Thursday, October 23, 2014

Main Street in South Korea - Gangnam style during lunch break

Wandering down the main drag through Gangman during out lunch break with my colleagues Andrew Tillett of The West Australian, Lucy McNally of the ABC and Patrick Whitton from The Big Issue.

We're here thanks to The Australia Korea Foundation, The Walkley Foundation, The Korea Press Foundation and Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade.

Main Street in South Korea - Samsung C&T and Roy Hill Project

At Samsung C&T headquarters in Seoul - seeing a presentation of SS's construction of the Roy Hill project in WA - the largest Samsung project in the world. 

We hear that Roy Hill owner Gina Rinehart is "a reasonable businesswoman" who is "ready to listen" to complete the Roy Hill project by the 2015 deadline. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Main Street in South Korea - right on the edge of North Korea at theDemilitarised Zone

Day 3 of the Korea-Australia Journalists Exchange takes us to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjeon. It's an hour's bus ride from our hotel in downtown Seoul - and fair to say this has been a highly anticipated trip. I'm at the DMZ with Andrew Tillett of The West Australian, Lucy McNally of ABC News and Patrick Witton on The Big Issue. We're in Korea thanks to the Korea Press Foundation and The Walkley Foundation in Australia.

Inside "Conference Row" on the extreme northern edge of the DMZ. This is inside the Joint Security Area (JSA) which is the only part of the DMZ where North and South forces stand face to face in an uneasy peace. That's a South Korean soldier behind me guarding the exit to the. His opposite number is on the other side. He seems alert but not alarmed - chillingly accustomed to such photo opportunities that, while restricted, are encouraged. Just another day? Maybe not with shots fired between North and South in recent days.

It's a surreal experience as the South Korean guard stands watch without a sign of movement or emotion. Visitors are told not to wave or distract - a relief to these soliders who are more than just a tourist attraction in the world's most militarised flashpoint. 

Check out more about the DMZ on Wikipedia:

From the steps of the southern side. We are told not to cross the yellow line and all photos and filming must be straight ahead within the boundaries. No side shots showing facilities are permitted!

The Bridge of No Return. 

"End of Separation, Beginning of Unification". It's a highly complex issue beyond such slogans, with both North and South advocating a unified Korea - but of course on their own terms.

Main Street in South Korea: Australia's FTA with Korea in the balance

South Korea has set next month's meeting of G20 leaders in Brisbane as a critical opportunity to finalise its free trade agreement with Australia.

One of South Korea's top trade officials has nominated the G20 summit as a "psychological and physical" deadline for the nation's legislators to approve the FTA locally.

Suh Jeong-in, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's bureau of South Asian & Political Affairs, said pressure was building in both South Korea and Australia for the FTA to be ratified.

"We would like to ratify the FTA with Australia before the end of this year," Mr Suh told Australian reporters at a briefing in Seoul.

"With the G20, this will be an occasion to finalise everything."

Approval of the FTA has been delayed in South Korea's National Assembly which has been distracted by the complex and highly emotional investigation into the Sewol ferry disaster earlier this year.

More than 300 of the 476 people on board died - many of them children.

The complex investigation is dominating political debate, and the FTA between Australia and South Korea is among more than 90 bills waiting for National Assembly debate and approval.

The clock is ticking on the National Assembly's approval and it appears likely that politicians might not meet the deadline for the FTA to take effect this year.

Australia's ambassador in Seoul, Bill Patterson, is working to lift the priority of the FTA but he admits the battle is all uphill given the profile of the Sewol disaster investigation.

"That's really the $64 million question," Mr Patterson told reporters.

"We are hopeful it (the FTA) will go through some time in the next few weeks.

"We've done everything we can but it's a strongwilled legislature."

The financial and economic stakes are high for both Australia and South Korea.

Once the FTA is ratified, 85 percent of Australian exports to South Korea will have no tariff. Under the deal 90 percent and 90 percent of South Korean exports to Australia will have no tariffs.

Suh Jeong-in also signalled that the threat of Ebola would be a major issue at the G20 summit.

And he diplomatically defended Tony Abbott's intention not to have climate change featured as an issue for G20 leaders to discuss in Brisbane.

"Agenda setting is the chairman's perogative" Mr Suh said in relation to Australia's current presidency of the G20.

"When you host a G20 meeting or any other meeting, the chairman's voice is the loudest."

* Peter Ryan is in Seoul for the Walkley Foundation as part of the 2014 Korea-Australian Journalists Exchange

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Main Street in South Korea: Day 1 on 2014 Korea-Australia Journalists Exchange

It's been a full-on and fascinating first day for the 2014 Korea Australia Journalists Exchange.

The initiative by Australia's Walkley Foundation and the Korea Press Foundation involves yours truly as delegation leader, my ABC colleague Lucy McNally, Andrew Tillett of The West Australian and Patrick Witton of The Big Issue.

The weather as expected has been cool and rainy at times so umbrellas were at the ready courtesy of our program director Haejoo Kang. 

Here's the view from our meeting at the Korea Press Foundation boardroom this morning:

Today's briefings took us to the Korea Press Foundation, the Foreign Ministry and the Embassy of Australia where we met with Ambassador Bill Paterson and other top diplomats.

Discussions included the digital challenges facing the Korean media where heard a familiar global story about declining advertising revenues and falling traditional readership; the status of Australia's Free Trade Agreement with Korea; and the outlook (and a pessimistic one at that) for a peaceful reunification between North and South Korea.

And those tensions with North Korea are alive and kicking. Here's a story from page one of the Korea Times which greeted us this morning. The tensions of course are constant and therefore a running story.

However it will make our visit to the DMZ on Wednesday an interesting and much anticipated one.

Some pictures here from today's briefing at the Korea Press Foundation and discussion on "all of the above":