Here’s Why Pokémon Go Isn’t Available In China, India & South Korea

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Aug 08 2016
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Unless you live in China, India or South Korea, chances are you’ve been hunting Pokémon since the game was introduced in Asia 2 days ago. Even if you haven’t started doing that, at least you should have heard about Pokémon which is taking the entire planet by storm. So, which are the 15 countries in Asia that are infected by this highly addictive game?


You can download “Pokémon Go” from either Apple Appstore or Google Playstore if you are currently in the following countries– Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau.

Pokémon GO - Pokemon Asia - Malaysia Kuala Lumpur

However, you may notice there’re 3 major countries in Asia not in the list – China, India and South Korea. But why were these 3 giants excluded from Pokémon? There’s no reason not to include China if the game developer – Niantic – wants to make serious money. As of second quarter of 2016, China has climbed to the #1 spot, surpassing the US and Japan, in spending money on games on iOS.


The problem with launching Pokémon Go in China has everything to do with the Chinese regulations. Although the “Pokémon Company” is co-owned by Nintendo, developer Game Freak, and merchandise company Creatures, the developer – Niantic Labs – is actually an American mobile game developer.

China Security Forces Marching

Pokémon Go requires location-tracking and camera to map virtual Pokémon into the real world. Surprisingly, I managed to catch 2 Pokémon – Charmander and Psyduck – from within 4 walls of my (condominium) bedroom without breaking a sweat after I signed in to the game. But that’s about it. To level up, you still need to go outside and explore.


To put it mildly, the Chinese government is a little bit reluctant and concern when it comes to foreigners and GPS coordinates, especially one from United States. Foreigners are treated automatically as potential spies hence an American developer and a Japanese owner – 2 traditional enemies of China – could easily be flagged as conducting espionage masking behind Pokémon Go game.

Pokémon GO China - Cyber Security Threat

When Coca-Cola made use of location-tracking services in China back in 2013, the American company was accused of breaking the Chinese law. Coca-Cola claimed it used location-based services to improve customer service and improve fuel efficiency in China. Unimpressed, authorities in China accused Coca-Cola Co. of illegally using the Global Positioning System to gather confidential information.


Weeks before Pokémon Go was released in Asia, there was already a popular conspiracy theory spreading like wildfire on Chinese microblogging site Weibo. Here’s the conspiracy theory: Japan’s Nintendo Co Ltd, which part owns the Pokémon franchise, and America’s Google can work out where Chinese military bases are by seeing where users can’t go to capture Pokémon characters.

Pokémon GO China - Security Threat to Military Base

Because the game relies on Google services such as Maps, the theory explains that the entire game is a US-Japanese plot to GPS map China and determines the locations of Chinese military bases to facilitate quick strikes if a war ever breaks out. If players can’t go to places where rare Pokémon are placed, such locations are potentially military zones and could be targeted by U.S. and Japan’s guided missiles.


Even if Pokémon Go is not an American military conspiracy, the game certainly could lead to people wandering around Chinese military bases and secret areas looking for Pokémon, and Beijing isn’t amuse about such intrusion. It was like the Government of the United States encouraging and welcoming players exploring Area-51 at Edwards Air Force Base.

Pokémon GO China - Air Force Base - Pokemon Security Threat

To launch in China, Pokémon Go would need to go through Chinese regulatory body SAPPRFT’s pre-approval process. But with the recent arbitration tribunal on July 12 declaring that China couldn’t claim historic rights in all the waters within a “nine-dash” line used by Beijing to delineate its South China Sea claims, it’s nearly impossible that Pokémon could invade China.


Chinese Pokémon enthusiasts, however, are going to great lengths to join in on the fun – from downloading knock-off apps to faking their GPS location to America, not to mention various and creative workarounds. And just like Xiaomi, such restrictions present opportunity to independent developers to copy Pokémon Go, on top of creating third-party APIs to access Pokémon servers.

North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Un’s Nuclear Threat

How about South Korea? Thanks to badass Kim Jong-un, millions of frustrated South Koreans will have to do with Pokémon Go in very limited areas. Yes, it’s the same security issue caused by North Korean. In fact, there’s only 1 city in the whole South Korea that Pokémon Go is available – seaside city of “Sokcho”.


Because the city of Sokcho is just 2-hour from Seoul by bus, bus tickets between both cities were selling like hot cakes. Of course, the Mayor of Sokcho isn’t complaining about the sudden migration of fellow South Koreans to his city. Koreans are now calling Sokcho, a city located in north-eastern part of South Korea, – “태초마을” – the Pallet Town.

Pokémon GO South Korea - Players in City of Sokcho

But the city of Sokcho could access Pokémon Go largely because of a technical loophole. Located at north-eastern tip of South Korea, Sokcho is 35 kilometres (20 miles) away from the DMZ or demilitarized zone which splits North and South Korea. So, the city is blessed to be located just outside the index grids that geographically block the country.


Unlike China, a Google’s request for a full map data from South Korea has been cleared by 3 ministries, including the defence and foreign ministries as well as the National Intelligence Service. Still, an official clearance from the Government of South Korea scheduled by August 25 could see more cities to be allowed for Pokémon Go.

Pokémon GO India - Players Playing Pokemon Third Party Service

It’s puzzling that India is excluded too considering the country’s smartphone sales are skyrocketing. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. India’s 1.2 billion populations may be mouth-watering but at the same time they may pose a problem for Niantic’s servers. For now, Indians can only pray and hope after the shutting down of third-party services such as Pokevision in the country.


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