Daily Update – July 14

South Korea

Politics – President Park Geun-hae has departed to Mongolia to attend the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).  She will also hold a sideline meeting with the Mongolian president while in country.  Though ASEM will bring leaders from 51 nations to Mongolia, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and other Asian leaders, Park has no intention to hold sideline meetings with those mentioned.  At ASEM, Park will work to bolster international support for issues which are, or becoming, major issues on the international stage; two main topics she will discuss are the world economic fallout in the wake of BREXIT and North Korea.  This is the president’s first trip to Mongolia since she took office in 2012.

Jeon Gyeong-bok, president of the Korean Foreign Language Promotion Association, has called for the government to reform its English proficiency exams for civil servants.  Currently, those who wish to take Korea’s civil service exams must get a score of 700 on TOEIC or 71 on TOEFL, which Jeon argues test a student’s knowledge of business English and are inapplicable to the civil service.  He has called for civil service exams, for grade 7 and higher, to mimic those taken at schools, testing the students ability to use and acquire English, rather than simply testing knowledge of the language.

Economy – As the economic downturn continues, local cooperations are attempting to do their part in spurring local economies.  Many of the larger cooperations have adapted an “Eat Out Day.”  One day a week, the large cooperations shut down their in-house cafeterias, forcing workers to eat out for lunch, adding more money to the local economies.  Areas that have instituted this measure have seen a rise in local economic spending, which is a positive in a time of economic downturn.  Many South Koreans are for this program, calling for the majority of large cooperations to institute such a day in order to maximize the effect of it on the overall economies.  Some workers at these cooperations are against the day, citing their right to cut food costs and choose healthier options while maximizing their productivity for the day.  In the author’s opinion, this is a clever way to spur local economies, since it provides restaurants with at least day of more than usual business.

Foreign currency deposits saw a rise in the month of June.  Outstanding deposits of foreign currency, in the hands of local citizens, grew around $2.76 billion totaling $59.61 billion.  Deposits of US dollars also grew in June by $3.1 billion, amounting to $50 billion at the end of the month.  The Euro did not favor as well, with around $900 million dollars leaving, bringing the total to around $2.73 equivalence.  This rise has been attributed to a rise in US dollar deposits in South Korea.

Culture – As Pokemon Go fever sweeps throughout the world, South Korea has fallen into a very interesting predicament.  Due to legal regulations forcing South Korean map data to stay within the country, Google Maps is unable to acquire any data on the country.  Pokemon Go uses the data from Google Maps to set up Poke-stops, place Pokemon in the game, and a variety of other intricacies that make the game as dynamic as it is.  This is seen as a loss for the Niantic and Pokemon companies, as they are unable to reach a majority of the fourth largest gaming country in the world.  However, near the North Korean border, a small town by the name of Sokcho, is not technically South Korean territory, and therefor, is not forced to abide by the same mapping restrictions.  This has led to an increase in tourism to the small town; Seoul bus station has reported that tickets to Sokcho are sold out.  Many visit the town simply to play the game.  The city has taken to the craze as well.  Officials have handed out maps of the free wi-fi spots and even marketed the city as the Pokemon Go haven on the peninsula.

North Korea

Breaking News:  One guard was killed and one wounded in an attack at the Sino-North Korean border, in the town of Hyesan.  They were beaten by at least two perpetrators with stones.  the military is currently working to find suspects in the case and is on high alert.  No one has been arrested as of writing.

Politics – The China-North Korea fishing deal is undermining a large portion of normal fishermans’ lives.  Under the deal, state-run fishing companies have brought in Chinese ships and then sell the catch to China for a cost.  This gives the state another way to amass currency, which it desperately needs, and also works to disrupt the lives of normal fisherman in North Korea.  Many are unable to keep up with the more technologically advanced ships, making it difficult for them to continue to make a living.  The deal also grants China easy money, as it gets to collect rent on the ships, then resale the fish, all without having to go through much trouble to aquire it.

CultureFewer North Koreans came out to remembrance ceremonies on the anniversary of Kim Il-Sung’s death July 8th.  Many who avoided such duty paid bribes, and there has been a notable lack of governmental will to punish those who paid bribes.  Another notable feature of North Korea’s greatest day of mourning that was absent was the political festivities that generally mark the evening.   People spent the rest of the day, after placing flower tributes at the foot of giant Kim Il-Sung statues, like any other day.  This is yet another way in which Kim Jung-un is looking to distance himself from his father, who ensured that every North Korean paid ample respect to the Great Leader.

North Korean authorities are allowing motorists to use a new tunnel which goes through the mountains at Machongryong.  Machongryong has been a very difficult area to pass, and many accidents have occurred along the mountain pass throughout the years.  Though offering a new around the pass, the tunnel is not providing a fully safe method of travel; construction was not completed – it is currently stalled – due to a lack of building material.  In order to pass through the tunnel, one must pay a tunnel fee of 15,000 Korean People’s Won (about $1.90 on the North Korean market).  The fee has dissuaded some brave motorists, which led to a bus accident in May; in order to avoid the fee, the driver attempted to drive around the pass in the rain.  The bus fell into the valley below, killing 26.  As it stands, the tunnel is in need of a cement coating, as well as other enhancements which North Korea is unable to provide at this time.

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