Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bush Wins in North Korea Deal

The metric by which any diplomatic deal is judged is simple: Which side got more for less? By that measure, the U.S. and the Administration of President George W. Bush are the hands-down winners in the North Korean nuclear deal announced this week.

It might not look that way at first. North Korea's 60-page declaration of its nuclear capabilities is probably only mildly helpful. It may contain new information on how much plutonium it has produced for its weapons arsenal, or shed light on other aspects of its program. But unpacking North Korea's lies from any strands of truth is a lifetime's work.

What the U.S. did get, though, was real progress on a long-standing aim - the destruction of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, where North Korea's plutonium has been produced. The 1994 deal agreed by the Clinton Administration required that nuclear work at Yongbyon be verifiably frozen, but the new deal requires that the plant be incapacitated. On Friday the North Koreans blew up the facility's cooling tower and they have also committed to destroying, under international monitoring, the other functioning parts of the plant.

Gary Samore of the Council on Foreign Relations, who negotiated the agreed framework in 1994 for President Clinton, says the new North Korean deal gets more than what he got on Yongbyon.

"The Bush Administration has achieved an additional measure beyond what the Clinton Administration achieved in terms of Yongbyon ... a very, very substantial disablement which would make it difficult and time-consuming for the North Koreans to resume production." Says his Council colleague Charles Ferguson, "The Bush Administration has achieved more than the Clinton Administration in terms of really doing a substantial amount of disablement of that facility."

And what did the U.S. give in order to achieve this? The primary chit handed over by the U.S. was to take North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. That sounds important, but Pyongyang has been on that list for more than a decade solely for the purposes of negotiation.

The last act that could qualify as a sponsorship of terrorism by North Korea was its involvement in the bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987, and diplomats have been dangling removal from the list for the better part of ten years as an inducement to give up some of their nuclear capabilities and information.

"The state sponsor of terror list is a very political list," says Ferguson, "From a technical standpoint they should have been taken off that list a long time ago." Most important, the only significant result of taking the North off the list is that the U.S. is no longer required by law to block international lending to Pyongyang. The U.S. still can, if it likes, block that lending given the control it has over such loans at the World Bank and elsewhere. "

If we learn 45 days from now that the North Koreans lied and cheated in their plutonium declaration," says Samore, "there's nothing that prevents the United States as a matter of policy from blocking loans."

None of which means the overall deal gets the U.S. free and clear of the North Korean nuclear threat. On the contrary, that threat is as bad as it has ever been, practically speaking. For starters, the North still has, by most estimates, between six- and ten-weapons worth of plutonium, obtained since the Bush Administration in 2001 abandoned negotiation in favor of confrontation. The U.S. has a long and hard road to negotiate that plutonium out of Pyongyang's hands. Just as bad, the North very likely has an equally threatening uranium-enrichment program separate from the plutonium program, and though no one knows where it is or how much, if any, highly enriched uranium it might be capable of producing.

Still, considering that U.S. negotiator Chris Hill has managed to get destruction of Yongbyan in exchange for the meaningless delisting, the U.S. and President Bush have made out quite well in this deal.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

New entrant comes to Korean condom market

Staff at Durex, the world’s largest condom maker, promote the security of condoms in downtown Seoul to mark the start of its business in Korea.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Why South Korea Won't Bite the Apple

South Korea is proud of its electronics makers and tech-savvy consumers. Samsung and LG won't roll out the welcome mat for the new iPhone 3G

Despite the buzz generated by the June 9 unveiling of the first major makeover of Apple's (AAPL) iPhone, there's one place on the planet the U.S. brand isn't likely to generate much buzz, at least in the near future: South Korea. The country is one of the most advanced mobile Internet markets in the world, and electronics companies have worked hard to make sure tech-savvy Korean consumers don't fall for foreign brands.

This is a place where Nokia (NOK) is virtually absent. Google (GOOG) has struggled in Korea too. Its six-year-old Korean-language search service lags far behind market leader NHN. And while consumers in other countries have embraced the iPod, most Koreans are just not that into Steve Jobs and the work of his Apple designers. Many analysts say the iPhone 3G, the next-generation iPhone (, 6/9/09) with faster Internet access that will sell for as low as $199 (half the current entry-level price), probably won't do the trick either. "Apple can't expect to be acclaimed as a premium brand in Korea," says Thomas Kang at market researcher Strategic Analytics.

The big problem for Apple is simple. Koreans are more attracted to phones made by local consumer-electronics powerhouses Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, both of which roll out scores of sleek multimedia handsets featuring leading-edge technologies every year. The Big Two together control nearly 80% of the Korean handset market.

Samsung's Answer to the iPhone
Eager to play up their innovation bona fides, the Korean companies are determined not to take a back seat to Apple. For instance, less than 24 hours before Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced details of the new iPhone, Samsung unveiled a new touchscreen smartphone, called Samsung Omnia, its answer to the new iPhone. LG, for its part, last year actually beat the original iPhone by three months in the race to introduce a touchscreen model, (, 5/1/08) offering the Prada phone, the outcome of LG's joint efforts with the Italian fashion house.

Like the iPhone, Samsung's Omnia works like a small handheld PC. It runs on Windows Mobile 6.1 and features Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Opera 9.5 as its Web browser. It also sports a 16 GB memory, a five-megapixel camera with antishake technology, music and video players, 3G capability, Bluetooth, WiFi, an FM radio, and GPS functionality. It will go on sale in Southeast Asia later in June and in Europe in July, though pricing has yet to be announced. "Although the iPhone boasts intuitive user interface, it doesn't really outshine Korean phones in functions and technologies," says telecom analyst Yang Jong In at brokerage Korea Investment & Securities.

Special Software for Internet Access
LG is working on a slew of new smartphones too. In the past two years, LG has changed into a trendsetter (, 5/8/08) from a second-tier phonemaker by launching models with a distinct look and feel. In April it rolled out the Secret, which used carbon fiber and tempered glass for the first time in a phone—a design meant to preserve the model's sleek style from wear and tear. It is also equipped with a five-megapixel camera, Movie Maker software enabling the user to mix music with videos, and a Google package allowing access to the Internet, Gmail, Google Maps, and YouTube videos.

Korea's regulatory requirements could also discourage the iPhone's debut in the market. To help smaller companies develop Internet-related applications at lower costs, the Seoul government in 2005 made it mandatory for all mobile-phonemakers and content providers to use a software standard for Internet access, called WIPI, or Wireless Internet Platform for Interoperability, in Korea. "I doubt Apple will be bothered to develop a new WIPI-enabled phone just for the Korean market," says spokesman O Young Ho of KT Freetel, Korea's second-largest mobile carrier, known as KTF, that is in talks with Apple to sell the new iPhone.

A Little Crack in the Armor?
Little wonder the three Korean operators aren't in a hurry to forge a partnership with Apple. Both SK Telecom, the country's largest wireless carrier, with a 50.5% market share, and LG Telecom (with 18%) have made it clear they have no plans to offer the iPhone. O says Apple is one of many phone manufacturers that KTF (with 31.5% share) is in contact with for its future handset lineup but admits there are big gaps in their negotiation terms.

Some industry-watchers bet KTF will eventually strike a deal with Apple, probably within a year. "KTF has been desperately trying to offer differentiated services to narrow its gap with SK, and the iPhone could be one option," says Stan Jung, telecom analyst at brokerage Woori Investment & Securities. Meanwhile, the Korean government says it will review its policy requiring WIPI for all Internet-capable phones now that business environments have changed in the past three years.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

North Korea invites TV crews for nuclear show

North Korea has invited foreign television stations to broadcast its planned destruction of a key facility at the Yongbyon nuclear complex, South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator said Sunday.

Five broadcasters — each from the five countries in nuclear talks with North Korea — have been asked to cover the planned blowing up of the cooling tower at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, Seoul's nuclear envoy Kim Sook told reporters.

Kim said CNN was chosen as U.S. broadcaster, but did not name the other four stations invited from South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

Pyongyang also has notified the five stations of a date for the tower's destruction, Kim said, without elaborating.

The North's move indicates a breakthrough is imminent in the impasse that has held up the six-party nuclear negotiations for months, since the tower's destruction is supposed to come only after Pyongyang submits its long-delayed list of nuclear programs.

North Korea agreed last year to disable its nuclear facilities and fully account for its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and political concessions.

The denuclearization process reached an impasse as Pyongyang failed to meet an end-of-2007 deadline for declaring its nuclear activities, although the North has made progress in disabling its nuclear facilities so they cannot be easily restarted.

Kim said the North is expected to present the nuclear declaration "soon" but declined to specify a date.

The cooling tower's destruction — a symbolic act designed to show Pyongyang's intent to abandon its nuclear ambitions — is part of a series of carefully sequenced reciprocal moves that
Pyongyang and Washington agreed to take to move the nuclear talks forward.

Once the North submits a nuclear declaration, the U.S. government is supposed to begin the process of taking Pyongyang off Washington's terrorism and sanctions blacklists. Next would come the North's destruction of the cooling tower, which is supposed be followed by a resumption of six-nation nuclear talks.

U.S. officials said all of these developments could happen within the next 10 days while U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in or en route to Japan, South Korea and China next week.

Kim said he would travel to Beijing later Sunday for talks with his U.S. and Chinese counterparts. U.S. chief nuclear envoy Christopher Hill has been in the Chinese capital since Friday for talks with China's envoy Wu Dawei.

The six-party nuclear talks were last held between late September and early October.;_ylt=AryjrS4PbaA8T2CVl1fQJ0dvaA8F


S. Korea, US agree on beef deal; protests continue

South Korea said it will resume imports of U.S. beef after American and South Korean suppliers agreed to block meat from older cattle, aiming Saturday to soothe health concerns that sparked weeks of demonstrations against new President Lee Myung-bak.

Still, protest leaders argued the plan doesn't go far enough and staged the latest of their daily candlelight rallies. The rally caused the main intersection in downtown Seoul to be blocked as thousands of riot police prevented demonstrators from marching to the presidential Blue House.
Procedures to put the new import agreement into effect were to start Monday, Trade Minister Kim Jong-hoon said, but it was not clear when American beef would reach South Korean markets.

Lee, a pro-U.S. conservative who took office in February, had agreed to allow resumed American beef imports in April — seeking to improve relations with Washington and pave the way for a larger free-trade deal between the two countries to help reinvigorate the South Korean economy.

The beef-loving South has allowed intermittent U.S. beef imports since banning it in 2003 after the first case of mad cow disease was discovered there.

The April agreement had few restrictions on what meat would be allowed, sparking protests against Lee for caving in to American demands and failing to consider public opinion about health risks. In the wake of demonstrations that grew as large as 80,000 people, Lee replaced all his top advisers and his entire Cabinet also has offered to resign.

The demonstrations have since dwindled, and police said about 9,600 protesters gathered Saturday evening in Seoul.

Some of them turned violent, however, dragging a police bus with ropes off a barricade and smashing its windows, TV footage showed. Riot police responded by spraying fire extinguishers at the demonstrators. There were no reports of serious injuries.

The U.S. government had refused to renegotiate the April deal, worried it would set a precedent for other countries to back out of trade agreements.

Instead, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said the new arrangement — agreed to after talks last week with her South Korean counterpart — was a "commercial understanding" between U.S. exporters and South Korean importers that only meat from cattle younger than 30 months would be shipped, believed to be less at risk for mad cow disease.

The plan is "a transitional measure, to improve Korean consumer confidence in U.S. beef," she said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will set up a "voluntary" system to verify the age of beef, Schwab said. If South Korea finds beef has been shipped that violates the agreement, it can take action only against the specific product or company involved.

"The age verification system will be in place until concerns over safety of U.S. beef subside," South Korean Trade Minister Kim told reporters in Seoul. He said South Korea will have the right to inspect U.S. slaughterhouses, and will not import parts of cattle such as brains, eyes, skulls and spinal cords that can carry mad cow disease.

The new agreement drew criticism from both sides in the trade dispute.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, argued there was no scientific reason to limit imports of American beef. U.S. meat has been certified as safe to consume by the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health.

"The implications of this agreement set an unfortunate precedent for U.S. beef trade with Korea and other countries," Baucus said in a statement.

The coalition of South Korean civic groups that has supported the protests said the voluntary agreement did not go far enough and vowed to continue demonstrating.

"We made it clear that a complete renegotiation is the only alternative that can fundamentally solve the people's concerns about mad cow disease," the coalition said in a statement.

Eating meat products contaminated with mad cow disease is linked to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and deadly nerve disease.;_ylt=AiEeYgYE7lkYlWHuGywhpZuyBhIF


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Korean Buddhists Worried About Beef Imports ?!?!?!?

Buddhist monks participate in a candlelight vigil on a street leading to the U.S. embassy and the presidential Blue House in central Seoul June 10, 2008. About one million people fearing infection of mad cow disease across the country demonstrated Tuesday evening to demand a full-scale renegotiation of a beef deal with the U.S. and the resignation of President Lee Myung-bak as they commemorate the historic June 10 mass pro-democracy demonstrations in 1987.