TIME North Korea

North Korea Has Banned Foreign Envoys From Having Media Critical of Kim Jong Un

South Korea Korean War Anniversary
Lee Jin-man—AP An effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set up by South Korean conservative activists in Seoul on June 25, 2015, during a rally against the North to mark the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War

But isn't that pretty much everything?

Foreign diplomats are no longer allowed to keep content critical of the North Korean regime or supreme leader Kim Jong Un, according to a new ordinance.

Anything considered slanderous to the Hermit Kingdom or Kim, which could include photographs, movies, literature or files saved on phones or computers, can no longer be kept by foreign embassies or international organizations in the capital Pyongyang, reports UPI.

The U.K. has decried the ban as a violation of international standards of human rights. The ordinance, issued June 26, comes on the heels of a U.K. Foreign Office report on human rights and democracy, which classified North Korea as a “human-rights concern” for reasons including its limits on freedom of expression.

North Korea has a long history of censorship and is considered one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Late last year, U.S. envoy to the U.N. Samantha Power accused Pyongyang of the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, apparently in retaliation for the release of the studio’s The Interview, a movie parodying Kim and the regime.

Compared with the general population, diplomats live in relative comfort. But the ban is another in a long list of inconveniences, which includes frequent blackouts due to power shortages.

[UPI]

TIME Japan

Two Dead, 350,000 Urged to Flee Their Homes as Typhoon Nangka Arrives in Japan

At least 31 people have been injured

Torrential rain and powerful winds of up to 185 km/h (115 m.p.h.) prompted authorities in southern Japan’s island of Shikoku to order a mass evacuation as Typhoon Nangka made landfall late Thursday.

The typhoon’s approach in the Pacific led Japanese authorities to warn at least 350,000 people to leave their homes. At least two people have died, according to the BBC, citing Kyodo news agency. Broadcaster NHK reported at least 31 have been injured.

While Nangka has since been downgraded to a tropical storm as it moves north, officials worry strong winds and rain could still pose a danger.

On Friday morning, parts of the main island of Honshu were lashed by high waves, gales and thunderstorms, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency

Though the storm was clocked at just 15km/h, the agency reported a maximum sustained wind speed of 90km/h.

TIME Singapore

Global Leaders Pay Respects After the Passing of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore Obit Lee Kuan Yew
Joseph Nair — AP A live broadcast by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the death of his father is watched in a reception area at a hospital where the city-state's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew passed away on March 23, 2015, in Singapore

The nation’s architect was lauded for being a visionary and fostering relations between Asia and the U.S.

Messages of condolence flooded in from the East and the West on Monday as the world paid tribute to Singapore’s founding father and first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, following the former strongman’s death at the age of 91.

Lee died in the early hours of Monday morning local time at Singapore General Hospital, after being treated for severe pneumonia and then an infection since his initial admission over a month ago.

The former head of government has been largely credited with fostering the environment that allowed the former British colony to transform into a flourishing bastion of international business and innovation.

“The first of our founding fathers is no more. He inspired us, gave us courage, kept us together, and brought us here. He fought for our independence, built a nation where there was none, and made us proud to be Singaporeans,” said Lee’s son and serving Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a televised address. “We won’t see another man like him.”

Flags were at half-mast across the city-state as Lee’s compatriots began observing a week of official mourning. A state funeral has been scheduled for March 29.

During his time as head of government, Lee was also viewed as an adroit statesman who helped foster ties and understanding between Western powers and rising nation-states across Asia.

“Minister Mentor Lee’s views and insights on Asian dynamics and economic management were respected by many around the world, and no small number of this and past generations of world leaders have sought his advice on governance and development,” said U.S. President Barack Obama in a statement.

Former President George H.W. Bush echoed these sentiments. “I will always be proud that Lee Kuan Yew was my friend,” he said. “I respected his effective leadership of his wonderful, resilient and innovative country in ways that lifted living standards without indulging a culture of corruption. I was also proud of the progress Singapore and the United States achieved together as partners. Because of the example set by Lee Kuan Yew’s singular leadership, let me add I am confident that the future will be bright for Singapore.”

Chinese Foreign Minister spokesperson Hong Lei described Lee as the bedrock of the Sino-Singaporean relationship and a visionary on the continent.

“Mr. Lee Kuan Yew is a uniquely influential statesman in Asia and a strategist boasting oriental values and international vision,” said Lei.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Lee was both a “far-sighted statesman” and “a lion among leaders.”

President Joko Widodo of Indonesia called Lee “a close friend of Indonesia and renowned as the founding father of modern Singapore.”

“As a great leader and a statesman who truly loved his people, he was also known as an influential political figure in Asia,” he added. “Under his leadership, Singapore has succeeded in transforming itself into a major economic hub for the Asian region and stands in equal footing to other developed nations of the world.”

Amid the tributes, advocacy groups also cautioned against ignoring the strongman’s authoritarianism and checkered record on human rights in the wake of his death.

“Singapore still is, for all intents and purposes, a one-party state where political opponents are targeted and contrary views muzzled — and that too is a part of Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy that many of the new generation of Singaporeans are none too happy about,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

In his homeland, though, the overriding feeling was one of mourning a beloved patriarch.

— With reporting by Yenni Kwok

TIME Singapore

‘Father of Singapore’ Lee Kuan Yew Dies at 91

Singapore's first and longest-serving Prime Minister was the architect of a remarkable transformation

TIME once made Lee Kuan Yew cry. It was the fall of 2005, in Singapore, during nearly five hours of interview spread over two days. The conversation had turned to family and friends, and faith as a source of strength in the face of adversity. “I would not score very highly on religious value,” said Lee, then 82, still in good health, and a sort of Minister Emeritus. Yet when he talked about the illnesses and deaths of loved ones, Lee allowed himself a rare moment of vulnerability: his eyes welled up.

MORE The Man Who Saw It All

Emotional is not a word associated with the hardheaded, severe and supremely disciplined Lee. Neither, seemingly, is mortal — Lee was so enduring a public figure for so long that he appeared to transcend impermanence. But in recent years a mellowing Lee openly broached the subject of dying: he felt himself growing weaker with age, he said, and he wanted to go quickly when the time came.

The time was 3:18 a.m. local time on March 23, when, at 91, Lee, who was Singapore’s Prime Minister for three decades, died in the 50th year of independence of the city-state that he molded into one of the most sophisticated places on the planet. Lee had been admitted to the Singapore General Hospital on Feb. 5, initially for severe pneumonia and, despite brief periods of improvement, his condition deteriorated rapidly over the weekend following an infection. Seven days of national mourning have been declared with a state funeral scheduled for March 29.

A Man Apart
Lee’s life traced a long arc of modern East Asian history: the last vestiges of colonialism; the advent of affluence; the introduction of democracy, albeit flawed and limited; the spread of globalization; the decline of Japan and the rise of China; and, now, the retreat to nationalism. He was not so much an architect of change — his stage, Singapore, was, perhaps regrettably for him, too small to be a global player — as an observer of the way of the world, on anything from nation building to geopolitics to terrorism, and everything in between. Over six decades of public life, Lee preached, berated, pontificated and counseled not only his own people but also those of other countries, whether the advice was solicited or not.

MORE Late Singapore Leader Lee Kuan Yew Had Opinions on Everything

Overseas, Lee was largely seen as a statesman — foreign political and business leaders have long praised him: “legendary” (Barack Obama); “brilliant” (Rupert Murdoch); “never wrong” (Margaret Thatcher), to cite a few of countless such tributes.

At home, Lee was above all the man in charge. His ethos was both broad and narrow, often controversial, and always trenchant. Government required a long reach to be effective. Economic development needed to precede democracy, and, even then, civil liberties should be restricted and dissent monitored and, when he deemed so, curtailed. The community trumped the individual. “Asian values” is what Lee and his ilk called their credo. Though Singapore holds open elections, and Lee’s party had always won big — partly because it delivered, partly because it commanded the most resources — he was not always a fan of democracy. “[Its] exuberance leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development,” he said. “The ultimate test of the value of a political system is whether it helps … improve the standard of living for the majority of its people.” Whether Lee intended it or not, his template for Singapore became a model for many authoritarian governments that saw its success as an example of how prosperity could be achieved while controlling freedom.

The personal became the political too for Lee. Members of the educated elite were encouraged to marry one another so as to improve the gene pool. Citizens were told to flush public toilets. Most kinds of chewing gum were banned to prevent its littering. The de facto covenant was this: Singapore’s officials would run the city state (largely) effectively and cleanly — making it an oasis in Southeast Asia — and, in return, its citizens would toe the line. “If Singapore is a nanny state, then I am proud to have fostered one,” Lee unapologetically wrote in his memoirs. Even in disagreement, Lee’s critics had to admit: he knew his mind. “I always tried to be correct,” he once said, “not politically correct.”

And astute, especially when maintaining an equidistance between China and the U.S., East Asia’s top two rivals. Beijing and Washington both trusted him as a friend who enhanced their understanding of each other. Even as Lee invested sovereign funds in China, he provided safe harbor for U.S. warships. In fact, he was an open proponent of a robust U.S. military presence in Asia to help keep the peace. By pinning down North Vietnam during the 1960s and ’70s, he said, the U.S. bought much of the rest of Southeast Asia time to develop and ward off communism. Till the end, he remained an admirer of American entrepreneurship and ingenuity.

China, he figured, had some catching up to do, particularly on the soft-power front. His attitude was that its leaders should be engaged but not indulged. “They are communist by doctrine,” he told TIME in 2005. “I don’t believe they are the same old communists as they used to be, but the thought processes, the dialectical, secretive way in which they form and frame their policies [still exist].” As early as 1994, Lee seemed to foresee the current maritime tensions in Asian waters when he said: “China’s neighbors are unconvinced by China’s ritual phrases that all countries big and small are equal or that China will never seek hegemony.” But he also argued that China deserved respect: “China wants to be China and accepted as such, not as an honorary member of the West.”

Lee’s arrogance was partly rooted in his strong intellect and his prodigious ability to look beyond the horizon. Today, chiefly because of the foundations he laid, Singapore, tiny and surrounded by hostile neighbors when it was born, has not only survived but flourished — a widely-admired banking, tech and educational hub whose GDP per capita is among the highest in the world; a place that constantly innovates and experiments; the Little City That Could.

Historymaker
Lee Kuan Yew was born in Singapore on Sept. 16, 1923, to a father he grew distant from and a 16-year-old mother who adored him. The family had lived in the colony for more than half-a-century by the time of his birth, absorbing the culture of the indigenous Malays and the colonial British. Called Baba Chinese, they believed in English education, could afford servants, and enjoyed a higher social standing than the poor, often illiterate, recently arrived Chinese immigrants who worked around the city’s riverfront docks as lightermen, rickshaw pullers and stevedores. Though Lee’s father himself rose only to be the manager of an oil depot for Shell, the wider clan was established and well-off.

It would be a brief idyll. The 1929 crash hurt the family’s finances, and his father began to gamble. “My father would come home in a foul mood after losing at blackjack and other card games,” Lee wrote, “and demand some of my mother’s jewelry to pawn …” His mother not only saved her jewelry from her feckless husband but also ably raised her four sons and one daughter, selling cakes baked from tapioca when flour and money grew scarce.

In 1940, when Lee took his final high school exams, he scored first among all students of his age across Singapore and the Malayan federation to which it belonged. But, by then, war was tearing Europe apart and creeping toward Singapore. Plans to study law in Britain had to be delayed. On Dec. 8, 1941, Singapore, along with Pearl Harbor, was bombed in a predawn raid. Not one bomb shelter was dug or one city light extinguished, although Singapore’s colonial governor knew of the Japanese landing in Malaya several hours earlier. About 100 people died that night. Thousands more would soon perish. Less than three months later, the teenage Lee watched the march of British army soldiers, “an endless stream of bewildered men,” being escorted by their Japanese captors to prison camp. Recalling the blunders that led to the island’s defeat in early 1942, he wrote, “In 70 days of surprises, upsets and stupidities, British colonial society was shattered, and with it all the assumptions of the Englishman’s superiority.”

After the war the British regained rule of Singapore. Yet Lee, then a law student at Cambridge, would never forget the debacle of Singapore’s fall. By the time he returned home in 1950, the 27-year-old law graduate was determined to free Singapore from colonial rule. Displaying a gift for navigating chaos, Lee entered the unruly politics of a country still reeling from World War II while lurching toward an uncertain postcolonial future. Before their godowns were bombed and many of their executives killed or imprisoned by the Japanese, British-run agencies controlled Singapore’s trade of commodities such as rice, rubber and tin. Now these firms were struggling. Unemployment and inflation were high. The island’s unions were riddled with communists, many Chinese-educated, inspired by Mao Zedong’s rise to power and eager to stage a similar revolution in Singapore. By offering his legal services for free to unions, Lee built up a grassroots electoral base and became a rival to the communists, who were officially banned. In 1954 he formed the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the basement of his house. Two of the men sitting inside that basement, S. Rajaratnam and Goh Keng Swee — the former to be Lee’s ambassador to the outside world, the latter to be his economic mastermind — would stay by Lee’s side and help him through the many crises that would test Singapore and its leader over the coming decades.

Singapore gained partial independence from the British in 1959, then became part of the Malaysian federation in 1963. Two years later it was kicked out of Malaysia because of racial tension — the city state was mainly ethnic Chinese, the peninsula dominated by Malays — and the antagonism of many senior politicians in Kuala Lumpur toward Lee, whom they considered headstrong and unpredictable. Lee was a month shy of his 42nd birthday, and no longer just Prime Minister of a federated state but an independent nation with an evaporating economy and not a single trained soldier of its own to defend it. By late 1965, Lee’s vision for Singapore was formed. It would build its own military, often stealthily, using Israeli military trainers described as “Mexicans” in order not to disturb the country’s Muslims. “They looked swarthy enough,” Lee wrote. And instead of trying to piggyback on the commodity-driven trade of its neighbors, Lee would seek investment from outside Southeast Asia, appealing directly to multinationals in the U.S. and Europe. “We had to create a new kind of economy,” he wrote, “try new methods and schemes never tried before anywhere else in the world because there was no other country like Singapore.”

Team Singapore
When Singapore was part of Malaysia, Lee’s belief in an egalitarian society had aroused the suspicions of Malay politicians who believed Lee spoke loftily about multiracialism even as he canvassed for Chinese votes. Nevertheless, it would be enshrined in independent Singapore. The population today is about 5.5. million, of whom nearly 40% are foreigners. Of the locals, about three-fourths are ethnic Chinese. But Lee took steps to ensure that the majority couldn’t impose its culture on the country’s minorities. English became the medium of education and administration, while three national languages were also recognized: Mandarin, Tamil and Malay. To prevent ethnic ghettoes, Lee made sure neighborhoods had proportionate numbers of Chinese, Indian and Malay residents. The religious holidays of all ethnic groups were celebrated, and even small local-language newspapers and TV channels were financially supported by the state. Lee’s aim was to forge a Singaporean identity that would override ties to the old country. A key strategy to give people a sense of belonging as stakeholders in society was to provide affordable homes — today, ownership stands at 90% of the local population. “Citizenship is essentially a question of loyalty,” Lee said.

Loyalty that was rewarded. Lee widened roads, dug canals, cleared slums, erected high-quality public housing estates, herded the satay and chicken-rice vendors cluttering the sidewalks into spacious food courts, cleaned up rivers, planted trees and zealously fined citizens, especially the superstitious who believed in ejecting the “evil spirits” lurking in one’s throat, who splattered Singapore’s roads with spit. Some of his social strictures drew mockery. While a university lecturer in Singapore, American travel writer Paul Theroux recalled being accosted by his vice chancellor and told his hair was too long. “Essentially, these laws are passed so that foreign tourists will come to Singapore,” he wrote in 1973 in The Great Railway Bazaar, “and, if the news get out that Singapore is clean and well disciplined, then Americans will want to set up factories and employ the non-striking Singaporeans.”

Foreign investment, much of it from U.S. tech companies, did pour into Singapore. Texas Instruments set up a semiconductor plant in 1968, to be quickly followed by multimillion-dollar investments from National Semiconductor, Hewlett-Packard and General Electric. In U.S.-dollar terms, Singapore’s gross domestic product grew more than tenfold from 1965 to 1980. It became the world’s busiest port. The dilapidated godowns of the old waterfront were razed to build skyscrapers. Singapore Airlines, the flagship air carrier Lee started in 1972, encapsulated the city-state’s story of success: small, with scant resources and dwarfed by larger rivals, it aimed to be among the world’s best from the outset and quickly became so. As Henry Kissinger, the onetime U.S. Secretary of State, said: “Lee’s vision was of a state that would … prevail by excelling.”

PHOTOS See Late Singapore Leader Lee Kuan Yew’s Life in Pictures

The Dark Side
Demanding respect but wary of flattery, and the memory of his perilous start still fresh, Lee tightened his grip on power and went on the attack against political opponents. One of them, the gadfly lawyer and MP J.B. Jeyaretnam, was repeatedly sued for libel by Lee. Jeyaretnam was eventually declared a bankrupt and, for a time, barred from contesting elections.

The press also drew Lee’s wrath. In 1971 the Singapore Herald, deemed critical of Lee’s regime, shut down after its printing license was withdrawn by the government. Three years later Parliament enacted a law requiring newspapers that operated a printing press in Singapore to renew their government license annually. Every newspaper company was eventually required to issue “management shares,” carrying greater voting rights than ordinary shares. Owners of these shares had to be Singaporean and were chosen by the government. Then Minister of Culture Jek Yeun Thong defended the measures, saying in Parliament that the local press would remain free as long as “no attempt is made by them, or through their proxies, to glorify undesirable viewpoints and philosophies.”

Characteristically, Lee bluntly defended such measures. Speaking to a conference of foreign editors and publishers after the closure of the Herald, he said, “Freedom of the news media must be subordinated to the overriding needs of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government.” Because the foreign press wasn’t subject to local printing laws, newspapers or magazines whose articles were viewed as defamatory were either sued or their Singapore circulation cut. Among the media thus punished was TIME, for nine months during the late 1980s. In its latest press freedom index, Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore No. 153 out of 180 countries.

Though he remained largely unchallenged, Lee’s combative character began to strike an increasingly discordant note among a growing number of Singaporeans. Sensing the shifting mood, Lee began to slowly withdraw from day-to-day governance. In 1990 he stepped down as Prime Minister in favor of Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong yet remained in the Cabinet, first as a “Senior Minister” and then as “Minister Mentor,” vaguely defined posts that allowed him to oscillate between speaking engagements abroad while advising his ministerial colleagues on matters of state.

Lee also kept running for Parliament. His pugnacious manner of campaigning was often grating. Days before the 2011 general elections, for instance, Lee warned the voters of a suburban constituency that they would “live and repent” if the PAP were defeated. Comments like these, later wrote Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng, “were widely perceived to have inadvertently contributed to the decline in the PAP’s performance.” That performance was hardly a rout — the PAP retained 60% of the popular vote and 81 out of 87 seats in parliament — yet, a week after the polls, Lee stepped down from the Cabinet. “The time has come for a younger generation to carry Singapore forward in a more difficult and complex situation,” he wrote in his letter of resignation. Echoing the belief that Singapore by then had outgrown Lee’s forceful top-down, paternalistic approach, his eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, who became Prime Minister in 2004, acknowledged that many voters “wish for the government to adopt a different style.”

Today, Singapore is not as tightly wound as before. Its citizens are more vocal, and the government more responsive to their grievances — economic rather than political: the high cost of living, the wide wealth gap and the inflow of migrants.

Such burdens of office are no longer for Lee. No-nonsense to the end, he didn’t overthink his legacy. “I am not given to making sense out of life, or coming up with some grand narrative of it,” he wrote in 2013. “I have done what I had wanted to, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied.” So passes the man from Singapore, who became a man of his time.

Read next: Global Leaders Pay Respects After the Passing of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME North Korea

New Kim on the Block: The Rise of Kim Jong Un’s Little Sister

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Sinchon Museum
KCNA/Reuters North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance to the Sinchon Museum in Pyongyang in this undated photo released by the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Nov. 25, 2014

But who exactly is Kim Yo Jong?

At last, a North Korea rumor proves true: all year, Korea watchers have been buzzing about the rise of Kim Jong Un’s little sister, Kim Yo Jong. She popped up at her father Kim Jong Il’s December 2011 funeral, then reappeared next to her brother on election day in March of this year. (Yes, North Korea has elections, of sorts.) Experts speculated that her presence at a high-profile political event signaled that she was on the rise within the regime but, as with many things in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as it is officially called, the theory was just that — until now.

On Thursday, Nov. 26, in an otherwise humdrum account of Kim Jong Un’s visit to a cartoon studio, state media listed Kim Yo Jong as “vice department director” in the powerful Central Committee of the ruling Worker’s Party. In March, when she was pictured beside her brother on polling day, she was identified only as a “senior official.” Though the precise role of a “vice department director” is unclear, that she has an official title suggests a relatively high-profile, and potentially important, role.

So who is Kim Yo Jong? Korea scholars believe she was born in 1987 or 1988, making her 26 or 27 years old, and that she is close to her brother, Kim Jong Un. Their father, former dictator Kim Jong Il, fathered at least seven children by four women, but Kim Jong Un and Kim Yo Jong have the same parentage. They were raised by their mother Ko Young Hui at a hillside estate, says Michael Madden, the founder of North Korea Leadership Watch. Largely restricted to the palace grounds, they were exposed, for the most part, to family members and close friends. “As they say in [Martin Scorsese’s mafia epic] Goodfellas, ‘There were never any outsiders,’” says Madden. “The life of Kim children was hermetically sealed.”

At some point in the mid-1990s, as North Korea starved, Kim Jong Un and his sister Kim Yo Jong were sent to to school in Switzerland. They studied under pseudonyms, presumably to protect their privacy and keep them safe. Remarkably little is known about their time there, Madden says. Upon returning to the DPRK, Kim Yo Jong likely attended university, although the details of that period are still fuzzy. Her stature within the clan started to crystallize at Kim Jong Il’s funeral, when she was spotted walking directly behind heir-apparent Kim Jong Un.

Analysts are still piecing together what, exactly, Kim Yo Jong does. She has been pictured several times in her brother’s company, often on “field guidance tours” (that’s DPRK-speak for the Kim clan looking at things). These appearances have fueled theories that she serves as a sort of events director and aide to her brother, managing his schedule and accompanying him on trips. If that is indeed her role — and again, these things are difficult to pinpoint — it suggests a level of closeness that would give her access to a lot of information. “She may be one of the only people Kim Jong Un trusts completely,” Madden says.

Her presence at Kim Jong Un’s side is rich with symbolism. Her first official public appearance, in March 2014, came not long after the disappearance of her aunt Kim Kyong Hui, who has not been seen since her husband Jang Sung Thaek was executed in late 2013. Before the purge, Kim Kyong Hui was a close adviser to Kim Jong Il, holding key jobs in the ruling party and “protecting her brother’s flank,” according to Ken Gause, a Korea expert at CNA Corp., a Washington, D.C.–based research firm. Kim Il Sung, the country’s revered founding father, also ruled with a sibling — his brother — at his side (until he demoted him).

This new sibling pairing provides an important sense of continuity. Though North Korea is often called a communist state, it is really more of a totalitarian monarchy. North Koreans are taught that Kim Il Sung was a fearsome warrior who, while camped at the base of Mount Paektu with some comrades, crushed a much larger force of Japanese invaders. His son and heir, Kim Jong Il, is said to have been born at the same site, imbued with the same superhuman abilities — heck, he officially shot 11 holes in one in his first-ever game of golf.

Since the deification of the Kim clan is what makes North Korea tick, providing a symbolic link to the past makes sense, even while power passes to the next generation. “The old power elites loyal to Kim Jong Il are being pushed out,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, in an interview earlier this year. “They will be replaced by new, younger elites who can safeguard the leadership of Kim Jong Un.” So goodbye, Kim Kyong Hui, and hello, Kim Yo Jong.

Vote Now: Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

TIME Asia

Have You Ever Wondered Why East Asians Spontaneously Make V-Signs in Photos?

Studio shot of male hand showing peace sign
SuperStock/SuperStock RM/Getty Images

It's all to do with an American figure skater, sports manga and a commercial for Konica cameras

Spend a few minutes browsing social media, or watch groups of travelers posing in front of a popular tourist attraction, and you’re bound to come across it: attractive young Asians flashing smiles and making the V-for-Victory sign (or peace sign). The raised index and middle fingers, with palm facing outward, are as much a part of Asian portraiture as saying cheese is to English speakers. But why?

To non-Asians, the gesture seems so intrinsically woven into the popular culture of Beijing, Osaka or Taipei as to make it seem that it was forever thus — but, in fact, its earliest origins date back no further than the late 1960s, and the gesture didn’t really find widespread acceptance until the late 1980s.

Some say it began with Janet Lynn. The American figure skater was favored to take home gold in the 1972 Olympics in Japan. But the 18-year-old’s dream came crashing down when she fell during her performance. The gold medal was gone. She knew it, and Japan knew it.

But instead of grimacing, the shaggy-haired blonde simply smiled. Lynn’s behavior ran charmingly counter to the Japanese norm of saving face, and in doing so earned her legions of Japanese fans.

“They could not understand how I could smile knowing that I could not win anything,” said Lynn, who eventually went home with a bronze, in a telephone interview. “I couldn’t go anywhere the next day without mobs of people. It was like I was a rock star, people giving me things, trying to shake my hands.”

Lynn became a media sensation in Japan and the recipient of thousands of fan letters. During media tours around Japan in the years following the Olympics, she habitually flashed the V-sign. A cultural phenomenon was born.

Or rather, it was consolidated — because the V-sign was already entering mainstream consciousness through manga. In the 1968 baseball comic Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants), a protagonist struggling with father issues, and the pressure of competition, gets his dad’s tacit approval when the elder throws him a “V” before a big game. The volleyball manga Sain wa V! (V Is the Sign) was created shortly after and was adapted into a television series with an infectious earworm of a theme that features the chant “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y!”

It was probably advertising that gave the gesture its biggest boost, however. Though Lynn had some influence on the widespread use of the V-sign in photos, Japanese media attribute the biggest role to Jun Inoue, singer with the popular band the Spiders. Inoue happened to be a celebrity spokesperson for Konica cameras, and supposedly flashed a spontaneous V-sign during the filming of a Konica commercial.

“In Japan, I have seen the Inoue Jun theory advanced most often as an explanation for the origin of this practice,” Jason Karlin, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo and an expert on Japanese media culture, tells TIME. “I think the practice is a testament to the power of the media, especially television, in postwar Japan for propagating new tastes and practices.”

With the mass production of cameras, and a sudden surge in women’s and girls’ magazines in the 1980s, the aesthetics of kawaii — a visual culture superficially based on cuteness — took off. Suddenly, more women were posing for more shots, and more shots of women were being shared. V-signs proliferated much like today’s “duck face” pouts on Instagram and Facebook.

“The V-sign was (and still is) often recommended as a technique to make girls’ faces appear smaller and cuter,” says Karlin.

Laura Miller, a professor of Japanese studies and anthropology at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, stresses the role played by women in popularizing the gesture in photos. She recalls hearing girls say piisu, or peace, while making the sign in the early 1970s. “Like so much else in Japanese culture, the creative agents in Japan are often young women, but they are rarely recognized for their cultural innovations,” she wrote in an email to TIME.

When Japanese pop culture began to spread around East Asia in the 1980s (prior to the emergence of K-pop in this century), the fashionable V-sign found itself exported to mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea (where it already enjoyed some recognition because of the decades-long presence of the U.S. military).

These days, the habit is everywhere that Asians are. However, most young Asians who make the gesture in photos do so without thinking and are baffled when asked why they do it. Some say they’re aping celebrities, while others say it’s a mannerism that alleviates awkwardness when posing. “I need something to do with my hands,” says Suhiyuh Seo, a young student from Busan, South Korea. Little children do it without even being taught.

“I don’t know why,” says 4-year-old Imma Liu of Hong Kong — but she says she feels “happy” when she does it. Perhaps that’s all that matters.

TIME East Asia

North Korea to Send Cheerleaders, Athletes to South for Asian Games

Pyongyang's cheerleaders have previously been lauded by Seoul for their meticulous choreography and peaceful cheers, and Kim Jong Un even made one of the delegation his wife

North Korea announced on Monday that it will send a cheerleading squad and 150 athletes to the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, on Sept. 19, in a display of goodwill incongruous with several weeks of intermittent missile and rocket launches amid bellicose rhetoric.

The longtime adversaries remain at odds over a civil war from 1950 to ’53 that was never properly resolved. North Korea last week fired several short-range rockets into the sea ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the South Korean capital Seoul during which Pyongyang’s nuclear program was discussed.

The North’s cheerleaders, who have been lauded by the South in previous visits for their meticulous choreography and peaceful cheers, will ostensibly be dispatched to build tolerance between the neighbors, reports Reuters. “It is necessary to put an end to all kinds of calumnies and vituperation that foster misunderstanding and distrust among the fellow countrymen,” read a government statement, according to the North’s state KCNA news agency.

These overtures come just as young North Korean despot Kim Jong Un oversaw a mock military assault on a South Korean island on Saturday. Last week, North Korea also demanded that Seoul end its annual joint military drills with the U.S., although this was met with flat refusal.

Kim Eui-do, a spokesman for the South Korean government, said organizers would discuss the North’s proposal of sending a cheerleading squad and athletes to the event, reports the South China Morning Post. North Korea also sent cheerleaders to the Asian Athletic Games in Incheon in 2005. Leader Kim has since married one of the cheerleaders from the squad, Ri Sol Ju.

[Reuters]

TIME East Asia

The Chinese President’s Visit to Seoul Says Much About Shifting Alliances

SKOREA-CHINA-DIPLOMACY
Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan are welcomed upon arrival at Seoul Air Base on July 3, 2014

The two-day trip is the first time a Chinese leader has chosen to visit South Korea before calling on the North

South Korea is a good neighbor. North Korea, not so much. That’s the message China sent this week as President Xi Jinping stopped by Seoul for a two-day visit. It is the first time a Chinese leader chose to visit South Korea before meeting with the Kim clan first — a deliberate slight to North Korea and a sign of shifting alliances across Asia’s northeast.

South Korea and China are not natural allies. China backed the North in the 1950–53 war that split the Korean Peninsula. Since then, Beijing has been North Korea’s greatest ally, serving as patron and protector to Pyongyang — a closeness Mao Zedong once likened to “lips and teeth.”

But the bonds of authoritarian brotherhood have frayed of late. Beijing is rather tired of the North’s nuclear theatrics and increasing unwillingness to prop up its sluggish economy. The North’s bold young dictator, Kim Jong Un, has yet to meet with Beijing’s top brass. As news of Xi’s Seoul trip broke, he was busy lobbing rockets into the sea.

Shared frustration with the North has given democratic South Korea and authoritarian China some common ground. They have since discovered they share much else, including a thriving trading partnership and an old foe: Japan. Amid ongoing territorial disputes, the legacy of Japan’s 20th century imperial expansion and the country’s wartime record have become a focal point for East Asia, particularly Seoul and Beijing. They recently collaborated on a museum that pays tribute to Korean man who, in 1909, assassinated a Japanese colonial official.

Not wanting to be outmaneuvered, Tokyo has made a quiet overture to Pyongyang. Sitting within range of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, and an ally of the U.S., Japan is hardly a North Korea fan. But, on July 3 as Xi flew to Seoul, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that he would lift some economic sanctions on North Korea in return for its pledge to investigate the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Japanese and North Korean diplomats have already met in Beijing.

TIME Asia

North Korea Holds Live-Fire Drill Near Disputed Maritime Border

Undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on April 26, 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspecting a shelling drill of an artillery sub-unit under Korean People's Army Unit 681 at undisclosed place in North Korea.
KNS/AFP/Getty Images Undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on April 26, 2014 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspecting a shelling drill of an artillery sub-unit under Korean People's Army Unit 681 at undisclosed place in North Korea.

North Korea conducted live-fire exercises near its disputed maritime border with South Korea on Tuesday, five hours after notifying Seoul of its intention to do so and just weeks after a similar drill caused the exchange of hundreds of artillery shells between the adversaries

Updated: Tuesday, 7:13 a.m. ET

North Korea conducted live-fire exercises near its disputed maritime border with South Korea, launching rockets into the sea.

The drill started five hours after Pyongyang sent a fax to Seoul on Tuesday announcing its intention to start firing, the Korea Herald reports. The exercises follow a similar drill in late March, which caused the exchange of hundreds of artillery shells between the two adversaries.

“The North notified us there would be live-fire drills today north of the [border] near Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong islands,” a Defense Ministry spokesman told AFP. The South Korean military was “fully prepared” for the drill, he added.

South Koreans living on or fishing near the islands have been told to evacuate to safe areas until the exercises cease.

The drill begins days after South Korea warned that increased activity at a nuclear test site suggested Kim Jong Un’s regime may be preparing to conduct another nuclear test.

TIME East Asia

War-Shrine Visit by Japanese MPs May Cloud Obama’s Tokyo Visit

Yoshikazu Tsuno—AFP/Getty Images Japanese lawmakers follow a Shinto priest during a visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine to honor war dead during a spring festival in Tokyo on April 22, 2014

Some 147 Japanese legislators visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors its fallen during World War II, including some convicted of appalling atrocities, a day before President Obama arrives in Tokyo to reaffirm security ties

A day before U.S. President Barack Obama is due to arrive in Tokyo, 147 Japanese legislators visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japanese war dead, including top war criminals convicted of orchestrating imperial Japan’s appalling Asia campaigns. Japan’s polarizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not among the worshippers. Instead, he sent a traditional tree offering the day before.

Tuesday’s Yasukuni pilgrimage took place during a spring festival of the Shinto faith and included one Cabinet-level official. In December, when Abe became the first of Japan’s last seven leaders to worship at Yasukuni, the U.S. embassy in Tokyo expressed its disappointment. Reaction in China and South Korea, two nations most ravaged by imperial Japan’s excesses, was far angrier.

Since Abe took office in December 2012 — after a campaign in which he talked tough on China and called for a potential revision to a Japanese apology to wartime Asian sex slaves — Japan’s relations with Beijing have cooled. Territorial disputes in the East China Sea and historical grievances over Japan’s attitude toward its wartime past have even affected the two nations’ trade ties. (On April 21, more than 270 activists, including descendants of Japanese war dead, filed a suit at a Tokyo court, alleging that Abe’s December visit to Yasukuni Shrine contravened Japan’s postwar constitution, which was written by the Americans to ensure the country’s commitment to peace.)

Obama is to spend two nights in Tokyo, underscoring the long-standing security alliance between the two nations and pushing for a trade pact that is facing domestic opposition in both countries. As part of an Asia trip that was postponed last year because of the American government shutdown, the Commander in Chief will also visit South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines. (He will not make a stop in China.) Obama will be arriving in a region noticeably tenser than when he last visited. Last year, after years of Chinese double-digit military-budget hikes, Japan upped its defense budget for the first time in more than a decade. Tokyo’s defense commitments also increased this year as well, and Abe has made clear his ambitions of normalizing a Japanese military that is precluded by the postwar constitution from many military maneuvers.

On April 19, Japan broke ground on a radar facility near islands that both Tokyo and Beijing claim; it is the first new deployment of Japanese armed forces in four decades. Since 2012, when Japan nationalized some of the disputed islands, China and Japan’s military movements in and above these contested waters have markedly increased, although they appear to have dropped over the past six months.

The same day as the ceremony for the future radar station on Japan’s Yonaguni Island, a maritime court in Shanghai seized a Japanese-owned ship docked at a nearby port in order to fulfill a 1930s-era contract. The ship was impounded as payment for two Chinese-owned ships leased long ago by a Japanese firm; those two carriers were commandeered by the imperial Japanese government during the Sino-Japanese war and were lost at sea.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the court decision “has nothing to do with Chinese-Japanese war compensation.” But Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed “deep concern,” saying the impounding of the container ship — which is owned by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, the company that is the successor to the original Japanese lessee — could have an “intimidating effect on Japanese companies doing business in China.” Was the timing of the Shanghai court’s decision, which derived from a 1988 lawsuit filed by descendants of the lost Chinese ships’ owners, a coincidence? Perhaps. But when it comes to relations between Asia’s two biggest powers, history has a way of forcing itself into the present.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com