Concept Caching: Seoul Korea

From our Concept Caching image cache that hopes to promote student spatial awareness by relating specific features on the Earth’s surface with their visual character and GPS coordinates. Through the site photographs and GPS coordinates demonstrate core concepts in geography.  Images are “cached” for viewing by core concept and by region.  Images are certainly useful for introducing visual content to students in all Geography classes.

"From the observation platform atop the Seoul Tower one would be able to see into North Korea except for the range of hills in the background: the capital lies in the shadow of the DMZ (demilitarized zone), relic of one of the hot conflicts of the Cold War." H.J. de Blij

East Asian regional politics has long been politically contentious.  As discussed in the post, Regional Politics in East Asia: Koreas, China and Beyond, geopolitics and political geography are responsible for subtle simmering tensions that at times burst into real conflict.  Not only is North Korea concealed beyond the hills that make up the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), but it would be unrecognizable in comparison to its peninsular neighbor as evidence in the capital city of Seoul.  The vast differences between the two states has its legacy in the same period that spawned the DMZ and its maritime other, the Northern Limit Line (NLL).  Such historical divisions and the ideological alliances on either side, have led to the departures in economic, urban and social geographies.

Regional Politics in East Asia: the Koreas, China and Beyond

East Asia is a region of contrasts: political, economic, social, and cultural.  Today such contrasts weave a complicated web of linkages and alliances between states in the region and beyond.  Within the region, competition and cooperation are balanced alongside periodic conflict and contention.  Nowhere is this more evident than on the Korean Peninsula, with its long history as an East Asian crossroads between Chinese and Japanese influence, but also as a pivot point between global geopolitical maneuvers.  The story begins in the post-World War II period that deteriorated into the bipolar Cold War world that specifically shaped the Koreas.  Today, the Korean Peninsula is just as affected by global powers as ever.  The events of 2010 provide a case in point.  In March, a South Korean warship was sunk allegedly by the North, although they denied responsibility.  In November, the disputed South Korean island of Yeonpyeong was shelled by the North.  Reviewing the diplomatic interactions between the Koreas and their allies following that latest incident reveals the touchy nature of current global and regional politics.

political geography perspective investigates the spatiality of political activities and can be applied to the background of the peninsula.  Following the end of World War II, the peninsula was administratively divided between the United States in the South and the Soviet Union in the North.   The division lasted into the Cold War and effectively split Korea into a communist North and non-communist South.  War broke out when the communist North sought to unify the peninsula by invading the South in 1950.  After three years of war the agreed cease-fire line, known on land as the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and over the ocean as the Northern Limit Line (NLL) both near the 38th parallel, has continued to mark the current political boundaries between North and South Korea.  Both of these boundaries have been disputed by the North and served as a pretext for military action, especially the NLL recently. The NLL as maritime boundary was set by the United Nations, a supranational organization, in 1953 and gave control of several offshore islands to South Korea despite their being dangerously adjacent to the North Korean mainland.  The North was forced to relinquish the islands during the war because it lacked capable naval power to retain them.

These boundaries continue to represent global ideological and political divisions, as today’s regional alliances link up North Korea with its contemporary communist ally, China, and South Korea with the democratic, capitalist United States, outside the region, as well as Japan in East Asia.  Beginning in 2003, these players together with Russia convened the Six Party Talks to address concerns over the threat of North Korea’s nuclear program.  Although the talks led to little agreement, the Six Party format became the de facto forum for East Asian stability in 2010.  However, the six parties did not actually sit down to talk, instead they were making public statements and symbolic acts without actually sitting down together.  First, hostile rhetoric was exchanged between North and South and many feared that war was inevitable.  Then, in support of South Korea, a “tri-lateral” meeting in Washington was convened between the United States and South Korea, symbolizing their “mutual defense” alliance from the end of the Korean War, but also with Japan.  They also demonstrated the strength of the alliance as the US-South Korean “war games” and the US-Japanese military drills that were observed by South Korea.  On the side of North Korea, however, the strength of the alliance with China was not so clear.  Their support was gleaned more from what its diplomats chose not to say: the Chinese government preferred not to publicly denounce the shelling.  Some understood this as China effort to maintain the façade of support for its ally because of the strategic importance of North Korea as a buffer state protecting China from the democratic, American-leaning South.  Lately, however, Wikileak documents revealed that their alliance has been tested as China is unhappy with North Korea’s actions and has considered the possible reunification of the Koreas, which would likely manifest as a larger South Korea.

Regardless, much of the diplomatic international community, led by US influence in the United Nations, was unsatisfied with China’s lackluster response.  Many have called for the Chinese to act more like the rising regional and international power that it is.  In particular, this reflects the 21st century world system and the subtle tensions between two of its powers, United States and China.  China’s strongest symbolic statement following the shelling of Yeonpyeong was to caution the US against participating in the South Korean military drills.  From China’s perspective they clearly took place within its sovereignty sphere.  Regardless of the various boundaries of that sphere, being its territorial waters or the wider exclusive economic zone (EEZ).  Ultimately, beyond the rising tensions between the Koreas, the recent diplomatic events reveal a possible degradation of US-Chinese relations.

geopolitical perspective examines the relationships of geography, global politics and actors, and helps to understand some of the political motivations behind the six party diplomatic interactions.  Back at the regional scale, North Korea has consistently kept the international community guessing.  Whether it is about its nuclear program, succession or just about its society, the North has been consistently secretive and its motives elusive.  For example, the North had made threats that if the South carried out its planned military drills that it would retaliate with “brutal consequences beyond imagination.”  And yet, when the South went ahead, the North answered that it was “not worth reacting.” An interesting possible reason behind North Korean military flexing over disputed borders or nuclear programs is their desperate need for foreign aid and investment.  There are drastic differences in the levels of economic and social development between North Korea and its East Asian neighbors.  The North Korean society is characterized by inequality, isolation, famine and general economic backwardness.  It is completely reliant on China for aid and investmentThe military provocation could also be seen as a strategic ploy to get the US and South Korea into talks where they might make concessions, like easing sanctions or providing food aid. On New Year’s Eve, the North requested “dialogue” with the South “as soon as possible”. Although being rejected by South Korea, the US did seem to come around to making the talks happen.

The regional politics in East Asia reveal much about global geopolitics and diplomacy today.  The Cold War history of the two Koreas shaped the contemporary world system, in which diplomatic actions take place.  Expected proximity geographies of regional neighbors are expanded beyond the East Asia realm with mutual defense alliances and ideological allies.  Diplomacy in today’s post-Cold War system, which is more about rhetorical combat than armed battles, is still as careful and coded as it was in the days of spies and the threat of nuclear annihilation.

Concept Caching: Housing in Shanghai, China

From our Concept Caching image cache that hopes to promote student spatial awareness by relating specific features on the Earth’s surface with their visual character and GPS coordinates. Through the site photographs and GPS coordinates demonstrate core concepts in geography.  Images are “cached” for viewing by core concept and by region.  Images are certainly useful for introducing visual content to students in all Geography classes.

"The first photo is of a lilong--traditional, residential housing in Shanghai similar to the hutongs of Beijing. Lilongs were built in the 19th century to house residents and migrants who worked in Shanghai's large European trading companies. The bars were installed later to prevent walls from collapsing during earthquakes. Most of these areas have been demolished and replaced with high rises and modern housing structures. Many people have been displaced as they can't afford the new housing..." Barbara Weightman

"The second photo shows a new apartment complex in a Shanghai suburb that has expanded into former farm land. There is a kiosk at the front of the building that sells cigarettes, magazines, soft drinks etc. It also has a telephone that people can pay to use. The public phone is probably obsolete as most people now have cell phones." Barbara Weightman

In the post Geography Directions: Census of 37% of the World, India and China are conducting their own censuses of their own populations.  Censuses are important for countries as they provide demographic information about their people, information for political and regulatory purposes, and data for economic forecasting.  What is more, counting people helps a country assess the needs of its infrastructure and services.  In China, as well as in India, one of the challenges of keeping up with such large populations is the provision of housing. These two images reveal the different contexts and difficulties of urban housing: historical preservation or high-density modernization; and suburban sprawl or agricultural land use.

Geography Directions: Census of 37% of the World

From our Geography Directions site reviewing Wiley-Blackwell’s Geography Compass review journal covering the entire discipline.  Keep up with cutting edge academic geography.  These articles may be useful for introducing students to the discipline or may be appropriate for upper division Geography classes.

Learning that China has recently completed its 2010 census of 1.3 million people and that India is in the midst of preparation for its February 2011 census of 1.2 billion people, I wanted to find out more about how one would go about counting what is in total, 37% of the world’s population. Keen to learn how this may be done, I read Len Cook’s article “The quality and qualities of population statistics, and the place of the census” in the journal “Area”. The article describes how population counts are the key to official statistical systems and the yardstick for many commercial and research surveys and analyses. In addition, the article describes how statistical offices around the world face an extensive range of challenges when counting their population, particularly because population flows have become much freer and the structure of families continue to evolve. Considering these issues, the article reviews how population counts have and will evolve over time in the UK and other countries.

In China , the decennial population Census was held between November 1 – 10, using an army of 6 million enumerators across the country. However, China has had special difficulties to overcome . Firstly, because of millions of illegal migrants, the so called “floating population”, and secondly because of the unauthorised births which were previously concealed due to the government’s stringent population policy. Some light should also be shed on the countrys’ skewed sex ratio at birth due to the preference for male offspring. There are officially about 120 male births to every 100 female instead of the global norm of 105. The official estimate of the sex ratio of the country’s 0- to-4 age group in 2008 was 123 males per 100 females.

The results of the census counts in China and India will be released at almost the same time in 2011 with India releasing their figures at the end of March and China at the end of April. Depending on the results a world population of 7 billion may be official by early next year.

To view the original article please visit the Geography Directions Blog.

Concept Caching: Bicycle Use and Production in China

From our Concept Caching image cache that hopes to promote student spatial awareness by relating specific features on the Earth’s surface with their visual character and GPS coordinates. Through the site photographs and GPS coordinates demonstrate core concepts in geography.  Images are “cached” for viewing by core concept and by region.  Images are certainly useful for introducing visual content to students in all Geography classes.

"Bicycles, once the most important type of transportation in China, are disappearing from China's cities as automobiles are becoming more common. In fact, car drivers are so aggressive, wild and careless that bikers ride in danger for their lives..." BA Weightman

In the post Geography Directions: The Dilemma of Global Energy, the connections between global energy security and climate change policy are approached from a geographic perspective.  One of these connections is found in China, where there are larger societal changes happening as major transportation modes are shifting from bicycles to cars as more and more middle class Chinese are able to afford them.  This has real implications for the demands on global energy and the resulting relationship with climate change.  It will be development questions such as this that will be the sticking point for agreements on climate change policy.

Concept Caching: Container Ship, Rotterdam

From our Concept Caching image cache that hopes to promote student spatial awareness by relating specific features on the Earth’s surface with their visual character and GPS coordinates. Through the site photographs and GPS coordinates demonstrate core concepts in geography.  Images are “cached” for viewing by core concept and by region.  Images are certainly useful for introducing visual content to students in all Geography classes.

Rotterdam will soon replace Kaohsiung, Taiwan as the sixth busiest container port in the world. Inauguration of the container over 35 years ago revolutionized global shipping as larger and faster ships could carry more cargo than ever before. So many ships enter the port that there is severe congestion and 3/4 of ships are late unloading. The city is in the process of building new terminals on land reclaimed from the sea. Sea-land is the largest US based ocean carrier and serves over 100 ports in 80 countries. This is globalization at work! BA Weightman

One of the most significant trends that have contributed to globalization has been the tremendous advancements in transportation and communications technologies.  Although globalization processes have always been at work as long as people have moved and interacted with one another, the scale and pace of 21st century globalization has brought remarkable change and convergence.  Economic geographers do caution, however, of the growing unevenness or ‘regionalization’ that is associated with globalization.  This image and its caption speak to such clusters and changes, as the port city of Rotterdam (itself a case study in the changing geographies of globalization) will overtake another locality in the ranking of world’s busiest ports.  It also highlights the constant maintenance required for global competition and success; often cited as globalization winners and losers.