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Uber suspends UberX services in South Korea — but promises to return

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Adam Berry/Getty Images

Uber has suspended its UberX service in South Korea following ongoing disputes with the country's officials. "Effective today, we are suspending UberX, our ridesharing platform," said the US company in a statement. "After consulting with Seoul City Transport Division ... we determined it was in the best interests of Korean riders, drivers, and the community as a whole to further define our business offerings within the current confines of the regulatory framework, without ambiguity."

This "ambiguity" is what has led Seoul's government to accuse Uber of running an illegal taxi service. Ever since the ride-hailing app launched in South Korea's capital in 2013 it has had to fight an uphill battle, with officials planning to build their own GPS-enabled taxi app, and even offering locals rewards of 1 million KRW (around $900) for reporting illegal Uber drivers. The US company has in turn responded with typically bullish tactics, announcing free rides for all Seoul residents in an attempt to sway public opinion in its favor.

UberX is suspended — but Uber Black will continue to operate

Now, however, it seems the company has decided to throw in the towel — temporarily at least, to avoid getting banned completely. Although UberX has been suspended, the company is continuing to operate Uber Black; a pricier service which employs drivers with professional chauffeur licenses. It's also offering Seoul's taxi drivers the chance to use the Uber platform free of charge, a calculated move that will showcase the company's easy-to-use technology, effectively telling Seoul's licensed drivers: "Look how much simpler life could be if we all worked together."

In its official statement, Uber was uncharacteristically conciliatory, consistent with CEO Travis Kalanick's promise that the company would be "smarter and humbler" in 2015. "Largely due to the leadership and courage of [Seoul's] Transport Division, many divergent views have been refocused, and united into a singular path forward," said the company. "We stay committed to cooperate to reach a compromise with the City and Taxi Industry, and look forward to working together to bring regulated options to Seoul."