As 2010 draws to a close, it is time to take a look back at an eventful year, which saw South Korea experience both sporting and economic successes and devastating challenges to national security, like the sinking of the Navy Corvette Cheonan and the North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23.
◆ Korea-U.S. Reach Deal on FTA
Korea and the U.S. finally reached a deal in renegotiations of their bilateral free trade agreement on Dec. 3, clearing a major hurdle for ratification of the FTA which was signed on June 30, 2007 but has been stuck in the legislatures since. But the revision faces opposition here for conceding too much to the U.S., signaling more tough times ahead for the bill in the National Assembly.
◆ N.Korea Shells Yeonpyeong Island
North Korea launched an artillery attack on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23. It was the first attack on South Korean soil since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and resulted in the deaths of two South Korean civilians and two soldiers. The attack involved the firing of around 170 artillery shells on the island in two separate barrages.
Sixteen Marines were injured. South Korea responded with artillery fire using K-9 howitzers, but the extent of the damage to North Korean targets remains unclear. On Dec. 20, South Korea resumed live artillery drills that were interrupted by the attack.
◆ N.Korea Unveils Uranium Enrichment Facility
North Korea unveiled a massive uranium enrichment facility equipped with hundreds of centrifuges to a visiting U.S. nuclear expert in early November. Experts believe North Korea unveiled the facility to pressure the U.S. to return to the stalled six-party talks.
In 2002, North Korea apparently confessed to operating a highly enriched uranium program, but it quickly reversed the admission and had since then adamantly denied it. Uranium enrichment facilities are easier to conceal than plutonium extraction facilities and can be moved around easily. Some 2,000 centrifuges are enough to produce one nuclear weapon a year. South Korea and the U.S. believe North Korea has three or four more clandestine facilities in addition to the one in Yongbyon.
◆ Seoul Hosts G20 Summit
The G20 Summit took place on Nov. 11 and 12 at COEX in southern Seoul. It was the first time that an emerging country hosted a summit of the world's top 20 economies. Held at the height of a global currency war, it produced an agreement containing current account balance guidelines and steps to improve governance at the International Monetary Fund. The summit also saw pledges by advanced countries to support the growth of developing nations. In the international press the event was widely seen as boosting Korea's global status.
◆ N.Korea Makes 3rd-Generation Succession Official
The feudal succession of the North Korean regime became official when leader Kim Jong-il's third son Jong-un was appointed a four-star Army general on Sept. 27 and vice chairman of the Workers Party's powerful Central Military Commission on Sept. 28. The appointments were made during the first extraordinary party congress in 44 years.
The regime created the position of "vice chairman" specially for Kim Jong-un (27). But it remains to be seen whether the dynastic succession will be successful, which depends a lot on how much longer Kim Jong-il has to live, according to experts.
◆ 46 Sailors Dead in N.Korean Torpedo Attack
The 1,200 ton Navy corvette Cheonan was attacked by a North Korean torpedo and sank near Baeknyeong Island in the West Sea on March 26. Of the ship's 104 crew, 46 died. An investigative committee of 73 experts, including 24 from the U.S., Australia, the U.K. and Sweden, announced on May 20 their findings that the Cheonan sank due to an attack by a North Korean CHT-02D torpedo fired from a small submarine.
◆ Kim Yu-na Rewrites Figure Skating History
Kim Yu-na not only became the first Korean figure skater to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics but also rewrote figure skating history with her record score in Vancouver, Canada. Kim earned a combined score of 228.56 points for her short program and free skating performances, the record since a new scoring method was introduced in 2004. Mao Asada of Japan came second with 205.50 points.