In South Korea, A Tiny Fishing Village Engulfed In A Geopolitical Maelstrom

Plans to build what would be South Korea’s largest naval base have divided public opinion and put Gangjeong, a small fishing town, at the very center of the conflict. A recent peace festival held alongside the town’s port drew 1,500 protesters – and 1,000

Demonstrators in Gangjeong protest government plans to build a naval base
Demonstrators in Gangjeong protest government plans to build a naval base
Philippe Pons

GANGJEONG – The normally peaceful fishing town of Gangjeong has become a major flashpoint in South Korea, ground zero in a nationwide debate over plans to build a controversial new naval base.

Until now, the village – home to roughly 1,000 fisherman and farmers – maintained a relatively low profile. But on Oct. 1, Gangjeong suddenly found itself in the national spotlight. Roughly 1,500 protestors gathered along the town's port to attend a peace festival organized against the base. Meeting them there were 1,000 anti-riot police officers equipped with water cannons. The disproportionate deployment of force indicates just how seriously authorities consider the military venture.

The festival was the first large demonstration since the September arrest of opposition leaders during clashes with security forces. The 50-acre perimeter of the future base is now closed off with an iron wall several meters high. Along the wall protestors have placed a successive train of opposition flags, banners and graffiti.

A nation divided

This local story – the construction of the base on the volcanic island of Jeju, a major tourism destination in South Korea – has now become a national problem. The battle has mobilized more than 100 NGOs around the country (environmentalists, pacifists, Christians, Buddhists) and another 100 outside South Korea. Five opposition parties have also lined up against the project.

"Since the 2007 decision to build a base in Gangjeong, we have fought this on our own. Now we have local and international solidarity," says Ko Kwon-Il, an opposition leader.

Conservative newspapers insist South Korea needs the base to ensure the country's security. Capable of receiving 20 warships and submarines, the planned base would be South Korea's largest.

But voices on the center-left say the project threatens to destroy the magnificent coast. They also warn that the base implies greater military cooperation with the United States, which, they fear, could provoke China, South Korea's neighbor and primary commercial partner.

The South Korean government says the naval base will serve to protect the paths of maritime shipping lanes. But it will also act as the military pressure point closest to China, allowing for a rapid firing of missiles in the event of tension between Beijing and Seoul regarding a submerged reef (the Socotra Rock) in the south of the China Sea. For the residents of Jeju, Socotra Rock is a mythical island, a refuge for sailors lost at sea. It is also located in a zone of underwater oil deposits, according to some reports.

The United States is not behind the base, but given the alliance between both countries, it would serve as an American outpost in the China Sea. "In case of tension between the United States and China, Jeju would be one of the first objectives," says Choi Sung-hui, an anti-war activist.

One banner reads, "Don't bring war here," a call that takes on a particular significance on this island. In March 1948, it was the site of massacres by pro-American militias operating under the dictatorship of the time, which killed a total of 30,000 people, or 10% of the population.

Solidarity under siege

For the residents of Jeju, strategic questions are less a factor in their opposition than protection of the environment and preservation of their way of life. "Korea is a democracy, but the government does not listen to the voice of the people. While in the past the struggles for citizens' rights were often violent, this one is pacifistic. Residents enjoy a very close relationship with the sea," says Gwon Gwi-sook, a sociologist at the University of Jeju.

Until recently, the coastline around Gangjeong enjoyed protected status. But in order for the base to be built, the Municipal Assembly repealed that status. The government says the move was legally approved. Residents are demanding a hearing.

The question of this naval base is dividing public opinion all over South Korea. And in Gangjeong, the debate has shattered the communal solidarity that was characteristic of Jeju Island. "Members of the same families are no longer speaking, and neighbors are no longer greeting each other," laments Ko Byong-hyun, the mother of one of the residents' representatives who was arrested in September and is still in custody.

Residents in favor of the base echo the government's argument: National security, job creation, investment. Kang Mi-Kyong, whose house was enveloped between the metal slabs of the construction site, represents the opposite extreme. "Don't touch a stone, not even a flower on our island," he warns. "The history of Jeju shows that we are an island of resistance."

Read the original story in French

Photo - Youtube

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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