Posts Tagged ‘Korea’

Rarer Earth Metals

August 15, 2017

Carbon and iron are among the most commonly-occurring, non-gaseous elements on Earth –thus, effusive chemists might (with scant exaggeration) claim that our planet’s core and surface are largely composed of these two substances.  However, long before Mendeleev and Meyer thought of rearranging our whirling atomic chaos into serried tabular ranks, Taoist seers had divided all existence into five elemental categories: water, wood, fire, earth, metal.  Carbon (earth).  Iron (metal).  Carbon (coal).  Iron (ore).

China has announced that it will cut off imports of North Korean coal, iron ore, seafood and other goods in three weeks, under U.N. sanctions imposed over the North’s nuclear and missile programs.  The Chinese customs agency said Monday that it will stop processing imports of North Korean coal, iron and lead ores and fish at midnight on September 5.  A veteran trader based in Shandong who deals in coking coal and anthracite, and a Beijing-based iron ore trader with a company that handles North Korean iron ore, said the government stopped issuing permits to bring in iron ore several weeks ago.  Iron ore cargoes from North Korea are usually in concentrate form with relatively high iron content of 60-63 percent.

I like the timing of this announcement, coming as it does in the final week of the yang earth/yang metal Monkey Month.  Even better, the import ban goes into effect right in the middle of the yin earth/yin metal Fowl (Rooster) Month, just before the Full Corn Moon of September 6.  It’s probably no coincidence that this adjustment to Chinese trade policy will bring importation of elemental earth and metal feedstock commodities into closer harmony with the timeless rhythms of the celestial calendar.

From September 6 through September 20, the yin earth and yin metal energy of the Fowl Month will gradually transform into the yang metal/yang earth configuration of the Dog Month/October (essentially reversing the energy pattern of Monkey Month/August).  All the while, Tai Sui will be watching developments in the East from this year’s Western throne.  Nobody with any sense of the possible consequences will want to create a disturbance in the “self-penalty” Fowl Month.  Even when the official party line dismisses feng-shui as a feudal superstition, why take unnecessary risks with the people’s welfare at stake?

 

Red Glaring Era

August 12, 2017

Not so very long ago, just a few years back –when Kim Jong-il was Washington’s designated Yellow Peril boogeyman– a couple of American rocketry specialists proposed a novel and intriguing thesis … which they then backed up with data and analysis in an unclassified monograph.  Long story short, they asserted that North Korea lacked the scientific, technical and industrial infrastructure (as well as the money) required to design and manufacture the relatively sophisticated missiles then soaring off the sacred soil of the DPRK.

Curiously, however, these missiles exhibited all the operating characteristics (range, payload, telemetry, engine thrust, etc.) of hardware with which the American rocketeers were already quite familiar: Russian missiles.  And when Kim Jong-il paraded his missiles through the streets of Pyongyang on major holidays, whadda ya know, they looked an awful lot like Russian missiles too.  Not top-tier stuff; second-class, older-model Russian rockets.

Golly, how can this be?  Were these Korean missiles carefully copied exact clones?  Uh … probably not, for the reasons noted above.  Instead, concluded our intrepid aeronautical engineers, it was much more likely that Kim Jong-il was sourcing his hardware inventory in off-the-shelf, plug-and-play, launchpad-ready condition from (cue the gasps of surprise and dismay) Comrade Bear.  That’s right, Bad Vlad hisseff.  Now, of course, as former employees of –and current consultants to– the United States military-industrial complex, these analysts didn’t come right out and accuse democratically elected officials of the Russian Federation of violating UN sanctions and the rules of fair play.  Such forthright candor would have been undiplomatic and downright unseemly.  But they took pains to point out that medium-range missiles are generally considered a closely-guarded defense technology and are very rarely known to cross international borders unassisted.

Then, just for fun, the analysts built a timeline of Kim Jong-il’s nuclear tests and missile launches … cross-referenced with a chronology of Russian foreign policy initiatives.  Should we be surprised that they found repeated instances in which tensions between Russia and the United States or Japan were promptly followed by bellicose posturing from Pyongyang?  This pattern suggested the possibility that North Korean weapons tests were in some cases “commissioned” by Russia, with the requisite materiel furnished on an as-needed basis.  When Comrade Bear wanted to twist the trousers of the US, South Korea or Japan, Kim Jong-il was exactly the right man for the job.

So, was this –is this– at all a credible thesis?  Those who might know ain’t talkin’ ’bout it in public.  Nobody’s even botherin’ to ridicule the possibility, fer cryin’ out loud.  What might we infer from that?

That was then, this is now

Here we are in the Year of the Fowl and it’s déjà vu all over again.  Seems that those who don’t care to know recent history are only too happy to repeat it.  Kim Jong-un suddenly starts launching missiles that (allegedly) have intercontinental capability, and Chicken Little promptly notices that the sky is falling.  How convenient.

It’s not surprising that Donald Trump has seized this marvelous opportunity for saber-rattling with both tiny hands: he desperately needs an excuse to deflect public discourse away from his amply-demonstrated ignorance, incompetence and venality.  To that end, his overheated rhetoric is furiously furnishing further fuel for the waning yin fire that still lingers from the Sheep Month.  Not to worry (too much): it’s all part of the script for Trump’s latest “reality” television series.  The plotlines were laid out over dessert at G20, and almost everyone (even you) is playing their appointed roles.  We haven’t yet seen the credits roll, but in reality TV, the screenwriter’s name never appears. How convenient.

It should be pretty obvious what the donald might hope to gain from edging to the brink of his own splendid little war, but perhaps some readers may find it less clear what Putin gets out of this artful deal.  Here ya go:

Comrade Bear benefits from 2017’s DPRK Monkey Month antics in at least 4 ways:

  • a manufactured war crisis diverts U.S. media attention away from the Mueller investigation of Russia-Trump collusion.  A helping hand extended to his fellow Gazprom shareholder?
  • payback for U.S. Senate sanctions against Russia’s siloviki kleptocracy.
  • a wedge into the joints of America’s North Asia alliances with Japan and South Korea: each nation has different interests at stake.
  • the usual suspect, China, gets all the Confucian blame for the misbehavior of Number One Son Kim Jong-un … while sly Comrade Bear basks in the sun at a lakeside dacha.  He’s not actually relaxing.

In these circumstances, what would Marshal Shaposhnikov suggest?  Perhaps a peek at the Vostochny cosmodrome might provide an answer.

 

Tuber Or Not Tuber

August 3, 2017

Beginning in May, Korean agricultural researchers in Okcheon, Chungcheong-bukdo implemented a novel experiment intended to reduce crop damage caused by feral hogs.

Farmers in the region began leaving piles of carrots and sweet potatoes along the woodland fringes adjacent to their fields.  These are foods enjoyed by wild boars, who often demolish wide swaths of cropland while rooting through the fields in search of the sweet, starchy tubers.

On June 10, the National Institute of Biological Resources installed surveillance cameras in two locations to observe the effects. They recorded five wild boars eating the carrots and sweet potatoes and leaving without damaging crops.

For centuries, Korean farmers have endured freezing cold and scorching heat, drought and floods, insect pests and yangban taxation. For millennia, wild boar have been a serious nuisance as well.  Trapping the wily, wary hogs is usually difficult, and hunting them is always dangerous.  Perhaps this “Franciscan” approach will be somewhat effective.

However, Korea being Korea, the appearance of this story in the peninsular news media isn’t merely about 21st century agricultural techniques and methods.  Instead, this mini-narrative is also operating at an additional abstract level of metaphorical reference in order to propose (or perhaps to endorse) a geopolitical strategy for dealing with the wild young boar of the North … Kim Jong-un.  Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that carrots and yams will be enough to satisfy his appetite for la dolce vita.

Hedged Funding

July 7, 2017

Wait, is that an actual hedge or a virtual (Photoshopped) hedge in the background of this photo? Perhaps only Yonhap’s photo editor knows for sure.  It doesn’t really matter: the underlying message is the same either way.

 

Large-scale and green: we should expect forthcoming news of YUGE clean-energy investment deals between Siemens and KEPCO.  Moon has promised to reduce Korea’s reliance on nuclear power plants by adding cleaner electricity generation capacity.  Wind, tide and solar are obvious candidates to augment hydroelectric and thermal power stations.  Furthermore, significant job creation would be necessary to build and operate new energy infrastructure. This project is gonna get green-lighted (using dis term in da trad Hollywood vernacular, not in da bogus interwebs ish).

Lunar Land-scapegoat

June 22, 2017

Outmoded rituals –like the minor habits of daily domestic life– can be difficult to set aside even once their original purpose has long been lost to modern memory.  Nowhere is this more true than in the Moonrise Kingdom of New Baekje now taking shape upon the ruins remaining from Old Silla.  Amid the tumult and confusion of foreground regime change, longstanding cultural practices keep-on-keepin’-on … at the very margins of visibility.  Case in point, the presidential photo-op:

Way back yonder in the Lee Myung-bak era, Lunghu pointed out that visiting dignitaries at Cheong Wa Dae were sorted by their hosts into a hierarchy of international importance that was signalled by the subtly-coded backdrop before which the traditional handshake photo was staged.  Barbarian emissaries of semi-savage nations (Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia) were received in front of a Chosun-era folding screen depicting lowly foreign messengers performing their kowtow to the Korean emperor.  Diplomats and officials from valuable export markets in Europe and North America posed for their handshake with a glowingly resplendent golden screen behind them.  Close neighbors from China and Japan rated an auspicious Asian landscape painting replete with Sinitic symbolism.  A place for everyone, and everyone in their place.

This pattern from Lee Myung-bak’s Republic of Hyundai didn’t change during Park Geun-hye‘s Republic of Samsung, and thus far it hasn’t changed under Moon Jae-in‘s Republic of Candlepower.  That’s why Beijing-bound Beltway advanceman Richard N. Haass is backlit with a golden aura in the photo above.  Despite what Koreans might think of the monarch whose message he bears, the United States is still a precious ally in an unfriendly neighborhood.  As far as Koreans are concerned, the U.S. alliance is a vital relationship that can –and must– outlast four years of attempted sabotage inspired by Comrade Bear.

Upshift

That said, let’s never forget that national politics is –in every nation– a cutthroat, zero-sum, feast-or-famine struggle for survival.  So it should be absolutely no surprise that the newly-exiled courtiers of Old Silla (under the rebranded label of Liberty Korea Party) are seeking to exploit their well-established backchannel links with American conservatives to discredit the Moon government’s national security policies.  According to these hardened cold-warriors, a left-center/progressive/human activist like Moon Jae-in is someone who will place the freedom-loving Korean nation in jeopardy by being soft on China and squishy on Kim Jong-un.  Since President Moon currently has public approval ratings above 80%, they’ve inevitably chosen to attack his appointees rather than the man himself.  Thus their overt parliamentary maneuvering and covert media campaigns against foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha and national security adviser Moon Chung-in.

In fact, Hannara/GNP/Saenuri/Liberty Korea knows quite well that the new administration has no real wiggle room to dramatically alter inter-Korean relations: Kim Jong-un ain’t playin’.  Instead, what really worries the kleptocrats of Liberty Korea is the inevitable, inexorable impact of a looming government crackdown on chaebol corruption. Coming soon: a long overdue Brazilian-style carwash investigation, transplanted to Gangnam and points South-Southeast.

 

Frisson d’Avril

April 1, 2017

The yin water Rabbit month ended earlier this week (on Monday or Tuesday, depending on your location under the rising new moon), but feng shui misfortunes persist for those whose star-crossed destinies are in clash with the Year of the Fowl.  Case in point: Park Geun-hye, dowager queen of Hell-Joseon.

Four years and three months after being elected, the same Park Geun-hye who vowed to become a “public welfare president” and “a president for unity” was incarcerated on March 31 as a suspect in 13 criminal charges, including bribery. The arrest warrant, which was issued by Seoul Central District Court 21 days after the Constitutional Court removed Park from presidential office, is based on a number of charges against her, including the acceptance of a 43.3 billion won (US$38.6 million) bribe from Samsung.  “Since the main charges have been established and there are concerns about the destruction of evidence, we grant the grounds for detention, its necessity and its significance,” Judge Kang Bu-yeong said.

Prosecutors managed to back up their charge that Park received 43.3 billion won from Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong (in jail under investigative detention) in return for government rulings that helped him inherit management rights over the Samsung Group.  Their evidence included the notebook of Park’s former aide, Senior Secretary for Economic Affairs Ahn Jong-beom (in jail awaiting trial) and several text messages exchanged by Samsung staff who were discussing financial support for Choi Sun-sil’s daughter Jung Yu-ra.

Prosecutors are very likely to file charges against Park before April 17, which marks the beginning of the official election period [stipulated under Korea’s Constitution].  Prosecutors are also likely to speed up their investigation of Samsung and other chaebols, including Lotte and SK, who have come up in the investigation of Choi Sun-sil.

Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin

Two years ago, the handwriting on the wall which foretold Park’s downfall was literally there to be seen  –hiding in plain sight in her presidential palace.  But the message was written in the language of images rather than in Hangul or Roman characters.  I blogged about this cryptic portent in January 2015, parsing the symbolic meaning of imagery depicted in a scenic backdrop that formed part of the stage set for Park’s New Year’s message to the Korean people.  In retrospect, given what we now know about Choi Sun-sil’s control over the presentation of Park’s public persona, it’s clear that the iconic symbols crammed into the landscape were almost certainly chosen by Choi herself as a coded message to the business executives she was shaking down:  the president’s treasure bowl is to be filled through the three Blue House aides portrayed as grazing deer.

So, because Korean history inevitably repeats itself, I’m not at all surprised that the ROK is once again submerged in a tsunami of scandalous corruption.  Lee Myung-bak‘s Republic of Hyundai was briefly succeeded by Lee Jae-yong‘s Republic of Samsung, and now something else will be hastily cobbled together to masquerade as governance in the southern provinces.  In a waning Yin Fire year, Earth and Metal are signs of Korea’s future.

 

End Of An Error

March 9, 2017

Election scheduled for May 9, 2017.

 

Tigers & You-Freightees

January 31, 2017

Just a few indicators that we’re now into the month of the Tiger during the Year of the Fowl:

Korean tigers return to Baekdu-daegan mountain range

The [South] Korea Forest Service announced that it has transported a pair of male Korean tigers named Duman and Geumgang to the tiger forest at the Baekdu-daegan National Arboretum in Seobyeok, North Gyeongsang Province. The Forest Service has set up a system of barriers around the forest to allow visitors to observe the tigers in safety.

“Mt. Baekdu tigers are a protected species designated as Level 1 endangered wild fauna,” said Park Jong-ho, director of the Forest Service’s forest usage bureau.

 

Bobcat escapes from National Zoo in Washington

A female bobcat, believed to be about 7 years old, was found to be missing Monday morning from its enclosure at the National Zoo when it didn’t show up for breakfast.

“We know that she is absolutely capable of surviving, even thriving, in this area,” said Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director of animal care. “If she doesn’t return, she would likely survive on a diet of birds, small rodents, house cats or small dogs that are left alone outside,” Smith added.

 

Man Mauled by Tiger, Killed at Eastern China Resort

A man named Zhang who climbed a fence at Dongqian Lake Resort in Zhejiang province to avoid paying the entry fee was attacked and killed by tigers when he into ventured into their enclosure.  The attack occurred on Saturday [New Year’s Day] at the Tiger Hill enclosure in Ningbo Youngor Zoo.  One tiger was shot dead by local police, and three others nearby were dispersed using firecrackers.

 

Precautionary measures in the Fire Fowl Year

Russia grounds Proton-M rocket for 3½ months

Russia’s workhorse Proton-M rockets will be out of service for three and a half months because of engine problems.  Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said some employees at the Voronezh factory had been involved in faking documentation linked to the rocket and would be “harshly punished.”  The director of the factory resigned last week after Russian officials concluded that the crash of a Progress [space] cargo ship in December was the result of a malfunction by engines built at the plant.

 

Fowl Play

January 24, 2017

Winter Solstice –> subsequent full moon –> subsequent new moon = Lunar New Year.  January 28 2017 marks the beginning of the Year of the Fowl (elsewhere known as the Year of the Rooster or Year of the Chicken).  In the unceasing alternation of yin and yang, the Year of the Yang Fire Monkey will give way to the Year of the Yin Fire Fowl.  Because Yin Fire has feminine characteristics, it is not appropriate to refer to this year’s particular poultry specimen as a rooster … perhaps not even as a capon.  Thus my choice of the gender-neutral term Fowl.

 

jiaxing_fowl_1

I’ve decided not to use the word “Hen” because of the dismissively pejorative sense in which it is often used by a certain category of person.  Furthermore, the word Fowl is more broadly inclusive, permitting us to evoke such related species as quail, pheasants, turkeys, ducks, cormorants, geese, cranes, storks, and swans.  Thus we move our minds and imaginative vision beyond the familiar domestic barnyard into the great outdoors, with its woodlands, prairies, tundra, marshes, streams, ponds and lakes.  Under the vast sweep of the endless sky, flocking fowl of all descriptions fly from place to place in search of forage and their ancestral nesting grounds.  Most will never end their days in a bubbling bath of mushroom wine sauce.

But let’s take it from the top: first the Celestial Stem, then the Earthly Branch.  This year’s stem is Ding [ 丁 ] (meaning “an individual”).  Ding is governed by the yin Fire element and is therefore associated with the South direction.  Yin Fire is the weaker form of fire, manifested in small light sources such as candlelight, starlight, torches, stoves and sparks. The association with fire gives Ding a visual affinity with colors such as red, orange, pink and purple. It is the fourth in the sequence of ten Celestial Stems, and is thus almost halfway through the celestial cycle.  For feng-shui soothsayers it is the yin Fire element that constitutes Ding‘s most influential attribute.  According to your neighborhood Daoist seer, interaction between the year’s Celestial Stem element and its Earthly Branch element is what causes the manifold terrestrial phenomena that we see unfold before our eyes as the year progresses.

Which brings us to this year’s Earthly Branch, You [ 酉 ] (meaning “ripe” or “complete”).  In the animal zodiac it corresponds to the Fowl.  The Fowl is a yin Metal element associated with the West direction.  Yin Metal represents the lesser, weaker form of metal, so it is associated with small metal objects: small knives, scissors, garden implements, farming tools or pins and needles … or items made of soft metals like gold, silver, copper or lead (coins, jewelry, plumbing or bullets, for example).

The Fowl (yin Metal) is also one of four “Peach Blossom” animals in the Chinese zodiac associated with heightened sexuality. The other three are Rabbit (yin Wood), Horse (yang Fire), and Rat (yang Water).  Two yin animals, two yang animals: understand?  You may also have noticed that only four out of the five elements are represented among the “Peach Blossom” animals.  That’s because you gotta have yin-yang balance for the heavenly cycle to continue its eternal rotation.  An Earth element presence among the Peach Blossoms, whether yin (Cow or Sheep) or yang (Dragon or Dog), would be like a third wheel on the bicycle built for two.

What does all this mean for 2017?  Well, the Celestial Stem above controls the Earthly Branch below, and thus we have yin Fire above the yin Metal Fowl.  In the Five Elements destructive cycle of relationships, Fire has a controlling/ destructive influence on Metal (fire melts metal).  This is definitely a negative portent for 2017:  the strong of this world will continue to bully and exploit the weak.  It’s scant consolation that the strong will be somewhat weaker this year than in 2016 now that yin Fire has succeeded yang Fire.  That’s because the weak will also be weaker this year: yin Metal Fowl has replaced yang Metal Monkey, a stronger Metal element who was better able to resist yang Fire.

The combination of Fire and Metal in 2017 has prompted some feng shui soothsayers to warn of fire-related disasters initiated by sparks or flame –such as brush fires, lightning strikes, power failures, electrical accidents, explosions or perhaps a towering inferno in a very prominent steel-frame building.  Because Ding yin Fire is associated with the South direction, these possible misfortunes are said to be more likely to occur in southern regions of the globe, southern portions of a nation, or southern areas of a large city.  Houston, do we have a problem?  SDNY?  Perhaps we’ll see.

But wait, there’s more.  The avian presence of a Metal Fowl in the Earthly Branch implies that airborne soft metal (aluminum?) objects are at risk of fire as well.  In this context, rocket and missile launches may not go well.  Some prognosticators go so far as advising travelers to avoid airlines with a red logo (the color of Ding Fire), a bird in their logo (Lufthansa?) or the word “East” in the airline name.  This last proviso seems to rooted in the fact that East is the direction of the Rabbit, who is directly “in clash” with the Fowl this year.  Thus East is “offending the year.”

Jan 25th update: this could really cut down on your travel options, since cursory research indicates that at least 50 air carriers have a bird of some kind in their logo.  Several prominent airlines that don’t use a bird image instead have predominantly red logos:

  • Air Canada (a maple leaf)
  • Avianca
  • Dragonair (a red dragon)
  • Emirates (Arabic script in red)
  • Iberia (a stylized Spanish flag of red & gold)
  • Malaysian Airlines (’nuff said)
  • Quantas (a kangaroo on a red background)
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Swissair (the Swiss flag)
  • Virgin Atlantic

daedong_ck

I’m going to briefly riff off this last point to make a prediction of my own.  In Korean, as in Chinese, the word for East is ‘Dong‘ (pronounced ‘doong’).  Daedong (Great East) Industrial Company, Ltd. is a manufacturer of farm machinery based in Daegu, South Korea.  Their tractors are red (or maybe orange).  Daegu is a political stronghold of Korea’s beleaguered Saenuri party, whose leader is recently-impeached President Park Geun-hye … born in the Year of the Rabbit … in Daegu.  I’m thinking this combination won’t be good for soon-to-be-ex-President Park in 2017, and it won’t be good for Daedong Industrial Company, Ltd either.  The Rabbit month (March) will be when Korea’s Constitutional Court is likely to rule on the validity of Park’s impeachment.

Of course, there’s another Daedong in Korea, too.  It’s the Taedong River in North Korea, which runs right through the capital Pyongyang.  Since I haven’t looked at the Four Pillars feng-shui birth chart of Kim Jong-un, that’s all I’m gonna say.

Economic Portents

The interaction of Fire and Metal can also be expected to have an influence on human economic activity throughout the world.  Since Fire element controls the Metal element, Metal industries like banking, engineering, computers, automobiles and precious metals might be expected to do poorly during 2017.

On the other hand, Fire industries should prosper: electrical power, entertainment, fashion, beauty, film, and broadcasting may do quite well. The influence of the Peach Blossom Fowl should also assist entrepreneurs in sex and pornography businesses, bars, nightclubs and matchmaking/dating services.  The combination of yin Fire sparks and Peach Blossom should make things hot-hot-hot.

Less obviously, the unseen interaction of Water and Fire may provide an opportunity for investors in Water industries.  This is because Water conquers (quenches) Fire, so Water will benefit from its dominant position during a (weak) Fire year.  Water industries are all about flow: transport, communications, water purification/treatment, shipping, and logistics.

Can investing really be this easy?  Perhaps not.  The lunar calendar divides the twelve months of the year among the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac, starting with the tiger in the first month (February, to you Gregorians).  Each of the twelve animals has harmonious relations with some –but not all– of the others.  Animals located 90⁰, 180⁰, and 270⁰ degrees away from each other are in conflict.  The animal directly across the zodiac (180⁰ away) is most severely “in clash” but the two at right angles are also in disfavor.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s the animals that clash with the Earthly Branch that matter most each year.

In the Year of the Fowl, these animals are the Rat (90⁰), Rabbit (180⁰), and Horse (270⁰).  Each of these animals corresponds to a calendar month: March [Rabbit], June [Horse], December [Rat].  The Fowl itself corresponds to September, when it will be in “Self-Penalty.”  These four months supposedly constitute investment “danger zones” when clashes between the Earthly Branch yearly animal and the monthly animals may cause disruption to Fire element price-support optimism.

In my opinion, June doesn’t look too bad, because it’s a yang Fire month with a yang Fire Horse: even if the Fowl and Horse don’t get along, double yang Fire month should support the yin Fire year.  However, December is a completely different story, where you have a yang Water month with a yang Water Rat.  This double yang Water month is quite likely to thoroughly quench the weak and waning yin Fire of 2017.  Investors should probably try to cash out by Halloween in order to avoid a truly frightful holiday season.  The Year of the Double Yang Earth Dog will right around the corner.

 

 

No Par King

November 7, 2016

For almost two weeks I have been trying to decide how Waking the Dragon might make a meaningful contribution to the public discourse (such as it is) that has been accompanying South Korea’s M-ir Foundation/ Choi Soon-sil scandal.  Each lurid detail of Park/Saenuri corruption that has slithered into public view has been followed by another aspect of the case that is even more appallingly sordid or pathetic.  The worst stereotypes of Korean oligarchic “democracy” have been revealed to be considerable understatements of the awful truth.  Scant wonder that Koreans in their tens of thousands are marching in the streets to demand Park Geun-hye’s immediate resignation.  What could I possibly add to this picture?

Well, I found something: the classic WTD shadow-world perspective that permits the all-seeing eye to form order out of chaos and make sense out of what at first seems incomprehensible.  And the recurrent plotlines of numerous Joseon-dynasty historical dramas provide an important clue to what’s going on in 21st century Seoul.  In short, what you have here is a good old-fashioned succession crisis –updated for the post-modern age.

Back in the day of divine mandate-of-heaven monarchy, orderly succession to the throne and dynastic continuity was what ensured the survival of the Confucian polity and its people.  Earthly affairs were (supposed to be) closely calibrated to the predictable motions of the celestial sphere, and any abrupt deviation from prescribed ritual behavior had the potential to disrupt the harmony between heaven and earth: famine, earthquake, flooding or epidemic disease might thereupon ensue.  Just as one star after another rises in its turn from the eastern horizon at dusk, so too a crown prince must replace the king when his time has come.

hyomeong

This worldview implied two crucial questions for Joseon yangban aristocrats in the royal secretariat and council of ministers:  (1) when has the time come? … and (2) who is the proper crown prince?  Among the just causes for early dismissal: a Joseon king too sick to govern, too infatuated with his concubines to sire an heir with his appointed queen, or too drunk to preside at court rituals.  Rather than wait around for such a king to die of natural causes, (depending on his deficiencies) he would be forced into abdication and retirement, sent into exile, or outright assassinated.  A suitable prince of the royal house would then be installed as king, and celestial harmony would thus be restored.  So who determined which prince would be most suitable?  The most powerful yangban ministerial faction, of course.

In modern-day Korea the danger to the nation is more intense than usual because stars and planets have figuratively aligned to produce a triple succession crisis:

  • the scheduled conclusion of Park Geun-hye‘s presidency in 2017
  • the 2016 U.S. presidential “succession crisis”
  • the chaebol succession crises

Let’s take these one at a time.  First, the 2017 ROK presidential election.  Until the Choi scandal snowballed into a political avalanche in late October, conventional wisdom held that the governing Saenuri Party would be able to retain the presidency by recruiting as its candidate someone seen by Koreans as “above politics” –UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose term expires in December of this year.  Although Ban has no political organization of his own in Korea, earlier this summer several regional Saenuri chieftains signaled willingness to line up behind Ban when the time comes.  Most of these guys are counted among the “anti-Park” wing of the Saenuri Party because they were aligned with former president Lee Myung-bak in the 2007 campaign.  Those who are –or used to be– in the “pro-Park” Saenuri faction were heard to do a lot of grumbling back in July and August when Ban’s name began floating around Chungcheongbuk-do in earnest.  Perhaps they favored a lesser light from Gyongsongnam-do instead.  Whatever.  The key factor here is that Korean patronage-politics-as-usual is about to undergo another round of musical chairs, and trillions of won are at stake.  Members of the ruling party are halfway through a mad scramble to cut each others’ throats and stab each other in the back in order to ensure that they’re not left on the zero side of a zero-sum outcome.  There’s plenty of fodder for scandal in everyday Korean politics, and everyone is trying his best to ensure that someone else ends up in the spotlight.  A lame duck president is ideal for the purpose, because s/he is more newsworthy than a mere mayor or assemblyman, and can therefore monopolize negative media attention.

Second, the good ole USA.  As founder and ultimate guarantor of the South Korean regime for nigh on seventy years, the United States and its policies toward the ROK are crucially important for maintaining economic stability and political continuity in the Land of Morning Calm. So it matters what the U.S. President thinks of Korea and how s/he attends to its security and domestic interests.  The Korean military-industrial complex is very, very nervous about Donald Trump‘s stated intention to withdraw American troops from Korea.  The greater the likelihood of a possible President Trump, the greater the anxiety and panic among South Korean movers and shakers.  Possibilistic thinking can easily outweigh probabilistic analysis when worst-case scenarios intrude on a sleepless night at 3AM.

Third, chaebol succession crises.  As a legacy of Japanese colonial development policies and state capitalism investment programs in the Park Chung-hee era, Korea’s economy today is dominated by massive family-owned multinational conglomerates (i.e., chaebol).  Samsung. Hyundai. Hanwha. LG.  SK. Lotte. Hanjin. Doosan. etc.  Collectively, they account for more than 80% of Korea’s GDP.  Each chaebol is owned, controlled or managed by a single family dynasty, usually that of the group’s founder.  Although some chaebol are publicly traded entities, many employ arcane corporate structures composed of interlocking subsidiaries and holding companies that ensure actual control of business operations remains firmly in the grasp of the founding clan.  Sons, daughters, in-laws, nephews and nieces have been appointed as executives of individual business units, but despite expensive Ivy League educations, many have had difficulty coping with changing conditions in the global economy.  Hanjin Shipping goes bust.  Samsung Electronics’ phones explode.  Kim Jung-un takes Hyundai to the Kaesong cleaners.  And so on.  Worst of all, those complex business structures (initially devised to avoid taxes) now make it difficult for company founders to transfer stock ownership to the next generation without incurring a massive tax burden.  Regulatory corners will have to be cut, government officials will have to avert their eyes and look elsewhere, dissident shareholders (if any) will have to be muzzled.  When the fate of the entire Korean economy is at stake, the rules of the game seem less important than who ends up the winner.

These three succession crises converge in the Choi Soon-sil scandal.  Chaebol executives have been shoveling money into Choi’s eager hands since Park took office (and probably beforehand as well).  But times are tough and soon it will be time for change: next year there will be a new president in the Blue House and a new set of bagmen with their hands out.  Now’s the time for chaebol to begin negotiations with Park’s successor, whoever that may be.  Whoever they choose.

Finally, I promised you a shadow-world perspective and it’s time to deliver.  The turning point in the Choi Soon-sil scandal …

occurred on October 24, when a [reporter from] cable TV network JTBC discovered a Galaxy Tab belonging to Choi Soon-sil in a [Seoul] office that she abandoned. The tablet was the Pandora’s Box –it had Park’s presidential speeches with Choi’s markups, presidential briefs for cabinet meetings, appointment information for presidential aides, chat messages with presidential aides, the president’s vacation schedule, draft designs for commemorative stamps featuring the president, and much, much more.  The tablet was simply left behind in Choi’s office with no encryption, and the files were available for anyone to open.  And just in case Choi Soon-sil denied ownership of the tablet, its image gallery contained her selfie.

Although Ask A Korean! characterized this unencrypted Samsung tablet as a blunder “worthy of ‘World’s Dumbest Criminals'”, I’m gonna offer a different hypothesis accounting for its convenient presence in Choi’s abandoned office.  Consider the possibility that it was planted there by the Korean NIS.

First, what’s the possibility that NIS was totally, blissfully unaware of Choi’s activities?  Zero, absolutely zero.  As a completely politicized intelligence agency, NIS and its operatives would have pulled out all the stops to monitor absolutely everything that Choi was doing, as a matter of national and presidential security.  Which means that all of Choi’s computers, cellphones, automobiles and residences in Korea were totally pwned by NIS surveillance. 100%.  Anything less would be dereliction of duty.

Second, what “proof” do we have that Choi actually owned the jackpot Galaxy Tab?  Almost zero: that selfie photo could have been scraped from any of Choi’s devices and loaded onto the tablet by anybody with access.  And so could all those documents. See above.

Third, I’d be interested to learn why JTBC went to that particular office in the first place: dogged investigative reporting or a tip from someone suggesting that it might be worth a look?  No need to ask how they got inside — a few thousand won to the caretaker would do the trick.

Last, what about the motive?  We can be pretty sure about NIS capability, but what about intent?  Why would NIS nudge President Park under the bus after working so hard to elect her in 2013?  I’m just guessing here, but perhaps it’s because they’ve finally learned that she’s not the man her father was.  And that these desperately dangerous times call for someone who’s actually a leader, rather than a mere symbol (and now a caricature) of authoritarian rule.

 

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