Tag Archives: south korea


Seoul Mayor Wants South Korea To Legalize Same-Sex Marriage


Park Won-soon, the mayor of the South Korean capital Seoul, openly admitted that he supports same-sex marriage, sparking fierce debate in the country that still remains largely homophobic.

In an interview with San Francisco Examiner during his visit to the U.S. last week, Park said that he hopes to see South Korea become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. Although Park acknowledged that struggle for social acceptance that homosexuals face in South Korea will likely persist, he stressed that it is imperative for the country to protect the constitutional rights of its people.

“Many homosexual couples in South Korea are already together,” said Park. “They are not legally accepted yet, but I believe the Korean Constitution allows [same-sex marriage]. We are guaranteed the rights to the pursuit of happiness. Of course, there may be different interpretations to what that pursuit means.”

No Asian country currently allows same-sex marriage as of now, but Taiwan may be the first country to do so after its legislature recently began considering a bill to legalize it. When asked if he believes Taiwan could be Asia’s first Gay-friendly country, Park reportedly replied, “I hope Korea will be the first.”

As expected, Park’s interview drew heavy controversy back home. Shortly thereafter, he backtracked on his comments through a Seoul city official, clarifying that he was merely voicing a personal opinion rather than declaring that he will seek legalization of same-sex marriage. He also added that he did not use the word “hope” to express his wish for South Korea’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

Nonetheless, Park’s earlier comments shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the former human rights lawyer’s career in South Korean politics. As Park was running for reelection last year, he issued a permit for a gay parade led by more than 10,000 people in Seoul’s downtown amid strong opposition from Christian protesters, hundreds of whom blocked the street.

Christians comprise nearly one-third of the population in South Korea, a conservative country where Protestant churches are immensely influential. In a poll conducted by Gallup Korea last year, 67 percent of those surveyed said they oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage while only 25 percent said they would support it.

By his own admission, Park remains skeptical over the possibility of South Korea’s legalization of same-sex marriage, but he has been rather resilient in making an organized effort to raise awareness of LGBT issues in South Korea. In 2001, Park established the Beautiful Foundation (Park left the foundation in 2010 to run for mayor), which reportedly has been funding LGBT groups.

But critics still argue that Park is endorsing same-sex marriage as a tool to win political favor. They say that by promoting himself as a progressive thinker who supports same-sex marriage — in addition to free government health care for all Seoul residents, civil rights for undocumented immigrants and free lunches for students at public schools — Park is simply setting himself up against the country’s conservatives to garner public support among the young voters as he’s vying to run for the 2017 presidential election.

Although the majority of South Koreans oppose same-sex marriage, the perception has already changed among the younger generation. In the same Gallup Korea poll that showed 67 percent of the survey participants oppose same-sex marriage, 52 percent of those between ages 19 and 29 said they are in support while only 38 percent of them opposed the idea.

“Protestant churches are very powerful in Korea [so] it isn’t easy for politicians [to endorse same-sex marriage],” Park reportedly told the San Francisco Examiner. “It’s in the hands of activists to expand the universal concept of human rights to include homosexuals. Once they persuade the people, the politicians will follow. It’s in process now.”

Click here to read a related KoreAm feature story about South Korean efforts to support LGBTQ youth.

Image courtesy of Seoul Labor Party

daum kakao

Daum Kakao Apologizes for Security Concerns, Vows to Protect User Privacy


Lee Sirgoo, co-CEO of Daum Kakao, apologized to the public Monday for the messaging app’s initial handling of security issues and said it will stop fully cooperating with the government on its crackdown on online criticism, reports Yonhap.

“We would like to make an apology for causing anxiety and confusion to users due to our easy-going manner of coping with the issue,” said Lee. “We have been taking too much pride in our security, only believing that following policies would protect privacy.”

In mid-September, the South Korean government announced that it will be taking proactive measures to punish those deemed responsible for spreading malicious online rumors, particularly those surrounding President Park Geun-hye’s personal life. The announcement sparked fear among KakaoTalk users, who accused the government of censorship and monitoring their private messages in a real-time basis.

Daum Kakao firmly stated that it was not technologically equipped to offer the government real-time monitoring and provided a few additional security measures, but their efforts could not prevent a mass digital exodus of their users to foreign messengers such as Telegram.

According to the Associated Press, Daum Kakao received 2,131 requests for users’ information from authorities with search warrants during the first half of 2014, and it cooperated with nearly 61 court-approved requests by collecting messages stored on its servers for between three and seven days.

Lee said the company has stopped responding to court warrants authorizing wiretapping and collection of stored messages since Oct. 7, and will continue to doing so despite the possibility of facing legal sanction for refusing to cooperate with warrants.

“If our decision is a violation of the law, I, as the head of Daum Kakao, will bear any responsibilities,” Lee added. “We will come up with more elaborate detailed plans in the future.”

KakaoTalk has also recently adopted a new privacy mode that allows chat records to be stored solely on a user’s smart device, hindering investigators from accessing private messages. Starting next year, the messenger app will also introduce a new privacy feature that will delete chat records from its servers as soon as the messages have been read by their intended recipients, according to AP.

“We will continue to search for more necessary measures and make improvements down the road,” Lee said. “Kakao Talk has been growing on the back of users’ trust. We know it will take excruciating efforts to regain users’ trust.”

Giant Rubber Duck

Giant Rubber Duck To Visit Seoul Amid Construction Tensions


The world-famous, giant rubber duck will visit Seoul in what may be the highest-profile foreign visit to Korea since Pope Francis arrived via Kia Soul in August.

Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman’s 300-kg (~660 lbs), 54-foot tall giant rubber duck will be on display for one month, beginning Oct. 14, in Seokchon Lake, next to Lotte Group’s controversial construction project in Seoul.

The site hasn’t been all too popular with anyone lately. The city has demanded additional safety and transport measures before allowing it to open, and the general public wasn’t too happy about the sinkholes that appeared in the area as well as the drop in water level in the lake. Neither the holes or water decline have been linked to the construction of the complex, but they certainly haven’t helped its image.

The rubber duck has drawn millions of visitors since it began touring around the world in 2007. According to its official website, The Rubber Duck Project is intended to “heal wounds” and relieve tension.”

Image via Rubber Duck Project Seoul


SKorea Deports Chinese Student for Pro-North Online Activities


The South Korean Justice Ministry said Friday it had deported a Chinese student for “aiding North Korea” through online activities and violating South Korea’s controversial National Security Law, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The student, described as a 24-year-old from Guangdong Province, had apparently criticized the South Korean government and expressed pro-North Korean views through hundreds of comments online and on a Facebook page, which apparently read, “North Korea media.” A Chosun Ilbo report said the posts were in Korean and Chinese and solely represented Pyongyang’s position on issues.

In one post, the student apparently said that it was “touching” that the “great leader Kim Jong-un” had conducted inspections in snowy conditions. The student also faced accusations of participating in anti-government demonstrations and comparing President Park Geun-hye’s administration to that of her late father, Park Chung-hee.

The Korea Times reported South Korea’s National Intelligence Service had alerted the Ministry of Justice about the student when he had applied for another visa in August.

Under the National Security Law, which was first drafted after World War II to weed out communist sympathizers and spies, any expression of support for North Korea is considered a crime. It also bars any “anti-government” activities as well.

International watchdogs Amnesty International and Freedom House have said South Korea has increased use of the law in recent years. 82 people were prosecuted for alleged online activities in 2010, compared to five in 2008. The New York Times notes that websites considered “pro-North Korea” are regularly shut down, and the government has blocked the official Facebook and Twitter accounts of the North Korean government since 2010.

The Chinese Embassy in Seoul said it would not intervene in the case, unless they found that the student was treated unfairly.

Photo courtesy of KCNA


Kia Says 2015 Sedona Is Minivan With a ‘Cool Factor’

Amid the rise of large SUVs in the U.S. in recent years, minivan sales began their free fall in 2008, resulting in a dramatic drop in sales volume by 53 percent. But officials at Kia Motors are confident that the car company’s all-new 2015 Sedona MPV, and its capability as a multi-purpose vehicle, will help drive up the minivan demand once again, while forcing its direct competitors like the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Town & Country “out of the market,” according to Howard Lim, the South Korean automaker’s public relations manager.

“The new Sedona offers a sophisticated design, durability and practicality,” Lim told reporters in Korean, at Kia’s media event on Thursday in the Koreatown district of Los Angeles. “It is a different kind of a minivan from the ones in the past.”

The 2015 Sedona remains a vehicle that stays true to the traditional purpose of a minivan, which Steve Kosowski, the company’s national manager for long-range planning, said is to let the drivers “carry a lot of people and stuff.” But it’s trying to fill that need while also giving the van an eye-catching design, innovative seating and outstanding safety. It boasts a top five-star overall safety rating.

An eight-passenger minivan, the Sedona provides seven trim levels. Its value model, the basic Sedona L, starts at $27,495, while trip levels in this group also include the L, LX and LX+. The top-of-the-line model is the SXL+ which is priced at $45,995.

Just as it did with its hip, hamster-powered Soul, Kia stresses that its minivan, unlike its predecessors that were known for their rigid design, offers a “cool factor” of its own. Designed by former Audi lead designer Peter Schreyer, the Sedona sports Kia’s trademark “tiger nose” grille. The rear also has large taillights with a full-height liftgate.

Inside, Kia officials noted that the Sedona is the only minivan on the market that provides heated second-row seats.

“The aim for the Sedona is to create a new sweet spot for the driver and the passengers,” Kosowski said. “The public perception of minivans has been that it’s just for mothers with children. Perception is not always the reality because 45 percent of minivan drivers across the country don’t have kids, and they drive it because of its practicality. The Sedona’s goal is to change that perception.”

Image courtesy of Kia


Chinese Fisherman Killed in Clash with South Korean Coast Guard


A South Korean cost guard shot and killed a Chinese fishing boat captain during a scuffle after the ship was stopped for suspected illegal fishing activities, according to reports.

The 80-ton boat, led by the Chinese captain, was spotted fishing only 90 miles west of the Wandeung island on the western coast of South Korea by a coast guard. When the guard tried to seize the Chinese boat by boarding it, four more Chinese fishing boats reportedly surrounded the South Korean ship, which prompted a violent clash.

During the scuffle, a South Korean officer started firing warning shots, and one of the bullets hit the 45-year-old Chinese captain in the stomach. He was transported by a helicopter to a hospital in Mokpo, a city in the southwestern tip of South Korea, but was soon pronounced dead.

The Chinese fishermen were using homemade weapons to resist South Korean officers who boarded their ship, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. The Chinese fishermen reportedly took the helmet off of one officer and tried to strangle him.

Violent clashes between Chinese fishermen and South Korean coast guards have been common over the years. A Chinese fisherman stabbed a South Korean officer to death in 2011, and in the following year, a Chinese fisherman was killed by a rubber bullet fired by a South Korean officer.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said China is “deeply shocked and dissatisfied with the violent actions that resulted in the death” of the captain. He added that South Korea should have dealt with the situation in a “serious and sincere and proper” way.

The bilateral relations between South Korea and China have improved since President Park Geun-hye took office last year. Although China’s support of North Korea still leaves its ties with South Korea contentious, it is already South Korea’s No. 1 trading partner. In July, both Park and China’s President Xi Jinping urged citizens of their countries to join forces in their historical disputes against Japan.

However, there are still ongoing political conflicts between the two countries. China still remains reluctant to protect North Korean refugees who flee to its country with the hopes of going to South Korea. The recent agreement between South Korea and the U.S. to deploy American army’s missile system in South Korea also strained the relations between the two East Asian countries as China considers America’s missile program a threat to its security.

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.


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.