South Korean Street Thugs Silence U.S. Ambassador, But Not for Long

[Updated 15 Jan 06]

I had meant to say something earlier about how South Korea’s culture of politics-by-thuggery has now touched even the U.S. Ambassador to Korea, Alexander Vershbow.

The Flying Yangban’s observations have inspired me to add more, beyond the expression of my strong agreement with those observations. Finally, after years of watching U.S. ambassadors work the cocktail circuit while the propaganda war was lost in the streets below, a U.S. ambassador has the vision and guts to do the street fighting that needs to be done. This time, the Red Guards blocked him from appearing for an appointment to talk to the far-left Voice of the People.

[M]embers of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions who share an office in the same building barricaded the entrance and held out placards saying “U.S. obstructs reunification.”

. . . .

The KCTU released a statement which read, “We believe the United States is trying to play the progressive press or use it for a political event. Thus we cannot accept (the ambassador’s) visit to Voice of the People that is aligned with the KCTU.”

So the “progressive” press isn’t supposed be political? It is, of course, but the KTCU’s definition of “progressive” politics mean using street violence to impose its politics on any media organizations that consider broadcasting unauthorized points of view. We’ll visit the Korean government’s role here later.

– I –

‘Progressing’ Toward the Tyranny of the Street

The obvious worry of OhMyNews’s Cheong Woon Sik, Korean journalism’s answer to Hwang Woo-Seok, tells us a great deal about Vershbow’s dangerousness to the radical left’s hold on power. Unspin these words; the Red Guards aren’t accustomed to being questioned or challenged on their own turf:

It is rare that a U.S. top envoy to Seoul would contribute to a progressive media outlet. From a broad perspective, this is in line with “Public Diplomacy,” which the Bush administration has enhanced in its attempt to deal with worldwide anti-American sentiment; it can be also viewed as Washington’s countermeasure against South Korea’s growing public opinion which is critical of Ambassador Vershbow’s recent statements.

Cheong, of course, writes for an Internet publication, which means he has no excuse for failing to cite or link one scintilla of support for his last assertion. Nor does he actually take on Vershbow’s assertions of fact, disarmed as Cheong is of research skills or the capacity for deep thinking.

However, this cannot be considered decisive evidence, but simply circumstantial. The U.S. argument that printing machinery and special ink were finally used in the North to produce fake dollars does not go beyond allegation. In addition, the claim that the fake dollars seized by the South Korean government were printed by the North still needs to be verified.

In this situation, the U.S. government is still regarding North Korea’s alleged involvement in counterfeiting and distributing dollars as an established fact and labeling the North a “criminal regime.” This is arousing suspicion that U.S. hardliners may try to use it as a pretext to put the brakes on the peace process on the Korean Peninsula.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that no amount of evidence would ever suffice for the likes of Cheong Woon-Sik. In my response comment on OMN, I note that the evidence was sufficient for both the Chinese government and the South Korean NIS. I’ve catalogued the story of North Korean counterfeiting in some detail at this site. No serious observer doubts it; North Korea’s counterfeiting has been reported for at least a decade. Here’s another Cheongism:

In this context, the current controversy is similar to that surrounding the “highly enriched uranium” (HEU) issue, which was a prelude to the second North Korean nuclear standoff. In October 2002, the Bush administration announced, “North Korea is developing nuclear weapons based on highly enriched uranium.” Since then, three years and two months have passed, but Washington has yet to show any hard evidence.

That statement has been demonstrably false for nearly a year. The Libyans gave us uranium hexafluoride that came from North Korea. We not only intercepted evidence of the Libyan payment to North Korea, we found traces of plutonium on the Libyan casks that matched known samples of North Korean plutonium. More on North Korea’s proliferation activities here.

If Cheong expects us to prove these allegations beyond a reasonable doubt, he should arrange for his friends in Pyongyang to admit investigators and comply with subpoenas.

– II –

The Limits of Moderation

What probably scares Cheong about Vershbow is something he can sense better than he can articulate: Koreans, especially young Koreans, are seldom persauded by moderation. Korea’s political culture rewards bold statements and uncompromising belief with the political initiative. A culture is defined by more than a verbal language; one must speak the intellectual language, too. Korea’s undiplomatic intellectual language presents Ambassador Vershow with a difficult problem if he wants to persuade both the people and officals who represent them. Vershbow must be direct without alienating reasonable minds. He must be populist without stooping to obvious demagoguery. Even this will mean he makes enemies, but those enemies will mostly be among those who would have been his enemies anyway. Here, it’s important to remember that persuading people to listen to you is not the same thing as winning their undying love.

– III –

The Truth We Must Not Cease Speaking

Alexander Vershbow will be back. Expect nothing less of a man who believes that rock music played a role in bringing down the Iron Curtain (video, too!). The Red Guards have only shown themselves to be street thugs who fear the truth. This is exactly what America must say to the Korean people, even when it is what the Korean government and its radical-left supporters least want to hear. We must strike hard but fair blows against the atrocities in the North, stating facts for which there is substantial evidence, while challenging the North Korean regime to refute the charges with transparency.

We must make direct comparisons between the atrocities in North Korea–atrocities that are aided and abetted by China–and those inflicted on Korea by Japan. We must tell Koreans on both sides of the DMZ how China has turned North Korean women into the comfort women of this century, and how China is transforming North Korea into its colony.

We must talk forthrightly about such unpleasant things as North Korean children in concentration camps, ethnic cleansing by infanticide, gas chambers, and cannibalism.

We must remind the Korean people that the Great Famine, during which the North spent $5 billion on defense per year, killed ten percent of the North Korean population.

We must tell them that nine years of Sunshine have given the people of North Korea no relief from these horrors, and that another nine years of Sunshine will only mean millions more North Koreans dead, more horrors for which they will share a small part of the responsibility.

We must tell the Korean people–North and South–that U.S. forces will leave South Korea the moment a democratically elected government in Korea asks us to do so, no matter how much nervousness that statement may create in the Blue House or the KOSPI.

Vershbow himself may not be the one who does it, but there are plenty of other Americans who can. This is the message we must have the courage to speak, and speak boldly.

Vershbow knows what needs to be done. Whether his bosses at Foggy Bottom understand it is another question, but now that Congress has sent a strong signal of support to Ambassador Vershbow, it may be hard to silence him.

Update I:

Link to Video of Vershbow’s Freedom House Speech

Thanks to usinkorea for this gem–Ambassador Vershbow’s remarks at Freedom House’s December conference on North Korean human rights in Seoul. He not only has a full transcript of the remarks, he has it all on video!

It is ironic and, at the same time, tragic that the two Koreas stand in stark contrast to one another on either side of the 38th parallel. One is a strong ally of the United States that takes a unique place on the world stage as one of the greatest success stories of the past century. The Republic of Korea rose from the ashes of the Korean War to become the tenth-largest economy in the world. More strikingly, however, South Korea successfully developed from an authoritarian regime to a full democracy in two short decades, an extremely rare accomplishment. The people of South Korea know better than many others in the world the true value of freedom, democracy and human rights. The fact that this conference is taking place here, in Seoul, is a vivid illustration of Korea’s place in the world as a modern democracy.

The same cannot be said, however, of the other half of Korea north of the demilitarized zone. Its people, unlike their southern brethren, remain oppressed by a regime whose policies have failed to address even the most basic needs of its citizens. The people of North Korea are unable to enjoy even the simplest freedoms that we in the free world often take for granted. The DPRK regime fails to ensure the level of access, transparency and cooperation necessary for international aid organizations to deliver food and medicine to those most in need without fear of their being diverted for other purposes. North Koreans, to this day, have no right to vote, to practice religion, to participate in politics, or to speak out against the wrongdoings of their government.

A must-see.


The Thug’s Veto; Where Is the Rule of Law?

This Reuters picture shows a violent KCTU protest from December 2005. Has it occurred to anyone else that had the South Korean government any determination to enforce the rule of law, that the cops would have been there at VOP to make sure Ambassador Vershbow arrived for his interview? I mean, given the KCTU’s history of being a bunch of violent thugs, you’d think that the U.S. Ambassador’s visit to the building housing their headquarters would suggest the need for a substantial police presence.

Of course, that conclusion implies that South Korea is in fact dedicated to allowing free and open debate, unimpeded by violence. And while the South Korean cops are always there to stop people from burning North Korean flags or peacefully demonstrating against a visiting North Korean delegation, they tend to be conspicuously absent or restrained at events like this, and in the enforcement of the law after acts like this, this, and this.

It’s as if they want leftist thugs to silence criticism of North Korea–an attitude that’s not exactly inconsistent with this government’s ideas about freedom of the press.