A Serviceable Villain

19 May

2Ans2.AuSt.55.jpeg That bit from “I am the Walrus” popped into my head reading what a KBS reporter said about the first joint launch featuring a South Korean Kompsat-3 satelite atop a Japanese H-2A rocket.

To welcome visiting officials with the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, Japan spared no effort to roll out the red carpet for its neighboring country’s guests (literally, in the case of the floor of the main observation center’s elevator).

Small South Korean flags were tied to utility polls in the town of Nakatane in central Tanegashima and Mitsubishi Heavy, the chief contractor for the H-2A rocket, worked behind the scenes to translate local menus into Hangul and teach innkeepers basic Korean greetings, according to one company official.

Speaking at a press conference following the launch, Seung Jo Kim, president of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute, thanked his Japanese hosts for the flawless launch and the local hospitality. “We appreciate the warm reception we have received from the people of Tanegashima, right down to the translated menus,” he said.

Most signs posted in the Takasaki Observation Building were translated into Korean and English. But such diplomatic niceties appeared lost on reporters and support crew for South Korean media outlets covering the launch.

The Korean press delegation, which included four broadcasters and five newspapers, was busy dashing out stories or scripts about the launch. But not the rocket.

“We’re really not all that interested in the Japan angle, or their rocket. That’s just the delivery vehicle,” said Hong Soo Jin, a reporter with Korea Broadcasting News. “For us, the big news is that it’s the first satellite developed entirely with Korean technology,” she said.

The choice of Japan’s rocket was a logical one for South Korea since industry officials say the price was just a fraction of the overall launch cost. Also, Seoul could hardly deploy what some experts say is a thinly disguised spy satellite from a Chinese-made or, ahem, North Korean rocket.

So much for objectivity, huh? Somewhere in Japan I’m sure there’s a Japanese reporter snickering, that the money paid for the use of a completely Japanese-made rocket is much appreciated, too. Cooperation between bitter rivals with a mountain of grievances launced from Seoul toward Tokyo is good, but only if the Japanese realize who their South Korean partner is.

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