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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sweeping History Under The Red Carpet

Shinzo Abe recorded his most significant diplomatic victory ever by receiving an invitation to give a speech to a joint session of the US Congress (probably on April 29, following a stop at the White House on April 28), a honor never given to any Japanese leader. Not even to his war criminal of a grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, who didn't have the full audience in 1957. Not even the poor Junichiro Koizumi, who was denied the prestigious soapbox in 2006, just because he refused to stop visiting Yasukuni.

No such guarantees were required from a Prime Minister who not only advocates visits to the controversial shrine and refuses to denounce Imperial Japan abuses, but also wrote a letter of support to a ceremony honoring war criminals. 

It seems that all Abe had to do was to deliver yet another one of his trademark elusive and deceptive smokescreens.

The Washington Post published last Thursday an interview hyped as groundbreaking because Shinzo Abe said that among 'Comfort Women' were people 'victimized by human trafficking', and because he said that 'women’s human rights were violated', but if you read the full text (see below*), his Nippon Kaigi - friendly positions have not changed a bit:
  • First, regarding the key question 'are you a revisionist?', Abe doesn't answer, saying that only historians can judge.
  • Second, about the Murayama, Kono, or Koizumi statements: as usual, Abe never says that he personally agrees with them. He uses 'I' only to make clear that 'we' / 'Abe cabinet' 'upholds' them so far, and 'is not reviewing' them right now. What 'I' want, what 'I' / my future cabinets will do in the future? You know the answer, because I've already used similar wordings before trying to do something different afterwards. Unfortunately, the WaPo didn't ask the most important question regarding his own August 15 statement for the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, the one everybody's asking across the region: will he dump the key references to 'aggression' and 'colonization'? I can't see how such a hardcore revisionist could say unequivocally that the Empire of Japan was an aggressor. Abe renouncing his lifetime goal? Simply impossible.
Minutes of Abe Statement advisory panel confirm debate over 'aggression' mention - 20150325
  • Third, about Imperial Japan's sexual slavery system ('Comfort Women'), Abe's crocodile tears ('immeasurable pain and suffering beyond description, my heart aches') cannot hide the naked truth: he still refuses to name the culprits and to say that the Empire and its military were involved in the 'trafficking', and he still maintains that if there were violations, they were common to many wars (in his verbiose smokescreen lingua: "Hitherto in history, many wars have been waged. In this context, women’s human rights were violated"). That's the classic Nippon Kaigi's imposture: these women were willing prostitutes, if a few bad guys organized any traffic to recruit unwilling victims, they were local thugs (e.g. Korean, Chinese people selling their own), and Japanese authorities were never involved, and that's the kind of things that, alas, happen in every conflict.
You can trust Shinzo Abe on one thing: he has never changed his core positions and ambitions, and this interview only confirms how cunning he can be. 

You can trust him: he wants to make the most of this 2015 moments on stage at the US Congress and on August 15.

The US have not only their say, but the historic duty to prevent that. 
=> "The USA And Shinzo Abe: From Ostrich Policy To Complicity?"

How much #ABEIGNomics US Congress will swallow from Shinzo Abe an indicator of how far this negationist will go in Aug. 15 #AbeStatement - 20150321

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* See "David Ignatius’s full interview with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe".
David Igniatius:
"Is it accurate to say that you are a revisionist–that you would like to revise the picture of Japan so that it is, in your view, more accurate?"
Shinzo Abe:
"My opinion is that politicians should be humble in the face of history. And whenever history is a matter of debate, it should be left in the hands of historians and experts. First of all, I would like to state very clearly that the Abe cabinet upholds the position on the recognition of history of the previous administrations, in its entirety, including the Murayama Statement [apologizing in 1995 for the damage and suffering caused by Japan to its Asian neighbors] and the Koizumi Statement [in 2005, stating that Japan must never again take the path to war]. I have made this position very clearly, on many occasions, and we still uphold this position. Also we have made it very clear that the Abe cabinet is not reviewing the Kono Statement [in 1993, in which the Government of Japan extended its sincere apologies and remorse to all those who suffered as comfort women]
On the question of comfort women, when my thought goes to these people, who have been victimized by human trafficking and gone through immeasurable pain and suffering beyond description, my heart aches. And on this point, my thought has not changed at all from previous prime ministers. Hitherto in history, many wars have been waged. In this context, women’s human rights were violated. My hope is that the 21st century will be the first century where there will be no violation of human rights, and to that end, Japan would like to do our outmost."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Kim-Park-Lee Dynasty Updates

North Korea offered their 'deepest condolences' to Singapore for the loss of LEE Kuan Yew. Rodong Sinmun didn't specify whether they were referring to LEE Kuan Yew the dynasty founder, LEE Kuan Yew the capitalist nation builder, or LEE Kuan Yew the 'democrat'. 

Meanwhile, as expected, South Korean conservatives are drawing parallels between Singapore's founder and their icon PARK Chung-hee. Of course, her daughter PARK Geun-hye will attend the funerals: 

Park Geun-hye to attend Lee Kuan Yew's funerals. As far as controversial nation builder father go, Lee Hsien Loong luckier so far -

PGH didn't attend Nelson Mandela's funerals, but she'd never met him personally. And she did meet LKY, an admirer of South Korea. Korea JoongAng Daily unearthed today the photo of his 1979 visit, between the acting First Lady, and a man who would be assassinated seven days later:

Another KJD cover with Park Geun-hye. With Lee Kuan Yew and her dad Park Chung-hee (7 days before his assassination) -
As Singapore learns to live in post-LKY times, South Korea seems to distance itself from the towering figure of its recent history. PARK Chung-hee recently dropped behind ROH Moo-hyun as the all time favorite president in the polls, and the recent inauguration of the museum in his Sindang-dong house didn't make a splash - BTW here's a virtual visit, courtesy Chosun Ilbo:

PGH has been eluding the PCH issue ever since she was elected, letting ultra-conservatives run the agenda and damage both her image and that of her father, when to the contrary she should be facing history and showing the right example to Japan and to the world (see for instance 3rd part of "Comfort Women': No Resolution Without Resoluteness. From Everyone, Please."*).

It's even more counter productive that MOON Jae-in, who precisely embodies the ROH Moo-hyun line, has made a significant move towards appeasement by visiting the dictator's grave last month, following his nomination as the opposition leader (NPAD - New Politics Alliance for Democracy).

MOON Jae-in on Sejongno, procession for ROH Moo-hyun funerals (see "A Yellow Sea For Roh Moo-hyun" - May 2009)
The time has come for South Korea to reunite, and for South Korean politics to move on in a dispassionate way. That's possible, particularly now that pro-North Korean extremists have at long last been sidelined (even more after the recent attack on US Ambassador Mark Lippert). Silencing the ultra-conservatives that keep polluting the debate at the other end of the spectrum would definitely help.

Setting PARK Chung-hee's record straight across the aisle is both a necessity and an opportunity for the nation, and the president can't dodge that personal duty / waste that personal golden opportunity any longer.

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* BTW memo to Shinzo: do you also want to rewrite LEE Kuan Yew's autobiography? It includes his personal memories of Imperial Japan abuses, including sexual slavery.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Burying Seobu Expressway (not all car traffic, though)

Seoul eventually confirmed the completion of the transformation of the 10.33 km section of the Seobu Expressway into a 4-lane underground tunnel by 2019, between Seongsan Bridge (Yangpyeong-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu) and Geumcheon I.C. (Doksan-dong, Guro-gu)*. 

A standard road will double it at ground level, to - hopefully - take care of the local traffic, and to propose a more pleasant experience for residents and visitors: Anyangcheon will at long last be accessible through simple pedestrian crossings (from the Seoul side, Gwangmyeong residents being connected to the eastern side by footbridges), and new parks will be created, including a big one if Seoul manages to move that big, ugly garbage treatment unit. 

Overall, a greener look and feel (particularly with with these before-after pictures comparing winter and summer views!):

This clearly marks an improvement of the cityscape and quality of life in this part of the city, but not a disruption from the car-centric view. And don't expect to totally get rid of traffic noise: "vertical soundproof walls, currently installed between the Seobu Expressway and Gyeongbu Railroad Line, will be replaced with twice the amount of folded soundproof walls to reduce noise levels".

It may look a bit like Yangjaecheon, but a big part of this stretch is occupied by the Guro Digital Complex, not by mid-rise residences. In any case, good news for the district and for people working there. If sure the landowners in front of one of these crossings will find a better use of their ground levels...

Now if your start-up can't afford a Google-size campus for its staff, you can at least offer them a waterfront experience without the disgracious expressway a la Facebook (see "Zee Talk of Zee Town", "Google's Gtown wins over ZeeTown and the Large Apple Collider").

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* a Public Private Project on a Build Transfer Operate mode: "Seobu Underground Road To Be Constructed Through Private and Public Joint Agreement".

Fed up with 'Gangnam Style'? Try Paik and Park's acoustic version

You're allergic to 'Gangnam Style', and I'm with you. 

Let's unplug him. And just once, listen to this acoustic take, more on the yellow-mellow-ish, fake blues-ish side of K-pop. Also irritating at high doses, but less damaging for your eardrums:

Over 300,000 YouTube views so far

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Urban Regeneration: 27 Projects For Seoul

Yesterday, Seoul city listed 27 areas subject to 'urban regeneration', the latest portmanteau buzzword to regroup many projects introduced over the past months and years. Of course the list includes the not always magnificent seven mentioned earlier this year (see "Diagonal crossings, High Lines, and Business Verticals (how pedestrians and businesses remodel Seoul... and vice-versa)"), and the most spectacular industrial sites already programmed to be converted into cultural spaces.

On paper, I can only subscribe to the five principles supporting this vast plan, in particular because they confirm the intention to dump the old 'Korean new town' model:
1) Humans are now at the center of the city.
2) Abandon the uniform destruction / redevelopment process for a customized approach.
3) Involve residents in the process from the early planning stages to the completion.
4) Abandon short-termism for an evolutive, sustainable approach.
5) Seoul focuses its investments on the community and regional vitality.

These 27 projects have been listed in 4 categories:

    • 5) Mapo Oil Depot in Mapo-gu (this magical industrial site covering 100,000 sqm in Seongsan-dong will become a Cultural Depot Park)

    • 6) Hangang-Nodeulseom in Dongjak-gu: at last an end to the drama? this part of the riverside and Nodeul Island have seen so many projects pass by, including with Jean Nouvel...
    • 7) Namsan Cablecar area in Jung-gu / Yongsan-gu - not far from the cult Hoehyeon Apartment (see "Hoehyeon Apt, Chungjeong Apt, Dongdaemun Apt, Ogin Apt...")
    • 8) Danginri cultural project in Mapo-gu (the Danginri Power Station becomes a park and a cultural space, and Sangsu-Hapjeong has already been colonized by Hongdae refugees fleeing rent hikes)
    • 9) Nagwon Sangga - Donhwamun-ro in Jongno-gu: we last mentioned the case of Donhwamun-ro in an October focus, and Nagwon Sangga remains a crux between the Insadong-Anguk-Donhwamun-Tapgol clusters. Over the past decade, the time capsule has shrunk to the underground market, but I love that small guitar shop at the feet of the concrete giant:

  • Old residential zones:
    • 16) Seonggwak Maeul (Fortress Village) in Seongbuk-gu: the idea is to preserve and maintain this special Seoul village by the fortress walls. Does it mean that the maeul bus won't be anymore the only coach touring this charming ring on the top of a hill overlooking the valley? Seonggwak Maeul has already become more touristic lately, but in the first place, it was not very animated, with quite a few NIMBY-ish residences.

    • 17) Baeksa Village in Nowon-gu - an all time fave, and a perfect spot for Seoul's favorite marmot (see "Over the moon")
    • 18) Haebangchon in Yongsan-gu: as if HBC's bobo-ization needed a boost from the city...
    • 19) Amsa-dong Seoul-type Urban Regeneration Pilot Project in Gangdong-gu: 635,000 sqm themed after history and prehistory
    • 20) Seongsu-dong Seoul-type Urban Regeneration Pilot Project in Seongdong-gu: 211,000 sqm themed after the local industries (shoes, leather, printing...). Already a trendy spot. BTW time for a shout-out for the Place SAI team:
SAI Festival 2015 (March 20-22 in Seongsu):

    • 21) Sinchon-dong Seoul-type Urban Regeneration Pilot Project in Seodaemun-gu: themed after the integration of university students and residents.
    • 22) Sangdo-dong Seoul-type Urban Regeneration Pilot Project in Dongjak-gu: 750,000 sqm themed after inter-generation love.
    • 23) Jangwi-dong Seoul-type Urban Regeneration Pilot Project in Seongbuk-gu: 318,000 sqm themed after alleyway communities
    • 24) Settlements around Bukhansan in Dobong-gu: let's hope that won't spoil the quietest and cutest spots.
    • 25) Seochon in Jongno-gu: now almost completely gentrified, the neighborhood doesn't taste the same.
    • 26) Changsin-dong and Sungin-dong in Jongno-gu: on each side of Jibong-ro, two neighborhoods with a rich yet humble history (e.g. Changsin's sweatshops...). Seoul wants to make an example of their regeneration...
    • 27) Garibong-dong in Guro-gu: the first plans to redevelop the village date from 2003. A couple of years ago, 5 sections were defined for either destruction or rehabilitation, with a few landmarks for the Chinese community. Given security issues in the neighborhood, the multiplication of CCTV is a given, but hopefully, it seems that the focus is now on reviving street life through softer means.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

The USA And Shinzo Abe: From Ostrich Policy To Complicity?

Undersecretary of State Windy Sherman caused an uproar in Korea because of the way she presented East Asia tensions in a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last Friday (see full transcript*). 

I'd like to add my two cents on the issue but first, know that in spite of her name, Sherman is not much of a panzer on foreign issues, and that typically, she was blamed by hawks for advocating diplomacy towards Kim Jong-il at the turn of the millennium. She also seems to be very much aware of the mine-fieldness of East Asian issues, that 'there are disagreements about the content of history books and even the names given to various bodies of water'. She even started with remarks on how, 'in addition to humility, it’s also necessary to approach Asia with an appreciation of the past', a past that 'affects the temperatures of relations between countries and helps determine how every gesture is interpreted'. This should mean that every word she read had been carefully weighed before.

The part of Windy Sherman's speech that most infuriated Koreans was: "Of course, nationalist feelings can still be exploited, and it’s not hard for a political leader anywhere to earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy. But such provocations produce paralysis, not progress."
I fully agree with the core message against nationalism, but as far as 'provocations' in East Asia are concerned, the first 'political leaders' that come to mind are Kim Jong-un, Shinzo Abe and his Nippon Kaigi friends, and here, China and South Korea appear as the main culprits (even if it could theoretically be any of the nations listed right before - "There can be no question that the world would be safer, richer, and more stable if the United States, Japan, China, and South Korea were consistently pulling in the same direction, and that’s definitely what the majority of the people in the region want").

Korean medias didn't distinguish Chinese/Korean nationalists from Chinese/Koreans and missed the core message. But they got something right: Sherman seems to have sided with Japan.

For instance, the sentence "The Koreans and Chinese have quarreled with Tokyo over so-called comfort women from World War II" not only poses victims as aggressors, but suggests that the issue, which only became a public one in the early 1990s, has long been settled.

By saying "Japan as a nation is working to reconcile modern demands with hard-won lessons from the past", she not only supports collective self defense, but gives an A+ in History to Revisionist In Chief Shinzo Abe. Again, I understand that the US is willing to share military costs in Asia with Japan, but as I wrote in the Asia Pacific Bulletin, "the United States must reassure Asia that it will not condone Japanese historical revisionism, nor will it support an expanded Japanese military without providing wider safeguards to the region".

The Undersecretary of State also completely bought into Abe's imposture around the tragic murders of Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto by Daesh. Apparently oblivious of the fact that the PM had been accused of shamelessly promoting his militarist agenda by instrumentalizing the crisis and undermining efforts to save the hostages, she concluded that "the horror of the executions was deeply felt, and the threat to Japanese citizens worldwide has fed an internal discussion that has been ongoing about the appropriate role of the country’s self-defense force".

In no instance does Wendy Sherman counterbalance any of Abe's controversial positions. Which explains why the US' usual 'ostrich policy' regarding this outspoken neofascist revisionist seemed to have drifted all the way to 'pure complicity'.

At one stage, I had the short-lived hope that she could redeem herself when she said "we don’t have to look far for a cautionary tale of a country that has allowed itself to be trapped by its own history"..., but she was referring to North Korea.


So I'll repeat the 3 parts of my latest focus "Comfort Women': No Resolution Without Resoluteness. From Everyone, Please."
1) more than ever, justice must win, not nationalism 2) undeterred by an evasive US, Shinzo Abe's pushing his revisionist agenda harder than ever 3) South Korea at long last forced to give up its own inaction

And I'll repeat my tiple call:
- to the US government: stop dodging the 'Comfort Women' issue, don't let Abe get his collective self defense without a clear rejection of Imperial Japan crimes (and please prevent an outrageous Abe Statement on August 15, 2015)
- to the South Korean government: stop feeding Abe and Nippon Kaigi by fueling nationalist feelings, show the world the right example by facing your own past.
- to both: this is not about standing against Japan but about standing for post-war, pacifist Japan against Imperial Japan

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* Wendy R. Sherman, Under Secretary for Political Affairs - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Washington, DC - February 27, 2015 (see full transcript, which of course also covers China, North Korea, the TPP,...)

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