TIME North Korea

Activists Send Choco Pies Floating Into North Korea

North Korean defectors and South Korean activists prepare to release balloons to let them fly to the North, carrying chocolate pies and cookies during a rally against the North's recent threat at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, South Korea on July 30, 2014.
North Korean defectors and South Korean activists prepare to release balloons to let them fly to the North, carrying chocolate pies and cookies, at the Imjingak Pavilion in the South Korean town of Paju, near the border village of Panmunjom that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, on July 30, 2014 Ahn Young-joon—AP

"We will continue to send Choco Pie by balloons"

A year after North Korea cracked down on Choco Pies — marshmallow-filled chocolate cakes originating in South Korea — activists in South Korea sent thousands of the beloved confections over the border via helium balloons, Agence France-Presse reports.

About 200 activists released 50 balloons carrying hundreds of pounds of snacks, including 10,000 Choco Pies.

North Koreans working in South Korean factories in a joint industrial zone received the confections as perks, but their rarity in the North boosted their value and they soon became a sought after commodity. By 2010, according to South Korean media, more than 2 million were traded on the black market every month (though it’s unclear how exactly that figure was determined).

Last May, authorities in Pyongyang ordered the factories to stop handing out Choco Pies.

But on Wednesday, activists — who regularly send leaflets and other items across the border on balloons — said they will continue to deliver the pies across the border.

“We will continue to send Choco Pie by balloons because it is still one of the most popular foodstuffs, especially among hungry North Koreans,” Choo Sun-hee, one of the organizers, told AFP.

[AFP]

TIME Sports

Losing Korean Baseball Team Replaces Fans With Cheering Robots

And so it begins...

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Korea’s Hanwha Eagles do not have a good record. The baseball team has wracked up 400 losses over the last five years, according to the BBC. But just because a team has a losing record, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve big cheers — just ask any New York Knicks fan!

To make sure that the Eagles stadium is filled with the roar of the crowd and that team morale stays high, the Eagles are taking a page from The Future and adding cheering, chanting robots to their stadium seats.

Hanwha’s robot fans will work as stand-ins for human fans who can’t attend a game. Remote fans will be able to control some of the robots’ movements — presumably certain hand gestures in the direction of umpires — and can even upload an image of their face to be shown on the machine’s screen. The robots will also let fans watch the game from afar, giving more fans the opportunity to join in the action and cheer on their team.

“It’s a pretty neat idea,” Hanwha Eagles pitcher and former Minnesota Twin Andrew Albers says in the video the team released to explain the presence of robots in their stands. “It gets the crowd into it and really helps them get involved.”

If robots cheer at the robot World Cup or the Femme Bot battles, can act as mules and write the Torah, how long until they decide they don’t need humans at all? Oh wait, they still need someone to battle in Connect Four.

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TIME South Korea

A Body Found in South Korea Is That of the Fugitive Sewol Ferry Owner

Passersby watch TV news showing Yoo Byung-eun, the fugitive owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul on July 22, 2014.
Passersby watch TV news showing Yoo Byung-eun, the fugitive owner of the sunken ferry Sewol, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul on July 22, 2014. Ahn Young-joon—AP

The hunt is over

South Korean police said on Tuesday that a body found on June 12 is that of Yoo Byung-eun, the fugitive businessman with ties to Chonghaejin, the company that operated the Sewol ferry.

The heavily decomposed body was found in the southern part of the country. Tests indicated that it matched the DNA of Yoo’s elder brother — and police believe this indicates it is the body of the billionaire. The cause of death is not yet known.

“We do not know yet whether it was a homicide or a suicide,” Woo Hyung-Ho, a local police chief, said to reporters.

The 73-year-old patriarch of the family that controlled Chonghaejin had been on the run since just after the ferry tragedy occurred on April 16 this year. A reward of 500 million won ($487,000) was offered for information leading to Yoo’s arrest.

The Sewol ferry went down killing most of the 476 on board, of whom 325 were high school students. So far, 294 bodies have been recovered while another 10 are missing.

The ferry’s captain and 14 surviving crew members are currently on trial. Four are charged with homicide and face the death penalty if convicted. Others are accused of abandoning ship and safety offenses.

[AFP]

TIME South Korea

2 Dead After Helicopter Crash in South Korea

The helicopter was returning to headquarters in the eastern provincial firefighting agency after participating in search operations for 11 people still missing after a ferry sinking that killed more than 290 in April

(SEOUL, South Korea) — A firefighting helicopter crashed Thursday near an apartment complex and school in the southern South Korean city of Gwangju, killing two people, officials said.

The helicopter was returning to headquarters in the eastern provincial firefighting agency after participating in search operations for 11 people still missing after a ferry sinking that killed more than 290 in April, fire officials in Gwangju said speaking on condition of anonymity because of office rules.

The two dead people were aboard the helicopter, which was believed to be carrying five people at the time of the crash, the officials said. A female high school student on the ground received a minor injury, they said. Fire officials said they were searching for any more casualties.

An official at the firefighting agency in the eastern Gwangwon province said a total of five fire officials took the helicopter Monday when they left for search operations for the missing people from the ferry disaster. He also spoke on condition of anonymity line with department rules.

TV images showed the burning helicopter and a plume of black smoke rising up above buildings.

The ferry sinking caused widespread worry about South Korea’s lax safety culture. Most of the dead were high school students.

TIME China

Samsung Suspends China Supplier Over Child Labor

Customers attend a workshop about the Samsung Galaxy S5 in Jakarta
Customers attend a workshop about the Samsung Galaxy S5 in Jakarta, April 11, 2014. Beawiharta Beawiharta—Reuters

Samsung suspended ties with a Chinese supplier after a New York-based watchdog, China Labor Watch, reported that minors under 18 worked at the company during high demand and were underpaid.

(SEOUL, South Korea) — Samsung Electronics Co. said it has suspended business ties with a Chinese supplier that allegedly hired children.

The South Korean company, which is the world’s biggest smartphone maker, said in its blog Monday that it had found possible evidence of child labor and illegal hiring at Dongguan Shinyang Electronics Co.

Samsung said last week it would urgently look into the Chinese supplier following a New York-based watchdog’s report that it hired at least five children under the age of 16.

China Labor Watch said children as well as minors under 18 worked at Shinyang for three to six months to meet production targets during a period of high demand. The watchdog said the child workers were paid for 10 hours a day but worked 11 hours.

The report detailed 15 labor violations discovered during its undercover investigation. They included child labor, the absence of safety training, no overtime wages and no social insurance for temporary workers, who constituted at least 40 percent of 1,200 employees at the Chinese cellphone parts supplier for Samsung.

China Labor Watch’s report came shortly after Samsung said its audit found no child labor at hundreds of Chinese suppliers. Samsung began inspecting its Chinese suppliers after the labor watchdog raised the child labor issue in 2012.

Samsung said Chinese authorities are investigating the case and if the investigation finds child labor, Samsung will permanently stop doing business with Shinyang.

TIME Asia

Seoul: North Korea Fires Artillery Shells Into Ocean

KCNA picture shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a visit to the construction site of a terminal at Pyongyang International Airport
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pays a visit to the construction site of a terminal at Pyongyang International Airport in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on July 11, 2014. KCNA—Reuters

North Korea on Monday fired artillery shells into waters near its sea border with South Korea

Updated: July 14, 2014, 03: 10 a.m. ET

(SEOUL, South Korea) — Another day, another defiant weapons test from North Korea.

A day after launching two ballistic missiles from a base near the border with archrival South Korea, Pyongyang on Monday fired a barrage of artillery shells into waters near its sea border with the South. Officials in Seoul have confirmed nearly 100 missile, rocket and artillery tests by North Korea this year, an output seen as significantly higher than past years.

The regular test-firings of short-range projectiles, analysts say, are the latest signal that the country’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, is determined to do things differently than his father, dictator Kim Jong Il, who died in late 2011.

Analysts see no end to the test-firings in sight.

Kim Jong Un, who pushed tensions to extraordinary levels last year with threats of nuclear strikes against Seoul and Washington, will likely order his military to keep the launches up, they say, until the United States and South Korea make major concessions such as scaling down their regular joint military drills that Pyongyang insists are an invasion rehearsal. That’s a major contrast to the style of Kim’s father, who sparingly used longer-range missile and nuclear tests more as negotiating cards with the outside world to win concessions.

On Monday, about 100 shells fired from land-based multiple rocket launch systems landed north of the Koreas’ maritime border. Those shells flew about 3 to 50 kilometers (1.9 to 31 miles), and South Korea didn’t return fire because no shells fell in its waters, according to South Korean defense and military officials.

The eastern sea border is clearly marked compared with the Koreas’ disputed western sea boundary, the scene of several bloody maritime skirmishes between the rivals in recent years. The Koreas exchanged artillery fire twice earlier this year near the western sea boundary.

North Korea routinely tests short-range projectiles, but the number of launches this year has been much higher than in previous years, according to South Korean officials and analysts.

The continued launches show North Korea’s leader is pushing to strengthen military capabilities because his country feels threatened by U.S.-South Korean military drills even as it pushes for talks with the allies, said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University.

The launches come as North Korea pressures Seoul to accept a proposed set of measures it says are meant to lower tension.

Kim Jong Un’s push for better ties with Seoul and Washington are seen by outside analysts as an attempt to help lure international aid and investment to revive the country’s moribund economy. South Korean and U.S. officials have largely dismissed the North’s overtures, saying the country must first take steps toward nuclear disarmament. North Korea is believed to have a small arsenal of crude nuclear bombs.

South Korea said earlier Monday that North Korea has agreed to hold talks at a border village on Thursday to discuss the North’s participation in the Asian Games in the South later this year.

The two Koreas have faced each other across the world’s most heavily armed border since their war in the early 1950 ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. Regular military drills between Seoul and Washington are a long-running source of tension on the Korean Peninsula, and the allies are set to conduct major annual summertime exercises in August. South Korea and the U.S. say the training is purely defensive.

TIME South Korea

South Korean Ferry Was Operating Illicitly, State Report Says

Relatives of a missing passenger onboard the capsized Sewol ferry, looks at the sea while a Buddhist monk prays for the victims at a port in the rain in Jindo
Relatives of a missing passenger onboard the capsized Sewol ferry look at the sea while a Buddhist monk prays for the victims at a port in the rain, where family members wait for news from the search and rescue team on April 27, 2014. Kim Kyung Hoon—Reuters

The Sewol had earned an operating license by means of fraudulent documents, and carried twice the legal limit of cargo

The MV Sewol was operating under a license earned by fraudulent safety documents when it capsized off the South Korean coast in April, an incident that left 300 people — mostly high school students on a class trip — dead.

An interim report on the tragedy filed by South Korean state investigators failed to specify exactly how the Sewol deceived licensing officials, CNN reported, but the Audit and Inspection Board plans to penalize those agencies that failed to perform proper safety inspections aboard the ferry.

On its final voyage, the ferry’s cargo exceeded twice the legal limit and had not been properly secured onboard, contributing to the boat’s capsizing en route from the city of Incheon, near Seoul, to the island of Jeju.

The findings of this latest report do not bode well for the Sewol’s crew and owners, who face legal charges for negligent actions that prosecutors say both facilitated the sinking of the ferry and failed to prevent the death of most of those onboard.

Lee Joon-seok, the captain of the Sewol with four decades of maritime experience, has been charged with murder for fleeing the sinking vessel. The seafaring tradition of “going down with one’s ship” is, many legal experts have argued, in fact enshrined in South Korean and international law.

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

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

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 North Korea

North Korea Tests Missiles Ahead Of China-South Korea Meeting

Or perhaps Seth Rogen and James Franco's new movie is to blame?

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The hermit nation says it launched two short-range missiles into international waters, with leader Kim Jong Un on hand to watch the test on Sunday morning.

The country often uses such unannounced displays of military power as a means of expressing discontent with the U.S. or South Korea, which considers the test a hostile act. North Korea could be concerned with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s upcoming visit to South Korea, as China has historically been an ally to North Korea and usually visits it first.

Or it could be motivated by the upcoming film The Interview, which stars Seth Rogan and James Franco as assassins going undercover as journalists during a mission to kill Kim Jong Un. The North Korean government has called the film an “act of war” and promised a “merciless” retaliation if it is released.

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