Wednesday, May 10, 2017

President Moon

Good morning,
Moon Jae-in of the liberal Democratic Party was elected as Korea’s 19th president with 41.1% of the votes in a snap election following President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment in March, beating a conservative runner-up with 24.0%.  Moon’s election is expected to make a dramatic shift from government polices formed in the past 9 year under conservative Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye leadership.  Born in 1953 to parents who had fled from North Korea to South Korea during the Korean War in 1950, Moon fought against dictatorship as a law student in the 70's, against Park’s own father, and worked as a human rights lawyer in Busan in the 80’s.   He served as a chief of staff under ex-president Roh Moo-hyun who killed himself in a scandal in retirement in 2009.  Moon ran for presidency in 2012, but was narrowly defeated by Park Geun-hye.  From his ideology and political path, it is likely Moon will show his warm heart to North Korea, and reveal sharp teeth towards the U.S. and Japan.


While many South Koreans are happy to see beaming Moon shine in dark nights, Korean business communities are not.  Moon is sympathetic to union, but hostile against conglomerates. Moon wants to lower unemployment rate by hiring more government workers, and  spend big money on social welfare programs, but plans to fund the money through raising corporate taxes and income tax.  Just hope Moon doesn't go too extreme, otherwise  South Koreans will be soon riding on Moon's bullet train to Venezuela. 


Friday, March 10, 2017

Korean President Park struck out

Good morning,

Breaking news. South Korean president Park Geun-hye got fired on Mar 10 when Constitutional Court has unanimously upheld a decision by the National Assembly to impeach her. Park became the first president to be impeached. Park's problem
 began on Oct 24 last year when local TV station revealed the unhealthy influence scandal Park's female confidante Choi Soon-sil had over the president. South Koreans have been deeply divided between those who were for the impeachment, and against. The downtown in Seoul near Park's Blue House was packed with tens of thousands of protesters every Saturday,holding candle lights (for impeachment) and Korean flags (against) in the past four months. 

An election will be held within 60 days to replace Park. If the election is held today, Moon Jae-in from opposition party is likely to be the next president with nearly 40% approval rating, far ahead of the runner-up with 15%. Despite the court decision, the Korean political theater is expected to be pretty noisy and chaotic until the next election.

My first son just joined the same company his father did exactly 30 years ago. Like father, like son. My son was sitting on the South Pole while his father was camping on the North Pole over Park's impeachment. Unlike father, unlike son.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

LTW: Choi Soon Sil Scandal

South Korea has fallen into unprecedented power vacuum as President Park Geun-hye had to make an apology on Oct 25 over the involvement of Choi Soon Sil, Park's personal friend of 40 years, in state affairs. Park’s apology came right after a media report that Choi has received drafts of presidential speeches and sometimes edited them, which was backed by confidential document files on Choi's tablet computer. Park admitted she sought help from Choi for her speeches during presidential elections in 2012, and continued do so even after she became the president. Choi is also at the epicenter of a corruption scandal in which Choi used her connection with the president to solicit 77.4 billion Korean won (U$69M) from Korea’s 62 large corporations for her cultural and a sports foundations. Despite Park's firing of 10 of her close aides involved in the scandal, and arrest of Choi over the weekend, the public is still very much outraged, suspecting Choi has been the real president of Korea and Park was only Choi's puppet. Political chaos seems unavoidable as Park still has 16 months to run the nation until Feb 2018 with both of her legs cut off.

 Protesters wearing masks of South Korean President Park Geun-Hye and her confidante Choi Soon-Sil perform before a candlelit rally in central Seoul on Saturday.
South Korea and the U.S. have been a blood ally for many years, sharing glory and pain together in good or bad times. It was manifested once again as the soon-to-be U.S. President Hillary Clinton, feeling sorry for ally nation's president's agony over document files in an aide's computer, has done her share with her e-mails to Huma Abedin's computer.

Friday, March 11, 2016

LTW: NK Bombs and Key Resolve

With 300,000 South Korean and 15,000 American troops in the war game dubbed Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, South Korea and the U.S. kicked of their largest-ever military exercise on Mar 7 to warn North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that any further provocation can lead to the demise of his regime. What's different from previous annual exercises is that this one is offensive, implementing a new military operation plan(Oplan 5015) for the first time which triggers preemptive strike if North Korea shows any sign of possible use of WMD. The joint drill is to last until the end of April.

Angered by Kim Jong-un’s H-Bomb test on Jan 6, and long-range missile fire disguised as a satellite launch on Feb 7, President Park Geun-hye has been lashing at Kim Jong-un, even taking this crisis as a good opportunity to “behead” Kim through Operation Gryphon Knife.  She shut down Kaeseong Industrial zone in North Korea where 50,000 North Koreans were working, asked Obama to fly a few F-22 stealth fighters to Korean peninsula, and threatened reluctant Chinese leader Xi Jinping to join U.N. sanctions or face THADD deployment in Korea that can neutralize Chinese ICBM capability against the U.S.  Kim Jong-un was still defiant,however, firing a few short range missiles last week, ordering “nuclear warheads to be ready for firing at any moment” and vowing “U.S. mainland can be devastated by nuke bombs.”   The tension in Korean peninsula keeps heating up at this time.

Donald Trump might become the next president of the U.S., and it is a concern to South Koreans because of his earlier interview that says “I order thousands of televisions, they’re all from South Korea. So we have 28,000 people on the border separating South Korea from this maniac in N.Korea. They are making a fortune. We get paid peanuts for deploying the troops to South Korea.”  Well, two things Mr. Trump should know. First, South Korea contributed $867M toward U.S. military costs in 2014, about 40% of the total.That ain't no peanuts.   Second, my two sons were among 600,000 young South Korean soldiers serving two draft years at $100 a month pay from the very government "making a fortune," fighting hard to take out the maniac desperate to fire a nuke bomb into Mr. Trump’s own backyard at any moment.  



Tuesday, August 25, 2015

L2W: The DMZ Showdown (Summer 2015 edition)

It has been a while since a Korean soccer player broke his leg in June. Just to let you know why CNN was busy last week with its reporters in DMZ.

It all started on Aug 4th when two South Korean soldiers lost their legs after stepping on landmines planted in DMZ. On Aug 10, with the evidence the landmines were secretly planted by North Koreans, angered South Korean President Park Geun Hye ordered the 11 giant loudspeakers along the DMZ blare out propaganda broadcasting after 11 years of hibernation to have North Korean soldiers and civilians within 24 km from DMZ listen to all the bad stories about their Dear Leader Kim Jong Un.

At 3:52 pm on Aug 20, refusing to take responsibility or make an apology for the landmine accident, North Korean army began to launch four rounds of 76.2 mm shells towards the speakers in western DMZ. Undaunted, South Korean soldiers immediately fired back 29 rounds of bigger 155 mm bombs into North Korean territory, following President Park's earlier pledge South Korea will pay it back 10 times if attacked. Infuriated at the unexpected response from the South, Kim Jong Un declared "quasi-state of war", and gave 48 hours to shut up the loudspeakers or face a rain of missiles falling in Seoul. That ultimatum was made at 5:00 pm on the same day on Aug 20.

Despite the risk of turning Seoul into a Donetsk, President Park instantly raised her middle finger at the ultimatum, flying fully armed F-16 fighter jets over DMZ to provoke North Korea to fire missiles at them so that she has a good rationale to begin bombing Pyeongyang. It took a form of dangerous chicken game between Park Geun Hye and Kim Jong Un.

At 3:00 pm on Aug 22, just two hours away from the 48 hours ultimatum, North Korea and South Korea military heads agreed to sit down for solution. It was a victory for Park as it was Kim that turned steering wheels after begging for the the talks first.

A long 43 hour marathon talks since then was concluded in early hours this morning on Aug 25. The North expressed rare "regrets" over the landmine blasts, and South agreed to turn off propaganda broadcasts, considering no unusual activity along the border occurs, meaning North Korean soldiers can dance to Gangnam Style again from the loudspeakers for any future provocative action from the North. Both agreed to hold reunions for the families separated during the Korean War on the occasion of the Chuseok Holidays in September. So, Korean peninsula is now back in peace, and CNN reporters began to pack their luggage, murmuring "Much ado about nothing.'
The leaders of South Korea and North Korea met twice, once in 2001 when Kim Jongil shook hands with then S.Korean president Kim Daejung in Pyongyang, and the other in 2007 when Kim Jongil welcomed then president Roh Mu Hyun, under South Korea's Sun Shine policy which assumed North Korea will open up itself if South Korea provides financial support. The policy did not work as the money South Korea sent was spent to build nuclear bombs. What is Park Geun Hye's policy, then? Spare the rod, spoil the child. It seems it is working this time, as proved early this morning.


Monday, May 4, 2015

L2W: Wrong Korea, Divorce Increase, & Kpop Econ Boost


1. National
1) Seoul express ‘regret’ at Abe’s lack of apology 
Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-Se expressed “regret” that PM Shinzo Abe lost golden opportunity to confirm the correct perception of history by failing to properly acknowledge Japan’s responsibility for WWII at Abe’s speech in the U.S. Congress last week. Yun’s comment was made to lawmakers who are concerned about Korea being left alone while Abe and Obama are having nice dinners in Washington last week, and Abe and Xi Jinping are taking smile photo in the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta last month.
The best days Korea and Japan shared together was during 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup to my memory. There was a match between Japan and Belgium, and, surprisingly, I saw all Koreans were rooting for Japan as Koreans took Japan as an ally in a crusade against soccer empire Europe. It is about time Korean president Park Geun-hye and Abe pick up a ball and play soccer together to mend fences.

2) A Kenyan to Pyeongchang got lost Pyongyang 
WSJ reported a story of Daniel Sapit, a farmer from Kenya, who landed in Pyongyang in North Korea to attend a conference in Pyeongchang in South Korea, the host city for 2018 Winter Olympics. Mr.Sapit asked his travel agency to buy a ticket to Pyeongchang, but the agency thought it was a misspelling of Pyongyang. Mr. Sapit found he was in wrong place only after landing in Pyongyang from Beijing, and was able to get out only after $500 fine for illegal entry.
In 2001, Hyundai engineers sent an e-mail to my colleagues in Detroit to have a technical meeting at its R&D center in N.Y. Never heard of Hyundai’s technical center in N.Y., my American friends asked me its address. The N.Y. that HMC engineers meant was NamYang, the city Hyundai’s main R&D center is located near Seoul. Had my friends not asked me, they would have booked a flight to N.Y. I mean, New York.

2. Economy
1) More men likely to divorce 
To Statistics Korea’s marriage data from 1990 to 2010, the chance of divorce among men rose from 10.4% in 1990 to 25.1% in 2010, up 2.5 times over the last 20 years. The divorce rate for women increased from 9.4% to 24.7%. The number of remarriages has declined as more than seven out of 10 couples who divorced chose to remarry in 1990, but that dropped to half by 2010. Experts say the trend stems from a view that marriage brings no great benefits and living alone get easier and more convenient.
My first marital crisis came in August 1989, just three months into marriage in Quebec. While I wanted to buy a humidifier just right for the living room, my wife kept insisting a big one that could wet whole Taj Mahal. We ended up buying what I wanted, but my wife kept grumbling even at home. The humidifier thus had to face the fate of leaving my hand, flying out the window and landing in the backyard broken. My marriage has been O.K. since, except for 130dB whining noise I hear each time I sneak out to play soccer on Sunday.

2) K-pop helps Korean economy 
The economic effect of the so-called Korean Wave created by young Korean pop artists was estimated to be 12.6 trillion won (U$11.6) in 2014, according to Korea Trade Promotion Agency. The figure indicates that Korea’s industrial output rose 4.3% from last year thanks to the popularity of Korean pop stars and goods. The game industry benefited the most, with 2.2 trillion won in production inducement, followed by the tourism industry with 2.1 trillion won and the food and beverage industry with 1.8 trillion won
While people outside Korea were enjoying Korean Wave, Koreans were deep in Britain Wave when Paul McCartney performed in his or Beatles’ first ever concert in Korea on May 2. Over 45,000 fans braved rain to enjoy nearly 40 songs the 72-year-old British belted out. It was 100 times more action filled than Mayweather-Pacquiao fight held in Las Vegas the same day.

3. Auto Industry
1) Hyundai hit by worst quarterly earnings in years 
Hyundai Motor announced its Q1 sales were 20.9 trillion won ($19.3B) with operating profit of 1.58 trillion, the worst in four years. Sales dropped 3.3%t from a year ago and year-on-year operating profit dropped by 18.1%. The CFO of Hyundai said the strong won against Euro and other currencies in the newly developed nations had a negative sales impact in the global market.
Another factor attributing the poor sales performance is the erosion of domestic market by import models. Hyundai and its sister Kia enjoyed nearly 80% market share until mid-2000, but have seen it go down to 60.6% in January this year. Hyundai marketing better come up with good plans to please its domestic customers or they may end up humming what Paul McCartney sang in Seoul; Yesterday ♬.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

L2W - Marriage Infidelity, Currency Swapping, & Foreign K-Lands

1. National
1) Opposition party picks new leader
A day after being elected as the new chairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy(NPAD), Moon Jae-in, former presidential candidate, visited the graves of former President Park Chung-hee, incumbent president’s father, and President Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea, whom Korean liberals have criticized as dictators, to gather support from middle of the right population. It was the first time an opposition leader paid respects to the two former presidents. Jung Cheong-rae, a lawmaker at Moon’s own party, criticized Moon’s visit, commenting “Is it O.K a Jew pays tribute to Hitler’s tomb as Germany has apologized?”
Jung Chung-rae, a hardliner in NPAD, is banned to enter U.S.A. for throwing home-made bombs at U.S. Embassy in Seoul in 1989. To Jung’s eyes, some 70% of Koreans must be Nazi followers, to the polls on Park Chung-hee who had made economic miracle during his presidency, 1961-1979.  

2) Nearly a quarter of married Korean men have cheated
A survey by the Korean Women’s Development Institute showed 36.9 percent married Korean males had slept with someone else, including street walkers, while being married while only 6.5 percent women said so. Women tend to have affairs with married mend when they were single, while men tend to be unfaithful while they are married. Some 60.4 percent of the respondents believe the law banning adultery is necessary.
Interested in living in Korea, and happen to be a playboy? Better watch out. If your spouse finds a good evidence like DNA, you can end up in Alcatraz, to the current adultery law.

2. National
1) Swaps end with icing Korea-Japan relationship
Korea and Japan finally pulled the plug on their currency swap arrangements 14 years after it was made in 2001 to help either country in case of a financial crisis. The starting amount was $2 billion won, and the size continued to expand to reach $70 billion in 2011. As the relationship got sour following then President Lee Myung-bak’s visit in 2012 to Dokdo islet, Takeshima to Japan, in East Sea, Sea of Japan to Japanese, both nations took it as a humiliation to offer first the extension of the agreement. No major shock in the stock market, though, as the swap end was expected to happen.
Dokdo/Takeshima and East Sea/Sea of Japan are the two major sore spots hurting Korea-Japan relationship. Let’s face the reality. Japan was introduced to the world a couple centuries earlier than Korea, more world maps show it as Sea of Japan, and Americans are not fighting to rename Gulf of Mexico to Gulf of America. Koreans can keep calling it East Sea, but never mind how others call it. By the same token, Korea has sovereignty over Dokdo since 1952, and cruise missiles and F-16 fighters will fly from both nations if Japan attempts to take it. Japanese can keep calling it Takeshima, but never insist Japan owns it.

2) Foreigner own more land in Korea
The government report showed foreigners owned 234.74M m^2 of land in Korea in 2014, up 3.39% from 2013, with the value of land at 33.6 trillion won ($30B). Most of the increase was with Chinese whose land purchase was up 85% over the past year, taking 70% of the total 8.81M m^2 foreigners bought. Most of the land Chinese are buying is in Jeju Island, a Korean Hawaii. Americans are still the largest owners of Korean land.
 Compared to other nations, Korea is a nice place to live in. Though the size of Indiana (South Korea), it has distinctive four seasons with rare natural disasters, more sunny days than cloudy ones, and moderate temperatures throughout the year. Japanese are interested in buying land in Korea to stay away from earthquakes, and Chinese maybe to breathe in better air.

3. Auto Industry
1) Hyundai push for commercial vehicles
Hyundai announced it will invest 2 trillion won ($1.82B) through 2020 in the bus & truck business to become one of the world’s top 10 commercial vehicle (CV) maker. About 0.4 billion won will be spent for production capacity increase to 100K units a year while 1.6 trillion won are for R&D, including development of new engines. Hyundai has a CV plant in Jeonju, 200km south of Seoul where 65K units of buses and trucks are being manufactured a year.
Hyundai’s CV division has always taken the back seat because of small volume. A joint venture with world leader Daimler for CV production was formed in 2001, but fizzled out in 2004. Though 2.1% global market share last year, Hyundai’s announcement for more money in CV business shows its firm commitment to grow from a baby to MAN by 2020.