Freak weather and upheavals in Korea’s political landscape punctuated a year of uncertainties that ended with the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il just before Christmas. But Koreans also took pride in their burgeoning exports, not only of electronics and cars that are increasingly prized around the world but also of the pop music generated by leading talent factories, which cheered up listeners worldwide in gloomy times.
◆ Kim Jong-il Dies
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il died on a cold December day, according to the state media suffering a heart attack on his armored train while on his way to one of his on-the-spot guidance tours. Where that account is true or not, the fact remains that his undeniably dead body lies in state in Pyongyang, and his son Kim Jong-un (29) has been officially declared the new leader. North Korea’s regional neighbors are anxiously watching to see if he can establish his hold on power and wondering what it will mean for peace on the region and the fate of 24 million North Koreans.
◆ Software Tycoon Blows Korean Politics Wide Open
When software tycoon Ahn Cheol-soo said he was considering running for Seoul mayor in the Oct. 26 by-elections, he triggered a seismic shift in the political landscape as a solid majority expressed their support before he had even declared his candidacy. That revealed a widespread disaffection with the political establishment and a yearning for a fresh approach. Ahn ceded his mayoral bid to lawyer-turned-civic-activist Park Won-soon, whose victory many attribute to Ahn’s support. Ahn is now being touted as a possible presidential contender.
Both ruling and opposition lawmakers admitted they were stymied by voter distrust. The results of the general and presidential elections next year are expected to lead to the biggest changes in Korean politics since the introduction of direct elections for president back in 1987.
◆ Korea Ratifies FTAs with EU and U.S.
The ruling Grand National Party railroaded through the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement at the National Assembly on Nov. 22 despite strong protests from opposition parties, four years and five months after it was signed by both sides. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed the FTA in late October. As a result, Korea became the first Asian country to forge FTA deals with both the EU and U.S., while paving the way for tariff-free trade with countries that account for 60 percent of the world’s GDP. The FTA with Washington will go into effect early next year, but opposition parties are still calling for it to be renegotiated.
◆ Korea Becomes World’s No. 7 Exporter
Korea’s annual trade volume surpassed US$1 trillion on Dec. 5. Exports totaled $515.6 billion, while imports amounted to $486 billion. Korea became the ninth country in the world to achieve that feat. Korea’s exports totaled just $19 million back in 1948, half the level of Kenya and Cameroon and ranked 100th in the world. But in six decades on, Korea became the world’s seventh-largest exporter.
◆ Pyeongchang Finally Wins Bid to Host Winter Olympics
Millions of Koreans sat in front of their TV sets at midnight on July 7 when International Olympic Committee Chairman Jacques Rogge declared Pyeongchang the winner to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. Pyeongchang had tasted defeat twice before in its bids for the 2010 and 2014 games, when it lost to Vancouver and Sochi. But this time, Pyeongchang comfortably beat Munich and Annecy, garnering 63 out of 95 votes.
Korea becomes the fifth country in the world to host both the summer and winter Olympics, the football World Cup, the World Championships in Athletics and the Formula 1 race. The others are France, Italy, Germany and Japan.
◆ World Falls in Love with K-Pop
K-pop was the top Korean entertainment product to sweep the world this year. Manufactured bands are continuing the Korean Wave triggered by the popularity of soap operas such as “Winter Sonata” and “Jewel in the Palace,” and drew legions of fans not only in Japan, China and other parts of Asia, but also in Europe, the Middle East, the U.S. and Latin America.
Girls’ Generation, Kara, 2PM, SHINee, 2NE1, Big Bang, Super Junior, TVXQ and JYJ held concert tours around the world and swept through their album chart rankings. Fans in the U.S., Europe and Latin America even took to the streets demanding K-pop concerts in their countries.
◆ Record Rainfall in Seoul
Korea was drenched with record precipitation in July with many regions experiencing between 100 to 200 mm of rainfall that lasted for days, triggering mudslides and other damage. It was the largest amount of rain in Korea in a century. Heavy rains on July 27 in particular submerged many parts of Seoul and triggered a mudslide on a mountain in an affluent southern suburb of the capital. The downpours left 71 people dead across the country.
Source: The Cholsunilbo
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