Top 10 Korean news of 2022

SEOUL– The following are the top 10 South Korean news stories of 2022 as selected by Yonhap News editors.

▲ Election of President Yoon Suk-yeol and opening of Yongsan era
In the March presidential election, Yoon Suk-yeol, the nominee of the People Power Party, was elected just one year after he resigned as prosecutor general despite having no previous political experience.

Yoon succeeded in achieving a change of government on a platform of “fairness and common sense” at a time when the conservative camp was near ruin amid consecutive losses in elections following the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye.

Even after his dramatic rise to power and May 10 inauguration, Yoon took bold actions.

He relocated the presidential office from Cheong Wa Dae, which he called a symbol of an “imperial” presidency, to what was then the defense ministry compound in Yongsan, and opened Cheong Wa Dae to the public. He also had the foreign minister’s residence in Hannam-dong remodeled into the new presidential residence.

Starting the day after his inauguration, Yoon met with reporters on his way to work for impromptu Q&A sessions, which totaled 61 times until they were indefinitely suspended in November.

Yoon held a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden just 11 days after he took office, the earliest-ever South Korea-U.S. summit following a South Korean president’s inauguration.

He also offered an “audacious plan” to provide massive economic assistance to North Korea in exchange for a denuclearization commitment while vowing to strengthen extended deterrence in the face of North Korea’s growing nuclear threats.

In domestic affairs, the Yoon administration chose labor, pensions and education as the three top areas of reform while drastically reorganizing expenditures to improve the country’s fiscal health and shifting the economic paradigm to one that is led by the private sector.

▲ Itaewon crowd crush

The country was thrown into shock as a massive crowd crush in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood left 158 people dead and 196 others injured on the night of Oct. 29.

The accident took place on a narrow downhill alley next to the Hamilton Hotel as a massive crowd piled into the path. About 100,000 people were visiting the nightlife district for Halloween celebrations.

Nearly 90 percent of those killed in the crush were young people in their 20s and 30s.

The steeply downhill alley, 4 meters wide and 45 meters long, had the possibility of a safety accident in the event of overcrowding.

Investigations found that the Seoul metropolitan government and the police and fire agencies failed to take sufficient safety maintenance measures even though a massive crowd was expected to visit the area for Halloween celebrations.

A special police investigation team subsequently booked Yongsan Ward office chief Park Hee-young; former head of the Yongsan Police Station Lee Im-jae; and Yongsan Fire Station chief Choi Seong-beom for investigation on charges of professional negligence resulting in the deaths.

Other suspicions also came under investigation, including allegations that police and fire personnel failed to take proper emergency response measures and that a number of internal reports were deleted or falsified in a suspected attempt to dodge responsibility.

The investigation also found that the top police command became belatedly aware of the accident due to a leaky internal reporting system. About 10 calls alerting the police to overcrowding flowed in in the four hours before the accident, but no proactive measures, such as dispersing the crowd, were taken in response.

The main opposition Democratic Party railroaded a parliamentary motion calling for dismissing Interior Minister Lee Sang-min to hold him responsible for the bungled state response to the deadly accident, but President Yoon Suk-yeol did not accept the dismissal motion.

▲Korean films, dramas shine on global stage

Korean survival game series “Squid Game” made history by sweeping six Emmy Awards in September, the latest feat for Netflix’s most-watched series ever.

Its creator and director Hwang Dong-hyuk won the outstanding director for a drama series in the Primetime Emmy Awards, and actor Lee Jung-jae clinched the best actor prize to become the first non-English language performer to be honored by the prestigious award.

“Squid Game” also bagged four trophies at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards. Lee Yoo-mi won outstanding guest actress, and the series’ crew walked away with trophies for production design, visual effects and stunt performances.

A wide genre of Korean dramas continued to grab the attention of international viewers.

Local cable channel JTBC’s “Reborn Rich,” available on Netflix, Disney + and other platforms, has topped global streaming charts in South Korea and several other Asian countries since its premier in November.

Its viewership ratings surpassed 20 percent on Dec. 11 to become the most-watched drama in South Korea this year, surpassing the previous high ratings for local cable channel ENA’s “Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” streamed on Netflix.

“Woo,” a legal drama about a female attorney with autism spectrum, was the most buzzworthy series of summer as it remained on top of Netflix’s non-English TV show chart for seven consecutive weeks.

In May, South Korea had the best Cannes Film Festival ever by winning two trophies.

Song Kang-ho grabbed the best actor for his performance in the film “Broker,” written and directed by Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda, to become the first Korean male actor to win the category.

Park Chan-wook took home the best director prize for his romance thriller “Decision to Leave.” It was his third prize at Cannes, following the Grand Prix for “Oldboy” in 2003 and the Jury Prize for “Thirst” in 2009.

▲ Data center fire disrupts services of KakaoTalk

Nearly all online services provided by Kakao Corp., the operator of the most popular mobile messenger app KakaoTalk, suffered a massive malfunction for about five days due to a fire at a data center run by SK C&C located in Pangyo, just south of Seoul, on Oct. 15.

The fire was extinguished some eight hours later, but an immediate power shutdown at the data center caused a server outage in Kakao’s services as the company locates most of servers there without a backup.

Services of KakaoTalk, with 43 million monthly active users in the country of 50 million, were disrupted along with its sister apps, like Kakao T, a transportation app, Kakao Pay, a mobile payment and digital wallet service, Kakao Games, Kakao Webtoon and Zigzag, an e-commerce platform.

Kakao’s co-CEO Namkoong Whon stepped down to take responsibility for the incident, while the broader-than-expected service outage sparked public calls for government intervention to tackle Kakao’s dominance in the communications market of South Korea, one of the world’s most wired nations.

The company was also ordered by the government to come up with detailed measures to prevent a recurrence and to compensate those who suffered damage from the dayslong service disruption.

▲ S. Korea reach round of 16 at FIFA World Cup in Qatar

Against steep odds, South Korea reached the round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in December, the first time in 12 years and only the third time overall that the country played in the knockout stage of football’s biggest tournament.

South Korea, world No. 28, opened Group H play with a goalless draw against 14th-ranked Uruguay. Then South Korea’s knockout hopes took a beating after a 3-2 loss to 61st-ranked Ghana.

In the final group match, South Korea had to defeat world No. 9 Portugal and get help from Uruguay and Ghana just to have a shot at reaching the knockouts.

The Taegeuk Warriors held up their end of the bargain, rallying past Portugal 2-1 thanks to a last-gasp goal by substitute Hwang Hee-chan. South Korea also needed Uruguay to beat Ghana, and Uruguay obliged with a 2-0 victory that allowed South Korea to progress to the round of 16 on a goals scored tiebreaker.

South Korea suffered a 4-1 loss to top-ranked Brazil in the round of 16 on Dec. 5, as their inspiring and improbable run came to a screeching halt. However, South Korean players, with captain Son Heung-min leading the way despite serious facial injury, were still lauded for their “never give up” mentality and dogged determination.

▲ N. Korea fires more than 60 ballistic missiles, including 8 ICBMs

North Korea has test-fired 63 ballistic missiles in 31 rounds of provocation so far this year, marking the largest number it launched in a single year. Among the missiles were eight intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

In particular, the North vehemently staged its missile provocations between Oct. 31 and Nov. 5., when South Korea and the United States conducted joint air drills, called Vigilant Storm. During the period, the North fired more than 30 missiles, including two dozen on Nov. 2.

One of the missiles landed near the South’s territorial waters after flying past the Northern Limit Line (NLL), a de facto maritime inter-Korean border, in the East Sea for the first time since the two Koreas were divided in 1945. As it headed toward the South’s eastern Ulleung Island, local authorities issued an air raid alert.

On Oct. 4, North Korea launched a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) over Japan, and test-fired a Hwasong-17 ICBM on Nov. 18. The Kim Jong-un regime has carried out missile provocations in protest of joint military exercises staged by Seoul and Washington, which the North views as a rehearsal for invasion.

The North also launched Scud missiles and an SA-5 surface-to-air missile similar to that used by Russia in the Ukraine war. It fired hundreds of artillery shots into waters of its east and west coasts and even flew warplanes en masse near the border in a show of force.

▲ Inflation, high interest rates, global recession woes weigh on S. Korea’s economy

The year 2022 started on a somewhat optimistic note amid expectations that the world would see the light at the end of the long “pandemic tunnel” and that consumption and corporate investment would bounce up thanks to eased virus curbs. But things were made worse after a war broke out in Ukraine, which has disrupted global supply chains and sent oil and raw material prices soaring.

Soaring commodity prices and mounting inflation pressure have forced the United States and other advanced countries to push for a series of sharp interest rate hikes. South Korea’s central bank had no choice but to follow suit to rein in price growth and stem capital outflows that could accelerate the local currency’s slide against the strong U.S. dollar.

Steep increases in the cost of borrowing have dented corporate investment and increased household debt that had grown at a fast pace during the pandemic. Hawkish monetary policy in the U.S. and stringent coronavirus restrictions in China, along with a looming global recession, have also sharply undercut South Korea’s exports, a key growth engine for its economy.

The won’s sharp decline against the U.S. dollar has weighed on the economy as it has complicated the government’s efforts to bring inflation down by making imports more expensive. The sharp downfall in the won’s value has also sparked concerns over a financial crisis similar to what the country suffered in the late 1990s and 2000s.

The won tumbled against the greenback below the 1,400 mark in late September for the first time in more than 13 years amid the dollar’s rally and South Korea’s widening trade deficit. Though the won gained some ground later, it has still weakened about 9 percent against the dollar so far this year.

Woes over a credit crunch have also arisen in the wake of a rare default of a Legoland-linked debt guaranteed by Gangwon Province. Borrowing costs have soared, making it harder for companies to secure necessary funds. Freezing market sentiment took another hit from Heungkuk Life Insurance’s rare decision not to exercise a call option for hybrid bonds due to worries over soaring interest rates. Market sentiment has been seriously hurt, prompting the government to step in and announce a series of large-scale liquidity-pumping measures.

▲ Half of people infected with COVID-19; gov’t lifts strict antivirus rules to regain normalcy

South Korea had continued an intense battle against the COVID-19 pandemic through 2022 since its first outbreak in January 2020. But the country has been moving closer to post-pandemic life by lifting almost all strict social distancing rules in phases amid the spread of the less deadly omicron variant and an aggressive vaccination campaign.

As of mid-December, the country reported a total of 27,995,726 virus cases, which accounted for 54.2 percent of the total population, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

This year alone, the country has reported 25,669 deaths from the new coronavirus, and the death toll so far has come to 31,232.

The highly contagious omicron variant swept through the country earlier this year, bringing the worst ever virus wave. The number of newly infected people surged to as high as 621,127 on March 17, and the daily deaths came to the largest ever figure of 469 on March 24.

But the government eased strict antivirus measures despite the omicron-driven pandemic.

From April, the government lifted a curfew on the operating hours of restaurants, cafes and other small businesses, as well as the cap on the size of private gatherings. People were allowed to eat and drink on public transit and in theaters, religious houses and indoor stadiums.

The country also downgraded the COVID-19 infectious disease level by one notch to the second-highest level of its four-tier system.

In September, the government removed all outdoor mask-wearing mandates after about two years of implementation, and the virus testing requirement for inbound travelers was lifted the following month.

Currently, indoor mask mandates and a seven-day mandatory quarantine for those infected with the virus remain in place, and the government is reviewing lifting the mask-wearing rules early next year.

The government has said it will and is able to continue to manage the virus situation within its current medical capacity and vowed to focus on ways to better protect vulnerable people while supporting people’s return to normal life.

▲ S. Korea successfully launches homegrown space rocket in 2nd attempt

South Korea’s homegrown space rocket Nuri, also known as KSLV-II, blasted off from the Naro Space Center in the country’s southern coastal village of Goheung at 4 p.m. on June 21 and successfully completed its flight sequence.

Then, the 200-ton rocket deployed satellites at the target altitude of 700 kilometers as planned. Of those, the 162.5-kilogram performance verification satellite successfully reached its orbit.

Some 40 minutes after the launch, the satellite made its first communication with S. Korea’s King Sejong Station in Antarctica.

The launch was Nuri’s second liftoff after its first attempt ended in failure in October last year, when the rocket failed to put a dummy satellite into orbit.

As a result, South Korea became the seventh country in the world to develop a space launch vehicle that can carry a more than 1-ton satellite, after Russia, the United States, France, China, Japan and India.

It also meant the country has now secured the key independent technology for developing and launching space rockets carrying homegrown satellites, opening up a new era in the country’s space program. South Korea has invested nearly 2 trillion won (US$1.5 billion) in building Nuri since 2010.

▲ A series of disasters from apartment collapse in Gwangju to forest fire

On Jan. 11, outer wall structures of a 39-story apartment building under construction in the southern city of Gwangju crumbled, leaving six workers dead.

The land ministry asked the Seoul city government to take punitive measures against its builder, HDC Hyundai Development Co., such as the cancellation of business registration or a one-year suspension.

HDC Hyundai Development decided to demolish the building and build it all over again.

From March 4 to March 13, a series of forest fires occurred along the country’s east coast ranging from the cities of Uljin, Samcheok and Gangneung to Donghae. The wildfire lasted for 213 hours, making it the most devastating wildfire on record in South Korea.

A total of 20,523 hectares of woodland was devastated, which is equivalent to one-third of the total area of Seoul. The government declared Uljin, Samcheok, Gangneung and Donghae as special disaster zones.

Torrential rains of 100 to 300 millimeters per day fell in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, as well as Gangwon Province, North Chungcheong Province and North Jeolla Province from Aug. 8 to Aug. 13. In some regions of Seoul, the hourly precipitation exceeded 100 mm, the highest recorded in 80 years.

A total of 14 people died, including eight in Seoul, according to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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