Tag Archives: south korea

South Korea: Anti-North Korea Protest in Paju

Kim Jong-Un Misses Another Major Event Amid Exchange of Gunfire at Land Border

Pictured above: South Korean activists prepare balloons for carrying propaganda leaflets that condemn North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. (Photo courtesy of Lee Young-Ho/Sipa USA and AP)

by FOSTER KLUG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — For the first time in three years, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un didn’t appear at a celebration of the anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party on Friday, further increasing speculation that something is amiss with the authoritarian leader who hasn’t been seen publicly in more than a month.

North Korea’s propaganda machine conveyed the no-show to the world in its typical murky and indirect fashion — a state media dispatch that excluded Kim’s name from a list of senior government, military and party officials who paid their respects at an event marking the party’s 69th anniversary.

Indications that Kim remains firmly in power were evident, however. His name appeared on a flower basket placed before statues of his father and grandfather, both of whom also ruled North Korea, and an earlier dispatch said the might of the party “is growing stronger under the seasoned guidance of Marshal Kim Jong Un.”

State media haven’t shown Kim, who is thought to be 31, performing his customary public duties since he attended a concert Sept. 3. He had been walking with a limp and was more overweight than usual in images that were broadcast before that. An official documentary from late last month described him as dealing with “discomfort,” which led to international speculation that he may be ill.

A group of South Korean activists, meanwhile, marked Friday’s anniversary by releasing anti-North Korean propaganda balloons across the border. North Korea responded later with machine-gun fire, and several of the bullets fell south of the border near a military base and a residential area, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said.

He said South Korea then fired 40 rounds from machine guns. North Korea then opened fire with rifles, which South Korean soldiers responded to in kind, he said. There were no reports of damage or injuries, but the exchange of fire was a reminder of the bitter rivals’ animosity despite recent glimmers of trust building.

Much of what happens in North Korea’s inner circles is hidden from the eyes of outsiders and even average North Koreans. This leaves media in South Korea and elsewhere to speculate, sometimes wildly, about what’s really happening. Some reports say Kim could have gout, diabetes or other ailments, with much of the speculation based on that single reference in the documentary and unidentified sources speaking to South Korean media.

South Korean officials are playing down the speculation.

In Seoul, Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong Cheol told reporters Friday that Kim appears to be in charge of key affairs. Lim noted that a high-level North Korean delegation conveyed his greetings to South Korean President Park Geun-hye during a surprise visit to South Korea last week that had raised hopes for better ties between the countries. Lim said North Korea’s state media has continuously reported about Kim’s leadership.

North Korea has said nothing publicly about Kim’s absence. It is not his first break from the media spotlight — he wasn’t seen publicly for about three weeks in 2012, South Korean officials say — and a senior North Korean official on last week’s visit to the South told a South Korean official that Kim was fine.

Without the extended absence, Kim’s nonattendance Friday would not be all that unusual. Such anniversaries generally have more weight in landmark years. A high-profile celebration, for example, is expected for next year’s 70th anniversary of the ruling party.

Because North Korea has publicly acknowledging Kim’s “discomfort,” many analysts believe that he’s unlikely to be suffering from anything particularly serious. When his father, Kim Jong Il, suffered major health problems late in his life, state media said nothing. Kim Jong Il was believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008, and his death on Dec. 17, 2011, was not announced for two days.

But each day the younger Kim is absent only adds to the speculation. He missed a meeting of parliament late last month and a gathering this week marking his late father’s election as ruling party head. Kim also was not seen in North Korean media reports greeting the athletes who returned from the Asian Games in the South, although they received a lavish reception and heavy media coverage.

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Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and Eric Talmadge in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Anti Nuclear Rally, South Korea

South Korean Town to Put Nuclear Plan to Vote

Pictured above: Samcheok villagers rally in opposition to a planned nuclear power plant in their community.
(Photo courtesy of Jean Chung / Greenpeace)

by YOUKYUNG LEE, AP Business Writer

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Fighting plans to build a nuclear power plant, a South Korean fishing village is holding a referendum Thursday, even though the government has warned the vote is illegal.

A site in Samcheok, 195 kilometers (120 miles) east of Seoul, was picked by the energy ministry after a previous city government applied in 2010 for a nuclear power facility. But attitudes have shifted since Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima.

Now, the city council has set up a volunteer committee to conduct a vote on whether Samcheok still wants the plant after election authorities refused to administer the referendum. Supporters of the nuclear plant say they will boycott.

South Koreans’ pride in the country’s nuclear power industry has eroded since scandals erupted last year over revelations hundreds of faulty components may have been used in reactors. That forced nearly half the country’s 23 reactors to shut down.

Critics of nuclear reactors also became more vocal about safety after an April ferry sinking killed hundreds of people and fueled complaints the country emphasized profit over safety.

In Samcheok, about 39,000 out of 61,000 registered local voters signed up to take part, and about 70 percent were expected to vote, according to Chung Yeon-man, a committee member.

Nuclear energy supplied a quarter of South Korea’s power last year, and the government wants to boost that to 29 percent by 2035. That would require adding 7 gigawatts of generating capacity, or the equivalent of five 1.4-gigawatt reactors.

The country also is starting to export nuclear technology. It won a $20 billion contract from the United Arab Emirates in 2009.

Most of South Korea’s reactors are on the southeast coast. Samcheok is one of two cities designated as the next venue for nuclear plants and would be the first in Gangwon province.

Opponents in Samcheok, who say they worry about the impact on fishing, farming and tourism, gained a leg up in the latest mayoral election in June.

Kim Yang-ho, an independent who pledged to scrap nuclear plans, defeated the former mayor, 62 percent to 37 percent.

Since taking office, Kim has taken steps to withdraw the city’s application. He says he wants to develop an alternative energy industry instead.

The national government appears unwilling to accept the referendum. The energy ministry told parliament last week it is open to talking to Samcheok but the vote will have no legal effect. A vice minister at the Ministry of Security and Public Administration said in the same hearing that trying to scrap the government’s policy through a referendum is illegal.

Opponents of the Samcheok’s nuclear plant say the former mayor’s administration manipulated a public opinion survey before filing its application and no records of the survey have been found.

“Even though it is a government policy, residents’ opinion is important,” said Ahn Ho-sung, a 58-year-old former public servant who campaigned against nuclear power plants.

The original plan reflected “no opinion from the residents,” said Ahn. “It is completely invalid.”

Supporters say Samcheok needs to create more jobs.

The city was one of South Korea’s largest mining communities, with more than 300,000 people, before a decline began in the 1980s. More than one-quarter of its 74,000 people are 65 or older.

“No company in Gangwon province can hire as many people as a nuclear power plant,” said Lee Yeon-woo, 65, a retired public servant who leads a civic group with 300 Samcheok residents.

“I was born and grew up here and I witnessed how Samcheok went downhill,” said Lee. “If we don’t find another industry, half of it population will be gone.”

Lee plans to skip Thursday’s vote. He plans to file a complaint in court seeking to invalidate the poll.

“I have four children and we all live in Samcheok,” Lee said. “If nuclear energy were really dangerous, I would not do this.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

tatsuyakato

South Korea Indicts Japanese Journalist on Charges of Defaming President Park

by REERA YOO

South Korean prosecutors indicted a Japanese reporter Wednesday on charges of defaming President Park Geun-hye by reporting rumors about her personal life and whereabouts during the April ferry disaster, the Associated Press reported.

Tatsuya Kato, 48-year-old former Seoul bureau chief of Japan’s Sankei Shimbum, posted an article on Aug. 3, citing a Chosun Ilbo column and rumors circulated in the Korea’s financial industry. The report said Park was absent for seven hours during the Sewol ferry disaster because she was with an unidentified man in an alleged secret meeting.

The presidential office denied the newspaper’s claim and said Park “was inside the presidential compound” during the incident.

“The indictment was made on the grounds that the article, written based on false facts, allegedly defamed (Park’s) reputation by indicating without any proof that the female president had improper relations (with an unidentified man),” the South Korean prosecution said.

According to Yonhap, the prosecution questioned Kato three times since the story ran and charged him after concluding that his report was false. The Japanese journalist has not been arrested, but he has been banned from leaving the country for the duration of the investigation, despite being transferred out of his bureau chief position.

Since the beginning of the investigation, the media and public have criticized South Korea’s press freedom. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida expressed concerns over the indictment as well as the viewpoint of freedom of speech and bilateral relations. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also said at a briefing in Tokyo that the indictment showed that South Korea is “far apart from international norms on press freedom,” reported the Wall Street Journal.

In addition, Sankei president Takamitsu Kumasaka demanded the indictment to be retracted as soon as possible.

“It is a serious and clear violation to the freedom of speech guaranteed by the constitution not only of South Korea but also of Japan and any other democratic nation,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was well aware of the situation and mentioned that it has previously voiced concerns about South Korean law.

South Korea is now a liberal democracy, but it has a history of military rulers who suppressed free speech through to the 1980s including Ms. Park’s father, Park Chung-hee. Under the current National Security Law, those found by the South Korean government to have criticized the country’s political leaders may be punished, according AP. If convicted, Kato can serve up to seven years in prison, the maximum penalty for online defamation.

Reporters Without Borders, a media advocacy group, noted that no action has been taken against South Korean media outlets such as the Chosun Ilbo, which originally reported on the rumors of Park’s whereabouts. The group ranked South Korea 57th out of 180 countries in its 2014 press freedom index.

“It is completely normal for news media to ask questions about the actions of politicians, including the president,” Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders’ Asia desk, said in a statement last month. “Vagueness about the president’s agenda during a national tragedy is clearly a subject of public interest.”

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonprofit that promotes press freedom worldwide, also released a statement criticizing the country’s actions and demanded the charges and travel ban against Kato to be dropped.

“Journalists should be free to report in South Korea, and even if their reporting offends powerful people, they should not face criminal charges or have their movements restricted,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Criminalizing charges like defamation and libel run counter to the concept of a free press and have no place in a modern democracy.”

Photo courtesy of Kyodo

hangul

South Korea Celebrates the 568th Anniversary of Hangul

In the picture above, foreign students of the Korean language institute Sejong Hakdang pose in front of a statue of King Sejong in downtown Seoul in order to commemorate the 568th anniversary of the Korean alphabet.

by REERA YOO

South Korea celebrated the 568th anniversary of the promulgation of hangul, the Korean writing system, with various events in central Seoul on Thursday, reported Yonhap news agency.

Hangul has always been a source of pride for Koreans, so much to the point that Oct. 9 is designated as a national Korean holiday for South Koreans and Jan. 15 for North Koreans.

The Korean alphabet was invented by King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and was promulgated in 1446 to replace an older writing system based on Chinese characters in an effort to make every Korean citizen literate without years of formal schooling. With 24 characters, consisting of four consonants and 10 vowels, hangul is considered one of the most scientific and efficient alphabets in the world.

The main ceremony for Hangul Day was held at the Sejong Center for Performing Arts on Thursday morning with the attendance of 3,000 government dignitaries, foreign diplomats and leaders of Hangul-related organizations, according to Yonhap. Ten individuals were honored for their contribution to the Korean language including American missionary Homer Hulbert (1863-1949), who advocated for Korean independence from Japanese colonial rule.

hangul museumThe main exhibition hall of the National Hangul Museum. (Photo credit: The National Hangul Museum)

The National Hangul Museum also opened to the public on Thursday after three years of construction. Nearly 10,000 hangul-related artifacts are housed at the museum including the oldest Korean typewriter in existence and the Yongbieocheonga, the first work ever to be written in hangul, according to the Korea Herald.

Meanwhile, a hangul festival kicked off Tuesday at Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul. The festival hosted art exhibits, street performances, a fashion show, and a hangul handwriting contest for foreigners.

In addition, Seoul held an exhibition of about 50 hand-painted postcards that were chosen from a contest hosted by the city government to raise public interest in the Korean writing system. Seoul city buses will also be carrying typographic designs inspired by Hangul for an entire month starting from the holiday, according to the ministry.

Hangul Day was originally proclaimed in 1926 as an effort to preserve the written language under Japanese colonial rule, but lost its status as a legal holiday in 1991 due to pressure from the South Korean government to reduce the number of holidays. It was reinstated as a national holiday just last year thanks to the campaigning by the Hangul Society.

Featured photo courtesy of Yonhap

Janice Min

Janice Min Talks About K-pop’s Global Impact and Future

by JAMES S. KIM

K-pop is currently the best known product after Samsung, according to Janice Min, co-president and chief creative officer of Guggenheim Media’s Entertainment Group, which includes The Hollywood Reporter (THR) and Billboard. But as hallyu gains more international recognition, Min said K-pop still has a few more hurdles left before it could be fully embraced among Western audiences.

“Half of the top ten news reported by THR is related to K-pop,” Min said at MU:CON Seoul 2014, an annual festival for Korean music. “The world is getting more and more interested in Hallyu content.”

Psy’s international hit “Gangnam Style” was a turning point, Min noted. The song got casual music fans interested in K-pop, and it played right into the hands of an industry that was already heavily powered by social media. But in order for K-pop to stick, Min said K-pop artists need to come off as genuine, not manufactured by a larger entertainment company.

“I would say the weakness of K-pop is that it feels inauthentic and prepackaged … so there needs to be authenticity,” Min told the Korea Times, referring to Justin Timberlake as an authentic artist who gained more creative freedom after leaving NSYNC. She emphasized that music fans want to know that their favorite artists are genuine and passionate about their music, which includes writing their own songs.

In addition, Min said K-pop was still in a good place to compete in the music industry as the genre incorporates dance, fashion, beauty and music all in one.

Moving forward, Min said she expects K-pop diversify even further, with different acts that carry different sounds. In terms of breaking into the American audience, she cited Crayon Pop and G-dragon as prime examples, since the former opened for Lady Gaga at her U.S. concert and the latter is set to release collaborative tracks with Justin Bieber.

“The fact that Lady Gaga promoted the act on social media was probably the most powerful thing any Western artist could have done for a K-pop artist,” Min said. “Collaborations also get a lot of attention. The validation of a K-pop artist by a popular Western artist helps break through the clutter.”

As for what K-pop has meant to Koreans, Min said in some ways, K-pop felt like a “move forward” among the younger generation of Koreans who won’t harbor bitter memories of the Korean War and the rebuilding period.

“K-pop seems to represent total youth culture to Koreans, for reasons both good and sometimes bad,” Min continued. “But I think there is a big national pride in the phenomenon that is K-pop and the fact that it has traveled so far and wide in the world.”

Korea_3064097b

Two Koreas Exchange Fire at Sea Border After Agreeing to Resume High-Level Talks

by REERA YOO

North and South Korean navy patrol boats exchanged fire at the western maritime border on Tuesday, just three days after top officials from both nations agreed to resume high-level talks this year, reported the New York Times.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), the two nations exchanged fire at around 9:50 a.m. near Yeonpyeong Island after a North Korean patrol boat breached the Northern Limit line (NLL). The South Korean patrol boat fired around 94 machine-gun rounds while the North Korean vessel shot dozens of rounds in return.

“To force the vessel to retreat, our side issued warning messages and fired five warning shots. But the North Korean vessel fired back rather than backing down, which caused us to fire again. Then the ship made a retreat,” JCS told Yonhap.

No injuries or damage were reported.

This is not the first time the two countries have exchanged fire at the disputed sea border. In 2010, North Korea shelled Yeonpeong Island and killed four South Koreans, and just two weeks earlier, South Korea fired warning shots after a North Korean patrol boat crossed the sea border.

On Saturday, North Korea’s senior officials made a surprise visit to Incheon for the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. The North Korean delegation was led by Hwang Pyong-so, who is considered to be the second-most powerful man behind Kim Jong-un. Both sides agreed to resume high-level dialogue about cross-border issues and the reunion of families separated by the Korean War between the end of October and early November.

Photo courtesy of Song Kyeong-seok/EPA and Telegraph U.K.

Kakao users

SKoreans Consider Leaving KakaoTalk Amid Concerns Of Government Surveillance

by JAMES S. KIM

Many South Koreans are considering leaving KakaoTalk and switching to other mobile messaging applications due to concerns over a government crackdown on rumors circulating on social media, according to the Associated Press.

In mid-September, the South Korean government announced that it would be taking “proactive” measures to prevent the spread of false and malicious postings on major portal websites through the creation of a special investigative team. This means if someone were to cause a serious social controversy through false accusations and rumors, then that individual could face detainment or punishment for his or her actions. The investigative team would then potentially gain access to private chat histories to seek out the origins of these rumors.

The announcement hasn’t sat well with South Korean social media users. Many have accused the government of censorship and attempting to control public opinion, and in the last few weeks, a considerable number have weighed dropping Kakao Talk in favor of different mobile messaging options.

The most popular alternative messaging application has been Telegram, a free Russia-based app that was created to avoid surveillance from Russian officials. On Friday, it was the most downloaded free app on the Apple App Store in South Korea; on the Google Play Store, Telegram was the No. 2 downloaded free communications app behind KakaoTalk. A few of the app’s South Korean users said in reviews that they left KakaoTalk to seek “asylum” from government surveillance and requested Telegram to add a Korean language service.

A research firm said an estimated 610,000 South Korean visited Telegram last week, a 40-fold increase compared to the numbers before the crackdown was announced. Smaller South Korean messaging apps, such as DonTalk, have seen higher downloads in recent weeks as well, along with other messengers that have their servers abroad.

Despite this mass migration, it’s hard to picture South Korea without KakaoTalk. After all, Nielsen reported at the end of 2013 that 93 percent of South Koreans used the application. Telegram hardly comes close, especially since it lacks the language option and special features such as emoticons and games that KakaoTalk provides.

President Park Geun-hye’s administration has been sensitive to social media. Many South Koreans were critical of the government’s response to the Sewol ferry sinking in April, and a number of them said their houses and social media accounts had been searched with court approval.

Park also relayed her unhappiness over online rumors during a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 16. She said that slander and false rumors on the Internet were causing division in the nation, and she ordered the justice ministry to investigate unfounded rumors on the Internet, which led to the formation of the investigative team.

They didn’t waste much time. On Oct. 1, a woman accused of libeling President Park was sentenced to four months in prison with a one-year stay of execution. The woman, identified only by the surname Tak, was found guilty of spreading false rumors that the president had an extramarital affair with her former mentor and his son-in-law.

Civic organizations also criticized police and government officials for recently seizing KakaoTalk chats and personal information of Labor Party leader Jung Jin-woo and about 3,000 of his acquaintances. They had gathered to demand a probe into the Sewol ferry disaster.

Daum Kakao, which was formed by the merger of Daum Communications and Kakao, has tried to assuage Kakao Talk users by saying that authorities could not look at users’ messages without a court order. Co-CEO of Daum Kakao, Lee Sirgoo, told reporters last week that the company had “top security technology to prevent leaks and hacking,” and that KakaoTalk messages were only stored on servers for only three days before getting permanently deleted.

However, Lee said Kakao Talk was still “subject to South Korean law” and would still hand over information “when there is a fair execution of law.”

 

yonhap meeting sk and nk

South and North Korea Agree to Resume High-Level Talks

by REERA YOO

South Korean officials made a small breakthrough on Saturday when top-ranking officials of the North Korean delegation dropped in for a surprise visit to Incheon for the closing ceremony of the Asian Games, reported the New York Times.

The North Koreans were led by Hwang Pyong-so, the highest-ranking officer of the Korean People’s Army who is considered by outside analysts as North Korea’s second-most powerful man. Hwang and his delegation held talks over a closed-door lunch with South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae and national security director Kim Kwan-jin.

During the meeting, both sides agreed to renew talks about cross-border issues and the reunion of families separated by the Korean War between the end of October and early November.

“While calling the upcoming talks a second round of dialogue, the North explained that it intended to hold more rounds of South-North talks in the future,” South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

This is the highest level delegation the two countries have had in five years. The last senior visit occurred in 2009 when senior Workers’ Party official Kim Ki-nam and spy chief Kim Yang Gon met with former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, according to the Associated Press.

For the last few months, there’s been serious tensions between the two countries, especially after North Korea conducted test firings of about 100 projectiles this year. Since then, both sides have exchanged a steady stream of harsh criticisms between each other, with the North Korean state media calling South Korean President Park Geun-hye a prostitute.

Although there appears to be no major breakthroughs from the meeting due to time constraints, the weekend meeting was considered a “small but meaningful step” for inter-Korean relations, according to a senior official from the South’s Unification Ministry.

The surprise visit comes amid ongoing speculation about Kim Jong-un’s health as the North Korean leader has not been seen by the public since Sept. 3. Ryoo told local media on Sunday that he had asked Kim Yang Gon, who is now a secretary of North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party, about rumors of Kim Jong-un’s ill health, and the secretary insisted that there was “no problem at all.”

However, no explanation was given for why Kim has disappeared from the public’s eye. In the meanwhile, there have been reports of the leader’s younger sister Kim Yo-jong acting as his regent in North Korea.

Photo courtesy of Yun Tae-hyun/Yonhap/Retuers