[The Korea Herald] South Korean diplomats seek new land deal in Madagascar for Daewoo Logisitics



This article first appeared in The Korea Herald in February 2013.

A laborer holds up an ear of corn during harvest on a farm in Africa in this undated file photo. (AP-Yonhap News)
A laborer holds up an ear of corn during harvest on a farm in Africa in this undated file photo. (AP-Yonhap News)

After embarrassing reports implicated the country in a corrupt land deal, South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is exploring ways to re-open commercial opportunities for Korean investors in Madagascar.

It could mean food security and biofuel exports worth billions of dollars for one of Asia’s largest economies ― indeed, more than half of all imports of corn for South Korea, which is the world’s third-largest importer of the crop.

In anticipation of new elections slated for the first half of 2014, South Korean diplomats are working hard to help Daewoo Logistics regain the huge land deal it lost after a 2009 coup d’etat in the island For starters.

South Korea is looking to open a diplomatic mission in Madagascar, said the director of the ministry’s Africa division.

“I assume Daewoo still wants to make a deal, but I have not contacted them in a few days,” said Moon Sung-hwan, Africa Division director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Daewoo made headlines around the world in 2009 when its subsidiary, Madagascar Future Enterprise Corp. (MFE Corp.) inked a 99-year lease for 3.2 million acres, half of Madagascar’s arable land, to grow palm oil and corn for biofuels and for shipment back to Korea as food crops.

The Madagascar deal would have been the biggest involving foreign firms seeking to secure African farmland since food prices soared in 2008.

Mamy Rakotondrainibe, an activist in Madagascar who blogs extensively about land issues, accused authorities there of re-engaging in negotiating for a new deal with MFE general manager Kim Kwon-il.

Moon said the ministry was interested in opening a diplomatic mission to help Daewoo and other companies interested in investing there.

“We have many interests there in addition to Daewoo Logistics,” he said, adding that it was too soon to say exactly when an embassy would be established.

“Madagascar is rich in agricultural land and natural resources, and many Korean companies are interested in doing business there,” Moon said.

In addition to Daewoo Logistics, Korea has a major stake in what could become the world’s largest nickel mine, Canada’s Sherritt International Corporation and its Korean and Japanese partners received permission in September to begin output with a production capacity of 60,000 tons of refined nickel annually for the next 30 years.

The future diplomatic mission would be led by a charge d’affaires reporting to Korea’s embassy in South Africa, he said. Currently Korean Ambassador to South Africa Lee Yoon has concurrent accreditation to Madagascar.

Setting up a diplomatic mission in the country is a crucial if basic initial step needed to maintain and upgrade commercial agreements and treaties. Most basic of all ― Korea does not currently recognize the government in Madagascar.

But the slew of business agreements basic to international commercial relations, such as an agreement to promote and protect investment, require constant monitoring and tweaking by experts, and that means “diplomatic boots on the ground,” according to one foreign envoy with knowledge of investment in Africa.

As a latecomer in resource investment in Africa, however, Korea has been playing an aggressive game of catch up. Trade between Korea and African countries increased to $20 billion in 2011 from $13 billion in 2000 and Korea’s accumulated investment in Africa was $4 billion in 2011, 30 percent of which is focused in Madagascar.

Korean diplomatic ties in Africa correspond with its commercial interests. Korea just wrapped up its 3rd Korea-Africa Forum in October which brought together 150 delegates from 19 African nations and the African Union, including heads of state and foreign ministers.

African interest in Korea also increased. The number of embassies of African nations in Korea nearly doubled in the past 10 years, with Ethiopia the most recent entrant. Seventeen of the 54 African nations now have full embassies here.

Shipping food out of the country is controversial because three-quarters of the Madagascar’s 20 million inhabitants live below the national poverty line and the country is highly vulnerable to food insecurity, with a chronic malnutrition rate of 49 percent, according to the World Food Program, which provides food relief and recovery to 850,000 beneficiaries.

News of the multi-million acre Korean land deal incited massive demonstrations that killed about 170 people and eventually pushed President Marc Ravalomanana out of office in March 2009.

Andry Rajoelina, opposition leader and then-mayor of Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo, then declared himself the new president in a move widely condemned as a coup d’etat by the international community.

Though the 2.3-million-acre land deal was suspended by the Rajoelina government, MFE Corp. is currently operating a 250-acre farm, said Jeon Hyun, 2nd secretary and desk officer for Madagascar at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Daewoo could easily expand its agricultural development on larger tracts of land if the company regains its leased land.

Korea does not recognize the Rajoelina government. New elections are currently scheduled for May 8, 2013, in which neither Ravalomanana nor Rajoelina will run as candidates.

In the meantime, Park Geun-hye’s transition team is scheduled to meet African envoys on Feb. 22, according to diplomatic sources.

“(Park Geun-hye) has an open schedule when it comes to meeting African envoys,” Moon said. “What I can tell you is that our office is looking forward to meeting with African envoys, and (Park) never thinks lightly about bilateral relations between Korea and African countries.”


[The Diplomat] The ghosts of Korea’s killers

This article first appeared in The Diplomat on May 16, 2014.

Kang Min-cheol was a mass murderer, killing nearly two dozen people in an attempt to blow up South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan and his delegation, including cabinet ministers, in Rangoon, Burma in 1983. He was also a member of the notorious Kang Chang-su Unit, a North Korean Special Forces team named after its commanding officer, Brigadier General Kang Chang-su (no relation).

Yet Kang was also a Cold War casualty and a victim in the decades-long inter-Korean conflict, according to former vice minister of South Korea’s spy agency, Ra Jong-yil, who profiles the man in his recent book The Aung San Terrorist Kang Min-cheol.

Published last October, on the thirtieth anniversary of the infamous bombing Ra’s book is more than a character profile of a killer. In it, he draws a picture of how thousands of forgotten young men like Kang from both North and South Korea were trained and used on dangerous missions long after the Korean War officially ended in 1953. Many of these men were then cast aside and forgotten after their missions ended.

Ra would seem an unlikely source for a sympathetic account of the life of one of North Korea’s most deadly spies. Now a professor at a university in Seoul – and formerly an ambassador to Japan and Great Britain, in addition to his service at the spy agency – he appears to be cut from a familiar cloth among South Korea’s political class, garbed in a crisply ironed shirt, a conservative suit and tie, and primed short-cut hair.

Cheating Death

In Burma on an official visit, the South Korean president planned to lay a wreath at the Martyr’s Mausoleum to commemorate Aung San — considered the founder of modern Burma — and the father of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Kang and two other North Korean operatives planted a bomb in the ceiling of the mausoleum. On that cloudy tropical Sunday morning on October 9, they waited for their target, disguised as locals outside the venue.

But the assassins missed their mark. Chun cheated them, and death. He was delayed by the Burmese foreign minister who was supposed to accompany him to the venue.

A Burmese honor guard trumpeter, mistaking the entrance of South Korean Ambassador to Burma Lee Gye-chol for the arrival of the president, signaled the beginning of the ceremony. Kang and his comrades remotely detonated the bomb.

Chaos ensued, some of it captured by Japanese TV. The bomb tore through the mausoleum and scores of people, scattering limbs and timber among a cacophony of smoke, confusion and screams.

Among the dead were 17 South Koreans, including top government ministers, a National Assembly representative, and a journalist.

‘Not the Whole Story’

“The terrorist attack at Aung San cannot be isolated from the circumstances prevailing on the Korean Peninsula. We cannot single out that incident and say ‘North Korea again committed an act of terrorism and barbarism.’ That is not the whole story. That happened in the context of the North-South conflict in the early 1980s,” said Ra, in a recent interview with The Diplomat.

North Korea denied any connection with the attack or with Kang. In the South, the deed was declared an atrocity. For his crime, Kang was “erased,” Ra said.

In 2008, after languishing in a Rangoon cell for 25 years, Kang eventually succumbed to liver cancer at the age of 53. He was survived by no known wife, no family, and no country.

Ra depicted Kang in The Aung San Terrorist in an effort to finally recognize the thousands of young men from both Koreas trained as secret soldiers, used in covert operations, and then tossed aside.

Political leaders denied the missions of these secret soldiers ever took place, misled their families, and lied to the public, according to Ra.

In The Aung San Terrorist, Ra unmasks political leaders on both sides as culpable in “erasing the lives” of men like Kang. He accuses both nations of wiping away any trace of their very existence.

Approximately 13,000 anti-North agents were trained from 1951 to 1994 by the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Defense Intelligence Command, according to one report. Among them, some 7,800 never returned from their mission. Since it was first revealed that South Korea trained Special Forces agents of its own, awareness of them has grown.

The Aung San Terrorist comes after former National Assembly representative Kim Seong-ho’s We The Erased Faces (2006) and after Broadcaster SBS featured the topic early last year on its I Want To Know This current affairs program.

But despite increased attention, recognition and compensation has not followed.

An epigraph in Ra’s book from a 2009 speech by novelist Murakami Haruki points to why a former vice minister of national intelligence would write a book decrying the mistreatment of a confessed North Korean assassin in a Rangoon prison. Murakami is quoted as saying:

“If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg, because each of us is an egg, a unique soul enclosed in a fragile shell. The high wall is the system which forces us to do the things we would not ordinarily see fit to do as individuals.”

“We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it’s too high, too dark and too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth and strength. We must not let the system control us, and create who we are.”

Foiled Escape

Kang and the two others — Kim Jin-su and Shin Ki-chul — tried desperately to escape. They headed for the river and for a speedboat that would take them to a freighter in Rangoon Harbor. But the boat was not there. So, they split up, with Shin in the lead. They made their way down stream as stealthily as possible toward the harbor and a waiting freighter.

Shin was intercepted by the Burmese police. He tried to shoot his way clear, but was gunned down.

It would not have mattered anyway; there was no freighter. North Korean planners did not tell the men that the freighter was denied entrance into Rangoon Harbor. Pyongyang feared that the information could discourage them from completing their mission.

With grenades and guns, Kang and Kim similarly attempted the shoot their way out, but their grenades were booby trapped and they blew themselves up. Kang lost his right arm.

Miraculously, the two men survived. Kim was later executed; a Burmese court spared Kang. In exchange, he revealed the planning and thinking that went into the bombing. North Korea had indeed intended to assassinate the South Korean president, but its ambitions were much greater. According to Ra, planners in Pyongyang believed they could incite a revolution in the South with a single audacious provocation.

Chun had seized power just three years earlier in a bloody military coup d’etat, and massacred hundreds — thousands by some estimates — in Gwangju, to brutally put down a popular democratic uprising against his regime.

It was true that Chun was not liked at home and had only tepid support abroad. His backers were well aware of it. Chun and those young military officers who took power sought to strengthen their position by reaching out to non-aligned nations.

The South Korean strongman’s visit to Burma was one leg of a multi-nation Asia trip to India, Sri Lanka, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand.

A young Ban Ki-moon — today the secretary-general of the United Nations, then chief of staff to Foreign Minister Lee Beom-seok, who was killed in the bombing – dubbed the diplomatic gesture, “the Chrysanthemum Strategy,” after the flower known to bloom in October.

North Korea’s plot backfired. Although Chun’s trip was cut short, his outreach to non-aligned movement nations such as India continued. Moreover, China was infuriated with its pugnacious ally. (Some things never change.) Burma cut off ties with North Korea altogether. International condemnation of the bombing was universal.

Despite that, a softening of the ideological sclerosis between North and South Korea followed. Kim Il-sung and Chun Doo-hwan initiated a North-South détente. Kang was forgotten.

“During these talks in the 1980s between Kim Il-sung and Chun Doo-hwan, there was never ever any mention of this young man. I think these two men deserve most of the blame for what happened in Burma,” Ra said, adding that back then almost no regard was ever paid to those caught in the North-versus-South ideological grinder.

When a U.S. Army excavation team discovered the remains of North Korean soldiers during a search for remains of their own, for example, no one wanted to receive them.

“They discovered the remains of about 23 or 24 North Korean soldiers. They asked the North Koreans to take them back, but the North refused. The South Korean government, too, was not moved at all.”

The Americans ended up hiring a Buddhist monk on their own, and conducted their own funeral ceremony for the soldiers.

“I was so angry about that,” said Ra. “Do we really deserve re-unification while we neglect our own people, and while we neglect the lives of these men?”

[The Diplomat] Political class debates nuclear option for South Korea

This article first appeared in The Diplomat on Aug. 14, 2014.

Nuclear tensions are again ratcheting up on the Korean Peninsula, with Pyongyang threatening a fourth nuclear weapons test in what one U.S. analyst described as its new “allergic reaction” to routine military exercises by South Korea and United States scheduled to start on August 18.

A fourth nuclear test could further influence the debate in Seoul and Washington over whether South Korea should consider the “nuclear option.” Such a decision – if South Korea were to seriously consider it – could upturn the 60-year South Korean-U.S. alliance, global nonproliferation efforts, not to mention dozens of international obligations that tie one of Asia’s wealthiest nations to the global economy.

Even talk of “going nuclear” has some in South Korea’s political class worrying out loud that the debate has already moved from the political fringe to occupy center stage.

And there is cause for concern. The North’s third nuclear test in February 2013 shifted public opinion in South Korea over whether it should start its own nuclear weapons program.

In September 2013, in a Chosun Ilbo column, conservative commentator and political analyst Kim Dae-jung argued that it should. It is a sentiment echoed by two-thirds of the public surveyed by the Asan Institute for Policy Analysis the same month.

Conservative politician Chung Mong-joon and former lawmaker Song Young-sun, as well as columnists such as Cho Gab-je, Kim Dae-jung and Yi Chun-geun, have long called for South Korea to respond in kind to North Korean nuclear threats with a “South Korea bomb.”

They have allies in American political circles. Elbridge Colby, writing for the conservative foreign policy journal,National Interest, proposed in February that the U.S. put “geopolitics over nonproliferation” if Japan and South Korea choose to develop nuclear weapons.  And last year, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee demanded that the Obama administration examine the “feasibility” of re-deploying tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.

All this talk has pushed one former senior South Korean foreign policy advisor to weigh in on the question of the re-deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and the development of a South Korean bomb. Yonsei University professor Moon Chung-in was a former senior foreign policy advisor to South Korean government agencies such as the National Security Council of the Office of the President, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of National Defense, and the Ministry of Unification.

Dr. Moon attended the 2000 and 2007 North-South Korean summits as a special delegate. He was also appointed as a member of then president-elect Roh Moo-hyun’s high-level delegation to the U.S. in 2003. He was also chairman of the Presidential Committee on the Northeast Asian Cooperation Initiative, a cabinet-level post.

Moon, along with Dr. Peter Hayes of the Nautilus Institute, penned an article published this month by East Asia Foundation’s Policy Debates No. 7, answering the question: “Should South Korea Go Nuclear?” Philip Iglauer spoke with Moon recently.

The South Korean government has been clear that it has no plan to develop a nuclear weapons program. Why did you decide to come out with this article now?

The reason why Peter and I wrote this piece is, our citizens – sometimes 60, sometimes 70 percent of them – continue to support the nuclear weapons idea. We thought that that has something to do with education. If they had a proper non-proliferation education, then they would not come to that kind of conclusion. We thought we need to make a piece that can tell people that having nuclear weapons is more harmful than not having them.

Another reason we wrote this article is that there has been widespread speculation that North Korea could conduct another nuclear test and, if that happens, that could trigger opinions in favor of developing a nuclear weapons program or the re-deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

By having this kind of article we can show the South Korean people that even if that happens it is not wise for us to pursue our own nuclear option.

So, in your assessment, what are the drawbacks of South Korea developing its own nuclear weapons program to match the one already developed by North Korea?

Far from reinforcing South Korea’s already overwhelming conventional military capabilities – including in almost every dimension where North Korea has developed offsetting “asymmetric” capabilities – South Korean nuclear weapons would undermine deterrence based on conventional forces, and even reduce South Korea’s ability to use its conventional forces in response to a North Korean attack.

Plus, no U.S. Commander-in-Chief is going to put American forces in harm’s way in a Korean conflict, if South Korea wields nuclear weapons outside of U.S. political and military command-and-control. Independent South Korean nuclear weapons would complicate for U.N. Command and Combined Forces Command.

In addition, South Korea’s quest for nuclear weapons could instantly trigger a nuclear domino effect in the region. If that happens, there is no way to prevent Japan from going nuclear.

What about the re-deployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea. Could such U.S. weapons be a viable alternative to a South Korean program?

It is not necessary because of U.S. extended deterrence and its subsequent nuclear umbrella. The U.S. has nuclear submarines; they have long-range bombers; they have intercontinental ballistic missiles on the U.S. mainland. They can use them easily. There is no reason for the U.S. to deploy tactical nuclear weapons here on THE PENINSULA.

As (Lt. Gen. John) Cushman once pointed out in the 1980s, it could be a headache for American forces here. They have to spend a lot of money and human resources to guard against any terrorist infiltration, stealing and all this kind of stuff. That was one of the main reasons why they withdrew the tactical nuclear weapons from Kunsan in 1991.

What is your response to those in the U.S. House of Representatives who have suggested that the redeployment of such missiles could serve to ward off an increasingly aggressive China or re-assertive Russia in the region?

That means, what? Those tactical nuclear facilities will simply become a target for Russia and China. Why should we (South Korea) increase our vulnerability through the deployment of those weapons? It is not really feasible from an American policy point of view, too. Obama made it clear that the tactical nuclear weapons card, or theater nuclear weapons, have become obsolete and that he wants to get rid of them as part of his “nuclear weapons free world” campaign.

What is their utility, if the U.S. has intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines, and long range bombers? Practically speaking, the U.S. can hit targets anywhere, any time. Why would it deploy tactical nuclear weapons that require an additional cost to guard and protect.

Anyway, if that does happen, then it could justify the North Korean having nuclear weapons. We would not have any moral ground. And North Korea would be targeting those tactical nuclear facilities, which would then increase our vulnerability.

What are some of the implications of a South Korean nuclear weapons program on the country’s international obligations?

South Korea would face very high costs were it to move in this direction, because it is deeply embedded in multilateral and bilateral treaty commitments and nuclear energy supply trading networks. The development of a nuclear weapons program would violate its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

It would certainly end South Korea’s reactor exports and likely also the supply of uranium, enrichment services, and other materials. It would also end the dual-use technology needed for South Korea’s nuclear fuel cycle from the Nuclear Supply Group, such as the United States, Australia, Russia and France. Washington would likely reject not only Seoul’s request to reprocess or pyro-process spent nuclear fuel, but also its desire to enrich uranium, even for research. This would adversely impact our negotiations with Washington in renewing the ROK-US Atomic Energy Cooperation Agreement.

Some conservatives in South Korea have suggested South Korea could use serious consideration of such a program as leverage in current negotiations with the U.S. over renewing the ROK-U.S. Atomic Energy Cooperation Agreement.

I think it is a stupid strategy. They think they can use this as a bargaining chip, but they do not understand the overall sentiment in Washington, D.C. with regard to nonproliferation.

The only way President Park Geun-hye could persuade Washington is this: “Even if we go through reprocessing of spent fuel or uranium enrichment, there is no way for us to go further toward nuclear weapons. The whole episode in the 1970s by Park Chung-hee is a thing of the past. Don’t worry about it. There is not even a single iota of a possibility that we will do something like that.”

Moreover, the conservatives approach would severely undercut President Park’s position. It would have the opposite effect in Washington. That is what Robert Einhorn has been arguing. Compromising nonproliferation is tantamount to opening a Pandora’s Box, regardless of whether (South Korean negotiators) are talking to Democrats or Republicans. If the nuclear genie is let out of the bottle, then it would critically undermine U.S. hegemony in this part of the world. No matter how worrisome China’s rise or the posture of Moscow in the Russian Far East.

[The Korea Herald] Uruguayan Ambassador Florio encourages young women to seek a career outside the home

This interview of a foreign envoy first appeared in The Korea Herald on March 9, 2014.

Uruguayan Ambassador to South Korea Alba Florio Legnani speaks with The Korea Herald during an interview in her office on Wednesday, days before International Women’s Day. (Philip Iglauer/The Korea Herald)
Uruguayan Ambassador to South Korea Alba Florio Legnani speaks with The Korea Herald during an interview in her office on Wednesday, days before International Women’s Day. (Philip Iglauer/The Korea Herald)

“Every woman has to fight. She has to fight for her future, and her future does not have to be to take care of the house,” said Uruguayan Ambassador to South Korea Alba Florio Legnani in an interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday, days before International Women’s Day was celebrated around the world.

Florio is one of just seven female ambassadors out of the 100-plus heads of diplomatic missions here. She is also the senior envoy of an informal caucus of women ambassadors working in South Korea. She represented them during a meeting of the council of the diplomatic corps earlier the same day.

The six other high-level women envoys in South Korea represent Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, Austria, Ireland, Belarus and Malaysia.

Their group was initiated by the Belarusian ambassador when she organized an informal luncheon about two years ago, Legnani said.

The United Nations officially recognized March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1975, but the appointment of a day to highlight women’s empowerment and rights goes back more than 100 years.

The first Women’s Day is thought to have been National Woman’s Day, observed in the United States on Feb. 28, 1908, when the Socialist Party of America sought to recognize female garment workers during a labor strike in New York City.

Legnani said the struggle for women’s rights can be summed up in a quippy Spanish play on words: “Tenemos que transformar los derechos en hechos,” which she explained means, “Let’s transform the rights into facts.”

That struggle is not likely to be easy for women here as over the past few years South Korea has slipped in world rankings of the social status of women.

South Korea ranked 111th out of 135 countries surveyed, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2013. Worse, the reported noted, is the fact that the social status of women in South Korea has slipped every year since 2010.

Electing its first woman president in December 2012, though certainly laudable, could belie the fact that South Korea has a dearth of women at the highest levels of national leadership, according to another global survey.

South Korea ranked 88th out of 188 nations, with just 15.7 percent or 47 female representatives out of the 300 making up the National Assembly, according to the Women in National Parliaments report published by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in December 2013.

The situation is worse still for South Korean women aspiring to rise to the ambassadorial level in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Just five of the 294 officials ranked director-general or higher at the Foreign Ministry are women, according to data compiled in November 2013.

That means that less than 2 percent of the nation’s high-level Foreign Service officers are female. Twenty of the approximately 280 deputy director-level officers, or 7 percent, are women. South Korea does not have a single woman leading one of its 118 foreign diplomatic missions.

Legnani said that in her country, as well as other countries, one way to increase the number of women at the highest levels of business or government is by empowering women and encouraging girls to aim high.

A woman can be as effective an ambassador as a man, she said. “There are no jobs meant for men or for women. One might be good or bad at a particular job, but this depends on the individual, not on one’s gender.”

Legnani is in fact not a career foreign service officer. She is a lawyer and spent some 15 years advising her government, in particular the transportation and the health and welfare ministries, and worked with the legislature. She began her work here in South Korea in October 2010.

“But it is something very personal. You have to fight for your position in society, for your education, for your position at the office. It means working hard and struggling for it,” she said.

Legnani said her case is perhaps not typical in her country of Uruguay, because she did not have the family pressures that many women face. She said she decided not to get married and has no children to look after. “So, maybe for me, it might have been easier.”

“In Uruguay, women have to take on domestic activities by themselves. If they have children, they have to take care of them on their own,” she said. “They have to cook and have to clean and have to take care of the parents, too, but those activities are generally not shared with the men. It is a woman’s responsibility.”

National governments have a role to play, too, by cultivating supportive working conditions for career-minded women, she said. As examples of possible policies, Legnani pointed out how flexible working arrangements on the job and easy access to child care could support working women by helping them balance career with family.

Eco-leadership stalls in Assembly

Experts debate pros and cons of cap-and-trade as crucial deadline slips by

This article originally appeared in The Korea Times in January 2012.

By Philip Iglauer

Government officials are debating passage of an emissions trading scheme (ETS), called cap-and-trade in the United States, as President Lee Myung-bak’s year-end deadline to pass key legislation slipped by and the country lost out to Qatar in its bid to host the U.N. Climate Change Summit in November.

Officials close to Korea’s climate change legislation said the bill has little chance of passing this year, too, as the nation looks to two elections, and with significant industries opposed to the bill in its current form. Bureaucratic infighting is another factor weighing against a bill that bolsters the authority of the Environment Ministry.

Korea’s global leadership on the environment, as well as the country’s long-term economic growth, could be at stake.

President Lee announced in a speech on Aug. 15, 2008 that “low carbon, green growth” should be the country’s new development strategy.

The government then started the wheels of that policy moving by setting a target to reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions, setting up the Presidential Committee on Green Growth in January 2009 and enacting the “Framework Act on Low Carbon, Green Growth,” which Lee signed in January 2010.

That bill allocated billions of dollars to its No. 1 strategy and No. 1 policy direction: To coordinate the president’s green strategy through “the mitigation of climate change and energy independence” and “the effective mitigation of green house gas emissions,” according to its Web site.

In addition to laying down a legislative foundation with the Framework Act, the government also set up the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), which worked to bring the public and private sectors on board with its green growth strategy. GGGI has been instrumental in promoting Lee’s green growth economic vision in Korea and abroad.

But the most ambitious piece of the president’s green growth agenda is floundering ― its emissions trading mechanism for a national greenhouse gas emissions quota and trading scheme.

The government reasoned lean and green would not only be good for the Earth, it would also pay dividends in paving the way for economic growth in the long term.

Professor Cho Hong-sik of Seoul National University said the emissions trading scheme is the best tool Korea has to pursue a green growth strategy, which in turn is vital for the country to face what he described as an economic “triple crunch,” Korea’s energy challenge, climate change challenge and declining economic growth rates since the 1990s.

“I have engaged myself in this issue from the beginning. I know about the green growth strategy, and to accomplish growth and this goal, we need good policy tools,” Cho said. “The most important tool is ETS.”

The government missed the deadline, and most observers see little chance of the National Assembly taking up emissions trading this year, with two big elections approaching and opposition by the country’s largest business lobby, even though significant concessions have already been made to industry.

The Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry (KCCI), which represents 15 business groups and includes the country’s largest firms, asked the legislature to again revise the bill.

Cho said that although corporate opposition appears natural, it is short sighted. Korea is now importing more energy for ever-diminishing economic output, and some 85 percent of that energy is derived from the volatile Middle East and energy prices are subject to violent fluctuations.
For Cho, an emissions trading scheme is not just good environmental sense, it is a matter of the nation’s long-term economic survival.

Cho said the number of days with precipitation over 80 millimeters in Korea from 1970 has increased by a factor of four, causing extreme weather events and 1.8 trillion won to the economy, a 430 percent increase from the 1980s.

Middle countries like Korea are particularly vulnerable to disasters caused by extreme weather, according to a U.N. Intergovernmental Panel’s special report in 2011 titled, “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events & Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX).”

The report estimated the disasters caused by extreme weather sapped 1 percent of GDP from middle countries from 2001-2006, compared with 0.3% for their wealthy nation counterparts.

Minister of Government Legislation Chung Sung-tae said, “It is necessary to pass the bill this year to implement ETS by the 2015 deadline,” in an interview with The Korea Times in November on the sidelines of international forum on environmental legislation in Incheon, 60 kilometers from Seoul.

The Korean government set a voluntary target of a 30 percent cut in emissions by 2020, and wants the bill passed by the year end to start the scheme from 2015.

For the last 20 years, local environmentalists and clean-energy activists have argued that the best hope of addressing climate change is for nations around world to come together under the auspices of the U.N. and recognize the threat that a superheated climate could pose to everyone, and then sign a legally binding treaty to reduce carbon pollution.

ETS is the system with the least sacrifice that will get the job done, Cho said.

“When compared to that of other systems, such as direct regulation and carbon taxes that have been established to reduce GHG emissions, two of the major advantages of ETS are economic efficiency and flexibility,” Chung said.

“The government believes that ETS is the most effective and efficient way to reduce GHG emissions at a national level. In the medium and long term, it is important to promote and the spread word that ETS can heighten the competitiveness of industries. Efforts are being put into place so as to pass the legislation at the National Assembly as soon as possible,” Chung said.

Currently 25 European countries and New Zealand have a national carbon trading mechanism in place on a national level. Korea would be the first East Asian country to enact such a mechanism if the bill passes.

Korea’s ETS bill was submitted to the National Assembly in April 2011.

Asked which companies oppose the bill, Han Yeong-soo, deputy director general at the Ministry of Government Legislation, said two industries in particular are opposed to ETS legislation.

“The electronics and steel industries are the principal opponents to the current bill,” Han said.

The government has already amended the legislation to increase free carbon allowances and softened penalties for non-compliance, after strong opposition from industry. Cho said the government already cut the mandatory emissions reduction from 15 percent to 5 percent to appease industry. A special legislative committee has been reviewing a revised bill since April 2011.

The Korean government, which set a voluntary target of a 30 percent cut in emissions by 2020, wanted the bill passed last year to start the scheme from 2015 and meet its reduction goals.

Cho said further accommodation could jeopardize the government’s carbon reduction goals.

According to Minister of Government Legislation Chung, it is essential to pass such legislation this year in order to build infrastructure and to properly establish the emissions trading markets.

“In addition, a positive signal needs to be generated to the industrial circles regarding the implementation of ETS through its enactment. It is crucial to thoroughly prepare in advance for the development of green technology and remodeling facilities,” Kim said.

[The Korea Herald] Panama looks to remake history with iconic canal

This article originally appeared in The Korea Herald on Oct. 27, 2013.

When it was completed in 1914, the Panama Canal was heralded as an engineering marvel.

Its construction ― a 50-mile cut through mountainous and malarial terrain ― was a decade-long project, but the gravity-fed water locks that could lift freighters and ocean liners 85 feet up from sea level and across the isthmus were a technological feat the likes of which the world had never seen.

But that was then. Now, this historic achievement is not what it used to be, according to Panamanian Ambassador to South Korea Aram B. Cisneros Naylor.

“For years, the smart people in Panama have been saying we have to go to the next level. They were ignored for a long time, but now people are listening,” he said.

Cisneros said that as Panama’s top diplomat here he must eat, drink and dream all things maritime affairs.

“We have to transform Panama from being a simple transit point into a 21st-century international hub, a place that adds value to the goods and services that come to Panama.”

“We are at the threshold of upgrading our service economy, from an economy that does not simply charge a toll for utilizing the country’s transit point,” Cisneros said.

A transformation none too soon, because developments have combined to threatened Panama’s geo-strategic relevance.

Wang Jing, an intensely private 40-year-old Chinese telecoms tycoon, has promised to complete a 170-mile, $40-billion waterway through Nicaragua from the Pacific to the Caribbean.

What is more, climate change threatens to open the once-fabled Northwest Passage. As more of the northern ice cap melts, it’s becoming possible for ships to pass through the Arctic from Asia to the Americas. That could make the Panama Canal far less important.

Cisneros, who took up his posting here in March 2012, has a lot on his diplomatic plate. He has got to manage the Herculean task of ensuring his nation’s canal remains as important in the next 100 years as it was in the 20th century.

Panama plans the launch of a massive new expansion of the Panama Canal as early as April 2015. In a national referendum in 2006, Panamanians voted overwhelmingly for the financing of a new building project. The $5.25 billion-project will widen and deepen the existing channel and create two new locks, one on the Atlantic side and one on the Pacific’s.

Perhaps most importantly, the refurbished canal’s new locks can accommodate mega, so-called post-Panamax vessels ― vessels the size of small cities and with cargo hulls to match.

That means more and more cargo is passing through the canal. Panama facilitated just half a million TEUs (Ten-foot-Equivalent Units) in 1997. In 2012, the canal saw 9 million TEUs pass through.

As expansive as the capacity of the canal is, the tiny Central American country already has plans for further upgrades.

“To put it in perspective, Singapore processed 15 million last year,” Cisneros said. “That is our aim in the next few years.”

Jorge Quijano, chief executive of the Panama Canal Authority, visited South Korea in May to flesh out interest in investing in the expansion by some of the largest users of the canal.

South Korea is a major player in global shipping.

More than 1,200 vessels out of a total of 9,000 registered in Panama are South Korean. SK Shipping, Hyundai Merchant Marine and Hanjin Logistics are three of the country’s largest transporters of goods.

Panama is also the dominate registration location. As of 2009, Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands were the world’s three largest registries in terms of deadweight tonnage, with more than 39 percent of the world’s ship-borne carrying capacity. Panama dominates the scene, its 9,000 ships accounting for almost 23 percent of the world’s DWT.

Now Panama plans to build bunker terminals, LNG terminals, ship building and repair facilities, and roll-on roll-off terminals, specialized container terminals for cars and trucks. The projects together could be worth billions of dollars, but an exact figure has yet to be finalized.

The final studies are being completed and an estimate of investment requirements will be announced in January, Cisneros said.

As part of its efforts to promote investment in the canal here, the Panamanian Embassy will host a seminar ahead of a reception celebrating the nation’s Independence Day in Seoul on Nov. 14.

Experts from Morgan & Morgan, one of the world’s largest legal, fiduciary, and financial services firms, will hold a seminar entitled “Panama, Connecting the World” before the Independence Day reception.

Jazmina Rovi, a partner at Morgan & Morgan, will discuss “Panama Flag Fleet: New Developments” and Juan David Morgan Jr. will discuss “Ship Arrest & Defenses in Panama.”

Morgan & Morgan Group launched MMG Trust in Panama in 1998 as the headquarters of the fiduciary activities of the group. Today, MMG Trust Panama is one of the leading trust companies in Central America, with one of the largest portfolios of assets in the region.