Attack of the balloons has South Koreans on edge

A heartwarming scene from The Red Balloon it was not: when South Korean schoolchildren launched fifty balloons into the sky on Thursday, no one stopped to oh and ah. The man who spotted the air-borne rubber fleet twenty miles outside the capital city Seoul mistook the colorful orbs for parachutes and instantly raised the alarm. A military and police investigation was quickly mounted, only to conclude that the would-be North Korean invaders were in fact the steadily deflating remains of a local school celebration.

The incident is one more laugh for international observers -- and one more sign of just how high tensions are running in South Korea in the wake of the March 26 explosion of the Cheonan. (This isn't the first false alarm on the Peninsula in recent weeks: the discovery of an abandoned diving suit on the heels of an unexplained coastal explosion set police on high alert. Thankfully -- or just embarrassingly -- investigators concluded nothing was awry.)

But for South Korean security officials, it's better safe than sorry: facing strong criticism within the country for their mishandling of the Cheonan incident, top military leaders stepped down, and remaining forces pledged to improve their level of responsiveness.

(Balloons have been the source of Korean controversy before: read about this defector's helium-powered propaganda.)



Quiz: How much did new-car registrations change last year globally?

Quiz question for the week:

Quiz: How much did new-car registrations change last year globally? 

a) 14 percent decrease    b) no change    c) 7 percent increase

(For those of you who don't subscribe to the bimonthly print edition of Foreign Policy, you're missing a great feature: the FP Quiz. It has eight intriguing questions about how the world works.)

Answer after the jump …

A, 14 percent decrease. The rising middle classes in China and India may have been buying cars like crazy, and governments may have tried to stimulate their economies with various "cash for clunkers" programs, but with the economic downturn, 2009 was the worst year on record for automakers, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. But new-car registrations are forecast to vroom up 4.7 percent this year, with the Asia-Pacific region leading the way with nearly 20 million passenger-car registrations.

And for more questions about how the world works, check out the rest of the FP Quiz.  

(In the photo above, a Tata Nano in India is taken for a test drive on March 24, 2009.)