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N. Korea cloud has silver lining for South's armsmakers
By Hwang Sunghee
Seoul (AFP) Oct 19, 2017

'How to survive a N. Korean missile' - in Japanese manga form
Tokyo (AFP) Oct 19, 2017 - "Cover your head". That's the advice offered in a manga comic published by local authorities in Japan describing what to do in the event of a North Korean missile strike.

Officials on the northern island of Hokkaido, which has already had two missiles from North Korea fired over it, published the manga survival guide titled "In case a missile flies over" earlier this month.

The four-page comic, created by local manga artist Manabu Yamamoto, details what the island's 5.5 million residents should do when they hear sirens, loudspeaker messages and emergency phone alerts about North Korean missile launches.

In the colourful comic, characters are seen protecting themselves by wrapping their arms or cushions over their head.

The comic shows students taking cover under their desks at school, farmers crouching down in a trench in their fields or fishermen in the ocean hiding behind a ship's wheelhouse.

"We decided to release the manga after hearing from our residents that the current manual is hard to understand," said Kiyomi Tanabe, a Hokkaido official.

The Hokkaido government has sent electronic copies of the comic to schools, fisheries associations and other public bodies on the island so they can print them out, the official said.

Tensions over the North's weapons programmes have soared in recent months, with Pyongyang carrying out a series of missile launches and its sixth nuclear test, its most powerful yet, in defiance of multiple sets of UN sanctions.

Some experts have warned that North Korea is preparing to launch another ballistic missile during a joint naval drill between the United States and South Korea, which started on Monday.

The constant missile and nuclear threats from South Korea's belligerent northern neighbour have racked regional tensions sky-high, but they are a boon for the country's burgeoning defence industry.

South Korea has been one of the world's largest importers of military equipment and technology for decades -- mostly from the US -- but in recent years its domestic sector has grown rapidly.

Arms exports have soared tenfold in a decade, from just $253 million in 2006 to $2.5 billion last year, according to government data.

The country's missiles, howitzers, submarines and warplanes are especially popular in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South America.

Once a largely agricultural backwater devastated by war, South Korea now has companies that have become world leaders in fields ranging from shipbuilding to smartphones, and its arms manufacturers are starting to follow suit.

Analysts say having nuclear-armed North Korea on its doorstep has focussed international military attention on Seoul's forces and the equipment they use.

"Its military is well-respected, because of Korea's difficult strategic situation -- it faces one of the most dangerous threats in the world, and the military is well-trained to cope with it," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with Teal Group, an aviation and defence consulting firm.

"Thus, weapons choices made by the military are very well respected."

For now, said Aboulafia, South Korean systems are lower-end than their US or European competitors -- but also cheaper.

- Showpiece weapon -

Advanced locally produced weapons were on show at this week's Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition, with organisers saying it was aimed at showcasing South Korean arms manufacturers, rather than giving foreign suppliers a shop window as in the past.

Exhibitors included some familiar Korean names, with Hyundai's defence subsidiary displaying armoured vehicles and wearable robots, and its Kia Motors unit -- known for compact, affordable family cars -- offering light tactical vehicles.

A security arm of Hanwha Group, most recognisable in insurance and hotels, showed off a large unmanned ground vehicle.

Other homegrown fare included the K2 tank, K9 self-propelled artillery and the Surion utility helicopter.

South Korea's showpiece weapon is the T-50, a supersonic advanced trainer jet jointly built by state-run Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Lockheed Martin of the US, which also comes in a light combat version.

Some 60 T-50s have been exported to countries including Thailand, Indonesia, Iraq and the Philippines in sales worth over $2.3 billion in the last decade, and KAI is in talks with potential buyers in Africa and Latin America.

"Ten years ago, people refused to board South Korean aircraft, saying that they didn't want to be guinea pigs," KAI's international marketing chief Choi Sang-Yeol said, noting that attitudes had changed significantly.

KAI is seeking a $15 billion deal with the US military to replace 350 ageing American training jets with the T-50, although it faces fierce competition from Boeing and its partner Saab.

If secured, the deal would be the South's biggest-ever military sale and open up more markets, Choi said.

- Golden Eagle -

A US T-50 sale could see South Korea's defence exports reach as much as $12 billion in 2017, the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics & Trade said in a recent report.

Left-leaning new President Moon Jae-In is an enthusiastic supporter, posing in a T-50 cockpit and telling the arms fair's opening ceremony: "Our defence industry must take the leap from being a local producer of advanced weapons to become an export industry."

In the face of the North Korean threat, the proportion of government spending that Seoul devotes to defence is among the world's highest outside Middle East and African conflict zones, according to 2016 figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

At 12.5 percent of the national budget, it is ahead of the 9.3 percent of the US, even though on the campaign trail President Donald Trump called on South Korea to spend more.

Organisers forecast some $800 million of export deals would be agreed during the arms fair.

But there is a downside to the peninsula's tensions.

Aircraft acquisitions entail decades of after-sales service, and buyers want to be sure that suppliers will be in existence to provide it.

"Stability is key," said KAI's Choi. "I get questions about what will happen if a war breaks out and about the company's long-term commitment."





N. Korea sends China Communist Party faint praise
Seoul (AFP) Oct 18, 2017
North Korea issued an unusually short congratulatory message to China's Communist Party Wednesday as President Xi Jinping opened its five-year congress amid strained ties between the two traditional allies. China is North Korea's longtime ally and economic benefactor, saving the country from defeat during the 1950-53 Korean War. But the relationship has soured in recent months over Pyong ... read more

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