America Imports Lots of Stuff from China, Including Christmas Decorations

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Economy & Finance

Last year, the United States imported more than $460 billion in goods — clothes, toys, gadgets, you name it — from China. Of course, our Christmas decorations were on that list, too.

Some $2.2 billion in fake trees, miniature lights and assorted ornaments came from the Middle Kingdom last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s detailed trade database.

The Christmas trade in ornaments is big business. It skyrocketed in the mid-1990s (like all products from China) and dipped during the recession (like all products from China).

Here’s a simple chart:

Merry Christmas. 圣诞节快乐.

Visualizing More Than a Decade of North Korean Defections

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, South Korea

Another North Korean soldier defected at the Demilitarized Zone on Thursday, causing a brief skirmish along the highly fortified border. He was the fourth solder to defect this year, including the one last month who was shot several times by his comrades before he made it to safety in South Korea.

There have been tens of thousands of defections from the communist regime since the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War. Most don’t occur at the DMZ, a 2.5-mile buffer zone filled with landmines, guard posts and barbed wire.

Here’s a look at some of the demographics of those North Koreans who defected over the years.

This first chart shows the numbers of defectors since 2001, by gender. You can see that women have been more likely to defect — and that there was a sharp drop-off in defections beginning in 2012. That’s the year that Kim Jong Un, the grandson of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, took power. Coincidence? Probably not.

This next bar chart shows the defector counts by age groups, again while breaking out gender. It’s easier to defect when you’re young, I suppose.

And, finally, a provincial map showing where known defectors came from, with darker shades representing more defections. North Hamgyong Province had the most (more than 18,000), probably because defectors can sneak across the Tumen River — which forms about a third of the border between China and North Korea.

Testing ai2html on a North Korean Defector

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, Policy & Politics, South Korea

A few weeks ago I wrote about the daring defection — and eventual rescue — of a North Korean soldier who barreled across the Demilitarized Zone in a truck and then ran as fellow troops fired on him. The story centers on a dramatic video of the ordeal released by United Nations command.

The video, shot the afternoon of Nov. 13, shows the soldier speeding down a road toward the Joint Security Area, a border outpost that’s been the site of military skirmishes and diplomatic talks between the Koreas, still technically at war, and the U.S.

The soldier can be seen driving in a green military-style vehicle past a North Korean checkpoint before wheeling past a monument inside the area, where soldiers from both sides of the conflict are posted in relatively close proximity. The footage is a series of videos taken from different cameras at different angle.

The video fascinated me, but I found myself wanting someone to explain the sequences more clearly, so I started crafting a graphic in my free time to annotate the defector’s journey. I tried this using the ai2html tools created by The New York Times that are built into NPR’s dailygraphics rig. After a visit to the location with United States forces last week, I’m confident the graphic is accurate. I’m less confident, unfortunately, in its storytelling, design or technical merit.

Oh, well. Your first try with a new tool is never perfect — especially when this work is just a hobby.

Try it on desktop, tablet and mobile — and let me know if you have thoughts.

North Korean ‘Provocations’ Freeze During Winter?

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, Policy & Politics

Last week I posted a visual timeline highlighting nuclear, missile and other “provocations” by the North Korean regime since 2006. The data show a clear escalation, especially in missile tests, since Kim Jong Un took power in late 2011.

It’s been more than 70 days, though, since the last provocation. The most-recent incident was the firing of an intermediate-range ballistic missile — most likely the Hwasong-12 — over Japanese territory into the Pacific Ocean. It was the latest in a flurry of tests this year.

Some, though, have been heartened by this slowdown in recent weeks, suggesting that tensions between the United States and North Korea might be cooling.

What actually might be happening, however, is that the temperature is cooling in Pyongyang, as Adam Taylor noted in The Washington Post today.

Here’s an updated version of the timeline, showing just the Kim Jong Un era:

And this simple bar chart, which categorizes provocation dates into common seasonal quarters, shows that Pyongyang’s efforts seem to cool, if you will, late in the year under Kim’s leadership:

Visualizing North Korean ‘Provocations’: A Timeline

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: North Korea, South Korea

Until the recent incident involving a defecting soldier, tensions between the United States and North Korea had cool slightly, largely because the communist regime hasn’t committed any so-called “provocations” — ballistic missile and nuclear tests — in more than two months.

Under the North’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, such incidents have increased significantly as his nation seeks to improve its ability to strike targets with nuclear weapons. That effort has included dozens of ballistic missile tests and four underground nuclear detonations during his tenure, which began in late 2011 after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

This timeline, inspired by a graphic made by the NPR Visuals team, shows these provocations since 2006, when the regime tested its first nuclear weapon:

Before/After Imagery: American Military Base in South Korea Dramatically Expands

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Policy & Politics, Social Media

When President Trump came to South Korea earlier this month, he spoke to troops at the U.S. Army garrison known as Camp Humphreys — 40 miles south of Seoul — rather than at Yongsan, the main military headquarters in the center of the capital city.

Humphreys has gradually become the hub for American forces on the peninsula, and by next year most most of them will be stationed south of the Han River, which dissects Seoul, under a relocation agreement reached more than a decade ago.

A 3,500-acre base, Humphreys has dramatically expanded over time and is now the largest United States military installation overseas. It houses more than 10,000 soldiers — with a total population of more than 25,000, including families and South Korean troops — and has one of the busiest military airfields in Asia.

See the transformation:

CREDIT: Before/after tool created by NPR Visuals.

Common Ground Between North and South Korea: Aging and Shrinking Populations

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, North Korea, South Korea

The birth rate in South Korea, where I live and work, hit a record low this year, leading to concern about the impact an aging (and, eventually, shrinking) population might have on the nation’s society and economy.

These charts show the long-term trends, both in actual population and projected changes, according to United Nations data. I’ve added North Korea, which actually has a higher fertility rate today, for context.

First, let’s look at the populations of the two countries, which share an ethnic background and a (mostly) common language — despite the Korean War-era division of the peninsula.

South Korea has about 51 million residents, roughly twice the number of people in the North, which has 25 million. That’s the number of South Koreans who love in the Seoul metro area, by the way.

Both populations are expected to peak in two decades — and then begin to decline.

That downward trend, for now, is much more pronounced in South Korea because of the nation’s low birth rate. Having a large family in South Korea, where housing and education costs are pricey, isn’t possible or practical for many people. The nation also has relatively weak maternity leave policies (and stubbornly traditional gender roles in the home and workplace), leading women to postpone childbirth to pursue their careers.

South Korea is slightly smaller geographically (about the size of Indiana, in terms of area) than the North (roughly the area of Pennsylvania). So their respective population densities vary, too:

Here’s how South Korea has grown, in five-year-increments, since 1950 — when the Korean War began and ultimately changed the trajectories for both countries. South Korea saw relatively rapid growth rate immediately after the war, perhaps as refugees resettled. Projections show that rate declining by 2035:

The North experienced a rapid decline during the war, mostly likely from the death toll during the conflict, the political purges that followed — and the southern migration before the border was secured. Its growth rate soon recovered, however, but could begin declining again by 2045.

Here’s hoping the Korean fertility rate rebounds, or the two nation’s unify — or either becomes more welcoming and accommodating of immigrants. At things stand now, South Korea could become “extinct” by 2750 — a worrying (though simplistic and imperfect) simulation for a uniquely homogenous society that traces its roots back thousands of years.