Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Trump-DPRK War of Words and the Pyeongchang Olympics: Some echoes from the 1988 Games in Seoul?

As reported quite widely in the international media, the war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leadership has sparked concern in some nations about security for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.  For example, as reported by Deutsche Welle, responsible officials in both Austria and France have publicly indicated that, if security deteriorates, their teams will not attend.
The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place almost exactly three decades after the highly successful Seoul Olympics.   As described in the following excerpt from my 1993 book with Heung Soo Park (downloadable full-text from Google Books) a political crisis also threatened the successful hosting of the 1988 Olympics.
"By June 1987, the political crisis in South Korea had deepened and was receiving considerable attention from the international media. This led several cities, including Berlin, Los Angeles, and New York, to publicly express their interest in staging the 1988 Games if Seoul was unable to host them because of the unrest. IOC President Samaranch was repeatedly asked about the possibility of moving the Games from Seoul. On July 9, he stated,
"It will be Seoul only. I don't know any other solution. If there will be no games in Seoul, there will be no games at all next year. We are not considering any other city as an organizing post. They've had outstanding preparations in Seoul and I can say that never has any city showed such a degree of preparation. They do have some internal problems in South Korea, but I think that situation is improving. We have received some very good news recently." (Larson and Park, Global Television and the Politics of the Seoul Olympics, Boulder: Westview Press, 1993, pp. 160-161)"
To be sure, the current crisis on the Korean peninsula is of a different nature and on a different scale than the one faced back in 1987.  Three decades ago, the world was still living in the industrial mass media era, although on the verge of the digital network revolution.   The common denominator is that the full success of the Pyeongchang Games depends, as did the 1988 Seoul Olympics, on the assurance of a safe environment for the athletes, coaches, staff and spectators.

Friday, September 22, 2017

What the media miss about Korea!

A word of warning.  This is a long post with no graphics.
As a U.S. citizen who has long resided and worked in South Korea and as a long term student of the role of television and the media in international affairs and foreign policy, I can no longer stay silent about mainstream media coverage of affairs on the Korean peninsula.  The media, including television, the press, digital and social media have presented a picture of Korea that centers around North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, the military confrontation on the peninsula, and the trading of insults via North Korean propaganda and the Twitter posts of President Donald Trump.
Looking back over recent decades at the U.S. Korea relationship, it is clear that there has been a failure of both the press and policy.  A long line of U.S. presidents, starting with Dwight Eisenhower, who was elected in 1952 on a pledge to end the Korean War have failed to achieve a peace treaty that would formally end that war here.  It is no exaggeration to suggest that the failure to address Korea’s division and the tense ceasefire and confrontation at the DMZ is one of the great policy failures of the 20th century, blame for which might be apportioned to the two Koreas and the surrounding big powers, China, Russia, Japan and the U.S.
The mainstream press has also failed.  My own research and that of others in the latter part of the 20th century documented a pattern of intermittent coverage of Korea by television and other mainstream media, focusing on the Korean peninsula mainly at times of crisis.   The picture or image of Korea that results tends to be superficial and seriously lacking in historical, political and cultural context.  In today’s hyper connected, digital era, this pattern appears to be only exacerbated.
To be specific, three topics deserve a great deal more attention when leaders and citizens around the world consider Korea today.   First, in just over four months, the Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held in Pyeongchang, a city in Gangweon Do, the only province in South Korea that is divided by the DMZ.  The legendary Diamond Mountain, site of North-South family reunions in years past, is in the northern half of the province.  Pyeongchang itself is only about 40 miles south of the DMZ.  Not coincidentally, some of the world’s most dense and advanced digital networks have been constructed in Pyeongchang and nearby venues as part of Korea’s plan to showcase next generation 5G networks along with some of the features of its nationwide Public Safety LTE network, schedule for completion by the end of 2018.   In another move that could hardly be sheer coincidence, North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong Un ordered construction of a “world class” ski resort near Masik Pass in the northern half of Gangweon Province.  In historical context, the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will take place almost exactly three decades following the 1988 Seoul Olympics.  The Seoul Games were used very effectively to support the “Nordpolitik” of the South Korean government under President Roh Tae Woo.  China, the Soviet Union, Eastern European countries and Vietnam all participated, nearly signaling an end to South Korea’s long Cold War isolation from those nations.   The IOC and the South Korean government made strenuous efforts to involve North Korea, but to no avail.
Today, the government of President Moon Jae-In is working with the IOC in an effort to have North Korea participate in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, against the backdrop of global media attention to the nuclear, missile and military threat on the peninsula.  As this is written the sports minister of France publicly suggested that her country might skip the 2018 Winter Games if the security risk is too great.  With just over four months to go before the games, other nations are no doubt considering their options.
A second topic that receives scant attention in the mainstream media coverage of Korea these days is the impact that war on the peninsula might have on the global economy.  Following President Trump’s “fire and fury” comment about North Korea in August of this year, Fortune magazine and much of the business press took note that war in Korea could spark a global depression.  This possibility deserves more attention and in depth treatment, especially considering South Korea’s dominant position in global markets for semiconductors, displays of all types and sizes, and smart phones, key components of the emerging digital network ecosystem.
Finally, the division of Korea can only be understood if it is placed in historical context. Korea can rightly claim a history stretching for thousands of years as a unified nation state.  Consequently, the division after World War II which has lasted less than seven decades is clearly an aberration.  The vast majority of Koreans, South and North, most especially those many members of divided families, yearn for unification.  Here in the South, and I suspect in the North as well, most hope that unification will come peacefully.  During the ancient Olympic Games in Greece, a truce was announced before and during the games to ensure that the host city was not attacked and so that athletes and spectators could safely attend the games.  Perhaps the impending Pyeongchang Winter Olympics might provide an opportunity for an “Olympic truce” during which the heated media rhetoric might give way to solving the regional and indeed global crisis on the Korean peninsula.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

First in Korea, then Globally, Internet Ad Spending Surpasses TV

In Korea, as shown on the graphic at left from eMarketer,  total digital (or Internet) advertising spending exceeded television advertising in 2015. 
On a global basis, 2017 marks the year that total internet advertising spending exceeds television advertising, as shown on the accompanying graphic (click for a full-size version). 
On a global basis, Internet advertising spending will exceed television advertising this year (2017), as shown in the second graphic, published by (click for a full-size version)   Not surprisingly, as reported by, Google and Facebook are the two dominant players on the global stage, and in 2016 the top 30 Internet advertisers accounted for 44% of global spending, an increase from only 33% in 2012.
The data from these two charts show that Korea's digital development continues to proceed in advance of global trends.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Persistent Air Pollution Problem in Korea

As reported in The Korea Times today accompanied by the photo at left (click for a full size version of this "all too familiar sight"), "Korea has worst air of advanced economies." Although The Korea Times report cites the OECD as the source, it appears the data come from The State of Global Air 2017  (download the PDF here)and its accompanying website (explore and visualize the data online here).
I'm teaching an undergraduate class this semester on ICT for Sustainable Development (ICT4SD) with 24 students who no doubt have some of the same questions that you and I do about the extent, possible control and health effects of air pollution.  We're using Korea as a point of reference throughout the class.  One of my questions has been the relative contribution of China versus Korea to pollution over the Korean peninsula.  We should look to the data, rather than our hunches for an answer to this question.  In that regard, current research seems to show that South Korea itself generates a significant proportion of the fine particle pollution in this country, and that pollution emanating from China also contributes, although not as much as one might suppose.  In any event, the reduction of such pollution in northeast Asia will involve collaborative efforts by both nations.

Fewer defectors from North to South Korea

According to South Korea's Unification Ministry, fewer North Koreans have defected to the South this year.  As shown in this chart published by Statista (click to see a larger version) "between January and August, 780 North Koreans managed to complete the dangerous journey and make it across the 38th parallel. The decline is being attributed to tighter border security by China (where most defectors flee) and North Korea as well as enhanced government surveillance by Pyongyang." The overall pattern shown in the chart is also striking, given that Kim Jong Il, father of the current ruler Kim Jong Un, was in power through most of 2011. The pattern of defections clearly changed after the younger Kim assumed power and executed a number of military and party leaders, including his own uncle.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Can the U.S. intercept a North Korean missile?

Statista published a very interesting infographic today with data bearing on the question of whether the U.S. could actually intercept and destroy a North Korean missile. (click on graphic to see a larger version)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Two things missing in discussions of North Korea nuclear-missile programs and war threat

Two important topics are conspicuously missing from international media coverage of the North Korea nuclear and missile programs, and the threat of war on the Korean peninsula.  One is the impact that another war in Korea would likely have on the global ICT sector, given South Korea's dominant role in the global market for semiconductors (especially memory chips), displays (ranging from handphones, through tablets, to PCs and large screen television or outdoor displays) and smart phones.  Although there is much more to the story, a recent report by CNBC noted that South Korea is a "lynchpin" for all global tech. The second is the impending 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, located just south of the DMZ in Kangwon Province, the only province divided between North and South Korea.  I've posted frequently on this topic over the years (check out this search for "Pyeongchang" or use the "Search this blog" capability on the upper right hand side of this page)
Although they alone do not form the entire context for understanding what's going on in Korea, they definitely deserve more attention.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

North Korea nuclear test felt in Songdo (Incheon)

My wife and I had just finished lunch earlier this afternoon.   We live in a 15th floor faculty housing apartment on the Incheon Global Campus.   Our apartment began to move perceptibly from side to side and hanging objects began to sway and make a little noise.  This continued for 1-2 minutes about 12:31-12:32 P.M.  It reminded us of the tremors we felt in our apartment during last year's 5.4 magnitude quake that centered around Kyongju.   This time, however, the news media were reporting within minutes that the tremor was man-made.