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South Korea and the US have announced that their annual military drills will take place from 24 February to 18 April, despite anger from North Korea.

Pyongyang warned against the planned drills last week, calling them “exercises of war”.

Meanwhile, the US said it was disappointed that the North rescinded an invitation to a US envoy to discuss the release of a jailed US citizen.

Kenneth Bae has been held in North Korea for more than a year.

In a statement on Monday, the joint Combined Forces Command (CFC) said that Key Resolve, a computer-based simulation, and Foal Eagle, which involves air, ground and naval drills, were both scheduled to begin on 24 February.

“Key Resolve is a vital exercise to strengthen readiness of the Republic of Korea and US Alliance,” CFC commander Gen Curtis Scaparrotti said.

“The scenarios are realistic, enabling us to train on our essential tasks and respond to any crisis which may arise.”

Last year, the exercises led to a prolonged surge in tensions, with North Korea threatening pre-emptive nuclear strikes and cutting a military hotline with the South.

North Korea’s top military body threatened last week to cancel planned family reunions with the South if the joint military exercises went ahead.

The reunions are for family members separated when the Korean peninsula was partitioned at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. However, the North has been accused of using them as a bargaining chip.

South Korean defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said on Monday: “North Korea is well aware that the South Korean-US drills are annual trainings defensive in nature.”

“So it is not appropriate to link [the drills] with family reunions.”

‘Special amnesty’

Separately, on Sunday, the US said it was “deeply disappointed” North Korea had decided to withdraw its invitation to US envoy Robert King for talks on jailed US citizen Kenneth Bae.

Kenneth Bae appears before a limited number of media outlets in Pyongyang, 20 January 2014
Kenneth Bae has been held in North Korea since November 2012

The military exercises were “in no way linked to Mr Bae’s case”, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“We again call on the DPRK [North Korea] to grant Bae special amnesty and immediate release as a humanitarian gesture,” she added.

North Korea also cancelled a request from Mr King to visit last August to discuss Mr Bae.

US civil rights leader Jesse Jackson has offered to travel to North Korea for talks instead, Ms Psaki said.

Mr Bae, a Korean-American, was arrested in North Korea in November 2012.

Pyongyang said he used his tourism business to form groups to overthrow the government, and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour in May.

Mr Bae is currently believed to be in a labour camp.

His family say he has several health complaints including diabetes and liver problems.

North Korea threatens to pull out of family reunions

Posted by Rattana_S On February - 7 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Seoul, South Korea (CNN) — North Korea says it may back out of the family reunions it agreed to hold with South Korea if the latter continues with the annual drills it holds with the United States.

Annual military exercises in the region by South Korean and U.S. forces are scheduled for the end of this month.

“The reckless act of war is a violent violation and infringement of humanitarianism,” a spokesman for the North Korean Policy Department of the National Defense Commission said Thursday.

“It does not make sense to carry out the reunion of families, who were separated due to the War, during a dangerous nuclear war practice.”

The drills, the South Korean defense ministry said Thursday, will go on.

The reunions of about 100 people from each country are scheduled to take place between February 20 and 25, the South Korean unification ministry said Wednesday, following face-to-face talks between the two sides.

If they go ahead, the meetings of divided Korean families would be the first to take place since 2010.

North Korea has unceremoniously pulled the plug on such meetings in the past.

“If such agreements get turned around repeatedly, it cannot move forward,” South Korean Unification Minister Rhoo Kihl-jae told reporters. “We’ve seen these in the past several decades. To expand the trust, I want to say that the agreement must be kept.”

Drills infuriate N.Korea

The drills infuriate North Korea, which says it sees them as a prelude to an invasion. Last year, it ratcheted up its threatening rhetoric to alarming levels as the exercises took place.

In its calls so far this year for better relations, North Korea has asked South Korea not to take part in the drills — a request that Seoul and Washington have rejected.

Past disappointment

Reunions were due to take place last September, but Pyongyang canceled them with only a few days notice, accusing Seoul of souring ties between the two countries.

The reunions are an emotive issue. And time is running out for many of the surviving members of the families that were split by the 1950-53 war between the two Koreas. A lot of them are now in their 80s and 90s.

Tens of thousands of people in South Korea are on the list of those wanting to take part in the reunions.

This month’s planned reunions are scheduled to take place at the site where previous ones were held: Mount Kumgang, a resort on the North Korean side of the border that used to be jointly operated by both sides.

(CNN) — In increasingly virtual South Korea, the latest bizarre fad is watching someone eat online.

Called ‘muk-bang’ in Korean, which translates to ‘eating rooms,’ online channels live-stream people eating enormous servings of food while chatting away to those who are watching.

The queen of this particular phenomenon is the Diva, a waifish, pretty 33-year-old woman apparently blessed with the stomach capacity of several elephants and the metabolism of a hummingbird.

Every evening around 8 p.m, several thousand viewers tune in to watch The Diva — real name Park Seo-Yeon — begin inhaling enough food for several college linebackers.

She easily polishes off four large pizzas or three kilograms (6 lb) of beef in one sitting, albeit over the span of several hours.

After she eats, she spends another two or three hours just talking to her fans, who communicate with her via a chat room which accompanies her live-stream channel.

For Park, online eating is not just a niche hobby but a significant source of income — she makes up to ₩10 million ($9,300) a month from her broadcasts alone.

Her costs are also high, however. She says she spends an average of $3,000 per month purchasing food for her show, which she broadcasts for about four to six hours per night.

Confessions of a Diva

Thanks to the live chat room that accompanies her channel, feedback is instantaneous and the show interactive.

Comments flood in and she reads from them in real time.

“My fans tell me that they really love watching me eat because I do so with so much gusto and make everything look so delicious,” says Park.

“A lot of my viewers are on diets and they say they live vicariously through me, or they are hospital patients who only have access to hospital food so they also watch my broadcasts to see me eat.”

While it would seem that her metabolism would make her public enemy number one, some of the Diva’s biggest fans are women, and indeed her channel is more popular with women than with men, with a 60-40 ratio.

“One of the best comments I ever received from a viewer who said that she had gotten over her anorexia by watching me eat,” says Park. “That really meant a lot to me.”
She cooks about a third of the food that she eats, and the rest she has delivered. Offers of sponsorship have come in thick and fast, but she says she tests out sponsored food first and only features what she truly likes and wants to share.
Her fans show their appreciation by sending her money, in the form of virtual tokens that can be cashed in.
Afreeca TV, the publicly-listed social networking site that hosts her channel, allows users to buy and send virtual “star balloons” which can be monetized after the site takes a 30-40% commission.
Any payment by viewers is purely voluntary, as all channels can be viewed for free.
The service is currently limited to South Korea, although the company has plans to expand it to other countries.

“One of the best comments I ever received from a viewer who said that she had gotten over her anorexia by watching me eat,” says Park. “That really meant a lot to me.”
She cooks about a third of the food that she eats, and the rest she has delivered. Offers of sponsorship have come in thick and fast, but she says she tests out sponsored food first and only features what she truly likes and wants to share.
Her fans show their appreciation by sending her money, in the form of virtual tokens that can be cashed in.
Afreeca TV, the publicly-listed social networking site that hosts her channel, allows users to buy and send virtual “star balloons” which can be monetized after the site takes a 30-40% commission.
Any payment by viewers is purely voluntary, as all channels can be viewed for free.
The service is currently limited to South Korea, although the company has plans to expand it to other countries.

Cultural background

The Diva’s success and the Korean eating room trend can be attributed to a number of specific cultural factors.

“We think it’s because of three big reasons — the rise of one-person households in Korea, their ensuing loneliness and finally the huge trend of ‘well-being culture’ and excessive dieting in Korean society right now,” says Afreeca TV public relations coordinator Serim An.

While watching food porn on a diet may sound like masochistic torture, apparently lonely, hungry Koreans prefer to eat vicariously.

Another thing, Koreans hate eating alone.

“For Koreans, eating is an extremely social, communal activity, which is why even the Korean word ‘family’ means ‘those who eat together,'” says Professor Sung-hee Park of Ewha University’s Division of Media Studies.

She believes its the interactive aspect of eating rooms that’s so appealing to these lonely hearts.

Loneliness was also the catalyst for the Diva.

“So many of my friends were getting married and I was living alone and lonely and bored,” she says.

“When I first started my channel two years ago, I was showing a variety of content, from dance to outdoor activities, but it was my love of eating that really began drawing a response from fans,” says Park.

The setting

And then there’s the platform to make the phenomenon possible in the first place.

It’s difficult to imagine the unique live-streaming online platform of Afreeca TV working as well on a daily basis anywhere other than South Korea’s extremely wired culture.

With 78.5% of the entire population on smartphones and 7 million people riding the Seoul subway network every day, Afreeca TV is becoming particularly popular with Korean commuters, given that the Seoul subway has cellphone reception and Wi-Fi, and South Korean smartphones have TV streaming capabilities.

“Our mobile users surpassed our PC users a while ago, and most of our viewers watch our content while they are on the move,” says An.

The majority of Afreeca TV’s content is actually online gaming, where individual broadcasters called ‘BJs’ (short for Broadcast Jockeys), stream their gaming live for others to learn from or comment on. Anyone can live-stream from any device as long as they log in.

“Eating rooms” began popping up around 2009, says An, when users began to imitate celebrities’ food shows by commenting as they were eating while broadcasting.

Now, of the platform’s 5,000 channels that are streaming at any given point in time, 5% of those are eating rooms. Afreeca TV has a daily average viewership of 3 million.

Spinning off

The Diva says her success was a huge surprise, but there are still many who don’t understand the concept and are liberal with their criticism.

“I get some really awful commenters who make me reexamine ‘why am I doing this again?’ but at the end of the day the positive feedback overwhelmingly outweighs the bad, so I am happy to continue.”

While Park maintained her real estate consulting day job over the past two years, she quit last week to focus more on her eating room and potential spinoff businesses, including a clothing company.

When asked if she has any time for a private life, considering she broadcasts more than six hours a day every day including weekends, the answer is that she doesn’t need one.

“This is a lot more fun,” she says.

South Korea spending $1.5 billion for ‘5G’ network

Posted by Rattana_S On January - 23 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — Is the era of 5G connectivity upon us? The government in South Korea says so, and it’s sinking $1.5 billion into upgrades it says will make mobile communications there 1,000 times faster than they are today.

But not so fast. Literally, not so fast. As was the case when smartphones and other mobile devices first started having 4G slapped on them, the term 5G is as much a marketing slogan as anything else — at this point, anyway.

And if technophiles in the United States are hoping Korea’s announcement means warp-speed data connections are coming their way in the near future, they’re going to be disappointed.

Regardless of the network’s capabilities, any wireless carrier wanting to take advantage of them also would need costly upgrades to their systems. Users would have to purchase new devices that could access it. And even then, there’s no guarantee that Netflix or similar companies would make their own data available at speeds that live up to the Korean government’s tantalizing vision of an entire movie downloading in a single second.

All that said, don’t count Korea out. Arguably the most wired country in the world, South Korea has led in mobile adoption since the 1990s.

“We helped fuel national growth with 2G services in the 1990s, 3G in the 2000s and 4G around 2010. Now it is time to take preemptive action to develop 5G,” the nation’s science ministry said. “Countries in Europe, China and the US are making aggressive efforts to develop 5G technology … and we believe there will be fierce competition in this market in a few years.”

A worldwide high of 82.7% of South Koreans use the Internet, and 78.5% of the nation’s population is on smartphones. Narrow that down to 18-24 year olds and it’s dangerously close to full saturation — 97.7%.

The science ministry’s plan is realistically measured. A trial 5G network is due to be rolled out in 2017, with full rollout in 2020.

The country’s telecom companies, as well as native mobile companies Samsung and LG, are on board and plan to be ready to take advantage of the network, according to the government statement.

Eventually, of course, 5G will hit the U.S. and elsewhere. Remember, the difference between 3G and 4G and 5G is somewhat semantic. Significantly upgrade what we have now and you can add a number before the G.

But we’ll no doubt be behind. Korea’s compact geography and existing wireless infrastructure mean that upgrades can happen faster and cheaper, and will reach more of the population than in geographically spread-out countries like the United States.

The increasing number of smartphones and tablets used in the United States is already beginning to tax existing communications networks. Add an emerging wearable tech trend and connected appliances like smart thermostats, refrigerators and smoke detectors, and experts expect the U.S. will need a serious upgrade by 2020 as well.

Each generation of network technology has enabled a new set of features: 2G was about voice, 3G was about data and 4G is about video. 5G is expected to be about creating intelligent networks that can handle those billions of connected devices.

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