China/Taiwan Historic Talks, Polio In Kabul, Shirley Temple Dies

Filipino protesters take part in global The Day We Fight Back protests
Filipino protesters take part in global The Day We Fight Back protests

Representatives of the China and Taiwan governments met today in the Eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, the first face-to-face meeting of cross-strait officials since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, which saw the separation of the two states. While no official agenda was released for the talks, which are mainly aimed at building confidence between the two, China is expected to raise the issue of a future reunification. Read the full story from the South China Morning Post.

Government officials from South and North Korea are due to meet tomorrow for rare high-level talks ahead of the planned family reunions for the end of the month, AP reports. This comes as Seoul’s Defense Minister told the National Assembly yesterday that Pyongyang was ready for its fourth nuclear test, although there appears to be no sign that a new test will take place soon, newspaper The Chosunilbo reports.

For more on the North-South Korea divide, we offer this KBR/Worldcrunch piece: North Koreans In The South Who Want To Go Back Home.

Fifteen Iraqi soldiers were killed in a pre-dawn attack on an army camp in the northern part of the country, AFP reports. In January alone, over 1,000 people died in attacks.

The Syrian government and its opposition are sitting together with the UN and Arab League Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi during the Geneva peace talks, news agency Itar-Tass reports. Meanwhile, according to the BBC, some 450 more civilians were evacuated from Homs yesterday, after the ceasefire was extended until Wednesday. Fighting is, however, continuing in the city of Hama, where fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra front have killed 42 women, children and elderly people, state news agency Sana reports.

Philippine demonstrators are calling for the repeal of the country’s 2012 Cybercrime Prevention Act, which they say provides a backdoor for mass surveillance by the government and its foreign allies.

A 3-year-old girl has been diagnosed with polio in the Afghanistan capital of Kabul, the first case recorded in the city since 2001, prompting the country’s health ministry to order a vaccination campaign across the city, according to the BBC. Afghanistan is, with Pakistan and northern Nigeria, the only region in the world where polio remains endemic, a situation likely due to Islamists’ refusal to vaccinate. Meanwhile, in India today, leaders are expected to celebrate the country’s eradication of the disease.

An Italian farmer was so angry over a neighboring farmer’s wandering sheep that he ran the animals over before threatening their owner with a gun.


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani celebrated the 35th anniversary of the country’s Islamist Revolution with some live tweeting. See what he had to say.

Barclays Bank has announced a sharp rise in bonuses, even amid poor performance and an announcement that it will sack at least 10,000 employees.

Shirley Temple Black, the Hollywood actress who found unequaled fame as a child star, including a special “juvenile” Oscar at just six years old, died at her home Monday in Woodside, California, at the age of 85.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles concert at the Coliseum in Washington, D.C., which launched Beatlemania just two days after the Fab Four appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Here’s an expand=1] excerpt of the famous concert, in which you can just make out “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Twist and Shout” amid screams from the crowd.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

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.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


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

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

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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