Category Archives: Today in Korea

What happened to progressive media in Korea?

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I had the chance to pick up a copy of  Sisa-in시사인 yesterday at the train station and start ed reading it through. I must admit I was shocked.


When Sisa in was formed in 2007 by a group of journalists who could no longer take the commercialization of Korean media, it featured often extremely insightful articles on current affairs. This group of editors and reporters from Sisa Journal resigned in protest over the deletion of an article that was critical of Samsung and set out to pave the way to a new form of journalism in Korea.

Although I would not say that I agreed with all that Sisa in published ten years ago, and   I found some parts rather self-indulgent, as opposed to analytic, their writing offered a refreshing perspective on contemporary Korea, and often provided details not found elsewhere.

But when I picked up current issue and started reading it, I was immediately struck by how glossy and superficial the analysis has become. Particularly unimpressive was the repetition of positive interpretations of the engagement with North Korea of the Moon and Trump administrations without mention of the complete contempt for international law and diplomacy that has been shown by Trump Administration. Not a word about Trump’s contempt for the international community as shown in his actions on the Iran agreement or the Paris Summit.

Not sure what happened, but I offer some suggestions in my upcoming article on Korean journalism in Korea Times.

“Too good to be true” Korea Times

Korea Times

“Too good to be true”

March 13, 2018

Emanuel Pastreich



So the headlines in Seoul yesterday were splattered again with articles expressing tremendous optimism about the remarkable breakthrough so clearly represented by the agreement of U.S. President Donald Trump to hold a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jung-eun.

There was also no small amount of drivel about how thankful President Moon Jae-in is, or should be, for the tremendous consideration, and genius, shown by master diplomat Trump for this stroke of genius.

Several commentators went as far as to say Trump’s brilliant move is certain to win him a Nobel Peace Prize.

But does anyone really believe that Donald Trump ― a reality TV sensationalist, carnival barker Twitter-as-policy president ― can be trusted with anything, or that he has anything to do with the decision-making process behind this bolt out of the blue?

Maybe you should pull out Naomi Klein’s classic book “The Shock Doctrine” and see how Washington operatives have traditionally employed completely unexpected events, or economic shocks, to shove their unpopular agendas down the throats of people around the world. The purpose is not peace, but rather confusion, and Trump is the emperor of chaos.  Read more of this post

“Operation #MeToo begins” The Korea Times

The Korea Times

Operation #MeToo begins”

February 8, 2018


Emanuel Pastreich




There you have it. South Chungcheong Province Governor Ahn Hee-jung was accused on TV of using his authority to force himself on his secretary Kim Ji-eun and was forced to step down immediately, without any formal investigation. The media basked in the glory of serving as the leading force for the liberation of Korean women from the long sexual oppression at the hands of Korean men.

Agreement on this interpretation of events has been nearly universal in Korea. But there was something just too perfect about the process and about the timing.

Just consider that JTBC’s darling Son Seok-hee interviewed the secretary Kim Ji-eun on his show at the exact moment the Moon administration took the brave step of sending a special envoy to Pyongyang to open the door for comprehensive dialogue that the Trump and Abe administration had fought so hard behind the scenes to stop. Read more of this post

Korea Times “Why are Seoul’s grocery stores dying?”

Korea Times

“Why are Seoul’s grocery stores dying?”

March 4, 2018

Emanuel Pastreich



It does not take much digging to see a tremendous tragedy unfolding in Korean society today, yet the topic is studiously avoided not only at coffee with friends at Starbucks, but also in newspapers and in TV news broadcasts that serve to distract people from reality.

In every neighborhood of Seoul, family-run grocery stores are closing. I have seen it around me and it troubles me deeply. In our previous neighborhood, I watched a group of brave and creative people try to start a bakery. They did not last long, and the family-owned bakeries disappeared soon after. Read more of this post

Empty Grocery stores in Seoul

It does not take much digging to see a tremendous tragedy unfolding in Korean society today, and yet it is a topic that is studiously avoided not only at coffee with friends at Starbucks, but also in the newspapers, or the TV news broadcasts that serve to distract people from reality.

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In every neighborhood of Seoul, family-run grocery stores are shutting down. I have seen it around me and it troubles me deeply. I watched in our previous neighborhood a group of brave and creative people try to start a bakery. They did not last long, and later the family-owned bakeries disappeared soon after.

These stores are the last holdout of ordinary people who run their own company and make decisions for themselves about what they will buy and how they will organize the space around them. They are being driven out of business. In a sense, it is the end of democracy:  now no one in the local community has any say over how things are run.

I do not know the details of why these stores are closing down right now so quickly. I  welcome your input.

Perhaps they are being squeezed by the distribution system. Or perhaps they cannot compete with the convenience stores that have access to massive capital and can afford to go for months, or years, running a deficit in order to drive competitors out of business. That is the Amazon model, but it is also the Google model. It goes far back in history and sadly few around these days know much about how that game was played before, or how it was fought.

The result will be quite predictable: more and more people working at convenience stores or driving taxis, or working in some other job that does not allow them to make any decisions as to how the business is run but forces them to just follow rules dictated from above. The resulting poverty not only in terms of the income available to ordinary people, but also the loss of diversity in neighborhood cultures is quite clear. The cities are becoming deserts.

It is interesting to compare with the interiors of banks which are quite attractive, clean and spacious. Often there are many empty luxurious seats in the bank waiting rooms. There may be await at the bank for those of us with checking accounts trying to send money abroad, but next door there are sweet young women in the commercial section who sit alone all day long waiting for the business person, or the VIP, who comes once in a blue moon. But we should not make fun of these banks. They do at least offer some employment.

I would only warn those of the upper middle class who assumed that these massive economic rifts created by the financialization of our economy, do not assume that your career will not follow the same course. A competitive market economy driven by profit knows no limits. There will never be a day when those planning for stock market profits will sit down and reflect on how they have gone too far: complete  social collapse will come much sooner.

“Bringing the world together to respond to the East China Sea oil spill” The Korea Times


The Korea Times

“Bringing the world together to respond to the East China Sea oil spill”

February 17, 2018

Emanuel Pastreich




Last month’s oil spill in the East China Sea has produced the greatest ecological disaster to hit East Asia. The East China Sea spill is only surpassed in the history of oil spills by the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a catastrophe from which the ecosystem is still far from recovering.

The collision of a Panamanian tanker, carrying Iranian petroleum, and the Chinese cargo ship CF Crystal on January 6 released almost a million barrels of condensate, an acutely toxic chemical that is highly volatile.

Condensate spreads quickly and is much harder to contain than crude. It spreads with water currents, exposing all marine organisms in its path. Never has such a large amount of condensate been released into the environment. It will kill or poison a wide range of marine animals, moving far beyond the expanding oil spill in the East China Sea.

If we combine this disaster with the degradation of the biosphere brought about by warming oceans, the acidification of seawater and overfishing, we are confronted with a catastrophe.

Yet you would never guess that anything had ever happened from reading the newspapers in Korea and Japan, let alone those of the United States and China. The overwhelming focus has been on the PyeongChang Olympics, with a few words about a nuclear threat from North Korea thrown in here and there. Even the antics of Donald Trump seem to be far more important than this devastating spill.

As of this moment, I have not seen any advisories about eating seafood products, and the governments of Korea and Japan have not established rigorous inspection regimes for marine produce.

For that matter, a keyword search of Jeju Island’s leading newspapers Halla Ilbo and Jeju Ilbo revealed almost no articles about the risks posed by this disaster. Newspapers in Okinawa and Kyushu, the regions likely to suffer the most serious consequences, had more reports, but they were incidental and not investigative.

Denial and distraction are not going to make this catastrophe go away. There is a serious risk that hundreds of thousands of people will be subject to tremendous health risks from contaminated seafood, and from contaminated water. Entire fishing communities will be economically devastated, and their inhabitants will be in danger.

We do not have much time to end this taboo. It is time for Korea, Japan, China and the entire international community to come together and to talk honestly about how we will clean up this disaster and how the ecosystem will be restored over the next few decades. That process will require close cooperation and the development of new technologies and new treatments. We will have to work together, as a team, to assure the safety and health of residents in the areas immediately affected, and to tell the region honestly how they will be impacted.

This oil spill, more than the North Korean nuclear weapons program, is shaping up to be a major security issue for the region that will require hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade or more.

It is essential that we put together a comprehensive plan to respond to this oil spill quickly and implement it rapidly and systematically. We must use scientific means to assess the dangers and to give reliable information to the world.

We need global cooperation to come up with a solution for the short term, the medium term and the long term. We must bring together players from government, research and industry in all the nations impacted to formulate and to implement a response. We also need citizens to be involved in the process, both providing information to experts and paying close attention to expert opinions and to other information related to the oil spill.

In the long term, we must strengthen regulations concerning the shipping of petroleum products. Most importantly, we must recognize that this tragedy was unnecessary and that we must quickly end the use of such dangerous fossil fuels that kill tens of thousands in Asia, not only through oil spills, but through air pollution.

This effort requires a literal revolution in the nature of government. Government around the world is increasingly weak, responding primarily to the demands of corporations, not citizens. Governments lack the expertise for analysis, and also are unable to carry out long-term plans. Politicians are only interested in the next election. Academics are forced by evaluation systems to spend their time writing for obscure academic publications and are discouraged from interacting with the public, or with government officials, who most need their help.

Citizens are distracted from facts by social media and by entertainment that has blocked out real news. We wander around blinded by a forest of electronic stimuli that induces impulsive purchases and indulges the grotesque cult of self. There is no space left for serious contemplation of the future of our Earth.

Will the United Nations handle this crisis? I would not hold my breath. The U.N. was not permitted to play a role in the clean-up after the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. And it has not been able to handle much else over the past few decades. Its funding has been cut and it is made into a beggar for budgets, not a leader in ethical campaigns.

There was no power on Earth capable of telling BP to turn over its platform and clear out of the way so that the Deepwater Horizon leak could be handled by experts selected on the basis of their objectivity. The entire world watched the Gulf of Mexico destroyed, but no one could compel BP to do anything. In effect, there was no government.

So how will we respond to this threat? Will we just stare at our cell phones, slurp cafe lattes with our friends and discuss our vacation plans? Will we play stupid, as our children are poisoned by unknown chemicals in fish? Will we obsess over frivolous matters while the oceans die, forests turn to deserts, societies collapse into anomie and neighbors become indifferent strangers?

Maybe, just maybe, this catastrophe, combined with similar catastrophes around the world, will force us to reinvent the concept of citizenship, and of government. Perhaps we can start to consider ourselves as citizens of the Earth who have a responsibility to act.

Perhaps this terrible challenge will force us to work together and thereby affirm what a community is, and what a government is, in a positive and meaningful sense. Perhaps we can establish something beyond global governance, a form of “Earth management” that addresses our relationship to the entire Earth.

Governance is necessary, on a global scale, if we want to respond to the terrible damage inflicted on our planet by unlimited development. All actions must be assessed in terms of long-term impact on our environment, and our primary concern must be the well-being of the people.

The stock market should not have any impact on the formulation of policy in response to this oil spill, or to any ecological crisis. If anything, the government should be empowered to restrict the functions of the stock market so as to encourage, and to force, a rapid move away from our dangerous dependence on fossil fuel.

This oil spill is about the mistakes of the crew only in the most limited sense. The dangers of transporting petroleum, and the negative impact on our environment of emissions, have been known for decades. The solution is a fundamental shift away from fossil fuels supported by extensive funding from the government, and strict rules that will require high levels of efficiency and insulation, and demand the immediate elimination of automobiles that employ petroleum.

We need to change not only how we invest our money and plan our economy but also to reform our culture and our habits. Consumption and growth can no longer be the standards by which we determine success. The addiction to petroleum, the advertising to encourage people to purchase automobiles, and the massive investment in highways at the expense of other welfare programs must be questioned as part of our larger response to the oil spill.

Finally, we must face the painful truth that the expensive hardware that our militaries have procured is useless in addressing this oil spill, or other environmental disasters such as spreading deserts and rising seas. We must redefine “security” decisively for our age and move beyond the limited and the confrontational concept of “alliance.” We must embrace the U.N. charter in its true spirit and transform our militaries into transparent and effective parts of society that address real security threats. The foremost threat, according to scientific inquiry, is climate change.

One organization that could play a critical role in coordinating our response to the East China Sea oil spill is the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat (TCS) in Seoul. The TCS is the sole organization run jointly by the governments of the China, Japan and Korea. The secretariat has proven itself to be extremely effective under the leadership of Secretary-General Lee Jong-heon and has played a critical role in coordinating policy.

This crisis, however, will take that role to a new level. We need an environmental assessment program for water and air quality, and long-term biological monitoring. But they can also work together to increase vessel traffic risk assessment and predict hazardous crossing areas. A whole range of vessel traffic control improvements and improved response protocols should be discussed.

We must enhance and organize the cooperation between governments, between research institutes, between NGOs, and between citizens in Asia to respond to this massive oil spill.

Moreover, this project can be seen not as a temporary step, but rather the next stage of Earth management aimed at the response to climate change and environmental degradation on a global scale. We will be creating new paradigms for universal application: for how to break down a complex problem into parts and assign it to experts from fields such as engineering, biology, demographics, oceanography, statistics and politics.

But we must explain what our response to the oil spill is for citizens and give them a compelling ethical motivation to contribute to the effort. That will require experts in philosophy, ethics, history, art, and literature. We will need artists to make compelling representations of this otherwise abstract disaster and writers to compose compelling phrases.

We will need to rebuild communities, to help fishermen whose communities are devastated, and to resettle people. That requires budgets, but it also requires moral courage and self-sacrifice. Let us pull the region, and the world, together to address this crisis properly and give humanity some hope.

“Cracking the Cha mystery” Korea Times

Korea Times

“Cracking the Cha mystery”

Feburary 5, 2018


Emanuel Pastreich


Korea’s mainstream media have been plastered with articles and editorials that repeat the storyline that Victor Cha expressed concerns about the so-called “bloody nose” strike on North Korea in his talks with the Trump White House and was dropped as a candidate for ambassador to Korea as a result.

But such a narrative does not hold up to even the most elementary scrutiny. Nor does the claim that Victor Cha is an urbane and highly respected expert on North Korea hold much water.

To start with, Cha has been silent over the past year as Trump advocated for an unprovoked (possibly nuclear) attack against North Korea and took numerous steps in his approach to diplomacy that have destroyed the State Department and led most senior diplomats to resign, or be dismissed.

Cha has also been silent regarding the blatantly racist comments made by Trump or other illegal uses of the Department of Justice’s authority.

But before we get into the details of what might actually be going on, let us consider the significance of this failure to appoint an ambassador to South Korea for more than a year after the launch of the administration.

Some pundits note that other ambassadorships remain open, but, in fact, the major positions in East Asia, and the world, have been filled.

Moreover, granted that Trump is talking about North Korea practically every week, saying that it is the most important security issue, the slight is obvious.

The failure to appoint an ambassador, or even to start the nomination procedures at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, should be interpreted as a major insult.

Mysteriously, the Moon administration has been silent about this Lese-majeste. The conservatives, who ought to be standing up for Korea’s sovereignty, are rather attacking the progressives for failure to be blindly loyal to the Trump administration.

In fact, it is the longest time that Korea has been without an American ambassador since Edwin Morgan was sent back to Washington D.C.

Wait a minute ― who is Edwin Morgan?

Well, the last time that we witnessed such a delay in replacing the US ambassador was when Theodore Roosevelt turned a blind eye on the Japanese absorption of the Korean Empire of Emperor Gojong and ordered Secretary of State Elihu Root to telegraph Ambassador Edwin Morgan instructions to “withdraw from Korea and return to the United States” on November 24, l905. The next US ambassador to arrive was John Muccio ― 45 years later.

Korea has not become a colony this time, but its relationship with the U.S. has clearly been downgraded by this action. Moon is being smothered in kind words from Trump about an end to “Korea passing” while Korea was all so politely kicked down the stairs and forced to act like a loyal ally even as tariffs were imposed unilaterally and demands were even made that it follow a security policy in which Korea had no voice in formulating.
Read more of this post

“Call for bravery and real vision in face of reckless militarism” Aju Business Daily

Aju Business Daily

“Call for bravery and real vision in face of reckless militarism”

August 21, 2017

Emanuel Pastreich



China and Korea have seen a tremendous flowering of economic, cultural and educational exchange and cooperation since the normalization of relations on August 24, 1992. My students today include a new generation of young people from China and Korea who sincerely want the countries to work together closely and many of them have a command of Chinese language, or of Korean language, that goes beyond anything that could be found in the previous generation.

Also, my Korean and Chinese students have a global vision for what is possible in the region that is inspiring and suggests that they offer us tremendous potential. I am constantly impressed by their efforts and I hope that they can create a more secure, and a brighter, future for all of us. Read more of this post

Foreign Policy in Focus

“Missiles or the Environment: Korea’s True Security Challenges”

August 1, 2017

Emanuel Pastreich


The news in Seoul has been taken over by reports that North Korea has launched another missile into the ocean. Images of the missile launch were repeated over and over again followed by speculation that North Korea would use the missile to attack the East Coast of the United States. The reporting was pure hype without a single rational voice offering an opinion about the significance of one missile launch or the difficulties of assessing the possible payload for such a missile.

The timing of this news coverage with South Korea’s deployment of the THAAD missile defense system was too perfect. Missing from the discussion has been the real threats that South Korea faces and whether missile defense is effective. These two obvious questions were swept under the rug.

North Korea’s missile launches in fact were a response to a series of live ammunition drills off its coast by the United States, South Korea, and Japan that have been going on, more or less continuously for a year. To North Korea, these drills seems like a preparation for an invasion. Not only is it natural that North Korea would make some response, granted the United States penchant for illegal regime change, it is entirely legal to do so according to international law. The United Nations Security Council has condemned North Korea for missile launches and called for sanctions, but China’s suggestion that both sides freeze their military actions is far more rational and Pyongyang has indicated that it is open to such negotiations. Read more of this post

“Real reason Korea should fear China” ( The Korea Times July 25, 2017 )

The Korea Times

“Real reason Korea should fear China”

July 25, 2017

Emanuel Pastreich


The news that China will phase out all fossil-fuel taxis the near future plying the streets of Beijing, and that the government has approved plans for the massive implementation of electric cars across the country, has been buried under articles in Korea about Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and possible FTA (free trade agreement) re-negotiations.

I remember the single pathetic electric car parked for years in front of the president’s office at KAIST University. As it rusted away there proudly, no steps were taken to actually start using electric automobiles on a large scale in Daejeon, or Korea.

While Koreans were fretting about whether President Trump would be nice to President Moon Jae-in, China has committed $360 billion through 2020 to the development of renewable power and is well on its way to being the dominant power for the development and production of solar and wind power.

Perhaps Koreans are thinking that if they just make a few more smart phones, or sell a few more sleek automobiles overseas, the Korean economy will get back on its feet. Sadly, they have failed to grasp the monumental scale of the economic and technological shifts taking place today.

Let us look at the current economic shift from a historical perspective. China had the largest and most sophisticated economy in the world before it was displaced by Great Britain. China’s success drew on its high level of education and the lack of military conflicts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but above all it was China’s capacity for the production of food on a massive scale, with high efficiency, that was the key point.

Before the 1830s, energy took the form of human and animal labor. That is to say that energy could only be obtained from the sun via photosynthesis in agricultural production of food and them expressed through manual and animal labor.

China had a sophisticated long-term agricultural policy, the crowning glory of which was the expert administration of an advanced irrigation system covering the entire country.

But the British (and later the French and Germans) started a new economic system based on coal in the 19th century. Coal provided far more energy than wood, or than manual labor, and powered factories that produced goods on a massive scale. The Chinese system could not complete with this new economic process, and when coal power spilled over into military applications, China (and all of Asia) found themselves humiliated in the Opium Wars.

But that coal-based economy that drove the British Empire did not last forever. The United States moved quickly in the early twentieth century to build the infrastructure for an economy based on petroleum, a fossil fuel even more efficient than coal. The United States embraced this new petroleum-based economy quickly because it had the institutional flexibility to do so, and also because the American economy was not tied to coal to the degree that Britain’s was. The United States ended up at the center of an automobile-centered new global economy.

But the game was not over. China is challenging the world economic system, taking full advantage of recent efficiency breakthroughs in solar and wind power that make a fossil fuel-free economy possible. These breakthroughs form an exact parallel to the breakthroughs in steam engines early in the 19th century in Britain and Germany that turned the world economy upside down.

China is well on its way to dominating this new paradigm for energy production, one which may eliminate the need to import expensive fuels to power production ― not to mention reducing costly foreign wars to secure petroleum.

If China manages to dominate the technology for solar and wind energy production, control its manufacture it will thereby effect a fundamental shift in the global economy that will be the equivalent to the two previous turning points in world history. Parallel to China, Germany has also started to move towards renewable energy in full force.

And what about Korea?  If Korea cannot break with its current petroleum-dominated economy and it fails to make that fundamental leap in its thinking about the economy, what are its prospects? The future is grim for Korea if it   lacks the will to walk away from its addiction to Middle Eastern and American oil money? It could go down with the nations trapped in an outdated economic system, just like China did in the 19th century.

The changes that are required to adopt this new renewable energy paradigm are profound. One thing is certain. The time has come for Koreans to awaken from their dream of exporting their way to riches, and rather to take a hard look at the foundations of the Korean economy.