South Korea Fines Google Almost $180m For Market Abuse

 

South Korea’s antitrust watchdog fined Google nearly $180 million on Tuesday for abusing its dominance in the mobile operating systems and app markets, it said, the latest in a series of regulatory moves against tech giants around the world.

The penalty came weeks after South Korea passed a law banning major app store operators such as Google and Apple from forcing software developers to use their payment systems, effectively declaring their lucrative Play Store and App Store monopolies illegal.

And last week a US judge ordered Apple to loosen control over its App Store payment system in an antitrust battle with Fortnite maker Epic Games.

Google and Apple dominate the online app market in South Korea, the world’s 12th largest economy and known for its technological prowess.

The Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) has investigated Google since 2016 for allegedly preventing local smartphone makers such as Samsung Electronics from customising its Android OS.

It said Google hampered market competition through an “anti-fragmentation agreement” preventing smartphone makers installing modified versions of Android, known as “Android forks”, on their devices.

“Because of this, device makers could not launch innovative products with new services,” the KFTC added in a statement.

“As a result, Google could further cement its market dominance in the mobile OS market.”

It fined Google 207.4 billion won ($176.8 million) and ordered the global tech giant to take corrective steps.

Google said the decision “will undermine the advantages enjoyed by consumers” and added it plans to appeal, according to Yonhap news agency.

“Android’s compatibility programme has spurred incredible hardware and software innovation, and brought enormous success to Korean OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and developers,” it cited Google saying in a statement.

“This, in turn, has led to greater choice, quality and a better user experience for Korean consumers.”

Google has maintained that its Play Store commissions charged are standard in the industry and fair compensation for building safe marketplaces where developers can reach people around the world.

The Play Store had revenues of almost 6 trillion won ($5.2 billion) in 2019, accounting for 63 per cent of the country’s total, according to data from Seoul’s science ministry.

South Korea Air Force Chief Resigns Over Sex Assault Case

Air Force Chief of Staff General Lee Seong-yong in a photo taken in 2010. He apologised for the death of the victim. (PHOTO: REPUBLIC OF KOREA AIR FORCE)

 

 

South Korea’s air force chief resigned Friday over the suicide of a woman master sergeant who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a colleague only to have her complaints ignored.

The incident has caused an outcry in the South, which maintains a conscript army to defend itself against the nuclear-armed North and remains deeply patriarchal despite its economic and technological advances.

The master sergeant, identified only by her surname Lee, is said to have been assaulted by her colleague in a vehicle in March, according to the defence ministry.

She filed a complaint, but her family says she was pressured by her superiors to drop the case and sign a settlement.

She was then transferred to a different base at her own request and found dead at her quarters late last month.

Her family says she left footage of her death on her phone, and her mother told a local broadcaster: “How can you protect a country when you can’t even protect a member of your own military?

“How could you make her feel this lonely? How could you make her feel there was no one there for her and she had to make such an extreme choice?”

By Friday afternoon around 350,000 people had signed a petition to the presidential office, calling for a thorough investigation.

A suspect in the case was arrested earlier this week and an investigation is continuing.

Air force chief general Lee Seong-yong offered his resignation Friday, which was quickly accepted by President Moon Jae-in.

“I feel heavy responsibility over the series of circumstances,” the general said.

“I express my deep condolences to the victim and extend sincere condolences to the bereaved family.”

The woman’s death comes amid growing discussion over whether the South’s all-male draft should be abolished.

All able-bodied male citizens have to serve for nearly two years but women can volunteer for the military.

Barrack-room bullying as well as other forms of abuse have long tainted South Korea’s military service and have resulted in several suicides and deadly shooting sprees in the past.

In March, a transgender South Korean soldier who was forcibly discharged from the army after gender-reassignment surgery took her own life, prompting another public outcry.

Meanwhile the South is regularly at the bottom of OECD rankings for the gender pay gap, and sexual harassment victims — the vast majority of them women — often face pressure to stay silent for fear of public shaming, stigma and career disadvantages.

“The military epitomises South Korea’s toxic masculinity, where violence is so often justified in the name of security,” women’s rights activist Kwon Soo-hyun told AFP.

“It’s the most patriarchal, hierarchical and exclusive community in the country. What we’ve seen in Lee’s case is that this masculinity kills people, both men and women.”

North Korea Accuses Biden Of Pursuing ‘Hostile Policy,’ Warns Of Response

A photo combination of US President Joe Biden and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
A photo combination of US President Joe Biden and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

 

North Korea on Sunday accused US President Joe Biden of pursuing a hostile policy, dismissing “spurious” American diplomacy and warning of a response.

Biden had said Wednesday that his administration would deal with the threat posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear programme “through diplomacy as well as stern deterrence”.

The White House said Friday that the president was open to negotiations with North Korea on denuclearisation following the completion of a policy review, but Pyongyang said Biden had made a “big blunder”.

“His statement clearly reflects his intent to keep enforcing the hostile policy toward the DPRK as it had been done by the U.S. for over half a century,” Kwon Jung Gun, a foreign ministry official, said in a statement released by the official KCNA news agency.

“The U.S.-claimed ‘diplomacy’ is a spurious signboard for covering up its hostile acts, and ‘deterrence’ touted by it is just a means for posing nuclear threats to the DPRK,” Kwon added, using the official name of North Korea.

“Now that what the keynote of the U.S. new DPRK policy has become clear, we will be compelled to press for corresponding measures.”

The White House said Friday that its goal remains “the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.

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Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki gave little indication of what kind of diplomatic initiative this could entail but suggested that the president had learned from the experience of his predecessors, who struggled to deal with North Korea’s leadership and its nuclear weapons programme.

But Psaki said Washington would not “focus on achieving a grand bargain”, apparently referring to the kind of dramatic over-arching deal that former president Donald Trump initially suggested was possible when he met with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.

Neither would the White House follow the more standoffish approach espoused by Barack Obama, she added.

‘A political trick’ 

In a separate statement through KCNA Sunday, North Korea also accused the United States of insulting its leadership and its anti-coronavirus measures, referring to a State Department press release on April 28.

State Department spokesman Ned Price had issued a statement that day criticising North Korea’s human rights abuses and draconian Covid-19 curbs, describing it as “one of the most repressive and totalitarian states in the world”.

File photo:  U.S. President Joe Biden listens during a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate with 40 world leaders in the East Room of the White House on April 22, 2021, in Washington, DC. Al Drago-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

 

“The ‘human rights issue’ touted by the U.S. is a political trick designed to destroy the ideology and social system in the DPRK,” the North Korean foreign ministry said in the statement.

And in a third statement issued Sunday, Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister Kim Yo Jong lashed out at South Korea over a recent anti-Pyongyang leaflet campaign by a defector group.

Activist groups have long sent flyers critical of the North Korean leadership over human rights abuses and its nuclear ambitions across the Demilitarized Zone dividing the peninsula, either flying them by hot air balloon or floating them across rivers.

The leaflets have infuriated Pyongyang, which issued a series of vitriolic condemnations last year demanding Seoul take action and upped the pressure by blowing up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border.

The South Korean parliament rapidly passed a law criminalising the leaflet campaigns in December, raising concerns over freedom of speech.

But a defector group said it flew 500,000 leaflets near the DMZ last week in defiance of the law.

Kim Yo Jong blamed South Korean authorities for not stopping them.

“We regard the maneuvers committed by the human wastes in the south as a serious provocation against our state and will look into corresponding action,” she said.

AFP

South Korea’s Seoul Submits Bid To Co-Host 2032 Olympics With Pyongyang

File photo: The Olympic Rings are pictured in front of the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne on March 21, 2020, as doubts increase over whether Tokyo can safely host the summer Games amid the spread of the COVID-19. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP.

 

The municipal government of South Korean capital Seoul on Thursday formally notified the International Olympic Committee of its bid to co-host the 2032 Games with North Korea’s Pyongyang, Yonhap news agency reported.

The IOC said in February that Brisbane was its preferred candidate to host the Games, adding it would enter “targeted dialogue” with the Australian bid organisers.

But the Seoul municipal government Thursday urged them to reconsider the bid for the two Koreas to co-host the Games, agreed to at a summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in September 2018.

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Yonhap reported Seoul’s bid emphasised the peace-building potential of the co-hosting, as well as a “combination of cutting-edge technologies and Korean culture”.

North Korea has not publicly commented on the bid, which comes amid markedly frosty relations between Seoul and Pyongyang.

The two have not held formal talks in over two years, and last week saw North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s influential sister slam the South’s president as “a parrot raised by America” after he criticised a missile test by Pyongyang.

South Korea last hosted the Olympics in 2018, during which the two Koreas’ teams marched under a united flag. North Korea has never hosted the Olympics.

AFP

South Korea To Pay 13.9% More For US Troop Presence

(FILES) This file photo taken on April 26, 2017 shows South Korean and US soldiers watching from an observation post during a joint live firing drill between South Korea and the US at the Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, 65 kms northeast of Seoul. (Photo by JUNG Yeon-Je / AFP)

 

South Korea has agreed to pay 13.9 percent more towards the cost of the US troop presence on the peninsula, its foreign ministry said Wednesday, in a six-year deal resolving an issue that festered under the Trump administration.

The financial dispute had bedevilled the two allies’ security alliance after former president Donald Trump — who had a transactional approach to foreign policy — repeatedly accused South Korea of freeloading.

Washington stations around 28,500 troops in South Korea to defend it from the nuclear-armed North Korea, which invaded the South in 1950, and protect US interests in northeast Asia.

Under the new deal, Seoul has agreed to pay 1.18 trillion won ($1.03 billion) for 2021, with annual increases thereafter linked to its defence budget.

The sum represents a 13.9 percent increase on the roughly $920 million Seoul was paying under the previous agreement, which expired in 2019 — but is a far cry from the Trump administration’s initial demand of $5 billion a year.

The new pact “again reaffirmed the need for a stable presence of US troops in Korea,” Seoul’s foreign ministry said in a statement, adding it resolved a vacuum that had lasted for about 15 months.

Both governments announced earlier this week that they had reached an agreement in principle, but the amounts involved were only confirmed on Wednesday.

The new deal must still be approved by the South Korean legislature.

The agreement came as Seoul and Washington kicked off their annual military training on Monday, which has been scaled down from the usual level due to the pandemic, with no large-scale physical troop involvement.

The nine-day exercise is still likely to infuriate North Korea, which has long considered such drills rehearsals for invasion.

North Korea has put itself under strict self-imposed isolation to try to protect itself against the pandemic, adding to the pressure on its moribund economy.

Analysts will be watching to see whether Pyongyang will use the military drills to launch provocations against Washington as it seeks to test the new Biden administration.

AFP

Anger As South Korean Transgender Soldier Is Found Dead

This photo taken in January 2020 shows late transgender South Korean soldier Byun Hee-soo at a press conference in Seoul. Byun, who was forcibly discharged from the army after her operation, has been found dead, police said, prompting anger March 4, 2021 and calls for legal reforms.
STRINGER / YONHAP / AFP

 

A transgender South Korean soldier who was forcibly discharged from the army after gender-reassignment surgery has been found dead, police said, prompting anger Thursday and calls for legal reforms.

Firefighters found Byun Hee-soo in her home in Cheongju after a mental health counsellor called emergency services to report that she had not been heard from for several days, Yonhap news agency reported.

South Korea remains deeply conservative about matters of sexual identity and is less tolerant of LGBT rights than some other parts of Asia, with many gay and transgender Koreans living largely under the radar.

Byun, formerly a staff sergeant and in her 20s, enlisted voluntarily in 2017. She went on to have gender-reassignment surgery in 2019 in Thailand.

The defence ministry classified the removal of her male genitals as a mental or physical handicap, and a military panel ruled last year that she would be compulsorily discharged.

At the time she waived her anonymity to appear at a press conference, pleading tearfully to be allowed to serve, wearing her fatigues and saluting the gathered journalists and cameras.

“I’m a soldier of the Republic of Korea,” she said, her voice breaking.

Reports said no note was found but the death was being treated as suicide, with Yonhap citing officials saying she had tried to kill herself three months ago.

Byun’s death triggered an outpouring of grief and calls for South Korean MPs to pass an anti-discrimination bill.

A memorial altar for Byun was set up at a local hospital where friends and activists paid their respects Thursday.

Wreaths of white chrysanthemums — a symbol of mourning in Korea — surrounded a portrait of a smiling Byun, in civilian dress.

Tributes were presented by rights groups and liberal politicians including parliamentary vice-speaker Kim Sang-hee, who is the highest-ranking female parliamentarian in South Korea.

After paying her respects, Hong Jeung-sun, a 64-year-old LGBT rights activist whose son came out as gay, told AFP: “This is the third suicide by a member of a sexual minority over the past month alone.

“And there could have been many more who perished in the shadows without us ever knowing. As a parent, it breaks my heart,” she added tearfully.

Byun will be laid to rest Friday.

On Daum, the country’s second-largest web portal, one person wrote: “The whole of Korean society bears responsibility for her death.

“Those who ridiculed her and made malicious online comments because she was transgender, I want you to reflect on what you did to her.”

– Childhood dream –

South Korea has a conscript army to defend itself against the nuclear-armed North, with all able-bodied male citizens obliged to serve for nearly two years.

But Byun was a volunteer non-commissioned officer and said at her press conference last year that serving in the military had always been her childhood dream.

“Putting aside my sexual identity, I want to show everyone that I can be one of the great soldiers defending this country,” she continued, fighting back tears. “Please give me that chance.”

Her case was the first of its kind in South Korea.

Deputy defence ministry spokesman Moon Hong-sik expressed condolences over what he called “the regrettable death of the late former staff sergeant Byun Hee-soo”.

He added that there had been no detailed discussions about transgender soldiers serving in the military.

International rights groups have previously voiced concern about the way the country treats gay soldiers, who are banned from engaging in same-sex acts and can face up to two years in prison if caught — even though such actions are legal in civilian life.

Seo Ji-Hyun, a prosecutor who triggered the country’s #MeToo movement by going public over sexual harassment she suffered at the hands of her superior, declared following Byun’s death: “We could have saved her… We just had to let her live a life true to who she was.”

“Right now anti-discrimination bill”, she added as a hashtag on her Facebook account.

A new bill was proposed last year to take on the country’s deep-seated traditional social values, which are reinforced by powerful megachurches that condemn homosexuality.

The measure would ban favouritism based on sex, race, age, sexual orientation, disability or religion as well as several more unusual criteria such as criminal history, appearance and academic background.

More than a dozen attempts to pass broad anti-discrimination laws have failed over the past 14 years in the face of strong opposition from conservative churches and civic groups.

-AFP

Self-Made South Korean Billionaires Promise To Give Half Away

A collage of two S-Korean billionaires (Kim Bong-jin
A collage of two S-Korean billionaires (Kim Bong-jin and Kim Beom-su)

 

Two self-made South Korean billionaires have pledged in as many weeks to give away half their fortunes –- a rarity in a country where the business is dominated by family-controlled conglomerates and charity often begins and ends at home.

Kim Beom-su, the founder of South Korea’s biggest messaging app KakaoTalk, announced this month he will donate more than half his estimated $9.6 billion assets to try to “solve social issues”.

Shortly afterward, Kim Bong-jin of food-delivery app Woowa Brothers and his wife, Bomi Sul, became the first South Koreans to sign the Giving Pledge. The philanthropic initiative was set up by Bill and Melinda Gates, alongside Warren Buffett, for billionaires to give away at least half their wealth.

Both Kims contrast with most of South Korea’s ultra-wealthy, who are largely descendants of the founders of the chaebol, the sprawling, usually family-run conglomerates that powered the country’s post-war boom and still dominate the economy.

Unlike the chaebol heirs who inherited their wealth, power, and connections, the two Kims were born to working-class families.

In his Giving Pledge statement, Kim of Woowa Brothers described his “humble beginning” on a small island.

His parents ran a small restaurant, where he slept at night, and as a teenager he gave up his dream of attending an art high school, enrolling instead in a cheaper vocational school.

Wealth, he said, had value when it was used for “the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society”.

Rather than keeping the entirety of their fortune, Kim and his wife said in their statement: “We are certain that this pledge is the greatest inheritance that we could provide for our children.”

Neither of the billionaire Kims has so far provided a precise timeline for their pledged donations, or detailed the recipient organisations.

Tech industry

More than 200 super-wealthy from around the world have signed the Giving Pledge, according to its website.

But it has previously been criticised for not being legally binding, and it acknowledges it is only a “moral commitment”.

It has struggled to make headway in East Asia, listing only a handful of donors from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and none from Japan.

Like many East Asian societies, South Korea remains largely family-oriented, with financial ties extending well into adulthood as parents help finance higher education and housing, and little sense of obligation to give to non-relatives.

South Korea ranks 57th in the Charities Aid Foundation’s most recent World Giving Index — with Japan at 107 and China at 126.

Public philanthropy has a limited history among super-wealthy South Koreans, while the chaebols’ founding families often maintain their grip through complex webs of cross-holdings between subsidiaries.

“When the country was just reeling from the war, the priority was survival, not philanthropy, and working with your own family members was seen as the most efficient way of running a business,” Jangwoo Lee, a business administration professor at Kyungpook National University, told AFP.

But both Kim Beom-su and Kim Bong-jin have been at the forefront of South Korea’s social media and mobile tech industries boom, each founding their company in 2010 and rapidly accumulating a fortune.

Kakao’s flagship messaging application is installed on more than 90 percent of phones in the country.

Woowa owns South Korea’s biggest food delivery app, with more than 10 million monthly users — around 20 percent of the population.

The children of Kakao’s Kim have been appointed to positions in his holding company, but professor Lee said chaebol-style succession was effectively obsolete for such firms.

“Family-oriented management strategies may have worked for manufacturing businesses, but we have now entered an era where newly emerging enterprises do not really benefit from such ways,” he said.

“These are creative and unpredictable industries, and they need specialists, not family members, in leadership in order to thrive.”

That could give their owners more flexibility with their assets.

Art museum

According to the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, most donations under the Giving Pledge have gone to private foundations controlled by donors’ relatives, or donor-advised funds, enabling the givers to “retain significant managerial control over millions of philanthropic dollars” while generating “hefty tax reductions”.

South Korean law also offers donors some tax benefits, depending on the beneficiaries and how giving is structured.

Some chaebol families have engaged in high-profile philanthropy.

Hyundai Motor’s honorary chairman Chung Mong-Koo endowed an eponymous foundation with his personal assets and the Samsung group — South Korea’s biggest conglomerate — founded the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, home to an extensive collection of antiquities and modern works.

But critics say South Korea is becoming an increasingly unequal society.

Kakao’s Kim was among those who grew up poor. Neither of his parents attended high school, and they took multiple blue-collar jobs to make ends meet, leaving him to be cared for mostly by his grandmother.

All eight members of the family shared a single room, and later he sometimes could not afford to buy lunch as a student at the prestigious Seoul National University.

Vladimir Tikhonov, professor of Korean Studies at the University of Oslo, said the South Koreans’ moves were a “display of public-mindedness on the part of the self-made rich men”.

“Meritocratic billionaires have something that rich heirs do not.”

AFP

Trump ‘Offered Kim Jong Un A Ride Home On Air Force One’

US President Donald Trump (R) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shake hands following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. PHOTO: SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

 

Donald Trump offered North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a ride home on Air Force One after a summit in Hanoi two years ago, according to a new BBC documentary.

Kim and Trump first engaged in a war of words and mutual threats, before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance that featured headline-grabbing summits and a declaration of love by the former US president.

But no substantive progress was made, with the process deadlocked after the pair’s meeting in Hanoi broke up over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

According to a BBC documentary, “Trump Takes on the World”, the US president “stunned even the most seasoned diplomats” by offering Kim a lift home on Air Force One after the 2019 summit in Vietnam.

If Kim had accepted the offer, it would have put the North Korean leader — and probably some of his entourage — inside the US president’s official aircraft and seen it enter North Korean airspace, raising multiple security issues.

In the event, Kim turned it down.

“President Trump offered Kim a lift home on Air Force One,” Matthew Pottinger, the top Asia expert on Trump’s National Security Council, told the BBC, it reported at the weekend.

“The president knew that Kim had arrived on a multi-day train ride through China into Hanoi and the president said: ‘I can get you home in two hours if you want.’ Kim declined.”

For his first summit with Trump in Singapore in 2018, Kim hitched a ride on an Air China plane, with Beijing keen to keep North Korea — whose existence as a buffer state keeps US troops in the South well away from China’s borders — firmly within its sphere of influence.

During the Singapore summit, Trump gave Kim a glimpse inside his presidential state car — a $1.5 million Cadillac also known as “The Beast” — in a show of their newly friendly rapport.

But last month Kim said the US was his nuclear-armed nation’s “biggest enemy”, adding that Washington’s “policy against North Korea will never change” no matter “who is in power”.

North Korean official media have yet to refer to Joe Biden — who beat Trump in last year’s election — by name as US president.

North Korea’s Kim Vows To Strengthen Nuclear Arsenal

 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to strengthen his country’s nuclear arsenal as he delivered his closing address to a top ruling party meeting, state television showed Wednesday, days before Joe Biden takes office as US president.

Kim is looking to grab the attention of the incoming Biden administration, analysts say, with his country more isolated than ever after closing its borders to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic.

A nuclear summit between Kim and outgoing US President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February 2019 broke down over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

In this file photo taken on June 30, 2019, US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un stand on North Korean soil while walking to South Korea in the Demilitarized Zone(DMZ), in Panmunjom, Korea. Brendan Smialowski / AFP
In this file photo taken on June 30, 2019, US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un stand on North Korean soil while walking to South Korea in the Demilitarized Zone(DMZ), in Panmunjom, Korea. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

“While strengthening our nuclear war deterrent, we need to do everything in order to build the most powerful military,” Kim told the Workers’ Party congress, footage broadcast on Korea Central Television showed.

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Thousands of delegates and attendees — none of them wearing masks — repeatedly rose to their feet in the cavernous April 25 House of Culture venue to interrupt his speech with applause.

Earlier in the eight-day meeting, which has lasted twice as long as the previous gathering in 2016, Kim called the US “the fundamental obstacle to the development of our revolution and our foremost principal enemy”.

Its policy towards the North “will never change, whoever comes into power”, he added, without mentioning Biden by name.

The North had completed plans for a nuclear-powered submarine, he said — a strategic game-changer — and offered a shopping list including hypersonic gliding warheads, military reconnaissance satellites and solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

The North’s weapons programmes have made rapid progress under Kim, and at a parade in October it showed off a huge new ICBM that analysts said was the largest road-mobile, liquid-fuelled missile in the world.

The change of leadership in Washington presents a challenge for Pyongyang: Biden is associated with the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” approach and characterised Kim as a “thug” during the presidential debates.

The North, meanwhile, has called Biden a “rabid dog” that “must be beaten to death with a stick”.

Kim and Trump had a tumultuous relationship, engaging in mutual insults and threats of war before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance featuring headline-grabbing summits and declarations of love by the outgoing US president.

Kim’s latest comments built on his rhetoric earlier in the congress while leaving a door open for dialogue, said Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.

“It is a message to the US that it will continue to build up its strategic arsenal unless the US changes its course on North Korea policy,” he told AFP.

“If Washington treats it nicely, it will act nice, but if it treats it harshly, it will act harshly too.”

– ‘Senseless’ –
The congress is the top ruling party gathering, a grand political set-piece that reinforces the regime’s authority and can serve as a platform for announcements of policy shifts or elite personnel changes.

At the gathering, Kim was named the party General Secretary, a title previously reserved for his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il, in what analysts said was a move to reinforce his authority.

The official KCNA news agency reported that the congress will be followed on Sunday by a meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the North’s rubber-stamp legislature.

The North’s economy is struggling in the face of its self-imposed coronavirus blockade, chronic mismanagement and sanctions, and Kim repeatedly admitted to the party delegates that mistakes had been made.

And his influential sister and close adviser Kim Yo Jong indicated that a military parade had been scheduled to accompany the congress.

In a statement carried by KCNA, she derided the “idiot” authorities in Seoul for a “senseless” declaration this week by the South’s joint chiefs of staff about a possible military parade in Pyongyang that she said demonstrated a “hostile attitude”.

“We are only holding a military parade in the capital city, not military exercises targeting anybody nor launch of anything.”

Kim Yo Jong had appeared to suffer a demotion at the party congress, not being listed as a party central committee appointee after previously being an alternate member.

But the issuing of a statement in her own name is an indication she remains a key player in the North’s diplomacy, having been behind its destruction of a liaison office on its side of the border last year.

The South’s President Moon Jae-in brokered the talks process between Kim and Trump, and said in his New Year address on Monday that Seoul remained willing to talk to Pyongyang “at any time and any place”, including online.

But since the process with Washington became deadlocked, the North has repeatedly said it has no interest in discussions with the South.

AFP

US Begins COVID-19 Vaccinations For Troops In South Korea

In a handout photo taken and released on December 29, 2020 by US Forces Korea, service members of the United States Forces Korea line up to receive a vaccine for the Covid-19 coronavirus at the Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital at US Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyeongtaek. (Photo by Handout / US FORCES KOREA / AFP)

 

The United States began a coronavirus vaccination campaign for its troops stationed in South Korea Tuesday as a third virus wave saw the host country record its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began.

US Forces Korea (USFK) administered initial doses of the Moderna vaccine for military and civilian healthcare workers, first responders and command staff across its medical treatment facilities in the country, it said in a statement.

Washington has around 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea to help it defend against the nuclear-armed North and protect US interests in north-east Asia.

Among the inoculated included USFK Commander Robert Abrams, who was pictured receiving the shot in a mask and a T-shirt emblazoned with “#KilltheVirus”.

The vaccination is voluntary but the USFK chief “strongly” encouraged American service members to receive it.

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“I want you to make an informed decision for you and your family regarding the vaccine,” he said in the statement.

South Korea is one of the four overseas locations to receive the Moderna vaccine, which won emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration on December 18.

The inoculations came as a third wave of the virus grips the Asian country, with a resurgence centred on the greater Seoul area, which has seen daily cases climb to over 1,000 several times this month despite stricter measures.

The country reported 1,046 new cases and 40 deaths on Tuesday, its highest daily toll since it first identified an infection in January.

It has reported a total of 58,725 coronavirus cases.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel held a video call late Monday, agreeing that the company will supply vaccine doses for 20 million South Koreans in the second quarter of 2021, according to Moon’s office.

If the Moderna agreement is formally signed, South Korea will have enough vaccines for 56 million people, a surplus of four million on the country’s total population, it added.

It plans to launch the vaccination program in February.

South Korea has been praised as a model of how to combat the virus, with the public largely following official guidelines and authorities preventing a wider outbreak with an intensive “trace, test and treat” approach.

South Korea Detects First COVID-19 Variant Cases

A medical staff member wearing protective gear takes a swab from a visitor to test for the Covid-19 coronavirus at a temporary testing station outside the City Hall in Seoul on December 28, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)

 

Three cases of a particularly infectious coronavirus variant that recently emerged in Britain have been confirmed in South Korea, health authorities said Monday.

The three individuals are members of a London-based family who arrived in the country on December 22, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

They have been placed in isolation since testing positive for Covid-19 on arrival, the KDCA statement said.

The new strain of the virus emerged earlier this month in Britain and has already reached several European countries, as well as Canada, Jordan and Japan.

Last week London said another new variant of the virus was found in the country in cases linked to South Africa, which is the first African nation to record one million coronavirus cases.

The new strain, which experts fear is more contagious, prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on Britain.

South Korea was among them and has barred flights from Britain until January 7.

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In addition, the country will make it mandatory for passengers travelling from Britain or South Africa to submit negative Covid-19 test results before departure, KDCA chief Jung Eun-kyeong said.

Authorities are also looking into the case of an elderly South Korean man who tested positive for Covid-19 after his body was returned from Britain earlier this month.

The announcement came as a third wave of the virus grips the country, with a resurgence centred on the greater Seoul area seeing daily cases climb to over 1,000 several times this month despite stricter distancing measures.

South Korea reported 808 new cases Monday, raising its national total to 57,680 with 819 deaths.

South Korea Bans Large Gatherings After COVID-19 Spike

Office workers and city government employees receive a covid-19 novel coronavirus test at a temporary testing centre outside city hall in Seoul on December 17, 2020. Ed JONES / AFP
Office workers and city government employees receive a covid-19 novel coronavirus test at a temporary testing centre outside city hall in Seoul on December 17, 2020. Ed JONES / AFP

 

South Korea banned gatherings of more than four people in the capital and surrounding areas Monday as the country recorded its highest daily coronavirus death toll since the epidemic began.

While South Korea has suffered relatively lightly compared to other nations, officials said a surge in infections had left hospitals in the capital region with a chronic shortage of intensive care beds.

The country reported 926 new coronavirus cases Monday, and the death toll was now at 698 after 24 people died in the past 24 hours — a record high since the emergence of the epidemic.

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South Korea had previously been held up as a model of how to combat the virus, with the public largely following social distancing and other rules.

But a resurgence centred on the capital and surrounding areas has seen daily cases climb to over 1,000 several times in the past week, and acting mayor Seo Jung-hyup said there were only four empty beds left in intensive care units in Seoul.

At least two Seoul residents died of the disease while waiting to be hospitalised this month, according to city authorities.

Starting from Wednesday, Seoul and surrounding regions — home to half the country’s 52 million people — will ban most gatherings of five people or more for about two weeks, officials said.

The order applies to both indoors and outdoors, Seo said, adding the situation requires “extreme self-control, sacrifice, and patience”.

“If we do not tackle the explosive number of cases, what New York and London had to endure — empty streets and city lockdowns — can also happen in Seoul,” he said.

The latest spike came despite the government’s tightening of social distancing rules in the area earlier this month.

South Korea endured one of the worst early Covid-19 outbreaks outside mainland China, but brought it broadly under control with an intensive “trace, test and treat” approach.

The new measures are the strictest imposed in the country since the start of the epidemic, although the central government has yet to raise the nationwide alert level to the highest.

 

AFP