Sunday, April 26, 2015

U.S. Policy on Korean Unification: CSIS roundtable on "China's policy toward Korean peninsula reunification"

The series of discussions being held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington and led by Victor Cha, are off to a strong start.  The topic of the April event, co-hosted by the Global Peace Foundation, caught my attention as I have posted regularly (those of you who don't regularly read this blog may wish to review these posts) over recent years on the topic of Korean unification and the role of communication and the ICT sector in it.  However, I must confess that, after viewing the main presentation by Sid Seiler, Special Envoy for the Six Party Talks at the Department of State, I was disappointed.  Apparently, the U.S. government has still not grasped the need to come out with a clear statement, at this stage of history preferably from the President or the Secretary of State, on official U.S. policy toward Korean unification.
I cannot count the number of times, over my years in Korea, that I've listened to Korean colleagues or acquaintances tell me that they believe the United States is "opposed" to Korean unification.  I dare say this is a fairly widespread view in South Korea, and not without justification.  From the 1970s, when I first set foot in Korea, to the present, there has been no clear articulation, at the highest levels (meaning President or Secretary of State)  of U.S. government policy relating to Korean unification.  If you take the time to view Ambassador Seiler's  presentation on the embedded video, you'll understand my continuing disappointment.

Friday, April 24, 2015

ICT4D: U.S.-Korea Cooperation in Overseas Development Assistance

The Center for Strategic and International Studies recently convened a meeting on the topic of  "The United States, South Korea and Civil Society Cooperation in Global Humanitarian Development."  That meeting and the YouTube video embedded in this post caught my attention for many reasons, including the following.

  • I was a Peace Corps Volunteer (University TESOL Program at Kangwon National University) back in 1971-72 when Korea was a developing country and international aid recipient.
  • I subsequently studied for the Ph.D. in Communication at Stanford University during a period when the Institute for Communication Research had a large program in communication (at that time "mass media") for development.
  • Upon returning to Korea as a Fulbright scholar at Yonsei University prior to the Seoul Olympics, and later working as an administrator with the Korea Fulbright Commission, I personally witnessed many of the dramatic changes that took place as this country made the transition from an aid recipient to that of an economically and technologically advanced aid donor country.
  • In 1992, the major focus of my research shifted to the study of digital technologies and networks, and the manner in which Korea leveraged the digital network revolution for socioeconomic development.  My first book on the topic, The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea, was published in 1995.
  • Last year I joined the faculty of the Department of Technology and Society at SUNY Korea in Songdo and in January of this year became its chair.  In collaboration with industry, government, citizens and international organizations, we are sharpening our research, teaching and training focus on the ICT sector and especially its role in sustainable development (ICT4D).
Given the above and more, I was pleased to view the video of the recent event at CSIS, hosted by my friend and colleague (a former Korea Fulbright grantee), Victor Cha.   I commend it to you.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Galaxy 6 in Japan: History, brand image, and country of origin

As reported by The Chosun Ilbo yesterday, "Samsung has removed its corporate logo from its Galaxy S6 smartphones sold in Japan amid deep distrust of Korea and Korean technology in the island country. Instead, the sleek smartphones features only the Galaxy brand name, as do all accessories." (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version)  According to the article, Japanese consumers have long favored domestic technology over imports.  It notes that "When it unveiled the Galaxy S3 in Japan in 2012, Samsung ranked third after Fujitsu (21.4 percent market share) and Apple (18.4 percent) with 14.8 percent of the market. But anti-Korean sentiment stoked by a new far-right government meant the Galaxy S5 fared poorly, and Samsung's share of the Japanese market fell to 10.7 percent in 2013 and to 5.6 percent last year."  The article concludes by quoting an industry insider who said "Japanese are very loyal to their national brands and have become wary after seeing their once-mighty brands get beaten by foreign rivals on the global stage."  It would appear that the industry insider is close to the mark.  In recent decades, leading Japanese electronics manufacturers have seen their lead in the global market eclipsed by Korean firms.  Still, this move by Samsung to remove its corporate logo is a sharp reminder of the importance of brand image and country of origin in promoting a brand.  In a broader sense, it may also indicate the difficulty Japan has in dealing with its 20th century history, which included forcible colonization of Korea.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The PS-LTE network: Disaster communications as a business opportunity

The mainstream news media in South Korea are filled with reports these days about the tragic sinking of the Sewol ferry one year ago today.  The fact that most of those who lost their lives in that accident were high school students on a field trip to Jeju island only broadened and deepened the nation's anguish.  In all my years living in Korea, I cannot recall an event that affected the whole nation and its entire citizenry so profoundly.  It took months for the economy, politics and social affairs to return to some semblance of normality.
One effect of the the Sewol ferry tragedy was to accelerate this nation's planning for future disaster communications. The disaster exposed the lack of interoperability among responding agencies which hindered rescue efforts.  Last year the Korean government announced plans to build a Public Safety LTE network (PS-LTE) and allocated frequency for it.  As reported by BusinessKorea in January, the national disaster safety communications network would be the first of its kind in the world, and is scheduled for completion by 2017.  The report noted that, according to industry and government sources,"...the national disaster safety communications network project is estimated to be worth 2 trillion won (US$1.85 billion). However, the size of the project is expected to increase to more than 3 trillion won (US$2.8 billion) if 10 year-maintenance costs are included."
The project has drawn considerable interest from both domestic and international companies.  Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent held an event to showcase their PS-LTE technology in January, as did Ericcson-LG, which is collaborating with Nokia Networks and Motorola.  More recently, as reported in The Korea Times, KT announced a partnership with Samsung Electronics in a bid to win the PS-LTE contract.
Other countries, including the U.S., the UK and Canada, have plans to build public safety networks, but Korea's will be the first.  Consequently, regardless of which companies win the contract, this country will serve as the world's test bed for such networks, offering new business opportunities both here and abroad.

Friday, April 10, 2015

KOTESOL Annual Conference, May 30: More on digital divides in Korea

As readers of this blog already know, I was invited to give a lecture on "Digital divide and disruption in Korea," earlier this year at Florida State University. That visit was the subject of a short post.  Consequently, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation to speak on the same topic at the annual national conference of KOTESOL, scheduled for May 30, at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul.  The theme for this year's conference is "Bridging the digital divide:  Examining online language teaching in Asia."  The theme allows me an opportunity to elaborate on the earlier lecture by including some thoughts about the role of natural language and education in relation to digital divides, both their creation and efforts to eliminate or "bridge" them.  This is an important topic and one of longstanding interest to me personally, having spent two years as a university TESOL instructor and American Peace Corps Volunteer at Kangwon National University in Chuncheon.  That was decades ago, before the digital network revolution, and what a difference Skype, Google hangouts and other internet video conferencing tools make!
The video accompanying this post (above) offers a brief sketch of my planned lecture, but to hear my latest thoughts on the subject, and to have a chance to question or challenge me, you'll have to attend the conference.  For that reason, I'm including the conference poster in this post. Serious suggestions and comments about issues or topics that I might address in my conference presentation are, of course, welcome.  If you don't choose to comment on this post, feel free to visit my personal website and use the "Contact Jim Larson" form.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The K-ICT strategy to realize the creative economy

On March 24 the powerful Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) released its K-ICT strategy, providing a vision for how this nation intends to transform itself into a "creative economy," the central policy initiative of the Park Geun-hye administration.  I have not yet seen a full English translation of the announcement of the K-ICT strategy, but readers can access the Korean press release using this hyperlink.  The video accompanying this post provides a quick overview of some of the high points in the strategy.  If anyone ever doubted the ambitious nature of Korea's goals for its ICT sector and the role of that sector in future economic growth, this new five-year strategy or "roadmap" should put those doubts to rest.  While the MSIP announcement clarifies the size of this country's investment and the main economic and industry sectors that are involved, it also raises some questions.  For example, the strategy includes a plan to demonstrate 5G mobile technology at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, scheduled for less than three years from now. The success of such an effort depends on progress toward internationally agreed standards for 5G and whether that will occur in time for Pyeongchang is open to question.  Furthermore, one can argue that the real impact of 5G mobile communication will have more to do with the sort of content, applications and services that can be displayed.  Here Samsung Electronics, which just signed a major domestic sponsorship deal with the Pyeongchang organizing committee, and is a leading TOP sponsor of the Olympics globally, should take note.  During the last Winter Olympics in Sochi, Samsung distributed thousands of Galaxy Note 3 devices to Olympic athletes and other member of the Olympic family.  While a similar effort with next generation mobile devices will no doubt be part of the plan for Pyeongchang, Samsung may miss a golden opportunity if it does not simultaneously release an array of  applications targeted at the international visitors who will come to Korea before, during and after the 2018 Winter Olympic games and the global television audience. The time to develop and market such apps is now, not in 2018.