal with Knob in the Form of a Turtle was “removed unlawfully from the National Shrine in Korea.”

“While LACMA has not received a formal request from the Korean national government, we have reached out to them to discuss the results of our research and a mutually satisfactory resolution, including the return of the Royal Seal to Korea,” the statement said.

An official at the state-run cultural heritage administration told The Associated Press that South Korea in May asked the United States to investigate how the seal ended up at the Los Angeles museum known for showcasing art from ancient times to the modern era.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing department rules, said U.S. homeland security officials have confiscated the seal, as they investigate.

But not every item coming back to Korea is coming back by legal force.  A large number of Joseon era wooden birds are being given to a univeristy in Korea by a Japanese collector in the hopes of generating goodwill:

Haruo Yahashi, 79, owner of a surveying firm, has collected 140 such artworks, many of which were made in the 19th century and were used as gifts, ever since he fell in love with an elegantly sculpted bird he saw at an antique store in Tokyo some 30 years ago.

He will donate them to Daegu Health College in the city of Daegu in southeastern South Korea.

Many of the sculptures are 20 cm to 40 cm long and weigh between 3 and 5 kg. Some are painted in bright colors such as red and yellow, while others are covered with gold foil, a sign that they were originally owned by wealthy Koreans.

Mr. Haruo Yahashi explained his reasons for giving the gifts as,  “Japan-South Korea relations are facing difficulties now, but I hope my donation will help promote exchanges on a grass-roots level.”

ADIZ wars!

Hard to see how any of this is going to help maintain peace in East Asia. Then again, it wasn’t meant to (HT to Anonymous Joe):

Japan warned Sunday of the danger of “unpredictable events” and South Korea voiced regret following China’s unilateral declaration of an air defence zone over areas claimed by Tokyo and Seoul.
“We find it regretful that China’s air defence zone partly overlaps with our military’s KADIZ (Korean Air Defense Identification Zone) in the area west of Jeju Island,” said a ministry statement, according to Yonhap news agency.
The Chinese zone also includes a South Korean-controlled submerged rock that lies within the two countries’ overlapping economic zones, according to a South Korean defence ministry official quoted by the news agency.

The submerged rock in question is Ieodo, a.k.a. Socotra Rock, where Chinese surveillance flights have sharply increased this year. On the bright side, China reassures us that there’s no territorial dispute with Korea over the rock, and as far as I know, neither Korea nor China actually claim it as territory—-according to the UN Law of the Sea, submerged rocks cannot be claimed as territory. On the not-so-bright side, Ieodo features prominently in the regarding the overlap in Korea’s and China’s respective EEZs, although why the rock itself is of any importance in that, I’m not quite sure—Koh Choong-suk, president of the Society of Ieodo Research, tries to explain it here, but I’m still not sure why the rock matters. If you get it, though, please enlighten me in the comments.

Interestingly enough, Japan’s air defense zone also reportedly violates Korea’s in the water’s south of Jejudo.

The JoongAng Ilbo has a nice little map showing the competing Korean, Chinese and Japanese air defense zones in the South Korea Sea East China Sea. One interest thing to note is that Korea’s does NOT include Ieodo, although the Korean Defense Ministry is apparently considering extending the zone.

The United States, needless to say, is not happy about any of this, especially since President Obama is on record suggesting that the United States would defend Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the event of an attack. For that matter, so is the US Congress. Possibly to reaffirm this point, the USAF flew a B-52 through China’s new air defense zone and over the Senkaku Islands. Which was pretty ballsy on Obama’s part, IMHO. China, meanwhile, is sending a carrier group—or should I say the carrier group, as it’s only got one—to the South China Sea. Lovely.

I confess, stuff like this gets me a wee bit nervous, mostly because I don’t know to what extent the Chinese leadership believes its own bullshit. You’ve got Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Americans involved in this thing now, and you pray no one does anything stupid.

Japan annoyed by plan to build statue of “criminal”; Korea, China tell Tokyo to screw off

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga—who, as we’ve seen before, is a bit of a sensitive sort—is upset that Korea wants to build a monument to Ahn Jung-geun in China:

“This is not good for Japan-South Korea relations,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said of the proposed monument to Ahn Jung-geun, a Korean independence activist who shot Hirobumi Ito, the first Japanese governor general of Korea, in 1909 in Harbin, northeastern China.

He said Ahn, regarded as a hero in South Korea and China, “is a criminal.”

The plan was revealed when South Korean President Park Geun-hye met Monday with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi in Seoul. Park expressed appreciation for China’s cooperation with the plan, according to the South Korean presidential office. Details of the plan are not yet known.

Considering that Japan considered pretty much everyone who engaged in the Korean independence movement criminals, this would seem to suggest he believes establishing monuments to any Korean nationalist leaders would be bad for Korea—Japan relations.

Well, anyway, Korea and China have told Japan to sod off:

Both Beijing and Seoul fired back almost immediately.

“Ahn Jung-geun is a very famous anti-Japanese fighter in history,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular briefing. “He is respected by the Chinese people as well. China will, in accordance with relevant regulations on memorial facilities involving foreigners, make a study to push forward relevant work.”

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tae-young said Japan should “reflect on what kind of figure Hirobumi Ito was during Japan’s era of imperialism and militarism and what Japan did to neighbouring nations at the time”.

Expect more of this cooperation between Korea and China in the future. I’m not especially comfortable with it, and ideally, I’d like to see greater cooperation between Korea and Japan. That said, Japan doesn’t make it easy sometimes. I’m not sure what Suga hoped to gain for Japan with his statement—scoring points with some domestic lobbies, perhaps?—but as an act of diplomacy, all it does is give propaganda material to Korea and China and drive Seoul closer to Beijing at a time when Tokyo really should be working to gain an ally.

For what it’s worth, Ahn Jung-geun was a really intriguing character. And probably a more complex dude than most folk realize.

America upset by Korea-Japan squabbles: The Economist

For what it’s worth, I strongly disagree that Korea-Japan ties “are at their lowest ebb since the two countries normalised relations in 1965″—I remember late President Roh Moo-hyun’s “diplomatic war” all too well—but this piece in The Economist was still interesting.

Of particular note is that the “hub and spokes” structure of America’s East Asian alliances does not promote regional security cooperation ala NATO. This is to say South Korea cares about America, and Japan cares about America, but Seoul and Tokyo care little about one another:

America’s problem is that for Japan and South Korea, the direct costs of falling out are bearable. South Korea’s tourist industry has taken a hit, but trade and investment flows continue. Nobody expects Japan to go to war over Dokdo/Takeshima. And some trilateral co-operation with America persists—over North Korea, for example. This week the three countries met in Washington to discuss curbing the North’s nuclear aspirations. Poor Japanese-South Korean relations can scarcely be blamed for the lack of progress on the North’s proliferation.

For Japan’s military ambitions, South Korean opposition matters far less than America’s encouragement; and for South Korea the lack of “spoke-to-spoke” security relations with Japan matters less than ties with the hub, America. So, rather than making its allies susceptible to pressure to co-operate, America’s security guarantees in effect facilitate their quarrelling. A strong trilateral alliance might alarm China and cause it to rethink the backing it provides North Korea—but South Koreans worry it might also make China more hostile to Korean unification.

A comforting poll in September by the Asan Institute, a think-tank in Seoul, showed 58% of South Koreans in favour of a Park-Abe summit without preconditions. But in neither country do leaders face strong popular demands to make up with the other. Unless the dangers of their quarrels become more evident, a slide into even sharper acrimony seems unavoidable.

I’d love to see greater security cooperation between Seoul and Tokyo, and we almost had it at one point during the Lee Myung-bak administration before everything suddenly went to shit. The problem, at least in South Korea, is that while Seoul is very happy to work with the United States (and, for that matter, Japan) when in comes to North Korea, it’s much less willing to do so when it comes to China, Korea’a largest trading partner and, allegedly, a major influence in Pyongyang.

I imagine this is going to be doubly so during the administration of President Park, who strikes me as something of a Sinophile.

Japan, meanwhile, is more than happy to stick up to China and probably would like Seoul’s help in doing so, but backed by a bilateral alliance with the United States, it has little reason to display the Willy Brandt-esque statesmanship to make greater security cooperation with Seoul politically feasible.

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