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.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

L2W: China Warning, Olympic Hero Falls, & Language Related Suicide

1. National
1) China warns S.Korea over missile defense
In his speech at South Korea-China defense ministers meeting in Seoul, Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan warned against U.S. attempts to deploy THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system in Korea, which is regarded to be aiming at China. It was the first time the Chinese defense honcho officially commented on THAAD in Korea. Chang’s Korean counterpart said the U.S. has made no decision or held formal talks about the deployment with Seoul, and even if it did it would not target China, but only provide a defense against North Korea’s ballistic missiles.
Korean defense minister said he had no official talks on THAAD, so he probably had lots of unofficial discussions. South Korea is like my son on one Saturday many years ago. He either had to follow his father to soccer field or his mother to Lotte department store. Either way he was in trouble. 

2) A Korean swimming hero falls hard 
Park Taehwan, an Olympic swimming gold medalist in 2008 Beijing, was found to have received a shot that had banned testosterone. Park is now at the risk of being banned two to four years in all competitions, including 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Park’s agency said Park took Nebido shot at the instructions from his doctor, not knowing it had Testosterone. Once proven doping in FINA hearing on Feb 27, Park will lose one silver and five bronze medals he won in Inchon Asian Games last year. 
It is a pity our Marine Boy may not get out of FINA hearing in all smiles. It would be hard to believe an impotent who insists he took Viagra, not knowing how it works.

2. Economy
1) Korea tops imports to China
According to Korea International Trade Association, South Korea ranked the 1st in terms of market share in China for the second straight year with 9.7% (U$190 billion), followed by Japan, the U.S. and Taiwan. An increase in demand for semiconductors and auto components helped this achievement. China imported over $50B worth of semiconductors and $3.9B worth of auto parts from Korea last year. 
With Korean economy so much depending on China, it would take lots of guts to let U.S. Forces deploy THAAD missiles in Korea. A lot more guts than allowing U.S. aircraft carriers to sail into Yellow Sea during joint Korea-U.S. military training.

2) Suicide over English stress ruled to be compensated 
The Supreme Court has ruled that a depressed employee of a construction company who killed himself over poor English skill be compensated by his company. The employee identified as Mr. Oh was sent to Kuwait in 2008, but had to return only after 10 days because of communication problem. He wrote in his diary that he had “no self-confidence”, feeling “suffocating” and wondered if he should retire early. He later jumped to his death from his office.
English is difficult for Koreans. When new in the U.S. Army as a KATUSA (Korean Augmentation to U.S. Army) in 1982, I told an American G.I. in broken English “Korea and U.S. should fight communists together.” He replied, saying “You can say that again!” I had to say “Korea and U.S. have to fight damn communists together” again. 

3. Auto Industry
1) Hyundai opens R&D center in Gwangju
President Park Genhye and Hyundai Chairman Chung Mongkoo were at the opening of Hyundai’s Creative Economy Innovation Center in Gwangju, 300km south of Seoul. The Gwangju center will focus on eco-friendly automotive technologies such and hydrogen fuel-cell and hybrid vehicles. Hyundai formed a joint fund worth 177 billion won ($164 million) with Gwangju city and some investors.

Gwangju was the city of tragedy in May 1980 when its citizens took arms, demanding release of then dissident Kim Daejung and resignation of military leader Chun Doohwan who took power through coup in Dec 1979. Total of 191 people, both civilians and soldiers, got killed in street fighting that lasted for 10 days. People outside Korea probably not heard of this incident as world television was busy covering St. Helens volcano that erupted on the same day the street battle began, May 18. 


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

L2W: ISIS Teen, Middle Class Tax Hike, & More

1. National
1) A Korean teenager joins ISIS
Police concluded that a Korean teenager surnamed Kim missing since Jan 10 in Turkey voluntarily went to Syria to join ISIS. Using Mujahideen as his alias, the 18 year old boy inquired on Twitter about joining the terrorist group in Oct last year, and wrote in his Facebook “I want join Islamic state. I want leaving my country and families just want to get a new life.”  Kim had trouble in mixing with friends, and quit his middle school a few years ago. It is the first time a Korean joined ISIS. 
If Kim intends to stay in Syria, all Koreans are praying Kim better work as an ISIS cook or a nurse, instead of showing up in black in video with a couple of orange cloth hostages next to him. 

2) Anger mounts over tax hike in middle class
The middle class are fuming at the new tax law revised last year that turned out to take lots of money from their pocket in tax return, turning the usual “13th month salary” into a tiny pocket money. People got more upset as the government gave assurance the middle class would be untouched when it proposed the new law that is very complicated to explain with a few sentences. The Finance Minister had to make an apology, and President Park’s approval rate keeps falling from nearly 70% last April to 35% last week.  
 President Park promised more welfare without tax increase during the 2012 presidential campaign, much like Reagan’s “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Voters had to know there is no hot ice cream, and politicians tend to keep two tongues in one mouth.   

2. Economy
1) Hyundai Motor sells more, earns less
In an investor conference call, Hyundai Motor reported its lowest annual operating profit in four years at 7.55 trillion won ($6.95B), despite 4.8% increase in global sales. It sold 4.96 million vehicles, a 4.8% up from 4.73 million units in 2013, making 89.25 trillion in revenue, up 2.2% over 87.3 trillion won in 2013. Hyundai said the drop in profit was mainly due to falling won-dollar exchange rate, and the declining currency value in other nations like Russia. Hyundai also announced two groundbreakings in China in 2015, one in Hebei and the other in Chongqing. 
To please its disgruntled investors over land purchase, Hyundai said it will raise the current 1,950 won dividend per share to 3,000 won, a whopping 54% increase, automatically triggering my wife, a Hyundai stock owner since 1999, to thumb through Louis Vuitton catalogues.

3. Automotive 
1) Ssangyong Motor launches new SUV
Ssangyong picked a small Italian town Tivoli as the name for its new small SUV. Tivoli is Ssangyong’s first new model since it went belly up in 2009. Tivoli has 1.6L engine with126 HP and 12.3 km/L Since taking pre-order on Dec 22, it has received 5,000 orders until now, with two months waiting line, expecting to sell 38,500 Tivoli models in 2015.
 Lee Yoo-il, CEO of Ssangyong, made a surprise announcement he will retire in March. Ex-Hyundai, Lee was hired in 2009 when the company was in court receivership, turning the company around in six years. Mr. Lee was the head of Hyundai Canada in Toronto in early 90’s while I was a tail in Bromont Plant in Quebec. Well, sorry, I have never met Mr. Lee. 

2) Hyundai shows off its pick-up truck
Hyundai displayed its concept pick-up truck Santacruz (HCD-15) at Detroit Auto Show. Santacruz is powered by 190HP 2/0L turbo diesel engine and features 4WD H-Trac system. Though Hyundai said they have no plan for its mass production, auto analysts believe Hyundai will eventually as a breakthrough to increase market share in North America.  
Hyundai once produced pick-up truck, a tiny 1.6L gas engine variation from its Pony passenger car, Hyundai’s first own design model. Launched in 1976, the last Pony was produced at Ulsan plant in Jan 1990. Ex and current Hyundai employees can be divided into two groups; before Pony and after Pony. Old folks if you saw pony production in Ulsan, young chick if you didn’t. I am an old fart while Mr. Lee at Ssangyong is a Cro-Magnon.