Our final look back at 2015: mainly domestic news stories from South Korea.
In the news
- After 62 years of adultery being a criminal offence in the ROK, the constitutional court decided to decriminalise it by a vote of 7 to 2. Four out of ten married Korean males heaved a sigh of relief and shares of condom manufacturers boomed.
- Continuing the issue of Seoul’s sinkholes, two pedestrians were injured when the pavement collapsed beneath them.
- Middle East Respiratory Syndrome caused concern in the summer, damaging Korea’s tourism industry and forcing a cut in interest rates and a 400bn Won aid package to industry. Overall, 38 patients died.
- An appeals court found the captain of the Sewol to be guilty of murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
- Nut Rage Hanjin heiress Heather Cho’s jail sentence of 12 months was reduced to a 10 month suspended sentence on appeal.
- A women who had fallen asleep on the floor woke up to find a robot vacuum cleaner eating her hair.
- An anti gay pride demonstration in Seoul was itself pretty gay.
- 179 university lecturers were prosecuted for plagiarism, the charge being that they had republished pre-existing books putting their names on the cover
- A student at a Virginia High School claimed to have scholarship offers from both Harvard and Stanford. It later emerged that Sara Kim was a “serial fabricator”, according to the Chosun Ilbo.
- The US Ambassador to Seoul was hospitalised after being attacked by a protestor.
- A UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes completed his visit to South Korea calling on the government to called on the Republic of Korea to step up efforts in protecting those who live in environmentally high-risk areas. Reckitt Benkiser’s humidifier disinfectant and the hazardous chemicals used at Samsung Electronics were called out.
- A missing Korean teenager was found to have joined ISIS. A group linked to ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on the Korean embassy in Libya in which two local guards were killed. Two hundred Syrians sought asylum in Korea.
- The pressures on young people gave birth to a new phrase on social media: Hell Joseon. Unsurprisingly, South Koreans got a low score in a poll conducted for World Happiness Day.
- One of the concerns of young people is their studies, and Koreans kids are said to be the most stressed in the world. Some of them take refuge with imaginary friends via a new phone app.
- The birth rate statistics continued to show cause for concern. In a related survey by Boston Consulting Group, 30% of the population would prefer to be deprived of sex than mobile internet.
- The marriage rate is declining as economic growth rates fall and Korean women are waiting longer to have their first child than any other country in the OECD.
- It was predicted that by 2040 over 80% of the inhabitants of parts of Gyeongnam, including Sancheong-gun, would be over 65 years of age.
- There was a growing trend of foreign graffiti artists decorating Seoul’s subway and other trains. Daegu became a hub for local graffiti artists satirising President Park.
- President Park announced a crowdfunding initiative to ease youth unemployment – the Youth Hope fund – and donated Won 20m. A month later Samsung’s Lee Kun-hee and Hyundai’s Chung Mong-koo donated 20bn and 15bn respectively.
- Voters in Gyeongsangnam-do tried to get their governor Hong Joon-pyo recalled for abuse of power and unpopular decisions such as the ending of free school meals. The governor was implicated in the corruption scandal linked to President Park’s 2012 election campaign.
- The government announced plans to rewrite school history textbooks, causing concern that dissenting views would be written out of history.
- Publication of former president Lee Myung-bak’s memoirs disclosed details of North-South relations which many would have preferred remain confidential.
- A huge fighter jet deal with the US went wrong when the US refused to transfer certain technologies. Heads rolled, and the ambassador in London got a hasty recall and promotion to 1st Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. As part of his new job he had to try to sell the Comfort Women “deal” to the Comfort Women.
Business and economy
- held a ceremony to put the ridge beam on the top 123rd floor of its World Tower in Jamsil. Lotte’s founder Shin Kyuk-ho was too ill to attend.
- became the latest chaebol to be shaken by a feud (dubbed the “war of the princes”) in its controlling family.
- got off to a slow and shaky start with their new mega-mall, with construction problems causing the cinema and aquarium to be closed for a while.
- took over and rebranded the New York Palace as a first stage in overseas hotels expansion.
- Hyundai Motor
- caused friction between Gangnam and the Seoul City Government as to who should benefit from the 1.7 trillion won donation connected to their 10 trillion won Gangnam development
- announced investments in facilities and R&D of 80 trillion won in the four years 2015-18
- They supplied a modified Hyundai Santa Fe to the Vatican to act as the new popemobile.
- suffered around 160 billion won of losses when their inventory was destroyed by a chemical warehouse explosion in Tianjin, China.
- Hanwha landed a 2 trillion won contract to build a new town in Iraq, said to be the biggest overseas construction order ever won by a Korean company.
- Asiana decided to axe first class on flights other than on their A380, with effect from 2017.
- CJ Chairman Lee Jay-hyun was given a 25 billion won fine and two and a half years in jail for embezzlement, breach of trust and tax evasion.
- Tesco agreed to sell its Korean Homeplus subsidiary for £4.24 bn to a group of investors including the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund and the Canada Pension Plan.
- IKEA’s first store in Korea was so popular that it was faced with closure because of the traffic problems it caused. A year after opening, industry-watchers concluded that the Swedish firm had given the local competition a welcome jolt.
- Korea continued to build the world’s biggest seagoing vessels – but the ship-building industry in general started to feel the pain with 8 trillion won of losses. DSME received 4.2 trillion of assistance from its creditors (which included the state-run Korea Development Bank and Export-Import Bank.
- Korea concluded a Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand but stayed out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership with the US.
- Both Standard & Poors and Moodys raised South Korea’s credit rating by a notch.
- A memorandum of understanding was signed with Saudi Arabia to build at least two nuclear power plants.
- Robert Koehler closed the Marmot’s Hole blog after twelve years online.
- Lt Col James Carne, who fought at the Battle of Imjin River, was one of ten veterans to feature on a set of stamps issued to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.
- The New Malden Korean Information Centre opened to provide advice particularly to North Korean refugees.
- Kim Sung-joo, the president of the Korean Red Cross and the chairwoman of the fashion company Sungjoo Group, was awarded an OBE.