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Political Activist Somi develops South Korean Video Game to Raise Awareness of Government Surveillance

It was a book - Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother - that provided Somi with the original spark for 'Replica'

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Multiple award-winning game Replica was inspired in part by the passage of South Korea’s first anti-terrorism law and government surveillance in the United States. VOA

Seoul, September 30, 2016:

At the Busan Indie Connect (BIC), he wears a pair of large, black sunglasses with reflective lenses. The glasses, however, are a small attempt to conceal his identity as a game developer from coworkers at his day job.

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His multiple award-winning game Replica was inspired in part by the passage of South Korea’s first anti-terrorism law and government surveillance in the United States. He believes Replica is Korea’s first video game with a political message. It’s not a direct criticism of any government, Somi said, but it is designed to make its players question government.

“If we just follow the orders of our bosses, or if we do not think about what’s wrong or good and just act as we are ordered, we can be evil,” said Somi. “Normal people can be evil.”

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It was a book – Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother – that provided Somi with the original spark for Replica. The novel follows four teenagers fighting off the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after a terrorist attack.

Somi sees Replica as an echo of sorts for Little Brother.

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother
Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother

“I wanted to make a second creation of that novel into my game. I really wanted to speak about the banality of evil in this game,” he said.

Replica poses a moral dilemma to its players: as a terrorist suspect following an attack, you can clear your name by hacking into another suspect’s smartphone to find incriminating evidence. Innocence

and privacy are negligible if your snooping leads to an arrest.

Opposition parties are wary of such snooping and fear South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) could abuse its expanded authority under the new law. The opposition staged a world record filibuster for eight days in February and March to try and block the Anti-Terror Act, which allows the NIS to gather personal information and monitor the financial transactions of suspected terrorists.

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“Of course the filibuster has failed and the law is now in effect,” said Somi. “The NIS has a lot of power; they can inspect privacy things legally now.”

Cautious game creator

After pressing him several times, Somi told VOA he graduated from law school and now works in a related industry. He said “maybe” when asked if he works in law enforcement.

“My boss, doesn’t know what I am doing now,” he said. “And if they know my game or I’m developing this kind of game, I don’t know what will happen. So I brought my sunglasses.”

The South Korean government, Somi said, has never contacted him about Replica. But the Game Content Rating Board (GCRB) did review it so he could sell it here.

“They didn’t say anything about the political content,” Somi said. “They just said that it has a few violent expressions.”

Expanding government

Following the Paris terror attacks last November, President Park Geun-hye and members of the ruling Saenuri Party pushed for parliament to approve the anti-terror law. It took effect in June and provides for the establishment of a new counterterrorism center.

Chang Byong-ock, former director of the Middle East Studies Institute at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, said South Korea needs to be prepared for an attack.

“There is enough possibility of being attacked by Islamic states,” said Chang. “We (South Korea) cooperate with the United States in politics and investment and we have ties with the United States military.”

He said, however, it’s North Korea that’s the real focus of the new law.

“The main function of the center is to investigate spies in South Korea. They [NIS] want to collect information about North Korean spies so they can bring them in,” said Chang.

The center is still being set up, and a representative said they won’t be giving interviews to the media, foreign or Korean, until the end of the year.

With the expanded reach of the NIS through the counterterrorism center, many opposition lawmakers have expressed concern about potential human rights violations.

“Efforts have to be made to counter vulnerable areas [holes in South Korean intelligence]. But I’m also worried the government may use the bill to violate the basic human rights of people who don’t represent threats to national security,” said Hwang Do-soo, a constitutional law professor at Konkuk University.

Hwang said while he has concerns, he sees the law as progress and believes the country needs new “terror-preventing frameworks.”

‘Powerful message’

Somi is still wearing his opaque sunglasses when he walks onstage to receive the BIC’s 2016 Excellence in Narrative Award.

As of September, Replica has sold more than 4,000 copies and has an overall “very positive” rating on the website Steam.

“Of course there are haters in Korea, because their conservative views feel uncomfortable when they see and read my message in the game, but most Korean people and most reviews in the steam store are very good,” said Somi.

The price of Replica has also attracted players — it’s only $2.99.

But others have picked up on Somi’s inspiration for a game that reflects real life.

“This game definitely criticizes the Patriot Act [U.S. anti-terrorism law] and South Korea’s Anti-Terrorism Act. This game has a point, and makes me think about the issue deeper,” said Mirauzo, a reviewer on Steam.

Sun Park, an independent developer in Seoul and co-founder of Turtle Cream game studio, believes Replica has the power to impact society.

“Already lots of Korean gamers played it. And it’s becoming really famous. One of most famous indie games in South Korea,” he said. “Adding a powerful message in game is more powerful than other media, I think. The experience in game is like giving the actual experience to gamers as a main character. Main hero of this story.”

Despite Replica’s politically charged message, Somi said, game development is just a side project he dives into after midnight once he’s put his young daughter to bed. (VOA)

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Donald Trump Planning to meet Putin during his Asia tour

Donald Trump's first trip to Asia is the longest international tour.

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US President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump. wikimedia commns
  • US President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he expected to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during his Asia tour.

“I think it’s expected we’ll meet with Putin, yeah. We want Putin’s help on North Korea, and we’ll be meeting with a lot of different leaders,” Donald Trump told reporters on Air Force One before landing at the Yokota Air Base in Japan, Efe reported.

Putin is scheduled to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, which Trump will also attend as part of his long Asia tour.

The North Korean nuclear threat is expected to dominate Donald Trump’s meetings in Japan and the next two stages of his tour, South Korea and China, where he will have a highly anticipated sit-down with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The remainder of the tour will be more focused on economic issues, with Trump scheduled to take part in the APEC meeting in Da Nang and then in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and the East Asia Summit in the Philippines.

Donald Trump’s first trip to Asia is the longest international tour by a US head of state since the one then-President George H.W. Bush embarked on in 1992.

Bush became ill at the end of that trip, famously vomiting on the Japanese prime minister’s lap at a formal dinner before fainting.(IANS)

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‘Keep up the pressure on North Korea’; Here is what North Korean Defectors want Trump to know

The defectors want Trump to persuade China, Pyongyang’s only remaining ally, to stop repatriating North Koreans who take refuge there.

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Ji Seong-ho, North Korean refugee and president of Now Action and Unity for Human Rights. VOA

Washington, November 4, 2017 : Four North Korean defectors have told VOA in video messages intended for U.S. President Donald Trump what they want him to do and say during his visit to South Korea.

The messages were delivered ahead of Trump’s departure Friday morning for a 12-day, five-nation tour which is expected to focus on tensions over North Korea’s its development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. He is scheduled to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul on Nov. 7.

North Korea is expected to dominate their conversation at a time when recent polls show Americans consider North Korea to be the most immediate threat to the United States.

“If [Trump’s] coming to strengthen Korea-U.S. relations, he’s welcome, but if he’s coming to foment a war between the two Koreas, I cannot welcome him,” said Kim Young Soo, a defector and former soldier who arrived in South Korea in 2006. “As a head of state, I think he could be more discreet when talking about a war.”

The defectors want Trump to persuade China, Pyongyang’s only remaining ally, to stop repatriating North Koreans who take refuge there.

“While seeking freedom, they are put at risk of being captured by Chinese authorities and being forcibly returned to North Korea,” said Ji Seong-ho, a defector. “They may even face death. So I sincerely would like to ask President Trump to urge China’s Xi Jinping to stop repatriation of North Koreans so that they can attain their dreams of freedom.”

And they want him to keep up the pressure on North Korea with sanctions.

“It’ll take an insurgency against the regime to bring about a revolution,” said Ri Sun Kyong, who arrived to South Korea in 2002. “Every single country in the world should not help (North Korea) in any way. Instead, they should increase pressure so an insurgency takes place.”

Trump, who has signed a sweeping executive order increasing U.S. authority to sanction companies that finance trade with North Korea, has said all options are on the table in dealing with Kim.

Amid the leaders’ war of words — Trump has said if Pyongyang launches an attack on the U.S. or its allies, there is “no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” and Kim has said, “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire” — the Trump administration has also been pushing other countries to end or curtail their diplomatic ties to North Korea. (VOA)

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Has The Chinese Government Done Enough to Assist Victims of ‘Comfort Women’ System?

The Chinese government has not fully addressed the issue due to diplomatic condition with the Japanese government

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Comfort women
Women in comfort stations in Shanghai. Wikimedia
  • The ‘comfort women’ system was started by the Japanese before and during World War II
  • Little girls and women were forced into military brothels known as “comfort station”
  • The Chinese government has not done enough in respect to this issue as compared to its South Korean counterpart

New Delhi, July 22, 2017: There exists an empty building on Ganging road with window frames painted red and it is one of the pre-world war II buildings in Shanghai. Sources reveal, it was once a military brothel and accommodates dark memories. It is amongst the comfort stations where a wide sexual slavery system was started by the Japanese for their armed forces during and before the time of world war II.

There were once more than 150 comfort stations in Shanghai alone, but these buildings are disappearing due to rapid development, demolishing historical remains.

Only a handful of these comfort women are still alive and they do not receive any assistance from the government. These women are 90-year-olds, covered with scars and some of them do not even have any family or children. An estimated 200,000 women, many of them mere girls from Asian countries are believed to have been forcefully employed in these Japanese brothels during the time of World War II.

Also read: Chinese political academy holds its first seminar for Catholic clergy in China

The building on Ganging road was scheduled to be renovated but was rescued by the efforts of a historian called Su Whiling who highlighted the building’s history and the Chinese media supported him. He wanted to initiate a movement in order to put the suffering of those comfort women on spotlight but unfortunately, he was prohibited from publishing his research by the authorities when he first studied the matter in the 1990s.

[sociallocker][/sociallocker]

The government of China has not fully addressed this human rights issue in order to preserve good relations with the Japanese. As compared to South Korea, China has certainly not done enough regarding this issue. Su alone raises funds for the 17 known survivors who were dishonored and boycotted and did not receive any kind of aid from the government.

It was in the 1990s that the Japanese government finally accepted that the comfort women system actually existed and thereafter it has apologized and offered these women compensation. Under the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the issue has received some attention according to the experts.

A “comfort station” located in Nanjing, 300 kilometers west of Shanghai was transformed into a museum and was inaugurated in December 2015. Su was even allowed to upgrade display of his records and findings into a museum which opened on his university campus in October. Just outside that building, a statue of two comfort women was unveiled. The statue represents Chinese and Korean comfort women. The documents on comfort women have been made available and there can be seen an international effort to include these findings in the UNESCO International Memory of The World Register.

Su, in his statement, said that the first ever comfort station in the world has not been fully protected and in order to avoid this regrettable situation, we need to work hard.

– prepared by Harsimran Kaur of NewsGram. Twitter @Hkaur1025