Asia in 2016: Korea
Protests can bring an unpopular president to heel but can’t stop anti-missile defenses
South Korean President Park Geun-hye was stripped of her executive powers after the country’s legislature voted for impeachment in December, the culmination of a year of political scandal that saw massive protests in Seoul and other major cities in the last quarter of 2016. Park’s confidante, Choi Soon-sil, was detained on charges of extortion and influence peddling. Under the constitution, Park remains president for up to 180 days after the December 9 vote. Park was accused of colluding with Choi to extort money and favors from major South Korean companies.
Samsung, one of Korea’s largest conglomerates, or chaebol, was forced to withdraw its flagship smartphone and cease its production after the Galaxy S7 was involved in dozens of fires and explosions worldwide after overheating. The permanent halt to its manufacture came after a botched attempt to replace faulty phones – the replacement devices also exploded. Samsung was also forced o recall top-loading washing machines sold in the United States after 2011 due to malfunctions.
Hanjin Shipping Co. Ltd left 91 ships at sea– and in limbo – when it suddenly filed for receivership on August 31. The company’s vessels were carrying more than US$14 billion worth of goods belonging to over 8,000 entities, mostly companies. The collapse of Korea’s largest container line – and one of the world’s top 10 carriers in terms of capacity – reverberated throughout the corporate world. Many Korean chaebol were heavily dependent on the line: Samsung used Hanjin to transport 40 percent of its exports while LG sent a fifth of its products aboard its ships.
South Korea announced on July 8 that it would deploy the U.S.-made anti-ballistic-missile system known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) despite China’s strong opposition. The announcement sparked protests in Seongju, where THAAD will be located, and led to Chinese sanctions. The Chinese State Administration of Press, Publications, Radio, Film and Television banned the broadcast of Korean dramas and television shows involving Korean celebrities.
Artificial intelligence (AI) scored a shock victory in March when AlphaGo, a program conceived by Google’s DeepMind, defeated Lee Sedol from Korea, an 18-time world champion go player, in a extensively analyzed five-game match-up. The government announced it would invest US$863 million in AI research over the next five years, and establish an AI research center in partnership with several Korean conglomerates, including Samsung, LG Electronics and Hyundai Motor.