Tag: South Korea

Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong charged for bribery scandal, gets 2.5 years of prison term
Asia Pacific Focus

Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong charged for bribery scandal, gets 2.5 years of prison term

Samsung heir Lee Jae Yong: A high court in South Korea has sentenced Lee Jae two years and six months of prison term. Yong has been sentenced for bribery scandal, the case retrial of the one that had earlier charged former South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Park has also been jailed for bribery and corruption. 

The decision has put Samsung’s future in jeopardy and Lee is likely to have ramifications over his future and role in the tech giant. Since 2014 Lee has been the head of Samsung Electronics, after his father Lee Kun-hee, the Samsung group titan, suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized. Mr. Lee Kun-hee passed away last year. 

Furthermore, the news of Lee’s sentence plummeted Samsung Electronics shares by over 4%. The shares later took hold of the ground. 

Experts fear that the sentencing will lead to a leadership vacuum in Samsung and bring decision-making mechanism to a road-block regarding future major investments. 

The court ruled, “Lee actively provided brines and implicitly asked the president to use her power to help his smooth succession” as Samsung head. It added, “It is very unfortunate that Samsung, the country’s top company and proud global innovator, is repeatedly involved in crimes whenever there is a change in political power.” 

Lee’s legal team was disappointed with the decision. Lee has 18 months left to be served, as already served detention time would be counted towards the sentence. 

South Korean court found Lee guilty of embezzlement, bribery and concealment of criminal proceeds worth approximately 8.6 billion won ($7.8 million). 

This is not the first time that Lee has been accused of bribery and has engaged in a legal battle. Lee was first arrested in February 2017 as he was on verge of becoming Samsung’s leader. The case was regarding his role in a corporate and political scandal that also involved then president Park Geun-hye.

Samsung, under Lee, was accused to paying 43bn won to two non-profit foundations operated by Park’s friend Choi Soon-sil. These foundations had allegedly paved way to make Lee the head of Samsung by baking a controversial merger in Samsung. 

South Korea’s Ex-President Park to serve 20-years in prison
Asia Pacific Focus

South Korea’s Ex-President Park to serve 20-years in prison

South Korea’s Ex-President: On Thursday, the apex court of South Korea reasserted the verdict with regard to 20-years imprisonment of former President Park Geun-hye. South Korea’s  ex-President was arrested in 2017 due to her involvement in multiple crimes ranging from abuse of power, embezzlement of funds to bribery. Besides the sentence, she was fined with 18 billion won ($16.4 million) and was asked to forfeit another 3.5 billion won.

The 68-year-old, faced impeachment in 2016 and was officially thrown out of the power in in March 2017. She was taken into custody towards the end of that month and has since been kept behind bars. Park was excommunicated from the presidential office before the completion of her five-year term. She still had one year left when she was booted out. 

The immediate cause of her exit was violation of the country’s election law, as she interfered in a party nominee selection ahead of the 2016 general election. Besides, in her subsequent trials, she was also charged for taking bribes from big conglomerates such as Samsung and Lotte Group and was accused of conspiring with her longtime friend Choi Soon Sil.

Park called herself a victim of political retribution and stopped attending court sessions since initial phase of her trials. She did not even appeal against the verdict of the Seoul High Court, which awarded her 20-year sentence in July 2020. The final sentence 20-years of imprisonment was 10 years less than what was originally proposed. According to the earlier verdict, Park was to serve 30-years in jail, including 25 years for bribery involving transactions from big corporate houses, and five years for misappropriation of funds related to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

But in October 2019, country’s Supreme Court ordered the Seoul High Court to treat her bribery case separately from other charges. The apex court eventually repealed the verdict sending it back to a lower court for a retrial. It resulted in the Seoul High Court giving ruling of 20-years of imprisonment in July.

S Korea’s Moon Jae-in grapples with falling approval ratings
Asia Pacific Focus

S Korea’s Moon Jae-in grapples with falling approval ratings

Moon Jae-in grapples: At a time when Moon Jae-in’s approval ratings are falling, Blue House announced a cabinet reshuffle

Amid a range of policy failures and mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis, Moon Jae-in’s approval rating fell to an all-time low this week. A weekly poll on Thursday showed South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating falling by 1.5 percentage points to 35.1 percent in the first week of January 2021. At the same time, his disapproval rating hit a record high of 61.7 percent, with about 34.2 percent of respondents in South Korea backing the main opposition People Power Party (PPP).

This approval rating has come as a warning to Moon Jae-in’s presidency in South Korea as it reached its lowest point since his inauguration in May 2017. This development has come as a result of the Moon administration’s inability to bring stability to South Korea’s housing market.

His government’s policies also failed to improve the livelihood of people amid the pandemic circumstances. While South Korea was lauded for its proactive response to COVID-19, it’s expedient measures couldn’t control the virus spread as cases continued to rise in major cities. Amid the pandemic, economy deteriorated, unemployment rose and workers faced mass layoffs which led to a reduction in support rate for the Moon administration. 

An increasing conflict and political bickering between Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl over prosecutorial reforms has also impacted people’s support on Moon and the ruling DPK.

At a time when Moon Jae-in’s approval rating reduced, the Blue House announced new appointments for presidential chief of staff and senior secretary for civil affairs backed by the President. Former Chief of Staff Noh Young-min presented the new cabinet members – Yoo Young-min as the new presidential chief of staff and Shin Hyun-soo as the new senior secretary for civil affairs. With Yoo’s expertise in science and ICT, Moon is aiming to work on various state affairs in a bid to lead the fourth industrial revolution. Newly-appointed senior secretary for civil affairs reportedly has a robust expertise in reformation of the judicial system as he previously worked as a planning director at the National Intelligence Service.

In addition, Moon decided to restate Kim Sang-jo as the presidential chief of staff for policy, particularly at a time when the country is fighting with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Significantly, according to experts, this untimely cabinet reshuffle has come at a time when Moon is struggling with decreasing approval rating. With these new appointments, the President is aiming to better manage the state affairs in order improve his approval rating among the public. 

South Korea & Iran standoff: South Korea sends forces near strait of Hormuz as Iran rejects releasing captured vessel
Asia Pacific Focus

South Korea & Iran standoff: South Korea sends forces near strait of Hormuz as Iran rejects releasing captured vessel

South Korea & Iran standoff: Strait of Hormuz is witnessing arrival of South Korean forces as Iran is coerced to release captured South Korean flagged tanker that was seized with crew onboard on Monday. The tanker is being put at Iran’s Bandar Abbas port city. 

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have cited the reason of taking control of the vessel, Hankuk Chemi, along with its 20 crew members that it was “polluting the Persian Gulf with chemicals”. 

On Tuesday, South Korea’s destroyer, The Choi Young, arrived at a strategically critical location carrying Cheonghae anti-piracy unit members. Seoul is looking for a diplomatic way out of the rift. Officials have stressed that no military operation is on cards for now in an attempt to free the crew onboard. The crew consists of 5 South Koreans, 2 Indonesians, 11 Myanmarese and 2 Vietnamese. 

South Korea foreign ministry spokesperson Boo Seung-chan said, “The destroyer is carrying out missions to ensure the safety of our nationals.” 

Owner of Hankuk Chemi said that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops had stormed into the vessel and forcibly changed its course towards Iran. This however is contradicting to Iran’s claims that the vessel was stopped for polluting the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz by chemical spillage. The tanker was said to be carrying 7,200 tonnes of ethanol.  

There also has been a speculation that the whole incident was carried out to pressurize Seoul to release billions of dollars of frozen Iranian assets in South Korea, a part of US sanctions. South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha hasn’t responded to this speculation directly but conveyed the priority to “verify the facts and ensure the safety of the crew members.” 

Kang added, “We have been trying to figure out what happened through the Iranian embassy in South Korea and the South Korean embassy in Iran and are continuing to make efforts to address the situation.”

South Korea and Japan scramble jets to shadow bombers by Russia and China
Asia Pacific Focus

South Korea and Japan scramble jets to shadow bombers by Russia and China

South Korea & Japan scramble jets: Russian and Chinese bombers carried out a joint patrol mission on Tuesday over the Pacific, as an exhibit of their growing military alliance, and this sent a panic alarm in the region. Japan and South Korea then dispatched their jets to track the bombers as a precautionary measure. 

Russian military released the information of its pair of Tu-95 strategic bombers and four of Beijing’s H-6K bombers to have flown over the western Pacific’s Sea of Japan and East China Sea.

Japan scrambled its fighter jets to track the bombers which had flown over the conflicted islands of Takeshima/ Dokdo. The islands located in the Sea of Japan are under administration of South Korea, but claimed also by Japan. The Beijing and Moscow authorized bombers had also flown over the Tsushima Strait that separates Japan from the southernmost part of Korean peninsula. Furthermore, the bombers also flew near southern island of Okinawa where thousands of US troops are present. 

South Korea too scrambled its jets after the bombers. The Yonhap news agency said it was “in preparation for accidental situations after they entered the country’s air defense identification zone.” 

South Korean foreign ministry and military have said to have contacted Russian and Chinese counterparts over the concerns raised by aforesaid incident. 

Defence ministry of Russia has said that the joint mission with China was aimed to “develop and deepen the comprehensive Russia-China partnership, further increase the level of cooperation between the two militaries, expand their ability for joint action and strengthen strategic stability.” The ministry noted that patrol was not intended against any third country. 

This mission has been the second such patrol mission over the same area since July 2019. 

It must be noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had noted back in October that a future alliance between Moscow and Beijing can’t be ruled out. Putin had also said that Russia has been sharing military technologies with China, hinting at strengthened military alliance between the countries. This is specifically critical amid growing rift between the nations and US. 

Covid-19 in the world, vaccine and new restrictions

Covid-19 in the world, vaccine and new restrictions

Vaccine and new restrictions: The coronavirus pandemic has killed at least more than 1.6 million people worldwide since December 2019, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University. Local authorities have officially diagnosed around 72 million cases. To date, the United States remains the country most affected by COVID-19, with nearly 300,000 deaths. Brazil follows with more than 181,000, India over 143,000, Mexico almost 114,000, and Italy more than 64,000. In North Africa, especially Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria, the virus is already out of control. Despite the restrictive measures, the lack of control by the central authorities has made the tracking of infections lose sight. Furthermore, the social stigma and religious approach to the pandemic among the population have meant that many infected people have not carried out any tests.

U.S. President Donald Trump has already made it known that he will stick to his “America first” also with regard to the vaccine. According to The New York Times, White House staff members who work closely with US President Donald Trump will be among the first in the country to receive the coronavirus vaccine. After the approval of Pfizer’s vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the distribution of the vaccine began in the United States yesterday. For now, the vaccination is limited to high-risk workers in the facilities hospital and welfare. The Trump administration aims to stop the infections that have occurred at the top of the executive power in recent months. The goal is to get the entire staff of the White House to be vaccinated.

The United Kingdom is the first in Europe to administer the vaccine to risk groups. The provider of services for the British health system “Nhs Providers” said it was concerned about the trend of infections in England, asking that further restrictions be introduced “without any delay,” under penalty of overwhelming hospitals by a third wave of Covid infections -19. The Providers, in a letter sent to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, asked the government to exercise extreme caution in the review of the tiered restrictions system scheduled for Wednesday, December 16. And to have no hesitation in including areas of the nation, London as well, under the most stringent level 3 restrictions as soon as the number of infections made it immediately necessary. The most worrying factor, according to the NHS, is that the increases seen in some areas of the UK come at the end of a second national quarantine.

Germany launches the Christmas squeeze: between next Wednesday, December 16, and January 10, the lockout of all non-essential shops and services, the closure of schools, or, in any case, the obligation of distance lessons. Only grocery stores, pharmacies, and banks remain open. Travel is not recommended, the home office is suggested, religious ceremonies and masses are subject to severe limits. Angela Merkel announced yesterday at the end of the brief meeting with the Land, during a press conference with the Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz, and the governors of Berlin and Bavaria, Michael Mueller and Markus Soeder. “We need to act urgently,” underlined the chancellor, adding that “the goal is to return to 50 infections per 100 thousand inhabitants”.

The first Covid-19 vaccine landed on Canadian soil on Sunday. Canada and the United States will be the first Western nations after the United Kingdom to start vaccinations: “The first batch of doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covi-19 vaccine has arrived in Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Twitter. Sunday night where he posted a photo of a cargo plane being used to carry the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and Germany’s BioNTech SE. As for the UK, Canada Government affirmed that the initial 30,000 doses are reserved for the most vulnerable people, including the elderly in long-term care facilities and healthcare workers. Nearly 300,000 doses were expected by the end of the year, General Dany Fortin, responsible for the distribution of the vaccines, told Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Despite the good news, Trudeau said: “Our fight against Covid-19 is not over”.  Canadian federal health authorities expect a rapid acceleration of the COVID-19 spread. That is why they asked the provinces on Friday to impose additional health restrictions ahead of the holidays. The country had over 460,000 confirmed cases, with nearly 6,000 new infections reported only yesterday. The pandemic leftover 13,000 deaths in Canada, including 81 on Saturday.

South Korea has ordered the closure of schools from tomorrow in the capital Seoul and in the surrounding areas where the infections have exceeded the peak in February. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) yesterday reported 718 new cases of coronavirus, down from the daily record increase of 1,030 the previous day; 682 are related to local transmission. Most of the new contagions were recorded in the Seoul metropolis, the nearby port city of Incheon, and in the province of Gyeonggi, which is home to over 25 million people.

New Zealand agreed on Monday to allow non-quarantine travel with Australia in the first quarter of 2021, nearly a year after blocking its borders to protect its population from the new coronavirus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government has agreed in principle on a non-quarantine, trans-Tasman travel bubble pending confirmation from the Australian government and no significant change in circumstances in either country. A trans-Tasman travel bubble has been under discussion for months, and many Australian regions have allowed New Zealanders to enter without quarantine requirements since October, but New Zealand had not reciprocated.

Japan and South Korea work towards mending bilateral ties 
Asia Pacific Focus

Japan and South Korea work towards mending bilateral ties 

Japan and South Korea: After a long time on Nov 13, a group of South Korean legislators met Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the midst of growing hopes for advancement in ties between the two countries tattered over trade and historical issues. 

Seven individuals from the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union came to Tokyo for a three-day visit on Thursday, gave a courtesy call on the new Japanese pioneer. This was the first time that Suga met South Korean lawmakers since he took office as the new PM in September.

Japan and South Korea have conflicted over Tokyo’s export checks a year ago that is viewed as a political reprisal for Korean Supreme Court decisions in 2018 that mandated Japanese firms to remunerate South Koreans casualties of wartime forced labor. Japan controlled the Korean Peninsula between 1910-1945. 

The two nations continue to be profoundly divided over many historical issues, these member groups play a significant role in mending bilateral relationship for their respective regimes.

On Thursday, the officials had a one-on-one meeting with the Japanese partners and discussed ways to boost cooperation and trades between the two nations. The lawmakers consented to frame a special panel devoted to bilateral relations for the Tokyo Olympic Games, which have been deferred to 2021 because of the pandemic.

The Japan-South Korea Parliamentarians’ Association comprises of Diet members in the two houses. The two groups reach several trade meetings and pay courtesy calls to the leader of South Korea or the Japanese prime minister.

The affiliation negotiation between the two governments takes into consideration more adaptable and open trades contrasted with those that happen in summits between Japan and South Korea. The meetings permit the two sides to pass on unofficial information from their administrators too. 

In 2018, the relations between Japan and South Korea dropped to rock bottom when South Korea’s Supreme Court ruled Japanese firms to compensate South Koreans and their family members that were forced to work during World War II. 

The bilateral relations between the two nations have been hampered by disputes and the emergence of the pandemic as well. The December meeting had been viewed as a route for the three heads to talk about these different issues vis-à-vis. 

The Korean affiliation was driven by recently appointed leader Kim Jin-Pyo. Kim stated regretted that the historical problems endured and that there was an adverse economic effect.

While there was no forward leap on the historical issues, the two sides consented to collaborate toward the Tokyo Olympics, set for 2021, and also to proceed with their discourse.

“We will work collectively with Japan to secure democracy, universal principles, and values of international law,” Moon stated. “I hope the bilateral partnership to uphold human rights would operate as a ‘bridge of friendship’ between South Korea and Japan.”

RCEP, the largest trade agreement in the world has born

RCEP, the largest trade agreement in the world has born

The largest trade agreement: The free agreement in history has been signed in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi. We are talking about Asia, and yes above all, about China. In fact, Beijing brings home an unprecedented result: a commercial alliance with the nearby “Asian tigers” and with Australia and Japan, long ago in the US orbit created by Obama thanks to the TPP, later abandoned by Trump. An abandonment that left the Land of the Rising Sun orphan of its major commercial partner and which therefore forced him to turn to the second on the list, namely China, with which, however, he had not yet signed any commercial agreement. 

And in addition to the unpublished agreements on duties, eCommerce, and intellectual property, what stands out most of all is precisely this newfound multilateralism in a region, that of Asia-Pacific, which has always been studded with differences and frictions. Thanks to the RCP, and to the end of America first, Beijing proves that it can become the new epicenter of multilateralism, by signing an agreement of historic significance. For the first time, three of the top four Asian economies – China, Japan, South Korea – will be part of the same free trade agreement.

For some time, China has been trying to establish itself in the Asian region as a champion of multilateralism. And not just in Asia; we think of the new Silk Road, of investments in Africa, of those in European ports and commercial hubs, Italy in the lead. The RCEP is nothing more than a – great – complement to a party strategy that starts from far away. In addition to its immense commercial grade, the agreement has a significant political value.

 In the competition with the United States for world supremacy, Beijing has patiently and determinedly pursued its diplomacy, and it has built, for now only on paper, an influence block which represents 30% of global GDP and which, nevertheless, welcomes Washington’s old allies. However, it is a success for the whole area. From Japan, which manages to defuse the ongoing trade war between China and Australia, to then move on to the same ASEAN area, which expects to benefit widely from the reduction in tariffs.

Even with India absent, the numbers of the agreement are impressive. We are talking about an area that, as we have seen, produces almost a third of world GDP and hosts 2.7 billion people. It includes all ten ASEAN countries, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plus China, Australia, South Korea, Japan, and New Zealand. Observers estimate that it will strengthen economic ties within the region and add about $ 200 billion a year to the global economy. In terms of the GDP of the signatory countries, it will also have a greater weight than NAFTA in North America and the European Union itself. The result for Asia will be the strengthening of regional supply chains. An aspect on which Beijing is increasingly aiming to reduce Asian dependence on the United States.

The focal point of the agreement reached is the commitment to progressively reduce duties by up to 90% on goods in circulation over 20 years – to 65% in the short term. That means goodbye to the many bilateral agreements in Asia that limited the circulation of goods and caused costs to rise. Thanks to the RCEP, it will no longer be necessary to conclude specific agreements between two states each time to remove duties on traded goods. From now on, a member country of the RCEP producer will be able to trade freely with all the other 14 nations of the agreement. According to analysts’ estimates, 86% of Japanese industrial exports to China and 92% of exports to South Korea will benefit from the cancellation of existing tariffs.

 The most important novelty is represented by the “rules of origin,” as the rules officially define the origin of a finished product. Today, a product made in Thailand that contains New Zealand parts, for example, could be subject to duties in some Asian states. Under the RCEP, on the other hand, the components of any member country would be treated in the same way, giving companies in the area an incentive to seek suppliers within the commercial region.

North Korea suspends all communications with South Korea
Asia Pacific Focus

North Korea suspends all communications with South Korea

North Korea, on 9 June, announced that it is severing hotline communication with South Korea. Subsequently, it will sever other ties with South Korea. The announcement was reported in the North Korean state news agency KCNA.

Earlier last week, North Korea had threatened to close the liaison office with South Korea and other collaborative projects. The action was taken after North Korea accused Seoul of sending leaflets and other objectionable materials to North Korea.

The KCNA report adds that top North Korean officials, including Kim Yo Jong, sister of supreme leader Kim Jong Un, are for actions against South Korea.

The action will mean North Korea will shut down communication with inter-Korean liaison offices and hotlines connecting the two countries. Hotlines connecting the two heads of nations will also be suspended.

According to a South Korean spokesperson, North Korea refrained from customary calls to liaison offices or in the two hotlines.

The two Koreas are engaged in routine calls every day, which are a way to manage essential means of communication.

The South Korean unification ministry, which is responsible for managing affairs with North Korea, said that it would continue to work towards agreed principle to maintain peace and prosperity in the Korean peninsula.
Yesterday, North Korean officials did not attend the morning call. However, they responded to the afternoon call.

The two sides had set up this arrangement in 2018 to diffuse tension. In the same year, leaders of both the Koreas had met thrice to initiate dialogue.

The channels of communication are critical to the peace process, which aims to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program. International sanctions remain imposed against the regime in North Korea for its weapons program.

As per reports, influential Kim Yo Jong also wants to walk out of the military agreement signed with Seoul.

Analysts believe that the actions might be related to economic hardships caused by the sanctions rather than North Korean dissidents’ defection.

Relations with South Korea had deteriorated since last year when talks between US President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un failed to get any breakthrough in nuclear disarmament talks.

After the Korean war in 1950-53, the two Koreas, technically, remain in the war. Both sides ended the war by signing an armistice treaty rather than a peace treaty.

In South Korea, artificial intelligence is monitoring the health of the elderly
Asia Pacific Focus

In South Korea, artificial intelligence is monitoring the health of the elderly

The country is starting to channel its success in controlling the pandemic through technology into other aspects of healthcare.

South Korea was at one point an epicentre of the coronavirus. But with aggressive testing and extensive use of technology, they have been able to fight back. They have been lauded as a success story globally and this has also made their citizens more malleable to sharing their health data. This is apparent in the new enterprises springing up, like an experimental remote care service, where senior citizens are monitored 24/7 by voice-enabled smart speakers. This has especially become very popular since South Korea has an aging population, many of whom are poor and isolated from their families due to the virus.

Currently more than 3,200 people around the country have opted for this service, most of them are over 70 and living alone. The speakers listen to them throughout the day, monitoring for signs of danger while also using search words to look out for indications of loneliness or insecurity. The in-built artificial intelligence Aria also processes voice commands that can be used to look up news, music or general search. The devices can also quiz the residents to test their memory and cognitive functions, which can be used in recommending treatments.

Further, social workers who can also tap into the app if necessary and make calls or visits when something abnormal is detected or the device hasn’t been used in more than 24 hours. The government has exhibited keen interest in such technology as it can maintain quality welfare services for the elderly without the need for too much human involvement.

This is of course fraught with privacy concerns but the South Korean government is keen to allow businesses to access such information because they see data-driven enterprises providing a major boost to the pandemic-battered economy. Privacy activists and medical professionals who have been resisting such regulations so far have also been over-ridden by the mass adoption of such devices and apps in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic this year.

The public is now accustomed to handing over private health data for the benefit of both themselves and the community at large. Since the outbreak the government has been using mobile phone data, CCTV cameras and credit card records to find potential virus carriers. Tracking apps have been used to monitor quarantined individuals and the location history of patients have also been made publicly available.

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