The Marmot's Hole

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Category: ROK-US Issues (page 2 of 71)

Lockheed says Korea officially selecting the F-35

In a drawn out courtship affair with more twists and turns than Luke and Laura, Ross and Rachel, or even 길라임 and 김주원, it looks like Korea has finally pulled the trigger on officially picking a winner for their F-X (phase 3) bid.  The results were a bit of a forgone conclusion after the F-15SE was rejected last year, but (drum roll, please) the ROK has selected Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightening II.

According to a Lockheed’s press release:

 The Republic of Korea has formally announced its decision to procure the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft for its F-X fighter acquisition program.


Following a comprehensive evaluation process for their F-X program, the Republic of Korea becomes the third Foreign Military Sales country to procure the F-35, joining Israel and Japan who selected the F-35A in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

My thoughts?  Personally, I am not too enthusiastic regarding the F-35.  Much of the independent press has been bad.  The Aussies don’t think it’s all that stealthy.  The think tank Rand Corporation doesn’t think it’s all that maneuverable and is underpowered to boot.  The Australians needed a lot of convincing and are still not completely on board yet.  The Canadians are wavering.  Even an American general made the amazing admission that the F-35 might not be all that useful without an F-22 riding shotgun (i.e. watching its “6”) for it.

Well, the Korean government originally wanted the F-15SE.  It was the Korean air force that insisted on the F-35 (particularly a few dodgy ex-generals).

The good news is that the ROK’s purchase should make unit costs lower (via “economies of scale”) for the U.S. and her participating allies.  Lockheed will apparently provide some (potentially restricted?) unspecified technical help for the development of the KF-X.  I’m sure there are plenty of people in Ft. Worth, Texas happy with the order, not to mention Lockheed shareholders.

Uncle Sugar set to play schoolyard monitor at a side-meeting at the Hague

to quote from a comment by the commenter Wedge , Obama has persuaded president Park to hold a three way summit during the tea breaks of the Nuclear Security Summit in the city of the Hague next week.

Here is the BBC article in English and here is the link to a Segye Ilbo news article (in Korean) after the announcement was made. Interestingly, the Segye Ilbo’s take on the fact that the official announcement came from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and not directly from the Blue House, could be due to Park trying to “downplay” the event. It’s understandable, if I had been on the world news media saying “I won’t I won’t I won’t (meet him) ” I would feel a little peevish at saying “aw alright then I will.”

Park’s meant to have softened up a bit within the last few days since Abe’s announced not to revise the Kono statement. He’s a funny one as well – “I might I might I might (revise it)”- “oh alright then I won’t.”

That’s why we still need Uncle Sugar.

Interestingly, when I did a quick news search in English at the start of writing this post, the top news link hits were the Chinese sources. They are obviously very interested to snoop at what’s being said at this water cooler gathering behind their backs.
North Korea, *should be* too as it probably concerns them as well, but the way they fit in the picture in my head is still the big fat slow-witted kid playing by himself in the corner, killing ants with a stick.. oblivious to all of this..

Lately, Japan has been seen talking to this fat slow kid more so than usual. The primary topic they want to bring up is the Japanese abductees as usual, but I think it might just be because they were getting the silent treatment from the fat kid’s sister, that they “might as well talk with the dim brother, see if they get anywhere”.
The very strange relationship between Japan and North Korea, Continue reading

American troopers in “Real Men”

As you all know every healthy Korean male is suppose to serve a two year stint in the armed forces.  It ain’t easy and it ain’t relished by most Korean men.  However, some time after their service, many Korean men develop strangely nostalgic memories of their service.  The Korean has a good series on this here and here.

Capitalizing on this phenomenon is MBC’s reality show “Real Men” where older Korean actors relive their days in the military for the benefit of their television audiences.  Surprisingly, the show has become popular with women who want to know a little bit of what their men had gone through.

Any ways, now “Real Men” has started to have troops from the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division interact with the Korean stars.  The American troopers, for example, don’t seem to mind eating Korean food.  What’s the first thought that runs across the Koreans’ minds when they see the non-Korean faces?  “Gosh, my English sucks.”  A surprising number of the American troops knew some Korean.  The cross cultural exchange is “interesting,” to say the least.

‘진짜 사나이’ 샘 해밍턴 “250원 바나나라떼 정말 맛있어” 극찬

(Photo credit edaily)

Influence peddling in Virginia ‘East Sea’ debate?

Read the comments made by Sonagi and King Baeksu in this thread on ROKDrop.

Personally, I think the effort to promote the use of the term “East Sea” overseas is a bit silly and probably a waste of resources better spent on more important issues like the “Comfort Women.” That said, I find the Japanese reaction—essentially, threatening economic cooperation with the Commonwealth of Virginia—also interesting, since I’m often assured that Japan is the mature party here.

And say what you will about Koreans and Korean-Americans bringing their “old country” hangups to the United States, but it’s not a new phenomenon:

The furor is relatively over very low stakes. After all, it’s about adding the label East Sea next to Sea of Japan on maps, not even replacing it. But it serves as a symbol of the new ethnic politics in the United States. For decades, politicians appealing for votes from ethnic communities had to take certain stands on foreign policy issues. Every politician in Massachusetts would be adamantly against British policy in Northern Ireland, every elected official on Long Island would ardently support the State of Israel and California politicos would do their utmost to appropriately commemorate the Armenian Genocide. This is simply a new variation on that old pattern and marks the increasing importance of Asian-American voters in electoral politics.

Korean company building tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi

Well, Angelenos, I hope you like your supertall skyscrapers Korean:

The Hanjin Group of South Korea, better known to Americans through its flagship subsidiary Korean Air Lines, is in the process of building the tallest structure west of the Mississippi. It’s going up right in the heart of downtown Los Angeles — the sort of project bound to stir conversation and controversy.

And yet there’s no controversy and little conversation. No one is screaming that the Koreans are buying up America. No one is complaining about how the Wilshire Grand Hotel has been demolished to make way for a skyscraper. If you read the online comments to the handful of news articles on the project, Angelenos say they welcome the shiny glass and steel New Wilshire Grand.

The planned building is being designed by AC Martin Partners—see the project page (with pretty pictures) here. It will stand 73 stories, and in true Korean style, a historic building was demolished to make way for it. It will be illuminated at night with LEDs, too.

Anyway, back to the original story. So just why is it that nobody is taking a sledgehammer to a Samsung Galaxy on the Capitol steps?

One obvious answer is that South Korea, unlike Japan, was never an American enemy. The less obvious answer is that South Korea, despite its achievements and longstanding connections to America, has been slow to penetrate the U.S. consciousness.

That’s changing, however, as the rest of the piece illustrates.

For what it’s worth, the man leading the project, Hanjin Group chairman Cho Yang-ho, should consider himself lucky to be alive:

On a honeymoon trip to Southern California in 1974, Yang-ho Cho and his new bride drove into downtown Los Angeles only to get lost among the dark, empty industrial buildings and shuttered shops.

Cho remembers he could find no one on the streets to ask for directions to his hotel.

Harrowing stuff.

BTW, just in case anyone asks, the first Korean building to make use of a glass curtain wall was the UNESCO Building in Myeong-dong in 1968. So don’t complain you weren’t told.

This and that regarding USFK cost-sharing agreement

The Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) announced today that it has started a preliminary investigation to see if the Korean moneys paid for the upkeep of USFK are being used properly:

The probe is taking place while the South Korean government is waiting for parliamentary approval of its agreement to pay 920 billion won (US$866 million) for U.S. troops this year, a 5.8 percent increase from the previous year.

The move comes after a left-leaning civic group, Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea, in October requested a probe into the fund use after data showed that the U.S. is sitting on more than 1 trillion won of unspent defense funds paid by Seoul.

The investigation is to mainly focus on whether there was any attempt to evade taxes on interest from unspent cash paid by Seoul, according to officials.

Yes, that would be this Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea, led in part by that Kang Jeong-koo and a priest best known for illegally visiting North Korea. You’ll also recall that the lawmaker who’d been spearheading allegations of USFK “cash-hoarding” was none other than Rep. Lee Seok-ki.

Yes, that Lee Seok-ki.

As GI Korea said way back when:

[T]he money is likely being stockpiled in anticipation of whenever the big move to Camp Humphreys takes place. Moving all the servicemembers from Yongsan and the 2nd Infantry Division to Camp Humphreys is not going to be cheap. However, if you are a North Korean spy looking to create discord between the Korean public and the US military this is a great issue to demagogue.

Still, the fact that the BAI has decided to launch a preliminary investigation suggests that the public is insufficiently satisfied with USFK transparency. The recent cost-sharing agreement includes mechanisms to boost transparency, but the DP is promising to take a tough look at the agreement when it goes to the National Assembly for approval. You can read more about the “blowback” here.

It’s important to realize that it’s not just allegedly pro-North Korean elements raising the issue of transparency. The reliably pro-American Chosun Ilbo warns in an editorial:

Saddled with a huge fiscal deficit, the U.S. is trying to cut spending while focusing its strategy in Asia on Japan. If South Korea resists any calls to take on a greater share of the cost at a time like this, it may end up sidelined in policies involving Northeast Asian security and North Korea. It must therefore approach the issue from a diplomatic rather than fiscal perspective.

But an important point is whether there will be increased transparency in how the money is being spent. Washington has agreed to provide more information, but it remains to be seen just how much, since there is no legally binding clause in the agreement to ensure this.

The U.S. did not spend around W710 billion it received from South Korea as part of upkeep, but Seoul had no idea of this for some time. If this happens again, the South Korean public will only become more opposed to any rise in Seoul’s share of the cost. Both the U.S. and South Korea must be careful not to let the cost issue damage their alliance.

The likewise reliably pro-American Dong-A Ilbo also cites transparency concerns, and adds a demand that now that Korea is paying more to maintain USFK, the United States should make concessions on other security-related issues, by which it means Washington should agree to delay the transfer of wartime operational command to the second coming of Christ and lift restrictions on Korean nuclear development:

The two countries have yet to hold negotiations over revision to the bilateral nuclear treaty and another postponement of the transfer of wartime operational control. On the nuclear talks, the two sides delayed the deadline by two years to 2016, but have yet to narrow major differences despite nine rounds of talks. The planned transfer of wartime operational control is scheduled in December 2015, but it is uncertain whether the transfer will be postponed again. How negotiations over these issues are concluded will determine not only Korea’s security but also the nation’s nuclear technology development and the future of export. Since Korea has made concessions in the talks over defense cost sharing, the U.S. should make sincere efforts to resolve the remaining issues.

The Hankyoreh, meanwhile, didn’t find much to celebrate at all. I do think its call for an itemized standard like Japan is worth considering, though:

The talks basically left in place the current framework, leaving the US with discretionary authority on how to spend the money once a total amount is agreed on. Many had called for a system more along the lines of the Japanese one, where spending is decided on an item-by-item basis as needed. It would have been worth the headaches to find a way of adopting an itemized standard while working to minimize the financial costs. It’s also unfortunate that they failed to produce any real answers on how to use the 1,352.3 billion won in previous defense contributions that haven’t been used.

Of course, if we end up itemizing like Japan, we might want to demand Korea start paying like Japan, too. Even under the most recently signed agreement, Korea is paying less than 50% of USFK’s upkeep costs. Japan, I believe, pays something in the neighborhood of 70% (please correct me if I’m wrong here), and according to the Chosun Ilbo editorial linked above, Tokyo was asking Washington to make Seoul pay more in accordance with its much-improved economic power.

Late Pres. Roh ‘anti-American, crazy’: Bob Gates

In his recently published memorir, former SecDef Bob Gates paints an unflattering picture of late Korea President Roh Moo-hyun:

Gates recalls a November 2007 meeting in Seoul with the liberal-minded president, whose diplomatic and security policy is still being debated.

He calls Roh “anti-American and probably a little crazy.” Roh was quoted as telling Gates that “the biggest security threats in Asia were the United States and Japan.”

I must confess it’s nice to see Roh was telling both the Americans and North Koreans the same thing. Important to stay on message, you know.

Unsurprisingly, Gates liked working with Lee Myung-bak, more.

You’ll recall Roh’s attitudes led him to get pwned by Gate’s predecessor.

Anyway, perhaps more interesting was Gates’s claim that President Lee and Company really wanted to lay the smack down on North Korea following the 2011 shelling of Yeonpyeong-do, but the United States leaned on Seoul to limit its retaliation:

“South Korea’s original plans for retaliation were, we thought, disproportionately aggressive, involving both aircraft and artillery,” Gates wrote in his memoir.

“We were worried the exchanges could escalate dangerously,” he added.

Over the next few days, Gates said he, US President Barack Obama and then secretary of state Hillary Clinton had numerous telephone calls with their South Korean counterparts in an effort to calm things down.

“Ultimately, South Korea simply returned artillery fire on the location of the North Koreans’ batteries that had started the whole affair,” he said.

The Korean government is declining to comment on this, but they probably don’t need to. After all, this isn’t the first time a former US official has made such a claim.

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).

Oh, for Christ’s sake people, it’s Joe Biden!

Uncle Joe apparently pissed off some folk during his visit to Korea:

In particular, his words of warning against betting against the United States during a meeting with President Park Geun-hye last Friday prompted several domestic media outlets to criticize him, interpreting them as a check of China and Korea’s increasing economic and political dependence on the world’s most populous nation.

So, what exactly did Biden say this time?

“I want to make one thing absolutely clear. President Obama’s decision to rebalance the Pacific Basin is not in question. The United States never says anything it does not do. Let me say that again. The United States never says anything it does not do,” he said.

“As I said in my visits thus far in the region, it has never been a good bet to bet against America. It has never been a good bet to bet against America. And America is going to continue to place its bet on South Korea.”

It’s the “betting” part that has rubbed folk the wrong way as it came off as Biden coercing President Park to support the United States over China. Leading the complaints is—sit down for this—Korea’s opposition Democratic Party, which complained that if Biden’s intent was to threaten, his comments would be regarded as the “rudest comment in the history of summit diplomacy between the two countries” since George W. Bush referred to Kim Dae-jung as “this man.”

Chief among the complainers was DP chief Kim Han-gil, who likened Biden to a “drunken uncle.”

OK, that was pretty funny.

He also said Biden showed not even a minimum of respect in dealing with the president of a host nation. Ever the optimist, I prefer to see this as a positive thing—at least Kim acknowledged Park is the president, which is more that we can say for others in his party. Nor did allude to Park getting assassinated, which again, is more than we can say for others in his party.

Kim also didn’t like Biden grasping Park’s hand and leading her around—no, not because the whole White Male/Asian Female thing reminds of him of all those evil English teachers, but rather because he took it as the Veep showing off American power.

Well, at least the Dong-A Ilbo’s Choe Yeong-ae got it—it’s just Joe being Joe. And besides—with Park being single, at least Biden didn’t ask her if her husband liked her working full time.

photo credit: Barack Obama via photopin cc

The Korean dude who heckled President Obama and Korea’s visa waiver status

By now, most American readers will probably be familiar with Ju Hong, the Korean guy who heckled President Obama during—ironically enough—an immigration rally.

Hong has a history of, depending on how you look at it, gutsy political activism or outrageously mocking the people’s laws on immigration.

I didn’t think much about the incident at the time, other than being somewhat impressed by Obama’s handling of the incident and, likewise, somewhat perplexed as to why Hong and his family weren’t immediately placed on a plane back to Korea where he can do his two year’s military service like every other Korean male in his age cohort—I’m sure the ROK military has plenty of need for good English speakers.

Then I read an interview Hong gave with Yonhap News, where he calls immigration reform an “important matter for Korean-Americans and a human rights issue.” But more interestingly, he claims that one in seven Korean immigrants to the United States is undocumented.

The interview is worth reading, as it not only explains how Hong’s family ended up in Migukistan, but it’s also fun to compare its tone with the one Yonhap would have likely adopted had this been Ahmed the Illegal Bangladeshi Factory Worker from Ansan heckling President Park Geun-hye during a presidential speech.

At National Review, Mark Krikorian discusses the problem Hong’s case presents to immigration law enforcement—his family entered the country legally enough, but simply overstayed their visas. And as Hong himself told Yonhap, there are apparently a lot of Koreans doing this:

The salient fact here for immigration policy is that he came with his family on a tourist visa, and never left. Visa overstayers are believed to represent between a third and a half of the 12 million illegal aliens in the United States — and with improvements in border enforcement it’s possible the majority of new illegal aliens are overstayers. That translates to 4 to 6 million liars, people who swore they’d leave when their visit was over but didn’t, something at least as contemptible as sneaking into someone else’s country. Hong came as a child, so he wasn’t doing the lying, but he’s no more entitled to stay than the child of someone who lied on a mortgage application and later lost his home.

There are also more Korean illegal aliens than you might think. For instance, nearly 7,000 South Korean illegal aliens have been amnestied by Obama’s unconstitutional Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (a.k.a. the administrative Dream Act) through the end of August, making it the No. 5 country after Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Krikorian goes on to note that the problem—at least in Korea’s case—is made worse by the fact that Korea is included in the American visa waiver program:

Exacerbating this problem with regard to South Korea and other countries is the Visa Waiver Program. As the name suggests, people from the 37 countries on the list don’t have to get visas for short tourist or business trips. Only those countries whose citizens are very unlikely to overstay are supposed to be included in the program. Unfortunately, the main force expanding the list of participating countries has been lobbying pressure from the travel industry and foreign governments. South Korea was added in 2008 and Greece — Greece — in 2010. This has been a significant driver of illegal immigration; the GAO reported earlier this year that, of a very large sample of apparent overstays, nearly half were people who entered under the Visa Waiver Program.

To be honest, as far as nations of origin for illegal aliens go, you could do a lot worse than Korea, but still, something appears to be broken. Ultimately, it’s up to the United States to enforce its own immigration laws, but I wonder if perhaps there’s room for cooperation with Korean authorities to ensure Korean tourists don’t get lost on their visits, lest this become a bilateral diplomatic issue. You know, much in the way the Korean Foreign Ministry stepped in when a certain, ahem, segment of the Korean community in Australia became an issue.

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.

Sometimes it’s good to spy on friends

In the Boston Globe, Walter V. Robinson argues that sometimes, spying on your allies can be a good or even necessary thing. He cites an example he was apparently involved in personally—the 1969 summit between Korean President Park Chung-hee and US President Richard Nixon:

In Asia, where a half million American troops were engaged in Vietnam, the Korean peninsula had become an unwelcome flashpoint. In January 1968, a team of North Korean commandos was narrowly foiled in an attempt to assassinate Park. Three days later, North Korean naval vessels seized the spy ship USS Pueblo and its 82 crew members. And then came the downing of the reconnaissance aircraft 15 months later.

There were 56,000 American troops in South Korea, and deep concerns in Washington that the Korean War might well resume. For the United States, good intelligence was critical, from either side of the demilitarized zone. Indeed, South Korea foiled a North Korean mission to land another team of commandos in the south in 1969, thanks to signal and communications intelligence intercepts of North Korean military transmissions.

In the weeks before the Nixon-Park summit, the NSA provided the Nixon Administration with scores of secret cables between Park’s senior aides, the South Korean Foreign Ministry, and its embassy in Washington. Many of them dwelt at length on Park’s negotiating strategy: Ask for much more than he needed, in weaponry and other US assistance to combat the threat from Pyongyang. And the cables, which Park’s government presumed were secret, also spelled out what he actually needed.

Nixon had been dealt a full house. Park held no cards at all.

Needless to say, many Koreans aren’t so happy about the latest round of spying allegations—one opposition lawmaker recently even called for NSA officials to be extradited to Korea for trial—but the government hasn’t been saying much. And for good reason—according to leaked NSA documents, South Korea was placed on a list—alongside China, Russia, Cuba, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, France and Venezuela—of countries engaged in intelligence operations against the US government, military, science and technology and intelligence community. Again, not surprising—if I were head of the NIS, I’d be spying on the Americans, too.

South Korean first-strike capabilities has got American, Chinese attention: US researcher

In town for a forum hosted by the Korea Economic Institute (KEI), Hudson Institute researcher Richard Weitz said Seoul has made so much progress preparing for a preemptive strike contingency against the North that its arousing the attention of Chinese and American officials.

Preemptive strikes would see the use of ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range guns. Weitz said Korea’s response system has improved greatly since the 2010 sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeongdo.

He says, however, that experts worry Seoul might not be able to properly respond to a collapse of the North Korean regime, noting that in such a scenario, the South Korean military would have to enter North Korea, secure nuclear weapons and handle a humanitarian crisis with US forces playing a minimal role.

He said such a mission would require large-scale ground forces rather than advanced weapons, but South Korea has been gradually reducing its manpower and adopting more advanced weapons systems. He says it does not appear Seoul is well-prepared to handle a non-military clash lake reunification.

Weitz also noted that there’s a severe trade imbalance between Korea and the United States in terms of arms and defense products, and this imbalance could eventually limit Korea’s ability to purchase American fighter jets. To help avoid controversy over Korea joining a missile defense system and relax tensions surrounding the negotiations on burden sharing, the United States should purchase more Korean-made weapons and defense-related products.

Referring to the Foreign Policy piece on US suspicions that Korea was stealing its weapon technology, he said it seems this is merely a suspicion, and that the similarity of Korean systems to American ones appears to be the product of a strategy of boosting interoperability. He also said American firms have generally wanted Korea to produce weapons systems similar to their American counterparts as this could boost Korea’s dependence on US imports for things such as parts.

Marmot’s Note: Seoul’s preemptive strike capacity does seem impressive, which makes the less-than-inspiring comments coming out of the Ministry of Defense over the last couple of days even more bewildering. Not only do you have the Defense Intelligence Agency director saying that the South would lose a war to the North without US help, but yesterday you had Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin tell the National Assembly that South Korea’s military strength was only about 80% that of the North’s—a claim made all the more bewildering as he a) made it while simultaneously boasting that the South would destroy the North in a war even without US help, and b) he also noted that South Korea spent 34 times as much on defense than the North in 2013.

For what it’s worth, Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) studies found that while South Korea’s military strength was just 88% of the North’s in 2004, by 2009 it was already 110% of the North’s. And as the Hankyoreh notes, the Defense Ministry-run KIDA’s estimations are considered conservative. According to, South Korea ranked eighth in the world in military strength—right behind Ze Germans and right ahead of the Italians—while the North placed only 29th, which ranked it a spot below Ethiopia. For those keeping score at home, Mongolia placed 61st.

Losers, NLL transcript, invisible US ambassador, Japan and UNESCO redux, complaining foreigners, pretty shaved heads and Lego


With guys like this running the Ministry of Defense, is it any surprise they’re dragging their feet with the transfer of wartime operational command?

The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency touched off a furor by saying at a National Assembly audit that South Korea would “lose” in a one-on-one war with North Korea.

South Korea’s 2013 military spending is 33 to 34 times more than North Korea‘s.

Speaking at the National Assembly’s National Defense Committee annual audit of his office at the Ministry of National Defense on Nov. 5, Cho Bo-geun reportedly responded to a question about who would win in a war between South Korea and North Korea by saying, “If we fight as an alliance with the US under the current operational plan, we‘ll win by an overwhelming margin. If South Korea fights alone, North Korea has the superior fighting strength, so South Korea would lose.”

Twice the population, a military budget 34 times the size of North Korea’s, an economic gap that looks like this, and you still think you’d lose?

I just don’t know what to say, other than the Defense Ministry should hire Doug Bandow as a consultant or something.

Which way did the transcript go, George? Which way did it go?

More nonsense with the NLL:

“People all know that President Roh Moo-hyun guarded the NLL (Northern Limit Line),” Moon told reporters before his questioning. “The transcript [of the summit] is intact.

“The crux of this matter is that the ruling party and the National Intelligence Service abused the transcript stored at the NIS by distorting its contents for [last year’s] presidential election,” said Moon, who was also the Democratic Party candidate defeated in last year’s presidential election.

When asked by reporters why the transcript wasn’t transferred to the National Archives, Moon did not answer.

He’s probably right about the NIS using the transcript for political purposes in the last election. As far as everyone knowing that Roh defended the NLL, I’d say recent elections and polling would suggest that’s far from the case.

US ambassador needs to drink more

Somebody at the JoongAng Ilbo apparently doesn’t think US Ambassador Sung Kim is drinking enough:

Modesty and passiveness are different. Kim’s background is too special for him to be just another ambassador.

Because he is the first Korean-American to be appointed U.S. ambassador to Seoul, and because he is the forerunner for other people of Korean descent who will take senior posts in other countries, our expectations are high.

It is not too late. We want to see His Excellency Kim meeting Koreans over glasses of makgeolli during the rest of his term.

There seems to be some confusion here, and I’ve noticed it with previous ambassadors here, too. More specifically, it sometimes seems the media expects the US ambassador to represent Korean interests to the US government. Sure, I guess in terms of public policy, it doesn’t hurt to mix with the locals. Could be fun, too. But that’s not his job.

Oh, not this again…

The JoongAng Ilbo thinks the Japanese are being insensitive by pushing the registration of their modern cultural heritage with UNESCO:

Japan was a regional front-runner when it came to industrialization and economic success. The government is seeking to register its early industrial sites as Unesco World Heritage sites to rekindle pride in its economic legacy. Doing so, however, the country has once again demonstrated insensitivity toward its neighbor. Eleven out of the 28 “Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution” it plans to seek for UN recognition in February 2015 served as labor camps for Korean prisoners and civilians during World War II.

At least 1,481 Koreans were forced to work as slaves in sites that include a shipyard in Nagasaki, a defunct coal mine and a steel mill in Fukuoka, according to a study by the Prime Minister’s Office.The Hashima coal mine was notoriously referred to as the “island of hell” because Koreans were forced to work for 12 hours a day in pits of 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) below the surface. Few Koreans came out alive or even healthy.

Any country is entitled to vie for international recognition and protection for its heritage and cultural properties under the World Heritage Treaty of 1972. The places Japan wants to list as World Heritage sites may be valuable assets to the Japanese, but they trigger bitter and painful memories for Koreans. It is spiteful to honor its past glory at the expense of others’ pain.

I’ve already explained why I think this is a losing fight for the Korean side here.

Sometimes, this blog just writes itself

OK, it’s a bit dated, but in case you missed the Korea Times piece about the gay American pastor in HBC complaining about Korea’s homophobic textbooks, then you also missed this beauty from an Education Ministry official—be warned, though, that you should not be drinking anything when you read it, especially coffee, which can be especially difficult to wipe off your monitor:

“Every country has its own set of laws in evaluating and approving the education material for books. I don’t know if it’s appropriate for a foreigner to judge how we manage our education. You won’t see us commenting how other countries teach at schools.”

I’ll give you a minute to stop laughing.

Like a very pretty bhikkhunī

Say what you will about Rep. Kim Jae-yeon’s politics—needless to say, I’m not a fan of her party. Still, she does look good with a shaved head.

Lego screwing Korea

Or that’s what some folk are complaining, anyway:

“Lego is too expensive, that’s why moms usually band together and make bulk purchases through the Internet,” Park Jin-hai, 38, a mother of two kids aged nine and six, said.

“Moms all know Lego is expensive, but we have no choice because kids love it. Also, it is difficult to find individual stores and service centers where customers can get the customer service in person,” Park added.

“Lego uses its international economic scale to raise awareness and the price here. Comparably smaller Korean toy firms cannot win with those strategies,” a market insider added.

Foreign coffee chains, outdoor fashion brands, Danish toy companies… when will these outrages stop?

Spy Games

There’s now speculation about what President Park will do should is be learned that the United States bugged her phone. The Chosun Ilbo seems to think it did:

The U.S. government promised Korea to “review intelligence activities” after Seoul asked whether the National Security Agency wiretapped the Korean Embassy in Washington. This is seen as tantamount to an admission that it did.

“Seoul had demanded that Washington verify rumors about wiretapping and make its position clear,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tae-young said Tuesday. “The U.S. has said it understands allies’ worries and promised to review intelligence activities.”

Given Korea’s own forays—not always successful—into the realm of cloak-and-dagger skulduggery, I really don’t know what Cheong Wa Dae will say should it be confirmed that the NIS eavesdropped on them. A DP lawmaker, meanwhile, is claiming the US may have been peaking at Korea’s cards during the FTA negotiations.

On the other side of the ledger, Foreign Policy has run a piece on US concerns that South Korea may be stealing its weapons technology:

But just beneath that relationship’s surface is a growing unease. South Korea, one of America’s strongest partners in East Asia, is aggressively targeting U.S. advanced technology for its own use in a variety of Korean weapons programs, Foreign Policy has learned. From anti-ship missiles, electronic warfare equipment, torpedoes, a multiple-launch rocket system, and even components on a Korean-made Aegis destroyer, the United States is concerned about the uncanny resemblance those systems bear to American weaponry. Even the tanks Hagel watched on the range that day may be partial knock-offs: The Korean models have fire control systems that appear to be all-but-identical to the American versions.

Though the United States long has had systems in place to monitor technology-sharing with allies, the case with South Korea has become particularly acute in the last few years. As the United States pivots East and Asia’s once sleepy defense industries begin to awaken, it has quietly begun to scrutinize its technology-sharing relationships with such allies, conducting secret but robust “dialogues” — diplomatic-speak for a series of private exchanges on tech-sharing between the two countries — to ensure that American secrets stay that way.

This is particularly relevant at a time when Korea is considering the purchase of the F-35:

Right now, the dialogue between the two countries is focused heavily on the potential sale of the advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the South Koreans. American officials are putting into place a strict security agreement to ensure that nothing is shared, either with the wrong people, or for use by a buyer of a Korean-made copycat for Korea’s own competitive purposes. The South Koreans are interested in the F-35, but their interest comes at the same time as South Korea’s bid to build its own stealth jet, raising bureaucratic eyebrows in the United States. It could be the equivalent of South Korea taking a fighter jet on a test drive, as it were, flying it around the corner to kick its tires, only then to return it to the dealership and say it’s not interested, but first looking under the hood and taking some pictures.

Some quarters of the Korean press claim US concerns are more about competition from Korea in the global arms market. Like US concerns about theft, I’m sure there’s some truth to that, too.

(HT to Wangkon)

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