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World Bank “bafflingly” ranks Korea 4th best place to do business

The World Bank released its Doing Business 2016 report and ranked South Korea as the fourth best country in the world to do business.  South Korea’s ranking remained the same as in the 2015 report.  Only Singapore, New Zealand, and Denmark rated higher.  The U.S. ranked seventh.

Of course, the devil lies in the methodology, and I invite my reader to curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and read the World Bank’s 125 page report.  Here’s a listing of the top countries:

World Bank Best Places to Do Business Top Rankings


…Or he can read the Chosun Ilbo’s surprisingly perspicacious review with the lede, Korea Bafflingly Ranked 4th Best Place to Do Business.  “Korean business people were left scratching their heads. ‘If Korea is the fourth best place in the world to do business, then why aren’t multinationals rushing to set up operations here?’ asked one baffled executive with a major conglomerate.”

“Earlier, Forbes magazine in its own list of the best countries for business and ranked Korea a more realistic 32nd.  So what is behind the enormous discrepancy?  …The World Bank bases its evaluation mostly on infrastructure which is conductive to business. Its 10-point list of criteria includes ‘construction permits, getting electricity, registering property and enforcing contracts.’ Those areas are Korea’s strong points.”

The Chosun Ilbo then returned to familiar form:  “But the evaluation did not include the Achilles heel of the Korean corporate landscape, which is labor relations.  Korea is notorious for its militant unions.  ‘The most common complaints among domestic and foreign businesspeople are frequent strikes by unions and red tape, like regulations that ban hotels within a few hundred meters from a school, but the World Bank’s evaluation did not reflect any of these factors, so it’s difficult to take the ranking seriously,’ said Kim Dong-wook at the Korea Employers Federation.”

Ye Olde Ilbo noted that Forbes (“Korea a more realistic 32nd”), the International Institute for Management Development (Korea at 37th) and the World Forum (Korea at 26th) ranked Korea about average.

Fourth?  No.

Korea might be conducive to Korean business, but I, as a foreigner or foreign corporation, would not put my faith or fate in Korean courts.

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Mid-Week Bitch-and-moan-cathartic-get-it-out-of-your-system Open Thread

Have at it.

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Religious Convictions & Military Service in South Korea – An Article

Choe Sang-hun has written a very nice bit of writing about the long standing conflict between conscientious objectors from the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect in South Korea and the government.
One fellow speaks of his time in prison for his refusal to perform his mandatory military service:

I was predestined to become a convict because I believed in the creator,. . . I want South Korea to recognize that there are other, non-military ways for us to serve the community.

The article is here.

National Foundation Day (Open) Thread: October 3, 2015

October 3 is a national holiday in Korea, Gaecheonjeol (개천절). known as National Foundation Day in English.  On this date, Koreans celebrate the founding of the Korean nation with the formation of the first Korean state of Gojoseon 4,348 years ago in 2333 BC and their 5,000 years of Korean culture.

For some Korea lovin’, check out this classic video produced by VANK:

Here’s the winner (at mark 6:30):

Vank 5,000 Years of History Video

The runner-up (“…and if for any reason the winner cannot fulfill its duty, the the first runner-up will….”)  occurs at the 30 second mark:  “On upside-down world maps, Korea looks powerful as it emerges from the continent and extends into the Pacific Ocean.”

Happy National Foundation Day!

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Please Pay Mom & Pops in Cash

The next time you hit a small restaurant or cafe, you might consider paying in cash since it helps save small businesses money that they would lose to exorbitant service fees.

Small businesses in Korea pay an average 320,000 won ($269) every month in commissions to credit card companies and that hurts since they make roughly less than 1,000,000won per month.
There is some relief being sought in the Assembly, however not everyone is wanting to help:

According to the Korea Small Business Association, individually owned small businesses account for about 27.4 percent of the whole domestic business environment, which is higher than the average in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Reflecting the low profitability of the mom-and-pop stores, the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy last month submitted a bill to lower the commission rate to 1 percent, but the bill is stuck in committee.

While household debt has risen steadily and at alarming rates, so have the profits made by Korea credit card agencies(cite) despite their claims in the past that cutting the commission rate would “put them out of business”(cite). This is clearly not the case.
There may be some relief, for some, if Samsung actually goes through with its plan on waiving fees for merchants that use its mobile-pay payment system, which may put pressure on other businesses to meet this challenge. The Samsung mobile-pay system also already works with the standard PIN and chip card terminals.

Open Thread, September 26, 2015 – The Chusok Edition

Have a safe and good Chusok.

Flavour of the Month – Propaganda à la Mode

The Joongang Ilbo is reporting that Korean culture may offer some people a possible solution to Islamic violence:

When 18-year-old Angelina Salwa R.A Hodali (she is Sunni according to the article) was first introduced to K-pop, she envisioned Korea to be as dynamic as the upbeat melodies . . . Hodali arrived here early this month and is currently studying at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS). “I want to establish a music agency like SM Entertainment or YG Entertainment,” she said, adding that she hoped her future company could replace the all too frequent sounds of gunfire with music.
To honor the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, a special reporting team set out to survey thousands of people like Hodali nationwide to find out what they believe defines Korea. (link)

. . . and I thought Nah Hoon-ah knew how to spin PR (he really does).

Korea is really an excellent country because of the fine people that live here, however I would really hope that after fifty years, I would not be so feeble-minded let slip silly articles like this one!

Security Is A Problem Everywhere

sneaky_koreanNowadays everyone has security concerns, especially since it is easier for clever and patient crooks to steal information.

Government-sponsored software in the UK was found to be leaking unencrypted data and now South Korea has it’s own problems too:
The Smart Sheriff application (child monitoring phone app that is mandatory for kids under 18), that was developed under the auspices of the Korean Government, has major security flaws (26 flaws) that expose credit and personal information. As we had feared, the software has vulnerabilities that could leak children’s personal details or allow the phone to be hacked:

. . . This case shows precisely how good intentions can end up seriously wrong — in this case, a government-promoted parental monitoring application actually putting children at greater, rather than less, risk of harm. (cite)

The vulnerabilities are reported fixed, however, we can only wonder how deep those fixes are and how the information collected from this application will be used. Forcing spyware onto kids phones also is also an unwarranted intrusion of the state into the lives of its citizens.

Military Secrets & Subcontractors Who Are Careless

Chinese and likely North Korean hackers have managed to gain access to information on the military’s tactical communication network two years ago. One easier route to hack are the subcontractors involved in working on military projects, thus two defense contractors in Korea including Samsung SDS were hacked two years back and are only recently being investigated (cite).

No wonder the US does not want to transfer certain military technology that is related to the F-35 program, when that is tantamount to giving it away (cite).

Thailand to buy T-50 jet trainers from Korea

Yesterday it was announced that Korea had sold an initial shipment of four T-50 jet trainers to Thailand in a $110 million USD contract.  It was a bit of a surprise because many analysts had believed that the Thais would choose the cheaper Chinese Hongdu L-15 jet trainer instead.  The L-15 is estimated to be cheaper than the T-50 by about $5 million USD each.

Asset Image

(Photo credit

According to the Bangkok Post the Thai cabinet had approved the purchase in principle on Oct 21 last year. After deciding on the model, the air force informed the cabinet on Aug 25. The defense minister approved the purchase on Sept 10.   Korean Aerospace Industries (“KAI”) made the announcement of the deal yesterday.  The Thai version of the T-50 will be called the T-50TH and will replace its ageing fleet of Czech made Aero L-39ZA Albatros aircraft.   A follow-on deal in the coming months could result in additional orders for 20 further T-50s down the road.

This marks the fifth country to order the T-50 and/or its variants.  The first country is of course South Korea.  The second was in 2010 with Indonesia ordering 16.  Iraq followed in 2013 with an order for 24.  In 2014 the Philippines put in an order for 12.

A quick update on the mother lode, the huge TX jet trainer program for the USAF.  In March of this year the USAF came up with their advanced jet trainer (the TX) requirements.  A key requirement is the ability to have “sustained g” of between 6.5 to 7.5 while maneuvering at 15,000 feet.  This requirement would appear to knock out Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346 Master (the chief rival to the T-50) because the M-346 can only sustain 5.3 g at 15,000 feet.   The T-50 is still in the mix, but Boeing and Saab, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed have each said they are working on clean-sheet designs.  Textron AirLand has also been considering a trainer derivative of its Scorpion jet (although I am personally doubtful that the Scorpion can meet most of the TX’s requirements).

Farm-related Air Pollution and The Harm It Causes

A new study in air pollution has discovered that rural, farm-related pollution plays a large role in smog and soot deaths in industrial nations that average around 3.8 million deaths per year.  This is the result of testing that looked at the causes for air pollution-related deaths (strokes and heart attack).  Air pollution kills more people than HIV and malaria combined. (cite) If unabated, the death rate will double by 2050.  Per the article:

In the U.S. Northeast, all of Europe, Russia, Japan and South Korea, agriculture is the No. 1 cause of the soot and smog deaths, according to the study. Worldwide, agriculture is the No. 2 cause with 664,100 deaths, behind the more than 1 million deaths from in-home heating and cooking done with wood and other biofuels in developing world.
The problem with farms is ammonia from fertilizer and animal waste, Lelieveld said. That ammonia then combines with sulfates from coal-fired power plants and nitrates from car exhaust to form the soot particles that are the big air pollution killers, he said. In London, for example, the pollution from traffic takes time to be converted into soot, and then it is mixed with ammonia and transported downwind to the next city.We were very surprised, but in the end it makes sense,” Lelieveld said since scientists had assumed that traffic and power plants would be the biggest cause of deadly soot and smog.

Agricultural emissions are becoming increasingly important but are not regulated, said Allen Robinson, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University . . . Ammonia air pollution from farms can be reduced “at relatively low costs, Maybe this will help bring more attention to the issue . . . (cite)

As an anecdotal observation, I have seen just how bad the air in rural cites like Haenam, Kangjin, etc. can be when farmers collectively burn off the barley fields in Spring so as to prepare for the rice season. There are often smoke trails on 360-degrees of the horizon – literally everywhere you look.

The article, published in Nature, is here.

Mercedes Benz Is Very Unpopular With Korean Golfers


benz swing

This gentleman had his S-class Mercedes break down several times and was very dissatisfied with MB’s customer service.

The result is at least a par 89. Click the photo above for the whole merciless Mercedes beating.

UPDATED – September 17

According to one source:

. . . car owner Yu Je-ha hitting the German luxury sedan, worth about $500k (£320k), with a golf club in front of Shin Sung Motors, a Mercedes dealership in Gwangju on 11 September.
Mr Yu confirmed to Reuters that he was the owner of the car and said he bought the vehicle in March this year. He added that his moment of rage came in protest against poor customer service at the local car dealership.
Yu told Reuters that he had requested the dealership to exchange or refund the amount he paid for the car, due to engine problems. He added the car had already been serviced several times, but was not fixed.
He said he was told to wait and didn’t get a satisfactory answer from the dealership, so he decided to destroy his car as a form of protest. According to Gwangju Seobu Police Station, the Mercedes Benz dealership filed a suit against Yu for obstruction of work but decided to drop the charges.

Also from the site:

The sight of Yoo smashing the car had dealership employees report Yoo to the police, claiming that he interrupted their business by parking the car on an entry road to the dealership. Yoo also vowed to take legal action while continuing to protest in front of the car. “The warranty papers tell me that I deserve a new one,” Yoo said. “I will take legal action by appointing a lawyer.” Controversy grew as Mercendes Benz Korea responded to the situation with a lukewarm attitude, only repeating “We will find solutions.”

As the dealer company sued Yoo for interference in its work instead of resolving the situation with the customer, Internet sites and SNS services were flooded with negative reactions and other customer complaints that similar malfunctions happen to their Mercedes Benz cars.

The negative online wave against Mercedes Benz prompted Mercedes Benz Korea to make an official announcement on Sept. 15. “We are making efforts to find a rational and amicable solution with the customer,” (hint: try harder) Mercedes Benz Korea said in the announcement. “We will meet the customer and carefully listen to him.” Consumers are paying much attention to how much this case will affect the attitudes of import car dealers and companies that have tried to avoid customer complaints.

Current Bias in South Korean Art, Education & News

Prison, artwork, media bias & control . . .

A court in Seoul has handed down a 12-year sentence to Kim ki-jong for his assault on American Ambassador Mark Lippart back in March. The prosecutors originally asked for 15 years though both the prosecution and defence will have a week to determine if they wish to appeal the decision. (cite)

attack_artMeanwhile . . .

I like looking at art but, hey, isn’t putting up a painting showing Kim Ki-jong attacking Mark Lippart a bit risqué? a branch of the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) in southwestern Seoul recently displayed the above painting, by Hong Sung-dam and has decided to take it down after reports in local media about the work being more a political endorsement of violence than merely art. The inscription in the art work is as follows:

I have felt despair about these problems for a long time. However, I’ve kept my mouth shut about the despair. On the other hand, Kim Ki-jong expressed it with a knife, though it was just a fruit knife.

The artist takes great liberties with reality. Even Kim Ki-jong, during questioning by the police, stated that “South Korea is a semi-colony of the U.S. and that North Korea has an independent, self-reliant government” and shortly after his arrest, Kim shouted that the U.S.-South Korea war games were an obstacle against a Korean unification” (cite). Imagine that – truth takes a very long holiday, it seems. If I were the ambassador, I might buy this work and hang it somewhere as a part of his tenure, in this space and time. Then again, he could just let his basset hound have a go at it.

Historical revisionism and who(?) audits the auditors

Ten education superintendents on Tuesday released statements opposing state-authored history textbooks in response to a government plan to standardize them. (cite) This controversy has been around for some time, even before 2013 when material in some history textbooks approved by the National Institute of Korean History were deemed controversial.

Currently, Minister of Education Hwang Woo-yea “has insisted that history education be standardized and consistent”. Even Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung commented, on September 2 of this year, that neutral state-authored history books, based on facts, were needed to prevent confusion among students.

The real question is whose version of history is going to be told and how will it be told.

As in the recent debate over displaying the Confederate battle flag in America, what is taught as history also reflects a societies’ values.  A good question that should be asked and answered is how can the mutual histories of the ROK and DPRK be narrated so as to best serve the interests of all Koreans. Reunification will take place and a mutual history that preserves the dignity of both groups will be an important and positive step in the right direction, even if some viewpoints are difficult for Saenuri legislators and North Koreans to comprehend.

Almost simultaneously, the Saenuri Dang has also decided to go after the major internet portals in South Korea, accusing them of lacking both professionalism and being biased. Per the JoongAng Ilbo:

The Saenuri Party said changing how portals handle news will be a key issue for this year’s audit of state affairs. (The National Assembly will begin an audit), under the order of Chairman Kim Moo-sung, vowed to scrutinize the nation’s largest web portals, such as Naver and Daum.
“Precious news articles produced by genuine journalists and the media autonomy are being distorted by the power of giant Internet portal sites,” (claimed) Rep. Lee Jae-young, who was recently appointed to head the ruling party’s think tank, the Yeouido Institute. (cite)

Why would Lee Jae-young feel this way?

According to research piece performed by Choi Hyung-woo from the School of Communications at Sogang University (Big data analysis of mobile news main pages of portal sites), after analyzing the headlines of 50,236 news postings, Choi determined that both Naver and Daum “had more content using negative expressions about the Blue House and Park Geun-hye administration than content using positive expressions“.

<Spit coffee on screen here>

The report also said Chairman Moon Jae-in of the NPAD was featured on the main pages of the portals more frequently than Saenuri Chairman Kim (Jealousy?). While 153 articles on the main pages were about Moon, 101 were about Kim, the report said. “Portal sites are not media companies, but they are deciding which articles from which media will be put on the main pages and how high they will be positioned in the layouts,” Rep. Lee said. “They are also editing the headlines. This is a de facto act of journalism, and this a serious issue.” the portals have no oversight or limits. “To ensure the independence of the media, conglomerates are only allowed to own certain stakes in broadcasters and newspapers, but portals are performing the role of the media, and conglomerates own them 100 percent. This is a serious issue. . . Portals have absolute influence over society, particularly the young, and it is unacceptable for them to distribute distorted information (information that makes Saenuri Dang look bad).”

So, here is the really funny part: if Daum and Naver are producing articles that are more negative towards Saenuri Dang, and Saenuri Dang representatives are in a position to audit Daum and Naver, isn’t this also a conflict of interest on the part of Saenuri politicians who have a vested interest in such an audit, especially just months in advance of general elections? Who audits the Saenuri Dang when they actively support the activities of the NIS electioneering and after the libellous slander used in the Chosun Ilbo – a notorious agent for Saenuri Dang interests – against the Prosecutor General’s Office, how can the public trust any audit performed by Saenuri Dang members? When Park Guen-hye said “They (DPRK) don’t have to come to the South, but they can always create social confusion and manipulate public opinion using cyberspace” (cite) was she referring to Daum and Naver!?
How is it that business leaders in large companies like Naver and Daum could possibly act as a proxy for DPRK concerns?
Are all media companies that criticize the Saenuri Dang working for the DPRK!?

Considering its claims, I think the Saenuri Dang has much to account for itself.

Open Thread September 12, 2015: The September of My Year

One day you turn around, and it’s summer
Next day you turn around, and it’s fall….


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Just Two Words – No Lifejackets

life_jacketAfter the horrible Sewol tragedy, one would hope that safety issues would be reconsidered but when a fishing boat with twenty-one members sank off Chejudo, apparently none of them had lifejackets, on a ship in a stormy sea! Wasted time also accounts for tired crew members being lost:

While it was around 7:40 a.m. that the boat last identified its location, it wasn’t until 8:30 p.m., when the captain of another fishing boat that accompanied the Dolgorae reported the situation to authorities, that the vessel traffic service (VTS) or the coast guard became aware of the accident, coast guard officials said. (cite)

Trying to reach crew members by cellphone to confirm an emergency is also a failure of sorts:

. . . Coast guard officials said that after being notified of the boat’s possible distress, the safety center could not get a fix on the boat and it wasted precious time trying to contact those on board by mobile phone. (cite)

What is telling though is the fact that more than fifty fishermen died in December of last year, in the same area (cite)  Though undoubtedly technical improvements can be made, it would really make a difference if basic safety equipment, such as lifejackets, were used.

Open Thread: September 6, 2015

Oh no he di’n’t.

…goin’ back-to-back.

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