February 10, 2016

South Korea to Shut Down Kaesong Industrial Complex 개성공업지구

A map showing the border between North and South Korea and the cities of Seoul and KaesongThe South Korean government today announced plans to close the Kaesong Industrial Complex. Kaesong, also Romanized as Gaesong, is a city on the southern border of North Korea. Sageuk fans may remember it as the Korean capital during the Koryeo (or Goryeo) dynasty from the 10th-14th centuries, immediately preceding the Joseon era.

These days, Kaesong is home to 124 South Korean factories staffed by North Korean workers. The rather bizarre arrangement just goes to show that mutual greed overrides political principles when ruling elites collide. South Korean factory owners pay the North Korean workers about $74 a month. Minimum wage for South Korean workers is $5 an hour. MORE…

September 29, 2015

Korea, Women, Money - 한국, 여자, 돈

On Saturday, Park Gun Hye, Korea’s first female president, announced that South Korea would spend $200 million in 15 poor countries to launch a “Better Life for Girls” initiative.

A hand holding Korean paper money, with a low denomination bill on topI am all for improved education, health care, and autonomy for women everywhere, but the timing of this announcement was a tad ironic in the wake of an Associated Press article published the previous day. The article describes how hundreds of Korean women in their 60s, 70s and even 80s, unbeknownst to their families, prostitute themselves on the streets of Seoul to make ends meet.

In 2013, South Korea came in last in an Economist magazine ranking of the best countries for working women. Korea’s support for women abroad would be a lot more credible if it showed the same support for women at home.

September 3, 2015

Korean Politics: Fair Wind from the West

Korean politics is (are?) complex. While issues may seem similar to those found in other modern industrial cultures, positions and affiliations are often rooted in ancient conflicts and alliances. But even a Korean political novice like me can tell it’s significant when Park Gun Hye goes to China to attend the 70th anniversary celebration of their WWII victory, and Kim Jong Un doesn’t.
The Chinese and South Korean flags side by side connected by a short chain
This follows an unprecedented (in my paltry 4 years of Korea-watching, at least) apology from the north for crossing into the South Korean side of the “demilitarized” zone between the two countries – which is, of course, bristling with weaponry on both sides – and planting land mines. Two South Korean soldiers were maimed.

Of course, the north promptly turned around and denied that expressing “regret” constituted an apology. Um, OK. But that is not the only sign of diminished belligerence from North Korea. MORE…