Monday, June 29, 2015

Seoul subway to gain 89 km by 2025

If you follow this blog, you know how it usually goes with new subway projects: a very ambitious master plan pops up about one year before major elections, but you don't hear much about the new lines until the next election cycle.

Out of the new lines announced by Seoul city two years ago*, only Seobuseon managed to maintain some momentum a couple of months later**. Work will start by the end of this year, but only for the section South of the Han River ("Sillim Line"). As usual, money flows more easily on the gangnam side.

Well now it seems that Seoul City and the Korean government are reaching an agreement, and that all 10 LRT projects could be actually built by 2025, adding 89 km to a 327 km network.

Too good to be true?

I mean both miracles: politicians reaching across the aisle and subway lines stretching over parts of the city that most need them.

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*  see "Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 1/2)" and "Seoul LRT Projects Update (Part 2/2)" (following "If you ain't broke, fix it: Seoul, Welfare and Railways Deficits")
** see "Seobu Line confirmed as Seoul's LRT top priority"


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Korea revives the project of a fourth mobile license

According to The Korea Herald (May 29), the Korean government is considering reviving the project of a fourth Mobile Network Operator license as part of a plan to stimulate the market.

Is there a need for another 4G network? Korea is well covered with LTE to LTE-A, beefed-up locally through pervasive femtocells and WiFi. And the three incumbents don't want to sit on their laurels: Korea Telecom promised 5G trials for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, and SK Telecom announced a partnership with Google on augmented reality ("T-AR for Project Tango").

Is there a need for more competition? It depends on the profile of the new player, and the impacts on a M-VNO ecosystem that, at long last, is biting into a pie still dominated by SK Telecom, Korea Telecom, and LG U+.

According to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP), Mobile Virtual Network Operators were claiming a 8.8% market share as of April 21 (up from 2.9% in June 2012), thanks to prices on average 57% cheaper than the MNOs.

But it's not as if you had one fourth player with a 8.8% market share, big enough to contest the leaders on more profitable segments. Today, Korea has 27 M-VNOs, most struggling to make their first profit, and likely to never see it. Significantly, their number of subscribers started to explode when they targeted more discount-seeking audiences (the youth, Chinese migrant workers...).

A perennial candidate for the 4th spot is actually a consortium of M-VNOs: KMI (Korea Mobile Internet) revived their candidacy in October 2013, and defending the existing M-VNO ecosystem could be a stronger argument today. In December 2011, the Korea Communications Commission not only rejected KMI's bid, but also that of IST (Internet Space Time lost the backing of Hyundai Group at a critical moment). Note that the KCC also canceled the auction for the WiBro spectrum. I explained a few months earlier ("A Kbiz MNO ? SMEs vs Korea Inc") how the attempt by the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Businesses (Kbiz) to enter the market looked more like a lobbying stunt to push WiBro.

A much bigger fish could also seek the fourth license, with more brand power. Typically, CJ Group is already a major player in telecom, IPTV, or multimedia contents. It has the money to invest on new networks (Daum Kakao or Naver would need serious backing), the customer bases to leverage, and the contents to fill the pipes..., but don't bet on price wars with fellow chaebol on the juiciest segments. 
A true new entrant from overseas? Global MNOs know how difficult it would be in a country where foreign majors are seldom allowed to take or maintain leading positions (see retail for example: Carrefour and Wal-Mart already gone, Tesco on the back seat). But joining a consortium, or creating one remains a rare opportunity for international platforms to push their solutions in an otherwise locked Korean market. And nowadays, the dominant platforms do not necessarily belong to telecom operators...

Anyway, expect more lobbying ahead of the government's guidelines, expected by the end of June.

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* "Consortium to bid for 4th mobile carrier in S. Korea" (Yonhap News - 2013/10/08)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Under Coverage

Good to see, last Thursday, a legend for investigative reporters and whistle-blowers walk on the stage of the Seoul Digital Forum.

A movie was made about a key episode of Lowell Bergman's professional life: in 'The Insider' (1999), Bergman (Al Pacino) helps Dr. Jeffrey Wigand (Russel Crowe) expose the big tobacco imposture, before exposing himself attempts by his employer (CBS) to bury the story. In the end, truth and journalism triumph because Bergman breaks the 'every journo for himself' rule by sharing his story with competitors.

Thursday at the DDP, I couldn't help but feel sad, thinking how badly this region needs people like Bergman. Last year, I did watch, on the same stage, a Korean take at investigative journalism*, but Newstapa remains a bit too much data-centric and politically biased. To be fair, South Korean media are so overwhelmingly conservative and reluctant to mention certain issues, that liberal sources such as Hankyoreh or Newstapa tend to over-dramatize their own reporting.

Since it's hard to break truly valuable stories in a corrupt system**, some manage to emerge through netizen spheres... when they are not drowned in an ocean of hoaxes and wild rumors.

It speaks volumes that South Korea ranks now as the 'least bad' nation in the Press Freedom Index for a region where everybody regressed over the past few years (RSF 2015 vs 2010***):
  • South Korea 60th (42nd in 2010, -18)
  • Japan 61st (11th, -50)
  • Russia 152nd (140th, -12)
  • China 176th (171th, -5)
  • North Korea 179th (177th, always second to last - Eritrea)
No need to comment on Kim Jong-un's North Korea, Putin's Russia, or even Xi Jinping's China, where hopes for change were short-lived, and censorship gets more pervasive by the day.

What strikes most - but certainly doesn't come as a surprise to us - is Japan's skydive from the 11th to the 61st position.

Shinzo Abe's attacks on press freedom, intensified after his outrageous State Secrecy Law, are seldom mentioned in Japan's mainstream media, and no one dare denounce them, except foreign correspondents that take the risk of being shunned by the government. Among the few local voices, Shigeaki Koga could only make himself be heard at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, or last week in the New York Times ("The Threat to Press Freedom in Japan" (Shigeaki Koga - NYT 20150520). Most Japanese citizens are kept in the dark, and obviously the "Effort by Japan to Stifle News Media Is Working" (Martin Fackler - 20150426).

To make things worse, the only significant media that (barely) challenged Abe's Nippon Kaigi-friendly agenda seems to have finally castrated itself. And since Fuji Media Holdings bought GPlus Media, I haven't read any significant story on that agenda in Japan Today (FMH also owns Sankei Shimbun...).

Censorship peaks at NHK following the nomination of a friend of Shinzo Abe at the helm of the broadcaster

Hopefully, Japanese citizens remain uncomfortable with Abe's attack on their peaceful constitution. But for how long? Public opinions are changing quickly, and the government fuels fear and hatred with some success... and what to say of America's failure to assist a Japan in danger (see ""History is harsh" and other sick jokes")?

Speaking of the devil, the US themselves are not on a very positive trend at the Press Freedom Index (from 20th to 49th between 2010 and 2015). The UK? Nothing to be proud either (from 19th to 34th). And if my home country France went up a bit (from 44th to 38th), it's bound to crash next year following the Charlie Hebdo massacre or the controversial 'Projet de Loi Relatif au Renseignement' it triggered.

But who am I to judge anyway? Do I need to remind you that my lousy blogs have been labeled Weapons of Mass Disinformation since 2003?

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* "Truth, Lies and Data" - Kwon Hyejin, Newstapa - SDF2014 - data and investigative journalism
** see also "Korea's media malaise" (John Power, Groove Magazine 20141103)
*** out of 178 countries in 2010, 180 in 2015
**** see "'Comfort Women': No Resolution Without Resoluteness. From Everyone, Please."

--- UPDATE 20150528 ---

This, from Human Rights Watch (about the National Security Act, a cold-war relic) : "South Korea: Cold War Relic Law Criminalizes Criticism".

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Seoul Station 7017 blooms into Seoul Arboretum

ICYMI, the results for the Seoul Station 7017 / Seoul Skyway / Seoul Highline competition (among 7 architects invited) were announced yesterday: Dutch architect Winy MAAS (MVRDV*) won with this 'Seoul Arboretum', JOH Sung-yong and CHO Minsuk completing the podium.

And ICYM my previous posts related to this project:
- "Seoul Station Elevated Park (Seoul Station Project 7017? The Seoul Vine?) - An Update
- "Diagonal crossings, High Lines, and Business Verticals (how pedestrians and businesses remodel Seoul... and vice-versa)
- note that Seoul city dumped its temporary URL ( for (like in OSS 117 Seoul: nest of magpies?)

Note that Seoul city had postponed its decision, initially planned for the 8th, to the 13th, and organized in between (the 10th) another event for all citizens to enjoy the overpass without traffic, this time over a picnic:

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* yes, the MVRDV who conceived that 9/11-ish "Cloud" for the Yongsan IBD (reminder: the whole IBD project collapsed, but things are moving again around the garrison):

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tear down that tax office

Seoul will destroy a 87 year old building as part of the 70th anniversary of the Liberation. It doesn't seem to be a major asset of the colonial heritage, and hosted the Namdaemun annex of the national tax services - an administration that moved to Sejong City a while ago. A section shall remain as a 'memorial wall'. Seoul citizens, among which a little bit more than 9% were born before the Liberation, are invited to share their own take at 'My Liberation'.

Tearing down a place associated with the Japanese rule and the IRS is likely to appeal to primal instincts among some voters, and that's certainly not the spirit of revenge we want Korea to display for this minefield of an anniversary, unless the aim is to further alienate the public opinion in Japan, and fuel Shinzo Abe's imposture.

That said, this section of Sejong-daero (between Sejong-daero 19 and 21-gil) could look a lot better without it: everybody on the boulevard will enjoy the view on "Seoul-upon-Han and Yeongguk-dong", and not just the occasional (sorry James) rare glimpse at the Anglican Cathedral.

On this view, you can see from left to right the trees lining the Deoksugung, the Cathedral, the old building to be destroyed, the Seoul Metropolitan Council (and its tower), and the side of the Koreana Hotel. Across the street: City Hall, old and new.

As far as former Empires are concerned, the United Kingdom may lose even more than Japan: the end of ye olde quiet days, plus a direct view on the ugliest side of "Seoul Tsunami City Hall, The Other Korean Wave".

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NB: in 1995, for the 50th anniversary of the Liberation, the Japanese Government Building destroying the Bukhansan-Gyeongbokgung-Gwanghwamun perspective was taken down. This tax office somehow obliterates the view to the Deoksugung.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"History is harsh" and other sick jokes

As expected (see "Sweeping History Under The Red Carpet"), Shinzo Abe delivered, under one of his trademark smokescreens, an unapologetic speech to the joint session of the US Congress.

The controversial Japanese PM took no chances ahead of the event:
- press muzzled at home (e.g. "Effort by Japan to Stifle News Media Is Working" by Martin Fackler - NYT 20150426)
- USA bribed with sweeteners (no to AIIB, yes to TPP), and of course the promise to D.C. hawks that the region will be over-militarized for the decades to come (Collective Self Defense)
- public opinion fooled with symbolic visits (ah, the irony of watching a war crime negationist visit a Holocaust museum, a sex slavery denier tour the Lincoln Memorial...)
- ...

So let's listen to his messages.
Video and transcript of Shinzo Abe's speech in US Congress. Needed big font to deliver his fine print revisionism (
Following his new mantra, Abe repeats that he "will uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers", but he never voices them, precisely because they include the closest thing to personal apologies ever uttered by past Japanese leaders.

Typically, where Murayama stated his personal remorse and apology ("my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology"*) over 'tremendous damage and suffering' caused to many nations by Japan's 'mistaken national policy', 'colonial rule and aggression', Abe keeps his distances and discards the key words 'apology', 'colonial rule' or 'aggression', and of course 'irrefutable facts of history' (see transcript). Even the 'human trafficking' tested on the way to D.C. disappeared. 

Fundamentally, Abe only refers to standard war casualties and collateral damage that occur in any kind of conflict: "History is harsh", people died on both sides, and Japan has not done anything worse than other belligerents. Again, you couldn't expect formal apologies from a man who devoted his whole life to the negation of war crimes and the destruction of post-war Japan (see Nippon Kaigi agenda). 

Abe can allow himself to get personal for the US victims of WWII ("with deep repentance in my heart"), but always remains distant from past embryos of apologies ("Post-war, we started out on our path bearing in mind feelings of deep remorse over the war") that are now restricted to the paragraph on Asian nations.

Abe's difference in treatment between the US and Asian nations reaches deeper than the need to tailor his speech for the US Congress: Abe clearly poses at the same level as the former (we fought each other, we're now friends, it was a good game, fair play, all is well), and leagues over the latter (the condescending "We must all the more contribute in every respect to the development of Asia. We must spare no effort in working for the peace and prosperity of the region").

In his speech, Abe mentions a couple of people present in the gallery, but of course not LEE Yong-soo halmoni, one of the last survivors of Imperial Japan's sexual slavery system. She came with Mike HONDA, who along with Steve Israel, Bill Pascrell, and Charles Rangell, took yet another stand at the Congress ahead of Abe's visit. GOP lawmakers were M.I.A. except Marco Rubio, who asked Shinzo Abe to cope with the issue... two days before licking his boots in a Wall Street Journal oped**. Some hawks / lobbyists / fundraisers must have reminded him that he could not say whatever he wanted during his presidential campaign.

Speaking of hawks: Shinzo Abe mentioned at least 3 fellow Nippon Kaigi followers in his speech: Yoshitaka Shindo, Fumio Kishida, and Gen Nakatani. The last two worked with John Kerry and Ashton Carter on a framework to push Abe and Nippon Kaigi's key reform, deliciously hyped as "a sweeping one in our post-war history".

If "the darkest night fell upon Japan" on March 11, 2011, history will also remember as a national tragedy the date Abe starts his destruction of post-war Japan by tearing down its peaceful constitution. A national tragedy except of course in the textbooks monitored by this jaded revisionist...

Gladly hiding behind Abe's smokescreen to push their own, more short-sighted agenda, the US clearly don't end up looking like the world's only hyperpower. And even if Abe didn't expose the triumphant body language of Netanyahu on the same soapbox a few weeks earlier, he clearly looks closer to his lifetime dream (Japan's nightmare) than ever.

Yesterday, at the Asan Plenum, Alexis Dudden distributed this Asahi Shimbun cartoon showing the leaders of the trilateral alliance (then LBJ, Park Chung-hee, Eisatu Sako) two days after the June 22, 1965 pact between Japan and Korea. Carrying the diminutive Park on his back, a towering Johnson says 'now I can rest easy, too' while his Asian partners shake hands:

The day after Shinzo Abe's speech in Congress, I guess it could show the US thanking Japan before leaving: 'thanks for taking care of the region, they need me somewhere else'. As they shake hands, the US and Japan seem to be of the same height, because the latter is standing on Korea's corpse.

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* key paragraph in Tomiichi Murayama's 1995 statement: "During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. Allow me also to express my feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of that history"

** "Sen. Marco Rubio takes on Japanese prime minister over 'comfort women'" (L.A. Times 20150428) followed by "Asia Needs a Strong U.S.-Japan Alliance" (WSJ 20150430)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Seoul Power Play: One Less Nuclear Plant, One More Coal Plant

I almost choked the other day at the ICLEI World Congress. Not because of air quality (around Seoul's New Normal, in the mid 40s PPM), but because of the answer I received from an official about the convenient untruth I mentioned in my previous post. ICYMI (see "Cough Potato"): not only do Korea and Seoul lie when they say that most of the pollution in the capital is generated overseas, but hiding beyond China's growing fumes, they also shamelessly give in to coal and diesel lobbies.

ICLEI World Congress at the Seoul DDP - on time for the cherry blossom

The official came from the same institute as the suspect quoted in that post (NB: again, this controversial institute holds views that are not shared by all Seoul officials). His presentation, which also included a focus on the February 23 peak, was all about the city's efforts to curb pollution, and the importance of particles coming from Gyeonggi, Incheon, China, and Mongolia.

To my question how can Korea and Seoul fight against high PPM levels and at the same time open the doors to diesel cars and new coal power plants, he answered that Seoul was indeed building an new coal power plant, but with limited emissions, and outside of its city limits! So beyond the now usual 'clean coal' imposture, we were told the trick that helps Seoul magically record improvements: our city lets Gyeonggi-do carry its dirtiest footprints, and the blame that comes with them. At this rate, Seoul's objective of reducing its CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030 from the 2005 level will be a breeze.

Imagine my reaction minutes later, as I returned to the DDP's main hall, precisely when the giant screens were displaying Seoul's successful campaign for 'One Less Nuclear Plant'! What's the point of cutting energy consumption by 2 million TOE (Tons of Oil Equivalent) if you build One More Coal Plant?

If this carbon offset made me carbon upset enough to call it a day, I can't say that I'm really surprised. After all, countries too try to export their sources of pollution and get away with it as good environmentalists... and this city already proved that it could at the same time remove ugly elevated roads and build new ones. Once more, feel good politics wins over good politics.

A lot of politicians were on stage at the ICLEI, because that's an alliance of over 1,000 Local Governments for Sustainability. They elected PARK Won-soon as their new president until the next world congress in 2018, even if he's not as fluent in English as his brilliant predecessor David CADMAN; maybe a C40-suite mayor is more likely than a former Vancouver councilor to give more weight to the Seoul Declaration adopted ahead of COP21 in Paris.

The Paris conference is expected to set new targets for the UN members in the fight against climate change, and in their non-binding Seoul Declaration, local governments pledged to do their share: cities account for over 50% of the world population (a proportion expected to reach 90% by the end of the century), and 70% of today's pollution.

Of course, as the co-author of 'The Limits of Growth' in 1972, Professor Jorgen Sanders, put it on stage, much more needs to be done than this 'toothless' declaration. In his 2012 predictions for 2052, he expects the climate crisis to hit really hard, even if politicians manage to do the minimum, which would be reallocating 2% of the GDP from 'dirty' to 'clean' activities.

I had a quick chat with Jorgen Sanders after his lecture - and this interview. In his radical views, visionary authoritarian regimes have a better chance to succeed than corrupt democracies in forcing change. Well you could mention Park Chung-hee's tree planting program as a great success, but environment was not on top of his agenda as far as industries were concerned...

Nevertheless, this ICLEI World Congress will probably be remembered as a success. And lively workshops made for an endless opening ceremony featuring too many empty congratulatory speeches, only interrupted by surreal apparitions of 'Little Angels'. It took five minutes - too late in the afternoon, alas - for a couple of ICLEI execs to break the ice by inviting each member of the audience to stand up and introduce themselves to two unknown people.

Yodeling on stage, the "Little Angels" added a surreal Pyongyang touch to the show

Reaching out is the answer. Preferably not just to export your waste.

How to make a difference with micro-projects under USD 3,000 and 'big projects' under USD 40,000? Kirtee Shah proved it was even scalable across 19 countries at the CITINET workshop on affordable housing in urban environments (

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