Ethnic Koreans in Ukraine major issue for Ukraine’s top resident envoy

[This story was written originally for The Korea Times on Feb. 22, 2012.]

Ukraine’s new envoy in Korea said his country considers the status of ethnic Koreans a major bilateral issue and his country is working to “further legalize their status.”

“Ukrainian Government has established a Special Committee on ethnic Koreans. Seven meetings of the Committee have taken place since its establishment in early 2007,” said incoming Ukrainian Ambassador to Korea Vasyl Marmazov.

Marmazov arrived in Korea on Oct. 25 and presented his Letter of Credence to President Lee Myung-bak in a ceremony at Chong Wa Dae, Nov. 25.

Viktor Tsoi is easily the most recognizable goryo-saram in Ukraine. He was a pioneer in rock in the 1970s and 1980s when Ukraine was a part of the USSR. He fronted the band Kino. Even today he is regarded as a Russian rock legend and has many devoted fans across East Europe and the CIS countries.

“A pilot project aimed at surveying ethnic Koreans living in southern regions of Ukraine has been conducted in order to further legalize their stay in Ukraine, he said.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and Ukraine. Both governments are celebrating the milestone year with cultural events.

“As it is known, at present more than 30,000 of ethnic Koreans live in Ukraine. Governments of both countries entered into constructive cooperation on solving the current issues of their residence.”

The majority of ethnic Koreans, so-called “goryo saram,” are not citizens of Korea and many are not documented descendants lacking legal status required to become citizens of Ukraine.

Ethnic Koreans in Ukraine were part of a large group that had fled the former Soviet Union, many from central Asia, at the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, and entered newborn states. They were forcibly re-located to central Asia from the Russian Far East during Stalin’s reign in the 1930s.

The Korean government maintains the treatment of ethnic Koreans in former Soviet Union states as top agenda item when high-level Korean and Ukrainian officials meet for political consultations.

Prime Minister Kim Hwang-Sik did so when he visited Ukraine in September 2011.
“He met with representatives of Korean diaspora living in Ukraine and positively assessed the efforts of the Ukrainian authorities in this sphere. Ukraine will continue to support ethnic Koreans living in Ukraine,” Marmazov said.

Ukraine has taken steps to legalize their status, but some in Ukraine there oppose the move, calling it an amnesty, obstructing government policy from moving forward quickly.




South Korea’s problem with how foreign brides are treated

The government tries to tackle the thorny issue of migrant brides and domestic violence.

A foreign bride dressed in a traditional Korean wedding outfit.

[This story was written originally for The Diplomat in January 2015.]

When she agreed to marry a foreign man 20 years her senior introduced to her through a local marriage broker, Do Thi My Tien was optimistic she could create a comfortable life for herself abroad.

Tien married Lee Geun-sik, a South Korean, and traveled a world away from her small village in Tay Ninh, a province 100 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City. In 2005, the newlyweds settled down in South Jeolla Province in the southwestern corner of the country.

But what began 10 years ago with so much hope and promise, ended last year on July 24 in a sordid murder. Police pulled Tien’s body from a deep gorge. She was 27 years of age.

A Vietnamese neighbor told police the couple was fighting days before Tien disappeared, according to local reporting. Lee admitted to killing Tien, and to tossing her body and scooter over the side of a mountain road in a half-baked attempt to conceal his crime. Lee apparently believed he could make it appear like a traffic accident, but the police immediately suspected foul play.

Tien’s death is an extreme and tragic example of the domestic violence that afflicts many families. In South Korea, a total of 123 women were killed by their husbands or partners in 2013, according to the Korea Women’s Hotline, a nationwide women’s group that works to stop domestic violence.

Foreigners account for just 2.5 percent of the population in South Korea, but with a comparatively high number of deaths involving foreign women since 2012, experts from government and nongovernment organizations agree that migrant women here are particularly at risk to domestic violence.

They disagree on much else. According to a senior official at the Gender Equality and Family Ministry, language and cultural barriers are largely to blame for the domestic violence that caused the slew of disturbing killings.

The above pie chart illustrates the number offoreign residents in South Korea as of the end of 2014. Note the majority of foreigners living in Korea at 53.7 percent include both ethnic Korean-Chinese and non-Korean Chinese Nationals.

“Think about it. Several decades ago, Korean women emigrated to Japan or America. They were poor. They didn’t even know who their husbands were. They didn’t speak English, so they couldn’t really often get out of the house. Their husbands started to ignore them. The wives didn’t work, they couldn’t cook American food,” said Choi Sung-ji, director of multicultural family policy at the Ministry of Gender Equality & Family, in explaining the domestic violence faced by migrant women in South Korea.

“The situation is similar in Korea now. Women from Southeast Asian countries come here for a better living without really knowing who they are getting married to. They didn’t get married out of love.”

“Rather, they met them but through marriage brokers,” she said, adding “If they don’t speak the Korean language and do not understand Korean culture, then they are at a disadvantage. There cannot be an equal relationship. “

Love and Marriage

The number of internaitonal marriages in South Korea has skyrocketed. Between 1990 and 2005, for instance, just 250,000 international marriages were registered in South Korea. But nearly as many – some 238,000 –  were registered in just six years, from 2006-2012.

The increase in international marriages started from 1990 for a specific reason: The Cold War ended. South Korea established diplomatic relations with Cold War foes China and Vietnam in 1992, opening up travel and communications for ordinary Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese.

Although international marriage accounted for only 1.2 percent of marriages in 1990, they represented 13.6 percent in 2006, a ten-fold increase.

As of September 2013 the single largest group of marriage migrants was Vietnamese women, nearly 40,000. Non-Korean Chinese and ethnic-Korean Chinese women formed the second and third largest groups, with women from Japan, the Philippines and Cambodia following them.

In 2007, South Korea’s Multicultural Families Support Act came into force and ushered the opening of multicultural centers around the country. The centers aim to provide various classes and services for migrant women and their families.

Though the act has seen a number of revisions over the years, a reliable constant is the steadily growing number of these government-run multicultural centers. The country has seen 50 such centers set up on an annual basis since 2007. In the past eight years, 217 centers have opened under the Gender Equality Ministry and the budget for multicultural families ballooned to $120 million, a 20-fold increase.


The proper role of these multicultural centers is a point of contention between the Gender Ministry and women and migrant rights groups.

While the centers provide practical classes, such as Korean language instruction, they do so only marginally. For example, only 400 hours a year of language education is guaranteed at any particular center, about an hour a day.

The centers appear more focused on delivering esoteric sounding services for migrant women, such as the so-called “multicultural perception improvement project;” the “family integrated education service,” which is described as providing “culture understanding education;” and the “bi-lingual environment promotion project.”

Choi, a director responsible for overseeing policy on multicultural families, said the programs are designed to foster respect for the mother’s culture in the home and in society.

Critics of that effort and the centers say the government is too focused on “cultural assimilation” and believe the government should instead emphasize legal protections for migrant women, preventing domestic violence and raising the awareness by married couples of human rights.

“Why are we having these classes? It’s a culture show of these women. These [217] multicultural centers are spending their money putting on culture shows. These classes should be fundamentally about raising awareness and teaching migrant women what their rights are,” said Heo Young-sook, secretary general of Women Migrant Human Rights Center of Korea. “Even though we are spending a lot of money on these centers, discrimination against migrant women is getting worse.”

Heo led a street demonstration in Seoul on Dec. 30 that eulogized the seven migrant women killed last year, during which she decried the failure by the government to protect migrant women from domestic violence. She outlined a number of needed changes, including a crackdown on exploitative marriage brokers and a better social system for preventing domestic violence in the country.

“One thing that has to change is the rules preventing new brides from obtaining South Korean citizenship,” she added.

Marriage Visas

If an F6 marriage visa is extended to a migrant newlywed, then he or she can stay in the country for two years. The biannual renewal of his or her visa status depends on the sponsorship of the South Korean spouse, as well as eligibility for permanent residency and naturalization.

The visa system makes marriage migrants vulnerable to domestic violence, insists Heo.

The system makes many marriage migrants dependent on their husbands for their visa status, which can lead abuse both physically and also emotionally, through isolation and seclusion.

To illustrate her point, Heo cited one of the seven women killed last year, a 22-year-old Vietnamese woman identified by the surname Nguyen. The migrant rights activist said she was undocumented because she was estranged from her husband. Nguyen was murdered by a 37-year-old male friend in a motel in Jeju City on Nov. 30.

The Gender Ministry’s Choi acknowledged that multicultural centers need to do a better job educating migrant women about their legal rights. She said a new class focusing on migrant rights will be introduced at centers starting from this year.

The Ministry of Justice also responded to high number of women killed and other reports of domestic violence by tightening requirements for obtaining marriage visas.

Those tougher requirements were welcomed by both inside and outside the government. Both Heo and Choi agreed with the stricter immigration measures.

Since April 2014, Korean spouses have had to meet income and other wealth minimums – an annual income of 14.8 million won ($14,000) – and stiffer language requirements for marriage migrants.

The new rules could have an effect on curbing the increasing rate of new international marriages. A study on marriage migration in South Korea found that over half of 945 multicultural families surveyed in 2006 earned less than the minimum wage (about $8,000 per year).

Whether making international marriages more difficult will decrease domestic violence and, indeed, decrease the number of migrant women killed through 2015 remains to be seen.

Scholar to publish book on Soviet involvement in the Korean War

This story was written originally for The Korea Times on Dec. 12, 2011.

An American professor, who brought to light in much more detail than ever before the nature and extent of the Soviet Union’s pivotal involvement in the Korean War, has decided during her six month teaching sabbatical in Seoul, to publish her original findings in a book for the Korean domestic audience.

Prof. Kathryn Weathersby, a visiting professor at Sungshin Women’s University in Seoul, mined Soviet archives for some four years in the early 1990s immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in search of the true nature of the relationship between North Korea and the former Soviet Union.

Weathersby revealed that North Korea’s Kim Il-sung had to first receive permission from the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin in order to invade South Korea, as well as logistical support, training and military advisors.

“Kim Il-sung was a young idealist picked by Stalin,” Weathersby said. “He was an underling and Stalin was the big boss. (Kim) had to turn to him to make a major decision like that.”

She is credited as having been the first scholar to bring to light in much more detail the extent of Soviet involvement in the Korean War. Many researchers followed her example, mining Soviet archives to help tell the story of the Cold War as history.

She said what was of importance in her search was Stalin’s calculation, not Kim’s. “Kim’s not thinking. He only wants to invade the South, bring his revolution to the South. He’s not a careful tactician,” said Weathersby, a professor of political science and diplomacy, in an interview with The Korea Times at her office on the campus of the women’s college in Seoul.

She said she has not yet found a publisher, but she is aiming for 2012 for publication.

Weathersby received a Ph.D. in modern Russian history from Indiana University in 1990, with a second field in modern East Asian history. She said this is not her first time in Korea, but it is the professor’s first time for an extended stay.

She heads back to the United States this coming Thursday.

Her findings had a huge impact on how scholars and policy makers understand the Korean War and, by extension, the Cold War. In the 1990s, it was academically incendiary adding fuel to a polemical debate over how much Kim Il-sung was in actual control over the invasion he launched on June 25, 1950.

“It invalidated the so-called ‘revisionist school’ by showing that the decision was made directly by the Soviet Union,” she said, adding “it supported the original American decision to intervene.”

She cautioned against drawing direct parallels from a historical understanding to current political decisions.

“It’s not that there is a direct link between one piece of historical understanding and any specific current situation,” she said. “It does shape our collective understanding on issues like deterrence, on whether such policies worked in the past.”

Drones biz takes off in South Korea with its TR-60

South Korea's tilt rotor TR-60 can fly 40,000 feet into the air, carry a payload of 110 pounds and go over 300mpr
South Korea’s tilt rotor TR-60 can fly 40,000 feet into the air, carry a payload of 110 pounds and go over 300mpr

Techno Korea is doing drones now in a big way. The country’s TR-60 can fly 40,000 feet into the air, carry 110 pounds and go over 300 miles per hour.

South Korea is looking to get into the UAV business and its prized product looks like its 300 mph ‘Tilt Rotor’ drone, the TR-60.

 The TR-60 can fly about eight miles in the air and stay aloft for about six hours.  It can be used for a variety of civilian and military purposes, including surveillance, search and rescue, and other missions.

Its big feature is that the TR-60 can go ridiculously fast, up to 310 mph. It can also fly up to six hours at those speeds and carry a payload of about 110 pounds, enoug for some serious video and photo equipment. So, it looks like it is meant for serious surveillance.

From Seoul to Pyongyang, with love,  I guess.

It’s pretty high-tech, though. It takes off vertically like a helicopter, and then rotates its two props to fly like an airplane. It can ascend into the stratosphere, some 40,000 feet above the surface of the Earth. Impressive, right?

It is a show piece of a drone for South Korea, because the country is known for high tech and so it had to do something a little sophisticated to make good on that reputation. The country is just getting into the UAV business. But the TR-60 proves that Asia’s third-largest economy can do drones in a big way.

It was developed by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) at a cost of $91 million and first got local press earlier this year, around in April.  Commercialization is still in the planning stages and, according to local press reports, won’t go on sale until 2023. So, why did KARI do the media rounds in April? Beats me.

You know Seoul is serious about getting into the commercial UAV business because the country’s Transportation Ministry recently revamped its regulations on testing experimental drones in September (this month).

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation will create special airspace in five areas for night time, high altitude drone flights by next month (October). This move is for civilian use. So, not just military stuff, but for all manner of new drones. The ministry will also permit five corporations that can get into the UAV business.

Proposed civilian uses include deliveries, advertisements, games and safety and land inspections. Right now, the only business activities allowed are forestry, agriculture and surveying.

Basically, in South Korea, hobbyists do not play around with drones. It is the purview of big chaebol and big government.

In 2013, 238 UAVs weighing less than 150 kg were registered. In 2014, 364 were registered.  As of July of this year (2015), 716 were registered.

Civilians must get special permission from the government to play around with anything weighting 12 kg and up. There is talk of easing up on the high school kid in street to let him use one 25 kg and up.

All drones 12 kg and more must registered regardless, but the government will tighten rules. Soon, anything 5 kg and heavier must be registered with the authorities.

In 2013, 116 businesses were registered as UAV-users. As of July of this year, the number of businesses with registered drones increased to 466. And those with licenses increased to 850 from 64  over the past two and half years.

Samsung completes merger of de facto holding company after public spat with US fund

samsung girls
Samsung Electronics models show off their wares in this promo.

Samsung C&T becomes the de facto holding company of Samsung Group — known mostly for its crown jewel, Samsung Electronics — reinforcing control of the sprawling conglomerate by the founding Lee family and its heir apparent Lee Jae-yong.

[This story was written originally for ZDNet Korea on Sep. 2, 2015.]

Samsung C&T Corporation and Cheil Industries on Tuesday officially completed their merger as the new integrated Samsung C&T, the company announced.

Following the merger’s completion, Samsung C&T becomes the de facto holding company of Samsung Group —  known mostly for its crown jewel, Samsung Electronics — reinforcing control of the sprawling conglomerate by the founding Lee family and its heir apparent Lee Jae-yong, also known as JY Lee, analysts in Seoul said.

The company said it now has combined assets totaling 40 trillion won and aims to generate sales of 60 trillion won annually from 2020 by capturing “new business opportunities in fast growing industries to become a global business partner that offers a full-range of products and services,” the company said in a statement.

“The merger between Cheil and Samsung C&T was done because C&T owns 4 percent of Samsung Electronics. JY Lee is the largest shareholder of Cheil Industries,” said Jonathan Hwang, IT analyst at KDB Daewoo Research in Seoul. “So, JY Lee can now have an indirect ownership by merging these two companies. That 4 percent stake is what he wanted.”

Investors gave the merger the go-ahead during a shareholders meeting on July 17 after a prolonged, public and often bitter dispute that pitted Samsung against US-based billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Elliott Singer.

Samsung won approval for the merger with 69.53 percent of votes cast, or 92.02 million shares out of 132.35 million shares, slightly more than the required two-thirds majority.

Elliott Management, which was the third-largest shareholder in Samsung C&T, accused Samsung of low balling the value of Samsung C&T and sought to block the merger bid through a proxy vote and unsuccessful lawsuits.

The National Pension Service (NPS), an institutional Samsung investor _ in Cheil Industries with a 5 percent stake and in Samsung C&T with an 11.6 percent stake _ cast an influential bloc of votes in favor of the deal and central to Samsung’s victory. The NPS has stakes in nearly all the big conglomerates in South Korea.

When the deal was announced on May 26, Cheil’s stock price was 188,000 won, but trading three months later on Tuesday put its share price at 170,000 won, a 9.5 percent loss. Samsung C&T’s share price when the deal was announced was 63,500 won but, on Aug. 26, when trading was suspended, the price was 48,100 won, a loss in valuation of 24.2 percent. Trading will commence as new newly integrated Samsung C&T on Sep. 15.

“The stock price is not as good as expected. That is the problem that the current management is facing. They will likely respond more aggressively as a result to improve their financial performance,” said Shin Geon-cheol, Kyunghee University professor of business management. “The four major business units have merged into one. And, as you know, sometimes it is not so easy to have that synergistic effect”

The new integrated Samsung C&T is comprised of four distinct business groups each led by its own chief executive officer: the Engineering & Construction business will be led by Choi Chi-hun; Trading & Investment will be led by Kim Shin; its fashion business will be led by Yoon Ju-hwa; and its Resorts & Construction business will be led by Kim Bong-yung.

Samsung C&T said that “synergy” among its business units is achievable and will benefit shareholders. “New enterprise-wide units will be formed and a synergy committee for the four CEOs will generate cross-business benefits and ensure transparency and open communication,” the company said in a press statement.

Korea’s Daum Kakao re-names itself, Kakao

Daum Kakao will be just 'Kakao' in late September.
Daum Kakao will be just ‘Kakao’ in late September.

When Daum Kakao shareholders meetup on Sep. 23, the company will change its name by dropping the “Daum,” and call itself simply, Kakao, the company said.

[This story was written originally for ZDNet Korea on Sep. 1, 2015.]

The details for the name change have yet to be worked out, but when the company streamlines its dual-CEO structure with leadership in one person, 34-year-old Ji-hoon “Jimmy” Rim, it will also simplify its name.

Daum Kakao, valued at $7 billion, was created last year when chat app giant Kakao merged with the country’s second largest search giant Daum.

The name change means Daum, the once mighty rival to Naver, the country’s largest search giant, will become history. Before the merger, Daum was suffering revenue losses from failing to adapt to mobile and losing out to Naver.

The announcement, along with its more youthful leadership, might not indicate a wholly new corporate direction, but it is hoped the changes will bolster its strategy as a mobile platform services provider.

Daum Kakao reported on Aug.13 revenues of 226.5 billion won for the second quarter with mobile-related businesses making up 52 percent, or 117.78 billion won. Its third quarter results are scheduled to come out sometime in November, the company said.

“We have always been a mobile-focused company. We felt it would be best for our identity to match that with a new name. It re-enforces our strategy as a mobile services provider,” said corporate spokesperson Buster Seo. “Kakao Talk is our signature service, and we will focus on services linked to Kakao Talk and online-to-offline services like Kakao Taxi and Kakao Pay.”

Even before there was Samsung Pay, shoppers had a dizzying array of mobile payment services to choose from, such as SK Planet’s Syrup Pay, Shinsegae’s SSG Pay, NHN’s Payco, and even portsal site Naver has Naver Pay.

Kakao also has a mobile payment service: Kakao Pay. The company said it passed the 5 million-users mark in August. “For Samsung Pay a user is required to have a newer Samsung device in order to use the service. But with Kakao Pay, all that is required is to download KakaoTalk app regardless of the device or the phone’s OS,” Seo said.

By any other name

The company’s name change may help it focus on its mission as a mobile services platform, but the name’s origin is somewhat of a mystery. The name “Kakao” is straight forward enough. It is the Korean language pronunciation of the word “cacao,” the source of chocolate.

“It just means chocolate because, you know, everyone likes chocolate. It tastes good,” Seo said, on what Kakao means. “But no one really knows who came up with it or how they came up with the name.”

When Kakao was formed in 2010, few records were formally maintained. It was a small IT venture company with a very small staff, Seo explained. There are many origin myths, he said, but no one knows what really happened.

Names go to the root of Kakao’s corporate culture. Kakao is reputed for eschewing formal and hierarchical titles typical at Korean companies. It goes back to Confucianism. In Korea, employees typically use a superior’s official corporate title to refer to him or her instead of their birth name.

Each person of Kakao’s staff of 3,200 pick an English language nickname and use it to refer to one another. It appears that at Kakao names matter. So, why did the company wait so long to adopt its new name?

“At the time our focus was completing the merger successfully and transferring Daum’s content onto the mobile platforms that Kakao had. So, I think it made sense at the time, but it will be one year on Oct. 1 since the merger. Now we are making adjustments accordingly,” Seo said.

Will Samsung’s introduction of Gear S2 boost the smartwatch market?

Global analysts estimate over 25 million smartwatches will be shipped in 2015, but South Korean analysts are not convinced.

[This story was written originally for ZDNet on Aug. 18, 2015.]

Samsung's early  marketing for its new wrist wearable included avante weirdness like this poster one shown in New York City during its unpack event in August 2015.

Samsung’s early marketing for its new wrist wearable included avante weirdness like this poster one shown in New York City during its unpack event in August 2015.

Handsets are so last year; 2015 is the battle of the wrists. Dismissed as just a fad in 2014, smartwatches recently made an impressive comeback. But will they last?

Samsung played a surprise teaser of its anticipated round-watch offering, the Gear S2, which will be unveiled at the upcoming IFA tradeshow in September.

n recent times, Garmin launched three different smartwatches, and LG added WebOS to its line along with G Watch and G Watch R.

In July, Strategy Analytics (SA) estimated that 28.1 million smartwatches will be shipped in 2015, 15 million of which will come from Apple alone. Apple has dominated so far this year by devouring Samsung’s market share; four out of every five smartwatches are Apple’s wrist wearables, SA said. The company itself has remained silent on actual sales.

So they’ve many products and an optimistic outlook, but is it justified?

Analysts in South Korea are becoming sceptical of statistics tossed easily with a flick of the proverbial wrist.

Statista the total number of smartwatch shipments in 2015 will be 25 million — 3.1 million fewer than SA’s estimation — but even that is an optimistic figure according to Ha Joon-doo, IT analyst at Shinhan Securities in South Korea.

“In my opinion this number for 2015 will be less than 20 million for the year. It also depends on whether you include health wrist bands in with your smartwatch figure,” Ha said, adding that Apple’s total shipments for 2015 will likely total less than 10 million.

But why the discrepancies? The numbers can be easily fudged depending on your definition of a “smartwatch”. If you draw a Venn diagram for fitness tracking bands and smartwatches, you will find there is a lot of shared space.

Indeed, according to Statista, total shipments of “wearable technology” forecast for 2015 will be 168 million units, although that is including more than just smartwatches.

“I think the smartwatch strategy — I mean other than Apple Watch — has really failed,” Ha said.

“I can see some people are using it, but the functionality of the Apple Watch isn’t adequate even now. Apple Watch is nice as a fashion accessory, but there still isn’t any killer app for the device.”

A smartwatch is designed to sport a plethora of functions in addition to telling the time. A fitness band is not; it is dedicated to fitness tracking. But nothing is black-and-white; some fitness bands will display the time and pair with a phone to receive notifications. Many smartwatches include health monitoring as one of its functions, and the difference between the two is getting foggier and foggier.

“I still think it is in the development stages right now. People are still testing initial models,” said Damon Kim of the international equity division of Shinhan Investment.

“I still think they have more phases to go through for these smartwatch makers. Some of the functions are quite useful, but I am pretty sure both manufacturers and consumers have to study what smartwatches will do to their businesses.”

Basically, analysts said the market has yet to really mature. One hiccup is third-party apps, according to one investment expert — there are few apps available.

“Facebook turned down Apple’s proposal to come up with a Facebook app for the Apple Watch. That to me is an indication that the market is still too immature,” said David Yang of South Korea-based Shin and Chang Investment Consulting.

Samsung is the second-most marketable device maker after Apple, and a September launch of a new watch may just inject the market with the life it needs. Then again, it could fail and be forgotten among the whole litany of products that we really don’t know are selling well or not.