How China’s Economic Retaliation Hurt the South Korean Tourism Industry

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Economy & Finance, Social Media

I wrote this week about the one-year anniversary of China’s economic retaliation against South Korea over the THAAD missile system, a defensive weapon designed to stop North Korea’s medium-range missiles.

China objects to it and has been flexing its economic muscle in protest, carrying out an aggressive campaign of economic retaliation that includes sending fewer tourists. In 2017, just over 4 million Chinese visited South Korea, down from roughly 8 million a year earlier after several years of steady growth.

These charts show the effect on the South Korean tourism industry, which has grown to depend heavily on China. This first example helps show China’s increasing share among all tourists who visit South Korea. In 2016, for example, nearly half of all visitors were Chinese — way up from a decade ago:

This chart reflects the annual total visitors by Chinese since 2000. Until last year, annual growth had average nearly 30%, even with the 2015 MERS outbreak in South Korea, which caused hundreds of thousands — likely millions — of Chinese to stay away. You can see how the figure dropped dramatically in 2017:

And, finally, we look at the monthly data, which spikes during peak summer months. The effect of MERS is again evident, as is the significant drop in tourists after the Chinese implemented travel restrictions last March:

The Curious Case of South Korea’s Vanishing Washing Machine Exports

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Economy & Finance, South Korea

The Trump administration last week announced that it planned to impose higher fees, known as tariffs, to countries that export washing machines and solar panels the United States.

The tariffs, prompted by complaints from American companies who feel disadvantaged by global trade, were applied across the world — even though they seem primarily aimed at two nations who dominate the market: China and South Korea.

That’s in part because both countries have moved their manufacturing around to avoid such duties. In South Korea’s case, the change in strategy by companies like LG and Samsung seems remarkably obvious in trade data — on washing machines, in particular.

A bit of background: The U.S. Census Bureau keeps detailed data on specific product exports, by country, to the United States. The data reflect the total export value by year and national origin — where the ships came from, essentially — not by companies’ home countries. So Samsung products made in China and exported from China look like Chinese exports.

This graphic shows one possible scenario for how the strategy played out. Washing machine exports from South Korea to the United States dropped dramatically, for example, after a complaint filed in late 2011 by Whirlpool, an American manufacturer. A year later, exports from China increased significantly (and have since fallen, perhaps reflecting other shifts in manufacturing locations, such as Southeast Asia, Mexico and/or the United States itself).

The Times’ story noted the South Korean companies’ concerns:

Samsung and LG described Whirlpool’s case as a protectionist grab designed to shut out products that American consumers find more attractive, and argued that such restrictions on their products would hurt consumers by raising prices.

The export change appears to be because South Korean washing machine companies moved their operations to China during 2013 — and later the the United States — perhaps in an effort to avoid the complaints or looming tariffs. Or because the change was good business for the companies.

Anyway, the data seems pretty obvious:

Mapping the United States’ Korean Population

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: South Korea

I’ve often felt fortunate that I get to write about South Korea for the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper that’s still interested in stories related to life, politics and culture here — not just the strongman to the North.

That interest is in part because the Times remains a serious paper that’s trying to stay committed to foreign news, but also because a decent portion of its readers are Korean. The Los Angeles metro area, for example, has more than 340,000 people of Korean descent, about a fifth of the overall Korean population in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

I’ve written before about South Korean expatriates overseas. These maps, however, show the population of all ethnic Koreans who have settled in Los Angeles and across the United States.

Let’s start with Los Angeles and a caveat: I may write for the Times, but I don’t yet know it’s geography (especially not like these fine folks).

This map shows Los Angeles County, which has about 230,000 people of Korean ancestry, according to the 2010* Census. The deep teal colors in the center of the county reflect the population of Koreatown, a neighborhood inside the city of Los Angeles. This place is legit Korean. There’s even a Paris Baguette! There are several suburban areas, such as Glendale, north of Koreatown, that also have a relatively high proportion of Korean residents.

This map shows the Korean share across the country, by county. Most counties have tiny proportions of Koreans. (My home county in East Texas had a grand total of 194 Koreans, or about 0.16 percent of its population). Other areas, such as Southern California, the mid-Atlantic coast and the New York metro area have comparatively large Korean populations.  

This map uses the same data set but a different visualization technique — proportional symbols, not shaded county boundaries. Larger symbols, or bubbles, represent a higher number of Koreans in raw figures, not proportions.

And, finally, here are two tables with the top 25 counties by both measures — proportion and population:

* I chose this data set because it was the last hard count of all Americans by the Census Bureau. The agency also conducts large, quality surveys between each decennial census, but detailed questions, such as specific ancestral or ethnic origin, can come with high margins of error at smaller geography levels. The hard count also isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we have for national county-level maps until 2020.

How Do We Solve North Korea? Yonsei University Students Have Ideas.

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

I gave a guest lecture today to an East Asian international relations course at Yonsei University in Seoul. As part of the class, the more than 40 students participated in an exercise by answering this question about North Korea:

How do we address the North Korea nuclear issue?
1. Accept as nuclear state
2. Strike known nuclear targets
3. International sanctions
4. Suspend U.S. military drills
5. Diplomacy
6. Two of above: __ & __

Here are the results:

Assessing Global Health in Four Key Diseases

By Matt Stiles | | Topics: Demographics, Policy & Politics

While reporting on South Korea’s high suicide mortality rate recently, I discovered an unique data set maintained by the World Health Organization.

It contains the probability that residents in each country will die from four noncommunicable diseases between the ages of 30 and 70. These are diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory illness, heart disease and diabetes. They can offer clues about a country’s overall health.

This type of illness are often caused by “modifiable risk factors”, according to the organization, such as tobacco use, alcohol abuse, unhealthy diet, obesity, high blood pressure, etc.

“This invisible epidemic is an under-appreciated cause of poverty and hinders the economic development of many countries,” according to a statement on the organization’s website. “The burden is growing — the number of people, families and communities afflicted is increasing.”

The probability ranges wildly by country and region. Papua New Guinea tops the list with a 36% probability that its residents will die before age 70 from one of these four diseases.

South Korea, which has the industrialized world’s highest suicide mortality rate, largely propelled by its elderly population, shares with Iceland the lowest probably rate: 8.3%.

The rate in the United States is 13.3%, below the global average from this study, which is 18.8%, but still wedged between Panama and Slovenia.

Here’s how the different regions (as classified by the organization) differ:

And here are the countries, separated by region and sorted by highest probability:

Image of the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva via Wikimedia Commons.

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:

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.

Visualizing North Korea’s Missile Launches

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

Despite international objections, North Korea has launched four ballistic missiles in the last week, including one that flew over Japan, raising regional tensions about the rogue state’s weapons development even higher.

For those of us who live in South Korea, such provocations have become commonplace, especially since the North’s new leader, Kim Jong Un, took over after his father’s death in late 2011. They interrupt Sunday breakfasts or even national holidays, but they haven’t yet seemed like a real threat.

(Of course, they can just use their ample artillery along the border to strike Seoul, where I live).

The missile testing pace and the North’s increasingly technically ability have increased significantly in the last years, however, causing more and more heartburn in the region.

This chart shows the pace of testing over the years, including missiles that “failed” in flight:

The North has over the years developed (and borrowed) its own set of missiles, each with varying capabilities. Lately they’ve grown more powerful, though not always reliable.

Here’s how often they’ve used them, by missile type:

Since 1984, there have been at least 115 missile launches. But those tests have come from a select group of locations around the North: airfields and testing sites. Here are those tests locations, aggregated, with larger bubbles representing more launches:

And this map shows each launch in time order, with a flurry beginning in 2013. Colors change based on the missile type:

This is just a quick post, created largely because I wanted to build another proportional symbols map with D3. For a more thorough analysis, check out this post.