SPOTLIGHT: SHOULD OBAMA APOLOGIZE IN HIROSHIMA?
When Barack Obama becomes the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima tomorrow, the ceremony will include hibakusha, survivors of historyâ€™s only nuclear attacks. No doubt, each victim of the 1945 bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will have their own expectations of the American president, and depart with their own feelings. Obama, for his part, has already made it clear to the Japanese he wouldnâ€™t make a direct apology.
But why not? The U.S. president who vowed soon after his election to strive for a world without nuclear weapons could find the words to turn the tragedy of the past into a permanent reminder for the future. Still, as The New York Times writes, Obamaâ€™s primary concern is a more present American realpolitik. While an apology would likely be welcome in Japan, it could also be misinterpreted in other Asian countries for which Hiroshima and Nagasaki represent not just the end of World War II, but also the close of years of brutal Japanese rule.
â€œApologies tend to be the exception and non-apologies the rule,â€ Adam Taylor writes in The Washington Post, explaining that the logic behind this â€œis not moral but rather political.â€ It should be noted that this is the case for most countries, with the notable exceptions of â€¦ Germany and Japan. Or perhaps, the unwritten rule of history is simply that only the losers must apologize.
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Photo: Elysée's official photographer François Lafite via Instagram
- President Pranab Mukherjee of India meets with President Xi Jinping of China, hoping to spur more Chinese investment in South Asiaâ€™s biggest nation.
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Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.
SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.
The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.
It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.
Seoul housing prices top London and New York
In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.
According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.
Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.
One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.
According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.
Playing the stock market
At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.
A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."
In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.
42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s
Game of survival
In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.
But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.
This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.
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