The Marmot's Hole

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Category: South Korea (page 1 of 209)

Why are we here?

No, I’m not experiencing some existential crisis;  I’ll resume that shortly after I hit send.

…and I’m not asking “why are you here?”  I know why you are here:  You are here because in my solipsistic universe, I imagine you here.

I’m asking “why are we, as in US – as in U. S., here?”

Korea’s Constitutional Court just issued its ruling that the opposition Unified Progressive Party, one of three parties fielding a candidate in Korea’s most recent presidential election and having popularly elected members in the Korean Parliament, should be disbanded.   The ruling took effect immediately, and the UPP no longer exists as a political entity.  As a result of the court’s ruling,  Lee Jung-hee the former presidential candidate and her fellow UPP representatives Kim Mi-hyui, Kim Jae-yeon, Lee Sang-kyu, Lee Seok-ki, and Oh Byung-yun lost their status as members of Korea’s parliament.

I can imagine the United States’ scathing response if the forced disbandment of an opposition political party happened in Russia, China, North Korea, or any other country that the US lacks internal influence in.  Yet I can’t imagine the White House’s response or the news that an American propped up pseudo-democracy grabbing as much American media attention if such happened in countries that lack any pretense.

For those friends and family back home who have difficulty distinguishing North from South Korea, explain to them that North Korea lies north of the 38th parallel while South Korea lies south.  Otherwise, both Koreas seem pretty much the same.

I need to hit publish before I imagine jackboots kicking in my door.

Sony cancels ‘The Interview’ release, U.S. intel officials link N. Korea

All I’m going to say is, WTF?

Sony is canceling The Interview’s planned theatrical release in response to all major US theater chains deciding not to show the film after attacks were threatened. “In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” Sony says in a statement, reprinted by Variety. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”

The hackers who stole data from Sony threatened attacks on screenings of The Interview yesterday afternoon. In the time since, around half of all movie screens in the US declined to show the film.

Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence officials are telling the New York Times that the North Korean government was “centrally involved,” whatever that means, in the cyberhack of Sony:

American intelligence officials have concluded that the North Korean government was “centrally involved” in the recent attacks on Sony Pictures’s computers, a determination reached just as Sony on Wednesday canceled its release of the comedy, which is based on a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

Senior administration officials, who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings, said the White House was still debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism campaign. Sony’s decision to cancel release of “The Interview” amounted to a capitulation to the threats sent out by hackers this week that they would launch attacks, perhaps on theaters themselves, if the movie was released.

If it’s true North Korea was behind the attack, I imagine it’ll be difficult not to respond.

UPDATE: Other North Korea-related films are being dropped, too, apparently:

The shockwaves from the Sony hack have finally reached Hollywood’s development community, as New Regency has pulled the plug on its Steve Carell movie Pyongyang, which Gore Verbinski had been prepping for a March start date, an individual familiar with the project has toldTheWrap.

Based on the graphic novel by Guy Delisle, Pyongyang is a paranoid thriller about a Westerner’s experiences working in North Korea for a year.

On the other hand, the evidence that North Korea was behind this might be a bit flimsy (HT to Dan).

Have You Seen This Man?

CYH

Apparently, he was reported to be in the vicinity of the Blue House but there is some disagreement with this sighting and there are concerns that more than this man may be missing.  If you spot him, please call the Segye Ilbo, since they have invested some effort in locating this fellow.

Nogoziri: A Cup of Tea (1979)

Just a bit of something to warm your weekend.

Links: Suki Kim’s book, Ferguson comes to Seoul and more

- The NYT looks at the predicament Suki Kim’s recent book “Without You, There Is No Us,” a memoir of her time teaching English at a private university in Pyongyang, has caused the Christian educators who run the school:

A memoir by a Korean-American author about teaching English to adolescent boys at a private university in Pyongyang was certain to anger the North Korean government.

But the author, Suki Kim, may have provoked even more anger among the university’s Christian educators. They have denounced Ms. Kim for breaking a promise not to write anything about her experiences and said her memoir contains inaccuracies, notably her portrayal of them as missionaries, which could cause them trouble with the North Korean authorities.

In particular, she accuses the teachers at the school of wanting to turning North Koreans on to Jesus:

However, Ms. Kim argued, her fellow teachers also had what she described as another motive. “As much as they say they wanted to educate North Korean kids for no reason, and poured money — life’s savings — into this school, really the larger goal was to convert them, one day, if North Korea were to open up,” she said. “It’s a long-term project of turning them to Jesus, that’s really their larger goal.” Dr. Kim denied her allegations, saying that the school is committed to education, not proselytizing.

As I’ve written here before, I’m not a huge fan of missionary work. That said, I have to imagine that Christian proselytizing probably ranks pretty low on the list of problems North Koreans face.

Anyway, there’s a good interview with Kim in NK News, so go read it.

UPDATE: Suki Kim has posted a response to the New York Times article—and an explanation on the ethics of writing her book—at her website. It raises some interesting questions on how you should approach North Korea as a writer and is worth reading. Here is just a sample:

There is a long tradition of “undercover” journalism—pretending to be something one is not in order to be accepted by a community and uncover truths that would otherwise remain hidden. In some cases, this is the only way to gain access to a place. North Korea, described only recently by the BBC as “one of the world’s most secretive societies,” is such a place.

– Some expats reportedly will be gathering near Hongdae on Saturday to protest the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown case:

“We are planning a solidarity action to support and stand with folks in the United States and all around the world for Mike Brown and for justice,” rally organizer Deja Motley told The Korea Times. “Our goal is to raise awareness of the issue in Korea and give people space to voice their opinion.”

From 2 p.m., organizers will start handing out fliers with information in English and Korean about what happened in the case. The organizers will then lead protest chants before speakers recite poems and speak words of hope.

The organizers also plan to collect support messages and mail them to the Brown family in the United States.

Frankly, I find myself agreeing with Kevin McCarthy that Officer Darren Wilson should never have been brought before a grand jury, let alone indicted. The failure to indict the cop who killed Eric Garner in Staten Island, on the other hand, seems like a legitimate miscarriage of justice, regardless of whether prosecutors would have been able to get a conviction out of that case or not.

A little gift—all the way from 1965—Wangkon sent me via Facebook:

Now, the funny thing is that as I watched it, I had two empty Hwal Myeong Su bottles on my desk:

Photo 2014. 12. 4. 오후 4 20 04

– Must have been a slow protest day.

– If you like hanok—and you know you do—Tuttle has released a new photo book on Korean homes that looks well worth the purchase.

– Also courtesy Wangkon, we have this piece in the LA Times about Los Angeles Koreatown’s historic architecture:

If K-town increasingly resembles an empire on the march, gobbling up new territory by the week, it is not an empire made of bricks and mortar. It is a net draped over the existing cityscape, a net of signage and light, easily stretched and infinitely expandable. It fills, cloaks or remakes spaces in the city others had abandoned or forgotten about.

In a city that has often demolished even its best-known landmarks, that makes it both an anomaly and a suggestion of the L.A. to come. Threaded through a neighborhood that in demographic terms is mostly Latino, well served by subway and bus lines, K-town is a thriving, charismatic advertisement for a more intensely urban Los Angeles.

It is also a reflection of a city whose immigrants are more settled than ever before, increasingly gaining the clout to shape public and private architecture.

The pictures are worth checking out, too. Because really, who doesn’t like Art Deco?

To THAAD or not to THAAD? That is Korea’s question.

What is THAAD?  It stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense and it’s essentially a province/state, small country-wide anti-ballistic missile defense system.  It apparently has a range of 2,000 kilometers and the U.S. is offering it to both Japan and South Korea.  So what?  Well, the Chinese don’t like it.

(Image from JoongAng Ilbo)

Although the U.S. says it’s to protect South Korea and Japan against possible missile attack from North Korea, the pure raw capabilities of the THAAD system would indicate that the defensive target isn’t just North Korea.  The long-range THAAD missiles, along with their powerful X-Band radars, if deployed in both South Korea and Japan, offers a multilayered anti-ballistic missile defense that could theoretically render a sizable chunk of China’s ballistic missile arsenal obsolete.

Earlier this year the U.S. delivered the enormous X-Band radar that helps power the THAAD, to Kyoto, Japan and the PRC was not pleased.

The spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, said “the deployment of anti-missile systems in the Asia-Pacific and seeking unilateral security is not beneficial” to regional security. In an apparent reference to the Washington’s often quoted excuse of protecting against North Korean antagonism, Hu said the deployment should not be an “excuse to harm the security interests of other countries.”

The Chinese have given rather ominous warnings to South Korea not to adopt THAAD:

China has told South Korea that joining the U.S. missile defense system would cross a “red line” in their bilateral relationship.

And the PRC’s ambassador to South Korea Qiu Guohong:

“The THAAD would have a range of around 2,000 kilometers, which goes beyond the goal of countering missiles from North Korea,”

[…]

“The deployment of the THAAD will badly influence the relations between South Korea and China … It would harm China’s security system,”

Cross a “red line?”  Badly “influence” relations?  Uh, oh.  That doesn’t sound good.  South Korea, for their part, says they are not interested in THAAD because they are apparently developing their own anti-ballistic weapons system.

In Oct., 2013, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said South Korea would “definitely not join the U.S. missile defense system,” citing the associated costs and plans to develop South Korea’s own, similar system.

And that would be the so-called KAMD (“Korean Anti Missile Defense“) system, a mix of  Patriot  PAC-3 missiles, SM-6 and perhaps SM-3 missiles,  guided by the Israeli Green Pine radar.  There is also an apparent “indigenous” Korean anti-ballistic missile in the works, which may be similar to an Israeli Arrow type missile.

Publicly, this has been what the Korean government has said about why they may not adopt THAAD, but some Koreans are taking China’s tough talk seriously.  One of Korea’s most popular best selling authors, Kim Jin-myung, suspended all this other projects to rush and write a new novel titled “THAAD.”  According to Kim:

If it accepts the U.S. calls to deploy the anti-ballistic missile system here, he predicts, this will cost the country its No. 1 trading partner. China remains suspicious of the U.S. motive to deploy THAAD on the Korean Peninsula because it will nullify its ballistic missile system.

[China] reportedly believes that the United States seeks to encircle it.

If South Korea rejects the U.S. calls, Kim claims, it will not only lose its closest ally but also may face a catastrophic circumstance — a war on the peninsula.

A “war on the peninsula?”  A bit of hyperbole IMHO, but Kim Jin-myung says he’s not going to take a side in his novel.  He just believes there should be public discourse and concensus before the Korean government makes a decision on THAAD.

South Korea’s traditional ally the U.S. or China?  Not saying the choice is between the two here, but the choice for South Korea is getting increasingly more complex, especially in light of China’s growing economic power and influence.

(Graphic from the WSJ).

NOTE

Russia doesn’t like THAAD in Korea either.

 

Have A Jazz Christmas and A Happier New Year Too

poster_2014_web_version

This year, try celebrating the holiday season with some Jazz – the Ronn Branton Group is performing at Seoul Arts Center, on the 21st (IBK Chamber Hall) and Christmas Eve at JangCheon Hall (Apkujeongdong).  This year, he has a great lineup of musicians from the U.S. and Germany, performing original arrangements of Christmas songs and seasonal favorites.  For tickets, in English, just call 010-3817-7214.

The Taxman Cometh – What Would Jesus Do?

The National Assembly’s Strategy and Finance Committee held a  meeting with representatives of various religious faiths (Catholic, Evangelical Protestant and Buddhist) for the purpose of discussing how clergy should be taxed.  Their plan is to levy an income tax of 22 percent on 20 percent of the incomes earned by ordained clergy.  (cite)

Well, out of the three main faiths represented, guess which one threw a fit over the money and threatened fire and brimstone?

Here is a hint: which faith is well known for running a growth-for-profit scheme where the pastor has sole proprietorship of the church and runs some of the world’s most intensive missionary programs, not to mention urinating and defacing Buddhist temples and statues in Korea?

Continue reading

WSJ: What’s the average off the street Seoulite think of Japan?

Often not discussed in many Korean blogs is what the average person off the street in Seoul thinks of such and such.  The WSJ’s Korea Realtime looks to remedy that.  The upshot?  Dokdo is ours, Japan needs to repent, but PGH needs to meet with (and talk to) Abe and an amicable relationship with Japan is important.

(Image from WSJ: Korea Realtime)

Apple cannot cure itself of its Samsung addiction

If one is to believe “a source familiar with the deal” from Korea Times, then yes.  It was announced recently that Apple and Samsung had signed a huge chip manufacturing deal for Samsung to fabricate 80% of all of Apple’s application processors (“AP” chips) by 2016.

“Apple has designated Samsung as the primary supplier of its next A-series chips powering iOS devices from 2016 as the alliance with GlobalFoundries (GF) enabled Samsung to cut off capacity risk,” a source familiar with the deal said.

It was speculated earlier this year that Apple would primarily drop Samusung as an AP chip supplier:

TSMC was expected to handle up to 70 percent of the manufacturing load, while Samsung would pick up the rest. Production problems may, however, have resulted in Samsung being removed completely from the A8 supply chain.

Samsung “being removed completely from the [Apple] supply chain” has been a fervent wish by many Apple fans since at least 2010, when they started to compete directly in smart phones.  Invariability, every year since 2010 there is always some rumor that Apple is going to drop Samsung  as a major AP chip supplier and every time that rumor ends up being false.

Part of the issue is that it is very hard to make a lot of complex chips quickly, efficiently and with very little defect rate.  Initial capital expenditures and investments are prohibitive as well.  For those type of manufacturers you have pretty much only four games in town: 1) Samsung 2) Taiwan Semiconductor (“TSMC”) 3) Globalfoundries and 4) Intel.  Of the aforementioned, Intel has very little experience in mass fabricating smart phone AP chips.  Samsung and Globalfoundries appeared to have foreseen the threat of TSMC and had thus gotten into a strategic partnership in April of this year.  This relationship seems to have paid big dividends for both companies.

MarketInsider also has interesting information on why Samsung is in a superior position:

TSMC will ramp up production of chips using 16-nnometer FinFET technology. Samsung’s technology is better in terms of efficiency and energy consumption…. Bernstein Research in a note to clients. IM Investment, a local brokerage, expects Samsung to win more orders to fabricate customized chips from Qualcomm, Nvidia and Sony, helping it generate more revenue to make up for its struggling smartphone business.

On the flip side, this would appear as if Apple is throwing Samsung a lifeline while its profitability is declining.  AP chip fabrication is difficult, but higher margin and as such is known to be among the most profitable of chip manufacturing jobs.

The Korean government’s $500 billion tax-free reunification plan

No, weed is not yet legal in Korea and yes, you heard correctly.  Tax-free.

ED-AL440A_ebers_G_20100429180037

(Image from Abihollow via iamkoream.com)

According to Korea’s top financial regulator, Shin Je-yoon, Chairman of the Financial Services Commission (“FSC”), it will take 20 years and $500 billion USD to satisfactorily integrate North Korea into the south.  Now, this won’t be a perfect one-to-one integration mind you, but an attempt to get the north up to a level where it can operate at some workable and complimentary level with the south.

FSC’s blueprint added that the estimated sum would be sufficient to increase North Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita from last year’s $1,251 to $10,000 in 20 years. North Korea’s current GDP total of $31 billion is equivalent to South Korea’s 1971 GDP and just 2 percent of its GDP from last year.

Okay, if not taxes, then where would all the money come from?

According to Yonhap:

The FSC said state-run policy financing agencies, including the Korea Development Bank (KDB) and Korea Exim Bank, will play a major role in raising the funds, as Germany’s government-owned development bank, or the KfW, did 24 years ago.

The state agencies will take responsibility for up to 60 percent of the total expenses by running development projects in North Korea, while the rest will be raised by collecting overseas development aid (ODA) and private and public investments.

The Hani was a little more detailed:

In order to raise these funds, the government proposes to have public financial institutions find between US$250 billion and US$300 billion, 50% to 60% of the total, and to allow the private sector to invest between US$107.2 billion and US$186.5 billion in special economic zones and projects with guaranteed profitability.

The government also predicts that it can put US$100 billion of the US$330 billion in tax revenues it collects during the economic development of North Korea to use as funds for further development. These figures were calculated using the South Korean tax rate of 26%, under the assumption that North Korea will experience an average of 8% yearly growth during the first decade of development and 10% of yearly growth during the second decade. In addition, the government believes that it can secure US$17 billion of funding through overseas development aid (ODA) from other countries.

I don’t know.  Sounds a little voodoo to me and it assumes that people would want to invest in the north and that the north’s population would be stable and productive enough to draw some tax revenue to cover the spread.  Still, $250-300 billion is a lot of debt to raise and plunge into the 1960’s era relic that is today’s North Korea.

It must be said that the $500 billion estimate is at an overly optimistic the lower end of a range of assessments.  The upper range being $5 trillion.

Kim Yuna breaks-up with that hockey player dude

Yeah, what’s his name?  Ah, that’s right, Kim Won-jung.

Kim Yuna, Kim Won-jung (Newsis)

(Photo from Korea Times U.S. edition)

Kim Yuna finally took the advice of all her TMH oppas and dumped Won-jung recently.

According to Korea Times:

In August, Sgt. Kim Won-jung, while serving his mandatory military service as an athlete in the military corps, made headlines when he sustained leg injuries after getting in a car accident following a visit to a [Thai] massage parlor.

Kim Won-jung’s representatives reportedly told media the separation was due to his rehabilitation treatment and differences in personality

The Korean defense industry’s armored albatross

To much fanfare in 2007 the South Korean Agency for Defense Development (“ADD“) introduced four working prototypes of the Korean army’s next generation main battle tank- the XK-2 Black Panther.  Demonstration videos and the specifications sheet looked impressive.  It was apparently fast, mobile, powerful and well armed and armored.

The Koreans have the questionable habit of saying that a new weapons system of theirs is of “indigenous” design when the truth is far more, ah, textured.  The K-2’s main gun is a licensed German Rheinmetall L55/120mm gun design, the autoloader was based on the one in the French Leclerc, the snorkel based on the one in the Russian T-80U (a battalion’s worth of tanks given to Korea by Russia to pay off some old Cold War era debts).  The crown jewel of the technology in the K-2 was the powerplant (i.e. engine and transmission) which was the German MTU-890 1,500 hp diesel engine used to propel the four original prototypes.

The K-2 main battle tank (Yonhap file photo)

(Image from Yonhap News)

The Koreans had successfully reversed engineered, licensed and developed pretty much all the technologies to go mass production on the tank with the exception of the MTU-890 powerplant.  Doosan Infracore was tasked with developing an “indigenous” Korean version of the MTU-890.  They said it would take two years.  It ended up taking over seven.   Doosan missed deadline after deadline (Feburary 2009, October 2010, April 2013 and September 2013).  The last failed engine test in September 2013 forced ADD to deploy the first 100 tanks, starting earlier this year in June, with the German engine.

Even as of now, the engine built by Doosan isn’t on par with the German engine.  Instead of going 32 km/hour in eight seconds, it does so in nine seconds.  The military finally had to “relax” their standards.  The plan is to put the Doosan engine into the tank at some point before 2017.

An official from Hyundai Rotem [the main contractor] confirmed to IHS Jane’s that deliveries to the ROK Army of an initial batch of 100 K2s fitted with a foreign engine and transmission started in June 2014, and that subsequent batches are to be fitted with indigenous systems.  100 tanks by 2017?  Originally, there were suppose to be 660 tanks built by 2011.

In addition to being way past schedule, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the K-2 is  currently the most expensive tank in the world at about USD $8.8 million per unit.

Breaking: Former Sewol captain gets 36 years

The verdict is in.  It’s not death but 36 years.

(Yonhap)

(Image from Korea Times)

I wonder if he’s eligible for parole?

Also, sentences were handed to the other 14 crew members:

In the same ruling, the Gwangju District Court sentenced the ship’s chief engineer, only identified by his surname Park, to 30 years in prison, convicting him of murder.

Prison terms ranging from five years to 20 years were delivered to 13 other crew members, including the first engineer surnamed Sohn, who have been charged with abandonment and violation of a ship safety act.

In other Sewol news, it was officially announced yesterday that the active search and recovery of missing bodies has ended.

Languages spoken in North and South Korea diverging?

Perhaps, so.  Well, when a language has been separated for 66 some odd years, there is a danger of that happening.

Apparently, North Korean defectors are complaining that the language spoken in the South has enough differences that it makes integration more difficult.  One defector claims that the language of the South is “completely different.”

This issue isn’t a new one.  There have been attempts by various individuals to come up with joint dictionaries, but the two governments haven’t been as cooperative.

Aside from difficulties for North Korean defectors is the larger issue of divergent diplomatic language.  The North have a different academic heritage than the South with many Soviet and German Marxist loan words entering their scholarly vernacular, whereas the South has kept many Japanese derived Chinese academic words and have adopted many German legal terms and English loan words.  The North has “purified” their language of Sino-Japanese words and haven’t adopted any English loan words (except for those that may have entered via the Russian route).

 

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