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Monday, December 5, 2022


No regrets whatsoever for Korea following its most predictable defeat to uber favorite Brazil in the round of 16: the team held their ground with a very decent possession time and spectacular opportunities, even during that merciless jogo bonito / realism lesson of the first half, and made almost the best of their World Cup.

After an uninspiring draw against a very weak Uruguay, the Taeguk Warriors lost what was supposed to be their easiest game (allowing far too many goals from Ghana) before slaying Portugal's B team at the buzzer. If they came back twice from behind to survive their first round, they didn't collapse following Neymar Jr and friends' festival, which no team could have recovered from anyway.

Except for the first game, Paolo Bento's side built its opportunities and goals in a much more diverse and entertaining (not to mention less controversial) way than Guus Hiddink's commando*. For the first time in the ten World Cups I've been following Korea, I saw more style and confidence than resilience, the promises of an ambitious, sustainable playing identity. And I loved the way Bento, even as he knew he wouldn't stay, provided priceless experience to young talents in the second half. PAIK Seung-ho's awesome goal crowned perfectly Korea's 2022 World Cup, and if SON Heung-min may not join the party in 2026, KIM Kang-in,  HWANG Hee-chan, CHO Gyu-sung, and others already proved they could be leaders on the pitch.

Yes, this World Cup remains a total nonsense, an insult to sports, environment, human rights, you name it. And like every World Cup, this one remains opium for the people. But Korea badly needed this chase of the 2002 dragon right now. And it felt good to see its struggling youth party joyfully outdoor just weeks after the abominable tragedy in Itaewon.

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* which I absolutely adored, don't get me wrong!

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Asymetric War (Laissez-)Faire - Crouching Doves, Hidden Hawks

Hard to get some attention in 2022. North Korea's testing frenzy (over 40 missile launches so far) eventually paid off, but with another dictator with a bigger button, an itchy finger, and an actual, ultra violent war raging, KIM Jong-un and the KCNA had to beef up their storytelling.

Look what you've done

So as Putin shot missiles all over Ukraine in retaliation for the incident on his controversial bridge to Crimea, KIM had to mansplain that his recent shots were a simulation of tactical nuclear strikes, and a rehearsal for the wiping out of key infrastructures across South Korea. If no mock up Blue Houses were harmed during the shooting, that was clearly a few notches higher than the usual reactions to joint KOR-US drills, or VIP visits (VP Kamala Harris the other day).

Furthermore, the DPRK demonstrated yet new levels of readiness and stealth, making South Korea's failed test even more embarrassing. YOON Suk-yeol can say the neighbors upstairs have 'nothing to gain from nuclear weapons', calls for nuclear deterrence South of the DMZ keep getting louder.

There's always Uncle Sam's 'ironclad' support, and including on the ground, at a time when Joe Biden can't set foot in Ukraine, or even say what he wants about Taiwan. Besides, hawks are getting a little more subtle across the East Sea, and coordination becomes possible (though whatever LEE Jae-myung may say, the ROK is not heading for a 'pro-Japan defense'). Fumio Kishida and friends even received some help from Kyiv, where Zelenskyy declared that the Kuril Islands belonged to Japan, not Russia...

All eyes should be on a key player: after circumnavigating unusual unrest at home, and Putin's most urgent demands overseas, XI Jinping is about to become more officially dictator for life (at the XXth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party), and an even more ruthless 800-pound gorilla.

(Seoul Village on Facebook - 20221001) "China's 'Panda Diplomacy' in 2022 according to 阿塗 (IG @ah_to_hk). With North Korea supporting Russia's massacres in Ukraine, South Korea (NB Yoon?!?) composing with Xi Jinping Imperator, Japan restoring Imperial Japan, the mighty USA eagle a distant observer, one feather brushing Taiwan... Among countless details, China's Pandamic SNAFUs, its support of autocrat neighbors, South China Sea's floating borders, a few birds that managed to escaped post-democracy Hong Kong, or those powerless doves (EU / OZ / UK / CAN) in the corner..."

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Monday, July 11, 2022

Two Murders and a Funeral - The Abe Legacy

Today, private funerals will be held for Shinzo Abe, whose assassination shocked Japan and the whole world. 

In Zojo-ji.

So the man who so heavily promoted the restoration of State Shinto will be honored in a Buddhist temple. The man who campaigned so hard for the return of Imperial Japan's militarism was murdered by a former member of the navy. And the man whom Korea loved to hate for his negation of war crimes died because that madman believed the former PM's family supported Reverend Moon's cult.

Ultimate paradox? This tragedy may help Abe fulfill his lifelong dream of destroying Japan's peaceful postwar constitution: his LDP won in the landslide he always needed but never quite achieved. 

Now the murder of peaceful, postwar Japan shall be quietly performed by lawmakers following his brainchild Nippon Kaigi. Let's see if Fumio Kishida will forever taint his name by pulling the trigger.

20220708 thread @theSeoulVillage:
"1) Fmr Japan PM in cardiac arrest, suspect arrested. Shinzo Abe was shot during speech (Reuters). Lunatic? Political? His Yakuza pals? As much as I hate his Nippon Kaigi AbeIGNomics, I wish him well.
Shinzo Abe died. Killer a former member of the SDF.
3) This is clearly a tragedy, but Shinzo Abe was neither a Muhammad Anwar el Sadat nor a Yitzhak Rabin. #AbeIGNomics"

=> My 2019 fake interview of Abe Shinzo: "Make Imperial Japan Great Again - an exclusive (fake) tell-all interview with Shinzo ABE"

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Monday, July 4, 2022

Fire, fury, and de-escalation

As Seoul experiences its first tropical nights of the year, we're all wondering even more acutely how climate change will affect our daily lives in the peninsula.

First, climate change is already happening, and we already know for sure that global temperatures will rise higher than targeted during the Paris Agreement. Key tipping points have already been passed, from the ever-shrinking Amazon rain forest, now emitting more CO2 than it absorbs, to the vanishing glaciers and polar caps, to the geographically closer permafrost collapse.

Permafrost covers a quarter of exposed land surfaces on the Northern Hemisphere, releasing as it melts frightening volumes of methane in our atmosphere already saturated with greenhouse gases. If scientists have already estimated the ginormous volumes to come, it's very hard to predict how, at the local level, they will directly and indirectly disrupt currents that structurally impact (e.g. North Korea's colder seas, the Siberian air masses...). 

After a 20th century where Korea already underwent a rise of +1.8 Celsius in average temperature (more than the rest of the World), this one promises to go medieval: the 2020 South Korea Climate Change Assessment Report (Ministry of Environment and Korea Meteorological Administration) announced that by 2100, the number of heatwave days (over 33 celsius) would more than triple from 10.1 to 35.5 per year. Winters will be shortened by one whole month, and we'll experience more precipitations and extreme episodes.


Rise in numbers of heatwave days (business as usual scenario)

Over the past 30 years, I've seen Winters become not only less cold (e.g. the Han River seldom freezes beyond smaller patches), but also much drier, which probably contributes to wildfires that are more violent and difficult to tame (58% of them happen during the Spring, when the nation is at its driest). Mountain soils get washed away at the first rain, landslides and floods multiply, and as seas rise, whole ecosystems are bound to disappear (tidal flats, wetlands)...

Korea wildfires on March 5, 2022 (NASA)

The social, economic, political impacts of climate change can't be underestimated. Beyond competitiveness, that's a matter of survival, sometimes literally: the number of heat-related fatalities is expected to more than double by the end of the century, and diseases or pests that used to be contained to warmer climates are becoming endemic*.

Food security, highlighted by the war in Ukraine that exposed Korea's over-dependence on China for its sustenance, will become even more critical: by 2100, the production of rice will have dwindled by 25%. The stakes are even higher in North Korea, which relies much more on its own, ailing agricultural sector. In the region, logistics and geopolitics are already impacted by warmer seas (East Russia enjoys its own sea ports that don't freeze during the winters, new arctic routes emerge...). 

Korea destroyed its greenbelts, boosted its coal power, and crippled its nuclear power at the worst moment. In spite of a few significant projects, it's nowhere near it should be in renewables. Logically, the country scores very poorly when it should be setting the example:

Climate Action Tracker, Mars 2022

Water, biomass, and forest management is already a strategic challenge, particularly in a country where a lot of the trees share the same age thanks to the massive tree-planting campaign of the 60s. It would be nice to involve, once again, all the population in a collective effort that would benefit generations to come. 

Big cities, starting with Seoul, are already experimenting and benchmarking best practices, because everybody knows that when cities become the solution, differences can be made much faster. Obviously, a lot remains to be done. Making sure every new project should contribute to improving natural temperature control or water collection / management could help.

Korea tends to forget that its landscapes have been degraded far beyond urban environments, and again (see "From zombie maeul to seed village - from fake startup communities to real Communities-as-a-Startup"), the country must start reconsidering and rethinking its rural world as a key asset for the future.

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* BTW bad news on the pandemic front: experts expect a second massive wave of coronavirus cases from August as people will gather in confined, air conditioned area, and most of them will have lost a lot of resistance to the virus (most received their last dose of vaccine last year). 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Seoul's Waterfront Renaissance

Seoul has always been defined by its most valuable environmental assets: its countless waterways, and the mountains that feed them. 

From the start, the capital revolved around Cheonggyecheon and its network of streamlets:

Nowadays, the Han River tells what's North and what's South, but waterways still account for 8.1% of Seoul's land (below in 2010):

After pouring concrete all over the place to tame the powerful Hangang and its tributaries, to stabilize unstable riverbanks, and to prevent recurring floods, the city has reopened its heart to its waterways, rediscovered them as leisure paths and environmental treasures. Following the restoration of Cheonggyecheon, the Hangang Renaissance, and the restoration of neighborhood streamlets, masses of humans, birds, and even fishes have flocked back to Seoul's watersides. Yes, more concrete was often poured in the process, but biomass keeps growing, embankments are often doubled with natural fish nurseries, and significant wetlands have been created.


Citizens are already very active along these waterways, thanks to all the infrastructure needed by strollers, cyclists, or workout maniacs:

But water level and street level are seldom seamlessly connected, and for good reasons: flash floods remain a constant threat, and these waterways help the city cope with extreme downpour. On such occasions, riversides must be evacuated immediately. Still, more citizens could spend more leisure time there, particularly when they crave for more free and cool open spaces.

More than a decade after his Hangang Renaissance project, Mayor OH Se-hoon aims at a 'Jicheon Renaissance' leveraging Seoul's 332 km of waterways. Not just with more hardware, but with more content and culture, a better connection to local neighborhoods and markets, More 'emotion', as part of an 'Emotional City' of the future vision.

Starting with 4 pilot projects along three streamlets (Dorimcheon, Jeongneungcheon, and Hongjecheon), with 2 more sites by 2030 (Anyangcheon and Jungnangcheon):

  • Hongjecheon will never fulfill its great potential as long as the Naebu Expressway disgraces it (see "Along Hongjecheon, my way or the highway"), and the pilot will focus on two spots: upstream at Hongjimun and Tangchundaeseong, midway at the artificial waterfall near Seodaemun District Office, with a place to have a drink.

  • Dorimcheon is more about the connection to the neighborhood and its businesses, with decks to make the transition and chill out:

  •  Jeongneungcheon will add a cultural layer through a new media art space:

Of course, all this requires water, particularly since the city intends to make these shallow streamlets a bit deeper (from a very thin 10 cm to a more significant 30 cm). So backstage, there's a lot of work to improve water and waste management. 

Today, 18 streamlets including Cheonggyecheon are actually fed with water recycled from the Han River, and climate change has spectacularly dried up the whole nation. Even if I knew Seoul experienced very few precipitations last Winter, I was stunned to see in a recent treck up Bukhansan, how parched soils were. But the only time water streamed by was magical:

As usual, I guess we'll have more imperfect, odd spaces requiring some improvement in further iterations. But overall, Seoul keeps democratizing access to quality time and nature, even if that's in not so natural spaces.

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Thursday, March 10, 2022

YSY does it?

Every five year, I have the same dream: that Korea switches to a two-round system for its presidential elections, which would not only reflect more accurately the diversity of opinions, but also result in mergers much more transparent, fair, and based on policies. But no. As usual, we witnessed last minute, winner-takes-all mergers between individuals. And as usual, the dozen-plus roster boiled down to two heavyweights snatching 95% of the cake. 

I wish SIM Sang-jun had raised the issue during her otherwise perfect concession speech. She did claim 800k votes and AHN Cheol-soo at least one third of that even without running (judging by the 300k invalid votes due to last minute withdrawals), but both would have scored much much higher otherwise, forcing main candidates to move closer to the center before the second round.

If none of the polls that followed the YOON-AHN alliance* were made public because they were too close to the elections, they all put the opposition candidate ahead by two to seven points. Yet YOON eventually finished only less than 250k votes ahead of LEE - less than what he gained in Seoul alone:

The capital city confirmed its 2021 rejection of a ruling party that lost not only key strongholds there, but also 4 of the 5 assembly seats in play nationwide on the same election night (by a much wider margin than for the presidential election).

Absolutely not Trumpian on that one, LEE Jae-myung conceded very gracefully. He would have had a difficult time trying to contest the score after the troubling incidents in Seoul, Gyeonggi-do, or Jeju-do that cast serious doubts about electoral integrity. The nation could even have faced a major crisis if LEE had won very narrowly. MOON Jae-in and the controversial head of the National Election Commission NOH Jeong-hee did apologize for the 'incidents', but they involved officials who had to be more than aware of the existential threat their behavior represented for democracy, and they looked disturbingly consistent with the extreme episodes witnessed during the administration's attacks on justice.

Hopefully, this closer than expected final gap was mainly due to the ruling party's last ditch mobilization of its formidable turnout machine combined with a weakened motivation on the other side: AHN guaranteed YOON's win, why vote for such an uninspiring candidate?

By all means, YOON Seok-youl, a reluctant politician, was not a good candidate. And he was far from always a candidate for good.

I disagree with many elements of the candidate's program, but I want him to deliver the goods on one key front: democracy, justice, the constitution.

Korea needs the YOON who, as a student under the dictatorship, led a trial of CHUN Doo-hwan.

Korea needs the YOON who, in 2013, was suspended for refusing to stop investigating the meddling of LEE Myung-bak's secret services into the 2012 presidential elections.

Korea needs the YOON who joined the team that prosecuted PARK Geun-hye.

Korea needs the YOON MOON Jae-in handpicked as his Eliot Ness to lead the nation prosecutors and justice reform, and who said no when MOON told him to stop investigating Cho Kuk or Cheong Wa Dae corruption.

Korea needs the YOON whom both the extreme left and the extreme right hate. 

And that YOON would better show up. Five years ago**, Korea needed the MOON who stood for democracy, and ended up with another one who undermined it. This divided nation can't afford another betrayal.

YOON's one mission as a candidate was to kick the ruling party out of Cheong Wa Dae, and that will be done when the transition is over. As a president-elect, his mission will be to gather a team that can inspire voters for the upcoming legislative elections, but also reach across the aisle, to moderates among a hostile assembly. 

Very transparent about his lack of experience as a politician, the man has a reputation to delegate a lot, to let pros do their job, and to take full responsibility. YSY does it. So casting will be key.

Candidate YOON needed the People Power Party to run and AHN Cheol-soo to win, President YOON simply can't succeed with the PPP platform. And clearly, there's no way he can unite the nation if he keeps including LEE Jun-seok's anti-feminist agenda. Ideally, that young lad should be the first one to be shown the door, and AHN Cheol-soo should lead the transition team.

I'm not forgetting another essential role of the President: representing and defending the nation in these very troubled times. And Russia's invasion of Ukraine already impacted the campaign and the region:

  • not very good news for a nuclear-free peninsula: another motive for North Korea to keep its weaponry, another motive for South Korea to revive its civil program (MOON Jae-in even had the gall to say the nuclear energy he's been dismantling for years was strategic for the nation's future....)
  • not very good news for Yankees-Go-Home cheerleaders: while LEE Jae-myung struggled with his base, YOON Seok-youl could herald the alliance full throttle. Joe Biden didn't even wait for concession or acceptance speeches to congratulate his preferred (and fellow gaffe-a-day) candidate.
  • not very good news for XI Jinping's plans to invade Taiwan. And now he knows bullies can be bullied. XI has yet to congratulate a man who made no mystery about where he stands between the US and China.
  • good news for the Korea-Japan dialog: YOON sent clear, positive signals. Let's hope his sense of justice will make him nonetheless stand for the last survivors of Imperial Japan's sexual slavery system, who can't wait for another term.

Tensions are likely to exacerbate in the region because of Putin's war, but much of the ambiguity will be gone, which may paradoxically be helpful for some meaningful diplomacy (including why not with North Korea). Interesting to see how existing and new alliances evolve or take shape.

On all fronts, please, more pragmatism and common sense, less ideology (yes,
that includes you, Milton Friedman).

Please, more transparency, more accountability.

As usual, I'll be keeping a critical eye on the rulers. With cautious hope.

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* see "AHN Cheol-soo joins YOON Seok-youl"

** see "A new MOON Jae-in?"  

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

AHN Cheol-soo joins YOON Seok-youl

Last night, following the last presidential debate, AHN Cheol-soo decided to stop his campaign and give his full support to YOON Seok-youl. Expected almost from the start*, this move was postponed until the last possible moment to mark AHN's ballot papers, even if voting has already started overseas.

"Ahn Cheol-soo and Yoon Seok-youl in joint presser to announce campaign merger" (20220303 - @theSeoulVillage)

AhnLab founder lifts YOON's candidacy on such key issues as innovation, economy, education, or health. Mostly, he brings guarantees about his capacity to unite around the center, and to mobilize younger generations.

A reluctant candidate and a mediocre campaigner, YOON hesitated a long time before joining the PPP, an irrelevant opposition party where he had to compose with obsolete paleo-conservatives on one extreme and aggressive young anti-feminists on the other: PARK Geun-hye supporters never forgave him his role in her imprisonment, and LEE Jun-seok excels at dragging his candidacy down. Today, YOON was obviously relieved to see AHN unlock the shackles and help him focus on what matters most to him: healing Korean democracy, starting with justice.

The first mission of the united ticket is to prevent LEE Jae-myung from reaching power. Protected by the government, the controversial populist was able to cruise during the campaign without fear of being investigated in the Daejang-dong scandal. And if the family of the women murdered by his nephew (whom he defended during the trial) sued him for dismissing the double murder as 'dating violence', this most Trumpian character played the clock by delaying his answers to the judge beyond the legal limits, pushing the next steps until after the elections. 

Imagine what this man could do if he reached presidency and enjoyed the total impunity created by the ruling party's most outrageous reform: the de facto end of oversight of the executive power and the creation of the highly controversial Corruption Investigation Office, which was instantly weaponized to harass YOON and to protect Cheong Wa Dae from embarrassing scandals.

On that one, MOON clearly insulted ROH Moo-hyun's memory: the late president, a man who genuinely cared for democracy and justice, would have been appalled by a move that also betrayed the spirit of 2016, when the population overwhelmingly called for a defense of both, and the respect of separation of powers.

Beyond LEE and Trump, I often make a parallel between Korea's ruling party and the US Republican party. Both have lost their way on what used to make them most respectable. Both need to lose in 2022 if they don't want to lose their souls. And both need to humbly return to the drawing board (preferably not to push for more gerrymandering or deceitful schemes).

It may sound indecent to talk about existential threat when thousands die in Ukraine under Russian aggression, but this time, Korea must get it right, and heal from its core. And its center.

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* and not even one year after AHN's merger with OH Se-hoon ("After OH Se-hoon's Hangang Renaissance, Who In 2022?")

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