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Just the Latest Juche Idiocy from the Korean Teachers’ Union

The students went up on stage and told participants they had distributed anti-war badges around the nation in protest against the Iraq war and said they felt unifying the two Koreas was a way to create “a world without wars. They also joined the former communist guerrillas in the shouting of their old slogans against “imperialist Yankee soldiers” and the “puppet regime of Syngman Rhee. Kim, who also instructed his students to operate an online group that opposes the U.S.-led war in Iraq, now serves as an official with the KTEWU’s North Jeolla Province chapter.

May God  save Korea from itself.  [link]

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Korean Teachers’ Union Update

The Trotskyites in the Korean Teachers’ Union have cut out a few f-words and gone ahead with their agenda of poisoning little minds to hate America:

The leftist union yesterday posted on its Web site a class plan and the video clip it will use in those classes. The video was a “cleaned-up” version of one shown in Busan last month and did not contain any foul language; the previous clip included curses directed at President Bush and President Roh Moo-hyun.

The new clip slightly alluded to the government’s positive stance on the APEC forum, although it still contained strongly negative statements on globalization.

In a press release, the union said it revised the contents in a wish for more people to have a peaceful and happy life by knowing the “truth” about APEC through “peaceful” classes.

It said the goal of the special classes was not to show that international organizations represented the interests of strong countries but to promote the fact they could contribute to global peace.

The government, however, said although the class plans were better than those presented in Busan last month, there were still some “vulgar expressions” in the video.

I wonder if they cut out the “What a Wonderful World” 9/11 sequence. I wonder why the South Korean Education Ministry allows this. I wonder why our military deployment in South Korea continues to effectively subsidize all of it.

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Korean Teachers’ Union Gets Some Competition

You may recall how the KTU recently made itself  famous in the Korea blogosphere: its “What a Wonderful World” video for the APEC Summit.  This led, in part,  to an acrimonious controversy over education reform and a silly GNP boycott  of the National Assembly.  On a somwhat more productive front, tt also led to the formation of an upstart rival:

The Korean Liberal Teachers Union, established last month by teachers opposed to the educational direction of the left-leaning workers union, attempted to have a meeting yesterday with its counterpart, but the workers union refused to take part.

The workers union had earlier alleged that the new union was being secretly controlled by the Grand National Party.

The new union yesterday filed a defamation charge against the workers union.

A few paragraphs down, we see what  fine role models the KTU  members are for  the nation’s youth:

One report claims that at a high school in Gyeonggi province, students were encouraged by workers union members to damage vehicles belonging to teachers who opposed the union.

Cho Jing-hyeong, parent of a student, is expected to give examples of remarks by teachers of the union gathered over the years, which he thinks are inappropriate.

The remarks include speeches made by workers union teachers that Korea would have been unified if not for actions of the United States during the Korean War.

Other remarks reportedly made by teachers include saying that smart families read the Hankyoreh “• a left leaning daily newspaper.

It’s somewhat unclear where the KTU’s madness ends and the anti-KTU witch-hunting begins, but it does suggest a need for the government to impose some disciplined ideological neutrality here.  Why the GNP boycotts the Assembly  instead of  simply campaigning on this issue is beyond me.

If there’s a bright side, it’s that our own debates over  school curricula seem prissy by comparison.  The evolution of modern Korean education might well put the entire intelligent design debate to rest.

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The Excesses of an Extremist South Korean Teachers’ Union Force the Government Into Action

The Chosun Ilbo reports today on an issue that I expect we’ll be hearing much more about–an upcoming strike by the Korean Teachers’ Union, a/k/a the Korean Teachers’ and Educational Workers’ Union, which is affiliated with one of the two major labor groups in Korea, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions. One glance at the KTU’s Web site shows that education is clearly the last thing on its mind. It’s reasonable to ask whether these people are really qualified to prepare Korea for success in a global, export-oriented economy economy which they clearly hold in contempt.

(Per the Marmot, the other major teachers’ union, the Korean Federation of Teachers’ Associations, has far more members and leans right; however, the KFTA, which supports a different proposal, is also protesting the new government plan. On the other hand, the Chosun Ilbo reports that the KTU’s budget dwarfs those of all other unions and labor umbrella groups in Korea, combined. Where did all this money come from? Might an audit be appropriate?).

KTU Stands by Its Extreme Ideology

In the wake of the KTU’s Pusan local preparing this little propaganda flick for classroom use, depicting President Bush and other foreign leaders as foreign imperialist exploiters, and using some language that was highly inappropriate for a classroom, the government had either the newfound will or fresh pressure to act. The KTU is flagrantly unrepentant:

KTU says it will use the satirical APEC teaching aids but delete segments containing abusive language from an accompanying video that lampoons President Roh Moo-hyun and U.S. President George W. Bush. “The government says APEC promotes globalization and boosts the Korean economy, it is also true that ordinary people around the world are strongly opposed to globalization and to George W. Bush,” the union said.

The KTU’s proto-Marxism and anti-Americanism already have too long a history in KTU-sponsored educational materials taught in South Korean schools, despite those materials’ tenous relevance to legitimate educational objectives. For example, the KTU recently indoctrinated South Korean kids to oppose the Iraq War.

According to Digital Chosun reporter Ahn Seok-bae, Chunkyojo has declared this to be a week of “anti-war” classes. The union is honoring the life of Kim Sun-il, one of the latest “news killings” to come out of Iraq.

But the teachers have been put on notice for their anti-war curriculum. By June 28, the first day of proposed “anti-war” classes, the MOE had already reviewed the teaching materials posted at the Chunkyojo website and pledged to send out directives that would, in the words of journalist Ahn Seok-bae, “make sure that the class is not used to instill distorted points of view in students.

Those materials were so virulently anti-American that they even managed to shock Roh Moo-Hyun.

Evidence of North Korean Influence Over the KTU

Clearly, some better system of evaluation and accountability is needed when–and I’m not going out on a limb here–the North Koreans are trying to infiltrate, indoctrinate, and gain influence over South Korean unions.

Take a gander, for example, at this paper on the KTU’s “Peace Model of Reuinification Education, and take stock of the KTU’s associations* with obvious North Korean stooge and provocateur So Kyong Won, who in 2003 teamed up with some student radicals to provoke a fight with three American soldiers on the Seoul Subway, kidnap one of them, Private John Murphy, transport him to an anti-American rally on a South Korean campus, and force him to make a videotaped “confession.” So and the former chairman of the KTU traveled to Pyongyang together for a “solidarity” trip in 2003.

At the time, Roh’s government did next to nothing about this or other contemporanous acts of violence against American service members, which may explain why violence has continued to gain acceptance as a means of political expression in South Korea (but I digress).

False Claims of Free-Speech Martyrdom

I’m all for societies encouraging free, open, and vibrant debate, but there are two real problems with the KTU trying to make a free speech issue out of this: first, it’s not the job of public school teachers to teach fringe views (the KTU marches to the drum of the far-far-left Democratic Labor Party, which is now down to just 9 seats in a 299-seat National Assembly); and second, kids aren’t equipped to question and debate what their teachers teach them–indeed, questioning a teacher would be anathema in Korea’s deeply Confucian society. And of course, with the KTU in charge of the curriculum, you will assuredly never see kids exposed to the other side of the debate, which is at least a reasonable expectation in adult society.

This plan, as watered-down as it is, is long overdue. This isn’t about silencing or jailing people–it’s about getting schools back into the business of teaching math, grammar, and yes, history, based on empirical science and objective fact.

This is one of those rare occasions when I think Roh deserves some praise. This could not have happened without his government’s approval, particularly that of his Education Minister. Furthermore, it will not come without some considerable cost to him politically, and although most of the more radical teachers were probably already DLP voters, this will aggravate intra-left tensions that have grown in the wake of the last bi-elections. In the wake of those elections, of course, Roh clearly understands that he needs to move toward the center. The true test will be whether he has the determination to stick with real reforms, or whether they will be watered down until they lose all meaning.


* The North Korean Korean Central News Agency spells the name of the former head of the KTU, “Yun Yong Gyu,” but he spells it “Yoon Young Kyu” in South Korea. North and South use different romanization systems.


Photos: Above: A KTU rally, from the KTU Web site; Center: U.S. Army Private John Murphy in the custody of violent anti-American protestors (thanks to usinkorea).

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Korean War II: A Hypothesis Explained, and a Fisking

In the last several months, as Pyongyang has revealed its progress toward acquiring the capacity to destroy an American city, the North Korea commentariat has cleaved into two camps: those who believe we can live with a nuclear North Korea, and those who do not. Regular readers know that I’m in the latter camp. North Korea has proliferated nuclear, ballistic missile, and chemical weapons technology. It uses weapons of mass destruction to murder people in foreign airports and terrorize its critics. It threatens terrorist attacks against our movie theaters. It robs banks, sells dope, and counterfeits currency. Its leaders have no discernible regard for human life. They send kids to die in gulags, drown infants for being racially impure, and condemn millions to mass starvation. They need conflict to justify the immiseration of their subjects, and may even be biochemically addicted to conflict. Admittedly, this isn’t a comforting view.

North Korea is an inherently unhealthy obsession, which may explain why a certain type of North Korea-watcher could see Kim Jong-un shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still interpret it as cry for talks. But if Kim Jong-un had the slightest interest in opening, reform, or improving the welfare of the people, he would have seized multiple opportunities to do so, rather than making it a national priority to isolate and impoverish them. He knows he can’t survive forever as dictator of the poorer, browner, uglier Korea. No matter how ardently some may wish to coexist with the horror he inflicts on North Korea’s people out of our sight, all of the evidence says that Kim will not coexist with us. To believe we can live happily ever after with a nuclear North Korea is a self-delusion that risks condemning millions of Koreans to slavery, and the rest of us to insecurity and terror. I have no affection for Donald Trump, but H.R. McMaster has decades of evidence on his side when he says that North Korea is not a status quo power.

One aspect of this argument that has drawn more interest lately is the surprisingly controversial notion that Pyongyang’s nukes might be part of a rational, coherent,  and plausible plan to achieve the thing it has said for decades that it intends to achieve — unification. As one who has advanced that argument, I’ve noticed a curious thing recently: people have come at me to poke holes in arguments I’ve never made. Some have tried to talk me out of the preposterous idea of North Korea sending an army of scrawny conscripts to occupy downtown Seoul. (They need not have wasted their time; I’ve made the same argument myself.) Or that Pyongyang wouldn’t “win” a war that destroys its prize and cash cow (ditto). Or that South Koreans would never let their government “surrender” to the North, which is as irrelevant as arguing about whether Americans “surrendered” to Putin in last year’s election. The Russians have developed more sophisticated ideas about achieving their interests than a “Red Dawn” sequel, and I also credit the North Koreans with having an equal or greater capacity for strategic thought. The laziest, most offensive, and most defamatory argument of all is that this must all be part of some scheme to peddle a war that I’ve consistently and vocally opposed, but this smear is de rigeur within certain quarters of the political left. One learns to tune it out, along with those who make such spurious claims. 

~   ~   ~

Andray Abrahamian now argues against what he calls the “dangerous” ideas that “North Korea wants to use nuclear weapons to reunify the Korean peninsula by force or coercion,” or that Pyongyang can’t be deterred “because it is fundamentally irrational.” These aren’t really my hypotheses, either, although elements of them strike close enough to things I’ve written to be recognizable as corruptions of them. So, before I commence with the fisking, let’s clarify just what my hypothesis is: the North’s rational strategy is to use its nuclear arsenal to achieve hegemony over South Korea and reunify Korea under its rule — just like it has said since 1948. But as circumstances change, so do strategies. Under my hypothesis, Pyongyang intends to avoid both a major war and any perception of drastic political change in South Korea that might arouse its enemies to obstruct its strategy while they still can. I’m not arguing that this strategy will necessarily work, but plenty of precedent suggests that Pyongyang has reason to think it can.

1. Its short-term goals are no different than Putin’s goals for the United States or any number of other countries — to exercise enough control over how South Koreans think to obscure embarrassing truths, embarrass or silence its critics, influence elections and policies, and give an appeasement-minded leader in Seoul the political space to accede to its demands. As I’ll explain, it has already done or tried to do all of these things.

2. Its medium-term goal is to wage a war of skirmishes to coerce concessions that lower South Korea’s defenses and leave it vulnerable to extortion. Pyongyang will use coercive diplomacy to suppress the readiness of Seoul’s forces, the capability of its defenses, the resiliency of its economy to limited attacks, and the strategic posture of its defenses. It will demand the cancellation of defensive exercises or an end to the deployment of missile defenses. Eventually, it will demand “peace” talks for the removal of U.S. forces. I’ll explain how it has already done or tried to do all of that, too.

3. Its long-term goal is to establish and control an inter-Korean coalition government. As I’ve already explained, South Korea has already agreed to this in principle, in the 2000 and 2007 Joint Statements signed by former presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Yes, the two Koreas differ sharply on their interpretations of those statements, for now. Once Pyongyang achieves military, strategic, and information hegemony over Seoul, it will be in a position to dominate that coalition, regardless of the two states’ relative economies and populations.

Thus, Korean War II will not be a mechanized, cross-border invasion or a surrender ceremony on the deck of the U.S.S. Pueblo. To the extent that a new Joint Statement or peace treaty amounts to the same thing, I’m confident that few South Korean voters will recognize it as such — and I’m just as confident that the reaction of most journalists and academics will be glowing coverage and op-eds. We will not see footage of North Korean tanks crashing through the gates of the Blue House anytime in the foreseeable future. Korean War II is being waged at a lower intensity, for more limited objectives, and at a far higher level of political sophistication than most of us give it credit for. This new way of war simmered and boiled for years before most experts or policymakers in Washington or Seoul even noticed that it had begun. I know how paranoid this may seem, but remember that this is an argument about Pyongyang’s intentions. It must be probative of something that if you put “North Korea paranoid” into a Google search window, you get more than half a million results. Paranoid people tend to do things that justify paranoia in others.

Phase 1: Influence What They Read & How They Think

So, let the fisking commence.

Pyongyang’s leaders today are not stupid and know even a slow takeover of the South through a federation is unrealistic. 

I’m glad we agree that Pyongyang’s leaders aren’t stupid, even if we disagree about their objectives (but much more on that later). So if, as Mr. Abrahamian now argues, its objective is self-preservation — or if it’s opening and reform, as he previously argued — why have such smart men been stupid enough to throw away multiple offers of aid, engagement, investment, and security guarantees? Why do these intelligent men continue to attack South Korea and get caught committing embarrassing crimes that are far less profitable than, say, exporting electronics, or reaching an agreement that would allow Rason and Kaesong to reach their potential? Pyongyang’s choices make no sense under any benign interpretation of its intentions, or under any interpretation that leaves the status quo intact, with Korea divided indefinitely.

They know that South Korea’s GDP is at least 30 times larger than theirs.

GDP can be one useful predictor of outcomes in conventional wars; it’s almost useless as a predictor of who wins asymmetric or hybrid wars, which are won by the side whose political endurance is greatest. See, e.g., North Vietnam versus South Vietnam, Rhodesia versus ZANLA, the Soviet Union versus the Afghan mujahedeen, and dozens of wars of “liberation” of the 1960s and 70s. Indeed, the more prosperous societies are, the more they and their business interests have to lose, and the more willing they become to trade political freedom for temporary security. Here’s something else to ponder: who believes it’s sheer coincidence that as South Korea became the world’s most wired society, North Korea built one of the world’s most advanced cyber warfare capabilities?

They know Seoul’s military budget is bigger than the North’s entire GDP. 

Hence the term “asymmetric” warfare. Russia’s economy and population are also smaller than ours, and to the best of my knowledge, Chris Hemsworth isn’t ambushing T-72s along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rest assured that nothing in my posts hypothesizes that skeletal, vinalon-clad conscripts from Ryanggang-do will soon be guarding shuttered “booking” clubs in Kangnam. My worst-case scenario terrifies me precisely because a street-level view of it would, in its first years, seem banal to anyone who has lived in Korea. There are enough riot police in South Korea to contain almost any protest; it’s just a question of who is giving them what orders. Otherwise, I envision an escalation of what we’ve seen since 2010 — a war of provocations and skirmishes, punctuated by negotiations in which the South makes strategic and political concessions in exchange for Pyongyang’s promises to stop scaring people. Again, two South Korean presidents have already agreed in principle to a coalition government, toward which South Korea’s current President still sees the 2018 Olympics as a first cautious step. I doubt we’ll have to play this argument out for long. If my hypothesis is right, watch for Pyongyang to make more aggressive demands to speed up the implementation of those Joint Statements by this time next year, maybe after the 2018 mid-term elections.

They know that “taking” the South and controlling its diverse political and civil society institutions is impossible. They’re not interested.

Not interested? I don’t know how anyone could seriously argue that North Korea isn’t “interested” in controlling South Korea’s society and institutions. Would Mr. Abrahamian have us believe that in all of his visits to North Korea, he wasn’t harangued about unification and the necessity of all Koreans submitting to the leadership of the all-wise suryong? Has he never read any of the bitter denunciations by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland of disobedient “south Koreans,” or heard of Pyongyang’s many violent threats against its critics in the South? It’s no secret that Pyongyang has been running influence operations in the South for decades. I’ve also tried to catalog the many cases in which its Fifth Columnists in the South — not liberals, but people who support Pyongyang’s ideology — have been exposed in the media.

Having practiced law with the Army in Korea, I don’t agree that all of Korea’s institutions are strong or perceived as such. My interactions with Korean witnesses taught me that they had low confidence in the courts. The broad powers of police and prosecutors, and loose rules of evidence, can lead to dubious judgments. Koreans, especially on the left, justifiably distrust a politicized National Intelligence Service that ought to be distinguishing free speech from nefarious foreign influence.

But didn’t Park Geun-hye’s impeachment prove how strong South Korea’s democratic institutions are? No, it proved that a lot of people who really didn’t like Park Geun-hye could come out onto the streets until the courts gave them what they wanted. The conclusion was already foregone by the time the courts threw out the tablet that started it all: “The tablet PC allegedly contains crucial evidence tying Choi and Park to rampant corruption, but the court accepted argument from Park’s lawyers that its provenance is dubious” — that is, it was “found by a reporter under circumstances that remain unclear.” Choi Soon-sil later said she hadn’t used it since 2012. Of course, she had obvious motives to lie, but I’m glad I live in a society where any accused, no matter how hated she is on the streets, can demand a forensic examination of the evidence against her. Because on the off-hand chance Choi was telling the truth — and not for nothing, our burdens of proof favor the accused — you have to wonder how that evidence found its way onto the tablet and the headlines. You don’t have to like Park to see that the evidence against her would have been laughed out of an American courtroom. You can believe she was probably guilty of something (corruption, mishandling classified information, poor judgment, just plain weirdness) and still see her downfall as exposing vulnerabilities in the NIS, the presidency, the media, the courts, and laws that allow the impeachment of presidents before a full investigation is even done.

They know the South’s population is double theirs and that South Koreans are politically engaged and extremely attached to their hard-earned democracy.

Whoever doubts that any South Korean leader would compromise South Koreans’ political engagement and hard-earned democracy must not recall that in 2014, Park Geun-hye agreed to do exactly that to secure a new round of so-called family “reunions.” Specifically, Park agreed to end the “slander” of North Korea, although as a South Korean researcher pointed out, “the no-slander clause could prove problematic, as the North believes the South Korean media should be bound by it, which of course it isn’t.” But a vigorous free press would never let that pass! Well, just read how gleefully Choe Sang-hun covered it. And sure enough, within weeks, Pyongyang said Park’s criticism of its nuclear program and human rights abuses — and also, the testimony of “human scum” defectors before the U.N. Commission of Inquiry — violated the no-slander deal. As the AFP reported, “The “no-slander” clause was always going to prove problematic, with North Korea insisting it should extend to the South Korean media as well as private groups and individuals.” To me, it was far more problematic that Pyongyang demanded — and at least in its view, briefly got — a veto over what South Korean media and civic groups could say about it. I shouldn’t have to explain why that’s such a dangerous precedent. Yet not only was there no public outrage or media backlash, the few journalists who weren’t fast asleep did a golf clap.

As for South Koreans’ attachment to democracy, most people would probably agree with this statement in the abstract, but Koreans and Americans have very different ideas of what “democracy” means. Depending on how you ask the question, South Koreans’ support for freedom of speech is between ten and twenty percentage points lower than it is in the United States, and this is a society that already tolerates ham-handed government internet censorship, the fear of libel suits (even against journalists or sitting lawmakers) where truth is no defense, politically motivated censorship by both the political left and right, and standards of journalism I’ll charitably call “uneven.” Americans used to believe their own democratic institutions were unassailable until the 2016 election showed their vulnerability to skillful hybrid warfare.

Speaking of hybrid warfare, who else is old enough to remember the North Korean spy ring known as Ilshimhoe, which was run by a former USFK soldier and current “peace” activist named Michael Jang? Reconnaissance General Bureau agents ran the ring — it called itself a “Valentine Club” — from a safe house on the outskirts of Beijing. According to (admittedly, mostly right-leaning) Korean press reports, Ilshimhoe tried to influence the Seoul mayoral election in 2006, fed Pyongyang information about the six-party talks, and might have planted spies in the Blue House and various government offices. I know, you say — just gossip. Except that Jang and several others were brought to trial, convicted, and sentenced to prison terms. Well, then — it must be another case of McCarthyist persecution! Except that the convictions occurred on Roh Moo-hyun’s watch, after the head of the NIS hinted that he’d come under political pressure to stop digging and resigned. Shortly thereafter, the investigation did stop, the cases were quickly brought to trial, and I doubt that more than two or three of you knew that this had even happened.

Phase 2: A War of Skirmishes Against Seoul’s Defenses

Throughout the war of skirmishes Pyongyang has waged since at least 2010, it has made (and sometimes won) significant political, strategic, and financial demands from Seoul. Most notable was the alleged and abortive surrender of South Korea’s de facto maritime boundary, the Northern Limit Line or NLL. Seoul unilaterally imposed the NLL after the Korean War Armistice, because the warring parties couldn’t agree on a maritime extension of the DMZ. 

In 2007, in a last grasp at expanding on the 2000 Joint Statement, Roh Moo-hyun allegedly ceded the NLL, which protects some of South Korea’s most vital air and sea lanes (and some rich fishing waters) to a jointly controlled “peace zone.” I say “alleged” because Cho Myoung-gun, the Roh aide who is now Moon Jae-in’s Unification Minister, destroyed the text before Roh’s political opponents could take office and read it. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service leaked a transcript in 2013, and yes, the timing of that is curious. Disputes over the authenticity of the transcript are harder to credit. Just as in our legal system, when someone destroys evidence, it’s reasonable to assume he did it to hide something. In the end, polls said Koreans didn’t know what to believe, meaning South Korea entered the post-truth world at least four years before we did. (On that point, it’s worth listening to this discussion between Sam Harris and Anne Applebaum to understand that some disinformation strategies are designed to do nothing more than confuse people so much that they disengage. And if so, mission accomplished.)

Had Pyongyang secured this “peace zone,” the threat of its closure over, say, disputes about the apportionment of fishing rights or rights of innocent passage might have been enough to throw South Korea into a recession, crash its stock market, or spur capital flight — all without instigating a major war. The residents of the Yellow Sea Islands, like Baekryeong-do and Yeonpyeong-do, would have been hopelessly isolated and easy prey for abduction at sea. The result of the 2007 election prevented Seoul from carrying out the terms of this agreement (whatever it was) but in 2009, Pyongyang secretly approached South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and demanded a summit — the price for which would be $500 million in rice and fertilizer, and possibly some cash. In January 2010, after Lee refused to pay up, Pyongyang threatened to launch a “holy retaliatory war.” Two months later, North Korea sank the Cheonan. Eight months after that, it attacked Yeonpyeong-do, in the middle of the putative “peace zone.”

Similarly, in early 2015, Pyongyang proposed that Park Geun-hye and Kim Jong-un “meet each other and discuss ways toward peaceful reunification,” following Kim Jong-un’s speech calling for “fresh headway in the national reunification movement for this year.” We probably don’t know Pyongyang’s complete list of demands, but one was “freeze-for-freeze,” an idea calculated to degrade the readiness of U.S. and South Korean forces. No summit occurred. Then, in August, North Korean soldiers planted mines that blew the legs off two South Korean noncommissioned officers. Almost immediately, conspiracy theories blaming the U.S. for the incident sprang up all over the internet, probably as part of a disinformation strategy I like to call “implausible deniability.” For a few weeks, the world was wracked by war fears until Park Geun-hye “de-escalated” them through talks that yielded an agreement that gained the North valuable concessions on paper (though we can be thankful that these amounted to almost nothing in practice). You should expect to see more like this in the coming years, unless sanctions work quickly enough to force Pyongyang into another charm offensive.

If influencing what South Koreans think is a political prerequisite to Pyongyang’s strategic gains, then getting the U.S. out of Korea is the strategic gain most necessary for hegemony over the South. Eventually, Abrahamian gets around to admitting that might be on Pyongyang’s agenda.

What North Korea might want at this point is to decouple the alliance between South Korea and the United States, hoping that Washington over-reacts to Pyongyang’s new capabilities. This over-reaction might take the form of acting too aggressive and causing Seoul to question – perhaps even take steps to terminate – the alliance. It might be by provoking some kind of military action that turns Northeast Asian public opinion against Washington and leaves America isolated in the region.

And this:

It might be getting a favorable peace deal that removes U.S. forces from Korea.

I’m not here to defend Donald Trump’s bombast, and I’m glad we’ve heard less of it lately. I’ve criticized it for scaring our friends more than it scares our enemies, and I’ve argued that it will alienate people inside North Korea we should be appealing to. Trump’s speech in Seoul may have done him some good, but most Koreans probably still don’t like him. For the time being, and in spite of their personal feelings for Trump, they still like their country’s alliance with the U.S.

[N]uclear weapons are primarily about deterrence, not forcing one’s will on others…. Yet H.R. McMaster, President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, has led the charge to claim otherwise. Multiple times in the last several months he has made comments such as, “classical deterrence theory, how does that apply to a regime like the regime in North Korea?” 

Just like we deterred the attacks on the Cheonan and Yeonpyong-do, the Sony cyberattacks, the 2015 landmine incident, the Kim Jong-nam VX murder, nuclear and chemical proliferation to Syria, multiple threats against journalists, and half a dozen international assassination plots? What price did Kim Jong-un pay for any of those crimes?

Kim Jong Un is a rational actor, however. He may make imperfect decisions, but he wants to enjoy life and grow old.

Roll your mental odometer back to early 2010 and ask yourself two things. First, could you have imagined that North Korea would, with premeditation and malice aforethought, sink a South Korean warship and kill dozens of young sailors? Second, could you have imagined that North Korea would get away with that, with no form of retaliation, accountability, or even a serious U.S. effort to enforce sanctions? (You can ask yourself the same questions about the Yeonpyeong-do attack or the Sony cyberattack.) After the Cheonan attack, conspiracy theories circulated that sowed widespread doubt among South Koreans about Pyongyang’s responsibility. In the National Assembly election that followed weeks after the attack, the left-wing opposition actually won more seats, although it’s by no means clear that those conspiracy theories, North Korea policy, or the attack were major election issues (which is still disturbing). After the shelling of Yeonpyeong-do, the mayor of Incheon even suggested that by holding military exercises near the Northern Limit Line, the South sort-of had it coming. A rational actor analyzing those reactions would not only feel perfectly free to engage in further provocations at that level, but also to escalate them now that his nuclear arsenal deters us. Kim Jong-un has made some imperfect decisions (his eating habits, most obviously) but these attacks were, in retrospect, perfectly sound and rational calculations of his risks and rewards.

He wants his state to survive and to negotiate that survival with its southern competitor-state. And the United States has effectively deterred far more potent nuclear-armed enemies for decades.

The converse is also true: Pyongyang has deterred the U.S. for decades. One might even pause to ask why it needs a nuclear ICBM when its artillery was already enough to hold Seoul hostage. How does decoupling the alliance make any sense except as a prerequisite to a coerced negotiation for full implementation of the joint statements on Pyongyang’s terms? And how would that negotiation go with Moon Jae-in? If past history is any guide, a lot like the 2007 Joint Statement or Moon’s negotiation with China over THAAD — with no one really knowing exactly what Seoul gave away, but being fairly certain that it gave away too much. Suspicions about Moon have run high in Washington since he cut a deal with Xi Jinping not to deploy any more THAAD batteries. This should have been an alliance decision. It’s a significant gain for China, which also wants to decouple the U.S.-Korea alliance. Given who Moon Jae-in’s closest advisors are, Pyongyang has every reason to believe that it could get other significant gains from Moon at America’s expense. I can’t seem to harangue any journalists into reporting Chief of Staff Im Jong-seok’s past leadership of a radical pro-North Korean student group that tried to firebomb the U.S. embassy in Seoul, so I suppose it’s just as pointless to say that Moon has just appointed another ex-member of this same group to his cabinet.

[T]he idea that North Korea wants to reunify the peninsula by force is based largely on their propaganda. Indeed, their newspapers and educational materials do pine for unification. North Korean slogans do claim that “final victory” is nigh and that they must achieve “unification for future generations”. But North Korea’s propagandists claim a lot of things.

Mr. Abrahamian has certainly believed plenty of things Pyongyang has said, and I’ve believed a few myself, but they aren’t the same things. The difference is that the things I believe are better corroborated by Pyongyang’s behavior than the things he believes. I’ve already explained why Pyongyang’s war of skirmishes only makes logical sense as part of a malign strategy, and no logical sense as part of a strategy to gain aid, engagement, improved relations, diplomatic recognition, and the mere preservation of the status quo. That’s why I need better evidence than the insistence of someone who believed in Pyongyang’s siren song of glasnost and perestroika for so long to disregard the best evidence of its intentions — its words, with the essential corroboration of its behavior, and the testimony of at least one high-level defector.

Phase 3: One Country, Two Systems

South Koreans who supported the 2000 Joint Statement so enthusiastically must have understood that coalition would eventually require some compromises on their part, too. Even South Koreans who dislike politics and prefer not to think about North Korea at all (most of them, based on my anecdotal observations) must know that nothing matters more to Pyongyang than the enforcement of its personality cult. Surely they, or former members of Kim Dae-jung’s cabinet like Moon Chung-in, must have understood that such a compromise would necessarily involve ceding some autonomy to a coalition that would expect them to accept a less democratic government and some restrictions on criticism of North Korea — for the sake of peace, naturally.

I know it may all seem nutty to you and me, but it doesn’t seem nutty to Hankyoreh readers. A typical example: “As soon as possible, we have to build an economic community, ‘North-South confederation,’ in which the South and North’s economy, culture, and art are united.”

Six months into his presidency, Moon Jae-in’s awareness of his political constraints has limited his outreach to Pyongyang. This has clearly frustrated an impatient Kim Jong-un. Of course, some caution would be necessary on the part of any South Korean leader trying to implement or build on the joint statements. Of course, most South Koreans are warier of Pyongyang than they were ten years ago. Of course, Moon remembers how the revelations about the “peace zone” came back to embarrass those who had served in Roh’s cabinet. Of course, he remembers how his proposal as Roh’s Chief of Staff to solicit Pyongyang’s view before abstaining from a resolution condemning the North at the U.N. for crimes against humanity was a speed bump on his path to victory over a hapless, divided gaggle of opponents. Like any good politician, he wants to protect his public support and build a legislative majority. Without those things, he can’t do much of anything.

One sign to watch for would be if Pyongyang will again demand that a select-but-growing number of South Koreans — initially members of left-leaning unions, and maybe eventually, schoolchildren — visit the North to pay tribute to Kim Il-sung. It has already demanded that Seoul stop accepting North Korean refugees. If you’ve been paying attention, Pyongyang and the hard left have emphasized this as if Kim Jong-un’s survival depends on it. Of course, Moon Jae-in can’t go along with that openly, but if Roh Moo-hyun could find ways to do it quietly, so can Moon. Under Roh, South Korean consulates hung up on defectors who called. There have been periodic leaks of defectors’ personal information, which could make them easy prey for North Korean agents to coerce them into “re-defecting.” Is it any wonder why so many North Koreans have moved on to more welcoming countries?

As for Pyongyang’s final goal, you don’t have to take my word for that. Read it for yourself as a North Korean official explained it here, or at the end of this post, or as summarized here. Or, read this April harangue on the “three principles of unification,” with its particular emphasis on the importance of achieving national unity by silencing Pyongyang’s critics. As you read it, ask yourself if these are the words of people who don’t really mean what they say. Simply stated, Pyongyang wants to impose censorship to “eradicat[e] the distrust and antagonism between” North and South, remove U.S. forces, and get on with forming a confederation under its domination. The fact that I’m having this argument with well-informed people even now only raises my estimate of the plan’s chances of success, by reaffirming how continuity bias and wishful thinking can still blind intelligent people to what’s right in front of them.

This hypothesis explains a lot of Pyongyang’s conduct that other, more accepted theories don’t. From Pyongyang’s perspective, the plan is rational and plausible. If Pyongyang has identified the same cultural, political, institutional, and personal vulnerabilities I see in South Korea — particularly if viewed through the messianic groupthink that’s expected of the people who advise Kim Jong-un — it may have a plausible hope of success. Again, the provocations since 2010 don’t make sense if Pyongyang’s goal is what most academics have long misjudged it to be — opening, reform, and improved relations with the outside world. All of that conduct must seem mysterious and inexplicable to believers in a Pyongyang Spring that never came; it makes perfect sense to those who believe Pyongyang’s strategy is to use threats of tension and war, and the lure of improved “inter-Korean relations,” to silence its critics, manipulate opinions and elections, extract strategic concessions that would make South Korea economically and militarily vulnerable, and draw South Korea into a one-country/two-systems coalition that gives it all the benefits it wants (money, hegemony, prestige, the removal of a political rival) and none of the risks and costs it doesn’t (a major war, occupation, cultural pollution).

The Power of Wishful Thinking

Finally, let’s touch on the question of predictive judgment. In the footer bio of his article, Abrahamian describes himself as “a visiting fellow at the Jeju Peace Research Institute [who] used to help run a nonprofit that frequently took him to North Korea.” Presumably, this refers to Choson Exchange, whose website still lists him as an “Associate Director of Research,” and which for years ferried batches of North Koreans to Singapore to teach them economics, business, and law to stimulate their inevitable progression toward true capitalism, reform, and openness. Plainly, things haven’t worked out that way.

In 2011, a year after the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong attacks, Abrahamian co-wrote of the special economic zone at Rason, “While it may be too early to say whether the region will succeed in drawing investment and reform, our recent trips to Rason lead us to believe that developments on the ground may eventually warrant a shift in foreign policy by governments around the globe.” Got that, governments around the globe? In 2013, a still-hopeful Abrahamian told a reporter for The Guardian that while the North Koreans were “avoiding saying reform or opening [up], … that’s what it amounts to – a crack at any rate.” In February of 2015, he still spoke of “palpable energy and excitement” among North Korean officials about special economic zones. This is more modest than “I have seen the future and it works,” but it’s still at great variance with the evidence of the regime’s resistance to openness, which was already clear enough to see from outer space.

In December of that year, Anna Fifield of The Washington Post, who is by turns the most wonderful and the most exasperating reporter writing about North Korea today, wrote a sympathetic story on Choson Exchange — not one critical view was included — headlined, “North Korea wants to open up its economy, and a small program in free-market Singapore shows how.” The evidence for the falsity of the first clause of this headline is far too voluminous for one link, but if you know what a darling Choson Exchange has long been to journalists and professional scholars, you might not even bother sweeping against this tide.

I can’t have been the only one who wondered how the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the Ministry of State Security, or Bureau 39 would let any North Korean not on their own payrolls go abroad to interact with foreigners. Could there be any exceptions? Yes, there was one “Mr. Kim, head of the technology and trade research department at the State Academy of Sciences,” which page 260 of this Library of Congress study (unlike the Post) informs us was the organization responsible for North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Eventually, it’s admitted that “the presentations all revolved around state-related businesses,” presumably including the man peddling “a big, flashy ring that … channels sunshine and purifies the blood, stripping out the lipids that cause high cholesterol.” On second thought, maybe this isn’t such a sympathetic a story at all.

Another question I may be the only one asking — if this is North Korean capitalism, what is this improving on again? But then, I’ve never bought into the theory that capitalism inevitably leads to political reform or peace. The members of the Board of Directors of I.G. Farben received war crimes convictions, not Nobel Prizes. The Marxists have even granted North Korea a special exemption from Old Major’s dogma that capitalism inevitably drives nations to war. I’ve never accepted that North Korea is strictly socialist at all, rather than just economically totalitarian (just as it’s totalitarian in every other sense). To Fifield and Abrahamian’s credit, one eventually reads some mumbled concessions that Pyongyang still had “little to show for” its much-vaunted special economic zones, and that it faced “serious financial and reputational challenges” in attracting investors.

My point here is that the character and history of the regime ought to have made the failure of the engagement hypothesis predictable, and to some of us, it did. Being right then doesn’t necessarily make me right now, but it means I have a model of North Korea’s incentives and behavior with a stronger (and sometimes, eerily strong) predictive record going for it. I certainly wouldn’t take Mr. Abrahamian’s word over what the law would call admissions by a party to the case. The second point of which is that some journalists have an inexhaustible appetite for irrational optimism about North Korea. The opposite seems to be true of getting them to face up to the most rational pessimism.

~   ~   ~

Again, I’m not arguing that Pyongyang’s plan will necessarily work. Maybe the current hesitation of the South Korean public and the toughness of the Trump administration will hold (strong sanctions enforcement has solid bipartisan support, for now). Maybe the real Moon Jae-in isn’t as extreme as everyone he’s surrounded himself with for the whole duration of his political life, or as naive as he often seems to be. A bad election result could cost him or Trump the political support they’d need to advance their policies. The greatest wild card may be that, whatever South Korea’s problems of political cohesion, the North is showing signs of a much worse one among the rural poor, and within some unknown segments of the elites. This might open the way for a genuinely productive implementation of the joint statements, unification, and a lasting peace; or, it might incentivize Kim Jong-un to act even more rashly to implement them his way while he still can. His strategy will take time that he might not have if his money runs out first, or if his Crocodiles or the people suddenly turn on him.

The answer to all of this isn’t war; it’s helping Koreans to see the truth and distinguish it from lies. As I’ve argued before, we are where the last three presidents left us; all we can do now is pursue the strategy that carries the lowest risk of catastrophe. That strategy begins with a clear-eyed understanding of Pyongyang’s strategy, taking it seriously, and devising a strategy to disrupt it. It means preparing the Korean and American people for what may come — mentally, economically, and materially. And as Abrahamian says, yes, we’ll need to solidify the alliance. Trump needs to stop tweeting and making threats, and Moon needs to stop going behind our backs and act like an ally. I’m pessimistic about our capacity to deter more attacks even if we identify new means of deterrence, including the expansion of economic warfare and subversive information operations that scare Kim Jong-un without risking a catastrophic miscalculation that a “limited” counterstrike might. In the medium term, we may develop and deploy better defenses against missiles and artillery, which means we need to buy time, too.

It also means South Korea needs to strengthen its institutions. It needs multi-party reforms to de-politicize the NIS into two professional organizations that can earn the public’s trust — one for foreign intelligence and one for domestic counterintelligence (it bears emphasis that a reform process must not be used to halt embarrassing investigations or to pack the NIS with any party’s loyalists). It means reforming Korea’s libel laws by making truth a defense. It means protecting journalists who criticize politicians, investigate government malfeasance, and help the public separate truth from smears and conspiracy theories. It means enforcing government records laws with strong legal penalties for destroying evidence or obstructing justice. It means reforming the National Security Law to stop prosecuting those who engage in nonviolent speech and instead focus on the aggressive-but-fair pursuit of incitements to violence and foreign influence, particularly among government officials and teachers. It means strengthening rules of evidence and empowering defense lawyers to challenge the evidence against their clients zealously. And like governments everywhere, Korea must be prepared to relax its obsessive secrecy when the public needs to know the truth to make sound decisions about matters of public interest. Like many societies, including ours, Korea needs to mature in how it adjudicates information and passes judgment. If it can’t, the next few years may end the greatest economic and cultural bloom in its long history.

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Korean War II: What the Joint Statements tell us about Pyongyang’s strategy

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

George Orwell

On June 15, 2000, Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-il signed a joint statement agreeing to seek “independent” reunification and an inter-Korean coalition government. It was not the first joint statement between North and South. This relatively modest one from 1972 calls for “both parties [to] promote national unity as a united people over any differences of our ideological and political systems.” In retrospect, this was a rhetorical victory for Pyongyang. So was the statement that “reunification must be achieved with no reliance on external forces or interference,” although this seemed, at the time, to have been palliated by a subsequent statement that “reunification must be achieved peacefully without the use of military forces.”

The 2000 Joint Statement went much further. That agreement, celebrated by the Nobel Committee, widely hailed by the far left in both South Korea and the United States, purchased with an illegal payment of $500 million, and almost constantly flogged in North Korean propaganda to this day, consists of five points. They’re worth reviewing in full for what they suggest about Pyongyang’s intentions, its objectives, and its strategy for achieving them. Don’t waste your time reading these as a member of the Nobel Committee might have. Instead, read them as a North Korean negotiator would have drafted or edited them in 2000, or through the jaundiced eyes of someone in the United Front Department today. Paranoid people have enemies, too, after all.

1. The South and the North have agreed to resolve the question of reunification independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people, who are the masters of the country.

If you’ve read B.R. Myers’s book, “North Korea’s Juche Myth,” you’ve no doubt latched onto the phrase, “the Korean people … are masters of the country.” This is a far better definition of juche than the “self-reliance” one tends to see from Voxplainers and Buzzfeeders who recall the existence of North Korea once every nuclear test. The phrase “independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people” isn’t far off from “among our race only,” which in Korean translates to uri minjokkiri. Regular Korea watchers will recognize this as the name of one of North Korea’s main propaganda websites (if you will forgive the redundancy) for ethnic Koreans in the South and elsewhere. It’s not unlike some of the rhetoric we’ve also heard Moon Jae-in utter in some of his less guarded moments. Nationalism runs deep in both Koreas.

2. For the achievement of reunification, we have agreed that there is a common element in the South’s concept of a confederation and the North’s formula for a loose form of federation. The South and the North agreed to promote reunification in that direction.

Note the sly reference to “the South’s concept,” as if this idea really originated in Seoul rather than Pyongyang. This is the single most important concession the North won in 2000 and, to me, the Rosetta Stone of Pyongyang’s strategy. Whoever dominates this confederation will dominate Korea. In 2000, this might not have seemed like such a terrible prospect to Kim Dae-jung, who had so recently survived several attempts by right-wing dictator Park Chung-hee to kill him, and who had benefited from the support of pro-Pyongyang Koreans in Japan. Clearly, Kim’s view of North Korea was not an entirely hostile one. But if Roh Moo-hyun’s view was arguably even friendlier to Pyongyang, Roh could still only take things as far as the politics of the day allowed. Pyongyang had to set the pursuit of confederation aside during the presidencies of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye. Meanwhile, it took full advantage of Barack Obama’s almost complete lack of a North Korea policy to develop a nuclear arsenal at mallima speed.

3. The South and the North have agreed to promptly resolve humanitarian issues such as exchange visits by separated family members and relatives on the occasion of the August 15 National Liberation Day and the question of unswerving Communists serving prison sentences in the South.

Note the omission of South Korean prisoners of war still held in the North in clear violation of the Armistice agreement. Note the complete betrayal of the (then, perhaps) hundreds of thousands of North Korean political prisoners — including children — suffering and dying in places like Camp 22. The sole focus was on setting free the North’s fifth columnists in the South. This implicitly restrained the South’s will to arrest others who were exposed, some of whom tried to manipulate the Seoul mayoral election and may have penetrated the Blue House itself. To Pyongyang, allowing a few brief, carefully monitored meetings between South Korean abductees and their family members was a small price to pay for this gain.

4. The South and the North have agreed to consolidate mutual trust by promoting balanced development of the national economy through economic cooperation and by stimulating cooperation and exchanges in civic, cultural, sports, health, environmental and all other fields.

“Balanced development” sounds like a formula for using South-to-North subsidies to level out the widening economic gap that had become a threat to Kim Jong-il’s domestic legitimacy. It explains how Pyongyang viewed nukes as a means to achieve economic prosperity as well as national hegemony (which is just what its propagandists told the North Korean people after the Great Famine).

As for cooperation in “the history, language, education, technology, culture, sports, and social sectors,” this would mean a politicized rewriting of history, introducing North Korean agitprop into classrooms and school textbooks (as the hard left Korean Teachers’ and Educational Workers’ Union has been repeatedly caught doing), and using sporting events to whip up nationalist and pro-confederation sentiments among South Koreans. If you say it can’t be done, you weren’t living in South Korea after the 2000 summit, watching this sentiment catch fire. That same sentiment still survives.

5. The South and the North have agreed to hold a dialogue between relevant authorities in the near future to implement the above agreements expeditiously.

Roh Moon-hyun’s 2007 sequel to the 2000 Joint Declaration reaffirmed the 2000 Joint Declaration and built on Pyongyang’s gains in new ways. Unfortunately, Roh Moo-hyun’s aides destroyed the transcript, so we can only approximate the actual terms, some of which are still a matter of controversy in South Korea today. We’ll turn to that controversy later in this post. In the interests of brevity, I’ll mention the more significant ones.

2. South and North Korea are to work for mutual respect and trust in order to overcome differences in ideology, system.

Pyongyang would surely interpret this as a call to avoid criticizing the North’s crimes against humanity. In retrospect, it clearly led up to Park Geun-hye’s 2014 agreement to refrain from “slander” of the North’s system. Park was no friend of free speech herself, and freedom of speech is not an ideal with a broad or deep constituency in South Korea, where governments on both the left and the right routinely censor their critics. Indeed, I often doubt the depth of that constituency here, such as among the academics and policy-makers who hardly raised a peep about the cyberterror threats that shut down “The Interview.” For all his prescient warnings about the dangers of tolerating censorship from abroad, Barack Obama did nothing about it. Again, Pyongyang’s own words are the best evidence of its intent.

Pyongyang holds the very idea of free speech in contempt. Not only has it used threats of violence to censor it in South Korea, but it has done so in Europe, in Southeast Asia, and here, in the United States.

3. South and North Korea are to ease military tensions, hold defense ministerial talks in November in Pyongyang to discuss ways of supporting inter-Korean economic cooperation and easing tension.

The agreement to “ease military tensions” might have won Pyongyang an end to military exercises that keep the South reader to deter a North Korean attack, but the elections of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye forced Pyongyang to defer that demand. Now, with the election of Moon Jae-in, the Chinese, left-of-center academics, and presidential advisor Moon Chung-in are trying to give this one to Pyongyang as a “freeze-for-freeze.” Pyongyang has balked at freezing its WMD programs, so Moon’s government is now seizing on the Olympics as an excuse to give Pyongyang a unilateral freeze next year.

The reference to “inter-Korean economic cooperation” probably refers to South-to-North subsidies like Kaesong and Kumgang. Remember the context: this agreement came as not long after U.S. actions against Banco Delta Asia had forced Kim Jong-il to sign the February 2007 Agreed Framework II, and almost exactly a year after the U.N.’s first Chapter VII sanctions resolution against North Korea, UNSCR 1718. Clearly, Pyongyang was thinking in terms of using South Korea to undermine sanctions intended to disarm it.

4. The two sides agree on the need to end the current armistice and establish permanent peace.

If Pyongyang sees confederation as its mechanism for ruling the South, it sees “peace” talks — the long-standing objective of its simpaticos here in the United States — as its vehicle for bullying the South into unilateral disarmament and confederation. To get to “peace,” it will first demand an end to the “hostile policy,” which means an end to sanctions, the withdrawal of U.S. forces starting with missile defenses, and an end to criticism of the North, particularly over its crimes against humanity. You can read it all right here, in Pyongyang’s own words. Scroll down.

5. The two sides are to create a special peace zone around Haeju in North Korea and nearby areas.

This brings us to why we have no transcript of the 2007 summit. Roh’s concession of South Korea’s maritime boundary — really, the maritime extension of the DMZ — at the end of his presidency and shortly before a presidential election would prove more controversial than Roh had guessed. Roh’s aides made sure to destroy the transcript before his more conservative successor, Lee Myung-bak, took office and started up the government computers where it had been saved.

Oh, and here’s some trivia for you. One of the aides who prepared and destroyed that transcript was Cho Myoung-gyun, who is now Moon Jae-in’s Unification Minister. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal‘s Jonathan Cheng, Cho seemed to credit a hypothesis for Pyongyang’s intentions similar to the one I’ve advanced; he also said this will “never happen.” Cho was indicted for destroying the transcript in 2013, but a court acquitted him on the ground that what he deleted was only a draft and therefore not really a presidential document at all (good luck telling a federal judge that in a Freedom of Information Act case here). Another difference between the U.S. and South Korean systems? Double jeopardy! There, prosecutors can appeal acquittals. Cho’s case is still pending in South Korea’s highest court.

One need only look at the map to see why this would have been such a dangerous concession. Depending on its breadth, this “peace zone” could have ceded South Korea’s control over the airspace through which many of the flights to Incheon Airport must pass, and over the sea lane that serves the port of Incheon and protects the Yellow Sea islands. This is Seoul’s economic jugular. By cutting it, Pyongyang could blackmail Seoul with the threat of a partial blockade, leading to panic, capital flight, and recession. That happens to fit perfectly with what Thae Yong-ho posited in his congressional testimony last month.

7. South and North Korea are to actively push for humanitarian cooperation and expansion of the reunions of separated families.

Naturally, this aid would be “humanitarian” in the same sense that North Korean workers at Kaesong were paidwages.” It would mean a resumption and expansion of South Korean subsidies to the North to enrich the Pyongyang elites at the expense of South Korean taxpayers. Above all, it would turn any U.S. requests that other cut trade relations with Pyongyang into a punchline, thereby undermining our last chance to disarm Pyongyang peacefully — and thus, making war almost inevitable.

In the abstract, the idea of inter-Korean peace and cooperation sounds great to us and even greater to South Koreans. But a close reading the terms of the statements, and a retrospective understanding of how left-leaning governments have tried to implement them, lends itself to more paranoid interpretations. The agreements weren’t fully implemented, but that’s not because Roh, in particular, didn’t try. With Pyongyang near nuclear breakout, I expect that we’ll soon see Pyongyang press its demands for Moon Jae-in (who gives the impression of being an easy mark) to implement past joint statements, and perhaps to sign an even more ambitious one. 

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Sit Down for This One: 9/11/05 Riot at MacArthur Statue Was a North Korean Job

I know this probably stuns you as much as it stuns me:

Seoul police arrested two pro-Pyongyang activists on charges of starting a campaign to remove a statue of U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur from a park in Incheon under orders from North Korea.

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency, two leaders of the Korean Confederation Unification Promotion Council were arrested on charges of receiving directives from a North Korean agent from 2004 to 2005 to stage a series of violent, illegal rallies from May to September 2005, demanding the removal of the MacArthur statue. The North also told them to organize an alliance of progressive civic groups to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea.

Police said 12 additional members of the council are to be investigated in the case. [Joongang Ilbo]

Readers will recall that the demonstrators, many from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Korean Teachers’ and Educational Workers’ Union, marched to the statue 4,000-strong with bamboo poles and “fucking USA” signs in hand. Naturally, they proceeded to attack the police, resulting in some unknown number of injuries (photos here). Hate and violence notwithstanding, Chang Young-Dal, a member of the standing committee of the then-ruling Uri Party praised the fifth columnists who led the rally for their “deep ethnic purity,” which is true in the same sense it might have been for Ernst Rohm in the 1920’s.

Inspired, no doubt, by the class, tact, and sensitivity they displayed on September 11, 2005, other leftist South Korean groups with a history of bleating out North Korea propaganda have followed the on-the-spot guidance of the Star of Mount Paektu and the Lodestar of the Nation.

The Korean Confederation Unification Promotion Council, formed in 2004, promotes North Korea’s philosophy of unifying the two Koreas in a confederation. In 2005, it staged a 69-day protest inside the park to demand the statue’s removal, which turned violent on September 11, 2005, when 4,000 protesters clashed with police.

Yup. No real surprise there.

Police now say that the rallies began on orders from North Korea. (Since the first protest in 2005, North Korea has publicly lauded the rallies in statements through its state-run media.) [….]

Police said the two arrested activists traveled to China in 2004 to meet a North Korean agent, who gave them orders to organize the rallies against the statue and U.S. troops in the South. “North Korea normally gives a direction in a larger framework, and pro-Pyongyang activists in the South come up with specific implementation plans,” said a security official.

Police and prosecutors said nine pro-Pyongyang groups held a meeting in 2005 to discuss how to implement the orders and formed a special committee to demand the withdrawal of U.S. Forces Korea. A team was also formed under the committee to campaign for the removal of the statue.

Another security official said the MacArthur statue was targeted because of the North’s loathing of the American general, who stopped North Korea from taking over the entire peninsula.

A consultation with the OFK archives confirms that, this news isn’t entirely new. In November of 2006, the Chosun Ilbo reported that one Kang Soon-jeong, the former vice chairman of the South Korean chapter of the Pan-Korean Alliance for Reunification, was arrested for providing “national secrets” to North Korea. At the time of the 2006 arrest, Kang was on parole after serving a 4 1/2 year term for … yes, that’s right, spying for North Korea. Kang also played a role in organizing violent protests against the Korea-U.S. free-trade agreement and the expansion of Camp Humphreys. There is other evidence that the anti-MacArthur movement took its philosophical inspiration from Pyongyang as well.

“The campaign to remove the statue is the symbol of the anti-American movement,” said another security official. “There is no actual gain for the North even if the statute is removed, but it will send a strong message to its people and solidify the network of pro-Pyongyang activists in the South.

Lim Soon-hee, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute of National Unification, agreed. “The campaign will fuel ideological conflicts within the South and taint the image of South Korea for Americans.

Well, then, consider that operation a success. Were this wave of anti-Americanism (a) peaceful and (b) confined to the fringes of society, we’d have dismissed it. But in fact, it was neither of those things. Both the beef idiocy and the Cheonan conspiracy idiocy show us that it’s far from over.

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Korean Election Update: Lessers Versus Evils

Just over a month before South Korean presidential election, Lee Hoi Chang has announced that he’s  running as an independent candidate.  I have now seen it all.   So can he win?  Hell if I know.  To an observer of long American political campaigns, it’s hard to see how anyone could  enter  a race so late and have a chance of winning it, but this most definitely is not American politics.  Korean politics is famously mercurial; it’s about as exact, empirical,  and predictable a science as, well, Scientology.  Nor does extended study of either field  seem to lead to  much universal understanding (at least, not if South Park is right).  Or, maybe Korean politics just doesn’t translate well.  Either way, I freely admit I’m in over my head here, and  unless you’re Korean,  so should you.

If only Lee were running in Koreatown, or in Centerville, Virginia.  Unfortunately, he’s running for the presidency of a country that probably doesn’t exist anymore.  If a free-market, pro-democracy, pro-unification, and pro-American politician can still win a Korean election, Lee won’t win because of  those views, but because everyone else implodes.   Lee needs to make  a very quick, very  realistic assessment of whether that’s plausible or take the risk of doing what Kim Jong Il has only dreamed of doing — installing “Comrade” Chung Dong-Young in the Blue House.

Welcome to the hung-over daybreak after President  Roh Moo-Hyun’s off-key  noraebang presidency.  Roh’s deep unpopularity and the obliteration  of his party suggest that there  should be  a political market for adult supervision, if not repentance.  Enter Lee Hoi-Chang, who lost to Roh Moo Hyun by just  2.5% in 2002,  a year when the evil twin possessed the soul of the “good” one, and rank manipulation of  hatred  for America  decided the course of  both Koreas in different ways.  Lee begins his  third run for the presidency at 72, which means he’d be 77 in the last year of his term.  His public career has been long, starting with his appointment as a judge at just 25.  I could write you a bio of Lee, but the BBC  has already done that. 

Lee was tarnished by some funding scandals after the 2002 election, but they’re not widely remembered by anyone except the Hankroyeh (yet).  What sticks is a reputation for honesty and principle, at least compared to his peers.  What also sticks is how Roh tried to exploit the opposition’s scandals, and how badly  that whole ten-percent thing  backfired on him. 

One early  poll  shows that far more people oppose Lee’s  entry into the race  than support it, and it’s not hard to see why.   What remains of the discredited  left opposes  Lee’s candidacy because  it opposes Lee’s views and  can’t bear the idea of him  turning the country  away from the edge of the cliff as decisively as Lee might.  Conservatives  are worried that his entry will lend credibilty to scandal-mongering about Lee Myung-Bak from the left.  Above all, they worry that it will split the conservative vote, just as conservatives  had nearly regained their power  after  a decade in the political minority (Lee M.B. is at 37.9% to Lee H.C.’s 24%).   And for all his faults, isn’t Lee Myung-Bak still a lot better than uber-leftist  Chung Dong-Young?  That had been my working theory, and apparently that of a few others.  Chung is polling at  a  blissfully awful  13.9%, and  the fact that  he’s the closest thing this race has to an incumbent makes that great news for Korea and ample proof that the people are prepared to throw out the Korean left and  their experiment with it.  Seeing that repudiation expressed in a ballot result is enough to make you glad Chung characteristically  defied all reason and ran.   Until Lee entered this race, Chung’s most likely way into the Blue House was in the belly of  North Korean  tank.  Today, the leftist Hankyoreh  is clinging to  a slender reed of hope.

By the way, if you don’t know what I really think  of “Comrade” Chung,  or why they call him “Comrade,” you must be new here.  Welcome. 

Only two things have been missing from the Korean conservatives’ campaigns for the last  two years:  an agenda and decent candidates.  And yet they still win.  Perhaps realizing that they could win elections on negative turnout alone, they’ve mostly  run against the excesses of their opponents while articulating few principles to really challenge the left, especially  where it went horriby wrong.   Just next door to  the greatest act of  national  self-immolation since the Khmer Rouge fled Phnom Penh,  Park Geun-Hye’s North Korea policy has been  inert, triangulated, and Clintonian: “flexible and future-oriented” on abetting more years of famine, terror,  and atrocities comparable in scale and depravity to Mauthausen and Tuol Sleng.  History is unforgiving of such things.  And rather than repudiating her father’s authoritarian legacy, she has  basked in  the desires of some to see the return of more “decisive” leadership.  Her occasional support for censoring opposing views  reinforces our worst fears, though Roh Moo-Hyun’s rule was hardly a  paragon of free speech, either.  Park was bested by Lee Myung-Bak  for the GNP nomination, but she emerged from the race with a reputation for personal gravitas, maturity, integrity,  and cool under fire.  She  may now be the race’s new king-maker.   As of this morning, she’s backing Lee Myung-Bak.  In a move that’s classic Park, she backed the safe, consensus candidate, but left herself room to wriggle away from Lee if his troubles deepen.

Lee Myung Bak, the current front-runner, has all of Park’s bad qualities and none of her good ones.  Several years ago, I wrote this profile of  Lee Myung-Bak  and described his  Stalinist-sounding public-works schemes, his poor track record for ethics in government, and his tendency to say adolescent or zany things.  Who can forget the time when, as mayor,  he offered the city of Seoul to Jesus Christ, despite the fact that Seoul’s population  must be nearly half  Buddhist?  Lee still hasn’t dropped the idea of building a canal through the mountainous spine of a peninsula ringed with excellent, modern ports.  Since then, Lee M.B. has been running to outdo Chung Dong-Young on the amount of the taxpayers’ largesse he would funnel to Kim Jong Il.  (Yes, this is what passes for “conservative” in today’s Korea.)   Lee M.B. has proposed a new  industrial park to harness  North Korean slave labor.   Much sillier  is his idea of raising North Korea’s  per capita  income  to $3,000.  Only a fool can doubt  where the vast majority  of this wealth would end up:  aimed at Seoul and Osaka, ticking on the wrists of Pyongyang bureaucrats, and  flushed down the urinals of this palace.  Either Lee M.B. (a) doubts that, and you can  complete the  syllogism yourself, or (b)  he’s being deliberately insincere to get votes.  I prefer Theory (b), but neither option should give Korean voters much comfort.  And now, he finds himself immersed in a stock-manipulation scandal.  Question the timing if you will.  Like last-minute candidacies,  last-minute prosecutions are a fact of Korean political life.

Lee probably can’t win in South Korea for the same reason that I wish he could, and for the same reasons that South  Korea and America  cannot long continue the charade that they’re still allies (as opposed to trading partners,  and nations on generally friendly terms).  While Lee’s free-market views are will probably help him with voters who’ve  observed the  effects of Roh’s redistributionism and regulation, polls generally show that anti-Japanese and anti-American sentiment are still issues that favor the left.  Taking on those views  means taking on  Korean society’s  ferocious nationalism, xenophobia, and  protectionism.  Calculating what kind of North Korea policy South Korean voters want is a tougher call.   The widespread perception that America has compromised with Kim Jong Il  (some would say caved to him and betrayed all of its declared principles) has deflated the issue’s power this year, in a way that’s unhelpful to the left.  Overall, however, Korean voters probably still favor the kind of “engagement” with the North that perpetuates Kim Jong Il’s misrule, and which is therefore wildly incompatible with America’s basic national security interests. 

Read the numbers, starting with the mandatory disclaimer:  yes, public opinion in Korea shifts wildly over short periods of time, small sample sizes, loaded questions, etcetera, fine, whatever.  They still  show a Korea that’s steadily shifted away from a strategic convergence on North Korea that was the foundation of the  U.S.-Korea alliance.  Roh Moo-Hyun didn’t lead the Korean  people to those views; he  is merely a reflection of them.   They were  propogated by a newly  influential group of 386 radicals  who rose to power with Roh, and who then subsidized, nurtured,  presented,  and protected  a flood of noxious emissions from  labor unions, schoolteachers,  extremist professors, celebrities, media figures large and small, and — yes —  North Korean agents.  At the same time, differing views were suppressed.  Time will reveal how persistent this brainwashing has been. 

For now, America has chosen to paper over its differences with, and about, North Korea.  When  we learn, again,  that Kim Jong Il has cheated his way through  this latest episode, America will remember that its interests do not lie in perpetuating Kim’s misrule, directly or through South Korea, and they will erupt again.   For America’s interests and Korea’s, it will matter very much who leads Korea  at the time of that awakening.  But even in the unlikely event that Korea  votes clear-eyed adult supervision into the Blue House, there’s no guarantee that that leader will have a mandate for  wiser statesmanship, especially when America isn’t practicing it, and most especially if  the winning candidate doesn’t win a majority of the votes.

Perhaps the best we  can hope is that Lee Hoi-Chang can  give Lee Myung-Bak a firm shove away from the whirlpool of his own grandiose and unattainable projects and toward more sensible, consistent policies on govenrnment spending and North Korea.  Whatever hope he offers, however, Lee Hoi-Chang owes his country a speedy and sober analysis of just what they are.  If Lee really can win, so much the better.  If he can’t, then he should bow out and let  the country can unite around the lesser of  all remaining evils.

See also:

*   The Chosun Ilbo reports that on October 3rd, State Department negotiators reached a “secret” deal with the North Koreans to remove them from the terror-sponsor list,  notwithstanding the North’s  continuing acts or sponsorship of terrorism.  Lovely.  If you’d like to commemorate this betrayal and get an idea of just where it will take our relationship with our most important ally in Asia (hint: not Korea), you can now order your own DVD of the prize-winning documentary  “Abduction:  The Megumi Yokota Story.”

*    Jay Lefkowitz’s assistant, Christian Whiton, whom the left-wing  Hankyoreh characterizes as a  “senior U.S. envoy,” has called on world leaders to meet with North Korean defectors.  Whiton may be a well-meaning person — I don’t claim to know —  but I wouldn’t even describe Lefkowitz in those terms, and it says much of how successfully Lefkowitz’s role has been marginalized that hardly anyone, including the North Koreans, pays any attention to him these days.  The Hanky may not get it, but the North Koreans understand that Whiton lacks the status to speak authoritatively for the U.S. government.  They can see that the Administration is trying to throw a bone to persons such as myself.  Very few of us are fooled anymore.

*   As Al-Qaeda is driven from Iraq’s cities, the U.S. and Iraqi armies are pursuing them to their last strongholds.  The most important measure of a counterinsurgency is not casualties, though they are falling, it is the seizure of insurgent leaders and weapons.  Although those numbers are encouraging, I believe that predictions of victory are still very premature.

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Teachers Arrested for Posting N. Korean Propaganda On-Line

Two middle school teachers who allegedly posted pro-North Korean propaganda on Web sites have been arrested, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said yesterday, for violating the National Security Law. The teachers, whom police did not identify, allegedly posted North Korean photos and captions reading, for example, “Long Live the Great Victory of the Military-First Politics.   They are both members of the left-leaning Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union [link to other OFK posts]. Both teachers have also served as the union’s director for the unification of the two Koreas.  [link to story]

Let’s try to analyze several issues without mixing them. 

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Korean Academic Cites Left-Wing Bias in Textbooks

Remember, kids, distorted history texts are bad! Now that we’ve settled that, listen to what a Korean professor is saying about history texts in South Korea, before a GNP-hosted forum at which likely presidential candidate Park Geun-Hye also appeared:

A Seoul National University professor said yesterday at a political seminar that many textbooks used in primary and secondary schools here contain serious distortions and are disparaging of South Korea’s modern history. Park Hyo-chong, a professor of social studies at the university’s College of Education, was addressing a discussion hosted by the conservative Grand National Party’s Yeouido Institute.

Park claimed that some texts and history classes had forgotten to mention the Korean constitution, and accused them of “downplaying the significance” of the founding of the ROK. The claims are specific, I suppose, but I’d have found it more persuasive if he (or the reporter) had published some actual quotations, which are usually good for shock value.

The Grand National Party’s chairwoman, Park Geun-hye, complained at the seminar that the Roh administration was inculcating wrong values in Korea’s youth with bad textbooks. She also complained again about the recently revised private school law, which she said allowed the left-wing Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union to increase its influence on what is taught in schools.

This part made me snicker:

Mr. Park said the authors of many middle and high school history textbooks had undervalued Korea’s dramatic economic growth during the Park Chung Hee administration while stressing its authoritarian character.

Yes, we shouldn’t dwell on Park Chung Hee’s authoritarian character. Especially in front of his daughter . . . .

But, he continued, a bloody purge by Kim Il Sung of his political opponents in North Korea was justified in one textbook as “Korean-style socialism.”

God help us if this is what the next generation is learning.

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Korean “Progressives” Send Message of Gratitude and Sympathy on 9/11: “Fucking USA!”

UPDATED; scroll down.

You haven’t heard the last of this. Call it a prediction. The U.S. media was watching, but (thus far) doesn’t much seem to care. The U.S. government is watching and does. Update on that later.

For now, here’s what happened, beginning with pictures from OhMyNews:

Much, much more here.

Here’s part of the Chosun Ilbo’s description:

The demonstration started off peacefully with singing, dancing and a speech by Democratic Labor Party central committee member Lee Jeong-mi, but turned violent after the reading of a declaration calling for 2005 to become the first year of the exit of U.S. forces from the peninsula.

Participants tried to approach the statue wielding metal pipes and long bamboo poles and throwing eggs at riot police who had sealed off the area. When the protesters started slinging mud, police fought back brandishing shields, clubs and fire extinguishers. The clash soon descended into chaos, with both sides hurling stones that left many injured.

Some 20 of the protestors, including outspoken academic Park Beom-su of Kyung Hee University, were injured by stones thrown by police, and dozens of police sustained injuries in attacks with blunt instruments by the demonstrators.

The park resembled a battlefield littered with branches, dirt, eggs, torn-up paper and the blood of the wounded.

The Chosun reports commie rat bastard “progressive” turnout at 4,000, almost as many cops, and 1,000 counter-protestors [OFK note: in my long-running takeover bid for the word “liberal,” I’m all for letting the anti-democratic left have the word “progressive.” Maybe Teddy Roosevelt wouldn’t be happy about that, but I never voted for him anyway.]

The Donga Ilbo’s rather incredible take? Move along, nothing to see here:

Even though they shouted each other and had some physical contact, there was not a big physical clash between the two groups, contrary to what people had been worried about.

If ever there was a time to suspect that the Korean press was tempering its coverage for U.S. audiences, this would be that time. The Joongang Ilbo buried its own coverage deep inside the “national” section [this came later] but added this interesting detail:

Yesterday afternoon, about 4,000 progressive activists, including members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, rallied in front of the statute. They said the event was to declare South Korea’s independence and anti-Americanism, and to end the U.S. forces’ occupation of the peninsula.

The KCTU is the largest labor group in Korea. Since we know that the Democratic Labor Party was also well represented, I’d like to hear the case that Korea’s unions are not, for the most part, radicalized and open advocates of North Korea’s political and strategic goals, if not toward all aspects of its ideology. This makes issues of working conditions and pay in Kaesong [a South Korean industrial park in North Korea] completely fair game as an attack on the hypocrisy of the Korean labor movement. I wonder what Kim Moon-Soo must be thinking today.

The Joongang Ilbo had this interesting photo showing demonstrators from both sides nearly meeting. More on that in a moment.

Two comments on the police here. One, as tempting as it might have been to me personally, throwing rocks is probably not an optimal method of riot control. Two, note that the conservative counter-protestors weren’t even allowed near the statue, while the “progressives” obviously went pretty far afield (if you’ve been to the statue, as I have, you know that there are no shops like that in its immediate vicinity). Now, it’s legit to keep these groups separated, but one also suspects that Roh may have been playing to his base here. If that was the attempt, I suspect it pleased no one.

Nor should it.

Update 1: Triangulating between the nation that threatens your government’s existence and the one that’s preserved it for half a century can be tricky, and President Roh is turning knobs and dials to reign in the fiesty anti-Americans that form a good part of his base:

“We hope such an incident will not happen again,” deputy Chong Wa Dae spokesman Choi In-ho said. “Such an illegal attempt to destroy the statue not only undermines the South Korea-U.S. relationship, but is also against a mature historical perception of our society.”

On Aug. 23, President Roh Moo-hyun dismissed any effort to dismantle the statue as unwise and harmful to South Korea’s alliance with the U.S.

Demolition of the statue would not only seriously undermine the pride of Americans but also aggravate U.S. sentiment against South Korea, the president said.

I don’t blame Roh for the fact that South Korea has its own violent, radical fringe. Most countries do. I do blame Roh for failing to uphold the rule of law when these latter-day Brownshirts (Violent? Check. Racist? Check. Willing to act at a tyrant’s beckon call? Check.) try to control the debate by controlling the streets.

Just once, I’d like to see people who attack each other with bamboo sticks, saliva, bags o’excrement, knives, and firebombs do hard time.

Update 2: GI Korea points out some language from a separate Chosun Ilbo story:

The groups reportedly chose Sunday, Sept. 11, because it coincides with the anniversary of terrorist attacks on New York in 2001.

These people are truly a violent, racist hate group. Those who use violence should either be punished to the full extent of the law, or we should conclude that the Korean government has made a decision to tolerate hate and violence for cynical political reasons.

Update 3: Like I said, triangulation. Here’s a comment from a senior ruling party assemblyman:

It’s no longer desirable to amplify clashes and tension over the statue issue”¦ Now is the time to focus our racial purity as energy to bring about intra-Korean reconciliation and cooperation and peaceful reunification.

Oddly enough, that part of the quote appears to have been lost in translation in some of the Korean papers. Here’s the Chosun Ilbo’s version:

Uri Party standing committee member Chang Young-dal told a meeting of legislators the people calling for the removal of the statue revealed a “deep ethnic purity” and warned the party to watch out for “ultra-rightists” latching on to the statue issue to band together and ratchet up tensions.

Of course, you can’t really beat the original German.

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The Death of an Alliance, Part 23: S. Korean Human Rights Comm’n Calls MacArthur “a war criminal who massacred numerous civilians.”

[Update: Scroll down and read the updates. Mr. Kirk and the CSM have corrected the story to reflect that the HRC did not actually take such a position. Kirk appear to have quoted the complaint, believing it was the HRC’s own position. Thanks to readers Antti and Aaron for asking the specific questions that caused me to contact Don Kirk and ask him for verification. ]

When my wife first showed me the the comments of Prof. Kang Jeong-Ju, South Korea’s answer to Noam Chomsky, I pretty much disregarded them. Ku has earned his fifteen minutes of fame at the price of a lifetime of intellectual ignominy by calling for the statue of General Douglas MacArthur in Incheon to be torn down. As the first sentence of this post suggests, this nation is no stranger to the lunatic fringe, either, so it would be unsporting of me to begrudge Korea its own. A healthy and robust lunatic fringe is often the best sign that a society is free and vibrant, provided the society has the sober reason to keep it on the fringe where it belongs.

It’s harder to see the lighter side of lunatic fringe positions by quasi-governmental organizations, particularly when the adoption is gratuitous. Why, you may ask, must the South Korean Human Rights Commission throw its weight behind Kang and the other radical leftists and North Korean stooges with whom he travels in tandem? But for whatever reason, it has:

[Update: The Christian Science Monitor has corrected this story to refect that the HRC did not take such a position. Last week, after I first posted this, two OFK readers raised a legitimate question about the actual source of this quote, suggesting (correctly) that it was actually from the complaint, not the HRC’s response. I contacted both the reporter, veteran Korea correspondent Don Kirk, and the HRC for verification. The HRC did not respond, but Kirk later corrected the story. Click the link to see how the story reads now.]

“General MacArthur is a maniac for war,” says one professor, Kang Jeong Ku, whose comments are handed out in fliers at demonstrations.

That remark has the full support of the quasi-governmental National Human Rights Commission, which fueled the protest with a statement condemning MacArthur as “a war criminal who massacred numerous civilians.”

Indeed, the commission adds, “To induce or force children to respect such a person by erecting a statue of him and teaching them that he is a great figure is a national disgrace and greatly injures the dignity of our people.”

[Update: The irony is still there for your reading pleasure, but focus it on the neo-Stalinists who filed this complaint.]

I couldn’t agree more with that last sentence. Forcing kids to worship statues, idols, or other graven images of blood-soaked tyrants speaks volumes about a nation’s values and deserves courageous and forthright condemnation. And if Korean kids are being brainwashed in any direction, that, too is a concern I share. The HRC’s opposition to indoctrination–if it were decoupled from its ideological baggage–might even be a step up from its bizarre obsessions with haircuts and diaries. Unfortunately, the HRC–which is supposed to be independent of other government agencies, and may very well be–is so politicized that its qualification to pass historical judgements and place them in context are highly suspect.

Part of why I didn’t initially discuss Kang’s comments was the the conspicuous lack of broad-based support for them. Netizen response, judging from Korean-language comments, was overwhelmingly negative. But now that the HRC has made this assertion, I’m waiting for it to present some evidence to support it. I hope they won’t fail to show me which teachers’ unions are forcing the kiddies to idolize the American Caesar these days. I can accept MacArthur as reckless, insubordinate, arrogant, stodgy, and indiscreet, but I need more evidence to see him as a war criminal.

Leftists deny disloyalty to South Korean leaders as the South pursues reconciliation with the North. In fact, they say the protest against the statue supports government policy – and view it as a symbol of much more strenuous demands for US troops to leave South Korea altogether.

Their confusion is excusable.

Meanwhile, I have some evidence to present to the HRC, which I think documents two other human rights issues that the HRC hasn’t had time to address thus far.

I’m more serious about this than you may think. Today, I filed a complaint with the HRC. I look forward to updating readers on what the HRC reaction will (or won’t) be. Stay tuned.

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Sometimes, a missile is just a missile

Every time North Korea tests a rocket, Hans Blix sheds a little tear and Ban Ki Moon’s fluffy white tail stops wagging, because North Korean rocket tests violate three U.N. Security Council Resolutions — 1695 (which bans “all activities related to its ballistic missile programme”), UNSCR 1718 (ditto, and requires N. Korea to “re-establish its pre-existing commitments to a moratorium on missile launching”), and 1874 (which bans “any launch using ballistic missile technology”).  North Korea’s official response is that it is launching peaceful satellites, not testing ICBMs.  You may be wondering if anyone on the Outer Earth is still fool enough to believe this.

There’s little reason to doubt North Korea’s claim that it simply wants to put a satellite into space.  [John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus]

Maybe John Feffer just needs more reason, so he can reason his way to what’s obvious to the rest of us.

North Korea exhibited the fuselage of what is presumed to be the long-range rocket it launched in December, and explicitly called it a ballistic missile, despite its claims to the outside world that the Unha-3 was part of its peaceful space development program, a report said Monday.

The report by Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun quoted North Korean sources as saying that the fuselage was displayed under the name “Hwasong-13” among the exhibitions of the country’s missile lineup in an exhibition hall in Pyongyang. The Hwasong line also includes shorter-range scud missiles, which the country has produced since the 1980’s.  [Yonhap]

Well, you say, if they’re missiles, then they must be for strictly defensive deterrence.  No need to infer any malicious intent here, right?  So we now have this, via North Korea’s quasi-official Uriminzokkiri:

Uriminzokkiri roughly translates to “among our race only” and is aimed at South Korean norksimps. It is reportedly run from China, a country that selectively decides what speech should be permitted based on the state’s value judgments about its content.  Or so you may have heard.  (Hat tip)

If your memory is long enough, may recall that other norksimps in South Korea, the Korean Teachers’ Union, produced an equally sickening video for schoolchildren before the 2005 APEC Forum in Busan, featuring replays of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, set to “What a Wonderful World.”  A theme seems to be emerging.

I’m sure that all across the more progressive quarters of this world, there are fevered minds with room enough for the conflicting lunacies that the Jews and neocons pulled off 9/11, and also that on 9/11, nineteen great martyrs fulfilled a divine mandate of vengeance against toddlers, flight attendants, and office workers.  Similarly, there’s clearly some market in some quarters of Korea for fantasies of North Korea’s peaceful satellites destroying American cities.  I hope that market is a whole lot smaller than it was a decade ago.

If nothing else, it’s a useful reminder that the North Koreans aren’t just fucking around.  We already know what they’re capable of, morally speaking.  Faster, please.

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The Long National Nightmare Is (Officially) Over

[Update: Now that I’ve read LMB’s inaugural, I’ve posted more detailed comments / ridicule below the fold and the video.]

The 17th presidency of Korea started as Lee Myung-bak formally took over presidential authority from former president Roh Moo-hyun at midnight on Monday, with the Bosingak Bell in downtown Seoul tolling the momentous hour. Lee now embarks on a government of pragmatic conservatism after putting an end to the decade-long leftwing rule. [Chosun Ilbo]

Judging by Lee’s inaugural address and the media reaction to it, Lee’s priorities seem to be (first) the economy, and (second) restoring Korean-U.S. relations, which Roh did so much to destroy. Frankly, Lee has his work cut out for him. Roh did us the great service of breaking the spell of loyalty that prevented many of us from taking a hard look at the growing disunity of U.S. and South Korean interests. Lee’s inauguration reflects some change in how South Korea perceives its interests, but changed facts eventually change policies. China has become South Korea’s largest trading partner, North Korea is no longer capable of invading South Korea, South Korea has never been more economically capable of self defense, and the United States has never had less of an interest in getting involved in a ground war in Korea.

Still, Roh and his people often went out of his way to rile friends and empower enemies near and far. We can at least count on Lee to be there when he needs us.

“We must move from the age of ideology into the age of pragmatism,” Lee told some 60,000 people who gathered for his inauguration, taking a swipe at the past 10 years of liberal rule during which he said “we found ourselves faltering and confused.” [AP]

On North Korea, Lee takes the sensible approach of keeping dialogue open while suggesting that South Korean taxpayer’s largesse will now come with conditions:

Lee said he would launch massive investment and aid projects in the North to increase its per capita income to US$3,000 (€2,000) within a decade “once North Korea abandons its nuclear program and chooses the path to openness.” [AP]

Interestingly, the highest official China appears to have sent was a “foreign policy advisor.” Lee asked for his help in getting North Korea to keep its word and disarm (good luck). More on Roh’s diplomatic approach to the North at GI Korea.

Whereas Roh’s government often seemed to cultivate or tolerate social, economic, and political xenophobia, Lee’s inaugural address suggests that he would oppose those tendencies:

He asked the people to make efforts to create a new myth on the Korean Peninsula through harmony and cooperation, social integration and economic development, upholding the “Global Korea” banner. [Chosun Ilbo]

Lee is even making efforts to improve ties with Japan, the perpetual scapegoat for Korean demagogues. Japan’s Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda, attended the inauguration. Later, the two men discussed lowering trade barriers and increasing diplomatic contacts through “shuttle diplomacy.”

The AP has written a nice, concise briefing on Lee’s policies, but the really interesting stuff is in my 2005 Lee Myung Bak dossier.

The Hankyoreh has published the full text of President Lee’s speech. You can even watch the whole thing on YouTube, below the fold, although the experience will be of limited value unless you understand Korean.

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Anju Links for 13 April 2007

*   Matters of Life and Death.   The Chosun Ilbo reports that  Lao authorities have arrested six North Korean  women.   I’m not sure if it’s the same group I mentioned here.  Meanwhile, 53 others are still  in imminent danger of being sent back from Thailand.  If you haven’t already done so, please contact the Thai  Embassy (see previous link for e-mail address) and tell them not to send  these refugees  back to the gulag.  Recent reports suggest that North Korea is imposing especially harsh punishments on repatriated refugees.  It only takes a few minutes to send an e-mail.  Consider the stakes.  Thank you.

*   Here’s a copy of  LiNK’s press release from its day of fasting.

*   The New York Times has much, much more on the Banco Delta  story and the dirty money we gave back to Kim Jong Il.  It’s too long and too depressing to graf, so just read it all on your own.

*    At Least Al Gore Claimed Credit for Inventing  Something Positive.   I expect a candidate’s  staffers to shill for him, but it does stretch even the limited credibility of a shill  for  Kim Jong Bill’s ©  “unofficial” campaign site to claim credit for a North Korea “breakthrough”  (ht:  a different  Richardson) that not even Nancy Pelosi has the constitutional authority or personal prescence to have signed.  Notably absent are pictures of  the guv  touring the U.S.S. Pueblo.  See you on the 13th, guysNote to Gov. Richardson’s staff:   do you or your candidate have any idea what goes on in Camp 22?  Has your candidate ever said the words, “Camp 22,” such as in one of the governor’s many conversations with the North Koreans?  Is Gov. Richardson just having fun playing diplomat, does he have clientitis, or is he actually trying to give Kim Jong Il a free hand to perpetuate crimes against humanity that are on the same infamy scale  as Mauthausen and Tuol Sleng?  Speak up, Kim Jong Bill.

*   Ampontan thinks China scholars have whored themselves out  to the Communist Party.  I don’t know enough to  affirm that, but if it’s true, it’s a striking contrast to Korea scholars here.  Yes, the Korea lobby has sway over plenty of them, and there are some (the Nelson Report crowd and the  Korea Society in particular) who indeed sleep at Lee Tae Shik’s feet.   Yet a sizeable faction — perhaps even a majority — of the Washington’s Korea scholars advocate a reduction  in the U.S.-Korea military relationship, the preservation of which is Korea’s first priority here.  Why has Korea alienated so many people who should be its  friends?  Aren’t the reasons obvious?

*   “Let My People Go.”   Don’t miss this GI Korea  post that dovetails with this question.  It links to  a piece by Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings, who is at the core of the left-of-center foreign policy establishment that is probably South Korea’s last base of “insider” support here.

*   The Trotskyites at the Korean Teachers’ Union are at it again  with anti-American, anti-FTA agitprop in the classroom.  I found exclusive video.

*   Powerline calls John McCain’s latest speech on Iraq “Churchillian.”  Yes, it may just be that good.  If another candidate were to lay out the stakes this way, he could get my vote.  But for now, John McCain is the only one who is, so I’m leaning more strongly toward him.  It strikes me how exceedingly uncommon it is for politicians to tell us things they know we don’t want to hear.  We’ve learned to ignore the things that do not comfort us, but the truth that can’t be denied is that surrender means more war, more genocide,  more body bags, more terrorism, and a much worse economy.

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FTA Agreement Reached FTA Talks Near Failure: The Death of an Alliance, Part 66

[Update 2:   Well, as it turns out, the two sides did reach an agreement, although it’s not clear how comprehensive.  Both sides — mainly us — made major last-minute concessions.  Talks were ongoing until minutes before the legal deadline. Beef tariffs will be phased out over  15 years, which is a long time.  (We’ll see if the Koreans actually accept the next shipment.)   Korea also gets to protect its rice market.  There’s really only one bright spot I can see:  “Both sides have agreed to immediately eliminate import tariffs on passenger cars  … South Korea also accepted a U.S. demand to restructure its tax rates based on engine displacements.”  I’m guessing this will be better for Korea than for Detroit.  Now the really bad news:

In what appeared to be an unusual compromise, Washington agreed with Seoul to hold further negotiations on a South Korea-developed industrial complex in North Korea. Seoul has pushed for the treatment of goods produced in the Kaesong complex in the North Korean border city as South Korean-made products, but Washington has been against it.

In the statement, the two sides left room for the country of the origin issue to be solved in their future negotiations by designating it a “built-in agenda.”  [Yonhap]

It’s an outrage that we’re even considering this.  These are slave-made goods, it’s illegal to import them, and we know it. 

I don’t have any other details on the agreement.  I think the deal on cars is significant, and the rest, not so much.  As for how comprehensive this deal is, I’ll wait for more information.  Presuming this has met the U.S. fast-track deadline, the ball is back in the court of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and the Korean National Assembly.  It’s an election year, so the fact that an agreement has been reached doesn’t mean the deal is sealed.  We may even see demands to renegotiate, although on balance, it sounds like Korea got most of what it wanted.  All of this presumes that there won’t be significant opposition right here in the United States.]

[Update: As of 8 p.m. Washington time, according to Yonhap, talks are still ongoing, although no one really knows why.  Without some hope of achieving something, you’d think they’d have quit by now.  My guess is that they’re going for some kind of scaled-down  deal that will be an FTA in name only, but which will allow everyone to say they’ve reached “an” agreement.]


Talks on  a proposed U.S.-South Korean free trade agreement  have failed to reach agreement  after a year of negotiation, and after  being  extended for another 48 hours after the last deadline.  It’s not yet completely clear if this means they’ve failed, period, because the two sides are still talking, but without the most unlikely of concessions from the South Korean side, there will not be a free trade agreement worthy of the name this year. 

Thus has a small radical movement influenced by  North Korea  paralyzed the  trade policy of one of the world’s  largest export economies.

It is the second deadline that has gone by in the search for what would be the largest U.S. trade pact in 15 years. The first was on Saturday and the second 1 a.m. on Monday in Seoul (1600 GMT on Sunday).

“They’re still meeting because there are issues left to be discussed,” a South Korean official told reporters as the second deadline expired. He declined to say if the talks were nearing a deal.  [Reuters, Jack Kim]

South Korea’s discourse on this issue follows each new low with another one, and another. 

One protester against the proposed free-trade agreement set fire to himself on Sunday near the central Seoul hotel which has been the venue for the final round of talks over the past week.

The 56-year-old man was taken to hospital where he was in critical condition with third-degree burns.

South Korean officials have said the most contentious issues were agriculture, including beef and oranges, autos and textiles.

In the past few days, U.S. leaders have been loudly pressing their demands that South Korea open its tightly protected market to beef and autos.   With the increasing likelihood that the FTA will miss the fast-track deadline, you can expect Democrats in Congress to inflict the death of a thousand cuts on any agreement once it’s reopened for amendments.  The failure of this agreement could be of far greater long-term  significance in U.S.-Korean relations than the USFK drawdown or  differences over North Korea.  Trade policy should have filled the gap left by the drawdown of our outdated military presence in Korea.  Still, there will be other opportunities, and I’m actually glad, on balance, that the FTA looks set to fail this year.  We’ll probably get a better agreement a year or two from now, and one hopes that this development will discredit anti-American demagogues in this election year.

Let’s look back at Seoul’s leadership on an agreement that would have been an enormous boon to South Korean manufacturers and consumers, and which it one saw as Roh Moo Hyun’s last chance at some kind of accomplishment to water down his legacy of appeasement, alienation, and national insecurity.  As you read this chronology, keep in mind that most of those opposing the FTA probably supported Roh, a leftist himself, in the 2002 election he narrowly won.

February 7, 2006:   A key House staffer suggests that without an FTA, South Korea could be drawn into the economic orbit of China, already Korea’s largest trading partner.

fta.jpgApril 9, 2006:   FTA talks get off to a bad start.  Before a media  audience, the leaders of South Korea’s negotiating team tell junior team members to watch out for clever flying CIA microphones made up to look like dragonflies.  Yes, this is  for real.

April 10, 2006:   Leftist opposition to the FTA begins to coalesce in earnest, despite analyses showing that if the FTA passes,  “[o]verall U.S. GDP is expected to increase by 0.2 percent, while Korean production is expected to increase by 0.7 percent….”  Radical firebrands compare a proposed FTA to a treaty used by Japan to occupy Korea, and claim that the FTA would make Korea “the 51st state.”  The radical and often violent  Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, whose rhetoric is often indistinguishable from North Korea’s,  emerges as the core of opposition to the FTA.  Despite its long history of violence, the KCTU receives government funding.

April 16, 2006:   Anti-FTA protest draws 8,000 protestors carrying signs heavily laden with anti-American and nationalist slogans.   A former Roh economic aide says, in reference to the United States, “it is no use making peace with a scoundrel.”  I predict that the FTA talks  will fail:

Under these circumstances, let me humbly suggest that the FTA is as good as dead for this year. The question is how badly this whole thing will end ….  The long-term interests of the United States might just be best served by quietly ending the FTA talks now, or maybe in a couple of weeks after the issue is fully joined, but before things get too ugly.

May 5, 2006:   Polls show that most South Koreans still support a free trade agreement with the United States.

May 9, 2006:   The far-left, anti-American, North Korean-infiltrated Korean Teachers’ Union tours Korean schools, telling the kids that an FTA means that they will be “brainwashed” by American ideology in the form  of such films as “Batman” and “Superman.” 

fta-protest.jpgJune 5, 2006:   South Korean protestors hold a small and rather silly anti-FTA protest in Washington, but at least no one gets hurt this time.

July 10, 2006:   Roh’s government  privately concedes that products made in North Korea’s Kaesong  Slave Labor Camp will never be  accepted as “South Korean” for FTA purposes.  (The State Department has applied the term “forced labor” to Kaesong, and the Tariff Act does not permit such goods to be landed in U.S. ports.)

anti-fta.jpgJuly 13, 2006:   25,000 violent  anti-FTA protestors  take to the streets of Seoul, wielding iron pipes and bamboo poles, and hurling paving stones.  The mob turns its fury upon a group of “Americans,” who turn out to be Swiss.

July 15, 2006:   ROK government’s approval rating hits 14%, mostly because of the lousy economy, high housing prices, high unemployment, and the government’s failed North Korea policy.

July 27, 2006:   The Trade Ministry tries to hold a town meeting on the FTA, only to be shouted down by an anti-FTA mob.

July 29, 2006:   Too late, the ROK government realizes that Ameriphobes have dominated the FTA debate, and does too little to promote the agreement’s potential benefits.

August 21, 2006:   Kaesong seems to be the issue that just won’t die, so U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab speaks bluntly on the idea of including Kaesong products in the FTA:  “It won’t happen, it can’t happen.”

October 27, 2006:   The Chairman of South Korea’s National Intelligence Service resigns following the exposure of a well-connected North Korean spy ring that had infiltrated the vehemently anti-FTA Democratic Labor Party, maneuvered itself into a leading position in the anti-American protest movement, tried to influence the Seoul mayoral election, plotted violent attacks against political opponents, and put  at least one  likely agent onto a U.S. Army base.  One of the arrested spies is a former senior KCTU official.  Some opposition newspapers suggest that  President Roh replaced the Chairman to stop the investigation from  coming too close to his own  administration. 

November 23, 2006:   Another big anti-FTA rally.

November 29, 2006:   Kang Soon-Jeong, who had led violent anti-American and anti-FTA protests, is arrested on suspicion of being a North Korean spy.

January 17, 2007:   FTA talks are still bogged down over exceptions the South Koreans demand:  antidumping laws, automobiles, beef, rice, citrus fruit,  and pharmaceuticals.  Kaesong intermittently reemerges as an issue.

dance-little-piggy.jpgMarch 31, 2007:   FTA talks miss their first deadline for fast-track approval.  Anti-American presidential candidate Kim Geun-Tae goes on a hunger strike to protest the FTA.  (Here’s a scene of Kim dancing for the amusement of the North Koreans at the Kaesong Slave Labor Camp a few days after North Korea’s nuclear test.)   In the United States, where the FTA has been off the political radar screen, Nancy Pelosi begins calling South Korea’s trade policies “one-sided” and compares Korean protectionism to an “iron curtain.”

April 2, 2007:   Talks miss their second deadline, which had been extended for 48 additional hours.  A protestor sets himself on fire to protest the FTA.

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KTU Update

Korean Education takes another small step toward reform.

The ministry said soon all bonuses will be performance-related. The seniority system will also disappear. With recognized capabilities, teachers in their early 40s can become vice principals, whereas long-serving teachers with low scores will miss out on promotion.

Parents and pupils will now get to evaluate teachers, which is curious from a social perspective, because the status of teachers has traditionally been so high in Korean’s highly Confucian society that the idea of students evaluating teachers might have been unthinkable not long ago.  Not surprisingly, the far-left Korean Teachers’ Union is bitterly opposed.

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KTU Update

mindfuck.bmpAre you ready for your second story in just four days about Korean Teachers’ Union members being caught in possession  of pro-North Korean propaganda, with intent to distribute? 

On closer examination, these appear to be the same suspects I blogged here.   Hat tip to The Nomad, who points out that there’s no evidence that the stuff was actually used in class, although we’ve advanced a step in that direction.  Unlike the case of the previous report, which was about mere online postings, these people have now been caught with materials designed for classroom use.

The 16-page A4 booklet is in the form of a Q&A. Targeting middle school second graders, the publication supports North Korea’s demand for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea and hails the North’s Songun or military-first ideology. It denies the South Korean government’s claim to be the only legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula, saying it is merely the legal government of South Korea. It portrays the Songun ideology as a “new socialism” whereby revolutionary leaders remake society with the military in the vanguard.

Also featured:   a justification  for North Korea’s nuke program, but zero mention of how many people died of hunger, cold, or disease to make that program possible.  What I wonder, as the father of two kids who pretty much talk endlessly all day,  is  how these people thought that their little secret would be  safe with the kiddies.  Maybe they threatened to  publicly execute  Mister Nibbles, the  fluffy white classroom bunny, if they told their parents.  By the way, did I mention that one suspect is an ethics teacher?

For the record, I’d have no objection to this crap if someone gave equal time to a factual discussion of life and death in  the totalitarian  mind-suck  of present-day  North Korea. 

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