Tag Archives: THAAD

The Panic is Real

Ceiling Monster

It’s been going on for weeks now, but the sudden upsurge of coronavirus cases which began from that church in Daegu has resulted in what I could only describe as a proper widespread panic.

First off, next to my office, they’ve expanded the customer service department and people have been answering phones non-stop… changing schedules, updating customers, etc. It’s become a bit of an irritant, as my quiet office is suddenly abuzz with telephone rings, chatter, and people milling about back and forth.

Everyone in the office is advised to wear a mask. The department head instructed me directly to wear one. I often get away with skirting the rules, but with this one, it’s getting more noticed than usual. Aside from the mask, I just learned that we’re supposed to get our temperatures checked when we enter the building in the morning and for some peculiar reason, go to the tenth floor to have it recorded by a clerk there. This one, I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Besides, I should get a pass on this. I’ve been pumping Purell on my desk long before it became fashionable. I’ve also been campaigning against using those disgusting fingerprint scanners we have in the office.

My building has been sprayed several times for viruses. Even last night, the elevator smelled of disinfectant. I’m assuming this added zeal is also because they found cases of coronavirus in the neighborhood I work in. Because of those cases as well, there are not too many people walking around outside, a very touristy neighborhood which would normally be busy with Chinese tourists and food vendors. It’s actually quite eerie.

People have been buying canned goods, instant noodles, and bottled water, thinking that they might be forced to stay indoors for an indefinite period in the future. Masks, while generally available, can be sold out in some stores or available at an inflated price. And speaking of masks, most people outside are wearing them. My train commute is normally packed with commuters, which I imagine is a promising vector for a viral infection. This week, there’s noticeably fewer commuters. I believe this is because many companies have advised their employees to stay at home and telecommute for at least a couple of days.

A company I worked for had its headquarters shut down a couple of days for disinfection. This is because a neighboring building had an employee who was diagnosed with the virus. Many buildings are connected by underground tunnels lined with shops and restaurants and perhaps even a pathway towards a nearby subway station. This makes an infection in one building a cause for concern for the whole neighborhood since many company employees use those tunnels not only to travel between buildings but also to eat lunch.

Classes have been delayed for a week. My Korean class next month is delayed and could potentially be canceled depending on how many people sign up. Attendance to after-school programs have been down since many parents would prefer their children stay at home. I haven’t seen Chinese students in the institute I attend. In fact, I think the attendance of adult students has been down as well.

No one is going to movie theaters or amusement parks. This must be a huge boon for Netflix which was just introduced to the country last November. And speaking of business, the virus is hurting many big Korean companies especially ones relying on their ties to China, be it import and export or tourism. I just hope that this would be the final lesson for these companies to diversify already and not be too dependent on the Chinese. They should’ve learned this lesson many years ago after the THAAD fiasco. These big businesses will survive however. I’m more concerned about small businesses that are currently suffering because of people choosing not to go out for fear of catching the virus. The lady I used to buy sushi rolls from on the subway station hasn’t been there for days. I hope she’s okay.

It has affected me financially as well. Usually, I’m involved in many side projects starting in January. It’s almost March and many of them have either been canceled or delayed ultimately due to the coronavirus panic. People don’t want to be near other people if they can avoid it.

Some churches have canceled in-person services. Instead, people are asked to view services streamed online, an odd mixture of religion and technology.

The government has instructed weekly protests in the city centers to be halted momentarily. Last weekend however, far rights groups still staged a protest near my workplace in defiance of the government order. They believe the government is using fear of the virus to quell political dissent. The protesters are mostly senior citizens manipulated by charismatic leaders pandering to them. You’ll often see them on weekends waving the Korean, American, and Israeli flag demanding that the Korean president be impeached for whatever reason.

Some Koreans are complaining that the government should have temporarily banned all Chinese nationals from entering the country, not just ones from Wuhan. I’m willing to bet however that these same people will be the first ones to complain about Koreans being detained overseas or prevented from going to their country of destination. Right now, a group of Korean travelers are being prevented from entering Israel. It’s caused a minor stir in the country.

Not many people are traveling overseas. I know people who are getting married this summer and they haven’t been really that thrilled talking about honeymoon plans. The price for tickets to China however has risen due to Chinese nationals wanting to go home and many destinations to China being unavailable due to travel advisory. I’m not too keen on traveling either. I wasn’t too keen on traveling to Japan earlier, but now even less, especially after seeing how Japan is currently bungling their handling of the virus. I imagine this is going to be a disaster for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics which they’ve been hyping for so long now. Personally, I think this is a good thing. I believe the Japanese government is not being truthful regarding the current danger left by the Fukushima disaster. They’re going to use the Olympics to whitewash their failed effort to properly contain the radioactive contamination. I also believe that the Japanese government is using the Olympics to bolster their right wing nationalist agenda.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I’m not really too concerned about catching the virus. I believe it is still very much hype at the moment despite all of the events I described. Still, I don’t want to be the one who catches it and spreads it to everyone I know. Imagine the constant nagging I would hear from people if I do catch it. I don’t think it would be good for my resume either. I just want all of this to be over soon. This virus is not good for business.

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Shaking Hands

Skull

Living in South Korea, I think it would be a bit odd if I didn’t comment about the historic event right now regarding North and South Korea. Honestly, I’m very optimistic about the first steps towards a friendlier relationship with North Korea; however, I really don’t know what that friendly relationship means for the country going forward. But whatever it is, it is still better than the North Korea a few months ago that was testing nuclear missiles and insulting its neighbors.

First off, I worry about John Bolton’s comment that they are going to use the Libya model to denuclearize North Korea. This model has been looked at negatively by the people in power in North Korea, especially since it eventually led to the ouster and death of Colonel Gaddafi. As friendly and as willing North Korea may seem to be with denuclearization now, I’m not sure how far those talks would go and what true denuclearization would lead to. Also, factory jobs and the military are the biggest way out of poverty for many North Koreans. If you don’t have a need for a military, you have millions of men potentially on a crisis to transition to other industries. North Korea needs to maintain a perpetual sense of threat in order to justify its bloated military. Also, without the west to fight against, why would North Koreans need Kim Jung Un to save and protect them? It’s a disconnect in the cult of the Kims’ dogma which I’m not sure if Kim Jung Un would survive politically.

So yeah, shake hands with Kim Jung Un, take photos, and make promises. But remember that the North also just decimated a mountain due to their nuclear tests and that Kim Jung Un has killed relatives in order to save his skin. Optimism with a grain of salt is in order.

A friendlier North Korea would do well for the South Korea. I don’t imagine open borders anytime soon, but as I mentioned in past posts, with South Korea relatively meager and stagnant GDP growth rate, a friendlier North could help companies in the South by opening its population to commerce. It would also ease tensions with China and prevent issues like the THAAD missile crisis from harming companies that do business in China and South Korea.

What annoys me, however, is the extremely partisan atmosphere in the country. Just last weekend, there were street protests from the hard right calling the president a traitor and accusing him of selling the country to North Korea. This is insanity. How does that even work? Last time I checked, South Korea is far richer than its northern neighbor. But the problem is the left can be just as toxic with their tribalism as well. I don’t lean on any Korean political parties nor do I subscribe to any particular Korean publication (which can be terribly partisan). I will read anything and I also read/listen to analysis from foreign publications and commentators.  But the minute I say anything negative or express a bit of concern regarding the current president’s actions, I get accused as being brainwashed by the right. And  sometimes this is my wife accusing me of partisanship!

What’s also annoying is Donald Trump taking credit for any headway into North Korea’s denuclearization. I could forgive him for taking some credit. Despite him name calling and trying to compare nuclear buttons with Kim Jung Un just a few months ago, he is still the leader of the United States and he did send Mike Pompeo to meet Kim Jung Un. I don’t know what they talked about and I suspect Trump only sent Pompeo to the North in order to boost his credibility as a Secretary of State nominee, but he still sent him there to presumably open a dialogue. But what’s annoying is Trump taking 100% of the credit to the current North and South Korean situation. What an annoying gnat! He just dismissed all the work of his allies in the South. What’s worse, I suspect if the talks don’t result in meaningful progress, he would gladly throw South Korea under the bus without even remembering President Moon Jae-In’s name.

As for President Moon Jae-In, he should really calm down with saying “Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize” for his work in the inter-Korean talks. I know he’s just trying to be gracious, but Trump will take that graciousness and use it as a cudgel.

I wasn’t in the country during most of the Sunshine Policy of previous administrations, but this feels similar to that attempt to a more peaceful coexistence between the two countries. What’s mostly missing from that previous policy is the North acting in good faith. They were occasionally aggressive during the period and have failed to return much of the goodwill shown to them by the South. I certainly hope things will be better this time around. I personally don’t care so much about nuclear disarmament, especially since North Korea still has thousands of traditional weapons aimed and could destroy Seoul should it ever choose to (I live and work in one of the busiest parts of Seoul), but it would be a great first step at easing tensions in the region. However, I suspect that the song and dance following a true denuclearization, i.e. claims of not following agreements, accusations of hiding nuclear facilities, misleading inspectors, etc., would long be used by political actors to scare each other long after the last rocket has been decommissioned. I’m optimistic, but it will be a long time before people truly no longer see North Korea as a nuclear threat.

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On Child-like Leaders

Goat 2

The thing with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un’s unpredictability is that he’s been given, GIVEN, the job of running the country as his first job. Not only was he just some rich kid living in Switzerland given the job of running a throwback country, but as the role of supreme dictator, he’s under the constant threat of usurpation from his handlers, his people, and even his family. He constantly needs to flex his muscles (figuratively, of course) and threaten his neighbors as well as his inner circle, lest he becomes another Muamar Gaddafi. This explains the occasional super villainesque murders of his associates and family members. It also explains the rather extreme reactions to slights against the regime.

There’s been a political rift lately between South Korea and China, with South Korea building a missile defense system (THAAD) against North Korea which is equipped with radar technology capable of penetrating deep into Chinese territory. South Korea defends the missile system as a defense against the North. I imagine in normal circumstances this would’ve been fine with China, since they appear to be losing their patience with North Korea. They recently cut off coal exports from North Korea because of their recent missile tests. But the South Korean government is partnered with the United States, and there is deep distrust between the two rivaling military powers. Also, the South Korean government seems oddly determined to install the missile defense system despite its unpopularity among the locals. After all, the North doesn’t need missiles to attack the South. Traditional artillery fire could reach Seoul just fine (But whether it could take the South is another matter). I suspect the installation of the missile system is either the US military slyly using South Korea to contain China, or perhaps some people are getting enriched with military contracts and the sale Lockheed Martin’s systems. In any case, without the North Korean threat, the whole missile defense system argument would be moot, and China wouldn’t be imposing travel bans to South Korea and threatening a ban on South Korean products.

So yes, because Kim Jung Un is an unpredictable player, it leads people and government outside of North Korea to act out in ways which ultimately hurt them. South Korea and China doesn’t need to be feuding at the moment. They are important partners in various industries. Korea doesn’t need to a build ridiculous missile system when North Korea would be committing economic suicide should they ever decide to full-on attack one of its neighbors. But Kim Jung Un’s child-like capriciousness gives people the excuse to do so.

Kim Jung Un was snatched up from his comfortable life in Switzerland to fill his father’s shoes. I doubt if he ever dreamed of living the rest of his life dressing up and pretending to be his grandfather. He had a carefree life, but now he’s living under a lethal microscope with powers that could affect millions of people in his country and beyond. What does he know about governing? Governments need leaders who have experience in leading and are actually interested in the role.

That brings to mind: I wonder how Donald Trump spent his weekend.

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